Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 23

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive at Via Negativa or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack (where the posts might be truncated by some email providers).

This week: the butterfly house, a dead rat’s poem, revising reality, back to the garden, and much more. Enjoy.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 23”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 35

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the transition to autumn, Labor Day and the meaning of work, Sealey Challenge results, a book-burning, and more. Enjoy.


Interregnum. Summer has lost its grip, but Fall has not yet taken hold: cloudy, quiet, rainless days appear one by one and vanish. In the evening, Vega or Arcturus appear, dim and inarticulate, in the pools between the clouds, and vanish again, their messages undelivered. I am waiting, I suppose, for my two granddaughters to arrive — one in Colorado, and one here. A pause, while Fall considers its approach; a long indrawing of the tide.

It’s California weather, of course, not Oregon weather. My parents’ generation of Oregonians tended to move to California when they retired, and their bones got tired of the damp and chill: climate change has accomplished this move for my generation without the trouble of packing. At the moment — why not gathers such crumbs as fall? — I’m content to live in a dryer, warmer state. The September slant of the sun has always pleased me, and we get to see more of it, now. 

Dale Favier, Interregnum

The months inspire their own sort of synesthesia, don’t they? I can feel, taste, see, in flashes of associations, each one, its distinctive personality, color, shape. Still, September carries a particular presence. Wallace Stegner spoke of that “old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air…Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.” That may partially explain it—the month is forever colored by notebooks, pencils, early wake-ups, and autumnal routines after an indulgent, restorative summer.

Maya C. Popa, Poems about September

It’s the time of year for making still lifes, anyway, isn’t it? The flowers won’t last much longer. Bring some in, make a still life won’t you? Then make your way to the couch.

There’s a short poem I love to read at this time of year by the Italian writer Patrizia Cavalli (translated here by Gini Alhadeff):

“We’re all going to hell in a while.
But meanwhile
summer’s over.
So come on now, to the couch!
The couch! The couch!”

Shawna Lemay, A Whole Life in Every Day

Today is rainy and cool, and we tidied the house, I organized and put away my summer clothes, and we started to really prepare for fall. We bought the last doughnut peaches for cake and made barbequed chicken and cornbread with the last good corn. I lit a couple of pumpkin coffee candles. We paid attention to the cats, who felt they had been very neglected the last few days.

I did a few submissions this week in a bit of a daze, because submission windows can be short and demanding, even when life is chaos. I also tried to catch up a bit with my reading—even picking up a few new books to start (ambitious, I know, but fall seems like a good time to acquire new books—especially important when you’re spending a long time at the hospital with a needle in your arm).

As the seasons transition, a few of my friends noted the stress of the change, the return to different rhythms. In Seattle, we pretty much say goodbye to the sun and hello the “the long dark” of the next nine months. I’m hoping to catch a few good days to visit the pumpkin farms, to pick the Pink Lady apples from the tree in my front yard I planted at the beginning of the pandemic, and even a few figs from the fig tree I planted two years ago. Fruit from new trees is always a good sign—last year we got neither apples nor figs—so I hope my trees will stay healthy until next spring.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Supermoon, a Surgery, and One Perfect Fall Day, Plus the Importance of Joy and Healing

Many of us think about Labor Day as the end of summer, and I’m old enough to remember when college classes started the Tuesday after Labor Day.  My mom does too; she said in her generation it was because college students had jobs at country clubs that would close after Labor Day.  In terms of weather, I’ve always lived in places where summer will stretch on through September and perhaps beyond.

Even though many of us will see today as simply a day off, it’s a good day to think about work, both the kind we do for pay and the kind we do out of love. And what about the work we feel compelled to do? I’m thinking of that kind of documenting of family history, of cultural history, of all that might be lost without our efforts.  I’m thinking of our creative work.  There’s so many more different kinds of work than just work for pay.

I’m thinking about our attitude towards work too.  I am glad to see that this article, published in 2016, about the theology of work is still online.  Here’s my favorite quote from it, with ideas informed by Christian monasticism:  “Taking Benedict’s approach would force us to reconsider how we think about our work. Instead of, ‘What work am I called to?’ we might ask, ‘How does the task before me contribute to or hinder my progress toward holiness?; Not ‘How does this work cooperate with material creation?’ but ‘How does this work contribute to the life of the community and to others’ material and spiritual well-being?’ Not ‘Am I doing what I love?’ but ‘What activity is so important that I should, without exception, drop my work in order to do it?’”

And here’s a Buddhist thought about work for your Labor Day, found in an interview with Bill Moyers and Jane Hirshfield who explains, “Teahouse practice means that you don’t explicitly talk about Zen. It refers to leading your life as if you were an old woman who has a teahouse by the side of the road. Nobody knows why they like to go there, they just feel good drinking her tea. She’s not known as a Buddhist teacher, she doesn’t say, “This is the Zen teahouse.” All she does is simply serve tea–but still, her decades of attentiveness are part of the way she does it. No one knows about her faithful attention to the practice, it’s just there, in the serving of the tea, and the way she cleans the counters and washes the cups” (Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, page 112).

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thinking about Labor on Labor Day

I’m fascinated by American poet and lawyer Mary Leader’s fifth full-length collection, The Distaff Side (Shearsman Books, 2022), a curious blend of a variety of threads: the needlepoint the women in her family held, dismissed as “women’s work”; her mother’s refusal to learn such a thing to focus on poetry, and publishing in numerous journals yet never seeing a collection into print; and her own engagement with these two distinct skills, articulating them both as attentive, precise crafts. “My mother couldn’t sew a lick.” she writes, to open the sequence “Toile [I],” offering her mother’s refusal to learn as something defiant across the length and breadth of women across her family, “But that was a boast to her.” As the following poem reads: “1950, 1955, / 1960. What girls and women got up to / with distaffs flax spindles standards / happles and agoubilles was not called ‘their art.’ Not remotely. Needlework / was no more ‘creative’ than / doing the dishes, and trust me, / doing the dishes was not marveled at, [.]” That particular poem ends: “And my / mother’s hobby morning after / morning after morning, every morning, / every morning, was reading and writing / poetry, smoking all the while.” There’s a defiance that Leader recounts in her narrative around her mother, and one of distinct pride, writing a woman who engaged with poetry. A few poems further in the sequence: “I have / the typescript of what, in my judgement, / should have been my mother’s first / published book, Whose Child? I have / here the cover letter she labored over.” I’m charmed by these skilled, sharp and precise poems on the complexities of the craft of poems and needlework both, stitched with careful, patient ease.

rob mclennan, Mary Leader, The Distaff Side

It seemed to me all around me was a message: “Work. Look.” I wrote that in my journal. That night I’d had a dream in which I was trying to develop an artistic goal for the immediate future, which morphed into me stating that I was going to memorize one song on the piano and play it for people, which morphed into me explaining excitedly how I was going to make scones to bring to their party, but the host approached me and said, “Please don’t bring them. We don’t like them.” And I woke devastated. When I finally shook off the devastation and entered the day, I was fascinated by how that urge to focus creatively ended up with that dream that no one liked what I was making. How powerful is rejection, how powerful the pull of external validation.

Marilyn McCabe, I have heard you call; or, On Creative Work and the Inner Voices

Brown campus now, all these child freshmen. I was 17 then. Walking around campus now, thinking all that freedom, to be the odd girl out, to suffer, to remember, to extinguish, to wear diaphanous skirts and lay clothes out on the green to sell, to revel in contradiction: the Brown Green. To read wandering the hallway of the dorm, as I did to anyone with ears: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. To draw out: Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. To hear kids say about me today: she was from then, she didn’t know yet. The hell I didn’t! To walk into traffic talking and assume all cars will stop. To not see the cars. To be somewhat girl, somewhat boy. Somewhat woman, somewhat man. Roaming around in her head; putting logic on a vertiginous axis. To be double-sighted, to become someone else inside the same person, to surf time, to be here now.

Jill Pearlman, Age, Relatives, Lo-Lee-Ta

I learned, while teaching college freshmen the past few years, that many younger adults do not know how to write or even to read script. Many children never get the lessons in handwriting in the second through fourth grades the way I did. Instead, they learn keyboarding–a skill I got to in my junior year of high school but never really have mastered (yes, even now I use a self-developed version that’s sort of an advanced hunt-and-peck method). It’s hard to believe that reading script is a task that will be relegated to specialists in years to come, but I shouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happens. To many of my college age students, handwritten script in English is almost indistinguishable from the marks of ash borers. They don’t see the need for that particular skill. Handwriting is going the way of letter-writing.

Perhaps we live in a post-script world?

I have been thinking about the handwritten word recently because of a recent incident while visiting my mother. She received a small refund check from an insurer, and though she understood what it was and that she no longer uses her checking account–we siblings take care of that through power of attorney–she was confused about what to do with it. “Sign it, Mom,” I told her, offering her a pen. “We’ll deposit it for you.” I turned the check over and pointed to the line for signature on the back.

She wavered, pen in the air. “I don’t…I don’t,” she said (her aphasia has advanced past the point of expressing full sentences). It took me a moment to realize that she could not recall how to sign her name. I placed my hand around hers and helped her start with the capital B.

I didn’t cry, but the experience hasn’t left me alone. I suppose there may be a poem in this incident, but if so, it’s a sorrowful one.

Ann E. Michael, Script, postscript

Even now, at what we believe is near the end, my mother is
what kids today might describe as #fighting, A month in the hospital
and she’s rallied and flailed, flailed and rallied. Through intravenous
feeding, oxygen delivery, antibiotics, everything short of TPN. Who
is Patty? my cousin and the nurses ask. My mother has been calling
the names of the dead, names of the living, names of all the remembered
ghosts in her life. Perhaps more than death or dying, the ghost of our own
approaching absence is the most difficult piece of the puzzle. She still
knows the difference between the clothed and naked body, how the taste
and texture of water on the tongue disappears like a stolen jewel. Once,
she fashioned for me an ugly name in a second baptism meant to confuse
and repel the gods. She embroidered it on towels and the inside
of my collars as she mouthed it like a spell. Sometimes, I still start
at my shadow on the wall, blue and sick from being shorn from light.

Luisa A. Igloria, Talisman

Somewhere in time there’s a darkened room with just enough light to see a circle of grief. In the center of the circle is a woman in a hospital bed. Sharp angles under white sheets. Cool, pale flesh stretched over forehead, cheeks, chin. Weeks of a vigil fading into the past. A decision has been made, connections have been unconnected. It is silent in this room except for sighs and sobs. One of the grieved takes the woman’s hand and begins to sing a sweet hymn to accompany the woman from the room, from the earth. This is a moment that lives forever for those who loved this woman.

Charlotte Hamrick, Mood #2

whose skin has not awakened to green

whose heart is blind with eyes

where are there hands to bandage the sky

Grant Hackett [untitled]

One of the most menacing things about depression is its elasticity — its way of suddenly receding, swinging open a window of light, only to return just as suddenly with redoubled darkness, just when life has begun to feel livable again, even beautiful.

On September 16, 1962, a voice unspooled from the BBC airwaves carrying an emblem of that cruel elasticity.

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963) — who spent her life living with the darkness and making light of the barely bearable lightness of being, until she could no more — had composed the poem a year earlier, shortly after moving to a quiet market village in Devon. For the first time, she had a room of her own to write in. “My whole spirit has expanded immensely,” she wrote to her mother as she filled the house with “great peachy-colored gladiolas, hot red & orange & yellow zinnias” from the garden, that great living poem.

Within a month, in the fading autumn light, her spirit had begun contracting again in the grip of the familiar darkness. One night, unable to sleep, she tried a meditative writing exercise: to simply describe what she saw in the Gothic churchyard outside her window. That exercise became one of her finest poems and one of the most poignant portraits of depression in the history of literature.

Found in Plath’s indispensable Collected Poems (public library), it comes alive with uncommon poignancy in Patti Smith’s planetary voice — one of her regular poetry readings from her online journal.

Maria Popova, The Moon and the Yew Tree: Patti Smith Reads Sylvia Plath’s Haunting Portrait of Depression

old pond
old frog
waiting

Jason Crane, haiku: 30 August 2023

Today was a full press day (no freelance work) since there were quite a few things that needed final corrections before I start printing.  I have only dipped a toe into submissions, which wrapped up Thursday in a final flurry of activity, so will begin greater forays into reading next week likely. I still have a couple delayed books in the works, but am now working on the set I accepted for this year. Amazingly, since I planned to start those in August anyway, I am only a month behind schedule for 2023 accepted titles. This year’s inbox is a little unruly, since I was once again allowing sim subs after a few years of not. This means some things have been withdrawn in the time since they were sent b/c they found another home. Logistically it’s rougher to keep track, but I feel like I take a little too long in responses sometimes, esp. for things I am interested in–so it’s only fair they have other opportunities when I am slow. 

As for my work, I had a brief flurry of activity on new poems, but then told myself I should take a break and return when fall arrived officially, which I suppose it has now, at least according to the meteorological calendar if not the celestial one. Since I really need to be working on recording and editing the videos for villains right now, I may just hold off til the equinox to get back to daily poeming, completely reasonable, but I do get itchy if I go too long without writing much at all, so we’ll see. I won’t be submitting much in the immediate future, so am going to share snippets of the poems I’ve written this summer on Instagram, so keep an eye out there. 

The decor and lifestyle stuff is turning out many fall and spooky season offerings like this, this, and this.) A gig that I had initially turned down earlier in the summer b/c the pay-per-word count (writing literature study guides) actually came back with a poetry-specific offer that is shorter guides but still the same pay, so I will be doing a couple of those every month going forward. Since the AI poetry thing ghosted me and didn’t work out, and any poetry lessons for the online learning site I already write for are few and far between, it will be fun to write poetry-specific things again after a few months of other subjects like dance, history, and visual art. While denser and more time-intensive than the decor, food, and restaurant stuff, the researcher in me loves them nonetheless.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/3/2023

You can link to my London Grip review of Katharine Towers’ superb chapbook by clicking here.

What I didn’t adequately suggest in the review itself was how beautifully the booklet is designed and produced by Philip Lancaster and the The Maker’s Press. Everything except the Tasting Notes is printed in a way that combines visual clarity with softness (the paper is a very pale ivory rather than white). The Tasting Notes are shaped as concrete poems and printed in a pale slightly greenish grey, which to me suggests the elusiveness and obliquity of attempts to describe nuances of flavour. It’s altogether a remarkable physical production.

Edmund Prestwich, Katharine Towers, let him bring a shrubbe – review

I had to double check myself re an idea I had about Simon Armitage’s Book of Matches (Faber & Faber 1993). So I Googled, and yes, I had remembered it correctly. The 30 fourteen-line poems/sonnets in the first section are each, supposedly, meant to be read in the time it takes for a match to burn. I guess the clue is in the opening stanza of the first poem:

“My party piece:
I strike, then from the moment when the matchstick
conjures up its light, to when the brightness moves
beyond its means, and dies, I say the story
of my life —”

Well, you just have to, don’t you?! My first match burnt out after a few lines and I realised the draft from my writing room door that opens onto the garden was to blame. My second attempt, different poem, had a second or two to spare. My third one had me squealing and blowing it out as the flame licked at my fingertips a couple of lines before the end.

But gimmicks apart, I like the poems in this collection. I like Armitage’s command of form and language, of rhythm and rhyme, and how none of those ever dominate the poems, only contribute to their music. What he has to say always transcends the engineering work. I feel he understands that the audience matters. He’s a poet that cares about his readers. The work can be both playful and serious. Serious but not solemn.

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge – Simon Armitage

When August started I was on a fantasy novel kick.  Patricia Briggs, Megan Bannen, Neil Gaiman, and Andri Snaer Magnason, Kimberly Lemming and Sangu Mandanna. Sure, I could do those and continue poetry, right? I often alternate between poetry binges and novel binges but I could do parallel binges. Push more through the head, why not.

Sometimes pushing through the slog of hard-to-understand is good for stretch goals, to push past normal comfort. Part of Sealey Challenge is to read different and to share the love of what you uncover. Stretch is the theme. (I shared some of what I read as Poem of the Day at bluesky and instagram and in past posts here.)

So it’s September and I’m still standi— er, still sitting.

Reading causes writing sometimes so I wrote more novel scenes, and a chapbook. Was it more than normal? Not sure. I’ve done 50,000 words over the last 4 months in poetry, not counting scraps of paper and convenient but not in the right folder files.

Pearl Pirie, Sealey Challenge

I believe in the general theory that one should finish what one starts. However in my real, practical life, that’s a different story, as evidenced by a plethora of uncompleted crafting projects, poems started and never seen through to their final form, and books began but never finished. Today I shall provide you with a glimpse into some of these of unfinished titles, as well my justifications for putting them down early: […]

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I complained about this book in a previous post, but at the time, I thought I could get past the atrocious degeneracy of its characters because the writing was so beautiful. It turns out I can’t. The beautiful language just isn’t enough to carry me through this one. I don’t care about any of the characters, and contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think that Daisy is some tragic pre-feminist figure. I think she’s a brat. I’ve never been able to figure how this book became such a literary darling, until a bit of shallow research informed me that it was an initial failure. Years after it came out, The Council on Books in Wartime distributed free copies en mass to soldiers serving overseas during World War 2, thus exploding its popularity.

Kristen McHenry, Book List of Shame

In my second published poetry book, I have a poem called “In the Left Breast”. I wrote it after I’d found a lump (turned out to be nothing). I was in my early 30s.

Thinking about this made me wonder if we are really ever unprepared for possibilities? There is another poem in that same collection that questions whether “imagination is a good thing.”

In my mind, it is all about staying flexible enough to adjust. Adjusting is a response to the world. Sometimes it’s positive. In the context of my world view, a positive attitude is not the same thing as a positive outcome of a response.

I don’t believe celebrating a possible future outcome manifests that outcome.

This morning I am thinking about singing. Last week I sang with the radio while I was driving. It had been a very long time since I was in that kind of space. I remember now that magic spells require chanting, or singing. That’s a kind of effort, too, so I will leave room for that in my world view.

Right speech. Right action.

Right diaphragmatic effort.

Ren Powell, After a Week Not Writing about It

My phase of reading nowt but historical novels is over (for now) as I get my poetry head back on in preparation for Season Four (gulp!) of Planet Poetry.

First up, I’ve been doing a deep dive into Leontia Flynn‘s brand new collection Taking Liberties (Cape). It’s wonderful work and I’m feeling quite energised by it (meaning: it’s inspired me to write something that may be a poem.) I’ll be interviewing Leontia on the pod, really looking forward to that.

Also on the ‘to be read’ pile is Caroline Bird‘s The Air Year (Carcanet) which picked up a whole ton of awards in 2020. I’ve not yet been hit by the ‘Bird Love Bomb’ that many others speak of, so I shall read it with keen anticipation.

I was a fangirl in my teenage years of Brian Patten, and I’m still hoping we can coax him onto the poddy. In the meantime I’ve been loving, loving his Selected Poems (Penguin 2007). Even lovelier is that having bought it second-hand, I discovered it’s a signed copy, ‘To Liz’ – the name I was given at birth. Spooky!

Robin Houghton, Current poetry reading and podcast prep

You mentioned on Instagram that After Curfew  was inspired by Rowan Beckett’s Hot Girl Haiku. Can you say more about that inspiration, and how it helped you write and shape your collection?

Rowan held an online launch party on Facebook for their book, Hot Girl Haiku, in May 2022. My friend, haiku poet Susan Burch, reminded me to attend. I’d never been to an online launch party. It was fun! Rowan had posts and videos set up on a schedule. One of the prompts was to write our own “hot girl haiku.” It brought me back to that time in early adolescence and young adulthood when I wanted so much to be a “hot girl” but I was more of a “geeky girl.” I wrote this in the comments:

face-first
in a stranger’s lap—
tequila shots

Joshua Gage, of Cuttlefish Books, wrote back that he’d like to hear more of that story. I said there wasn’t much to tell — I didn’t think I had too many “hot girl” moments. But it got me thinking, which led to writing the collection. 

On a related note, I read online that you wrote most of After Curfew in one sitting. Do you usually write in big spurts? How was creating this collection similar to or different from your usual process? 

I rarely write in big spurts! This was very different than my usual plodding along. I just felt inspired. It was like Rowan gave me permission to write about my past. 

What was your editing process like? Did you have to cut any haiku? Was there a point where you found yourself needing to add some to supplement the original poems? 

I wrote the poems quickly at first, jotting them down as they came to me. When it came time to order them, I wanted to tell a cohesive story: of first love, of loss, of moving on. When I realized that I really did have a collection, I wrote a few poems to fill gaps in the narrative, and I dropped a few that didn’t fit. Originally, I had a few tanka in there too.

In English-language haiku, poets are often instructed to focus on composing from the present moment. After Curfew is written in the present tense, but concerns the past. Did you make a conscious decision to keep the poems in the present tense? Or did that emerge organically during the writing process?

I think the present tense brings an immediacy to haiku — writing in past tense puts some distance between the reader and the poem. I’d like to say something profound about how I wanted the reader to share in my awkward moments, but the truth is, I was reliving my memories as I wrote them.

Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: Julie Bloss Kelsey

Here are a couple of Annie [Bachini]’s haiku in the book which I especially like:

faint breeze rolling a scrunched paper bag

waiting room
the rhythmic squeaks
of the cleaner’s shoes

The one-liner is a concrete haiku of sorts, in that the bag is rolled horizontally with the text. What I especially like about it, though, are that the word ‘rolling’ is used transitively, rather than the much more common intransitively, and that the movement is engendered by a faint breeze. Yes, it’s a fairly straightforward ‘cause-and-effect’ poem, but it’s subtly done. The highlighting of an item of litter may or may not be seen as an incidental comment on today’s selfish society. And which reader wouldn’t enjoy the sound of that ‘scrunched’? The way in which the wind is interacting with a thrown-away item reminds me of that strangely captivating scene in American Beauty in which the camera follows a plastic bag through the air. The haiku is very neatly done.

The three-liner is equally fine, not least in how it makes art out of what, in lesser hands, could be a mundane observation. The waiting room might be at the doctor’s, dentist, train station or wherever – though probably one of the first two – but it’s the attentiveness of the second element of the poem which beautifully commands the reader’s attention. It’s an exemplar of how a well-chosen adjective can add so much: as well as providing visual and sonic balance, ‘rhythmic’ implies so much. The cleaner, it seems, is doing a thoroughly professional job, as perhaps they’ve been shown how to do. We might intuit, too, that the cleaner is taking pride in their work, but earns very considerably less than the professional in the consulting room. That it’s the shoes which the poet draws our eyes and ears towards makes this, for me, a real masterpiece.

The book, rather prosaically entitled Two Haiku Poets, is available from Iron here.

Matthew Paul, On the haiku of Annie Bachini

THE BOOK BURNING

was everything you’d expect it to be.
Self-righteous men, always men,
directing the children, laden
with armfuls of the banned, damned books.
Casting them into the inferno
with a wide eyed giddy intensity,
ecstatic in this act of vandalism
we are burning books!

and the air is full of charred letters.
Stray words set free
from carefully constructed sentences.
The ink knows as it sizzles,
that every book is a temporary alliance
of print and wood pulp and glue.
If the men had been more patient
eventually it would have returned to dust

Paul Tobin, STRAY WORDS SET FREE

I don’t think I have read a poet like Susan J. Bryant before, so it’s impossible to give readers a steer through comparisons to better known contemporary poets. The best I can offer you is to say that her work is clearly influenced by the formal satirists of the past for Elephants Unleashed is made up of biting poems in beautifully handled forms, such as villanelles, triolets, sonnets and ballads.

Nothing is safe from Bryant’s critical eye. The institutions of Church, Government, Education and Royalty are all subject to her cutting wit. Politicians are given a particularly rough ride. TONGUES SPIN AND WEAVE is typical in both theme and style. She writes: When syrup-dipped toxicity/ Disguises vile duplicity/ With evil veiled in virtue’s flower/ Your liberty they will devour./ Perceive, beguiled society-/ Tongues spin and weave.’ There’s something of a modern-day Pope here, both in sentiment and the music of the form, the rhymes working hard to give emphasis to the destructiveness and danger of politicians and those in power, who disguise their true intentions with feigned morality.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Elephants Unleashed’ by Susan Jarvis Bryant

It seems
AI is writing our poems
and books
and we can’t tell
the difference

All this is normalized
All this consumed
All day, all night

Our ruin is streamed
on all kinds
of devices

It seems
we can’t bring ourselves
to care

Rajani Radhakrishnan, What’s Going On?

[Months have gone by] and what have I been doing? Not writing. Sadly. I am beginning to wonder if I’m sliding into dementia. I have some of the symptoms: Lack of energy, isolation, loss of interest in things which used to interest me. Having trouble retrieving names of people and sometimes names of books or other objects. Then, again, in other ways I am fine and even perky. The garden absorbs my mornings and evenings. Watching British murder mysteries on my laps. I was completely alert and energized on a recent very long drive to Evansville INdiana. I am also somewhat addicted to watching short videos of horses , deer, birds, and babies on Instagram. I recently realized that as an only child of older parents, I was hardly ever around little babies, those under the age of two. I am fascinated by their faces, their eyes, the thinking that is obviously going on. Maybe this entry will break through my inertia.

Anne Higgins, Months have gone by

In early spring it’s wild ramps,
dark blades of onion-scented grass.

Then come the fairytale eggplants.
On the cusp of fall, tiny plums.

In winter I splurge on clementines
though citrus won’t grow here, at least

not yet. Sometimes I treat myself
to marzipan at Christmastime, though

almond trees are struggling.
We’re running out of groundwater.

How long until the memory of coffee beans
will be implausible as the days

when silvery cod were so plentiful
we walked across their backs to shore? 

Rachel Barenblat, Impulse buys

This morning the air felt crisp. There was a certain blueness to the sky that made me think of frosts. The fields were so dewy I got soaked walking the dog. This was the first day where it’s been too cold to wear shorts from the off. But by lunchtime the sun had burnt this faux autumn off and it was sunshine and warm air, except in the shade. It’s difficult to admit that the summer is nearly over, and I’ll miss my days of bare skin and sandals, but all things must pass, and there is so much to love about autumn. Now though, and for the next two or three weeks we are in the liminal place between seasons. It is a place of change. It is a place where we are not quite experiencing the riot of reds and oranges and crispy leaf walks of autumn, but not quite able to experience the BBQs and patio drinks, the golden evening walks and thick green foliage of summer either. And all the time we experience this change, we are physically and emotionally in change ourselves.

The catalyst for the turn towards autumn for me, and my feelings around it is always the migration of the geese. The geese now fly over my house in thick lines, long lines full of voice and each time I hear them my heart is taken somewhere wintry and still, and it stills me to hear them. In summer I felt vibrant and colourful, in autumn I will feel calm and aware and I want my days to reflect that. I shall change my practice and my focus to fully embrace the season, to be connected to the world around me, the natural world.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer a Sensory Experience – The Colour of Summer

Although the mornings are sunny
the heavy rain that lasted half an hour around dawn
has left the grass wet.
Small oaks are springing up where I planted acorns last year.
Today I will dig up the next batch of potatoes.
Together we will pick blackberries.
I will look again at my fantasy football team.

Bob Mee, ONE OF THOSE ‘I DID THIS, I DID THAT’ RECORDS OF A WEEK

星月夜ホモ・サピエンスなにをしに 矢島渚男

hoshizukiyo homo sapiensu nani o shini

            starry night

            what are homo sapiens

            doing here

                                                Nagisao Yajima

from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, November 2022 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (August 30, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, summer was winding down for many, but the Sealey Challenge remains in full effect through the end of the month, so the blogs are full of enthusiasm for books mingled with wistfulness and/or relief. I found posts on challenging ourselves as writers, learning from children, learning from film, and much more. Enjoy.


This week I’ve been running the Dawn Chorus early morning writing group and have been struck by the silence, the on-the-cusp-of-autumn peace of the early mornings. Yesterday morning I watched a stretched sunrise the colour of rose-quartz, with a few lonely herring gulls drifting past quietly, their white bellies reflecting the pink of it. It reminded me that there is a place in the morning in which there is no business, no planning or prepping or rushing or fighting, or working. It made me want to engage with that peace, and peace of mind, more. After the weeks of constant cool rain the heat of summer has returned in dribs and drabs, some days warm, some days hot. But it doesn’t feel like the blaze of summer is returning. There are now straggled Vs of geese over the house. There is now the scent of smoke in the air and it feels like the season tipping forward. It feels like August is a month that exists on a balancing point between summer and autumn, but now the weight of the season has fallen towards the mulch, earthy change of autumn now.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience – The Taste of Summer

To quiet the mind, to plant carrots,
to wash the sheets more often.
To banish judgment and meet
each morning with a corpulent heart.
The joy is never in the execution
but in the crossing off, the banishment
of each righteous act, the sweet relief of
two hard lines, muffling the burden.

Kristen McHenry, List Poem

The new titles: poetry, literary essays, and a couple that booksellers may shelve under fiction (Bebe) and non-fiction: memoir (Take Two), but like a number of CBe titles they are not as clear-cut as that. I know that when I sit down at the table I do want the menu arranged in a way that helps me to choose – starters, mains, desserts; fish, meat, vegetarian – but sometimes it works to just say that one, because I want to be surprised. I may like it, I may not. If the latter, I really haven’t lost much. Maybe think of this table as one big sharing platter.

Charles Boyle, Table for 6

If you’re new to reading this Substack, you may not know that I often review new books of poetry for journals. I have the great pleasure of reviewing Sam Sax’s new book, Pig, which will be out from Scribner Poetry next month. Since the book is NOT yet released, I cannot share poems here, but I can say with confidence that this collection is well worth your time as a poetry reader and as a human animal trying to navigate the world. (This is the first type of re-reading. When I review a book of poems, I read it a minimum of five times, so this was my third pass at Sam’s, the reading where I start pulling quotes to support the thematic strands I want to talk about in a review.)

Today’s re-read was of a collection I first encountered twelve years ago when I took a manuscript course with Daniel Khalastchi (a class that clarified the final version on my first book, A House of Many Windows, which was picked up the following year by Sundress). Daniel’s work in Manoleria (Tupelo Press, 2011) is another example of a writer’s work that is so different from my own that I want to learn from it. It is also not an easy book to read in terms of content. Its depictions of oppression physical suffering (with surreal vignettes full of body horror) are difficult and unnerving. But beneath the startling images lies a heart of hope, where “somewhere inside I hear calling a shepherd.”

Donna Vorreyer, Days 8 and 9: Two Kinds of Re-Reading

I might be absurdly late to the party, but my discovery of Dennis O’Driscoll’s poetry has been a joy over the past few months. 

On the back of that process, I sought out examples of his prose online, and stumbled on an excellent article by him from Poetry Ireland Review. It’s well worth a read in full (see link here) if you’ve got a few minutes free over the summer, but here’s a thought-provoking snippet as an initial taster…

“…Many of the techniques of poetry can be acquired and improved through practice and emulation. What cannot be taught, what must already be in place, is an individual perspective on the world. We want the poet’s own version of life, not a rehash of Dylan Thomas’s or Sylvia Plath’s world. The personal rhythms, obsessions, linguistic quirks which readers and reviewers may initially deprecate are the best foundations on which to build a poetic talent. The poems which the editor rejects may become your cornerstone…”

Matthew Stewart, Dennis O’Driscoll in Poetry Ireland Review

You are a prolific writer yourself, across several forms – including poetry, short stories, and novels – in both English and Shona. Does the fact that you are bilingual influence your writing, perhaps in subtle ways – for example imagery, sound effects, point of view?

Samantha [Rumbidzai Vazhure]Absolutely. I am a Karanga from Masvingo and most Shona-speakers will tell you how poetic, charming and dramatic the Karanga language is – full of humour, idioms and ideophones, metaphor, rhyme, etc. Karanga people are detail-oriented and when we tell a story, we call it kurondedzera, which loosely translated means “discourse at length”. As children, we wrote rondedzero (composition) in Shona class and my teachers expected to find the minutest detail in my work, because they too were Karanga. When accounting for any misdemeanours to anyone in authority, they expected the most granular details of what had taken place, including any pollen that may have been floating in the air when the incident happened. This background hugely influences my writing, particularly the concreteness of language in both my poetry and prose (this of course causes problems with editors sometimes, when they say some of my descriptions are superfluous, and I struggle to understand why they’d refuse the detail my teachers would have given me a merit badge for!).

Another important point is that musicianship and spirituality are cornerstones of the Karanga culture – you will find these elements peppered around my writing as well. I read Shona and English through to A-level. I think and dream in Karanga – a dialect of the Shona language, so even when I’m writing in English, that inherent Karanga flair will always show up in my work. That said, the reverse is also true, and I use some English words and concepts when I write in Shona, especially when I’m exploring themes that are foreign to the Shona culture, yet they have become a part of our lives due to migration and colonisation. 

The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe holds an annual awards ceremony to recognise outstanding achievements in the arts: the National Arts Merits Awards (NAMA). Last year several Carnelian Heart publications featured in the awards. Rudo Manyere’s collection ‘3:15 am and other stories’ made the shortlist, and two books won in their respective categories: David Chasumba’s  ‘The Madman on First Street and Other Short Stories’, and your poetry collection, ‘Starfish Blossoms’. This is an impressive achievement for a relatively unknown independent press! What does this recognition mean, both for Carnelian Heart and for you personally?

Samantha: As a publisher, the recognition was a huge honour and an affirmation that what I am doing at Carnelian Heart is bigger than myself. Some friends in the Zimbabwean literary circles had suggested the submissions as a way of increasing visibility for the press. I submitted all eight books by Zimbabwean authors published in 2022, and three of them were shortlisted for the awards. Interestingly, the visibility has attracted more writers wanting their works published, than readers who want to buy the books.   

For me personally, I had never been bothered by validation until my name was announced as a nominee for the award. I am usually happy to just write without being judged or compared to others. However, it felt great to know that my work had been read by a panel of respectable judges, some of whom are artists, and they thought it was outstanding. It was a truly humbling experience to receive the NAMA award, something I hope will aid the visibility of my past and future works. 

Marian Christie, Democratising literature – an interview with Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

Apart from a Welsh poem I memorised, while at Sandfields Comprehensive School for a recitation competition at the local Urdd (Mae Abertawe yn yr haul/ Yn cysgu’n dawel ger y lli./ Traeth o aur o gylch ei thread/ A Browyr wrth ei hystlys hi… – I came second), the only other poem I’ve memorised, successfully in its entirety, is Douglas Dunn’s, ‘The Kaleidsoscope’.

It was several years ago when I was running a couple of performance workshops at Simon Langton Grammar School, Canterbury with some of the 5th and 6th formers who were entering Poetry by Heart, an annual national poetry speaking competition. And there was no way I could stand in front of a group of young people offering advice on memorising and recitation if I couldn’t do it myself! Dunn’s poem is a sonnet, so only fourteen lines long and with a regular rhyme scheme and memorable imagery, which was a doddle to imprint onto my memory in comparison to some of the poems to choose from on the PBH list.

When I picked up the book again today, I couldn’t quite get through it without glancing at the page in a couple of places. But the overall shape of it was still there, hanging like a comfortable, old winter coat in the attic of my mind.

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge

The idea of the Sealey Challenge is to read one poetry collection a day in the month of August. I love the ambition of this challenge but it’s too much of a stretch for a slow reader like me to be able to read so prolifically. However, I like more poems popping up through my social media timeline in August, as Sealey Challenge people share what they’re reading. I’ve needed to choose shortish poems from each book so that they can be easily read on Instagram which is where I’ve been sharing them. […]

One thing that has been very good about the Sealey Challenge (for me) is that it’s encouraged me to dip inside many poetry books and magazines and this has been helpful for my upcoming poetry workshops in Bradford on Avon at The Make Space. I’m so pleased that bookings are coming in – and there are still places available, if you’d like to join us on 5 and 12 September for writing exercises, prompts and feedback.

Josephine Corcoran, Three poems from books in my TBR pile

The Best Canadian Poetry 2023, edited by John Barton (Biblioasis, 2022) [Sealey #8]. As I mentioned on IG before, the opening essay’s depth and lucidity is worth the price of admission. It’s 25% essay, 40% end notes of bios and about the poems chosen in the poet’s own words, and afterbits so the poems themselves are an excruciatingly small reduction from the thousands of poems read. Standouts are Karl Jirgens’ poem on dementia and the multilingual exploration of Moni Brar. Looking forward to a book from her, and to Laurie D. Graham’s whose book I just got. A Wayman poem and a Bertrand Bickersteth poem into the mix demonstrates how his choices are to reflect range, not a uniform aesthetic.

