Anita Olivia Koester

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.

My Poetry Bloggers feed was unusually full this week, thanks to the reemergence of several of the more infrequent bloggers (who in my opinion have nothing to be ashamed about; some of my favorite bloggers only post once in a blue moon). Not surprisingly, one of the more popular topics was blogging itself — is it merely a form of “obliterature”? (See Lesley Wheeler’s post.) People also wrote about sickness and recovery, new publications, travel, the changing seasons… and don’t miss Jayne Stanton’s account of the Forward Prizes reading! So much good stuff this week. Enjoy.

Last year around this time I was also in the hospital for similar symptoms, and they diagnosed me with MS. This year they did tons of tests, and now they know I have MS, but not why I have the symptoms I do or how to control them. This is very frightening, of course. But I didn’t give up, and I didn’t let the doctors give up. A lot of them shrugged their shoulders at me over the past month – infuriating when you’re looking for help – but eventually I actually got help. So one lesson: Do not give up and do not stop asking for help. Second lesson: Remind yourself (and your body) of the good things in life, the beauty, the reasons you want to keep being alive. […]

This was reminding me of the writing life too. The writing life can feel like these awful stretches of rejection, of non-recognition, of not getting the grants or jobs you feel you’ve got a shot at. Why are you even writing when it feels like no one cares or pays attention? The same frustration you can feel in the doctor’s office in a sea of shrugs. Why do we do this? Why do we bother? But then an editor will call with an acceptance and some perceptive advice or you’ll get someone, somewhere who cares and shows it and it will make your month. It can feel like a terrible slog, most of the time, reading and writing and practicing in a vacuum. I think a lot of women writers, especially, tend to over-give and over-volunteer and forget to take time for themselves (I managed to get myself in some trouble this month because while I was in the hospital, I had an editing project and a contest I’d promised to judge – and I was absolutely out of my mind – intractable brain problems tend to do this – and not able to do jack. Sometimes that happens. We have to forgive ourselves and also, maybe don’t commit to too many projects in the first place.) There was a conversation today on Twitter about how many male “geniuses” are only where they are because of the support of the women around them – unpaid editors, caretakers, supporters. Treat yourself like your time is limited. Because, not to be too grave here, but it is.

So I have to think of some of the same “survival” skills that apply to recovering from illness and apply them to the writing life. Say you haven’t been writing, you haven’t been feeling like you’re doing enough to promote your work, you don’t feel like you have a support network for your writing, etc. Be kind to yourself – relax and give yourself downtime. Be kind to your support system. Subscribe to journals that support you. Write a thank-you note. Read a book just for fun, not for self-improvement or critique, but fun. And if a bunch of editors are virtually shrugging their shoulders at your work, just like with doctors, keep going until you find the editor that gets you. Remind yourself why you are writing in the first place, spend time with what is beautiful, and try to give yourself some joy.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, In the Recovery Zone, and How to Avoid Despair with Illness (and Writing)

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The world is never, really quiet. There are waves in the darkness that beat a rhythm through our very cells. Dance.
Ren Powell, September 18

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I’m sitting at my favorite spot in Starbucks trying to get organized. Not writing. But today after so many months I decided to upload something new on the blog. I think I’m officially switching to a Website with the option of blogging. It’s clear that I don’t have the time or energy to keep it up like I should. Time to move forward. There are so many things on my radar, so many changes I won’t go through right now. I’ll certainly post now and then. I have to update my fall schedule, dates, etc.

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Today is the equinox. Summer is over. Could not be sadder about that.

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OK a few things. We adopted a puppy. I’m up for tenure. Some festival changes happening. And next year I’m moving to Mississippi for a year with the kids and said puppy. All of these items require their own blog post.

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Did I mention Rewilding is available for preorder?
January Gill O’Neil, Rewilding is here!

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If you pre-order a copy of my new collection, Midnight in a Perfect World, by Nov. 1, you will be entered to win a free poetry manuscript or chapbook consultation/evaluation by me. The winner can transfer or donate the evaluation to another person if so desired. I have helped many poets organize and sequence their manuscripts, along with critiquing individual poems, creating titles and more. Just call me the “manuscript whisperer.”

Pre-order and enter to win at the Sibling Rivalry Press website at this link.
Collin Kelley, Win a manuscript evaluation by pre-ordering “Midnight in a Perfect World”

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A. and I spent two really quick days (really more like one) in Venice, Italy and then spent most of today traveling to the medieval city of Erice, which is in Sicily.

So far: Italian food is just as amazing as everyone believes, in Europe a glass of water is still more difficult to come by than alcohol, Alitalia DID lose my luggage and I’ve yet to hear what happened to it, AND I’ve written two poems on two different flights (and they might be crap poems, but at least I was writing).

Also, the view from the hotel is fucking amazing. And no, my photos don’t really do it justice.

Also also, I’m running on very little sleep.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, A Quick Post from the Sabbatical I Stole (Kind Of) By Running Away to Sicily

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In high school, I listened to “American Tune” over and over again–hitting the rewind button on my Walkman–but I never expected to hear Paul Simon sing it live. When he began, “Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken, / and many times confused…” we had already been on our feet for the encore, and with eyes closed I didn’t realize everyone around us had sat down. My husband had to tug on the back of my shirt. I’d be tempted to use a line from that song as an epigraph–for this very poetry collection in hand–but Stephen King got there first; he quotes “American Tune” at a section break in The Stand. […]

Early this morning, I was thinking about how the utility of blogging has changed a little bit since we first began this process. If I want to tell you about my upcoming reading with Emily Jungmin Yoon and Lindsay Bernal […] or share my excitement about receiving a 2018 “Best of the Net” nomination from Split This Rock for “Customer Service Is,” I’ll probably use other forms of social media to do so. If I want to blunder my way through a draft of a poem or essay, I’ll keep it offline to preserve the publishing options. So this space becomes a space for…what, exactly? But this blog can host thoughts that fill larger spaces than 200-odd characters or a link + hashtag, for sure. Maybe open-ended grist for discussion, like Iggy Pop (circa 1980) telling Tom Snyder about the difference between “Dionysian” and “Apollonian” art. I got to this snippet via thinking about Paul Simon–who a commenter argued was of the “Apollonian” school. I suspect I am too, though I’d like to think I’m capable of raising a little hell on stage now and again.
Sandra Beasley, Still Digging After All These Years

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–Every morning as I blog, I wonder if I should be doing a different kind of writing. But I also wonder if I’m creating and perfecting this form of writing–and will anyone care? I think of the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, and I think she’d be a blogger, if she was living today–although her poverty might have kept her offline.

–I am trying to think about my successes, not my failures. In the last few weeks, I could have sent out more of my creative work. But let me think about the fact that I’ve done some actual writing.

–I’m listening to the On Point interview with Ethan Hawke. He talked about working on Boyhood, the movie that was made over 12 years. He talks about it being a movie that was made without the element of having to sell it. He says it was like being in your room painting watercolors with your friends or making music on Christmas Eve. I love that way of talking about making art.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Friday Fragments: Creativity, Anxiety, Travel, and Possessions

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I just received the proof from Lulu of my first self-published book, titled STONE empty chair. It’s a collection of my best haiku, starting about ten years ago and ending in August, 2018.

It’s a little book full of little poems – just 6.5 x 4.5, with 50-odd haiku, in four chapters: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. It would make a nice gift, and fits easily into a Christmas stocking or a 7×10 inch envelop for mailing to a friend.

I took the cover photo in my backyard, near the little pond I installed in July with the help of my youngest son. The stone is Oregon’s state rock, the thunder egg. What a great name for a rock! The chair is one I made from twigs, and it was featured in my video The Fairy House. In fact, you can see me making it in the video.
Erica Goss, STONE, empty chair: Erica’s new haiku collection

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In August I pray to lesser gods,
gods drier and without Douglas Fir
gods wafting burnt laminate
gods shriveling before the crunch
church of pinecones

thunderless gods
sniffing, boneless gods with dry-needle teeth
and sweet-sugar nature—
Fall Poem / an interview with poet Rachel Warren (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

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I was looking forward to some poet-spotting and saying hi to one or two familiar faces, maybe. Instead, I promptly went into introvert mode: a seat in the cafe with my nose in a book (and a novel, at that!) beforehand, an ice cream taken back to my seat during the interval and a prompt departure afterwards for the Tube at Waterloo (walking past the book stall without a sideways glance). What’s wrong with me?!

Anyway, I’m glad I went. I enjoyed my first Forward Prizes evening very much. It was a re-connection with the buzz that exists around poetry in a building full of poets and poetry lovers.

All fifteen shortlistees were there except for Jorie Graham (who sent a letter, and a recorded message and poem reading). I really hope I get the opportunity to hear her read in person, some day.

There was no second-guessing the winner of the single poem, but I thought Fiona Benson’s ‘Ruins’ was a close contender; beautifully read, too. I’d like to read more of her work (I gather there’s a forthcoming collection). I’m delighted for Liz Berry, though. Incidentally, ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ is the subject of one Jen Campbell’s Dissect a Poem videos. You can read it here.

I really enjoyed the readings by shortlistees for Best First Collection; such a range of voices and subjects. Kaveh Akbar was the audience’s darling but the award went to Phoebe Power for her Shrines of Upper Austria (Carcanet). Heritage was a theme common to several of the shortlisted works. I really enjoyed Shivanee Ramlochan’s readings from Everyone knows I’m a Haunting and pleased to see a Peepal Tree Press poet alongside those published by the Big Guns.

After the interval there followed strong readings from the Best Collection shortlistees. I particularly warmed to JO Morgan’s voices from Assurances (Cape) and hope to hear him read again, somewhere. Danez Smith stole the show, though, and the prize announcement was hugely popular with the audience.
Jayne Stanton, The Forward Prizes for Poetry

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What is the least helpful advice you received?

“Write what you know.”
Terrible.
It should be:
Write and when you discover you don’t know what you are writing about—research, learn and then write some more.
You don’t know, what you don’t know and you are always learning so why would you stick to writing what you know?

Writing is always a journey and journeys are supposed to be meaningful and that means you are learning as you journey; sharing and teaching as you write.
As you experience life of course write about that, but let it lead you to new paths and new discoveries.

“Find your voice” is another bit of supposedly helpful advice that is also problematic.
You already have a voice and while you absolutely need to explore and discover as much about yourself and therefore develop your voice, it is already a part of you.
It’s the voice that is insisting you write.

You can write in different voices, you can be a mimic, you can stretch and should stretch until you are uncomfortable and then stretch some more.
The true voice that you already have will tell you what is b.s. and what is honest if you remember to listen.

If you read and listen more than you write you’ll have an authentic voice– nothing to ‘find’, it’s already within.
Poet Chris Jarmick: Thoughts on Writing and Dealing with Dark Times (Lana Ayers’ blog)

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Then there are the times when a poem comes like thunder after lightning. All you can do, then, is hang on and try to get the words down fast enough before the vibrations fade.

I’ve had a few poems come like that, over the years, in a single stream-of-consciousness burst that sends words pouring onto the paper. But those have been few, far between, and always welcomed over the drudgery of pushing limp lines around on a poem that refuses to gel.

The arrival of the Leopard Lady, however, was something different.

I was working in my journal one night when this voice began, with no prodding or priming or expectation. It was strong and sure, a voice with Appalachian cadences, and it was dictating lines, whole poems. I scribbled as fast as I could for as long as she spoke, 13 pages that included three poems almost whole and large chunks of several more. But fascinating as this visitation was, I also had a strong impulse to turn it off, turn it away. She was a biracial woman from an era before mine, and the carnival she called home was entirely alien. And so I focused on other projects, working on novels and other kinds of poems, and I let the Leopard Lady rest. Or tried to. But the poems kept coming, slowly building a life story.
When the Voice Arrives: Making of the Leopard Lady – guest blog post by Valerie Nieman (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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I don’t do radio nowadays. The old passion that would have me winding the aerial up its 40’ mast in a force 9 gale so that I could catch the Australians between 05.00 and 07.00 has been necessarily stilled. No more chasing the fluctuating ionospheric conditions to bag a 5-second contact with that lone operator on some lump of rock in the Indian Ocean. No more regular ‘skeds’ with the guy in San Antonio who sounded just like Jack Nicholson; or the Russian doctor in a desolate oil pipeline outpost in Northern Siberia who wanted to learn English; or the Australian fence-mender 50 k. from the nearest shop and bar; or, as once, the panicky weekend sailor whose yacht was shipping water fast off Mauritius on whose behalf I had to phone the Grand Bay coastguard. It was always the romance of contact with the beleaguered or self-exiled individuals in exotic locations, the two of us fighting against fading signals or interference from the hundreds of other stations out there on the same wavelength wanting to touch base with the rare DX station with whom you alone are in contact. Those few minutes of shared alternative culture across thousands of miles of earth and sky are worth all the solitary hours of static crackle and atmospheric hiss.

There aren’t very many poems about people talking into two-way radios. In fact, I’ve never come across any! So for the time being this is it. So whether this poem is a work of quality is hardly the issue. That anyone should want to produce a piece about people talking into a radio microphone should be enough to turn our heads…
Dick Jones, WAVELENGTHS.

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In past decades, let’s say my pre-teen years through my forties, I often read more than 50 novels in a year. Then, in my fifties I started reading poetry in earnest. A poetry lover since childhood, I was less likely to buy books of poetry than to buy novels; less likely to read all the way through a book of poetry than a novel; less likely to have poetry friends to talk with about the poetry I was reading. Then, I started writing poems myself. Now I spend most of my reading time with books of poetry. […]

I read more slowly than I used to and this means that, though I spend about the same amount of time reading as I used to (given the vagaries of other obligations, for example, work, running a press, writing, volunteering) but digest fewer words. This is partly due to changes in vision which are common at my age, partly due to the slowing-down effect that reading poetry has on its readers, partly due to the distracting effect of screen reading and social media, but in some part, I’m not sure why my appetite is so much less voracious for novels than it used to be. When it comes to novels, I buy few, but often pick up 1/2 dozen at a time from the library. Why? Because these days, I have a new novel reading habit: I often start novels but don’t finish them. In fact, I often go 30-50 pages in and decide “no, I don’t want to read this.” Let’s just call it, “time is running out” for anything that doesn’t enlighten me or bring me pleasure.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with an Embarrassment of Novel Riches

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For about 20 years I kept this one poem in my wallet. Then it lived on a bulletin board in my office and recently, it migrated to the kitchen. I like that it’s been with me since December 1994. I think this was my first year subscribing to the New Yorker Magazine. I had just let my apartment in Harvard Square for the wilds of the Pacific Northwest for graduate school. I missed the grit of the Boston accent, the cold stare of strangers, the bookstores. This poem spoke to me — my decade plus of living faraway. More than two years away from the US, I entered New York via JFK only to have the customs officer question if I was making up the country of Niger.

