Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: gratitude, humor, radiance, pain—it’s all here. Enjoy.


I expected to feel sad. After all, my characters never got to dance through the dramas I invented for them or which, more accurately, it seemed they dictated to me. I expected to feel guilty too. In my busiest years I got up early or stayed up late to write hundreds of thousands of words, yet still didn’t have sufficient attention span or vision to finish writing those novels.

Instead I am simply relieved. The silent weight of these must-get-around-to manuscripts is gone. Once, the secret worlds of these novels accompanied me so closely I felt I was living several lives simultaneously. But no more. Time to let them go.

I dumped the books in the recycling bin without a farewell wave, not even a tang of nostalgia. Turns out the freedom to give up on projects feels liberating. I like to believe I’m making space for projects closer to my heart. I’m going to let those ideas stretch out into this new space and see what happens.

Laura Grace Weldon, Freedom Of Giving Up

There’ll also be days bright as fresh flowers in old graveyards.

Days when your brain-dead boomerang gets an anti-lobotomy and returns to you zinging and singing.

When your collide and collapse comes back new and refreshed.

When it feels like you can crawl into the womb of a feather, and be reborn as something lighter than air.

Rich Ferguson, Black Friday

Funds are tight, so I interlibrary loan poetry books as often as I can, and lately I came across Maryann Corbett, a poet who was new to me but not new to poetry.

You know how you can be in the car with a student driver or you can be in the car with someone who REALLY knows how to drive? When you are in a Corbett poem, you are in capable hands. I’m reading Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter, a relatable collection of poems of the everyday (but of course with more than the everyday beneath the surface).

I admire how her poems move–the form never feeling too forced or stiff, but rather inevitable. If you want to read a few of her poems for yourself, the title poem of Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter can be found HERE.

Renee Emerson, reading Maryann Corbett

Because I don’t enjoy reading the crowd-pleasing poems that tend to win.

Because competitions implicitly and involuntarily encourage poets to write crowd-pleasers.

Because I write poems that are apparently simple, that accumulate layers, that would never stand out in a mass of fireworks.

Because I don’t write to win competitions. I write for my potential readers. I write for the conversations that individual poems strike up among themselves and with those readers in the context of a magazine or a collection.

What about you…?

Matthew Stewart, Why don’t I enter poetry competitions?

This year has been an extraordinary one. I decided to quit my part-time job and commit to writing full-time. It was a thrilling and scary decision, a long time in the making. Then, as if I needed reminding that life is short so I had better get on with it, my mother died on January 12th, while I was in hotel quarantine. Two days before my mother’s funeral I got a phone call from the UK informing me that my poem ‘A Poem To My Mother That She Will Never Read’ had won the International Mslexia Award for Poetry. That was one of the most poetic moments of my life. Poetic because the poetry that resonates best with me always makes me feel more than one thing.

Being published online meant I was able to submit it to the Woollahra Digital Literary Award for Poetry in Australia. It was announced last night that it won that award.

I am humbled, grateful, proud, teary, sad, elated. Thanks to Woollahra Council & Libraries; Ocean Vuong for the title inspo; all the poets whose work has inspired me; my Ma; and Judge Ali Whitelock, who engaged with the poem in all the ways I hoped a reader would, and articulated it so brilliantly.

Caroline Reid, Winner, Woollahra Digital Literary Award for Poetry

How did you first engage with poetry?

When I was in elementary school in South Korea, we were required to keep a diary which was reviewed regularly by the teacher. I used to procrastinate until the day before the deadline. I remember my mom looking stern but slightly amused at my scramble to fill the pages, then suggesting: Why don’t you write a poem for a diary entry? It would be shorter but still meaningful. 

So I first engaged with poetry as a “shortcut.” It quickly became fun and special to me. As I became more intentional about the elements of poetry, it often took longer than writing narratives!

Thomas Whyte, Jaeyun Yoo : part one

Remarkably, after nine years of trying to face down his cancer’s spread, [Oliver] Sacks could still describe himself as “intensely alive” and even “lucky” and, perhaps more important, “grateful” for being able to “choose how to live out the months” that remained to him. “I have to live,” he wrote, “in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.” That he did, publishing in the short time left to him five books and “nearly finish[ing]” others, all while completing his memoir, On the Move: A Life, published in the spring of 2015. Declaring his “detachment” from daily news and politics and issues of the day, he turned his focus “on myself, my work and my friends.” His was, in every sense, lived life.

This Thanksgiving, having crossed that threshold that places me among the old, though not the old old, I find inspiration in re-reading Sacks’s op-ed, to consider and affirm, as he did, what an “enormous privilege” it is to be of this world, especially to “have loved and been loved,” to “have been given much” and “have given something in return.”

Note: Sacks’s essay and three others comprise his slim volume of reflections, Gratitude, published the year he died.

Maureen Doallas, On This Thanksgiving

If you’re familiar with Polly [Atkin]’s work you’ll know how her poems fold you into them, how they open worlds. If you ever get a chance to see her read, do it, don’t hesitate, do it. I’ve been lucky enough to have her read as part of a course I ran and double lucky in that she has run a zoom course for Spelt, which has been a big hit. I read this one in January. I read a little bit each day and each day it was like being given a gift. She’s an extraordinarily gifted poet. Much With Body is Polly Atkin’s second collection. These are poems that explore the connection to nature, in particular the authors connection to her own place in nature, in the Lake District. There’s a thread of found poems running through the collection that use Dorothy Wordsworth’s diary entries to explore the body through the lens of chronic illness. Every poem in this collection pulls at something in the brain, every description captures something unusual and special. I can’t recommend it enough. Pour yourself a cup of tea and settle in, you’ll not be able to put it down.

Wendy Pratt, Shelfie Stories: Five Books to Curl Up With on a Wintery Sunday Afternoon

The neighborhood where I used to live, Plateau Mont-Royal, was predominantly French, rather entitled, and somewhat closed-in on itself. Our new neighborhood, Cote-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace, is the most ethnically- and linguistically-mixed in the city, with some 48 languages spoken regularly in homes. In the elevators of our 12-story modern condo building, we hear neighbors speaking French, English, Chinese, Spanish, Yiddish, Russian, Italian, Arabic, Filipino, various Indo-Iranian languages, and many others. English, rather than French, is the most common language people use to say good morning and wish each other a good day. There is a huge Asian grocery market across the street, a Romanian charcuterie and bakery, and an eastern European/Russian/Ukrainian market around the corner; nearby on Victoria Avenue is a big kosher bakery, and that street is lined with Indian, Vietnamese, and Jewish restaurants and shops — to name just a few – while in other directions the concentration shifts to African and Caribbean, Iranian and Turkish, Portuguese, Greek and Middle Eastern, Mexican and Latin American. Not only is this mixture invigorating for all the senses, it encourages me to learn some words in more languages and try to connect with the Chinese butcher, the Ukrainian woman behind the prepared-food-counter, the Romanian couple who run the charcuterie, the Israeli pharmacist, the Lebanese dry-cleaner, the Muslim car mechanic, the Filipino cleaning woman whose schedule is the same as mine for the pool locker room, the Greek fishmonger. But even more than that, living this way is a daily reminder that the people of the world actually can co-exist, and help each other to thrive.

Beth Adams, Present Moments: Our Own, and Others’

In the afternoons, fascists gathered in the park. One November, I put on my coat and mitts and hat—it was cold and windy—and I showed the fascists pictures of the minimalist paintings of Agnes Martin. Instead of trying to attain a forcibly monolithic, regimented nation under the control of an autocratic ruler, try these, I said. I figured each minute thinking about Agnes was a minute not being fascist. And it worked. One guy in an armband told me that her paintings show a commitment to exalted subject matter. Yes, another guy holding a torch said, she transforms the seen environment into the language of painting which gives the works their aura of silent dignity. And frankly, a jackbooted woman said, I like the grids.

Gary Barwin, HOW I TAUGHT THE FASCISTS

I read a lovely new book of poetry from a poet I’d never heard of, Adrienne Raphel’s Our Dark Academia. Raphel has a great resume – MFA from Iowa, a lectureship at Princeton, published in Paris Review, Poetry, all the big names – but this was a fairly small press, Rescue Press. One reason could be some of the poems were a bit untraditional – one was in the form of a Wikipedia entry, another in the form of a crossword puzzle, another was paper dolls – but I found myself enjoying the poetry and the quirky forms. The reason to shop at in-person bookstores is to find little treasures like these on the shelves. This one was thanks to my visit to Open Books last week.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Thanksgiving Weekend, Family Visits, A New Poem in Prairie Schooner “The Girl Detective,” and Doctor’s Orders to Relax

First, I’d like to celebrate Luke Hankins’ new chapbook Testament (Texas Review Press) which is now available for pre-order. I had a chance to spend time with this collection early and wrote the following statement:

“Testament shows Luke Hankins deftly at work in a ‘small glory’ of a chapbook! Whether addressing the troubled country that is America or bringing the reader into the prayer-like intimacy of resonant daily moments, Hankins’s poems here create spaces of presence and awareness that are refreshing and which reward rereading. Testament evokes its title by speaking the facts of the self in such ways that we can join Hankins in loving ‘the broken world better / that has broken me.” (blurb for Testament by Luke Hankins)

My second note of celebration is for the recent loss to the poetry community of Bernadette Mayer. Check out her poem “The Way to Keep Going in Antarctica” and join me in being “strong” in the way such poets and poems show us to be.

José Angel Araguz, dispatch 112422

On a recent morning, I heard them say something about Patti Smith’s photography and a new book project. “Book of photography” caught my ear as much as anything. It seems so extravagant and, as much as I abhor the word, quaint.

Another word came, too: necessary. It arrived from a place I haven’t visited in far too long, the part of me that needs slowness instead of scrolling. And honestly, that’s all I’ve been offering it, even as it pleads, “Woman! Please… please… send love and light. I’m dying in here.”

And even if it were “just” extravagant, don’t we deserve some extravagances? A fat book to place on our laps or hold in our hands. Quality paper. Dozens and dozens of images curated by a fellow human being and meant to be, as it says on Patti Smith’s website, “a coherent story of a life devoted to art.”

While we are blessed to connect with one another in any way at all (yes, even in our phone’s miniature windows), there’s something this book reclaims. There’s something it opens. It says, in part, “Wait just a minute: You know this stuff is real, right? Its impact — it’s real. This sky, this dog, this trinket — they’re real. They take up space in our lives and our bodies.”

Carolee Bennett, “i see us” (a patti smith appreciation post)

As you travel further into the rubble, you leave the outside world behind. Turn left at the ruined shop that used to sell gravestones.

The shape of the earth alters day by day.

In the photograph a little boy shows another one a dandelion he has found. They sit cross-legged by the barbed wire. The caption on the photograph says they were both gassed a day or two later.

A woman writes on social media I find men’s socks too big for my feet.

Bob Mee, RANDOM LINES ON A SLEEPLESS NIGHT IN NOVEMBER

In October I enrolled in another Hugo House poetry class, again with the amazing poet, translator, and teacher Deborah Woodard. The class focused on the work of Fernando Pessoa, born in Lisbon in 1888. Our main text, Fernando Pessoa & Co., edited and translated by Richard Zenith, gathers together work by Pessoa and three of his heteronyms, Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Álvaro de Campos. Pessoa created entire biographies for these alter-egos and considered them mentors and colleagues. […]

Pessoa prided himself on being impersonal, even invisible, a crossroads where observations took place. He deplores philosophy and metaphysics. I had difficulty caring about him for almost the entire stretch of the course. But…as usual…as I read and considered (and attempted to write my own poems), I began to feel curious about this poet, writing in another language, in another time, and living in a place I have never been. I have a feeling Pessoa would have approved of my journey, both the reticence and the curiosity.

Bethany Reid, Give Thanks

If you have some quiet hours this week, I hope you’ll read the amazing poems in the new issue of Shenandoah. Hot-flashing in your Thanksgiving kitchen? Ann Hudson has you covered. Missing green horizons? Look at Oliver de la Paz’s Diaspora Sonnets. Craving something funny-dark? See Kelli Russell Agodon and Julie Marie Wade. Want a poem that’s a doorway, a dream, a marathon, a shopping expedition? Step into Jesse Lee Kercheval’s “Coronillas,” Akhim Yuseff Cabey’s “Complex,” Lucien Darjeun Meadows’ “Mile 11–,” or Jane Satterfield’s “Errand Hanging with Emily Brontë.” Ned Balbo’s poem talks to a firefly. Emily Pérez recreates a writer’s desperateness to produce-produce-produce and illuminates what a mess that mindset can make. Grief poems by Leona Sevick and Destiny O. Birdsong just devastated me. There’s more in the buffet, too, as many poems as we could cram into one issue (and pay authors for).

As far as my own literary news, this little plot of earth is dormant. I have one lyric essay I’m nudging along, but mostly I’m feeling uncomplicated happiness over others’ success. Just in my English department last week, a student won a Rhodes, a colleague published a short story, another colleague won sabbatical funding, and yet another was offered her first book contract. Term is winding up and it looks like a few of my students have learned a few things.

Lesley Wheeler, Word-feast

Today was not a normal day of work for me. Instead of teaching my amazing students, I chose to participate in the UCU industrial action over attacks on pay, working conditions and pensions.

I have blogged about this issue before, in 2018, which included a series of poems about work and working.

Today, in support of the strike, I collect them all in one place for the first time. [Click through for the links.]

Anthony Wilson, UCU Strike: a list of poems about work

Yesterday after church, we went to a concert, the kind of concert put together by a group of skilled musicians who live in the community and have found each other.  My spouse knows two of the musicians because they all sing in the church choir.

Yes, there are days here in western North Carolina when I feel like I’ve fallen through a hole in time:  “People still do this?  How cool!”  Of course, I went to many small symphonies and chamber orchestras in south Florida too.  I love these examples of creative types who aren’t trying to break into big time in the big city, that aren’t posting TikToks of themselves in the hopes of getting the notice of huge masses of people.

I like a symphony orchestra that isn’t afraid to put animal ear headbands on when they play Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”  I like a symphony orchestra that’s raising money for an animal rescue, and so they’ve chosen an animal theme that threads through the 4 pieces of music.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Joys of a Local Chamber Orchestra

it was love at first note
the wind and the bass solo eloped
straight out of my car

[I was crossing the bridge at the time
but this is their story not mine]

seven miles out bopping on the sea
the notes rearrange as they please
delighting the dolphins with their atonality

Paul Tobin, DELIGHTING THE DOLPHINS

My recent video palingenetics has its world-premiere screening at the 2022 edition of Festival Fotogenia – Poetryfilm, Videoart, Experimental Cinema, Avant-garde films run out of Mexico City. This is one of my favourite festivals: it has broad, inclusive remit, and it is incredibly well organised with a strongly supported sense of community. Through participation in previous festivals, I have built a network of friends and colleagues not only in Mexico, but across the world. Along the way, I have been learning to make Spanish text versions of the videos, such as this one (with help from the DeepL AI translator and a good dictionary).

Ian Gibbins, palingenetics at Fotogenia…

It’s been what can only been described as an absolute kick-bollock-scramble at work of late (no, there are no other phrases that work. I’ve tried them all), and that has left me struggling to keep up with reading journals, emails, books, road signs…anything really. And that starts to build up a pressure, a feeling that I’m not reading enough, not being engaged enough. That is likely entirely wrong, and very much a pressure of my own making, but it’s there and if I stop I worry I may never start again.

That won’t happen, but it can sometimes feel over-whelming trying to keep up with the journals that arrive, the books to review, the books I’ve bought and want to read, the music to listen to, the films and programmes to watch, the articles to consume…

Every new thing to read/listen to, watch, probably smell, maybe even touch that arrives can feel like email at work does, sometimes. Each one responded to begets another one and so on and so forth. Each journal sends me off to explore new poets, work by poets I know already, but may to have read, new albums, new shows, etc…

Mat Riches, Magic Darts

How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book Material Girl didn’t change my day-to-day life much because I was a broke grad student when it was released and couldn’t do much to get the word out about it, but over time, the book found its audience and connected me to other writers and thinkers who I eventually felt I was writing with and for. Material Girl now feels like a digest of my influences at the time, a very New York School inflected-book about living in New York, montage-y, talk-y poems. I think my new book Making Water tries to make a new form, one that is maybe less inherited and more my own. My poetics up to now have been grounded in geographical place, and I wrote Making Water while living in North Carolina, which is a little bit urban, a little bit rural, and a little bit suburban all at once so I wanted to write something that really reflected the experience of moving through this new swampy viney parking lot-filled landscape. I think there’s an idea from people who live in major cities that moving to the south is giving up on being part of culture, or something, but what I found in living here was that having more time and space for study gave me the capacity for an expansiveness to my writing that I has lacked living in cities. I reflect on this in the new book: “Give it up for space // transmuted into time // By year three // Memory will become // Imagination tall as // loblolly pines

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Laura Jaramillo

“Crow Funeral” looks at the darker underbelly to maternity and motherhood. The pressures on mothers to be perfect, to be self-less and centre the lives of their children even when they lack support and dare not seek help due to stigma and fear. The use of nursery rhyme is appropriate and interwoven within other poems, a reminder that fairy tales and rhymes for children also have a darker side: behavioural advice for a dangerous world. Kate Hanson Foster writes without judgment or sentimentality. These are loved and desired children of a mother doing her best not to lose herself but to find a way of combining being a self-less mother while also retaining individual personhood.

Emma Lee, “Crow Funeral” Kate Hanson Foster (East Over Press) – book review

Sister Margaret John Kelly died last night at age 88.  I was blessed to be with her when she died.

She had been my major professor for English during my college years; a wonderful teacher. She also was an alumna of my college, fourteen years older.  She suffered greatly through the last three years, battling against the dementia which left her without speech, and without independent movement.

She loved poetry.

Anne Higgins, The bare sun, skinned, slides through the grass

The iambic spin off is a comfort. As is the rhythm itself. And for a decade or more I carried the original poem in my pocket as an antidote to the despair of depression. To it I’m grateful for its help as a bridge.

As I encountered it first in the 80s, it was only the first two stanzas and marked as written by anonymous.

In fact [Robert] Harkness (2 March 1880—8 May 1961) wrote it. He was an Australian composer, musical genius, and pianist on the Revival circuit. […]

Much like Emily Dickinson poems can be sung to the Yellow Rose of Texas, this can map a regularity like the heart. And how can you unlove anything you once loved?

Pearl Pirie, Loved Then, Loved Now: In Jesus

“The colorists get it entirely wrong: nature is colored in winter and cold in summer, there’s nothing colder than full summer sun.” Tell me more, Camille Pissarro!  Tell me, French landscape painter, about winter’s color, now that leaves now lying dry in piles, like potato skins or paper bags, light, giddy in the wind, when the pale tones of sky seem colored by remainders.  What am I, color addict, missing — what can I see better?

Oh, the brave red leaves still bright on the chokeberry! 
Oh, the clouds, neatly and darkly swirling as I leave the wine boutique, seemingly curated for a consumer outing.
No, those eruptions of drama are too easy, low-hanging fruit.

Pissarro was sure of his paradoxes, having meditated on painting, perception and landscape with a young Cézanne.  (I’m reading T.J. Clark’s “If These Apples Should Fall.”).  As I unravel this, I see that Pissarro was a consummate stylist suppressing the tick of giving humans what we want and need from nature, of pressing human eros onto landscape.  Instead, he gives us nature without desire. Instead of our narratives of drama and excitement, he gives us a swath of everything without hierarchy or privilege, the totality in concert.  It’s less a harmony than monotony, a stretching of a country moment, as Clark writes, “unique, noticeable, difficult unrepeatable persistence.”  

Not beautiful because of a hidden light, but because it is stubborn.  Winter’s long contemplation.

Jill Pearlman, Colorists on the Brink of Winter

Step through the narrow
fissure that opens— a glass waistline
where sparkling particles of sand suspend
in the space between the country prior to
this one and the country it will become
after anything passes through it. Believe
there’s a time and place where not everything
has happened yet, where somehow there might
still be lessons to learn from the not dead trees.

Luisa A. Igloria, Learning to Flow

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 46

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This (late) edition continues the sombre tone from last week, albeit with some joyful news as well. The season of death is upon us. But late autumn and winter is also a time for deeper thinking, and we have some of that as well.

Note that I will continue to share links to these posts on Twitter for as long as a significant portion of us still maintain accounts there, but in general, like many folks, I’m using the opportunity to move most of my microblogging over to the Fediverse, which as an open-source project was always a much better fit with my values. I hope you’ll join me there. (I’m on a medium-sized Mastodon server, here.)


Oh bathroom window, what are those ash-gray clouds,
needle in the morning’s eye —

dawn too early in its strange light-threading.
To 6am, I bring another party: 

my thoughts, light and frisky in dark crevices […]

Jill Pearlman, The Early Bird and other Myths

An interesting week. The tory clowns have come up with a forecast of a £60 billion black hole in the national finances. It’s their latest wheeze to make the poor pay more than the rich. JK Galbraith once said that “economic forecasting is there to make astrology look good.” But this has not stopped them from delivering one punitive budget after another. […]

there is a second
when the mop bucket’s contents
after being slung into the air
seems to just hang ignorant of gravity

in that moment you could mould the water
into any fantastic shape you pleased
if only you were quick enough

Paul Tobin, THE MOLECULES SIGH

As the wind howled, I thought about all the ways I have tried to make my way as a writer in the world:  build a website, develop a presence on various social media sites, try to publish everywhere, try to have a series of readings/presentations, slog, slog, slog.  Because it was the middle of the night, I wondered if I could have done anything differently, even though I know the stats about sales and who is making a living from their writing (not very many people).

And if we’re being honest, in many ways, I’m glad I’m not relying on any of my creative endeavors to pay the bills.  I am astonished at the ways that people hustle to try to sell their work, and I know all the ways that the various hustles would be hard for me.  And statistically, it’s hard these days to sell enough work to pay the bills.  Lots of people out there competing for fewer readers.  I’m glad that I can write what I want to write without worrying about marketability.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Winds of Metaphor, Winds of Change

What do you remember about the earth?

I am six and the terrible grandmother has come to live
with us. She smells of tobacco and the green eucalyptus-
mint Valda pastilles she is always popping into her mouth
from a tin hidden in her robe pocket. A game I like to play
with some of the neighborhood kids involves taking turns
putting Necco wafers in each other’s mouths while intoning
“The body of Christ.” We are careful not to bite down
so as not to cause the body of Christ to bleed. Then
we walk around the grassy perimeter of the truck yard
pretending we are floating, until the candy has melted
and our tongues turn lime green, orange, or pink.

Luisa A. Igloria, Six Questions

A commissioned poem is always a leap of faith in the dark. You get a phonecall with a request to write about a particular topic or idea, and you must decide whether you can do it, whether you want to do it, but most importantly, whether you can do it in the time available.

For this commission, and for many commissions for radio, there was a very tight turnaround. I think I got a phonecall on Friday evening from the producer of Woman’s Hour, Clare Walker. She wanted a poem that celebrated the different sounds that women have heard over 100 years. the poem would be two minutes long, but the whole thing would be about eight minutes becuase they were going to weave through the poem lots of archive recordings. “Brilliant!’ I replied – thinking this was a really interesting commission, and an enjoyable one.  I briefly envisaged some peaceful weeks trawling through archive recordings of suffragettes and the sond of the first washing machine.

“There’s just one snag” Clare said. “We’re on a bit of a tight deadline, so it has to be finished and recorded by Wednesday”.  “Ah” I said.  I thought about my looming deadline for a book of hybrid essays (more news to follow on that!) which was due just a few days later.  I thought about the five days I had available to write the poem, and how for at least two of those, I wouldn’t be writing, or in fact even thinking because I have no childcare at the weekend.

“That will be fine!” I replied recklessly. “Let’s do it!”.  What kind of person would turn down a commission from Woman’s Hour, I asked myself, even with a book deadline, and just five days to write it (well really three).

Kim Moore, The Commissioned Poem: A Leap of Faith

Tough, in its various meanings, and tender are the poems in Kathy Fagan’s Bad Hobby. Painful, in parts, as it recalls my own mother’s failings of memory, but funny too, as such things can be, in the right moment, with a good spirit, and with nothing left to lose.

From “Snow Moon & the Dementia Unit”:

Dad called again to see how his daughter Kathy’s doing,
and when I tell him I’m doing fine, he asks,

So you’ve talked to her recently? What did she say?
and really, what could I say then…

Through these poems we glimpse the inner and outer life of the speaker, especially the presence of her parents, real or ghostly. From “Animal Prudence”:

…Even when he was
a young drunk going deaf from target practice,
my father preferred picking his teeth
to brushing them. My mother preferred
crying. They bought or rented places
on streets named Castle, Ring, Greystone—
as if we were heroes in a Celtic epic.

The author is unsparing and unsentimental in her observations. Here she regards her own self through a sight of a hawk and its squirrel prey in “Cooper’s Hawk”:

… My tolerance for ‘Nature, red in tooth
and claw’ rose as my estrogen fell. The wish
to die died with my hormones, and with all that
powering down, I could finally hear myself
not think.

The wry wit, the dry eye, and the imagination that instills these poems made this hard book a pleasure to read.

Marilyn McCabe, Hello goodbye hello; or, On Kathy Fagan’s Bad Hobby

“Naming the Ghost” is a gentle, sensitive journey through bereavement and acceptance. It is not just the loss of the narrator’s father, but also that the newborn daughter will never know her grandfather, which exacerbates the sense of loss. However, the narrator acknowledges that she cannot let her daughter’s sole experience be a grief for someone she did not know. On her journey, she learns to adjust to looking to the future, informed by the past. These are poems that linger and haunt rather than grab the reader.

Emma Lee, “Naming the Ghost” Emily Hockaday (Cornerstone Press) – book review

What I was going to say is that I have reached an age where my peers all seem to be facing cancer. Illnesses like Parkinson’s. Bones that break all too easily. Unexpectedly. Everything hurts. Everyone hurts. And we are still comparing ourselves to one another.

Some of us move through the days thinking: but that won’t happen to me. I’ll be one of the shining septuagenarians on Instagram snatching more than their own bodyweight. Some of us hold on to the moments.

Some of us. Maybe only me. Have given up on narratives and justifications.

Here is my beginner’s mind. I pause in stillness. Then inhale and rise along the gentle slope of a polished pearl. Then exhale into stillness. One rich movement at a time, like gusts of wind slamming the body.

I read once that the ghazal was a series of discrete couplets, connected like pearls on a string.

Ren Powell, Life as a Ghazal

Here is what we do in our church: 
we never gather and we never sing
we blame but never praise
we cultivate indulgence; we wallow in dread;
we pick the scabs of anxiety.
The stupidest Congregation of the Bigot
in Podunkville does better than that.

Dale Favier, Inventing the Wheel

Readers accustomed to Fokkina [McDonnell]’s poems will know that she has a great gift for sudden shifts of thought and emphasis which wrong-foot and surprise the reader. Many years’ practice as a psychotherapist must have informed Fokkina’s acute sensitivity to how the brain and heart interact. Her poems implicitly ask questions but usually stop short of providing answers – as with effective haiku, the reader is invited to do some work, in effect to complete the poems. There’s a lightness or playfulness among the trauma which sporadically surfaces; a sense which I can only really explain fully by using the Japanese haiku concept of karumi, which Michael Dylan Welch explores so well in an essay available here. And where Fokkina does apparently provide answers, the reader has to wonder if they are the answers of an unreliable narrator of sorts.

Matthew Paul, On Fokkina McDonnell’s ‘Safe House’

What are you working on?

After a two-year hiatus in writing (due to parenting a 3yo and 1yo without childcare during the pandemic), I have just begun to write again while my baby naps and my 3yo attends preschool. My question the past few weeks has been what I can effectively work on given time constraints. Before my children were born I was working on a volume of Norse verse translations. The unpredictability of baby naps has made it nearly impossible to return to this. What surprised me was having inspiration for a fantasy novel and actually being able to write chapter drafts. Holding scenes and characters in my mind until I can work on them again has proven easier than holding the intricately-woven webs that are skaldic poems, with all their linguistic and historical threads. 

Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part three

More poets and songbirds. Shopaholics at the mall of mercy.

A Congress that engages in friendly congress.

For the homeless to become homeful. Wildfires to take a chill pill.

Gun muzzles to nuzzle love.

Rich Ferguson, What the world needs now

I’ve noticed in recent years, on social media since that is where I see discussions of poetry, is a criticism of poetry reviews. First the criticisms were about the reviews not being published in mainstream newspapers any more or, if they were, the tiny wordcount afforded to them. Then the criticism shifted to the reviews themselves, their “lack of critical engagement,” that they are “puff pieces”, concerning themselves with the poet and the “poet’s identity” rather than the actual poems, the craft and technique. All of these criticisms are valid, and perhaps the reviews under discussion seem ubiquitous because of the proliferation of online platforms like Goodreads, online journals and blogs, as well as in some poetry magazines. Also, there has been a trend to simply photograph a book or poem and share on social media without also offering any kind of considered review. Perhaps this has also offended people seeking detailed critiques. Unfortunately, in my view, the criticisms risk silencing a group of people who might want to review, or even to express that they like a book or poem, but who now won’t, for fear of being on the end of such criticism. I think it’s far to say that some of the criticisms I’ve observed are from poets who are also academics, used to the rigor of academic principles, and critical of work that strays from from, or seems to disregard, this rigor. I think that’s a shame. The poetry world has room for a rigorous, intellectually challenging approach to appraising and analysing poetry as well as a different kind of response, perhaps personal to the reviewer, regardless of their academic training and experience.

Unfortunately, perhaps because of the nature of social media, particularly Twitter with its limited wordage, these kinds of criticisms can appear aggressive, especially when a lot of people seem to join in. Perhaps one of the good things to come out of the current implosion happening at Twitter will be that this kind of ‘pile on’ will become less prominent in poetry (and other) circles.

Josephine Corcoran, On Reviewing

I read somewhere recently that writing poetry reviews (the traditional kind, for poetry mags) is a good discipline as it makes you really read closely and engage with poetry collections. I have to say that interviewing a poet on a podcast takes all that and then some – thinking up relevant questions to ask, talking with the poet about your reading/understanding of their work, suggesting which poems they read and commenting in a way that listeners may find interesting… it’s not easy, and I often curse myself for sounding like an idiot, a sycophant or a ‘womansplainer’, sometimes all three in the same episode. It’s all  good fun though!

Robin Houghton, Self-sabotage, womansplaining and other poetry joys

Winter is more insidious than summer.
The low-angled sun is a dull blade,
sheathed in bitter grey.

In winter I play old music.
The music my grandparents listened to
as they took me to Friendly’s or to

a clarinet lesson in the next town over.
It’s the music of nostalgia and longing
and emptiness. Winter music.

Jason Crane, POEM: A Winter Poem

I once borrowed her jean jacket so I could look cool, as a group of us made for Montreal for a Peace Concert at the Montreal Forum in 1987. The illustration she made of our pre-concert group in the park, drinking beer and playing guitar with a few dozen others, made its way onto the cover of the zine we invented as part of our high school “writer’s craft” class: assembling poems, stories, drawings. All of it published anonymously, of course. She could fall helpless into fits of giggles, including when dancing at the Carleton Tavern somewhere in the 00s, realizing her friend Joy’s dancing had caused Joy’s pants to fall off, without them noticing. There was an element to our pairing that rendered chaos, a joyous silliness that not everyone else had patience for, akin to six-year-old twins: each encouraging the other.

I published some of her poems in the first issue of my long poem magazine, STANZAS, in 1993, and in a chapbook, not that much later. She’d been working on a poetry manuscript she’d titled “Naked,” some of which sits in a file on my computer. The poems from STANZAS, her “Garden” series, that later fell into her novel, The Desmond Road Book of the Dead (Chaudiere Books, 2006). As the first of the series, “Garden,” reads:

I can make the garden grow, the sun fall up and down in the sky, a man full grown from passion in my tissue, in secret places I hide my fat and wait for rain for rain for rain

In August 2019, the last time I saw them, not long before Covid: an afternoon visiting Clare and Bryan on their farm in North Glengarry, a few miles east of the McLennan homestead, as my young ladies admired their two horses, and later accidentally stomped on a hive of bees at the end of the yard. At least we discovered neither young lady allergic, once they both stung. Clare offered them colouring, toys. They played a football game on the porch, and she delighted in them both.

How am I supposed to experience a world that Clare Latremouille no longer occupies? I shall have to be attentive enough for the both of us, I suppose. I shall have to be silly enough. An image in my head of the remaining members of Monty Python at Graham Chapman’s graveside, the first of the troupe to die: every one of them standing with pants at their ankles.

rob mclennan, Clare Latremouille (July 4, 1964 – November 16, 2022)

My recent video and furthermore (indexed), is getting its first public screening on 23rd November 2022 in the Living With Buildings – IV program in Coventry, UK, as part of their fabulous Disappear Here project, curated by Adam Steiner. This is a quarterly screening that explores human experiences of the urban environment through people, poetry and place.

In Ancient Greece, public notices were engraved in stone on building walls. Now, we find ourselves surrounded by texts: advertising, warnings, directions, graffiti… Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones are in town, violence, scandal and political intrigue vie for attention, someone won the football, and we worry about the future for our youth…

The video samples every occasion that the word “and” was used in the “NEWS” pages on one day in the local Adelaide newspaper. The words following each instance of “and” are listed alphabetically and read by Karen, the MacOS Australian female text-to-voice interpreter. In doing so, it creates a snapshot (indexed) of a day in the news of a contemporary city.

Ian Gibbins, and furthermore (indexed)…

In the old days writers would iambize their prose and dangle rhymes on their line-endings to make their words seem more significant, adding poetic words as glitter. As Samuel Johnson said, some people think that anything that doesn’t look like prose must be poetry. Nowadays writers use strange punctuation, deletions, discontinuities and line-breaks instead.

There’s still something about the label “poetry” that writers find tempting. And why not? Poetic license still exists. If you label a piece “poetry”, readers will look for hidden meanings. The meanings will expand to match the readers’ expectations. It saves the writer needing to do so much. A short text (about doing the housework, say) can go far given a big title like “Death”.

