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.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 39

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 brought the equinox, and with it, undeniable autumn to the northern hemisphere. We saw the death of a liberal lion on the US Supreme Court, and a spoken-word poet named Brandon Leake won Season 15 of America’s Got Talent. (I learned this latter fact from James Lee Jobe’s blog.) It’s a strange and perilous time, but it’s also autumn, and therefore still full of tantalizing possibilities. One’s nostrils may prickle. Things are in a literal as well as figurative ferment.


You look outside. From across the city a train makes its train noise, simultaneously sounding alluring and distant. I wonder how many people are on it. I look outside. It is Autumn. The dog is happy, madly chasing around the garden after an apple leaf. She is only a puppy, at the start of everything. A car slides by the house on the wet road. The dog yaps after it, chases another leaf, then growls for no reason under her breath at something only she can see in the gathering gloom. I go outside to find her. Already it is autumn, just past five o’clock. Time to feed her, I think. I pick her up, cuddle her close in the stiffening breeze. Let’s do this together, I say, to myself or her, I am not sure. Let’s go into this together, this grief, this house, this beautiful space, where the lights are on, where it is warm, where we are safe in the black panes, our lives reflected back to us.

Anthony Wilson, Autumn

I have been trying, not entirely successfully, to wrap my head around all that’s swirling around us in 2020. There’s the pandemic, of course, and there’s the resurgence of Black Lives Matter–both, to my mind, more than worthy of our attention. Then wildfires, extreme weather, climate change hit the news headlines, and the furor over the coming election becomes even more heated.

With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death, the political turmoil that our country is going through seems even more exaggerated, and more divided. Because many people in my family of origin are on the opposite side of this divide from me, all of it is a source of deep, personal anguish.

I try to read widely and deeply, to think my own thoughts and be clear about what I believe. But, under these circumstances, it gets murky and I am as apt as anyone to lose my way.

“Why be a poet now?” I asked a friend. “What’s the point?” She said, “If RBG were a poet, she’d be the best damn poet. That’s what you should do.”

This morning I read this tribute in The Seattle Times, “Clerking for Justice Ginsberg We Learned about Law–and Love,” by Miriam Seifter and Robert Yablon. It says it all:

“The justice kept up her relentless pace because she believed in her work and in doing the job right.”

Bethany Reid, #notoriousrbg

word sews my eyes shut
swollen, water cannot escape
fast enough it backs up in flood
an ice-dam broken in fire & light
sears, migraine blowing apart
the seams of sleep & day the body
entirely unclear how to traverse
such chasms & the crazy & the true

JJS, (the until now avoided)

should i delight in the occasion or search for another chaos

should i feed the mist

should i flood

Grant Hackett [no title]

The first leaves are beginning to turn here in Montreal, though it will be another month before they’ve fallen. The air and especially the nights are chilly, but the sun is bright and warm. Spending some time with these nasturtiums cheered me up. I look at my cat and realize she is just living in each moment; the nasturtiums, like the lilies of the field, “neither toil nor spin”, and they certainly have way less awareness than the cat, but are simply beautiful for their brief lives. The other day, during a visit to a national park near the city, we had an encounter with a doe grazing in the forest: she reminded me of the deer on this little Greek pot.

Obviously we must try to protect the life on our planet, and each other, and work toward governmental responsibility and change, but we also need to take care of ourselves and find ways to take breaks from the spinning, obsessive anxiety that is so pervasive right now. No one can live, and certainly not contribute to solutions, within a constant barrage of negativity and anxiety. So I need these moments, which remind me how much of life is still beautiful, graceful, and quiet.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 39. Deer and Nasturtiums

Fall again, and even in this strange year, I am still  delighting in the work that I am just now digging into from this year’s submissions pool. Since I haven’t been able to read much at all with pandemic brain, I am moving slowly, but still moving nonetheless. Sometimes I feel capable and productive.  Sometimes I feel like I am drowning.  That it is all too much.  Not the work or the press, but more the mental real estate I feel is crushing me sometimes. How can I think about this and this when there is that, and oh god, now THAT?  But from everyone I talk to, it’s a common feeling, so I sit tight and wait until it passes.  And it usually does. 

I’ve spent a considerable part of this summer holding off new releases in order to wrangle the orders from the earlier part of the year into something manageable. Since I can’t keep much inventory in the small space I now work in since leaving the studio, most books, except very new ones are print-on-demand, so the lags were getting to be a bit unruly, especially for older material. Thankfully, a slightly lighter schedule this year has been a godsend during the pandemic, since I’m not sure I’d be able to function to keep things going at their usual pace, which was always hectic, even when my mind was better capable of dealing with it. 

But then again, I remind myself the import of the work in this world.  Especially now, when it seems least important while everything is chaos and sadness. It is just poetry and poetry is a very little fish in a sea.  But when you are in the fish, it feels gigantic.  Or something like that. This was not the year I planned so hopefully in my little planner so smugly organized  in January, but it is the year we got nevertheless. I am still going to try to salvage or savor as much of it as I can. 

Kristy Bowen, dancing girl press notes | september 2020

During lockdown, I started a new Instagram account called andothermakings where I’ve posted some of my visual poems, experiments with collage and assemblage, and various dabblings with word and image.

Last week, I was provoked to add new pieces to the account, mainly because I didn’t know how else to express my exasperation with the incompetence, duplicity and shamelessness of the current UK government […]

I’m still developing and experimenting with my collage work. I use natural materials when possible as a means of connection with the natural world and as a memo to myself about its vulnerability. Everything is connected.

Josephine Corcoran, Collages of Exasperation

Sometimes I have to search
out life amongst the loss:
the shattered trunk slowly
returning to its source; the scent
of moss; what persists
in these fallen branches.
Because what is hollow
can always be filled.
Today that will be enough.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Enough

You couldn’t ask for a more socially distanced, more star-studded venue in which to view art than Storm King, the famous sculpture park in New York’s Hudson Valley. You can wander the 500 acres – 500! – of this pastoral estate, see milkweed pods caught in sharp points of grass, grand allées of arbres, watch circling hawks – and boom, before you is a grand Calder, posing all kinds of questions, in its kinetic poise, about human possibility. I always feel the big heart of a circus performer in Calder’s sculpture, which is one reason why I love him.

Storm King puts a lot on the platter: in its early incarnation, the question might have been how do industrial “waste” and manly engineering coexist in the natural environment. Now, in the Anthropocene, we might ask if a “natural” environment even exists without its man-made face.

Such is sculpture that exists in space, in time. Are heroics poignantly passé? Is the immense piece of Alexander Liberman called “Adonai,” made of on- and off-again balanced gas cannisters, arrogant, the title a touch dismissive, though he insists it was random? After all, this is an era where an invisible virus has changed our entire landscape. Is a Lichtenstein mermaid against a blue-draped mountainscape worth seeing? Absolutely.

Jill Pearlman, Storm King (Art in the Time of Covid)

I was out walking the dog this evening, clear blue skies, still warm enough to be wearing a t-shirt, when I came across this cobweb, tatted with thistle and rosebay willow herb seeds. It felt like I’d stumbled on a miniature piece by Andy Goldsworthy. Early this morning there was so much mist across the fields I would hardly have seen it. Of course, tomorrow is the Autumn Equinox, and the weather is set to turn colder by the middle of the week. This was part of the reason I took my camera with me today. I wanted to capture a few images before the weather changes. Hopefully they give a sense of the summer’s end.

crossing the brook
lark song seeding
the fallow field

Julie Mellor, Equinox

Online at YourDictionary.com, I found the most concise definition of crickets:

(US slang, humorous or derisive) Absolute silence; no communication. Derived from the cinematic metaphor of chirping crickets at night, signaling (otherwise) complete quiet. May be used alone or in metaphorically descriptive phrases.

I love that this definition suggests the term derives from movies! I love that it’s a metaphor! And, of course, I love that crickets make sounds–so in actuality the analogy stems not from absolute silence but from the absence of, I suppose, a human-language response.

This time of year at my meadow, the crickets still thrive and make noise even as the cooler nights begin to slow their calls. I hear the order Oecanthinae (tree crickets) from on high in the tree canopy and the order Gryllus (field crickets)–slightly lower in pitch–creak-cricking amid the goldenrod and sedge.

Then I stop and consider all the thrumming, crashing, screaming, irritating, beeping, blasting, babbling noise humans make in the world. Even when we feel joyful, words and enough noise to make the head spin. A great din?

I think I choose crickets, for now.

Ann E. Michael, Crickets

An even tighter variation on the sonnet exists. Seymour Mayne calls it the “word sonnet”, but while I think they’re lovely, his work just isn’t in conversation with the sonnet form the way [Adrienne] Su and [Elizabeth] Bishop are (Mayne’s word sonnets feel much more like haiku). I wrote my own sonnet with one-word lines, after many tries, but keeping the rhyme scheme; it’s in The State She’s In and also included below. I ended up calling the form “occluded” because I wanted to draw attention to what was missing. Being so looked at as a young woman made me intensely uncomfortable, but the way middle age brings invisibility wasn’t entirely welcome either. Maybe that’s a turn behind rather than within the poem.

I write sonnets so often that I joke about having a sonnet problem; my words will suddenly start slant-rhyming on me then I’m riding the volta and grabbing at closure perhaps sooner than is always good for the work. But it’s fun to experiment with a form that so many people recognize because of all the conversations it raises, AND the rebellions it makes possible (and visible). It’s also fun to turn my mind to a small critical problem like this one after swimming in a novel draft all summer. Smallness can be a respite, a way of organizing attention that otherwise keeps wandering toward the political horrorshow.

I voted early at the local registrar’s office the other day, another small good thing. Writing prompt: vote (if you’re in the U.S.), then compose a fourteen-line poem about voting. It doesn’t have to use meter or rhyme, but make sure it contains a volta around line nine, a turn toward something better.

Occulted Sonnet

You
look,
crook
head
awry
to
elude
my

gaze.
Nobody
sees
me,
these
days.

Lesley Wheeler, Short-lined sonnets

~ after Lesley Wheeler

Is
it
one
syllable
or
two?
When
did

I (you)
last
really
speak
to
you (me)?

Luisa A. Igloria, Distilled Sonnet: Longing

I’m still trying to piece it together: to get it down in diagrammed sentences.
“I’ve always loved diagramming sentences.”
Dissecting thoughts.
Making them real.

It makes them comprehensible for a tender bit of heart
muscle that already accepts that everything falls
to pieces, then gathers like so many fishbones
and flows to the sea.

Ren Powell, An Anatomy of Grief

My garden is a gold splash of autumn, my favourite season. Apples thudding onto the unmowed grass, the buttery sun catching the red leaves of the maples. I have an urge to tidy and gather in supplies, inside and out, to finish harvesting my allotment and ready it for winter, to clear the flower beds of debris, to pack away tools for my winter hibernation. 

With words, I’ve been kicking through my poems like fallen leaves, noticing a gem here, a spoiled windfall there. I edit a line, I submit a few poems, slowly. There is no urgency with my work, though I know time is running short there as well. My course starts up again tomorrow, I have a book review due in a few days, but I layer words a few at a time, waiting for them to build up into some rich mélange. 

Gerry Stewart, Seasonal Changes

The autumn equinox came and went in a deluge of rain, bringing with it the anxiety of a fall with an important and scary election, doomscrolling, the increasing cold and dark, and for me, a bunch of rejections (because why not?)

Now I have decided to embrace fall, with its waning daylight, and increased need for sleep or hot chocolate and cider. I have embraced doing the things I can to decrease dread and panic. (Donations to political causes? Yes! Phone calls to friends who live across country? Yes! Reading books to increase empathy and resilience? Absolutely!) […]

Speaking of things that keep you sane…I saw a brand new bird here – a pair of scrub jays! They usually are up in mountains or farther away to the north, so I felt very lucky. I think the pair was a mother and juvenile because one kept begging to be fed! I also have some pictures of hummingbirds in the rain. We’ve had a lot of rainy days since the smoke, but we’re supposed to get some pleasant fall weather coming up this week. I think weather does affect my mood more than I like to think, though I’m hardly what you’d call the “outdoorsy” type. I’ve noticed my garden starting to wane, only dahlias and sunflowers and a few late roses left.

Last night our Ring camera captured a pair of black-tailed coyotes in the back yard. It’s not quite a bobcat, but a reminder that we live in a semi-wild place here. I’m going to make an effort this year to stay connected to nature even when the temptation is to stay inside.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Stepping into Fall (with Anxiety,) What Are You Reading, and New Bird Sightings

Yesterday, as I looked at a display of pumpkins in a supermarket endcap that had once held watermelons, I thought about the passage of seasons.  I thought about my response to fall, my yearning for an autumn that soon may only exist in old pictures:  hay rides, bonfires, cinnamon donuts, apple orchards, changing leaf colors.  

The King Tides are just as seasonal a marker, but it’s hard to imagine people feeling nostalgia for them when they leave or yearning for their return.  They seem much more menacing, as water swirls up from storm drains to flood the streets, a potent reminder of the planetary changes that we can often forget.

I say it’s tough to imagine nostalgia, but a child growing up who had a parent pull a kayak full of children through flooded streets, that child will certainly have a different set of memories.  I’m nostalgic for hay rides I rarely had–that child when grown may remember the King Tides fondly, the way that I have fondness for snow days.

Many of the children being born right now will have no first hand experience with snow.  That’s sobering to me, but only because I have a certain bias.    I view rising sea levels and raging wildfires as a symptom of planetary brokenness, but generations after me may not. I see apocalypse, but we’ll adapt, and future generations will have a different set of apocalyptic markers.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Seasonal Markers, Planetary Brokenness

All these parts of me: maybe when they yearn to be inside out, it’s more like they want you to be closer to me.

Oh, the many untraveled boulevards of us across which we seek safe passage.

Even if home is where you fake it until you make it your own,

I’ll always leave a welcome mat for you at the door of my breath.

Rich Ferguson, Does the Home Away From Home Know Its Way Home?

Where would we be without libraries? I know that just the very idea of the library being there, being open again, being active, gives people hope and comfort. So it is a big deal that amid everything the main library in my hometown opened their reimagined, revitalized, and stunningly beautiful downtown building. […]

Maybe I love these books because they remind me of the work of photographer Mickey Smith, and I own one of her small prints that I bought a thousand years ago titled “More Books.”

One thing I know is that I want to go back and sit with these books, the hum of them, the breathing of them. I want to try again to take their likeness, their ordinary bookish beauty. A portrait of a row of books can say so much about us all.

Shawna Lemay, Drifting Toward the Details

I’m a gobbler. I vacuum my meals, I gobble the pavement under my quick step, I whip-read such that I’m always having to reread because I went too fast to remember what I read. But I’ve had this book of poems now for several months and I love it so much I can only bear to read a few poems at a time. This rarely happens to me, and I’m so thrilled to have the experience, especially during the pandemic, when everything seems to have slowed down around me, and my brain too, stumbling and bleary.

The poems are imaginative, beautiful in all the ways of beauty, sometimes funny, always poignant, almost unbearably so — but in a very good way. Indeed Phil was filled with some holy spirit with these poems, so full are they of wild winds and homely wonder.

Every poem is entitled by the name of the god who is speaking: The God of Wisdom, The God of Snow, The God of Driving Alone in the Middle of the Night. And each god reveals itself in tercets of its thoughts in the form of epistles to a “you” who is we, we who are staggering in the created world.

Marilyn McCabe, There’s always something happening there; or, On Reading Phil Memmer’s Pantheon

I was stunned this week to find Hotel Almighty on The New York Times’ list of ‘New and Noteworthy’ poetry releases. I thought I was looking at a fake page. But there it was between Marge Piercy and Billy Collins. It’s particularly astounding considering the doomsday articles I have been reading about the overwhelming raft of books being published this month, which is dismaying for anyone with a new book. I was happy to have any attention at all.

Mostly I’ve been happy for the support of other poets buying and reading and posting about my book. That makes me glad. Much of the book’s appeal is that it’s different. And colorful.

Sarah J Sloat, New & Noteworthy

There’s nothing to say this week. I’ve continued my pre-work schedule of writing for about 30 – 45 minutes before switching to day job mode and I think it’s helping. I’ve made some progress on a couple of longer poems that have been hanging about for a while. I think the idea of the graft required to get them anywhere was subconsciously putting me off working on them, but nibbling away at them over the last two weeks has been quite restorative.

It’s interesting that it’s longer stuff that’s being worked on. I didn’t think I was a long poem kind of poet at all. The sustained level of thought didn’t seem like me at all, and perhaps it isn’t. The poems may well be shite, but I like the idea of a concise idea being spread out—if that’s not an oxymoron.

It’s also interesting in these times that it’s taken so long to get into a routine for myself; the work routine happened pretty much straightaway.

I think, for me, the end of summer and the return to school has shaken me out of the stupor a bit, made me accept the long haul of it all. There was a lovely quote from someone on an online research community for work that said something like, “At least if you’re in prison you know when you’re getting out pretty much to the day. Lockdown, etc isn’t like that – it’s the not knowing.”

Mat Riches, Where Eagles Beware

if i said sunflower
might you say vangough or
describe at length the fields at sunset
the ones that sell calendars

turn your head with the sun
raise this late september garden
when the sedum sighs in the downing

look me in the eye sunflower bach
turn this burning summer into
a quilt of gold
the days of a child’s sherbet

Jim Young, the sunflower

Through more than a dozen trade poetry collections, [Phil] Hall has mined further and deeper into the complexities of language, his histories of abuse, addiction and recovery, and his attentiveness to mentors, contemporaries, tokens and folk art. As he writes in the sequence “Stan Dragland’s Wall”: “So folk art   & fine art   are one // folk   in its shed materials / fine   in its poetics of   amodal   disrepair // as with the first papier collés  by Braque 1912 / we must bring to this wall   a multiple perspective [.]” He stitches together a whole cloth out of scraps, and something valuable out of what others might easily discard, or overlook, allowing for a perspective more humble, and more democratic in scope. He writes Roy Kiyooka, Dolly Parton, Stan Dragland, Nudie Cohn, Lorine Niedecker, Emily Dickinson, Robert Duncan and Eugene Mcnamara. He writes of “the legendary Joe Junkin,” “the goalie for the Bobcaygeon Ti-Cats [.]” He writes of rude songs, typos and the bottom of the seemingly bottomless bottom. 

Increasingly, Hall writes an unbroken, elegiac line composed of lyric fragments, cadence and the pregnant pause, moving further along a path he constructs as he walks, following bpNichol’s “poem as long as a life.” In NIAGARA & GOVERNMENT, more than he has done with his other recent works—including Conjugation(Toronto ON: BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here] and My Banjo & Tiny Drawings (Toronto ON: Flat Singles Press, 2015) [see my review of such here]—he writes as though his life depends upon it; how recovery is a process not a goal-post. He writes with the perspective that the true way, or at least his way, through and potentially past the far end of trauma is through language: “without a mask I am no past / without a past I am an amalgam devoid of loyalty // except to the presenting moment / its deep accordion sigh // the next word has / my true ancestors within it [.]” (“Bottom”).

rob mclennan, Phil Hall, NIAGARA & GOVERNMENT

Poems where far too much happens.

Poems where nothing happens at all.

I’m just an old man with a pencil and paper 

Waiting for the coffee to brew.

