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)

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 39

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.

If there’s one thing poets are good at, it’s finding words for the unspeakable and the outrageous. That quality was at the forefront this week among American poetry bloggers. Also, no surprise, we seek solace in reading and writing poems. So much of this digest is concerned directly or indirectly with the Kavanaugh hearings, but there’s also some fascinating miscellaneous stuff toward the end, so if you find some of the initial posts triggering, scroll quickly to about two-thirds of the way down.

How intense it was this week to be alternately following and averting my eyes from the Senate hearings as I taught Sylvia Plath to seventeen stingingly sharp students–trying to open up space to talk about anger, violence, gender, and race in powerful but often disturbing poems. Plath’s handling of metaphors related to the Holocaust, slavery, and Civil Rights always seemed problematic to me–it was a big topic in the early nineties, when I attended grad school–but I am now wondering how defensible it is even to keep the poem “Ariel” in particular on an undergraduate syllabus. While Plath’s use of terrible slurs wears worse and worse over the years, however, her bee poems–explorations of rage and other dark drives, sometimes encoded in racial metaphors–also feel more and more fundamental. Plus last year’s news about her abusive marriage , especially as captured in Emily Van Duyne’s “Why are we so unwilling to take Plath at her word?”, is crucial right now. We need to do a way better job at respecting survivors and understanding the costs they suffer.
Lesley Wheeler, The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

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As I have mentioned before, my new book of poetry The Lure of Impermanence came out in July. I included in this collection a poem called 9 to 5. I wrote this poem when the #MeToo movement had just begun its groundswell.

Today, Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in jail for sexual assault and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is currently being scrutinized for a number of behaviors with women that are at best disturbing. And these are just a few of so, so many more stories just like them.

I have lost confidence in the ability of the news to report in any unbiased manner and therefore I am more often than not left to my own judgment and experience by which to consider stories reported in the media.

And what my experience considers is that I personally know girls and women who have been abused by boyfriends, family members and spouses.

What I do know is that I was carried to a bedroom by a man who was much older than me when I was barely of legal age and stoned on marijuana. A man who held a position of respect in the community.

What I do know is I am shaking as I write that last sentence because I recall that night as vividly as if it were today. Only it wasn’t today. It was 45 years ago.

What I do know is that I told no one. What I do know is that I was ashamed.

What I do know is that I am someone’s mother, wife, daughter and friend and none of them knew. What I do know is I am not sure I want them to know now.

What I do know is that all women deserve the simple right to be respected and have control of what happens to her body and if I could ask anything of you it would be to consider the women you love. Consider their experience. Because it is possible that the people who love her most, don’t know the dark places she has been afraid to shed the light on. Because to do so is to expose herself to being rejected, silenced, not believed or worst yet blamed.

And until history proves it unnecessary, may we all slash, slash, slash, this roughshod blazing path.
[Click through to hear and read the poem.]
Carey Taylor, 9 to 5

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I’m feeling a strange mix of anger and resignation. How can we not be any further along towards a vision of a just world than we are right now? How can we be decades after the Anita Hill hearings and still be no better at handling these kinds of allegations?

But let me also remember that these times are not those times. This year, 2018, is still a better time to be a woman than 1918 or 1818–or even 1991. A woman can bring a charge forward, and she has a better chance of being believed. We are better at knowing what boundaries should be, even if those boundaries are not always respected. There are laws that might protect us all–once those laws didn’t exist, and the idea that they should would not have existed.

Still, we have not yet arrived at the future that I hoped for when Anita Hill testified, and I was a younger woman in grad school. Let me hold onto that idea of a time when people’s bodies are respected, when boundaries are maintained, when people will not trespass even when we are unconscious, when the powerful do not prey on the weak. Let that time come soon.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Self Care on a Day of Many Triggers

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It says something that most of my women friends are posting today about the courage of Christine Blasey Ford and how difficult and deeply discouraging these days are for them, while most of the men — even the liberal ones — are posting…well, let’s just say, the usual stuff. For many of us women, it is impossible to look away or to think of much else right now. There is a disconnect between the sexes that goes very deep in our society, just as there is a deep disconnect between the races, and until that changes fundamentally, we will keep repeating the pain. I have appreciated the men, like my own husband, who have expressed their understanding and dismay, and I would ask that those of you who haven’t please try to put yourselves in our places as people who have endured behaviors, harassment and assaults that have affected us all our lives – and yet we have tried our best to forgive those who hurt us, to love and trust other men, and enter into full, loving relationships with them. Please try to think about that, and what it takes.
Beth Adams, #BelieveSurvivors

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Just in time for the Halloween season. I Am Not Your Final Girl is a collection of horror-themed poetry draws on the female characters of horror cinema — the survivors, victims, villains, and monsters — who prowl through dark worlds, facing oppression, persecution, violence, and death. In her introduction, Claire C. Holland notes, “I draw strength from the many strong women around me, both real and fictional.” The women in this collection channel their pain and rage into a galvanizing force. They fight. They claim power over their own bodies. They take their power back. They do not relent.

“I have known monsters and I have known men.
I have stood in their long shadows, propped
them up with my own two hands, reached
for their inscrutable faces in the dark. They
are harder to set apart than you know.
— “Clarice,” The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

As a horror fan, I know many of the characters and movies referenced, and it’s fascinating to peer in at them from the unique perspective of these Holland’s words. That said, there just as many that I haven’t seen and a few I had not hear of — but not knowing the direct reference in each case did not stop me from enjoying the poem for its own sake, the words drawing me in. And now I have a list of movies that I need to seek out and watch.

“Separate yourself, like sliding wire through
clay. Divide your organs – heart, lungs, tongue,
and brain. You think you need them all?
You’d be shocked what a woman can live
without. We’re like roaches, we thrive”
— from “Shideh,” Under the Shadow (2016)
Andrea Blythe, Book Love: I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland

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I took this photograph less than one week ago but so much has changed since then that I can hardly recognize that it wasn’t so long ago: before Dr. Blasey-Ford’s testimony, before two brave women, Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila, confronted Senator Flake (R-AZ) in an elevator and before he changed the course of history — at least for one week; we hope more.

Lucille Clifton and Adrienne Rich are two important poets for me (for American poetry) that I return to again and again. The day after the 2016 election I shared the Clifton poem with my Highline College students. I’ll never forget one young man sitting with this poem and then articulating his thoughts and ideas about it beyond anything he had done in class before. He illuminated the levels of this piece for me, for the entire class, in a new and necessary way. He brought in the idea of immigration, the trip many of my students have taken in boats, in braving a new world. I share these pieces now as a way to hold onto sanity in this new insane time. May they be of help to you, too. [Click through to read the poems.]
Susan Rich, Two Poems for Right Now

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If you’re a woman, or a rape survivor, you probably had, like me, a very tough week. It’s hard to watch rape victims who bravely come forward against powerful (and terrible) men be jeered, or things being said like “it’s no big deal” and “boys will be boys.” Infuriating to those who have had that happen to us.
That was on top of the fact that I’m still recovering from a month of MS illness, still getting my legs literally back under me again, starting to eat solid food, coaching myself in swallowing, in catching a ball, in using a cane.