Seamus Heaney never included this (as far as I know) in any of his books. I don’t know why but I suspect that perhaps it was too internal, so common and uncommon at once. See what you think.

Far Away

When I answered that I came from “far away”
The policeman at the roadblock snapped “where’s that”?
He’d only half heard what I said and thought
It was the name of some place up the country.

And now it is both where I have been living
And where I left — a distance still to go
Like starlight that is light years on the go
From faraway and takes light years returning.

~Seamus Heaney, The New Yorker, December 26, 1994
Susan Rich, Such a Good Mix: The Poetry of Travel and the Travel of Poetry

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“Obliterature draws attention to the gendered formation of literary value while also denoting the casual, minor, repurposed, and ephemeral writing expelled from literary criticism’s traditional purview. Such writing might include letters to the editor, junk mail, diary entries and their twenty-first-century digital descendants: blog entries, comments on a newspaper and magazine site, Instagram posts, LiveJournals, Snapchats, Tumblrs, or tweets. Obliterature, fittingly enough, is also popular parlance for a ‘letter or email written while drunk off your ass’…The concept, as we develop it in this article, explains the literary phenomenon of not being fully in control of one’s words and the labor phenomenon of not being fully in control of one’s work.”

– from “Obliterature: Towards an Amateur Criticism” by Melanie Micir and Aarthi Vadde in the September 2018 Modernism/ modernity, a special issue on “weak theory”

None of us knows if our writing careers will be of much interest to literary critics in the future–or whether there will continue to be literary critics, or a future–but I have to add a few more categories of ephemeral writing that consume a LOT of my time these days: comments on student poems, response papers, quizzes, and essays; assignment sheets; teaching notes; course descriptions; recommendation letters; private editorial comments on Submittable; and the smartphone text-i-verse with its debris of emoticons. I’ve also been a lead drafter on a surprising number of university-related guidelines and reports, having been here for 24 years and generally preferring to do the writing portion of committee work over other tasks.

So I like this term “obliterature” a lot, although it’s from an article I’ve so far only read a portion of, because I’m tight on time but got snagged by the title as I was sorting mail. I recognize obliterature as an object of fascination for me as a critic–all the scraps and commonplace books kept by Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, Anne Spencer, and many other women as they tried to find time for poetry amid domestic chores, tough jobs, and political urgencies. I also recognize it, with more chagrin, as denoting a body of seemingly-necessary writing I constantly perform, obliterating time for other kinds of writing I am constantly saying I should prioritize.
Lesley Wheeler, Obliterature

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Doubt. I decided to write today about doubt in reviewing because doubt is crippling and prevalent. It is also a private experience; on the surface we struggle to seem reasonably confident, we repress a lot of our fears and doubts so we can function in a world that often would rather not know our current interior state of being. People turn to reviews for reading recommendations, to discover writers they’ve never heard of, and to deepen their engagement with a text that often has yet to be, or perhaps might never be, critically examined by literary theorists. They come with an expectation that the reviewer has enough knowledge of the genre to give an informed opinion or analysis. This is a reasonable expectation. Let me say, if you have doubt, like me, doubt that you can review a certain book, or that you know enough to review that book, you are in a good place, this doubt shows that you take the review seriously and want it to be as good as possible.

Not all reviews are created equal: some are glorified yelp reviews, some simply lackluster, some start off beautifully but then fall apart, some miss the point entirely, some are pompous and painful to digest, some are unbelievably brilliant, but most fall into the useful category. They help readers find books, and isn’t that what most reviewers ultimately want to do? Above all, I want my reviews to be useful, but hope they can be artful as well.

If you’re thinking about writing book reviews for the first time, I say please, yes, we need more reviews and reviewers in the literary community. If you are nervous, if you feel doubt, just keep working through it, there’s a way through. Sometimes I experience this doubt before I begin a review, I finish a book and think, but I don’t know what that was about! Then, I start putting words down on the page and suddenly I have more ideas than I can possibly use. Or sometimes I finish a review, and then I go to post it on my blog, Fork and Page, or I go to submit it to the journal I write reviews for and I think, what if I’m wrong about something, what if I didn’t understand the author’s intentions this time, perhaps I should just scrap it all together. But when I read the review again, I realize that it is the best I can do at this time, that my doubt is part of a larger struggle with self-confidence. I share this to help normalize these feelings, as ultimately reviewing itself has taught me so much about writing, and I hope that doubt does not hold other writers back from writing reviews.
Overcoming Doubt as a Book Reviewer – guest blog post by Anita Olivia Koester (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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All night, even as rain pounded
the crickets called and called
their high-pitched throb offering
a different perspective
on the downpour’s
thrum, a bass string’s thump
on windows, roof, the dark’s
wild fullness that we don’t
understand and thus fear.

Shiver of screech owl, damp in its
hickory-tree perch
sad dreams, body aches, waking
into memory. We animals
amid bedsheets, sweaty and tossed,
find ourselves alert, listening.
Rain drums sown in long bands
and crickets sing.
Ann E. Michael, Wet Year

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There is this reach, this angle of fingertip-catch on entry, this strong pull initiated between iliac and pubic crests: between each wave the fire of core muscle on a long diagonal across belly, back, shoulders, alighting in palm of hand and the strong pull set free on ballistic recovery, loose and relaxed. Now the other, the next: ravenous for reach, for glide. A rolling, easy kick to balance. Scything through water for miles, unconscious of power, so fearless there is nothing but animal power, nothing but joy so still and deep it barely resembles emotion: it is an element, it is body and water and sky, bone and forest and eel, fish, orca, raven in flight. It is the dead brought back from the abyss: it is the living bone they animate. Abalone. Driftwood, bleached white and knobby. Pearlescent shell of former lives holding the single drop of now: now the entire lake, forest, sky, muscle and bone articulated in water-breath, the drum of heart perhaps the lake’s, perhaps mine, perhaps K’s, perhaps the rhythm of the boat’s oar, perhaps the pounding of earth itself far, far beneath this ashen wave, this drop, this almost imperceptible and tiny life as vast as sky, as ocean.

Shhhhh, says the boat.
Now, says the body.

Now.
JJS, Skaha Part III: 8:30am—10:30am, fearless joy and power

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.

A shorter digest than usual this week — no doubt because of bloggers being off on holiday — but some unusually hard-hitting posts more than make up for it.

Scrape the leftovers into a pan on the stove,
whatever was chilled in the fridge, crammed in cupboards,
canned or covered, not quite fresh but only newly

expired. Things others would throw away, like broken
laws or a person who told the right story at just
the wrong time. Call this truth.
PF Anderson, Leftovers

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I’ve been slowly and painfully reading Claudia Castro Luna’s stunningly beautiful book, Killing Marias (Two Sylvias Press, 2017), in which she celebrates in elegiac poems the “disappeared women” of Juarez, Mexico. Of course, these stories portray the same conditions that women in Central America continue to confront, conditions in no small part fostered by US policies. The added insult however, is that now families are being torn apart at US borders.

This morning I looked for my copy of To Bedlam and Part Way Back, Anne Sexton’s first book of poems, published in the early 60’s, which reflects on her first psychiatric hospitalization, an event that separated her from her young daughter. I didn’t find the book, not surprising, having moved so many times since it was placed in my hands by a friend who saw the suicide in me, back in the seventies, while I was trying to make sense of having lost contact with my son. I had already swallowed Plath’s The Bell Jar whole, and was identifying more with feeling like I was crazy, less with how power and abuse were shaping my life, and just on the verge of reading/writing poems myself. I held on to the Sexton book at least long enough to remember these lines:

I could not get you back
except for weekends.

My son was kidnapped by his father when he was four; afterwards, the legal sham of a custody war dragged on for over a year. I don’t speak about losing custody of my son often or easily; the experience was too awful and left me with unremitting feelings of shame and helplessness. I identified with Sexton when I read those lines, my own poetic line for my relationship with my son was briefly, in summers.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse in Bedlam

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This week I visited Virginia State University to read the papers of Amaza Lee Meredith, an African American artist, architect, and teacher who was a sometime neighbor and longtime friend to the poet Anne Spencer. I leafed through scrapbooks Meredith kept full of letters from students, memorabilia about Spencer, and poems she either copied out or clipped from magazines. She also preserved clippings about a few favorite politicians and a receipt from her $5 donation to Adlai Stevenson’s campaign. Meredith and Spencer were friends during the Jim Crow era and they clearly talked urgently and often about educational inequality and school segregation. I’m not comparing my experiences to theirs–Spencer and Meredith and their families were in physical danger, as well as being subject to daily degradations, because they were black in mid-twentieth-century Virginia–but I think negotiating this political moment is tuning my awareness to aspects of Spencer’s situation.

What sustained Spencer when social injustice and literary rejection demoralized her? Her garden. Reading and writing. And friends like Amaza Lee Meredith, to whom she signed “I love you,” late in life, in a shaky hand.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry, politics, and friendship

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For me, it is as if, like all great art, The Waste Land were taking place in a continuous present. Furthermore, in my own condition, that present was entirely enveloping, full of echoes that shook me without my knowing quite why they did so. Perhaps I recognised the revolutionary Budapest of 1956 with its bullet and shell scarred buildings in those falling towers; perhaps the woman who drew her long black hair out tight was an incarnation of my mother and her black hair as she turned away from me to brush it; perhaps the voices of Eliot and Vivienne in the room and those of the group down at the pub echoed some experience of hearing my own mother and father at a point of tension and the presence of overheard unfamiliar others engaged in their own lives in some social space.

Perhaps all this was personal, or some core of it was. I chose to concentrate on it here because of its significance to me then, But also because the world it conjured is never quite dead. Not even now.
George Szirtes, FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH ELIOT / Little Gidding 8 July 2018

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It has no name. The thing that swells up
inside me like a hurricane. The thing
that visits me in the late afternoon.
Last week I came home and it filleted
me open like a fish.
Crystal Ignatowski, Whole

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I recently read James Geary’s entertaining book I Is an Other–The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World. Geary takes his title from one of Rimbaud‘s letters, calling this phrase metaphor’s “principal equation”:

Metaphor systematically disorganizes the common sense of things–jumbling together the abstract with the concrete, the physical with the psychological, the like with the unlike–and reorganizes it into uncommon combinations.

I like this definition because it feels more complete than the typical definition of metaphor as a comparison without the use of the adverbial comparative (i.e., no “like” or “as”). Indeed, metaphor probably forms the basis of language itself; while that conclusion’s much debated in semiotics, linguistics, and other scholarly disciplines, common sense and common usage strongly suggest that even thought itself–in terms of how we think internally about the world–employs metaphor as an underpinning.
Ann E. Michael, Back to metaphor

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Jorie Graham is a master orchestrator of thought; her poems have always treated thought as a kind of entity. Graham has studied this entity and given it a language that floods, eddies, pivots, and unfolds, and yet that language is elevated beyond thought’s actuality, which is transformed through this mimesis. But what if Jorie Graham’s entity—made up of a single person’s thoughts—met another entity, a bot, full of the encyclopedic knowledge of the internet as well as the user’s voice. The first of four sections in Graham’s most recent collection Fast explores this collision of minds, of art and information, of human and machine. The resulting poems are frenetic as they are thoughtful, their pace perhaps lacks the elegance of Graham’s earlier poems, and yet this is the point. Something here of the self is lost to modernity, to the cacophony of disembodied voices and to the many horrors of information floating around the internet like sand in the ocean.
Anita Olivia Koester, Through the Looking Glass and Beyond: Fast by Jorie Graham

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Collecting Dust

Sometimes the problem with hording is remembering what you’ve hoarded or, more accurately, what is in what you’ve hoarded. The number of times I look back at lines in my (electronic) ideas pad and have no memory of several of the lines is not even funny, and that’s stuff I’ve apparently written! But, when I received the list of books in the Poetry 1 module reading list for my MA course, I was delighted to recognise names I know from the online world or have actually met in person :)

The Module Matrix

I never really understood a matrix, other than that the plural was matrices; modules I understand marginally better, though the reading list for Poetry 1 module is rather baffling: there is a list 1 and a list 2, and list 2 is further subdivided into required reading, suggested reading and recommended reading … it gets trickier when some books are on list 1 and 2, so it is quite hard to figure out in which folder to file the electronic copy of the text!
Giles L. Turnbull, A Collection of Poetry Friends

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It’s Saturday night and I am home trying to do a poetry submission.

Poetry submissions annoy me when I overthink them. I look at my work and say, “Hmm, this isn’t good, nor is this.” I say, “not this poem, this poem sucks, maybe I’ll work on this poem, hey–what’s this? I’m hungry, do we have any sliced gouda?”

I sabotage myself. I can’t figure out who to submit to, even though I have a list in front of me of journals I want to submit to.

I put the “pro” in “procrastinate,” and so much, I end up writing a blog post (which I am behind on), instead of submitting.

And wait, I’m the one who wrote that viral piece, Submit Like a Man? I could learn a lot from myself.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Friday Submission Club

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Sometimes when I’ve just “finished” a project, I get all bouncily excited. I can’t wait to get it out into the world, CERTAIN that the world will be AGOG. At times like this I wish someone would gently wrest the “Send” button from my hand.

If I do excitedly send the fresh, new piece, fortunately it takes so long for most places to respond that the rejection letters come less as a knife to the heart of Tigger as a knife to the heart of, say, Kanga, perhaps, or Roo, or, depending on the day, Eeyore.

If I’m a sensible bear, I’ll put the piece aside. I’ll come back to it later and HATE EVERYTHING ABOUT IT. Then I’ll put it aside again and later come to it with a more measured response. Although if I wait too long, I’ll get too Wol-ish about it all, and that can be insufferable.
Marilyn McCabe, Help Me If You Can; or On the Stages of Project Completion

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Colin Potts – photographer, professor, chess enthusiast and all-around good egg – shot my new author photo, which will appear on the back cover and in publicity for the book. I wanted the photo to have a connection to my favorite poem in the collection, “In the afterlife my father is a London cab driver.” Since we couldn’t get to London, we convened in the parking garage of the MidCity Lofts in Atlanta on a hot Sunday afternoon. Fellow poet and BFF Karen Head loaned us her car. Sitting in the back seat of a hot car wearing a winter coat on a July afternoon is not recommended, but Colin did a spectacular job. He was shooting in close quarters, from a low-angle and basically blind since he couldn’t see the viewscreen on his camera. Lighting was also an issue, but the overhead “map lights” provided just enough illumination to give the photo the noir look we were after. Thank you, Colin, for making me look like a rock star!