But readers might not be so compliant nowadays. They might distrust the label. They might think the shortness is a cop-out.

They’re more alert to tricks of ads, the lure of mistique, aura, etc. They know how the addition of false eyelashes and tan can trick the eye.

Tim Love, Ornamentation and aura

A first thing the poetry business and the wine trade have in common: the best way to end up with a small fortune in both poetry publishing and winemaking is to start off with a large one. In part, this is because winemaking is often a highly personal project, just like poetry publishing, and people thus often do stuff that makes little business sense.

And then there’s the question of personal taste: I don’t like big, oaky wines from Ribera del Duero. I do admire them in technical terms when they’re well crafted, but I can never bring myself to enjoy them. Same goes for certain types of poetry.

Matthew Stewart, A comparison between poetry and wine

I grew up in a valley bordered on the east by the Rocky Mountains and on the west by the Nevada desert.  Both landscapes were awesome and terrifying–people died in both.  When we drove across the desert on the way to California, the emptiness was so overwhelming I hid on the car floor.   But the sight of the mountains was central and powerful, and I missed them when I moved east.  When I took the train home I spent the last few hours staring out the window, desperate for my first glimpse of them.  Westerners are landscape snobs–I needed that scale.  In the east I sneered at the hills people referred to as mountains.  When people said, “Isn’t this landscape beautiful?,” I literally couldn’t see what they were talking about.  If it wasn’t awesome it didn’t even matter.  It took me years of living in it to realize one day, setting out for a hike (walk) with friends: Oh, this landscape is human scale, you can just walk out into it without risking your life.  And for the first time I saw the value in that.

I think the sublime has to do with extremity and intensity, with things larger and deeper than the human scale of things, with situations where one person encounters whatever it is–the void, the abyss, the unfathomable, immeasurable.  I think the sublime is something we can visit but not live in–the intensity would crush us, as Rilke says.  And the solitude.  Most of our lives include relationships with other people.  When it comes to poetry, the awesome/ sublime may be the most powerful, but I think more poems, including many great ones, are written out of our human relationships–that scale, the one with emotions that range from happiness to rage to love to sadness, subtle and nuanced, looked at closely.  I don’t think I’d describe any of Shakespeare’s sonnets as sublime, for example, however beautiful and moving they are.

Sharon Bryan, Poems of Daily Life

The poem is not simply a clever convolution of words but does ‘make sense’ when read carefully. Apart from its description of a time that is gone, it examines and exemplifies the tortured ambivalence between memory and fact. The slippery methodology of examining a personal memory when looking at a visual depiction of that place in that time. Indeed, can memories be altered by the holder of that memory, other than by recognising its inherent subjectivity.

Jim Young, poem with explanatory notes

Number of books read while here: 14 – 8 collections of poetry and 6 novels. (You can see all the books I’ve read this year on Goodreads – follow me if you don’t already!)

Number of manuscripts read for Riot in Your Throat: 22 and counting – the independent poetry press I run, Riot in Your Throat, is currently open for full length poetry manuscripts. I’m looking for 2-4 collections to publish in 2023 – submissions are open all month so if you haven’t yet submitted there’s still time!

Number of dreams about ex-lovers: 3 – seriously, what is going on in my brain?!

Courtney LeBlanc, VCCA: By the Numbers

A deer drives into a parking lot. It desires nothing. It’s my voice. I’ve been looking for you. Yeah, out on a joyride, now here to buy pants. Later, parking spots turn into breath. My voice full of venison and wheels. Fog and knives. What I desire, the deer says: An on and off switch. My thighs in lake water. But I’m wearing pants. I’m always wearing pants.

Gary Barwin, Pants

Tuesday is my dad’s memorial service, when we will placing both his ashes and my mother’s, which have been on the mantle for the past 5 years, in the ground of the plots they owned since around the time they got married. It is all moving very fast and I have yet to catch my breath or spend much time with my thoughts.  I’ve mostly been working furiously and napping frequently in equal measure. I have to keep reminding myself that its the holiday season, that Thanksgiving is this week.  I am not really feeling it, but am hoping to fake it til I make it, procuring new garlands and stockings from Amazon for my bookshelf, some new evergreen sprigs for some vases. I was going to just wait til I get back to the city next Sunday, but I may just put it up tomorrow. 

I write this post now as I would normally be embroiled in my twice-weekly call with my dad, an hour I have cautiously watched approach on the clock on all day as I did the usual Sunday things like sweep the floors and clean up the kitchen. The past few years, he had taken over where my mother had left off on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  I have always been grateful for that time, mostly since the previous 20-ish odd years of living away from them had involved very little phone convo with him, since my mom liked to do the talking for both of them with him occasionally chiming in from the other side of the room. Only when she was really sick and the delirium had set in did he take over. It was sort of like getting to know someone new, but also very familiar.  I am not quite sure what I will do with myself, especially on Sundays when the 6pm call was so engrained in my schedule my entire adult life. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 11/20/2022

clay and paper string
persuaded him not to prosecute
the silent sneeze

even in the cafeteria
her own aeroplane
is made to be burnt

Ama Bolton, ABCD November 2022

Word went out Thursday that he was moving to palliative. By now you’ve probably heard of the quick decline of Robert Hogg and our loss of him on Sunday.

I never did the math that he was 80. He was busy in the 60s with that zeitgeist of poetic excitement. He had a young energy. Even cancer’s “trauma age” didn’t impinge as much as on some people.

Death has offended and hurt many again. Its timing is never good. In the last few years, Bob was redoubling his efforts to get more of his work out before people while he could. Love while you can, write while you can and support while you can seemed to be his driver.

He was like electricity, always there at the ready when you reach for him. He had a calm gentle humour, plain spoken and as if amused by life.

It’s funny seeing the tributes coming out from so many and from so far and yet not surprising at the same time. He had the rare gift while talking to you of making you the only person in the room.

Pearl Pirie, Bob Hogg

What can poetry do?  

There have been many who advocate art for art’s sake, or l’art pour l’art, as the slogan was initially rendered in nineteenth century France. 

There have also been many, and indeed there are an ever-increasing number, of artists (in the broadest sense) who see their work as a focus for, or extension of, their activism. 

I feel fortunate to have had poems included in a variety of charity anthologies over the years, raising funds (and awareness) for Macmillan Cancer Support, Welney WWT and the Born Free Foundation, to name but three. 

I am delighted to add another to the list in the form of Voices for the Silent (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2022), the new companion volume to For the Silent (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2019), edited by Ronnie Goodyer, Poet-in-Residence at the League Against Cruel Sports. These companion (or stand-alone) volumes have been produced to aid the work of this charity, and not surprisingly some of the selected poems concern animal cruelty. Others focus on habitats and the wonders and complexities of the natural world. 

Caroline Gill, ‘Voices For The Silent’, New Anthology from Indigo Dreams Publishing

  1. My unfinished poems. Technically, what is the status of a half-done poem when life is finished?
  2. The first thirteen lines of a brand new poem. Quite unrelated to the situation at hand. Poetry comes when it comes. Even through a canula.
  3. One person I wanted to apologize to. From way back before way back. Time moves in mysterious trajectories inside a hospital, dodging right angles and ramps, needles and gurneys.
  4. How mesmerizing that infinitely slow drip from the IV pouch is – like an existential morse code. Drip. Dash. Dash. Damn. Drip.
  5. Two questions the universe hasn’t answered yet. The universe needs deadlines and then someone to enforce the deadlines. The united nations of forsaken questions.
Rajani Radhakrishnan, The night before surgery: thoughts and stuff…

You wait.
That’s what you do,
whether the poems
come, or not,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (94)

First, while the press aims to be sustainable, it is not trying to be profitable. Breaking even is acceptable to me, and I would consider it a victory to be able to break even while 1) putting good poetry into the world and 2) continuing to donate half of all sales. If there are times when I go into deficit by a hundred dollars or so, this too is acceptable to me personally. However, I am rigorously working to avoid this. And again, even without the $500 donation, I’ve still basically broken even on a relatively large ($1000) investment, and I’ve also managed to give away almost $850 — all while getting my poems into the world. So I’m OK with how things are going.

Secondly, the great majority of the money spent so far was “start up” money, and this does not represent ongoing costs. These initial costs include both tools I will not need to replace anytime soon, if ever, as well as a lot of practice materials I won’t ever be buying again (different weights of card stock and paper, in particular). Thus, the longer the press continues to exist, the more it will produce from these initial materials, and the more it will earn from them.

R.M. Haines, DMP Summary and Receipts: 10/17 to 11/14

So, this weekend, I am working on final edits of Flare, Corona for BOA – including updating last-minute acknowledgements, deciding on spelling conventions that I apparently don’t write twice the name way, and keeping an eye out for wayward commas, and I’m also sending out e-galleys of Flare, Corona to people who might be interested in reviewing it. If you are interested in reviewing it, in a Zoom class visit, or book club inclusion, please e-mail me at jeannine dot gailey at gmail dot com and I will send you a copy!

I’m monitoring the somewhat sad situation at Twitter. If I had 44 billion dollars, I think I’d do a better job of managing the product instead of destroying it, but Elon Musk is a really bad manager with a lot of money willing to hurt others in the process of getting his own way (toxic misogyny writ large, I’m afraid) and I’m sad because I’ve built relationships with not just the poetry community but disability Twitter and even fellow cat and flower lovers and I hate that a spoiled billionaire can make everything crumble in a few days that I’ve built for years. On the other hand, it makes you rethink your whole relationship with social media. For writers it’s essential to connect with audiences—and for a long time, Twitter was the place to connect with Millennial friends, writers, and readers.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Sunshine in the Pacific Northwest

Finally, there is this blog, which has endured all sorts of personal, technological, and societal changes since it began in 2003. As a firm believer in owning and controlling one’s own online content, I’ve no intention of letting it go, and instead, have been thinking about how to infuse it with more energy now that I have some time.  Could it be more educational, more helpful? Could it help to launch new projects and bring people together, as it has in the past (quarrtsiluni, Phoenicia Publishing, online groups)? What else is there that I haven’t considered? There’s nothing wrong with social media functioning as a hub where interested people find content and go to it, but as our disillusionment with these social platforms and their capitalist agendas grow, could blogs regain some of their gravitas and a new sense of purpose? I wonder.

It depends somewhat on our expectations. I do know that I don’t care about the number of followers or readers, and we are long since past those heady days where aspiring writers thought they’d become well-known through their blogs — there’s no way that someone steadily writing good but long-form posts would become famous like a seductive Instagram influencer, not in today’s world! But careful and engaged readers and writers still do exist […] Blogs like Language Hat, Velveteen Rabbi, Hoarded Ordinaries, and Whiskey River have kept on quietly, steadily, thoughtfully posting for nearly two decades now, and there are many others. If these are not impressive and worthy bodies of creative work, I don’t know what qualifies.

Beth Adams, Coming Up for Air

The weather is cold cold cold, but the days are so brightly sunny I keep saying I need to get my sunglasses back out. I’m savoring every last bit of true fall that I can, before we pass Thanksgiving and it is officially winter holiday season. I love this time of year, when we go inside and get cozy but don’t yet have a bunch of other obligations. When we love light all the more for its scarcity.

For so many reasons, I really can’t with Thanksgiving much any more, but I will always love taking time to notice and name what I am grateful for. In this funky week full with appointments and phone calls and triggers and wind and wool sweaters, there was one morning where everything sparkled because the temperatures had dropped below freezing overnight, but the sun was rising. Branches were newly bare, but there were still leaves clinging to them–leaves blazing with their final colors.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Pain management

I think some of the things I’m doing right now that are part of my work for the NF book – visiting museums, walking, reading – are exactly what I should be doing and I am realising just how stressed I get if I do too much ‘people’ stuff in one week. I’m trying to train myself out of feeling and labelling myself as ‘pathetic’ or ‘ridiculous’ or ‘weak’ if I need more rest than perhaps other people seem to, or if I’m not juggling 100 projects at once and just want to plod slowly into a book. This is where I have always wanted to be – plodding into my work, absorbed in it like the utter library nerd that I am. I just want to read books and write books and have the time and energy to do that.

Perhaps my dad’s death has opened up a few old wounds, wounds I thought I’d packed and sewed up tightly. I don’t know. It’s been a hell of a year, again. I’m starting to think about goals for next year, starting to think about my rituals of the new year. I’m ticking off some big goals from 2022 and that makes me wonderfully happy, and I am surprising myself with the new goals in my planner, they are much less poetry centred. I feel strangely guilty for moving away from poetry, even if it is only while I work on the non fiction project. I’ve cut my work back to some mentoring, running Spelt and running the occasional course. which still sounds like a lot really, on top of writing a book. Having the opportunity to help other poets progress their own writing is really important to me, and it’s also a source of absolute joy for me, mentoring in particular. And I love the camaraderie of the email courses I still run. When I come to write prompts and notes for a course it feels like putting a comfortable cardigan on, and mentoring always feels like meeting friends. I find, more and more, that the work that I am choosing to do brings me joy, I find that when I look around myself, my life is good. Terrible fretting over what the next terrible loss will be aside, I am happy and enjoying the way my brain works, and I’m looking forward to reflecting that in my writing. But still a part of me clings to the idea that if I’m not cramming in more stuff, applying for more things, winning more things, making more connections…I’m not doing well. I need to change the definition of ‘doing well’ and emphasise ‘feeling happy’ more I think.

Wendy Pratt, Writing and Reading the Trauma Poems

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by the good poetry news I’ve received lately, and I’m behind on sharing it here…

At the end of September, my poem “One Way to Use a Deck of Cards” from How to Play was featured on Verse Daily!

Last month, two of my poems were published in Writing in a Woman’s Voice: “After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night” and “What’s Something You Love That Can’t Love You Back?

Also in October, two of my poems were published in Pirene’s Fountain: “This Poem Is about Dinosaurs” and “Choosing a Moon.” This whole issue is fantastic, and you can purchase a copy at this link.

This month, I’ve gotten some happy award news! “After an Older Man from Church…” received the Moon Prize from Writing in a Woman’s Voice on November 9, and “This Poem Is about Dinosaurs” was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize this week! I’m so grateful to these editors who’ve published and affirmed my work and to the folks who encourage me and read my poems.

Katie Manning, Verse Daily & Moon Prize & Pushcart (Oh my!)

Lately I’ve been remembering the dances I’ve already had – the romantic ones with boys/men a long time ago.  I now know that at least three of those boys/men have passed on. That’s something else I’ve considered:  the synonyms for “died”:   passed on,  passed away,  etc.  One of my sisters always says “Gone to God.”   The dogs and cats who have “crossed the Rainbow Bridge”  

I still have the image in my head from when my dad died. I visited him on a Wednesday, and on the following Friday I was at a meeting in Buffalo and got a call from the nursing home that he had died in his sleep in the middle of the afternoon.  I envisioned him on a small boat, moving away from the shore of the living on the sea of eternity, quietly moving on, his face toward the horizon.

Anne Higgins, The Dances you’ve already had

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 13

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, with the start of Poetry Month in the US and Canada (and everywhere else that poets join in trying to write a poem a day), I’ve decided to highlight what people are reading and how we’re thinking about that, as well as sampling from the various writing projects that bloggers are taking on this month. (Me, I’m doing a diary of sorts, inspired by some of my favorite poetry bloggers. We’ll see how confessional I actually manage to get, though. Probably not very much.)

It’s sometimes tricky to know whether or how much to excerpt from people’s NaPoWriMo exercises, since some will undoubtedly get unpublished, re-written, and submitted elsewhere. So please do let me know if you’d rather I not post excerpts from your poems this month. Regardless, enjoy the digest.


As we begin National Poetry Month’s twenty-sixth year, my thoughts turn to the tiny bit of extra attention poetry and poets receive during this time. In April, Poets Laureate revel in their brief moments in the sun, coming up with creative ways to force poetry into the attention of unsuspecting citizens. When I was Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California, I asked local businesses to display poems on cardstock in their windows, and roped some volunteers into handing out poems printed on slips of paper to people on the street.

When I look back on those activities now, they seem less like fun and more like desperation. I’ll never forget the looks on people’s faces when I walked up to them and asked if they’d like a poem. Most were polite, a few enthusiastic, even touched, and one man backed away from me as if I’d tried to hand him a dead rat.

Erica Goss, Some thoughts as we begin National Poetry Month #26

Every April I challenge myself to read one poetry book per day—tackling all those books I’ve impulse-bought or been given by friends over the past year. Last year, I went all-out at the blog (see my post about Kathleen Flenniken for a great example), contacting many of the poets and asking questions about how their books were created. This year, I’m scaling down, but I still want to share with you what I’m reading, and at least a poem and some links for each poet. Rather than a review, you might think of these as “appreciations.”

Bethany Reid, It’s National Poetry Month!

This weekend we celebrate National Poetry Month at my church with Poetry Sunday, a sharing of favorite poems and original poems by members of the congregation. We’re a small progressive church, a safe place for all kinds of seekers, and a good bunch. We’re in between pastors right now, with guest speakers from all kinds of places, plus us, so, as one of our resident poets, I’m helping out and have chosen poems for all the readings, recitations, and prayers. Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Christina Rossetti,  James Wright, Louise Gluck. If I’m brave enough, I will also share a recent poem of my own, about the day my dad had a heart procedure.

I’m still writing a poem a day for Lent, and, now that April has begun, another for that, in an annual poem-a-day-in-April tradition. I’m glad I will have a jillion drafts to work on all year, plus the handwritten poems in a notebook that keep surprising me by even existing. Also reading a lot of poetry, as usual, most recently Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars, pictured above (cover art: Darn by Mary McDonnell) and available at Terrapin Books, here. Part way through Blood Weather by Alice Friman. These two poets will be reading at my local library, via YouTube Live, on Tuesday, May 17, 7-8 p.m. central time! Join us! And the library has acquired these two books. Perfect for our ongoing Adult Reading Challenge, as April’s challenge is to read a book of poetry. Beautiful array of them, along with April raindrops, on display on the main floor!

Kathleen Kirk, Poetry Sunday

When it first came out, I read Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, but probably wasn’t in the right place for it at the time. I’ve just re-read it and have finally found myself in the right place to appreciate it. I’m still not in a position to argue over the merits of reading this ‘poetic translation’ over reading the original. Heaney covers this in his introduction (as well as the experience of students studying it at university – I was not alone.)

What I have done this time is loved the language and the story, and seen how the best works transcend time, and in the following passage, I think you’ll see what I mean

‘A Geat woman too sang out in grief;
with hair bound up, she unburdened herself
of her worst fears, a wild litany
of nightmare and lament: her nation invaded,
enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles,
slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke.’

Sue Ibrahim, Beowulf today

Shakespeare collaborated, in this play, with an impecunious young playwright by the name of Thomas Painte: Shakespeare was to take a couple of the silliest romances of the age and write the poetic speeches for them, and Painte was to fill in some touches of continuity and plausibility. But poor Painte died of a sudden ague before the work had fairly begun, and — King James having hinted that he wanted something new — the play was rushed to the stage without Painte’s work. “Never mind,” said William. “The audience will never miss it. I’ve got some songs that will knock their socks off.” And so we have Cymbeline.

A ghostly Spring comes: faint clouds of new green appear, in some lights, around the bare branches; fruit trees and tulip trees lay out enormous sums on gorgeous designer outfits, which will be ruined by the first good rain. None of it seems real to me. Here, too, we miss the work of young Thomas Painte. One thing was supposed to be connected to another. One Spring was supposed to promise another. Winter was supposed to yield, not to vanish. At any moment Summer is going to stumble onto the stage with his wig askew, blurt out a few lines, and exit, pursued by wildfire. 

Dale Favier, The Death of Thomas Painte

The outlandish pink trees
shake their stiff crinolines
and the whole theater stirs.
The audience feels
loved like brides
in a world of divorces.
Too frilly,
too old-fashioned,
the critics huffed.
The management closed the show,
closed the whole theater.
Only the caretaker
sees the pink trees dance.
They still dance,
so out of hand,
so outlandishly beautiful,
to the wind’s applause.

Anne Higgins, Our college reunion is coming up this weekend

I remember being introduced to Charles Wright’s poetry in Intro to Creative Writing. Those enigmatic long lines, phrased in such a way that almost everything sounds so wise, like haiku.

I’m rereading A Short History of the Shadow, and I still enjoy his poetry. I think that there’s this kind of Tennessee drawl to the long lines, a pausing and repeating that you can hear in the dialect. Feels homey to me.

Two things I wonder about his writing though—1. Why does he bring Italy into everything, like a Hemingway expatriot, instead of just letting Tennessee be, with all its Tennesseeness. 2. Why the heavy repetition of syntax / lineation patterns in multiple poems throughout his work—is just style or a rut.

Obviously, Charles Wright’s writing works; else he wouldn’t be Charles Wright. If you haven’t read him, you should! (but be careful not to read one more than one of his books in a row—he’s one of those writers that stains your hands if you’re a poet too.)

Renee Emerson, Reading Charles Wright

The latest from poet Mikko Harvey, following the full-length debut, Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit (Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 2018) [see my review of such here] and collaborative chapbooks Idaho Falls (with Jake Bauer; SurVision Books, 2019) and SkyMall (with Ashley Yang-Thompson; above/ground press, 2020), is the full-length Let The World Have You (House of Anansi, 2022). A Canadian poet living in Western Massachusetts, Harvey predominantly composes poems in first person lyric narratives that float across the boundaries of concrete image. “Wherever you are is a country.” he writes, at the mid-point of “Wind-Related Ripple in the Wheatfield,” “Touch it softly / to make it stand still. Your hair getting caught / in my mouth all the time, like a tiny piece / of you calling – like a tree trying to speak / to a rock by dropping a pinecone on it. / It is my intention to listen, but my hands / keep giggling while reminding me / I don’t get to be a human being / for very long, as if this were the punchline to a joke / whose first half I missed. I arrived too late.” There is an odd melancholy throughout, and Harvey’s is a lyric of held breath, and structurally echo a loose thread of lyric narratives I’ve seen over the past few years from American poets including Bianca Stone, Hailey Higdon, Hillary Gravendyk, Emily Kendal Freyand Emily Pettit: sharing a consideration for long, single stanzas, and their subversion of the short phrase. “I don’t / want you / to be / nervous.” He writes, to open the poem “For M,” “Maybe / thinking of / a walrus / would help.”

rob mclennan, Mikko Harvey, Let The World Have You

Mikko Harvey’s wry observations and surreal vignettes pose recognisable situations that ask indirect questions about what the reader notices and decides to take away. There are no wrong answers, but at its heart “Let the World Have You” is concerned with connections, how readers move and relate to each other and their environments, real, imagined and psychological.

Emma Lee, “Let the World have You” Mikko Harvey (House of Anansi Press) – book review

On a spring day as far from ‘late in dour October’ it would be harder to imagine, James Schuyler’s The Bluet surprises and delights. It’s the poem that has kept me going these last few desperate weeks, and not just because it features the bright blue of the Ukrainian flag.

At first glance it is a poem of escape, a wander through the woods to get away from it all. But as Carl Phillips has argued on the Poets House blog, there is more than enough in the poem’s manoeuvres to link it with Schuyler’s familiar presentation of the world as essentially social: the tiny bluet flower is a ‘Quaker lady’; ‘the air crisp as a/ Carr’s table water/ biscuit’; leaves that ‘are deep and oriental/ rug colors’.

But the word that catches my eye is ‘stamina’, placed at the end of the poem’s first line. Stamina seems so unlikely an epithet for a tiny blue flower.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: The Bluet, by James Schuyler

I’ve been turning over in my mind what it is I mean by ‘my kind of poetry’. Because there was a time when I wouldn’t have thought that today’s guest was ‘my kind of poet’. Indeed, there was a time, not all that long ago when I would have been puzzled by the idea that poems could be ‘life-saving. Bear with me.

For years and years poetry was always on the periphery for me. There were exceptions. When I was 16 it was the Metaphysicals….sardonic, clever, witty, sexy. Everything I wanted to be and wasn’t. At 18 the Augustans spoke to me. Clever, cool and witty. And I like the craft of couplets. At 20, briefly, it was Hopkins. What they all had in common was visible craft. At 22 I heard Robert Speaight’s recording of The Wasteland’ and it opened my ears and mind to TS Eliot. You can listen to it via YouTube in all its melancholy thespian RP musicality. It jars in a way that it didn’t, 57 years ago. Our ears become accustomed to different vowels and stresses. It occurs to me that it also opened my ears to Shakespeare, for which I shall be eternally grateful. […]

And so it went. As a teacher I liked the textures and evident emotion of Hughes and Heaney, but as  a reader it was mainly documentary and revisionist history that spoke to me: ballads and broadsheets, social realism. The 19thC Novel, Orwell. When I was asked to read Robert Lowell I fought it. I wasn’t interested in introspective, reflective late Romanticism (as I saw it). It wasn’t for me. I thought it was self-indulgent. Which is ironic, now I come to think. Anthony [Wilson] notes something in his post that chimes : 

“I have also been reminded of Seamus Heaney’s dictum in The Government of the Tongue that ‘no lyric ever stopped a tank’.”

I used to think that was an unanswerable argument to a question I never fully worked out. But now I say of course it can’t. And your point?  No tank ever made me happy or illuminated a mystery. A wren landed on the window sill earlier today, and just for a second it stopped my heart. So it goes. The thing was, what I wanted in poetry was stuff that could fill a room, like Shakespeare, that was memorisable and memorable. Most poetry was never ‘lifesaving’, and what I wanted was unlikely to be understated and quiet. We didn’t match. I didn’t miss it. I just didn’t get it..or it didn’t get me.

Something changed, about 15 years ago. Something shifted and if you wonder about ‘my kind of poetry’ it’s what the great fogginzo’s cobweb has been sharing for the last eight years. What strikes me is that while I’ll never have the apparently encyclopaedic knowledge of/familiarity with contemporary and 20thC that Anthony Wilson shares with you in his wonderful book Life-saving poems I’ve gradually being made more open to voices that one time I’d have dismissed. Life changes us.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Anthony Wilson’s “The Afterlife”

Alaska poet Keriann Gilson launched her brand, spankin-new collection of poetry today, places I never want to see again (Gnashing Teeth Publishing, 2022). It’s this beautiful road-rambling follow of a relationship’s ebbs and flows. I appreciate Keriann’s experimentation with haibun, especially its form and how it meanders down the page. She also explained today that the enjambment is a clue into the relationship. When lines flow and haiku are more elegant, the relationship is at its zenith. In contrast, the existence of short, choppy, stilted lines suggests there are problems afoot. It is a fine read, one that should land on a lot of bookshelves for a future reading once it’s been savored. Cheers to Keriann, and not only for this fine read, but also earning her MFA. Exciting news all around!

Kersten Christianson, You Gotta Get This One!

Karen Paul Holmes: I’ve dog-eared so many pages in this beautiful book, A Cartography of Home. Please tell us how this collection came about. I note a thread of homestead/weather/growing things that almost feels pioneer-like, but in a modern sense. And you do, after all, live on a farm. But there are other-located poems too: mini-market, hotel, church, for example. What can you tell us about the sectioning of the book into four parts? How much of the choosing and ordering of poems throughout the collection was purposeful and how much intuitive? Did you write any of the poems for this book specifically or did you assemble poems already written?

Hayden Saunier: I’ve been thinking about place for a long time. I’m a southerner who moved north into cities for theatre opportunities, but I grew up attached to a rural landscape and with an awareness of the innumerable lives that have inhabited a place long before me. Moving to the farm where my husband grew up reignited that deep connection to a particular landscape, but I also wanted to expand on the ideas of home and place to the those “other-locations” you mention (superstores, mini-markets, churches, press conferences, customer helplines) that have become our current and shared cultural landmarks. And when you walk the same fields and woods every day you are confronted by how time is stacked up in layers in a place, like tree rings and soil, so writing about place and home naturally becomes writing about time. That’s been given as an argument for art: It’s a means to stop time. Or a means to enter a single moment and that feels like stopping time.   

I love sectioning a book because I think a reader needs a place to rest between poems. I know I do. The way a bench is situated on a walking path to allow a moment to consider the view or tie your shoes or just sit. In A Cartography of Home, the first section begins with concrete considerations of home and habitation, and then those ideas ripple outward in the second and third sections, returning to the concrete and actual by the end. The way a walk works when the mind loosens and makes wider associations between the fixed points of beginning and end.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Karen Paul Holmes Interviews Hayden Saunier

Yesterday morning, I went to a local library to attend a writing workshop on the theme of ‘home.’ […]

I found it hard to say where my home is. Maybe it’s imaginary? Portable? I used to daydream about living in an Airstream trailer. Though I’d need a second one just for books… […]

Which brings to mind something one of the workshop attendees said about feeling at home in a library. Several of us nodded in agreement, and he added that the library–the public library–functions as a kind of matrix. I would add that’s true for one’s private library, as well, books providing a kind of collage of interests and influences and teachings that can be seen as a kind of matrix to the book-collector’s consciousness, loves, and interests. Speaking strictly for me, in this case.

The house I have inhabited for nearly 25 years now, the house my Beloved and I designed, helped to build, inhabited, raised our children in: this is as close to a ‘true home’ as I have ever had. And yet: is it my home, my rooted place, my last place, the dwelling-in I must have to feel stable and secure and surrounded by love and nature? I’m not so certain about that.

It’s beautiful here, especially in springtime. Yet as I consider friends and students and strangers who have had to pick up and leave on short notice, possibly never to return–it would be hard, but I could leave home. And, for now at least, I still have a choice to go or stay.

Ann E. Michael, Home is where?

Visiting the Azores has a strange fusion of ‘Here I am’ and ‘Where am I?’.   Call it a confused familiarity.  Our host on the island of Terceira presented us with a golden loaf of sweet bread  — kissing cousin to the sweet round on Ives Street at the Silver Star Bakery!  Back home in Fox Point, Azores banners hang from car mirrors, fisherman sell me their silvery catch from the back of a truck.  Living in RI, we’ve been imprinted with the nostalgia of others, our largest immigrant population from Madeira and the Azores.   

But the encounter with the archipelago has its own suspended reality — nuit blanche, arriving without a night’s sleep in the middle of the Atlantic on an unknown island.  Under the airport roofs birds were singing.  A city called Angra do Heroísmo, low church bells intoning.  Misty bay, veils of rain.  Whatever I was expecting, (small villages, old men and women collecting vine cuttings, tending their fig trees) was superimposed on an impeccable, chromatic seaside capital.  White and pastel houses alternate, holding each other from tumbling into the sea.  Air playful, soft, doing little arabesques over the dashing Atlantic. A man was etching in the sand a giant heart with the words Ukraine atop.

Jill Pearlman, Azores, Déjà Vu and Olà

I don’t know myself, but it’s not the result of an unexamined life. On the contrary, it is a life so examined that the fabric has been teased apart. I am a collection of discrete elements. And I am trying not to panic.

I recognize something in the line above; I am a loose collection from a poem I wrote in 2016. From the book I wrote wherein the translator described the poetry as my “late style”. I read that as a curse.

How have I survived rattling around these past years? Wide-open, and pinched simultaneously. A sack of bones.

At 4 am yesterday I was focused: writing. At 4 pm I crashed and splattered like a water droplet. Every time this happens I wonder if I will walk away for a day or two. Or for a year or two. Or more.

Identity is a complex issue. Language. Nationality. What they call the “formative years”. The America that shaped my formative years is not the America of today. I have lived here for more than half my life. For more than thirty years. And yet when people meet me they still ask me where I am from. As though answering that tells them anything about me.

I am from roach clips, milk lines, and Stranger Danger
I am from paisleys and bean bags, tv dinners and moon pies
I am from fire & brimstone, and inappropriate touches
I am from kerosene lamps and cinderblock walls
I am from scholastic books order forms and second-hand clothes
I am from guns and gophers and bloody chickens
I am from photographs cut carefully around the shapes of bodies
I am from sudden disappearances, fresh starts, and new names

But I say something like, the West Coast mostly, I moved around a lot. Then they tell me about all the times they have visited America, or the relatives they have there, or how much they love or have much they hate the culture. “Americans are…” and they begin to shape me.

And I go home and dig a little more deeply into the ditch that separates me from the world. I am still too easily twisted by casual contact.

Ren Powell, A Loose Collection of Mixed Metaphors

It’s been one year since my cancer diagnosis and I had a checkup with my surgeon this week. He said everything is looking good but it might be another nine months to year before I see any results from the nerve graft in my face. There’s another procedure that could be done, which requires taking a length of muscle from my thigh and threading it through my face to help restore symmetry, but that sounds horrific. I might explore botox. The droop face really is depressing. 

My six month cancer scans in December were clear, but I’ll be having more in June. Fingers crossed for the continued “all clear.” I think I’ll feel and even bigger weight of my shoulders when those results come back.

I’m slowly but surely getting the new & selected together collection. Publication is planned for September 2023. 

Collin Kelley, A new poem and a health update

Tuesday morning, the moon startled me on my morning walk.  It was just before dawn, and the moon as it was rising looked huge in the very dark sky.  It’s at the end of a waning phase, so it looked hollowed out.  As I walked, I came up with some lines for a poem, and I repeated them throughout my walk, so that I could remember.

Wednesday morning, I wanted to see if I could see the moon again, but because it’s a day later, moonrise was later, 6:28 a.m.  So I headed to South Lake, where I thought I would have a better view of the moon as it rose.  South Lake looks out towards the part of the beach with fewer highrises.

I got there at 6:34, which I thought gave me a good chance of seeing it, but at first I didn’t see anything.  I walked slowly around the lake, and just when I was about to give up, I saw it, a narrow sliver of a moon in a red-orange sky, just before sunrise.  It looked much more apocalyptic than it did when it was in a darker sky.  

I stood and stared for a moment.  If I hadn’t been paying attention, I likely wouldn’t have noticed the moon–it was just too close to sunrise and too cloudy.  I walked to North Lake where I could still see the moon, but it was barely visible as the sky had gotten much lighter.