James Lee Jobe, Poems where nothing happens at all.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 36

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 brought the beginning of meteorological autumn for many of us, as well as a full moon and the usual insanity in the news. Reading the poetry blogs, I’m finding it harder and harder to distinguish mourning from celebration. Perhaps we are all slowly learning what Rita Ott Ramstad calls “radical acceptance of the world we are living in now.”


end of summer…
cobwebs tie the trowel
to the shelf

Bill Waters, End of summer

Some people spent months planning their Sealey Challenge–in fact, that’s how I found out about it, by people posting photos of their stacks of books that were ready for August.  I did worry that I wouldn’t have enough to read, since many of my books are still packed away.  Happily, I can still get books from the public library, although the process is much more laborious.  

I did a short post each day, giving a micro review of each book.  Here’s an example:  “The Sealey Challenge, Day 29: Richard Blanco’s “How to Love a Country.” We are all exiles now, longing for a country that may never love us back. Or will it? Blanco says, “to know a country takes all we know of love” (p. 70), and sometimes we’re rewarded. Moving poems exploring the terrain of exile and immigration and love of all sorts.”

I also posted a photo of each book, a photo which said something about the book.  This process took on a life of its own–I’ll write a separate blog post about that process later on this week.

So what did I learn?  The most important thing:  I have more time than I think that I do.  It’s not a new lesson for me, but it’s important to revisit it periodically.  I realized how much time I usually spend in somewhat mindless scrolling and internet zipping.  Why is it so hard for me to avoid those traps?

I also learned that my poetry stands up against the poetry I’ve been reading.  I’ve got some manuscripts which are publishable.  I didn’t really have doubts, but it’s interesting to read a lot of recently published work and to see how my manuscript would fit in.

I chose to read only female writers and the male writers that I included were people of color. I’ve spent plenty of time reading white male writers.  Most of the authors I chose were familiar to me, in part because I didn’t spend the month of July planning to explore new authors.  But I was happy with my choices.  Even when I read books I had already read, it was a treat to revisit them.

For the most part, I read each book in one fell swoop.  Most of them took me about an hour of concentrated reading.  I often planned to pick up the book when I wasn’t likely to be interrupted.  It wasn’t the kind of deep reading I might ordinarily do, but it was rewarding in itself.

I learned that the perfect page # for a book of poems is 65-80 pages.  I read a few volumes that were over 120 pages–that’s a bit too much for most readers to sustain the focus.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, What I Learned from the Sealey Challenge

This crazy August, when no one could concentrate on anything, turned out to be the very first time I completed The Sealey Challenge, instituted by Nicole Sealey in 2017. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to be so diligent again. I’m on sabbatical right now, and in other years August can feel frantic. My annual poetry binge is typically In December and January, when I slow down and look around for the books that have been gathering buzz.

But I’ve learned some from trying. The most important result was just getting acquainted with some fabulous work. Like a lot of people, I put Sealey’s own Ordinary Beast on my August reading list, and it’s amazing–it’s a crime against poetry that I hadn’t read it before. There are several other terrific poets on the list below whose work I hadn’t read in book form yet, including Tiana Clark, Rosebud Ben-Oni, and first-book author Leila Chatti whose urgent Deluge I still can’t get out of my head. (I chose it, by the way, because it kept popping up in other Challenge posts–another benefit of the project–and the same thing happened with today’s pick from John Murillo, also a knockout.) Mostly I had no fixed idea about which book I’d pick up next, although I began with Kyrie because it’s about the 1918 pandemic. Other reasons for reading: I looked for recent collections by Shenandoah authors like Jessica Guzman and Armen Davoudian, although I’ve by no means snagged them all, and I caught up with authors whose books I always look for, out of fandom and friendship. I did purchase some books some at the beginning of the month, in part because I would have anyway but also to make sure my list would be inclusive in various ways. I wasn’t enough of a planner to be fully stocked in advance for 31 entries, but there was something felicitous about that. I dug into some pretty dusty to-be-read piles; grabbed poetry comics and image-texts from my spouse’s collection (those books by Eve Ewing and Jessy Randall are amazing!); and downloaded a few free digital chapbooks. I liked how this resulted in in unexpected diversities in style and medium. I found books I’ll teach in future and others I’ll give as gifts. Others I’m just really glad to know about and to help celebrate.

It WAS hard to keep up the pace, though. I devoured books at the start of the month, often reading over breakfast or lunch (I take actual lunch breaks on the porch now–it’s the bomb). I wisely began reading at the end of July to give myself a head-start and likewise worked ahead before the middle weekend of August, when I had an intense 48-hour virtual conference. Sometimes, though, when my own writing was going gangbusters, I’d delay the book of the day until late afternoon or evening, and then I just didn’t feel excited to read something challenging–although I never regretted it once I got going. At this point, I’m a little fried, so there’s no way I’ll manage many entries under the #septwomenpoets hashtag. […]

A last word on my cheat book of the month (lyric essays by a poet, so it’s Sealey Challenge adjacent!). I strongly recommend the brand-new World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. The subtitle is “In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments,” and it’s definitely eco-writing with a deep investment in and fascination with the more-than-human world. I’m most in love, though, with how the essays interweave research with compelling personal stories about moving around as a child and young adult, often feeling out of place as the only brown person in her mostly-white classes, until she found a sense of belonging in Mississippi. This book is often joyous and funny, but predation is a recurrent theme, and that spoke to me. I think it would teach beautifully–I admire its craft–but I also just really appreciated how it urges readers to care. In an unexpected way, it resonated with the Tiana Clark collection I’d read the day before, I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood: both of those authors eloquently argue that environmental justice should be inseparable from social justice, both in literature and in the world.

Lesley Wheeler, Wonders, discoveries, & #thesealeychallenge2020

What a month, what a challenge, and what a joy: to read a book of poems a day in August. Here they are! [Click through for photo.] A big thank you to poet Nicole Sealey, who dreamed up this challenge to make sure people made time to read poetry! I’m glad to have made the time, and it was fascinating to see the connections I felt to the poems and poets, and the connections between the poems in the books. 

Today I met again fire, tornado, television, and elegy in Fimbul-Winter, by Debra Allbery (Four Way Books, 2020). Holy moly, do I know how to pick them or what? I put this one on the pile back in the super-hot days, thinking winter images might give me a little relief from the heat. But the weather changed, and it’s gorgeous. And now I realized I’ve ended with Fimbul-Winter, aka Fimbulvetr of Norse mythology, “the harsh winter that precedes the end of the world and puts an end to all life on Earth.” Just what we need.*

This was a cold book. It wasn’t always winter in the book, but it always felt cold–and mysterious and haunted. “Chronic Town” describes “that icebound city” where:

     In the library, the homeless slept upright
     at long tables, gripping their open books.”

Of course, I watched some short training videos at work today on the homeless in the library. I worry about them this winter, if libraries have to close again, or have severely limited hours due to Covid. A Fimbulvetr, indeed.

Kathleen Kirk, Sealey Challenge, Day 31

A hot night. Silence,
the dogs won’t bark, not even
at a daring cat.

The wind’s tongue softens
the streets, dries kissed lips or tears,
things keep happening

while we try to fall
asleep for the next day’s sake.
But at night we hear

all the world at once.

Magda Kapa, August 2020

Our household of four is gathering its belongings together to make new plans in the Covid19 world. We can’t really say post-covid yet, can we, since the virus is still circulating? I am writing less poetry and more prose, writing and typing, one word at at a time. As I loop ink around printed out drafts, my family circulates around me, less hostile than an infectious virus. […]

In August we’ve visited places near to us in outside settings. A trail around a mostly tourist-free Bath visiting some of Jane Austen’s old haunts. Clifftop strolls in Clevedon on the Severn estuary. Walks around Figsbury Ring including a flight on a tree-swing.

We’ve grown pears, roses, courgettes, potatoes, herbs and an avocado plant.

My hair has grown. A lot!

And I’ve been to Mass, twice. I’ve found a quieter, less busy time – not a Sunday Mass and not a full service – twenty-five minutes which is the longest time, so far, I’ve spent in a mask. Forgive me but I so enjoy not speaking much to anyone and focusing on the readings, the language, my own thoughts and prayers.

Josephine Corcoran, August Postcards

Just to make sure I didn’t go in, they padlocked my workplace but that didn’t stop me working full time, more or less. I’ve been cycling around to avoid cabin fever. I started taking photos of village signs, ending up doing trips just to take photos. Some of the signs have stories behind them, with Saturn V rockets, radio telescopes and DNA featuring among the more common windmills, ponds, Romans and Vikings.

I’ve seen parts of the area I should have visited long ago. […] And at last I’ve visited Aldeburgh. I found the shell sculpture that I’ve seen many photos of. I’ve still not attended the poetry festival. My writing hasn’t suffered though the mood has narrowed. When I’ve had little bursts of creativity I’ve been free to take immediate advantage of them. I’ve radically rewritten some old pieces, merging them when I can. I thought I’d get more acceptances than I’ve actually received. I expected to do more reading. I’m still working through my book list. I’ve belatedly discovered audio books.

Tim Love, What I did during lockdown

there’s a half of a half of a half
of a degree of sadness
in the cooling of a warm breeze
of a september afternoon in a
garden forgetting the time of year
for how can the cat roll on the warmth
of a day like any other summer day
except for half of a half of a half
of a degree of sadness
not for the fat spider eggshell colour
spinning the caught day
under the garden table or
the grass cut short and still
some runner beans on the pole or
some tomatoes in their salad sun
and apples falling with the pears
the daisies yellow red and yellow or
the sedum lunching with the bees

Jim Young, stay – don’t go

The grief isn’t just about schools and teaching. It’s not just about the pandemic. It’s all of it, the whole big ball of change and instability.

Friday night I watched a pre-2010 romcom, something I’ve been doing throughout this summer. These movies fill me with nostalgia for a pre-smartphone world. They fill me with nostalgia for a time when I took for granted things I didn’t even know I had, that I now know the contours of through the spaces made by their absence. I see many of those things in the subtext of these movies that are silly and unrealistic and fun and oblivious to so many, many things. (They are a lot like pre-2010 me.)

I watch them to escape. I watch them also to ground myself in what’s real now. I watch the beautiful (almost always white) actors and actresses (can we still use “actress”? probably not) who were born in the same decade I was dance their way through familiar cinematic choreography, and, in the cases when something in the plot hinges on communication that is not face-to-face, send an email or whip out a flip-phone and talk, and I cannot pretend that we are not now living in a fundamentally different time. The things that were so vitally important to them! The sources of their anguish! While watching, I usually Google the cast of the movie so I can see what they look like now. They almost all look old now in the ways I do, their beauty fading or faded. (My god, we were so beautiful! Why can’t we see, when we are young, how beautiful we are?) On my phone I see the physical manifestation of time passed, which grounds me in the truth that the era in which those movies were made and made sense is not the one in which I’m currently living.

I think the romcoms are part of my attempt to embrace radical acceptance. The opposite of radical acceptance is denial, and that’s a road I’ve followed to far more poor life choices than I’d like to admit.

Radical acceptance of the world we’re living in now is painful, but not as painful as it is to fight the world as though we’re still living in the one we once had (or thought we did).

Radical acceptance is bringing me a kind of peace and calm I’ve never experienced before.

Peace and calm does not mean I’m OK. It does not mean I’m happy. It does not mean I am without pain. (It comes with pain, but the right kind.)

It does mean I am no longer beating my head against walls that will not be moved by my brain splatter.

Radical acceptance might look like defeat, but I’m finding it brings a different kind of power that is keeping me in the fight.

On the last day of the first week of my return to school/work, I didn’t cry once. This felt like progress. Educator friends and I posted funnynotfunny comments on FB about using crying as a metric in setting our annual professional goals.

This is how we are going to get through. Community. Empathy. Humor. Truth-telling. It’s how people have always gotten through hard times, though some of us have lived such fortunate lives thus far that we haven’t had to learn that until now.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Complex radical something, in simple terms

The movie was long, engrossed me for three hours as she

shed her youth, beauty and became the old woman I knew
in the kitchen, living in the interspace of desire and memory.

She rolled the rosary and recounted stories late into the nights
her body a begging bowl that refused to ask for a day more.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Fine Art of Aging

Or tragic like Williams himself in old age beginning Book Six, typing out fragments and notes even though he was half-paralyzed by stroke — still taking upon himself the task of wrangling with language: “Words are the burden of poems, poems are made of words” (243).  Thinking of the actual effects of his prescribed medication, he writes in Book Six, “Dance, dance! loosen your limbs from that art which holds you faster than the drugs which hold you faster — dandelion on my bedroom wall” (244).  […]

So Williams dies and only then is there an end to Paterson.  But even this statement is provisional in a way.  The unfinished character of the Book Six notes creates the appearance that the poem is moving ever on, as if it is still being worked on in the very moment.  It is stopped, or suspended, in an instant of continuation (like a line enjambed, but with nothing following) — in the midst of the dance and then someone presses pause, and

Michael S. Begnal, On WCW’s Paterson, Book Six

free fall

really, even going parallel to the ground

shrinking, no one there to see the bone loss,
the frothing tears, to throw a towel over it
must be rabies and stomp the misery out

JJS, echolocation

I followed your dither through the maximum amount of Christs and a small helplessness to see how things looked after the dustup my day-glo dress yielded a razor and a couple on a sidewalk near a pub in Chicago 1947 held hands she hummed he frantically searched his pockets there were holes in the wall of his belly I insisted beyond names until the day we woke the rats and elk in the clearing startled up their flanky desire

Rebecca Loudon, All the Montanas live in me

This body is new to me.

Sometimes it is like greeting a former lover who’s been around the world, and come back smelling of strange perfume, touching you with unfamiliar gestures. There’s a slight inflection when she says your name, and you think it might be an affectation. You hope it is an affectation.

“Just knock it off, will you?”

And you wonder if you ever really knew her at all.

This week I’ve been soft with myself. Trying to will the muscles to ease in my neck and upper back. Trying not to berate myself for not having more strength, more resilience – more sense from sensation.

But my hand fell across my stomach last night.
Just as I was falling asleep.
And I thought, “So soft.”

And I exhaled
and I thought, “So beautiful”.
“This thing that moves me through the world.”
“Through this life.”

And there wasn’t a qualification of any kind.

And I wonder if I’ve ever known my own body intimately
before that moment.

Ren Powell, Before the Kiss

I am a history
of small   planes 
revving
          toward the edge
of an airport field

                    then stopping short
before a mountain gorge

Yellow flares
                appear
in the darkness
                signaling return—  

Someone waving flags
curling in the shapes of fortune
teller fish

Luisa A. Igloria, I Wish We Could be Happy for a While

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
[…]

Given the time of coronavirus and covid-19, “a time to refrain from embracing” seems apt, and a little painful to contemplate. For me and my beloveds, a time has come in which to mourn and weep, and to embrace, because everything (and every one among us) must reach a time to die. The sweet-natured, intelligent man who took us to a Pete Seeger concert when we were children and told us where to find the lyrics in Ecclesiastes, among many other things, has moved from physical existence to existence in our consciousness–the strange loop of human “being” that none of us understands.

He would have called it soul.

Ann E. Michael, Turn, turn, turn

I have just read the inspirational book, ‘Some kids I taught and what they taught me’ by Kate Clanchy. It’s eye-opening in many ways, and so good on poetry. One thing which really resonated was the piece about studying English at school and onwards, which includes this:

‘In English, we assess and value only that last part of the learning process: the meta-language and the critical essay.’

At school my English teachers were not inspirational, did not give me a love of reading and writing or encourage creativity. Nor did they even, at A level, succeed in helping most students get good grades. I got a good enough grade to study English Language and Literature at University, and found that, again, I was not inspired, but at least, and it probably is least, I learnt the meta-language and how to write critical essays well enough to get a 2.1. As soon as I left University I swore I would never write like that again or read something in such a way that I could write like that.

However, possibly helped by seeing ‘Educating Rita’, (that should give you some idea how long ago this was) I realised that I now had a choice. I could read and write in a way that got me good exam grades or equivalent in the wider world, or indeed because it does have a value if used well, but I could also read and write what I wanted, and respond how I wanted, for the love of it and for what it brings to me personally and in terms of knowledge and joy. I could be as creative as I wanted. (Kate Clanchy writes so well on this.)

So why did I study Eng Lit to A level and degree? Almost certainly because I did have a good teacher – at home – my Dad – and he kept me going. My love of reading and writing, especially poetry, comes from him. He was a primary school teacher – a brilliant one. I am extraordinarily lucky to have had him as my Dad. Kate Clanchy shows in her book how children can be inspired and given control and power through reading and writing creatively. Her students, I think, were lucky to have known her. So many do not have that luck. Lockdown and the lack of access to learning has highlighted how disadvantaged people, in particular, miss out, as has the exam fiasco, but they miss out in so many ways, and we all will if we don’t value all aspects of a person’s life and potential and creativity.

Sue Ibrahim, Eng Lit, poetry and creativity

When I started to blog around ten years ago, on Posterous, I had no idea what I was doing (I still don’t). I had this vague notion that I should be blogging about the intersection of poetry and education, because that is what I have spent the best part of my professional life researching.

I remember one particularly tired blog post, after a long day of teaching, about the phonics debate in England at the time. From nowhere, two very heavyweight commenters, from opposite sides of the fence, weighed in with their views on what I had written. Very soon, below the surface of each retaliatory point, it began to get a bit ugly and personal. As one slows down to look at at motorway accident, and against my better instincts, I watched in a kind of appalled fascination. I thought, there has to be a better way of running a blog than this.

Then one day I opened up a notebook I had been keeping in which I had copied out hundreds of poems which had meant something to me over my lifetime. I had begun this as I entered remission from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer, in 2006. During my treatment, which included both chemo and radiotherapy, the so-called double whammy, along with my hair I had lost my ability to concentrate on reading.

The notebook was a way of deliberately sending myself back to my shelves to see if the poems I had loved in Life Before Cancer still held their magic for me. Based on the system used by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes when they put together The Schoolbag, I restricted myself to one poem per poet.

It took a good few years to complete the project. But there, in my inky scrawl, was my own personal anthology of poetry that I could take anywhere. I called it Lifesaving Poems, because that is how I saw every single one of them.

After the phonics-blogpost-debacle I opened the book up one evening and found Fishermen by Alasdair Paterson (who I am pleased to say has since become a friend). I wrote a few lines about it, posted it on my Posterous blog, and waited.

Nothing happened.

No one wrote in to say how good it was. No one wrote in to complain.

This was exactly the reaction I needed. I felt as though the universe was giving me permission to carry on. A week later, I posted another ‘lifesaving poem’, this time with a bit more of a story attached about how I had first come across it. Again, the same reaction. No one appeared to be interested. Undettered, I wrote another. And another. And on. And on.

All the time I was learning what a blog post could be and how to say what I wanted to say. I also knew that I had discovered, after a false start, what I really wanted to blog about.

Anthony Wilson, The most popular lifesaving poems

One of my favorite projects, and one of the first times I was breaking out of my comfort zone in writing in the early 2000’s was this little chap. It was initially created for a class I was taking in my MFA program devoted to hybrid writing and genres, and what it became was a series of poems in the form of, well, things that were not poems–indices, footnotes, instruction manuals, dictionaries, outlines.  It started with the tension, particularly throughout history, as to what are considered “women’s forms” and “men’s forms.”  Around the time I was writing it, I was particularly fascinated by men’s scientific writing on women’s psychology and hysteria, so all of these things came together to form the project in the fall of 2004, and early 2005 when I finished the last segments.  