So to keep my sanity, as I was recovering, I decided to read A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf and signed up for a Masterclass on writing with Margaret Atwood, and started watching Netflix’s Alias Grace at the same time. Woolf is tough and unemotional in her journals – quite a departure from my last journal/letters of Sylvia Plath – she mainly gives an account of her walks, what she’s reading and what she thinks of it (she can be quite a snippy critic), some thoughts on feminism and literary notes about what she’s writing, stress about deadlines and money. The last bit – right before her suicide – she mostly talks about the bombings on London in a remarkable chipper tone (I want to live! she says over and over in these pages) even after one of her houses is destroyed by a bomb, while the countryside around her is showing signs of destruction, while Germany is threatening in invade. She talked about wanting to live, but then a few days later, she’s dead. Woolf was a driven writer, ambitious and sharp, an intellectual aiming to change the culture. Like Plath, deeply flawed, and though she was much older than Plath when she took her life, it’s almost incomprehensible, even when you know it’s coming.

On the other hand, the bracing wisdoms of Margaret Atwood – also intellectual and very sharp – in her Masterclass (about $90, a bargain I think, which includes teaching video modules, pdf worksheets, and outside resources like Lorrie Moore’s book review of one of Margaret’s books and an hour long panel on speculative writing) gave me inspiration, homework, real insight into her own rewriting of her books and her own journey to becoming a writer, feminism, speculative writing – I’m not done with all the modules yet and I’ve already written a short story (very rare for me) and two poems as part of my homework. If anyone could be an antidote to this week’s terrible misogyny by men in power, it’s Margaret. I’ve read all her books, but her descriptions of rewriting Alias Grace inspired me to watch Netflix’s version of the story, which I’ve found more subtle and also, more hopeful than Handmaid’s Tale.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Margaret Atwood and Virginia Woolf during a Tough Week, Healing and the Last Fall Flowers, and Poems of Resistance

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Still I dream. Last night, seven dead mice
strewn across my coverlet, harking back
to an arresting image—Bodily Harm

rat emerging from vagina. I do not
make these things up, I’m too weary.
There is not enough salve

on the continent to swathe this busted body,
nor breath to resuscitate this heartbreak.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning with Heartbreak

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Wislawa Szymborska’s poems are in my head today, prompted by finding a dead beetle on my porch. Novice entomologist identifies dead bug, then thinks of poems. […]

In Joanna Trzeciak‘s translation, the second stanza begins:

For our peace of mind, animals do not pass away,
but die a seemingly shallower death

…a phrasing that evokes more clearly (to me) how humans use a sort of euphemistic, possibly spiritual phrase for being dead. And in this translation, the last stanza reads:

So here it is: the dead beetle in the road
gleams unlamented at the sun.
A glance would be as good as a thought:
it seems that nothing happened here.
Important supposedly applies only to us.
Only to our life, only to our death,
a death which enjoys a forced right of way.

Both translations are lovely, but I think I prefer the Trzeciak version, though I would be hard-pressed to say why; and I certainly cannot compare either to the original, since I do not know Polish.

What I love about this poem is its perspective, as reflected in the stances of title and stanzas. Literally, the speaker is above–looking down at a beetle husk. Tidiness in an insect’s demise–as opposed to our own. Then the point of view shifts, suggesting we humans are “above” the animals, their deaths less upsetting to the cosmos. But we are the cosmos, in our egotistical narcissism; and then, at last, death reminds us how unimportant we are…no matter how we think of ourselves.
Ann E. Michael, Seen from above

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Chief Uniform bans the attachment
of the inferior where he is
in front. The band is found descending
on the borders. These bands serve, produce
character. They are scattered. They spread
out. Uniforms form beings. They form
layers. They become and form the coat.
PF Anderson, Uniforms

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If you want to write, if you want to be the writer you dream of being, then you have to write. And yes, you, too, have a life. So how do you carve writing time from that busy life?

  1. Write first thing in the morning, before everything else gets in the way.
  2. Write for a short, doable amount of time. Decide how much time that is, and if it’s only 15 minutes or 5, don’t fret about it. Set a timer and write.
  3. Write an email to yourself (or to your mother), but instead of “Hello, how are you / I am fine,” write a few lines for a poem, or a character sketch or a summary of the greatest blog post ever. (I find that I dash off emails, and within that framework I can sometimes circumvent what’s keeping me from writing.)
  4. Write ONE great 140-character line and Tweet it. Apply this principle (see #3) to whatever sort of writing you find easiest–just hijack it and go.
  5. Write in your car (parked of course, preferably in a very safe park, but a parking lot will do). Five or even fifteen minutes of writing in your car will not make you (too) late to dinner.
  6. Write during meetings. If nothing else, write a character description of the person leading the meeting. (I have a very interesting poem in which my former boss morphs into a dragon.)
  7. When you feel blocked–try writing out someone else’s words (attribute them clearly, of course) as a way to kick start your own words. Try following up with a close imitation, but with your own subject matter.

If you’re a teacher–here’s one more suggestions: WRITE WHILE YOUR STUDENTS WRITE.
Bethany Reid, 7 Ways to Get More Writing Time

*

It feels a little strange not to be in a school in September but it’s also rather pleasant! I’m really enjoying writing poems about Wiltshire with my Ginkgo Projects/Bloor Homes Bursary. The brief for this project is fairly broad but I’m responding in poetry to the landscape and heritage of the area in and around Amesbury. I can’t share any work here yet (I’ve written a few poems but I’ve sent them out somewhere for consideration so need to keep them under wraps for now). I’m quite excited, though, that some of these ‘Wiltshire’ poems might also tie in with themes that seem to be emerging in other new poems I’m writing, which are to do with being in a long-term relationship, ageing, the menopause, being an older parent, being a parent to young adults, and other matters. How to package all of these ideas into a concept that will sound enticing on the back of a book?? I think I need to work on that!
Josephine Corcoran, Mid-week catch-up

*

The poetry-book publishing world remains a strange place. There’s not much money for anyone in it, really, and not much social capital beyond our relatively small circle of poets and poetry readers. Whether you have a book is not reflective of your worth as an artist. I know all this. And yet it means so much to me. The idea of having my poems made into a book that I can hold, that maybe someone else will hold and even read? It’s magic, or at least I’ve built it up to that in my mind. […]

The story isn’t done yet. It gets weird at the end. Weird in a good way, mostly. Literally the day I wrote the first draft of this essay, with the manuscript pending at three final presses and the rejections due any day, I received an email from a small press accepting Seducing the Asparagus Queen.

I was stunned, happy. It felt like cheating. It felt undeserved, in the way that such good news often does. It didn’t feel quite real. Really? An acceptance on the same day I began drafting the goodbye essay? Sounds made up for the movie version. But there it was.

I told only my wife and a friend or two, waiting to make the announcement to the world until I’d signed a contract. A contract, it turned out, that was not forthcoming. I mentioned to the publisher that I’d like to get it signed and that I didn’t want to withdraw the manuscript from consideration at the other two presses where it remained without a contract. No problem, I was assured. But no contract. Another reminder from me a month later, a quick response to the email, but still no contract. I was starting to get worried, began to think I might need to revisit that goodbye essay after all.

Two months and a day after the acceptance, still no contract in sight, I heard from the very last place that had the manuscript under consideration: Seducing the Asparagus Queen had won the Vern Rutsala Prize from Cloudbank Books and they would be publishing it late in the summer. They sent me the contract the same day.

I didn’t feel good withdrawing it from the first place that had said yes. I talked to several writers to make sure I was doing the right thing. Everyone assured me that yes, I was well within my rights to accept the prize from Cloudbank. So I did. I still feel a good bit of guilt about that first press, which is a small operation that puts out good-looking books, but I did spend two months asking for a contract, and if I’d received one, I would have instantly withdrawn it from Cloudbank. But I never got one, I didn’t withdraw, and now the book is a physical thing in the world.

