Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 23

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week found poetry bloggers pondering existential themes: being at home, surviving, healing, cultivating acceptance, dealing with digital ghosts, coming to terms with evil, learning from trees, (not) procrastinating, being whole.


No matter the journey. No matter other roads taken. No matter you misplaced the map of your life behind a wheel of grief. No matter you took a multitude of detours.

Because as you look out the plane window, you understand the agency of this place. How it has been etched in your mind over decades of slow accrual through streams you have fished, forests you have hiked, mountains you have climbed, lakes you have swam in, oceans you have sailed.

And how like its great river that flows to the sea, it also flows through you, and you call it by name—home.

Carey Taylor, Return Flight

It seems to me that all the poets I originally gravitated towards, and whose books I bought were ‘northern’. Or, at the least, not metropolitan. When they weren’t self-evidently ‘northern’ they were ‘regional’; they came with distinct voices that could not be described as RP, and would lose something important if they were read in RP…and I guess that what they would lose would be music, rhythm, texture. I’ve shared the idea with other writers that this poetry was somehow more ‘committed’, less inclined to be ironic, more inclined to wear its heart on its sleeve. I know it’s teetering on the edge of a generalising sentimentality, but I’m trying hard to be honest, to nail some kind of felt truth. One of my northern poet friends opined that ‘metropolitan’ poetry was ‘too cool for school’, that it prided itself in its avoidance of a felt emotional engagement. I don’t know if that’s accurate or fair. But something about it resonates enough for me to want to try to pin down that elusive idea of ‘north’ and ‘northernness’.

Let’s start with ‘accent’, and (predictably) with a quotation from Tony Harrison’s ‘Them and Uz’.

“All poetry (even Cockney Keats?) you see 
‘s been dubbed by [ɅS] into RP, 
Received Pronunciation please believe [ɅS] 
your speech is in the hands of the Receivers”

Harrison spoke for tens of thousands of us who, in the 50’s, were harried for our accents in the Grammar Schools we sat scholarships to get into. It goes deeper than accent…which we can train ourselves to change. It springs from lexis, the words themselves, their resonance, their heft and texture. All the Old English, Germanic, Scandinavian words.

John Foggin, Northwords: Bob Beagrie

It took a long time to get here,
sailing, drifting, 
and dreaming, curled,

homesick 
and world-sick,

so much alike,
the young and the old.

Past lives peeled off like skins,
and I turned and tumbled and traveled

only to find myself 
in front of these closed gates.

Claudia Serea, Young/Old

I started counting the months that we’ve been recovering.  We’re mostly recovered in the big house, except for some of the difficult decisions about what comes back in the house from the cottage.  But the cottage needs serious attention, and I am just so tired.

I’m also thinking of a poem I wrote years ago.  I got the title from a powerful essay by Philip Gerard that appears in one of the very first books about how to teach creative non-fiction.  My poem was written years after after Hurricane Wilma (which wreaked devestation in 2 months after Katrina, just after we had finished up our hurricane Katrina clean-up) when I found myself weeping in the car, flooded by post-hurricane despair, even though the clean-up had been done and regular life mostly restored:

What They Don’t Tell You About Hurricanes

You expected the ache in your lazy
muscles, as you hauled debris
to the curb, day after day.

You expected your insurance
agent to treat
you like a lover spurned.

You expected to curse
your bad luck,
but then feel grateful
when you met someone suffering
an even more devastating loss.

You did not expect
that months, even years afterwards
you would find yourself inexplicably
weeping in your car, parked
in a garage that overlooks
an industrial wasteland.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Hurricane Season Begins

I spent almost a whole day going to my hematologist down at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. My doctor there I have known for fifteen years. The last time we talked it was when we thought I might be dying of liver cancer, and we talked about safe biopsies and chemo and surgery obstacles. This time I brought her my newest book and we discussed my mild anemia (she’s worried about it, but I’m not) and MS drug risks and pain drugs and pain clinic consultations. I sat in the reclining chairs watching the beautiful Puget sound blue by all the people getting chemo and waiting to get chemo. I wound through the blood lab around patients much worse off than me. It gives you perspective, these kinds of visits. The doctor, which was very unusual, gave me a hug at the end of the appointment. It felt like a blessing, a sort of hopeful encouragement. I walked out into the rainy early evening, feeling the ghost of my previous experiences, of the fear of death, and the gratefulness of feeling alive.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poems Up at WordGathering, Woodinville Wine Country, and a Day at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

I walked up to Renshin afterward and said: I have a problem with this idea. There is a similar concept in Byron Katie, that you can’t argue with life because it’s perfect exactly as it is. And it shows up in all kinds of Zen books. It makes a certain kind of sense, and it does help in achieving a certain level of equanimity. But it’s one thing for me to apply that insight to my own life, another thing entirely to tell someone else that.

Ah, but you’re making a big jump there, Renshin said. Who said anything about telling someone else what to do or what to think?

And then she added: Watch out for that first step – it’s a doozy.

I was briefly stunned. She had in fact identified something about the way my particular mind works, and showed it to me in a few seconds of casual conversation. All I could think to do was bow.

Later, as I was leaving, I was sort of backing out the front door of the church while saying goodbye to a few people in the breezeway. And I almost fell over because there was a step down from the door – a tiny little step.

stumbling ::
the gap between the sky
and the ground

D. F. Tweney, Watch out for that first step

So how can I react to these digital ghosts and the griefs they awaken: online reminders of my wedding, or of my mother who has died, or of friendships that evaporated or hopes that didn’t come to pass? The only answer I have is to feel whatever I feel — the sorrow, the wistfulness, the regret — and to thank my heart for its capacity to feel both the bitter and the sweet.

And I can choose to be real, even in digital spaces. Even when what’s real is a hurt or an ache, a memory or a sorrow. Because I think being real with ourselves and one another is what we’re here for in this life. Because I think spiritual life asks our authenticity. Because life is too short for pretense. Because being real comes with its own blessings, its own reward.

Rachel Barenblat, Fragments: digital ghosts, gratitude, and grief

Here is what I want you to know about the silence, still as death and colder: it moved from you to me, see, here in this bonecage gone titanium, this immune system propped by goblin armies:
 
couplets emerge from scar, relentlessly enjambed. This body is a verse form dealing with both loss and love, but choked by anaphylaxis there is no scheme. The poet’s moniker appears at the end.
 
Once I took you all the way in, once I choked. They are peculiar twins, vulnerability and memory: I am made and remade as neural network linking like things, a synesthesia.

JJS, June 4, 2019: Ghazalish, The Flood

John Sibley Williams’ As One Fire Consumes Another presents a familiar world full of burnings carried out on both the grand and intimate scale. I love the way the newspaper-like columns of prose poetry in his work provide a social critique of violence in American culture while working within the boundaries of self, family, and the natural world. The book permeates an apocalyptic tension, but what makes it so great is the way in which his poems envision the kind of fires that not only provide destruction but also illuminate a spark of hope.  And I also interviewed Williams about his book, which will be coming out on NBP podcast soon (seems like most of my poetry reading is focused around my podcasting work these days).  

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: May 2019

There was a rash of gang shootings in Seattle over the last month, and my precious, gentle friend and co-worker recently saw the fresh body of a seventeen-year-old kid shot to death, bleeding out on the sidewalk at the hospital campus she works at. I didn’t realize the extent of her trauma until a recent get-together with my colleagues from my hospital’s other campuses. My co-worker is someone who I would consider a classic “good person,” a warm, kind human being who is probably a little too trusting. Part of her trauma came from the shock of seeing true evil at play. 

I am coming to realize that it’s been been a luxury for me to go through life believing that people are essentially good. We hear about horrible things happening all of the time, but until we come face to face with them, they remain more or less theoretical. We can’t really process that human beings have darkness and savagery within them until we see something like that. And because we don’t see it in other people, it’s very hard to see it in ourselves. And that’s the really dangerous part. In trying to process this local tragedy, I spent the morning listening to a podcast about the much bigger and far more atrocious My Lai massacre. It drove home to me how important it is to not get complacent about our own potential for evil. Believing that humanity is essentially good is dangerous and foolish. We have to face the truth of who we are as human beings and be vigilant, or we will fall to prey to savagery, violence and acts of inhumanity, no matter how “good” we convince ourselves we are. 

Kristen McHenry, Good People, Dark Places

A great deal of thought and planning had gone into the manner of the preservation of Bergen-Belsen. The absence of any of the accommodation huts, the vehicle parks, the workshops, the guards’ quarters, the administrative buildings that had once filled the grim estate and the restitution of the heathland and copses that had gone under their foundations creates a powerfully moving sense of a territory both haunted by the unendurable horrors of the past and yet now salved and dignified by nature. It’s an extraordinary place – an eloquent testimony both to utter destruction and tenacious survival. I shall never forget our quiet, slow day amongst the harebells and the graves.

ARTEFACTS

There is the heaped equality
of spectacles, the comfort
of linked arms –
wire, gold and tortoiseshell,
the white opacity
of the tilted lens.

There is the kicking scramble
of empty shoes, piled
like bean pods, shelled
of movement, scuffed and dusty
from the longest walk
in the world.

There is the hollow clothing,
the empty-handed gloves,
the headless hats and cap,
the hanks of hair, bagged,
sprung teeth in boxes,
stamped and labelled.

Bones we know;
we scrambled up and out
of the millennium
on bones.  These clothes,
these artefacts endure,
undiminished, unconsumed.

Dick Jones, BERGEN-BELSEN

I’ve been thinking about trees because I’m reading Peter Wohlleben’s 2016 book The Hidden Life of Trees. The text reads like a friendly forester inviting readers to learn what he loves about trees and their encounters with us, with the environment (soil, air, sun, water, pollutants, pests, fungi), and with one another. I have to say I remain somewhat skeptical about the scientific veracity of his source material, but I do enjoy his warm enthusiasm for his subjects and his reminders that we humans don’t know even the smallest fraction of what goes on in the planet’s interconnected and unplumbed depths.

Although some critics object to what they see as too much anthropomorphism in Wohllebehn’s book, his use of the analogy of the human and the tree “bodies” makes his information about how trees and forests work easy to grasp.

For science nerds, there are other texts. The Hidden Life of Trees is meant to make the less scientifically-inclined reader more aware of his or her environment, to convince the average human being to consider plant life more consciously.

~

I take many photos of trees; and they appear in my poems pretty regularly, not as main characters but in supporting roles–not symbolic, but actual. Wohllebehn’s book may influence my work somehow…possible inspiration? But then, the trees themselves, especially the oldest ones, are inspiration enough.

Ann E. Michael, Trees

This is a beautiful and gentle book.  It does not claim to be poetry, but it is written by a poet and it begins with a powerful image, comparing the children of a large family to pansies, which “are a persistent breed.  They take to the same soil, year after year.”  If you didn’t read the back of the book it would take you until the third of these finely crafted vignettes to find out what is going on; this is the story of a compassionate woman who needs a babysitter and ends up learning about a sub-culture very different from her own.  The young woman she hires teaches her bit by bit about another way of living, of understanding one’s place in the world.

Young people, who only hear bad stories about different peoples, such as Muslims or unwanted immigrants, should read this book.  So should those who are older and weary of bad news.  The writing is concise, elegant, and honest about the narrator’s mistakes and misunderstandings, as well as about the limits to the relationship.

No, these are not prose poems, but they are close cousins.  I will share it with my poetry group and I expect that they will like it as well as I do.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Pansies by Carol Barrett

When we were in our first years of library programming endeavors, people often wondered how we had so many ideas.  For workshops, for panels, for focus topics.  What I didn’t share were the back burners, or the ones that were a little too costly or the effort vs result ratio was poor.  I have suggestions for workshop ideas in my notebook that have been there for 3 or more years that I’m still hoping to make happen down the line. And maybe they’ll happen, or maybe they’ll get pushed out of the way by newer, better ideas.

In my notebook, there is a page full of tiny post-its for art projects, another with writing projects.   Another with anthology projects and other press doings.  Another with crafty things I’d like to make for the shop.  This is all in addition to the half finished things–like unusual creatures, postcards from the blue swallow, the mermaid anthology, swim. They stand like a weight in my other hand while the things I do finish or see to the end balance in the other.  I try not to let them get too out of whack, otherwise I flounder about feeling like I never finish anything I’ve started.  But I remind myself I do.  Just not those particular  things.

Kristy Bowen, on ideas, and too many of them

This also made me remember something that happened in (or to) my writing life many years ago. My daughters were young, I had my first full-time teaching job, and I told a writing friend that I would write…later. I may have said that maybe I wouldn’t ever get back to writing. In any case, I gave the clear impression that despite an MFA in poetry and all my huge writing goals, which my friend knew all about, I was going to put off writing.

She wrote me a letter — old school, sat down and wrote it in long-hand and mailed it to me (of course, that happened more often back then, but we did have email). She said something like this:

No one cares if you write. The world is not going to come and pound on your door and insist that you write. No one will miss it if you don’t write. They won’t even know. Meanwhile, life will unfold. You’ll get older. You’ll get farther and farther from your writing dreams. Eventually you’ll say to your grandchildren, “I used to write.” But your grandchildren won’t especially care either. It makes no difference whether you write or not. EXCEPT TO YOU. A place inside YOU will dry up and never be expressed if you don’t write. YOU will miss it. YOU will care. The only way to keep your writing alive, to keep this important part of yourself alive, is to write.

I probably have this letter somewhere. I should have framed it. I took it seriously (even though it was like that small, inner voice that I so often don’t heed). And I kept writing. Often, I didn’t have much time; I had little kids for a lot of years; I had a teaching career; I had teenagers and a mother who was ill. Nonetheless, I made a little time every day and I wrote. Some days the little bit of time turned into enough time.

And it has mattered. It has mattered to me. Writing has sustained me and saved me and even made things like parenting and teaching richer and more enjoyable. I am glad that I kept writing.

Bethany Reid, Procrastination Kills

A hot day. That’s OK. If I hated the heat I wouldn’t love the Sacramento Valley like I do. I like a hot, dry summer and a cool, wet winter. 

There’s a lot going on. There’s my two on-going poetry reading series. There’s the events I attend as poet laureate, another one tomorrow. I am giving a reading in Sacramento this coming Monday. The homeless shelter where I volunteer as a board member is always active. My church is always active. My wife and I are part of an extended family group that I love very much. And then there’s all the chores that I put off. Never put off for tomorrow the procrastination you can do today.

And I love all those things. But what do I love best? Simply being. I meditate twice a day, write poems, wander around town. There’s a park right across the street from my house. I can watch the light changing against the huge pine trees as the hours pass. There’s an owl – at least one. At night, when it’s cool I like to go out there and listen for the owl. 2 AM, 3 AM, just whenever I happen to wake up. I see what the clouds and the moon are up to. Then I go back to bed.

And you?

James Lee Jobe, Journal Update – 04 June 2019

That Poem You Wrote

             is only half of something unsaid
hold it                next to the mirror
             so that it looks                 whole

do you look whole?      how

             can you tell?

Romana Iorga, That Poem You Wrote

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 19

Poetry Blogging Network

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

Some weeks I resolve not to look for any common themes and just to post quotes at random. This was one of those weeks. I failed spectacularly.


Plants, particularly flowering plants, fascinate me. Every year, I find myself heading out to the yard, my camera in hand, to take photographs as the flowers unfold and the insects arrive to pollinate them. Every year. Yet a closeup of a bumblebee in a redbud blossom from 2005 looks pretty much the same as a bumblebee in a redbud blossom in 2019. Or a monarch on a tithonia–one year similar to the next. Why bother? What urges me out when the dogwoods bloom to record yet another photograph of flowering dogwood? How redundant. How unnecessary.

Yet I have learned much, gleaned much, from the process of noticing the buds and blossoms and insects as the days lengthen and then shorten again; the cycle of life a repetition. Each routine event of spring seems new to me after the winter’s rest.

~

The only types of poems I have managed to have some recall for are poems with refrains, and some song lyrics (also with refrains). The ones I have memorized are the ones I have heard and sung along with most often, such as the calls and responses of church rituals and hymns, the record albums I listened to over and over when I was a teenager. Each time I listened, I felt something new happen inside me. It’s the same with my walks in the garden and the woods and hedgerows and the meadow: each year the same, each year new. That kind of teaching, while repetitive, is far removed from rote.

Ann E. Michael, Repetition

Yesterday, the U.N. released a report that tells us what many of us already knew:  we’re killing species on this planet at an alarming rate.  In many ways, the U.N. report isn’t a new report at all, but a work that connects the implications of all of these findings that have been released over the last 10+ years.  This NPR story does a good job of summarizing.

Much of my creative work has also thought about the implications of what it means to be alive during this time of transformation of the natural world.   Here’s one of my favorites, which is the title poem of my 3rd chapbook:

Life in the Holocene Extinction
I complete the day’s tasks
of e-mails and reports and other paperwork.
I think about which species
have gone extinct
in the amount of time it takes
to troll the Internet.
I squash a mosquito.

He drives to the grocery store
to pick up the few items he needs
for dinner: shark from a distant
sea, wine redolent of minerals from a foreign
soil. He avoids the berries
from a tropical country with lax
control of chemicals.

As she packs up her office,
she thinks about habitat loss,
those orphaned animals stranded
in a world of heat and pavement.
She wishes she had saved
more money while she had a job.
She knows she will lose the house.
She wonders what possessions
will fit into her car.

This poem first appeared at the wonderful online journal, Escape Into Life.  I encourage you to go here to see the wonderful image of a fiber collage that’s paired with the poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Tuesday: “Life in the Holocene Extinction”

Like many people I’ve been thinking more and more about climate change, inspired by the activism of Greta Thunberg and others.  Recent poetry events like the 2018 Ginkgo Prize readings at Poetry in Aldeburgh (by the way, the 2019 Ginkgo Prize – “the world’s biggest ecopoetry prize” – has just launched) and the Autumn 2018 Climate Change issue of Magma poetry magazine have also provoked me to think about the ways poetry can be a force to move people to deeper ecological awareness.  Even if poetry can’t really make anything happen (or can it?) if you’re reading and writing poetry and you’re concerned about climate change and the environment, it’s natural to want to see those concerns reflected in some way in poetry.  That’s how I feel, in any case.

It’s also been on my mind because I went to a poetry open-mic a short while ago and heard a good number of poets performing their work in response to climate change.  Without being mean, one thing that I noticed about the poems I heard is how easy it is to tip over into preaching,  and sometimes poems become little more than a means of the poet telling the audience (or reader) what they already know.  I am aware that I fall into this trap myself when I write about issues I care about, so I know it isn’t easy to write an engaging poem and not a ranting lecture.

So, how to get the tone right without turning people off?

Josephine Corcoran, Poetry responding to climate change

I heard [Lia Purpura] read many years ago, and enjoyed it thoroughly, and thought I’d read her book On Looking. But I remembered nothing about it when I feel deeply into the fascinating essays of this writer’s deep gaze. I also picked up and am, based on how much I’m enjoying so much of On Looking, looking forward to her newest collection of essays All the Fierce Tethers.

Listen to this from “On Form” in On Looking (again I’m being drawn to discussions of form — for someone who stubbornly writes in free verse, this seems peculiar):

“Sketching, I consider the line: ‘These fragments I shore against my ruin’–from a time when so much felt to be coming apart. But no. My fragments I shore to reveal my ruin. And all the similarities my eye is drawn to: flaw. Torque. Skew. I make a little pile by the shore: cracked horseshoe crab, ripped clam, wet ragged wing with feathers. I look because a thing is off, to locate the unlocatable in its features, forged as they are, or blunted, or blown. I look because the counter flashes its surprising grin.”

Marilyn McCabe, Looky Lou; or, Enjoying Lia Purpura’s Work and More on Form

And all the things I wanted to hold onto–
a child’s hand, cool as an oboe;
lamplight; reading
by the window

lying in bed with extra pillows,
talking to my daughter, texture
of voices like patent leather
straps overlapping–

begin to loosen. The velvet ear of
close attention has been lost to racier
attractions. She is all hunger and eye,
I on the sidelines.

Jill Pearlman, What is Mother’s Day without the kids?

Many years later, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer, the surgery from which she emerged only with a long wicked scar across her abdomen, but no need for further treatment.  She said afterwards that her greatest fear was that she would die and leave me and my sister, (I was 13, she was 9) without a mother. I was worried most on the specter of navigating my teen years without her–even though a couple years later, we fought like cats and dogs. I grew into an adult who had a pretty good relationship with my mom, though there was much I kept from her in regard to my own life, just to keep stability and privacy. In my mid-20’s, I told her that if she needed to know something, she would. And so it went for the next couple decades.