There is so much in there–latin lessons, Dewey’s lady librarian guidelines, gothic novel heroines–as well as a storyline that actually only exists in the chapbook (the elizabeth poems), that part having been weeded out when I retooled the series later for inclusion in in the bird museum, to reflect that manuscript’s concerns more directly, where it opens the book and sets a similar tone, but a different emphasis. The elizabeth poems did not make the cut, nor did some other fragments –a pantomime scene, a poem in three voices about the institutionalization of women.  A couple other smaller pieces that only exist in the chapbook form.  (which you can see in its entirety as an e-version here.)  I released the print version in late 2005, with grey cardstock and vellum endpapers, and considering it was the very first year of dgp, it’s lovely little chap, even though layout in those days was much more difficult. I’ve long forgotten the size of the edition, but it was probably around 50–most of which were traded or given away at readings. Interestingly enough, the original version I turned into Arielle Greenberg that fall was a corset bound cover that I never quite was able to reproduce in a greater number.

Kristy Bowen, constellations and other messier objects

It’s a funny thing to have someone else talk about one’s own work. I’ve had a handful of reviews of my books of poetry over the years. I always end up feeling wildly impressed with whoever it was who wrote that work being reviewed…

and often surprised. Mostly because in the moment of making, I can’t say that I have a big picture of what I’m doing, no comprehensive thesis statement. If I’ve put a collection of poetry together that seems to have a theme, it’s only because my mind in the period of time of writing has circled around the same things. And those themes don’t seem to change very much.

A friend who put together a “new and selected” collection of his poems noted his abiding themes across forty plus years of writing. But I couldn’t at any particular moment even identify the theme of my questions particularly. I just wander around thinking stuff, reading, noticing, and at some point I write stuff down. Sometimes it’s directly related to that wandering, sometimes I think I’m remembering something else.

Marilyn McCabe, Does anybody really know what time it is; or, On Being Reviewed

So I had no chance to write during the week, but I took a lot of time this weekend to focus on editing, submitting and general organising of my poems and collections. I put a joking comment on Twitter about my horror at finding an old poem that used a word three times. It wasn’t an important word or done for any particular reason, I just never noticed that I used ‘clean’ in three different ways. 

I’m sure it seems a minor issue, but my writing group knows it’s one of my pet peeves for my own work. I want my words to have some power in their use and I feel overuse weakens that. Three times shows to me that I haven’t really pushed my linguistic skills and feels redundant. Was ‘clean’ a theme of the poem I hadn’t noticed, was I trying to express something through my word choice or was I just being lazy? I decided the latter. The poems wasn’t affected when I found different ways of saying ‘clean’ in two of the three spots. 

It made me wonder how many other unintentional ‘mistakes’ I’ve missed in my proof-reading over the years. I’m aware I sometimes reuse words or images as themes throughout a set of poems, Do we, as writers, sometimes get stuck on a riff and not notice? 

A mentor I once had wrote a book with an uncommon, but not unused, word in the title. Our group spent over a year working with her, sharing our work and almost all of us somehow managed to put the word in one of our texts, often without realising it. She was hyper-aware of the word, of course, so eventually pointed it out to the class, so I’m sure most of us edited it out. I think her editor eventually changed the title, but it showed how we were sponges at her feet.

Today, I found I used the word ‘mossy’ in two poems that I would probably later consider placing together. Again, it’s no big deal until they are actually sitting in a collection together. They were written about the same time, so I wonder if I had that idea on my mind. One was a mossy carpet and one was mossy light, so different images, but with both were used to suggest overgrown abandoned areas, one from above and one from below. Not sure how or which to replace or if I need to at all, but I love this level of getting down to the nitty gritty of language when editing. 

Gerry Stewart, The Nitty Gritty

If it is not
a good poem,
if it is not

beautiful, why
must it be
abandoned?

Don’t the homely
moments still
mean something,

even when
I don’t know
how to say it?

Should the lost
souls stay lost
because I have

failed? No.
I don’t think so.
Let even

the bad poem
be good enough
for what we love.

Tom Montag, IF IT IS NOT

Who knows why (or check “all of the above”) but this weekend I have spent a bunch of hours reorganizing one of my writing spaces. On Friday afternoon, I decided to move a big file cabinet from a corner of the playroom downstairs to my “zoom room” upstairs. First, I had to empty it. I found records for my 1981 Datsun, a copy of my wedding invitation, and six months of bottle-feeding and diapering records that we kept when our twins were born — from July 12 to mid-December 1993. (Good grief, what were we thinking?)

I also found drafts of novel openings that never went anywhere, short stories I had forgotten I ever wrote, tons of old Creative Writing Program journals, and stacks and stacks (and stacks) of poetry. I had kept every program for the old Castalia reading series, and other people’s poems from four years of Professor Bentley’s workshops–four quarters per year, labeled and dated. 

From all of these, I kept copies of my poems with Nelson’s comments on them. I kept a handful of the Castalia programs and a copy of the news article about his death, at age 72, of cancer. I kept my wedding invitation.

I felt a little like Theodore Roethke in his “Elegy for Jane.” (If you don’t already have it memorized, click on the link to hear Roethke read this 22-line poem for his student.) Or, I don’t mean his experience in the poem, but the story Nelson told us: that when Roethke came across his student Jane’s poems in his office files, he gave the bundle of papers a kiss and threw it into the trash.

I threw most everything into the recycle bin. So many people I will never see again. So many poems that I thought someday I would make the time to reread. Maybe I didn’t feel like Roethke. I felt more like Jane, as though I were a ghost, “waiting like a fern, making a spiney shadow.”

But I also felt lighter. I felt a little more able to move forward. Or to imagine moving forward.

Before I finished for the day, rain began. The dark swooped in a little earlier this evening, along with that smell that is partly rain, partly chill, and partly the scent of woodsmoke. It reminded me that even in the “Time of Corona” (as another friend calls it), one season is ending and another tiptoeing into the room.

Bethany Reid, The Land of Overwhelm

Remember when everyone (understandably) overused the word “unprecedented?” And now these times are more often called “unusual” or just “our life” or “now.” We’re settling in for the long haul now. We’re in the tunnel and we believe in the light but it’s only a rumour or something we can hallucinate.

One of my Twitter contacts posted this quotation by Jean-Paul Sartre: “What I ask of [the writer] is not to ignore the reality and the fundamental problems that exist. The world’s hunger, the atomic threat, the alienation of man, I am astonished that they do not colour all our literature.”

I think that even defiantly placing a vase of flowers in the room in which you work at this time is not nothing. Everything that we write or make is going to be part of this time, but it’s true, also, that we cannot ignore reality. I say that, but my writing has been going by the wayside for various reasons. I’m not necessarily happy about it, but who does enjoy these disruptions and heartaches and the politics of the day? Still, I’m taking notes, and am able to engage in a few side projects, such as taking photos of people amid and in front of Edmonton landmarks.

Shawna Lemay, Hi

Today I was watering my garden and suddenly a hummingbird, tiny and yet vibrant with color, dropped down from above and hovered in the cool spray of water, just for a couple of seconds, then lifted and flew away, almost instantly invisible to me, and this was a brief flash of beauty and life, and I gave thanks for being alive right now.

Sheltering at home, my wife and I play card games together, chatting and joking, we share every meal together, and we say grace, light a candle, and enjoy a meal that was prepared slowly and deliberately, with love cooked into it somehow, and so we pass our days together, and still in love after many years, and I give thanks for her, and for being alive right now.

James Lee Jobe, In a few minutes the sun will set and this day will start to fade

I hadn’t read the news yet; I wanted a few more minutes of the soft light on the oxalis and spirea, the seeping red of the begonia blooms, the slightly heavy lift of coffee to lips. Better, I thought, to listen to the poet speak of humanity’s endless appetite for conflict, while he manages, genius that he is, to work in Shakespeare and the Greeks, the Russian camps, the endless clamouring for news on the way to Ballymurphy or Kenosha, and have his company this morning as I “hug my little destiny.”

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 38. The times are out of joint: Seamus Heaney, Ballymurphy, and Kenosha

The moon the last few nights has risen orange and spooky, veiled by cloud, still bright enough to make quite an entrance. Full moons can seem to presage some kind of change. I’m hoping these changes will be for the better. I don’t know about you, but like the moon, I’ve felt veiled with a heavy layer of foreboding and depression. The news is full of horrors, including wildfires in Washington and California; I’m worried about the election, too. It’s hard to see the light.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Adventures During a Plague Year: A Full Corn Moon, First Trip to a Store (with Miyazaki), and First Visit with Family (and Unicorn)

On evenings singing low, we call down the moon so we can shine like new half dollars on parole.

So we can break free from the cold-boned prison of dead Mondays.

The moon reflects our truths and keeps our secrets.

The moon tells us if it’s ever placed before oblivion’s firing squad to not put a blindfold over its eyes.

It wants to see the bullets coming.

Then the moon uses a wishbone as a tuning fork to conjure forth the sweetest music.

There’s a moment when everything gets quiet. In the distance, we hear an angel’s needles knit a new pair of wings.

Rich Ferguson, Courage, My Love

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 35

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, I found myself drawn especially to posts on language, human and otherwise. And writers are turning over new leaves, just as storms are turning over old ones. One way or another, new energy is being summoned up.

A huge shout-out to everyone who completed the Sealey Challenge and read a book of poetry every day this month!


In the mornings – now that autumn is close – I sweep dead petals out of the yoga space. I lay out the mat, light the candles, and finish my coffee staring at the clouds through a rain-stained glass.

The first forward bend reveals the dreams lodged in my joints. The arching of my back makes space for them to free themselves, and fall away.

Right leg back, and arms overhead in a crescent lunge: inhale again. Stay upright. Stay open. Acknowledge the bones of the neck, give them the space they need to speak their wisdom.

By the time I put on my running shoes, I am ready for the chatter.

Ren Powell, Easing Mornings

What if our tongues were to escape the pink pillowy room of our mouths?

Gone voice, gone singing, gone drinking, gone soul-kissing.

Tongues not even leaving a Dear John letter or welcome mat in the vacant space they’ve left behind.

Tongues simply gone off with other tongues, learning new languages, tasting new foods, experiencing new loves, new grooves.

Tongues threatening to shack up in the mouths of others if not treated better.

Tongue-twisted, tongue-tied. Civil tongue, giving tongue.

Oh, for the gift of a mother tongue to truly express how much I’d miss my tongue.

Rich Ferguson, Waving Goodbye to a Tongue With a Shaky Hand

One day I want to write an essay about how studying saxophone in middle school opened up a vast world for me, that, as a little Jewish boy in Ottawa I had had no conception of. The rich imaginative, political, spiritual, powerful world of mostly black American musicians. I think about being in suburban Canadian bedroom listening to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and reading everything I could find about them. I’d babysit on Saturday nights and then make a pilgrimage to Sam the Record Man in the Bayshore Shopping Mall where I spent my earnings, learning about jazz. The world they lived in, their concerns, the sounds they pursued, the economic and political issues, the stories of their lives. Of course I could have no real understanding, but it was a portal, an opening that pointed to a much larger vision of what was and what was possible than I could have know otherwise.

Gary Barwin, Thank you Charlie Parker

Berger compared the drawn line to music, saying that the line emerges from somewhere and leads you on to someplace new. As a musician, it’s always been helpful to me to remember that music is never static; it’s always coming from somewhere and going somewhere. As an artist, I agree with Berger too: the drawn line arises and moves forward, and so do I, the draughtsperson. Each drawing takes me somewhere I didn’t anticipate, and in some very subtle way, changes me. But during the time when I’m drawing, everything except the line is very still.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 37: Beginning Again, and Again, to Draw

In that training circle
in the Amherst Writers Method
Pat Schneider’s living room,
I learned how to listen deeply,
not only to others, but to my own soul.
How its voice could raise a bell
in celebration with and for others.
How its lonely distant train whistle
on the night breeze could help
relieve others’ suffering.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, A tribute to Pat Schneider

The paper’s quite thick for folding but great for wet on wet watercolour. My illustrations are … well, let’s just say abstract! I wrote a haiku beside each tiny painting and slotted the cards into the folds. I’m no artist, but I do like that feeling of being absorbed in the work, the sort of feeling you get when you’re creating something new. I’m not sure I experience quite the same thing when I’m writing, possibly because it’s less physical somehow.

It’s worth mentioning here that the more haiku I write, the more present I feel – in contrast to the ‘zone’ or ‘mind space’ I need to enter when I’m writing longer poems, or prose. And because haiku are short, they seem to leave more time for actual living. My daily observations and experiences feed directly into the writing in what seems to be a perfect circle/ cycle of life-writing-life. Of course, this is an oversimplification of the process, but hopefully you get my drift. Haiku are less dependent on the imagination, more engaged with reality.

Julie Mellor, Blizzard books

It occurs to me, doubtless again, that revision is the art of clipping away everything we may have noticed in the wild world of detail but which may take away from highlighting what caught our attention, what echoed some inner — what? vibration? emotion? memory? some deep imagining?

I don’t know what it is that makes us makers, what notices us noticing what we notice and calls us to create something, something that records that electric moment. Because it does feel like a kind of recognition, or sometimes a reckoning, that moment.

Today on my walk I asked myself to notice light. Although I draw and paint, I’m not primarily a visual artist, but I know that light and shadow are vital in the world of visual art, so I challenged myself to pay attention to that particular input. It was staggering! All the twinkling of dew on jewelweed, the variegated shadows on fern fronds, how light works its way into the forest, and the astonishing fact of clouds. It was a day of clouds on clouds on clouds leaning on the hills or looming from behind them, and every cloud was an elaborate array of white and gray and gray-blue,  dark edges, white hearts, a little purple, maybe some green. Or was I imagining that?

Should I choose to write about that, my job is, I think, to get down what I noticed, and let what is inside me that caused that interest to rise up and help me find the words. To match those details with something that speaks out of those details.

Marilyn McCabe, You’re where you should be all the time; or, More on Paying Attention

I have a hard time getting students to incorporate research into their creative writing, even the quick Wikipedia kind, but I can’t write much in any genre without internet access–and having friends to interview about mundane details is also a big help. In poetry, specificity is everything. Studying scientific processes helps me understand the world and myself; the textures of unusual words make the language pop. In fiction, people need to have jobs other than mine, and they need to walk around and be doing ordinary things when plot twists surprise them.

Lesley Wheeler, Maps, teaching schedules, and other demented pre-writing adventures

I’ve spent a lot of time lately on my perpetual playing about with the order of the poems in my almost-finished second collection. Glyn Maxwell, in On Poetry (I think), advises strongly against ordering poems chronologically, and I get what he means; yet when poems are collected, I want to see not just that individual poems shine on their own terms, but also that they have some interplay with other poems, thematically and/or chronologically. I’ve been toying with reversing the chronology of my poems, so that those set in the present come first and those set furthest back in time close the book. I daresay it’s been done plenty of times before. On the other hand, I might just take Maxwell’s advice and mix them up, by theme or not, and see what happens. As ever, the problem – which admittedly is a nice one to have and isn’t really that huge in the grand scheme of things – is that I find it so hard to look at my own poems with the requisite degree of objectivity. In the Zoom launch of her Nine Arches collection The Unmapped Woman a few months ago, Abegail Morley revealed that she hung a washing line across her living room, pegged all the poems along it and then shifted them about until she achieved a steady state. It certainly sounds easier than putting them all on the floor and moving them around, because, as I’ve found before, you need a room the size of a small dancehall to be able to do that.

Matthew Paul, Channelling

Writing-wise, I’m working on a new collection. Not that my short Scottish collection that’s been scheduled to be published this year is anywhere near seeing the light of day, nor has my Finnish collection been picked up by anyone, but it’s giving me something new to focus on. In spite of my recent posts about self-belief, I’m still struggling with mine. So I’m snuggling up with my daughter’s crepes and writing poems about strong women, forgotten women on another wet Sunday. 

Gerry Stewart, Looking for Distractions

We seem to have crawled out from under the swampy late-summer air, and this weekend, into something cooler, milder, and less likely to have me tossing and turning in the sheets to find a cool corner of the bed. Summer, corona-style, was barely a summer at all, and I can’t say I am sad to see it go. Mostly it was just heat and work, with a side helping of anxiety. Fall is at least enjoyable when you don’t leave the house much, so I am already queuing up my horror movies and planning to make soups. I did learn that beginning next week, we will be open the usual hours at the library, til 10pm, which gives me back my late mornings entirely instead of a sliver of time between waking and heading out the door. Since we’ve gone back, my writing happens in this flurried space over breakfast watching the clock to make it downtown, then exhaustion by the time I arrive home in the evening. This will feel a bit more like normal, if normal is even a thing at all anymore, which means I can get back to design and layout projects that have been drifting while I try to catch up on orders and tend to other dgp business. Also reading manuscripts for next year (which if you haven’t submitted just yet, you have another couple days.) At the library are also getting a new staff member (finally) in our department which means I may eventually be able to take a vacation (not that I can go anywhere, but a week off work, as I learned this summer, is sometimes very much needed.)

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/29/2020

As we turn towards September, it feels like my energy for writing (and sending out work) is increasing. I’m feeling more hopeful about my manuscripts too, which I worked very hard on editing during the summer, along with writing new poems. Do you find the fall is linked in your mind to increased productivity and happiness, even with the pandemic? Summer is definitely not my season – I’m allergic to the sun, and MS makes you sensitive to heat – and anyway my personality definitely tends towards the “wrapped in a sweater, reading by the fire with a cup of tea” rather than “beach bunny” type.

I know some of my friends who are parents are struggling with having kids at home while working full time, and friends who are teachers and professors being forced to be in the classroom, which brings risk and more stress than usual. How are you adjusting to the coming fall?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Winner of the PR for Poets Giveaway, The Light in August with Otters and Unicorns, and Looking Forward to Fall (and Working While Ill)

My body has been chanting this excerpt on my death-hikes this week, just coughing up the words with each stride, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes a cry:

Once I fished from the banks, leaf-light and happy;
On the rocks south of quiet, in the close regions of kissing,
I romped, lithe as a child, down the summery streets of my veins,
strict as a seed, nippy and twiggy.
Now the water’s low. The weeds exceed me.
It’s necessary, among the flies and bananas, to keep a constant vigil,
For the attacks of false humility take turns for the worse.
Lacking the candor of dogs, I kiss the departing air;
I’m untrue to my own excesses.

[from Praise to the End! in Theodore Roethke: Selected Poems]

Weed-exceeded, I puzzle for mile upon mile over the word necessary.

JJS, walking chant

The poem pays tribute to “those boys in uniform” but it also captures the problematic ways in which our countries teach us history: “all the men of history sacrificing/themselves for Ireland, for me, these rebel Jesuses.” This obviously isn’t a particularly healthy perspective, but what brings me close to tears in these lines is also how true it is to how teenage girls think, or at least some teenage girls. Falling in love with dead heroes is just the kind of thing a lot of us did at 16. At the end of the poem, when the speaker says “I put my lips/to the pillar…I kiss all those boys goodbye”, we understand that some day she’ll look back at this as a crazy, sentimental, teenage moment. And yet, we also kiss those boys goodbye along with her and we feel the poet’s empathy for those in history who were lost to war, and her equal empathy for the wild emotions of the teenage years.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Victoria Kennefick: ‘Cork Schoolgirl Considers the GPO, Dublin 2016’

In her new collection, Obit, Victoria Chang address, tackles, teases apart grief—always a giant, messy subject. Here, it’s larger, as the poems explore mourning the deaths of both her mother and her father. The poems use the format of an obituary, with a subject and a date or a timerframe, to return to all the aspects, large and small, of illness and death. She writes of the deaths, on their dates, but she includes an obituary for her mother’s lungs, which “began / their dying sometime in the past.” Another poem addresses her father’s stroke: “Logic—My father’s logic died on June / 24, 2009 in bright daylight. Murdered / in the afternoon.”