Pearl Pirie, Sealey Challenge, Week 2

If you’ve been following any of my social media this month, you know that I’m thrilled to be in the company of Lenard D. Moore as part of the Cuttlefish Books 2023 Summer Book Launch. Lenard is a military veteran, executive chair of the North Carolina Haiku Society, founder and executive chair of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, and the author of several books.

Although Lenard and I only had the chance to meet briefly at HNA, I have long admired the depth, breadth, and skill of his haiku. His attention not just to the details of the present, but also to the stories of the past, reflects a sense of artistic discipline that’s worth emulating. In celebration of his forthcoming chapbook, A Million Shadows at Noon, I wanted to feature him here to learn more about his process with this new collection. […]

AW: What is the thematic focus of A Million Shadows at Noon? What compelled you to create this chapbook?

The thematic focus of A Million Shadows at Noon is brotherhood, family, love and unity. I was compelled to create this project, because I drew inspiration from such a significant historical event. It was so powerful to see so many Black men come together and march for important issues. By now, I hope you know that I am referring to the Million Man March, which will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary in 2025. I wanted to do something innovative with the haiku form or a haiku sequence, an extensive of my poetic risks with my book, Desert Storm. Perhaps, I need to write one more book-length poem, employing the haiku form. To that end, maybe there is a trilogy in the making. Let’s see what happens with my future work.

Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: Lenard D. Moore

8 – Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Essential! Painful to the ego maybe, but essential. A good editor can see what you’re trying to accomplish and help you get there more efficiently. They can also call out your weaknesses that are hard to spot when you’ve looked at your manuscript a thousand times. One of my absolute favorite things about Four Way Books is the way they graciously and meticulously provide edits for our books. Two editors went through my manuscript to offer detailed feedback that I was free to accept or reject. The first note I got for Bianca was that I used the word “rage” way too many times throughout the manuscript. It deadened the effect and sometimes didn’t leave room for actual rage to simply exist without having to announce itself. I took out a bunch of rages and left a select few where necessary, but I absolutely loved that they caught this. Like I said earlier, I don’t trust my own writing, so I’m generally eager for feedback from editors I trust.

9 – What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Marie Howe told a graduate workshop I took to “write as if everyone you love is dead.” Don’t think about other people’s reactions to your work. Just get it all down. Kimiko Hahn said the same to me years later at a Kundiman retreat. Don’t bring your fears to the table when you write. Write everything that comes to you. Then later, once it’s written, you can evaluate each piece and ask whether you’re comfortable with publishing it. Writing and publishing are two separate beasts. Don’t let the idea of publishing limit your writing.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Eugenia Leigh

Another thing I recognize: All this talk about seeking comfort in a different kind of wardrobe or sense of self is likely a sign that something new is making its way through me. I’ve learned over the years that these feelings of agitation precede a big change. Not metamorphosis, exactly, not in the caterpillar –> butterfly sense but a kind of walking through fire. There’s something of importance on the other side.

And so I’m trying to remind myself of instances when I’m already on the other side. […] In 2009, when I was still a baby poet, I took a leap (and an Amtrak) to attend a generative workshop [Denise] Duhamel led through Louder Arts in New York City. It was one of the first times I’d invested in myself as a poet, one of the first times I dared to believe I could be a poet and do the things poets do. Looking back, it’s a clear building block to everything that came after.

The training we do at the gym reminds us that challenging ourselves consistently is the key to all kinds of gains. This is, of course, also true in writing and submitting/publishing. We can age (and do). We can change our hair and clothes. We can be in our feelings. But what matters is that we show up. And dare to test our limits.

Carolee Bennett, don’t mind me. i’m just poking around.

“Sky” is from a series of poems in Good Bones that I call “nonnets,” as in not-quite-sonnets. They’re all fourteen lines long and, to my mind, have a turn in the last third of the poem, but they aren’t traditional sonnets. Each of these poems has as its epigraph a question my daughter asked me in the car when she was three or four years old: “What is the past?” “What is the future?” Or, in the case of this poem, “Why is the sky so tall and over everything?” (I have a theory that preschoolers hear the automatic car door locks click and know they have a captive audience. Time for existential questions on the way to CVS or the bank!)

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: Two Related Poems

It’s ridiculous that we need science to confirm the value of enthusiasm. This is the energy each child brings fresh to the world. What they’re able to explore and experience with the whole of themselves, magnified by the capacity for awe, remains with them. 

Dr. Hüther gives an example,

“Children living in the Amazon forests learn 120 different shades of green and can name them all, using 120 different terms. Potential of that kind is either used in practice or is little used. Children here can at best distinguish light green, green, and dark green. How far a potential is actually used depends on how important it is .. in a given culture…The result is that what was once a possibility, this potential, …if not used, will just wither away.”       

Enthusiasm goes a long way toward explaining why children and nature go together so well. Children are themselves magic — able to shape shift into a toad or hawk, to feel what it’s like to hop nearly hidden under leaves or to glide on the air’s invisible currents. While imagination is alive everywhere, it can’t help but flourish when surrounded by aliveness. The more natural an area, the more kids have a chance to have meaningful encounters with the life around them. In fact, kids play differently in a park with play structures compared to more natural areas like an overgrown field, a row of trees, or a small creek.

As Richard Louv details in Last Child in the Woods, kids confined to structured play areas have poorer balance and agility than those who play in unpaved areas. The social dynamic changes too. Older and physically larger kids dominate on playgrounds but in more natural areas, it’s the creative kids who act as leaders.

Laura Grace Weldon, Outdoor Play is Sensory Play

The carcass resembles nothing
the audience usually sees
whose meat arrives in cellophane
processed—slices, nuggets.
The children, especially,
have never watched the studious
and useful taking-apart
of a body, never witnessed
anything dead
but the flattened,
nearly unrecognizable bodies
of road-killed opossums.

No comparison, this 600-pound hog,
hooked and dangling, its interior
opened with jigsaw precision.
The man with the knife
is a revelation.
They stare fascinated
at the butcher’s truth
carving an exact history of
their breakfast bacon.

Ann E. Michael, How it’s done

This morning I fed and watered the hens and pigs, and for a while
sat on a chair in the pig pen as they ate and drank, rooted about.
Then they lay down in the shade and I went on sitting in the sun.
What was important? The hens, the pigs, me sitting, the chair itself.
(It was green, if you need to know. A gift a neighbour was throwing out.
It’s a good chair. Comfortable enough to sit in and watch pigs or just
to think in for a thousand years, two thousand, ignoring the phone.)
Meanwhile, you were busy blackberrying in your jeans and purple shirt.
And the straw hat you’ve had since before I knew you. Sometimes
you broke off from blackberrying to photograph a butterfly or moth.
Eventually, for lunch, we ate tomatoes with cucumber and a little bread,
over which we talked and I read a poem by Frank O’Hara that shocked me.

Bob Mee, WITH EVERY STEP WE ARRIVE SOMEWHERE

the road from angst to
poetry is a sharp backslash, the
pause at its end thickening to a
dot, a drowning exclamation, a
tired i, a failed connector: pain
takes time to disintegrate, regret
breaks up into molecules that
pollinate other minds, the last
of anger evaporates with a
hiss, cutting open the chest of
the sky, there, there at last,
finding the one missing poem.

Ann E. Michael, Part 59

Sometimes the past is pressed against the present, or another present is present. While traveling in Europe you feel it like a veil of wind on your skin.  You scratch the surface, the past rises up through the transparency of summer.  Sometimes you get at origins — Blue sky of Greece with a handmade white church.  Gray slate and zinc rooftops of Paris which started a dream you dip into and which will continue after you.  Previous city dwellers were seduced – are you there, Emma Bovary? –by a profusion of pinks and reds, silks and taffetas that inhabit the ground floor of a department store like Bon Marché.  Romantics swooned over a bunch of flowers pinned to a dress, a hat, to the swirl of a hem that swirls at recreated 19th century dance ball, where mesdames et messieurs dance in period costumes in the Luxembourg Gardens.  But simplicity: a bowl of eggs.  Wild cats.  The umber stones that came from the earth, were gathered by anonymous hands to make fences, return to the hillsides leaving sign that humans, and some gods were there. 

Jill Pearlman, The Past, Fellow Traveler

Caterpillar Suit” was inspired by the sculpture artist, Walter Oltmann. His sculpture is featured in the video alongside public-domain stills created by Latvian artist, Elina Krima.

This was my first video poem of 2020, and, in relation to the 2023 Phonotheque Poetry Film theme of Structures & Organisms, it explores what it means to shed a natural suit, as a caterpillar sheds itself to become larva then butterfly.

It relates to how we, as humans, are part of broader, natural ecosystem, all wearing the suits of natural instinct, moving through separations—especially in light of the global plight of children being cruelly separated from parents across international borders.

The poem also perhaps visually expresses the fear that we collectively gathered and recycled from history—a new-old fear for a new decade. It was also created just prior the pandemic, so it was an eerie foreboding of what was to come.

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Finalist! 2023 Poetic Phonotheque (Denmark)

I was making up some poetry postcard graphics for Instagram this morning and a path out of the current quagmire of poems appeared. Maybe not so much of a path, but an untangling of branches, a clearing through the trees.  I had been stuck, with about a dozen poems in the hopper that were loosely thematically related, but I was unsure of where to go with them. Or maybe more where they were trying to take me.  Not one to blindly follow along (the Taurus in me), I froze up and refused to work on them or even really think about them. Instead, I devoted time to making more collages.

The irony of course, is that those collages, at least some of them, may have offered up my solution, though I scarcely knew it when I was making them, coming off the heels of the Persephone collages and fiddling with extra images I had saved in a folder. The wild things series, which felt really random and just for kicks when I made them, may be something I can use to guide the focus of this particular text series and help propel me toward actually finishing them.

Kristy Bowen, of poems and pictures

It has honestly been a while since I have been “charmed” by a film. Someone (knowing I have been spending far too much time parked in front of the television screen these past months) recommended I watch The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018). The trailer was disappointing, I have to admit. I reluctantly started the film anyway. Besides providing me with a little romantic (comfortably predictable) escape, it also nudged me as a writer.

Beginning something new, something no one is waiting for, is difficult. So many formulas out there for how to get started – not a few of them asking: who are you writing for? And they almost always come with the caveat, “don’t wait for inspiration”. (Spoiler here:) In the film, the writer puts her romantic and professional life on hold to write the story that she needs to tell, knowing it won’t be published. I love that the film doesn’t give this part of the story a happy ending, wherein her intentions and her integrity are rewarded with permission to publish her book after all.

She’ll write something new.

I remember then I have an unpublishable novel somewhere on an external hard drive. It was worth writing. It was even worth paying an excellent consultant for feedback. It is not worth revisiting with an eye towards publication. It was never my story to tell. But that’s not to say I didn’t grow as a writer, or grow in terms of my ability to foster new, compassionate perspectives while working on it. It was a valuable practice.

I’ll write something new.

Ren Powell, Beginning Something New

The poets are writing about August:
a loam-like smell lining the air, and salt-
musk from every encircling body of water.
Friends come to pick the not-yet-last harvest
of figs from our tree, and as we reach up to twist
the deep purple orbs off the stems, I think
again of how each one is an inflorescence,
a walled garden with a narrow passage
through the ostiole small as a needle’s eye.

Luisa A. Igloria, To Flowering

Can I pull it off or will it just seem trite?  We shall see.  Even if I can’t pull it off, I’m happy that poems seem to be coming more quickly now.  For much of the past year, I’ve had a line here or there, and some days, I was able to create a poem, line by line, strand by strand.  In some ways, it was exciting to work that way, not knowing where the poem was headed, and being intrigued as I went along.  The work offered genuine surprises and discoveries, if I stuck with it long enough.

Yesterday felt like a process that is more familiar, when the poem comes to me more fully formed in terms of the idea and direction.  That process, too, can offer discoveries, but it’s different.  The discoveries and directions don’t feel quite as surprising, although they are delightful.

Should I should finish the Cassandra volunteering at summer camp before starting on this one?  Have I ever had 2 Cassandra poems in process at the same time?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra Colors Her Hair

This is my 300th blog post. Many thanks to all the blog’s followers, also for your likes and lovely comments. They are much appreciated. I’m taking a break from weekly blogging: I need to ‘fill the well’ – take myself out to find poems and art on the streets of The Hague, get inspired and fired up again. I’m celebrating the 300th post in the company of Cecile Bol – our August guest poet.

Cecile is also the organiser of the Poetry Society’s Groningen Stanza. When I moved back to The Netherlands , I was fortunate that their meetings were on Zoom due to the lockdown. It was great to meet Cecile and other members of the Stanza in person earlier this year. The hotel where I stayed is just a few houses down from the literary café De Graanrepubliek where they meet.

Fokkina McDonnell, paper crown

One of the pleasures of writing regular blog reviews is that you discover the output of new writers, whom you might otherwise have missed. That is the case with The Vessel of the Now by Ink. This refreshingly original pamphlet of brief poems published by Back Room Poetry (2023) is one that is sure to engage the reader and leave him or her reflecting long after (s)he has put it down.

I believe it is no coincidence that these poems first appeared as tweets, for this small collection has much to say about the use of Twitter (recently rebranded as ‘X’). The reference to it as a ‘vessel’ recalls the idiom, ‘Empty vessels make the most noise’, implying that this social media vehicle draws attention to the inane, the pointless and the worthless. It made me think of tweeted photographs of meals cooked, shoes just purchased, flowers bought etc. Who cares? As the poet writes, the Vessel of the Now ‘provides shelter/ and stage’. It provides an uncritical platform for self- promotion: ‘The Vessel of the Now/ is a date book page with one line,/ all of which is devoted to you.’ In one sense this makes Twitter ‘a great equalizer’ a democratizer, and yet underpinning the collection is the implication that all this is insignificant, inconsequential: it doesn’t really matter. Ink writes: ‘However large, you are/ only one fraction of the Now.’ Whatever is posted, no matter how frequently the output of Twitter is so large it will fail to make a lasting impact: ‘The Vessel of the Now never remembers/ what you’ve said.’

This collection then acts as a reflection on the nature of social media, but I believe it is more than that. In his ‘Drop-In’ Ink concludes by saying the collection can be as ‘shallow or as deep as you want it to be.’ When reading the poems, I constantly returned to them as I felt there were bigger ideas underpinning them.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘The Vessel of the Now’ by Ink

Is it the curse of a proofreader? Book of poems I’ve been hearing about. Author with some buzz, good publisher. Nice looking volume, tidy, interesting cover, nice typeface. First poem I encounter: Regular comma use then suddenly phoosh no commas, then regular comma use again. In one poem.

Okay, so I have to figure out whether there was method to this madness. Yes, okay, I can see that maybe this segment, which is sort of a list or litany, could be read breathlessly, could be a mash-up of sorts. Or was it an error? No, I think it was intentional. Right?

And now I’m on alert. Now with every poem some proofreaderly third eye is scanning for trouble. Nope, next one, regular comma use. Next one, fine. Next one, no punctuation at all, which is fine. But do you see how my whole reading experience has now been altered? And oops, here we go, another poem with a list-y section that has no commas but then the commas come back.

This makes me stop and think, all right, but for all the wrong reasons. It shouldn’t be the poem’s punctuation that makes me sit up and take notice, it should be a million other things about the poem. Unfortunately, now that I’ve finished this collection, the only thing that has stayed with me is the comma thing. Damn that third eye.

Marilyn McCabe, The nature of my game; or, On the Curse of the Proofreader’s Eye

But back to Greg[ory Leadbetter]’s poem. The notes to this poem stress that the interval of the title refers to musical sense of interval and “the difference in pitch between two tones.” I love that it seems to start with a sense of striving— the attempt at silence has failed, and for all its notes (no pun intended) about silence it is noise that interjects the most, from the “roaring world” going unmuzzled by a voice, a “singing nerve” throbbing in our ears, a buzzing gnat. I also love that it ends with a sense that we have to keep striving, to keep working at something lonely. It’s almost a Sisyphean task as “The closer you come to silence, the further it recedes.”, but we’ll get there. Dear god, I’m veering into self-help speech. Sorry.

However, what leaps out at me in this is the centre of the poem..

I found a place where cars and planes
were silent too, the air stilled
to standing water clear enough
to drink, and all my body drank.

The idea here of a calm and quiet place that feeds the whole body. As with restorative silence of home last week, I want to go to the place Greg identifies here and drink deeply, even if it is only possible in my own head. Even if such a place only really exists in our heads.

Mat Riches, Mind the gaps…

This has been the path of my summer: many paths, branching in obscure ways, as I pivot among projects and allow myself to take restorative breaks from work, too. I’m reading a lot for work and pleasure (and will post mini-reviews of some of my #sealeychallenge readings soon-ish). I’m also hanging with my son a lot; he’s home for just 9 days more before moving to NYC to start his math PhD program. We’ve been playing Wingspan, and he’s got the best head for games I’ve ever seen: if it’s a solvable game, he solves it swiftly, and if there’s a lot of chance involved, he makes the most strategic possible use of his luck. He’s won every game so far, but I intend to beat him once before he leaves. A poet should have SOME kind of an advantage where birds are concerned, right?!

All is quiet in my publishing life, although I never mentioned here that Verse Daily featured a poem of mine in July. Appropriately enough, it’s about trying to tilt the odds in your favor (and very much a channeling of the frustration we all feel sometimes when passed over for the prom queen tiara). The egregiously long title is “It Is Advantageous to Place on the Table a [Hollow Figurine] of Apollo, with Bibliomancy.”

Lesley Wheeler, Stars in my eyes, birds in my belfry

No matter what kind of summer you have, it feels an impossible prompt to write well to. I can remember summers that slipped by like dreams, days upon days of the same old wonderful same old, and others full of flat tedium; how to pluck any kind of narrative out of a span of days with no conflict, no rising action, no turning point?

Of course there have been a few summers with big, memorable events (big travel, big purchases, big life changes)–but those, too, are hard to write about. How to capture what a big event really was, what it really meant?

Early on in our Louisiana adventure this summer, I realized I could not write about it while living it. There were practical problems–no easy internet or time–but it was more about knowing I needed time to process the experience. From the very beginning, my summer was an “all of the above” kind of thing: big travel, big purchases, long days that quickly became a new same old, same old comprised of tedium, joy, pain, boredom, and wonder. I have not worked so many full, hard hours in such a long time, while also living through so many hours in which I felt like I was just killing time.

I was having big, tangly thoughts and feelings about all kinds of profound things–aging, mortality, the meaning of life, family, our country and the ramifications of its history, existential crises of various kinds–and I knew I wasn’t ready to share any of them in any public kind of way.

I didn’t trust my impressions to be lasting truth, and I didn’t trust my conclusions to hold water. Not when I was so exhausted and disoriented and mind-meltingly hot. (Good God, but the heat was relentless.) Not when I knew there were things I just couldn’t know in such a short time (and might never be able to know).

Rita Ott Ramstad, What I did on my summer vacation

I wish this week (and the last) could have been about gardening and writing, but instead it was about fighting to stay alive, with infusions of nausea meds and antibiotics and saline—not ideal. At 50 I find I have more fight in me to stick around than I did even a few years ago, when I was (incorrectly) diagnosed with terminal liver cancer (tumors still around but not dead yet.) Back then I thought, I’ve had a good life, I’ve accomplished enough—this time around I thought, I’ve still got so much to do! Maybe that has to do with the new book manuscript I’ve been working on, the new friends I’ve been making, the chances I’ve been taking, the steps I’ve been making to embrace life even as the pandemic has a minisurge and I fight to stave off even fairly normal germs. I am not ready to go yet. Writing seems like one way of making a survival stance, doesn’t it, a way to holding on, of marking down your name, of saying you were here. I’ve written eight books – six poetry, two non-fiction, and I’m not done yet. Will any of them survive a hundred years, or even outlive me? I’m not sure yet. Sorry for the more morbid bit of thought here—I tried to keep the tone light during my PR for Poets talk earlier today, but these kinds of thoughts kept slipping into my mind. Why, after all, do we promote our books? Yes, to honor the work, to honor the publisher’s work, but also, because we hope to leave something that lasts.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, More Hospital Visits (and Bobcat Visits), a PR for Poets Talk with Kelli Agodon, Glenn Graduates, and More

Rain taps on the roof like quiet hands.
So much softer than clods thudding
on a plain pine box.

Once everyone is gone
they take away the green tent
open on all sides, the worst chuppah.

The words wash away, but
I’ll never forget
who rolled up his sleeves to finish shoveling.

Rachel Barenblat, After the funeral

A few days ago, I headed out to a local park where my brilliant poet friend, Lorenz Mazon Dumuk, was hosting Glowing with the Moon, a summer open mic series that invites poets, musicians, performers, and other creative souls to come out and share their work. It’s one of my favorite open mics, mostly because Lorenz creates such a warm, welcoming, and fun space.

When I arrived, however, it was just Lorenz and me, so we sat on the park bench and spent two hours chatting about what was going on in our lives, what kind of creative work we were doing, and our current trajectory. We talked about how we approach our poetry and other kinds of writing. We talked about poetry that bullies, forcing the reader or listener down a path and leaving no space for anything outside the focus of the words themselves. We laughed about poop in poetry, both as a subject and as an analogy for writing, how a writer might find themselves blocked up and need some fiber-full reading to help loosen things up. We talked about poetry with spirit and poetry grounded in the flesh and bone reality of grass and stone and wind and bone. And we celebrated the fact that we both have new poetry books coming out sometime within the next year.

Then we read poems to each other, each giving something that we’d written recently, and we found ourselves delightedly jealous of each other’s unique way of approaching words. And as the Earth cartwheeled backwards, hiding the Sun behind trees and horizon, with the peach light splashing upon the dappled clouds, I was so grateful for this small moment of creative community — two poets sharing a joy of words and the world.

Andrea Blythe, Returning to Creative Communities

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 31

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, summer’s tide appears to be going out, but there’s still time for road-tripping, polishing manuscripts, doing the #SealeyChallenge and more. Enjoy.


At the beach earlier this week, we found a much-broken up rock jetty that teemed with creatures. As I sat back on my heels and peered into the mixture of sand-water-rock-mullosk-kelp, I found myself thinking about Aristotle’s immanent realism (epistemology/natural philosophy), ideas he likely nurtured while examining the tide pools of Lesbos. Or I imagine that he may have done so. We humans observe, and then classify or categorize based upon these observations: similarities, differences, various adaptations–in environment, habit, behavior, construction of the being or entity itself.

I think if I had known as a child and young woman that there was a career path called “a naturalist,” I would have pursued it.

Ann E. Michael, Classification

This year I am part of a group exhibition titled ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ along with artists Donna Gordge and Bernadette Woods. Why happiness? After Covid and some recent rough personal times, all three of us felt we needed to make work that lifted us, made us feel a little lighter. 

We met once to discuss how we might approach exploring ‘happiness’ visually, and came up with lists of things that made us happy including stone fruit, lime-green linen, poached eggs and birds. We talked about the materials & methods we might use – family photographs, paint, posca pens, wallpaper & collage – and then we just got on and made stuff. We checked in with each other a few times online. Then, before we knew it, we were in the West Torrens Gallery hanging the works. We open on Thursday 3rd August, and the exhibition will be on display for the month of August. […]

I’ve made 25 collages, each one containing a photograph from a Danish family album dated 1936-1946 that I found in a flea market. All the photographs  are small, approx 10x7cm.

I have loved hanging out with these tiny black and whites that are about 80 years old. They made me think of my own family holidays in Esperance when I was a kid, a time of of tents and caravans under a bright West Australian sky; of new discoveries in a new land; of a naive happiness but also the yearning that comes with migration; of land, grass, white sand and sparkling sea water; and of being a body experiencing the wonder in this world (also remembering the discomfort of sand in my knickers).

I love that these holiday snaps are now hanging in a gallery in Adelaide, miles & miles from where they were taken, and that we get to enjoy them. If you’re in the neighbourhood, feel free to drop in to spend time with the artworks made by Donna, Bernadette, and myself (there’s some poetry in the exhibition too, of course). And who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself reflecting on what it is that make you happy.

Caroline Reid, SALA Exhibition: The Pursuit of Happiness

I cannot believe this blog is 20 years old. I started it in 2003 in a fit of pique when my website kept going down or having glitches while I was trying to promote my debut poetry collection, Better To Travel.

Blogs were still fairly nascent back then (Google had just acquired Blogger in 2003!)  and I thought this site would be a temporary thing until I got my real website sorted out. It didn’t take long to realize that blogging was becoming “a thing.” I was getting views, so I thought why not make Blogger my “home” on the web? Two decades later, it still is. 

The name “modern confessional” came from a question posed in an interview when the reporter asked what kind of poetry I wrote. Off the top of my head – and in a nod to Sexton, Plath, and Olds – I spouted out modern confessional. What is modern confessional poetry? Your guess is as good as anyone else’s. But the name stuck and I still identify with being an unabashed confessional poet. 

Collin Kelley, Modern Confessional blog turns 20

When I started this blog in 2013, I wasn’t sure what to write about. I flailed around, sharing posts about this and that, wondering if anyone cared what I wrote. From my early stats, not very many people did. After three years, I gave up. Between January 2016 and October 2017, I didn’t post anything. 

What got me posting again? An idea I had while driving between California and Oregon in 2017. I decided to start a newsletter, which I named Sticks & Stones, focused on poetry book reviews. I’d written several reviews in the past, and enjoyed the process enough to want to write more. I wrote about this epiphany in the blog post “Reviews, Reviews, Reviews!” (11/17/17). With a review of Jenene Ravesloot’s Sliders, I launched Sticks & Stones in January, 2018. The newsletter has been quite successful. Every month more readers sign up, which makes me very happy.

Back to the blog: readership has grown, albeit slowly. After almost ten years, I have some useful statistics. My readers are much more interested in “how-to” blogs than some random thought I had about being a writer (unless that thought was helpful to them).

Erica Goss, New Direction for the Blog and a Request

When Amy told me there was a job opening up, I applied and mentioned my experience pulling cases and driving a forklift in a grocery warehouse a decade earlier, mostly to show that even though my recent work experience involved being in front of a classroom, I knew my way around a factory floor. And during the interview, the people I’d be working with and directly under were interested in that. But not Fritz. He’d heard that I was a Stegner Fellow in poetry and wanted to ask me about that. He asked me what journals I read and said he had a subscription to The New Criterion (conservative in his literary tastes too) and mentioned that he’d studied literature at Stanford as well. He asked what I wrote about—roads mostly just then, having spent a lot of time on them criss-crossing the country and exploring the west—and who my influences were—Seamus Heaney at the moment—and then it was over.

I think I started the following week, though my memory is a little foggy on that. I do remember that I mostly worked in the racking room at first, rolling full kegs onto pallets, putting empties into the other end. It was physical work, and fairly solitary because the noise levels required we wear ear plugs and because Darek, who ran the line, was a friendly but quiet giant of a man. I lined up kegs on pallets and Darek stacked them with a forklift and drove them to the cooler. I loaded empties into the racket and Darek repaired kegs with busted valves. And at the end of the day, I swept up and scrubbed the floor and hosed it off and after clocking out, went up to the tap room for a beer.

It was a great job for an artist because it was work you could do without thinking about it. The bottling line was similar, though we rotated stations every thirty minutes because one of the jobs—watching for messed up labels—really was so boring that you’d fall asleep doing it. I carried a small notebook and pen in my jumpsuit pocket to scribble down lines that popped into my head while I was waiting for full cases of beer bottles to line up so I could palletize them.

Brian Spears, Anchors Away

The first 20 copies of my latest collaboration with San Francisco poet and activist Beau Beausoleil have set out on their long journey across the more than five thousand miles – an eight-hour difference – between here and there. I handed the package over to our lovely local postwoman this morning, so I did not even have to go out in today’s downpours to the Post Office.

Beau has written almost daily poems for Ukraine since the sudden, shocking escalation of the war on 24 February 2022. This is a remarkable achievement, but it did make the selection of twenty-five of them for this chapbook a daunting task. These are poems of resistance and rage, tenderness and sorrow. They may focus on human cruelty but they do not fail to notice mundane moments that can overwhelm us with their unexpected beauty.

Who are these men, asks the poet, who always want revenge for their own sins (False Flag)
And on being distracted on his way to market by a red leaf: I am incapable of denying this close beauty that is indifferent to the cruelty we inflict upon each other (War News)

Many of the poems first appeared on Felicia Rice’s website. The centre-spread of the chapbook features a drawing by Felicia. The images on the front cover, title page and flysheets are from my one-off book, 24 Feb 2022. I made the originals by dipping handmade papers into home-brewed botanical inks.

The text is printed on almost-white 120gsm recycled paper with excellent opacity, and the cover is 170gsm ‘Flat White’ card made from used disposable coffee cups! I am pleased by how well both took the coloured images. The 5-hole pamphlet-sewn book measures 30x11cm (12×4.5 inches) and has 36 pages. Each book comes with a band sealed with a stitched kiss (see top photo), and is numbered in the colophon and on the back cover.

Ama Bolton, New Book: Poems for Ukraine

A prose poem of mine was published in # 185 of orbis magazine. The inspiration may, in part, have come from reading the long prose poem 12 O’Clock News by Elizabeth Bishop.

It refers to eight items in her room, with a gooseneck lamp standing in for the moon. The first section ends ‘Visibility is poor. Nevertheless, we shall try to give you some idea of the lay of the land and the present situation.’

I love the humour in it. Here is the description of a pile of mss: ‘A slight landslide occurred in the northwest about an hour ago. The exposed soil appears to be of poor quality: almost white, calcareous and shaly. There are believed to have been no casualties.’

Bishop’s prose poem changes tone as it continues. With the final object, ashtray, we’re suddenly in a warzone; there are dead bodies, corrupt leaders are mentioned. It’s even more devastating because of the ordinariness of the object.

Fokkina McDonnell, Favourite objects

Turning
into 49th from the boulevard,
you can see ships make
their crossing. One of the art
history teachers in the college says,
if you speed up you get a little
lesson in perspective: the Lego bricks
they seem to be carrying are containers
marked Maersk or Hapag-Lloyd.
There’s active commerce in the world
again, though not far from here, a street
named Quarantine reminds us
of other deadly periods of pandemic.
People are eating again in restaurants,
coming back from Iceland or
Greece. Once, we dreamed of walking
that road of pilgrimage going through
cities like San Sebastian and Bilbao.
The world is so close sometimes.
But we’ve come to understand
the quiet in the yard, even on the hottest
days of summer. The stones shimmer,
each giving off their own mirage.

Luisa A. Igloria, Vanishing Points

Today’s full moon is the Sturgeon Moon (thanks, The Old Farmer’s Almanac!) so named as the giant sturgeon of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were more easily caught at this time of year. (If you missed my post on the Strawberry Moon, you can read about it here).

The etymology of “sturgeon,” circa 1300, is mysterious, possibly from a lost pre-Indo-European language of northern Europe, or from the root of stir (v.). “Stir” would make sense as sturgeons spend their lives at the bottom of lakes, stirring mud as they search for food. But in August, around the time of the Sturgeon Moon, they rise to the surface.

Sturgeons were also “a much-esteemed fish in ancient Greece, a costly luxury in Rome.” They can live to be 100 years old. Seriously, how awesome is this fish? (So awesome, it has a full moon named after it.)

As usual, here’s a selection of poems I admire, this time about moons, fish, and bodies of water.

Maya C. Popa, Sturgeon Moon: Poems

As we waited in the theater for the sky show to start, a huge image of the moon was on the wall, rendered amid rainbow colors that shifted and receded along the domed edges of the room. I couldn’t help but think of how the moon is basically just this rocky satlleite that orbits the earth and yet we’ve written countless lovesongs and poems and prayers to the moon since the beginning. Dare I say more than the sun, which is the thing that keeps this whole solar system spinning. And yet the moon is what we fall in love with the most, even though it offers neither light nor warmth.

Sylvia’s moon and its “bald and wild” presence. This month’s double full moons. The Sturgeon moon that means fish are more easily caught and snared in this month more than others. I once write a whole series of epistolary poems to the moon and tucked them into tiny vellum envelopes. Boxed them with old paper moon images and maps and transparency overlays of the moon. Despite this tribute, I’ve still managed to never get a really good and true shot of the moon with a camera–at last not the image I see with my eye–huge and looming over the lake sometimes as it rises. 

I’ve been reading about moon gardens after working on a decor piece about gardens in Savanannah. About planting things that will be equally beautiful and luminescent in the moonlight. About moon doors, which seem to be a cross between a garden gate and a fairy ring. But then again, all night owls must love the moon. Poets too. While I’ve never been a beach day kind of person (pale, pale skin and a tendency to get really drained by heat and sun) I am an avid fan of beach nights, especially when the moon is over the water and its clear enough to see a few brighter stars out over the lake. 

Kristy Bowen, cold and planetary

This week started with the first of two August Supermoons, two things that bode ill for me—August and Supermoons. On the nights of supermoons, I have passed out, been diagnosed with MS, been in the hospital…and August is my worst month for MS symptoms. I looked at my Facebook memories over the past ten years for the first week of August, and in seven out of ten I’ve been in the ER for something. And I’m afraid this week was no different. […]

The good news for this week was a new kind of thing for me—Instagram book fame, LOL! The Instagram account Taylor Swift as Books—which pairs book covers with Taylor Swift looks and funny hashtags—put my book, Flare, Corona, up on Thursday!

But before I had time to celebrate, something was going very wrong with me, and I ended up in the hospital with a pretty bad infection. I’m back at home now, on heavy antibiotics, but several days were just a blur. I did have two doctors get ahold of me on the weekend (!!) to make sure I didn’t die, which was nice.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Supermoons and August Flowers, Hospital Trips, Taylor Swift and Flare Corona on Instagram Together, and A Topsy Turvy Week

There is a pause and celebration to be had here, in August. The first of the month is known as ‘Lammas’, from the early medieval ‘loaf mass’ a celebration and blessing of the first harvest by baking into a loaf the first flour. Here’s an interesting blog which explores the connections between the Christian harvest festival and earlier Anglo Saxon and possible earlier pagan rituals: 

Lammas History

It brings to my mind also this king of witch-hare poems, which I have always loved. The imagery sings of darkness and an earthy magic that feels possible now in this transitional stage of the season. The Lammas Hireling is by Ian Duhig.

I hunted down her torn voice to his pale form.
Stock-still in the light from the dark lantern,
stark-naked but for one bloody boot of fox-trap,
I knew him a warlock, a cow with leather horns.

You can read the full, glorious poem on the Poetry Society website, here:

The Lammas Hireling

I have not had time to make a loaf myself (note to self: make time for the slow joy of baking) but if you wanted to make a loaf and bless it too, there are recipes about. This one, perhaps, if you are feeling witchy:

Lammas Bread and Protection Spell

This deep state of summer then, a grey area merging into the darker months has a feeling of having somehow ‘made it through’ the summer months, of preparing for the next season, of having now the time to reap, to gather and not just food, but thoughts, reflections, before the bridge is crossed into autumn and the time of change. The is what I want the next five posts to be about, this is what I want from The Sensory Summer – a pause, a time to reflect and capture the summer and bring it down to the page.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience – The Sounds of Summer Post One

It’s August. *sigh* Summer is just about over here—three weeks until my kids are back in school—and I’m both ready and not ready. I have a lot of writing to do, and a quiet house will help with that, but it’s been such a fun and relaxing few months. Beauty emergencies daily!

Here are some things that have made the summer extra dear.

Favorite recent reads: Silas House on Jason Isbell in TIME, Hanif Abdurraqib on Sinéad O’Connor—may she rest in peace—in The New Yorker, and Monsters by Claire Dederer. I muttered to myself—yes! this exactly! so fucking smart!—and dogeared, underlined, and starred passages through this whole brilliant book.

Congrats to my friends Andy J. Pizza and Sophie Miller on their beautiful new picture book, Invisible Things, a New York Times bestseller.

On my excited-to-read-next list: Ruth Madievsky’s All-Night Pharmacy, Sarah Rose Etter’s Ripe, and Camille Dungy’s Soil. (If you have book recs for me, I’m all ears!)

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

I was ready to go at 3:00 p.m.  I had the manuscript updated and the document that has my bio open.  I clicked on the webpage at 3:00 p.m. and didn’t see a way to submit.  I opened the page in a new tab and there was the form.  I filled it in as quickly as possible and hit submit.  And voila!  I got the above message.

I was under no illusions; I knew the window would close shortly after 3:00, that 300 submissions would come in quickly.  It was still surprised to go back and to see that it had closed in just minutes.

I only heard about this submission possibility a few days ago from a random Twitter tweet from a Twitter user I don’t follow.  For once, the unfathomable algorithm worked for me!  I had wondered if I should submit at all, since my career isn’t dependent on publications.  But just because I didn’t submit doesn’t mean that slot would go to someone who desperately needed the chance.

