Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 42

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

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


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

Uma Gowrishankar, The Pity

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

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

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

George Szirtes, SETTLED STATUS: WINDRUSH ON STEROIDS

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

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

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

James Lee Jobe, TEN THINGS – the list

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Imagining poetry after the election

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, October Blues (and other shades)

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

in my palm,
as it stretches
its limbs

into my flesh —
a sleepy rabbit.

Romana Iorga, Thief

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

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

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

Luisa A. Igloria, Absolute Debt

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

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

José Angel Araguz, exhausted seltzer

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

Matthew Paul, Beer o’clock

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

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilt Camp Update

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

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

rob mclennan, Etel Adnan, Shifting the Silence

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

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

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

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

Abegail Morely, Somehow by Helen Calcutt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Love, Introduction for poetry group members

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

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

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

Ama Bolton, Murmuration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, Practice

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, And everything in between

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, Little Steps Through the Mire

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Foggin, What am I saying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m considering dating a lamp post.

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

Rich Ferguson, Adventures in Offline Dating

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

Jim Young, fence posts

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

listen to the nuthatch
and house sparrow
mourning dove croon

give me another minute
beside you in bed
shivering yet shimmering

Ann E. Michael, First frost

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

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, On Being Seen

standing falling naked without speaking without hearing the whisper

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 41

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 the poetry blogosphere was a bit quieter that it had been the preceding week, but Louise Glück’s selection for the Nobel Prize certainly created a stir. I’ve scattered reactions to her win throughout what I’d hoped might seem a rather miscellaneous gathering, trying for once just to post things at random and not impose too much order. Of course I failed miserably.


where will they scatter the blue dust of earth

Grant Hackett [no title]

These days I’ve no interest in writing memoir. I have kept a journal since I was ten years old, and that constitutes enough self-indulgent scribbling on its own. I treasure, however, the practice all that writing gave me: practice in constructing sentences, employing vocabulary words, creating metaphors, using punctuation in various ways, expressing abstract ideas and describing concrete objects. Writing, learning to write, critique, and revision have been immensely valuable to me.

I’m not sure who I would be if I hadn’t been constantly writing (and reading). Maybe I’d have been a contemplative.

~~

All of which is to report to my readers, who may be experiencing their own obstacles to their art, that –yes– the writing continues in the face of loss and grief, anxiety, and the work of the body in the world, in the mundane spaces of daily grind and in the wakeful hours, and in the containers of dreamwork and consciousness. Right now, the writing is not “good,” not crafted, aware of itself, ready to speak to others than the self. It is, at present, more akin to what the Buddhists call practice.

Ann E. Michael, Practicing

Gluck was something from the past, and definitely an influence on the work I was writing then and probably for the next four years.   It was unfashionable to say, particularly in my program, that you loved Gluck, and yet, I regularly found poets out in the wild who professed their love for her work and would continue to. I feel like, stylistics aside, the experimental poetry world (i.e. the male poetry world if we’re getting specific) has a particular vitriol toward Gluck, which I never really understood, and now, as the news spreads of the Nobel, are rustling restlessly with their keyboards.  Admittedly, I was surprised they’d chosen a poet so very white in the current world where everyone else is making strides in recognizing POC, but I don’t think that’s the angle these criticisms stem from.  I once heard a male poet dismiss Gluck as a “flower poet” and fumed for days. My chief criticism is the poems are a little too tidy and heavy handed.  Constantly moving the reader toward epiphany tied neatly with a bow. She wields this more adeptly than other poets of her generation (particularly male) but she still wields it. 

I do not write those sorts of poems–not anymore–but I can see the value in work–the strands that are still woven in how I learned to make poems.  

Kristy Bowen, not the moon | gluck and poetic foremothers

squirrels in the roof
sloe gin in my cupboard
the most terrible quarrels

a cull of the poets
we are drowning
in the quagmire of online art

Ama Bolton, ABCD October 2020

My new chapbook, Tropospheric Clouds is now out from Adjunct Press, of Milwaukee (who have done a wonderful job of it).

Info: Tropospheric Clouds gives fragmented images that seem to be dispatched from a larger and elaborate narrative world. The poet is a multiplied character separated from the world. Rather than being presented in the Romantic cringe mysticism, here the separation of the poet is seen as a cloistering or perhaps a sense of imprisonment by vocation. The poet-as-seer image is cut again when the legitimacy-creating obscurity is saved only by publication. Tropospheric Clouds uses the unseen narrative to show the idea of the poet vocation within the reality of profession.

Michael Begnal, New Chapbook: Tropospheric Clouds

I go further and further into it, broken and silent, ‘struggling to keep hold’ of memories, words, phrases from the funeral. Did we do a good job, did I do a good job? Was she pleased with what I said?

The new term hurtles on. Already we have finished week 3, week 4 comes crashing towards us like a train. Where is the breathing space? Where can I find a moment to sit and just be?

My desk looks like a bomb site. There are at least four important letters I need to reply to. I sit down to make a list of what needs remembering for the but my mind just blinks at the page.

No one warned me that grief would be like this, its lonely lack of focus. Its unmemory. I think ‘How can a body withstand this?’ I cup her face between my hands. Her laughter. Her smile. I will love again.

Anthony Wilson, The Thing Is

The calendar I picked for 2020 offers beautiful tree-themed art for each month. And like everyone else’s calendar, it lies. I no longer even cross off what’s cancelled. Why bother, when there’s nothing to add in its place? Looking at it I imagine another me, in a parallel universe, doing those scheduled things. My other self doesn’t appreciate them nearly enough. She complains about being rushed, about traffic, about long lines. She vows to slow down and appreciate the moment. When she does she notices new things while stuck in traffic, enjoys the faces of people standing in line, savors more fully the pleasure of a porch chair after a long day. But she’s not always so mindful.

None of us could have imagined the year we’re in. Time takes on a different dimension when so many people have died and so many are suffering. We can’t help but sink more deeply into these hours of ours.

My calendar hangs by my desk, beautiful and useless. Time’s measure no longer fits on its pages. 

Laura Grace Weldon, Empty Calendar

conflagration 
the promises of summer
in falling leaves

Jim Young [no title]

I was up at 5:30 this morning, fretting about the political scene, finally getting out of bed and stumbling to my writing desk.

I finished the review I’ve been trying to write for months, revised a poem, and queried one more agent, regarding my mystery novel. I was typing today’s date, 10.8.20, when I remembered that today is my mother’s birthday. Or, as we say when someone has passed, today is the anniversary of her birth.

Since Mom’s death, on October 12, 2018, I’ve written a lot of poems that seem to be about her. Even this week, writing about two great blue herons on a dock, I was drawing from the memory of a walk I took after visiting Mom at her skilled-nursing facility. The poem felt shot-through with her presence.

Mom and I had a lot of differences. Setting up her apartment after she moved from the farmhouse, I would set out her knick knacks and pictures so they were asymmetrical. I like triangles, staggered lines, angles. She would come behind me and straighten everything to be evenly balanced and straight across.

Mom was proud of  me, I think, but she didn’t understand my choice to become educated and we could never talk about it. She thought being a teacher was a good thing. But I had overdone it, getting a Ph.D. in literature. It seemed like a waste of money to her that we were saving for our daughters’ higher education. “College has ruined your mind,” she said to me once.

Bethany Reid, Happy Birthday, Mom

–We had a debate with vice presidential candidates, a debate which was better than the presidential debate, but many of us will most remember that fly on Mike Pence’s head.  I will remember Kamala Harris saying variations of this phrase, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”  It made me want to assemble a directory of womanist separatist communes–or maybe start such a commune.  And you might think it’s abnormal for a woman happily married to a man to feel that way, but I am fairly sure it isn’t.

–When I create my ideal womanist/feminist separatist commune, will I allow men?  Perhaps.  I’m using separatist fairly generally–I want to separate from many things in our patriarchal culture.  But that’s a subject for another day.

–It’s been a week of good news when it comes to recognizing women.  The Nobel Prizes went to women:  for Chemistry, for Physics, for Literature.  The MacArthur Fellows were announced, and I was so happy to see Tressie McMillan Cottom, N. K. Jemisin, and Jacqueline Woodson on the list.  You can “meet” all the Fellows here.

–I’ve also been happy to see attention given to Maggie Smith’s new book Keep Moving (see NPR radio interview here and Slate article here).  I keep expecting to feel jealous, but I don’t.  On the contrary, I’m happy to see a poet like her succeed.  I am also not jealous of Louise Gluck, our newest Nobel Laureate.  Both women have been more focused than I have of late.  Both women write poetry I love–so I’m happy to see them get success.  And even if Maggie Smith is getting publicity for her newest book, which is not a poetry book, I’m happy.  I like to see the many ways we could succeed as writers.  I like the reminder that all is not lost.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Week of Womanist/Feminist Challenges and Triumphs

I was interested to read Jonathan Jones’s Guardian review of the Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition at the National Gallery. It’s an important show, which rightly seeks to claim Gentileschi’s ‘greatness’, as Jones calls it, as a woman artist among the traditional pantheon of almost exclusively male painters.

The physicality of her painting of ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ reminds me of another rendering of the same story, by another great artist, the poet Vicki Feaver: her Forward-Prize-winning poem ‘Judith’, from her essential 1994 collection The Handless Maiden, which strikes a perfect balance between the sensuality and calculated violence of this tale from the Apocrypha.

As a poet, Feaver has the advantage of including a back-story of motive for the murder; Gentileschi, of course, is unable to do that, but her own motivation, outlined by Jones, clearly informs the unflinching manner of her depiction. Ultimately, the result is more-or-less the same: Gentileschi shows us blood dripping from Holofernes’s neck and a look of terror on his face, and Feaver likewise ends her poem, in an half-rhymed couplet, with the brutal truth:

                      And I bring my blade
down on his neck – and it’s easy
like slicing through fish.
And I bring it down again,
cleaving the bone.

Matthew Paul, Judith

I can’t leave Montreal, at least until the end of the month, because a new lockdown was imposed on October 1, so there is no question of driving out into the country to see the fall foliage, visiting a natural area, or going apple picking, let alone visiting Vermont or the Adirondacks. I’m fortunate to be able to see trees and fall color from my window, and to have begonias, geraniums, nasturtiums and sweet peas blooming on our terrace, but I still have a persistent sense of being trapped — as so many of us do.

It helps to turn to images of places I love. A couple of weeks ago I re-explored a garden we visited at the Ex Convento del Carmen (former Carmelite convent) in the Mexico City suburb of San Angel, and made a few drawings and watercolor sketches. […]

As you can probably see, these watercolors are getting looser, less realistic, and more expressive — but often I still do a fairly realistic black-and-white drawing first to work out the shapes and compositional relationships — plus, I just like to draw. There are few activities that feel more absorbing, and even though I’ve done it all my life, it always feels like magic to start with a blank sheet of paper and end up with a representation of something observed and a record of that particular time and place and state of mind.

Drawing, more than any other art activity, also connects me to all the artists who’ve filled sketchbooks and made drawings. I feel my eyes travel from the object to the paper and back again, without much conscious thinking, as my hand somehow — I don’t pretend to understand it — translates that seeing into lines and forms. Even when the drawing doesn’t come out particularly well, it still seems like a little quiet miracle that human beings try to do this, and have always done it: “I sat here, I was still, I looked, I used my hands and eyes and made this.” Maybe there’s some hope for us after all.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 41. Searching the Landscape

I think my cat was perplexed. He has grown accustomed to me leading services from the dining room table: the laptop, my microphone, perhaps a pair of Shabbat or festival candles lit on the table beside me, lots of singing.

These days when I daven from the table, he looks up briefly from his favorite perch on the cat tree and then returns to napping. But he has never seen me dance around the room holding a big metal-bound Tanakh encrusted with gems. 

I don’t have a Torah scroll at home, so I danced with the big metal-bound Tanakh that used to belong to my parents. I waltzed with it; I spun around in circles with it; I danced with it in a circumnambulation of the room; I cradled it like a baby in my arms. 

Seven songs, seven poems, seven hakafot. Evoking the seven days of the first week, and the seven “lower sefirot” or qualities that we share with our Creator from lovingkindness to boundaries and strength all the way to presence and Shechinah.

I thrilled to the secret heart revealed when we go from the end of Torah directly to her beginning, from loss to starting over, from lamed to bet. I opened my Tanakh to a random word and from that word I gave myself a blessing.

And then I went to bed, and I slept the sleep of the overtired rabbi and elementary school parent who could finally relax into knowing that the work of this long, challenging (and this year, pandemic-unprecedented) holy season was done.

Rachel Barenblat, A Simchat Torah like no other

I have an uneasy relationship with prompts. I can’t trust the whole set-up, because sometimes they work: I drop into some strange space of utterance and up bubbles things strange and fantastic; and sometimes they don’t, and I’m clutching my pen and strangling the empty page with grabby fingers of text.

It has something to do with breathing. No. It has something to do with attention. No. Is it in the set of my jaw? Should I squint my eyes? The whole enterprise seems impossible. Except when it’s glorious.

If the effort toward writing from a prompt seems too effort-full, the only thing to do is walk away. Go yank weeds or walk or lately I’ve been taking objects and slathering them with blue paint and dragging them across paper. A bottle cap. The red mesh that onions come in. A stick. Good fun.

Marilyn McCabe, All the noise noise noise; or, On Writing from Prompts

There is an interview on On Being with Jericho Brown where he says, “Poems have to make our lives clear. Poems have to make our lives real on the page. And nobody’s living an easy life. Nobody’s living a life that is anything other than complex. And there are things about our lives that TV’s not going to give us, that movies, even, are not going to give us. And poems are where I go for that. That’s where I go for the complexity, the thing in us that we don’t really understand.” What I want is the complexity and powerful possibilities that a poem or poetic language can give us. What we know right now is as Brown says, “Nobody’s living a life that is anything other than complex.” So I want to give thanks for that thought, and acknowledge how complex life is for so many people. And I also want to give thanks for the space of a poem, how full it can be, even when it seems thinned out, spare, careful. How wild a poem can be in and of itself, and how it can surprise us and delight us and guide us to a wholeness in ourselves.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, and it feels more important than ever to acknowledge the complicated history of the holiday. A lot of us have cancelled get-togethers due to Covid-19 concerns which feels like a small sacrifice. I’m asking myself, what do I have to share, who can I donate to, since we won’t be spending money making a big meal. So that’s one place to start on a day where we give thanks.

Shawna Lemay, Poems for Giving Thanks, Praise, and Comfort

Los Angeles poet Tanya Holtland’s stunning full-length poetry debut is Requisite (England: Platypus Press, 2020), a lyric suite constructed as a quartet on, as she writes in her preface, “spiritual ecology,” and the ways in which we are interconnected to the physical and natural world. There is a meditative precision to Holtland’s lyrics, finely-honed with the ease of a quick sketch, but one that also knows how to pull apart the minutae of an idea, to stretch it across an expansive canvas. There are elements of Holtland’s ability to accumulate poems into sections and sections into a full-length whole that provide comparisons to the work of her partner, the poet Hailey Higdon. In Holtland’s 2019 essay for “my (small press) writing day,” she hinted at such a cross-influence between the two, a pair of writers occupying similar physical and emotional space: “To say that we influence each other as writers is understated only by what we influence in the larger field of each other’s lives.” Whereas I’ve long understood Higdon’s poems to exist in groupings that slowly reveal their interconnectedness (such as through the publication of her 2019 debut full-length collection Hard Some [see my review of such here]), Holtland’s work through this collection, as well, exists as a detailed suite of individual poems that, together, pattern to reveal their larger coherence. […]

Holtland’s ecopoetic exists in start contrast to many other examples I’ve seen in the same vein: there is a reverence, but her lyric exists simultaneously at the level of the sequence, the fragment, the word. Even the smallest unit contains the whole in a way that is reminiscent of, say, Fanny Howe or Sylvia Legris. Her poems fragment and fractal, and accumulate in a singular direction. “If the impulse to expand comes to fight a hard rain,” she writes, as part of “Fated,” “remember // the curve of the earth / comes to meet you, / to the smallest / portion of the soul.” 

There is such a wonderful, careful complexity to Holtland’s lyric meditations, setting pause against pause. She holds, she halts, she slowly pieces together. For Holtland, place is not simply being or landscape but an all-encompassing entity of which we are an important part, and even moreso, given the incredible amount of damage we have inflicted upon it. Holtland holds her distances against ours, and our distances against the ether.

rob mclennan, Tanya Holtland, Requisite

I was pleased to hear that Louise Glück has won the Nobel Prize, as the championing of her work can only encourage non-readers of contemporary poetry to realise that the genre offers multiple interpretations beyond their preconceived expectations. However, I was struck by a quote from Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel committee, which read as follows:

Even if her autobiographical background is significant in her works, she is not to be regarded as a confessional poet. She seeks universality…

The above statement is unfortunate, to say the least. It perpetuates numerous fallacies. For a start, no poem can ever be fully defined as autobiographical or confessional, even if the poet in question were to claim such a status or label. This is because role playing always becomes a factor once the creative process is set in motion.

And then there’s the absurd implication (beyond reference to Glück herself) that a poet is somehow barred from universal appeal if their poetry is also partly autobiographical or confessional in its point of departure. How many of the greats would that rule out? Such a claim would definitely cast aspersions over certain previous winners of the same award!

All in all, Glúck’s win is excellent news, but its annoucement was couched in terms that could at the very least be interpreted as critical shortcuts. Her poetry and the genre in general both deserve a more nuanced understanding of the role of autobiography in any and every poem.

Matthew Stewart, Universality (on Louise Glück and the Nobel Prize)

The pure clarity of certain dreams, how they drive us across night’s dark distances, change fury into feathers, the unbloomed into overbrimming wonder.

Myrrh, melody, wings, waterwheels.

Those dreams carousel and uncrush, motor and unmurder.

They crystallize doubt into diamond, leave our fingerprints on the wind as we drift down highways of after-midnight sleep.

Rich Ferguson, When Hitchhiking Dream’s Highway

The pine smelled so sweet and sharp this morning. Somewhere near my solar plexus I felt a heaviness like guilt. I know it must smell this pronounced because the trees have been freshly cut. It’s not the smell of death – but of wounds. I’ve had wounds myself before that have wept, clear and sticky. I should have enough compassion for the trees not to be drawn to this smell. But I inhaled so deeply I had to stop running.

I exhale melancholy.

Someone had raked together all the long, dead branches and placed them around the bases of individual trees. E. told me that it’s a kind of slow fertilizing process. But I think the trees look as vulnerable as martyrs waiting for the flames.

I exhale anxiety.

My mind wanders on these forest runs and it isn’t always easy to sort what to take, and what to leave in the forest. Today I took home four fallen leaves home to make paste paper for chapbook covers. I took home a photo of an abandoned boot someone placed on a tree stump. I took home the reminder that this body is aging and mortal, that each day is made more precious with that knowledge.

I wonder what I leave after these runs? Footprints, certainly. Carbon dioxide.

I wonder if we shed dark matter in our wake, just as we shed bits of DNA.

I wonder if the blackbirds that overwinter here are disturbed by my having been present with them.

*

We talk about breath being life: inhaling, exhaling. But the pauses between – the effortless moments of waiting – without a glottal stop – are as integral to the flow of life, as death. Or is death, rather, is the hum of existence beyond this constellation of atoms.

These breathless, lifeless pauses are where we touch the dark matter of the universe – these are what is expressed in the leaps in our poetry.

Ren Powell, What You Find in the Forest

Don’t think I don’t
see you, trees,

talking with the stars
all night, the stars

telling you how to
say steady

against this
sadness. The wind

has nothing
it wishes to add.

Tom Montag, DON’T THINK I DON’T

I never put my hoses away, lazy man,
They lay wherever I drop them.
I never bother to remember where either.
I have spent my life walking around
Looking for the far end of hoses.
I imagine finches watching me, or raccoons,
All of them thinking me a fool —
Stupid man! He should put the hoses away!
Well, to hell with them all.
I don’t have feathers or fur,
And I don’t go around judging people
With poems on their minds.

James Lee Jobe, Looking for the far end of hoses.

Only the 16th woman EVER to win the Nobel in Literature, and an American Poet at that, this can be nothing but good news for American Poetry. Of course, I’ve been a fan every since I saw her read in my twenties in Cincinnati from Meadowlands. I took my little brother, then 17, and a few of his scruffier friends to the reading, and to my surprise, they all enjoyed it. My little brother went up to her after the reading and complimented her shoes. She must have been about the age I am now, 47, at the time, and she just lit up.

Also, think of this what you will, but Louise Glück taught me, along with Margaret Atwood and Lucille Clifton, what it meant to write the villainess. I will always owe them a debt, in my writing and my life.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Good News: A Poem in Boulevard, Louise Glück Wins the Nobel Prize, Our Book Giveaway Winner, and an October of Uncertainty

Before she dies, her offerings
slip into pockets called galls.
When it’s time,

these pods will release
her children so they can start
the cycle all over again: the males,
wingless and blind, will mate with
their sisters before carving for them

a path out of the garden. Most males
die before they themselves reach the gate.
But the females who make it out follow
the wind’s warm scent, tracking down
the next tree with fruit

that must be nudged to full ripeness
by these small offerings of death.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Apple May Not Have Been the Forbidden Fruit

I’ve been learning that grieving can be a long time coming. Or maybe that it’s a thing that’s never really done.

I have a recurring dream in which I’ve lost a season. It’s usually a spring dream, and–somehow, impossibly–it’s the end of summer. But, wait, I’ll think in the dream. It can’t be time to go back to school. Where did the summer go? I’ll think of all the things I wanted and didn’t get to do, and I feel panicky and cheated. Then I’ll realize I’m dreaming, and that I have not, in fact, lost the summer, and relief washes over me. One day in Grace’s last week here, I got disoriented about where I was in time, the way I do in the dream. For a moment, I lost what season we are in. Something made me feel like it was still summer, and I had to tell myself: No, it’s October. It’s not summer any more. But then it felt like it couldn’t be October, because I hadn’t really had summer, just like in the dream.

I understand my confusion. The whole summer felt like a bubble in which we were all suspended in some time out of time. Having my daughter back in the ways I did, after having earlier let her go, while we both prepared ourselves for what’s coming next, felt like simultaneously living in the past, present, and future. Where were we in time? Who were we? Everywhere and nowhere. Everyone we’ve ever been and no one we’ve ever been and everyone we’ll someday be.

The day she left was unseasonably warm. After returning from the airport, I pulled spent tomato plants from their box and filled the compost bin with cedar branches Cane had trimmed from the tree that overhangs my shed, sweating in the sun. That evening, I sat on a front porch with friends and we talked how we might continue to safely meet when the nights turn cold. It felt like a summer night.

But, the next morning I woke to rain and dark skies. The patio furniture was soaked when I put the dogs out to pee, and they stepped gingerly on the wet pavement. The power flickered off and then on again, while I worked on these words, and just like that, the season had undeniably changed.

I hated to let it go. I knew I had no choice.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A rambling meditation on time, grief, impermanence, children, love, etc.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 40

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.

What a week, eh? Not surprisingly, poetry bloggers had a lot to say—though admittedly, most of it was about poetry. Britain’s National Poetry Day was on Thursday, so that brought all kinds of people out of the woodwork (mostly on social media, of course) to link to things they’ve authored and projects they’ve been involved in. Taking my cue from that, I’ve tried to include as many such posts from the blogs I read as possible, because this week, I think we need all the celebration we can muster. But don’t worry, there’s still lots of grief and gallows humor and existential pondering in this week’s digest, too. We are talking about poets, after all.


Flash
of autumn.

The year
has gotten
away again.

I can’t
go home

because I’m
already there.

Tom Montag, FLASH / OF AUTUMN

I am disoriented. Last year around this time, I had one of those Meaningful Birthdays. The one where you know definitively you are not young anymore. I was stunned to discover recently that it is now once again October, and I am due for another birthday, although not one nearly as meaningful and traumatic as the one I had last year. I don’t know what happened to the time. I don’t know how it became October suddenly and how I became older and how there are brown leaves on the ground now and it’s foggy in the mornings. Wasn’t it just summer? Is the pandemic over yet? Where is my dad? Where did my Mexican masked wrestler trainer go? Why is my job so weird now? What am I going to do about April and The Big Stressy Event that was canceled this year? Why does my body look so alien? And oh yes, I’m supposed to eat snacks now. The president has COVID. I feel dazed and lost and perpetually surprised. Life is strange.

Kristen McHenry. Gym Braggart, Dazed and Confused, An Appeal to Love

Receding in memory, but it was good to see ocean, admire architecture, wolf excessive amounts of seafood out-of-doors on piers and decks, sniff hard at the salt air through our masks, and march indefatigably all over town. 

Also, I just barely missed stepping on a dirty needle near the Portland Encampment in my sandals–and barely missing is excellent, infinitely better than not missing at all. Tents were definitely not of the fancy Burlington Encampment variety. 

Notable: the famous potato doughnuts with interesting Maine flavors (wild blueberry, maple, lemon-ginger lobster, hermit armpit, moose, etcetera.)

Marly Youmans, My summer escapes, etc.

I enjoyed being in Bristol, walking around the city.  I had a coffee and croissant at an outside table in a café because I’d turned up too early for my appointment.  The most striking part of the journey for me was that when I arrived at Bristol Temple Meads station and heard piped opera music – singing voices – something I haven’t encountered in a public place for what seems like the longest time.  I don’t know if this a new thing for the station, I don’t remember noticing music before.  But from nowhere came tears as I heard those singing voices.  I was caught unawares both times on  my return train journey.

I haven’t been thinking consciously about what we’re living through.  It will be something we will process later, perhaps.  The music and the tears stopped me in my tracks for a moment.  It isn’t that I’ve experienced a hard time during the Covid-19 pandemic.  My situation is far better than many.  I’m not living alone, I’m meeting friends and family – safely – on occasion.  I’m getting out and about – but – obviously, evidently – something, many things, are missing from my life and I think that’s what the tears were about.  I wanted to say thank you to whoever it was who arranged for the opera singing, in spite of the tears it was a joyful moment to be connected with that part of myself I hadn’t consciously appreciated I was missing.  Does any of this make sense?

Josephine Corcoran, Buying New Glasses in a Pandemic

Leaves fly like letters
unwilling to reach addressees
with depressing news.

The world is too loud,
sinking boats, burning mountains,
where sunsets were due.

But as the pen slides
on the paper, old habits
of promise appear.

Friend, hang on in there.

Magda Kapa, September 2020

So I haven’t been able to go outside the last couple of days without coughing, a sore throat, and nosebleeds. Sound like a repeat of just a little bit ago? We are lucky that we, unlike some of our friends in Napa and northern California, aren’t losing their homes to yet another gigantic evil wildfire. 2020 – the year that just keeps giving us terrible, terrible things!

This was my picture of the Harvest Moon the first night of the smoke. It was an even deeper red than this at moonrise, almost invisible except a, let’s face it, evil? spooky? foreboding? smudge in the sky. […]

This year has been tough on all of us. One thing I did with my nervous energy was read through books by Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Joan Didion, Rebecca Solnit, poetry by Ilya Kaminsky, Jericho Brown, Lesley Wheeler, and Matthea Harvey, start a book club with my mom, read a terrific book recommended by my little brother…Check out the article to read all about it.

Salon: Reading List for the Pandemic for Mental Health

I hope this article might be helpful to you and you pick up at least one of the books for yourself!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome to October, Chaos Edition: Smoke in Seattle the Remake, A Week of Chaos and Uncertainty, A Salon Article on Reading for Mental Health, and A Book Giveaway

This week, a rash of random crime in the South Loop, general covid anxiey, and worry of protest violence (not really from the protesters, but from other nefarious interlopers who seem to instigate conflict) made it a particularly bad week mental health-wise.  Maybe the thing we assume about apocalypses is that they happen all at once, and disasters do not drag on for months.  For years. I love my city life, but I keep enviously watching people who live isolated in the woods and it seems like a terribly seductive dream.  That is until they have to remove a giant wolf spider from their outhouse.  I am also very jealous of the vloggers I watch who live in places like Canada or Germany and whose lives are still slowly coming back to normalcy out of covid, but are also not dealing with impending civil wars. 

On a smaller stage, things are holding steady.  There are poems and banana bread and I am getting closer and closer to finishing the collapsologies manuscript. I’ve crested the middle of the mountain of dgp possibilities for next year and library things are beginning to take shape nicely (now that it looks like we can plan a bit further into the semester with less threat of a shutdown–exhibits, zine tutorials, and more. ) I am also excited about my new Patreon adventures, and while my only patron so far is family, I have great plans afoot, including a bunch of new releases for the witching month, as well as a Thirty Days of Halloween bit of promo fun starting Thursday.  Since I’ve spent the summer and early fall catching up on orders, there will also be a few new dgp releases I’ve been finishing up afoot to watch out for.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/27/ 2020

I did not watch the debates.  I rarely do.  By the time the debates come in the life of the political cycle, I already know how I will vote, so there’s not much motivation for me to stay up late watching dreary policy discussions done in short bits of time.

