Bekah Steimel

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

If there’s one thing poets are good at, it’s finding words for the unspeakable and the outrageous. That quality was at the forefront this week among American poetry bloggers. Also, no surprise, we seek solace in reading and writing poems. So much of this digest is concerned directly or indirectly with the Kavanaugh hearings, but there’s also some fascinating miscellaneous stuff toward the end, so if you find some of the initial posts triggering, scroll quickly to about two-thirds of the way down.

How intense it was this week to be alternately following and averting my eyes from the Senate hearings as I taught Sylvia Plath to seventeen stingingly sharp students–trying to open up space to talk about anger, violence, gender, and race in powerful but often disturbing poems. Plath’s handling of metaphors related to the Holocaust, slavery, and Civil Rights always seemed problematic to me–it was a big topic in the early nineties, when I attended grad school–but I am now wondering how defensible it is even to keep the poem “Ariel” in particular on an undergraduate syllabus. While Plath’s use of terrible slurs wears worse and worse over the years, however, her bee poems–explorations of rage and other dark drives, sometimes encoded in racial metaphors–also feel more and more fundamental. Plus last year’s news about her abusive marriage , especially as captured in Emily Van Duyne’s “Why are we so unwilling to take Plath at her word?”, is crucial right now. We need to do a way better job at respecting survivors and understanding the costs they suffer.
Lesley Wheeler, The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

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As I have mentioned before, my new book of poetry The Lure of Impermanence came out in July. I included in this collection a poem called 9 to 5. I wrote this poem when the #MeToo movement had just begun its groundswell.

Today, Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in jail for sexual assault and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is currently being scrutinized for a number of behaviors with women that are at best disturbing. And these are just a few of so, so many more stories just like them.

I have lost confidence in the ability of the news to report in any unbiased manner and therefore I am more often than not left to my own judgment and experience by which to consider stories reported in the media.

And what my experience considers is that I personally know girls and women who have been abused by boyfriends, family members and spouses.

What I do know is that I was carried to a bedroom by a man who was much older than me when I was barely of legal age and stoned on marijuana. A man who held a position of respect in the community.

What I do know is I am shaking as I write that last sentence because I recall that night as vividly as if it were today. Only it wasn’t today. It was 45 years ago.

What I do know is that I told no one. What I do know is that I was ashamed.

What I do know is that I am someone’s mother, wife, daughter and friend and none of them knew. What I do know is I am not sure I want them to know now.

What I do know is that all women deserve the simple right to be respected and have control of what happens to her body and if I could ask anything of you it would be to consider the women you love. Consider their experience. Because it is possible that the people who love her most, don’t know the dark places she has been afraid to shed the light on. Because to do so is to expose herself to being rejected, silenced, not believed or worst yet blamed.

And until history proves it unnecessary, may we all slash, slash, slash, this roughshod blazing path.
[Click through to hear and read the poem.]
Carey Taylor, 9 to 5

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I’m feeling a strange mix of anger and resignation. How can we not be any further along towards a vision of a just world than we are right now? How can we be decades after the Anita Hill hearings and still be no better at handling these kinds of allegations?

But let me also remember that these times are not those times. This year, 2018, is still a better time to be a woman than 1918 or 1818–or even 1991. A woman can bring a charge forward, and she has a better chance of being believed. We are better at knowing what boundaries should be, even if those boundaries are not always respected. There are laws that might protect us all–once those laws didn’t exist, and the idea that they should would not have existed.

Still, we have not yet arrived at the future that I hoped for when Anita Hill testified, and I was a younger woman in grad school. Let me hold onto that idea of a time when people’s bodies are respected, when boundaries are maintained, when people will not trespass even when we are unconscious, when the powerful do not prey on the weak. Let that time come soon.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Self Care on a Day of Many Triggers

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It says something that most of my women friends are posting today about the courage of Christine Blasey Ford and how difficult and deeply discouraging these days are for them, while most of the men — even the liberal ones — are posting…well, let’s just say, the usual stuff. For many of us women, it is impossible to look away or to think of much else right now. There is a disconnect between the sexes that goes very deep in our society, just as there is a deep disconnect between the races, and until that changes fundamentally, we will keep repeating the pain. I have appreciated the men, like my own husband, who have expressed their understanding and dismay, and I would ask that those of you who haven’t please try to put yourselves in our places as people who have endured behaviors, harassment and assaults that have affected us all our lives – and yet we have tried our best to forgive those who hurt us, to love and trust other men, and enter into full, loving relationships with them. Please try to think about that, and what it takes.
Beth Adams, #BelieveSurvivors

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Just in time for the Halloween season. I Am Not Your Final Girl is a collection of horror-themed poetry draws on the female characters of horror cinema — the survivors, victims, villains, and monsters — who prowl through dark worlds, facing oppression, persecution, violence, and death. In her introduction, Claire C. Holland notes, “I draw strength from the many strong women around me, both real and fictional.” The women in this collection channel their pain and rage into a galvanizing force. They fight. They claim power over their own bodies. They take their power back. They do not relent.

“I have known monsters and I have known men.
I have stood in their long shadows, propped
them up with my own two hands, reached
for their inscrutable faces in the dark. They
are harder to set apart than you know.
— “Clarice,” The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

As a horror fan, I know many of the characters and movies referenced, and it’s fascinating to peer in at them from the unique perspective of these Holland’s words. That said, there just as many that I haven’t seen and a few I had not hear of — but not knowing the direct reference in each case did not stop me from enjoying the poem for its own sake, the words drawing me in. And now I have a list of movies that I need to seek out and watch.

“Separate yourself, like sliding wire through
clay. Divide your organs – heart, lungs, tongue,
and brain. You think you need them all?
You’d be shocked what a woman can live
without. We’re like roaches, we thrive”
— from “Shideh,” Under the Shadow (2016)
Andrea Blythe, Book Love: I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland

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I took this photograph less than one week ago but so much has changed since then that I can hardly recognize that it wasn’t so long ago: before Dr. Blasey-Ford’s testimony, before two brave women, Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila, confronted Senator Flake (R-AZ) in an elevator and before he changed the course of history — at least for one week; we hope more.

Lucille Clifton and Adrienne Rich are two important poets for me (for American poetry) that I return to again and again. The day after the 2016 election I shared the Clifton poem with my Highline College students. I’ll never forget one young man sitting with this poem and then articulating his thoughts and ideas about it beyond anything he had done in class before. He illuminated the levels of this piece for me, for the entire class, in a new and necessary way. He brought in the idea of immigration, the trip many of my students have taken in boats, in braving a new world. I share these pieces now as a way to hold onto sanity in this new insane time. May they be of help to you, too. [Click through to read the poems.]
Susan Rich, Two Poems for Right Now

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If you’re a woman, or a rape survivor, you probably had, like me, a very tough week. It’s hard to watch rape victims who bravely come forward against powerful (and terrible) men be jeered, or things being said like “it’s no big deal” and “boys will be boys.” Infuriating to those who have had that happen to us.
That was on top of the fact that I’m still recovering from a month of MS illness, still getting my legs literally back under me again, starting to eat solid food, coaching myself in swallowing, in catching a ball, in using a cane.

So to keep my sanity, as I was recovering, I decided to read A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf and signed up for a Masterclass on writing with Margaret Atwood, and started watching Netflix’s Alias Grace at the same time. Woolf is tough and unemotional in her journals – quite a departure from my last journal/letters of Sylvia Plath – she mainly gives an account of her walks, what she’s reading and what she thinks of it (she can be quite a snippy critic), some thoughts on feminism and literary notes about what she’s writing, stress about deadlines and money. The last bit – right before her suicide – she mostly talks about the bombings on London in a remarkable chipper tone (I want to live! she says over and over in these pages) even after one of her houses is destroyed by a bomb, while the countryside around her is showing signs of destruction, while Germany is threatening in invade. She talked about wanting to live, but then a few days later, she’s dead. Woolf was a driven writer, ambitious and sharp, an intellectual aiming to change the culture. Like Plath, deeply flawed, and though she was much older than Plath when she took her life, it’s almost incomprehensible, even when you know it’s coming.

On the other hand, the bracing wisdoms of Margaret Atwood – also intellectual and very sharp – in her Masterclass (about $90, a bargain I think, which includes teaching video modules, pdf worksheets, and outside resources like Lorrie Moore’s book review of one of Margaret’s books and an hour long panel on speculative writing) gave me inspiration, homework, real insight into her own rewriting of her books and her own journey to becoming a writer, feminism, speculative writing – I’m not done with all the modules yet and I’ve already written a short story (very rare for me) and two poems as part of my homework. If anyone could be an antidote to this week’s terrible misogyny by men in power, it’s Margaret. I’ve read all her books, but her descriptions of rewriting Alias Grace inspired me to watch Netflix’s version of the story, which I’ve found more subtle and also, more hopeful than Handmaid’s Tale.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Margaret Atwood and Virginia Woolf during a Tough Week, Healing and the Last Fall Flowers, and Poems of Resistance

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Still I dream. Last night, seven dead mice
strewn across my coverlet, harking back
to an arresting image—Bodily Harm

rat emerging from vagina. I do not
make these things up, I’m too weary.
There is not enough salve

on the continent to swathe this busted body,
nor breath to resuscitate this heartbreak.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning with Heartbreak

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Wislawa Szymborska’s poems are in my head today, prompted by finding a dead beetle on my porch. Novice entomologist identifies dead bug, then thinks of poems. […]

In Joanna Trzeciak‘s translation, the second stanza begins:

For our peace of mind, animals do not pass away,
but die a seemingly shallower death

…a phrasing that evokes more clearly (to me) how humans use a sort of euphemistic, possibly spiritual phrase for being dead. And in this translation, the last stanza reads:

So here it is: the dead beetle in the road
gleams unlamented at the sun.
A glance would be as good as a thought:
it seems that nothing happened here.
Important supposedly applies only to us.
Only to our life, only to our death,
a death which enjoys a forced right of way.

Both translations are lovely, but I think I prefer the Trzeciak version, though I would be hard-pressed to say why; and I certainly cannot compare either to the original, since I do not know Polish.

What I love about this poem is its perspective, as reflected in the stances of title and stanzas. Literally, the speaker is above–looking down at a beetle husk. Tidiness in an insect’s demise–as opposed to our own. Then the point of view shifts, suggesting we humans are “above” the animals, their deaths less upsetting to the cosmos. But we are the cosmos, in our egotistical narcissism; and then, at last, death reminds us how unimportant we are…no matter how we think of ourselves.
Ann E. Michael, Seen from above

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Chief Uniform bans the attachment
of the inferior where he is
in front. The band is found descending
on the borders. These bands serve, produce
character. They are scattered. They spread
out. Uniforms form beings. They form
layers. They become and form the coat.
PF Anderson, Uniforms

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If you want to write, if you want to be the writer you dream of being, then you have to write. And yes, you, too, have a life. So how do you carve writing time from that busy life?

  1. Write first thing in the morning, before everything else gets in the way.
  2. Write for a short, doable amount of time. Decide how much time that is, and if it’s only 15 minutes or 5, don’t fret about it. Set a timer and write.
  3. Write an email to yourself (or to your mother), but instead of “Hello, how are you / I am fine,” write a few lines for a poem, or a character sketch or a summary of the greatest blog post ever. (I find that I dash off emails, and within that framework I can sometimes circumvent what’s keeping me from writing.)
  4. Write ONE great 140-character line and Tweet it. Apply this principle (see #3) to whatever sort of writing you find easiest–just hijack it and go.
  5. Write in your car (parked of course, preferably in a very safe park, but a parking lot will do). Five or even fifteen minutes of writing in your car will not make you (too) late to dinner.
  6. Write during meetings. If nothing else, write a character description of the person leading the meeting. (I have a very interesting poem in which my former boss morphs into a dragon.)
  7. When you feel blocked–try writing out someone else’s words (attribute them clearly, of course) as a way to kick start your own words. Try following up with a close imitation, but with your own subject matter.

If you’re a teacher–here’s one more suggestions: WRITE WHILE YOUR STUDENTS WRITE.
Bethany Reid, 7 Ways to Get More Writing Time

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It feels a little strange not to be in a school in September but it’s also rather pleasant! I’m really enjoying writing poems about Wiltshire with my Ginkgo Projects/Bloor Homes Bursary. The brief for this project is fairly broad but I’m responding in poetry to the landscape and heritage of the area in and around Amesbury. I can’t share any work here yet (I’ve written a few poems but I’ve sent them out somewhere for consideration so need to keep them under wraps for now). I’m quite excited, though, that some of these ‘Wiltshire’ poems might also tie in with themes that seem to be emerging in other new poems I’m writing, which are to do with being in a long-term relationship, ageing, the menopause, being an older parent, being a parent to young adults, and other matters. How to package all of these ideas into a concept that will sound enticing on the back of a book?? I think I need to work on that!
Josephine Corcoran, Mid-week catch-up

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The poetry-book publishing world remains a strange place. There’s not much money for anyone in it, really, and not much social capital beyond our relatively small circle of poets and poetry readers. Whether you have a book is not reflective of your worth as an artist. I know all this. And yet it means so much to me. The idea of having my poems made into a book that I can hold, that maybe someone else will hold and even read? It’s magic, or at least I’ve built it up to that in my mind. […]

The story isn’t done yet. It gets weird at the end. Weird in a good way, mostly. Literally the day I wrote the first draft of this essay, with the manuscript pending at three final presses and the rejections due any day, I received an email from a small press accepting Seducing the Asparagus Queen.

I was stunned, happy. It felt like cheating. It felt undeserved, in the way that such good news often does. It didn’t feel quite real. Really? An acceptance on the same day I began drafting the goodbye essay? Sounds made up for the movie version. But there it was.

I told only my wife and a friend or two, waiting to make the announcement to the world until I’d signed a contract. A contract, it turned out, that was not forthcoming. I mentioned to the publisher that I’d like to get it signed and that I didn’t want to withdraw the manuscript from consideration at the other two presses where it remained without a contract. No problem, I was assured. But no contract. Another reminder from me a month later, a quick response to the email, but still no contract. I was starting to get worried, began to think I might need to revisit that goodbye essay after all.

Two months and a day after the acceptance, still no contract in sight, I heard from the very last place that had the manuscript under consideration: Seducing the Asparagus Queen had won the Vern Rutsala Prize from Cloudbank Books and they would be publishing it late in the summer. They sent me the contract the same day.

I didn’t feel good withdrawing it from the first place that had said yes. I talked to several writers to make sure I was doing the right thing. Everyone assured me that yes, I was well within my rights to accept the prize from Cloudbank. So I did. I still feel a good bit of guilt about that first press, which is a small operation that puts out good-looking books, but I did spend two months asking for a contract, and if I’d received one, I would have instantly withdrawn it from Cloudbank. But I never got one, I didn’t withdraw, and now the book is a physical thing in the world.

When I tell people this story, they often say something about persistence paying off. And yeah, submissions 50 and 51 were the ones to get a yes after hearing no from 1-49. I did the work and eventually got the result I wanted. But I could have decided to shelve the collection one round earlier, which honestly I would have if not for a heartbreakingly kind “almost” rejection I received the previous summer from a press I love. Both Cloudbank and the other press certainly could easily have picked someone else. To me, the fact that they picked my collection feels more like a bit of arbitrary good luck more than a reward for my continued efforts.

When I decided to put this collection in a drawer, I was at peace with that decision. I had given it a fair shot and then some. Not every poem I write needs to be in a book. Now that these particular poems will, in fact, end up in a book together, I’m pretty glad about that, too. It means something to me. Probably more than it should. When I finally held the physical book in my hands this week, I knew how close it came to not happening. Here’s something else I know: I was not entitled to this result. There is no deserve to this. I did the work, yes, and I do think the poems are pretty good, but lots of writers do the work; lots of poems are pretty good or better. I got lucky, and I know it.
Publishing The Asparagus Queen – guest blog post by Amorak Huey (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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The dreams themselves are on another storey,
where the concierge uses the master key to let himself in
using the mathematics of the number 3,
a magic number, relevant to everything we do,
so our lives are in this book too, like the man
who makes it his business to track down the au-pair
who drowned his only child in the bath
using a series of calculations based on the probability
that any closing chapter ends in a rented room,
the television talking quietly to itself,
a couple asleep on their backs.
Julie Mellor, Life: A User’s Manual

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Q~Why do you write poetry?

A~Honestly, because I don’t sing very well. When I write poetry, and it flows, I feel a kind of catharsis similar to singing drunk in the bathtub: it’s an emotional and physical release. It’s like orgasm. It’s like running. I wonder if any scientist will ever hook up with a poet and measure their serotonin and oxytocin and all that, just as she finishes the line that pulls it all together. I would volunteer.

Q~On Twitter, you mention that your two passions are writing and running. Do you see a connection between the two?

A~I think running clears the space for me to write. I run in the mornings and then come home and write for fifteen minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the workday. Running is about breathing and taking in the smells and sounds of the world. It’s about listening. I had a project a few years ago called Running Metaphors that I’m excited to be starting up again from my blog and on Instagram.

Q~You said you have an “ambivalence and confusion regarding social media and what being part of a poetry ‘community’ means.” Can you explain what you mean?

A~Norway doesn’t have a tradition of academic writing programs in the Universities. My whole goal of getting a PhD and becoming “a poet” (i.e. teaching poetry at a university) and finding a tribe (as they say) went *poof* when I decided to stay here in Norway. I live here, and I write in English. That makes me an outsider. I am lucky to have an amazing translator, but I’ll always be considered an American poet by my colleagues here.

And yet, having been here so long, I no longer write to the American experience, and especially these days, that makes me an outsider in virtual poetry communities.

I don’t go to conferences or residencies. I see Instagram posts with hashtags like #poetshavingfun and get as jealous as a teenager. I guess I still crave the validation and community I’d planned for and imagined.

But then, I get eyes off the computer and go for a run, handwrite a poem in my journal and remember it was all a consumer package that I wanted. This is what I’ve got, and I make it work.
Bekah Steimel, Spinster’s Shroud / an interview with poet Ren Powell

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What is the least helpful advice you received?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

I wasn’t able to post a round-up last week because I was in the midst of packing for my semi-annual migration across the Atlantic. So here are my picks from two weeks of poetry-blogging goodness, brought to you by jet-lag and coffee. Perhaps because I had twice as many posts to choose from as usual, I was especially struck by the variety on display, though there were a few recurring topics, such as how to organize poetry manuscripts, and the centrality of grief and loss.

