Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 7

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

This week: Fat Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, a blog’s birthday, a book’s birthday… as the world steadily becomes more terrible. Poetry remains one of the very few effective antidotes to despair.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: love and chocolate, the return of light, bringing scarecrows to life, the cost of beauty, and much more. Enjoy,

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

This week, poets were visionary, resolute, hunkering down, easing back into the grind. Some evinced minds of winter, while others dreamed of warmer times and climes. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: telephones, traumas, holiday gift ideas, cris de coeur, and a lonely vending machine. Enjoy.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 49”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 48

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: old books and libraries, echo salesmen, mouths and spectacles, catastrophes and the delights of life. Enjoy!

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: secondhand books, Hafez divination, translating Villon, devil riffs, encounters with bulls, and much more. Enjoy.


All night the wind, the muffled bark of a dog-fox

All night the clatter of branches, the shuffling of a badger

All night the shared memory of screams burrows us into our blankets

Bob Mee, IT’S TOO LATE

Rather than await an “eagerly anticipated” book, why not rummage on secondhand shelves?

Many of the books I buy are years old, found by chance in charity shops. Charity bookshops nowadays even have sections for “Short stories”, which is more than some high street bookshops can manage. The books below aren’t really neglected masterpieces, but they’ve stuck in my memory longer than the more recently published books I’ve read. Many of them are the author’s first books, which may explain why I was impressed by them – they lack padding, and even the pieces that don’t work for me have interesting parts.

Tim Love, Some books

I have to stop and run back to take a second look
at what I think I’ve seen through the trees –

the horns of some monster, a bouldered head
and shoulders of beaten silver. And there he is

grasping a spear and a blade, Defender of
the post and rail fence, fields and house beyond,

Guardian of the small metal pig at his feet.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Saving ourselves

Courtney LeBLanc came to town in September, and I got to read with her at the CHE Cafe! What a brilliant poet, and what a wonderful space!

At the end of September, I hosted PLNU’s 25th Annual Poetry Day. I had the idea to have an ensemble reading of 25 poets for this special occasion, and we pulled it off! San Diego poets and a few guests from LA turned out for this incredible event, and we filled the auditorium. People stayed around talking for a long time afterwards too, and that’s how I know it was a good time. The whole evening felt magical.

In October I was a featured reader for Hafez Day in San Diego alongside some incredible poets. I chose the poems I read that night using Hafez divination: I opened the book of poems and let the lines I landed on point me toward which of my poems I should read. (I loved this! I need to let Hafez choose poems for me more often). This was such a beautiful night of poetry by a gorgeous variety of people.

Katie Manning, Publications & Reviews & Readings… Oh My!

To the creaking of deck boards underfoot,
I hear heaven’s prayer: Earth, earth.
The muscles of awe flex, and I stand
as still as the empty sky.
That is my closest name.

Soon I’m pulled back to tasks and lists.
Yet the grind of trucks outside
on rattling roadways
carries hints of That grateful silence.

Rachel Dacus, Thankfulness and Seasonal Gratitude

For her fifth full-length poetry title, Vixen (Toronto ON: Book*Hug Press, 2023), Ottawa poet and editor Sandra Ridley blends medieval language around women, foxes and the fox hunt alongside ecological collapse, intimate partner violence and stalking into a book-length lyric that swirls around and across first-person fable, chance encounter and an ever-present brutality. Following her collections Fallout (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2009) [see my review of such here], Post-Apothecary (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2011) [see my review of such here], The Counting House (BookThug, 2013) [see my review of such here] and the Griffin Prize-shortlisted Silvija (BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here], the language of Vixen is visceral, lyric and loaded with compassion and violence, offering both a languid beauty and an underlying urgency. “If he has a love for such,” she writes, as part of the second poem-section, “or if loathing did not prevent him. // A curse shall be in his mouth as sweet as honey as it was in our mouths, our mouths as / sweet as honey. Revulsive as a flux of foxbane, as offal—and he will seem a lostling. // He came for blood and it will cover him.”

Set in six extended poem-sections—“THICKET,” “TWITCHCRAFT,” “THE SEASON OF THE HAUNT,” “THE BEASTS OF SIMPLE CHACE,” “TORCHLIGHT” and “STRICKEN”—Ridley’s poems are comparable to some of the work of Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy for their shared use of medieval language, weaving vintage language and consideration across book-length structures into a way through to speak to something highly contemporary. As such, Vixen’s acknowledgments offer a wealth of medieval sources on hunting, and language on and around foxes and against women, much of which blends the two. A line she incorporates from Robert Burton (1621), for example: “She is a foole, a nasty queane, a slut, a fixin, a scolde [.]” From Francis Quarles (1644), she borrows: “She’s a pestilent vixen when she’s angry, and as proud as Lucifer [.]”

rob mclennan, Sandra Ridley, Vixen

Weather throbs and sunshine appears, warms the skunk’s foreparts. A patrolman on an off-day partakes in wink and simulation, then parked cars dissolve. An airship, low above the night table, fills with rivers, accepts me as a discoverer.

Gary Barwin, Breathe Moss and a video for my new book, Imagining Imagining: Essays on Language, Identity and Infinity.

Folks, I am so, so excited to announce that I have two poems published in “Purr and Yowl,” an anthology about cats! I am super-stoked about this, not only because the editor is one of my favorite people, David D. Horowitz, but because it’s an excellent anthology, and I’m published along with some true literary heavy-weights, which makes me feel both proud and humbled. The publisher, World Enough Writers, put together a beautiful publication, full of humor and horror and joy and anguish–all things associated with owning a psychopathic furball. I received my contributor’s copy a few days ago, and I have been reading it with awe and delight ever since. Hint, hint: It would make a great Christmas present for those cat lovers in your life. You can order your copy here:

Purr and Yowl

Kristen McHenry, Toxic Waspulinity, Bread Fail, I’m Published in “Purr and Yowl”!

if you haven’t been laying on a roof
at some point we have nothing in common.
i would pluck stars & put them
in my ears to hear something good.
i try to inhale & i breathe in
coal perfume & boyhood. don’t get me wrong.
there are worse things than
being misunderstood.

Robin Gow, 11/25

Some days I don’t want to go into life,
though the alarm is insistent,
it’s easier to stay outside,

close the eye-blinds,
turn off the ears,
stopper the scream,

don’t smell the smoke,
don’t touch the flame,
don’t taste the ash.

Some days I don’t want to go into life,
but I write my name on my helmet,
and I go in anyway.

Sue Ibrahim, Some days

One is a beekeeper.
One is barefoot.
One is from the Bay Area.
One is Kuwaiti.
One is a daycare worker.
One is from Iraq.
One is a boxer.
One is a nurse.
One is a newbie.
One is an old head.
One is a singer.
One is a guitarist.
One is trans.
One is bi.
One is a dad.
One is a mom.
One brings coffee.
One brings honey.
Cold mornings.
Rainy mornings.
They hold signs.
The cars pass.

Jason Crane, POEM: Palestine Corner

2

In Khan Younis, beyond the border fence,
no one dances dabka. In Nablus, a farmer
hugs her tree, and cries; another watches,
his grape vines crushed, his fingers broken.

3

A city center’s oil spills. A boy’s toy
plane soars from a concrete balcony
just seconds before the blast
of a white phosphorus bomb.

Maureen Doallas, Uprootings (Poem)

The afterlife the Witnesses sell is eternity on earth in Eden conditions, no want, no pain, no death or sickness. In the years since I’ve left I’ve thought that it would be a much more successful pitch if they didn’t demand so much of their followers in return, in time, in fealty. It’s more concrete than the heaven of their Christian brethren, after all.

But the fundamental problem of any afterlife is the question of what you do with all that time when there are none of the things that help us make time pass for better or worse. What does happiness mean when that’s all there is?

But heaven allows only jubilance
Possibly the angel needed to return
Human: with feelings, tears and laughter
Or find a way to shape the sadness into
A moment of beauty when the angel’s wings
Spread and flight moves to breathing
Full of vision. There the angel’s tears bond
With the visitor’s fear, awe.

It feels a bit like Spears Jones could be referencing a piece of art, which she does in other poems in this collection, but my internet search skills couldn’t narrow down a specific piece, even with the mention of Berlin a couple of lines later. But I want to focus on the seraphim, the feeling of needing to replace perfection with the broken and then create beauty from that. It’s a very human need, to transform moments and objects from one emotional state to another and to live in a state where that transformation can’t happen would be hollow. Maybe we want perfection because we haven’t really thought about what it would do to us to have it, about what we would lose in gaining it.

Brian Spears, Search for community, search for beauty

Thank you to Ailsa Holland for contributing this first blog post in honour of James Schuyler’s centenary.

James Schuyler’s ‘The Bluet’

‘The Bluet’ has changed for me this year. I used to see in it a recognition of the transformative magic of blue. It made me think of the best blues of my life — the precious lapis of the medieval manuscripts I fell in love with as a student; the shining silk handkerchief a young man wrapped round a milk bottle filled with daffodils; a blue gate with a silver-green pear tree in front of it, which I used to gaze at in perfect contentment; Patrick Heron’s window for the Tate on my daughter’s first visit to St Ives, the day she first said ‘blue’. And of course all those skies and seas of sunny days. I still wonder whether blue in itself can make a moment happy, or whether blue has a special power on memory, making those incidents shine out from the general murkiness of the past like Schuyler’s bluet in the Autumn wood.

In February of this year my mother died. She was a Quaker. We buried her in one of her favourite t-shirts, covered in small blue flowers. Now when I read ‘The Bluet’ I see her, a small woman with a stamina I only began to understand long after I left home. A woman who stubbornly refused to let the brown-grey of the world stop her joy, even though she felt her own and others’ suffering and grief so keenly. She knew that we are always in a season of dying, that we can still, freakishly, be ‘a drop of sky’, whether by marching, by baking scones or by writing poems. To be a Flower, as Emily Dickinson said, is profound Responsibility. And I see my mother on her last Christmas Day, watching my kids play rather unrehearsed carols in her room, her blue eyes bright as springtime.

Anthony Wilson, James Schuyler at 100: The Bluet, by Ailsa Holland

I came of age in the era when nearly every high school girl I knew read The Bell Jar and claimed it as her own story. Weren’t we all disaffected? On the edge of a mental breakdown? How could any young woman be “okay” in a social climate designed to keep women down?

We felt so much and could express so little. This novel allowed for points of connection, for a sense that we (okay—young, white women) had been seen. Strange sidebar: Plath wrote this under a very English pseudonym, Victoria Lucas, in 1963 (published unfinished in the UK, the year she died) and it arrived without fanfare. In 1973, it was republished under Plath’s name in the States. I read it in 1975, perhaps that’s the reason it felt so immediate. So palpable.

And although Sylvia Plath lived her first years in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts then Winthrop, and eventually attended Smith College, there is more than a generation between us. We never physically met. Yet her beautiful ghost followed me everywhere I went. In every poem I wrote, her genius mocked me. I wonder how many Massachusetts young women chose not to be poets? The fear of ending up a suicide felt all too real. Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton committed suicide just a little over 10 years apart — years that bookended my youth.

Susan Rich, And let us not forget Sylvia Plath:

The weird thing about this part of the book writing process, the part at which your manuscript has been handed gently over to the professionals for their guidance and advice, is the strange nothingness of it, which is interspersed with EXTREME EXCITEMENT, followed again by complete normality and quiet living. One day I am walking my dog down the lane in ten year old leggings, a too big coat, bobble hat and wellies, like the crazy village eccentric I am, the next I’m being invited to a swanky author party at the Ivy in London. I can’t go to the party, sadly, due to distance, trains, money and the elderly dog needing so much care and attention. But I have printed the invite out as a small career marker and I shall put it in my scrapbook to mark this place in my author journey. It is thrilling. I have to stop myself from saying “who, Me?!” when something like this happens.

This week double book excitement – firstly, the design for the map that will go in the front of The Ghost Lake arrived so that I can see if everything is in the right place. It’s beautiful. The map was a complex concept as it is a map of several layers of time in the same place, so needed to cover geographical, historical and personal places of note. It’s so beautiful that I think I will get the map printed up and framed to hang on my office wall. The second big thing was that we – myself and my brilliant editor – moved onto the next set of edits, which means I get to see a ‘clean’ copy of the manuscript. What does that mean? It means a copy of the manuscript with all edits so far, with the layout as it will be. There is still work to do on the book, but by reading a clean copy I get a feel of how it will read, without the clutter of a million suggestions in the margins, or highlights by me or the little reminders to myself where I have forgotten what it was that I was talking about and have instead, helpfully, left a series of ???? in a comment box. This is the closest it has been to an actual physical book so far. It also means that I’m at the stage where I will need to allow my mum to read it, and my husband, who both feature in it. I will also be sending chapters to people who have been interviewed for the book, and experts who I have talked to. In short, this is the first time the book creeps out from the safety of the publisher’s office, into the hands of people who have never seen it.

Wendy Pratt, Ghost Lake Rising

The Worlds End of rob mclennan’s title is, we are told in an epigraph, a ‘pub on the outskirts of a town, especially if on or beyond the protective city wall’; a space that is both convivial and liminal and a tone-setter for the book.

As a poet, editor, publisher and blogger, mclennan is a key figure in a world of poets, and this community is reflected in the fact that most of the poems that make up this book have individual epigraphs from writers, the regulars in the World’s End. A sense of poetry as being intrinsic to the world weaves through the book right from the opening section, ‘A Glossary of Musical Terms’:

The Key of S

Hymn, antiphonal. Response, response. A trace of fruit-flies, wind. And from this lyric, amplified. This earth. Project, bond. So we might see. Easy. Poem, poem, tumble. Sea, to see. Divergent, sky. Deer, a drop of wax. Design, a slip-track.

This melding of the natural and domestic worlds (hinted at by the slip-track) with the world of poetry and language is characteristic of mclennan’s work here, with frequent pivots on words that can be read as noun or verb (project). The carefully disrupted syntax calls out the sense of observing from the margins. This can lend a sense of Zen-like simple complexity, a tendency towards silence:

Present, present, present. Nothing in particular.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading November 2023

I’m enthralled by this book of poems by Oregon poet Debra Elisa. My first impression was that her poems made a good contrast to mine, choreographed differently, her language distinct and pocked with color. But as I read more deeply, I began to see how our subjects and themes overlap: childhood songs, mothers and grandmothers, kitchens, birds, dogs, backyard gardens.

We also—if I can extend my interests beyond my new book—share a fascination with Emily Dickinson, as this cover blurb written by Allen Braden makes clear, calling Debra’s style “as idiosyncratic as Emily Dickinson’s with poems flaunting ‘breath and tiptoe glory and Clover.’”

And so much more, poems about social justice, poems about peace. Consider these lines:

You write often of    Trees   Dogs   Birds
she says       and I feel disappointed      because I wish

her to tell me       You challenge us to consider justice
and love in all sorts of ways.

(“Dear Friend”)

In short, this is an eclectic, surprising collection of poems.

What makes You Can Call It Beautiful a coherent collection (too) is the way Debra weaves her themes throughout, and unites all of it with her gift for sound and color.

Bethany Reid, Debra Elisa: YOU CAN CALL IT BEAUTIFUL

Selima Hill’s Women in Comfortable Shoes is different again [to O’Brien’s Embark and Gross’s The Thirteenth Angel]. The poems are all short – many if not most six or fewer lines. They’re grouped into sequences but even within these I think they largely work as separate units. They have the punchiness of epigrams but unlike epigrams what most offer is not pithy reflections on life in general but flashes of extremely subjective response to another person or to the speaker’s immediate circumstances. She appears at different ages, as a child at home or a girl in a boarding school at one end of the book and as an old woman at the other. She comes across as highly intelligent and observant, vividly imaginative, prickly, rebellious and uncompromising, perpetually embattled with others and often conflicted in herself, bewildered by other people’s feelings and behaviour and sometimes almost as much so by her own. In some ways this collection is like Hill’s previous one – Men Who Feed Pigeons – but I felt that in Men the accumulation of impressions emerging between the lines of a given sequence encouraged me to achieve a sense of what the other characters in a relationship were like in themselves, independently of the poet-persona’s reactions to them, and to ‘read’ her and their reactions in that wider context. I feel that much less in this collection.

Although their economy and clarity suggests the application of deliberate art, in other ways most of the very short poems have the air of immediate releases of thought, lightning flash spontaneity and truth to the impulse of the moment. This gives a sense of honesty and makes us – or made me – feel very close to the poet. It goes with a willingness to express unworthy feelings without shame or apparent self-consciousness.

Edmund Prestwich, Selima Hill, Women in Comfortable Shoes – review

Perhaps merely writing poems isn’t enough? What does it achieve after all? “Fate”, the final poem has an answer as the poet visits a dollar store and gets shoved to the back of the shelf where no one will see her. However, her poems,

“slip themselves into various
shoppers’ pockets.

I trust them to start
singing at the perfect,
most inopportune moments.
This is how, they assure me,
new poets are born.”

Change can happen, one poem and one shopper at a time. Poetry is thought-provoking, a sly vehicle of change. And that’s what Kyla Houbolt has achieved: a set of cerebral poems designed to get the reader thinking and responding to the questions raised without being dictated to or guided towards a specific conclusion. “Surviving Death” is quietly generous in spirit.

Emma Lee, “Surviving Death” Kyla Houbolt (Broken Spine) – book review

It was actually a rather beautiful house, in a very beautiful setting, and I can at least say that I loved the hills and the sky. I knew the dirt roads and the trails intimately, I would like to live somewhere beautiful again, before I die, though it seems increasingly unlikely that I will. I’m glad I knew the night sky before it was littered with satellites, and glad that I learned black oaks by climbing them and griming my hands on their rugged pelts. That much of the lost world I do have in my blood.

Hush, now, and listen for the breeze that comes up at first light: watch for the bloody sun to spill over the hill crest and make the oaks into calligraphy against the pink sky. Not much longer now. There are not many threads to pick up, but I’ll gather what I can.

Dale Favier, The House my Stepfather Built

Rob Taylor: François Villon was, to say the least, a character. A criminal and cheat, both his poems and life story are filled with misdirection, subterfuge and gaps. In the acknowledgments to After Villon, you write that you began translating Villon shortly after first encountering his work in 2009. What was it about Villon that drew you in so quickly and so fully?

Roger Farr: It was precisely those things you mention. That and the fact that Villon, a medieval poet, was the first to erase the separation between his art and his life, which arguably makes him the first avant-garde writer. But for some time before I read Villon, I had been interested in political and aesthetic discussions about visibility, readability, and clandestinity, topics I wrote about for anarchist publications. When I was working on a piece for Fifth Estate about the work of the Situationist Alice Becker-Ho, who introduced me to Villon, I learned about his poetic use of coded language, deceit, and slang, and I became deeply intrigued. 

RT: Villon’s influence on After Villon is obvious, but as I read your book I started to think of the title as being composed of two parts, with the “After” actually pointing to Jack Spicer, whose After Lorca—with its loose translations and “correspondences” from Spicer to Lorca—served as a template of sorts for your book. Did you ever feel tension in trying to honour all three “contributors” (Villon, Spicer, you) in one book? If so, how did you manage that?

RF: As soon as I started to see my accumulating translations as a book, I knew I would use After Lorca as a template. I have always found Spicer’s poetics difficult to comprehend, which is no doubt part of my attraction to his work. But I thought the correspondences he writes to Lorca were a brilliant way to elaborate a poetics of translation without resorting to overly expository prose. So he was mostly a formal influence, at the level of the book. Ultimately, my eyes and ears were always attuned to Villon.

Rob Taylor, The Poem’s Hum: An Interview with Roger Farr

What am I without the shroud of poetry that covers my nakedness. It is the only way you could have known me: translated into a poem. Into a shroud. Some verses, some lines, some words are lost. Replaced by spaces. A person, a part, a poem, a word, in the end, becomes a space. Space something else will occupy. Loss is white. The colour of erasure. The colour of forgetting.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Weariness has the same texture as cloud

I have been reading novels, which affects my state of mind, makes me dreamy and distracted, foggy-headed, and full of the conflicts in their plots. Or maybe the weather is what does it–too much lovely late autumn sun and not enough rain, which feels “off” for our region; and once the rain finally arrives, it is a dour and chilly dousing I have to convince myself to feel grateful for. Likely the news cycle has not helped my mood. My nine-year-old self emerges from a distant past, crying, “People are so mean!” My parents can no longer sit down beside me and offer comfort.

Time to switch to the poets. I’m finally getting around to reading Ocean Vuong’s Time Is a Mother, a collection that’s been on my to-read list for far too long. The very first poem, “The Bull,” startled me into reading it twice. “I reached–not the bull–/but the depths. Not an answer but/an entrance the shape of/an animal. Like me.” Enough to jolt me out of my fiction-induced haze, especially on a day like this one when I feel the anxious dreamy child in me more than I wish. The prose poems later in the book intrigue me, as well: a very different prose than is found in most novels.

Ann E. Michael, Practice

The first stop on the river cruise I took this month was Arles.  Arles makes a very big deal of the time Vincent Van Gogh spent there, with placards set up around the city.  It does indeed have wonderful light, and the white stone of its monuments adds to the effect. I, however, was more interested in the Roman ruins, ancient walls and other buildings. The amphitheater is quite grand.

In the old hospital in which Van Gogh lived after his ear episode, the garden is maintained to match his paintings.  But it was November, so the appearance was a bit drab.  I took this picture because I felt like I should.

Ellen Roberts Young, Visit to Arles

I just got back to chilly Ohio after a couple of days at the Miami Book Fair. Sunshine, palm trees, tostones, mojitos, energizing conversations with writers, and so many books, books, books. Plenty of joys, even in harrowing times.

In Miami I had a panel discussion with Hannah Pittard and a powerful conversation with Dani Shapiro for her podcast Family Secrets. If you’re in the mood to listen to a podcast this week, I especially loved this incredibly moving episode of Family Secrets, and I had a terrific conversation about ambiguity and “grounded hope” with organizational psychologist and NYT bestselling author Adam Grant recently for ReThinking. (I even forgive Adam for being a Michigan wolverine.)

Grounded hope. Yes, please!

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

I have just spent much of a week in a house with no internet access–no, not mine, but the ramshackle house that my family rents each year.  In the past, we’ve been given a hotspot from the camp that rents the house, but last year, we discovered that they no longer provide that service.  We used our smart phones as hotspots, and I had the highest mobile phone bill I’ve ever had, since I don’t have unlimited data.  

Last year I learned how much data gets used when the phone is a hotspot, so this year I was more careful and intentional.  No more mindless scrolling of sites in the morning before everyone else work up–I read a book! No more checking various sites in the afternoon because I was bored–I went for a walk or started up a conversation.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Low Tech Thanksgiving

And it’s not over. This is the peripeteia. The point in the story where everything turns. It is the apex of the drama, where things slide towards a new kind of normal. What follows is all denouement. A theater lecturer once described it as the part after the final commercial break of a sitcom. The reassuring little bit to let us know life goes on.