On the plus side, I’ve since finished a book, feed, which is mostly about mothers and daughters and body image issues, but also about mothering as a creative endeavor, which I, as a child-free woman think about often.  The work as offspring.  (unlike many other people, I’m less inclined to think of pets as children, the cats mostly just obnoxious/endearing roommates who expect me to feed and clean up after them.)

Kristy Bowen, notes from the motherless wilds

robin’s egg blue reminds me of peacocks,
of eyes, of Robin, of my mother’s
voice as I tried to choose a dress
for my first prom, of my son,
of my daughter, laughter,
wine glasses gone wild
and filled full with
water, of
paper
squares
folded
into these
tiny ornate
surprising jewel-tone
structures, of first dates, and
last dates, of first dates that are
also last dates, of safety, risk,
of being broken open like birth
breaks open the heart […]

PF Anderson, Untitled

The urge of milk,
eyes closed,

the urge to pull the zippers tight,
to cover, to protect.

You won’t know this love
until you’ll feel your rib
missing her rib,

the ocean of your blood
seeking her ship.

Claudia Serea, You won’t know this love

Father, with your lies and your cruelty.
Mother, with your superstitions
And your ridiculous beliefs.
I am better off with the dharma,
Even if I am a flea on the ass of a mongrel dog.
I release myself now
From all of the crap you taught me.
There is no god and no America to worship.
All is impermanence.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Dear parents’ ////

I’m setting out my shingle as an editor and proof-reader again, but it’s a very different scene from the one I joined in 2003 in Scotland. I had been working in a publishing company since 1997 and had picked up some typesetting work that my employer didn’t have time or interest in. That slowly blossomed into my own little publishing company Grimalkin Press that I set up to publish short runs of work, usually connected with the groups I was teaching creative writing. They didn’t have the resources or skills to publish their own books, so I would do the work, get it printed and they would fund it, usually through arts grants. I really enjoyed it and miss working with community groups and schools, helping them bring their projects to fruition. 

Social media wasn’t a thing then so everything was done word-of-mouth. I was recommended by one organiser to another, from one small poet to another. I miss that, it’s still there, in various electronic formats, but I need to learn the new system. 

Gerry Stewart, A New Normal

I’m afraid there was no wondrous golden time for writers–oh, there were times when disparate talents came together in one region and vied with one another, but even then there was often jealousy and insufficient reward. Look back, and you find Robert Greene railing at that “shake scene” and “upstart crow,” a Shakespeare “beautified” with pilfered feathers. Or look at the denizens of Grub Street, journalists and poets struggling to feed and house themselves in a poor bohemian quarter, only to be pilloried by that clever and amusing cripple, Alexander Pope. […]

In the kingdom of writer-dooms, Melville has long been a hero of mine. Years after any notice was paid to him, an old man, he pursued the work it was given him to do, writing poems, writing Billy Budd. He endured the agony of being ignored and thought mad (and perhaps of being mad from neglect for a time), and yet he kept harrowing his piece of literary ground and planting new seed, even when no one remained to believe that what he made would mean anything in the world. He persisted. He won a victory, although he had no earthly reward for doing so. But I have known writers in similar situations whose minds and spirits were bent by lack of notice, lack of support, and who did not have the resilience to unbend. I won’t say their names, but some drift into mind.

The dream of creating something strong and true matters to the soul. A strange joy, it burns in the mind. Resentment and bitterness will never help a work grow and achieve beauty. Putting words together in fresh patterns is a kind of alchemy that transforms the inner being of the writer–creation may make the self larger and more resilient on the inside. Yet self-poisoning by resentment and bitterness remains a risk for any maker. To a writer, young or old, I’d say that there’s no shame in pursuing some other dream if resentment becomes a blight, just as there’s no shame in keeping on despite self-judgment or the world’s judgment, and in striving to pierce the cloud of bitterness…

Marly Youmans, Down and out in Cripplegate Ward

I know this is something I’ve talked about before, but I just thought I’d write a little reminder as we get into the summer months, good months for writing and submitting poetry book reviews. Every poet wants their book to be reviewed. I always get asked, “How do I get more book reviews?” And I almost always say, “Well, how much time have you spent writing poetry book reviews?” And if the answer in none, well, remember, there are way more people who want their poetry recognized than people who want to do the hard critical labor of reviewing books. I’ve been doing it now for a dozen years. I finally (at the encouragement of several friends) joined the National Book Critics Circle.

Now, there are different types of poetry book critics. There are poetry critics who get joy from putting poetry books down, showing how clever they are at the expense of the writers. I encourage you not to be that kind of critic. I myself try hard not to do that stuff. Because while most people aren’t reading enough of the great poetry books out there – especially not books by people of color and women – I try to write the kind of review that might get someone excited enough to actually buy the book. I’m not a cheerleader, but if I choose to review a book, it’s not because I hate it. It’s also not because I think it’s flawless, but because I think it is interesting and deserving of others’ attention.

It is surprisingly easy to place a poetry book review, because not many people are out there desperately sending out book reviews, the way they are fiction or poetry. So I encourage you to review a book of poetry, hopefully one that hasn’t already been reviewed a thousand times. (It happens – one book captures the world’s imagination all at once, perhaps focused on relevant social themes, or current events. It’s not a bad thing.) It’s the one thing that costs you no money that might make another writer really happy.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Talking about Poetry Book Reviews, and a Couple of Down Days due to MS, Rejections, etc.

I read entirely too fast. I’ve done this all of my life, with novels, finishing book after book in short order. I bring 5 or 6 novels with me for a week at the beach, and often buy another 1-2 while I am there. Reading fast is not always a good thing, it is costly for one thing and has left me almost buried in books wherever I live. In school I was always able to cram the night before for tests, but not always able to deeply engage with what I was reading. […]

A significant exception to my speed reading habit is when it comes to poetry and particularly reviewing a book of poems. When I review a book, I read slowly and carefully. I make notes. I re-read. Reviewing is teaching me the absolutete value of close reading. A lesson I sorely need to learn. To practice.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Speed Reading

How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?

I started writing stories, poems, and plays in elementary school and have never stopped. My first “professional” work was a stage adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time in sixth grade in 1986. The more I read and the more I learn about literature, the more I want to write. It’s a mixture of envy of good writing by others and a desire to make something that holds together even for a short time. I love the sculptural aspects of verse as much as the communicative aspects of poetry.

Your new collection of poetry is The Sun Ships & Other Poems. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

The Sun Ships & Other Poems was more than a decade in the making, and the finished book is 44 hard-won pages and has a spectacular cover by Dan Sauer. It collects the very best of my poems that play with the tropes and narrative strategies of science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories. Some of the poems are what-if-style thought experiments; others are capsule narratives or songs. Most of the poems are in rhyming and metrical verse — even my prose poems have a strong structural foundation. Two of my obsessions that come out in various ways in the poems are the folly of human hubris and the need for, in Robert Frost’s words, “a momentary stay against confusion.”

Poet Spotlight: Steven Withrow on formal and speculative verse (Andrea Blythe’s blog)

I began to think of other landmarks along the way: Mt. Shasta, the towns of Weed and Yreka (proposed capital of Jefferson), the grazing cows, the inexplicable signs. I thought of how enormous the landscape is compared to my car, which is also a place, a home while I’m driving. Like a home, the car quickly gets cluttered and dirty, especially on long trips.

Through it all, the presence of my father, dead eight years, infused the poem with an eerie humor. Driving with his ashes sitting on the passenger’s seat was both comic and surreal – I found myself talking to him, making weird jokes, and feeling a little smug that I was the one driving, not him.

I had a pretty good draft by early January, but I could tell it was missing something. I left it alone for a week. At the time I was reading Volume II of Sylvia Plath’s letters. In it she mentions that her poem, “Mussel-Hunter at Rock Harbor,” is written in 7-syllable lines.

A light went off in my head. I re-wrote the poem in 7 and 8-syllable lines. Sure enough, as I wrote in my blog post of January 28, 2019, it gained a “bouncy, energetic forward motion,” which perfectly suited a poem about driving.

Erica Goss, The Making of a Winning Poem: Writing “The State of Jefferson”

This week has been a busy week for me. I submitted my first two end-of-module assignments which consisted of 2000 words of poetry and 6000 of creative non-fiction. My final assignment, Art of the Short Story has a deadline of Wednesday the fifteenth and it too is a 6000-word undertaking. At this point in time I am 2800 words into one story and 1500 words into a second. I may push the second piece up to 3000 but it may be finished around the 2500 mark, in which case I’ll add a piece of micro-fiction :)

Also, immediately after the short story deadline I have two nice events. On the 16th I’ll be dressing up to go to the Dylan Thomas Prize announcement in the Great Hall on Swansea University’s Bay campus. I’ll be wearing my suit, shirt and tie which I haven’t worn since … April :) I know which book I want to win, Trinity by Louisa Hall. […]

And then on Friday 17th my creative writing MA classmates and I get to meet some agents. We should hear a lot of useful advice and, while poets don’t tend to get agents, I’ll be able to pitch the novel I plan on writing either as part of a PhD or on my own … I’ll be focussing on my elevator pitch on Thursday … though I’ll try to remember not to ask, ‘Which floor are you going to?’ ;)

Giles L. Turnbull, Chapter and Verse

Where has this week plus gone? I feel like I’ve been writing it away. I confess that is not a bad way to pass through a week. I’m getting some more of those abstract urgings in my writing. “Let the poem speak for itself,” says the poet. Ha!

My Facebook poet page had added a number of “likes”  in the past two weeks. I’m getting so close to the 100 likes mark. I think I’m either 3 or 4 short the last time I looked.  I know it’s just a number but I confess reaching 100 right now seems to be a pretty big thing to me.  Anyway, I hope by next Tuesday I can report I’ve reached 100.

I need to better organize my writing. As it is presently, I confess it is many files on my computer with less than and rhyme or reason. I guess the rhyme isn’t a big deal with me, but the reason is.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Time Machine to the 80s Edition. Pssst! That’s why I am late.

Sticking to my two pages a day has so far proved a good discipline. To avoid the writing becoming stale and cliched, and also to keep me interested in the ‘doing’ of it, I’ve drawn inspiration from Bernadette Mayer’s list of prompts. I came across these on Trish Hopkinson’s website (there’s a wealth of links for writing prompts on there). The one that has really inspired me is ‘systematically derange the language’. Mayer goes on to suggest that you try writing ‘a work consisting only of prepositional phrases, or, add a gerund to every line of an already existing work‘. I’ve often cut words ending with ‘ing’ from my writing. Now I’m cramming them in! The writing I’m producing is prose though, rather than poetry; somehow there seems to be more room to play around with ‘ing’ words in prose. I’ve also noticed that I’m inventing a cast of characters as I write, which is more usually a feature of prose too. I’m not going to try to categorise the writing any further than this. It’s very much fragments at the moment, but I’m hoping that they will add up to something meaningful and fresh.

Julie Mellor, Systematically derange the language

I have a couple of friends who tell me that they are thinking of putting together a book. I’m thinking of putting together a class (fall?) for how to put together a book. None of us seems to be making much progress toward our intended goals.

How to begin a book is how you begin anything. You begin.

When I walk, I am often a bit pressed for time. I’m negotiating with myself as I set out, thinking that maybe just five minutes today…well, okay, maybe fifteen minutes. I set the timer on my phone for 7 1/2 minutes, knowing that if I turn around when it chimes, I’ll get my fifteen.

But at the end of 7 1/2 minutes, I think, I could do 7 1/2 minutes more. Often, I do about 30 minutes in and 30 minutes back — it must have to do with that thing we learned in fifth grade about bodies in motion (they tend to stay in motion).

Writing is like that, too. But how is writing a book like that?

My best advice for the beginning of a book is to find a move, make a movement, that will actually look like building a book.

Bethany Reid, How to Begin

What about the afternoon poems?
Yes, the nights are long and silent,
words are heard easily
and spoken out with less fear
 
But what about the afternoons,
when the builder comes home,
when the train is late again
when you forgot to buy bread
and you have to walk all the way back.

Magda Kapa, No Big Deal

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 9

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 a lot of poetry bloggers writing about self-definition, belonging, identity, embodiment, and political engagement. It was a rich haul.


like when you try to put the silence back into your imaginary cat

like a boat on a lake in your ear you live with the wind

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, likes/som’er

Still, after all my ambition, I’ll never own a home or publish my novel. Remember in high school, how I’d run wild, chasing girls, climbing trees to query clouds, that sort of thing. Once in Miami, on a dare, I jogged around a city block wearing nothing but Nikes. I may have fallen hard for someone back then, but what do you know in your twenties? Still, I didn’t expect life to fall so short or to be so unlucky in love.

My days are delayed orgasms that will never climax..

I don’t plan rash action. There will be dinner, if I wash dishes and peel potatoes. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I probably won’t write again. Bills pile up, they won’t let me drive now, and I’m busy giving things away.

Risa Denenberg, Not-about-me poem, on the occasion of my 69th Birthday.

as I was going to sleep last night I had a very clear vision of how my mind works. it was a delicate, erector-set-like machine constructed like a bridge over the much vaster body of direct experience. I could hear it humming. “that’s all there is to it?” I remember thinking

Dylan Tweney (untitled post)

Who am I when I am not interacting with someone specific? That quiet watcher who tilts her head in puzzlement. Like a dog: taking interest, but not making up a story to imagine the world into meaning. It is a peaceful place. But lonely. Maybe that is why dogs curl up tightly against each other in musky dens?

Why Leonard presses his skull into mine until I have to distract him with a pig’s ear or a bit of cheese.

This desire than needs an object.

I should have been a dancer.

Ren Powell, March 1, 2019

prayer kneels down
wind builds a nest
for the passenger you carry without knowing

Grant Hackett (untitled)

A fellowship isn’t a residency. My duties are more complicated than that–not only because of financial concerns, but because I feel a general responsibility to be out and about in the city. But like a residency, this time gives me distance and fresh perspective on life at home. I miss so much, but I don’t miss everything. And letting go of those things that I don’t miss will be an important part of returning.

The weather can be mercurial. The hills are steep. Strange to become a version of myself that reaches for blue jeans and flats, instead of skirts and heels, and buries herself in warm clothing. But this is a deeply good place, and I am grateful to be here. 

Sandra Beasley, The Road to Cork

The character of the pinko commie dyke, who is sometimes me and other times other women walking through the world, has been speaking to me in a series of poems that muse on contemporary life and the issues and ideas that are important in the world today. In some ways, I think that this series is representative of my work, which is invested in lyricism and also narrative. I also am interested in personae and exploring where the lyrical ‘I’ overlaps with the poet and where it does not. The disjuncture between the lyrical ‘I’ and the poet fascinate me much more today than they did ten years ago.

The Pinko Commie Dyke Kills / an interview with poet Julie R. Enszer (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

Cathy Warner’s newest collection of poetry, Home By Another Road, takes us down the highway of reflection and, whether she is the driver or the passenger, it is a journey that asks all the big questions. Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? What is home?

Warner uses every map she has available to answer these questions, and while on this journey we are fortunate to have an honest narrator at the wheel. While navigating the complicated territory of family, faith, forgiveness, regret, and redemption, Warner clearly understands we all must pay the toll master for the right of passage we call a life, where you cannot know, you never could, what might become/of you or anything you have ever loved.

Carey Taylor, Home By Another Road

No one ever means to cry, no one says, I think I’ll cry now, it’s such a good day for crying      cry more she said the ocean needs your tears

the trash on the beach was pink & sparkly

driftwood like a pile of slingshots

her eye is a storm that rages from sea to sea

Erica Goss, Writing at a Non-Writers’ Retreat

One of my favorite moments is a few episodes into Russian Doll where, convinced she is losing it, Natasha Leone’s character, talking with the woman who mostly raised her, utters her safe word for mental health.  I found this a nice idea–a single word that would show the people around us that we were in a bad space that required help.   I don’t think I’ve every been quite there, but part of my weird anxious brain worries that if I ever were in need of help, I wouldn’t be able to convey the difference between an ordinary kind of brain wonkiness and something that bordered on dangerous.  And truthfully, the weekend I sat down to watch this show the first time, I was in a weirder place.  I made it through one episode and it made me so undeniably anxious that I had to stop.  I went back the following week, and was glad I did, because it was so, so good.

And really, there was something so similar about the characters repeating groundhog day experiences and life pretty much–days spent doing mostly the same things with variations.  This is probably why I found it initially super anxiety-provoking, the routine and the missteps that could lead to disaster.  How each choice sets off a chain reaction of other choices.   If you  change A, the B happens, avoid B then you skip C and move ahead to D. It makes every choice unbearable sometimes thinking 10 steps ahead of everything.  And I guess, welcome to my brain. And particularly, my brain on winter.

Kristy Bowen, russian doll

Where I grew up there was a mill at the bottom of the street and a farm at the top. A quarter of a mile up the road were acres of municipal park woodlands. Beyond that, an open-cast valley, more woodlands, brickworks, some working pits. In the valley where I live now, not far away from where I was born, is polluted river, a canal, a railway (think : The Rainbow).  There are defunct mills,a defunct marshalling yard. No one can build on the field beyond my back garden because it has pitshafts in it. There’s an even older pitshaft under my neighbour’s house. And so on. Everything formerly ‘organic’ has been managed, enclosed, changed, even the river itself. I live on the edge of a coalfield where the 19thcentury houses are on the boundary between stone and brick. My horizon is the skyline of high moorland from Holme Moss to Oxenhope. This is the lens through which I read the poems of Remains of Elmet, through which I imagine the landscape of the Wodo’s wanderings, the corroded dystopian landscape of Crow, and through which I see foxes, thrushes, pike, hawks.

John Foggin, Critics, poets and the common reader (Part Two)

I inhabit this place. Like a bat in a cave.
Like an owl in an elm. This place is my own.

I fill this land like a ghost fills a haunted house,
Like coffee fills a cup.

Starting out from here
Any direction is the right direction,

And turning about from any direction
Takes me back home.

James Lee Jobe, ‘From here you can see the snowy mountains’

I ate too much salt.

I listened to a podcast about a mystery person who turned out to be Sonia Sotomayor.

A flawed translation turned me into a lawyer.

Sarah J. Sloat, Tuesday minutiae

In response to my last post, friend David Graham wrote, “I’ve finally come to believe that ‘voice’ is not something to concern myself with. Others will or will not tag me with such a thing, but it just messes me up to think about it. I simply (ha! it ain’t simple!) try to write as well as I can & in the process figure out what I want to say (which for me always happens in the revision process, not before.)…In a similar way, worrying about originality is for me mostly a dead end. I love something Levertov said: ‘Originality is nothing else but the deepest honesty.’”

I thought about that for a while, and replied, “I wonder if it’s not the author that has a voice but the poems themselves. I know I get annoyed when a poem of mine starts having a kind of woff woff self-aggrandizing tone of some British lord or Oxford don. I have to shove it off its high horse. Then other poems just think they’re so damn funny they start laughing at themselves so hard I can’t understand what they’re saying.”

And soon after that exchange I found this notion by Richard Russo in the eponymous essay of his new book The Destiny Thief: “I’d been told before that writers had to have two identities, their real-life one…as well as another, who they become when they sit down to write. This second identity, I now saw, was fluid, as changeable as the weather, as unfixed as our emotions. As readers, we naturally expect novels to introduce us to a new cast of characters and dramatic events, but could it also be that the writer has to reinvent himself for the purpose of telling each new story?”

Marilyn McCabe, Mi, a name I call myself; or, More on Voice

Invisible damp fingers
leave prints on my skin,
out of sight, muffled roars –
uncertainty circles in a waltz.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Fog

Anticipation feels different from expectation, though the two are related. For me, at least, the connotation of the first is more open-ended. Anything can happen, though let’s hope what happens is good. Expectation seems more results-oriented. I am not a results-oriented gardener; I like surprises, I appreciate the education I get even from failures.

Come to think of it, I could describe myself that way as a writer or poet, too: not results-oriented, more intrigued by the things I learn when I work at the writing.

Ann E. Michael, Anticipation

imagine the newspaper you read every day
I will be the article you clip & never throw away

now do you smell the slow spring coming?
the grass humid with the buzz of dragonflies

an airplane’s drone reaches the rec yard
it’ll land somewhere in a few minutes

we will still be here
imagining birds & sky & other lives

James Brush, Air Mail

My mom had a couple of stories about my early childhood — one was that I didn’t walk until I was 13 months old. “I thought you were retarded,” she liked to say.

Another story was that I wouldn’t color in my coloring book until I figured out, at age three, how to do it perfectly, without going outside the lines.