I was asked to write a short blurb for an upcoming appearance to describe the collection, so I’ll share that with you as well:

Sibling Rivalry Press will publish Collin Kelley’s third full-length poetry collection, Midnight in a Perfect World, in Nov. 2018. This sequence of cinematic, dream-like poems is infused with travelogue, pop culture and music – from Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush to Kylie Minogue and David Bowie. With the city of London as a final destination, readers will touch down in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Denver, Atlanta and New York before crossing the pond for a cathartic reunion of ghosts from the poet’s past.
Collin Kelley, “Midnight in a Perfect World” coming Nov. 15

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July is a good time to get together one-on-one with friends, to appreciate the little beauties around us, to maybe make peach ice cream or learn one more grill-out recipe to share. We just celebrated Glenn’s birthday with my little brother and sister in law drinking cider, eating grilled-duck tacos and spent the end of a warm evening watching the hot air balloons going up in Woodinville. The goldfinch showed himself off too.

So, be sure to enjoy your summer, be sure to enjoy the little things, take advantage of downtime to do thing you forget to do during the rest of the year – watch the birds, water your garden, drink something cold outside. Read some poetry and be kind to your little poems as you revise and refresh. It’s a good time to go a little easier on ourselves.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Goldfinch and Sunflowers, Thanks to the Coil, and Celebrations

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.

Current events cast a heavy shadow over poets’ blogs this week, but we still found plenty of other things to write about as well, which is a tribute to our mental resilience, I suppose. So I decided not to impose much order on my selections this time around, emphasizing variety instead of common themes.

in the secret game in the secret room your face is circled
Grant Hackett, untitled monostich

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M.S. and I have begun tooling around with a new collaboration, something I’m working on during my morning writing sessions. Our spring sketchbook-making was such a good way of keeping me/us working through the semester, even with the chaos of classes, and I loved the experience of responding to visual art and having visual art made in response to my writing. The new project is less binary, less call-and-response, and more like two adjacent artists working around a similar theme — at some point we’ll exchange our work and reveal what we have and then move on from there. . . I think. The project springs from one of M.S.’s earlier works, actually, that I found inspiring and she wanted to develop further, so to some extent I already have visuals in my head that I can respond to . . . unfortunately she has to wait for work from me, since everything is coming out in these weird blotches of language. I’m not really interested in writing prose poems, so I’m just considering them bookmarks for poems that I’ll eventually write, and hopefully sooner rather than later.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, New Writing and Close Readings

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When the breast is deprived of the baby
The tissue turns to stone
The ducts stiffen, become infected, inflamed
The breast weeps droplets of milk

 

There is no Promised Land
El Norte is a cruel myth
El Norte has stolen children
For hundreds of years
If the child be of darker hue
Christine Swint, Pilgrimage to el Norte

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Josephine Corcoran launched her collection, What Are You After, to a packed room, with special guest readings by Rishi Dastidar, Jackie Wills and Susannah Evans. I found Susannah’s apocalyptic poems really engaging (and funny, too; I love poems that make me laugh aloud) and I’ll be watching out for her forthcoming Nine Arches collection. Rishi and Susannah also paid tribute to Josephine’s online treasure trove that is And Other Poems by reading one of their poems published on the site.

I had my copy of What Are You After to hand for Josephine’s launch reading but found myself so drawn by the voice of the poet and the poems themselves that her book stayed on my lap (instead, it was my travel companion for the return train journey). Her poems have their feet planted firmly in everyday language; they are frank, funny, human, poignant. Afterwards, we were able to watch ‘Poem in which we hear the word ‘drone” as a film poem by Chaucer Cameron and Helen Dewbery of Elephant’s Footprint along with other poems from recent Nine Arches collections.
Jayne Stanton, Happy 10th birthday, Nine Arches Press!

So let’s watch that film poem Jayne mentioned:

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I have been musing on Rebecca Solnit’s text in which she writes about the Romantics’ “new” appreciation of Nature. I was particularly struck by her research about how in Europe, and among the Eurocentric American colonizers, pre-Romantic era society considered mountains not only dangerous but also “ugly” (in Wanderlust: A History of Walking). Aesthetics began to change in the late 18th and the 19th centuries. Walking the natural world for something other than pure transportation from place to place altered our social ideas about what’s “beautiful.”

The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason.
—John Cage

[…]

Looking closely enough at something to find that you no longer see it as ugly requires an almost meditative change in perspective. It’s been an approach useful to me as a poetry prompt and as a means of more closely appreciating the world and everything in it. I don’t mean that I identify with the 19th-c Romantics, though I eagerly trod where Wordsworth trod when I visited the Lakes District a few years back; I don’t. My view of nature is really with a small ‘n’ and is pragmatic and scientific, among other things.

But: John Cage’s question to himself is a reminder to be compassionate, to observe with openness, information, education, perspective, and loving-kindness…while walking through the world.
Ann E. Michael, Aesthetic “therapy”

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[Octavia] Butler’s life as a writer has also been an inspiration and a comfort. I was so happy when she won the MacArthur award. I read an interview with her in Poets and Writers shortly after she won that award. She talked about the value of money to a writer, how having a funding source freed her to write all the books she’d been storing up but couldn’t write because she had to work. And in her early years, that work was often menial labor, the kind that leaves one too tired to write.

Butler was a writer who writers could love. Like many of my favorite writers, she stresses habit and persistence over talent and inspiration. Here’s a typical quote (found on GoodReads): “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Happy Birthday, Octavia Butler!

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I am sharing a poem today from my upcoming collection The Lure of Impermanence (Cirque Press). I wrote this shortly after the recent presidential election. It seems that the number of corpses on frosted asphalt has only grown larger in this increasingly unkind and immoral political atmosphere many of us Americans find ourselves in. May we all join together and be the song we need to hear.
Carey Taylor, Post Election

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In this body, which has become increasingly fragile as I age, I worry I can’t do enough – for others, for my country, for my dad. What can my contribution be? Well, I can at least not stay silent. I can at least let my politicians who care about my vote know where I stand. I can let my Dad know I’m thinking of him with care-packages and advice. I feel like I’m on the verge of yelling or crying almost all the time these days. None of it is enough. I can write my way through it – probably the only thing I feel competent to do right now.

How do you get through Crisis Mode? How do you take care of yourself and still help take care of the world? How do you, as a poet feel we should respond?
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Crisis Mode, My review of Oceanic up at the Rumpus, Redactions New Issue, Lit World Gender Representation, Crisis Mode Again

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How does one wade in the water, when the water is toxic? The current United States Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, approaches this question in a variety of thought-provoking ways in her profound fourth collection, Wade in the Water. The water Smith considers is literal, political, historical, and metaphorical: the water we drink, the culture we are steeped in, the history we carry with us, and the spirituality imbued in our everyday lives. With a deeply critical mind, Smith probes these dynamics through juxtaposition, documentary poetics, erasure techniques, secular hermeneutics, as well as anecdotal narrative. Following her Pulitzer prize winning collection, Life on Mars, Smith returns to an abused and ravaged earth, and listens to its discontents, sorrows, and complaints and shows us what is essential and not essential to the human condition.

At the center of this struggle for a world we can all wade in are power dynamics. Whether political or domestic, on a grand or a small scale, these dynamics directly affect the daily existence of Americans, whether we realize it or not. Power dynamics also affect our drinking water. Water is supposed to cleanse, replenish, and revive us, and yet due to unregulated toxic chemicals seeping into drinking water, it is killing people, in America and around the world. In the eco-poetics poem “Watershed,” Smith pulls phrases from an article summarizing a lawyer’s long-standing legal battle with the megacorporation DuPont. The case exposed decades of chemical pollution that resulted not only in sick employees, but in severe water contamination in specific towns as well as contamination throughout the world. The second definition of watershed is: an event or period marking a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs. This case against DuPont was a watershed moment in environmental legislation, though for many people the outcome came too late; the original plaintiffs both died of cancer after watching the majority of their 200 cows become diseased, deranged, and die from contaminated drinking water.

It is difficult to digest the horrific ramifications of DuPont’s negligence, nearly all people have been exposed to PFOA, the poisonous chemical used to process Teflon, it is in our blood and blood banks. Tracy K. Smith could have read this article in the NYT and gone on with her day, but instead she created a lasting work of art that stands as testament to this catastrophic event. With a surgical hand Smith extracts particularly disturbing portions of this text and interweaves them with extracts from a second text, accounts of near-death experiences, which are considerably different in tone and subject matter. This kind of courageous leap in thought is part of what makes contemporary poetics so exciting. The result of this interweaving is an almost surreal poem that underlines this global health threat, and also considers what it really means to be on the threshold between life and death. The near-death experiences Smith selects are rooted in love, an action opposite of the ones corporations are accustomed to taking. In the afterlife, according to these accounts, “All that was made, said, done, or even thought without love was undone.”
Anita Olivia Koester, American Toxicity: Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith

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Where I’ve been staying, most days in the early evening I hear a strange soft clatter, and look out the door to find a relatively orderly herd of goats walking down the road, kept moving along by a relatively polite and very efficient border collie. Sometimes a goat will pause to nibble at a tasty vine, but in short order the collie urges it along, and they all disappear around the corner of the stone barn next door. Often soon thereafter I’ll hear some bellowing, and I know the man down the street is calling the cows back to the barn from the field across the road, and they’ll shamble along slowly to his “Allors,” as if reluctant attendees to an obligatory meeting. Early mornings I wake to what sounds like a strangled cry which, after he clears his throat, will turn out to be a rooster’s call, soon to be joined by the dove’s ooo-ooo-er, over and over and over and over. And it occurs to me that these are my main modes of thought. And I can’t predict from one situation to the next, one impulse to the next, which of the modes will kick in. I can only hope they ultimately serve whatever the purpose: to move me along, to gather myself together, to wake me up, or get me out of the house to escape the incessant repetitions of thought. Allors.
Marilyn McCabe, I Herd You; or Habits of Mind

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What I am reading:

What Is Not Beautiful, Poems by Adeeba Shahid Talukder (The Glass Chapbook Series, June 2018)

This small book of poems can be read in order and in one sitting, a process I like to apply to all books of poems, but am not always able to. There is this joy with chapbooks, when good–as this one certainly is–in that their concentrated effect can be mesmerizing.

Starting with the picture on the cover, a small girl looking at herself in the mirror with a look that is hard to decipher. Wise and knowing? or tough and jaded? Compare this to the author’s picture on the back cover and you have the same face, the same expression, the same wonderment that presages the narrative of the book.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse Report

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Ian McMillan, Elvis, Ted Hughes … I spent this afternoon at the Ready Teddy workshop organised by the Ted Hughes Project and run by Ian McMillan. Ian was as entertaining as always, but what really came through was his ability to transcend the ordinary and to take his workshop participants with him on a flight of fancy which was uncannily grounded in the real and everyday. The setting of the former Mexborough Grammar School, where Hughes studied, was a gift. We wandered the corridors making absurd but inspiring links between past and present, fact and fiction, imagining Elvis on the trail of his hero, Ted Hughes. People came up with daft theories about off-the-wall things like boiled hamburgers, and outside we discovered ‘Elvis artefacts’ including a wooden heart. We sang Jailhouse Rock to the tune of On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At to get us in the mood for writing and Ian shared a brilliant tweet he’d received: You ain’t nothin’ but a thought fox.

That’s what Ian’s so good at, getting you to be absurd and creative and not to worry about what you’re writing.
Julie Mellor, Ready Teddy …

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My father Langston hands his camel jacket to the coat-check lady.
He lifts his menu with a flourish and says now you order anything, anything.
My father Thomas Stearns says use your inside voice.
Embarrassment beads his forehead.
My father Ezra chants a grace to drive the waiter mad.
My father John Keats urges a scalpel between cork and bottle.
A candle-flame repeats in glass, wine, his hectic cheeks.
My father Walt pries open mollusk after mollusk, grooves on his thumbs adoring the grooves of each inky shell.
My father Allen insists I eat my broccoli broccoli broccoli and the outrageous curry of hilarity anoints his beard.
My father James Merrill, tortoiseshell-buttoned, conserves naked chicken bones for broth.
I will bathe them, he says, with bay leaves, peppercorns, and whole onions quartered through paper to root.
When the liquid alchemizes I will strain its gold and measure in cubes of potato, crystals of salt.
This soup will be for you.

Lesley Wheeler, Paternity suit

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.

A shorter than usual edition this week, but perhaps typical of what we’ll see during the summer months. Grief and loss were major themes, as well as the healing power of reading and writing. And several bloggers pondered succinctness, not necessarily succinctly.

Last night, I read an interview in El Pais with the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, who is now almost 89. It’s well worth reading. I don’t read a lot of pure philosophy, and I don’t know Habermas’ work, but I was interested in what he was saying about journalism, writing, reading, and the media. “There’s a cacophony that fills me with despair,” he said. Yes. Me too.

Lest we get off on the wrong foot here, Habermas doesn’t dismiss contemporary media, or specifically the internet and social media. He brings up and praises many aspects of new media that have helped humankind already, from the ability to organize from the grassroots to creating connections for support and research among people with rare diseases, saying that there are “many niches where trustworthy information and sounds opinions are exchanged.” He’s not a Luddite, and he doesn’t seem to have a fear of technology or change. What he’s concerned about is the same trend that concerns me.

He states the problem succinctly: “You can’t have committed intellectuals if you don’t have the readers to address the ideas to.”
Beth Adams, The Silencing of Thoughtfulness

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There is a feeling of being transported by literature that I crave and try desperately to hold on to after closing the book, although usually it is shortlived. I do catch a whiff of it when I am writing, and that is why I write. But comparing my own thoughts of suicide to others’ thoughts or actions, just like comparing my work to another’s work, it is clear that others transport me more than I am able to transport myself. That may sound so obvious that it needn’t be uttered. I suppose I am chiding myself for not opening to others sufficiently, or more like, closing myself off so deeply.

This brings me to “Diary of a Bad Year” by JM Coetzee, which is brilliant and complex and devastated me. I’ve always loved Coetzee’s work, which over and again teaches me that self-knowledge is insufficient, others’ knowledge of us is distorted, and knowledge itself breeds the most desperate of feelings: typically guilt, remorse, powerlessness, hopelessness, angst. Although in Coetzee’s case it is a very quiet angst. There is no suicide in this book, more of a quiet withdrawal from life, which brought me to tears, and yet transported me to that feeling of belonging somewhere.
Risa Denenberg, Friday Morning Muse with Suicide on My Mind

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[W]hen I read the news about Kate Spade’s death by suicide it felt personal. Here was one of my heroines – successful business woman who supported charities I cared about, creator of interesting and artistic accessories still appropriate for working women (probably the first purchase I made as a working woman to prove to myself I had “made” it was a Kate Spade bag.) It’s horrible thinking about her 13-year-old daughter going through the trauma. It’s a loss.

But here’s the thing – hidden illnesses are just that – hidden. I’ve never seen a picture of Kate Spade where she wasn’t perfectly put-together and smiling. She had plenty of money, plenty of success. But that had nothing to do with it.

