Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 18

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: skylarks and stitchwort, politics and mental illness, pondering the use of the first person in poetry, American Mothers’ Day, and more. Enjoy!


For a year I have been thinking about getting back to fitness with each run I take but back is surely the wrong word to choose when ahead is where the gift of full recovery lies. And today the lane I am running along reminds me that neither word serves and it is only the now of the cow parsley, the fields of beans, the North Downs holding up a sun-bright sky that matters, this moment, this breath  

here now
stopping to listen
to the skylark’s song

Lynne Rees, Haibun ~ Words

Whatever the cause and whenever it began, I am grateful that in this week in which we are reaching, again, for Mary Oliver’s “Of the Empire,” I used my time to eat slow dinners with my family and care gently for our dying dog and meet my students with compassion and skate until my body broke a sweat and sit on our front porch in the early evening sun. I am grateful I had space to write these words for no one but you and me and to imagine going back in time and taking aside that struggling, striving woman I once was and telling her this:

You don’t have to earn your right to be here, to take up space on your little speck of the planet, for the blip of time that is yours. You have no more obligation to the world than a tulip or hummingbird or raindrop does. You, too, get to just be. Make your choices knowing that everything you have and do and love will pass. Everything. The best way to serve the world, probably, is to grow and be guided by a heart that is large, and soft, and full of kindness. That’s a project it will never be too late to start, but the sooner you can, the better. Maybe don’t be so slow with that one, yeah?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Slow Going

I came this way a day ago
and thought I heard a flock of angry geese
it was the screech of machinery
a tractor and plough

today harrows
have broken up the clods
and shattered stalks of maize
litter the furrows

white drifts of stitchwort
in the narrow field-margin
vetch and speedwell
buttercup and herb-robert

Ama Bolton, Sunday walk

You can leave your hometown but still feel a loss when it is wiped out by a tornado.

But these tears are for my grandmother’s America which seemed to be on a path towards a more compassionate culture. When I was in high school, my grandmother thought that the local segregated schools were appropriate, and she once dragged me out of a theater performance of Mahalia because we were the only white people in the audience. She wasn’t a forward-thinking woman. But by her 80s called to tell me about a “brilliant young man” she was going to vote for named Obama.

My grandmother went to church twice a week as long as I was alive. Well – until the pastor retired and a young guy took over and preached that it was the wife’s job to “obey”. That was the last time she or my grandfather went to church. She thought it was a weird glitch. She didn’t imagine it was a harbinger of something that… is here now.

I am glad she didn’t live to see this. This promise of death for the women who grew up the way she did. Hand to mouth. No bus fare to a safe clinic. No safety net of people who will help. Who care. My grandmother didn’t need to say that her friend could have been her. And knowing what I know now about my grandmother’s life, I wonder…

Ren Powell, Sorry for the Discursion

There are people who consider it their job to argue about politics. Fine. I let them. There are American-made celebrities who are so ripe with their own importance and wealth and the rushed necessity of using their “platform” (I dislike that term) that they simply must talk of such things. I am neither of those creatures and prefer to go on using what art I possess to make beauty and truth (though what I make is not devoid of thought and may be known, surely) and so add to the sum of what is good in the world. That is what you might label as my politics–to stand against evils and blight by working in my small, nearly anonymous way to add to that sum of truth and beauty.

Marly Youmans, On being asked for my politics

The schools in Helsinki are on strike, so the kids and I are at home. It feels strange to be in a union and on strike after 30 plus years of working freelance or low wage jobs. Schools in Finland only had the first 6-week lockdown due to Covid, but have stayed open since, so it feels weird to shut them for this. But necessary. 

I’m not sure how long the strike will last, a week at most at least to begin with. I can’t do school work and can’t do much of my research project beside go through literature, but I have so much I want to do, I need to read for my course tomorrow, plant potatoes and onions, tidy the garden after cutting down a tree, clean the house (ok, I don’t want to do that, but it needs doing) and write, of course. 

Vappu (May Day or Beltane) was cold as usual. We tried a picnic with our Scottish Society friends, but it was short-lived. […]

It has felt non-stop with worries these days. Climate change, Covid, Brexit, Ukraine and Finland wondering whether to join NATO and now the possible repeal of Roe vs Wade. I tend to keep away from the political here as it’s so overwhelming and I need a respite, but it feels like we’re sliding towards something dark and omnipresent that’s slowly consuming us.

I started a list poem about the time the Amazon and Australian fires were happening, a list of ‘I can’t breathe’ lines, each a body blow of breath-stopping events from across the world, from George Floyd to the streets of Bucha. It keeps growing, saddeningly. I see no signs of being able to stop writing it, but I need to speak up in my small way.

Gerry Stewart, May Days: On Strike, Out of Breath

PP: What do you consume that keeps play alive for you? What’s the secret to staying so alert?

GB: One of the things that keeps play alive, that helps me feel the possibility of exploration, of being open and also transcending my own self-imposed limitations is error. By making mistakes, but not trying too hard not to, and by being open to what they might suggest, I’m often shown another way to proceed, to consider something that I might not have. Another practice is collaboration. I continually collaborate with a wide range of writers and creative artists. Through this engagement, I can’t hold on to my preconceptions, or my ownership of work and processes, but instead have the opportunity to follow this new process, these other ways of conceiving of the work and the creative process. Of trusting the writing itself and the collaboration. I do try to work on craft and at getting better, to be able to do more things and do them better, but at the same time, I make a point of trying new approaches, of learning about other ways of writing and other approaches. I try to pay attention to what interesting writing is happening or has happened. I try to watch with three eyes and clap hands with one.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Gary Barwin

When this latest dark period struck, the intensity took me totally by surprise. I’d certainly had dark periods before; 2020, for example, saw the end of what I thought would be a lifelong relationship and the start of my life in a van. But this was something different. It was debilitating in a way I hadn’t experienced since the breakdown that put me on meds in the first place.

This period also coincided with National Poetry Writing Month, aka NaPoWriMo. I decided to participate. Over the years I’ve likened poetry and Buddhist practice, in that both help you see the world as it is. That can be great, but when the world is a pile of poop, writing a poem every day is less about observation and more about being slowly buried. Art can amplify the bad as well as the good. Looking back at most of the poems I wrote in April, I can see a terrifying darkness and despair. And I wonder whether writing a poem every day was less about processing and more about wallowing.

Somehow, for reasons I can’t even begin to name, that dark blanket lifted after two weeks, and I’m doing much, much better now. I’ve accepted the reality that I’ll have to live in my van until summer, when I can afford to rent an apartment. I’ve begun to adjust to my office job, and even to find comfort in the nice folks with whom I work and the access to a bathroom and a tea kettle and a paycheck. I can look ahead to a time when I’ve got my own place and feel more stable and secure.

This year’s NaPoWriMo gave me a lot to think about concerning the relationship between my writing and my state of mind. I’ll definitely exercise more caution if this happens again, and I’ll try to pay more attention to the interplay between art and emotion.

Jason Crane, The Art Of Despair

A post I wrote in September of 2018 titled, 10 Poems for Loss, Grief, Consolation has been consistently the top post here on Transactions with Beauty. It has always been popular, but in the last two years, as you can imagine, the stats on this post keep growing. In my intro to that post I said that I hope you had no need of the poems at present. But the thing is, we have almost all needed them, or at least, we have all experienced loss of some sort these past two years, we have grieved for not just our loved ones who have left us, but for so many things. So. Many. Things. We have needed consolation but I would wager that you have also consoled.

The second poem I included with my 2018 post was my own In Lieu of Flowers which can be found in my book The Flower Can Always Be Changing. (My publisher has copies if you need one). And that poem is everywhere — including on a list of poems about losing a loved one on Book Riot.

As of today’s date, the sobering news from CBC: “The World Health Organization is estimating that nearly 15 million people were killed either by the coronavirus or by its impact on overwhelmed health systems in the past two years, more than double the official death toll of six million.” It’s difficult to think in such big numbers, to feel. As the poet Wislawa Szymborska said in her poem “A Large Number,” “Four billion people on this earth, / but my imagination is still the same. / It’s bad with large numbers. / It’s still taken by particularity.” And many of us don’t need to use our imaginations, we know the particularities. We are familiar.

Shawna Lemay, 5 More Poems for Loss, Grief, Consolation

As if I sit, silent, fishing gear suspended over dry
earth, the ocean, far away, pushing against an

indifferent shore. While all the love has escaped
into the sky and become the sun, the sharp May

heat a reminder of what it could be like, closer,
higher, if we dared to leave the shade. I dream of

asking the questions that matter. Not looking for
answers.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The conviction of jasmine

In 2018, at the 100th anniversary of World War I, the Great War, the war to end all wars, I immersed myself in lots of WWI reading and movie-viewing, sort of curating a WWI film festival for the library. So I was well aware of the famous carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, and how she saved the Lost Battalion. And also how she was misunderstood as a “he.” Hence, the male version of her French name. 

Kathleen Rooney develops all this so beautifully in Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, also giving us a full look at the major who led his men into the Argonne Forest, following orders, and doing it brilliantly and efficiently, thus, accidentally, leading many of them to their deaths or maiming. Alas! Part of the charm of this book is that the chapters alternate in point of view, between the pigeon and the major. It was easy to believe in the way pigeons might “think,” how their homing instinct might work, and how consciousness continues–especially if you are taxidermied and live on in the Smithsonian Institution. 

So probably Cher Ami pre-disposed me to pick up Dr. Bird’s Advice to Sad Poets, to find out what a real pigeon/imaginary therapist might “say” to a depressed high school boy. Also, sometimes I am a sad poet myself. And I do love this book’s cover (see above; at hand is the movie cover). I am glad that the boy also gets a human therapist. I watched a lot of movies over the past few years, but only today did I realize that Dr. Bird was released as a movie in 2021. (You can watch it on Hulu. But I can’t.) I liked how the humor in this book ran gently under the depression and family dysfunction, and I loved Dr. Bird!

Here in real life, the sun has come out! I am clearing out gardens, looking at the pink and white bleeding heart and dark lilacs, and birdwatching. Coincidentally, my parents have actual nesting doves at their house!

Kathleen Kirk, A Coincidence of Pigeons

The other day, poet Matthew Stewart tweeted this, sparking off a very interesting discussion about the use of the first person in poetry, and the frequent assumption by readers (and Matthew was talking specifically about critics) that this is the poet themselves.

I don’t have a great deal to add to it, but I do find it odd that this assumption gets made with poetry by people who have no difficulty in accepting that a first person narrator in a novel is not necessarily the writer themselves.

That said, I wonder whether it’s also a question of degrees for poetry readers? If the poem is written in, say, the voice of a historical character, or an animal, the reader has no trouble knowing that the “I” is not the poet. Does the problem occur mainly when the “I” is not the poet, as such, but a character not that far away from them?

Matt Merritt, The first person in poetry

(after Billy Collins)

I think the poem speaks for itself. But for clarity:

When I say ‘I’,
I do not mean me.
Except when I do.
Or when I didn’t,
but it turned out
it was me anyway.

Oh, and whether ‘I’ is me or not
does not mean any of the things
in the poem actually happened,
or that if they did, that they happened to me,
or to anyone in particular.
Though they probably did.

So, for the record:
‘I’ may not be telling the truth
and this will be deliberate.
This may be for the purposes
of a greater truth,
or that I just don’t want you to know the truth.

Anyway, I think the poem should be clear now.

It’s called ‘Me’.

Sue Ibrahim, Introduction

I like writing
a poem that does

what it does
without me,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (196)

Imagine this: A line of women poets stretching back, back through history, back through through layers of crinoline and taffeta and silk and underskirts and corsets and back, and back through kitchens and studies and libraries and maid’s quarters and milking sheds, back and back, all the way back to the oral traditions, to the women we can’t name, the anonymous women of history, their poems; their voices lost. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about those women, and the tail end of that link that is me, and how I sit here, how I am attached and connected to this line, how I sit alongside the other women poets that I know. Last night I met with my regular Fettling group. This is a group I set up a while ago. It’s a small group of just eight people, who meet every two weeks, and the purpose of the Fettling groups is to really focus on moving poems forward with group discussion, but also to find new ways to invigorate the way that attendees write, to find new ways of taking risks and pushing boundaries and comfort zones. Of all the groups, workshops and courses that I run, this is probably my favourite. Last night I brought along some wisdom from Eavan Boland. We discussed the ‘domestic poem’ and the revolutionary act of writing about interior life; how these mostly female spaces had been marginalised, de-valued, how poems about these places were perhaps devalued too, in the wider context of the poetry ‘community’, how that might, in turn, put women off writing the ‘domestic poem’ for fear of not being taken seriously. And then we took the radical act of writing a domestic poem, based on a painting by Eric Bowman. We talked about the term ‘poetess’ and the way that it’s purpose is to highlight the feminine of the poet, how it has become something of a criticism, or at the very least a condescending term that ‘others’ the woman poet, dividing her from the flock and herding her away. There is something to be said for this sort of contemplation, alongside being prompted to write, there is something necessary, at least for me, in accessing the thoughts of other poets in the development of my own self, in terms of becoming a poet. The wisdom of other poets is crucial to me, it connects me to the poets that have come before me and especially to the women poets and authors upon whose shoulders I am standing, precariously, and hoping that I am doing a good job. It was good to be in a group sharing this with other poets. There is something special about the way that a small group can meet on zoom, and open themselves up, how the intimacy of the safe space means that poems shared become as much about craft as they are an acknowledgement of the experience and process of creating the poem.

This morning I read this quote:

I like to think that the customs of friendship, as well as the loving esteem which are so visible in the communal life of women, will become evident in the practice and concept of the poetic tradition also. That women poets from generation to generation, will befriend one another. Eavan Boland

That’s what this is to me, this slow journey to myself. I am finding the connection to other writers and especially women writers and poets to be a kind of befriending. I feel welcomed into this long line of poets, this long line of women writers, and I am cherishing their wisdom.

Wendy Pratt, Women Asserting their Place in Poetry

Windsor, Ontario-based poet, editor, writer and critic Nicole Markotić’s latest full-length poetry title is After Beowulf (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2022), a book of simultaneous translation, transelation (as Moure coined it, via her 2001 Anansi title, Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person) and reimagining of the classic Old English poem Beowulf (c. 700-1000 AD), rifling through a myriad of forms as a way through her own reading of an ancient poem imagined, interpreted and reimagined from Seamus Heaney’s translation to an episode of Star Trek: Voyageur. Reworking one of the earliest of epic poems through English and Danish traditions, there is a swagger to Markotić’s lyric, one propelled by both character and the language, writing a collage of sound and meaning, gymnastic in its application and collision. As is well-known, the old stories adapt themselves to our requirements, and update to meet and suit us [see also: my review of Helen Hajnoczky’s Frost & Pollen, which includes a reworking of The Green Knight], and Markotić works her assembling of language, lyric and permeations of English into a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster, stitching together scraps from a variety of prior adaptations, and a language-hybrid that blends contemporary banter with Old English. “Herewith trespasses / Grendel – no introduction – breaks into / the Introduction,” she writes, early on in the collection, “foul foundling, heaping with narrative potential / (contrast: that ‘one good king’ / repeating line, colossus-driven) / his celebmentia gains real estate / then fades to black, fades / into macabre backstory.”

rob mclennan, Nicole Markotić, After Beowulf

Marianne’s poem is published on the Tinywords website and it appealed to me because I love collecting bits of unusual paper (I have a carrier bag full upstairs). I’ve done a bit of collage, but always thought of it as separate to haiku. Having seen her work, I feel inspired to do something similar, although I’m well aware that there’s a huge amount of time gone into her piece – it’s not just the making, it’s the thinking behind it. These days I’m wary of setting myself up to do something I don’t have time to achieve! Still, her work will stay lodged in my head until the right time comes along.

Similarly with Bill Water’s work, I can see there’s a good deal of time spent not only on the crafting of the fairy doors, and the haiku that go with them, but also positioning them, finding the right space/ environment/ backdrop (call it what you will). Bill has many poems on public display and I like the generosity of that.
Both of these pieces seem to have a playfulness about them. ‘Playful’ is a word that is often applied to art, suggesting some sort of trick, or in joke, but I think in this instance, it’s in the creative process itself; the fun that was had in the making shines through.

Julie Mellor, thread of light

Although not back to how it was before the pandemic, I am increasingly venturing out in the world to attend poetry events and readings, as well as still going to online things. Trowbridge Stanza, the monthly poetry group I organise, is meeting in person again, although not monthly, as we previously did, but every other month (this might change in the autumn). I went to an interesting talk about The Wasteland at Bristol Library last month, part of Lyra Poetry Festival. It was so great to be out and about and to travel home while it’s still light. Spring brings such longed-for delights. I felt the same way last Wednesday in London for a launch of Kathy Pimlott’s debut collection the small manoeuvres (Verve Poetry Press). I’ve followed Kathy’s poetry for several years, bought both of her pamphlets from the Emma Press, and long-admired her precise, original, engaging poems. Her poem ‘As You Are 90, I Must Be 65‘ is published at And Other Poems and is one of those I nominated for the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. It was just terrific to hear Kathy read, she has an assured and unshowy performance style that held everyone’s attention last week in the rather beautiful setting of the Phoenix Community Garden which is (amazingly) hidden within the heart of London’s West End.

I was also impressed by readings I heard at the online launch of books by Betty Doyle, Qudsia Akhtar, Erica Gillingham and Nicki Heinen (all Verve Poetry Press). Unfortunately Nicki couldn’t be there but Geraldine Clarkson read some of her poems, as well as poems of her own. My overwhelming feeling at this event was a feeling that poetry has upped its game since I was last at a reading (pre-pandemic). These are strong, strong poems. I was similarly dazzled at the launch of books by Anita Pati, Jemma Borg and Denise Saul (Pavilion Poetry Press). I will be surprised if at least one of these aforementioned poets isn’t on one or more of the big poetry prizes this year.

Josephine Corcoran, Out and About Again

I’ve written before on this blog about the excellence of Kathy Pimlott’s poetry – a review, here, of her first Emma Press pamphlet Goose Fair Night (2016). Kathy’s second pamphlet, Elastic Glue (2019), was just as good, and contained several poems concerning the gentrification of her neighbourhood of Covent Garden and Seven Dials in central London.

I was therefore delighted to be able to attend the launch, on Wednesday at the lovely setting of Phoenix Garden, of Kathy’s first full collection, The Small Manoeuvres, published by Verve Poetry Press and available to buy here. It was a very enjoyable evening, which included Kathy reading some of the fine poems in the book.

Like the two pamphlets, the poems in The Small Manoeuvres are full of Kathy’s clear-eyed perceptions, a palpable sense of social justice, deep respect for family, friendship (especially amongst women), history and memory, and finely-drawn character studies. They are, in the best way, very readable poems, without any irritating tricksy-bollock nonsense. For these reasons, Kathy is among my very favourite contemporary poets.

Matthew Paul, On Kathy Pimlott

Diabetes has not defined the speaker but it is part of who she is and managing it has forged the adult she has come to be. Her achievements have not come despite her diabetes but because of its successful management.

“Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic” is a contemplative journey from childhood to adulthood of life with type 1 diabetes. Sarah James has a compassionate ear, she never turns to self-pity even when being mocked or describing the sense of unfairness at being disabled: having plans go awry or letting people down because of her diabetes. It’s a journey through acceptance and learning to live with its consequences through powerful, thought-provoking poems.

Emma Lee, “Blood Sugar, Sex, Magic” Sarah James (Verve Press) – book review

In his recent book Singer Come from Afar, Kim Stafford suggests the difference between great poems and important poems has something to to with the occasion of their relevance. He says important poems “are utterances written as a local act of friendship or devotion, and given to a person, shared at an occasion, or performed in support of a cause.” Such a poem may later be considered a great poem, though more often would be relegated to the status of “an expendable artifact of the moment.” Framing poems as expendable artifacts does seem accurate in many regards. A page, that can be burned or shredded; an oral performance, uttered into time and lost thereafter; a digital event, that can be corrupted or invisibly archived in the “cloud”–those fragments and unfinished pieces we let languish and eventually discard. Perhaps important to us once, these poems are ephemera.

Stafford’s recent collection celebrates the local and the relevant, even the immediate, at the risk of not being lasting, whatever that may mean. Published in 2021, the book includes a selection of pandemic-related poems, many of which appeared on his Instagram feed @kimstaffordpoetry. Few of these poems are “great” in the literary sense, in my opinion, but that doesn’t mean they are not worthy of publication; this reader appreciates the urgency in the pandemic poems, the need to connect with others sharing the predicament of “social distancing.” We should not ignore the value of local, person-centered poems, narratives of the everyday. Not every human interaction requires epics, and really–the majority of contemporary poems address the small important events and metaphors that sometimes resonate with larger aims. My own work tends that way, so I’m not one to talk about greatness.

Besides, there are a couple of poems in Stafford’s book that will hold up well to literary explication, poems I have already enjoyed re-reading, such as “Chores of Inspiration” and “Do You Need Anything from the Mountain” with its lines “Bring me that skein of fire/that hangs in intimate eternity, after//the dark but before the thunder, when/the bounty of yearning in one cloud/reaches for another…”

I guess each of us has the capacity to evaluate what it is we consider important and what we consider great. I happen to like the bounty of yearning in Kim Stafford’s clouds.

Ann E. Michael, Important

ND Poet Laureate — 1995 until his death April 28, 2022

While much has been and will be said about this remarkable poet/writer, his ability to be intensely present will be his legacy for me – and a personal reminder to carry that forward in my life. He gave 100% of himself to the conversation or the moment. Like when he said to me, “Sit on this side. That’s my good ear and I want to hear everything you say.” In a world overrun with too many distractions, let’s agree to always give others our good ear and be intensely present.

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Honoring the Memory of Larry Woiwode

Out of the corner of my eye, and not on the syllabus, a small green book, left lying around under ash by Squirrel. I ask to borrow it, take it everywhere. Poems that take my breath away. Wishing I had done him and not Ted Hughes.Poems I have been waiting all my life to read, falling head over heels instantly, insanely. That vase. Somewhere becoming rain.

And now this. A wasted first year, a disappearing act in the second, playing catch-up in the third, just as I realise this might mean something. Mrs Dalloway. To the Lighthouse. Jacob’s Room.

Their greenness is a kind of grief. Oh yes. Like something almost being said. Chatting up Molly at the end of year drinks, Dutch courage mixed with fear, knowing it would come to nothing. Having wanted to say something for three years. Always in the row just behind. The almost cutting through me. Words at once true and kind. Greenness. Grief. A lesson in almost. And now the future.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: The Trees, by Philip Larkin

One thing that took my mind off of the abscess/root canal business was that my author questionnaire for BOA was due on my birthday, and then the finished draft of my manuscript of Flare, Corona was turned in a half-hour before my root canal a few days later. (I knew I wouldn’t be up to much the rest of that day, because they give me some anesthesia – Versed – for the root canal that doesn’t take away pain but does make your memories fuzzy and makes you very sleepy the rest of the 24-hour period. Also keeps you from flinching as much when they’re trying to drill your teeth.)

I’d been working on the book since its acceptance, so there wasn’t much left to do: shifted some poems around, updated the acknowledgements, added a couple of newer poems, and had my mom proofread for obvious grammar/spelling issues, and sent it off to my editor at BOA. Now I just have to wait for edits – exciting! You may think: “Jeannine, isn’t it awfully early to be thinking about your book which is slated for release in spring/summer 23?” But no, it’s really not! My next steps include finding good cover art and starting to collect blurbs!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Root Canal Birthday Week, Work on My Upcoming Book, and Talking about Timing and Poetry Submissions

got my voice back
it was there all the time
one has to be phlegmatic
and curtail your expectorations

the swim to cure my cold killed me
the swim to kill my cold cured me

acute coryza is such a violet word
don’t you think

Jim Young, cold comforts

I’m working on the premise of circa 25 poems will make it in. The current list is at 27, with four more backups. There is so much to do, each one will need its tyres kicking to make sure it’s as strong as it could be, even the more recent ones where I think my writing has improved.

They’ve all got to earn their place, so after (or is it before) the above there’s the process of seeing how they talk to each other. Do I want sections? It’s sort of loosely fallen into 3 sections so far, but are they something to be called out? It seems like overkill in a pamphlet to me, but who knows if that will change? Do I need a theme? No, I don’t think so as yet. Not least because that probably means more poems need to be written and at the current rate of knots I wouldn’t be ready for 3023, let alone next year. Also, as much as I love a themed collection, it can get a bit samey. I don’t have a theme as yet, so it would be forced.

I’ve just reviewed a debut pamphlet by someone where the work seems to either have been written circa 2008ish (at least when it was first published somewhere) or more recently during lockdown, etc (based on the themes of the poems). I can’t tell which poems fell between those dates, but it feels like an old-fashioned debut of the best poems you have available in the best order and that is just absolutely dandy with me.

There will be loads more prevarications, changes, questions, pacing up and down, heavy drinking (not essential, but I like it) and the like to come, but this feels like day one, a marker in the sand, etc.