I never had a spanking until I was three — around the time my next younger sister was born. “You never needed one until then,” Mom used to say.

So here I am, 59 years later, trying once again to finish a novel…and going back to the beginning, over and over, day after day, and trying to make it perfect.

Bethany Reid, What I’m Reading Now

These days, my thoughts return to the situation of our physical bodies quite often.  I have friends with very rare conditions:  one friend has kidneys that make cysts and another friend has a body that creates non-cancerous brain tumors.  Most of my friends are solidly in the land of middle age or older, so there’s vast terrains of discoveries–not unlike adolescence, but without some of the fun discoveries about what bodies can do.  Or maybe the fun discoveries are yet to come.

Or maybe as we age, the fun discoveries don’t revolve around our bodies but our spirits.

I’m still thinking about whether or not I could weave any of this into a poem that wouldn’t be trite or cover ground that’s well covered by past poets.  I joke about being rather medieval in my view of the body, that we’re holy spirits trapped in a prison of flesh; some days I’m joking, but other days I feel that way.  It’s a troubling theology, but it’s also pernicious and hard to root out of my consciousness.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Poet in the Body

“Protest Poetry” also carries my college’s “experiential learning” designation, which means the students are creating a couple of public-facing projects. The first, a collaborative venture, happened this Wednesday. We began planning it a few weeks ago, after a tour of the Rockbridge Area Relief Association as well as reading poems about hunger on the Split this Rock database. The assignment was (for very low stakes, grade-wise) to raise money for RARA through poetry. I told them a benefit reading would work–I’ve organized them before–but it was up to them. We toyed with the idea of a Haiku Booth or poetry-related crafts, but decided on an hourlong event that would be organized, promoted, and emceed by students in the class. They chose and booked a campus space, issued invitations to the readers, created fliers, set up sound equipment, decided the flow of the event, and brought refreshments (I acquired a small budget for the latter).

My undergraduates also did some extra work I did NOT expect or require, because, I think, they became genuinely invested in the cause. Some of them made another trip to the food pantry with questions for the clientele, cleared in advance by RARA staff, such as “What’s your favorite meal?” and “If you had to describe RARA in one word, what would it be?” They constructed poems out of the answers, performing them at the event as well as interspersing information between the poems about RARA’s work. They also set up a fundraising table for three days in the Commons, where they offered soft drinks and home-baked treats. Talking to unsuspecting muffin-eaters about how much food RARA can buy for a dollar, they then sweetly solicited donations in any amount. All told, they raised $470!

Lesley Wheeler, Teaching poetry activism

Home, for Syrians exiled by war, is gone, irretrievable, a lost paradise just as it is, at the same time, a place forever unattainable and mythic.  Listening to concerts this week by Kinan Azmeh, the Syrian clarinetist and composer, I was reminded of the  mystical desire of Arabic love poetry.  The object is unattainable. The wonderful paradox is that in evoking absence, art walked right in and created presence.

Azmeh’s music, presented by Community MusicWorks at local centers, evokes wistful longing with sighs, bends, microtonal wavering and high solemnity of Arab string exhortations — and Kinan’s clarinet wrangles with clarity and fading memory.  The feeling is raw, open and shared. Mohammed al Shawaf, a recent immigrant, jumped up spontaneously to read his own poem gathering at Dorcas Institute, a resettlement organization.  I scrawled down some of the lines as Kinan translated it into English. It’s about a nightingale who was encountering a displaced poet (apologies for the scrappy transcription!).

“Nightingale, I saw your sad face from the East…Are you a refugee like me? How did you leave heaven on earth? Everything is different, everything destroyed. Did you bring anything from home? You have awoken my feeling…. I promised you, Damascus, I would never forget you.” 

Jill Pearlman, Love, Our Inalienable Right

I also read three books of poetry in the past month. all this can be yours by Isobel O’Hare is a powerful collection of erasures from the celebrity sexual assault apologies. The poems are fierce explorations of how the men making these apologies try to evade their own culpability.

The chapbook Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned by Sara Ryan (Pork Belly Press) delves into the liminal space between living and dead, with this collection of poems about taxidermy. The nature of body is explored down to the bone, with footnotes that provide an expanded philosophical look at the art of preservation.

House of Mystery by Courtney Bates-Hardy draws on the dark undertones of fairy tales, providing a haunting look into the role of women in those stories.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: February 2019

The ceiling is low today. Clouds drift
through the window, grackles pick daintily
the last berries from frozen vines.
She can forgive winter

for its long oddity, its tired body
of a shrunken old woman. Vines spring
through her couch. A day comes when she must
do something, or simply lie there and bloom.

Romana Iorga, Spring Inspection

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 6

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. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network (deadline: February 14).

Some weeks, if I didn’t know better I’d think that the poetry bloggers in my feed were responding to an essay question in some class that everyone but me is in on. (Why yes, I do have mildly paranoid tendencies.) This week, that assignment would’ve been something like: “How might risk, difficulty, or discomfort shape a poem’s creation? Illustrate with examples from your own or others’ work. For extra credit, discuss the importance of play.”


I keep seeing myself in the center of the lake.
On a still day, and everywhere is blue and quiet – except for where I am
waving my arms about, thrashing my legs against imagined, deep threats

complaining about the turbulent water.

This is my morning meditation as my mind passes through the blue candle
towards the yellow. Yellow is equanimity. The giving and the receiving.
Secure in a sense of enoughness.

I can’t let go of this longing for spring – when the morning runs are no longer a matter of pushing through darkness and trusting that all is well though
obscured.

Ren Powell, February 6th, 2019

On this sunny morning.  I know the snow will follow.

This time next week I will be having surgery. 

Here’s a poem from my book  How the Hand Behaves:

Garden gloves huddled

in a paper bag hanging on a hook
by the window where the ice clotted
bare branches quiver
and the sun sends their gnarled shadows on the snow below.

Garden gloves clean, soft, bleachy perfume,
stained brown and green,
some holy fingers clutch each other
while they wait.

Anne Higgins, Dreaming of Spring

People losing power, icy patches where you can slip and fall or where your car can skid out of control or just get stuck. Or, you might, like me, worry about the rhododendrons and go out in your pajamas and a jacket, with a broom and no gloves (I realized too late that I needed those gloves) to shake the heavy weight off the branches before they split off.

On the other side of snow’s beauty is risk.

And isn’t that what a poem is? The sounds and images collecting, building, and balancing between a palpable beauty that can make us gasp and the tension, discomfort, fear that makes us hold our breath?

Recently, I’ve been looking at my poems to locate where that tension begins–or if it’s even there. If it isn’t, what is the poem trying to do?

Joannie Stangeland, Poem as snow

I suppose the first breakthrough of sorts came in the guilty relief and release –for both of us, I want to believe – that came when my mother died in her 90s . She spent the last fifteen years of her life in a nursing home following a  severe stroke. She fought against every moment of it. She resented and hated it. I took her ashes to the Valley of Desolation, her favourite place in Wharfedale, and soon after, wrote a poem about it as a sort of atonement or prayer for absolution. Then I felt guilty that I’d not written for my dad, so I wrote about his birdwatching, his shoe mending, his singing; and then I had to balance it up with more about my mum. It’s a strange thing, guilt, but the outcome was that over about three years I’d written a handful of poems, and more about my grandparents, and it seemed to come more easily with each one. I didn’t feel as if they were looking over my shoulder, tutting.  Or not as often, or not as loudly.

But I can pinpoint the big breakthrough to specific dates. In October 2013 I was on a writing course at Almaserra Vella in Spain, and the tutor was Jane Draycott. She gave us a quick writing exercise…first impressions, get-it-down stuff on a randomly chosen postcard, which happened to be a Penguin book cover that had images of flame on it. And I wrote about our friend Julie who we’d visited in her flat in Whitby a couple of weeks before. Julie was dying of an incurable cancer; she’d confounded the specialists by outliving their predictions by over a year.

Flames. The most tenuous of connections. But a flame burned fiercely in Julie, and in the underlit smokestacks of the Boulby mine just up the coast. Maybe that was it. I typed it up with very few changes the week after. When she died a couple of weeks later, I nerved myself up to give the poem to her brother at her funeral. I was genuinely frightened. But he liked it, shared it. Gave me a permission I realised I needed: to write honestly about and for real living people. That poem Julie won first prize in the 2013 Plough Competition. Andrew Motion had liked it! I used some of the prize money to put together and print my first two pamphlets.

John Foggin, Keeping up with keeping up

It’s important, I think, to experience discomfort–it means I am facing a new task, a new perspective–that I’m learning something. I tell my students that if they are totally comfortable with the concepts in their coursework they are not learning anything yet. Education does not come without risk, whether the risks be physical, social, emotional, or intellectual. When we feel uneasy, it may mean we sense danger or sense the presence of someone manipulative, dishonest, or unkind. It may, however, mean we are simply “outside of our comfort zone.”

Tony Hoagland‘s poems offer examples of how we learn through leaving our familiar attitudes. Daisy Fried’s insightful 2011 commentary on his poem “The Change” notes the need for such uncomfortable moments. Poems Hoagland wrote as he headed toward his death from cancer at age 64 do not shy away from making the reader feel awkward, unhappy, or–in some cases–relieved, even glad. It can feel wrong to acknowledge relief as part of death. That recognition tends not to follow U.S. culture’s social norms.

I’m not claiming all good poems rile up discomfort; some poems offer joy or embrace a comforting openness; and, as readers bring their own differing experiences to the reading of a poem, the same poem that discomfits one person may appeal beautifully to another reader.

This post came about because I feel I have come to a period of discomfort in my work, and it troubles me but in a good way. I would rather feel discomfort with my writing that disengagement with it. Disengagement is writer’s block. That does not describe where I am at the moment. Instead, I feel rather as I did when I began to write and revise using formal patterns. My written expression up to that point had all been in free verse or prose, so adapting to villanelle or sonnet structure or sapphic meter seemed risky, difficult, “wrong.” Wrong for me, for the writer I believed I was, for the writing voice I had developed for 20 years.

And I was wrong about that, too! My initial discomfort aside, I learned so  much about poetry, including about my own style, through the practice of formal verse. The wonderful online journal Mezzo Cammin (formally-inspired poetry by women writers, edited by the amazing Kim Bridgford) has published several of my poems in the past. Now, two more of them! Please click here.

Ann E. Michael, Discomfort

As many teachers have repeated in many classrooms, there are no wrong questions, just wrong answers. (Maybe it was there are no wrong sandwiches, just wrong condiments.) When we’re talking about poetry, or about the making of it in particular, again there are no wrong questions, but there may also be no wrong answers. The question, however, is crucial the poem’s very existence. It’s the heart of each poem.

Here’s how it works. After I’ve gotten the bones of a poem down, maybe established the situation or narrative, the shape and the rhythm, but I’m failing to find a way to bring it all together, I go back to the idea of the question. I’ll scrounge around in the poem to try to find what it’s asking. If I figure out the question or the motivation in the poem, then I’m better equipped to solve its problems. My attempt to answer the question can sometimes help me through the poem’s speed bumps or can help me navigate safely through the poem’s turn. Sometimes it helps to actually put a question in the poem–either as a crutch that you’ll eventually remove–or as a permanent part of the poem. A question is a pretty interesting part of speech in that it’s one of the few that almost always demands a response from the reader. If you ask the reader a question, they feel compelled to answer–or look for the answer.

Grant Clauser, The Poem is the Question

Last week I  mentioned that the Poetry Society had a callout for poems that take note, in some way, of 99 of the mostly commonly used words used in 40 years of the National Poetry Competition.  I wasn’t going to write anything for this because I thought it was too much of a distraction from my aim to write poems that might fit into the theme of my next book.  That is to say, I’ve set myself a loose target/goal/aspiration to write poems that sit well together, with the hope that I produce a cohesive, fluent and not too disparate book.  It’s fine to hope, right?

But then I found that I’d worked hard on a few poems during January, persevered, stuck with them even when the going was tough, and by the very end of January I seemed to have made headway – and then the snow came, so I allowed myself a diversion.  A few days later, I had a poem of sorts – but was it enough?  Although I seemed to have responded to the writing prompt, I wondered if that was all I’d done, and when I read the poem, it seemed rather flat – in fact, rather dead!

This got me thinking about the value of writing prompts and themes.  I know that some writers love them and write well from them but I wonder if I should focus instead on poems that have started from scratch, from my own notebooks.  Then again, I have sometimes started a poem from a prompt, in a workshop for example, then put the draft aside for months or even years, come back to it and written a decent poem.  Maybe it’s time that’s needed then, regardless of how the work first started.  I doubt that my poem is any good at all but I’ve sent it off.  I’ve let go of it.  Maybe my next poem will be better. Hope, again.

Josephine Corcoran, A few poetry notes

Last weekend had us celebrate Candlemas (the presentation of Jesus at the Temple) on Feb. 2 and the feast day of Saint Simeon on Feb. 3.  One of my Facebook friends posted “A Song for Simeon,” the T. S. Eliot poem that imagines Simeon at the end of life, perhaps having an existential crisis, or maybe just feeling the age of his bones. 

I immediately thought about a companion poem, a song for Anna, the prophetess who is also mentioned in the Presentation at the Temple text in Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:  22-38).  But until this morning, I haven’t had time to play with this idea.

This morning, I wrote these lines:

In this temple of old bones and white whiskers,
I water the plants and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

Then I stopped, struck by the idea of a villanelle.  I find the villanelle form to be one of the most difficult.  A villanelle needs a first and third line that can be repeated and thus can stand on its own.  The lines need to end in words that can rhyme (if you want to know more, go here).

I made a change to make the rhyming easier:

In this temple of white whiskers and old bones,
I water the plants and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

I wrote out the villanelle structure, leaving blank lines.  I’ll come back to it later.  I wanted to write the original poem that I envisioned, without struggling with the villanelle structure.  So, I flipped the page of my legal pad, and I was off and running.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Poem for Anna the Prophetess

If I’m not actually writing, I try to be at least making something — a video poem, a series of drawings, some act of creativity. Recently I made a, as it turns out, rather elaborate and complicated accordion-binding book with a cover made of two small picture frames within which I made collages. (Yeah, I haven’t been doing much writing lately….)

It was quite an undertaking, and I had never made such a thing before, so it has some flaws — I folded some of the pages incorrectly and had to refold, so the old folds are still evident; I pasted some of the sections together on the wrong side so the pasted portion shows instead of being hidden behind the new page; an item has already fallen out of one of the collages. You know how things go. But it was a process, and a product, and therefore, satisfying.

I showed it to a friend, who said, “Oh, what are you going to do with it?”

I became confused. Was I supposed to do something with it? I thought the doing was the doing. I thought the showing-someone was also a sufficient doing. Was there more? Am I supposed to…what?…submit it to an art show…sell it on eBay?

Okay, I write poems, and some of them I send out to try to get published. Some of them I put together with others into a manuscript. Some of them get thrown away. Some sit around in their underwear for a very long time. If I was required to “do” something with everything I made I’m not sure I’d make stuff at all.

Marilyn McCabe, D…do do do..d..da da da da is all I want to say to you; or Why Make Art

The threadbare day
spun yarns from empty tales
when I could not choose

between the sea and the mountain
Both were a gateway to another life

Uma Gowrishankar, Tree Talk

Throughout her lifetime of writing poetry, Mary Oliver was largely ignored by the literary establishment.

Crickets.

I have the sense she was humored, discounted, or metaphorically speaking patted on the head for being too plain-spoken. Yet, countless readers have found a home in her words, her style, and her reverence. Some found a greater appreciation for all poetry through her work. Aside from those poets attempting only to appease the publishing gods, shouldn’t we all hope our work brings readers to greater enjoyment of poetry?

For the most part, Oliver led a quiet and unassuming life—preferring serene walks at dawn near Blackwater Pond with her dogs and reveling in the silence of her natural surroundings. Far be it for the literati to understand much less value those qualities and daily patterns when so many promote an urban ethos of steel, concrete, asphalt, and 24/7 ambient cacophony. Instead, she chose the primal sounds of birds, the surf, the crunch of pine needles underfoot and, yes, crickets. She wrote about all this and God—sometimes veiled and sometimes right up in the front seat. While I, grounded in the also overlooked Midwest and Great Plains, considered her a hero.

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Mary Oliver & Crickets

I begin to think the eagles in the tree outside my window are channeling Ursula Le Guin. When I read her essays in Words Are My Matter, the eagles trumpet from their perches in the high cottonwood trees. Trumpet is rather wrong, it is much more like emphatic flute players.

I don’t mean to suggest that Ursula had the thin squeaky voice that, incongruous as it seems, eagles possess. But rather, when I start reading these by turns serious, by turns funny, essays, I have the distinct impression of a voice from above, slightly disappointed and frankly exasperated, pointing out where I have gone astray. A voice from a being who could easily rip my heart out with knife-like talons but who will, for now, try to put me back on the path gently but persistently. 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Ursula Le Guin and Eagles

I’ve been a fan of horror as a genre since I was a kid, but only recently became aware of how poetry and horror intersect to provide beautifully dark verses capable of illuminating the shadowy side of the human experience. Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed an increasing number of horror poetry collections written by women in the world (in part, because I’ve been more actively looking for them). It’s exciting to see this develop. Below are a few of the horror poetry books I’ve read and love, and I hope to discover many more in the future. […]

Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar
Basement Gemini is a gorgeous chapbook of poetry that draws on horror movie tropes to explore female power and agency. There’s a kaleidoscopic beauty to these untitled lyrical prose poems that feel cohesive a cohesive whole. Chelsea says, “Basement Gemini was kind of born out of that idea — the simultaneous, seemingly-contradictory-but-not-really victimization, vilification, and empowerment of women that’s encountered so often in horror.”

Heliophobia by Saba Syed Razvi
Razvi’s collection tangles together darkness and light into a dark tapestry of power poems. As Razvi describes her book, “I suppose these poems are some kind of unholy fusion of museums, goth clubs, meditations, and global diaspora — all rewritten through dream logic, in some kind of ink made of the timeless decay of memory!”

Andrea Blythe, Fives Books of Poetry to Check Out for Women in Horror Month

Thanks to Gingerbread House Literary Magazine who posted this Q&A feature on fairy tales and poetry with me today: Gingerbread House Q&A with Jeannine Hall Gailey.

Ironically they posted my poem about the White Witch last week, and then it seem the White Witch of Narnia has descended on us in Seattle to install an unending winter! Seriously, we have no temperatures above freezing on the forecast for a week and more! This is much colder (and snowier) than average for us. By late February we usually have some trees starting to bloom – not this year, it seems. […]

So, with no way to escape and trapped indoors, what are my plans? Working on a Plath essay on spec, a fellowship application, and received two acceptances in the last few days (both of which, unfortunately, were stuck in my spam folder, so I didn’t even get to celebrate them right away.) I may send out one of my poetry manuscripts another couple of times, too. Still reading Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath’s letters, and checked Mary Shelley’s apocalypse novel The Last Man out of the library. And although January was full of rejections, I’ve had two acceptances this week. Thinking about starting our taxes, finally. If I hadn’t already gone a little crazy from being stuck inside last week by the snow, I’m sure I’ll be a little “The Shining” by the end of this one.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Q&A Up at Gingerbread Lit Mag, Seattle Snowpocalypse 2019, Snowbound (with Cats)

I’m honored and so pleased to have my poem “Three Miracles” published in the winter issue of The Penn Review. This poem is the third to be published from a series of personal poems about healing and recovery. In 2015, my son (21 at the time) was in a horrible accident in which he was hit on his bicycle by someone driving a pickup truck in downtown Salt Lake City. He nearly lost his life. Recovery was difficult, but he made it through and I’m grateful every day that he’s still here with us. It took me a long time to begin writing about the incident, and I’m hoping to soon have a home for the complete chapbook length collection. You can read the other two published poems from this collection here: Bone Music – Contrary Magazine, Resurrection Party – Tinderbox Poetry Journal.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “Three Miracles” in The Penn Review! + no fee call & editor interview, DEADLINE: Feb. 24, 2019

twisting down the mountains
ran a river road

we knew it so well
knew it wouldn’t end

but we’re clocks
& we cannot tell the time

James Brush, Pony Express

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 5

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network (deadline: February 14).

Books, books, and more books! Writing them, reading them, collecting them: That’s what I found in my feed this week, even more so than usual. Maybe it’s the inevitable effect of a long winter. Other themes included listening and therapy, vocabulary and rhythm, getting out and about, and learning from Sylvia Plath. Enjoy.


