Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 13-14

Poetry Blogging Network

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

After two weeks away, I’ve had to be a bit more selective than usual to keep the digest to a reasonable length, though I’m not sure I’ve quite succeeded in that! Na/GloPoWriMo, Easter/Passover, and the generally fucked-up state of the world have given poets a lot to blog about. Enjoy.


April is National Poetry Writing month, and I’m writing a poem a day to celebrate. I have a string of poems based on a movie I’d like to write on, and I’ve been interested in working through my Handbook of Poetic Forms to challenge myself to write form poems. To be honest, I’m not sure if either of those veins of writing will produce anything book or chapbook worthy at the end, but I think there is much to be said for simply practicing your craft in a steady way. So that is why I participate in NaPoWriMo just about every year.

Renee Emerson, NaPoWriMo

So excited to embark on this journey once more! Outside my window, April is in full bloom and pouring buckets of rain, but I find the rain soothing; it can’t dampen my joy. This year, NaPoWriMo is celebrating its 20th anniversary and I’m beyond happy to have joined its cohort of intrepid travelers in 2017! Many thanks to Maureen Thorson for launching NaPoWriMo in 2003. A whole flock of baby poems I wrote during the month of April in the past six years were subsequently published in journals and will appear in my two upcoming books. I’m so grateful for this unique experience that once upon a time pulled me out of the I-can’t-write-worth-a-damn fog and set me firmly on my writing path. There’s some kind of magic that happens when time is short, when you have a juicy prompt, and, most of all, when there’s a whole community spurring you along and cheering you on. It’s a race against yourself, really. The bad habits you’ve worked so hard to develop the rest of the year simply don’t stand a chance. I’m glad and honored to be part of something so nourishing.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2023

Week 1 of GloPoWriMo, the Global Poetry Writing Month, and I’ve managed something every day. Sometimes a whole poem comes, sometimes just notes. Some of the notes have been used in other poems. some will just decay as compost. I’ve used a mixture of the NaPoWriMo website’s daily prompts and ideas from other places. One poem was inspired by a 6th-grade maths lesson I was in. I hope I didn’t look like I was fangirling while taking notes. 

Today I have an online write-along booked with Jen Hadfield. It seems strange to write silently with other writers on a Zoom call. We don’t interact except at the check-ins at the beginning and end. We don’t share what we’ve written, and many turn off their camera and mic while writing. It’s the booking time with other writers, with the muse to write and the shared activity. Others are with me, struggling to put words on the page, finding the gentle pressure to produce. It does inspire me somehow. 

Gerry Stewart, GloPoWriMo and Spring Cleaning

all the poems
I saved up
to write
later are
dissolving
out of me

all the stones
I saved up
as markers
or fossils
dissolved
in water

all the bones,
well, the bones
just dissolve
as they do
you know, like
memory

PF Anderson, LEFTOVER BITS #NaPoWriMo

It’s been weird having a desire of late to write in the blog but also having very little time for the blog. During my sabbatical last fall, I had time to write in the blog but little desire. I didn’t want to take time away from my project to write about the project, so I didn’t.

I suspect that because I’m no longer engaged in being a writer full-time, the impulse to record in the blog has come back because it will make me feel, well, more like a writer. Nothing has really changed, though — time I use to write in the blog is still time I could use to work on my project (my play, but like anyone needs reminding of THAT).

I’m intuiting, however, that my need to write in the blog is about laying my thoughts out about the process, keeping a record of my ups and downs, marking the history of the play’s creation — something that didn’t feel necessary last fall when I had the days and weeks open to me.

That openness, and that silence, actually, is what I needed most in order to move forward with the play, and I think that was also why I didn’t write in the blog quite so much. It felt more like an interruption, then.

Now, as I try to work on the play while also writing reviews of poetry collections and teaching classes and grading (I am always, always behind in grading), I need the blog as a way of remembering where I am. Where I stood the day before, or the week before, or the month before. So much is lost if I don’t write it down.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Blogging vs. Not Blogging vs. The Word Blogging is So Strange and Not Really a Word

I’m not as concerned about whether or not kids learn cursive handwriting in schools from a motor-skills viewpoint — after all, no one can argue that there’s not major dexterity involved in typing on a phone with both thumbs at high speed, and most young people seem amazingly good at that. The brain’s ability to form ideas and thoughts and transform them into words is probably not hugely different when the end result is written with a pen than when it’s typed – although, let’s admit it — there’s a big difference between texting and writing a long, thoughtful letter to a friend. 

But because the development of writing, as symbols made by hand, was such a critical part of human development itself, I do suspect that some sort of evolutionary neural pathway is no longer being used when we do not use our hands in this way. Maybe another question to ask is, “What Else Died when We Killed Off Penmanship?” I’m being somewhat facetious: plenty of people, like my left-handed husband, never learned cursive handwriting, and that fact didn’t interfere with either his dexterity or creativity. It’s not cursive that’s at issue: it’s what happens when we write words and thoughts down by hand. It’s a slower process, related to drawing, that requires us to think carefully — there’s no delete button — and use fine-motor coordination, as our brains navigate a complex communication pathway between mind, eye, and hand — and from there to the intended recipient of whatever we wanted to record or communicate.

What specialized and complex tasks DO we actually use that mind-eye-hand pathway for, anymore? We brush our teeth and dress ourselves, we might prepare some food; some of us play sports; we certainly type. But fewer and fewer people play instruments, learn to draw, learn to write beautifully, know how to do needlework or woodworking, make a really good meal from scratch without taking all night, throw a clay pot, know how to fix their own cars or a leaking faucet — the list goes on. Cars are a good example — even if someone might want to learn how to service their own car, most vehicles have become so complex, with computer-controlled systems, that it’s not even possible. In this sort of world, where the knowledge, desire, and need to do such things are disappearing, I wonder if the human being isn’t becoming something quite different from what we were in all the preceding centuries. How are our brains changing in the process?

Beth Adams, Can We Reprogram our Brains?

Most writers have some kind of degree in something…..Creative Writing, English, Fine Arts, other subjects I can’t even name. As a self-taught writer, I have none of those things. The reasons I don’t are varied and, honestly, inconsequential to who I am now. Since I don’t have a formal education in subjects helpful (essential?) to writers, I’m constantly “discovering” writers, essayists, poets that everyone else has already read. For me, this is exciting because, at the age of 60-something, I am still learning. I often become aware of writerly things because of the online writer community, my community of writer friends. I am indebted to them. (You know who you are, tweeps.)

For a while, at first, I was very insecure about my lack of literary education. No, actually I wasn’t insecure for a few years because I was clueless about literary things. I was working, living my life, writing without a support system at all. When I began noticing people’s bio’s attached to published pieces I went through a period of insecurity. But I was being published myself regularly so I decided, What the hell? I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. If a litmag needs writers with degrees to accept a piece, it’s not the litmag for me. And that’s easy enough to figure out.

I was deep in the What the hell phase when I applied for Creative Nonfiction Editor at Citron Review. During the Zoom interview I told them up front that I didn’t have a degree, that I understood if that was an accomplishment they preferred their Editors possessed. I was assured it didn’t matter and, yep, they took me on. I’ve been with Citron for two years now and I can’t say enough about the welcoming, encouraging, supportive culture there.

Charlotte Hamrick, Coming Clean

Rooms: Women, Writing, Woolf by Sina Queyras came out in 2022 and I bought it then, read the first 50 pages and and set it aside. I was going through my blue period, tilting into darkness, and nothing I was reading was sticking. I picked it up yesterday and read the rest of it in one sitting. I think about Woolf a lot, and women and rooms, and yet Queyras had me thinking again about all of these things in new ways. I won’t say a ton, because it’s so fresh in my brain, but I’ll venture to say that this is a necessary volume. They say, “I am a flawed, working-class, queer writer, and also a flawed queer. I was never even gay in the right way. Always out of step.” And then, “I ask myself constantly….why do you return again and agin to Woolf? It is because the text made me!” And isn’t that a moment of joy for us all, to be in the presence of such a wonderful engagement with a text.