I have all but ceased sending out poems just now, so let me post the poem that I wrote after my moonwalk mornings.  Is it done?  My younger poet self would have put in a lot of references to social justice issues.  My younger poet self would have made every connection glaringly obvious.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Moonwalking

It looks like that,
the old monk said,

because that’s always
how you see it.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (61)

Speak to any writer and they will tell you that it is difficult to force creativity, especially poetry which is a medium of translation – events, pain, love, happiness – into art. I feel I have burned myself out through striving to get to a place that is perhaps non-existent and more about my need to be recognised as valuable, than about my need to create. All the striving has, though, allowed me to climb high enough that I am now on a platform that I can, to a certain extent, control. I can sit on this platform and grow into myself and my writing. Right now I am working on myself. I feel like I am undoing myself, peeling away long papery layers of habit and compulsion and sitting with each version of myself, asking her what she needs and what I need to do to validate her. I’m addressing all sorts of things, both personally and in my writing. I mentioned recently that my next collection has been put back a year, which feels like a terribly long time but, actually I feel this might be fate playing a hand for me. Without the pressure of the imminent end of year deadline, I have been able to allow the poems to come when they come. I’ve used the last of my Society of Author’s work-in-progress grant to take the time to write when I need to; a change from what I initially planned, which was to set a big chunk of time aside to write write write, which just didn’t work for me. I always felt I worked best under the pressure of a finite time scale, but it turns out that my procrastination is a lack of confidence, the ‘working well to a last minute deadline’ is a way of avoiding having confidence in myself and my work, a way to ‘trust the gods’ and have an excuse if I didn’t do as well as I wanted. The truth is, we don’t always do as well as we want, that’s just part of it. Some things work, some things don’t.

Wendy Pratt, Creativity and the Slow Life

I’m trying to write a poem a day, since I haven’t been writing as much lately, and seeking inspiration inside the world that’s still in a pandemic and a war. So I wanted to connect with some friends via phone and explore neighboring Kirkland, which has a beautiful waterfront with Lake Washington, and seems buzzing and friendly, at least when the sun shines.

I’m not healthy enough to travel or get in big crowds yet but I am, as you may see, making an attempt to get back into the world while covid levels here are low enough. As the UK and Asia struggle with another surge, I’m sure one is coming this way too, but for now, I’m getting out when it’s sunny (even when it’s not warm) and enjoying the flowers. I’ve enjoyed talking to friends this week about AWP as well as their travels and travel plans. Being immune compromised, I can’t be quite as adventurous, but I’m glad to get the news of the outside world, adventure by proxy. Meanwhile, I’m exploring different neighborhoods, capturing signs of spring.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy April – National Poetry Month (and My Birthday Month,) and Seeking Inspiration

Everything feels unfinished. Every thought that comes to mind is a sentence half-spoken. I jot down one clause — “the death of a parent casts a long shadow” — and then I don’t know where to go from there. 

Pesach is coming sooner than I think. I start a seder menu, then my efforts trail off. I’ll have one vegetarian, one picky eater, and one diabetic. I can’t think of a good main course to suit all of us.

I open a book I’ve read before, Black Sea, by Caroline Eden. It’s a travelogue with recipes. She writes about how surprisingly Jewish the food of Odessa is. Tsimmes and forshmak are Ukrainian foods.

She describes sunny afternoons, the still air of quiet museums, pastel-colored architecture slowly decaying, literary stories of ice cream. Today the streets are filled with sandbags and barricades

At the end of the Odessa chapter she offers a recipe for black radishes and carrots with caraway and cider vinegar and honey. I have those things! But what to eat them with? I run out of steam again.

Rachel Barenblat, Unmoored

In 2017 I launched a collaborative performance practice called the Improv Poetry Orchestra (IPO). It’s a simple enough set-up – a poet writes improvisatory poetry on a laptop at a desk onstage, which is projected onto a screen behind her. Musicians onstage read the writing as it’s being generated, and they improvise in response to—and in tandem with—her. […]

Improvisatory writing—and any form of creative improvisation—can be a profoundly connective process. It draws disparate people and/or ideas together (connective), and it’s centered around the act of creation (process) rather than around artistic intentions or a final product. 

And unlike other skills which you must master from the ground up, you already have a lifetime of experience with improvising. Each day when you have a conversation with another person, you generate sensible, interesting statements spontaneously. Creative improvisation is similar—it just requires a little courage to be both nonsensical and unimpressive (yet occasionally amazing!), a few tools, and some practice. 

Improvisatory Poetry: Making it up as you go along – guest post by Elisabeth Blair (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

Like most people I put up with Zoom readings and events when it was the only thing allowed, and I hadn’t realised how much I loathed it until I started to contemplate the horror of online poetry events becoming a permanent thing. The ‘Zoom factor’ is having a detrimental effect on my decision about whether to return to the University of York to finish my MA later this year: as long as there is any chance whatsoever that seminars will be moved online, I can’t honestly contemplate returning.

Ironic really: twenty-five years ago, as an internet newbie I was basking in the excitement of what the Web had to offer, online for hours every night (this was in the US, where it was free!) and making friends across the globe (yes, actual people – some of whom I got to know in real life). I then spent the best part of twenty years working in online marketing and speaking, teaching, advocating and writing books about the power (and brilliance) of the internet for business, for communities and for communication generally.

And now? After nearly three months ‘resting’ from Twitter, I’m wondering just how much I missed it, if at all

Robin Houghton, At last, some (a)live poetry events

I have always maintained that the raw material for poetry is all around us but that most of the time we don’t realise it. A poet is a person who sees the possibilities and who tries to respond to them. Last Saturday I had the idea that the air is teeming with poems, they circle like airplanes waiting to land. This is what I did with that idea:

Poems Are Everywhere

a complex holding pattern
keeps the free range poems airborne
invisible they circle the world
we are oblivious […]

Paul Tobin, FREE RANGE POEMS

On a day when engaging with the world feels too much like loving a damaged man, I stand underneath our willow’s blossoming canopy and look up. It is like being in another world, one with a sky made of flowers, and I remember that this is how it is:

There is only one world, and we stay because of moments such as this.

We stay because leaving means leaving all of it, not just its barrage of bad news, and we cannot give up spring afternoons when the sun is the right kind of warm and tulips are leaning toward us as if we are the light and passing strangers smile and tell us how lovely our corner of it is. We stay because we see how it might be, how it could be, how, for brief moments, it is, and we let ourselves believe that–if only we love it carefully enough–it can be (it will be) like this all the time.

That we are wrong doesn’t make the moments any less beautiful or true.

*****

This week my students and I read Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Making a Fist” together, from which I borrowed a line to use as the title of this post. I turned away from much of the news this week, but I made myself stay with “Inside Mariupol,” which also contributed to this micro-essay.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Clenching and opening one small hand

I have almost forgotten childhood now. Sometimes I’ll remember something that happened when I was a boy, but I am not sure if I really remember it, or if I have told the story of it enough times that it is really only the story I remember, and not the thing itself. What happens next? Will I also forget how it was to be a man? And then when I die, will I have had a life at all? Memories of memories. Perhaps I was never a boy. Perhaps I was never a man. I could just be a random thought in time and space. Friend, what a wretched thing it is to be getting old and not even know what is real and what is not. 

James Lee Jobe, the forgotten childhood

or how at certain times in my life parts
of my body went numb in spring the black
tailed deer chewed honeycrisp apples in the snow
in front of my house her body
the color of elephant tusks

on Shrove Tuesday I ate the cake purple
and gold straight through to the plastic baby
clack clack on my tooth and kayakers
dotted the Stillaguamish River 
like swift primary flags like standards
bright narrow countries
yet to be discovered

Rebecca Loudon, April 2.

Euridice’s footfalls so quiet on the rocky path. We should have sung together. I could have listened. What singer needs sight to know?

My Euridice. Dew on early morning lawn. Sandwich meat in the ancient world’s most beloved deli. Lips like an asp bite. Joke maker. It was she who charmed them, though I was a good opener, with my lyre, sweet rhymes, my boy pretty face.

Her ironic bright-light grace. Even when alive she seemed a beam, glinting, as if she’d passed between Lucretius’s atoms as through a beaded curtain or the rain. Euridice, bioluminescent in the dark deep sea.

Gary Barwin, over-the-shoulder beholder: SOMETHING ORPHEUS SAID

Have you seen the dancers who talk while they
dance, no, who talk with their hands, oh, so loud,
in unison, dancing deaf Greek chorus?
How goes the war? Did they clear the streets

of the dead? How many did they silence?
What are the words that stab, cut, slice, fillet?
What are the words soft as the edge of feathers
of steel […]

PF Anderson, Questions

I gather together all the foolish words I’ve uttered.

Give them baths, scrub away the grime, wash their hair, clean away the dirt behind their ears.

I brush their teeth, check their eyes, bandage wounds, provide blood transfusions when needed.

Then I dress them in cleaner clothes, offer each a pat on the head and send them back out into the world—

hoping my words will serve me better next time.

Rich Ferguson, Second Skin

You could open
many things
with a fragment

How easily
it slips into
your hand

Beautiful
detritus
Vascular

scoria
of tiny hidden
cavities

In each one
a constellate
a branching

Luisa A. Igloria, Bricolage

You sense the famine in the empty veins of leaves. Bone-birds summon you from frozen wires. Your restless need for banquets may not be logical, but you understand the hollow tuck in their frail and downy wings. You carry smoke and bells with grace. When faced with complex factors, you draw down mica and paint spirals on all locked gates in sight. Your friends call you ghost orchid, amethyst, cleric of water wheels and bright fat plums. Some are puzzled by your sprawl of bread and lilacs, but still consume your bounty. It’s your nature to know the genus of every hunger, to shimmer in the distance without effort. For you starvation is abstract. If necessary, you will grind the hulls yourself.

Kristen McHenry, Poem of the Month: Themes

a sunbeam
sliding down a cobweb
coffee time

Jim Young [no title]

The author was born in a rainstorm, the sky raven dark. The clouds thick and winged over the midwest. The author couldn’t sleep, at first, for all the thunder. but under the author, the forest writhed in moss and peat. Tethered itself to the author like ship. At night, she’d sail it through and the trees. The author, at first had no mother, no father, only the thin lip of daylight at the horizon. Only a slip of wind to guide her. She’d stack the broken limbs and build a fire and the ghosts would gather.  The author would rest, but only in the heart of of an immense, hollowed out oak, where she’d play house with the dark and marry it again and again.  Would carry its children up and down the ladder each morning. Would hush them to sleep, each night.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #1

A woman is killed as she tries to feed starving dogs.
I try to shake myself free but the image
and my imagination growl and tighten their jaws.
This is not about me, I say, it’s about the dead woman.
The woman is dead, says the image.
You can do nothing for her now.
Her death has invaded your life.
You must live with it.

We pass the cottage where the old couple lived.
In winter they came out one at a time
for they shared the same pair of shoes.

Now it’s home to a woman with winter-coloured skin
who paints a poem called Still Life With Anger.

In the distance we see the towers of the city.
The Government buildings, grey as rain-clouds
where people stand in line in the hope of leaving.

Bob Mee, THE REUNION AND OTHER POEMS

if i return to rest in a seed :: won’t my fields come searching for me

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 12

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, a true miscellany, with few unifying themes. I was excited to see a couple of my favorite bloggers re-emerge from hiatus, and the regulars didn’t disappoint, either. Enjoy. And best of luck to everyone planning on writing a poem a day throughout April—just four days away!


Today the island exploded with yellow the daffodils have been here but the forsythia arrived overnight. There is too much now to say and so I dip my crushed left great toe in to test. There is too much to say that has gone unsaid and so here I am dipping my toe in the ocean here I am saying hello! Hello! Are you there?

*

Panic diary 1

Mushrooms hold their spongy heads as I pass
there goes weeper in her boots and mask
my heart explodes (again) milk shivers in my arms
spring lamb spills her body a blood container
shivering in the grass it is so wet and beautiful
when a woman and a man slow dance to no music
tomorrow is Bach’s birthday one breathes revolution
the slow version dancing alone in my kitchen in bare feet

Rebecca Loudon, Equinox

I spent the winter hibernating.

Not literally, of course, and not completely; I kept getting up and going to work and talking to friends and such. But still, it was a season of purposeful, chosen dormancy. Covid’s omicron strain made it easier than it might otherwise have been because it provided an acceptable (in my circles) reason to go quiet.

Katherine May identifies several different kinds of wintering and ways of entering in to such a season of life; mine has been a wintering of transition, of having “temporarily fallen between two worlds.” I am both retired and not-retired. I am in a process of leaving behind the self I have been for most of my adult life (mother, educator, creative dabbler) and welcoming another whose labels are mostly unknown.

My life has not felt this open in more than 40 years. It would be nice to have the body I had the last time I was in such circumstances, but I’m facing a malleable future with considerably more knowledge and less fear than I had then. I feel more existential threat than I have at any other time, but for now I’ve got a sturdy shelter, economic stability, reasonably good health, and love. I have choices. I am fortunate.

So, what did I do while away?

I read poetry and historical fiction and memoir and self-help. I organized cupboards and put reading chairs in the kitchen and bought a new dining table that sits in front of our big living room window. I wrote poems and memoir exercises and lesson plans and an essay. I took naps on the couch and on the bed, in the middle of sunny days, and against a backdrop of late afternoon rain. I made chicken soup from the whole bird and pizza dough from yeast and flour and beer, and breakfast cookies sweetened with chunks of dark chocolate. I bought a houseplant, and pillar candles for the pedestal holders my grandfather carved at the beginning of his retirement more than 40 years ago. We’ve placed them on the new table. I bought and returned three sweatshirts because none of them was right. I worked a really hard puzzle. I watched TV. I went to the doctor and dentist and physical therapist. I sat outside one day in February’s false spring sun and closed my eyes.

And I began ice skating. (again)

I decided to take a break from blogging and enter into a period of purposeful dormancy because I sensed that I needed some quiet and some space so that things could emerge. What things? I didn’t know, and “things” was as precise a word I wanted when I began. I thought the time underground would bring clarity around writing, perhaps give me some direction in what I want to do or work on. I began working through Julia Cameron’s program for creative recovery and was open to where it might take me. I never expected it to take me to an ice rink.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On wintering

So here I am running the lanes looking for
all the things I would have shared with you:

the planting of young laurels along the hedgerow
on St Vincent’s Lane, the way the moss

has grown sparsely on one side of the stone bridge
but thickly on the other, and how someone

has laid a plank across the stream to cross
from bank to bank. I think I understand now

that grief remains with us. And I never had to say,
Don’t go, please stay, because you never left me.

Mam, the wood anemones are like stars
carpeting the woods. Soon, the bluebells.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Never

Here I am at my desk in my bedroom, working on my Zoom class with my Modernity students.

Tomorrow all the Daughters of Charity are in retreat, praying and preparing for March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, when we make our vows again.

With the recent health problems which will not go away, but which are in tenuous check right now, I worry that though I will make it to March 25, I might not make it until the end of the month and our college reunion, or to Easter on April 17, or to see the full flowering of my garden this summer.

But all I can do is try to hold the illness in abeyance by resting and avoiding any food or drink that might inflame my radiated bladder.   So it goes.

Anne Higgins, What is all this juice and all this joy?

on a quiet street
in Luang Prabang
the unexploded ordnance centre —
a grandmother covers
a little girl’s eyes […]

folding a world map
war zone collapsing into war zone
someone will die
from something that will fall
from someone else’s sky

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Margin Notes

I’m sitting under fluorescent lights, half-awake and digesting a lemon-poppy muffin. Are poppy seeds the opiate of breakfast? I’m scanning the wires on a slow Monday for anything that rises to the level of news. There ain’t much. There may be a million stories in the naked city, but up here in the fully-clothed suburbs excitement is thin on the ground. I listen to the first bars of a jangly song from 1990. It sounds like many of the the jangly songs from 1990, with a singer more or less hitting the intended pitches and the guitarist carrying the weight. I can see through the studio’s Venetian blinds that the sun is up. We’re so far from Venice, in every meaningful way. A friend said the war in Ukraine is the international conflict version of a white woman being kidnapped. I google “Yemen” and try to catch up.

Jason Crane, Hum

pale chair
in the arms of dawn
flowers wait

Jim Young [no title]

When my daughter lived in Asheville NC about 12 years ago, I noticed the rain, as well as flourishing vines, and lichen, on so many of the trees. She said that the Blue Mountains in that area are a temperate rain forest, but the humidity bothered her less than here in eastern PA because of the higher altitude: Asheville’s at about 3000 feet elevation. In the last 8 years or so, I’ve noticed the same tree-clinging lichen in my region–a new development. I have lived here over 30 years and had never seen it before. Another thing I notice is how much more vigorous the vining plants, many of them non-native, have become and how rapidly they shoot up into the overstory, choking off the tops of tulip poplars and oaks and pulling down the trunks of dead ash trees. The growing season has lengthened a bit, which is worrying from an environmental perspective even if it means I may eventually be able to grow camellias and figs.

And I can’t deny finding some of the milder weather pleasant, especially the sounds of tree frogs filling the nights earlier in the year. They soothe me at the end of day. Yet these crucial amphibians are very much at risk as the world warms. I may have little choice about whether we can return to cooler, damper summers, but I can make choices about how I live in the world and about what matters. It bears keeping in mind as I work the soil for another season in my garden.

Ann E. Michael, Weather weirding

Rectangular hole.
Pile of earth
draped in astroturf:

like a challah
shyly enfolded
while we bless

candles and wine,
like a Torah
covered for modesty.

This pine box
is a cradle
for an empty shell.

Rachel Barenblat, Graveside

I wasn’t sure if I was ready to delve into fiction again because poetry has been the most healing writing for me with grief. Poetry allows me to examine events and my feelings about them in a structured, beautiful, in-depth way. It’s something that I really needed, especially in the first few months of this year (I typically write 2 poems a month—I wrote more like 5 a month in January/February).

But there’s also an expansive absorption in writing fiction.

I dreaded entering back into the novel because I thought I’d find such a hopeless mess there that I’d never untangle it. Instead it’s been more like street-sweeping, tidying up, trimming hedges (moving whole blocks to whole other blocks, but not as much as I’d expected). My biggest challenge has actually been getting TOO into it—there’s something about editing and writing fiction that sucks me in completely, where it is all I want to do! As much as I love poetry, I can give it 15 dedicated minutes and be done—fiction could eat up my whole day if I have a whole day available.

Renee Emerson, Fiction Brain vs. Poetry Brain

Last night I dreamed that Frank Loyd Wright posted right turn only signs all over town, so everyone was going in circles.

It was one of those situations where a little bit of leftist thinking would’ve gotten the traffic flowing more smoothly.

Upon waking, I made sure grace had all the wax cleared from its ears before asking for any small mercies.

After all, it only takes a slight loss of sibilance to make ‘exist’ sound like ‘exit.’

Now I’m gonna inquire about borrowing a shovel to dig down deep into the earth,

discover that wishbone singing brighter than any tuning fork—

just the thing to melody any lingering miseries down off the ledge of another Monday morning.

Rich Ferguson, A Little Bit of Leftist Thinking in a Right Turn Only Town

I’d been undertaking self-care this past week, though I don’t love that term. I was following the black dog into the shadows because if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. I was reading the Dhammapada, Pema Chodron, the usuals. I’d been reading Rilke. I had driven a friend home one evening and we were talking in the car in the dark about a similar loss that we’d each suffered. Hers more recent and mine quite far in the past. I wanted to offer something comforting and I wanted to say that time healed. And time does something, but it struck me that this past week was the 30th anniversary of my loss, and it was hitting me hard! and that time is trickier and wilier than all that. Because of the way that losses and griefs and disappointments will accumulate and compound and because of the way that our understanding of any of those large moments in life is an intricate and changing architecture. The loss, the finding out, for me, was suddenly raw again when for years it hadn’t been at all, and it felt like yesterday, however cliché that sounds, that I answered the early morning phone call, and then dressed and went to my university class in 18th century literature with the kind professor looking at me sidelong from time to time as he lectured, knowing, I felt, that something wasn’t quite right. In short, this experience made me realize and not for the first time that I know absolutely nothing. Who am I to offer consolation for grief when I scarcely know what to do with my own? And isn’t it interesting how all of those contradictions and minor and major griefs of the pandemic have acted upon the usual grief cycles. (And when I say interesting I mean damn it’s a bitch). My current theory has something to do with the darkness healing more than time does, but I suppose they’re working in tandem.

As an aside, because of the kindness of this particular professor, I took a LOT of classes in 18th century literature. Like, a weird number of them. I just trusted that prof.

Shawna Lemay, A Certain Devastation

We are as fish caught in a cloudy
aquarium waiting for algae scrapers,
water siphons, lime and bleach cleaners—

Our Lady of the virtual lament, electronic
embrace, mediated job interview, meeting,
or funeral— In some part of the world

pink blossoms have opened to spring
and in another, a pink wave of protesters
fills actual streets. Our Lady of ICUs

and statistics. Our Lady of terrible risks.
Our Lady of wars and climate injustice
in the throb of an ongoing epidemic.

Luisa A. Igloria, Novena for the Pandemic

We want so badly for our experiences to be explained as simple cause-and-effect events. Because anything else would be irrational. Untrue. Unnecessary pain. Anything else would be the work of a shadow-weaving woman making a weighted blanket from the loose atmospheres of dreams and memories.

But I keep her close, like a lover I know will hurt me. It’s my fault. Holding onto the destructive stories like talismans. The devil you know.

I have a metal ruler in one of the drawers in the studio. It is jagged on both long edges. I am not sure why, and I am not sure how I came to have this ruler in a drawer. in the studio. I catch my fingers on it every time I open the drawer. And yet I haven’t moved it. I haven’t gotten rid of it. (What would I do with it? Where would I send it?) I mean, I bought it after all. I put it there. It must be there for a reason.

Maybe I am misinterpreting the phrase “trust yourself”? Maybe I am misplacing my trust. Maybe everyone (I’m sure of it) feels this way when the season changes and death is everywhere, making room – clearing room – for the sprawl of strange offspring. Another round of the unknown. Mystery eggs.

I’ve learned that more than moths and butterflies emerge from cocoons. It seems nothing that I learn makes for good small talk. And I am beginning to understand that that doesn’t matter at all.

Ren Powell, Contextualizing Anxiety

One meaning of the term storification is the imposing of a story structure onto raw historical facts – being selective and even changing the order of events. One story would be that the older self meets the young self. Perhaps the young self wouldn’t recognise the older one who’d tell him not to worry, it’ll all be wonderful in the end, like a dream. Or perhaps the older one merely recalls the freedom of his earlier life, the not knowing what will happen next. Maybe he’ll re-introduce some of those features into his life now that retirement’s looming. Perhaps when he returns to the group he’s known for a week or so he’ll surprise them, break out of the role he’s too easily slipped into.

Tim Love, Rabat revisited

the muse calls me from my bed
to sit in the dark and write out my dream
in wide spaced words on blank white paper

it’s 4:30 am no car goes past outside
then wobbling in the tail end of the storm
a man weaves along the road

no lights on his bike I note
and from the way he steers
no exact idea of where to go

he executes a sudden turn right
and when I look up again
I take in the emptiness of the night

Paul Tobin, THE EMPTINESS OF THE NIGHT

When we were five years old, my friend Kim and I created a secret realm. It was ruled by a fearsome Queen named Calavina. To escape her evil magic we’d ride a rocking horse wildly, then fling ourselves into hiding places where we whispered desperate warnings to each other. Even when we weren’t playing, we honored that noble toy horse with a royal cape (a small blanket) draped over its back. We kept Calavina’s queendom alive for several years. Then one day we tried to enter her world of adventure and peril but found we were only acting. The enchantment had lifted.

Although the imaginary realms of my childhood weren’t very complex, some children create elaborate domains featuring backstories, unique customs, and made-up words where they propel characters through all sorts of dramatic events.

That’s true of 9 year old Cameron. Under his bed is another dimension.

The world he created rests on a sheet of cardboard cut from a refrigerator box. Some days Cameron spends hours playing with it. The ocean is aluminum foil raised in permanently cresting waves, inhabited by an exotic array of marine creatures made from clay. Forests filled with bright trees and plants are constructed from painted cotton balls, balsa, toothpicks, and wrapping paper.

Dotted between the Seuss-like trees are tiny shelters, each a different shape. This world is populated by creatures made out of beads, pipe cleaners, and fabric. They’re named Implas and their dramas keep Cameron busy. His mother says she has to remind herself that Cameron is the one changing it all the time, that his creation isn’t really growing.

Laura Grace Weldon, Worldplay Creates The Future

I finished that book while the plane was still on the tarmac in Atlanta.  What would I do during the 90 minute flight to Ft. Lauderdale?

Stare at the moon, that’s what.  Was it significantly different staring at the moon from a height of 30,000 feet?  Not really.  It didn’t make the difference that a telescope would make, for example.  But I saw the sky turn reddish purple and then golden and then the huge mostly full disc of the moon emerged, not quite full, but not a half moon either.  I could see the land below, the glittering lights, the dark splotches.  I could see some long lines of clouds that looked more like surf, but I was sure they were not.

An added bonus:  for much of the flight, the cabin lights were dimmed, so the view was even more compelling.  Not having a book to read didn’t bother me at all.

I realize that most of my fellow fliers weren’t as lucky as I was–in addition to having a window seat with a view, I was in that 1 exit row seat that didn’t have a seat in front of it, so I could stretch my legs.  At one point, I looked over to see if my rowmate wanted to look out the window.  At the beginning of the flight, he had been pecking on his phone so intently that the flight attendant said, “Sir?  Did you hear a word I said about your duties and this exit row seat?”  After the lights went out, he fell asleep.  I hogged the window, guilt-free!

I wanted to tell everyone to look out the window, to tell them what an amazing celestial show they were missing by sleeping or staring into their phones/tablets.  I’m willing to be arrested for many activities, but reminding my fellow travelers to look out the window is not one of them, so I stayed quiet.

Last night, I was the quiet mystic, staring out the window at the moon, not the prophet, shouting at people to renounce their false gods and realize how we can find God in nature.  Last night, I was the woman wishing I had a camera that could capture that beauty and realizing that sometimes (often), it’s best to just let beauty wash over us as we fly by night.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Flying by Night

Not at Philly’s AWP this week, still avoiding crowds due to the covid-19 thing and the immune-suppressed thing. But I did try to spend the week paying attention to things that fed the spirit and inspired. When spring finally appears in our area, we get these rare sunny days when everything is in bloom and people smile and say hello to each other.

So I went for a walk through a bunch of plum trees in bloom, which smell amazing, and the petals fell down in the breeze. There are also cherry blossoms, and the daffodils have started to open, and so I spent time in the garden, trimming back maples overgrowth, giving the new apple and cherry trees more space and more mulch, and weeding and planting a new pink container “cutting” garden with things I haven’t grown before – snapdragons, carnations, cupcake cosmos, celosia, godetia. Tulip and star magnolia trees are starting to open as well. The air smells like spring, even in the rain.

The news remains grim. My social media feed is full of book signings and panels, friends who are traveling to beautiful places, or people raising money for Ukraine refugees showing pictures of destruction and bombings – it’s enough to give someone emotional whiplash. It’s hard to stay oriented, much less focus on writing or submitting poetry. The spring flowers and deer visitors (we also had a bobcat walk through again) are good reminders that there is still beauty and wildness around us. I miss seeing friends at AWP – my social life has been mostly phone calls for two years – but at least Seattle gave us some warmer, sunnier days so that we could stop and appreciate the beauty of where we are now.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Not at AWP Post: A Seattle Writer Walks through Plum Blossoms, Japanese Gardens, and an Art Gallery

On this World Poetry Day, 2022 I wanted to mention that the wonderful Modern Poetry in Translation magazine has made its 2017 issue featuring contemporary poetry and essays from Russian and Ukrainian poets available free to read online – here’s the link to the issue on MPT’s website.

Published in 2017, here’s the opening paragraph from Sasha Dugdale’s editorial:

“This, my last, issue of MPT features poems of conflict and protest from Russia and Ukraine. The conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine is politically intricate, and at the same time it is diabolically simple. In 2014 Russia covertly invaded an area of Ukraine with an ethnically and linguistically Russian population after illegally annexing Crimea. A fierce war broke out, with daily casualties and atrocities, and even now it smoulders on in the area. Propaganda and false truths draw a veil over the war and its many casualties and victims, and serve at the same time to heap grievance upon grievance; to ensure that peace will remain provisional and uneasy.”

And here’s one extract from ‘Home Is Still Possible There…’ by Kateryna Kalytko, translated by Olena Jennings and Oksana Lutsyshyna:

“Home is still possible there, where they hang laundry out to dry,
and the bed sheets smell of wind and plum blossoms.
It is the season of the first intimacy
to be consummated, never to be repeated.
Every leaf emerges as a green blade
and the cries of life take over the night and find a rhythm.”

Do dip in to the issue, I was so glad to be able to return to it and read it in light of what is happening now, to help me better understand something of the history and politics of Russia and Ukraine.

Josephine Corcoran, Ukrainian and Russian Poetry at MPT magazine

Moving on to the poems themselves, one of Helena Nelson’s greatest attributes is her knack for observation. Not just watching people and then portraying them, but the capacity to pick up on the nuances and undercurrents that play crucial roles in social and human relations. One such example is the closing couplet to ‘Back’:

…She is back. He is glad. And the bed is glad
and a pot of coffee is almost ready.

The ‘he’ and ‘she’ of this extract are the Philpotts, of course, the protagonists of this book. Their relationship, a second marriage in middle age, is evoked via snapshots such as these lines in which emotion is conveyed indirectly through the active role of objects such as the bed and the pot.

In technical terms, meanwhile, this couplet is fascinating. For instance, the penultimate line features three anapests before a iamb kicks in, drawing the elements together and offering a musical reassurance that’s mirrored by semantic warmth.

And what about the punctuation? At first glance, it might seem artificial or unusual. Two three-word sentences without conjunctions are then followed by a longer, unexpected sentence that goes against convention, not just by starting with a conjunction but also by refusing to place a comma midway through (at the end of that penultimate line). However, this punctuation is actually riffing on our expectations, surprising us and then turning inevitable, guiding us through the couplet’s delicate cadences.

As the clichéd rhetorical question goes, which came first, the chicken and the egg? In this case, however, we’re referring to the poet and the editor. Is Helena Nelson such a scrupulous editor because of her highly tuned understanding of the importance of the tension between sentence and line or has her poetic skill-set been further developed by her work as an editor?

Deep down, of course, the important thing remains that her awareness of syntactic and semantic cause and effect, already keenly felt in her first full collection, Starlight on Water (The Rialto, 2003), has only increased over the years. In fact, one of the aesthetic pleasures in reading this book is derived through observing an expert at work, admiring her control of sentence and line, learning from it.

Matthew Stewart, Nuances and undercurrents, Helena Nelson’s Pearls

Hayden Saunier:  I’m fascinated by how poetry manuscripts develop. In Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars was there a central idea or proposition or moment that these poems gathered themselves around? A series of explorations that you return to again and again?

Patricia Clark: These poems that became a manuscript that came to be named Self-Portrait with a Million Dollars are not poems of a project, or an agenda. I can’t work that way—with an aim at a project defined ahead of time. I want to write out of my obsessions and, over time, see what results. What are the threads that unite these poems? Feasts, pleasures, and the falling away, the inevitable loss of such pleasures. The longing for connection with others, with ourselves, and with the world. The elegiac thread of loss, lost moments and chances, and also lost loves and selves, missed connections. The awfulness of flux. We want stability—but stasis is a horror—and we get only fragments, of course. Robert Frost’s description of a poem, each one as “a momentary stay against confusion.” Brief, yes, but such great moments and fragments! […]

Hayden:  “Feasting, Then” opens the first section with a call to attention to the small marvels and gifts surrounding us in the natural world. “And the Trees Did Nothing” is a poem that confronts our romantic notions about that natural world as the human one literally collides with it—there’s an icy jolt of “knowledge.” These are two examples, but all through the book, your attention and your language focus our eyes and ears on vivid, resonant details of both worlds. How did you develop this keenness of observation?

Patricia:
Thanks for the compliment on “keenness of observation.” I’ll say right off, it has taken me years. And I’m still not really satisfied. How does one describe what one sees: whether a sky or a tree? Impossible. The real sight still escapes one, I think. What I am up to, I believe, is trying to tell the truth about something I see in the physical world. When I get stuck in the poem, I return to that, over and over. What was there? What else was there? Was that everything? And don’t make it too beautiful? what was on the ground? Some trash? some dog poop? Let the “divine details” (Nabokov’s words) speak. And they will and the poet can step out of the way. And back to another poet, William Carlos Williams—”No ideas but in things.” I have no “idea” what a poem is up to—I want to let the details speak and tell the story, tell the moment. If I can do that well, I’ve done my job, I believe. And it’s not easy, even then. If I get the “small” picture right, the big picture of the poem (its meaning, its thoughts and movement) should take care of itself.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Hayden Saunier Interviews Patricia Clark

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Every job I’ve ever worked has necessitated a writer. Most writing does not look like writing. Keeping logs, taking minutes, composing emails, organizing meetings, talking to people, creating to do lists, saving meeting notes. I’ve been a writer working at Wendy’s, in a homeless shelter, as an executive assistant, shelving books in a library, or even scrapbooking with my mom. Writing is the work of gathering, of finding an order for things. Sometimes it makes it on paper. I think a lot of people are writers and they don’t really know it – especially working people. Writing is more often than not something a person volunteers to do. But it happens everywhere. Someone has to be willing. I guess the job of a writer is to keep doing that work, to keep recording for the benefit of the group, to keep giving people new visions of reality to think about, to keep reminding people of what happened. […]

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Several years ago, when I was thinking about starting to write after a long hiatus, I asked a possibly unfair question to a friend, What do people need from me, as a writer, right now? She really surprised me by saying, People need the same things you need. They need to know how you healed.  And I think that’s an interesting place to start from.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Abby Hagler

The starting point for me when I think about my own relationship to craft is the first exercise June Jordan gave in the first poetry workshop I ever took. We were, she said, to reproduce in a poem of our own the precise scansion and rhyme scheme of a nursery rhyme. We didn’t have to use the same rhymes, just the same rhyme scheme, and we were only allowed to use off-rhymes if the nursery rhyme did as well. We were also not to allow ourselves even a single extra syllable in a line. I don’t remember which nursery rhyme I chose, but I can still see the green cover of the notebook in which I struggled for a good two or three hours to craft the lines that would meet those requirements and the deep satisfaction I felt when I succeeded.

