A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: changes in season, changes in state, mentors, music, what shrinks and what expands, squeaky wheels, experiments with boredom, self-criticism sessions, the necessity of avoiding great blue herons, and a “ruckus network of howls.” Enjoy.
Hardly watered gardens hymn dry yellow melodies of thirst.
Desert flowers tell the wind’s fortune as coyotes howl a gallows prayer.
In bedrooms all across the city, I hear lovers’ bodies rub up against one another, strumming the strings of bliss.
I hear the mattresses of miserable landlords groan from the excess weight of it all.Rich Ferguson, All Across the City
One thing about being home much of the time is that I feel more in tune with the rhythm of the days than I ever was in the closed cave of the library. […] Since I don’t have an A/C, there were days in the summer when I could feel the heat encroaching at my back. Could feel and smell the rain blowing in when it stormed. Today, the shivery cold that finally made me shut them. […]
Summer felt longer but faster, if that’s possible. I felt more of it, even if I only went out in it occasionally. But there was at the same time more variation in its texture, much less time spent under fluorescent lights amid book stacks and more time for noticing things, even just from a third floor window. Listening, as well, to unruly car alarms, distant sirens, how sometimes I can hear the train two blocks away clearly, but sometimes not at all. Every Monday, the lawn mower down below me and the scent of just cut grass. The steady bang of renovations in surrounding apartments. The creep and click of my remaining neighbor’s doors.Kristy Bowen, love letter to summer, who has to be going
Remember these: the heftRomana Iorga, Things to Do with Silence
of a sleeping child, half-
unlatched, hair matted with sweat;
the sound of cowbells
drifting downhill; the book
you climbed into, as in a womb.
As I stood in a crowd of Canadians on Sunday, at the conclusion of the service, and the organ moved from the final hymn and blessing to the opening bars of “God Save the King”, sung to those words for the first time in 70 years, I could feel the emotion around me. Likewise, who could remain completely unmoved by the final minutes of the Windsor committal service, when the crown and other symbols of Elizabeth’s earthly and historical power were removed from the coffin before it sank beneath the floor?
Under the September sun, thirty friends and family members stood around my father’s grave in the old village cemetery where I played as a young child. At the conclusion of the brief committal service, we placed the paper box containing his ashes into the same grave where my mother’s remains had been buried sixteen years before. Then I took a shovel into my hands and put the first earth into the grave, passed the shovel to my husband, who did the same, and then, slowly, silently, nearly all of the people present took a turn, and we buried my father together and then strewed red roses on the grave. […]
For death, I think, is the great leveler: it comes to us all, we all go down to the dust, and no one can take their earthly goods or power with them. When those deaths occur which stop us in our tracks and cause a shudder or even an earthquake in our own lives, it is a time to look in the mirror. What can we learn from the life of this person who is with us no longer? What lasts, what remains? What do we want to do with the unknowable balance of time that remains to us, and with the friends who surround us in those moments, surely far more precious than gold?Beth Adams, Unparallel Lives
the restJim Young [no title]
as they say
Adrian Owles. That was her anagrammed alias. She used that name for things like electric and phone company bills when her real name set off “overdue payment” notices, resulting in her inability to get services. She did, in her youth, have a conniver’s sense of how to skive and get away with it. To some degree. She learned the skills from her father, a brilliant alcoholic from a once-wealthy family. From her mother, she learned poetry and an idealistic, romantic outlook on life…but also that she should be independent and never rely on men to take care of her or keep their promises.
Well, maybe she learned that last part from her father. Her parents never divorced, but her father was an absentee dad. That’s the picture she supplied to me. I suspect it was true, but I know only a tiny part of her story. Ariel Dawson, my poetry mentor, was a year younger than I but so well-read, aware of the “poetry scene,” reading craft essays and books before I knew such things existed–and taking reasoned issue with some of the writers, too, in ways it never would have occurred to me to do. Question such recognized authority? I would not have dared.
