Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, we’re a month and a half into 2021 and years into an endless, if somehow also endangered, winter. But today, reading the poetry blogs, I found valentines. Not the mushy, sentimental kind, of course. These were stronger, darker, riskier—like love itself.


On this Valentine’s Day I’m thinking about all the people who’ve lost their lover, their husband or wife, their child or parent — especially those losses that have occurred during the past year. It’s an astronomical number. A mind-boggling number. A river of tears stretching around the world. For many of us, there may not have been an actual death of someone we loved deeply, but days and months when we feared it more than anything we’ve ever feared.

Why do we take the risk? Why do we love, if we know we’re either opening ourselves, or the ones we love, to inevitable, eventual pain?

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 56. Eros and his bow

Finally the mug, lovely gift from Mike. Last night, I wondered darkly how long I have to go without writing a poem before I stop being a poet. This morning, preparing a Valentine’s breakfast for one, this was the obvious mug to choose. 

I sat in bed this morning in the company of crockery, eating toast, drinking orange juice. Three times, I poured milk from the tiny jug into the mug-of-affirmation, before pouring on the English Breakfast / Earl Grey mix. With each mugful, I felt the warmth of love, in all its richness and many forms, grow stronger.  

Liz Lefroy, I Set A Breakfast Tray

We do have the privilege of a garden.
It’s all relatively new to us. A blessing just in time
before the world got stopped.
We established our very own animal pub there-
it’s called The Grain & Shell.
Birds & squirrels
feed & drink
& fight &
dance & mate,
but this Winter the water in the shell freezes
first a below-zero ice-skating rink, then a small mountain of hard snow.
Thirsty squeaking little birds cannot break through it;
squirrels lick the frozen surface
then leave in clear disappointment.
Every morning after tea & coffee
we now put another kettle on & melt
the glacial, hazy and rigid mirror
& watch the lot steam up in the cold air.

Ernesto Priego, The Shell

You ask, can music do that – curl the tongue around the stitch of ache –
when the note touches the ceiling of the hospital room as you take
your walk and the night sky rotting green burns at edges with city lights.

You wear black, rest like fractured old wood on the migraine flare
that flames your body. I gather your feet to trace the rings of age, sluices
of calcium whorled in volcanic blooms.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Journey

Here’s me on my bicycle, with the long shadows of a bright February evening. Better to head into the shadows than cycle with the sun in my eyes – and in the eyes of the drivers behind me. Lockdown has brought my bicycle and me even closer together. I really should oil it soon.

Tim Love, Long shadows

Don’t tell me how to lose someone.
I’ve earned this experience.
Some knitting, a watch, a photograph:
through these things I remember.
The blood rises to my cheeks, already red
from genes I no longer trust.
I’m like the ship of Theseus.
How much can I cast away & still be myself?
I try to identify my face in the bathroom mirror
at the grocery store. Those are my eyes,
there’s my crooked nose, that’s the gap between my teeth.
Every seven years all the cells in my body renew.
I set the boat on the water, push it out to sea.

Jason Crane, POEM: Hello sailor

This Valentine’s Day, my object of love is the world, and what kind of a clear manageable object is that?  

I could narrow it down, focus, make it a simple object, like an oyster, and use all of my five senses to explore its delicate being, its opalescent color, its sand and pearly shell  

I might complicate things by thinking about the ocean, and how many people die in it every year, and how many sailors and fishermen have perished over centuries, how many in the Middle Passage, and wonder if I can still love the ocean

or that oyster that is its product and essence of the ocean itself

and I might be eating the oyster as I am listening to a roll call, to documentation of a country falling apart

Jill Pearlman, World Valentine

For this poetry prompt for Valentine’s Day, start by reading “Untitled [Do you still remember: falling stars]” by Rainer Maria Rilke (as translated by Edward Snow) and give some thought to what you like/admire.

For me, it’s that Rilke captures the delusions of grandeur being in love can inspire. And instead of poking fun at us (or at himself), he embraces the phenomenon as a shared human experience. How silly (and necessary!) for us to feel as though our current romance is the biggest love that’s ever existed in all of the universe and surely will transcend time itself! And although he acknowledges the absurdity of that in the poem’s final line, he does it gently, via a kind of nostalgia for this collective culpability.

I also appreciate that the poem avoids being overly sentimental. Tricky for a love poem to do! This is accomplished by incorporating words that offer a glimpse into the imperfections of romantic love: words like “hurdles,” “hazards” and “disintegration.” These are not typical love poem words and may seem in opposition to what the poem is saying about love being grand and lasting forever. Instead, they’re subtle reminders that love encompasses risk and a fair amount of disappointment, including paling in comparison to what “forever” actually is in the context of the cosmos. Risk is just part of it — “wedded to the swift hazard of their play” — and unlikely to deter us.

Note that word, too: “wedded.”

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt for valentine’s day

breaking boughs
bent live oak branches
the weight of ice

today this mask
feels good

James Brush, 02.12.21

I’ve been sending missives from menopause and perimenopause over the last few years, and sometimes they feel like dead letters. Well, almost all poems land softly–but the so-called change of life feels so BIG to me that it feels like there ought to be a much larger body of literature about it. So I was really happy when “Oxidation Story” was accepted by Kenyon Review Online this fall, and even happier to receive lots of positive responses when they published it yesterday. I’d worked on this one for years. Maybe I got the words right, or the subject matter called to people, or the prestige of the venue attracted attention? In any case, it made me feel seen for a shining moment, for the writer in me.

That’s one of the weird side effects of crossing over to this side of 50: you’re catcalled, harassed, and menaced for most of your life, then you become invisible. I prefer invisibility on the whole, but it would be even better to become, say, “distinguished.” Most TV shows and movies provide illustrations of how impossible that seems to be. As my spouse and I burn through all the shows streaming services have to offer, we just tried “The Undoing,” which pairs Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman as high-powered professionals in unholy matrimony. Kidman is ultra-fit and facelifted and bewigged into a simulacrum of Pre-Raphaelite maidenhood; Grant is carrying more pounds than in his lean thirties, hair grayed and face a little jowly, but he remains very much the leading man. It’s not that I’d put Grant on a diet; I’d rather see Kidman, or any older woman, allowed to wrinkle and accumulate a spare tire and still play a complicated, vital main character. The disparity gets old. (As does the effort to discern facial expressions in an actor post-botox.)

Even in the underresourced world of literary publishing, most successful women-identified authors are glamorously slim and able-bodied. I sometimes wonder if the best thing I could do for my career would be to go paleo and get my eyebrows done, but I’d rather jump my game-token right to witchy croneland.

Lesley Wheeler, Report from hagdom

slid into a place where
long worn grooves of
deep body habit
flourish in the dirt
making mud pies in
a hot back yard the
taste is bitter.

loving the ugliness
of the deep body its
sweat and grease and
pungency its freely
unwashed hair and
legs of fur its
old Lilith.

Marie Craven, Slid

Meet my new friend, the viscacha. He’s got a look that is simultaneously wise, weary, and worked-over. While I can’t claim to be wise, I am definitely feeling weary and worked over by the world. Introduced this friend to my students this week and one responded with: “What does he hear that we don’t that he needs ears so big?”

José Angel Araguz, viscacha vibes, recent pubs, & upcoming virtual event

I had a rough week of not being able to do or say anything right 1) in Zoom meetings 2) in general. People sometimes disappear in Zoom if someone is screen sharing, and it’s getting harder and harder for me to connect, engage in true communication, and feel like myself. Also, it’s so very cold outside, and I’d rather sit on the couch reading books, wrapped up in a soft blue fleece blanket, than do anything else. 

Today I gave in to the couch, and that produced 4 poem drafts, a healing calm, and restored my sense of who I really am. Sigh… It helped this past week to call up some friends up spontaneously on the phone. Thank you, friends! It’s been almost a year of isolation, and maybe I hadn’t felt it as intensely till now. I know I’ve had it easier than many, as a shy person and an introvert and someone with a safe, masked, part-time job. Feeling for all the rest of you, you can be sure.

Kathleen Kirk, Rough Week

We ended the day on the porch with our mandolins trying to pick out the melody of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (a Leadbelly tune also known as “In the Pines” perhaps made famous most recently by Nirvana).  It’s not a very hard tune, so we also had time to talk some music theory, about key signatures and sharps and flats, theory that my spouse has internalized but astonishes me.  It reminds me of when my beloved undergrad English professor Dr. Swanson told me that all fiction must have conflict, and I ascertained that it did not, and she challenged me to give her one example.

Literary theory, music theory, political theory–why is my initial response to ascertain that the theory is wrong?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days Off, Days on My Feet

is awakened the word
for a seed that dies, then is sown

when i believe in what wind listens for
why does my nest unravel

can anyone else open a poem
to the fate of its reader

Grant Hackett [no title]

Somewhere in my drawers is a tape I made circa 1995.  I was coming off my first poetry workshop in the spring and was writing and submitting work at a rate I hadn’t been in a while. .  I would take my small black boombox out to the dining room table of my parent’s house where I would write in the afternoons and record myself reading the poems.  Mostly, to see if the sounded good when read aloud, since so much of poetry depends on the auditory. I saved the tape and traveled with me from apartment to apartment since , though I don’t even have a tape deck to play it these days.  Besides I am not sure I could handle hearing 21 year old Kristy and her terrible poems from this distance.  I do like the fact that it exists, along with cd recordings of several other radio readings preceding the rise of digital files. I also have a taped version of a reading we wound up recording in a bustling diner near Northeastern U. complete with dishes clattering and secret slot machine noise from the back. 

I have a strange relationship with the sound of my own voice, which of course does not sound anything like it does in my head when I hear it played back. Too childlike, too formal  I sometimes struggle with this when it comes to the video poems.  I remarked to a friend recently about the delight and surrealness of hearing other people’s voices read your work. Hearing your words in other people’s mouths and I remember the shock of the first time. Someone once told me at AWP that she had had her students read all the poems in a chapbook of mine, one poem per student, all in a circle and this felt like a ritual.  I wanted to see it and hear it all. This along with a local poet who once told me my work reminded her of a hybrid between Plath and a Davis Lynch film is one of the coolest things and highest compliments anyone has ever said about my writing. .  I want to put his on my tombstone. 

Kristy Bowen, voice and the spaces between

The body is always talking to us. 

This week, for me, included a recurring cricopharyngeal spasm – or in other words, a cramp in one of the muscles of my pharynx, typified in my case by the feeling of a painful lump in my throat and the sensation that something is stuck that cannot be swallowed down. 

Doctors aren’t quite sure what causes these spasms, but of course, anxiety is indicated. Anxiety, oh my faithful companion since childhood. Anxiety, gift-wrapped and presented to me by my mother who suffered mightily under its influence.

And of course, there’s plenty to be anxious about. No need to list here as I’m sure you have your own list which likely shares several items with mine. I wonder though if this week’s cricopharyngeal spasm might be my body manifesting what I feel so acutely – that I cannot get the words on the page – that I am choking on unwritten poems. 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Listening to the body

Having just finished “The Secret of the Old Clock” I have learned many astonishing things, among them that cinnamon cake topped with hot apple sauce is a thing that exists. Another is that we were once brave and hardy and healthy and wholesome. We knew how to do basic things like a change a tire, operate a motor boat and alter a garment. (Nancy does all three in the first few chapters alone.) I won’t go too far down the “we were better people then” rabbit hole, but it was a bit of a culture shock. The early Nancy Drew books were published in the 1930’s, and obviously it’s a whole other world now. We have lost a lot of competencies that used to be a given part of adulthood. Speaking of adulthood, it never occurred to me reading the books as a kid that Nancy is eighteen years old and living at home with her father with seemingly no plans for college or getting a job. For someone with nothing to do, she certainly manages to keep busy. And her Dad…can we just talk about her dad for a minute? I guess it must have been lost on me as a kid because I didn’t recall much about him, but Carson Drew is the best dad ever. He’s a kind and indulgent father, but he’s always pushing Nancy to think logically and to be courageous and make bold moves. And he raised Nancy as a single dad when her mother died.

Along those lines, I found it interesting how many of the characters in “Clock” had alternative living arrangements to the nuclear family. There were two cousins who lived together on a farm and made their living selling crops, sisters who were raising an orphaned child together, and Nancy herself, who lives with her father and his housekeeper. In fact, I don’t believe there was a single character in a nuclear family in the entire book. Most of the characters were struggling financially to some degree or another but they were getting by and they embodied stoicism. I can feel another bout of “we were better then” nostalgia coming on so I better wrap this up. The bottom line is, I have a Nancy Drew box set and I highly encourage you to obtain a box set as well…any box set. They are a thing of joy, no matter what your reading preference.

Kristen McHenry, Box Set Bonanza

One important factor when approaching poetry collections is their attitude to the reader. Some seem intent on talking to themselves in an echo chamber, while others generate an implicit dialogue with anyone who opens them. However, a select few establish their own interior dialogue, before offering the reader a role as observer and even as an additional participant.

If Jonathan Davidson’s new book, A Commonplace (Smith-Doorstep, 2020) achieves the unusual feat of belonging to this final category, it’s primarily because his method when assembling the manuscript also deviated from the norm. Not an anthology, not a single-author collection, Davidson’s book is a unique combination of his own poetry with work by others, all interwoven through snippets of prose that comment on, complement and join up the poems themselves. In itself, his breaking with convention is already a statement of intent.

Matthew Stewart, Challenging our preconceptions, Jonathan Davidson’s A Commonplace

One of the pleasing things about an anthology site like And Other Poems is the variety of themes, styles, and voices available.  Heidi Beck’s ecopoem ‘I Write to You from a Tree Museum’ takes as its starting point, lines from a Joni Mitchell song “‘They took all the trees / And put ’em in a tree museum” – the poem then makes real the grim possibility of earth’s great diversity of trees existing only within the confines of such a ‘museum’.
 
Caleb Parkin also imagines a world of species extinction, and draws attention to the climate emergency with the use of humour in his poem  ‘Please Do Not Touch the Walrus or Sit on the Iceberg’.  The speaker of the poem exuberantly ignores this instruction, an actual sign on an exhibit in London’s Horniman Museum, bringing to the foreground a reality which is all too easy to ignore.

Josephine Corcoran, January 2021 at And Other Poems

All cups of tea are generally amazing, but I’m thinking at the moment one of those cups you have when you have to say aloud “Ooh, that’s a good cup of tea”. The kind that usually only happen either at the start of the day or outside on a cold day, the kind that goes down in three to four boiling hot mouthfuls, but somehow doesn’t cause you third-degree burns of the gullet. You know the type.

This week my pre-bedtime reading has mainly been the latest copy of The North, #65.

The North is usually a great read and remains high on my list of magazines I’d love to be featured in. NB I have poems out for reading at The North at present, but I’m not writing this as an attempt to blow smoke up any arses, I am writing this because I am half-tempted to burn this copy. Not because it’s bad, quite the opposite. This issue is one of those cups of tea. I’ve come away from it with a long list of poets to investigate further—I suspect this means some of the folks who had found themselves close to the top of the TBR pile may find themselves nudged back down again.

I’ve turned over so many pages to come back to, to look up poets, etc that I probably should have just folded the mag in half when I’d finished.

Mat Riches, Bang To Rights

I’m absolutely floored to realize I’ve been missing out on a whole series of critical publications on small press endeavors (Derek Beaulieu did bring it up a while back, but I hadn’t gone to explore any of it), the “Among the Neighbors” chapbook series curated by Edric Mesmer, “a pamphlet series for the study of Little Magazines,” run through The Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo. The chapbooks that Mesmer was good enough to send along include Derek Beaulieu’s “TISH – Another ‘Sense of Things’” (#3, 2017), Tim Wright’s “Migrating Ears: Kris Hemensley’s The Merri Creek, Or, Neroand H/EAR, with some brief comments on the earlier publications Our Glass, Earth Ship, and The Ear in a Wheatfield” (#7, 2019), Tina Darragh’s“Washington, DC Poetry—Mass Transit and Folio Books Reading Series” (#11, 2020), Catherine Noske’s “Reading Piglets: Westerly Magazine, metadata, and the play of digital access to literary publication” (#12, 2020) and Adeena Karasick and Kedrick James’ “To Breathe Poetry Among the Neighbors: Two Essays on Anerca, a Journal of Experimental Writing (1985-1990)” (#13, 2020). What appeals in these publications is not simply the critical and conversational exploration of small press, but a recording and documentation of journals that might otherwise have simply disappeared into the ether of history—I’m struck, for example, to learn that Adeena Karasick and Kedrick James produced a small journal for half a decade, and I hadn’t heard a peep about it prior to this. It reminds of when I was gifted various bins of the late Ottawa poet Jane Jordan’s extensive librarya few years back, and discovered numerous Ottawa-based literary journals and presses from the 1970s and 80s I had never even heard of [see my post on such here].

rob mclennan, Among the Neighbors: a pamphlet series for the study of Little Magazines : #3, 7, 11-13

My second manuscript, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, was alphabetical by title. Because I wanted certain poems to appear earlier in the collection, this constraint of alphabetizing made me have to be more inventive with my titles, which ultimately strengthened my books. (One of these blog posts, I’m going to have to talk about constraints in our work as I feel it’s one of the most powerful tools for artists, poets, and writers for inventiveness, imagination, and getting out of our own ways…) 

But back to this manuscript stuff, my new book (which is currently heading to the printers as I type this!), Dialogues with Rising Tides is in sections, and it’s the most sections I’ve ever had in a book. Seven! 7 freakin’ sections! I would have never thought I’d write a book full of sections, but I realized for this book, for me to weave together the different themes (environmental collapse, suicide, relationships, love/desire, melancholy, anxiety, cruel politics), I needed the reader to have more pauses in the book so they could have space to take it all in. 

Because the ocean plays such a big role in my book, my section titles are named after lightvessels (also called lightships). These are huge ships that act as floating lighthouses to keep people away from hazards. There’s a section called Break Sea (ways the world tries to break us), Black Deep (lots of melancholy themed poems in here), Shambles (poems about America and getting an IUD during 45s inauguration!) My hope was also the poems would be lightvessels for readers–even while they explore some tougher subjects. 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Thoughts on Putting Together a Poetry Manuscript

So, as we watch old movies, and watch the snow come down, I’m tentatively thinking about the future. Have you started doing that yet? I’m thinking about my birthday, April 30, and daring to hope I will have the vaccine by then so I can safely go to, for instance, the bookstore or the dentist. Things I’ve been putting off – like going to the gardening store I love, or schedule an appointment to go into Open Books again to browse poetry. I hope to have a celebration, even if it’s just a small one.

And I’m scheduling some medical appointments I’ve been putting off. I’m getting my MRI of my liver  – which I haven’t had for a year – next week, and hoping for good news (or no news) there, and soon I’ll be getting my brain MRI for my MS. Health care does feel a little safer now that health care workers, at least, have been vaccinated, even if I haven’t.

And looking at book publishers and imagining which I would like to have publish one of my book manuscripts. There are great established publishers I love – like Copper Canyon, or BOA, or Graywolf – and some great newer ones, like Acre Books or Yes Yes Books. I’ve even started thinking about book covers…I’m hoping that the acceptance of one of the books isn’t too far off now. Is this unfounded optimism? I don’t know. I’m even working on a third manuscript – which seems like the height of nuttiness, but I think I’ve written another book after the second one, all about the pandemic. I’ve also reached out to a couple of poets that I’ve been online friends with for a long time to talk about publication, and it turns out, it’s a great idea to talk on the phone to people instead of just social media. It reminds me of the eighties, when you’d write letters to your friends and sometimes call them, but it was probably too expensive to do often. I’m realizing I have a poetry friends I’ve known for years all over the US, and talking to them reminds me we are all in this together – whether you’re in upstate New York, rural Virginia, or like me, in a far-out suburb of Seattle. Everyone has struggles and doubts, and talking about them seems to make them lessen, and encouraging friends make everything a little better.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Valentine’s Day (during a Pandemic and a Snowstorm!), Tentatively Thinking About the Future, and Adventures in Japanese and Plath

The 40 days of Lent — which comes from an Anglo Saxon word meaning lengthen, as in days lengthening into Spring — are just around the corner. They begin February 17 this year, and continue (with Sundays off, as a day of rest) until April 3, the day before Easter. Traditionally, many Christians give something up for Lent: chocolate or plastics or red meat. I encourage whatever giving-up you feel will help you confront yourself this season.

But what if you also gave up “not writing” for Lent this year? […]

I have so many irons in the fire right now, that it’s probably a little crazy to add one more thing. Even so, I’ve been really really procrastinating on getting my next poetry manuscript together — making excuses not to start it — so that’s what I’m going to give up “not working on.”

Bethany Reid, So, What Will You Give Up for Lent?

Feeding the horse there’s extra hay, a carrot
            & my own body offered up for science, they study

my fires. I immolate 5, 6 times a night, you know
            how it is, or you don’t, quantitative now this heart

rate tachycardic still 11 months later. 5 degrees outside,
            1000 in (or plummet, depending). One time a fragment

burned so hot it turned obsidian then cracked heart-shaped:
            millennia later, you found it on a beach & pocketed

hope, a thing with feathers, metaphor.

JJS, Valentine with death and life

You did leave, she was right. The odds she had given me – 83%, she said, not 80 or 85, I always loved the precision of that – turned out well. And though I have been certain at least twice that you were returning, still you have not come back. I am amazed by that, and grateful. Most days I do not even think about you.

Only, I do. I think about you a lot. I have written two books about you (possibly three). You are in everything I do, because I am still being touched by what you did (are doing) to me, even though you have left and are no longer in my body. Those ghost-pains down my right side, just above my kidneys (we thought it was stones). The hours I still lose wondering if you are there and if you were there, how would I live my life then, having been known by you already?

For someone with no presence, you have a long shadow. In my life, my body, my mind, and in the lives of those I love whose bodies you also seem to need. People used to ask me, was I angry that I had you. No, I said. But I was sad that my children had to know about you at such a young age. I am angry, though. I am angry that you took away my friends and are trying to take away others. I am angry that we still talk about fighting you, as though we have individual responsibility for making ourselves better. Tomorrow, next week, next month, a person we all love will die having fought a ‘battle’ with you. For one so common, you have so much power. We can be cured from having you, but we cannot cure our addiction to needing to talk about you as a battle to the death.

At least we no longer refer to you by your initial. At least we now say cancer. A doctor friend of mine says the next word we need to deal with is depression. (I know about that too, thanks in part to you.) I am no expert, but think he may be right. When I was ill with you I talked about you all the time. Then wrote about you all the time. Writing and talking about depression is much harder for me. (We can maybe talk about the reasons another time.) But you, cancer, you were the one who changed everything. You were the one, you see. You changed the way I read, the way I believe, the way I am in my body, my family. I still stand by what I said: you made me pay attention. Though you taught me more than I ever want to know, I still don’t think I can say thank you.

Anthony Wilson, Dear Cancer

dreams passed through me like miracles
is it still the same life

James Lee Jobe, is it still the same life

infinite nightmare storage system
to make space in my life
for the ancestor

cola-pen calligraphy
tiny little pamphlet books
close to our hearts

Ama Bolton, ABCD late January 2021

Given my inclination towards the ruthless, I’d imagine the answer to that question would have been – chuck them straight into the recycling bin. As for reading them, just don’t go there.

And so, why, when I did find a small clutch of loose pages of poems under old papers at the bottom of a drawer unexplored for years a few days ago, did I find myself flicking through them and then settling down to read? A self-indulgent, weak moment, certainly. What did I hope to find or learn? I didn’t know. It was eerie, looking at things typed out more than forty, in some cases almost fifty years ago. Who was this person? Not me, surely. And what, after the reading of them, made me think about, not only keeping them, but putting some of them up here for public consumption? Perhaps because it’s what this blog should be about – a writing life, to include the naive, potentially embarrassing attempts, as well as those you believe might have a little more value.

Bob Mee, WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU FIND OLD POEMS YOU THOUGHT WERE LONG THROWN OUT?

the sargasso sea 

the words that are becalmed
the plastic words
the slippery elver words
the journeys ahead for them 
even
the ones that slowly sink longingly

Jim Young, see

I want at last to be honored,
not for me, but for the work

I’ve done, for the moments I have
recorded, for the light I have

praised, the trees I have sung of,
the birds, oh, yes, the birds. That these

least small things shall not be lost,
I want at last to be honored.

Tom Montag, I WANT AT LAST TO BE HONORED

The woman gestures, one hand

near her lips and the other as if drawing
a curtain aside. That’s all we can really do

until the rider looms closer on the plain.
We can see the sparks from his horse’s hooves;

then there’s no mistaking his cloak of bitumen
or his slate, marked with names and numbers.

Luisa A. Igloria, We Don’t See Death Until After it Arrives

Still life has been referred to as a world on a table, planet on a table, and that seems to help me sort out my thoughts. There’s so much chaos. At least on the table of things, order can be found or made or at least composed temporarily. […]

So yes, I keep thinking about how everything in our lives is getting arranged and rearranged on the regular. We get laid off from our jobs, we’re called back, only to be laid off again. Or we’re kept on, in my case, but the job is radically different. The numbers are high and we’re told to stay home, then they drop and guidelines are relaxed, then it’s all reversed. You all know how it goes by now. You had one plan, and now you have another. You looked forward to this thing, and now you tend to look forward to other smaller things, closer to home.

In a still life, you move one object, and three more slide off the table. A glass gets broken occasionally, or the unwinding rind of the lemon becomes detached from the fruit and you stick it back on with a toothpick. Scotch tape is hauled out. A dish is propped up from behind by a couple of walnuts. Everything is too much. You start to subtract. You go minimalist, and that’s fine for a bit too.

Shawna Lemay, Rearranging Things

Things I cannot fix,
an incomplete list:

armed militias.
Global pandemic.

The grief of staying apart
and unbearable yearning.

Rage at insurrectionists
and anti-maskers.

Things I can fix:
lunch for my child.

This winter stew, meat
from the freezer

and dried mushrooms
plumping in hot broth.

Warm speckled rye dough
pliant beneath my hands.

Rachel Barenblat, Fix

I haven’t been able to write this week.
I’ve been unraveling from the edges that brush against the world.
The softness falls away, and I am a skeleton of splintered glass.
Balancing fractured surfaces upright.

I took a course once on trauma and movement and the instructor said something that shifted my perspective. Drama teachers I’ve had, and have worked with use a standard image during warm-up sequences: “Now roll up: one vertebra at a time. Stacking one on top of the other.”

An upright stack of bones being pulled toward the earth.

But the body doesn’t work that way. You cannot stack a skeleton. Not in death. Not in life.

We are suspension bridges.

I think about this image a lot. I come back to it when I feel heavy in the world. We are animated by opposing tensions. Naturally pulled in varying directions as we go about our days. It opens us. Our ribs open and lift like wings when we breathe.

Ren Powell, Suspension

When I say I hear your voice across the miles, what I mean is river, moon, sage, sermon, orchard, wish, and wilderness.

In other words, simply knowing there is room in our beings for the ethical and ethereal, the earthbound and unimaginable, is all I need right now.

Put another way, knowing we wander this earth together at this time in history might not be the inoculation I need for a pandemic,

but it is the perfect medicine for my heart.

Rich Ferguson, Heart Medicine

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 4

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

It’s been a rough month for many, and a rough year for a world suffering through a pandemic. All is not gloom in the poetry blogs, though, and the winter darkness throws flashes of humor or insight into sharp relief. Like so many, I was cheered this week to hear that the inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman, will be reading at the Superbowl. It feels as if poetry is finally going somewhere, even if most poets are still stuck at home.


Lay down the aphorisms, brick by brick. Play word-
tricks: the awkward juggler has to catch all the

balls tossed in the air, here homonyms fall neatly,
at their pleasure. Isn’t war, unwarranted? Isn’t man,

manipulated? Was there a poet present when light
emerged to rhyme with night?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Poetricks

Little B still wakes up 2-4 times a night so my sleep sucks.

As a writer, it is so hard for me to go to bed when B does and to not get up until everyone does. If I stay up an extra hour, I can write in the still darkness of the sleeping house! If I get up an hour early, I can write as the sun breaks open the day! I love writing when the family is asleep – no interruptions or competition for my time.

But this year I am committing to sleep first, write second. When B starts sleeping through the night, I can take up my writing in those odd hours again, but for now, I need to not treat my body like crap.

Renee Emerson, Zzzzzs

That night, I fell asleep in front of Netflix’s The Minimalists, but not before hearing and thinking about its primary message: We are so consumed with having physical things that we forfeit the intangible ones that make us truly happy–time, community, creativity, meaningful accomplishment, rest, health (personal and global). There are some things in my life that are hugely challenging–more challenging than they’ve ever been, maybe–but my friend was seeing something true: I am less stressed. I have fewer obligations and fewer life chores and more time than I’ve ever had for long conversations, leisurely meals, neighborhood walks, and serious contemplation. I’ve begun moving through my days at a slower pace, doing what I reasonably can rather than what some unreasonable voice is telling me I should. (No one seems to have noticed or, if they have noticed, to have cared.) That voice has gone mostly silent.

My life–not unlike the Roses’–is much smaller than it once was. There are people and places I deeply miss, but most of what has fallen away I do not. My connections to what and who remains are deeper. I don’t know that I am happier; the departure of Busyness made it easier for Hard Things to come in. But on the whole, I am calmer. I am finding that letting some of those hard things claim space has been easier than fighting to hold the door against them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of stories and self-care

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had Covid dreams. Logically, I should be more concerned, considering the increase in local cases of the new mutation. I don’t know. Maybe my subconscious has played out the scenario so many times it has soothed itself. Or simply resigned.

It’s been below freezing for a couple of weeks. The house is a little cold, which means the bedroom is especially chilly – and that’s good for sleep.

I doubt the dreams are gone for good. But I’ll enjoy these deep-sleep nights for now.

I’ve only rarely gone outside this week. But enough to see the full moon begin to sag just a little. I’ve stood on the deck to watch – and hear – the sparks flying from the contact cables when the freight train passes. It frightens Leonard, who otherwise loves the cold weather. I wonder if the smell of the hares in the area sits in relief above the smell of the clean snow.

Ren Powell, Warm Bodies in Cold Rooms

But over the last two years, as I’ve been getting ready for this book to come out, I have woken up in the middle of the night anxious about my poems–not the craft of them, that I have worked on endlessly, but that some deal with some very personal topics. As I received my final edits this week, I found myself waking up at 3 am with a “what have I done?” feeling. Along with the gratitude and thankfulness of this book, I’ve been hit with the classic–Omg, people are actually going to read this! 

Talking with other women poets, I realize many have also had this fear or concern as their books and poems come out into the world. It comes down to risk, we need to write what scares us.

I took a class with Brenda Hillman and after we shared a poem, she would ask us, “What did you risk?” Some people would say, “I’m writing in a new form” or “I risked sentimentality” but some would say, “I’m writing about something that makes me feel shameful” or “I’m writing about a topic I have been afraid to share.” Every time we risk or write about the things we are afraid to or think we shouldn’t, we open doors for other poets to do the same thing. 

In a world of filters and photoshop, it can be hard to be real and vulnerable. Sometimes we want to put on a lot of concealer and cover what we consider are our flaws. I want to consider that word “flaw”–maybe what we consider our “flaws” are us just being human. Maybe when we are able to say “this happened to me” or “this was very hard to write about and equally hard to publish,” we are finding ways for others to feel less alone in the world. 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Feel the Fear and Write It Anyway

One comes away feeling that Dillard is struggling, hard, with the aftereffects of some kind of deeply traumatic experience, of which the frog being sucked dry by a giant water bug — the book’s most disturbing, recurring motif — is just a pale reflection. Sometimes I felt her angst was arising only because she had her framing wrong and was looking at the situation backward, leading her to anguished conclusions (the chapter on “Fecundity” for instance: “Evolution loves death more than it loves you or me.”). Other times I was grateful and amazed for her ability to describe transcendent/immanent experiences in which the self disappears and life shines forth in all its blinding presence (the chapters on “Presence” and “Stalking” for instance).

Overall, an undeniable classic of nature literature, of course, but also a reading experience I wouldn’t recommend to just anyone. Don’t come here unless you like having your hair set aflame.

Dylan Tweney, The tree with the lights in it

I didn’t get a “hit of sun” this morning, but those few extra minutes of light, even from behind thick clouds, made a difference. Checking the sunrise/sunset times for today, I see that the sun came up at 7:33 am and will go down at 5:17 pm. That’s forty-one more minutes of light since December 21, 2020. Not that I’m counting.

The thing about SAD, at least for me, is that I don’t really notice it until it starts to recede. Then I realize that the darkness did affect my mood, dulling it just enough for me to observe the change when the light starts to return. 

Light affects my hens too. During the Fall, they lay fewer and fewer eggs. Commercial egg producers address this by adding artificial light to their chicken coops, which explains why we can buy eggs year-round. 

I prefer to let my hens have a rest, knowing they’ll start laying again as soon as the light returns. During the dark months, I feed them extra-choice tidbits, add apple cider vinegar to their water, and make sure they have dry bedding. I watch for signs of stress, which include poor appetite, aggression, and pulling each other’s feathers. Every once in a while, I let them out of their pen to explore the larger backyard.

On December 31, 2020, I wrote this haiku:

                           every day
                           another morsel of light
                           in spite of everything

I hope the returning light inspires your writing.

Erica Goss, I’m a SAP: A Seasonally Affected Poet

It’s currently snowing and they are daring to call it a blizzard, but it at least worked out to be happening over the weekend, when I am tucked inside safely until Monday afternoon.  I’ve been cleaning a little, drafting the latest Paper Boat, drinking tea, and making chicken soup. All very relaxing after a long week, that began with the cats trying to kill us by turning on the stove last Sunday morning (just a lot of smoke and a very badly damaged stir-fry pan that happened to be on the burner), and ended with a Friday that felt like I was chasing my tail at work and not getting all that much accomplished besides answering and sending faculty e-mails and lib answer queries in the hours I was there.  It was also just cold and snowed a lot.  I slept really late this morning covered in cats (who cannot kill me now that I have child protectors on the stove knobs) and buried beneath the covers to escape the chill. Lately, with everything else going on, it being winter feels like a personal affront that is not really personal at all. 

Thursday, I spent some time choosing work for reading in a week or so for the Poetry Foundation, and decided to go with a batch of the tabloid poems, mostly because they are humorous and a lot less dark than most of what I’ve been writing lately and since last year.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 1/30/2021

Groceries unpacked, my feet are frozen in leaking drifts of winter. Someone posts Pema Chodron droning on about seeking meaning in the presence of death as though this is a novel idea, as though some of our bodies don’t have to live there all the time: what did I do with my hours, they ask. Did I value what I value? What is a day for when we are all soon to die?

To love, and be loved, I snap at the screen, obviously, and scroll on looking for something not obvious, for something to surprise me: spend years in death’s talons and you know there is nothing else but this body and the way it loves and is loved, by every measure of that foolish word.

Sure, talk to me about checking accounts and free gifts so I can notice your laughlines and try to remember what a landscape unfrozen looks like, what love is when it is not scrapped. All else is waste. The chasing of money in freezing drifts. So much of this just obvious noise. People post about astrology. Aliens. Ferfuckssake, I think, and click away, exhausted by the endless reaching for fantasy when the real, the wondrous, is right here, you just have to see it, then nurture it. Maybe I should have just given him my phone number.

Mom still isn’t really waking, or eating, or sleeping. Except sometimes she does: it’s not low oxygen causing it, just covid, just death’s talons, just her decision in her animal body whether to beat it or be beaten. I don’t know whether it’s beating me or I’m beating it, she says, and I tell her I’m so sorry I can’t be there with her. Her floor quarantined, her memory an Escher hallway, her existential end a solitary conflict between animal body and remaining cognition that knows she does not want to live like this. I negotiate with her lack of appetite: what about grapes? Mashed potatoes? A brownie? Her dehydration: not even ginger ale. What about a Coke?

JJS, Wolf Moon

Whisper it quietly, but I think that January might just be over. I’m not 100% convinced, but early indications are that February will commence as of tomorrow.

This is good as it means I can a) stop running every day and b) drink again. I could, of course, have started/stopped (delete as applicable) either of these things at any time, but I chose to persevere with them and I wanted to stick to them. Just to prove that I can make my own choices I am now going to open a beer. I think I’ve earned it for the running part.

In media-type Twitter circles whenever you see a brand or person/both go viral (whatever that means), either for good work or a faux pas, you will often hear someone say I bet that makes it into a deck* by a planner. Essentially, it will be quickly subsumed into being used as an example of what works (usually without any proof it works or any definition of what works actually means).

However, I was reminded of this briefly during the week when I walked past Flo’s room and heard her English teacher talking to the class via Teams about Amanda Gorman’s poem from the Biden/Harris inauguration. I was amazed to hear that Gorman’s poem had made it to the curriculum so quickly. It hasn’t, but it was wonderful to hear the poem being used to hopefully make poetry seem relevant to Flo’s class.

I’m not 100% sure where I stand on the poem myself, but I can totally see how it can help to get poetry out to people and pique interest. I hope that her being the first poet to read at the Superbowl and her subsequent modeling contract bring her all the right attention, and also that if even one person picks up a pen as a result then it’s all good.

Mat Riches, Gardiner At Night

Poetry is in the news these days. Not just the luminous performance of Amanda Gorman at the Biden Inauguration, but tweets that are snapshots of poems and articles that extol the benefits of pandemic poetry processing. Poems like whales in the bay, rise to the surface with a gust of sound and then sinking gracefully only to rise again twenty feet away. 

After Gorman’s recitation, I received more than a handful of emails and private messages on various social media platforms asking, “Was that a good poem?” I saw the bitter sniping by some of the academic establishment. I saw enjoyment, even amazement, by folks that probably thought that poetry was “too hard” or not for them, and here they were loving a poem and its graceful and gracious presentation.