Mat Riches, The work starts here…

What is it to be a “Southern” poet? Is it merely where you were born? Is it what you write about, or a style of writing?

Let’s say someone lives most of their life in California, and moves to Tennessee. How long before they can call themselves “Southern”?

With all of our moving, I feel a bit displaced as a writer. When I first began writing, I would solidly claim to be a Southern, mid-south poet, but now, when I type out my current address on a submission, I wonder what I can really claim.

How do you define regional poetry? By the poet being from there, currently living there, or writing about the place?

Renee Emerson, What makes a Southern writer “Southern”?

Somewhere around 2010, I taught a class in our four-week May term on writing poetry in forms. One project we did together: after reading more serious haiku and renku, my students had to staff a public booth and write haiku on commission in exchange for donations to the local foodbank. This involved interviewing clients about the messages they wished to send; composing custom haiku based on the interviews; and transcribing them on pretty postcards the clients could send to whomever they wished. To give my students practice in advance, I had them interview me about my mother, and I sent their haiku to her in time for Mother’s Day.

To my amazement, my mother wrote haiku back to my students (English 205). I spotted the sheet earlier this year but wasn’t in any frame of mind to reread them, so I resolved I would pull them out for Mother’s Day 2022. It feels uncanny to hear her voice in them now. She references my daughter dying her hair blue at thirteen; after returning to blondness for more than a decade, my twenty-five-year-old daughter has recently gone blue-haired again. The Lydia in the last verse was my daughter’s closest friend then (I have no idea about “handsome poopface.”) The “cheeky, cheeky boy” is my son Cam (twenty-one and still cheeky).

My mother was a reader, not a poet, other than on this occasion (as far as I know). I’m grateful to have this gift now and smiling as I remember how she upstaged me every Mother’s Day after my kids were born–phoning early to wish ME happy Mother’s Day before I managed to call her.

Lesley Wheeler, My mother’s haiku

We all came from mothers: we have something in common.
Our first act almost unspeakable 
hurtling towards bright lights, causing our Other shrieking pain.
Mothers let us off the hook — 
it wasn’t really our fault —
the pea-green stuff was cleared off, we sucked from the core of the earth,
nestled, smiled, were cutely dressed, learned the Hula hoop, read Nietszche, 
or learned to shoot, worked EMT 
or spent years shooting hoops, opened a laundry

How ridiculous the way life steps in to scatter one ur-motherhood story
it cannot be mastered
as every “birth plan” and over-imposition will veer off course

Let each birth be
or not  
as it wants 

Jill Pearlman, The Howl of Motherhood

Today is Mother’s Day, and I’m thinking about my mother-in-law who passed away this year on April 1, just a week after her 88th birthday.

She spent so many holidays and other visits at my house, and although I would not say she was like a second mother to me, she was a positive presence in my life, and she imparted her tidbits of elder wisdom to me and our family over the years.

At the end of yoga class yesterday my teacher wished us a happy Mother’s Day, and I responded that I wanted to wish her a special day, too, because even though she never gave birth to a child, she has nurtured me and many others over the years as her spiritual children.

I’ve tapered off the anti-depressants that I’ve been taking since my youngest son was three months old. For almost thirty years I’ve been on one kind of SSRI or another, all stemming from severe post partem depression and then ensuing trauma.

Maybe because I’m off the meds, a certain kind of pervasive sadness has returned. I’m trying to work my way through the fatigue and mild anxiety in the hopes that my body will re-learn to regulate itself and I can learn how to let these moods come and go without latching onto the idea that I need the SSRI to cope. Thirty years on these meds is a long time. I want to give my body a chance to heal on its own.

What helps me is going to yoga class with my beloved teachers, listening to guided meditations, and being outside under the wild waving trees who stand sentinel over my garden, these oaks and pines that quiver with nonjudgmental aliveness. And tea. Tea steeped in my MIL’s pot.

Christine Swint, Mother’s Day and the Blues

Thanks to “Range,” the book I reviewed in last week’s post, I recently made the astonishing discovery that in 18th century Venice, there was a famous orphanage called the Ospedale della Pietà (Orphanage of Pity) that became known for producing some of the world’s most accomplished female musicians. For some reason, I was captivated by the detail that outside of the orphanage, there was a stand of drawers. If a baby was small enough to fit into a drawer, it could be left there, and when the drawer was closed, a bell would go off and one of the nuns would come and collect the baby. Many of the babies left there were born of ladies of ill repute, but some were illegitimate children born to members of royal families. The story of how the orphanage developed their young musicians is fascinating, but not as interesting to me as pondering how many times a day that bell rang. I imagine early-morning misty Venetian skies, the mournful sound of the bell, and the mother scuttling furtively away, her figure hidden in a bonnet and voluminous skirt. There is a whole other story to be told there aside from the virtuoso musicians.

Kristen McHenry, Bells of Venice, Latent Strategist, Too Far In

Welcome to the Sunday edition of the pig and farm report. It is bloody cold out here on the island 41° this morning. My lilacs refuse to open my herb garden looks like the saddest bit of vegetable you find in the bottom of your refrigerator bin in autumn and forget about planting tomatoes those ruby beating hearts. Still it is unbearably beautiful when the sun shines and the rain makes my yard smell like the most intense lovely day you can imagine from camp in utter girlhood. Bunnies are still hopping about deer still play statue in the yard and the rhododendrons that grow everywhere in my yard carry on voracious and bright. Spring continues in spite of wool trousers cashmere sweaters heavy blankets and the propane fire blazing from dawn until bedtime not to mention snuggly cats. 

Today is difficult for me. The echo of mother precious mother that is everywhere today strikes my ear as vinegar my mother being the sort of person to prove that just because you can procreate doesn’t mean you should. I guess that’s all I have to say about it but those who know know and those who don’t carry on believing that we all had brilliant loving parents. I did go to the grocery this morning and the smell of flowers and guilt for sale at every cash register was palpable. I listened to John Lennon wailing on my car radio on the way home. Maybe all my dials really have flown off. 

That’s it for today. Look how beautiful my front yard is blazing in frozen sunlight.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Why her mouth always twists
every question into a story. Why the story
wants to pull out everything that is past.
Why the past can’t seem to figure out
it’s only a difference in the SIM card, if at all.
Why all the data in a chip cannot house the world.
One type of world wants to be touched, but never
tasted. Another is entirely made by a frenzy of moths.
Why the paper doll lost its hat, traveling in the mail.
She doesn’t know how to tell the mother
who made her that she will likely never arrive.
The other mother is more like her. She is faithful
to the one script still legible in her mind.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Causative

In this dream I gallop, trot, and prance. Yes, that’s right. Actual prancing. It feels good to be a fast horse. In another dream I was a moose, and in still another I was a dog. There may not be an exact explanation, but there is this – it always feels pretty good. Excellent. In this dream I am a fast horse, moving swiftly across a grassy prairie. The bright sunshine is warm and fine on my back, and when I awake I see the saddle and bridle waiting silently beside my bed.

James Lee Jobe, In my dream I have somehow become a fast horse.

Every morning, the sun manages to find our one good vein, and delivers its dose of roaming gold.

Radiant blood enriches the senses. Dharma oxygen feeds the foolish heart.

Call us dream addicts, jonesing for the promise of another day.

Joy’s ever-wandering junkies searching for that shimmer of clear calm beyond the bottle, bullet, or bad decision.

Lift our bones into the light, their carbon hopes shining.

This life, this love.

When we’re ash, glue us into the book of good intentions.

Rich Ferguson, Roaming Gold

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 15

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. With major religious holidays this weekend, Poetry Month just past the midway point, and spring well underway in some places, many poets this week struck a playful or celebratory note, even as serious issues still needed to be wrestled with and poems needed to be written or pored over. Enjoy.


I want to say so much about
this oak and these first bluebells
but what can I say that you
don’t already see and feel yourselves?

The weight of that trunk hunkering
over the frail brushstrokes of colour.
You might even imagine their barely
perceptible scent soon to be booming

through the woods. We are comforted
in these moments, aren’t we? The reliable
return of Spring. By beauty.
The way our small hearts sing.

Above me the first shimmer of green
in the splayed branches. At my feet
these steadfast little gifts. I want to
believe in a world that can change and heal.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ So much

The author places a blindfold over her eyes and her body in an enormous circle. Flirts with broken taillights and right angles. Throws pages into the river. Still, she shivers under streetlamps, gaslit and ghost prone. Touch her, and she leaves a small black mark on the underside of your wrist. Large enough to bite. What a fight when the author went down and down into the tunnel and came out bearing a single string with which to hang you. A single page smooth and white as the back of a dead woman’s hand. The author could crack her bones each night and assemble anew every morning, but nothing went back together as sound as it began.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #15

I’ve taken a little dive into Spanish language poetry recently, with two wonderfully bilingual volumes: Jorge Luis Borges’s Poems of the Night — an anthology of variously translated works focused on…well…la noce, and sleep, and insomnia, death, and sunrise, sunset, and of course, la luna; and America, by Fernando Valverde, translated by Carolyn Forché — an outsider’s view of our strange land.

Side-by-side bilingual translations are, for me, the only way to go when I read poetry in translation. Even if I don’t understand one letter, it’s important for me to see how it looks on the page, see the rhythm of the words laid out, glimpse if, for example, the original language seems to use end rhyme but the translation does not, or whether line breaks are different, or if, (as in one notable experience I’ve written about in these pages) entire stanzas have been foregone. If I recognize the letters, I may try sounding out the poems, just to get them in my mouth, how the language requires my tongue to tick or tangle, my lips to pop or pooch.

Both of these authors are grounded in the land and flinging through the stars. Reading them makes the world new again in the freshness of their perspectives, their imagery, the way syntax is often turned around from the English norm, how some words are softer than the same in English, some harder. Feel how soft “estrella” sounds compared to the relative burst of “star.” (And yet both have their place, don’t they, when we think about the characters of stars on different nights, under different skies, different emotions?)

Marilyn McCabe, Jump a little higher; or, On Reading Borges and Valverde

set fair the pop of the dubbin tin

The haiku above, one of the April contingent in The Haiku Calendar 2022, still very much worth buying from the incomparable Snapshot Press, here, has been talking to me for the past week and a half. Few haiku as short as this – just nine syllables – do as much work.

I picture the poet/protagonist, having consulted the weather forecast, down on his haunches to polish his faithful pair of sturdy black boots, for a walk into the countryside, maybe, or out to the coast.

The familiar sound as the tin-lid’s catch releases is immensely satisfying. Chard is as observant and excellent a haiku poet as anyone writing today, so he knows that the ‘pop’ needs no qualifying adjective, and his choice of the rather old-school ‘dubbin‘ is inspired.

It’s also pertinent to note that Chard didn’t write ‘set fair the dubbin tin’s pop’. His wording enables a double surprise: of the pop itself, and then that what causes the pop is something as apparently trivial as opening a tin of shoe polish.

Except that it isn’t trivial, and it shifts the focus: what we see is an act born of tradition; of someone with standards to maintain, standards no doubt instilled in him as a boy. The day is ‘set fair’, so boots need to be looking their best.

Matthew Paul, On a haiku by Simon Chard

Very pleased to be one of the 21 poets in this zuihitsu portfolio, edited by Dana Isokawa and published in the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s magazine The Margins. Asked for a note to accompany my three zuihitsu, I wrote this: “I was introduced to the zuihitsu in a workshop on Japanese poetic forms taught by Kimiko Hahn and immediately fell in love with it. How fresh Sei Shōnagon sounds across the centuries! What is the secret to such eternal freshness? Trained in traditional Western forms, I was looking to expand my repertoire by looking again to the East, and what I found was not so much a form as a voice. Sure, Sei Shōnagon is a privileged snob, as a literary friend pointed out with a sniff, but I love to put on her beautiful robe, rub some precious rouge on my cheeks, burn a fine incense stick, and wait for my lover to arrive in the night.”

Jee Leong Koh, When I Go Home with Someone

I’m occasionally contacted by people who have been moved by one of my flower poems and it’s nice to know that my poems are out there and working their way into occasional lives despite my minimal active involvement in the current poetry scene. 

I’m so enjoying the work of Matthew Sweeney at the moment, it has taken me a while to really get on board with his poems but I’m seeing possibilities in his work that could potentially help me move on in my writing. I absolutely love his poem The Owl

Marion McCready [no title]

Dion O’Reilly: Nature, or what we now call The Living World, is a prominent feature in your poetry. Do you consider yourself an eco-poet?

Yvonne Zipter: I’ve never actually thought about it, but I think that’s a fair label to apply to my work. If ecopoetry explores “the relationship between nature and culture, language and perception,” as Forrest Gander posits in The Ecopoetry Anthology (eds. Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street), then it makes perfect sense to apply that term to my work. Kissing the Long Face of the Greyhound, for instance, is organized roughly as a dialogue between the natural world and humans, the intent being to show how they—we—are interrelated. But I tend to agree with Naturalist Weekly that “labels can be challenging for readers and writers. They have a tendency to limit our ability to see the world. One of the things I really appreciate about poetry is that any given poem may produce different meanings to different people. . . . Any poetry that gets you to think about your role or place in the natural world is beneficial and . . . the labels we give them are only helpful if they contribute to the joy of the audience.” That said, I would be honored to be thought of as an ecopoet.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Interview Series: Dion O’Reilly Interviews Yvonne Zipter

And what of the one just out of the shadow
of that tree, where the woman stands alone, her eyes
empty, her clothes wet with the failure of escape, all her

longing pressed into the lines on her brow, ordinariness
in her swallowed swear, in the line of her shoulders
unable to hold up the grey sky? What of that puddle

that looks up at her, the lady who wants to leave, the
puddle that wants to follow her feet? What is left after
the rain is no longer rain, after a reflection disentangles
itself from a puddle that didn’t know how to hold it?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, When rain is no longer rain

I had my computer at my sewing station.  I was able to write a bit, sew a bit, on and on through the day.  It was wonderful.

At Quilt Camp, I leave my aging laptop in the Faith Center where the sewing tables are set up. The building is completely empty when we go for meals, and I did wonder if my computer was safe. Then I laughed at myself. Every woman in this room has a sewing machine that is more valuable than my computer–and many of those sewing machines may contain just as much in the way of electronics as my computer. These are not your grandmothers’ Singer sewing machines. Alas.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Last Look Back at Quilt Camp

Glancing out the window at the park across the street I see a man walking with an umbrella. Fat, slow raindrops. A low and dark sky. He closes the umbrella and looks up, smiling at the rain. In my house I begin singing an old song that was popular long ago when I was a young man. I sing the lyrics very quietly. How quiet? Like a field mouse. The man spreads wings that I had not noticed before and he begins to rise up through the rain, his face turned upward, and he gives off a light as he rises, an aura, golden at times, then silver, then golden again. Up, up, up he goes until I cannot see him through the window. He rises through the rain, then higher, through a tiny bit of snow. I am singing now with words that are all but invisible. 

James Lee Jobe, it’s a spring rain far below heaven

pond life
thumbing the pages
of my childhood
british insects ~ birds eggs
underlined with a boy’s joy

Jim Young [no title]

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I come from a long line of poets. My father was a poet. My grandfather was a poet. My great grandfather was a poet. None of this is true, but I suppose it could be, I never asked any of them. I didn’t really come to poetry as opposed to anything else. My poems are fiction, and non-fiction, and some of them are actually short stories, and others are ideas for novels that reasonably pass as poems. I prefer things that are shorter because it doesn’t take me very long to express an idea or what I’m thinking of, unless I’m intentionally drawing it out. In a poem I can get through a whole event in under a page, in a novel it takes 150 pages and half of that is just people walking from one place to another and talking to each other about the places they’re walking to and from and what they’re thinking about while they’re walking. My poems also include walking though, if that’s something you’re into. […]

What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I don’t have a routine. I have two small kids and an old house with a long list of things to fix, and a full-time job. Today I changed the cabin air filter on my car. But now it’s rattling. So I’m doing this, and then later, I will stick my hand in a blower mower and try to fish out a leaf… or a dead mouse… or something. My wife is the best, though. She’ll carve out time for me to write when I don’t. Other than that, I mostly jot poems down on my phone as they come to me. Then, when I have the time, I put them into Google Docs. Then I change the font to Garamond or something hi-brow like that and see if I’m impressed by myself. If I am, I keep it. If I’m not, I trash it. Then I make dinner, or something. I’m impressed by people who have routines and little quirks around their writing. I hear all the time about writing corners or whole rooms. My office has my tool chest and a water rower in it (the water rower was free, I’m not rich, don’t worry), I don’t have room for a writing room. I remember reading this one writer talk about how they had their own writing space and their whole process was some sort of meditation ritual. They even talked about lighting a candle just out of view, something about the eternal flame of creativity or whatever, I’m sure. I remember laughing when I heard it because it was so ridiculous to me but at the same time, that’s cool if you have time and space on your side. I have neither. Also, time is a flat circle. I like to think my routine is not that of a “writer” but some average person who writes. Shout out to average people. If I get that Amazon Prime special I’ll upgrade myself and start lighting candles or something.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tyler Engström

Watching a Coral Reef on YouTube

The cats and I are fascinated by stripes, speckles, electric blue & yellow, drifting orange, waving pearlescent white, golden dots, glowing eyes under rocks. We are voyeurs to underwater acrobatics, ballets of flipping fins, action chases in invisible undertows, the rhythmic pulse of ghostly tentacles. The cats twitch their whiskers, flip their tails, eyes widened in hypnotic stares while I fall deeper and deeper into a loose-jointed calm, surrendering to my own undertow.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo 2022 day 15

I am wound up. But bound.

I think this inertia is one reason I am drawn toward formal verse when I feel hopeless. Formal verse is somewhat effortless. The poeticized knowledge is guaranteed to translate into something acceptable on some level. There is a sense of sureness in a slavish execution.

I had a graduate student years ago who turned in a draft all too light on research, in which she postulated that a particularly adventurous painter would have (not) accomplished his modernist work had his teachers been prescriptive in terms of his art training. Ah, but the truth is: they were. They were naturalists. His training had been as rigid as a tongue with no familiarity with curse words.

I figure part of the draw of the rigid framework is to discover what really needs to escape from it. Otherwise, we are simply working within the contemporary frameworks we think of as “new”, but are actually familiar enough to give us that sureness of execution. We want the pedigree. It has a purpose, too, beyond the name-dropping.

But maybe the tighter the restrictions, the more meaning can be brought into view? In this same podcast this morning, Anthony Etherin talked about only having written sestinas that were also anagrams, explaining that he didn’t think he would write a good sestina without even more demanding constraints.

There is something fascinating about this idea. I can’t help but think that the attention to conscious constraints is what allows us to bypass our linguistic and cultural, unconscious constraints.

Right now, I am going to pour another cup of tea and write a sestina.

Ren Powell, Weekends are for sextains?

Breathe. Fall. Let the chest fall. Exhale.
Inhale. The air does and does not
move itself. The air is hungry.
The body is hungry for air.
It is a kind of love affair,
the way the body and the air
both lunge and leap, both rise and fall,
grasping at each other as if
this is the true purpose of life,
narrowing to a pinpoint like
vision, like a trajectory,
the point where falling stops and then
eyes open, look up through the leaves
to that blue at the beginning.

PF Anderson, Falling

Today I hit a lull with write a poem a day April so I’ve allowed myself to fail publicly. I went grocery shopping this morning early and tomorrow I have an evening appointment with a new dermatologist. Neither of these things should account for the fear panic in my heart but the panic is there and I’ve learned to listen to my body. The real poem I wanted to write today was a cryptic message I found deep in the bowels of my email account that simply read

ADD PICKLES

now we’ll never know

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Parsons Marsh
homelessness comes with
no destination

Jason Crane, haiku: 11 April 2022

I wrote the first version of this poem in the fall of 1987, the day before I began my first “real” job after graduating from college. It had been more than 10 years since I’d quit skating, but these were the words that came to me as I thought about leaving behind my life as a student, the only one I’d ever known. Sitting at my sunny dining table, I thought about how it would likely be decades before I would again have time on a weekday morning to write poems.

I wondered what I was gaining and what I was losing and how I would feel about it all far in the future, at the end of my work life, when I might again be able to spend weekday mornings writing poems.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On taking flight

it could be rain
or a distant headland
on that dim horizon

a lighthouse
white-washed buildings
low stone walls enclosing green

an iron gate to let you in
never go back
there will be lock and chain

Ama Bolton, View from Fjara

Maurice Scully’s Things That Happen, written 1981-2006 and finally published in complete form, one volume from Shearsman (2020).  I’ve been reading this gargantuan work in smaller pieces throughout the decades now, since approximately 2000 when I was living in Galway and editing The Burning Bush literary magazine.  I got in touch with Scully around that time, and I’d received a couple of his chapbooks from Randolph Healy, poet and publisher of Wild Honey Press.  I was immediately drawn to Scully’s work, along with that of other innovative Irish poets whose writing was finally beginning to come to prominence.  Scully and I exchanged a few letters (before email became the primary mode of communication), and he sent me some more of his books as well, and I’ve written about these and others in various essays and reviews — for example, online: of Prelude, Tig, A Tour of the Lattice; and about further of these book-excerpts in various print outlets.  Initially I approached them as self-contained chapbooks or what have you, but especially when larger pieces of Things That Happen began coming out from Shearsman and other presses in the early 2000-10s, the bigger picture began to emerge.  Now there is this single volume of approximately 600 pp., finally bringing it all together and allowing us to encounter it as one.  There’s something about the book itself, a big blue object, minimalist design, an object of apparent import even before being read.  “The book / is fat.”

Michael S. Begnal, Maurice Scully’s Things That Happen

On Saturday night at second seder we’ll begin counting the Omer: the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation. Here are seven new prayer-poems for that journey, one for each week — plus a prayer before counting, and a closing piece that integrates the journey before Shavuot — from Bayit: Building Jewish: Step by Step / Omer 5782.

This time, seven members of Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group wanted to co-create together. So each of us took one week of the Omer. (I got hod, the week of humility and splendor.)

I also wrote an adaptation of a classical prayer before counting the Omer, and we co-wrote a kind of cento, a collaborative poem made (mostly) of lines from our other pieces woven-together, for the end of the journey. You can find all of this (in PDF form, and also as google slides) here at Builders Blog.

Shared with deepest thanks to collaborators and co-creators Trisha Arlin, R. Dara Lithwick, R. Bracha Jaffe, R. David Evan Markus, R. Sonja Keren Pilz, and R. David Zaslow. We hope these new prayer-poems uplift you on your journey toward Sinai.

Rachel Barenblat, New prayer-poems for the Omer journey

“Early on, I divined that this book already exists in the future. / After all, I thought of it; it’s a probability somewhere, complete, on a shelf. / My intention is to consult that future edition and create this one, the original, for you.” -Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, from A Treatise on Stars (2020)

At first, when a hectic term ends, I have no idea how to slow down. Panic rises about whatever work I’ve been putting off, usually difficult writing-related stuff–this year, not only the usual submissions but planning events and media to launch Poetry’s Possible Worlds, although I’ve set up a few things. I’m jazzed about the first one, a virtual conversation with Virginia Poet Laureate Luisa A. Igloria. Called “Exploring Poetry’s Possible Worlds,” it will be hosted via Zoom by The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk and nicely positioned near the close of National Poetry Month on Friday, April 29, from 6-7 pm EDT. Many poems have created transformative spaces for me, and I hope Luisa and I can create one for you. If you’d like to join in, register here.

The official launch date is May 17, so my book is from the future, as Berssenbrugge writes, but advance copies came this week and they’re gorgeous. […]

It’s not all publicity labor and task force reports over here, though. I’m really reading again: some of it’s for fall teaching, granted, but wonderful all the same. I picked up A Treatise on Stars just for the weird, lovely fun of it. I’d never read a full book by Berssenbrugge before and it was way stranger than I expected, all about receiving signals from the sky and dolphins and other people. What a pleasure to sip poetry on the porch, catching her wavelength. Just shifting the enormous pile of books around to see what had accumulated was gratifying, as is thinking about summer trips and even cleaning out my sock drawer.

Lesley Wheeler, Ashes to bluebells

It’s National Poetry Month and I’m feeling overwhelmed by poetry. Wait, that’s not an accurate statement. It’s National Poetry Month and I have a lot of things on my to-do list, some of them poetry related, and I’m feeling overwhelmed. That’s a true statement.

This month my independent poetry press, Riot in Your Throat, is open for full length manuscript submissions so I’m reading subs and hoping to find 2-3 to publish. (If you have a full length manuscript looking for a home, please submit!)

I’m also pulling together my new collection, which will be published spring 2023 by Write Bloody. For me this means printing the poems and then laying them on the floor, seeing what sort of cohesion starts to emerge. It’s also a little overwhelming because at first, it feels like there’s nothing to pull the poems together. And then slowly, as I start to move poems around, to pull poems out and insert different ones, it starts to come together. It helps that my dogs, Piper and Cricket, are there to supervise. Until they decide it’s time to play and nearly make a mess of everything.