Alfred Edward Newton, author and book collector (Not to be confused with Alfred E. Newman of Mad magazine fame)  is quoted as saying, “Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity … we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.”  In this context, Tsundoku appears to be a positive thing. Alternatively, I have heard it used to describe book hoarding. The latter is a less flattering description of the pastime.

Let me say that  I am guilty of having more books that I have read. Or at least completed. I have a fairly extensive personal library. I make no bones about it. 

I confess that I love the feel of books. Not so much the feel of e-readers. I love the sight of books. And yes, I love the smell of books. […]

According to statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, unread volumes represent what he calls an “antilibrary,” and he believes our antilibraries aren’t signs of intellectual failings, but the opposite.

Alberto Manguel puts it very lovingly – “I have no feelings of guilt regarding the books I have not read and perhaps will never read; I know that my books have unlimited patience. They will wait for me till the end of my days.”  There may come a day in which I am no longer able to add books to my library. I hope that is not the case, But I keep reading. And yes, buying. For the time being.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Tsundoku – Pronounced sun-do-ku / Illness or Healthy?

The man who’d died, Raimond, was a bibliophile. The majority of his books were in German so I skipped the novels and history and went for art and photography, though I did surrender to some particularly beautiful books, whether for the covers or subject or gothic font. I don’t have much shelf space left at home so I tried to be disciplined and discerning. I even turned my back on his ample poetry collection. 

I did give in to one small book, though. I felt like a voyeur leafing through something so personal, but in a flimsy floral notebook, Raimond had pasted poems he chose from newspapers and magazines. Some clippings were still bunched together at the back of the book. In pasting, he grouped a poet’s work together — there’d be two pages of Günter Eich, for example, before moving on to Sarah Kirsch, whom he obviously loved.

The notebook appealed to me because I have one in which I’ve done exactly the same thing. The difference is I pasted only one poem per page, accompanied by an image. I remember the hours spent carefully choosing and arranging, and enjoyed thinking of my kindred out there doing the same.

Sarah J. Sloat, The golden notebooks

Q~You mentioned that you are finishing up your MFA. What are the best/worst parts of this for you?

A~I completed my MFA in January 2019, and it was an amazing experience. I wrote so much over the past two years and finished with a full manuscript. Being in an MFA program forces you to write and to read – both fellow student’s work but also your instructors and everything that gets assigned. I felt fully immersed in poetry for two years. It’s very bittersweet to be over – I already miss the program, but I found my community there, and it has been a wonderful experience.

Q~Who are you reading now? According to your blog, you read A LOT of books. How does this inform your own writing?

A~I do read a lot; in 2018 I read 221 books which was a personal best for me! I read a little of everything – a ton of poetry, literary fiction, genre fiction (fantasy is great for audio books!), CNF, memoir, etc. (Friend me on Goodreads to follow what I read: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6611777.Courtney_LeBlanc) I get recommendations from friends and Twitter (shoutout to DC Public Library for running great book chats – https://twitter.com/dcpl). I just finished Seducing the Asparagus Queen by Amorak Huey, which is a gorgeous collection of poetry and a great way to kick off 2019. Next, I plan on reading some of Mary Oliver’s work since she just passed away, and I’m already missing her words. I recently read The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and really enjoyed it (fiction). My favorite fantasy is Strange the Dreamer (book #1) and Muse of Nightmares (book #2) by Laini Taylor, which I recommend to everyone, haha.

When reading books of poetry I’m often inspired to write my own poems – either by something I read or just the general feeling I get from a book or a poem. I think the better read you are, the better writer you’ll be. As poet Jane Kenyon said, “Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.”

To My Ex Who Asked If Every Poem Was About Him / an interview with poet Courtney LeBlanc (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

In September, I was notified that my full-length manuscript, Fabulous Beast, was the runner-up for the X.J. Kennedy Prize and that it was selected for publication in the fall of 2019. The contract didn’t arrive until January, but it’s finally signed. (Yay!) And now we’re moving into book cover stuff and that’s making everything feel more real.

Most of the first section of this manuscript was published as a chapbook by Hyacinth Girl Press in 2015, as Fabulous Beast: The Sow. Having that little book out in the world has meant so much to me — Margaret Bashaar, the editor, creates beautiful books and supports her authors with a tireless energy. I’ve been so grateful to be a Hyacinth Girl author, and I’ve been introduced to (both in-person and electronically, over social media) a supportive community of fellow poets through the press.

But now it’s really exciting to think of the second section, a ten-chapter fairy tale written in Spenserian stanzas (hahaha, it sounds AWESOME, doesn’t it?) and the third section, poems employing the imagery of Norse and Greek myths, being out in the world, too. I worked so hard on this manuscript, and put so much time and energy (and yes, money) into submissions to various awards and calls for publication, it’s really gratifying to know the entire book will be a real-life object soon.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Full-Length Fabulous Beast is Going to Be A Thing in the World. Which is Pretty Cool.

Last autumn I pulled together a manuscript of poems written since my first collection was published. I know it takes a long time to find a home for a book of poetry. And since I can’t afford to submit it to publishing houses that charge reading fees or contest entry fees, the list of publishing houses I might approach is smaller. But I pulled up my optimism socks and sent it to my first choice, Grayson Books. This is the publishing house that included one of my poems in their beautiful Poetry of Presence anthology last year.

Their submission guidelines warn they only publish a few books each year, so I expected to send the manuscript along to another publisher after I got the inevitable rejection. I didn’t even open their emailed response right away in order to postpone the disappointment.

Instead I got an acceptance! (I’m pretty sure I heard trumpets.)

I am strange about my own good news, suddenly more shy, and have only told a few people since signing the book contract back in October. Each step of the process —- editing, choosing a title, approving art commissioned for the cover — has been a testament to the professionalism and patience of Grayson Books publisher Ginny Connors. I still cannot believe my good fortune.

Laura Grace Weldon, My New Book!

So apparently, one of the magical transformations of midlife is that a poet can become a novelist. I have moments of elation about that, and moments of alarm. My turn to novels is a way bigger change than anything that’s happened in my writing life since I won a prize for Heterotopia ten years ago. It’s NOT a turn away from poetry, which is still very much at the center of my daily life, but it will be a turn away from traditional scholarship, I think. My novel, Unbecoming, and my next poetry collection, whose title I’m still fiddling with, will be out in 2020 (there’s a small chance of late 2019 for the novel, but I’m not banking on it). AND I have a book of poetry-based nonfiction, a hybrid of criticism and memoir, scheduled for 2021 (more details on that soon!).

Creative writing across the genres, full speed ahead!–I’ve been drafting a lot of micro-essays and some micro-fiction this winter. Reviewing, too. But I can’t do everything. And I know where my heart lies.

Learning to write a novel has been hard and surprising and wonderful, but now I have to learn about publishing one. PLUS do my best job ever at getting the word out about my new poetry collection, simultaneously, while revising the essay collection. It’s a lot. I anticipate a big pivot next year from the introversion of writing/ revision/ submission work to the extroversion required for traveling, reading, guest-teaching, panel-surfing, and all the other stuff. Some of it at SF conventions! And all this will happen right at my empty nest moment–this is also the winter of helping my son get college applications out and waiting for the verdicts. I mean, really–what’s the appropriate cheerful-but-scared expletive for THAT?

Lesley Wheeler, Change of (literary) life

I finished three fantastic poetry collections this month. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is a justifiably lauded collection of poetry and essays. The collection offers an unflinching look at the everyday realities of racism in America, with the second person narration drawing the reader directly into the experience. The blend of writing styles and art make for a powerful and necessary read.

My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing by Kelly Lorraine Andrews is a beautiful little chapbook published by Pork Belly Press. These poems explore the physicality of existing in a body, with a blend of mortality and eroticism.

Ivy Johnson’s Born Again dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, it gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. Check out my interview with Johnson on the New Books in Poetry podcast.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: January 2019

It’s not a social norm–real listening. Despite the recognition that human beings are social animals that require communication, despite the recognition that “talk therapy” (which at its foundation employs active listening) and writing therapy can heal broken psyches,  even though many studies over decades have demonstrated how relationships rely upon partners’ openness to listening–listening stays a bit unconventional.

So many people think listening is passive. No, it is an active verb. Bombarded with information from numerous sources, the processes of discerning what one should listen to get tattered and confused. Our brains want to chunk information, to ignore, to elide, to suppress and glean and separate the various threads so the mind can prioritize.

Listening is difficult.

~

William Carlos Williams famously claims it’s difficult to get the news from poetry–and, in the same poem, he asks us (by way of Flossie, his wife) to listen:
…Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life
from books
and out of them
about love.
Death
is not the end of it.
There is a hierarchy
which can be attained,
I think,
in its service.

the mind
that must be cured
short of death’s
intervention,
and the will becomes again
a garden. The poem
is complex and the place made
in our lives
for the poem.
[I am not html-savvy enough to code the spacing of this poem on my blog, but you can find it here (p. 20) or here; the excerpts are from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower.”]

Ann E. Michael, Hear me out

[…]
Birds whirl around your room, and then you die,
even though you’ve swept them from the roof beams
out the window. Birds have taught you to fly
through this world, stitched with invisible seams.
Even though you’ve swept me from your roof beams,
I come to ask you where you’ve gone and why
this world is stitched with invisible seams. […]

One of the last times I met with my therapist, a beautiful elderly woman who became like a mother to me, she was seeing clients in a home office. She had suffered a car accident, and she thought the accident was contributing to her memory loss.

That day in her office a bird flew into an adjoining room, so Joanne (a made up name to protect her privacy), got a broom and swept it through the open springtime window.

And around the same time period, we had a bird’s nest near our bedroom window, probably a wren, hence this poem.

Christine Swint, Nests in the Wall

I wrote a poem this morning that came to me yesterday as I walked across the campus of my parents’ retirement community.  I reflected that it was the feast day of St. Brigid; I wondered if a retirement community was similar to a medieval abbey in significant ways.

The poem I wrote this morning was a bit different than the one I thought I would write, but it made me happy.

I also read a bit of poetry that made me happy.  When I sent my book length manuscript to Copper Canyon, I got to choose 2 books, and I chose Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones by Lucia Perillo, mainly because I loved the title.  It’s a new and selected collection, and wow–what powerful poems.  I had no idea.

It’s been a good writing week.  I could feel my well being filled by my traveling and by my reading.  On the plane ride back, I finished Old in Art School by Nell Painter–what an intriguing book.  It made me want to go home and paint.  I did sketch on the plane, but I felt constrained by the space and the bumpiness, so I made it a quick sketch.

Kristin Berkey-Abbot, Back to Regular Life, Sweetened by Time Away

[…] Her mouth moves in prayer,

her tongue runs along the soft palate, the molars extracted after years
of the root canal: it is a soft mound like the grave at the edge of the village

she saw him dig. Her breasts produced the extra ounce of milk
at every childbirth to be squeezed into the mouth filled with soil.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Feed

In the structure of a poem, each word, as an I-beam or a column, needs to be carrying weight and be balanced with the others, or be deliberately off-balance. Multisyllabic words have to be used carefully because they can visually and sonically outweigh or overshadow other words, rocking the whole enterprise, and not in a good way. They also run the risk of sounding self-conscious. (Why use “utilize” when “use” will do, except that you think it sounds fancier?) (Or maybe you need three beats in that line, I suppose. That might be a justification…but a pretty shaky one.)

Similarly, grand and abstract words can weigh too much: love, for example, soul, universe. Even “moon” has to be handled with care. (I was advised once to not use the moon at all, as it’s been soooooo overdone. But, I mean, geez, I can’t NOT talk about the moon.)

It takes patience (and humility), I think, to not get caught up in my own extensive vocabulary options, to instead wait for, or mine for the often more simple utterance that says more than its parts.

And then to have the courage to surround it with silence, the vital partner of speech.

Marilyn McCabe, Shunning the Frumious Bandersnatch; or, Finding the Right Words

I was reading my Christmas present, The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963, when I came across a mention of syllabic verse. Plath’s poem “Mussel-Hunter at Rock Harbor” is written in stanzas of seven lines, each line containing seven syllables. In a letter to her brother Warren, dated June 11, 1958, she writes about the poem and the form she used:

“This is written in what’s known as ‘syllabic verse’, measuring lines not by heavy & light stresses, but by the numberof syllables, which here is 7: I find this form satisfactorily strict (a pattern varying the number of syllables in each line can be set up, as M. Moore does it) and yet it has a speaking illusion of freedom (which the measured stress doesn’t have) as stresses vary freely.” (247) 

According to The Handbook of Poetic Terms (every writer should have one on her desk), “Writing in syllables is a terrific way to ‘even out’ a poem, and is useful also to writers who feel stymied when deciding where to break their lines.”

For a poet whose “mind was brilliantly off-kilter, its emphasis falling in surprising places,” to quote Dan Chiasson’s review of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963, which appeared in the November 5, 2018 issue of the New Yorker, this “satisfactorily strict” form worked very well.

I just tried this with a recent poem. It started as a free-verse poem, then morphed into a prose poem, but is now a series of bouncy, mostly seven-syllable lines. I like the odd breaks this form imposes, and I think it gives the poem a kind of energetic forward motion it didn’t have before. 

Give syllabic verse a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Erica Goss, Syllabic Verse

A few days with cold rain and a cold have given me time to catch up on my reading, specifically Virginia Woolf’s letters and now I’m dead in the middle of Sylvia Plath’s letters, Volume II. I thought this quote might have about today’s poetry publishing world, instead of 1959’s:

Here’s a quote regarding not getting the Yale Younger Prize in Summer, 1959:
“I am currently quite gloomy about this poetry book of about 46 poems, 37 of them published (and all written since college, which means leaving out lots of published juvenalia.) I just got word from the annual Yale Contest that I “missed by a whisper” and it so happened that a louse of a guy I know I know personally, who writes very glib light verse with no stomach to them, won, and he lives around the corner & is an editor at a good publishing house here, and I have that very annoying feeling which is tempting to write off as sour grapes that my book was deeper, if more grim, and all those other feelings of thwart. I don’t want to try a novel until I feel I am writing good salable short stories for the simple reason that the time, sweat and tears involved in a 300-page book which is rejection all round is too large to cope with while I have the book of Poems kicking about. Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing, which remark I guess shows I still don’t have pure motives (O-it’s-such-fun-I-just-can’t-stop-who-cares-if-it’s-published-or-read) about writing. It is more fun to me, than it was when I used to solely as a love-and-admiration-getting mechanism (bless my psychiatrist.) But I still want to see it ritualized in print.”

(She’s referring to George Starbuck, a neo-formalist who went on to run the Iowa Writers Workshop and may have had CIA connections…please read Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers to learn more about the CIA’s deep connections to the literary world and all we hold dear…Oh Sylvia, if you had only known how deep the cronyism and favoritism went back then for male writers…you might have been less bitter, but maybe not.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Winter Witch Arrives in Seattle, New Poem up at Gingerbread House Lit, Queen Anne and More Sylvia Plath, and Looking Towards Spring

In terms of poetry, things are going great. A poem I wrote for Malala is part of a multi-art performance in March. I was asked at a candlelight vigil for a murdered police officer. I was asked to read at a city council meeting, a county board of supervisors meeting, and for Martin Luther King day. Original, new poems for everyone. Also, I was part of a poets-on-posters project for downtown. I want to do a broadside project, and I seem to raised the funds for it.

I have been trying to cut down my time on Facebook and Twitter. It isn’t really good for my Buddhist practice; at least it feels that way. I am trying to cut down to just posting my poetry links (to my blog and event notices), but like an addict I get pulled back in. Working on it.

“Hi, I’m James, and I am a social media addict.”

My work with the homeless shelter has been affected by my health, but I am still on the board of directors and doing what I can. I can only be on my feet for so long at a time.

What else? I’ve been focusing on shorter poems with an emphasis on place, using Basho and Li Po as my prototypes. For years I did deeper image, somewhat ecstatic poems, and every so often one comes up, but I enjoy this a lot more. Very satisfying, these little things.

James Lee Jobe, journal update: 31 January 2019

In Miami, I had a brief residency at The Betsy. The Writer’s Room program is amazing (in return for a reading and a meet-the-artist reception, they give you a place to stay and a $50 / day tab at their restaurants). That said, one has to get past the strangeness of the entire staff knowing who you are and why you’re there. SWWIM was kind enough to host our reading, where I finally got to meet Vinegar and Char contributor Elisa Albo. (Have you signed up for SWWIM’s daily poem? You should!) I read four books in two days–Jessica Hopper’s Night Moves, David Menconi’s Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown, Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, and Porochista Khakpour’s Sick–lounging whenever I could by the Betsy’s rooftop pool. I checked into a cat cafe for an hour. And I walked down to the South Pointe Park, a walk that brought me comfort so many days back when I was living in Miami in February 2011, as part of a now-defunct artist residency. I’m working on my next nonfiction book, and this was the perfect setting. But that’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Sandra Beasley, January Tidings

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network.

This week, many of the poetry bloggers I follow have been reflecting on the life and poetry of Mary Oliver — more even than I’ve included below. Not too many snobs in this corner of the poetry world, it seems. (But really, how can you not admire poetry of such subtlety and power?) Others wrote about such perennial topics as what they’ve been reading, how they’ve been teaching, the practice of writing, and the business of being a poet.


Mary Oliver’s poetry shows us how to pay attention, how to enter into a more deliberate state of attentiveness regarding what is unfolding in nature’s time. Her work is loved by so many because of this quality of intimate stillness simultaneously infused with life’s passionate urgency; her poems explore the path toward a balance of both, a fusion which delights and heals and transcends. Some have argued that poetry such as hers is too divorced from the daily realities we struggle with as a culture and a body politic, but I believe that there is an opportunity in every encounter with people, animals, and nature to deeply connect. Trying to articulate what that desire for connection, and the experience of it when it happens, feels like, looks like, is an important poetic pursuit. Her poems teach us how to bear witness to what really matters: the connection we are all trying to get back to, in one way or another.

Sarah Stockton, Mary Oliver and the Poems We Need

[Andrea] Wulf’s book [The Invention of Nature] begins as a biography of [Alexander] Humboldt but closes with several chapters on others who were inspired by his work; she makes the claim that Humboldt’s ideas about the deep connectedness of everything on earth laid groundwork for environmentalists and the discipline of ecology. Indeed, Darwin, Thoreau, Marsh, Muir, and many others found his texts revelatory and transformative. His writing is supposedly poetic and emotional–he did not think the earth and its denizens deserved less than awe and appreciation. Even though his books are packed with measurements, comparisons, careful botanical descriptions, and minute observations of practically everything he encountered, he allows space for admiring the view. Or, so Wulf’s book says. Now, I suppose I shall have to do a bit of reading Humboldt!
~
Along these lines, the lines of the natural world’s connectedness and relationships–ourselves among these, despite our frequent destruction of them–I find myself thinking of the recent death of poet Mary Oliver. I so admire the work and the woman, or what little I knew of her from a few appearances and through friends who studied with her. My social media feed has been alive with tributes, postings of her poems, and some critique about her standing as an American poet, as if that would matter to her (I doubt it would).

I can just make note that her poems have encouraged me to continue to write about nature, even when I’ve been told nature poets are unfashionable, uninteresting, or unnecessary. Her work taught me how to observe closely, like Aristotle at the tidal pools or Haeckel peering at radiolaria. First notice, listen; then describe, then try to obtain more information, and all the while percolate what experience has created within the observer herself. Maybe nothing earth-shattering comes of the process, but sometimes  there’s a poem…

Ann E. Michael, Observations

I heard her speak at Seattle University about five years ago. She was as generous a speaker as I have ever heard. She told us how she trains herself to write and how she’s kept going over the long haul.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Write about it.

These lines are imprinted on my course syllabus and I hope, give my students the sense that poetry is for all of us. They worry so much that they are not creative enough, that their vocabulary isn’t as big as the universe. I try to tell them that they just have to enjoy; just have to have a conversation with themselves. I need to share more Mary Oliver with them.

Here’s a recent interview with Oliver that I read today. It’s time to go out for a walk.

Susan Rich, Poems, Poets, and Posterity

I don’t think I had ever read [Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”] before 2018; those first three lines made me woozy with a variety of emotions.  And yet it’s not a poem that encourages us to hedonism–no, it calls us to be more attentive, to be present.

Before our Lenten journaling group, I hadn’t realized the spiritual nature of so many of her poems.  During Lent, we read “The Poet Thinks about the Donkey,” a poem that considers the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem, an event Christians celebrate on Palm Sunday.  As with many of her poems, I thought I understood it on the first read, and then it stuck with me much longer than other poems that are more complex.