I twittered about my sadness over her death, including a string of her accomplishments. A Trump supporter (literally that’s all I could tell about this person from their Twitter bio) wrote to me asking me about her charity involvement. I was wary – usually Trump supporters only write to me to say racist, sexist, hate-filled things – but it turned out through our twitter conversation that this twitter person was struggling to understand the suicide of a seemingly good, happy person, much like the rest of us.

It’s a reminder that many of us have struggled without showing obvious signs. It’s a reminder that we are all trying to get through the hard parts.

I write about the good things in my life but I have also tried to share some of the bad parts, too, because I don’t want to try to pretend. No one’s life is perfect. Every writer or creative person struggles first to create, then get their creations into the world, then the responses to their creations – then the cycle starts again. Chronic illness takes a toll. I carefully construct an image – you don’t often see pictures of me in the hospital, getting blood drawn or getting yet another MRI, or the days when I feel too bad to get out of bed. But that doesn’t mean bad days don’t happen – of course they do. Just a reminder that we should have compassion for each other, for ourselves, because no matter what a life looks like on the outside, each of us has days when it can all seem like too much.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Speculative Poetry Interview and A Guest Blog Post on PR for Poets – Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone and Getting Through the Hard Parts

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The winged things that called to me as a child,
singing on the sidewalk in front of home,
as if they were weeping, as if they were
so tired of weeping, as if grief lifted
their feathers, separating and spreading,

as if grief was joy and beauty and love
twisted in time. As if only nameless
beings could open the boxes, break them,
remake them.
PF Anderson, Of Numbers, Names, and Weeping Things

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I am so sick of this story. Its novelty and shine wore off in my teen years. Now, in my 40s, everyone around me is on antidepressants that do less good than my swimming, and cause ugly side effects on top of original causes. I shrug. I’d rather be strong and bullied by hormones than drugged, riddled with side effects, and bullied by hormones. Still, sometimes it gets the upper hand, life; attempts to dig out of the poverty caused by the year of unemployment for surgery just making the hole deeper; endless struggle and pain on too many fronts simultaneously, including my own flesh: choked out by panic attack, the neighbor’s dog comes for a visit just in time, gives me a long hug. I can’t tell any of you what to do. Seeking comfort, I sleep with a box of ash. I don’t even like talking about it. It’s dull, pain. Mine. Yours. It’s joy I stayed alive for, the reason my nails are ripped out from just hanging on through this last year and a half. The only reason. The rest is crap. I don’t know how to get through more than the next hour. I know that, though. Get through the next hour. I don’t know what to tell you, any of you. There are times when even the reasons to do an hour seem thin and pale, and we just do it anyway, so tired.
JJS, June 6, 2018: untitled

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I wrote “dead boy” poems because my brother died too young.

Because all my memories became entangled with his too-early death.

I never intended to publish these poems.

But I did share a few at readings.

Listeners asked me about where they could find these poems in print.

(nowhere)

Still, I didn’t really plan on a book.

And then, a year later, my mother died.

My mother died in her sleep. Peacefully.

Unlike my dear father who suffered a horrible cancer death.

Unlike my aunt who suffered a terrible, ongoing battle with cancer.

Unlike my dearest friend who died too young–bled to death on the operating table during a procedure meant to extend his life.

I was relieved my mother hadn’t suffered.

But angry all over again that other people I loved had.

To be honest, I was glad to be free of my mother. At least this side of the earth.

But her hurtful words live on inside me–make me doubt myself and my self-worth.

So why the bejeezus was I crying so much?

Because fresh grief re-opens old wounds.

Shreds them, actually.

I kept going over family and over family stuff in my head, like a dog scratching at fleas.

And more poems came.

Because there was more to say about family.

And I was willing to speak my truth because it was mine.

If people would judge me harshly over that truth, it no longer mattered.

Because deep inside, I knew from reading my first book of family poems in public, that sharing my family situation could make another person feel less alone. Feel they could get through the worst of it.
Lana Ayers, Family Poems Are Hard–part 3–final part

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Several weeks ago, I wrote a list of fragments and observations that went on to become an interesting poem. Let me try this again:

–This is a love letter to the two parrots in a palm tree that screech at each other.

–This is also a love letter to a pair of abandoned shoes at the beach, tan suede, clean, barely used, made for a man’s foot.

–The sun rises, as it always does. The clouds are the middle managers. They know that their job is to make the boss look good.

–This morning, the clouds have settled on apocalypse as a theme, in contrast to the man sitting on the steps, playing his harmonica.

–Does the sun see the people running to the sand to catch the sunrise? Is it aware of how many people ignore the sunrise for whatever magic their phones offer?
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Sunrise Snippets

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Q~How has workshopping helped your writing? What advice can you share?

A~Two pieces of advice that I have been reminded of lately: “Write for yourself, and you will reach the most people,” and “It really isn’t about the publications.”

I recently tried writing a poem about race. I workshopped it with two women of color and it was a very intense, powerful, yet intimate conversation. One of the women reminded me that I should stick with what I know and write for myself. She could tell I was struggling with this poem, and we talked about how sometimes it is okay to not write about the things that seem big and worldly right now. I have a desire to write about politics, race, gun violence, all these things, but deep down, I just want to write about my everyday life. I just want to write about driving in Pulaski with my uncle. She reminded me to stick with what I want to write because those things are going to resonate with the most people. Write smaller, reach wider.

This year I made a goal to get 100 rejection letters. What I learned is that submitting your work is a full time job! Just the habit of researching publications, workshopping poems, and sending them out into the world has been a wonderful experience. I have gained confidence in myself and my writing. And, with so many rejections, they don’t hurt or sting as bad! But, what I learned most is that it isn’t about the publications. It isn’t about the rejections or the acceptances. It is about the writing. I recently have been giving out a lot of poems to family members for birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc, and seeing a family member cry from receiving a poem about them, wow, that is bigger than any publication.
Bekah Steimel, Learning to Drive In Pulaski, Wisconsin / an interview with poet Crystal Ignatowski

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At the opening of the collection, Barbie Chang leaves behind Wall Street, and a world of lanyards, podiums and insincere applause in the hopes of “something better.” It is a longing many of us have felt, a longing for an authentic life; perhaps Barbie doesn’t want to be so plastic. Barbie Chang herself is born out of a longing for another identity. In a panel at 2018’s AWP Conference, Victoria Chang spoke of how these poems originally began in the I, but that once she happened upon the persona or alter-ego of Barbie Chang, the poems found their voice. It is often when a poet is released from their own poetic voice, even just by a small alteration of it, that they can discover a kind of music and style they weren’t able to find within the confines of first person.

The style that Chang discovers is as playful as it is masterful; rhyme, homonyms, and word-play are used throughout to propel the poems forward and often to surprise the reader with deft turns away from and back to the central theme of the poem. Yet, Chang’s movements away from the central theme of a poem never feel random, instead, in a rather surprising way they deepen the impact of the poem through their interruption.
Anita Olivia Koester, A Remarkable Persona: Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang

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On a recent episode of the ITV quiz show, The Chase, there was a question about what the computer acronym WORM stands for. As a former IT infatuation junkie I knew the answer instantly; the chaser also got the correct answer but took a while to verbalise it. The acronym expands to Write once, Read many.

I wish my brain was a WORM. I wish that I could just flip a switch — press play, if you will — and deliver my poems verbatim, no matter how long ago the data had been written to the storage device. I wish the act of writing a poem instantly planted it into my memory circuits where its fruit was always ripe and ready to be plucked.
Giles L. Turnbull, The Poetry Worm

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Earlier this evening, I was trying to get a couple of poems ready for our local Penistone Poets workshop tomorrow night. It’s an informal gathering over tea and cake to critique each others’ work, but although it’s informal, I really didn’t feel I had any poems that were good enough. Also, having been away has left me short on time. Still, something about the pressure of having to get the work ready (I’m back at the day job tomorrow) has made me ruthless and I’ve taken a few lines out, particularly one last line that hopefully allows the poem to now have a new and more subtle ending. We’ll see what the group says tomorrow, but reading Allnutt’s comment gave me heart. Sometimes it’s not about the words you put down on the page but the ones you remove. In a previous post I talked about the perils of over-editing. It’s a fine line, I think, between pruning a poem and hacking it to death. The sort of editing Allnutt’s talking about is swift and decisive. It needs to be done quickly, so setting a time limit is good. And workshops are helpful, as long as the time limit is adhered to. There’s no point spending ages pulling a poem apart, just make one or two suggestions that might strengthen it and move on. That’s what we’ll be doing tomorrow and I can’t wait to hear the poems.
Julie Mellor, ARTEMIS poetry

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It’s a poem with not a wasted word, its release like the breaking of a storm after oppressive heat, and the cool of after. It’s as true and frightening and real as a folk tale. It was told, rather than read, and then he told us about the white painted bedroom he shared. He didn’t need to explain anything. I’ve thought since that what enchanted me was its tenderness. What do I mean by that? I mean the tenderness of Rembrandt’s portraits of his wife and unwavering eye of his self-portrait, the loving honesty. Not a shred of sentimentality. That tenderness was in his reading At the grave of John Clare. I had not known that a poet could talk to a dead poet like that.

‘O Clare! Your poetry clear, translucent / as your lovely name’.

I had not known it was possible to use the word ‘lovely’ so frankly and simply. The only other poem I remember from that reading was Death of a poet. I’m still not sure that, despite its total accessibility, I understand it yet, but this last stanza stays and stays.

‘Over the church a bell broke like a wave upended.

The hearse left for winter with a lingering hiss.

I looked in the wet sky for a sign, but no bird descended.

I went across the road to the pub; wrote this.’
John Foggin, Passing the time with Mr Causley

*

It’s true
The light shines everywhere upon the sea
And it is only in certain moments, certain angles
That we see it clearly — too much light
Is overwhelming, it hides itself in excess.
So too with my words: Let me find the few
That carve a straight line through the soup of language
In which I’m drowned. Find me a way. Let me follow a line
From island to headland, from point to point, and call it a swim.
Dylan Tweney, Invocation for an Epic Poem

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. I was on my honeymoon last week, whence the double issue. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

Despite the hiatus, this edition isn’t any longer than usual, because I kept to my usual pattern of no more than one post per blogger. I just feel that too long a digest isn’t going to be read, which defeats the whole purpose. (I did save for next week’s edition any post published since Sunday the 3rd.) But with twice as many posts to choose from, I think this might be one of the more compelling digests I’ve had the pleasure of assembling.

Nesting season. The earliest fledglings have begun to leave their temporary homes. Some birds seem to return to their house sites–or perhaps their offspring do so. There are ledges here that shelter robins’ nests every year; there are certain trees the orioles seem to favor over and over again.
Ann E. Michael, Nesting

*

According to Hesiod, Zeus swallowed Metis in order to keep his philandering a secret from his other lovers. But Metis was secretly pregnant; her daughter, Athena–child of cosmic knowledge and the king of the sky–eventually found her way out from the nesting doll of her parents, emerging from Zeus’s head, dressed in full armor and brandishing a sword.

By the time Athena is born, the story of Metis is long over; Hesiod doesn’t mention her again.

The idea that Zeus gave birth to Athena is often interpreted as being an inversion–that is, that the act of giving life could be ascribed not to the offspring’s mother, but to their father.

It also shares striking similarities to the story of Zeus’s own birth; before Zeus became king of the Olympians, there was the ancient Cronus (the cosmic essence of time), who maintained power by swallowing all of Zeus’s older siblings, while continuously impregnating his mother, Rhea, through rape. Ultimately, Cronus was tricked into swallowing a stone instead of Zeus, causing all of his siblings to be vomited up in reverse order; Zeus, once the youngest, was now the oldest of the Titan children, allowing him to inherit the throne and become king of the gods.

So what, then, should we make of Athena, love child of sky and thought, goddess of wisdom and strategic victory, who, against the patriarchal obsessions of the Ancient Greeks, still emerged, from a certain fate, as a woman? What should we make of Athena’s mother, Metis, the anthropomorphism of thought, who, cosmic as she is, was not killed, but rather, fully internalized by a king-god who stood to lose everything because of her knowledge? Somehow, despite the attempt to silence one woman’s voice, another was born, one who was revered because of her wisdom, rather than denigrated for it–why has this version of the story persisted, despite the astounding misogyny of the Western world?
Stephanie Lane S., On Beauty: A Manifesto

*

The ode’s impulse is always to praise or honor, and yet [Keith] Leonard shows us the depths inherent in honoring, and how easily an ode can slip into an elegy, and an elegy become an ode. In “Ode to Dreaming the Dead” Leonard finds himself unable to pivot towards joy, as he does in some of the poems, and writes instead:

All I want is to hear
them hum a tune—
my dead which populate
the dream like a mute
chorus of horses,
for which I unlatch
the barn gate
and point to the open
field, and click
my tongue, but which
only stand there
staring at the grass.

This ode dismantles into longing, longing to hear the voice of the dead again, but it is the immobility of the horses that is particularly haunting. And yet the ode is not written to them but to the “dreaming of the dead,” and so, though the speaker of the poem longs to release the dead from his dreams, the poet chooses to honor their continual remembrance, even though the act of honoring itself is difficult.
Anita Olivia Koester, Brazen Hope: Ramshackle Ode by Keith Leonard

*

Unremarkable, that chapel
with its scattered single pews.
Then the curly-headed priest
in white, drawing the tincture,
a communion for two, into
its tiny phial. My blood, my
talkative blood, spinning
my secrets into pixels.

He reads through light
the narrative of basophils,
of monocytes and bilorubin,
antigens and ace inhibitors.
He knows the names of all
the heroes and the villains
and he calls them in, the
good shepherd, the sweet
young physiologist. His way
is calm; his song is soft and
when it’s run from clef
to staff, he turns away.
Dick Jones, Phlebotomy

*

Q~Your writing has received a lot of acclaim. What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Acclaim is nice when it comes. A greater part of one’s life is spent in doubt, I think. And, when one is in doubt the best thing is to turn inward and focus on listening, focus on process, focus on figuring out how to call out of the place that feels most singular and human in your being. Also, to read the work of others you admire. And go to art exhibits. And to jazz clubs and live music and the symphony. To both center oneself and feel oneself be unsettled by art. To cultivate one’s faith not in success but in the processes of art.
Bekah Steimel, Elk at Tomales Bay / An interview with poet Tess Taylor

*

The first time I ate mushrooms
I was in Central Washington.
The dry landscape was baked
and thirsty for a drink of water.
I remember faces blurring
like smeared chalk drawings
on a cement sidewalk freshly washed
with rain. I remember voices sounding
hushed and muffled, the rumble
of the car sounding both near and far
away. We stopped to get gas and while
the pump was working away, I wandered
through the convenience store, ran
my fingers across the shelves, let
my palms brush against boxes of cereal,
bags of chips, sponges, and air fresheners.
Crystal Ignatowski, Welcome To Vantage, Washington

*

–A cold claws at my throat. I didn’t have anything important to say anyway.