When I tell people this story, they often say something about persistence paying off. And yeah, submissions 50 and 51 were the ones to get a yes after hearing no from 1-49. I did the work and eventually got the result I wanted. But I could have decided to shelve the collection one round earlier, which honestly I would have if not for a heartbreakingly kind “almost” rejection I received the previous summer from a press I love. Both Cloudbank and the other press certainly could easily have picked someone else. To me, the fact that they picked my collection feels more like a bit of arbitrary good luck more than a reward for my continued efforts.

When I decided to put this collection in a drawer, I was at peace with that decision. I had given it a fair shot and then some. Not every poem I write needs to be in a book. Now that these particular poems will, in fact, end up in a book together, I’m pretty glad about that, too. It means something to me. Probably more than it should. When I finally held the physical book in my hands this week, I knew how close it came to not happening. Here’s something else I know: I was not entitled to this result. There is no deserve to this. I did the work, yes, and I do think the poems are pretty good, but lots of writers do the work; lots of poems are pretty good or better. I got lucky, and I know it.
Publishing The Asparagus Queen – guest blog post by Amorak Huey (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

*

The dreams themselves are on another storey,
where the concierge uses the master key to let himself in
using the mathematics of the number 3,
a magic number, relevant to everything we do,
so our lives are in this book too, like the man
who makes it his business to track down the au-pair
who drowned his only child in the bath
using a series of calculations based on the probability
that any closing chapter ends in a rented room,
the television talking quietly to itself,
a couple asleep on their backs.
Julie Mellor, Life: A User’s Manual

*

Q~Why do you write poetry?

A~Honestly, because I don’t sing very well. When I write poetry, and it flows, I feel a kind of catharsis similar to singing drunk in the bathtub: it’s an emotional and physical release. It’s like orgasm. It’s like running. I wonder if any scientist will ever hook up with a poet and measure their serotonin and oxytocin and all that, just as she finishes the line that pulls it all together. I would volunteer.

Q~On Twitter, you mention that your two passions are writing and running. Do you see a connection between the two?

A~I think running clears the space for me to write. I run in the mornings and then come home and write for fifteen minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the workday. Running is about breathing and taking in the smells and sounds of the world. It’s about listening. I had a project a few years ago called Running Metaphors that I’m excited to be starting up again from my blog and on Instagram.

Q~You said you have an “ambivalence and confusion regarding social media and what being part of a poetry ‘community’ means.” Can you explain what you mean?

A~Norway doesn’t have a tradition of academic writing programs in the Universities. My whole goal of getting a PhD and becoming “a poet” (i.e. teaching poetry at a university) and finding a tribe (as they say) went *poof* when I decided to stay here in Norway. I live here, and I write in English. That makes me an outsider. I am lucky to have an amazing translator, but I’ll always be considered an American poet by my colleagues here.

And yet, having been here so long, I no longer write to the American experience, and especially these days, that makes me an outsider in virtual poetry communities.

I don’t go to conferences or residencies. I see Instagram posts with hashtags like #poetshavingfun and get as jealous as a teenager. I guess I still crave the validation and community I’d planned for and imagined.

But then, I get eyes off the computer and go for a run, handwrite a poem in my journal and remember it was all a consumer package that I wanted. This is what I’ve got, and I make it work.
Bekah Steimel, Spinster’s Shroud / an interview with poet Ren Powell

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Weeks 36 and 37

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.

I wasn’t able to post a round-up last week because I was in the midst of packing for my semi-annual migration across the Atlantic. So here are my picks from two weeks of poetry-blogging goodness, brought to you by jet-lag and coffee. Perhaps because I had twice as many posts to choose from as usual, I was especially struck by the variety on display, though there were a few recurring topics, such as how to organize poetry manuscripts, and the centrality of grief and loss.

You recently published your first collection of poetry, Glimmerglass Girl. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

Some time ago I realized I’d written a lot of poems centered on the idea of femininity. It made sense to me to compile them into a collection. Many were poems I loved but that weren’t getting a lot of attention publication-wise. I think the most surprising thing about putting the collection together was that those poems (which at the time seemed like failures to me) suddenly made sense as a part of a collective whole. They spoke to each other in a new way. So that was my process, finding the pieces that I loved and wanted to contrast with each other to create new meaning.

What lessons did you learn in the process of pulling together your debut collection of poetry? What was the biggest challenge in finishing the project?

For me, the writing of a thing is the easiest part. I already had these poems I wanted to share with the world. The biggest challenge was marketing and getting those ideas out there. It is a lot of work to market a book as an indie author. You’re doing everything yourself: reaching out to people to ask for help, contacting reviewers, updating your website and social media. It’s exhausting in many ways but also thrilling because each bit of effort has a huge payoff. I feel forever indebted to the people who’ve supported my work and helped me get through it all. […]

You self-identify as a “weird writer.” How do you define weird writing? What attracts you to the weird?

Weird writing inhabits a liminal place between genres. It’s the stuff of the strange and not-quite-definable, a hybrid kind of writing that sings its own song and creates the instruments as it goes. Basically, it’s anything that doesn’t fit the mold. I think this approach excites me because I don’t really think or dream in the ways that are expected. For example, in Glimmerglass Girl, the poems could be called prose, and there are illustrations along with the words. This is just what felt natural to me while writing, and the fact that it’s weird is just a bonus.
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Holly Lyn Walrath on hybrid writing and the idea of femininity

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Roll up! Roll up!
By particular wishing
And for your delectable entertainment
The Circus of the Marvellously Menopausal Woman
Is in town.

Before your very eyes
You will not see her
Playing the object of desire
In a mainstream movie.

Gasp in amazement
At the wondrous curiosity
Of her living out her life
unnoticed.

There she isn’t!!
In line for promotion;
On advertising hoardings;
Anchoring a Talk Show.
Josephine Corcoran, The Circus of the Marvellously Menopausal Woman

*

I believe I first came in contact with Joseph Cornell through the poetry of Charles Simic. Simic’s Dime-Store Alchemy published in 1992 was one of the first hardback books of poetry I bought. I have to admit that the cover had a good deal to do with my choice — as did the title, Dime-Store Alchemy. Rereading this book now I realize it was one of the first project-based collections that I had encountered. Simic stated that he wanted to approximate in poetry what Cornell did with visual assemblage. […]

Much is known (and repeated) about Cornell. He lived on Utopia Parkway, Flushing, NY and never left the Northeastern United States. He lived with his mother and his younger brother, living alone after they’d both passed on. Cornell had no formal training as an artist, he made his living selling textiles. By all accounts, his life experiences were not vast or wide. And yet that mattered little in the making of his art.

And long after many mid-century artists seem forgotten or locked in another time, Cornell seems to only become more relevant, more exciting.
Susan Rich, Returning to an Old Love – Joseph Cornell

*

12:30 PM
We drive home and kiddo falls asleep in the car. EARLY NAP FTW. Once we get home, I transport him inside, and grab my laptop. IT’S ACTUAL WRITING TIME. Sometimes this is grading time, but for once, I am gloriously caught up, and have graded all of my students’ narrative essays. (They were lovely—pieces on what brought the students to their current career, nursing.)