Of course, we didn’t get that experience last night–it sounds like last night’s debate was even worse than I thought it would be, and I thought it would be bad.  If I wanted to hear people shouting over each other and ignoring the ways we’re socialized to be civil to each other–well, I really can’t imagine wanting that.

And even if I did, it’s hard for me to stay up that late.  Instead of watching TV, I went for an evening swim because it’s South Florida, and it’s still summer down here, and I was hot.  I watched the moon rise, which was amazing.  As always, I thought, why don’t I watch the moon rise more often?  Why don’t I swim more often? […]

I am nostalgic for campaign seasons that made me feel hopeful. I am missing the songs of my youth which sang about issues I couldn’t comprehend. I am feeling the need to read some William Blake or maybe some Mary Shelley and to spend the day thinking about innocence and experience and the way forward.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, I Am Woman, but Baby, Don’t Get Hooked

This morning I made some attempts at writing again. Writing poetry, I mean–different from my other acts of writing. Writing against frustration, grief, and absence and pain…obstacles, for me, to composition.

If I were a fiercer poet, a fiercer person, I might manage to write in media res, the midst of the goings-on; I might accomplish poems through my anger or sorrow. Instead, I have to wait it out, mull, observe, speculate. It’s just my natural modus operandi.

Maybe I’m lazy, or afraid.

Ann E. Michael, Short lines, few words

Day dawns, another one, another opportunity to get your sh*t together, is what I tell myself. I’m classy like that. Another day to be alive and awake!

If I can’t chase the sunrise in the morning, it’s good to read a poem or two to begin. This one by the great A.Z. (Found in Without End). If the morning slips through your fingers like so much golden honey, there’s always the anxiousness of sunsets. There’s always the hope of transformation.

Shawna Lemay, The Great Work of Sunrise

Today I am looking at the London rain and crying over the loss of Derek Mahon, who has died at the age of 78. 

Mahon meant as much to me as Heaney, if not more. He was a wry and delicate poet, a great stylist who could make a photograph in your mind or share a personal event and radiate it outwards to larger meanings. I have been reading him for decades and I cannot believe he is gone. So many of his poems are close to my heart. 

I would have a hard time choosing a single favourite poem by Mahon – so many come to mind, including ‘Courtyards in Delft’, ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’, ‘The Chinese Restaurant in Portrush’, ‘Dog Days‘ – the list is long. 

One of my strongest contenders, however, is ‘Kinsale’ – a perfect short poem which captures a place, a mood, and optimism in the face of Ireland’s difficult histories. 

Here is a video recording of ‘Kinsale’ released just a few weeks ago, read by Tony O’Donoghue and produced by Made to Measure Films Kinsale. I love this poem dearly and think of it often. https://www.kinsale.ie/2020/08/13/famous-poets-words-inspire-new-film-about-kinsale-and-national-recovery/ 

Clarissa Aykroyd, In memory of Derek Mahon, 1941-2020

You may remember the cine-poem that award winning filmmaker,  Tova Beck-Friedman and I collaborated on at the beginning of 2020. I did the voiceover of my poem, “Pregnant with the Dead,” here in Seattle at the amazing Jack Straw Productions the first week of January. This was my first experience being in a film. Well, my voice was there! And what a lovely way to begin an unlovely year.

Since then, the poem and the film have taken on a life of their own. Less than a week before we were supposed to be featured in the Visible Voices Poetry Festival we were unceremoniously booted from the line-up with no explanation. If you want the history of that debacle, check out the article in the Seattle Review of Books which provides an excellent summary of its twists and turns.

Since April, our film has traveled to / will travel into many different film festivals including, most recently, the International Poetry Film Festival of Thuringia (Germany) and the New Media Film Festival in Los Angeles for June 2021. One of the things I love most about being a poet is never knowing where my words might land. For my poem, “Pregnant with the Dead,” the landings have alchemized into celluloid. 

I couldn’t be happier.  To read the poem with line breaks and stanzas (!) go to the notes section of the film which you can access here. [And click through to the blog post to watch the YouTube video of Susan and Tova’s discussion.]

Susan Rich, Tova Beck-Friedman and Susan Rich Interview: Pregnant with the Dead

“I am still watching ghosts, eyes rimed with salt, homesick… this was never our natural state, our true inheritance… we should not be here…”

My video Colony Collapse, originally published in Verity La, is an official selection for the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, and has been short-listed for the 8th Ó Bhéal International Poetry-Film Competition in Cork, Ireland. Both screenings are in November, 2020. It was also screened at Lyra ’20: Bristol Poetry Festival – Poetry and Climate in March, 2020.

Ian Gibbins, Colony Collapse screens in European festivals

Here in the UK it’s National Poetry Day. It isn’t really my cup of tea, but if it gets more people buying and reading good poetry then what’s not to like? In that vein, since every other poet is doing so today, I thought I’d do a flagrant piece of self-promotion by saying that it’s three years to the day that my collection The Evening Entertainment was published. To mark the occasion, I’ll happily sell signed copies at a discounted rate of £6 each, inc. p&p, until Hallowe’en. If anyone would like one (or more!), please email me. Clare Pollard, Bloodaxe poet and editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, called its contents ‘delightful’ and ‘dazzling’. [That’s enough self-promotion – Ed.]

A couple of weeks before publication, I stayed in Ambleside for a few days with fellow haiku poets John Barlow and Simon Chard, and, in between our climbs up Loughrigg Fell and Haystacks and our sampling of local beers, I had the fun of trying to check the proofs of the book whilst having terrible wifi and phone reception. It was a little panic-inducing. At the time, I had a few Poetry Business Writing School programme tasks, one of which was to visit a museum or gallery and write a poem in response to a piece of art or an object. John, Simon and I visited the excellent Armitt Museum in Ambleside. I had imagined beforehand that I would write in response to art by Kurt Schwitters, who had lived locally in the ’40s, but much to my surprise I was fascinated by the museum’s collection of watercolours by Beatrix Potter, particularly her various studies of mushrooms and toadstools. I wrote a poem called ‘Old Man of The Woods’ and I’m very happy to say that today it’s been published by The Lake, which is neatly apt since it’s set in the Lake District. It’s a poem I’ve tinkered with more than any other I’ve written, which means an awful lot of tinkering. (I’ve even tinkered with it since it was accepted, but hey ho, old bad habits die hard.)

Matthew Paul, National Poetry Day

The Poetry Society, in association with the University of Exeter and Oneworld Publications, presents the Places of Poetry anthology, a volume of selected verse from around England and Wales from last year’s hugely popular Places of Poetry project, an interactive map that poets could pin their poetry to. It attracted 7,500 poems from over 3000 people. The map can still be found here. The project was launched by Paul Farley and Andrew McRae. PLACES OF POETRY: MAPPING THE NATION IN VERSE is an anthology of 200 of the best of these poems.

For eight months from October 2016 I was visiting a much-loved aunt in a care home. I made the sixteen-mile round trip by bus almost every day. My poem ‘Hartlake’ began life in the black notebook I carried in my pocket. It tells something of these journeys, always through the same familiar landscape, but different every time.

The poem was published first in “Obsessed with Pipework”, then it formed part of my pamphlet “These Last Months”, and now it is in this splendid anthology. I could not be more pleased.

Ama Bolton, It’s National Poetry Day

I’m sitting here watching my silver birch turn yellow and rain leaves onto my garden. My next month of weekends will be taken up by raking and raking some more. I can set my seasonal clock by those birch, when they wake from our long winter, the allergies they give me in May, the green coins shaking above our hammock and their bare trunks shining in the midwinter dark. They appear in my Finnish poems regularly, a totem of my time here.

Like many other poets, I’ve written countless poems about trees or including trees. Something about their shape, movement, permanence and long life attracts the writer. I’ve written one just on how the leaves fell from a small stand of trees, trying hard not to use words normally connected with leaves or trees, but to become caught up in their dance. I’ve written about old trees and fallen trees, trees as a metaphor for growing old or for loss. One of my tutors offered a course using trees as inspiration last year and I decided against it because I couldn’t imagine I had more to say about trees. 

This autumn, I was asked to review The IRON Book of Tree Poetry, edited by Eileen Jones and Peter Mortimer. I can now see that no matter how many ways a poet can look at a tree, there’s always more to say, more to see. The collection includes more than 40 poets, some I’m familiar with such as Ken Cockburn and Rebecca Gethin, others new names. All offer a vast feast of language and images related to the theme. It may feel like a familiar subject, but it is examined through so many different lenses: sometimes up close, looking at a group or individual specimen or from the vantage point of a physical or a cultural setting, that the poems still managed to surprise me. At times, they turn back on the reader or humanity in general and say things that were uncomfortable to hear. 

Gerry Stewart, The Presence and Presents of Trees – The IRON Book of Tree Poetry

Mother Mary Comes to Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology is complete and at the printer with a publication date of Nov. 19, 2020. This international anthology features 63 poets hailing from America, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Spain, and Mexico. Karen Head and I are thrilled to have work from well-known poets like recent Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton, Ivy Alvarez, Alice Friman, Jeannine Hall Gailey, and Rick Campbell. And we’re equally thrilled to introduce new voices and beautiful work by poets that you’ve likely never heard before. 

With more than 300 poems to choose from, narrowing it down was one of the most difficult decisions Karen and I have ever had to make as editors. The quality and beauty of the work was just overwhelming, and we are honored to have read all of it. 

As I state in my introduction, we actually came up with the idea for this anthology seven years ago. However, we couldn’t find a publisher willing to pick up the project. There seemed to be a nervousness or hesitation about publishing an anthology that doesn’t deify Mary in a traditional way. Many of the poems in this collection take the pop culture theme to its farthest reaches, so hats off and major kudos to Madville Publishing for taking this leap of faith with us.

Collin Kelley, Speaking words of wisdom this November

Octave and sestet: my ridiculously precarious Zoom setup for delivering a paper at the Sonnets from the American Symposium, and then my home symposium-delivery system. Presenting on short-lined sonnets in a piece called “Partial Visibility,” I edited my messy desk out of the virtual window, throwing the focus instead on the bookcases behind me–so much more professorial. I thought about our partial visibility to each other all weekend, especially when Diane Seuss, the second-lo-last reader in the final event, talked about using long lines to expand the parts of life that can be included in the sonnet’s “gilded frame.” (Her new book, frank: sonnets, promises to be amazing.)

I loved the symposium, which was thoughtfully and effectively curated, and I learned a lot. Among the highlights: we viewed a video tribute to Wanda Coleman and her American sonnets put together by Terrance Hayes. There were mesmerizing live readings by Rosebud Ben-Oni, Kazim Ali, Tacey Atsitty, Kiki Petrosino, Shane McRae, Patricia Smith, and many others. Carl Phillips gave a particularly good keynote about “disruption built into” the sonnet and its “tendency to sonic dispersion,” making the form especially hospitable to marginalized writers. Fruitful panel discussions swirled around work by Claude McKay, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jericho Brown, Brandi McDougall, Henri Cole, and many more. I heard from friends, put some names and faces together among scholars and poets I knew only by reputation, and even saw fellow bloggers whom I’d never before met (hello, Frank Hudson! I really appreciated your comments and want to hear more about singing sonnets sometime). What I liked best were the recurrent readings of the American sonnet as a dissident form, incorporating multiple voices through its characteristic turns and pivots, treated rebelliously and inventively by North American practitioners. When Phillips called the sonnet “wired for rebellion,” he echoed the symposium’s exhilarating theme–exhilarating for me, anyway, because my education emphasized the sonnet as an exercise in obedience.

Lesley Wheeler, Sonnet prompts from #SonnetsfromtheAmerican

The latest issue of San Pedro River Review includes a poem of mine.  More on that below.  It’s an all poetry journal which fits some sixty poets into an issue.  Some of the names are familiar to me from their submissions to Sin Fronteras/Writers Without Borders, which makes me feel that there is indeed a community of poets.

And I like the fact that they don’t print the poems in order by the poets’ last names (being a Young, this has often bothered me) but take the time to arrange the poems in an interesting sequence.  This is something I’ve recently learned to do as an editor of Sin Fronteras.

The poem they’ve printed is, for me, a longer one called “Crossing the Heartland,” It draws on over a decade, now past, of driving from New Mexico to Maine and back every year.  It attempts to combine the routine of such travel with the ruminations of the mind as one drives.

Ellen Roberts Young, Thanks and Praise for San Pedro River Review

There’s been a meme (is it a meme, not sure) doing the rounds on the Twitters in the last couple of weeks that asks participants to name 3 recurring themes in their work. You then tag in other folks and get them to do the same. […]

I don’t think I’m being pretentious and blah-di-dah about it, all I couldn’t possibly reduce my work to three words, etc, but I am struggling with it. I’ve never felt the need to sit down and work out what my poetics are, perhaps this is a sign I should…just as soon as I work out what it means.

However, as I write this I think I’ve managed to work out the answer. I’m going with the following.

1. Moments of frailty
2. Mockery
3. Inanimate Objects finding/Getting a voice

Mat Riches, A Trophying

you dig words to make a poem
then you put them back in the hole
and there are more words than will fit
you have buried your muse without knowing
how or what words were added or
maybe it’s the spaces
or maybe it’s the silences
or the punctuation of the pebbles
in the cataract of a flood

Jim Young, dig this

I’ve been lying awake nights fearing that every phantom pain is another blood clot, and I’ve been trying to find comfort meditating on the “spaces between”. I imagine I feel my blood, thin and flowing.

I imagine the spaces between each red cell, between each white cell, and platelet – the spaces between the cells that forms the plasma that flows through the stent in my pelvis. I imagine the flow with each heartbeat.

But there is a fear in every moment between. In every silence.

It’s a numbing dramaturgy.

I’ve written of the spaces between before. In my last book, actually. And tonight I remembered that, and I reread it as a stranger would- It was unfamiliar, but I found myself content with the work. It was a pleasant feeling. Pleasantness requires an absence of fear, and it was… pleasant.

It’s been a while since I have written poetry. I felt like I’d glimpsed something of myself I’ve forgotten. These spaces between spaces were full of secrets. And promise.

Minutes later I’m pulled out of recognition – or maybe a kind of pride – by a stranger’s completely coincidental criticism. I feel myself contract. Like a fist folding and clenching, leaving no space for movement. My breathing stops high in my chest – well above my heart. My shoulder blades pull forward, sliding like tortoise shell over my vulnerabilities. I take on an unskilled warrior pose.

Ren Powell, Some Thoughts On Spaciousness

There are people who’ll buy a pine
bookshelf of knock-down parts

that can be reassembled into
a coffin; or one of woven

cane that a body would fit
into, snug as a sourdough loaf

proofing in a long banneton with
a cover.

Luisa A. Igloria, Leavening

When my thoughts grow littered with open graves, the birds and bell-trees I’ve melodicised into being get harder to find.

The only thing these eyes know how to read is all the news that’s fit to bleed.

In times like these, I play rock, paper, scissors with broken mirrors. I swill the muscatel of human misery and shadowbox false prophets.

But I don’t wanna spend my life writing crow melodies other crows wouldn’t sing.

I don’t wanna be buried alive by tears.

I know the way of the sun; it rises just behind your eyes.

And so I climb up and out of any grave of me to reach you.

Rich Ferguson, Up and Out of the Six-Feet Under Kingdom of Root Shadows

Medicinal shows once toured Europe and America. So called doctors would drive wagons from town to town, offering miracle elixers and other entertainments. My knowledge of medicine shows come from pop culture, the image of a man more entertainer than doctor purporting to sell cures. The man stands on his box or makeshift stage and with a flourish presents a bottle with some strange liquid inside. Is it medicine, a placebo, or poison?

B.C. Edwards’ From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes has the same feel of such medicinal shows, with the author himself presenting an assemblage of recipes and concoctions. Each of the poems in this book is an adaptation of a recipe found in a collection of household instructions originally published in 1901 by Frederick J. Drake and Company — recipes to make pure spirits, to cure distemper in horses, to restore burnt steel, to destroy the stumps of trees.

“Ask them how much it hurts. Really.
Drive spikes inward. Ask then.
Go on.
Every part until you have a porcupine,
the monster from Hellraiser
and now ask them how much it hurts.”

— From No. 674. Cure for Earache.

What unfolds is poetry as chemistry, words reacting with words to form new strange mixtures. Each time I pull the cork off a new poem, I’m not sure what I’ll get. Maybe it will evoke the ache of love, the sweetness of longing, the pain of lingering hope. Or maybe I’ll enjoy a contemplation on the nature of coffee, the preservation of birds and other animals.

Andrea Blythe, Book Love – From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes: Adapted Poems by B.C. Edwards

Poet and editor Sachiko Murakami’s fourth full-length poetry collection is Render(Vancouver BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020), a lyric of nerve and raw emotion, writing out “a searing exploration of addiction, recovery, and trauma.” Her title suggests the paired ideas of depicting and tearing apart, which this book very much is, a depiction of something immediately after being torn to shreds, and the slow process of picking up and thoughts of reassembly. The rawness here propels much of the collection, one that jokes and shrugs and rails while radiating trauma and anxiety. “Death can’t find her in the back of the closet.” she writes, as part of the sequence, “THANATOPHOBIA 1,” a title that translates to a “fear of death.” “Just kidding! Death can find her / anywhere.” This book flails and disseminates, moving through an articulation of rawness through lyric as a way to, perhaps, slog and slough through to the other side of recovery. “I loved him more than I loved poetry.” she writes, to open “TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE.” “I loved cocaine more than I loved poetry. / When I told him I loved him, I meant I love you more than cocaine.” Through Murakami, the question is posed: by depicting and articulating trauma, can this exist as worthwhile art? Can this exist as a way through which to process trauma into recovery and whatever lies beyond?

rob mclennan, Sachiko Murakami, Render

It’s just one line in one of the poems:  “oh I was the quare one”. I think this was the moment that I realised that one way to listen to these poems was to imagine an Irish voice; that dialect and accent were probably the key to imagining these 900 year old voices, written before the idea of French (and Standard English and R.P.) existed.

I think it turned out to be as simple as that. Just listen. Listen properly. Which is what I set out to do when it came to Ian Parks’ Body Remember , the third of the trio of his tributes to, and celebrations of, Cavafy. Because, at the end of all, I firmly believe that what matters is the authenticity of the voice.

John Foggin, A labour of love. Ian Parks and C P Cavafy

When describing Robert Selby’s first full collection, The Coming-Down Time (Shoestring Press, 2020), there’s a danger that critics might reach for terms such as “traditional” or “nostalgic”, particularly as the poet evokes and invokes an England that’s about to undergo a seismic shift.

However, those afore-mentioned terms would do Selby’s work a disservice, as they would misinterpret his implicit contextualising of the past and the delicacy of his touch. Selby’s work rewards patient rereading: poems that might seem a pastiche or anachronism are in fact inviting the reader to engage in a dialogue with the present. In The Coming-Down Time, what’s left unsaid is often even more important that’s what actually stated, and the impatient reviewer can easily miss these nuances.

Matthew Stewart, The looming shadow of the present, Robert Selby’s The Coming-Down Time

We said goodbye at the airport and a new grief would enter our lives. There would be tears, and more tears, and not letting go until not letting go had to be let go of and letting go finally happened. My grandparents disappeared through the gates. In the car home, sniffed tears and a stiff silence. She did not say a word.

My first poem was about an airport, the first one that counted at any rate, the first one somebody noticed. It was about picking her up, not letting her go, but now I think about it the grief was already ticking away in it, behind my loneliness and unemployment and anger.

I used to start every reading with it, because it gave me the chance to tell the story of how I fell into doing this, because a powerful but kind man at a magazine took pity on my 23 poems (my life’s work, he called it) and chose to publish a couple when he should have filed them in the bin.

But also because it reminded me of how a boy from the sticks (the suburbs are the absolute sticks, you should try it) came to put words down and down and down without knowing what he was doing except that he wanted to put words down. Of how you don’t need to know, you just need to start.

Anthony Wilson, When I am Asked

A dash of wisdom folded into
temporary bliss, to keep it
from curdling. Undiluted,
it tends to stick in your throat.
Throw in the bones
of yesterday’s rage to give it
texture. Nothing is less
appetizing than mush.

Romana Iorga, Conjugal Pottage, Serves Two

I write to myself.

I’m so sorry I hurt you. You beloved dumb fuck with your devotional mouth given in trust entire, gone all in for better and for worse: you deserved better and I failed to protect you. Please forgive me. I will do better. I will not wait for someone else’s amends. I will do better.

JJS, Teshuva

I cry nearly every day, my body like a sieve, but the tears come and go swiftly, like thin clouds that intermittently block the sun. I have not been punched in the face (yet), but I keep tripping and skinning my knees.

I can look back over the whole of my life and I see moments where I knew–I knew–things weren’t right, that the center wasn’t holding. For godsake, I became a high school English teacher because by the end of the Reagan era I was worried about the health of our democracy, and teaching children how to read, write, and think critically seemed the best contribution I could make with my particular set of talents and skills.

But there are all the other moments I can see, too. Sun streaming through windows, a child’s warm weight on my chest, words gathering around a kitchen table. That essay brought a kind of comfort. Yes, we are in collapse. We have long been in collapse. So: No, you are not crazy to be so alarmed. And: Aren’t all of our lives, always, in some kind of collapse, always moving from something they were to something else they will be? Isn’t everything always fleeting? Isn’t that the exquisitely painful truth? And shouldn’t we capture it, however we can, so we don’t forget?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Why I Write (and don’t)

We live between four walls, they are temporary, fragile, often cheap, sometimes made of scythed corn stalks.  They have been speared into the ground for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, they won’t hold for long, their very nature is impermanence.  While they last, swaying in the crisp weedy air, let’s whoop it up inside!  Let’s eat and drink and talk about wandering and homelessness, how great paradigms rise and fall but never die.  Let’s go into the rattle of uncertainties, though while we’re sitting or standing in one place, we’re in A Place. 

How in-between and gappy everything is!  Between the four walls, between the moment and la durée, we are also sitting between our spry and grinding doubt and our aspirations.  Against the backdrop of black sky – for in this Sukkah there is no thatch, no leaf cover, no tile, no roof – I see the scintillating stars.  Is it true that “the world spins nightly towards its brightness and we are on it,” as C.D. Wright wrote? These weeks of radical chaos make it hard to believe anything except dismay and revulsion. “I heard him, he was washing the world, unseen, nightlong, real.”  Paul Celan, is it so?  Mood swings are counted not in days, but in hours; the decision to start over can happen several times a day.

We know how many things we claim are random and by chance, and how a flag flying over us becomes tatty and shorn.  Identities fall away.  The Place, one of the names of God, is maddeningly ambiguous and general, but I tend to like ambiguous and general.  I saw a fox standing in my garden one morning. What an indifferent, charged, gleaming animal that decided, after a stare-off, that I wasn’t worth the effort, and wandered off; it was a serene confrontation. This is the challenge, how to live in our grounded groundlessness, our wanderings, in our corn-stalk houses, here, hineini, finding one place to stand. 

Jill Pearlman, Ground Under our Feet?

Midnight again, moonlight and wind.
I cannot put down the poems of Miyazawa Kenji and Ilya Kaminsky.
I keep reading on into the night.
Then my own scribbles in an old notebook.
A gust of wind rattles the old loose window
and that which you might call my soul
shoots straight up into outer space.
Spacemen gather to me, and I read them a poem.

James Lee Jobe, it is imperfection that makes us human

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 37

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: abundance and loss, fire and ash, falling, the fallen. Fall.


The apples are falling into bags which find their way to my doorstep, the damsons have relaxed, forgiven themselves for not being plums, the dish and the spoon are getting well used, and the courgettes are running away with the beans. Even the herbs in my window box are making a final push for the sun, over-stretching beyond their theme tune … Parsley, Chives, Rosemary and Thyme – with a ladida and a hey diddle diddle and damn the absence of Sage and a fiddle! 

I’ve saved jars, and jammed some fruits into them, I’ve baked an apple tart, sprinkled it with almond flakes and cinnamon. In years gone by I pickled. I stoned. I peeled. I cored. But this year’s new harvest trick is bottling. 

Bottle. What a word. I bottle, you bottle, he, she, zhe, they, bottle. We’ve all bottled it through lock-down and here in the northern hemisphere we’re facing, well, we’re facing west and the lowering sun, and the coming of the colder months. But before that, the plenty, abundance of good things to store, to shore us up, turn into something warm and friendly, encouraging and faintly medicinal for whatever lies ahead. It’s cordial. 

Liz Lefroy, I Bottle Abundance

This [click through for photo] is the University of Chicago “Great Books of the Western World” collection, edited by Mortimer Adler and published in the 1950s. My grandmother, a single mom on a budget, scrimped and saved for months to buy this for my father when he was quite young, maybe 12, and it shaped the rest of his life. He eventually went to the University of Chicago, and became a research psychologist, a scholar, a book collector, and a deeply engaged intellectual with a broad ranging curiosity and knowledge of the world. He kept this collection with him always – I remember it in his library when I was growing up – and it’s still right here next to the bed where he slept until last January. I’m staying in this room now, visiting my stepmom, and realizing just how long the influence of something like this can last. My dad truly believed in the life of the mind and dedicated his life to it, and his life – not to mention these books – are a testament to how the mind lives on in the pages we write, the people we talk to, the students we teach, and the children we raise.

turning the page ::
a vase of dried reeds on the old bookshelf

Dylan Tweney [no title]

The week was heavy and emotional. My eyes were permanently swollen from crying and I had a headache that wouldn’t go away. I slept little and ate like crap. But every day I held my dad’s hand, I kissed his forehead, I stroked his face, I told him I loved him. I spooned ice into his mouth and at the end, I spooned morphine into his cheek. I injected meds into his catheter. I emptied his urine catch and I changed his dressings. I performed these tasks with love and heartbreak.

My dad was unresponsive the entire time but I believe he knew I was there. The first few days he opened his eyes and looked at me. He didn’t say anything but once, while looking at me, I swear he was trying to say I love you.

Each morning I would rise early and watch the sky as I drank my coffee. One morning, the sunrise was breathtaking. I thought of all the days my farmer father greeted the day before the sun rose. How he watched the sky lighten as he worked the fields or fed the cattle. In that moment, I felt at peace.

While death is always overwhelming and hard and painful, I’m grateful I had this time with my dad. I’m grateful I could be with him all week and be with him at the end.

I tried writing but the words wouldn’t come. I’ve written a lot about my dad in the past and so maybe, for now, I’ve written myself out of this. Maybe right now I just need to sit with the emotions. So here’s a poem I wrote a few years ago. [Click through to read.]

Courtney LeBlanc, Saying Goodbye

Today I hiked Wendell State Forest, where hundreds of hours and miles of our laughter is imprinted in bark, water, sky, and springy pine-roots underfoot.

Finally, I don’t miss him: he just is, in me, again, differently now and it’s not as good but he’s there, imprinted in every cell, muscle, timbre, laugh.

I forgot my phone, my camera: just me and his ghost and the slant light of the end.

And herons. Bears. Minks. Otters. Beavers. Frogs. Turtles. Coyotes.

Images of him layered on my retinas, images of me in his tapetum, images of The Us reflected in every forest leaf-shimmer, in all that September gold.

JJS, last nights together: 7 years gone tomorrow

Meanwhile, our family house is eerily tidy. I have an urge to rush around the kitchen sprinkling every surface with breadcrumbs, smearing humus on light fixtures, kicking over piles of books to make everything seem more normal. The laundry bin is looking as deflated as a jumper that shrunk in the wash. I almost hate the silence as much as I hate the thumping beats of techno music. My daughter’s leaving feels much closer to loss than when she left to study at university – and I always knew she’d be back home every eight weeks.

But I hope I will get back to a regular writing routine next week. Much as I miss my eldest child, I’m glad to be reinstated in the room and desk I loaned to her for her studies and online tutoring. It is great to be able to shut myself away for some time each day and not be disturbed mid-sentence by my fantastic but distracting husband, Andrew, when he pops into the kitchen from his office (at the bottom of our garden) to make himself a cup of tea.

