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 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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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?

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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”

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

*

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

*

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”

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

It’s worth mentioning that I don’t link to every post I liked from the past week—not by a long shot. Some may not fit with the other selections very well, and some are just tough to excerpt from. This week a lot of poets seemed to be in a contemplative mood, tackling the big subjects: hope and mortality, Kafka and Kate Bush…

Hope as phantom, hope as hive-mind drone, hope as marsh-gas…
Hope is, in truth, a tumour close to the heart, inaccessible
to the stoical surgeons with their probes and spatulas.
Dick Jones, Hope Springs

 

Let me just say that I had a rough year, along with the rest of the thinking world, in 2017, but with the added joylessness of feeling beleaguered at my workplace. Today, pulling clothes from the drier and rolling socks, I remembered a time period in my 40’s when I would roll socks with the image that someone was standing behind me with a gun pointed at my head, giving me a time deadline for getting the chore done, or be shot. It reminded me of how bad things can get emotionally, while still making the effort to go to work every day, and roll the socks every weekend at the laundromat. I had moments like that over this past year. And murderous dreams.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse on Saturday

 

It took me 20 years to get to Arthur W. Frank’s book The Wounded Storyteller, and I might not have found it so useful and illuminating if I’d read it twenty years ago. Now, however, the book’s insights are relevant to my life and to the current moment. Frank powerfully reminds us that as members of the human collective, we need to listen to people; that in time, all of us become wounded storytellers; and, therefore, each of us benefits by learning how to bear human living with a kind of “intransitive hope.” By intransitive hope, Frank means finding a way to be with our suffering in life, recognize that suffering happens, but also to recognize that there are ways to be human that do not end in miraculous cures–that may (and will, eventually) end in death.

And that’s okay. He suggests that healing is a project, not an outcome.

Kind of like writing, you know?
Ann E. Michael, Edges & outcomes

 

It is irresponsible to ignore the fact that we waged wars solely for the benefit of our corporations. We are still dealing with the ramifications of one of those in Iraq. Hell, we are dealing with the ramifications of the Banana Wars still, a hundred years later.

But, I have hope. I keep writing. I keep loving. I keep reading amazing poetry from ever-more diverse voices.

The faith that I have is in our fellow people in this country. So few of us are actually those assholes who march for white nationalism. My faith in my fellow Americans is that we will find a way forward, out of this mess. That we will continue to repudiate these shitheads and call our their racism directly, succinctly.
Eric M. R. Webb, Well it’s Alright…

 

But she wasn’t coming through, I was going in, my link to her a series of hot boxes where she would appear without warning over decades like the Virgin, her songs a catechism, her name a prayer I chanted at the backs of retreating lovers, divorcing parents and death, and even in her absence, the music never faltered like I did, songs willing pills back into bottles.
Collin Kelley, Kate Bush Appears on Night Flight, 1981

 

Looking back, I try to understand how people make simple rules, and routes of least resistance. I remember asking my Grandmother if she saw Goodnight and Good Luck when it came out. She said, “I don’t have to watch it, I lived through it.”

But she didn’t want to talk about it with me.

I’m sure she knew I thought I had something to “contribute to the discussion”. I really was young then. I hadn’t learned to listen — even if I’d known the right questions — the way in. It would have been a waste of time.

If she had opened up about the complexities of her experience, I might well have tried to solve them, simplify them with labels and analysis. I’d gone to college, after all. I would have made absurd parallels in an attempt to empathise.

I must have been an ass. If she hadn’t loved me, she wouldn’t have liked me. Looking back, I don’t like me.
Ren Powell, The Wisdom of Old Men, And

 

K knows you’re not supposed to say what’s true. He’s the only one who sees these systems and revolts. But he himself is missing the system that silences women’s voices. So, then, When I read Kafka, I become K. The whole Gare D’Orsay jam-packed with workers, typists, typing away at their desks, shoulder to shoulder, the din of their fingertips like locusts. There he is, scared and running, trying to figure out what’s going on and how to escape. He shouts, and I’m K now, shouting, saying things I’m not supposed to say.
Heather Derr-Smith, Dear K

 

Who the hell can’t dig a damn hole
by saving the eggs out one at a time?
none of us pure sane until the balance
on a high hill and me rolling the rocks down
too heavy for me, it went shut
a sad, steady sound
james w. moore, Shut Down (a sestina)

 