During one of our sessions at church, my parents were with me, and later  my Dad called to get the name of the poet we’d been reading.  One of the things I admire about Oliver’s work is its wide appeal to so many people.  The poems are profoundly moving–and yet so quiet, so easy to grasp.

 I love that the poems are short–easy to read in a single sitting. I love that the natural elements draw us in to hear the central message.

I love the theology of these poems. It’s a theology of love and respect. It’s a theology that tells us that we are worthy. It’s a theology that tells us we don’t have forever, so quit wasting our precious days. It’s a theology rooted in nature, but in the every day kind of nature, not the travelling to a distant mountain slope with sherpas to assist us kind of nature. It’s a theology so understated that many readers likely don’t even recognize it as a theology.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Farewell, Mary Oliver

Many of the people who I saw mourning Oliver’s passing yesterday were not members of capital P Po-Biz. They were just folks who ran across a handful of Mary’s poems when they needed a lifeline, when they needed a poem that said you are part of this world, your life is precious. These people felt seen by Mary Oliver. They carried her poems on folded-soft paper in their wallets, taped them to their computer monitors, and probably never bought a copy of one of her books.

Mary Oliver had little to do with Po-Biz. I always appreciated that about her. She wanted to be outside in the wild wind more than she wanted to stand in front of adoring crowds. A goodly number of the Po-Biz world looked down their noses at Mary Oliver’s work. Some of that had to do with the fact that she was a woman, a lesbian, a person who didn’t often go to glitzy parties. They said she was soft, sappy, a (god-forbid) nature poet.

Yesterday, I looked at the world a little differently because of Mary Oliver’s passing. Yes, the world felt less observed, as if a spark of love for it had guttered. But also, I thought of all the times I was warned off writing about the natural world. Poems I’ve written about trees have been held up in workshop to ridicule. Even folks in the “eco-poetry” world have suggested that my poems need more of a call to action about the environmental crisis. These are the same folks who dismissed Oliver.

I’m not arguing that everything Mary Oliver wrote was genius. But, I am beginning to connect the dots in the denigration of women (soft, gentle, spiritual, accessible, adjectives used to signify not serious), the destruction and desacralization of the natural world, and some of the poetry that is lauded in our current Po-Biz culture. And I am thinking deeply about the (at this moment) 601 people who shared the graphic I made of Oliver’s “Instructions for Living a Life” on social media. How deeply we need to be reminded of astonishment, of our duty (dare I say sacred?) to share with each other what will buoy.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, One wild and precious life

Last night I finished Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter, from Small Beer Press. My favorite bits from the writing of her last decade were an essay called “Disappearing Grandmothers,” a diary of her time at our local Writer’s Retreat Hedgebook on Whidbey Island, “Learning to Write Science Fiction from Virginia Woolf” (whose letters I have been reading,) and some of her reviews, including Philip K. Dick. Quick quote from “Disappearing Grandmothers:”

“We really can’t go on letting good writers be disappeared and buried because they weren’t men, while writers who should be left to rot in peace are endlessly resurrected, the zombies of criticism and curriculum, because they weren’t women.”

I get the feeling I would really have gotten along with Ursula. And her commentary on Virginia Woolf made me realize why I’d been picking up her writings again – she really did have a way of approaching old subject matter in a singular way. I’m learning a lot from reading non-living writers, and coincidentally, a friend just sent me a collection by Mary Oliver, who recently passed away. Of course, we should appreciate and cheer our living writers, both friends and heroes, too! But it does feel fascinating to be reading letters from Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and essays by Ursula Le Guin – like the most terrific conversation with women writers across time.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem in Star*Line, Supermoon Eclipses, A Little Seattle Color, and Surviving January by Reading Writers’ Words on Writing

THE LETTERS OF SYLVIA PLATH, Volume 2:

First, you should know, I actually love reading other poets letters. Many many years ago, I read Elizabeth Bishop & Robert Lowell’s and Zelda & F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters (note: there is are many more Zelda letters than F. Scott given that Zelda didn’t bother to keep many of his letters–a fact I find rather funny and it worked for me because I have always been a little more interested in Zelda anyway). 

What I love? How Sylvia sometimes signs her letters “Sivvy,” and how as I read her letters I get a better since of her voice.  I love her boring details such as “I’d love vitamins! I’m convinced everything the British sell is without nourishment whatsoever” and “The Rice’s sent us the strangest Christmas card!…an ominous rhyme with all sorts of mixed metaphors. Well, no doubt they have good intentions.”

For me, this is my favorite parts of reading letters–the details of all of it. Plath’s words bring me into her world–which was SO Ted focus–(note: this is a LONG book, so I’m still just dabbling through it), but Ted this is and Ted got a poem here and … it’s a reminder how so much of Plath’s life was catering to Ted. Even one letter her has her telling her inlaws she made Ted eggs before sending him off.

I see the struggle as well as the joy in her writing and I can get lost in this different time very easily.

Kelli Russell Agodon, What I’m Reading… @MichelleObama @JenniferWeiner & Sylvia Plath Letters

A new episode of New Books in Poetry is up, in which I speak with poet and performance artist Ivy Johnson about her book, Born Again.

The poetry and prose in Ivy Johnson’s Born Again (The Operating System, 2018) beautifully dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, this collection gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. The work blends sensuality and spirituality, merging the grounded reality of existing a physical body in the world with a sense of worship, prayer, and spell casting.

“I submerge my hands in ink and smear them across the wall
I cover my body in rich purple paint and rub against white paper
I place a sticker of the Virgin Mary on my bedroom window next to the fire escape
She hurts with the glow of blue frost
I race down the stairs to make snow angels in the dog-piss
Fill the silhouette of my body with marigolds”
— from “Take a Moment to Gather Yourself”

You can listen to the episode here.

I’m still in the process of figuring out how to be a good interview podcast host, how to shuck off my own nervousness and dig up confidence enough to feel strong in these interviews. But whatever limitations I believe I have at this moment, they are more than surpassed by the intelligence and insight of my guests so far.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Born Again by Ivy Johnson

The blurb is a frequent anxiety-laden topic of discussion on Facebook. Some people have made alternative suggestions, e.g., putting a poem on the back cover. That’s a cool idea, but for now most publishers want you to obtain blurbs. So just go about it sensibly and trust that it will work out. Then later when some other poet with a new book coming out asks you to write a blurb, remember the poets who said yes to you and say yes to the poet who now asks you to do a blurb. 

Diane Lockward, The Blurbification of Poetry Books

So much drama in the Twitter writing community lately. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. We claim to be supportive, understanding, solid. We say we support emotional and mental illness or distress. We exclaim our inclusiveness and support for diversity. We’re open-minded……until someone’s opinion isn’t in line with ours. Or someone’s emotional state leads them to do/say something unacceptable or questionable. There’s no understanding or forgiveness then. Apologies are ignored and a lifetime of goodness rejected. And Twitter stays on the soap box for days and days and days, gaining momentum as it goes. I try hard to stay out of the drama and I try hard not to condemn the condemners. I don’t want to be that person. But, obviously, the whole situation bothers me. The hive mind can be a judgmental thing.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poem: Support is Conditional

Mimic claws cutting,
but imaginary
and shivering. Touch

the wound and it isn’t
there. No scar, no scab,
no knife. Shadows that mute

and marble light like waves
under water. Shadows
that blunt and block, black.

Shadows that stab the light
like spines of a cactus.
The thin blade of dusk

that separates sand from
dark. Bright at my back,
eyes that glitter and close.

PF Anderson, Anamnesis

The one class I teach on Fridays, Protest Poetry, was also hard. On Wednesday I’d taught poems about the death of Malcolm X and while most of our discussion was productive, there had been a couple of bad moments–nothing ill-meaning, but students making insensitive comments as they thought aloud about deliberately disturbing poems. I had anticipated the need to discuss a homophobic slur in Amiri Baraka’s “Poem for Black Hearts,” and that went fine, but I hadn’t anticipated pushback, for instance, against anger itself. (We’d been reading about Emmett Till, the Baptist church bombed in Birmingham, a mounting death toll and litany of abuses–in what world is anger not inevitable and utterly just?–but as present politics continue to teach us, we don’t all live in the same world, and many of the students in my classroom are like Ursula, full of verve but not yet alert to the reality of other perspectives.) I responded in the moment, but in retrospect I realized I hadn’t responded strongly enough. So I began with an apology, asked the students to freewrite about a recent time they felt angry and what they did about it, then handed out “The Uses of Anger” by Audre Lorde. The discussion that followed was raw, messy, respectful, persistently oblivious, emotional, and awe-filled by turns, and I ended up having a couple of intense follow-ups with students afterwards. It didn’t do all the necessary work but it was a start.

Lesley Wheeler, Information and energy

While I want to do more with this poem, to lead them through it, I know that if I do, I’ll kill whatever has occurred organically. Some students will feel less competent if we reduce this experience to “look to the teacher.” I want them to feel competent in their abilities, that they (or anyone) can notice what is present in poems. To know what’s present in poems, one must be present with the language of poems. This is what they’re learning how to do.

They are beginning their journey as readers of poetry; they are noticing language and are beginning to make connections that are interesting and surprising. And they are all rooted in the language itself to do so.

The majority leave happy. I leave happy. A successful day one.
I walk out of my room into the hallway, energized by the learning that’s taken place, by their recent immersion in a small, beautiful poem on their own terms. I know this is setting them up for more of this good stuff of poetry that is to come. I know they’ll advance to larger and more complex poems. I know that we’ll have to get to analysis and all the ways one must learn to write about literature. However, today they slowed down and noticed what was there. Today they felt what it was like to really be present with poetry.

Scot Slaby, Day 1: Being Present with a Poem

I’ve stopped waiting for the magical ‘writing time’ to manifest itself. It rarely does. I work full time. Weekends are often busy. I walk the dog. I enjoy swimming. I hate housework but like things to be clean and tidy all the same. Somewhere in all this is my writing: a sentence written in my notebook is writing, a headline cut from the newspaper is writing, half an hour typing and editing a poem is writing, attending a day’s workshop is writing (luxury), watching a documentary about Blixa Bargeld’s work with German experimental music group Einstürzende Neubauten and transcribing some of that interview is also, for me, writing. It all goes into the mix. I  often write things I’m not happy with, but I’ve come to accept that as part of the process. It bothers me less and less. What’s important to me is that I’m doing the work and that occasionally I produce something good. I’ve gained more faith in myself and my work through this approach. As [Eric] Maisel says [in Fearless Creating]: ‘Working means starting’ (p.93) so I try to cut through any blocks and just do it, allowing myself lots of very small opportunities to ‘start’. That way, even a single word gleaned from a book or an article, or overheard in the pub, has some value. Making a note of it means I’ve said ‘yes’ to the work.

Julie Mellor, fearless creating

In November, after reading memorials to Lucie Brock-Broido, I took out her book Stay, Illusion and started a practice of pulling one image or line from a poem and writing from or in response to it. Will any of this turn into “real” poems? Maybe. The point is less about the results and more about showing up to give her poems time and attention and to experiment, play, and try writing in a way that doesn’t feel familiar to me.

I confess that I have not followed this practice strictly. Some days, other poems insist on being written. Some days, I fail to carve out the time. Most days I have a momentary panic that nothing will come. But it’s a practice, so I take a breath and start with something, anything, because I do believe in showing up, in reading as much as possible, in writing as close to daily as possible, in helping poetry to get into my body so that when the magic happens, I’m there for it with my whole self.

Joannie Stangeland, Pick your practice

I haven’t felt like doing much but now I’m coming back to life and revisiting old notebooks.  I’m beginning to assemble new poems.  I finished my commission for Ginkgo Projects/Bloor Homes and I think that some of the poems I wrote for this project will sit well in my next book.  My poem ‘To Bring Me Luck’ about older women and ageing might also belong there.  At this stage, I’m gathering poems and being open-minded about a possible theme.  I would dearly love my next book to feel coherent and thematic and my aim is to be able to articulate this.  I recognise that I really struggle with explaining to anyone what my work is about.

One thing is sure: I feel more determined about shaping my next book but that isn’t to say that I’m trying to force a theme upon it.  That would be a dreadful mistake.

Josephine Corcoran, Slow January continues

Have you ever wondered what it costs to be a poet? This year, I am tracking my readings: earnings (or lack thereof), expenses, book sales, etc. in an Excel spreadsheet.

Now, I’ve always done a bit of that for tax purposes. But what does it really cost to travel to a reading, not receive any payment, and sell one or two books? I’m keeping the numbers and making comments about each activity. I really want to know how much the effort is worth in the life cycle of a poetry collection. Here are some questions I want to know in the first year of a book’s publication:

1. Of the books I bring to readings, how many do I sell?
2. Will I peak in sales in my region, but decline towards year’s end? How can I counteract that?
3. How many readings do I participate in annually? How many free readings? 
4. If I cover travel and expenses, does that cancel out the stipend?

Put aside that poetry is an art, and it is a privilege to participate in this community. I’m looking at the numbers.

Will update you in a few months. April seems appropriate. 

January Gill O’Neil, By the Book

I think I’m going to create a new folder called Hold It! (I’m a great creator of folders…) and put in it every new poem I’m excited about, and I’m not allowed to look at them until at least a month after I’ve put it in the folder. AT LEAST a month. Six months is probably better.

In six months I’m a different person than I was six months before — new skin, blood, colon, fingernails, as cells replace themselves throughout the body at varying rates. So surely the new me will have some fresh insight.

But I’ll have the same eyeballs, though, and mostly the same brain, but new neuronal networks. So in order to shove myself along developmentally, as the pink-faced new poems cool their heels in the Hold It! folder, I should work on my eyesight and my memories. Which means to me that I should read more and widely in poetry especially, and when I find a poem that makes me say “wow, that is good work,” spend some time taking a look at how it works at working. But also other kinds of written work, because all kinds of literature can feed perspective. And I should also look at art, listen to music. And probably dance a little, even if it’s just in my kitchen.

All these kinds of inputs have the possibility of opening my brain to new ways of seeing, new ways of communicating, new ways to imagine. So when I open that folder again, I can see with altered vision and new light.

Marilyn McCabe, How Do I Know?; or, Learning to Assess Our Own Work

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 52

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

This is my final round-up of quotes + links from the 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, supplemented as always by some other poetry blogs from my feed reader. What a varied and interesting year it’s been! This digest has in most cases constituted Via Negativa’s only real contribution to the poetry blogging community—I tend to be too busy drafting new poems (and blogging most of them, it’s true) to also find the time to blog about poetry, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. But I don’t plan to stop doing a weekly digest… and fortunately, the proper poetry bloggers don’t show any sign of slowing down either.

Introducing the Poetry Blogging Network

Poetry Blogging Network

Kelli Russell Agodon, one of the co-founders of the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, has just launched what I suspect might become a larger and more permanent version of it, the Poetry Blogging Network. Click through to sign up.

In addition to designing a nifty badge, Kelli has suggested a focus, envisioning “a group of poets who are dedicated to blogging about their poetry lives, the ups and down of being a writer in the world, along with what they are reading and writing.” She doesn’t say how often people ought to blog, but notes that she herself is “committed to blogging at least 2x a month (with my accountability buddy, Susan Rich, to keep me honest.)” Based on my own experience here at Via Negativa, I would add that getting a co-blogger is another good way to keep the blogging energy going.

Kelli has also volunteered to host the links list, with Valentine’s Day as a deadline for new additions, and I really hope that all the Blog Revival Tour regulars will re-up, and that other bloggers whom I’ve sort of unofficially added to the revival tour over the past year will take the opportunity to add their blog links to this list as well. Also, it would be great if the community were a little more diverse this year in terms of geography, ethnicity, sexuality and gender orientation, poetic style, etc., which might require some of us to make an extra effort to reach out to people who aren’t necessarily already within our cozy social media circles. If there’s one thing the poetry world doesn’t need, it’s more cliques, factions, and in-groups. Let’s build the most inclusive network we can! And also, let’s read and link to each other as often as possible. Please don’t let mine be the only regular digest.


Jesus never watched YouTube
or used glitter glue.
He didn’t dance the foxtrot
or even the hora.
He never rode a school bus
or sharpened a No. 2 pencil.

If he were here, he might marvel
at tweets from Lin-Manuel,
at the array of snack foods
in even the most basic 7-11.
But I think he’d be too busy
tenderly cradling the body

of the latest migrant child
to die in government custody,
overturning tables
in the halls of Congress,
searing the earth
with his tears.

Rachel Barenblat, Jesus never ate chocolate

For Noël, the French received a gift of unknowingness. It’s a lucky gift!  Les gilets jaunes have doled out confusion to their compatriots who are singularly sure of themselves, gifted in the pur et dur, the absolute.  Their clipped  “mais oui!” or “mais non!” has, until now, been singularly annoying.
In this new moment, when asked about politics, people pause, hesitate, search for words that are taking days and weeks to form. They glance out the window at the full moon, the crumbling cornices, the slate roofs. Roll over, Descartes! Perhaps there are no answers at all!

Yes, the conceptual ways of thinking are sinking under their own weight.  The good news is that the French have a great correction in their back pocket. Food, or exquisite attention to the everyday.  The marchés are cornucopias of oysters, escargots, fishes, feathered pheasants; they have a milky way of pungent cheese, chocolate and of course the faucets nearly run with wine. Celebrations aren’t just about consumption: they are happenings of community.   I also think of Francis Ponge’s poems about oysters and escargots.  When systems can’t be trusted, when they fail, go to what you can touch, taste, what is close to the heart. Don’t go to nihilism, go to regeneration.  It’s a chance to reimagine what society could be, to clear space for imagination and the beauty of what is.

Jill Pearlman, To France: The Gift of Not Knowing

On the back of #PoetBlogRevival, I started the year with good intentions: to blog weekly about the poetry life.  How hard could it be?  I stuck to my resolution for over six months, blogged sporadically over late summer and haven’t posted at all over the last three months.   So what? you might say.

There are many others with much more to say and whose literary achievements are worthy of note (check out, for instance, Matthew Stewart’s annual round-up of the best UK poetry blogs over on his blog, Rogue Strands).

I attended the Forward Prizes for Poetry in introvert mode.  Since then, I’ve more or less withdrawn from the poetry world ‘out there’.  I’ve begun to feel overwhelmed by e-newsletters, blog posts, web links to further reading and other such means of keeping abreast of poetry what’s news, hip and happenings. Much of it has gone unread.  I’m more behind than ever with my reading of the magazines I subscribe to. I’ve been less active on social media, too (no bad thing, that).

On the positive side, I’ve written twelve new poems on a theme, with others in the pipeline. And successes are up on last year…

Jayne Stanton, 2018: the long and the short of it

2018 has been my biggest year to date for videopoetry. I came to the genre by pure chance in the middle of 2014, after making short experimental and narrative films on and off for about 35 years. Videopoetry completely rejuvinated my film-making, returned my love of it to me at a time I felt it was all close to expiry. In the past four-and-a-half years, I have made over 60 short videos, more than the sum of my film-making over all previous decades. I am so grateful to have been welcomed by the international community of film-makers, poets, curators, editors and audiences that, like me, have come to love this unique genre. Grateful too for the captivating videos and poems by other artists that have inspired and influenced me over recent years.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I completed judging of the first Atticus Review Videopoem Contest, an event that will now be added to the international videopoetry calendar for future years. Atticus is an online poetry journal coming out of the USA with a large and wide readership. It is one of the few poetry publications worldwide to feature videopoetry as an ongoing feature. It was an honour to be invited by the editors (David Olimpio and Matt Mullins), to be part of kicking off this first year of the contest. I found great pleasure in watching, and sometimes re-watching, the 115 videos sent in to us. The quality was high. In fact, as a film-maker myself, the rich creativity of my peers was humbling, in a good way. And so it was a challenge to select only four awarded videos. These have already been publicly announced, and the videos themselves will be published in Atticus on 11 January. But all four videos are available for viewing now to intrepid explorers of the film-maker weblinks to be found on the awards announcement page.

In 2018 I have completed and publicly released 11 videos, along with a few others that, for various reasons, are currently only available for private viewing. Here are the latest three I have not yet discussed here on the blog…

Marie Craven, End of year 2018

Though not much in touch with popular amusements, I am touched by bemusement. I like to think of amusement as,  to be beguiled by the muse. And she is always here somewhere, waiting to distract me from ordinary thoughts in order to move me towards more ineffible states of being. 

Like the sensation I woke to this morning that tugs at me to write a poem with the word frottage in it.  I recall hearing this word from the lips of my first woman lover, perhaps I was dreaming of her? I now recall that it is an art technique, which also involves rubbing. The metaphors abound.