They talk about the intertwining nature of life and work, and “the wisdom of one’s work being throughly, beautifully, productively, ethically entwined in one’s life” They ask, “What have I longed for? Not for prizes, or fame, or bestseller lists, but for an authentic intellectual and creative practice. Time and money enough for work.”

Queyras also voices this: “One of the great questions is, how do we show up for each other? How do we appreciate the writers we love? Also, how do we manage the relationship to our own room and the access of those we love to rooms of their own, too?”

They point out, “in our society, a room comes generally at the expense of someone else not having one.” As I sit here in my reasonably instagrammable room I type out that sentence and I feel it. For a decade and a half I’ve worked for the most part in public libraries where I’ve taken a special interest in connecting houseless and other folks to the services they need. Through the pandemic and now it’s been especially harrowing work. The job has been other things and more than that but also that. And I admit that I come home to my pretty study space after hearing trauma-laced stories, and it feels just very wrong, you know? The brutal disparity.

Shawna Lemay, Recommended Reading: Ghosts, Rooms, Blue

It had never occurred to me before that evening that a famous poet would care whether or not his words mattered to an awkward young woman. And that woman wasn’t me but my friend who summoned everything she had in her to crash the party and speak to the poet who meant so much to her.

My words fail me here. This remembrance isn’t about Merwin’s stellar and important work. It’s not about all the times I saw him read after that night, or how the evening shaped me as a poet. It’s about that one small gesture: to answer my friend with kindness, to see her as a fellow poet, and to honor that connection.

Decades later, a friend gave me a copy of this poem, “To the Book” as my book The Alchemist’s Kitchen came into the word and now, this past February, this poem opens the book Demystifying the Manuscript which I have co-edited with my friend Kelli Russell Agodon. This is how poetry enters our world: threading its way through gate crashing parties and via kind friends.

Susan Rich, Crashing the party, then speaking to the guest of honor: W.S. Merwin

In Haggards I wrote about the world as ‘a web of speaking beings’, and, though The Well of the Moon is a more personal book than that, it built on and developed that concept. It’s one I got from Julia Kristeva, who used it to help children with mental health difficulties, particularly victims of abuse. She stressed the importance, to a person in difficulty, of being able to speak your truth, and know you are heard, and, through my own experience and that of members of my family, I have come to value this very much. But The Well of the Moon is also about something else. I believe a human person is not only a ‘speaking being’, but a ‘listening being’ – a being in dialogue.

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Well of the Moon Live Launch

I’ve had the pleasure of participating in three readings from Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology, including one just the other day at University of Wolverhampton in the UK. There’s another virtual reading coming up with the Wild & Precious Life Series on Wednesday, April 12, at 7:30 p.m. 

On Feb. 2, I read in-person at the Let Me Say This Anthology launch hosted by Georgia Center for the Book. This was my first reading in front of an audience in three years and since my cancer surgery. I was incredibly self-conscious  about my droopy face, but I made it through (thanks to Karen Head for the photo above). We had an incredible turnout, so hats off to editors Julie Bloemeke and Dustin Brookshire for making it happen. 

In May, I’ll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Modern Confessional blog with a special post. Twenty years?!?

Collin Kelley, A Spring Update

Q: What happens when a poet attempts to write a full-length book of prose?

A: She learns to count words.

On January 2, 2023, I started writing my first memoir. I’d spent October, November and December going over notebooks, journals, photo albums, and emails from the last ten years, recovering memories, reconstructing scenes, and asking myself how I would shape this book. I also read a dozen books of memoir, as well as books about writing memoir, and every other resource I could find regarding the subject. I watched films based on memoirs and biographies. I took Marion Roach’s memoir class. I drilled my family on their recollections. I asked myself, over and over, what is this book about? No, what’s it really about?

Erica Goss, Thousands of Words

Big news arrived this week: Wednesday morning, I talked by phone with Jeffrey Levine, who told me that Diane Seuss had named my next poetry book, Mycocosmic, runner-up for the Dorset Prize, and they want to publish it with a $1000 honorarium, likely in winter 2025. I said yes. I’m still stunned. My adoration for Seuss and her work–I’ve never met her, but I’ve been a fan for years of her poems and her literary generosity–makes the honor especially wonderful. And Tupelo will be the largest indie I’ve ever published poetry with, so it’s a lucky break.

I’ve been working toward Mycocosmic for some years, although it kept mutating. The “cosmic” in the title evokes the spell-poems, blessings, curses, and prayers I’ve been writing for a while, after gathering more my overtly political and historical poems in The State She’s In (although there are a few spell-poems in that book, too). In the late twenty-teens, I started to consider other ways poems might make change, particularly through lyric entrancement (repetition, rhyme, meter) and petitions to other-than-human powers. In a 2019 panel at the C.D. Wright Conference I called this mode “Uncanny Activism,” a title I redeployed for a Copper Nickel essay that became a chapter in Poetry’s Possible Worlds (in the book, called “Magic”), and I will use the phrase again for a panel gathering at the New Orleans Poetry Festival in a couple of weeks. For a Shenandoah portfolio of spell-poems, I used a different title, “A Grimoire: Poems in Pursuit of Transformation.” Same idea; long thinking.

“Myco” means fungal, a motif that crept up on me as I wrote and revised.

Lesley Wheeler, Mycocosmic and plutonic

There is a small flame inside each writer that becomes a little brighter when a reader takes the time to respond to their work. I was lucky enough this week to have my new book Corvus and Crater reviewed in Terrain.org by the talented writer Renata Golden. I am so profoundly grateful for Renata’s close reading and the conversation she opens up about my book. She saw that it is not just a book about grief or landscape, but also about fighting to be a whole person in a culture that tells women they need to be less.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Corvus and Crater begins her debut

Bookspines, uncracked, accrue
in tomblike rows, stone caveats
a daily reproach. Each inscribed box
looses doubt, poisoner of wells—
too obvious to mention Pandora here?
the one gift always unread.

How dull it is to die
while still alive.
How effortful.

How the mystic
is baffled
by striving.

Meanwhile, in the cemetery, groundbees
emerge drunk on light and heat.

JJS, Ekstasis

I’m old and I shall die soon. This much is true. For much of the time nowadays such anguished queries as to what manner of ‘soon’? whose ‘soon’? when does ‘soon’ transmute into pretty much now? go unspoken. The day is shopping, bed-making, emptying the dishwasher, walking the dog. I have a beer with friends; I talk, I argue, I laugh with my family. So that ‘soon’ simply ticks over as a managed sense of diminishing future, an intellectual awareness rather than a red-light imminence. And it goes without saying, of course, that throughout all the sturm und drang of childhood, youth and middle age, the immortality diode through which all experience was filtered performed its function admirably and my existential voltage flowed unimpeded forwards, always forwards.

Then 13 years ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After surgery and with treatment I live with it now and am assured by my oncologist that it’s not going to carry me off. But that door to the mortality ante-room was opened with the urologist’s words of diagnosis and with the passing of the years since that day the darkness within it impinges increasingly on that voltage flow.

Dick Jones, HOW IT IS.

The sky is luminous yellow and we’re all at the table with potatoes and wine. Everyone’s arguing and why won’t Jesus overthrow the state?—we don’t need heaven on earth but better civil society. I kissed Him and an otter entered into me and is doing flips. It’s like an orgasm 24/7 in there. This is the secret. There’s an otter inside everyone and it makes them come 24/7 just like the sun and the moon, the stars and all those unexpected holy rivers.

Gary Barwin, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JUDAS

Jesus on the cross is Good Friday‘s most “popular” image. And it’s not far away from what many people go through somewhere, not always far away, actually never far away, from us.

The war in Ukraine, the bombings in Israel and the never ending conflict at the occupied Palestinian territories, the civilian pain and hunger in Afghanistan, the many forgotten wars, ecological disasters in the so-called Global South, the bloody borders of the so-called Western World, deathly traps for refugees, for people who run away from all catastrophes mentioned. Crossed people, crossed nature and closed crossings, on land, on water, and often, in our minds.