Later, when I read Professor Jordan’s poem “Getting Down to Get Over”—she was never just “June” to me—I began to understand what it mean for a poem to be composed, in the musical sense of that term. What I noticed first was the way she used nursery rhyme-like rhythms in different parts of the second section:

she works when she works
in the laundry in jail
in the school house in jail
in the office in jail

Then at the end of that strophe:

drinkin’ wine when it’s time
when the long week is done
but she works when she works
in the laundry in jail
she works when she works

The rhythmic structure of that entire poem is worth studying, and I studied it carefully. I scanned some sections, tried to imitate others, and that process transformed the way I looked at the work of two other poets who are in some ways so radically different from each other and from Jordan that connecting them as I am going to do here would seem counterintuitive at best: e. e. cummings and John Donne. (And yet there are also ways that cummings wouldn’t have written as he did if Donne had not written, but that’s for another post perhaps.)

Richard Jeffrey Newman, The John Wisniewski Interview Continued: What Writers Have Influenced Your Work?

The library was closing in five minutes. I went to the new poetry acquisitions and quickly perused, grabbed a book whose cover had caught my eye when I first saw it advertised and then a book by a name I keep hearing here and there but whose work I had not read, and checked out under the stern eye of the library desk workers eager to chase the last of us out so they could go home on this day of unseasonably nice weather.

And I struck some gold nuggets with that grab-and-go. Both books have something to teach me about letting go of my careful and guarded poetry voice, about being reckless on the page, about being vivid and strange, about something true that’s told in blood, in guts, in the gasp of incompleteness.

Jake Skeet’s Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers is full of horseweed and barbed wire, bleak with bottle caps and smoke and the dead, the ruined, words sometimes scattered across the white field of page like shards of glass. […]

Tracy Fuad’s book of poetry about:blank is some deadly serious play. It’s funny and funny/not funny and funny-peculiar. I have no idea what’s going on. But I’m engaged.

Marilyn McCabe, You only got a broken wing; or, On Reading Skeet and Fuad

As I work on another time travel story, I find myself thinking deeply about what it would mean for the present to change the past. This is the kind of thing I ponder in my best thinking places — where running water or wind is involved. That’s why I dictate more and more poetry and prose on my phone. I think well in the shower, washing dishes, or walking my dog.

Today I found myself thinking about what the world and literature and women’s lives would be like if history had erased Jane Austen and her books. Suppose someone from the future could time travel to dissuade her from writing – or even to kill her? I write in the genre of women’s fiction, and I often wonder about our predecessors, the female authors who carved out a path for many of us to follow in writing our stories and poems. What if one of the towering figures in the history of women authors suddenly had never existed?

Rachel Dacus, Which authors would you erase from history?

Rejections hurt. But they are inevitable if you want to get your writing published and read beyond your immediate circle of friends and family. No matter how carefully you research your market, select the poems that you think are a best fit for a publisher/magazine, you will still get rejections. Mostly they are not a reflection of your work but simply that the editor couldn’t fit your work in their next publishing window: they’d already had 14 cat poems and yours was the 15th or they had 3 slots for collections, two of which went to poets they’d already published and yours was only just edged out by a brilliant debut or the editor’s best friend (if you’re into conspiracy theories).

It’s also demotivating and demoralising to learn that getting one poem/book/collection published does not make you immune to rejections. It’s a foot in the door and reassurance that your work is publishable, but one success doesn’t guarantee the next.

The best way of coping with them is to see writing and publishing as two separate activities. Writing is what makes you a writer, not publication. It’s hard to hear, but writers are not entitled to be published. You’ve written something, edited it, polished it, put it aside and read it again, but you are not entitled to get it published. Publication is not the end stop of writing. Not all writing journeys can end in publication. Sometimes the journey is about the lessons learnt, skills gained, characters created and developed and craft practised and all these need to be and should be celebrated. They are still achievements, even if the poem or collection was not published.

Emma Lee, Rejections and Successes

a whizzy line
sucks up ink
retrograde progress

Madonna of Glastonbury
with all that chaos
peace and war and art

I boiled a book
a brown book
mapping the overload

Ama Bolton, ABCD March 2022

Past blue herons wading among reeds. 

Across the broken bits of stalk in the harvested wheat fields. 

Through cities of stone and steel. 

Past people with their hearts on their sleeves. 

Step by step, mile by mile, you make your way to the fire. 

What will you do when you get there? 

Friend, you won’t truly know until you start to burn. 

James Lee Jobe, You are going on a long journey, to the fire.

Sometimes, I like to remind myself that the world which seems like it might just fracture at any minute goes on. I look back through my old poetry notebooks for poems written “on this day” but that never saw the light. Like this one from this day in 2019, before I could have ever imagined what this day in this year would have looked like. And even though it probably isn’t a hopeful poem (and certainly isn’t a finished poem), it does give me hope.

Release

I suppose you want
to hear about flight
and blood. Let me

tell you about stone.
By mid-winter, the world
is graywacke. Every-

thing splinters against
its solidity. The wind
comes with its blunt

nose, but can only find
purchase in the alder
branches. I have no

songs about the tedium
of hunger. I pull each
foot out of darkness.

My voice is not shaped
for your kind of beauty,
but in a month or two

when thaw releases
form, turn over
these stones. Find

what has been
grinding all these years.

Not toward you at all.
Toward the sea. The sea.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The Wobble

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 11

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: dreams and dreamlessness, new books and completed manuscripts, the war, the Worm Moon, the equinox, and more. Enjoy.


My mother once had a dream soon after her mother’s death. My grandmother is calling from an unknown place to let my mother know she is okay. She asks her to describe the place she is in. All my grandmother is able to answer is: a large building, grey, grey. Moments after, a man disconnects the phone after reminding her sternly that she had been instructed not to call anyone. 

If someone asked me today to describe the place I am in, I would answer the same thing: a large building, grey, grey. The earth seems post mortem. 

Someone asks an old woman standing under a lamppost what is sadness? She answers: dreaming of Kalashnikovs made of flowers. 

Saudamini Deo, What is sadness?

The advice in my planner this morning, as I sat down at my desk with the window open, listening to the birdsong in the garden, was ‘Become less connected to the outcome and more committed to the work‘ attributed to Iman Europe. Strangely, this is something I had already been thinking about this week. I feel that stepping back a little from what was a frantic work schedule has given me the space and time to grow into my own writing. Seeing the advice in the planner felt very much like one of those fate moments in which a path that you are following is confirmed to be the right direction by something or someone stepping in to your life at just the right time. Chris and I have both been suffering with Covid this week. Not seriously, but enough to force me to spend time in bed reading rather than working. I’ve been reading Tanya Shadrick’s The Cure for Sleep and recognising parts of myself in it. Not in the parts about the journey through motherhood, though I would hope that if Matilda had lived I would have found my own way though it and grown as a person, but rather the later life revelation of the creative impulse, the casting off of what was expected in order to be something else, the falling off the cliff-of-reality sensation of death, being near death and the unrelenting truth that life is so short, not a day must be wasted somehow juxtaposed alongside the need to find a way of living slowly. I have been forced by the virus to live slowly this week, doing the bare minimum of work and then retreating to bed, propped up with pillows and surrounded by tissues and tea and books while the seagulls drifted past and the birds sang in the garden. It reminded me how much I am in need of this peace-time, and what it does for my own writing. I am a better writer when I slow down and embrace the process, rather than reaching for the end of the project.

Wendy Pratt, Permission to Rest, Read and Grow as a Writer

My third pandemic-era birthday. How am I feeling? I’m not exactly sure; I’ll admit to feeling an unease about moving in through my fifties (although: aging is far preferable to death; remember, that my long-running plan includes an eventual passing at the age of one hundred and five). And, given my fiftieth was scheduled two days after the original pandemic lockdown, I decided some time ago that I would remain in my forties until this whole period passes (it only seems fair), to only enter my fifties once this is over. To enter my fifties, as one might say, “already in-progress.” We are home, we are home, we are forever home. Staycation day #732, by my count, although Christine has begun the occasional day in the lab over the past couple of weeks (including today). The children remain in their e-learning, at least until the end of the school year. […]

My third annual                       isolation birthday. A rehearsal
of inarticulate space,

a glass, reflects. This breath by breath. Half-century, plus. A hand
between palms.

rob mclennan, today is my fifty-second birthday;

We’ve had a colder March than usual, and it’s been gray and rainy, but in fact, spring is springing around us, despite war and pandemic and other apocalypses. Jonquils and hyacinths are up, and the early plum and cherry blossoms are starting to appear. I’ve heard more birdsong; my garden, mostly still asleep, is showing signs that it is actually a garden. And how is it the Spring Equinox already? […]

I’m trying to review a poetry book for the first time in a while – Dana Levin’s Now Do You Know Where You Are, from Copper Canyon. Exercising those reviewer muscles again. The book has made me cry three times. It’s also one of those books you really need to pay attention to and read the notes at the end of the book. It’s not a book you can skim easily and that also might make it more rewarding.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Despite Everything, Spring and Solstice; Choosing an Author Photo Every Decade; and Reviews and Reading Reports

the red wind from the Sahara
had blown a fine sand as far as Blackpool
depositing it all over the paintwork of the cars
parked in the street of our boarding house

I traced my finger in wonder
through the thin rust red layer
on car after car
entranced that I was making contact
with somewhere so impossibly distant

now I know that happened once in a while
back when the weather could be trusted

Paul Tobin, WHEN THE WEATHER COULD BE TRUSTED

In these dreadful times of international crisis, it’s unsurprising that several people I’ve talked to lately have reported that they’ve been having really out-there dreams, worthy almost of the psychedelic effects in Ken Russell’s Altered States, whose star, William Hurt died yesterday. My elder son told me about a dream he had of giant vampiric lobsters. I’ve been having vivid dreams, too, exacerbated by some virulent bug which has made me achy, heady and snotty since Saturday. This morning, I woke up, strangely, with the tune and words of ‘Lunatic and Fire Pistol’, the closing song of Julian Cope’s first solo album World Shut Your Mouth (1984), spinning around my head.

Matthew Paul, On dreams, Julian Cope and John Greening

A dream during the afternoon nap. I followed a winding trail of switchbacks, going up a mountainside. It seemed like hours, and I was tired, worn out. Eventually, I scrambled through some brush and I came out onto a diving board, impossibly high up, maybe fifty feet or more from the pool of water. I was now exhausted, and almost out of breath from my asthma, but I knew I was supposed to jump. I could see a friend below, in the water, waving at me to come on. and I did. I hit the water feet first, far too hard and very fast, and though the water was deep I went straight to the bottom, and curled up on my side, and laid there with my eyes closed. How long could I stay down? I should kick off from the concrete bottom for the surface before my breath gives out. Maybe it was already too late. I opened my eyes and I was awake, in my own bed. Why did I have such a dream? Why was I climbing up? And knowing the danger, why did I jump instead of turning back? And most of all, this – how can I so easily close my eyes in one world and open them again in another? 

James Lee Jobe, A dream during the afternoon nap.

Every day on Twitter I share coffee with a woman named Yaroslava. She writes about her daily life in war-torn Ukraine, calling her diary #WarCoffee. She hopes that through the details of her disrupted life she can connect with us around the world. Yaroslava invites comments, photos of our lives, and conversation. It’s become a lively, supportive community. Join in – follow @strategywoman on Twitter.

Yaroslava wants to affirm our unity as one world. It’s an amazing account via the basics of her life—coffee, work, and the sounds of sirens, other people snoring, and families sharing small spaces.

Rachel Dacus, To Bravery – Writers in War

Wouldn’t you rather the wind wielded
its sharpest knives or that nothing but the sun
detonated its carbon into the atmosphere

Wouldn’t you rather have ordinary
death rather than terror tunnel
through the world

Have only rain and mud
mushrooms and butterflies
stir up graves in cemeteries

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Disregarded Sign

Today I need to get started on my Psalm of Lament for one of my seminary classes.  Here is the assignment, which is a really cool way to help us understand the assignment:

This assignment has 2 parts (Please post as ONE document): 1) Write your own lament, either individual or communal, following the structure of the lament psalm as discussed in the videos, assigned readings, and power points. There is no specified length for your lament. 2) In one paragraph, discuss why you would or would not preach from an angry lament in your ministry setting. Due Sunday, March 20 by 11:59 p.m. No attachments please. Cut and paste a previously written Word document with both parts in it.

I’ve been thinking about the assignment for days, but I feel a bit of hesitancy.  My main hesitancy is that there are so many possible laments:  climate change (it’s 70 degrees warmer than normal in Antarctica, an event which would have been declared as impossible, until it happened–see this story in The Washington Post), the pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine, various refugee crises, so many of my friends moving away, and that’s just the immediate list.

There are advantages to each one, and disadvantages too.  Part of me imagines that all of my classmates will be writing about Ukraine, so part of me wants to do something different.  But Putin is such an easy subject for a Psalm of lament–too easy?  And does climate change have an obvious enough villain?  Could my Psalm of lament ask for a planetary reset?  That’s probably not a good idea for humans, depending on how far back we go. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writing a Psalm of Lament

Maria Prymachenko has stopped
making pictures.

In Kyiv, her yellows and blues
fall from the eyes
of two-headed chickens.

The shelling makes even
her eared beasts to lie down.

Things no longer go well
here. The villain speaks with
his claw of iron,
hobbling the painter’s hand.

Her canvases aflame,
the arsonist moves west,
ash just another mark
on the foreheads of soldiers.

Maureen E. Doallas, How Spring Comes in Ukraine (Poem)

We saw the big old, recently full moon last night, looking like a huge cheese wheel in the sky! Turns out, it’s the Worm Moon, according to the almanac. And it’s not really named for the earthworms that are emerging here as it turns spring, but some beetle larvae that start coming out of tree bark about now. (Read all about it here, in the Old Farmer’s Almanac!) I am happy to see the sunshine on this first day of spring, especially after a gloomy, cold day of rain. I woke up sad and heavy with dismay, my brain scattered with tasks and difficult conversations. The week ahead looms risky, with a medical procedure for my dad on Wednesday, various meetings I prepared for in advance, so I wouldn’t forget, and which I fear, nonetheless, I might forget or feel unprepared for. Is this all part of the atmosphere when spring comes? I think maybe yes. And/or that continuing suspension of time that I felt/feel during the pandemic? Is it a natural part of the aging process? I do, relentlessly, write everything down now in list form, so I can check it off—but it’s not just the satisfaction of checking things off, getting things done, it’s also the need to remember to do the things at all. Is it not all memory rooted? Is some motivation gone, some desire? Has that been lost in the mist? In the dark gray clouds that obscured the big old cheese moon last night before it hung there so yellow and weighty in the sky? I did not see the worm…turn.

Kathleen Kirk, Big Old Cheese Moon

And my father?
Cigar smoke lingers
like priestly incense.

If I can
hear his voice,
remember his laugh

he’s still here
though I can’t clasp
his hand anymore.

We remember Shabbat.
We remember our dead.
The fire does not go out.

Rachel Barenblat, Perpetual fire

It’s a lull time for me; before the real bursting forth of Spring in the garden, though each morning I see a little more green pushing out of the mulch.

Our Mallards are back, too. Two couples so far, two nests under the azaleas. Sister Patricia insists in erecting ugly orange cones on the sidewalk near each nest, though previous experience says that the ducks don’t mind out walking by.  I ignore the cones. […]

In four weeks, it will be Easter.

In the meantime, on the world stage, Russia continues to bomb Ukraine. The Ukrainians continue to suffer, and the rest of the world continues to pray and worry.

Maybe a nuclear war will come between now and Easter.

Meanwhile, the rabbits are cavorting under the full moon.

Anne Higgins, how much was mine to keep

Today marks nineteen years of continuous blogging here, and I find myself at a loss for words. Partly because it doesn’t even make sense to me that I’ve done this for that long; partly because Cassandra — like nearly everyone else — failed to predict the tragedy unfolding in the Ukraine with its huge ramifications for the world’s political future; and partly because — also like nearly everyone else — I am weary, and unable to package things up into any sort of comforting explanation or pretty picture, either for myself, or for public consumption.

But that’s all right. There are times in all of our lives when we simply have to let go of and be still, finding consolation and strength in the simplest things: a raindrop hanging on a branch; a cat playing with a ribbon; the clouds traversing the sky; damp earth emerging from the snow.

Beth Adams, 19 Years

First off, I’m excited to share that my new poetry collection, Rotura, is officially out from Black Lawrence Press. Copies can be ordered here.

I want to thank everyone who has supported me throughout the years, either by pre-ordering this latest book or has simply read a poem of mine and held space for it. This poetry thing is amazing and I’m grateful to be able to share it with so many communities and individuals. Abrazos to each of you!

I also want to thank Diane Goettel for believing in this book and for the wonderful phone call last May. We were in the middle of being forced to move (long story, oof), and hearing that the manuscript had resonated with her meant a lot amid the chaos. Thank you as well to everyone at BLP who continues to be wonderful to work with!

José Angel Araguz, Rotura released + virtual event info

Another milestone passed. The MS is off to the printer on Monday.

Today I did the last of many proof-reads, and effectively signed off on the manuscript of my new collection. We’ve scratched our heads over how to persuade Word to make prosepoems symmetrical and now it’s up to the printer. It’s all out of my hands, and I’m at the stage of staring at the text and wondering what it’s all about. It’s the stage painters know, which has gone beyond the stage of finishing a painting you’re already tired of, but has to be finished, because…well, it does. The stage of looking at what you’ve made and not quite recognising it as yours. Not exactly regretting it, but wishing it had said what it was meant to, and then accepting that ‘meaning’ is largely out of your hands once you start something, because it makes up its rules as it goes along until how it ends is inevitable, regardless of what you intended.

I suspect that what this collection is mainly about is puzzlement, written by someone on the outside, looking in, listening to a language he recognises but doesn’t quite understand, like your reflection in a train window that may just be your alter ego, looking in, wondering about you. Or like looking at a painting and wondering about the mystery that’s looking back. Or looking at moments in your own childhood and wondering if they were actually yours. No wonder that every now and again I’ll settle for looking at a bit of landscape that’s simply what it is and lets you walk about in it.

John Foggin, Pressed for time: more teasers and trailers

Small actions bring sustenance and/or joy to others. But in the pressure of everyday life, it’s possible to overlook our interconnectedness and difficult to find time to consider the purposes behind our actions.

Through “Unfurling” Alison Lock has created a series of meditative poems, exploring how giving ourselves space to press reset and re-focus our attention on what sustains us offers new inspirations and sources of creativity during a time of imposed external restrictions. Each has a prayer-like quality asking us to question and re-frame our lives to create space to consider our actions and their effect on the world around us.

Emma Lee, “Unfurling” Alison Lock (Palewell Press) – book review

Once upon a recent walk, I picked up from a Free Little Library a fragile, yellowing paperback entitled “American Verse from the Colonial Days to the Present.” Until recently, I haven’t been able to actually read it due to the glasses situation being so out of whack and the book’s print being so tiny and faded, but alas! I have finally been able to peruse some of the amazing work in the book and I have been discovering a lot of poets that I knew little to nothing about, Sidney Lanier being the one I shall discuss here, and specifically, his poem “The Marshes of Glynn.” Why everyone on the planet is not intimately familiar with “The Marshes of Glynn” is a crime and a tragedy. It’s a jaw-dropping, epic poem of pure genius and I can’t believe this is the first I’ve heard of it.

Sidney Lanier was born in 1842 in Macon, Georgia. He was as equally fond of music as poetry, and enormously talented at both. Unfortunately, his life was cut short at the age of 39 due to a long battle with tuberculosis, which he contracted after being captured and imprisoned during the Civil War. However, he left behind a significant body of work, including his most famous poem, “The Marshes of Glynn.” It’s a work of spiritually and passion, a love letter to nature, and, I believe, quite possibly an inspiration to some of Walt Whitman’s later work.

Reading “The Marshes of Glynn,” it is apparent that Lanier was musician in his soul. “Marshes” reads like a symphony, with long, sweeping passages that reach dramatic heights, then slowly ratchet down until climbing back up again into grand, crashing crescendos. Lanier uses repetition and pacing in the same way that a musician does, slowing and speeding the work to reflect his deep emotions tied to the marshes—feelings of ecstasy and joy, the soothing of despair, and a deep, boundary-less connection to nature.

Kristen McHenry, Poem Review: The Marshes of Glynn by Sidney Lanier

The following is the seventh in a series of brief interviews in which one Terrapin poet interviews another Terrapin poet, one whose book was affected by the Pandemic. The purpose of these interviews is to draw some attention to these books which missed out on book launches and in-person readings. Ann Fisher-Wirth talks with Christine Stewart-Nuñez about book organization, marriage to another creative person, motherhood and poetry, and being a state Poet Laureate.

Ann Fisher-Wirth: In one poem toward the end of The Poet & the Architect, “Map and Meaning,” you write of the difficulty of learning to make “one’s own map” rather than relying on the maps created by others, and you say that the map you eventually created “marked the spirals of stops along my path.” The book itself is structured into four “Rings,” and each section page that announces a new ring has a little drawing of a spiral. So I’d like to invite you to tell us about spirals. What do they signify to you, both in organizing this book and—perhaps—in organizing the “map” of your life?

Christine Stewart-Nuñez: I’m so glad you asked about the spiral! It’s long been a symbol I’ve used. I kept some of my writing from grade school, and spirals abound in the margins of that saved work. Even now, I use the symbol to show “insight” when I’m annotating the margins of a text. In The Poet & The Architect, besides existing as an image in some of the poems, it also serves as an organizational strategy. The spiral helped me conceptualize how poems could return to earlier themes, picking up images introduced in those poems and broadening or expanding them. I decided to start each ring with the most intimate poems and move outward from there. For example, the first poems are short and set both spatially and temporally before the meeting of the poet and the architect. Next the poems move outward from the intimacy of new coupledom to establishing a family and experiencing life together. “Credo,” which employs syllabic lines based on fractal integers, gathers fractal images from life, nature, and architecture, and ends the book with an invocation of time and space in a much broader context. I think ultimately the spiral captures my sense of time—moving forward yet reaching back to a central core. For example, “Credo” ends by connecting the birth of my son Xavier, the death of my sister Theresa, and divine light.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Ann Fisher-Wirth Interviews Christine Stewart-Nuñez

A bunch of years ago, BFF Jill Crammond introduced me to Emergency Brake by Ruth Madievsky, and I was hooked immediately. I wrote about the collection in 2020, digging into some of what the book and its poems do and calling Madievsky’s use of language “next-level playful.” Her poems bust at the seams with wild imagery and imaginative phrasing.

Turn after turn, her lines surprise me as a reader. And as a poet? I find myself fawning over the work with the highest-of-all poet compliments: “I wish I’d written that!” A review of Emergency Brake in Prairie Schooner calls Madievsky’s poems “bracing yet raucous, vicious yet whimsical,” and a Waxwing review says, “Madievsky creates episodes of surprising disjunctive association and beauty.”

While some of this talent is likely natural to “metaphor maker par excellence” Madievsky (Jill is similarly gifted, btw!), I do believe that learning to trust our own strangeness in our writing is a skill we can develop. So let’s practice! Using some Madievsky poems I really love, I’ve crafted three poetry prompts to get us started.

Carolee Bennett, 3 poetry prompts inspired by poems from ruth madievsky

It’s been a long time since I attended a convention, concert, or any large event. Thanks to covid, longer than usual. This year, I’m braving the Association of Writers & Writing Programs’ annual conference–in person, next week–since it’s being held near me, in Philadelphia, this time. Never one for large crowds or rooms full of strangers, given my natural inclination to internalize or curl up in a corner with a book, I have nevertheless attended AWP in the past and have found it supplies me with creative energy in the form of writers I need to read, intellectual ideas I want to explore, and reasons to keep writing. […]

Meanwhile, the month of March does its typical lunge and feint, volt, and passe arriere as it heads toward springtime…I never know what to expect, weather-wise. Today: mild and almost 70 F. I’m hoping we get a string of 50-degree days that permit some garden preparation. But then again, that’s always what I hope for in March.

Ann E. Michael, Conventional

It’s been a packed week, but also kind of a splendid one. I feel more connected to literary people again–and more conscious of how much the first pandemic year, especially, disconnected us.

I returned from a good conference last Sunday to visit with the wonderful poet January Gill O’Neil, who talked to my class the next day and gave a terrific public reading. We had some good conversations not only about poetry itself but ambition, publishing, and publicity. Then on Thursday I spoke on a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville with Cliff Garstang and Sharon Harrigan. The theme was “Uncertainty in Literary Fiction,” and after the logistics of parking and an on-site Covid test, I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation–AND signing a pile of copies of Unbecoming for strangers, which hasn’t happened much in the last two years. Afterward I had dinner with Jan Beatty, long a poetry-crush of mine, and the next day I drove back to C’ville to see old friend Sara Robinson read from her latest collection with Hiram Larew. The loss of my mother last year made me more aware that our opportunities to support each other are not endless. Afterward Chris and I dined on a restaurant patio, enjoying the near-spring balminess.

Those were all highs. I felt like a writer again, reintegrating that part of myself with being a teacher and advisee and committee leader (sigh) and tired secret striver. Now I’m getting my head and my bags together for the AWP convention, this year in Philadelphia, which can be a great gathering but also a challenging one, logistically and sometimes emotionally. I’m participating in more events than I remember doing in the misty past.

Lesley Wheeler, Differently to #AWP22

During a poetry walk led by Steve Ely for our local arts’ week last Sunday morning, I produced the photo haiku above. It’s a while since I participated in this sort of poetry event and it was good to see some familiar faces again, and to hear Steve’s take on the local landscape. However, listening to poetry on the walk, and then at a reading the following evening, made me realise how far away from that sort of poetry I’d moved (given that I almost exclusively read and write haiku now). This is not a complaint, simply an observation. I enjoy words in a different way these days: they need to be less involved with the imagination and more connected to things, more in touch with the surroundings. And I need to feel that connection too. Walking helps. I do it daily, and would probably do more and go further if work/ life didn’t get in the way. I’ve been reading Santoka recently. I admire his dedication to the act of walking, of going forward, following the philosophy of ‘step by step, you arrive’. He spent years on the road; I’m lucky if I spend an hour and a half walking in any one given day. He bedded down in rented rooms of varying degrees of discomfort, whereas I can return to the comfort of my own home.

Julie Mellor, low water

What if, as has happened to me, you’ve read a poem, and you think, wow, that’s brilliant (or some more literary response than that) and then you find out the poet is really not the great person you hoped they’d be (or worse). Yes, people you may not like can actually write poems that you do like. Except now you know what the poet’s like, it’s ruined the poem for you (probably an exaggeration). I’m not suggesting this article on Larkin would have that effect. Whether you like or dislike Larkin’s poems or the man, such as you know anything about him from what you’ve read – and don’t forget biographies (and autobiographies) are selective/subjective too – this new ‘fact’ is, at the very least, likely to prove a distraction when reading the poems. Is that a good thing? 

You will gather I don’t have the answers to these questions. I don’t think anyone has. It’s up to the individual, probably, to decide. But therein lies the difficulty – because people will often write or talk as if their view is right, rather than a suggestion, and also give you information that you didn’t necessarily want (because it’s impossible to completely block out this information – sorry). And, clearly, all of this can affect not just how you read a poem, but how you write one too.  

Sue Ibrahim, How do you read a poem?

This is a really fascinating and excellent response by Sue Ibrahim to some of the questions raised by that article about Larkin I posted about, and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot for a couple of days, mainly because I’m planning for my first readings in a long, long time.

I generally say a few words in introduction to each poem, but it is very hard to hit the right balance, I think. I’m very wary of leading the listener to approach a poem in a particular way, or giving them too much background information, but there are some where I think you need to give the listener/reader a way in.

I once saw a relatively well-known UK poet read (a writer whose work I like a lot), and their introductions started to become explicit instructions for understanding the poems, which rather ruined them for me. It was down, I think, to nervousness as much as anything else, but it’s something to be avoided. Similarly, I haven’t read a great deal about the lives of poets, or at least not until long after I’ve read their work.

Matt Merritt, How we read and listen

My days usually start now with freelance writerly things in the first few hours and editing/design work in the afternoons. While I’ve sold art & design & book things online for years, this whole getting paid to write thing is a delight and something I’ve never felt, so it’s extra exciting that I get to do it. That I can do it. That someone actually, you know, wants to give me money for doing something that almost feels like breathing. Something I want to do anyway. That is entirely new. Somewhere there is a lesson here for writers about valuing your work and the things you are able to do that not everyone else, at least non-writers, can.

Kristy Bowen, writers and value

All of my work the past few years is integrated with a kind of field-guide observational relationship with nature. From wasps to telomeres. My approach to nature isn’t Romantic, rather a method to “ground” the lyric expression in a larger context. 

I want to flip the metaphor relationship of the lyric poem: human experience is the vehicle, and what we consider the “natural world” is the tenor. It is an attempt to move away from an anthropocentric view. 

*

What is horrific is natural. Nature is horrific. Yes, there is the deer in the grove. And there is the blacklegged tick on the neck of the deer in the grove. And in the gut of that tick, the Borrelia burgdorferi move through the tick’s body.

There is a reason designers look to the tiny elements of the natural world when creating their monsters.

Ren Powell, Brooding on (Art) Forms

I’m writing to you from in the company of the black dog. This is fine. In the words of Simon and Garfunkel, “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” A lot of it comes from pure old grief, and we know these days, that grieving takes many forms, comes from a lot of places, and that loss compounds loss. The hierarchy of grief is such that the black dog cares not which rung. My griefs, I know, are relatively small, and the collective grief of the world is large. Still, I invite it in. […]

Things I’m thinking about this morning: the architecture of the soul, photography and witness, Rilke’s line, “you must change your life,” Larkin’s “what will survive of us is love,” Lispector’s “each of us is responsible for the world,” Zagajewski’s “try to praise the mutilated world,” Cixous’s “whoever says: I am alone breaks the solitude and affirms it by this act of speech,” Dufy’s “some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself,” Pessoa’s “to be great, be whole: don’t exaggerate or leave out any part of you.” I could go on. The line at the center of my novel Rumi and the Red Handbag, is “what are you going through?” and I’m thinking a lot about that one too.

In John O’Donohue’s book Beauty, he reminds us of the words by Pascal: “In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.”

Shawna Lemay, On Practice, Poetry, and On Always Carrying Something Beautiful in Your Mind

Meanwhile, on the other side of eternity, death is thumbing through the latest clothing catalog; it’s getting tired of wearing black.

As for the rest of us, the price of living keeps going up each day while the value of human life declines.

Such is the mathematics of humanity, always an odd number in the bunch where things don’t divide up evenly.

All the more reason for a Noah’s ark of the heart—two of everything divine.

Rich Ferguson, Humanity’s Mathematics

How differently we might respond to TS Eliot’s groundbreaking poem if he had stayed with his first title, ‘He do the police in different voices.’ And how different our experience would have been if Ezra Pound hadn’t encouraged Eliot to thin the first draft by almost half. Twenty seven writers have been meeting regularly on zoom to unravel Eliot’s notoriously ‘difficult’ poem and prepare a day of readings and discussion for the centenary of its publication in 1922. Sue Boyle traces their challenging journey and talks about the exciting multi-media performance piece which has evolved from their collaborative work.Sue Boyle

As one of those twenty seven writers, I have been immersed in Eliot’s poem and in our responses to it for months. Much of my recent writing relates to it, directly or indirectly.

The calypso singers are still laughing but the fishermen have thrown down their flowers

And in the captain’s tower
are the poets still at war
Eliot and Pound
turning a line around
deleting a stanza here
adding a fragment there
fine-tuning the sound 
while the great ship goes down?

Ama Bolton, The Waste Land Revisited

“Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.”  Mikhail Bakhtin, Russian literary critic and philosopher 

Today, as crocus are pushing up their thorny heads and shells of war continue fall, I want to raise the flag of Mikhail Bakhtin. Bakhtin and his theory of multiple voices to the rescue!  Bakhtin as Chief Negotiator at the table!  Bakhtin with not one ear but several ears to hear. 

Bakhtin, who knows that the space of dialog is fragile and is annihilated in the rush to annihilate an opponent. Bakhtin, who suggests bringing a humanity to words rather than make a fetish of them.

In quiet moment, whether it is precious pause in an argument or blank space between text, an incipient melody will begin to form in my head.  I start to translate it with my fleshy voice.  Others will pick up a bar, a thread, will hum, together within the hour we will have created a song.   National anthem: Bakhtin!

Jill Pearlman, Standing with Bakhtin

Sometimes you only have to
say a line and that’s enough,
the old monk told the poet.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (59)

is the dreamlessness inside me visible :: to those who will never be

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 52 + New Year’s 2022

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

The last week of the year always has a kind of aimless, limbo-like feeling, as several bloggers observed, so I was impressed by how many still managed an end-of-the-year post. The selection below doesn’t quite reflect how many of those posts included favorite book lists as well, so really, quite a lot of riches for those with the time to click through.

Here’s hoping 2022 brings a bit of peace and sanity, but if not, there’s always poetry. Happy New Year.


Years ago, I worked for an organization that always closed down during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and as such I became habituated to taking those days off and have made it something of a tradition. Nothing is going to get accomplished in that time anyway. It’s an informal national “down week” as it should be, because these are frozen, dead, throw-away days in which humans are not meant to be functional. Hence no post last week. I’ve been off since December 23rd, doing nothing but loafing around and making a full-time job of trying to keep warm in the 15-degree weather in our under-insulated apartment, shivering in a turtleneck (thanks, Mom!), a hoodie, a knit hat, and double socks.