I know it may not be that easy. The side effects of radiation aren’t predictable. I see already that, while I thought my nails had made it through chemo, my toenails are now falling off. Surprises keep coming.

But in terms of symmetry: there were the retrospective cancer-free 57 years, the breast cancer (1 known and 2 stealth buggers), and this is the new cancer-free part of the story it resolves at least one theme of the bigger story.

A few months ago I heard a podcast about narrative psychology. They talked about how it matters where you start and end a story. Where we choose to do that, how we frame our experiences, makes a big difference in how we handle the potential trauma, and how we create meaning in (and I would say with) our lives.

As always I retain the right to change to reframe all of this.

Ren Powell, “Paripeteia” & In Praise of Partners

I was glad to be asked to write an essay on a new biography of Jane Kenyon (and Donald Hall ) for The Poetry Foundation. The two are a legendary pair; they loved each other, period, and that love, like all love, was as messy as they each were, and exercised as purely and gently as they could bear it. You can read the full essay here, but below is an excerpt that will help set up my next two points:

The many pains of Kenyon’s life had the effect that fog does on light. As a fog refracts and lifts, it catches impossible variations; as it clears, what’s there to be glimpsed is seen with a clarity whose insight is hard-earned (“The soul’s bliss and suffering are bound together,” Kenyon wrote in “Twilight: After Haying”). She believed in—embodied—a spirit of resurrection and regeneration, having so often experienced a miraculous return to sanity and ease. Her fiercest rejections of dogma and her own discomforts led to her greatest gentleness on the page, deepening that inner resilience and vision, giving a shape and a reprieve to suffering through writing. Her desire for repute—“I can’t die until I have a reputation,” she insisted—was paired with a profound spiritual selflessness. “To love and work and to cause no harm” was her motto. Her attention was brilliantly suited for the focused, idiosyncratic attention needed to filter a large world through a narrow aperture, making her short lyric poems containers for what she called “the luminous particular.” She saw poetry as a vehicle for reporting on the inner life, and she delivered that vital news.

Something strikes me about the way that Jane Kenyon metabolized her hardships and gifts, as all poets must finally do. She suffered from severe, often debilitating depression, feeling angry and isolated throughout the majority of her childhood.

And yet, Kenyon had a rich and varied romantic life, one that, despite its early moralistic indoctrination (a widowed grandmother who espoused apocalyptic Christianity), repression, and her own unyielding psychic anguish, proved companied, exciting, and sensual. Despite her early experiences—and perhaps as a result of them—she developed a capacity, willingness, and appetite for the opposite: tenderness, flexibility, love. It strikes me that “The Life,” which biographers rely upon for insight into poetic output, yields curiously and differently to each poet’s affinities, vision, and voice.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I had started working on the devil riffs in 2011 after reading Luc Ferry’s A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. In it, he referenced the idea of “diabolos” or “the who who divides.” I remember writing that down in my notebook and thinking about it every once in a while, riffing on ideas of division and duality in freewrites. The more I wrote, the more I felt that I wasn’t writing about religion directly, instead taking the devil on as a lens, how we humanize the devil and project onto them everything from our misdeeds to an idealized swagger and power. So, the breakthrough of using one narrative as a lens with which to approach other narratives was practiced with the devil first. 

When I began working on what would be the first draft of this book, the devil riffs naturally came to mind as an element to put in play. It was around this time, too, that the moment happened where the word devil was confused for double—a natural moment in conversation that made it into the world of the book. Every draft of this book had these devil riffs (I keep calling them riffs as they never felt like poems but more that they borrow from philosophy and aphorism) scattered throughout. They always stood out to folks who read the manuscript, the reactions a mix of confusion and amusement. The idea of bringing them all together under one title came late in the process, and was born after reading an article about books that don’t exist. As I read it, it occurred to me that the devil riffs were their own book within a book, so I tried a draft with it. Once I saw them all together, I was inspired to add some further riffing, turning out what you see in the final version.

This book within a book allowed for a different voice from the main speaker of the manuscript. This shift also allowed the devil voice to address a “you” which is both me and the reader of the book, which is eerie (I hope). Suddenly the devil is not just the usual projections and excuses (the devil made me do it) but also devil as conscience, devil as speaking in a more assertive register than the speaker elsewhere. Note, too, that the devil says things that L turns out to have said, and also riffs against some of the speaker’s own words. Here, again, the idea of the double. The play of “Devil or nothing” was one of the final things to be written. I suppose that the manuscript is abandoned in order to enact the “nothing” half of it.

José Angel Araguz, Ruin & Want interview excerpt, pt. 4

Two years ago an exciting new online journal made its appearance on the literary scene. Uniquely, the voidspace focuses on interactive arts: the website itself is an invitation to dive in and explore through a series of alluring portals. I spoke to founding editor Katy Naylor about the voidspace, her sources of creative inspiration, her poetry, and her plans to set up a new press.

Katy, you’ve described yourself as growing up in ‘a house full of books’. Tell us something about your creative development and the influences that inform your writing.

Katy: I actually spent the majority of my life not thinking of myself as a creative person at all. I wrote stories as a kid, as many people do, but as I grew up I became a reader, a viewer and a player: a consumer of art rather than a creator.  

My mum was an English teacher, so literature was always part of my life. I was a real theatre kid, going to see Shakespeare with my mum regularly, and even making yearly pilgrimages to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare and other plays. I was also keenly interested in history (particularly mediaeval history – I even spent a few years practising early mediaeval crafts, combat styles and building methods, and learning how to sail a longship) and folk music (I spent some time as a Morris dancer!).  

When I got older I discovered immersive theatre – Punchdrunk in particular – and the multi-layered and multi-sensory storytelling I encountered there blew me away.  

I’ve also been interested in adventure and narrative games for a long time, as a player before I was a writer. As I kid, I loved text adventures on the computer and in choose your own adventure books, and I even taught myself some BASIC coding in order to try to write my own. A British kids’ TV show, called Knightmare, had a huge impact on me as well. It was essentially a Dungeons ‘n’ Dragons type game, but using a mixture of actors, props and early blue-screen technology, you could see one of the players seemingly physically present in this elaborate fantasy world (and seemingly falling off imaginary precipices, if they weren’t careful). It really captured my imagination. 

As an adult, I discovered interactive theatre, which combines game mechanics with a theatrical narrative art, and found my own online DnD group. In its purest form tabletop gaming is a form of collaborative storytelling, but it releases players from the sense of obligation to “perform” and polish. As a result of that freedom, you often get incredible stories growing organically, that would never have happened had players consciously thought that what they were doing was writing. That’s the energy I try to bring to the voidspace – that sense of creative playfulness. 

It was during lockdown that I discovered that I could actually write. I think having the time and space to think and experiment woke something in me. When we were only allowed out for a short time every day, I’d take long walks by the sea where I live (the sea is another abiding influence) and the ideas would come. Once I started to write, all the influences I’ve talked about: theatre and gaming, the past, music and folklore, the songs of the sea – all came back to me, and still form the backbone of my work. 

Marian Christie, Step into an adventure: An Interview with Katy Naylor of the Voidspace 

This time of year also brings on my informal year-end evaluations—what went well this year and what didn’t, things I want to invite into my life and things I want to do less of. It’s easy to forget the accomplishments and successes of the year in cold, stark November—so I try to keep track of those too. On the writing front, I had the book launch for Flare, Corona in May (and a preview of it at AWP, where I connected more than ever with the disabled writing community, which was great), and I turned 50—there were many more family visits than in the past seven years, and I reconnected with friends that I wanted to see again who had sort of slipped out of focus. I’m prioritizing friends and family, my writing work, and my health in 2024 for sure. I also want to make sure that I do less unpaid labor (and look for more paying opportunities) because my financial health is becoming a priority too—especially as my health care becomes more specialized—and more expensive.

I love the poetry world but one thing about it I don’t love is how it relies on writers’ unpaid labor (and submission fees, etc.)—usually the people who can least afford it—to prop it up.  I’ve been volunteering as a reviewer, editor, fund-raiser, PR person, etc. for over 20 years. Isn’t that crazy? If I acknowledge that I have limited time and energy, then I need to volunteer…less. This also means being pickier about venues for submitting poetry and reviews, as well as maybe trying to write more essays. (And a big thank you to the journals that pay reviewers and writers and the folks who organize paid readings and classroom visits!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Eagles, Thanksgiving Celebrations, a Poem in JAMA this Week, Guest Appearance at Washington and Lee University, And Year-End Evaluations

Driving home from my son’s orchestra practice
in the dark of rural Vermont, mountains
a slightly different deep blue than sky:

sudden sense-memory of dancing with my father
at my wedding. Nat King Cole on Spotify,
probably a song our hired jazz trio crooned.

The marriage and my parents are both long-buried
but I remember my father healthy and strong,
his arms around me, the crisp sheen of his tux.

I wish I could have that back. My parents,
and how everything seemed possible, for all
whom I love. The griefs I didn’t yet know.

Rachel Barenblat, Blue

You want to know how it is possible to sustain
attention over broken periods of time, how to find

again the cord of your lineage and the emblems
of not-darkness in the rubble. You want to know

where the birds with emerald plumes went
after they abandoned the garden, and whether

someone remembered to save the seeds
from the fruit of once abundant trees.

Luisa A. Igloria, Sometimes You Want to be Stronger than Fate

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

How did she know? How did she know that singularity of each of us, the separation that the Self defines, the pain of it sometimes?

the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

This is the line that moves me to tears. Why is that? The generosity of the world, perhaps, its offer to me, the risk involved in loving, in loving the world, and the excitement, and the reward in taking that risk, in opening myself, my imagination, to all that is possible in this incredible life.

over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

With the geese, with the soft animal of my body, with you, wherever you are, connected through out imaginations, through our connections to the world, each other, the wild, the roots, branches, the wings, clouds, the wind, the world. Of and in and with.

Marilyn McCabe, Geese

and then i found you
with your hand on a book’s breeze
lost in the turning

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 30

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: mindlessness, writing routines, poetry and psychology, fierce women, and more. Enjoy.


That was a different kind of
love. That was a love of something beautiful
simply because it was. It was violet,
supple, thick, luscious, soft. It was everything
I ever wanted in a bathrobe. It hangs,
right now, on a hook in my bathroom, stretching
and fading in the morning sun, years after
the man himself has gone to ashes, decades
and decades after he gifted it to me.
It was the first gift he gave me, and the last.

PF Anderson, Bathrobe

I had to nudge myself into another poetry submission and discovered it was a full two months since the last. Sigh… Busy, stressful times continue, but with beauty, joy, and moments of sweet downtime, plus, alas, dangerous heat. But the heat has lifted, and I am soon to volunteer at two tables for our annual downtown Pridefest, itself delayed by a full month but now fully supported by the city. I’ve got my Pride hat, my Pride flags, and two shirts–one for each organization, plus a water bottle, travel tissue, a cell phone for a ride home, and a Walt Whitman tote bag. I feel strangely well prepared! I hope I am coherent, as I had a little anesthesia yesterday. Nasturtiums I planted from seed, and the above marigold, are blooming! There was welcome rain and, sadly, some unwelcome damage from recent storms. Let’s hope we all repair.

Kathleen Kirk, Nudge

She sits by my neighbour’s front window, sometimes tries to wander into the house and she has a face I want to look into all day, to absorb that moment’s contentment. She’s about the same size as a young fox that wanders across mum’s terrace and when the back door’s open nips in to take out the red slippers I keep there. I side with the myths of fox as messenger of the gods. I don’t like the anthropomorphic characteristic of cunning. A fox walking down mum’s road the other evening with a rabbit hanging out of its mouth was a reminder of truth.  It went up to the Tye and waited near one of the many warrens. I could not disparage a fox for that. Humans, on the other hand, put words on the walls of art galleries and ignite fields, forests, mountains and valleys.

Jackie Wills, The vixen’s stare

The French existentialists — I barely read them, but what a baneful influence they had on me! — thought of life as a thing to be invented; made up, out of some primal creative fire, and then committed to, in an act of bold self-assertion. I don’t think this conception stands up well under examination. Who, after all, does the creating? Where did *that* self come from, the one who makes the choices? Why, the self before the choices, of course, and you get a regress that’s either infinite, or ends up in Mama and Papa and your kindergarten peers. This is noble independence? I don’t think so. The thing  doesn’t make any sense: and anyway it doesn’t correspond to anything I know or remember about myself. I didn’t invent myself. I’ve gradually and painfully discovered myself.

Dale Favier, Flowering

The wildfires are spreading like wars. We need to get out.
Airports have closed.
People walk the roads with suitcases.
We get into the car and drive into history,
using a map of Europe from before the meteor.
We give the kids an I-Spy Book of Dinosaurs
to keep them quiet for an hour or so.
They look hopefully out of the windows.

You’re wearing that light yellow shirt,
the top two buttons undone because of the heat.
Your silver crucifix shines as the sun diffuses
through the windscreen dirty with bugs.

Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING AFTER PAINTING A GHOST THAT RETURNED FROM THE END OF THE MIND

There’s a difference between the mindless and the tedious. I don’t care for tedium; but a task I can mindlessly manage–something physical, but not too demanding, without a lot of surprises I need to problem-solve–those projects can be almost relaxing. When weeding, my thoughts can wander. The job is so familiar and repetitive that there is no need to devote much brainpower to it. Ideas, reflections, observations, images can float aimlessly in my mind. I can think about poems while weeding. Taking a walk in a woods or quiet countryside offers me the same sort of internal/external environment.

Proofreading was like that for me, back when I was a proofreader (when there were such things as proofreaders in every newspaper, type or print shop, publishing house, ad agency, and legal department). Editing takes some thought; but the less engaged a proofreader is with the text, the better. I was employed as a proofreader when I first recognized that I was truly serious about writing poetry, and I found value in the ’empty mind’ that my workaday job fostered. There was a bonus in that sometimes I did glean new information from the materials I read.

~

Composing this post, it strikes me that “mindless” is the wrong word, or not an accurate word to convey what it’s like to feel internally occupied while the physical body’s doing something else. “Reflection” implies more stillness. Something more akin to walking meditation?

At any rate, I can hope that the weeding and staple-removing might eventually get my poetry mojo re-booted. I have to work on my next manuscript and continue to promote my latest book, too. In the meantime at least I’m accomplishing something.

Ann E. Michael, Mindlessly

I finished this 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a Van Gogh painting, and it only took 2 1/2 years! Seriously, my family started it on Thanksgiving 2020, stalled out, rolled it up on one of those felt contraptions, bagged it, and threw it in a corner of the living room. This week was quiet with Chris away, so on a whim I pulled it out. I quickly became obsessed, for reasons I didn’t understand. I don’t want to tell you how many hours I spent sorting and fitting the little streaky pastel pieces. (P.S.: I eventually found the final missing shape, after I broke the puzzle up and reboxed it, of course.)

As soon as I did, I was able to return to some difficult work that was stalled: making a near-last revision to my next poetry book, Mycocosmic, and working on the elaborate author questionnaire I mentioned last week. These tasks have similarities to finishing a jigsaw puzzle: for instance, both involve sifting through patterns, although a puzzle has one solution and a book many possible good shapes. But working on one cleared my head for the other, I think, oddly enough in the way Ann E. Michael describes low-cognition chores in her recent blog post. Maybe there are a lot of poets out there taking breaks from mental work in this extreme July heat.

Lesley Wheeler, Jigsawing together a poetry ms

Some days are bad writing days. Some weeks are bad writing weeks. It’s possible to meet a word count and have no clue what the words were. It’s possible to feel like a robot, mechanically working, without feeling or connection. It’s possible to hate every minute of it.

It’s possible to go on like this for a very long time.

But if you keep working, eventually something will click.

What is it that clicks? A door? A master lock? A vault in the Sistine Chapel? The snap of the lid of a pickle jar?

Who knows. But something opens up.

Those bad writing days are all part of the work, it turns out. We can accept them. Tolerate them. Maybe even appreciate them.

They are like the abrasive relative at holiday dinners. Difficult to love, but still part of the family. […]

Sometimes the click happens when you least expect it.

In the supermarket, at a playground playdate, on your way to class, in the middle of an argument with your best friend.

Suddenly, you realize, you’ve been working this entire time. You’ve kept going, even without fully knowing it.

It’s like trying to stand still in the ocean—impossible. Just being in the water, the current pushes you along.

Becky Tuch, Monday Motivation! With Thoughts on Craft!

I’m a great believer in the satisfaction that comes from making and doing things yourself, and find this an antidote to so much of what feels wrong about our disposable, ever-faster, highly commercial, media-driven culture. It’s a great feeling to create something from scratch that is uniquely yours, to use it and enjoy it, and to learn from the project so that you are inspired for the next one. The biggest key to success is to start simply, and find some helpful friends or resource people who can advise you about your choices and your process when you’re having difficulties. Nobody is born knowing how to do these things! Just as in cooking, we all have to learn, we all get better at it gradually, and there is always something cool and exciting to aspire to in the future.

Beth Adams, A Report on my Summer Sewing Binge – Part 2

It’s my own fault, I hadn’t planned properly. The things that I thought would take minimal work, didn’t. I’d broken my own cardinal rule and planned for time (off) that I wanted, rather than time (off) that I had. Although I’d taken no new work on, work that was rolling on still existed. I am the founder and editor of a literary magazine, Spelt, a magazine that seeks to validate and celebrate the rural experience through creative non fiction and poetry. We feature interviews with authors and have four creative non fiction columnists and the magazine is a print magazine, which means a lot of work needs to go into it. I work with two other editors, but really, this is my project, my baby and so I tend to take on the lion’s share of the work. No one gets paid, we all do it for the love of being a part of a system that creates platforms for writers who we feel need more recognition and a place to show how nature writing can be something other than a practice of romanticised observation. We recently suffered a set back financially and we’ve been limping on with the magazine while we try to raise some funds through the annual competition. Because I was writing the book, issue nine was behind, is behind. Because I was writing the book the competition wasn’t getting the promotion it needed to be successful. I realised I needed to catch up on those commitments before I could really take time off. My compromise was three hours work between 6 and 9 am, in the hope that after that I’d be able to take time off, but what happened was that the lovely, elderly dog needed his daily care – the glacial pace slow walks that keep him happy and healthy, the attention to his coat (he’s long haired, and I can’t get him to the groomer anymore as he gets too upset and stressed) in the heat of summer, his occasional incontinence and his need to be with me, the reassurance that he needs. If you’ve ever lived with an elderly dog, you’ll know that at this stage of their lives, they need a lot of care giving. I don’t imagine we have a long time left with him, and I want to make sure that every one of those days is of gentle happiness and companionship. By the time I’d be done and got him settled it would be lunch time, and I’d be exhausted because I was up early every day to work, and I just wanted to sleep. And then, because of the monster anxiety – because I knew that I would need to jump back onto work and be prepared to, like a Flintstone car, run as soon as my feet touched the ground, after my ‘time off’; making space to work on the edits of the book when it’s returned, setting up work around it to enable me to continue to pay my mortgage and bills while I do, meant some planning and prep work. And then the day was over and the elderly dog needed his glacial evening walk and then it was bed time. Reader, there was no walks on the beach, and the weather has been very rainy anyway, so that put paid to even simply sitting in the garden. I even lost most of my usual sacred morning space to write and reflect because I was filling that space with work to allow me some time off. […]

Yesterday I did the thing that I said I was going to do and, after I had dealt with the old dog, my husband and I left the house and went to be tourists at Burton Agness Hall.

As soon as we were out of the village and crossing the Wolds I felt better. As soon as we were pouring ourselves through the fields of wheat and barley, the golden summer landscape, I felt better. We saw a stoat cross the road like a small fire burning and my heart expanded, loosening all the tense muscles around it. We spent hours walking the grounds of the hall, being moved by the stories of people long since dead, soaking up the extraordinary art on display, walking thorough the gardens lulled by the hum of bees, the scent of flowers, then dinner at the pub, then home. When I walked the dog that evening I felt grounded. I wasn’t thinking about what was next on the list. I was communing with the place that I live, connecting to the ground beneath my feet, the breeze, the prickle of rain. Two roe deer were in th top field as I passed. We stopped to watch each other, then carried on with our lives. I felt like I had come home, not just physically, but mentally. This morning, i am up and at my desk to write. The world will not end if I don’t answer my emails. Today I am giving myself over to writing time. I don’t know what I shall write, it doesn’t matter. Maybe an essay, maybe a poem or a flash fiction or the start of something bigger. It doesn’t matter. It starts here, with this essay, with these words. Thankyou for bearing witness to it.

Wendy Pratt, Allowing the Creative Well to Refill

After book club on Wednesday where we discussed the poetry book Our Dark Academia (in case you’re following along with the book club) among other things, I remember feeling a moment thinking about taking joy in talking about books and just writing for fun, not worrying about publishing or marketing or any of that stuff.

I think I got exhausted from the first few months of my sixth book coming out, plus AWP and all that accompanies that, and it was nice to remember that appreciating poetry is kind of its own reward, and that there are simple things that give us joy: visiting with family and friends, walking through a field of lavender, watching butterflies, and writing poetry among them.  I’m not particularly good at slowing down and having moments of peace and joy, I actually had a book as a teen called When I Relax I Feel Guilty, so this week was a bit of a revelation. Then I wrote two poems (I hadn’t written in a little while) and didn’t worry about updating any spreadsheets or submitting or rejection—I just enjoyed writing them.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Back Into Routines, Finding Joy in Writing and Talking Books, and Looking Forward to Fall (Readings?)

Rob Taylor: The back jacket copy of If It Gets Quiet Later On, I Will Make a Display bills it as “a volume of essays, stories and poems… on a life of reading, writing and bookselling.” And yet, smack in the middle we find “Collected Trout,” a 24-page essay on Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop. Like in a wide-ranging display at a bookstore, your reader is left to make the connections between this disparate part and the others. A few other pieces, too, seem only loosely tethered to the book’s central concerns. 

“I love making the themed / (albeit only broadly associative) tabletop / displays,” you write in an early poem in the book. Later, you refer to this type of curation as “a form of poetry.” Could you talk about your approach to the curation of this book, which ranges so widely in both form and content? 

Nick Thran: I find I am focused, energized, and un-self-conscious when I’m gathering books together for display. One afternoon, immersed in this activity, I paused, looked out the window, and thought to myself, this feels so good. Then I began to think about display-making in the context of the writing I’d been doing over the last few years. 