What is a mentor? A kind of teacher or model of behavior? Ariel’s behavior was far from conventional, which did appeal to me. We hitchhiked from Michigan to NYC and back. We stayed up almost until dawn and drank wine and talked about poetry. We ganged up on the poor man teaching a creative writing class at our college by questioning his pronouncements and asking about poets and poetry he had not specialized in. We sneaked into bars without paying the cover charge or having our IDs checked (Michigan had a liquor law that permitted 18-year-olds to drink, but Ariel was only 17). I kept wondering quietly to myself: Is this how poets behave? Is unconventionality necessary to the craft?Ann E. Michael, Poetry mentor: Ariel Dawson
Each day oscillates between what shrinks
and what expands, what I once could do
and what I can, sweet jazz and pounding,
a clock that crumbles into dry ash
or measuring cups overflowing
with uncooked rice and broken nut bars.PF Anderson, NINES
Back in the day when I was a kid, it seemed cool to be an old soul. Whoever first enlightened me, when I first heard the phrase (to be or to have?), I don’t recall. Being an old soul seemed like a good defense for a solitary or brooding adolescent— especially when you have big black eyes too serious for your face!
Now that I’m not a kid, I’m thinking it might be cool to be a young soul. It’s not up to us, of course, not on the smorgasboard of options. Yet after yet another birthday, I’m thinking why not. It always takes a while to come to oneself. This old soul has learned a few things; it understands that play makes everything tick, beauty is real, everything keeps turning and flowing, go!
Now during the Jewish High Holidays, we are told that our souls are washed, we get refreshed, the clock is set back to how God made us, we get spanking fresh souls. Birthday of the world — aha! Old soul, meet young soul. May you be renewed, and be yourself.Jill Pearlman, Old Soul/Young Soul
I promise I am going to talk about real serious writer book stuff in a minute, but for this first part, can I say…whee, it’s decorative gourd season and I am celebrating fall by visiting pumpkin farms and burning candles like there’s no tomorrow.
We visited one pumpkin farm on the autumn equinox and another the next day. We had beautiful, unsmoky weather and I decided we should take advantage of it before it all turns into the inevitable winter rain. (Someone joked that Seattle has three seasons: rain, summer, and smoke. Sort of true for the last few years!) Besides getting to talk to local farmers, which I love, it gave me and Glenn a chance to get out of the house, into fresh air, get some mild exercise (I’m still using a cane, there’s only so much pumpkin farm tramping I can do), but it also sort of helps your body know: hey, we are changing seasons, pay attention to the leaves, to what is blooming and what is dying, what grows out of the ground, the colors of the sky. Haven’t poets been writing poems about that stuff for years?Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s Decorative Gourd Season! Autumn Equinox and Fall Feels, Pumpkin Farms, and Decisions About Cover Art
jazz in the morningJason Crane, haiku: 19 September 2022
country in the afternoon
dead cricket in the light fixture
every other weekend
in a new house
I experimented with boredom
I listened to those cdsPaul Tobin, EXPERIMENTS WITH BOREDOM
you said would improve me
but I never got that music
it was a country I could starve in
“Yeah, I didn’t want to remind you about the equinox,” my spouse said.
“Right? Another thing on the to-do list,” I agreed. We mimed leaning our shoulders into the wheel of the year. “But I got it done!”
It’s autumn and my birthday and I’m struggling. Sleep has been especially hard. If I’m to have any chance at all, I have to turn off the screens, even Netflix, an hour and or two before bedtime and read something completely unrelated to work, as well as popping Unisom and melatonin–and while I love sinking into a book, the new routine makes the day feel even shorter. I’m ruminating about some old conflicts and challenging people in my work-life; self-doubt has blown back into my life with a vengeance. I wish I could stop THAT wheel and get off. I live less than a ten-minute walk from campus, which is a beautiful way to commute, but sometimes I get home and it still feels too close, looming in my imagination. It’s also inherently a job without solid boundaries. On what side of the line, for instance, does writing sit? Is criticism work and poetry play? What about now that I’m writing creative criticism?