My response to their questions about Gorman’s poem on Facebook: 

Did it touch you? Did it resonate with you?  These are the questions you must answer to understand if it was a good poem FOR YOU. The days of the gatekeepers are over, especially for the older, white, cis-het university crowd.  I find myself going back to something W.S. Merwin wrote: If you find you no longer believe, enlarge the temple. Let’s let the temple of poetry be as large as the whole world. Read poetry. Write it. Talk about it. Love it. Share it. Enlarge the temple.

The past few evenings, I’ve been reading the poetry of Rebecca Elson, who was primarily an astronomer but who wrote breathtakingly beautiful poems in her scant 39 years of life. I’ve been sharing them on social media because I want other people to learn about her work, to be nourished by her poems. Poetry as part of the gift culture, not the capitalist culture. I’ll never make my living writing poetry (something my father was quick to point out to me when I was fifteen), but it will be the way that I make my life. 

Whatever your gift is, I hope that today you will have the pleasure of sharing it.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Gift culture

I have to admit I’m not keen on references to gatekeepers in poetry, as the term implies that poets might somehow find favour with people who could grant them access to a supposed citadel or inner sanctum, at which point they’ll have arrived and somehow made it to the top. This mistaken belief inevitably leads to continual and continuous frustration for the poets in question.

Of course, there’s always a social establishment in the poetry world (as in many others), which is successively replaced by new establishments, all with their own prejudices, favourites and friends. However, I personally find that the key as an individual is to focus efforts on living, reading, writing, finding readers who are already out there and generating new ones for the genre rather than wasting precious energy on the pursuit of a non-existent Holy Grail…

Matthew Stewart, Poetry’s inner sanctum

My goal to keep learning about women writers and their lives continues, this week with the second season of Dickinson, the Apple series on Emily Dickinson, reading Red Comet, the latest biography of Sylvia Plath, and also research on Stella Gibbons, a curiously undercelebrated early-twentieth century English novelist and poet, who wrote Cold Comfort Farm, the satiric novel she’s best known for, but also 22 other books, including a couple of books of poetry and many short stories and the book I’m reading now, My American. Stella was, like me, was a journalist before she was a poet and fiction writer. Many of her books are out of print and unavailable in America, but she won a bunch of awards in her day, and held literary salons into the 1970s. When I read about the lives of successful women writers, I’m always curious about their similarities – for instance, women writers like Atwood, Gluck, and Plath (and me) were all the daughters of scientists – Gibbons’ father was a doctor (“a good doctor,” his daughter would say, “but a terrible father” – he was often violent at home but charitable at work). Otto Plath was one of the leading experts on bumblebees in his time – he began his PhD at Harvard at age 40 before he met Plath’s mother, so he was a very old father – but not, by all accounts, much fun to be around. (Coincidentally, Plath’s son, Nicholas, kind of followed in his grandfather’s footsteps – became a leading expert in the Northwest on salmon and orca patterns, before taking his own life in his early forties.)  Sylvia had a kind of extreme ambition and broke 50s modes by being a woman who wanted to work and have children at the same time (gasp), while Stella Gibbons poked fun at the literary community and often refused to follow convention of what women writers were supposed to be like. Being different – standing out – and rebelling against current modes.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Learning from Women Writers, Under a Wolf Moon, Looking at Book Publishers During Submission Season, and Waiting (and Waiting) for the Vaccine

Mingus! Dolphy!
Elderly people doing yoga!
Park pavilions full of
downward dogs & the upper class.
The Buick owners realigning their chakras
before heading off to brunch.
Everyone has a dog or else no one does.
There’s ozone in the air but the sun is out.
Where’s the promised thunder?
The desert is a dirty liar.
The bass clarinet will have to do.

Jason Crane, POEM: Revenge!

If a clonk on the head with a coconut could dispel my problems I’d line up for a whap. And if the people I love asked, I’d cure their worst troubles with a coconut whap too. This contradicts what I’m beginning to understand about the powerful lessons embedded in mistakes and suffering. But as I get older I get more impatient. The coconut option just seems a hell of a lot easier.

I imagine ridiculous, Gilligan’s Island-worthy scenarios where a mass coconut drop on our country erases racism, sexism, inequality, greed, heck, all our major problems. I imagine us rubbing our heads with peaceful, bemused expressions as we gather up the coconuts and make each other inventive, delicious meals out of all that bounty.

Until I remember, on Gilligan’s Island, whatever problems were solved by a sudden coconut hit were always cancelled out by an inevitable follow-up coconut hit. The professor forgets his brilliant insight, Mary Ann again judges her looks by impossible standards, Gilligan transforms back into a clueless underling. Getting that second hit is pretty much what happens to most of us when epiphanies slide from memory, when awe fades, when the weight of consumer culture drags us back into ruts.  

Laura Grace Weldon, Clonk

We’ve looked for that fabled
plant of many colors, the bird

whose song grows a canopy of grace
over the blighted land. We’ve pushed

our stone-heavy hearts into the wood,
afraid to return without remedy,

without salve. We would lie
down with each other if we knew

we could send strong
new roots into the earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Anti-Elegy

I got the first dose of the vaccine, last Wednesday. As a massage therapist, I count as a health care worker, so I’m in the first wave. It’s a relief to know that, even as I dawdle and second guess and hang about, my body is busily manufacturing antibodies. In one way, nothing changes: none of my behaviors will change, for a while yet. But it feels totally different. We will win this thing, eventually.

Also: I am very, very tired.

Dale Favier, Things Taking Shape

Last spring the shelves of grocery stores were often bare. No toilet paper, no flour, no Clorox wipes. Fruits and vegetables were hard to find, for a while. We haven’t returned to those levels of privation (yet) this winter, but there are ingredients I can’t find. I think of previous generations cooking during wartime, or in the shtetl, or in the Warsaw Ghetto. (I don’t want to think of subsisting on what food was available in the camps.) This isn’t like that, but that’s the narrative frame that comes to mind. 

When I read about people who refuse to wear masks or maintain social distancing, I think: would you have turned on your lights during the Blitz? It’s not a kind thought, but I struggle to feel kindness toward those whose actions put others at risk. Much about this pandemic year feels like a discipline: staying apart, staying masked, staying alone, cooking with what I can get. The hardest discipline is maintaining a healthy balance between facing reality, and not perseverating about the reality we face.

The hardest discipline is cultivating hope. This week on the Jewish calendar we mark the New Year of the Trees. Symbolically, spiritually, the sap of the coming spring and summer is beginning to rise. The potential for flower and fruit lies coiled in every seed. The days will lengthen. The vaccine will become available to everyone. The branches that are now bare will carry a profusion of fruit. Can I hold the experience of January’s bitter cold alongside the certainty that in its time spring will come? 

Rachel Barenblat, Discipline

Scrolling through Twitter one morning, as one does, I saw that someone posted a video with the caption, “turn up your sound” but I mis-read it as turn up your soul. We see what we need to see sometimes.

Maybe it’s nearly time to reconstitute the world:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

—Adrienne Rich

Maybe it’s time for poems to fill with light again, for poets. Which is to say, all of us.

A poetry of the meaning of words
And a bond with the universe

I think there is no light in the world
but the world

And I think there is light

— George Oppen

In my study, as shown above, there are most likely a lot of conversations taking place. Between Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Mrs. Dalloway, a cloud. Who knows what they’re talking about? On the bookshelves as well. As it turns out I file Anne Sexton beside Hermann Hesse.

Sexton: “I am not lazy. / I am on the amphetamine of the soul.”

She also said, “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”

I’m not one of these people who is going to tell you everything will be alright. For many it simply won’t be. Or hasn’t been.

Shawna Lemay, Turn Up Your Soul

Back to teaching full time this week. Been exciting and inspiring, while at the same time very real. What I mean is that the more I teach, the more I feel myself be more myself. And it’s not a thing I can summon or call forth. The space held in shared open questioning and conversation calls it forth.

Tangentially connected, at one point this week I watched this interview and supplemental writing “exercise” clips between Trevor Noah and Amanda Gorman that are illuminating. In the interview, Gorman speaks of poetry as water, a way to “re-sanctify, re-purify, and reclaim” the world around us. Her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” and its consequent impact on our American conscience at this moment in time are a solid gesture and step in the direction of this work.

In the second clip, Noah and Gorman engage in a predictive text writing exercise. It’s the kind of thing I see on Twitter sometimes and can’t help but join in on. Engaging directly and purposefully with predictive text can at times feel like having an echo of your latest obsessions as well as the way you articulate yourself in daily life cast back at you. Sometimes the screens in our hands look back, yo.

José Angel Araguz, writing prompt: predictive text

I’ve been trying to draw and paint more regularly. It’s therapy, and it’s a joy, and it’s a way to remember who I am — as well as, I suppose, record who I was. My sketchbooks are just as much a diary as a written one, but that reminds me of my recurrent dream where I’m seated at the piano and required to play, except that what’s on the music stand isn’t a musical score but a painting. Somehow, I start playing what I see, and in the dream, it seems to make sense…

For someone who works in both words and in images, as well as being a musician, that dream feels all too real, and it makes me ask the question of whether a diary of one’s days isn’t just as valid if it is drawn as when it is written. Of course, the two can be merged together, as I guess I sometimes do here on my blog. But because I often find words (and especially, my own words) tedious, I like the idea of “reading” a sketchbook in order to discern something about a person’s life.

When I look through my drawings of the past year, however, I don’t think anyone else could tell we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Taken in the context of all the other sketchbooks from other years, it’s clear that the artist often goes other places, and hasn’t in a long while. But otherwise, except for a couple of pages at the beginning where the chaotic state of my mind was evident, all I can detect is a turn toward more color, the same objects appearing repeatedly, and occasional forays into places I’ve visited, mainly Mexico City, Sicily, and Greece.

As we near the one-year mark of isolation, in another month, in the middle of yet another winter, I can tell you that I am intensely tired of these walls and these two rooms. I’ve been going up to my studio a couple of afternoons a week, and managed to do a painting of Sicily this week.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 55. Inside, Outside, and Elsewhere

My poem “After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night” has been published in Kahini Quarterly.

I’m especially glad that this deeply personal poem found a home in Kahini Quarterly, which is the most selective and highest paying literary journal I know. I was so shocked when I got this acceptance last week; I responded by going to sleep for 12 hours! I’m grateful to the editors for choosing my work and for placing such value on writing, and I’m overwhelmed by the messages of affirmation and solidarity I’ve received.

Kate Manning, “After an Older Man…” in Kahini Quarterly

In poetry news, I’m waiting to hear about a few submissions (just had a big rejection) and I’m toying with the idea of a pamphlet submission.  I’m not sure I’m ready for another collection yet.  I’m a bit stuck with poetry at the moment, and I’ve been reading prose and scripts because I’m finding poetry difficult to access.  Perhaps a break from poetry will cleanse my palate. I’m re-reading The Great Gatsby after listening to a superb episode of In Our Time in which the book was discussed.  I’ve always loved Fitzgerald’s prose and revisiting feels like calling in to see an old friend.

Josephine Corcoran, Two Chopsticks and a Pencil for the Hyacinths

Canadian poet Christopher Patton’s latest title is Dumuzi (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2020), a a poetry collection that follows his poetry debut, Ox(Montreal QC: Vehicule Press, 2007), as well as his Medieval translations Curious Masonry (Gaspereau Press, 2011) and Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book (Gaspereau Press, 2018). Having established himself as having an interest in exploring and reworking older source texts, Patton’s Dumuzi appears a blend of those two earlier threads of his publishing history, composing a translation inasmuch as Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? can be seen as a translation of The Odyssey; both rework from the bones of their original sources, and through the creation of a new and original work, uncover previously unseen meaning and depth from such ancient texts. Dumuzi tears apart and reworks old Sumerian myths into an assemblage of lyric fragments and sketches, as he explains as part of his essay “THE GOD DUMUZI AND THE POLICE FORCE INSIDE”: “I see now that my pleasure in pattern for its own sake, there on the signal-noise threshold, was an approach to translation. I was working with the Sumerian myths of Inanna and Dumuzi. Their stories are liturgically redundant, enough so to alter your time-sense, when you’re inside them. And a persistent theme of the poems is the agon, if you like, of form and formlessless.” Dumuzi reworks an ancient tale through the building-blocks of language itself, opening with a short suite of establishing poems to set the foundation of his narrative before the narrative fractures and fractals out in multiple directions. It is as though Patton works translation, mistranslation and misheard translation, utilizing the loose structure of the ancient Sumerian stories and utilizing his play from those ancient bones.

rob mclennan, Christopher Patton, Dumuzi

Philip Hoare is another writer whom I admire. His Risingtidefallingstar (2017) is Sebaldian in many ways: its episodic mixture of what appears to be autobiography – though Hoare doesn’t, fictionalise it like Sebald did – and potted accounts of incidents from the lives of literary and other figures of historical importance. Risingtidefallingstar includes chapters on gay and bisexual writers – Wilde and Stephen Tennant (about both of whom he has previously written at length), Wilfred Owen (about whose life I hitherto knew little bar the Craiglockhart interlude and the agonising futility of his death so close to the Armistice) and Virginia Woolf. But Hoare also recounts biographical details from the lives of others intimately connected with water: Melville, Nelson, Thoreau, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Shelley and Byron.

I know its details well, but the story of Shelley’s end resounds with me whenever I read it. In June 2017, Lyn and I holidayed in Viareggio, where Edward Trelawney, Byron and co. ceremonially burnt Shelley’s corpse on the beach, fifteen days after the fatal boat trip and five after the body had washed up. A year later, we took the train north from Pisa to La Spezia, and then a taxi, whose driver initially dropped us at the wrong place in Lerici, before dropping us at Casa Magni itself, where Shelley and his family and friends were staying when he died. Hoare’s account, like others I’ve read (including that of Richard Holmes), states that the house is in Lerici, but it’s actually couple of miles along the coast, in San Terenzo, with a lovely beach and bay of its own. When we arrived, we found the house, now a hotel, locked up and there was no answer when we rang the bell. After a while, we were admitted and shown to what was Shelley’s bedroom. For several days we were the only guests, and the staff were absent to the point of invisibility, as if it were our own house. When two other (English) guests appeared at breakfast, it felt like a gross intrusion.

As one would expect from someone who grew up and still lives in the great port city of Southampton, whence the Titanic began its voyage, the book is dominated by the coastline – e.g. the pretext for Barrett Browning’s inclusion is her sojourn in Torquay – and oceans and the peril they bring. In that, it reminded me of Anne-Marie Fyfe’s equally restless mixture of memoir, biography and travelogue, No Far Shore, with which it shares some concerns. Followers of Hoare on Twitter will be well aware of his daily swim in the sea and how it’s an essential part of his life. As the cetacean-obsessed writer of Leviathan, he is, or would love to be, half-man–half-dolphin, meeting jellyfish and a singing whale. At New Networks for Nature a few years ago, Hoare enthralled me and the rest of the audience with his tales of close encounters with sperm whales off the coasts of the Azores. As I read his book, I heard and felt his enthusiasm and learning.

Matthew Paul, January Reading

winter swimming
my fingers are sausages
my toes are white

Jim Young [no title]

holding my breath
the dragonfly’s
stilled wings

I’ve not been particularly poetic, or productive, this week. Tired from work, tired from the cold weather, maybe tired of the gloom that surrounds us mid-pandemic. But January’s like that sometimes. I keep telling myself spring is just around the corner. The days are lengthening a little, and I hear the birds singing when I go out with the dog. I’ve done the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend – 2 male blackbirds, a pair of collared doves and a scattering of house sparrows. I was hoping for more variety as we often have goldfinches and blue tits, and now and again the trauma of a sparrow hawk. Anyway, I had to be content with what I saw.

The colouring/ collage above is from a mindfulness colouring book someone bought me for Christmas. I had more time over the Christmas holiday, and rather than just colour, I also used collage techniques to fill some of the pages (see below). Anyway, the dragonfly page lent itself to a haiku.

Julie Mellor, holding my breath

As poets, I don’t believe we ever ‘start from nothing’. Or rather – I think that there’s a huge potential in every nothing we encounter. Our lives and lived experiences – although rich and vital components of our work – are also only one approach to writing.

My little bureau under the stairs is dedicated to what Don Paterson calls the ‘wild red eye’ stage of writing: where you play, experiment, set out to see how you might surprise yourself. (I edit upstairs at my desk, where I welcome the ‘cold blue eye’ of my Inner Editor).

Some mornings, the Muse rings the doorbell and leaves a parcel – or pops in for a cup of tea (they’re non-corporeal, so we don’t need to socially distance). Other mornings, there are no deliveries: I am there, with a notebook and a desk. But that desk is covered in decks of cards – including Fashion and Art Oracles, some home-printed ‘Oblique Strategies’, some new ‘votive cards’ which encourage embodied writing, the ‘Don’t/Do This Game’ of ‘thought experiments for creative people’.

There are fridge poetry words, and shelves of books of prompts. I’ve also got the Parrot Random Word generator app and several sets of story dice – real and digital (my favourite are the actions Story Cubes, which are great for getting writers to consider their verbs…). Sometimes, I’ll explore news articles – especially around environment – and then muddle up some phrases with found words to invite my response. You get the idea.

An aside: my late Granny Joy was a toy collector and serious hoarder (she actually had a box labelled ‘Bits of string too short to be useful’) and my late Granddad Eric, a toy designer and maker: I’m in a lineage of tinkerers and gatherers. All this creative ‘stuff’ is my way of embracing that inheritance. You might be an aesthetic anti-clutter minimalist – but keeping in mind that we can always ‘invoke the Muse’ is, I think, helpful for everyone. Which toys, games, ways of reinstating your playfulness, might work for you?

Unlocking Creativity with Caleb Parkin (at Abegail Morley’s blog The Poetry Shed)

I type “helpful” notes on my phone in the middle of the night when “inspiration” hits. Two recent entries include “I say potato, you say roboto” and “donut shop awnings, orange & pink.” So clearly, writing in 2021 is going swimmingly.

Here’s my prayer to the weather gods: May this coming week-long deep freeze be the only one of the season.

I miss date nights shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar leaning even closer for deep conversation. It’s one of my favorite forms of intimacy. Pillow talk in public places.

Carolee Bennett, pillow talk in public places

there are people who say
that only humans have souls
others say that everything has a soul
or is a part of a great over-soul
and yet there are others
who don’t believe in souls at all
last night a hard storm came
and knocked out the electricity for hours
i didn’t light a candle
i sat in the total darkness
listening to the rain and wind
wrapped in an old blanket

James Lee Jobe, a part of a great over-soul

I gave myself some time this week to write and revise, and it reminded me how happy that makes me, to concentrate on one kind of work at a time. Instead of hurting like a warehouse (I love that simile), my brain shifts into a mode of focused exploration; I can fall asleep all right, and I wake up almost cheerful. It’s amazing to me how even sabbatical, a time supposedly dedicated to focused reading and writing, gets fractured into a million tasks. Or, I mean, I fracture it; there is a world of need out there, but there’s also my guilt and, often, restless energy. The problem with the writing-dream being my salve is that it eventually begets more busy-work: submissions, proofs, getting word out on social media even when I know social media makes me unhappy (oh, FB)… Again I think of Bowie, whose 1970s diet allegedly oscillated between cocaine and milk.

My endless little post-writing tasks bore sweet fruit this week. Last winter, I thought about who shine a light on The State She’s In: my small press sends out copies but doesn’t have a publicist, so I was telling myself I needed to make my own luck. I sent out a ton of applications for festivals, reading series, conferences, etc., but I also tried something I hadn’t before: I studied the reviews in The Rumpus, found someone who writes really great ones and seems to be interested in books like mine, and wrote to her out of the blue to ask if she’d like to see my digital ARCs or receive a copy of the published book. Yes, she said, although no promises; even if she got to it, it would be a while. And here it is, an extraordinarily long, thoughtful, generous dream of a review by Julie Marie Wade in The Rumpus.

Lesley Wheeler, My brain hurt like a warehouse

Cloud faces floating, a slow-mo swirling through earth’s sky rivers.

Those faces fade, reappear as others’ faces, then reappear as your own face looking down at you.

You reach up to touch your cloud-self, but heartworn concertos sing the sky asunder.

You are here, you are gone, then you’re here again as the ghostly hems of sky’s river clothes mend,

and you are dressed in the most beautiful blue.

Rich Ferguson, Cloud faces floating

Crisp air, fragile sun,
soft frozen white on the roofs.
January leaves

questions unanswered.
How much longer till, when, where,
can we meet again?

Magda Kapa, January 2021

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: blues, anxiety, uncertainty, cautious celebration, (in)auguries, and embodiment. Plus some insights into small publishing, the joys of book reviewing, the writing process, and as always the books that might or might or not be helping us get through it all.


Blue. To let blue in. Early morning blue and middle of the night blue. The hue of deep rivers and the hue of Steller’s jays. A color that flexes depending on what reflects it, evoking peace, spaciousness, as well as sorrow.

It is January of 2021 which is precisely eleven years after I started this website/ blog/ newsletter amalgam. I haven’t posted anything for the last year because my former server suddenly stopped supporting all of the intricate behind-the-scenes codes necessary for me to update securely. And the hassle and difficulty to move everything seemed so insurmountable in the middle of it all.

Lately, though, I’ve felt that snippets and sound-bytes on social media maybe aren’t enough. The maelstrom of pick-pick-pick on such platforms lends one play it safe so as not to arouse ire, self-righteous indignation, punishment. At the beginning of the year, I admitted on Facebook that I hadn’t posted the number of books that I read in 2020 because I did not want to deal with mean-spirited remarks. (For the record, 154 books, 106 of which were poetry collections).

Indigo. How to navigate loss while remembering how lucky one is? 

Cerulean. Aiming for the sucker-hole when the whole sky is grey but for that one opportunity.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Welcome back

This poem was written when my children were very young and my fear of losing them, all-consuming. Over the years, this fear has morphed into something I can live with. Sometimes it’s a mere worry, a claw of unease scratching between my shoulder blades. Other times, it becomes deep anguish, growing out of proportion like wildfire. Perhaps this is what it means to be a parent–along with the bone-melting joy of perpetuating life, you get to worry about all the things that could harm your children out there, in the carnivorous world.

Romana Iorga, Two Children

I like my doctor. She’s a good, diligent doctor and she is a nice and caring person. I understand that she was just thinking out loud as she worked through her clinical decision-making process. But words have impact, and perhaps saying “biopsy” right out of the gate wasn’t the most sensitive approach. I work around a lot of nurses and medical-type folk, and I am constantly astonished at the casual way they talk about medical maladies and blood-spurting and “impacted colons” and God knows what other disasters that befall the human body with upsetting regularity. (How on earth does one get an impacted colon? Do you eat a brick?) I’ve been working in hospitals for almost ten years now and I’ve never gotten used to it. It’s great for them, the “medical haves” who understand that things can be fixed and who have the clinical knowledge and know-how to heal the sick, but for the rest of us, the“medical have-nots,” that stuff freaks us the eff out. I don’t care if my theoretical, non-existent cancer was treatable or not. Just because my doctor knows it would have been treatable does not mean that this was not a potential catastrophe for me. I cannot get cancer. Cancer is for plucky housewives in Lifetime movies. I am too crabby and too negative to survive something like that. I do not and will not have a positive mindset and I would be punished for my pessimism by a swift death. Everyone understands that principle. It’s the law of karma.

At any rate, my imaging results were totally normal and everything is fine. It was just a weird anomaly, and now I regret even having said anything because I probably shaved a few years off my life with the cortisol spike this caused.

Kristen McHenry,The B-Word, Medical Have-Nots, Death by Pessimism

When I start my weekly Sunday run, at 9.33, it’s just starting to snow. I presume, though, that it will be nothing more than the lightest, icing-sugar dusting. It hasn’t snowed properly in this corner of north-east Surrey / south-west London for about six years, but down it comes. To run through it is a full-on, sensory, exhilarating experience.

          refilled as quickly as I make them footprints in the snow

I watch my footing and slow my pace: I’m sure that pitching up at A & E with a broken ankle would not endear me to the brave, fantastic folk at Kingston Hospital.

          snow settles
          on a small allotment:
          the bean canes aslant

Matthew Paul, Snow Biz

Another round-up of thoughts as I’m finding myself consistently and effectively overworked but wanting, needing to connect, to word here:

– That it’s been hard to hear others speak of hope this week.

– That it’s been hard to hear others sign off on emails with some reference to vaccines being “on their way!” As if they had a hand in the accomplishment. As if it brought loved ones back.

– That it’s been hard to feel what I cannot call hope but can neither call despair.

– That it’s been hard to hear others share that they feel relief for the first time in four years.

– That I’ve been feeling what I cannot call hope but can neither call defeat much longer than four years.

– That what I cannot call hope has me like the speaker of this poem by Rio Cortez, wary, certain while also uncertain of what’s there ahead.

José Angel Araguz, what I cannot call hope

My poem “Dolly, When I Met You There Was Peace” was included in the Dolly tribute issue of Limp Wrist that was released today (her 75th birthday)! Check out this whole amazing issue. I’m honored to be in such company!

As if this tribute issue weren’t enough, tonight we brought the pieces to life via Zoom at the Wild & Precious Life Reading Series. What a joyful way to celebrate a wonderful human! Thanks to Dustin and Julie for including me.

Katie Manning, Dolly Tribute

Eighteen poems [by Beau Beausoleil] written over the course of half a century document the tumultuous relationship between a timeless elemental and a poet of our time.

The Muse is essentially capricious, erratic in her comings and goings, supremely undependable.

She wears red and black and always makes a dramatic entrance. She is glamorous and shabby, magnificent and pathetic, needy and generous with her random gifts. She has bad habits and an unhealthy lifestyle.

She stays away for months and turns up when least expected. She makes unreasonable demands, and gives unreliable advice. She’s superstitious, manipulative and amoral. She never apologises nor ever explains.

Commitment is not in her vocabulary, though she is fluent in all the languages humans have ever spoken.

She is maiden and crone but she’s nobody’s wife, nobody’s mother. She is Sibyl and Siren. Don’t call her a goddess; she is contemptuous of those who worship her. But she’s happy to sit on a bar-stool or on a river-bank and have a conversation with one who comes close to understanding her and will buy her a whisky or find her a cigarette.

She has come in many different guises, as the Muse of Homer, Sappho, Dante, Shakespeare and countless others. We can’t do the work of poetry without her.

These poems are bruising and uplifting, tender and harsh, down-to-earth and otherworldly; they are full of honesty and subtle wit.

Ama Bolton, Meeting the Muse

There are only four more poets to post at my poetry site, And Other Poems, before I take a break from posting.  The site had gone to bed for 20 months but I opened it up to submissions in November, while waiting for the US election results.  It was a means of distracting myself from feeling dreadfully tense and was also a gesture of support to the poetry community I belong to at the start of another UK lockdown. Now, as the final poems selected from the open submissions window are posted, Joe Biden has been inaugurated into the White House.  So I know that time has moved on, even though time feels the same. I watched snippets of the ceremony on Wednesday and was moved to tears more than once.  Lady Gaga made me cry, actually, with her sincerity and beauty, as did Jennifer Lopez speaking a line from the Woody Guthrie song ‘This Land is Your Land’ in Spanish.  What a time in history we have been through and are still living through, some people more painfully and at greater cost than others. And a global pandemic on top of everything.  As I’ve told various people this year, and last year, it’s good to cry sometimes, even if you’re only crying because of feeling some kind of hesitant relief.

Josephine Corcoran, Falling Hyacinths and It’s Still January

Sometimes when describing Southwest Waterfront, the other person interrupts—Oh, you mean the Wharf?—and I wince, caught between waves of gentrification. The pandemic has complicated my feelings toward this multi-million dollar behemoth. Restaurants where I couldn’t afford to a sit-down meal converted their pantries to bodegas that sold chicken, carrots, onions, and greens. The fancy liquor store distributed locally distilled sanitizer. When I first read The Anthem’s sign, “We’ll Get Thru This,” my immediate thought was: Okay then. We will. I needed to have someone say it. I needed for someone to spell it out in foot-tall letters.

Still, the city’s ghosts pull no punches. This past April, when it didn’t feel safe to go out, I could step out on the balcony and see cherry trees blossoming along East Potomac Park. I took great comfort in that. Now Washington Channel is disappearing, floor by concrete floor. Fifty years after our own building went up, I understand the irony of complaining about new construction or rising rent. I can still glimpse the water, if I stand in the right spot. 

In just a few weeksMade to Explode will be published with W. W. Norton. The collection (my fourth!) has a whole section of prose poems that interrogate the strangeness of our monuments and memorials, our “living history, plus a sestina called “American Rome.”  There are lots of things that I am unsure of, but one thing I do know is that DC is the right place to be as this book enters the world.

Sandra Beasley, Who Gets to Be “From DC”?

The poet feels the jolt of recognition: this was where she grew up. But, having moved away, she uses a search engine for clues. What strikes her is the normality of guns: shops selling them and the image on the boy’s t-shirt, even as he is reunited with his mother after another school shooting. It asks, when guns are revered, how can such events be stopped? Another poem witnesses President Obama at a press conference at another shooting. The final poem is another parking lot, “The Shooting Gallery Central Academy of Excellence, Missouri, 2019”, where

“Mylar balloons rise into a white sky: pink hearts and blue, gold and silver stars. In the place of an artist’s signature in the lower right corner, a caption: Anjanique Wright, 15.”

The skyward rise is significant. The name and age labelling one is a reminder of the loss: not only the life of the child but the loss of the adult that child could have become, the children she might have borne.

Carrie Etter’s spare prose gives readers enough guide to build a sketch of what’s being described but also enough space to read and engage with the resulting poems. Their quiet tone and lack of hectoring enable the reader to ask questions and consider the juxtaposition of youth and violence, the potential of not-yet-adulthood with the abrupt end of that potential.

Emma Lee, “The Shooting Gallery” Carrie Etter (Verve Poetry Press) – book review

On BBC radio 4’s Front Row program on 22nd Jan, Lavinia Greenlaw (chair of the TS Eliot prize judges) had the difficult task of describing each of the 10 shortlisted books in a paragraph or so, justifying each without showing favour. The quote I’ll keep is “when language fails, people turn to poetry”.

She thought that there’s a new stylistic freedom afoot (I can believe that) and that poetry’s caught up with the present in a way that other art-forms haven’t yet (not so sure about that). The poets have “interrogated the constructs”.

I think she was careful to share out the praise without overusing any particular word. She used “extraordinary”, “incredible”, “astonishing”, and “remarkable” twice each; “powerful”, “amazing”, “startling” once.

Tim Love, TS Eliot prize shortlist

I’ve been messing around with a new tarot deck for the sheer calming pleasure of it; producing readings is contemplative and a little like solving a puzzle, trying to understand flows of possible meanings. I don’t claim they have purchase on facts or the future, although I believe that in the hands of an intuitive person they lead, at least, to useful introspection. Lots of poets use them, it turns out. Here‘s an interesting conversation about poetry and Tarot with Airea D. Matthews and Hoa Nguyen led by Trevor Ketner. Matthews calls tarot as “a tool for healing and revealing and critical thinking,” and Nguyen links poetry and tarot through the way they cultivate receptivity and invite otherness into our thinking. I can say personally that since I unboxed these cards, I’m writing poetry again.

I just pulled the three cards below while wondering about the inauguration. Interestingly, in the interview cited above, Nguyen pulled the six of swords just prior to the last inauguration–although below it’s reversed, which changes its significance. My interpretations are only based on brief study, but it suggests a state of transition, perhaps loss; the woman and child being poled away, perhaps against their will, remind me of the trauma of migration. The image also evokes painful baggage carried over from the Trump administration. (I wish the man terrible consequences for his crimes–even as I want the country to move on speedily to address the damage). The first card, the ace of cups, signifies auspicious beginnings and calls for generosity. The Queen of Wands, well, she’s a bold, charismatic, vital woman leader surrounded by symbols of courage and coming back to life. Sounds good to me.

Lesley Wheeler, Augurations

Last night, my son’s cat stretched himself out on my bedroom rug and showed me his oh-so-soft little belly and called to me in his oh-so-sweet little meow. I fell for the ploy. And when he gave me my arm back, I was bloody from elbow to wrist. I know it’s strange to say so, but this is exactly how the poems in All Day I Dream About Sirens by Domenica Martinello (2019, Coach House Books) have been working on me. Quite appropriate to their obsession (the Sirens of Greek mythology), these poems lure me in and smash me on the rocks.

Here’s a little background:

“I used to walk by a Starbucks on my way to work, and one day it just hit me how unsettling the implications of the siren logo are. Using the image of a feminized (and often sexualized) sea monster who lures sailors to their deaths with her enchanting song to sell coffee? The premise sounds like a devilish fable in and of itself, and I’ve always loved mythology so I couldn’t stop thinking about it. … the more I researched the Starbucks siren (herself born from the corporation’s literary allusion to Starbuck, the coffee-loving first mate in Moby Dick), the more all-encompassing the ancient and contemporary mythologies surrounding sirens and mermaids became. They felt both real and familiar to me and while also being these doors into meditations on gender, power, agency, capitalism, feminism, ancestry, sexuality, ubiquity.”
Martinello in an interview in The Adroit Journal

As both a consumer and a marketer (my day job) (gasp!) I feel responsible. We lure and are lured. As a feminist, I feel vindicated. But not entirely. It’s not that easy. I also feel implicated. When I find myself sexy, it’s sometimes in a way I’d like to reject.

Carolee Bennett, “the sun hangs in the sky like a logo”

My new book, Lost in the Greenwood, is out in the world. 

The poems circle around the unicorn tapestries of 500 years ago.  There’s much more than unicorns: the making of the tapestries, the world that made them, magic, nature, belief. 

It’s a book of poems about all of this, but I still think of these poems as “my unicorns.”  And these unicorns are not the modern, friendly kind. They are goatlike, feisty and as dangerous as the world in which those who imagined them lived.

Ellen Roberts Young, My Unicorns Have Escaped

A smart observer once said about our new president: “If you ask me who the luckiest person I know, it’s Joe Biden.  If you ask me who the unluckiest person I know, it’s Joe Biden.”  As a lover of paradox, a light went off when I first heard it.  It seems like a joke, a mocking play on reason, a Woody Allen wisecrack that one knows immediately is smart, and later profound. The way an oracle would speak and we wouldn’t understand it, though we’d count intuitively on its deep truth.

Biden’s biography fills the blanks of the paradox – his success as a debut politician was followed by the deaths of wife and daughter.  He would have died of a brain aneurysm, ignoring his health and stumping away on the campaign trail if he hadn’t been forced to drop out of a presidential race on charges of plagiarism.  His son, Beau, died young of a brain tumor.   After eight years as Vice-President, he’s fulfilled his ambition — in the most wrenching stretch — of becoming President.

We live in paradoxical times.  We’re lucky – the election went our way. We’re unlucky – part of our poltiical body tried to burn down the house.  I heard, as the inauguration neared, people were nervously organizing and ironing as women due before they’re about to have babies.  Nothing is guaranteed, and the successes of America the literal, the exceptional and idealist must open to the shadow life of paradox.  The biblical Isaac survived a binding, but his shadow death walks alongside him as a human. Experience of tragedy is just on the other side of exuberance, suffering clings as a double. If we’re lucky, as a country, we just might mature to hold a vision of reality where success is willed to a small extent only, and chance plays its hand. Between the two forces, a reminder to be human. It depends how we play our hand.

Jill Pearlman, What Augurs, Biden?

I remember a poem a woman shared in my poetry workshop, back in the mid-80s, about her newborn; she compared his body to that of a frog, listed all the ways in which his body was not the one she expected, making him not the baby she had dreamed of. The last line was, “your mother is trying to learn to love you.” Most of the poems from that workshop have left me now, but that one stays. After she shared hers, I wrote one about my body, the first time I admitted out loud that I thought of my body as an antagonist to the protagonist that is me.

My body has changed during the pandemic. Maybe it’s the pandemic. Maybe it’s my mid-50s. Maybe it’s living through four years of attempted autocratic takeover. Maybe it’s that my job has become toxic to me. Maybe it’s all of the above. My body feels like a foreign country these days, and I’m an expat who wants to go home. I’m trying to learn to love it.

On the morning of the biopsy, I think that maybe the metaphor I’ve just conjured is all wrong. Maybe my body isn’t a country, but a passport.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A reprieve (of sorts)

The pandemic has me unable to go to the pool. Covid scarred my lungs and damaged my heart, I don’t know if they will fully rehab or not but I’m sure trying – if there’s one thing I know, it’s impossible rehab.

I still want to swim the Strait of Gibraltar. The only question I have is whether I should instead swim the Strait of Messina, because swimming between Scylla (spine surgery) & Charybdis (covid-19) seems – well, obvious.

Hopefully, my endurance breathing will come home to me and I will be making decisions like that.

JJS, Lumbar-safe core strengthening

On the ground, you leave the nether
regions of that body ransacked

and marked with every conquest.
Where it severs from the cage
of your heart, the wound

is brilliant as pomegranate;
its innards go on for miles.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait of Demeter as Manananggal

I’ve recently seen several excellent articles and features on poetry in lockdown (and in the pandemic in general), advocating all sorts of useful approaches. These articles often focus on energising creativity, on organising time, on motivation, on finding stimuli that might help to generate a reconnection with art. This post is in no way intended to disparage or knock such features, because there’s no doubt they’re helping to bring people together and support in other in terrific ways.