After Mayor Snow, I wanted to write a book that didn’t rely too heavily on well-paved neural pathways towards anxiety and fear. Those things could be there in the new work, would be there, because that’s a part of my makeup. But the central mode of the new book, whatever it looked like, would be that E.M. Forster quote from Howards End “Only connect!” I also wanted to stay with things longer than I was in a lot of my poems. I liked the challenge of extending looks, in prose, while also accommodating diversions, digressions, associative thought. 

But I’d hit a wall in a book of essays I was working on. The essays I’d already written were interesting to me. A lot of them, “Collected Trout” included, are in this book. But I’d developed an impossible set of constraints for myself. I was also running into that difficulty most every non-fiction writer, writing about the work of others, runs into: am I really the person to be speaking on behalf of some of the artists I’m writing about? Especially if I’m trying to make these essays, in some way, personal? Fiction gave me some freedom from those constraints, to remove the names, to veer off in wildly imaginative or speculative directions, but keep the essence.

Rob Taylor, On Display in my Mind: An Interview with Nick Thran

Jonathan Totman has recently started a new poetry blog and it looks like becoming an top-notch addition to the scene. Using his expertise in clinical psychology as a point of departure, his posts provide a focus on poetry and mental health, offering selected poems by the likes of Ramona Herdman alongside reflections that are informed by his counselling work.

There are already five excellent posts awaiting you, though I’d especially recommend the latest one on loss and fearing joy, which also features an excellent poem by Sue Rose. You can read it here.

Matthew Stewart, Jonathan Totman’s new poetry blog

Dunn and colleagues are looking into ways in which therapists can help people with persistent depression tone up their capacity for joy. Often, a lot of our focus in therapy is on dealing with the difficult stuff. Rightly so, of course, but it seems there is increasing attention in the research literature (and the therapy room) being given to the idea that some people might benefit from more help in moving towards positive emotions and overcoming blocks and fears that might be getting in the way. (I’m conscious as I write that I’m sort of skirting round the question of what “joy” and “happiness” actually mean. I don’t think I want to open that particular can of worms right now(!) but will just acknowledge my own perspective here, and the fact that what happiness means and how we relate to it is of course personal, variable and influenced by social, cultural and religious factors; Joshaloo et al., 2014).

I’m speaking only from personal experience here but, for me, poetry can be one avenue through which to enrich and amplify joyfulness. Poems can often surprise us, lift us out of auto-pilot, shine a light on the textures of sensory and emotional experience. This idea of “seeing things afresh”, which is part of mindfulness-based approaches, very much chimes with the poetical ambition to describe experiences in new ways. And if this brings with it sadness, and fear, then perhaps poetry can, in a small way, help us to feel less alone with these feelings. For me, a poem offers a kind of container for complex feelings, much like a therapy hour. I’m sure it’s partly why I write. Of course I also hope that at least some poems will also reach out, speak to others. But it would be wrong to pretend there isn’t a personal and emotional investment, and part of that – I think inevitably – stems from a need to feel my way towards and into loss. I’m not fond of the word “processing” – loss and grief, in particular, are deeply personal and often far from linear journeys – but it’s something approaching that. Perhaps part of it is simply listening – to the rumble in the dark, the ache and the fear. But it’s something more active too, something closer to reconnection or assimilation – a making room for those most awkward of companions, pain and joy.

Jonathan Totman, “Taking Flight”: On Loss and Fearing Joy

“Phantom Pain Wings” is a journey through grief, an attempt to render the complex emotions tied up with bereavement on a page. The bird-like language, imagery and motifs allow the poet to investigate the unfamiliar, the physical and psychosocial struggles that grief brings. It widens beyond the personal to a universal journal of the disassociative states, the birds offering a freedom to probe things usually left undisturbed. Choi’s translation encompasses Kim’s word play and visual puns, brings the poems alive, enabling English readers to share in rich, multi-layers of Kim’s imagination.

The collection also includes a translation diary from Choi, detailing some of the discussion between translator and poet and choices made.

Emma Lee, “Phantom Pain Wings” Kim Hyesoon translated by Don Mee Choi (New Directions) – book review

When I saw a post by ‘Albert’ on Twitter with this quote by L S Lowry: Had I not been lonely I would not have seen what I did, it reminded me of this poem by Matthew Sweeney. A fine ekphrastic poem that moves beyond description, as it enters into dialogue with the artist about their work.

I have a few ekphrastic poems that need expanding in some way, so I’m going to do some research and explore how I could incorporate the artist’s own words into those poem. Is this something you might do with your own writing? If you’re a painter, photographer, sculptor, do poems inspire you? [Click through to read “Dialogue With an Artist”]

Fokkina McDonnell, Had I not been lonely …

SALA, the South Australian Living Arts Festival, is a statewide festival of visual art, spanning the entire month of August, and involving over 700 venues across the state with nearly 11,000 participating artists. SALA is Australia’s largest and most inclusive visual arts festival, and takes place in galleries and non-traditional arts spaces across South Australia, featuring visual artists working at every level, in any medium, from all backgrounds and all parts of the state. Indeed, there are few if any festivals of this nature anywhere in the world.

I have enjoyed participating in SALA in different ways over the years. For SALA this year, I am excited to present Beyond the Floodtide… a sequence of mostly new video works with environmental themes, at The Joinery in the Adelaide CBD, in collaboration with the Conservation Council of South Australia and coordinated by Sally Francis.

Faced with accelerating anthropogenic climate change, how will life on earth cope with global warming and rising sea levels? Plants, animals, humans, forms yet to evolve: all will need to adapt to challenging new environments. This video sequence imagines how we and the biosphere around us might deal with the consequences of our effects on the planet.

In addition to screening the videos at The Joinery on each Friday afternoon in August, I will be giving an artist talk, explaining some of the processes that went into making the videos. Together with acclaimed local poets Matthew Pankhurst and Shaine Melrose, I will present a reading of original poetry addressing environmental themes.

Ian Gibbins, Beyond the Floodtide… SALA 2023 at The Joinery

Peter Riley’s sequence of 27 short poems opens with words “Proof that the world exists.” What is this proof? The irreducible figure of the refugee, that human in motion who surrounds us every day, invisible but insistent:

Proving

that the world is, but unstable: the Refugee’s story.

The second poem introduces a counterpoint; birdsong. The birds are also migrants, and their song tells “the tale of the Refugee’s journey across Europe,/a sonorous black hole day after day”.
The birds and the figure of the Refugee are intimately interwoven in the poems that follow. We are reminded gently that the figure in the steel container is a dweller on the earth whose existence requires proof:

did he remember before he left to visit
the old holm oak up in the fields , to hold
its spiked leaf in his hands and listen
to what it said?

It’s not without significance, I think, that while the native oak is a symbol of Britain, the holm is viewed as an invasive species. A little later, birds, tree and the Refugee are drawn against a background of ongoing ecological catastrophe framed by the central concern of proof:

There may well be a world
but there is probably no future. Earth’s
moisture sucked into the blue sky,
lost rhymes fallen into dry ditches.

The last line in this extract draws us towards another central question; what is the role of poetry in the face of loss of hope? The answer, tentative as it is, is to hold on, to persist:

Thursday, market-day and again a bird sang.
across the canal, not a wren.
By Sunday there were three or four. Is this a turn
of the tide, is there a hope of something more
than a stray pheromone riding the breeze?

And we are reminded in other sections that we are all refugees in a world that, despite all its provisional flux, fully is. And that we must, against all the odds, sing:

Robin, fill your little lungs,
and blow your meaning over the fields
fortissimo for the new year.

Peter Riley is one of our great singers, and here he is, full fortissimo. We’re lucky to have him.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading: July 2023

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’m kind of a slow learner and my process tends to reflect that. It feels like I’ve been working on Age of Forgiveness for the last ten years or so. Probably I have been, in some ways. A few of the poems in the book are from early on in my writing life, but I didn’t start working on it as a book until 2019, and it won’t become one until September 2023.

So, between 4 and ten years. […]

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?
Probably not? I think I’m mostly interested in all the first-year-poetry-student stuff still. I think a lot about form and voice, repetition, order, metaphor. Other stuff, too, but those are the main ones. My main question always seems to be, how am I supposed to write this poem that my brain is trying to make me write? […]

When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I play pickup basketball and then stretch for six hours afterwards. That usually gets me to where I need to be. Sometimes pickle ball helps. […]

I’m inspired by visual art. I seek it out, hang it on my walls, think about it, and write about it, too. A few years back I became a little bit obsessed with this visual essay called First Adventures in Beauty by Lia Purpura. Technically a book, I guess. Books that are art interest me a lot. I’m thinking of Book of No Ledge by Nance Van Winckel, Mary Reufle’s erasure books, both of Karen Green’s books and a handful of other Siglio titles.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Caleb Curtiss

the sad spectacle of sun glasses in an airport lounge
life in lateral inversion
a mind full of sunshine
rises
up through the clouds
down with a bumpy landing
reality in the arrival lounge
my name written on a card
i remember who i am

Jim Young, vacant vacation

Cycladic villages – how is it that they never get dirty?  In Athens, age drips rustily down the walls; on a Cycladic island, the white of village houses is brighter than white, beyond pigment, beyond age. They are like sugar cubes divided by a wet knife. Some islands are ringed by fire but not on fire; they are both dazzling and cooling. White doves tiptoe on the ledge of a white houses.  Villages wind mazelike with steep stairs and plastered passages, bursts of bougainvillea and jasmine.  

Then there is the blue.  If Homer were to describe it now, he might still say that wine-dark sea is agitated, full of shifting, intertwined patterns. Underwater you can see the chain of sailors’ shaped phrases, one hooked to the next.   Blue that dissolves as if in a dream and blue as solid as heaven.  If Homer were writing now, he might be sending postcards or texts about Ulysses’ long travels. Saw the blue – unfenced.  Full of monsters and simmering grudges.  Blue – to die for. 

Jill Pearlman, Homer texting from the islands

But then,

many afternoons later, what I remember is
the song of invisible cicadas on the trail up
to the Parthenon, the pink glow of sunsets

painting lesser hilltops, the silence of Sounion,
even the sea only a whisper, and all those
pillars standing in the ruins like broken arms

reaching for the blue stillness. Because memory
resides in the ordinary. Little things. That were.
Little things. That weren’t. What I never saw.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 57

He was always there. Entering the darkening theater as the lights went down. He was too tall to miss. Then steel drums and a stage of gorgeous men would bring the Caribbean sea to the shores of Harvard Square. How could I not fall for the color and spectacle, the wildness? The Trinidad Theater Workshop was founded with Walcott’s twin brother in 1959, in the 1990’s plays would travel up to Massachusetts for US premieres such as Dream on Monkey Mountain, the one that I loved most.

It amazed me that a poet could also be a playwright. But Walcott was also a watercolor painter, he was a genius who defied category.

That doesn’t mean that Walcott was well-liked or even deeply respected in the 1990’s before all the awards. I don’t know that Cambridge doyennes knew what to do with him. He was most infamous for the rumors that surrounded his movement across the river—and enough rumors become taken as fact. Story was that Walcott had been asked to leave Harvard due to an affair with a student. The student was of age but had second thoughts when the affair ended. And of course it was more complicated than that—but again—rumor. These were the waters surrounding him when I first met him on the page.

What stays true is his work.

Love after Love
Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread, Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

This poem is not typical of his work, but it is one that I return to again and again—as do so many others in the aftermath of love. The sparse language, the sense of a self lost and then the step-by-step struggle to find it again. Can’t you relate?

But the book that convinced me that he was our 20th century Shakespeare (and more) is The Star-Apple Kingdom. I’ve read and re-read it—-first being introduced to the lyrical patterns and cadences in grad school when Garrett Hongo read much of it aloud to our class. “I had no nation now but the imagination,” Shabine states as he leaves home. I had been rootless for years: Scotland, Niger, South Africa, Bosnia, all in quick succession. Here was a poet who claimed his rootlessness—did more than claim it; Walcott elevated rootlessness to epic poetry.

Susan Rich, In the Theater with Derek Walcott

My dear friend and colleague, the poet, teacher and academic Sue Dymoke has died.

Though she had been ill for some time, the news came to me (comes to me) as a great shock. I cannot get used to talking about her in the past tense.

We first met, at the turn of the millennium, at the Royal Festival Hall. Jean Sprackland had gathered a group of poet-educators to put some teaching materials together for the nascent Poetry Archive. I knew immediately that I had found someone on my wavelength, whose poetic, pedagogic and academic identities were fully blurred. I went home knowing I had finally met another unicorn.

Sue and I worked on several projects together: the ESRC-funded Poetry Matter series and subsequent books, both with Andrew Lambirth and Myra Barrs; a poetry pedagogy symposium in Porto, also with Andrew, as well as Janine Certo and Laura Apol; a poetry anthology with Unbound, the not-quite-funded (but still amazing) No One You Know, featuring poets talking about their ‘secret- weapon-poems’; and latterly Young Poets’ Stories, funded by the Foyle Foundation, on the writing lives of prizewinning young poets.

It was Sue’s energy and attention to detail that got these projects going and over the line.

Young Poets’ Stories coincided, almost to the day, with the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, which meant that we conducted nearly the entire project online. Coming from different corners of the country, we had previously met up at the British Library, queuing in its chilly courtyard before bagging one of the cafe tables where we took it upon ourselves to compare stationery and cake products, accompanied by more than the legally safe limit of flat whites.

Anthony Wilson, In memory of Sue Dymoke

This month has seen the deaths of fierce women.  In some ways, that’s true of every month; fierce women often meet fiery ends, and much too soon.  This morning, I was sad to hear of the death of Sinead O’Connor, and earlier this month, sad to hear of the death of Minnie Bruce Pratt.  Both women faced life circumstances, particularly around motherhood, that I will never have to face; I can make this claim as a post-menopausal woman.  Both highlighted the hazards that come from living life on one’s own terms.

O’Connor’s battles were much more public than Pratt’s, who was one of the first to write about the sacrifices that she made when she decided to pay attention to her desires for other women; she lost custody of her sons because of that choice.

I only bought one of O’Connor’s albums, or maybe two.  I loved I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, but by the time later work came out, I wasn’t as interested for reasons I no longer remember.  I always cheered for her as she took on various causes, even as I wondered if less confrontational tactics might win more believers for those causes.  It’s a question I often have–what means justify what ends?

I had some of Pratt’s books, back in the days when I was buying any feminist work I could find, back when more of it was published, back when there were more small presses.  I have likely let a lot of that work go, and I do wonder if I’ll regret it, in later days, when books may be harder to find and the power that fuels online collections dwindles/becomes ghastly expensive.  I wonder the same thing about all the music that has come through my hands.

If that end time comes, and I’ve read all my books, I’ll just read them again.  If I can’t play the music of others, I’ll finally have time to teach myself all the instruments that has been waiting for me.  I will be a fierce woman, trying to avoid a fiery end.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Fierce Women, Fiery Ends

Until a couple of years ago I knew little about the singer-songwriter Tori Amos. She’s now responsible for more of my earworms than any other performer. I watch her often on YouTube, comparing performances.

People used to tell me she was like Kate Bush. My favourite Kate Bush song is “Under the Ivy”, which is one of her more Amosish pieces. I think that she has the artistic aspirations of Amos. Bush is less confessional though, and sexuality isn’t her topic or vehicle. Janis Ian in “Watercolors” has some of Amos’ anger, self-criticism, and social awareness. Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” album (perhaps still my favourite record) has the reflection and self-questioning that Amos displays. Amos has more control over her voice than all of them. […]

All of the pieces I like are over 25 years old. More recent songs like “Speaking with Trees” sound like re-hashes. I’d rather have a new rendering of “Precious things”. Writers who use their early life as source material can run out of inspiration. Some other writers, even if they’re not always autobiographical, get their best ideas early and spend the rest of their lives raiding their early notebooks – I think Dylan Thomas did that. Such artists in their later years sometimes produce themed, committed work (concept albums, etc) to compensate for their lack of inspiration, it seems to me.

Tim Love, Tori Amos

“Enough is so vast a sweetness, I suppose it never occurs, only pathetic counterfeits,” Emily Dickinson lamented in a love letter. In his splendid short poem about the secret of happiness, Kurt Vonnegut exposed the taproot of our modern suffering as the gnawing sense that what we have is not enough, that what we are is not enough.

This is our modern curse: A century of conspicuous consumption has trained us to be dutiful citizens of the Republic of Not Enough, swearing allegiance to the marketable myth of scarcity, hoarding toilet paper for the apocalypse. Along the way, we have unlearned how to live wide-eyed with wonder at what Hermann Hesse called “the little joys” — those unpurchasable, unstorable emblems of aliveness that abound the moment we look up from our ledger of lack.

The poet and etymologist John Ciardi (June 24, 1916–March 30, 1986) offers an uncommonly wonderful wakeup call for this civilizational trance in the out-of-print 1963 gem John J. Plenty and Fiddler Dan (public library) — part fable, part poem, part prayer for happiness.

Written as a long lyric and illustrated with gentle charcoal sketches by the artist and experimental filmmaker Madeliene Gekiere, the story is a soulful — spiritual, even — modern take on Aesop’s famed tale of the grasshopper and the ant, radiating a countercultural invitation to rediscover life’s true priorities amid our confused maelstrom of materialism and compulsive productivity.

Maria Popova, The Ant, the Grasshopper, and the Antidote to the Cult of More: A Lovely Vintage Illustrated Poem About the Meaning and Measure of Enough

My recent poetry residency was at a seminary, so the symbols of Christianity were all around me, the Christs and the crosses, the benevolent and grieving Marys, as was nature — trees and flowering bushes and moss. And poison ivy. But I got thinking a lot about this quote I passed every day on my way to the dining hall. It’s from the book of Micah, a book I had never heard of.

Micah (or Mi-ca-yahoo — “who is like Yahweh”) was a prophet from 8thC BCE. The quote on the stone says: “What is required of us? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

As a poet, of course, I want to ask: which translation? And as a poet too, I’ve been given to contemplating those words, individually. […]

And finally this “humbly” thing. I’ve spoken of this word before. It is from words meaning lowly, or, literally on the ground or from the Earth. Which we are, I guess, we beings: a bit of earth, a bit of star, some spit, and these minds, so cunning, so easily scarred with memory and pain, and joy. And setting aside the comic image that arises when I think of “walk” and “on the ground” together, although I guess, in the human body, the act of walking is a constant falling and catching-of-a-fall, this idea is nice: of walking humbly alongside the divine, just listening rather than prattling along trying to impress or curry favor. Being companionable with the divine on an amble through the trees. Just listening.

Marilyn McCabe, Hash browns over easy; or, On Chewing Over Words

I am very little.

My arm is upraised
because we are holding hands,
as if I’m asking to be noticed.

When we arrive at the ice cream shop,
the glass brick fills my field of vision.
It is both mundane and magical,
like the wall of a ruined castle.

This memory contains no ice cream.

Jason Crane, POEM: No Ice Cream

I recently spoke to a group of MA students at Oxford University. The event was called “The Writer’s Life.” Presumably, I was there to provide insight into the arc of my career 10 years after my own graduation from Oxford. I had given a similar talk for Poets & Writers’ “Mapping the Maze” in the spring, and in both cases, recognized that this wasn’t the moment for my usual glib extempore or self-deprecating humor. Or, rather—since there was still plenty of that—I knew I needed to write out my remarks, because the truth is that what has made the greatest difference in my own journey, and the reason I’ve sustained my practice at all, has nothing to do with the occasional signposts of career success and everything to do with having a strong why.

Readers, you may already recognize the truth in this. That for all the grit, stamina, and sheer effort you exert, nothing is as sustaining as a strong why. That why is a safeguard against everything from existential despair to bitterness to paralyzing self-doubt when faced with the blank page. It is the energetic vein binding the essential you—not the ego you—to the task at hand. It is what makes the process—not just the product—rewarding, which ensures continuity and true purpose.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I am still caught in a strange place with the new poems, unsure of what direction, if any, they want to go. There are about a dozen, but I haven’t decided what sort of animal they will eventually be. Without daily writing exploits most of July, I have been directing more efforts toward the visual side of things most days, including just making random collage animations for IG in addition to more series-based projects (see above.). I will be working this month on recording and making video poems for the VILLAINS series, so keep an eye out for that in September, as well as an impending zine for that batch of HOME IMPROVEMENTS collages and poems, probably coming toward the end of this month. I have more diversions planned for fall, including another haunted dollhouse advent project, the Henry James-inspired governess zine, and more in the works over the next two months. 

As we enter back-to-school season, once again the month of August feels disorienting, disconnected as I am to an academic calendar after decades of being firmly entrenched. My own nearly 20 years of schooling, then the library job at the elementary school, then over two decades at Columbia and an MFA program nested inside it. It’s hard not to see September as a new beginning and August as an ending of sorts. It is perhaps why most of my autumn endeavors seem more serious than the writing I do in the spring or summer. How it feels like a time that calls for weightier projects.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 7/31/2023

I wish we had
a story of abundance as point of origin, but without
anyone having to steal fire or be muted into a statue
or a bird. We remember to skim pearls from the froth
of rice wine, decanting a sacrament for wonder.
Before lowering our heads to drink, we hang
cuts of meat in the branches for the ravenous birds
of death or uncertain fortune— You hear them stab
the water, beings that can swallow a thing whole.

Luisa A. Igloria, Abundance

I want to return to innocence & from innocence to shadow. I want to return to shadow & from shadow to river. I want to return to river & from river to the crossroads. I want to return to the crossroads & from the crossroads to song. I want to return to song & from song to your heart. I want to return to your heart & from your heart to a home.

Rich Ferguson, What the river-voiced hallelujah sings

is it true that earth has never uttered a word

            that silence and stone make soul

in the clear mind of rain

                                                aren’t we random

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 24

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: mortality, masks, summer reading, road trips, and more. Enjoy!


Pushed myself to take a 10 minute walk with Leonard last night, but that was a mistake. I crawled into bed with a migraine.

But I woke this morning without one – for the first time in six days. I’m taking the morning slowly. I don’t even dare move this head through an asana sequence. Coffee and water. And prophylactic paracetamol. I have a long day of writing ahead. It will be good to focus on something besides my senses: an imaginary world where the smell of chemicals, body odors, and dog breath really don’t come into play.

The “cancer hour” I promised myself has bled into the long days of this past week. I distracted myself with sitcoms and slept through half of every episode. The exercise and activity chart I made for myself before I started chemotherapy is still hanging on the refrigerator. I really should take it down. At this point, it’s just mocking me.

I hear the birds outside. And the train passing by every now and then. Leonard is sprawled on the floor, taking up more than a square meter of this little room. He’s got his head on a stack of books. I hope he’s not drooling. Here I sit. In my tiny room with the French doors, because I still believe elegance is more about attitude than scale, more about framing the parts than interrogating the whole.