Courtney LeBlanc, Overwhelmed by Poetry

I’m down for a saffron sink
a boom smart
a purperglance spree
one, four, one, one
I’m splendid
fifty-three alpha minus
the way I found the spirit’s spanner was
I had a shopping cart chest
a Napoleonic shriner
a headcold of trees

Gary Barwin, EXECUTOR SHRIKES. A little poetic funk

I’m thrilled to be one of the featured NaPoWriMo participants today, along with the inimitable Arti Jain of My Ordinary Moments! It was NaPoWriMo 2017 that brought me back to poetry after a long hiatus and to be recognized like this means the world to me. Many thanks to Maureen Thorson for gathering us again around the fire, so we can release into the wild all the words we’ve cooped up inside us for a very long year.

Today’s prompt challenges us “to write a poem that, like the example poem here, joyfully states that “Everything is Going to Be Amazing.” Sometimes, good fortune can seem impossibly distant, but even if you can’t drum up the enthusiasm to write yourself a riotous pep-talk, perhaps you can muse on the possibility of good things coming down the track. As they say, “the sun will come up tomorrow,” and if nothing else, this world offers us the persistent possibility of surprise.” (Full NaPoWriMo post available here.)

As for my response, it’s an example of what reading nursery rhymes and A. A. Milne obsessively to your children might do to you. The last line came out unintentionally racy, but I’m not apologizing for it. It’s the lucky number 13 that did it! Also, I’m so happy to have found E. A. Shepard’s original illustrations to Winnie-the-Pooh. Today is a truly lucky day. (Did the world exist before the internet? Did we?) And last but not least, if you haven’t yet watched the film Goodbye Christopher Robin, please do. It’s wonderful.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo Day 13, 2022

It’s ink on paper,
it’s not art,
these poems,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (172)

Zoë Fay-Stindt: […] I’m trying to think about your first question, about what my favorite earth body is… So I grew up in North Carolina and France, back and forth–

Sarah Nwafor: Oh, right! We talked about this because I want to practice French with you. Yes. 

Zoë Fay-Stindt: Yeah! Right, yes. So, I feel constantly inhabited by multiple landscapes at once, and the rivers are what draw me in–what raised me. And I’m realizing, especially being in Iowa where there is very little undead water or water that is alive and thriving, I’m realizing now how much I relied on water because of how dynamic and fluid it is. I relied on that so much for my healing and for my mental well-being. So I’m struggling without it. What about you?

Sarah Nwafor: That’s beautiful. Rivers are important. That’s one of my goals this year is to really be in right relationship with water–water is an intense element but she’s important. Oh, my favorite earth bodies–let me think. Oh, I really love forests so much. Everything you need is in a forest, you know? They have little streams and creeks. And salamanders. They have soft moss, which is one of my favorite things to touch. And of course trees—trees are ancestors. And there’s also something so spooky too about being in a forest. Even now as an adult I feel like I have to watch myself when I’m in a forest. There’s a level of respect that I need to hold myself with when I’m in a forest. I just feel like trees give me like grandfather energy.

Trish Hopkinson, Poet Sarah Nnenna Loveth Nwafor interviewed by Zoë Fay-Stindt

The Easter moon recedes behind
an impasto of cloud. The first Sunday
after the first full moon
after the vernal equinox. Christ.

The booing of the geese, the jeering of the crows.
What else? What did you expect? 
The echoes fade, the light goes. The palette knife
lays down diamonds of silver, squares of slate,

banked snow mounds of white, and the moon
(remember the crescent? That was Ramadan)
is extinguished. You said
there was another life, on the far side:

you said to think of it. What life?
What side? I think of the side
running, running till it runs clear. Maybe
that’s not what you meant. 

Dale Favier, Easter Moon

After all the words of two Passover Seders, what remains? — meaning unsayable.  After flowing wine, a vertiginous sea, questions of morality and freedom, of being a stranger and redemption, after provocations, interruptions, questions posed with incomplete answers —ah!  The inchoate feeling.  A floating satisfaction.  After all the words, no words. We straddled time — we are slaves, we are part of the redemption — and we sat at a table eating fresh fish cooked in spices with fiery sweet potatoes.  The cat stretches her back.  It was a verbal catharsis that, in Avivah Zornberg’s witty terms, rephrases Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, one must say everything.”  We talk and keep talking and will talk as long as we can. “It,” absence or mystery and longing for full presence, will elude our desires to fix or define, and we will long after it.

We walk outside, feel the spray of rain on our faces, soft wisps of air that are not-bombs, soft clouds-not-plagues, nighttime smell of magnolia mixed with darkness and awakening mud.  The happening happened and meaning was made. The happening is happening and meaning is being made. We don’t even have to say Dayenu!

Jill Pearlman, Cascading Seder

Stay curious – it will continue to pay off. Learn a new language, or a new instrument, read new literary journals and poets you’ve never heard of. Read fiction and non-fiction on subjects you don’t really know anything about.  Education? Travel? Close examination of the natural world? Yes! The point is, never stop being curious about your world – that is what will drive your writing long term.

Be kind when you can be. Volunteer with younger writers; review someone’s book; do someone a favor who can’t do you a favor back. There can be a lot of competition and not enough kindness in the art world, the poetry world, the work world in general. Believe me, your small and large acts of kindness will reverberate more than you know. A note to someone to say what their work meant to you – or how much you loved their class in eighth grade – or thank them for support during a hard time – that sort of thing matters.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Advice for the New(ish) Writer (Plus Pictures of Birds and Flowers, Because Spring)

This is not
a ritual of feeding
so much as enactment
of a ticking
urge inside you,
the one that insists
on finishing the smallest
task, on bringing every
beginning to its close
and leaving nothing
behind—

If only
each one were
the equivalent of a wish
fulfilled: the bomb
undetonated, the rifle
permanently jammed;
every brick and gleaming
window back in place
at the hospital, the school,
the playground, the theatre,
the train station. Everyone
alive in the country
they love—

Luisa A. Igloria, Cracking Pumpkin Seeds Between Your Teeth at Midnight

The day is a bowl, the bowl is a day, a poem is a bowl. The bowl fills, the bowl empties. Hungry, sated, the bowl goes back and forth. The bowl is endless; the bowl is eternal.

I read poetry to fill up, to empty. I read it with affection, with dismay. I read calmly, for calm, and sometimes for sorrow. I read to feel and to let someone else do the feeling for me. I read for mystery, to not know, to sit and howl in the not knowing, to steep in it, and I read for clarity and understanding and for the shock and howl of that too. […]

I forget what I love, and go to find it in a poem. I am at a loss. I am sanguine. I am losing my confidence. I feel gaslighted. I am dismayed by the world. I need joy. I am unsettled. I go to poetry. I miss beauty. I miss you. I feel alone. I hate. I feel poisoned. Poetry. Poetry. Poetry.

I don’t know what to do with my life. I don’t want change; I do want change. I want light and I want integrity. I want sense and intelligent thought and delight. I want hope. I want commiseration and I want good trouble and I want to be roused. I want the exquisite. I want fun. I don’t want to be told. I don’t want unrest. I want play. I am exhausted. I am foggy. But I am bold. Poetry, I tell you, poetry.

Shawna Lemay, A Day is a Bowl, or, How and Why I’m Reading Poetry Now

If kissing were a mathematical formula, the equation of a circle would equal the shape of puckered lips—

an elliptical sweetness whose radius is centered at the origin of bliss.

Any and all equivalent chord theorems would refer to your joy’s intuited music—

songs soothing savage global anxieties into a geo-born geometry whose main function is to create an earth that is beautiful and round.

An earth that graciously bears humanity’s weight, along with providing an error-free formula stating that true love can exist,

just like the presence of a perfect-circle kiss.

Rich Ferguson, The Formula of a Kiss

I was in my mid-twenties when I decided I was going to write poetry “seriously,” and I started by signing up for a class in Contemporary Poetry.  The book assigned was Poems of Our Moment, edited by John Hollander.  I didn’t recognize any of the names in the Table of Contents, and couldn’t seem to take hold of the first few I tried to read, so I decided to start with the poems by women.  That’s when I discovered that out of thirty-seven poets in the book, just three were women: May Swenson, Adrienne Rich, and Sylvia Plath–names that meant nothing to me.  I could at least follow the Swenson poems, and admired the ones by Rich–little steps forward.   And then I read “The Bee Meeting.”  It was one of those moments that divide our lives into before and after.  It took me over completely, mind and body, as if I’d been abducted not by aliens but by someone who knew deep things about me that I didn’t yet know myself.  I felt as if I had  to write to her, to connect.  And then I turned to the Contributors’ Notes and discovered she was already dead.  Elation, then devastation.  But at least the poems were still there.

Sharon Bryan, Poems that Grab You and Never Let Go

But first came Plath. After Ursula Le Guin, the only female author we studied. Her name was a rumour, freighted with glamour and gossip. Could it be true? What did the poems have to say? Ariel, the classic Faber black and white cover. Lunchtimes listening to recordings (From the radio? There were no audiobooks then.) of someone reading the Letters, all of those notes about rationing, the cold and English reserve. Suddenly, this was literature as life, of having absolutely no choice in the matter. The beekeeping poems. Lady Lazarus. That lampshade. Coming face to face with voice as (what?) persona, mythology, as performance. As absolutely having no choice in the matter. I crawled into the library one night and took out a book of essays, which stopped with an analysis of her. The word pathological. (I had to look it up.) Knowing then that I would spend a good deal of my life crawling into libraries, thinking about poems, and looking up words I did not know. (‘Cut’ was one of the poems we had not covered.) Then, the weather hotting up and exams approaching like the future, those final poems at the end of the book (her life), ‘Edge’ among them. What was it Borton said? ‘A perfect poem.’ That impossible last line, ‘Her blacks crackle and drag.’ The music of that. The inevitability. ‘A sense of something utterly completed vied with a sense of something startled into scope and freedom. The reader was permitted the sensation of a whole meaning simultaneously clicking shut and breaking open, a momentary illusion that the fulfilments which were experienced in the ear spelled out meanings and fulfilments available in the world.’ (Heaney on Lowell, The Government of the Tongue.) The book’s final line, about words governing a life. I knew (we all knew) nothing. But kind of prophetic. This is what it takes. This is what you have to measure up against. It got me going, like a fat gold watch.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: Edge, by Sylvia Plath

THE GIRL WHO GOES ALONE, Elizabeth Austen. Floating Bridge Press, 909 NE 43rd St, #205, Seattle, WA 98105, 2010, 40 pages, $12 paper, www.floatingbridgepress.org.

I was excavating shelves, looking for a more recent Floating Bridge chapbook—which I know I purchased last year—and I turned up this one. Yes, I read it a long time back, with pleasure, but it hasn’t ever made it onto the blog. So, here we are, another book about a poet, walking.

The Girl Who Goes Alone won the Floating Bridge chapbook award and was Elizabeth Austen’s poetry debut. Since 2010 she has gone on to write several books, including the full-length Every Dress a Decision (2011). She served as Poet Laureate of Washington State from 2014-2016. She is an acclaimed teacher and speaker. Her poems capture the “trance-like tidal pull / of sweat and flesh” (“For Lost Sainthood”), while at the same time eluding any grasp. Dave Meckleburg described The Girl Who Goes Alone as “an excellent feminist manifesto,” that “becomes a guidebook through the wilderness of being human that anyone can use.” Exactly.

Bethany Reid, Elizabeth Austen, The Girl Who Goes Alone

The weather warmed and got windy, and that bodes reasonably well for garden prepping even if the last frost date is still almost a month away. I got digging, sowed more spinach and carrots, cheered on the lettuce sprouts, and–with some help from Best Beloved–pried most of the winter weeds out of the veg patch and set up a raised bed or two.

While I was out there pulling creeping charlie and clover and reviewing my garden plan for this year, it occurred to me that my process in gardening parallels my process in writing. My approach to each has similarities, probably due to my temperament though perhaps due to the way I go about problem solving. The process is part habituation or practice and part experiment, with failure posing challenges I investigate with inquiry, curiosity–rather than ongoing frustration. And sometimes, I just give up and move on without a need to succeed for the sake of winning.

I have no need to develop a new variety of green bean nor to nurture the prize-winning cucumber or dahlia. My yard looks more lived-in than landscaped; on occasion, we’ve managed to really spruce the place up, but it never stays that way for long. I admire gorgeous, showy gardens but am just as happy to have to crawl under a tree to find spring beauties, mayapples, efts, rabbit nests, mushrooms. My perennials and my veg patch grow from years of experimentation: half-price columbines that looked as though they might never recover, clumps of irises from friends’ gardens, heirloom varieties I start from seed. The failures are many, but I learn from them. Mostly I learn what won’t grow here without special tending I haven’t energy to expend, or I learn which things deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and squirrels eat and decide how or whether to balance my yearning for food or flora with the creatures that live here and the weather I can’t control. There are a few things I’ve learned to grow reliably and with confidence–ah, the standbys! But the others are so interesting, I keep trying.

Ann E. Michael, Process parallels

For some people, the story of resurrection begins with a cross. For me, it begins with song.

Yesterday morning, walking the dog beneath a grey sky, collar turned up against a chill breeze, I heard the first calls of the varied thrush. That single flutelike tone that burrs close to buzz at the end. A watery sound that means the season has turned.

And though it is not yet the pleasantly green, budding part of spring (indeed right now graupel is setting all the winter dried leaves to tremble), the world is filled with light.  I walked on the beach without gloves.

This time of year requires persistence. Belief that bluebells are pushing up beneath the layers of rumpled alder leaves. Belief that the soil is warming, that soon I will be able to seed radishes. Belief that the fiddleheads will push up like brown knuckles and then unfurl into fronds.

Belief that I, too, am shaking off winter’s dreaming and now turn to doing. Turn to pencil on page. Turn to writers in residence at Storyknife and writers preparing for the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference. Like ice that breaks apart all at once on a creek that swells with melt rush.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Resurrection

I drove their car back, it was a joy to drive, much nicer than ours. It took about an hour, with my dad in the front seat. They were both getting smaller right before my eyes. He did really well, all in all, and is very stoic, but I can see already that he is changed, he is frailer. They both are. As I drove I pointed out the landscape features and we talked about churches they’d visited nearby, the myths and village folklore that surrounded them, the way the road swept away into the fields, the beauty of it. Mum sat in the back and read her book. There was a sense of role reversal, I thought back to the same conversations we’d had as children, the driving to see relatives in Thirsk, the pointing out of the landscape features, the stories that were attached to those places. I had a sense that we were driving forward to an unknown point, and all there was to do was to move, to progress, to mark off each small accomplishment, to celebrate the wins and manage the losses.

I am sat in my office, just returned from a walk in the lane. It is warm; the first proper warm day of this year. It was good to feel the warmth on my skin. No coat or even cardigan: I wore my cut off jeans and a loose flowered blouse, no make up, hair pinched up in a clip. There is something about this unpeeling of winter clothes that is very freeing. The swallows are back; a pair in the lane, exactly where I first saw them last year. They skim the fields and flit and turn like bats on the wing, they sit on the telephone lines, forked tails hanging, chattering and they bring joy with them. Tiny things, moving across the globe, directed only by the purpose of existence. I stopped to watch the buzzards, paired up again. I was hoping to see the courtship display I’d witnessed last year – that death defying tumble of claws and wings and sudden rise to circle the air drafts opposite each other. Not today.

We have starlings nesting in the porch, the house is alive with their chittering and whistles. The office window is open to the blossom and the grass scents, the rumble of sheep in the fields, the lambs calling back. This is blissful. Life can only ever be lived in the moment you are in. The future, the past, they don’t really exist. There is only this moment.

Wendy Pratt, Travelling Without Moving

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 14

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, spring was on hold in some places (including here in Pennsylvania—brrr!) and busting out all over in other places. Those participating in #NaPoWriMo still mostly seem to be at it, though I believe it’s beginning to cut into people’s blogging time, as there were noticeably fewer posts in my feed reader than there were last Sunday. But I was still able to find lots of good stuff, and now my brain is too tired to write a better summary so this will have to do.


I found it in one of my mother’s desk drawers. Mostly the drawer contained pens, mechanical pencils, a few thick yellow highlighters. And then there was this little metal case, shaped like a teardrop with a rounded tip. At first I mistook it for a white-out tape dispenser, though Mom hadn’t owned an electric typewriter in years. When I pried it open, I found a vintage pitch pipe. The cylinder is silvery (probably made of tin) with a shape like a stylized cloud at one end, engraved with letters representing the chromatic scale. On the back it says MADE IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA. Crafted there, but engraved in English: it must have been made for export. An internet search suggests that these were common in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Did this one come with my grandparents from Prague in 1939? Did Mom pick it up to sing camp songs with her friends in 1950, the year she returned home and told her parents she’d met the man she planned to marry? There’s no one left who can tell me its story, but its sound is pure and clear.

Rachel Barenblat, Vintage

The snow and ice are hanging on in Finland. Another teacher and I celebrated seeing mud at the edges of the park yesterday at recess when the rest of the world seems to be enjoying bluebells and planting out in their gardens. My back garden is still under half a meter of compacted snow, but the sun is slowly working on the front flower beds. Spring will properly come, later than I hoped, just like almost every year here. 

Amidst the uni deadlines, full-time work and kids, worries of war and whatever else feels like crawling on my plate at the moment, I’m writing. It’s Global Poetry Writing Month and every day I’m scribbling a few lines that might or might not become a poem when it’s grown up. I haven’t been able to do much as I’ve been so overwhelmed and so, so tired so this is a relief. 

But there’s good news. I’ve secured a short summer job that will take me abroad, so that’s something to look forward to. I’ve finally had a few acceptances after a long dry couple of months. The Scottish publisher Crowvus has included my poem ‘Ariadne’s Thread’ in the first issue of their journal Hooded.  And Dear Damsels has published my poem ‘What We Inherit’ in their recent batch. So things are looking up after a long winter. 

I’m writing whatever small thoughts come into my head: old memories, new hopes, nonsense lines, noticing the landscape change, my mood brighten, the days until summer release getting closer. I am writing and that makes it all good. 

Gerry Stewart, Global Poetry Writing Month – Spring Will Come

I am here, on the couch (again? still?),
the dark gritty / bubbling / swaying, sirens
strobing stripes on the curtains above.

I shiver under the arc of stacked books,
swaddled in sweaters and blankets. Light
from the phone glows on my shimmering face.

Across the rooms, in a corner of
a different window, I see the sun
rise behind black pines, so red, coal bright.

First published / posted with illustrations at Luisa Igloria’s Poetry Postcard Project as 05 April ~ Poetry Postcard Project.

PF Anderson, Here

I want to recommend to you Why I Write Poetry, edited by Ian Humphreys and published by nine Arches Press. It’s a collection of essays by poets on (you guessed it) why they write poetry, but also on how they approach their practice and the big and small things that they have done to find their own way, to find their own voice, to be true to themselves, to write authentically. The essays are wildly different from each other. Vahni Capildeo’s essay – Skull Sutra: On Writing the Body – is a piece of incredible creativity in its own right and simply couldn’t have been written by any other poet, such is the strength of their voice that I felt the essay could have been a prose poem. I absolutely recognised the connection to landscape and the way of responding to that landscape that I found in Jean Sprackland’s In Praise of Emptiness: On Writing about Place and Paying Attention, and found myself experimenting with my senses when out walking and writing because of that essay. There are essays in this collection that gave me insights into backgrounds that I could never have known about, Romalyn Ante’s essay – Pusikit: On Working as a Poet While Working for a Living is incredibly moving. I found it inspiring, it made me look at myself and ask myself where my own obstacles were and whether they were truly obstacles, or excuses. I found Daniel Sluman’s essay How I Built a New Voice: On writing and Living as a Disabled Writer astonishingly good also. The idea that a writer would choose to take the risk of stepping away from publication, awards, the striving and comparison that makes up so much of being ‘successful’ as a poet in order to develop a new way of writing authentically about their own existence struck a chord with me, in fact seeing someone else doing this was like being given permission to do that myself. Similarly, the way that Jacqueline Saphra writes about her own journey to poetry from a different career is just beautiful, invigorating. He essay Keep Ithaca Always in Your Mind: On the Journey and value of Poetry is another essay that has allowed me to revisit my own practice but also to remind myself of why I want to write in the first place. I posted on social media that I simply cannot recommend this collection of essays highly enough, it is better, in my very humble opinion, than any ‘how to’ book of craft, because the voices in this book are not talking about how, but why, which must be the most overlooked question in writing. Why do you want to write, what is the purpose? Why does it matter to you that you pull down your poems and set them on the page, or unwind the spool of thread that is your own story, or that you create a place of joy and safety for others in a world that you create. As a species we have always created, it is the thing that separates us from other non human animals, it is the thing that joins all of us together. That compulsion to change and translate experience into art is powerful, incantatory, magical. If you are a poet, you need this book in your life. I read one essay a day as part of my morning routine alongside journalling, morning papers, reading poetry etc. I found such solace in the beautifully curated pieces. It really is one of the best collections of essays i have read and one that I will come back to.

Wendy Pratt, Creativity and the Demon of Pretension

You thought that you would try the villanelle.
The sonnet form just didn’t work for you.
The villanelle has caught you in its spell.

Your free form was… too free, so what the hell,
You thought that you would really turn the screw.
You thought that you would try the villanelle.

You confined yourself to your small writing cell.
You thought that it might take a day or two.
The villanelle has caught you in its spell.

You thought, at first, that it was going well.
You thought it couldn’t be that hard to do.
You thought that you would try the villanelle.

The police were called because of the bad smell.
All your efforts had just made you start to stew.
The villanelle has caught you in its spell.

I’m afraid that it’s a sorry tale I tell.
Dylan Thomas, Auden, Bishop, Plath, they knew.
You thought that you would try the villanelle.
But the villanelle’s a bugger to do well.

Sue Ibrahim, Villanellia

How do we make space for brightness, for the possibility of joy, when we are worried about a war across the world, or about waiting for test results, or a root canal? How do we make space for poetry? I’ve been trying to write a poem a day this week, but haven’t felt super inspired. So when I couldn’t write, I tried to do a submission, or read some poetry instead.

When life keeps handing you problems, pain, rejection, and challenge, prayer/meditation/spending time in nature/purposefully changing your scene can seem stupid, like a waste of time, but these things can also remind us that life isn’t all suffering and pain, give us a much-needed sense of perspective, wonder, gratitude.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Poetry Month! Tulip Festivals, Poetry Podcasts, a Poem in Diode, Snow Geese – and Illness (Plus Broken Teeth) – and The Importance of a Change in Scenery

what is the weight of a letter?

how long is a semi-colon?

what does a semi-colon feel like in the hands?

on the tongue?

what does a semi-colon sound like?

is it possible to make a hyphen reach to the Kuiper Belt?

what if you took off your skin and made a word out of it?

would there be silent letters?

how would you pronounce the freckles?

Gary Barwin, art ± language

Lord the enormous days are hard, lord the contradictions build up, lord the stakes are high and higher, lord the idiocy is hard to drown out, lord we are asked to be kind to the unkind and it is abhorrent.

I had begun a post about renewing my vows to beauty. I had remembered a post from years back where I had renewed my vows to writing.

And then, as often happens, someone else said likely better most of what I wanted to say. From Anne Lamott on Facebook:

“Well, how does us appreciating spring help the people of Ukraine? If we believe in chaos theory, and the butterfly effect, that the flapping of a Monarch’s wings near my home can lead to a weather change in Tokyo, then maybe noticing beauty—flapping our wings with amazement—changes things in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It means goodness is quantum. Even to help the small world helps. Even prayer, which seems to do nothing. Everything is connected.”

Shawna Lemay, Renewing My Vows to Beauty

I woke up today to the music of Beethoven, Für Elise. No one else in the house was awake, so I lay still under the blankets, listening. The notes from the piano were rich and slow, rolling over me the way waves roll over a beach. The ocean water was cold, and the sand was cold on my bare feet. A gray sky, the sound of gulls. And in the distance, a freighter moves out into the sea. A lovely three minutes indeed, and then I rose, and went to the kitchen to make the coffee, black and strong. 

James Lee Jobe, sleeping with the radio on

The pub was noisy, a debate raging over how the
world would end, the degree of inebriation deciding
the vector of war, of climate, of pestilence, of broken
supply-chains. The more grotesque the imagined

dystopia, the more reason there was to drink. The
world-order won’t change tomorrow, someone said,
but you will wake up one morning and the couches
and chairs would have turned away from the

TV to take in an alternate reality.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Around 10:15, last night…

The British National History Museum’s image database is online. I’m researching Ichneumonoidea. And telling myself to keep looking, to become so familiar, so intimate with them that they become beautiful in my eyes.

There are close-up photos of veined wasp wings, and of wasp eyes that look like woven mats. The antennae curl like ribbons shaved with the edge of a knife. Deep black thoraxes.