Josephine Corcoran, Proper Weeping

The whole West Coast is covered in smoke, with wildfires still raging in Washington State, Oregon, and California. Our air quality has been so bad I’ve been shut up in my bedroom with four air purifiers since Monday night, and the indoor air quality is still almost 100. Outdoor air quality yesterday was 400. It is impossible to breathe outside; even for healthy people, creosote particles (among others) can cause long-term lung damage. Cloth masks don’t work, either, only n95 or P100 masks, the news continues to tell us – though I have no idea where people are getting those, they haven’t been available to normal people since February. So, we’re basically screwed until it rains – which won’t be til Monday or Tuesday, and even then we’re not guaranteed clean air. […]

Hummingbirds continue to appear and drink from the feeder, and from the flowers. We run the sprinkler periodically for the birds and my garden; apparently the spray helps them stay cleaner from the smoke (or so I was told.) I have added houseplants to my room of solitude to help make up for the fact that I can’t go outside – an orchid, a snake plant, an aloe, a couple of ferns – all plants that coincidentally are supposed to help air quality. One thing about things you are able to control – I can’t stop over 600,000 acres burning, but I can plant a tree in my yard (when this is over and it’s safe outside, naturally.) I can’t leave the “clean room” in my house (without suffering more than the nosebleeds, headaches, and cough I’m currently having) but I can try to connect with others online, and think about how to improve the quality of the air in the house (air purifiers, plants, dusting, getting rid and loose papers, avoiding burning anything (food, candles, etc.) I’ve been writing poems, too, when I can, though I’m not sleeping well with all the smoke so they may be mildly incoherent.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, In an Apocalyptic Week, an Apocalypse Book Giveaway: Field Guide to the End of the World, and Margaret Atwood with Hummingbirds

the sky is brown full of smoke ash tar creosote and whatever else trees exhale as they burn as they die that picture is not current I just put it there because it is a portal I only stepped outside once yesterday to grab the CSA box from the porch and I held my breath while doing so no baking no frying no vacuuming (not that I was going to vacuum) and no running the dryer we are quiet inside both of us with raging headaches the house full of invisible smoke waiting for rain there are no birds flying or hopping around no birdsong the leaves on my rhododendrons are drooping my trees cast their eyes to the south toward Seattle and Portland which is now on alert to evacuate half a million people that amazing green place burning burning with an administration that has been steadily and quietly rolling back environmental protections an administration that does not believe in science an administration that disregards the entire west coast because our governors would not stoop to kiss the nasty man’s ring

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

The air itself seems heavy. Suffocating. The simple act of breathing is as hard as understanding your life. Outside, the fading lights of a passing car give way to starlight. Light and dark, breathing and suffocation. Your life is heavier than air. There’s the sound of footsteps, but you can’t tell if they are coming or going.

James Lee Jobe, smoke and ash everywhere

By Thursday afternoon my house was filled with smoke. My nostrils were parched, and my head felt not achy, but heavy. My eyes wanted to stay closed.

I am not in an evacuation zone, not even level one, but they aren’t far from me. […]

I had a conversation with an old friend, and we talked about evacuation plans, our children’s futures, whether or not we should buy guns and learn how to use them.

If you’d told me even ten years ago that I would think seriously about buying a gun I’d have told you to shoot me now. That I would never want to live in a world where I’d find myself thinking seriously about whether or not I should buy a gun.

But Thursday was the day rumors started to fly that the wildfires in Oregon were set by antifa and BLM supporters (spread by far-right talk radio and dubious web sites and hordes of ignorant, scared people), and I read from a valid news source that our country’s vice president was planning to address a meeting of QAnon supporters as a campaign event, and my house filled with smoke, and our already-closed schools closed more, and it felt like a reasonable conversation to be happening.

“It’s not like I feel like I need one now,” I said to L. “But I don’t think we should wait until we feel like we need to do some things. I think if we wait until then, it might be too late.”

The first thought that came into my head upon waking Thursday morning was that I should photograph everything in the house that I might want to submit in an insurance claim, if we had to leave and the house burned. I know my house isn’t going to burn now, but that seems like it might be a good thing to have.

Still, I felt calm. I still feel calm.

I think Thursday was the day I went over an edge I’d been getting closer and closer to. It might have happened after I dropped my daughter off at work and drove down a street and noticed that the line of tents camped along it had grown over the past few days. Two years ago we reported such camps to some agency, and a few days later we’d see them disappear. Now I can’t remember how long they’ve been permanently there. They are everywhere, modern-day Hoovervilles.

“I think,” I said to L., “that whoever gets to look back on this year will see it as a turning point, the time in which a fundamental shift happened. I don’t think we are ever going to go back to what we think of as normal.”

Rita Ott Ramstad, On fire in the eye of a hurricane

The physical technique stuff is learnable, even for me. But developing the true emotional readiness to defend yourself from an attack is a whole other layer. I can visualize myself doing the defensive moves. I can run the programs in my head and ready myself to act rather than freeze in the event that the worst happens. I am fully willing to protect myself, but I need to work on that small seed of doubt that I cannot. That small seed of doubt could literally kill me. Used correctly, these techniques will work reliably every time, so the only thing in the way right now is my thoughts, which are much harder to master than anything physical. 

My one regret is that I wasn’t able to break the black block. We did block-breaking as a mental exercise, and I broke every other one fairly easily after a few tries, but the black block was the hardest, and I couldn’t break through it, despite everyone cheering me on. One of my bruises from the class is on my wrist from whacking that thing over and over again, until the instructor took it away and gave me plaudits for trying. I am now haunted by that black block. That black block represents to me an unconscious lack of readiness, and a deep layer of shame about all of the times I have been attacked and bullied and was unable to protect myself. (And there it is. I didn’t expect to get so deep on myself that I would start crying as I wrote this.) I need to break that black block in my mind. I need to understand that I am not a frail, boundary-less, vulnerable person anymore. I am eons away from being that person. I have to know that and believe that, because my life truly could depend on it. So that is the real work ahead of me, grappling not physically but emotionally. Defeating not the enemy outside of me, but the one inside of me.

It’s been an intense few days, topped off by our air in Seattle being so thick with wildfire smoke as to be almost edible.

Kristen McHenry, The Black Block

The ongoing soundtrack of fire and smoke transform these western skies into a horror movie.

Reruns of choked air stumble zombified before our eyes, casting the sun in an eerie Halloween glow, making high noon a vast jack-o’-lantern on heaven’s porch step.

Our shadows don’t even tag along as we wander outdoors amidst a climate that’s changed into apocalyptic clothing.

And so we bide our time, counting the falling ashes, waiting for rains whose every wet syllable is aria.

Rains unafraid to bed down in dark forests.

Rains unshy in the ways of turning burned skies clean.

Rich Ferguson, How to Unmake This Movie of Our Making

Even as ice rained on the desert, even
    as the skies above California turned
the color of rusted chains, someone
    was still trying to dig out remnants
of that dream. Confused birds tucked
      their heads under their wings. 
In field after field, garlic and artichoke 
    hearts bent beneath the weight
of all they too could no longer hold.

Luisa A. Igloria, American Dream

Already these crystalline days.  Already the air moving in its own way, letting sun and warmth shout at mid-day, then fall silent.  Already sound of the sea in the crowns of trees.   Already baskets full with the harvest.  Already late fruits, second round of figs, God’s tomatoes.  Already coming into peak.  Already reap what you sow.  Already reap what you have sown.

Then, as if the bonfires of vine cuttings have been let loose on the country, already fires, fires, fires.  Fire balls and lies and a house divided.  Unloosed colors that are not our crystalline days.  Our, not our days.  Dazed by destruction, red-hot beauty that flashes in its rage.  Haze of underwater yellow dawn.  Smoke, air moving in its own way.

Leaders loosened from any ground.  Pronouncements. As with everything, the language exposes.  What our fears are.  What we’re not saying. 

Already turn, turn.  Turn of the twirling leaf.  Turn of teshuva of the Jewish New Year — return to a better self.  Breakdown, collapse, strip to origins.  Quiver, terror, suspense.  Turn after a long stare of paralysis.  Reap what you sow — maybe.  Reap in spite of what you sowed – maybe.  No guarantees.  Mystery.  Be nourished by all experience.  Sow, pause in the nothingness.  

The ripe tomato turns on the vine.

Jill Pearlman, Turn, Turn, September’s Turn

Every year I write an extra high holiday sermon. Not on purpose! It just happens. Every year, it seems, I write my three sermons… and then realize that one of them is predictable, or trite, or doesn’t say anything new, or doesn’t speak to the unique needs of this moment. I could publish a book of the sermons I never gave. (I won’t. But I’m amused that I could.)

In that sense, preparing for the Days of Awe this year has been just like every other year. I make an outline for every service, trying to balance Hebrew with English, song with spoken-word, familiar with new. I thrill to cherished ancient melodies. I practice singing, and I jot musical motifs on Post-it notes so I don’t lose track of which melodic mode we’re in. Just like always.

And who am I kidding: preparing for the holidays this year has been unlike any other, ever. I translated my machzor into a slide deck, adding images and artwork and embedded video, adding new readings and prayers for this pandemic moment. I made it much longer! and then I cut, ruthlessly, because services need to be a manageable length for Zoom, and they need to flow. 

I’m trying to help my kid get ready for school. He’s growing like mint, like a sunflower. There is a stack of new notebooks and pencils on his desk. There’s also a school-issued Chromebook. The year will begin with two weeks of remote learning before we enter a “hybrid model” phase. The juxtaposition of normal and unprecedented is itself becoming our new normal.

My kitchen counter is heaped with beautiful lush heirloom tomatoes from the CSA where I’ve been a member since 1995. I eat them sliced, on toast with cream cheese; cubed, with peaches, topped with burratini and a splash of balsamic vinegar; plain, like impossibly juicy apples. Any minute now their season will end, and I will miss this late-summer abundance fiercely.

There’s a gentle melancholy to this season for me, every year. The changing light; the first branches turning red and gold; the knowledge that the season will turn and there’s nothing I can do to stop it… I sit on my mirpesset, arms and legs bared to the warm breeze, listening to late-summer cricketsong. I know their song isn’t forever. That, at least, really is just like always.

Rachel Barenblat, Just like always

I’m still rambling through Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul. The part where he reminds us that “the word “passion” means basically “to be affected”…” He’s talking about the beauty / soul connection, saying, “If we can be affected by beauty, then soul is alive and well in us, because the soul’s great talent is for being affected.” He reminds us that “beauty is not defined as pleasantness of form but rather as the quality in things that invites absorption and contemplation.” Beauty isn’t necessarily pretty. Beauty is “things displaying themselves in their individuality.”

The soul needs beauty. And Moore quotes Rilke’s ideas on the “passive power” of being affected, in the image of a flower’s structure: “a muscle of infinite reception.” Moore says, “We don’t often think of the capacity to be affected as strength and as the work of a powerful muscle, and yet for the soul, as for the flower, this is its toughest work and its main role in our lives.”

The world needs a lot of things right now, but it also needs places for us to exercise that muscle of infinite reception. Libraries, for example. Schools. Art galleries.

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll have noticed that since the pandemic began, I’ve been going out more often and photographing people and buildings in my city, Edmonton. And so there’s a chapter in C of the S that spoke to me. Moore says, “Care of the soul requires that we have an eye and an ear for the world’s sufferings.” He suggest that we see things (not just people) in their suffering condition. (People and things are connected, and it’s just another level of noticing). When we see trashed areas of our city, and now boarded up ones, graffitied walls (not the artistic ones), what’s going on there? “When our citizens spray-paint a trolley or subway or a bridge or a sidewalk, clearly they are not just angry at society. They are raging at things. If we are going to understand our relationship with the things of the world, we have to find some insight into this anger, because at a certain level those people who are desecrating our public places are doing a job for us. We are implicated in their acting out.”

The book was published in 1994, but yah, we are all still implicated. That’s certainly something this past year should have taught us all. What do the ruins of our city tell us? Maybe we’re too deep in it all to know, but we can still record. We can photograph, describe with words. What do the ruins and boarded up or otherwise neglected places related to Covid-19 tell us about what’s happening? How will they continue to tell a story?

Shawna Lemay, To Be Affected

Her house is ramshackle, she bought it for a song because that was all she could afford in her post-retirement wish to move out of the city for a quiet life. When I visited her, she warned of the scorpions under the tiles, mice that sneak in through the mitham, and centipedes that permanently reside in the washroom. There was a contraption that looked like the one used to hold down a snake. Seeing me eye the long rod, she said it was used to pull down drumsticks and lime from trees. I remained alert during my stay and watched my steps.

Her husband took me around the village. The banyan tree dwarfed the temple and arched across the narrow road to canopy the large and mossy temple pond. A dirt road led out of the village to acres of shimmering paddy fields – heads of the tall grass heavy with grains, the stalks a coppery gold. When the sun moved high in the sky, the earth became a column of light, and I could barely keep the eyes unblinking. He led me to a tree and we sat for long in silence as dark patches gathered at the corner of my vision. In the city I had not experienced naked light; tall buildings and dust-laden trees bounce off the glare.

He wiped his forehead with the carefully folded thundu. His veshti was crisp and his shirt neatly ironed – echoes from the days he displayed fine taste. Many of my friends desired him to be their father, or rather desired their father to be like him – stylish and suave; he wore shades for Madras summer, and went for a jog near the Marina in shorts – something that only film heroes did.

He worked as a technical director in a film studio – what job that entailed I do not know, but l knew it commanded an envious lifestyle of parties and travels to places that I had to look up in the atlas. He sailed in a cloud of perfume, you could smell musk for hours after he left a room.

I wasn’t perceptive then; in retrospect, I see the cracks: his aspirations tensed his relationship with his wife. Now in the absence of all that he possessed, I sense a turmoil, his dis-ease with himself, and alienation from the resplendent kingfisher just a metre away hovering above the wild fern fronds.

Uma Gowrishankar, Kumbakonam thereabouts

I have a recurring dream that I am downtown at night, completely alone, and the lights go out.  Completely and not even a moon to see by.  In the most recent version a few nights ago, I was trying to use the flashlight on my cell phone to navigate. Sometimes, there are car headlights, but more often, it’s pitch black.

Tonight was my first evening shift at the library and my first night downtown since March, and it’s a strange, eerily deserted world I come back into and very much not the bustling one I left.  Granted, it’s chilly and a little rainy, which no doubt kept a lot of people in, but I only saw a few people on the streets, a few riders on the bus.  […]

But really, many of the storefronts were already empty long before Covid–high rents, dwindling physical shoppers. I would guess at least one storefront per block empty for years or recently vacated. So maybe it was always getting darker along that strip, and even moreso south of the river.  Not just the theatres and bars and hotels, but also the businesses that thrived because of loop workers, many of whom are working from home and no longer populating the cafes and lunch spots. I am curious to see how the Chicago rebuilds itself in the wake of this, what changes the textures and routines of city life.  In my neighborhood on the north side, things are pretty much the same and most eateries have managed to stay open. People who work from home still get carryout and coffee, just closer to their houses, but downtown, who knows what that will look like when this is over–if this is ever over… 

Kristy Bowen, chicago by night

I never wrapped up my thoughts on the Sealey Challenge, which dares you to read a poetry book every day of August. One question was, is this mostly a chance to look cool and post photos of your reading stack or is it a sincere request that you engage with poetry on a daily basis for a month?

Well, it’s up to you. In my case I didn’t read a book a day. Some of the books I wanted to read were more than a hundred pages long and even if I didn’t have a job I might not have managed it. But I consider 20 books a positive thing. I also didn’t have the desire or wherewithal to post something on social media every day. I’m sure the world is not bothered.

I admit there were a couple books I didn’t like, one of which I eventually gave up on. That was kind of sad, but I am old and I have to be selective. I’ve read just shy of 600 books over the past ten years. Hopefully I’ll live another 20 years, which means I have time for 1,200 more.

Of the books by poets I’d never read before last month, my favorite was Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall. The book includes many ekphrastic poems alongside family poems, all dealing with race, interracial families and identity. I felt it was very well done, beautifully written and felt and conveyed. It had music and meaning. It was engaging and accessible. I like that.

Sarah J Sloat, Thrall

–On Monday, we began unpacking the boxes of books that have been packed away for 2 years–2 years.  There were moments when I wanted to weep when I took the books out of the boxes, to weep because I was so happy to see them again.

–I didn’t finish unpacking the boxes.  We discovered that the lowest shelf wasn’t as attached to the wall as my DIY spouse thought it was.  We decided to take a pause to see how the other shelves, now full of books, responded.  So now the front bedroom is a bit of a disaster, but at least we’re in progress to getting the books put away. […]

–During one of my quicker restocking trips, I picked up a bouquet of flowers, the cheap $4 kind.  It has a hydrangea bloom, lots of small sunflowers, a huge fuchsia carnation, and some daisy-esque blossoms.  I am amazed at its beauty.

–Here is the task, it seems:  to continue to be amazed at the beauty.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Look Back at Labor Day

home alone
I plaited my hair
but word got around

domestic science
I wish I’d done more
reweaving my life

we are stymied
silenced by the virus
hold fast to courage

a transgression
to sing to Rosie’s goats
whose bones are made of music

Ama Bolton, ABCD September 2020

I don’t want these poems I’m writing now to feel forced and I haven’t quite got an organic spark for this latest one. So I’m tip-toeing around it, writing notes about images and a few lines, but at the moment it feels very telling and unfocused. I have a deadline for the end of the month I’d like to meet, so need to get it finished. 

The sun is finally shining after a rough, rainy week, so I hope to go out to the allotment today. The girls have been selling my excess courgettes this week and want to see if any others are ready. I have had a serious glut of them this year. They grow to marrows so quickly. The kids are tired of courgette bread and the veg in pasta sauces. I have a freezer full of grated courgette as well. I was surprised anyone bought them as they aren’t a traditional Finnish veg and most people I’ve given them away to haven’t known what to do with them, but they shifted over a dozen of them at fifty cents each. I’ll try and get as much in as I can before the wet gets to them, but I think the plot is winding down.

Gerry Stewart, Autumn Scramble

I’m sure everyone with school-age kids is finding it the same, but now that Flo’s back at school, we’ve been spending a lot of this week getting used to a new routine in the house. She’s getting up earlier again and that means we are too. It’s amazing what a difference an hour makes. Please note this is not where I start singing the praises of rising 12 hours before you go to bed, etc. I won’t do that as it’s a shit state of affairs and I’d rather stay in bed.

However, in an attempt to make hay, etc I’m trying to make use of the time and do my exercises and then spend at least 30-45 mins writing before work. You take what you can, I guess. I managed it once this week and that was more by luck than judgement, but it happened and the poem that emerged from it wasn’t half bad, if I say so myself and so far.

It’s based on an idea that’s been hanging around for a long time—well, almost a year, in scribbled note form, but sometimes these things just need to just do their thing sub-consciously.

Who knows what will happen next week. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing you can do consistently… I admire folks that turn up and just do the “work”. Perhaps I should do that. Sod it, let’s see what happens if I make a point of doing that for the next week.

Mat Riches, A Raise of Sunshine

I was thinking about the hazards of writing current events poetry, and asked some poet friends if we talked about Covid in our poems are we not in danger of having them become dated?

One argued that we are writing poems out of a specific experience, out of an extraordinary time.

But don’t all times feel extraordinary when we’re in them? 9/11, World War I, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the death of a parent — all of them were times that felt catastrophic to the individuals inside them. How to write a good poem that transcends its extraordinary time to encompass all extraordinary times? Or should that even be a goal? Why not linger in the time and be frank about it?

Another person called attention to Yeats’s Easter 1916 as a poem grounded in a specific experience but a poem that has transcended the time of that experience. It is a wonderful poem, which certainly by the title grounds us firmly in time, though makes the assumption the reader will understand the reference to the Irish uprising. That phrase, though, “terrible beauty,” captures the imagination and takes me in any number of directions far from Irish soil. And the naming of the dead is an ancient rite that we still take part in. The movement of the poem to the unceasing natural world is both a common approach of putting us in our place and also effective, a useful reminder of the fleeting nature of our existence. But even though he wrote it shortly after the event, the poem already feels like a historic, long view. It has a vital distance, the “I” a distant onlooker from the start, already elegiac.

Is it this real or perceived distance that offers an avenue into the power of the poem? I don’t know.

Marilyn McCabe, Got the rockin’ pneumonia; or, On Writing About Current Events

A large buddleia bush obscured my view of the raptor, so I could not make out whether it was a young redtail (it was on the small side) or perhaps a Coopers or sharp-shinned. The squirrel’s response intrigued me. In a fraction of a second, it determined that running straight toward me was ever so much wiser than running the opposite direction (braving the open lawn to make for the treeline). I watched, amused, as the squirrel scurried along the porch to within a foot of my chair, where it suddenly scrabbled its legs, slewed sideways, and stared up at me in confused terror. Poor thing.

It climbed down the side of the porch and huddled in the bushes as the hawk shook itself and made for the oak tree and the small birds returned to their interrupted repast. The cats gazed out with renewed interest, having felt a bit flustered themselves, I could tell.

I don’t blame them. Everything lately seems so unprecedented and apocalyptic.

I feel simpatico with the squirrel.

Ann E. Michael, Hawk. Squirrel.

It’s a test for me, this poem [“Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by Adam Zagajewski], I say to them. June’s long days and drops of rosé wine, yes. But refugees going nowhere? Executioners singing joyfully? After the summer we have had, that is a bit much. Isn’t it? Is it all part of the same whole, I ask them? Are we to look at everything as an opportunity for praise, for grace, for beauty? And what if we can’t see the world in that way? What if our past history and life experiences have hard-wired us to be just a little suspicious of messages which sound like ‘It’s all going to work out fine’? For many of us, it hasn’t, and didn’t.

Well, you start with the gray feather a thrush lost. You start with the gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns. That concert where the music flared. Can you praise those and hold them in the light, just for one minute? You’ll be surprised with what your imagination shows you.

Anthony Wilson, Praise the Rain

poems
chiselling the tombstone 
of the world

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 34

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 cheating a little and beginning with a post from a couple of weeks ago because I missed it at the time. (Some of the poetry blogs I follow still aren’t in the proper category in my feed reader.) It sets the tone for a digest of mainly sombre and reflective posts as summer comes to an close and schools begin attempting to re-open. But as usual, there are still moments of levity — and lots of poetry books to read.


Once the entirety of my consciousness, a cellular fire, now my grief is most often soft-bellied and tired, complex and nuanced as so much seems to be as I get older. It began as only a void, an absence, a searing loss and now it’s sometimes that, but is also a warm room I can go to when I want to think or just feel. It’s a sail that moves me through relationship storms and it’s a small pebble in my sandal that reminds me to pay attention to others’ pain. It says, “Don’t stay too comfortable, here,” and “Pull your head up and look around you.” This grief used to be only mine and I guarded it jealously, decadently, but then I had children who had also lost my father, albeit many years before they were born, and I had to learn to both share and comfort.

Sheila Squillante, Wellspring

So I guess this is to say, in unusual-for-me-lately-regular-blog-post-style: things may stay sad around here for some time.

But part of grief is immense, inchoate tenderness for the beauty and joy that has been so cherished–and in the digital art practice I’ve been developing in the last few years, the flash/poem habits here: some of that sweetness may well be the catharsis of joy, of beauty, even as it is also finally-inarticulable loss.

My god, I may have fucked up almost everything, or been unlucky, or been injured unnecessarily in ways I don’t have the first idea how to recover from, or or or–but I have also loved beauty and joy with the devotional worship I reserve for the animal and embodied world, for the Salish Sea and the scapula, the vixen, doe, and sycamore, the way the beloved smells in peaceful sleep, the sense that all is right with the world for brief moments of this communion, even when it so self-evidently is not all right at all and the whole horizon is loss.

I am not okay. Not even a little.

But there is blessing in being this kind of animal.

And in being able to walk, and to breathe around the edges of lung scarring: the forest has more help for me than words do right now, so I will lose myself in it until I can find my way.

JJS, A blog post

bent tree‬
‪carrying the wind‬
‪long gone ‬

Jim Young [no title]

my right hand hurts because tendinitis has gripped my first two fingers the fingers in my bow hand my right hand hurts because I have been practicing Bach my right hand hurts because I am anxious my right hand hurts from pulling weeds and kneading bread my right hand hurts because I have been driving so much and I’m gripping the goddamn steering wheel like I’m about to be raptured and I’m not right with jesus I have not treated my hands as precious babies throughout my life they are pretty beat up

I go to the beach every day I watch the beach for hours I am not in a hurry with it I have distributed the silk sheet I have rinsed my hair in a tide pool I know which seabirds will be standing in the mudflats I know how barnacles stink in the sun I know what the tides are I have read and memorized the tide tables I have culled and given away the sea in my head I have considered how long it takes wounds to heal 

sometimes my son feels like my jailer everything wobbles and is in flux especially time during covid I am at 37% or 10% or perhaps 22% I cannot function after a few days of rain last week or two weeks ago or last week or yesterday I realized it was autumn as firmly as a handshake as riotous and alarming as a sneeze or a white boy high five never high five me my right hand hurts from high fives my brain hurts from high fives there will be no more high fives I love my son who takes care of me and he never tries to high five me and I am so glad and so lucky that he’s here

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

The plunge is breath-taking, awakening, vital. It confirms my body to my senses, pushes the air out of my lungs and into a shout. The plunge is essential for what comes next – the swim into the meaning of paradise: a new day, everything freshly rinsed by night and dawn’s caress. Birds skim the air, call to each other across our bobbing heads. We paddle the length of the reservoir, paddle back, return and turn until we feel the core of ourselves chilled like Chablis. 

To clamber out into the rough care of a towel, is its own pleasure. We talk of stitching two together to form individual changing tents like someone else’s mother made years ago. Many swims into the season, and we haven’t done it yet, but no matter. 

Back down at the car park, filling up now, we sit in camping chairs by the stream, breakfast on tea, hard boiled eggs, strawberries and banana bread. Not even the Famous Five ate this well after an adventure.

I can be back from the hills and at my desk by 10am on these swimming days, having taken the plunge, the waters, emerged from the vigour of a real paradise. 

Liz Lefroy, I Plunge Into Cold Water

The technician slicks her wand with gel, slides it
around the top of her right breast. On the screen,
pictures of moons under the skin.

*

Crepe myrtles blasted from trees by wind.
Sidewalks stippled with fuchsia and white:
another summer slipping off its wrappers.

Luisa A. Igloria, (more) Thumbnails

It’s been five years and five months since I embarked on a project that is far from being finished. The plain navy-blue cardigan is now highly colourful. I can see thin places that will soon need to be repaired. There are patches on patches and patches on darns. The button-band and the buttonhole-band and the ribbing at the bottom have been reinforced. The pockets are no longer usable. The owner is still wearing it, and wearing it out. I think there’s a moral here somewhere, but I’m darned if I can find it.

In other news, the dozen or so plants I grew from the seeds of a squishy tomato have been wonderfully productive. Yesterday I picked 33 ripe tomatoes of various shapes and sizes. They are small, but delicious. The sprouting potato I cut into five pieces has produced five healthy plants that are nearly in flower. And Hari is producing chicken-manure to feed next year’s crops.

Ama Bolton, Visible mending, continued

The last few years in this family have been rough, health wise. Far be it from me to fess up to more magical thinking than is psychologically normal. (None is normal, I’m told. That can’t be right.) But if there is a ever a time to indulge in some elf-sized superstition, it’s now. Why piss off the Elm Realm if you can avoid it?

But I’m not sure how to deal with this decapitated head. I consider a respectful burial. Consider letting it rest in a box with other sentimental things. And then I consult the son who had that elf birthday party many years ago. “Put it back on a picture frame,” he advised. “He’s still our elf.”

Laura Grace Weldon, Elf Trouble

We live in a time during which taking delight in small things is absolutely essential. This week, several small things delighted me:

I stepped out onto our landing on my way to work and was astonished to find this magnificent little snail, pictured here, hanging out by the steps. It has been years since I’ve seen a snail, although they are pretty common around here. I do not know how he made his way up a flight of stairs to find himself lingering on our landing, but I applaud his determination. His shell was a work of art, and I’m no snail doctor, but he looked healthy and alert. His little snail ears were erect and his coloring looked good, or at least what I imagine healthy snail coloring looks like. Clear and unblemished. I was kind of hoping he’d still be around when I got home, but there was no sign of him upon my return from work. I wish him safe travels.

I came across an article on my favorite trash site, the UK Daily Mail, about how to grow an avocado plant from an avocado seed! The article was much-derided in the comments section by sour Brits, their main gripe being that this is a commonly-known thing not worthy of having an entire article dedicated to it. I disagreed wholeheartedly. I had never heard of this before. I was enthralled by the entire process and the resulting vibrant, deep-green plant—to the point that I marched straight to the kitchen, plucked the seed from an avocado, and followed the first step of wrapping it in a damp paper towel and sealing it in a zip-lock bag. Of course Mr. Typist had to pop my plant bubble by insisting that it was going to grow unsustainably huge and that I was creating a monster and had no plan for how to deal with the outcome. He is correct that I have no giant-plant management plan in the case that it turns into an Audry and starts trying to eat us. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Right now, I just want to see a tiny little sprout of green life spring forth from my avocado seed.

Kristen McHenry, Garden of Small Delights

The advertisement was for a rustic cabin for sale. Looking at the photograph, I decided that rustic must mean beat all to hell. I looked down at my aging body; I must be a rustic poet. And then, from somewhere outside of my also rustic house, a dog began to bark. It barked for a very long time.

James Lee Jobe, The advertisement was for a rustic cabin for sale.

The cat is back in Oklahoma. I still talk to him, brace for the possibility he’s underfoot. Old habits. Like this: someone delivers an oversized zucchini I did not ask for. As if it’s a normal August. Nights turn colder.

Someone spray paints “SMILE UNDER YOUR MASK THIS TOO SHALL PASS” on a white sheet and drapes it from a bridge over I-90. I don’t remember when I first noticed it and just now realize I’m unsure it’s still there.

Hulu knows where I am better than I do most days. Whether I watch on the big screen in the living room or on an iPad in bed, it picks up where I leave off. It holds my place.

I email a local music shop to see if they want to buy my french horn. I haven’t touched it in years, haven’t become who I thought I would.