Ren Powell, Que Sera Sera

Change equals living: no life without alterations of one kind or another. My current situation is one of those so-called Life Events: I have retired from my position at the university where I worked for about 17 years. I suppose it is A Big Deal (see how I’m capitalizing?), but I must admit that so far it doesn’t feel terribly fraught, major, or even bittersweet. It just feels appropriate. Part of the reason for that is that I’m not a person who has defined herself by her career. Thank goodness, since it was a fairly modest career. I enjoyed my work with students; and I was part of a terrific team of earnest, funny, and supportive folks. So yes, that’s something to miss. However, I have many interests beyond work at the college. Time to pursue those, methinks. Time to spend with my mother as she wanes. Time to travel with my husband and on my own and to visit our far-away offspring. Of course, there are all those things that will keep me unexpectedly busy…gardening, house maintenance, trying to get the metaphorical ducks to line up (as if they ever will). And then, poetry; I want to devote some serious brainpower to revising, reorganizing, drafting, reading, learning more about the art I love. Maybe even submitting more work, putting together another manuscript or two. Who knows what changes are ahead?

When I note the fewer numbers of fireflies, I do not mean there are none. It’s just that some years, by June 18th, the back of our yard simply dazzles; we don’t need fireworks! Because they pupate in dampness, such as in rotting logs or underground, and because they need moist earth in order to feed (on soft-bodied invertebrates, according to the Xerxes Society’s informative page here), a spring drought can limit their numbers. And I miss them, the way I miss the little brown bats and the green ash trees. Those types of changes may be more or less inevitable, but I can’t help thinking that such transitions feel less timely than my departure from running the university’s writing center. The ash and the bats are still around, but in vastly decreased numbers. I hope the lightning bugs bounce back.

Ann E. Michael, Lightning bugs

It’s June and the rhododendrons are in full bloom. From my window, shades of scarlet, blush, magenta, neon pink. These colors remind me of the various lipsticks my Ballard grandmother would wear and I explored this in a poem I’ve been working on all morning. There’s no shame in too much coffee and pajamas at noon, especially when the rain pours and the drive to write is hot. But I’m also leaving soon for roadtrip through Yukon, British Columbia, and Washington. So a blog entry before my departure.

Kersten Christianson, Approaching Solstice

My last two uncles died a couple of months apart, at the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023. At one of their funerals a cousin expressed the same idea that Linda Pastan so eloquently describes in the second stanza of her poem: we are the older generation now. 

The idea of being next in line ‘to die’ does not bother me. I am deeply grateful for all of my own ‘torn scraps of history’ and I do not feel alone on any shore. I don’t know what lies ahead and I have no need to imagine what it might be. Not believing in any kind of afterlife, or second chance, is a comfort rather than the source of any fear. Having survived to be a part of the older generation feels like a gift, not a burden, or riven with loss. 

While we were waiting outside the chapel of rest for Uncle Michael’s coffin to be taken inside I heard the ubiquitous, unintelligible call of the rag and bone man along the main road beyond the cemetery’s gates. The juxtaposition was both startling and somewhat reassuring. Is there always some use for what is thrown away or discarded, what is unwanted, abandoned? Even our bones and flesh, once our consciousness has departed?

Lynne Rees, Reflection ~ On being the next in line to die

Penny kept him safe from the other pigs; dragged
him off and buried him each night, sat
jealously near his dirt hole,
until she dug him up again, rolled
him with her overheated tongue, and
shook him in her mouth as though to snap
his rigid little neck. After a week
he was a pockmarked mess, his brows
mottled with teeth pricks and his
blob-shoes dull with grime.
Penny had made him his own. Broken him in.

Kristen McHenry, Penny the Pig

As I move into the last leg of writing the book, or at least the first draft of the book, and prepare to start working with the editors to bring it to a shine, I am beginning to look back at this stage of the journey with something like nostalgia. I’ve learned so much about myself as a person, and as a writer, on the way. One of the things I have learned, a skill really, is to trust my own voice and my own story, to ‘shut the door’ and write. There were times when I felt blocked, and the block came from me worrying about the validity of my story; comparing myself to other writers and their intimidating, blazing talent. Whenever this happens, my writing starts to thin out, my voice starts to peter out like the thin waves at the edge of a lake. I have to pull myself back and back, remind myself that the passion is always what saves a story, that writing authentically, about what interests you, is the way to make your writing sing. To write freely, as if no one is watching you, as if social media doesn’t exist, as if no one will read your book; that’s the key. I’ve stepped back from social media in an attempt to nail the final stretch of the book. I am ‘figuring out what I want to say’ and how I want to say it, and it is like solving a glorious puzzle. I haven’t missed social media as much as I thought I would. Stepping back has allowed me to embrace the life I want – writing, thinking. I hope I look back on this time and recognise the absolute joy of existing in this moment; getting up, writing, walking, writing. I shall miss writing this book, I shall miss the discoveries, the journey it has taken me on. But I’m ready for the next part of the journey too. How strange the act of writing, that a person could exist entirely in words fished from the air.

Wendy Pratt, “Write like no one is looking over your shoulder…”

I’m not sure what provoked so fluid a flow. I’d had the opening section – headed Superstructure in this draft – hanging around for several years. The original notion was an anecdotal account of experience working in a mental hospital laundry, but it never got further than a description of the huge gothic edifice that housed the institution. In spite of the fact that my three months in that dreadful place were full of incident, the anticipated graduation to a depiction of what actually went on never occurred.

As so often happens, it was an entirely unconnected stimulus that sparked off the next stage of the poem. During the ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) process of unpacking and sorting documents after our house move, I came across some research and planning notes I had drawn up for a projected production of Peter Schaffer’s play Equus. I had homed in on the play’s central theme – that of the psychiatrist Dysart’s growing fascination with the perverse, amoral theology that has driven his 17-year-old patient Alan Strang to blind several horses with a hoof pick. Appalling though the act is and in spite of the explanatory pathology that emerges through analysis, Dysart becomes increasingly aware of the sacrifice of visceral passion and engagement that Alan must make in order to be liberated from his compulsions. Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created, observes Dysart. And later, as a cri de coeur: All right! The normal is the good smile in a child’s eyes. There’s also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills, like a god. It is the ordinary made beautiful, it is also the average made lethal. Normal is the indispensable murderous god of health and I am his priest.

The planned production never went ahead. A combination of concern about suitability for an all-ages school audience, probable casting difficulties and a sense that Schaffer presents his compelling scenario just a little too tidily had me tucking the notes away and moving swiftly on to something more negotiable. So rediscovering them so long after their compilation gave them a renewed freshness and impact. But instead of causing me to reflect wistfully on the production-that-never-was, I found myself thinking about the poem-that-was-yet-to-be. And I realised within a moment of revelatory shock that aspects of what I had seen and heard in that mental hospital conformed precisely to the informing agenda of Equus. I realised – maybe for the first time fully – that I had been witness to a demonstration of that nexus between the limits of conventional human behaviour and the abandonment and chaos that lies beyond and that it had shocked me to the core. The poem investigates – as maybe only a poem can – the true nature of my perception of the event witnessed at the time and what, with the understanding that only comes with time, it meant to me now.

Dick Jones, BINNERS

I had another recent poetry acceptance, this time for a poem about my mother that is also about the time I played Marjorie in the play Marjorie Prime, a few years back. I played an 80-year-old woman, and afterwards 1) everyone mistook me for my mother 2) I cut off my long hair streaked white that I wore in a braid (just like my mother) and 3) people asked what I did with makeup to look 80. Basically, the answer was “no makeup.” For those not so familiar with theatre, the stage lights will wash you out, so wearing no makeup did make me look 80! But still. So now it helps me 1) understand my parents and 2) brace myself to be reading Successful Aging, by Daniel J. Levitin! I like it a lot, and I hope I am aging successfully!

I found this book, and got it through interlibrary loan, after I read his book This Is Your Brain on Music, which I discussed with the Stranger Than Fiction non-fiction book club. It meets in a wine bar! Our next book, already in progress, is I Live a Life Like Yours, a memoir by Jan Grue, about living with a disability…and just living his own life, which is like…yours, or mine. The Levitin book on aging is delightful in its examples, many of whom are musicians that he met in his other work! Joni Mitchell, Sonny Rollins.

Kathleen Kirk, Acceptance

I love the way the poems in Terminarchy build on the work in Angela [France]’s previous collection, The Hill. And the (not-so) gentle reminder at the end of this poem that it’s likely to be the funguses of the world and other plant matters that will inherit/repossess our planet if we don’t buck our ideas up. There are plenty of other poems in Terminarchy that act as such a reminder. Can a poem make us buck our ideas up? Possibly not on its own, but it was timely to see this article about whether art can change attitudes towards climate change. I think if we can present the issues in contexts such as France has done then we can look again. That seems to be the gist of the article—he says having skim read it so far.

I’m guilty of having slept on my copy of The Hill, and it’s been a while since reading Hide, so I’ll get them back into rotation ASAP. Oh yes and find the work that came before them.

Mat Riches, Spores, the Pity

The title of Tim Allen’s The Indescribable Thrill of the Half-Volley is both gloriously on and off topic. It’s not a book about football, indeed not a single ball is kicked, although one or two are thrown, but it does hover around the indescribable. The book consists of 97 four-line poems, in couplets, each numbered ant titles. The titles all consist of the word ‘invisible’ followed by a noun. Here’s number 25:

invisible politics

A simply dressed man clowning around
For no one in particular in a general street

The man goes home to paint his face
In the mirror the stillness of his world suspends all fear

How do you render the invisible visible in words? Obliquely and through suggestion, perhaps. The contrast between the man’s dress and behaviours evokes an image of politics as farce played out under a surface veneer of conventional blandness.

Billy Mills, A Basket of Small Delights: June 2023 Pamphlet Reviews

One of the unique experiences of being a poet / poetry reader is becoming accustomed with the creature known as the “selected poems.” The closest equivalent from outside the poetry world comes in the form of the “greatest hits” album. Yet, the novelty and nostalgic flash of such an album doesn’t exactly feel right with poetry.

Perhaps a volume of selected poems allows us to tap into a similar experience Italo Calvino speaks about in his essay “Collection of Sand”:

“I have finally come around to asking myself what is expressed in that sand of written words which I have strung together throughout my life, that sand that seems to me to be so far away from the beaches and desert of living. Perhaps by staring at the sand as sand, words as words, we can come close to understanding how and to what extent the world that has been ground down and eroded can still find in sand a foundation and model.”

This idea of glimpsing “a foundation and model” for literary experience through engaging with a writer’s collected body of work is, for me, an apt guide into the selected poems experience. Just as Calvino invites his reader into a communal act of assessment and study, readers of poetry are invited into a similar communal act, only one that includes celebration as much as reckoning.

Which is another way of saying: selected poems allow us to catch up.

It is in the experience of catching up that I encourage readers to enter What Can I Tell You?: Selected Poems (FlowerSong Press) by Roberto Carlos Garcia. Across the three poetry collections gathered here in this volume, one can see Garcia establishing a foundation and model for poetic experience, meditation, and interrogation that ranges in depth and practice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: What Can I Tell You?: Selected Poems by Roberto Carlos Garcia

The first I’ve seen from Montana poet, as well as 2015-2017 Poet Laureate of Montana, and ferrier Michael Earl Craig, the author of Can You Relax in My House, (Fence Books, 2002), Yes, Master (Fence Books, 2006), Thin Kimono (Wave Books, 2010), Talkativeness (Wave Books, 2014) and Woods and Clouds Interchangeable (Wave Books, 2019), is Iggy Horse (Wave Books, 2023). The poems in Iggy Horse have a crispness to them, and the poems hold echoes of elements one might also see in the works of Canadian poets Stephen Brockwell and Stuart Ross: a slight narrative distance, as the nebulous narrators of each poem slowly form as each poem unfolds. As the poem “SPRINGTIME IN HORSE COUNTRY” begins: “Lady Aberlin of the oarlocks. / Colonel Mustard in the cherry trees. / Lady Aberlin with a custard, / Lady Aberlin in waiting. / Colonel Mustard in the pantry with an almond.” Perhaps it is but a single voice throughout, or perhaps the differences between them are there, and perhaps it doesn’t, in the end, actually matter. “One leg looks to have been swung / the way wooden legs often were,” he writes, as part of the poem “PORTRAIT OF THE WRITER / MAX MERRMANN-HEISSE,” “up and over a real one. / Or even over a second one. / It’s hard to tell because it’s Berlin / in the ‘20s, all those wooden legs / coming in from Rumburk / on the Spree, with good hinges / and shellac jobs that could stop / a luthier in the street.”

Composing poems around voice, character and examination, Craig’s poems offer a kind of folksiness, composing intimate portraits of ghosts, individuals, landscapes, techniques in medieval and modern paintings and other small moments.

rob mclennan, Michael Earl Craig, Iggy Horse

After a short break it’s good to be writing reviews again and I can think of no better debut collection to resume with than Alexandra Fössinger’s Contrapasso  (Cephalopress, 2022). These fine poems explore the themes of incarceration, loss and survival, but above all, perhaps, offer a unique take on the nature of love.

The collection is split into two sections: the first begins with a quote from Dante’s Inferno: ‘Through me the way to the city of woe,/ through me the way to everlasting pain,/ through me the way among the lost.’ The quote together with the title signposts the reader towards the nature of the poems in this section: they focus on punishment, namely the impact of a period in which lovers are separated due to the male’s imprisonment. Section 2 deals with the period after his release. Again it is prefaced with a quote from Dante: ‘Now I shall sing the second kingdom,/ there where the human soul is cleansed’. This time the poems concentrate upon a period of readjustment and resolution, as the lovers come to terms with the ordeal once it is over.

The poem Cell in Part One deals directly with the psychological, physical and emotional impact of imprisonment. It begins with a sequence of numbers. It also describes the cell in terms of the number of square metres of floor space and later specifies the number of hours in the day, the number of days of the sentence and the number of letters despatched by his lover. This emphasis on numbers suggests prison is a place where the incarcerated have no control, sharing a cell with ‘a stranger you/ don’t know a thing about/ but let reign over the remote control.’ Counting and measuring is a form of compensation for that lack of agency: it makes the infinite finite and the makes the unfamiliar familiar and manageable. It is also a place of hardship and danger. Fössinger writes: ‘that which rages / outside will eventually/ creep in/ one morning you wake up/  with a tooth next to you/ lying on your pillow’.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Contrapasso’ by Alexandra Fössinger

Publication is over-rated as the end goal of your work because so much of the publication process is out of the writer’s control. Decisions are made by agents, publishers, editors, marketing staff, possibly, but not always by consulting the writer. An editor leaving or a publisher changing their focus can mean that an acceptance turns into a withdrawal and the process of submission, rejection and trying again can start all over again. My first collection was accepted by a publisher who sadly and unexpectedly passed away before publication so I had to start over.

A first book has had years of work behind it. The author has had to learn their craft along the way, there may have been several false starts, significant structural changes and then the publisher’s edits. Seeing the published book is both a triumph: finally something to show for all that effort. Please do celebrate your name on the cover of the book you’ve written: have a party, go out for a celebratory meal, buy yourself a treat, do something meaningful for you.

But it’s also not the end of the journey. What it signifies is the beginning of the next stage: marketing, promoting, getting the book reviewed, keeping in the public eye. And, above all, writing the next book, if you haven’t already started.

Writing is the bit writers have the control over. During the submissions process, start the next project. As your first book nears publication, your next project is your future goal.

Emma Lee, Publication and Writers’ Mental Health

At some point in the past twenty years, a shift happened. Funding was cut, readership declined, costs rose. Rather than trying to innovate, the indie lit world turned inward. Mechanisms to profit off of writers became the norm, the go-to. Want to be published? Pay. Want to meet other writers? Pay. Want to succeed? Pay. Want to study writing at University? That’ll be an arm and a leg. Nom, and nom.

What I am saying is that with so many juicy writers to squeeze for cash, why the hell would any corner of the literary world spend their money targeting readers? […]

Rethink funding for magazines. Read, support, purchase magazines. Tell friends. Create local Lit Mag reading groups. The ‘funding/grant’ model is broken. At Chill Subs, we want to create a way for journals to collect donations and sell subscriptions through our platform. Many have this option on their website. Donate what you can. This is often the only way fledgling magazines can stay running.

We will also soon create an affordable submissions manager that doesn’t charge as a magazine grows. And we’re working on a way to help journals present their work beautifully and connect them directly to audiences. (Others working on this: CLMP, Moksha, Oleada, Motif, crowdfunding platforms.)

Reduce pay-to-play costs for writers, and maybe help them make some money. Editors, consider linking to contributors’ books on your magazine site. Celebrate your writers. (Some are very good about this. Others, not so much. Great example: Points In Case). Support their ongoing publications. Help writers earn money from outside sources. Subscribe to newsletters of writers or entities that encourage transparency in the literary world. Substack has made this easier than ever.

As long as we continue down the path we’re on, indie-lit will never find new methods of profit-making. But if we can shift gears, have standards for market participants, and encourage innovative use of funds, we have a chance. The money is out there. The creative energy is here. Let’s try to harness it as a community. It may take a long time. And if we fail spectacularly and the wide world rejects the idea of literary magazines having a place in it, well, we’re all used to rejection.

Benjamin Davis, Are We Eating Each Other Alive in the Indie-Lit World?

As a disabled and chronically ill person, most residencies are not built for me. If they require ladders to loft beds, or building fires, or steps, or even providing food that isn’t food-allergy safe (I’m allergic to about nine things, the most dangerous of which is wheat, in almost everything)—yeah, they’re not a good fit. I stopped applying for most residencies years ago when I realized—hey, they’re not built for non-perfectly healthy, able-bodied people. They’re not built for me. But I hear from a lot of people that they can’t do “normal” writer’s residencies for a variety of reasons besides their health—kids, jobs, or caretaking roles among them. So, here’s some ideas for people who can’t do the “normal” residencies.

Build your own! I live in a lovely area and there are a variety of places to stay at a variety of prices (yes, they tend to be higher in the summer as that’s our high season, but not always). If you can housesit for a friend going out of town, that can also count as a residency. Renting an AirBNB down the street. Anytime and anywhere you can get away—even just for a couple of days—to focus on your craft, your art and your writing, that counts as a residency in my book. I’ve got one planned in a couple of weeks, and I’ve already printed out poems for my next book to look at and started some relevant reading to prepare for it. Just this last week I spent over fifteen hours sitting in (virtual) doctors’ offices. Health problems are time-and-energy-and-money consuming. If I don’t set aside time (and energy, and money) for art and writing, it won’t happen—everything else will swallow it up. I’m sure you know how it is—if it’s not doctor’s appointments for you, it might be your family’s needs, your job’s needs, or the seven things you volunteer for (hey, I used to be addicted to volunteering, too).

Residencies should involve down time, too—you don’t have to spend the whole time reading and writing—you can goof off, sketch, visit local things you don’t normally get to, have a picnic, listen to music at full blast—anything that helps you get into your writing groove. And you can involve writer friends! Inviting a friend might help your residency to be even more productive, as you can get together and talk shop, plus friend time is important for artists of all stripes. Think about as building space for your creative self. It is just as important as any other aspect of your life, and deserves time, money, and attention. You know how, if you’re married or living with a partner, you reserve “date nights?” It’s the same for your creative self. So, think about creating your own personal artist’s residency. Good luck! And leave a comment if you’ve successfully done this!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Visiting (and Supporting) Local Lavender Farms, Building Your Own Residency, and When You Know You’ve Done Enough for Your Book

It’s valuable to just do the work and build practical habits instead of waiting for a muse.

But my perpetual exhaustion in the face of small crises, one after the other, can’t handle routine and habit-building. I mean, I’m trying, but I feel derailed quite frequently. I’m so discouraged by the slightest bad news, and it feels like there’s a lot of “little” bad news, even when faced with evidence of all that is good and right in my life (maybe not the world).

Trying not to make this a crybaby post. Now that the apocalypse fires in Canada are blowing smoke in another direction(!!!), the weather on the island is beautiful and skies are clear and I should be feeling naturally optimistic with so much Vitamin D and fresh air coursing through my system. Right?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Feeling Stabby and Full of Foul Language (This Too Shall Pass)

Like many poets who write because they can’t not write, I started in my youth writing poems of my feelings or ideas and was very literal, using I when I meant myself and the past tense when I was writing of what had been.  Having no poetry courses, it took me a long while to grasp that the person of the poem is not necessarily the writer, and the time of the poem is what fits the poem, not some external reality.  This poem, another from the old workshop files, is one where a major part of revision was putting that second realization into the service of the story:

Desire

When Billy Joel sings
“You may be
right, I may be crazy,”
I sing along,
off key longing,
not for him.

I ache for
the caged creature
mooning
under the mask
that shapes my
good behavior.

Come on, I say,
crash my party,
leave a great hole
I can walk through,
to go riding,
if I want to,
in the rain.

The mask does not tear.

Ellen Roberts Young, Poem in Present Tense

The neighbor boy’s mask was supposed to make
him look like a warrior or hero,
but he couldn’t pull it off, the bully.

I knew my mask wasn’t working quite right
because all the teachers kept on talking
to my mom, asking me to repair it.

I kept stitching new smiles onto my face
and checking them in the mirror. Smile. Not smile.
Smile. Not smile. There weren’t remote controls yet,

so these were manually operated,
and one got stuck in the smile position.

PF Anderson, MASKS

Unexpected delays has meant the publication of Look to the Crocus has yet to materialise and, quite honestly, I’ve no idea when it will… Putting together the collection now feels like a project from the distant past.

However, my writing is moving on. I’ve moved into dabbling with writing creative non-fiction essays over the last few months and I’m thoroughly enjoying the space to write in essay form yet with the feeling of the work coming together in a way not too differently from when a poem comes together. And I may be finding my way into writing poems in a different way from before too, it’s too early to say if the poems are working out but I’m enjoying the process. 

I suppose I had become quite bored with my usual approach to writing, it was becoming ‘samey’ / repetitious, no sense of tapping into anything new. 

Marion McCready [no title]

I noted with a little bit of horror that we have crested the middle of June. Part of it is that summer, real summer, seems slow in coming, since my windows have more often been completely closed against rather cool and ungainly weather this far into the summer (at least the meteorological designation of its beginning.) There’ve been a couple days where they were all open, but then a couple days where I had to run the space hearer for a minute. I open the windows. I close them. I put on a sweater to run packages to the mailbox. I got a new quilt at the beginning of the month that is less bulky than my duvet, but seriously thought of pulling the other out of the trunk a couple nights recently when I was shivering.  It’s not rainy or wet really, just breezy.  

I wrapped up the governess series last week and have embarked on a new little something that still murky in its nature, though I am liking what I have so far. They are wild little poems about cats and cryptids and heartbreak. My main writing goal for the rest of June is to get COLLAPSOLOGIES at least to the point where I have a physical galley in hand, which will vary in timeline depending on the printing and shipping, which can be as long as a few days to over a couple weeks. Once I have that, I can make the final adjustments, one final sweep for needed edits, and maybe have a book in hand by mid-July if all goes well. I loaded in the cover (see the post below) and she’s looking fabulous so i cannot wait to see the finished product. 