[Mary] Oliver states that she “…did find the entire world in looking for something. But I got saved by poetry. And I got saved by the beauty of the world.” I can identify with that in every part of my being. In 2004 several years before I retired from teaching and found myself pursuing poetry more passionately and with much more attention to craft, I wrote these lines: Some days / I am even/ saved by / beauty. Every minute part of nature, and particularly the botanical part of nature, draws me in. One photograph, just one, that pleases me to the point of elation is enough to change the tenor of the entire day for me. I commented to a friend just this week that when I go to the Chicago Botanic Garden I can feel even my breathing change, the tightness in my chest and shoulders loosen within minutes–I am being saved.
Gail Goepfert, Poetic Uber-ing

 

I spent a lot of 2017 thinking about what poetry can DO. I wish poems could stop inhumane deportations and government shutdowns, and I hope poets will keep trying to make the world more kind and fair. Mostly, though, my aims are smaller in scale: can writing this poem change ME for the better? The stories we tell about ourselves really matter, and I’ve been trying to tell hopeful ones. After all, that’s what I want to read–literature that acknowledges the complicated mess we live in but ultimately tilts towards love.

Now, two weeks into a new class on documentary poetics, I find myself thinking about poems, instead, as testimony, carrying some part of the past into our present attention. That’s not unrelated to poetry as spell, prayer, or action, but the emphasis is a little different. The poets we’ve been reading–Rukeyser and Forché at first, and a host of Katrina poets now, including Patricia Smith, Cynthia Hogue, and Nicole Cooley–are asking what we need to remember. Their poetries still look towards the future but are more explicitly grounded in history. We’ll be sailing even further in that direction soon with Kevin Young’s Ardency, a book I’ve never taught before.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry, pickled

 

I found myself experiencing this wonder even within the book’s title. The title itself is a poem, it creates a doubling: there is the wolf and the being that should be called—wolf. Once an expression is isolated and placed in a new context, here as the title of a book, it becomes symbolic and takes on a deeper meaning. Within these five words the poet is questioning himself, or rather the self that was being consumed by alcoholism. The phrase can also be seen as a kind of call and response, distinct rhythms divide the phrase into two: the call is trochaic, and the response is iambic. The response—a wolf a wolf—recalls howling not only within the image, but in the sound of wolf, which is repeated the way cries are repeated. And make no mistake Kaveh Akbar’s debut collection absolutely howls, howls from that deep intimate place of uncertainty where the body and spirit confront one another.
Anita Olivia Koester, New Ways to Howl: Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar

 

I would suggest that there is a place that is neither one of fear or one of hope. Sometimes I walk around the house, and I look at all the objects – the photographs, paintings, baskets, tables, sculptures, and I know the stories represented by each one, can recall the day when I bought it, who I was with, how many apartments and houses I’ve carried that object. I am surprised, each time, by the love that flows from each object and into me. That may seem corny, but it isn’t, because the objects we bring into our lives, especially those objects we spent money for, sometimes a lot more money than we had at that time but something inside us kept saying, “I have to have that. I have to have that,” and we bought it and never regretted doing so, because that particular object awakened a place of beauty in our souls, brought a sense of wellbeing to our bodies and spirits, a sense of order to the inner chaos, a cohesion to the fragments of selves and hurts that spun haphazardly within.

When I finally finish this tour of my life, this memory-trip of objects. I am smiling. Finally, I say quietly, “I’m going to miss me.”

And then, I laugh with mortal joy.
Julius Lester, notes on Atul Gawande’a Being Mortal, from JJS, January 20, 2018: an exchange of letters

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 Here are a few things that caught my eye this past week. If you’re new to the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, read Donna Vorreyer’s explanatory blog post with the official list of participants (expanded with a bunch of new bloggers on Friday). I may occasionally also include links from other poetry bloggers whom I’ve been following for years, and who may be too antisocial or commitment-averse to join the revival tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, a lot of poets have been blogging about books…

 

I have a little game I play in bookstores. First I find the poetry section. Then I run my eyes along the shelf, head cocked to the right so I can read the books’ skinny spines. I’m looking for a book I’ve never read by an author I’ve never heard of. I’m looking for something new and strange, for the experience that only poetry delivers. I want to be moved.

Yesterday in J. Michaels Bookstore which has a better-than-average poetry section, I scanned the shelves until I found City of Regret by Andrew Kozma. I pulled it from the shelf and held it in my hands. Yes, I felt it: the ripple of intuition informing me that I had found the book.