–A man who looks like Vladimir Putin with a crew cut takes pictures of the underside of the bridge. Is he a terrorist or someone who appreciates the machinery of a good bridge?

–I thought I was buying a box of wing nuts for $5. I bought a $5 wing nut. It doesn’t look significantly better than the cheaper wing nuts.

–We battle an infestation of mosquitoes. We have moved the bug zappers inside.

–I’ve invited a robot into our home. It vacuums until it gets stuck under the cedar chest.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Machinery of a Good Bridge

*

I’m so prone to re-working and over-editing my poems that about three years ago I started making sure I kept the first draft, and often that has turned out to be the best version.

I had a poem accepted in Brittle Star this week and they asked, as magazines often do, for an electronic copy. I trawled document after document until I finally found the poem, many versions of it in fact, but the one they’d accepted was the first version.

Although I remembered writing the poem (at a Poetry Business Writing Day) what really sticks in my mind is the redrafting I subjected that poem to, a process I think of now as smoothing the life out of it. After all, it was done with such care and good intent.

I’m writing this now as if I’m free of the habit. I’m not. I still spend hours tweaking a poem or worse, battering it into submission. The end result is invariably a bad poem, but when this madness is upon me I convince myself I’m working, and therefore I’m doing something good.
Julie Mellor, It’s when you begin lie to yourself

*

I was looking over a newish poem, and, of an image I used, I thought, Oh, no, I can’t use that. I used it already in another poem. But as I was exploring an exhibit about Picasso’s creation of “Guernica,” I found out how often he recycled images. I don’t mean, for example, his various drawings and paintings using the image of the Minotaur — he was obviously exploring various mythological and psychological aspects of that character. I mean, oh, there’s a variation of that screaming horse. And there it is again. And there’s a disembodied arm. There’s another arm. In “Guernica,” the screaming horse became a central image, but he had used it previously sort of beside other things. It grew into its ultimate place in “Guernica,” even moving upward in the composition even as Picasso was working it out over the short period in which he generated the piece. So if I want to reuse the image of, oh, I don’t know, the often cloudy fish tank in my mother’s old folks’ home, well, I can, dammit. It’s my screaming horse.
Marilyn McCabe, Rinse, Repeat; or If Picasso Can, So Can I; or, Using Images in Repeat

*

If you encounter the heartbreak of an empty reading audience room (it happens, even when we do our best to promote a reading,) laugh it off, get a drink or browse the bookstore, and chalk it up to experience. If your book doesn’t change the world when it comes out, don’t worry – most books do not change the world. Maybe your next one will be a hit. When we compare ourselves to other people and get jealous of their success, that doesn’t really set us up for success – unless it gives you motivation to aim higher with your goals. The art of practicing graciousness – with other writers, with publishers, with reviewers, with our communities – and being grateful for the good things that come our way are key to remaining a happy and not bitter writer. And believe me, I understand where both these writers are coming from…Every time I start to feel that bitter feeling of “I should have gotten that award/grant or I can’t believe so and so rejected me” I try to think of the lucky opportunities I’ve had and the unexpected gifts I’ve been given. The kindnesses I’ve received. And I just feel that the best way to deal with those feelings is to reach out to those around us and help them. Say something nice to a friend. Buy their book, or review it or order it from your local library. A lot of times that will make us feel better, and them feel better, and maybe create a more beautiful writing community. If you add grace to the world, it will probably come back around – but even if it doesn’t, you’ve accomplished something great.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Who Will Buy Your Book Thoughts, and Skagit Poetry Festival Report

*

So what really happened at each reading I gave?

People were polite, applauded.

Several people bought my book.

Sometimes one or two folks asked me to sign it.

But one person came up and confided in me that my work spoke to them about what they’d been through.

That person thanked me.

And I cried tears of joy as we hugged.

I realized I’d come full circle.

Poetry saved my life as child in harrowing circumstances. Poems reached across time, distance, gender, culture, and spoke to me of survival. Poems taught me I wasn’t alone in my suffering. And if others could survive, so could I.

Finally, my poems provided that message and reached out as well.

My words only connected with one other living soul. And that was more than I could ever hope for.

I may not have changed the world.

I may not have bettered that person’s life.

But for one brief moment in time, that person knew they were not alone.

And it was enough. For both of us.
Lana Ayers, Family Poems Are Hard–part 2

*

But back to a community of poets—I think this is the essential link for finding an audience. Many poets find this in an academic setting, but it is possible to locate oneself in a community without any academic cred. It’s possible to find poets in your area or to locate a community online. In 2012, around the time I was publishing my first chapbook, I joined Mary Meriam in founding Headmistress Press. We met on an online poetry workshop, where she asked to publish one of my poems on her online zine, Lavender Review. As two no-longer-young lesbians, we commiserated on how difficult it was to get our work noticed as marginalized poets. The first Headmistress publication was Mary’s chapbook, “Word Hot.” Since then, we have published 42 books of poetry by lesbian/bi/trans poets. Take note: I “met” Mary on an online workshop. Odd as it may seem, we’ve run a press together for 6 years, living in different states, without ever meeting face-to-face.

Working outside of the larger poetry community makes it difficult to attend poetry gatherings and readings, but over the years, I’ve gone to as many as possible. I use vacation days to attend writing workshops all over the US and Canada to work with poets whose work I admire. I receive a dozen excellent daily poems in my email and comment positively on poems I like. I buy a ton of poetry, and leave reviews on Amazon or on my own blog. Most of my friends on Facebook are poets. I’ve stayed connected warmly to poets I’ve met at workshops. I’ve made connections with dozens of wonderful poets through running Headmistress Press. I’ve also found a network of regional poets and editors that I keep in touch with. As I labored over my latest manuscript, I made a commitment to see it published by a regional press and was thrilled to have slight faith accepted by Lana Ayers of MoonPath Press, here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m starting to feel accepted as a ‘Northwest’ poet!
On Getting Your Poems Noticed: The Essential Need for Community – guest blog post by Risa Denenberg (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

*

Earlier in the week I had to fill out some paperwork that required going back into my old notebooks and searching for relevant information, and I came across notes from the SECAC panel in Columbus last year. One of the panelists, Elaine Luther, gave us her rules for a committed studio practice. The first two are about holding space for yourself and self-love and acceptance, which are probably necessary but evoke from me this kind of visceral gag-like reaction to the new-agey sound of it all, but the last two I found more interesting: #3, Decide what to be bad at so you can focus on becoming good at your art (i.e. I’m going to be bad at volunteering, cooking, housework. etc.) #4, Create boundaries (i.e. “Build a fortress around your studio time”).

I’m going to make some drastic — for me — moves toward building that fortress. First, I’m stepping down from all college service for the next academic year. I’ve decided to be a bad colleague: No meetings, no emails, no creative writing festival, no union activities. Next, I’m going to be bad at social media, like FaceInstabookgram. I think I might just go radio-silent for the next year and either delete my accounts or log out from them, wipe them from my smartphone, whatever. Something to that effect. (I’ll keep the blog, because shouting into the void isn’t really social and it’s my form of accountability and part of my writing process.) And I’m going to take a page from M.S.’s book and the visual artists I know and create my own version of “studio Fridays” — a block of time in the morning for sustained work on my writing, i.e. my verse play.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Building a Fortress

*

I’m mindful that my inbox currently holds 770 emails. Almost all of these are poetry/writing-related subscription emails. They’re fantastic resources for an ongoing poetry education (Brain Pickings, POETRY magazine, Poets.org, Poets & Writers) so why do these ‘Round-to-its’ continue to stack up? I think most of the backlog is a legacy from my working life when I used to daydream about WHEN, of sitting in my favourite armchair, reading my way through the lot. I thought I’d have oh, so much more time for all my Neglecteds when I retired. How misguided I was!

One day, I’ll give myself permission to delete the lot and make a fresh start. Maybe. Right now, I’m heading for my lounger with a book. The garden’s looking starry-eyed, despite last night’s storm.
Jayne Stanton, After GDPR: some thoughts on my inbox

*

That hot. That yellow. That blue. Dancing robots, and us,
old cyborgs that we are, all the broken bits and cracks
and worn out weakness that washes away in waters

rinsing today’s laundry; doing what has to be done,
doing the things that carry us one day closer to
when we can do nothing, with no one. Time to let go
of my own leash, at least to think about it.
PF Anderson, Bobby, Billie, and Blue

*

Coffee cup, stapler, daisies, composition book open to a fresh page.
Eight distinct bird calls, soft wind chimes, and three gas mowers are the morning sounds.
Bo cries to go outside, agrees finally to chase toy instead of bird.
Three loads of laundry and three hairballs removed.
The very wonder of it all, as if all is well.
As if all is well.
As if.

Time for writing now.
Time for writing.
Time.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning View from My Desk

*

How is time moving so quickly
Invent a new creature
and through him time emerges
At first you are the new creature
and then you can only marvel at the small
ones emerging from it seems nowhere
And the new ones make us old and uncool
which means we know the unendingness
of time has ended
And no one declares at our birthdays
Look how old she is
and still alive
except for ourselves
Hannah Stephenson, Paint the Cake With Fire

*

I realize I can walk miles backward
not once glancing over the shoulder.

Let fatigue rest in the intersections of limbs
there will always be someone to spread

ash for the plants, turn soil with bone meal.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Body Spans Three Landscapes

*

I submit that it is possible to have a body
in this world and not understand the extent of it
to discover its mass and velocity only

through repeated trials, to misplace one’s body
and then find it, by hammering it again
and again against the cage that contains it
Dylan Tweney, Sonnet

*

A true thing: these vital organs are never domesticated. Should never be.

Another true thing: it takes the radical risk of wild love to root in place, in leaps of faith still evidence-based, in flesh and bone that is wide open.

Another: one should love oneself wildly, one’s own mortal flesh; there is no other way to survive this, until that inevitable moment when we don’t—and, it is either very brave or gluttony for punishment to extend this abandon beyond the margins of one’s own life, one’s own imperfect body; to risk again and again the holes carved out by mortality and loss.

Either way, this is what must be done to remain wild, to see or experience or be anything worthy at all.

The wild self is so vast it cannot do anything less than yes, when beloved abandon calls.

The voice of an owl, a deer, a hummingbird, a pileated woodpecker, a particular soil’s smell, a porcupine, this quality of light, a wolf, coyotes, this transient summer, this violent winter, bears, so many deer they cannot be counted: undeniable.

Inevitable, the yes, when wild is answered with wild.

When he says will you come live with me there can be only yes, I will—

Hard-won, our every step. The affirmative answer the rare and perfect point.

Wilderness to be charted, a new terrain of open.
JJS, May 31, 2018: this poorly domesticated creature

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 missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poets have been blogging about death and rebirth, games and puzzles, loss and resilience. Among other things.

Start with the dead things, she says. The stink bugs
that hid under the floor boards and shriveled;
the spiders that starved blanketed in rugs
of their own soft webs. There is a brittle
delicacy in exoskeletons
prepared to shatter with a puff, the grace
of dry bones, the so tender elegance
of perfectly still lines in a limp face.
PF Anderson, Necromancy Sonnet

*

Some of my friends consider me an expert in the garden, but I am merely modestly educated, mostly in the School of Experience. Expertise? I considered enrolling in the Master Gardener certification program; but frankly, I prefer to garden with beginner’s mind. I love what experts have to teach me and, being bookwormish by nature, I learn a great deal by reading books by experts.

Mostly, though, I learn from the garden–or from the hedgerow, the woodlot, the fields, the meadow, the wetlands. I’ve discovered that sometimes, the experts’ methods are not replicable in my yard; but a series of trial-and-error experiments of my own may produce the desired result. I have learned to let go of some of my “desired outcomes,” because the plant world and the weather control my stewardship of the soil more than anything I can attempt to do.

Letting go…well, that is the Zen of landscaping and raising vegetables and putting in a perennial bed. Also there is the constant, tedious maintenance–the tending and nurturing–that requires discipline. The discipline can be mindful, and it can also foster empty mind.
Ann E. Michael, Today’s eft

*

As if it is easy to pack bags and drudge up the hills
follow the revolution of the earth, the length of days.

Not to grow roots, unattached to the pear tree that fills
the air with the scent of sweet blossoms.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Song of the Valley

*

Recently I had a conversation with a non-poet friend who asked me why I write poetry or even read poetry. He had read some of my recent book, Tapping Roots, which was actually the first group of poems I ever pulled together. (I had already prompted him that I liked feedback about what people liked.) This book is about growing up Midwesterner, and in particular, Southern Illinois., about people who have influenced my childhood and adult pilgrimage. If you don’t count college, I’ve lived in thirteen “homes,” but the place I still think of as “home” is the town where I was born, Belleville, Illinois–even though I only lived there for the first FIVE years of my life. I’ve been in the Chicago area for two-thirds of it. If people ask where I’m from, I say “Chicago,” because of course in a way that’s true. The majority of my adulthood was spent in one suburb or another. There’s a certain odd pride in being “from” Chicago, but my heart, corny as that sounds, still belongs to the south of me.

I digress. My friend said he could really identify with so much in my book as he had similar experiences growing up (same generation and similar economic status in the early years), so he could see why this poetry at least affected people. On the other hand, he likes to read fiction that has nothing to do with his life–mysteries with involved plots–far from his daily life and work. The implication was that his choice of fiction did not “work” the same way as my poetry seemed to do. I walked away from this conversation having multiple conversations of my own in my head. The simplest answer to his question is that I write, and particularly poetry, to CONNECT. It seems like such a transparent yet “rings-true” answer. (Yes, I know that there are poets who say they don’t care if someone likes what they write.)
Gail Goepfert, Getting High

*

If not praise, something like a thought or two
for archaeologists who dig up car parks
searching for the bones of a king

and for the council worker sweeping dust
and dead leaves with an edgy sway,
his tattooed face looking into cars, unseeing

as commuters look away. Watch
those involved in text spats
with boy or girlfriend; the woman

who stops and holds up her phone
as if it were a chalice and she sought
to quench her thirst; those who read

the pavement cracks and stones;
who walk as if on air, or weighed down
by something shocking left over

from their dreams.
Pam Thompson, For Those Who Walk Pavements

*

After listening to Rachel Zucker’s long conversation with Sharon Olds, I felt liberated. Sharon Olds seems to live in a kind of poetic trance state that resonates with me. She speaks of how she pays attention to the fleeting thoughts that come to her, the thoughts we humans have a tendency to sweep under the rug. Her words gave me insight into how to go deeper into what I truly think about myself and the world and to try to put those thoughts into my writing.