Magda Kapa, Switzerland

This is the season for pruning
trees, folding winter clothes,
cleaning the clotted dust

from window frames,
listening for tiny signals
for help. Glass panes

shatter from schoolroom doors;
and watercolored sunflowers dry
above the heads of children

cowering under tables.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ecclesiastes

Here we are, Maundy Thursday again.  I am in a house that I didn’t own last year.  Last year, Maundy Thursday was the day before I broke my wrist.  This year, I am hearing all the broken body parts of our liturgy differently.

Diana Butler Bass has already written the perfect Maundy Thursday essay, the type of essay where I almost decide I don’t need to bother to write anything further.  She writes “Christians mostly think of Maundy Thursday as the run-up to the real show on Friday.”  And then she writes a whole essay to address this idea:  “What if we’ve gotten the week’s emphasis wrong?”  She writes a whole essay to expand on the idea that the table, the meal, should be the main point, not the cross.

On this day, I’m thinking of Anselm and his ideas of atonement.  On this day, I’m wondering what would have happened if Christianity had emphasized something different, if the cross could have been a different kind of symbol.  More on that tomorrow.

On this day, I’m thinking of those earliest Christians, sharing all they had, not calling themselves Christians yet, just a group of people who had experienced something shattering.  They gathered to try to understand what had happened and how to move forward.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Maundy Thursday: Back to the Table

Here is Buxton Spa, Easter, green hills.
Not a credit card between us.

Good intentions: it’s the year of the Pig.

We’ve been to China, lugged back
soldiers from Xian, wrapped in towels.

Now they’re resting under the Red Cross.

For our next birthdays, we say,
we just want Prosecco, book tokens, no bric-a-brac,

but our hands are restless,
our fingers flick through a tray of rings.

Fokkina McDonnell, Easter Monday

Happy Easter and Passover to those who celebrate. I always loved Easter as a kid, mainly because our family celebrated by watching “Jesus Christ Superstar” and we got chocolate bunnies. It’s also a time of rebirth, of celebrating spring, of renewal – even in the cold rain today, you can feel the flowers and the green leaves happening.

What happened to April? It started with a few early book launch events (the book is officially out May 8th,) nothing crazy, and then I started getting e-mails and now every week is packed with classes, lectures, and readings, culminating in a reading at J. Bookwalter’s Winery on my 50th birthday on the last day of poetry month! Take a look at the events of the right side of the screen and come to some of the in-person or virtual readings and get a copy of Flare, Corona.

I guess this is no surprise, since this is National Poetry Month and all! And I’m actually looking forward to being a little bit busy after a few years of the only “busy times” were dental work and blood draws. And being in person with people is such a great experience as a writer – it takes you out of the isolation of writing, editing, submitting and into a community of writers, readers, that it’s not just you and your words, that you and the words are out in the world.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Easter and Passover, An Avalanche of Poetry Events in April, Spring Sylvia and Katie Farris’ New Book, Cherry Blossom Fest

Words, world making. The whole
shifts in parts, the bottom glitters,
we teeter in freedom
white flowers in a night garden.

Jill Pearlman, In Our Cups of Seder Freedom

I’m not 100% sure a blurb will sell the book—eg it’s not the thing that gets someone over the line, but as with all last click attribution models, that thinking ignores the contribution of other things in the sales funnel, so I’m going to work on the grounds that a well-written and intentioned blurb is not just what I am calling Hyblurbole (has that been coined before? Probably), but it should be something that helps get onto people’s radars (along with all the other stuff I need to do to sell the book).

You know what I mean by hyblurbole…it’s the sort of film flam written on the back of books that says stuff like this absolutely destroyed me or one of the greatest books of all time or OMG, like who is this not written for?

Mat Riches, Hyblurbole and getting an (anth)ology

Not for the first time, I’m indebted to Mat Riches’s ever-excellent blog – and in this case, an especially brilliant and poignant post, here – for alerting me to something which I may otherwise have overlooked: Peter Kenny’s interview with Robert Hamberger in the latest edition of the Planet Poetry podcast, available here. I’m a big fan of Robert’s poetry, so it was a sheer delight to listen to the interview, not only because of his insights but also because it was interspersed by him reading poems from his latest (2019) collection Blue Wallpaper – available to buy here – which I reviewed for The North, here, and absolutely loved.

Robert aired so many quotable reflections on poetic practice that I had to keep pausing the podcast to write them down. His poetry is often concerned with the past and how it interacts with the present, and I nodded furiously in agreement with his conviction that, “I am preserving experiences or people I loved, or even the person I was at that particular point in my history.” The gist of that is a common enough motivation, but it’s the careful choice of the word ‘preserving’ which is particularly noteworthy; that the poet is as much of an archivist as – if not more than – someone who digitises old photographs or curates items in a museum.

Matthew Paul, On Robert Hamberger

Jon Stone was the speaker at last night’s hybrid Cambridge Writers meeting. He told us about the kind of poetry that interested him, and read out a manifesto. He’s interested in dissolving boundaries – between writer and reader, between authors (hence collaborations), between genres, and between games and poetry. He pointed out that poetry’s more suited to games than prose is, because it already has rules, it has units (lines, stanzas) that can be recombined, it already has an audience prepared to put work in, and there’s little marketing pressure. He saw himself working in a niche within the niche of poetry, both as a participant and a publisher.

Tim Love, Jon Stone at Cambridge Writers

This post is a document of links to resources I’ve used in recent ecopoetry and nature poetry workshops and for my own writing. I’ve found these short films and poems helpful in classrooms, and elsewhere, in developing conversations and creative responses to the climate crisis. Some of the resources I mention were also included in a post I wrote in 2019 ‘Poetry responding to climate change’.

I brought this short film Rise: From One Island to Another into a Year 9 workshop (young people aged 14 – 15). The film is a poetic conversation between two islanders, one from the Marshall Islands and one from Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), connecting their realities of melting glaciers and rising sea levels. Other helpful resources have been the Climate Change and the Anthropocene issues of Magma poetry magazine, and the Ecojustice issue of Poetry magazine.

The poem ‘The loss of birds’ by Nan Craig (published in the Climate Change issue of Magma) – which imagines a conversation between an adult and a child who has never known birds – has been particularly good at prompting poems that consider what we are in danger of losing because of the climate crisis.

Josephine Corcoran, Ecopoetry in the classroom and beyond – some resources and ideas

Poetry keeps pouring out of me, onto a chalkboard and a computer screen and into a composition notebook. (Meanwhile, rejections.) I’ve been doing both poetry and prose in a Lenten workshop online that’s about to end, and I provide prompts and poems for another online workshop every April. There’s a great sense of camaraderie in both these workshops, for which I am grateful. Now my kids are coming home for Easter, so 1) some of the poetry may pause 2) I must not eat all the jelly beans!!

Kathleen Kirk, Being Human

I’m going for a 30/30 this month for National Poetry Month. I’m using this form calendar [image] from Taylor Byas and Sofia Fey as a way to get me started each day. You can follow them on Twitter to get the information about the workshops.

Carolee Bennett has also posted 30 prompts for the month at her blog Good Universe Next Door. Be sure to check them out any time for some writing inspiration. She provides a prompt and a sample poem to get you inspired. […]

I am diligently working on the project that has grown out of my obsession with Billy Budd mentioned earlier this year. It has taken on a life of its own, and it is much more experimental in nature than anything I’ve tried to do before, making it at turns exhilarating and frustrating. I am waiting to hear about a wonderful residency opportunity that is HUGE longshot, and I have two different chapbook manuscripts out at two different contests. Hoping that the universe comes through on at least one of those opportunities.

Donna Vorreyer, Is It Any Wonder I Gave Up Blogging?