And regarding 2019: I want to start a new blog for reviewing poetry chapbooks. I’m trying to figure out where/how to do this so that it will get some visibility.  I’d also be happy to buy your chapbooks, and review them. Please send me links and any suggestions you might have for this project. And what to call it?

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning A/muse/ment

Part of the magic of this poem, for me, is the way it understands how children imagine, how they are formed by chance encounters and stories whose tellers never imagined the impact they might have, and how our childhood is carried in us, and how we can be startled back into it, and in some ways become as powerless as a child. The framing narrative is kept implicit..you used to say …. these stairs …everyone else…..your room.The detail is kept for the stories of each tread, the fabulous tales told to a child who will never forget them. And then there’s the power of the image of one rooted to the foot of a staircase and its narrowing closed off perspective. I love the way poem pivots on that one line .why did you never tell me?  In its control and contained love and grief it does everything I want in a poem. […]

So there we are. Thank you to all the cobweb guest poets of 2018. I hope you all have a happy and successful 2019.

Why not make a start by submitting your poems about food, or food related poems, or poems with taste and flavour and possibly a recipe for a better world to The Fenland Reed. It’s a handsome journal edited by lovely folk. Go on. You know you should. Here’s your link. https://www.thefenlandreed.co.uk/submissions

John Foggin, Best of 2018. November and December: Tom Weir and Christopher North

There was a time. One time. Sometimes I write depression. Disability? The literature of loss. Situational. There are situations: once, twice, a decade: daily there was beauty. Pain grinding me to bone. I could bear to look at my own hands as he saw them, you know. Also: how small I was when I was dying: how we all loved that. How we all loved me as superhero, triumphant. How once I told all my dreams. This morning the wind rocketed, screaming. A cobalt pre-dawn sky with half-moon and Venus. In sleep I’d walked-out: what that means so clear. But I can’t talk about it—see, time has changed. It’s not safe. Out loud. What you are can and will be used against you. Say: big cat padding through night has become herself an insult, or apology. Treading. Careful, water. Whole silences now. Which means, of course, I no longer know how to be beautiful: how did I do that, again? I can’t think. Up a fire tower, wind-quaked, I left my coat in the car. All drugs on board and hyperopic to farthest horizon. Everything close gone dark and blur, but vanishing point a fierce, bright clarity. How relieved I was, finally. Calm. Waking, there was only deafening wind. Memory of being. Beautiful. Of everything, aloud. How did this happen is the question of literature. How does a person come to this?

JJS, December 29, 2018: the question of literature

Merry 5th day of Christmas and Happy New Year, with some thoughts, hopes, and plans for the coming year…

  • Turn in two final book manuscripts.
  • Continue running the Christ Church Cooperstown women’s group another year–next up, a book discussion about the curious medieval document, The Cloude of Unknowyng. (Last year, there was one book event–Buechner’s Godric.) Figure out some more wild outings and events and workshops, often arts-related.
  • Send out at least one poetry manuscript.
  • Do some work for Fr. James Krueger’s meditation retreat Mons Nubifer Sanctus in Lake Delaware with my friend Laurie, now that we’re both on the board.
  • Read more. 2018 was a bad year for reading because I was stretched a bit too thin. I want to read more classical writers and also some of the early Christian mystical writers. More poetry and stories. And the stack of unread novels.
  • Make like a tree and put forth green leaves. Drink from deep sources.
  • Work on that odd idea for a new novel. Secret, of course.
    Improve my health to avoid losing months to illness…
  • Skip blurbing other people’s books for at least a year (because I couldn’t manage those commitments in 2018.) […]
Marly Youmans, At the threshold of years: a few resolutions

I still remember walking across campus with my friend Stephanie as she explained to me about this new idea in the tech world: Blogging. Why would anyone choose to write journal entries that would be shared with the world? It was like leaving your journal on the bus or better yet, giving a stranger specific access to your thoughts. What a weird idea, I thought; it will never catch on I told her.

And here I am in my ninth year of Blogging at Blog Post Number 1,000. How did that happen?

The truth is, I do remember why I started. I wanted the casual and low stakes world that blogging provides. As a poet, it’s too easy to fuss over each comma and semi-colon. I wanted to see what would happen if I published work that didn’t need to be polished to a high sheen. I also had a very practical reason: The Alchemist’s Kitchen, my third book was about to be published and I had no idea how to publicize it. Friends of mine, Kelli Russell Agodon and January O’Neil had been blogging for years and finding real connection with other poets through the process. I thought I’d give it a try. 

Blogging allowed me to connect with other poets and writers, many of us just becoming familiar with this thing called Publicity. We did virtual poetry tours interviewing each other when our books came out and sharing poems that we loved from dead mentor poets (Elizabeth Bishop, Denise Levertov) as well as from work just appearing in journals. We wrote articles on how to organize a poetry reading for optimum success and shared information on favorite writing retreats. In other words, we were creating a network of poets who were neither academics or poet rockstars — anyone with access to a laptop, with access to a library was invited to the party.

Susan Rich, PBN for Blog Post Number One Thousand – 1,000

I took part in the Great Poet Bloggers Revival, launched by Donna Vorreyer and Kelli Russell Agodon, which challenged poets to publish one new blog post per week in order to help everyone feel more engaged in the community.

This year, I managed to put together 63 blog posts — not all of these were put out weekly as intended and not all focused on poetry. But I’m feeling happy and confident about the amount of blogging I managed to do in 2018.

Out of all the blogging I’ve done in the past year, I am most proud of the eight poet spotlight interviews I’ve conducted. It’s such a pleasure to be a part of and learn from the poetry community — and since I’ve been lax on participating or attending readings and open mics, being able to still feel connected through these interviews has been wonderful.

Andrea Blythe, Building Poetry Community: My Blogging Year in Review

OMG, is it time for a Poetry Action Plan? Why, yes. Yes it is!

What, you may ask, is a Poetry Action Plan, or PAP? 

It is a road map for how to think about your writing life. I have created a plan for the past 11 years and it has served me well–even in the years when I didn’t think I needed a plan.

There are four steps to creating a PAP.
1.    Define your goals. What is most important to you as a writer?
2.    Be realistic about what can you achieve.
3.    Track your progress.
4.    Prepare for setbacks BUT be open to opportunities wherever they appear.

And if I had to add a fifth step, I’d say don’t be too hard on yourself for not accomplishing a goal.

As I have mentioned, Last year, after dealing with the death of my ex-husband at the end of 2016, I was just trying to stay above water. We were used to our little system of pick ups and drop offs. And while I never thought I had enough time, I really missed (and still miss), the balance of another parent, for everything from child care to having another voice in the room. But I managed, somehow, to get a few things done.

In 2019, I will:

  • Get ready to move to Mississippi! I had this as last on my list, but really, this is Job 1. The kids and I are moving this summer to Ole Miss for nine months. So all of my energy is going to making the transition as smooth as possible. *Gulp*
  • Write a poem a week. I didn’t write very much in 2018. It was painful not writing, but I just never found my groove. This is just a part in the evolution of my process, I tell myself as I wallow in a pool of self pity. But, it’s time to get back to basics.
  • Submit to eight top-tier journals. Believe it or not, I sent poems to three journals. Still waiting to hear back from two. I was asked to submit a few places. Admittedly, I regret not writing or sending out in 2018. Won’t make that mistake again.
  • Help Rewilding find the widest audience possible. See my last post.
  • Laugh more.
January Gill O’Neil, OMG, is it time for a Poetry Action Plan? Why, yes. Yes it is!

I keep saying I’m not going to try to finish my manuscript anytime soon—that I’m going to wait until I’m done having kids. But if you have ever finished a manuscript, maybe you can relate to the pull it has on you—I want it to be READ. I want it to be out in the world. And as much as I tell myself it isn’t the right time, I can’t promote it right now, I can’t spend money on contests or time on editing—here I am, printing off a paper copy to do the work of “ordering the storm”—rearranging the poems into a final arc—then the paper edits, poem cuts, poem additions….this isn’t at all when I intended to work on this manuscript, but I feel like my writing is stalled in a way, built up around this work that needs to be “birthed”—and as much as I hate the analogy of the book being “my baby”—no, not at all—I can relate it to that horrible waiting period, overdue, heavy with new life. It is a little bit like having a child that no one has met. At the same time, I want to do this right. I love my past publishers—they have been great to me—but I think that I need to win a contest to get the book any attention. I can’t manage five kids homeschooling and teaching online, plus book promotion to the scale that a small press would require. The goal is that I’d like my poems to be read by real live human beings. Now I need to just figure out the best way to make that happen.

Renee Emerson, Paper Edit

Sometimes the critique offered is not something I can figure out how to make my own, or how to grapple with it in the given poem. Especially if I’m unclear about the problem the critique suggestions are meant to solve, I can’t comfortably settle into the solution. I can try things but have no ability to gauge the success or failure of the attempt.

Or sometimes I understand and agree with the critique, but just can’t make the given poem hold up. When I turn one screw, the whole thing gees or haws to one side or another. The center cannot hold. (Maybe a revolution should be at hand…)

At any rate, receiving and using critique is very tricky. First, I have to have sufficient distance from the piece to be able to see it NOT through the rose-colored-glasses of first-love and also NOT through the who-wrote-THIS-hopeless-piece-of-crap smeared window. I gotta be cool, man, real cool.

Then I have to be willing to play around, try anything, mess things up, break things open, dismantle and remantle. That can be hard. know what I wanted the poem to do. Sometimes a critique wants to take the poem in a different direction. It can be very hard, sometimes impossible, to allow that process. That doesn’t mean the critique isn’t right on; it just means that I don’t have enough distance yet, or as a writer I’m not yet skilled enough to figure out how to follow through, or I just don’t want to go in that direction, for whatever misguided (or guided) reasons.

Sometimes a critique is off base. Sometimes a critique is not well grounded itself. You have to be open enough to both consider a critique, and to discard it. That takes a level of self-confidence that to some borders on hubris. Own it. You might be wrong in the long run, but at least you can be honest about the fact you considered an idea but then turned it away.

As I’ve noted before in this space, one of the most important editing tools is time. Sometimes I just have to put it all away, poem and critique and notes and versions. Move on, at least for the moment.

Marilyn McCabe, Abandon Hope; or, Grappling with Critique

Neither starshine nor moonlight.
Instead, snow shine wraps me
in diamond dust at midnight’s hour.

Clouds cling to the earth, yet
a thousand celestial luminaria
light this solstice night. In the yard

a host of snow angels pressed
everywhere. No sounds, no footfalls.
No crinkle of crenelated wings.

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Solstice: Seraphim in Snow

Everything is red this morning – the soil, the river, and water draining my throat –
bloody like the spout from the hawk’s neck.

Stars wheel though darkness as in creation-time nameless but with the identity
of my dead mother.

Where are the homes of birds, food for the bees, the sun whose rays must penetrate
the graves of my people?

Uma Gowrishankar, A Tale From The Forgotten Land – II

I do hope that this machine lasts longer, but I also know that five years seems to be the life of many a major appliance these days. 

I think of my grandmother who had a washing machine on a porch that had no room and no electric for a dryer.  She took the wet clothes to the clothesline at the back of the yard every week of her life until her heart attack prompted the major life change of moving to an assisted living facility.  Her heart attack happened as she was hanging clothes on the line.  She collapsed and stayed there, under the clothesline, under a hot August sun, until her neighbors checked on her late in the evening after she didn’t answer the phone.

It was not the first time I realized that my family is made of pretty stern stuff.  On days when I feel disheartened or discouraged, I think about my ancestors, and I find the courage to keep going.

I also realize that almost everything I face is nothing compared to what they went through.  A washing machine that goes wonky?  Kitchen cabinets that are delayed?  I can hear the ancestors snorting at the thought that I have troubles.

It’s been a good morning.  I’ve read some poetry; the new collections by Terrance Hayes and Kevin Young are amazing.  I wrote a poem that’s nowhere close to what they’ve done, but writing is the winning of the battle.  I’ve got a load of sheets in the dryer.  I’m happy that yesterday gave us an appointment for the delivery of the cabinets:  Feb. 4–hurrah!

And now off to take care of my physical body–spin class calls!

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Sounds of Washing

This Christmas has mostly been about recovering from minor arthroscopic surgery to correct a torn meniscus in my left knee.  My stitches came out on 19 December and I had hoped to do a lot of writing because, coincidentally, my husband and two grown-up children have been visiting a close family friend in Australia for two weeks so I’ve had the house to myself.  The truth is, not a lot of writing has been done and  I’ve missed my noisy, demanding, distracting, annoying but totally fantastic family very very much –  far more than I thought I would – and they’re not back until January 4!

But I have established a kind of routine, including exercising to increase and improve my mobility post-op, and I have completed some boring but necessary jobs that I’ve been putting off for far too long.  These include donating old poetry magazines to charity shops, reshelving poetry books that have been piled on the floor and making room for my own books by putting some of the children’s books into storage.  I know, exciting stuff.

Exercising on a new static bike – a present from husband, Andrew –  has been a wonderful opportunity to listen to the radio.  In fact, rediscovering the vast catalogue of dramas and dramatisations available on BBC Radio 4 and Radio 4Extra (via the BBC Radio iPlayer app which I connect to my Bluetooth speaker)  has been one of the key pleasures of my holiday.  Cycling away on my bike, I’ve listened to and enjoyed dramatisations of Daniel Deronda by George Eliot,  Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and ghost stories by M R James.  I’m now listening to readings of Sylvia Plath’s Letters.  I can’t help but feel inspired by her energy, her hard work, her ambitions, her hopefulness, even knowing how badly everything turned out in the end for her.

Josephine Corcoran, Christmas Retreat

Glass: A Journal of Poetry has released its annual list of recommended reading in poetry. I keep a list, too, of favorite poems throughout the year so I thought I’d share a few with y’all. These are in no particular order and are not all of the poetry I’ve saved over the past year. But, these are definitely stellar poems in some of my favorite journals. I hope you’ll click through and read them.
Louisiana Requiem by Heather Treseler in Frontier Poetry.
Hurricane, 3rd Day by Melissa Studdard in New Ohio Review.
The Peaches by Jericho Brown in The Adroit Journal.
Eve in the Blood by M. Stone in Avatar Review.
Finishing School by Emma Bolden in Black Warrior Review.
Spectacle by Lindsay Illich in Foundry.
Visitation by Marissa Glover in Barren Magazine.
Upon the Blue Nile by Bola Opaleke in the Pangolin Review.
Voucher by Jack Bedell in Ucity Review.
Europa by Echo Wren in Rattle.
Fish Love by Bryanna Licciardi in The Mantle.
Anniversary Poem by Michael Maul in Dodging the Rain.

Charlotte Hamrick, A Few of My Favorite Poems 2018

It’s almost 2019, and if you’re like me (or January O’Neil, who has a cool “poetry action plan,” you start thinking about your intentions for the year ahead – what you hope for, what you can plan for, what you are envisioning. This year’s Vision Board had a lot of animals in it, and more words about inspiration and creativity. I realized the last two years had been all about survival – first the liver tumors and the cancer diagnosis, then the surprise of neurological symptoms and the MS diagnosis. I’m hoping this coming year to be fewer doctor appointments, more wonder – less about survival, more about creating and befriending and embracing the world.

From the AWP conference in March in Portland to sending out two poetry manuscripts – one about the journey of the last two years and one about the history of women and witchcraft, which I was just shuffling through last night to think about organization and which poems to leave out and which to add. I’m going to get more serious about sending out both – I only sent out book manuscripts four times last year, but I sent out over 150 submissions (!!) total, including fiction and essay attempts, and published about fifty poems, which seems like an okay ratio, but I had no idea I had submitted so much.

Other life goals include cultivating more friendships and socializing a little more, paying more attention to my body and treating it like something to take care of and not push, and spending some time (!!) meditating or doing something restful and creative every day, maybe even just five minutes of art or writing before bed. Also, trying to value my time more. One of the things about getting serious diagnoses is that it makes you re-think what you spend your time and energy on. What are the essential things for living for you? Spending time outside, reading good things, and time consciously building a life – whether that’s balance or motor-skill exercises, or reaching out to a new friend, or time spent noticing the new flowers in your garden to the kind of moon that rises. Or the visitors to your neighborhood – the day after Christmas, this bobcat visited our street!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Two End of the Year Poems in ACM, and Dreams, Goals, and Inspirations for 2019

Happy New Year and big thanks to such an incredible online community of poets, writers, and supporters! I started actively posting and promoting this poetry blog in October 2014, and have seen a constant increase in traffic, likes, and followers. I’ve met some amazing and talented people along the way.

My blog really started out as an experiment, to just share the things I’ve learned in the last year or so as I began actively submitted my poems and other writing to different markets. It does seem there is a need for clear, concise, and quick ways to stay updated on calls for submissions, contests, writing tips, especially those with a focus on poetry. I’d love to hear from my readers if they have suggestions for information I can share or other resources they find helpful in their quest to publish poetry.

Trish Hopkinson, Happy New Year and Thank You! – My submission & blog stats, 250K+ views in 2018!

I love hearing about people’s favorite books, and regularly shop and read from lists published everywhere every December. I’ve even written a short discussion of my favorite genre books in 2018, to appear in Strange Horizons’ annual roundup a few days from now.

But I’m skeptical of these lists, too: “best” for whom, when, and why? For what purpose? I’ve found no single critic out there who shares all of my own tastes and obsessions, even though I’m part of a demographic heavily represented in literary journalism. What makes a book powerful is partly latent in the text, but is also contingent on circumstances. Even for one reader, the stories or voices that feel most necessary can vary from day to day. There’s no value-neutral, objective “best” out there.

I can certainly name the poetry books that most wowed me this fall, that I kept wanting to share: If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins by Terrance Hayes, and, a little belatedly, Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang. Does that make them the best? It means they’re really good, for sure.

But I also bought poetry books for friends, marking a few poems for each that I thought would especially appeal. Asghar and Chang were on that list, but so was Ada Limón’s The Carrying, which I also remembered loving–and as I reread it, the book gained even more force. Some books grow over time. Does that make Limón’s book the best, even if a December reviewer barely has enough perspective to see it? Daylily Called It a Dangerous Moment by Alessandra Lynch worked like that for me, earlier this year. On first encounter, I felt frustrated by how the poems skirted the central subject–rape–but the successive readings you have to do for a reviewing assignment changed my reaction to profound admiration. And while I just read Patricia Smith’s Incendiary Art, I can say it’s almost unbearably powerful, and maybe you should read it wearing oven mitts–where does THAT criterion go in the rankings? Really, I liked or loved almost all of the poetry collections I read in 2019 (listed below, excluding things I didn’t like enough to finish)–but I have no idea which will mean most to me five years from now.

Lesley Wheeler, Best for what?–reading 2018

Just when you think your work
is done, Coyote says
we haven’t even begun.

Tom Montag, from The Wishin’ Jupiter Poems: Just When

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 50

poet bloggers revival tour 2018
poet bloggers revival tour 2018

A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

Many poetry blogs are falling silent—’tis the season—but a surprising number of new posts have appeared in my feed reader this week regardless. If they have anything in common, it’s a more contemplative tone. As if the long nights are leading many of us to turn inward. Or maybe it’s just an end-of-year, taking-stock kind of thing.

Speaking of taking stock, whither the revival tour in 2019? This digest will probably continue in some form regardless, but I’m wondering how people who revived their blogging practice this year feel about it? Now that the old band has completed one more tour, is it time to  throw in the towel?

Whenever I’m writing I’m also fully, hyper-aware that there are other responsibilities I’m ignoring; at these points, I try to remember all of those interviews with writers and artists I’ve read (and taught!) that stress the necessity of making your writing time “intractable and nonnegotiable.” 

This semester, I’ve been MUCH better about keeping writing time sacred, but once again everything fell apart at the end of the term, from writing to exercising to eating well to getting enough sleep.

One more week, tho. And then final grades in, and then holidays and some travel to Virginia, and then maybe, maybe, writing and running and rest. Maybe.

And on a last note: This is my three hundredth post for this blog . . . since. . .  2011? I’ll have to fact check that. Anyway. I don’t know what that means. I whine at the internet a lot, I suppose. Thanks for absorbing my panic and myopia, Interwebs! Yer the best!