However, there are other sections of the population who are probably beyond this sort of assistance right now, poets who don’t really have the chance to write in the pandemic and especially in lockdown, people whose route to writing has been blocked, such as stay-at-home parents who’ve lost the hours in the middle of the day when they carved out a bit of time for themselves. And then there’s a group who form the core of today’s post. I’m referring to poets that used to leave the house every day to commute and do a full-time job, but are now working from home.

It’s worth pointing out that I’m not among them: my working life, while tough, is also flexible. Nevertheless, I know of many friends who had an established writing routine that they’d built around the construct of the old working week. It made a clear-cut separation between their working time, family time and poetry time, their working space, family space and poetry space. That’s all now disappeared.

All of a sudden, these poets are finding it hugely tough to defend their writing. Spaces they once used for poetry are now taken up by work, while timetables are fast becoming blurred. Bosses, colleagues and customers, who are also working from home, are now demanding constant connectivity and immediate reactions to requests at times that were previously viewed as unreasonable and/or out of bounds. In other words, work is intruding on periods of the day and week that were sacrosanct prior to the pandemic. And all of the above, of course, is before we mention home-schooling!

Matthew Stewart, The Working Time Directive for Poets

The other book I read–quickly, sometimes skimming–at the “right time” was Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic, edited by Alice Quinn. This is a new book at the library, I was the first to check it out, and I didn’t want to keep it too long, which is one reason for the skimming, another being self-protection. I didn’t want to dwell too long in pandemic reflections, so if a poem was too long, too prosey-looking, or with too many virus-related words glaring up at me, or if it seemed too easy, bordering on the cliched or sentimental, I skipped it. Instead, I went for the shorter poems, with simple, direct language–“simple” being quite different from “easy” in my meaning here, with simple language so often the container for rich complexity. […]

There is the connection of our pandemic to the 1918 pandemic, and also to whatever contortions of grief and circumstances might be happening now. My heart broke to read the phenomenal “An American Nurse Foresees Her Death,” by Amit Majmudar, where, sadly, the title tells the story. With “Leaving Evanston,” by Deborah Garrison, I sympathized with the theatre students having to leave school before their spring showcase production, before their Commencement, and thus also with all the students who lives and expectations were disrupted this past spring…and likely will be in the spring to come. 

“How I wish feeling terrible felt useful, as it did when I was a teenager,” says Nicole Cooley in the poem “At CVS Wearing a Mask I Buy Plastic Eggs for My Daughter.” That resonated, and also reminded me of the narrator of Milkman, who is seventeen and eighteen when the main events happen; it’s hard to come of age when the adults don’t know how to show you, teach you, bring you along. And in “Poem for My Students,” by Sharon Olds, I encountered “chain-reading” (like chain smoking), something I do, reading one book right after another.

Kathleen Kirk, Reading-While-Walking

The sweat and discipline it takes to listen down deep into our shared potential when all around us is the white noise of proud boys for whom black lives don’t matter.

This continual struggle and change, the change and struggle, when dementia‘ed history keeps forgetting itself, then repeating the same questions, wondering if mercy and forgiveness will ever be a part of our lexicon.

Some gather weapons while others build mighty monuments from the wounds of those who’ve suffered in the name of uplift.

Some sing in the key of flowers while others sing in the key of bombs; it all depends upon how your hearts and voices have been trained.

Rich Ferguson, This Upstream Sojourn Along the River Sticks and Stones

An alarm pulling us from sleep, even to offer hope, exposes our most vulnerable nerves. These truths that fade in sleep. Or in dreams, are popped into relief as a kind of rehearsal for the inevitable. Waking is a reprieve sometimes. Awake, asleep – both are ambivalent states of being. There is nowhere to escape from ourselves.

Is there comfort?

Soothing is not healing. But doesn’t try to be. What if the largest part of our job is a kind of palliative care? What if all that there is, is the soothing of ruffled feathers? A warm hand on a cheek? An intention to reassure one another: you are not alone.

Breathe, and be here with me. Even over a telephone connection. Like a dream. Listen to the wind against the window. Be here with the wind.

Reaction is not action.

In the theater, an actor’s every, individual action is supposed to be an assertion of the character’s will. Actors strive to inhabit the character’s lack of self-awareness. Acting is the inverse process of living Socrates’s examined life. Don’t act: react.

Art is, by most definitions, artifice. It has the intention of recreating life. But for what purpose? Many diverse cultures have had a tradition of hiring mourners for funerals. Actors, reacting in an act of compassion. We cannot bring back the dead, but we can care for the living. The theatrical is no less real for being theatrical.

And leading an examined life, acting instead of reacting, is no less real for its directorial perspective.

Ren Powell, Knowing the What, Not the Why

regime change
finches versus cardinals
at the feeder

K. Brobeck [no title]

I loved the swearing in–tears again and again.  I loved Biden’s speech.  I realize that he trotted out familiar themes for inauguration day, but what a relief to have a president who understands why these themes of unity are important.  What a relief to have a president who wants to inspire us, not divide us.

I loved the music and the musicians.  I loved that Jennifer Lopez sang “This Land Is Your Land”–a Woody Guthrie song so perfect for the day!  I loved the poet, although I found her hand motions distracting.  Will her poem become my favorite?  No–but no inaugural poem so far will be my favorite.  I’m always just happy when a poet is invited to be part–it sends a message that is so important to me.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Notes on an Inauguration Day

There’s a boy
tucks a note into the pocket
of a coat he’s sending a stranger, saying
“Have a good winter. Please write back.”
A branch breaks, a lamp flickers,
the dog digs at a flash of something
paler than snow. A boy uncrinkles a note.
What happens next?

Marilyn McCabe, Some Poems

Every morning when I get up and open the blinds near my desk, I take a moment to peer into my terrarium. It’s changed since I planted it in the fall: some of the mosses have died back while others seem quite happy; the liverworts are thriving; there’s a green film of algae growing on the beige shelf fungus, and the fern has put out three adventurous fronds. A small gnat seems to live inside the glass, even though it could easily escape. I think the moisture level has been too great for the lichens, and not quite enough for the moss. There’s life and growth happening, as well as decay. I’m doing my best to take care of this little world for which I’m entirely responsible, drawing on a certain amount of knowledge and common sense, but the fact is…a lot of the time I’m guessing. Should I slide the top open a little more, or less? Should I mist the terrarium today, or wait? I make decisions based not only on what I see, but on the smell of the interior, the dampness on the pebbles, and the warmth and humidity I sense when I quickly put my forefinger inside, close to the soil.

This little experiment has filled me with renewed awe for the balance of life on our planet, an even greater awareness of its fragility, and the amazing harmony with which these small life forms colonize a tree stump in nature to form a garden far more beautiful and complex and self-sustaining than anything I could ever create.

I’m also learning something about myself: the strong but almost subconscious desire I had to create a little world, care for it properly, and see it thrive during this time when almost nothing in our real world — where I am the gnat, but can’t escape — seems controllable or even predictable.

I suppose we all want that. Nobody really likes chaos, or fear, or one change on top of another to which we have to adapt. We’d like our homes to be comfortable, secure places of refuge during this time, and instead they’ve sometimes felt like traps. We haven’t been able to pick up the glass globe in which we’re living and give ourselves or others what we need; instead we’ve sometimes felt like hapless inhabitants looking out as some large invisible hand shakes our world around, turns it upside down, and surrounds it with toxins or threatens it with violence.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 54. The Illusion of Controllable Worlds

night dew and moonlight
mingle and shine
friends don’t you know
that this world is filled
with blue flowers

James Lee Jobe, memories watch me

We have snow in the forecast in the next day or so, but I wanted to highlight these beautiful tulips in a brief moment of sunlight, and a few of my bird visitors, to cheer you up during this dark and dreary time of year. January can be a tough time, especially as we wait the interminable wait for the vaccine, as we wait for the days to get a little longer and warmer, we wait for things to start to bloom. […]

I also had the chance to Zoom with a few poet friends, which really raised my spirits – we talked about literary magazines and publishing opportunities, but also laughed a lot. Hey, laughter is good for the immune system. While I miss in person visits – and it’ll probably be a few more months, realistically, before we can see each other in person – it was nice to see friends virtually and catch up. There is something incredible bolstering about being with other writers, especially when you yourself are feeling discouraged about writing. You get to share stories about hilarious mishaps and crushing disappointments, as well as celebrate our little victories.  Just like the birds in my garden, we tend to find strength in numbers. I know no one wants more Zoom in their life, but for the right reason – a great lecture, a chance to see friends – it’s worth it.

My father got his first dose of vaccine in Ohio, but my mother still hasn’t, and here in Washington, it looks like it’ll be a while for chronically ill folks – longer than I was hoping, so in the meantime, I’ll try to get well from this stomach bug. Hoping you all stay safe and warm and get your vaccines soon!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, More January Birds and Blooms, A Week Under the Weather, and Zooming with Poet Friends

Late January
the snow is melting again
I peel some parsnips

Jim Young [no title]

Reading Lucretius, at long last, having found a translation I like, and I find him easy and comfortable. We’re on the same side of that gulf. We think that our personhoods are chance constellations, shapes made up by dreaming shepherds out of random stars. Some philosophical problems become easier, some become harder, when you think that. But they all become different.

Nothing can emerge from nothing, says Lucretius, and Nature does not render anything to naught.

It can be a terrifying thought. Lear quotes Lucretius. Nothing will come of nothing, he says, Speak again. To Shakespeare, a world without souls is a deadly transactional world of quid pro quos, where all love is conditional and everything is bought with something else. I don’t think he was right about that: but Shakespeare is not a man to dismiss lightly. Not at my time of life.

Dale Favier, The Nature of Things

When someone asks me am I working on something, I never really know what to say. I want to answer truthfully, for that is how I was brought up. Yes, I say, there is something. I don’t know what it is yet, but I think there is something, yes. What is it, they say. I can’t tell you, I say. Can’t or won’t? Both.

I’m much happier talking about writing that has happened, in the past, the artefact of it, not the action. This is also the case for talking about that most shadowy of concepts my ‘process’ or ‘practice’. I put those words in quotes partly because I have a long-standing terror of coming across all pretentious and partly because I only recognise these things as having occured, in the past tense. When I am actually writing the last thing I am aware of is what this practice entails. All I am prepared to give away is that it is messy, non-linear and never as easy as I want it to be.

But there is one thing that is common to all of my projects (practice), and that is the moment when you realise what it is you have been doing (or have foolishly embarked on) has the potential to become something other than what you first intended. In other words, it appears to you (to me) as having a form, a being, a living entity, with a life of its own. In Still Writing this is what Dani Shapiro says arrives ‘with the certainty of its own rightness’. Emerson called it ‘a gleam of light which flashes across [your] mind from within’. Joan Didion called it ‘a shimmer around the edges’.

Anthony Wilson, The gleam

What first brought you to publishing?

It was unintentional, and, at first, incidental. In the early 2000s, I worked as an administrator in the financial services industry, and spent much of my spare time photographing bits of southern England. The office was usually deserted after 5pm, and I started to misuse the equipment, making photocopies of the photographs and copies of the copies. The poet Andrew Hirst (aka photographer Karl Hurst) invited me to collaborative with him on a sequence of poems and images, which took shape over a couple of years. As we didn’t know who to approach, or how we might approach them, we decided to set up a small imprint through which we might publish the work. I had no formal experience of design, printing, editing, or publishing, but I’d resolved to try to do everything myself, so it was a gradual (and intermittently disastrous) process of trial and error. It was problematic, but there was some interest from audiences, and creative momentum, so it made sense to work with other poets on further publications. There was no plan. There is still no plan. […]

How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

Again, I’ve learned a great deal from the poets I’ve worked with. It’s a rare privilege to be invited to read and comment on sequences and collections in varying stages of development; after a few years of this, I found that I was reading almost everything much more closely, and much more critically. It’s also helped me to understand, and develop, the potential for arranging (or rearranging) work on the page and for performance. The multiple iterations of Matthew Clegg’s Edgelands (2008) were among the earliest outcomes of this methodology; we published a pamphlet edition, comprising 50 poems, which were further subdivided into 10 themed clusters of 5 poems, and a matchbox edition, in which the full cycle of 56 poems was reordered and concertinaed on a single continuous strip. The work was also ‘dispersed’ through single-poem cards and postcards, and continually rearranged by Clegg in readings and performances. The experience (and others like it) undoubtedly informed the development of my own work, including the sequence White Thorns (Gordian Projects, 2017).

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (small press) questions with Brian Lewis on Longbarrow Press

In my thirty years of writing, I had only published four poetry book reviews until last year. So ending the year with sixteen reviews written and published took a major shift in attitude and practice. You could do this too. […]

If you start reviewing books, you will have free books for the rest of your life. Everybody will shove books at you. Editors would be happy to have your review their publications. Journals have a list of titles they want reviewed, and then there are your friends and friends of friends who have a new book out and would love to send you a copy for review. […]

It’s not like I haven’t had stacks of poetry around my house for the last thirty years. But, I didn’t always give myself the best chance to learn from them. Writing a book review makes me read poetry slowly, carefully, with a deep consideration of how each poem was made. Writing a book review makes me a better poet.

My Year of Writing Poetry Book Reviews – guest post by Deborah Bacharach (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

When I wrote my last entry, I lumped it in with all the other things I miss in pandemic world–surface things that lockdowns and safety protocols prevent, but the worst is perhaps the one thing I can’t really do that no one at all is stopping me from at all.  Namely, sitting in a house and a library full of books and not really having the concentration or bandwidth to read a single one.  And don’t think it’s for a lack of trying.  I’ve started many books, new ones and old faves I thought would snap me out of it,  Sometimes I get in a few pages, but I don’t last for long with so much in the world competing for my attention. This is true at home where I take a book to bed and wind up doomscrolling instead.  Or on my commute, where I used to get the bulk of my enjoyment reading done, which is now instead spent fretting over proximity of bodies and maskwearing, and whether of not that person just has allergies or is trying to kill us. 

At first I worried I’d lost interest and enjoyment in so much, and it’s true, even writing, which, thank god, still happens and is perhaps my only rudder. I think because I’m writing poems in the morning, in an unpolluted state of mind.  Blog entries are still possible (obviously.)  Even art, which at this point to be possible again. But reading for enjoyment..I’m not so sure.  Even my manuscript reading this fall and my proofing now is something more rote and mechanical than it ever was before.  It’s not the books fault surely, but some door that needs to be closed in my brain.  Or maybe a door that needs to be opened again. It’s strange to think I’ve barely opened a book (touched books, yes, many, chapbooks and library books and textbooks) but read so very little.  And in fact, have been hoarding things again at my desk in the library for some magical day it will come back. 

Kristy Bowen, the wolf at the door

At 2:55 they let me in. Inside the church building someone took my temperature and sanitized my hands. I saw volunteers in bright yellow vests, and in bright blue vests, and in EMT uniforms. Everyone seemed happy. I filled out paperwork, I answered questions, I sat down at a freshly-sanitized table and rolled up one sleeve. A friendly EMT said “a little pinprick in three, two, one.” I said a silent shehecheyanu.

I sat for fifteen minutes, dutifully, to make sure I didn’t have a bad reaction. I imagine the arm will ache, later, like it did when I got vaccinated for typhoid and yellow fever before my first trip to Ghana. I’m startled to realize that that was more than 20 years ago. I remember that we needed to find a doctor who specialized in travel medicine. I wonder what became of the fold-out yellow card I carried in my passport then.

So now I’m halfway vaccinated against covid-19. This isn’t going to change my behavior. We don’t know yet whether or not the vaccines protect against asymptomatic spread. And besides, I won’t begin developing immunity until two weeks after the second shot.  But it feels to me like one more reason to hope. Every person who gets vaccinated brings us one step closer. Someday we’ll embrace again.

Rachel Barenblat, First shot

“During the first lockdown of 2020, I found that words wouldn’t come, but paintings did.” Why do you think this was the case?

I have puzzled over this a few times – I was incredibly burned out in the first lockdown for reasons I can’t quite understand. After all, I wasn’t home-schooling children as so many of my peers were. In some ways my family & friends were in more regular touch with me than before lockdown, and my work pattern hadn’t changed radically… But I suppose, words are a part of my day job and when work and homelife are already fused to that extent, you want a more drastic change to keep a balance.

I started drawing towards the end of a relationship in the middle of the first lockdown. He was very dismissive of my doodles, which just made me want to spend more time doodling and less with him! As I healed from the breakup and dealt with various health issues, drawing, and then painting just took up a larger and larger part of my life.

I found painting akin to meditation, except I’ve never managed to get on with meditation. You start with a blank page and “wake up” in essence an hour or two later with something created out of a chaos of paint. You have a vague notion of how it got there, but also not really. Painting is just magic really.

I’ve had those moments with writing poetry – and that woosh is wonderful – but it’s not as systematic as with painting. So, in that period of time, I guess it made sense for paintings to take over during periods of stress.

Does the written word feed into your paintings?

It has started to. I have tentatively started playing with incorporating poems into paintings. This was the first experiment and the most recent one involves printing poems inside scallop shells. It’s an interesting process, in every case I have found myself editing the poem – finding what is essential to it. I don’t think my writing & my paintings are properly conjoined yet, but it’s a thread I am following casually as I go. […]

What are you currently working on (art or poetry)?

I’m trying to finish the manuscript of my third poetry collection, currently called Our Lady of Tires. It’s inspired by a village perched on a cliff near me that held off riot cops for six weeks in the early 80s to prevent the building of a nuclear station. They called going to the barricades going to mass, hence the title. I’ve been wanting to write about it for so long and it’s been slow going but I’m getting there!

Painting-wise, I am just keeping going without pressure, painting when and if the mood strikes.

Abegail Morley, Unlocking Creativity with Claire Trevien

Having a lot of enforced time off over the past surreal, nasty, stressful and boring year has been a mixed experience. The one really good thing about it, for me, has been the opportunity to immerse myself in the Russian language. I had been interested in doing this for a few years already, but when I was first furloughed in the spring I thought that I needed to start using my time. This has meant lessons, apps and discernible progress, though I think my teacher may be about to notice that I have been spending more time listening to Russian rock music and watching Russian films and TV than assiduously studying my grammar and vocabulary. I may say that it’s also been nice to discover that I am still capable of learning a new language in adulthood. I learned to speak French as a small child and Spanish as a young teenager, and I haven’t tried learning another language until now. 

One of the films I have recently enjoyed is Kharms (2017, directed by Ivan Bolotnikov). You can watch it on the Kino Klasska Foundation website here, and the link also includes some very nice programme notes: https://www.kinoklassikafoundation.org/project/kharms/

You can watch this for free for just a few days, until Tuesday 26 January at 12 noon GMT. I think it may only be available in the UK due to rights issues, but you can always check to see if it’s available in your territory.

Kharms is a film about the life of the surrealist Soviet-era poet Daniil Kharms. I was only vaguely aware of this poet, partly because he loved Sherlock Holmes and used to smoke a calabash pipe. ‘Kharms’ was a pen name and may be a reference to the Russian pronunciation of ‘Holmes’. This was noted in the film by the poet’s sartorial choices and one subtle joke. 

The film isn’t a strict biography; it celebrates the poet’s work, his life in the beautiful city of St Petersburg/Leningrad, his friendships and romances. Colour and black-and-white film, static and moving shots combine to create a wistful and quirky view of different eras and events. The tragedy of Kharms’ death by starvation during the siege of Leningrad is also part of the film. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, Kharms: a film about the Russian poet Daniil Kharms

Orange is the new
orange, a long, slow
sundown. Evening

is when everything
evens, when love
equals loss and

it seems worthwhile
to hope again
for another

morning, for
sunrise, orange
as a new orange.

Tom Montag, ORANGE IS THE NEW

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, you can probably guess what many poets were blogging about. But there were also still books to review, publishing news to share, and other delightful things.


In Roberto Bolaño’s Savage Detectives, his sprawling novel of poets, revolutionaries and Pinochet, I remember most vividly the scene of a poet trapped in a stall of the bathroom as riot police entered her university.   Where else would she be?  She is Auxilio Lacouture, poet and auxiliary individual, manic monologuist.  She is bound by the ordinary, which becomes extra-ordinary, in spite of and because she’s a minor actor in the stream of history.  She missed megaphone calls to evacuate because she was reading poetry in the can. Thus she becomes part of the surreality of reality overlaid on the streets and in her own vivid consciousness, as public and private eruptions, of multiple narratives over several days of her own obsessive confinement.

Lacouture recalls: “I lifted my feet like a Renoir ballerina, my underwear dangling down around my skinny ankles and snagging on a pair of shoes…I saw the soldier who was staring entranced into the mirror, the two of us still as statues in the women’s bathroom…I heard the door close…

“I saw the wind sweeping the university as if it was delighting in the last light of day.  And I knew what I had to do.  I knew.  I had to resist.  So I sat on the tiled floor of the women’s bathroom and in the last rays of light I read three more poems by Pedro Garfias and then I closed the book and closed my eyes and said to myself: Auxilio Lacouture, citizen of Uruguay, Latin American, poet and traveler, stand your ground.” 

My daughter and I were burning onions for a French onion soup the day the insurrection took place.  We witnessed the coup by play-by-play accounts, by a torrent of words as we were darkening onions.  We were pouring broth over heaps of caramelized onions stuck to the bottom of the dutch over, scraping up the brown bits when the coup was going down.  We are part of a river and it’s going somewhere and we don’t know whether we’ll be judged for some other bit of goodness that we did, or didn’t do.

Where were you? 

Jill Pearlman, Stuck in the Stalls of History

It’s been a long year, and it’s only January 9th. It’s taken a couple days to process what actually happened on Wednesday enough to write about it coherently–mostly I was taking in memes (thank god for humor, or we’d all be crying 24/7) and articles and collecting information the remainder of this week. On Wednesday, I was mid-way into a post-break catch-up week and humming along with work, my eye on the troubling covid deaths. That morning, I’d had my first test myself as a campus requirement, and despite it being a bit uncomfortable, nothing too traumatizing. It was a good, sunny day in Chicago, and that afternoon, watching the live coverage from DC it seemed alarming, but also sort of silly. I’d suspected there might be violent protests happening, but not that they’d actually get inside and vandalize the Capitol. And if they did, it seemed kind of ridiculous, since they’d surely eventually be forced out and the count would continue (which is pretty much what happened on the surface.) In the past couple days, far more insidious things have been revealed..zip tie toting para-military, violent threats on social media, hanging gallows and the police that moved a barrier aside to allow the rioters to pass right through. The deaths and injuries to other police.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 1/09/2021

I’m thinking tonight of particular photographs of yesterday’s storming of the U.S. Capitol: the image of the burly white guy carrying a confederate flag through the Capitol rotunda. The image of a blonde white woman and her friend, seated on the dais of the Speaker of the House, taking selfies. A line of Capital Police on the steps, two of them jostling each other and laughing as the mob ravaged the building and milled around below them. A video of the President of the United States and his family in a tent, keeping time to loud pop music, while watching the rally on large screens, like it was a party. And then inciting that mob to unprecedented actions inb the history of the country, before retreating into the White House, behind the barricades.

A friend posted the phrase that this would go down as “one of the whitest moments in American history.” Many of us are well aware what would have happened if the people storming the Capitol had been black.

The Italian newspaper, La Stampa, published its front-page story today with the headline, “Once Upon a Time, there was America.”

I’m afraid that sums up how I’m feeling.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 53. Few Words for this Horror.

After this week, it’s hard to discuss anything but politics on some level: chiefly, that failed coup incited by the supposed Leader of the Free World and put down with considerably less lethal force and speed than last year’s Black Lives Matter protests were; but there’s barely any moral high ground here in England where our disgraceful government has presided over more than 80,000 deaths from Covid (and those are just the official figures) and pushed the NHS to the brink of collapse, and headteachers and so many others to despair. Meanwhile, Stanley ‘Acquiring French citizenship and vaccinated’ Johnson is all right Jack, as is Murdoch. Still plenty of idiots say or imply, ‘They’re doing their best’ – yes, to line their and their donor-friends’ pockets. Of course it’s impossible to take to the streets to protest during the Covid lockdowns. As Robert Lowell observed in 1964, ‘a savage servility / slides by on grease’. The only people who are out protesting here are the scarily gormless anti-vaxxers and Covid-deniers, with many of whom I had a seemingly endless Twitter spat back in August.

So it’s been appropriate for me that one of my poems published this week in #36 of Poetry Salzburg Review is (mildly) political: ‘The Ballad of Mike Yarwood’. Yarwood was the first variety act I ever saw in person, when I was five, at the Winter Gardens Theatre in Bournemouth, with Peters and Lee as the music act. At home and at junior school, we all loved Yarwood, and he ‘spawned the nation’s mimicry’ in playgrounds and workplaces alike. But having made a fortune from impersonating politicians and celebrities of different kinds, he became a Tory donor and cheerleader and drank himself off our screens. My poem’s ending sees him stuck in one of those hideous Apartheid communities for the absurdly rich which litter parts of the Home Counties and elsewhere, and which JG Ballard described so chillingly in Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes.

Matthew Paul, Bloody politics

What I can
count on, when

democracy might be dying
at the hands of white men

and women waving
Confederate flags, wearing

Camp Auschwitz shirts,
brandishing zip ties:

the havdalah candle’s
sizzle, plunged

into wine; the scent
of shankbones, simmering;

the song of Torah
where every sentence

culminates, with no
uncertainties;

the winter sun
lingering

just a little longer,
promising better days.

Rachel Barenblat, Count on

“Hah, Ramstad!” a student crowed one day, waving a paper in front of me. It was an assignment written for a different teacher. “Total McWriting and I got an A!”

“Well,” I said, “at least you know what it is. I guess I’m glad you know when and how to use it.”

He grinned.

“And when not to,” I added, a statement more of hope than fact. He shook his head at me and went to his seat.

I knew that he didn’t see himself as the kind of writer I hoped he might become, but I never lost belief that he could. I never lost belief that he should. While in the classroom, I never gave up on my students as writers the way I gave up on myself as a cook. I never lost my belief that they needed to be able to tell their stories from scratch. When I told my students that everyone has the capacity to be a good writer, I believed it. When I told my students that stories–the reading and writing of them–have the power to save lives, I meant that, too. The stories we listen to and tell ourselves have everything to do with why and how the world is what it is. These are things I still believe, to my core, which leaves me, at the end of a week in which those who lack the ability to tell true stories from false have wreaked formerly unimaginable havoc, in a place of wondering.

How did I get to a place where I could stand in my kitchen and tell myself a story in which it didn’t matter if my students couldn’t tell their own or understand enough about others’ to see into and through them? Was I wrong to search for some middle ground; did my acceptance of McWriting for some situations undermine every other message I gave about the value of telling stories true? What skills do we all need to sustain life in situations for which there are no formulas guaranteed to save us? What kind of stories do we need to live and tell to get to a better place?

Rita Ott Ramstad, What feeds us

After flinging an arm across the seat next to him to save a tomato plant from toppling over, [Ross] Gay writes [in The Book of Delights] that the motion is “one of my very favorite gestures in the encyclopedia of human gestures” (214). I agree that it belongs on a “best of” human behavior list. And yes, so delightful. In response to potential impact, our instinct is to buffer the one next to us, the other.

… which brings me back to the googly eye on my lawn and another fascinating human gesture: making stories to explain the world. That’s another kind of buffer, isn’t it? Again, I don’t mean anything close to a silver lining. And I don’t mean for our fabrication to imply any kind of lie; instead, by fabrication I mean the act of creating.

The stories we tell ourselves can be raw and true and hard. But the telling is itself a buffer, something — in Gay’s case a daily delight — that fills some of the space between us and the crash. It braces us for impact.

Carolee Bennett, “something deeply good in us”

As a child, I learned that kindness could cure the snakebite of others’ poisonous actions.

That was so many moons and wars ago.

Wars started by humans and wars that got humans thinking maybe our shared gardens would bloom better with wisteria than wounds.

And so goes this battle for decency and democracy, beginning again amidst its many unendings.

Some endure these conflicts by standing firm in their hate while I exchange shadows with strangers to feel how others move through their lives.

Our shared humanity hasn’t disappeared;

it’s simply huddled in a bomb shelter at the intersection of insurrection and serenity.

Rich Ferguson, At the Intersection of Insurrection and Serenity

I’ve been reading much analysis of the events on Wednesday. I haven’t read much that startled me out of complacency, that made me want to think further and more deeply, but this article on the NPR site did.  Sociologist Alex Vitale says we shouldn’t be focused on the police angle but on the larger issue of justice in society.

But he’s not talking about justice the way most of us have been talking about justice.  Most of us want people punished, want people put in jail, want officers fired.  Vitale says, “Well, look, Americans are deeply committed to their retributive impulses. The United States has become a gigantic revenge factory. So obviously, people are falling back on these impulses — imagining justice as a question of punishment. Imagining that accountability is going to be measured in years of incarceration.”

But then he pivots–he doesn’t leave us drowning in our retributive impulses.  He sees that we have a 2 year window to deepen the conversation.  He says that in the past, we’ve been content to turn a variety of problems over to the police:  homelessness, drug abuse, mental illness.  The police aren’t equipped to handle those issues, and as a result, we see the fractured and broken society that we have today.

He also notes that the people in charge along with the people who benefit–white people, to be specific–prize order over justice.  If we commit to justice, we have to tolerate some disorder, some messiness.

I see two issues here, the one of what to do about this specific group of people who rampaged through the U.S. Capitol building and the issue of how to craft workable public policy that works for more of us.  In terms of punishing Wednesday’s rampagers, I have a vision of education, not prison.  Let them read the books that were on the smashed bookshelves.  Give them a choice of whether or not they’d like to serve their sentence in prison or in the U.S. Congress, being useful to Senators and Congress people and the Capitol police.  Make them write research essays about the artifacts that they trashed.

The question of public policy is even thornier.

We’ve had decades of public policy crafted by wealthy white men, mostly for the comfort and benefit of wealthy white men.  What would happen if we started to listen to other groups?  Not just black, brown, and indigenous groups, which would certainly be a good start.  But what if we listened to mothers and fathers?  What if we listened to immigrant groups and those seeking shelter from ruinous policies in other countries?  What if we listened to artists?  What if we listened to members of religious groups that aren’t mainstream Christian groups?  What if we listened to mainstream Christian groups?  What if we listened to poor people?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Committing to Justice, Not Vengeance

Who put their lips
to the hose and siphoned the gas,
so all we heard when we fired
the engine was a mindless buzzing
like bees? They run up the steps
of any sacred temple, dressed
in stolen furs. They smash
the windows in with their horns.
Whatever they touch turns
into bricks or bats or stones.
They straddle every chair as if
it were a sow or a mare.

Luisa A. Igloria, Defiler, Despoiler, Pillager

When 9/11 happened, I didn’t feel guilty about being here. I was still a citizen, but I felt displaced. My friends still in the States, from California to Kentucky to Michigan all wrote to tell me about how “we” were feeling — assuming I was outside of the “we” affected. When Norwegians consoled me, it was difficult to shake the feeling of being some kind of fraud. I didn’t know how to feel. Which feelings were “legitimate” for me to have, and which I was appropriating. I kept hearing my grandmother calling me a drama queen.

When the children were murdered here on July 22nd, 2011 a lot of my students told me how “we” felt about it — sometimes describing the cultural framework of Utøya, not considering that I’ve lived longer in this country than they’ve been alive. Or that my own children were in that age group that was most intimately affected.

Recent years have been even more difficult. No longer holding legal citizenship, and no longer recognizing the culture I knew, it’s almost like having an out-of-body experience sometimes. Hovering over an old life. Like a character in Sartre’s No Exit. Or like watching loved ones heading for a car wreck, helpless to intercede.

Distance helps you find different perspectives. While different doesn’t mean more correct, but I do think it means more complex. It’s why there are grants for emerging American writers to live abroad a while before returning to write about their home country. I thought that having grown up in a white-trash dysfunctional family, I was savvy to the “real” America. But being here, I’ve learned things about the hidden realities of the culture I thought I knew.

But lately, I think I am having the same kind of epiphanies that so many Americans are: every myth I was taught in school — from the Cherry Tree to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — has been turned on end, toppled like theater scenography. Part of it is just a matter of maturing, I guess — a matter of crossing demographics and cultural boundaries. The fact that social media has made diversity more visible to many of us.

A huge part of it is the BLM movement.

I don’t think I am finished crying about Wednesday’s seizure of the Capitol Building. I don’t think the chapter has closed. The hand-wringing and helplessness seem both familiar and not. This out-of-body experience seems like something many of us are sharing right now.

There’s the scene in the Wizard of Oz: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

I feel like the curtain has been drawn back and I still am waiting for whatever is there to step out of the darkness.

Ren Powell, Things I Do Alone in the Car

what became of the childhood innocence
when we all played together
tag hide-and-seek stickball kickball
and then later but still really children fell in love
and those first nervous kisses and fondlings
and going out with your friends
your crew
feeling like the whole world was wide open to you
and how on earth does that degenerate
into some of those same children growing up
into a frothing rage
storming the capitol building
screaming the language of hate
surely we could still be like children
laughing together

James Lee Jobe, screaming the language of hate

It’s a few days later, Sunday. I have talked to my little brother, who actually lived through a coup attempt when he live in Thailand. I tried to tell myself I was safe, I drank liquids and slept at irregular hours. I’ve tried to write some poems about America, but they weren’t any good. I sent out a sample from my pandemic manuscript (yes, I’m probably not the only person who wrote a book of poems during the last year – we certainly had the time on our hands) and sent one of my other manuscripts to a publisher. I tried to take pictures of my birds. January is a cold, wet month typically, but we’ve had colder, rainier weather than usual, resulting in landslides and giant trees coming down around my neighborhood. Talk about pathetic fallacies.

So I’ve been reading poems – old poems, that I loved as a kid. Fragment 68 by H.D., sonnets by Edna St Vincent Millay. Does poetry fix anything? No. Does my furious doomscrolling or tweeting at Mike Pence or the GOP congresspeople to impeach or invoke the 25th amendment do anything? Maybe not, either. Being a poet sometimes means being an observer. Being an observer sometimes makes you feel powerless. I’m in bed right now, looking at the rain, feeling tired and anxious.  I know there will be better days ahead. Sending love and hope out to you, my friends.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week to Make Us Think, Is 2021 Going to Be Worse? Attack on America from Domestic Terrorists, and Poetry as Solace

It’s not going to let up, is it? Does it feel like there’s more news because I’m at home more? Probably not, but it does seem to be getting more momentous as the days go by.

Arguably, it’s always politics, all of the time, but as Matthew Paul rightly points out here, it’s almost impossible to ignore the sheer amount of politics going on. However, I’m aware he mentions me in his post and I don’t want this to be a circlejerk, so I’m going to move on. I don’t think there’s anything that I can add to the weight of discourse around current events beyond relief that there appears to be grown-ups on the way in in the US (for all the faults of Biden and Harris, they are at least stringing sentences together and not calling for mass insurrection) and positive news about the vaccines (for all the uselessness of our own government in organising the rollout).

In an attempt to distract myself, I’m going to focus, for now, on the small coincidences of oranges and a poem.

Mat Riches, A Coincidence of Oranges

You wouldn’t think that a book of essays on disasters would make you feel better, but somehow it did make me feel better. Because it’s less about disasters and more about, as she says, the way we think about them. She says on the end of the world, “I’m not sure the doom will occur like a moment, like an event, like a disaster. Like the impact of a bomb or an asteroid. I wonder if the way the world gets worse will barely outpace the rate at which we get used to it.” 

She also notes that her research into disasters was comforting. “We’re still here, after all.” But goes on to say: “But I can only take so much comfort in the past. This point in history does feel different, like we’re nearing an event horizon. How many times can history repeat itself?” She wrote this before Covid, before these recent events, obviously. But you have to hope that this is some kind of a turning point.

We’re seeing more, the fog is lifting, the mirage is revealed as a mirage, even though most people were calling the iceberg an iceberg all along. A disaster, as it recedes into the past, can be analyzed, dissected, essays can be written about them. Questions, new questions will be formed. How did we get used to this? How inevitable was it?

Maybe it’s naive to just ask, when we’re deep in the thing, how are we to get through to the end of disaster? To the other side? Are we to be musicians playing on a sinking ship? Maybe?

You’ve heard me talk about a strategy I’ve used to get through to this point, which is to do one fun thing every day.

I recently read the inspiring article on Neil Pearte, drummer from Rush, in Rolling Stone Magazine and here’s the quotation I keep coming back to:

“What’s the most excellent thing I can do today?” he used to ask himself.

So maybe that’s a better way to put it. Either way, I don’t think it’s frivolous.

The best ideas, creative ideas, and I think going forward we’re going to need a LOT of those, comes out of play, out of different ways of thinking. If you want to get rid of brain fog, see things in a new way, do something fun, do something excellent. Or, I don’t know, go down to the river and play with ice shards. Do something excellent and then write about it, or sing about it. Because that’s worth something. It’s worth a lot.

Shawna Lemay, Mirage on the Horizon

What an up and down week I’ve had, I’m talking rollercoaster levels.  Terrible news, terrible weather, low energy, low light.  Then, from somewhere, a blast of a good joke, eating something delicious, a dazzling shot of sunshine, something captivating on telly (iPlayer),  poems that speak to me, music that brought me to my feet to dance (after a fashion), making headway with a project, making plans about another project – and then, back to feeling a bit despondent (actually, very despondent).

You’re often like this in January, says Andrew.

Yesterday, we drove five minutes to the Avon and Kennet canal (or is it the Kennet and Avon canal?  I’m never sure) and walked for about an hour, thinking, chatting, stretching our legs, being outdoors, smiling at and being smiled at (mostly) by a few other walkers.  It cheered me up.  Don’t criminalise people for doing this please, anyone.

Josephine Corcoran, Reasons to be or not to be cheerful, or not. Or something.

Ok, so it was a terrible week.

But in other news, not such a bad one.