Just grabbing a few minutes on Easter Saturday to write this. There’s only so much gardening you can do before needing a break. So, now I’ve tackled the wayward honeysuckle…

Last week, Peter Kenny and I treated ourselves to an informal ‘works do’ by going along to the prize giving for the National Poetry Competition on the South Bank in London.  We were  armed with a handful of home-made business cards for Planet Poetry, just in case, I and even gave a couple out, but we didn’t do any ‘roving mic’ interviews or anything, as I’m not sure we’re organised enough for that. But we enjoyed hearing the winning poems and (naturally) dissecting everything on the train home.

We talked about it on the podcast, so I won’t repeat myself here. The winner was Lee Stockdale, an American poet who we heard had entered the competition many times before before nailing the jackpot. Of course, hearing each poem read, just once, wasn’t nearly enough time to appreciate any of them properly. Certainly, there were poems (including the winner) which left me a bit nonplussed by on the night, but I warmed to them subsequently after reading them in the Winners’ Anthology.

Poetry competitions are a bit nuts, aren’t they? But lovely if you win, of course, and even a ‘commended’ or a ‘longlisting’ in the National can be a boost. But to keep entering all the competitions and never win anything I guess you need to have a thick skin and healthy self-belief.

Robin Houghton, National Poetry Competition and a Finished Creatures launch

It’s April, and having been asleep since January – at which time the only new CBe title on the horizon was Patrick McGuinness’s essays, carried over from last year – I wake up to find there are now eight, or maybe nine, new books in preparation for publication later this year and early next.

For starters, a reissue of J.O. Morgan’s first book, Natural Mechanical, first published by CBe in 2009: winner of the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, Forward-shortlisted, all that kind of stuff and more. His more recent fiction and poetry have been published by Cape. The reissue is in A-format size, part of the little gang that started coming together last year: photo above. Available from the website now. For the first orders (I’ll stop when I start to get worried) I’ll add in copies of Morgan’s At Maldon and a Poetry Archive CD of his reading that (from memory: an hour) for free.

Charles Boyle, A New Season

Today launched my NAPOWRIMO adventures and I’m liking the first poem so far. I may move off the technogrotesque project later in the month and on to something else. I may stick it out and make it a chapbook. I may abandon daily poems entirely. April is always an unpredictable month, but also I feel so much less ragged than I used to when usually, the library would be hitting full stride in terms of programming stuff and just general work, at least before the pandemic anyway. The absence of academic rhythms is still something I am getting used to, after an entire life subject to its ebb and flow. 

I am still sometimes finding the rhythms of my days to myself, and it also changes seasonally and by mindset.  This week, I wrote about Virginia Woolf and A Clockwork Orange and coyotes in Native American myth. About ceiling medallions and slow design and substitutions for corn starch. This too is an enjoyable rhythm–the research, the drafting, the polishing. The later afternoon is about editing and designing, steadily moving through the chaps delayed from late last year, of which there were many (and thankfully, I pushed everything new this year to the end since I suspected this would be the case.) I sometimes write poems when I first get up, sometimes later at night. Used to be, the mornings were key since the rest of the day would leave me with little to work with, but it’s far better now. Even after a full day of other kinds of writing and editing, there are still words left shaking around at the bottom that can maybe be made into poems.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 4/1/2023

I find this hour of the day 7-8 the most productive; not in terms of getting lots of words down, but in terms of the space to think. Writing is not always about pushing and pushing and forcing yourself into a routine, sometime it is about creating the space for the work to come and settle. Consistency is the key, I think, coupled with the understanding that it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be.

In the summer I start my routine even earlier; starting the day with a walk down the lane early, early doors, before it gets warm. This too, is a magical place, to walk where no person has yet been and see the dew prints of the Roe deer, the fox, the rabbit, to watch the owl hunt over the meadow and along the railway tracks, to see the sun rising rich and orange over the lip of the valley. This is like an act of prayer, for me, an act of enchantment, of seeking beauty, of placing myself before nature and to feel a part of it. This is where I come to the altar of the world and set down my whole self; finding, instead of the world’s worries, the intuitive act of creation. Then, back to the desk to net that elusive, magical thing and bring it to the page before life – washing, working, cooking, cleaning – crowds in and that space is lost.

I feel like I might be over romanticising the act of early morning writing, of writing in general, but I also think we don’t acknowledge enough that writing isn’t just about bashing words out onto a page, it isn’t just about learning how to edit successfully, there really is something quite magical about it, about capturing those snapping neurons and building the structure of words around them.

Wendy Pratt, Early Morning Writing Time

Rebecca Elson, whose book A Responsibility to Awe I just finished reading, keenly reminds me of how fascinating the study of the universe can be and how little we know of it. Each decade the science and the theories take immense leaps in measurement and exploration, and each leap reveals how many more questions we have yet to ask, let alone answer. Not just inquiries into the galaxies, but also biological and ecological worlds to explore: salmon, eels, oceans, mountains, our own histories and our own mortality. Elson’s area of study centered on galaxy formation–the chemical evolution of stars, and globular clusters. But she started out collecting rocks with her geologist father who was doing fieldwork in Canada, then studied biology. It wasn’t easy to be a young woman studying the sciences in the 1970s, and she felt she was drifting a bit; writing, however, she felt more sure of. In the essay that ends this collection, she states that the atmosphere at Princeton during her post-doctoral study was “a stronghold not just of men, but of theoreticians” who looked down on work which involved “mere” observation, which is what she had painstakingly been doing in her research in Australia and Cambridge. At Princeton, though, she met a group of poets who encouraged her work and who made her stay at the university more comfortable. Good observation skills make a terrific foundation for poets.

If the ocean is like the universe
Then waves are stars.

If space is like the ocean
Then matter is the waves
Dictating the rise and fall
of floating things…

from “Some Thoughts about the Ocean and the Universe”

She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma when she was 29, died ten years later, and this book is the only example I’ve been able to find of her poetry. But it is revelatory what Elson does with simple language and deep, theoretical concepts as metaphor, topic, or theme.

Ann E. Michael, Astronomy

What we also see here is the characteristic movement of Harwood’s thought in his poems, as we move from scene to apparently unrelated scene with an underlying cohesion which is a function of the linguistic surfaces of the poems. In their very useful introduction, Corcoran and Sheppard discuss this aspect of the work in terms of Harwood’s use of collage, which derives from his early reading of Pound and Tzara. It is, however, important to note that unlike in the case of, say, Pound, knowing Harwood’s sources would not enrich the reading of the poems. In this, he shares much in common with an early admirer of his work, John Ashbery, like Ashbery, Harwood’s work demands our full attention precisely because everything we need to understand (not the right word) his poems is there on the page, in the words he has chosen to present to us and the order he presents them in. His obscurities, such as they are, are the obscurities of the human mind at work in the world.

Billy Mills, Lee Harwood New Collected Poems: A Review

“Xanax Cowboy” is a book length sequence of poems, each of which could stand alone, but the cumulative impact of reading as a whole strengthens each individual part. None of the sections have titles and horseshoes are used as separators to underline the theme. Xanax is a drug used to treat anxiety and panic disorders which often occur alongside depression. “Xanax Cowboy” is a sort of alter ego created by the sequence’s narrator as a way of exploring and dealing with her issues and hopefully bridge the gap between where she is now and where she wants to be.