I have a deep belief in my manuscript, and it’s not just me; it’s been a semifinalist, and I’ve gotten good feedback from publishers that I respect.  I thought about spending part of yesterday before 3:00 p.m. reworking the manuscript and adding some of my most recent poems, but I decided against it.  My most recent poems are going in a different direction in terms of form and content, so I’ll save those for a different manuscript.

I’m familiar with the work of two other poets who got their manuscripts in, and I see them as peers.  I’m not competing against well known poets; in fact, the call was specifically for poets who don’t have an agent.  My first reaction was “Poets have agents?”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Scribner Submission

My most recently published collection [https://marilynonaroll.wordpress.com/my-books-and-stuff/] is dusty on the shelf, having come out as Covid locked us down. So I’ve been trying to build an inventory of published poems toward a new collection. Well. Now, I’m all pissy and broody again over the rejections rolling in like tumbleweeds.

I mean, even places I thought I had an “in” with, in one way or another, just plumped a no through the mail slot, no regrets or gee maybe next times or it’s not you it’s us-es.

At times like these I riddle my spreadsheet with fuckyouguys and thanksalotforfuckalls, which in cooler moments I go back and delete. (I like to act out on my spreadsheet. And then I like to primly go back and clean it up. It’s the pursed-lip New England protestant in me, plus the unruly Irish catholic. Or perhaps vice versa. You can’t trust stereotypes.)

I have all this new work I’m excited about but a bunch of old work I used to be excited about but all the rejections have cast a pall over it all. Okay, yes, I did have that wonderful visual poem up at About Place. I’m still excited by that. And that older poem that came out in Mud Season earlier this spring. And some translations coming out at some point, which, again, I’m so thrilled about.

So (you roll your eyes), what’s with the gnashing of teeth and foul mouth?

Marilyn McCabe, Drifting along with the tumbling; or, On the Biz Work

Memories of mosh pits, Southern grits, and cross-country road trips. Counting off four with the beat of my drums. Wannabe Bruce Lee kicks and a busted thumb. Driving wasted through all the wasted days and nights. Being held up at gunpoint and protesting to make a point. Crossdressing and second-guessing. Cruising late-night Mulholland and cooling my heels in county jail. Love haloed by dashboard light and mid-summer moonlight. House plants and a nearby Jersey nuclear power plant. Being read to as a child and words blooming wild.

Rich Ferguson, You Can Get Here From There

Bringing history alive in poems is no easy task, particularly so when the times being addressed are so far from today. So I have the utmost admiration for poets who can weave historical research into readable, listenable poetry without letting facts overpower the poetic magic.

I was recently invited to join an online poetry-book reading group and I’ve very much enjoyed the meetings I’ve attended. For the last one, the book which one member of the group had proposed was The Lost Book of Barkynge by Ruth Wiggins (available from the publisher, Shearsman, here). It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. It brings into the light a succession of nuns and other women associated with Barking Abbey from the Seventh Century to the Dissolution. Each poem is headed by a scene-setting ‘hic’ and has extensive end-notes; yet what could be an arid reading experience is surmounted by a refreshing variety of forms and personae. It is a truly extraordinary book. To read it, one would’ve thought it had taken decades to write, but, amazingly, Wiggins says, in an interview, here, that it started as a lockdown project. In how it reclaims otherwise lost, suppressed or hidden voices, it’s uniquely beautiful.

Matthew Paul, On poetry as living history and vice versa

He hefts the scythe, his
father’s before he died
beneath a thrashing horse.
He has a canvas bag,
an old hole sewn tight
and a new strap secured
made from his grandda’s
belt. Inside a loaf’s end
and cheese in a damp rag
and cider in a stoneware
jar. And a book with words
and pictures and a space
under each to write in.
He’ll join the men and boys
down on the lane by
the meadow gate. He has
a joke ready in his head,
one to cap Old Japhy’s,
ruder, bolder, a tale that
only a man that’s tumbled
a girl in the straw would
dare to tell at noon break.
He blushes in contemplation.
But how much sooner he
would rather curl up under
the hay wain with his book
for to read like a scholar
is a glory just close enough
to wish for in the night.

Dick Jones, WHITE FIELD IN BARLEY

There is much to admire in this poem, the repetitive a sounds of the first six lines give it an East Anglian feel to my ears, the phrase “the river / of this town in his throat” is a sound I recognise in the way some folks almost gargle as they speak. It’s also obvious (to me at least) that the last line was always going to be a knockout punch for someone that misses the countryside, although an alternative reading of that last line is potentially much darker..What kept her away for so long, especially when taken in conjunction with the use of the word “stench” earlier in the last stanza?

However, the winner for me is to be found the second stanza…where she describes the old boy (or bor, if we’re going colloquial, and why wouldn’t we?) as having lived in a “radius of four roads”, and having performed “Feats”. I think this phrase contains multitudes…Has he had a quiet but full life? He has achieved “Feats” in that small space. What are those “Feats”? I want to know more, but I know they don’t need to be things that are shouted about.

It makes me think of all the people out there that get on with life and often go entirely unnoticed but have had full lives. It makes me think of many people I know that have barely left the borders of their town or village, hamlet or county. It seems odd in this interconnected world of ours, but it also sounds incredibly appealing at present as the sounds of this London suburb are doing what they do behind my head as I type.

And man, the silence when I was back in Worstead was glorious. There was a moment when I was sitting with my friend in another friend’s garden. It was utterly silent apart from the occasional garbled noise coming from the festival announcers (and there were some wonderful Norfolk accents on display there too).

That mention of silence is probably my cue to stop gibbering, but please do go and buy Rebecca [Goss]’s work, watch the videos and listen to the podcasts.

Mat Riches, You’re an accent waiting to happen…

I will be in your photograph
the one you are taking now
of the grand facade of this building
as I am sat in the coffee shop
sipping green tea
looking out of the window
my face a collection of coloured pixels
caught on the screen of your phone
as you record every moment of your life

Paul Tobin, A COLLECTION OF COLOURED PIXELS

Two summers ago in London, we spent some time in a used bookstore, having a few spare hours before our next activity or meal. One of the books I found was a small 1959 copy of Selected Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, which was filled with not only detailed marginalia but also papers filled with red-pen notes for what look like essay responses to some of the poems. This is one of the reasons I love buying used books – these little glimpses into other lives and minds who owned them.

I hadn’t read much Hopkins except for what was anthologized in my college Norton’s, so it was a delight to discover the utter decadence of his language, the musicality, the alliteration, the word-play. In the 53 poems in this collection, Hopkins uses at least 50 different hyphenated constructions to create new adjectives and nouns.

Some of my favorite phrases that come from this hyphenate play are:

the moth-soft Milky Way

a wind-beat whitebeam

sheep-flock clouds

the plumed purple-of-thunder

snow-pinioned leaf-light.

His alliterative skill, though at times over the top, completely charmed me as well:

from “The Windhover” – daylight’s dauphin, dapple-down-drawn Falcon

from “Blinsey Poplars” – wind-wandering weed-winding bank

from “No Worst, There is None” – My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief woe, world-sorrow.

And amid all the technical pyrotechnics, some beautiful lines that stuck with me:

from “Spring” – thrush’s eggs look little low heavens

from “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe” – we are wound with mercy round and round as if with air

and my favorite Hopkins line from “The Habit of Perfection” – Shape nothing, lips – be lovely-dumb

Spending time with this makes me glad that I have decided to read old books as well as contemporary ones for this challenge…I can always learn. And, to borrow some language from “God’s Grandeur,” I can be delighted and surprised, lifted by “Ah! bright wings!”

Donna Vorreyer, Music-Play, Word-Glow

This August I am once again not doing the #SealeyChallenge. I gave some thought to it—reading a poetry book a day for the month of August, then simply posting a picture to Instagram—but…I get so much out of my April poetry-book marathon that I can’t imagine not sharing a longer reflection. The April project always ends up trashing any other plans for the month, and it always ends up being worth it.

I think what I’m trying to say here is that if you feel led to read a poetry book a day, and reflect on what you find, I HIGHLY encourage you to do so.

Today, because it was left over from my April book stack, I decided to read Rena Priest’s Sublime, Subliminal, which was a finalist for the 2018 Floating Bridge Chapbook competition.

I always love Rena’s poems. She was our Washington Poet Laureate for two years, 2021-2023, and, among so much else as part of her heart-filled service to the poetry community, edited the brilliant I Sing the Salmon Home.

The fifteen poems in Sublime, Subliminal are not straight-forward, easily understood poems. They challenged me. When I let myself drop fully into the project, they also delighted me. Opening lines such as, “Your kiss is backlit pixilation” (“Canadian Tuxedo”); “The bookshelf is a psychic vortex” (“The Final Word”); or this sentence, “In the darkness of the cupboard, / the inner life of the water glass / is not empty” (“Inner Life of the Water Glass”) pushed me to see and think differently.

When I reached the acknowledgments page I was tickled—and not altogether surprised—to discover that the poems were inspired by Jim Simmerman’s “20 Little Poetry Projects.” Years ago, when my children were young and I was a new not-yet-tenured college teacher, I came across this exercise in The Practice of Poetry (edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell), and it worked so well for me that I stopped using it after a few poems. It felt like cheating! Rena Priest, so much smarter, put together a whole book.

Bethany Reid, Rena Priest, “Sublime, Subliminal”

You ever read the notes at the back of a poetry collection, and go, wait a flipping-doodle minute, this, epigraphs and thanks, it’s all guys.

Or if the collection is by a woman, hey, these are all women. Or if it’s by someone queer, all queer. Or someone old, all oldies. And so on, split down the demographics.

Does one’s sub-community of writers have all the gender spectrum or just people that look like you?

At the Chelsea author’s market day, at the next table was Sean Silcoff. He had a stream of well-wishers. His book is being made into a movie. He and I witnessed buyer after buyer explain that they were buying his tech story book about the Blueberry for {her husband, her son, her husband, her uncle}. At one point he mused to himself, why don’t women read it themselves?

That there is a salient question. Dang me, I’m guilty as the aggregate. I had already texted Brian to ask if he wanted to read it. We might read it together but. *shudder* Did I just do a “womanly thing”?

Pearl Pirie, Gender and Writing

This poem is a tipping point.
This poem is a woman running.
This poem is a spreading disquiet.

This poem is an orange domino
trembling at the edge of time.
Don’t touch! Even your breath,
even your most gentle thought,
even a memory, can begin
an end. Stay where you are.
This poem is a tipping point.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, This poem is a tipping point

Laila Malik is a desisporic settler and writer living in Adobigok, traditional land of Indigenous communities including the Anishinaabe, Seneca, Mohawk Haudenosaunee, and Wendat. Her debut poetry collection, archipelago (Book*Hug Press, 2023) has been described as haunting, tender and exquisite (Salma Hussain, Temz Review) and was named one of the CBC’s Canadian poetry collections to watch for in 2023. Her essays have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthology, longlisted for five different creative nonfiction and poetry contests, and widely published in Canadian and international literary journals. Malik has been awarded grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Council for the Arts, and was a fellow at the Banff Centre for Creative Arts for her novel-in-progress.

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book was a very slow, jigsaw process of building courage and coming to acceptance. I come from a people who are intensely private, and the prospect of publishing has always posed carried great risk to me and to us. I had to slowly come to terms with the idea of becoming more public, and think through ways to navigate a landscape that was foreign and riddled with real and perceived threat. But one of the most wonderful results has been the opportunity to connect with individuals who were just as starved as I had been for more complex diaspora stories, and specifically voices from our hitherto unspoken experience as South Asians coming of age in the Arabian Gulf.

I still write poetry after archipelago, but I have been trying the new challenge of novel-writing, which so far feels comparatively slow and clumsy. I did a residency at Banff where a mentor mentioned that it takes on average between four and six years to complete a novel, and that sounds about right. Add to that the daily needs of paying the bills and feeding the children, and who knows how much longer it might take?

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I was a high school misfit in a place of impossible airlessness, skulking the dusty aisles of my library to alleviate desperate boredom when I came upon two forms that changed my life: poetry and plays. There was ee cummings and Eugene Ionesco, and the strange speed and immediacy of poetry, alongside the radical but upside-down, inside-out approach of the theatre of the absurd in particular, split open my universe of possibility. I was stunned that this work was sitting casually and untouched in the middle of an otherwise strictly guarded world. I began a correspondence with another poetic rebel friend, and we compared notes on form and content, pushing one another to try new things with words on paper to speak to all things unspeakably sublime and grotesquely unbearable.

But it wasn’t until I got to university and encountered the work of feminist, and especially Black feminist poets like Audre Lorde and June Jordan that I began to understand poetry as innate and experiential to the lives of women and those who are repeatedly kept out of institutions of power, a form that is fundamentally revolutionary and accessible. I could and did write poetry in hospital hallways, in the mosque, at 3am while feeding a child, after a racist or sexist encounter at a supermarket, with a boss, with a government official. Poetry gleams from within the blood and visceral filth of the every day and so I seized it quickly and greedily and eternally as mine, before anyone could tell me any different.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Laila Malik

I’m thrilled to announce the forthcoming publication of my third poetry chapbook, Postcards from Texas, now available for preorder from Cuttlefish Books. This chapbook is my first that is devoted exclusively to haiku, and represents the shift in my creative focus since 2020. You can find the preorder link here: https://cuttlefishbooks.wixsite.com/home/2023-summer-book-launch.

The haiku in Postcards from Texas were mostly written in the second half of 2021 and the first half of 2022, the last 12 months I spent living in Austin. A few are older, going as far back as 2018. They were composed on hikes and camping trips, as well as dog walks around the city and picnics in local parks. My haiku address the changing political and physical landscape of a place I lived in, and deeply loved, for 15 years.

I’ve now lived in Missouri for just over a year. I adore the city of St. Louis, I finally found a job I could enjoy, and there are gorgeous landscapes throughout the state. The past year has also been one of grief for a place I still adore with all my heart, a place I thought I’d live until I died. Putting this chapbook together this past spring was a way to find some resolution of those emotions surrounding my move.

Postcards from Texas contains another form of grief as well. In 2015, I reconnected with my maternal grandfather for the first time in 20 years. (The reasons for that separation are complicated, and I have become wary of making family history public.) John and I are avid hikers, and I began sending my grandfather postcards from our hikes and camping trips all over Texas. He loved seeing the places we went. Four and a half years after my grandfather came back into my life, the universe took him from me again. He didn’t die of COVID, but I believe that he was a secondary casualty of the havoc the virus created around the world. There is no way to know fore sure, but I believe that if COVID hadn’t cause so many other problems, he’d still be here. I still feel sad that we didn’t get more time, and heartbroken that COVID protocols kept me from seeing him or even attending his funeral.

Postcards from Texas is dedicated to my maternal grandfather, as well as all the other people I lost my last few years in Texas (all but one of them died before COVID). Putting this book together was a way to continue writing postcards could no longer go to their intended recipient. It’s not just a farewell to a place I loved; it’s a reckoning of the loss that I feel should never have happened when it did.

Allyson Whipple, Now in Preorder: Postcards from Texas

On the good news front, I finally sent out another collection submission to a publisher. Well, it might be bad news of course, but good that I sent it at least.

Also, Beth Miller critiqued my book submission letter and synopsis and asked some very difficult questions, which has led to me doing some serious re-writes. But I’m still aiming to start submitting it to agents in September. Meanwhile I’ve started plotting the next book.

Peter and I had our Planet Poetry AGM today, and we’ve lots of ideas for our fourth season which begins in October, plus, while we’re in the close season we’re going to showcase a few of our favourite archive episodes.

Other than that, I’m looking forward to a wee trip to London to see & hear Voces8 in a prom, not to mention a whole week away next month in Wales, plus a family get-together. And although it hasn’t been the best year for gardening, we have a bumper crop of tomatoes and even a few beans. Happy days!

Robin Houghton, In the summertime when the weather is fine…

CB1, Cambridge’s live poetry gathering, has returned at a new venue – the Town and Gown in the city centre (where the Arts Cinema used to be). Over 30 people were there, and there’s room for more. No guest poet this time – it was all open mic, with no shortage of people willing to perform.

Perhaps this is what people really want – a place where once a month they can perform for free, free of criticism, with a chance to have a drink and a chat afterwards with like-minded people.

Maybe guest poets put people off – why pay to listen to someone you don’t much like and who uses up valuable open mic time? Open mic evenings are easier to organise too, I should think.

The room is goth/cellar style with a glitter-ball, which is becoming rather standard for poetry venues. I like it. My only worry is that there aren’t enough chances to chat (i.e. exchange poetry information) with people. Open mic evenings are all very well, but they don’t have the edge (or quality control) that Slam Competitions do.

Tim Love, CB1 is back!

These offerings are like fractals, or a kaleidoscope, or a collective word cloud, or a many-faceted gem. The same tiny piece of prayer inspires different things for each of us. Sometimes we root our offerings in the etymology of a particular Hebrew word or phrase. Sometimes the same word takes each of us in a different direction. (Hebrew is rich like that.) We take a prayer and we talk through it. We turn it over and over, and we refract the light of our creativity and our understanding through it. Or we refract ourselves through the lens of the prayer. Or the prayer through the lens of each of us. (Or all of the above.) We share our work, we critique and comment, we make suggestions. We turn things around, change stanzas, turn one poem into two or vice versa. Artists riff off of words. Writers riff off of images. And when all is said and done, we’ve created something that’s more than the sum of its parts. 

I often feel these days that my own creativity is lying fallow. I’m not working on a big poetry project, and that’s been true for a while. My last two books were Texts to the Holy (which came out from Ben Yehuda in 2018) and Crossing the Sea (from Phoenicia, 2020). It’s going on four years since Crossing the Sea came out, and I don’t know what’s next. Maybe the pandemic and the loss of my second parent and my heart attack are percolating in me. Maybe the pastoral needs of this moment are so great that I just don’t have space for holding a book in mind. Anyway: even in a time of limited personal creativity, this collaborative work at Bayit nourishes me, and it keeps me writing, a little bit. I’m grateful for that.

Rachel Barenblat, Gevurot: Be There

Yesterday I charged my dead reMarkable. I am ready to write poetry again, despite the chemo-induced fog I’m still experiencing.

A person can find meaning in fog. It can be very soothing actually, fog filling the little depressions in the landscape. Depression is the actual scientific name for places where the fog gathers here on the Jæren bogs . No metaphor intended. All truths converge at some point – maybe language with the landscape especially.

*

I delivered the final draft of the Lear adaptation on time. I don’t think I could be prouder of myself, or more appreciative of the opportunity. I am excited to see what the director does with it. How the actors bring breath to the artifact that is the text.

But what to do now? I’m still mourning the loss of my upstairs studio, and I learned it will probably be another two years before I have the space again. I also know full-well that I am using this as an excuse to shove the physical (vispo) poetry work to the side right now. I’m craving order, and paper-making and the like is disorder and there’s no corner of the house that I am willing to let go of right now. Maybe I really do need to go back to the basics.

Haibun, tanka, still pulling at me. American sentences. Maybe I need to explore my own forms – constrained poetry – outside of the vispo context.

Maybe. Definitely. And it shouldn’t be surprising that I want to work with form right now. Control. Order.

Ren Powell, Embracing the Fog

In an essay on the poetic and emotional/spiritual value of waiting, Arundhathi Subramaniam writes:

Poems are about waiting because while a shift in perception can happen in a flash, it is often preceded by a slow, unseen process of unlearning. It takes unlearning to defamiliarise the world, to reinvigorate one’s gaze.

If unlearning is part of the work of crafting poetry, it’s also, I think, part of poetry’s power. The potential to unsettle and unseat. [Kate] Fox’s are poems of reclamation, celebrating authenticity and kinship in neurodiversity – and, indeed, in life. Poems of resistance, pouring light on the shadowy recesses of power, ushering unseen perspectives and identities into view. And in so doing, they invite us as readers to resist, too. Resist stereotypes and cliché, those well-trodden mental paths. Resist the easy mental slide towards the familiar. To resist, even, the dictates of language, remember “the gaps between words and things” and to enter into them, ready to be surprised.

Jonathan Totman, On What Could be Called Communication

ice cream truck!
they abandon their castle
to the tide

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: August ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 24

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: mortality, masks, summer reading, road trips, and more. Enjoy!


Pushed myself to take a 10 minute walk with Leonard last night, but that was a mistake. I crawled into bed with a migraine.

But I woke this morning without one – for the first time in six days. I’m taking the morning slowly. I don’t even dare move this head through an asana sequence. Coffee and water. And prophylactic paracetamol. I have a long day of writing ahead. It will be good to focus on something besides my senses: an imaginary world where the smell of chemicals, body odors, and dog breath really don’t come into play.

The “cancer hour” I promised myself has bled into the long days of this past week. I distracted myself with sitcoms and slept through half of every episode. The exercise and activity chart I made for myself before I started chemotherapy is still hanging on the refrigerator. I really should take it down. At this point, it’s just mocking me.

I hear the birds outside. And the train passing by every now and then. Leonard is sprawled on the floor, taking up more than a square meter of this little room. He’s got his head on a stack of books. I hope he’s not drooling. Here I sit. In my tiny room with the French doors, because I still believe elegance is more about attitude than scale, more about framing the parts than interrogating the whole.

Ren Powell, Que Sera Sera

Change equals living: no life without alterations of one kind or another. My current situation is one of those so-called Life Events: I have retired from my position at the university where I worked for about 17 years. I suppose it is A Big Deal (see how I’m capitalizing?), but I must admit that so far it doesn’t feel terribly fraught, major, or even bittersweet. It just feels appropriate. Part of the reason for that is that I’m not a person who has defined herself by her career. Thank goodness, since it was a fairly modest career. I enjoyed my work with students; and I was part of a terrific team of earnest, funny, and supportive folks. So yes, that’s something to miss. However, I have many interests beyond work at the college. Time to pursue those, methinks. Time to spend with my mother as she wanes. Time to travel with my husband and on my own and to visit our far-away offspring. Of course, there are all those things that will keep me unexpectedly busy…gardening, house maintenance, trying to get the metaphorical ducks to line up (as if they ever will). And then, poetry; I want to devote some serious brainpower to revising, reorganizing, drafting, reading, learning more about the art I love. Maybe even submitting more work, putting together another manuscript or two. Who knows what changes are ahead?

When I note the fewer numbers of fireflies, I do not mean there are none. It’s just that some years, by June 18th, the back of our yard simply dazzles; we don’t need fireworks! Because they pupate in dampness, such as in rotting logs or underground, and because they need moist earth in order to feed (on soft-bodied invertebrates, according to the Xerxes Society’s informative page here), a spring drought can limit their numbers. And I miss them, the way I miss the little brown bats and the green ash trees. Those types of changes may be more or less inevitable, but I can’t help thinking that such transitions feel less timely than my departure from running the university’s writing center. The ash and the bats are still around, but in vastly decreased numbers. I hope the lightning bugs bounce back.

Ann E. Michael, Lightning bugs

It’s June and the rhododendrons are in full bloom. From my window, shades of scarlet, blush, magenta, neon pink. These colors remind me of the various lipsticks my Ballard grandmother would wear and I explored this in a poem I’ve been working on all morning. There’s no shame in too much coffee and pajamas at noon, especially when the rain pours and the drive to write is hot. But I’m also leaving soon for roadtrip through Yukon, British Columbia, and Washington. So a blog entry before my departure.

Kersten Christianson, Approaching Solstice

My last two uncles died a couple of months apart, at the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023. At one of their funerals a cousin expressed the same idea that Linda Pastan so eloquently describes in the second stanza of her poem: we are the older generation now. 

The idea of being next in line ‘to die’ does not bother me. I am deeply grateful for all of my own ‘torn scraps of history’ and I do not feel alone on any shore. I don’t know what lies ahead and I have no need to imagine what it might be. Not believing in any kind of afterlife, or second chance, is a comfort rather than the source of any fear. Having survived to be a part of the older generation feels like a gift, not a burden, or riven with loss. 

While we were waiting outside the chapel of rest for Uncle Michael’s coffin to be taken inside I heard the ubiquitous, unintelligible call of the rag and bone man along the main road beyond the cemetery’s gates. The juxtaposition was both startling and somewhat reassuring. Is there always some use for what is thrown away or discarded, what is unwanted, abandoned? Even our bones and flesh, once our consciousness has departed?

Lynne Rees, Reflection ~ On being the next in line to die

Penny kept him safe from the other pigs; dragged
him off and buried him each night, sat
jealously near his dirt hole,
until she dug him up again, rolled
him with her overheated tongue, and
shook him in her mouth as though to snap
his rigid little neck. After a week
he was a pockmarked mess, his brows
mottled with teeth pricks and his
blob-shoes dull with grime.
Penny had made him his own. Broken him in.

Kristen McHenry, Penny the Pig

As I move into the last leg of writing the book, or at least the first draft of the book, and prepare to start working with the editors to bring it to a shine, I am beginning to look back at this stage of the journey with something like nostalgia. I’ve learned so much about myself as a person, and as a writer, on the way. One of the things I have learned, a skill really, is to trust my own voice and my own story, to ‘shut the door’ and write. There were times when I felt blocked, and the block came from me worrying about the validity of my story; comparing myself to other writers and their intimidating, blazing talent. Whenever this happens, my writing starts to thin out, my voice starts to peter out like the thin waves at the edge of a lake. I have to pull myself back and back, remind myself that the passion is always what saves a story, that writing authentically, about what interests you, is the way to make your writing sing. To write freely, as if no one is watching you, as if social media doesn’t exist, as if no one will read your book; that’s the key. I’ve stepped back from social media in an attempt to nail the final stretch of the book. I am ‘figuring out what I want to say’ and how I want to say it, and it is like solving a glorious puzzle. I haven’t missed social media as much as I thought I would. Stepping back has allowed me to embrace the life I want – writing, thinking. I hope I look back on this time and recognise the absolute joy of existing in this moment; getting up, writing, walking, writing. I shall miss writing this book, I shall miss the discoveries, the journey it has taken me on. But I’m ready for the next part of the journey too. How strange the act of writing, that a person could exist entirely in words fished from the air.

Wendy Pratt, “Write like no one is looking over your shoulder…”

I’m not sure what provoked so fluid a flow. I’d had the opening section – headed Superstructure in this draft – hanging around for several years. The original notion was an anecdotal account of experience working in a mental hospital laundry, but it never got further than a description of the huge gothic edifice that housed the institution. In spite of the fact that my three months in that dreadful place were full of incident, the anticipated graduation to a depiction of what actually went on never occurred.

As so often happens, it was an entirely unconnected stimulus that sparked off the next stage of the poem. During the ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) process of unpacking and sorting documents after our house move, I came across some research and planning notes I had drawn up for a projected production of Peter Schaffer’s play Equus. I had homed in on the play’s central theme – that of the psychiatrist Dysart’s growing fascination with the perverse, amoral theology that has driven his 17-year-old patient Alan Strang to blind several horses with a hoof pick. Appalling though the act is and in spite of the explanatory pathology that emerges through analysis, Dysart becomes increasingly aware of the sacrifice of visceral passion and engagement that Alan must make in order to be liberated from his compulsions. Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created, observes Dysart. And later, as a cri de coeur: All right! The normal is the good smile in a child’s eyes. There’s also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills, like a god. It is the ordinary made beautiful, it is also the average made lethal. Normal is the indispensable murderous god of health and I am his priest.

The planned production never went ahead. A combination of concern about suitability for an all-ages school audience, probable casting difficulties and a sense that Schaffer presents his compelling scenario just a little too tidily had me tucking the notes away and moving swiftly on to something more negotiable. So rediscovering them so long after their compilation gave them a renewed freshness and impact. But instead of causing me to reflect wistfully on the production-that-never-was, I found myself thinking about the poem-that-was-yet-to-be. And I realised within a moment of revelatory shock that aspects of what I had seen and heard in that mental hospital conformed precisely to the informing agenda of Equus. I realised – maybe for the first time fully – that I had been witness to a demonstration of that nexus between the limits of conventional human behaviour and the abandonment and chaos that lies beyond and that it had shocked me to the core. The poem investigates – as maybe only a poem can – the true nature of my perception of the event witnessed at the time and what, with the understanding that only comes with time, it meant to me now.

Dick Jones, BINNERS

I had another recent poetry acceptance, this time for a poem about my mother that is also about the time I played Marjorie in the play Marjorie Prime, a few years back. I played an 80-year-old woman, and afterwards 1) everyone mistook me for my mother 2) I cut off my long hair streaked white that I wore in a braid (just like my mother) and 3) people asked what I did with makeup to look 80. Basically, the answer was “no makeup.” For those not so familiar with theatre, the stage lights will wash you out, so wearing no makeup did make me look 80! But still. So now it helps me 1) understand my parents and 2) brace myself to be reading Successful Aging, by Daniel J. Levitin! I like it a lot, and I hope I am aging successfully!

I found this book, and got it through interlibrary loan, after I read his book This Is Your Brain on Music, which I discussed with the Stranger Than Fiction non-fiction book club. It meets in a wine bar! Our next book, already in progress, is I Live a Life Like Yours, a memoir by Jan Grue, about living with a disability…and just living his own life, which is like…yours, or mine. The Levitin book on aging is delightful in its examples, many of whom are musicians that he met in his other work! Joni Mitchell, Sonny Rollins.

Kathleen Kirk, Acceptance

I love the way the poems in Terminarchy build on the work in Angela [France]’s previous collection, The Hill. And the (not-so) gentle reminder at the end of this poem that it’s likely to be the funguses of the world and other plant matters that will inherit/repossess our planet if we don’t buck our ideas up. There are plenty of other poems in Terminarchy that act as such a reminder. Can a poem make us buck our ideas up? Possibly not on its own, but it was timely to see this article about whether art can change attitudes towards climate change. I think if we can present the issues in contexts such as France has done then we can look again. That seems to be the gist of the article—he says having skim read it so far.

I’m guilty of having slept on my copy of The Hill, and it’s been a while since reading Hide, so I’ll get them back into rotation ASAP. Oh yes and find the work that came before them.

Mat Riches, Spores, the Pity

The title of Tim Allen’s The Indescribable Thrill of the Half-Volley is both gloriously on and off topic. It’s not a book about football, indeed not a single ball is kicked, although one or two are thrown, but it does hover around the indescribable. The book consists of 97 four-line poems, in couplets, each numbered ant titles. The titles all consist of the word ‘invisible’ followed by a noun. Here’s number 25:

invisible politics

A simply dressed man clowning around
For no one in particular in a general street

The man goes home to paint his face
In the mirror the stillness of his world suspends all fear

How do you render the invisible visible in words? Obliquely and through suggestion, perhaps. The contrast between the man’s dress and behaviours evokes an image of politics as farce played out under a surface veneer of conventional blandness.

Billy Mills, A Basket of Small Delights: June 2023 Pamphlet Reviews

One of the unique experiences of being a poet / poetry reader is becoming accustomed with the creature known as the “selected poems.” The closest equivalent from outside the poetry world comes in the form of the “greatest hits” album. Yet, the novelty and nostalgic flash of such an album doesn’t exactly feel right with poetry.

Perhaps a volume of selected poems allows us to tap into a similar experience Italo Calvino speaks about in his essay “Collection of Sand”:

“I have finally come around to asking myself what is expressed in that sand of written words which I have strung together throughout my life, that sand that seems to me to be so far away from the beaches and desert of living. Perhaps by staring at the sand as sand, words as words, we can come close to understanding how and to what extent the world that has been ground down and eroded can still find in sand a foundation and model.”

This idea of glimpsing “a foundation and model” for literary experience through engaging with a writer’s collected body of work is, for me, an apt guide into the selected poems experience. Just as Calvino invites his reader into a communal act of assessment and study, readers of poetry are invited into a similar communal act, only one that includes celebration as much as reckoning.

Which is another way of saying: selected poems allow us to catch up.

It is in the experience of catching up that I encourage readers to enter What Can I Tell You?: Selected Poems (FlowerSong Press) by Roberto Carlos Garcia. Across the three poetry collections gathered here in this volume, one can see Garcia establishing a foundation and model for poetic experience, meditation, and interrogation that ranges in depth and practice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: What Can I Tell You?: Selected Poems by Roberto Carlos Garcia

The first I’ve seen from Montana poet, as well as 2015-2017 Poet Laureate of Montana, and ferrier Michael Earl Craig, the author of Can You Relax in My House, (Fence Books, 2002), Yes, Master (Fence Books, 2006), Thin Kimono (Wave Books, 2010), Talkativeness (Wave Books, 2014) and Woods and Clouds Interchangeable (Wave Books, 2019), is Iggy Horse (Wave Books, 2023). The poems in Iggy Horse have a crispness to them, and the poems hold echoes of elements one might also see in the works of Canadian poets Stephen Brockwell and Stuart Ross: a slight narrative distance, as the nebulous narrators of each poem slowly form as each poem unfolds. As the poem “SPRINGTIME IN HORSE COUNTRY” begins: “Lady Aberlin of the oarlocks. / Colonel Mustard in the cherry trees. / Lady Aberlin with a custard, / Lady Aberlin in waiting. / Colonel Mustard in the pantry with an almond.” Perhaps it is but a single voice throughout, or perhaps the differences between them are there, and perhaps it doesn’t, in the end, actually matter. “One leg looks to have been swung / the way wooden legs often were,” he writes, as part of the poem “PORTRAIT OF THE WRITER / MAX MERRMANN-HEISSE,” “up and over a real one. / Or even over a second one. / It’s hard to tell because it’s Berlin / in the ‘20s, all those wooden legs / coming in from Rumburk / on the Spree, with good hinges / and shellac jobs that could stop / a luthier in the street.”

Composing poems around voice, character and examination, Craig’s poems offer a kind of folksiness, composing intimate portraits of ghosts, individuals, landscapes, techniques in medieval and modern paintings and other small moments.

rob mclennan, Michael Earl Craig, Iggy Horse

After a short break it’s good to be writing reviews again and I can think of no better debut collection to resume with than Alexandra Fössinger’s Contrapasso  (Cephalopress, 2022). These fine poems explore the themes of incarceration, loss and survival, but above all, perhaps, offer a unique take on the nature of love.

The collection is split into two sections: the first begins with a quote from Dante’s Inferno: ‘Through me the way to the city of woe,/ through me the way to everlasting pain,/ through me the way among the lost.’ The quote together with the title signposts the reader towards the nature of the poems in this section: they focus on punishment, namely the impact of a period in which lovers are separated due to the male’s imprisonment. Section 2 deals with the period after his release. Again it is prefaced with a quote from Dante: ‘Now I shall sing the second kingdom,/ there where the human soul is cleansed’. This time the poems concentrate upon a period of readjustment and resolution, as the lovers come to terms with the ordeal once it is over.

The poem Cell in Part One deals directly with the psychological, physical and emotional impact of imprisonment. It begins with a sequence of numbers. It also describes the cell in terms of the number of square metres of floor space and later specifies the number of hours in the day, the number of days of the sentence and the number of letters despatched by his lover. This emphasis on numbers suggests prison is a place where the incarcerated have no control, sharing a cell with ‘a stranger you/ don’t know a thing about/ but let reign over the remote control.’ Counting and measuring is a form of compensation for that lack of agency: it makes the infinite finite and the makes the unfamiliar familiar and manageable. It is also a place of hardship and danger. Fössinger writes: ‘that which rages / outside will eventually/ creep in/ one morning you wake up/  with a tooth next to you/ lying on your pillow’.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Contrapasso’ by Alexandra Fössinger

Publication is over-rated as the end goal of your work because so much of the publication process is out of the writer’s control. Decisions are made by agents, publishers, editors, marketing staff, possibly, but not always by consulting the writer. An editor leaving or a publisher changing their focus can mean that an acceptance turns into a withdrawal and the process of submission, rejection and trying again can start all over again. My first collection was accepted by a publisher who sadly and unexpectedly passed away before publication so I had to start over.

A first book has had years of work behind it. The author has had to learn their craft along the way, there may have been several false starts, significant structural changes and then the publisher’s edits. Seeing the published book is both a triumph: finally something to show for all that effort. Please do celebrate your name on the cover of the book you’ve written: have a party, go out for a celebratory meal, buy yourself a treat, do something meaningful for you.

But it’s also not the end of the journey. What it signifies is the beginning of the next stage: marketing, promoting, getting the book reviewed, keeping in the public eye. And, above all, writing the next book, if you haven’t already started.

Writing is the bit writers have the control over. During the submissions process, start the next project. As your first book nears publication, your next project is your future goal.