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Mother of the Year, Teacher of the Year, and Other Awards I’m Not Earning

Yesterday we had quite an adventure! We had been planning to go to Copper Canyon‘s Holiday party and book release for Ursula Le Guin’s final poetry collection. But an hour before we planned to leave, I started hearing branches hitting the window, and the power went out. Then we had to eat dinner without power or light (hard), dress (harder), and do makeup (hardest by far), which was exciting. The Hugo House still had power (although I heard later 100,000 people ended up losing power throughout the area) so we set out in our car with branches and even whole trees down on both sides of us, wind whipping our car around on the Floating Bridge, and when we got there, I could barely stand up against the wind, let alone walk! […]

The readers did a wonderful job with their tribute to Ursula, including Karen FinneyfrockJane Wong, and fellow Two Sylvias author Lena Khalaf Tuffaha. One person talked about a memorial where Margaret Atwood said Ursula had “the best dragons in fiction” and Jane Wong talked about feeding our inner dragons lettuce, which was such a wonderful image.

People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination

I was very moved, and remembered the gigantic windstorm that hit the night about ten years ago that I heard Ursula read poetry on the Oregon Coast and talk about science fiction poetry years ago in Oregon. She insisted women science fiction writers should not be placed in a literary ghetto, that speculative poetry should not be considered non-literary, and that poetry should not be ignored and women should not be ignored – she was very feisty! And there was a giant wall of glass facing the outdoors, and it kept banging with thunder and wind, but it seemed to accompany her, not compete. She was a force of nature that deserved the tribute of the storm.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poetry Parties, Windstorms and Power Outages, and Ursula Le Guin’s Dragons

There are rumors of big cats. I’ve seen two elk—
one stared through me as if she knew my secrets, the other,
roadkill. You once told me my poems are too grim

and I should try my hand at something more pastoral.
I’ve seen powdered snow on Cedars, and I’ve grown
passably fond of rain. Everyday, the clouds amaze.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Powers that Be

Two years ago, I wrote a post overflowing with admiration for a January Gill O’Neil poem and then added a prompt to go with it on this site.  What unmitigated joy to see this same poem in the brand new pages of Rewilding, just out from Cavaan Kerry Press.

If Sharon Olds and Robert Hayden had a love child, I think it would be January O’Neil. She employs the smooth, shiny surface of a Sharon Olds poem with the more emotionally nuanced and extended outlook of poet Robert Hayden (think “Water Lillies” and “Those Winter Sundays”). [Click through to read two poems from the book.]

Susan Rich, Best Holiday Present for Poets: Rewilding by January Gill O’Neil

As writers, we put a lot of focus on producing – writing poems or prose pieces, editing, editing again, editing one more time (at least), then getting those polished pieces out the door and hopefully published. Of course, the point of all that work is to share. And in a world where we can post links to thousands of others via social media, we certainly hope that we are sharing, but it’s hard to know how many people are really reading. If they are reading, are they delving into the piece, sitting with it? Or is the writing just getting a cursory glance on the way to work/school/daycare pickup/grocery shopping, etc.?

Given all that, what a pleasure to take an evening and do with poems what we are meant to do – enjoy them. Everyone around the table loved writing, and found profound emotional connections in certain pieces. So, for the price of admission (which was nothing! you can sit around a table with your friends absolutely for free!) we got a curated reading. We shared some of our own pieces, and we shared the pieces that keep us inspired. Amazing poetry and CNF, chosen by writers forwriters. Adrian Bleins, Maggie Deets, Jill McDonough, Ross Gay, Diane Seuss, Hayden Carruth, Jack Gilbert, J. Robert Lennon, Ted Kooser. Every piece made your breath catch in your throat. Every piece made you want more.

So let’s bring back the salon. Get some friends together. Have coffee, tea, an adult beverage if you like. Ask everyone to bring a few pieces of writing that just knock their proverbial socks off, and read to each other.

Bring Back the Salon – guest blog post by Sonja Johanson (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I have been looking for a poem to read at the memorial of the young man who died recently. Death is supposed to be the subject matter best suited to poets, and the obvious purview of poetry, but after perusing many poems on the topic, I’m now convinced that most poets don’t know how to write about it very effectively. We are good at writing about our personal pain and our own cynicism and our clever detachment from both, but as a group, I’m not convinced that we have much of a grip on the topic of death. The two groups of poets who I find write about death the most effectively and clear-headedly are physicians and war veterans, and I don’t know of many who are poets. I wish that more doctors and vets wrote poetry, but alas, that is not the case, and I think that’s a huge loss. Their insights count at least as much as English majors with pricey MFA’s. We need to design poetry workshops specifically for docs and vets. I’m fully up to spearhead this. Who’s with me??

Kristen McHenry, The Problem with Poetry, Get After It, Bad Cat Redux

I have been making my way slowly through Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. Slowly because it is tough stuff, both the — what should I call it? theology? the study of his own faith/God/self-in-God?, and the intensity of it: a dying man sending dispatches from the edge.

Diagnosed with a rare and fitful disease, Wiman has been dragging himself through years of treatment sometimes as ravaging as the disease, approaching death only to have death pull away, only to catch up to it again, like some long drag race in the desert. Throughout much of it he has been trying to make sense of his call toward God or Christ or some ineffable -ness that is not captured by the wan word “religion,” with its weight of institutions and hierarchies.

Marilyn McCabe, Postcards from the Edge; or, On Reading Wiman’s My Bright Abyss

My first podcast interview at New Books in Poetry is live! I had a lovely conversation with Emily Jungmin Yoon regarding her  first full-length collection, A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco Books, 2018), which examines forms of violence against women. At its core these poems delve into the lives of Korean comfort women of the 1930s and 40s, reflecting on not only the history of sexual slavery, but also considering its ongoing impact. Her poems beautifully lift the voices of these women, helping to make them heard and remembered — while also providing insight into current events, environmentalism, and her own personal experiences as a woman in the world.

I loved this collection of poetry, which was so moving in how it addressed intense subject matters. Her words are lyrical, vivid, and enriched with a playful examination of language, the way mean slips depending on perspective and how language can be a powerful tool. These poems help to give voice to women whose stories are not commonly told. It’s beautifully done.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon

My friends liked me because I listened to them. One of them referred to me as her psychologist. Through these young women, I learned about love, lust, yearning, sex, educational aspirations, the behaviors of men, family stresses, jobs, career hopes, personal values, fears, thrills, recreational drugs, alcohol, birth control, popular music, dancing, concert-going, lies, mistakes, and heartbreak. The only thing I can think of that has taught me as much is the reading of books, particularly poems, novels, and memoirs.

Years later, I asked my parents whether they ever felt concerned about my choice of friends. Did they ever worry that these young people were somehow bad influences on me? My dad paused a moment, thoughtful, and answered, “I don’t think we ever worried about your friends being bad influences on you. I kind of thought you were maybe a good influence on them.” I’m not sure that’s accurate; but looking back, perhaps my parents, or my family, presented a positive “model” for my friends who endured much more challenging home lives and had less support for education, career, and independent futures. And most of them have grown up to have successful lives–but that’s not because of me.

Four or five years ago I found myself reminiscing through writing poems; it was quite accidental on my part, and initially just a response to a Bruce Springsteen song. Influences: popular song, teen friends, the suburban environment of my youth. I ended up with at least 40 poems, of which there may be enough good ones to make up a chapbook collection someday. [In 2014, I blogged a bit about the project here.] I call them my Barefoot Girls poems. They provide, I suppose, one aspect to answering the question posed in my last blog. My friends’ experiences, flowing through me.

Ann E. Michael, More on influences

Travel completely engages me when I’m there, and then feels almost unreal when return to my own space. And yet, flight makes those sudden shifts in reality possible. I wouldn’t call it disorienting, per se, but it is certainly strange to find yourself inhabiting an image like the one above, that you’ve seen in countless sources, from textbooks to travel videos. We don’t go on tours but figure out our itinerary and plans completely from scratch, and unexpected things happen, so during the trips we always feel like we’re very heads-up, paying sharp attention; there’s a high level of intensity. I try hard to really be in a place — to feel it and engage with it with all my senses as well as my mind — and not just be a person behind a camera, capturing moments like trophies. It takes time to think about a significant journey and to see what I’ve learned and how it has changed me; I’m doing that now and will be doing it for quite a long time. And I already want to go back. There were good reasons why, as a young girl, Greece got under my skin. I see that better now, and am glad I wasn’t disappointed by being face to face with the real thing. Yet I also see that I made the right decision to live a less linear and more personally creative life; it was a better fit with who I really am, but in many ways, it has been a reflection of the values and ideals that attracted me to the Greeks in the first place. As a woman, I’m lucky I live now, though, instead of back then.

Beth Adams, Home from a Journey

My twenties were fine, full of a lot of learning experiences, including quitting college to follow a boy to the Caribbean, buying a home at the top of the market, right before the bottom fell away, and a short-lived, ill-fated marriage. With a bit of serendipity, I got out of the house (at a huge loss but ce la vie) and my divorce was finalized a month before I turned thirty which meant I started my thirties as a whole different person. And my thirties have been great, I really felt like I became the person I was supposed to be and I checked off a bunch of milestones too – I found a career I liked, was good at, and started getting paid well for doing it. I bought a condo and when I sold it five years later, it wasn’t at a loss. I started taking my writing seriously and published two chapbooks and applied to an MFA program. I traveled to places I’d always dreamed of visiting. I found a partner and we married. We bought a house and two cars. I’m in a great book club, I have a great group of friends. In short, my thirties have turned me into a bonafide adult. So if my thirties have been so great, why do I feel so strange about entering my forties?

Courtney LeBlanc, Aging

Because it was an early night, I got up in the wee, small hours of the morning.  I’ve been reading a variety of interesting things, working on a poem that weaves together the cracking of the older Arctic ice and home repairs/grading/writing, putting together a poem submission for the Tampa Review–in other words, the kind of morning I like best.

I loved this piece at the On Being blog.  It’s full of wisdom and ideas for writing and heartbreaking observations.  This bit led to some interesting research on both Wittgenstein and Spinoza:  “For a time, I required my students to write a Wittgensteinian essay: Start with one idea. Notice where it goes. Number each idea. Keep them short. Don’t worry if you hop around. Read and play with what emerges. It may take a while to understand what you are trying to say. To yourself.”

He also makes lots of spiritual connections:  “I discovered that the Desert Fathers and other ascetics employed this approach. They sought a way to move from contemplative sense to paper. Sometimes they called what they wrote a century: 100 pieces of heart-sourced inklings. Heart to hand to ink. Follow what comes. Only the numbers seem orderly. Like prayer.”

I am interested in the composition of these short pieces.  I also stumbled across this site which talks about the writing practice of William Stafford.  He, too, began his writing day by writing a short observation:  “Some prose notes from a recent experience, a few sentences about a recent connection with friends, an account of a dream. This short passage of ‘throwaway’ writing, it turns out, is very important, as it keeps the pen moving and gets the mind sniffing along through ‘ordinary’ experience. You are beginning the act of writing without needing to write anything profound. No struggle, no effort, no heroic reach. Just writing.”

This morning, I also went outside in hopes of catching a glimpse of a meteor in these waning days of the Geminid meteor shower.  No luck.  I stood on the sidewalk, looking up and looking at the 3 small trees that lit up my front windowsill.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wittgensteinian Wanderings

Maybe I need to blog about poetic self-doubt more often. As soon as I did, my luck seemed to shift under my feet. I had been doing math some of you have surely done, too: I’ve been showing the ms around for a while now. What if this poetry collection I thought was so great doesn’t strike any editors the same way? The poems have done well in magazines, but what would I do with the larger structure, with its support beams and fancy finials, if no press wanted I genuinely wanted to work with returned my affections? Keep trying while I write another one, I realized.

I don’t feel that way about literary criticism; blogging about poetry is fun and I care very much about boosting the poetry that inspires me, but there’s no way I’d keep writing footnoted articles if no one wanted to publish them. I’ll write the best poetry I can for as long as I can, however. It’s work I love desperately. Returning to it after occasional absences, with renewed interest, joy, and creative ambition–that’s been one of the deepest rhythms of my adult life.

Then a piece of fan mail popped up from Molly Sutton Kiefer at Tinderbox Editions, to whom I sent the ms a year ago. Submittable still said “In Progress” but I figured she’d given it a pass. Au contraire. She loved the book. Was it still available?

Lesley Wheeler, Pleased as punch (with recipe)

Q~Your partner is also a writer. What’s that like?

A~Mostly, it’s good! Chris is a scholar of comics who has started working in visual modes, so he and I started collaborating this year. Our first poetry comic was just accepted by Split Lip Magazine, and that’s giving me delusions of hipsterism. It’s called “Made for Each Other,” which sounds romantic, but it’s about ambivalent, aging, gender-ambiguous robots, so it addresses marriage from a pretty strange slant. He’s also my first reader and a very helpful one. One tougher aspect of two writers making a life together: it was hard for two desperate writers to negotiate time when the kids were little. And now that our youngest is about to fly the coop, I’m worried that he and I will have to work hard NOT to work hard all the time, just out of sadness and confusion. We were so time-starved for so long.

Belief / an interview with poet Lesley Wheeler (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 48

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

This week’s topics: the uses of poetry, the usefulness of external validation, the usefulness of blogging and other creative practices, the uselessness of consistency of style, the usefulness of having consistent topics to write around, the usefulness of group submittathons, the potential usefulness of self-doubt, the pleasures of community poetry festivals, the pleasures of Fatimah Asghar’s poetry, the pleasures of Christopher’s North’s poetry, the dubious utility of writing within constraints, the difficulty of assessing one’s own face, and the existential crisis of living and writing during a planet-wide extinction.

I like poems that do little useful things for you
like telling a friend you’ve been such a jerk,
keeping one company when bored in a long queue,
or teaching some manners to a misanthropic, rude clerk.
Magda Kapa, Once More, Thoughts on Poetry

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It is so very much easier to “act” like a poet or writer once you feel like a poet or writer — i.e. when you have the external validation of publication. I wish that wasn’t true, but it is. Of course, in some ways, it’s the easy way, the “lazy man’s way” of writing. The external validation is a shortcut in the path to self-esteem that’s large enough to incorporate a regular writing practice. Honestly — I’m beginning to think that I resisted setting up a regular writing practice — these morning writing sessions — because I didn’t feel like I deserved them. Sometimes I still don’t. But lately I tell that part of myself to fuck off and I go back to the page.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Writing Practices, Processes, and Productivity

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Once I started blogging I discovered that–for whatever reason–I don’t get all uptight and perfection-y about writing blogposts. I just type stuff and go over it a couple times for errors and post. It reminds me of showing up to teach at the college–ready or not, here it is.
Bethany Reid, Why do I blog?

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This morning, I wrote a poem–and with that poem, I’ve written a poem every day in November. I’m not sure I’ve ever been successful at writing a poem a day for a month. There have been several Aprils that I have tried.

I’ve also been very active in my online journaling course which started Nov. 4, and in addition to writing a poem a day, I’ve done at least one sketch a day. I’ve been interested in how they feed each other.

The blogging feeds the work too.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, From Blog Post to Sketch to Poem

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When I was working on my MFA, I had to compile a poetry manuscript for my final thesis. I gave my thesis advisor (who was usually very supportive) about 100 pages of poetry. She read around 40 pages of it, gave it back to me, and said, rather miffed, “I can’t read this! Make it sound like one person wrote the whole manuscript.”

I remember thinking, why? (I should have asked her why but was too flummoxed to say anything.) Why is it necessary for a book of poems to be uniform in voice, or for a writer to have a consistency of style? Perhaps for marketability—though poetry is so nonlucrative, marketability seems like an absurd concern.

Eventually some of the poems in this thesis manuscript wound up in other collections that were published. I edited my other collections of poetry, memoir, and fiction based on theme and intuition; they were more consistent than the one I gave my advisor back in 2005. I do consistently want my work to be sensual and honest, and for there to be a sense of humility in the narrative voice. Still, I don’t see the value in consistency, not in a poetry book. I like surprises when I read.
In Her Famous Fur-Lined Skirt / an interview with poet Colleen McKee (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

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Someone noted in a post I talked about writing “on a project” and “outside of a project,” and asked me to talk a little bit about writing on poetry projects. I don’t usually start a book project knowing in advance what the book is going to be about. Usually I start by getting interested in a certain topic, then more interested, then research that topic, writing a bunch of poems around it, and then later noticing that the poems seem to cluster around a certain subject, and exploring that topic in different ways. Usually I decide I have a book project when I get about fifty poems that hang together, and then I work on arranging, filling gaps, and maybe examining the subject in a different way or in different forms.

In fact, I can feel a little un-moored when I don’t have a subject or topic I’m working on, but it’s a necessary part of the process, because I don’t think anyone’s book should start out over-determined, and we need some creative open spaces – just like it’s good to get out of the house, even in this kind of cold and rainy season, to remind ourselves of the beauties and possibilities of the larger world. It’s especially important, when you’ve maybe reached the end of a large project, you’ve sort of exhausted a subject, and you want to start to explore again. It’s a good time to try a different type of poetry and to read more widely and even to use poetry prompts to get your brain working in a new way. I like to read novels and books of literary biography and writers’ letters in between projects, to give my mind something new to work on. Different voices that can help me develop my own writing in a different way – this seems especially true for me when I read books in translation. I hope this was helpful!
Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Poem in Scoundrel Time, Talking About Poetry Projects, Giving Tuesday and Women-Run-or-Owned Lit Mags and Presses

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Today after a long hiatus, I submitted poems from a Submittathon at SSU. MP Carver set up for 9 a.m.-1 p.m. MP describes it as “a community event designed to get Salem State voices and creative works out into the publishing world. We’ll have people there to help first timers learn the ins and outs of submitting (including cover letters, finding journals, etc). For those with experience submitting work for publication, it’s a dedicated time to focus on sending out your work. There will be snacks and prizes as well!” Jill McDonough is the first poet I know to do this. We’re just following in her literary footsteps.

I was on the early side, but 12 people showed up with laptops and poems to send their poems into the world. This is the second time I’ve participated. The first time (in May, or was it last December?), I didn’t have anything to submit. I’m coming off of one of the worst writing droughts I’ve ever had. As someone who likes to grind it out, I think I’ve written maybe 20 poems in two years. My math may be off, however. When I look at my Poetry 2018 file, there are at least 50 poems. I have enough for a terrible manuscript. But I do have a few gems that need a little polish. Just getting them into the light is a big step.
January Gill O’Neil, Submittathon!

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I see a therapist from time to time and we had an hour this week in which we talked mostly about self-doubt. She rightly points out that I have a pretty good resume, career-wise; my loved ones, though afflicted sometimes with crises, are basically okay; that I would do well to ease up and slow down. I do not have to be so afraid, say, of never publishing a ms or writing a great poem or getting pats on the head from the prize-dispensers again. I agree with her and we talked about ways to balance my commitments better. I also argued, however, as I argue to myself sometimes, that self-doubt is a necessary part of being a decent artist, and maybe a decent human being. If you don’t stand back and say, “hey, maybe that writing sample wasn’t really good enough to ensure a grant win,” how do you grow? Isn’t a drive to keep upping the bar a necessary pressure? Shouldn’t I keep questioning myself and my work?

Well, I’m probably rationalizing, because that’s what people do. I doubt my self-doubt. Happy December, my writer friends. Put up those twinkly lights, and don’t mind the darkness encroaching.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and self-doubt, with footnotes

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I was going to tell you about going to North Carolina for the West End Poetry Festival–where the Carrboro Poets Council partners with the town to produce four days of reading upon reading upon reading, inclusive of all styles and topics. (A 12-person council that hangs out in someone’s living room once a month, and is trusted and given the resources to organize. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could so easily facilitate the DC government’s relationship to poetry and the arts? Ahem.) I got to talk about poetry of food, I got to hear Ruth Awad, the Chief of Police volunteered to be on-site monitor so we could drink wine in the Century Center, and signs that would usually direct traffic instead directed “Slow Down for Poetry.” I was going to tell you about helping someone write an ode to barbecue, and watching that same gentleman (husband to our hosting Poets Council member) run the toy trains in the garage-loft where we’d been staying. I was going to tell you about buying hatch chiles and okra from the Farmer’s Market.
Sandra Beasley, Six Posts I Didn’t Write & Alex Guarnaschelli

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Among the things I adore is the beautiful physicality found in many of these poems, in which the body is sketched out in vivid detail — and not just the pretty bits, but the full reality of a body that makes up a human being. A body is where “mosquito bites bloom” or where exist “hairs crawling out.” In “Oil,” she writes, “The walk to school makes the oil pool on my forehead / a lake spilling under my armpits.” The specifics of existing in a human body in these poems feel as though the speaker is declaring their existence in a world that doesn’t always want them. It’s a lovely way to claim space.
Andrea Blythe, Book Love: If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

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I really like the filmic quality of this, a film by Peter Greenaway…the draughtsman’s contract. The story of the bunch of tipsy chums stumbling around in the dark under a huge starlit sky, stumbling over silvered lawns, declaiming of bits of Shakespeare, the absurdity of it that gradually comes to its senses, and back to earth as The town below lolled in sodium. I love the way the declaiming poet comes back to the role of the measuring and sensible surveyor and the group of friends who became a chain of hands. The whole thing is witty, elegantly constructed, and ultimately life-affirming, lyrical and loving.
John Foggin, Well met; a Polished Gem: Christopher North

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I have had spasms of trying to write in form. I still shudder to remember the crap I’ve written. Sometimes my poems do, though, begin to take the form of a form: I’ve had poems that seem to take the shape of a sonnet, have had poems begin to exhibit a rhyme scheme, or that show the kind of obsession a form like a villanelle brings out. I could be more willing and try to be more able at encouraging/allowing that, and making the best of it. But to start out with the intention to write in a form? It makes me shudder.