Emma Lee, “Xanax Cowboy” Hannah Green (House of Anansi) – Book review

Jacksonville, Florida-based poet and editor Jessica Q. Stark’s second full-length poetry collection, following Savage Pageant (Birds LLC, 2020) [see my review of such here], is Buffalo Girl (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2023). As the press release offers, Buffalo Girl writes the author’s “mother’s fraught immigration to the United States from Vietnam at the end of the war through the lens of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.” As Stark offers at the offset of the poem “Phylogenetics,” “When it began isn’t clear, but isn’t it obvious that             we always had a knack / for stories about little girls in danger?” Stark examines, through collages of text and image, an articulate layerings of breaks and tears, intermissions and deflections; examining how and why stories work so hard to remove female agency. “In this body is my mother’s body,” she writes, as part of the extended “On Passing,” “who paid the fantastic price in / fairy tales written mostly by men.” She offers elements of her mother, including pictures of her mother repeatedly on a scooter, providing a curious echo of Hoa Nguyen’s A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure (Wave Books, 2021) [see my review of such here], a collection that explored her own mother’s time spent as part of a stunt motorcycle troupe in Vietnam. “You can paint a woman // by the river     bank,” Stark writes, to open the poem “Con Cào Cào,” “but // you can’t ever imitate // a sound, fully. This story is // not simple.”

rob mclennan, Jessica Q. Stark, Buffalo Girl

I suppose it’s something of a responsibility to be selected as a new poetry press’ first pamphlet, particularly in today’s unhelpful economic climate. Though Flight of the Dragonfly Press had published a magazine earlier in 2022, it selected Niki Strange as the author of their debut pamphlet. I’m pleased to be able to say that this turned out to be an excellent decision. Body Talk (Flight of the Dragonfly Press, 2022)is a fine debut, featuring authentic poems of courage, resilience, and optimism, which test the boundaries of form in imaginative and appropriate ways.

The pamphlet begins with the profoundly moving prose poem, Float. It is written in the first-person, making it close and personal, as if we are inside the narrator’s head. The syntax is fragmented, the rhythm broken, erratic, capturing the life-changing effect of cancer diagnosis and treatment: ‘Bedtime stories. Swings and roundabouts, And sandpits. Go again. Two lines. Oh yes. Oh gone. Holiday or running away. Stage 1 melanoma. I see the robin every day as I lie in bed. Skin grafted from thigh to shin.’ Strange refers to daily domestic tasks, such as caring for her child, driving the car, arranging flowers, baking bread. Yet the account of each routine activity is never developed or sustained; it is punctuated by specific moments in the treatment of her illness. The effect is to convey the shattering nature of this potentially fatal disease. It wrecks normality, disables concentration, fills every waking hour. No wonder the poem ends with the lines, ‘Run. Run across the sh-sh-shingle into the amniotic waves. And float.’

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Body Talk’ by Niki Strange

This week I bought more books than I should have. Because of Bethany Reid’s review, I bought Linda Pastan’s Almost an Elegy: New and Selected Later Poems. My purchase was prompted because of this poem (continuing to speak of generations and cusps) that Bethany shared:

The Last Uncle

The last uncle is pushing off
in his funeral skiff (the usual
black limo) having locked
the doors behind him
on a whole generation.

And look, we are the elders now
with our torn scraps
of history, alone
on the mapless shore
of this raw new century.

—Linda Pastan

I’m not the elder generation in my family yet, but many people my age are in theirs. In a conversation this week about whether we are at the beginning or in the middle of what’s happening to our country, I could see how I was gathering my own “torn scraps/of history,” and Pastan is a good person to provide guideposts into the later stages of life. (Any stage of life, really.) I also bought Kate Baer’s What Kind of Woman, because Bethany’s post reminded me of how much I like a certain kind of plain-spoken poetry (Ted Kooser is a favorite in that vein), and I saw it in the bookstore one day after skating. I decided it was time I got over not wanting to buy a book by a popular, best-selling poet. Her writing fits into the plain-spoken category, and I’ve liked some of her poems that I’ve encountered via social media, so why wouldn’t I buy her book? (I’m not going to delve into what my aversion is about or where it comes from. Probably more social programming from my youth that involved responses to Rod McKuen.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, On cusps

I have the same kind of fear of a gun as I did of the forklifts I used to drive when I worked in a grocery warehouse. This thing can kill you or someone else, so respect it. Don’t be flippant when you have control of it.

I don’t fear the gun as rhetorical tool so much. I don’t even really fear the people who use it that way, who try to push back their feelings of powerlessness or loss or their own fear by loudly possessing guns. I say loudly for a reason. I’m talking about the “Come and take them” types who open carry because they like the way they think people look at them in public. I treat them warily and am cautious around them, but I don’t fear them because there’s no point in it. The people who worship guns and the power they think their guns project are in it for themselves. They don’t care how everyone else really feels because they have a fantasy of how everyone else sees them.

Many of those kinds of people make appearances in the book that I’m pulling the poem I’m talking about from, which is Matt Donovan’s The Dug-Up Gun Museum from BOA Editions last year. I think this is the first work I’ve read from Matt Donovan, who I’ve never met that I know of, but it’s his third poetry collection and I will certainly be looking for those other collections based on this one.

Brian Spears, When the first thought isn’t always the best thought

When the news broke, we danced.
I danced beneath an alien sky.

Plants bloomed: I tasted guavas
firm and sharp upon my tongue.

Marian Christie, When the news broke

I’ve still been spending time with Lear this weekend. With Shakespeare’s language and the rich stories. And I am chastising myself for the arrogance in wondering… why is so much left unsaid?

An example: Edgar – as Poor Tom – meets Gloucester and hears his father say that if he could just touch Edgar’s face again it would be as though he had his sight again. So why doesn’t Edgar reveal himself?

The Tragedy of King Lear wasn’t written as a closet play, and I wonder then if the audience – groundlings or otherwise – were able to get under all the psychological machinations in Edgar’s head to make sense of this moment, in the moment, as the lines were spoken, passing quickly over the heads of the orange-sellers and the old women bitching about their sore feet? Did anyone care? Or am I just thicker than the average Elisabethan?

I’m not interested in the question of authorship that has been recently staged in a “court of law” in London. I think it’s funny that we should care so much. And that maybe it is more about a projection of our very real personal fears of insignificance, than an actual interest in whether a single person wrote the work.

There’s never been a serious question of the originality of the stories. Of any story, if you want to take it that far. And as for the language, I very much love the idea that it began with a sketch of a script that morphed naturally in the mouth of a performer, and then again in memory before it was recorded in text. Maybe adapting Shakespeare isn’t sacrilege at all, but the best way to keep communication between us and “them” alive.

But the question remains. Are we all just thicker now?

Ren Powell, The Mysticism of Shakespeare

I find I am rather late to the party, in terms of appreciating John Freeman. His bio notes include… well, so much (follow the links to see), and Dave Eggers called him, in a Los Angeles Times review, “one of the preeminent book people of our time.” Freeman’s previous books of poetry are Maps (2017) and The Park (2020). I found traces of him all over the web, and you’ll find a couple more links at the bottom of this post.

But my goal here is to write about Freeman’s exquisite third book of poems, Wind, Trees, and perhaps tempt you to take a look for yourself.

This short poem I include simply because it blew my mind (and I have a thing for pianos). It is in the wind section of the poems, by the way, and it beautifully chimes with the book’s epigraph from Jack Gilbert: “We are a shape the wind makes in these leaves / as it passes through. We are not the wood / any more than the fire, but the heat which is a marriage / between the two.”

Bethany Reid, John Freeman’s Wind, Trees

Here’s a link to the text and the poet’s reading of James Fenton’s superb short poem ‘Wind’ on the Poetry Archive: https://poetryarchive.org/poem/wind/

It’s a poem that brings tears to my eyes when I read it. Paradoxically, I think it does so at least partly by the serene beauty of its composition and the lightness with which it touches its matter. This lightness is reflected in the poet’s reading, which is thoughtful and tinged with sadness but never heavily emotive.

Despite its being so short, I would call it a great poem. Its point of view, its subject matter, is epic, dealing with the movement of peoples, with sweeps of space and time and processes of cultural change as vast as those in Saint-John Perse’s Anabase.