I like many aspects of my job, and as I’ve been writing in a forthcoming column, that’s how they get you. Universities run on uncompensated enthusiasm; without it, they’d have to change the business model.Lesley Wheeler, The wheel(er) considers turning
This ocean knows everything, her
sand is coarse inside my mouth when I talk,
inside my thoughts as they spawn. All I know,
I learnt from her brown-blueness, lapping
around my ankles like a warning. How to
talk without speaking, how to listen whileRajani Radhakrishnan, Part 14
still retreating, how to let go even when the
full moon is drowning in your belly.
At first I thought about going to a different part of campus. I didn’t see any elements I could use: so many dead leaves, so many shades of brown, ugh. But then I saw a leaf that was more rust than brown, and then a burgundy leaf, and then some leaves drifted by on the breeze, and I started examining not only color but texture.
I thought about creating some sort of creche with sticks, but it was a breezy day. As I contemplated that base of a tree which I thought might shelter my unmade creation, and then I looked at the trunk. I realize it had marvelous possibilities, so I took a leaf and threaded the stem of a leaf into an opening.
The breeze didn’t blow it away, so I did it again, and then again. Soon, I had a trunk full.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Autumn Leaves from a Different Angle
After that there were a lot of random poems, experiments, some of which turned colors and boiled over, which is good, and some of which didn’t. Two of my favorites were about black widow spiders. I always seem to write about black widows during August, since they’re in the crooks and corners of patios and garages around here, growing big and shiny in the sweltering heat and knitting their cottony egg sacs. Of course their ferocity is legendary, but in reality they’re mostly timid and serene. I always get a lot of poetic mileage out of black widows. […]
This year I tried something new: painting postcards specifically for the poems, and also the reverse—writing ekphrastic poems about my own paintings on the postcards*. I sort of liked painting to complement the poems; that was a free-wheeling exercise in abstraction, or in surreal representation. But I didn’t like writing ekphrastic poems about the paintings; that felt weirdly self-referential, a kind of narcissistic loop. Like, I painted this somewhat abstract landscape, and now I’m writing a poem about it. It was a sham, a trick I was pulling on the reader—a made-up poem about a made-up visual scene. It was like trying to build a house on air. There didn’t seem to be much point to it.
One of my favorite poems of the month was about a baby that someone at a party asked me to keep an eye on for a few minutes. We were outside, it was raining a bit, the baby was sleeping in a little covered hammock—and suddenly the world exploded into metaphors. That was way better than any made-up landscape. There’s something to be said for writing poems about real things. This was a good reminder of that.Amy Miller, Art Imitates Art: Poetry Postcard Fest 2022 Wrap-Up
my Work of Breathing poetry book was in the top 8 for the Able Muse award
as much as winning would be great, honorable mention is not so bad.
thinking about the hundreds and hundreds (I assume even a small press gets quite a few submissions?), getting to the top 8 tells me my book is probably just about THERE –it might be a matter or rearrangement or the judge’s particular taste.
besides, this book is very precious to me, particularly precious being about my daughter Kit, so I’m in no rush and feeling awful choosey about where I send it in the first place.
I also don’t really have any doubts about it. I read a lot of poetry, and I think (my own emotions about it aside) that it is a good book. Not everyone’s cup of tea…fairly dark…but I think the quality is there.Renee Emerson, honorable mention
The origin of the word critic is “sieve.” I like this idea. That a criticism or a critique (whose positivity or negativity is surely in the eyes of the receiver) is like a mesh, and what comes through is a clearer substance. Certainly the goal of receiving a criticism or critique is receiving some kind of clarity.