I order makeup I don’t know how to use. I will watch YouTube videos on boy brow and dewy glow and emerge from this a new person.

The retailer promises radiance and a 30-day return policy, like so many advertisers who have my undivided attention. It’s important to buy leggings you can’t see through. Surely, we need new furnishings to elevate our home offices. I guess the company that invented car vending machines prepared us for this moment. But where will we go?

Carolee Bennett, asked about forever, he does not say no

I fell down a rabbit hole of writing–but not far enough to finish the post. I pulled myself up out of the writing hole to attend to painting chores the room requires: repainting the bottom of the open section of the cabinet we built (because we didn’t build it right the first time and had to re-build, which messed up the paint) and painting the door to the room.

I could have done/faked the room tidying I need to do to be able to finish the post (because the post is about the room, but I need some different photos than I’m able to take with it in its current state), but I decided to do the things that really need doing.

And then I spent some time gathering and delivering a bag of treats for a colleague who is home sick with Covid, taking care of her daughter who is also sick with it. I did that because one of the things I’m writing about in the in-progress post is about values I want to live by in the coming school year, and connection with others is at the top of the list. I’ve gotta tell you: Strengthening that connection felt so much better and more meaningful than having pretty office photos and a complete post would have.

After that I took a nap. I’d had a low-grade headache since Thursday, and even though it’s not the kind of headache that disables me, three days of that kind of pain takes it out of me. It makes me tired. There is something so delicious about climbing under cool covers on a sunny afternoon. That sensation might be as healing as the actual sleep. (Health is another value I want to prioritize.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, In progress

Far from the
knife edge of
the moment

they are but
the empty
husks of dead

insects trapped
in a sill.
Try as you

might you can’t
breathe life back
into them.

Tom Montag, WORDS

Can’t believe it’s been more than a month since I wrote.

Occupied with the garden… at last, the butterflies arrived with the beginning of August!

Terrible heat and humidity for most of July, but better now.

Also occupied with finishing up the Syllabus to publish.  

School has started; this is the end of the first week.   

After some weeks of worrying, I decided to apply to teach the course completely remotely, from Zoom.

Since I am in the “most vulnerable” population regarding COVID 19, I was granted permission.  My university is primarily operating classes on a “hybrid”  of half in the classroom, half online.  If the students behave themselves and comply with the many rules about social distancing,  it will work. So far so good.

Anne Higgins [no title]

My dean wrote back to me, and it was the most grace-filled, kind, and understanding professional e-mail I’ve gotten in awhile.  In a week of political conventions, tweets from the president, and the swirl of news of schools opening and closing right back up again, it led me to think about how we’re managing.

I use that phrase in so many ways.  On the one hand, I use it to mean the way we’re all coping with our current situation.  I think I’m coping fairly well–OKish is the term I use when anyone asks me how I’m doing.  And then I copy all the details into the wrong course shell after I’ve checked not once but several times.  Harmless accident or some sort of outlier incident?

I also think about the way we manage in HR terms.  I think about an essay I had students write after reading a chunk of Machiavelli, an essay that answers the question, “Is it better to be loved or feared?’  My dean was operating out of a space of love.  I’ve had more bosses who have operated from a space of trying to inspire fear.

We see these competing narratives across all sorts of platforms, and in this upcoming political season, I predict we’ll see them both prominently utilized.  The fear narrative tries to make us believe that there’s not enough of anything, that we’re not enough.  In HR terms, I’m intrigued by which people in charge believe that we’re all doing the best that we can in any given moment, while so many managers seem to believe we’re all just eating bon bons and goofing off if someone isn’t there to yell at us all the time.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I prefer the love narrative–we have enough, we are enough, we can expand the circle, we can include everyone.  As I was preparing my course shells, I went back to the ones I used during the spring, as the pandemic was overturning all sorts of plans.  I was struck by the tone of my announcements.  I gave everyone blanket amnesty–if you needed more time, no need to write and let me know, just do the best you can.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Questions as Old as Machiavelli

I’ve enjoyed working as a teaching assistant this week, much more than I was as a middle school teacher last year. I’m not sure if it’s the age group or being able to actually work one on one with kids a bit more rather than trying to speak to the masses. We’ll see how things go. I wish I knew what I want to be when I’m grown up. Substituting has been a good option to try things out though.

I’m struggling with motivation this week with my writing. I see so many writers being awarded this and that, publishers and art bodies offering opportunities I can’t take advantage of because of where I live, so I feel I’m just spinning my wheels, wondering why am I bothering. I’m sure it’s just a blip and I will get a burst of enthusiasm again. My writing group stayed up late chatting online last night and that helped. I’m happy to have their life line. 

It’s raining today after several really hot days. I need an indoor day just to relax, but I really want to get out to my allotment and start sorting it for winter. I can see hints of autumn everywhere, heard the ghostly calls the Barnacle Geese flying overhead last night through a dark, opened window. That sound always makes me want to run away myself, but since I can’t I want to prepare for what is coming. 

Gerry Stewart, End of Summer Slump

Meanwhile, this week brought me a lot of late-August beauty, birds, deer with fawns, the dahlias bursting into fantastic bloom, the last of the late roses. I even have a bouquet of late lavender by the bed. I’ve been slowly getting my mental energy back, and yesterday I had enough write a poem and send my book manuscripts to some new places (for me.) I’m really hoping to have a book taken soon so I can direct my energy in a positive way as the fall comes, and opportunities to be outside dwindle. It’s good to have something to worry about besides coronavirus death rates, the post office being threatened by our evil would-be dictator, my own struggle to overcome threats to my own body, my family back in Ohio, etc, etc. […]

One of the kind gifts sent to me this week was Anna Maria Hong’s new book from Tupelo Press, Fablesque. If you enjoy fairy-tale-twisted poetry, mythology, experimental poetry, prose poetry, and harrowing tales of fathers escaping North Korea, this book is for you. I very much enjoyed it, and as you can see, Sylvia cuddled up to it right away.

I tried a bit of This is How You Lose the Time War, a sci-fi novel my little brother recommended, and finished Joan Didion’s White Album, thinking about starting the Year of Magical Thinking next. I’ve also been continuing my re-read of AS Byatt’s Possession, particularly as I go to sleep. In the heat, in my fatigue, reading is a way to make my mind and body work together, pass the time while I heal, while I hide out. Not so different, really, than my reasons for reading as a young kid.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Waiting for Fall to Arrive, Deer and Dahlias, a Week of Recovery and Reading, and a Giveaway

1988

Right before school starts, we spend a week at a cabin near Black River, with an amazing purple armoire tucked into the corner of a sleeping porch where I spend most of our time there popping jolly ranchers into my mouth and reading Sweet Valley High books in an effort to prepare for high school, which is this vast unexplored territory in front of me. Despite driving through fires on either side of the highway  on our way north earlier in the summer, this trip is rainy and cooler and our last before summer vacation ends.  High school turns out to be nothing like Sweet Valley High, but I adjust pretty well.  Later, I mine this summer of droughts and fires shameless for the poems in my first book.

1993

It’s my second year of college, but my very first at RC.  I’ve just successfully dyed my hair from blonde to dark red and wear things like broomstick skirts and tapestry vests (because, hey, it’s the 90’s.)  I love my classes that first semester and most after–Shakespeare, social psychology, philosophy. After long waits in registration lines, I spend most of my time on the patio outside the library, where they’ve set up long tables with metal folding chairs. I’ve no idea if they are intended to stay there, or if they are left up after an event, but that year, they are up through Thanksgiving break, and protected from sun and weather by an overhang, are where you would would find me studying between classes and eating vending machine snacks and carefully packed sandwiches from home. .  When it got cold, I moved inside to the library’s second floor and started scavenging books from the stacks, where you will find me for the next four years.

1998

This is the fall the tap comes on fully for poems, and most of the fall is spent writing the work that would land my first publications and form that first ill-conceived book manuscript. I’m starting my second year of grad school at DePaul and enrolled in a course on Modern British Poetry, which isn’t very modern at all, but very British, except for the weeks we spend on TS Eliot, faux British by way of Missouri  I become obsessed with Eliot’s recorded voice and soon, cannot read The Wasteland without hearing his voice in my head.  Later, at Columbia, a similar thing happens with Anne Sexton.   While I had read bits of it before as an undergrad,  this time The Wasteland loosens something in me that becomes a flood of poems that next year, and ultimately leads me to abandon any other plans–to teach, to continue Ph.D. studies, and just find some sort of day job and focus on the writing. Basically, I blame Eliot for everything. 

Kristy Bowen, snapshots | august

Although we’ve only been back a week and a half, the holiday seems a long time ago now. It was a great time for browsing and buying books as we started off by camping in Hay-on-Wye, ‘the world’s greatest book town’. Here I managed to pick up two haiku pamphlets/ magazines from 1980 and 2003, containing poems by writers I’m starting to become more familiar with. […]

As I love walking, another holiday read was Simon Armitage’s Walking Away. I’d had it a while and had been meaning to read it but just never found the time.

Hay-on-Wye is on the Offa’s Dyke path and there are a fair amount of walkers passing through. So, when I’d finished the book,  I did my bit for the book town by donating it to the book swap under the bridge, in the hope that some weary traveller might pick it up and get as much pleasure out of it as I did.

Whilst in Hay, I also bought Albert Camus’ The Plague.  I’d heard a dramatised version on Radio 4, recorded during lockdown, so I knew the main story, but reading it was so much more enriching. It’s a terrifying but redemptive story about an outbreak of plague in an Algerian coastal town, and life during the subsequent quarantine. The book reflected so much of what we have already been through, and are likely to continue to experience, putting human behaviour, both good and bad, right at the centre of the story (although mainly through male characters, I have to say, but that’s a minor quibble and no doubt reflects the time it was written). It might sound like a morbid read, but in the current situation, I found it oddly reassuring. It had the feeling of being important, of being necessary. That’s not always the case when you read a book. It made me question my own novel, and how ‘necessary’ it is. It remains as a second draft, which is to say there’s a fair amount of editing still required!

Julie Mellor, I love books …

Like many of you, I’ve been reading a lot more lately including some books that have languished in the procrastination pile. One goal has been to read and study one Shakespeare sonnet a day. They are too rich a diet to ingest more than that especially if one wants to understand them in their historical context and unpack Elizabethan usage. After reading a few, your ear will tune to the syntax. I urge you to read them aloud (all poetry should be read aloud!) and if you want to hear them in a lovely British accent, search for Sir Patrick Stewart’s (Picard of Star Trek fame) reading of each of them. […]

Here are the 4 commentaries that I used for studying each sonnet plus another intriguing book about Shakespeare being gay/bisexual and that author’s premise about the young man’s identity. It’s interesting to note that older commentaries are written by scholars whose work is based on the belief that WS is the absent narrator and the speaker in the sonnets is an unknown character created by the dramatist in a non-sequential collection of somewhat connected poems. Their posture seems rooted in an unwillingness to accept that WS was gay/bisexual or that the sonnets are autobiographical. More contemporary authors/scholars are accepting of both as reality—like more contemporary scholars understanding of Emily Dickinson’s sexuality.

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Pandemic Reading Project

Promises to keep. I’ve promised myself for months that I’ll write something about Jane Burn, a poet who unfailingly makes me sit up and pay attention, whose writing is full of turns and rhythms and moments that draw me in. For five and a half months I’ve been ‘shielded’, which is a euphemism for ‘under house arrest’. And I’ve been distracting myself with projects like ‘When all this is over’ and an abortive project which attracted precisely zero responses to an invitation to illustrate stories by my friend and collaborator, Andy Blackford. 

But inventive or analytic thinking has been beyond me quite. Concentrated, reflective reading, too. I decided I should systematically read the whole of Auden’s Collected Poems and see what I could learn…about technique, for instance. That lasted about a week, rather than the planned year. It’s hard to concentrate, especially when you’re distracted by frustrated rage at a country seized by the sleep of reason, and at the dreadful schism in the British nation.

Seeking for hook to hang the post on I went back, as I often do, to Tony Harrison. The school of eloquence, especially, and the extended sequence of sonnets that grew from it in Continuous. The theme that runs through them all, in one way or another is articulacy , the making of language and meaning which is ‘the tongue-tied’s fighting’.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Jane Burn and glossolalia

California is burning, Covid-19 proceeds unchecked, and twin hurricanes are headed to the Gulf of Mexico to hit land next week, so I chose this book for today, for the strange cheer and dark comedy of its title: Let’s All Die Happy, by Erin Adair-Hodges (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017). I gasped when I opened the book and read its epigraph by Bruno Schulz, because I had just encountered him that morning while reading An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine! Alignments and coincidences keep happening. I’m sure I’ll tell you about more.

Well, here’s one: hurricanes. In her poem “Pilgrimage,” full of beauty I’ll let you discover when you get this book for yourself, I find “goodbyes distinctive / and precious as hurricanes.” Speaking of goodbyes, oh, “Seeing Ex-Boyfriends” has such an excellent ending, and here’s an excellent title for you: “A Murder of Librarians.” Plenty of disasters, including asteroids taking out the dinosaurs in “Natural History,” but plenty of joy, too, as when her little son is delighted by that! “His fingers turn claws as the film / starts again and we wait for his favorite part, / the hungry meat, in the sky a coming fire.” I needn’t mention the coincidence of fire. Sigh…but I did. And in “Rough Math,” “I…want your grief / to pour from your eyes like smoke…

But, “Let’s all die happy.” That’s the first line of another poem with a wonderful title, “Everybody in the Car / We Are Leaving without You,” which sounds like a familiar threat, and a real invitation. Here I particularly love the hooking up of the Mother and Father of American Poetry:

                                …Let’s set Whitman
     & Dickinson up on a date & watch
     as the awkwardness flames.

Aauggh, flames again! Here’s a tender coincidence instead. In a scene I read this morning in the novel, a music box is important in a mother-daughter relationship. It’s also part of the mother-daughter relationship in the poem “The Robin Tanka,” used as an aural image: “Her voice is a music box / grown tired of being turned.” My attentiveness to connection, alignment, and coincidence keeps happening, as does my commitment to this reading of a poetry book a day in August. It has felt like work, but work I love, schoolwork (and I loved school), homework, even, in a weird way, holy work. So, of course, in her poem “The Last Judgment,” I find the phrase, “His Holy Homework.” This work is getting me through, giving me joy, and I hope giving you some joy, too.

Kathleen Kirk, Let’s All Die Happy

During sleep, I have referred to you by many names: candle, nightswimmer, monkeyshine.

Your voice comes to me in many forms: crow song, dog howl, the transcendental hum of wheels on highway.

Bouquets of rubies and summer rains I leave at your door.

A divining rod I offer you to seek out the purest peace.

Should your angels ever turn to ashes, I will sweep them up for you.

Together, we’ll build a new faith from the ground up.

While the signature of our journey has yet to be completed,

our country of devotion is just an embrace away.

Rich Ferguson, When Sleep’s Terrorism Slips Away

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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. This week found poets wondering, worrying, meditating, communing, caring, grieving, raging, making, editing, despairing, finding hope, and reading other poets — a great deal of that, thanks to the Sealey Challenge to read a book of poetry every day this month (something I used to do in April, not realizing that the cool kids were doing it in August). Enjoy!


can you recall the first poem to see you

why is a luna moth in eclipse
beyond my grasp

how did the smell of rain arrive on earth

Grant Hackett [no title]

What happens in the night
Never stays there
Sitting on your shoulders
Breathing into your hair
A hitch hiker that won’t shut up
And you, the driverless car
Never reaching the horizon

Charlotte Hamrick, Worry

6:10 a.m.
three bells ring
I bow as I finish zazen
turn to find him sleeping
on the recliner behind me
he yowls softly as I scratch his tummy

Jason Crane, POEM: the dharma according to Norman

It’s the ripple and slip of underskin muscle, sometimes spasm sometimes grip;
more feline than sapien, love purrs tachycardic, a giant in bone cage.

In the forest, a mass of presence neither male nor female,
human nor animal, made me feed cats to the foxes
and their armies of weasels and minks:

see, it doesn’t have to hurt, though it has to happen, it said,
snapping tawny necks and passing limp muscle into sharp teeth.

JJS, (Sometimes, it’s a sharpening.)

As we come out of lockdown, I feel nostalgic for a sky free of vapour-trails and for air free of exhaust fumes. I resent the return of traffic noise from the relief road a couple of hundred yards away. I think fondly of the recent months when the no-through-road on which we live was not cluttered all day with the parked cars of shoppers and commuters. I can see local friends and meet my children and grandson, but I can’t hug or kiss them. As for more distant friends and relations – I wonder if I shall ever see them again.

I enjoy my long walks in the woods and fields, but I badly miss the dancing that was such a joyful and important part of life before lockdown. I have more time for writing, but a more insistent internal voice asks, “What’s the point?” I have a sense of being stuck in a broken-down train while the train I should have caught moves on into a different future.

A fellow-creature came into our lives on Thursday.

Hari Rama is a three-month-old Brahma hen, slightly disabled, socially isolated and very much at the bottom of a heartless pecking order. I have promised her that she will never be bullied again, and I shall do my best to give her a good life. She has the run (not that she can run!) of our small walled garden and is slowly beginning to find sunny and shady places to sit. Coincidentally a poem from The Paris Review appeared in my inbox the day we brought her home. I take this as a good sign.

From Pindar Says the Poet Must Guard the Apples of the Muses
by Antonella Anedda, tr. Patrizio Ceccagnoli & Susan Stewart

Pindar says the poet must guard the apples of the Muses 
like a dragon, but …

if anything, we need a hen,
the creature that hatches the egg of verses:
white for the void, yellow for the words.

Ama Bolton, Diagonally parked in a parallel universe, with a hen on my lap

I get leads on projects many different ways, but this is the first time that a neighbor–one with whom I trade cat-sitting favors–has given me a heads-up on a call for poets. Fast-forward to being on the phone with the organizer of an annual local outreach project that usually takes the form of four communal meals staged during the month of August. The Sunday Supper series would have to take a different form this year, due to COVID-19 concerns. 

The question: could I write six poems with one week’s notice?

The answer would usually be No. I’m not a particularly fast or prolific poet. If asked to talk about how I come up with a poem, I compare the process to an oyster at work

But I really wanted to take part in this project, to be staged in the Southwest Duck Pond adjacent to our apartment in DC. That’s the park I look out over, from our balcony; the park whose quacking ducks keep company on quiet summer days; the park we walk through on our loop to the farmer’s market. For me, the Southwest Duck Pond is the heart of the neighborhood, and I couldn’t imagine passing on the chance to have poems there. 

As I talked to the organizer, I was pacing our living room. My gaze fell on a copy of Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit. That was the solution, I realized: action poems.

Sandra Beasley, Necessity Is the Mother of New Poems

I’ve liked The Poetry Exchange’s regular podcast project Poems as Friends since I heard John Prebble and Andrea Witzke Slot’s conversation with Nicholas Laughlin the editor of The Caribbean Review of Books about the Martin Carter poem ‘Proem’. Laughlin’s disarming reading of this difficult-to-pin-down poem as he and his hosts notice things about it which have not struck him previously, his openness in accepting a level of non-understanding (“not an irresolute but not a resolved poem”) along with his insights into individual lines and a positioning of the poem in its political context struck me as a very healthy approach to poetry, and one which comes through in all these Poems as Friends episodes (there are more than fifty of them now). The idea of embracing a poem as a friend you wish to spend time with as opposed to a trophy you wish to hold aloft on social media as evidence of your great reading fits perfectly with the ideas around Responsibilities of the Reader that I posted about recently. It is also an approach which seems very anti-Cancel Culture to me, and while I think Cancel Culture is in some ways a misnomer for the phenomenon of principled people finding a voice for protest (let’s face it, there are aspects of Culture that can do with being Cancelled), it also has a knee-jerk, baby-out-with-the-bathwater side to it which Poems as Friends resists. The most recent episode, featuring actor, writer and director Stephen Beresford talking to Fiona Bennett and Michael Shaeffer about Larkin’s ‘Vers de Société’, is a very good example of this warts-and-all friendship aspect of The Poetry Exchange’s philosophy.

Philip Larkin, of course, if he has not already been cancelled is, along with Ted Hughes, ripe for the cancelling. He ticks all the boxes for the problematic dead white male poet category, and it would be silly to deny that there are elements of his writing which are not only out of kilter with contemporary sensibilities but objectively snobbish, racist and sexist. It’s the misogyny, not to mention the intellectual snobbery, as Bennett and Beresford point out, which comes through in ‘Vers de Société’ in the line “…to catch the drivel of some bitch / Who’s read nothing but Which”. But Beresford says at the beginning of this conversation that for him “(this poem) is the friend that most other people don’t like, and they say the wrong thing, and there’s a WhatsApp group where people discuss how terrible they are…and because of their unpopularity, because they’re difficult, I find as I’ve got older I’ve more and more grown to respect them”. This is the real stregth of Poems as Friends. Some people will read an article like the one linked above and decide that Larkin lies on the wrong side of the good/bad divide, taking their relationship with him no further than that; but others will recognise the idea of an imperfect friend – one who you know well enough to be able to appreciate their good qualities, which stand side-by-side with their bad ones to make them a fully-rounded person. And it is hard not to acknowledge that sometimes the most difficult individuals can (in spite of and because of that) also be amongst the most talented, creative and profound.

Chris Edgoose, The Poem as (in a Pig’s Arse) Friend

Regular readers of Rogue Strands might recall my post last September (see here) about the National Poetry Library’s attempt to charge for membership, an attempt that failed on the back of petitioning from throughout the poetry scene.

Well, the situation has now worsened, not only with the temporary closure of the entire South Bank Centre due to Covid (which means no one could access the Poetry Library anyway) but also with the Centre’s consequent aim to make mass redundancies and shift to a far more commercial model. The question at this point, of course, is how the change will affect the library in both the short and long term.

I’m not against the idea of seeking out new revenue streams for arts ventures and venues through the use of their premises, so long as that’s combined with sensible public funding. However, this commercial process often seems to provide an excuse for ludicrous salaries in senior posts rather than making the most of those extra funds to generate high-quality, free artistic content for users who might otherwise be excluded.

Moreover, I do get extremely concerned when marketing people start producing word salads like the following quote from an excellent New Statesman article on the issue:

When we talk about ‘start-up’ we mean a ‘mind-set approach’: being agile, adaptable to change, moving fast, risk-taking, innovating, constantly learning, changing the status quo, learning from failure, for example. We are not re-modelling operationally as a start-up.”

This is just empty fluff. Of course, everyone’s aware that the South Bank Centre’s income will have dropped hugely and will remain at a low level for the foreseeable future. Neverthless, the current crisis shouldn’t be allowed to offer a perfect excuse for a permanent change in approach and the loss of one of the nation’s key cultural assets. In this context, central government must step up to the plate for once.

We need the National Poetry Library, we need its excellent staff and we need free access to its unique collection. Once again, we’re going to have to defend it…!

Matthew Stewart, The National Poetry Library and the South Bank Centre

I was speaking to my writing group about this question of self-belief in one’s writing I discussed in my last post and they pointed out that I was lucky to have a positive first creative writing teacher, positive early role models in general. They felt, and I now agree, that the first voices you hear as a child or young person about your self-worth stick with you. If those people, parents, teachers, mentors, were over-critical or negative, that’s the soundtrack that follows you throughout your life. If they were positive, it gives you a bolster of belief that could help support you when things are difficult. It’s worrying as a parent and a teacher to understand how much weight the words we speak to children have throughout their lives. […]

I joined the Helsinki Poetry Connection for an open mike night this week. My first in Finland and my first in at least 10 years. I’m well out of practice, but it was a good laugh as a few friends from my group also braved the experience and did amazing. Open mikes are the same in the US, UK and Finland in my experience. It all depends on the crowd, but there’s usually a good sense of support, some fun, funny and downright crazy readers. It’s a weird experience in another language. My Finnish is just not good enough to follow the poems, but I love listening to the sound of it and how everyone made it do different things. Helsinki Poetry Connection was welcoming and multi-cultural, so I didn’t feel strange reading in English. I’ll definitely do it again. 

Gerry Stewart, A Positive Voice

The pandemic has this way of both stretching time so that it passes really slow, but also, like a snapping rubber band across a room, really fast.  We are entering mid-August territory, which means the end of summer is upon us.  Normally, I would be relishing in back to school vibes, though the idea of “school” is this strange uncertain thing that feels the same, but is entirely different.   Soon, I will walk outside and find the one tree at the end of the block has dropped its leaves over night, almost embarrassingly early. Already the light and weather is different. 

For the press, that means the open reading period will soon be ending and I’ll no longer be dipping my toes in the pool for an occasional read, but diving in wholeheartedly.  I also feel like we are in a weird place, not necessarily just the pandemic, but the fate of the USPS, on which the press depends wholly (and which corrupt politicians seem to be trying to quell for their own nefarious purposes) . If things go sideways there in terms of shipping options for single copies, it may require revamping the entire business model and format of how we issue books (it could be done–digital chapbooks, which of course would be free, maybe giving authors the option of print volume in larger orders that could be fed exed.  Which would make the books more widely available and affordable (a plus of course, but also harder to keep us in toner & cardstock–we depend on single sales as much as author copies), but I still also believe too much in print to let it go entirely. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but I’d like to have a bit more certainty before I take on books for next year so I know what to be able to promise authors on publication offers- business as usual with regular single copy distribution, or something more hybrid, more electronic, but still solidly in print. Losing USPS functionality would put a serious dent in publishing in general, so let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.  It would also make it much harder to ship artwork and prints cost effectively, or anything really.

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | august 2020

America, it’s the day after
another hurricane hurtles
through towns, a fringe
of tornados leading the way.
The Baptist Church on the corner
of 38th and Bluestone has its face
sheared off completely by blades
of wind. Oak trees lie on their sides,
unpinned from lawns. Pine
branches intersect with power
lines. America, I used to believe
in your storied generosity: how
firefighters and volunteers alike
paddled through high water
to pluck shivering families off
their roofs; how police tapped
on the window to ask if every-
thing was alright instead of
ordering an entire family,
down to the youngest child,
to lie on the asphalt, arms
crossed behind their backs.

Luisa A. Igloria, America

This is the Mississippi Goddamn Nina Simone moon

pink slip goddamn eviction goddamn soft potato goddamn sick in the head goddamn doubledown Monday goddamn fed up motherboard goddamn blood down my leg goddamn vampire government goddamn two headed dog goddamn rancid labyrinth goddamn live wire black anemone goddamn slumlord goddamn car crash goddamn collapsed goddamn autopsy goddamn

Nina Simone O Nina Simone I need your fire to rise up in me

Rebecca Loudon, 100% full

If I did write a memoir, I would write it with water, on water, in water.
Water makes the world simultaneously lighter – and darker.
It clarifies and it distorts.
Soothes and terrifies.

I’ve been having vivid dreams. Usually that happens when I’m depressed. But now I think it is menopause – this crossing over. Crossing through.

There is a place in Skagen, Denmark, where two seas meet and the sky is soft. Once I watched a friend swim there with seals. It’s dangerous, though. One helluva rip-tide.

Ren Powell, A Story Written in Water

I grew on land bordered by tides, water that advanced upon and retreated from rocky beaches. Now, I live next to rivers that run in one direction past sandy banks.

I need water to be the person I think of as me.

How do we survive drought? I don’t really know. Sometimes we don’t.

Last year I planted a small hydrangea tree. It has been a gorgeous thing, full of creamy petals and vibrant, supple leaves. I love the tree, whose only purpose is to be beautiful. This week, after days of relentless heat, I realized its branches were drooping and its leaves were spotting, some turning dry and dropping.

“Nononono,” I whispered to it. “You cannot die.”

I brought out a sprinkler and soaked the bed it grows in, only then noticing how its edges had cracked and pulled away from the pavement bordering it. When did that happen? How did I let it?

We are all connected, my drought contributing to its.

What are the limits of adaptation? I’m thinking that a hydrangea cannot simply mutate into a xerophyte. But what do I know? The cactus was once a rose. Still, I think we’d all agree: A cactus is no longer a rose, which begets the question: What does it mean to survive?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Let the rain come down

In this jungle of burning stars and broken-glass promises,

the daytime air feels like night and nighttime feels like an itch on a phantom limb,

reminding us our brains have not yet fully rewired themselves to comprehend the loss of old ways.

Everywhere I look,

small businesses burning from no customers.

“For Rent” signs as prevalent as facemasks in the supermarket.

Eviction threatened by landlord hearts too broken to house any bodies.

Oblivion scribed on the voided noise of lost neighborhood hubbub.

Each night before sleep,

I pray we may soon be paroled from these dark dreams and released onto well-lit, well-lived streets.

Rich Ferguson, The Wonderings of Phantom-Limbed Days

We long to be transfigured in the Holy Flame,
to harness atoms to do our will.
At the thought of what they attempt,
leaders and scientists tremble.
On the other side of the planet,
people vanish into the unforgettable fire,
wisps of cloth pressed into concrete,
the only sign that they existed.