My friend Katherine sent me her Christmas poem and it left me feeling elated. That I had already read the poem of the year – in early January!

Anthony Wilson, Reasons to be cheerful

they show me the bees
tweeted from the antipodes 
in a blizzard

Jim Young [no title]

My fourth poetry collection, Strangers, will arrive in the world in April 2021. The book will be published by Biblioasis, with (loving and fastidious!) editing by Luke Hathaway and (beautiful and striking!) cover design by Christina Angeli. I can’t wait to get it into readers’ hands.

Strangers is a themed collection drawn from a decade of writing (the earliest in the book date their composition back to 2011), but written in earnest since the birth of my son and the publication of The News in 2016. The poems explore lineages – familial and literary – and all the ways those we hold closest are both a part of us and, in some ways, forever beyond our reach. 

Written during a time when my two half-brothers died, my son was born, and my mother was diagnosed with dementia, it’s also about early middle age: a time when the great loves of our lives begin arriving and departing simultaneously, with little time to fully attend to them all. Strangers is one small attempt at such attendance. 

Rob Taylor, “Strangers” is on its way in 2021!

The shape
the poem
takes,

the bones
of what
it means

but does
not say.

Tom Montag, THE SHAPE

My recent reading has also delighted me with word meanings. I was reminded in Chess Story that a dilettante, that dabbler so often despised for surface involvement, is simply someone who delights in, say, the arts, as an amateur is someone who does something for the love of it. Zweig speaks of “a true dilettante in the best sense of the word, one who plays for the pure delight–that is, the diletto–of playing.” I also looked up “antimacassar” (I think in The Queen’s Gambit?), a word I always get from context, and delighted in the discovery that this upholstery protector = anti + Macassar, a brand of hair oil. Perfect!

Kathleen Kirk, Chess Story

And by reading, I mean, reading like a practitioner. That is, when we meet a poem that affects us, we need to take it apart and figure out how it did its magic. And we need to do this over and over again with all kinds of poems. And we need to try the tactics, retry, try something else.

And I believe — I have to believe — by doing this over the course of who the hell knows how long, we’ll develop some instincts, some skills, and some confidence. And when the poem isn’t living up to itself, something in us will feel uncomfortable, our skin will not fit us quite right, our ears will flick forward and back at some sound that’s not quite right, some voice inside us will whisper, “Sorry, you just don’t have it yet.”

And we’ll sigh and unscrew the carefully packed poem, pull all the guts out, and start all over again, adding this, taking away that, turning the pieces around, and putting it together again, then sitting with it to let those hard-won instincts have their say, their little jabs and hmms.

Marilyn McCabe, Barrelin’ down the boulevard; or, One Last Thing About Revision (This Week, Anyway)

Darklings, I have missed you and now I am finding my way back to written language to writing to poetry after my return to reading in such great gulping swallows and healing myself of the hunger that that particular loss opened in me. Here is my hand seeking in a dark room if you wish to take it. I miss you all but have followed your voices now bringing mine back in. Hello. Hello from the island. Hello.

Rebecca Loudon, Sending out tendrils through the stars

The podcast is back for 2021! In yesterday’s episode Peter interviewed Mario Petrucci, and then we had a bit of banter about prose poems, New Year’s resolutions and whatnot. We have some very interesting interviews coming up over the next few weeks, including Mary Jean Chan, Inua Ellams, and a number of other lovely poets and pundits to be confirmed ….why not have a listen and sign up?

Robin Houghton, Readings this coming week, Planet Poetry & Uni stuff

I seldom review prose on Rogue Strands, but I’m making an exception today for Liz Lefroy’s book, I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence) (Mark Time Books, 2020), simply because it contains far more poetry than the vast majority of collections that are brought out by major publishers.

I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence) takes Lefroy’s long-running blog as a point of departure and shapes it into 52 pieces, most about a page long, one for every week of the year. It offers snippets of a life, a family, a job, sometimes portrayed head-on, sometimes aslant, but always accompanied by a feeling that (like the best radio presenters) Lefroy is engaged in a one-to-one chat with the person who’s reading her book.

This effect is achieved via the presence of a fluidity and a supple cadence in each sentence, Lefroy’s excellent poetic ear underpinning every entry to such an extent that I’m tempted to label them implicit prose poems. What’s more, the easy-growing language then lends additional impact to her invocation of arresting images at crucial points, which is another extremely effective poetic technique.

Matthew Stewart, Prose that’s packed with poetry, Liz Lefroy’s I Buy a New Washer (and Other Moderate Acts of Independence)

One thing I’m continually impressed by in Lisa Summe’s work is the range of lyric voice she’s able to tap into. From direct intensity to nuanced, meditative insight, there’s always an emotional pulse to her work. […]

In “Your Pinterest Board Called Wedding” (also below), nuanced, meditative insight is created through the speaker’s reflection as she goes through an inventory of the title’s Pinterest board of an ex. Through this inventory, we get a variety of images and details whose emotional poignancy works through juxtaposition. For example, early on the speaker notes “so / you want an oval engagement ring” and follows that up with “my grief / circling around: coming back as bird.” This braiding of metaphor and image creates a palpable pathos, one that stands in direct contrast with the title. Where the mention of social media and the equally “social” weddings imply connection and celebration, the speaker grieves a loss of connection. There remains, however, a faint tone of celebration, the speaker in awe of the beloved even at a physical and societal distance, but this tone is modulated by grief and realization. The formal use of colons throughout this poem help in this modulation of tone, setting the pace while also letting the reading experience be one of rumination, speaker and reader side by side in awe and regret.

José Angel Araguz, poetry feature: Lisa Summe

A poem that returns the reader to the individual is ‘Ode to a Pot Noodle’. Owing something to Neruda’s Odas elementales (1954), the narrator is taking a short break from “fast-paced” hospital duties – a Pot Noodle is all there is time for. In the daze of night and fatigue, images arise (of course) of her distant home, her grandfather, of Philippine food and conversations that, in the time it takes to boil a kettle, vanish as quickly. She addresses those distant people: “this should have been an ode to you. / Forgive me, forgive me”. But the Ode has already been written in the course of Antiemetic for Homesickness. The collection is a testament to the presence of the absent, the persistence of memory, the heroism and suffering of those who we hold at arms’ length, invisible but without whom our modern society – our NHS – would fail to function. In the time of Covid – and after it too – Romalyn Ante’s book is reminding us of debts and inequalities too long unacknowledged.

Martyn Crucefix, Tagay! on Romalyn Ante’s ‘Antiemetic for Homesickness’

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

I do think writers have a responsibility to observe and record culture. I have great admiration for poets who take up current events in their work. I don’t mean that poems need to be explicitly political (though we could argue what that word means), but that they are making space for ambiguity and complexity of human experience on the page. I have edited a nature journal (www.thefourthriver.com) for the last seven years, and we are always discussing how to refresh notions of what a “nature poem” can or should be. Our nature is not the nature of Wordsworth or Thoreau or even Marianne Moore and our art needs to reflect that.
[…]

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

“Learn the lessons of boredom.” –my husband, Paul, to our kids.
[…]

12 – What fragrance reminds you of home?

Uh, vaguely damp dog?
[…]

17 – What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Luck.

18 – What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? 

I recently finished Carolyn Forche’s memoir What You Have Heard is True, which tells the full story of her time as a young poet in El Salvador. It was riveting. With my teenage son, I recently watched Hotel Rwanda for the first time. It was also riveting, for many of the same reasons the Forche book was. Human barbarism and human beauty & resilience inextricably twined.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Sheila Squillante

To this, I’d like to add a haiku by another Snapshot Press author, Ron C. Moss. A poet friend of mine, Sue Riley (winner of the 2019 Ginko Prize) leant me The Bone Carver by Moss and I’ve loved it from start to finish. The ‘reflections’ poem I’m going to quote is this one:

highland lake
burnt button grass
on both sides of the moon

Firstly, I’m impressed that this ‘reflections’ poem doesn’t actually mention the word ‘reflection’. We see the image of the ‘highland lake’ as a mirror in which the moon appears without the writer having to hammer it home. The idea that we can see ‘both sides of the moon’ somehow suggests, to me at least, that not only can we imagine the reverse, the dark side if you like, but we also see a half moon rising above the water, with the other half reflected below. If so, this might also indicate the time of day – twilight.

The very specific type of grass, ‘button grass’ locates the poem in the southern hemisphere (Moss is a Tasmanian writer and artist, plus Wikipedia will tell you that button grass forms part of a unique habitat in Tasmania). The alliterative use of ‘burnt’ is precise in its evocation of place too (Wikipedia says ‘buttongrass is relatively flammable and the ecological community is adapted to regular burning’). So, within three lines the poet has managed to convey both the visual image of the moon on/ or reflected in, the lake, draw a comparison with the button grass’s spherical flowerer heads and the rising moon, and also imply a contrast between the heat of the bushfire with the quenching waters of the lake. In the author information, it says that Moss serves as a volunteer firefighter, but it’s not necessary to know this – the poem subtly conveys his knowledge and experience without needing to state it.

So, I want to say thank you to all those mentioned in this post. You created a web of connections that led to me focus on this poem and write down my thoughts on this chilly Sunday afternoon. Outside, the paths are slippery with wet ice and the dog is content to lie on his back near the radiator rather than go trekking across the fields. Nevertheless, I shall be going out shortly, well wrapped up, to experience the thaw, such as it is, and hopefully to take inspiration from it for a ‘reflections’ poem of my own.

Julie Mellor, Reflections …

My video floodtide has been selected to be shown at the Gallery for Sustainable Art in Berlin as part of their 1.5 degrees international exhibition, running from 15 January – 12 March 2021. The exhibition is about whether or not we reach our climate goal and includes object, installation, photo, painting, video, and readings.

floodtide imagines a city in the near future when sea levels have risen significantly. What does it look like? How will we cope?

The composition process making the video was very complex. Nearly every scene has been composited from multiple sources requiring more than 500 individual sequences from original footage filmed around Adelaide, the Fleurieu Peninsula, Inner Suburban Melbourne, the Western Highway, and Far North Queensland. Each scene required matching of lighting intensity, colour and direction, as well as wind direction (in clouds, water, trees, etc), atmospheric haze, perspective, scale and more. In most scenes containing water, footage of the sea has been added to the landscape or cityscape. Similarly, nearly every sky and cloud bank has been composited from mixed sources. Almost none of the building skylines is from a single location.

These scenes might be imaginary, but the reality may not be far off…

Ian Gibbins, floodtide exhibited in Berlin

I gave a reading yesterday in the Poetrio series at Malaprops Bookstore, run generously and flawlessly by poet Mildred Barya and Malaprops Director of Author Events, Stephanie Jones-Byrne. I forgot to take a screenshot or watch the clock because my co-readers Kathy Goodkin and Eric Tran were so amazing, but the recording is here, and you have the option of supporting a great indie bookstore by ordering any of the books (or others) here. (Speaking about clocks, I should say we each kept to our time of 12 minutes-ish, which is basically a holy miracle of restraint where poets are concerned.) Mildred introduces writers not by listing their accomplishments but by reflecting on their poems, setting a mood that was both thoughtful and celebratory. In this case, she noted how many ghosts populate all of our new books. Kathy spoke to that in a wonderful way by reading a poem about the period costumes ghosts are described as wearing, speculating that in twenty years we might be haunted by ghosts in tee-shirts and skinny jeans. Eric began by talking about building an altar to ancestors, noting that everyone wants to escape the ghosts of 2020 but maybe, instead, we could consider how to honor them. It’s a moving idea.

I was also impressed by the emotional range of Kathy’s and Eric’s poems–grief, hilarity, anger, love–and how they talked about that in the Q&A. Eric’s advice for infusing a serious poem with humor is to take your first draft and make it gayer. Add glitter.

Lesley Wheeler, Winterred

Twelve of the thirteen members of Artists’ Book Club Dove met for two hours in the Land of Zoom on 2nd January. Thanks to Thalia for the use of her account.

It’s taken me a week to lick my notes into shape and collect everyone’s photos.

There was a new energy in the air. In our separation we are meeting one another at a deeper level. Trees have been planted at the Dove. Some of us are taking online courses in a variety of different art-forms. Spaces are being cleared. We have rediscovered old diaries and commonplace books. We have been connecting, via stories and photos, with our foremothers. We spoke of the family stories behind many of our Christmas decorations. We are wondering how to pass our knowledge on to the next generations as a gift, not a burden.

Ama Bolton, ABCD January 2021

But we are spirits of another sort, which is to say
That kindness walks among us, and grief,
And uncertainty about how to greet this guest.
Do we offer him a seat, hang his black
And faded hood up on the hat rack, stand his scythe
With the umbrellas?

Dale Favier, A Surgeon Extracting the Stone of Folly

Poetry Blog Digest 2020/21, Week 0

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week split between two years found bloggers writing year-in-review posts and welcome-to-2021 posts; I’ve tried to include a mix of both, plus favorite books lists, in memoriam posts, and more. January is of course a month when long-neglected blogs often come back to life, so it’s a safe bet that these digests will be on the lengthy side for a little while. But why not? The nights are long, in the northern hemisphere at least, and how much damn Netflix can you watch?

By the way, if you missed Via Negativa’s own New Year’s post, featuring a collaborative videopoem full of brand new words set to a funky, glitchy beat, do have a look.


I will just start by saying: All through the shitshow of 2020, the writing world remained an inspiration for me. I don’t know quite how we did it, but writers kept on writing. Poets figured out how to do readings online. Everybody learned Zoom. Literary journals continued, adapted, and sometimes thrived. A few really beautiful anthologies were produced about the pandemic, the ugliest of subjects.        

Back on March 11, I wouldn’t have believed any of this. That was the day the NBA shut down, which, for some reason, was the watershed moment for me—the end of the civilization I knew. I pictured us at the end of the year, holed up in our dark bunkers reading old can labels to each other and trying to find the last station on the hand-crank radio.        

So yes, as of today, we’re still here, but I won’t say it was a good year for writers. Or for my writing. Or for anything. That would be crass, cruel, and beside the point. Still, there were times of beauty and weirdness. Here are some things that changed, and things that surprised me, and some actual good things that grew, mushroom-like, in the dark year now ending. […]

I wrote a lot about the pandemic. 

I journaled to preserve the strange, disaster-movie quality of it all: the sudden shutdowns and surreal speed of it, the news from overseas, the appalling lack of response from the U.S. government, the rumors, the social divisions. It felt important to chronicle these things. I also wrote a shit-ton of pandemic poems early on, some of which I posted on Instagram with graphics, which was an empowering, absorbing project. I published some others in journals and anthologies. Some poet friends, I know, didn’t write at all about the pandemic. I totally hear that (see the next paragraph); I just felt compelled to make bread with the dough at hand, and pandemic dough was what I had.

I wrote almost nothing about a disaster close to home.

As if the pandemic, layoffs, racial tension, and that car-crash election weren’t enough, my region got hit with another huge blow on September 8 and 9 when the Almeda fire tore through our Oregon valley, destroying more than 2,500 homes. It was epic, horrifying, unbelievable, frightening, and very, very sad. Many of my friends and co-workers lost everything. Even now, the burn zone—which starts 3 miles from my house and stretches 10 miles to the northwest—is a mind-altering, life-changing thing to see: miles and miles where homes and businesses used to be, everything now reduced to a hip-high, gray/white landscape of debris that looks uncannily like ruined tombstones. I’ve written a grand total of one poem about all that, although I did journal a lot. It was just too close; I know too many people whose lives are forever changed. To make art out of that and put it up on the internet did not feel like the right thing to me. It’s delicate, and I was not in the right mental space to do it.       

This made me think a lot about poems of witness and current-events poems. I write a lot of those, and I’ve always recognized that it’s different when you’re farther from the disaster; of course it’s easier to write about it. But there’s a voyeurism to it, an inauthenticity that, paradoxically, makes it possible to take the art/poem in different directions than if you’d seen the event yourself. But when it happened to people you know, there’s a line of ethics in there. Maybe there’s always a line of ethics, and we just trample over it all the time without thinking. 

Amy Miller, The Writing Year: Get thee behind me, 2020

When the world locked down in March, I was temporarily laid off from my job at the library, on EI for the first time in my life, and the gallery Rob was represented by in Edmonton shut down. Things weren’t feeling too great at all. Maybe the library would be closed for a very long time. (It did re-open a few months later and I was lucky to be among the first called back thanks to my seniority). We reckoned that one possibility would be that no one would be buying art, paintings, for the foreseeable future. I remember talking about the fact that paintings aren’t like bread, you could make them, and they’ll keep for some unknown future, at least that. We decided that even if nothing ever sold again, if no one wanted to publish books, or buy paintings, we wanted to make them. And so for some reason we were both able to continue working, even if it was weird and hard and exhausting and futile, a little thin on the ground. The futility was in its way a release. We could do what we liked. We persisted.

Shawna Lemay, How Was It, For you?

I’m not going to try and rehash 2020. It’s over, it wasn’t good, it wasn’t too bad for me, but I’m tired. I’m struggling to keep an even keel emotionally with all the stress the holidays usually bring, my Gran’s recent death of Covid and just being so isolated here. The thought of starting anything new seems overwhelming.

I’m trying to not put too much pressure or expectation onto 2021. Crossing over its threshold doesn’t make everything new, bright or easier. I have small goals I’m aiming for, but I just want to keep moving forward and see what happens. 

Gerry Stewart, I’m Still Here – 2020 Review

Happy New Year and big thanks to such an incredible online community of poets, writers, and supporters! I started actively posting and promoting my web site in October 2014, and have seen a constant increase in traffic, likes, and followers. I’ve met some amazing and talented people along the way.

This site really started out as an experiment, to just share the things I learn and research when I originally began actively submitting my poems and other writing to different markets. It does seem there is a need for clear, concise, and quick ways to stay updated on calls for submissions, contests, writing tips, especially those with a focus on poetry. I’d love to hear from my readers if they have suggestions for information I can share or other resources they find helpful in their quest to publish poetry. 

Trish Hopkinson, Happy New Year and Thank You! – My Publication & Site Stats, 300K+ views in 2020!

Before I start, I want to say that this is not about stats. This is not about stats. What this is about is connection and emotion and wanting to put something out into the void that can help make everything a little bit, just a little bit more bearable. That is the point of this. Not stats.

Having said that, this is also absolutely about stats. The stats of one poem, one blog post, that have gone off the scale this year, beyond wild imaginings, just like everything else in 2020.

I am talking about a poem which I posted on this blog in October 2012, Derek Mahon’s Everything is Going to be All Right. I first encountered the poem as an undergraduate English student, reading off piste all the contemporary poetry I could get hold of. As you do when you fall in love, I didn’t need to ask too many questions about the poem. All the things that apply to all the poems I love were in play immediately. I got it. It hit me. I felt as though it had been written for me.

So after I had finished my treatment for cancer and began copying poems into a notebook that became this blog that became a book, I absolutely knew Everything is Going to be All Right was one of the first I wanted to include. Chemobrain (may you never experience it) is a thing. It means you forget everything, including the sentence you have just read. This included poetry.

Just as I reached for poetry once my concentration had returned, people have reached for it in this year of pandemic and grief. In their thousands. I know this because of my stats. It started in late March. A secondary school in Ireland included a link to it, in their end of term newsletter to parents just as lockdown was getting under way. Boom went the stats. A fluke, I thought. By next month they will have tired of it.

But April was off the scale, too. May even more so. Things calmed down a bit over the summer (they always do), but once the second wave materialised, boom went the stats once more. October (the month of Mahon’s passing) was even busier than May. It has not really slowed down much since.

I am glad that a poem has been of such use to people. Though I would not have wished this year on anyone, it has reaffirmed my reasons for writing it, writing about it, talking about it. Here is a poem. I think you might like it. Let’s talk about it. Really? I hadn’t noticed that. That’s amazing. I saw it completely differently. But I still love it. I’m glad you do too. Everything is going to be all right.

Anthony Wilson, Poem of the year?

I was given to lying prone on the living room carpet, pencil in hand, contemplating my topic sentence. It was a strange luxury: the blank page and a sentence-to-be. In my mind’s eye, I knew it had to be multiple. There couldn’t be just one angle, one point of view or concept to explore on a sixth grade paper. It was a good thing I had a stack of paper handy.

Skipping ahead, how many voices, or topic sentences would we need to write about 2020? The mind splits under the pressure. It’s been a behemoth of a year, and any rational attempt at “making sense” is a slippery, doomed adventure without a concept of multiplicity.

Better to imagine the year as a screaming, overstuffed, opera, exhausting in its sheer number of plot lines and tonal shifts. You didn’t want to cry but there you were crying at something sentimental that now rang true. There was sacrifice, there was love against all odds. Death always in the background, or on the other side of the flimsy stage door. That’s what made the singing so moving, the sorrow, even in love longs, so poignant.

Jill Pearlman, 2020: Opera Extraordinaire

Inside each other’s dazed and anxious radiance,
nothing rings or beckons. Dull, comforting expanse,
the sound turned low, our eyes not straining to adjust.
We must try, we say, to move with intention into
if not through the workaday world. We wait too
long to dress ourselves, pour more coffee than a body
ought to have. We say, there will be other opportunities
to run errands, speak with neighbors, email friends
we miss. It’s been months since we ventured anywhere
and we resent the brightest days the most.

Sheila Squillante, It’s been months since we ventured anywhere/ and we resent the brightest days the most.

My heart rate hasn’t gone below 100 in two weeks again. But that’s a great improvement from where it was, and it also hasn’t gone above 108. Yes, given what I do it should be 50 or 60 unless someone has really righteously pissed me off or I’ve just woken from one of these nightmares. I note it, I pay attention, if it feels actually bad I stop, but if it hurts, or feels mildly alarming? When does it not? I wake at 100bpm, at the apparently completely random intervals long covid dictates, or not. For a few days, or a few weeks, or not. When does more than one system not hurt? Inflammatory insanity is attacking my spinal hardware and scar tissue, my once-broken elbow, my face, my hands, my bad disc at T12, all the time, every day, to varying degrees.

I bike two hours watching Tiny Pretty Things and freaking out about my visceral memory of formative years in a Royal Academy of Ballet studio all too like this show. We fill our shoes with blood to give you this beauty, yes. The body is instrument. The body is pain. The body is strength and coordination and power and we make it look easy. Proprioception is as basic as breathing; interoception as basic as gravity. Is it a healthy culture? Hell no. Is it actively psychotic, in fact, as culture? Hell yes. Is dance still extraordinary, and the dancer’s mastery of their body one of the greatest astonishments of beauty and dedication this world can provide, and does dedication and mastery require blood, and is it worth it for the dancer, if they can escape the culture and remember to simply dance? Hell yes.

I do the core workout, sometimes through cement, sometimes with no trouble at all, practiced now, for almost four years post-surgery.

I mountain hike, taking the sharp hills on purpose; the only way out is through. I no longer have to stop on the steep inclines most of the time, my legs no longer cramp viciously from lack of o2 transfer. I am still slow. It is hard to breathe. Fine. Where I started this rehab in July, I could not walk to the mailbox, I still oxygen-crashed from the steam in the shower.

JJS, “Pain is the signal to stop” and other complicated lies

First poem of the new year:

My new coffee cup
said rise and shine, wake up!

I woke up lazily
and smelled the sovereignty. 

Bitter as stewed tea,
it sickened me.

I rose not, neither did I shine 
till well past nine.

In other news, I’ve been pursuing the “100 rejections in a year” mirage. In 2020 I sent off 103 individual poems and 11 collections or sequences. Seventy rejections so far, and 33 still waiting for a result, so in my mind I’ve already ticked the box.

Two collections were short-listed. Six poems were published or are forthcoming in print, two appeared online and one was awarded a £50 h/comm prize.
I need a change of direction this year. No goals. Just write for the pleasure of it, and occasionally make beautiful small editions for family and friends. These, after all, are the kind of books I most like to buy.

What I’ve missed most in 2020 has been dancing. I’ve walked much more than usual, and it has certainly lifted my spirits, but not in the way that dancing does. Of the dozen or so folk-dance clubs we used to go to, I wonder how many will survive.

Ama Bolton, 1st January 2021

There has been no snow,
the cold has stayed in our hearts,
preserving our souls

through the long winter
that has started in a spring.
We’re not who we were,

we talk less, plan less,
certainty has left for good
our dictionaries,

a call for writers.

Magda Kapa, December 2020

the dawn of New Year’s Day —
yesterday
how far off!

Ichiku

This wistful haiku appears on the back cover of The British Museum Haiku edited by the late David Cobb (British Museum Press, 2002). I’ve only scratched the surface of this genre in 2020 – there’s so much to read, so much to listen to, so much to learn. If I have anything like a resolution this year, it is simply to remain a novice and learn, not only from fantastic practitioners, past and present, but also from the practice itself.

As I write this, the snow is thawing in the back garden and unseen birds, sparrows I suspect, are making their chatter. The dwarf bamboo in the terracotta pot has bounced back after being weighed down with snow for the last couple of days, although the bird bath still has a pile of slush in the middle. Inside, we have the heating on full (a feeling of unease creeps over me when I think about the bill) and the dog is sleeping off his long walk which we did yesterday afternoon (photos below, taken from Hartcliffe, Penistone). As I have done throughout the pandemic, I count my blessings.

Julie Mellor, New Year’s Day

I’m writing this not feeling great on the last day of the year to be posted on the first day of the year. Feels like I should have something grand to say but I don’t. 2020 had me heart-sick for most of it. Here’s to 2021, may you deserve us. Enjoy some life sketches by Shiki Masaoka. May you sketch out newness from the old you bring with you.

life sketches by Shiki Masaoka

in the evening glow
as they range in a vast sky,
these huge pillared clouds,
each radiant on one radiant side,
all crumbling, all dissolving
together
[…]
(trans. Sanford Goldstein & Seishi Shinoda)

José Angel Araguz, ending & starting: shiki masaoka

I can’t say I feel exactly happy as the year begins, though like most of us, I’m hopeful for the long run while mourning what we’ve lost, and remaining keenly aware of the suffering of so many. For a while, 2020 is going to feel like a continuation of 2021, and here, where cases are rising and the hospitals becoming overcrowded, it’s difficult not to be deeply discouraged about the government doing too little, too late, and people not following the necessary precautionary measures. Now the city is in semi-lockdown, and I’m hoping that schools and non-essential businesses won’t reopen on the 11th as planned, but we shall see.

Doing something creative is my way of insisting that life continues to more forward, and I didn’t want to let today go by without making an attempt. Setting up my palette and water, mixing the colors, and watching a brush stroke on plain paper become a tree, a branch, or a person, are parts of a process that I love, and which grounds me, even when I’m struggling with pictures that present a lot of problems or aren’t working out very well.

Before starting this painting, I wanted to wet the paper on the watercolor block, and so I reached into my desk drawer where I knew I’d put a couple of sea sponges. The one that my hand found was very dry, and when I wet it under the kitchen tap, and rubbed the little dried cells as they expanded, I felt grit inside it, which turned out to be tiny pink shells. This was a sponge I had found on a rocky shore near Palermo, Sicily, as we were on our way to the airport to fly home, and I had never used it before for painting. Today, when I had soaked it and squeezed it out, I raised the little sponge to my nose — and it smelled of the sea. All the better to help create the wetness of dark tree bark, and an expanse of northern snow.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 52. A New Year Begins

When everything that was 2020 descended upon us, I was already of the attitude of “of course, everything is truly wretched” — 2019 had broken me down so much that why should I expect a year to be good? and even with everything that was scary, lonely and sad this year, we have baby B, who brings us such joy.

I’m going to be honest – I don’t expect that globally or nationally 2021 will be better than 2020; but I plan to find sweetness and joy in this year anyway, no matter what it brings. I’ve already got a hold on some hope, and I’m holding on tight.

Renee Emerson, 2021 resolutions

We must learn to become chaos-competent. When the pandemic ends, there will still be chaos and unknowns in the world and in our lives. Being able to stand grounded within it is what matters.

Healthcare innovation tends to move at a turtle’s pace, but this year has shown us that we can in fact mobilize at lightning speed when it’s demanded. Telehealth and research goals that were slated for years in the future were reached in a matter of weeks. There is no reason why healthcare needs to lag behind other industries.

The smallest expressions of appreciation have meant everything to people during this time. People are starving for it. A hand-written card, a little gift, a simple thank you, have been received like gold.

I am grateful to those who have taken the time to ask after me when my stress was at its peak it and was clear that something was off, as much as I tried to hide it. I have been surprised at the number of people who care about me. This surprise is something that bears deeper scrutiny.

Humans can become deeply selfish when in fear, but we also have an innate desire to serve. I was amazed at the number of people who e-mailed me wanting to volunteer during the height of the pandemic. And there were so many donated meals being delivered to our hospital that it became a logistical issue.

For a while, every night at 8:00 p.m., there was a minute of shouting, pot-banging and whooping in thanks to the health care workers. I dreaded this every night, because it filled me with guilt that I was not doing direct patient care and didn’t “deserve” it. Now I would feel okay about it. My role counts, too, and so does everyone else’s.

Kristen McHenry, Lessons I Learned from 2020

Plenty of people who publish annual best-of lists know perfectly well that what they really mean is “what I liked most among the books that presses sent me or I heard publicity for or came across randomly.” Their newspaper or magazine editors just won’t allow such an egregious headline. Still, these lists bug me, even though, probably hypocritically, I would be quite happy to see one of my books appear on almost any of them. I’m more than delighted when something I wrote delights anyone, and a media boost is awesome. I just don’t like this annual critical abandonment of knowing better.

So here are some 2020 poetry books I like that didn’t appear, to my knowledge, on any best-of-year list or major postpublication prize longlist (I also liked a lot of books that are critical faves, but I’m putting them aside for the moment). The beauties in the picture happened to be in my home office this week (I had already toted others to my work office). Among those shelved across town, special praise to Kaveh Bassiri, 99 Names of Exile; Tess Taylor, Last West; Jessica Guzman’s Adelante; and all the books I had the pleasure of featuring in my spring-summer Virtual Salon (which I’d be happy to reboot if you contact me with a newish book–just message me). There are many, many other exciting collections I haven’t read yet, and everything I found rewarding enough to finish in 2020 is listed below the photo. An asterisk doesn’t mean it’s “better,” just that it was published during the year before I read it. I notice I read a ton of poetry this year but much less prose than usual–that has to do with fragmented concentration–although there are many new books in those categories I also loved.

Best wishes to all of us for a good new year full of good-for-something literature, good-enough health, and please-be-better government. On the reading side, nourish yourself with books, buy from indies when you can, give love to small presses without publicity machines, and like what you like no matter what the critics or professors say!

Lesley Wheeler, A Very Good Anti-Best List

book-lover’s bedtime —
I mark my place
with a smaller book

*

Published in the inaugural issue of Bloo Outlier Journal, 12/23/20.

Bill Waters, Book-lover’s bedtime

I was enormously pleased when my poetry publisher, Broken Sleep Books, won the Publishers’ Award at the Michael Marks Awards a few weeks ago. The Michael Marks Awards are specifically dedicated to poetry pamphlets (rather than full-length collections) and they are run by the British Library, The Wordsworth Trust, Harvard University and The TLS. Winning a Michael Marks Award is really a wonderful honour and even being shortlisted was cause for great excitement. As my pamphlet Island of Towers was published within the required dates for the 2020 awards, I played a small role as my pamphlet was part of the overall submission. I’m just as proud of all my fellow Broken Sleep Books poets. And I’m even more proud of the whole Broken Sleep team (which expanded this year, or was it last year now?) and above all of Aaron Kent, who runs the press. Aaron was extremely ill earlier this year and thankfully has made a good recovery. I’m so happy that he was able to end 2020 in such a positive way and that we all played a part, because we needed that.

Clarissa Aykroyd, A Few Nice Things To End Horrible, Nasty 2020

New Year’s Eve saw the publication, by Snapshot Press, of Thomas Powell’s debut collection of haiku, Clay Moon. I was fortunate to read the book in manuscript and honoured to be invited to write an endorsement. I’ve watched Powell develop into a haiku poet of distinction and skill, who in particular writes beautiful nature haiku. I’m certain that Clay Moon won’t be bettered by any other haiku collection this year,

As the title of his collection hints, he’s a potter. A few years ago, when I edited the ‘expositions’ – i.e. essays, features and interviews – section of the online journal A Hundred Gourds – I commissioned Powell to write an essay about the interplay and similarities between the craftsmanship of his day job and that of his haiku writing. It’s an engaging read still.

Of late, he’s taken to writing in his native Welsh as well as English, which is doubly interesting in that he doesn’t live in Wales, but in the North of Ireland. One of his haiku in the latest issue (#68) of Presence attracted me through its implicit use of colour. I can’t be alone in seeing a reddish-brownness in each of the concrete nouns:

peat-tinted river
the squirrel’s reflection
eating a mushroom

Haiku concerning reflections in water (especially ponds and puddles) were done to death in classical Japanese haiku let alone English-language haiku of the last half-century, so it’s difficult to do so with any real originality, but Powell achieves that here by a careful attentiveness: that it isn’t the squirrel itself which he – and the reader – sees eating the mushroom but ‘the squirrel’s reflection’. Ordinarily, ‘peat’ might be unnatural, a poeticism; here, though, it looks and, crucially, sounds fine. In fact, the whole haiku is mellifluous on the ear, without being unnecessarily flowery. The rhyme between ‘peat’ and ‘eat’ is unobtrusively helpful. Clay Moon is full of haiku as good as, and better than, this one.

Matthew Paul, On the haiku of Thomas Powell

Though Welsh-language poetry falls outside of the scope of The Edge of Necessary, a number of recent poets mix English and Welsh in their work, occasionally creating a kind of macaronic language that floats back and forth between the two (e.g. Rhys Trimble) or transliterates the phonemes of Welsh into some new version of sound poetry (shades of Zukofsky’s transliterations of Catullus, perhaps).  In the latter mode is Steven Hitchins, whose “Gododdin Versions” go in more for sound than literal sense, while Rhea Seren Phillips utilizes Welsh prosodic forms and metres for her English-language poems, resulting in for example such evocative cyhydedd-naw-ban-style lines as, “muttering the language in shadows, / psycheswept in its vitriolic storm / of British patriotism-bird / cage of the clover, the daffodil” (317).  David Annwn’s “Bela Fawr’s Cabaret” is a Joycean (Wakean) wordscape that mixes languages (including Welsh) and personae in order to (among other things) analogize native Welsh and Native American histories.  “I see you in that mirror out of me / far out dancing in your druid shirt” (183), Annwn concludes.

Also radical in their own way are some of the more recent poets, like Chris Paul, whose bio points out that he is “a believer in Welsh independence for socialist reasons” and who has stood for election as a Plaid Cymru candidate (290).  Paul’s work is seemingly Language Poetry-influenced and plays around with typography to produce poetic comment on commodity culture and the commodification of human relationships.  Nerys Williams is something of a personal favorite (I’ve read and written about her 2017 collection Cabaret), and including her “Capel Celyn Telyneg” (among others) was a good choice.  That poem takes up the deliberate destruction of the Welsh-speaking village Capel Celyn and surrounding area of Bala in 1965 to create a reservoir which supplied industry in the English city of Liverpool.  “Is language here?” Williams asks, “In the water? / Under the bridge? // Does it seep through space?” (270).

Michael S. Begnal, Review: The Edge of Necessary: An Anthology of Welsh Innovative Poetry, 1966-2018

Ottawa poet and reviewer Michael Dennis has died, following an extended illness.

Michael Dennis was one of the first published poets I encountered during my early explorations of Ottawa literature, circa 1990. I scoured bookstores and used bookstores and library shelves, discovering copies of his chapbook wayne gretzky in the house of the sleeping beauties (Lowlife Publishing, 1987), and poems for jessica-flynn (Not One Cent of Subsidy Press, 1986). My copy of Fade to Blue (Pulp Press, 1988) still includes a receipt from Byward Market’s late-lamented Food for Thought Books (a long-established bookstore run by Michael’s friend, Paul King), dated February 26, 1991. By the time I met Michael back in early 1993 (at Food for Thought Books, no less), I’d been carrying poems for jessica-flynn around with me for months, reveling in these straight-shooting poems on his immediate local; poems on writing, reading, sex and visual art; poems about drinking Toby and The Royal Oak Pub, an activity I replicated in his honour, wondering if I might even catch a glimpse of the man. It was during these years, as well, that anyone might wander into a used bookstore in Ottawa and catch one of three names handwritten in the flyleaf of a small press publication: John Newlove, John Metcalf or Michael Dennis. He was known for going through an incredible amount of books, but managed to keep, I would think, far more than he unloaded.

As I wrote of as part of one of my 2018 Arc Walks [see the text of such here], poems for jessica-flynn was composed in the window of the long-shuttered Avenue Bookshop, a store that sat at 815 ½ Bank Street, from January 7 to February 7, 1986. The resulting collection of poems was published by the proprietor of the store, Rhys Knott, although by the time I saw copies, they held a whole shelf at Food for Thought Books. Michael’s month in the window was part of a much larger project that allowed artists to install whatever they wished for a month-long display, curated by Dennis himself, and the series also included Ottawa artists Richard Negro, Daniel Sharp, Bruce Deachman, Dennis Tourbin and Dana Wardrop. Michael’s month writing poems was the final of the twelve month series. Influenced by his project, I did my own version, sitting a month in the window of Octopus Books when it still lived at 798 Bank Street, writing banker’s hours throughout the month of June 1996. My own project was far less successful than his.

rob mclennan, Michael Dennis (September 1, 1956-December 31, 2020)

Talking of ‘minor precisions’ the first draft said ‘fine precisions’ which is ironic since, following the syllabic pattern, it is precisely that line that is one syllable short. Why should that matter? Hardly at all except that adopting a particular form is a kind of vow to stay with it, a personal thing between you and your promise, one that a reader is unlikely to notice. So ‘fine precisions’ became ‘minor precisions’. That kept the high ‘i’ sound but it lost the assonance with the following ‘find’. Then I remembered that when I wrote this, in bed as last thing, the phrase that flitted by me was ‘fine particulars’ which would have fitted the syllable count precisely. So I could change it to that now but I have used that phrase before in a poem, having picked it up, unconsciously at the time, from the American poet Anthony Hecht. The issue seems, well, ‘minor’ to the reader, but it is nevertheless a matter of ‘fine’ judgment to the poet. I still can’t quite make up my mind.