You recently published your first collection of poetry, Glimmerglass Girl. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

Some time ago I realized I’d written a lot of poems centered on the idea of femininity. It made sense to me to compile them into a collection. Many were poems I loved but that weren’t getting a lot of attention publication-wise. I think the most surprising thing about putting the collection together was that those poems (which at the time seemed like failures to me) suddenly made sense as a part of a collective whole. They spoke to each other in a new way. So that was my process, finding the pieces that I loved and wanted to contrast with each other to create new meaning.

What lessons did you learn in the process of pulling together your debut collection of poetry? What was the biggest challenge in finishing the project?

For me, the writing of a thing is the easiest part. I already had these poems I wanted to share with the world. The biggest challenge was marketing and getting those ideas out there. It is a lot of work to market a book as an indie author. You’re doing everything yourself: reaching out to people to ask for help, contacting reviewers, updating your website and social media. It’s exhausting in many ways but also thrilling because each bit of effort has a huge payoff. I feel forever indebted to the people who’ve supported my work and helped me get through it all. […]

You self-identify as a “weird writer.” How do you define weird writing? What attracts you to the weird?

Weird writing inhabits a liminal place between genres. It’s the stuff of the strange and not-quite-definable, a hybrid kind of writing that sings its own song and creates the instruments as it goes. Basically, it’s anything that doesn’t fit the mold. I think this approach excites me because I don’t really think or dream in the ways that are expected. For example, in Glimmerglass Girl, the poems could be called prose, and there are illustrations along with the words. This is just what felt natural to me while writing, and the fact that it’s weird is just a bonus.
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Holly Lyn Walrath on hybrid writing and the idea of femininity

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Roll up! Roll up!
By particular wishing
And for your delectable entertainment
The Circus of the Marvellously Menopausal Woman
Is in town.

Before your very eyes
You will not see her
Playing the object of desire
In a mainstream movie.

Gasp in amazement
At the wondrous curiosity
Of her living out her life
unnoticed.

There she isn’t!!
In line for promotion;
On advertising hoardings;
Anchoring a Talk Show.
Josephine Corcoran, The Circus of the Marvellously Menopausal Woman

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I believe I first came in contact with Joseph Cornell through the poetry of Charles Simic. Simic’s Dime-Store Alchemy published in 1992 was one of the first hardback books of poetry I bought. I have to admit that the cover had a good deal to do with my choice — as did the title, Dime-Store Alchemy. Rereading this book now I realize it was one of the first project-based collections that I had encountered. Simic stated that he wanted to approximate in poetry what Cornell did with visual assemblage. […]

Much is known (and repeated) about Cornell. He lived on Utopia Parkway, Flushing, NY and never left the Northeastern United States. He lived with his mother and his younger brother, living alone after they’d both passed on. Cornell had no formal training as an artist, he made his living selling textiles. By all accounts, his life experiences were not vast or wide. And yet that mattered little in the making of his art.

And long after many mid-century artists seem forgotten or locked in another time, Cornell seems to only become more relevant, more exciting.
Susan Rich, Returning to an Old Love – Joseph Cornell

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12:30 PM
We drive home and kiddo falls asleep in the car. EARLY NAP FTW. Once we get home, I transport him inside, and grab my laptop. IT’S ACTUAL WRITING TIME. Sometimes this is grading time, but for once, I am gloriously caught up, and have graded all of my students’ narrative essays. (They were lovely—pieces on what brought the students to their current career, nursing.)

I start by working on this piece about my Writing Day itself. Then I duck out of this document and get to work on my current project—a long poem/essay thing that does’t know what genre it wants to be. It’s “about” flowers, empathy, storytelling, and politics. It’s been a very slow process as I figured out what it would look like. I feel that it’s over halfway done, but am not quite sure where it’s heading. I’m on page 12—yesterday I added one page. My mom and stepdad took Henson to the zoo and I had some unexpected free time to work on it. It was my birthday yesterday, and that felt like a huge gift.

1:45 PM
I have found myself on Twitter somehow. This piece I’m working on requires research and frequent Googling. It’s both good and bad…it leads me down the internet rabbithole. I don’t think that Twitter is a waste of time (necessarily). For me, it’s frequently a place of helpful and intriguing ideas. And I leave it when it’s too much of a distraction. But for example, the other day, I asked about how other artists handle the balance of creativity and research (especially when their language starts to feel dry). I’m trying to get back to the magic and strangeness of this piece. It’s sort of working, so far.
Hannah Stephenson : My Writing Day (August 24, 2018)

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All the fruit looks spoiled
in my cart, yet I just picked it
from the bin. I can almost see
the tomato shriveling inside
its skin. A little bit of vine is
still hanging by its stem.
When the farmer tore it
from its vine, did it make a
snap? Or did it make a crack?
Crystal Ignatowski, In The Grocery Store After My Mother Broke Her Neck

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Ultimately, I decided that as much as I would love to be a literary magazine editor, poet laureate, and/or tenured professor, my gotta-have-it level of fame is that I would like Some people to have Read my Poems. Not everyone–I’m not shooting for “household name” level of fame (no, impossible for poets– “creative writing student can remember your name” level of fame?), just some people to really have read my poems and maybe liked them.

So knowing that goal is important–it lets me know it is ok for me to quit all the side hustling things that are great but that aren’t important to my ultimate goal of Some People Reading My Poems–for me this means pretty much anything that isn’t just reading poems, writing poems, and occasionally on social media linking to poems I’ve written and poems I’ve liked that others have written. So literary magazine involvement to a minimum, social media at a minimum, readings at a once-a-year.

And it, probably most importantly, lets me know what to do with my current work! I don’t need to be Mary Oliver, so a big contest isn’t really worth my money–I need to buy diapers, y’all, I’m not wasting my hard-earned diaper money on contest fees!
Renee Emerson, Poets: How famous do you need to be?

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I recently got hold of a friend’s fresh manuscript. She is concerned about the order she’s established for the book of poems. So with this in mind, I started from page 1 and read right through. The sections were grouped with a clear idea of why. This appeals to my orderly mind. (Or maybe it’s a disorderly mind, which is why I like order.) But did the order enhance my enjoyment of the collection? I’m just not sure. Under ordinary circumstances, I’m not sure I’d notice much.

Nevertheless, because I was asked to think about order, I started wondering what the collection would read like if the distinctive poems in one section appeared dotted throughout the section. Would this give me a little thrill of insider perspective when I encountered this kind of internal rhythm of certain kinds of poems woven throughout? Maybe. Again, that is, once I settled to read from cover to cover, and if I read from cover to cover in one sitting or in sittings that were relatively close together so that that mind referenced above would remember.

So, does order matter? Maybe. Of course, if it’s a “concept” collection in which something is unfolding or the reader needs to be familiarized with how to read the poems in the collection, then certainly order concerns matter. But how many of us are writing collections like that?

I know that when I read for a contest, I taste from beginning, middle, and end. If every poem I encounter interests me, then that manuscript goes in the Maybe Yes pile. If even one poem falls short, the ms goes in the Maybe pile. If several of the poems fail to interest me, it goes in the No pile. That’s just the way it is. (For more on my experience as a first round reader, see links below.) So in this case, order doesn’t matter very much. But as an author, I want my collection to have a flow, a weave, a pulse of some sort. So in that, case order does matter, if only to me.

So I guess here it is: Does a disorderly order sink a manuscript? I don’t really think so. Can an interesting order enhance it? Yes, indeed.

Am I finding it enjoyable to think about the order of my poems in my ms? If yes, then I should go ahead and shuffle them around as long as I’m having fun. Is it a drag? I guess I wouldn’t expend too much energy, then.

But I’m enjoying shuffling this friend’s poems around, so maybe it’s worth asking someone else to look at order, if that person finds it fun.

But the bottom line is, if every poem doesn’t pull its weight, then no reordering is going to save the ms. It’s all down to the individual poem. Again.
Marilyn McCabe, The Cheese Stands Alone; or On Ordering Poems in a Manuscript

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Dennis Casling, New and Selected Poems, edited by Julia Copus and Annie Freud (Smith/Doorstop, 2018)

I’ve just had the pleasure of reading this new collection and I wanted to share my thoughts about it on the blog. It’s an extremely moving book comprised of the reprint of Casling’s earlier Endorphin Angels, along with other, presumably later poems, written up until Casling’s death in 2016.

Dennis Casling was blind. Maybe we need to know this, maybe not. On the back cover it says: ‘The act of seeing is informed by the imagination … I spend my time looking at the invisible’ (Casling). Sometimes what he ‘sees’ is memory, other times it’s imagined situations and characters, which links up with Philip Gross’s comment: ‘His poetry is a balance of different voices’.

The different voices are more noticeable in the first section (the reprint of Endorphin Angels takes up the first half of this book). Towards the second half of the book though, there’s a sense of the poet finding a voice which is perhaps less ‘poetic’ but, for me, is more rewarding to read.

Somewhere near the middle of the collection is ‘Holding On’ which seems to mark a shift from a poet consciously writing POETRY, to a poet who has the courage to set aside the more adorned use of language for something paired back. If this sounds as if I didn’t enjoy the first half, that’s not the case; I did. The beauty of the writing is enviable, with some lyrical language and, time and again, really fresh similes that expand the image in the reader’s mind. Here, for example, from the poem ‘In the Farmyard’ (p. 13) ‘the flat milk sack warm on the hand/ like a child’s fever’. Observant and sensual details like this abound.

Casling’s poetry is concerned with darkness and silence, absence and return, and above all, how we negotiate loss.
Julie Mellor, Dennis Casling – new and selected poems

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Things are looking up for this old bird.

The first week of classes has come and gone and they were pleasantly uneventful, blissfully routine. I continued my morning writing ritual and wrote three new poems. And today I begin the first of what will be, with luck and perseverance and a little bit of selfishness thrown in, the first of what I’m calling Long Form Fridays. (Because, you know, like the true dork I am, I love to give everything alliterative titles . . .)

Long Form Fridays are going to entail taking my butt to the Starbucks where I wrote while the kids were in camp and parking myself at a table to write for three hours. It seems like as good a place as any — far enough away from my house and its chaos, definitely far enough from the campus and ITS noise and chaos — where I can begin work again on my long-form projects: first, my Accountability Partners play, and after that, the verse play that’s officially in Title Limbo (one of the reasons I need to sit and work on it more). […]

Word on the street (hahahaha, what am I, an 80s drug dealer?) is that almost all colleges across the nation are going through this panic moment of OH MY GOD WE HAVE NO MONEY because they all ignored the fact that about 20 years ago people were having fewer babies, and now fewer 20 year olds are seeking out higher education simply because there are fewer of them, and fewer students means lower revenue from student tuition and student fees but we’re still operating as if it’s the early 2000s recession and EVERYONE and their mom wanted to go back to college because they couldn’t find jobs but now the economy’s on an upswing and people have jobs and, as A.P. pointed out, there’s mounting evidence that having a college education doesn’t really guarantee “economic empowerment” (**eyeroll**) and so everyone’s saying fuck college and so BIG DEFICITS. Also also, top heavy administrations, irresponsible spending, yadda yadda yadda.

Which means that sabbaticals and money for professional development will probably, albeit slowly, dry up and disappear. So . . . self-granted residencies like Long Form Fridays and self-imposed exiles from college service and committee nonsense (i.e. My Year of Being Bad) will become more and more important to teaching artists — and hell, run-of-the-mill academics — in higher ed.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Self-Granted Residency and My Year of Being Bad: First Week

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Cast from a cheap, bad, bronze mold,
my eyes don’t line up quite right.

My eyes are from a statue.
Stone-blind. Like weeping angels,

they look at nothing, nothing,
shifting in micro-jolts. There.

Vibrating at the level
of electrons. There. Again.

My eyes are from a robot.
They rotate on a gear shaft,

jerking. They need to be oiled.
My eyes are seeing something.

I don’t know what it is, but
they look so hard at nothing.
PF Anderson, On Being Asked What Is Triggering

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People have asked me many times while doing talks on the subject, “How do I get my book reviewed?”

The book review process can seem mysterious – but as a poetry book reviewer myself for the last fifteen years, hopefully I can take some of the mystery out of the process.

First Steps

I usually talk first about building a poetry community way before your book comes out. That means things like, joining or starting a writing group, going to other people’s book launches (and trying to learn from them), and…writing some book reviews yourself. It makes sense that you would start contributing to the literary world when you’re starting to even think about having your own book come out. If you don’t feel like putting in the work, well, how can you expect other writers to do so?

If you’re worried about your book reviewing skills, every book reviewer has had to start somewhere, even the reviewers at The New York Times Review of Books and Poetry Magazine. I started out reviewing for NewPages.com, a venue friendly to new reviewers. I recommend that you read lots of literary magazines and online review outlets to see what kind of book reviews you like and what you aspire to, style-wise. I like The Rumpus, Rain Taxi, and many of the literary magazines that run reviews. I noticed that there was a formula you can follow in many of the big review outlets. Then, send out some queries to literary magazines that take book reviews. Sometimes you even get paid!
PR for Poets – How Can I Get My Book Reviewed? – guest blog post by Jeannine Hall Gailey (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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On the walk home, I thought about one of the early hurricanes we experienced here, when we were still renting a duplex in the fall of 1998. We had a close brush with hurricane Georges that went south into the Keys. The surf was the highest I’ve ever seen at Hollywood beach.

Here’s a poem that came from that walk which I still like. I look at my current poems and see how much I’ve grown as a poet. But I’m glad that poems like these still make me happy.

Clean Sweep

While other folks board
up their windows,
she opens hers wide
to the hurricane winds.

She goes to the beach.
Unlike the surfers,
she has no interest in waves
that crash against the shore.

The sand abrades her skin.
The wind sweeps into every crevice.
Behind her, transformers pop and crackle.
Energy explodes.

Even though the palms bow
to the storm, she lifts
her arms above her head,
struggles to remain standing.

That night, she sleeps
soundly. Even though the wind
howls and hoots and hammers at the walls,
she breathes clean air and dreams fresh visions.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Monday: “Clean Sweep”

*

Risa [Denenberg]: How did it feel to have poems published in Poetry in 2002 and then to not have your book, Acid and Tender (which was a finalist for the Charlotte Mew Prize) published until 2016 (by Headmistress Press)? Were you submitting the manuscript and getting rejections during those years? Or, did you take a hiatus from writing poetry?

Jen [Rouse]: Ha! It was the thrill of my life to have a poem next to Maxine Kumin’s in that issue of Poetry. What a trip. And, it was an even bigger thrill when I got the Headmistress email, saying my first book was accepted. Such a full heart for Headmistress! I was doing something I hate—clothes shopping—that afternoon, when I checked my phone and the message about my book was there. My sister was with me, and we totally flipped out in the store. The person helping us even gave me an extra discount on my purchase that day.

As for the years in between, I was still writing. I never stop writing. But, I had to do a lot of relationship work during that time. I moved to Iowa with my partner. I finally came out to my mom—because we would be near her in Iowa. I landed my job at Cornell College—where I have been for 15 years now and will go up for full professor this year. I gave birth to my now 13-year- old daughter, Madeline.

Risa: Did you feel that your identity as a poet was marginalized during those years?

Jen: My major mentor, the one who guest edited that issue of Poetry, rejected me when I had our child, basically treating me as though that decision was the one that would end my career as a writer. I’m a very devoted and loyal friend, and the sting of that still lingers. It wasn’t until one of my amazing poet friends—Paulette Beete—from my MFA program at American University asked me to participate in an online writing group that I really started thinking about the trajectory of my writing career, of getting better, of publishing again. A wonderful writing group. I am deeply indebted.
Anne Sexton Talks to God / an interview with poet Jen Rouse (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

*

Turns out there’s some good news about rejection I never really grasped before. I’m reading poetry for Shenandoah in earnest now and realizing rejected poems DO reach sympathetic readers, at least if you send them to well-edited magazines: the editors and staff readers themselves.

I am moved, entertained, impressed, and intrigued by far more work than Shenandoah can accept. I’m sure some journal readers are burnt-out or ego-tripping, but I’m inclined to guess magazine editors are often a good audience–smart about the field and in love with the art. You’d think I would know this by now. I’ve definitely felt that connection with certain editors who reject my work with personal notes like “admired these” or “came close.” But being on the other side makes it more vivid, and it cheers me.
Lesley Wheeler, On first looking into Shenandoah’s submissions

*

[Lana Ayers:] What is the process like creating a new & selected works? Has your relationship to the earlier poems shifted? Have you discovered anything new in the process?

[Patricia Fargnoli:] This is the one year anniversary of the publication of Hallowed: New & Selected Poems so it is a good time to reflect on the process of creating it.

I knew that I wanted to have a volume that recognized my previous books while it also included the new work I’ve written since Winter was published.

And I wanted to do it by my 80th birthday so as to recognize that scary (to me) landmark.

I contacted my previous publishers for permission to use poems from those books and Jeffrey Levine at Tupelo Press said that they wanted to publish it since they had published two of my previous books and considered me to be part of “The Tupelo Family.”

The process of putting the manuscript together was quite easy: I simply chose the best of the new poems I’d written…24 of them, and then arranged them as I would arrange the poems in any book… paying attention especially to the first and last poems but also to the arc of the them and how they connected to each other.

Choosing the poems from previous books was even easier. I knew that I wanted a representative sample from each book, but didn’t want a lot of poems from each book…so I went through each front to back, choosing poems that seemed to encompass the themes of that book and that had gotten recognition through audience appreciation and/or publication…plus those that were personal favorites.

A friend pointed out that I left many strong poems behind and I guess I did but I didn’t want the book to become too long.

What I learned was that some of my themes are lifelong themes: especially grief and loss, how to find meaning and beauty in nature and life, those consolations.

I also recognized that the poems of the first book, Necessary Light, tend to be more narrative than those of later books which tend first toward my lyrical and later to more and more meditative as I aged and began to be more concerned with issues of aging and with the search for spirituality and meaning in a world where there are no (for me at least) certain answers.

Amazingly, when I had finished the choosing and arranging, the poems from all the books seem to become a cohesive book….something that both surprised and delighted me.
Lana Ayers, Poet Patricia Fargnoli Talks Writing, Love of Words, Advice

*

It is not blood or bits of bone that resonate when I think of you.
I ripped the plastic bag with my largest car key,
when I held the ash between my palms hollering at the sky:
Float, let the stuck un-stick.
Let our bodies loosen,
teeth unclench.
It’s time we stopped existing like we’re dying around these parts,
Like we’re full of cement and sludge, of your damned ghost.
Let our smiles return, those that burned down a little
when you became
so dry.
Jennifer E. Hudgens, New Poem “Letting”

*

A couple of times a year, I search my submission spreadsheets for poems with the dubious distinction of having collected the most rejections so far. If these poems are not currently under consideration for publication, they go into a special category: Most Rejected Poems.Then I print them out and spread them on the floor of my office. One by one, I read them slowly and carefully, trying very hard not to judge them. I imagine the editors I’ve sent these poems to reading through piles of unsolicited work, looking for that intangible thing – a mood, metaphor, imagery, or narrative – that sets a poem apart. I read the poems again, those rejected babies of mine, searching for those very qualities. What are they missing? Does the poem need a tune-up? Or a rest from constant submitting?