As for the other tricks, the only thing I do — and this only when I haven’t been writing at all — is substitution. That is, I’ll take someone else’s poem, ideally someone whose work is different from mine, so I’m off-balance to begin with, and then word by word substitute my own words. So “…while I pondered weak and weary” becomes “after we made assumptions, burly and full of ourselves,” perhaps. I do this to shake up my work, or push me into process when I’ve lapsed into lassitude.

They do feel like tricks, these constraint games. And I feel like I can feel the artifice in the final product. Which for some people is the point. My own mind, imagination, abilities, proclivities, ignorances, prejudices, blindnesses, laziness, insistence on some kind of logic…well…etcetera…are constraint enough. Aren’t they?

I want the poem to become its own organic thing, growing in bumps and spurts to whatever lumpy, limpy, or suave form it fits itself. My job is to give it some oomph and stay out of the way.
Marilyn McCabe, The Name is Bond; or, Writing Within Constraints…or Not

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Editor John Wilson once told me that half my face was like that of the nice lady in line behind him at the post office, and the other half belonged to a poet or a murderer. Writers are murderers of a sort. But the look–that’s the work of The Wayward Eyebrow.
Marly Youmans, Book-and-birthday headshots…

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A loss of bees leads to a loss of any plant requiring bees for pollination. A loss of beetles and dragonflies and mayflies and even the much-maligned mosquito leads to birds that starve, not to mention amphibians, reptiles, and some omnivorous or insectivorous mammals–particularly vulnerable bat and marsupial populations. The bottom of the food chain matters more than most human beings ever stop to consider.

One part of this article mentions the important, even crucial, role of people who study nature without having gotten degrees…the so-called amateur botanists, lepidopterists, and hemiptera observers. Another reason I find this article so interesting has to do with how Jarvis employs thoughtful, reflective moments in the piece, while maintaining a journalistic stance:

We’ve begun to talk about living in the Anthropocene, a world shaped by humans. But E.O. Wilson, the naturalist and prophet of environmental degradation, has suggested another name: the Eremocine, the age of loneliness.

Wilson began his career as a taxonomic entomologist, studying ants. Insects — about as far as you can get from charismatic megafauna — are not what we’re usually imagining when we talk about biodiversity. Yet they are, in Wilson’s words, “the little things that run the natural world.” He means it literally. Insects are a case study in the invisible importance of the common.

Maybe it’s my personal inclination towards the natural observation, but I find some resonance here. It’s what I tend to do when I write poems–to celebrate the common, or at any rate to notice it. I notice, too, the diminishment.

Some readers have told me my poems feel sorrowful, and maybe that sense of diminishment hunkers behind even the more celebratory poems I write. That’s an idea worth my consideration as I revise my work. Maybe Diminishment should be the title of my next collection.

Anyway–read Jarvis’ article. You will learn much. Even if you’re one of those folks who “hates bugs.”
Ann E. Michael, Diminishment

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 47

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

Poetry bloggers weren’t at a loss for words this week, despite the occurrence of a major American holiday (or perhaps because of it?) but I didn’t see too many common themes, so I’ve presented the posts in a completely random order. Topics include dreams, writing as exploration, Gaia Holmes, the origins of wonder, Bethany Reid, Streetcake magazine, whether there’s any difference between prose poems and flash fiction, poetry gift recommendations, the chapbook as a specialized art form, the consequences of anger, why “eminently publishable” poems suck, epistle as writing practice, horror and the dilemma of female power, and how working with another poet or source material changes one’s writing. That sort of thing.

I used to not dream or
remember my dreams
but last night
when time hung in the belly
of the moon I dreamt of a yard
where the yard was the mind
where the mind was playing
tricks where tricks were not
fun and fun was not paid.
Crystal Ignatowski, To Turn To Daybreak To Turn To Dawn

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Q~How would you describe your style?

A~Poetry happens in a moment of collision between myself and the world. On occasion, I strike sparks. If I’m lucky, I have words at hand for kindling, but still I’m scrabbling, reaching for anything that might sustain the flame, and anything goes, stylistically speaking. Some of my poems are strongly narrative; others revel in fragment and elliptical movement. I’ll go months avoiding first-person and then embrace it wholeheartedly. Poetry as distillation. Poetry as outpouring. I’m drawn to the freewheeling, associative mode of renga, each verse linking only to the previous, as much as I am drawn to the complex code of rules that dictate the appearance of motifs and seasonal references in a classical renga’s hundred verses. I struggle to describe my style since the formal aspects of my writing continually shift from poem to poem.

Writing poetry for me is a mode of exploration, of reaching out and often struggling to find out even what it is I’m grasping for. I’m often guided by the physicality of language when I get lost–the sound of the words, the cadence of the line, how the text exists on the page as a visual field. I know I value openness. I want the reader to have a place to enter into the work. I once heard a poem described as a full and laden table except for a single empty seat–that’s the space for the reader to sit down. I love that image, the idea of the reader sitting down and partaking, of us somehow going from strangers to friends at the table of poetry.
Not This / an interview with poet Hyejung Kook (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

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Jane Draycott talks about the point where a poem detonates. Gaia [Holmes]’ poems often put me in mind of Chemistry lessons in the blissfully pre-Health and Safety 1950’s, when to demonstrate the meaning of the word crepitation a teacher would toss a slack handful of crystals (potassium?) into a sinkful of water and stand well back. So many poems in Where the road runs out detonate in line after line, like dangerous Rice Krispies. But because many of her poems are about separation and loss of love or lovers, and in this collection, of a father…..sometimes tender and sometimes vengeful, sometimes wistful and sometimes heartbreaking…….. they also take a reader into dark woods and lose her. […]

I hope that, like me, you’re snagged and reeled in by listening to frost, understanding its cold, lacquering glamour, and being out in the bright, dumb dark; a folktale world of snow and lost girls, and chickens that make me think of Baba Yaga and her house on hen’s legs. There’s a lot of ice (and also stars, and milk and fire) in Gaia’s poems ; there’s even an Ice Hotel in an earlier collection. There’s the cold of loneliness and love gone wrong, and broken things that might be hearts or dreams which make you think twice about walking in bare feet. There’s the orphan voice of a narrator who sees things that no-one seems to notice her seeing.
[Click through to read a number of sample poems.]
John Foggin, Gaia Holmes’ “Where the road runs out”: a labour of love

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Wonder, it turns out, is a mystery word; its origins unclear, but many Germanic languages have a version of it — wundor, wundrian, wunder. So that got me thinking about some synonyms.

Amaze is from the OE amasian meaning stupefy or stun but may have had an original sense of being knocked on the head unconscious (those Old Norse roustabouts). This word actually led to the word maze, rather than the other way around, but which started as a word describing a state of mind — dazed, delusional — and then became a structure to effect that end.

Astonish, astound and that ilk came from extondre, meaning leave someone thuderstruck, from the Latin verb to thunder, tonare, which, traced back, apparently just means noise.

And I think of those days when the sky is dark and low, foreboding of precipitation, and suddenly you hear beneath the chatter of the day, that noise, thunder.

So as I write I must listen for the noise under the noise, the thunder of what’s coming or what’s happening behind those clouds of words on the page.
Marilyn McCabe, Hmm; or, A Little More on Wonder

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As many of you know, I moved back to Portland last summer and in an either brilliant or insane move purchased a 1947 home which was in need of some major renovations. Today this blog is being written from my new office. Outside my office window my contractor is jackhammering away the basement foundation in order to install an egress window. It is noisy. It is dirty. I am hoping the house does not collapse and the new earthquake retrofit holds. In the meantime, I am visualizing a beautiful finished basement that is light-filled and has a second bathroom.

Also during this time, a family member died, another family member had colon-cancer surgery, and an adult child moved back home. I had something die in the chimney and for a week flies flew out of the fireplace like bats from under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin.

And while I haven’t been writing much, I did travel to Iceland and Ireland, have been invited to poetry readings to read from my new book, and I organized a poetry event in the small town where I graduated from high school and invited Finnish poet Gary Anderson to come read with me.

Last week I hiked seven miles up the Salmon River trail on the southwestern flank of Mt. Hood with old friends, and I’ve been reading and cooking more than usual—all things that anchor me during this fallow writing port-of-call.

So while my world is being disassembled and reconstructed I have complete faith the one thing that will remain intact (even if it is silent for now) is my poetry, because I can feel the seeds beginning to germinate, and a gentle push of green carrying a word or a line up through the dark with a story to tell.

But for now I am reading the poetry of Bethany Reid, who is a poet friend from Edmonds, Washington. Her new collection Body My House (Goldfish Press Seattle) is a collection that as author Priscilla Long so aptly conveys: are poems to read and reread, and to savor. I recommend you check her out.
Carey Taylor, Jackhammer Days

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I’m over the moon to be in Streetcake again, the online journal of experimental writing. The editors (Trini Decombe and Nikki Dudley) took a found poem of mine earlier this year. This time they’ve taken a cut-up (I mean the actual collage of cut-up texts – see example below). Usually I produce the collage then type the poem and send the typed copy out. In this case, I sent the ‘raw’ version. To add to the excitement, the Streetcake team have an incredibly highspeed turn around between submission, acceptance and publication that makes you feel as though you’re part of something very contemporary, and with an amazing potential to shape the future of writing. I’m full of admiration for the editors who are prepared to take such risks with what they publish and it’s a real boost for me because let’s face it, poetry is a niche market, so to be experimental within this small field really narrows down the options when it comes to sending work out. In the current issue, I’ve really enjoyed encountering Kate Gillespie’s poem ‘Diversification’ (take a look at it and you’ll see why I say encounter rather than read). It’s given me another idea about how experimental writing might appear on the page/ screen.
Julie Mellor, Streetcake – grab your bite

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Every emerging writer dreams of finding herself in a conversation with the editor of an esteemed literary magazine. For the new writer, especially, there are hundreds of unanswered questions about the submission process. So you can imagine my excitement when I found myself speaking with Ralph Hamilton, the editor of RHINO Poetry. During the course of our conversation, he was kind enough to offer some insights into the publishing world. In the process of discussing the typical type of submission that Rhino receives, Mr. Hamilton acknowledged an odd disparity. For whatever the reason, writers generally submit higher quality prose poems than flash fiction.

Our conversation was long over before I thought to ask the obvious question. What exactly is the difference between prose poems and flash fiction. To be honest, I’m guilty of submitting the same piece of writing as both. For the most part, the call for submissions determines how I submit the piece. If a magazine calls for flash, I’ll submit it as a flash. If a magazine calls for a prose poem, I’ll submit my piece as a prose poem.

Suddenly panicked, and convinced that I had been making a fool of myself by consistently submitting the wrong genre, I decided that it was time to do some research. If flash fiction and prose poems were different, the question remained. Why?
“Prose Poem or Flash Fiction – What’s the Difference?” – guest blog post by Jessica Terson (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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I try not to be too commercial, but buying a book from a small press or even just leaving an Amazon review can make a giant difference in a writer’s outlook.

So, if you are interested in getting a signed copy from me of PR for Poets, or Field Guide to the End of the World, or any of my books, follow these links. And I will really appreciate it and try to include a little something extra in there (and am happy to sign to a special someone.)

Looking for a few more poetry book recommendations? Here’s a list of more new books I think would make great gifts!

Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumuathil from Copper Canyon Press – a wonderful collection that celebrates nature, diversity, and I can’t think of anyone who would hate this book.

Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang from Copper Canyon Press. Victoria Chang takes on the difficult subjects of race and class in America through the lens of Barbie and Jane Austen in a really smart, fun way.

A Nation (Imagined) by Natasha K. Moni Floating Bridge Press – Super timely exploration of what being the child of immigrants in America means right now and how it is to be part of the world and simultaneously an outside observer.

Electrical Theories of Femininity (from Black Radish Books) by Sarah Mangold – Feminism, science and computers? You had me at hello.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Holiday Shopping Suggestions – Writers, Artists, Zoo and Museum Memberships and More Ideas!

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Did you know that Laura Madeline Wiseman hosts a wonderful website called “The Chapbook Interview: Talking all things chapbook”? I recently did an interview with Wiseman which is published on her site, here. If you are a chapbook aficionado you will want to spend some time reading her scores of interviews with like-minded chapbook fans- writers, editors, publishers. I have published three poetry chapbooks, and am an editor at Headmistress Press, a press that primarily publishes chapbooks, but oddly, I don’t think I had spent much time prior to this interview thinking about the chapbook as a specialized art form, not just a short book. It definitely is, and I was grateful for the opportunity to have a conversation with Wiseman about it!
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Thoughts of Chapbooks, New Work, and a Survey

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One task I completed just before the trip was a residency application for 2020 (!), which gave me cause to reflect on where my poetry has been and where it’s going. I knew midlife had been a big topic in recent years, but I realized more clearly just how much of my poetry has also been about anger, more specifically women’s anger. Now I’m thinking about the consequences of anger, how it can be useful but also harmful, so my poems seem to concern healing and metamorphosis. My new magazine publications contain some of each–poems from a complete ms, in which I’m coming to terms with being middle-aged in the middle of nowhere in an especially messed-up part of a messed-up country, and from a newer ms, just taking shape, that I feel superstitious about describing yet (except in grant/ residency applications, in which you basically have to act like you know EXACTLY what you’ll be writing for the next two years).
Lesley Wheeler, The ending’s beginning

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For the past month, I have been rereading some poetry reviews by David Orr that appeared in Poetry magazine in 2001. Orr is a tough critic. Much like Dorothy Parker. Not afraid to say: ‘Antony and Cleopatra travel on the Nile on a barge, and the barge sank.’ Orr makes me a bit nervous. In one review, he considers the mundane and the concept of what is publishable; that is, poems that are thoughtful, polished, and unsurprising. Unsurprising = competent = in his words ’eminently publishable.’ I continue reading and realize his point is not all published poems deserve to be collected into a volume of poetry. He detests ‘wise’ poems and prefers short lyrics. He wants verbal facility, but sneers at poetry professionals. He thinks these poets and their wholly publishable poems are foolish; at best offering the reader a metaphorical muddle, rather than something that moves beyond its gesture. Orr seems to be quickly bored by the perfected endings. Most often, couplets, which aren’t incompetent, and most often are effective and moving, but have become the poet’s formula– the “Wait, for it, big ending.” Obviously, in 2001, he was hell bent on putting the spotlight on the seven steps to writing the essential “Workshop Lyric Poem.” He had had enough of the same old, same old life lessons. He wants something more.
M.J. Iuppa, Poetry (re) Views . . .17 years later . . .

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Before I assigned in-class letter-writing, I asked whether any of them ever writes letters. Not one hand went up. I withdrew from my tote bag a clutch of old correspondence (yes, of course I would be that person who keeps the letters people write to me). After flourishing an envelope–with a 29-cent stamp–I disclosed the contents, a ten-page, handwritten letter from a dear friend. The students audibly gasped. “How long did that take to write?” “Did you read all of that?” Sure! When long-distance phone calls were expensive, letters were social media. We couldn’t just snapchat a photo of ourselves standing on a pile of snow and caption it “Snow!” We’d have to send a photo. Or we’d have to describe without the visual–and this is a practice my students have almost never had to employ.

Lack of informal writing practice translates into lack of writing practice, period.

I even read passages from three letters aloud, and the students were impressed with the vivid writing…writing by “non-writers.” “You could write like this, too,” I told them. “You just haven’t needed to do it, and therefore you think you can’t do it.” Then I asked them to think of a person, a specific person, and come up with a reason or purpose to write to that person, and then just write. The response was amazing. Some of these students wrote more in 15 minutes than they ever have for an in-class assignment. Most of them enjoyed it! One student even said that “this old style of long form texting intrigues me” and plans to start writing letters to a sibling once a week.

Success!
Ann E. Michael, Epistle as writing practice

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You recently published your debut collection of poetry, Basement Gemini (Hyacinth Girl Press). Tell us a bit about the chapbook and how it came into being.

Well, I wrote Basement Gemini at a time when I was thinking very extensively about The Ring. I think it’s a fascinating movie, and no, I haven’t seen the original Japanese version. I’m a straight-up American Ring poseur. Anyways, The Ring is really interesting to me because of the ambiguity of its message. The takeaway is essentially that a little girl has been abused and ultimately murdered, but the twist is that she was presumably inherently evil the whole time, and you end up with this weird message/ethical dilemma about misplaced empathy, feminine power, and nature vs. nurture. At the end of the day, though, no matter how evil and powerful she was, Samara couldn’t get herself out of that well.

I remember watching it at age twelve when it came out. I was a total tomboy and actively discouraged being perceived as feminine, but lots of horror movies (think The Ring, Carrie, and even Psycho, in a deferred kind of way) reinforce that femininity can be dangerous, which is problematic, obviously, but also weirdly empowering. Basement Gemini was kind of born out of that idea — the simultaneous, seemingly-contradictory-but-not-really victimization, vilification, and empowerment of women that’s encountered so often in horror. I was also reading Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Carol J. Clover around the time I was writing the chapbook, which provides a pretty interesting critical look at the genre.

I love the way Basement Gemini explores female agency and voice through horror movie tropes. What draws you to horror?

I’ve always been a big fan of horror — particularly the supernatural variety. I’m an atheist and a devout nonbeliever in all things superstitious, but at the same time, the paranormal and/or demonic makes for some very compelling metaphors. My ideal horror movie involves a house, a ghost, and something unsavory that’s been repressed or glossed over. The idea that there could exist repercussions for abuse/violence/suffering that transcend societal action (or inaction) is kind of a satisfying notion, isn’t it? I’m thinking What Lies Beneath — you’re a young woman, you get murdered by your professor/lover, you come back as a ghost and exact vengeance with the help of his wife. Suddenly you’ve got a level of agency that goes way beyond being a thing that violence is done upon. It’s a fantasy of cosmic justice, or a cautionary tale with the message “don’t kill women,” depending on how you look at it.

That being said, I’ve watched a lot of very bad horror films with immense enjoyment. My favorites are probably The Manitou and Frozen in Fear, aka The Flying Dutchman. Sometimes I just like the performance and spectacle of putting together these tropes and seeking a quick buck. It can be kind of charming. Fitting the same tropes horror films utilize into poetry was a fun time, and I also realized I actually had a lot to say through them.
Poet Spotlight: Chelsea Margaret Bodnar on horror and the dilemma of female power (Andrea Blythe’s blog)

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Q~Your two most recent works are a collaborative book and a collection of erasure poems. How does working with another poet or source material change your writing?

A~Working collaboratively with Laura Madeline Wiseman on our collection Every Girl Becomes the Wolf (Finishing Line Press) and other projects has strengthened my writing. During our collaboration sessions, I find there’s a tug and pull, in which I am simultaneously offering up space in a piece in order to allow Madeline’s voice into the poem while also claiming room for my own voice. Our poems are written together and then jointly edited, so that our voices become layered over each other to the point that in some completed poems, I can’t tell where her words begin and mine end. Throughout it all, I’m continually surprised by Madeline’s skill in choosing words and editing for clarity. It’s an intimate education in another person’s method of writing, which has provided me with new tools to approach my own writing.

In the act of creating erasure poetry presents an interesting restriction. Rather than the infinite possibilities of the blank page, I’m confronted with an existing text (in the case of my collection A Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch, I was working with the product descriptions in Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyers). The puzzle of striking out words to find the poem left behind stretches me into new directions — Can I siphon out a new meaning from these words? Are there enough of them to complete a particular thought? Do I need to modify the direction of the poem because the available words are steering me another way? It’s resulted in some surprising, surreal turns that I might not have taken in a standard free verse poem. It’s a kind of freedom nested within the restrictions, which can in turn empower me to explore more playfully when I approach an empty page.
Ursula / an interview with poet Andrea Blythe (Bekah Steimel’s blog)