Or thoraxes as pale as a waxy layer of old Nordic flesh – mimicking the semi-permeable barrier between life and death. Almost translucent, almost obscene.

Maybe there is a kindness in some deceptions. Death comes over the flesh – dappled first, then like a curtain of darkness with the elegance of opera gloves: somehow stuerent (socially acceptable).

The tarantula hawk has a body as black as ink. And wings as bright as persimmons.

Make sense of that emotionally.

Beautiful.

*

In America, it is National Poetry Month. I am not good with everyday constraints, so it is just as well that I am not an American. But I am working every day on this project. Posting or not.

Ren Powell, A Quick Field Note

I used to long to hear the sound of copters
rotors thumping the compliant air
getting louder drawing near

there were times when
such a B-movie rescue
would have suited me

I chose to forget that after the credits roll
the actors return to playing themselves
in the films of their own imperfect lives

bridges are a safer bet
you climb above the trouble
just walk away

Paul Tobin, A PIPEWORK OF VEINS

I’m spinning too many plates right now. Some plates that should be spinning are actually still packed in the box, but I’m limited, and between the ongoing pandemic and the violence in Ukraine, it’s hard to continue on as usual.  Even so, here are some poetry highlights from the past month…

In early March, I got to be a virtual featured poet for Wednesday Night Poetry, the longest running weekly open mic in the country, and it was a joy to share some of the poems for my spouse from How to Play.

Also in March, I received my contributor’s copy of Dear Vaccine, the print anthology created from the global poetry project of the same name. It’s fun to see work by friends in here with me, and I was excited that Naomi Shihab Nye was one of the editors.

At the end of March, I got to release the new spring issue of my journal, Whale Road Reviewand it’s amazing. Even when the rest of life is chaotic, I love doing this editing and publishing work.

Katie Manning, Shows & Publications

I’m learning about Walter Rodney.
Headphones on, listening to
the intertwining guitars
of Remmy Ongala from Tanzania.
This world is its own multiverse.
I have a constant opportunity
to see and hear and taste new wonders,
despite the efforts of my ancestors
to own what cannot be owned.
Water Rodney was from Guyana.
I had to look it up on a map.

Jason Crane, POEM: Walter Rodney

Next week I should receive my advance hard copies of Poetry’s Possible Worlds. I feel like I’m facing a portal, a door to strange woods opening at the back of a wardrobe. I know book launches are lucky and thrilling, but they also ramp my anxiety right up, especially the tasks that involve talking up my book’s amazingness and asking people to give it various kinds of attention.

Other boundaries precede and follow it: a doozy of a Winter Term ended Friday, so onward I forge into grading and revising committee reports. The barrage of university deadlines is slowing, though, so maybe I’ll be able to celebrate part of National Poetry Month for real. I’ll certainly read a lot. Starting to write and submit again, though: that gives me the alarming facing-the-portal feeling, too. I know, as a practically grizzled person in her fifties, that the ability to write and think has always come back in the past and probably will again. But crossing the threshold from busy-busy to slow thoughtfulness is always hard for me. As I tell my writing students, starting from a cold stop is HARD. Once you’re into the swing again, there are different kinds of difficulties–finding structures and words, killing your darlings–but that panicky feeling subsides. Until you’re ready to publish, when it roars back again in altered forms.

When I was finalizing the ms, I fizzed with worry about my last chance to get it right. Now my apprehensions are less about the book’s content and more about my responsibility to give the 10 years of work this book represents a better chance of reaching audiences. With that in mind, I’ve done it: I’ve hired a publicist, Heather Brown of Mind the Bird Media, for a few months to help launch Poetry’s Possible Worlds. Many of us learned via Twitter this year that the top publicists charge something like $30K or more for a book launch, which is a little startling, but I also don’t feel like judging people about those choices. That level of investment isn’t in the cards for me for a LOT of reasons; the publicists I interviewed offer their services at much lower cost and, not incidentally, specialize in small press books. They use their contacts to pitch media coverage; help send out review copies; query potential reading venues; and more, depending on what an author needs. One observation from early in the working relationship is that it’s helpful to have an ally whose job it is to stay enthusiastic when your own confidence flags! I don’t know yet how much success we’ll have; everything is still in process. But it feels like the right career moment to try this strategy. I couldn’t have afforded it as I was starting out, but these days money is easier to spare than time. I’ll keep you posted.

Lesley Wheeler, Hard lines, soft lines

We tell the same
stories

Revision: ocean
dredging up

glass and shells
Velvet kelp

Oracles
from a future

Manifest with
illegible names

Luisa A. Igloria, Mythopoeia

Sarah Mnatzaganian’s first pamphlet, Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter (Against the Grain Press, 2022), is as refreshing as the fruit it evokes and invokes. Of course, as its title immediately indicates, a key theme is origin and identity, but this is not wielded as a statement. Instead, it’s explored via fierce curiosity. […]

The clarity, freshness and light touch of this pamphlet are the qualities that lift it out of the hubbub of contemporary poetry, especially when considered alongside Mnatzaganian’s refusal to take short cuts or reach facile conclusions. For not much more than the price of a dodgy pint in a flash London pub, Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter encourages the reader to pause, breathe in its vitality and return to everyday life, newly invigorated.

Matthew Stewart, Clarity and freshness, Sarah Mnatzaganian’s Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter

In the fifth grade, I decided I was bad at art. I couldn’t draw a vacuum cleaner well enough for my teacher, who pointed out all the problems with it at every turn. Why is the hose so long, Sheila? What’s with the weird cross-hatch thing over here? Is that supposed to be metal? Didn’t you understand the lesson on perspective? I erased and tried again, over and over. I desperately wanted to draw a good vacuum for her! I have lived a lifetime of trying to please teachers. But it wasn’t to be and I ended up dreaded going to art class. Can you imagine? What’s more expressive and freeing and welcoming than art? I turned to words, then, a different sort of art, and have had a beautiful love affair/career with them ever since.

And then, the pandemic came.

These years have made us all a little strange, but they’ve also engendered some surprising delights in my life. For instance, I ripped out my front lawn and installed the pollinator garden I’ve always wanted. For instance, I bought 85 house plants. For instance, I stumbled, tentatively at first, and then with voracious desire, back to visual art–bold, colorful abstracts this time (I am nothing if not a maximalist), with nary a wonky vacuum to be found.

Sheila Squillante, No More Vacuums!

the river is constant here
we mourn through it even when we want to be
shut out children aren’t supposed to die
the mud banks rear and churn daffodil
fields pulse like giant earthlights even in early
spring when the Pacific tide breaks its bounds
we hold grief like stars hissing in our mouths
the tide has no heart for us the lower angels
sink and rise from the smokestack’s painted sides
to the hospital’s last call

Rebecca Loudon, April 8.

Yesterday we carved out a new section of garden and began planting it. In the house, we put away candles and the little lamp we’ve kept on the dining room table to light our morning and evening meals. It’s been weeks since we’ve turned it on. “Candle and fire season is done,” I said, moving a basil plant to the spot where the candles had been and opening the front door to let in fresh air.

The world’s first green is still gold, but the tulips have already begun their wilt, and the willow’s blossoms are turning into leaves. It’s high spring in our part of the world, when the grass needs mowing more than once a week and branches transform from bare to blossoms in two days. If you blink, you miss it. Sometimes, writing is a way of seeing more deeply and clearly, but sometimes it’s a way of blinking.

I didn’t want to blink this week.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Don’t blink

The author grew up in the midwest. Festered beneath sunlight like a blister. Cartwheeled through summers thigh high with lake grass. Couldn’t keep her fingers out of her mouth, the butterflies out of her hair. The author built a church out [of] books and hid inside it for years. Fumbled with light switches and lawn ornaments, and still, the holes in her body slacked and grew larger til she contained so much. BBQ grills and record albums, tackleboxes and bottles of pills. The author would crack open every so often and out would fly a river of fish the size of her palm. The author would go slack with all that wanting, would fold and list in the wind.

Kristy Bowen, napoowrimo #5

My book Little Pharma is my first book. Years ago when my partner got a short story accepted by the magazine he most admired, our friend John called it the “Velveteen Rabbit moment,” after the (very dark!) children’s book by Margery Williams, about certain toys becoming live animals by the force of a child’s love. It’s the moment when someone’s loving regard for you (or your work) turn you from a crumple of cloth and stuffing into “the real thing,” whatever that is. I want not to believe in this – I want, rather, to believe that I would be just as “real” a poet even if no one ever offered me the chance to publish a book – but being a social animal, having a book that can circulate in society has felt like a personal metamorphosis.

Most recently I’ve been working on a hybrid memoir in prose that uses my own development as a medical trainee and a poet to cut a rambling path through the history and philosophy of medicine and art. I’ve always been a magpie of art and history, and sometimes of autobiography. But as a poet, I’m somewhat unused to making arguments that need to stick. It’s a different rhetorical muscle.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

A shallow and a somewhat deeper answer. My first college crushes were all poets, and I wanted very badly to have a chance with them. Longing does wonders for work ethic. But in fact, even as a much younger child I immediately grasped and loved the uselessness of poetry, that it could communicate unstably and without necessarily teaching, that it could say several things at once.

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

It is National Poetry Month again, and this year, in recognition of the celebration, I have started a practice to experiment with, just out of curiosity and to give myself a nudge. Many of my poetry colleagues invest a month in writing a poem a day or reading a poetry book each week or posting a poem daily on their social media platforms. It’s important to remind ourselves why we treasure and delight in poetry.

I chose a simple project that requires frequent re-imagining/re-imaging. For my starting point, I picked a poem at random from a collection of Fernando Pessoa’s work. I copied the poem, by hand, into my journal and re-read it a few times. Then I turned the page and rewrote it, “revising” it in the way I might revise a poem of my own. My plan is to repeat this process after a day or so, each time revising from the most recent version. In a short time, the poem will have moved away from being Pessoa’s piece–perhaps bearing little to no resemblance to the original…a sort of whisper-down-the-lane approach. The intention is to consciously alter image and voice in each re-imagining of the draft, though I’m not sure how well I can hew to my intentions. We shall see.

Why I decided on Pessoa for this project, I don’t really know; but I think there’s something perfect about using one of his pieces as springboard. Because Pessoa was kind of a springboard for himself–he created several writer-selves who wrote poems and critical prose: heteronyms, he termed them. The poem I used was “by” his persona named Ricardo Reis. Adam Kirsch wrote a good introduction to Pessoa’s peculiar obsession with being a non-person in a 2017 New Yorker article. By revising something by Pessoa in my own voice and through my own images, perhaps I nurture his pursuit of dissolving the self.

It occurs to me now that the poems of several contemporary writers may have induced me to try this writing prompt, most recently Daisy Fried in The Year the City Emptied (which I highly recommend). Her collection consists of “loose translations” of Baudelaire, reimagined in Philadelphia during the covid outbreak while her husband was dying. It’s not a cheerful read–but then, neither is Baudelaire–nevertheless, the resulting poems are powerful and vividly interesting.

Ann E. Michael, Revision practice

Our tiny minds blown by ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’, ‘Spelt From Sibyl’s Leaves’ and ‘As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire’, we found solace in its opening of utter clarity. The cricket season upon us, the big roller on Longmead, time running out on everything we touched. ‘Just a few poems more, then it’s over to you.’ With no idea how to revise, let alone parcel out days into chunks that might mean something more than another wasted study period deciphering Remain in Light on headphones. Anouilh. Camus. The French Revolution (which we had not even covered). The green-eyed monster. Trips to pub theatre in Bath in the back of a Transit to see Zoo Story, Rhinocerous. Phil Smith lecturing us with Paris au Printemps. Generally not having a clue. A fifer. Pub nights, chips and lager, running the whole way back in darkening lanes. The longing to be elsewhere. Wanting to put it off. Discovering Holub’s ‘Love’ in an anthology no one taught from. ‘Sweepings./ Dust.’ What the? ‘When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush.’ Misquoting the line in the paper. This was it. Something to cling onto in the wreckage.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: Spring, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

held breath
first one and then another
cherry blossoms

Jim Young [no title]

Meghan Sterling: The poems in House Bird, which are lovely, have a thread of masculinity/an examination of men and manhood running through them, both painful and yearning. Can you talk about how you came to a place of writing about manhood? What do you feel is most urgent about doing so?

Robb Fillman: To be honest, I don’t believe it was a conscious act. In other words, I did not set out to write about masculinity per se. I think I started writing poems about the relationships I had with the people around me—my wife, my children, my father, my grandfather, my uncles, my childhood friends, and so on—and I started thinking about what it means to be a father, a husband, a son, a brother. And it wasn’t until well into writing that I noticed that I was actually trying to speak the words that had been, for whatever reason, difficult for me to express in conversation.

Sometimes, I think men and boys feel as though they can’t talk openly about their feelings, so we talk around the “thing” we wish to say, or we don’t talk at all. And I suppose, one of the reasons I started writing poetry was because I felt inarticulate. In that way, the poems could speak for me. And really, it was after I had children when I began to think: I don’t want my kids not knowing what their dad thought or felt. I want them, when they are older, to have a map, to know I was (and still am) a “work in progress.” I never want them—my son or my daughter—to be afraid of their own feelings. Poetry opens up that space.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Interview Series: Meghan Sterling Interviews Robb Fillman

RICHARD HOWARD was a towering figure (one of his favorite words) in American literature, from his own poems to his insightful, wide-ranging essays on American poets (see Alone with America and Preferences: 51 American poets choose poems from their own work & from the past), to his numerous translations of French poetry and prose (Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal is one of the best known).

He also cut a figure, in his round glasses and red shoes.  Everyone who met him has vivid impressions of him, and stories that feature his erudition, his wit, and his generosity.  He taught in writing programs at Columbia, at the University of Houston, and the University of Utah.  He didn’t teach workshops, but gave lectures  on campus and invited students to his home for conferences.  He was a true mentor, publishing their work and supporting their careers.

I don’t remember when I first met Richard, but I do remember feeling nervous and intimidated.  He immediately put me at ease–something he must have had to do often throughout his life as he moved among people whose minds were not filled with what one writer describes as the equivalent The Great Library of Alexandria.  He was wrote a blurb for a book of essays I edited, Where We Stand: Women Poets on Literary Tradition, and took part in a translation conference I helped organize.  When I taught for a semester at the University of Houston, I stayed in his apartment there while he was in New York.  Much of it was his favorite color, red–the telephone, a table, a chair, plates, cups, pillows.  Ever since then I find myself sprinkling smaller amounts of red through my rooms–I think of it as Richard Red.

Sharon Bryan, Richard Howard, 1929-2022

THEN COME BACK: THE LOST NERUDA POEMS, Pablo Neruda, trans. Forrest Gander. Copper Canyon Press, PO Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368, 2016, 163 pages, $23 ($17 paper), www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Well. What does one say about Pablo Neruda? Lauded as the greatest poet of the Americas, the greatest poet of the 20th century, influencer of all subsequent generations of … Nobelist … etc. I can’s imagine what I might add.

All I will say is that I attended the Seattle Arts and Lectures presentation of this book — back in those lovely old pre-Pandemic days, and heard a number of the poems, first in Spanish (which was like listening to music), then read by Forrest Gander (a remarkable poet in his own right), the translator. The book is part poetry collection, part artifact, with color plates. It’s funny, and loving, and generally just worth the trip.

I’m compelled to share a scrap from poem #20. Although Neruda died well before our current age of iPhones, it so anticipates our enslavement: “raising my arms as though before / a pointed gun, I gave in / to the degradations of the telephone.” “I came to be a telefiend, a telephony, / a sacred elephant, / I prostrated myself whenever the ringing / of that horrid despot demanded” — and so on (pp. 60-61).

The Prologue, by Gander, is worth reading (and rereading). He tells about how these poems overcame his reluctance to do the translation (“The last thing we need is another Neruda translation.”) And he shares the process with us — not only his encounter with the locked vault of the Neruda archives, but with his own journey through the poems, often hand-written on menus and placemats.

Bethany Reid, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)

I wanna create a monument called BookBinge—

a megalithic circle of books set firm within earthworks, towering skyward like Stonehenge.

There’ll be poetry, fiction, memoirs, graphic novels, and more.

You can touch the books, read them, breathe in their history, discuss them fervently with family and friends.

Or you can remain silent within the center of the monument’s immensity and watch the seasons pass.

Time will become irrelevant. You will grow wiser, not older.

Rich Ferguson, Book-Binge

old salt road
filling our pockets
with stones

Julie Mellor, Hunger Hill

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 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: redefining productivity, being formless, emulating crows, stealing Jesus’ wallet, beginning with the stone in the shoe, writing like you believe your voice is worth hearing, painting the chaos, joining a drum circle, feeling the winter blues, building synagogues in Minecraft, learning Japanese, celebrating William Stafford, and more.


snow drifts, thick
and slow past
the window

each day
the death count
rises

i am glad to be old
to not witness
what is coming

Sharon Brogan, even in sleep

Time is of the essence: not a premise to justify acceleration and a headless chicken rush towards mindless ‘productivity’, but one to frame a culture of thoughtfulness and generosity. A form of active resistance to the commoditisation of everything we hold dear, not as a draining effort or a daily grind, but through reflective thought and meditation. Better things must result from careful consideration; the ongoing, permanently panicked emergency-response mode of the 24/7 switched-on mode only leads to collective burn-out and shortcircuits any important projects’ goals. This is more a mission statement than a new-year resolution; an ambition more than a promise. To make more space where there is little; to re-own the time perpetually robbed from us.

A type of via negativa for personal and professional life (because it remains important to separate them, particularly in fields such as higher education, or the arts), where that which we don’t do leads to positive, productive outcomes. To define ourselves also for what we decide not to do, rather than for all the things we do, or for doing all the things. This would mean re-defining “productive”, and, importantly, resisting auto-exploitation. Auto-exploitation is never purely individual- overperforming hyperachievers do also create more labour for others who are likely to be in less privileged circumstances, and who are already overwhelmed within their own exploitative conditions of production. Less can be more, much more, in a different sense to usual quantification. A different way of being with ourselves and the Other would require to stop turning ourselves and the Other into means to ends. We need to start from our own positions.

Ernesto Priego, Switch It Off and On Again

My student is researching wolves for a role I wrote for him. He tells me that wolves howl as a form of grieving. I don’t know where he read this, or if it is true, or how we could ever know if it is true. It does make sense to me. The sound tugs up a fear for us because we recognize the vulnerability inherent (probably a prerequisite) in grief.

Loss. Aloneness. It is all a matter of perception, really. The recognition of our disconnection. Nothing is really lost. Except perhaps the illusion of having had. What do we ever have/own/possess? We experience, and cannot possess experiences. We can’t even possess the memory of experiences, because memories are also impermanent: morphing and reassembling, like metal shavings following a magnet.

I am formless at the moment. Even memories of my former selves are formless. I’ll run now and something within me will howl at the moon. Something in me will change shape, pulled by the earth’s magnetic field. Every cell in motion, rearranging, experiencing the morning before dawn.

Ren Powell, Butterfly Goo and Moonlight

Because dawn comes as I write 
and in the stillness before the first bird 
there is a restlessness, and the trees rock, and trail their fingers
over the fence tops; and the last bit of moon 
is eaten up by cloud.

Dale Favier, Because The Tuning

Outside the crows are cawing, cutting up a ruckus amongst the magnolia branches. Squirrels are on the ground eating peanuts, laughing at the crows in squirrel-talk , chitchitchit = hahaha!

Crow flap their large black wings, fanning the flames of outrage to each other, Can you believe this shit? Caw!

Crows leave nothing on the table. They take the dishes, forks, strawberry jam and biscuits and throw it all up in the air, clatterclatterclatter = listen to me!

Were that we all were like the crows. Letting it all out, leaving nothing inside to fester and mold.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Crows

It’s been a strange week here in the UK. The pantomime that is our political system appears to be thoroughly broken. The government seems to be totally incapable of doing what they tell us we must do. Perhaps it is due to that sense of entitlement public schools appear to imbue these second raters with. Some Catalan friends of mine were saying how funny the actions of our crime minister and his troupe of clowns are. I had to reply that they do not have to live with the madness that their actions generate.

A poem about stealing Jesus’ wallet. It arrived nearly fully formed.

lifting Jesus’ wallet you confessed
was easier than you ever imagined
the real mystery was locating it amid those flowing robes

you continued by describing the contents:
four crisp ten shilling notes
a religious medal of St John the Baptist
a return tram ticket to Barrio Alto
various coins of different denominations and epochs
all too perfect to be kosher

I began to wonder if He
had let you steal it so
you would have something to worry about in the night

Paul Tobin, SOMETHING TO WORRY ABOUT IN THE NIGHT

“Poets dwell on death,” some fool will say.
Because they are blind.
And so the evening passes,
And one by one or two by two the people leave,
And so return to their own eternities,
To the depths of their own being.
Finally it is just you and your death.
And neither of you speak.
The silence is magnificent.
And then, with a tired sigh,
Your death stands up and walks toward you.

James Lee Jobe, The Grand, Wide Evening of You and Your Death.

Back in October, when I decided to play a bit with some short fiction writing, I told myself not to worry about poems. I was, after all, between projects, having wrapped up the collapsologies manuscript with the grimoire poems.  I toyed with a couple new things that are still on the horizon, but I wanted a shift.  I also wanted to figure out my life and writing poems wasn’t on my top list of things to be worried about in the grand scheme of things.  I gave myself permission to sit October out on my daily writing.  Then November. By December, I had taken on some freelance writing, which I was trying to squeeze around my regular obligations to see if I liked it, so my mornings, what time there was (it’s harder for me to get up early-ish in winter) was devoted to the drafting and research necessary for that.  I actually extended my poem vacation through early February, when I would then be working on my own and my schedule (and concentration) much kinder.

I wasn’t going to write poems, but then Monday night, somewhere between washing the dinner dishes and going to bed, I had a first line and just went for it.  For one, it was unexpected to be writing at all, especially in the evening, when my brain is usually on low battery power.  Granted, I’d been home all day for MLK day and mostly just folding chaps. Also, odd when specifically I said I would not be writing poems, and yet, there I was. I went back in once before bed and tweaked some things, but haven’t looked at it to see if it’s any good since. It may be the start of something, though it may also just be a snippet of a dead end, but as I wrote it, I realized how much I missed it.  This is, of course, after whining all summer and into fall about whether or not poetry felt worth it, or whether anyone was even reading, or why I kept doing it, even thought the effort / compensation  ratio is kind of dismal.  That maybe I should focus on writing for paying markets. Or who the hell was reading any of this anyway?  I always long to be one of those writers for whom process is all important, audience be damned, but I actually want readers, however they get there. As someone who, in the fall, was adjusting financial income streams, poetry seemed a  poor place to fixate my efforts. Especially now, when I should be seeking out things that actually allow me to, you know, pay rent.

And yet, like the ex that occasionally shows up at 3am, there she was. A poem.  Maybe not a good one, but still.  I think I’ll keep her. 

Kristy Bowen, poeting in winter

I love drab birds and in winter I love the trees, sugar frosted.
Coffee and milk. Moss in the forest, the cool shady spots where it grows.
Morning light. Pink-apricot rose petals.
Daughter’s smile. So many poems.
Leather sandals. Pale blue sky. Suitcases. Home.
The chair in my garden where I can sit and no one can see me.
Daydreaming and night dreaming —

and poem dreaming.

Shawna Lemay, I Love, I Hope; I Hope, I love

So this is a bit spooky. All week I had in mind these marvellous final words from Lucille Clifton’s poem of grief and acceptance ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’. They’ve been going round my head for a while now. Last year I came close to using them as an epigram for the collection I was working on. They gave me the wild idea (it’s January, grey and cold and I am still grieving) to do a riff reminding myself of the things I love, both in poetry and the real world, and the overlap between them, just, well, because.

And then Shawna Lemay goes and pretty much writes the blog post I wanted to write. Which isn’t just fine, it’s great, because Shawna is the best and one of the main reasons I keep going. But just to add to the love and the hope, if I may, for a moment, here are some of the things, as in things that I love and need to have near me just now:

blethering on the phone with Josephine Corocoran about all the poets she is reading and I am not reading and who is accepting and not accepting our poems and how to keep going in spite of all of this

the Frank O’Hara book Shimi gave me for Christmas which inexplicably I did not own and have been gobbling up ever since a bit like when I first fell in love with him 123 years ago

the very tender poems of love, memory and grief in Adam Zagajewski’s last book, Asymmetry, beautifully translated by Clare Cavanagh

Anthony Wilson, The things themselves

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

Nursery rhymes would be the accurate answer, and my immersion in the Yorùbá culture that included ewì, poems that were mostly orally delivered. As I learned to read by myself, an early anthology of delightfully-illustrated poems fascinated me. I do not remember the title, but it included such poems as Wole Soyinka’s “Telephone Conversation” and Christopher Okigbo’s “For He Was A Shrub Among The Poplars.” In my first three years of secondary school, one of my favorite subjects was literature-in-English, in which Mrs. Ukpokolo helped us dissect poems and find their internal life. Studying the anatomy of poetry this way, especially  the poems in West African Verse, an Anthology edited by Donatus Nwoga, gave me a poetic framework I still draw on today.