I start by working on this piece about my Writing Day itself. Then I duck out of this document and get to work on my current project—a long poem/essay thing that does’t know what genre it wants to be. It’s “about” flowers, empathy, storytelling, and politics. It’s been a very slow process as I figured out what it would look like. I feel that it’s over halfway done, but am not quite sure where it’s heading. I’m on page 12—yesterday I added one page. My mom and stepdad took Henson to the zoo and I had some unexpected free time to work on it. It was my birthday yesterday, and that felt like a huge gift.

1:45 PM
I have found myself on Twitter somehow. This piece I’m working on requires research and frequent Googling. It’s both good and bad…it leads me down the internet rabbithole. I don’t think that Twitter is a waste of time (necessarily). For me, it’s frequently a place of helpful and intriguing ideas. And I leave it when it’s too much of a distraction. But for example, the other day, I asked about how other artists handle the balance of creativity and research (especially when their language starts to feel dry). I’m trying to get back to the magic and strangeness of this piece. It’s sort of working, so far.
Hannah Stephenson : My Writing Day (August 24, 2018)

*

All the fruit looks spoiled
in my cart, yet I just picked it
from the bin. I can almost see
the tomato shriveling inside
its skin. A little bit of vine is
still hanging by its stem.
When the farmer tore it
from its vine, did it make a
snap? Or did it make a crack?
Crystal Ignatowski, In The Grocery Store After My Mother Broke Her Neck

*

Ultimately, I decided that as much as I would love to be a literary magazine editor, poet laureate, and/or tenured professor, my gotta-have-it level of fame is that I would like Some people to have Read my Poems. Not everyone–I’m not shooting for “household name” level of fame (no, impossible for poets– “creative writing student can remember your name” level of fame?), just some people to really have read my poems and maybe liked them.

So knowing that goal is important–it lets me know it is ok for me to quit all the side hustling things that are great but that aren’t important to my ultimate goal of Some People Reading My Poems–for me this means pretty much anything that isn’t just reading poems, writing poems, and occasionally on social media linking to poems I’ve written and poems I’ve liked that others have written. So literary magazine involvement to a minimum, social media at a minimum, readings at a once-a-year.

And it, probably most importantly, lets me know what to do with my current work! I don’t need to be Mary Oliver, so a big contest isn’t really worth my money–I need to buy diapers, y’all, I’m not wasting my hard-earned diaper money on contest fees!
Renee Emerson, Poets: How famous do you need to be?

*

I recently got hold of a friend’s fresh manuscript. She is concerned about the order she’s established for the book of poems. So with this in mind, I started from page 1 and read right through. The sections were grouped with a clear idea of why. This appeals to my orderly mind. (Or maybe it’s a disorderly mind, which is why I like order.) But did the order enhance my enjoyment of the collection? I’m just not sure. Under ordinary circumstances, I’m not sure I’d notice much.

Nevertheless, because I was asked to think about order, I started wondering what the collection would read like if the distinctive poems in one section appeared dotted throughout the section. Would this give me a little thrill of insider perspective when I encountered this kind of internal rhythm of certain kinds of poems woven throughout? Maybe. Again, that is, once I settled to read from cover to cover, and if I read from cover to cover in one sitting or in sittings that were relatively close together so that that mind referenced above would remember.

So, does order matter? Maybe. Of course, if it’s a “concept” collection in which something is unfolding or the reader needs to be familiarized with how to read the poems in the collection, then certainly order concerns matter. But how many of us are writing collections like that?

I know that when I read for a contest, I taste from beginning, middle, and end. If every poem I encounter interests me, then that manuscript goes in the Maybe Yes pile. If even one poem falls short, the ms goes in the Maybe pile. If several of the poems fail to interest me, it goes in the No pile. That’s just the way it is. (For more on my experience as a first round reader, see links below.) So in this case, order doesn’t matter very much. But as an author, I want my collection to have a flow, a weave, a pulse of some sort. So in that, case order does matter, if only to me.

So I guess here it is: Does a disorderly order sink a manuscript? I don’t really think so. Can an interesting order enhance it? Yes, indeed.

Am I finding it enjoyable to think about the order of my poems in my ms? If yes, then I should go ahead and shuffle them around as long as I’m having fun. Is it a drag? I guess I wouldn’t expend too much energy, then.

But I’m enjoying shuffling this friend’s poems around, so maybe it’s worth asking someone else to look at order, if that person finds it fun.

But the bottom line is, if every poem doesn’t pull its weight, then no reordering is going to save the ms. It’s all down to the individual poem. Again.
Marilyn McCabe, The Cheese Stands Alone; or On Ordering Poems in a Manuscript

*

Dennis Casling, New and Selected Poems, edited by Julia Copus and Annie Freud (Smith/Doorstop, 2018)

I’ve just had the pleasure of reading this new collection and I wanted to share my thoughts about it on the blog. It’s an extremely moving book comprised of the reprint of Casling’s earlier Endorphin Angels, along with other, presumably later poems, written up until Casling’s death in 2016.

Dennis Casling was blind. Maybe we need to know this, maybe not. On the back cover it says: ‘The act of seeing is informed by the imagination … I spend my time looking at the invisible’ (Casling). Sometimes what he ‘sees’ is memory, other times it’s imagined situations and characters, which links up with Philip Gross’s comment: ‘His poetry is a balance of different voices’.

The different voices are more noticeable in the first section (the reprint of Endorphin Angels takes up the first half of this book). Towards the second half of the book though, there’s a sense of the poet finding a voice which is perhaps less ‘poetic’ but, for me, is more rewarding to read.

Somewhere near the middle of the collection is ‘Holding On’ which seems to mark a shift from a poet consciously writing POETRY, to a poet who has the courage to set aside the more adorned use of language for something paired back. If this sounds as if I didn’t enjoy the first half, that’s not the case; I did. The beauty of the writing is enviable, with some lyrical language and, time and again, really fresh similes that expand the image in the reader’s mind. Here, for example, from the poem ‘In the Farmyard’ (p. 13) ‘the flat milk sack warm on the hand/ like a child’s fever’. Observant and sensual details like this abound.

Casling’s poetry is concerned with darkness and silence, absence and return, and above all, how we negotiate loss.
Julie Mellor, Dennis Casling – new and selected poems

*

Things are looking up for this old bird.

The first week of classes has come and gone and they were pleasantly uneventful, blissfully routine. I continued my morning writing ritual and wrote three new poems. And today I begin the first of what will be, with luck and perseverance and a little bit of selfishness thrown in, the first of what I’m calling Long Form Fridays. (Because, you know, like the true dork I am, I love to give everything alliterative titles . . .)

Long Form Fridays are going to entail taking my butt to the Starbucks where I wrote while the kids were in camp and parking myself at a table to write for three hours. It seems like as good a place as any — far enough away from my house and its chaos, definitely far enough from the campus and ITS noise and chaos — where I can begin work again on my long-form projects: first, my Accountability Partners play, and after that, the verse play that’s officially in Title Limbo (one of the reasons I need to sit and work on it more). […]

Word on the street (hahahaha, what am I, an 80s drug dealer?) is that almost all colleges across the nation are going through this panic moment of OH MY GOD WE HAVE NO MONEY because they all ignored the fact that about 20 years ago people were having fewer babies, and now fewer 20 year olds are seeking out higher education simply because there are fewer of them, and fewer students means lower revenue from student tuition and student fees but we’re still operating as if it’s the early 2000s recession and EVERYONE and their mom wanted to go back to college because they couldn’t find jobs but now the economy’s on an upswing and people have jobs and, as A.P. pointed out, there’s mounting evidence that having a college education doesn’t really guarantee “economic empowerment” (**eyeroll**) and so everyone’s saying fuck college and so BIG DEFICITS. Also also, top heavy administrations, irresponsible spending, yadda yadda yadda.