I know I hold back a lot. The hardest part of writing and of living in general is to sift through received notions about the world and to instead open up to infinite possibilities. As Alan Watts states in his lecture series Out of Your Mind, the hardest part of life [and art] is “how to create a controlled accident.”
Christine Swint, Inter-National Poetry Month

*

On Saturday I sat for two hours and wrote poems for anyone who stopped by. In total I wrote ten poems on the following topics: new relationships, cherry blossoms, libraries, spring, transience, traveling, graduating, bread, beauty, and ducks. Ten poems on ten wildly different topics. […]

The poems I write during this event are composed in just a few minutes. I don’t edit them or give them more than a quick read-over. I jot them down, and then rewrite them on the nice paper the library provides. They are usually relatively light-hearted and don’t touch on many of the heavier topics I usually write about. I never really expect much from them, so to get this email really made my day. It reminded me that words matter and that my words mattered to that person. And that’s a wonderful feeling.
Courtney LeBlanc, The Poet Is In

*

In my heart, I know sharing work matters. When I was a child growing up in harrowing conditions, poetry saved my life. It still does. Every day.

As a child, I saw how people who’d suffered loss, and tragedy, and all kind of hurt, spoke out about their experiences in poems. Across distance, time, gender, culture, these folks spoke directly to my wounds. They lived to write about what they’d been through–a testimony to survival, and likely, even thriving.

I’ve come to believe that our words reach those who need them most. However that happens–whether publication in a literary journal, or in the community newsletter, or posting online.

Poetry is my spiritual practice. Getting work into the world is a necessary part of that practice. Rejection is a piece of it too. And the hurt. So I rest, take some deep breaths, and keep on. I hope you will too.
Lana Ayers, The Road Paved With Rejection

*

April is conveniently both National Poetry Month AND Autism Awareness Month (which in my opinion, should be co-opted into a celebration to the extent that the witch hunt gets buried beneath our self acceptance and love). I can’t think of any one thing I have clung to more in my pursuit of Autistic Personhood than poetry and art. There is a WEALTH of autistic artists and poets out there, but, you wouldn’t know it from Google. I had to alter my Google search terms eightfold, to finally come up with material penned by actually autistic folk and not ‘Autism Parents’ (non-autistic parents of autistic children, mostly who describe themselves as warriors against Autism–not their children). Much of the poetry written by Autism Parents violates the privacy of autistic children and a good deal of it justifies their abuse, suggests their deaths or hints to their eventual murder. I read these poems and stories and end up feeling very afraid for the children.

When I did finally happen upon the poetry I was fervently seeking (thirstily drinking in all the imagery and not feeling so alone in the world), I saw that some of these works described the other side of the over-televised, tabloid-cast experiences of the voiced-over majority on the experience of autism. The bare bones were emerging and there was the truth. Often, the voice of the adult autistic child emerged, recounting vignettes from youth, sorting through the still frames of a world nearly lost. It was a narrative of survival, meticulous care given to wonder in surroundings, objects, the personification of things–everything is a relic, all is holy. In these words is a kind of beauty that I imagine most non autistics consider fantastical, exotic, or strange. This assumption is based on actual neurotypical reactions to my own work.
Hilary Krzywkowski, Honoring autistic poets for Poetry Month & Autism Awareness Month (guest blog post at TrishHopkinson.com)

*

The other day I was in the grocery store, slinking along with my canvas bags and my head full of Li-Young Lee’s poetry (oh yes, his new book The Undressing in the car). Suddenly, a man that I only see about three times each year roared out, “I bought your new book and the poems are making me cry.” He grabbed my arm and swung me toward him. “I love this new work,” he continued in a voice so loud I felt like I might melt before it.

I know that he lost his father last year. Somehow, at least one of the poems that I’d written had been a key for whatever was locked inside him. I could only hope that he felt like I did when a poem fit perfectly inside an empty space I’d been carrying, a space made of feeling alone and now filled with words.

I could only smile and thank him. Thank him for reading my work and telling me so. Thank him for reading poetry. For reminding me that when I am at my desk, I am not truly alone.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Isn’t it time for poetry to be dead, again?

*

The Meals on Wheels I ordered for him rotted in the refrigerator. Viruses destroyed his computer. He wandered around town, confused and disoriented. He ate less and less, surviving on Coke and the occasional fried egg, and refused to bathe or do his laundry.

Once while we were in the car, I put in the Poetry Foundation CD and told him to listen, skipping forward to “The Blue Terrance.” The rigid, defiant look in his eyes softened a little. He listened closely, this lover of poetry whose faint pencil marks I can still read in his 1950 copy of the Little Treasury of Modern Poetry, the one he took with him when he joined the Army in 1954. We sat in the car for the two minutes it took to listen to the poem. At the end, he was perfectly still, under the spell of Hayes’s voice as he recited the last lines:

That’s why I’m so doggone lonesome, Baby,
yes, I’m lonesome and I’m blue.

I could see the words of the poem as clearly as skywriting. I knew my father was moved, too, by the way he remained motionless for a moment, before slapping his knees and muttering, “huh!” The poem’s last lines hit me: sitting with my father, whose mind and body were slipping away, was one of the loneliest times in my life.

The Blue Terrance is at the Poetry Foundation.
Erica Goss, An Appreciation: Terrance Hayes’s “The Blue Terrance”

*

Jezebel

I’ve not replaced Jezebel,
who died in my arms
with a needle in her paw

years ago. On this dismal
wintry day, shag of snow
in the yard, I’m on my own.

As my last lover shut
the door, she warned,
You’ll die pet-less and unwed.

Now I live like a nun
who’s slept too many nights
in a habit of coarse cloth.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Bo

*

Sometimes my health problems can seem overwhelming – the time scheduling and attending all the medical appointments alone take up can be overwhelming – but I am happy this April to be seeing another spring, to see the little cherry tree I planted last year bloom, the tulips and daffodils show up in a garden that was pretty barren when we moved in. I got an award for my last book of poetry, Field Guide to the End of the World, which came in the mail yesterday (see below.) I’m happy to release this weird non-fiction PR for Poets book that hopefully helps some poets have an easier time than I did. I’m happy right now to be alive and able to go out a bit in the sun, to walk a little bit and watch the wildlife. I don’t know what my expectations of my life were when I was little, but I don’t know that I could have predicted how things turned out – but I know I don’t feel disappointed. I look forward to writing another book of poetry, even to sending out another book, and bringing that next book of poetry into the world. I feel scared of some aspects of my life – mortality and the scariness of the MS diagnosis and my liver tumors and etc – but I think writing has made my life better and happier, and I hope that poetry makes your life happier too, but if not, be sure to get outside and smell the…tulips.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Springtime and Aging, PR for Poets and Thinking about a Poet’s Choices

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The picture is a painting of a couple walking through a park in the rain. It’s not a good painting, managing to be both sentimental and garish — the colors are improbable. But as I’ve been working on the puzzle, my sense of shape and color is enhanced. After spending time sifting through the pieces, when I walk away I see the world afresh, my eye still alert for that certain shade of orange, for a piece with a little blue in one corner. I see new colors everywhere in the everyday world. And I’ve come to appreciate the picture painter’s bold use of color, his or her fearlessness at slapping a stroke of cerulean in a shadow, a smear of fresh-grass-green on a tree trunk.

Because I’m seeing the painting through tiny shards of it, seeing the bits of tree for the forest, I’m enjoying what’s been accomplished here in the details, as I pull back to look at the overall picture.

And it occurs to me that if I could bring this level of attention to my writing, it could be a powerful editing tool — to slow my process way down and see each and every word, how the words fit together, how they elbow each other, where space is used, and then pull back to understand each element anew as I view the whole piece. And also use that heightened awareness of word and silence as I encounter the world.
Marilyn McCabe, Easy Pieces; or, Editing as Meditation…Editation?

*

As I put the game away at the end of the day, I reflected on the final board, with its mix of words and non-words, a board created by people who clearly don’t understand the rules of Scrabble. But it did look like a board that was created by people having fun with letters and language.

Throughout the day, I overheard snippets of conversations where people reminisced about the games they had played and enjoyed. Even if people didn’t have time or inclination to participate, the presence of a Scrabble game in process jolted them into a mindfulness that they didn’t have before going into the break room.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, National Scrabble Day at School

*

Reading [Alice Fulton’s] work challenges me to be more playful, to take more seriously poetry’s higher calling to something beyond mere “sense.”

And Fulton does play! She plays with clichés and colloquialisms, tosses in science and politics, and somehow gets away with it all (masterfully). Although these poems predate the 2016 presidential election, their refusal to be linear seems to me strangely fitting for our times, and prescient.
Bethany Reid, Alice Fulton’s Barely Composed

*

From Bruegel to Van Gogh, [Diane] Seuss draws inspiration from many artists and paintings besides the Rembrandt her title references. Seuss conjures these works into the modern era by personalizing the paintings, the way John Ashbery once did in “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.” Beneath the intensity of her gaze the paintings come alive:

The turkey’s strung up by one pronged foot,
the cord binding it below the stiff trinity
of toes, each with its cold bent claw. My eyes
are in love with it as they are in love with all
dead things that cannot escape being looked at.
It is there to be seen if I want to see it, as my
father was there in his black casket and could not
elude our gaze…

By bringing the father into the frame, the lifeless form of the turkey within the original painting is activated, here we get a sense of the poet’s hauntings, of the memories these still lifes bring to the surface for her; this one, evoking the corpse of the dead father is particularly traumatic. Surface itself becomes an illusion. Seuss’ poems reveal there are infinite depths available to the viewer. In this poem, as well as in others, the morality of the arrangement itself it called into question, the act of being invited to look on such horrors is interrogated as well as our own relationship with death. The speaker in the poem chooses not to look at the body of the father though without knowing her own reasons for this, and so the speaker feels as if they are “paying / a sort of penance for not seeing then,” she tells us, “Now I can’t get enough of seeing.”
Anita Olivia Koester, Unframed: Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl by Diane Seuss

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Granular now, this ice, this temperature differential, this oblique control: if I had a god she would be that nervous flicker exploding from thawed hay, iced crocus; she would be the question how? now so granular, the big parts answered, each single blade iced green, and stymied. […]

Ice-sheathed, spring willows try so hard. Nerve connections fire. A peregrine sails, fastest creature on earth. To be so fast, aglow with sap: where are you going? Each next thing, coming fast. Muscle snagged on titanium bone. It still hurts, you know, resurrection; just significantly less than what came before.
JJS, April 15, 2018: Lazarus, in mud season

*

The lapwings are back in the fields and along the edge of the lake. Canadian geese have claimed their pastures along the motorway. Spring’s hypomania is in full bloom just after sunrise. The grove smells like dark earth. Like death and the greening that follows.

Where the trees stop and give way to the plowed fields, the stench of manure is a slap to the senses. This is what life tastes like. Want it or not.

*

The puppy has a mouthful of moss.
I’m thinking it’s time to listen to the silence between the birds’ exclamations.

*

Last night I watched a woman dance to the sound of a train passing. Bach spoke through organ pipes, from over 200 years ago. The sacred. The profane. The meaningless distinction between a pianist’s fingers – oh, where they’ve been – and the return of the lapwings.
Ren Powell, Returning with the Lapwings

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 missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, I didn’t notice too many common themes. Poetry bloggers were all over the place—in a good way. But I sense a shared restlessness, prompted perhaps in part by the feeling, in many places around the northern hemisphere, that spring is seriously overdue.

It is not uncommon to have a day like this during the month of March in the Midwest. It’s almost Spring, but the threat of snow is still very real on any given day. (This morning, we woke to an ice/sleet storm. It was melted by 2 PM.) My spring break begins next Friday, and I’m not sure whether it will be sunny long walk weather or inside with a blanket weather. The plants aren’t sure, either–the day lilies are already pushing their green through the cold ground, as are the clusters of crocus. The coyotes from the nearby forest preserve are getting bold, loping into the neighborhood yards, and the birds are back, shimmering the trees with their tentative song. Everything seems to be waiting for a change, one long inhale held and held and held.

Changes abound, and not just in the weather. I have resurrected the YA novel manuscript I began two summers ago in the hopes of trying something a little different. The poems are coming slowly, so slowly, and yet I want to write. On any given day, my writing seems very much like strange weather – something begins well, then it dissolves into something beautiful but meaningless; it occasionally gets a little dangerous, and then melts into oblivion or a journal page that I won’t look at again. Even the writing of this post seemed to follow that pattern – at first, it came easily and then, when I got to this paragraph, fits and starts. A lot of deleting and rewriting. A lot of fog and dissonance. (You can decide what the weather is like as reader here…) And I may not post next week during my time off from work, giving myself a break from the self-imposed resolution to post once a week, my own internal weather just as fickle as Mother Nature’s.
Donna Vorreyer, Fluctuation

*

I like birth as a metaphor for the creative process, but it’s a bit of a cliché, plus it’s not accessible to everybody (make that every body). I can see how another bodily function could be an apt metaphor, too, one we all share. You may have heard of the children’s book Everyone Poops? It’s true, we do.

Think about it. The creative process is a lot like the digestive process. We take life into our bodies. We let it travel through us. We absorb what we can. We express those things that need to come out.

Bear with me here.

Sometimes poems and stories come out in a messy, smelly, gush. Sometimes we are surprised by their colors, by the kernels of life embedded inside. Sometimes we strain and strain and all that comes out is a little pebble of language, maybe nothing at all. Sometimes a piece of writing slides from our bodies and we feel cleansed and light.
Gayle Brandeis, Arse Poetica (Or, A Shitty Metaphor) (h/t: Kim Bailey Spradlin)

*

Perhaps the plethora of poets, poetry readings, poetry workshops and poetry programs today has made some versions of the “first person lyric grounded in everyday experience” seem too easy, too artless—just the sort of thing anyone who decided yesterday to call herself a poet can write. Perhaps the subjects of such lyrics have begun to seem too predictable. Perhaps the tide has finally finished turning against “confessional” poetry—an archetypal twentieth-century version of first person lyric grounded in everyday experience—and especially against less-than-artistic versions of it. Here’s Marjorie Perloff (an academic critic I don’t always trust, whose championing of the “new” in poetry can seem only intellectually motivated), in one of her updates of Pound’s Don’ts:

“Don’t take yourself so seriously. In the age of social networks, of endless information and misinformation, “sensitivity” and “the true voice of feeling” have become the most available of commodities.” (Poetry, April, 2013)
Judy Kronenfeld, Is the first person lyric unfashionable or outmoded? (guest post at Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

*

In the Midwest, people are afraid of death, they ignore it until they can’t, they tuck it away in little boxes in their attics, they buy roses for the funerals with all the thorns pre-cut. But Erica Wright’s poetry collection doesn’t take place in the Midwest where I grew up, it emerges from the Southern Gothic tradition where, let’s face it, all the bayou stories do end with the word—drowned.