3 – 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 tend to feel my way around new projects. I do not start off knowing what a project is about. But because there are “eras” in my thought life, I tend to ruminate on particular topics for months at a time, while my mind grapples with paradoxes or things I do not understand. The poems that I write in these periods tend to be equation proofs that help me know what my questions are, and give me some answers, which raise further questions, and so on. The shape (and using another mathematical analogy, the slope) of the initial poems help me intuit the direction of the project. This tends to take 3 to 5 months. I then pause and try to structure my thoughts, outline as much as I can, and continue with a firmer idea of what my current exploration is.

4 – Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

It begins with the stone in the shoe. The stubborn notion. Or the poignant phrase that drops in my mind. I don’t know how my brain draws associations that become the often-arresting realizations and images many of my poems present themselves with, but I have learned to respect them, and put them in my Notes app. Sometimes, I can develop these phrases into a stanza or an entire poem (if I have thought about it for long enough), but more frequently, I accumulate several fragments that help me sketch out a poem. I then take some time to build it out. I don’t often start off writing a book. I tend to discover after a while that what I am writing is a book. This is easier when older manuscripts are “complete,” and the new poems stay afloat till I can decide what to do with them.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tolu Oloruntoba

David Cooke’s poetry might be rooted in anecdote, but those roots are simply his point of departure for words that reach up towards the light. In this respect, his new collection, Sicilian Elephants (Two Rivers Press, 2021), builds on his previous work.

Many of these poems, all written from the perspective of a U.K. resident, were probably crafted prior to the consequences of the fateful referendum. However, their openness to Europe now grants them a fresh impetus in the context of Brexit. At first glance, excellent poems about gardening and DIY might seem geographically limited and limiting. In fact, the opposite is true.

Matthew Stewart, A reflection on who we are, David Cooke’s Sicilian Elephants

Just a quick note to let you know that the new issue of Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction arrived in my mail today. A loooonnng time ago — in my writing group — I shared a poem called “The Rule of Three” about an encounter I had with a student/veteran (some of you may remember). It’s one example of how I always learned as much or more from my students than they ever did from me.

No, it’s not on-line, but I may be persuaded to share it with you. Constellations is now open for submissions.

Also — drum roll, please — my poem “Even in Winter, You Must Marry It,” will go live January 19 at Cordella.org. Look for it under “Field Notes,” or click on the poem’s title (above).

I first learned about Cordella when I was searching on-line for poems by the late Jeanne Lohmann. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, follow this link to read a sampling. It’s an honor to have my poem published at the same site.

At this rich on-line venue, you’ll also find Cordella’s newest issue: Kith & Kin.

Bethany Reid, Poems, poems, poems

We read words but we also hear silence. This is what I love about poetry, those two things at work. The word works with and against the word next to it, and above and below it, but also with the silence laced through the poem by punctuation and breaks, and sometimes the imposition of        

Ha! See what I did there? I’m not saying anything new, of course. And there’s much more to be said and that has been said on rhythm, on how words rub up against each other to create emotion. I just felt moved to share again my wonder about this stuff. How we bundles of chemical equations and biological impulses have this crazy thing called emotion that is conjured up out of relations: one note to another, one word to another, one silence to another, you to me.

Marilyn McCabe, Looking at the river, thinking of the sea; or, On Poems and Blank Space

“Extended Release,” now in Guernica, is one of those poems that came to me in a rush, the kind that writers sometimes refer to as a gift, in that it arrives in near-final shape. I jotted in a dim living room during my mother’s last weeks, when she was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes as we sought a diagnosis and, we hoped, a cure. I had been taking care of her in the house she shared with my brother when she suddenly couldn’t hold a spoon steady. I called the home nursing service; they said to call an ambulance. My mother’s reproach when she saw the EMTs–“Oh, Les, what have you done”–will haunt me forever, I’m sure, as well as the difficulty of negotiating treatment for her pain. I think she trusted me to be ruthlessly kind, if you know what I mean, and she was disappointed that I didn’t catch on that she could have slipped away without fuss that night. Days later, I would be the person who discovered her death, and I have a gut feeling she waited to let go until I was on watch because she thought I could take it. She always told me women were stronger than men and seemed to think I could endure anything the world would throw at me. I guess I have, so far–not that I’ve had the hardest life by a long shot, but I’ve kept plowing along. Maybe that’s just what I need to believe, that she thought I was strong.

The balancing force to my regret was our exchange about what comes after pain. My mother was spiritually all over the map, sometimes describing her many reincarnations and other times saying, “When you’re dead, you’re dead.” But she really did talk, as I recount in the poem, about what people wear in heaven. We compared notes on what heaven might be like, for us, if it existed. That was one of the best conversations we had during those last difficult weeks. She seemed peaceful and curious. It was a gift to be there and mull over possibilities with her. People’s kind responses to this poem have been gifts, too. So many people have been through this with loved ones. I wonder if it’s any better when someone dies suddenly, without that month of pain and uncertainty. I suspect not.

Lesley Wheeler, Literary sources and afterlives

Working on my collection of poetry Church Ladies, I sometimes would read through poets who do similar work (persona poems from the perspective of women of faith…it is a little niche), and then that little nagging voice says “oh why even write this, This Poet does it better!”.

Let’s be totally honest: maybe they do.

However, they don’t do it the Same.

Unless you are straight-up plagiarizing them, you do have a unique voice that will come through on the topic, whether you want it to or not. I’m a believer that voice doesn’t have to be found so much as it needs to not be suppressed.

So when you are finding it difficult to write because So-and-So and their perfect iambic pentameter on the exact subject you write about in less than perfect somethingmeter, just stop it. Stop it! Turn off the social media, skip out on workshop (if you aren’t in a class that is), and just buckle down to work on your own stuff. Maybe take some time to read poets who have completely different obsessions from your own writing. Then write like you believe your voice is worth hearing too.

Renee Emerson, Tips for Writing Productivity: Eyes Forward!

Just an image:
an old man,
thinner, his
trousers loose,
belt tightened
as far as it goes.
An old man
in a check shirt
open at the neck,
one hand on
the door frame
the other raised
in a wave of
farewell.
Is he smiling?
It’s up to you.
The image began
as mine but
it’s yours now.

Bob Mee, IS HE SMILING?

sweaty plaid dad had a gadabout

Jason Crane, haiku: 20 January 2022

Sometimes you can’t
get far enough

away to see it,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (111)

I propped my watercolor box on the chair near my knee, and started painting directly, laying down one color after another, as quickly as I could, to try to capture the energy and chaotic over-crowding of the scene before me. The terracotta pots and wooden table gave the picture a little bit of unification and structure, but basically there wasn’t any overall composition to be had. Nor were there strong shapes – just the big fleshy leaves of “Fang”. The geranium in the background, the butterfly-like triangles of the oxalis, the succulents, and the busy needles of the rosemary plant were all similar enough in size to compete with each other, but not stand out. I just kept at it, adding brushstrokes, dashes, lines, dots. Once all the color was on the page, I went back with a pen and sketched in some loose shapes and lines, and finally added the vertical window blinds in the background with watercolor.

The only solution, it had seemed, was just to go for the visual clutter. Feeling dubious, I posted the image on Instagram, with the slightly apologetic comment, “Once again, fascinated by the busyness of plants.” A little while later, my friend Michael Szpaskowski and I had this exchange:

Michael: “And that that ‘busyness’ becomes the compositional imperative here is great. Both truthful (I’m not saying that artistic truth is always of this nature of course) and very beautiful.”

Beth: “It is both the compositional imperative and its greatest obstacle. The urge is to bludgeon the busyness into some sort of submissive order, but that wouldn’t be true. So then what do you do?…I like aspects of it, but it still doesn’t entirely work for me. Tonight I was thinking maybe if I tried it from a high angle, the ovals of the tops of the pots would give a compositional rhythm that might unify the picture a little more. But not sure if I have the energy for another try!”

Michael: “Oh it is precisely its ‘awkwardness’ that I find so winning!”

This was a very helpful exchange, because when I studied the image again with his words in mind, I realized that it was actually OK not to have a strong and obvious composition or structure; instead there’s color and life dancing all over the image, and the loose horizontal and vertical lines do just enough work to hold everything within the frame.

Beth Adams, Making Sense Out of Chaos

the chaos is real
tangled inside and out
you try to iron it like a shirt
but it creases against skin
over every warp, every scar,
over the forgotten, the elapsed —
like the delusion of stretched blue sky
that turns as it comes closer,
into viscous cloud, into grimy light,
dead stars falling into unopened eyes:

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Chaos

What is it about January? You have to trust that living things are asleep and not dead. The garden is brown and damp. In January I examine any magnolia tree I come across, looking for buds: signs of life. Even though days are getting longer it happens so slowly. Generating every extra minute of daylight seems a huge effort for Gaia.

On the other hand, I was in the British Museum recently looking at the Parthenon marbles, and I was so struck with the energy and verve that still shines from these 2,500 year old carvings. Despite the difficult relationship between humankind and the natural world, I’m uplifted by the way that the creative energy of humans channelled into art can endure, and still have the power to amaze and inspire people hundreds, if not thousands of years into the future.

Here’s a bit of joy in a dark month: this evening is the online launch of Sarah Barnsley‘s excellent first collection, The Thoughts (Smith Doorstop). I’m a bit biased as Sarah is a good friend and a Telltale Press buddy – I’m proud to say we published her pamphlet The Fire Station in 2015. The Thoughts is compelling, and a bit of a page-turner (if poetry can be described that way); it’s formally inventive, sometimes a painful read and sometimes painfully funny. I’m so pleased to see Sarah’s name up in lights. She’s a fine poet and it’s so well deserved that she’s been picked up by Smith Doorstop. Buy, buy!

Robin Houghton, Nature sleeps. Thank goodness for art

I was delighted to get a surprise call this week from my long-time poetry mentor. Long story short, he encouraged me to start sending out work again, so the plan of publishing new works on this blog has now transformed into a plan to write and submit one new poem a month. I’ll still post a previously published poem once a month, but I’m going to save the new work for sending out. It feels like a strange journey to be embarking on again after all this time. I can’t pinpoint exactly why and when I stopped sending out submissions, but at some point, I just lost patience and got sick of the gatekeepers jealously guarding their insular little lit mags that are only read by a niche group of other poets, all bowing to each other in their exclusive mutual admiration circle. I want to write poetry for the people, man. Seriously though, I never had any patience for the snobbery and academic parochialism that pervades the poetry world. There is a reason why most non-poets are fearful and distrustful of poetry, or just plain find it incomprehensible. First off, the way it’s taught in school is awful. For people who do not naturally resonate with metaphorical language, bashing them over the head with a “gotcha” about the meaning of a poem is just cruel, not to mention unimaginative. And these weird little “schools” that proliferate for the sole purpose of encouraging incomprehensible poetry that only other academics can understand is the height of pretension if you ask me. The bottom line is that normal people want to read musical, ear-pleasing, relatable work that has a surprise or two thrown in. Maybe one day I’ll start the lit mag equivalent of those jumbo crossword puzzle books and call it “EZ Poetry.”

Kristen McHenry, EZ Poetry, Busted Bubble, a Vision of Vision

I’m struggling with
my clown ear

and on the other side

I’m also struggling
with my clown ear

Gary Barwin, Need to Know & Clown Ear

Last night, we went to a drum circle in the Arts Park.  They happen every month, but it’s on the night of the full moon, which means that if I’m in class, I can’t go.  If it’s rainy, I bail out.  Last night it was chilly, but that wasn’t a deterrent.

It was led by a group from Resurrection Drums, which was a pleasant surprise.  It helped to have leaders to get a rhythm going.  They also had drums, which they passed out to people who didn’t have one.

My spouse and I had brought a drum of our own and a shaker, so we didn’t need the drums.  I was happy to have the bits of instruction that they scattered throughout the night.  For someone who has listened to as much music as I have, as wide a variety of music, I am still staggeringly bad at picking out the beat, and I can be even worse at maintaining it.

What I love about a drum circle is that it doesn’t matter.  The stronger drummers carry the rest of us along.  All of the beats get incorporated into the larger experience.  It’s a metaphor for our larger lives, but I realize it more fully in a drum circle.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Full Moon Drumming

snowflakes
falling through
my open hands

Jim Young [no title]

My heart keeps breaking. A friend just died, not of Covid but of Parkinson’s, and though we knew it was coming, and he and his wife had time to prepare, it is still a shock and will be an ongoing sadness. Some of us mourners will read some of his poems at his memorial service later this month. You can donate to the William Morgan Poetry Award here.

Another friend feels “done.” It’s not quite despair but a kind of retreat into “winter blues.” He expresses himself here and encourages our response, in words or the wise use of our time.

My parents are tired of the brutal cold, though grateful for the recent sunshine, as am I. They are very old: as of January 15, the same age, 89, for about a month, till Dad turns 90 in March. They have lived miraculously healthy, productive, creative, lucky lives, right up until now. More gratitude! But the end of their lives has been shadowed by this pandemic, as you can imagine, since we are all under the same shadow. Like my friend Basel, above, feeling the winter blues, I am weary.

Meanwhile, I continue to rehearse Life Sucks, a sort of perfect play for our times, given its title, and we are in that stressful time moving toward production week and an opening in early February. I am in the “What was I thinking?” stage I encounter with every play, but all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, no doubt.

Kathleen Kirk, My Heart Keeps Breaking

In my son’s Minecraft world
there is no pandemic.
No one spits at nurses
or lies about elections.
No one’s father has dementia.

My son thinks I’m playing
for his sake. I build
shul after shul, and in each
I pray for a world
where evil vanishes like smoke

like the mumbling zombies
who go up in flames
every time the blocky sun rises,
gilding the open hills
and endless oceans with light.

Rachel Barenblat, Tending

The one good thing about being sick all week is I caught up on my reading! Pale Horse, Pale Rider is Katherine Anne Porter’s semi-autobiographical account of living through the 1918 flu as a single journalist in Denver, when the hospitals were overcrowded and they couldn’t just order an ambulance as they were too busy. Her vivid hallucinations while sick for a month with the flu are unforgettable (she sees the nurse’s hands as ‘white tarantulas’), as is the ending. I also read Katherine Mansfield’s short story “Garden Party,” about an upper-class family organizing a party as their poorer neighbor falls down dead in front of their house. Again, feels so relevant.

To add to the cheer, I’m also reading Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human with my little brother, and though it is bleak – written in 1948’s Japan, about an individual who suffers multiple childhood sex abuse traumas,  grows up to be a cartoonist, tries to commit suicide, is put in an insane asylum – my brother made the astute observation that it shares a lot with Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It’s been read historically as thinly-veiled autobiography, but I’d argue it’s more ambitious than that – it’s Dazai’s attempt to embody the suffering, corruption and dehumanization of Japan during the WW II years.  It’s the second-best selling book in Japan of all time, and you can see why – despite the bleak subject matter, Dazai’s writing is stunningly beautiful, even in translation (he writes with a different pronoun that the Japanese “Watashi” for “I,” except in the prologue and epilogue, but that can’t really be translated into English, which is a shame). If you want to discover Dazai but want something a little more upbeat, read his warm and funny collection of modernized fairy tales in Blue Bamboo. I’ve been teaching myself Japanese for almost a year now, and I’m sad that I’m still not fluent, but I am starting to pick up a little more on the slight variations of words – pronouns, seasons, puns. Some part of me wish I’d picked something easier, like Italian, but Japanese literature is kind of an obsession of mine, and I’d love to read these books in the original, eventually. Or at least be able to have a really simple conversation in Japanese.

The other accomplishment I’m proud of is that my NEA application is in and done. I mean, I did it with a fever and on a lot of cold medicine, so it may not be the best application I’ve ever done, but it is finished! I was in isolation while waiting for my PCR test (two of my doctors told me that I for sure had covid, based on my symptoms, so better safe than sorry) and the only thing that is good for is reading and getting grant applications done. Wishing you health and safety this week, but if you do get sick – either this nasty flu or covid – I hope you have a good window view, a stack of books, and someone to bring you unending soup and hot tea.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Signs of Spring, a Week of Illness – Covid or Flu?, Hummingbirds, Hawks, and Deer, and the NEA application

I wonder why there are far more books than time to read them.

Or if forgiveness can ever be given freely, or is it only offered on the installment plan.

I wonder if miracles ever need manicures or what happens to the many thoughts and feelings of those who pass away.

I wonder what weapons will look like in fifty years. Or our government, or how we’ll relate to one another.

I wonder what wonder will look like in fifty years.

Rich Ferguson, World of Wonder

Once I thought even a small garden
could multiply my hopes. I planted

bulbs in a plot. Citrus and persimmon, purple
streaked verbena. But never again the ridged

yellow of ginger flowers, never again
the ghosts of white-throated lilies declaring

their own thirst.

Luisa A. Igloria, Greenhouse

I have long thought of myself as an apprentice to light, which also means, I am an apprentice to darkness. Not opposites but a necessary union.

I suggest to students that in their poetry there must be joy in order for the sadness to have depth. There must be love in order for loss to have meaning. Shadow gives shape to light.

And so I remind myself.

I am an introvert, an introvert’s introvert. And yet to keep that solitude from being overwhelming, strategic forays into community. This week, it was a bright evening as one of the featured readers for a celebration of William Stafford held by the Lake Oswego Public Library and the Friends of William Stafford. For anyone feeling that poetry makes nothing happen, I suggest listening to the tenor of those lovely people reading poems by a beloved poet who has been gone almost thirty years.

And then wave after wave of sadness for the passing of Thich Nhat Hanh on Friday.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, A Handhold

Not so fast, walker
on the winter beach

under a shrouded moon.
Desire far outstrips

your first unsteady steps.
No sight, no fixed points:

Recalibrate. A roar answers
your question before it’s asked.

Jill Pearlman, Le Noir (Winter Beach)

i beheld a bell breaking into light :: but what did the sleepers hear

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 2

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 was especially rich in thought-provoking essays. I also noticed a lot of fear and foreboding, but with plenty of bright notes, as well. As I write this, here in central Pennsylvania we’re getting our first big snow storm of the year. The woodstove is roaring in the next room, and behind me in the kitchen, I can hear what may be the last of his clan tugging at the peanut in the mousetrap. It doesn’t go off. For some reason I breathe a sigh of relief.


The devil’s daughter has been dreaming a long dream about a castle of arguing horses. People who stare at her from below her apartment don’t see a woman but just some slow moving dashes of the colour terracotta, black, and gold. The devil’s daughter is a beautiful sloth, who has been sleeping in the warm sunlight of the flamingo city for the past two years. No one knows, not even herself, when she might wake up. A Tamil fisherman on the coast of Trincomalee saw one of her fingers move in another dream two weeks ago. He woke up in silence, terrified. He knows that when the devil’s daughter wakes up, she will erase the tender writing from thousands of wasted pages and write, in her own hand, the enchanted fatal phrase.

Saudamini Deo, The enchanted phrase

It has been by inch and trickle that the continued isolation and stress of COVID has covered the person I want to be. The person who has friends and laughs a lot and has time to walk on the beach. The person who feels hopeful and creative and connected.

Now we’re heading into another year of rampant COVID and I live in a community where vaccination rates and mask-wearing are low. Another year when I wistfully look at pictures of travel, readings, conferences, and art openings, but feel like I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I was the person who passed on COVID to someone who got really sick. It happens. People infect their beloved grandmothers or friends undergoing chemotherapy. Since March 2020, 836,000 people in the United States have died due to COVID. […]

So, I’m back at this small corner of the web with some thoughts. A little life ring buoy thrown out into rough and dark seas. A lone candle in the window. A chance to talk about poetry a little, life a little. Perhaps to strategize on how to find my way back to a life when I truly felt like I was “being poetry.” I hope that I’m able to commit to being here with you.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Isolation and Poetry

It wasn’t exactly a New Year’s resolution–I do not bother with those–but I have promised myself to spend more time on poetry again following a fairly long interval, not exactly a hiatus, but…

Serendipity, then, to learn of Two Trees Writing Collaborative‘s poetry workshop that is taking place online in the early months of the year when motivation’s most welcome. As well as a chance to meet other writers where they are as the pandemic limps along. This online workshop is facilitated by Elena Georgiou, who was one of my advisor/mentors when I was in graduate school at Goddard. Feels like old times (not. because modality-virtuality-experience much altered). I have drafted four new poems, and the process is fun though the output has been mediocre so far; well, one must sometimes prime the engine.

I’m also reading Anthony BurgessNothing Like the Sun, wildly Shakespearean rollicking-with-language, a novel that reads like iambic pentameter. I’m thinking of poetic cadence, which is a craft aspect of poetry that has not been much on my mind until renewed by this novel. Not that rhythm is unimportant to my work, but thinking about it hasn’t been foremost. I have been thinking more about lyricism lately, it seems my default mode.

And I’m thinking about winter, and snow.

Ann E. Michael, Winterwords

To my surprise, ahead of my self-imposed schedule is the first poem from the Poem-a-Month series—a simple rhyming ode to mangoes, one of the few fruits I have found I like since embarking on my goal to add more fruit to my diet. I bought a mango for the first time in my life a few weeks ago, and I didn’t know how to slice it. I had to look it up on YouTube.

The hardest thing for me about diving into writing poetry again has been learning to embrace the crap. I wrote pages and pages of utter dreck this week and had to remind myself that the dreck is essential. It’s the fertilizer from which the good stuff grows. And who do I think I am anyway, that every word flowing from my pen shall be transcendent perfection?

Kristen McHenry, Learning How to Be Bad Again, The Illustrious Mango

In my desire to challenge my own anxiety and to research for the book/s I’m writing and to reconnect with myself and the landscape, I have been taking some solo walks. I’ve been listening to the trees.

I’ve been back up to the beacon and the bronze age cemetery and I’ve been out to Star Carr and I have been finding myself and my life in these places. This week, as part of Spelt’s ongoing workshop series, we had RM Francis running a workshop on ‘Topological Presence’. I didn’t attend the workshop as Saturdays are the day in which most of the Spelt work gets done, so I had to go to the post office. But I knew it would be good. I caught little bits and pieces of it as I was going about my work and picked up on one comment from Judi Sutherland, whose book Following the Teisa has just come out. She described feeling like writing poetry about landscape was a way to connect to the place she was in, having moved around so much. It struck a chord with me, for a different reason. I have always lived where I am, the landscape and the stories embedded in that landscape are embedded in me and are part of my personality. But I have never quite felt like I fitted in anywhere. It’s been a long journey to recognise my nerdy, quirky, not-pretty, not-slim self as entirely valid. In fact, it is this embracing of that nerdy quirky, sensitive person that allows me to write, so no wonder I write so much about the land I live in and how I fit into it. because i do feel like I fit in when I am out walking, or out in nature in general. I feel like I fit in when I am with animals or in nature, and also, mostly, when I am with creative people. They are my tribe because I think most creatives have that sense of not quite belonging in one way or another. This sort of thinking allows me to write, allows me to give permission to myself to writer, from my entirely valid point of view. I find that the new poetry collection is very much about that sense of roots and belonging that nature and landscape give. It’s not an easy collection to write, it s so different to the very personal stuff I’ve been writing with Horse, it’s difficult in another way, but I find I am enjoying that exploration, that challenge.

Wendy Pratt, A Sense of Belonging

So I’m having my bubblebath, this little self-care ritual that is really just a drop in the bucket of self-care that we all need, but at least it’s something, and I’d been wondering about how one even goes about collectively or as a group thinking-things-through these day when we’re all so separate. And then one is dropped into this profound conversation courtesy of podcast technology and bath bubbles. So that even if it wasn’t group think, at least one feels part of a conversation, somewhat. It’s something, right? It’s something.

And then [Jane Hirshfield] says: “I have been given this existence, these years on this Earth, to accept what has come into my lifetime: wars, loves, trucks, betrayals, kindness. I must take them. I must find a way to live in this world. You can’t refuse it. And along with the difficult is the radiant, the beautiful…” Which is a bit of an answer. How do we go about living in the fullness of the world when we’re all apart and gathering isn’t easy. You have to live everything, you can’t refuse it.

I suppose this is why I’m finding the act of blogging even more important than before. (And if you’re interested in doing same, please check out Kerry Clare’s Blog School). So back to the “trail detour” sign. Maybe we’re not gathering in rooms and having conversations in the old ways, but what are the new ways in which we can still engage? And maybe it’s just something to even start asking ourselves the question, what is our conversation? In a 2007 book, Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett quotes St. Augustine who said, we keep speaking in order not to remain altogether silent. And she says that in her conversations she’s been able to fill her head with “many voices, elegant, wise, strange, full of dignity and grief and hope and grace. Together we find illuminating and edifying words and send them out to embolden work of clarifying, of healing. We speak because we have questions, not just answers, and our questions cleanse our answers and enliven our world.”