About half the time, the poem needs a little work. I often consult Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry, eds. Scott Wiggerman & David Meischen. I’ve saved many a poem with, for example, a better title (Susan Terris’s chapter “Twenty Ideas for Titles to Pique the Curiosity of Poetry Editors” is a favorite of mine) or by re-writing the poem in an unusual form, as in Ravi Shankar’s chapter “A Manipulated Fourteen-Line Poem.” Other books that help include Diane Lockward’s The Crafty Poet and The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux.
Erica Goss, Saving the Most-Rejected Poems

*

From time to time I have tried to embrace the stop-making-sense school of poetry. I like poems of all kinds, after all, even the absurd ones that spin a kind of magic spell over a reader, transporting us to another world. Mom’s world.

Tonight–back home–I get up at midnight, after my young-adult children have finally abandoned the living room. I turn on the TV and find a 73-minute movie called “A Poet in New York.” That title is all I have to go on, but I start the movie and discover that it is about Dylan Thomas. I think of my favorite poetry professor, not the “stop making sense one,” but a professor who liked my story-heavy, narrative poems. I think of how he adored Thomas. He could do a fair impersonation of him, with a swaggering, Welsh accent. “When I was young and easy under the apple boughs.” There is frightfully little of Thomas’s poetry in this movie. Mostly there is whiskey and sex and poor Caitlin Thomas’s mad passion for Dylan (he pronounces her name Cat-lin and writes her letters telling her how much he misses fondling her breasts). The movie does not make a lot of sense, but that, in itself, makes a kind of sense to me. Tonight it does.

Immediately after the stroke, while still in the hospital, Mom told me, “Bury me on the hill beside your father.” (My sister, hearing this exchange from the doorway, slapped her forehead and said, “Geez, I hadn’t thought of that!”) The slow slide into complete dependency—into nonsense—continues, though she no longer has to be reminded that she can’t get out of bed, or that she can’t walk. She no longer asks to be buried on the hillside.

In my mother’s non-narrative, non-linear mind, of course she can walk. She is a child, running through a field (and I picture the young Dylan Thomas running through a field of tall grass). Her brother’s horses spook and wheel and she runs after them. This is the world, too, of the poem. We want to make sense of it. But we might allow ourselves a little more rein to be in the non-sense. To take the poem’s hand, and run with it.
Bethany Reid, Stop Making Sense

*

I lay in my hammock under the trees and worried about the lanternflies. Which accomplished nothing (I think of a James Wright poem at this point…).

What was there not to despair about? So much anxiety surrounds me. Even the damned bugs. If only starlings were to take a liking to spotted lanternflies, I mused.

A butterfly went past. I looked down at the zinnias blossoming their stems off in the garden and felt pleased to count four monarchs there. It has been a good year for monarch butterflies in my yard, and green darners and other dragonflies, and hummingbirds–which used to be quite uncommon visitors here. The little brown bats are returning each dusk, recovering slowly from the decimation of white-nose virus.

The balance may seem off in many ways. But there are restorative moments.

Even if “I have wasted my life.”
Ann E. Michael, Reverie, with interruption

*

I think about bees when I drip honey on challah and apple slices. Tonight is the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, which always seems a more natural time for reflection and endings than in the deadness of winter. The harvest moon. The start of the school year. The end of summer, time to account for whether enough grain has been stored to get us through the inevitable winter months. Although there is argument for January 1st too, a moment when we are poised over the dark abyss, but take heart in remembering that we are going back into the light. Again. I wonder how we bear all of this repetition, so eagerly anticipated in childhood, and so foreboding as we age. Another year, expectations of ritual celebrations and foods and annual mammograms. […]

The manuscript I am working on now is titled, “why I hate to cry”. I cried yesterday listening to a radio program that spoke about social isolation (specifically, the way men–not just straight men– are groomed to avoid emotional relationships with other men, to their detriment.) This interested me, but why was I crying? I suppose I understood that I am “like that”, I avoid emotional relationships, but is it too my detriment? I really can’t say with any certainty.

This is all very complicated, as I contemplate retirement. For so many years I have spent so much of my emotional reserve in taking care of people-as-patients, I don’t seem to have much left for friendship. I wonder if I will be like one of those “men” who retire and find themselves at a loss for meaning. Who fail quickly; who die shortly. Who am I, if this is how I see myself in retirement? And yet, I am longing for the freedom to pursue the possibilities of connection. Of traveling and meeting all the poets that I only know on Facebook and Twitter. Of having meaningful conversations. Of learning to cry again without hating myself for it.

I wish each of us some sweetness in the new year. Layered into what we all fear, even know, is happening. The wrecking ball, the earthquake, the failure of democracy, the loss of habitat, the disappearance of bees, famine and war, cancer, overdoses. All of it. May it be mingled with some sweetness. Some tears. Some love.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Bitter Honey

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

Though this week’s digest is two days late (I was traveling), it still only includes posts up through Sunday, as usual. I was pleased to be able to include several posts related to traveling, as well as meditations on moving, bodily infirmity, weeds, hurricanes, and fire season.

And then, there are weeds, which offer many details about the weather conditions…and the fact that the gardener gave up and stopped pulling weeds when the soil devolved into heavy mud and who then refused to brave the task in the numerous over-95 degree F days that weren’t rainy. Today, I began a list: nutsedge; crabgrass; English plantain; pigweed; puncturevine; bindweed; galinsoga; creeping thistle; multiflora rose; horseweed; knotweed; spotted spurge; rabbitfoot clover; virginia creeper; japanese stiltgrass; wintercreeper; mugwort; solidago; wild aster; chicory; poison ivy; not to mention various sorrels and clovers and Queen Anne’s lace…and others I have yet to identify.

If I were to parse each weed, I could detail its likes and dislikes as to soil, growing conditions, root systems, pollinators & pollination strategies, seed dispersal methods, attractiveness to birds or rodents (see seed dispersal methods), and eventually could compile a meaningful ecological and environmental semantics for the little plot that is my backyard truck patch. No doubt I’d learn a great deal about the garden, but no doubt I have done so already–if less exhaustively, less “scientifically.” Would the garden then become more meaningful to me?

It’s a thought experiment; I’ve no intention of trying it, though I do think it would yield interesting results. In the many years I have worked the soil, I have written poems that, perhaps, do parse the garden. That will have to be interpretation enough for my part.
Ann E. Michael, Parsing the garden

*

Right now, hundreds of fires are burning in the Western United States. The air in Washington and Oregon is the worst in the nation. Every morning, the sun shines an eerie bronze light over the land. The sky over Eugene, Oregon, where I live, reminds me of the smog-choked summers of my youth in Southern California.

Nine years ago, during a hot dry summer in Northern California, I wrote “Fire Season.” In the West, fire season now stretches from early spring to mid-winter. The smoke has reached the Eastern US, where people in New York are watching spectacular sunsets courtesy of burning forests.

Fire Season

Whatever we were
looking for is gone:

the door we saw in a dream,
instructions for time travel,

poles tacked with posters
of the missing.

The aroma of houses dying
two hundred miles away
rises into the troposphere,

as television screens explode,
ending a million cop shows.

Call it summer, if you must
but I know its true name,
caramel skies and edgy refrain

and strange delicacies:
marrow forced from split bones,

fog billowing through
silent trees like a last hope,

and when the sky clears
the whittled neighborhoods: row

after row of chimneys.

—- First published in Bone Bouquet, Summer 2010

Erica Goss, Fire Season

*

I think it’s fair to say, at least regarding our fire “season” that we have reached a “new normal” meaning fires all year round in this region. We’ve seen quite a few respiratory problems at the clinic over the past couple of weeks. It’s certainly unpleasant particularly since we only get a couple of months of sunshine where I live, but of course, it’s been worse than just smoke for people and animals in the fires’ paths.

****

I have a review of Max Ritvo’s forthcoming book, “The Final Voicemails” (Milkweed Editions, 2018), up at the Rumpus. Max Ritvo was an enormously gifted poet who died at age twenty-five, two years ago, on August 23, 2016, after a prolonged bout with cancer. His posthumous collection, The Final Voicemails, will be released on September 11, 2018. As a nurse practitioner who cut her milk teeth watching young gay men die in droves in the 1990s, I was tremendously moved by Max’s courageous work in the face of his death. I hope you will read my review, and more so, that you will read his work, which includes the also posthumously published, “Four Reincarnations”.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Smoke at Reentry

*

Look at the god, good-looking,
how he looks at the ground,
willing it real, willing himself
to love where he hardly lives,

in his stupid human body,
an always ailing thing.

The good editors at SWWIM published my poem “Energize” this week and I’ve been thinking about late fall 2015, when I composed it. A couple of months into my sabbatical, my mother became very ill with what turned out to be non-Hodgkins lymphoma, so I was flying up and down highways, trying to see her and help with her care. I was also grieving other transitions–my son had just started high school and my daughter had left for college–and working on various manuscripts with the desperation of a half-crazed person, plus perimenopause symptoms were tormenting me. This particular poem arrived during a trip to a Modernist Studies Association meeting in November; it occurred in Boston and I missed the first day because I squeezed in a visit with my mother on the way north (she lives near Philadelphia and I’m in Virginia). After things wound down on Sunday, but before I hit the road to Pennsylvania and then Virginia again, I ducked into a church for shelter during some rain and ended up captivated by the Tiffany stained glass, which seemed bright and alive despite the dark weather. So there’s a little Jesus in this poem, a little Star Trek (I was really, really longing for transporter technology), and a bunch of mid-life angst.
Lesley Wheeler, Stupid human bodies

*

Q~What’s your writing process like?

A~Imagine the sky on a foggy day, then imagine the sun coming through the darkness, or the sun not coming through and an entire day of shade—that’s my writing process.

The majority of my poems are never submitted or published. I just enjoy writing and creating. When I wake up and the first thing I do is to write a poem, that is when I’m living my best life (as Oprah would say).

Q~What are your poetry likes and dislikes?

A~Likes: I love poets who write about relationships, desire, weird stuff, death, personal struggles, their own lives/issues, and who bring vulnerability to their work in whatever form or way they are dealing with it. I like inclusively, realizing we’re all at different parts of a journey and to respect and honor that. I like kind and helpful poets who help raise other poets up than to bring other poets down. I love poets who share poems, who interact with a large group of people and find ways to make the world a better place. I love to be surprised by poems and to see language used in interesting ways. I like visual poems and when poems appear in unexpected places. I like long walks on the beach with poetry and getting caught in the rain…

Dislikes: Ego. Author nametags. Poets who read over their time limit. Poets who only connect or support/like/retweet/respond to other poets because they feel they can help their career. I dislike exclusively in poetry and looking down at someone because they don’t have a degree or book, or looking up to someone because they do. I am not a fan of placing anyone on a pedestal and/or then knocking them off it. So, I guess I’m not a fan of pedestals. Though I do love trophies and honestly, most of the poets I’ve met have been sweet and kind, so my dislikes are probably limited to a small group (I hope they are limited to a small group…)

I think there is always more to love when it comes to poetry, both in our community and in learning about each other and ourselves through words and images. Honestly, I am just thankful every day that people keep falling in love with poetry and trying to write poems themselves. I always say the world would be a better place if everyone woke up and wrote a poem. Just imagine. I think it would be divine.
Bekah Steimel, Hunger / an interview with #poetblogrevival cofounder Kelli Russell Agodon

*

My writing time is short–but I am back to my writing space in the front bedroom. Not much else is in the room but my desk. There’s an echoing quality in my typing. I’m listening to NPR on headphones because the bed is just outside the open door–we’re sleeping in the dining room for one more night.

I like the empty quality to this room–the way the floor is visible. Part of me wants to give away everything that was once in this room so that we could keep it this empty–the guest room bed, the books, the shelves that held the books. But that would be silly. Wouldn’t it?
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Thinking About Hurricanes

*

So for the next few months, I’ll be house-hunting, which is only fun for those who do not need a new place to live, and packing, which is only fun for minimalists like me who like to see exactly how much they can do without.

I’ll leave you with an old poem I wrote about one of my myriad moves:

Moving North

1.
We learn an empty house,
the look of a room as a cavity
to be filled. We learn to portion
and take everything to keep,
in labeled boxes that make
angles and a jigsaw fit. […]
Renee Emerson, I’ve been everywhere, man

*

When I posted some pictures of this trip on Instagram, my friend Lorianne of Hoarded Ordinaries pointed me to Walt Whitman’s poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” which was included in the 1856 edition of Leaves of Grass. As I read, I was moved, and felt the distance between the poet and myself collapse, just as he had written a century and a half ago.

I thought about my great-grandfather, who had come from England around the time Whitman wrote his poem, and had become a jeweler in Brooklyn — the maker of a gold ring that was passed down to me, that I always wear now on the little finger of my right hand.

What is it then between us?
What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?

Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and place avails not,
I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me…

But my thoughts were also personal. I occurred to me that New York has functioned as a kind of touchstone, with my experiences here forming a series that mirrors different stages of my life, and growth; how the intensity and excitement I’ve always felt in this, my favorite of all cities, used to be accompanied by the insecurities of the small-town country girl that I once was, unsure of how to dress, positive that my inexperience and trepidation were obvious to anyone who saw me.

So many memories! Peering into the magical animated windows of Fifth Avenue shops when I was five, matched by the enchantment of seeing My Fair Lady and Camelot. Walking through scary dark streets near Times Square with a long-haired college boyfriend, now dead, during the gritty days of the 1970s, on our way to see “Fritz the Cat.” The seductive energy of walking down Fifth Avenue many years later, on the day I received an offer from a New York publisher — and how I had turned that offer down and driven out of the city, knowing I’d down the right thing, that the strings attached weren’t worth it, or right for me. Marching through the streets in anti-war demonstrations, and looking down at them from the Empire State Building, as a little girl, or the World Trade Center in my forties; going back on a somber day to pay my respects after 9/11.

I thought of some of my closest friends, who’ve always lived here, and all the things we’ve done together: the art that fills the museums; the music that fills the theaters and clubs; the food from every corner of the world; the stores where you can buy, or at least look at, just about anything. There have been parties and weddings and funerals, countless meals in ethnic restaurants and New York delis, countless slices of pizza bought on the street. And even though I’ve become a city person myself, and live in a quite-different large city in a quite-different country, New York (where I’ve never lived) is still home, in the sense of a place to which I’ll always return, a place I hope will remain, not just throughout my own lifetime but, like Whitman, hundreds of years from now, for those who will come after me, because the anonymity and shelter of the great city are also major parts of its identity, just as they shape ours.
Beth Adams, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”

*

Well, the overwhelming message is that dreams are dreams & the real world of school, work, tears & laughter, ill health & death is where we should spend our days. But the weirdest of codas to my own dreamtime USA was provided when I visited the States for the first time in the early ‘90s. As I stood by the Pacific on the North Oregon coast, or watched the trucks barrelling down through Seattle, I realised that in some strange, prescient way I had anticipated what I now perceived & that dreamtime & realtime America were very close &, without having noticed, I had stepped across the dividing line because it wasn’t really there.

Sitting in a pickup truck, waiting for my companions to emerge heavily-laden from a Kroger store, I started to write this poem. I intended a gentle, affectionate parody of the Beat chroniclers whose narratives had illuminated my teenage years. And yet as it proceeded down the page, it began to speak more and more to my sense of a charged and passionate childhood vision of ‘old weird America’ whose substance was in no way mitigated by my presence here and now in that very land.
Dick Jones, Driving to America

*

I have a new chapbook out, The Towns, from Unicorn Press, and I just did the first release reading for it at the fabulous Ryburn Place, on historic Route 66, thanks to Terri Ryburn. Terri will also introduce me at the next release reading, November 15, 2018, at the Normal Public Library, which I hope will also be a release reading for Spiritual Midwifery, due out from Red Bird Chapbooks before the end of the year! (here is my Author Page at Red Bird from my previous book with them, ABCs of Women’s Work, the one with the perfect cover, where I am invisible! See alphabet sampler below.) And here is the cover of The Towns, in a picture taken by Terri Ryburn.

I loved reading to a room full of attentive, warm, loving people in Terri’s Route 66 shop, full of interesting arts and crafts and Route 66 doodads. I was wearing my Route 66 earrings, made by Marcia Hirst, who was in the audience, with more of her handmade earrings dangling close behind her. The Tingleys were there, a couple who lived in Towanda, Illinois when I first knew them, and the first poem I read was “Towanda.” Family came, women I write with, lovely people from our community. I got to refer to the towns in the poems on a map right behind me, showing that some are are Route 66 and some require you to exit. The audience also enjoyed and/or got chilled by my accounts of outlaws along the Natchez Trace, also represented in The Towns.

And I was pleased that my listeners enjoyed learning about my process, and about how the poems connected to two other books: The Triggering Town, by Richard Hugo, and The Outlaw Years, by Robert M. Coates. And those of you know how much I love random coincidii will be delighted to know The Outlaw Years was published in 1930, the same year the structure I was in, originally a service station on Route 66, had been built. I did not read the title poem, since it always makes me cry, but I might read it at the library, anyway.

Sorry I’ve been so silent here. I swam all summer, often with a duck, and went to Santa Cruz, California. Life has been busy. And wonderful.
Kathleen Kirk, The Towns

*

I’m pleased to say that I’ve been awarded a Local Artists Bursary by Ginkgo Projects, funded by Bloor Homes for the Kings Gate Public Art Programme, which I am using to write some new poems in response to the landscape and heritage of the area in and around Amesbury, Wiltshire.

I live in the west of the county, about 30 minutes away from Amesbury. At this stage of the project, I’ve made a few visits to the area, taken some photos on my phone and written some notes in my notebook. A new project has, of course, meant a new notebook!

I’m really lucky to be in touch with Holly Corfield-Carr, who told me about the Local Artist Bursary Scheme, and my initial research has also included exploring the beautiful materials she assembled from her Loop in the Landscape project.

Loop in the Landscape is a publication in three parts to mark the beginning of a long-term artists’ engagement with the ancient Stonehenge landscape and its relationship with the nearest town of Amesbury, a site which some claim to be the UK’s longest continuously-occupied settlement.