Emma Lee, Publication and Writers’ Mental Health

At some point in the past twenty years, a shift happened. Funding was cut, readership declined, costs rose. Rather than trying to innovate, the indie lit world turned inward. Mechanisms to profit off of writers became the norm, the go-to. Want to be published? Pay. Want to meet other writers? Pay. Want to succeed? Pay. Want to study writing at University? That’ll be an arm and a leg. Nom, and nom.

What I am saying is that with so many juicy writers to squeeze for cash, why the hell would any corner of the literary world spend their money targeting readers? […]

Rethink funding for magazines. Read, support, purchase magazines. Tell friends. Create local Lit Mag reading groups. The ‘funding/grant’ model is broken. At Chill Subs, we want to create a way for journals to collect donations and sell subscriptions through our platform. Many have this option on their website. Donate what you can. This is often the only way fledgling magazines can stay running.

We will also soon create an affordable submissions manager that doesn’t charge as a magazine grows. And we’re working on a way to help journals present their work beautifully and connect them directly to audiences. (Others working on this: CLMP, Moksha, Oleada, Motif, crowdfunding platforms.)

Reduce pay-to-play costs for writers, and maybe help them make some money. Editors, consider linking to contributors’ books on your magazine site. Celebrate your writers. (Some are very good about this. Others, not so much. Great example: Points In Case). Support their ongoing publications. Help writers earn money from outside sources. Subscribe to newsletters of writers or entities that encourage transparency in the literary world. Substack has made this easier than ever.

As long as we continue down the path we’re on, indie-lit will never find new methods of profit-making. But if we can shift gears, have standards for market participants, and encourage innovative use of funds, we have a chance. The money is out there. The creative energy is here. Let’s try to harness it as a community. It may take a long time. And if we fail spectacularly and the wide world rejects the idea of literary magazines having a place in it, well, we’re all used to rejection.

Benjamin Davis, Are We Eating Each Other Alive in the Indie-Lit World?

As a disabled and chronically ill person, most residencies are not built for me. If they require ladders to loft beds, or building fires, or steps, or even providing food that isn’t food-allergy safe (I’m allergic to about nine things, the most dangerous of which is wheat, in almost everything)—yeah, they’re not a good fit. I stopped applying for most residencies years ago when I realized—hey, they’re not built for non-perfectly healthy, able-bodied people. They’re not built for me. But I hear from a lot of people that they can’t do “normal” writer’s residencies for a variety of reasons besides their health—kids, jobs, or caretaking roles among them. So, here’s some ideas for people who can’t do the “normal” residencies.

Build your own! I live in a lovely area and there are a variety of places to stay at a variety of prices (yes, they tend to be higher in the summer as that’s our high season, but not always). If you can housesit for a friend going out of town, that can also count as a residency. Renting an AirBNB down the street. Anytime and anywhere you can get away—even just for a couple of days—to focus on your craft, your art and your writing, that counts as a residency in my book. I’ve got one planned in a couple of weeks, and I’ve already printed out poems for my next book to look at and started some relevant reading to prepare for it. Just this last week I spent over fifteen hours sitting in (virtual) doctors’ offices. Health problems are time-and-energy-and-money consuming. If I don’t set aside time (and energy, and money) for art and writing, it won’t happen—everything else will swallow it up. I’m sure you know how it is—if it’s not doctor’s appointments for you, it might be your family’s needs, your job’s needs, or the seven things you volunteer for (hey, I used to be addicted to volunteering, too).

Residencies should involve down time, too—you don’t have to spend the whole time reading and writing—you can goof off, sketch, visit local things you don’t normally get to, have a picnic, listen to music at full blast—anything that helps you get into your writing groove. And you can involve writer friends! Inviting a friend might help your residency to be even more productive, as you can get together and talk shop, plus friend time is important for artists of all stripes. Think about as building space for your creative self. It is just as important as any other aspect of your life, and deserves time, money, and attention. You know how, if you’re married or living with a partner, you reserve “date nights?” It’s the same for your creative self. So, think about creating your own personal artist’s residency. Good luck! And leave a comment if you’ve successfully done this!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Visiting (and Supporting) Local Lavender Farms, Building Your Own Residency, and When You Know You’ve Done Enough for Your Book

It’s valuable to just do the work and build practical habits instead of waiting for a muse.

But my perpetual exhaustion in the face of small crises, one after the other, can’t handle routine and habit-building. I mean, I’m trying, but I feel derailed quite frequently. I’m so discouraged by the slightest bad news, and it feels like there’s a lot of “little” bad news, even when faced with evidence of all that is good and right in my life (maybe not the world).

Trying not to make this a crybaby post. Now that the apocalypse fires in Canada are blowing smoke in another direction(!!!), the weather on the island is beautiful and skies are clear and I should be feeling naturally optimistic with so much Vitamin D and fresh air coursing through my system. Right?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Feeling Stabby and Full of Foul Language (This Too Shall Pass)

Like many poets who write because they can’t not write, I started in my youth writing poems of my feelings or ideas and was very literal, using I when I meant myself and the past tense when I was writing of what had been.  Having no poetry courses, it took me a long while to grasp that the person of the poem is not necessarily the writer, and the time of the poem is what fits the poem, not some external reality.  This poem, another from the old workshop files, is one where a major part of revision was putting that second realization into the service of the story:

Desire

When Billy Joel sings
“You may be
right, I may be crazy,”
I sing along,
off key longing,
not for him.

I ache for
the caged creature
mooning
under the mask
that shapes my
good behavior.

Come on, I say,
crash my party,
leave a great hole
I can walk through,
to go riding,
if I want to,
in the rain.

The mask does not tear.

Ellen Roberts Young, Poem in Present Tense

The neighbor boy’s mask was supposed to make
him look like a warrior or hero,
but he couldn’t pull it off, the bully.

I knew my mask wasn’t working quite right
because all the teachers kept on talking
to my mom, asking me to repair it.

I kept stitching new smiles onto my face
and checking them in the mirror. Smile. Not smile.
Smile. Not smile. There weren’t remote controls yet,

so these were manually operated,
and one got stuck in the smile position.

PF Anderson, MASKS

Unexpected delays has meant the publication of Look to the Crocus has yet to materialise and, quite honestly, I’ve no idea when it will… Putting together the collection now feels like a project from the distant past.

However, my writing is moving on. I’ve moved into dabbling with writing creative non-fiction essays over the last few months and I’m thoroughly enjoying the space to write in essay form yet with the feeling of the work coming together in a way not too differently from when a poem comes together. And I may be finding my way into writing poems in a different way from before too, it’s too early to say if the poems are working out but I’m enjoying the process. 

I suppose I had become quite bored with my usual approach to writing, it was becoming ‘samey’ / repetitious, no sense of tapping into anything new. 

Marion McCready [no title]

I noted with a little bit of horror that we have crested the middle of June. Part of it is that summer, real summer, seems slow in coming, since my windows have more often been completely closed against rather cool and ungainly weather this far into the summer (at least the meteorological designation of its beginning.) There’ve been a couple days where they were all open, but then a couple days where I had to run the space hearer for a minute. I open the windows. I close them. I put on a sweater to run packages to the mailbox. I got a new quilt at the beginning of the month that is less bulky than my duvet, but seriously thought of pulling the other out of the trunk a couple nights recently when I was shivering.  It’s not rainy or wet really, just breezy.  

I wrapped up the governess series last week and have embarked on a new little something that still murky in its nature, though I am liking what I have so far. They are wild little poems about cats and cryptids and heartbreak. My main writing goal for the rest of June is to get COLLAPSOLOGIES at least to the point where I have a physical galley in hand, which will vary in timeline depending on the printing and shipping, which can be as long as a few days to over a couple weeks. Once I have that, I can make the final adjustments, one final sweep for needed edits, and maybe have a book in hand by mid-July if all goes well. I loaded in the cover (see the post below) and she’s looking fabulous so i cannot wait to see the finished product. 

Since we are technically halfway through the year, I’ve been plotting what I would like to see happen before the end of the year. The new book, obviously, but also some image/text zine projects I’ve been planning (the governess-inspired series, the home improvements stuff, technogrotesque), a video chap similar to what I did last year, an advent project with art for December. I feel like once we hit the 4th of July, summer slides down the hill at a much faster pace into autumn, so I want to be ready and not flailing about quite so much come September.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 6/18/2023

I am delighted to announce the publication of The Wind and the Rain, with Blue Diode Publishing.

You can buy the book and read sample poems from it here

Thank you to Rob Mackenzie for accepting the manuscript and doing such a fabulous job with the production of the book.

Thank you to Lucy Runge for permission to use your stunning painting for the front cover of the book.

Thank you to Helena Nelson for your endless editing advice, wisdom and patience. The book would not exist without you.

And thank you to Tatty. Without you, nothing.

Anthony Wilson, The Wind and the Rain

On May 30th, Dead Mall Press began accepting pre-orders for MJ Stratton’s new chapbook, River, Our River. This collection of poems was written during a single month and comes from a place of fluent imagination and feeling. Moving through a variety of forms, the poems are both dreams and exposed nerve ends, asking us questions about identity, need, suffering, and the body, while revealing a garden of cinders, moons wrung out into jars, and bees singing in the chest. MJ’s poems draw us into a river of language, at once gentle and cruel, that accepts fluidity and refuses to claim anything for itself as final.

Recently, MJ and I had a chance to discuss the book a bit over email, and you can read our conversation below.

DMP: Thanks for doing this interview, MJ! Maybe we can begin with some basic context for readers who are unfamiliar with you. Would you mind giving us a brief sketch of your background?

MJ: Oh no, thank you so much for having me! Genuinely, the pleasure’s all mine. The basic facts are that I live in Providence, RI, and I work as a receptionist. It’s a Pam Beesly situation without the love story or boss that hits people with their cars. I also write, of course, and you can read a bit more about it at my website. Beyond that, though, I struggle to answer any question that even vaguely resembles “who am I?” I’m the authority on that particular subject, right? And yet I can never get over the fact that really, I don’t know—at least not completely (we’re always changing, myself included). I’m also not particularly interesting, and I don’t like having “the floor” when there are so many better, more deserving dancers I can/should be standing behind while aggressively clapping them on. Clapping, or fist pumping.

DMP: I know you are quite prolific, often writing multiple poems a day, and have well over a thousand pages of poetry in manuscript. And River, Our River contains nineteen poems selected from a larger crop of writing from July 2022 alone. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process in general and how you write so much?

MJ: I think it involves both external privilege and internal need. It takes time to write, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that I’m very lucky to be able to devote some of my time to something I love. That’s the privilege aspect, or a fraction of it. The “internal need” I mentioned is harder to characterize, probably because it doesn’t have societal or economic infrastructure you can point to and trace with your finger.

A large part of why I write is because I have to—and I hope that doesn’t sound grandiose or pretentious or insincere. I picture it like this: I largely live in a state of white noise; while I’m very self aware, I also really struggle with revealing myself to myself. I don’t know what I’m thinking or even how I’m feeling unless I write it out, usually abstractly. The pen serves as both a translator and a processor for me.

There’s a Joan Didion quote that dissects the body I’m vaguely pointing at and cuts out the beating heart of it: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Really, writing is how I step out of my own blankness and exist. Then, luckily, hopefully, I can go a step beyond existence and connect.

R.M. Haines, Interview w/ MJ Stratton

all alone
with the monotonous voice
of a fan

Jim Young [no title]

Much of my poetry video is set up to work at different levels. In general, I don’t mind how they are interpreted by others – that is an essential aprt of the process. But when someone really gets into the multiple layers of a piece, it is incredibly satisfying. I did an English / French version of my video Palingenetics / Palingénétique that was accepted for the 2023 edition Traverse Video Festival in Toulouse, France. Each year they produce an annotated program of the event and this time it includes an article about Palingenetics / Palingénétique by Simone Dompeyre. The original poem is very complex, and refers to evolutionary and developmental biology, ancient number counting systems, discredited social theory, and climate change (!!!!). But as you can see below, Simone Dompeyre gets it as well as the visual / audio aspects… I was quite overwhelmed by her words. Merci beaucoup!

Ian Gibbins, Palingénétique at Traverse Video, 2023

Storytelling outside the square: prose poems, haibun and other experimental forms is the panel I’ll be on Friday 6/16 at 4:30 pm CST. Since many of my readers here are poets, I wanted to invite you to watch if you can and care to. Roberta Beary, Haibun Editor for Modern Haiku, is also on the panel, among others. The entire flash festival is great with participants from all over the world! I hope you can drop in.

All events are being live streamed on Flash Frontier’s YouTube channel and can be viewed there afterwards if you can’t make it. You can also see what’s happened at the Festival of Flash so far (it began last weekend) as well as everything coming up.

Charlotte Hamrick, You are invited….

This year, after I announced Haiku Girl Summer (my limited-run online haiku journal), a haiku friend asked me if I’d heard of the Buson Challenge. I had completely forgotten about it! 2022 was a terrible year for my creative life, and writing 10 haiku a day for 100 days was not going to work with everything else I was juggling. But now I’ve settled into a job I like, the house is getting more organized, and I have the brain space to actually write again.

As of this writing, I’ve successfully completed 12/100 days. I’ve definitely written more mediocre and genuinely bad haiku than good, though since most of the haiku are still in my notebook and not typed up, I don’t have sense of the overall proportion so far. But I’m surprising myself; the overall quality each day is better than anticipating. Most days, I manage at least one haiku that has potential.

Preferred notebook: Field Notes

Notebooks filled: 1

Places I’ve written:

So far, I’m having a fantastic time with this challenge, and feel optimistic that I might actually get all the way through!

Allyson Whipple, Buson Challenge Days 1-12

But you too may be of an age to have inflated your pyjama bottoms while engaged in Bronze / Silver / Gold awards in school swimming lessons. 

I walked with my schoolfriends to the Swiss Cottage baths. This memory came up for me while holidaying with my Longest-Serving Friend in North Wales. 

Did you wrestle with your pyjamas while treading water and fifty years later wonder why, if it was even possible?

Liz Lefroy, I Inflate My Pyjamas

Almost always, entering a library feels like coming home.  My earliest memories are of going to the library, and libraries haven’t changed radically in appearance in my lifetime, so it makes sense.  Libraries have more stuff now–computers, meeting rooms, non-book media/items–but libraries still have books, shelves and shelves and shelves of books.

I got my card with no trouble, since I now have a North Carolina driver’s license.  The librarian asked me if I’d ever had a Buncombe county library card before, and I said no.  Suddenly I realized that I’ve had a library card in almost every state south of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi River.  I have no particular desire to live in the missing states (Mississippi, for example), so this might be the end of my run.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Library Love

Good thing this wasn’t a full-on poetry pilgrimage. Mostly my family enjoyed fine, cool weather during our week’s vacation in midcoast Maine, and I’d planned a stop, as we drove away, in Edna St. Vincent Millay territory, just for an hour, before visiting the Farnsworth Museum. Enter heavy rain and flood warnings. I insisted on paying the park fee anyway so we could drive to the top of Mt. Battie and I could imagine Millay there, cooking up her famous early poem “Renascence.” As the plaque at the summit says, rather melodramatically and with imperfect comma usage, “At the age of eighteen, a frail girl with flaming red hair left her home in early morning to climb her favorite Camden hills where so deeply affected by her surroundings, she wrote ‘Renascence.’ The poem received Immediate public acclaim and was the inspired beginning of the career of America’s finest lyric poet.” I’m putting aside the latter assertion because I don’t think “who’s the best?” arguments are worth having, but I have to observe that Millay wasn’t so frail if she hiked that high.

I’m a Millay fan and sometime scholar, but while I’m glad “Renascence” won the young poet some prize money and a scholarship and the beginnings of fame, it’s (shh) far from my favorite of her works. The poem is full of beautiful turns of phrase (“To kiss the fingers of the rain,/ To drink into my eyes the shine/ Of every slanting silver line…”). I’m moved by her awe; I’m interested in the poem as a representation of something like a panic attack, an overwhelming physical and mental response to the largeness of the world and the pettiness of human ambition in the face of suffering. But much of the poem’s intensity strikes me as funny; I’m trying not to use the word “adolescent.” I don’t have any right to condescend to a woman who faced serious headwinds yet climbed so very many mountains.

It also struck me as hilarious that when I retraced her steps–by economy car–in the aged half of middle age, with plantar fasciitis and a pulled muscle in my back, after repeatedly shaking my head at ticket-takers who asked if I was eligible for a senior citizen discount, what met me was not “three islands in a bay” but drippy pines and a sea of fog. I could have been anywhere. Ah, the grand view from my fifty-fourth summer on the planet! There’s a poem in there somewhere.

Lesley Wheeler, For rain it hath a friendly sound

At Nanyuki, they say, the equator runs under asphalt
and bush. I imagine it like the seam of a cricket ball,
six rows of coarse stitches, acacia trees and thorny

scrub sewing the path. Two unequal halves held
together. Somehow. The me walking on water
and the me wrecked at the bottom of the sea.

The me going through the rituals of being and
the me talking in binaries with the moon.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 51

What I’m listening to: My Goldenrod playlist from summer 2021, The National’s new record, and a lot of music that my kids and I agree feels like summertime: Superchunk, Nada Surf, Harry Styles (Rhett is obsessed with “Watermelon Sugar” right now), New Pornographers. We’re looking forward to a summer full of live music: boygenius, Metric, Nelsonville Music Festival, Old 97s.

I also recently listened to the incredible Julia Louis-Dreyfus read my poem “First Fall” (from Good Bones) on her podcast, Wiser Than Me. Julia’s mother, herself a poet, shared “First Fall” with her. Just…wow. The whole episode with author Amy Tan is terrific. The beautiful reading of my poem is in the first couple of minutes.

Best reads this month so far: Elise Loehnen’s On Our Best Behavior and Airea D. Matthews’ Bread and Circus, which are both out now; Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s Cacophony of Bone and Leslie Jamison’s Splinters, which you can and should preorder; and Jedidiah Jenkins’ Mother, Nature, which you will definitely want to read and share with a friend or family member, so preorder one or two.

Just a handful of the books I’m planning to read between now and August (and may be seen with in a chair at the pool): Monsters by Claire Dederder, The Twelfth Commandment by Daniel Torday, I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane, and early copies of Psalms of Unknowing: Poems by Heather Lanier and How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair.

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

Ten Toes Coffee, Somerset St, was the venue for this spring’s pre-press fair reading. Apparently it’s been open a few months. What a sweet little spot for coffee, tea, snacks, or laundry in the back apparently. A green and orange and stained glass and retro glass decor. Next time I’ll have to try the matcha latte. Their bathroom has a wooden sink, which is fun. But do I digress or bury the lede?

The reading. Yes, the reading. It was super fun and super full, probably over 2 dozen, some familiar faces, some faces new to me. (Although they have all owned their faces for decades obviously.). I haven’t been to many reading over the last 5 years since concussion then Covid-era starting. I was glad to see some masks in the room.

Some nice conversations had, catch ups and getting to hear aloud a chapbook I loved reading, Fossils you can Swallow by Vera Hadzic (Proper Tales Press, 2023). You can get your copy at Stuart Ross’ table on Saturday.

The audience was beautifully open and attentive to all. Option of zoom is lovely but there’s something to be said for live energy in a room.

Pearl Pirie, Pre-press fair reading

A song can be carved from stone, river, or wind.

A fist and a heart can fit into the same size clothes; it all depends if you’re going to a wedding or a war zone.

Ashes to passion, dust to desire.

Keep my casket open when I die. Nightmare gallows are no match for these singing bones.

Rich Ferguson, At the crossroads of my lips

The strawberries are only available for a few short weeks in June, a gift fleeting as that month’s green grass, mild sun, and rose blossoms. I used to try to make the gift last longer, boiling the berries into jam or freezing them whole. I had fantasies of perfect June berries in my January yogurt, a spot of sunshine in the cloudiest time of year. The jam proved to be no substitute for a solid berry, and the whole ones I froze defrosted into a sloppy mush. I threw them all in the compost bin the next June, after thinking all winter that I would surely do something with them, and finally admitting that I wanted them only the way that I can have them in June, or not at all.

I now have them only once a year, for a few short weeks that are never enough and always so much.

This week my friend Lisa brought Hood strawberries and angel food cake to an impromptu dinner. We talked of many things that are changing: our bodies, our work, our environment, our world. “Enjoy avocados while you can,” she said as we discussed diminishing water supplies and schemes to desalinate ocean water and pipe it to southwest states.

I used to want to dole the berries out and eat them slowly, as if that might somehow make them last longer. Or, I’d only get them when I could make them into some dish worthy of their greatness. Or, I’d only eat them when I could savor them, fully appreciate them. I was afraid, if I ate them too quickly, that I wouldn’t have them when I really wanted them. Inevitably, some would rot while I was waiting for the right time, or I’d end up getting only one carton in a season.

Now, I buy them whenever I see them and eat them while they are fresh. I’ve given myself permission to take a few each time I open the refrigerator. I get them as often as I can, because the season is so short and nothing is guaranteed. For all I know, this is the last year I will get to eat Hood strawberries. I know for sure it is the last year that this version of me will. Next year’s Rita might not be able to enjoy them in the same way that this year’s Rita can.

Life is so full of big, hard things we can barely swallow. People lose their land, their names, their loves, their lives. The more I lose the more determined I am to eat all the sweet things that I can, while I can, with love and appreciation and gusto.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Fleetingly sweet

After the warning
sirens, egrets come back
to fish in the shallows.

A man takes off his shoes
to walk in the flooded street.

Luisa A. Igloria, Evening, with Hailstorm and Tornado Warning

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: digesting terrible news, labor vs. work, an ode to irritable bowel syndrome, Mandelbrot images, Scots poetry, ChatGPT poetry, and much more.

I feel I should say a few words about my decision to include Substack posts here, since I’ve just added the fourth feed from that platform to my roster. Although they wisely position themselves as a newsletter delivery service, they aren’t doing anything that you can’t do with WordPress, for example, or with any number of other home-brewed blog + newsletter delivery app combos; they’re just making it a hell of a lot simpler and more affordable. I also like the emphasis on making money for writers, though obviously I’m not going to include any posts that aren’t freely available. Critically—for my interest here—Substack blogs have RSS feeds, which means I can access them from the same Feedly dashboard I use for everything else.

If you do decide to start a Substack, please be sure to post about it at your old blog so I can find the link. (This may seem so obvious as to not need saying, but, well, I know poets. Self promotion is not always our first instinct.) Anyway, enjoy the digest.


I’ve been thinking how easy it is to write tragedy–and while necessary, how redundant: the cat plowed into her blanket fort beside us, purring; the first day of real snow unspoiled by rain and a thermos of cocoa; the secret languages and contexts lacking drama: those. Those deserve more poems.

JJS, Untrammeled: a sonnet

I meant this to be an upbeat blog post but it’s hard to feel upbeat and I want to be authentic in this blog. I was sick all week (hence the lack of selfies) and it was cold and foggy out, absolutely the kind of weather you don’t want to go out in. I had a strange harbinger—a beautiful juvenile red-winged blackbird at my feeder, which I thought was unusual (they don’t usually visit feeders). Then tonight I learned about the death of a poet/friend/editor of Menacing Hedge, Kelly Boyker Guillemette. She was also a Seattle poet, so it impacts this community that I live in. I was sad I didn’t get to tell her how much I appreciated her, or even get to have coffee with her, just to visit. This pandemic has been so isolating, I realize, that I’ve lost touch with friends I shouldn’t have.  

The news has been pretty relentlessly terrible, too. Outside today we had some sunshine, and I had been in bed, barely leaving the house even to get the mail this week with cold, miserable fog every day, so I took a short walk, but in the end, it was too cold to stay out long. I noticed how fallow everything was—all my usual walks, usually with some flowers or greenery even in winter, looked unusually barren. January is a hard month for many reasons. Anyway, readers, hug your friends and editors, tell them you appreciate them, buy them a coffee. 

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sad news about a Seattle poet, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Superhero Poems, and Some Vision Boards and Kitten Pics to Cheer Us Up

Don’t say apple or flag or Thanks-
giving. This country is becoming

the loneliest country in the world. It is
the smell of floors bleached after a rain

of blood, the blind heat of hatred
strung like lights in dance halls,

incandescent as bullets boiled
in a crucible of darkness.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Loneliest Country in the World

In a dream around 7, I was eating the soles of a pair of black leather shoes, peeling off pieces. These delicate shoes, full of eyelets, usually sit in my closet. After my first rush of radiance, ecstatically led by someone offscreen, the dream began to think: disgust side by side with beauty: the shit. Appeal and revulsion, beautiful and the monstrous. Nestled in. And the hilarity of pragmatism: would I walk like a bird, scratching out a steady path with half the shoe gone. Missing pieces. Was I practicing for starvation in Leningrad? During the siege in the 40s, they scraped off glue from shoes and tables. Also, I was observing my oral French. Somehow that mattered. A traveler’s exile ends in language. Wrens meet at the branches of a bush beak to beak, nose to nose as if mistletoe. Pebbles on a gray slate play with their shadows, not a cat and mouse game, one will always prevail. The open emptiness of cobalt blue. Pop pop pop.

Jill Pearlman, Blue, Gunshots, Eating Shoes

Even if you watch this country with the sound turned down, all the hate and hurt still bruise through.

So many derangements arranged in strange and familiar ways.

Intoxicated logic. Unmended melodies with not enough pills or winning streaks to take them to the finish line.

Even with the sound turned down, you can still hear a cry take hold in the throat and refuse to leave.

Rich Ferguson, A Gene for Tears

turning up Marquee Moon in the otherwise
quiet night of someone else’s house

wearing headphones because the world’s asleep
its madness closely contained in a thin layer
of clean-toned guitar riffs, slicing through

the flesh around the heart
no blood, so much blood

Jason Crane, POEM: for Tom Verlaine

whose sorrow heals as a wing

whose wound mourns the gun

when did my shadow first walk underground

Grant Hackett [no title]

Thursday was the first day of spring in the Hindu calendar, and I missed it. Saraswati is honored on that day, with lavender, saffron and turmeric. I wouldn’t have “celebrated”, but I would like to have known. There is something life-affirming in rituals, regardless of belief. There is something I envy.

A moment of envy can be an awesome thing. It is an admission – a recognition of desire. It’s humbling. It situates you clearly outside of the center of your own subjective concepts of meaning.

I just learned about the goddess Saraswati last month while talking to the theater director and artist Anupama Hoskere. (I am working on an article for Drama magazine, and will link later.) She explained the connection of education through the arts to the universal. She talked about means and desire, and about Dharma.

I am still letting all my thoughts bump up against each other. I don’t really want to put them down as sentences yet. Poetry, maybe. Poetry at the moment is an expanse of dark, open water.

Ren Powell, Calendars, Conductors, and 31 Dosas

You unwrinkle me on a table and try to understand the words but the ink is smudged into a language you cannot read. This is what you mean. The calligraphy of incomprehension. Meterless. Wordless. Endless.

A grave is a box. Death, a label. We must ultimately be nothing and everything and be labelled when we are not left to call. The herd of the dead in rows for the final migration.

This is what you mean. The inevitability of sameness. The primal stereotype. Beyond the pretence of resistance. The line. The blue river. The danger. The other side.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The box. The other side.

I had been thinking of a poem possibility before last night.  In the wee small hours of the morning earlier this week, I had awakened to the sound of someone singing.  Sounds travel in strange ways in this building, so I’m not sure who was singing or why.  I’m fairly sure it was a human singing, not a recording.

This morning, I turned my attention to my prayer book, as I do every morning.  I use Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours, which is rooted in the lectionary that comes to us from the ancient monastic tradition.  One of this morning’s passages leapt out at me:  “The Lord executes righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed” (Psalm 103: 6).  

It’s not the first time that a passage seemed chosen for our particular day and time, and I do realize that the beauty of the Psalms rests in the broad scope of them, everything from mourning/lament to joy to anger and all the emotions in between.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Time, and a Psalm, for Lament

The hills
are dressed

for morning prayer
shoulders wrapped in wool.

Their winter tzitzit
are made of ice,

turn to tchelet
after the last snows.

Do our houses serve
as their tefillin?

We’re the tiny scrolls
tucked safe inside.

Rachel Barenblat, Minyan

Hurray! Spring is on its way! Well, the days are lengthening at least….It’s been a busy start to the year although I don’t seem to have got any poetry written. I’ve actually mostly been reading and researching a story which might turn into (whisper it) a novel – I know, I know, and me always saying I couldn’t write fiction. It may just be a nice break from poetry, something different and even energising, at least, that’s what Peter said when I mentioned it on the podcast. Whatever it is, I’m enjoying the process. If you see me please don’t ask ‘how’s the novel coming along?’ I’ll let you know when/if there’s anything to report!

Robin Houghton, Why I missed the TS Eliot readings, plus the good and the bad of January

It is a gladness to be able to call one’s daily work a labor of love, and to have that labor put food on the table the way any work does, dishwashing or dentistry. And yet such labors of diligence and devotion — the kind William Blake called “eternal work” — are somehow different, different and more vulnerable, for they enter the world in a singular spirit and are recompensed in a singular spirit, distinct from dentistry or dishwashing.

That spirit is the spirit of a gift — not the transaction of two commodities but the interchange of two mutual generosities, passing between people who share in the project of a life worth living.

Maria Popova, The Vital Difference Between Work and Labor: Lewis Hyde on Sustaining the Creative Spirit

Honestly, though, I’m finding the distinction a little fuzzy. How can it not be, when money is what we need to survive in our current world, and some labor is paid and some work is not? Yet it is clear to me that writing a blog–this kind of blog, at any rate–is clearly on the side of labor, and not work. It’s a labor I have been feeling ambivalent about.

What do I have to offer here? Do I have anything to say that anyone will benefit from hearing?

It’s a challenge to create a gift to the world when my instinct these days has been to retreat from it. Until now, I’ve had no choice about engaging with the world; continuing my existence required me to live deeply with it. Grading papers, planning lessons, submitting book purchase orders: These are all acts of work, and one can, I suppose, do the work of being a teacher or librarian without doing the labor of being an educator. But I never could, and laboring as an educator requires full immersion in the world. Now, I have a choice. Now, I finally have the resources I need to give myself to labor of whatever kind I might choose, and all I want to do is hunker down in my little shelter from the world.

I’d like to think it’s just a seasonal thing. Winter is a time of hibernation, of course. Or, perhaps, it’s a recovering from burnout thing. It feels like something more or different, though. The world feels increasingly foreign to me, and something with which I can’t keep up. Don’t necessarily want to keep up. In recent weeks, for example, I’ve been wondering what it will mean to be a writer–or any kind of artist–in a world with ChatGPT.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Labor enough

An acronym close to that computer firm.
There are dress codes at IBM, I have you know.
Irritable? Yes, often. I’ve been pissed off,
imagine bowels as a curled-up, snarling cobra.

Syndrome is, I believe, where spectators
gather to see retired pilots take off
in noisy small planes. Banking
is a dangerous manoeuvre.

Fokkina McDonnell, Ode of sorts…

In the season finale of the Culinary Saijiki podcast, I talked with Mark Scott of Naturalist Weekly, which was one of my favorite blogs of 2022. In the conversation, I had the idea of spending 2023 investigating the micro-seasons around me. I decided that since I wanted to find a way to write more consistently in this space, I would make that my project for 2023.

Of course, the first month of the year is nearly over, and I’ve yet to get started! In part that’s because I’m balancing a full-time job, finishing my Pilates training, and my other haiku endeavors. But there was another challenge: it became clear to me that the micro-seasons Mark describes in his blog would have been developed over many years of watching and observing. An awareness of micro-seasons would also require one to be intimately familiar with the flora and fauna of their locale.

Having lived in Missouri for just over six months, neither of these things are particularly ingrained in my consciousness.

Allyson Whipple, New Year, New Home

skies that make islands
of familiar trees
and cause us to imagine
great waters in between
near and far

and so probability
yields to dreaming
and there are wings

Dick Jones, islands

I love it when I find a poet I haven’t heard of before whose collection absorbs me and keeps dragging me with it through three or four readings. So it is with Alexandra Fossinger’s Contrapasso, which I bought a week or two ago.

She works with the in-betweens, the unexplained areas of experience, so it takes some work to get to its layers. I hadn’t read anything about Fossinger and didn’t notice the short biography at the back until after the second reading but it fits my initial reaction – She is mostly interested in the spaces between things, the tiny shifts in time, the overlooked, the unsaid. She’s Italian, from the South Tyrol near the border with Austria, lives in Germany and writes mostly in English. She’s done the usual round of magazines.

I don’t know the specific details behind the poems because she avoids telling us and concentrates instead on creating an atmosphere of increasing isolation. The drama is cumulative. It seems – and forgive me if you see it differently, or think I’m way out – that she is writing for a lover now estranged in time and distance, imprisoned somewhere, and so lost, except to memory and these poems, which seem to combine to form a message that deals with the experience of continuing to be fond of someone it is no longer possible to see or speak to, of where that experience can take a person over time.

In that so little is explicit, she is a demanding poet, but not obscure for obscurity’s sake. There is a real sense that she is trying hard to examine a particular experience of loss and come up with an appropriate way of communicating it. Yes, she could have been kinder by offering more easily understood facts, but it feels as if it’s the emotional experiences and not necessarily the physical facts that interest her.

Bob Mee, CONTRAPASSO – A COLLECTION BY ALEXANDRA FOSSINGER

As contemporary poets invent more and more forms for their poetry, it is perhaps surprising that the sonnet is undergoing something of a revival. Last year saw the publication of Hannah Lowe’s superb, award-winning The Kids , which demonstrated so well how this traditional form can be used for current content and now we have Paul Brookes’ Shakespearian sonnets in is latest collection, These Random Acts of Wildness (Glass Head Press, 2023) , which treat a range of enduring issues such as our experience of being alive and the nature of the natural environment.. His use of the form is as adept as Lowe’s, often concluding in memorable rhyming couplets, such as: ‘We collect the wild as ornamental/ Domesticate, put on a pedestal’; ‘My hard weight tames the uneven and wild/ makes it all proper, gentle meek and mild’; and ‘The wild dance of the swifts amongst the dead/ reminds us life goes on restless to be fed.’ The sonnet is clearly alive and well and has much to offer poets today.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘These Random Acts of Wildness’

I was very pleased to hear of Chicago-born poet Jessica Laser’s latest, Planet Drill (New York NY: Futurepoem, 2022), recalling how struck I was by the work in her debut, Sergei Kuzmich from All Sides (Seattle WA: Letter Machine Editions, 2019) [see my review of such here]. The poems in Planet Drill are predominantly shorter, lyrically-compact first-person examinations, each line constructed as a kind of self-contained statement, set as a layering of poem-shaped brick-works. In certain ways, she constructs her poems around the shape of what otherwise couldn’t be seen without staffolding, allowing the poem to exist as the absence around which her poem draws. Listen to this stretch in the middle of the two-page poem “PLUMBER,” that reads: “I kept along my secret, plumbing / for keeps. State-employed, / I’m hungry, have glory, now money, / now sadness, now none, concern, / joy, fear, grief, / humility, anger, pride, peace, / I’m happy stricken, afflicted / with so deep a burning / of which ice is and can’t help.” There is a playfulness to her lyric of indirect direct statements, one that offers wry commentary and tongue-in-cheek swipes. “Nothing in pride but a flower.” she writes, to open “POEM WITH LIES,” “Nothing in a stare but glass life. / No fruit but a spore / and silent nectar. To remember / this is to bear all things. Life bears / no fruit but of too much color, stands / for taste where sun and taste ally.” Laser’s poems blur between surfaces and depth, moving in and out of focus at remarkable speed, and employing a precision that both illuminates and contorts. “A sad girl a sad alas is.” she writes, to open the poem “CRENELATIONS,” “Best to forfeit disposition. / All exposure. Best / Not to make / A judge love you, / Particularly / You.”

rob mclennan, Jessica Laser, Planet Drill

Carolyn Forché has a new collection of her own poetry, which is always cause for joy. She has compiled anthologies and written memoir and essays, but her poetry collections don’t appear frequently–five collections since 1975, averaging one poetry collection a decade. This is not a prolific output in terms of poetry collections compared with some of her peers, but her books are worth waiting for. I suspect that her poems, crafted with such memorable pacing and imagery, which unspool so purposefully–even mindfully, though that term is overused–must take time to consider, revise, or compose. I have to slow my breath just to take them in.

In the Lateness of the World lies on the book pile beside my bed at the moment, and I read about three to four poems at a time. Savoring them, thinking about their implications; despair and concern and grief, and deep love for the world we inhabit and the people who labor through the days. Forché, because of her “poetry of witness,” often gets called a political poet, mostly because she never shies away from confronting, and writing about, the injustices and damages inflicted on people and on the planet–and implicating the perpetrators. But she also avoids ideology. The perpetrators are not easily pegged in her work: all of us can be implicated, and all of us are affected, a network no single person or nation can untangle or resolve. Forché’s poems resonate with a complicated love and a recognition of how much work we must be willing to do.