Since we are technically halfway through the year, I’ve been plotting what I would like to see happen before the end of the year. The new book, obviously, but also some image/text zine projects I’ve been planning (the governess-inspired series, the home improvements stuff, technogrotesque), a video chap similar to what I did last year, an advent project with art for December. I feel like once we hit the 4th of July, summer slides down the hill at a much faster pace into autumn, so I want to be ready and not flailing about quite so much come September.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 6/18/2023

I am delighted to announce the publication of The Wind and the Rain, with Blue Diode Publishing.

You can buy the book and read sample poems from it here

Thank you to Rob Mackenzie for accepting the manuscript and doing such a fabulous job with the production of the book.

Thank you to Lucy Runge for permission to use your stunning painting for the front cover of the book.

Thank you to Helena Nelson for your endless editing advice, wisdom and patience. The book would not exist without you.

And thank you to Tatty. Without you, nothing.

Anthony Wilson, The Wind and the Rain

On May 30th, Dead Mall Press began accepting pre-orders for MJ Stratton’s new chapbook, River, Our River. This collection of poems was written during a single month and comes from a place of fluent imagination and feeling. Moving through a variety of forms, the poems are both dreams and exposed nerve ends, asking us questions about identity, need, suffering, and the body, while revealing a garden of cinders, moons wrung out into jars, and bees singing in the chest. MJ’s poems draw us into a river of language, at once gentle and cruel, that accepts fluidity and refuses to claim anything for itself as final.

Recently, MJ and I had a chance to discuss the book a bit over email, and you can read our conversation below.

DMP: Thanks for doing this interview, MJ! Maybe we can begin with some basic context for readers who are unfamiliar with you. Would you mind giving us a brief sketch of your background?

MJ: Oh no, thank you so much for having me! Genuinely, the pleasure’s all mine. The basic facts are that I live in Providence, RI, and I work as a receptionist. It’s a Pam Beesly situation without the love story or boss that hits people with their cars. I also write, of course, and you can read a bit more about it at my website. Beyond that, though, I struggle to answer any question that even vaguely resembles “who am I?” I’m the authority on that particular subject, right? And yet I can never get over the fact that really, I don’t know—at least not completely (we’re always changing, myself included). I’m also not particularly interesting, and I don’t like having “the floor” when there are so many better, more deserving dancers I can/should be standing behind while aggressively clapping them on. Clapping, or fist pumping.

DMP: I know you are quite prolific, often writing multiple poems a day, and have well over a thousand pages of poetry in manuscript. And River, Our River contains nineteen poems selected from a larger crop of writing from July 2022 alone. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process in general and how you write so much?

MJ: I think it involves both external privilege and internal need. It takes time to write, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that I’m very lucky to be able to devote some of my time to something I love. That’s the privilege aspect, or a fraction of it. The “internal need” I mentioned is harder to characterize, probably because it doesn’t have societal or economic infrastructure you can point to and trace with your finger.

A large part of why I write is because I have to—and I hope that doesn’t sound grandiose or pretentious or insincere. I picture it like this: I largely live in a state of white noise; while I’m very self aware, I also really struggle with revealing myself to myself. I don’t know what I’m thinking or even how I’m feeling unless I write it out, usually abstractly. The pen serves as both a translator and a processor for me.

There’s a Joan Didion quote that dissects the body I’m vaguely pointing at and cuts out the beating heart of it: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Really, writing is how I step out of my own blankness and exist. Then, luckily, hopefully, I can go a step beyond existence and connect.

R.M. Haines, Interview w/ MJ Stratton

all alone
with the monotonous voice
of a fan

Jim Young [no title]

Much of my poetry video is set up to work at different levels. In general, I don’t mind how they are interpreted by others – that is an essential aprt of the process. But when someone really gets into the multiple layers of a piece, it is incredibly satisfying. I did an English / French version of my video Palingenetics / Palingénétique that was accepted for the 2023 edition Traverse Video Festival in Toulouse, France. Each year they produce an annotated program of the event and this time it includes an article about Palingenetics / Palingénétique by Simone Dompeyre. The original poem is very complex, and refers to evolutionary and developmental biology, ancient number counting systems, discredited social theory, and climate change (!!!!). But as you can see below, Simone Dompeyre gets it as well as the visual / audio aspects… I was quite overwhelmed by her words. Merci beaucoup!

Ian Gibbins, Palingénétique at Traverse Video, 2023

Storytelling outside the square: prose poems, haibun and other experimental forms is the panel I’ll be on Friday 6/16 at 4:30 pm CST. Since many of my readers here are poets, I wanted to invite you to watch if you can and care to. Roberta Beary, Haibun Editor for Modern Haiku, is also on the panel, among others. The entire flash festival is great with participants from all over the world! I hope you can drop in.

All events are being live streamed on Flash Frontier’s YouTube channel and can be viewed there afterwards if you can’t make it. You can also see what’s happened at the Festival of Flash so far (it began last weekend) as well as everything coming up.

Charlotte Hamrick, You are invited….

This year, after I announced Haiku Girl Summer (my limited-run online haiku journal), a haiku friend asked me if I’d heard of the Buson Challenge. I had completely forgotten about it! 2022 was a terrible year for my creative life, and writing 10 haiku a day for 100 days was not going to work with everything else I was juggling. But now I’ve settled into a job I like, the house is getting more organized, and I have the brain space to actually write again.

As of this writing, I’ve successfully completed 12/100 days. I’ve definitely written more mediocre and genuinely bad haiku than good, though since most of the haiku are still in my notebook and not typed up, I don’t have sense of the overall proportion so far. But I’m surprising myself; the overall quality each day is better than anticipating. Most days, I manage at least one haiku that has potential.

Preferred notebook: Field Notes

Notebooks filled: 1

Places I’ve written:

So far, I’m having a fantastic time with this challenge, and feel optimistic that I might actually get all the way through!

Allyson Whipple, Buson Challenge Days 1-12

But you too may be of an age to have inflated your pyjama bottoms while engaged in Bronze / Silver / Gold awards in school swimming lessons. 

I walked with my schoolfriends to the Swiss Cottage baths. This memory came up for me while holidaying with my Longest-Serving Friend in North Wales. 

Did you wrestle with your pyjamas while treading water and fifty years later wonder why, if it was even possible?

Liz Lefroy, I Inflate My Pyjamas

Almost always, entering a library feels like coming home.  My earliest memories are of going to the library, and libraries haven’t changed radically in appearance in my lifetime, so it makes sense.  Libraries have more stuff now–computers, meeting rooms, non-book media/items–but libraries still have books, shelves and shelves and shelves of books.

I got my card with no trouble, since I now have a North Carolina driver’s license.  The librarian asked me if I’d ever had a Buncombe county library card before, and I said no.  Suddenly I realized that I’ve had a library card in almost every state south of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi River.  I have no particular desire to live in the missing states (Mississippi, for example), so this might be the end of my run.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Library Love

Good thing this wasn’t a full-on poetry pilgrimage. Mostly my family enjoyed fine, cool weather during our week’s vacation in midcoast Maine, and I’d planned a stop, as we drove away, in Edna St. Vincent Millay territory, just for an hour, before visiting the Farnsworth Museum. Enter heavy rain and flood warnings. I insisted on paying the park fee anyway so we could drive to the top of Mt. Battie and I could imagine Millay there, cooking up her famous early poem “Renascence.” As the plaque at the summit says, rather melodramatically and with imperfect comma usage, “At the age of eighteen, a frail girl with flaming red hair left her home in early morning to climb her favorite Camden hills where so deeply affected by her surroundings, she wrote ‘Renascence.’ The poem received Immediate public acclaim and was the inspired beginning of the career of America’s finest lyric poet.” I’m putting aside the latter assertion because I don’t think “who’s the best?” arguments are worth having, but I have to observe that Millay wasn’t so frail if she hiked that high.

I’m a Millay fan and sometime scholar, but while I’m glad “Renascence” won the young poet some prize money and a scholarship and the beginnings of fame, it’s (shh) far from my favorite of her works. The poem is full of beautiful turns of phrase (“To kiss the fingers of the rain,/ To drink into my eyes the shine/ Of every slanting silver line…”). I’m moved by her awe; I’m interested in the poem as a representation of something like a panic attack, an overwhelming physical and mental response to the largeness of the world and the pettiness of human ambition in the face of suffering. But much of the poem’s intensity strikes me as funny; I’m trying not to use the word “adolescent.” I don’t have any right to condescend to a woman who faced serious headwinds yet climbed so very many mountains.

It also struck me as hilarious that when I retraced her steps–by economy car–in the aged half of middle age, with plantar fasciitis and a pulled muscle in my back, after repeatedly shaking my head at ticket-takers who asked if I was eligible for a senior citizen discount, what met me was not “three islands in a bay” but drippy pines and a sea of fog. I could have been anywhere. Ah, the grand view from my fifty-fourth summer on the planet! There’s a poem in there somewhere.

Lesley Wheeler, For rain it hath a friendly sound

At Nanyuki, they say, the equator runs under asphalt
and bush. I imagine it like the seam of a cricket ball,
six rows of coarse stitches, acacia trees and thorny

scrub sewing the path. Two unequal halves held
together. Somehow. The me walking on water
and the me wrecked at the bottom of the sea.

The me going through the rituals of being and
the me talking in binaries with the moon.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 51

What I’m listening to: My Goldenrod playlist from summer 2021, The National’s new record, and a lot of music that my kids and I agree feels like summertime: Superchunk, Nada Surf, Harry Styles (Rhett is obsessed with “Watermelon Sugar” right now), New Pornographers. We’re looking forward to a summer full of live music: boygenius, Metric, Nelsonville Music Festival, Old 97s.

I also recently listened to the incredible Julia Louis-Dreyfus read my poem “First Fall” (from Good Bones) on her podcast, Wiser Than Me. Julia’s mother, herself a poet, shared “First Fall” with her. Just…wow. The whole episode with author Amy Tan is terrific. The beautiful reading of my poem is in the first couple of minutes.

Best reads this month so far: Elise Loehnen’s On Our Best Behavior and Airea D. Matthews’ Bread and Circus, which are both out now; Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s Cacophony of Bone and Leslie Jamison’s Splinters, which you can and should preorder; and Jedidiah Jenkins’ Mother, Nature, which you will definitely want to read and share with a friend or family member, so preorder one or two.

Just a handful of the books I’m planning to read between now and August (and may be seen with in a chair at the pool): Monsters by Claire Dederder, The Twelfth Commandment by Daniel Torday, I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane, and early copies of Psalms of Unknowing: Poems by Heather Lanier and How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair.

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

Ten Toes Coffee, Somerset St, was the venue for this spring’s pre-press fair reading. Apparently it’s been open a few months. What a sweet little spot for coffee, tea, snacks, or laundry in the back apparently. A green and orange and stained glass and retro glass decor. Next time I’ll have to try the matcha latte. Their bathroom has a wooden sink, which is fun. But do I digress or bury the lede?

The reading. Yes, the reading. It was super fun and super full, probably over 2 dozen, some familiar faces, some faces new to me. (Although they have all owned their faces for decades obviously.). I haven’t been to many reading over the last 5 years since concussion then Covid-era starting. I was glad to see some masks in the room.

Some nice conversations had, catch ups and getting to hear aloud a chapbook I loved reading, Fossils you can Swallow by Vera Hadzic (Proper Tales Press, 2023). You can get your copy at Stuart Ross’ table on Saturday.

The audience was beautifully open and attentive to all. Option of zoom is lovely but there’s something to be said for live energy in a room.

Pearl Pirie, Pre-press fair reading

A song can be carved from stone, river, or wind.

A fist and a heart can fit into the same size clothes; it all depends if you’re going to a wedding or a war zone.

Ashes to passion, dust to desire.

Keep my casket open when I die. Nightmare gallows are no match for these singing bones.

Rich Ferguson, At the crossroads of my lips

The strawberries are only available for a few short weeks in June, a gift fleeting as that month’s green grass, mild sun, and rose blossoms. I used to try to make the gift last longer, boiling the berries into jam or freezing them whole. I had fantasies of perfect June berries in my January yogurt, a spot of sunshine in the cloudiest time of year. The jam proved to be no substitute for a solid berry, and the whole ones I froze defrosted into a sloppy mush. I threw them all in the compost bin the next June, after thinking all winter that I would surely do something with them, and finally admitting that I wanted them only the way that I can have them in June, or not at all.

I now have them only once a year, for a few short weeks that are never enough and always so much.

This week my friend Lisa brought Hood strawberries and angel food cake to an impromptu dinner. We talked of many things that are changing: our bodies, our work, our environment, our world. “Enjoy avocados while you can,” she said as we discussed diminishing water supplies and schemes to desalinate ocean water and pipe it to southwest states.

I used to want to dole the berries out and eat them slowly, as if that might somehow make them last longer. Or, I’d only get them when I could make them into some dish worthy of their greatness. Or, I’d only eat them when I could savor them, fully appreciate them. I was afraid, if I ate them too quickly, that I wouldn’t have them when I really wanted them. Inevitably, some would rot while I was waiting for the right time, or I’d end up getting only one carton in a season.

Now, I buy them whenever I see them and eat them while they are fresh. I’ve given myself permission to take a few each time I open the refrigerator. I get them as often as I can, because the season is so short and nothing is guaranteed. For all I know, this is the last year I will get to eat Hood strawberries. I know for sure it is the last year that this version of me will. Next year’s Rita might not be able to enjoy them in the same way that this year’s Rita can.

Life is so full of big, hard things we can barely swallow. People lose their land, their names, their loves, their lives. The more I lose the more determined I am to eat all the sweet things that I can, while I can, with love and appreciation and gusto.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Fleetingly sweet

After the warning
sirens, egrets come back
to fish in the shallows.

A man takes off his shoes
to walk in the flooded street.

Luisa A. Igloria, Evening, with Hailstorm and Tornado Warning

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 1

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 first week of the year saw many bloggers recommitting to blogging, among other resolutions, hopes, and reflections about the new year. The weather and food also figured prominently, as one might expect.

I’ve added several new bloggers to my feed reader, as I usually do after Matthew Stewart posts his annual Best UK Poetry Blogs list (here’s this year’s). Theoretically, the more blogs I read, the more selective I can be, but enthusiasm always gets the better of me, so look for these already long digests to get even longer in 2023. Happy New Year!


the air thickens as we work.
steam mists over the white-sheeted windows,
fog forming indoors from the flying sweat
& heavy exhalations of the class.
January, but someone opens the door anyway;
cold air gasps in.
[…]

This poem describes my first (or second?) real experience with Hatsu-Geiko, the martial arts tradition of a vigorous practice on New Year’s Day — the first lesson of the year, the first practice of the year. This was at Chicago Aikikai back when they were located on Howard Street. There was literally so much sweat in the air it was hard to breathe. The flower described was an anthurium.

I was recently cleaning house and found an old printout of this poem, in dot matrix print on yellowed paper. I’d been looking for this one, and for another about sharpening stones in water sounding like crickets. Finding this gives me hope that the other one isn’t lost forever. I wish I’d written more poems about martial arts when I was young and vigorous.

PF Anderson, Falling Into Focus

This is why             we bundle: freezing rain, a loss of pitch. The accuracy
of this ink white sheet. Forecasts                     one might reach by water.

Schools closed, pajama days; suspension                              of a letter.
Our small children                      abide. This day, separated

by music, returns    to earth.

rob mclennan, Short poem for a long winter

Happy New Year, everybody! I do hope 2023 will be a good year for us all, walking out of some of our woes and into more of our joys. I’m very aware of people’s losses and changes and the lingering trauma of these pandemic years. We’ll be walking together, won’t we? We got to spend Christmas with our kids in Portland, Oregon, where they both were, amazingly, able to buy houses this fall, after a wild real estate market began to settle down a bit. It was great to see them in their new lives and neighborhoods! We hiked the snowy trail to Tamanawas Falls, and saw the waterfall rushing over frozen sections of itself, misting up into the air and gently raining down on us and the heaps of white snow and blue ice. Just lovely. A magical trail of snow and ice laden trees (primarily cedar and Douglas fir), alternately silent or accompanied by the rushing creek, depending on the bends in the trail. That was Christmas Day.

Tuesday morning we visited a charming patisserie, Champagne Poetry, for breakfast. We had delicious treats, coffee, and tea…but, as it was breakfast, no champagne. It’s all in shades of pink with a rose wall and neon wings, as evidenced by the wacky picture of me and cooler picture of my son! Back home before New Year’s Eve, some of us had a wee bit of champagne before feeling sleepy by nine p.m. But yay for those who made it to midnight!

Kathleen Kirk, Champagne Poetry

I love this time of year. Anything is possible and perhaps, even probable. There are all the poems in the world to write, and all the poems on the computer to send out to journals. This season of beginning fills me with optimism. And so, after an epidemic, a new book, and some epic times of wonder, I’m here again. Over the past few years, I’ve tried to balance more poetry writing with more poetry community.I know I need a vibrant and diverse group of poets around me. 

The classes I teach and the Poets on the Coast retreat I run are both for the poets that come to the events, but they also feed me. Something inexplicible happens when we write in community—as if the air we breathe is filled with even more poetry than usual. Somehow as a group, we are more than a sum of our parts. Or maybe it’s something even simpler, when we share a safe and creative space, the poems come in new shapes and forms. We surprise ourselves.

Susan Rich, My New Year’s Resolution is to Write Poems and…

A paradox this, in an age of over communication,
there is too little with any meaning. Like packing waste,
deleted texts find their way to a landfill, their tasteless
apathy never decaying. How do you relearn sustainable
conversation, biodegradable, returning to the earth to
bloom flowers? Somewhere in the middle of the day,
your message pings. You send me an AI generated
poem about hope for joy and prosperity and success.
I feel a dark kinship with the fish at the bottom of the
sea that has never set eyes on a human, still dying of
microplastics. Happy (and on this I insist) New Year.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Earth 2023: A poem for the new year

I’m holding onto a quotation I found in Italo Calvino’s memo on “Lightness” in his Six Memos for the Next Millennium. It’s by Paul Valéry: “One must be light like the bird, not like the feather.”

I’m holding onto words that I previously has as my WOTY (word of the year). Uplift, amplify, calm etc. I’m going to continue to go where the love is. I’m going to continue to cultivate Marina Abramavic’s directive to “elevate the public spirit.”

I’m going to try and be useful. I’m going to read this list of 20 helpful things I made recently and try to actually walk the walk.

Rather than a word this year, I’m going with the phrase “my ALL.” Which is borrowed from Sophie Calle whose book with that title is an inspiration for my work in progress. This is my year of my all. I mean by this that I’m going to use all my talents and gifts and I’m going to claim my expertise. I am not going to waste my energy and I am not going to squander.

Of course, you saw how I got on last year, but I think this really will be the year of my ALL. Please feel free to also have a year of your ALL.

Shawna Lemay, Some Practices for 2023

I had intended to write a cheery Christmas post but I put it off because I wanted to share a  new poem that went live at Quartet Journal (USA) on January 1st. The poem is titled ‘Mary Ruefle is Right: Menopause is Adolescence All Over Again’, and it pretty well sums up my preoccupations in 2022. Quartet is an online journal of poetry by women fifty and over. I admire the work in Quartet very much, and am really pleased to have this particular poem accept in this particular journal. CLICK HERE to read my poem and all the other super poems in Quartet’s Winter 2023 Issue.

Caroline Reid, I Just Wanna Wish You Well

A new thing that I have been doing since delving into the new year is keeping track of word counts in addition to income tallies each writing day. Partly, this is just for my own curiosity, but also, as I take on new jobs, helpful in figuring out what to charge for my time. I quickly realized I was running around 5K per day the past several days, which set my slow, little poet heart aghast. Granted, some days one piece is like 2500 if it’s longer, and lessons tend to be 1000 or more, with everything else slightly shorter, so it’s actually easy to hit. I’ve often speculated I don’t have the endurance for writing long things like fiction or novels, but these counts are promising, though I imagine creative prose, like poetry, is a little tougher going. I can write a 1000 word lesson or article in the same time I write a poem around a hundred words, each using a different part of my brain and a different set of creative muscles. That poem, like they always have, takes much more out of me. Sometimes I need a nap even though I’ve only been up an hour. Last summer when I was writing some fiction I could get maybe 1000-1500 words out of a block of several hours.

Kristy Bowen, word counts and strange weather

Looking at my yearly stats, I can see that I write more poems when I write fewer flash pieces. And my stories often involve episodes (epiphany moments in particular) that might otherwise have become flash pieces.

Sometimes I look through my journals/notebooks to find fragments that will inspire me to write. More often I wait until 2 fragments link up. This inspires me to write a first draft. I then sweep through the fragments again, to find ways to bulk up the piece. Once I’m writing a short story it sucks in many little details and observations.

So I reckon that a flash piece costs a poem. A story costs at least 3 flashes or poems.

Tim Love, How many poems does a story cost?

I was delighted to be asked by Trowbridge Museum to create and facilitate some visual poetry workshops for young people (aged 7+) working with the museum’s extensive herbarium collected by poet, botanist and clergyman George Crabbe, who lived and is buried in Trowbridge. These free workshops form part of a programme of events Trowbridge Museum will be running this year called ‘Retold: Trowbridge’s Past as Told by its Future’ and are part of the museum’s participation in ‘The Wild Escape,’ a major new project (led by Art Fund_ and funded by ACE) uniting hundreds of museums and schools in a celebration of UK wildlife and creativity. Free places on my workshops, which will take place on 21 January, 18 February and 18 March, can be booked here.

Crabbe is nowadays, perhaps, most often associated with Benjamin Britten who based his opera Peter Grimes on a character from Crabbe’s poem The Borough. However, in his day (1754 – 1832) he was read and admired by many leading writers, artists and thinkers of the time, including Jane Austen, Edmund Burke, Joshua Reynolds, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Samuel Johnson and others. He mostly wrote long narrative poems in rhyming couplets and was noted for the way he scorned an idealised image of the countryside and wrote instead about what life was really like, especially for poor people in rural areas.

Josephine Corcoran, Visual Poetry Workshops at Trowbridge Museum

The last batch of one-point-of-interest reviews for 2022 were published on Sphinx yesterday, here. They include my reviews of pamphlets by: John F. Deane, here; Clare Best, here; and Mark Wynne, here.

As ever, though, there are lots of reviews, by and of a diverse range of voices, to enjoy and pique your interest.

Thanks for reading my blog in 2022 and happy New Year!