[…]

So lots to think about and plenty of ideas and notes about long barrows, round, oval, bowl and bell-shaped barrows, stone circles, crop circles and henges. Yes, I’m writing some Wiltshire poems.
Josephine Corcoran, Local Artist Bursary from Ginkgo Projects / Bloor Homes

*

After a long summer with mostly bad news, the last week or so has been an amazing string of happy poetry news – lots of acceptances all at once! With poetry, it’s often a wall of rejections, followed by a bunch of acceptances, which makes it hard to celebrate when you should, because the wall of rejections feels so much more overwhelming than the brief flowering of acceptances. A couple of these acceptances were at dream journals – journals I used to think I’d never get into.

The bad news about the acceptances was writing those “withdrawal” e-mails, and realizing now almost all the poems in my newest poetry manuscript are published! I need a publisher who loves this book as much as I do. I’m ready to get it out into the world! Put out some good vibes for me. […]

How do we face life with limitations? It doesn’t mean you can’t do anything, but it means maybe you can’t do as much as you used to, or as much as you want to do. It means even when you have modest goals for your days, sometimes you give up and sleep all day instead. It means you go to doctors to get everything (diet, physical therapy, medications) as optimized as you can, but since you’re working against multiple complex problems, sometimes they tell you: you’re doing everything you can do, and we’re doing everything we can do, too. So that feel like being up against wall. But there is always the possibility of change on the horizon. I hope for that, for the possibility of doing more, of seeing more hope, of the lifting of the “Eye of Sauron” sun and thick layer of pollution so we can see our mountains, rivers, trees, and ocean again. It’s the same with my writing – even after a long period of rejection, there will be that time when everyone seems to like your work again. We have to hang on to hope, even when our vision is dimmed.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Celebrating Poetry Acceptances, Summer Up in Smoke, Fighting Your Limits

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poets who were not on vacation (and some who were) were blogging about going on vacation, and there was plenty of news to be shared about publications and on-going projects, as well as the usual generous scattering of off-the-wall topics and first drafts of poems. Enjoy.

I slit the stem and slide my finger in the milkweed
the ooze smells of snake bites. The skin shrivels

with the buds dropping premature, petals seal
clutch a secret like a fetus she carries

and will not relinquish – there is death everywhere
if you care to see, detected in the marigold

filaments of black seeds tossed in the breeze.
Uma Gowrishankar, Still Life

*

I’ve been rendered house-bound for a while (except for doctor’s visits) with severe MS symptoms during the hot streak and a sprained ankle, so in the meantime I’ve been dreaming of escape, taking pictures of hot air balloons, our beautiful eerie moons, and birds. I’ve also been working on revising my sixth book manuscript. I only have it out to a few places, but received a rejection yesterday. Part of the job, I know, but still, discouraging. I’ve been searching for a good new primary doc, too, without success (the last one wasn’t afraid of my complexity, but said I’d do better with a doctor who was connected to the major medical databases and a major hospital. I guess she’s right.) Rejection all around! And meanwhile, the muggy, airless heat wave continues.

During the evenings when it’s a little cooler I’ve been watching the hot air balloons that rise and fall right around our house. I’ve also had plenty of time to watch my flowers struggle with the sun, the birds fighting over seeds and hummingbird feeders, and discover a new flowering tree in the back yard I’d never noticed before. The day we had a nearby fire, this flicker perched on top of one of our birch trees and just sat, beak in the air, for over an hour. So strange. Time moves slowly when you’re not feeling well – I’ve been trying to fill the time with reading encouraging writing books, watching stand-up on Netflix (I recommend “Elder Millennial,” if for nothing else than the ten minute bit that I swear was inspired by the Melusine myth, which I wrote about in my first book, Becoming the Villainess, in the poem “The Monster Speaks: It’s Not So Bad”) and, well, lots of sleep and fluids. Not the most glamorous summertime activities.

I am wishing us all less fire, fewer heat waves and rejections, and enough time to enjoy the good things about summertime.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of PR for Poets, Hot Streaks, Hot Air Balloons, and Blood Moons

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I am delighted to have “Not This” featured this week in The Ellis Review. This poem was drafted during my Tupelo 30/30 run and and began as an erasure of a piece by Margaret Rhee before shifting into something different. The poem wouldn’t exist without her and her “precarity of the line” and the support of various writing communities, and I’m very thankful for you all.

“Not This” uses a fragmented mode I’ve often employed in the past, but the attempt to address current events is something new for me. Even as I’ve come to recognize “that all writing is political—it emanates from a specific body that has a relation to the polis” (from my Poems2go interview), I’ve only just begun to try articulating more explicitly the relationship between a speaker’s body and the body politic to which it belongs/can be excluded from.
Hyejung Kook, Writing | New York | The Ellis Review | 07.26.2018

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I’m excited to have three poems and three photographs in the new issue of Mojave Heart Review. The photos are of street art by Swoon (Caledonia Curry) that she installed here in New Orleans several years ago. I was inspired recently to write the poetry and put together the project after reading this interview. I’ve followed and admired Swoon’s art since seeing this street art and her Thalassa exhibit at New Orleans Museum of Art in 2011.

Mojave Heart has done a beautiful presentation of the project with each poem and accompanying photo on its own page. I hope you’ll click over and check out the issue which is full of beautiful work by 24 talented writers and artists.

Big thanks to Jeffrey Reno, staff, and volunteers for giving this project a home!

There are a thousand ways that people can bring their art in contact with the world. Mine are putting a wheatpaste up on the street, building a raft and crashing the Venice Biennale, building a home post-earthquake, working with people in Kensington in the middle of a crisis. In some way these things are actually all the same. People could be doing macramé classes at nursing homes, or they could be making floats for the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island. My friend used to make books and discreetly stick them into the shelves at libraries and bookstores. Literally anything. Then that thing informs the next thing, and you listen back, always asking: Who’s it reaching? What does it mean to people? You take the molten, hot center of creative energy, and you weave it into some aspect of the world that is calling to you. —- Swoon, “Sending Out the Signal

Charlotte Hamrick, 3 Poems/Photos in Mojave Heart Review

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Q~You are also a classical singer. How do you balance your creative interests? How do they interplay if at all?

A~The great thing about being a writer is that there is no real schedule to follow, so I can engage in any other activities I like. Every day, around one in the afternoon, I stop whatever I’m doing so that I can practice whatever arias or songs I’m working on. Music, I think, has also given me a sense of rhythm that transfers to my writing, as well. The way the words sound together is important to me.

Q~On your website, you said you first began writing poetry to combat severe depression and have continued on to push your own personal boundaries of comfort and truth. How has poetry helped you?

A~I always think of writing, and writing poetry especially, as a kind of medieval bleeding. Slit a vein and let it all pour out. It’s a daily ritual that I maintain. Anything that has bothered me, hurt me, affected me in any way, I let it drip onto the page.

Q~ What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~The only dislike I have is rhyming. I’m just not a fan. It’s strange, I know, when I just mentioned wanting musicality in writing, but I always feel as if rhymes take away from the meaning of the poem. Makes it less impactful, since it leads me to think that the words written were not necessarily the best ones, but just the ones that could rhyme.
Bekah Steimel, Time Travel II / an interview with poet Valentina Cano

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Last year at the 2017 Mercury Awards, Stormzy’s album Gang Signs and Prayer won the award. It also won a Bafta or two. There had been many criticisms that music awards in the UK had become too white, and so many grime acts were up for awards this year after judging panels became more diverse.

Stormzy’s album is another look at working class London from his perspective as a Black man. There’s quite a bit of swearing and gangster- like conduct on the album. Then, just as Prince sandwiches sexual songs between religious songs on his many albums, Stormzy interperses the crime with the divine, complete with prayers from elders as well as his renowned Gospel song Blinded By Your Grace. The inclusion of elders praying and talking gives a community feel, much like Arrested Development’s 3 Years 5 Months and 2 Days In The Life Of, yet with a distinctive London working class flavour.

Kate Tempest, the renowned English poet and spoken word artist lost out to Stormzy at The Mercury Awards. Yes, an album of poetry – with music as a background filler – was up for a music award.

Let Them Eat Chaos starts with the planets orbiting our sun and then we beam down to London, white working class London. Tempest tells us stories about seven people who all are awake at Silly O’clock for seven different reasons, and she brings them all together in the track Grubby towards the end of the album where she uses the phrase, “Existence is futile” – a nice twist on the Borg saying, “Resistence is futile”, delivering meaning.

There are some other good turns of phrase such as, “His thoughts are like a pack of starving dogs fighting over the last bone” and “Street-smart, jabbering gnome”. Unfortunately, Tempest fails to deliver more such like gorgeous, clever turns of phrase. She seems to have concentrated on telling stories, which is great, but when I hear a poet, I would like to hear more of the poetic.

The pity about Stormzy’s album and Kate Tempest’s album is that they are both quite depressing and angry. Unlike The Streets’ first album – which had some great music and singing backing up their humorous words, I do not really want to listen to Stormzy’s album nor Tempest’s album again. And that is a darn shame because there are some real nuggets on both albums.
Catherine Hume, Kate Tempest, Stormzy and Gorillaz

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This week I’m thinking ahead to October. There’s a new date added to my events page and I will be doing a set 50 percent longer than the longest set I’ve ever done … and there is a Q&A session immediately after the poems … and if nobody wants to ask questions then I have been told I can read a few more poems! Blimey! […]

This is the first event I’ve been the only performer at, which will be a fantastic experience … but I’m not going to be on stage alone. The event is titled Giles with Hazel, as most of you lovely readers know, Hazel is the voice on my computer that I sometimes use for performing poetry; on some occasions she even gets her own round of applause. I don’t sleep well at night because I have nightmares about a sentient computer system lawyer coming to demand I pay Hazel appearance fees for the events I use her at!
Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry on the Coast

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I will travel next week to the Jersey shore, as I do every year, to spend delicious, relaxing time with family. As a new citizen of the Pacific NW, I have learned to feel at home with a different coast and ocean than the one I grew up with. But a year without gazing at the Atlantic from a familiar spot on the Eastern seaboard would be devastating for me.

And during the stay-cation portion, I look forward to several poetry-related tasks: a book review for The Rumpus; reading a manuscript for my press; feedback on poems from a friend.

And hopefully, some revision work on my current manuscript. Right now I have about 60 poems I am working with, and I have some tickling ideas about how to strengthen these poems. Something I haven’t done much before is using space on the page differently than same-old left-margin stanzas. I’m having no luck placing these poems, perhaps they are not “quite there” as one journal put it. But more and more, I think they just need to be read as a collection, in conversation with one another. They are also the most personal poems I have written.

The burden of submission-and-rejection is too much for me right now. So I may publish more of them here in my blog.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Worry List

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It’s fun to run into Poetry when I least expect to, such as on vacation in Maine this summer. Apparently Henry Wadsworth Longfellow liked to watch the ocean from a perch at the Portland Head lighthouse, as well. His house is downtown and open for tours for a small fee. We didn’t have time for the tour but strolled through his lovely gardens beside the house- a peaceful place of respite in a bustling city. Alas, the poetry bug did not bite on this trip, but the mosquitoes sure did. Everything is not bigger in Texas.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, poetry on vacation

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I would just like to take a moment and praise the magnificent phenomenon that is Summer Camp. Thanks to the kids having their fun from 9-4 each day this week, I’ve managed to write almost twenty new pages and two completely new scenes of a play as well as five more poems. I’m ridiculously, over-the-top happy with Micro-Sabbatical Summer 2018. I have to move into preparing-for-fall-semester-classes mode now, and, you know, hang out with my own kids (hahahaha) but I’ve dedicated real, concentrated time to my writing this summer, and used it wisely. I am ecstatic. I might just do a cartwheel across this Starbucks.

I mean, there’s also the possibility that I’ll read the drafts next week and feel complete dismay when I realize they’re no good . . . but for now I’m riding this wave of I-just-wrote-a-crapload euphoria.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical Summer 2018

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A few people have asked me about how I was funded and whether it’s usual for a school to employ a Writer in Residence. For the latter question, in my experience, it isn’t common, and certainly not in a state school. Increasingly, in the UK state school system, creative subjects, Art, Music, Drama, Design, are shrinking from the curriculum, and with cash-strapped budgets, even occasional author visits are becoming more scarce in some schools. All the more reason to applaud St Gregory’s for their imagination and resourcefulness in setting up my residency.

In his article Creativity can be taught to anyone. So why are we leaving it to private schools? Creative Director of the National Theatre, Rufus Norris, writes that since 2010 there has been a 28% reduction in young people studying creative subjects at GCSE in state schools. This, in large part, can be explained by the introduction of the English baccalaureate, or Ebacc, a school performance measure (introduced by Michael Gove when he was Education Minister) focusing on a core set of academic subjects studied for GCSE which does not include a single creative discipline.

Writers who visit many schools have noticed that increasingly, invitations come from the private sector and not from publicly funded schools. Poet and children’s writer Michael Rosen recently tweeted:

Although I don’t have permission to divulge the financial arrangements of St Gregory’s, or to explain exactly how my residency was funded, I will say that I worked with young people of all ages and abilities (although mostly in the Year 7 to Year 9 age-groups – 11 – 14 year olds): Pupil Premium students; EAL students; Gifted and Talented students; top set, middle set and bottom set students; students not belonging to any group that attracts additional funding and students belonging to several.

I will also say that the fee I was paid by the school amounted to considerably less than the daily rate I usually charge (which is negotiable but about £350 per day). However, I was happy with my fee and it suited me well to have a fixed post for one academic year (especially as I was completing my poetry manuscript for my Nine Arches Press book at the same time) which meant that I saved time and money by not needing to apply for other types of funding or jobs.
Josephine Corcoran, End of the school year, end of a residency #writerinschool

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One piece of recent productive procrastination went live this week, a sort of feminist theory bingo card which may or may not also be a poem. There are some Mina Loy-ish squares in response to the very cool web site that put out this call for digital postcards. Others describe my choices, good and bad, and things I aspire to do. All of them feel connected to being a good bad woman, a feminist, someone trying but often failing to claim a fair portion of the cake and wine while sharing the rest with wolves, mothers, woodcutters, and whoever else is a little hungry and doing their best. Aagh, clearly the diet is killing me.
Lesley Wheeler, Bad girl, with rainbows

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But what about that clock, and that winged chariot? I’m cautious about how I explain this. I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Maybe I should say, before I crack on, that I am fit and well and happy…no qualifications. Hold on to that thought. I’ve noticed for the last couple of years I’ve been writing what might seem bleak-sounding poems, a bit dark, a bit valedictory but not particularly backward looking or nostalgic. More concerned with the fact of death being a lot closer than it was not so long ago. I believe your poems are like dreams..you have less control over what they say to you than you’d like. Or at least, the good ones, the important ones, do. Behind them all is the acknowledgement that at 75, your days are numbered, and you begin to accept that you’re not immortal. It’s not distressing (well, not to me, anyway) but it means that sometimes you’re looking at life through a diminishing lens you need to understand and get used to. And it also means, for me, that everything becomes more interesting, and I don’t want to waste a minute. I’m in a hurry to do stuff. I can’t hang around fine tuning poems and pamphlets. I want to write and write and get it out there.

At my back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near. Curiously, I’m untroubled by the concept of deserts of vast eternity, and I don’t think Marvell was, either. To his coy mistress is a young man’s vision in a young man’s poem. Because, I believe, he hears nothing of the sort. He’s in a hurry, but not because he thinks he’s going to die any minute soon. The one who speaks to me these days is Norman McCaig. A couple of years ago I set myself the job of reading his collected works, a few poems every day for a year.

By the time I reached his poems written in the 1980’s I started to notice images of approaching death. The horse that comes along the shore, the black sail in the bay, the scythe in the field, the immanence of journeys ending. I wondered why, because I didn’t know much about his biography. I noticed poems that mourned the death of old friends. The penny dropped a bit later. In the mid-1980’s he was the age I am now, an age when some of your oldest friends, all about your own age, have died. The thing is, he had nearly 15 years left to live, but he wasn’t to know that. And most of his poems go on being vibrant with life and the love of life. He went on walking in the Sutherland hills, fishing the remote Green Corrie. He became frail in the 1990s, but he wasn’t frail when he started noting the finite nature of things. I see what he meant. Time has changed its meaning. It is too precious to not do things in. It makes life more urgent, more vivid. I can’t get enough of it.
John Foggin, Winged chariots and an undiscovered gem : Jack Faricy

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If the “I” is needed, there needs to be enough transparency in the “I” that it can easily become you-the-reader.

This makes me think of a larger philosophical question about the self. This is the wonderful writer Olivia Laing from her book To the River: “…is it not necessary to dissolve the self if one hopes to see the world unguarded?”

It occurs to me that to make good art, there does need to be a dissolution of the “I;” but then possibly its re-creation as a vehicle for the art, an eye for the seeing.

Which makes me think about a rhetorical question posed in an introduction to a poet at a reading I went to recently, a question I thought was supremely dumb. The introducer asked: Are all poems self-portraits? Of course they are/are not and what’s your point? Of course they are a product of wild imagination shaped by the individual experiences of the writer, and a fake wig and glasses, or stripped down to nude and dancing a watusi. I mean, really. Then there are issues of form, function, experimentation, imitation. There’s wordplay, nonsense, dreamblather. And the possibility of this reconstructed “self,” this constructed “I.”

Lorrie Moore in an article on LitHub said this: “Fiction writers are constantly asked, Is this autobiographical? Book reviewers aren’t asked this, and neither are concert violinists, though, in my opinion, there is nothing more autobiographical than a book review or a violin solo. But because literature has always functioned as a means by which to figure out what is happening to us, as well as what we think about it, fiction writers do get asked: ‘What is the relationship of this story/novel/play to the events of your own life (whatever they may be)?’ I do think that the proper relationship of a writer to his or her own life is similar to a cook with a cupboard. What that cook makes from what’s in the cupboard is not the same thing as what’s in the cupboard–and, of course, everyone understands that….[O]ne’s life is there constantly collecting and providing, and it will creep into one’s work regardless–in emotional ways.”

Which loops me back to the “I” and who the “I” is or who it can be.

Bertrand Russell wrote: “An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.”

I think that merging occurs, in a poem, through the use of visceral verbs and vivid images, not through words that represent emotions. No “I felt…” but the depiction of a body feeling, a body in the world. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s you. But I know we’re all in this together.
Marilyn McCabe, Very Well Then I Contradict Myself; on the First Person Perspective in Poems

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But what do I mean when I say the concept of embodied consciousness, and consciousness as a series of intricate, synthesized processes, coincides with being a writer? Or in my case specifically, a poet?

It has something to do with taking in the world–through the senses, which is all my body’s really got–and synthesizing all those years of experiences, memories, books I’ve read, poems and plays I’ve loved, people I’ve known, relationships with the environment and with human beings and with other creatures, the whole of my personal cosmos. Referents and reentrants. Relationships actual and imagined. “The remembrance of unassuageable pain.” The process of loafing through the world.