Kristen McHenry, Days of Loafing, Re-Discovering Dorothy, History Buff

It’s the break of day, New Year’s Eve. I’m writing from the warm, night-morning-darkness of my living room, the only light is that of decorative twinkle and the snow glow outside. My holiday boon is scattered on the nearby table, gifts that are already page-tabbed and folded open. I’ve finished Amy Butcher’s Mother Trucker, and working through Robert Hass’s Time and Materials by day and by night, Ken Gould’s mystery, Death’s Grip, along with Kerstin Ekman’s Scandia Noir read, Under the Snow. As is the case with readers, these are 4 named titles. Waiting in the background sit short stacks of 24 additional titles, patiently awaiting their own cracks in spine. There is a new blank book awaiting rough writings in chicken scratch scrawl, bright beaded earrings, magnetic haiku and coffee poetry sets, and real coffee from a friend to accompany all of these wild ways to spend winter time.

Kersten Christianson, New Year’s Eve: Closing the Book of 2021

at the end of every verse
leave a promise —
what shall we do with sleep
without a morning to wake up to
what shall we do with rain
when skin cannot endure the wet
what shall we do with all this
longing, without the grammar
of hope —

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Leave a promise

I have begun and started this post so many times in the last week. Usually I really look forward to writing the end of year blog, to look back at the good things that have happened. But this year it fels really different – every time I look at my 2021 diary at the months that have passed I feel sadness at all the things that didn’t happen, all the people I didn’t see, all the times when my daughter missed out, when I missed out.  And I also know that I’m lucky because I am healthy and I’ve been able to do some things.  I can’t stop thinking about friends who are still isolating, still unable to leave their houses.

It’s hard to look back on a year that has been threaded through with a low hum of anxiety, but I have had some lovely things happen this year. Probably the most obvious one of those is the publication of my second poetry collection All the Men I Never Married.  But perhaps more than any other year, it has felt like a year where I’ve been able to try out different ways of my work reaching a wider audience – so I’m going to list a few of them here, just in case there are other people out there with slightly more time on their hands than usual, in this strange gap between Christmas and New Year.  

Kim Moore, END OF YEAR BLOG

Today I undertook one of my favorite and also least favorite projects of the year–transferring all my random slips of paper and no-longer sticky post-its into a new sketchbook/planner for 2022.  Good because its bright white blank pages are sort of exciting, least because it just makes me remember all the things I never got a chance to get to.  I started the post-it system after years of lost to-do lists and actual planners and trying to understand bullet journaling and a million things that did not work to keep my mind organized.  The premise was simple..the front pages sort the days of the week, the coming weeks, the coming month, the coming year.  As things arise, I write them on the 1 inch post-its and stick them to the corresponding day.  Obviously stuff gets moved and transferred to coming weeks and I suppose gets done eventually if if ever does. 

I have spreads for dgp projects in the works, including columns–layout-cover designs–proofing–so that I can see at a glance what is happening with each book. I have a section for monthly goals, though as the year goes on, I usually lose track of filling these pages out, but occasionally they help me finish up things. The worst, though, is a section titled “PROJECTS’ where every idea I have –for poems, for art projects, for shop lovelies–usually just sort of go to die, only to be moved to the next planner every late December. I also have pages for the library and things happening there. Admittedly, I didn’t even change books between 2020 and 2021, since so much was just lingering from the previous year. There are ideas for art & design projects that I’ve been moving from book to book since 2013.  Also writing projects.  Occasionally, like unusual creatures, I finish them eventually, but more often not. I might seem productive on occasion, but not half as productive as I’d like.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new planner

The fae character in my novel Unbecoming was, I now understand, incredibly fun to write because in imagining her, I got to inhabit the person I might have been if I were thoroughly, deliciously selfish, unworried about anyone’s future. I rarely consciously knew what she would say or do next; instead, I would take a break from writing and hear her whisper her next lines. The last dictation I received is her last quotation in the book: “I don’t know what I want, but I want it very much.” Word.

Speaking of traces of the past: one last magazine issue with a poem of mine slid under the old year’s wire. “You Know Where the Smithy Stood by the Clinkers” just appeared in the new National Poetry Review. It’s based on a lecture given several years ago by W&L archaeologist Don Gaylord. It immediately helped me see the buildings I work in in a different way, but I had to revise the poem many times, mostly by paring it down, until its architectural bones became clear. The past is always present, even when you suppress difficult memories.

Lesley Wheeler, Sacrifices, gifts, and a year in reading

It’s become a tradition and a privilege to spend New Years Eve with L. and B.

L. is the one who invited me to eat 12 grapes at midnight. She and B lived in Spain for a few years. I believe that to make a wish with each grape is her own twist on the Spanish tradition. Today I reread the blog post from 2020 and realize that my 12 wishes last night were nearly identical to those two years ago: synonyms and shifted specifics. New perspectives. New approaches.

I’m not sure what to make of that in terms of my personal growth. Walt Whitman contradicted himself because he contained multitudes. I repeat myself. I think that is because I contain a multitude of threads as well, and am on a dialectical path. Where it ends doesn’t seem to be as important anymore. Only that I keep moving towards something.

The word “ease” had come up a lot over the past two years. Maybe the past three years. But this morning I read the word “gentle”.

I lingered on the word gentle.

I read Dylan Thomas’s poem again this morning with more empathy – and a different understanding – than I’ve had before. It’s wonderful, because for the first time I see the specific context of the speaker’s perspective. I see the words “old age” (would that Death allowed us all that experience), and the speaker’s projecting his own fears onto his father, and onto every other old man’s evaluation of their worth in the world. I think I’ve read this poem always making way for the poet/speaker’s greater wisdom, and I read the advice in the poem as a kind of sutra. I am thrilled no one deprived me of this discovery: that this (projected) perspective is not wrong, but is only one perspective. A true perspective, but not the true perspective. And that is not to say that no one has ever analysed the poem this way, explained it, described it to me. But if they did, I wasn’t able to take the lesson in.

Long live the hyper-realistic beauty of the unreliable narrator.

Ren Powell, What Falls Away Gently

As 2021 stumbles to a close, it might be obvious to anyone who was paying attention (and I don’t know if anyone was) that I was not writing in here much in recent months; to be precise, since September. In many ways, September and onwards was a big improvement over the rest of my life since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. I got a new job working with children’s literature – so far, on course to be my best job ever – and before starting, I had time to visit my family in Canada. I also spent September weekends as part of the Sea Reconnection exhibition, which as an art-and-poetry exhibition was a first for me and certainly a highlight of the year.

I haven’t felt much like writing, though. My pandemic experience has avoided the worst that many have experienced (severe illness, death of loved ones, prolonged unemployment, etc) but at times I feel like it’s sort of flattened me out. I hope to get back into more of a writing frame of mind in the months to come, even in small ways, which I think will help.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Ten years of The Stone and the Star

Pull out the drawers,
and balled-up socks
sigh of their own accord.

Throw open the windows
and huddled shapes
of air unfold

forgotten wings. Old
beds of ash retire
into the soil so flint

or a match could strike
a small yellow flame
to brilliance.

Luisa A. Igloria, Encadenada

Yesterday we went for a long walk at Parc Jean-Drapeau, site of Montreal’s Expo 67: this geodesic dome, designed by Buckminster Fuller, was the United States pavilion for Expo, and is now a museum dedicated to the environment. But yesterday we were pretty much the only people on the two islands in the middle of the river, and even though it was a grey day, it was just what I needed. Lots of wildlife tracks in the snow, many birds including a huge flock of robins (what are they thinking?), the St Lawrence roiling along in its winter mood, red rose hips against the snow, junipers loaded with blue berries, overgrown plantings, a greenhouse where large tropical plants were being overwintered, and many odd graphic images from the desolation of winter and the decay or remnants of structures built for Expo that have fallen into disuse. I hope you’ll enjoy taking this walk with me, and I wish you all the best for the year to come.

Beth Adams, A New Year’s Walk

I have got a great deal out of writing this blog this year. The feedback is as immediate as social media, and far more fulfilling. There is always a chance someone will read it, so it never feels pointless. I write about whatever I want, however I want: that anyone is listening at all is a luxury! Yet, having had a month or so away from blogging, I can see how my relationship with it might have some things in common with submitting poetry to magazines, or using social media: that feeling that I need to just keep publishing; that fear of rejection, which only feeds the desire to publish more.

Is there a solution? Jonathan Davidson suggests we broaden our understanding of what sharing poetry entails to include a greater focus on different kinds of reading (e.g., out loud, at special occasions), and on reaching more non-poets. I agree. Davidson’s focus is largely on collections, but I think the insight can be extended to individual poems. Why should the default ‘end point’ be publication in a magazine?

For most people I know, poetry is a marginal art, so it’s a fair assumption that by placing a poem in a magazine you will have a greater chance of finding an appreciative reader (i.e. another poet) than sharing it with someone you know. But the end result of this way of thinking isn’t just a self-fulfilling prophecy which keeps poetry on the margins: it effects our idea of what a poem even is.

There are ways of rethinking how we share poetry among regular writers, too. I suspect a lot of writers engage with poetry groups and workshops, at least in part, as steps towards publication. But there is no reason why they have to be. I attended a regular poetry evening when I was at university. I have never produced so much rubbish in my life, but I have rarely felt so much like I knew why I was writing.

My own solution over the last few years has been to try to publish less poetry, and more writing about poetry. I can see this wouldn’t appeal to everyone. It may end up with me not publishing any of my own poetry at all (which isn’t necessarily a disaster). But I’ve also found that I appreciate poetry – writing it and reading it – more, not less.

Jeremy Wikeley, A Year in (Not) Publishing

Imagine how it feels when the sky is dark and you’re the first star. That’s Frank’s trusty Tree Service. You’re the first tree. You’re reborn. You’re a tree and you’re reborn as a tree. And soon you’ll be surrounded by a forest of trees reborn in a forest reborn and filled with trees.

Gary Barwin, Rise Up, Trees: Frank’s Tree Service.

year’s end
bald pines hold
the sky in place

Julie Mellor, year’s end

I was sad to read that Kirsty Karkow had died, on Christmas Eve. She was a fine haiku and tanka poet. I had some correspondence with her twenty or so years ago and had been in online kukai groups with her in the late ’90s. She’d lived in Maine for many years but was born and educated in England. On Curtis Dunlap’s old ‘Blogging Along Tobacco Road’ blog, which was always a pleasurable read, you can still find Kirsty’s admirable contribution, here.

Matthew Paul, On Sylvia Kantaris and Kirsty Karkow

I cannot recall where I learned of Byung-chul Han, but I’ve had the pleasure of reading one of his books of philosophical essays (The Scent of Time) recently, and seldom has a philosophy text resonated so immediately with my circumstances. In this book, Han argues for contemplative time. He says it is essential for humans and human society and claims the “acceleration” of everyday life robs us of the value of reflective thought and “slow time.”

Raised and educated in Germany, where he now teaches, Han invokes the works of several German philosophers to provide a starting-point regarding the acceleration of time. He draws on Nietzsche, Arendt, Husserl and, to a larger extent, Heidegger…but Derrida, Aquinas, Aristotle, and others as well. He also quotes from quite a few poets, such as Celan, Hölderlin, Büchner, Handke, Ch’iao Chi, and spends two chapters on Proust (but of course…).

Han posits that the point-like, algorithmic availability of information runs counter to knowledge and wisdom, which require experience, which in turn requires duration and connection rather than arbitrary retrieval: “Promising, commitment and fidelity, for instance, are genuinely temporal practices. They bind the future by continuing the present into the future…creating a temporal continuity.” He criticizes the very technology that permits a person like me to learn about his work (I am certain I heard of him online somewhere). That criticism says the faster we go, the further we are from our earthiness–the airplane removes us from earth’s gravitational field as well as from the soil, “estranging the human being from it.” He adds, “The internet and electronic mail let geography, even the earth itself, disappear…Modern technology de-terrestrializes human life.”

Strong opinions, large claims. But oh, I thought at once of Whitman and his long expansive drawling poems when I read, “Instead of leisurely strolling around, one rushes from one event to another. This haste and restlessness characterize neither the flâneur nor the vagabond.” The whizzing about leads to anxiety and a lack of durable relationships. People hover instead of connect, swiping left or doomscrolling, feeling bored–which is a kind of empty-mindedness. I observe this trend of rushing and hovering in my students and among my colleagues. I have not found much Whitman-like lounging in current poetry publications, but a great deal of anxiety appears in contemporary poems. Writers reflect the times. Context shapes us.

Ann E. Michael, Slowing time

year’s end
waiting for candy
in the rain

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 December 2021

Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota by Amelia Gorman

This gorgeous chapbook explores the ecological dangers of Climate Change and the emotional impacts of human nature. These poems flirt with the speculative, presenting a near future that feels nurtured by the here and now, offering visions of what could be while feeling anchored in what has been. The pairing of botanical illustrations with these lush poems is the kind of book I love to have and hold in its physical form, so that I can flip through its beautiful pages.

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2021

The end of the year rolls near and I am just lifting my head towards my blog. It’s been forgotten in the shuffle of working life and as that end-of-year-in-review feeling rolls in I have to be honest with myself about several things. 

Where I am at geographically, career-wise, with a view to my family and my energy levels means I cannot place much focus on my writing. And 2022 will be even more difficult. I’m starting my teacher training course in January while working full-time at a school and raising my kids. I’m currently fitting writing in at the weekends, but soon that will be taken over by my course. I will continue to try and do a bit of writing, but compromises will be made. 

And it hurts to think I will have to put it aside or squeeze it into the cracks. I would love to be working as a writer even part-time, but I need to focus on a career that I know will give some financial security. I’m finishing off a commission for some poetry this week and coming to the end of an editing job. I hope other small opportunities present themselves, but I will have to protect what little time I have to study and spend with my kids as much as I can.

My book will obviously not be published in 2021. I knew this was the case from early summer as nothing seemed to be moving forward, including communication. Maybe something will happen next year, but I no longer hold out much hope. My book was accepted about the time my decades-long relationship fell apart, so it felt a positive part of my renewal, a reason to look forward and celebrate my hard work. Then Covid and Brexit and Time bulldozed on through and here I am, still waiting, trying to be patient. 

Gerry Stewart, The End of 2021 Draws Nigh

2021 was also the year I launched a book during a pandemic! What fun! Strangers came out in April, and was formally launched in May, with an online event featuring Sadiqa de Meijer and Sue Sinclair, and hosted by my editor Luke Hathaway. You can view that here. Unable to tour the book, this summer I took my tour local, with readings around Vancouver (even those were fraught – one was canceled by a record-shattering “heat dome,” another was rained our and had to be moved into the overhang area of an elementary school playground… normal stuff!). I loved getting to hear new poems from fellow pandemic-launching poets – eleven total guest readers over the course of the series. Readings at the Vancouver Writers Fest, Word Vancouver, and the Real Vancouver Writers Series kept me busy all fall, and helped me feel like it might really be reaching readers out there in the world! Reviews of the book and also interviews about the book kept me afloat despite the lack of in-person connections. Thank you to everyone who spent some time with Strangers in 2021 – it meant a great deal to me.

Rob Taylor, the 2021 roll of nickels year in review

I’ve been thinking as I look at my stats for the year that there’s some sort of link between my running this year and my writing. Correlation isn’t causation, etc and I don’t have the charts to hand (the wherewithal to tally up each month to make the chart),but I know that up to June this year I finished 10 poems and was roughly averaging 40-50k a week, and between July and now I’ve finished 5 poems and am averaging about 20K a week.

I’ve also run less overall. Last year it was 1600K, this year it’s just over 1500. I was aiming for 2000K, but

I think the reason behind these declines are that I was up a lot earlier in the first half of the year, and using the time after the runs to work on poems. I was training for Race To The King, and when folks mentioned I’d be struggling for motivation after that I didn’t believe them. How right they were. A combination of injury before the race, and exhaustion after has left me struggling to get back into the right frame of mind. It’s been the same with writing, the mad kick bollock scramble of the second half of 2021 has just left me with no interest in picking up a pen. I have no doubt it will come back. I can see a draft I started a coupe of weeks ago staring at me and I know I want to get to it, so I have faith.

Mat Riches, Run on lines…

When I look back at previous goals and roundups from around this time of year, I can see that pretty much every year I say I am going to cut back work, live a healthier lifestyle, live a ‘less chaotic life’ and have never quite managed it, until this year. My favourite mantra of this year, and one I’ll be taking with me into next year is ‘Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want different outcomes, make different choices.’ Changing habits, changing learned behaviour, thought habits, unhealthy coping strategies etc is not about will power. Will power plays its part, but rather than being a shield you use to protect you from cravings, will power is tool you can use to reinforce the positive habits, affirming to yourself that you are worth change, that you are worth nice things, good health, a happy work/life balance. This year I managed to over work myself to a point at which I triggered an underlying heart condition and very high blood pressure. In fact, what I’d thought was the menopause turned out to be my body struggling with what I was doing to it. The doctors I spoke to told me I needed to cut down caffeine, alcohol and stress to manage it. Reader, I did not know who I was without caffeine, alcohol and stress. I cut back caffeine consumption to just first thing in the morning and the occasional afternoon cup of tea. Knowing I could still get my Wendy strength coffee first thing meant I was happy to cut back for the rest of the day. The stress and the booze were much harder to cut down. I enlisted the help of a personal health trainer to help me change my terrible relationship with alcohol, which you can read about here and reader, it worked, it continues to work. I had my first hangover in four months this week. I’ve taken the brakes off a little over Christmas and drunk more than I have been doing and amazingly found that I don’t really want to drink much anymore. Which makes me a cheap date and a complete and utter lightweight. This is my biggest achievement of this year. I know there will be people who don’t really understand that cutting back booze is a big achievement, it’s not like I have gone Tee Total, but the change in my health, my happiness, my anxiety and my self confidence is noticeable. I’m not going back. I’ve done this before and never quite managed it because I gave booze up completely without changing my thought process around it. This time it really does feel different. I have altered my thinking, altered my motivations.

Wendy Pratt, 2021 – My Year in Review- Best Books, Best People, Best Moments, Best Foot Forward

even when I did not know your name, sparrow,
I knew your song, the particular way
you break the silence

Han VanderHart, Bird Song Sounds Out of Tune Only to the Human Ear

Do you remember at the beginning of the pandemic there were all the jokes about the line “I hope this email finds you well.” And let’s face it, for the last couple of years, we haven’t been well, or at least not all the time, and certainly not in all the ways one would wish to be well. What even is wellness now? I don’t want any easy and pat wellness advice myself because this stuff is hard and recurring and complicated and we can be more than one thing at once, anyway. One thing I do know, is that what we normally think of as wellness is not this steady stream. Sure we can be resilient but we also get to take breaks from being resilient. (Which is perhaps a form of resiliency). So what I hope for you in this coming year is that you find your way to a wellness, and in the times when things are more crumbly, you find ways to return and return to a space where you feel okay and sometimes even content and happy.

Shawna Lemay, Keeping Your Appointments in 2022

Let me be the photographer staring down into the lens
of a Box Brownie, let me really see my mother’s red hair,
my father’s best trousers, my brother’s barely lived in skin,

our white socks and Start-Rite sandals, or deeper still –
the cotton handkerchiefs in our dress pockets, Dad’s tattoos
hidden under his long sleeved shirt, the sand beneath

the soil and grass under our feet, the scent in the darkness
when we opened the coalbunker door, what we knew then,
what we didn’t know, what we were unable to even imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ 1963

Palpable: what else to call poems with lines such as “I RUB MESSAGES INTO THE WALL B/C I KNOW / SOMEDAY I WILL BE DELETED.” The urgency implied in the typographical choice to use all caps (here and consistently throughout the collection) brings with it the implication of presence. Words in all caps are emphasized, given more presence before the eye. Such emphasis and presence are more often associated with brand slogans, protest signs, even text messages–a set of seemingly incongruent examples that yet are totally in line with the world interrogated by Abi-Karam. Only that these are poems, and the poetic space is flexible enough to hold a human pulse despite these implications, and resilient enough push back, to voice and be a voice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Villainy by Andrea Abi-Karam

The first poems in Danger Days by Catherine Pierce (Saturnalia Press, 2020) lead one to expect that this book will be all about end times and apocalypse.  The fourth poem dispels this idea: “High Dangerous” is the name her young sons give to hydrangeas.  But there is danger there too: the bees in the flowers.

Pierce finds danger in many supposedly ordinary places.  In motherhood, for instance, in “How Becoming a Mother Is Like Space Travel.” (Both find themselves rearranged.) “Abecedarian for the Dangerous Animals” covers five kinds of animal: bees, bats, the cassowary, the golden dart frog, and humans. […]

One set of poems addresses the history of words, in a series she calls “From the Compendium of Romantic Words.” In each poem she explores, deconstructs and plays with a particular word.  My favorite is “delicatessen” which begins:

Noun.  Notable for a sibilant elegance heightened
by the suggestion of cured meats.  Not deli,
a vulgar nickname, a fly-den, a swing-by, but
a long sigh of syllables, a time machine.  Inside
its languid hiss: flannel suits, stenographer glamour.
When the word is uttered, a skyline materializes.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Danger Days by Catherine Pierce

Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens [by Corey Van Landingham] brought back to me memories from January 1991. I was visiting friends at the University of Maine in Orono (UMO) and trying to rekindle a romance with a boyfriend from high school. He refused to see me, so I met friends in the Bears Den where we ate and watched TV. It was the night coalition forces launched the attack on Iraq. A screen in the corner of the room in the student union broadcast the bombardment. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the moment: “The war marked the introduction of live news broadcasts from the front lines of the battle, principally by the US network CNN. The war has also earned the nickname Video Game War after the daily broadcast of images from cameras on board U.S. bombers during Operation Desert Storm.”

I can’t recall if we were horrified but know for sure we were mesmerized. And, even though I was just 18 at the time, I’m ashamed to admit that I was more pained by the romantic abandonment than by what I saw on TV. Even though the scenes from my UMO visit have stuck with me, I never bothered to include them in a poem. If I had, I’d probably have written about the boy and not the televised introduction to war in my lifetime. It’s a daunting task to consider even now.

I’m still not writing much about world events in my poems, but thankfully my interrogation of our complicity in them has evolved, and Van Landingham’s poems support this necessary and difficult line of questioning. In “{Pennsylvania Triptych},” she writes, “To participate in the demolition is to be a part of history. Is what I tell myself…” She goes on, “As if, ante- / bellum, white and wealthy, with your father’s / father’s sprawling fields, you wouldn’t have let the / house staff serve you pheasant.” We must come to terms with our participation in dehumanizing others if we are to understand how to stop it.

Carolee Bennett, “the body becomes a downloadable thing”

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
It was completely administrative! I decided to apply to MFA programs last minute and the deadlines were coming up. I had to put together a portfolio and figured it would take less time to write poetry than to write prose (ha!). I became a poet thanks to early deadlines. But I kept with poetry because I love its sparseness— it’s a form in which what you don’t say is as important as what you do say. Absence speaks, it’s mystical— a fairytale in itself. […]

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In writing: act as if everyone is enlightened but you (Sandra Alcosser).

In general: “Dlatego dwie uszy jeden język dano, iżby mniej mówiono a więcej słuchano.” It”s a common Polish saying, loosely translated: “you got two ears and one mouth to speak less and listen more”. In fact, come to think of it, this applies perfectly to writing too.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Anna van Valkenburg

An interesting poem shows consideration-in-process. To “consider” means “be with the stars,” doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want that from a poem?

Poems in which the poet knows too much at the outset can tend toward flatness, I have found. The movement, if there is movement, in such a poem is of a busy person through a room who gives you a brisk nod. “Oh, there goes old whatsisname. Hunh,” you think. And that’s that. A more interesting poem wanders in, sits down with you, says something unexpected, ponders, ask you something, maybe, tells a tale, perhaps, shows you something, and in some way you share the moment.

You still might think, Hunh. But it’s a lingering hunh, a “I want to think more about this” hunh, or a “I never looked at that way before” hunh. You might want to call that poem some late afternoon and see if it wants to go get a beer.

Marilyn McCabe, Don’t stand so close to me; or, On Poems That Know Too Much

I am feeling forlorn this New Year’s morning.  Forlorn weather –  53 degrees and pouring rain, and likely to do so all day.

Last night I went to a New Year’s Eve gathering with eight other old folks –  55+ on the menu at Perkins Pancake House.  Very subdued.  It was a long table and I was the last to arrive and I didn’t get to sit with the friends I enjoy conversing with.  Not even any wine.  We closed the place at 8PM.  Sigh.

I drove home, remembering the New Year’s Eves of my wild youth:  in Philadelphia several with Patrick and his friends, in Baltimore in the apartment at Wellington Gate, and on Barclay Street, even a few in the early years of life in the Daughters.  Sigh.

So it goes.  I keep teaching Slaughterhouse Five to my Modernity class, now on Zoom due to COVID.

Anne Higgins, The times are nightfall; look – their light grows less

But for today, let me not focus on all that is coming at me/us in January.  Let me enjoy one more day of tropical drinks by the pool.  Let me focus on reading fiction, since I won’t have a chance to do that much once my seminary classes get underway.  Let me enjoy meals with loved ones and views of a different coastline.

And perhaps I will write a poem.  A few days ago, I made this Facebook post:”It is oddly foggy on the west coast of Florida this morning. It looks like it snowed overnight–or that something dreadful has happened to a lot of mermaids.”

Since then, I’ve continued to think of mermaids and sea foam and the death of mermaid dreams–or is it the resurrection of the girlhood dreams of mermaids?   I came up with this line to begin a poem:  Some days it is better to be sea foam.

Yesterday, the morning fog that looks like sea foam was tinted in different colors, which made me think that maybe sea foam doesn’t represent one eternal idea, but many.  

A poem is percolating, and I want to remember.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Soft Ending to Vacation

I know it’s a little cheesy, and harder during a pandemic year, but I still went through the steps of doing my yearly inspiration board, and using my hands to cut and glue things makes me feel like a kid again, and there’s something innately…optimistic about putting up words and pictures that make you feel happy and hopeful. This year, words like “friends,” “inspiration,” “magic,” and “happiness” made appearances, along with images of foxes, pink typewriters, blooms and butterflies.

Anyway, I encourage you to try it yourself, even if it’s just a temporary one on a corkboard, or posting inspiring things on your fridge. What could we look forward to? What are the best possibilities? I’m far too good at looking at the dark side.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy New Year! Snowed-In Seattle, Inspiration Board for 2022, Variant Problems, and Late Celebrations

We are born into this life with all its bombs & birdsongs, diseases & deities, poverty & purity. Born into criminals & kissers, debtors & creditors, greed & generosity. Born into freedom & detention, flowers & fault lines, climate change & genocides. Dancing, singing, weeping, raging. Slaving, building, crushing, creating—the beauty & brawl of it all.

Rich Ferguson, Into This

The lines of this poem are a factory that employs
the dead. Ghosts of people that walk
on concrete floors, their eyes
like blank sheets of paper. Do you
have a pen? Me neither.

What is a day? Rows and lines
of broken things – dreams, hopes, love.
No, that’s too hard and I reject it.
A day is you with your shoes off.
You are running toward me
laughing. You are telling me
about some poet from The Gaza Strip
or Kentucky.

James Lee Jobe, Their eyes are like blank sheets of paper.

How lucky the kitchen was stocked with tiny marshmallows and French chocolate
waiting in dishes for guests that would never come…
a list of movies, a fireplace with stacks of crackling logs
six-point crumpled Kleenex fluttering as paper snowflakes in an infinity of patterns
tables littered with bottles —- cough syrup, elderberry, zinc —
and cake vying for room with white test kits

We laughed into delirium when time was a stream of barely noted
notches in the inevitable: 
and talked of dreams, Rebbe Nachman, how to organize notebooks
not optimists but expecting each day would get better

New Year’s Eve was a muted affair; 
even if historic and global, we could say we did it in our pyjamas
in our own creaturely language
although we were still stuck in the indeterminacy

Jill Pearlman, Merry Quarantine

In spite of this, I’m starting this year feeling more optimistic than last year. Perhaps misguidedly. It’s not as if there’s a safe pair of hands in charge in the UK. But there are signs that the covid virus might be becoming less dangerous, which is something to feel hopeful about, even though we are still far from being in the all clear. On top of this, I have my own creative projects ticking away, and time to work on them, and my husband, Andrew, and our two grown-up children are well, we’ve navigated our way through the past two years and we’re still talking to each other and supporting each other’s plans. I’m so glad we’ve all been here for each other, at the end of a phone, if not always in person.

Josephine Corcoran, Light Ahead (maybe)

So, there we are. A year of recycled poems, stocking fillers, stand-ups, long-delayed appreciations and reviews, and far too much about being unwell and sorry for myself. And let’s be fair. In the world ‘out there’ it was a truly horrible year, a sleep of reason beginning with a failed putsch by morons led by a moron in the USA, and ending with tsunamis of incompetence, criminality and sleaze in what passes for government. What keeps me sane? You do. You and the poets whose work makes the world a better place. Go well. Stay well.

John Foggin, 2021: That was the year that was

You find the edge
of the wind right

where it ripples,
the old monk says.

You can almost
taste the sand.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (93)

 the extravagance of sun after a swim

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 49

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: death, loss, religion, work… that sort of thing. Enjoy.


I find myself living more and more in the spaces between things that have words to describe them. It’s not that I don’t want to write, but that I want to find a way to write without naming experiences. Without sorting my life into the labeled bins. This year I am teaching theater history a bit differently, having put the students into small seminar-style groups to discuss the curriculum rather than use a lecture/assignment model. I’m finding it helpful with ideas I struggle to understand myself: like Artaud’s ideas. I’ve been talking about how Artaud didn’t want the audience to experience a catharsis, but rather take the emotional disruption home with them. Invariably, the students describe it as Artaud wanting the audience to “reflect” on the theatrical experience. I guess it is due to an assumption that theater-as-therapy is theater-as-talk-therapy: the intellectualizing of experience as the route to understanding and processing/neutralizing. After all, what other kind of understanding is there?

There is poetry.

But so much of this kind of exploration is the antithesis of formal education. And even in a small group, an attempt to discuss this just frustrates and confuses the students, who want to/have to sort the information into the bins, to tuck the words away neatly into clear sentences that click like a tumbler lock to open the door to university. Which is what they are here for. What I am here for. There’s no room for negative capability when the exams are scored blindly from a central clearinghouse of random examiners. Sometimes I think there is no room for negative capability in the culture at all.

Ren Powell, Tolerating Witches

After today’s burial
my friend the undertaker

asks about the meditation labyrinth
behind the synagogue.

It’s a contemplative practice,
I explain. It’s not a maze

where it’s easy to get lost.
There’s only one path.

Take your time, notice
where your footsteps land.

We don’t know how or when,
but we all know the destination.

Rachel Barenblat, Destination

It is October as we ride the Beltway in the glaring morning sun.
Emily Dickinson, what do you say about the angry red cars,
the roaring black four wheel drives that loom behind me?

What do you say about this walled city of streaming metal
and gas fired speed?
Will the flickering brake lights
make you sink to the floor of the car, sick with vertigo?
Will the hissing of rubber on asphalt, the tumult of a thousand engines
make you want to disappear behind the tan concrete walls?
Will we drive all day in this exhausted maze?
We’ll both be burned.
Will we reach Carmel, and stroll in the lost country of prayer?
Oh, Emily, frail and sherry-eyed, lonely scribbler,
what relief did you have when the carriage stopped for you?

Anne Higgins, On a Superhighway in Maryland

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, except for the last two days I’ve been wondering how I can work this anecdote into a poem. It’s easier to imagine a challenge for the fiction writers in my group:

Write a scene in which a character attends a church service and hears a message that makes him or her uncomfortable.

I hadn’t been too sure about this trip, but the church service itself didn’t make me at all uncomfortable. My brother and sister and their spouses were there (my brother said at lunch that he was surprised the church didn’t fall down); also one my of aunts (age 86), and about a dozen of my cousins from all over Southwest Washington. Lots of music. I did a complete flashback to my childhood and wept. Much has changed (the drums and guitars up front), and I knew only two of the people in their small congregation. But there was a time for personal testimony, and an altar call at the end — both could have been scripted from a service when I was seven.

I’ve been rereading Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, and this morning I underlined this line:

“our emotion is perhaps nothing but an expression of a poetry that was lost” (p. 6).

That’s kind of the space my thoughts are hovering over.

Bethany Reid, Christmas Stories

–It’s been interesting to be writing my final papers for seminary classes while also grading the final papers of my students.  I’ve always been a fairly generous grader, so I don’t think it’s impacted me that way.  I have been the kind of grader that didn’t put much in the way of comments on A papers.  As a woman who writes A papers, I’m realizing that a more developed comment might be appreciated.  Have I written that more developed comment as a teacher?  Not yet.

–I am a poet who delights in making interesting comparisons.  I am aware of that personality trait of mine, and I try not to let that part of my brain run wild while writing papers for seminary.  Still, I think my poet brain sees things that other might not, and my seminary papers are stronger for it.

–I am a woman who has juggled many activities through the decades:  teaching, reading, writing, administrator work, church work, a variety of volunteer jobs, family, friends.  I am used to grabbing every scrap of time.  If I only have 15 minutes, I’ll write a chunk of seminary paper or read the next part of the text.  I am not waiting for huge swaths of time to get things done.  Huge swaths of time are not coming.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Blogging Poet-Seminarian Who Teaches First Year Comp

Our husbands passed death
between them like a soup–
true brothers. Can we pass life
between each other now, Ruth?

Take it to your lips, the good strong
drink—come even with me to my mother’s house,
where we can weave white flowers
into each other’s hair and torture
the hearts of young men,
tender as rabbits snared in wire.

Renee Emerson, poem from Threshing Floor (Jacar Press)

No-one, nothing, prepares us for this loss,
the disappearance of the people who

brought us into the world, who made us.
Gratitude slowly eases the grief. I carry you

like I might carry the most precious, the most
priceless of gifts: knowing I was loved.   

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ for Mam & Dad

Last week, I didn’t write here about the school shooting in Michigan. I wrote about a Christmas tree stand, which was my way of writing about hope.