The poems circle around and return to the dates of death, the dates of the stroke, and in these recurrences embody, for me, the experience of grief and its unsettling relationship with memory. In “Friendships,” Chang notes: “It’s true, / the grieving speak a different language. / I am separated from my friends by / gauze.” She includes a poem for the dress her mother wore before cremation, a poem for giving all the old clothes away, poems about the doctors, even self-portraits (“Victoria Chang”).

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday poetry pick: Obit

Today, in the cool comfort of my home office, because it was too hot outside, I read What Keeps Us Here, by Allison Joseph (Ampersand Press, 1992). This must be a re-read, as all the sweetness, particular candies, and images of “Penny Candy” came rushing back to me, but I probably didn’t read it back in 1992, when I had a two-year-old and was in graduate school. I remembered vividly. too, the innocent thrill of “[f]our brown skinned young girls” discovering their naked bodies in a basement in the poem “Accomplices.” And the sorrow of losing her mother to cancer. 

Probably different things took hold of me this time. This time, I was struck, in “Endurance,” by these two lines: “I should say this plainly: / a woman, dying, seeks God.” Yes, so plain, so strong. And the terrible, beautiful, true moment, in “At That Moment,” of learning of her mother’s death by telephone while away at school. This one connects with a story told yesterday, on Zoom, of when our family friend learned of her father’s death by phone while staying with my parents. She wailed all night long, and my mother sat up with her. And, in Joseph’s poem, “They put me to rest / in the narrow dorm bed, / my room now strange, unfamiliar…” The disorientation of trauma, of grief.

Later, some comfort from “The Idiot Box.” I was glad to see again “Lucy bawling after Ricky, The Odd Couple / clashing, Spock and Captain Kirk / on the flimsy set of the Enterprise” via reruns on late-night tv. Then the poems “Falling Out of History,” its content and its epigraph by James Baldwin, and “Broadside: from Decade’s End” connect to my side-by-side nonfiction reading this week: We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Kathleen Kirk, What Keeps Us Here

As part of the Sealey Challenge, yesterday I returned to Claudia Rankine’s Citizen.  I read it years ago, when it was all the rage. Back then, I liked it well enough, but then, too, I felt like I was missing something.  I didn’t fall in love with it, the way it seemed that others had.

Yesterday I was struck by the artistry of it, the way it combines all sorts of genres, along with some visual art.  I’m still not sure I’d call it poetry, although it was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry.  It feels more like a hybrid form that doesn’t have a name.

I circle back to the question of whether or not reading about racism can help dismantle racism.  As an English and Sociology major, I’m a firm believer that reading helps us see the other person’s point of view, helps us see the problems that other experience.

And in a perfect world, reading helps us develop solutions and the resolve to see those solutions through.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Reading Racism

This book of poems [In the Field Between Us] is a collaboration between Molly McCully Brown and Susannah Nevison, who exchange letters with one another in verse. It was recommended to me by Jill a few months back, and just recently, she and I have started our own correspondence. We’ve done exchanges like this before (and I’ve written in this way with Beth McQuillen and Ren Powell), but it’s been a long while in all cases, and it feels good to hear the voice in me that speaks to others directly. I’m craving meaningful connection so much right now, and that voice seems vital to it. Even though I haven’t been alone during the pandemic, there’s something about it that feels lonely… and not just the physical isolation we’re still navigating in many settings. Something else. Perhaps fear is a solo flight even during a global event?

That doesn’t stop us, of course, from seeking company. As Brown says in an interview in The Rumpus, “The epistolary form allows the text to navigate this painful, lonely space with an immense amount of company and intimacy. Every time a voice calls, there’s an answering voice.” Yes, please. Dear poets, dear Jill — thank you for keeping me company.

I also like how, in that same interview, Brown describes the themes in In the Field Between Us:  “lifelong, significant, relatively violent medical intervention. It’s an experience that one has to go through alone. It’s inherently singular and alienating. It divides you from other people in the world and from prior versions of yourself.” Isn’t that such a stunning way to consider life — and body — altering experiences? That they divide you even from yourself. The poems in this book grapple with all the versions of the self, as they are created, as they are destroyed. Embodying reality in any given moment, as we are aware more sometimes than others, is a moving target. 

Carolee Bennett, “birth is the first hard frost”

Hardly War and DMZ Colony are difficult to pigeonhole – they are at the same time translation, memoir, poetry, reportage, photo essay, polemic, experiment in radical translation, and an expression of both Choi’s own translation theory and those of others – notably Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, and more contemporary theorists Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson. Choi’s project is political, but she sees clearly that the political, the racial and the poetic are all bundled together in language. As a translator, she is perfectly positioned, where one of the languages is of the dominant global power and one is of a people dominated by that power, to create a new and itself powerful voice which is able to destabilize the power imbalance, to create a rift or, as McSweeney & Göransson call it, a ‘deformation zone’ which “makes impossible connections… unsettling stable ideas of language”.

Choi examplifies this in Translation is a Mode = Translation is an Anti-neocolonial Mode (from here on Translation) where she builds on Walter Benjamin’s Brot and pain as two words meaning ‘bread’ but which also (in my translation anyway) “strive to exclude each other” because they have different “ways of meaning” (Choi’s translation has this as “modes of intention” but pausing over the different translations of a theory of translation is way too meta for this essay!). Choi relates this to the Korean word for ‘cornbread’, oksusuppang, which combines the French pain with the Japanese oksusu to signify the food that was given to Korean schoolchildren after the Korean War as aid from the US. Here she shows us how the very language spoken strains against Korean sense of identity, nationality and race: a European word (Old Empires), a Japanese word (interim Empire) and a word which symbolises current US hegemony (contemporary Empire). “(M)y tongue”, she tells us “even before it had ever encountered the English language was a site of power takeover, war, wound, deformation, and, ultimately and already, motherless” and at this same level, the tongue level, she says the “seemingly benign humanitarian intention” behind the cornbread handed out by the US “creates involuntary longing, a life-long craving, which could easily be translated as a desire to be colonized”. We begin to understand the potential, the latent power of the translator who works with translation as an “anti-neocolonial mode” when she says “But my tongue deforms, it disobeys. I translate this longing, entangled with neocolonial dependency, as homesickness, which is a form of illness, a form of intensity.”

Chris Edgoose, Twins, Orphans, Angels: on the work of Don Mee Choi

There are those who hate cicadas as they hate the summer sun. I myself love both.  The haters hear cacaphony, noise, intrusion. They hear one solid tone – abrasive – not noticing how the insect chorus of crickets and cicada throbs, then silences, throbs again.  They hear “scissor-grinders.” They hear the snapping of a tab from a cola can, up and back, in magnified repetition.  They don’t hear the hum of deep satisfaction or the sense of time passing and the moment fulfilled, though maybe they hear grief in summer’s end.

I have wracked up an array of pantheistic images of this summer soundtrack which have come in handy this most trying of weeks.  Time slows in August, that motionless high summer standstill.  But I, like many, found myself staring at spectacles of dystopia.  Further incursions of terror.  Election Day dread.  The top somehow keeps spinning, even as it slows down, teeters, leans as far from its axis of normalcy as seems possible.  Light sweat becomes greasier.  The levels of cynicism keep upping, possibly a way of preservation.

The insect chorus kept spinning.  For some species the high-stakes erotic daytime display is a suicide song. But at night, the song softens to a rhythmic chant, a round of pure incantation.  As the dervish dances into trance, the insect night calms to its given.  I’ve heard an eternal soundtrack, the god in timeless dance shaking her string of bells, every night from a different limb.  Or worshippers in thrall to cosmic energies, in a public display of meditation. I’ve heard a sound girdle across the earth’s broad waist, a web of communication, the chanting wordless word of consolation.  It’s there, for those who listen, and I’ll be listening keenly as we shift seasons.

Jill Pearlman, The Insect Chorus

early this morning I was awakened by howling and screeching screams that I thought at first was a pack of monkeys being murdered by coyotes in my back yard I used to live near the Woodland Park Zoo and I have personal experience with howler monkeys 

I woke up Page so he could hear it too and filmed it with my phone at the same time though it was pitch black out there Page thought it was Bigfoot but this is no surprise since this summer we both saw bear scat in the yard and immediately thought cow

the howling went on for a good 30 minutes and I eventually figured out it was two owls mating and sent the video to Mary Moon She Who Holds Knowledge of All Things and she assured me that indeed those were owls having wild owl sex practically on my deck possibly right below my bedroom window

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I am wondering if I might find a tomb that I can rent. I just want to lie down on a marble slab for a few nights and whisper my secrets to Death. I really don’t need to move in and live there. Don’t we all have a secret or two to tell? Don’t we all have something to get off our chest? Oh well, the evening breeze is cool tonight. It’s refreshing. Perhaps I’ll just lie down right here.

James Lee Jobe, I am wondering if I might find a tomb that I can rent.

penclawdd – and the

sloughing of a snake-black night
broken boats with mud-arsed sailors
foot-printed down a sworn-drawn breath
estuarine slither-e-slither the delta worms
the sloped-shadowed masts of the mudders
goose-stepped gulls / urchin-crunch-shrined
rag-wormed slime-warm and the long-slow
riding of a tide’s bottom-splat until
the tabernacle bell summons
what! is it muddy sunday already?

Jim Young, penclawdd

Most years in Elul we say
“the King is in the Field” —

God walks with us in the tall grass
to hear our yearnings.

This year, Shechinah
shelters-in-place with us.

With her, we don’t need to mask
our fears or our despair.

When we stay up too late
reading the news again

or binge-watch The Good Place
desperate for redemption

she does too.

Rachel Barenblat, Shelter

So yes, everybody knows. We’ve all got this broken feeling. Might as well talk a good game about how life is, might as well hand out chocolates. We know the dog bites. But as Dorothea Lasky says in her book Animal, “What did my dog teach me about being human? To be gentle. To be gentle and wild and to be able to, but not to, bite everyone.”

Shawna Lemay, Talking a Good Game

Milky fog in the mountains,
thick as sea-foam: so the lizard
tells the hunters to jump in,
the water’s fine. That’s how
he gets away each time—finding
the words to scissor a path
into the next chapter, while
sounds of falling and surprise
echo on the previous page.

Luisa A. Igloria, Escape

Every year as summer wanes, I go back to work resolved to engage with it in a different way. I promise myself that I will keep getting exercise, that I will keep eating real food, that I will devote more time to what is important and less to what is urgent, that I will carve out time for friends and family and creative work, and that I will just not let it all get to me.

So far, every year, I have failed to fulfill such resolutions.

This year feels different. There are two sides to everything, and one side of this time in which so much is collapsing is fear: economic, social, physical, and political threats are all around us. On the other side, though, is opportunity. When so much is gone, changed, and changing, it is easier to let go of what was and try to figure out what can be.

Rita Ott Ramstad, New year’s resolutions

Late August.
The silence
of green dying.

The light
a kind of dust
in the wind.

Tom Montag, LATE AUGUST

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 33

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 the season of molting and early migration in the northern hemisphere, so it seemed fitting this week that so many poets were blogging about change, healing, transformation and flux. And most people seem to be back from vacations, so this is a very full digest. Enjoy.


David Bowie famously invites us–or exhorts us–to turn and face the strange. Necessary, especially during times people are wishing things were as they used to be. Change seems a stranger. We don’t want it at our door.

Facing change presents challenges and requires confronting fears. No wonder people resist; yet change is all there is. Without it, not even death (which is all about change). Just stasis. Not-life instead of no-life; un-life.

For now, a break from blogging, from submitting poems to journals, from sending out my latest attempt at a manuscript, from attending readings and conferences and workshops. I might say “it’s all too much” under current circumstances, but the reasons are more complicated and center around transitions of the not-writing kind.

In time, knowing the way my writing process occurs, these transitions will lead to more writing. More poems. Lots of process.

Meanwhile. I’m in the woods. I’m in the garden. I’m even (I think) going to be in the classroom. But it will all look different.

Ann E. Michael, Break/change

For someone who loves the countryside and nature as much as I do, staying in the city this summer has been a real stretch. Usually we would go to the U.S. to visit my father and spend time at the lake, but the border is closed to non-essential travel, and even if we did it, such a trip would mean a month of strict quarantine – two weeks on either side. Staying in hotels or B&Bs seems risky, so overnights away haven’t really been considered. I’ve never been so grateful to live near a large city park, or to have a fairly private terrace that I could fill with plants.

For several weeks, we’ve been working very hard to clean our studio of everything we’re not going to need. This has meant sorting through possessions, tools, supplies, equipment, and the work of our whole professional and creative lifetimes. It’s a huge, heavy, and sometimes emotional task that felt almost overwhelming at the beginning, but after steadily putting in several hours a day, day after day, we’re getting there. We’ve sold or given away a lot, recycled or thrown out the rest, and are gradually getting down to the core of what we want and need to keep for the next period of our lives. As you can perhaps imagine, doing this in the middle of a pandemic, very hot weather, and the current worldwide political and social crises has contributed to a roller-coaster of moods, from frustration to encouragement, that we’ve managed with as much equanimity as we could. However, we’ve really needed some breaks, and those are coming now in the form of day trips out of the city.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 36: Out of the City

These unplanned detours – which often seem to occur to me in August – derail my writing, my meager (during the plague, especially) life plans. But today I talked to a poet friend, my little brother, and caught up with my parents – a nice way to re-enter the human world, not the suspended animation of the medical care world. The dream (or nightmare) world of IVs and fever, of blood work and doctor exams.

Like going to and fro from the underworld, we need companions to help us re-arrive in the land of the living in one piece, recovering our spirits and reviving our bodies. […]

Have you been watching the falling stars each night at midnight? I’ve been standing on my back porch, drawn to the red glow of Mars on the horizon, once in a while catching the quick winking of a falling star, wishing and wondering if I should even bother wishing. Is it naïve or child-like for me to even make wishes?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Detours – a Week In and Out of the Hospital, Dahlias, and Feeling a Little Down While Wishing on Stars

Sometimes what we want to happen
doesn’t happen: fruit doesn’t ripen,
the ferns unexpectedly die,
what we see in front of us looks
nothing like we imagined it would.
We expect to heal. We don’t.
We go back over what was said,
what was done to us, what
we lost or gave away. We cry,
Where is the justice in the world?
Listen. In the small hours just as
dark gives way to dawn, a single
bird we have never heard before,
may never hear again, and in that
one rare moment we are saved.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Listen

I am now a person who burns incense. According to many, this makes me some kind of hippy. According to the product packaging, I’m opening up to warmth and sensuality (patchouli), wealth and riches (red ginger) and sanctuary (French lavender). My own sense of what’s happening is that I’ve been craving ritual, the idea of transforming ordinary moments into sacred spaces and the practice of envisioning — and honoring — what I want my life to look like.

I’ve considered trying it for years, but some old voices (parental? patriarchal?) held me back. Even though I burn candles most days, incense seemed a step too far. Whatever that means. Is it even a big deal? It’s not. It just had baggage for me — spiritual connotations I had no right to, stereotypes that didn’t apply, a self-consciousness that plagues me about so many things, other people’s ideas about who I am and what I do and don’t do.

But here’s to letting all that, and more, go.

Because for as long as the fragrance hangs in the air, I find my breath, which is something my Very Good Therapist keeps trying to help me do.

That breath — intentional, slow, deep — allows me to sit with things that I’d otherwise rush past to avoid feeling. Other times, it helps me pause when I’m feeling things too much and may be at risk of spinning out. Either way, it restores a kind of balance that so often evades me and helps to erase (even briefly) the micro-traumas that arise on any given day. Instead of white knuckling anxieties, I try to imagine safety, peace, abundance, expansiveness. I try to mother myself: Here, right now, you’re OK. You are capable. You have the wisdom and strength you need.

Carolee Bennett, august, green & undeserved

I came across this poem one evening noodling on the internet when I had nothing better to do.

I was having one of my periodic bouts of Poetry Exhaustion. I was convinced I would never again come across a poem that would move me and that my entire library of poetry was worthless. I may even have persuaded myself that my twenty-five-year-plus dedication to poetry had been worthless and that a career change was in order, banking say.

Like so many of my Lifesaving Poems I heard the poem before I read it, on this occasion via a YouTube clip of August Kleinzahler reading it at a prize-giving ceremony.

As I say, I was in the doldrums at the time, with no hope or expectation of anything resembling a poem ever coming into my life again.

Then bam, the tired, weary, slightly let’s-get-to-the-bar-already voice of August Kleinzahler reading a poem about a Toronto Twilight by a woman I had never heard of, began to still my breathing. Then stop it altogether.

I am sure there was something about the combination of the tiredness I was feeling and the exhaustion in Kleinzahler’s delivery that made me take notice. That, and the deceptively simple opening line: ‘Three minutes ago it was almost dark.’ Something about those short, declarative sentences, the way they innocently purport to paint a picture whilst carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders: ‘But the sky itself has become mauve./ Yet it is raining./ The trees rustle and tap with rain.’

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Poems: Margaret Avison’s ‘Twilight’

The idea of poetry as healing is one that is easily romanticized. This romanticizing comes often with an air of distance: poetry as balm after the fact of hurt. However, there is another facet to healing, one rawer and more immediate, that poetry can tap into. Poetry as stitches being sewn; as open wound learning to close and scar. Through the dynamic lyricism found throughout Laura Cesarco Eglin’s latest collection, Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals (Thirty West Publishing House, 2020), we come across a poetic sensibility reaching for this latter intersection between the poetic act and healing.

When the speaker of “Melanoma Lines,” for example, shares with the reader “I know / how to listen to what’s not ready,” it is a statement that brings the reader closer to her experience. To know how to “listen” is to know what to listen for, to forge, in this case by necessity, an awareness. Later, in the same poem, the speaker gives an idea of the cost of this knowing:

I smelled myself being burned.
Cauterized, they said, as if I
didn’t know how to detect euphemisms

José Angel Araguz, microreview & interview: Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals by Laura Cesarco Eglin

I’m puzzling over a poem and indeed it feels like a puzzle. Jigsaw maybe, as I try pushing pieces against each other and they resist or yield. Or remember Tangrams? You got a set of shapes and were challenged to fit them together to make different forms.

In this poem, the last line was bothering me. It felt thumpy, like, “OKAY HERE IS WHAT THIS POEM IS ABOUT.”

And yet it seemed important in its own way, so it occurred to me to repurpose it as the title instead of the last line.

Okay, but that left the former second to last line just dangling there, insufficient. So I started shifting groups of lines around, swapping sections, turning sentences around, flip-flopping the images and ideas of the poem, starting in the middle, starting toward the end, restarting from the beginning I had started with.

I know the incredible satisfaction of occasionally getting all the pieces to fit together: suddenly, snap, you have the shape you’ve been trying to make. But I must ask of the poem: Is there a piece missing?

This is the challenge of the poem versus the Tangram, I guess. It’s possible I’ll never be able to make the desired shape because a crucial piece is missing, and it’s not as easy as getting on my hands and knees and checking under the couch. I need to identify the gap and write into it.

So at the moment, for all my shifting and switching, the poem looks — instead of like a good solid square or a kitty or bunny — like a gappy rhombus in a hat.

Marilyn McCabe, Broken bicycles; or, More on Revision

Sometimes,
naturally,
the rhymes

come lovely
as a snail’s
trail,

slick with
mucus.
Our eyes

see
the chime
of language

as a wet
marker
left for us

on a dry
land, the way
our ears

hear
the echo
echo.