Writing, where much of my so-called consciousness dwells. Not in the outcome, the resulting poems or essays, but in the doing.
Ann E. Michael, Process

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Driving on the left side
of the road. Burning
the roof of my mouth
from hot fish. How I
learned to drink flat
whites. The warm
bitterness in a paper
cup. Getting to know
the freckle on your chin.
How we first met.
Your house was hardly
a home. How I learned to live
in the red zone.
Crystal Ignatowski, Memories of a Place I Once Knew

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poetry Twitter was rocked by a series of explosions, but in the blogosphere (do we still call it that?) poets seem to be largely staying the course, as Sandra Beasley puts it: not complacent, but taking the crises on board, learning from them, and continuing to read, write, and rage in our own ways.

Many people in the literary world have had a strange past week, where the waves of news have included the seeming implosion of an independent press, the exposure of a fraudulent agent, the revelation of a serial manipulator in our midst, and the publication of an offensively lousy poem in a prominent forum. Then we discovered water seeping through the floor of our living room. The universe, it seems, is trying every which way to keep me from taking pleasure in poetry.

But I’m going to stay my course, in part because I’m so determined to finish my manuscript by the end of the summer. Even on the days otherwise unproductive I’ve tried for a bit of revising, tinkering, fussing with order. And I’m thinking a lot about what makes a poem a worthwhile endeavor, why we do what we do.

Allison Titus is a writer I’ve been following and appreciating for a while now, and in a recent interview with Bennington Review she says this:

When I get excited about a poem, it’s always the same way, that I respond most to poets/poems that arrest me and startle me back to attention (to the world, to life, to living) all over again, in some strange or intense manner: I’m always mostly desperate to be staggered/astonished/undone (by the world and thus by language). I just really all the time want to be rearranged; Robert Creeley is really good at doing this to me (“I heard words / and words full / of holes / aching. Speech / is a mouth.”). When I’m working on my own poems, I like most to be surprised by something that develops/materializes in the way that feels as “true” as it feels wild, crucial, off-kilter.

This captures something really right to me, something essential. One of the things I’ve emphasized recently, in teaching and editing as well as my own work, is the importance of making space for the wild unknown. We often use the rhetoric of a poem’s “landscape,” but in this context the cartography is both science and art–we need to admit and honor elements that surprise us, that don’t fit on first glance. This feels especially important as I work on a fourth collection, and gently resist my natural inclination to plot and plan as a way of easing anxiety over how little control I have over where and how this book lands.
Sandra Beasley, “I just really all the time want to be rearranged” ~ Allison Titus

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Here, the sliders, the shiny-shelled, the leggy things
are eclipsed in nature: walls and trees bear their weight
in a symbiosis of colour, form and texture.
          Good to see them free, untrammeled,
          where they ought to be amongst the webs,
          the moth husks and the tendrils.
Dick Jones, MORAIRA 1

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About summer sun: She is shining in Sequim and all over the Pacific NW, and it’s hilarious that after barely a month, people who have lived here much longer than I have are complaining about the heat, when it’s 80 degrees and the rest of the country is sweltering and burning. I am bathing in light and warmth and a little sad because the days are already getting shorter. […]

What I’m reading: an advance review copy of “The Final Voicemails” (Max Ritvo) and “Birds of the Pacific Northwest”.

What I’m writing: I’m working on a new poetry manuscript titled “why I hate to cry”. I’m also dusting off a novel and made a commitment to attend a workshop next spring to work on it.

What I’m submitting: Poems to impossible journals- so I can reach 100 rejections before the end of the year.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Sun, Son, and Mourning: an Update

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I hesitate to explain too much about any of my poems because I want the reader to have her own experience with art. That’s a sacred space to me. I will say the poem was inspired by actual events, and it is dedicated to the girls from Galveston County that did not get to grow up, like me. I have not forgotten them.

How do you decide when or if to explain your work? I’m curious. I think I’m more on the Cormac McCarthy end of the continuum.

TLR asked contributors to record our work and the put it on Soundcloud for free. I think hearing a litmag instead of reading it is a great way to enter these pieces. Despite the weird aversion to my own voice (many of us have this strange reaction). I think I will save the audible issue for my next long drive.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, my daughter forgets to lock the door

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Great to be in Under the Radar alongside so many poets I respect, particularly Mike Barlow. However, I want to draw your attention to a friend of mine, Joe Caldwell, who teaches English in Sheffield. Not an easy thing to do, teach and write, but Joe manages it because he’s disciplined, and loves what he does.

Poetry’s not just about finding time to write, is it? It’s the push to send work out, deal with the rejections, edit, read something new, maybe start again, research magazines, track submission windows, try to go to a reading or two in between, attend workshops, read more, keep reading, berate yourself for not doing enough of any of these things, be happy for a fleeting moment when an acceptance comes your way, then worry that you haven’t got enough new work to send elsewhere.

And somewhere along the way, someone will have asked you what you do in your spare time!
Julie Mellor, Under the Radar

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I’m almost always suffering some dire form of suspense and trying to ignore it. Long publishing cycles are a large part of that–I have many mss out there and the odds of success don’t favor me. Often I can receive a rejection with a philosophical shrug, or go for weeks without thinking about a particular submission. On a rational level, I know it’s not personal, and it’s not helpful or healthy to get revved up over such extended, uncertain processes. But I am not rational every hour of every day. Ahem.

Because I spend so much effort trying to calm the hell down, it’s funny to realize I like suspense. In all forms of writing, it helps keep readers on the line. In novels and Netflix, I crave a zippy plot–strong characters in some condition of risk, to which events and feelings keep happening, unpredictably. In poems, I love that gasp-inducing opener that keeps you suspended, sometimes with a plot question (what’s going to happen?) and sometimes with another kind of problem, an image that begs unraveling or a pattern that needs resolution.

I started writing about poetry and suspense four years ago, for a book ms I spent a few years finishing and revising and am still in suspense about. I just reworked that material for a craft talk I’m giving Tuesday for the brand-new Randolph MFA in Creative Writing, at which I’ll be a visiting professor (seriously, click on that link and check out their regular faculty–Gary Dop is doing an amazing job). I hope to revise it again after this week’s adventures and send it out as an essay. In the process, I dug up a related blog from 2014, and it’s fascinating to see what I was in suspense about then: a ms, of course (it became Radioland), and a bad situation at work (which got worse before it got better, but is vastly improved now).

The latter involved a sickening rather than interesting variety of suspense, but a little suspense in life, as in art, can be good. I’m in many ways in a lucky situation, but I don’t want my life to be exactly the same or completely predictable for the next twenty years. That’s partly why I drafted a novel a couple of years ago, to try something new and see where it took me. I revised it heavily this spring–not for the first time!–and it’s now with a second reader at a small press I greatly admire. I’m in suspense about it, but the reader is expecting twins soon, so she’s in rather more suspense than I am. I need to cool my jets. It’s not easy.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and suspense: more twists

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Some of my little wins this week have been poem-related. Something happened Monday morning and I woke up with ideas for poems and they’ve been coming pretty steadily — five fully-developed — but naturally in need of time and reflection and editing — poems so far this week, which is actually more than double the amount of poems I’ve written in the past six months.

Something that might be “problematic” is that they aren’t poems that are part of the Repeat Pattern project I’m working on with M.S. and neither are they part of the verse play, but such problems are welcome problems. It’s nice to write something and afterwards recognize that it’s not just a “clearing of the throat” or merely evidence of “showing up” to the page . . . which so much of my morning writing has been these past few months.

In other-wins, I received an email from the Bread Loaf Sicily program this week asking for the manuscript that we’ll be using during the week-long workshop in September. While I’m not overly anxious to be in a workshop again, it’s a nice reminder that within two months I’ll be in Italy, far far away from Long Island and Stuffolk and all its nonsense, and part of a small literary community for a few brief days (something I am looking forward to doing again).
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Setting Small Fires (My Week of Mood Swings, Poem Writing, and Demolition)

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Since returning home from Sicily, I have been steeped in creative work and tending our vegetable gardens, which are growing by leaps and bounds. […]

I have been writing a lot of essays and poems, trying to recapture the best of the experience. […] Thus far, 3 poems and two essays have been selected for publication. What a thrill that is, especially when it’s challenging to make scenes as poignant as being there.

Maybe that is always the challenge. Besides writing about Sicily, I have been working on my 100 word story collection. Hoping to put together one hundred 100 word stories. I am writing 1-2 stories a day. Everything and anything can trigger a story. The characters, for the most part, are quirky and behaving badly, or are strangely righteous, or just trying to get by, day by day, and make sense of their lives. These stories are so different from my poetry, and I am having a lot of fun writing these terse ironic scenes. It’s deliciously wicked, letting readers “see” the underside of situations.
M.J. Iuppa, Oh Sicily, I miss you…

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Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Short-form poetry is addictive, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. There are an endless number of publications to submit to. There are an endless number of contests to enter. And it is very, very easy to get caught up in the fray of accumulating accolades and credits and comparing. I know I did. If you begin to compare your creative trajectory to someone else’s, you will run the risk of extinguishing your own unique fire.

Q~You are also a visual artist. How do you balance your creative interests? How do they interplay if at all?

A~At this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way I can be successful at all of my ventures all the time, which has been a freeing and humbling revelation. There are times when I want to write poetry and only poetry, and then there are times when I feel compelled to exclusively create in a visual manner. I try to follow my inspiration and not force anything. Because I am both a poet and visual artist, people frequently ask if I’ve tried haiga (a combination of art and haiku). Believe me, I’ve tried it. I’m terrible at it, and the irony of that isn’t lost on me. But, I am OK with that. I enjoy poetry for what it is in my life, and the same goes for my visual art. In many ways, I like that they exist in separate spheres.
Bekah Steimel, Far From Home / An interview with poet Tiffany Shaw-Diaz

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I’m an inveterate recycler. I have a compost pile and six chickens so I can turn food scraps into soil and eggs. I love repurposed items: quilts sewn from old clothes, wind chimes made of bent spoons, collages of torn magazine pages. Therefore, I was delighted to discover that poet Eileen R. Tabios has created a database made up of 1,167 lines of her own poetry, selected from 27 of her previously published books.

She calls it the “The MDR Poetry Generator” (I referred to this in the July 16, 2018 issue of Sticks & Stones, which includes a review of Tabios’ book Love in a Time of Belligerence). Her new book Murder Death Resurrection (2018 Dos Madres Press) describes the five-year project of creating this database. In the introduction she writes, “The MDR Poetry Generator’s conceit is that any combination of its 1,167 lines succeeds in creating a poem. Thus, one can create – generate – new poems unthinkingly from its database.”

Each line in the MDR database starts with the words “I forgot.” Tabios writes, “Through my perceptions of abstraction and cubism, I’ve written poems whose lines are not fixed in order and, indeed, can be reordered.” I find this non-linear aspect wonderfully liberating. I can see its application in teaching poetry to children, or to people learning English, or as an exercise in creativity. (The book includes a teaching guide and workshop suggestion.)

Tabios’ database inspired me to create my own repository of poetic lines, but instead of using published poems, I decided to search through my old notebooks and journals…
Erica Goss, How to Create a Poetry Database

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Last year my friend Hayden Saunier, a poet and actor, came up with an idea to change up what a traditional poetry reading is like. She invited a handful of people to a meeting at her house, and there No River Twice was born.

No River Twice is a poetry improvisational group. Our group poetry readings don’t have planned reading lists, reader orders or themes–they’re completely spontaneous and responsive to audience input. At a NRT reading, the poets take cues and suggestions from the audience and each other, so each performance is unique, the poems interconnect, weave and flow in a unique way that connects the readers to the listeners. We’re not inventing new poems on the spot, but we’re inventing new synergies, which makes each performance collaborative and new.

We held our first public performance in January at Fergie’s in Philadelphia, and have had a few since. Our next one will kick off the new Caesura poetry conference in Phoenixville, PA, August 17.

It’s hard to explain exactly what NRT is, so you should just come to one of our events–it’ll change the way you think about poetry readings.
Grant Clauser, Check out No River Twice, Poetry Improv that’s Never the Same Reading Twice

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I’ve been laying a little low while dealing with MS symptom misery, but not low enough to avoid reading about scandal after scandal this week! A woman scams the literary world (and I mean, why would you target the literary community? It’s a community without a lot of money. Go pick on a richer group! And she was particularly targeting feminist writers. Did I mention I think I was Facebook friends with her at some point in the past?) And another literary agent was just accused of fraud, even writing fake letters with offers from presses to writers she worked with. Yikes! Writers beware, indeed. And a terrible poem that offended about just about every group that exists was published and that also caused a scandal. (Note: Persona poetry is not a crime, but maybe try to avoid taking the identity of someone who might be underrepresented…Also, it was not a good persona poem because it relied too much on obvious cliches…The editors of the magazine involved are really nice, hyper-socially-aware writers, which begs the question of…well, hey, even good editors have off days…) I tried to avoid getting too involved in the scandal and gossip maelstrom on Twitter etc. It is funny how many people would rather get together and hate on a poem than ever ever talk about something positive about a different poem. Ah well. Such is social media. Which brings me to the importance of in-person writer time!

Much more uplifting – real life time spent with real life writers! Spent a whole lovely day with Kelli Russell Agodon talking about our latest poetry manuscripts, the poetry world, and, bonus, I got a 20-minute Instagram tutorial on hashtags (which I needed because I am still so clueless on Instagram.) Glenn put out strawberry cupcakes and sparkling rose from the winery next door and it was just so nice to relax and spend time with another writer one-on-one. Plus, I was able to tackle my manuscript revisions the next day, so now I feel like I have a better, more complete version of my manuscript to send out.

Glenn and I drove Kels down to the Edmonds ferry and hung out on the beach to watch her leave. The sunset was beautiful and the breeze off the Puget Sound was perfect.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Heat Waves and Poetry Scandals, Poetry Writer Dates, and Sending Out Work in the Summer

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Over a decade ago through the magic of the internet and the wonder of email, I “met” a poet who lived far away in the southwest named Lisha Adela Garcia. We never met in person, though.

Lisha was putting together her very first full-length poetry collection and thought I might be of assistance. I’ve worked as a poetry manuscript organizer and editor for many years, and I was delighted to take a look at her poems.

The poems were amazing of course! And they turned into her wonderful, acclaimed collection, Blood Rivers, published in 2009.

Through the magic of web ether, Lisha and I have stayed in touch.

But despite never meeting in person, I always felt we had a deep connection.

The connection of our mutual love of poetry, certainly.

But it felt like so much more, too.

A soul connection, if you will. Maybe you’ve felt that too?

As if our life experiences sent us along similar paths.

I’ve always wanted to meet Lisha, hear her voice in person, look into her eyes.

And last week, I finally got the chance as she passed through my town on the way to a reading for her newly published book, A Rope of Luna.
Lana Ayers, Friendship Across the Ether

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So many. So many. We are
not alone. We are together.
We are a forest in autumn,
full of ripe fruit, bright fruit, bright words
to carve the light, the light that carves

us. We are sharp, crisp with edges,
with wounds. We are soft, moist and warm
as if coming out of ovens,
out of caverns, weak with hunger,
fading, yes, but first, branches blaze.
PF Anderson, Leaflet

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After some readings on metaphor and language, I tackled A Grammar of Metaphor (1958) by Christine Brooke-Rose. Admittedly, I was hampered in my reading by my lack of facility in the jargon and structure of what used to be, but is no longer, “basic” English grammar. It did help that I have read The Trivium and could refer to it now and again; and of course it helps to have a background in poetry and literature, though not one nearly as thorough as Brooke-Rose’s. I definitely can add this one to the “difficult books” I have enjoyed, and benefited from, reading.

The grammar part of metaphor was not something I took into much account when I studied poetry. Certainly, when I read for pleasure, I do not analyze for grammar. Poets often experiment with grammar–altering syntax purposefully, creating sentence fragments, run-on sentences, new compound words, jarring phrases, all in an effort to make something happen in the poem. That “something” may be sound, dream, argument, exhortation, emotion, surprise, pattern, recognition, or a matter of perspective on outlooks, worldviews, culture, tasks, the personal. I do not read for such insights until I want to return to the poem and find out how the poet managed to make the amazing process of language work upon me.
Ann E. Michael, Difficult books, iterum

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In the ever-astonishing Brain Pickings, Maria Popova’s treasure trove of ideas delivered right to my email inbox, I read some excerpts from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Dweck’s idea is that there are two types of mindsets that people have about themselves, mindsets that shape how we think about ourselves and the challenges we meet in life: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. She says this: “When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world — the world of fixed traits — success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other — the world of changing qualities — it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself. In one world, failure is about having a setback….It means you’re not smart or talented. In the other world, failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.”

And as usual these days when I consider something presented as a duality, I think, yes, and yes; therefore, no, the idea of a duality is just not appropriate. Spectrum, maybe. Spiral, perhaps. Of two minds, probably.

At any given moment, confronted with any particular challenge, I enter both those mindsets. What I do next depends on which one wins, which one wins depends on any number of factors, including how motivated I am with regard to the particular challenge, how distracted I am by something else outside of the particular challenge (hunger, having to pee, whatever), who I’m imagining is my judge and jury if I am imagining one, and what the next required step might be.

I used to play a fair amount of tennis and never got much better at it. At first I had a growth mindset, then, after I while, I had a fuckit mindset. I mean, a fixed mindset. Fixed on never playing that stupid fucking game again.

Often when I get a writing rejection, my thinking goes something like this: oh-crap-why-do-I-suck-I’m-so-not-good-enough-not-smart-enough-I- quit-okay-well-wait-maybe-I’ve-learned-X-about-this-and-so-I’m-going-to-try-this-new-approach. Or sometimes I think: okay-I’ve-tried-X-and-Y-and-Z-and-learned-these-things-but-I’m-not-achieving-what-I-want-and-seem-not-to-be-particularly-good-at-this-and-am-tired-of-trying-so-I’m-going-to-stop.
Marilyn McCabe, I’m Rubber, I’m Glue; or How Mindset Affects Action

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Roy Marshall’s poems in the Traces section of his latest collection, The Great Animator (Shoestring Press), are inspired by his nursing experience in coronary care and research. Self-effacing to the last, Roy is one of the most talented writers I know. Having read the collection soon after its publication last year, I was pleased to hear Roy read some of these poems at Lowdham book festival, last month.

My pre-ordered copy of Josephine Corcoran’s What Are You After? (Nine Arches Press) arrived just in time for me to read it from cover to cover before her launch reading at the Nine Arches Press tenth birthday bash. I was particularly pleased, then, that she included ‘Love in the Time of Hospital Visits’ among the poems she chose to read on the day. To say that I identify strongly with this poem is an understatement. You can read it here on the Bookanista site.