Last week, a friend sent me a poem, written by a father whose daughter is an art teacher, that was, in part, about his wife spinning wool in the wake of the school shooting, and I felt the deep pull I have been feeling for years to leave schools and take up useful, concrete work I might do with my hands, so that I, too, like the poet’s wife, might “disappear” into “gentle quiet.”

Last week, though, I stayed at school and didn’t take up wool-spinning. I went to school and taught the lessons I’d planned not knowing there would be another school shooting. (Know that, for me, school shootings are not unlike my migraines, in that the question is never if there will be another, but only when there will be another. I try not to let them dictate too much of my life.) I taught my students about the media bias chart because it is a tool I am asking them to use to evaluate sources of information. To be able to comprehend the chart, we had to dive into conceptually-rich vocabulary: liberal, conservative, fact reporting, news analysis, propaganda, fabrication, extremism, reliability. I divided them into groups and asked them to find sources to verify their definitions of the terms, something that proved valuable when we realized that different groups were sharing different, sometimes contradictory ones for the same words.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Last week

The paintings in this post were done 17 months apart; the one at the top just a few days ago, the other in July of 2020. The objects on my desktop look pretty much the same — the jars of brushes and pens, the skull – memento mori –  atop the carved wooden box, the bowl of nuts and pine cones, the Chinese fans and Mycenean cup. But when I studied the two paintings I did notice a significant difference: in the more recent one, there are images of people. I had moved both the Persian painting and the postcard of “mourning Athena” (a relief carving I love from the Acroplis Museum in Athens) onto my desk fairly recently, and I think it’s because I wanted to see images of humans. All right, Athena is a goddess, but she is always portrayed as a woman, and the mood and attitude of this carving seem particularly appropriate these days. And the Persian painting of lovers, with its delicious colors of blue and lavender, salmon and pink, its soft pillows and patterned fabrics, reminds me of love and languor and gardens outside the window, in suspended, storybook time.

I wasn’t comparing the two to ask myself if I’ve made “progress” in an artistic or technical sense. Actually I think the bottom one, the earlier painting, is probably “better”. But I don’t keep a sketchbook and do paintings solely to try to move ahead that way, or judge myself. It’s also to keep a visual diary, which often ends up telling me things I hadn’t realized. The newer painting says that I was missing people, and wanted them near me. Thankfully, this fall and early winter we’ve shared some indoor dinners, and it’s been a real happiness to be together that way again. At the same time, there are friends and family members I haven’t seen for two years, and that’s genuinely painful; there are others who have left us who I’ll never see again.

We need, I think, to be less concerned with progress, and more with allowing ourselves space and time to grieve, to accept change, and to start to think about what’s next for us only if, and when, we feel ready to do that. In the meantime, in the present moment, let’s look around ourselves and see what’s there.

Beth Adams, What Means “Progress”?

One charming cliche pops up when you are going on a trip — people ask, can you pack me in your suitcase?  When you’re returning, it’s a moot point.  Or is it?   

I wouldn’t have known it when I was boarding the plane, but now that I’ve unpacked and am reorienting, certain things did ask to come back.  I’d call them mute things.  They are live elements that I encountered, with which I shared space and shared alert, vibrant moments.   They are inanimate but have subtle voice and life.   These things called and intersected my perception.  They cracked open staleness, cracked open language that was carrying pragmatic messages without carrying surprise, and winged across the abyss. Many, many aesthetic happenings that happened inside and out.

The energy of traffic that moves like the ocean’s surf, its waves of energy roaring forward, pulling back, lulled by a lazy club beat.  A dull blue bucket in moonlight as an old woman lowers it on a pulley from her terrace.  Active volcanos that grow like children and move towards the sea. The soft bee sound of motorbikes.  Color that is there beyond us.   A recognition of the brilliant chaos that swarms us, reminding us that we are participants but not masters.  If we listen, we get it.  They travel with us.  Carry on.

Jill Pearlman, What Asked to Come Back from the Trip

In the absence of
a compass, the birds argue about directions.
Lines curve through the countryside,
fading where the horizon is a jagged
edge in the hills. It’s only one
flower, but its redolence convinces you
there are others like it in the world.

Luisa A. Igloria, Phenomenology of Endurance

I know I’m late giving accolades to this Pulitzer-prize-winning book, but I finished reading Tyehimba Jess’ Olio recently and: wow! This 2016 collection goes on my must-keep-&-read-again shelf (okay, that’s not a real shelf in my house, but it should be).

How to describe the experience of reading this book? The poems are mostly lyrical, largely persona pieces, yet the scope of the book as a whole is encompassingly narrative. It takes readers from the mid-19th century through the late 20th century through poems that imagine the voices of slaves, ex-slaves, singers, composers, musicians, performers: all of them real people. It’s part history, part fiction, interspersed with dynamic prose that suggests interviews and letters and song lyrics; furthermore, the sureness of Jess’ use of classic and experimental poetic craft astonishes.

Plus, the stories are just so compelling. Inspirational? Sometimes. Sad? Often. Entertaining? That, too. The title comes from the term that means an amalgam, a mish-mash, and which was used to describe the various acts of minstrel shows. Yet Jess’ book does not feel like that sort of random “show.” It holds together like a carefully-sawn jigsaw puzzle or a masterful collage.

In the midst of the “entertainers” who voice the poems in Olio, there is the unavoidable pain of Black lives in the United States. It’s depicted clearly in the words of the speakers of these poems, and sometimes more subtly, as in the litany of Black churches burned, bombed, or shot up that appears under the choir poems.

Most awe-inspiring for this reader is the section about the conjoined twin girls Millie and Christine McKoy. What Jess does here, besides a spectacular imagining of the characters of the twins (born into slavery and exhibited in “freak shows,” they sang duets!), is to create sonnets that are twinned, star-shaped on the page, syncopated in meter, rhymed and off-rhymed, and–here’s the kicker–that can be read across each line or on each side, (columns or linearly). How did he come up with that form? It’s so suitable to the lyrical aspect of the pieces, which are interwoven into a kind of unexpected crown of sonnets.

Ann E. Michael, In awe

Do I dream of you or do you dream of me?
Mist conjures this and that.
The great trees grow through the temple.
I reach down and help you up.
You sit beside me and we watch
the apparition of horses becoming horses,
steaming, unmoving.
Your smile travels with me.
Your smell, your touch.
We didn’t ask for much.

I walk out of the cafe into the wind.
My legs struggle through shadows.
On the high road, heading north,
the only light is the drifting snow.
A thousand years of miracles.
Just one, I’d wish, for a child.
It’s too late, I know, but still…

Bob Mee, A DIFFERENT WAY TO BE

I’m pleased to report I have an article on The Friday Poem this week, titled “Beyond the Bubble – how can poetry reach out to a wider readership?”. I do hope it encourages positive debate. The first paragraph reads as follows:

Over the twenty-five years that I’ve been following the U.K. poetry scene, I’ve witnessed countless hands being wrung at the side-lining of poetry by society. However, this act has then been followed by most stakeholders (poets, publishers, arts organisations, etc) sitting on those same hands and complaining, as if outsiders’ lack of interest in the genre were their own fault. One analogy might be the disbelief that some feel at so many other people voting for Brexit. In politics as in poetry, nothing will change unless we all take the bull by the horns and engage with society on a regular and permanent basis…

If this extract has piqued your curiosity, you can read the article in full by following this link.

Matthew Stewart, Beyond the Bubble on The Friday Poem

finding more light
folding bits of paper
you get trapped in it

our lifespans are not enough
brilliant but difficult
eaten by termites

Ama Bolton, ABCD December 2021

It is a poem [of] winter, the season we are now triumphantly (for some) living in. It is a poem of ‘crusty dishes’, a ‘clogged’ ‘kitchen sink’, smelly drains and no sign of a plumber to rescue the situation. As the speaker says, this is the ‘everyday’, that she and her now deceased brother, the book’s protagonist, have spoken of, a line we receive with no extra contextual information, other than that it happened in the past.

I have had similar conversations with the near-to-dying myself. They are simultaneously difficult and utterly ordinary: the ‘everyday’ will keep breaking through the verbiage of the things you want to say and somehow never get round to. I try to see them as a gift.

The poem is also one of sky, ‘a deep, headstrong blue’ and ‘sunlight pour[ing] through / the open living-room windows’, an image of winter at its most benign. The relief is only temporary, however. We soon learn that the heating is on ‘too high […] and I can’t turn it off’. It’s not long before we are back in the world of dropped ‘groceries’ and and spilled coffee. The ‘everyday’ annoyances that make up most of where most of us live.

Anthony Wilson, It’s winter again / I am living

So, yes, I’m very excited about Flare, Corona coming out with BOA Editions in the fall of 2023, by which time I hope we will have better solutions for this covid thing and life will have somewhat returned to normal. Maybe I can even have a book party at a winery or something fun like that!

This book manuscript is very personal to me – it contains poems about getting diagnosed with what they said was terminal cancer back five years ago, and then six months later, getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and as I gradually recovered from the shock of those two things, the pandemic crept into our lives.

But I swear it’s not a depressing book – there are supervillains and fairy tales in the poems, as you might expect in my books – and there’s lots of humor. And I cannot imagine a better press to bring out this book.

And I’m also thankful to Alternating Current Press for bringing out Fireproof in May 2022, so I have something to focus on for the next six months. Fireproof is about witches, Joan of Arc, genetics, fairy tales – it’s a little edgy, a little feminist, and little political. A very different book than Flare, Corona. I’m about to be at the stage where I’m asking for blurbs (eek!) and deciding on cover art. The web site will probably get a little makeover based on the next two books as well.

It’s been five years since Field Guide to the End of the World came out, so to suddenly have two books on the horizon is a little bit of a shock – but a good shock.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy (Pandemic) Holidays, More About BOA and upcoming books, and Wishing You Health and Safety

Later, the band will play slow and solemn, stepping down
the narrow street that smells of trodden leaves,
the priest in lawn and linen will walk before the band 
and its slow sad music, blessing every doorstep.
The town follows quietly after, believing in miracles.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers.. stuff gone missing in 2021

Wine-tasting has its vocabulary. So does poetry appreciation. Orbis magazine has many pages of reader feedback which provide a useful sample. In the recent issue 198 I noticed that the most popular phrases are about

– how well the poet collected the data/experience: “precisely observed“, “beautifully observed“, “precise observation

– the conversion into words: “captures” was popular (of “a moment“, “the past“, “the essence“, “the intensity“). There’s “compressed energy

– the artifice/craft of the words: “constructed” appears twice (“beautifully constructed“, “well constructed“) and there’s “exquisitely crafted“, “well made” and “clever“. “precision of language” appears too – see my Poetry and Precision article.

– the effect on the reader (getting the original data/experiences back): “evocative” appears more than once. There’s “immersive” and “relatable“. Also “amusing

These phrases suit the idea of poets having experiences that they try to communicate to readers using expertise which ideally can be measured. I think the poems in Orbis have a wider aesthetic range than this, but only certain types of poems attract comment, it seems to me.

Tim Love, The vocabulary of poetry appreciation

Turn off the porch light, the darkness is like ink
And our lives are like paper;
There must still be something left to write.
I can’t tell you how often I have dreamed of the dead,
Dreams that are more like small visits.
Do you find it hard to really trust people?
Aren’t there some secrets that you are willing to carry
All the way to the grave?
When the porch light goes off, do the lives of the moths
Still have meaning, or are they lost and confused?

James Lee Jobe, Don’t close the windows tonight, if someone is coming in, just let them.

So then maybe the goal would be to not necessarily work MORE, but SMARTER. I’ve been seeking out and taking on some freelance copywriting work. I am not taking on as much as I could just yet in the off hours, but it’s paying me, per hour, about twice what I make at the library. That dream life? Obv since I’ve cast my lot with poetry, it will never get me there entirely. But I can work to trim the work that I do to help foot the bills to something I am getting paid more to do–work less hours to free up time for all those other things I feel I should be doing–could be doing–if things were different. But I never get there. So many people post-lockdown are reevaluating where and how they work and I am probably no different. Maybe it’s just this weird place called mid-life and this is my own crisis. I feel like I’ve spent years devaluing my own skills and abilities and perhaps it’s time for a change.

Kristy Bowen, the perfect life

How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I try to write into an unknown space for as long as I can before calling it a “project,” lest I cut my imagination off too soon. This is an impulse I’ve had to work towards, to learn, as my MFA (like most, I would think) coached me to write a thesis, a chapbook, a book, as opposed to writing into something you can’t fully yet see or name.

The pandemic has corrupted my writing practice, for sure, but I’m finding my way back by writing in small spurts early in the morning, by hand, a few days a week when possible.

My poems change a whole lot in revision, especially when I’m going from a first draft or a pre-draft into a second or full version. I work from notes, reading, and research heavily, even if I’m not “researching” something deliberately. I also do a lot of opening beloved collections to random pages and writing back to a line or two, especially when I’m stuck. Striking up a conversation, perhaps. […]

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
With The Naomi Letters, I felt preoccupied by the question What does who you love, and how you love, tell you about who you are? In the new space I’m tentatively writing towards, the question has become What does my brain’s suffering mean, and how does it matter? I’m feeling more drawn to examining the stakes of my mental illness, of connecting fear, joy, and grief together along the thread of my particular biochemical inflections. […]

When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
The work of other poets I love. A closed computer, a long walk.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Rachel Mennies

Sometimes
I have to cross

to the other side
of the street

to avoid what
I’m thinking,

the old monk says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (75)

In my mid-twenties, it was I who was groping toward a poetic identity. Like Larkin at that age, I had a model; unlike Larkin, my model was Frost (though in the blindness of youthful pride, I wouldn’t have confessed to having any model whatsoever). So it isn’t surprising that the poems I was writing back then had country subjects—until it occurred to me that I didn’t know the first thing about the country. On recovering from this realization, I started writing poems about New York City, where I’d actually set foot. These poems emerged in a voice that no longer sounded like Frost’s (not that it sounded anything like my own). This was progress—stepping away from something was a stride of a kind—but a new problem arose: as damning and/or inexplicable as this may be, there wasn’t anything I really had to say about New York. This deficit led, for a time, to my not writing any poems at all.

Meanwhile there was at least one thing I did have to say, if only to get it off my chest: that my lack of poetic production didn’t mean I wasn’t working on the problem (and that a solution might not be working itself out in me). At some point it crossed my mind that this could itself be said as a poem. I undertook to execute on the idea—and found that I couldn’t. Every stab at the envisioned opus (and there were a number) seemed off somehow; seemed somehow too…elevated? I still remember the opening of one of these attempts:

What it never was, was indolence;
Not for an epoch all but given over
To idleness[…]

After some weeks of this futility, a kind of exhaustion reduced me one afternoon to just speaking out my burden the way I actually would, poetry to the side—whereupon the lines above had morphed into the first sentence of a little poem I was able to finish:

Notice

Indolent I wouldn’t know because
I never was that, forget how
It ever looked. What I was was getting
Ready, and the getting’s over now.

This was the first poem of mine that sounded like me, or at least like the Lower East Sider in me. Not coincidentally, this was also the first poem of mine that said something I really had, in a couple of senses, to say.

Finding Your Voice – guest blog post Daniel Brown (Trish Hopkinson)

There are always articles floating round that try and define the poetry experience, or what is poetry, etc. I can’t think of any that have ever precisely nailed it. I’m not sure there ever will be, or even needs to be, but I quite enjoyed this quote from Roy Marshall this week.

While it’s not a definition of what poetry is, I think this as close to a definition of writing a poem as I’ve seen for a while. NB other definitions are available and your statutory definition rights remain unaffected. I liked this particular note as it reminded me of two moments from across the years.

The first being the young me shoplifting some ink cartridges from Roys of Wroxham‘s stationery department. I must have been no more than 10, but needed them for the fountain pen I was already using because I thought I was a poet then. Arguably I was more of one then than I am now, but let’s gloss over that. Oh, the giddy rush of stuffing them up my jumper sleeve and meeting my parents in the car park…I’d attempt some sort of reference to Shoplifters of the World Unite, but Morrissey is a twat, so I won’t.

Mat Riches, Cats and Shoplifters

I am not generally prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder, but this December has felt especially oppressive, dark, wet and cold. I find myself hiding under the covers when the alarm goes off, in profound disbelief that human beings are expected to be awake and functional at that time of the morning, when it’s literally pitch black outside and freezing rain is aggressively beating on the windows. Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way, My trainer says that most of her clients are suffering from really bad winter blahs and are having a hard time getting to the gym. I get it. I awake in darkness and I arrive home in darkness after long days, and getting to my regular gym session requires iron will and a fair bit of nagging and prodding from Mr. Typist. My trainer, who I believe suffers a bit herself from the SAD, has given me cart blanche to bail on my sessions any time I want to in the name of winter blues. I think that’s because she doesn’t want to show up for them either, and I don’t blame her. I believe that there should be a total moratorium on human productivity from mid-November to mid-January. No alarms, no work, nothing. It should be a national time of Lolling Around Watching TV and Huddling Under Blankets. I plan to put a bill before Congress.

Kristen McHenry, Unpacking “Unpacking”, Lens Relief, National Days of Lolling

Sing something sweet. Sing so others may eat.

Sing to soothe all scavenged bones.

Sing to crack the code of loneliness.

Sing to break down inner prison walls.

Sing so you may be released.

Sing to help others be free.

Rich Ferguson, Sing

the cat is in and licking the night away
to the soft music of all this
fluttering of the hazel’s last leaves
a drip drops
morning has arrived
dawn is now a dunnock
pecking pecking
away with you
coffee soon

Jim Young, dawn

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 48

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: holes and wholeness, blogging about not blogging, clearing a space for the ancestors, and much more. Enjoy.


You are digging a hole in the hard, dry ground. The work is slow. you struggle, and no matter how hard you work, the hole only barely grows. Just a little at a time. You sweat and curse. You are tired, and your back aches. The neighbors are gathering at the fence. Why are you digging? Are things alright? Do you need some help? After several hours the crowd is huge and the hole finally large enough for you to enter. You go down, closing the earth behind you like a door. Now it is quiet. The sounds of the people watching have been silenced. You can hear your own breath. Reaching out, you find that the earth is quite cool to the touch, and that the darkness is a blessing. 

James Lee Jobe, This work is slow.

Not to interrupt the darkness
we breathed slowly, exhaling
almost invisible smoke.
We had rolled cigarettes
with cold hands, shared fire.
Nothing happened for a while.
Then the stars started falling …

Magda Kapa, Voices

I’ve eased out of bed this morning and made the mistake of reading the news before sitting down to write. I guess our morning walk and then my run will be all about shaking it off. Jack Kornfield says “After the Ecstasy the Laundry”. But there is also the question of after the Compassion… what then? I suppose it is akin to the obligation we feel to hold on to grief. To “keep a space” for the pain. And there is the guilt we may have when we find ourselves laughing during a period of a new loss.

I remind myself of the obligation to acknowledge the wholeness of the world. I can put down the conceptional understanding of things happening halfway around the world, and I can appreciate the nuzzling of a dog’s snout insisting on breakfast, my husband’s footsteps approaching as he comes in to [sit] in the chair beside me, drinking his coffee while I write.

Heading out now for a run. I’ll be quiet turning near the edge of the lake. I’ll be listening for the ducks, who invariably laugh just before dawn.

Ren Powell, The Weight We Give Things

 I once wrote a poem where the first two lines were:

The wind blows Novemberly
to the finger-snap of season change…

( I forget the middle of the poem, but it ends with)

The creek,
a ribbon of tinsel
through the leaf-gone trees.

How sad is that that I can’t remember the rest of the poem, and can’t find it anywhere in my piles of paper?

Anne Higgins, A cold and sunny end of November

Perhaps you were born with this hand like an uneven fence. Clasping, your whistle was as uncanny as an owl. Or you made wings of your outstretched fingers. Bird that has almost but not entirely evaded the gun, a feather’s breadth from near certain death.

Gary Barwin, ABRAHAM JUDA “SHORT FINGER” FUKS

The cluster of yucca plants by my driveway has bloomed twice this year, each time many stems grow tall, bloom and fade and I cut them down.  Then this one stalk appeared, but something about the weather or the season prevented it from stretching above the leaves, so it bloomed surrounded by the plant’s green.

It’s a late bloomer, like me.  Most people who know me now have no idea how slow I was to learn to think for myself.  I got good grades and succeeded mostly by doing what I was told.

I began thinking of myself as a poet in my 20s, but it did not occur to me that there is a teachable craft to writing until I was able to join workshops – not classes – many years later.  (I don’t mean things like grammar, which are important to communicate; I’ve known those rules since childhood.)

Once you know the rules of a craft, it’s much more fun to learn how and when they can be broken.

It makes possible surprises like these well-shaped blooms surrounded by green.

Ellen Roberts Young, Late Bloomer

The fall issue of AWS landed in my mailbox today! At 25° my mailbox is usually always frozen shut, so it isn’t a grand unveil without a lighter and some lock de-icer. As a poetry editor I love seeing how work morphs from draft form in Submittable to layout to printed paper copy. The cover photo is titled Open Sky by Becky Strub. Mandy Ramsey’s art is scattered throughout the pages and writings celebrating the celestial. I do enjoy volunteering for AWS for all the good writing reasons and for supporting northern women writers throughout Alaska. If you have an interest in volunteering, drop me a line. We are in need of an organized person to keep our email sorted and our mailing list updated. And you, too, would get to work with an amazing group of volunteers who also life up this sweet, sweet journal.

Kersten Christianson, Alaska Women Speak

It does feel good to have completed it, to have proved to myself that I have been able to write a work of fiction of that length, when I had not thought it possible. Apart from non-fiction books, mostly written to order for money, I have concentrated on relatively short pieces of writing that come within the rough borders of poetry.

Beyond that sense of personal satisfaction, what is there? I doubt I’ll ever read it again but hopefully, over time, some will ask for it to be emailed to them and, again hopefully, they will find something to enjoy in it. (If anyone reading this wants to, you’re welcome to email meeswood@aol.com)

There is, of course, a substantial gap between the writing of the thing and the reading of it. Not just in time, but in the experience of those involved.

Already, when it’s hardly been read, I’m getting on with other stuff. ‘Real life’ things like rolling the land ready for winter, making sure the hens are ok inside their inner pens to conform with avian flu regulations, preparing for the arrival of new pigs. And going off as usual to watch our beloved West Bromwich Albion home and away.

As to writing, it’s been surprisingly difficult to switch from the mindset necessary to create something of length to writing short pieces again. I wrote only one poem in the 79 days afforded the novel. At the time that felt like a huge release of air. Now, though, it’s taking time to settle into it again and find links between thoughts and images. I’ve started and scrapped dozens of attempts.

Bob Mee, SO YOU FINISH YOUR NOVEL… WHAT THEN?

You may have never given a poetry book as a gift. Most people have never bought a poetry book for themselves either. Yet a wealth of excellent poetry awaits, with more books coming out every day, each one capable of creating new poetry lovers. When I give a poetry book, whether to a poetry lover or a doesn’t-really-read-poetry friend, I like to pair the book with a related present. Here are a few suggestions based on books I’ve read recently. (Many are anthologies, a great way to entice readers.) Let these ideas inspire your own ideas. And please share in the comments what gift you’ve paired with a book, or what you’d like to receive in tandem with a book.

&&&&&  

The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink edited by Kevin Young (indie link) is a nourishingly hearty 336 page anthology with works by Elizabeth Alexander, Tracy K. Smith, Martín Espada, and others. It’s also perfect to pair with food-related gifts. Consider gifting it with something flavorful, like locally roasted coffee or spiced nuts. Or really step it up with a legacy gift like these salt boxes made from trees milled and shaped by the crafter. If you have the time, you might instead gift it with something you’ve cooked or baked yourself.

&&&&&

Maggie Smith’s Goldenrod (indie link) explores parenthood, nature, and memory with a uniquely sharp tenderness. Somehow I think a picture frame goes well with this gift, a way of honoring what’s dearest to your recipient.  

&&&&&

Ohio’s current Poet of the Year, Quartez Harris, is driven by his work as a second-grade teacher as well as by his students’ experiences with gun violence, poverty, and racism. I’d pair We Made It To School Alive with a gift certificate, maybe one that allows the recipient to give toys, games, or books purchased from black-owned businesses like Kido, Little Likes Kids, Paper Play and Wonder, or Puzzle Huddle to a loved child or to donate them to an area daycare, school, or afterschool program.

Laura Grace Weldon, Paired Poetry Gift Ideas

It’s been a hell of a week, for reasons I’ll describe in some future post, when I’m not so desperate. For now: an essay of mine on a poem by Cynthia Hogue was just published by The Account. Called “Closure, Irresolution, and Cynthia Hogue’s ‘At Delphi,’” it interweaves meditations on a beautiful poem–contained in Hogue’s brilliant book about chronic pain, The Incognito Body–with narrative about a different kind of pain and crisis, involving harassment and bullying at work while I was serving a difficult term as department chair. Pain alienates you from other people and makes it difficult to speak at all. This essay appears many years after the incidents it describes. It’s gratifying, if maybe slightly alarming, to see it published and slowly receive responses, mostly from women who have experienced similar things. I struggled with how to portray my then-boss’s behavior without aggrandizement or melodrama–and then received brilliant edits from nonfiction editor Jennifer Hawe, very very gently pressing me to be more direct about the stakes. It’s useful, to the writer and often to readers, to be exact about the damage, insofar as that’s possible. My life wasn’t “ruined,” but I sustained a lot of harm, and no one involved will ever apologize or make amends. How to walk through and past it?

Poetry helps. See the poem “At Delphi” here (scroll down a bit). It’s also quoted in full in the essay. You’ll have different touchstone poems, ones that consoled you or gave you company at a bad time. This is one of mine.

Lesley Wheeler, Nowhere to go but through the ruins

before the house sale was agreed
buyers demanded the ghosts be removed
so contractors were appointed, a date set
an amount shaved off the price
and the workers arrived to divest the property
loading reluctant specters into sealed skips
then driving them away to wherever unwanted memories languish
that ambushing taste on the tongue
a face half glimpsed in the crowd
the 4am telephone that rings and rings and rings

Paul Tobin, RINGS AND RINGS AND RINGS

I’ve been writing a lot while I’ve been on the road. Hundreds of haiku and many longer poems. I got on the road after the end of the relationship I thought would last the rest of my life. All this time alone and all these words on the page have been essential to processing that loss and moving … forward? Moving, anyway.

Along with the decision to find a normal job and a stationary place to live, I’ve also decided that the past 25-plus years of living a very public life need to come to an end. I’ve been on the radio and on social media and on podcasts for nearly all of my 20s and 30s and 40s, and I’d like to slide into my 50s with quieter media. I’m going to keep making my current podcast, A Brief Chat, but I’m going to do it much in the style of this blog. I’ll keep putting things out there but not doing much to promote them. If people find their way to what I make, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s just fine, too. I described it to a friend as an attempt to live a quieter life. I think that’s what I mean. We’ll see what unfolds. I don’t have much practice at living out of the public eye. I keep thinking of good Tweets and Instagram photos as I move through each day. I’m hoping that urge will pass soon.

Jason Crane, Saying goodbye to van life

It would have been the perfect time to light the log burner, and I nearly did, except that I’ve got two massive holes in the upstairs chimney breast because a couple of weeks ago a jackdaw got trapped in the chimney. I was sat at my desk, in my office upstairs, when I heard the sound of scratching and frantic wing beats. It sounded like it was just behind the wall, like the house had developed its own heart, had grown something into itself. In the silence of the mid afternoon I listened to it scrabbling about and to the other jackdaws up above calling down to it. I feel like I have a relationship with the jackdaws. They’re a constant, a background to my work. I watch them arrive from their tree roosts on a morning to settle and squabble on the roof top, they nest in the chimneys during spring and summer and in the evenings one of my favourite sights is them returning to the trees, calling and cawing. Occasionally I will look up and see one leaning over the guttering to stare in at me. I watch them attempting to drive the seagulls away, having arguments with the local crows. One crow (is it the same one each time?) likes to creep up on the jackdaws and pull their tails. I watch them moving around the village, living their lives. They have their routine, I have mine. Occasionally I’ll throw food for them onto the shed roof, in the hope that the cat won’t get up there and go for them, because I think he would. He’s a bit of a bruiser. There wasn’t much I could do about the bird in the chimney, to start with. My first thought was to phone the RSPCA but they wouldn’t come out for it, and then I had to teach, so the day got away from me. I realised as I was teaching that I hadn’t heard it for a while and hoped it had managed to get out on its own. Earlier, when I’d gone outside to see what the other jackdaws were doing, I could see them calling down and even dropping bits of bread down to it. They’d been calling back and forth during the day, but then while I was on zoom there’d been nothing. Silence. By the time I’d finished teaching it was dark. The roof jackdaws had returned to their roosts. I switched my computer off. Sat silently for a minute. And then I heard it calling softly. I put my ear to the wall and listened, barely daring to breathe. I could hear it moving about, and then, again, that soft call. It was quite heartbreaking.

The next morning as soon as the sun was up, the jackdaw was moving about and its family were back, calling down to it. I realised they were making the same sort of calls that they make to chicks when it is fledging time, and I guess that makes sense. They were trying to fledge their friend from the chimney, encouraging it to fight against the bricks and twigs and get out into the air. I rang my dad for advice, and rang the Whitby wildlife centre, who were great. But the only real option was to tear a hole in the chimney breast to get to it. Lots of people kept telling me there was no option but to leave it to die, and I couldn’t understand that, or rather I could imagine understanding it, but couldn’t imagine myself doing that as, clearly, there was an option, it just meant making myself and my poor husband uncomfortable and destroying a part of the house. My dad came up with his tools (despairing of my lack of tools), and he knocked a massive hole in the chimney breast upstairs, and the chimney breast was full up of fallen nesting materials. So we started gently pulling it all out as fast as we could until we realised there was no bird in the chimney. The bird, it seemed, was on the other side, in the chimney breast that ran through the other bedroom. My dad had gone home at that point, and I was clearing up the mess. Initially I thought it might have gotten out by its own accord, but soon it became apparent that it was, in fact, still there and not in the chimney in my office, but the chimney in my bedroom. I live in an ex council house. I’d never thought about the amount of chimneys it has before. It has a lot. My dad came back, which was very good of him, (though I do think he likes knocking big holes in stuff, especially if he’s not doing the cleaning up), and we knocked another massive hole in the other side of the chimney and went through the same process of pulling stuff out and then, suddenly, there was the jackdaw, both matt and silk, claws and beak and eyes tight shut. It must have died just before we got to it. I had the chance to look at it up close. Female, I think, not as big as a male, its neck was ruffled, its feet were beautiful, slate clay and each toe ending in a serious hook of claw. It was not in great condition and I wonder now whether it hurt itself trying to get back out, whether it was poorly. I’d used gloves to handle it and disinfected them thoroughly. What strikes me most is how fragile it was, how strange it was to see this vital, clever, sociable creature so still, screwed up tight against what must have been terrifying banging and noise in its last minutes. It made me incredibly sad. But I did the best I could and feel happy about that. My husband is a very understanding person. He says he likes that I stick to my principles. I hid the worst of the chimney holes with bookcases. All pain can be alleviated with books, in my world.

Wendy Pratt, Jackdaws

I’ve been happily ensconced in two books of poetry recently, paging through randomly, reading steadily through from beginning to end, exploring back through. So much of the poetry I read I have nothing more than a vague reaction to, somewhere on the spectrum between hunh and hm. But these give me active pleasure and remind me why I love poetry.

One is Chris Dombrowski’s Ragged Anthem, which came out from Wayne State University Press in 2019. I learned of Dombrowski through friend David Graham’s poem-a-day emails, and I’m grateful. I chose Ragged Anthem of Dombrowski’s three or four collections randomly, and will be happy to dig into the other ones at some point. He writes out of his Montana or sometimes Michigan environment as a fisher, a guide, a father, a lover, a watcher bemused by the world. (Plus he’s buddies with one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Jeffrey Foucault, in a small-worldish sort of thing.) His poems, often long and lingering down the page, cast a spell woven of vivid descriptive detail and lyrical meditation, sometimes funny. […]

The other book is Jessica Cuello’s Liar, a tangle of punch-gut poems of the bewildering isolations of being a child. It’s just out from Barrow Street Press, chosen by Dorianne Laux as the prize winning entry.

Marilyn McCabe, Long Distance Calls; or, On Reading Dombrowski and Cuello

And much of what I’m feeling this week is rooted in my tiredness.

And I feel guilt about my tiredness.  It is World AIDS Day in the midst of a different plague, and I am deeply aware that my situation could be worse.  My tiredness is temporary.  It is the anniversary of the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.  

This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like.

In fact, for generations, people had prepared for just such a moment. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.

Those folks had reasons to be tired in a way that I do not.

So, in this age of a new pandemic and old injustice, let me get ready for the day.  There is work to be done, but first, a walk and some time for contemplation and prayer.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Tired and Weary

i wanted to post a poem by Burkard. been reading & thinking about his poems, him, again.

& i guess i’m thinking of Michael’s love for notebooks, the mess & flaw & goodness of them. writing without trying to make a publishable thing. i still need that. i continue to need that. and something outside of social media, too, as much as twitter has become a blog of sorts for me. but yes, outside of that, outside of publicness & retweets & likes & “hearts,” all that. a more private space. meditative.

& i guess i was afraid of posting on LJ again bc i’m nervous that it might just go under, go defunct, go away, gone, at any moment, i don’t know. should i be saving those posts? or should i practice letting them go? my wild ephemera? my internet scraps?

Chen Chen, from the archives :: How did I know an angel from denial? / It took me years. / It took me years.

This week has had a couple things dovetail very nicely into each other and it has me thinking about the purpose and approach of the things we make. On Tuesday, we had our panel discussion with Bad Art: Kitsch, Camp, & Craft artists, many of whom wander in installation pieces and non-traditional forms–ie the screenprinted underwear on the 2nd Floor, or the giant dog made out of recycled plastic bags.  It came up a couple of times: the idea of being able to watch how audiences interact with such installations and when presented with such work.  I was, at the same time, working on my first freelance lesson writing project–for which I had chosen installation art as the subject. (out of many different options in the arts and humanities.) But I spent a few hours doing some research and looking up good examples, and writing about the ways we experience installations, particularly outside gallery/museum settings. A friend talks often how she likes to make the sort of work that is part social experiment–to see what lathers, to witness how the viewer responds.  