Tom Montag, Sometimes

Brian Sonia-Wallace was a writer-in-residence for Amtrak and the Mall of America and has his own small business called RENT Poet, and, you guessed it, he writes poetry for strangers on a typewriter! His book, The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America With a Typewriter (Harper Perennial, 2020) was, I have to say it, a great ride. It’s got lots of poems in it, including translations, so I was going to count it toward the #SealeyChallenge, but I also read another Debra Kaufman book, Delicate Thefts (Jacar Press, 2015), and there are tiny stolen things in both books, both concrete and abstract.

Like me, Brian is an actor, too. Unlike me, he approaches his poetry writing, as well as his reading aloud, as performance. Like me, he connects poetry with attention and listening.* He actually composes poems after listening to his customers’ stories, writing the poems they need. Vending his poems across the country, he has worked with all kinds of interesting performers, including clowns and witches, and has appeared at big corporate events, malls, music festival, and, interestingly, a detention center to document (in poems) the undocumented.

*Debra Kaufman dedicates Delicate Thefts “to listeners everywhere.” I sense she’s done her share of the kind of listening that results in poems, too. In “The Receiver” she’s listening at a bar: “When I…look straight / into a stranger’s eyes, / always he will tell me his story.”

Brian Sonia-Wallace experiences that intimacy, too, in talking to strangers. They will tell the deepest things. Back to Kaufman’s poem: “Two drinks in I have taken / the gift of his loneliness.” Here, the loneliness was a gift, not a theft, but the stolen things in Kaufman’s book include a locket, a wallet, stolen innocence, pride, self-image. All, yes, with a delicate touch.

Stolen lives. In “At Duke Gardens, After Another School Shooting,” there is nothing to do but seek solace, remembrance, and “peonies you can wash your face in.” In “Trying to Find a Way,” sometimes the heart is too full, with “no room for another’s story.” 

Kathleen Kirk, The Poetry of Strangers + Delicate Thefts

[Ralph Vaughn Williams] was of that generation which saw perhaps the greatest amount of change and technological advancement of any lifetimes – aged 13 when Benz’s first motor car was driven, 31 when the Wright Brothers took to the air, 56 when the first television broadcast was made, 73 when the first atomic bomb was dropped. . . In his long career he produced a remarkable range and quantity of work: nine symphonies; four concertos, each for a different instrument; chamber pieces (none finer than Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus); choral works; operettas; ballet scores; and many wonderful songs, notably settings of Blake, Swinburne and, above all, Housman

All of which brings me to John Greening. Those who have read any of his collections will know that not only is he a very fine poet, but he also has a deep love of classical music, as demonstrated by his last, beautiful collection The Silence, about Sibelius. Greening’s recent Poetry Salzburg pamphlet Moments Musicaux collects 34 previously uncollected music poems which, Greening says, “hadn’t quite fitted into individual volumes”. Two of the 34 relate to Vaughan Williams, ‘RVW’ and ‘A Sea Symphony’, named after Vaughan Williams’ first symphony, though the latter is not about the composer but somebody else.

‘RVW’, four rhymed quatrains dedicated to the contemporary composer and occasional poet Philip Lancaster, depicts its subject as, ‘An old man/ standing up by the Folly’ – Leith Hill Tower – ‘His back towards London Town’, contemplating a ‘fallen poplar’:

They lie there, unmastered, the nine branches,
  And numberless carolling shoots.
He kicks at the crown’s now silent ocean.
  He probes a fantasia of roots.

It’s difficult to write biographical poems which don’t resort to cliché. In the poem’s ending, Greening gently refers to the deafness which afflicted Vaughan Williams in his last few years but which, like Beethoven before him, didn’t prevent him composing:

The old man sitting up by the Folly,
  Not hearing the aspen’s riposte:
There’s more to be sung than it ever dared whisper,
  And pastoral may not mean past.

It’s a haunting image, with a message which is as ungraspable as the wind is strong, up there at the highest point in south-east England.

Matthew Paul, On Vaughan Williams and John Greening

Every poet I’ve ever translated has taught me something. One of the perils of poetry is to be trapped in the skin of your own imagination and to remain there all your life. Translation lets you crack your own skin and enter the skin of another. You identify with somebody else’s imagination and rhythm, and that makes it possible for you to become other. It’s an opening towards transformation and renewal. I wish I could translate from all the languages. If I could live forever, I’d do that.

– Stanley Kunitz, from his Paris Review interview (Spring 1982). I originally found the quote in The Other 23 & a Half Hours by Catherine Owen, which is chock-full of poetry goodness.

Rob Taylor, trapped in the skin of your imagination

Today I read one of my favorite books by far for the Sealey Challenge, a volume of selected poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. It’s a slim and elderly hardback from the famous (in Germany) publishing house Insel. I inherited it from my husband, who winnows his library by offering unwanted books to me. This pretty much never results in books being thrown out. And never if they are from Insel.

Rilke in German is marvelous. Many beautiful and resonant poems. One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Rilke’s poem “Im Saal,” or “In the Drawing Room.”

. . . . . They wished to bloom
and to bloom is to be beautiful; but we want to ripen
and that means growing dark and taking care.

. . . . . Sie wollten blühn,
und blühn ist schön sein; doch wir wollen reifen,
und das heißt dunkel sein und sich bemühn.

In German it rhymes, and it is a great rhyme. I’ve surprised myself. I love contemporary free verse (in English).

Another excellent poem –“Archaïscher Torso Apollos” (Archaic Torso of Apollo)– ends with the famous line “You much change your life.” But the line flows more naturally in German and seems less abrupt, if only slightly.  And of course it is its abruptness that makes you catch your breath. I hear the line echoed in many English poems, such as:

1) James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” which ends “I have wasted my life.”

2) Mark Doty’s “Messiah (Christmas Portions),” which ends “Still time. / Still time to change.”

Rilke talks about how the sculpted stone seems to burst from itself “like a star,” and its power leaves the viewer totally exposed.

Sarah J Sloat, you must change your life

This Friday, I’m moderating the first panel at the Outer Dark Symposium 2020 (virtually): “Weird Metamorphosis or Life Change.” Moderating panels doesn’t especially scare me. It’s basically leading a class discussion, except with very smart people who love to talk. I’m always nervous about Zoom, though; I’m no technological wizard, plus catching all the undercurrents in a virtual conversation is hard. To make things eerier, I have to tune in from my extremely haunted office, because I’d be competing for bandwidth at home. I usually clear out of Payne Hall when darkness falls.

I’m also thinking about fear because it’s an inescapable part of transformation stories in Weird fiction and film. Some of the panelists are especially interested in body horror, which involves violence or violation to the body, as in “The Button Bin” by Mike Allen or “Anatomy Lessens” by Edward Austin Hall. Some, in our pre-panel discussion, expressed fascination with what puts people emotionally onto that uncomfortable-to-terrified continuum. They explore it in awesome ways, thinking about race, gender, sexuality, disability, and their intersections.

I’m involved in this panel because my new novel involves the deeply weird transition of menopause. As I wrote and revised Unbecoming, though, the feeling I focused on was not fear but desire. The uncanny power growing in the main character, Cyn, lies in wishing for change, both through small rescues and major redirections. Desire is key to making characters interesting and complicated, so it’s probably central to all fiction. I had a list taped to my wall as I composed, listing what each major character thought they wanted plus what they REALLY wanted (which is often the opposite of what they thought they wanted), and sometimes what they really, really, really wanted in their secret hearts. The push-and-pull among those impulses can make a character–really a bunch of words–come to life in your imagination. Like magic.

Lesley Wheeler, The other side of fear

Yesterday, for The Sealey Challenge I read Lesley Wheeler’s The State She’s In.  I ordered this book just after I returned from the AWP conference, and by the time it arrived, the world was in full pandemic panic mode.  I flipped through it, read a few poems mainly from the end of the book, and thought that I just didn’t have the concentration to read the whole thing.

If I had started from the beginning, I might have devoured the book back when it first arrived.  Or maybe my brain was just too frazzled. But as I read the book yesterday, I did realize that I liked the first part of the book best. 

As I was trying to think about a photograph, I realized that part of the volume revolves around the state of Virginia, one of the “states she’s in” (the other states are metaphorical states).  I thought about Florida, the state I’m in.  I thought about how both states will always feel both like home to me and like places where I feel I’m an alien dropped in for a visit.  I thought about a beloved Colonial Williamsburg mug that was living on borrowed time, as I noticed the crack in the handle–and this week, the borrowed time came to a crashing halt. […]

I love how Wheeler explores gender in intriguing ways, especially gender issues as they impact women who are no longer in their 20’s and 30’s, but she’s also fascinating when she dissects history–and of course, there are intersections where the two come together, and it also gives her the opportunity to braid together an analysis of class and race. It’s an amazing work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Lessons from a Challenge Month

Covid-19 is reminding us in no uncertain terms that human lives are uncertain. In The Unmapped Woman (Nine Arches Press, 2020), which is Abegail Morley’s latest poetry collection, things have changed in ways the speakers can not have foreseen — they lose people, they don’t know how to go on, how to deal with memories. They are left with holes and absences.  I’ve been mulling over Abegail’s ability to “do” Big Issues (birth, love, change, uncertainty, loss, death )  using the small scale of intimate relationships. Emotions are created for us — they are born and flow through the words she chooses: the unexpected imageries, the narrative arcs, the music of word-sounds and rhythms. Her technical skills are exemplary. 

An example of how she combines the above to create feelings of wonder are the first lines of the first poem of the book. “Egg”

I breathe into the lonely snow-lines on the scan,
Tell you how to grow safely, how to throw
and catch a ball …


[…] Abegail describes many, many kinds of loss and relationships. There is pain and grief and the unanswerable. In “The Library of Broken People”, there is a startling variety of injuries described. These “lost souls”, feel like damaged books to me. One of them says that “life’s an unworkable toy”. The speaker “survives amongst them, wear[s] a long jumper, drag[s] sleeves down wrists.”

E.E. Nobbs, The Unmapped Woman – Abegail Morley

What a thrill to hold this book in my hands! I first met Paul Marshall at Everett Community College 25 years ago, and we’ve been writing together since we put together a teaching lab around writing in 2009. This past March, he decided to dedicate some time to assembling a book of poems, and he asked me to help. To quote from the back cover:

The poems in Stealing Foundation Stones share the journey of a blue collar, small town, hot-rod loving kid who grew up to go to Vietnam, returned home to the radical turmoil of the 70s, became a psychology professor and an award-winning community college educator, then, after a major loss, rebuilt his life, remarrying and morphing (yet again) into a ukulele-playing grandpa and woodworker and writer. It is a trip you don’t want to miss.

I hardly know what to excerpt here, as I love all these poems. They’re familiar to me as old friends and as welcoming.

Zen Handyman

Cursing saw torn flesh
dripping red blood mars heartwood
my grandfather’s laugh

In these poems, cars rev their engines and bears growl. Blackbirds hoard trinkets the way the poet hoards memories while he lets go of detritus, including old books that (like the bears) growl back: “Their cat haired, dust bunnied pages / fall open as they gasp out their reason to be saved. // I’m a first edition. / I’m an autographed copy.” (“Don’t Leave It for the Children”)

Bethany Reid, Paul Marshall at Chuckanut Sandstone Open Mic

It’s that time of year – the Edinburgh Fringe has been cancelled, but my mind is still drifting northwards and backwards. 2013. Threesome’s first appearance on 10th August – we’d hardly written the script by 9th August, the same day I met Ms Beeton for the first time. It’s LJay’s birthday today, so that has added to my nostalgia. […]

The show was in 3 parts – I was the opener (or ‘delicious entree’, as described in one of our two 4 star reviews) with a piece based on the Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like ItThe Seven Rages of Woman is a poetic romp around … well, some of the rage I felt about a restrictive evangelical upbringing and some of the rage I felt about the lack of representation of women in film, and several other rages,: approximately seven of them in fact. Listening to a sermon about women and submission yesterday, some of this rage was momentarily reignited.

Since this photo was taken, there have been new happenings: a beautiful baby for Ms B, glasses to correct my eyesight, a new suit and tie for LJay, and suchlike. But when I look at it, I enjoy the feeling I felt then, right then, at the moment Peter took the shot. It comes flooding back, the camaraderie, adrenaline, freedom, the reckless pleasure of the name of our troupe. And, as Ms Beeton might have said of her microwavable chocolate sponge cake (whose making was the pinnacle, piece de resistance, of the show), the feeling is marvellous, darling!

Liz Lefroy, I Enjoy The Memories

When I last posted about the goings-on in Stardew Valley, I was patiently waiting for Harvey to ask me to have a baby, and sure enough, he finally did. After a brief gestational period of fourteen game days, a tiny pixelated baby appeared in the nursery crib. We named her Lily. She was very boring in the beginning. All she did was sleep. Now that she’s a toddler, she’s still not very interesting. She just crawls around randomly and occasionally plays with a toy ball that I did not give her, so God knows where she found it. I don’t mean to be sexist, but it’s obvious that the game was created by a young man who did not at any time think through practical issues such as house child-proofing, feeding, diapering, and day care. Harvey works long hours at the clinic and those crops don’t harvest themselves, so the kids knocks around the house completely unattended all day. Oftentimes I don’t even know what room she is in and I worry that she’s pulled a lamp over onto herself. Hopefully little Lily has an independent streak, because that child will be fending for herself. Good. It will make her a tough farmer some day.

Kristen McHenry, Gym Return, Trainer Two-Timing, Boring Baby

disease vector
a mom hugs her kid
after school

K. Brobeck [no title]

On the day I take my daughter to the airport, I have to get out of my house filled with absence. I drive up to the mountain, to the river where I raised my children for the first half of their lives. It is not that I want to go back in time; that mountain, that river, was a place I once needed to leave, too. But sometimes, we need to go back to figure out how to move forward. I want to get grounded, literally. I want to dig my toes in the river’s sand, to let its water cool my feet. I need to see water flowing past me.

I spread a blanket in some shade, doze to the sound of children playing in the water with their mother. I sit on land one of my children once named Dogarnia, and another called The Forest of Enchanted Wieners. Rule of this kingdom was hotly contested. When I close my eyes, I can see them climbing in the trees, our tiny Dachshunds kicking up sand as they run in circles around us.

I want to call across the water to that other mother. I want to tell her: Imprint this day in your memory. Don’t worry about what you’re going to make for dinner or how you’re not getting the house clean before starting another work week. Soak yourself in these moments, right now, so that later you can remember this sun-drenched summer day when all of you were golden. But I don’t. I don’t know her life, and I don’t want to impose my reality and regrets on hers. Also, no one in the thick of it wants to hear this kind of thing from some stranger whose time has passed.

On the afternoon of the day I take my daughter to the airport, I understand another thing: My attempts to keep my house of cards intact, to keep her unexpected stay from coming in and blowing down my hard-won peace was futile and stupid. I’ve let anticipatory grief rob me of embracing all that she–and this terrible, unexpected, wonderful chance to mend and grow and be together–brings. She, like all children, was born to make and remake me, to strip me to my foundations, to give me reasons to build (and build again). I see now that I cannot protect my heart by clinging to what I constructed the first time she left. It served me well enough, I suppose, but now I need something strong enough to stand, open, both when she comes and when she goes. Because I have to let her go; that is what I was born to do.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the day I take my daughter to the airport

a house
falling into the sea

becomes sand

the egg timer turns over

a crying child is suckled

Jim Young [no title]

The heartwood browned with age holds
the secret of her progeny. Stewing the sap
into the folds of the skin, she births a calf
who sleeps in the ooze of milk.

Uma Gowrishankar, In her land, it rains every tenth day

I read a few poems every night before bed, the one time I can be sure I have time. I have turned back to Fiona Benson’s Vertigo and Ghost which I started last year. This is one of those collections I wish I had written, but not lived. Such beautiful writing that tears me apart emotionally. Even the more gentle ones about parenthood and the poet’s fears connected with raising girls in this difficult world when other mothers are leading their children through unimaginable dangers in the hope of finding safety and shelter dig into all my tender places. But Part One which considers the mythology of Zeus in modern terms, as a serial rapist is more of a punch to the throat. Benson plays with the words on the page, mixing modern language with ancient stories and uses a kind of interview format to give voices to the victims, Io, Callisto and others, as well as bragging, bravado-puffed Zeus. It goes much further than Yeats’ ‘Leda and the Swan’. Difficult to read as it doesn’t shy from blunt emotion and descriptions, it is an important voice in these times when ‘Me Too’ is not a thing you wish to say, but it needs to be heard. 

Gerry Stewart, Gearing up and Down Sizing

Waking up from a thick sleep, I see that I am a passenger on a ghost train. For long hours through the night we rattle along rails long unused, but we never stop at any stations. Along the aisle, little ghost children play; the same as living children, they are tired of being penned up. In the dining car, fashionable ghosts are sitting down for dinner, served by ghost waiters in white waistcoats. A ghost porter hurries by, carrying empty suitcases back to the sleeping car, which also is haunted. We enter a long tunnel, and I look at the window; the only reflection is me, and then I fade away, too. 

James Lee Jobe, Waking up from a thick sleep, I see that I am a passenger on a ghost train.

There are other *big* ideas here.  In “Panning,” there is the notion of debate and argument and its futility: “in the heat where you pile the arguments for / a to one side & b to another / . . . beliefs without bases solidly founded beliefs. . . .”  Finally, [Maurice] Scully questions the efficacy of logic itself as a means of knowing the world or arriving at truth/reality: “compare the flying pieces of the jigsaw / that each claims to be The One True Picture.”  But that is not actually the end of the poem.  Having dispensed with the tyranny of logic, of Enlightenment values, Scully counterpoints a radically different second section, a vision of the sap system of trees, their “conducting / vessels” — but almost bizarrely imagined through “x-ray eyes / a forest without its / supporting timber. . . / a colony of glinting ghosts / each tree a spectral sheath / of rising liquid in countless / millions of slim threads.”  And it goes on.  It’s an amazing image that combines lyricism and biology, both art and materialism, into a whole other kind of epistemology.

More than one piece is titled “Poetry” (NB: all titles begin with ‘P’), and it is the poetry itself that strikes me here and the more I read Scully.  Yes, his work is rich with philosophical questioning, and/or focused on the seemingly mundane details of life (which with Scully are never mundane) — but the more I read him the more and more I become amazed at his use of language, the ebb and flow of a long poem, its sudden turns and veers in thought, its delight.

Mike Begnal, Review of Maurice Scully, ‘Play Book’ (Coracle, 2019)

It was a release from the everyday order, a time for chance and an outside world I didn’t know to break in. I got to renew the language of fish and fishermen that I use in languages I barely speak – international fishmonger lingo.  All those crusty lobstermen, dipping their catch in salt to make bait for the lobster catch.  Tiny islands that look like the heads of seals as they appear and disappear.  The light was equally teasing – there, barely there, so thin and transparent it made everything within its reach slightly magical.  Light itself is invisible, though we tried to capture the zinc gleam on the mudflats at dusk, the streaky pink, glimmer of oyster shell in the sky at sunset.  

The Zoom I prefer: going so far out of yourself you become part of that thin, invisible light, then settling back into a slightly different self. 

Cervantes wrote, “Where one door closes, another opens.”  The LED signage on the white clapboard Baptist Church in Damariscotta, glowing under a dark starry night, read, “Change is inevitable, but growth is up to you.”  Voilà!