I tested my intuition a step further. Part of the game requires me to find a poem that is one or more of the following: a) deeply disturbing, but in a good way; b) weirdly provocative; or c) just weird. I opened the book to page 7 and read: […]
Erica Goss, The Bookstore Game

 

The books on the shelves
don’t prefer
one or the other

Their purpose
does not depend
on which words we choose

Their obsessions
and ours
sometimes align
in a game of Concentration
we don’t know
we are playing
[…]
Kevin J. O’Conner, Bookstore Poem #56. A few words about words

 

Recently, I spent awhile browsing the Walter Kerr collection of books in the library of the college that employs me. Kerr and his wife Jean were writers in New York in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s; he was best known as a theater critic and she as a playwright and essayist. His family donated his books to the school, and it occurred to me during my perusal that this section of the stacks seems more personal than the collection as a whole. Here are Kerr’s quirky book choices, his favored influences, his academic interests with a place among the trendier tomes on movies and Broadway.

A personal library acts as a unit, books that are kept together rather than disbursed upon the death (or before-death donation) of the book collector. It therefore parallels–and predates, of course–the social media concept of the curated self[.]
Ann E. Michael, Curation

 

I’ve done just enough archival work to be fascinated by poets’ commonplace books. It’s been more than a decade since I worked among Marianne Moore’s papers at the Rosenbach, but I was impressed by her fantastically crabbed hand in a series of tiny notebooks, recording quotations she liked. At the Library of Congress, you can leaf through Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sparser notes, mixing drafts, travel plans, and lists of poems that might go together in her next collection. And how I wish Anne Spencer had kept notebooks! Instead, I learned last summer how hard it is to date any of her drafts, many of which must be lost in any case, because she penciled ideas on any scrap of paper or cardboard within reach.
Lesley Wheeler, Twitter as commonplace book

 

When I went down to Los Angeles in November last year to empty my storage unit (and do some poetry readings), I discovered that at some point (probably during the terrible rain storms that hit in earlier in 2017), water had leaked from the roof and damaged some of boxes of books I had stored. In total, I lost around 30 books (out of 900) and 50% of a collection of sample issues from different literary journals (roughly 100 items ruined). While I wasn’t particularly attached to the literary journals (they were just representative samples I sometimes use in workshops), I did feel sad that they were all headed to the dump. So I decided to try to find a way to salvage them — then reclaim a line or two from different poems and weave them together into something new. In the end, I choose to use couplets rather than single lines (so these aren’t centos exactly — although you might argue they’re 2-per-centos (gah, I can’t believe I just wrote that!).
Neil Aitken, Project: Cut Up Poem #1

 

Ten years ago, I didn’t write many poems, and the ones I wrote were not worth anyone’s attention. Five years ago I put my mind to it and determined to do something about it. Don’t ask me why, because I’m not precisely sure, but the thing is that essentially, I followed the exhortation of that Nike advert. Just do it. Whatever it is, do it, as well as you can. Don’t put it off, don’t make excuses, don’t talk yourself out of it. Just do it. And then keep on doing it. It’s really that simple. […]

The thing is, you won’t get better if you keep mediocre company. You learn from the company you keep. […] When it comes to poetry, I’ve set myself an annual task/routine. I choose a poet who I like via a handful of poems. It has to be a poet who’s kept on writing and writing. Enough to have a big fat Collected Poems. And then I read X poems every day for a year till I get to the end. So far Ive read Charles Causley, Norman McCaig, and U A Fanthorpe like this, and on January 1st this year I started on David Constantine. 374 big fat pages.
John Foggin, Just do it

 

I received my contributor’s copy of what I suspect will be a very important book—for me, surely—and perhaps for others. How to be a Poet strikes me as not only “a twenty-first century guide to writing well”, but also a guide to living well as a writer.

I also quite like the alternative title proposed in the introduction: “A Poem-Writer’s Guide to the Galaxy.” After all, we contain multitudes.

It features the wisdom of two of my favourite poetry people: Jo Bell and Jane Commane, interspersed with excellent guest contributions by Mona Arshi, Jonathan Davidson, Clive Birnie, and many other well-known names in UK poetry. I thought I’d spend a moment or two thumbing through it on the couch when it arrived. I couldn’t put it down.
Robert Peake, How to be a Poet

 

As a teacher, whether or for a creative writing or literature course, I simply do not use anthologies, just for these very reasons. I also dislike anthologies because they amount to a goofy, disjointed “greatest hits,” reifying the idea that a poem is singular, discrete, and denuded construct. Most poems I know are in direct contact with the other works of the poet, finding some kind of home, some kind of deeper contextualization, in a book. Thus, I order individual books of poetry when I teach a class.