Apparently I have a reputation for being critical. And I don’t mean vital to something’s existence. It means I have opinions and articulate them apparently sometimes to people who don’t want to hear them. Be that as it may, I am concerned at the moment that I’m not being critical enough of my own work. I may have mentioned — and it is by no means bragging, it’s just a fact — that I have three manuscripts of poems I’d like to get published. There is some crossover between two of them — I figure whichever gets published first wins. But they’re not getting published and nor am I having great luck with the individual poems. So one must cast a glance askance at the poems, I guess.
My editorial approach at this point in the development of the mss, which range in age from one to four years old, is to put them away while I’m awaiting the glacial process of submissions, and occasionally, every few months or so, give them a look see. Sometimes it results in me giving a poem or two the heave ho. But by and large, I read the collections and think, yeah, I like that.
This worries me. Shouldn’t I be suffering over every word? Shouldn’t I be shuffling around the order restlessly until some golden order is achieved? From whence comets this troublesome onset of “it’s all gooood”? Critic, criticize thyself.Marilyn McCabe, All that’s left is flesh and bone; or, On Casting the Critical Eye on Your Own Damn Poems
We’re not hanging about this week. Too much to get done. Sunday lunch has just gone in the oven and I have a hot date with the Red Door Poets in couple of hours to hear Mary Mulholland, Tom Cunliffe and Katie Griffiths, Alex Corrin-Tachibana, Matthew Paul and Claire Collison reading. Can’t wait.
Before then I have to do this and answer some questions about my own work. I’ve been invited to do so for a magazine this week. It won’t be published for a while, but I don’t want to get behind on stuff. Sorry, I don’t want to get further behind. The invitation was lovely, it was a bit of a double-edged sword as it meant I didn’t make it into the print mag, but I think that in many ways this means my poem will reach further, but more on that closer to the time.
The only real developments this week was me sitting down to think about the running order of my pamphlet again. As you can see I got somewhere, but I think you will also see that my cats disagreed. So, we start again. And we lock the door.Mat Riches, Sun-bleached bunting
I think of this place before
we opened the door and crossed
the threshold—every gleaming
floorboard and clear
piece of tile, cornices like violinLuisa A. Igloria, Work and Days
scrolls; the air in the rooms
already singing of work and days.
If you stood in the center, the years
would tumble into your hands. And
the only thing to do is open them.
I think I’m tired of reading books that not only match the poet’s own life-path to the point where they feel wholly autobiographical but that they are self-absorbed, insecure, obsessed with the behaviour of the body and past indignities inflicted on it – and by the frustrating, demoralising ‘struggle’ to conquer the trauma these things have created.
Sure, there are some excellent poetry books dealing with the consequences of real life trauma that feel raw and powerful. Claire Williamson’s Visiting The Minotaur is wonderful.
There are also several I’ve read recently, however, that feel fake, as if the trauma is exaggerated for the sake of writing a book about it, a subject to be explored because it’s fashionable. Sadly, this one felt as if the poet had struggled with some kind of block and had fallen back on this to emerge from it and get a book out. The back page blurb, naturally, called it a brave book. It’s really not.
I could have mentioned the book. What’s the point? Any publicity is good publicity.
MAYBE my reaction is in line with my growing tendency to be reclusive, certainly in terms of the ‘poetry community’. I read poetry most days, buy books, prefer to support the smaller presses, if possible. I think I’m capable of writing better than I have done at any point in my life up to now. Partly, I think, that’s because I’ve managed to shed contact with all but a few poets and that I have no need of acclaim or recognition. I don’t need a prize (wouldn’t know what to do with it), don’t need to teach anyone how to write, don’t need another book with my name on the cover. I like to spend time exploring writing and what it brings to the experience of living – along with watching football, looking after hens and pigs, managing woodland and watching wildlife. I pay homage to the need to ‘get writing’ out there by including various bits and pieces on this blog and am interested in the reaction they provoke – an old friend who saw them told me last week he found them demented, which I appreciated – but mostly the rest is frills and frippery. Someone else said there were so many poems on here that they need to be divided into books. Maybe. For now, it’s too time-consuming and distracting from the real business of getting it down. So it goes.Bob Mee, STRUGGLING TO BE GENEROUS AGAIN…
6. In your poems, be parsimonious with “how” clauses. I too often see lists of these. This has become an overused strategy. Likewise, avoid overusing “the way” to begin items in a series.