In Wright’s second collection, death arrives in a thousand and one forms: from tsunamis to volcanos, spontaneous human combustion to beheadings, from bullets to simply time or disease, death is ever-present. Interestingly, what is not ever-present is despair or even grief. And this is where the particular genius of Wright’s poems surfaces, her poems refuse to be mawkish, except perhaps in the original meaning of the word—maggotry, as in the decay of a corpse. Death instead, becomes a muse, and Wright’s poems in All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned pay homage to the macabre.
Anita Olivia Koester, American Gothic: All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned by Erica Wright

*

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.
Andrea Blythe, Preorders Open for EVERY GIRL BECOMES THE WOLF!

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I have a lot of interconnected poems about Appalachia with Latin titles. The choice is inspired by my great uncle who died extremely young during WWII in an airplane crash in Brazil. He was this hillbilly kid who loved machines, and oddly knew Latin, which surprised me. He ended up in the Air Force where he traveled around the world. I have a box of his letters home, and they’re fascinating. He would write his younger brother in Latin so the censors during the war didn’t know what he was sharing. He was clever and charming, and he inspired me to learn Latin, too. At the very least I wanted to understand what he had written. Sadly, his younger brother also died in an airplane crash. Gravity does not love my family.

Another inspiration for this poem is not something I normally talk about directly except to family really, but there are many women in my family who hear voices. It’s not a frightening or a troublesome thing, but a fact. Are they real? Who knows. Is it psychic ability or mental illness? Probably both. Centuries ago they’d be saints or witches, right? The fact remains that we hear voices, and those who do hear them love them. They’re a comfort of sorts. So, when I wrote this I was thinking about my extended family and the voices (literal and not quite literal) of those family members we lose during our lifetimes. Those people live on in the stories we tell and those things we’ve learned or come to understand by growing up in a space shaped by their presence: place and voice and sorrow and joy and love and struggle going back generations.
Amanda Rachelle Warren – from a guest interview by Allyson Whipple at Bekah Steimel’s blog

*

But the line as a mere element of writing or drawing is incomplete without the recognition that it is essentially a representation of an aspect of human experience. We inhabit this world, as though it were a canvas or page, scratching our lives into its containment, and we live in time, on a line from birth to death. Our lives, like a geometric line, are in a sense infinite. We enter at a point in history, a place with antecedents and influences. And after we arrive at our personal point B, the line drawn by our lives continues in unknown ways to affect the future. As we inhabit our time, we string up memories and impressions from here and there, bringing disparate things together.

For a line also joins things—not only literally, as in connecting a spatial or literary point A to B, but also metaphorically. A line functions as a simile. Once two things are put together via the bridge of a line, we are asserting (or simply revealing) an underlying similarity that may not have been apparent before. Sometimes, in any artistic practice, we set our ends and then work to discover the path of connection. We may have an idea or point we are aiming for, but for authenticity’s sake, we have to be alert for and welcoming of the detour and the unexpected joineries we stumble upon. Other times we pay attention to the line itself (the process) rather than its points of origin and destination. Stafford: “The authentic is a line from one thing / along to the next; it interests us.”(5) (And note how Stafford’s lineation breaks right as the sentence joins one thing to the next! The authentic becomes more complex than we may first assume.)
Rosemary Starace, Following a Line

*

i mislearn elation as sated moans
i misread sanity as a modest tramline
a sermon in entrails and snarled talons
mistold in idle, silent yodels

— a ‘beau présent’ (beautiful in-law) – created using only the letters found in a person’s name. for this one, i used a name that is an anagram of the poem’s title.
james w. moore, Dreamy Tonsils

*

Trying to write a poem in which no words repeat when I’m falling asleep resulted in this…

I
ache
a weird iconography of indifference
clamoring to fight
battles no sane person would invite into the chamber

Spaces
get larger and stranger
warping howling buffeting winds snapping collars weeding out time

E-bow tone
sharp-edged jagged plain-faced speaking power surges confined
melting hoverdrum struck under glacial disappearances

Kevin J. O’Conner, Struck dumb (a sleepy poem)

*

My cabdriver likes to give advice, has a sort of philosophical take on gender after the end of the world, and is clearly influenced by certain strong female characters on The Walking Dead, a show I still watch compulsively even though it’s much less smart and riveting than once upon a time. It’s also the only show I forgive for casting mostly skinny women, given the post-zombie-plague food situation (though I find their endless supply of tight-fitting jeans implausible). Mostly, though, my poem, like a lot I’ve written lately, is about surviving middle age. Having walked through the door of age fifty, I DO know what the moon really thinks of you. “Says the Cab Driver of the Apocalypse” just came out, appropriately enough, in the new Moon City Review, handed off to me at the AWP last weekend. Thanks to the editors from granting me right-of-way.
Lesley Wheeler, It’s red, reflecting all our sunsets

*

We talked about wondering if English majors have a different approach to narratives of apocalypse than the general population. On the way home, it occurred to me to wonder if a certain segment of English majors chooses that major because of their love of dystopian literature.

We talked about the apocalypses we never thought we would see in our lifetimes, but now we seem to be in a race to see which apocalypse will win. The specter of nuclear war has raised its head again, and we agreed that we’re seeing alarming similarities between our time and Europe in the 1930’s. And we live in South Florida which will be a ground zero in this century of rising seas.

Our literary experiences have trained us to spot the apocalypse on the horizon, but I’m not sure they’ve told us what we should do. Of course, part of the problem is not knowing which apocalypse will come for us first.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Choose Your Own Apocalypse

*

Here’s the peewit whistle across the garden fences –
Francis or Steven after summer teatime ready to play.
And then we three sharing the dank smell of the flowerbed loam
and the sharp prairie forever scent of grass
(because we move our tiny armies crouching,
lying sideways on the earth, down where the ants teem
and the snuffling dog knows his world. Planes may burr
across some limitless sky somewhere and the train
stammers along its steel horizon, but we’re grounded
and utterly but fearlessly lost)…
Dick Jones, There is a Courtyard

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 missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

An especially rich variety of offerings this week, especially on the themes of solitude vs. multitude and the making of books.

Sometimes the cloak is praise.

Sometimes the cloak is humor.

Sometimes the cloak is grief.

Sometimes the person doesn’t even realize he (not always a he) is cloaking intent.

Sometimes (s)he/them doesn’t realize what the intent will turn out to be. Sometimes a person is genuine, and yet a charmer, and an abuser, and yet a survivor of abuse, and a valuable poet, and yet a suppressor of poets, all in one. We contain multitudes.
Sandra Beasley, Multitudes

*

as universal as love and math
as personal
as the scars of our secrets
we conjure the angels of amnesia
with a cocktail of spells
Bekah Steimel, Addictions

*

I want to tell her the history of my family-gods. They are rainforest-hot,
cropland-warm, dark with every-colored skin. They have mouths
that sound like all kinds of countries. I want to tell her these gods
live wild and holy in me, in white and blue cities where my skin
is remembered or forgotten, in cities where I am always one thing, or
from anywhere.
Jennifer Maritza McCauley, When Trying to Return Home

*

I confess in general, my real life has been busier than ever, not quieter. I have spent a lot of time with friends–seeing Fran Leibowitz, teaching at Western Washington University, dinners, lunches, teaching a class in Seattle, and other moments that have dotted my calendar.

Yesterday I floated for an hour in a sensory deprivation pod. It was a surreal experience where you feel as if you might be in space, as if you are weightless.

I was hoping for some huge breakthroughs in my writing or my life, what I received was 55 minutes of absolute quiet and relaxation with minor breakthroughs about life.

While I did manage to get salt in my eye and forget to put my eyeplugs in & turn off the light and have to immediately exit the tank to reset myself up, I found that I need just time to meditate, to nap, to sit, to quiet, to float.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Confession Saturday: How To Float

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I knew from the opening poem, “Rootless,” what [Jenny] Xie’s intentions with this book were with lines like “I sponge off the eyes, no worse for wear” alongside clear descriptions of place, “Between Hanoi and Sapa there are clean slabs of rice farms / and no two brick houses in a row.” This was going to be a collection that employed the camera eye, an eye that seems to separate from the self in order to explore the world outside of the self, and yet what I didn’t immediately grasp was how deep into the psyche these poems would also look. As, ultimately, Eye Level is concerned with not only with what is visible, but the endless distances between people and bottomless pit within ourselves.
Anita Olivia Koester, A Solitary Gaze: Eye Level by Jenny Xie

*

Yes, I want to be a part of the community–here, the blog revival tour is an example of that. Yes, I want my credentials and awards to be certified and recognized. Yes, I want to be a part of something larger than myself. And yet, the cost of this affiliation? I think the best artists are those who do genuinely and selflessly engage with their communities, but are in continual struggle against that community, sometimes dropping out entirely, occasionally dropping in. For me, it’s about celebrating what is truly errant, digressive, resilient, unhappy, and disruptive, that part of us which is a lousy team-player, an unproductive company-man.

Everyone on the team is rushing together to put out that fire, to be a part of the decoration committee for the prom, to raise that barn–and yet, usually, there is someone who wanders off, who walks away from the commotion, a person who had always been there with us, and who has now disappeared. The committee’s work goes on. The drop out, well, she’s found another road, a pretty distraction, a quiet and uncomplicated space, where she can find something else about her gifted life.
Jim Brock, A Few Odds and Ends, & Self-Protection

*

Revolution is never convenient.
Sometimes it arrives too fast
or agonizingly slow.
It’s being televised, incentivized,
trivialized, transmogrified –
from the news cycle spin
to hashtag hagiography.
Truth is elusive in the thrum,
the drumbeat of division
on a loop, on a loop, on a loop.
Collin Kelley, Lift Every Voice

*

It’s sad (but perhaps natural?) how much communication can suffer even, or especially, when we’re in the same room with another person. Letter writing is an art that is so necessary — and so rare. Just reflecting on this makes me feel like I should devote more time to it. But with whom? Who would take the time to answer? Blogs are a form of letter writing to the world, to the universe, to the ether, I suppose, but I still like the particular audience, the fully imagined and/or perhaps fully realized Other, the best. Waiting for The Other’s answer makes one feel on edge, more alive — and receiving that answer is always satiating, thrilling, and the opportunity to craft a response worthy of The Other’s attention. A challenge. (The good kind.)
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Sunshine and Blue Sky, Tsvetaeva on the Concurrence of Souls, and the Art of Letter Writing

*

After he leaves for the airport
the dust from his shoes settles on the floor

The smell of soap lingers in the room
as I fold the warmth of his body in the blanket

It goes back to the practice from my childhood
when I wandered in the overgrown backyards of people

to collect the thumbai flowers, pinches of moon in my palm
Uma Gowrishankar, The Full Moon: A Love Poem

*

This book is careful. Odd. It’s somehow inspiring me. I keep catching ideas of my own out of the corner of my eye as I read his poems. Much of the book feels like that random, disconnected, scattershot approach that I hate in contemporary poetry — but then there are these moments that ring some gong in me. Something mysterious trembles in the disconnections. Damn. What’s going on here? These are philosophical poems, poems of consideration, of why and wherefore, mixed with birds and colors and foxes and sky, blackbirds and twigs, poems of what on earth are we doing here. That’s my question too. It all gives me paws…
Marilyn McCabe, What the what; or, Reading Siken’s War of the Foxes

*

The feeling of not believing I wrote these poems uncovers layers of emotions that are erupting now that I am watching the work transition from manuscript to actual book: a lack of faith in myself; tremendous gratitude to every poet on earth, to whom I owe my love of poetry; astonishment that the poems are good; questioning “are they good?”; the anxiety of knowing the next phase (promoting the book) is likely to lead to some mixture of joy and disappointment; and wonderment at the poetic collective witchery that was tapped into in the writing.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with “slight faith” On My Mind

*

Through the years, I’ve heard people use this phrase: “The Buddha in me greets the Buddha in you”— by which they mean the idea that every living being already holds the seed for transformation within themselves; in other words, that in every creature, there exists the possibility of transcendence, of going beyond our flawed, imperfect nature.

That spring, quite rapidly (in just under three months) I wrote poem after poem using a variety of “Buddha” personae. Once I started, it felt like I couldn’t stop until I’d exhausted the subject. In each poem I proposed different scenarios: what if the Buddha felt the need for a therapist? what if the Buddha had a child with an Internet addiction? what if the Buddha was a mother in mid-life who had a “wardrobe malfunction” at a public beach? what if the Buddha joined a campus “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” for Women’s History Month?
Luisa A. Igloria, New book release from Phoenicia Publishing: The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis

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This week at Phoenicia Publishing we’ve announced the pre-orders for this new book of poems by Luisa A. Igloria. […] As part of the design process, I’ve been working hard on the cover art, using hand-painted paper, cut and glued onto a painted background as collage. […]

Making art is sometimes a lonely process, filled with doubts, but at other times, there’s inspiration and collaboration. This design was my favorite of four I presented to Luisa, but at first she chose a different one. We took some time, and the next day she wrote to talk about this one with the brambles. Luisa told me what she liked here (the brambles and the ladyslipper) and said she’d like to see a bird rather than an eye. I also knew from her previous responses that she liked bright colors. Putting all of that together, and looking at some photographs of lady-slippers in their natural habitat filled with ferns and grasses in a woodland clearing, I was able to make the adjustments and changes that led to the final cover, which took several days of painting and cutting and gluing to complete because this is a new technique for me.
Beth Adams, A book and its cover

*

Then the scribes tugged our pictograms from walls
and with those tongues pushing out a bottom lip,
they penned them slowly, rush-lit night and day,
across the calfskin, line upon line. Golden ciphers,
language wrapped in arabesques, concealed in
foliate compartments, locked into floral curlicues
and stalked by fantastical beasts across the vellum.
Dick Jones, INCUNABULA

*

Basically, I’d never written directly and honestly about someone I knew…it’s the kind of thing I avoided because there was always the terrifying possibility that the someone would read it and deny that it was true. It’s a real blocker, the fear of embarrassment, for me at least. But it’s what I think I started to learn about the rag-and-bone-shop of the heart. The shops I knew. But the heart was dangerous territory. There’s a huge release in writing a line like that, feeling it directly..if you’ve not done it before. A leap. But it puts the flames in their proper place, and at this point, the poem expands outwards into everywhere. Julie died a couple of months later and never got to read what I’d written. I know I’m glad I wrote it.
John Foggin, Where all the ladders start [1]

*

How is it there is never space for death and time to grieve, that people often end up dead too quickly to say goodbye (my aunt had just been discharged from the hospital – apparently too soon – and I was waiting to call until she felt a little bit better.) I was planning my own funeral around this time last year, I remember taking pictures of the cherry blossoms wondering if I would live to see another round, the death sentence had been passed (perhaps a little early) on me by all-knowing and very experienced doctors, and I was picking out music and where I wanted my ashes scattered, who I wanted to have my books and art (the only things I have worth anything, really.) But then I didn’t die, I’m still alive, still dealing with the messy realities of many many specialist and therapy appointments for my various medical things related to 1. liver full of tumors and 2. brain full of lesions among other lesser issues like asthma. And living is complicated and full of irritations – side effects of drugs, obstacles to our goals, not enough time paid having fun, too much time in lines or working on grant applications or taxes. Life’s little annoyances take up our brainspace, we forget to say “I love you” or prioritize spending time with loved ones doing the things that make life worth living, thinking life goes on forever.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Grieving, Jenny Diski’s In Gratitude, Losing a Loved One, Winter Returns

*

This year I’m flying over 3,800 miles to Tampa, Florida, for AWP. It’ll take me two days to get there. Two days (if all the flights go as scheduled). One very full flying day and a four hour time change on the day of Daylight Savings Time switching back to get home. But in Tampa, at the Red Hen Press booth, will be my newest book. I haven’t seen it yet. I haven’t held it. I have a panel, an offsite reading, and three signing slots, all in the space of three days. I’m flying for two days to meet my newest baby. To show her to folks. To see their new babies and listen to their words.