Jill Pearlman, Strange Rerun: the American Vacation

Let’s really give this metaphor a kicking shall we. If the prep work is the research and possibly the notes for a first draft, then the painting is the actual graft of writing the poem. The walls are the first and second drafts, the cutting in and ceiling (assuming it’s two colours) are the nth draft and then getting closer to a finished product. You’ve covered all the big ground, you’ve got your form and message working in unison.

If, and it’s a big if on an extension pole, we are prepared to accept any of that (and I can’t say I blame you if you choose not to), then this weekend was the final stages: the gloss work. I have spent the weekend taping up and then glossing a lot of woodwork.

I’m going to liken this phases to the putting the final touches to a poem (or story, etc). This is where small words and changes matter, where you change from the roller to the brush, then a smaller brush still (do write in if my technique sounds off) for eg the tops of skirting boards, corners etc. Words come in, words come out. A line is removed here, a stanza is tightened up, a comma comes in, an em dash replaces a semi-colon and then the semi-colon goes back. Until finally, you’ve covered everything.

You dip your brushes in White Spirit, you crack open a beer (other options are available) and tidy away the kit/press ctrl+P. You let things dry. How long you choose to let it dry is up to you. For the avoidance of doubt, I’m saying don’t send the writing out straight away. It always does it well to sit for a while.

And when the paint is dry, or the ink has settled, you remove the masking tape to see what you have and if all is still well.

If there are no drips, no missed bits then you re-hang the pictures, put the coat rail back up, put things back, etc.

This is where you send your poem, etc out into the world.

Christ, I’d love to find myself getting the rollers out soon. And I do mean work on a poem. I’m not picking up the actual rollers again for at least another month. That said, there’s still work to do on the gloss front..and sadly that does mean actual painting.

Mat Riches, Working in broad brushstrokes: let me tell you how, man

Dear Henry,

how does it feel how does it feel to get old like summer in Chewelah like sugar pie an unmanageable stain a kind of hoarding I abandoned my clothes Hugh Hefner wore a suit in public enough already with the stained smoking jacket and coiffed hair tug your sweater across your stomach dear or sit with a pillow on your lap watch the bone gaunted mules pull cart across Wyoming I gave you my hung my pedicure my airplane hangar everything in aspic how many evenings you wasted soaking your foot in a bowl of hot water and Epsom salts it’s time to stage a fake suicide scatter your final notes everywhere including the Aurora Bridge and the mighty Mississip swallow whatever Jesus puts in your mouth choose another child an empty prize bent toward the shack where they gut fish where we gutted ourselves the artist who created Superman had a gig on the side drawing for an S and M fetish mag knew it wasn’t ripe but he kept eating guttural momentum would it make a difference to the sperm splurging split that morning I bought steaks and a GI Joe doll roasted the hairpin that hid your surgical coin folded it into the secret girl book this morning I’m looking for you not one bit shy buster not one bit plague or earwig in your egg drop soup I am hammer toed I am a hammerhead shark waking up God

Rebecca Loudon [no title]

In the end, then, even
          devotion
ashes in the mouth, choking
          and inconsequential.

[image]

Throat-closing keen: so much
          now is air
sucked out

JJS, swallows

Nouns drop from their perches,
seeking a less
hate-driven sentence,
aiming for purpose or purchase
or mere acceptance.

Freedom gives way to cages.
Fewer of us hide
secret urges—many more
exalt them in churches.
What’s next? Pogroms and purges?
More shootings? More dirges?

Romana Iorga, Déjà vu

These days, I write
but don’t necessarily feel unburdened.
Too many dead, too many dying;
and this heart of moss wanting to be
a sail filling up with wind:
not a scroll with all the names
of everyone it has lost.

Luisa A. Igloria, Is it still permitted to talk about the heart?

I’ve gotten to the point I think where the news is so horrifying that new terrible things barely phase me. This weekend, mad amounts of looting in the Loop & Mag Mile that left windows smashed and closed up downtown.  A crazy storm that apparently spawned a tornado (or at least a funnel cloud/water spout) a few blocks north in Roger’s Park. I am waiting for plagues of frogs and locusts and would not be the least surprised to find them in my headlines tomorrow morning.

As for the looting. I’m less concerned about plundering of bougie high end merchandise than the general level of chaos and the way things like this are used to put down Chicago as this crazy crime-addled shithole (which it in no way is, even the rougher more dangerous, under-resourced parts of the city.) Gangs & drug trade are a problem,  but I feel safer in Chicago when it comes to random crimes, like someone mugging you in the Walmart parking lot or breaking into your house.  Also that people are looking out for each other, ie wearing masks and conducting themselves appropriately in public, which may be the result of being such a tightly constructed community.  When the quarantine hit, one of the first things that happened was someone organized a mailing list/discussion board in my apartment building to keep people informed, publicize rent assistance, help elderly people get what they needed.  There are neighbors I’ve lived amongst for two decades and never spoken to.  Also an endless train of Loyola-ans who stay for 1-2 years and bounce. Some families in the bigger units.  The key to living close enough to people to hear them through the wall is to not really know them (as apposed to the burbs where I would feel like people would be up in my business. )   The woman across the hall has lived here as long as I have.  We smile and nod and sat hello on our rare encounters. I feel like there is a general feeling we are in this together, but separately in our own little introvert bubbles and this is good. The couple neighbors I have talked to are the more extroverted ones I’ve encountered frequently on the bus, but they all live higher in the building. 

As for the storm, I figured I was safe enough herding the cats into the bedroom with the option to dive into my closet, the most interior space, if things got crazy.  I’m on a lower floor in he L-shaped crook of a solid brick building the back of which took all the wind, so on the rare occasions of storms like this, feel pretty safe. .Usually, I’ve been in the library or the studio when storms like this hit and the most terrifying years ago found me in the with giant 9th Floor windows that were shaking in their frames and no way to easily get downstairs. I would have to choose between the elevator or stairwells with giant skylights–yikes!  I wound up hiding in the bathroom across the hall, whose windows were at least sheltered by the courtyard..  It did get really dark and the wind was giving quite a lashing to the one tree I can see from that window, and it was raining sideways at one point, paper and trash flying through the air, but nothing alarmingly large or heavy.   I though maybe I felt my ears pop, and this may have been evidence of the suspected funnel a few blocks away.   Today, so many trees and limbs down in the cross streets and in the park along LSD. I think it might have messed up construction sites and knocked out some power, but the trees took the brunt of it. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/12/20

The other thing that keeps me interested right now is thinking about how our stories have shifted and changed and keep evolving. This is true for yourself and true for probably every single person you encounter. And isn’t that wildly interesting? It’s not always comfortable, it’s not always splendid. But it’s pretty much always interesting.

Think about this from Anne Bogart:

“We are telling stories all of the time. Our body tells a story. Our posture, our smile, our liveliness or fatigue, our stomach, our blank stare, our fitness, all speak, all tell a story. Howe we walk into a room tells a story. Our actions relate multiple stories. We invest our own energy into stories. Deprived of energy, stories die.

”It is natural to adopt other people’s stories to her create our identities and to fill in gaps in our experience or intelligence. This can be helpful up to a point but it is easy to get stuck in other people’s narrative structures. Stories become easily cemented and rendered inflexible, developing into assumptions upon which a life is lived. Without vigilance, stories become documented history and form, and their origins ar forgotten. Rather than mechanically allowing other people’s stories to guide our lives, it is possible to get involved and narrate from a state of passionate participation.”

I repeat, get involved from a state of passionate participation!

Wow, hey?

How do you want to tell your story? In what ways do you want to be alive? What energy do you wish to bring into a room or a space, even if that space is an online space. What is your story now? Bogart also says that “all of our thoughts and actions become, in due course, public.” She uses the example of how the impact of even a telephone call conversation reverberates. “The conversation travels.” Perhaps it is overheard, or conveyed to another person, and so on. We have no idea how far a simple exchange will ripple out.

Bogart wrote, What’s the Story well before the pandemic, but for me it feels even more relevant. She quotes Erich Heller who says, “Be careful how you interpret the world; it’s like that.”

There are a lot of strands to the story, some we don’t even quite know about, or some that are just out of our reach or realm. But I remind myself that it’s up to me how I enter a room, enter the day. I want to be a good interpreter of the world. Aspirationally, and with the full knowledge that this will not always be possible and that I will often fail miserably, I want to participate in this story we are all currently in the thick of, from a place of good energy, delight, and with a soul aligned with joy.

Shawna Lemay, Be Not Soul-Dampened

Birds burble new melodies. Traffic flows differently.

Past clouds shaped like a T-Rex and a car wreck, now a candelabra and a castle.

Kisses aren’t kissed the same way. Old ones tasted of relentless rains; today’s are love-covered honey in its first burning.

Bullets, now breezes. Yesterday’s serial killer, now a savior. Republics of rust rediscovered by amazement.

Rich Ferguson, Morning Sheds Its Yesterday Skin

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 31

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’s theme, if there is one, might be described rather too glibly as “feeling low in high summer.” A lot of l-words make an appearance: languor, lugubrious, limbo, lemon, lime, light, lines, luxuriousness. Lockdown, of course. And still, life.


scissoring low
between lamb and ewe: 
the heatwave swallows

Matthew Paul, Some summer haiku

I always feel trapped by August, its thick cluster of vowels.  Clotted.  Lugubrious, made for a lazy tongue.  Made for  limbs given up to the sun.  If it were a kitchen sauce, it would need to be thinned.  If there is a gust in August’s nature, we don’t feel it until the second half.  

Just what augur lurks in August?  Something is hiding in plain sight of its sun.  Its heaviness portends.  The gods know what hangs in the balance, but who can read the signs?  In the long wash of hazy beach sunset, reams of moody air rolled out, I can’t find a pattern.  The gulls are dropping mussel shells on rocks.  Sandpipers perform their own nutcracker suite in the just-washed shoreline.  Their pattern is their business. 

Jill Pearlman, What augurs, August?

Sound of morning,
the O of the
sorrowful dove

opening like a
vowel, like a sigh
after loving.

Tom Montag, SOUND OF MORNING

When the milk was delivered midmorning            languor
cradled in the crook of the household

On the coal stove blazed by asthmatic breaths
coffee beans splayed open         peaberry plantation 50 – 50

Uma Gowrishankar, The coffee drinkers

When I participate in or host zoom chats, I’ve tried to be conscious of what kind of visual impression I make. Though I’m not a person with a closet full of bright colored clothing, I’ve worn a lot more of it this spring and summer. Color always lifts my mood — most of us respond that way. For some reason, human beings seem to echo or take cues from their environment, and while people in the south have no trouble wearing tropical colors, we northerners are notorious for wearing black, grey, brown and white in the colder months, just when everyone needs color the most. (But we’re Canadians — wouldn’t want to stand out too much!) Anyway, all I’m saying is that I’ve been conscious of the effect of color on my spirits during this pandemic, and when I was trying to get back into doing some artwork, it wasn’t linework that drew me in, but pure color.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 34: The Transformative Power of Color

Moisture is clinging to everything –
on the undersides of flower petals
it glistens like starlight,
on the edges of the awning where it
drops on my head just as I step
out from under,
on the slick black back of my cat
slinking through the bushes hunting
lizards.
But I am dry, dry, dry […]

Charlotte Hamrick, Dry Spell

Most days I find myself in this strange limbo of having no idea what the next few months will be like. What the next few weeks, the next few days. It’s hard to plan for programming and other library things when it’s a very real possibility that Illinois will hit the red zone again and we’ll all be working entirely from home. I’m making good faith gestures that it will not. Planning exhibits, thinking about my ILL workflows, buying fall clothes (I found an oatmeal sweater dream dress on Poshmark and put it in my cart so fast I got whiplash, because, yes, it’s time to start propagating that fall wardrobe. ) I’m ready for fall after the last few hot, muggy days, which seem to have cleared–last night was cool and windy enough to knock my conditioner & shampoo off the window ledge in the shower. If we have been robbed of cookouts and beach going, and really, just going anywhere or doing anything until 2021 at least, fall is pretty homebody-ish for me anyway. I mostly just want to stay in and watch horror movies, though if we’re honest, that’s pretty much ALL year.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 7/31/2020

Here we are in high summer — my favorite season of the year, all lush and green. And I can’t help bracing for the winter , knowing the likelihood that the pandemic will surge again when flu season arrives and when we’re all confined to poorly-ventilated indoor spaces. I’m always a bit fearful of the oncoming winter. Seasonal Affective Disorder hits me every year, even when I do all the right things. This year I am extra-afraid, because I imagine that winter will mean not only long dark nights and bitter cold but also lockdown again, and shortages again, and rising death rates again, and loneliness. 

This morning I went to Caretaker [Farm] with my son to get this week’s vegetables. As I bent to the green bean rows and lifted each plant to scan for beans, I breathed the scent of clean dirt and greenery through my soft fabric mask. Remembering the indigenous wisdom in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass (which I’ve read several times) I pressed my palms to the earth and murmured a thank-you to the soil, the plants, the careful loving farmers, and the whole web of life that makes it possible for me to pluck these vibrant, beautiful beans from their runners and bring them home.

Rachel Barenblat, Comfort

The yoga teacher says lift
your palms to your chest;
turn it into a box
of intention. Then lie
down and bring your hands
to your sides. Imagine
your corpse floating down-
river, leaving everything
and everyone behind.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait:  Savasana

I love the process of starting small with a still life and then enlarging it, and then at the end slowly taking away each object. Which is better, the more minimalist version with just the one vase, or the addition of shells, flowers from our garden, then lemons, the skull? For me it doesn’t really matter, it’s the process that’s the thing. These small gestures. Standing up on the sofa with my camera and then jumping down to nudge a shell, turn the vase, heading to the kitchen to peel the lemon, wondering if the skull is too much, pulling the one broken bloom out to dangle its head, turning the nautilus so you can’t see the broken off part, turning it back so you can. I’m blessing the still life, all still lifes, their quiet, their infinite nature. I’m blessing the held breath of the photographer, the perfect blooms and the more ragged ones. I’m loving the way all the time I’m shooting, Fantin-Latour is in the back of my mind and how art and loving art and objects and flowers connects us through time. It’s a small thing to love, but it helps.

Shawna Lemay, Love Small and Obscure Things

And so I feel awake to my mind, to the words on the page and to the world, the latter of which is both good and bad. Don’t turn your back, she says. Even when it aches, she says, and I’m trying.

This week has been an absolute mess, including a couple really miserable work days and one morning in which I had to Google “what to do if you get wasp and hornet spray in your eye.” The week has also contained its share of pure magic, like the doe and twin fawns I watch from my porch. Like the gladiolis (nearly 4 feet tall!) near my walkway. Like the sky that’s ours to see whenever we want to look up. […]

Morning, after all, has been pawing at me these last few months. Pay attention to me, it’s cried. (Meowwwww.) Its persistence has not been a metaphor: it has the claws to back it up.

Just as autopilot didn’t last, this wide awake nesting mode can’t either. It’s not only that perimenopause is calling a bunch of the shots. My normal rhythm — though not as rapid fire as the hormone-influenced one — is to race and rest, race and rest. Race, race, race.

Collapse.

Rest.

I’m trying to go slowly this time. I am trying to set no expectations about “results.” I’m trying to change where I place “value,” In doing so, I hope to be able to sustain it a while.

I told my therapist earlier this week all the things that I was sick of, including striving, which led us to talk about how to recognize what does work. “When it feels good,” she said, “pay attention. What are the ingredients?”

It’s easy to say what to leave out of the recipe: long hours at work, hornet spray in your eye, wild hormones, cat scratches on your calf and a fucking global pandemic, for starters. A simple invitation to name what it is about the fawns that moves you? Much more challenging. But also: it’s exactly what writers do. We grope for meaning. At least it’s what we do when we show up, when we accept that other invitation: Be here. That is what we must practice.

Carolee Bennett, on “groping for meaning” with natalie goldberg during a global pandemic

Some days even the flat roads
present as inclines and inclines
persuade me they are really hills
while any actual hill has risen
to an unknowable height. And then
I glance through the trees
at the side of the lane, the glitter
of sunlight, the short grass
stretching to the horizon, and I feel
the opening of my own heart
as I run through the world,
overcoming, for now, that ridge
of resistance and accepting it all:
flat roads, hills, how the world
is composed of joy and woe, of light
and shade and we are the bearers.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Resistance

These little messages from the outside world can hold more portent than they might have a few months ago. This can mean a rejection has more impact, or that a postcard can carry more weight. I’m trying to avoid using Facebook (because of their ethical decisions and misinformation problems, along with thinking it might be detrimental for mental health in a way Instagram and Twitter are not) so I end up spending more time in the physical world. Physical objects like books and magazines get more attention, and I want them to be beautiful and encouraging. I bring in spring-scented sweet peas in a jar, cut dahlias in cases around the house, the occasional rose in a bud case. There is some mythology that hummingbirds were messengers from the gods. If so, I hope they bring good news. We could use it.

I’m also trying to support the businesses I love (and want to survive) with e-commerce as much as possible, whether that’s buying a dress or a book or a box of produce from my local farmer’s stands (here’s a link to 21 Acres, my favorite in  Woodinville, and Tonnemaker Farm stand, which also has a beautiful u-pick garden). I also want to support visual artists and other writers when I can. I’m not wealthy, but I feel like coughing up a few dollars for a literary magazine subscription or someone’s new book might help keep artists and publishers alive, and maybe deliver that hopeful or positive note that someone might need.

Because I am a writer with two poetry manuscripts circulating, waiting for good news on either one is a kind of excruciating hobby. I agonize over title and organization, whether to include new poems, whether to take out old ones. I feel like putting time towards writing and revising is at least a positive place to put some of my frustrated, homebound energies. I wish I had a big “yes” from the universe right now, from a dream publisher. I hope I get over this superbug soon so I can get a little way back to “normal.”

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Finding Inspiration Where You Need It, Looming Messages from the Outside World

I was half-heartedly cleaning out the hall closet the other day in an ongoing bid to find my long-lost Fitbit, and I realized that I have done nothing crafting-wise in many, many months. I have had no desire to sew, to make rugs, to finish my many unfinished projects, or to paint or draw. I firmly believe this is directly related to COVID-19 and the subsequent stress it’s caused me. I feel like I am instinctively reserving my energy right now. I have had to go into work every single damn day of this pandemic and cope with the massive stress that is involved in working in a hospital during a global outbreak, and I don’t have the luxury of any leftover energy to generate the creative impulses necessary to crafting. It makes me sad. I feel deadened in that way, and I don’t think that it’s good for me. And it seems weirdly tied in with my unwillingness to make a hair appointment, although I don’t know why the two would be related. Perhaps it has something to do with a sense of luxuriousness. Part of why I enjoy getting my hair cut is that for one entire hour, I get to feel special and taken care of and a little bit fussed over. It’s worth paying a little extra money to go to a place where it smells nice and looks pretty and there’s some ceremony involved in making me look slightly better. I don’t want to get my hair cut when it is going to be stressful and fraught with rules and distancing and glass partitions and fear and an “in and out as quickly as possible” mentality. That same sense of expansive luxuriousness is tied into the time and energy required to think through a creative project and execute on it. Generating the energy it requires to consider time, color, form and design at this time just seems impossible. I don’t like this. As an artistic person, the grayness and lack of vibrancy in the world right now is very disheartening. Maybe the best way to fight against it is to rebel; to somehow find the energy within to create something of beauty, no matter how small.

Kristen McHenry, Dental Stalking, Crafting Sads, New Monsters

Two years ago I bought a wetsuit and was determined to face my fear of open water – with a barrier of neoprene between.