Which means that sabbaticals and money for professional development will probably, albeit slowly, dry up and disappear. So . . . self-granted residencies like Long Form Fridays and self-imposed exiles from college service and committee nonsense (i.e. My Year of Being Bad) will become more and more important to teaching artists — and hell, run-of-the-mill academics — in higher ed.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Self-Granted Residency and My Year of Being Bad: First Week

*

Cast from a cheap, bad, bronze mold,
my eyes don’t line up quite right.

My eyes are from a statue.
Stone-blind. Like weeping angels,

they look at nothing, nothing,
shifting in micro-jolts. There.

Vibrating at the level
of electrons. There. Again.

My eyes are from a robot.
They rotate on a gear shaft,

jerking. They need to be oiled.
My eyes are seeing something.

I don’t know what it is, but
they look so hard at nothing.
PF Anderson, On Being Asked What Is Triggering

*

People have asked me many times while doing talks on the subject, “How do I get my book reviewed?”

The book review process can seem mysterious – but as a poetry book reviewer myself for the last fifteen years, hopefully I can take some of the mystery out of the process.

First Steps

I usually talk first about building a poetry community way before your book comes out. That means things like, joining or starting a writing group, going to other people’s book launches (and trying to learn from them), and…writing some book reviews yourself. It makes sense that you would start contributing to the literary world when you’re starting to even think about having your own book come out. If you don’t feel like putting in the work, well, how can you expect other writers to do so?

If you’re worried about your book reviewing skills, every book reviewer has had to start somewhere, even the reviewers at The New York Times Review of Books and Poetry Magazine. I started out reviewing for NewPages.com, a venue friendly to new reviewers. I recommend that you read lots of literary magazines and online review outlets to see what kind of book reviews you like and what you aspire to, style-wise. I like The Rumpus, Rain Taxi, and many of the literary magazines that run reviews. I noticed that there was a formula you can follow in many of the big review outlets. Then, send out some queries to literary magazines that take book reviews. Sometimes you even get paid!
PR for Poets – How Can I Get My Book Reviewed? – guest blog post by Jeannine Hall Gailey (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

*

On the walk home, I thought about one of the early hurricanes we experienced here, when we were still renting a duplex in the fall of 1998. We had a close brush with hurricane Georges that went south into the Keys. The surf was the highest I’ve ever seen at Hollywood beach.

Here’s a poem that came from that walk which I still like. I look at my current poems and see how much I’ve grown as a poet. But I’m glad that poems like these still make me happy.

Clean Sweep

While other folks board
up their windows,
she opens hers wide
to the hurricane winds.

She goes to the beach.
Unlike the surfers,
she has no interest in waves
that crash against the shore.

The sand abrades her skin.
The wind sweeps into every crevice.
Behind her, transformers pop and crackle.
Energy explodes.

Even though the palms bow
to the storm, she lifts
her arms above her head,
struggles to remain standing.

That night, she sleeps
soundly. Even though the wind
howls and hoots and hammers at the walls,
she breathes clean air and dreams fresh visions.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Monday: “Clean Sweep”

*

Risa [Denenberg]: How did it feel to have poems published in Poetry in 2002 and then to not have your book, Acid and Tender (which was a finalist for the Charlotte Mew Prize) published until 2016 (by Headmistress Press)? Were you submitting the manuscript and getting rejections during those years? Or, did you take a hiatus from writing poetry?

Jen [Rouse]: Ha! It was the thrill of my life to have a poem next to Maxine Kumin’s in that issue of Poetry. What a trip. And, it was an even bigger thrill when I got the Headmistress email, saying my first book was accepted. Such a full heart for Headmistress! I was doing something I hate—clothes shopping—that afternoon, when I checked my phone and the message about my book was there. My sister was with me, and we totally flipped out in the store. The person helping us even gave me an extra discount on my purchase that day.

As for the years in between, I was still writing. I never stop writing. But, I had to do a lot of relationship work during that time. I moved to Iowa with my partner. I finally came out to my mom—because we would be near her in Iowa. I landed my job at Cornell College—where I have been for 15 years now and will go up for full professor this year. I gave birth to my now 13-year- old daughter, Madeline.

Risa: Did you feel that your identity as a poet was marginalized during those years?

Jen: My major mentor, the one who guest edited that issue of Poetry, rejected me when I had our child, basically treating me as though that decision was the one that would end my career as a writer. I’m a very devoted and loyal friend, and the sting of that still lingers. It wasn’t until one of my amazing poet friends—Paulette Beete—from my MFA program at American University asked me to participate in an online writing group that I really started thinking about the trajectory of my writing career, of getting better, of publishing again. A wonderful writing group. I am deeply indebted.
Anne Sexton Talks to God / an interview with poet Jen Rouse (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

*

Turns out there’s some good news about rejection I never really grasped before. I’m reading poetry for Shenandoah in earnest now and realizing rejected poems DO reach sympathetic readers, at least if you send them to well-edited magazines: the editors and staff readers themselves.

I am moved, entertained, impressed, and intrigued by far more work than Shenandoah can accept. I’m sure some journal readers are burnt-out or ego-tripping, but I’m inclined to guess magazine editors are often a good audience–smart about the field and in love with the art. You’d think I would know this by now. I’ve definitely felt that connection with certain editors who reject my work with personal notes like “admired these” or “came close.” But being on the other side makes it more vivid, and it cheers me.
Lesley Wheeler, On first looking into Shenandoah’s submissions

*

[Lana Ayers:] What is the process like creating a new & selected works? Has your relationship to the earlier poems shifted? Have you discovered anything new in the process?

[Patricia Fargnoli:] This is the one year anniversary of the publication of Hallowed: New & Selected Poems so it is a good time to reflect on the process of creating it.

I knew that I wanted to have a volume that recognized my previous books while it also included the new work I’ve written since Winter was published.

And I wanted to do it by my 80th birthday so as to recognize that scary (to me) landmark.

I contacted my previous publishers for permission to use poems from those books and Jeffrey Levine at Tupelo Press said that they wanted to publish it since they had published two of my previous books and considered me to be part of “The Tupelo Family.”

The process of putting the manuscript together was quite easy: I simply chose the best of the new poems I’d written…24 of them, and then arranged them as I would arrange the poems in any book… paying attention especially to the first and last poems but also to the arc of the them and how they connected to each other.

Choosing the poems from previous books was even easier. I knew that I wanted a representative sample from each book, but didn’t want a lot of poems from each book…so I went through each front to back, choosing poems that seemed to encompass the themes of that book and that had gotten recognition through audience appreciation and/or publication…plus those that were personal favorites.

A friend pointed out that I left many strong poems behind and I guess I did but I didn’t want the book to become too long.

What I learned was that some of my themes are lifelong themes: especially grief and loss, how to find meaning and beauty in nature and life, those consolations.

I also recognized that the poems of the first book, Necessary Light, tend to be more narrative than those of later books which tend first toward my lyrical and later to more and more meditative as I aged and began to be more concerned with issues of aging and with the search for spirituality and meaning in a world where there are no (for me at least) certain answers.