Matthew Paul, OPOI reviews of John F. Deane. Clare Best and Mark Wynne

In an earlier post this year I shared that I had a goal of 100 rejections in 2022. I didn’t make it. I heard a firm “no” only 71 times and among those I had a number of encouraging notes and invitations to resubmit. (It’s all good, in other words.) A large number of poems and about 4 essays are still out, some from as long ago as February, 2022, so I could (conceivably) get to my 100 rejections.

Of course it’s way more fun to look at the acceptances. I’ve shared a few of these over the year, but recently the mail brought my contributor copy of Catamaran, a journal which, if you don’t know it, you should. As their banner says: “West Coast themes, Writers and Artists from Everywhere.” My poem, “A Mask of Forgetting,” is paired with art by Elizabeth Fox, and the whole thing is beautifully put together, well worth the trip.

This month I also received a contributor copy of Peregrine, from Amherst Poets & Writers. They picked up two of my poems: “Reading Andrew Motion’s Biography of John Keats,” and “Every Cell of Me.” I appreciate all the on-line journals now encouraging writers, but it’s still a treat to get a copy of a real, flesh-and-bone journal.

Bethany Reid, Giving Thanks for 2022

stairwell
which is Purgatorio
when everything’s on hold

save the blue and gold
for heaven
three stitches for a rune

Ama Bolton, ABCD January 2023

The sunset on the 2nd January 2023 was stunning. I have been discussing it with the Secret Poets. We have been exchanging photographs and thinking how we must write something. I have not written anything over the festive period and this morning the words did not want to come. […]

Black Stalin, the esteemed Calypsonian died last week. He will be missed. I leave you with Burn Dem.

Paul Tobin, WORDS HAVE FLED

Proposition. A song is a song and a poem is a poem. They share words but they don’t share function. I wrote this as a poem and then Steve Moorby of MoorbyJones, the band we share with his daughter Gemma Moorby, set it to music and we recorded it. It’s due for release imminently and I’ll link to Spotify when it’s out in the world. And then, if the proposition has value for you, gentle reader, you may judge!

Dick Jones, STAND UNDER FALLING WATER

The fact is that the book is Dylan writing about 66 songs that he felt moved to write about, and criticising him for not writing about other songs is missing the point by a mile. One more quote seems apposite. In the essay on Pete Seeger’s ‘Waist Deep in the Big Muddy’, he tells the story of how Seeger’s performance of the song was cut from the Smothers Brothers TV show in 1967 (Seeger had been excluded from television for his political leanings) because it was seen as critical of the Vietnam War. A year later, the tide of opinion was turning and he was invited back to sing it on the same show. The point being made is that in those days, everyone, pro, anti or indifferent to the war, tuned in to the same programme. Dylan bemoans the fragmentation that has replaced media forums where we were exposed to lots of views and kinds of cultural performances:

Turns out, the best way to shut people up isn’t to take away their forum – it’s to give them all their own pulpits. Ultimately most folks will listen to what they already know and read what they already agree with. They will devour pale retreads of the familiar and perhaps never get to discover they might have a taste for Shakespeare or flamenco dancing.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Billy Mills, The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan: A Review

I am honored to be one of 47 poets in this anthology to raise funds for Ukrainian Refugees. My poem title was also used as the anthology title. The anthology is published by Black Spring Press Group out of Westminster, London. 100% of the sales profits will go to the Sanctuary Foundation which is a charity that helps Ukrainian people to safety and homes in the UK.

If you would like to help refugees from Ukraine who are victims of this terrible war, please consider buying this anthology (and maybe another for a friend).

Carey Taylor, Poets Support Ukraine

The Other has been running in Manchester since January 2016. Michael Conley and Eli Regan organise the event where writers are put in pairs to read and perform each other’s work, with plenty of time beforehand to prepare. It is a fascinating idea.

During the pandemic The Other moved online and I took part in a memorable Zoom session where I was paired up with Adam Farrer. The Other is now ‘live’ again. Dates are on Facebook and Twitter. Sessions also raise funds for Manchester Central Foodbank.

Fokkina McDonnell, The Other (Michael Conley)

I’ve read the words
and heard them read
searching for someone

to whom I can
address these lines.

Yet again I speak the question
into existence.

Yet again I listen
for the answer.

Jason Crane, POEM: Margaret

TSP: Suzanne, we have been fans of your work since your first book, Lit Windowpane (2008), now your new book Fixed Star has JUST been released from Jackleg Press! (Congratulations!)  How have your poems or writing process changed since your first book, and in what ways did you stretch yourself in Fixed Star?

SF: That’s so kind of you to say! Thank you so much. It’s very exciting to have a new book out in the world. These are great questions. Both Lit Windowpane, and my second book, Girl on a Bridge—for the most part—are collections of spare, lyric poems. In Fixed Star I wanted to write against that inclination and write longer, lusher poems. You will still find lean poems in this collection, but the two sonnet coronas in this book helped me write longer poems, and something about writing the prose poems lent itself to lushness for me.

The other way this book differs from my two previous collections is that it’s the first book I’ve written with an intent. I knew I wanted to write about my heritage and to do that I had to immerse myself in research. A little background — my father was a Captain in the Cuban Revolution, and my parents met when he was transporting arms for Fidel Castro through the border town of Brownsville, Texas, where my mother lived. Once Castro took power and revealed his true intentions of dictatorship rather than democracy, my parents boarded a plane to the United States, where my father ultimately became a US Citizen. Cuba was rarely spoken of in our home for fear it would upset my father and as a result, I learned very little about my heritage. To write Fixed Star required learning about Cuba’s history, the United States’ history with Cuba, the Cuban Revolution, and The Special Period. In the process, I came across Cuban poets, writers, artists, and musicians. I reconnected with extended family, and I traveled in search of answers. I definitely didn’t have to leave town to write my first two books.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Interview with Suzanne Frischkorn from Two Sylvias’ Weekly Muse

Recently, I put together a list of “the best fantastical and frightening books about women reclaiming their own power” for the Shepherd website, which aims to help folks discover new books. Generally, I balk at using the phrase “the best,” since there are so many more amazing books in the world that I had yet to read. However, this is the format the website uses.

As per the request of the editors, I specifically picked books that felt connected to my collection of prose poetry, Twelve.  This means that I wanted to include a mixture of prose and poetry books, as well as focusing on books that are connected to fairy tales and/or folklore. And truthfully, I love each and every one of these books and I hope many other folks come to love them, too.

Andrea Blythe, Fantastical and Frightening Books About Women Reclaiming Their own Power

Heavy and beautiful.

That’s my 3-word review of the anthology [The Best of Tupelo Quarterly: An Anthology of Multi-Disciplinary Texts in Conversation].

It’s a thick volume — over 350 pages of gorgeous work, including poetry, literary criticism, prose, collaborative and cross-disciplinary texts, literature in translation and visual art (some printed in full-color). And I suppose “heavy and beautiful” also works for the challenges and themes the anthology aims to tackle — getting it right, expanding what’s possible, challenging the rules of society with new beliefs about what texts are legitimate.

I agree with Darling that this is “necessary work,” and while much of it does fall to gatekeepers, it also falls to individual readers (and reviewers) like myself. There’s always room to do better, but I try to read and champion work from diverse authors and to challenge my own ideas of the kinds of texts that “work.” (I recently confessed, for example, that I’m new to embracing different types of poetry.)

As I noted in a blog post on inventive poetry forms, unconventional work often presents topics that should challenge the reader, and there are some poems and voices to which editors should give special attention by creating spaces where they can be celebrated. TQ, as showcased in this new anthology, appears to be such a space.

Carolee Bennett, “electrifying experiments”

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Billy-Ray Belcourt for sure. When I read NDN Coping Mechanisms, I thought holy crap, you can do this with poetry?! Incredible. Belcourt’s work is so visceral and beautifully humble. It inspired me to get to the bottom of who I am (an ongoing process) and how I need to show up in my poetry and writing life for those around me. Adebe DeRango-Adem and Andrea Thompson are two other poets that continue to blow my mind. They edited an anthology called Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out and it was life-changing for me. That sounds very cliché, but it’s true. The book is packed with contributions from many creatives with mixed heritages, including pieces by the two editors. Reading Other Tongues was the first time I ever felt like a book was speaking directly to me and a lot of its power was in the multiplicity of voices sharing their stories. It was a whole community of people reaching out to me. I started having success publishing my work after I figured out that I didn’t need to write about the fancy trending things that I thought I needed to include or explore. My story was interesting, and before I could go outward with my writing, I needed to go inward and do some excavating. This was a fundamental shift in my understanding of how I should and should not occupy space with my work. 

Thomas Whyte, Samantha Jones : part four

When I was a graduate student at San Jose State University, I stumbled across a rolling cart (literally stumbled—I tripped over my own feet and almost fell) displaying the tempting label “Books $1 each.” That’s when I found 50 Contemporary Poets, the Creative Process, edited by Alberta T. Turner. In spite of its slightly sticky, caramel-colored 1970s-era cover, I paid for it, stuck it in my backpack, and limped to my next class.

That dollar is one of the best investments I’ve ever made. This book has provided me with a wealth of ideas for writing, teaching and understanding poetry. In this book, I discovered Peter Everwine, Gary Gildner, Nancy Willard, and Vassar Miller. It’s filled with Professor Turner’s wise and witty observations about poets and poetry, i.e., “Any poem successful enough to be noticed will be analyzed, categorized, and explained—by those who had nothing to do with its making.”

The book is based on a questionnaire that Turner sent to one hundred poets.

Erica Goss, Visualize the Reader—or Don’t

Two Christmas presents from my husband this year, a bottle of Tullibardine, and this beautiful book, Patti Smith’s A Book of Days. When we saw her perform at The Bearded Theory festival last May, she began her set by reciting the footnote to Alen Ginsberg’s Howl, ‘Holy, holy, holy’, and she spoke it with such conviction the poem could have been hers. Everything is holy … ‘Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!’

Julie Mellor, A Book of Days

Claire Booker takes readers on a journey over the Sussex Downs, a range of chalk hills which include 37 sites of special scientific interest that stretch from coastal cliffs to inland grasslands. There are diversions into family life, paintings, motherhood and childhood memories. […]

“A Pocketful of Chalk” is firmly rooted in its Sussex Downs location, exploring the landscape’s environs and raising concerns for climate change and what could be lost. There are also very human concerns: motherhood, intergenerational relationships and grief. All approached with the vitality and empathy of a poet wishing to share her concerns and love for the topics covered.

Emma Lee, “A Pocketful of Chalk” Claire Booker (Arachne Press) – book review

6. The alphabet is connected to the mouth, to the tongue, to the place where the sounds, particularly the consonants, are formed. Teeth invoke speech, the primal experiences of reality, childhood, and the oral, but are also resonant archetypes from a parallel alphabet. There’s a connection between teeth and the alphabet, between teeth and the keys of a typewriter. 

7. A lost tooth is a letter, a sound, a meaning extracted from the mouth, fallen. It is a sign out of place, removed from the locus of signification, from the place of utterance. It becomes itself, its own talking head. It is a tiny megalith, a dental henge, a miniature inukshuk. A prize from the Kinder Egg of the mouth.

Gary Barwin, TEETH ASK THE BIG QUESTIONS

Who stirs the pot
remains calm —

which explains
the universe,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (373)

I read a Chinese folk tale of a boatman 

who lost his way and wound up in a village fenced
        from time, suspended in peach blossoms—

The story says, everyone who forgets what such
        happiness is like, loses the chance to be immortal.

I also know a poem that gave me a peach before I ever 
       bit into the actual flesh of one: that traced its provenance 

before a boy at a roadside stand dropped them, 
       still warm from the sun, into a paper bag. And thus 

I learned how words, too, conjure the same 
       sugar and skin, how they dapple in both 

shadow and sunlight.

Luisa A. Igloria, Stone Fruit

Perhaps perceiving my no as code for “we can’t afford it,” the woman suggests we keep the pastry for free.

I tell her no thank you.

This time she insists. Her kindness floors me.

She’s selling hotdogs on the street to keep body and soul alive but offers the pan dulce, no charge.

Her intentions are bold and clear as a diamond. To decline her generosity feels like it would be an insult, an unshining of her jeweled gesture.

My daughter and I say, Thank you. Gracias. We share the pastry, which no longer feels like an excess treat, but manna from above.

Wherever that woman is, that saint dressed in white, come rain or shine, bless her.

Rich Ferguson, A Saint For All Days

I am the border agent who looks
the other way. I am the one
who leaves bottled water in caches
in the harsh border lands I patrol.

I am the one who doesn’t shoot.
I let the people assemble,
with their flickering candles a shimmering
river in the dark. “Let them pray,”
I tell my comrades. “What harm
can come of that?” We holster
our guns, and open a bottle to share.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Epiphanies Past and Present

I crossed the invisible border into 2023 while in India. The occasion: my son’s close college friend, Rish, is from Bengaluru and wanted to show us the country. The Christmas break worked well for this bunch of students and teachers; the only other break we have in common would be summer, when heat is extreme. He ended up heroically organizing a complex trip for nine people: Rish himself and two families of four (my family plus the family of their other college friend, Neville). It was a rich and intense adventure I’ll be processing for a long time. I’m not a TOTAL ignoramus–I listen to people, read a lot, follow the news–yet the barrage of new information, sensory and otherwise, put me in a constant state of awe.

We arrived in Delhi at 2 am on the 24th, and by 10:30 we were already on the move. Our very first stop began to open up histories that were unfamiliar to me. The Qutub Minar complex, mostly built around the year 1200, is in the Mughal style but provides glimpses of many versions of Delhi and the conflicts that shaped this palimpsest of cities: it contains a mosque, minarets, and cloisters built with the stones of earlier Hindu and Jain temples. I’d read up a bit on the Mughals before traveling but seeing so many forts, mosques, and monuments made that history more vivid, of course–and uncovered some layers within contemporary Indian cultural conflicts that I hadn’t understood. Even just talking to tour guides is revelatory, because each describes the history through different lenses and sometimes biases. And why didn’t I know that the Taj Mahal, commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved Mumtaz, is roughly contemporary with the British renaissance? What an important thing for an English professor to understand!

Visiting the Taj Mahal was a metaphor as well as a lucky experience. It was magical watching the symmetrical silhouette of the marble mausoleum take shape in the mist (we arrived before sunrise, at 6:30 am). It was amazing in a different way to get up close, where all that whiteness yields to complex detail: much of its surface is carved with flowers and inlaid with precious stones or painted in Quranic verses. Proximity to the past changes you.

Lesley Wheeler, New year, old places

Time feels like an endless sea at the beginning of all our holidays, all our love stories; we float and play in it with nothing but delight because all we can see is water. We know there is a shore and that the waves are taking us relentlessly toward it, but it’s so far away. Until it isn’t. Eventually, always, the calendar turns. Something ends. Someone leaves or dies. The tree comes down. But that there are always endings means that there are always beginnings, new versions of us to fall in love with, new waters to dive into with joy.

As the fire burned down and we talked about all that we love and have loved, the room began to feel a little more full, and I began to make peace with the changes in it. Or maybe my eyes just began to get used to how it is now, as they always do. We’d planned to cook dinner at home, to make a good new memory in our favorite place, but we were both tired from the day and couldn’t bear the idea of cleaning up afterward. Instead, we went out for Chinese. “It’s still the holidays, right?” he said, and we laughed.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Epiphany

Friday afternoons in January I run a poetry group, a small band of poets seeking the same thing, I think: a way into poems, the promise of absorbing the craft, of finding voice and finding paths through the words. This is how I work. I like to work with others in the same way. This week while the writers were working, studiously, heads down, involved in their own internal world, I drank my earl grey from my wide rimmed cup with the blue hares running round it and allowed myself to sit and watch the sky. The sun was setting, the jackdaws were leaving to their overnight roost. One day I shall seek out the evening roost. In that moment when i could feel the joy in my chest, watching them stream across the frame of the window, I realised I had found the peace I was looking for.

Even if this all changes again and I no longer have the privilege of seeking peace through my working day, I have it now. You have to love the things you have, in this world, and if you don’t then you either change the things you love, or you change your life until you love the things that are in it. I feel like I have been far out at sea for years, and now am resting on the shoreline I was seeking.

Wendy Pratt, Seeking Mid-Winter Peace

Several significant U.K. poetry publishers appear to be constantly bringing out new books, month on month, and their skeleton marketing teams can barely keep pace with the revolving door. Is it any surprise that in this context the sales of many full collections from prestigious outfits struggle to reach three figures?

And what about the effect of social media and newsfeeds? We all scroll so quickly, a new book becoming an old one in the space of weeks, pressure everywhere to be constantly publishing or be left behind.

A number of poetry people whose opinion I value have long held that poets should allow at least four years between collections, firstly to enable the previous book to garner and gather a readership that gradually builds and accumulates, and secondly to allow a poet’s customers to have a rest from shelling out on their wares, not to feel there’s something nearing an annual fee to keep up with their output. I myself am still encountering new readers for The Knives of Villalejo, my first full collection, which was published back in 2017. I’m not sure that would be the case if I’d brought me second collection out a couple of years later.

Matthew Stewart, The Poetry Publishing Machine

How can you be sure you’re doing enough for your book? The answer is, even with a team, you can never be sure. If you’re a workaholic and achievement oriented, it can be overwhelming. I’m hoping not to have that stress this time around. I hope that I’ll have info after this that will help me write an update to the PR for Poets book! Will Twitter still exist when I publish the next version of the book? Will all book promotion be done on a platform that doesn’t exist yet? Stay tuned!

Anyway, if you are like me and in the middle of getting ready to launch a book during a pandemic, please leave your comments, complaints, and helpful tips. It’s been some years since my last book, and a totally different world!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Week of the New Year, Cat and Weather Dramas, and Prepping for the New Book in a New Year

I was recently honored to be invited to submit some poems for an anthology about a particular subject, the only problem was that I didn’t have any ready-made poems on said subject, so I have to write some. Its been an interesting process. At first I had certain ideas about a sestina, but try as I might I couldn’t make it work. A whole other poem was in me that had its own ideas and wanted its say. Once that was out of my system, I found myself going back to the sestina, and low and behold, it’s working. It’s interesting how both have emerged and how one needed to get in front first. It’s also interesting how little control I have over the process. I don’t believe that anyone “channels” writing, but sometimes it feels close to that for me. I’m also really enjoying the process of writing a sestina, which is one of my all-time favorite forms to write in. I think it’s a quite a brilliant and elegant form, and I may one day write an entire chapbook of them. We’ll see how it goes after this next one.

Kristen McHenry, Game-Induced Verbal Tic, Diamond Update, The Glory of Sestinas

It feels like time to look at some new poems–but new is a relative term.  Most of these are recent, but some are just new to me, poets whose names I’ve known but haven’t read at all or haven’t read closely.  Poems from recent books by poets whose previous work I do know.  New ways of seeing and hearing, of taking in the world and giving voice to it.  Most of these are new to the blog.  Poets are always torn between reading new work and re-reading long time favorites, and of course we do both, shuttling back and forth between them, sometimes resisting the ones new to us, arguing with them, then seeing what they mean, all that they open our hearts and minds to.

Sharon Bryan, Some Recent Poems

This November, we celebrate the centenary of the birth of James Schuyler. As readers of this blog will know, he has become something of a go-to poet for me. And while I know I am not alone in being a fan of his work, I somehow feel that he is not as fêted as his illustrious friends in the New York school, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and Frank O’Hara. Leaving the scientific veracity of this to one side, a centenary is still worth celebrating, no?

This is, therefore, an open call to anyone who would like to write a guest blog post celebrating his life and work. Jacket 2 did a splendid special feature on Schuyler a few years ago, and this might be a good place to start in your search for inspiration in writing about him.

What am I looking for? Close readings of and responses to poems; readings of his prose, including his art criticism, the novel he coauthored with John Ashbery, his diaries; reappraisals of his work in the context of his aforementioned friends, including the New York poets that followed him; readings of his long poems; readings of his short poems; how he wrote about friendship, love, art, other poets; his elegies; his writing about the natural world. You will not run out of things to say.

Anthony Wilson, James Schuyler: Centenary year celebrations

and now these days
when it snows
there is a blizzard
all across the twitter sward 
images 
one need not imagine
anymore 
other than the words that speak
of the invisibility we seek
are we not all falling now
like the snow

Jim Young, blizzard

We’re made of weather — electrons twirling
like tiny twisters, blood-tides rushing and pumping.
How can anyone predict how we’ll blow?
Or what will come of our combative forces —
disease, health, madness, illumination?
Wild planets with fierce cycles of emotion,
we wobble on elliptical trajectories
toward idealized destinations,
subject to massive buildups of uncertainty.

Rachel Dacus, Why I Like Weather – a timely poem

Right now it’s starting to snow again, so the scene is even whiter and more ethereal than in this watercolor sketch, completed only an hour ago. Color fades to the barest hint of itself; the indistinct horizon blurs even more and comes closer; trees and rooftops lose their sharp edges. 

Today’s view feels chalky, and I’m looking forward to trying to capture it in pastels, but in a little while the sun will have gone down, so that may have to wait until tomorrow — when who knows what the sun and sky will be doing? 

Beth Adams, New Year in a New Neighborhood

Through New Year’s open doors
a host of voices echo, Say Yes!

Back then, I was weary of Non: 
Don’t run down the stairs! Don’t cry!

OUI! Formed in France where I broke apart 
and transformed, child in my belly, “I” to “we.”

 The exquisite shell of myself shattered by my own egg.
A future lifetime of “we.”  As we all should be.

To the new year, OUI.

Jill Pearlman, OUI/WE

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Weeks 51 & 52

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.

For this final wrap-up of 2022, with two weeks of material to go through, I had the proverbial embarrassment of riches. It was especially tough with those bloggers who had a good solstice or Christmas post AND a good year-in-review post, trying to choose just one. But in the end, I feel, both sorts of posts are well represented here, along with the usual off-the-wall reflections and reports. Enjoy! See you in 2023.


Gilded horses with wild eyes and gold-painted manes, real horsehair tails groomed to silk and fanning in the breeze. Riderless on their barley-sugar twist poles, gliding by, up and down on an invisible sea, the afternoon sheened with drizzle and yellow light as the horses pass, and pass again, Coco, Belle and Princess, fettered and unloved, evoking an image of childhood that never really existed.

chestnuts in a paper bag
we stamp our feet
to keep warm

Julie Mellor, Carousel

I find Christmas more enjoyable, whatever its shape, whoever I’m with, however the food turns out, if it’s accompanied by Handel’s Messiah. It’s often sung at this time of year because of its distillation of the Christmas story into quotations from the bible, the first part focusing on Unto us a child is born.