Shawna Lemay, Thinking-Things-Through

Write Bloody has long been a dream press for me. I first learned of them back in 2013 – Megan Falley was on tour for her first book with the press, After the Witch Hunt, and she did a reading in DC. I went to that reading and fell in love with her words. A few years later, I took a one-on-one workshop with Megan and fell further in love, with both her writing and the press.

I bought other books from the press and fell in love with the poetry they published – Jeanann Verlee, Jon Sands, Seema Reza, Clint Smith, Arhm Choi Wild – and so many more.

I submitted to Write Bloody for the first time in 2016. I was rejected. I submitted again in 2017 and 2019. Rejected and rejected again.

I applied to, and completed, my MFA in poetry. I had two chapbooks published (both now out of print) and two full length collections published, Beautiful & Full of Monsters and Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart. I kept writing and submitting. I took workshops with Jeanann Verlee and Seema Reza and Jon Sands. I kept writing and writing.

And then in end of 2021, Write Bloody opened their submissions again. I sent in my poems. And then in early January, they announced their finalists and my name was on the list!

Courtney LeBlanc, Screaming

Very cool to see that our book was a finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.  Thanks to Tolsun Books for figuring out how to combine Jia Oak Baker’s photographs and my poems in convenient paperback form exactly how we envisioned but better.

Since all of my celebrations are virtual, here are a few more of those “Poetic Distancing Reading Series” video sessions that I did instead of whatever book tour I was planning before the pandemic.

I almost had to give up on this one in the canal because every take kept getting ruined by screeching jets from the nearby airbase. Another example of the Military Industrial Complex budget squashing local arts. I will edit together a bunch of these outtakes that feature me cursing at the sky as if those pilots might be able to hear me. 

Shawnte Orion, Metaverse Book Tours for a Southwestern Book Award Finalist

This Sunday is going to be me celebrating the publication of my poem Phantom Settlements over at The Friday Poem. I am overjoyed with the kind words that Hilary and Andy said about it.

We chose Mat Riches’ poem ‘Phantom Settlements’ as this week’s Friday Poem because we love its playfulness and humour, and his obvious love of language. Riches ranges far and wide to tantalise, amuse and intrigue us, leaving us a trail of clues starting with the title and sub-title. But he demonstrates a deeper intention too, as the poem brings up issues of authenticity and truth. Definitely one for our front page.

I especially like it as it has a neat symmetry with the poem I mentioned above in The Alchemy Spoon as that has a line in it about ranging far and wide. Well, the final version says “ranged”, but an earlier version said far and wide too. You’ll have to wait for the Complete Poems of Mat Riches to be published after my death to see that though. (Yes, I could just put it up here in a few weeks, but let me dream about a Complete Poems for a bit longer please.)

Mat Riches, A woman needs a man like a fish needs a four-door hatchback

Now, with those professional years behind me, it’s still the way I tend to organize my time, but I also get distracted because although I finally have more time to do my own creative work, there are also more people around me with needs and desires which are important to me. So I find it’s even more crucial, if I want to get anything done besides the daily tasks of ordinary life, to be intentional about certain areas: reading, music, language-learning, writing, making things, exercise. I don’t make task lists, I don’t have a daily schedule, and I don’t make resolutions. I just have certain things I try to do every day (exercise, language practice, some reading, ongoing correspondence and/or journaling); some I do more or less weekly (write a blog post, for instance) and others that I just try to move forward incrementally, not necessarily all at the same time (drawing, knitting or sewing, piano/music, larger writing and publishing projects). Hopefully, there is also some unstructured time to dream, relax, think and meditate, and to be social.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because of two things.

One: a friend asked me what I’m addicted to, and after thinking a bit, I answered “accomplishment.” By that I didn’t mean the sort of accomplishment that results in praise, but a sense of having done something with my time, having learned, having grown a little, and having contributed to others. If I don’t feel that way, I can get discouraged, angry, even depressed.

Two: the pandemic has insisted that I see myself as the age that I actually am, and that age is no longer young. Mortality has been in my face, and in the face of everyone over 60, whether we like it or not. Regardless of how young and energetic I feel or appear, I’ve been forced to face the fact that life is finite, and my own time is running shorter.

Beth Adams, Incremental

Tracing-paper pages show hairline cracks
in their creases. In-between, the arthritic limbs
of a Photoshopped tree glow like a bone x-ray.
Your desk is flecked with gold paint.

I think of the traces of gold in our bodies, how all the gold
on earth was forged by stars; how you read that its glitter
is caused by the speed of electrons in its orbit,
the relative slowing of their time;

and of the crazy idea you had
that the point of death was like falling into
a black hole’s event horizon, where you could cram
a lifetime of thought into a second.

Karen Dennison, Poetry and science 8 – Event Horizon

It’s been a cold, dreary January here in Seattle, and Omicron is peaking across the US. Our state’s National Guard has been called up to aid hospitals and testing sites. Schools in my neighborhoods are mostly going virtual. I have to say my anxiety is worse than it has been during most of the pandemic; it’s been hard to get out of the house to get fresh air or exercise, I’ve seen lots of vaccinated friends and some family get covid and even get hospitalized.  It’s not been fun.

So one day, when the rain and snow gave us a break, we went out in the fog to birdwatch, and got these shots of sunset with fog and cormorants, and a few Wood Ducks. It was good to get some exercise, even in the chilly gray day. Being immersed in nature is excellent for anxiety, even if I needed a lot of hot tea and a shower to get warm when I got home. I also taught an online speculative poetry class yesterday; it was a lot of fun – thanks to everyone who came out for that!

It’s been tough to keep my spirits up. I try to be optimistic; I try to be pro-active, I meditate and do breathing exercises, and I’m trying to distract myself with positive things (see my last section below) but I saw a quote: “You can’t self-care your way out of a pandemic.” You also can’t ignore the deaths of 850,000 in your own country. In February, it will be two years since the first US cases of covid appeared in Kirkland, a few miles from my house. So I’m submitting more, researching PR, reading, organizing. Waiting for spring…and hopefully more good news.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Dreary in Mid-January, Interview with Water~Stone Review, Distracting Myself with PR Research, Submissions, and Organizing Projects, Birdwatching w/Towhees and Wood Ducks

The stars are
already conspiring

to make the next
universe,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (107)

Last January, at this time, I was sleeping 18 hours a day and quarantining in my basement away from children and husband, battling a second round of COVID-19 (probably Delta?) and feeling like absolute garbage. When I finally emerged from my psuedo-coma on the futon, joints aching and fifteen pounds lighter than I’d been in 2020 — having subsisted on little other than broth and Gatorade for three straight weeks — I developed tremors. I shook so badly I couldn’t drive. My handwriting was barely handwriting — which didn’t matter much anyway, since my brain was still fogged.

The way every other member of my family struggled isn’t my story to tell, of course, so I’ll just say that it’s been eye-opening and humbling — what happens when two people struggle to keep themselves and their partnership intact, when parents are so beset with problems that it becomes difficult for them to parent, and to guide and help their children, who suddenly have developed their own serious problems, challenges I never would have imagined my children would face pre-pandemic.

We always imagined disaster and apocalypse to look very different than this, didn’t we? I mean, I’m not walking down I-95 toward Florida in a cold gray landscape, evading roaming packs of cannibals and scraping subsistence for my children from abandoned farms. There’s no hellfire falling from the sky or radiation pulsing through the air (that we *know* of), but survival is still a preoccupation.

When I write the words survival and apocalypse I’m not intending to be hyperbolic. Rather, I see a very particular world coming to an end. It’s not happening under a curtain of falling ash, and for the most part the sky is still a beneficent sky and the earth provides and nurtures — but something has been destroyed, and with finality.

And when we look at the old life, pre-pandemic, why are we so keen for *it* to survive? What fire from the old life are we carrying into the next life, and is that new life worth this trouble?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Something Has Been Destroyed (But Maybe That’s Okay)

It’s not that the well’s run dry.
The walk feels too far. It’s uphill
in the snow both ways, and
who has the strength to carry
those dangling buckets balanced
on their shoulders now? I’ll stay
on this secondhand chair, wrapped
in my mother’s holey shawl.
Make another cup of tea, stay quiet.
Grief sits with me by the fire.
Out the window, tiny birds track
hieroglyphics across the icy ground.

Rachel Barenblat, The well

2022 isn’t starting on the best foot. I’m in quarantine with my four kids, two have tested positive and we’re just waiting to see if any of the rest of us get it. Some of us will already miss one day of school/work when we go back next week, so I’m hoping we can hold out and not miss any more. 

I’ve gotten lots of little home projects done but missed the chance to catch up on things like buying new clothes for my constantly growing kids, picking up a few replacement items for the home. We’ve cleaned, played Uno, sledged, listened to music, read lots and spent too much time on screens. But we haven’t killed each other yet. Two years of social distancing has helped to prep us for proper quarantine, though I’m desperate to get back into the world.

But this post is to look back. 2021 was a good year for my writing. I’ve had more work accepted than ever before, some for magazines I’ve been trying to get into for ages or for projects that actually paid or offered wider exposure than previous I’ve been involved in. 

I’m not writing every day, but I have learned to focus the little time I have on writing. Saturday is currently my writing day, though that will happen less as my course starts up. I write, edit and submit to magazines on that day, totally immersing myself in writing. I will miss having that much time for just my writing, so I don’t expect to see such great numbers next year.

Gerry Stewart, 2021 Writing Review

The clean blue field protects me from
accidental eye contact or conversation
with the person across from me.
It enforces, with its institutional cerulean,
the subtle separation between me
and the student working on a paper;
the elderly woman filling out tax forms;
the stubbly man reading a mystery.
I sip from my covered beverage (allowed)
and find an excuse not to look down
at my laptop. Instead I let my gaze linger
a moment longer, lost in the artificial sky.

Jason Crane, POEM: The Clean Blue Field

To live in a world where birdhouses are built atop gravestones, where gardens are planted in the hearts of the lonely, where lightning bug halos are forged for one and all. To live in a world where we burn rage, burn tears, burn what we don’t need, anoint those ashes across sky’s forehead, create better weather for our lives.

Rich Ferguson, better weather / whether better

It turns out my jumbled mind has pulled itself together via the stars. I read two books recently with stars in the titles and on the covers: The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue, about the 1918 pandemic as it affects a maternity ward in Ireland, and Wiping Stars from Your Sleeves, poems by David James. Both provided quiet moments of focus on something other than work tasks, home tasks, caregiver tasks, and memorizing lines. My mind moved back into its jumble rather easily any time I slipped in a bookmark.

For example, I actually reviewed the poetry book for Escape Into Life, as David James is one of our EIL poets. I set up the post to publish automatically…on Wednesday…and then forgot about it till Friday.

Caregiver tasks included visiting my folks several times and accompanying my dad to a doctor’s appointment, where I was shocked to see a woman sitting in the waiting room completely unmasked. I reminded him to keep his mask over his nose, and I was double-masking (medical + cloth), but I couldn’t understand why the medical receptionists hadn’t reminded or cautioned the woman. Later, I saw her in her mask, so maybe it was just a memory lapse…something I understand. I had forgotten till I read it again in The Pull of the Stars that “influenza” actually refers to the influence of the stars, once thought to cause that illness.

Kathleen Kirk, All the Stars

Have you calculated
the ultimate question of life, the universe
and everything? Hell no. You’re the milk
you sniff after the sell-by date and decide
it should work fine for coffee; the wad
of paper towels you re-use for wiping
down a couple more counters. And you’re
always attuned to the twinge in the gut
which lets you know you’re not yet
a lesson beyond loss, a grief beyond
mourning. A speck of grit, a smart
in the eye; a mouth for rounding
a string of vowels at the moon.

Luisa A. Igloria, Short Bio, with Lines from a Sci-Fi Cult Classic

When I opened my laptop at the end of December, determined to post to this blog once more before the close of the year–well, that’s how I found out Betty White had died. I thought, Nope, see you in 2022. I closed the laptop’s cover. If you’ve struggled with social media for this past year, I get it. I’ve needed to go silent for long periods. That’s particularly painful when the pandemic hasn’t given us a chance to connect in other ways, because it can feel like damned-if-you-do, erased-if-you-don’t. But I’m grateful because when I look back at the second half of 2021, I spot bright glimmers of living, of pleasures taken, seized in a time that felt dark. 

Sandra Beasley, January Jump

For several weeks before Christmas I had these words from Ian McMillan’s peerless ‘Stone, I Presume’ rattling around my head. During my teaching, walking the dog, reading, even when I was watching the telly.

One day I heard myself saying them out loud: ‘It’s all a bit twist and reek, isn’t it?’ What was I talking about? I mean: what was I talking about? The 10 Downing Street party crisis? Keir Starmer’s suits? Chelsea’s injury list? The current edition of Really Great Poetry? All of these, and none of them. They are all twist and reek.

Twist and reek. Not twist and shout, twist and reek. What does it mean? a) I have no idea, and b) Whatever you want it to. I mutter it under my breath in meetings when the same person makes the same point for the third time without realising they are doing it. (Sometimes this person is me.) Climate change deniers can be twist and reek. The Conservative Party has been twist and reek for years. Poetry readings can be twist and reek. (That’s yours as well as mine.)

The poets who are never twist and reek are definitely Frank O’Hara and absolutely Ian McMillan. Martin Stannard is never twist and reek (unless he chooses to be, in which case it is always deliberate and therefore acceptable). There are others. (Check out Lifesaving Poems to find more!)

Anthony Wilson, Twist and reek

Both these podcasts tackle a poem or 2 per episode, but in different ways.

Frank Skinner is a well-known UK comedian with hidden depths. He does a good solo job with a range of poems old and new, some of them rather challenging. His target audience includes people who don’t usually read modern poetry – he’s aware of which aspects they may disapprove of. He’s enthusiastic, not pretentious, and doesn’t hesitate to reveal aspects of his personal life if it helps illuminate the piece. In his most recent episode he talks about 2 poems from Caroline Bird’s “The Air Year”, making me realise I’d missed some points – e.g in the title poem “the mime scene” alludes to “the crime scene”.

In “Poem Talk” an avant-garde poem is discussed by 3 or 4 American academics who help each other try to understand the piece. A recording by the poet is played. They often come to no firm conclusions. I learn much from their comments, which at times seem very generous. They’re fairly honest about their puzzlement though they never go as far as blaming the poet.

Tim Love, 2 poetry podcasts

These days, with a few exceptions, I prefer pigs to poets.

I bear no ill-will to those who see the poetry scene as one gigantic performance or who feel energised by the social whirl of it. I just prefer to spend time with my pigs. I talk to them. They talk to me. I feed them, clean out the muck, keep the straw dry. They grunt happily sometimes, grumble at others. We get along fine.

This week I saw the propaganda surrounding the T S Eliot Prize, the point of which is a little lost on me. Is it important? What does it do, exactly? If you went to the handing out of the prize or the apparently glitzy reading event, I hope you had a nice time and that the free wine flowed freely. I looked at YouTube and found a poem by the ‘winning’ poet. Seemed like a decent piece of writing to me, read clearly and cleanly. Yes, I liked it.

But was it worth the sycophantic outpouring that the awarding of the prize provoked on social media? Somebody even quoted slavishly the winner’s words in some book or other on, I guess, ‘How To Be A Poet’ or similar, when she said: “To write a poem is an act of resistance. To perform it is a revolution.” It’s a good sound-bite. It’s also white-noise nonsense. But don’t let me stop you becoming a disciple, please, if that’s your thing.

Frankly, though, I had a better time listening for half an hour to a band of Mongolian throat singers doing their ethereal stuff and another half-hour watching Uyghur people dancing and singing songs of love. I normally avoid the tales of ancient Greece but it did fascinate me also earlier today when I ‘discovered’ that Aeschylus, who specialised in writing tragedies, was killed when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head.

Bob Mee, PIGS OR PRIZE-WINNING POETS? THE CHOICE IS MINE

I had thought that the phenomenon of western poets adapting someone’s translation had vanished. I would argue that it did disappear for a few years from English, only to return at the hands of poets, not translators! Translation has become ‘cool’; in some way its popularity speaks of the failure of a liberal intellectual class wrestling with the rise of Western fascisms. It rejuvenates their monolingual diction and imagery, it fits in the tenure dossier, it rescues the Third-World poet who is always imagined as a singular voice against the savage masses; as if the Cold War has never ended, or God forbid, hasn’t been won by the United States. Translation today, as scholar Dima Ayoub argues, is seen not only as a necessity but also necessarily good. What makes translations a must? Where does this blind faith in translation come from? Doesn’t translation act also as unconditional access, as surveillance, as an expanding force of the global capitalist market of literature? 

Mona Kareem, Western Poets Kidnap Your Poems and Call Them Translations

Looking to pad my coffers a little before I set sail into the wind, I’ve been doubling down on some of the freelance work, and alternating between art and literature projects to keep my brain from getting overwhelmed. Still today, I began the day with the Hudson Valley school and, when something else came back for edits, swiveled to Artemisia Gentileschi. Thus today, I have had one foot in the Baroque and one foot in American Romanticism most of the afternoon.  (With a detour on Caravaggio a couple days ago, and my sights on Millais. ) Yesterday’s work on Gentileschi was followed by Dickinson–a more general piece than the beast on one on Guinevere as literary figure prior, but I couldn’t help but start thinking about her and Artemesia, how both are, in most internet articles, mentioned first for their biographical details, and only second  the ways their work was innovative.  

Artemesia’s rape trial defined her for many, not her painting.  Emily’s life of seclusion and white ensemble similarly leads in when people start talking about her.  Only if you are a a painter or a poet, do you progress beyond those things.  I keep thinking about Sylvia Plath, always, and how her death overshadowed her work. And yet, in my limited previous knowledge of Caravaggio, I did not know that he was not only a convicted murderer and hothead, but a multiple murderer. As in more than one person.  This seems to be, for him, a side note.  A tiny piece of trivia when you dig into biographical details. Kind of like how very few people talk about William Burroughs killing his wife. 

I guess, what gets remembered about us as artists, who knows?  How history defines us, completely beyond our control.  It made my head spin a little bit.  Why do women’s biographical detail lead the story, while men’s are footnotes to their supposed genius? 

Kristy Bowen, painters and poets, oh my!

3 – 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?

Because I am working in found/collage form, there is a slight urgency to getting something, once it has taken form, glued down. Otherwise, the tiny, precariously placed scraps of paper with each word (or letter) on it become subject to breeze through an open window or my cat jumping on the desk. That being said, it can take weeks before the scraps start to come together into a poem—though once they begin to, it happens rather quickly. The unique thing about the process is that, once the collage is glued and the poem is in it, there is no revision! No way benefits to workshopping a poem beside asking what I can do differently next time. There was one poem that I tried revised, which was actually very very cool. I had left a good deal of space between each line, so ended up adding 2-3 lines between each original piece, making sure each new line picked up where the previous left off and could also segue into the original predecessor. It grew from 8 lines to 15.

4 – Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

The impetus of The Fever Poems was to make cards I card send to friends. I cut up a couple magazines then found something more interesting—a book that I was tired of holding onto for sentimental reasons that I could turn into something else. It had illustrations too! I made one card with a few words cut out and pasted onto it and then suddenly was writing full lyric poems in that way. Also suddenly, there were more than forty poems. I am working on a new project now that is very much a self-contained book project, replete with an extensive reading list for research and piles and piles of notes on what it aims to explore.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kylie Gellatly

Tell us about your new chapbook, Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota. How did the idea of using invasive species to explore the connection between ecology and human nature come to you?

When I started (and finished) writing this book I was living in a very small apartment in downtown Minneapolis with my husband and our two dogs. So it seemed really important to get out and to green spaces in my free time when I could. The Twin Cities area is really great for that, with a state park and a national wildlife refuge right on the train line, and of course all the lakes. And like a lot of writers I was of course writing about what I was seeing.

The first couple I wrote weren’t imagined as part of a bigger project, they were just some fun little story-poems. I liked writing about invasive species because they turned the purpose of a lot of standard field guides on its head — the ones that are about helping you spot desirable species. They don’t take into consideration many of the plants and animals you actually see, since typically the nature spaces we enjoy aren’t truly a wilderness, they’re all some degree of impacted. Choosing only invasives became a way to write about real climate change, real ecological concerns but also tell these very misfit, weird stories.

As you started to realize these little weird poems would be part of a larger project, what was your process for pulling it together into a cohesive whole? How did you decide what needed to stay and what needed to go?

After I had 4-5 finished, I decided I wanted to take this in a much bigger direction. I made a huge list of potential species candidates, trying to evenly include plants and animals. Some of them were really easy choices — ones I had experience with removing as a volunteer, some we covered when I tutored environmental science, like buckthorn, Ones I saw slowly destroying some of the biodiversity of the lake by my grandparents, like trapdoor snails. Earthworms, because I participated in spreading them without realizing the problems they caused. Anything I had a real visceral connection to was an easy one to write about, to include.

Some I dropped because no matter how hard I tried, no matter how beautiful a name “Tree of Heaven” is or how sensory stick bugs are, I just couldn’t find a good hook to attach a poem to. Others I dropped because they weren’t really relevant. Wild boar, for example, would have been really fun to brainstorm about, but sightings are rare and almost completely unconfirmed. They just aren’t actually a driver of habitat loss or a signal of climate change, or anything with a large effect on the land. And I wanted those topics, albeit in exaggerated and fantastical forms, to be the core of the poems.

I also clearly remember sitting on my floor with printed copies of every poem in front me, ready to tackle the incredibly nitpicky and difficult task of trying to figure out what the punchiest order would be. Before I really got into laying them out and sliding them around like terrible tetris blocks I asked myself “What if I just try to do it alphabetically?” and ended up very happy with the start, the ending, the pacing. It was a nice reminder that just because poetry is sometimes really hard, it doesn’t always have to be that way.

One of the things I love about your book is how each poem is paired with a botanical illustration. Was this a concept that you thought about early in your process of writing the book? Or did it come about later as you were working with your publisher?

Both, actually! I had printed a version for myself once because I wanted to practice making artsy little zines and learn different binding stitches, and just for fun I included several old public domain illustrations. I don’t think anyone but me ever saw that version.

But early in the editing process, Holly at IFP asked me if I was open to including illustrations with the poems, to make it more like an actual field guide. Of course I was! It was like she read my mind. And it was an early sign that I was working with someone with similar tastes and interests, especially in books as artifacts.

Andrea Blythe, Amelia Gorman on ecology, invasive species, and weird poetry

With closed eyes the world
disappears inside us,
time shrinks and hides
behind the soft skin of our eyelids.
Eleven years, twenty years ago,
forty, the day we were born;
we’ve learned the trick from the very start.
A membraned border, our fine veil
between seeing and looking,
or a wall out of stone
when pain is involved.
Just before we fall asleep,
just before we cry,
just before we give in to madness.

Magda Kapa, Timeout

The collection returns to the climate change theme towards the end. In “Passerine”,

“Meanwhile in another timeframe
the future, which is now,
we are not ready
toilet paper, sanitiser, neatly stacked
in a cupboard with a big sack of rice
which hopefully won’t be dumped
moth and weevil zigzagging
while fantails move happily
through the understory, a reminder
that nothing lasts.”

Passerines are perching birds, a hint at the precarity of their existence. It could also be a metaphor for the pandemic, where humans were reminded of their own precarity. As well as lack of preparedness – the toilet rolls and large sack of rice won’t keep a virus at bay and it looks as if the rice will go off before it gets used. The wildlife, however, gets freedom of movement. Although the wildlife doesn’t get chance to recover, it just reminds humanity that nothing lasts.

The poems in “The Density of Compact Bone” explore personal issues and the climate emergency. Magdalena Ball’s deftly constructed poems work as multi-layered explorations of her themes, underline how humanity has contributed to its own woes. There is a sense of helplessness as if there is no time to mitigate the damage or take action. They overlook the imbalances of power: one person diligently taking all possible steps to limit their impact will never have the same effect as a large corporation stopping air travel, holding solely online meetings and using recyclable materials. She is very conscious of her place as a daughter, as a mother, supporting and upholding both roles and the inheritances they bring. Her concerns are about what kind of world her child will grow up in, how there needs to be a world for children to grow in.

Emma Lee, “The Density of Compact Bone” Magdalena Ball (Ginninderra Press) – book review

I’ve always found titles quite hard to come up with. I’ve been through all kind of exercises to try to break the back of it. I look at other people’s titles to see which ones jump out at me (or not). And I remember Carol-Ann Duffy once reading the title of a poem and exclaiming ‘Now that’s a title that gives me confidence in the poet!’

I know there have been various trends over the years: the Very Long Intriguing And/or Witty Title is still popular, (especially when it comes to competition entries) although I wonder if it’s waning. I’ve done a few of those myself but can’t help wondering if the title can end up being more interesting than the poem.

The good old basic single-word title is surely a classic. But the first line had better be AMAZING if the title is ‘Daisies’ or ‘Evening’ or whatever.