Ann E. Michael, Admiration

This pamphlet features two longer sequences, starting with the title piece, and four shorter poems. In a nutshell, “Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain” explores the life of a woman in youth, age and death through a lens of motherhood. The poem doesn’t flow in in chronological order, it’s a series of recollections from differing perspectives. […]

The two longer sequences explore multiple voices on a common theme while the shorter poems are more focused. All demonstrate a love of language, both of meaning and sound, not just as single words but how sounds build patterns and add texture to the poems.

Emma Lee, “Lilies on the Deathbed of Étain and Other Poems” Oisín Breen (Beir Bua Press) – book review

Finished reading Deathbed Sext by Christopher Salerno, 2020, Two Sylvia’s Press.  This was a winner of TSP Chapbook competition. There are some remarkable lines in this poetry. It is rich with dissonance (something I love) throughout the book.  Personally, I felt its strength was in individual poems and not so much as a cohesive manuscript, but that was just my opinion. 

Michael Allyn Wells, January – Birthday – Fountain Pen

It occurred to me suddenly last week that next year, we are coming up on the 20th anniversary of the first dancing girl press chapbook. There is no way this could be at all possible, and yet, there it is. It also means that 20 years ago this fall, I was just starting my MFA program. While wicked alice existed prior to those years, the press is somewhat tied to that program, not really the poetry classes, where they all seemed slightly horrified I had the audacity to start a press (or at my audacity in general,) but a brief dip into the Fiction Writing program’s Small Press Publishing class where I created first a print annual of WA, then my own little chapbook project as a test runner for bigger things that fall. Granted, that class imagined far larger goals for starting a press than a tiny chapbook operation.  I remember my classmates coming in with grand schemes and even grander budgets, none of which quite lifted off the ground. My tiny little print annual flew..mostly because my expectations were small..a saddle stapler, some cardstock, some paper, a word file. I did it all for less than a $100 for both the annual and my little chap. This was proper to social media, prior even to this blog (I was still on xanga at the time.) And yet, people found their way to the website, the crude little initial version I had built on Angelfire  for like 10 bucks a month where I hosted other early sites (where it still lives, more or less, at least the landing page, which then gives way to the shop hosted elsewhere.) 

The success of course, depended on the smallness. Keeping things manageable financially, with each book paying for the next. This is still the model that works, with other funds coming through from the shop goods in general. It’s a lot more solvent and in the red than when I rented the studio space, but it’s still very much a micropress. Occasionally, I entertain the idea of full-length offerings, which are do-able as my own self-publishing endeavors attest, but I still love the handmade factor, the smallness factor, of publishing chapbooks. It’s still a low-overhead endeavor, which makes it possible to continue even in times when many other presses and publishers went under. (Ie even if traffic is low and the economy shit, books can still make their way into the world, even if I am paying out of pocket myself.)

I also like that not much investment means that I can afford to take chances on authors who might be publishing their first work but aren’t going to be big sellers, at least not right away. Or strange little weird books no one but me may love. Or books by authors who release a lot of work, but because their fans are split across so many new projects, they might not sell well initially (I sometimes am this author, I know what it’s like)  There is a pleasure in being small, but also really free. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | january 2023

There was a lovely range of ages in my first workshop, a few younger siblings joined in, as well as parents, grandparents and carers. We talked about pattern, repetition, shape and rhyme in poetry, and how that might be represented visually. We also learned that George Crabbe wrote long narrative poems, predominantly in the form of rhyming couplets, and I showed the group some of my own visual poems, where I’ve used the same flower at the end of each line to represent a rhyme, and more recent poems using photocopies of fallen leaves.

Then the group spent time with George Crabbe’s herbarium, carefully handling specimens (all kept under clear protective covering to preserve them) and selecting the ones they wanted to work with. Hannah, from Trowbridge Museum, photocopied the chosen specimens, then the participants set to work, cutting and pasting photocopies of flowers, or drawing and colouring them, or making 3D models of flowers and a garden landscape, or a combination of all of this. One workshop member had a go at writing rhyming couplets in the style of George Crabbe. We talked about how Crabbe included common wildflowers in his collection and the group was very knowledgeable about the insect-enabling, pollinating benefits of flowers and plants, incorporating bees, butterflies and other insects into their creative work, a few samples below! [Click through for the photo documentation.]

Josephine Corcoran, Flowers, visual poetry and George Crabbe’s herbarium in a workshop at Trowbridge Museum

Thank you Matthew Paul for reminding me about The Iron Book of British Haiku. You can read his very detailed and engaging post about this book here – a real insider’s account of how this book came together. I’ve featured the poem on the back cover (above) [“Morning sneeze / the guitar in the corner / resonates” —Dee Evetts] as a gentle reminder to myself to get back to the guitar! It’s been a marathon month of blogging, and it’s really helped me focus on the poetry, but I’m well aware that it has also taken up some of the time I would normally have spent practising the guitar. My aim was to post every day in January, and we’re almost at the end of the month, so February should be, by rights, a month where I pick up the guitar every day. Let’s see how that pans out!

Julie Mellor, the guitar in the corner …

It’s Saturday morning and I’m doing everything except writing although my mind keeps going back to writing. I’m watching a documentary right now called “Laurel Canyon” on Prime but in the back of my mind I’m restructuring a creative nonfiction piece I’ve been working on for a while. […]

The main thing that impressed me was the mystique of Laurel Canyon itself, as a community, at that moment in time. I felt like I was watching a lost world that will never be again, a world more personal than the one we live in today. People trusted each other, didn’t lock their doors, wandered in and out of each others homes. Their lifestyle was free, innocent, expansive. It seemed it was a community that shared, without envy and competition. It’s hard to believe in our current world that this ever existed.

The landscape itself was verdant, moody, primitive, even dangerous in the way beauty often is. I can imagine being bewitched, living there at that time in such a richly creative, beautiful, and nurturing environment. It oozed creativity that came through in the old home movies and photographs. It really cast a spell on me for several hours. I can relate to how music and art is inspired by being immersed in the natural world, how the peace of it empties the mind of chaos, replaces it with wonder and a calm that allows creative ideas to grow.

Charlotte Hamrick, Creative Communities

The second poem for this week comes from Fergus Allen and his first collection, The Brown Parrots of Provedencia. I think I’ve mentioned his work before, and may have shared a poem, but if it’s taken me two years to get to Katie’s book, it’s taken me about 25 to get to this one. I’ve had this since my days working at Bertrams and have hauled it with me wherever I go, but if I have read it it didn’t land with me, or perhaps I didn’t have the tools to comprehend it, but now I”ve started it I am enjoying it. It looks like my three Fergus Allen books made it to the TBR pile a couple of years ago too, so I really am getting down into the sub-strata there. I’ve now discovered that a) he’s dead b) there are two more books I don’t have of his c) Brown Parrots came out when he was 70 (wither the definition of an emerging or developing poet argument) and d) this is an interesting interview with him.

Mat Riches, Attitudes, Anteaters, Brown Parrots, and early kicks offs for the Eliots

I’m so delighted to be included in the most recent issue of Eemis Stane, a primarily Scots language publication. The team is just brilliant and so helpful with getting the Scots in my poems jist richt. I’m still learning, so it’s been great to work with them and to be included, though Scots for me is a learned language, rather than a native tongue. The scope of the magazine is amazing and global even though it’s focussed on a minority language, from a sample of Catalan translations of a Scots novel to a whole collection of great Scots poems and a review of a book of Scots translations of Chinese poets. I feel like I’m a small part of a new vitalising movement. 

Gerry Stewart, The Keeking Light

I’ve excited to announce that my next collection of poetry, Her Whole Bright Life, winner of the Jack McCarthy Book Prize and forthcoming from Write Bloody, is now available for pre-order! Books will ship in April, order today!

***

Her Whole Bright Life is a collection of poems that weave together the trauma and exhaustion of a life lived with disordered eating and the loss and grief of the death of the poet’s father. Love and hunger intertwine and become inseparable as the poet grapples to find, and listen, to both. With a distinct and feminist voice, this collection delves into a life now lived without a beloved parent, while trying to survive a pandemic, and battling demons that have lived inside her for most of her life. With both fierceness and tenderness, we see a woman trying to find her place within her own body and within an ever-changing world. This collection of poems is both an elegy and an anthem – praising both those who’ve been lost and those who remain.

Courtney LeBlanc, New Book Available for Pre-Order

I am amazed to see that I have yet another review of my new chapbook (The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants)! I think this is a testament to the hustle of my wonderful editor at Belle Point, Casie Dodd (thank you if you are reading!).

Erijo Edward writes, “The book is a moving masterpiece that allows for the author to mourn, for the reader to see through the most trying period of her life and also appreciate the essence of what life is, for it is in moving on and finding the will to survive we coexist with the planet and once again appreciate the beauty of nature and life in itself.”

Masterpiece?!?! I am really flattered!

Renee Emerson, The Commonplace Misfortunes, reviewed in The Poetry Question

I was thrilled to receive an acceptance this week for some poems I submitted to an upcoming anthology. I haven’t submitted work in a very long time, and I had forgotten the rush of good feeling it gives me to be granted a “yes” on my work: Someone thinks I’m worthy! Someone likes what I wrote! Approval is a powerful drug, and it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a good dose of it. Most of the time these days I go around seething to myself, “If you want to tell me about all of ways I’ve disappointed you, you’ll have to get in line behind everyone else.” So being given the Nod of Worthiness felt pretty darn good.

Kristen McHenry, Emotional Wins Hot Streak

One of the joys of social media (and there are plenty of aspects of them that are less than joyful) is that occasionally a notification pops up from an unexpected source and when you check it out there is something really worthwhile to be found. This happened the other day – via Instagram. Someone called Matt McGettrick had tagged me. I don’t know Matt, but he is a student on the BA course in TV and Radio Production at the University of Salford.

Matt’s instapost said he had recently created a soundscape based on a poem I published in 1990, in my first book from Enitharmon Press, called Beneath Tremendous Rain. It’s unlikely that the poem was found in that book itself, but I remember it was selected more than 10 years later by Sean Street to appear in an anthology called Radio Waves: poems celebrating the wireless (Entharmon, 2004). There, I was happily rubbing shoulders with the likes of Auden, Brecht, MacNeice, Heaney and Carol Ann Duffy. Sean – whose is a poet, broadcaster and recently retired Professor of Radio at Bournemouth University – had divided the anthology up into sections variously titled, Music Radio, Talk Radio, Weather, Listeners and Signals. My piece was in the section called ‘In the Car’.

Martyn Crucefix, ‘Air-Waves’: poem as audio soundscape

The thing I found fascinating about Mandelbrot images, was the way you can zoom in and in and in, and the same patterns emerge at every level of detail. That was the effect I wanted to portray in this poem. To my mind, a thesaurus behaves like that; you can look one word up and then find its synonyms, and then proceed to synonyms of those synonyms. As the poem imparts, spiralling and sprawling, spawning a myriad thesaurus points, and genociding a kaleidoscope of others.

Giving the name Julia to one of these fractal sets felt very anthropomorphic.

Giles L. Turnbull, Patterns Amid the Poems

it’s the fag isn’t it
chomped in the blown corner
making way for the mouthed words
exhaled frown yet to crease that young brow
where the fish words garner thoughts
that glow and fade
drop like blown ash
his mind as far away as the fields
in the tobacco shop on st helen’s road

Jim Young, dylan thomas in a chair with a fag

In the bright frosty days when rain paused I remembered how sparrows spring clean as nesting time approaches – sweep sticks and feathers from hiding places in the eaves. Foxes are mating and calling. Something of that fever got to me in the last couple of weeks. I’ve spent hours online rooting through names on my mother’s side of the family.

There are few narratives attached to these names, other than the streets they lived in, the churchyard they’re buried in (masses of them in the same one) and occupations on census forms – agricultural labourer, laundress, unpaid domestic duties. Interrupting these, a house painter, groom, a charcoal burner, gardener. Unsurprising handholds in the story that kept mum’s family in the New Forest for generations, mainly around one village. For a while they lived in Silver Street, which the New Forest Explorers’ Guide reckons is a corruption of Silva, meaning road to the woods. Whether or not that’s true, I’ll take the beauty in that name as truth. Just as I was delighted to find a female ancestor called Martha Candy.

Jackie Wills, The forest ancestors again

I hear of two so search for the third
as death always comes in threes
this is a hard and fast law
my mother steered our family by such stars
bad things can happen any time
tea leaves held clues
and she interrogated every cup for omens
but none were as accurate as
Coop Indian Prince Assam

Paul Tobin, TEA LEAVES HELD CLUES

The photos in this post were taken in Rome in November. And it was such an interval of pure play. At first I was disappointed that the carousel was draped in the protective tarp. But it started to seem a bit symbolic. The messages and words written on the plastic in the dust. Someone had torn away a bit of the plastic so you could see in a little but largely the carousel animals were a murky blur. The fun part was obscured. Still, the decorative top was a visual feast. I can’t tell you how many photos I took of this and Rob off to the side patiently just letting me do my thing. At the time I couldn’t even say what drew me to this but I was COMPELLED. Now it makes sense to me but I knew enough to just go with it and enjoy the play. To just delight. I remember taking some pains to line up the angels on the carousel with the angel on top of the Castel Sant’Angelo, and the bird perched on the lamppost. […]

As most creative people know, when you’re just playing around, goofing about, that’s often when neat stuff happens. You’re open to it, it’s open to you. Who knows. In the next two frames, a couple of birds began to play. You could tell they were riffing off of each other, taking turns perching on the horse. Delightful, yes?

It helps, anyway, is what I’ve found, to just go and play at something (in my case photography). Then when you come back to the day job or whatever work you have to do, it’s easier to find that comedic distance.

Shawna Lemay, Participate Joyfully

Like many people, I’ve been experimenting with using AI tools to write. In one way or another, AI has been part of my writing practice for decades. I begin using Ray Kurzweil’s “Poet’s Assistant” ages and ages ago after hearing Christopher Dewdney speaking about it. You could feed it a corpus of a poet’s work (I liked Blake’s) and then add another corpus (I’d feed it old manuscripts of mine) and then you could get it to generate entire poems, or, even better, to complete sentences. I found it particularly interesting to prompt it with words or phrases that confounded it. “Underwear” isn’t in the Blake poems, for example.

I’ve often used Google Translate, and an N+7 generator, running next through them multiple times and generally trying to exploit the strange corners of the software.

Lately, I’ve been exploring ChatGPT and GPT-3. With any AI, the trick is to figure out how to give it productive prompts which cause it to respond in interesting ways and hopefully generate something of use. I’m not a purist–I’m happy to take output and edit it. The first example below (and set to music in the video above) The Ocean was created without any significant editing — a couple of tiny nips and tucks. The second piece, The Leaves was more substantially edited and I merged two different GPT-3 prompts and results together. I love the idea that you give a prompt to an AI and then the result is kind of like a prompt back to you.

Gary Barwin, The Ocean, The Leaves and AI

How many times
do two words go

bump-bump
before it means

something,
the old monk asked.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (389)

How does a poem begin?

Sometimes with a ghost, sometimes with a joke. Although before that, before the immediate inciting incident, there is a slow and steady accumulation of fragments: overheard phrases, unbidden ideas, resonant texts, facts that scream to be made into metaphors. I spend my time moving through the world and collecting these little fragments, jotting them down in notebooks, suspending them from the rafters of my brain where they can sway and sing together.

And then, the inciting incident: A hypothetical question about eating your clone, for example. That gives the fragments something to coalesce around. It gives them a shared premise. It illuminates their similarities, heightens their differences. They all begin casting light and shadow on one another, melting into one another, gesturing toward other fragments, morphing into strange new entities with many faces. It’s all quite chaotic. 

So what you need to do, then, is find that line or phrase to anchor them – like binding a spirit to a cursed object.

Matthew Kosinski : part five (Thomas Whyte)

but when I stop and listen

I realise I am not
the only interruption ~

a passing train, the cries
of children in the yard

of a school half a mile away
and then in the next moment

the peals of the school bell
calling us all to order

and I am a child
in another schoolyard

in another landscape
bouncing on my heels

turning towards this future
I have yet to imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ It is so still today

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Weeks 51 & 52

Poetry Blogging Network

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

For this final wrap-up of 2022, with two weeks of material to go through, I had the proverbial embarrassment of riches. It was especially tough with those bloggers who had a good solstice or Christmas post AND a good year-in-review post, trying to choose just one. But in the end, I feel, both sorts of posts are well represented here, along with the usual off-the-wall reflections and reports. Enjoy! See you in 2023.


Gilded horses with wild eyes and gold-painted manes, real horsehair tails groomed to silk and fanning in the breeze. Riderless on their barley-sugar twist poles, gliding by, up and down on an invisible sea, the afternoon sheened with drizzle and yellow light as the horses pass, and pass again, Coco, Belle and Princess, fettered and unloved, evoking an image of childhood that never really existed.

chestnuts in a paper bag
we stamp our feet
to keep warm

Julie Mellor, Carousel

I find Christmas more enjoyable, whatever its shape, whoever I’m with, however the food turns out, if it’s accompanied by Handel’s Messiah. It’s often sung at this time of year because of its distillation of the Christmas story into quotations from the bible, the first part focusing on Unto us a child is born.

I listened to the first section yesterday as I ran round the Quarry Park in Shrewsbury for my 80th parkrun, sporting my Santa hat. I was somewhere behind Mr Yule Log, and amid 700 or so other Santas, Elves, Christmas Trees and even, I think, a Christmas Pudding. […]

This work of Handel’s has survived its own popularity. This is song that can be sung in any season, even this one with its ugly-beautiful mix of religion, commerce, greed, altruism, cynicism, hope, loneliness and partying. I do not experience this work as a sermon, but as a poem. Similarly, parkrun with its accommodation of logs, fast runners, walkers, dogs, puddings and all – I don’t experience it as a race, but as a temporary community with volunteer marshals encouraging us on every step of the way. 

Liz Lefroy, I Snap A Picture

It’s become a private tradition to read poetry in this wintry span of time between the end of one academic term and the beginning of the next. I think it’s because poetry helps me center myself, dial down stress, and look away from my inbox. I’m definitely hit at the end of the calendar year by guilt at my to-be-read stack–but I think a craving for calm matters more. I’ve used books my whole life as a mood regulator, and probably built my career around them for similar reasons. As I put it in “Oral Culture” in my book Heterotopia, poetry is “work and joy and religion.”

I just posted at the Aqueduct Press blog about the speculative edge of my 2022 reading, noting that this was a difficult, distractible year during which certain books sunk in deeply and others skated past.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry in 2022 (work & joy & religion)

I leave the house and walk to the train station. In the afternoon, I walk home from the station. I could live anywhere.

Except I don’t. I miss the city. Any city. The pressure of anonymous, noisy humanity. Like a weighted blanket.

It’s the individual voices, the steady, thin drip of snark, and the randomly-focused vitriol that hurts. Vitriol is an interesting word. I wonder why it isn’t used more often. It gestures, in a graphic way, to petrol and by extension to all things caustic.

In the fall, there are leaves along the edges of the trail that have withered into fragile lace-like structures. The midrib and the netted veins remain as a kind of mid-stage artifact of life.

I missed the fall this year. It seems I’m waking up in the middle of death. And it’s not quiet, as we tend to describe it. It’s the percussive slaps of melting snow, flung by the tires of passing cars. Browning from the edges, like a rotting artifact of hope.

Ren Powell, Post Long Covid Torpor

Shimmer and cyclone of snow-breath clouding off pine pinnacles tall as wild hope; this ridge will burn, sooner than we can imagine, but now it diamond-glints and showers sprays of spirit-shaped creatures who rise as often as they fall, lit gold.

Vermont says Vermont things, secret. Always held between the mountain and the flesh, what is whispered here. A single glove left behind, or maybe both. Soft, warm, the shape of what was once held. Breathless from it, the cold; from what was in hand.

JJS, contranym

It’s that time, when foxes appear on Christmas cards. There’s a path made by foxes from the hole in my hedge to the fence on the other side of the front garden. My neighbour, who has a webcam, has counted at least ten different animals, plus two badgers and a hedgehog. 

I hear the foxes most nights, from about 8.30/9pm, chattering or screeching and of course the dog goes mad, throwing herself at the window. The cat doesn’t seem to hear, or doesn’t care. When I come home late, there’s usually one on the path. There used to be one that slept by my front door. 

Jackie Wills, Time of the foxes

The slow unpeeling of a lemon 
on a painter’s canvas will not convince us
to mind our decadence.
Time does pass — that’s why we celebrate.

Jill Pearlman, Mellow the Morning After

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (indie link) by Jenny Odell
The author reminds us our attention as the most precious—and overdrawn—resource we have. As she writes, “If we have only so much attention to give, and only so much time on this earth, we might want to think about reinfusing our attention and our communication with the intention that both deserve.” This book doesn’t rail at us to renounce technology and get back to nature (or our own navels). Instead it asks us to look at nuance, balance, repair, restoration, and true belonging. She writes beautifully. Here’s a snippet.      

“In that sense, the creek is a reminder that we do not live in a simulation—a streamlined world of products, results, experiences, reviews—but rather on a giant rock whose other life-forms operate according to an ancient, oozing, almost chthonic logic. Snaking through the midst of the banal everyday is a deep weirdness, a world of flowerings, decompositions, and seepages, of a million crawling things, of spores and lacy fungal filaments, of minerals reacting and things being eaten away—all just on the other side of the chain-link fence.”    

Laura Grace Weldon, Favorite 2022 Reads

Even the glass frog, smaller than a postage
stamp and almost as gelatinous as a gummy

bear, still confounds science—asleep, its organs
hide the blood, rendering it if not completely

invisible, then barely perceptible. Pasted
against a leaf like a wet translucence,

an outline of itself; with nearly all cells
carrying oxygen packed into the liver’s

styrofoam box, how does it even
keep breathing? And yet it does.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait as Glass Frog, or as Mystery

A BBC website piece on the international appeal of Detectorists, available here, provides some instructive reading, in how superb writing can transcend supposed barriers: that, far from obscure cultural references being deterrents, they can actually possess intrinsic appeal because of their obscurity.

I’ve had similar thought when reading We Peaked at Paper, subtitled ‘an oral history of British zines’, co-written by Gavin Hogg and my friend Hamish Ironside. It covers fanzines devoted to all manner of obscure subjects, including, to my delight, A Kick up the Rs, about the mighty QPR. What’s evident is the passionate energy which the founders brought to their individual fanzines and it’s that which is important, surely, in enabling niche content to reach beyond those who might already be converted. I can’t recommend the book, which is beautifully produced and available here, enough.

Matthew Paul, On obscurity

It feels bad to be a downer. It feels bad to not participate. It feels bad to be there but absent. It feels very bad to miss these years of grandchildren growing up, miss getting to know each unique, amazing personality. I have had, and hope to have more, time with them. I cannot be a regular grandma, certainly not a storybook grandma, but to the extent I can I would like to know them and for them to know me. 

But most of all, I want as long as possible with my friend and lover and husband while we are both able to fully appreciate our time together. This late romance was an unexpected gift. My illness is not its only burden, but so far we have held together. I hope we can keep doing so. 

Sharon Brogan, Why I’m Not There

The list of books I read in the past year is the shortest in memory, partly because of all the things that happened this year to disrupt my reading time, but also because it contains three very long titles. Most of my reading was connected with my zoom book group, and we began the year reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. That occupied us during most of the cold months last winter, appropriately enough. It was my third time through, and I feel like I got even more out of it, especially by virtue of the close reading with astute friends. Among us, we read several different translations, and this also added to the depth of our discussions. I was the one who had pushed us to read it, and so it was a delight to watch the group engage with and, at length, fall in love with the book and its characters, and appreciate Tolstoy’s tremendous gifts as a novelist. The biggest gratification for all of us came at the end when several members who had been reluctant at first, or who had tried previously and never gotten through it, expressed their feeling of accomplishment and happiness at having met this monument of literature, which everybody agreed really does deserve its rating as one of the greatest novels of all time.

We then drew a deep breath, and decided to read a number of short works, of which the two by César Aira stand out particularly, along with Aristophanes’ comic play The Birds.

Beth Adams, Book List, 2022

I’ve been forgetting to post poems on the blog, as more people tend to read them via links on twitter or facebook these days, but here are the out-in-December ones I can remember (alas, I’ve had to rush away from home and don’t have access to all my records.)

New poem in First Things: The Mortal Longing After Loveliness This one not “about” but is oddly apt for the Christmas season. I wonder how many poems Xerxes has marched into…

New poem in Willows Wept: Summer’s End (page 53) I’d forgotten this one; poets are moody, it seems!

And if you have a subscription to print-only journal Blue Unicorn (they’re very rare, those lovely, melancholy blue ones), you’ll find one in there this month as well, thanks to a bit of delay on an issue.

Marly Youmans, Wiseblood, Seren, poems

The concerts are over – Sunday’s Lewes Singers event was a major thrill, and it was lovely and amazing to see Claire Booker there – of all my local poet friends, none has ever been interested in coming to hear beautiful choral singing, so Claire is a real one-off!

As the year closes out I’m reminding myself all the good things – as well as the music, there’s Planet Poetry which has just has just signed off for a wee break, although we’re back in January with Peter interviewing Mimi Khalvati. I’m really looking forward to it, especially as Peter and Mimi knew each other back in the day. […]

In the post yesterday came the long-awaited new edition of The Dark Horse. The front cover somewhat dauntingly announces it’s a ‘Festschrift for Douglas Dunn – Poems, Affections and Close Readings’, teamed with ‘MacDiarmid at 100’. Despite my initial reservations I soon found myself enjoying very much the various recollections and essays about both of these (clearly eminent, but in different ways) poets. I’ve already been persuaded to order a copy of Dunn’s Elegies. And already I’ve spotted some lovely poems by Christopher Reid and Marco Fazzini, the former’s ‘Breaking or Losing’ I read to my (non-poet) husband who found it very moving. I like the way The Dark Horse is both a serious magazine and also warm and real – heavyweight contributions abound, but it’s never overly academic or esoteric.

Robin Houghton, Festive reading and giving

As I look back on the past year, at first I felt as if I didn’t get as much accomplished as I wanted to—as I could say of all the pandemic years—and was weighted down with too many doctor’s appointments and not enough fun stuff. But productivity is only one way—and a narrow one—to measure a year. I made new friends at a beautiful new farm in Woodinville – where I spent a lot of time wondering through lavender fields – and started a book club at a winery—where I hope to make more local friends. I got to go to La Conner for the Tulip Festival AND the Poetry Festival, and caught up with old friends, and did my first live reading at Hugo House since the pandemic with wonderful poets. I did podcasts for Writer’s Digest and Rattle. And of course, I worked this year with BOA Editions for the first time, on copyedits, covers, blurbs, and putting together all kinds of information. So in some ways I accomplished important things. So I guess I’m hoping for more time in flower fields, more time with friends, and more time away from doctor’s offices.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Holidays: Solstice and Christmas Traditions, Flare, Corona Full Cover Reveal, New Kittens, Winter Storms, and Planning for 2023 Already!

Quite unseasonally perhaps, here is an image of a gazelle – gazella dorcas – the kind of one Rilke is writing about in my translation below, with that ‘listening, alert’ look. The other extraordinary image that Rilke includes here is of the hind legs: ‘as if each shapely leg / were a shotgun, loaded with leap after leap’. This is one of the New Poems, written by Rilke under the influence of the sculptor, Auguste Rodin. Rilke learned from Rodin’s insistence on ‘looking’ closely at a subject, as well as his impressive work ethic! […]

This is one of five new translations which have just been posted at The Fortnightly Review. Click the link below to see the others – ‘Departure of the Prodigal Son’, ‘Pieta’, ‘God in the Middle Ages’ and ‘Saint Sebastian’.
Five poems from ‘Neue Gedichte’.

Martyn Crucefix, Five New Rilke Translations in ‘The Fortnightly Review’

Over the past year, I’ve been experimenting with how I use this blog in conjunction with social media. My point of departure was a quick analysis of the differing temporal nature of blogs, Facebook and Twitter as a poet’s main means of communication with their readers. If a blog post often gathers pace over the course of days and weeks (and sometimes even months and years if Google takes a fancy to it), Facebook posts accumulate likes over a period of hours and days, while Tweets find audiences mainly in minutes and hours.

This is why blogs are losing impetus. But it’s also their possible saving grace. Rather than viewing my blog as a separate entity from my social media use and lamenting its decline as a fading anachronism, I’ve begun to realise that my blog posts could acquire a crucial function on Twitter and Facebook. And as a consequence, the viewing stats for Rogue Strands have increased once more.

Matthew Stewart, The future of poetry blogging

Forever and always books save me – they bring me refuge, they carry me away, they provide entertainment and escape. Books for me are the ultimate entertainment and because I don’t watch television, most nights you’ll find me curled up on the couch with my dogs and a book. In fact, Piper loves the smell/taste of books and will often lick the pages and try to nibble at them, and Cricket, in her obsessive, smothering love, will force me to maneuver around her to hold my book because her favorite spot to lay is on my chest.

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books Read in 2022

I meant to stay away from this space until after the new year, thinking I’d want to spend my time in other ways, but this morning Jill of Open Space Practice shared an article on Facebook about the choices of a man dying of glioblastoma–which are the choices all of us make, every day, whether we know death is imminent or not.

This man, who chose to begin an important creative project (knitting a sweater for his son) even though he knew he might not finish it before dying, made me think of a conversation I had this week with an old (from college) friend. We acknowledged that we are moving into a new stage of life, one in which time feels short in ways that it never has before. “I find myself wondering what I want to do with what remains,” I said to her.

It brought to mind, too, a piece that Kate shared on her blog this week, The Satisfaction of Practice in an Achievement-Oriented World, in which the writer, Tara McMullin, makes a case for doing things for the experience of doing them–not for accomplishment or some byproduct that doing the thing might provide, but simply for whatever benefit we get in the moment of doing. She advocates for the value of practice over achievement.

This is a different thing, in some important respects, from the man who hopes to finish knitting a sweater, but it also isn’t. Both are about letting go of outcomes–starting the sweater even though you might die before it is done, taking up running because of how it feels while you’re doing it and not because you want to lose weight.

Talking about the article with Cane, I recalled how I felt the morning after my book of poetry won an award–how I understood, for the first time, that I would from then on write–if I wrote–for the sake of writing itself and not for accolades or publication. The accolade was nice, but fleeting, as was the feeling I’d had when I first held the book in my hand. It wasn’t enough to sustain me or the effort it took to write while parenting and teaching full-time.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The gifts of time

How does a poem begin?

Poems begin in my body. I’ve often compared it to the sensation just before a sneeze. Sometimes, a feeling comes over me and it’s luckily often combined with an opening or triggering phrase. I spend a lot of time hiking in the hills behind my house with my dogs, and I will often find that a phrase comes to me that leads me into a new poem. I find that if I pay attention to this confluence of feeling and sound, if I stop what I’m doing and write it down, a poem will flow fairly easily onto the page. 

Thomas Whyte, Subhaga Crystal Bacon : part five

Yesterday, visited a place that I had always wanted to visit since I heard about it: Frida Kahlo’s Blue House, or Casa Azul. It was a beautiful compound of house and garden. The great paintings were not there, as they were scattered in the world’s museums, but the material remnants of one’s life were. The wheelchair in front of the easel in the artist’s studio. The mirror above the beds in the day and night bedrooms that enabled the artist to paint while lying down in excruciating pain. The artist’s ashes in an urn in the shape of toad, to recall Diego’s nickname for himself, the toad-frog. The corsets—medical and decorative—that held the broken body straight. The song written by Patti Smith, painted on the garden wall, inspired by Noguchi’s gift of a display case of butterflies to Kahlo. Famously, when Kahlo had to remove her gangrenous foot, she said, “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”

After Casa Azul, we walked to the lovely neighborhood of Coyoacán, taking in the busy Mercado de Coyoacán and the street artists in a small square. I regret not buying a small painting there. An ink painting of a man and a woman entwined in sex, the woman sitting in the man’s lap, on top of the text of a poem by (?), translucently covered by a yellow wash.

Jee Leong Koh, Flying in Corsets, Dancing in Bars

For several days in December, 2022, Adelaide and surrounding areas swarmed with large dragonflies, that have bred in the very wet spring we’ve had this year. In this video, I’ve used a frame echo process to track and digitally illuminate the flight paths of the dragonflies as they fly around our garden in Belair, South Australia. […]

Dragonflies have some of the most accomplished aerial abilities of any animal, with both high speed and high manoeuvrability. Associated with this, they have an advanced visual system, capable of seeing a wide range of colours as well as polarised light with very high resolution. Moreover, the part of the eyes that look up towards the sky have different optical properties compared with areas that look down, as befits the different environments in each visual domain.

Ian Gibbins, Dragonflies swarming

Today in Portland we are hunkered down with temperatures in the 20’s, sleet on the ground and freezing rain in the forecast. We are fortunate. We have food in the cupboards, the electricity is still on, and all my family are safe, unlike so many around the world, especially in Ukraine.

May you use this season to reflect on all you have and be grateful for it. May you find it in your heart this season to help others who are less fortunate. May you appreciate the fleeting moment we exist and make the time you inhabit this earth matter.

And find joy. In the birds at the feeder, in the neighbor’s soup, in a child’s laugh, in a beloved’s voice, in the music we make and the poems we write.

My wish for each of us is to create a world filled with peace, love, kindness, good health. Be the light someone can find in the darkness.

Carey Taylor, Peace be with Us

I admire the achievement of Amnion as a sustained project, the way the author is able to bring to life and combine complicated histories with her own present-day story. Stephanie Sy-Quia’s book is an exciting advertisement for fragmental writing and the possibilities it offers poetry and hybrid literature.

Scenes from Life on Earth (Salt, 2022) by Kathryn Simmonds is also biographical in part, addressing the author’s experience of parental bereavement and parenthood as well as poems of the natural world. Reading both books in close sequence, I couldn’t help noticing my own reactions to the texts. I felt more of an emotional punch reading Simmond’s poems, and wondered if this was because I connected more with the book’s themes, or was it because the brevity of its poetic forms compresses extraneous information the longer line of fragmental writing allows? Is the condensed form more immediately powerful? Whatever the answer, several of Simmonds poems moved me to tears and thoughtfulness and made me feel foolish for not buying her earlier books.

Josephine Corcoran, My End of Year Books

For the holidays, I’m sharing the November recording of my reading with the fabulous Carine Topal and Cecilia Woloch. This was my first reading in nearly two years and features work from the forthcoming Wonder & Wreckage. Thank you again to VCP SoCal Poets for hosting us!

Speaking of W & W, the manuscript sequencing is complete and I’m just tinkering with a few of the ‘”new” poems for this new & selected collection. Early in the new year, I’ll be sitting down with my friend and go-to book designer to work out the final cover. I’m pleased with the selection of work I’ve chosen for this book, although quite a few favorites had to come out to keep the flow. Still killing darlings after all these years. However, I do have a plan in mind to compile the “discards” into a special, very limited chapbook. More details as I hatch this plan.

On Feb. 2, I plan to put in my first live appearance in over two years at the launch of Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology at the Decatur Library. My poem “Roosters & Hens” is in there. Co-editors Dustin Brookshire and Julie Bloemeke along with Madvillle Publishing have done a tremendous job and I’m in fabulous company.

Collin Kelley, Wrapping up 2022

2023 will, I hope, be a more productive year. And a better year for everyone and everything. It’s hard to recall good points of 2022 when it all feels quite bleak here and abroad. I’m sure there are thing that will come back to me.

However, 2022 has been a year of less running and less submitting. The former has been because a mixture of injury and illness. the latter was partially driven by the first half of the year being about working on poems for the book, many of which have already found homes. This has, in turn, meant I’ve written less new stuff to send out. There’s also been a general malaise about me that I’m slowly emerging from. I’d also argue, and I don’t have the stats for this, that I’ve written more reviews this year and that has also had an impact.

Mat Riches, Charts (Hah) (What are they good for?)

So what does the new approach to writing goals look like?

I think part of the point is that I don’t need to know exactly. I’m simply going to focus on positivity and pleasure. I’m aiming for encouragement, support and satisfaction. I’m interested in building on what I’ve already learned about who I am and where I can imbue my process with possibility. […]

So much of this effort will be framed in “what is possible,” and returning to discovery mode — letting a process or project surprise me — is the perfect medicine right now. I can easily see that in any given day, the list of wants above will come in handy in a very practical way. I’ll just need to pick a small thing that supports something on the list… and do it. And celebrate it.