But then this is ‘precisely’ what poets deal with, sometimes slowly and thoughtfully, sometimes fast and instinctively. I am generally of the second disposition at the time of writing. Not necessarily in redrafting. I think Mangalesh would understand and sympathise with such quibbles. The quibble is dedicated to the living self I met in person and to the living ghost of his poems.

George Szirtes, The Death of Poets

This year proved to be unlike any other year in SO MANY WAYS. Many of which I would rather not repeat. But it was an excellent year for reading for me. I read 332 books this year, far exceeding the 266 books I read last year. Here were my favorites of the year:

Poetry

~ Fat Dreams by Nicole Steinberg: Poems chronicling one woman’s battle with weight – gaining it, losing it, dealing with society. (Now sold out but available as a free PDF from Barrelhouse!)

~ Ways We Vanish by Todd Dillard: Poems that focus on family – the death of parents and the birth of a child. The aging of parents and the wonderment of a young child.

~ If They Come For Us by Fatimah Ashgar: A collection of poems that weave identity, family, loss, immigration and religion together. Many poems focus on the Partition of India and Pakistan and the long term effects this had on people.

~ This Apiary by Allie Marini: A chapbook of poems that love, religion, nature, and the everyday horror of life.

~ Boat Burned by Kelly Grace Thomas: A collection of poems that focus on womanhood, relationships, family, the trauma that is living in America under Tr*mp, and the female body.

~ Green by Melissa Fite Johnson: A collection of poems that take you on a journey from loss and sexual violence, to hope and happiness.

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books Read in 2020

Something you need to know is that I am not a baker. I have no idea why the idea of being a Person Who Makes Scones was so appealing. Except that, obviously, she was a person who would gift friends with baked goods. She’d show up. She’d do things like brunch. She’d get up early to write. She’d have her shit together. I have no idea where these notions came from, but I was sure I’d feel a whole lot more optimistic about life if I made some scones. I believed everything would fall into place.

But things did not fall into place.

By the end of that week, having seen news reports out of Japan and Australia of a rapidly spreading, deadly virus, lockdowns and empty grocery store shelves, I started preparing. Now, months later, the end of 2020 nears. But the pandemic continues.

Lots of people on Twitter are sharing lists of what they managed to accomplish this year “despite.” Here’s mine: I baked some fucking scones. It turned out to be a one-off, but I’m still kind of in love with the idea of myself as Carolee Who Makes the Most Amazing Scones… even though she’s no longer under the impression that the scones will save her.

We can never really know what we’re up against.

Carolee Bennett, i’d hoped scones might save me: a strange retrospective for a strange year

I’ve heard from so many friends and family members that, due to the stress of 2020, their creativity stalled. Their feelings run the gamut from guilt to a kind of astonished frustration. 

I think of how nonchalantly I wrote my 2020 list, and, with so many of us suffering, how silly a list like that seems now. I’ll make my list for 2021 with a whole new appreciation for how quickly things can change.

May the writing flow, and if it doesn’t, may we learn to understand, if not appreciate, these fallow periods.

Erica Goss, Review of my 2020 New Year’s Resolutions

Hello, my friends! If you’re reading this, you’ve made it safely into 2021, a year which I hope will give us more health, hope, peace, and comfort than 2020 did. Welcome!

We’ve had crazy weather here in the Seattle area, so mostly I’ve been staying inside, writing poems,  trying to read several books at a time, and looking at online classes for creative non-fiction and fiction. I made a list of the books I read last year and wanted to start out the new year getting reading (and writing) in during these days that force us to hibernate with flooding rains, high winds, and generally unpleasant to venture out into weather.

Here’s a list of the books I’m starting out with: The Last Neanderthal – Claire Cameron (with my mom), She Should Have Known – Jean Hanff Korelitz, The Red Comet – Heather Clark , The Colossus and Other Poems – Sylvia Plath (I’ve read her collected, but wanted to see how she put this book together),  and Margaret Atwood’s Dearly. A mix of genre fiction, poetry, and biography). Last year I started with a lot of Virginia Woolf and Joan Didion, so I’m taking a little easier this year (with the exception of the thousand-page Plath bio). (Here’s an article with a little bit about what I read last year during quarantine for Salon.)

We also got a new printer after our old one (20 years old!) finally conked out, and I immediately printed out the two manuscripts I’ve been circulating. I also realized when I printed out my Excel spreadsheet of poems that I had written a ton of new work last year, so I’m thinking of incorporating some of it into the two manuscripts or starting a new one entirely.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy 2021! Off to a rainy, windy, book-filled beginning..

I’ve always said I would much rather be cozy at home than out at parties and crowded bars with a whole lot of amateurs, but this year feels different.  Like the lack of festivities isn’t by introvert choice and more like something is being stolen, much as the whole year was. Suddenly I am pausing, mouse hovering over the gold shiny party dress that I would love to wear to some crowded party where the drinks are endless and the music way too loud to have a conversation. It would be too cold, slick with ice, climbing in an out of cabs and ubers. I would be mostly awkward all night, then much less awkward, but a little too drunk.  Then just sort of sleepy. I would hate it and long for home. Confirm uncategorically I should have stayed in.  But when it isn’t an option–the sparkle and champagne– I miss it. It makes no sense.  It makes all the sense in the world.

Yesterday, when I was writing my recap of the year, I scrolled back through other years just for fun and realize that while the bones of the year are here–commuting, work, my weekends at home–there is a lot less texture–outings, movies, short trips. This is why, I suspect the entire year feels like one really long day in which nothing all that exciting happened and in which we were just short of anxious all the time. March became May became July.  I celebrated a birthday in April and I suppose got another year older, but it doesn’t feel like it counts.

Kristy Bowen, the same auld lang syne

i want to sleep now like an old dog
may i do that please
just this one time
for am i not an old dog now
and is this afternoon not endless
and dark with clouds
already this afternoon has gone on
for ten months
and i want to sleep like an old dog
just be quiet for once

James Lee Jobe, you might need a better poet

It’s not obligatory to write an end of year post, but it would feel strange to me not to pass comment on this strangest of years. My 2020 began with a week in the English Lake District, near Brotherswater, staying at Thomas Grove House and Cottage in Hartsop. I was with Jane Commane, publisher and poet, and five other writers published or soon to be published by Nine Arches Press. I’ve been working on a new poetry manuscript ever since my first collection was published by Nine Arches in 2018, so the week was a chance for Jane to read and comment on my work in progress. There was also plenty of time to walk in the achingly beautiful hills and paths around our temporary home, share discussions, ideas, meals and jokes with a lovely bunch of people, and to generally enjoy reading, writing, thinking and living somewhere dramatically different from my current home of west Wiltshire.

How little did we all know what lay ahead for us as we lounged together on sofas, huddled round the table, hugged our hellos, goodbyes, and so-glad-you-get-me exchanges. […]

At the year’s end, I find I’ve somehow accumulated more writing than I thought I had but not as much as I would’ve liked. Everything needs more work although I feel my poetry collection is nearly there. In November, I opened up submissions to And Other Poems, my poetry site, after a break of twenty months. I wrote about that here. I also wrote about some of my new poems I’ve had accepted for publication, here. More than once, I’ve had the sobering thought that I might be a better poetry editor (or curator) than poet. Maybe I should take that thought more seriously in 2021.

Josephine Corcoran, End of *That* Year

Word-to-Action, the poetry retreat on climate change that Kelli [Russell Agodon] participated in via Zoom in October, will sponsor a zoom call for all poets and creatives to write a collective 2021 Resolution. 

The German virologist, who rang the Corona alarm bells back in January 2020, said recently that some of our habits need to stay in place to prepare for a changing world: namely no hugging. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Let’s write and stick to a resolution that will make the world a better, more caring, place forever. Let’s make a resolution that students and loved ones everywhere want to sign on to. Will you join us in a Resolution Revolution?

Cathy Wittmeyer, Word to Action Sponsors a Resolution Revolution on 20 January 2021

It would make more sense to me to begin a new year with a solstice or an equinox. Even a full moon would have been nice this year.

And with that sentence: my first resolution of the year is to stop fantasizing that things could be different from what they are in any given moment. I find myself using a bizarre amount of energy on things that aren’t even important to me. An odd kind of diversion and procrastination – that is also a practice in dissatisfaction. I have no need to practice this. I’m already much better at it than I want to be.

It’s not likely I will change the things I can change if my focus is on irrelevant details. When I choose to begin again is irrelevant. I just need to choose. To live consciously.

Camus said it is our human condition, and what is worthwhile. Imagine Sisyphus happy knowing there is no winning. Imagine Sisyphus content.

Hell, even choosing not to choose is living consciously when you acknowledge what you’re doing. I figure, even if it is all one big illusion, it’s the illusion that makes us human.

Ren Powell, Arbitrary Beginnings

A year ago, in the wake of the loss of a writing mentor, publisher, and friend, I set an intention to write regularly here–not in order to be A Writer, but simply because doing so brings me joy. My friend Robert had devoted his life to poetry, which I had abandoned with his full approval. “You don’t owe anyone anything,” he told me the last time we talked. “You have given your life to serving others. Now do what makes you happy and healthy, even if that means not writing another poem for the rest of your life.” He also encouraged me to live in a smaller, more self-sufficient way, in community with like-minded others. “It’s all falling apart, you know,” he said to me long before the pandemic, at least five years ago. “It needs to,” he added. Those conversations unsettled me; I’d tell myself his conclusions were wrong, even as I acknowledged both the truth of his observations and my fear that he was right. I needed the world to work as it always had in the same way I’d once needed my car to–because I didn’t know what I’d need to know to operate differently. (How I have longed to be able to talk with him this last year, to see what sense he might help me make of all that’s fallen and falling.)

I cannot know what the coming year will bring, but I’m under no illusion that 2020 was some anomaly or blip. It was a year that had been decades in the making, and the forces that created it will not be undone by a single election or vaccine. I understand in new ways that my luck–like the gas in my old Corona–can run out. I think we all need to rely sometimes on the kindness of strangers, but I’d like to build a life in which I’m less likely to be walking alone on a real or metaphorical freeway at night, vulnerable to those who might mow me down on a whim. I am also, after this year of death on such a massive scale, acutely aware that life is short and that if we can follow our interests and passions we’d best do so sooner than later.

Last January, I assigned myself no topic for this blog and I imposed upon myself no purposes or limitations. This January, as I am able, my intention is to follow my whimsy deep into the place that is sacred for me and to write about it here. It is to give myself the permission my friend always wished I would to make a smaller, more self-sufficient life. It is to become a grown-up in ways that I previously have not.

Let’s see where that might lead.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Long drive home

2021 is learning how to practice self-worth and non-attachment with 2020.

It’s setting itself free from how last year spent far too many crazed nights alone, drunk-dialing 1-900-USELESS. 2021 doesn’t wanna end up with those kinda maladaptive issues.

So it’s building more self-compassion. It studies itself in the mirror, likes its hopeful eyes, its lips turned into an easy grin, adores how its first day fell on a Friday.

2021 is practicing loving-kindness. It’s already learned a couple new tricks—how to turn a knife into an orchid and a hammer into a hummingbird.

It refuses to wrap the gift of each new day in crime-scene tape. Doesn’t steal father time’s keys to take the new year out for a reckless joyride.

And on New Year’s Eve, 2021 was even pretty good about grabbing a broom just after midnight and sweeping up all the broken bottles and stray confetti.

Rich Ferguson, Self-Help Guide for 2021

Death walks among
the raised flower boxes, green
watering-can in one hand. Death
clears weeds and brushes away
aphids from under the leaves.
No one tells you death doesn’t
come to reap you in your prime
nor release you from earthly
suffering. You arrive any time
of day or night, not expecting
to be fed or watered. You look
up as death’s face bends over
yours, at the hollows that used
to be eyes. Is it relief, even kind-
ness, compared to the hate and
hubris, the violence you heard
preached from every podium,
on the way here?

Luisa A. Igloria, Garden

I look back on this year and see a planet saying, “Time’s up.”  Although we didn’t have much storm damage in south Florida this year, it was a hurricane season that broke all sorts of records.  I see category 4 storms in November to be a particularly ominous sign.

And it wasn’t just hurricane season–we’ve had a year of ferocious fires across the globe.  We’ve had a year of record breaking warmth at the poles.  There are probably other climate stories that floated right by me, but will loom large in later years as we look back.

And so here we sit, at the edge of the continent, hospice chaplains to a house with a quiet determination to sink into the sea.  This past year provoked many conversations about moving–the national conversation focused on people moving to get out of cities and/or to be closer to family members.  Many of my friends in South Florida saw house prices rising along with sea levels and wondered if now might be the time to sell.

I am wondering if we will look back and see 2020 as a time of migration similar to the Great Migration of the 20th century, when so many black people left the rural south for northern cities.  I also see this as a year that could begin a mass migration in terms of jobs.  If one had been contemplating a career in health care, would this past year change one’s thinking?  I could see asking similar questions about a number of career fields.

And I see a whole slew of less profound work questions.  Will we travel for business?  Will we return to offices?  How will we take care of children as we move into this new time?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Last Look at 2020

on the dunes of the year
the fences slip
the sand drifts
what we did is blown everywhere
for all to see
what we did
has exposed the long roots of
the marram grass that ends
on what everyone else
may think
and we never know do we
what they are thinking i mean
how their tides flow
how the long light falls
all we know is that everything changes
the fences are secondary pickets
for at the end
our days are numbered thus

Jim Young, on the dunes of the year

This week I’m reading recipes for black eyed peas. I grew up in the South; we always ate black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, for good luck. Michael Twitty writes beautifully about that custom. I like the idea that they symbolize the eye of God, always watching over us. Black-eyed peas and greens: I learned them as a kind of kitchen magic, a symbol of prosperity, calling abundance into the coming year. We always ate tamales on New Year’s Day, too. I don’t have the capacity to make those. 

I daydream briefly about making redred (Ghanaian black-eyed pea stew) with kelewele (fried plantains) on New Year’s Day, though I’m not sure I trust the produce shopper to choose suitably overripe plantains for frying up gingery and sweet. Evidently that’s the place where my mother’s produce section pickiness shines through in me. Pick me a head of lettuce, sure. Choose a cucumber or a box of strawberries or a bunch of broccolini, no big deal. But when it comes to plantains, I’m dubious.

I will stay home and fill my kitchen with whatever spices’ fragrance I can, this New Year’s Day which will darken into the first Shabbat of 2021. It is going to be a long, solitary, quiet winter. Quiet is good: hospitals are not quiet, ventilators are not quiet. Boredom and loneliness are better than the alternative. I will curl up with a bowl of black eyed peas in my little nest on New Year’s Day, and dream about how good it will be when, vaccinated, we can embrace in the gentle breeze of longed-for spring.

Rachel Barenblat, End of December

The old man
dances on gravel,

smoothing it
where flooding

washed out
the driveway.

He doesn’t
know anyone

is watching.
His dancing

settles the world
anyway.

Tom Montag, THE OLD MAN

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 52

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

One thing I’ve re-learned this year from doing this digest is the truth of the old Pennsylvania Dutch saying, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” But the more slowly and thoroughly I go though my poetry blog feeds, the sooner things fall into place. Writing poetry, or making any kind of art, is that way too, I think. It’s serious play, with the kind of mental muscle tone one expects from athletes. One has to keep to a schedule, which is a very domesticated form of time, but it helps us relate to its wilder cousin. And making my (almost) daily erasure poems from the Diary of Samuel Pepys, I’m reminded just how much poetry can be submerged in the dailiness of our lives.

Anyway, this week found poets blogging about slowing down, taking stock, re-engaging or disengaging. Floral metaphors cropped up in several posts. Old holiday traditions took on new meanings. The dead were missed and mourned. The end of the year can be an unsettling time even in the most normal of years…


This is what I have always desired above all else: that this day should a day like all others, a day with a morning, an afternoon, and a night, any of which might be made into anything. 

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always disliked holidays: days that absolutely must be one thing and no other. They seem to me a disrespect to the world, an imposition on it that we have no right to make. Who are we to call this day Christmas, as if days were a thing to be ordered and sorted and classified by human beings? Who knows what we’ve lost, over the years, how many days born in the tenderest part of winter, that might have been days of learning or of loss, that have been made by brute force into days of festivity? It’s hard for me to see this act of coercion as homage to Jesus of Nazareth, who came to make everything uncertain and raw-skinned and new. 

Dale Favier, Christmas Day, 2020

how much earth must i lose
to wear the moon’s white shoe

Grant Hackett [no title]

Dawn dreams: finding my mother dead in the middle of the living room floor, near the Christmas tree, and in some worst horror of it, knowing exactly what to do and doing it, competent and calm as only trauma people can be in crisis; of chasing after someone else’s Christmas family, ignored, utterly baffled by ritual I could not even recognize and that had no place for me, and yet expected to make it work for everyone else; cruelty, contempt, violence, severance, loss—all home, hopes, plans, commitments shattered and ground underfoot, followed eventually by careful, careful reach toward something better, followed by the expectation of all the benefits he used to have plus sympathy for how victimized he was that I forced him to do what he did to me; of my own heart, in the small hours of the morning, tachycardic, rising, rising, to the covid 155 and beyond, sharp and tightening pain, intercostals shrinking, shrinking, ribs cracking from the inside, hammering volume rising and then: nothing.

JJS, Christmas, 2020

Even the solstice is a trick, using its promise of light 
as a Trojan horse to sneak in winter. My own belly is full 
of potatoes. In quarantine, I’ve been perfecting 
home fries and counting blessings: 

Bless the skillet and its good sizzle. 
Bless the butter and the russet. 
Bless its wobble and its imperfect axis. 

At least the Earth’s is more stable. Cue the ominous 
growl of the furnace, which runs day and night 
in these temperatures. 

Bless its grumbling.

Carolee Bennett, winter solstice poem with potatoes and pandemic

I’ve grieved this year. I know you have too. I lost a dear mentor. The program in which I taught closed down. I came close to getting a dream job–but did not. Another opportunity required weeks of fraught negotiation. My city’s streets were invaded, helicopters a constant presence overhead. Tyrannical subversion of the law has felt like a very real possibility at every turn. A pandemic has attacked friends, family, whole communities, killed thousands, and shut down local institutions that long anchored my understanding of what it meant to live as a writer in DC. Last night, as I opened my laptop and first sat down to write this blog post, brought the news that musician Tony Rice, who shaped my understanding of bluegrass, passed away on Christmas day. 

I’m grateful to all the writer-friends who have stayed active on social media, who have given us dialogue beyond the latest doom-scrolling (a word I did not need before 2020); I simply found it difficult to be one of them. If you’re seeing this it means you didn’t give up on the possibility of my posting here. I’m grateful for that, too.

Sandra Beasley, 2020

I think you’ll all agree that 2020 was an unrelenting bitch of a bad year, and despite the fact that a vaccine is on the way, it’s going to be many more months of staying home and wearing a mask until everyone gets inoculated. Which is to say, the first half of 2021 isn’t looking too rosy either, but I’m hopeful. At least Trump will be gone as of Jan. 20.

I had COVID-19 back in March, although I wasn’t sure if it was actually the virus. It was confirmed in May by an antibodies test. The illness itself never advanced into my lungs, but lingered for several weeks with fever, congestion, no taste or smell, and weird back and hip pain. I also had an accompanying eye infection, which I’ve now learned is a symptom. Although I recovered, I’ve had odd lingering ailments, some of which my doctor said might be side-effects: Bell’s Palsy, continuing pain in my hips and legs,  recurring eye infection, and cellulitis. I’m feeling better now, and hoping to get back on my diet/exercise routine after putting on 25 pounds. Sigh.

There was some fear that the magazine I’ve edited for the past 18 years might not survive the pandemic, but it did, and now we have a new owner going into the new year. Covering the pandemic and the summer of demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd was exhausting, consuming work. Which meant I did almost zero writing of my own. I managed to write one pandemic-related poem (one was enough), submitted older work to a few journals, and I’m currently working on a themed-poem I’m hoping will have a home in the new year. 

The most significant literary work I did in 2020 was getting the Mother Mary Comes To Me anthology into the world with my BFF and co-editor Karen Head. We virtually edited and ushered the antholgy into being with Madville Publishing and, to quote Karen, “it’s a shit-hot book.” Editing the anthology was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my nearly 30 years as a poet. Then we tested the limits of Zoom by holding two giant readings featuring 40 poets from the book. More are planned in the new year. 

Collin Kelley, Looking back at a miserable, no good, very bad year and ahead at what comes next

We are nearing the day of making resolutions and setting intentions, of saying good-bye to one year and hello to another. Many are ready to turn away from this year, as if it has somehow been the source of our suffering and our pain will end when the year does, but when the clock strikes midnight on December 31 and we leave 2020 to memory, neither we nor the world will be magically transformed. We are who we are, and that is who we will still be on January 1. But think of it–how changed the world and each of us is, right now, from what and who we were a year ago at this time, even as we are, simultaneously, exactly who and what we have always been. Isn’t our hike through time, in some ways, like walking a Möbius strip?

Thirty-five years ago, when I was an undergrad, a writing instructor asked me what I wanted to do with my life.

“I want to be a writer,” I answered.

“What does that mean to you?” she asked.

I didn’t know. “It means, I want to write,” I said. The details of my grown-up life as a writer had always been fuzzy to me. As a young teen I hoped it might involve working in a solitary cabin on a beach, with perhaps a dog I could take for long walks when I needed a break, and a quiet sort of fame in which others knew my name but not my face. That vision hadn’t evolved much. She pushed me to define what type of writing I wanted to do, how I planned to make a living at it, what I wanted to write about, and I didn’t know how to answer her questions. I hadn’t yet gone out enough into the world to know at all who I was, what I was, and what I wanted to be. I wanted to write in the way I once created dramas for my ceramic animals and stitched together bits of cloth for my dolls: freely, playfully, with no agenda other than delight. I knew there was a living that needed to be made, and I had vague notions of children and a family, but I didn’t know how my desire to write could or might intertwine with other wants and needs.

In recent years I’ve talked with people about the shapes my life might take after teaching. “Maybe you can write now,” I’ve heard more than once, and I’ve nodded agreement, not knowing any more clearly than I did decades ago what that might mean. But as this annus horribilis draws to a close and possibilities for a different kind of life come closer, I’ve realized something important: I already am writing. I have written here, at least once a week, for the entirety of this year, the longest stretch of regular writing I’ve ever managed. As Sharon gently reminded me, there are many ways in which we might all tell our stories. For the first time ever, I have no regret about how I’ve been telling mine.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The doors to the temple

robin song
the mystery of boats
berthed for winter

Matthew Paul, ‘robin song’

Last week was Episode 5 of Planet Poetry, in which I interviewed Jack Underwood and Peter and I talked about some of the poetry collections we’ve enjoyed this year. We’re having a few weeks off now so the next episode will be on January 7th. It’s been hard work getting ‘the Planet’ off the ground, but so stimulating and great fun to work with Peter on it.

I’ve not submitted a great many poems this year, in fact nothing in the last six months. Alongside the usual rejections it’s been super to have work published in Stand, The Frogmore Papers, The North, and I do have two poems forthcoming in Prole. But then… nothing. I hope I can get something out soon, or in 2021 I might vanish.

On a more positive note, I’m going to be taking part in an online reading for the Mary Evans Picture Library in January, and Chichester poetry are going to have me as their ‘featured poet’ in February/March. Come on Robin, write some bloody new poems why don’t you.

Meanwhile my wee group the Lewes Singers have had a quiet year, but a few of us got together for a very small, socially-distanced concert last weekend. It was so wonderful to sing with others again, if a bit tricky having to stand so far apart. And emotional. I felt myself welling up during a couple of the carols. I know there’s a lot of discussion about how to take care of our mental health at the moment, but the subtext I always hear is ‘yes but of course physical health is much more important.’ I do wonder if it shouldn’t be a more equal balance.

Robin Houghton, What I’ve been doing (and While you were Sleeping)

These poems hit urgently then and now, and I hope they bring something to your life. I think the carrying forth of words that brought these here parallels a life of poetry. Sometimes we carry the words, sometimes they carry us. After a year of so much unnecessary death, oppression, injustice, fear, stress, and upheaval, the words that matter now have to surprise us, connect in ways that make themselves known within. Which is to say that the words have to be poetry.

If you are reading this, be kind to yourselves. We have survived. It doesn’t have to mean happiness. It just means that we’re here. Your presence today is another word toward the rest of your life.

5 by Ikkyu

this ink painting of wind blowing through pines
who hears it?

*

it’s logical; if you’re not going anywhere
any road is the right one

*

ten years of brothel joy I’m alone in the mountains
the pines are like a jail the wind scratches my skin

*

your name Mori means forest like the infinite fresh
green distances of your blindness

*

my monk friend has a weird and endearing habit
he weaves sandals and leaves them secretly by the roadside

José Angel Araguz, surviving & Ikkyū

As the season turns to lengthening daylight which is also the start of a long winter, my equilibrium is shaky. I had a challenging year; I had a lucky year and should never complain about anything. It’s all true.

My fifth poetry collection The State She’s In, seems to be doing well. But, and this won’t shock anyone who knows that 2020 has been a bad year for publishing, I just learned that my first novel, Unbecoming, isn’t selling much despite good reviews. I am heartsore. I’ve seen my spouse go through this; in 2011 he published a novel in stories with a university press that immediately went under and eventually learned that the marketing person, last woman standing on the sinking ship, never sent out the review copies or publicity she’d promised. He wrote a couple of great novel mss after that and just couldn’t sell them, because the publishers’ marketing people looked at those numbers and said “bad risk.” This happens in poetry, too–the best way to jump to a press with a big presence is to sell the hell out of your small-indie collection–but the effect is stronger in novel-publishing, probably because poetry has so little money in it anyway. I had felt excited about the new novel I’m drafting but pivoted immediately to fear that no matter how good it is, it might get stuck in limbo. What I care about here isn’t advances or royalties–I have a day job–but to keep writing books, publish them when they’re good and ready, and find appreciative readers.

I’m sad but not paralyzed. On the practical side, I’m making to-do lists for post-publication prize entries and other ways 2021 can be an occasion for a second push. On the emotional side, I’m reminding myself how many literary gifts I’ve received in 2020: generous reviews, reading opportunities, and a LOT of nice notes from friends and strangers praising one book or the other. I am truly, wildly grateful, even when so much about the publishing landscape is dispiriting or just plain pisses me off. I’m also trying to pay back the love.

Lesley Wheeler, cats : making a ruckus :: poets : blogging

At some point years ago, I became hyper-aware of my work keys. How I would actually cling tightly to them when I felt a class of 30 restless students taking control of a situation that should have been under my control. Weirdly, my noticing this – stepping back and taking on the role of the director in relationship with my “character” – I was able to access when control was necessary and when it wasn’t. I could make more conscious choices about my “role” as an instructor. These days, half the time I have no idea where my keys are – which I’m certain is not something my boss wants to know.

Yesterday finding myself in the bathtub without my mobile phone, I had the same kind of epiphany. We read and talk a lot about social media and how we can passively allow it to define us. But the phone itself – the device – has come to partially define me. My mindless connection to this object, and its ability to connect me to a world of ideas to occupy my thoughts every moment, is shaping my behavior. It is determining how I move in the world. Literally: in the bath, one elbow propped on the edge of the tub to hold the phone dry. My shoulder twisted slightly. My neck under stress.

I’ve believed for a long time that we are nothing more than what we do: what we think and how we interact with the world. And that thinking and interacting with the world are interconnected in such a way that one defines the other – reinforcing or challenging who are “are” at any moment. I believe this is how we can change. How we do change.

I’m going to stop grasping at my mobile phone. Stop clinging to my sense of self: the productivity shoulds and ought-tos.

I’m going to dare to be truly naked in the bathtub.

Ren Powell, Dropping Character

TB: My close friend died of her addiction in her beautiful home a few blocks away from me, and the pain of her loss sat beside me when I wrote much of this book. I suppose while I was at it, I also thought of the other great death of my life, my father’s. After both of their deaths, I felt close to that W. H. Auden poem, “Stop all the clocks.” People were mowing their lawns like nothing happened, going in and out of Superstore like zombies. I thought, How dare you carry on?! I went for a lot of walks and the same blank eyes of windows never blinked. The hurricane inside one household, inside one mind, doesn’t show. There’s no real “street life” here, other than dogs walking owners and the power-washer obsessed.

RT: Does a direct current run between “Death” and “The Suburbs”?

TB: Alcohol and death in the suburbs did become a concept for this book, but only after I’d written hundreds of poems first, and this cluster formed. What eats away at you is unavoidable; you can’t help but return to certain ideas and subjects. (Dear reader, most of my poems are death-free!!)

RT: Ha! Death is inescapable in poetry, as in life. An increasingly less common theme in poetry today, though, is religion. It jumped out at me, then, when two poems in Everyone at This Party riffed on the existential questioning of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. What draws you to Ecclesiastes, and does it connect in some way to your thinking about the suburbs (“there is nothing new under the sun”)?

TB: I’m drawn to the Book of Ecclesiastes for its straight goods. It says bluntly, “Look, we’re dying here so don’t get your hopes up—and don’t get all attached. All your hard work will amount to dust, and even if you’re successful, a fool will inherit your money and squander it. Life is arbitrary and people don’t get what they deserve.” Whereas most books of the New Testament come down to love, hope, and purpose, Ecclesiastes dares to hammer throughout, “Everything is meaningless” and “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Maybe I’m weird but this is comforting to me, kind of the opposite of toxic positivity. I like the acknowledgement that horrible things happen to good people and the undeserving win; this is what we all see happening anyway. It doesn’t pretend to make us feel better. I know people who’ve spent years quietly helping others without fanfare, and then fall on hard times, yet a cruel impeached president plays on, enjoying unmerited attention, wealth, and power.

Rob Taylor, The Hurricane Inside One Household: An Interview with Tanja Bartel

They begin in the dark alleyways of the mind; acts of intentional violence begin in the dark alleyways of the mind.

There, they extend beyond the body and breed in the streets with no regard for innocent bystanders.

It’s like a tombstone that wishes it had been born a bird, so it drags others down to bear its heavy weight.

This land, these people stalked by bullets and bad thoughts. A society divided, derided, sucker-punched, and sold to the highest bidder.

We live in this world for a while, turning over stones, seeking out love and luck, laying out a trail of bright and glittery things to lead us from the beast within.

This world of banality and fatalities, saints and civility, broken mirrors and little pity for the aging.

Listen for the living breath that leaves roses along the boulevard of the weary and defeated.

Listen for the flower asking the mad bomber, “Why?“

Rich Ferguson, In the Season of Flowers and Mad Bombers

crow jane lady
in your house
in the wind
flying still

Dick Jones, DOG SUTRAS

At some point in junior high, when I would have been 12 or 13, I read The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. My memory of that first reading, or at least a part of it, is extraordinarily vivid. I was sitting outside at lunchtime, on a sunny and quiet staircase round the back of the school, and riveted to the book. What I remember is reading this passage:

“As he stood there peering into the room, surprised to find it empty, the door behind him closed. Perhaps by itself, but Leamas made no attempt to open it. It was pitch dark. No sound accompanied the closing of the door, no click nor footstep. To Leamas, his instinct suddenly alert, it was as if the sound-track had stopped.”

My reaction to this was absolutely visceral. I remember feeling frozen to the spot – somewhat like Leamas himself. At the moment when the door closed I am pretty sure that the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. In my memory, this is when I knew that I would go on reading this author. 

There is a way in which memory flows in all directions, in time or in our lives (and I am not sure that time is linear, although we perceive it as such). What I don’t know is whether I remember such moments so clearly because they pointed the way forward, or whether they have later taken on a greater significance. I’m not sure it matters. […]

In the past ten years, I engaged with le Carré’s work more intensely than I had previously done. I have joked that moving to south London and, for a while, having a view of MI6 from my window had an effect, but it’s actually possible; geographic locations have quite an powerful effect on me. Although I had been writing poetry for about as long as I’d been a le Carré fan, I also started writing poetry more intensely in the past ten years, and publishing. Here and there, I also found his influence creeping into my work, whether in the occasional poem actually about spies, or in some acerbic tone or wry observation. Le Carré loved poetry, too. In The Russia House, he quotes Stevie Smith and Theodore Roethke in the space of one page. Our Game references Osip Mandelstam. The Honourable Schoolboy opens with Auden’s famous lines: “I and the public know/What all schoolchildren learn,/Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return.” Perhaps most tellingly, George Smiley loved “the lesser German poets”. 

I have realised that we create a kind of internal genealogy for ourselves. We find the things that matter and they become linked together into a system or a map, and that is who we are, at least in part. The lamplight falls especially brightly, or at least with a particular light, on certain people, places, beliefs, concepts and artistic works on our map. John le Carré’s works reside in one of those pools of light, for me. It is very hard to now say goodbye. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, In memory of John le Carré, 1931-2020

River. Trees.
Cold blue sky.

The ice knew
where I was

going, when
I was

coming back.

Tom Montag, Skating the Floyd

I hope this old grandmother/grandfather oak doesn’t mind me sharing this image where their roots are showing. It’s such a perfect illustration that, for trees, as much is going on belowground as above… more, actually, for the roots are where the tree does their thinking.

deep ::
the roots I touch
when I am alone

Dylan Tweney [untitled photo post]

I remember all the clever remarks at the beginning of 2020 about vision, about clarity, about hindsight, looking backward looking forward. Actually, I can’t remember them at all right now, just that they were a thing. I wanted to write a blog post without referencing the pandemic even once, but that can’t really happen. We’re deep in it at present. Can photographs help us see what life is like now? Will they mean something more or different later? Will they record things that we can’t even really see right now because we’re steeped in what’s going on? We’re bone tired, we’re hanging on, with luck. It’s not easy.

Shawna Lemay, Seeing Our Way Forward

I had a little surprise good news on Christmas Eve (see previous post) that one of my personal essays that I published this year – the first year I’ve tried to publish personal essays, really – was chosen as one of Salon’s “Best of 2020.” “Marriage in the Time of Coronavirus” was the first that I wrote and sent out, and Salon was the second place I queried. It felt like a little encouragement from the universe to continue to try genres outside of poetry, especially as I am still trying to place my two poetry manuscripts in the new year. This is also a good time to remind you that even if you are in middle age (say, ahem, 47) it’s not too late to try out new forms and experiment a little. […]

It can be hard, after the sort of year we’ve had in 2020, to make sense of it, much less process it enough to think about next year. It’s hard to make goals or set intentions knowing that even our biggest hopes might be thwarted by unforeseen intervention from a sometimes chaotic universe. Maybe we need to heal a bit before jumping into the next thing. We need to mourn losses, acknowledge hard facts, come to terms with the fact that sometimes things are out of our control.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Post Christmas Haze, Looking to the New Year

Christmas in my house would hardly be Christmas without a paper project or some sort of ornament-making, and this bizarre year is no exception. A while back, I became fascinated by mathematical origami models which are constructed using identical folded units that then are assembled into a shape, and over the years I’ve made a number of stellated octahedrons using Japanese papers in various combination of prints and solids.

This year, though, seemed like a good time to tackle the Bascetta Star, a model created by an Italian mathematician, Paolo Bascetta. The repetitive folding and concentration of origami are calming and meditative for me, and the process of making this star was a perfect antidote to the news.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 49. Star

I heard that President Obama’s memoir had to be printed in Germany because there is a paper shortage in the United States. The paper shortage is because we’ve been using so much cardboard to make so many more shipping boxes since the pandemic obligated us to stay home. I don’t know if any of that is true, though it seems plausible. A parable about unintended consequences. I thought of it often in the days after Crossing the Sea launched, because I didn’t yet have a copy in my hands.

Then I started getting photos from friends and family who had pre-ordered the book from Amazon or from the publisher. I was starting to wonder whether my copies were uniquely held up somewhere when the box landed on my doorstep. It’s a cliché to say that my heart rate quickened as I cut the packing tape and lifted the first copies out of the wrapping, but it’s also true. I’d seen the manuscript in PDF form many times, but there’s something fundamentally different about a paper book.

The poems have a realness now that they exist in the tangible world. The collection is no longer the proverbial tree falling with no one to hear it.  The journey it chronicles feels so far away now — evidence that “doing the grief work” actually does work, I guess. I remember what it was like in those early days and weeks, but I remember it at a remove. Through a glass darkly. Like rereading my poems from my son’s infancy. I know that was me, but I can’t inhabit that space anymore. 

A few of Mom’s friends have written to say that they see her in this book, and a few people who are grieving now have written to say that their own journey feels mirrored here. There’s no higher praise. I hope that Mom would be honored by the existence of this book. (I hope that, “wherever” she is, she approves.) And I hope other mourners will find comfort and consolation here. That’s why I write. It’s always why I write: not for solipsism’s sake, but to shine a light for others in the darkness.

Available at Phoenicia, on Amazon, or wherever books are sold. 