We cling to the Ancient Lie
of the violence that can redeem
us. We purge and plunge whole
landscapes into the land of ash and smoke.
The sun rises over a steamy swamp
of decimated land and decapitated dreams.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Transfiguring Atoms

I would say that the government is lying about the shape of the world, lying about the dreams that wake you with a shudder, lying about everything. I am living now in the silence of things, sleeping in the dusty corners. Accept the finality of the human experience. Raindrops like teeth, the enamel of a god; I am a being of light, and I refuse to answer to anyone.

James Lee Jobe, Raindrops like teeth, the enamel of god.

deconsecrating 
the concrete of the altar
ego

Jim Young [no title]

If I look back at previous Augusts, I’ve been in the hospital for various problems a lot – I mean, maybe it’s the heat, the waning summer, summer germ theory – so I can’t be shocked, though I’ve never had this particular kind of superbug infection before. The Dog Days indeed.

My coping mechanisms for previous illness-filled Augusts include trying to focus on the things I can do and enjoy – watching movies (recently, loved the quirky woman-writer-centered comedy “I Used to Go Here,” the first twenty minutes of which I swear was stolen from my own first book tour experiences), listening to audiobooks, dipping into poetry, photographing things when I get the chance. Not focusing on my lack of ability to do my normal things (even in these highly abnormal time) or focusing on my lack of productivity. Not focusing on possible mortality issues (this particular illness has a 6-8 percent mortality rate, higher than coronavirus!) […]

So yesterday I went out into my neighborhood of Woodinville and found small u-pick gardens and took pictures of dahlias and sunflowers. I even took a picture in one small garden, because I want to be reminded that I live in a world surrounded by beauty.

Similarly, I’ve been taking a partial try at The Sealey Challenge (because not every day is an “up” day where I feel well enough to read, I’m not reading a poetry book every single day in August, which is the challenge, but I’m trying to pick up a book on the days when I can.) And one thing about reading more poetry, and reading widely, from lots of publishers, is being introduced to all types of writing, and voices, and you notice covers and fonts, and you start thinking about how what you read influences your own work, and how your voice fit with with other voices of your time.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Down Days, Up Days, Dog Days, Poetry Manuscripts Going Out into the World, and the Magic of Selkies

I love so much about #TheSealeyChallenge, a project created by poet Nicole Sealey asking people to read a book of poetry a day for the thirty-one days of August. I’ve read some guilty-sounding social media posts, though, by people saying they just can’t read poetry that fast, and I get it. The event has been running annually for a while now and I’ve only been able to post with the hashtag sporadically; I usually spend August desperately trying to finish up summer writing projects as I simultaneously gear up for the academic whirlwind of September, which has ALSO involved, for the past twenty years, filling out back-to-school forms and shopping and packing with my kids. Crazytown. This year, though, I’m heading into the best-timed sabbatical in the history of the universe. I can spare an hour a day for other people’s poetry.

Yet I have to add that one of the great things about poetry is how it slows us down, drawing readers into hard thinking, compressed language, and close observation of the world and ourselves. It’s paradoxical to try to read a lot of poetry FAST. I often do a first reading of a poetry volume in a single hour, trying to understand its scope and aims, but unless the poems are unusually brief and straightforward, that means I’m not taking in every poem deeply. I just read ARCs of a forthcoming book I plan to review, for instance, and I’m going to have to reread it much more slowly soon, taking notes, developing a deeper grasp of and appreciation for the work. Teaching a book, likewise, requires layered engagements with lots of pauses. And sometimes you just WANT to go back and reread something non-instrumentally, for the pleasure of it. #TheSealeyChallenge is a bit like NaPoWriMo, when people try to draft a poem a day for the month of April. The product isn’t the point–it’s the process of making daily space for art that counts.

I appreciate, though, how this challenge inspired me to buy a bunch of books, dig through piles of books I’ve never managed to read, and investigate library holdings. And I like, after months of flogging my own books, turning to poetic citizenship by promoting other writers. Finally, it’s fun to follow the hashtag and use it to find other writers and readers with similar tastes. All that said, it’s only the 5th, so who knows how I’ll do?

Lesley Wheeler, #TheSealeyChallenge & #TinyBookFair

I have managed to read a book of poetry a day so far in August for the Sealey Challenge. The biggest surprise has been reading poetry in German. I love it, and I love reading it aloud. I like that it asks for all my attention. I read a book of Ingeborg Bachmann last week and today I got a jump on tomorrow’s book by Rainer Maria Rilke. I remember my father and stepmother had Duino Elegies in their house when I was a teenager and it seemed so exotic. I had to look up again today what ‘Duino’ is. It’s a castle.

Otherwise, the best thing about participating in the challenge is I’m reading wildly different books, many by poets I’ve never encountered. So far:

DMZ Colony by Don Me Choi
Telephone: Poems by Jay Besemer
Die gestundete Zeit by Ingeborg Bachmann
The Good Apocalypse by Anne Boyer
Silk Poems by Jen Bervin
East Window, translations from WS Merwin
Fair Copy by Rebecca Hazelton
The Truth Is by Avery M. Guess
Head Off and Split by Nicky Finney

I confess I am feeling forlorn for fiction. I’m addicted. But for August I can’t fit it in with working, eating, sleeping, drinking, scowling and despairing.

Sarah J Sloat, Sultry with occasional thunder

As with so many books of poetry, here’s a beautiful cover that draws me in, with cover art by poet and publisher Richard Krawiec, and cover design by Daniel Krawiec. The book, on Day 9 of the Sealey Challenge (where I should be saying #sealeychallenge except I am hashtag challenged), is The Next Moment, by Debra Kaufman (Jacar Press, 2010). Lots of beauty and empathy in this book, speaking directly to me in poems like “The Drought Speaks,” naming flowers I love, dry spells I’ve known, and things I now know to be true:

     …it’s the wildflowers that prevail,
     their ragged foliage
     still green in the heat,
     new blossoms about to open.

As I read this one, on a cool morning after enough recent rain that my husband is mowing, our devil’s strip is wildly blooming with Queen Anne’s Lace. I’ve got some in blue water on the kitchen table because my friend Kristi said she did this as a child to watch the white blossoms turn the color of the water. They did, after a week or so. Blue lace!

Kathleen Kirk, The Next Moment

In 1991 I made the decision to spend more of my time concentrating on the thing that fulfilled me the most, writing poems. To  make this happen I began working part-time so that I could block off a part of each week in the pursuit of this.

I made several mistakes. If I had my time again I would have attended at least one Arvon Course, mostly to meet other people. I would have attended more poetry readings. I would have written more.

One thing I do not look back on with any regret is the amount of reading I did. Subscribing to as many poetry magazines as I could, I read, I felt, everything I could get my hands on, aware at the same time that I was barely scratching the surface of what was available.

The twin achievements of this intense phase of reading and writing were that a) I wrote a lot of poems -some good, most of them bad, but all of them mine and b) I felt more alive and less alone at the end than I did at the beginning. (I still often wonder if the latter is not the chief purpose of all of my writing, for better or worse).

When I am asked for it, the advice I most often repeat is: read. To write poetry, you need to be in relationship with poetry. It is not rocket science. But it is a process, and you do need to commit to it. One of the best ways of feeling less alone is to subscribe to poetry magazines. (Or there is Arvon). You realise there are other people out there who are just as afflicted with poetry as you are. And you can learn from them, guess at their influences, watch them develop, even write to them.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Poems: Mandy Sutter’s ‘Caring for the Environment’

The title of your collection, Dressing the Wounds, evokes the forgiveness and reparations of relationships, the healing that occurs for love to continue on. Do you find that the act of writing itself is a way to dress and address your wounds? What about the act of reading of poetry? 

Thank you for that description! That is just what I was hoping to evoke, and I do think reading actively achieves that as well, which is partly what I was getting at with my last answer. I worried a little over the title seeming too grim, if people focused on the “wound” aspect over the “dressing” part. There are actual dresses/costumes in the book, so that was a literal aspect I was trying to conjure, but, yes, mostly the title was, for me, about how we move forward by healing and taking care of the places we are vulnerable. It absolutely speaks to forgiveness. 

I do indeed find that writing is a way to confront, to address wounds and reckon with them and try to puzzle out how to feel about them, how to move forward in spite of them. For many people that is a pretty private thing to do, and one reader recently told me the book is “brave” in that it tackles terrain many are familiar with but don’t often share. I was really happy to hear that take on how the book felt to her. My intention was to try to express myself in a way that extended beyond what would matter to me, and I hope that readers find their similar wounds addressed too. I also didn’t want to write a one-sided account that excluded a partner’s experience, though I am not sure I was 100% successful since I, like everyone, have a hard time being objective when it comes to these things. The act of considering both sides and trying to write in a way that avoids judgment is the place I think it is most respectful to write from, so that’s where I aim and where I hope I land most of the time. Certainly time and other readers can help in hitting this mark, so I did have fellow writers, and my husband, read the book after it had been accepted and before the final version was due to the editor.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Rebecca Hart Olander on the Flaws and Snags of Love

I’m one of those negligent bloggers who rarely pays attention to analytics, but for the last year or so, the top post here, overwhelmingly, has been 10 Poems for Loss, Grief, Consolation. And since Covid-19, even more so. We have so many new griefs now, so many permutations and adumbrations of grief. And because of the way things are, and how limited we are in our gatherings, we’ve had to develop and discover new rituals. How do we console our friends from afar? How do we process these new kinds of griefs?

There are a lot of people more qualified than I am to speak about grief at this time.

And maybe this is not a thing for everyone, but I’ve been having fun planning my own funeral/wake/memorial — I think I want a better name for it. But after I’m gone, I’d love it if you read some poems, had a good glass of whiskey, (unless you hate whiskey), listened to some good music, looked at some great art, released some butterflies (probably metaphorically), and wore your favourite dress-up clothes, in my honour. It doesn’t matter what, but I’m partial to fancy shoes and velvety garments. Jewel tones, and plenty of black. Your most empowering lipstick. Make yourself your favourite sandwich, a clubhouse maybe. Grab some Miss Vickie’s chips. (Or Cheetos if you prefer).

I would like some good jokes, some funny skits played. Whatever makes you laugh is great. Because laughter really is vital.

Shawna Lemay, New Rituals for New Griefs

The long sun at evening.
Wind in the hairs of your arms.

What descends in the coolness
is the darkness of knowing.

From here to the horizon
anything you touch will

change who you become.
Listen, the wind says. Listen:

you can go, you can’t go back.
This is where you came from.

Tom Montag, THE LONG SUN AT EVENING

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 29

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 in a bit of a rush to get the digest out before the promised storms hit, which will mean disconnecting the wi-fi: on a mountaintop, routers are especially vulnerable to the electricity in the air during a thunderstorm. But my gardens are so parched here, I am praying for all the bad weather we can get. And by praying, I mean reciting Robinson Jeffers: “Come storm, kind storm. August and the days of tired gold and bitter blue are more ruinous…”

Anyway, I apologize for any possible typos below, and for my lack of a concise intro. As some writer or another once quipped, I’m in a hurry, I don’t have time for brevity!. But I was pleased to find no shortage of great posts to quote (or in some case, reproduce in their entirety) this week, starting with an ocean swimmer’s essay on the toadfish…


The toadfish sits on the bottom of the sea, singing a song of love.

It is a creature midway between humble and fabulous. It is small enough to fit into a person’s hand, and has a bulbous, grey-green, wet look. It is quite ugly, except for the luminescent dots (photophores) running along the length of its body, which give it a spiffed-up, dance party look, like the buttons of an ensign’s jacket, thus giving the toadfish its other name: the plainfin midshipman.

I have never seen a toadfish, but I have heard them singing.

Ordinarily the toadfish lives in the deep, dark sea. But when it is time to seek a mate, the toadfish swims up to the shallow, intertidal waters of a bay or slough. The male burrows into the mud at the bottom, and begins to sing, hoping by his song to attract a female to his burrow. Vibrating his swim bladder, the toadfish emits a clear, resonant tone — a steady drone, a hum. Other toadfish nearby tune in, and they synchronize their pitch with one another, so the water column fills with a continuous humming note. It can be quite loud, penetrating the hulls of boats and ships, keeping their occupants awake at night. It may even be loud enough to awaken those on land. It is often mistaken for a sound of mechanical origin: A distant ship motor, a generator, or some other machinery operating on the shore. But no: It is a sound the toadfish have been singing for probably millions of years, since long before humans existed.

On a recent swim along Muni Pier, aka Aquatic Park Pier, I heard the toadfish singing, each to each. I did not think they sang for me. But their song sounded, to me and my swim friend Zina, like a chant, really, a steady, clear, “OM” sound, somewhere around low A, and it was a song I felt I could join. The deeper I put my head into the water column, the clearer and stronger the sound became. If I could swim deep enough, I thought, I could enter into the sound completely, but I might never return. So instead, from the surface, I tried matching the note with a sound of my own, floating there with my face in the water, chanting my own OM into the water, bubbles blowing out of my mouth as I chanted along with the toadfish.

When I found the right pitch, my whole torso resonated with the sound. I had joined the chant, the chorus of the toadfish. It felt like the all-encompassing, penetrating tone of pure love. It was the sound of the universe singing to itself.

Dylan Tweney, I have heard the toadfish singing.

Covid exists. Covid-19 exists, summer-20 exists. High noon exists. Heat exists. Water in rivers, in seas, in showers, from fire hydrants exists. Coves exist. Hidden lanes of purple hydrangea exist. Overturned bones of kayaks. Smoothness of stones, stones, pebbles irreducible pebbles exist. Marsh grasses like glissando on a piano. Poison ivy exists. Bodies in hospitals exist. Grief exists. Shadows and data and systems, bindweed and drifting boats, errors and interpretation. Brutality exists. Bridges, from a distance, from other islands. A breeze laying traces of a fishnet on the waves. Wildness, wilderness, wildness exists. Light that has never been the same since the beginning of time exists. A swimmer’s ecstasy exists. A swimmer exists as she swims through that moment’s infinity. Festivity exists only because of the possibility that it might not exist.

Jill Pearlman, covid-19, summer-20

This summer, I’ve been participating in Wednesday Night Poetry, the longest running weekly poetry reading in the nation. This series is usually in Arkansas, but its presence online is one is those unexpectedly beautiful things that has come about during the pandemic. I’m so grateful to Kai Coggin for hosting this event and curating this reading in such a welcoming, inclusive, affirming way. This has been a summer highlight for me.

Last night I shared my poem “Nevermore,” a love poem for my Granny from my chapbook 28,065 Nights, which will be published next month by River Glass Books. [Click through to watch.]

Katie Manning, Wednesday Night Poetry

I was feeling rather smug about having a new collection of poems for which I could start gathering rejection letters, until I realized that at least 10 of the poems in the 50 poem collection seem to be the same damn poem over and over again.

Yes, they differ in imagery and rhythm and movement, but they land in the same place, with they same no-duh realization.

I know I often feel like I’m writing the same poem over and over, but to have it so plainly in my face is, well, annoying.

I thought I could get clever and tried to turn one poem on it’s head, so it at least STARTED in the same damn place but ended someplace else, but I wasn’t fooled by my trick.

It’s funny, of course, because I hadn’t realized how obsessed I’d been. But clearly I’ve got issues. Or one issue, anyway.

How many such poems can a collection can get away with having? Two? Three? Four if I hide them throughout and distract the reader with shiny objects?

Marilyn McCabe, It was fascination; or, On Writing the Same Damn Poems Over and Over Again

I’ve read that many writers are stressing about not writing as much right now as they think they should (what with still being mostly constrained from fun distractions, like offices, travel, parties, etc. but still in the middle of a poorly controlled pandemic) but for me, summer is a natural time for revision. I don’t write as many poems in the summer, typically (and it also tends to be my worst season for health – unfortunately, this July has proved no exception – I caught a superbug during my root canal AND just got tested for coronavirus as well, because why have just one thing?) […]

So besides photographing my cat and flowers with my typewriter, I’ve been spending hours looking at the drafty drafts of poems I’ve written since January, looking harder at my two book manuscripts in terms of organization and order. It’s been four years since my last book, and I’m getting a little anxious about getting another book into the world, but I do want them to be the best books possible.

I’ve had a couple of writers take a look at my newest manuscript for feedback (which I recommend if you’re feeling stuck and unable to “see” the manuscript anymore), and I was surprised by a couple of things, including that I’d been writing accidental sonnets. Anyway, I also don’t recommend futzing with two books at a time if you can help it. I think the older manuscript is pretty polished, it’s the newer one that still needs some reshaping, but keeping track of both in the same spreadsheet is eye-crossing. I got an encouraging note from a great publisher, but had to really work to track down which manuscript they were responding to! Not good, Jeannine.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Summer is for Revision, Phone Calls to Catch Up with Writer Friends, and Twitter’s #PoetParty Returns

I slid off the rocks pictured above at Willoughby Spit, Virginia, last weekend, cutting my toes and raising a mother of a bruise on the opposite shin. A couple of days before that, I fell off a bike, although that time I managed to throw myself clear onto some relatively cushy grass. The day before that, I got bashed down by Virginia Beach waves a couple of times; the wind was high and getting from the billows to the shore was a challenge.

I’ve always been a klutz, but my muscle tension is higher now, which makes my balance lousy. Paradoxically, I don’t think my fear of falling helps. I watch my 19-year-old leap up and down steep trails, the kind spined with sharp rocks and tree roots; his footing is relaxed and sure because he trusts his body to do what he wants it to. Was I ever that agile?

I still want to move with speed and attain the great view, but if I push even a bit too hard, I end up benching myself. I’ve been thinking about ambition in writing, too–not, this week, ambition for quality of the writing, but craving a little bit more recognition, pushing myself to apply for more opportunities, even knowing that middle aged women hardly ever pull the brass ring. Leaving town for a few days, even though we didn’t go far, allowed me to stop thinking about Unbecomingand The State She’s Inhallelujah! When I got back from the beach last Sunday, though I dropped into a homebound funk, made worse by a sore throat. I immediately thought I was dying from COVID-19, felt sorry for the kids and husband I would leave behind, and did some soul-searching about what work I had left to do in the world (yes, I go apocalyptic quickly and vividly). Then I realized I had stopped taking an allergy medication at the beach, started it again, and felt fine within two days.

That cheered me up, but what cheered me more was a long phone call with Jeannine Hall Gailey ranging over all these subjects–health, career aspirations, politics, literary culture. It helped SO MUCH, and not just because she’s a gifted pep-talker, which she is, or because she gave me good concrete advice, which she did. As she wrote on her own blog earlier today, conversations like that can remind you that we’re not alone in aspiring and feeling frustrated. There’s a difficult balance to walk: for sanity’s sake, you can’t get carried away by po-biz longing, but I also don’t want any of us to underrate ourselves. Others are perfectly ready to ignore or underestimate us–we don’t need to get a jump on them!

Lesley Wheeler, Like water wants to shine

Someone mentioned Imposter Syndrome to me recently when discussing confidence. There have been times when I’ve had to play at being a poet to be able to get through situations where I haven’t felt up to the task. After my second son, I think I struggled a bit with post-natal depression and barely went out or talked to people. I actually put on a costume (a fancy pin and scarf I wouldn’t ususally wear) and went to various writing events to force myself to mingle and smile. I eventually worked back up to reading my work in public. I still wrote, it was the public side I struggled with and pretending I was a capable poet helped. 

I’ve had days when I’ve ripped up poems or just deleted them. Days when I’ve cried at a reader’s harsh or tactless or too honest words. Days when I’ve despaired that I’d never get published or that my writing was so bad that everyone hated it. 

But I always went back to writing because it has never been about publication or being liked or finding an audience though those things would be gravy. It was a need to write, to capture my thoughts, my life, my breath on paper. To give them a permanent space when everything was swirling around my head. And I didn’t compare them to others’ work, didn’t worry if they were good enough because they were me, at that moment, rough and raw, slightly polished with time, changing with mood and experience. And I have always been good enough. 

It frustrates me that I can praise my fellow writers, my mentees until I’m blue, but I can’t make them see how good and brave they are for just writing what they want. How bringing that scraggly, imperfect poem into the light of understanding readers is a cause for celebration and pride. How sending your work to a journal even though it will probably be rejected, because the odds are against almost all writers there, is amazing because for 10 minutes or so your words are inhabiting someone else’s head and making them think about something you cared enough to write. And if it’s not for them, it’s still yours. 

Gerry Stewart, Good Enough?

This weekend, I put the bloom project to bed.  Or perhaps planted it deep in the ground (if the metaphor is more apt.) It’s still a little rough, and I plan to spend the next few weeks smoothing out some edges and see what I’ve got.  Again, it’s hard to write about things without distance, so maybe some time is what these pieces need.  Up next in writing plans is a little fun series on Weekly World News headlines I’ve been batting around in my head that is making me giggle. It might be the perfect antitdote to some darker projects I’ve been immersed in the past few months. (well as shadowy as The Shining and virus poems tend to be.) 

According to my journal/planner, I had all sorts of creative plans for this spring and summer, but now feel like much of them fall to the wayside in the name of just getting through the dumpster fire that is 2020. But at least there are still poems, pretty much daily, first thing I work on over breakfast. I’ve also been devoting one weekend day to writing-related things like submissions and manuscript org, and book promo efforts (this this weekend’s book trailer success.)  which feel like they can get swept away, especially now that I am back to commuting during parts of the week. My relationship with all things poetry is still rocky, and I tend to go from obsessing about writing then back to not caring at all, but it’s still a case of pandemic brain that I hope will pass. It might be one of the things that I still feel I have control of–so perhaps I need it more than ever. […]

My longer projects tend to build as smaller things constellate–and tend to be more over-arching in their themes, but broader in their subject matter.  Maybe it’s just easier to write several small books than one big one, or to somehow trick myself into writing a larger mss. by composing it out of small ones.  Like building a doll house out of wood blocks rather than framing it out and constructing a whole.  

Kristy Bowen, for the love of tiny projects

little spiders 
born in the smallest room
my house is yours

Jim Young [no title]

Thinking about fires in a fireplace, because we have a fire in our summer cottage on cool mornings when I’m writing, I ask myself whether “hearth” refers only to what the fire rests on or the whole fireplace.

I open the dictionary.  It means the stone under the fire.  But my eye catches the word “hearth-tax.”  In seventeenth century England and Wales, I read, a hearth tax of two shillings a year was levied for each hearth.

Now I want to know:  Is this the original form of the property taxes we pay for our houses?  How much did two shillings buy in the 1600s?  Did people complain about what their tax was paying for and how high it was?

Could I use this in a poem?  And how am I supposed to get back to work?

But I couldn’t write without a dictionary.  Mine is a one volume version of the OED.  When I pause to look up a word – usually for its etymology, its base meaning – I feel fully engaged in my language.

Ellen Roberts Young, Delight in Distraction

For some reason, I got it into my head this weekend that I needed to find my long-abandoned Fitbit. I was gifted this item several years ago by a friend and used it obsessively for a month straight before I decided I was in an abusive relationship with it and impulsively tossed it into a drawer, never to pick it up again. But now I want it back and I can’t find it and it’s driving me crazy. I vaguely remember having put it in a box at some point along with my obsolete Kindle and a tangle of cords and cables, but this mythical box is nowhere to be found. I’ve combed through our credenza, our junk drawer in the kitchen, the hall closet, and the bedroom closet. I looked in our storage bin in our Laundry Room. I dug through the computer room closet. It’s nowhere. And the longer I look for it, the more I want it. It’s more about desiring the victory of finding it now than it is about actually wanting to use the annoying thing. I am obviously harboring deep feelings of loss elsewhere in my life that I am projecting onto to the poor Fitbit. But that’s not stopping me from fervently believing that if I can just find the damn gadget, it will redeem all that has gone to wreckage in my life. In fact, I’m going to look for it again after I get this post up.

Kristen McHenry, Desperately Seeking Fitbit, Game Babies, Mean and Sexy

I haven’t really worked with clay since I was 13. I had an art teacher then who let me use the kick-wheel during lunch breaks. Mr. Shannon didn’t teach or instruct me that year. He was my mentor.

Once he gave me a set of watercolors and a salt shaker and said, Get at it.

Once he made a blind so I couldn’t see the paper while I drew my own hand, and I have been fascinated by the tactile quality of lines ever since.

Later I learned that Edouard Manet said there are no lines in nature. That is because line is a language. And, like my grasp of Norwegian, here my comprehension far exceeds my composition skills.

Another time, Mr. Shannon asked me to describe all the colors I could see in a white hat – worn by a cowboy in a Marlboro ad in a Smithsonian magazine –  if I remember correctly.

Not even black and white are black & white.

At the end of that year, my life was uprooted (again), and I lost whatever I was connecting to then. But the desire remains even now.

When I experience nostalgia, it is like this: small moments of half-discoveries. And nostalgia’s inherent fear of the unmet potentials.

Still, everytime I hold a rough piece of ceramic I am flooded with a calming and full ambivalence. There are days I wonder why I’ve not thrown out all of the dishes and settled with a few scratchy, glazed bowls and a few wooden spoons.

I suppose this really is the very definition of nostalgia? If I ever won the lottery, I would have a second, tiny home made of roughly-hewn cedar – and I would fill it with wool and beeswax.

Cinder block frightens me.

But so does snow.

Paper can make me weep with grief.

Handling old books is cathartic. And I cannot – and don’t want to – explain it.

I trace marginalia with my finger.

Ren Powell, The Emotion of Textures

[Writing about loss]

is letting the memories come

is sifting them out, writing down what was said, what you saw

is sitting with the sadness, reentering it

is knowing this is the only way to explain it all

is giving the context in each cover letter

is sending her picture in with the poem acceptance

is telling the editors her name

is daydreaming not of the book getting published, but of sending the book to her doctors

is daydreaming of the only poetry reading you’d want to do of it–at her graveside, for her.

Renee Emerson, Writing about loss

5:45 a.m. The storms that rumbled in the distance for hours finally arrive. The doors and windows rattle, and the street lights blink out, even though the electricity in my house stays on. I turn on some battery operated lights (fairy lights in mason jars) just to be sure.

I’ve been thinking about the lives lost this week. The COVID-19 deaths are hard to process: of the 14 million (14 million!!!) confirmed cases worldwide, there have been 603,059 deaths–139,266 deaths in the U.S. In an average flu year, we’d have 250,000-500,000 deaths, 36,000 of them in the U.S. Does anyone still think that this new corona virus will be no worse than the flu?

I was sad about particular deaths this week. Yesterday, I saw the news of the death of Christopher Dickey, son of James Dickey. When we moved here in 1998, Chris Dickey had published his memoir, and he was all over the NPR network–and then I kept hearing his reporting from various difficult areas across the globe. Plus, James Dickey was teaching at the University of South Carolina when I was there as a grad student, and while I never had him as a mentor, some of my friends did, and they spoke of him highly. Chris Dickey was much too young to die, just 68.

How strange to lose 2 Civil Rights era icons in the same week. Rev. C. T. Vivian died, as did the more famous John Lewis. In some ways, their deaths are good deaths–they come at the end of long, productive lives, and the world is a better place because of them. John Lewis was 80, which these days seems a bit young to die.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Morning Reports

Your scythe drags its shadow
over the threshold
like an unwanted child.

The slippery blade curves
under the burden. I recognize my fear

in the throaty croak of a rooster.

Romana Iorga, Sharp Dawn

“Tell us a story.” For my parents’ generation,
a siren was normal. Normal was hiding

beneath ones desk, dreaming a bomb.
On screen, the anchor quotes a dead poet

while our rockets launch. Syria. Beautiful
is a word we still use. Virtue is a word we use.

The interrogator’s textbook says not to look
for symmetry. Not to get attached to a source.

R.M. Haines, New Poem: “Death Prime”

I have been on a Dickens kick since March, reading his novels and travel writings that I had never gotten around to in the past. He was, in many ways, a journalist: a consummate observer of human behavior, appearance, society. It struck me, reading American Notes for General Circulation (1850), how prescient he was about the USA.

In 1841, Dickens was just 30 years old but well-regarded in England and in “America,” where he traveled with his wife for six months. His observations tend not to demonstrate the best about 1840s Americans, though he also reflects on the “good character and general friendliness” of the people here. He remarks at how free education means that almost everyone is literate–every non-enslaved person, that is.

What amazes me is his wrap up, where he concludes his book with a kind of warning to Americans, a warning about our inclination toward doubt in our fellows–our lack of trust, about hyper-partisan political ideology and its poor results, about the ruin slavery will visit on the nation, and about the sad tendency to reward/admire “smart men” over moral, kind, generous, or intelligent ones. He additionally blasts this infant nation for its insistence that trade (and capitalism) matters more than just about everything else except the vaunted concept of personal freedom, which of course is belied by the existence of slavery.

Ann E. Michael, Foretelling

Now, more than ever, America feels like the prom date that’s gotten totally wasted, and is spending the whole party sick in the john, leaving the rest of us by the bandstand, mirror balls spinning above our heads, scattering shards of shattered light across our face masks and crumpled quarantine attire, wondering when the band will, ironically or not, play “Freebird” and light up these purple mountains and amber waves of grain with enough electricity to shred the heaviness from our bones and make us feel light enough to walk on water.

Rich Ferguson, America, the Freebird

We talked before about our meeting in university, but I’m curious about your interest in poetry before that. With the name “Hafiz,” I suspect your parents played a role, but perhaps not? What role do you think poetry has played in getting you to the place in your life where you are now?