Poet and indefatigable blogger John Foggins has around 70 years of ‘form’ with the NHS. Last year, he invited his blog readers to send him poems about hospitals and their experience of them. They make for interesting and varied reading. You’ll find them all in his How Are You Feeling? series of posts starting here.
Jayne Stanton, One year on: Thank You, NHS!

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J35 carries her dead baby on her rostrum. Days pass. She doesn’t eat. Her human guardians say we won’t give up as long as she doesn’t.

I cry suddenly, helplessly, seeing her photograph, the beloved corpse pushed on her exhalation.
JJS, July 27, 2018: bad trouble

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Something blue,
this poem, the color of robin eggs,
the color of robin song,

of this day, holding us together
against gravity
for the rest of our lives.
Claudia Serea, Against gravity

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

This week found poetry bloggers writing about where language and poetry come from, dreams, travel, reading, workshopping, and social media… among other things.

The smudgy morning, the colors
on the news, the ticking of the kettle
as it warms. Some things remain
unhinged inside me. Your mouth
no longer opening,
opening up.
Crystal Ignatowski, The Day After Your Death

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At present, my interests in language revolve about the other end of the lifespan of human communication–the loss of language abilities as people age. The elderly Beloveds in my life are displaying markedly differing changes in how they experience, and express, cognitive gaps. Often the expression of such gaps appears in the way they speak.

This would be the opposite of language acquisition. Memory losses, or slower memory retrieval functions, are common to most adults over age 70; but those issues do not necessarily affect sentence structure, vocabulary, pronunciation, descriptive abilities, and emotive communication through language. Strokes, neurovascular constriction, and Alzheimer’s disease, among other physiological alterations, can exert marked effects on verbal and written communication, however. Hearing loss and diminished vision exacerbate these problems.

All too often, the human being seems “lost” beneath the symptoms or becomes isolated as a result of the immense challenges to human relationships we have taken for granted for decades of being relatively “non-impaired.”

The loss of language skills intrigues me as much as the acquisition; my readings in neuropsychology and neurobiology have taught me that there is so much yet to learn about the brain and how it processes—well, almost everything (but my special interest is communication).

And my experience with people who are aging, or in some cases—my hospice volunteer work—dying, demonstrates on a personal or anecdotal level how uniquely individual each one of us is. How we communicate, how we express ourselves, our neurological processes, our physiology, temperament, environment, genetic makeup…so gloriously complex, random, fascinating.
Ann E. Michael, Language acquisition & its opposite

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Q~A poem from your latest collection was the inspiration for the June blog challenge on caregiving at Wilda Morris’s blog. How did that come about? Also, please tell us more about your collection.

A~Wilda is a colleague of mine and a terrific poet. I’ve learned a lot through her about how to take my work seriously, how to revise, and how to critique other’s work. She was one of the earlier reviewers of my manuscript, The Caregiver, before it got published. The collection was written over a 15-year span of time when I served as family caregiver to both of my parents, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Encephalitis. The poems are narrative and tell their story, but I believe they speak to anyone who has seen their loved ones age, or suffer from debilitating illnesses. […]

Q~What do you believe is the poet’s role in society?

A~I believe in Carolyn Forche’s philosophy to be a “poet of witness.” You have to write about what you see, what you witness. We have to be voices for those who can’t speak. It is a vital role, and I am still working on it.
Bekah Steimel, Barista / An interview with poet Caroline Johnson

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A moment goes by in a flash or expands into the unstoppable. A moment can change everything. That’s what I’m thinking about and exploring in this fragment of (possible) verse. What was happening just before? How did she feel? How did the discerning moment alter her reality? An open heart can shut down in a moment such as this. It’s good to think about the before and after, to examine the reaction and the reason for it. Putting confused feelings into words isn’t easy – every word counts – and memory can throw you a curve ball. Perception of an event can change with time, causing a kind of dilution of the original feelings making a capture of those feelings like chasing a butterfly.
Charlotte Hamrick, A Fragment

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I depend on my immediate world to supply grist for my work. Some days everything sounds like poetry, and sometimes nothing does. While I’m often entranced by the busy, multi-chromatic noises of schedules and appointment calendars, I often need to subvert those notes before I can hear the whisper that signifies deep, fresh language.

For me, reading is a reliable way to begin, and reading with a pencil is best. I don’t think that it matters what you read, as long as it interests you. Poems, a George Eliot novel, the Science Daily website—write down a sentence, a line, or an image that intrigues you. Make a list. Mix and match. Try at least a page of these, then see what links them, or what sparks when you rub a few together. Don’t worry about changing or altering what you find, or throwing away most of what you collect. It’s a way to shift the brain from the humdrum to the surprising.
Getting Started after Not Writing for A While – guest blog post by Joyce Peseroff (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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Poet James Merrill’s book The Changing Light at Sandover was composed in part with a Ouija board, which Merrill and his partner were so obsessed with that Truman Capote referred to their house as “Creepyville.” Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath also experimented with Ouija-based poetry composition, less successfully it appears. Merrill, on the reality of spirit communication:

“If it’s still yourself that you’re drawing upon,” he said, “then that self is much stranger and freer and more far-seeking than the one you thought you knew.” And at another point: “If the spirits aren’t external, how astonishing the mediums become!” [p. 79]

Dylan Tweney, Occult America (book notes)

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KO’d, pain bouncing and hopping in victory, waving gloves in the air over me, I pass out.

In the black, there are hands: big hands, and muscular. There is my body, laid out unconscious. The hands reach into the small of my back, fingers ripping flesh so easily they might be parting a curtain. They sink all the way in, those hands, then tear apart: I am cracked open, I am torn and shattered muscle, blood, and bone. Separated like silk, like water, but for the pain, the sound of the structure itself cracking–being ripped apart is nothing soft, leaves nothing soft in this world.

Later, I’ll sleep again.

I’ll dream again.

It rises when stirred, the silt of lake-bottom.
JJS, July 18, 2018: in the dark

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I am alone. Beside me the world has cracked
like an egg, jagged and stretching over the horizon,
only a foot wide, but an abyss.
Sarah Russell, In the dream

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I used to feel so alien, so out-of-water in London but, over time, I’ve come to terms with that feeling of anonymity I experience there, more than anywhere else I’ve ever visited. In fact, it’s quite freeing, on occasion. Wednesday brought conversations with strangers: on the choice of breakfast breads with a woman on the next table at Le Pain Quotidien; on the joys of new babies and breastfeeding with a young mother as we shared a bench at St Pancras station; on poetry and discovering friends-in-common with three fellow passengers on the return train journey to Market Harborough (my copy of Under the Radar magazine proved a great conversation starter).
Jayne Stanton, Re-fuelling the writer: a day trip to London

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The population of Hayden [Colorado] is around 1500 depending on which census one reads. […] The Hayden Public Library has graciously offered to let me do a reading there on Wednesday, July 18, and in the morning, thanks Jane and Ana Lark. I’ll be doing a workshop with third through seventh graders in the morning also. I’m not sure what to expect. Even the smallest town I’ve ever lived in had thousands and thousands more in residence. Based on the conversation I had with Ana, the head librarian, I’m saying that the modus operandi is open arms! Not a lot of rules. Flexibility about everything. Salad bar provided with the poetry reading. Graciousness. I like it! Less anxiety, more pleasure. Today I learned that someone who runs a factory that makes yarn LOVES poetry, and she wants to know if I’d be interested in having another book-signing at her factory. What opportunity for doing that is there in Chicagoland! And having it be arranged only days before my arrival.
Gail Goepfert, POSTCARDS, ORIGAMI, AND YARN

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I did my regular 20 minute memorised set that features poems from my pamphlet, Dressing Up (Cinnamon Press, 2017) plus three poems that are not in the pamphlet; Silent Nights and Speaking to the Birds are chapters 1 and 10 respectively from a short story in verse I aim to have ready for publication as part of my first collection, and Colours, a poem about how blind people still have favourite colours.

This was the third time I’ve read with a microphone angled millimetres from my mouth … this time I managed to read without bopping it with my hand whilst reading Speaking to the Birds, in which I gesture once to the left and once to the right, and when reaching for my bottle of water to lubricate the delivery between poems.
Giles L. Turnbull, Ye Olde Poetry

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Over the past two weeks I’ve also read Ada Limon’s fourth poetry collection Bright Dead Things, published by Milkweed Editions, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. It’s one of my new favorites. My copy is ridiculously dog-eared. I have this aversion to writing in my books — I do annotate, but in a notebook, usually — and so I fold down corners of poems I like especially. This method loses its effectiveness when the majority of the pages are folded down, as is what happened with this collection. It’s a beautiful book, with vivid gorgeous images, musical moments, and a clarity of vision and voice that delivers quiet, moving insight into the way we live and love and grieve. I heart this book.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Podcasts, Poetry, and Post-post-post Modern Memoir (and Wild Turkeys and Bathroom Demo)

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I’m not a forgive-and-forgetter. I’m more of a I’ll-let-it-go-this-time-but-it’s-going-in-your-permanent-record type. So you’d think I’d enjoy a good revenge fantasy poem. But, having encountered a couple recently, I find I feel impatient with them. Why? Do I think art should show the best we can be, not the worst? The best AND the worst, maybe. But revenge fantasy, nor even actual revenge, is not the worst of us. It’s the pettiest of us. And for that, perhaps, it has not, at least in these few poems I read, fulfilled for me the act of art. I can do petty any old day. It takes real strength of imagination to conjure the worst of the human impulse. And the best. I ask from poems this kind of imagination. In a revenge tale, there’s always a bad guy and the victim, even if the roles reverse. And the victim’s act of revenge has an aura of holy justice about it, no matter how bad is the act. There is a god-like nature of the revenge act that is not as interesting to me as the exploration of the flawed and contradictory human nature.
Marilyn McCabe, The Best Revenge: or, Writing the Human

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So now I’ve completely given up social media–so long Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. If you’d like updates—here they are!

Why am I done with being social? For a number of reasons–fake news makes me anxious, vacation pictures can make me jealous, there’s the temptation to put on a show. Ultimately, social media is NOT about being social or keeping up with friends–it is about showing off. Whether its your kids cute smile or your new car, it is in a way showing off.

And there’s also the fact that the wealthy behind-the-scenes elite use social media to control the masses and influence their emotions, thoughts, and actions…..

I kept it for so long thinking that I needed it to market my poetry–guess what? I don’t believe social media makes a drop in the bucket difference when it comes to selling poetry books. Not. A. Drop. I think that people buy books that get reviewed and that get recommended and get taught, and those are all avenues worth pursuing when it comes to marketing a book.

So I’m done with it. Why give my time to something that wants to control me? If you want to know how I am, you’ve got my number.
Renee Emerson, so long social media

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Thinking about the deeper meaning is a process I have repeated many times since then. Instead of posting [to social media], I do more thinking. I do not know if I am a better activist for it. I do know that making time for deeper thinking has made me a better writer and poet. Writing an op-ed feels like a more substantial act than a Facebook post, but does an op-ed contribute to social change? Does a poem? I do not know; perhaps not.

Real-time social media posts have changed our society. From Standing Rock to police brutality to ICE raids, smartphone recordings of crucial moments help people document and respond to injustice. First-hand accounts available on social media are unlike traditional news. From the hand of an ordinary person, a video on social media can teach a society about what is actually happening.

Part of the poet’s process allows thought to carve deep. As poets and activists, we need to use our tools to gather and distribute information, but we also need to be vigilant about how multi-billion dollar companies and corporate governments seek to undermine our work with intricate, sinister plans. We use corporate platforms to do our work, but at the same time, these corporations use us.

The survival of ourselves, our neighbors, and our planet may depend on what we do with our tools. We do not have time to waste.
Poetry, Social Media, and Activism – guest blog post by Freesia McKee (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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I spent the past 6 days going to a morning poetry workshop at the Port Townsend Writers Conference with a group of 12 poets, led by Ilya Kaminsky. If you are a poet and you’ve never met, or work-shopped with Ilya, I urge you to do so if you can. He is the most generous, funny, creative and insightful of the many wonderful poets I have work-shopped with at PTWC (and elsewhere) over the past 10 years, each of them delightful in their own way. How Ilya stands out is for his process, his ability to converse with poetry, his teaching savvy, his inventiveness in overcoming any barriers to getting the poem written. And his generosity, especially. He spent his lunch hours holding in-depth individual conferences with each of us.

I’ve been in a “poetry cloud” for the past week, and need to return to earth. Return to hospice visits, clinic work, volunteering, and the general decline of civilization. Spending time with poets this week reminds me that there is kindness, generosity, and creativity in this world, and that our work does matter.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse Resurfacing

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

It’s high summer in the northern hemisphere, and for many poets this week, that seems to have triggered reflections on productivity, perhaps because for most of us, poetry writing is something we look forward to doing on vacation. I guess that’s good, because it implies that we think of it in part as a leisure pursuit, an avocation as much as a vocation. Summer’s also the time for poetry festivals, writing retreats, and of course, extra reading. I’ll admit, I don’t always find hot, humid weather conducive to good writing myself, in part because it’s so damn hard to sleep…

Head-exploding insomniac connections firing: Athena and Penelope
incarnations of each other, all a plot device, see, and Pan, there’s always Pan—

(Get it? Get it?) What, she thinks suddenly, is even happening
to my arms
, whose flesh is this, so loom-muscled, weaving water itself

into story, into a new body with which kingdoms shall be run
by guile, yes, by wile, epithets carefully-chosen; Penelope and Odysseus

incarnations of each other too, and Circe, let’s not even pretend
she’s different from the rest of us, I could turn you all to pigs

and you’d be cleaner, ya Trump-voting motherfuckers, Circe said…
JJS, July 7, 2018: Penelope as Lady of the Lake

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I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew this summer and that’s just fine with me. I have work to do: a thesis adviser who needs to see ten new poems in the fall, a chapbook to assemble and send out to the masses, a bunch of poems on audio to edit, a podcast to create, 17 more hours of film to screen for the Austin Film Festival, a few graphic narrative poems to illustrate, four or five drafts of poetry blog posts started but not finished, and two essays to complete and send off for hopeful publication in a litmag. I’m in sweet, heavenly, artmaking bliss.

I really am. I love all this creation happening inside and all around me. It’s exciting and makes me happy. And ain’t nobody making me do this. It’s my own, wonderful, glorious work (sure wish I’d get paid for it, though). The only things getting in my way are a full-time job doing none of this stuff during prime “I feel creative” time, and the other full-time job of raising three precious children and taking care of my family, my home, myself.

This is not a sob story. You, dear poetry reader, may know just how I feel. Maybe not now but possibly at a different time in your life. I have learned to juggle and forgive myself and finally to just start, dammit, stop putting it off. That’s how the art gets made. That’s how the words are put on the page and the paint stays wet. Just trudging on.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, 1000 words + two sylvias = making art

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Though I keep my poetry writing time consistent—not long, but everyday, with reading and notes—I find that my creativity and actual-finishing-of-poems varies, depending on what is going on in life. And, as cliche as it is, I suppose suffering does beget poetry.

I don’t want to go into detail, but I will say of all the problems we could have, ours is not a Dire one (it doesn’t threaten those I love in a permanent way) but it is a problem and a cause of Stress, though it is so romanticized (only in such wealthy societies can it be looked at as romantic to be an orphan or very poor). We have our health and each other.

But it is a sizeable problem with no easy solution and so I supposed that all my poetry writing would come to a complete stop as we wonder and pray and wonder. However, I’ve written more poetry in this month than I had in the earlier half of the entire year.
Renee Emerson, When Between a Poem and a Hard Place…

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I got back from teaching and had two days to unpack my suitcase. Then I re-packed it for the Berkshires. We made the seven-hour drive and I co-hosted a poetry symposium in a quirky new hotel space, TOURISTS; a reimagined motor lodge in North Adams, Massachusetts, thanks to the vision of Scott Stedman and Jeff Gordinier. There was hugs with Beth Ann Fennelly and Erika Meitner and January Gill O’Neil and finally meeting Rachel Zucker, new friends, poem-toasts, an oddly tasty spread of pork and Calabrian chiles on seed bread thanks to Cortney Burns, wandering through the woods to the chime chapel, more poems around an open fire, Jeff & company’s late arrival from the Esquire thing, touring Mass MOCA (Louise Bourgeois & James Turrell & Anselm Kiefer), lunch at Bright Ideas Brewing, a p*cha k*cha talk, broccoli rabe with wood-ear mushrooms, beet salad, more reciting of poems, live music from Sean Rowe (whose foraging expedition I’d missed earlier in the day while on the hunt for a digital projector), following Jan’s lead to talk about fostering inclusivity in the literary scene, finally meeting Laurie’s brother (which made me miss Mississippi), more beet salad, introducing some folks to Tommy Pico’s Nature Poem, learning one of my co-conspirators had been Tommy’s classmate, getting up to the top of Mount Greylock, and stopping off for a Sam Gilliam glimpse and dinner in Troy on the way home.

Issue 18 of Barrelhouse came out, with my essay on “Pioneers of the Digital Trail.” If you want an essay that name-checks Mavis Bacon, Carmen Sandiego, Number Muncher, The Oregon Trail, The Secret of Monkey Island, and pained teenage love affairs, this is the essay for you. You can’t find the text online–thank god–but the issue is for sale here, and they typically sell out every print run.

And somewhere in there, I wrote a 3,000-word craft essay about sestinas that is scheduled to run in American Poets.

The funny thing is that when I came here to explain my June absence, I felt nothing but a sense of failure–a silent blog, a wasted month, and a fixation on the deadlines that were missed and are still pending, rather than any of the ones met. This despite an envelope full of thank-you notes that arrived from the KIPP students. Don’t let the corrosions of the world fool you, friends. Please keep doing the good work that I know you are doing.
Sandra Beasley, June

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Turns out this is a good year for blackberries. The canes are loaded with fruit and weighted with vining wild grapes and honeysuckle. The latter bloomed rather late this year and are still putting forth fragrant flowers. The marvelous scent made berry-picking quite soothing.

Soon, the catbirds and orioles and everyone else will be harvesting these berries. Despite their thorns (which didn’t deter me, either).

~

It has been far too hot to work in the garden, however; so I have been writing, and submitting work to literary journals, and even painting a little–something I have not done in years. Finding ways to be both creative and relaxed. Much needed.
Ann E. Michael, Berrying

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What a full-on week it’s been: a glorious mix of poetry, music and family. Consequently it’s Sunday evening already and I’ve only just sat down in front of my PC to write this week’s blog post.

The poetry highlight of my week was my first visit to Ledbury Poetry Festival. This has been on my wish list (recently renamed my Life’s For Living list) for some time, so I’m pleased that, at last, I’m able to put some of my poetry plans into action.