A literature syllabus is really not that much different than your typical anthology, but what I like about ordering individual books is that I end up covering fewer authors–this amplifies the absences, that my students understand that I’m casting a small, small net, and there’s no pretense of being comprehensive. We also get a chance to study the works in relation to other poems in the book, explore the conversations between very good and not-so-very good poems (but where the “mediocre” poems may be more impactful). We erase the editors of collections, the intermediaries, and all their credentials, all their impressive footnoting and bibliographies.
Jim Brock, De-canon, Irish Women Poets, and What I Do

 

I am working on being mindful in my actions and making better choices with my time, and it’s not always easy. I am trying to bring back my deep focus in life. I can be so distracted, so drawn into the shiny object, the quick fix, the impulse purchase, reaching for my phone when I should be reaching for a pen. […]

Technology is wonderful when it’s not zapping our time. I try to use it to my advantage when I can. I know I’ll still get sucked in to some sort of time waster (did you know my high-score on Tetris is 98,000?) but I find the more I care for my artistic pursuits, the less I want to eat the junk food of the internet, the more I reach for the healthy book option and the exercise of writing.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Strange Inspirations: Past Resolutions & Tools to Help You Stay Focused Today

 

Though Silent Anatomies hovers close to the women in the family, it also works to understand the silence of fathers and grandfathers, to understand what is beneath surface of a tongue. Many of the poems are arranged in series, in “Profunda Linguae” the poems are captions for diagrams that reveal the muscular structures of the tongue, these diagrams are arranged over the Chinese-Filipino recipes her mother typed on her father’s prescription pad when her mother first came to the United States. […]

It is a shame that so many book contests specifically state that if a manuscript has images, to leave them out; what a loss it would have been if a book as rich and complex as Silent Anatomies were never published due to such constraints. Fortunately, Ong’s marvelous collection does exist in the world and so our notions of gender, race, culture, and identity are further challenged with grace and precision. In Silent Anatomies Monica Ong has seamlessly woven a multilayered collection that in its form of combining images and text is in itself a revelation, these visual poems intimately reveal the ways in which our bodies are sewn to our families, and our tongues are sewn to our cultures, but also the way art can transcend any boundary.
Anita Olivia Koester, Diagram of a Tongue: Silent Anatomies by Monica Ong

 

Last semester, a visiting writer told the audience that “empathy is overrated.” As you can imagine, this bit of glib frosting wasn’t what I was expecting (read: immediate sinking feeling) because I believe in empathy, I promote empathy, and I knew my very literal students would take this young writer’s word as gospel, whereas I knew he was just being flip. You have to have life experience to be truly cynical, and I personally think that this young writer was given success on a platter. So his ennui was facade. I get it. We all wear masks. He even confessed to wishing he were marginalized. He felt he should be writing about that. But to write about that, I think you need to have lived the experience, right? Of course, all of this plays into stereotypes, which seems to be my battleground– to help my students, family, friends see that our culture reinforces stereotypes in our everyday life. Now, more than ever, we need to question authority. Authority. Just look at that word, with “author” big as life itself. Is the author reliable? Do we believe what we are reading, hearing? I think this is the challenge nowadays, trying to figure out what is the truth. To think we’re all living in a pop-up book.
M.J. Iuppa, Writing from Place

 

Now he’s bedridden and can barely speak. I went to see him for Christmas day. I lay on the bed beside him and held his hand and told him about my travels, about the town where I was teaching poetry in Estonia, where on the Russian side of the river there was a great castle facing another castle on the Estonian side. And how it had been bombed to smithereens during the Soviet occupation. Of course he’d been there. He’s been everywhere in the world. He tried to talk back, able only to say a few words which I pieced together into sentences, just like writing a poem.

I understood two stories, told in a string of words, that he’d once seen an abandoned church in Estonia and had carried a photograph of the ruins with him for a long time but had since lost the photograph. (ruins–church–Estonia–picture–lost) The other was that he’d wandered into the inner courtyard of a museum in St. Petersburg and to his amazement found eighty live bears gathered there. (St. Petersburg-Museum-Courtyard-Eighty Bears).
Heather Derr-Smith, Dear New Year

 

Corpse pose is a preparation for death, not a moment to fear, but rather a letting go. I slide into the velvety, warm blackness, this state of consciousness where poetry is born.
Christine Swint, What I Need Is More Yoga