More to come on that once we get underway in January!

There will still be snow then. (Probably lots of it.) But also maybe more writing and art.

The kind that comes from joy.

Carolee Bennett, a new approach to writing goals

and here you are
rocking in the breeze
zero ballast

your shirt your sail
tack into the wind
above the pavement

there is now no rule book
all will become clear

Paul Tobin, ALL WILL BECOME CLEAR

It’s nearing the end of 2022 and I’m on Winter Break. I’ve spent the morning reading the newest SheilaNaGig Winter 22, Vol. 7.2 and am overjoyed to have a couple of poems included in this issue. I’m humbled to have my work included among the work and pages of such poets as George Franklin, John Palen, Marc Swan, Jeff Burt, Laura Ann Reed, SE Waters, Dick Westheimer, and more. Thank you to editors Hayley Mitchell Haugen and Barbara Sabol for leaving the lights on and offering writers such an amazing space to publish. I am quite sure the candle burned at both ends to send this out to the world on Christmas Eve and the reading is just the gift it was intended to be. If you like poetry with stars, this is the perfect issue to read. Dick Westheimer’s chapbook, A Sword in Both Hands: Poems Responding to Russia’s War on Ukraine is soon to be published by SheilaNaGig Editions, so of course I’ve pre-ordered a copy. Note that both editors have newly published collections this fall, Mitchell Haugen’s The Blue Wife Poems (Kelsay Books, 2022) and Sabol’s Connections (Bird Dog Publishing, 2022 and in collaboration with Larry Smith).

Kersten Christianson, Top 9 of 2022

Orbis magazine invites readers’ votes and brief comments. I never have voted, though I’ve been tempted to offer comments. I tend to assess in various contradictory ways. Over-simplifying, and depending on the situation, they include –

  • Bottom-up – I give points for various features (use of sound, etc) or (as in diving) combine degree of difficulty with performance
  • Top-down – I first decide whether I like the poem or not, then I list its obvious features showing how they support my opinion: e.g. if a poem has tight integration of form and content I can say that this reveals technical prowess (if I like the poem) or that the poem has stifling predictability (if I don’t). A poem may be understated (if I like it), or lacking verve (if I don’t).
  • Emotion – a piece may move me though I know it’s not a good poem – it may not even be a poem, or I know I’m moved only because it describes something I’ve experienced.
  • Learning resource – a poem may open my eyes to new poetic possibilities, inspiring me to write. It may not be good.
  • Best bits – it’s tempting to judge a poem by its best (often last) lines. Sometimes (“Lying in a hammock at William Duffy’s farm in Pine Island Minnesota” maybe?) the last line justifies the ‘blandless’ of the rest of the poem.
  • Good of its type – however good some poems are, they’re restricted by the type of poem they are.
Tim Love, Assessing poems

Born and raised in apartheid-era South Africa and then Washington D.C., San Francisco Bay Area-based poet Adrian Lürssen’s full-length debut is the poetry collection Human Is to Wander (The Center for Literary Publishing, 2022), as selected by Gillian Conoley for the 2022 Colorado Poetry Prize. As I wrote of his chapbook earlier this year, NEOWISE (Victoria BC: Trainwreck Press, 2022), a title that existed as an excerpt of this eventual full-length collection, Lürssen’s poems and poem-fragments float through and across images, linking and collaging boundaries, scraps and seemingly-found materials. Composed via the fractal and fragment, the structure of Human Is to Wander sits, as did the chapbook-excerpt, as a swirling of a fractured lyric around a central core. “in which on / their heads,” he writes, to open the sequence “THE LIGHT IS NOT THE USUAL LIGHT,” “women carried water / and mountains // brought the sky / full circle [.]”

The book is structured as an extended, book-length line on migration and geopolitics, of shifting geographies and global awareness and globalization. He writes of war and its effects, child soldiers and the dangers and downside of establishing boundaries, from nations to the idea of home; offering the tragedies of which to exclude, and to separate. “The accidental response of any movement,” he writes, to open the poem “ARMY,” “using yelling instead of creases as a / means to exit. Or the outskirts of an enemy camp.” Set in three lyric sections, Lürssen’s mapmaking examines how language, through moving in and beyond specifics, allows for a greater specificity; his language forms akin to Celan, able to alight onto and illuminate dark paths without having to describe each moment. “A system of killing that is irrational or rational,” he writes, to open the poem “SKIRT,” “depending on the training.” As the same poem concludes, later on: “It is a game of answers, this type of love.” Lürssen’s lyrics move in and out of childhood play and war zones, child soldiers and conflations of song and singer, terror and territory, irrational moves and multiple levels of how one employs survival. This is a powerful collection, and there are complexities swirling through these poems that reward multiple readings, and an essential music enough to carry any heart across an unbearable distance. “The enemy becomes a song,” the poem “UNIT” ends, “held by time.”

rob mclennan, Adrian Lürssen, Human Is to Wander

Some would scream in exasperation that this is not poetry. Well, the poetry police are everywhere, aren’t they? Often they don’t write it anyway, just yell that if it doesn’t rhyme in iambic pentameters, then it’s prose, or worse, just nonsense. For them I had fun writing The Poetry Hospital.

I love inventing narrators, situations, whole worlds, producing believable fakes like The Cholmondeley MacDuff Spanish Phrase Book 1954 and Ezra Pound’s Trombone In A Museum In Genoa – well, why not? I mix in real stuff too – as in the poem Autumn which is a careful recollection of the events of a day. Does it really matter which part is real? No, Ezra Pounds trombone is not real. Yes, I can and do skin and butcher a deer the gamekeeper leaves for me. What’s the difference, as long as each poem holds together and says something about how we cope with life?

The point of each poem, or of the poems as a group, is what lies beneath. Which takes us back to the beginning – to anger, love, passion, the sense of how absurd and lovely and dangerous and horrific the world is as we go through it day by day.

Bob Mee, WHAT DO YOU SAY WHEN SOMEONE ASKS ‘WHERE DO YOUR POEMS COME FROM?’

I once heard a senior British poet warming to a riff during a reading on the topic of the acknowledgements pages in recent collections of poetry. He had noticed that there was a ‘trend’ for these to conclude with long lists of thanks to other poets. ‘Whatever happened to autodidacticism?’ he asked. The disapproval in his voice was unmistakable.

My own view is that allies are essential in any walk of life. Why should poetry be any different? All that seems to have happened is that poets (though novelists do this too: look at the generous list of thanks in all of Ali Smith’s novels and short story collections) are now more transparently open about naming their friends and networks of support in print than was the case, say, twenty years ago.

The allies in my writing life are a really mixed bunch. Distance and time being what they are, I rarely see all of the people I am about to thank in the space of one calendar year. As the old joke goes, I see most of them around once a century. (Some, I have yet to meet face to face.) The key to my knowing the weight and grace of their support in my life is that, visible or not, they are there, somewhere on my shoulder, or just behind it, as I write. Some, I will speak to on the phone. Some, I will text. Some drop me the occasional email. However infrequently we make contact, they all need, in Robert Pinsky’s phrase, ‘answering’, albeit fleeting, and not always directly. What I do know is that I could not write (let alone do this) without the feel of their friendship.

Anthony Wilson, On having allies

Like clockwork, every once in a while someone dusts off the very tired mantle and declares poetry dead.  It happens in little magazines, blog posts, facebook/twitter rants, and sadly on platforms for the normies like The New York Times Opinion Section.  Suddenly, like a bunch of rats feeding on the corpse, we are all illuminated by a set of headlights for a moment, all of us who consider ourselves poets or poetry lovers, then we scurry back into the woods or behind a dumpster or into our notebooks and word docs until the next article comes looking for us. […]

But the thing is, and perhaps this why articles like the NYT’s one infuriate me, is that if you ask any one of us, poets that is, what is a good poem, we may have (will have) entirely different answers. This was a pivotal scene in a workshop I once took, where the teacher had us go around and tell everyone what we thought was most important in a poem, and I think with one or two exceptions, in a room of around 15 people, no one had the same answer. Also,  young poets may be astounded that there really is no singular poetry world, but more like an overlapping map of constellations of aesthetics and influences and presses/journals. It might seem sprawling and chaotic, but it makes room for everything, including underheard and underrepresented voices. For visual poetry, for language poetry, for more traditional verse. For insta poetry and verse epics and strange word collages like mine.

Poetry, on one hand is Rupi Kaur and her innumerable fans that while not my taste, has brought “poetry” as a word to the lips of younger millennial and gen-zers. It’s also amazing poets who get some recognition like Ada Limon, who was finally a US poet laureate whose work I already liked.  Or Claudia Rankine, who I was aghast one day when a friend who knows nothing of poets said she was reading Citizen on a bartender’s recommendation. It’s also me and my fellow poets who are writing their best work to date and have like 5 dedicated readers. While poetry is something like Poetry Magazine or the American Poetry Review, it’s also tiny indie presses and journals that are publishing (at least for me) the most exciting work. On the other, performance poets and cinema poets and open-mic poets. It’s also the girl writing bad poetry in her diary as much as it is the crochety “established” poet writing crappy poetry during his sabbatical already under contract with a major journal. Or the girl writing really good poetry on her tumblr and the guy who writes poems on his phone but never shows them to a soul.

So when you declare poetry is dead, I ask which poetry? Which beast?

Kristy Bowen, not dead, but waiting to be born

I saw him read this at Dodge Poetry Fest. The slow cadence imbued with humility and vulnerability.

These exquisitely tender moments, these carefully tended to everyday beauties given love syllable by syllable.

It seems much of American poetry is better at it, while Canadian poetry is more bent towards dissonant traumatized cacophony. Perhaps also it was more common in the previous century as an acceptable expression, to be timeless and bound inside a lovely moment.

Pearl Pirie, Loved Then, Loved Now: Early in the Morning

The journey to getting poetry published is hard enough as it is that to suggest there might be some benefit to having your work turned down may sound perverse. Increasingly, though, I feel as grateful to the editors who say no as I do to those who say yes.

That thought was initially prompted by something I read the other day and now can’t remember, but I was reminded of it by two recent blogs in which poets offer sideways looks at the poetry-publishing-machine. In Beyond Submissions, Naush Sabah questions just how much store poets should put in the validation of an acceptance from an editor they know little about. Some poems might be best shared by other means, without all the hassle and anxiety. Or not shared at all: it’s not an exact comparison, but think of the number of sketches a painter produces before the final picture.

In (Avoiding) Poetic Ecological Collapse, meanwhile, Jonathan Davidson suggests that a constant rush for publication may not only be unsustainable for our own writing but a distraction from all the other ways of engaging with words which the art needs to flourish. What happens when we see ourselves as custodians of the ‘commonwealth of poetry’, rather than toilers in our own private furlongs?

Writers sometimes see editors as gatekeepers and it is easy to see why. Rejections feel like being held back: if only they would let us through into the green pastures of publication! (You can blame Jonathan for the pastoral metaphors). But editors – and, increasingly, arts administrators, competition judges, mentors and funding bodies – also decide when to let the poet through, and in what form, and this inevitably shapes where they go next. Less gatekeepers, more shepherds. It is a big responsibility.

Sometimes I think it is a responsibility we don’t talk about enough. I have come across several books in the last few years – highly-acclaimed first or second collections from prestigious publishers – where I couldn’t understand why the editor hadn’t encouraged the poet to slim the collection down, or even wait until they had a stronger set of poems to work with. Perhaps they already had.

Jeremy Wikeley, Shepherds at the gate

I’ve always told myself that writing poems is how I process my emotions. But it’s more than that. If processing were all I needed, a notebook would be just fine. I do more than that, though. I post them on my blog, on TikTok, on Instagram. I put them in the places where the people they’re about might see them. And I do this even though a poem has never, not once, fixed any relationship I’ve been in.

Moreover, I post them where other people might also see them. People not connected to the situation, but folks who I want to have a good opinion of me, to think of me as a caring, expressive person with his heart in the right place.  

I know next to nothing about Lord Byron, but I’ve always had this picture of him as a person who used his poetry to manipulate. To woo. To brag. To paint a larger-than-life picture of himself. And at the risk of a ridiculous comparison to one of the most famous poets in the English language, I do worry that I might be doing the same thing. Tainting the value of what I produce by using it the way I do.

Jason Crane, Deploying poetry

As if the universe slides
into the seat next to mine and pours a drink.
As if we clink glasses. As if the silence is raw,
like sand on skin, like hard shell against a
naked sole. As if there’s nothing but me and
ocean all around — the meaning of freedom,
the meaning of captivity. Again, we don’t say
anything. We have never learnt to speak each
other’s language. At this rate, we never will.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 27

So I’m tired of hearing people start their sentences with “So” on podcasts and the radio and TV, “so” a verbal tic, a word instead of “um,” which serves the same purpose but admits, more humbly, of uncertainty, which says I am pausing to gather my thoughts before speaking; whereas “So” sets up an explanation leading to opinion or argument, or so it seems to me.

So I’m sitting on my back porch even though it is late December, clouds gathering over bare trees. I hear woodpeckers deepening holes in trees, a rat-a-tat drill, and white-breasted nuthatches loud along the woodlot, and I ponder emerald ash borers and climate change and how to handle human aging in a capitalist society.

So what I wonder is “Am I afraid?” Some questions possess a looming quality, I guess this is one such. In my wicker chair, in my own backyard, no. Not afraid. The mood’s serene, no tightness in my chest no racing heart, not even facing death–as we all must do, though most of us refuse. Where are you going with this, Writer?

Ann E. Michael, Solo endeavor?

In her beautiful poetry collection, The Smallest of Bones, Holly Lyn Walwrath uses the skeleton of the body as a means of structurally shaping the collection. Each section begins with a poem of various bones, from the cranium to the sternum and beyond. The poems that follow explore love, sexuality, gender, religion, and death, among other aspects of humanity and the supernatural. It’s a gorgeous collection with crisp, clear, and lyrical language. […]

This is How the Bone Sings by W. Todd Kaneko is a stunning collection of poems centering around Minidoka, a concentration camp for Japanese Americans built in Idaho during World War II. The author blends history with myth and folklore to explore how the scars of the past carry through generations — from grandparents through to their grandchildren. The wounds caused by racism and hate continue on through memory and story. These poems are evocative and beautiful, providing an important memorial for an aspect of American history that should never be forgotten.

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2022

we take the storm
and make our storm against it
pull away from its undertow
shoulder the thrusting
the rage of the pebbled feet
the split lipped salted rime
damn the bruises you you
come back here now you you
horizoned opinioned beast
here i am 
steadfast

Jim Young, wild sea swimming

It’s the time of year when many people will be making resolutions and self-improvement plans. I am done with planning. After a year of constant pivoting, I am going to spend the next year basking in joy. That’s more likely than losing 20-50 pounds or running a half marathon/10K/5K or eating 5 servings of veggies each and every day. I will write poems, as I have always done. I will think about book length collections, while realizing this year is likely not the one where I put together something new. I will be on the lookout for new opportunities, new ways to bask in joy.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, My New Year’s Resolution: To Bask in Joy

I am satisfied with my writing accomplishments for this year–I ended up writing and publishing my chapbook The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants (Belle Point Press), an it turned out truly beautiful.

Doing the month long poem-a-day challenge in April really jump started that progress, and I think that I will attempt to do that challenge again in the spring.

I was also able to place poems in 14 different literary magazines this year, and I made significant revisions to my work in progress, WOB.

I think I could do more to promote my books that came out / are coming out this year, but I had trouble incorporating that in while still writing as much as I did and teaching some online classes (and homeschooling, and parenting, and and and…). Next year I need to work on promoting my work a bit more, though I am glad that I was able to do a reading this past March at Trevecca U, and I was lucky enough to already get a review of my chapbook, Commonplace.

Renee Emerson, 2022 Writing Goals Update

Before I settled in for the night, I spent some time with a book I’ve been reading about infinity—it’s taking forever to finish—and, naturally enough, it talks about transfinities, the infinities beyond infinity. I love that one type of infinity is aleph-null, a seductively Kabbalistic Borgesian science-fiction-y term. ( It refers to infinite cardinality as opposed to just counting forever, which is ∞) And that you can multiply infinity by infinity. Aleph null by aleph null, and, like multiplying 1 x 1, you get what you started with. What happens if, when you’re sleeping, you dream you are sleeping? This feels like another kind of infinity, another kind of sleep.

Sleep and infinity are related. Because you can never get enough of either? It’s more that they both have the sense of venturing into a limitless place. What is the shape of the place that is sleep? It’s edgeless, borderless, with no ground or sky. The composer Schoenberg imagined writing music that was like heaven—in this music, up, down, backwards and forwards would be the same because heaven had no direction and was thus entirely symmetrical. An angel has no upsidedown no matter how drunk it gets. I don’t remember if Schoenberg spoke about time, but music that is symmetrical implicitly plays with time. If it is the same backwards and forwards, it doesn’t operate in Newtonian time.   

Gary Barwin, WIDE ASLEEP: NIGHT THOUGHTS ON INSOMNIA

Whole lotta life keeps happening. It’s the main reason I’ve been quiet here. Like today, my partner has been out with a migraine for the greater part of the day, now evening, and I’ve been in the silence that comes with caregiving.

Well, the not-so-silent because my cat, Semilla, is here with me.

I’d like to share some recent highlights and publications before the year is through:

  • I was excited to contribute a short write-up for Poets & Writer’s series “Writers Recommend.” I riff a bit about inspiration as well as shoutout the work of Karla Cornejo Villavicencio and Cristela Alonzo.
  • On the Rotura (Black Lawrence Press) front, I am deeply honored to have the book reviewed recently. Thank you to Staci Halt who wrote this insightful review for The Los Angeles Review!
  • Thank you also to Angela María Spring for including Rotura in their “10 New Poetry Collections by Latinx and Caribbean Writers” over at Electric Lit! Means a great deal to be included among such a powerful set of books.
  • And looking ahead, I am excited to share in this space that my debut creative nonfiction collection, Ruin and Want, was chosen as the winning selection during Sundress Publications’ 2022 Prose Open Reading Period! This lyric memoir was a revelatory journey to write, both personally as well as craft-wise. I’m excited to have it find a home at such a great place!
José Angel Araguz, dispatch 123022

2022 was a welcome quiet year for me, my family life largely keeping me from writing – no new books, and few poetry publications outside of haiku magazines. I was able to set time aside to write a number of essays on writing, though. It was something new for me, which I found I quite enjoyed. Essays appeared in the aforementioned Resonance anthology, EVENT, Canadian Notes + Queries, the League of Canadian Poets poetry month blog, The Tyee, The Tyee again, and Brick.

That last essay, in Brick, is the most personal for me – a reflection on what Steven Heighton taught me about life and writing. Steve’s sudden death in April shocked me, as it did so many, and even now hardly seems real. I was so glad I was able to talk with him in-depth about his writing for our Walrus interview, something I’d considered putting off for one more year until my time freed up (needless to say, it didn’t). The issue only just came out, and if you get a chance to pick up a copy, I very much encourage you to do so. (It also features a tribute to Steve from Karen Solie, which Brick has posted online – it can be read here. And a heck of a poem about swans from 2022 interviewee Sadiqa de Meijer.)

Rob Taylor, the 2022 roll of nickels year in review

To offer a prayer for the lost, a devotion to what is found and what lasts.

To write words of encouragement to ourselves on the palms of our hands with an ink that never fades.

To become one with the stars dazzling a carnival-colored night.

To embody equilibrium amidst insanity.

To sing for you, atom by atom, all the songs gathered within the oxygenated orchestra of breath.

To unbutton rainbows from the sky and forever wrap you in the many colors of amazement.

Rich Ferguson, For Doug Knott, RIP

I think I was seven or eight, and my parents were having a New Year’s Eve party in our tiny apartment.  There couldn’t have been more than a dozen people, but it was crowded and festive.  I’d been allowed to stay up, and to come to the party to pass around the cheese and crackers and candy, so I was feeling very grown up.  Then someone said, “Well, that’s almost it for this year, ” and I suddenly panicked.  I realized that soon I’d be writing a new year on everything, and that I had only a few minutes to write the old one while it was still true.  I could write it later, but it wouldn’t mean the same thing.   I set down the plate I was carrying, ran into my bedroom to get a pencil and paper, and wrote the year over and over until I’d covered both sides.  I didn’t understand what I was feeling, I just knew it was urgent.  Now I’d say it was an early glimmer of saving things by writing them down.

Sharon Bryan, Poems for the New Year

I’ve made some surprising discoveries. In the book my co-leader assigned, Jill Duffield’s Advent in Plain Sight: A Devotion through Ten Objects, the first object is “gates.” I love that—I did a little digging and learned that the word “gate” appears 418 times in the King James Bible. In my introduction to the poems, I talked about how a gate can seem to be a barrier, but it’s really an invitation. A gate marks a path to be followed.

Poems, too, are gates. In my college teaching career I often encountered students who hated poetry. They saw a poem as a gate with a “no trespassing” sign hanging on it. But isn’t a poem, like a gate, an invitation? Open this. Walk through. See the world the way I see it. The first poem I brought was Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness,” and the study group climbed onto the bus with me. “There’s communion here,” one participant gleefully noted. And another: “it’s a story of the good Samaritan!”

Bethany Reid, Winter Solstice Greetings

This afternoon, while wrapping
gifts, I wept because my Uncle John
died three months before I was born,
and I’ve never heard him sing.

The barn cat hunts down the birds
that winter here. His coat spreads ropy
into the air. This year, he circles my legs,
grateful that I no longer have a dog.

In my head, we are slow-dancing
to Christmas songs in the kitchen. In reality,
you are cooking dinner, I am writing
at the table, and this is the loneliest I’ve felt all year.

Allyson Whipple, Some Terribly Sentimental Thing

In between reading work for Spelt, research papers and research books for my current work in project, journals and magazines, I managed to get through fifty poetry, fiction , narrative non fiction and non fiction books this year. In a year that was challenging at times as I dealt with grief around the death of my dad, books became my friends and my escape once again. Thank you to every writer who courageously puts themselves on the page, who creates something amazing out of the sparking of neural pathways in the brain, thank you to those who quietly wait for their books to be noticed, thank you to those who shouted from the roof tops, I salute you. You make the world a better place simply by doing the work that you love.

Wendy Pratt, I Like Big Book (lists) and I Cannot Lie – The 50 Books I read in 2022 and My Top Five

2022 has drawn to a close and I don’t really have a list of accomplishments to offer, but I do have a couple of highlights in poetry-world.

In February, the wonderful poetry journal Bad Lilies published my two poems ‘Brilliant cut’ and ‘Yustas’. They appeared in the journal’s sixth issue, entitled ‘Private Universe’, alongside a host of other great poets and poems. 

A few years ago I first discovered the work of Julian Semenov (or Yulian Semyonov). He was a Russian and Soviet thriller writer who is little known in Western countries but whose impact in Slavic countries, and regions formerly in the USSR and its sphere of influence, was profound. Most famously, Semenov wrote a book called Seventeen Moments of Spring, which was published in the late 1960s and a few years later was adapted into a television series of the same name, which is probably the most famous Soviet TV show ever made. This spy show is really only known in Western countries to those who are deeply interested in world spy films, or in Soviet or Russian culture. My own interest came mainly from a curiosity about what the USSR was doing with espionage fiction and film in the early 1970s, but watching Seventeen Moments of Spring also led in a very direct line to my starting to learn Russian in 2020. 

These two poems, specifically inspired by Semenov’s works, were published in late February. Less than a week later, Russia attacked Ukraine and beyond the fact that the news was shocking and overwhelming, it didn’t feel like an ideal time to be blogging about Russian pop culture (although “Soviet” is more accurate here than “Russian”, for what it’s worth) – hence the very long delay. Strangely, though, Seventeen Moments of Spring and Semenov’s books can genuinely be said to have slipped the considerable constraints of their origins. Today they are still relevant (even to the current moment), open to a wide variety of interpretations, and of course entertaining. The Seventeen Moments series was specifically intended as propaganda at the time of its release, part of a campaign to improve the KGB’s image. But the show’s surprising subtlety allowed many viewers to interpret it as a comment on the Soviet Union itself and the pressures of working inside, and against, a powerful oppressive system which keeps everyone under constant surveillance. Stirlitz, the double-agent hero, has inspired an endless stream of ironic jokes which continue to be instantly recognisable in countries formerly in the Soviet sphere of influence. And since February, I have often seen clips and quotes from the show online used as criticism of the Russian government’s actions.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Year-end: poems in Bad Lilies, and Best UK Poetry Blogs of 2022

If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that I struggle with the cold dark days at the turn of the secular year. In high summer I sometimes have to remind myself not to dread the winter that is always inevitably coming. And at this season I seek comfort in all kinds of ways, from warm-tinted lightbulbs to blankets to braises, but I still have to work hard to avoid the malaise of SAD. 

The best mood-lifter by far that I’ve found this winter is… being terrible at Arabic. To be clear, I’ve never learned Arabic, though ever since the summer I spent in Jerusalem I’ve aspired to someday be the kind of rabbi who speaks some Arabic. (Someday. Later. You know, when I have time.) And then I read R. David’s Why This Rabbi Is Learning Arabic (And Every Rabbi Should), and I thought: ok, I’ll try.

It’s engrossing. It feels like it’s working a different part of my brain — learning new characters, trying to train my ear to distinguish new-to-me sounds. Maybe best of all is that I am an absolute beginner. I know nothing, so every little bit of learning is progress. Remembering the initial, medial, or final forms of any letter feels like victory. And maybe that’s part of what lifts my spirits.

I’m using Duolingo. And before anyone objects: yes, I know all the reasons why that isn’t ideal. I should take a real class. I should find Arabic speakers with whom to practice. I can’t do those right now, for all kinds of reasons. What I can do is keep a tab open on my computer, and instead of doomscrolling, work on parsing a new-to-me alphabet. (It’s also great instead of doomscrolling on my phone.)

I can practice sounding out syllables while my kid’s brushing his teeth. Remind myself of letter-shapes over morning coffee. Short digital bursts are not pedagogical best practice — and yet I am learning, bit by bit.

Rachel Barenblat, Arabic: a remedy for the winter blues

falling snow
beyond the window . . .
our cat
curls deeper
into himself

Bill Waters, Our cat

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

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

As Poetry Month wound down and May loomed, this week saw a profusion of flowers—alluring yet haunted by death and illness. There were poems to share, new and forthcoming books to celebrate, issues of craft to be hammered out and philosophical positions to be honed. A banner week, in other words. Enjoy.


There are flowers,
so many flowers, so many,

so much to do. Floating. Air borne,
weightless and whimsical. Silly

heart. What are you doing? And then
it rests. Suddenly. My son folds

his arms around me and doesn’t
want to let go.

PF Anderson, Untitled

It’s been a strange, sort of “lost” week, and it’s not over yet, so not even fully lost. I’ve been busy, reading and writing, resting and drinking fluids, but time keeps folding over itself, like laundry, and drifting away, like lake waves… Despite relentless masking and a double booster, I did test positive (home test), and am in my isolation week before resuming my life in the community. Still writing a poem a day for April, National Poetry Month, and that, too, will slip away…on Sunday, right? May Day is coming.

On my first day of very mild illness, it was 80 degrees outside, and I rested on the glider, wrapped in a comforter, reading, journals at hand for any random poems or diary thoughts. A strong southerly wind blew over me. Out in the yard, my husband, mostly recovered from his own lost week, picked up sweetgum seedpods in the yard. Then it turned chilly for a while…

And now, suddenly, violets are blooming everywhere in the grass! The yellow tulips are fully blown, and the pink just beginning. My dark lilacs are also beginning their fragrant opening. Lily of the valley and hosta are spiking up in their distinctive curls! A little of the two-toned hosta has uncurled, green and white. And where are my celandine poppies? Did they not return this year? But my “library lilies,” rescued from a revamp of the library’s gardens, have auto-renewed themselves (ha!) and will give plenty of yellow blooms later in the summer. As much of my reading this lost week assures me, nothing is really lost…

Kathleen Kirk, Isolation Week

Each day flowers turn
petals from east to west, trees
add rings in a seasonal birth
and death. But we are like laundry
on the clothesline being washed
and worn, shedding our skins
without renewal. Our dissatisfaction
is rooted too deeply. Birds scatter
seeds from forest to seaside
safeguarding continued resurrection
while we flap and stumble
on wings we broke ourselves.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo 2022 day 30

Wasps and monkeys regularly cross each other’s paths in this forest that seems to have no end and no beginning. Pink azalea and bougainvillea bloom poisonously. Snakes cannot be seen but their slithering can be traced on the ground at which nobody looks. Peacocks stand here transfixed for hours observing their reflection on the slanted glass. There is a fountain near the hidden piazza from which prosecco flows. Trees as old as souls live here. Any moment, ripe jackfruits and unripe mangoes could fall on you. Jasmine perfumes the air like gas.

The native inhabitants of this forest have never seen the outside world nor do they wish to. At night, they dream of the rings of Saturn.

This enchanted forest has a secret name that cannot be revealed. I am here as a spy. I will report back to myself my findings.

Saudamini Deo, Delhi and other forests

If the child says My window
is a sheet of paper without anything
written on it
, then it means it’s ready
to catch the moon’s milky script,
the emerald peacock’s baby-cries or
its feathered drumroll. If he says
The night light is a little boat no larger
than a apricot in a dark-blue ocean,
right away I’ll trawl the waters with
my upstretched hand to feel
the wind lick my fingers with its
warm tongue.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Window

Sometimes having enough energy/stamina/dedication/obstinance to get through it all is a victory. When the plague burns through everything, no one said what is left standing is going to be a towering superhero. Sometimes it is a tiny, blind inchworm. Swaying just a little. Getting on with it.

The children’s song comes to mind. Measuring a marigold. I know very little about gardening or flowers in general, but I do remember the marigolds in the kitchen garden. How they took over. Beautiful but invasive. They just keep coming up through the soil, self-seeding. Inch after foot after yard.

That’s a lot of busywork for an inchworm.

Ren Powell, Theater of Cruelty

At 4:16 this morning a M3.6 earthquake shook me awake it was reported to have hit between Mount Vernon and Seattle which is basically my house. I made it through a cold and rain soaked April by reading and writing poetry drafts an exercise in humility and endurance. I missed six days but I kept going. It was glorious to jump start the part of my brain that wants/needs to find comfort in playing with language. I took that picture of a daffodil field at the Skagit River between the touristy tulip farms and La Conner. There is a nursery out there that I love to wander in even when the cold wind whistles through. 

I have planted herbs in a pot some chives and tarragon and catnip chocolate mint and peppermint in another. It’s been too cold to plant much else. Lilacs are just now beginning to open around the island. I have a new dermatologist so now I’m trying a cheapo version of some fancy medicine for rheumatoid arthritis though I am not convinced that I have it. My joints ache all the time but doesn’t that just happen when you get old and as of today I am the proud owner of of a Delta dental insurance policy that covers one half of dentures and a bizarre mix of other things some teeth to be extracted some not sometimes pain meds sometimes not if it’s Thursday and the dentist’s dog barfed on his kitchen floor that morning you don’t have insurance for that day etc but at least I moved forward at least I did something. Beethoven said Art demands of us that we do not stand still. I’m locked into the policy for a year. Maybe I can find an adult to explain it to me. In the meantime I will continue to wear a mask to hide my awful broken mouth while I shop for a dentist who does not live “out here” as  in here in the random wilderness. Except for a strange bout of laryngitis that was caused by bad air quality in Seattle a place that used to have the cleanest air in the world I haven’t been sick in two years. It’s been a while since I posted here and this sounds boring to me but here I am snaggle toothed and still crazy.

Welcome to May the most glorious month of spring.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

How will you spin fermented want into a poem? Doesn’t
ugliness propagate inside a clever turn of phrase? How can

you return to the place where it all began to go wrong? Don’t
understanding and awkwardness have different half-lives?

Can you imagine holding the sea to account? As if the waves
have learnt to settle scores with the daytime moon?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The unanswered grumble

Moored at portside, we ponder the uncertainty of what lies ahead. We know there are dangers: the ocean, quiet for now; impenetrable fogs; beasts watching us, lurking in anticipation; perhaps only the monsters of our imagination, the destruction wrought by our greed and disregard for the natural world.

The video is composited from footage from around Port Adelaide along with algorithmically generated animations. The soundtrack is built up from samples recorded at Birkenhead Bridge, which is seen in the title sequence. The audio samples were used to construct a soundscape for Water Under the Bridge, an installation with Tony Kearney, as part of BRIDGE, The Packing Shed, Hart’s Mill, Port Adelaide, Adelaide Fringe Festival, 23rd February – 11th March, 2018. The text in the video is adapted from The White – A Note on the Text originally published in e•ratio 26, 2018, inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, or The Whale.

Ian Gibbins, The Port Trilogy

While we were staying at the lake, another close friend of our family also died. Ray lived a few houses away, and was in his late 80s; the friendships between our families span three generations. We were able to see his children; we all tried to help each other and talked about the strange feeling of watching our parents’ generation, who have been such strong and constant figures of our childhoods and the long subsequent years, now pass the torch to us when we’re all getting on in age ourselves. 

The late spring weather was pretty wretched — grey and rainy, with days of windy snow squalls — but the lake was a reassuring presence. Every morning when I got up, I’d spend some time looking out at the water and its changing moods, and every evening when it was possible, my husband and I took a walk around the lake at sunset, looking out at the fields as the farmers began to plow, watching the migrating geese and a group of mergansers that had stopped at the lake for a while, and, to our great excitement, observing a bald eagle nest with vigilant adult birds, at the top of a tall pine tree.

Beth Adams, Changes

spring morning
the graveyard fills
with butterflies

Caroline Skaane, a few recent poems

You’ll carve your spine into a divining rod and learn to guide yourself towards calmer, more faithful waters.

All the bizarre and beastly skins you’ve inhabited, you’ll no longer recognize.

You’ll wish them well along their journey, but explain you’ll be taking a different path.

Soon this transformation will be complete, and you’ll become the road sign that says,

rest area ahead.

Rich Ferguson, Though certain pains may shadow you now

Last weekend I had the great joy to read my poem at the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita, Oregon, which is just up the road from where I learned to read and write at Garibaldi Grade School. To feel the trajectory of my writing come back to where it started 60 years ago was a homecoming of sorts, and the loss I felt as a child leaving the North Coast was replaced with the understanding that this place had never left me.

Judge Lana Ayers who selected my poem for the 2022 Neahkahnie Mountain Poetry Prize had this to say about “Birthday Fires”.

Birthday Fires is a marvel of imagery and complexity in 9 couplets. The fires are birth, creativity, life. The poem reminds us that even as hardships and sorrows sap joy, we can still celebrate and make our own light, as in the final captivating image of the poem.”

Carey Taylor, Full Circle

National Poetry Month comes to a close this week, as does my experiment with revising someone else’s poem. It was a fascinating practice, because it involved a kind of interpretation and re-imagining, taking–in this case–a poem written in Portuguese in 1928, and seeing whether through revising, I might make it mine (if not make it new). In slightly less than a month, I reworked the poem ten times. That’s a pace much quicker than I generally revise my own work. Which also made for an interesting process.

No judgment on the outcome, such as it is. The purpose of the prompt was to keep me writing and to remind me to get revising my poems, and it did have the intended effect. When emotional, physical, job or life obstacles clutter the writer’s terrain, attending to a writing project–however arbitrary–can have a salubrious effect. Or at least grease the wheels a bit. […]

One of the things I take away from this effort is that I do have a recognizable voice in my work. That was something I fretted over for many years, the concept of possessing a poetic voice. I have written in so many styles and taken different approaches to work and, for awhile, topic, that younger me worried that I had not developed a voice. Apparently someone long ago convinced me of the importance of having a recognizable voice; now, I barely recall why lacking it would feel like such a terrible thing. But reading my revision of Pessoa’s original, I sense his idea but hear my voice and my interpretation of his idea.

I’m not sure this is the final draft–whether this poem is finished or not, or whether it ever will be. I thank Pessoa for providing the starting point for the experiment and for making me stop and consider whether memory distinguishes who I am from who I was.

Ann E. Michael, Revision revisited

While I was excited to focus on my movement practice after spending so much time on writing, and while I am also looking forward to a new city, my poetry life had gotten a little stagnant. I was still writing, submitting, and publishing haiku, and became an active member of the Austin Haiku Study Group. But I was looking for more.

About a month ago, my waiting paid off. I got the idea for a new project: The Culinary Saijiki. As most people who read this blog probably know, I’m a big fan of food (eating more so than cooking). I’m also interested in the ways in which English-language haiku practitioners approach the seasons in their haiku practice. I realized that food is one way in which people can connect to the seasons, and decided I wanted to go deeper into exploring that connection. I launched the first blog post earlier in April. (I planned to announce it here that same week, but hey . . . I’m moving and wrapping up the semester. Things are a bit hectic.)