Two, three times we swam across the tiny lake. Two, three times I had flashbacks of the Kentucky river and the nest of baby moccasins. Slow down, I said: Breathe.

This is what panic feels like. And it is almost always irrational.

Right?

Swimming in dark water is a metaphor for life – and for death. You can never know what is near. What that bump or tug might be.

Slow down.

Breathe.

Anyway.

… And get back out there.

Ren Powell, Learning to Swim

childhood 
digging up the hamster
to see the bones 

Jim Young [no title]

Tomorrow is my 67th birthday if anyone ever says I’m “67 years young” I’m going to sock them in the neck

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was 78 years old when she died she fought like a wild thing full of anger denial and general piss-offedness I love her for tossing her own goddamn five stages of grief out the window at the end

I keep thinking about the blue land crabs that marched through a Miami suburb in early June I believe they were harbingers of a strange and eerie art perhaps a reversal of doom we should have paid attention

William “pig bacon” Barr twirls his pen adjusts his glasses smooths his hair and attempts to talk over anyone but especially women right now he is leaning his head on his hand giving himself a hitler mustache with his middle finger he has a lot of tells William “pig bacon” Barr can also be called William “pig bacon” Tell

Earlier this week I gave myself a tragic haircut and now I can’t tuck it behind my ears hippos get deep cuts and scratches and ticks and bites on their skin which they can’t reach (obviously) so they enlist barbell fish to nibble them to clean and sooth them after which the hippos go into a deep happy trance this is how I feel at my hair stylist

I saw a harmonium on the side of the road just hanging out among the trees it was a perfectly good harmonium and it was on the road for two weeks I wonder where it was going and why

White men have weaponized their cars against children’s soft bodies why aren’t these republican politicians on television outraged and why is it more important to them to protect buildings instead of the soft bodies of Black men and women and children

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I don’t know why I should blog this. I don’t feel able. John would think it absurd. He says I mustn’t lose my faith in the president, and has me take Breitbart, to say nothing of vitamin C and rare meat.

I lie in bed and look at the paper. Behind the outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very numerous. And it is like people posting and tweeting alarming news at a social distance. I don’t like it a bit. I wonder–I begin to think–I wish the pharmaceutical industry would hurry up and release a vaccine!

*****

There are always new infection vectors in the wall-paper and the virus gets into my hair. In this hot weather it is awful, I cannot even walk in the garden. The CDC recommendations go round and round and round and round–they make me dizzy!

But I really have discovered something. The front pattern does move–and no wonder! The people behind the bars shake them! Nobody could climb through the pattern–it strangles so; but I see a woman wearing a mask and brandishing an absentee ballot.

Lesley Wheeler, The Yellow Wall-paper by Charlotte Lesley Perkins Wheeler Gilman

July’s wallpaper:
apricots, cherries, peaches
and the moon out there.

Not a day missing,
a full month. Empty-handed
we arrive, breathless,

Where are our colours?
What happened to the music?
There’s been no dancing,

just counting of steps.

Magda Kapa, July 2020

The lime drops to the floor and rolls under the table; you cannot reach it. It’s just that kind of dream. Whatever you want is always just beyond your reach. You can never quite do the thing that needs to be done. 

There is a lover for you, but you never make love. Or perhaps someone who is dead in your waking life is there in the dream, and seems to be well; you are glad to see each other. Neither of you mentions the death. 

Time passes. The dream changes, grows darker. There is rubble in the streets, buildings are in ruin, it is night. You are doing a job that is both familiar and unfamiliar, and you cannot actually complete the work. 

James Lee Jobe, The lime drops to the floor and rolls under the table; you cannot reach it.

1)      If new online mags appeared regularly prior to lockdown, there’s now a veritable plethora, often created and curated by well-known poets/editors, and technically adroit. Will this be a watershed moment? How many of these outlets will stay the course? Does this daily bombardment of new work mean that poems disappear into a temporal vortex even more quickly than in the past?
2)      Zoom fatigue. When people were cooped up at home in full lockdown, Zoom readings and workshops immediately became popular. However, now lives are gradually opening up beyond the boundaries of the home, is a Zoom fatigue setting in?
3)      If everyone’s anxious, that means poets are probably more so! First and foremost, this seems to be expressed in their work itself, even if it’s not consciously Covid-related.
4)      And the same anxiety for poets is also reflected in an attitude to submissions that feels even more awkward than pre-Covid. Waiting for a reply to a sub is always tough, but it’s made easier if you’ve got a busy daily routine. If you’re furloughed or stuck at home, time weighs more heavily and those subs start to stress you out.

Matthew Stewart, Ten poetry trends in the pandemic

Picking up magazines at random I had a chuckle-filled time reading the eviscerations inflicted on my fellow-poets. This came to an abrupt halt when I read the opening sentence of a review which turned out to be about my own book. It read: ‘Anthony Wilson is far too capable a writer to ever be any use as a poet.’ It did not mean this as a compliment. I read the sentence again, to check I had read it correctly. The room began to tilt. Sweat seemed to be coming out of my eyes, but I knew it was not sweat.

I went outside for a bit, onto a balcony overlooking the Thames. Even the river seemed to be tilting. I noticed that I needed to hold on to the furniture to walk.

Then I made a second terrible mistake, quickly followed by a third. I read the rest of the review of my book of poems (it got worse), then photocopied it so I could share my outrage with Rupert and Siân. Taking nothing away from their sympathy, neither course of action did anything to improve my state of mind.

Once the initial shock of my discovery had worn off I seemed to enter a long tunnel of numbness. Normal life and interactions would continue around me, but I participated in them as though hearing and observing them through a wall made of glass. Everything was muffled: sound, the taste of food, my children’s laughter. Everything except my anger.

Siân was great company on the train. She said the answer was to eat and drink my body weight in almond croissants and Virgin Trains coffee while penning offensive acrostic poems using the letters of the reviewer in question. This helped enormously.

Our tutors for the week were Jo Shapcott and Roger McGough. Keeping us busy with insane sounding exercises like writing a villanelle before lunch, they threw ideas, poems and anecdotes at us implicitly expecting that we were well up to the task not only of keeping up but writing poems of value.

This feverish and competitive atmosphere cajoled me from thinking too closely about the review. Nevertheless, as soon as I was away from company my fears about its hostility gnawed away at me. I began to believe that they were right.

I remember going to bed on the second night with a poem (Jo had set this as an exercise) that we found from a book we had plucked off the shelf at random. The idea was to read the poem aloud and to try and memorise as much of it as possible before falling asleep.  I had chosen her own anthology Emergency Kit , probably in an attempt to please her. I closed my eyes, opened the book and stabbed at a page in the darkness. The poem I had chosen turned out to be ‘Before’ by Sean O’Brien. I had a dim memory of having read it when I bought HMS Glasshouse (OUP, 1991), but now the poem seemed to come alive in a completely different way. In its meticulous calibration of that time before waking and the switch to what Les Murray calls the ‘daylight mind’, I found myself suddenly able to hold my rage and disappointment at something approaching arm’s length. The world O’Brien describes is not free of pain, far from it. But, hypnotised by its somnambulant rhythms I found myself wanting to believe in words as a force for good again. Things could be otherwise.

A miracle.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Poems: Sean O’Brien’s ‘Before’

I plan to try the Sealey Challenge in August, which you can read about here. Basically it’s a dare to read a book of poetry a day during the month. Chapbooks and re-reads are fine.

I wanted to have to buy as few books as possible but ended up buying about 10. If I were in America I would use the library. I have some German-language poetry in my stack, but I read poetry in German much more slowly. That said I dipped into one of the Bachmann books and it was kind of great. Still I’m a bit daunted. I’ve included my own book and will make up the difference with chapbooks I have at home to make the challenge less demanding.

Have I talked myself out of it now? No, I’m no perfectionist. If I don’t read 31 books I won’t consider myself a failure. At the moment, nevertheless, I’ve gotten a headstart on “East Window,” a book of Asian poems translated by W.S. Merwin. It’s more than 300 pages long. It’s wonderful but days into it I am only halfway through.

I have examined my motives for joining this challenge. I wondered, do I just want to socialize online? Do I just want to post photographs of books and find affirmation? Do I want to look cool? Honestly I just want to read poetry again and especially poetry I haven’t read before. But I confess I love photographs of stacks of books, photographs of single books and photographs of books artfully arranged in pairs, triplets and quartets.

Sarah J Sloat, Sealey Challenge

Today I read Bruise Songs, by Steve Davenport. It’s a book I’ll be reviewing later, so I’ll say more about it then. Today I offer it for Day Two of the Sealey Challenge to read a poetry book a day. I had started to read around in this book when it first came, but today I read it straight through. Well, I read the first poem, “Dear Horse I Rode In On,” and then the note about it in the back, which I knew was there from my reading around, and the note mentioned the last poem, “Soundtrack for Last Words,” so I read that, and then the actual last poem, “Moon Aubade,” and then I went back to the beginning. That’s my nonlinear way of being linear.

Speaking of the moon, my husband just came in and said to go out and look at it. So I did. It’s full on this beautiful clear night. And, hey, I started this book in the morning and finished it at night, so I am linear, after all.

Kathleen Kirk, Bruise Songs

The wisdom of square foot gardening, which is to break your growing space into small, manageable portions, easily translates to writing projects. If the blank white page is your word-garden, it can seem like a pretty scary place, simultaneously empty and full of possible word-weeds. But if, as in gardening, you divide it into small parts, the prospect of filling that space is much less intimidating.

This approach is the opposite of freewriting, which instructs the writer to scribble as fast as possible for, say, five minutes. While useful in getting past a writing block, this approach would be disastrous in gardening, the equivalent of wildly scattering untold numbers of seeds all over your carefully prepared garden bed. Not just a bad idea, but one you’ll most likely regret for a long time to come.

With square foot poetry, I use 3×3-inch Post-it notes (you can also draw squares on your sheet of paper or in your journal). My favorite color is yellow, because it’s cheerful and reminds me of the sun shining on my garden (and hopefully, on my words). Now, just like in gardening, I try to fit as much as I can inside those squares, substituting words for plants. When I write on my Post-it notes, I take my time, since every word takes up proportionally more room than on a larger piece of paper. 

An advantage of using Post-it notes is that you can easily move them around, rearranging the piece of writing you’re working on (yes, I know there are programs that do this, but for now, I’m using paper). When I plan my garden, I use the same method, taking into consideration how tall the plant is, how much sun it needs, and whether I grew it there previously.

Erica Goss, Square Foot Poetry

I was pleased that I performed well under pressure.  I don’t want to be one of those people who freezes and can’t act–or worse, that falls apart in hysterics.  I was glad that I remembered my address.  But more than that, I have been trained since childhood to call 911 in an emergency.  Happily, I’ve never had to do that. 

Now in the past 6 weeks, I’ve had to make that call twice.  The first was for a student who was having chest pain and tightness and tingling in his left arm.  He was young and looked like he was in good shape, but the symptoms were close enough to heart attack symptoms that I decided it was better to call 911 than not.  He was fine, although there was some irregularity revealed by the tests that the paramedics used.  They wanted to take him to the ER, but he declined since he was sure he wasn’t in danger of a heart attack.

As I said, the rest of the day felt easy yesterday.  At 1:00, I watched the new poet laureate of Virginia being sworn in.  Maybe these events have always been livestreamed and/or recorded, and I just didn’t know it–but one of the benefits of this recent time is realizing how many of these events need to be livestreamed and recorded to reach a larger audience.  It was so inspiring to watch–it would have been inspiring regardless, but it was even more so because I know Luisa Igloria, the new Poet Laureate.

As I watched, I made this Facebook post:  “I am watching Luisa A. Igloria‘s acceptance speech–she’s being sworn in as the Poet Laureate of Virginia. How cool that we can all watch, even if we can’t travel to Virginia. And even more wonderful to know that she was chosen–it gives me great hope for the future, both the future of poetry and the future of the country. It wasn’t long ago that a female would not have been chosen, an immigrant would not have been chosen, a non-white poet would not have been chosen. She’s an amazing poet, and I’m so happy that she’s been chosen!”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, When Your Cottage Doesn’t Catch Fire

Our world wobbles on its human-made axis of insanity and is always one blindfolded step from ruin:

pandemics, poverty, wars, and racism.

Countless beings wail in the key of pain, unable to retune themselves to ease.

Certain nights, the moon is just a trick of light;

one evening, it resembles a diamond, the next night, a dagger.

And so we strive to become one another’s steady shine,

through light and dark, rise and fall, song and smoke.

Rich Ferguson, The Moon is Never What You Thought it Was

On a day that I give into it all and do little more than sleep and eat and write these postcards, I wonder about the missives I send out into the world. Why does it matter to write snippets about bread and berries and walks and hammocks, as if such things matter in times such as these? Can it? Do they? If I write about the sweet and omit the bitter, am I delusional? Am I in denial? Am I bearing false witness if I crop loneliness and sorrow and fatigue out of my stories, or if I leave only their shadows at the edges of the margins?

Late that night a friend shares an essay, and Lyz Lenz reminds me that our stories in times such as these–all of them–are “a struggle of memory against forgetting.” They are “a struggle of nuance in the flat face of fascism.”

Reading, I understand what I often forget, and why I force myself to do joyful things even when they bring me little joy and why I write about them. It is a struggle to hold onto old joys in a new age of despair: To shape the dough, pick the berries, move the legs, still the body long enough to feel warm breeze against hot skin–and write about it. It is a struggle when such acts and the writing about them may feel trivial, inconsequential, or even self-indulgent. But they aren’t, and it isn’t.

To do such things and write about them, to remember what was sweet in the past and keep it present–even if flawed, even if lesser-than, even if the gesture feels cliched or hollow–so that it won’t disappear into some dark forest of the future, is a making-and-doing of the highest order.

As Lenz reminded me, when writers write they know: “At least I am still here.” And when we read their stories of living plot lines like our own, we know that we are, too.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Postcards, the making and doing edition

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 26

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: posts about the role of art and artists in a broken world, menopause, disability, inequality and pandemic; the fleeting joys of summer, books, gardening, nature, and a new album from the UK poet laureate. Among other things.


It has been over a year since I posted on this blog, a yawning gap that horrifies me. WordPress is suggesting I might like to riff on the keywords ‘toddler, delicious, politics.’ True, my thoughts these days are often split between dinner and Lego. But after a spell consumed by maternity leave and then the ongoing global pandemic, I’m back on the blog to review a really timely, genre-defying album I’ve been listening to, a new project featuring Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, a musical collaboration which foregrounds the spoken word.

Simon Armitage was a big influence on me as a young writer. I remember picking up ‘Zoom’ in an independent bookshop in Chesterfield and hiding away in the corner by the coffee shop to read it from cover to cover, enchanted by the wise-cracking narrators and shrewd observations of life experiences that didn’t seem so alien from my own. His succinct portraits of characters in crisis and his gift for finding surreal but convincing images might seem to make his work well suited for song-writing. But this project isn’t songs exactly, more poetry-meets-melody. […]

‘Call In The Crash Team’ foregrounds Simon Armitage’s words and voice, but there’s a sense of genuine dialogue between music and lyrics, haunting refrains emphasising the narrative of each piece. I found it strangely addictive, tracks instantly sticking in my head, becoming peculiar earworms.

Helen Mort, Call In The Crash Team – album review

“A lot of the lyrics have come about from writing in a time of post-industrialisation, austerity, and the recession,” explains Armitage. “And yet, even through those years and those atmospheres, there’s still been an exuberance around, an exuberance of communication, information, language. I think a lot of the speakers in the pieces are expressing some kind of marginalisation and are doing so as if they’re almost hyperventilating.”

That marginalisation reaches a sort of zenith, if that’s the right word, at the end of Adam’s Apple after a sequence of three songs that end with Waters singing/repeating  “It’s all too much for you” in ‘ the exquisite You Were Never Good With Horses, “move on, move on” in Urban Myth #91 and then “let go, let go” at the end of Adam’s Apple

Each song is written form the point of view of different characters, Never Good With Horses, for example written from the point of view of some dissatisfied with their partner’s discomfort with the natural world. The partner “comfortable with a steering wheel”  and “watching the movie of life layout through the windscreen’s lens”— a nod to Iggy Pop’s The Passenger, perhaps, but they “were never good with horses…my dear, always took a step backwards when they came near. Couldn’t bear to look in the dark rock pools of their eyes”. That last line is when you know you’ve got a poet running the lyrical show.

Mat Riches, LYR – Call In The Crash Team

This week I’ve left my phone at home for a few days and enjoyed not being in its company. We spent a beautiful day at the seaside for my daughter’s 21st birthday on Tuesday which was the first day of the most recent heatwave. The roads weren’t busy at all and there was plenty of social distancing on the beach – unlike subsequent days at the same location which you might have seen alarming pictures of in the media – so we were able to relax as a family with our picnic and swim in the sea. I am sort of regretting not taking any photos that I could now scroll through – and share with you – but at the time it was refreshingly calming not to be snapping away, replying to messages and generally falling down the rabbit hole of social media and non-stop news. I swam a bit, walked along the beach a bit, read a lot, talked to the family.

Josephine Corcoran, Once Upon a Lockdown Rose Unfolding

She tosses fistful of bleach into the vegetables simmering in the pan     the foam shores up like the salt at the estuary in Marakannam          In the town without a beach where the land lazily         copulates with the sea        the breeze at the gopura vassal  breathes into the womb  of her memory It is then she hears the machine                    in the depth of the lungs like a hawk rasping

Uma Gowrishankar, Bleached in the beachless town

Stars in a cold sky
Mend the torn butterfly wings
Underground railroad

At first these 3 lines don’t seem to go together at all. But as I’ve been thinking about them, I’ve been sensing connections.

Clearly, my subconscious is working on various connections that I don’t readily see as I move from task to task.

This morning, I made this Facebook post: “I had my first dream that had me worrying about close proximity and COVID-19 transmission. In my dream, we were packed in a Lutheran church for a high festival day. I was admiring the fabrics in everyone’s stoles and the banners and light streamed through stunning stained glass. And then I realized we were packed into the pews and had been for hours and no one was wearing a mask. It doesn’t take a trained psychologist to analyze the anxiety aspect of the dream–but in a church on a high festival day with beautiful fabrics all around me? Really, dreaming brain, really?”

I’ve spent the morning thinking about this dream, thinking about the reasons why I’m having a COVID-19 anxiety dream set in a church, especially when my local church will not be gathering in person until after Labor Day, if then.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Subconscious at Work and at Dreaming

Aubade Without End

Open a window; whistle
in the key of birdsong.

Stick your prayer flags
in the tumble drier.

Hear the kettle bubble
with laughter.

Bid the clock
keep its hands to itself.

Jayne Stanton, Postcards from Malthusia DAY SIXTY-NINE

When I had cancer? People used to say it to me nearly every day. About being brave. How we all had so much courage. Well, no. I didn’t feel it, didn’t have it, still don’t think I did. All we did was follow what we were told. And show up. We kept showing up. But, no. It wasn’t there. Not in my veins with the chemotherapy, and not in the radiation-tiredness several months later. One conversation stands out: when I challenged the radiologist to chat with me a bit more while they positioned me on the slab: that was courage. And another: When Jörn looked me in the eye and told me it might not be working and maybe to start thinking about a different outcome. God: I am telling you this now: I miss him, even though I am better.

And now? As I confront my racism? No. Please. It’s overdue and necessary. But it isn’t courageous. (Please don’t pat me on the back with a nice comment about this.)

Admitting to depression?

Facing my grief? And allowing myself to experience it?

Perhaps.

Maybe.