How about the first-line-as-title? I confess I quite like this arrangement and have used it a fair bit – in the sense of the title being the actual first line, so that the poem runs on from the title (rather than repeating the first line, although this is also possible of course).  But it doesn’t suit every poem.

And what about collection titles? I know we’re commonly advised to use the title of one of the poems, or use a phrase or a line from one of the poems. Sometimes Very Long Intriguing And/or Witty Titles are more memorable. When it’s come to pamphlets, I’ve always gone with the title of one of the poems, with the exception of ‘Why?’ which I wanted to call ‘Was it the Diet Coke?’ but that didn’t work out, for fear of a certain mega-company based in Atlanta coming down on us like a pantechnicon of canned drinks.

Robin Houghton, Thinking about poem and book titles

I recently published reading notes on Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens by Corey Van Landingham. It’s a spectacular poetry collection, and I jumped at the chance to review it ahead of its release. I have great affection for Van Landingham’s work. Going back seven or eight years ago, I spent a December writing only sonnets. One of those sonnets started with a line from Van Landingham’s “The Louse”: “I name every injury like it was a comet.”

I remember vividly the energy that line gave my own writing and am grateful all over again. I’m also inspired to let myself be, well, more inspired in the coming year. I spent the bulk of last year attending workshops, but somehow got mired in the left-brain aspects of them: being a good student, gathering information, reading, offering critique, considering new approaches, etc. I didn’t use them for writing inspiration as much as I wish I had.

To be fair, it felt like a difficult year to loosen up and let things in. 2021 began with the insurrection and ended with amped up prioritization of capitalism and the economy over public health. And in between? Also a total shit show. I had my guard up (aggressively), and it impacted more than my mood. It also locked down my creativity. (To see what I accomplished — and where I missed the mark — click through to last week’s post about revisiting 2021 writing goals.)

2022 is unlikely to be any better as far as the state of the world is concerned, and so my task is to be more selective with what I consume: more comets and sonnets, less circling the news/social media drain. As such, my poetry goals for 2022 limit external impulses (readings and workshops, for example) and focus instead on the ritual of quiet time to generate new work and revise manuscripts.

Carolee Bennett, 2022 writing goals: more comets and sonnets

there’s something over there
this nearer that
something in the dimness
that which is this but further

this nearer that
this indicating the difference
that which is this but further
only twilight knows which

this indicating the difference
this where you find me
only twilight knows which
twilight where I write

this where you find me
that which is this but further
the twilight where I write
this nearer night

Gary Barwin, BROTHERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING PANTOUMS

Black being such a glorious color, it’s unfair to see it maligned in the season of light.  During those holiday weeks of celebrating “light,” all those little pinpricks stung me and made me think, in a Baudelairean way, about its other. I was thinking about how to decouple darkness and its sometime extension “blackness” from the metaphors of sin and ignorance of the age/soul.  I thought about how to decouple part of the daily cosmic cycle and a radically beautiful color from centuries and millennia of role play, poetry and language games.  How might race relations have been different if the color of sin had stayed in the red zones, stains of blood and sex as they were in the Hebrew Bible?  But new color games came along, Christianity codifying and equating Adam and Eve’s “original” sin to death and to the color of death.  In a much, much longer story spanning centuries, black came to mark dark ecstasies of sinners, devils, and sadly, Ethiopians.

I was listening to a magnificent sermon of Martin Luther King at Riverside Church, from 1964.  Was I surprised to hear him use the metaphors “terrible midnight of our age” and “it’s midnight, a darkness so deep that we can hardly see which way to turn”?  When he preached, I believed his midnight, his condemnation of moral relativity, hypocrisy, lack of compassion.  He doesn’t say blackness – he says darkness, and midnight.  Deep dark holes of moral/Christian failure, using the full weight of age-old cultural symbols.

The title of this speech, “A Knock at the Door,” is a midrash of a parable of Luke, which in itself is a midrash of “The Song of Songs.”  When a stranger, lover or needy person, which could be divine or part of ourselves, comes knocking at our door, we are unprepared, we hesitate, or play or hide.  The desire and demand of this other breaks in on our lassitude; it erupts, interrupts our borders.  There are so many “colorations” here, but there is a pattern.  Certain things cannot be explained, but we know to be true. Color breaks in, uninvited, irreducible, not standing for anything except itself.  

Jill Pearlman, The Values of Black

whose eye shall fill my light with sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

Chosen,

poured into, lips meet
my rim. I brim,
a hand around me,
through me, and I hold
what I am given.

Offering up my sweet
entirety. Until emptied again,

submerged, taken
to a dish towel’s
efficient caress.

Renee Emerson, “Mug” from Keeping Me Still (Winter Goose Publishing)

I prefer to rise before dawn, when the air
is cool and the light is thin, and the muscles
of night finally relax. Often my dreams
are still with me, and I wonder if I should whisper
them to you, but I never do. I put these dreams,
now slender things, into a box, and I place
the box on a shelf. This shelf holds many boxes,
each containing more dreams than the one
beside it, and so the dawn passes. You rise
later than me, and I say nothing except
for a slight greeting, no more than one
would say to a stranger passing in the street.

James Lee Jobe, I wonder if I should whisper

frost
on a station platform
tomorrow is late

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 51

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 special winter holiday edition. Enjoy.


Shortest day of the year.
All the clocks are wrong.

Overhead is a dull seashell.
Clouds cover the sun.

I have to trust
what I can’t see.

And my heart —
a worried compass needle

yearning
for your light.

Rachel Barenblat, Solstice

The snow absorbs sound waves. But the magpie’s bellies chatter like shakers in an improvised concert. The front yard is filled with tension. A drama without narrative.

The magpies are quiet now.

Wait.

They will begin again. Like barren Shakers, they’ll gather and make something beautiful.

Then they’ll be gone. Again.

Just wait.

Ren Powell, Magpies and Snow

Of course, it wasn’t as if Santa actually existed. All rosy cheeked in Mrs Santa’s bed, he was always the sentimental love child of advertising campaigns and folktales. Didn’t stop his attempts at merriment with what he irritatingly called his “elf.” There’s a reason he could travel around the world so quickly. And then she’d begged him to do the inevitable and sell to Old Jeff Bezos, so she could gather the elves around her, the real elves, each with their small childlike brightness, and, dressed in the warm skins of reindeer, set out into the tundra, the real tundra, and find the winter sun.

Gary Barwin, Two stories about Mrs Santa

Since moving to Torquay four years ago I have not seen the sunrise on the shortest day, this has been partially due to bad weather. Traditionally I would drive to Avebury to celebrate the New Year, but these days it is too far. 

Having a beach hut on Meadfoot Beach is the next best thing. We went down and watched the sun hide behind the clouds. It was high tide and there was quite a swell.

Here’s to a better year ahead. Peace, love and unity to you all.

Paul Tobin, MEADFOOT 21.12.21

Oh no! I can see I haven’t posted for several weeks, has there really been nothing to talk about? Let me see…

First of all, nothing to do with poetry but my Covid experience was pretty mild in the end. So as far I’m concerned the jabs were worth it. Plus we’ve made it to Christmas without having to cancel a single concert, which is a result, and in fact I’ve just got back from a bout of rustic carol singing on the outside terrace of the fantastic Chaseley Trust. So a big yay for Christmas. […]

The newest episode of Planet Poetry is in the bag and coming out tomorrow. It’s a Christmas special featuring an interview with Di Slaney (Candlestick Press) and Sharon Black (Pindrop Press), both of them poets as well as publishers, talking about their writing and their publishing practice. Peter Kenny and I are proud of the fact that we are now 5 episodes into our second season – I think that makes us veterans in poetry podcasting terms! We’ve already got some brilliant guests lined up for 2022 so if you haven’t already, please do subscribe ‘wherever you get your podcasts’, as they say.

Robin Houghton, So this is Christmas, and what have I done?

No, this isn’t inspired by Johnny Mathis blaring out at all hours, but my Christmas Eve trip out into the Peaks. I caught the Hope Valley line from Sheffield and walked along to Brough, with the intention of finding the site of the Roman fort Navio, before taking an anti-clockwise route up Win Hill.

Navio, first established around 80 CE, was strategically important for the Romans because it was the next fortress across middle England from Templeborough, remnants of which now stand in Clifton Park, Rotherham, just down the road from where I am now. In his Roman Britain (1955), the first volume of ‘The Pelican History of England’ (sic), I.A. Richmond outlined its economic importance also: ‘Yet another exploitation is the lead ore from stream deposits found in the Roman fort at Navio (Brough on Noe), from which the district was in part policed.’ Lead was invaluable to the Romans as a source of silver by the process of cupellation, and no doubt a major reason why they hung around in this distant island for as long as they did.

There are all but the slightest traces of the fort on the site. Buxton Museum contains the artefacts recovered from it. It must’ve been a bleak place to be stationed, even with the view across the River Noe towards Lose Hill, and Mam Tor to the west. Auden’s couplet sonnet ‘Roman Wall Blues’, with its memorable opening, comes to mind:

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

Matthew Paul, Return to Hope

How much heaven
can we stand?
Even the stars
don’t know,
the old monk says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (89)

Yesterday was dark, as in dark all morning with rain and then just dark.  These days around the solstice are usually not just literally the darkest, but also heavy somehow in a way I never feel in other parts of the year. I slept very late, spent both days in my pajamas, working on various things through most of the weekend.  My past couple of weeks have been pretty busy, finishing up batches of chaps to get out before the holiday and  taking on more freelance copy work to get a feel for how well it will make going it alone should I decide to do it.  

Which is of course a lie because I have already mostly decided to do it, at least in my heart, if not having worked out all the logistics just yet.  I’ve been thinking about it probably since early  October, but only in the last few weeks has it become a safe enough and desirable endeavor to make happen. Once the decision was made, there was this rush of relief and happiness I don’t think I’ve felt in years, and that feeling alone is perhaps my answer. There are times when I don’t want to leave, but it’s gotten to the point where I can’t–for financial reasons, for burnout reasons–afford to stay. Not even figuring in potential increased shop offerings and income (which will happen when I’m not working 40+ hours a week elsewhere) the freelance work devotes half as many hours for twice the pay. And its actually kind of fun.  Or at least a sort of work-fun,  It gives me hope for days that can be half spent working on that stuff, half spent on the shop and the press. The ability to dial back and take on less if things get crazy. Not all day spent at the library and off hours, late nights weekends spent on other things, which is how it has always been since the beginning. 

I can’t even imagine having time to put into action all the projects and ideas I want to do without having to always work around the giant hulking beast of a full-time job that grants stability, but drains your energy. I don’t dare think it will be easy or without sacrifices (financially), but at this point, it hurts more not to try to make it happen. I keep telling myself this is what I’ve been preparing for all these years. Now I just need to take that step. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/19/2021

We are expecting 2-5 inches of snow over the Christmas weekend, then several days below freezing, so we might be stuck on our hill, which would make getting supplies tougher, so we are prepared to eat leftovers and after that, our supply of potatoes and pumpkin seeds. But I love seeing some snow.

But we did have a cherry tree with one branch blossoming, right on Christmas Eve; seems symbolic, like beauty’s triumph over death, life over winter , or something like that. We need anything that gives us hope these days.

The generosity and apparent ferocity of nature is always surprising. We should pay closer attention. [….]

Thank you to the Massachusetts Review who included my poem “Things I Forgot to Tell You About the End of the World” in their end-of-the-year Climate Issue. I feel lucky to be in such a great issue, and the fact that it’s the closing poem of the issue.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Solstice/Christmas/Holidays, A Poem in the Climate Issue of Massachusetts Review, Poetry Book Recommendations from 2021, and Things to Remember About the Last Year

At a certain point one stops caring what makes sense and what doesn’t, going instead on animal knowledge of what is true, resonant if reasoning isn’t. In Greek, xάνω ελπίδα sounds permanent, rather than transient, as losing hope should, and απώλεια means both loss and waste. I do not mourn the death of Joan Didion, screamed into every nook and cranny, but neither do I say in public spare me, she was the original Karen; I prefer not to, this hue and cry, and my own savage wit so pointlessly sharp. Let people love who they love. Let them not. We have our reasons. I make a mixtape, though electronic, called sparklegothfolk: it goes on and on. Dead Can Dance. Cocteau Twins. Peter Murphy. Kate Bush. Wicker Man soundtrack, burning. The darkest people have the radiant love of harmonies, have you noted? Always in the barley and the fire.

Solstice, and the sky cracks open, just as it was too late.

JJS, Systrophe

christmas eve rain
the wood pigeons are preening
in the silver birch

Jim Young [no title]

I love the turning of the year toward light at the winter solstice. It makes up a bit for winter looming ahead. This year was tough for everybody, it seems; as Eric Tran said when he visited to give a poetry reading here, we spent the pandemic borrowing energy from the future, and now we have to pay it back. My mother died at the end of April and she’s very much on my mind as I perform seasonal rituals: recent stuff like sending her a zillion gifts at Christmas 2020 to distract her from going out and taking risks; old stuff like mixing up Christmas pudding to steam and flame it (we always did that as kids, although I riff on borrowed recipes and she just bought Crosse & Blackwell). I need to find a quiet moment to think about her.

I don’t know what that viking-druid I spotted on the trail yesterday portends. He’s looking toward the new year, but I’m mostly looking back. For a conference, I went on a binge of reading related to fairies and Faerie, old tales people keep making new. I discuss some of them here, in the annual “pleasures” column hosted by Aqueduct Press. They make me remember my mother, too, who was the teller of fairy stories in my house, as her Irish father was to her. He used to take her on walks to a Liverpool park in the 40s, where they’d put their sugar ration in a matchbox and leave it for the fairies. You have to propitiate them with sacrifice, or–what? It was always clear to me that Enid Blyton tales of brownies making “mischief” were euphemistic. Fairies are more dangerous than that. Thinking about all this sent me on a weird late night Google binge last week, asking questions about why sacrifice is so central to so many religions and legends. Google didn’t know, but I’d welcome your theories.

Lesley Wheeler, Weird tree-person looking east

So it will be a different Christmas, once again…we have a tree, and lights, and the smells of baking; there’s snow outside and warmth inside, but the holiday will be a quiet one. I’m sure we’ll check in with friends and family via zoom. My daily task is to keep my own spirits up, and to face the seemingly-interminable pandemic, and uncertainty about the future, with courage. It’s not easy for me, and takes conscious intention. Today before I got up I thought quite a bit about gratitude. Later I baked a complicated cake, made some five-pointed origami stars, wrote letters, took a long vigorous walk in the park, and still, I felt the presence of discouragement and anxiety in the background. The predictability of the solstice is ancient and steady, though — and I took comfort in that.

Beth Adams, Lights on at 1 pm: Winter Solstice

this blue-washed evening
lighthouse beams sweep the sky clean
again and again and again

Ama Bolton, Shortest day

My sister, Catherine, has always been Santa. She’s the kind of Santa who shops deals all year and stashes baubles away in the linen closet until it’s time to wrap them. She is a loyal adherent to the philosophy of more is more when it comes to gifting—she sent me a similar box that contained fifty presents for my fiftieth birthday–which is why I know there will be at least five presents for each of us, plus the dogs, inside that box. We can all reliably predict the contents. Among other, more unexpected things, there will be fleece pajama pants for each of us, chocolate bars for each of the kids. Chew toys for the dogs. For me, Walkers Shortbread cookies, the kind in the red and black plaid box, and for my husband, hot sauce. Always and forever, hot sauce.

For most of our family life, we’ve lived far away from loved ones, so holiday gatherings have usually meant just the four of us. We don’t like the traditional Christmas meals of ham or turkey. We don’t go to church. So, there is great comfort in the anticipation and surety that surrounds the Santa box. It signals, not unlike my mother-in-law’s (excellent, really!) fruitcake, the arrival of Christmas, connects us with family and continues one of the only real holiday traditions we have.

Sheila Squillante, Sister Santa

The outline of this lawn in the back garden remained unchanged throughout my childhood. Its corner – in the image, its apex – falls neatly behind the youngest boy’s head. Perhaps there is some composition here? I’d guess it was my father pressing the white button on the black plastic box of a Kodak camera. Taking such a picture was more the father’s job in those days. His clumsiness in framing the image ought not to be judged too harshly (these were still relatively early days for mass photography) but it stirs in me the thought that he was always a man more at home with objects than words or people. I wish he’d taken the picture again, a little lower, filling the chosen frame with his three children. Forty years later, setting the scene behind the large window in the image, sat around the dining table that (for fully 50 years) looked out onto the back garden, I wrote of him when forgetfulness and confusion troubled him more and more:

Past ninety and still no books to read
your knuckles rap the laid table

gestures beside a stumble of words
so much aware of their inadequacy

it hurts us both in different ways
since a man without language is no man

finding too late the absence of words
builds a prison you’re no longer able

to dominate objects as once you did
the world turns in your loosening grip

Martyn Crucefix, The Unlikely Wound Inflicted by a Photograph

It was only a matter
of time before security showed
then blue-lit us across town

to some kind of safety,
a ward I used to know
from before supplies ran out
and prices rocketed.
Of course, they vanished.

Ran, more like it.
There’s fear, and there’s fear,
if you catch me. Something
about papers, the border. Those eyes.
Her silence. The baby anything but.

Anthony Wilson, Call the Midwife

I would have been happy to spend the Christmas Eve service in silence and candles, just soaking in the beauty.  

But we had a service of readings and singing and a homily, and the Eucharist.  We had to pivot here, too, with soloists out because of sinus infections and COVID exposure.  I thought of all the weeks of drama about who would sing which song, and in the end, we had to switch some of the music.

I am not immune to the life lesson contained here: the ability to pivot, the beauty that is possible if we can let go of our preconceived notions of what the experience and the space should be.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pivoting on Christmas Eve

In the thrift store before closing,
on Christmas Eve, a handful of people
thumb through trays of vintage
jewelry, crushed hats, shoes of worn
leather, hunting for a clasp, a bit
of rubbed velvet. Looking,
listening for signals of another act,
an encore. Not flourishes, though,
or any of the intricate caprices;
the single line of music delivers
the sharpest pang. Cantabile,
meaning songlike. Meaning
what wakes the deepest silences
before you even become aware.

Luisa A. Igloria, Beyond measure

And there’s something else. A gift which couldn’t be wrapped. And it’s this — that it’s possible to dance to Handel’s Messiah, and that joy when doing this is inevitable. After we’d opened our presents, we’d push back the  coffee table and prance around: And the Glory of the Lord. All We Like Sheep. His Yoke is Easy. Hallelujah! 

Here he is, wearing a coat made by Gabriel. Here he is. My beloved friend. Here he is – Graham, GKA, Gray: half fallen angel, half risen dervish. 

Liz Lefroy, I Unwrap Three Gifts

We’re in our bedroom. I’m standing behind them, arms around their waist. I ask whether there’s anything we could do to fix things, to be together. They smile sadly but don’t answer. That’s when I awake, my brain saving me from another crushing reply. Christmas slips the knife back in. I know it takes time, but hasn’t there been enough? I’m ready for the part where it hurts less. Mostly I just want them back so damn much and I want to stop wanting that.

the kettle is on
in someone else’s house
Christmas

Jason Crane, A Christmas haibun

Do I dream of you or you of me?
What is it we’re afraid of?
Mist brings back this and that.

Owls live here. House martins, bats.
The blue cobalt crust fungus.
Orchids are early this year.

A hare slips past a fallen ash.
A squirrel stops and stares.
Tell no-one. Let me stay.

Bob Mee, A POEM AS A NET

Mary knows George would never understand they live in a snow globe that gets taken out and shaken once a year. That the life he’s been longing to escape has a finite border, and for a moment, as he clutches Tommy to his chest and Janie plonks away at the piano, he knows it too. This place where it’s always Christmas Eve, where the difference between life and death is $8,000 dollars that always goes missing and returns tenfold, and Zuzu’s sinister flowers bloom in the wintertime. Quick! Ring a bell.

Collin Kelley, New Poetry Project: Poem 3 – “What Mary Bailey Saw”

It has been a while since I’ve seen a poetry title by American-Vietnamese poet Truong Tran, so I was intrigued to see his collaboration with San Francisco poet Damon Potter, 100 Words: Poems (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2021). The poems that make up 100 Words: Poems are very much composed via a collaborative call-and-response, as they each respond to the prompt of an individual word, set as each poem’s title. As the book asks: how does one see the other? Composed through one hundred words-as-prompts, the project is reminiscent, somewhat, of Kingston writer Diane Schoemperlen’s debut novel, In the Language of Love(1994), a book composed in one hundred chapters, each chapter prompted by and titled “based on one of the one hundred words in the Standard Word Association Test, which was used to measure sanity.”

Composed as a process of vulnerability and exchange, there is something curious in Tran and Potter’s shared poems, uncertain as to which poet wrote which section, a process more open and interesting to read through than had each section been credited. The point, I suppose, was entirely to bleed into uncertainty, and a closeness of reading. In terms of potential authorship, some sections appear rather straightforward, and others, less so. As they write as part of “perhaps an afterword or a new beginning,” a sequence set at the end of the collection: “i am documenting a way of getting to you. it is a map to be shared in the / hopes that one day should that day come that you can use it as a way to / get to me.” There is something quite compelling in the depth of this conversation, into the bare bones of being, speaking on elements of race and privilege, belonging and othering, difference and sameness, either perceived or actual, and how perception itself shapes our lived reality. Opening an endless sequence of questions, there aren’t answers per se, but the way in which each writer responds, both to the prompt and to each other, that provides the strength of this collection. It is the place where these two writers meet, in the space of the poem, of the page, that resounds.

rob mclennan, Daman Potter and Truong Tran, 100 Words: Poems

I’ve been once again trying to learn to play the piano, blessedly for the household, on a keyboard with headphones, as it’s a painful tune.

Plunk…plunk…plunkplunkkerplu…crap…plunk…plunk… You get the idea. I like learning, even as I sometimes beat on the keys like a chimp in my frustration. Like that’s going to help. One loses control sometimes.

It’s the trying, the practice, the let’s see how it’s going to go today. Nothing like being a beginner to keep the ego at bay. Bay? Nay, swamp.

There’s a freshness in my approach to this beast that is often missing from my approach to writing poetry.

I had an idea this morning and boop boop wrote a poem. I kind of liked it. But I distrusted how easily it came.

I don’t mistrust all easy things, but I know enough about my own process to have sneaking suspicion that I’ve written not out of the difficult place of questions but rather the often more-satisfying-in-the-moment place of knowing. I knew how to write that poem, and I knew what I was going to say. And there it is, grinning winningly at me.

I shake my head. Sorry, pal. You’re cute. You’re one-night-stand cute, sure. But I’m after the real thing, baby, the messy, what the hell am I doing, what’s going to happen next thing. And you ain’t it. Plunk plunk…plunk…plink…crap

Marilyn McCabe, An ordinary pain; or, On Writing and Knowing

Silence is never completely silent. Something somewhere moves, it might be birdsong, a distance car, the clank of a heating system, a breeze making leaves dance, even snow crunches underfoot. Not responding to someone’s question can be an answer. When not speaking, we are rarely still. We fidget, tap feet or fingers, fold arms, fiddle with clothing or hair, jangle jewellery, clothes can squeak or rattle, we hum, swallow, sniff, breathe. If you’re attuned to body language, you pick up someone’s mood and learn to anticipate their response.

When I read my poems to an audience I look for
a smile of recognition, the stillness of true listening,
a fidget of boredom, a clue into how I’m heard.

(“Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”)

When you can’t hear your own voice properly, you compensate. I’ve also started a sequence of poems following Rose Ayling-Ellis’s dances on BBC’s “Strictly Come Dancing” and how she manages to dance despite not being able to fully hear the music. It drew out all the compensatory measures I use without thinking about them. I pass as hearing and was nervous that I wasn’t “deaf enough” to qualify for Arachne Press’s anthology “What Meets the Eye”. I am delighted to be part of the anthology with my poem “Tracking Sounds, Crossing Borders”, even if I still don’t know where the border between hard of hearing and deaf lies.

Emma Lee, The Art of Anticipation

Sometimes my sadness is like a symphony that only I can hear.
The beans are done and the rice is done
And now I am slicing bell peppers so that we can dip them in hummus.
An editor told me recently that he doesn’t like poems that begin with ‘I.’
But I don’t really care what he likes.

James Lee Jobe, Poems that begin with ‘I’

So I keep returning to dormancy, and how that might work for a large mammal who cannot sleep underground for 12 or more weeks.

I’ve decided to take the winter off from things that make up too many of the hours I spend on my phone. I’m taking the social media apps (other than Messenger, which I use to communicate with folks) off my phone and I’m not going to write here again until Sunday, March 20th, the first day of spring. I’m not going completely off-line, but I intend to be much more intentional about being on. What I want is to clear some space and be purposeful about what I let into it. I think I need some arbitrary restrictions and some public declaration to make a necessary quiet happen.