In addition to the blog, I’ve also decided to start a companion podcast, where I talk to haiku practitioners about the ways in which food shows up in their work.

Allyson Whipple, Introducing the Culinary Saijiki

“Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter” is an exploration of connection, roots and family relationships through the nourishing qualities of food. Sarah Mnatzaganian’s poems are tender and compassionate. Family is a symbol of support and love that allows its members to find their own way.

Emma Lee, “Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter” Sarah Mnatzaganian (Against the Grain) – book review

I wanted to do a quick reading report on Mary Biddinger’s newest book from Black Lawrence Press, Department of Elegy, a wonderfully nostalgic/anti-nostalgic, goth, reminiscence on a Gen-X childhood and young adulthood punctuated by midwestern vacant lot landscapes and marvelously bad decisions. I am loving it – it might be my favorite book of hers yet, so if you are on the fence, get it.

And just to punctuate this, here are some of my favorite lines from the book, from the poem “Bitch Wire:”

“Like many, I poured my best years into
a springform pan, but they were stupid years.”

I laughed out loud at this, and since I also spent a lot of my teen/young adult years making good and bad decisions in the Midwest, I felt like this book was something I could really identify with. Also, once again, kick-ass cover art.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem in Jet Fuel Review; Reading Report: Mary Biddinger, and Sun, Spring and Apple Blossoms Pre-Birthday

If you follow my blog regularly you will have seen that I have been delving into my own practice, exploring what it is to write poetry and how I can break out of some of the habits I have fallen into as a poet. I have been learning to take risks with my own work. I have thought about this development in my own writing as a slowing down, a cessation of striving for publication and success and a re-evaluation of what I want to achieve as a writer, and as a person. The two are not mutually exclusive. Happiness and contentment make me a different writer, they make me a better writer, I think. In my quest to find my own way I’ve been reading books and essays by poets and writers who have explored the impulse towards creativity, and I have been reading about the range of expression that poetry brings, how different art forms merge, and particularly about process; how we think our way to the poem. It has done me good. For me, learning your craft should be more than just creating the impulse to write, or finding a muse or being inspired. We can learn so much by listening to other poets not just reading their poetry, but talking about their process.

Wendy Pratt, A New Venture – Writers on Writing: Poetry

My mother died a year ago April 30th, so I’ve felt haunted these past few weeks. Many kind friends have been checking in with me; for now I’m just saying “okay” and wondering afterward what I meant. Truly, I’ve watched people go through life-rocking grief that lasts years, and that’s not me. My mother died sooner and with more suffering than I wished, but she was 81 and in pain and ready to go. I unpredictably have bad days during which I can’t concentrate and have a hard time being around other people–I call them “grief days.” I suspect this time of year will often conjure her difficult final weeks. Yet most of the time my memories and dreams focus more happily on earlier parts of her life. She feels near.

A friend recently said that she can’t mourn her mother even a few years later; there was too much trauma there. My father, ten years gone this May 30th, wasn’t someone I could grieve, either. From my twenties on I was aware of mourning the father I didn’t have–feeling sorrow even more acutely as I watched how loved and supported my kids felt by their dad–but my father was a storm of a person whom we were relieved to see pass. That’s the main personal narrative of my new book, Poetry’s Possible Worlds: learning the extent of his lies, watching the damage he did as he flamed out, and coming to see the ways his life and death reverberated in me, my understanding guided by poems.

The thing is, my mother was, of course, implicated in my father’s violence. I’ve just published a pair of poems about those times in Couplet, an exposure that would have been difficult when my mother was alive and still feels surprisingly risky. Even calling my father “violent” has been a struggle. My mother occasionally slapped us, but to me it felt fundamentally different, just what temporarily angry parents sometimes did in an age when spanking wasn’t taboo. My father’s violence came from a different place; sometimes it was cool, strategic. We never sustained the visible injuries a social worker would have recognized (or rarely? I’m not positive), but it was clear he wanted to hurt us and approached that line too often. His unpredictable temper, so difficult to read, helped wire my brain. I’m still more likely than some friends to sense dishonesty and possible physical threat from others. I trust those instincts.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and the truth of it

Having recently read a few gorgeous lyric poems that failed to transport me anywhere at all, I found myself (yet again!) wondering why.

Once more, I reached the conclusion that supposedly universal lyricism without context is just beautiful language that floats in a vacuum without an anchor. It’s to be admired rather than absorbed.

In my view, one ideal way to achieve universality in a poem is via a specific frame of reference. This is crucial to the ability of a poem to create a credible new reality that enlightens and transforms the reader’s pre-existing imaginary world.

Contrary to certain critical beliefs, the specific is a pathway towards the universal and never deserves to be disparaged as unambitious. In other words, so-called anecdotal poetry is capable of generating power that reaches far beyond its initial modest confines. The supposed anecdote is simply a point of departure…

Matthew Stewart, The specific as a pathway to the universal

Let us take, for example:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils…

This poem immediately demands the reader think about specifics – specifically specific ways of doing things, and daffodils.

What are the problems with that?

Firstly, it prevents the reader exploring their own ideas of how, for example, to wander in a lonely manner, or what they might see when doing so.

If one instead said:

I wandered lonely as a wandering lonely thing

and:

A host of things you could see a host of

then the reader’s imagination is allowed to run free inserting his or her own images as applicable to their own experience.

Even better:

I did something in the way I like doing it

and:

I could see what I wanted.

thus not restricting them to wandering, being lonely, or seeing too many things at once.

Secondly, the nature question. These nature specifics – and they appear in an awful lot of poems – also exclude those readers who do not have access to ‘nature’.

The city dweller is lucky if they’ve ever seen a vale or hill, and their knowledge of daffodils is likely to be either of that circle of yellow planted by the council on the concrete roundabout where the turn-off for Tesco is, or the drooping yellow things they’ve taken out of the green bucket outside the petrol station as a last minute present for Aunty Nora. These daffs are not dancing in the breeze – they’re gasping for air.

So what is this poem supposed to mean to these people?

To sum up: such specifics limit the imagination of the reader and are also exclusive.

While I’m at it, may I suggest that poets are a bit too obsessed with loneliness, solitude, lying on couches, and being vacant and pensive. They should get out there, get some mates, and get a life. And if they can’t be bothered to get off the couch (ok, fair enough), at least watch something decent on Netflix.

Sue Ibrahim, The dangers of specifics and specifically the specifics of nature in poetry

All of us who read poetry spend a lot of our time re-reading.  Whether it’s a poem we’re new to or one we’ve known for years, the impact changes from one reading to the next–something comes clear that wasn’t, it means something different to us at different times in our own lives, it thickens as we know more of the historical context, or look up a word or an allusion, see a pattern we’d missed.  Sometimes it thins as we realize it’s all dazzling surface, no depth.  Sometimes it’s just incremental changes, but sometimes it’s a real shift from something we disliked to something we find deeply moving.

One of the most significant examples for me was Wallace Stevens’ poetry.  I loved the words and images, but I could not find a way in, a way to take hold.  I kept reading for the surface beauty, and because all my teachers said he was a great poet.  Eventually something clicked, I started to see and hear them as whole poems, and he became one of my central poets.  I never understood why everyone assigned W. C. Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” until I knew the historical context of imagism and free verse lines.  I loved the music and beauty of his poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” without paying much attention to what it was saying, the way I listened to rock songs, until someone mentioned it was about a man asking for his wife’s forgiveness.  Then I liked it even more, for a few minutes, until I re-read the poem and discovered that the speaker ends up forgiving himself.

I liked but didn’t sense the power of Dickinson’s poems until I read them without the reductive punctuation that had been added by editors.  And just last week I came to see how much deeper one of Whitman’s short poems, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” is than I had ever thought when I did a little discussion with the poet Kevin Prufer and he drew an illuminating diagram of it.

Sharon Bryan, Poems You Changed Your Mind About

The latest from American poet Solmaz Sharif, following her Look (Minneapolis MN: Graywolf Press, 2016) [see my review of such here], is Customs (Graywolf Press, 2022), a collection of poems that masterfully examine one’s ongoing relationship with an adopted country and culture that requires constant adaptation, an America that seems to be built on the very foundation of reminding citizens that they don’t, or shouldn’t, belong. Sharif examines that painful space of absence, especially through the extended poem “Without which,” “A without which / I have learned to be.” Or:

Of which I am without
or away from.
I am without the kingdom

            ]]

and thus of it.

Her poems spool, and loop, return to movements monumental and jarring. Hers is a careful, considered lyric, one that slowly places one thought beyond another, composing her pauses and silences as carefully as her lines. Hers is a lyric of phrases, expositions and first-person narratives; a book of boundaries and borders, cultures and collisions, and of lines occasionally drawn in the sand. “Upon my return to the U.S.,” she writes, to open the poem “He, Too,” “he / asks my occupation. Teacher. // What do you teach? / Poetry. // I hate poetry, the officer says, / I only like writing / where you can make an argument. // Anything he asks, I must answer. / This, too, he likes.” Hers is a lyric of phrases and short turns, accumulations, pauses and open spaces. Sharif writes around the spaces left from and through absence, of belonging, exile, colonialism and othering.

rob mclennan, Solmaz Sharif, Customs

I knew Sharon Hashimoto in graduate school, and have long been an admirer. Her first book of poetry, The Crane Wife, was a co-winner of the 2003 Nicholas Roerich Prize, originally published by Story Line Press and now reprinted by Red Hen Press. It was a privilege, this morning, to read her 2021 book, More American.

Samuel Green, the inaugural Washington State Poet Laureate, writes of this book:

I often wonder whether the urge to share joy isn’t one of the most primal human urgencies. Perhaps that’s behind the impulse to read so many of the poems of Sharon Hashimoto’s More American aloud to someone else. “Old memories are ghosts we walk through,” she says in one poems. Hashimoto knows how to let those ghosts bear witness without nostalgia in poems of reconciliation, tolerance, forgiveness, and the sort of love that understands it might never be seen for what it is… (back cover)

And that comes as close as I can to explaining why I’m sharing this book with you. Hashimoto has crafted poems here that collect and treasure family voices, stories of internment and military service, education, and a grandmother, peeling onions, or rising from her bath. Every subject is given such poise and dignity, even when buttocks and breasts are “plump bags,” “socks stretched.” It is a book of family, and a book of witness to that family’s particular (and particularly) American history.

It’s also exquisitely crafted, both the book and the individual poems. In the first section, “Japanese-American Dictionary,” I found myself reading aloud, just for the pleasure of Hashimoto’s words, carefully chosen like ingredients her grandmother uses in her recipes: “shoyu-soaked ropes, / chicken sizzled in garlic and fat. Home // was smell: seaweed, ginger, and rice wine / vinegar” (“Oriental Flavors”).

Language abounds here. “What I knew of Japan / was in my parents’ faces: / okasan, ojisan—the baby sounds / I sometimes used for mother, father,” as we hear in another poem (“A Matter of Loyalty: Question #28, A Nisei’s Response”). These ghostly voices, though, are what I believe will stay with me.

Bethany Reid, Sharon Hashimoto, More American

A short post this week. Three tantalising teasers before the launch next Tuesday of Pressed for Time (Calder Valley Poetry). Shortly there should be a link via the Menu (top of the page) to My Books which will hopefully take you to the PayPal facility. Once it’s up, check out the special offer, available up to may 14th. In the meantime, here are three more poems which I hope will balance the bleakness of some of the work. […]

A poet in Hessle watched a man who pushed
a lawnmower down the cobbled street,
and wished him grass. He saw how a roofer’s trowel
makes diamonds of a slanting sun. Everywhere, 
they told me, there’s a view. Something going on.

John Foggin, Pressed for time……….

This little monster offspring is now available for order! Get it here: https://dulcetshop.myshopify.com/products/animal-vegetable-monster-kristy-bowen

What does it mean to be an artist in a world full of monsters?  What does it mean to be the monster?  This collection rifles through dusty museum halls and neglected cabinet drawers to get at the nature of art and creation in the face of danger—to the body, the heart, to the earth—and how art can both save us and destroy us at the same time.  

Kristy Bowen, animal, vegetable, monster

In some people’s minds his work is considered, well, uncool. Ubiquitous and made into too many copies in bad frames. But I love the work of Andrew Wyeth. I love the strange palette, the odd perspectives, the vast spaces in his work, the shadows, the splatters. I read an article recently that cited Wyeth as saying he considered himself an abstract artist, concerned with how things fill space. This explains his centralization of views through windows and doors, his treatment of walls and fields as vast and interesting subjects, and how often his paintings seem about to tumble off the canvas. And somehow this got me thinking about line breaks.

Line breaks too can serve to disequilibrate the world in interesting ways, can make a wall tilt or roll or file down to a slender needle. I’m speaking both literally and figuratively.  The great power of a line break is the exertion of tension, or its release; the creation of anticipation, of momentary confusion, of a headlong rush or a disconcerting pause. They’re fun to figure out too, in the writing/revision phase.

Marilyn McCabe, The break of noon; or, Line Beginnings and Breaks

When I fell on April 15th and hurt my wrist, I had some seminary assignments I needed to complete. I thought about asking for an extension, but in most of my classes we only get one extension, and I worried that I might need an extension more later. So I decided to see what the dictate function of Word would do.

In the early years of this century, I had done some work with voice recognition software, but I had to make so many corrections that it just didn’t seem worth it. That technology has come a long way. I have been doing all sorts of writing in the past several weeks, and I am amazed at how few mistakes I have to correct.

I’ve written comments for my students’ essays as I’ve graded them, and it’s much easier with voice recognition software. By easier I really mean it’s faster. I’ve responded to emails this way too. It requires some cutting and pasting, but that’s OK.

As I’ve been writing papers for seminary classes that I’m taking, I’ve been trying to observe the process. Do I write differently? Am I formulating thoughts differently? So far the writing process itself seems similar, whether I am typing directly or speaking out loud and watching the words scroll across the page. I go back to correct errors as I notice them with either process. I don’t think that one process or the other generates more errors.

Will I continue using this feature once I have regained the power to type the way I was trained? Maybe. It’s good to know that it’s available and that it works so easily. I do miss the ability to write with any kind of background noise; I can’t listen to the radio for example.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Voice Recognition Software

How to Reject My Work: I accept rejections only through my electronic rejection system (SUBMITTABLE) or via Email. I do not accept rejections delivered in person, through word-of-mouth, or through openly mocking me on social media.

Timing: Rejections may be received year round, though I may experience high volumes of rejection on days I am feeling insecure about my writing.

Simultaneous Rejections: I do so hope you are rejecting at least a couple other writers at the same time.

Response Time: Please reject me within the year. If it has been over a year, I will consider myself rejected. Please reject me before announcing contest winners on your Twitter account or website.

Rejection Fees: Magazines are always free to reject me without fee or consequence, in an effort to promote literary community.

Payment: I am currently a non-paying market.

Formatting Your Rejection: All rejections must be in 12-point Times New Roman font, with 1-inch margins. Form rejections must include one of the following signal words or phrases: Unfortunately, Although, Best of Luck, Elsewhere, Regret. Please include the correct author’s name with REJECTION in all caps in the email subject line (“Emerson REJECTION”). As tempting as it may be, please restrict yourself to rejecting me one submission at a time.

Thank you for your interest in rejecting my work; best of luck elsewhere!

Renee Emerson, Rejection Guidelines for Literary Magazines

in the rain
the lonely sound of a bell
how far it travels

Jim Young [no title]

Diane LeBlanc: The first poem in The Curator’s Notes, “My Mother Was Water,” introduces some of the collection’s central motifs: water, a mother/daughter relationship, origin stories, exile, survival. It serves as a preface or frontispiece. I always wonder if poets choose a poem with great weight for that position in a book, or if a poem gathers force when situated alone before a series of sections. What can you tell us about that poem and about its place in the collection?

Robin Rosen Chang: “My Mother Was Water” was actually the working title of my collection. However, I felt that, as a title, it incorrectly implied that the collection was all about the mother figure. On the other hand, the poem works well as a prefatory poem because it introduces many of the book’s themes. Through this poem, the reader is presented with the importance of stories—origin stories, stories we inherit, stories we adapt, stories we ourselves curate—as well as the types of relationships that are prominent in The Curator’s Notes, namely those between mothers and daughters and between women and men. It also serves as a launching point for my own origin story, while foreshadowing some of the turbulence that ensues.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Diane LeBlanc Interviews Robin Rosen Chang

Forgetting where the car is parked
means something important left undone.

The structure deflated like punched dough
means vulnerability and self-blame.

The taxi that makes stop after stop for hours
is the same as the airport with no signs:

what made you think you had any control
over where you’re going or when you arrive?

The suitcase that won’t hold everything
means the same as the one left behind.

The empty hot tub at the top of the house
is ambiguous, but skylights mean hope.

__________

None of these statements accord with any school of dream (or poem) interpretation I know. I’m also not sure how I feel about placing any single interpretation on a dream or poem. But both are worth holding up to the kaleidoscope, turning them to see what we learn from how the shapes (re)align.

Rachel Barenblat, Interpretation

a mother’s cancer, wired for electricity, wires that were her last connection to this world, then her poor ghost, wired for sound. 

a bell on the neck of the goat, it sounded evil and looked dull. the poor goat had to listen to it clang with every damn step for its entire life. 

lovely, lovely, lovely. above, a blue sky heaven with perfect white, fluffy clouds. below, the slums and the suffering on the streets of the city. 

a dead, beached whale, lit with floodlights, the rotting continued through the long sinews of the night, broken by the sound of the waves. 

the dreams that were cast aside, sins that were never forgiven and never forgotten. yesterday became today, but why? 

poems about beauty? sure. why not? but poems about the ugliness, too. don’t just tell a little. tell it all. every damn bit of it. 

James Lee Jobe, ugly, ugly, ugly

There is a suddenness to beauty, a shock to it. I sometimes think I’m quite dulled to the world these days, but then it happens, I’m pulled through, and that reminds me what I’m here for. What tasks are important to me. And that’s not just writing or photographing, but trying to make the world slightly better, however I’m able. And so my mind is slightly shifted, and I can go on.

Joan Chittester has said, “It is Beauty that magnetizes the contemplative, and it is the duty of the contemplative to give beauty away so that the rest of the world may, in the midst of squalor, ugliness, and pain, remember that beauty is possible.”

And maybe that’s the number one rule of beauty school: it is your obligation to keep giving beauty away. Or, as I often say here, you are required to make something beautiful. Which, can I even say that often enough? I think not.

Shawna Lemay, Beauty School

I’m grateful for another month filled with poems. Thank you to Maureen Thorson and our NaPoWriMo fellowship for this journey. We got all the way to Mordor and discovered there was no Sauron waiting for us, no Mount Doom, no ring that needed to be destroyed. The journey together was the purpose of it all and reaching our destination, the reward. I’m so glad I joined this year. Have an amazing year of writing and living life to the fullest! See you in April 2023.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo Day 30, 2022

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 19

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 I’m a little under the weather following my second Covid jab—light fever, general brain fog—so if the arrangement seems especially random, that’s my excuse. I found so many interesting posts, I had to be a bit picky and exclude a few things that might’ve otherwise made the cut—if that’s you, my apologies.


If my mother were alive, she’d be asking me why I haven’t written anything this week about Israel and Gaza and the West Bank. (Well, in fairness: she’d be asking why I haven’t written about Israel. She didn’t care about Gaza or the West Bank.) We had this conversation often, when she was alive and was well enough to get cranky with me about what I did or didn’t write. 

I’m struggling to find words this week. Would my words actually make things better for anyone? Would they bring light, or only more heat? Would they open anyone’s heart, or just deepen entrenchment? What purpose would my words serve? Instead I’ve been seeking out the voices of Israelis and Palestinians. Their words matter right now in a way that mine does not.

I read words from Leah Solomon about her heartbreak and desperation. I read words from Ismail (a young man writing under a pseudonym to protect himself) about feeling trapped between a quick death and a slow one. I read words from Lama M. Abarqoub about bereaved parents. I read words from Sarah Tuttle-Singer about blockades and parenthood and children. 

My heart breaks for all who have worked there toward justice and peace and coexistence.  The actions (and inactions) of governments and extremists are pushing justice and peace and coexistence further and further out of the realm of possibility. And I know the same emboldening of rightwing supremacists that scares me in the States is happening there too. 

So I pray this prayer by Rabbi Jordan Braunig, and this prayer of mothers for life and peace by R. Tamar Elad-Appelbaum and Sheikha Ibtisam Maḥameed (transl. by R. Amichai Lau-Lavie), and The smoke has not cleared by Hila Ratzabi. I pray poems by Yehuda Amichai and Mahmoud Darwish, Rachel Tzvia Back and Carolina Ebeid. I pray, and their words become my own.

Rachel Barenblat, Wordless

Some days we can lose ourselves in the labyrinth of dark news headlines.

Blindfolded by grief, we wander from one tragedy to another, tattooed with wounds feeling so un-akin to our natural skin.

We’re taught, yet again, how a bullet spelled backwards might not sound the same way but it still leaves a gun at the same speed.

Or how awful words can build upon one another, calcify, create the spine of hate.

Some days are so dark you can taste the fear of becoming a relic, an artifact, an extinct thing in the museum of breathing.

Gentle heart, return to us from the wild. Bell our weariness to a many-petalled joy.

Rich Ferguson, When the Bullet Meets the Bone

This past year I have not been able to write much, or rather, I haven’t been able to write much new poetry. I’ve written here from time to time. (Thank goodness for this blog, and the book that’s come from it – so much pleasure there, and the kind reading and sharing of it). And I’ve written thousands of emails, texts, even posted the odd tweet …I’ve written for my job as a university lecturer: thousands and thousands and thousands of words about, well, about how and why we can and must care for and empower each other, about how we try to learn when we cannot be together. That work has been utterly exhausting, though I regret none of it. 

As for the music of poetry? The place from which that comes feels numbed, weary, tuneless. 

    I asked, with everything I did not
    have, to be born. And nowhere in any
    of it was there meaning …

I woke this morning and after a bit of Sunday morning laying around, talked with myself about first things – about how I came to write poetry in the beginning, how I scribbled lines, hid them and tore them up, then eventually had the courage to join a writing group in my 40s. It was through reading poetry, not writing, that I found what I needed to know. After the reading, the writing – the impetus to express my own longings. I knew, I reminded myself decades later, that it was reading The Wasteland in my 1980s London bedroom that convinced me that I was not alone.

Sharon Olds, in her poem I Cannot Say I Did Not addresses the question of unbidden existence more clearly than anything I’ve heard or read in any other context: church, family, school, social work text books, The School of Life website …  This existential conundrum haunted my youth –  none of us asked to be born. Olds takes it head on in this poem, even daring to end on a preposition. It’s brilliant, and reading it again this morning (from the Bloodaxe Staying Human anthology) it confirmed to me that if I turn back to reading the poetry that moves me most, poetry which is about this existence of ours – the one that we’ve been hanging onto for dear life – if I turn back to the well-worn pages of Olds, Rich, Hopkins, Eliot, Collins, McMillan, Clarke, Sprackland, Duffy, Oliver …  in time, and with gentleness, and quietly, I will, in time, find my voice again.

    … I want to say that love
    is the meaning, but I think that love may be
    the means, what we ask with. 
Sharon Olds – I Cannot Say I Did Not

Liz Lefroy, I Struggle With Words

Strangely, in the last few weeks, I have taken some of the incredibly negative writing I’ve been churning out for months and months, and am turning it into something more positive. There is still an underlying sadness and fear but it also has hope. I had previously tried to find, in my vast pile of writing, some poems that were positive. I didn’t find many. I submitted those to a competition and was shortlisted. That was a positive in itself. And it is clear that people want hope right now – well, always, obviously. So I thought I’d try it on myself. If I can write it, maybe I can believe it. Some days it works. I’ll keep fighting.

Sue Ibrahim, Fighting

And the boat will light the night sky
enough for a sudden, uproarious rush
to the sea, in old clothes, good clothes,
underclothes or no clothes at all.
A wrecked boat with stories to be told
but nobody interested enough to hear.
Somebody will make a good fire of it
and it’ll be gone. Charcoal, ash, good to
spread on an allotment, or for the wind
to pick up and blow far out to sea.

Bob Mee, ON MADNESS STREET

I discovered the cure to writer’s block. Decide finally your rattly old car needs to be replaced so you can stop worrying about it. Do some dreadful car shopping, including endless reading of articles in Car and Driver or other magazines you would not otherwise frequent. While you’re in the middle of a reaction from your second Covid shot, buy a car you can live with for a price that gives you only partial dyspepsia. Sell the old car for far less than you had thought you could get. Boom: Start writing again.

Or was it springtime.

Or finally boredom.

Well. I guess I’m not sure. Anyway, I have several pages of scrawl, so that’s good. But I’ve also got a pile of really good reads (hm…could that have been what got me going…?), so I thought I’d share some.

Marilyn McCabe, But you gotta have something; or, On Writer’s Block and Reading

I’m not a silver linings kind of gal. Not a “look on the bright side” person. Not because I insist on wallowing, but that I believe I need to allow myself to accept what is hard, or unpleasant or destructive, for what it is – honestly. I need to see this “thing” for what it is and acknowledge the real consequences.

It seems to me that looking for bright sides is gaslighting oneself. A kind of emotional sleight of hand. That said, life is full of “things”. Dark things and bright things. And sometimes it does help to keep the nourishing things in view while dealing with the things that can kill us.

I remember seeing a drawing a few years ago of a dark tangle of lines inside a small circle. It represented grief. The image was followed by a larger circle with the same size dark tangle of lines inside. The idea being that grief doesn’t get smaller, but that life goes on and becomes fuller, and the grief takes up less space in our lives.

I am no expert on grief, but this makes sense to me. And I see no reason why it wouldn’t help to look around and make my life larger in the present. To make my circle of awareness larger.

Ren Powell, “All the Things”

As I read through Frances of the Wider Field, I think of my own grandmothers, one who died suddenly 30 years ago, and one who died 17 years ago from Parkinson’s. I often feel that I never really got to know them, and that is its own kind of grief. I see your poems as a way to stay in conversation with people you cannot converse with anymore, at least not in the way you once did. Do you feel there is something special about poetry as a genre that allows for these conversations to happen? 

I hadn’t really thought about it like this before, but yes. Poetry allows for all kinds of unexpected turns as opposed to, say, a mode that has some expectation of linearity. It seems to me that poems are not only a way to stay in conversation with people we can no longer access, but that writing into the unknown allows us to converse with mysteries. The Frances poems originated with that energy, of being open to conversations with people I never met, with places that existed before me, with lineage, with ghosts, with concepts of god. The energy was at first an impulse to write toward a very specific absence, but the poems turned into presence–Frances began permeating the landscape, the dailiness of past, present and maybe even future. I’m interested in the continuum of time and memory and how we move long through different planes of experience, sometimes all at once.

Allyson Whipple, Poetry Interview with Laura Van Prooyen

When I visit, now, he makes sure that I know that he wants me to have his onyx bookends. It’s hard to know if he knows that he’s said that before: he’s always had the good teacher’s capacity for clear repetition. He knows it’s not enough to say something once. One of the reasons I’ve always been a poor teacher is that I’m not able to repeat myself. If I even suspect that I repeating myself, I stop short; I’m mortified; I can’t proceed. Not that it actually stops me from repeating myself: I’m often startled, if I look back at my older posts, to see how often, how tiresomely, I say the same thing. I’ve said all this before, too. 

The bookends are massive, Mexican onyx, from some foray into Juárez. And I do indeed like them.

The mallet just kisses the huge metal disk: it rings, or rather throbs: a low tone on the edge of hearing, but a sweet call. If the huge slow earth were a cat chirruping with pleasure at the sight of a friend, it would make this sound. More things, more things in heaven and earth. A la deriva, but at least in motion. The sky is a pure wordless blue. This year’s wildfires haven’t started up yet. And we don’t actually know that they will.  There’s lots we don’t know.

Dale Favier, Bells that still Ring

You must forget what came before,
how really there was no cloud
of mosquitos that night, only a stinging
flurry of words, how everything happened
too fast once she arrived, and how
you were the only one left to bury her.
Afterwards, you ate and cried as you ate,
the toast black like the black soil
you kept turning inside your mind,
covering and uncovering a grave.

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke, so you
sat there, waiting, eating the burned
toast, raising your hands in surrender
to imaginary knocks on the door.
The makeshift table wobbled, half-chewed
by termites. The TV flickered on mute.
You made your own news, platefuls
of it, the gift of an alternate reality,
where the world was still the same, but
was played back in reverse, and last night
with its soft-pink center was yet to come,
led by the peace of a dreamless sleep.

Romana Iorga, Nothing Left to Do

I do not own a powerful telephoto lens for my old digital camera, so I rarely take successful pictures of birds. My noticing tends toward the small and not-fast-moving: flowers, mosses, flora, lichen, fungi, landscapes. I have learned to look mostly at my feet, and occasionally at the clouds. It seems that the limits of my camera and of my vision (terribly, terribly nearsighted) have led to a particular perspective that affects my photos, my botanical interests, and my poetry.

Which is, sometimes, all to the good–but not uniformly. Perspective should be varied; we humans need to imagine that other humans (and non-humans) may witness life from other points of view. This concept is fundamental to psychological understanding and to the much-vaunted and controversial “theory of mind.” It also gives us the pathetic fallacy and anthropomorphism, which expand human ideas about consciousness and offer plangent and resonant metaphors that writers can employ.

All of this came to top of mind today when a student brought in a Philosophy paper concerning Nietzsche’s perspectivism.

Nietzsche opposes philosophers who ignore the fact that individuals have limitations on their theorizing. What makes his idea so thorny is that at the same time he suggests–goes so far as to claim–that perspective (even limited, ideological perspective) is imaginative, is one of our human freedoms.

Ann E. Michael, Perspective(s)

Poetry is difficult to define. It’s a nebulous creature. Even if one were to point to particular tropes or concepts as being hallmarks of poetry, the definition shifts along with its multitude of forms, styles, and expectations.

The first episode of this Writing Excuses master class attempts to answer this question. However, instead of simply presenting her own definition of poetry, El-Mohtar wisely turns the tables, asking the question, “What is prose?”

Prose is so ubiquitous — being present in novels, short stories, and non-fiction works all around us — that we tend to take it for granted. By asking “What is prose?” Amal shakes up our understanding of what we read and write.

Since Kowal, Wells, and Taylor are all seasoned professionals, their answers to this question are thoughtful and enlightening. The discussion leads to the conclusion that poetry and prose are not opposites (as is often perceived), rather they use the same tools and elements to engage with language in order to create specific effects.

As a person who has recently published Twelve, a book that blurs the line between poetry and prose, I found this conversation particularly resonant. Each of the poems within my book are narrative-heavy prose poems, in which poetic language is broken into blocks of text similar to paragraphs. As such, it’s been interesting reading some of the reviews and commentary about the book, as some readers feel that labeling these pieces poems is an inaccurate description, calling them instead vignettes.

Personally, I don’t blame readers for feeling bewilderment. When I started writing this collection, my intention was to write poetry with a heavy narrative focus. However, as my writing process continued, each piece grew into a hybrid creature I wasn’t quite able to define. Ultimately, I decided that since my intention was to write poetry — and these pieces feel like poetry to me — that’s what I call them.

Andrea Blythe, What is Poetry? A Writing Excuses Master Class

Tomorrow is #DylanDay (see here), so I wanted to post some photographs linked to the poet whose hometown of Swansea was also my home for two decades. […]

Italian poet and Dylan Thomas aficionado, Lidia Chiarelli, charter member and co-ordinator of the Immagine e Poesia movement, has been busy assembling and curating a website of international writing and visual art to mark the day. I am delighted to have my poem, ‘The Gothic Arch’, posted on this webpage (the easiest way to find it is to scroll to the bottom here and then move the cursor up the page a little). The poem, as you will see, was written in response to a few words from one of Dylan’s poems. 

The site also contains articles, such as one by Peter Thabit Jones on ‘Dylan Thomas and Greenwich Village, New York’, in which he ponders some of the fascinating ‘what ifs’ in relation to Dylan’s short but extraordinary literary life. 

Caroline Gill, Marking #DylanDay 2021 … Immagine e Poesia

as was youth
beer-bloated and curled
a smile – winsome
isn’t that what they say
to the wide-eyed

but to the writers of poems
it is the meagre wages
of time squandered
in the good company
of laughter un-worded
worldly but unworldly
is this tragedy to behold

Jim Young, older dylan dying

Most of the time, I feel much more at home among zine culture practitioners than I ever did poets, and it may just be that my DIY ethos has never fit well in a system where such things are frowned upon. Where I have sat on panels arguing about self-publishing that are the exact opposite of zine panels.   Fellow zinesters are welcoming and excited about indie publishing, where many poets are just looking for the “acceptable” routes of work dissemination–academic journals, fancy presses, the things poets have been fighting over since the early 20th century and maybe before which have more to do with “legitimacy” and less with actually cultivating an audience.  Zinesters have to take the means of production into their own hands by definition, so the results are much more varied and diverse. 

And perhaps it is that seizing I try to convey to the classes the most. The idea of authorship and creating media in spaces and from voices that don’t always get heard. I am excited to see what comes of this year’s programming once we are back in the physical spaces..so stay tuned.

Kristy Bowen, for the love of zines

Q: How did Queen Street Quarterly get started?

[Suzanne Zelazo]: I had been volunteering as the photography editor (which was the only position open) at my college literary mag (The Trinity Review). The journal was as formally traditional as the campus. Although I found that limiting, I got to see a little of what went into such an enterprise. Most importantly, I got to see how and where it was printed, which was around the corner at Coach House Press. The singularity of that press with its commitment to the book as an art object was absolutely crucial to how I conceived of the QSQ. What they do as printers made it very clear to me that I wanted to produce a periodical that would showcase the materiality of the text, specifically by including sound and visual poetry. But, as a lover of much lyric work as well, I wanted a venue that would integrate the traditional and the avant garde. I believed and still do in the power of reciprocal exchange between different genres. One way I saw of enabling that was by according the ephemerality that characterizes much experimental work the weighted presence of a proper bound text and to have it appear on zephyr laid paper that would do much to fix the fleeting in place for the benefit of extended engagement. Additionally, I believed the less experimental material in this configuration would take on a different charge featured alongside seemingly incongruous work.

Looking back, part of the impetus to start the QSQ was no doubt youthful arrogance—I did not see any magazines at that time to which I wanted to submit work, or more precisely, which reflected the kind of work I was writing and interested in, so I figured I’d make one.

Q: What were your models when starting out? Were you basing the journal on anything specific, or working more intuitively?

SZ: I wasn’t basing it on anything specific but discovering older copies of Between C and D: Neo-Expressionist Lower East Side Fiction Magazine, edited by Joel Rose and Catherine Texier (1983-1990) made a huge impact on me. I read every one I could get my hands on. Printed and “bound” as it was, or rather, computer-printed accordion-style and packaged in zipped plastic bags, cultivated my understanding of the periodical as art object. The entire print run is stunning and the magazine’s commitment to the avant garde scene was so inspiring to me. Tish was the same for me in terms of prioritizing generic experimentation.

rob mclennan, Queen Street Quarterly (1997-2005): bibliography, and an interview with Suzanne Zelazo

I can barely lead this morning’s writing class. A sudden migraine hit only a few minutes before students began to show up on Zoom. It’s a bad one — pain and nausea plus vivid wavy lines distorting my vision. I take some restorative slow breaths, drink a glass of water, then welcome everyone to the class.

I love teaching. I’m particularly mesmerized by the way community writing classes effortlessly build connections between strangers. Over weeks of reading and discussing their writing, people can’t help but get to know one another. Ordinary conversations, even between close friends, tend to fritter time away on surface topics. But in writing class we skip weather and family updates, going directly to deeper topics. It’s entirely natural to bond after sharing universal experiences like fear, regret, grief, embarrassment, triumph, and joy. I suspect we carry one another’s poems and stories with us long after the class is over. I certainly do. Many friendships built in writing class persist and several former classes of mine continue to meet independently as writing groups. Writing together has a magic all its own. 

But this morning I am in trouble. I can’t easily focus on the screen and can barely see my notes. Worst of all, I have trouble explaining concepts due to migraine-imposed brain fog, In this session I introduce persona poems. I explain, falteringly, how persona poems free us to write from the perspective of a soup bowl, a tree, an astronomer, a virus. I point out persona poems can help to stretch us. After all, if we’re writing in the voice of a dolphin or the voice of Donald Trump, we are writing our way toward understanding those lives more completely. I note that some people insist all poems are persona poems because the “I” in the poem is still a persona the poet choose to present. I’m not sure how much I get across because I feel like a balloon floating over the class.