Rachel Barenblat, On the far shore

a break from the winter rains
perhaps a few days of sunshine
it is sunrise and i sip coffee
watching through a window
as wild finches peck in my yard
and on the patio
making small sounds that please me

in my imagination I took a long walk
as my body was too weak to do so
and in my mind I found a world
of fields and woods with no footprints
in all directions this world was new and clean
my body is weak but my world is still wild
and absolutely free

James Lee Jobe, my world is still wild

warm tea inside me:
“Let’s all go to Narnia!”
(rain drums on the roof)

Jason Crane, haiku: 24 December 2020

One of the gifts I splurged on for myself recently was to sign up for BookFox’s “Master Your Writing Time” course. I’m dawdling my way through it, but finding–despite my best efforts, or the opposite–that it has helped. Some of the lessons are action tips, and adopting the Pomodoro method has worked beautifully for me. Sitting for very long makes me feel achy and stiff. But working for just 25 minutes, then spending 5 minutes moving around, doing a few chores (avoiding my phone & computer), has been pretty amazing.

Bethany Reid, My Slow Christmas

Remember: look for the shine and sheer away what’s getting in the way, or carve it so that the light and shadow work how you want them to.

Remember: it’s a spiral process. Start anywhere. You’ll be back there again eventually, but hopefully from a slightly different vantage point.

Remember: time is the best editor.

Marilyn McCabe, Notes on Revision: A Megablog

A writer friend posted, “I went back through a folder tonight and found stories from 1999-2005. It’s so wild because all were fiction, some were written as part of Kristin Berkey-Abbott’s classes, and I can tell exactly what I was reading and what I was trying to make happen in those stories.”

I thought of my own experience, as I choose poems to send out in packets to journals that might accept them.  It’s a mix of memories of where I was when I wrote the poem and what I was trying to do with the poem.  Occasionally, enough time has gone so that I can be struck anew with wonder at the poem, as if I’m reading a poem written by someone else.

Like my writer friend, my memories are strong even with much older work, and I remember much more than just the writing of the poem.  I remember the other circumstances of my life too–where I was living, what I was teaching, the friends I was meeting, the other creative work I was doing.

Reading her post, I got nostalgic for my teaching days, the days when I taught more literature.  I’ve had more than one teacher friend tell me that they miss reading poetry out loud in front of a class of students.  I miss that too.  I was always inspired by the literature I was reading, in a way that I am not inspired by the administrator documents I’m writing and reading.

I miss the communal nature of studying literature together.  I don’t feel the same about writing, the teaching of how to write a piece, whether it be a poem, a 5 paragraph essay, or a resume.  But reading a poem or a short story and analyzing what works or doesn’t–yes, I miss that.  I miss having the language of good literature echoing in my head all day.

There are all sorts of communal things I miss these days, like singing Advent songs together in church, watching similar TV shows all at the same time (well, some of you are still doing that, but I’m not), holiday travel (maybe not).  I was delighted all week to see people’s photos of Jupiter and Saturn coming closer together before the Great Conjunction last night.  We’ve been going out to look when the evenings are clear. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Communal Life and the Literature We Read and Teach (and Write)

I love it when I read the right book at the right time…and when it automatically renews itself at the library for me! Right now that book is The Art of the Wasted Day, by Patricia Hampl. I’m reading it as I waste this particular day, the day after Christmas, which feels meandering and slow compared to yesterday (cooking the dinner) and the days before (preparations, small as they were, for this year’s holiday). It’s the right time in the sense of following upon my Laziness vs. Diligence blog entry, comforting me by affirming me in my “laziness” that is not quite that, and in my slatternly ways on a Slattern Day in the blog.

In her Prelude (brief introduction), Hampl is speaking of Michel de Montaigne, creator/practitioner of the personal essay, whose father engaged a lute player to follow him around the house as a child, encouraging his son’s imagination, daydreaming, indolence. “There was fugitive genius in this indolence,” says Hampl, ultimately praising Montaigne as “the first modern daydreamer.” […]

I’m comforted, too, by Montaigne’s own thoughts on essayistic writing, liberally quoted by Hampl: “If it doesn’t go along gaily and freely, it goes nowhere worth going.” This is how I feel about my ephemeral blog writing–it goes along gaily and freely, usually composed on the spot, though sometimes I take notes–say, in my reading journal, if I want to quote something (as I have done here), and both Hampl and Montaigne are/were note takers! The spontaneity of blog writing is good because (Montaigne again) “the anxiety to do well, and the tension of straining too intently on one’s work, put the soul on the rack, break it, and make it impotent.” So far, my soul is not on the rack, it is not broken!

Kathleen Kirk, Right Book at the Right Time

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. “

All I could think of was the number of deaths from COVID, especially among those who are poor.

Scrooge gets visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley and three other ghosts.  

“Mankind was my business!” Marley’s ghost tells Scrooge.

It’s the final ghost, the ghost of Christmas yet to come, clinches it for the terrified Scrooge.

The ghost story becomes a conversion story.

This Christmas, I look on COVID 19 as a ghostly visitation in many ways.  How we all respond to its demands –  especially the wealthy, and those in political and economic power,  will determine our future.

Anne Higgins, God bless us, everyone!

heron tides its broken boats,
words left tidelined, stranded,
picked over, kicked over,
over-collected here in laugharne.
castellated over cottaged lanes
as we thought it should be;
but here it is, as it was when he wrote,
candled in spindrift wince,
all alone,
high and dry,
and ever so bloody mighty.

Jim Young, laugharne

We are at the end of an arbitrary, chronological year but still in the midst of a pandemic that will not be going away miraculously when the new calendar begins.

To what must we devote ourselves? I think, for now, just getting by and living through; we can learn much from solving the everyday puzzles life pitches at us. A friend counsels that having a project to do can help–something a bit thorny that offers a challenge but that is not a priority. For now, I am cutting vines–the ones that threaten to strangle the remaining trees in the windbreaks on either side of our narrow property.

Trees that have been weakened by too little and then too much rain, by warmer temperatures and crown die-back that encourage lichen, by insects and the viruses they carry, and by a lack of native undergrowth. The ash trees that ringed the meadow are all dead now, victims of fungus and stress-related illnesses caused by infestations of emerald ash borers.

It’s an ongoing effort for which there won’t be much reward, but it feels a bit like tending something in the dead of winter.

Ann E. Michael, Until…

When I started bloom in the spring, I was in that stalled out period of writing.  I had managed to muddle through The Shining inspired poems, and actually liked what I was getting by the end, but I suppose, like everyone, I felt I needed to also be writing about what was happening in the world–about anxiety and fear and upheaval.  Mind you, I’ve no doubt we are still there..I finished that series of poems in late summer, after I had gone back to work and the world felt more stable.  In the time since, we’ve fallen to more darkness and uncertainty and it looks like we live there now. Another series of poems, still in the revision phase, the plague letters, is a little less about corona specifically and more generally about society and connectedness, but I don’t know if I really have any more corona-inspired poems in me. I feel like bloom captures the moment, or at least that moment in a nutshell…a time when we were still feeling out quarantine in the spring and what a disease that severs the human connection as we know it, could mean. Also, how nature just goes on without us, while simultaneously undoing us. You can read read the entire project here.

Kristy Bowen, poems as snapshot and document

Unexpected abundance, even
if not a windfall. A torrent
at midnight, or a heavy snowfall.

The world looks pristine
before we start again

to make tracks in it.

Luisa A. Igloria, Imagined, Undying Flower

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: grief and horror, wanderlust and staying put, soft joys and tough political questions.


It’s been a rough week. It started with me staying up all night with kitten Sylvia that required the emergency vet (okay now, but gave us quite a scare), continued with me being too sick (not covid, but a stomach and sinus infection) to get much work reading or writing done, and ended with the news that my maternal grandmother, after surviving covid-19 for two weeks, passed away today, just a few days short of her 96th birthday. This was my last surviving grandparent, and one who shared with me a love of literature – Poe, Hemingway and Faulkner were a few of her favorites, and in her youth she read voraciously. She lived in Missouri, which has some of the highest covid rates, and no one was able to visit her the last weeks of her life, because of covid.

I know people are chafing under travel restrictions during Thanksgiving, but remember that people like me – and my grandmother – are the people that need protection. Wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and stay home. Having to miss a Thanksgiving with family is much better than having to mourn a family member you can’t even have a funeral for, which is what I’m doing this week. No amount of pumpkin pie is worth that.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Doldrums, Grieving a Loss and Moments of Light

Yesterday, someone bought a pocket watch that would have been mine at an auction. I will not know the name of the person who now owns it but our fates are now forever intertwined. On the English Crown rests the mountain of light. The fundamental principle of the world is the same as that of love: what is mine today will be yours tomorrow. Yesterday, someone bought a heart that would have been mine at an auction. I will not know the name of the person who now owns it but our fates are now forever intertwined.

I am sharpening my pen like an ancient knife. Tell me your name, you, on whose slender swan neck shines the sapphire that will be mine tomorrow. I will mount it in gold.

Saudamini Deo, Omnes una manet nox

let’s stop all this
        clearly it’s not working

no one can say
                we didn’t try

                        but it collapsed under its own wait (sic)

instead let’s make ready the soil

        plant seeds & care for them                tenderly

                until something (new) & (better)

springs wildly toward the sun

Jason Crane, POEM: wildly toward the sun

The feathered chonk plomps on my shoulder. “Bonjourno!” My funny, gray angster.

She laughs and explains the situation.
“Good girl!”

Only two words, but I catch her meaning. She has indeed been well behaved today and deserves a reward.

I hold a slice of Lite-Brite pink grapefruit out on my palm.

Dancing excitedly, my ersatz child digs her black beak into the acidic flesh.

In an instant, her reward becomes my regret as it squirts to land in my eye.

Life. It would be nothing without these bad surprises from good decisions.

Allyson Whipple, November Poetry Contest Winner

We stop to look upon the corpse in the snow. Blue skin and an open mouth. Open eyes. Moonlight across the frozen face. Moonlight that plays a soft music that entertains the snow. We say a prayer for the deceased. We say a prayer for the ones who grieve. And we say a prayer for ourselves, for our lives. We stop to look upon the corpse in the snow. And around us gather the ghosts of many others who died alone, without even their names. We stop. We speak the words. And we move on. But before we move on, we cover the body with snow, using our cold and wet hands like shovels.

James Lee Jobe, We say a prayer for the ones who grieve.

As I move further away from her death she appears to me more clearly. Not as she was in her last months, but as she was when I was young, when she was just going around gobbling up life with wit and humour and grace. The tables groaning with food, the house a constant stream of guests. Her laughter. Her elegance.

I have lived long enough to look back and beg for it again. I am begging for it again, even those moments when I knew I disappointed her, when we were not really talking. When I am out walking the dog. When I look through old photographs. Th autumn rain. Her fry-ups before Saturday school. I meet all of it.

I had no idea I would miss it.

Anthony Wilson, Before

black dress gloves on a polished table
black lace veils on hats laid aside
the tide of conversation turns
around hat pins and other things
no one is the first to go as the clock chimes
silence leads the way as sadness falls
upon the thought that soon
soon maybe
perhaps
another cup of tea and a cake

Jim Young, heirloom in the room

No, I’m not crying because I’m waiting for my own spinal tap results. I don’t cling to life that much. But I know he does. Most people I know have a Velcro-like attraction to life as if we didn’t know this is all temporary. Maybe we didn’t at first, not until that first goldfish died–or grandparent. The results aren’t even here yet and I’m thinking about him letting go of us, of us letting go of him. That’s different from clinging to one’s own life—clinging to others. We like having them around while we’re still here and it won’t be the same without them. So, the goldfish died and Mom helped with the funeral and the note you wrote for the coffin in crayon and she said, “That’s life,” and only now you know she meant that life is a bunch of comings and goings. Here I am talking about my life again and I don’t want it to be about mine, but his—that’s what we’re talking about: why it matters that his could be ending if the tests say so. It matters because it’s ending within my life span and that’s not fair and that’s just selfish. I always want to go first. I’ll still be here missing him and the kids will be torn up with grief. Their eyes are puffy just imagining what’s coming and I can’t bear to see them cry like this, and here we are talking about me again. It hurts you know. You know we are talking about putting our beloved bunny down? The results aren’t here yet, so we’ll worry about those later.

Cathy Wittmeyer, That’s Life

No NEH grant again, a magazine acceptance, a solicitation of poems from a magazine I’d never cracked (!), several poem rejections, some drafting and revising, lots of Shenandoah work, a vague but persistent headache, short days and blustery cold–hello from a mixed-blessing November in Sabbatical Land. I hereby mark the sixth-month birthday of my novel Unbecoming, and remind you that you can message me if you want a signed bookplate for that OR The State She’s In. (Here, by the way, is a new and very lovely review of the latter by Luisa Igloria in RHINO.) I can’t say I’m in much of a mood for hustle, though; it feels like crawling-under-a-rock season. I’m not doing a ton of writing, nor am I experiencing that burst of energy I’d hoped for after the election, but maybe that’s because there’s no “after”? It’s more like an intensification of suspense, a “now” that just keeps spreading its tentacles.

Lesley Wheeler, Future schmuture

Twelve: Poems Inspired by the Brother’s Grimm Fairy Tale is officially available from Interstellar Flight Press. 

I mean . . ., okay, technically, it’s been out in the world since September. I just haven’t got around to saying it until now.

You may as well as me, Why? Aren’t you excited?

And the answer is yes, I’m very excited. Yet, somehow I’m having a hard time sharing that excitement with people.

Maybe it’s just the general 2020 vibes and all the anxiety and weirdness that comes with it. I’m sure that’s at least a part of it — however, another part is some strange block I have about promoting and celebrating my own work.

Example One. Sitting around a campfire with my aunt, cousins, and sister, we were taking turns saying the things we felt most proud off this year. When it was my turn, I rattled off a few things (of which I don’t remember). When I finished, my sister was flabbergasted. “I thought you were going talk about your book coming out. How could you not talk about your book coming out?”

“Oh, yeaaaah,” I said. “Yes, yeah, of course, I’m super proud of that, too.”

Example Two. Shortly after my book came out, I was hanging out with my brother. He turns to me and says, “I’m really enjoying your book.”

“Oh, yeah, which one?” I ask, thinking he’s talking about one of the books I’d loaned him recently.

He gives me a funny look. “You know, your book. Twelve?”

“Oh, yeaaaah” I start laughing, finding myself embarrassed for forgetting I published a book. It’s out in the world. People are reading it.

2020 is indeed a strange year, rife with intense extremes of emotion. Sometimes I don’t know how to process those emotions or even how to move through my day, shifting from the living room to the dinning room to the bedroom as I push through the tasks of my day job and squeeze in space for the writing and work I’m passionate about.

I want to be excited about Twelve. I’m proud of my little collection of prose poems. I’m proud of the work I did.

I want to be better about celebrating my own work, about following through with the business of promoting it, and with sharing it with others who might fall in love with it.

To that end, I can say, Twelve is officially out. People have been buying it, and you can buy it, too.

Andrea Blythe, TWELVE is Available & Other Goings On

I’ve had trouble sharing this because I get too excited about it, but here goes: Victor Labenske has made a song cycle from poems in my book Tasty Other

In May, we met via Zoom so we could talk through poems and plans.

In June, we met again so Victor could show me his first complete draft, and he sang through the whole thing for me, which was amusing and wonderful!

This past Friday, Victor recorded the song cycle with two sopranos, Elda Peralta McGinty and Judi Labenske. I can’t wait to hear the final version! Having my poems turned into a song cycle is such a dream for this choir girl for life.

Katie Manning, Tasty Other: A Dramatic Song Cycle!

unvoiced is made from the text of Articles 18 – 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, having removed all the vowels, rendering the text unvoiced. 

This is a form of redaction, whereby ruling bodies erase portions of publicly available text deemed to be against national interest or community standards or the well-being of holders of high office or whatever. Yet this reduced, redacted text can still be spoken, albeit by a computer algorithm that does its best to articulate what remains, to give some kind of voice to the unvoiced. 

Visualising the outcome of this process employs the imagery of video streaming and surveillance in a world where bandwidth and access can be reduced or cut off at a mere flick of a switch.

After being initially published in non-compliant 01: censorship (2019), unvoiced was an Offical Selection at FILE Electronic Language International Festival (Sao Paolo, August, 2020), and 2020 Newlyn Short Film Festival (UK, April, 2020). Now it is Official Selection for 2020 Film and Video Poetry Symposium (Los Angeles, which is streaming in full during November and December. You can watch the Symposium via the stream below.

Ian Gibbins, unvoiced at the 2020 Film and Video Poetry Symposium

Mother Mary Comes To Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology is out now from Madville Publishing. On Nov. 16, we held a launch event via Zoom in conjunction with Poetry Atlanta and Georgia Center for the Book. You can watch it above. On Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m., we’ll have a second reading event hosted by the Wild & Precious Life Series

Karen Head and I are thrilled that this project we dreamed up seven years ago has finally come to fruition and we think you’ll agree this is a stellar lineup of poets paying homage to Mary. 

Collin Kelley, Mother Mary Comes To Me out now!

Who knew the apocalypse could be so cozy? So teaming with contagion and my own tiny paper tigers. let one by one out of cages? One disaster movie after another playing out in my dreams where the pipes bleed and water sprouts from all the sockets.” 

Back in the spring, as it dragged into summer, I had a hard time writing at all. What eventually happened in June & July was a short series somewhat related to lockdown and somewhat not. Since coronapoems are everywhere, and indeed, corona everywhere, they seem a dime a dozen right now, but I made a little zine with them because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them but they seem ripe for sharing right now, if anything as a snapshot of a moment.

You can read it here: https://issuu.com/aestheticsofresearch/docs/bloomzineelectronic

Kristy Bowen, bloom

Being a poet during a pandemic is a test of brevity. How best can the endless void, the featureless grey wrapped sky, the road that bends into the horizon, the distance that is measured in everything other than distance — how best can the infinite be compressed into neat lines that in the seventh reading still make some sense.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, 2020: Outro

So why have I been thinking about the sea so much? I’m not sure. Some is wistfulness about not being able to travel, and wondering if I’ll ever go back to some of the places I love, but I think it’s more elemental than that. Maybe it’s just a desire to sit and watch the waves crashing on the rocks, taking away my thoughts as I follow each wave like a breath, and then another: a desire for that renewal coming from somewhere I can’t see, imagine, or understand.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 46. Missing the Sea

The stories for our leavings. It’s funny that I am never asked about those – but for the stories of my destinations. “Why did you come here?”

Why not? It could have been anywhere unknown. Anywhere that smelled of strangers. Anywhere that would allow memories to lie still. Still enough for reflection.

I’ve noticed how the sea smells different everywhere it touches land. In winter sometimes, along Stavanger’s quayside it smells of watermelon. Orre strand smells dark as the rot that brings new life. Along the Canaries, the shore is jagged to inhale. Up north near the North Cape, it’s razor sharp.

I’ve been landlocked before, and lakes don’t breathe on their own. I’ve read that everything depends on the birds that come and go with the seasons, and on storms temperamental enough to drag bits of the world around with them. Transgressions like those of traveling merchants. Or militias.

I’m still pulled to wander, but I’m also learning now how porous the borders are. How even still waters will swell imperceptibly and spill into your path. How storms will drop fish and lizards from another county into your lap. No bridges necessary.

In Norway the name for hopscotch is å hoppe paradis. I have no idea why paradise. But hopping from square to square – chasing small stones, turn and return – does good to me right now. Simple. A little naive.

And meditative.

Ren Powell, Accidental Immigrant

And everyone comes from imagined
origins: land of dark sugar hills, land

of multiplying gravestones. You can clean
windowpanes with balled-up newsprint

and their shine will be like cathedral
glass dipped in milk. This is your

history, and you bind it in ink and crosses.
You were born in its shed but left for an

unholy land. Whatever you erect in its image
becomes an orchard where you will spend

the rest of your days like a bride who can’t
return until every fruit is charred or picked

clean. Who has decided to live in the present.
That is, between the crescent’s horns.

Luisa A. Igloria, Last Telegram

I’ve been slowly moving through Kingston poet Sadiqa de Meijer’s utterly fascinating alfabet/ alphabet: a memoir of a first language (Windsor ON: Palimpsest Press, 2020), composed as an exploration of how language thinks and swims, through her ongoing experience with moving physically from one language, culture and country into another. In a suite of short essays arranged alphabetically by title, she narrates and explores the shifts between the Dutch language, from her origins in the Netherlands, to English-speaking Canada, working her way through multiple implied and inherent differences, many of which she has only begun to fathom. She writes of the alphabet, the bare bones of the language itself, one against another. As she writes of the openings of that lengthy transition: “In Canada, my clothes were odd, and I had no idea what malls or Cabbage Patch Kids or gimp bracelets were, and when I tried to be funny with my peers the silences were awkward and prolonged. I felt an urgent wish to restore my own significance. I read everything I could—flyers, packaging, signs—and listening to the mumblings of my classmates and teachers. Willing myself to make the same sounds, I strove to regain a sense of fluency, of language as my element. That was all I had in my sights; it didn’t occur to me that this was also the start of a slow and nebulous loss.”

The author of two full-length poetry collections—Leaving Howe Island (Fernie BC: Oolichan Books, 2013) [see my review of such here] and The Outer Wards(Montreal QC: Signal Editions/Vehicule Press, 2020) [see my review of such here]—de Meijer’s biography at the back of the collection offers that she “was born in Amsterdam to a Dutch-Kenyan-Pakistani-Afghani family, and moved to Canada as a child.” There is a lot of geography to unpack in that simple array of words, and a complicated sequence, well before the dislocation of arriving into Canada. The effect of her shift from one cultural space into another reveals itself to be deeply felt, and lifelong. This is in part, no doubt, due to the fact that it was not a journey precipitated as an adult, but one made when she was twelve years old; during such a formative period, felt down to the foundation of how she speaks, thinks and breathes, and interacts with herself and with the world beyond. Particularly curious is how her migration into English allowed her new pathways back into certain of the dialects of her native language  “English was both a dominant and an eccentric language,” she writes, as part of the “verzen / verses” section, “no wonder that it had been adapted and interpreted by various groups to make its own local sense. Even in the culture of three that comprised my brothers and I, we improvised on its strangeness, usually while we played with LEGO in our basement.”

rob mclennan, Sadiqa de Meijer, alfabet/ alphabet: a memoir of a first language

This poem offers us a tremendous example of Hilary Menos’ gift for using physical, often everyday detail, layering it and accumulating its effect, so as to reach out towards a vision that reflects back on to its readers. It doesn’t just evoke the process of giving a kidney, but speaks to anyone who’s been alone, afraid, in hospital and missing their loved ones.  In other words, while we might not have gone through this specific experience, we are so moved by its poetic transformation that we are invited to ruminate on our own versions and visions of love.

Such a ravaging context, however, never leads Menos down the path of melodrama. Instead, it enables her to delve deeply into another of her concerns, one that runs through all her collections: the strained yet vital relationship between the human and natural worlds, If this theme was already present in the pamphlet’s first piece, it culminates in the closing lines to its final poem, Sloe Gin, as follows…

…Time matures the thing. At least, adds distance.
I sit at the kitchen table, trying to make sense

and pouring a shot of sweet liquor into a glass.
The filtered magenta, sharp and unctuous,

reminds me of sour plum, of undergrowth,
the scrub, the blackthorn and the hard path.

In this poem, perfectly cadenced metre is set against unsettling doubts, while the transformative quality of human hand is present via the liquor that has been created from fruit and undeniably changed. Nevertheless, it’s then undercut by the realisation that the darker side of nature can never be ignored and forms an inevitable part of our journey through life.

Matthew Stewart, For us all, Hilary Menos’ Human Tissue

Manuscript #4 is my manuscript of lament. It’s my bleeding heart on a page. It may be altogether too sad for anyone to want to read–very sad, and very honest. I feel a little protective of it, a little afraid to put it in anyone’s hands. At the same time, I want it published–I’d like to mail a copy to a few of Kit’s doctors and nurses. Not a thank you exactly–I’ve written them that–but just so they can Know..so they can Know what it was like for me.

As far as individual poem writing is going–well it isn’t. I’ve written four of five false-start drafts, not much coming of them. I’m kind of stalled out. You know what I need? To read a really good poetry book (feel free to recommend). It will wake me up, and I’ll write some good poems then. Also, we’re moving house–and a new, settled spot is always inspiring.

Renee Emerson, poem & manuscript updates

Mid-morning at work, I saw the email showing a picture of (individually-wrapped) goodies and little Starbuck’s iced coffee bottles! So I had some! Then home to a Honeycrisp apple, and the Governor, live, telling us we are back in Tier 3, to please stay home, starting Friday, to keep us all alive. I am glad that my little chalkboard poems are “soft joys” for those who see them here, or on Facebook or Instagram. I’m grateful they are hitting the spot.

Likewise, I was delighted with the response to my story, “A Retiring Woman,” and grateful to Calyx for publishing it online. My daughter and her boyfriend were gripped by it, and she quoted a passage on integrity of voice. My son said he laughed out loud! Yay! It’s a long story, and so many people read it and responded. I am wowed. 

Those are big things in my life, but the little, goofy things help, too. One day, I found myself gardening in pearls. Ah, it was Election Day, a lovely warm day, and I was wearing (fake) pearls to honor RBG, and there was yard work to be done. Another day, I was dusting in earrings, post Zoom, which is the only time I put on drop earrings. It felt good to dust, and to re-stack my stacks of books awaiting the second lockdown, as I sometimes think of it, but nobody likes the word “lockdown,” and the Governor is just announcing a return to Tier 3, for all of Illinois, to help avoid a firmer stay-at-home order. This is a stay-at-home-as-much-as-you-can situation. Till then…(on a Fat Tuesday in the blog) I’ve got candy.

Kathleen Kirk, Soft Joys

When I think about yesterday, a Saturday in late November in 2020, I will remember that phone conversation.  It wasn’t particularly traumatic.  I think we all knew we were headed to that decision.  But it does feel significant.

It was a bit surreal to have that conversation and then to watch several hours of Thanksgiving cooking shows on the PBS Create channel.  I took a long nap and woke up and wondered if we’d really had that conversation.  Had we really canceled our Christmas get together?

It’s a shame that we didn’t have this epiphany a week ago, before my mom snagged the extra villa.  It’s interesting to track these epiphanies.  On Tuesday, my mom had called to tell me the good news of the extra villa.  By Saturday, we were canceling.

It seems like a metaphor for the entire year.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Metaphors in Cancellations

I have declared myself Boss of Grocery Stores Elect and now pronounce that unless absolutely necessary, couples may no longer shop together. Restrictions have been put in place and yet there remain scofflaws aplenty who swan into the store as a couple, sharing one tiny basket between them and lingering over the oranges. Grocery shopping is not a recreational activity, folks. It’s business. You get in and you get out. You don’t bring your girlfriend and five of your closest cousins to pick up a loaf of bread and some Twizzlers. You don’t wander the aisles in a slow daze touching everything like a ballerina with Alzheimer’s. You make a list, you follow an orderly trajectory through the store at a brisk clip and for God’s sake, you get your bagging game together before you check out. I don’t want my radishes getting all mixed up with your diet ice cream at the check stand because you can’t quickly and competently put your items into a bag. Yes, I fully realize that these demands are coming from a projection of my anxiety around The Surge, but there have been a lot of dire meetings at the hospital of late and I’m getting very nervous. Also, they closed my gym again so I can no longer work off my excess adrenaline in the squat rack. So please everyone, just follow my simple grocery store prescriptions so I don’t end up on the wrong end of a viral YouTube video as the latest ranting Karen.

Kristen McHenry, Future Karen, Cohesive Horror, Marriage Update

I’m hoping to start a new feature here on the blog. So many people have started baking again since the pandemic, including me, and I thought it would be fun to share recipes. Since this is primarily a writing blog I thought I’d put out a call to writers who bake that would be into sharing a recipe. Holidays are fast approaching with so many who won’t be traveling or spending them with family so I’m hoping this might be a good (small) project for the writing community and give all of us new recipes to try.

Along with your recipe, I’d want to post your bio and a link to your latest book or publication. My last post involving writers has 80 shares on Facebook,so far, so chances are you’d get some good exposure for your work – and your recipe! (Only 8 shares on Twitter – what’s up with that, #writingcommunity?!)

I’ll be posting first in the next couple of days. Whoever is interested can email me at charlotteham504 at gmail with “Writers Who Bake” in the subject line. I can’t wait to see who shows up. Inundate me!

Charlotte Hamrick, Calling Writers Who Bake!

Of course our stories and poems won’t change the world, but I’m interested in them nevertheless. I’m interested in how you are, how you’re holding up. What edges are frayed? Where are you feeling strong? What and who have you lost? What have you gained? What’s good, what’s terrible, what makes your heart hurt, and what joys are you also experiencing? When we first start talking about how we are, I’ve found that it starts off in ways that aren’t surprising. But the longer we stay with the subject the more is revealed. I know there are a lot of stories we’re not going to be able to talk about right now and that’s okay too.

Whatever stories we tell, it’s also true that only so much will fit in the frame. In distilling our story into a narrative or into the lines of a poem, a lot will be left out. One thing that I think it’s safe to assume, is that everyone has a lot of stuff just outside the frame.

What would happen if we told our everyday stories, the happy ones along with the sad ones, and everything in between? This doesn’t feel wrong to me. How important will all these stories be when we emerge from this time? How will they help us reconsider? I’m drawn to re-read Susan Griffin’s book, The Eros of Everyday. She says, “To change how we see involves some loss, certainly the death of habitual metaphors for order. And the changes needed are great as well as small. It is not only philosophy as it is written in books, but philosophies written into our lives, in institutions, social systems, economies, and governments which need to be reconsidered. For it is by and through these living structures that communities think and perceive. If we could change a habit of mind that has become destructive we must revise the social architecture of our thought.”

The other things that keeps popping into my head are lines by Emily Dickinson, “I dwell in possibility” and “Hope is the thing with feathers.” I keep wondering what is it that we can do with what we have, rather than bemoaning what once was. I say to myself, though perhaps it’s too macabre for some, that if I’m going down, I’m going down with as much joy as I can muster and with as much beauty as I can glean every day.

Shawna Lemay, Behind the Scenes

Of the many things I admire in this quote, the core one is how Lucier posits the work to be done as both outer and inner, social and personal. This multiplicity of stakes, awareness, and investment is something that as a marginalized person I have always lived with. It is something marginalized folks are born into having to reckon with. Political conversations–however formal or informal, in person or online–are never theory, but rather grounded in experiences. That the election was as close as it was means few marginalized folks are breathing easier.

I encourage y’all to read these materials and also to check out The Offing. Also, take time to reflect. Are you taking time to consider the welfare of others? To learn about them? To connect, we need to see each other as well as see ourselves, know their stories as we know our own.

I’ll leave you with two poems to check out. In working with a student on an essay about the Black Lives Matter movement, I shared these poems and spoke of poetry as a space of presence. Words, inside of us as outside of us, are where we can be present with others. Thank you for taking the time to be present here.

José Angel Araguz, community feature: The Offing

When Isaac’s servants, digging in the wadi
found a spring, the herdsmen quarreled: “This is ours.”

Frustrated, they named that place Contention.
He dug another, they fought again: Dispute.

How different are things now? Today, who drills
— and who drinks only the infrequent rains?

What new name might we choose if we could build
a world where everyone gets enough water?

Rachel Barenblat, Looking for Water

Modalities of mortality play out in different ways—

the song of Lady Day blows sweetly on a blues breeze as the tropics of hate continue to rage beyond boiling.

Good-hearted people still find reasons to sing in the rain as this ongoing reign of annihilation pummels us with injustices forged from stone-blind stone.

Every day, “Amazing Grace” plays on a humble record player refusing to skip over the scratches in our collective psyche.

And while the rhythms sound extremely warped and one-sided at times,

there’s still beauty to be found in the song of who we are.

Rich Ferguson, Down at the Junction of Rhythm and Ruin

So, yes, the
universe
hums

an E-flat
thousands of
octaves

below what
we can
hear,

a jazz
trumpet or
sax

wailing
the only
note

that matters.

Tom Montag, SO, YES, THE

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 45

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

It seemed somehow fitting that US election week began on the Day of the Dead, and that the UK’s second lockdown began on Gay Fawkes Day. But somber or macabre reflections slowly blossomed into cautious rejoicing. Political speech is perhaps inherently calculated and inauthentic, but it does feel novel to have a US president-elect capable of genuine displays of empathy. It’s odd to consider now that one of Trump’s original selling points was that he supposedly “says it like it is.” That make-believe truth-telling was perhaps his biggest con of all. No inaugural poet for him! Actual truth tellers were anathema.

Joe Biden, by contrast, quotes Heaney. And when he was young, he worked on his stutter by reciting Heaney and Yeats in front of a mirror. This is a man who, whatever else one might say about him, understands the power of language.

Anyway, that’s my take. Enjoy the digest.


When I look up at the seamed sky,
the black teeth of girders, the cracks of fresh air,
I think this is not an accident, but a moment
of refusal, a point I can look on and describe
in bricks of words, then knock down again
before it becomes too fixed

Julie Mellor, The Moment

I haven’t had a terrarium for years, but as the leaves came down and the weather turned colder, I kept thinking about making one. We have a perfect glass bowl that originally held miniature succulents, a gift from our friend Jenny. Last weekend I brought it home from the studio, lined the bottom with stones and charcoal, added a layer of woody soil, and started gathering moss from northern sides of buildings on the city streets. Yesterday I went for a walk up on Mount Royal, the large hill we Montrealers call “the mountain”, where I hoped to find a greater variety of potential inhabitants. It was a warm day, and I was happy being in the woods; I left the regular paths and wandered through the blanket of fallen leaves, checking out fallen tree limbs and moss-covered boulders, climbing higher and higher to where I thought I’d be able to find some lichens. After an hour or two, I came back down to my bicycle and the city with my small backpack holding treasures: mosses, a liverwort, grey-green and chartreuse lichens, a tiny shelf fungus, bits of shale and birch bark, a small fern.

This small and symbolic act has a lot to do with the election. As I’ve worried and waited, my thoughts keep returning to two issues in particular: the struggles of blacks, people of color, and migrants, and the peril facing our climate. The damage already done to both by the current administration is incalculable, but four more years could be irreparable.

I’ve lived a long time, and recognize that, like the lichens, my life continues to exist in a delicate balance with the other lives on our planet — human, animal, plant, single-celled organisms, bacteria, and those, like viruses, that inhabit a shadowy zone between the animate and inanimate.

The terrarium is not a sealed, balanced, self-sufficient and self-perpetuating biodome, but a micro-environment for which I’m responsible: it can succumb easily to mold, drought, or neglect. As such, it’s a microcosm of the responsibility we bear for everything and everyone more vulnerable than we are, and thus subject to our destructiveness, indifference, and self-interest.

In the end, I find I care less about the survival of the human race than about the survival of biodiversity: the extinction of species at our hands has always cut me to the heart. I shudder to imagine a future for human beings that involves artificial environments or other planets where “trees” and “animals” only exist in giant, controlled biodomes isolated from a toxic exterior. The climate crisis will dwarf anything we’ve experienced so far, increasing human migration and threatening every remaining species as well as the air we breathe and the water we drink. The election of an American president who respects science and understands what we’re facing is perhaps one step back from the precipice, but we haven’t a moment to lose. This little world will remind me of that fact every day; unlike the larger one, I can hold it in my hands, admire its fragile beauty, and try to give it what it needs.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 45. Microcosm

Last night I chopped onions and garlic and chilis to make salsa. The tears ran down my cheeks and I just let them. That is as close as I’ve come to crying in a very long time.

I know this sounds bizarre, but it seemed like my cheeks were grateful for the tears. I felt my whole body relax a little while I squeezed the limes, and cut the slightly-wilted cilantro.

I was relaxed when I turned off the lights at ten. But then as sleep crept in, so too the nocturnal imp who demands I work it all out before dawn. He sits on my chest, and I find it difficult to breathe.

For a while, I wonder if it is a symptom of Covid 19. If it’s a heart attack. If it’s Rumpelstiltskin. But I’m dreaming and it’s just after one.

*

It’s another flat day. The sky without depth. I hear the cars driving through puddles in the street outside. I’m going to fold the clothes that are piled-up downstairs, and put them away in the drawers and closets. I’m going to finish my tea. Then I’ll go to the forest and sit for a while.

I’ve seen wood ducks there – only rarely. But it’s certainly worth a shot.

And if nothing else, I can listen to the wind in the trees, and I can breathe.

Ren Powell, Where the Wood Drake Rests

There are the losers refusing to leave the game gracefully; the dying flowers and aimless watchdogs.

There are untruths and toothaches; funerals and floods; distant sirens sounding like the tears of someone close to us.

All the moments and miseries wrenching humanity off its wobbly axis, far too many to count in a lifetime.

Still, I’ve witnessed cannonballs and butterflies lay aside their differences and discover commonalities.

I’ve observed people move through this world as if song had been invented in their blood.

I’ve seen our hopes walk on water and water walk on a democracy that is hopefully on a path to healing.

Rich Ferguson, Miserymorphosis

I spoke on a panel called “The Weird Side of the Fantastic,” organized and moderated by Anya Martin and also including Brian Everson, Michael Kelly, Craig Laurance Gidney, and Zin E. Rocklyn (teri.zin). I was by FAR the newest to this conversation, so I felt abashed to talk at all, but they were nice to me. The Weird, or so the consensus in this group went, isn’t really a genre or clique of writers so much as a slippery, unpredictable incursion of irresolveable, disturbing, and sometimes empowering strangeness into any kind of tale. I’ve garbled that, but I feel at home in the Weird’s way of challenging what passes for realism, as I think many poets do (poetry is so often trying to close in on some weirdness that can’t be expressed). The panel was also a good corrective to an old association between the Weird and Lovecraft’s powerful but toxic version of horror. As teri.zin said (again, I’m approximating, being too absorbed to take perfect notes), Black life in the U.S. has always involved existential threat that is invisible to many white Americans. Weird fiction can be a good fit for those experiences.