I listened to the first section yesterday as I ran round the Quarry Park in Shrewsbury for my 80th parkrun, sporting my Santa hat. I was somewhere behind Mr Yule Log, and amid 700 or so other Santas, Elves, Christmas Trees and even, I think, a Christmas Pudding. […]

This work of Handel’s has survived its own popularity. This is song that can be sung in any season, even this one with its ugly-beautiful mix of religion, commerce, greed, altruism, cynicism, hope, loneliness and partying. I do not experience this work as a sermon, but as a poem. Similarly, parkrun with its accommodation of logs, fast runners, walkers, dogs, puddings and all – I don’t experience it as a race, but as a temporary community with volunteer marshals encouraging us on every step of the way. 

Liz Lefroy, I Snap A Picture

It’s become a private tradition to read poetry in this wintry span of time between the end of one academic term and the beginning of the next. I think it’s because poetry helps me center myself, dial down stress, and look away from my inbox. I’m definitely hit at the end of the calendar year by guilt at my to-be-read stack–but I think a craving for calm matters more. I’ve used books my whole life as a mood regulator, and probably built my career around them for similar reasons. As I put it in “Oral Culture” in my book Heterotopia, poetry is “work and joy and religion.”

I just posted at the Aqueduct Press blog about the speculative edge of my 2022 reading, noting that this was a difficult, distractible year during which certain books sunk in deeply and others skated past.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry in 2022 (work & joy & religion)

I leave the house and walk to the train station. In the afternoon, I walk home from the station. I could live anywhere.

Except I don’t. I miss the city. Any city. The pressure of anonymous, noisy humanity. Like a weighted blanket.

It’s the individual voices, the steady, thin drip of snark, and the randomly-focused vitriol that hurts. Vitriol is an interesting word. I wonder why it isn’t used more often. It gestures, in a graphic way, to petrol and by extension to all things caustic.

In the fall, there are leaves along the edges of the trail that have withered into fragile lace-like structures. The midrib and the netted veins remain as a kind of mid-stage artifact of life.

I missed the fall this year. It seems I’m waking up in the middle of death. And it’s not quiet, as we tend to describe it. It’s the percussive slaps of melting snow, flung by the tires of passing cars. Browning from the edges, like a rotting artifact of hope.

Ren Powell, Post Long Covid Torpor

Shimmer and cyclone of snow-breath clouding off pine pinnacles tall as wild hope; this ridge will burn, sooner than we can imagine, but now it diamond-glints and showers sprays of spirit-shaped creatures who rise as often as they fall, lit gold.

Vermont says Vermont things, secret. Always held between the mountain and the flesh, what is whispered here. A single glove left behind, or maybe both. Soft, warm, the shape of what was once held. Breathless from it, the cold; from what was in hand.

JJS, contranym

It’s that time, when foxes appear on Christmas cards. There’s a path made by foxes from the hole in my hedge to the fence on the other side of the front garden. My neighbour, who has a webcam, has counted at least ten different animals, plus two badgers and a hedgehog. 

I hear the foxes most nights, from about 8.30/9pm, chattering or screeching and of course the dog goes mad, throwing herself at the window. The cat doesn’t seem to hear, or doesn’t care. When I come home late, there’s usually one on the path. There used to be one that slept by my front door. 

Jackie Wills, Time of the foxes

The slow unpeeling of a lemon 
on a painter’s canvas will not convince us
to mind our decadence.
Time does pass — that’s why we celebrate.

Jill Pearlman, Mellow the Morning After

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (indie link) by Jenny Odell
The author reminds us our attention as the most precious—and overdrawn—resource we have. As she writes, “If we have only so much attention to give, and only so much time on this earth, we might want to think about reinfusing our attention and our communication with the intention that both deserve.” This book doesn’t rail at us to renounce technology and get back to nature (or our own navels). Instead it asks us to look at nuance, balance, repair, restoration, and true belonging. She writes beautifully. Here’s a snippet.      

“In that sense, the creek is a reminder that we do not live in a simulation—a streamlined world of products, results, experiences, reviews—but rather on a giant rock whose other life-forms operate according to an ancient, oozing, almost chthonic logic. Snaking through the midst of the banal everyday is a deep weirdness, a world of flowerings, decompositions, and seepages, of a million crawling things, of spores and lacy fungal filaments, of minerals reacting and things being eaten away—all just on the other side of the chain-link fence.”    

Laura Grace Weldon, Favorite 2022 Reads

Even the glass frog, smaller than a postage
stamp and almost as gelatinous as a gummy

bear, still confounds science—asleep, its organs
hide the blood, rendering it if not completely

invisible, then barely perceptible. Pasted
against a leaf like a wet translucence,

an outline of itself; with nearly all cells
carrying oxygen packed into the liver’s

styrofoam box, how does it even
keep breathing? And yet it does.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait as Glass Frog, or as Mystery

A BBC website piece on the international appeal of Detectorists, available here, provides some instructive reading, in how superb writing can transcend supposed barriers: that, far from obscure cultural references being deterrents, they can actually possess intrinsic appeal because of their obscurity.

I’ve had similar thought when reading We Peaked at Paper, subtitled ‘an oral history of British zines’, co-written by Gavin Hogg and my friend Hamish Ironside. It covers fanzines devoted to all manner of obscure subjects, including, to my delight, A Kick up the Rs, about the mighty QPR. What’s evident is the passionate energy which the founders brought to their individual fanzines and it’s that which is important, surely, in enabling niche content to reach beyond those who might already be converted. I can’t recommend the book, which is beautifully produced and available here, enough.

Matthew Paul, On obscurity

It feels bad to be a downer. It feels bad to not participate. It feels bad to be there but absent. It feels very bad to miss these years of grandchildren growing up, miss getting to know each unique, amazing personality. I have had, and hope to have more, time with them. I cannot be a regular grandma, certainly not a storybook grandma, but to the extent I can I would like to know them and for them to know me. 

But most of all, I want as long as possible with my friend and lover and husband while we are both able to fully appreciate our time together. This late romance was an unexpected gift. My illness is not its only burden, but so far we have held together. I hope we can keep doing so. 

Sharon Brogan, Why I’m Not There

The list of books I read in the past year is the shortest in memory, partly because of all the things that happened this year to disrupt my reading time, but also because it contains three very long titles. Most of my reading was connected with my zoom book group, and we began the year reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. That occupied us during most of the cold months last winter, appropriately enough. It was my third time through, and I feel like I got even more out of it, especially by virtue of the close reading with astute friends. Among us, we read several different translations, and this also added to the depth of our discussions. I was the one who had pushed us to read it, and so it was a delight to watch the group engage with and, at length, fall in love with the book and its characters, and appreciate Tolstoy’s tremendous gifts as a novelist. The biggest gratification for all of us came at the end when several members who had been reluctant at first, or who had tried previously and never gotten through it, expressed their feeling of accomplishment and happiness at having met this monument of literature, which everybody agreed really does deserve its rating as one of the greatest novels of all time.

We then drew a deep breath, and decided to read a number of short works, of which the two by César Aira stand out particularly, along with Aristophanes’ comic play The Birds.

Beth Adams, Book List, 2022

I’ve been forgetting to post poems on the blog, as more people tend to read them via links on twitter or facebook these days, but here are the out-in-December ones I can remember (alas, I’ve had to rush away from home and don’t have access to all my records.)

New poem in First Things: The Mortal Longing After Loveliness This one not “about” but is oddly apt for the Christmas season. I wonder how many poems Xerxes has marched into…

New poem in Willows Wept: Summer’s End (page 53) I’d forgotten this one; poets are moody, it seems!

And if you have a subscription to print-only journal Blue Unicorn (they’re very rare, those lovely, melancholy blue ones), you’ll find one in there this month as well, thanks to a bit of delay on an issue.

Marly Youmans, Wiseblood, Seren, poems

The concerts are over – Sunday’s Lewes Singers event was a major thrill, and it was lovely and amazing to see Claire Booker there – of all my local poet friends, none has ever been interested in coming to hear beautiful choral singing, so Claire is a real one-off!

As the year closes out I’m reminding myself all the good things – as well as the music, there’s Planet Poetry which has just has just signed off for a wee break, although we’re back in January with Peter interviewing Mimi Khalvati. I’m really looking forward to it, especially as Peter and Mimi knew each other back in the day. […]

In the post yesterday came the long-awaited new edition of The Dark Horse. The front cover somewhat dauntingly announces it’s a ‘Festschrift for Douglas Dunn – Poems, Affections and Close Readings’, teamed with ‘MacDiarmid at 100’. Despite my initial reservations I soon found myself enjoying very much the various recollections and essays about both of these (clearly eminent, but in different ways) poets. I’ve already been persuaded to order a copy of Dunn’s Elegies. And already I’ve spotted some lovely poems by Christopher Reid and Marco Fazzini, the former’s ‘Breaking or Losing’ I read to my (non-poet) husband who found it very moving. I like the way The Dark Horse is both a serious magazine and also warm and real – heavyweight contributions abound, but it’s never overly academic or esoteric.

Robin Houghton, Festive reading and giving

As I look back on the past year, at first I felt as if I didn’t get as much accomplished as I wanted to—as I could say of all the pandemic years—and was weighted down with too many doctor’s appointments and not enough fun stuff. But productivity is only one way—and a narrow one—to measure a year. I made new friends at a beautiful new farm in Woodinville – where I spent a lot of time wondering through lavender fields – and started a book club at a winery—where I hope to make more local friends. I got to go to La Conner for the Tulip Festival AND the Poetry Festival, and caught up with old friends, and did my first live reading at Hugo House since the pandemic with wonderful poets. I did podcasts for Writer’s Digest and Rattle. And of course, I worked this year with BOA Editions for the first time, on copyedits, covers, blurbs, and putting together all kinds of information. So in some ways I accomplished important things. So I guess I’m hoping for more time in flower fields, more time with friends, and more time away from doctor’s offices.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Holidays: Solstice and Christmas Traditions, Flare, Corona Full Cover Reveal, New Kittens, Winter Storms, and Planning for 2023 Already!

Quite unseasonally perhaps, here is an image of a gazelle – gazella dorcas – the kind of one Rilke is writing about in my translation below, with that ‘listening, alert’ look. The other extraordinary image that Rilke includes here is of the hind legs: ‘as if each shapely leg / were a shotgun, loaded with leap after leap’. This is one of the New Poems, written by Rilke under the influence of the sculptor, Auguste Rodin. Rilke learned from Rodin’s insistence on ‘looking’ closely at a subject, as well as his impressive work ethic! […]

This is one of five new translations which have just been posted at The Fortnightly Review. Click the link below to see the others – ‘Departure of the Prodigal Son’, ‘Pieta’, ‘God in the Middle Ages’ and ‘Saint Sebastian’.
Five poems from ‘Neue Gedichte’.

Martyn Crucefix, Five New Rilke Translations in ‘The Fortnightly Review’

Over the past year, I’ve been experimenting with how I use this blog in conjunction with social media. My point of departure was a quick analysis of the differing temporal nature of blogs, Facebook and Twitter as a poet’s main means of communication with their readers. If a blog post often gathers pace over the course of days and weeks (and sometimes even months and years if Google takes a fancy to it), Facebook posts accumulate likes over a period of hours and days, while Tweets find audiences mainly in minutes and hours.

This is why blogs are losing impetus. But it’s also their possible saving grace. Rather than viewing my blog as a separate entity from my social media use and lamenting its decline as a fading anachronism, I’ve begun to realise that my blog posts could acquire a crucial function on Twitter and Facebook. And as a consequence, the viewing stats for Rogue Strands have increased once more.

Matthew Stewart, The future of poetry blogging

Forever and always books save me – they bring me refuge, they carry me away, they provide entertainment and escape. Books for me are the ultimate entertainment and because I don’t watch television, most nights you’ll find me curled up on the couch with my dogs and a book. In fact, Piper loves the smell/taste of books and will often lick the pages and try to nibble at them, and Cricket, in her obsessive, smothering love, will force me to maneuver around her to hold my book because her favorite spot to lay is on my chest.

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books Read in 2022

I meant to stay away from this space until after the new year, thinking I’d want to spend my time in other ways, but this morning Jill of Open Space Practice shared an article on Facebook about the choices of a man dying of glioblastoma–which are the choices all of us make, every day, whether we know death is imminent or not.

This man, who chose to begin an important creative project (knitting a sweater for his son) even though he knew he might not finish it before dying, made me think of a conversation I had this week with an old (from college) friend. We acknowledged that we are moving into a new stage of life, one in which time feels short in ways that it never has before. “I find myself wondering what I want to do with what remains,” I said to her.

It brought to mind, too, a piece that Kate shared on her blog this week, The Satisfaction of Practice in an Achievement-Oriented World, in which the writer, Tara McMullin, makes a case for doing things for the experience of doing them–not for accomplishment or some byproduct that doing the thing might provide, but simply for whatever benefit we get in the moment of doing. She advocates for the value of practice over achievement.

This is a different thing, in some important respects, from the man who hopes to finish knitting a sweater, but it also isn’t. Both are about letting go of outcomes–starting the sweater even though you might die before it is done, taking up running because of how it feels while you’re doing it and not because you want to lose weight.

Talking about the article with Cane, I recalled how I felt the morning after my book of poetry won an award–how I understood, for the first time, that I would from then on write–if I wrote–for the sake of writing itself and not for accolades or publication. The accolade was nice, but fleeting, as was the feeling I’d had when I first held the book in my hand. It wasn’t enough to sustain me or the effort it took to write while parenting and teaching full-time.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The gifts of time

How does a poem begin?

Poems begin in my body. I’ve often compared it to the sensation just before a sneeze. Sometimes, a feeling comes over me and it’s luckily often combined with an opening or triggering phrase. I spend a lot of time hiking in the hills behind my house with my dogs, and I will often find that a phrase comes to me that leads me into a new poem. I find that if I pay attention to this confluence of feeling and sound, if I stop what I’m doing and write it down, a poem will flow fairly easily onto the page. 

Thomas Whyte, Subhaga Crystal Bacon : part five

Yesterday, visited a place that I had always wanted to visit since I heard about it: Frida Kahlo’s Blue House, or Casa Azul. It was a beautiful compound of house and garden. The great paintings were not there, as they were scattered in the world’s museums, but the material remnants of one’s life were. The wheelchair in front of the easel in the artist’s studio. The mirror above the beds in the day and night bedrooms that enabled the artist to paint while lying down in excruciating pain. The artist’s ashes in an urn in the shape of toad, to recall Diego’s nickname for himself, the toad-frog. The corsets—medical and decorative—that held the broken body straight. The song written by Patti Smith, painted on the garden wall, inspired by Noguchi’s gift of a display case of butterflies to Kahlo. Famously, when Kahlo had to remove her gangrenous foot, she said, “Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”

After Casa Azul, we walked to the lovely neighborhood of Coyoacán, taking in the busy Mercado de Coyoacán and the street artists in a small square. I regret not buying a small painting there. An ink painting of a man and a woman entwined in sex, the woman sitting in the man’s lap, on top of the text of a poem by (?), translucently covered by a yellow wash.

Jee Leong Koh, Flying in Corsets, Dancing in Bars

For several days in December, 2022, Adelaide and surrounding areas swarmed with large dragonflies, that have bred in the very wet spring we’ve had this year. In this video, I’ve used a frame echo process to track and digitally illuminate the flight paths of the dragonflies as they fly around our garden in Belair, South Australia. […]

Dragonflies have some of the most accomplished aerial abilities of any animal, with both high speed and high manoeuvrability. Associated with this, they have an advanced visual system, capable of seeing a wide range of colours as well as polarised light with very high resolution. Moreover, the part of the eyes that look up towards the sky have different optical properties compared with areas that look down, as befits the different environments in each visual domain.

Ian Gibbins, Dragonflies swarming

Today in Portland we are hunkered down with temperatures in the 20’s, sleet on the ground and freezing rain in the forecast. We are fortunate. We have food in the cupboards, the electricity is still on, and all my family are safe, unlike so many around the world, especially in Ukraine.

May you use this season to reflect on all you have and be grateful for it. May you find it in your heart this season to help others who are less fortunate. May you appreciate the fleeting moment we exist and make the time you inhabit this earth matter.

And find joy. In the birds at the feeder, in the neighbor’s soup, in a child’s laugh, in a beloved’s voice, in the music we make and the poems we write.

My wish for each of us is to create a world filled with peace, love, kindness, good health. Be the light someone can find in the darkness.

Carey Taylor, Peace be with Us

I admire the achievement of Amnion as a sustained project, the way the author is able to bring to life and combine complicated histories with her own present-day story. Stephanie Sy-Quia’s book is an exciting advertisement for fragmental writing and the possibilities it offers poetry and hybrid literature.

Scenes from Life on Earth (Salt, 2022) by Kathryn Simmonds is also biographical in part, addressing the author’s experience of parental bereavement and parenthood as well as poems of the natural world. Reading both books in close sequence, I couldn’t help noticing my own reactions to the texts. I felt more of an emotional punch reading Simmond’s poems, and wondered if this was because I connected more with the book’s themes, or was it because the brevity of its poetic forms compresses extraneous information the longer line of fragmental writing allows? Is the condensed form more immediately powerful? Whatever the answer, several of Simmonds poems moved me to tears and thoughtfulness and made me feel foolish for not buying her earlier books.

Josephine Corcoran, My End of Year Books

For the holidays, I’m sharing the November recording of my reading with the fabulous Carine Topal and Cecilia Woloch. This was my first reading in nearly two years and features work from the forthcoming Wonder & Wreckage. Thank you again to VCP SoCal Poets for hosting us!

Speaking of W & W, the manuscript sequencing is complete and I’m just tinkering with a few of the ‘”new” poems for this new & selected collection. Early in the new year, I’ll be sitting down with my friend and go-to book designer to work out the final cover. I’m pleased with the selection of work I’ve chosen for this book, although quite a few favorites had to come out to keep the flow. Still killing darlings after all these years. However, I do have a plan in mind to compile the “discards” into a special, very limited chapbook. More details as I hatch this plan.

On Feb. 2, I plan to put in my first live appearance in over two years at the launch of Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology at the Decatur Library. My poem “Roosters & Hens” is in there. Co-editors Dustin Brookshire and Julie Bloemeke along with Madvillle Publishing have done a tremendous job and I’m in fabulous company.

Collin Kelley, Wrapping up 2022

2023 will, I hope, be a more productive year. And a better year for everyone and everything. It’s hard to recall good points of 2022 when it all feels quite bleak here and abroad. I’m sure there are thing that will come back to me.

However, 2022 has been a year of less running and less submitting. The former has been because a mixture of injury and illness. the latter was partially driven by the first half of the year being about working on poems for the book, many of which have already found homes. This has, in turn, meant I’ve written less new stuff to send out. There’s also been a general malaise about me that I’m slowly emerging from. I’d also argue, and I don’t have the stats for this, that I’ve written more reviews this year and that has also had an impact.

Mat Riches, Charts (Hah) (What are they good for?)

So what does the new approach to writing goals look like?

I think part of the point is that I don’t need to know exactly. I’m simply going to focus on positivity and pleasure. I’m aiming for encouragement, support and satisfaction. I’m interested in building on what I’ve already learned about who I am and where I can imbue my process with possibility. […]

So much of this effort will be framed in “what is possible,” and returning to discovery mode — letting a process or project surprise me — is the perfect medicine right now. I can easily see that in any given day, the list of wants above will come in handy in a very practical way. I’ll just need to pick a small thing that supports something on the list… and do it. And celebrate it.

More to come on that once we get underway in January!

There will still be snow then. (Probably lots of it.) But also maybe more writing and art.

The kind that comes from joy.

Carolee Bennett, a new approach to writing goals

and here you are
rocking in the breeze
zero ballast

your shirt your sail
tack into the wind
above the pavement

there is now no rule book
all will become clear

Paul Tobin, ALL WILL BECOME CLEAR

It’s nearing the end of 2022 and I’m on Winter Break. I’ve spent the morning reading the newest SheilaNaGig Winter 22, Vol. 7.2 and am overjoyed to have a couple of poems included in this issue. I’m humbled to have my work included among the work and pages of such poets as George Franklin, John Palen, Marc Swan, Jeff Burt, Laura Ann Reed, SE Waters, Dick Westheimer, and more. Thank you to editors Hayley Mitchell Haugen and Barbara Sabol for leaving the lights on and offering writers such an amazing space to publish. I am quite sure the candle burned at both ends to send this out to the world on Christmas Eve and the reading is just the gift it was intended to be. If you like poetry with stars, this is the perfect issue to read. Dick Westheimer’s chapbook, A Sword in Both Hands: Poems Responding to Russia’s War on Ukraine is soon to be published by SheilaNaGig Editions, so of course I’ve pre-ordered a copy. Note that both editors have newly published collections this fall, Mitchell Haugen’s The Blue Wife Poems (Kelsay Books, 2022) and Sabol’s Connections (Bird Dog Publishing, 2022 and in collaboration with Larry Smith).

Kersten Christianson, Top 9 of 2022

Orbis magazine invites readers’ votes and brief comments. I never have voted, though I’ve been tempted to offer comments. I tend to assess in various contradictory ways. Over-simplifying, and depending on the situation, they include –

  • Bottom-up – I give points for various features (use of sound, etc) or (as in diving) combine degree of difficulty with performance
  • Top-down – I first decide whether I like the poem or not, then I list its obvious features showing how they support my opinion: e.g. if a poem has tight integration of form and content I can say that this reveals technical prowess (if I like the poem) or that the poem has stifling predictability (if I don’t). A poem may be understated (if I like it), or lacking verve (if I don’t).
  • Emotion – a piece may move me though I know it’s not a good poem – it may not even be a poem, or I know I’m moved only because it describes something I’ve experienced.
  • Learning resource – a poem may open my eyes to new poetic possibilities, inspiring me to write. It may not be good.
  • Best bits – it’s tempting to judge a poem by its best (often last) lines. Sometimes (“Lying in a hammock at William Duffy’s farm in Pine Island Minnesota” maybe?) the last line justifies the ‘blandless’ of the rest of the poem.
  • Good of its type – however good some poems are, they’re restricted by the type of poem they are.
Tim Love, Assessing poems

Born and raised in apartheid-era South Africa and then Washington D.C., San Francisco Bay Area-based poet Adrian Lürssen’s full-length debut is the poetry collection Human Is to Wander (The Center for Literary Publishing, 2022), as selected by Gillian Conoley for the 2022 Colorado Poetry Prize. As I wrote of his chapbook earlier this year, NEOWISE (Victoria BC: Trainwreck Press, 2022), a title that existed as an excerpt of this eventual full-length collection, Lürssen’s poems and poem-fragments float through and across images, linking and collaging boundaries, scraps and seemingly-found materials. Composed via the fractal and fragment, the structure of Human Is to Wander sits, as did the chapbook-excerpt, as a swirling of a fractured lyric around a central core. “in which on / their heads,” he writes, to open the sequence “THE LIGHT IS NOT THE USUAL LIGHT,” “women carried water / and mountains // brought the sky / full circle [.]”