As Ledbury is a small market town, it was quick and easy to move between venues without getting lost (I found I didn’t really use the street guide I’d picked up at the festival office). The festival is extremely well-organised and executed with a warm and friendly vibe. Add to this an uneventful return road trip on well-behaved motorways, a spot of retail therapy along The Homend and an overnight stay in a thatched country cottage B & B: just the ticket!
Jayne Stanton, Ledbury Poetry Festival

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I wrote in June: I’ve been trying to juggle the availabilities of 7 guest poets against those of four or five possible venues. It’s like herding cats and knitting fog. I’m in open-mouthed admiration of anyone who manages to run a poetry festival. How are they sane afterwards? Right now I’ve not managed to book a single venue. At this rate I’ll be putting it off till September. We shall see. Well, I made all the arrangements. Lovely venues like the stunning Halifax Central Library which is stitched into the even more stunning Piece Hall, and also the splendid Hyde Park Book Club in Leeds. I bought drinks and nibbles and napkins and paper plates..all that. I ordered too many books from the printer. I had not allowed for hot weather nor for football. It was a delight to read with wonderfully talented poets…Gaia Holmes, Vicky Gatehouse, Alicia Fernandez, Tom Weir, Ian Harker. It was a shame that we almost outnumbered the audience. But gods bless the ones who came, anyway. Was it worth it? Yes. It’s always worth it. Why write, otherwise. And there’s still one launch reading to go. Fingers crossed.

There’s been furniture moving, and painting and decorating, and mixing cement and raking-out and pointing, too. Some wall mending, thrown in, and more to come. It all distracts from ‘the work’, and the less you write, the less you write, and then you get frustrated, you lose all the carefully hoarded vestiges of serenity, and you might just lose your temper and do something(s) you regret.
John Foggin, The tigers of wrath, and an (un)discovered gem: David Spencer

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Usually the summertime brings a flurry of activity to my part of the country, people desperate to get outdoors and in the brief season of sun, and usually also unofficially doesn’t start until the day after July 4 – and this kind of weather is why. By next weekend we’re supposed to be back in the sunny seventies, and I hope I’m over this cold/MS double-hit by then! I’m not a sun-lover – MS folks are supposed to avoid sun and heat, and I was allergic to the sun since I was a kid (hence my lovely vampire-esque complexion, LOL.) But the long string of grey days gave me time to think about how I’m spending my time, how much time I should give to political activism vs arguing politics on social media, to dealing with insurance/prescription/medical-related nonsense (it could literally take over my entire life if I let it, but it’s dangerous to ignore it) and writing new work vs revision vs manuscript shaping vs submitting vs writing. How much time I can afford to spend alone in nature, which seems to me to be restorative both health-wise and spiritually. I’m usually a go-go-go type of girl, but MS has taken a bit of that out of me, and being a bit slower and more deliberate hasn’t actually really made my life worse, though I often feel frustrated by not “getting enough done.” I have to quit judging my life by the amount I get done, and start appreciating the good things that happen without a deadline, outside of time.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poems in Tinderbox, a New Review of PR for Poets, a new Poetry Star, and Summer Downtime

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Time to lounge under lamplight
or a fan, at least, in this solemn sweatbox town,
sin city, hidden city, dark city. What kind
of city is it? The kind where “They say it’s your
birthday” gets bellowed out on Facebook, and Facebook
denizens bellow back (not at all concerned with
the shadow behind the curtain, the sooty shoes
poking out from under the bed). It’s never time,
never the right time.
PF Anderson, Black Birthday

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I’m getting a perfectly respectable amount of work done for an empty-nest academic in the summer, but so far, no holy miracle of ramped-up sentence success. I spent June enacting deep revisions to my novel manuscript, responding to very good advice I received from a small press, and we’ll see where that goes. I enjoyed concentrating on it, at any rate, and it’s definitely a way better book now. And I’m a better writer for having undertaken the challenge.

I’ve also been reading in all genres, working on submissions, and writing a few poems, although I find tuning my brain to fiction-writing makes poetry harder. I’m now revising a couple of essays and finishing research for a third–I’m visiting an archive near Richmond on Tuesday, so Chris and I will stay overnight and share a fancy dinner, maybe visit a museum. I really don’t know yet how much I’ll finish by the time September hits in all its frantic glory. I’m trying not to worry too much about that, either, although being zen about the passage of summers and outcome of my labors–well, it hasn’t been my specialty. Working on it.
Lesley Wheeler, Prove or disprove and salvage if possible

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I had been working on a multipart essay when I wondered if it was really a sectioned poem. So I spent days and days easing, tapping, tweaking, clipping each segment into lineation, attention to rhythm, structures, and all the various things that poetic forms allow/require of us. And now I’m not sure it works. But the process has been interesting.

On the one hand, the poeming process helped me make the language and sentences more taut and efficient, catch repetitions, reorder thoughts. Creating lines allowed me to inject additional suggestions into the ideas, or even with a line break subvert what I was saying, or at least question it.

But too often, the lines gave gravitas to places I didn’t really want emphasized. It made some ideas too weighty, too self-important. Some ideas I wanted to slip in with more subtlety, subtlety that demands of lineation did not seem to allow.

So I’m going to take the newly taut language and spread it back out, give some good fat back to some of the sentences, allow a more languid pace.
Marilyn McCabe, Formtion, Functiorm; or On Navigating Form and Function

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E-grazing to Eureka

Mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Twitter etc. is one classic way most of us procrastinate, right? Let us turn this ‘e-grazing’ to account. When you see something that you want to comment on or share – a meme, a line in a message, a snippet, a poem or a quote – do that, but also screen-shot it and save it. That word or line that made you go ‘wow, cool!’, ‘lol, that’s hilarious’, ‘that’s so me/us’, ‘ugh, what an idiot!’, etc. – it made you think and feel, however fleetingly. A few hours or days later, go over these fragments that found echoes within you, and you may just see new poems taking shape from and around them.

Poetry in Foreign Languages

One way to reconnect with the form and sound of language is to listen to a poem or a folk song in a language you do not know, or one you know just a little, so you can connect to its rhythms but block out the meaning at will. You can go for a softly chanted poem, like biya o josh e tamanna, where you can immerse yourself in the melody, but in one’s more restless humours a faster tempo can also be welcome ex. Laila O Laila. Free-write to the song on infinite loop, just listen to it and brainstorm, or write your own ‘imaginary translation’, etc.
Seven Selcouth Sources of Poetic Inspiration – guest blog post by Hibah Shabkhez (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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As I walked, I paid attention to the trash that I saw. It will all be picked up by later today, but for now, random pieces of trash lined the Broadwalk. I was most struck by the debris that once we would have hauled home: coolers, umbrellas, a variety of clothes.

In a history class long ago, our teacher reminded us that most of what archaeologists discover comes from digging in the garbage dumps of former societies. I often wonder what future archaeologists will make of our trash. Certainly they will comment on the huge amount of plastic.

This morning, I looked at all the trash, both the collective version and the individual pieces, and I thought about the symbolism. What could we learn if we use this trash as a symbol?

I plan to write a poem on this very topic. What will you write as the week winds down?
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Prompt: The Morning After the Day Before

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Once back at camp and we’d traded our hiking shoes for flip-flops, we gathered in a loose circle, drinks and snacks within reaching distance. Suddenly, Jonathan said, “Uhhh, guys?…” and pointed to the road that ran through the campground. There was a snake, crossing the road.

Of course we all popped up to investigate and that’s when we heard the telltale rattle of its tail. Yup, a rattlesnake. Eventually the rattler made its way to the woods — away from our tents, thankfully — and we carried on talking. But the image of the snake, its beautifully slinking body, stayed with me.

Once home on Sunday I perused Twitter and came across Mary Oliver’s poem, The Black Snake. I knew then I needed to write a poem about the snake that appeared at our campsite.

The poem is still a work in progress but I’m excited about nature inspiring a poem. What are your favorite nature poems?
Courtney LeBlanc, A Week of Work

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Your latest book is New and Selected Poems. What will readers find inside? Obviously new work but also poems culled from your previous two collections? Tell us more.
This book was born out of a drunken love affair between myself and my editor at a Manhattan dive bar. I was originally going to release a third collection called Human Algorithm that fused my twenty years in the tech industry with trying to find sex and love with strangers on the smartphone apps. But since I’ve decided to focus on fiction and autobiography for the next few years, New and Selected has become a magnum opus for me. The poems I originally planned for the third collection are in here, plus work from the previous volumes and other unreleased poems from early in my writing career.

You, like many other artists these days, operate outside the mainstream – using micro/small presses or self-publishing to get your work to readers. That method was once frowned upon, but has now become commonplace. Any regrets?
I know it was once frowned upon, but times have changed. I read Rupi Kaur’s collection, Milk and Honey, last year and it’s brilliant. She began her career by posting poems on social media. You do whatever you can to make your voice heard. Unless someone’s going to give me a million-dollar book deal, my poetry and graphic novel publications will remain 100 percent in my control. I had a nasty experience with a publisher with my first collection and it left a bad taste in my mouth. So, I figured out how to do it on my own and it’s been great.

You seem to have written a lot of work, but aren’t in a rush to publish it. Most authors are burning up to get their work out there.
Yes, I have a backlog and it’s wild. I’ve written eight children’s books and I also have another graphic novel called The Philadelphia War, which should be out in 2019. I’ve started an autobiography and I’m deep into writing a dangerous, fucked up novel set on Wall Street. That book actually is my main focus right now. I also have a novella called Midnight that I wrote for five years and it’s just sitting there.
Collin Kelley, He’ll Take Manhattan: An interview with poet, writer & photographer Montgomery Maxton

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Francesca Bell caught a lot of attention with her poem I Long to Hold The Poetry Editor’s Penis in My Hand. I mean it’s hard to overlook a good penis poem. Bell, however, holds a special place in this poet’s heart because her talent has come without a formal writing education background. Reading her work you would never know it. She has carved out a very successful non-traditional road on her poet journey. Her publication credits are lengthy and include River Styx, North American Review, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, and Crab Creek Review to name a few. She has had at 6 Pushcart Prize nominations and been a finalist in several notable poetry awards.

In December of 2014 Bell had five poems published in Pank that are riveting. They touch on the delicate subject of children sexually abused by priests. These poems underscore something about Bell that I especially appreciate in a poet, a fearlessness in writing. I want to write as fearlessly as Bell does. Who wouldn’t, but it is not easy. In her poem Regrets, she talks about undressing every emotion and how silence is a too-tight dress I can’t wait to escape. She is genuine. Her writing has a depth that can be peeled back like layers of an archaeological excavation, or she can turn one her humor on the page and entertain you.

Another remarkable thing about Francesca Bell is her translation. She translated the book A Love That Hovers Like a Bedeviling Mosquito by the Palestinian poet Shatha Abu Hnaish along with Noor Nader Al A’bed. This book is a collection of largely tender verse that I often go to and reread parts of each night before I go to sleep.
Michael Allyn Wells, My 2018 Poets Crush 6 Pack

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When we first read the poems, students talked about how and why the poets had used or not used punctuation, spacing, keyboard functions (crossing through text in Chan’s poem). They suggested that Rebecca Perry had used this spacing to perhaps replicate the to and fro conversation that was taking place between a father and an adult child in a car (they worked out the ‘child’ was driving so must be at least 17 or 18 years old). They thought that perhaps someone had died, perhaps one of the father’s parents, and they were driving to or from the funeral.

Then they discussed times that they had had conversations with a parent or grandparent, and had a go at writing their own poems using the same lay out as the Perry poem if they wished. They could also borrow some of the poet’s phrases if they got stuck. This gave students the space to write about reflective, intimate conversations they’d had with an adult they trusted and were close to. One student wrote about chatting with their grandmother while shopping, another wrote about gardening with their Mum, another about walking with their Dad. Students shared snippets of advice adults had given them (as Perry does “remember, if you get married, to pick a ring bigger than your finger, because your fingers, like your mother’s, swell slightly in the heat”.) Often these poems were tender and moving, and even if the conversations were stilted and awkward, humour and love shone through.
Josephine Corcoran, Poems that find a way to say what isn’t said #writerinschool

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At the publication of Empty Clip, this is how Emilia Phillips introduced it on her twitter feed:

This is my “book of fears”

It is true there is much fear in these poems–molestation, animal murder, hotel fights, campus shooters, prior tenant on the lam, suicide, self-inflicted gunshot wounds, and on and on, poem after poem of frightful situations and the poet’s responses captured in pristine time capsules. So stomach up, because the rewards here are large. Phillips has developed, in this book, the uncanny ability to put the reader right into the scene of the poem, through exposing meticulous authentic details accompanied by pinpoint emotional responses. You feel these poems as much as read them.

While reading, I highlighted a number of phrases–way too many to share here– that struck me as prophetic. A warning. What can happen. What does happen. What has happened. What might happen again at any moment.

Lie down,
said the grass to the sky.

the same
stiff casualness of someone
pretending they’re not on guard

another girl in the class said, “Girls
get raped all the time here I don’t know why
this time was so special.”

back when I was looking down the barrel
of days of grief

how the bullet grooved clean into the skin below
her clavicle. A button hole
a baby’s mouth.

So yes, there is pain, distress, frightful memories. You already know about that, even if you haven’t been as close to the barrel of a gun as Phillips has. This happened. Face it with me. Feel it with me. And so, make it bearable or at least help me to resist.

But. Then. There is the lyricism– the translation of facts into emotions into lyrics, a skill Phillips is expert at. This is the balm of language that demonstrates how horrifying experiences can be digested, how poetic sense can be made of of terror.
Risa Denenberg, What I’m Reading: Empty Clip

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Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~My first poetry love was Nikki Giovanni. Her work is so practical, honest and revolutionary. When I tumbled across her poetry in a college library during my first years of undergrad, I had never heard a black woman so self-assured and intelligent. Her poetry not only showed me how to better use my words, but it helped me mature as a black woman and writer. Ms. Giovanni’s work taught me confidence, sincerity, and how to be relatable.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I just picked up Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds and cannot put it down. I was also just reading Charles Simic’s Scribbled in the Dark. I like contemporary poetry, but I really appreciate classics, too. I am also looking forward to reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s Americanah before summer ends.

Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~The poem will never be perfect. I often hear people say that they have never submitted a piece of work to a publisher because they have been editing it for a year. I’m like, “let go and give it to someone who needs it.” We write not only for ourselves but because there is someone who needs to hear it. I think as writers we tend to get obsessed with our work. If you can take a deep breath, close your eyes, and feel calm after editing your work a few times, let it go.
Bekah Steimel, Maybe / an interview with poet Kay Bell

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

What a great week for poetry blogging this has been! The year is now half over, and many of those who began 2018 vowing to blog every week have slowed down (or stopped altogether), but thank Whomever for that because otherwise how would I ever find time to read it all? And it’s fascinating the way themes continue to emerge most weeks in the process of compiling this digest: this time, for example, I found quite a few people pondering how to organize poetry manuscripts, and there was some strong blogging on the perennial subject of death. And I continue to be impressed by the varied and creative ways in which poet bloggers are responding to the political moment. I think Lesley Wheeler had the quote of the week: “While poems contain struggle of all kinds, they also constitute separate worlds it can be a great relief to enter, because good poems are not unjust or disruptive of bodily integrity.” And I was excited to see George Szirtes firing up the old blog again to start a series on political poetry…

Everything in this country is falling apart and the things I value and hold dear are in jeopardy of being taken away, dismantled, overturned or burned to the ground. In short, it’s a hard time and I struggle with feelings of loss, hopelessness, anger, frustration, rage, helplessness, and fear. It’s a difficult place to be yet every time someone says, “Things can’t get worse,” they, in fact, do. And so when I’m feeling this way I turn to poetry.

As part of the research for my craft paper for my MFA, I’m currently reading a book titled Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism edited by Danielle Barnhart and Iris Mahan.

This book of poetry is exactly what I need right now. The very first poem, A Woman’s Place by Denice Frohman, is one of my favorite in the book. The opening line: “i heard a woman becomes herself / the first time she speaks / without permission // then, every word out of her mouth / a riot”. Damn. DAMN that is powerful. And just what I needed to know that I do have a voice and not all is lost. This doesn’t mean any of those emotions I’m feeling go away, but it does mean I feel a little less alone. I feel like I can keep fighting and I can make myself heard. And while the world is still scary and there’s still a lot of things that could potentially fall apart, I feel like I’m up to the task of helping to fight it.
Courtney LeBlanc, When the World Falls Apart

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This is not a poem about children being ripped
from their families. This is a poem about gardening.
The dirt is just dirt, the hands are just hands,
and the butter lettuce is just a vegetable. Roots hang
from its body like roots, not like marionette strings.
Not like marionette strings, I said.
Crystal Ignatowski, The Butter Lettuce Is Just a Vegetable

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I’ve learned to tell the fir from the yew; the silver
from the red cedar. At sunrise, there is a thin glint of light
northeastward where I await Mt Baker’s frozen specter

careening over Discovery Bay. The lamps of Port
Townsend blink; strands of fog hang over fields.
Peckish deer nibble dandelions.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse on A Cloudy Morn

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Nature plays a key role in Where Wind Meets Wing. Rather than viewing nature as a separate pristine, pure space, your poems address the ways people and nature come into conflict with each other. Is this a subject that you work with often? Or was it discovered through the more organic process of crafting this collection?

It’s a subject I’m now working with more often. […] Mostly, this is the world work that I do. My day job is in pest control so those conflicts between humanity and nature are a part of my daily life. And, as we often say, I write what I know.

To Gain the Day was written early in my pest control career and focuses more on the humanity of that work — on the people who work these kinds of jobs — and on my transition from academia to pest control. I think of it as a Whitman book (and its title comes from a line from “Song of Myself”).

Where Wind Meets Wing developed after I had processed a lot of that strange career transition stuff but while I was still trying to navigate my work with my strong concerns about the environmental impacts of people, something that is heightened by my job. If TGtD is a Whitman book, focused on people, WWMW is a Dickinson book (with a Dickinson epigraph), focused on spirit and nature and self.

I consider myself an environmentalist, which some people consider odd considering what I do to pay my bills. WWMW tries to explore my relationship with my job and my love of the planet and my concerns for the planet. And I’m interested in what you say here about nature being viewed as “a separate pristine, pure space.” Because it isn’t separate (we are a part of our ecosystem and we are animals ourselves so we are nature as much as a tree is). I partly want to honor that — that we are an intrinsic part of our world — while also looking at the effects we have on our world (and on each other).
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Anthony Frame on the environmental impact of people and making poetry dance

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In keeping with the title, Field Notes, I intend the poems to be observational, a record of the natural world as I experience it, less a chronological account than an emotional exploration. I want them to interlock, to borrow a phrase from Susan Grimm’s introduction to the wonderful book, Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems. On the first page, she asks, “Which is the more useful question – How do the poems fit together? or What is the whole trying to do?”
Erica Goss, Organizing the Field

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For some reason, this manuscript has been a bear to work with. And not one of those friendly Winnie the Pooh types, all sweet and honey covered, this is the bear that wanders into a forest so large you can hardly see him until you do, then you realize he is chasing a camper or shredding a tent.