It’s a miracle, really. Every time. An exhausting miracle, but let’s keep our eyes on the smudge of stardust. People go into their heads, pull out words, craft them, send them into the big world, and then we read those words and they live in our hearts. If that isn’t a miracle, I can’t imagine what one looks like.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Keeping the oars in the water- AWP edition

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 missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, bloggers were relatively quiet—perhaps done in by the combination of Valentine’s Day and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. But I found some lovely book reviews and meditations on reading, writing, revising, archiving, loving, and persevering.

An opening, a hole, a window
A pale stream of greenish fluid
A small boat sinking in horror
Tock-ticking doggedly, forgetting why it’s important
Stricken, awash with grief
Risa Denenberg, Pericardium

*

What has been eliminated can also be illuminated. Here is the task [Tarfia] Faizullah set out for herself, to listen to the voices of the dead, those of these villages, and others, as well as her sister who died in an accident as a child, and to shine a brilliant and searching light on what has been lost as well as what remains. The notion of village here is vital, for this village is not only external but internal. There are villages of silence that must be broken. Villages of ghosts that disturb sleep. Villages of childhood, of memories, of self-doubt. Villages of tenderness and desire, as well as villages that must be renamed after atrocities are committed.
Anita Olivia Koester, Survivors’ Lyrics: Registers of Illuminated Villages by Tarfia Faizullah

*

While focused on a specific state, this book is full of borderlands and hinges: between poetry and photographs, between history and the present, and among races and realities. I’m fascinated by the relationship between word and image here–each poem, untitled, is coupled with a photograph, and the pairings tend to defamiliarize rather than illustrate one another. Next to “He ain’t done right to whistle,” for example, is an image of a ruin. So is the racism that led to Emmett Till’s murder a gutted edifice, still standing but increasingly fragile, doomed to be pulled down by kudzu? If so, what’s a person to do about it?–Look at it, surely. Head-on.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry at the Border: Ann Fisher-Wirth

*

I saw The Post recently and was struck by the tactile nature of old typesetting. At one point the typesetter held the news in his hand, cupped it as each letter jabbed the air with its shape.

It made me yearn to run my fingers over the alphabet of my poems, to feel the jagged space between vowel and consonant, the smoothness of silence. I’ve met bookmakers who use letterpress and have wondered at their oddness and passion. I think I get it now.

I remember as a child liking to feel the raised letters on a book cover, the dimply gold of a Newbery medallion. My fingers rest now on the slippery cradles of my computer keyboard, only a tiny ridge under the F and J to let me know I’m in the proper typing position. Usually when I write, one hand is wrapped around a Bic, its hexagonal planes, but of the letters I feel nothing. Not even the dampness of fresh ink. The letter and the page become one, featureless. It’s my eye only that gives it substance.
Marilyn McCabe, That’s So Touching; or, On the Power of Words

*

The papers print this and that.
I’m tired of reading. Gray. Black
and white is better but no one
is. Brave enough. No one is.
Safe enough. My slug body
is getting. Droopy. Getting.
Smooshy. I’m tired of being.
Here. Here is messy. I want to ring
myself out like a sponge. I want
to make you drink my excess.
Crystal Ignatowski, An Open Poem To Big Men Up In Skies and Big Men Up On Pedestals

*

I cut my teeth, academically at least, on the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser, difficult and hard stuff really. And Annemarie Ní Churreáin’s poetry shares this kind of hardness for me, sung with her own distinct voice. These are the poets I think I must attend to, a poet where I stop and read perhaps one poem in a book, let it simmer and rest for a day, and then to another poem a few days later. I think they make me stronger for these times.
Jim Brock, Bloodrooting

*

One of my favorite things that [Twyla] Tharp does is create a box for every project. “I start every dance with a box,” she writes. “I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of that dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.” The box is her reference, her storage and retrieval system, a place for her research and even a few tchotchkes. You must, writes Tharp, “learn to respect your box’s strange and disorderly ways.” My notebooks are Tharp’s boxes, and yes, they are strange and disorderly, repositories for candy wrappers, stickers, quotes, and words like mammogram, fire, abruptly, downtown, and permanent.
Erica Goss, Dance With Me, Part 1

*

Last night while doing some more of that sorting, I stumbled upon a folder mashed into the back of one of my file cabinets that contained printed copies of poems that eventually found their way into Better To Travel. Also in that folder were two handwritten poems – hastily scrawled on the backs of printed poems – that I had totally forgotten about. One of them is sonnet called “The Seer” from a long-ago workshop I took with Cecilia Woloch. The other is called “I believe…” and is an interesting little manifesto that references River Phoenix, Princess Diana and living in London. I also found – and this is the one I’m most intrigued with – a printed poem called “The empty bed,” which, if memory serves, was destined to be part of Better To Travel but was pulled at the last minute. It has a killer closing stanza, but the rest needs some serious revision, which is probably why I pulled it from the book. There’s no date on the poem, but hazy recollection puts it at around 1994 or 1995. Sometimes being a packrat pays off.

I’m curious how you, fellow poets and writers, organize your writing life? Do you use a program or an app? Do you print everything up? Keep handwritten drafts in notebooks?
Collin Kelley, Organizing your writing life

*

Writing beyond the ending is something I see pretty frequently in poems, usually by younger poets who can’t resist the impulse to just keep walking on down that trail. It’s also something I’m prone to myself, a lot. After I’ve put my first efforts on the page I go back and carefully feel out whether the poem went too far. Usually this requires some time or distance. I need to put it down for a few days, or read someone else in between, so I’m not hung up on my own endorphin rush from writing.
Grant Clauser, Revising is sometimes knowing when to stop writing

*

Readers may feel betrayed by the writer. Yes, that happens. It also happens that rather awful human beings have penned soaring, beautiful, compassionate poems, because people are complicated and flawed and society often harms us.

And perhaps writing, in some complicated way, can redeem us. I’m not entirely convinced of that; but I do know that I have written poems that basically construct an experience or type of feeling I can imagine but do not authentically know, and that the work of having written such poems has felt like an enrichment of my own experience.
Ann E. Michael, The poet’s “I”

*

Any writer cannot help but have a point of view. It will be determined by our race, our gender, our histories, our family, our sense of place, our faith, our biases. We have a sense of what is right and wrong, what is just or unjust. We are called upon to witness, yes. But are we called upon to try to make a better world just with our writing? Can we imagine our way to a better world? Can journalists, instead of glamorizing a shooter, tell us more about the lives of the victims? Can journalists not shove cameras in the faces of recently-traumatized children? Can we write poems that lead people to think differently about current events? Maybe. I am currently laid up, but I don’t believe I’m completely powerless.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know for sure the answer isn’t to give up, to shrug our shoulders and say “that’s just the way the world is.” That’s the opposite of making anything better. Poetry, visual art, fiction, non-fiction, journalism – all of these are forms that can influence people. We have a responsibility to try to be an influence for a better world. Let’s make a little noise in a dark universe.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Why We Can’t Be Complacent, or What is My Responsibility as a Writer

*

We turn in tight circles,
we are almost formal. No
kissing, no: we dance as if
still only dreaming of each other.

We feel each other’s breathing,
our bodies’ boundaries of warmth.
Slowly we dance without music —
unless we are the music —

How else can I explain
that in such silence we don’t hear
the shot that travels farther and farther
into the past, while we dance.
Oriana, MASS SHOOTINGS: ANGER, NOT MENTAL ILLNESS; WHY WE FALL IN LOVE; THE 2-SANTA GOP STRATEGY; WHO’S AT RISK FOR DOG BITES

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour (plus occasional non-tour poetry bloggers from my feed reader: in this edition, George Szirtes). If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poets were blogging about loss and order, memory and embodiment… In short, they were being poets. (OK, to be fair, they were also blogging about more nitty-gritty, #amwriting types of things, too, I just chose not to feature those posts this week. By the way, if anyone wants to start an alternative weekly digest, I’d be happy to link to it.)

The poem has taken the liberty of interpreting a symbolic hint in the picture. The inverted flame shape, suggested by the woman’s headscarf, is a conventional symbol of death. Even if we do not consciously interpret it as such – and I doubt whether Kertész did, or at least we do not know whether he articulated such a thought in his own mind – once the photograph opens its multitude of doors onto the fields of memory and imagination, the symbol, even though we cannot name it, begins to speak to us and organise other parts of the image into a possible coherent whole. The man’s one leg, the halo of his boater, the absoluteness of those stern planks of wood with their jagged waves at just about neck-level, combine to support the death narrative. There is nothing dramatic in the narrative itself. Nothing is obvious: it is all apprehension, all shudder, all admiration and marvel.
George Szirtes, The Blind Musician and the Voyeurs 7

*

My mother’s history and my own are intertwined. I feel the tugging almost viscerally when I clean. How much it meant to her to give us all a perfect house. How much I’d rather spend time doing almost anything else because I can never do it right. How much our patriarchal culture has colored everything we do, including what we’re taught as children about our roles and values.

At public readings, when I read poems from my book Every Atom, I sometimes find myself wanting to explain my mother, explain myself. Even though the poems explore what our relationship was, honestly, sometimes painfully, I want to defend her, defend myself. Every person is just one domino in a long chain. She became who she was with the input of all the people and events before her, and I have become (continue to become) who I am for a thousand reasons.

So now I’m going to sit down and read a book. Watch the sky. Allow myself to be present in this moment, remembering my mother.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Sunday Cleaning

*

So much of my work involves imposing order, or revealing order that is occluded. Divine the bones of a student’s idea and help her build an essay or a poem that will stand steady, bear some weight. Uncover and tell a story latent in the survey results, the aged manuscripts, the tangle of movements and mavericks that make a literary period. Organize aspirations into weeks of future labor, then write the grant application.

But first comes the mess. Notions, images, daisy-chained phrases with their slightly crushed petals unevenly spaced, like teeth in a first-grader’s mouth. Mess precedes order, often succeeds it too, and some of the best writing remains redolent with it. Mess is smelly and exciting. Noisy and damp.
Lesley Wheeler, Excerpt from a mess in progress

*

The apparent plainness of this and its stripped-down observation draws me, the reader, into a strange meeting, poised between then and now, on the threshold of leaving. The place is studiously real, but what happens in it is disturbing and dreamlike. Haunting. There are little discords that snag. A sack under the tired Xmas lights that’s a grey cowl. The face in the rain might be dream or a drowning refugee. Why can’t the poet remember the face? Why can’t he help? It’s a poem that bothers me and won’t let go. I think that’s what poems should do. At least some of the time.
John Foggin, Them and [uz], or just us…and a polished gem. Ian Parks

*

Louise Glück’s critical eye reminds me of the red-tailed hawks that patrol the highways, sharp of eye, beak, and talon. Even in my car I feel like prey.

In American Originality, a book of essays published previously, mostly in The Threepenny Review, and introductions to books she chose as award winners for Yale University Press, Glück examines the state of contemporary poetry with her baleful eye. Even her praise is fierce.
Marilyn McCabe, Eye for an I; or Thinking About Louise Glück essays and Art for Our Time

*

I didn’t blog last week. I was thinking.

About Neruda. And that was because I was thinking about Burns.

I was not thinking about their poetry.

When I met my partner just a few years ago, one of the first things he gave me was a book of Neruda’s love poems. Since his reading (at the time) was largely restricted to non-fiction and Dan Brown, it meant a great deal to me. He’d done his homework. But just a few months later I saw an article about newly uncovered letters, in which Neruda boasted about raping a woman.

The Neruda poems just sit there on my shelf now. And every few months, I notice them, and consider tossing the book in the trash.
Ren Powell, On Ruminating

*

At the center of this affair is the body. What is it that the body knows? What intimacies and intricate registers of longing exist in the depths of muscles and across the landscapes of skin? What betrayals lodge there as well? [Sophie] Klahr’s poems work to show us the way the body dreams, the way the body stores its longing and often works against our will.

Here, (turn the body)
the spinal column, then buried:
clustered nerve-stars
galloping from palm to cunt to sole, this picture
where the bed is a feeling you can’t shake, a migraine, a cage
containing sea stones,
a script, a string of red lights—
It’s a dream:
there is a girl, a bed, a gun, a fire

Throughout this poem, “Opening Night,” the speaker creates layers of distance from her own body, she considers it in pieces as in close-up photographs, she considers herself as if in a movie she doesn’t belong in, her body having involved her in a story that is working to dismantle her.
Anita Olivia Koester, Desire as Desire: Meet Me Here at Dawn by Sophie Klahr

*

You dream there is a hole in the floor and someone you love falls through in slow motion: you can’t get there fast enough to catch her. You dream a black dog stands at the wood’s edge, still as tree stump: you don’t know what he means to say. You dream your body arcs gracefully through stained-glass air, then shatters. Death comes, again and again—for others now. You live. The sky spits sleet.
JJS, February 4, 2018: ice storms

*

I submit that it is possible to have a body
in this world and not understand the extent of it
to discover its mass and velocity only

through repeated trials, to misplace one’s body
and then find it, by hammering it again
and again against the cage that contains it
Dylan Tweney, my heart

*

Count your heartbeats
one by one as you fold
into your grief. Not as if to say,
“I am still here inside my life”,
but to declare that for as long
as that old muffled bell still booms,
your crazy rainbow self will hear it
and you’ll be, as ever was,
just one heartbeat distant.
Dick Jones, Jacqui

*

Like many poets (and people generally) when I’m under a great deal of stress, I function pretty well, but the stress shows up in dreams, and when I’m able to honor it, through poems. My new manuscript is a departure for me, it is more intimate and risky. It’s full of pain, but also hope. May we all survive this year.

In the crush of regret subject and object
exchange garments. Time is a notion too
liminal to survive. If you’re willing to amend,
there may be hope. For a moment, the stricken
sparrow’s shivering heart still beats. It’s time
to loosen the strangling cord that binds us so
painfully to one another and consider freedom.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Musing on “Moving On”