The book is structured as an extended, book-length line on migration and geopolitics, of shifting geographies and global awareness and globalization. He writes of war and its effects, child soldiers and the dangers and downside of establishing boundaries, from nations to the idea of home; offering the tragedies of which to exclude, and to separate. “The accidental response of any movement,” he writes, to open the poem “ARMY,” “using yelling instead of creases as a / means to exit. Or the outskirts of an enemy camp.” Set in three lyric sections, Lürssen’s mapmaking examines how language, through moving in and beyond specifics, allows for a greater specificity; his language forms akin to Celan, able to alight onto and illuminate dark paths without having to describe each moment. “A system of killing that is irrational or rational,” he writes, to open the poem “SKIRT,” “depending on the training.” As the same poem concludes, later on: “It is a game of answers, this type of love.” Lürssen’s lyrics move in and out of childhood play and war zones, child soldiers and conflations of song and singer, terror and territory, irrational moves and multiple levels of how one employs survival. This is a powerful collection, and there are complexities swirling through these poems that reward multiple readings, and an essential music enough to carry any heart across an unbearable distance. “The enemy becomes a song,” the poem “UNIT” ends, “held by time.”

rob mclennan, Adrian Lürssen, Human Is to Wander

Some would scream in exasperation that this is not poetry. Well, the poetry police are everywhere, aren’t they? Often they don’t write it anyway, just yell that if it doesn’t rhyme in iambic pentameters, then it’s prose, or worse, just nonsense. For them I had fun writing The Poetry Hospital.

I love inventing narrators, situations, whole worlds, producing believable fakes like The Cholmondeley MacDuff Spanish Phrase Book 1954 and Ezra Pound’s Trombone In A Museum In Genoa – well, why not? I mix in real stuff too – as in the poem Autumn which is a careful recollection of the events of a day. Does it really matter which part is real? No, Ezra Pounds trombone is not real. Yes, I can and do skin and butcher a deer the gamekeeper leaves for me. What’s the difference, as long as each poem holds together and says something about how we cope with life?

The point of each poem, or of the poems as a group, is what lies beneath. Which takes us back to the beginning – to anger, love, passion, the sense of how absurd and lovely and dangerous and horrific the world is as we go through it day by day.

Bob Mee, WHAT DO YOU SAY WHEN SOMEONE ASKS ‘WHERE DO YOUR POEMS COME FROM?’

I once heard a senior British poet warming to a riff during a reading on the topic of the acknowledgements pages in recent collections of poetry. He had noticed that there was a ‘trend’ for these to conclude with long lists of thanks to other poets. ‘Whatever happened to autodidacticism?’ he asked. The disapproval in his voice was unmistakable.

My own view is that allies are essential in any walk of life. Why should poetry be any different? All that seems to have happened is that poets (though novelists do this too: look at the generous list of thanks in all of Ali Smith’s novels and short story collections) are now more transparently open about naming their friends and networks of support in print than was the case, say, twenty years ago.

The allies in my writing life are a really mixed bunch. Distance and time being what they are, I rarely see all of the people I am about to thank in the space of one calendar year. As the old joke goes, I see most of them around once a century. (Some, I have yet to meet face to face.) The key to my knowing the weight and grace of their support in my life is that, visible or not, they are there, somewhere on my shoulder, or just behind it, as I write. Some, I will speak to on the phone. Some, I will text. Some drop me the occasional email. However infrequently we make contact, they all need, in Robert Pinsky’s phrase, ‘answering’, albeit fleeting, and not always directly. What I do know is that I could not write (let alone do this) without the feel of their friendship.

Anthony Wilson, On having allies

Like clockwork, every once in a while someone dusts off the very tired mantle and declares poetry dead.  It happens in little magazines, blog posts, facebook/twitter rants, and sadly on platforms for the normies like The New York Times Opinion Section.  Suddenly, like a bunch of rats feeding on the corpse, we are all illuminated by a set of headlights for a moment, all of us who consider ourselves poets or poetry lovers, then we scurry back into the woods or behind a dumpster or into our notebooks and word docs until the next article comes looking for us. […]

But the thing is, and perhaps this why articles like the NYT’s one infuriate me, is that if you ask any one of us, poets that is, what is a good poem, we may have (will have) entirely different answers. This was a pivotal scene in a workshop I once took, where the teacher had us go around and tell everyone what we thought was most important in a poem, and I think with one or two exceptions, in a room of around 15 people, no one had the same answer. Also,  young poets may be astounded that there really is no singular poetry world, but more like an overlapping map of constellations of aesthetics and influences and presses/journals. It might seem sprawling and chaotic, but it makes room for everything, including underheard and underrepresented voices. For visual poetry, for language poetry, for more traditional verse. For insta poetry and verse epics and strange word collages like mine.

Poetry, on one hand is Rupi Kaur and her innumerable fans that while not my taste, has brought “poetry” as a word to the lips of younger millennial and gen-zers. It’s also amazing poets who get some recognition like Ada Limon, who was finally a US poet laureate whose work I already liked.  Or Claudia Rankine, who I was aghast one day when a friend who knows nothing of poets said she was reading Citizen on a bartender’s recommendation. It’s also me and my fellow poets who are writing their best work to date and have like 5 dedicated readers. While poetry is something like Poetry Magazine or the American Poetry Review, it’s also tiny indie presses and journals that are publishing (at least for me) the most exciting work. On the other, performance poets and cinema poets and open-mic poets. It’s also the girl writing bad poetry in her diary as much as it is the crochety “established” poet writing crappy poetry during his sabbatical already under contract with a major journal. Or the girl writing really good poetry on her tumblr and the guy who writes poems on his phone but never shows them to a soul.

So when you declare poetry is dead, I ask which poetry? Which beast?

Kristy Bowen, not dead, but waiting to be born

I saw him read this at Dodge Poetry Fest. The slow cadence imbued with humility and vulnerability.

These exquisitely tender moments, these carefully tended to everyday beauties given love syllable by syllable.

It seems much of American poetry is better at it, while Canadian poetry is more bent towards dissonant traumatized cacophony. Perhaps also it was more common in the previous century as an acceptable expression, to be timeless and bound inside a lovely moment.

Pearl Pirie, Loved Then, Loved Now: Early in the Morning

The journey to getting poetry published is hard enough as it is that to suggest there might be some benefit to having your work turned down may sound perverse. Increasingly, though, I feel as grateful to the editors who say no as I do to those who say yes.

That thought was initially prompted by something I read the other day and now can’t remember, but I was reminded of it by two recent blogs in which poets offer sideways looks at the poetry-publishing-machine. In Beyond Submissions, Naush Sabah questions just how much store poets should put in the validation of an acceptance from an editor they know little about. Some poems might be best shared by other means, without all the hassle and anxiety. Or not shared at all: it’s not an exact comparison, but think of the number of sketches a painter produces before the final picture.

In (Avoiding) Poetic Ecological Collapse, meanwhile, Jonathan Davidson suggests that a constant rush for publication may not only be unsustainable for our own writing but a distraction from all the other ways of engaging with words which the art needs to flourish. What happens when we see ourselves as custodians of the ‘commonwealth of poetry’, rather than toilers in our own private furlongs?

Writers sometimes see editors as gatekeepers and it is easy to see why. Rejections feel like being held back: if only they would let us through into the green pastures of publication! (You can blame Jonathan for the pastoral metaphors). But editors – and, increasingly, arts administrators, competition judges, mentors and funding bodies – also decide when to let the poet through, and in what form, and this inevitably shapes where they go next. Less gatekeepers, more shepherds. It is a big responsibility.

Sometimes I think it is a responsibility we don’t talk about enough. I have come across several books in the last few years – highly-acclaimed first or second collections from prestigious publishers – where I couldn’t understand why the editor hadn’t encouraged the poet to slim the collection down, or even wait until they had a stronger set of poems to work with. Perhaps they already had.

Jeremy Wikeley, Shepherds at the gate

I’ve always told myself that writing poems is how I process my emotions. But it’s more than that. If processing were all I needed, a notebook would be just fine. I do more than that, though. I post them on my blog, on TikTok, on Instagram. I put them in the places where the people they’re about might see them. And I do this even though a poem has never, not once, fixed any relationship I’ve been in.

Moreover, I post them where other people might also see them. People not connected to the situation, but folks who I want to have a good opinion of me, to think of me as a caring, expressive person with his heart in the right place.  

I know next to nothing about Lord Byron, but I’ve always had this picture of him as a person who used his poetry to manipulate. To woo. To brag. To paint a larger-than-life picture of himself. And at the risk of a ridiculous comparison to one of the most famous poets in the English language, I do worry that I might be doing the same thing. Tainting the value of what I produce by using it the way I do.

Jason Crane, Deploying poetry

As if the universe slides
into the seat next to mine and pours a drink.
As if we clink glasses. As if the silence is raw,
like sand on skin, like hard shell against a
naked sole. As if there’s nothing but me and
ocean all around — the meaning of freedom,
the meaning of captivity. Again, we don’t say
anything. We have never learnt to speak each
other’s language. At this rate, we never will.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 27

So I’m tired of hearing people start their sentences with “So” on podcasts and the radio and TV, “so” a verbal tic, a word instead of “um,” which serves the same purpose but admits, more humbly, of uncertainty, which says I am pausing to gather my thoughts before speaking; whereas “So” sets up an explanation leading to opinion or argument, or so it seems to me.

So I’m sitting on my back porch even though it is late December, clouds gathering over bare trees. I hear woodpeckers deepening holes in trees, a rat-a-tat drill, and white-breasted nuthatches loud along the woodlot, and I ponder emerald ash borers and climate change and how to handle human aging in a capitalist society.

So what I wonder is “Am I afraid?” Some questions possess a looming quality, I guess this is one such. In my wicker chair, in my own backyard, no. Not afraid. The mood’s serene, no tightness in my chest no racing heart, not even facing death–as we all must do, though most of us refuse. Where are you going with this, Writer?

Ann E. Michael, Solo endeavor?

In her beautiful poetry collection, The Smallest of Bones, Holly Lyn Walwrath uses the skeleton of the body as a means of structurally shaping the collection. Each section begins with a poem of various bones, from the cranium to the sternum and beyond. The poems that follow explore love, sexuality, gender, religion, and death, among other aspects of humanity and the supernatural. It’s a gorgeous collection with crisp, clear, and lyrical language. […]

This is How the Bone Sings by W. Todd Kaneko is a stunning collection of poems centering around Minidoka, a concentration camp for Japanese Americans built in Idaho during World War II. The author blends history with myth and folklore to explore how the scars of the past carry through generations — from grandparents through to their grandchildren. The wounds caused by racism and hate continue on through memory and story. These poems are evocative and beautiful, providing an important memorial for an aspect of American history that should never be forgotten.

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2022

we take the storm
and make our storm against it
pull away from its undertow
shoulder the thrusting
the rage of the pebbled feet
the split lipped salted rime
damn the bruises you you
come back here now you you
horizoned opinioned beast
here i am 
steadfast

Jim Young, wild sea swimming

It’s the time of year when many people will be making resolutions and self-improvement plans. I am done with planning. After a year of constant pivoting, I am going to spend the next year basking in joy. That’s more likely than losing 20-50 pounds or running a half marathon/10K/5K or eating 5 servings of veggies each and every day. I will write poems, as I have always done. I will think about book length collections, while realizing this year is likely not the one where I put together something new. I will be on the lookout for new opportunities, new ways to bask in joy.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, My New Year’s Resolution: To Bask in Joy

I am satisfied with my writing accomplishments for this year–I ended up writing and publishing my chapbook The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants (Belle Point Press), an it turned out truly beautiful.

Doing the month long poem-a-day challenge in April really jump started that progress, and I think that I will attempt to do that challenge again in the spring.

I was also able to place poems in 14 different literary magazines this year, and I made significant revisions to my work in progress, WOB.

I think I could do more to promote my books that came out / are coming out this year, but I had trouble incorporating that in while still writing as much as I did and teaching some online classes (and homeschooling, and parenting, and and and…). Next year I need to work on promoting my work a bit more, though I am glad that I was able to do a reading this past March at Trevecca U, and I was lucky enough to already get a review of my chapbook, Commonplace.

Renee Emerson, 2022 Writing Goals Update

Before I settled in for the night, I spent some time with a book I’ve been reading about infinity—it’s taking forever to finish—and, naturally enough, it talks about transfinities, the infinities beyond infinity. I love that one type of infinity is aleph-null, a seductively Kabbalistic Borgesian science-fiction-y term. ( It refers to infinite cardinality as opposed to just counting forever, which is ∞) And that you can multiply infinity by infinity. Aleph null by aleph null, and, like multiplying 1 x 1, you get what you started with. What happens if, when you’re sleeping, you dream you are sleeping? This feels like another kind of infinity, another kind of sleep.

Sleep and infinity are related. Because you can never get enough of either? It’s more that they both have the sense of venturing into a limitless place. What is the shape of the place that is sleep? It’s edgeless, borderless, with no ground or sky. The composer Schoenberg imagined writing music that was like heaven—in this music, up, down, backwards and forwards would be the same because heaven had no direction and was thus entirely symmetrical. An angel has no upsidedown no matter how drunk it gets. I don’t remember if Schoenberg spoke about time, but music that is symmetrical implicitly plays with time. If it is the same backwards and forwards, it doesn’t operate in Newtonian time.   

Gary Barwin, WIDE ASLEEP: NIGHT THOUGHTS ON INSOMNIA

Whole lotta life keeps happening. It’s the main reason I’ve been quiet here. Like today, my partner has been out with a migraine for the greater part of the day, now evening, and I’ve been in the silence that comes with caregiving.

Well, the not-so-silent because my cat, Semilla, is here with me.

I’d like to share some recent highlights and publications before the year is through:

  • I was excited to contribute a short write-up for Poets & Writer’s series “Writers Recommend.” I riff a bit about inspiration as well as shoutout the work of Karla Cornejo Villavicencio and Cristela Alonzo.
  • On the Rotura (Black Lawrence Press) front, I am deeply honored to have the book reviewed recently. Thank you to Staci Halt who wrote this insightful review for The Los Angeles Review!
  • Thank you also to Angela María Spring for including Rotura in their “10 New Poetry Collections by Latinx and Caribbean Writers” over at Electric Lit! Means a great deal to be included among such a powerful set of books.
  • And looking ahead, I am excited to share in this space that my debut creative nonfiction collection, Ruin and Want, was chosen as the winning selection during Sundress Publications’ 2022 Prose Open Reading Period! This lyric memoir was a revelatory journey to write, both personally as well as craft-wise. I’m excited to have it find a home at such a great place!
José Angel Araguz, dispatch 123022

2022 was a welcome quiet year for me, my family life largely keeping me from writing – no new books, and few poetry publications outside of haiku magazines. I was able to set time aside to write a number of essays on writing, though. It was something new for me, which I found I quite enjoyed. Essays appeared in the aforementioned Resonance anthology, EVENT, Canadian Notes + Queries, the League of Canadian Poets poetry month blog, The Tyee, The Tyee again, and Brick.

That last essay, in Brick, is the most personal for me – a reflection on what Steven Heighton taught me about life and writing. Steve’s sudden death in April shocked me, as it did so many, and even now hardly seems real. I was so glad I was able to talk with him in-depth about his writing for our Walrus interview, something I’d considered putting off for one more year until my time freed up (needless to say, it didn’t). The issue only just came out, and if you get a chance to pick up a copy, I very much encourage you to do so. (It also features a tribute to Steve from Karen Solie, which Brick has posted online – it can be read here. And a heck of a poem about swans from 2022 interviewee Sadiqa de Meijer.)

Rob Taylor, the 2022 roll of nickels year in review

To offer a prayer for the lost, a devotion to what is found and what lasts.

To write words of encouragement to ourselves on the palms of our hands with an ink that never fades.

To become one with the stars dazzling a carnival-colored night.

To embody equilibrium amidst insanity.

To sing for you, atom by atom, all the songs gathered within the oxygenated orchestra of breath.

To unbutton rainbows from the sky and forever wrap you in the many colors of amazement.

Rich Ferguson, For Doug Knott, RIP

I think I was seven or eight, and my parents were having a New Year’s Eve party in our tiny apartment.  There couldn’t have been more than a dozen people, but it was crowded and festive.  I’d been allowed to stay up, and to come to the party to pass around the cheese and crackers and candy, so I was feeling very grown up.  Then someone said, “Well, that’s almost it for this year, ” and I suddenly panicked.  I realized that soon I’d be writing a new year on everything, and that I had only a few minutes to write the old one while it was still true.  I could write it later, but it wouldn’t mean the same thing.   I set down the plate I was carrying, ran into my bedroom to get a pencil and paper, and wrote the year over and over until I’d covered both sides.  I didn’t understand what I was feeling, I just knew it was urgent.  Now I’d say it was an early glimmer of saving things by writing them down.

Sharon Bryan, Poems for the New Year

I’ve made some surprising discoveries. In the book my co-leader assigned, Jill Duffield’s Advent in Plain Sight: A Devotion through Ten Objects, the first object is “gates.” I love that—I did a little digging and learned that the word “gate” appears 418 times in the King James Bible. In my introduction to the poems, I talked about how a gate can seem to be a barrier, but it’s really an invitation. A gate marks a path to be followed.

Poems, too, are gates. In my college teaching career I often encountered students who hated poetry. They saw a poem as a gate with a “no trespassing” sign hanging on it. But isn’t a poem, like a gate, an invitation? Open this. Walk through. See the world the way I see it. The first poem I brought was Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness,” and the study group climbed onto the bus with me. “There’s communion here,” one participant gleefully noted. And another: “it’s a story of the good Samaritan!”

Bethany Reid, Winter Solstice Greetings

This afternoon, while wrapping
gifts, I wept because my Uncle John
died three months before I was born,
and I’ve never heard him sing.

The barn cat hunts down the birds
that winter here. His coat spreads ropy
into the air. This year, he circles my legs,
grateful that I no longer have a dog.

In my head, we are slow-dancing
to Christmas songs in the kitchen. In reality,
you are cooking dinner, I am writing
at the table, and this is the loneliest I’ve felt all year.

Allyson Whipple, Some Terribly Sentimental Thing

In between reading work for Spelt, research papers and research books for my current work in project, journals and magazines, I managed to get through fifty poetry, fiction , narrative non fiction and non fiction books this year. In a year that was challenging at times as I dealt with grief around the death of my dad, books became my friends and my escape once again. Thank you to every writer who courageously puts themselves on the page, who creates something amazing out of the sparking of neural pathways in the brain, thank you to those who quietly wait for their books to be noticed, thank you to those who shouted from the roof tops, I salute you. You make the world a better place simply by doing the work that you love.

Wendy Pratt, I Like Big Book (lists) and I Cannot Lie – The 50 Books I read in 2022 and My Top Five

2022 has drawn to a close and I don’t really have a list of accomplishments to offer, but I do have a couple of highlights in poetry-world.

In February, the wonderful poetry journal Bad Lilies published my two poems ‘Brilliant cut’ and ‘Yustas’. They appeared in the journal’s sixth issue, entitled ‘Private Universe’, alongside a host of other great poets and poems. 

A few years ago I first discovered the work of Julian Semenov (or Yulian Semyonov). He was a Russian and Soviet thriller writer who is little known in Western countries but whose impact in Slavic countries, and regions formerly in the USSR and its sphere of influence, was profound. Most famously, Semenov wrote a book called Seventeen Moments of Spring, which was published in the late 1960s and a few years later was adapted into a television series of the same name, which is probably the most famous Soviet TV show ever made. This spy show is really only known in Western countries to those who are deeply interested in world spy films, or in Soviet or Russian culture. My own interest came mainly from a curiosity about what the USSR was doing with espionage fiction and film in the early 1970s, but watching Seventeen Moments of Spring also led in a very direct line to my starting to learn Russian in 2020. 

These two poems, specifically inspired by Semenov’s works, were published in late February. Less than a week later, Russia attacked Ukraine and beyond the fact that the news was shocking and overwhelming, it didn’t feel like an ideal time to be blogging about Russian pop culture (although “Soviet” is more accurate here than “Russian”, for what it’s worth) – hence the very long delay. Strangely, though, Seventeen Moments of Spring and Semenov’s books can genuinely be said to have slipped the considerable constraints of their origins. Today they are still relevant (even to the current moment), open to a wide variety of interpretations, and of course entertaining. The Seventeen Moments series was specifically intended as propaganda at the time of its release, part of a campaign to improve the KGB’s image. But the show’s surprising subtlety allowed many viewers to interpret it as a comment on the Soviet Union itself and the pressures of working inside, and against, a powerful oppressive system which keeps everyone under constant surveillance. Stirlitz, the double-agent hero, has inspired an endless stream of ironic jokes which continue to be instantly recognisable in countries formerly in the Soviet sphere of influence. And since February, I have often seen clips and quotes from the show online used as criticism of the Russian government’s actions.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Year-end: poems in Bad Lilies, and Best UK Poetry Blogs of 2022

If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that I struggle with the cold dark days at the turn of the secular year. In high summer I sometimes have to remind myself not to dread the winter that is always inevitably coming. And at this season I seek comfort in all kinds of ways, from warm-tinted lightbulbs to blankets to braises, but I still have to work hard to avoid the malaise of SAD. 

The best mood-lifter by far that I’ve found this winter is… being terrible at Arabic. To be clear, I’ve never learned Arabic, though ever since the summer I spent in Jerusalem I’ve aspired to someday be the kind of rabbi who speaks some Arabic. (Someday. Later. You know, when I have time.) And then I read R. David’s Why This Rabbi Is Learning Arabic (And Every Rabbi Should), and I thought: ok, I’ll try.

It’s engrossing. It feels like it’s working a different part of my brain — learning new characters, trying to train my ear to distinguish new-to-me sounds. Maybe best of all is that I am an absolute beginner. I know nothing, so every little bit of learning is progress. Remembering the initial, medial, or final forms of any letter feels like victory. And maybe that’s part of what lifts my spirits.

I’m using Duolingo. And before anyone objects: yes, I know all the reasons why that isn’t ideal. I should take a real class. I should find Arabic speakers with whom to practice. I can’t do those right now, for all kinds of reasons. What I can do is keep a tab open on my computer, and instead of doomscrolling, work on parsing a new-to-me alphabet. (It’s also great instead of doomscrolling on my phone.)

I can practice sounding out syllables while my kid’s brushing his teeth. Remind myself of letter-shapes over morning coffee. Short digital bursts are not pedagogical best practice — and yet I am learning, bit by bit.

Rachel Barenblat, Arabic: a remedy for the winter blues

falling snow
beyond the window . . .
our cat
curls deeper
into himself

Bill Waters, Our cat