7. Be very sparing with poems about poems. I can take maybe one per manuscript. You won’t get rejected if you have more, but if your manuscript is accepted, I will almost certainly ask you to revise some of those poems. I find this kind of poem particularly vexing when the poem is making its way along beautifully on a particular topic and then suddenly starts referring to itself as “this poem.” That knocks me right out of the poem. My heart sinks with disappointment.
8. Avoid great blue herons in your poems. I add this here for a light touch, but seriously that bird is so overused in poetry! Surely there are other magnificent birds. And does it have to be a bird?Diane Lockward, Thoughts on Poetry Manuscript Submission
Fast forward through five years in Cambridge, when I was working and finding it hard to find a writing group, to the early 1990s when we moved to Swansea, hometown of Dylan Thomas. I took some classes in the Welsh language and soon became acquainted with simple greetings, mutations, and popular words such as ‘hwyl’ and ‘hiraeth’.
A few months later, Peter Thabit Jones introduced me to some English versions of the Englyn. Thanks to poems in English by Gerard Manley-Hopkins, I came to understand something of Cynghanedd, the Welsh notion of ‘sound-arrangement’ or harmony within a single line, achieved by following one of four set patterns involving rhyme and alliteration. I would recommend Listening to Welsh Verse by Mererid Hopwood (Gomer Press, 2005) for those who are interested in learning more.
I have a deep love of poetry forms. This was nurtured by The Book of Forms: a Handbook of Poetics by Lewis P. Turco. Little did I expect to have three of my own sample poems, a Clang, a Folding Mirror poem and a Bref Double with Echo, published in the turquoise-covered 2012 edition, which included odd and invented forms.
During my Swansea years, I came to love the poetry of Edward Thomas, whose four grandparents hailed from Wales. I was already familiar with ‘Adlestrop’, but was unaware that Thomas had written so many poems in such a short space of time before his untimely death in the Great War. ‘Swedes’ may not be a ‘typical’ Thomas poem, but it immediately caught my eye and made me realise how powerful metaphor can be and how the smallest details can transform a text. In ‘Swedes’, the discovery of an ancient Egyptian tomb is compared to the opening of a swede clamp. David, my archaeologist husband, and I became so intrigued by the detail in the poem that we undertook some research and wrote a short paper, ‘Leaving Town’ and ‘Swedes’: Edward Thomas and Amen‐Hotep (Notes and Queries, Volume 50, Issue 3, OUP, September 2003, pp. 325–327).Caroline Gill : part two (Thomas Whyte)
In a poem
something has to
rhyme. It doesn’t
always have to
be the words,Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (85)
the old monk said.
The adult still contains the child he once was. The child thinking up word combinations to make a lesson pass more quickly grows into an adult who still enjoys word games. Our past is still with us and we have a choice as to whether that is a good thing or not.