This bear is surrounded by poems and so many, he’s not sure which are good anymore. He’s eating sour blackberries and pulling thorns out of his wrist.

This bear doesn’t want to be organized, it wants to run wild through rivers while grabbing a fish.

This bear growls at the thought of having to “have a theme” or any sort of structure.

This bear doesn’t even want to be named. Just call me “Bear” he says. But you name him something clever, and for a week, he’s happy, then he says, “I hate my name and so do you.”
Kelli Russell Agodon, My Poetry Manuscript is a Bear…

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Most poetry books today (including mine) are broken into smaller sections. Sometimes these sections are thematically linked to tell a particular story (the first parts of both The Trouble with Rivers and Reckless Constellations focus on specific people and narratives). Think of those sections as necessary detours on your trip—but they still need to function as steps toward your goal. If you’re driving across Pennsylvania, you may make detours to visit the Anthracite Museum or Gettysburg, but how will those stops contribute to the overall experience of the trip? How will they help bring you to the end of the book? Do they support a transformation that happens in the book? Do they expand or contribute to themes you’re working toward?
Grant Clauser, How to Organize or Arrange A Poetry Book, GPS Style

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Manuscript 1 is my Church Ladies collection–nearly complete with about 60ish poems, a large number placed in literary magazines already. I’ve got a full vision for this manuscript, right down to the table of contents, and it is exciting to see it almost finished. The poems are primarily in persona, from the point of view of various ladies from church history–missionaries, saints, pastor’s wives. These poems have required a bit of research so they feel a little more demure and academic than the poems in Manuscript 2.

Manuscript 2 began as a folder of misfit poems–poems I wrote because I was inspired to write them but that weren’t about church ladies. When it so happened that all the poems were centering on a certain theme, I knew this was the core of a new manuscript. This one is riskier for me personally. I’m a firstborn girl and concerned with being “good” so I never wrote things that would make people upset or feel uncomfortable, all the way until a couple of years ago, after writing my first manuscript.

I had the good fortune of having dinner with Sharon Olds, the queen of uncomfortable poetry, and I asked her how she did it, how she wrote things that would make people she loved upset. She said she could either write it now, never let them read it, or wait til they were dead, but she was going to write it. I felt after that, that I needed to give myself Permission to write what I wanted to write–even if I never published it or waited fifty years to publish it, I did not need to censor myself during my writing process.
Renee Emerson, Two Manuscripts Diverged in a Wood…

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The Emily Dickinson Collages

These were made for an Instagram competition which was organised by The Poetry Society and people linked to the film The Quiet Passion. You can read about the winners and see their splendid work here. Brilliant poet/artist Sophie Herxheimer went on to do a whole series and you can see them on her Instagram.

Mine weren’t in the same league but I like them and they were fun to do: I write each as a poem too.

Out of my window

bold annunciate

the women cooling the flames

as if truth had

never been dis storted

This one has a background of a long bathroom tile, some paint and tissue paper with cut out figures and headlines.
Pam Thompson, “Part of the fun of being …”

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Take a word, image — slice & dice them through
like sausage (or the stuff of which sausage
is made). Scrap old meanings, & stuff in new.
Things you see but can’t say become bossage,
old words carved into new symbols, bone bright,
delicate & sharp.
PF Anderson, Suicide Sonnet

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In previous years I felt no impulse, as Orwell put it, “to make political writing into an art”. As a poet I would secretly have agreed with Auden’s In Memory of W B Yeats, where he says that poetry makes nothing happen but survives in the valley of its saying, a way of happening, a mouth; and would have argued that that precisely was the point of poetry, that it did not set out with a specific intention to achieve an aim, but was deeper, more various and more troubling than that: an intuitive enquiry, through language, into some kind of intuitive truth.

And I would have backed that up with Keats’s feeling that we hated poetry that had “a palpable design on us”. Poetry was not an advertisement for our views but an exploration of the nature of things, standing at an angle to action, not a spur to it, or means of it. That which Keats called ‘negative capability’ seemed to be the whole raison d’être of poetry.

It wasn’t that I felt that poetry should be closeted away from the public world but that its necessary engagement with it would be on other terms: as witness, clown, or prophet.

[…]

Last week I was at Lumb Bank tutoring developing poets among whom was a seasoned foreign correspondent who had spent extended periods in Liberia and Rwanda reporting on the carnage there. Having come back he was turning to poetry to find a way of understanding events of which he had given factual accounts. It seemed vital for him to do so. The poetry is harrowing but formal and disciplined. It is not polemical. It is another kind of reportage as filtered through memory and the wounded imagination.
George Szirtes, Worlds on Orwell and Writing: 1 Political Purpose

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Honey, I love you
like salt in food:

a pinch,
a grain,

a sprinkle’s
all it takes.

Sugar,
I don’t love you like sugar,

but like salt and pepper
for which wars were fought.
Claudia Serea, Don’t ask me to love you like sugar

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It’s funny, eleven-year-old-me making solo hikes through the woods to the drugstore for Colgate. It’s also awful, because my family was so poisonously miserable, so hostile to the person I was trying to become, that I couldn’t imagine staying in that house one second longer than I absolutely had to. And, of course, freedom was a long time coming, even with scholarships and summer jobs and, eventually, teaching assistantships. As my professional life has demonstrated, I’ll take a certain amount of abuse, playing the long game, as long as I have some safe space in which I can retain dignity, do work that feels worthwhile, and speak my mind.

Take that space away, though, and I’ll break, whether or not I break and run. This is one of the many ways poetry has saved me–reading and writing puts me in an honest place. Plus, while poems contain struggle of all kinds, they also constitute separate worlds it can be a great relief to enter, because good poems are not unjust or disruptive of bodily integrity.

Poetry’s doing just fine during the current political mayhem, but other spaces seem way less safe than they ever did. Not that I ever felt welcome and at home in Lexington, Virginia!–but I had friends’ houses, and a few public spots that I felt comfortable in, and a creek to walk beside. Ever since the co-owner of the Red Hen, a few blocks from my house, took her moral stand against hatred and lies by asking Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave, the full ugliness of where I live has been on inescapable display. Media that are often depressing–from Facebook to the local paper’s editorial page–got vicious; picketers with offensive signs staked out the restaurant, which has not yet been able to reopen; the KKK leafleted our neighborhoods with fliers reading “Boycott the Red Hen” as well as “Wake Up White America.”

I want to get out of here. Aside from short trips, I can’t. My husband just got tenure; I also receive, for my kids, a major tuition benefit, which we need for the next five years. I’m finding it really difficult, however, to negotiate the fight-or-flight response that keeps ripping through my body. I hate living in the middle of the Confederacy. I hate how my government commits abuses in my name.

I said so to my daughter the other night, and she answered something like: I’m not leaving. I’ve committed. I’m going to fix this country.

I know that’s a better answer. I just have to figure out how to get through this woods of bad feeling. To feel peace in my body as a prerequisite for helping make peace in this damaged, damaging place.
Lesley Wheeler, Not fleeing

*

I met [Donald] Hall for the first time when he read with Charles Simic at the Library of Congress in early March 1999. We spoke after the reading and he asked how the Haines anthology was coming along. After that we continued to correspond until we met again in the autumn of 2000 when he gave a reading from Kenyon’s posthumous collection, One Hundred White Daffodils, at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. I was there doing literary research at the Houghton Library and saw an announcement for the reading on a kiosk in Harvard Yard. That evening I wandered over to the museum after the library had closed and once again I enjoyed a nice conversation with Hall as he inscribed Kenyon’s book to me as “Jane’s remains.” The next day we bumped into each other at the minuscule Grolier’s Poetry Bookshop near Harvard Yard. Hall used to hang out there during his undergraduate days and was making a few purchases before returning to Eagle Pond Farm.

Our correspondence continued for many years after that as age and infirmities began to take their toll on Hall’s body although he continued to reside at his ancient farm up until his death. His mind remained sharp when the well of poems eventually dried up eight years ago. He nevertheless continued to write essays in which he described the afflictions of age. Essays After Eighty appeared in 2014 and he recognized that his own mortal coil was quickly shuffling off. “In a paragraph or two, my prose embodies a momentary victory over fatigue.” Still he kept writing.

Last year I received a nice letter from Hall informing me that he was assembling yet another collection of essays. He included a mock up of the proposed cover – A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety – along with a couple brief excerpts. “In your eighties you are invisible. Nearing ninety you hope nobody sees you.” Just a few days before his passing I wrote to Hall telling him how much I was looking forward to the publication of the new book in July. Unfortunately I doubt he saw my letter, and it is sad to think he will not see the publication of his last book and revel in its success. It will be hard to read knowing Hall is no longer among us. Writing about his friend Richard Wilbur, who died last year at age 96: “In his work he ought to survive, but probably, like most of us, he won’t.” I disagree. I am certain Hall’s legacy will live beyond my own years.

Today Donald Hall was buried beside his beloved Jane in Proctor Cemetery, sharing the “double solitude” they experienced together for two decades at nearby Eagle Pond Farm. But his poetry and prose will remain with us as we carry on – Don’s remains. They are his prodigy, his miracles of art.
Steven B. Rogers, The Miracles of Art: Remembering Donald Hall

*

At this point the surgeon reads morbidity into
the shift and twist of tissue,
the plasticity of form,
the salt and vinegar of spirit.

And from then, back on the street,
you may glimpse over and again
around the crook of each and every corner,

mortality’s black sleeve flapping
like a torn flag.
Dick Jones, Fragile

*

Some might keep ashes,
but I dig from your compost patch,
the place where you buried
the scraps left from every meal you ever ate.

You followed the almanac’s instructions,
but I don’t have that resource.
I blend your Carolina dirt
with the sandy soil that roots
my mango tree.

Some of it I keep in a jar
that once held Duke’s mayonnaise.
I place it on the mantel
of the fireplace I rarely use,
to keep watch with a half burned
candle and a shell
from a distant vacation.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Tuesday: “Artifacts”

*

Inadvertently, I discovered conditioning on my own, when I was about twelve. I decided to study some things I was afraid of–spiders, bees, darkness–and managed to unlearn the fear. It does not work with everything: I’m still acrophobic.

My biggest fear was one most human beings acknowledge–the fear of death. From the time I was quite small, I worried and feared and had trouble getting to sleep because my mind raced around the Big Unknown of what it would be like to die. Many years into my adult life, I decided to explore that fear through my usual method: self-education. I read novels and medical texts and philosophy and religious works in the process. Finally, after visiting an ICU many times during the serious illness of a best-beloved, I decided to sign up as a hospice volunteer.

It’s one way to face death–one sees a great deal of it in hospice care. But the education I received from other caregivers, from the program instructors, and from the patients and their families, has proven immensely valuable to me. Am I afraid of death? Well, sure; but fear of death (thanatophobia) no longer keeps me up nights. I possess a set of skills that helps me recognize how individual each death is–just as each life is. More important still? I treasure and value the small stuff more and am less anxious about the Big Unknown. It’s going to happen, so why agonize over it? This is conditioning. For me, anyway.

Conditioning does not have the same meaning as habituation, because conditioning requires learning and is more “mindful” than habituation. Habituation occurs when we just get accustomed to something and carry on; perhaps we repress our emotions or our values in order to do that carrying on. People can habituate to war, poverty, all kinds of pain, and can make not caring into a habit. We are amazing in our capacity to carry on, but it isn’t necessarily healthy. Getting into the habit of warfare, hatred, ignorance, hiding our feelings, or other hurtful behaviors is often easier than getting into more helpful habits like daily walks. I do not know why that is.

I am, however, endeavoring to condition myself to stay awake to new perspectives, to stay inquisitive, to plumb the world to find, if not beauty, at least understanding and compassion and gratitude. Maybe one day I will even manage to get that perspective from somewhere very, very high up… [yikes!]
Ann E. Michael, Conditioning

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Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

A~It is the human heart on fire.

Q~Tell us more about Collective Unrest. Why did you found it? What do you hope to accomplish?

A~My friend, Mat, and I had this idea for a magazine that is solely focused on social justice, humanity, and unity. We are both anti-Trump and everything that he and his administration stand for, as are hundreds of thousands of artists around the world. But Trump is just one piece of the puzzle. As much as we despise him, there has been injustice in the world ever since human beings came to be. We want to highlight the human experience in the face of discrimination, cruelty, abuse, oppression, or otherwise. We want to humanize the victims of injustice through their art and expression. Our goal is to create a safe space for people who are feeling unsettled, terrified, angry, and powerless.
Bekah Steimel, my allergy pills / an interview with poet Marisa Crane

*

Last year, Big Machine – a storm of an album by Eliza Carthy and The Wayward Band – won awards and was performed at festivals and venues up and down the land. Outside of The Wayward Band was another contributor, Dizraeli aka Rowan Sawday. I remember when I first saw Dizraeli and The Small Gods at the Beautiful Days festival perhaps ten years ago and I was struck by Dizraeli’s fusion of politics and rhythm and The Small God’s fusion of rap with reggae, folk and Balkan music. For someone who is a mix of many things, it was inspiring to see.

Dizraeli is a rapper and poet from Bristol in the South of England. He moved to London to seek his fortune, and brought out his first solo album in 2009. He joins the bombastic Big Machine album to rap over Eliza Carthy’s vocals and the band’s instruments on the track You Know Me. You Know Me is about the UK’s strong tradition of hospitality – do we extend it to people fleeing conflicts? The refrain of the song, “the fruit in our garden is good” is a reference to Jesus’ words about the people who follow him. Eliza Carthy said that You Know Me reminds her of her great- grandmother’s quoting of the Bible, when Jesus said we are to serve others and in doing so, we won’t know it, but we may have been serving angels disguised as humans in need.

On the second CD of Big Machine, all the music is stripped away and allows us to hear Dizraeli the poet. He recites Aleppo As It Was. He reminds us that Syria was a thriving and wealthy nation with computers and all the trappings of modern life, with citizens who were friends who worked in their professions and welcomed each other in the cafes. And then Dizraeli reminds us that the way these people are described by our politicians in their hour of need is dehumanising. These people were referred to as insects, cockroaches, so that people like you and me would not view them as fellow human beings who deserve a safe place to sleep. Dizraeli, in pausing the music on Big Machine, makes us pause and reflect on our own lives and responses to people in need.
Catherine Hume, Dizraeli, Tim Matthew and Eliza Carthy

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I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. As a young child, I spent many a night reading by torchlight under the bed covers. Aged 8, I’d cycle to the nearest branch library just over half a mile away and spend my Saturdays getting lost in the worlds of books. During school holidays, I’d sometimes take a book into the blissful silence of the reference room and copy out whole passages, for the love of words. O’ and A’ level English Lit followed by a B. Ed degree (English Lit and History) meant I did fall out of love with reading for a while (all those holidays spent chewing my way through set books for the following term’s syllabus). Then we emigrated to South Africa and, when the new life we’d craved seemed largely unfamiliar and daunting, the town’s public library became my sanctuary.

I don’t remember when I went from borrowing books to buying books. Perhaps it began with the appearance of cheap paperbacks on supermarket shelves. Or when library stocks no longer satisfied my growing appetite for poetry. But I do know that, for years now, my buying habit has out-stripped both my reading speed (I’m a slow reader as I sub-vocalise everything) and available time for reading. Concerted efforts to quit have been short-lived. My habit is fed by my poetry social life, social media links to reviews, publishers/small presses, book vloggers, etc. My collection of poetry books remains relatively intact despite a massive cull of ‘stuff’ when we down-sized last year. The reading of poetry is a vital part of my writing process and my ongoing education. Much of what I read is published by small presses and unavailable on library loan. But I do wonder if my buying habit is, in part, consumerism by another name.
Jayne Stanton, Public libraries

*

I’ve just been reading Sarah Passingham’s article, ‘Finding Flow’, in Brittle Star (issue 42). I’ve been lucky enough to have a few poems published in Brittle Star, including one in the current issue.

This poem, entitled ‘Testing the Water’, was definitely written while I was in flow or ‘in the zone’. I remember writing it at a Poetry Business Writing Day. Unlike some of the poems I’ve written there which have gone on to have a life of their own, I almost forgot about this one. I typed it up but never sent it anywhere. It was only when skim reading a word document with lots of other poems in it, looking for something to bulk up a submission, that I found this one again. I worked on it, but when it came to sending it out, I chose the original version (a block of text, no line breaks, minor edits on the grammar).

To achieve ‘flow’, Passingham suggests we look at the idea put forward by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, whose argument she summarises as follows: ‘boredom and relaxation need to move into control, but worry and anxiety must be simultaneously channelled towards excitement’.

Control and excitement. Channelling worry and anxiety. All this rings very true to me.
Julie Mellor, Flow

*

I actually meditated on the differences between last year’s solstice – still reeling from a stage IV liver cancer diagnosis, right before the MS flare that sent me to the hospital and left me house-bound for several months with problems eating, talking, and walking and this year’s – relatively calm, despite the first paragraph of this post. Last solstice, I had a coyote sighting on my street – this year, it was a pair of quail and an immature eagle, and seeing a turtle laying eggs in the Japanese garden. I’m learning, slowly, how to manage symptoms, avoiding MS triggers like stress and heat, and after having to be “up” for a day, taking a day of rest. Being thankful that my liver tumors have been “stable.” I’ve learned to appreciate the good days, the small things like the visits of goldfinches and hummingbirds, time spent talking poetry with a friend. I’ve also learned I have to prioritize things that bring joy, because life will certainly bring you enough stress and pain, so it’s important to take an afternoon to just focus on writing, on one other person, or on the changes of the seasons. I am trying to schedule these things in between the necessary evils. I’m trying not to get overwhelmed by the dark.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, After the Storm, and a New Review of PR for Poets

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

I never intended to publish these poems.

But I did share a few at readings.

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

(nowhere)

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

And then, a year later, my mother died.

My mother died in her sleep. Peacefully.

Unlike my dear father who suffered a horrible cancer death.

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

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

I was relieved my mother hadn’t suffered.

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

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

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

So why the bejeezus was I crying so much?

Because fresh grief re-opens old wounds.

Shreds them, actually.

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

And more poems came.

Because there was more to say about family.

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

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

The hearse left for winter with a lingering hiss.

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

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

*

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