Amazingly, when I had finished the choosing and arranging, the poems from all the books seem to become a cohesive book….something that both surprised and delighted me.
Lana Ayers, Poet Patricia Fargnoli Talks Writing, Love of Words, Advice

*

It is not blood or bits of bone that resonate when I think of you.
I ripped the plastic bag with my largest car key,
when I held the ash between my palms hollering at the sky:
Float, let the stuck un-stick.
Let our bodies loosen,
teeth unclench.
It’s time we stopped existing like we’re dying around these parts,
Like we’re full of cement and sludge, of your damned ghost.
Let our smiles return, those that burned down a little
when you became
so dry.
Jennifer E. Hudgens, New Poem “Letting”

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A couple of times a year, I search my submission spreadsheets for poems with the dubious distinction of having collected the most rejections so far. If these poems are not currently under consideration for publication, they go into a special category: Most Rejected Poems.Then I print them out and spread them on the floor of my office. One by one, I read them slowly and carefully, trying very hard not to judge them. I imagine the editors I’ve sent these poems to reading through piles of unsolicited work, looking for that intangible thing – a mood, metaphor, imagery, or narrative – that sets a poem apart. I read the poems again, those rejected babies of mine, searching for those very qualities. What are they missing? Does the poem need a tune-up? Or a rest from constant submitting?

About half the time, the poem needs a little work. I often consult Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry, eds. Scott Wiggerman & David Meischen. I’ve saved many a poem with, for example, a better title (Susan Terris’s chapter “Twenty Ideas for Titles to Pique the Curiosity of Poetry Editors” is a favorite of mine) or by re-writing the poem in an unusual form, as in Ravi Shankar’s chapter “A Manipulated Fourteen-Line Poem.” Other books that help include Diane Lockward’s The Crafty Poet and The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux.
Erica Goss, Saving the Most-Rejected Poems

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From time to time I have tried to embrace the stop-making-sense school of poetry. I like poems of all kinds, after all, even the absurd ones that spin a kind of magic spell over a reader, transporting us to another world. Mom’s world.

Tonight–back home–I get up at midnight, after my young-adult children have finally abandoned the living room. I turn on the TV and find a 73-minute movie called “A Poet in New York.” That title is all I have to go on, but I start the movie and discover that it is about Dylan Thomas. I think of my favorite poetry professor, not the “stop making sense one,” but a professor who liked my story-heavy, narrative poems. I think of how he adored Thomas. He could do a fair impersonation of him, with a swaggering, Welsh accent. “When I was young and easy under the apple boughs.” There is frightfully little of Thomas’s poetry in this movie. Mostly there is whiskey and sex and poor Caitlin Thomas’s mad passion for Dylan (he pronounces her name Cat-lin and writes her letters telling her how much he misses fondling her breasts). The movie does not make a lot of sense, but that, in itself, makes a kind of sense to me. Tonight it does.

Immediately after the stroke, while still in the hospital, Mom told me, “Bury me on the hill beside your father.” (My sister, hearing this exchange from the doorway, slapped her forehead and said, “Geez, I hadn’t thought of that!”) The slow slide into complete dependency—into nonsense—continues, though she no longer has to be reminded that she can’t get out of bed, or that she can’t walk. She no longer asks to be buried on the hillside.

In my mother’s non-narrative, non-linear mind, of course she can walk. She is a child, running through a field (and I picture the young Dylan Thomas running through a field of tall grass). Her brother’s horses spook and wheel and she runs after them. This is the world, too, of the poem. We want to make sense of it. But we might allow ourselves a little more rein to be in the non-sense. To take the poem’s hand, and run with it.
Bethany Reid, Stop Making Sense

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I lay in my hammock under the trees and worried about the lanternflies. Which accomplished nothing (I think of a James Wright poem at this point…).

What was there not to despair about? So much anxiety surrounds me. Even the damned bugs. If only starlings were to take a liking to spotted lanternflies, I mused.

A butterfly went past. I looked down at the zinnias blossoming their stems off in the garden and felt pleased to count four monarchs there. It has been a good year for monarch butterflies in my yard, and green darners and other dragonflies, and hummingbirds–which used to be quite uncommon visitors here. The little brown bats are returning each dusk, recovering slowly from the decimation of white-nose virus.

The balance may seem off in many ways. But there are restorative moments.

Even if “I have wasted my life.”
Ann E. Michael, Reverie, with interruption

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I think about bees when I drip honey on challah and apple slices. Tonight is the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, which always seems a more natural time for reflection and endings than in the deadness of winter. The harvest moon. The start of the school year. The end of summer, time to account for whether enough grain has been stored to get us through the inevitable winter months. Although there is argument for January 1st too, a moment when we are poised over the dark abyss, but take heart in remembering that we are going back into the light. Again. I wonder how we bear all of this repetition, so eagerly anticipated in childhood, and so foreboding as we age. Another year, expectations of ritual celebrations and foods and annual mammograms. […]

The manuscript I am working on now is titled, “why I hate to cry”. I cried yesterday listening to a radio program that spoke about social isolation (specifically, the way men–not just straight men– are groomed to avoid emotional relationships with other men, to their detriment.) This interested me, but why was I crying? I suppose I understood that I am “like that”, I avoid emotional relationships, but is it too my detriment? I really can’t say with any certainty.

This is all very complicated, as I contemplate retirement. For so many years I have spent so much of my emotional reserve in taking care of people-as-patients, I don’t seem to have much left for friendship. I wonder if I will be like one of those “men” who retire and find themselves at a loss for meaning. Who fail quickly; who die shortly. Who am I, if this is how I see myself in retirement? And yet, I am longing for the freedom to pursue the possibilities of connection. Of traveling and meeting all the poets that I only know on Facebook and Twitter. Of having meaningful conversations. Of learning to cry again without hating myself for it.

I wish each of us some sweetness in the new year. Layered into what we all fear, even know, is happening. The wrecking ball, the earthquake, the failure of democracy, the loss of habitat, the disappearance of bees, famine and war, cancer, overdoses. All of it. May it be mingled with some sweetness. Some tears. Some love.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Bitter Honey

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 33

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, the #ShareYourRejections hashtag took off on Twitter, with poets joining other writers in detailing rejections both humorous and harrowing. Since a number of this week’s blog posts also address publishing challenges and successes, I thought it might be interesting to begin with a few of those tweets from regular Revival Tour participants before proceeding to the usual blog excerpts.

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Every Girl Becomes the Wolf is now available!

This chapbook explores the received images of the feminine in fairy tales. The women and girls in this collaborative chapbook resist the common tropes of red riding hoods, gilded mirrors, and iced palaces. Every girl becomes the wolf because every girl has the power to tear apart the cultural conceit of wicked stepmoms, heartless mothers, and voracious monsters. Witches, hags, and mothers of damaged creatures from myth, movies, and lore prowl through this poetry. Lilith settles in to enjoy the county fair rib-off, Grendel’s mother holds her son close, and the Sphynx bears the weight of mythic secrets. Mothers demand their own freedom, daughters refuse gendered expectations, and wives leave what spoils with rot behind. As they wrestle with their place in these stories, they transform into figures outside of the victims or villains they have been perceived to be.

I’m so proud of this chapbook of monstress poems Laura Madeline Wiseman and I coauthored and its been a delight to see that friends, family, and strangers have been receiving the book.

I received my author copies this week — with their gorgeously smooth textured covers — just in time for WorldCon 76 this weekend! If you’re going to be there, consider stopping by Room 212C to hear me read some poetry-type things along with some fellow Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) members.
Andrea Blythe, Announcements: New Poetry and an Upcoming WonderCon Reading!

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Pre-orders for my new poetry collection, Midnight in a Perfect World, are now available at Sibling Rivalry Press. You can pre-order at this link.