“The Past is a Dangerous Driver” looks at how the past seeps into the present and the consequences of that. In some poems nature reclaims human structures, reminding readers of man’s relatively short time on the planet. In others the boundaries between past and present are more permeable. A storm prompts thoughts of war or the collection of metal for the war effort inspires thoughts of other uses of metal, particularly a medal representing a life after its end and the impact of a hypothetical lost life on the present. There are lighter moments too, the game of guessing what an acronym might represent. Mason’s structured poems guide readers through a journey where people might be ready to move on but the past isn’t ready to let them go yet.Emma Lee, “The Past is a Dangerous Driver” Neal Mason (Holland Park Press) – Book Review
The fourth full-length poetry collection by Toronto poet Adebe DeRango-Adem, following Ex Nihilo (Calgary AB: Frontenac House, 2010), Terra Incognita (Toronto ON: Inanna Publications, 2015) and The Unmooring (Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2018), is HUMANA (Toronto ON: Book*hug, 2022), an assemblage of vibrant and performative poems akin to chants, focusing on voice and the polyrhythmic lyric. “GREAT FOREST CHORUS OF SCREAMS,” she writes, to open the poem “VOX TELUM/MEMORIAM,” “composition in a key / of a tree reluctant to give life […]” Her poems are composed as gestural sweeps of language, utterances and tradition, song, prayer and declaration. She speaks and sings on race and identity, history and community, doing so with such force, and clearly a voice to be heard, to be acknowledged; to be reckoned with. “O COMMONWEALTH—!” she writes, to open “VOX LINGUA/MALEDICTUM,” “HEX your gilded lexicons—! I spook / the master’s language I see how texts / turn white & whiter foam // the colour of dissolve […]”
Set in three sections—“FUGUE I,” “FUGUE II” and “FUGUE III”—DeRango-Adem sings a song-sequence against and of silence, arranged in performative gasps, gaps, staccato declarations and long, languid sweeps. These are poems to be performed, composed as passionate celebration and of witness, and her performance radiates. As the two page “VOX GENUS/PROVECTUS” ends: “a ruckus network // of howls [.]”rob mclennan, Adebe DeRango-Adem, HUMANA
Rob Taylor: Standing in a River of Time is a hybrid — part prose memoir, part poetry. Each section opens with a prose narrative and closes with poems on the same subject. What drew you to this structure, as opposed to writing one or the other?
Jónína Kirton: This book was to be a collection of poetry. While working on the collection I had been experimenting with essay writing, and had a few essays published in anthologies. One of the essays is in Good Mom on Paper, and it includes a poem that is also in this collection. I found it hard to write about being a mother, and yet it was such a big part of my life. As with every other essay I had written I had many false starts. After a number of attempts an idea emerged: perhaps I could not only merge prose and poetry, but I could also keep the prose short. I give thanks to the editors Jen Sookfong Lee and Stacy May Fowles for allowing me to experiment and to include a poem.
RT: What role did the mentorship of Betsy Warland (she who mastered the form so fully they named a hybrid book prize after her!) play in helping you find this form?
JK: After writing the essay for Good Mom on Paper, I returned to writing my book and did what Betsy had taught me; I let the narrative lead. I never intended for the book to be this long but as I wrote the prose kept coming. Then while working with my substantive editor, Joanne Arnott, a rupture occurred, and the book exploded. Suddenly, I was going back into some of my childhood. The book became about the effects of colonization on one Métis family. Often, the discoveries revealed in the book were happening for me in real time.
In many ways the narrative chose the structure. The writing of it was at times healing and had a mystical feel to it. I would sit at the computer, and it poured out of me. Sometimes I would be crying so much that the front of my blouse was soaked but I could not stop to dry my eyes. I had to keep writing.
It was my husband who noticed after reading the prose he felt the poems, most of which he knew well, were made stronger by knowing the back story. When he said this, I knew I was on the right track.Rob Taylor, My Body Knows More Than I Do: An Interview with Jónína Kirton
Throw the windows wide. Comfort poor Van, who is appalled by Martha’s disappearance, and sleeps all day on her spot on the couch, not even rousing himself at the sound of a can of cat food being opened. (His consciousness is on strike: it refuses to return to work until she’s back). Water the plants. Muse on the variations of cloud building and dissolving, north over the neighbor’s gable. Count, if I must. One hundred and fifty breaths is one attempt at falling asleep. Fifteen long breaths, if I’m lying on my belly, opens the subway stops along the lumbar spine.Dale Favier, Aurelito
where is the child missing from my death
where is a road that walks on its knees
how many waters are never dreamedGrant Hackett [no title]