As writers, it seems a very different thing.  I get super awkward when people start talking about my work and how they respond to it.  There’s a distance that the page allows between artist and audience.  When they creep too close, I just get weird. But we do still like to hear something make contact, just maybe from a distance.  A new dgp author told me this week that she had one of my older poems tacked to her wall and it made me so happy on a day that was feeling especially hopeless in terms of feeling like anyone actually reads what I write–anywhere…here, in poems, in books, on social media. But at readings, I usually tried to get away as quickly as I could after reading. When I used to do craft shows, people paging through my zines, my collages, my prints, similarly made me uncomfortable and I wanted to run away, even though I wanted them to look and buy of course.  I usually don’t go to the openings of the shows I’m in. When we used to do Library general shows and I kind of had to, I was especially skittish and spent a lot of time hiding in the bathroom and escaping downstairs with my plate of snacks.   And we all want to feel like their is an audience and interest in our work. Even at the panel this week, though I had my black velvet pieces in the show, I was more comfortable just being moderator than talking much about my practice.  

I guess, moreso, I love building worlds, but how and when you encounter them is up to you. 

Kristy Bowen, art, audience, and distance

It is impossible not to delight in the near two hundred pages of American poet John Yau’s latest, Genghis Chan on Drums (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021), a book that follows nearly a dozen poetry collections across more than forty years, as well as numerous chapbooks, works of fiction, criticism, collaborations and monographs. This is the first of his titles I’ve gone through, and I’m immediately struck by the clarity of the direct statements in his poems, especially the ways in which Yau returns years’ worth of racist comments, microaggressions and injustices back in the most powerful ways possible. The poem “On Being Told that I Don’t Look and Act Chinese,” opens: “I am deeply grateful for your good opinion / I am honestly indignant / I am, I confess, a little discouraged / I am inclined to agree with you / I am incredulous / I am in a chastened mood / I am far more grieved than I can tell you / I am naturally overjoyed [.]” There is a confidence and a strength here, one he knows when and how to play, push or hold back, from a poet who clearly knows exactly what it is he’s doing, and what tools he’s working with.

Structured via nine sections of poems, plus a prose poem in prologue, and two poems in epilogue, Yau appears to be engaged in multiple conversations, including a section of poems in which he responds to the previous administration, including the former American President, responding to history and culture as it occurs. “There are no words to express / the horrible hour that happened,” he writes, to open “The President’s Third Telegram,” “Journalists, like all fear, should be / attacked while doing their jobs [.]” Weaving in elements of culture and current events, much of which touch upon larger issues of fearmongering and racist dog-whistles, Yau’s is a very human and considered lyric sense of fairness and justice, composing poems that push back against dangerous rhetoric, outdated or deliberately obscured language and racist ideas and ideologies. In his own way, Yau works to counter the ways in which language is weaponized against marginalized groups, attempting to renew human consideration by showcasing how inhuman and destructive language has become. “We regret that we are unable to correct the matter of your disappointment,” he writes, as part of “Choose Two of the Following,” “We quaff mugs of delight while recounting the details of your latest inconvenience [.]”

rob mclennan, John Yau, Genghis Chan on Drums

I have a new poem, ‘Here is Bernie Saunders in Mittens’ on The Friday Poem.
The piece is a bit different from my usual stuff, which generally, although not always, takes the form of a shortish lyric poem. I wrote it around the time of President Biden’s inauguration, when the image of Bernie Saunders became a viral meme. I was intrigued by how quickly the image was manipulated in a myriad of ways, and how responses to these internet memes were received and interpreted. The subsequent down-to-earth responses to the viral images from Saunders and the woman who made the mittens were in stark contrast to the madness around the election and the insurgency at the Capitol. I’m pleased the poem has found a home on the excellent TFP, with a lovely astute introduction from the editors. You can read the poem here.

Roy Marshall, New poems online

The radio
woke us up this morning with news
of another rising wave of contagion,
a winter of pestilence and affliction—
your dark attendants, your retinue
and signature. But tonight,
around a fire in a neighbor’s backyard,
we are invited by a shaman to make
of our bodies a field shook with lightning;
to clear a space for the ancestors to enter
with their gifts of remembrance and healing.
What we pass from hand to hand around
the circle: not just flower or stone, not twig
with its tip of glowing ember.
Loosen the heart, and the tongue
might follow. Loosen the fist and the hand,
and the towering pines lean a little more
away from our small houses on the ground.

Luisa A. Igloria, Dear rumor of recurrence,

The recent death of poet Robert Bly brought to mind his book Leaping Poetry; I have this edition of the famous little book, which I bought in Grand Rapids Michigan in 1978.

My dear friend Ariel Dawson recommended this book to me. I have read it many times–my copy’s pretty beat up. A 1975 book of his prose poems influenced my thinking about poetry’s many forms, too; I love my copy of The Morning Glory: Prose Poems. The thing I love about this book is its open-endedness, by which I mean that Bly embraces ambiguity in poems by suggesting readers–and writers–examine the gaps, the leaps, the surprises that encourage curiosity. Free associations into the unknown can lead to obscure and unreadable poetry; but they may also offer a way in to the unconscious, the emotive, the innate–what, in previous decades, was called the “primitive” and associated with non-Western religion and ritual song-poems. When I was first writing poetry more seriously–as a craft, an art–Bly’s little book helped me to reflect on what I was doing. It gave me new direction.

The Morning Glory poems moved me into researching what poems feel like on and off the page and how poets have used forms in different ways through thousands of years. Haibun, for example.

In subsequent years, I have read persuasive criticisms of Bly’s translations and of some of the concepts in Leaping Poetry; certainly there is much one can criticize concerning Bly–because he wrote so prolifically and took a certain joy, I think, in standing out. I made a point of going to his readings and presentations when I could, just to hear what his latest enthusiasms would be. (I must admit I never liked the way he read his own poems, but I often liked the poems themselves.) I am grateful for his work and have been recalling going to hear him and reading his poems over the years, discussing them with friends.

The book itself is an old, dear friend. I think it’s time to read it again. Each time anew.

Ann E. Michael, Robert Bly

I feel like my blog posts have been especially flimsy of late, which frustrates me, because there is actually a lot going on in my life, but I am not at liberty to discuss most of it. Just know that I am having numerous internal and external meltdowns and yet I am forced to blog about things like tiny popcorn and bad contact lens prescriptions because I can’t tell you what’s really going on. There are days when I just want to move to a hot, friendly Southern state and get a job as a friendly receptionist in a car dealership and live out the rest of my life in relative peace instead of struggling with the relentless and ever-increasing madness of working in an inner-city hospital during a pandemic. In addition, I’ve been experiencing the painful realization that I’m not some big, leader-y career woman. At heart, I’m just a friendly receptionist. I didn’t ask for advancement. I had advancement thrust onto me, and it turns out I’m not a fan. I don’t see what’s wrong with simply being competent at what you do and sticking with it, but apparently no one can leave well enough alone these days.

Kristen McHenry, Choke Me in the Shallow Waters

The helter skelter of others’ sweltering moods discolor our temperament from time to time.

It’s like catching someone’s negativity as if it’s a nasty cold—

our sanguinity suffering sniffles, unable to shake the aches of another’s rage.

Low-grade fever and chills inherited from indifference.

Combative body language invoking unusual drowsiness or lack of appetite.

Political aggressions and conspiratorial digressions causing congestion.

Rich Ferguson, Aches of Another’s Rage

A poem which is a list of remembered former boyfriends turns out to be not exactly a joke at all, but the beginning of something which is both playful and seriously important. […]

I remember hearing her reading it for the first time at The Chemic in Leeds, I remember the way this phrase stopped me in my tracks and stayed with me ever since

.how we lay twice a week in each other’s beds
            like two unlit candles

and I remember also the impact of the growing seriousness of the poem’s long incantation, as though the poet were realising something for the first time, learning something essential, or, at least, knowing she had to find out what it meant. Over time I heard her read more and more of the poems at various venues, becoming also aware of the way she was understanding how they challenged her audience even as she challenged herself from the moment it all turned on that one phrase are you judging me yet?

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Kim Moore’s “All the men I never married”

Well, I can’t tell you my big poetry news yet…but I will post it here (and on social media) tomorrow!

But in the meantime, thank you to Rogue Agent for publishing my poem “Enchantment” in their latest issue, which also has poems by friends Ronda Broatch and Jen Karetnick. It’s a very spooky fairy tale poem, which I thought worked well with this photo of winter apples – which always look so bleak and beautiful to me – and it’s also going to be in my upcoming book from Alternating Current Press, Fireproof.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem “Enchantment” Up on Rogue Agent, Winter Scenes and Surviving the Holiday During the 2nd Plague Year, and Big News Tomorrow!

So really, it’s thanks to sandwiches that I’m feeling more myself.

Also thanks to reading this by Adam Zagajewski in his essays, Slight Exaggeration, where he talks about how art shouldn’t remove itself from what is “painful, even ugly, that every quest for clarity, radiance, must proceed through full consciousness of what constrains us. This might be one definition of rapture: rapture means to forget pain, ugliness, suffering, to focus only on beauty. But purely rapturous works provoke only my opposition or indifference. Precisely the endless battle between heaviness, suffering, and illumination, elevation, forms art’s essence.”

You see, I had sort of pledged to meself that I would try to keep this space filled with more joy, more radiance, more goodness, and more uplift! And I still do pledge this very thing. But I also know that to come to something more artful, art-full, that it’s going to need to proceed through that “full consciousness of what constrains us.” Otherwise, it’s just gonna be fake anyway. There’s just no way you can live in this time, (or really any time ever) without experiencing the flip side in one way or another. As AZ recognizes, when we’re only ever fed joy or rapture, it is going to start feeling not so great. And I don’t think we need to belabour things, but just acknowledge the constraints, the black clouds/clods of whatever visiting despair, so that we can get back to the business of uplifting one another, back to joy, rapture, radiance, and yes, fun.

So yah, the black dog came, I fed it a sandwich. That appeased. And here we are.

Shawna Lemay, Sandwiches and Radiance

I don’t remember much of my ancient Greek, but a pandemic project has been to study some of the modern language. When we made our first trip to Greece, I was completely engrossed in sounding out all the Modern Greek signage; and at ancient archaeological sites, I would spend a lot of time looking at bits of inscriptions and was thrilled when I could actually understand a name or a word, but frustrated that I couldn’t communicate much at all. Now I do at least one lesson a day on Duolingo, often two. My first uninterrupted “streak” ended after 200 days or so when, somehow, I simply forgot; today will be day 320 of the next streak. As I wrote earlier in the pandemic, it’s a lazy and not terribly effective way to study a language if you really want to become fluent; I still believe you’ve got to put in the hard and boring work of memorizing conjugations and lists and grammatical rules, and I haven’t done much of that. But I know a lot more than I did when I started, even if I’ll still be tongue-tied if we ever make it to Greece again. I’d be a lot faster now at knowing what I was looking at in signage, be able to read a menu, ask some questions, be polite, but I’m not sure how much useful material I’ve actually learned, and very much doubt I’d understand much of what was said to me, at least at first.

What has kept me at it, I think, is this strange desire to be in the presence of those ancient letters every day and live in their world, which is not the world of Roman letters, is not at all English or French or German — though those languages all owe a great debt to Greek — but a set of symbols, descended from the alphabet of the seafaring Phoenicians, that have been used to write the Greek language since the 8th or 9th century B.C. That, alone, is incredible to me.

Obviously these letters have been used to represent a lot of things over the years, especially in mathematics and science. And now, we’ve got virus variants named for Greek letters, so that geographical places can avoid the stigma of attachment, and subsequent blame. I wasn’t too upset about Alpha, or Delta — both of which are overused letters in fraternity names, and therefore seemed like fair game — but Omicron? Omicron rather upset me. I like the word itself, and am very fond of the letter, which is so…round, simple, elemental. It’s one of the few letters of the Greek alphabet that remained entirely unchanged in the Roman, precisely because of that simplicity and the universal necessity of its sound.

I had better steel myself: we’re probably in for a slew of variants, and Greek variant names. For me, though, omicron will remain first and foremost a letter, a sound, and a form: the universal circle. Something beautiful, written by human hands, almost forever.

Beth Adams, In Defense of Omicron

So, there we were at the hardware store late on a Friday afternoon at the end of the long week after Thanksgiving, facing the same question we’d faced all those years ago when we were buying a stand for a tree for a different house and a different kind of holiday than the ones we now have.

Our choices? A cheap plastic stand for $19.99 and the most solid-looking, no-plastic, old-fashioned tree stand I’ve ever seen for $70.00. There were several left of the cheap ones, and only one expensive one. The box for the expensive one had “Lifetime” printed in large red letters on every side of it.

What is a lifetime? I wondered. How can we possibly we know what we’ll need for a lifetime?

I thought about how so many young families now talk about their desire for “a forever home,” a concept I don’t remember from my own early days of homeownership. Although I lived in one house from the ages of 4 to 18, I’ve lived in and owned five different homes in the past 30 years. I’ve been married three times. I really couldn’t tell you how many lifetimes I’ve lived. Even though Cane and I love the house we now live in, we know we could well be somewhere else ten years from now. Our holidays could (likely will) be different again, our health could be different, our financial situation could be different. We might not have the desire or capacity for the kind of tree that needs a heavy-duty stand. We know, in ways we couldn’t have known when we bought our last stand together, that ten years from now one or both of us could again be facing the tree question alone. Ten years, or months, or days from now, everything could be different.

So, what to do? How to spend our money? What future to bet on? I suppose that for many people, perhaps most young people, a tree stand is just a tree stand, and buying one is only another item on a long list of holiday to-dos, but sometimes, late on an early-December Friday afternoon in the aisle of a neighborhood hardware store, for a couple of more old-than-young people who know that loss and change are the warp and weft of every life, a tree stand can also be an embodiment of faith and hope and love.

We bought the good one.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Lifetime guarantee

That’s not the lunch bell —
it’s time for silence,

the old monk told
the visitors.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (44)

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: living with poetry brain, surviving the holidays, burrowing into books, and much more. Enjoy.


to live among & within & through words or more vitally, caring attention—that’s the daily practice, not writing poetry 24/7. but living with poetry brain, which could be the same, depending on the day, as laundry brain or long-talk-with-good-friend brain or soup brain

Chen Chen, i mean what could be more BEAUTIFUL

I mean, first of all, I’m proud to have published works in the plural about which to have opinions! And I really liked the process behind that most recent collection, and I’m pleased with its innovation: poems that unfold as erasures of themselves, with an essay that scrolls across each page. But I don’t really think the poems, for the most part, work. I’m really pleased with the video I created that allows the erasures to disappear on the screen. That took a shit-ton of work to figure out. This collection won a contest to get published, so SOMEONE liked it enough to make it the winner, and for that I’m very grateful. So much to feel good about!

But the actual poems? Eh.

I have to assume that all artists who have created enough stuff look back at some and think, oh, dear, what was I thinking. I won the important battle I often have with myself: I loved the process.

What’s the takeaway? Well. I’m not sure. You win some; you lose some? Sometimes even if you win some, you lose some? Love the process, beware the product? Good process doesn’t always assure good outcome? (Conversely, I presume, good outcome can be birthed of crappy process?) All of these?

Marilyn McCabe, It’s not unusual; or, On Artistic Regret

I realized this weekend that November is the 15h anniversary of the release of the fever almanac, my very first book progeny.  In November 2006, amidst a fall which included heartbreak (and the start to a long dysfunctional entanglement that took years to disentangle) I was mostly euphoric and very sick –with what turned out to be mono, though I didn’t know it yet.  As fitting to the title, the time around the release was a sort of fever-both literally and metaphorically.  The trees were crazy gorgeous that year. There was a fire a block from Columbia that sent us home and whose smoke gave me a headache for two days.  I was falling for someone I would find out later was married and a compulsive liar, but that November I was still under the illusion that he was my soul mate, despite inconsistencies and occasionally missed dates. While I had dated a bit before, had myriad flings,  and even had a 4 year open relationship that had dissolved in the summer, I was convinced this was wholly different.  the fever almanac itself was mostly a collage of bits of my romantic life in my twenties, with some spinning for the sake of art.  I had not yet really had my heart broken to that point. In some ways, it was whole book yearning for that sort of loss–losses that would inevitably come later. Kind of 13 year old me listened to sad songs and thought about being devastated.  The devastation was the point. The wreckage, while just theoretical at that point, the goal. 

But the book, the book was beautiful.

Kristy Bowen, november and other fevers

My reading of late has been my usual mixture of systematic delving into poetry collections with non-fiction on the side. I hugely enjoyed Henry Shukman’s One Blade of Grass, which made me question, in a good way, the value of writing poetry in the grand scheme of things, but also flagged up the importance of meditation: how it had helped him with the clarity of his poetic vision, back in the days when he still published poetry. It’s a real shame for me that he no longer publishes his poems, but his book explained over the course of many years’ spiritual journey why he doesn’t.

I’ve been intrigued too by the poetry of Gillian Allnutt, whose 2013 collection Indwelling I bought in Nottingham a few months ago. Her poems are sometimes so short and gnomic that I find them disconcerting, in a beneficial way. Whilst at Lumb Bank, I took the opportunity to read more of her books and will continue to seek them out. I’ve enjoyed too, a conversation she had with Emily Berry, here, and another with wonderful Geoff Hattersley, here. In the latter, Allnutt compares the gaps in her poems to the holes in her mind which she wrestles with during meditative practice.

Matthew Paul, November news

After a variety of solo and collaborative chapbooks, including his full-length collaborative volume with Gary Barwin, A CEMETERY FOR HOLES, poems by Tom Prime and Gary Barwin (Gordon Hill Press, 2019) [see my review of such here] (with a second volume forthcoming, it would appear), London, Ontario poet, performer and musician Tom Prime’s full-length solo poetry debut is Mouthfuls of Space(Vancouver BC: A Feed Dog Book/Anvil Books, 2021). Mouthfuls of Space is a collection of narrative lyrics that bleed into surrealism, writing of existing on the very edge, from which, had he fallen over completely, there would be no return. As a kind of recovery journal through the lyric, Prime writes through childhood abuse, poverty and trauma. “I am awarded the chance to die / smiling,” he writes, to close the short poem, “Capitalist Mysticism,” “clapping my hands [.]” Prime writes a fog of perception, of homelessness and eventual factory work, and an ongoing process of working through trauma as a way to return to feeling fully human. “I died a few years ago / since then,” he writes, to begin the opening poem, “Working Class,” “I’ve been / smoking cheaper cigarettes // I like to imagine I’m still alive / I can smoke, get drunk / do things living people do // the other ghosts think I’m strange / they busy themselves bothering people [.]” Or, as the last stanza of the poem “Golden Apples,” that reads: “if I loved you, it was / then, your pea-green coat and / fucked-up hair—staring out of nowhere / your cold October hands [.]”

Through the worst of what he describes, there remains an ongoing acknowledgment of beauty, however hallucinatory or surreal, and one that eventually becomes a tether, allowing him the wherewithal to eventually lift above and beyond the worst of these experiences. “we trudge across fields of hornet tails,” he writes, as part of the sequence “Glass Angels,” “planted by hyper-intelligent computer processors— / the moon, a Las Vegas in the sky // glow-worm light synthesized with the reflective / sub-surface of cats’ eyes [.]” Despite the layers and levels of trauma, there is a fearlessness to these poems, and some stunning lines and images, writing his way back into being. “life is a ship that fell / off the earth and now // floats silently in space,” he writes, to close the poem “Addictionary.” Or, towards the end, the poem “Immurement,” that begins: “I’m a large Tupperware container filled with bones [.]” The narrator of these poems has been through hell, but he does not describe hell; one could almost see these poems as a sequence of movements, one foot perpetually placed ahead of another. These are poems that manage that most difficult of possibilities: the ability to continue forward.

rob mclennan, Tom Prime, Mouthfuls of Space

[Matsuki Masutani]: When I was told I had cancer, I panicked. I had no idea what it was like to be a cancer patient. I thought I could avoid cancer by avoiding the word cancer. So I wrote chemo poems to show what it is like to have cancer for people like me. That was a new beginning for my poetry writing. I was seventy-three. 

[Rob Taylor]:  Has Parkinson’s changed what you want to write about in your poems?

MM: After my cancer treatment, I thought I would go back to normal, but Parkinson’s changed all that. I felt it wasn’t fair. Once I’d adjusted to it, I noticed that the world had changed. There is a lot of sickness, suffering and death in the world. This is depressing, but I found it made life somehow more real and sacred. This is the world where angels appear and miracles happen.

Rob Taylor, Salvaging My Old Dream: An interview with Matsuki Masutani

We don’t typically imagine having to perform acts of intimate care for another, yet, when put in that position for someone we most love, we get on with it as if we’d forgotten we couldn’t imagine doing it. There’s a tenderness here, undermined by the pulsing cut where the imagery is more of passion and desire.

“a single window” is a generous opening into a confined world of disability and chronic pain and pain management. Through it, Daniel Sluman demonstrates that this small world is still full of complexity, love, compassion and tenderness as well as sadness and the trials of managing the side-effects of drugs and lack of outside care. He shows that intimacy and love are still possible in the bleakest of moments and the will to survive can renew. “a single window” is not a polemic or a rant. The poems are closely observed and crafted reflecting the isolation and resourcefulness central to the lives of too many disabled people.

Emma Lee, “A Single Window” Daniel Sluman (Nine Arches Press) – book review

So in ‘The Informer’ the narrator (in a Kafkaesque sort of world) has been invited to attend a ceremony to select the ‘finest informer’. There appears to be a confident pride in the way he dresses up for the occasion. In the hall, the candidates (those you expect to be on the ‘inside’) are in fact excluded. It turns out, in a detail suggestive of the elusive nature of truth and the levels on levels of surveillance in such a repressive society, that all the seats are to be taken ‘by the officers responsible for informing on the ceremony’. There is a calculated bewilderment to all this as is also revealed in the oxymoronic title of the eponymous poem, ‘The Kindly Interrogator’. Nothing so simple as a caricatured ‘bad cop’ here:

He’s interested in philosophy and free verse.
He admires Churchill and drinks green tea.
He is delicate and bespectacled.

He employs no violence, demands no confession, simply urging the narrator to ‘write the truth’. The narrator’s reply to this epitomises the uncertainties a whole society may come to labour under. He cries, ‘on my life!’. Is this the ‘I will obey’ of capitulation or the ‘kill me first’ of continued resistance? Is this the repressed and persecuted ‘life’ of what is, of what is the case, or an expression of the inalienable freedom of the inner ‘life’? [Alireza] Abiz is very good at exploring such complex moral quandaries and boldly warns those of us, proud and self-satisfied in our liberal democracies, not to imagine ourselves ‘immune from [the] temptation towards unequivocality’. Fenced round with doubt, with a recognition of the need for continual watchfulness, with a suspicion of the surface of things, perhaps these poems never really take off into the kind of liberated insightfulness or expression of freedom gained that the Introduction suggests a reader might find here. Abiz – the ‘melancholic scribbler of these lines’ – is the voice of a haunted and anxious conscience, a thorn in the side of repressive authorities, as much as a monitory voice for those of us easily tempted to take our eye off the ball of moral and political life nearer home.

Martyn Crucefix, The Kindly Interrogator – the poems of Alireza Abiz

I’ve been intrigued of late by the increased incidence in magazines, and also in workshops, of prosepoems (which is sometimes indistinguishable from flash fiction), and also the business of playing with white space, breaking up lines, making apparently abitrary line-breaks. I’m happy to accept that rules are there to be tested and stretched and broken, if only to see ‘what happens’, though less happy to see an accompanying tendency to view regularity, orderliness, evident craft and form as a bit passé. I guess my ‘rule’ is simply to ask: does it work? I’m spectacularly conscious that at the moment a lot of what I’m trying to write doesn’t work. I didn’t set out to do it, but a lot of what I write has ditched the word play, the allusiveness, the obvious rhythms and the imagery that I used to enjoy. It’s gone more reflective/introspective/personal/conversational but that’s a lot harder to do than the complicated stuff. It always was.

Whatever. I’m a regular reader of Julie Mellor’s poetry blog, and also of Anthony Wilson’s latest Life-saving lines after his welcome return to blogging. I learn a lot from their willingness to share their struggles to find new directions and forms, whether it’s haiku or finding a language that will share the experience of depression. It’s humbling.

John Foggin, Breaking the rules…harder than it looks

The full haiku was going to read:

the neighbour’s pine
wreathed in sky
snowswirl

However, too much text made the photo very busy so I plumped simply for snowswirl (with more than a nod to John Wills’ iconic poem:

rain in gusts
below the deadhead
troutswirl

(in Where the River Goes, edited by Alan Burns, Snapshot Press 2013).

I’m now hoping for a quick thaw – it’s been so cold this weekend!

Julie Mellor, snowswirl

I have been thinking a lot about the poetry of Julia Darling this week. Her work became essential to me a year before I had cancer, when a friend introduced me to her first book of poems Sudden Collapses in Public Places. And when I entered remission, hers was the first poetry I read with my rediscovered concentration.

Lately, I’ve been rereading her posthumously published collected poems Indelible, Miraculous, which is as accurate a title of self-description as I have come across. As the Arc Publications website says, her later poems are about her experience of breast cancer but are not morbid and not only aimed at women. If you do not know her work, it’s time you did.

In particular I’ve been thinking of a line towards the end of that collection’s title poem. It’s a poem of ‘early morning’ virgin spaces: a ‘cold’ pane of glass; an ‘untouched’ patch of grass; a ‘deep pool of silver water’; a beach swept clean after a storm, ready for new footprints. The poem is one of direct address, to the ‘indelible, miraculous’ friend of the title. While never less than affirming of the Psalmist’s knowledge that ‘joy comes with the morning’, it is also a poem of sending out, of encouragement to keep living, even though that will mean ‘danc[ing] alone’.

The poem is able to assert that ‘we all matter’ and ‘we are all/ indelible, miraculous’ because it has successfully persuaded us, via its gorgeous language, of the never-ending tension between celebration and lament. This is what I go to poetry for: an awareness that affirms life in all of its complexity.

Anthony Wilson, We all matter

One of the beauties of my pandemic-long poetry practice has been finding a poem by a different poet each week to use as a model—sometimes more of a jumping-off point—for my own work. This week it’s a poem by Gregory Pardlo who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for his book, Digest. After reading this NYTimes piece, and having a look at him at Poetry Foundation—“The Pulitzer judges cited Pardlo’s ‘clear-voiced poems that bring readers the news from 21st Century America, rich with thought, ideas and histories public and private’”—I’d like to read more. […]

I admit that I’m struggling with what I’ll write in response to this assignment. I mean, how do you follow, “I was born in minutes in a roadside skillet,” or “I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry”? How about “I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves”?

But I’m about to open my notebook and see what will happen.

Bethany Reid, Written by Himself

In some ways, spending a Thanksgiving where sickness and death keep intruding is a potent reminder to be grateful for the time we are given and to keep trying to make the most of it.  Small children do that too, and I confess that I prefer the small child to deliver the message that time is fleeting.

As I’m writing, I’m thinking of other messages that came our way during the day.  I’m thinking of Shanghai Rummy, and the message that even if you’re winning or losing, one decisive round can change the outcome; it’s a hopeful message or a sobering one, depending on which hand you held.  I’m thinking of the minimalist fire pit my spouse made and the fire that refused to catch flame.  I’m thinking of the bird that baked for hours but the juices still didn’t run clear at meal time; however, fifteen more minutes at higher heat made for a cooked turkey that was still tender. 

I suspect that every day is full of these kinds of reminders and metaphors, if only we had the eyes to see.  When people wonder why I continue to write long blog posts, that’s one reason, that it helps me to pay attention.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Important Reminders from a Stranger Thanksgiving

My old dog whimpers when we come in the door on Friday after two nights gone. She’s too fragile to travel now, and she stayed home with my son, who spent the holiday with his dad and his siblings who have a different mother. I have to hold her for a good long time before her body stops trembling. I wonder what she felt while I was gone, if she wondered if I’d return. I hope not.

That night we watch Ted Lasso who says, about parents, that he has learned to love them for what they are and forgive them for what they’re not, and I wonder how things might be if more of us could do that about all kinds of things. I wonder if we could, or should. (I wonder if my children will do that for me.)

Maybe that’s an idea that makes it easier for those with relative comfort to remain comfortable.

Maybe not.

I don’t know.

My son sits down on the couch next to me, to check in with his old dog who isn’t leaving my side. I’m so grateful he was able to care for her while I was gone. I’m so grateful he’s here.

I think about the year he was in second grade, when, the week before Thanksgiving, I read him a story about Natives and Pilgrims and the origins of the holiday, and he told me it made him sad, that he didn’t feel good about the holiday. As his nose touches our old girl who now, like a baby, wakes mostly just to eat and poop, I remember all the versions of boy and dog each of them has been, and I want the moment to last forever, even as I know that all I might hope to hold onto is an image of it, and that the wanting has turned the moment to memory before it is even over.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Why I celebrate holidays I no longer believe in

Speaking of thanks, Jia and I were also extremely grateful for this amazing review of Gravity & Spectacle from Shannon Wolf at the Sundress Blog:

“There is something both cheeky and somber about Baker and Orion’s united perspective. 

 Orion’s poems are as close to punk rock as we can get in 2021.” 

You can read the full review at https://sundressblog.com/2021/02/08/sundress-reads-gravity-spectacle-by-shawnte-orion-and-jia-oak-baker/

Wolf mentions that a few of the poems reference legendary skateboarder Rodney Mullen, so here is some of that backstory: The central art piece in all of Jia’s photographs was made by artist JJ Horner. Since JJ co-founded the skate company Pyramid Country. We wanted to make sure to pay some homage to those roots, through our photos and poems. So we made a few trips to the skatepark next to Cowtown Skateboards.

Since Rodney Mullen is brilliant on a skateboard and in conversation, I tried to cut-up some fragments of language and phrasesfrom his interviews and biography “The Mutt: How to Skateboard and Not Kill Yourself” and shape them into new out-of-context found poems… the same way skateboarders use his techniques as building blocks for new tricks.

Shawnte Orion, Thankful for this Book Review from Sundress and some Rodney Mullen clips

Much to my delight, the video I made with Tasos Sagris and Whodoes, The Life We Live Is Not Life Itself won the Avant-Garde prize for the top film in Fotogenia 3 international festival of video poetry and divergent narratives, held in Mexico City 24-27 over November 2021. The whole festival was a magnificent feast of diverse forms and voices. The finalist list included some of the best videos I’ve ever seen. So to come out on top is incredibly humbling. Massive thanks to Tasos Sagris and Whodoes for entrusting me with their fantastic words and music and the Institute for Experimental Arts in Athens for supporting the project.

The video was a major technical challenge that developed out of the collaborative nature of the work. Capturing the feeling of Tasos’ poem and the mood of Whodoes’ music required careful scripting. Nearly all of the footage was taken specifically for this project. An important part of the video includes a series of animated faces that were derived from a library of source images generated by artificial intelligence. Nearly every scene is composited from multiple sources – with a few exceptions, none of the scenes exists at they look here in real life. The irony is that the real people, observed going about their business, often appear twice in the same scene, side by side, or following themselves. The AI generated faces watch on from window and picture frames. Is this the life we live? Are these the people we meet again and again? Who can decide between the imaginary and the real as we traverse a world full of conflicting desires, politics, dreams?

Ian Gibbins, The Life We Live Is Not Life Itself wins Festival Fotogenia 3!

We took the endless road,
no signs, no map, not a single soul.
The winter around us
grinding his teeth to the unlucky ones,
the ones with no caravan.

Magda Kapa, Caravan

We had a mild autumn that seemed to stretch longer than usual. Today, a dusting of snow and temperatures not much above freezing, gray sky, a meadow in beige-brown hues and the trees mostly leafless. According to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, the next few weeks are 小雪 xiǎoxuě, or “minor snow;” it is already winter. The jiéqì seasons follow the agriculture of northern China’s plains, and it’s striking to me how closely they resemble the agricultural seasons here in eastern Pennsylvania.

Lately, I feel the seasonal transitions physically. My body responds to the changing weather–not always a good thing, but not necessarily a bad thing, either. It connects me with the environment, reminds me of my necessary relationship with the world and its many beings and aspects: seasons, weather, water, plants, insects, bacteria, trees, other humans…

More than ever, I recognize the value in those relationships and treasure how varied they are. And I am just another part of the things I love and experience.

Ann E. Michael, Minor snow

we need witnesses for our being
for our enduring
not for the parts we share but
for what we speak with the moon at
two in the morning
for what has broken and healed and
broken and healed
scar tissue plump with unwritten stories
for the falling, for the failing,
for the days we built ourselves
calloused hands shoring up our souls
an old sweater stuffed into the hollow
left by a missing brick
#RIP my friend

Rajani Radhakrishnan, #RIP – my friend

At the intersection of Bull and Rutledge,
a woman stepped off the curb
on her way to the river.
At the intersection of Franklin and Center hill,
the sirens met the soldiers.
At the intersection of Laurel and Eastern,
I fell in love with geography.

At the intersection of sense and syntax,
I visit the house of silence.
Where paradox crosses paraphrase,
I write.

Anne Higgins, First Boy I Loved

In the middle of all of this I went in for my now standard one day a week in the office with a view to bringing home some of the stuff I’ve accumulated over years. Our floor is being closed down as work wind down our occupancy of our current building, and so I looked a bit like I’d been made redundant as I lugged a cardboard box of rangham* home.

The box mostly contained work-related books (Statistics for Dummies, etc), pens, mugs and the like. But I also remembered to rescue the poem that I had pinned to the divider.