Lesley Wheeler, Fantasy, The Weird, & the Big Picture

This is a day I did not want.
This is a day that does not keep its promise.
Today is a day of disappointment

and fear. There is blue in the sky,
but it’s pale and diffuse. I watch

my neighbors from the corners of my eyes.
This is not a valley prone to earthquakes,
but I feel unsteady anyway.

Why do I live here? Do I know you? Snow
is coming. I fear we will be buried.

Sharon Brogan, Snapshot Poem 04 November 2020

Could it be all the handwashing and surface wiping? Frequently now my phone says, “Fingerprint not recognized” when I touch my finger to it to see what’s up. Am I gradually disappearing? Well, yes, figuratively, but now, I guess, maybe literally! Fingeratively. 

What joy, joy, joy and relief I’ve been experiencing since yesterday! I’d gone into my front yard at 11:30, maybe to put out the mail? My across-the-street neighbor said, “We’ve got some good news!” This was the first year her daughter could vote! Yay all around! So many pictures of champagne later in the day, the spread-out family toasting! And all of us had beautiful weather wherever we were, the weather joining in the figuratively/literally thing.

And some terrible sadness, a family member lost to Covid-19. I only hope that family can grieve now inside a feeling of protection and relief surrounding them.

It’s Sunday and I’ve got that “Love thy neighbor as thyself” feeling. Neighbors have been out in the fine weather, so we’ve been able to chat from an appropriate distance in the fresh air. I still love my back yard neighbors who probably voted differently than I did, the down-the-way not-so-responsible (poop) dog owners, and the neighbor who left conservative/religious books in my Little Free Library as an obvious message (since the yard signs recently in my yard were also an obvious message). Yes, let’s heal, work together, and love one another as best we can.

Kathleen Kirk, Fingerprint Not Recognized

In an early week of the psalms class I’m teaching for clergy (via Bayit: Building Jewish), we read an excerpt from Psalm in the Spirit of Dragnet by Julie Marie Wade. Our conversation afterwards took us to all kinds of places, and one of the ideas it sparked in me was: what about a psalm in the spirit of Minecraft? I’ve been playing the game with my son since the pandemic began, and have been surprised at how satisfying I find it. For me there’s something fundamentally hopeful about the game. And, of course, building is our root metaphor at Bayit. As an experiment, I read this poem aloud to my son without telling him the title, and he immediately recognized what I was doing, which makes me happy. Here’s to more building. 

Rachel Barenblat, Psalm in the spirit of Minecraft

Praise the stepping stones!  Simple, each notched and shaped with its own smooth surface. Laid for one purpose — to help us get to the other side.  To balance delicately over the raging chaos.  Monsters bark; still, praise the plank, several planks, foraged from the rough forest.   They feel good to the feet.   Everything old feels new,  brought back from the brink.  We’d been wandering, lost.  We wouldn’t have lasted much longer.  

The old not a destination, not an end game, not a savior.  See it as an in-between.  Horns honk, celebrations, rituals mark a passage.  The in-between is always our place.  Savor our own deep resources.  Never should they be surrendered.  We’ve taken the bridge from the abyss toward a resting place with a vision to the future. 

Jill Pearlman, TO THE OTHER SIDE!

Yesterday, I was unpacking a bag of interlibrary loans and came across a book on unexplained phenomena and the American fascination with it.  I wondered who might be requesting such a thing and realized that it was indeed, myself.  I had placed the order on Monday, then completely forgotten the beginning of a week that might as well have been a month or more. Mostly, you would have found me this week staring at news sites and refreshing the page, watching, waiting for that Biden electoral vote to nudge.  Today, I woke up around news to the amazing news that it had.  Last night, found me watching a statement from him and I realized I was crying–not really just because of him, but the woman who stood with him on stage–the miraculousness of a woman on a winning ticket, even as VP, and a woman of color at that.  

Tuesday had found me a little high and curled up on my bed, fearing the worst. Watching as, like four years ago, red spread across that map.  I woke that next morning to the news that all was not so dire at all.  The states filed in.  Michigan. Wisconsin.  It was alarming for sure, that the GOP managed to get as many votes as he did, but at least I feel vindicated that there may be any number of the worst sort of people, but the good ones outnumber them, and the good ones have spoken. All the hate flushed–the bigotry, racism, homophobia, xenophobia.  The anti-science, anti-intellectualism, and anti-compassion.  Those people, emboldened by the past 4 years,  still exist, but maybe they will shrink away or at least shut the hell up. 

Covid is still scary. The world is still a little scary. But for the first time, I feel like we might be alright. 

Kristy Bowen, Everything is going to be okay.

I did not want to start sounding like a blowhard. It was dangerous to get so close to conspiracy theories and twisted historical facts. It was dangerous to alienate my liberal family base of nature-loving aunts and uncles by defending Ken Starr or the Gulf War. I became a person who argued for the sake of exposing the other side no matter what it was or what I believed to be the truth. In fact, the truth became nebulous. I didn’t recognize my convictions anymore and I started doubting myself. […]

Eventually, I stumbled on my own interior contradictions too many times. I even started a Federalist Society chapter while in law school, only to drop-out frustrated with bigotry and misogyny. Once I started my family, consistency became critical. It is one thing to be caught in a contradictory position with another adult, but kids will insist on unswerving conviction.

In the end, spending so much time understanding the other sides of things may not have been efficient use of my time. My arguments may not have become more precise and my tendency to understand made me less of a fighter and more of a seeker of compromise. If I were to take on my ‘90s project in this decade, I think I might give up sooner. The arguments in today’s public sphere are so vacuous of any attempt to back them up with science, history, or other facts or evidence that any engagement would be fruitless and possibly violent. It might be possible, if more people dive into opposing philosophies that considered debate will become a thing again. It might be true that considered debate leads to compromise, which is change, which is better than deadlock. I went undercover among conservatives and emerged more committed to what I considered then to be common values: social justice, equality, peaceful dispute resolution, free & fair trade, honesty and transparency. 

Cathy Wittmeyer, Faking It: Undercover with Conservatives

The full moon is hidden by clouds
And I am mistaken for someone,
But I am not anyone at all.
I am crawling under the porch
To count on my fingers the number of times
That I was actually needed.
I am wearing a veil like a grieving woman
And cutting my arm with broken glass.
I am hidden by Tule fog and scarred
From old wounds and from the diseases
That failed to end me.
I do not fear the consequences.
I am burying my regrets under the porch.

James lee Jobe, I am not anyone at all.

Did you talk
to yourself, wandering in a new city

where your name meant only the infinite
anonymous? The story of how you arrived

grows a few more pages. The signs
point to the last place a bleating

animal was flayed and quartered, its guts
festooned in trees to celebrate arrival

or departure. Metallic blood-smell,
a heap of discarded skin in the fire.

Luisa A. Igloria, Out-of-Body Experience

We stopped on the cycleway. Dusk was approaching fast and the fly-past had all the exhilaration of a murmuration – thousands of geese in a exact formations, heading north-west along the river.

I took out my phone, my fingers numb with cold. I snapped a wonky photo, then checked the BBC news website, saw that the Democrats had taken Pennsylvania in the US Election.

We pushed the rules, fist bumped, joined in with the geese shrieked for wonderful happiness. 

The geese passed over, leaving us with a multiplicity of V-signs:

V : for get lost and good riddance.

V : for victory. 

V : for very, very, very, very, very relieved. 

Liz Lefroy, I Spy With My Little Eye Something Beginning with …

Since the morning after the EU Referendum in 2016, when I found my then 17 year old daughter sobbing in her room as she was getting ready for school, followed by Trump’s election in the same year, I’ve felt the world has been off-kilter. Truly we have been living through unprecedented times, the like of which I never imagined, or even believed possible. I am not naïve enough to think that, if they are elected, which I am praying they will be, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will suddenly make everything alright. Clearly, our world, our planet, needs extreme help and that isn’t going to miraculously arrive the moment (please, God) Biden receives enough electoral college votes. At this point, the most I am hoping for is a gentle realignment of values and the possibility that my expectations for such an influential seat of power will no longer fill me with a feeling of dread.

But what I really want to share with you was this gorgeous piece of writing from The Guardian‘s recent editorial (I do read other news outlets, by the way, although it might not seem like it!) – It will be a difficult winter, but the natural world brings small, precious consolations. I love their description of autumn planting – “To plant daffodil bulbs and sweet pea seeds is to engage in small acts of optimism and expectation – it is to insist that there is something to look forward to.” Yes. I’ve planted up some pots of winter-flowering pansies, underplanting with spring bulbs, and the cheerful pots of colour on my patio step always manage to raise my spirits, even on a generally gloomy day.

In the UK, we’ve just started a second national lockdown, and there is a long, uncertain winter ahead. All acts of optimism and hope are welcomed by me.

Finally, my friend, Tania Hershman, shared this great quote from Rebecca Solnit on Twitter this morning: “Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.” Amen to that.

And finally, finally… I should give a quiet mention here to And Other Poems, my poetry site, which is currently open for submissions after a long break. Please read the guidelines if you’re thinking of submitting! And…grrr… WordPress blocks are still giving me the runaround.

Josephine Corcoran, On small acts of optimism

My beloveds have been in throes of anxiety since long before the election here on Tuesday. There has been a sense of general irritability, worry, and stress among US citizens–the presidential race, the increase in coronavirus cases and deaths, uncertainty around workplaces (do we teach in class or online? Do we take the subway to work? Is it safe to travel by plane?), terrible damage from wildfires and a long and busy tropical storm season.

The winter holidays, traditionally a time to gather together and to rally people into spending money on gifts, travel, and food? Hmm. Maybe not this year. Collective sorrow weaves around that situation.

I have felt the stress less keenly than my dear ones, it seems. I did not spend five days obsessing about election results, or anything else. No anxiety, because I’m grieving. My current grief arises as an in-facing state with a specific focus: my father’s death, and my mother’s diminishment. Whatever has been heaving and pulling in the State of the World can continue its way without me; I’m not needed there at present and can be patient with events as they unfold.

It is easier to take a “Zen” approach to society’s stresses when I am carrying inside myself a constant mindful love and an ongoing meditation on loss.

Ecclesiastes 3, especially verses 4-6, speaks to me deeply at present.

As does the Buddha:

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

You only lose what you cling to.

Ann E. Michael, Zen grief

I don’t think I can count certain presidential candidates among my readers. Or prime ministers. And even though I know poetry makes nothing happen, I can still dream.

Let’s say one of them popped by for a break in their campaigning (no difference between our countries there, neither of us enjoy much of an actual government at present), I would want them to hear this and to try to learn it, both when they are in front of the cameras and when they speak in private away from them: be kind.

To yourselves, to your loved ones, to each other, and to those of us who don’t count, but who nevertheless queue round the block to make their voices heard.

Wherever you are today, and whatever happens when those numbers are finally added up, let’s decide to be kind.

Anthony Wilson, Be kind

Writing last year’s [novel] brought the joy of writing back. The Monsters I Keep is apocalyptic YA horror novel about a teenage girl trying to survive in a world full of monsters. The way the novel was shaped allowed me to tell the story in shorter snippets (more aligned with how I write as a poet). The story presented it’s own challenges, but it was also a pleasure to write, providing a world I was eager to dive into.

It was also a story that I didn’t finish. Last year during NaNo, I managed to write some 40,000 words. Over the course of the following year, I added several thousand more. The first two parts are fairly well drafted, but the third part, the conclusion needs to come together.

Last year, when I started The Monsters I Keep, the world was a different place. I wrote the first two parts of this novel before COVID and all the chaos that 2020 has wrought.

Now, looking back on the themes of isolation and facing off against a world full of monsters hits a bit different. Turns out, I have new levels of personal emotional experience to draw from.

As I start in on part three of my character is coming back to people. It seems strange somehow — after experiencing everything this year has had to deliver —  to be writing the section of the novel that’s about coming back to hope.

Then again, maybe it’s the perfect time to be writing about hope.

Andrea Blythe, Hitting Different: NaNoWriMo 2020

Since I was 15 or so, I have associated the Day of the Dead with Malcolm Lowry’s extraordinary novel Under the Volcano, which is up there – with the likes of Orlando, Mrs Dalloway, The Card, The Towers of Trebizond, The History of Mr Polly, A Meeting by the River, Coming Up for Air, The Rainbow, G., The Man Who Was Thursday, On the Black Hill, The Sword of Honour trilogy, etc. – among my very favourite 20th Century novels by British writers. Like Mrs Dalloway and Ulysses, it’s set within the space of one day, in this case ‘El Día de Los Muertos’.

Shortly after I arrived in Portrush in the autumn of 1985, I borrowed from the university library in Coleraine all the books by Lowry which I’d not read before. The north coast of Antrim seemed like the sort of place Lowry would’ve written about brilliantly; and being then as fond of writing prose as well as poetry, I set about writing Lowry-influenced stories. Alas, I didn’t keep them, though I strongly suspect they weren’t much cop anyway.

Lowry was by all accounts a rather unpleasant fellow, but his vast consumption of Mexican booze can’t have helped with that. In the first Lockdown, I read all the books I could find on the great painter Edward Burra, whom Jonathan Meades, in a Radio 4 Great Lives broadcast, rightly called ‘the greatest watercolourist imaginable’. I will write more about Burra, and how I have responded to his works and influence, in due course, but when, in 1937, he, with Conrad Aiken and Mary Hoover, travelled from Boston to Cuernavaca (where Under the Volcano is set), for Aiken and Hoover to get married and to visit Aiken’s friend and mentee Lowry, the experience nearly killed him. For all Lowry’s travels throughout the Americas, it’s an oddity that he died in the Sussex village of Ripe, only 33 miles from Burra’s home in Rye, the ‘Tinkerbell Towne’ as he called it.

On this particular All Souls’ Day, it’s hard not to think of the lives which have been lost in this pandemic, and how, if governments had prioritised health before profit, many of those deaths could surely have been prevented.

Matthew Paul, The Day of the Dead

I woke up at 5 AM and was very still in my bed listening to a huge wind storm which has already lost me power twice this morning and rattled my house’s bones thinking nothing hurts nothing hurts for what seemed like a long stretch of time then I heard Hal or Jupiter acking up a hairball. Ahh nature’s beauty. Did Emily Dickinson have cats? I don’t think so maybe her famous hounds but I very much doubt they slept in her bed. They were wealthy Amherst hounds that lounged under the table gulping down entire platters full of duck a l’orange and slurping port and farting. But cats are not accustomed to all that twee. I doubt Emily ever woke to a windstorm got up to wobble to the loo and stepped in a giant slimy hairball cursing under her breath in her hyphenated way There’s a certain Slant of light, Winter mornings — that OH FUCK WHAT WAS THAT!?!?! You damned cat come back here now we need to have words where was I? Oh yes That oppresses, like the Heft Of Cathedral WHAT? ANOTHER ONE? JESUS STOP EATING MY HAIR RIBBONS YOU LITTLE SHIT. 

I am flat flat flat as a 12th century map. There be dragons. I feel loopy and slightly hungover though I did not partake yesterday or last night though I danced alone in my flickering outer outer room. Here comes the wind again in swells and waves it is just incredible I do love rude weather and I always have. I need to be quiet for a while and listen.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

surf plating white as the clouds
a wind that brings black
and shivers the tongues of spittle
airborne and landward
we refuse to look away
for does not the sea dominate
every thought
paint it never could
even these words fail
the only way to know the sea
is to swim in it
to trust it just so far
as a turn of phrase

Jim Young, storm

On Tuesday, I made this Facebook post:  “Even with an election distracting me, there are still college administrator tasks that must be done. I fixed the toilet chain with a binder clip when I discovered that the metal part that attaches the chain to the handle was corroded so much that there was no longer a hole that would hold the chain in place. Another one for the ‘things I never learned in grad school to prepare me for my academic job’ file.”

I am happy to report that the binder clip fix is still working.  I am weary with the realization that we will likely have the binder clip holding the chain until the building crumbles into dust.  My campus rents space from an owner who fixes the landscaping but leaves the gaping cracks in the edifice for all to see.

As we’ve been waiting for election results, and as I’ve been using that toilet throughout the week, I’ve been thinking about that binder clip as a metaphor for our election process.  Or maybe it’s the whole flushing apparatus that’s the metaphor.  It’s old and rusted through in parts, but we still make it work.

Or maybe I’m comforted by a different metaphor.  We could wait for someone to come along and fix the rusted mechanisms of the nation–or we could do it ourselves.  We may not have the right tools.  We may not be able to get to the store to buy a new mechanism and do a replacement.  But we can look around, see what we have, and repurpose it to make a fix that lasts.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days of Binder Clip Repairs

I started making annotations and sticking Post-its in Steve Ely’s pamphlet about nine months ago. It was a week before the first lock-down, and I was sitting in a dentist’s waiting room in Ossett. I used to take novels to read in surgeries and hospitals. More recently it’s been poetry that’s replaced Solzhenitsyn’s “Cancer Ward”. More often than not, it’ll be U A Fanthorpe’s ‘Tyndale in Darkness’. Whatever, it will probably feature the themes of suffering, endurance and redemption through faith of one kind or another. It’s a kind of epicureanism, I suppose. I beheld Satan as an angel… was and is different, because throughout, it challenges the whole notion of the possibility of redemption. I’ve kept trying to write about why it seems to matter so much to me, and failing to nail it, falling short of what I think I mean. There are critical reviews that make an effort to appear objective; I never believed that such a thing is possible. When I read a poem I read it through a glass darkly, through the refracting lens of my preoccupations and memories, and subsequently, the poem ‘reads me’ if it’s any good at all. Afterwards, I see differently, and the poem becomes different. This is a sequence about falling from grace and about the death of a son, about the guilt for the death of a son. One of my sons took his own life by jumping from a tall building. It speaks to me in ways that it can’t speak to everyone. 

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Steve Ely’s: I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heauen

Our Hydrophones are recording the sound
of break-up songs, pulses and beats
repeated over a bassline of bloops

to form this soundtrack to the end of days
that plays while we run freshly-licked fingers
round the wine-glass rim of the earth.

Mat Riches, Blowing Up Whales

From Philadelphia poet Gina Myers comes her third full-length collection, Some of the Times (Baltimore MD: Barrelhouse Books, 2020), following A Model Year (Coconut Books, 2009) and Hold It Down (Coconut Books, 2013), two books I now regret having missed. Some of the Times is a collection of first-person lyrics that explore her lived experience and geography, that being the city of Philadelphia, a city that to her was fairly new at the moment of composition. Most of the poems are shorter, almost clipped, but provide the sense of being very much part of a larger structure, suggesting the collection less an assemblage than a suite of contained lyrics. Myers writes on paying rent, police brutality, tenuous employment, chronic illness, labour camps in Cuba, baseball games and thunderstorms. Her poems occupy the ground level of a city in ruin amid dangerous heat. There is a particular flavour of working class ethos that permeates the culture, and the poetry, of Philadelphia that is reminiscent (positively, of course) of work I’ve seen over the years out of Hamilton, Ontario, or even the border city of Windsor. […]

There are elements of influence in her first-person explorations of self and the crumbling infrastructures of city and culture, from Eileen Myles to fellow Philadelphia poet ryan eckes; structural echoes to her poems that run similarly down the page and through the excess of sirens, unkempt streets and the ravaged potential of human accomplishment. This is her restlessness, her “wanderlust,” as she calls it, alongside a hardscrabble lyric, one pulled together from lyric scraps, struggle and observation. “I don’t need your theories,” she writes, to close out the poem “4.18.14,” “to understand my lived / experience. There is / an anger I carry / inside I will never / let go of. Something basic / to hold onto while everything / else disappears.”

rob mclennan, Gina Myers, Some of the Times

And then, yesterday, like magic, I woke up to cold rain, and went back to sleep. When I woke up, like Dorothy, I was in a beautiful technicolor world where Kamala Harris is the first woman Vice-President and Biden had beaten Trump by a lot in multiple states, not just a little bit in one state. Watching their acceptance speeches, I was moved to tears by seeing all the little girls holding flags and Kamala Harris addressing them directly. In Biden’s speech, he didn’t say he hated anyone, or encouraged people to chant “lock him up,” or make comments about women’s bodies – he talked about healing, and making a plan with scientists for coronavirus. It was wonderfully unhorrible. That’s my baseline now – anything not actively stupid and hateful from a Presidential figure is a huge relief. I also saw footage of people in Philly, LA, DC dancing in the street, My friend in London said they set off fireworks where she lived all night. Paris rang church bells. The whole world seemed to be celebrating. Not the Civil War that people imagined, but real happiness, thankfulness, relief.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Waking Up to a New President and Vice President, A Cold Week with Zoo Visit, More About How to Earn a Living as a Poet

It didn’t really sink in until I was out, around other people. I’ve been needing a pair of slippers, something warm to wear around the house with a sole that can go outside. Frustrated by the too many choices that my feed started feeding me once the algorithms realized what I was in the market for, I decided to go to a local shop in a southeast Portland neighborhood and get whatever version of it they have available there.

It was raining when I left the house, but the sun was breaking through by the time I got there. I bought the slippers quickly and easily (fewer choices is so often a gift, isn’t it?), and then Cane and I went for a walk in the neighborhood.

Walking neighborhoods is a thing we’ve been doing for years. Some people get out in nature, but we like to get out in communities. We study what people do with their yards and homes, we muse about what homes can tell us about their inhabitants and our collective history, and we talk about what’s going on in the world. It’s a thing that’s remained constant in spite of all that we’ve lived through in the past four years: separation, kids leaving home, moving, pandemic, and the Trump presidency.

It was that constancy–and the contrast we could both feel between the walks of the past year and yesterday’s walk–that made the meaning of yesterday finally sink in. The very air felt different: lighter, brighter (in spite of the clouds). It came from the people we passed by; everyone seemed to be carrying themselves differently, and I could sense the smiles behind the masks.

At one point, a rainbow emerged, and we stopped to take a picture of it. Everyone we could see stopped, too, pointing with their hands or their phones. A woman driving by noticed us and stopped her car in the middle of the street and just looked at it, smiling.

It felt like magic, like a gift, like a poem.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Oh happy day

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 44

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week found bloggers pondering time and how we experience it, reflecting on reading, book reviewing, and learning languages, mourning, and daring to hope as we negotiate the ancient Celtic turning of the year and anticipate a fraught election.


I was excited to hear from my cousin Carolyn in Prague this week about the re-launch of her esteemed poetry magazine, “Literary Bohemian.” I read submissions for Lit Bo for many years and I found great joy in it, so I’m pleased as all heck to announce I will soon be back on the masthead for the new incarnation. When she invited me to be involved again, she asked me to send her an updated bio and a photo of “where I am from.” This simple request sent me into a familiar identity crisis, as questions of this nature always do. When I was a massage therapist, often clients would ask me where I was from as a way of making friendly conversation, and the question always flummoxed me. I’m not really “from” anywhere. I have little sense of home and where I am from is not clear-cut. The place that I was born in was a place that I was whisked away from shortly after birth and that I have no connection to whatsoever. I grew up in a military family and we moved multiple times during my childhood (although not nearly as often as many military families.) When I think about my home, I think first and foremost about Alaska and Upper Michigan. I think about the cold, the remote, an environment of harshness and severity, places that did not envelop humans in a warm and loving embrace. Places that taught you to survive them. Places that mandated toughness and grit.

When I was looking for a photo of my “from”, I had a memory of standing on the shores of Lake Superior when I was around twelve or so, during a wild storm. The lake was whipped into a roaring, boiling froth and the wind was savage. The sky was almost black and the cold was ferocious. In that moment I was imbued with the deep and primal understanding that this collection of raging entities didn’t care one whit about whether or not I existed, and that feeling has informed my being ever since. I believe it’s what has enabled me to survive through everything that was to come, and what will enable to me to survive into the future. All I wanted to do when I was a teen was move away from these cold, feral, isolated places and live in a city, but now I wonder if dwelling in cities is bad for a person’s soul. There is too much noise and too much disconnection, too much protection and too much ease. We begin to feel important and entitled to be alive. We forget how little nature actually cares about our existence.

Kristen McHenry, Literary Re-launch, Where I am From, Childhood Anthem

The streets are empty,
nobody but fallen leaves
and their soft rustle.

We knew of curfews
from history books, stories
our grandpas told us.

Now we’re a page too,
in a future book about
a year when the leaves

were louder than we.

Magda Kapa, October 2020

Anticipating the earlier sunset, wishing to avoid exercising in the evening streets, I went out midday for my walk in the park, an eye on my watch to get back home in time for the next videocall class. The sun eeked itself out from behind the showers, and the riverside paths beyond the weir were golden-brown with autumn leaves embedded in mud. I walked cautiously. Even in a pandemic, there are dog owners who don’t pick up after, and twice in the past fortnight I’ve come home with stinking dog mess caked into my soles. 

After class, catching up on the admin. which grows heads like a hydra, I needed to search my emails for Hope, looking for the last email I’d written to her. I tapped ‘Hope’ into the search bar, pressed Return.

What I found was that almost every email I write contains hope:

I hope you are well.

I hope we can meet before too long.

I hope you feel better soon.

I hope you are able to find time for yourself.

Search your inbox for Faith, for Charity. You may not find them there. But Hope, Hope, Hope. It’s everywhere, littering words like golden leaves in all the mud and mess, its small, round, comforting sound topped off with the softest of plosives.

Liz Lefroy, I Search For Hope

my aged cat never left my side ever I slept on feathers crossed my Ts clean as a fishwife the moment in which he rose up hallelujah I was not afraid of solitude but reckless pursuit neckties guns in the temple the low dome last week’s rent drew out the lining the ache in my side that proved resolve men rode motorcycles up and down the street pounded my door demanded open up demanded money as Russian girls in the cafeteria argued over the napkin dispensers cooed like release doves lacking a center I’m not nostalgic for the parasite the waterworm there is nothing left to talk about apples and sandwiches stuffed with fruit the mokrie dela disappeared from automats turn and slide the plastic door or the washateria the Laundra in Newport Loadstar Dryers coin tumble orbiting sensors in my bed gossiping bodies at night target practice on Thursdays in Dallas go ahead go ahead now tell me about the white capped angel of terror and desire

Rebecca Loudon, Paregoric

My father cups water from the river,
pods, leaves, algae lace his hands, residue
from the silver streams down his darkened skin.

Chandrama vaa apaam pushpam: Moon is the flower
of the waters. Who was this poet from a time
so long ago when red dust rose to the sky?

Uma Gowrishankar, The Celestial Flower

a man has
his hands
on his face
the heels across
his working mouth
that sound is
told in an
animal’s voice
one brought down
but not yet dead
he has to
enunciate the pain
so he selects
a sort of cataract
of vowels to drain
the airtight sack
of his grief

Dick Jones, NEW POEMS

Stay out of my house, and my head. When you
were alive, were you a voyeur? This is
one thousand percent creepy. Damn, they’ve queued
up to watch, to talk about flunked tests, his
leftovers, her starting over. They say
I’ve lost my colors, and life is gone gray.

PF Anderson, Ghosts

I remember at the beginning of the pandemic how people were saying, “Oh, with all this time, we ought to be able to write that novel, learn a language, study classical guitar, read Ulysses or War and Peace…” and then, when our concentration went to hell, our sleep became terrible, we fought with our partners or kids or became consumed by loneliness and confinement, and we didn’t even know what day it was — that was when we got obsessed by the news and started riding a rollercoaster of anxiety and depression, amid other days that felt more normal and optimistic. A lot of us felt guilty or confused about why we couldn’t seem to do the things that we thought we were going to do — I had hoped to finish writing a book, for instance, and I’m nowhere close. A friend sent me an article written by someone funny, who was trying to express her depression and lack of motivation, and she describes herself telling her therapist, ‘I feel like I should be learning Portuguese” and the therapist says, “Don’t you DARE learn Portuguese!” And no matter how well we may have managed in one area, I bet most of us feel like that in many others, and wish somebody would just say, “Don’t you dare…!” and let us off our self-hung hook.

My sister-in-law, a retired academic who’s gifted in languages, is studying Arabic for the third time in her life, and this time it’s finally taking hold. She’s taking a rigorous online course, and working on it for many many hours a day, and I think that’s fantastic. But I can’t do that, and don’t really want to. Fifteen minutes a day works for me, and I’ve made enough progress that when I see a Greek sentence I know the parts of speech I’m seeing, even if I don’t know the words, and my vocabulary is growing. Will I ever use it? Who knows. I think what this exercise has shown me is that the little-bit-every-day approach does pay off over time in language study, just as it does in a drawing practice. A seemingly daunting but desired goal is broken down into manageable little bits, and you commit to it, try not to get discouraged and give up, and eventually you see you’ve actually made progress. That’s all.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 44. Lockdown Language Learning

At our house, we’ve just completed eight months of a combination of shielding, enforced lockdown, and self-isolation. Most of it was, well, bearable. We had months of good weather to work on the garden, and reclaim another bit of the neighbouring farmer’s field for a wild flower patch. When the weather was bad I had picture framing, decorating…and in between showers, repointing various walls and gable ends. I had the ‘When all this is over’ project to keep my my brain ticking over in May and June. The annual trip to St Ives for a poetry residential was cancelled, but I managed a consolation in the form of a Garsdale Zoom course tutored by Kim Moore.

But right now I’m stalled. If you’re from my part of the West Riding the resonance of this will be understood. When my mum or my grandma said ‘I’m stalled’ they meant they were stuck, depressed, bored, fed-up, frustrated and generally out of sorts. I’ve finally become unable to shut out the appalling state of the country and its wilful mismanagement. I can’t think straight or clearly. I had an email from the poet Steve Ely (who will feature in a moment) in which he said he was ‘******* stir crazy’. He said he could go to the gym, and go for walks but (and this is the kicker) “there’s no joy in it” . Not a fashionable word joy. But I know exactly what he meant. Where’s the joy? It’s compounded by the fact that I’ll spend Wednesday in Pontefract Hospital for minor surgery. I wouldn’t think twice about it in the normal run of things. But nothing’s normal, and for the first time in my life I’m assailed by anxiety, timidity. Today was set aside for writing an enthusiastic appreciation of Steve Ely’s latest pamphlet I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heauen. But my head’s like a washing machine, and I can’t do it justice.

John Foggin, Backtrack: On sequences, with Steve Ely and Pascale Petit

It’s a Tuesday that feels like a Thursday. The past few days have been a dip in my mood and a desire to sleep all the time, which has also left me with an achy back and a feeling like there’s just a lot of emotional icky boiling just under the surface. I thought a news fast might be in order after yesterday–since cases continue to climb, we just elected a Handmaid’s Tale villain to the Supreme Court, the election is next week, and I’ve already done as much as I can (the covid precautions I’ve been doing all along and continue to do, voting, etc.) and can only wait it out at this point. But, it’s hard when part of my job (and even my creative endeavors) involves social media to, you know, stay away from it. So I get sucked back into doomscrolling. And then the news in general. And then also the attendant anxiety and mood swinginess. I am extra cagey around this time of year anyway, what with the anniversary of my mother’s death and a lack of daylight. It is not making for a good combination. 

It’s Tuesday, and I’m trying to find a center to weather out the storm–new writing projects I’ll be starting next week.  Some artmaking endeavors planned for the weekend. An invitation to send some video poem exploits to a journal. Beginning to send out some work from the plague letters.  I keep amassing books in my to-read pile hoping that I’ll have the concentration for again and this may be part of the problem.  I need more reading, less doomscrolling. Meanwhile, I watch a lot of van-life and cabin renovation videos on Youtube and dream about running away from everything to live in the woods. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/27/2020

Time slows down     
stands 
still 
the top keeps 
spinning tottering 
neither stopping nor falling 
turning in exhaustion

We knew to cut the rug
foot-deep in the middle of the sensuous world,
each moment waking the next

Whisk, whisk.  Blow.  Spin it on its head
to rest in the dark.  
Whirl, dear life, impertinent joy. 

Jill Pearlman, THEY

The sun and moon have gone on hiatus, leaving us with just our floor lamps and ring lights to make ourselves shine.

Virtual drinking parties and reunions have become the tech form of Xanax, while failed wi-fi and cooled-off hotspots can cast us into Dante’s first circle of hell.

In our Zoom room universe, we are boredom-boned and hug-lost; flirtations reduced to pixels on a screen.

Pregnant pauses give birth to quintuplets of abrupt fits and starts of conversations stepping on one another in glitchy lag time.

Rich Ferguson, In Our Zoom Room Universe

The other day, in my Modernity in Literature class, I taught them about the poem “As I Walked Out One Evening” by W.H. Auden.

As I was working through it with them, it occurred to me that the central theme of all the literature I had chosen to teach for this course is TIME.

I won’t go into all of the texts now, but trust me: it is.

In Auden’s poem, written in 1937, he has a narrator, and two speakers:  the lovers, and the clocks.

The lovers are lyrical and delirious and full of hyperbole in the first half of the poem, and then the clocks take up their song, which basically is that “You cannot conquer Time.”

The lines that hit me this year :  The clocks sing:

“Time watches from the shadow

And coughs when you would kiss.”

It’s like a prophecy of COVID.

Anne Higgins, You Cannot Conquer Time

When I was a college freshman, I interviewed my great-grandmother (born in 1884) for a cultural anthropology project. She talked about living on a small farm, nursing her 12-year-old son through the Spanish flu, baking and slaughtering and canning and drawing water–life before rural electrification. She said:

Times was hard, but times is always hard, and our lives were no harder than anybody else’s.

Good to keep that in mind at present.

My temperament has always tended more melancholic than anxious; but in these days of covid, flu, and concerns about my bereaved and elderly mother, worried thoughts arrive, especially in the wee hours, especially as cases climb upward in my region and my mother’s assisted living center starts yet another lockdown. I try to imagine the changes the extreme elderly experience…I imagine her being ‘assisted’ by caring, gentle people she does not really know and with whom she can barely communicate due to anomia and aphasia, which makes her grief for my father truly inexpressible.

“I can’t say anymore what I say,” she tells me by phone. “On the wall, it says, what is it? Now?”

“The calendar? It’s Tuesday, Mom.”

“No, the other. The…weather. Season.”

“Oh. October. It’s October.”

“How is it? And I am trying…when was it? That he died?”

“August, Mom. August 25th.”

“Has it been since August? Was it August? Already? So many now. Many…pills. No, ice. Ices gone by. I don’t mean that. I said–“

“Many days, I know. Can it really be October already? And he’s been gone since the end of August. Summer.”

“25. 25 days, August, October. How can it be?” she asks; and I can tell, over the phone, that she is shaking her head slowly the way she does, wondering, surprised, how can it be…

There are times she says exactly the right thing.

How can it be? Something I might want to meditate upon.

Ann E. Michael, How can it be

She thinks of refugees and all they carried,
jewels sewn into hemlines
or those who flee without papers.
She checks her wallet one last time,
all the plastic cards that define
her in place.

She leaves the door unlocked
as she eats one last supper out
with a grad school friend. She writes
the wrong forwarding address on a napkin
before boarding the plane.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Process Notes: “Oregon Trail”

The house of country, the nation of us.
Whispering, whispering. America
Has become a house of secrets and lies,
A house of deceit, a house of lament.
The people are hiding, the truth is hiding;
Even the president is hiding
His true face from the sun.

James Lee Jobe, I walk the path slowly

We did not turn on our porch light for trick-or-treaters this year. Instead, I put book hedgehogs and candy in the Little Free Library in case anybody came by. Somebody did come by, leaving two bags of peanut M&Ms, my favorite! But I haven’t checked yet today to see if some books went home with kids or grownups, and whether I’ll need to bring candy back inside. I had put some solar lights in the ground that day, and they worked: they lit up fine at night.

There was a Trump rally in our town on October 22. I found out about it after the fact–900 people at the local baseball stadium. Pictures showed the masked and unmasked, and people sort of spread out in the bleachers. It was a watch party for the debate, with the debate on the big electronic screen out there. Yes, Covid cases have been on the uptick since, but that’s happening everywhere. The direct result of the rally that I saw locally was the appearance of yard signs. A news photo from the rally showed all the Republican signs stacked up for people to take, and, sure enough, they started popping up over the next few days in my precinct, which had mostly Democrat yard signs before, plus some perennial Republican incumbent signs.

Of the above, the labyrinth, the fall beauty, and the Little Free Library give me joy and peace. Hang in there, everybody. We really are all in this together. I hope we make it through with as much love and kindness as we can muster, “muster” being a battle term, alas, or a group of peacocks.

Kathleen Kirk, Yard Signs, Gun Shots, Trick-or-Treat

I am of a generation that was naive, patriotic, attached to nostalgia for what never was. Now we mourn the loss of what we thought was real, the American (United States of American) commitment to equality, possibility, responsibility, and community. We thought if we promised to be good, that would be good enough. Somehow we convinced ourselves that if we believed in equal opportunity, equal respect, equal value for all, it would make it true. 

Now we confront the actuality of our citizenship. Now we see (or try not to see) the suffering of our neighbors; suffering we benefit from, suffering we participate in, willingly or not. Now we see the bigotry in our families, in the generations before us, in our cousins and siblings, and in ourselves. We learn about The Talk, if we have refused to learn it before. 

And now we must talk to ourselves: stay home, because your neighbors will not, do not, sometimes cannot. Mask up, and recognize that some of your neighbors will not. Learn to value the lives of others, as you have learned to value your own. 

Struggle to forgive others for saying these beings, and those beings, and you – matter less. Or matter not at all. 

Struggle to forgive yourself, while still holding yourself, and your neighbors, accountable. 

I am struggling.