Shazia [Hafiz Ramji]: I don’t think my parents knew what they were getting into with me! A poet in a poor immigrant family is hellish for all involved.

Hafiz is a popular name in Persian and South Asian and Muslim cultures, as I know you know from the infamy of Hafiz/Hafez the big poet. I was named by my grandparents as “Shazia Hafiz,” which is my full first name actually (but I go by Shazia in conversation). The grampy and grammy must’ve known what was coming more than my parents did! Though, they were initially going to name me “Sasha.” I don’t know why… or I don’t think I’m ready to find out!

My dad used to sing ghazals when I was young – on tape, every day! At the time I really disliked them. To my little kid ears, they sounded so sad and slow. They stopped me from living in my fantasies of becoming an explorer when I grew up. My dad also used to tell me stories at bedtime. We all used to sleep in the same room, because our house was small and because the Gulf War situation scared the crap out of us. I would not be able to sleep if he didn’t tell me a story!

I also remember reading voraciously. My parents would take me to the bookshop and the owner would let me exchange the book for one on the shelf (without ringing it through), because he knew my parents were broke and that we’d be back in no time.

I don’t think I legitimately knew what a poet or a writer was until I was into my teens, but I remember writing constantly when I was young. I would sit in front of the TV and watch snakes and other creatures on National Geographic, and I remember feeling awed by so much beauty! And that’s when I would pick up a notebook and write “a poem,” which was just descriptions of deserts and oceans and cool stuff on National Geographic.

I still watch Blue Planet and Planet Earth to get into the writing zone. Wonder and awe return me to a good place.

Rob Taylor, To Reach Each Other With Love: An Interview with Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Here’s a dorky story that I’ve kept with me my whole life. I was in grade one, I know this because we moved house the following year. I knew that the woman down the street was older and alone and unwell. It snowed a lot one winter and I had a red plastic shovel and when it did snow I sneaked down and cleared her walk. Probably did a terrible job, but there it was. I remember doing this several times but once, she came out her front door and called me over and tried to give me a two dollar bill (which have long been discontinued and which is entirely beside the point — but I can vividly picture that two-spot waving in the wind and her in her floral house dress holding the screen door open and how cold it was). It was super nice of her, I’m sure. But all I can remember feeling was that it was all ruined, that I’d been caught, and it was ruined, the gift was. I wasn’t doing it for money, it was just this secret thing that had been making me feel good. I ran away without the cash and cried and I’m not sure anyone really understood why. Maybe they did.

So anyway, what that taught me was to just be more stealthy, and to do secret good things.

Also, an aside, I remember really loving that dumb little red shovel. The sound of it digging into the snow. You know? Remember when the things we now call work were just plain fun and delightful? I’m still that dorky weird little white haired ghost kid who never hardly spoke a word to anyone outside my family and because of that my mom would always get phone calls saying I should be “tested” since I must not be very smart.

Shawna Lemay, Do Secret Good Things

In February 1992, so long ago, I moved to Germany. I rented a little place temporarily in the old city area of Mainz. It had no heat, or rather, it did — an old coal oven that I was sure I would use improperly and end up suffocating myself. And funny enough I was reading Germinal at the time, about the French coal miners, the poor, who shall inherit the earth. I still remember the passage about the brioche.

After a few weeks I moved to a one-bedroom apartment near the train station where I could catch a bus to my office on the outskirts of the city. Mainz is not a big city. One night soon after I moved in I was asleep in the back bedroom, which looked out over a brothel, when I awoke to a shaking for which I had no explanation. The bed rattled and I looked around and wondered what on earth could this be and I thought it must be the devil come here. All my childhood fears have materialized and here I am engulfed in the devil’s blender!

This couldn’t have lasted long. I got up the next morning with the feeling of having had a bad dream that you’ve forgotten except for the fright of it. I didn’t recall the jolt or ever opening my eyes. But when I got to work one of my colleagues asked if I’d felt the earthquake. It was like someone brought the smelling salts. Immediately I remembered the rumbling and surprised as I was I was also relieved for an explanation. I was also shocked to find out there were earthquakes in Germany.

The trigger for this memory is the book I’m reading, “What Belongs to You” by Garth Greenwell, in which the narrator has a similar experience in Bulgaria, most likely in 2012.

“I was pinned to my bed by an animal fear as the world shifted with a sound I never heard before, a deep grinding thunder and the sound of alarms, all the cars of my neighborhood shrieking their warnings, a bewildering cacophony of patterns and tones.”

The book is beautiful and transcendent and I recommend it, earthquakes and all.

Sarah J Sloat, Tremulous Adventures

I am tired.

Though I write from a place of privilege and of safety, I am tired.

Tired of feeling mentally fried nearly all the time.

Tired of the government -who are not a government, but a campaign team that got out of hand and do not have our interests, least of all our human flourishing, at heart.

I am tired of lockdown-not-lockdown. I am tired of the masks-debate. I am tired of ‘But those statues are our history‘.

I am tired of Donald Trump.

And yet.

And Yet.

And yet….

I pause to be still, I remind myself that I am not alone, I breathe, I practice self-care and notice again that the tiredness I feel is what my South African activist friend Roger calls ‘part of the plan.’ ‘It’s what they want. The trick is to experience it but not give into it.’

So I remind myself that my favourite word in the Psalms is ‘But’. Especially the ones where it doesn’t appear and the reader inserts it for herself. ‘It has all gone to shit’ (which as Anne Lamott reminds us is a theological term): ‘but’. I still have a job. But my kettle still works. But the bakery remained open. And the Common Beaver has opened a courtyard (see above). But I got to see my mother yesterday. But I have a garden. Verily I walk through the shadow of death, but thank the Lord, Shawna Lemay is still blogging. And Karen Walrond. And Josephine Corcoran. And Simon Parke. They are my go-to resting places. My places of clear water (is that a Heaney line?).

There is still so much to be grateful for.

Anthony Wilson, Tired, but

There are so many things I want to write but this much exhausted me Portland is a fire bomb in my heart I have zero plans for July for the first time in maybe ever I have so many friends who are teachers who are deeply concerned about the school year when I taught orchestra in middle school I could not have imagined containing all. those. droplets. I built a plant stand today I have green tomatoes and sugar snap peas and roses and calla lilies in my garden I made cinnamon rolls last week and canned marionberry jam this week

I feel adrift lost at sea I wave from my boat Ahoy! Ahoy!

Rebecca Loudon, Three strange things

I have attempted schedules in which I go to bed with plenty of time for adequate sleep, but there is then little time for anything but work, necessary chores, and sleep. No time for reading, music, creative play, relationship nurturing–the things that make life most worth living. No time to just be. What if Kate is right, and these things are not wants, but needs?

Of course we can live like this. I have for decades. Many, many people in the world live with far less rest than I have. But can we be well?

These might seem like frivolous or tone deaf questions to be asking in the midst of a pandemic, when living is no longer a given for anyone, even the most privileged of us. Perhaps, though, this is the best time to be asking them.

As I contemplate a return to in-person school in the fall, and read articles in which transmission (which will mean death for some) is a given and something “schools will need to prepare for”–because in-person school is increasingly being framed as an intractable necessity rather than as a choice our society is making–I am seeing more clearly all the ways in which what I’m going to be required to do is just an extension of what’s been required for all of my life.

And I can’t tell you, today, what my response to that will be–because the bottom line is that I work to eat–but I can tell you this: I am fucking sick of it and from it, literally and metaphorically. I have zero interest in being a martyr or a hero, nor do I have plans to be either. If I get sick and die from it, it will be tragic, not heroic. And the tragedy will not be the loss of my life, but that the loss was preventable.

We all get what we pay for in a capitalistic society. Hope everyone will remember that as they send their kids back to school this fall.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What feeds us

Both of my grown-up children (aged 19 and 21, and sent home from university in March at the start of the UK C-19 lockdown) started temporary jobs in local factories this week, packing cosmetics and cheese respectively.  It’s been fascinating to hear their anecdotes of shop-floor life.  Basic hygiene is adhered to rigorously, but social distancing and mask-wearing isn’t, I’ve been told.  They are both on zero-hours contracts so it’s been eye-opening to learn more about current working conditions and about what is expected of temporary factory workers.

In the distant past, I’ve worked in low-paid temporary jobs – although never in a factory.  I did childcare, office work, shop work, door-to-door sales and telesales.  All this before I went to university as a mature student and became a published writer.  In recent years, I’ve become more out-of-touch and I tend now to mix with people who have well-paid, secure jobs, or retired and semi-retired people with a comfortable income.  There is little poetry – that I know of – written about ‘low-skilled’ work.  Can you think of any, other than in the poems of Philip Levine? Who now is writing about factory work, zero-hours contracts, working in a crowded production line in the middle of a pandemic?  Which poets live in this world?  Do you know any?  I don’t.

Josephine Corcoran, What the real world is

This nicely-produced little book arrived today from Bob Horne’s small press Calder Valley Poetry.

John Foggin’s invitation to submit poems based on the opening words of Eilean Ni Chuilleanain’s poem Swineherd (When all this is over …) brought nearly 100 responses from a multitude of poets speaking in the voices of a variety of occupations. Calder Valley Poetry asked the poet Kim Moore to choose one poem for each letter of the alphabet for an anthology.

Here you will find poems that are are witty, serious, surprising, imaginative, empathic, well researched and well polished.

My favourite is perhaps Wendy Klein’s Wonder Woman, who dreams of sensible clothes and a retirement in obscurity, when she will not have to try to bring /peace to bellicose men who say one thing/and mean another.

Or maybe it’s Julie Mellor’s Phrenologist, who longs for a simple self-sufficient life free from the troubling cartographies/of other people’s minds.

Or John Foggin’s Night Soil Man, who looks forward to smelling The essence of  a baby,/the blue pulse in her skull I’ll be allowed to kiss.

Or Sarah Miles’s Graphic Designer whose fate is to default to Comic Sans. It’s so hard to choose!

Ama Bolton, When All This Is Over

Long-awaited has become a tacky term, its soul ripped out by marketing bods who desperately hunt a unique selling point for a poet, only to find it’s ubiquitous and emptied of any meaning. However, there are still certain moments when it really is valid. One such is the publication of Alan Buckley’s first full collection, Touched (HappenStance Press, 2020).

Buckley’s work is riven from experience, both of poetry and life. As a consequence, his verse eschews facile certainties, setting out its stall early on in this book, in the poem Life Lessons, which assumes the format of a Q&A:

…How do I live without being touched?
Your skin will be become stainless steel.

How do I learn to survive in a vacuum?
Don’t move. Don’t breathe. Don’t feel.

Matthew Stewart, Might and maybe, Alan Buckley’s Touched

Why am I a poet? My father’s face was hard and angular, his thin lips seldom smiled, and when he spoke it was not of love. My mother spoke of love quite often, even when she slapped my face or took a belt to me. I noticed the power of the sunrise when I was still a small boy, how the streaks of color blessed the dark sky, and I loved the way the winter air tightened my cheeks. I always knew that birds had a language all their own. And the smiling eyes of girls, I caught that very early as well. Why am I a poet? Because it is the only thing I know how to be.

James Lee Jobe, Why am I a poet?

Wanderer
in the mountains,

monk
of simple joys,

sayer
of what cannot be said,

keeper
of the mysteries,

lighter
of the lamp,

old man
with his hair falling out

thinking
like a flower.

Tom Montag, Wanderer

The idea for my latest novel, The Beekeeper’s Daughter, came from my love of Plath. In many ways it’s The Hours with Sylvia Plath. It is the story of three women, one a modern day woman dealing with modern day, Plath-like problems (mental illness, a cheating husband), another is Sylvia Plath herself, during the time she moved back to London with her two young children just before her death. The third female storyline is that of Esther Greenwood. It’s a made-up story, but it does stick to the plot-line of the post The Bell Jar stories that Plath herself wrote (that survived) starring Esther. In The Beekeeper’s Daughter, Esther Greenwood is just out of college and living in London. She’s wondering about an old flame while becoming entangled with a guy whose voice is too loud, who drowns her out not only with his large physique but with his overpowering personality (a’la Ted). To research for this novel, I did more than read The Bell Jar many times. There were more than a few biographies and a trip to London to see the house where Sylvia Plath lived with her children just before her suicide. (It is coincidentally the home of the famed poet Willianm Butler Yeats.) But I found while I was writing, after a lot of research, that I really needed to go back to Plath’s poetry.

It seems like a “well duh” moment now but honestly, I hadn’t thought to focus on Plath as a poet when I started writing. I knew Plath was known for her poetry. I knew she thought of herself as a poet beyond any other medium. But I wasn’t a poet and so I didn’t even think to go there. And I will just admit that many novelists are terrified of poetry. Poetry scares us. An economy of language! That’s not for us. We prefer to drone on and on. But I digress. I realized as I was writing about Plath that I needed to study, to really dive into her poetry.

And so I began to read her work. I started with Colossus, since that had been her first collection. After reading Colossus I moved on to Ariel. I blew through both collections and then realized I had to stop, I had to slow down and really take them in. I realized that despite studying English literature and creative writing extensively in college and graduate school, I never really figured out how to read poetry. But as I kept reading Plath’s words, I found myself thinking more and more in poetry. I heard poetry in my head the way I used to get ideas for fiction. And as I kept reading poetry, I wanted to write it.

Balancing ‘The Bell Jar’: How Sylvia Plath Led to a New Appreciation for Poetry – guest blog post by Jessica Stilling [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]

To estrange; to take the once-
familiar and see how circumstance

bevels it, throws it in a different
light. At noon, the fountain pours

its brightness one shade cooler. All
the pigeons flock there, and in that

other time, children who heard it
calling their name. I lean my cheek

against the window glass— how thin
the broken distance between here, now,

and those years before everything
we touched left a smudge on the world.

Luisa A. Igloria, ILIW

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 28

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.

A bit of a quiet week, in which bloggers asked: Have you tried something new in lockdown? Should one be an ant now? And did you know there was a patron saint of pandemics, St. Corona? “I weave for myself / a hammock of my unanswered questions,” Ann E. Michael declared.

One thing that surprised and delighted me, as publisher of the Moving Poems website, was reading three different bloggers’ adventures with making poetry videos. Among other mysteriously shared wavelengths...


On horseback
     in the Green Mountains one minute,
waiting for COVID in nursing home
     the next. I have it already,
of course, from scraps;  months
     of panicked combat for air,
so I can’t see her. She’s—vanished.
     There are so many things
one should not have to fight for.
     Every organ system inflamed,
I become oatstraw. Vicodin. Ginger.
     A liquid diet. Somehow vertical,
somehow  48,when the pain
     is very bad I still want
to call my mother. We did try hard,
     and fixed that much:
I could call her, if I was scared.
     The vixen emerges from night grass
three feet away, fixes tapetum on mine.
     Pure sensual grace
and home, that wild. What is it, beauty,
     I say, meaning both
we must help each other
     and such compelling danger,
the illusion of safety.

     She never answers.
Grey foxes: feline software in canine hardware,
     someone says on Twitter.
They are the only canid with retractable claws,
     I have learned. When they need to
they can climb trees like cats.

JJS, Vulpine

I wonder if Ennio Morricone ever replaced a washer, or tightened the grub screw on a bath tap? I am thinking this as I listen to his composition, ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’. Morricone died this week, as one day I will, and I didn’t know till now that he was an avant-garde classical composer: that he regarded these seldom-heard works as his important ones.

This existential mood of mine is driven by sleep-deprivation and by the fact that my hot bath tap is broken. The mixer taps are new, so not strictly broken, but loose. But it might as well be broken as no water comes out. […]

Sitting there, on the roof, as dawn brought the day into focus, I thought about the avant-garde part of my life – not my main occupation, not the lecturing job for which I am infamous to several hundred social work students past and present, but the part of me that I want to fulfill as much as possible before I die: the poetry part. The words that swim through my head, that arrange themselves on the page. I thought about the way that the main stuff squeezes this less-known part until it squeaks, needs attention, needs to lie in the bath because there is no chance of swimming pools opening any time soon, and I need my body to be weightless from time to time.

Liz Lefroy, I Worry About Plumbing

Rob Taylor: “These are the days of not writing… Nothing’s missing. What’s not here?” feels like a good summary, for many, of our current COVID-19 moment. A major theme in Pineapple Express is isolation (in “Disturbances” you write “For months you haven’t seen your neighbours,” which also strikes home right now). A common joke these days is that self-isolation is something poets have been training for their whole lives. Could you talk a little about the knife-edge of isolation for writers — that need for solitude in order to be able to write, and the negative consequences that can come with it? Do you have any advice for people — writers or otherwise — in this time of externally-imposed isolation?

Evelyn Lau: Solitude is bliss for introverts, and most poets would agree that they crave time, space and isolation in order to write and think. I’ve lived alone since I was sixteen, and the challenges inherent in that have always been practical — i.e. financial — rather than emotional. My partner and I have been together for two decades, but we’ve never lived under the same roof. What some people would find painful — coming home to an empty apartment — is the greatest source of solace for me. Is that strange? It feels so essential that anything else is unimaginable. The easy explanation is to say that I need solitude to write, but really it’s just to stay sane.

The danger is that isolation leads to rumination, which can lead to depression. Those of us who need very little social interaction to feel fulfilled definitely have an advantage over the extroverts right now. My advice isn’t original: establish a structure to the day, get out of your head by getting into your body (exercise), find beauty and wonder in small things.

Rob: Yes, yes, excellent advice (the good advice doesn’t always have to be novel — it usually isn’t)!

Speaking of changes brought on by COVID-19, you’ve traditionally avoided work on computers (I seem to recall that you didn’t have an email address until you took on the role of Vancouver poet laureate in 2011, a position which required one). Could you talk about that choice to stay “offline” as much as possible? How are you finding life now that you’re forced to use the internet for work, etc? Is it affecting your capacity to write?

Evelyn: AARGGH! Right now I’m sprawled on the floor outside my building lounge, using my partner’s laptop to pick up on the WiFi signal. This pandemic has yanked me into the 21st century!

Normally I maintain a distraction-free zone by not having WiFi or a modern computer at home, and not having a cellphone. It might be odd to hear this from a writer, but writing doesn’t come “naturally” — it’s often very painstaking, and so much time and creative effort are wasted in email correspondence.

Rob Taylor, The Monastery of Poetry: An Interview with Evelyn Lau

He says the microwave is talking to him.
What’s she saying, Henry? She says,
“Noli me tangere. The last person
may have been exposed.” She says
it’s time to work from home.

Ellen Roberts Young, Another Minor Poem for this Time

So many invisible things that I rely on:
gravity, oxygen, radio waves, the workings
of my mind, of your mind, awareness.
Though sometimes one materialises
in front of me when I least expect it:
the woman who stepped onto the grass
so I could run past safely. Thank you.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Invisible

Maybe tomorrow, no oranges, no flour,
no disinfectant soap. We live without guarantees
despite the product labels’ promises.
This year the pear tree bears no fruit:
few bees? late frost? Does it want a reason?
Yet I quiver with my need to know.
Knowing, old as I am, uncertainty means change.
Comfort? That requires a trust not at odds
with what’s ambiguous. I weave for myself
a hammock of my unanswered questions,
settle into it, become seed pod, chrysalis, womb.
I place my trust in change.

Ann E. Michael, Uncertainties

When it comes to preparing for the future, I have always been more ant than grasshopper. That has, in many ways, served me well, but being the ant requires knowing your geography, your climate, and your resources. It means knowing what you’ll need to survive the winter and how to preserve and store what feeds you.

After becoming a teacher, I learned quickly how important it is to use the summer to prepare for the coming school year. I learned how to store up what I needed to be OK (or OK enough) to get myself to the following June. For the first time ever, I don’t.

How does one be an ant now? Should one be an ant now?

I have long wondered why I’ve so needed the summers to recover and prepare, why working in public education has been so taxing for me and many of my colleagues. Sure, the hours are long, but many people work long hours. We don’t have the resources we need, but many people struggle with resource scarcity in their work. Over the past month or so, the debates about policing and school re-opening have illuminated for me something I couldn’t see from within our system (as is so often the case when we are trying really hard to be OK in untenable situations): The struggle comes not so much from the hours or the lack of supplies and tools; it’s from the weight of all that schools have come to carry, which includes not just educating everyone (a heavy enough bundle in itself), but also providing healthcare, social services, meals, and child care. Now, some would have us believe that the very functioning of the entire economy rests upon us.

I see that, perhaps, part of the reason my summer preparations haven’t really been getting the job done in recent years is that I haven’t really understood the landscape in which I’ve been trying to live.

As I think about how to be an ant now, I understand it’s not so much that the geography around me has changed as it is that I’m seeing it from a different vantage point. It’s like I’m suddenly viewing it from miles above, perhaps looking down through the window of a plane. Of course I’ve been aware of shifting plates, erupting volcanoes, rivers that have changed course and jumped their previous banks. Now, however, I can see the totality of those singular impacts, and how those of us working in country have been so consumed with responding to the seemingly small (yet never-ending) immediate crises of opening cracks and raining ash and flash floods that many of us failed to comprehend the bigger emerging picture. Now that I can see the landscape whole, I find myself lost. The topography doesn’t match any of my maps.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of ants, grasshoppers, maps, and being lost

I feel particularly stuck right now because I don’t have the release of travel, of periodic escape to remind myself there’s a bigger world. I’m reading a lot but mostly books about small towns, too: Stephen King’s sin-haunted Maine villages (my stay in Salem’s Lot was unpleasant for a variety of reasons); plague-ridden Derbyshire mining country in Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders (I loved that one); a prissy Ohio suburb in Celeste Ng’s justly-celebrated Little Fires Everywhere; the island horrors of Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel and Lucy Foley’s The Guest List. Is that because I’ve been on a mystery-thriller kick, trying desperately to get out my own head? Do those plots work best in little bubbles? This spring, able to concentrate only in short spurts, my reading was mostly poetry that felt quite different, conjuring cosmopolitan places or a sense of global connectedness, as 21st-century poetry tends to.

The brand-new poetry collection I just finished, though, is local without ever being small–and illuminates Kiki Petrosino’s relation to a place she can neither love nor leave behind. In White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia, three long poems are based on the results of a DNA ancestry test; one section, titled “Albemarle,” eviscerates Jefferson’s celebrators in breathtaking ways; and another sequence locates itself in Louisa County, where some of Petrosino’s ancestors resided. Petrosino herself seems to have departed the region after earning a B.A. at the University of Virginia, and is now back as a professor there, drinking tiny glasses of bourbon at gastropubs while researching and receiving dream-messages from her dead kin. As Terrance Hayes writes, this book is “wonderfully irreducible” to tweets and slogans, plus so honed and gorgeous that it reminds me that poetry has special ways of helping people struggle with intractable problems; I think it will strike others that way, too, and be on short-lists for many prizes. I’m on sabbatical for a while but I’d love to teach it one day, in whatever still-messed-up America we land in a year from now.

Lesley Wheeler, “I live in language on land they left”

What’s in the poem: How my fascination with ghazals and my fascination with South Texas Spanglish work together. How my co-worker Ramon had a clouded eye.

What’s left out: How Ramon’s clouded eye wasn’t glass because taking it out would have caused more overall damage. How Ramon’s thumbs were permanently purple from hammering and missing and hitting his hand. How when we worked side by side at Billy Pugh co. making equipment for oil rigs I felt both honored and intimidated. How the more I wrote into this poem the more I left Ramon’s voice behind. How the biggest breakthrough in writing the poem was having this meta-Ramon ask the question “You have nothing else?” then declare flat out “You have nothing else.” How this meta-Ramon is really me still guilty years later worried I don’t do enough on the page or in my life to honor the people who have helped me survive. How this species of interrogation is never done with, because it is how I honor those who have helped me survive.

José Angel Araguz, new essay published: excerpt

Loosely, I think that I will be done writing this kind of grief poem in November, to mark the year of having lost her, though of course I’d never hold myself to a deadline like that. I think that is naturally where it will fall, and then poems about other things will begin to surface more often.

Like I said previously, this book is a lament. It is wailing on the front yard with my head shaved and ashes smeared on my face. You can’t rush that sort of thing.

Renee Emerson, The BabyWritingMoon Retreat

Let us name them
and if not, then

their play places:
Atlanta; Avon, Indiana;
Chicago; Columbia,
Missouri; Galivants
Ferry, South Carolina;

Hoover, Alabama;
Philadelphia;
San Francisco
Washington, D.C.

Lives taken now
noted, new numbers
added to archives
to help us remember

they died by gun
on our July 4 weekend

their fatal celebration
lost among the sounds
of bursting rockets

the sparklers held
in their tight little fists
raised against the red glare

Maureen Doallas, Fatal Celebration (July 3-5)

liars are in charge of the truth
lurking in the garden at night
an elephant hawk-moth

Ama Bolton, ABCD July 2020

This book is fierce! It’s a reading that dwells on the living through endings and upon closer examination, some beginnings, as well. Skaja’s word choice is superb, fresh, wild. From “How to Mend a Faucet Dripping Thread”

Every morning, a spider webs over my door, but I don’t do omens.

I will not hang all the maids, for example; it’s antifeminist.

But I will lie here with my face annexing the floor. Penelope, neat.

Pouring out a little whiskey for the sirens & swine.

Did I mention my love for the hat tip to older, timeless stories?

Kersten Christianson, Brute, Emily Skaja

on to the coarse fish perch and pike
on the tennant canal in the giant reeds
near the dock piers where the sea fish flow
pouting blin and whiting and flatties
from the west pier where the night rats run
under the moon stones at full tide
down along the dock lights shivering
with a fist of rag worm
well wrapped in sand and cloth
i’ve caught them all in my time

Jim Young, and ran – i did

I had a run of luck with poetry competitions a few years back. I thought, for a while, it might be possible to give up the day job and make a living out of writing. However, I started to notice that the quality of my work was suffering. Subliminally, I think I was trying to write the ‘prizewinning poem’ (whatever that is), rather than being true to myself and my work. After that, I spent a lot of time experimenting, producing work that only appealed to the very fringes of the poetry scene, the avant-garde if you like. I had work taken by the likes of Streetcake and 3 am magazine, online journals that take risks, that are constantly seeking to challenge our notions of what poetry is and what it can do or be.  Since then, I’ve never thought about payment. I write to satisfy my creative impulse, and to somehow translate my experience of the world into art. Payment is wonderful when it happens, but I never expect it. Writing for money doesn’t motivate me, because writing gives a sort of value to my time that can’t be quantified in monetary terms. I gain a great deal of satisfaction from that – in the areas I’m working in, writing can’t be ‘bought’.

I am influenced. I create. I edit. I send work out (in every sense I submit). For me, the process has its own rewards. I hope at least some of you feel the same.

Julie Mellor, Mr Sheen

I’m working on one of my poems-that-start-as-long-blathers. I started it some weeks ago, let it sit, worked on it, let it sit. Now when I go back I am confused about what I thought I was up to.

Some of that confusion is the lack of logic in the poem’s thinking. But I’m finding as I’m clarifying that, I’m losing something. I’m making changes based on logic, but I’m losing something that was special and beyond logic. I’m finding I need to go back to the self who first blathered and ask what? what?

Unfortunately, that self is gone with the passage of time, and this other, confused self must sit with it all.

It’s interesting, as a process. A tad annoying as well. I was sure I was onto something back then. Now I can’t remember what.

I have found in my work as a copyeditor and my brief stint teaching a course that not-great writing comes out of not-great thinking. The authors and students who couldn’t quite think through something couldn’t write through it either. That being said, overthinking can kill a piece of writing as surely as underthinking.

Marilyn McCabe, Like breathing in and breathing out; or, On Poetic Clarity

Lately, I confess, my crankiness has diminished my capacity for giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.

Let me be gracious to myself. Let me remember all that I am getting done, in this time that no one prepared me for in terms of schooling and training. I need to repeat this mantra at work especially.

In terms of my creative life, let me also be gentle with myself. While I’m not writing traditional poems, the way I once did, I am doing interesting work, especially with the intersection of poetry, parable, and theology–in a video format, which is new for me and exciting. While my novel languishes, I do think about it here and there.

I know that in the past I’ve had times when I’m not putting words on paper, a creative burst is just up ahead, if I don’t give up, if I’m patient with myself.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Making Good Progress–a Brief Progress Report

In between the other stuff, I’m taking a free online course at FutureLearn called Explore Animation.  During the lockdown, I started experimenting with my phone, making collages and a poetry film and I’m curious to learn basic animation to see if I can extend my skills and perhaps combine poetry and storytelling with animation.  I am completely out of my comfort zone with both my drawing skills and my tech skills but it’s kind of interesting and fun.

I’m not the only person who’s been looking into new ways of working recently. In the lockdown, poet Hilaire worked in collaboration with artist Stephen J Graham observing what she saw from her second-floor window in Battersea, London.  They live only a  few streets from each other but a world apart during lockdown when they communicated via text in order to compile a series of poems and illustrations which they’ve made into an A5 book called Indoors Looking Out: A Creative Exchange in Constrained Circumstances which I absolutely love. Hilaire has written about their collaboration in this blog post.