Contingencies – Aidan Coleman

Your
sentiment

tangles
with data

where
analysts

covering
bases

uncover
fresh

affronts
A well

rounded
baby

wakes
assuming

parents

I don’t know or remember how I first found this poem, but it fits perfectly with my day job – where sentiment tangles with data. I know nothing about Aidan Coleman, but I now discover he has a wikipedia page that I’m sure wasn’t there when I first found this poem (about 5 years ago, I think). It looks like I shall be working out how to buy books in Australia.

* I’m not sure I’ve spelled this right, but it’s a word my wife taught me that means detritus and accumulated dreck.

Mat Riches, Why MBA…

Over my own life, writing these journals (especially the blog) has changed and helped me, and the bonus is that through the blog, I’ve met you. For although I value and crave solitude and contemplation, I’m not a hermit by nature, but someone who needs and loves other people, and wants to talk, interact, and share. I also have a degree of healthy skepticism about my own thoughts; it’s through reading and conversation and argument, as well as reflection, that we’re able to sharpen our ideas and come to a greater understanding of what it means to be human, and also how to be a human in this ever-more-complicated world.

Where to find that balance and space is a question for all of us to ask, and the answers will differ. I do see that, for me, a withdrawal has been necessary, partly because too much noise and too many words dissipate my reserves of creative energy and positive thought, and partly because the companies that control those spaces have become increasingly predatory and toxic; I can’t continue to participate and hold onto my integrity. That means accepting less interaction in a quantitative sense, but nurturing and being grateful for higher-quality interaction here, or in letters, calls, or in person.

But there’s more to it than that. To be honest, this period of time has been one of the hardest in my entire life. I was OK for the first year, and then things started to feel much more difficult — though they are now feeling less so. At times I’ve felt despair about both the present and the future, as have most of us — but I haven’t wanted to write about that here, where I know people often come to feel a little better, or to see something beautiful, or to be encouraged. And also, in real life, I’ve been responsible for other people and groups, and that has taken precedence. I simply haven’t had much creative time or energy, or anything extra to give. Is that an apology? Yes…but it’s also a statement about the reality in which many of us have been living. Things changed for almost all of us, and they may not be going back to the way they were. Loss, grief, letting go, and acceptance are all part of that, even as the world seems hell-bent on returning to “normalcy”.

Looking back ten years into that old computer was instructive, as I consider the next decade. For me, it comes down to this: if I’m fortunate enough to still be here, ten unpredictable years from now, I don’t want to look back and realize I wasted whatever precious time I had, either for myself, or for the people and purposes that go beyond me and give life meaning — of which this blog and its readers have been one. That means making decisions, setting clear priorities, and cleaning out my spaces so that there is room, both figuratively and literally, to grow and change, and — one hopes — to have something to say.

Beth Adams, Looking Back at Ten Years Ago, and Facing Forward

E. is putting in a new ventilation system in the house, which means he has taken down some of my bookshelves in the little library. Books are piled on my desk. The little rug is folded and laid on my chair. And the floor is littered with power tools and bits of shiny who-knows-what.

And it has been an excuse for me not to write in the mornings.

Now I find we are well-past the midpoint of November and my mind is months behind in terms of getting myself together. Leonard is still struggling with the fact that E. and I are back at work most days. He’s still having accidents if we leave the house in the evening, or – weirdly – when I am gone for days and then return. He’s taken to pinning me down on the couch and refusing to let me even look up.

I get it.

I pull the thunder-shirt tight across his belly. Then I wrap myself in a huge sweater and sit down in the office to try to write. The walls are white, not the deep green of my library. I hear the traffic, not the blackbirds. And I tell myself that this is okay. I tell myself to take a deep breath. I inhale the damp from the rosemary oil. What are the morning requirements, really?

Ren Powell, Clinging to The Good Life

But despite all this bad news and dismal cold wet weather, I feel…cautiously optimistic about next year. It is a fact that most viruses evolve towards becoming more transmissible and less deadly.  Pfizer has an anti-viral pill I’m feeling positive about with good data, even though the FDA hasn’t approved it YET. (Faster, FDA!) Scientists are continuing to figure out what works and what doesn’t with this coronavirus thing. It has been two years since I first read headlines about China putting a doctor in prison for talking about a strange new virus (and I wrote the poem “Calamity.”) Vaccine makers are already looking at updating the vaccines.

We’re spending the holidays in a pretty isolated manner again this year, which is not ideal. I have an inkling, however, of hope, of light at the end of the tunnel. I have a new book, Fireproof, coming out with Alternating Current Press after my birthday in 2022, which will be almost five years exactly since the release of Field Guide to the End of the World. I know in a poet’s life a new book is a big deal, but especially during the pandemic, not a big deal to the larger world, but still, I feel a little excitement. I don’t know if my readings will be in person or on the dreaded (but now normal) Zoom. Will I be able to celebrate with friends and family in person in late spring? I don’t know if the “roaring twenties” of our century will ever actually roar. But I hope so.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Holiday Weekend, Sign Up for a Speculative Poetry Class, Interview with Jason Mott at The Rumpus, New Poem in Los Angeles Review, Pushcart Nomination at Fairy Tale Review, and Feeling Hopeful Despite

Some magic in the landscape has put me under a spell. I see your face on the tip of a bare, winter tree branch; an oak tree that is full of faces, and every one is different! There is a magic in this valley that captures me. The midwinter Tule fog on the marshes and the rivers is an old friend come to call. We pour the tea and sip together, friends under the same spell. Yes, I love the valley, and I love the cool winters that we have here, and I have seen many of them.

James Lee Jobe, magic in this valley

the man
with a book on his face
has rich dreams

Jim Young [no title]

I will take all the pages from my books and build trees—

abundant trees, robust trees, indomitable trees.

No winds can move these trees because they’ve been made mightier by Corso, Vollmann, and Joyce Carol Oates.

When birds build nests in these trees their young will be well nourished by Neruda, Audre Lorde, and Langston Hughes.

And when axemen try chopping down these trees, they’ll be obliterated by Burroughs, Bukowski, and Zora Neale Hurston

before they can even swing their axes and yell:

“Timber!”

Rich Ferguson, These Trees

Allen Ginsberg into
Charlie Parker into
snow against the windshield

Jason Crane, haiku: 26 November 2021

Three books that are really hitting the spot for me of late are The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters by Priya Parker, The Lightmaker’s Manifesto by Karen Walrond, and a book I’ve mentioned several times before here on TwB, On Art and Mindfulness by Enrique Martinez Celaya. What they all have in common is that they question the way we always do things and ask us to re-imagine our practices, whether in life, art, or work (and don’t those three things often overlap anyway?).

In a recent conversation with Kerry Clare about my own book, Everything Affects Everyone, we talk about something I’ve often said here which is, what happens when we consider the opposite? It’s a bit of a mantra I have for myself: “Consider the opposite.” It’s a phrase that helps me get out of the mud sometimes, and has helped me conceive of and form a lot of my writing. These three books have me looking at things from a fresh angle.

Shawna Lemay, On Gathering, Making Light, and, On Doubting Your Integrity — 3 Books to Light the Way

Unbearable things: how a voice can speak

into your ear about where its mind has gone,

how its body was left behind. How sunlight

passes through a prism and breaks.

And still we call it beautiful.

Luisa A. Igloria, Prism

Walking through Paris in the (imagined) aftermath of a pandemic, I had the uncanny feelings of déjà vu, that things had disappeared and been replaced, leaving behind a residue of scented melancholy.  The gap between then and now ignited a play of imagination, of desire.  I had the sense that a great poet had walked this terrain before….voilà Baudelaire!

Baudelaire, delicate but so durably modern, was a visionary of things shadowy, emotionally complex and fugitive, errant.  He was a vagabond in the city he inhabited, an internal exile as he moved roughly every two years due to poor finances. An exhibition, “Baudelaire, la Modernité Mélancolique” at Bibliothèque Nationale lists some 20 of his addresses all over the city.  More trenchant, he retained memory of Paris as it was cut asunder by Baron Haussmann and remade for a new world.  The poet was brilliant at giving presence to things absent.  He created images that were less precise rendering than color of a memory. 

Baudelaire sang.  One of the youthful letters in the show, he complained to his mother that erased his primacy in favor of her new husband.  The calligraphy of “à moi, à moi” — what about me! — soars with doubled underlining and accents graves that fly like the crescendo of musical notations.  The emotion is real, the emotion is all.  

Jill Pearlman, Baudelaire Walks Pandemic Paris

A shed, far back in the wood, with doorhandle hardware as elegant as utilitarian New England always is, and extra-braced with a stick as New England sheds must be: inside, water. Risen above the stones of the stone well walls. Deep, dark, green; coolness rising with that cleanest scent of what sustains us most essentially.

The color here—especially now, in late November, when color is merging into itself to become one single ochre, then russet, then brown, then greyish sludge—does something to me. The waters rushing belowground, too.

I am steeply affected by reminder of thriving land, wild and alive, and what it is to be rooted in it, making art. By reminder of color palettes unlikely and yet truer than reality, more the thing than the thing itself: a soul rendering of what it feels like, that light, that tree, that slant of earth, that red, that death, that falling ecstasy.

JJS, paint, water, well

won’t we sleep every night of our death :: one stone away from the moon

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 27

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. Travel turned out to be a major theme this week—appropriately enough, as I had to drive 40 minutes to a place with good WiFi in order to finish the digest. Other themes included the body and its ailments, and how hard work affects writing and thinking.


Shapeshifter, it’s time
For you to be a human again.

James Lee Jobe, Fur and bone and feather.

I decided at diagnosis that I wasn’t going to dwell on it. There’s too much writing, traveling, and fun still to be had. I’m giving myself permission to have a whopper of a mid-life crisis; I might even start a bucket list. 

The week before my surgery, I closed on my condo in Midtown. Moving in after the surgery was a fresh hell, but I’m here and happy in my new nest. Being able to walk a block or two to everything I need – supermarket, drug store, restaurants, MARTA – is even better than living on the Atlanta BeltLine. 

Although, I can walk pretty easily to the Eastside Trail if the mood hits. I’m also in walking distance to the Proton Center, not that I’m eager to make that trek, but at least it’s convenient. A couple of weeks ago, I walked over and had a mold made of my face for the radiation mask. That’s the closest I want to get to mummification. 

Collin Kelley, Living with the Big C

Due to mini-strokes and constriction of the blood flow in her brain, my mother has developed the same form of cognitive decline that my mother-in-law had: vascular dementia. In both cases, aphasia ravaged their speech as their conditions worsened. My partner’s stepmother also had aphasia due to stroke, so I have now witnessed the condition up close among three women who had very different backgrounds and personalities. As aphasia presents most noticeably as a loss of verbal expression (talk about being at a loss for words!), the condition fascinates me (a person who loves words).

And devastates me. My mother had never been “good at words” the way my father was, but she was a compassionate listener and often could find the right things to say when my glib and witty friends and family members could not. I recall many times when she would ask to talk to me alone and express something she’d been keeping to herself and reflecting upon, waiting until she could “say it the right way.” Now, she can say almost nothing “the right way.” Rain becomes snow; snow becomes green; hat becomes clark; tomato becomes red; table becomes place…and even these are unreliable substitutes, likely to change from one conversation to the next. The pronoun she has vanished from her lexicon. Her vocabulary is little better than a five-year-old’s, and she inadvertently invents words that are essentially meaningless while trying to convey meaning.

She can still read, a little, and slowly. A few months ago, I gave her a book by Eloise Klein Healy, Another Phase. Healy, a well-known poet, was stricken with Wernicke’s aphasia and–with a devoted speech therapist’s help–regained the ability to compose poetry again, though the work she now produces reflects her profoundly-changed expressive abilities. My mother was pleased that she could read the book and that Healy could make poems even with aphasia. And Mom understood the poems–had memorized a few image-lines that she liked. This stunned me–memory’s often wrecked by vascular dementia, or so we are led to believe. But my mother has a good memory. She merely has extremely limited verbal expressiveness–an inability to locate the right word, and a loss of numeracy and literacy. Alas, the result means she cannot make her ideas and thoughts known to others. Isolating.

Ann E. Michael, The right words

Who is she now/this body/after/all this wrack joy yes extraction no/shrinking fast/swimming the summery streets of lake current/his veins/the temporal slides/the bleeds/needle in her teeth/mending/mending/arched beneath/yearning toward in muscled reach/cut cleaved pressed lost/in utter clarity/when asked I wonder what has changed/she can only say it has changed/she does not know what that will mean/she is/she was/she will be/turning to bone as she sinks/whales and seals and salmon pour from arterial yes/and also/but why/something now is locked away that wasn’t

JJS, who now this body

Moon phase for July 4 is Waning Crescent,
says the moon app. The photo of the moon shows it
melting in the space darkness.
The surface is like the skin
of an old man who’s seen the world:
wounded, marked, dry.
When we don’t see it,
the moon forgets about us.
We don’t. We wait.

Magda Kapa, Waning Crescent on July 4

The government notes that self-isolation has proved an effective measure in reducing harm to others.

In light of this, the following measures also now apply to those who have not been isolated by current legislation.

Those with any physical illness which could be passed on to another person must now self-isolate.

Those with any mental illness who currently feel, or have felt in the past, that they may harm others, must now self-isolate.

These measures will be enforced immediately.

In addition, those with any physical illness which cannot be passed on to another person, but who are causing stress to another person who is having to look after them, should self-isolate.

Likewise, any person with a disability of any kind, or who is old, and requiring others to help them, and thus being a burden to those people.

People with any mental illness, who while not intending harm to others, are bringing the people around them down, should also now self-isolate.

Those who have self-isolated out of fear, whatever the cause, should continue to self-isolate.

No further action is required for those who are already isolated for other reasons, including, but not limited to, poverty, lack of transport, and/or lack of friends or family.

Likewise for those who have self-isolated because they simply prefer being on their own.

The government will keep this matter under review and further statements will be issued as required.

Sue Ibrahim, Government statement

In Stardew Valley, the game that I have nattered about extensively on this blog, the farm animals are simple creatures. They are either happy or unhappy. When they are happy, a heart pops up in the dialogue balloon above their heads. When they are unhappy, a gray scribble appears, denoting their displeasure with missing a meal or being cold or God knows what other lack they are suffering. This weekend has been a gray-scribble weekend for me. I have been walking around with a scribble above my head, unhappy and impervious to any of Mr. Typist’s usual cheering-up methods. It’s not grief, it’s not exactly depression, it’s just a deep sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness. It’s a sign that something needs to change. In the past, I would find these periods of malaise daunting and would be intimidated at the prospect of change, but I’m not this time around. I’m ready. I have full clarity and intent and I know my worth. Interestingly, I did a Tarot card reading this weekend and came up with multiple sword cards, concluding with the Queen of Swords, a woman who stands in her truth and is ready to receive.

Kristen McHenry, Scribble Head, Bro Move, Pool Nostalgia

Iceland’s landscape is gorgeous, but its soundscape is striking, too. I expected to hear crashing breakers and waterfalls, but I forgot there would be a million unfamiliar bird calls. I spotted oystercatchers, terns, gulls, fulmers, eider ducks, redwings, and sandpipers, but more often I heard screeches, warbles, clicks, and chattering from birds I couldn’t see, much less identify. There was a sea cave near Hellnar full of gulls and maybe other white-and-grey birds–I couldn’t climb close enough to see them well–but their cacophony carried. From around a bend in the trail, they sounded weirdly like small children in a playground, some cackling, one crying from an injury. We never saw puffins or seals, but from steep field after steep field, the sheep had plenty to say.

What might stay with me most was the voice of ice on the move. The ocean beach near Jökulsárlón, noisy with sea-sounds and high wind, was so visually amazing we kept laughing with surprise at the black volcanic sands littered with glassy iceberg fragments, and just behind them, larger blue chunks of Vatnajökull bobbing on the waves. (The joy gets a lot more muted when you learn that this arm of the largest glacier between the Arctic and Antarctic is melting so fast that it will be a fjord in a few years.) We heard the ice much more clearly at a couple of less-visited glacial lagoons, Breiðárlón and Fjallsárlón, where we could tramp out to the edge of the lake and listen without other people nearby. The nearest floes were slushy; you could see as well as hear them crack then separate. Larger noises came from further away, including a rumble from the edge of the glacier. We froze to listen, wondering if it was calving.

Lesley Wheeler, Listening to Iceland

I’ve been in the garden a lot, dabbling as a gardener for the first time in my life and finding it very enjoyable, not to say relaxing and satisfying. I’ve combined my image-making and gardening interests by using flowers and foliage from the garden in my pieces, and adding text.

Andrew and I have been to London a few times, mainly moving our student son out of his accommodation for the summer and visiting our daughter, who’s lived in London for nearly a year now. How fast time has flown. I read somewhere that time moves fast when nothing much happens.

Josephine Corcoran, July Update

On the last morning, you’ll rucksack-up, / then lower your pack to the floor,/ consider the weight of things.’ My sons are moving on, and I’m travelling alone with the weight of a Brompton, folded. Companionship comes in many forms, and I have projected personality onto my bicycle – she is blue, she is named Boudicca. 

Blame the blockage in the Suez Canal, or the pandemic rush to get bicycles out of sheds, but the cycle shop nearest to London Euston is all out of bicycle clips and reflective ankle bands, and has been for months. Whilst telling me this, the kind assistant passed me a clutch of rubber bands in assorted sizes. “Try these,” he said, with the confidence of someone who can speak several languages. Boudicca, were she able to do so, would have commented that I looked like a low-budget Tintin as I climbed onto the saddle, and set off for Tufnell Park.

This is the birthplace of four symphonies, the violin concerto, / a clutch of quartets …’ 2018 – Pasqualatihaus, Vienna. 2021 – the Tufnell Park Tavern, Tufnell Park. 

This city’s a miniature of empire‘ – as true of London as it is of Vienna. The cycle route took us down the back streets, under railway bridges, past car repair shops, close to tower blocks. It took us over tarmac, and took us over glass. Nearing the pub, I felt Boudicca’s back wheel resist the road in the way it does as a tyre deflates: instant lethargy, forewarning of the need to lie on one’s back with one’s wheels in the air.

Liz Lefroy, I Repair to London

knowing your purpose is the fall of rain :: how gently can you live

Grant Hackett [no title]

When I was a kid, I sometimes played out entirely fake situations and conversations in my head, and sometimes, spilling out of my mouth.  The car was one of my favorite places to daydream on long rides, and I remember crouching down behind my mother’s seat, whispering,  conscious that she’d notice that I was mouthing my made up scenes, and already, at 5 or 6 kind of self-conscious about it. I was never one to have an imaginary friend–but more–had many that lived in my head an enacted out their stories,  When it came to writing, before I even knew how, I would fill notebooks with squiggles I imagined as stories.  While I often pulled others–my sister, my cousins, neighbor kids–into my play, I spent a lot of time in this imaginary life myself and it didn’t go away as I got older.  When I wasn’t reading in other people’s written worlds, I would just sit in my room with music on playing things out in my head, something that continued into high school. Hell, maybe even adulthood.

I wonder often if novelists and other story makers live this way–esp. since I do even as a poet. How so much of writing and thinking about stories and characters and world-building feels like like a dissociative state sometimes. And is that all writing is? So much time in our heads with other people, other lives, that we are never fully in this one?  

Kristy Bowen, film notes: writer brain

One day a door opens in the ground
and you know this is every door
you’ve ever read about in tales and fables.
The animals watch to see what you do
after you pass into the country beyond.
The trees are full of birds; at first
they make no sound, and then
they open their mouths in bursts
of rifle fire.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ex-Paradiso

Where does the time go, eh? It’s been a month of missed weekly posts and IT DOESN’T MATTER ONE JOT!!

In that month I can barely say what’s happened, but I can confirm I completed Race To The King and went to the funeral of the magnificent Lorraine Gray. I was asked to read, alongside my two closest friends, Adrian Henri’s ‘Without You‘ (and that reminds me, I must order Andrew Taylor’s book about Adrian), some other folks read Auden’s ‘If I Could Tell You’, so it was a beautiful, poetry-filled event…(Oh yes, and very, very boozy, but it’s what she would have wanted.)

So much of the last few weeks have been spent fixated on that run and then Lol’s funeral that I now find myself a bit bereft of focus. The football has been a welcome distraction, but concentrating on anything seems to escape me at present. I sat down earlier to try and look at a poem for the first time in a month, and while I know the ideas are ok, nothing grabbed me enough to want to write more of them. I was listening to Johnny Marr’s interview with our esteemed laureate yesterday while on a tip run and he talked about turning up, the act of craft, etc and I think perhaps I am out of practice. My habit of daily writing has fallen way by the wayside (as has writing these posts), so it’s time to do something about that. Not, again, that it matters either way…

Mat Riches, Falcon, Falcoff

I was off the grid for a week in early June for a family gathering in Michigan, and now it’s nearly mid-July, and I’ve been “off the grid” in all kinds of ways before and since. My last post, in early April, was mostly about March, and time still feels suspended. I wrote a poem a day in April, as planned & hoped, and I have continued to read books of poetry but am way behind in my reviewing,* as that takes concentration, re-reading, and a clear mind. I’m also reading fiction, nonfiction, essays, comics, and letters as a kind of escape as well as a way to focus. I’m walking to work. I’m swimming laps again, as this year the pool opened! I feel good but weird.

I guess I’m surprised that coming out of Covid isolation was somehow harder than being in. But why?** I’m not scared, just wary. I worked from home till June 1, 2020, and have worked masked at the workplace ever since. I’m vaccinated and go unmasked with other vaccinated people, friends and family I trust. I still wear a mask to the grocery store, though many customers, cashiers, and other employees don’t. Cases (and deaths) went way down where I live but are on the uptick again. I accompany my parents to medical appointments, where people all wear masks in healthcare settings. I was part of a masked theatre audience and will be again. But I walk to work unmasked, and it is so nice to see people’s faces again.

Kathleen Kirk, Off the Grid

What’s been (sort of) interesting about working through the pandemic is how difficult it’s been to think. I only work half time and yet, my ability to really delve deeply into a book or subject has been wanting. The library went through cycles of being closed and open but was always doing curbside pick-ups and this was quite honestly more like factory work. In the Zaretsky book [The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas by Robert Zaretsky] he says,

“The act of thinking, Weil discovered, was the first casualty of factory work. A few days into her job, she was already reeling from fatigue. At times, the unremitting pace reduced Weil to tears. In one unexceptional entry, she wrote: “Very violent headache, finished the work while weeping almost uninterruptedly. (When I got home, interminable fit of sobbing).”

In her factory work, Weil said that she profoundly felt “the humiliation of this void imposed on my thought.” What are the rights of workers now, and what are our obligations to them?

Shawna Lemay, What Are You Going Through?

end of a shift
floating in the tiredness
of cared hands that soothed
or could not soothe the some times
when
time had taken the intellect away
in ways that intellects could dissect in the pages
of books devoted to the subject
and yet
this tiredness is not to be found in
the pages of any book
it is to be found in the muscles
of a mind exercised with thoughts
of the left behind that were once
the foremost but are now
simply pity in your hands
the
empathy of a washed goodnight
in the glory of walking away
just one more time
until
is such an implosive word

Jim Young, night nurse

Folk festival folk:

They work in council housing departments
and sing sad songs of flooded seams and firedamp,
poss-tubs, pinnies, lockouts ,blacklegs,
disasters, deprivation.

Or tutors in evening classes
who know The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens,
and Matty Groves by heart; they sing without
accompaniment. And slow. And flat. They never miss
a verse. They sing the chorus after every
one, bring unimagined nuances to
the meaning of interminable.

Some sell insurance; or work in call centres,
and sing, at length, about the whaling,
silver darlings, foundering trawlers, ice;
shawled fisherwives on shivering wharves
gazing at the widowing sea.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers (3)

Summer teaching started for me this week. Excited to start new conversations and encourage young writers to engage with articulating their authentic selves while navigating the rules of different spaces. Am exhausted, won’t lie, but that’s also the life.

Did want to share two quick things:

First, here’s another article to help navigate the ever-evolving pandemic we’re in. I worry I alienate people by coming back to the high stakes we’re living in, but then I wouldn’t be staying true to myself if I didn’t. I mean, carrying on like things can go back to “normal” alienates me, so, really, this be quid pro quo, no?

Second, here’s a poem I found while seeking out ideas for a post this week:

thank the weeds
for pulling you
closer to the flowers

(Rich Heller, Lilliput Review)

I purposely share it with my aforementioned sense of feeling alienated and like a harbinger of doom. In my case, I’m working out the weeds of worry and survival, all of which doesn’t bring me down, not exactly. It brings me down and it makes me look up and value what we’re surviving for.

Here’s to the weeds.

José Angel Araguz, not in the weeds, the weeds are in me, so to speak

I was going to post the old song “I’m glad I’m not young anymore” that Maurice Chevalier sang in “Gigi”  but the lyrics don’t really apply in my case.

However, I am glad to be in the 70’s now, not back in the years of the 70’s.  Glad to be here now.

Some regrets, and one of them is that there wasn’t digital photography until so recently.  The film camera made one abstemious about what photo to take, since film cost money, and developing the film cost money and time.  There were photos of events and persons that I simply wish I had, to help my memory along.

I am glad I won’t be around in thirty years to live in the world that is coming.  

Anne Higgins, I’m glad not to be young in 2021

Before there were digital cameras, we took pictures and sent film away to have it developed.  I loved getting the prints in the mail, and I saved all the negatives, in case I wanted reprints.  I rarely wanted reprints, but I saved them.

Yesterday, my spouse and I sorted through the photo albums.  We didn’t do any digitizing–that’s a much more complicated project.  We knew that we had kept all sorts of photos, and yesterday it was time to look at them again.  We haven’t looked through most of those albums in decades.

Here are some insights:

–I was worried that the non-archival albums might have bleached the pictures away, but they’re still in good shape.

–I use the word “good” rather loosely.  These pictures were never high quality.  It’s not like we had parents who gave us quality camera equipment.  We had instamatic kinds of cameras–not Polaroids, not that kind of instant.  The kind of cameras we had took 110 film.  How do I still remember that?  Probably from decades of ordering that film and sending film away.

–Then, as now, I kept every picture.  Consequently, I have pictures of parts of the floor, a window here the side of a car, a strip of floor, all sorts of accidental photos.

–I also kept lots of photos of humans whom I no longer remember.  I dutifully wrote names on the backs of pictures, but those names didn’t help.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Sorting Photos

In a week in which, inexplicably, a kerfuffle was kicked up over Ange Mlinko’s not-extravagantly-unreasonable comments about Adrienne Rich in the London Review of Books, the poetry contribution to the same edition of the LRB, Emily Berry’s Paris, seems to have passed more or less without comment. I’m surprised only because Paris is a prose poem and prose poems always seem capable of getting someone’s goat; I would at least have expected someone to take to Twitter with a complaint about how this sort of thing ‘isn’t poetry’. I’m posting about it now not to bemoan the form of Berry’s offering (if interested, see more on the subject in relation to Jeremy Noel-Tod’s prose poetry anthology, here) but to celebrate it as a complexification of literary power dynamics, an exposé of authorial paranoia, and a parody of Proustian psychological observations.

This week is also of course Proust’s one hundred and fiftieth anniversaire, and so it is appropriate that the LRB should mark the occasion, even if it is tucked away in the sub-text of a prose poem. Berry is very witty in shrinking the vastness of Á la recherche du temps perdu to what is (prose/poetry debates notwithstanding) basically a single paragraph. And it is a paragraph repleat with ironic thoughts on that most thoughtless of modern mechanisms for capturing lost time, the selfie. What took Proust thirteen years to write, and most readers months if not years to read, is whittled down to a minute or two for readers of the LRB and a single moment of posing for the protagonist of the poem.

Chris Edgoose, Paris by Emily Berry

Composed in sections, halts and hesitations, Medin explores memory as a series of conversations, attempting to seek what might not otherwise be known or revealed without pushing too hard. Writing on her mother as part of “BROOKLYN, NOVEMBER 15, 2018,” she writes: “I have to be careful when asking questions, or else she’ll say it again: stop.” She writes between generations, from her mother and grandmother to her own children; she writes between geographies, from the family home in Paraguay to Argentina, to the United States. She writes a story and a prose in transit, in transition, perpetually in motion. To uncover another element of her own story might be to shift the entire narrative. In the same section, she adds: “She did not have time for documenting time. On top of that, who keeps a journal? Although she is writing this to me on a screen, I can hear her shouting: ‘I have never known anyone who keeps a journal.’”

This is such a remarkable book, and the ease of her prose is enviable. I keep having to hold back quoting page upon page, pushing the whole of this collection through my computer screen and in front of my own commentary. Medin writes of physical, emotional and temporal distances she wishes to travel; of cognitive distance. She writes of connection and disconnection, centred around family, and specifically, her mother. As she writes: “My mother’s domain. Her house. Was my house. this is no nostalgic writing. There is no desire to recover what’s gone. No need of further separation, of a wall built across.” As well, I’ll admit that I’m left to conjecture the purpose of the words set in bold throughout the text, but to read only those words through the collection, one can see a single, extended poem hidden in plain sight. There are layers beyond layers here. To thread such together, for example, from the opening poem, offers: “To open and close, to cut / into pieces / not your daughter, / not you. / yet, / a mother.”

rob mclennan, Silvina López Medin, Poem That Never Ends

Paul occasionally mentioned the poet Brian Jones (1938–2009) – not to be confused with the Strolling One – and a few years ago, his own publisher, Shoestring Press, published a selection of Jones’ poems. I must get round to buying a copy. In the meantime, I recently bought a lovely copy of Jones’s Interior, 25 poems published by Alan Ross in 1969. There is something Larkinian about his poetry, though without the misanthropy or suppressed bigotry. More than anyone, though, his poems remind me of Dennis O’Driscoll’s: droll, acutely aware of mortality and on the nose.

A three-part poem ‘At the Zoo’ was always going to appeal to me, because I adore zoo poems, and zoos in fact, hard though it is not to feel simultaneously thrilled by proximity to the creatures therein and repulsed by their captivity. The third part concerns Chi-Chi, the giant panda who was brought to London Zoo from Frankfurt in 1958 and was a major attraction until her death in 1972, and opens thus: ‘This is the panda that wouldn’t be shagged!’. After a superb simile, ‘wondering kids hoisted like periscopes’, he elaborates on the panda’s situation and attitude:

This is the girl
who would have none of it, who let the world
proclaim and plan the grandest wedding for her,
who travelled in state and with due coyness
one thousand miles in a beribboned crate,
who ate well at the reception, honoured the ritual,
and when the time arrived for being shagged
chose otherwise, rolled over, went to sleep.

Anthropomorphic, to a degree, this may be, but it’s fine writing, with a deceptively easy rhythm.

Matthew Paul, On Brian Jones (no, not that one)

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had an amazing conversation with Carl Marcum about his new book A Camera Obscura (Red Hen Press, 2021).

A Camera Obscura is a lyrical exploration of external and internal worlds. The heavens described in these poems could be the stars glittering above our heads, the pathways of faith, or the connection between human beings. Playing with scientific understandings of the world, along with the linguistic conventions of the poetic form, A Camera Obscura is a compelling journey that simultaneously drifts through the cosmos while being rooted to the ground beneath our feet.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: A Camera Obscura by Carl Marcum

How rare to travel as an amateur or emigrant, so ignorant of a well-trod place that you let the place’s magic play with your “free gaze.”   I, Rhode Islander, arrive with little knowledge of New Mexico.  D.H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, retirees and moneyed Texans stay way in my back pocket.  I take in a sightline that’s not East Coast congested, but vast and open. The roads are straight — endless — cutting through an artist’s range of pinks, ochres, yellows.  The desert unfolds like an ocean of silver-sagebrush meets horizion.  Everything breathes on thinner oxygen.  The light makes rocks and cactus levitate.  Cactus are wan and colorless until they burst into hot colors like cartoons.  Veils of rain trail from navy-dark clouds you can see in some distance town.  Sunset over a layered plane that looks like the bottom of the sky.  In sum, an otherworldliness.   

As poet Adam Zagajewski writes, to the emigrant, a rush of rain on a Paris boulevard can be Notre Dame’s equal.  He also talks of how a workaday place falls prey to the “innocent sabotage of the free gaze, thus splitting it into disconnected atoms.”   So the morning sunbeam opens the doors of vision.  It doesn’t negate the tragedy of the native tribes but observing legacy of history in situ, witnessing the past in landscape, the native absence and presence becomes more felt.  Paul Celan’s term “what happened,’ expresses the horror of what can’t be named here too. 

Jill Pearlman, Santa Fe on Thinner Oxygen

I recently won a small amount of money in a poetry competition. Poem here. I have spent the prize money, many times over, on books.

I’d like to show you some of them. First up is Untravelling, an achingly beautiful new book by Mary Frances from Penteract Press. On each page a found landscape is paired with a few lines of cutup text. Every page is a meditation. It will mean something different each time it is read. It would be the perfect companion to take on a long journey, actual or metaphorical.

Ama Bolton, A binge of books

Sometimes the wind
in the Sandhills
wants nothing

and the cottonwoods
are happy.

Tom Montag, NEBRASKA SANDHILLS (30)

How to hold fear for so long
my shoulders learn a new shape.
How to watch numbers climb
higher, and then higher.
How to hold funerals
and kindergarten
over Zoom.

How to read subtle signals
via eyes alone.
How to re-grow scallions in water
because there might not be
more to buy.
How to feel our connections
though we’re apart.

Rachel Barenblat, How To

Remember last week’s advice to myself? Stay open to connections, calmly watch for sprouting seeds?

Yeah, okay.

So I tread softly through the noise and haste. Sat calmly amid the sun and rain. Tinkered with the poem. Tinkered with the poem. TINKERED WITH THE DAMN POEM.

Rolled the poem up and beat it against the desk.

Decided clearly I know nothing about writing poems.

Quit writing forever.

Decided to go back to school in the plumbing trade.

…Then I got an idea.  …

Marilyn McCabe, Waiting on a friend; or, On Writing and Patience

I’ve seen an ink that refuses to write anything but trouble in the blood.

When the grenade demands a final cigarette before its detonation, ask it to reconsider.

See if it might like to put all that bang into creating a beautiful floral arrangement for a stranger.

Rich Ferguson, Meditations at 2 AM