Edmund Prestwich, James Fenton, ‘Wind’

Dead flowers mix with the soil and
become other things: fruits, different
flowers, a bird. Ephemeral things. When
love runs out, it becomes a poem. A
forever being. A trellis of quiet words
peering into the water. Like tree rings, a

poem cut open can tell you its age.
Meaning grows inside it in concentric
circles. Each measuring the growing
distance between poem and poet. Poet
and love. What if we had another hour?
Another month? Another way?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 41

Anyone visiting the New Jersey Botanical Garden in April will see signs of spring — and signs with spring poems on them, too! :- )

A poem of mine is on one of them:

junipers
and the scent
of junipers

Bill Waters, New Jersey Botanical Garden haiku installation 2023

It’s the nickname for people who rushed west
in search of gold but really fleeing
from the horror that all the days to come
would be like all the days behind,
hoping instead that the rivers ran with possibility
that could be dragged glittering into the sun.

Jason Crane, POEM: The Age I Am Now

plum blossom time
the painting goes visiting
the tree outside

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 12

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week saw the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, as well as the spring equinox and World Poetry Day. Somewhat to my surprise, the former didn’t get much explicit attention in the poetry blogs, but the outbreak of war was the impetus for Phoenicia Publishing founder/editor Beth Adams to start her blog the Cassandra Pages—I think the longest-running literary blog I follow. And the war was certainly also an impetus for me and many of my fellow bloggers back in 2003, so it’s an anniversary with some consequence here. Instead this week I saw a lot of what Rachel Dacus calls a “heading-into-spring burst of vitality.” Enjoy!

NB: There will be no digest next Sunday. I know, I know, it’s Poetry Month, but I need to see the ocean. When the digest returns, it will probably be on a weekday; I haven’t decided which one.


The pristine snow,
abandoned, sinks —

a sooty skin.

Broken objects
rise up. An arm, 
stairs, cardboard
boxes shocked
by fetid air,

my head 

pushes from the
mud […]

Jill Pearlman, Flux, March

It’s World Poetry Day, and tonight I will be going to a Josephine Hart Poetry Hour event at the British Library, about WB Yeats. 

By my reckoning, Yeats has been in my life for about 30 years. I was a young teenager, as with so many of the artistic influences which ran into my bloodstream and stayed there forever. I was thinking tonight that the records I listened to between about 12-16 are part of who I am — they are me — and the records I listened to between about 17-22 are time machines, which is actually something quite different. Yeats is part of who I am and thus, part of what led me first from Canada and then to Ireland and then to London. And certainly to being a poet, as far as it goes. (A small thing, but mine own.) 

The poem that came to mind tonight, in another year of global turmoil, was Yeats’s ‘The Stare’s Nest By My Window’, part of the sequence ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’. It weaves together the extreme focus on the personal, the immediate and the close-by, with the broader crises and concerns which put the poet in that place of absolute focus in the first place. It grasps at what can be seen and held, and also hoped for, amidst profound uncertainty. This is, in varying degrees, the story of the world in recent years (and in less recent years). And it was written a little over a century ago.

Clarissa Aykroyd, World Poetry Day: ‘The Stare’s Nest By My Window’ by WB Yeats

This week on my local Nextdoor, someone wrote about a man at a busy intersection who, for the second day in a row, was walking around naked from the waist down. Lengthy threads–about obscenity laws (or lack of them), police responses (or lack of them), mentally ill support services (or lack of them), penalties (or lack of them)–ensued. In the midst of one thread, a woman shared that she wants to kill herself. Four people responded to the woman, but more than 30 (I stopped counting) continued yammering on at each other about laws, police, services, et cetera et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseum.

There’s more than one way to be naked in the street. Most people aren’t going to stop their cars to help. I closed my laptop and cleaned my oven, which made me think of Sylvia Plath. We don’t do what we can’t.

Last week I got a rejection that was so encouraging it almost felt like an acceptance: “We admired your essay, but we’re going to have to pass this time. “Resistance” reached the final round of our decision-making process. We would love to read more of your work, and we hope you will submit to XXX in the future.”

It’s the only writing I’ve submitted anywhere in the last year. Speaking of not doing what we can’t. It was a micro-essay about mass shootings. And ice skating.

I want to write about that class. I want to write about these people–us people–who gather in virtual rooms at the end of days that look ordinary to everyone else and unzip our normalcy suits to let the alien life we carry inside us breathe a little freely for a few hours. I don’t know how to write about that, any more than I know how to help the half-naked man or the woman who wondered if she should burn herself up in the house her grandmother and mother once lived in.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The week that was

I’ve forgotten to count the atmospheric rivers that have gushed across the San Francisco Bay Area, but the incredible deluge seems to have sparked a lot of literary ideas for me. When the 50 mph winds are bending trees sideways and sinkholes are appearing in the roads, it’s a subtle hint that you have nowhere better to go than your writing desk. I’ve cradled my laptop many of these dark, rainy mornings. I’m feeling a low rumble of energy, the heading-into-spring burst of vitality that soon will pop leaves out of the soil and bare branches.

Rachel Dacus, Creating Characters in Springtime

Today this blog celebrates its twentieth anniversary. I almost forgot, because I was focused on it being the first day of spring: an event we’re eagerly anticipating up here but about which there’s been precious little evidence, other than the maple sap running, and brighter, longer days. However, I’ll post these grape hyacinths in the hope that we’ll be seeing real ones — in about a month.

The craziness of living in, and enduring, such a northern climate may be matched by the craziness of having blogged here for twenty years. Or perhaps I’m just stubborn. Social media was supposed to be the death of blogging, and it did do-in most of the blogs that started when mine did. Other platforms were touted as the next best thing, but I think most bloggers just got fatigued. Keeping up a blog, trying not to repeat yourself, and finding something personal to say is hard enough over years and years, but when the readers and commenters start to go away, it’s even harder to remember why you began it in the first place.

But I do remember: I was a journal writer and determined letter-writer, with a well-established practice, and blogging fit me to a T, not only because it satisfied those same urges, but because it also added the possibility of a visual component. The latter, of course, became the raison d’être for Instagram, and I have loved being part of a community of artists and photographers there. But for those who want to write regularly and seriously, nothing has really worked as well as blogs, and for someone like me who’s a visual artist as well, and wants to own her own website rather than be data-harvested at every click of the mouse and keyboard, blogging has continued to be the best choice. I guess stubborn perseverance has just kept me at it, because first of all I write and make a record of my art for myself — I’d do this anyway — but how much better it is to share it with you, communicate with you, and get to know each other.

The doubts I was having about blogging a few years ago have mostly disappeared. It’s clear to me that this is where I belong, and that it works for me.

Beth Adams, Cassandra at Twenty

I ran into one of my blog readers last night in person at the theatre. What a joy, and I am so touched! He said he has read some books based on my blog accounts, and he also enjoys my chalkboard poems. This just warms my heart! And I needed warming up, as it’s been cold and gloomy for a few days, but yesterday the sun came out, and there was a clear sky with stars and a fingernail moon last night!

Kathleen Kirk, Hello Beautiful

It’s been a weird week here in Seattle, with the first days of spring bringing bright blue skies, 60-degree weather and cherry blossoms, and ending with surprise snow and an equally surprising bobcat visit.

Today I have two videos for you—one of a bobcat walking by my back door, and one from my offsite reading at AWP with BOA at the Seattle Library. I’m not an expert at YouTube yet, so forgive me for any problems. I even (at my little brother’s urging) finally made myself a channel, so you can like and follow me there, and you’ll get a mix of readings plus bobcats. And silliness.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Weird First Week of Spring – Starting with Bright Blue Skies and Blossoms and Ending with Snow and a Bobcat Visit, A Video from my AWP Offsite Reading and Last Picture

I wandered over to Facebook, where I saw a post by Daisy Fried, who introduced her students to Robert Hayden’s “Middle Passage.”  Along with reading the poem, they listened to this podcast that contains a discussion of the poem–great stuff!  After the podcast, I read this article that talks about the history of how this poem has been received by larger communities (the poetry community, the black community, new generations of activists).

Eventually, I shifted to seminary writing.  I like to think that my seminary writing was deeper and richer because I began my morning with poetry.  I know that my life is richer each day when I begin my day with poetry.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Beginning My Day with Poetry

Late last night someone sent me a wonderful goat video. I wanted to read a poem about a goat, but the only one I could think of was “Song” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and I wasn’t in the mood for that.