Sharon Brogan, 300,000

So, with a fraught election and a pretend king who doesn’t want to give up power, I notice the media has been teeming with mentions of civil war. That’s not comforting. I hope we have a peaceful, overwhelming Biden win on election day. I hope we can sleep better soon.

People are storing up food, medication, and some are buying guns. What am I doing, you ask? Why, planning to write a page a day in November on my novel-in-progress, participating for the first time in NaNoWriMo. Why not be optimistic in the face of apocalypse? I have always done it before.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Post-Halloween and Blue Moon, Election Day Voting Interview on Health, and More!

Inspired by writer Liz Ward, I’m going to gently join in with National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) and post a blog a little more regularly during November. I love reading Liz at her blog and I also enjoyed her collection of essays which she published in 2018.

One of the reasons I haven’t been posting here very much is that I’ve been writing more in the offline world as I hinted at in my previous post. Last week I took advantage of a lovely offer by Trowbridge Town Hall and rented a desk for day in their beautiful Victorian building so that I could spend a day writing in a different setting.

Although I’m lucky enough to be able to write from home without distractions, it made a difference to be somewhere else entirely, in my own space behind a closed door. As a friend commented on my Instagram post “A room of one’s own… at least for a day!” – and she’s exactly right. I’ve rented the room for one day a week for a few weeks – but this was before we had the announcement in the UK that we’re entering a second national lockdown. So, like thousands of others, my plans for the next month will be scuppered, although my inconvenience is nothing compared to most. Don’t get me started on the lockdown or the UK government’s incompetent handling of the pandemic, I’ve come to this blog for some moments of distraction. I hope that wherever you are and whatever your situation, you manage to deal with what is happening as best as you can.

Josephine Corcoran, National Blog Posting Month

Sorry if this haiku seems a little gloomy, and really, I’ve had a lovely quiet week off work with plenty of dog walks and some memorable visits to our local pub. They’ve opened their tiny kitchen to do food every night, worked their socks off to keep everyone safe and happy, only to find out at the drop of a hat that they will have to close later this week. I understand there have to be some rules and restrictions, and sometimes it ends up being one size fits all, but behind every business closure there are the hopes and aspirations of ordinary people just trying to make a living. I’m not a political poet, and I don’t want this to sound like a rant, so let’s just say that my heart goes out to them.

Julie Mellor, knee deep

Writing has felt too heavy this week; poetry requires a kind of vulnerability that I just don’t have to give in this first part of November, the days leading up to the anniversary of Kit’s death.

At the same time, it feels more urgent and necessary than ever to engage with language – so I’m working on the larger poems of these two manuscripts (the manuscript itself is a kind of composite poem, or at least that is how I think of it when editing).

Impatient as I’ve always been with publication, In wondering if I’ve tried as much as I should with [Church Ladies] or if I haven’t tried near long enough. How much do I believe this book should be a book? Was it just a learning experience? Really I do think it’s worthwhile to fight for and that I’m like a child with a shiny new toy preferring my newer manuscript to champion.

Renee Emerson, Manuscript work

From my sofa, I can look out at the changing leaves and fog rising from the valley and think about everything I learned. I learned first and most from our student poets who traveled all the way from Berlin by train (10 hours) to do our writing retreat. Years before, they traveled all the way to Germany from Syria and Afghanistan. Their stories are of fable: they weave heartbreak, hope and heroics together with a very modest thread. These are talented poets. I learned that it is truly a luxury to care about the environmental crises facing our planet when so many people can only focus on the next meal or the next life-altering bombardment. I learned that speaking in one’s heart language connects oneself to the listener in ways deeper than translation can accommodate. We spent evenings translating poems from Farsi and Arabic to English (later to German). Finding new words to make sure we shared the meaning was a joy.

Next, I reflect on the wisdom that was offered to us every day in Zoom calls with our invited poet guests: Will McInerney, Oliver Miltenberger, Romana Iorga, Craig Santos Perez, Kelli Russell Agodon, Richard Blanco, Enda Wyley and Tess Barry. Some of these folks I met by email, some I’ve known a longer while. They all gave their time to give us advice, to answer questions and to read to us. We learned a lot about Seamus Heaney’s work (Enda); the magical process of poem writing (Tess); the roles of poet, peacebuilder and researcher in interrupting apathy (Will); not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good (Oliver); how to answer questions the reader is going to ask (Romana); about narrating our reaction to things political and cultural (Craig); about tapping into the quality of the poet community (Kelli); and about personifying an object of nature to take the ego out of the poem as a more gentle way to bring politics into the conversation (Richard).

Finally, I see a clear picture for moving forward and that picture has a lot of haze in it (a continued or new pandemic, other crises, other demands on time): behind the fog is hope that writing poems and putting them into the world will create ripples. The more of us that are out there making ripples, the harder our words will be to ignore. Poetry changes the world with a collective of small vibrations that move through one, two, or a thousand people at a time.

Cathy Wittmeyer, Reflecting on Word to Action

The WHY of reviewing is probably obvious. Most poetry books don’t get much love, so you serve writers, presses, and readers by bringing your favorites to wider attention. Every poet with means and time should give public service to the art they love, and reviewing is one way to do it (panel/ event organizing like Anya’s is another). Generosity occasionally pays off–if people appreciate you, they may help you in some future, unexpected way–and any byline can increase your name recognition. That’s not the core reason for literary service, though. Fandom is at the heart of it, plus desire to strengthen a fragile community. If you write a thoughtful review, you’ve shown the author they have at least one good reader out there. It makes all parties feel glowy.

Love of poetry isn’t all a reviewer needs, though. I’ve written a ton of criticism, so I’m a faster writer than many, but reviewing a poetry book is still an eight-hour commitment, more or less. I read the book once; put it down and think about it; reread it and start drafting; then take a break from the draft for a day, or a few days, and come back, rewrite, and polish. They’re typically 750-1500 words. Writing micro-reviews (250-300 words) is quicker, but I always end up writing long then boiling them down, a process that takes time, too.

Although I don’t always have the hours, I like reviewing a lot. It feels freeing to analyze a book without scholarly protocols. No bibliography, no citing Very Important Theorists! I’m trying to write a few reviews this year because I’m on sabbatical, grateful for good notices my books are receiving, and, at this bad moment, having a hard time concentrating on big stuff. Writing a poetry review is a way of procrastinating while still putting some useful writing out there.

Lesley Wheeler, Writing and publishing poetry book reviews

Is it just my perception or have UK poetry reviews and criticism generally become – with the exception of one completely ludicrous, notorious and discredited outlier – kinder in the last few years? It’s within that context that I was surprised by the tenor and content of Rory Waterman’s review of Keith Hutson’s debut collection Baldwin’s Catholic Geese for the latest issue (#255) of PN Review. […]

One might conclude from Waterman’s condescending conclusion – ‘Every poem comes with a sprightly note about its subject, and perhaps the greatest lasting pleasure this book will give you is several hours disappearing down internet rabbit holes as you shadow the author’s impressive research’ – that what he wants to say is, ‘Jolly well done on the research, but shame about the poems’, which is grossly dismissive. Given that the book’s glowing endorsements come from Carol Ann Duffy, Peter Sansom and Michael Symmons Roberts, Waterman’s verdict is also more than a little against the grain and makes me wonder just how much time he gave to reading the book with care.

My own verdict on Baldwin’s Catholic Geese is that it lays bare, in a way which surely refracts on today’s celebrity culture, how natural an ambition it is to aim for fame and fortune by any, and sometimes bizarre, means; and that to fail in doing so is equally as natural – so few entertainers stay on the top of their game for the duration of their careers and it’s only human for the overwhelming majority to have no more than a fleeting moment in the limelight. That’s hardly an original thought (c.f., for example, ‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more’), but Hutson explores the highways and byways of that ambition in a rich way that emphasises his subjects’ egos, successes and flaws without ridicule and more often than not in joyous, zestful language.

Matthew Paul, On Keith Hutson’s Baldwin’s Catholic Geese

I’ve been going through San Diego poet Heather Sweeney’s new full-length poetry title, Dear Marshall, Language Is Our Only Wilderness (Brooklyn NY: Spuyten Duyvil, 2020), following a handful of chapbooks (including one from above/ground press) as well as the full-length Call Me California (Finishing Line Press, 2020), a book published almost simultaneously alongside this one (although I have yet to see a copy). Dear Marshall is constructed as a book-length lyric suite of prose poems that employ elements of the first-person journal entry against that of the letter-poem, offering observation, memory, introspection and an immediacy that brings one right into the action of her sentences. She writes of violence, love, family and loss, a childhood of rebellion and survival, a flurry of impulse, heartbreak and outcomes deeply-felt. “My feet are unusually narrow. I can run a long distance at a slow pace. I / have had past-life visions. In one I am hunting a boar in a dense jungle. / In another I am running with a baby in one arm wrapped in a brown / blanket. We are close to death. In a field of ice. In the long neck of a / dream.” The poems run from direct statement and stories retold into abstract, lyric layerings, and is structured as a curious kind of call-and-response, as every page an opening call paired with a response directly to “Marshall.” Who is Marshall? Given the rhetorical aspect of the letter-poem, it might not be as important who Marshall is or was, but what and how she writes to him. […]

Sweeney’s poems are first-person declarations that attempt to place herself, to centre herself in a collage of experience, situations and potential chaos, shaping the chaos into a particular kind of order. “I am a sentence made of two icy twigs. Of splintered afterthought. I’m / at the airport again. The wall of windows, a stanza.” She weaves in a collage of pilfered lines, lived experiences, questions and observations into a coherent line, working a shape of the world in which she exists. This book-length poem, this book-length suite of poems, read as a journal of accumulated sentences shaped as a way to write one’s way into being, into becoming; to write through and beyond the unsettled past and present into a less uncertain future.

rob mclennan, Heather Sweeney, Dear Marshall, Language Is Our Only Wilderness

With the pandemic now (arguably) in its 8th month, I’ve been noticing lots of talk about books on social media. It looks like reading is enjoying a boom and that’s a good thing! In the past few months, though, I find that my reading choices are pickier than usual. Memoirs and Poetry are probably my favorite genres but I have loved a good dystopian novel (read Blindness by Jose Saramago or Station Eleven by Emily St. Mandel). However, I seem to have lost my taste for the dystopian in books and in tv. When I try to read or watch, I get a lump in my stomach and have to stop. It got me wondering if anyone else is feeling this way and if the pandemic has affected others similarly. I’m always interested in what others are reading so I thought I’d ask some of my writer friends what books they’ve read this year that they’d recommend for pandemic reading and why. I’m curious if the pandemic has influenced what they (and you) prefer right now – immersion in the dystopian or maybe something more soothing. Here’s what they said. [Click through to read recommendations from Candace Hartsuyker, Meagan Lucas, Paul Crenshaw, Dorianne Laux, Exodus Brownlow, and Robert Okaji.]

Charlotte Hamrick, Pandemic Reading: Writers Share Their Picks

I recently watched Free Solo, that documentary of a man’s extraordinary un-roped ascent up El Capitan. Before I saw the movie, if I thought of his journey at all, I just that “wow, that’s nuts.” I had somehow not expected the amazing preparations he made, both with his body, and certainly with his mind, but also the carefully mapped, hold by hold, route, which he practiced roped again and again until he had every move internalized. Certainly this was a tale of an internal journey, for sure, both into his certainty that he could do it, but also, I think most significantly, when he was able to say, cameras trained on him, partway up the wall face, “No. This is not the day for this.” And called it off and went back down, knowing he’d have to wait another six months to try again, knowing he was tangling up the film producer and his crew as well. But when he finally did the ascent, he knew every move so well, he went surely and rapidly right up the face in a scant few hours with no hesitation, as a strange dance with the wall. It was indeed a kind of choreography he created.

I thought of this movie in contrast to the “journeys” described by two poet friends of mine who got it into their heads to each write a heroic crown of sonnets — that is 14 sonnets of 14 lines each, the 14th of which contains the first lines of each of the previous sonnets. Or something like that. Wow, that’s nuts.

But what struck me, in contrast to Free Solo, was how each of them talked about the great unknowns of their journeys, every step being felt out in the dark. They said things like “I thought I was going to start in this way, but then decided to try this other way” or “I thought I was writing about this thing, but the more I got into the unfolding of the poems the more I realized I was writing about this other thing entirely.”

Marilyn McCabe, Lazy days, Sunday afternoon; or, On Artistic Journeys

I’ve been carrying a moment of self-consciousness since I read the galleys for my most recent book. (Not that recent, I’m afraid). The translator wrote an essay on how he experienced my development as a writer. He labeled the (then) new work as “late period”.

It was a little like reading my own obituary (flattering as it was). And I feared it would trip me up. And it has.

I wrote Friday that nothing has to try to grow. And today I’m thinking that trying to grow is counter-productive. It’s the tennis player suddenly thinking about her strong backhand, and losing it in the analysis.

I can’t speak for others, but I believe art is created through a practice of wu-wei: art as process and experience, not as product and commodity. And this kind of practice is such a far cry from the zeitgeist of knowing one’s passion/calling/brand.

I spent so many years studying craft. Only to find that my best writing is without craft.

Every time I begin to analyse my process, it stops – usually in a cloud of self-consciousness and shame. A woman once commented on my blog after I had begun writing again: “I was wondering where that woman went who wrote letters to her friends.”

Ren Powell, Amor Fati as Ars Poetic

[AW] One of the things that fascinates me about spiritual practice is the ways in which form lies at the heart of worship. We can find form in the instructions for Islamic prayer, in Communion rituals, and in meditation practice. I’m curious as to whether the formal aspects of Christian practice connect in some way to your love of the sestina form.

[EK] I hadn’t thought about that connection. I didn’t grow up with a lot of rituals, but they are valuable to me now. I didn’t grow up celebrating Lent, but it is something I practice as an adult. Something fascinating about Lent is that you can just fast from certain things, such a sugar, or add a practice during Lent. That would be a wonderful exercise as a poet- to fast from something commonly used, or to add something for a period of time.  For me, I could abstain from writing in first person, or add an image from nature in each poem.

 I recently started practicing TaeKwonDo, which has form. My instructor said that no one would use form during a fight, but it is about practicing the movement and creating muscle memory. Form can be considered an exercise to make us stronger writers. I recommend The Poetry Dictionary by John Drury because it defines many forms and other poetry terms.

What I love about form is that it prevents poets from just bleeding into the page.  The sestina is my favorite because it creates a theme with the repeated words, but it is subtle enough that the reader doesn’t anticipate the next line. Ezra Pound said the sestina is “a thin sheet of flame folding and infolding upon itself.”

Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: what mothers withhold by Elizabeth Kropf

finally
in this book of chinese poets
ancient to modern i find
one born the same year as me
and still alive
i feel vindicated
but why
for we are worlds apart
he is on a mountain
i am still in a dark valley
for i have not swallowed blood

Jim Young, i simply cannot did not

Someone shakes drops of gin
on the ground and claps
like a bridegroom signaling
to start the dance.
This will go on for days,
for what is elegy but
the muffled sound of marching
along the old road that goes
down to the sea: no one
left to look out of windows,
willow fronds quiet until
the mourners start singing.

Luisa A. Igloria, Honras a los muertos

Whatever happens next week, and I hope what happens will bring us before and into some great and formidable wedge of light, leaving us blinking and gasping, whatever happens, we will need to adjust our eyes. We’ll need to continue refining our seeing. We’ll be squinting as we come into the light, or closing our eyes a little as the darkness shudders. Which perhaps sounds dramatic. So be it.

Four years ago I was listening to the then new Leonard Cohen album, You Want it Darker. It seems like yesterday, it seems like 12000 years ago. We know the darkness now in thousands of different ways though we would rather that we didn’t.

Shawna Lemay, To Go in the Dark

I always forget how dried beans swell.
They start as tiny stones in my hand

but after an overnight salt water soak
they fill my red bowl to overflowing.

This week I revise them into posole —
it’s meant to include hominy, but

in these pandemic times we all learn
to make do. I curl my tongue around

ancho and pasilla, remembering the music
of your lushly-swirled double ll’s.

Raisiny peppers soften and come apart.
I want to blend into a chord like that.

Rachel Barenblat, Soup

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 41

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week the poetry blogosphere was a bit quieter that it had been the preceding week, but Louise Glück’s selection for the Nobel Prize certainly created a stir. I’ve scattered reactions to her win throughout what I’d hoped might seem a rather miscellaneous gathering, trying for once just to post things at random and not impose too much order. Of course I failed miserably.


where will they scatter the blue dust of earth

Grant Hackett [no title]

These days I’ve no interest in writing memoir. I have kept a journal since I was ten years old, and that constitutes enough self-indulgent scribbling on its own. I treasure, however, the practice all that writing gave me: practice in constructing sentences, employing vocabulary words, creating metaphors, using punctuation in various ways, expressing abstract ideas and describing concrete objects. Writing, learning to write, critique, and revision have been immensely valuable to me.

I’m not sure who I would be if I hadn’t been constantly writing (and reading). Maybe I’d have been a contemplative.

~~

All of which is to report to my readers, who may be experiencing their own obstacles to their art, that –yes– the writing continues in the face of loss and grief, anxiety, and the work of the body in the world, in the mundane spaces of daily grind and in the wakeful hours, and in the containers of dreamwork and consciousness. Right now, the writing is not “good,” not crafted, aware of itself, ready to speak to others than the self. It is, at present, more akin to what the Buddhists call practice.

Ann E. Michael, Practicing

Gluck was something from the past, and definitely an influence on the work I was writing then and probably for the next four years.   It was unfashionable to say, particularly in my program, that you loved Gluck, and yet, I regularly found poets out in the wild who professed their love for her work and would continue to. I feel like, stylistics aside, the experimental poetry world (i.e. the male poetry world if we’re getting specific) has a particular vitriol toward Gluck, which I never really understood, and now, as the news spreads of the Nobel, are rustling restlessly with their keyboards.  Admittedly, I was surprised they’d chosen a poet so very white in the current world where everyone else is making strides in recognizing POC, but I don’t think that’s the angle these criticisms stem from.  I once heard a male poet dismiss Gluck as a “flower poet” and fumed for days. My chief criticism is the poems are a little too tidy and heavy handed.  Constantly moving the reader toward epiphany tied neatly with a bow. She wields this more adeptly than other poets of her generation (particularly male) but she still wields it. 

I do not write those sorts of poems–not anymore–but I can see the value in work–the strands that are still woven in how I learned to make poems.  

Kristy Bowen, not the moon | gluck and poetic foremothers

squirrels in the roof
sloe gin in my cupboard
the most terrible quarrels

a cull of the poets
we are drowning
in the quagmire of online art

Ama Bolton, ABCD October 2020

My new chapbook, Tropospheric Clouds is now out from Adjunct Press, of Milwaukee (who have done a wonderful job of it).

Info: Tropospheric Clouds gives fragmented images that seem to be dispatched from a larger and elaborate narrative world. The poet is a multiplied character separated from the world. Rather than being presented in the Romantic cringe mysticism, here the separation of the poet is seen as a cloistering or perhaps a sense of imprisonment by vocation. The poet-as-seer image is cut again when the legitimacy-creating obscurity is saved only by publication. Tropospheric Clouds uses the unseen narrative to show the idea of the poet vocation within the reality of profession.

Michael Begnal, New Chapbook: Tropospheric Clouds

I go further and further into it, broken and silent, ‘struggling to keep hold’ of memories, words, phrases from the funeral. Did we do a good job, did I do a good job? Was she pleased with what I said?

The new term hurtles on. Already we have finished week 3, week 4 comes crashing towards us like a train. Where is the breathing space? Where can I find a moment to sit and just be?

My desk looks like a bomb site. There are at least four important letters I need to reply to. I sit down to make a list of what needs remembering for the but my mind just blinks at the page.

No one warned me that grief would be like this, its lonely lack of focus. Its unmemory. I think ‘How can a body withstand this?’ I cup her face between my hands. Her laughter. Her smile. I will love again.

Anthony Wilson, The Thing Is

The calendar I picked for 2020 offers beautiful tree-themed art for each month. And like everyone else’s calendar, it lies. I no longer even cross off what’s cancelled. Why bother, when there’s nothing to add in its place? Looking at it I imagine another me, in a parallel universe, doing those scheduled things. My other self doesn’t appreciate them nearly enough. She complains about being rushed, about traffic, about long lines. She vows to slow down and appreciate the moment. When she does she notices new things while stuck in traffic, enjoys the faces of people standing in line, savors more fully the pleasure of a porch chair after a long day. But she’s not always so mindful.

None of us could have imagined the year we’re in. Time takes on a different dimension when so many people have died and so many are suffering. We can’t help but sink more deeply into these hours of ours.

My calendar hangs by my desk, beautiful and useless. Time’s measure no longer fits on its pages. 

Laura Grace Weldon, Empty Calendar

conflagration 
the promises of summer
in falling leaves

Jim Young [no title]

I was up at 5:30 this morning, fretting about the political scene, finally getting out of bed and stumbling to my writing desk.

I finished the review I’ve been trying to write for months, revised a poem, and queried one more agent, regarding my mystery novel. I was typing today’s date, 10.8.20, when I remembered that today is my mother’s birthday. Or, as we say when someone has passed, today is the anniversary of her birth.

Since Mom’s death, on October 12, 2018, I’ve written a lot of poems that seem to be about her. Even this week, writing about two great blue herons on a dock, I was drawing from the memory of a walk I took after visiting Mom at her skilled-nursing facility. The poem felt shot-through with her presence.

Mom and I had a lot of differences. Setting up her apartment after she moved from the farmhouse, I would set out her knick knacks and pictures so they were asymmetrical. I like triangles, staggered lines, angles. She would come behind me and straighten everything to be evenly balanced and straight across.

Mom was proud of  me, I think, but she didn’t understand my choice to become educated and we could never talk about it. She thought being a teacher was a good thing. But I had overdone it, getting a Ph.D. in literature. It seemed like a waste of money to her that we were saving for our daughters’ higher education. “College has ruined your mind,” she said to me once.

Bethany Reid, Happy Birthday, Mom

–We had a debate with vice presidential candidates, a debate which was better than the presidential debate, but many of us will most remember that fly on Mike Pence’s head.  I will remember Kamala Harris saying variations of this phrase, “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking.”  It made me want to assemble a directory of womanist separatist communes–or maybe start such a commune.  And you might think it’s abnormal for a woman happily married to a man to feel that way, but I am fairly sure it isn’t.

–When I create my ideal womanist/feminist separatist commune, will I allow men?  Perhaps.  I’m using separatist fairly generally–I want to separate from many things in our patriarchal culture.  But that’s a subject for another day.

–It’s been a week of good news when it comes to recognizing women.  The Nobel Prizes went to women:  for Chemistry, for Physics, for Literature.  The MacArthur Fellows were announced, and I was so happy to see Tressie McMillan Cottom, N. K. Jemisin, and Jacqueline Woodson on the list.  You can “meet” all the Fellows here.

–I’ve also been happy to see attention given to Maggie Smith’s new book Keep Moving (see NPR radio interview here and Slate article here).  I keep expecting to feel jealous, but I don’t.  On the contrary, I’m happy to see a poet like her succeed.  I am also not jealous of Louise Gluck, our newest Nobel Laureate.  Both women have been more focused than I have of late.  Both women write poetry I love–so I’m happy to see them get success.  And even if Maggie Smith is getting publicity for her newest book, which is not a poetry book, I’m happy.  I like to see the many ways we could succeed as writers.  I like the reminder that all is not lost.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Week of Womanist/Feminist Challenges and Triumphs

I was interested to read Jonathan Jones’s Guardian review of the Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition at the National Gallery. It’s an important show, which rightly seeks to claim Gentileschi’s ‘greatness’, as Jones calls it, as a woman artist among the traditional pantheon of almost exclusively male painters.

The physicality of her painting of ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ reminds me of another rendering of the same story, by another great artist, the poet Vicki Feaver: her Forward-Prize-winning poem ‘Judith’, from her essential 1994 collection The Handless Maiden, which strikes a perfect balance between the sensuality and calculated violence of this tale from the Apocrypha.

As a poet, Feaver has the advantage of including a back-story of motive for the murder; Gentileschi, of course, is unable to do that, but her own motivation, outlined by Jones, clearly informs the unflinching manner of her depiction. Ultimately, the result is more-or-less the same: Gentileschi shows us blood dripping from Holofernes’s neck and a look of terror on his face, and Feaver likewise ends her poem, in an half-rhymed couplet, with the brutal truth:

                      And I bring my blade
down on his neck – and it’s easy
like slicing through fish.
And I bring it down again,
cleaving the bone.

Matthew Paul, Judith

I can’t leave Montreal, at least until the end of the month, because a new lockdown was imposed on October 1, so there is no question of driving out into the country to see the fall foliage, visiting a natural area, or going apple picking, let alone visiting Vermont or the Adirondacks. I’m fortunate to be able to see trees and fall color from my window, and to have begonias, geraniums, nasturtiums and sweet peas blooming on our terrace, but I still have a persistent sense of being trapped — as so many of us do.

It helps to turn to images of places I love. A couple of weeks ago I re-explored a garden we visited at the Ex Convento del Carmen (former Carmelite convent) in the Mexico City suburb of San Angel, and made a few drawings and watercolor sketches. […]

As you can probably see, these watercolors are getting looser, less realistic, and more expressive — but often I still do a fairly realistic black-and-white drawing first to work out the shapes and compositional relationships — plus, I just like to draw. There are few activities that feel more absorbing, and even though I’ve done it all my life, it always feels like magic to start with a blank sheet of paper and end up with a representation of something observed and a record of that particular time and place and state of mind.

Drawing, more than any other art activity, also connects me to all the artists who’ve filled sketchbooks and made drawings. I feel my eyes travel from the object to the paper and back again, without much conscious thinking, as my hand somehow — I don’t pretend to understand it — translates that seeing into lines and forms. Even when the drawing doesn’t come out particularly well, it still seems like a little quiet miracle that human beings try to do this, and have always done it: “I sat here, I was still, I looked, I used my hands and eyes and made this.” Maybe there’s some hope for us after all.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 41. Searching the Landscape

I think my cat was perplexed. He has grown accustomed to me leading services from the dining room table: the laptop, my microphone, perhaps a pair of Shabbat or festival candles lit on the table beside me, lots of singing.

These days when I daven from the table, he looks up briefly from his favorite perch on the cat tree and then returns to napping. But he has never seen me dance around the room holding a big metal-bound Tanakh encrusted with gems. 

I don’t have a Torah scroll at home, so I danced with the big metal-bound Tanakh that used to belong to my parents. I waltzed with it; I spun around in circles with it; I danced with it in a circumnambulation of the room; I cradled it like a baby in my arms. 

Seven songs, seven poems, seven hakafot. Evoking the seven days of the first week, and the seven “lower sefirot” or qualities that we share with our Creator from lovingkindness to boundaries and strength all the way to presence and Shechinah.

I thrilled to the secret heart revealed when we go from the end of Torah directly to her beginning, from loss to starting over, from lamed to bet. I opened my Tanakh to a random word and from that word I gave myself a blessing.

And then I went to bed, and I slept the sleep of the overtired rabbi and elementary school parent who could finally relax into knowing that the work of this long, challenging (and this year, pandemic-unprecedented) holy season was done.

Rachel Barenblat, A Simchat Torah like no other

I have an uneasy relationship with prompts. I can’t trust the whole set-up, because sometimes they work: I drop into some strange space of utterance and up bubbles things strange and fantastic; and sometimes they don’t, and I’m clutching my pen and strangling the empty page with grabby fingers of text.

It has something to do with breathing. No. It has something to do with attention. No. Is it in the set of my jaw? Should I squint my eyes? The whole enterprise seems impossible. Except when it’s glorious.

If the effort toward writing from a prompt seems too effort-full, the only thing to do is walk away. Go yank weeds or walk or lately I’ve been taking objects and slathering them with blue paint and dragging them across paper. A bottle cap. The red mesh that onions come in. A stick. Good fun.

Marilyn McCabe, All the noise noise noise; or, On Writing from Prompts

There is an interview on On Being with Jericho Brown where he says, “Poems have to make our lives clear. Poems have to make our lives real on the page. And nobody’s living an easy life. Nobody’s living a life that is anything other than complex. And there are things about our lives that TV’s not going to give us, that movies, even, are not going to give us. And poems are where I go for that. That’s where I go for the complexity, the thing in us that we don’t really understand.” What I want is the complexity and powerful possibilities that a poem or poetic language can give us. What we know right now is as Brown says, “Nobody’s living a life that is anything other than complex.” So I want to give thanks for that thought, and acknowledge how complex life is for so many people. And I also want to give thanks for the space of a poem, how full it can be, even when it seems thinned out, spare, careful. How wild a poem can be in and of itself, and how it can surprise us and delight us and guide us to a wholeness in ourselves.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, and it feels more important than ever to acknowledge the complicated history of the holiday. A lot of us have cancelled get-togethers due to Covid-19 concerns which feels like a small sacrifice. I’m asking myself, what do I have to share, who can I donate to, since we won’t be spending money making a big meal. So that’s one place to start on a day where we give thanks.

Shawna Lemay, Poems for Giving Thanks, Praise, and Comfort

Los Angeles poet Tanya Holtland’s stunning full-length poetry debut is Requisite (England: Platypus Press, 2020), a lyric suite constructed as a quartet on, as she writes in her preface, “spiritual ecology,” and the ways in which we are interconnected to the physical and natural world. There is a meditative precision to Holtland’s lyrics, finely-honed with the ease of a quick sketch, but one that also knows how to pull apart the minutae of an idea, to stretch it across an expansive canvas. There are elements of Holtland’s ability to accumulate poems into sections and sections into a full-length whole that provide comparisons to the work of her partner, the poet Hailey Higdon. In Holtland’s 2019 essay for “my (small press) writing day,” she hinted at such a cross-influence between the two, a pair of writers occupying similar physical and emotional space: “To say that we influence each other as writers is understated only by what we influence in the larger field of each other’s lives.” Whereas I’ve long understood Higdon’s poems to exist in groupings that slowly reveal their interconnectedness (such as through the publication of her 2019 debut full-length collection Hard Some [see my review of such here]), Holtland’s work through this collection, as well, exists as a detailed suite of individual poems that, together, pattern to reveal their larger coherence. […]

Holtland’s ecopoetic exists in start contrast to many other examples I’ve seen in the same vein: there is a reverence, but her lyric exists simultaneously at the level of the sequence, the fragment, the word. Even the smallest unit contains the whole in a way that is reminiscent of, say, Fanny Howe or Sylvia Legris. Her poems fragment and fractal, and accumulate in a singular direction. “If the impulse to expand comes to fight a hard rain,” she writes, as part of “Fated,” “remember // the curve of the earth / comes to meet you, / to the smallest / portion of the soul.” 

There is such a wonderful, careful complexity to Holtland’s lyric meditations, setting pause against pause. She holds, she halts, she slowly pieces together. For Holtland, place is not simply being or landscape but an all-encompassing entity of which we are an important part, and even moreso, given the incredible amount of damage we have inflicted upon it. Holtland holds her distances against ours, and our distances against the ether.

rob mclennan, Tanya Holtland, Requisite

I was pleased to hear that Louise Glück has won the Nobel Prize, as the championing of her work can only encourage non-readers of contemporary poetry to realise that the genre offers multiple interpretations beyond their preconceived expectations. However, I was struck by a quote from Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel committee, which read as follows:

Even if her autobiographical background is significant in her works, she is not to be regarded as a confessional poet. She seeks universality…

The above statement is unfortunate, to say the least. It perpetuates numerous fallacies. For a start, no poem can ever be fully defined as autobiographical or confessional, even if the poet in question were to claim such a status or label. This is because role playing always becomes a factor once the creative process is set in motion.

And then there’s the absurd implication (beyond reference to Glück herself) that a poet is somehow barred from universal appeal if their poetry is also partly autobiographical or confessional in its point of departure. How many of the greats would that rule out? Such a claim would definitely cast aspersions over certain previous winners of the same award!

All in all, Glúck’s win is excellent news, but its annoucement was couched in terms that could at the very least be interpreted as critical shortcuts. Her poetry and the genre in general both deserve a more nuanced understanding of the role of autobiography in any and every poem.

Matthew Stewart, Universality (on Louise Glück and the Nobel Prize)

The pure clarity of certain dreams, how they drive us across night’s dark distances, change fury into feathers, the unbloomed into overbrimming wonder.

Myrrh, melody, wings, waterwheels.

Those dreams carousel and uncrush, motor and unmurder.

They crystallize doubt into diamond, leave our fingerprints on the wind as we drift down highways of after-midnight sleep.

Rich Ferguson, When Hitchhiking Dream’s Highway

The pine smelled so sweet and sharp this morning. Somewhere near my solar plexus I felt a heaviness like guilt. I know it must smell this pronounced because the trees have been freshly cut. It’s not the smell of death – but of wounds. I’ve had wounds myself before that have wept, clear and sticky. I should have enough compassion for the trees not to be drawn to this smell. But I inhaled so deeply I had to stop running.

I exhale melancholy.

Someone had raked together all the long, dead branches and placed them around the bases of individual trees. E. told me that it’s a kind of slow fertilizing process. But I think the trees look as vulnerable as martyrs waiting for the flames.

I exhale anxiety.

My mind wanders on these forest runs and it isn’t always easy to sort what to take, and what to leave in the forest. Today I took home four fallen leaves home to make paste paper for chapbook covers. I took home a photo of an abandoned boot someone placed on a tree stump. I took home the reminder that this body is aging and mortal, that each day is made more precious with that knowledge.

I wonder what I leave after these runs? Footprints, certainly. Carbon dioxide.

I wonder if we shed dark matter in our wake, just as we shed bits of DNA.

I wonder if the blackbirds that overwinter here are disturbed by my having been present with them.

*

We talk about breath being life: inhaling, exhaling. But the pauses between – the effortless moments of waiting – without a glottal stop – are as integral to the flow of life, as death. Or is death, rather, is the hum of existence beyond this constellation of atoms.

These breathless, lifeless pauses are where we touch the dark matter of the universe – these are what is expressed in the leaps in our poetry.

Ren Powell, What You Find in the Forest

Don’t think I don’t
see you, trees,

talking with the stars
all night, the stars

telling you how to
say steady

against this
sadness. The wind

has nothing
it wishes to add.

Tom Montag, DON’T THINK I DON’T

I never put my hoses away, lazy man,
They lay wherever I drop them.
I never bother to remember where either.
I have spent my life walking around
Looking for the far end of hoses.
I imagine finches watching me, or raccoons,
All of them thinking me a fool —
Stupid man! He should put the hoses away!
Well, to hell with them all.
I don’t have feathers or fur,
And I don’t go around judging people
With poems on their minds.

James Lee Jobe, Looking for the far end of hoses.

Only the 16th woman EVER to win the Nobel in Literature, and an American Poet at that, this can be nothing but good news for American Poetry. Of course, I’ve been a fan every since I saw her read in my twenties in Cincinnati from Meadowlands. I took my little brother, then 17, and a few of his scruffier friends to the reading, and to my surprise, they all enjoyed it. My little brother went up to her after the reading and complimented her shoes. She must have been about the age I am now, 47, at the time, and she just lit up.

Also, think of this what you will, but Louise Glück taught me, along with Margaret Atwood and Lucille Clifton, what it meant to write the villainess. I will always owe them a debt, in my writing and my life.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Good News: A Poem in Boulevard, Louise Glück Wins the Nobel Prize, Our Book Giveaway Winner, and an October of Uncertainty

Before she dies, her offerings
slip into pockets called galls.
When it’s time,

these pods will release
her children so they can start
the cycle all over again: the males,
wingless and blind, will mate with
their sisters before carving for them

a path out of the garden. Most males
die before they themselves reach the gate.
But the females who make it out follow
the wind’s warm scent, tracking down
the next tree with fruit

that must be nudged to full ripeness
by these small offerings of death.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Apple May Not Have Been the Forbidden Fruit

I’ve been learning that grieving can be a long time coming. Or maybe that it’s a thing that’s never really done.

I have a recurring dream in which I’ve lost a season. It’s usually a spring dream, and–somehow, impossibly–it’s the end of summer. But, wait, I’ll think in the dream. It can’t be time to go back to school. Where did the summer go? I’ll think of all the things I wanted and didn’t get to do, and I feel panicky and cheated. Then I’ll realize I’m dreaming, and that I have not, in fact, lost the summer, and relief washes over me. One day in Grace’s last week here, I got disoriented about where I was in time, the way I do in the dream. For a moment, I lost what season we are in. Something made me feel like it was still summer, and I had to tell myself: No, it’s October. It’s not summer any more. But then it felt like it couldn’t be October, because I hadn’t really had summer, just like in the dream.

I understand my confusion. The whole summer felt like a bubble in which we were all suspended in some time out of time. Having my daughter back in the ways I did, after having earlier let her go, while we both prepared ourselves for what’s coming next, felt like simultaneously living in the past, present, and future. Where were we in time? Who were we? Everywhere and nowhere. Everyone we’ve ever been and no one we’ve ever been and everyone we’ll someday be.

The day she left was unseasonably warm. After returning from the airport, I pulled spent tomato plants from their box and filled the compost bin with cedar branches Cane had trimmed from the tree that overhangs my shed, sweating in the sun. That evening, I sat on a front porch with friends and we talked how we might continue to safely meet when the nights turn cold. It felt like a summer night.

But, the next morning I woke to rain and dark skies. The patio furniture was soaked when I put the dogs out to pee, and they stepped gingerly on the wet pavement. The power flickered off and then on again, while I worked on these words, and just like that, the season had undeniably changed.

I hated to let it go. I knew I had no choice.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A rambling meditation on time, grief, impermanence, children, love, etc.