Laura Grace Weldon, Healing Power Of Writing Via Zoom

After trying checklists and flowcharts and a variety of other revision tools, all of which felt too prescriptive, I finally landed on the poetry revision bingo card. I figured making revision an actual game might encourage a greater degree of playfulness. I tell my students that the goal is to get a bingo, not to get a perfect poem. This frees them up to be experimental and take chances they might not otherwise take. While they also have the option of jumping around the board at random, getting a bingo forces them to try things that might be unfamiliar to them, instead of just going for low hanging fruit. I sell it as an opportunity to be surprised, to find out what secrets the poem is keeping, as well as what it has to teach about craft. And of course, sometimes what the experiment teaches is that you had it right the first time, which isn’t a failure of the revision process, but a validation of your instincts.

Poetry Revision Bingo – guest post by Suzanne Langlois (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

A thousand pages flutter open in the wind.

Translation: The days are gods
who haven’t shown their faces yet.
It’s when they appear as nothingness
that we think of them as powerful.
How can you supplicate
what isn’t there?

Luisa A. Igloria, (Continuing) Improvisations

spring daylight lingers
longer through the evening

we talk video games
coasting down hills
our bike lights blinking

James Brush, 05.10.21

A roar of Harleys,
a long rumble of them

coming through town–
spring.

Tom Montag, A ROAR OF HARLEYS

Walking home the other day, I noticed a cop car pulled up in front of a coffee shop on the main drag of my neighborhood. When I rubbernecked to see what was going on, I was a bit shocked to see a 100% buck-naked lady standing out in front of the entrance in full view of God and everyone. I would have expected this from an elderly person with dementia, but this was a young, attractive woman who appeared completely normal in every other way. She was perfectly calm and reposeful, not all at combative, just…naked. At one point she settled into one the chairs in the outdoor seating section, drew her knees up, and just sat there. It was quite strange. The cop on site was in observation mode, being very hands-off and obviously trying to shield her body as much as possible. I hope the naked lady is okay and that she got connected with some good mental health resources and that no one took pictures of her and posted them on the internet (I was watching the other pedestrians closely to make sure they didn’t have their phones out). The whole thing made me wonder about my own capacity to crack to the point that one day I just decide take all my clothes off in public and stand around nonchalantly. Somehow I don’t think this will ever happen. I am innately as modest as a nun and have a horror of being seen in anything less than full-length pants and skirts, so hopefully, even if I do have a complete mental breakdown one day, it won’t involve me stripping in public.

Mr. Typist and I took a long walk yesterday in celebration of the outdoor mask mandate being lifted, and I was surprised at how joyous it made me to see people’s faces again. It was a sunny, almost-warm day, there were a lot of people out, and practically no one had a mask on. Every time we passed people without masks, I was filled with a little zing of happiness at being able to see their full faces. I don’t know any of these people; they are just strangers out in public, but somehow seeing their whole faces brought me a sense of jubilance. This brings up all kinds of questions about what sort of long-term psychological affects that masking has had on us, and how it has affected our sense of our own humanity, and what it means from a biological and evolutionary standpoint to be visually cut off from the view of our fellow human’s faces for prolonged periods of time.

Kristen McHenry, In Defense of Hufflepuff, Buck-Naked Lady, The Joy of Seeing Faces

Finally, one from Rembrandt — I love this because it’s deliberately left unfinished, and we can see his fast, scribbling line. Look at that barely-indicated tree, over on the left! Picasso loved Rembrandt and you can see why. His facility is unnerving, and just makes me smile with delight when I see the way he “builds” the trees with just that line before starting to add any shading or detail, and then starts to go in: “yes, let’s work on the side of that trunk to show its gnarliness, let’s show the little leaves on the ground and the way the bank is uneven, these branches I’ll leave white against the dark foliage, but those others need to be dark against the light shining through”… I could feel him thinking some of the same thoughts and making some of the same decisions I did in my own drawing, and all those years and the distance between anonymity and fame collapse, and we’re just two artists concentrated on our work, looking intently at trees.

Beth Adams, On Drawing Trees

Can light redeem every/anything? Since I have lost my faith in so many things of late, maybe irredeemably, it occurs to me that my latest photo excursion was in part about testing that idea. Can light still change us? Can beauty? Can a seagull perched on top of a TacoTime cactus after rummaging through the trash show me something that I need to know? Can all of this, this attempt, be a synonym for happiness, even if it is couched in despair and a loss of faith?

Shawna Lemay, Synonyms of Happiness

The photographer wonders how to say in deer language: “I come in peace; be not afraid.”

The deer wonders how to say in human language: “Breakfast is ready and there’s enough for you. Come and eat.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Deer and the Photographer

This morning I thought with a start: does “console” mean with-alone? It doesn’t, it turns out. According to the OED, it comes from the Latin con- (with) + sōlārī (to solace, soothe). We used to say “consolate” until Dryden, Pope, and others shortened it. But I like my pretend etymology, too. There’s inwardness to mourning, but it’s also touching how many people reach out kindly.

Last spring I found it deeply strange that the world was coming to life so beautifully as a virus ravaged populations all over the world. This spring, as the human social world stirs in harmony with the natural one, I’m thinking about how my mother would have appreciated the warm weather, the annual sequence of blooms, and the lift of mask mandates (I worry about the latter, but I bet she would have flung hers away triumphantly and gone to brunch with her friends, to her children’s exasperation). It’s strange not to text and call her. Guilt and shame sometimes flood in about the times I wasn’t kind to her. I woke up in the middle of the night mad at a relative who wouldn’t talk to her during the last year (although he’s also elderly, I thought in the morning, and deserving of compassion, so I will NOT be extending the grudge). I wish my mother had one more summer.

On the “with” side of lonely brooding, I’m thinking about traveling and connecting with friends, in person. I rebooked last June’s cancelled trip to Iceland as well as an August week at a NC beach house with my kids–and I’ll come to the latter straight from the Sewanee Writers Conference, which I’m looking forward to with excitement now. This Thursday Chris and I are driving up to NJ to spend three nights at my sister’s beach house before attending a small memorial for my mother in my sister’s backyard, with a few friends and relatives I haven’t seen in ages. I’ve picked out a poem from Heterotopia to read, and I’ll share a letter from my mother’s best friend while growing up in England, but other than that, this writer has no idea what to say. There’s so much, and a lot of it feels private.

Lesley Wheeler, Celebration & consolation

sad at the passing
of a friend
we few now
the sun sets
but still
you drive
the dark paths
as if they had
no end

Dick Jones, Dog Sutra §22

So I spent some time this week reading Joan Didion’s new collection of as-yet uncollected essays from the 1960’s – 2000s, What I Mean – a great book to dip in and out of on the weekends. Standout essays include “Why I Write” and “On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice,” as well as some of her asides about her early days working as a copywriter at Vogue. […]

I also finished Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz, about the friendship and relationships between Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. There were two fun chapters – on how they met in a workshop with Robert Lowell, their meetups, and on their writing habits – and about four excruciating chapters on how both women suffered in their marriages, their poor treatment at the hands of psychiatrists, Anne’s abuse of her daughter, and their eventual suicides. I know it’s hard to get around those subjects in any kind of biography about either poet but it just – oof – made for tough going. It’s well-researched and the author makes useful notes and asides for context, but I was glad to have Joan Didion to go back to – she seemed so solidly upbeat in comparison!

I was also interested to find out for which book and when Anne Sexton won the Pulitzer Prize – click the link for more detailed info from a Poetry Foundation blog post – and how she negotiated for equal pay for readings, appearances, and publications. When reading about successful female authors of the past for inspiration, I often wonder how they would fare now. How much more equitable is our current system – health system, and the poetry system? How can we make it even better? How can we find successful women writers who had more stable, less abusive relationships, better help and more success in life who can be role models? There’s always Margaret Atwood, who remains bracingly cheerful in the face of a long, happy marriage and a lot of late-in-life success, I guess…Suggestions welcome in the comments!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Poem on Verse Daily – I Can’t Stop, Birds and Blooms, and Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion

Poetry has been a balm for many over the past difficult year, for others it has been an outlet to express the whirlwind of emotions. Chris Campbell’s White Eye of the Needle, currently available from The Choir Press, is the first published collection I’ve read that mentions the current epidemic, though its presence has been felt through poems in journals and online since this all began.

Covid’s stamp on the current poetry scene can’t be ignored as I’m sure it will continue to weigh down many poetic collections in the near future, but former journalist Campbell doesn’t dwell on the epidemic. The poetry collection themes range from travel to relationships. They are well-matched by Sandra Evans’ sweet, detailed line drawings, gems in themselves.

Campbell’s writing is delightful, focusing on those simple moments that in retrospect carry so much importance now, especially as many ordinary habits of our life, visiting a café, going to an open air market have been denied us in the last year. His poems remind us to savour the things we once enjoyed freely.

Gerry Stewart, Book Review – White Eye of the Needle – Chris Campbell – Blog Tour

A second review of Strangers is in! This one meant so much to me because it was written by Chris Banks, a poet whose writing and blogging have meant a lot to me (as you can see if you check out my ten Chris Banks “quotes” here on this site, which reach back over the last twelve years!). As Chris mentions in the review, Strangers features a quote from Chris’ second book, The Cold Panes of Surfaces

The quote accompanies the book’s dedication to my father and two brothers: “For we are who we are, and more, all that is ridden within us / in the same way our fathers are not our fathers but someone / else’s inconsolable sons” (“LaHave River, Cable Ferry”).

So I suppose Chris wasn’t a fully unbiased reader, nor am I a fully unbiased recipient. Chris’ attention being given to my book was an absolute joy. His observation that the book focuses on “grief for a larger world that is constantly passing forever into the past” echoes one of my favourite conversations, between Stephanie Bolster and Don Coles, on the”presentiment of loss” in Coles’ poetry. I hadn’t realized – slow as one is to see their own work – that I was in part drawn to that conversation because I think and write in similar ways. 

Rob Taylor, New Strangers Review

I’ve been blown away by some of the haiku in paul m.’s ‘witness tree’, and reading Wally Swist’s ‘The Windbreak Pine’ has made me appreciate the longer line (many of his poems are 17 syllables, although not necessarily 5-7-5). Both books are from Snapshot Press. I’d like to say more about these collections, but work has been hectic (plugging gaps due to an outbreak of Covid that seems to be rumbling on despite many other areas having lowers cases). Time hasn’t been on my side – is it ever? What I would say though, is that I have never been disappointed by any books I’ve bought from Snapshot Press. And I have a few more still on my wish list!

This sort of brings me round to another thing that I’m starting to do, which is sell some of my poetry books. From time to time, I give books away, either to fellow writers, or to the local Oxfam bookshop in nearby Holmfirth. I don’t do this lightly, but space is always a premium and sometimes I realise I’m unlikely to keep returning to a particular book. Most of the books I own aren’t worth that much, but one or two might be considered collectible. So, I’m dipping my toe in the waters of e-bay, in the hope that some of these books will find the right home, so to speak. My mother has a saying that goes something along the lines of: ‘She knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. I’ve had a careful think about what I value, and currently, it’s haiku. Any money I raise will go towards the purchase of haiku books. And I’ve taken the plunge and joined The British Haiku Society too (not sure why it’s taken me so long, something about a formal organisation that I find slightly off-putting, but we’ll see). Anyway, that’s where I’m up to on this rather rain-soaked Saturday afternoon. I hope that wherever you are, you are reading, and writing, and loving what you do!

Julie Mellor, rain-washed gritstone

The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by; have I come to threaten them? No? This is the anxiety of death that we all know. The burrowing owls, small, colored like the earth, like the cold ground, relax a little as I pass. I can see this. O cold night, let them know peace and comfort, these little beings who look at me and think of danger. 

James Lee Jobe, Flesh, time, fate, and some rather small owls.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: grief and horror, wanderlust and staying put, soft joys and tough political questions.


It’s been a rough week. It started with me staying up all night with kitten Sylvia that required the emergency vet (okay now, but gave us quite a scare), continued with me being too sick (not covid, but a stomach and sinus infection) to get much work reading or writing done, and ended with the news that my maternal grandmother, after surviving covid-19 for two weeks, passed away today, just a few days short of her 96th birthday. This was my last surviving grandparent, and one who shared with me a love of literature – Poe, Hemingway and Faulkner were a few of her favorites, and in her youth she read voraciously. She lived in Missouri, which has some of the highest covid rates, and no one was able to visit her the last weeks of her life, because of covid.

I know people are chafing under travel restrictions during Thanksgiving, but remember that people like me – and my grandmother – are the people that need protection. Wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and stay home. Having to miss a Thanksgiving with family is much better than having to mourn a family member you can’t even have a funeral for, which is what I’m doing this week. No amount of pumpkin pie is worth that.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Doldrums, Grieving a Loss and Moments of Light

Yesterday, someone bought a pocket watch that would have been mine at an auction. I will not know the name of the person who now owns it but our fates are now forever intertwined. On the English Crown rests the mountain of light. The fundamental principle of the world is the same as that of love: what is mine today will be yours tomorrow. Yesterday, someone bought a heart that would have been mine at an auction. I will not know the name of the person who now owns it but our fates are now forever intertwined.

I am sharpening my pen like an ancient knife. Tell me your name, you, on whose slender swan neck shines the sapphire that will be mine tomorrow. I will mount it in gold.

Saudamini Deo, Omnes una manet nox

let’s stop all this
        clearly it’s not working

no one can say
                we didn’t try

                        but it collapsed under its own wait (sic)

instead let’s make ready the soil

        plant seeds & care for them                tenderly

                until something (new) & (better)

springs wildly toward the sun

Jason Crane, POEM: wildly toward the sun

The feathered chonk plomps on my shoulder. “Bonjourno!” My funny, gray angster.

She laughs and explains the situation.
“Good girl!”

Only two words, but I catch her meaning. She has indeed been well behaved today and deserves a reward.

I hold a slice of Lite-Brite pink grapefruit out on my palm.

Dancing excitedly, my ersatz child digs her black beak into the acidic flesh.

In an instant, her reward becomes my regret as it squirts to land in my eye.

Life. It would be nothing without these bad surprises from good decisions.

Allyson Whipple, November Poetry Contest Winner

We stop to look upon the corpse in the snow. Blue skin and an open mouth. Open eyes. Moonlight across the frozen face. Moonlight that plays a soft music that entertains the snow. We say a prayer for the deceased. We say a prayer for the ones who grieve. And we say a prayer for ourselves, for our lives. We stop to look upon the corpse in the snow. And around us gather the ghosts of many others who died alone, without even their names. We stop. We speak the words. And we move on. But before we move on, we cover the body with snow, using our cold and wet hands like shovels.

James Lee Jobe, We say a prayer for the ones who grieve.

As I move further away from her death she appears to me more clearly. Not as she was in her last months, but as she was when I was young, when she was just going around gobbling up life with wit and humour and grace. The tables groaning with food, the house a constant stream of guests. Her laughter. Her elegance.

I have lived long enough to look back and beg for it again. I am begging for it again, even those moments when I knew I disappointed her, when we were not really talking. When I am out walking the dog. When I look through old photographs. Th autumn rain. Her fry-ups before Saturday school. I meet all of it.

I had no idea I would miss it.

Anthony Wilson, Before

black dress gloves on a polished table
black lace veils on hats laid aside
the tide of conversation turns
around hat pins and other things
no one is the first to go as the clock chimes
silence leads the way as sadness falls
upon the thought that soon
soon maybe
perhaps
another cup of tea and a cake

Jim Young, heirloom in the room

No, I’m not crying because I’m waiting for my own spinal tap results. I don’t cling to life that much. But I know he does. Most people I know have a Velcro-like attraction to life as if we didn’t know this is all temporary. Maybe we didn’t at first, not until that first goldfish died–or grandparent. The results aren’t even here yet and I’m thinking about him letting go of us, of us letting go of him. That’s different from clinging to one’s own life—clinging to others. We like having them around while we’re still here and it won’t be the same without them. So, the goldfish died and Mom helped with the funeral and the note you wrote for the coffin in crayon and she said, “That’s life,” and only now you know she meant that life is a bunch of comings and goings. Here I am talking about my life again and I don’t want it to be about mine, but his—that’s what we’re talking about: why it matters that his could be ending if the tests say so. It matters because it’s ending within my life span and that’s not fair and that’s just selfish. I always want to go first. I’ll still be here missing him and the kids will be torn up with grief. Their eyes are puffy just imagining what’s coming and I can’t bear to see them cry like this, and here we are talking about me again. It hurts you know. You know we are talking about putting our beloved bunny down? The results aren’t here yet, so we’ll worry about those later.

Cathy Wittmeyer, That’s Life

No NEH grant again, a magazine acceptance, a solicitation of poems from a magazine I’d never cracked (!), several poem rejections, some drafting and revising, lots of Shenandoah work, a vague but persistent headache, short days and blustery cold–hello from a mixed-blessing November in Sabbatical Land. I hereby mark the sixth-month birthday of my novel Unbecoming, and remind you that you can message me if you want a signed bookplate for that OR The State She’s In. (Here, by the way, is a new and very lovely review of the latter by Luisa Igloria in RHINO.) I can’t say I’m in much of a mood for hustle, though; it feels like crawling-under-a-rock season. I’m not doing a ton of writing, nor am I experiencing that burst of energy I’d hoped for after the election, but maybe that’s because there’s no “after”? It’s more like an intensification of suspense, a “now” that just keeps spreading its tentacles.

Lesley Wheeler, Future schmuture

Twelve: Poems Inspired by the Brother’s Grimm Fairy Tale is officially available from Interstellar Flight Press. 

I mean . . ., okay, technically, it’s been out in the world since September. I just haven’t got around to saying it until now.

You may as well as me, Why? Aren’t you excited?

And the answer is yes, I’m very excited. Yet, somehow I’m having a hard time sharing that excitement with people.

Maybe it’s just the general 2020 vibes and all the anxiety and weirdness that comes with it. I’m sure that’s at least a part of it — however, another part is some strange block I have about promoting and celebrating my own work.

Example One. Sitting around a campfire with my aunt, cousins, and sister, we were taking turns saying the things we felt most proud off this year. When it was my turn, I rattled off a few things (of which I don’t remember). When I finished, my sister was flabbergasted. “I thought you were going talk about your book coming out. How could you not talk about your book coming out?”

“Oh, yeaaaah,” I said. “Yes, yeah, of course, I’m super proud of that, too.”

Example Two. Shortly after my book came out, I was hanging out with my brother. He turns to me and says, “I’m really enjoying your book.”

“Oh, yeah, which one?” I ask, thinking he’s talking about one of the books I’d loaned him recently.

He gives me a funny look. “You know, your book. Twelve?”

“Oh, yeaaaah” I start laughing, finding myself embarrassed for forgetting I published a book. It’s out in the world. People are reading it.

2020 is indeed a strange year, rife with intense extremes of emotion. Sometimes I don’t know how to process those emotions or even how to move through my day, shifting from the living room to the dinning room to the bedroom as I push through the tasks of my day job and squeeze in space for the writing and work I’m passionate about.

I want to be excited about Twelve. I’m proud of my little collection of prose poems. I’m proud of the work I did.

I want to be better about celebrating my own work, about following through with the business of promoting it, and with sharing it with others who might fall in love with it.

To that end, I can say, Twelve is officially out. People have been buying it, and you can buy it, too.

Andrea Blythe, TWELVE is Available & Other Goings On

I’ve had trouble sharing this because I get too excited about it, but here goes: Victor Labenske has made a song cycle from poems in my book Tasty Other

In May, we met via Zoom so we could talk through poems and plans.

In June, we met again so Victor could show me his first complete draft, and he sang through the whole thing for me, which was amusing and wonderful!

This past Friday, Victor recorded the song cycle with two sopranos, Elda Peralta McGinty and Judi Labenske. I can’t wait to hear the final version! Having my poems turned into a song cycle is such a dream for this choir girl for life.

Katie Manning, Tasty Other: A Dramatic Song Cycle!

unvoiced is made from the text of Articles 18 – 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, having removed all the vowels, rendering the text unvoiced. 

This is a form of redaction, whereby ruling bodies erase portions of publicly available text deemed to be against national interest or community standards or the well-being of holders of high office or whatever. Yet this reduced, redacted text can still be spoken, albeit by a computer algorithm that does its best to articulate what remains, to give some kind of voice to the unvoiced. 

Visualising the outcome of this process employs the imagery of video streaming and surveillance in a world where bandwidth and access can be reduced or cut off at a mere flick of a switch.

After being initially published in non-compliant 01: censorship (2019), unvoiced was an Offical Selection at FILE Electronic Language International Festival (Sao Paolo, August, 2020), and 2020 Newlyn Short Film Festival (UK, April, 2020). Now it is Official Selection for 2020 Film and Video Poetry Symposium (Los Angeles, which is streaming in full during November and December. You can watch the Symposium via the stream below.

Ian Gibbins, unvoiced at the 2020 Film and Video Poetry Symposium

Mother Mary Comes To Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology is out now from Madville Publishing. On Nov. 16, we held a launch event via Zoom in conjunction with Poetry Atlanta and Georgia Center for the Book. You can watch it above. On Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m., we’ll have a second reading event hosted by the Wild & Precious Life Series

Karen Head and I are thrilled that this project we dreamed up seven years ago has finally come to fruition and we think you’ll agree this is a stellar lineup of poets paying homage to Mary. 

Collin Kelley, Mother Mary Comes To Me out now!

Who knew the apocalypse could be so cozy? So teaming with contagion and my own tiny paper tigers. let one by one out of cages? One disaster movie after another playing out in my dreams where the pipes bleed and water sprouts from all the sockets.” 

Back in the spring, as it dragged into summer, I had a hard time writing at all. What eventually happened in June & July was a short series somewhat related to lockdown and somewhat not. Since coronapoems are everywhere, and indeed, corona everywhere, they seem a dime a dozen right now, but I made a little zine with them because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them but they seem ripe for sharing right now, if anything as a snapshot of a moment.

You can read it here: https://issuu.com/aestheticsofresearch/docs/bloomzineelectronic

Kristy Bowen, bloom

Being a poet during a pandemic is a test of brevity. How best can the endless void, the featureless grey wrapped sky, the road that bends into the horizon, the distance that is measured in everything other than distance — how best can the infinite be compressed into neat lines that in the seventh reading still make some sense.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, 2020: Outro

So why have I been thinking about the sea so much? I’m not sure. Some is wistfulness about not being able to travel, and wondering if I’ll ever go back to some of the places I love, but I think it’s more elemental than that. Maybe it’s just a desire to sit and watch the waves crashing on the rocks, taking away my thoughts as I follow each wave like a breath, and then another: a desire for that renewal coming from somewhere I can’t see, imagine, or understand.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 46. Missing the Sea

The stories for our leavings. It’s funny that I am never asked about those – but for the stories of my destinations. “Why did you come here?”

Why not? It could have been anywhere unknown. Anywhere that smelled of strangers. Anywhere that would allow memories to lie still. Still enough for reflection.

I’ve noticed how the sea smells different everywhere it touches land. In winter sometimes, along Stavanger’s quayside it smells of watermelon. Orre strand smells dark as the rot that brings new life. Along the Canaries, the shore is jagged to inhale. Up north near the North Cape, it’s razor sharp.

I’ve been landlocked before, and lakes don’t breathe on their own. I’ve read that everything depends on the birds that come and go with the seasons, and on storms temperamental enough to drag bits of the world around with them. Transgressions like those of traveling merchants. Or militias.

I’m still pulled to wander, but I’m also learning now how porous the borders are. How even still waters will swell imperceptibly and spill into your path. How storms will drop fish and lizards from another county into your lap. No bridges necessary.

In Norway the name for hopscotch is å hoppe paradis. I have no idea why paradise. But hopping from square to square – chasing small stones, turn and return – does good to me right now. Simple. A little naive.

And meditative.

Ren Powell, Accidental Immigrant

And everyone comes from imagined
origins: land of dark sugar hills, land

of multiplying gravestones. You can clean
windowpanes with balled-up newsprint

and their shine will be like cathedral
glass dipped in milk. This is your

history, and you bind it in ink and crosses.
You were born in its shed but left for an

unholy land. Whatever you erect in its image
becomes an orchard where you will spend

the rest of your days like a bride who can’t
return until every fruit is charred or picked

clean. Who has decided to live in the present.
That is, between the crescent’s horns.

Luisa A. Igloria, Last Telegram

I’ve been slowly moving through Kingston poet Sadiqa de Meijer’s utterly fascinating alfabet/ alphabet: a memoir of a first language (Windsor ON: Palimpsest Press, 2020), composed as an exploration of how language thinks and swims, through her ongoing experience with moving physically from one language, culture and country into another. In a suite of short essays arranged alphabetically by title, she narrates and explores the shifts between the Dutch language, from her origins in the Netherlands, to English-speaking Canada, working her way through multiple implied and inherent differences, many of which she has only begun to fathom. She writes of the alphabet, the bare bones of the language itself, one against another. As she writes of the openings of that lengthy transition: “In Canada, my clothes were odd, and I had no idea what malls or Cabbage Patch Kids or gimp bracelets were, and when I tried to be funny with my peers the silences were awkward and prolonged. I felt an urgent wish to restore my own significance. I read everything I could—flyers, packaging, signs—and listening to the mumblings of my classmates and teachers. Willing myself to make the same sounds, I strove to regain a sense of fluency, of language as my element. That was all I had in my sights; it didn’t occur to me that this was also the start of a slow and nebulous loss.”

The author of two full-length poetry collections—Leaving Howe Island (Fernie BC: Oolichan Books, 2013) [see my review of such here] and The Outer Wards(Montreal QC: Signal Editions/Vehicule Press, 2020) [see my review of such here]—de Meijer’s biography at the back of the collection offers that she “was born in Amsterdam to a Dutch-Kenyan-Pakistani-Afghani family, and moved to Canada as a child.” There is a lot of geography to unpack in that simple array of words, and a complicated sequence, well before the dislocation of arriving into Canada. The effect of her shift from one cultural space into another reveals itself to be deeply felt, and lifelong. This is in part, no doubt, due to the fact that it was not a journey precipitated as an adult, but one made when she was twelve years old; during such a formative period, felt down to the foundation of how she speaks, thinks and breathes, and interacts with herself and with the world beyond. Particularly curious is how her migration into English allowed her new pathways back into certain of the dialects of her native language  “English was both a dominant and an eccentric language,” she writes, as part of the “verzen / verses” section, “no wonder that it had been adapted and interpreted by various groups to make its own local sense. Even in the culture of three that comprised my brothers and I, we improvised on its strangeness, usually while we played with LEGO in our basement.”

rob mclennan, Sadiqa de Meijer, alfabet/ alphabet: a memoir of a first language

This poem offers us a tremendous example of Hilary Menos’ gift for using physical, often everyday detail, layering it and accumulating its effect, so as to reach out towards a vision that reflects back on to its readers. It doesn’t just evoke the process of giving a kidney, but speaks to anyone who’s been alone, afraid, in hospital and missing their loved ones.  In other words, while we might not have gone through this specific experience, we are so moved by its poetic transformation that we are invited to ruminate on our own versions and visions of love.

Such a ravaging context, however, never leads Menos down the path of melodrama. Instead, it enables her to delve deeply into another of her concerns, one that runs through all her collections: the strained yet vital relationship between the human and natural worlds, If this theme was already present in the pamphlet’s first piece, it culminates in the closing lines to its final poem, Sloe Gin, as follows…

…Time matures the thing. At least, adds distance.
I sit at the kitchen table, trying to make sense

and pouring a shot of sweet liquor into a glass.
The filtered magenta, sharp and unctuous,

reminds me of sour plum, of undergrowth,
the scrub, the blackthorn and the hard path.

In this poem, perfectly cadenced metre is set against unsettling doubts, while the transformative quality of human hand is present via the liquor that has been created from fruit and undeniably changed. Nevertheless, it’s then undercut by the realisation that the darker side of nature can never be ignored and forms an inevitable part of our journey through life.

Matthew Stewart, For us all, Hilary Menos’ Human Tissue

Manuscript #4 is my manuscript of lament. It’s my bleeding heart on a page. It may be altogether too sad for anyone to want to read–very sad, and very honest. I feel a little protective of it, a little afraid to put it in anyone’s hands. At the same time, I want it published–I’d like to mail a copy to a few of Kit’s doctors and nurses. Not a thank you exactly–I’ve written them that–but just so they can Know..so they can Know what it was like for me.

As far as individual poem writing is going–well it isn’t. I’ve written four of five false-start drafts, not much coming of them. I’m kind of stalled out. You know what I need? To read a really good poetry book (feel free to recommend). It will wake me up, and I’ll write some good poems then. Also, we’re moving house–and a new, settled spot is always inspiring.

Renee Emerson, poem & manuscript updates

Mid-morning at work, I saw the email showing a picture of (individually-wrapped) goodies and little Starbuck’s iced coffee bottles! So I had some! Then home to a Honeycrisp apple, and the Governor, live, telling us we are back in Tier 3, to please stay home, starting Friday, to keep us all alive. I am glad that my little chalkboard poems are “soft joys” for those who see them here, or on Facebook or Instagram. I’m grateful they are hitting the spot.

Likewise, I was delighted with the response to my story, “A Retiring Woman,” and grateful to Calyx for publishing it online. My daughter and her boyfriend were gripped by it, and she quoted a passage on integrity of voice. My son said he laughed out loud! Yay! It’s a long story, and so many people read it and responded. I am wowed. 

Those are big things in my life, but the little, goofy things help, too. One day, I found myself gardening in pearls. Ah, it was Election Day, a lovely warm day, and I was wearing (fake) pearls to honor RBG, and there was yard work to be done. Another day, I was dusting in earrings, post Zoom, which is the only time I put on drop earrings. It felt good to dust, and to re-stack my stacks of books awaiting the second lockdown, as I sometimes think of it, but nobody likes the word “lockdown,” and the Governor is just announcing a return to Tier 3, for all of Illinois, to help avoid a firmer stay-at-home order. This is a stay-at-home-as-much-as-you-can situation. Till then…(on a Fat Tuesday in the blog) I’ve got candy.

Kathleen Kirk, Soft Joys

When I think about yesterday, a Saturday in late November in 2020, I will remember that phone conversation.  It wasn’t particularly traumatic.  I think we all knew we were headed to that decision.  But it does feel significant.

It was a bit surreal to have that conversation and then to watch several hours of Thanksgiving cooking shows on the PBS Create channel.  I took a long nap and woke up and wondered if we’d really had that conversation.  Had we really canceled our Christmas get together?

It’s a shame that we didn’t have this epiphany a week ago, before my mom snagged the extra villa.  It’s interesting to track these epiphanies.  On Tuesday, my mom had called to tell me the good news of the extra villa.  By Saturday, we were canceling.

It seems like a metaphor for the entire year.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Metaphors in Cancellations

I have declared myself Boss of Grocery Stores Elect and now pronounce that unless absolutely necessary, couples may no longer shop together. Restrictions have been put in place and yet there remain scofflaws aplenty who swan into the store as a couple, sharing one tiny basket between them and lingering over the oranges. Grocery shopping is not a recreational activity, folks. It’s business. You get in and you get out. You don’t bring your girlfriend and five of your closest cousins to pick up a loaf of bread and some Twizzlers. You don’t wander the aisles in a slow daze touching everything like a ballerina with Alzheimer’s. You make a list, you follow an orderly trajectory through the store at a brisk clip and for God’s sake, you get your bagging game together before you check out. I don’t want my radishes getting all mixed up with your diet ice cream at the check stand because you can’t quickly and competently put your items into a bag. Yes, I fully realize that these demands are coming from a projection of my anxiety around The Surge, but there have been a lot of dire meetings at the hospital of late and I’m getting very nervous. Also, they closed my gym again so I can no longer work off my excess adrenaline in the squat rack. So please everyone, just follow my simple grocery store prescriptions so I don’t end up on the wrong end of a viral YouTube video as the latest ranting Karen.

Kristen McHenry, Future Karen, Cohesive Horror, Marriage Update

I’m hoping to start a new feature here on the blog. So many people have started baking again since the pandemic, including me, and I thought it would be fun to share recipes. Since this is primarily a writing blog I thought I’d put out a call to writers who bake that would be into sharing a recipe. Holidays are fast approaching with so many who won’t be traveling or spending them with family so I’m hoping this might be a good (small) project for the writing community and give all of us new recipes to try.

Along with your recipe, I’d want to post your bio and a link to your latest book or publication. My last post involving writers has 80 shares on Facebook,so far, so chances are you’d get some good exposure for your work – and your recipe! (Only 8 shares on Twitter – what’s up with that, #writingcommunity?!)

I’ll be posting first in the next couple of days. Whoever is interested can email me at charlotteham504 at gmail with “Writers Who Bake” in the subject line. I can’t wait to see who shows up. Inundate me!

Charlotte Hamrick, Calling Writers Who Bake!

Of course our stories and poems won’t change the world, but I’m interested in them nevertheless. I’m interested in how you are, how you’re holding up. What edges are frayed? Where are you feeling strong? What and who have you lost? What have you gained? What’s good, what’s terrible, what makes your heart hurt, and what joys are you also experiencing? When we first start talking about how we are, I’ve found that it starts off in ways that aren’t surprising. But the longer we stay with the subject the more is revealed. I know there are a lot of stories we’re not going to be able to talk about right now and that’s okay too.

Whatever stories we tell, it’s also true that only so much will fit in the frame. In distilling our story into a narrative or into the lines of a poem, a lot will be left out. One thing that I think it’s safe to assume, is that everyone has a lot of stuff just outside the frame.

What would happen if we told our everyday stories, the happy ones along with the sad ones, and everything in between? This doesn’t feel wrong to me. How important will all these stories be when we emerge from this time? How will they help us reconsider? I’m drawn to re-read Susan Griffin’s book, The Eros of Everyday. She says, “To change how we see involves some loss, certainly the death of habitual metaphors for order. And the changes needed are great as well as small. It is not only philosophy as it is written in books, but philosophies written into our lives, in institutions, social systems, economies, and governments which need to be reconsidered. For it is by and through these living structures that communities think and perceive. If we could change a habit of mind that has become destructive we must revise the social architecture of our thought.”

The other things that keeps popping into my head are lines by Emily Dickinson, “I dwell in possibility” and “Hope is the thing with feathers.” I keep wondering what is it that we can do with what we have, rather than bemoaning what once was. I say to myself, though perhaps it’s too macabre for some, that if I’m going down, I’m going down with as much joy as I can muster and with as much beauty as I can glean every day.

Shawna Lemay, Behind the Scenes

Of the many things I admire in this quote, the core one is how Lucier posits the work to be done as both outer and inner, social and personal. This multiplicity of stakes, awareness, and investment is something that as a marginalized person I have always lived with. It is something marginalized folks are born into having to reckon with. Political conversations–however formal or informal, in person or online–are never theory, but rather grounded in experiences. That the election was as close as it was means few marginalized folks are breathing easier.

I encourage y’all to read these materials and also to check out The Offing. Also, take time to reflect. Are you taking time to consider the welfare of others? To learn about them? To connect, we need to see each other as well as see ourselves, know their stories as we know our own.

I’ll leave you with two poems to check out. In working with a student on an essay about the Black Lives Matter movement, I shared these poems and spoke of poetry as a space of presence. Words, inside of us as outside of us, are where we can be present with others. Thank you for taking the time to be present here.

José Angel Araguz, community feature: The Offing

When Isaac’s servants, digging in the wadi
found a spring, the herdsmen quarreled: “This is ours.”

Frustrated, they named that place Contention.
He dug another, they fought again: Dispute.

How different are things now? Today, who drills
— and who drinks only the infrequent rains?

What new name might we choose if we could build
a world where everyone gets enough water?

Rachel Barenblat, Looking for Water

Modalities of mortality play out in different ways—

the song of Lady Day blows sweetly on a blues breeze as the tropics of hate continue to rage beyond boiling.

Good-hearted people still find reasons to sing in the rain as this ongoing reign of annihilation pummels us with injustices forged from stone-blind stone.

Every day, “Amazing Grace” plays on a humble record player refusing to skip over the scratches in our collective psyche.

And while the rhythms sound extremely warped and one-sided at times,

there’s still beauty to be found in the song of who we are.

Rich Ferguson, Down at the Junction of Rhythm and Ruin

So, yes, the
universe
hums

an E-flat
thousands of
octaves

below what
we can
hear,

a jazz
trumpet or
sax

wailing
the only
note

that matters.

Tom Montag, SO, YES, THE