I started thinking about the perennial conversation E. and I have about art. He doesn’t use the term with a capital A, ever. He sees art as a form of escapism, not as a portal to a shared experience about what it is to be human. He doesn’t want to spend his evenings looking at the hard things. He says he gets enough of hard things. And isn’t that true of all of us.

And I can respect that. Though I find it inexplicable why we would have such differing attitudes about beauty and awe. Such differing approaches to acknowledging what it is to be human.

But then, I have seen his whole body express awe while overlooking valleys from mountain tops. Maybe that is enough for him. Everything. You can die on the mountainside. At any point of the journey. He doesn’t put it into words, or squeeze it into symbols. He has this, and maybe it is enough?

I would talk to him about this. Ask him. But I don’t think he wants to think about it. It just is and doesn’t need to be teased apart and put together again. If I brought it up, I think he’d just suggest a hike.

I like watching goats. Their pronking moves me emotionally in ways that I can’t keep up with physically or even intellectually. I envy them their in-the-moment joy. At least that’s what it looks like. But I will admit that there is something about their eyes. The gut-hooked association to Christian symbolism that I carry with me from childhood. The dangerous wildness.

So for me, the pronking kids will always have the darkness of Kelly’s “Song”.

Because this all this is true. And I am still learning to hold the paradox lightly and enjoy the flow.

Ren Powell, The Hard Things

Hard to believe it was over ten years ago that I first stumbled on (or rather out of) The Betsey Trotwood pub in London’s Clerkenwell with my long-suffering willing-to-be-taken-to-poetry-readings friend Lucy.  It’s certainly a stalwart of the poetry scene.

A week or so ago I was there to hear readings from students on the Poetry School Writing Poetry MA. Friends and fellow Hastings Stanza members Judith and Oenone are both on the course – Judith about to complete her final year, Oenone her first. They both gave fine readings, as did many others, and the whole event was a huge love-in for the tutors Glyn Maxwell and Tammy Yoseloff.

I do love the atmosphere at ‘The Betsey’ – an achetypical Victorian London pub with an upstairs function, these days entirely smoke-free of course, but just a few decades ago it would have been eye-stingingly fuggy. (It was pointed out to me however that the room was not accessible. This is of course a problem with all the old pubs – they just weren’t built with accessibility in mind. I’m not sure what the answer is.)

The pub used to be called The Butcher’s Arms apparently, and perhaps the renaming (taking the name of a character in Dickens’s David Copperfield) was symbolic of its friendliness to the poor poets and writers of Owd Lahndon Tahn. Many a book launch happens there. In fact, the latest edition of Finished Creatures launches there on Tuesday 4th April. Do come if you can.

Robin Houghton, Poetry at the Betsey

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to party in the city with a hot young lit mag, you might enjoy Bindu Bansinath’s Dispatch From The Drift’s Latest Party. Writes Bansinath, “Their parties have become a media frenzy of their own, providing endless Twitter fodder…but a friend of mine described the whole evening best when she said, ‘They’re a gathering of nerds who want to drink and shit-talk The New Yorker.’”

[…]

Finally, in response to the overwhelming enthusiasm to his article, Rattle Editor Tim Green has begun a list of lit mags that have updated their guidelines from “unpublished work only” to “uncurated work only.” You can view the list here. We hope to continue to see it grow!

Becky Tuch, Lit Mags to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right!

Stanza by stanza, line by line, word by word, comma by comma, a good editor enables a poet to understand their own method, makes them question and/or justify their choices, helps them spot their own weaknesses, encourages them to raise their game a notch. Such close editing places a draining demand on the person who does it, requiring a high level of engagement. It takes so much out of the editor that they often struggle to sustain their own writing at the same time. And this sacrifice is another reason why editing is generous.

Helena Nelson at HappenStance Press is the editor I know best, and her example is the point of departure for this post. Few publishers work as closely with their poets. What’s more, her graft on others’ behalf is definitely detrimental to her own terrific poetry. I’d suggest that U.K. Poetry could do with a few more Nells, though she’s a one-off. In fact, you could do far worse than get hold of her latest top-notch collection, Pearls, which hasn’t received the attention that it so richly deserves. It’s available to purchase here.

Matthew Stewart, A celebration of poetry editors

I saw an interesting twitter discussion the other day about what font to use when submitting writing to journals/presses. In my undergrad classes, the poet professor I most admire would say Times New Roman was really the only professional font to use, if you want to be taken seriously (which of course my 19 year old self did!).

There’s some common sense here–Comic Sans is obviously wrong, as is Typewriter font. I feel like the font should not distract from the actual writing (and those two examples do).

The font in question in the discussion was Garamond, which is the font most commonly used for published books–the idea being that if you submit your poems in Garamond, they LOOK like they should be published.

Renee Emerson, would a poem in any other font smell as sweet?

Think of a safe place, they said in mindfulness class. Think of a compassionate friend, one who is wise and supportive. I became safe in the red chair by the fire, covered by a blanket knit by my grandmother. Friends, grandparents, spiritual figures, mentors—who would offer compassion, energy, illumination. A huge letter A, tall as a ten-year-old, Times New Roman, black, sat down in the chair on the other side of the fire. Anything is possible, it said. Did light shine like wings around it as if it were a medieval saint—“outer glow” in Photoshop? No, it was crisp as if letterpressed into air. Anything is possible, it repeated and I understood that this A was the beginning, that language meant that I could explore, that it opened the world to possibility as if I could see the bones under the flesh of the world.

Gary Barwin, A by Fire

Recently I’ve  been reading SuperInfinite, Katherine Rundell’s excellent biography of John Donne, and this in turn has led me to revisit Donne’s poetry. I recall vividly the thrill of discovery when I first read him as a teenager, delighting in his clever conceits and his command of metre, rhyme and form, as I sought to understand his meanings.

This is what excites us as readers and learners – coming across something new that stimulates our intellectual curiosity, challenges our perceptions but also appeals, at some deep level, to our imaginations and our being. We can experience this sense of wonder and delight not only through literature, but also through music, mathematics, art, sport, gardening, or even through intriguing blends of different forms.

Lori Wike’s Jump Search, a recent release from Penteract Press, is just such a novel blend of two different forms. A jump search, Wike explains in the Introduction, ‘is a new type of puzzle in which a word is concealed within a maze grid of letters and numbers. It is a synthesis of a word search and a number maze’. 

Marian Christie, Review: Jump Search by Lori Wike

That was the time I went as a dominatrix.
I wore my jodhpurs, riding boots,
carried a whip. I had my Cleopatra eyes,
and black bra under a side-less top.

Rebecca, my boss, had dyed her bob orange.
Tony, always modest, in dinner jacket,
bow tie, trainers, and baseball cap.
Black lace gloves for the HR woman in the wheelchair.

Fokkina McDonnell, Abolition

For a while now, Brooklyn poet Jordan Davis has been producing chapbook-length volumes of selected poems, one of the latest is by Brooklyn-based American poet Nada Gordon, her The Swing of Things (Subpress, 2022). This is the first of Gordon’s works I’ve encountered, so I’m unaware of the larger scope or scale of her work, so this “remix” is a curious introduction, and one reminiscent of how Phil Hall reworked selected scraps to assemble his own critical “selected poem,” Guthrie Clothing: The Poetry of Phil Hall, a Selected Collage (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2015) [see my write-up on such here]. The chapbook-length poem “The Swing of Things” is structured through untitled sections (as well as an array of photographs, some of which suggest their own collage-works), short bursts that exist across each page; some of which group, or even cluster, allowing for its own kind of collage-work possibility. Her visuals and text both suggest the familiar but one that is twisted, turned and shaped into what is unerringly new, and some of which is just enough to unsettle, question or even simply wonder. Gordon’s poems hold a delightful heft, subtle in its play and dark corners, writing from both the shadow and the sudden light.

rob mclennan, Ongoing notes: late March, 2023: Amanda Earl + Nada Gordon

A few weeks ago, I visited Lee Martin’s creative nonfiction MFA workshop at The Ohio State University to talk about “Ghost Story,” which they’d read for class, and we talked about the amount of poetry in the prose, both at the sentence level and the structure level. For example, I used white space to slow down the pacing as I do in poems, here employing short paragraphs—sometimes only a single sentence—and section dividers. White space acts as literal “breathing room” on the page, regardless of genre, so these are spaces where the reader is invited to pause and reflect before moving on.