Have you tried something new recently or during lockdown?

Josephine Corcoran, Not just poems

Yesterday, as I played with the film editing software and finished the book trailer for the new book, I realized how much I enjoyed it–almost a more motion-oriented collage, so I will definitely be creating more–if not trailers, then little poem videos involving public domain films, that are really fun to cut up and splice. I even made a sort of preliminary home for them on Youtube, so watch for those. I also plan on making some exclusive content for Paper Boat subscribers over the next few months. (so join in on the fun here…it’s free and I promise to only bother your inbox once a month)  With a little video experience I am a little closer to my dream of one day animating paper collages, so here’s hoping. 

During quarantine and its aftermath (however temporary or permanent that may be), visual work has been what has suffered most. Perhaps because, maybe even more than writing, creating it seems comparatively frivolous in the world.  Or maybe just that what I seem to create is frivolous in the world.  While writing was spurred on by the capitalist concerns of The Shining project and now the timely concerns of bloom, less so the collages and landscape/botanical paintings that usually fill my arsenal. While I did manage that batch of watercolor landscapes, as well some acrylics for my kitchen, the only thing that seemed at all related to the world outside was my silly crypto posters.

Kristy Bowen, poetry films, art, & artivism

I haven’t exactly gone dry when it comes to poetry, but I did stop posting a poem a day on a little chalkboard in June. As the poem states, I was “out of chalk” from the start, writing with little stubs I found in the kids’ art supply boxes and kept in the lid of a jar.

Just the other day, my husband found in the garage a bucket full of colored sidewalk chalk that I’d been looking for in the basement. So there’s that for the next public art project that might arise from the ongoing circumstances. And I ordered and received a little box of slim white chalkboard chalk for the next round of daily poems, possibly in September. For now, I’m writing in my various journals, intermittently.

As I’ve been writing here, I’ve been hearing thunder! And, look, it’s raining out my window! …And now I’ve come back from stepping outside to smell the rain, the needed rain, the gentle rain. It’s falling on my prairie flowers, my single tomato plant, my little pots of hibiscus tea, my gradual attempts at a very local permaculture. I forgot to plant a little packet of California poppy seeds, but I have plans for it. I have more to tell you, but not right now.

Kathleen Kirk, My Dry July

While under the weather for a day or two this week with a stomach bug, I finally sat down and read the whole novel from Lesley Wheeler, Unbecoming, about an out-of-sorts academic woman who loses a best friend, suspects her replacement of being a malevolent faerie, and suspects herself of starting to wield strange powers,while dealing with a fractious dean and truculent teens. It had hints of faerie and kitsune mythology, and also talked about how women gain magic powers with age. It really was a page-turner! I recommend it. It was also a good read while I weathered – besides the stomach bug – a couple of regular rejections, a couple of finalist notices for my book manuscript (and one “close but no”), well, what still felt like a lot of no from the universe. I also think about using magic to protect us from coronavirus. Protection spells often involve the moon. Did you know there was a patron saint of pandemics, St. Corona? Look it up!

At 47, I’m only a few years away from fifty now, the magical age of menopause or invisibility, when we move from lost girl in the forest to wicked witch. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could acquire magic powers though? Anyone want to grant me three wishes? I would even take one!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Anniversaries, Rose Moon Eclipses, New Moons and New Life, and Reading Report on Women, Magic, and Menopause

It takes some time to learn to live with death. It doesn’t happen overnight. Death can be a horrible neighbor, a demanding housemate. Death moves into your house and never leaves again. Three years have passed since my son left this life and death moved in with us. To stay. This house is still a home, true, but it seems a little darker now, even though I can still hear the echo of my son’s huge laugh. 

James Lee Jobe, It takes some time to learn to live with death.

One finally
comes to

accept
the silence

before, after,
between

the words, the
stanzas,

the poems.
This is when

you begin
to understand.

Tom Montag, ONE FINALLY

A saucerful of warmed coconut oil, green
eucalyptus leaves steeped in bath water:

threshold you have to pass, stepping out
of the country of illness and back into

the ordinary world. Before that, the looped,
confusing paths of fever delirium. Hours

during which the parched throat can only
utter the sounds of one terrible syllable.

Luisa A. Igloria, Resurgence

Society’s unseen still make a sound—

at times, it’s a finespun hum, soft as a child’s made-up song about flower buds and pebbles resembling insect pillows.

Other times, the sound of the unseen is more like silence with its sobriety chip of sunlight, sweating out the hours until it falls off the wagon into another evening of sirens and explosions.

Rich Ferguson, Sounds of the Unseen

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 27

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, poets had trouble sleeping and trouble waking up, trouble celebrating and trouble mourning, trouble writing and trouble not writing, while all around us flowers unfurled and swelled into fruit.


I’m writing this post while sitting on a bench by the side of the canal in Bradford-on-Avon.  I’m writing in a small sparkly notebook and I’ll type up these notes later when I return home.  It’s nearly 3pm on Friday, 3rd July, 2020.  I left home just after 2pm to catch the train here, just one stop from where I live.  The journey took six minutes.  It was the first time I’ve used public transport since the lockdown started in March.  I wore a face mask and I sanitised my hands with gel once I’d got off at my stop.  These are items that I always carry now, in the small rucksack bag I wear on my back.  Most other passengers were also wearing masks, but not everyone.  My carriage was about one third full.  I bought my ticket from the machine at the start of my journey using contactless payment – I tried to book online using my phone but those tickets were unavailable on my app.  There were no staff on board the train checking tickets or face mask-wearing.

Today I feel I’m rejoining the world again, in my own way.  Using public transport is important to me although I realise it’s riskier than driving a car, in terms of being exposed to Covid-19 and other germs.  But I’d started to make a concerted effort to reduce my carbon footprint before lockdown, and I want to return to that lifestyle.  I also felt an urge to get out of the house and to be alone.

My household’s lockdown began with all four of us watching The Tiger King on Netflix.  It’s coming to an end with each of us involved with a BBC iPlayer series I May Destroy You: Andrew and I watching together on the telly in the front room; our daughter watching in her own time somewhere in the house on her laptop; our son not yet watching but listening in to conversations about the series when we meet in our kitchen.  Perhaps we survived this enforced time together without major arguments because we’ve circulated around each other in our lives, giving each other space.  Some of us would probably appreciate more space than others.

Josephine Corcoran, With lockdown hair and a face mask, I rejoin the world

A hot night, no sleep
to cool down thoughts and doubts.
Then the light, the birds,

a cup of coffee,
as one must declare defeat.
A win is this dawn,

yellow and rosy,
the earth, a sweet funfair candy.
Fine, I’ll stay awake,

dream of lilac dawns*.

*dusks

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time – Throwback June

ruby is my birthstone the gem of July Ruby was my grandmother’s name this moon is a jack moon a jack knife moon a Jack and the Beanstalk moon a jackoff moon a high noon moon a Jack Torrance moon a screw you moon a moaning moon a moon of betrayal and butter knives this moon leaves suicide notes in cookbooks then makes dinner this moon shoots a gun on black and white television this moon dangles over the Aurora Bridge in the middle of the day but it’s a strong swimmer this moon shakes up history this moon is a tourist a sham a mark a shill a Shaklee salesman needing a drink of water a used car salesman with a cigar

Rebecca Loudon, 100% full

In the wee, small hours of the morning, once again, I couldn’t sleep. I was having one of those dark night of the soul kinds of night, where I couldn’t quiet my brain and go back to sleep. I decided to get up and do some offline journaling.

I ended this way, “So many roads circling back to a question: what am I going to do with the rest of my life? How can I plan now that this pandemic has changed everything? Or has it changed everything?”

I did some sorting. My spouse has an idea for a shelving project; I am fighting despair as the plan has gotten ever more complicated. All I wanted was a place to put my books! Books that have been packed away for 2 years now. Insert a heavy sigh here.

I came across some map fragments.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Fragments of a Map to an Unknown Future

I made this box for you

I filled it with fragments, beachcombed
sea glass, wisps of snagged wool.
I wanted you to know
the random loveliness of being alive,
to know it in your bones and blood.

I put in :

snow, to remember draughts
and rooms with cold corners;

a black handled knife, sharp as silk,
in a grey-vaulted market, the scent
of cut flowers to show that fathers
give like the gods; a bicycle stammering
through stems of barley, willowherb,
to understand that gravity may be defied;

the humped glass of a brown river,
black branches snagged on the weir’s rim;

these bundled letters in different hands
and inks to show how words fall short of love.

John Foggin, Our David’s Birthday

The language of illness is, as Woolf puts it, “primitive, subtle, sensual, obscene.” It is urgent, terrifying, and sacred. These are qualities found in poetry.

Later in the same essay, Woolf writes, “There is, let us confess it (and illness is the great confessional) a childish outspokenness in illness; things are said, truths blurted out, which the cautious respectability of health conceals.” 

The part about “the cautious respectability of health” implies that when we are ill, we can blurt out truths we wouldn’t dream of when well.

This is the time for honesty and fresh, raw language. This is the time for poetry.

Erica Goss, Plague Poetry

In the Google search bar, I type “how do you know when it’s time” and the first autofill response that comes up is “to put your dog down.”

Followed by: to break up, to leave your church, to dig up potatoes, to move on, to retire.

I don’t go to church and I haven’t planted any potatoes, so Google’s powers of divination are limited. But I was seeking information about how to know when it’s time to let go of my dog, and I hate that Google’s algorithms correctly anticipated that.

I wish I were searching for some of the other “how do you know when” topics; many are about food and their harvesting or cooking: salmon, mangoes, pineapple, garlic. I wish I cared about food more, the way I used to.

I try “how do you know when it’s too late” and I get both “to get your ex back” and “to have a root canal.” I’ve never had a root canal, but from everything I’ve heard about them, those two things might have more in common than one would think.

I trim the inquiry back to “how do you know” and the stakes are suddenly much higher: if you’re pregnant, if you love someone, if you have anxiety, if you have depression, if you have coronavirus.

“should I” yields a mix of results that speak to the absurdity of these times, of our lives: refinance my mortgage, get a covid test, get bangs, stay or should I go. Or, maybe just of my life. I suppose Google knows that I’m of an age where lyrics by The Clash might be what I’m searching for.

It’s only when I click on the lyrics to that song and read them–rather than listen to them through a haze of alcohol and hormones and unresolved childhood trauma (hell, completely unrecognized childhood trauma)–that I understand I’ve misunderstood them for my whole life.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A day in the life

The weight of other people’s suffering can be palpable, whether someone weeping in the next room or someone in agony across the globe. How do we go about our own lives knowing others are in anguish at the same moment? This question has haunted me, especially in my growing up years. I suspect such questions weigh more on children than we imagine.

By the time I was eight or nine years old, my parents had cancelled their subscriptions to news magazines because they couldn’t deal with repeated questions like, “Why is that village burning? Who hurt that man? Why isn’t someone helping that baby?” Even the most well-intentioned adult would rather not think about such questions, let alone answer them. Try to explain war to a child. No matter how you skew it, the answer comes down to whoever destroys more property and kills more people, wins. Try explaining poverty or prejudice to a child. It’s impossible to morally justify the indifference and greed that helps to prop up “normal” life in the face of truly open, honest questions.

Laura Grace Weldon, Compassion By Design

America,
we can shine and scrub your floors
without a Hoover or a Roomba, then punch
holes in the bottoms of fruit
cocktail cans so we can grow bird
chillies and tomatoes on the veranda.
We let a dentist in our old hometown pull
out all our teeth so you wouldn’t get
the chance to do it and charge us
triple. There is a fish we like to eat
whose belly is soft and sweet and full
of fat; but every bone in its body
is a tree that bristles with more than
a dozen spears. Like you, America—
if we’re not careful, we could choke
on even the smallest mouthful.

Luisa A. Igloria, America

The Unafraid is deeply moving in parts, as it portrays quite well not just the multi-generational struggle to create a better future in America, especially but not only in the Deep South, but also what forces those with no money, no education, and no papers to leave their countries for the United States. The sacrifices made are tremendous, and what it means for families to risk everything to come here is wholly unappreciated by policymakers who would rather erect walls than uphold the values this country is supposed to represent. Our cluelessness robs human beings no different from ourselves of so much, from the most basic rights and services we born here take for granted, to the opportunities to realize better lives for our children, opportunities slow in coming, if at all, to the undocumented.In addition to showing us the truths about forced migration and its life-changing consequences, the documentary also sharply reveals the racism endemic throughout this country. To be brown means having a life that doesn’t matter, if you want to go to college, if you want to make a living that lifts you out of poverty. To be brown means not having the right to believe in the “American dream”. To be brown means, in the argot of the film, to be “very afraid” until you become one of “the unafraid” who finds the strength to risk opening a closed door. That any one of us might watch this film and not see the wrongs we perpetuate in our government and socioeconomic and cultural policies, as well as through our myth-making, is to be deliberately obtuse and tragically indifferent to the riches that immigrants, undocumented people, asylees, refugees, and DACA recipients offer us.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXXI

Independence Day (or Interdependence Day, as I’ve heard it called): The country has been thrust back on me.   I’d left it countless times, then straddled between two countries, then made a life of motion.  But circumstances being what they are, I am simply facing it, America…  

posthumous, finished, junked, done — or part of the process of rising and passing that covid-19 has made us so aware of?   A “Finale for America” as clever wits have referred to rogue fireworks that have been exploding nightly?  In recent weeks and months I have agreed.  But the 4th gave me — what — freedom of stuckness.  I looked kindly on things; it wasn’t forced, it just happened.  

I thought about the Declaration of Independence and read, along with many, Frederick Douglass’ bracing famous 4th of July address: “You may rejoice.  I must mourn.”  The polyvocalism of these declarations of values – that we are living in the polyvocalism – unstuck me from singularity.  The truth and reconciliation process we’ve so long needed might be here.  I listened to the very best of American song — the sinuous pairing of elegant contrast, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald duets.  In a flight from nihilism, there are ways to combine the large and small. 

Look how beautiful the day after – peony petals against a pile of oyster shells. They are dissociated from their meaning — yet in this time of appreciating passage, the wisdom songs of covid as well as garbage day, here they are.  The flowers had been flush and full, the oysters a marvel. The energy of passage keeps us from getting stuck.  The poet Alice Oswald talks about this in her new Oxford lecture, “An Interview with Water.” Poetry, dance, rhythm and water all keep us moving. Then there’s the leaping between odd things – country, trash and renewal – that keeps the mind buzzing.

Jill Pearlman, Of Oysters, the 4th and the Surreality of it all

& awaken cranium of geraniums, awakeness will make your thought gardens grow brighter.

& awaken all relatives of relativity, awakeness will travel you at the speed of light.

& awaken evil-faced clocks snuffing out lives with every tick, awakeness will allow you to more carefully consider each moment of every day.

& awaken those whose blues are blacker and bluer than the blues, awakeness can allow you to sing above the pain.

Rich Ferguson, & awaken

Despite saying I probably needed a certain amount of distance to write about the current state of events, and in fact a 2-3 month span of being unable to write at ALL really, I find myself mid-project on a series called BLOOM–named so because of the ways illness (actual, metaphorical) blooms in the body, in society, in the world. Also the way nature this spring, despite humans and their stupid diseases, continued to bloom while we were still dying. While people were being killed by the virus, by the government, by the police. But even still, I usually need more distance, and who knows how much time there is for any of us.

Kristy Bowen, bloom

On my walk home from Launcherley yesterday I made a note of the wildflowers I saw: Sweet Woodruff, Meadowsweet, Agrimony, Camomile, Pineapple weed, Yarrow (both white and pink varieties), Creeping Cinquefoil, Yellow Trefoil, Spear Thistle, Hawkweed, Common Mallow, Field Convolvulus (both the white and the pink-and-white varieties), White Deadnettle, Sowthistle, Herb Bennet, Herb Robert, Willowherb, Ragwort, various docks and sorrels, Water Hemlock, Spurge, Redleg, Fat Hen, Wild White Clover, Field Scabious, Burdock, Teasel, Marjoram, Hedge-mustard, and a Mullein when I was almost home. […]

My family moved from London to an isolated cottage in a rural part of Surrey when I was ten. It was the beginning of the summer holidays and, not knowing anyone locally, I spent my days happily wandering alone looking for wild flowers. My aunt in the Isle of Skye, a keen amateur botanist, sent me Collins Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers, newly-published, far too big and heavy for any normal pocket, but just what I needed. I learnt a lot of names that summer.

Ama Bolton, As I was out walking, part 2

Standing in my yard just after sunrise I picked a ripe peach from my tree and ate it right there. The fine and soft part of a morning in summer. Not far off, the sounds of birds.

James Lee Jobe, Standing in my yard just after sunrise I picked a ripe peach

So I’m contemplating memento mori with all my soul of late. Maybe if we all contemplated the theme memento mori we’d be a little kinder, a little more mindful. We’re here so briefly, so beautifully. And self-portraiture, I know it might get confused with the influencer culture when posted on Instagram, but they are two different things. Though interestingly, and I adore this, when I posted a picture there, I had a lot of comments on my sunglasses. (Which are from Simon’s btw — not a paid product placement, but interesting that that’s where we go in our minds, and I’m no different).

The thing about posting photos of yourself through time, is that you really begin seeing yourself, and seeing yourself differently. You see angles, you get to know your best side, your wrinkly neck, your flaws and your beauty, and your ridiculousness. One does begin to accept certain aspects of oneself. And also, because it’s not just one session per year or every second year for an author photo or work photo, it’s less important. There will be another moment.

The best thing though, is that you don’t seem to change as much, it’s much more about the slow process of living, aging, being. It’s all okay. Yes, I’m still picky and I’m choosing how I’m presented, portrayed, touched up in Lightroom, but that’s part of the art of it. I’m sure these photos say things about me that I’m completely unaware of.

Shawna Lemay, Contemplating My Themes

I have never considered myself a person who had any power; and yet I now recognize that just as I have privilege I never earned, I have power I never earned–and that I have indeed been using that power (as I have unwittingly benefited from privilege) and can do more with it. For educators possess power.

So do poets.

The past three months, as spring has bloomed into summer, poems of protest and poems that inform society have likewise bloomed. Poets of color, marginalized poets, poets who are disabled or queer or immigrant or for other reasons yearning to be heard are all over social media–which is not unusual in itself (the voices, the poems, have been online for decades)–but the difference lately comes through retweets and viral videos and shared posts at a higher rate than previously. These poems, and the prose and interviews that often accompany them, create discourse. Badly needed discussions. Confrontations that cannot be shoved away as easily as they were. I’ve been reading and observing, hoping a change is gonna come.

Ann E. Michael, Top ten, discourse, power

I’ve been advised enough times not to do it, you’d think I’d stop trying. But here we are again. The royal “we,” I mean, possibly, or the group of us who do such a thing, as opposed, I guess to the “they” who do not; that is: use the first person plural pronoun (we) in poems. Why do I keep trying to make it work?

It interests me to write poems from the perspective of this identity: a member of the human species. From this perspective I can think about the so-called “human experience,” not as “in opposition to the nonhuman,” but as a part of a, let’s face it, pretty significant force on the planet, and as a representative of a species that is able to think about itself and go “Hmm…really?” A member of a species that is aware of, possibly obsessed with, death, and, therefore?, a bit obsessed with life and its meaning.

But the use of “we,” or MY use of “we,” shall I say, has caused people to become argumentative (“you do not speak for me,” they say, or sometimes just “oh yeah?”) or to be otherwise put off by the lack of immediacy and intimacy (“hm, what are you distancing yourself from,” they ask). I don’t know, though. Do I not have the — what: right? capacity of imagination? proper hubris? — to speak out of that human stance?

Marilyn McCabe, We shall be released; or, On the First Person Plural in Poems

have you ever wanted to be that man
the one with the stick
you know – the one with the metal pole
who listens to your stopcock
out in the road
with his ear to the shiny wooden cup
at the end of his decision

or the man with his hands on the handles
of the surging tube that goes up and down
up and splurging down in the storm drain
that keeps the kids enthralled

or the man with the shiny wooden pole
with the pig’s tail hook that darns
the coupling links between the trucks
with such deft luck that barely at moment
between the buffers shine bouncing the
chains tight in a juddering offwego

Jim Young, have you ever wanted to be

Here’s a few of the poetry books I read during lockdown. Some took longer to arrive than others, but I liked the wait, the feeling of anticipation when something new is on its way. The Penguin Book of Haiku was one I felt I should have read a while ago. Here’s a lovely haiku from it, by Socho:

in the riverbreeze
a cluster of willowtrees
spring revealed

And then there’s the wild imperfection of Kerouac, and a haiku that sums up those days during lockdown where I waited for the books to arrive, and felt fully imersed in both my reading and my writing:

Big books packaged
from Japan –
Ritz crackers

I tend to nibble on oat cakes, not Ritz crackers, but I identified with the sense that really all you need are some good poems and a few snacks to keep you going.

It’s hard to pick a single poem from any of the collections I read, especially from Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, which is a gem. I’ll quote this one by Max Verhart for now:

out of the haze
the dog brings back
the wrong stick

Isn’t it wonderful? Precise, evocative, profound.

Julie Mellor, Lockdown reading

Rob Taylor: In “Talking with Ancestors After the Show” you write “if there is a moment this is it / know better than to beg a minute’s sojourn // reminder to the artist: this is it.” I can imagine so vividly that line being delivered in a spoken word performance, and how it might resonate differently (and, in some ways, similarly) in that context. That Venn diagram between the “stage” moment and the “page” moment — their audiences, their performative spaces, their “voices,” their ephemerality.

As a writer whose background is in spoken word, how have you found the experience of putting your words, often first meant for public performance, onto the page? What have you been able to bring over with you, and what have you had to leave behind? What new opportunities has writing for the page granted you?

Jillian Christmas: I love that you frame them as opportunities. When I first approached the challenge it seemed to present itself as a fear of what would be lost, what eye contact or small facial expression would be missed and what emotional information would go with it. But your framing is absolutely correct, somewhere along the process, I discovered that it was in fact a great joy, almost a game, to figure out what choices I could make on the page that uplift the poem to a similar effect as I would have on the stage. In some places I learned that the voice of the page poem would be different, more concerned with shape, spacing, or a leaning, possibly tumbling word. In some places a more direct translation would occur, a long slender diving presentation, where my voice might have dipped or swayed (as in “But Have You Tried”). In the end I decided that there were no limits to my choices, allowing each poem to have as many lives as it needs, perhaps one for the page, a longer more lyrical or repetitive version for the stage reading, perhaps a third snappy edit for tucking inside the nest of the perfect song. A multitude of mechanisms to coax every bit of connective tissue from any given piece.

Rob Taylor, Playfulness and Gravitas: An Interview with Jillian Christmas

Mr Hoyes was no ordinary English teacher. He’d already had an extremely youthful Matthew Sweeney as his Poet in Residence at the College for a year, while numerous workshops with Ian McMillan were still in the future. I suppose I fell between those two stools, but I didn’t have an inkling of that at the time. Instead, all I knew was homework turned into writing stuff of my own accord, turned into staying behind after class to show it to him, turned into him gifting me copies of literary magazines such as Iron, where Peter Mortimer had published his short stories.

This sharing of his own work, treating me as an equal, was just one example of Mr Hoyes’ generosity, as was his gentle prodding of me in new creative directions. His support meant that I suddenly stopped feeling alone and different from everyone else. As such, he was crucial in my becoming the poet I am today.

However, things developed even further once I left for university. On my first trip back, I visited all my old teachers at the college and showed him some of my more recent poetry. He suggested looking at it together over a pint at the Hop Blossom the following Friday. Thus, Mr Hoyes became Richard, and our friendship began, involving London Prides over more than two decades, all combined with swapping our latest work. He’d bring short stories, articles he’d written for the TES and extracts from his regular column in the local paper, and I’d contribute my drafts of poems.

Matthew Stewart, A tribute to Richard Hoyes

I suppose I want to believe there is always
a way out and a way through. Because

what else can I do? Collapse into whatever
strangeness and fear I encounter and weep?

How quickly the cat shifts from panic
to acceptance. Look at her rolling

in the dusty earth, as if this place
is what she has always known it to be.

Lynne Rees, Poem: No Through Road

Death is an
unbroken horse.
All the wind

is wild. The
sun is risen
and we move

on, chasing.
Some day we
will catch it.

Tom Montag, DEATH IS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 25

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 saw poetry bloggers mourning, celebrating, pondering, and agitating — sometimes all in the same post. There’s no sign of a summer slump in blogging, and not too many people seem to be reaching for light summer reads, either. Perhaps that would change if we allowed ourselves to go lie on the beach. But alas (or not), most members of this community are too conscientious for that. And besides, there are monuments to be toppled…


In a revolutionary time, the role of the poet can be exposed in difficult ways. When direct action is in full swing, the indirect, mediated work of language on a page feels almost irrelevant. And commentary on the institutions that surround this work seems even more so. And so I begin here by acknowledging that all I have to say below is rightly eclipsed by the vastly more important fight for Black lives and for the abolition of police and prison; and by the continued calls for justice for Breonna Taylor, James Scurlock, Robert Fuller, Malcolm Harsch, Rayshard Brooks, Tony McDade, Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, and so many others. I have been in awe of the protests leading to the dismantling of the Minneapolis Police Department; to the emergence of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone; and to continued calls for justice and revolution across the world.

If anything, in what follows, I hope to carry some of this revolutionary momentum into the insular world of poetry and its institutions. And I have been encouraged to see that, in recent days, others have already begun this process. For poets, the most significant upheaval has occurred within the Poetry Foundation. In the wake of what was effectively a “poet’s strike” led by the Ruth Lilly Fellows, president Henry Bienen has been pushed out, the board is promising to audit their financial structure, and they have pledged more funds toward supporting Black poets, artists in need, and social justice. Further, in the publishing world more broadly, change is signaled by open discussions online revealing enormous disparities in pay, leading to questions and demands that may acquire greater momentum. The National Books Critics Circle has nearly collapsed. And on a near-daily basis, it seems that new abuses and inequalities are brought to light in writing communities. So I think it is absolutely time for poets and writers to drastically rethink our institutions and practices, and to refocus our energies in light of this historical moment, applying pressure and realizing that—although many of us are barely scraping by—our work does have an economic function that can be leveraged for change.

However, many poets may first need to reconceive how they relate to these institutions and the prestige they confer. Also, it will require some to break free of the consoling illusions of liberal politics. For it is all too common for poets, both inside and outside the literary-academic system, to have a blind-spot about their own virtue and autonomy—one which is reinforced by the liberal humanism that is more or less the norm in creative writing programs. In fact, it was even stated quite recently that poets are not often on the side of power. And I suppose to some this may seem sensible enough. After all, poets are generally sensitive people who simply love language, and they often come across as underdogs in a world that doesn’t much want to connect with their work. However, under such illusions, and especially when aligned with institutions, poets develop serious blind-spots that can help perpetuate real harm. So we badly need to reconceive of how poets relate to power, and we need to be rigorous in critiquing and working to transform or even abolish the institutions that we so often turn to for support. And while anti-racism and anti-sexism are absolutely at the heart of all this, so too is anti-capitalism. We can’t afford to be confused about our economic function any longer. We need to educate and organize ourselves, and this will begin by working in active repudiation of the lures of institutional prestige.

R.M. Haines, On Poetry, Prestige, and Power

I’d had other experiences that helped me begin to learn and intellectually understand the role of race in our country, and my own socialization as a white citizen of it. I’d unpacked my invisible knapsack. More than a decade earlier I’d read Lies My Teacher Told Me and given my own children A Young People’s History of the United States. In the months since August of 2016, I’d read Waking Up White, and Between the World and Me, and The New Jim Crow. I’d absorbed “The Case for Reparations” and watched Rukaiyah Adams’s powerful TED talk on the enduring economic impacts of being Black in America. As part of a year-long equity certificate program for educators, I’d explored the racist history of Portland, Oregon and written my own racial autobiography, a 6,500+ word essay exploring how I’d spent my life largely color-blind, an easy thing to do having never lived anywhere but the Pacific Northwest, home to “sundown towns” and “The Whitest City in America.”

I thought I’d gotten it–and the learnings I’d gleaned from those experiences had been painfully acquired–but my day at the Portrait Gallery, somehow, broke through something in me that my earlier learning hadn’t penetrated. I cannot tell you why or how, but seeing wall after wall after wall of wealthy white men, with just a smattering of white women (many of them wives of said men) and people of color, in the early months of the Trump presidency, in a city of so much power, where there are such stark, visual lines between people of color and people absent of it, brought the truth of our history home to me in a way that nothing else had, and I felt the fairy tale–all the myths about America that I’d been raised on and believed in and loved–shatter. It didn’t just break my ideas about my country; it broke my ideas about myself.