Those are truths I am learning to stand in. And I have to stand in them, the same as I have to stand and face and confront my racism. So I’m not sure. I am not sure. Perhaps saying I am not sure I don’t know maybe and perhaps are more courageous than I am absolutely right on this one. Perhaps more of us need to live in maybe. I’m not sure.

What about when I started writing poetry, the least profitable writing on the planet? Or this blog? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Still don’t have it. I hit publish. I ship. I never know what is happening. What the showing up will force me into saying. But I am glad I do it. Even though as Shawna says it feels like the void. Well, lucky old void. But I do it anyway.

Anthony Wilson, Courage

Peer into mirrors

and see villages decimated by fire,
valleys from which creatures fled

toward forests of glinting knives.
From smoke, collect precious blood.

We can’t stop until our cities gleam
with the shine of our stolen names.

Luisa A. Igloria, Choropleth

Who could have predicted red excess,
unspeakable clots of denouement?
My mouths are unjammed, endless mess
of me congealing at the bottom of the john.

Ready now to lose the losing: night sweats,
palpitations, insomnia, floods of gore, done.
Dried up, a long fluent speech in crimson.
Dissolved and flushed. Yet the song carries
on, uncorkable pour of me, shameless.

Lesley Wheeler, Why You Should Be Reading About Menopause

Today I’d intended blogging about the books I read during lockdown, but after reading  Lesley Wheeler’s post, ‘Why you should be reading about menopause‘, I decided to post the poem below – first published in Tears in the Fence, issue 70. It’s a poem that uses found text, and I remember editing it a few times, each time condensing it a bit until I arrived at what I wanted, or as near as.
I was over the moon to have this poem accepted, as I’d submitted to Tears in the Fence on a number of occasions and not been successful. Then, oddly, I forgot about it. However, reading Lesley’s post brought it to mind again, so thanks Lesley for sharing your story and your reading list.
I’ll share my lockdown reading next week. In the meantime, here’s the poem:

to the militant, identity is everything
(Susan Sontag)

the older female body is needful of respect/ modes of representation must be consciously transcended/ I formulate this observation as movingly and concisely as I can/ Collette knew the sovereignty of the woman of a certain age/ drawn-out voluptuousness framed by darkness/ so powerful and indelible/ we are expected to perform the commodity we were invented to be/ in novels the older woman imparts etiquette/ the younger falls in love with a sugar beet baron/ grand salons were nothing more than a conceptual image/ depression and gonorrhea were the reality/ these days fulfilment means being obsessed by the question of your own authenticity/ when exactly does a woman achieve the menopause/ when should she stop dying her hair?

Julie Mellor, to the militant, identity is everything

I have not written here because I am wary of writing about my mental illness not only panic attacks in the store but the fact that people are shooting guns nightly loud and close for no reason other than the fact that they have guns and it’s their second amendment right to shoot them and now fireworks on top of that it really wakes up my PTSD that startle instinct is so strong I have not written here because I am tired of writing about my about my damn mental illness and I am still without a psychiatrist

I haven’t written here because my bipolar disorder hasn’t taken a breath even though the whole wolf world is on a break and last night my mentally divergent brain was cycling so rapidly I only slept for three hours

I’ve been working on a poem but my progress with it is glacial much like watching things grow yesterday I realized that my green house is simply a seashell in the world’s terrarium and benign alien beings watch over us with love and grace

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

‪‪you
tell me that we are not doomed‬
‪with words that are littered‬ out
of cars that fill extracted gardens
and the faecal hemispheres
of brains in denial of the
anthropocene such
a nice word that unfortunately
will not fit any tombstone
made from recycled denial
black plastic hate preserving
perfectly the scattering of
eulogies for rational thought
that the herds trample now
you
tell me no
it’s all
OK
isn’t it

Jim Young, you tell me no

The war we’ve been born into where our first crying breath is a bruise that never heals.

Some use their wounds to flower the blood, others carve their pain into stones and go on the attack.

Touch, turmoil, tango: a counter-clockwise dance leading us in and out of love.

Throats offering shelter for song-chakra while also making themselves just the right shape and size for strangling.

The war we’ve been born into where enemies are created by our simply being.

Others stand boldly on the frontlines, scar their lips with light, speak only peace.

Rich Ferguson, The War We’ve Been Born Into

I confess I found The Name of the Rose boring, even after giving it a second chance. I didn’t mind shredding it. But why was Thoreau on the discard pile? It’s true he shouldn’t be but I’ve read most Thoreau and assumed I didn’t need to read him again. He writes wonderfully but always seemed like a narcissist, and the story (myth?) about him living his solitary life on Walden Pond but having his mother do his laundry conjures all the snark in my heart.

Nevertheless I was combing the essays for ‘by’ and came up often in some interesting and beautiful phrases. I was distracted by the content of the text. Close an eye to century and circumstance and Thoreau has relevant things to say. He died in 1862 of TB, a few months before Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

We dream of foreign countries, of other times and races of men, placing them at a distance in history or space; but let some significant event like the present occur in our midst, and we discover, often, this distance and this strangeness between us and our nearest neighbors. They are our Austrias, and Chinas, and South Sea Islands.

That’s rather how I’ve felt through the past weeks, watching everyone react in different ways to politics and inequality and ideas.

Anyway, I cut Thoreau up and tossed the scraps. But I also felt like I was ingesting the essays. I have since spit some of it back out in various collages.

Sarah J Sloat, By looking in the mirror

When I told a colleague that I’d set up the greenhouses, she said she imagined I had read up in detail on everything to do with gardening. And I see why she’d say that. The odd thing is – I haven’t. I am truly going at it with a beginner’s mind: I put some seeds in the dirt and watered them, and now I have cilantro for the next few months. The strawberry plants have white flowers and funny, green-freckled strawberry-promises. There are wild vines from the sweet potato plants that I have no idea what to do with, but I am excited to see what happens. I’m quite prepared that it may all go to hell.

I’m silently and happily ignoring everyone’s advice. I did however accept a kale plant from H. It seems she planted her bed too tightly.

Running the same old route today, I tried to see it for the first time. It wasn’t difficult. The canopies of the trees have become so lush that the trail is darker than it was just a few weeks ago. The lilypads are budding with little yellow fists everywhere. I was careful to keep an eye out for snakes.

To the artist there is never anything ugly in nature.

I wondered what you made of this quote from Rodin? I don’t know how he was defining “nature”. And I wonder how I define it. This virus is a part of nature. And we are seeing in the news are aspects of human behavior that are undeniably human nature, undeniably ugly.

And then I’m not sure if Rodin was setting out to define an artist by how they see the world, or to describe how an artist sees the world. The cynic in me wonders what he might have been excusing by virtue of “art”. Artists excusing ugly behavior on the basis of their identity as artists is something I still can’t accept. I want to strip all artists of a sense of entitlement and have them focus on obligation.

Ren Powell, Work for Pleasure

Beneath it all there’s a feeling, both with the pandemic and the heightened awareness of Black Lives Matter, which does matter to me a great deal, that making “beautiful” art in this moment is frivolous, superfluous, socially-irrelevant — and, at worst, white, privileged, and clueless. This is a dilemma into which many artists in all fields fall at some time, and I can talk my way through it to some extent: art and beauty are always relevant, but especially at difficult times, because the human spirit needs them, and because art affirms who we are at our best. But, oddly, it’s a lot easier for me to participate in making a virtual choir video than in filling sketchbook pages with color and line and form. It’s not just about me, it’s collective, and even though we’re singing European classical music, I know from comments received that the performances are a comfort that are appreciated by listeners well beyond our own congregation. It also doesn’t feel problematic to write a blog post like this or keep my journal or write letters, where I’m trying to figure things out and to communicate.

As for art, though… I appreciated a line that my friend Teju Cole wrote in a New York Times collection of essays about the pandemic: “In these bruising days, any delicately made thing quickens the heart.”

In a letter of response to him I wrote:

“I worry that all the delicate things are endangered, frivolous, or irrelevant, and that makes me sad, because I feel we need them more than ever when our hearts are so battered. Recently, inadvertently, I saw a set of collaged photographs of the youngest Black person to be executed in the United States — it was a 14-year-old boy who looked like a child, being strapped into the electric chair — I don’t remember the year. His eyes were open, frightened, but somehow uncomprehending; it was the most horrific series of images, and I can’t get them out of my mind. The cruelty of this country has been, and is, limitless.”

Perhaps that is the crux of it: we have all been seeing images and videos that are deeply disturbing, and somehow this affects our visual/mental/emotional processing in general, particularly for those like me who are somewhere on the empath spectrum. I’m able to write about how I feel, I’m able to put my emotions into music, but I’m not willing to make dark, disturbing, or violent art — and “pretty” art feels superficial — so instead, I don’t make much of any at all.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 31: Struggling with Art

Today’s poem is a rather poignant one, not in tone but in the circumstances surrounding it. James Aitchison is a poet who lives in Stirling. He was born in Stirlingshire in 1938 and has written a number of superb poetry collections over the years including a study of Edwin Muir’s poetry (The Golden Harvester) and the fascinating and ambitious New Guide to Poetry and Poetics (Rodopi, 2013) which explores the nature of poetic creativity. He’s a poet I discovered when I was starting to write poetry in earnest myself and he’s someone whose work I treasure very highly and return to regularly for guidance.

People who have encountered Aitchison’s poetry before probably know that one of his main themes is the mind itself, an epistemological focus on how it works (or not!), ranging from an awareness of our primeval pre-human consciousness to the very heights of artistic endeavour and how this is achieved. Today’s poem is a playful meditation on the mistakes we make as learners and looks at the eventual decline of the mind.

I began my intro here saying that this poem is a poignant one. This is because last year, shortly after this poem was written, Aitchison had a near-fatal stroke which resulted in some serious neurological and physical impairments. But he remains hopeful for recovery and is looking forward to writing poems and gardening once more. I wish him the very best and I am honoured that he has given me his consent to share this poem with you. His most recent collection is Learning How to Sing (Mica Press, 2018). [Click through to read the poem.]

Ritchie McCaffery, One poem by James Aitchison

This week, I will be back to library tasks from home after a much needed week off, including a hard press on things that won’t be as likely to happen once we’re back. Also new layouts and some author copy orders.  I did get a chance to focus on a lot of writing and revision related things, as well as send off some submissions of the work that was building up from late last year and early this one. I am still plotting ways to support and publicize the new book during the social distancing era and got a bit of a start on a book trailer. I’ve also been musing over what to do with the build up of other, newer, manuscripts –I am seriously considering publishing them through Amazon so they’ll also be available via e-book, which seems more important now than ever.  I love the presses I’ve worked with but also like the autonomy of self-publishing, though the groundwork is a little harder than if you have a press sponsoring a release. Since I am finishing a lot of projects (feed, dark country, soon animal, vegetable, monster)–most of which I am itching to make available in a more timely matter–it gives me a bit more control.   And I have the layout and design skills to make a really nice book  (and if not Amazon, who I have complicated feelings about, another POD publisher.) I’ve also been self-publishing smaller projects for years, and while I initially struggled with the legitimacy goblin and what is “acceptable” in the poetry biz world–especially in this new world where we all may die of covid next week–fuck that shit. Fuck all of it. While I was creatively paralyzed and could barely write at all for a couple months there. I am writing again and want to find the most efficient way to connect with readers and some of the old models are sometimes not the best.  

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 6/22/2020

Of the ideas pitched to help revolutionize how we do poetry publishing, one that appears now and again is a kind of “reverse Submittable” (RevSub from here on out): rather than having poets submit repeatedly to numerous journals, this would allow for a one time, one stop posting site for your work which editors could then browse and select. Make the publisher come to the writer, essentially. The idea is appealing for poets in particular because it cuts down on the redundant, tedious task of sending out the same poems and collections over and over (to very, very high rejection rates). This could also lead to better placement for the poet, if say multiple journals all want the same poem, they could choose which would be the best fit for them. If voting and commenting were enabled, this forum in itself could be gratifying and function as a kind of publication in itself, as opposed to the arid wasteland that is a Submittable queue. It could lead to greater transparency, and possibly a more real-time sense of where an dhow ones work stands. Further, it would cut down to some extent on the hidden hierarchy of editorships and the inscrutable processes by which poems are selected and chosen.

R.M. Haines, “Reverse Submittable” and the Dream of Co-Operative Publishing

Flint is built around a central question, one that is at the heart of grief and at the heart of life: “How do we give hope to the dead?” Because we are all, in the end, ‘the dead’, and because we are all strangers to each other (it is only a matter of degree), this extended prose poem is about finding the passages that lead us towards each other, so that we might “commune”, or (to use a noun phrase which carries more specifically religious connotations), so that we might partake of “communion”: a wonderful word, which Díaz Enciso uses in relation to the crowd at a rock concert which later becomes the crowd at a funeral. It is in this communion (which, more than a coming together, is a sharing of intimacies) that hope in the form of Spring is found. Not for nothing does the poet comment at Flint’s funeral “The world is, today, an orchard”. 

I suspect, because of its unusual form and perhaps because of its use of a real-life deceased  individual with relatives and presumably an estate, that this may be a pamphlet which continues to find full publication elusive, but I hope I am wrong because it is a profoundly moving piece of work which deserves a wide readership. Anyone who has a mind open to the creative and generative potential of placing one thing beside and in place of another, should take a look at what this e-pamphlet has on offer. 

Flint – An Elegy and a Book of Dreams is available from Adriana Díaz Enciso’s website, here. 

The poet will donate one third of any proceeds to the National Suicide Prevention Alliance and another third to the NHS. 

Chris Edgoose, The Man in the Tunnel: Flint by Adriana Díaz Enciso

So, besides trying to take bird pictures while I was briefly awake every day this week, I tried to distract myself from the pain (I can’t take most pain medications, sadly) with the Apple TV series Dickinson – Emily Dickinson’s imagined life as a rebellious young woman, with a trip-hop soundtrack and a music-video aesthetic, complete with giant bee hallucinations, and caught the film of Virginia Woolf’s speculative novel of time-travel and crossing gender boundaries, Orlando, starring Tilda Swinton, which was beautiful and playful and very well done. I enjoyed Dickinson (especially a guest appearance by John Mulaney as a notoriously unhelpful Thoreau – spoiler alert: I never liked Thoreau) and it drove me to go back to finally finish the slow-and-scholarly book After Emily, a discussion of how Emily’s work eventually got published, by whom, and how it became famous. I’ve been making my way through Woolf’s work in the last year, so watching Orlando fit right into to my reading agenda. Both shows make the point of how difficult it was in each time period to become a woman writer with respect and a following. The more things change…the more they stay the same?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Reports from a Root Canal, Dickinson and Orlando, and an Uptick in Coronavirus Cases Across the US

Rob: You mentioned our sudden new era of Zoom brunches. I think a lot of people who have gone through a major event in their personal life, as you have with your concussion and recovery, are finding it surreal to watch everyone collectively deal with the upheaval of the COVID-19 outbreak, having experienced their own upheaval, alone, previously. How are you doing? In what ways do you see overlaps between what you experienced recovering from your concussion and what we are witnessing and experiencing now?

Kyla: Isolation is not new to me. Getting groceries only once a week or once every two weeks is not new to me. Being unable to leave the house or see people and being unable to access basic healthcare is not new to me. I already know how the light falls inside my apartment at all times of days and in all seasons. It’s been three years since my injury, and symptom management is still my primary occupation.

I can see how this might sound bleak, but isolation has been my reality, and I’ve found ways to live within the restrictions my disability imposed, rather than waiting for it to be over so I could go back to “normal.” Right now, I see people questioning normalcy and who the status quo serves more than ever. Crisis can force re-examinings, it can be generative, but the cost can be unbearably high.

If I may, a few pandemic pieces by disabled writers that I’d recommend: this Grazia essay by Mimi Butlin — filed under “Health & Fitness,” because the perspectives of chronically ill folks are now considered relevant instead of fringe; this Vice piece featuring Sharona Franklin, the artist behind one of my favourite disability-related instagram accounts, @hot.crip; and Liz Bowen’s newsletter from New York.

Rob: Yes, of course! Thank you so much for those links, and for bringing in new ways of looking at and thinking about the world. Your book does a lot of that, too. In “I’m Not Better I’m Just Less Dead” you write “I have nothing / to offer Literature / or Capitalism / not even a body / just an illness.” Similarly, you write in a subsequent poem “Has illness / made me more / or less human?” All of that struck me, the separating of the body, the self and the illness, each influencing the other but apart from it. It made me think about “me” in a different way. Which of those parts (the body, the self, the illness) do you consider “you” and which feel outside of “you”? From which do you think these poems emerged?

Kyla: I think I was working at the Prose Editor at PRISM international when I wrote that first poem, but I could barely read, and I was hiding the extent of my symptoms because I didn’t want to lose my job. I couldn’t review books, I couldn’t host or attend events, I couldn’t hang out with other writers or read their work. The amount of labour I could do, either intellectually or physically, was really limited. And so much of the messaging we receive, implicitly and explicitly, is that our value is rooted in our productivity, our ability to labour in particular ways and under particular conditions. That’s part of the reasoning used to justify and perpetuate ableism.

When I became disabled, I simultaneously became less useful to capitalism (except insofar as I was spending everything I had on rehabilitation) and some of the people around me, and more useful to myself and the people who understood me. I think the self is the core, but it can’t be cleaved from the body, or the ways illness imposes itself on that body. These poems came from a need to make that imposition visible, and unmistakable.

Rob Taylor, Visible and Unmistakable: An Interview with Kyla Jamieson

But honestly, the problem isn’t within us as individuals (and so we can’t fix our feelings about them entirely through our individual actions), and shouldn’t living feel like a slog right now? The world is way, way too much with us these days. You know that old bumper sticker, the one about how if you’re not pissed off you’re not paying attention, or something along those lines? That. All of which is why one of the things I’ve been grateful for this week is learning that there’s a word for exactly what I’ve been feeling: Weltschmerz.

Isn’t that a grand word? It’s almost onomatopoeic, the way those syllables sort of crash into each other on their way out of your mouth, with that hard stop right in the middle of it and that sort of drunken-sounding raspy sibilant ending. You’ve got all the elements for a party in those letters and sounds–and you can see that–but they don’t arrange themselves into a party. They aren’t in the right order.

If you, too, have been wading through weltschmerz (aka jello, aka existential depression), isn’t it at least a little comforting to know that other people have felt exactly the same way–enough people that we have a word that captures the subtle nuances of this feeling, and of this maybe-apocalypse that we’re living through? (Hey, on top of pandemic, economic meltdown, institutional instability, and massive unrest, don’t forget the climate. It’s still melting.) It’s not boredom or depression or listlessness or ennui or anxiety or angst. It’s weltschmerz, baby. And if ever there was a moment for it, surely it’s now.

You’re not alone and you’re not broken or ungrateful or spoiled. Things are fairly terrible. Don’t let the toxic positivity crowd gaslight you into thinking the problem is you and your attitude. Maybe, instead, your feelings are a sign of your wholeness and your optimism and your hope, and of your positive vision and your love for the world. Maybe it’s all the very things we’ll need to get us through to some better other side.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Weltschmerz to my world

Just a sliver of waxing moon, one night after the new moon, and no breeze at all. A hot summer night here on the hard edge of the world. I am a speck on this huge planet, which is itself but a speck in the vastness of the galaxy, and beyond that, the numberless galaxies of the endless universe. Oh my. Just then I felt a bare hint of a breeze. 

James Lee Jobe, Just a sliver of waxing moon, one night after the new moon, and no breeze at all.