Many, many, many thanks to Seth Pennington for his gorgeous cover design, Colin Potts for the author photograph and SRP publisher Bryan Borland for his support of this collection. The book will be officially released on Nov. 15. Stay tuned for book launch and reading announcements! […]

“In Midnight in a Perfect World, Collin Kelley navigates the moody landscapes of desire, travels the dark edge of Eros in the 21st century of love, charting his passage in language sometimes brutal, sometimes lyrical, often both at once. And if that perfect world all lovers seek remains elusive, here we break the boundaries of the familiar and arrive in a place where we can breathe the twilight air and step, almost, into the dream of it, ourselves.” — CECILIA WOLOCH, author of Tsigan
Collin Kelley, ‘Midnight in a Perfect World’ now available for pre-order

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Kansas City area poet Sara Minges brought out her new book at a well-attended reading at Prospero’s Books.

Sara’s book, Naked Toes, published by Chameleon Press, is a splash of upbeat, witty, and sometimes cathartic views world of the world around her through her wide open and perceiving poet’s eyes.

She mocks Barbie and Ken. She even tangles with Barbie; she will not be plastic or silent.

Her real-life role is that of Play and Happiness Expert. No, Really. There is such a thing.

She shares exploits of “arse kickin,” being handcuffed in the county jail, and her little black dress.

One gets the impression that publication of this book was perhaps a freeing experience. Like the freedom she gets from naked toes.
Michael Allyn Wells, Local Poet Sara Minges Brings Her Poetry to Print

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As I know you’re at work on a new manuscript of poems, does it differ from your previous books, overlap, or strike out into new territory?

Vanessa [Shields]: I just finished writing my new poetry book last night! How cool is that? Its working title is ‘thimble’. This collection began out of spiteful necessity. Meaning, I couldn’t not write poetry anymore. Come last October, I was bursting after having not written in months. I was on the fence about submitting to the Ontario Arts Council Recommenders’ Grants because I was pissed I didn’t get one the previous year (!). Out of spite, I threw some poems together and submitted. I got three grants! The most ever for me – and it floored and humbled me. Also, gave me the confidence I needed to keep writing. My confidence shifted from a drying brook to a roaring river!
Bethany Reid, The Fabulous Vanessa Shields

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The other night these lines drifted through my head: Once I saw the world as full of opportunities / now I see the trip hazards. […]

Yesterday I got an acceptance from a journal that hasn’t accepted my work before, TAB. And even better, they took not one, but two poems.

As I always do when work is accepted, I went through my submission log; happily those poems aren’t under consideration at too many other journals. As I made my way through the log, I thought about how long they’ve been looking for a home. I thought about long ago, when I read a poet who said that after 10 rejections, she assumes the poem still needs work and does a revision. But I know that the odds of acceptance are cheap–there are lots of poems out there, circulating, looking for a home.

Yesterday’s acceptance is a good reminder that progress can be made in a writing life, even if one has only scraps of time. In past years, in days of paper submissions and postage, I’d have already created packets of poems ready to be mailed at the first moment that literary journals opened for submissions in September. These days, I try to remember to send out several submissions a week, which during busy weeks, turns into only several submissions a month–which is still better than nothing.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Inner Life of the Disney Princess and Other Inspirations

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August has begun its now-typical delivery of multiple rejections, as most of the awards and contests to which I submitted my manuscript earlier in the year (and one proposal to a conference-of-which-we-won’t-speak-because-OH-MY-GOD) have reached their decision-making deadlines. So there’s that happiness. I’m watching my list of submissions dwindle on Duotrope and it’s both depressing and kind of relief-inducing. I’m nearing the point where my MS won’t be out in the world at all. That makes me both weepy (well, it would, if I was a crier) and kind of elated. One can’t be rejected if one’s not putting oneself out there. Of course, one can’t be published, either.

But there’s a small collection of poems growing still — and after I get some distance from them and then return and edit them with some discretion, perhaps I’ll begin submitting those. Maybe I should just have my sights set on journal publication and give up this book nonsense.

That last sentence is probably disingenuous but I’m more or less thinking out loud with this blog.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Persona Poems, Rejections, Decluttering, and Trash Pandas

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I’m happy to hide out at Virginia Center for Creative Arts in these waning days of summer. The first thing I noticed upon arrival was how green it smelled–I love my city, but you don’t get overlapping layers of flower and grass pine, nor all the butterflies. There’s a frog that lurks outside my studio. There’s a magnificent spider that I’m pretty sure it’s a brown widow, not a black one, but I’m staying clear just in case.

Because this is my fourth time here, it’s easier to slip into the rhythm of things: I knew to bring my own orange juice, my own blankets, and a bottle of scotch. I enjoy being social at breakfast, or at lunch, but not both. I’m trying to spend only an hour a day on email, isolating it to the leather couch in the living room. I’ve got a stack of books and lit mags to devour, and W8 has a comfy reclining chair for reading. Although I haven’t been in this studio before, I’m happy to see a number of friends as past occupants. […]

I wish I could say this time was all about recharging my creative energy. That’d be a lie. I have over 1,500 pages to evaluate (literally) of work not mine, some of which requires line edits. Yet this is also my chance to push-pin the pages of the fourth collection to the walls, and live amongst them. There’s a distinct type of edit that gets done when I can look at pages casually, skipping around, and compare adjacent shapes of poems. I catch redundancies of phrase I did not see before.

I’m still deciding three sections or four, and which poem will close the manuscript. But my resolve holds: this book is a book. I’m excited to tell you more about it soon.
Sandra Beasley, Back to VCCA

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It has been a summer of quiet. Avoiding the noise. Relinquishing the pressure of “content”, in terms of both producing and consuming.

I wrote very little. Read less than I’d like (awaiting new reading glasses). But listened.

I dropped every project on my summer to-do list, except extending my morning meditation to 20 minutes, which I have done with more ease than I anticipated. I unintentionally developed a daily yoga practice as well. I don’t recognise myself.

And yet, I do. […]

After so much rejection last fall and a winter of depression, I spent a good deal of summer thinking about how I have fetishised my identity as a writer. As a poet. What keeping up appearances has meant for the praxis of my writing. I forced myself from the fall to keep a handwritten journal, rather than an electronic one – just to remind myself that public documentation of writing does not make it any more significant.

I asked myself whether my writing time passed in a state of anxiety, of fear. Whether I was writing to prove something to the vague, indefinite judge out there of what is “good” poetry. Whether I was motivated by a fear of not being seen (ie not being “real”), … or a fear of being seen.

This week is the first week back to school. I am looking forward to meeting the students tomorrow. Looking forward to my morning routine – which includes writing.

The difference now is that I no longer think of it as the time in which I have to justify my existence.

I have been listening to John Cage’s music. Wondering what silence has to say for poetry. I’m listening to the coffee machine and its easy metered song. I’m motivated to discover what words will come from it all.
Ren Powell, The Pursuit of Silence

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[A]fter having to cancel a reading the day after I got out of the hospital, I took a whole bunch of prescription drugs and set out to conquer the world – two days after.

Brick & Mortar Books in Redmond hosted a panel on apocalypses, including me, YA author (The Last One) Alexandria Oliva, and Gather the Daughters author Jennie Melamed, last night. It was great – a good sized audience, great questions, and the two other authors were wonderful. I was so happy that I turned a corner – I was really nervous I’d have to cancel. It was a nice reminder that I am more than just a sick person or a super mutant patient of a bunch of specialists.