It was the first of three days touring the capitol, and in everything I saw afterward, I saw the white supremacy that permeates my country. It was not simply a thread running through its fabric. It was the frame, the foundation, the underlying structure of every story I’d been told. I didn’t just understand it; I felt it in a way I never had before. I remembered my twentysomething self eschewing the idea of a diamond engagement ring because most diamonds came from South Africa, home to apartheid, which had not yet fallen in the late 1980s. My fiance and I had wondered how whites in that country could live with themselves, could live in that country, benefitting from such injustice and oppression. Thirty years later, I thought maybe I understood them. I wondered if they, somehow, had been as blind to their systems as I had been to ours. The cognitive dissonance I felt was akin to vertigo, and it was beyond disorienting to realize all that I had never seen that had been all around me, for all of my life. It was humbling. It was shameful. And it hurt. Losing Abraham Lincoln hurts.

How had I been so ignorant and unaware? What else might I be missing now? What else wasn’t real?

It was not unlike the awakening and reckoning I’d experienced when emerging from an abusive relationship, when I began to realize truths that had previously been too threatening to see. From that earlier, personal experience, I could see that my education, my culture, and my country had–like my former partner–been gaslighting me for the entirety of my relationship with them. The terrible thing about gaslighting is not only that it messes with your perceptions of reality, but also that it messes with your perceptions of yourself. You learn not to trust yourself, a lesson that rings even more true once you finally start to see all the ways in which you’ve failed to understand things fundamental to your life. You lose whatever sense of yourself you’ve had and have to build a new one.

That is where, collectively, we are now, and it all hurts. That rebuilding is also hard, hard work.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Reckoning

Tonight an eagle flew horizontally at eye level straight through my front yard my heart shivered with the wild beauty of it I ran out to the porch to what? see if I could track its passage? to hear if it left me a message about my dying country? a parcel?

I have been sick a pancreatitis flareup again but it was a short (though painful) bout just a week no doctor I felt today like I might be on the mend I don’t drink and I don’t smoke but I can lie very still on top of a hot water bottle and take ibuprofen I have some Vicodin but I’m saving it for the apocalypse or in case I fall down and break my arms off

I dreamed I was trying to play the clarinet in an orchestra and I couldn’t make my left hand close around the upper joint the conductor was the american president a panic dream and a music anxiety dream all rolled into one I woke up in a slick sheen of sweat probably my fever breaking

that eagle though shot through the green like jesus on a bender

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

display a weapon threaten
to use a weapon remove
a weapon from the holster
brandish and use a weapon
restrain the body the black
body the brown body demand
immediate compliance
disrespectful stance obscene
gesture whose obscene gesture
use of command voice nothing
conversational can transpire
kick hand cuff leg cuff
expletive oleoresin
capsicum takedown blunt
object pressure hold spit
mask carotid hold wrestle
hold control hold
subdue subdue subdue

Luisa Igloria, police continuum of force

As I slide the little box of my tefillin shel yad to nestle beneath the sleeve of my guayabera shirt, I remember the old men in the weekday minyan where we went to pray after my grandmother died. Some wore bolo ties. Some had sportcoats hanging off of one arm, sleeves rolled up. And some wore guayabera shirts like these. Like my grandfather wore on that lonely morning as he began to drift, unmoored, away from us. Mississippi had just ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, finally agreeing to the abolition of slavery in the year 1995. Today pandemic jostles for headline space alongside police killings of Black people. Look how far we haven’t come. My grandfather was a thoracic surgeon. He fled the Nazis in 1939. Dare I hope that he would stand up for the right of every Black human being to walk, play with toys, jog in a park, drive a car, sleep on a sofa, listen to music, drink iced tea, birdwatch, and carry Skittles, without fear of a cop or armed vigilante or garden-variety racist stealing their breath?

Rachel Barenblat, A sign upon my arm

The rain feeds the trees, feeds the earth, and pounds the stones. Given time, water will cut through rock. Rivers gain strength and power, and they rage. And me? I’m just an old man turning on his windshield wipers.

James Lee Jobe, The rain feeds the trees, feeds the earth, and pounds the stones

House Mountain, visible from my desk past telephone wires, is a daily reference point that appears in many of my poems, often as a way to touch base with forces much larger than my own little life. The piece above was in 32 Poems; in the final poem of The State She’s In, now three months old, the same mountain gives me a stern talking to about ambition. This morning House Mountain is invisible behind haze. It doesn’t mind giving me a metaphor for an uncertain, unforecastable future, apparently. Nor does my cat Ursula, who has taken to chasing her tail on a staircase newel. The other day she fell off, busted a lamp, and slid down rump-first behind the upright piano–clearly enacting the state of my brain.

DACA survives, at least for a while: good. A monstrously destructive president slides in the polls: all right. My daughter’s stories of recurring police brutality to Black people in Philadelphia: the record keeps spinning. I’m not writing much these days, but I think the 2020s are going to be another great decade for protest poetry. There were two powerful ones in the New Yorker I flipped through yesterday, by the always amazing Marilyn Nelson and Terrance Hayes. They remind me that I don’t have to be writing; I can just wait out the mists. Being a reader, voter, donator, person at rest: those are all fine, too.

A few good things I’ve been a part of lately: the Practices of Hope reading I participated in a week ago was warm, lovely, inspiring, and pretty much ego-less (recording here, the About Place issue it’s based on here). Verse Daily kindly featured a poem of mine, “Unsonnet,” that recently appeared in Ecotone. I have a gigan about my parents’ pine green Gran Torino in Literary Matters: anybody else old enough to remember those seatbealt-less rides in the “way-back”? Sweet interviewed me here. And I have an essay about teaching in my part of the south in Waxwing (a former colleague calls this place “Confederatelandia”). That one I did write recently–miraculously, really, given how hard this spring was!–but it’s just a 1500-word expansion of comments I would have made on an AWP panel called Teaching in the Confederacy, organized by Chris Gavaler and featuring Lauren K. Alleyne, Tyree Daye, and Gary Dop. Editor Todd Kaneko urged me to keep digging deeper into my own evasions, making it a better piece, but I presume it will be outdated in about five minutes. As I just wrote to a former student, now a professor himself and wondering about how to be a better teacher-scholar during Black Lives Matter, I’m in a constant process of self-renovation these days.

As is necessary. I think about Breonna Taylor every day, and the dreaming she can no longer do.

Lesley Wheeler, Dreaming

She came back eight months later
darker and thinner, with a distant look,

began talking of her body as a tenement
she would soon vacate.

She referred to time as the end of a kalpa
when the waves lashed the walls of Tiruvelikeni kovil.

It was a part of the story she narrated –
the leaf on the water at the moment of dissolution

as the sea bed heaved. If alive today
she would have translated the pandemic as pralaya –

both three syllabled, hers ending with a vowel
the slow exhalation of air when light escapes the sky.

Uma Gowrishankar, Pandemic/Pralaya

Here in King County, where I live, we just hit stage 2 of the re-opening, though Washington State’s numbers, like a lot of the rest of country’s, are turning worse, not better. Yesterday night there was a block party in my neighborhood, older people and children, lots of beer and laughter, nobody with masks on, and I wondered if these people were stupid or suicidal or just oblivious. Do they forget there is still a plague on, one that has no good treatment, that we are still a year away from a vaccine at least, that it can cause permanent organ damage if it doesn’t kill you? At the wineries, drunk people cheek to cheek, no masks, stumbling along through the paths. I know this exact thing is happening in a larger scale all throughout America right now.

I feel so disappointed in people. For one, their refusal to face scientific facts. For two, their inconsideration towards people like me – vulnerable to disease because of immune problems, just “it’s okay for you to die, it’s not going to happen to me.” Selfish at best. Murderous at worst. Their boredom and refusal to acknowledge facts will lead to death and then, even more death. It’s tremendously depressing how predictable it is. I knew America didn’t value poetry. I’ve learned that it also doesn’t value science. Or the lives of me or people like me. It doesn’t value anything that isn’t easy and make it feel good. I feel less and less like an American, and more like an alien here, like I don’t belong here. Tell me, are you feeling this too? […]

Along with my disillusionment with America, I’ve been equally feeling discouraged with the PoetryWorld, which I knew from a young age (well, from the time of my MA in my early twenties) was flawed and full of people who might take advantage of other people, but it still surprises me when it happens. There have been a lot of shifts in power in the PoetryWorld, and maybe something good will come from that.

And what can I say? I’ve been writing and submitting since I was nineteen, taking a dozen years to work in tech, getting too sick to continue working in tech, and turning back to my dream of being a writer. I had hoped at this point I’d have more to show – that I’d have had a little more success by now. That I wouldn’t still be sending out my manuscripts (with endless checks, endless months of waiting) to publishers, still knocking at the doors of bigger presses, still fighting for…more nothing? What am I doing with my life?  I am a fighter, but sometimes even I get tired. And today is one of those days. We try to be good literary citizens, volunteering at literary magazines, serving on boards, donating and writing endless book reviews and…what is the result? Not that you do it for a reward, but…have I been naive, trying to do things the right way, trying to be kind, trying to be scrupulous? Anyway, I know from social media that others are giving up and turning away from poetry right now, which I think is a shame, because now is the time we need poetry. I know I do. I turn to reading poems that moved me back when I was nineteen. I read new books full of passion and intelligence, and they give me hope. Plus, I can’t stop writing poems. I have the start of a third poetry manuscript of my hands now. I just need a publisher to believe in one of them. Those of you who are also discouraged – just remember, the world is turbulent now, turning on its axis, eclipses and planets in retrograde, there are plagues and protests and whispers of war and ruin. We just have to make it through. That is our job now – to survive, to be around to rebuild a better world, and a better PoetryWorld.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Greetings from the Solstice in Seattle, Disappointed with Rising Covid Numbers and Re-openings, Feeling Discouraged with PoetryWorld

If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll have read my list of calm things to do and at this time I keep coming back to good ol’ number 16, which is “Share your calmness.” Of course we’re angry right now and with every right to be. I am so angry at the brutality and racism and unfairness. And here I acknowledge my privilege because I know that not everyone can step aside and that living in Canada as a white woman affords me an enormous amount privilege. But is it still possible to be a donor of peace and hope? Is it still possible to attempt to be the calmest person in a room/zoom? Is it possible to let our calm become a contagion?

Anger can be effective, and necessary. Now is the time for anger, I can’t deny that. Even Bruce Springsteen is using the F word these days. Good for him, man. This is not to be taken lightly. When the boss is telling you to put on a fucking mask, this is serious stuff.

But okay, we’re wearing a mask, we’re trying to be calm and let it ripple out so that it can help others become calm and we can try to lower our blood pressure etc.

I keep thinking about all my years at the library, trying to develop and to really have an open-hearted stance. I put my whole body into that stance and my eyes and my facial muscles. It’s hard to do when you’re tired, or wary, and sometimes even a little afraid. But I’ve always found that when you make this effort, when you throw yourself out there with an open heart, the payoff is amazing. It’s really about having trust in humans, faith that if you are your best self, they will bring theirs. I would say that this works almost all the time. But now, if our faces are covered, how is this going to work? Early on when I started working at my current library branch, I got Bell’s Palsy, which I have bored you all with repeatedly, and wrote about in my latest book. Suffice to say, half your face is mud/basically paralyzed, and this usually lasts 3-4 months. Most people recover but I had some depressing thought that I’d be in the whatever percent of those who don’t. Don’t ask me why, I had convinced myself of this, and so went back to work before I strictly needed to. Long story short, I couldn’t use my usual facial expressions to convey those things I wanted to convey. So I had to really rely on the rest of my body, my eyes. The eyebrows were also useless, though I’ve often been asked if I even have any. I do! They’re just very light, haha. What I realized is that what’s more important is just feeling the feelings. Feeling the faith, and actually trusting. That that is enough. It’s felt. Words, also good. But yah, it sounds all fluffy and mystical, but in my small experience, it worked. You send out good, you get good back. You can still do this, emanate the good vibes, the whole heart, wearing a mask. And if it doesn’t work, at least you sent out good. Because for me, how I walk through the world is the thing. This is what living is. This is what being a decent human is. (Yes, sometimes it’s also yelling at people Boss-style). The thing is, none of this is going to go away overnight. How do you want to walk through the world? What is your stance?

Shawna Lemay, Also this

Sometimes all it takes is a placebo of a smile placed askew on my face to get me imagining I could’ve been a Picasso model in another life.

Or perhaps glitter for a second skin, something catching light just right to blind the con-artist politicians and suntanned psychopaths looking to make a killing in the socially distanced outdoors.

Sometimes we gotta break down our inner walls just to lay hands on our own hurts.

Clear away the dirty fingerprints left on unfulfilled thoughts so we can polish them to perfection.

Those lights we witness at the end of the tunnel, maybe they’re not cars careening towards us.

Perhaps they’re the shine of our own eyes as we approach one another, promising we’ll get through this.

Rich Ferguson, Conversations I’ve Had With the Walls on One Too Many Sleepless Nights

[Thomas Merton] had left the academic world of New York in order to seek God and some sort of personal overhaul. He was aiming at authenticity, transparency, honesty, directness, egolessness… and yet he learned how the very act of writing — which he couldn’t help, couldn’t give up completely — became a trap for the ego. He talks about it a lot. This was his huge struggle: the need to say what he saw and felt out of the depths of his contemplative experience, to communicate it to others, and to try to make a difference in a broken world, but how writing can become performance that addictively seeks something else entirely: admiration, praise, fame. Just before his accidental death, Merton wrote this about his vocation: “He struggles with the fact of death, trying to seek something deeper than death, and the office of the monk, or the marginal person, the meditative person or the poet, is to go beyond death even in this life, to go beyond the dichotomy of life and death and to be, therefore, a witness to life.”

Merton held up a mirror for many of the struggles I was having in writing and in art and in life, and in that mirror I saw myself, my games, my desires more clearly. The mirror shows the whole room: what we need to throw out, and the bits we should keep, and it’s a process that never ends.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 29: On Journals

Monuments relate to thinking, to memory. We want our thoughts to endure–our society, our “own way of life”–to last forever, because we know we will not last forever.

Monuments have the disturbing quality of often belonging to only one group in a culture, however. The victors, or those who wish they had been victors. The victims, mourned. The powerful, because they have the means to build monuments. Monuments can fade from significance; the culture can change its point of view, making the old statues controversial or useless; new leaders can appear.

I am rethinking what I consider to be cultural and social monuments.

Here’s something I love to hear when my head and heart get too full of complicated histories and emotions: Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” sung by Otis Redding. *

~~
* [FYI from Wikipedia: “In 2007, the song was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, with the National Recording Registry deeming the song “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”

Ann E. Michael, Monumental

Rob Taylor: Midway through On/me, in the poem“ On Identity/Silence,” you consider what to say after a colleague makes a racist comment about Indigenous people: “deciding if fighting is enough // deciding if education is possible // knowing that i will forever live here / in this space / of in-between”.

So much of the book is about feeling “in-between,” and I wonder to what extent you think of poetry itself as being in-between in some way – a middle ground between fighting and educating, between the “political” and the “personal,” between Indigenous oral traditions and English Literature, etc. etc. Do you think of writing poetry as part of your in-between-ness?

Francine Cunningham: I realized a long time ago that I live in this in-between place and what I do with my art has to reflect that. Growing up it wasn’t a space that I ever read about or that people talked about. I felt really alone in this space. I felt like the thoughts and feelings I was having were not valid and made me a bad person, a bad Indigenous person. I’ve been working with Indigenous youth for close to fifteen years now and it has shown me that I am not alone in this in-between place. I feel like it’s my responsibility to speak about this space for the youth that I work with.

I write fiction and non-fiction too, but I speak about this primarily in my poetry because poetry is where my heart lives. My poetry isn’t filled with rules. I’m not playing with any of the different forms that exist in poetry, I am just writing my heart. That to me is closer to oral traditions of storytelling. It’s about me talking honestly and plainly. For a long time I didn’t think that I was a poet because I could never remember all the rules and different forms, or because my poems didn’t look like or sound like the poems that I studied in English class. I spent years denying all the poems inside me because of this and focused instead on my fiction. But one day it just became too much to hold in my heart, and I let the poems come. And I loved them. I showed some people and they loved them, too. Then I started to publish them and people I didn’t know contacted me to tell me how much my work meant to them. People who didn’t read poetry because they also felt inferior in not understanding the rules. People who felt like, because they couldn’t understand all the vocabulary, poetry wasn’t for them. But when they read my words, they understood them, they didn’t feel locked out. That meant so much to me. Since the book has come out I have had a lot of people contact me saying this book touched them to tears because for once they could understand what I was saying, even if they were non-Indigenous. Accessibility to the arts is important.

Rob Taylor, This In-Between Place: An Interview with Francine Cunningham

“In recent months I have been intent on seizing happiness.”  So wrote C.D. Wright, my guiding star right now.  If you’re naturally happy, you don’t make declarations to be happy.  You throw out an idea, a wild proposition and follow it passionately to see where it goes. If your arm is strong, you toss that net far and wide to pull in both flowers and monsters. 

I’m sitting at Wright’s feet now to gauge those monsters and flowers, but also to hear how, in her poetry, she navigated extremes. She wrote that she was pulled by extremes, as am I, and her selves swing wildly, as do mine.  Mine has a kind of “pessimistic optimism” or “optimistic pessimism” or “radical realism.” I feel that I’m carrying battling twins around on these humid summer days.  Where can I put them except on a page in form that doesn’t have to be resolved? Their form and spirit overseen by kindred spirits that I’ve pulled from my shelves? How lucky I am to have a way that keeps me human.

Returning to Wright, what follows her opening line in the poem “Crescent” about intending happiness is “to this end I applied various shades of blue.”  She then hauls in all kinds of fierce and ironic material examples. She works up into a fierce lather that seems to reflect a sexual fury, a restless rage.  No one lives in a world of our making.  Yet fury at the “system” is freighted with an unabated wonder.  Her material world crackles with straight-ahead fierce wonder at what is.  As she moves through her world, she softens or careens to a kind of balance that places her outside herself, into selfless love and community.  In her final great phrase, she delivers a profoundly earned mantra of illumination, for the road has been exhausting and exhilarating: “draw nearer my dear: never fear: the world spins nightly towards its brightness and we are on it”

“Crescent,” from Steal Away, Selected and New  Poems (Copper Canyon Press)

Jill Pearlman, Flowers and Monsters

For the last couple of weeks, a single peony has held my attention. I’ve watched it as the bud strained to open, then been amazed by the flower’s sudden unfurling. I was almost late for work one morning as I tried to photograph a raindrop on one of the petals. And then I was saddened as it shed its petals under the weight of rain. It’s a strange experience to try and give your attention to just one thing, when daily life is constantly tugging you in other directions. As for the haiku I’ve written about it (below), well, I’m not sure they come anywhere close to my actual experience of the peony, but I’ve been trying to explore what the form can do and be a little looser in my interpretations. Reading Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (ed. Kacian, J., Rowland, P & Burns, A., Norton, 2016, f.pub 2013) has expanded my understanding of what’s possible within these short poems. It’s a great book, full of little surprises, and it has an enlightening overview of haiku in English by Jim Kacian at the end, which I can thoroughly recommend to anyone who is interested in the development of the form.

Julie Mellor, peonycloudburst

all these haiku‬
‪i keep stepping on them‬
‪tripping over them‬
‪i throw them out but‬
‪they are homing haiku‬
‪flapping around my head‬
‪and in my bed‬
‪and in my tea‬
‪you see‬
‪how much rhyme is missing‬
‪from the haiku‬
‪that also trips me up‬
‪and suffocates me ‬
‪i sneeze‬
‪haiku haiku‬
‪all fall down‬

Jim Young, all these haiku‬

Whichever way you look at it, lockdown is coming to an end in England, and gradually elsewhere in the UK, too. Non-essential shops are open, churches are open for quiet prayer, public transport is running, roads are much, much busier, businesses are opening up although everyone is expected to keep two metres apart and wear a face covering in enclosed indoor spaces. It has been the strangest time I’ve ever lived through and I am still processing what has happened and what is still happening. In the middle of it all, I’ve read books, watched films and TV series, binged on radio drama and audio books, read collections of short stories, poetry and novels. I’ve queued – and I continue to queue – in supermarkets for food and I’ve got used to cooking for four adults again rather than for just Andrew and I. My daughter has finished her degree and is waiting for her results. She is about to turn 21. My son has finished the first year of his degree and is working out how to organise accommodation in London for next year while he is stuck at home in Wiltshire. Andrew has continued to work in his job in software from his office in a shed at the bottom of our garden. I have sometimes desperately missed being alone to write and Andrew has – cleverly and kindly – repaired an old table and moved it into the corner of a shed my son uses for band rehearsals. We are big on sheds in our family – which is a blessing because I love the solitude of my new writing space.

Josephine Corcoran, Once upon a lockdown

My tiny chalkboard poems continue and, apparently, are appreciated by many who read them on social media, as these readers are telling me. I am glad. In addition to sudden chalkboard revisions as I write, I experience ongoing changes in interpretation. I wrote “Last Days” in my back yard, on the patio, gazing in wonder at the beauty of everything around me, and feeling eternity somehow. Inside me was the scary realization that I/we might be living our last days on earth…but, if so, at least they would be remarkably beautiful. And the world could go on without us.

Last Days

Yes, it might be
one of the last days
so breezy and bright,
so beautiful and clear.

The first version ended with two sentence fragments and had three periods. It felt breezier and brighter, therefore, but lacked eternity. Now it is one long sentence, like life. Eternity remains only in the title and at a line break. These may simply be the last days of sheer beauty before rain (needed!) or terrible heat (coming today). Or…these may indeed be my/our last days on earth.

I suspect I’m under the influence of Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, published in 2014 but terribly pertinent to now, as it’s about the world after a flu pandemic has drastically reduced population and wiped out civilization as we knew it. No grocery stores now, gasoline has expired, no electricity, no phones, no computers. People are making do in settlements here and there. And there’s a Traveling Symphony for entertainment, because, and this is a quotation from Star Trek: Voyager, “survival is insufficient.”

Kathleen Kirk, Last Days

I’m not sure what it’s taken but I’ve started writing again. Not a great outpouring, but something. Maybe it’s been the eclectic reading I’ve been doing.

As well as Mary Jean Chan’s Flèche (Faber, 2019), I’ve read my way through Jean Sprackland’s Green Noise (Cape, 2018), and am enjoying dipping in and out of Darling (Bloodaxe, 2007), Jackie Kay’s selected. I’ve also been intrigued by Adam Nicolson’s exploration of Wilton and the background to Sir Philip Sidney’s ‘Arcadia’, which then got me onto The Elizabethans by A N Wilson which I’d had on the bookshelf for a while. Much to enjoy here, but the author has some angles (shall we say) and turns of phrase that rankled with me. Although I’m on the last chapter I don’t think I’ll finish it as there are just too many references to how Elizabeth had become ‘old and yellow-toothed’ and so forth. A queen who had achieved so much during her reign, being denigrated for the sin of growing old and thereby losing her looks doesn’t sit well with me. Funny, that!

I’m getting very interested in the ‘Sidney circle’ and the whole pre-Shakespeare Renaissance literary scene. In particular I’m starting to dig out more about Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, by all accounts a fine writer, but who tends to be described in terms of a) her more famous brother and b) her generous literary patronage.

Robin Houghton, Getting all Elizabethan, new writing and emerging from the gloom

At the Field Museum in the fall, an audience member inquired whether I thought myself a nature poet, but maybe I am as much as any girl who spent her life growing up in the boonies of both Illinois and Wisconsin, but who was in love with the sea.Who wanted to be a scientist to study those depths. As an artist, I fall again and again to landscapes and botanicals.  Though I am probably more in debt to the supernatural than I am the natural. I feel, as I’ve been working on dark country, that this is at the forefront, but it’s been there all along through the other books I’ve written.  Even sex & violence has its ghosts–my own past relationships, Plath herself, Dali’s little blue dog. 

And in many ways the writing is a sort of exorcism of ghosts, of stories, of the past dusted off and made shiny and new. I’ve been thinking of this as I look at the newest completed manuscript, feed, and how it was a writing out, a bloodletting in the year after I lost my mom. There are so many ghosts there, literal and just my own metaphoricals.  Or maybe less an exorcism and more of a seance–a speaking to and with the dead, either others or the self you left behind at various points of travel. 

Kristy Bowen, poems and ghosts

Christina Sng’s collection of poetry, A Collection of Dreamscapes, blends dark fantasy, science fiction, and horror, examining the many-faceted aspects of women, from their hopeful dreams to their shadow selves. These lyrical poems offer tale of “women who hide behind the taste of poisoned apples, who set themselves on fire, who weep at riverbanks, the taste of freedom too much to swallow, too heavy to bear.”

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: May 2020

Over on his ever-excellent blog, John Foggin has revealed the names of the poets behind the 26 ‘When All This is Over’ poems chosen, out of 80 or so which were submitted, for publication in a Calder Valley Poetry pamphlet. Like many great ideas, this project has a perfect simplicity to it, and it has been a real pleasure to be involved in it. To be one of the 26 in the pamphlet, among some wonderful poets, is a lovely bonus.

I won’t single out any of the amazing poems except to say that the title of Sue Riley’s marvellous ‘The Cats’ Meat Man’ reminds me of a saying of my dad’s – “Quick, quick, cats’ meat!” – the derivation of which I can’t recall him ever explaining. I suppose it was just that if we didn’t hurry up doing whatever it was he was geeing us up to do, we would end up as cats’ meat. Or something like that!

Matthew Paul, John Foggin’s When All This is Over project

–If you came to this page hoping for an analysis of yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions, head over to my theology blog to read this post.  What a pleasant surprise!  I predict that when historians look back on the great Civil Rights decisions, this one will be much higher on the list than the marriage decision from a different June in this decade (2015 to be precise).

–For those of you who are literary minded, you may have come to this page thinking I would write about James Joyce and Bloomsday.  I have done that several times in the past; after all, I wrote my MA thesis on women characters in Joyce.  I plan to tune in to this YouTube channel from the Symphony Space folks to see people reading chunks of Ulysses throughout the day.

–It will be very different from a long ago Bloomsday, when we had recently moved to South Florida, and went down to Books and Books to hear people from the University of Miami read from the book.

–I think even further back to my grad school days, relaxing by my apartment’s pool, reading academic books as I wrote my thesis.  I miss a lot about those days:  my youthful body, my youthful enthusiasm, the luxury of time to read hefty academic works.  But there’s much about my current life that I didn’t have then:  financial resources, self knowledge, confidence in my creative skills, a more mature faith.

–Most of all, I miss the certainty that I had then that my best days were still to come.  I had just finished a year of teaching classes, classes all my own, not just as a teaching assistant.  I knew that I was doing what I was put on earth to do.

–In contrast, yesterday I saw 2 students throw their arms around each other and hug as if a war had kept them separated.  By the time I was about to say, “Please stay 6 feet apart,” the moment was over.  I thought I would spend my working life discussing great works of literature, like Ulysses, but instead I’m the middle school dance chaperone, monitoring physical distance and breath.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days that Bloom

Lines found in my Twitter feed on the summer solstice

this zombie world
see what it looks like
share the urban space

a whole family of dead cats
at least four of them
in a tub of rainwater

who decides?
who’s in control?
there’s nothing for me

I’ve missed you
unless you’re a heron
dreaming of your great escape

a little tree
raindrops in grass
will lead you back home

feeling brave
heading north
thanking the universe for Bob Dylan

Ama Bolton, Summer solstice

My dad’s father, grandfather John, by all accounts, was not an affectionate man. My dad was, but he found it hard to show it, spontaneously. He wasn’t cold, or distant. But something in him was withheld. This is just to say, ‘I love you, Dad’.

What remains

How do you know that this is love? Is it
the moment that draws you in, the saving stitch?
One moment out of all the moments,
out of all the wrong notes, the missteps.

Because I thought he didn’t know the way of love,
didn’t know the tune, the words, 
they were what other people spoke,
they were borrowings, and he wasn’t one
to accept with grace, always on guard. But

he’d go out, not saying where, come back
and give his grandchildren each a Marathon.
He wasn’t a man to pick up a child
so a child could slip into his shape
as cats do. A silent gift of chocolate bars
was him articulating love.

What they remember of him, my children,
what they tell of him, is Marathons.
Remember when our granddad gave us Marathons?
What remains of us might just be love
but the story’s always Marathons.

John Foggin, For my Dad on Fathers’ Day

When I first heard this poem [“Invitation to Brave Space” by Micky Scottbey Jones], I was in brave space. Invited into it, with no map and no plan. It was scary and exciting.

There we were, sitting round the fire, exchanging hopes for the year, the coming season, our dreams.

Forty of us, including children, a long weekend of wild walks, getting soaked, of pub grub, deep listening and intentional turning up to say what was on our hearts: mobile phone addiction; climate grief; post-election anger; mental health.

Of eating together and silly games. The preparation and clearing away of food. The pouring of wine.

Right now is a still silent evening on the longest day of the year. (I resist the thought of the darkness rushing up to meet me.) Back then we were still getting knocked around by February. How we laughed into that wind, that downpour. There were rumours of a virus, but not here, surely, we said.

I was in the brave space. I talked about some deep and hidden things. Very slowly I learned to stand in my truth.

I am trying to stay there, but it is not easy.

Sit down with me a while. The sound you can hear is my breathing. It’s ok, you don’t have to say anything.

Sit with me a while longer. I am not feeling brave, but let’s explore the space together.

Anthony Wilson, Brave space?