I have been wary of writing that last paragraph because there are things I know I will miss, and because writing here has become a thing I count on for several different kinds of good things. I have been avoiding it because if I didn’t write it I could more easily change my mind about the whole thing. I was avoiding it because there’s some fear in this for me.

But I’m saying it and am going to do it because last week, when I went into Powell’s, a bookstore that covers an entire city block and was once one of my favorite places, I felt overwhelmed by the cacophony of voices shouting at me from the shelves. There is so much clamor in the world, and so often lately all I can hear is a grating din. I want to see if I can create a pocket of quiet within it, if I can make my way back to some part of that young girl who loved to make a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of canned chicken noodle soup and eat them slowly at her family’s kitchen table in the company of a book, able to hear nothing in her mind’s ear but the voice of one other person speaking to her. I don’t know if this experiment is as much about becoming some other kind of writer as it is about becoming a different kind of reader. All I know is that somehow, I’ve lost my way, and I want to find it again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Dormancy

All human suffering reduced to a tickle in the back of the throat. Hearts worn on sleeves, both as a fashion statement, and to allow your love to get some fresh air. Play checkers with your freckles, Twister with your lips. Spend some time in the music world twilight zone—somewhere between “Lust for Life” and “There’s a Light That Never Goes Out”. Fold and refold your DNA into origamis of better tomorrows.

Rich Ferguson, Better Tomorrow Beatitudes

The winter rolls over the land
like a cold carpet.
It’s soothing that seasons
haven’t forgotten their job yet.
As the days get shorter
we shrink a bit more in them too:
less steps, less words, less thoughts.
Only desires are still growing.
How to forget those bonfires
we’ve lit ourselves behind us?
The dancing shadows we watch
are ours.

Magda Kapa, Low Light

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 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 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 week found poets blogging dark, November prophecies, and since today was my father’s memorial service, this really resonated with my mood. But there’s also plenty of interesting lighter and more analytic fare, and things do end on a hopeful note, so hang in there.


Sometimes, these past few months, as I let the world’s news glance off me, I allow myself to sit (only for moments) with a growing truth: That the bedrock upon which I lived for more than 50 years is shifting and breaking, and there is no putting it back (any more than one can put the earth back after a quake), and that this time of relative (surface) calm (in which I can push looming catastrophe into the canyons of my life, out of sight/out of mind) might someday, in retrospect, feel like the last weeks of fall, when the beauty is mostly (but not entirely) gone and you can see the shape of the season to come, and you want only to cling to the beautiful colors as long as you can, the way you imagine the last few leaves would be doing if they could, you know, literally cling, and could know anything about the inevitabilities of temperature, wind, or their fate. We know the spring will come round and everything will bloom again, but not for them.

Not for them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Winter’s coming

A man crossing a plaza in full sun
will have the crackle of sun around him,
the scintillation of green, yellow streaks, red vibration,
all the colors on his black suit, and still be immersed
in that great color: black contains all colors.
He will be alone, old, wearing a black coat.
Complex and emotional.

Jill Pearlman, Madrid: Light, Shade, Goya

a Spanish dancer
interprets letter-forms
adrift in a vacuum

shapes of printed paper
delusions visions waking dreams
shifted to different rooms

fat little birds on strings
knit their way home
from one horizon to the other

Ama Bolton, ABCD November 2021

You want to know what it’s like out there? I can tell you. I’ve been. A few times.

You’ll hear different things from different people. Some will tell you of our native drop bears, their dangerous habit of dropping straight down out of trees onto unsuspecting travellers. (Don’t walk under the trees!) Or the bunyip calling from some lonely waterhole to entice you in. (You won’t come out again.)

Some will warn you about wild dingoes – which might sound more mundane, more believable. But though they look like dogs, they’re far from tame. Or you’ll hear about herds of marauding camels which could rampage through your campsite any night. And snakes and scorpions, too.

You’ll be told to take much more water than you think you’ll need. A car repair kit would be handy as well. Also a good blanket; the desert nights are freezing. They’ll say, tell people where you’re going: your route, your destination, your ETA. They’ll tell you over and over: if you break down, never leave your car. No-one will ever find your body out there.

Yarns to scare the tourists? Only one of those things isn’t true. 

Rosemary Nissen-Wade, Beyond the Black Stump

A gate swings shut
too suddenly. A window’s
upper and lower sashes
cinch close. A stippled
blue shadow detaches from
the ceiling the way a leaf
falls. What is that twitch
like a whip or an eyelash
caught in a doorway?

Luisa A. Igloria, Autotomy

I have learned a new phrase: “severe eosinophilic asthma.” We’re trying injections to improve my breathing. After my first shot, while I was waiting an hour in the doctor’s office to make sure my throat didn’t close up, I looked up the biologic agent. It turns out to be a form of monoclonal antibody.

I had never heard of monoclonal antibodies before the COVID-19 pandemic. Who among us had? Now, of course, we all know the term. It’s fascinating to think about all of the medical terms and treatment methods, the pandemic-related language that has entered common public parlance in the last year.

During the pandemic it has sometimes felt like the whole world has been holding our breath, waiting for this to end. I realize now that that’s the wrong frame. I miss the days when we thought the pandemic would end. (And of course I think of George Floyd and Eric Garner and “I can’t breathe…”) 

Rachel Barenblat, Breathless

at midday I crunched across the cereal bowl
     floor of the forest
never out of hearing of the lunch-grabbers with      their gas pedals and squeaky brakes
in the afternoon I drifted popeward in the
     sanctuary of a Carmelite monastery still unable to escape the commuters with their      combustions and their hybrid choirs how am I supposed to hear the still small voice      when everything around me is exploding

Jason Crane, POEM: still small

This is all there is. All this time, you’ve been playing, preening, posing – but when it comes down to it, this is the now of your soft belly and your brittle bones. The now of your last breath. Your ultimate inadequacy in the face of whatever undefined plans you had for your life. The inadequate planning. Because this is it. This is all you’ve got. This life that just keeps coming at you one laboured breath at a time.

I’m not dying. I mean, not at the moment. And I remind myself that I may be sensing an ending. And that maybe this is a good thing. Maybe I’ll find a better perspective on this ending.

Ren Powell, An Excused Absence Out of the Blue

The queen lies now in bed
and wears red inside.
Her life is blue, her house is yellow,
her teeth are black, her weather cold,
her kingdom ancient, her hands weak.
But her face smells of roses,
of bergamot and citrus.
She closes her eyes and counts
her children, like others count sheep,
to fall asleep or die in their sleep.

Magda Kapa, The queen wears red

Shuffling round the block with the dog around five, I peer into the lives of my neighbours, before they also move shutters towards the darkness. The black panes. Our lives reflected back to us, our reflections keeping out the gaze of those who look in.

‘Goodbye, insects.’ ‘Goodbye, marigolds’. ‘Trains hurtle by at the edge of cities’. ‘Hollow casings’. These are the lines I am taking with me as we, too, hurtle, into the darkness. The grief, the one I thought I had placated or mislaid, returns, puts on the kettle, makes itself at home in the gloomy kitchen.

Anthony Wilson, The black panes

Sit at this desk and consider eternity. The measure

Of it. Its shape and scent. Its presence. Outside,

Rain, grayness, low clouds. Fat drops slap

The window. Eternity wears a rain slicker and eases

Across the back yard, toward the street, out of sight.

A car drives by. The sound of tires on the wet street.

James Lee Jobe, age sixtyfive

I scanned the sky to the west, where I knew the moon should be setting.  Was that glow behind the building the moon or light pollution?  Then the clouds shifted, and I saw part of the moon.  Was it the eclipse shrouding it or clouds or both?  If I hadn’t known an eclipse was happening, I’d have just assumed the clouds were acting as shadow.

Tears welled up, a curious reaction in some ways, although in other ways not so strange.  It’s been a tough week, in a tough season, in a tough twenty-two months in a century that’s beginning to seem like a rewind of all the human progress that happened in the last century.  I’m old enough now that when tears come, I don’t try to suppress them (although I might try to find an unobtrusive way to cry, if I’m at work).

I got the library books to the car, and the rain pattered a bit more insistently.  The clouds covered the moon, and I went back inside to finish my poetry submission. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Seminary Research and a Tree Lighting Festival

Last week, a man dislocated
both shoulders, bashed his head
on the asphalt loop that heaves
its hills through this settler’s valley.

The park road is blocked off, vacationing
bikers lined up for bikes rented by the hour,
with the duct-tape and split seam seats
of anything without a single owner,
never truly loved.

It isn’t the speed, but the curves
taken at such a speed,
the park volunteers warn us.

Renee Emerson, Biking Cades Cove

Spectrum has published “The Moon Demoted” in Issue 64.  The issue theme is “Perseverance.”  “The Moon Demoted” is about calendars and time. subjects I keep coming back to.  Why do we try to measure the spinning of the round earth and moon in little boxes?  Have you noticed how many wall calendars don’t even bother to put the phases of the moon into those little squares?  Spectrum is a student run print journal out of UC Santa Barbara.

Night, whether long or short
is reduced to a bar, straight
as a sidewalk . . .

Ellen Roberts Young, Out in the World

I’m fascinated by AUTOWAR (Kingston ON: Brick Books, 2021), the full-length debut by Toronto-based poet and multidisciplinary artist Assiyah Jamilla Touré, following their chapbook feral (Montreal QC: House House Press, 2018). “i run on silences / i swallow them whole, eagerly / see? i seem to say,” Touré writes, as part of the poem “beckoning,” “a steady heartbeat taming my ear / is an assault / my recall is quartered / by any steadfastness [.]” Theirs is a poetry of direct statement composed via musical gesture; performative lines of breath-thought upon breath-thought. As the poem “acidfield” begins: “bones jutting up jagged planted in this garden / will we too be a garden on the ocean floor / an ocean so acidic, vast, roaring / the salt shearing everything in it to bone / bones for us to be too, tomorrow? / or something new where bones used to be?” There is something really compelling in the ways in which their rhythms line up, launching as a single breath from left to right, before the next one begins; each end of line an intake of air.

Touré composes a lyric of gesture and metaphor on the pure mechanics of possible survival, from being forced to create a father out of thin air and space, to navigating, as the back cover offers, “kinesthetic memory and longing, inherited violence, and the body as a geographical site.” “i am an approachable object—a carved wooden idol / if i am a deity i am of the rank closest to dirt,” they write, as part of the poem “idolatry.” Touré offers a shaped articulation of space and the body; one that utilizes performance as a way through which to speak of missing shapes, and the ability to reform, reshape and even regenerate. The poems are sharp, unflinching and even unrelenting, while holding, still, the ability to take the process and thinking seriously while simultaneously able to allow small bursts of quirky humour. Towards the end of the collection, as part of the poem “autodeity,” they offer: “every six months i shed my skin / and become new and pure, another / i spontaneously forget any language but my own / finally everyone admits i’m incomprehensible [.]”

rob mclennan, Assiyah Jamilla Touré, AUTOWAR

[David] Jones’ description of himself as ‘grotesquely incompetent’ might give an inaccurate or partial impression of his time in the army. He is possibly referring to a certain clumsiness (he hadn’t stopped growing when he enlisted at the age of 19) and an inability to turn right when ordered, instead turning left. While not being the best on the parade ground, it seems unlikely that a front line infantry soldier could survive if he had been entirely ‘incompetent’. From Jones’ enlistment straight from art school in South London in 1915 until his discharge in 1918, he was on the Western Front for the longest period of any British war poet by some distance. Jones certainly didn’t survive by any calculated evasion of risk, often volunteering for night sorties into no-man’s land in order, according to his biographer Thomas Dilworth, to avoid the boredom of repairing trench walls and other fatigues or sentry duty.

Up until submitting the manuscript of ‘In Parenthesis’ Jones had not considered himself a writer, and had no intention of being one until he found himself writing when he was ill in bed and unable to paint. He had frequent doubts about the book, made hundreds of revisions, and greatly appreciated the encouragement of friends who had read excerpts. He was unable to paint while he concentrated on writing, being able to focus on one medium at a time, and this caused him great distress.

Roy Marshall, David Jones ‘In Parenthesis’

The new and selected collection coming in 2023 officially has a title: Wonder & Wreckage. I think I mentioned this in another post, but I’m too lazy to go back and look, so I’ll just tell you again. This isn’t going to be your usual new and selected collection. I’ve selected poems from all of my previously published collections and chapbooks along with work that has appeared in journals and mixed it all up with work no one has ever read to create a story arc that stretches from Atlanta to LA. It’s unapologetically dark and expands and reframes narrative arcs previously hinted at in my other collections. Consider it a director’s cut or perhaps — with a nod to Taylor Swift — Collin’s Version. 

There will be an initial print run of 300 signed and numbered copies from Poetry Atlanta Press, which will be available exclusively from me. There will be an online store for ordering. If you don’t want it signed, you’ll be able to order it from Amazon or, preferably, your local indie bookstore. 

This is likely my last collection of poetry, or at least the kind of poetry I’ve been writing for the last 30 years. This collection puts a period – a full stop – to a very long journey that is now coming to a close. I’ll still be writing poetry, but it will come to you in various forms and mediums. I feel further and further removed from the poetry industrial complex, so leaving the traditional/expected behind is a direction I’ve been headed for a couple of years now.

Collin Kelley, New collection, Pushcart nomination & health update

This past fall, I had the wonderful news that the city of St. Louis Park, Minnesota selected my poem above to be published as a piece of public art by being sandblasted into a sidewalk.

I still don’t know exactly where my poem is located, and I look forward to others enjoying it and telling me they’ve found it. Since I’m currently overseas, I have to rely on others to let me know they’ve been to the site. So if you’re in the area, I’d love to see a pic of your “soles rest[ing] on/ my feat of verse!”

Scot Slaby, Something Concrete

It was great to attend the British Haiku Society’s winter gathering yesterday, with members on zoom sharing photographs of a place that was special to them, along with an accompanying photograph. I’ve since turned mine (above) into a photo haiku so I could share it on the blog. The place is Hebden Bridge, or to be more specific, a tiny hamlet on the hills above the town. The photograph was taken about a month ago and shows the trees clinging to the hillside, just on the edge of the tree line really – there’s not a lot else after this wood but farm tracks and moorland. The soil is so thin it makes you wonder how the trees manage to cling on. Anyway, it was a fairly cold blustery walk that day, but beautiful all the same.

The BHS meeting also included a virtual ginko, using time lapse films to inspire us to write some haiku. This was a bit daunting as I suddenly felt under pressure to produce a poem that was worth sharing. However, I can highly recommend Daisuke Shimizu’s timelapse film of Fukushima if you want to do a virtual ginko of your own. And maybe a bit of pressure on the writing process is no bad thing. I managed to get three haiku from the session, none of them jaw-dropping, but I enjoyed the process.

Julie Mellor, falling leaves

You can’t “finish” any writing task, or so I tell my students and myself. Revising and proofreading are crucial, and if it’s high-stakes writing, you should make time to do that repeatedly, but at some point you just have to call it quits. There’s no such thing as perfection.

Knowing that, I still feel incredibly anxious when I hand in a final copy of a book ms, as I’ll do very soon for my essay collection, Poetry’s Possible Worlds. I’ve been working on the damn thing for ten years. My editor has reviewed the whole ms, and several editors have reviewed sections of it for magazine publication. It’s in good shape. But this weekend I found a couple of typos we’d all missed; EVERY time I go through it, I find sentences to improve. Just yesterday, I noticed some inconsistencies in how I was using italics. Small potatoes, I know, but it always makes me wonder what else I’m not spotting or thinking of, or what useful secondary source I may have missed. A few years from now, I will think, “that was an unfortunate way to put it” or “I wish I had inoculated against that critique.” I have felt those regrets about every single book I’ve ever published.

Likewise, before each revision, I go through a crazy “clearing the decks” pre-work phase–as if I could ever get to the stage when every email has been responded to and every reference letter written. You can’t put off writing until nothing else is clamoring for your attention. You just have to stop attending to the other stuff for a while.

Lesley Wheeler, The impossibility of finishing anything

I mentioned to someone the other day that I was doing an online watercolor class, and they said, oh, they preferred to just keep stumbling around with their own experimentation. They seemed to think that taking a class in this artform would teach them what they SHOULD be doing — and they preferred not to know. This struck me.

I was glad it hadn’t occurred to me that knowledge is limiting. (I wonder when it was in my development that I learned to question everything, such that “shoulds” could always be undermined with “well, maybe, but explain to me why, and we’ll see.”) A little education certainly neither prevents nor even short-cuts fumbling around on one’s own. I took the class not thinking I was going to learn “how to paint in watercolor” but rather that I could learn some techniques, shortcuts, something to bridge my own internal gap between “wow, I’ll never be able to do that” to “oh, I think I can try that.”

I went to MFA-in-poetry school not to learn how to write poetry but to learn more about what other people have done in the history of writing poetry, both so I don’t falsely feel like I’m doing something groundbreaking when I’m not, but also so that I can build on/try different/do it again only with a twist/steal a good idea and make it my own. I mean, I have that MFA in poetry and still feel every day like I have no idea what I’m doing.

Marilyn McCabe, Leave those kids alone; or, On Learning “How” and Doing

First off, I take Larkin’s notorious eschewal of the aforementioned myth kitty not as a destination but as a point of departure. In other words, I do favour poems that don’t explicitly draw on and invoke classical mythology. However, it would be absurd not to recognise that all our reading and writing is shot through with our knowledge of myths.

As a consequence, when I write poems about Aldershot F.C. footballers of the 1980s, about their triumphs and disasters, tragedies and comedies, qualities and flaws, many of their stories implicitly remind us of those same myths. This is inevitable and necessary. A renewed, highly personal myth kitty such as this doesn’t ignore what has gone before. Instead, it recognises our cultural baggage, enabling us to empathise and reflect on how classical stories are played out in contemporary settings.

Specific present-day scenarios are capable of refreshing the myth kitty via new perspectives. In my view, the implicit invocation of classical myth is therefore more powerful than explicit allusion, though it forces the poet to take a far greater risk instead of reaching for shortcuts that everybody immediately understands.

Matthew Stewart, Reflections on the myth kitty

[Rob Taylor]: Near the end of the book, you write that “i’ve decided not to tell / the whole story as i know it,” and soon after, “forgive me, i don’t remember… which lie i kept // which truth i made.” Could you talk about “the truth” in this book? How does its “truth,” recorded in poems, differ from the “truth” of autobiography?

[Salina Boan]: Two of my mentors, Sheryda Warrener and Aisha Sasha John, read my work-in-progress and pushed the manuscript into a new place. They reminded me that I had to put my guts (my whole self) into the work I was making; they could tell I had been holding back. This is where the spine or “truth” of a poem lies for me—at the emotional centre. That kind of truth is one that I feel in my whole body when I’m reading a brilliant poem. It can be hard to go into the places a poem might require. I struggled and worked hard to try and do that with the poems in this collection, while also maintaining my own boundaries about what it is I wanted to share.

I sometimes changed specific details in the book, or added images, to help build and create space for the emotional centre of a poem. Our memories are fluid and what one person remembers about an event, another will not; even within autobiographical non-fiction there is always a selected narrative, there is always something left out, or altered, there is always limitation. Towards the final stages of editing, I took out a lot of specific details, sometimes to the detriment of the poem, but I wanted to respect my own boundaries and the stories of people I love and care for. It is so important in my work that I am actively caring for the people I love alongside making work that is emotionally honest.

Rob Taylor, Speaking to my kohkum Through Dreams: An Interview with Selina Boan

I Pump Milk Like a Boss” [by Kendra DeColo] is a list poem about all the contortions mothers go through when trying to fit breastfeeding into their lives. I’m a sucker for a good list poem (and have written about Ray Bradbury’s take on lists and creativity), and DeColo’s poem doesn’t disappoint. It has enough repetition to remind me of the tedium inherent to the subject (the form serves the content, in other words), while mixing it up enough to keep it interesting.

DeColo mixes up more than the repetition in this poem; like Katie Manning does in “What to Expect”, DeColo also turns our expectations on their head. OK, maybe they’re just my expectations. I have lots of drama/trauma around breastfeeding, including its monotony, but I am fairly confident I’m not the only one who considered it a chore. The life-giving, loving task filled me with resentment, and I internalized my bad reaction to it as a sign that I was a bad person and a bad mother. Thankfully, DeColo doesn’t write that poem.

What she gives us instead is lactating mother as superhero.

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt about the repetitive tasks of caregiving

The “Looking for Lorca” sequence has an epigram from Bly suggesting Lorca as a secret friend, someone you read and carry with you. The second poem, “What Does Life Want?” imagines having a drink with an imaginary Lorca,

“What does life want? A touch of winter consoles the green fizz
of August trees, toes dipped in snowmelt from the Sierra.
The cathedral’s bulk echoes with shouts of unborn children
chasing you down the river and mutes the angel-boy who sings
for coins in Calle Boabdil. When silence
stills the bells and the moon comes out
its chaste rose will scent the night,
silver these streets.”

It’s evocative with specific details and packed with ghosts suggesting a fluid boundary between past, present and future. Even in the silence, there’s still movement as fragrance of the flowers fills the air. It’s a sensual poem that doesn’t offer an answer, allowing readers to figure it out for themselves, which implies that life may want different things from different people and that’s how it should be.

Emma Lee, “Inscape” Kathleen Bainbridge (Vane Women Press) – book review

I remember sitting on my bed around 1995 , and wishing there was a way to share my poems. Not just poems, but books and images and music I was excited about. At the time, I didn’t really know about the internet (there were two computers that were AOL connected on the lab on the RC campus, but I was only using the lab to type papers and write-emails.) When my grad school professors at DePaul introduced us to the web for research purposes, I was shook. I dropped hours in the P&W forums between classes just listening to other writers chat. This still blows my mind sometimes, even two decades later. That this thing exists–that we get to talk to other in these spaces. As new platforms appear and dissolve, things shift, but I will always enthusiastically embrace new ways of connecting, whatever those are.

Kristy Bowen, on community and social media

I had some good news of my own this week – a Pushcart nomination (which the journal hasn’t announced yet, so I’m waiting to announce it) and two of my  manuscripts were semifinalists in a good book contest.

One of the manuscripts is fairly new, so I was really excited – the other is four years old, and so the semifinalist status felt less like a success. Isn’t that interesting? The four-year old manuscript has been a runner-up for the Dorset Prize (so close, but so far) and a close finalist at a few of the bigger publishers, so it’s so hard to keep getting “finalist” and “semifinalist” but no one willing to actually publish the damn thing. On the other hand, being a semifinalist with a new manuscript feels better, because it’s a sign the manuscript’s not totally a messed-up failure, right? So the whole thing felt bittersweet. Isn’t being a writer weird? Or it could just be me.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Friend Wins the National Book Award, the Bittersweetness of being a semifinalist, Thanksgiving Poems and Holiday Decor Weirdness, Struggling with Author Photos

So, toward digging into your work. These words by Enrique Martinez Celaya from his book, On Art and Mindfulness:

“When doubts bring you down, go back to the work not with the intention of doing something great but of doing something that marks your presence, that affirms you exist. Do not let yourself remain absent.”

In her book Index Cards, Moyra Davey quotes Lisette Model, (and I come back to this page very often):

“We are all so overwhelmed by culture that it is a relief to see something which is done directly, without any intention of being good or bad, done only because one wants to do it.”

Later in the book, she talks about how the last thing anyone needs is more “product.”

Shawna Lemay, You Exist

To be that perfect exercise song, one that exorcises all boredom off the bone.

Home song, road song.

Drum hunger laying down a steady 4/4 of going all the way song.

Rich Ferguson, To be that song

It’s very difficult to put into words exactly what the transformation is, without making myself sound like a raging alcoholic, which I wasn’t, but I was definitely someone who used alcohol as a crutch and made light of it, a lot. I figured it was probably something that needed addressing when I was aware I was very quietly putting bottles into the recycling bin, so the neighbours didn’t hear the clang and smash and notice how many bottles there were. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t drunk a bit more than usual over the plague years, and I’m not embarrassed to say that over working, husband having a stroke etc within the context of the plague year probably pushed me over what was acceptable. But, I now drink much less. And it’s brilliant.

It sounds like it should be simple to achieve, drinking less booze, and it was in many ways, but addressing it, facing the anxiety without a couple of glasses of wine was not simple. I now drink less, which means I get to buy the nicer wine. I drink less, which means I get to enjoy the wine, really enjoy it. It is not the main focus of my evening, it is now an occasional part of my evening. I haven’t had a hangover for twelve weeks, I haven’t lost a weekend to recovering from Friday’s wine consumption for twelve weeks and guess what, when they tell you that alcohol makes your anxiety worse IT IS TRUE.

Wendy Pratt, Nature and Nurture

Washed clean by the autumn sun, and by the wind blowing from the fresh snow in the mountains, and by the serious rains rolling in over the Coast Range. This Indian summer of my life: I have never been so happy, or so at ease. An unexpected reprieve. May it come to all of us.

Dale Favier, An Unexpected Reprieve

listen – look 
in mid-autumn night’s stream
otter ripples

Jim Young [no title]