It was also nice to sell some copies of Field Guide to the End of the World, talk to other writers about writing, and talk to an audience about the joys of poetry. Things that remind me of the good parts of being a writer. Today I got an acceptance in my inbox of two poems, which was a nice reminder, too, that it the middle of what feels like an endless stretch of bad, there might be good things waiting.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Talking Apocalypse, End of Summer, Hospital Trips (and Other Unplanned Trips)

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I attended a lively and unpredictable poetry reading/performance recently, No River Twice. The poets who participate in the group reading develop the concepts at each performance, endeavoring to find meaningful and entertaining ways to permit audience members to sense an active engagement with poets and to experience poems more vividly. It appears to be an evolving performance process, and I enjoyed myself!

Grant Clauser explains the idea on his blog. Most of the poets involved have at least some acting or performance background. They are also active as mentors, instructors, advocates for the arts, and “working poets,” by which I mean they get their work published and performed and are constantly writing, revising, and reading the work of other poets in the service of learning new things.
Ann E. Michael, River of poetry

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It is always interesting to read poetry in a new venue — one that is new to you but has been many things in the course of its 100 year existence, or one that opened its doors last week and has hosted one jumble sale and a campaign meeting. I often record my poetry events so that I can make any necessary alterations to volume, pace and diction in my delivery, not to mention noting any memory slips; this also means that I hear how room ambience varies with venue and audience size.

If I’m reading without a mic then I prefer the smaller cosier rooms where the audience is metaphorically sitting on my knee; if I have a microphone that is nicely positioned, I like a larger venue where the sound hangs around before dissipating into the evening.

I like to hear the room ambience in a live recording, which is making me think about what my audiobook should sound like. There is ambience when I record poems from memory because I stand about 4ft away from the microphone in order to reduce pops and clicks. For the screen reader performed poems however there is no ambience. So I’ve been playing around with the reverb settings in my recording software to see how well added ambience sounds.
Giles L. Turnbull, Friends, Room Acoustic Experts, Poets, Lend me Your Ears!

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I wanted the challenge of having to write a single draft of a poem quickly, then send it off right away.

There’s pressure in knowing you only get one shot–but freedom from perfectionism too.

I bought a pack of random postcards.

I pull out a card, turn it over, and begin to write.

My only constraint (aside from the poem needing to fit in the small space)

is that the poem must have something to do with the concept of time.

It’s been quite crazy having to figure out how to work time into a poem about a giraffe or a monkey.

Even though it feels like I am writing in a vacuum, the poem is a missive to my audience of one.

Some of the poems came swiftly, without setting my pen down once.

Some of the poems have taken a bit more time.

But nearly all are silly, in some way.

Rarely, if ever, do I allow myself to just be silly.

And you know what, I can’t figure out why. It’s actually a lot of fun.

It’s okay not to take every endeavor so seriously.

Participating in the August Poetry Postcard Fest is reminding me that it’s okay to write mediocre poems.

It’s even okay to write bad poems.

As long as the postcard poems make the recipient smile, that’s good enough.

And good enough is sometimes good enough.

And I think there is a larger lesson in this postcard experience for me–

just write!

No matter what happens on the page, just write.
Lana Ayers, About half way…

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About 12 years ago I finished an MA course in Creative Writing that I was ill-advised to have started. I don’t know what my motive was, but my heart wasn’t in it. I duly got my MA, but the writing didn’t start in any meaningful way until I started going to the Poetry Business Writing Days on a regular basis a couple of years later. Even then, between 2007 and 20012 I averaged about twelve new poems a year.

Something strange (or, rather, wonderful) happened in 2013; it was like a dam bursting. I’ve written ceaselessly since. 272 new poems. I cannot account for it, but I’m happy to count my blessings. And I can now look back and see a curious process and progress.

In one of the essays I wrote for my MA I see that even then I had an idea about where I wanted to be. I wrote that my imagination was:

‘visual, excited by landscape, particularly the landscape of hills, fells, sky, sea and weather’. but that I wanted to be more: concerned with explorations of people in landscape, and the meaning of their histories.’ […]

This poem, about someone I was very fond of, only happened because of the pressure of a fast writing task that ambushed me into knowing an emotion I didn’t know I felt. Thank you for that ‘write from a postcard’ task, Jane Draycott. I plucked up the courage to give a copy to Julie’s brother at her funeral. He liked it. He shared it with people, and I sent it off for the Plough Poetry Competition, where Andrew Motion liked it and gave it the first prize. That’s what changed everything. It gave me permission to think I could write, along with the encouragement of Kim Moore (who put one of my poems on her Sunday Poem blog), and Gaia Holmes, who gave me a guest slot at the Puzzle Hall Poets. That was it. The dam broke.

Years of reading and teaching, and having a family and a history were stacked up, waiting to be dealt with and voiced. It took 70 years, but I finally got going.
John Foggin, I’ll be back

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[Larry] Levis suggests that from a poetry of place in which place was specific and represented a lost Eden, this kind of poetry of place has been shifting in favor of finding different ways to imagine the imagery and ideas of that loss. Of the poetry of place in general he notes, “It is the geography of the psyche that matters, not the place.” He notes “Eden becomes truly valuable only after a fall, after an exile that changes it, irrecoverably, from what it once was.”

“And yet most younger poets still testify precisely to this alienation and isolation, this falling from Eden. Only they have changed it. It is as if the whole tradition has become, by now, shared, held in common, a given…,” he observes. He wonders, “Again, in some unspecifiably social sense, it may be that places themselves became, throughout much of America, so homogenized that they became less and less available as spiritual locations, shabbier and sadder.” He considers, “it may be that this…new homelessness…is what a number of…new poets have in common when they practice the ‘meditational’ mode–for what they tend to hold in common is, at heart, a contradiction: an intimate, shared isolation.”

But I wonder if this isn’t exactly what poetry is, an intimate shared isolation? Don’t we sit alone with a volume in our hands seeking to find contact with another mind/body/soul/individual? Maybe I overstate it. And maybe he overstates a poetic drift away from poetry of place. But as I read desultorily across literary magazines and volumes, I do find less about exterior place and more about interior place, specifically the interior place of identity. Is this the new home that we’re writing about, the home of who we are, or think we are? And is self-identification by definition an exercise of comparison to others, in some way an oddly collective act? Funny.
Marilyn McCabe, “Who am I, why am I here, why did I cut my hair, I look like a squirrel”; or Thoughts on Poetry of Place and Self

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Time and time again, poetry shifted my gaze and restored my mental health. It gave me access to experiences I’ve never had and clarity on ones I did. So many poems made me feel less alone in my mistakes, and brought cognition to mistakes I didn’t always realize I was making.

Like Katherine Larson’s poem “Love at Thirty-Two Degrees,” where she reminds her lover, “every time I make love for love’s sake alone, / I betray you.”

And Lisel Mueller’s poem “Fiction,” that expresses the familiar nostalgia and grief we’ve all had at the end of a friendship. She longs in lyrics, “if only we could go on / and meet again, shy as strangers.”

And Hanif Abdurraqib’s poem “For the Dogs that Barked at Me on the Sidewalks in Connecticut,” which I’ve read nearly every week for the past three months, because, I too, “must apologize for how adulthood has rendered me.” and fear vulnerability. Like him, “I am afraid to touch / anyone who might stay / long enough to make leaving / an echo” and have, for awhile been “…in the mood / to be forgotten.”
The Transformative Power of Poetry – guest blog post + TEDx talk by Crystal Stone (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)