I also wanted to work lyrical and imagistic repetition into the piece, as I like to do with poems. In the opening paragraph, the laundry floated….the dishes floated….I floated” feels to me like a litany. There is also anaphora—a poetic technique in which successive phrases or lines begin with the same words—in the words “no idea” repeated, and in the three spoiler alerts. Ghostlike images carry through the piece as well—images of transparency, invisibility, helplessness. The chains in section one return in section four.

I shared with Lee and his students that “Ghost Story” also appears in my forthcoming memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, though not as a single piece. I have broken it into its smaller sections (where the asterisks are in the original essay) and threaded them through the book, and I’ve added a new final section. This is something I also do in my poetry collections: I like to spread a series of poems over the course of a book rather than compartmentalizing them in one section. These then work to pattern the collection and create multiple moments of recognition for the reader.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Ghost Story”

After Sunday, when frost is forecast, the hardy annual herbs – chervil, parsley, dill – will go into the garden, as well as annual flowers for cutting. And then the real adventure will start, as I sow new perennial herbs. My aim is to get the overall structure of the garden in place this year, and try to attract as many pollinators and butterflies as I can, but I know I am already distracted by the thoughts of vegetables I can sneak into the gaps.

In the house there is the same sense of burgeoning chaos. Editing slipped a bit during StAnza, but I’m almost finished one book, and getting started on three more. There will be a LIVE launch for The Well of the Moon – among many others which came out in lockdown, at a Red Squirrel Press showcase in April – watch out for more about this next week – and the Ceasing Never website went live. There are three articles up now, and it has attracted a lot of interest, and some very favourable comments. The collective includes eleven exciting poets, so there should be a lot to read and think about over the next few months.

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Second Year in the Garden

Betty Drevniok was “a major early influence of the shape of haiku” in English Canada by making space for a community to grow. How did she get to haiku before haiku was a thing in Canada? Terry Ann Carter related in “A History of Haiku in Canada” that Drevniok moved from sumi-e to haiku in the 1960s. 

In 1977, Betty Drevniok, George Swede, and Eric Amann founded the Haiku Society of Canada. Rod Wilmot recalls several Haiku Canada weekends in the 1980s hosted at her wooded cottages in Combermere in Northern Ontario. From 1979-82 she was President of the Society.

Michael Dudley remembers her as “an exceptionally kind, considerate being, who generously shared her ideas and insights by conversation, correspondence, presentation, and publication”.  […]

In her haiku primer, Aware, Drevniok said, “Be aware of things around you. Let those things reach out and touch you.”

Janick Beaulieu in her history of ‘Haiku Women Pioneers from Sea to Sea‘ says this book Aware: A Haiku Primer is Drevniok’s best legacy. You can read Janick’s essay and Drevniok’s 108-page book Aware as a digital book at the Haiku Foundation Digital Library. It was a book that led to a eureka by  Jane Reichhold.

Pearl Pirie, Betty Drevniok

Lola Ridge’s life was, in many ways, a tale of her times. Born Rose Emily Ridge in Dolphin’s Barn in Dublin, she and her mother emigrated to New Zealand as a child after the death of her father. She acquired a stepfather with a taste for Shakespeare and drink, married in her early 20s, lost a child, had a child, started publishing poetry in local newspapers and magazines. When she was 30, her marriage broke up and she moved with her son to Australia, where she studied art and submitted a collection of poems, Verses, to a local publisher AG Stephens, literary editor of the Sydney Bulletin in which much of her Australian work appeared, in 1905. The book never appeared.

In 1907, after the death of her mother, Ridge sailed to San Francisco with her son. She left him in an orphanage there and moved to New York, where she became Lola, knocked 10 years off her age, and immersed herself in the literary and anarcho-socialist life of the city that was to be her home for the rest of her life. […]

The Ghetto and Other Poems shows that Ridge had, in her new home in New York, absorbed the lessons of Whitman, Imagism and other avant garde poetry movements that she came across in the small magazines of the day, and forged her own distinctive voice from these influences. The title sequence, which opens the book, is an exploration of the everyday life of the poet and her neighbours in the Bowery district of New York.

Billy Mills, To the Many: Collected Early Works, Lola Ridge

If you delete every email that begins I Hope You Are Well And Having A Lovely Week So Far
If you play Masters Of War through amplifiers outside a government building
If you stand in the street and wave a plain piece of paper
If you sit on a bench in a park and throw paper planes at a cardboard cut-out of the King
If you drink coffee for too long in the red cafe
If you write for too long in the blue cafe
If you glue yourself to the past, chain yourself to the future
If you wear solid well-dubbined walking boots to bed and buy a dog
If you repeat the story of fourteen workers killed by an avalanche of potatoes
If you are caught singing the old song I Shall Be Released
If you enjoy silence, your own company, books on Pond Life and Freshwater Fishes
If you like sitting beneath trees and listening to rain

They will stamp your file with the words Specific Threat
They will stamp your file with the words Guilty Of Malicious Disobedience
They will accuse you of stealing thoughts from the needy
They will force you to download a self-care app and accept a free gift of a plastic penguin
They will accuse you of illegal use of the senses
They will accuse you of sending ice and light out of the country

Of talking to the girl who sells bracelets in the street
Of not wanting to get up in the morning
Of memorising the poetry of a prisoner of conscience
Of taking a public footpath to a secret mountain and eating a bun from a Tupperware tub
Of swimming in a sewage-infested sea dressed as a clown

Your sentence will never be revealed

There will be no right of appeal

You will die of unnatural causes

Bob Mee, NO RIGHT OF APPEAL

In the past two weeks, I’ve read two contemporary poetry collections that I didn’t, er…love…or perhaps what I mean is I did not respond to them the way I enjoy responding to poems (and no, I will not be naming titles, though I will be giving these books away). While that is a let-down of sorts, I also started reading naturalist Marcia Bonta‘s Appalachian Autumn–which I do love. The book takes an environmental-diary approach that I have enjoyed in other naturalist writers’ work and which, no doubt, I relate to partly because I am also a near-daily diarist of my own backyard; Bonta has much to teach me, because she has a naturalist’s education and long experience. This is one of four Appalachian Seasons books she’s authored, and maybe I should have started with Spring, since that equinox has just passed. I found myself interested in the story this book tells of her family’s legal struggles with local lumbermen and absentee landlords, however. It’s an experience with which, sadly, my beloveds and I are familiar.

And I also began reading a book of poetry I have found exceptionally compelling–Rebecca Elson’s A Responsibility to Awe. Perhaps more on that in a future post. So books continue to enrich my life. I hope that is always the case, but I’ve seen how changes in human neuroplasticity can affect even the most bookish among us. More reason never to take the joys of reading for granted–and to keep my library card current.

Ann E. Michael, Bookish decisions

This week has been a good work week. I’m back into my writing routine. In fact I have upgraded my routine to include a pre work early morning walk. I think the bit of sunshine we’ve had of late has done me good. Like a flower I’m turning my face to Spring. I’m up at six for a brisk walk, then into the office for an hour of writing, then breakfast, a slow dog walk with the elderly dog, then back to the desk until lunch. After lunch – another couple of hours at my desk, then I finish early to read. At five I end my day with another slow walk with the elderly dog. I’ve decided to incorporate reading into my work day, rather than trying to fit it in around other jobs. It’s too important to be crammed in. It feels like luxury, like a hobby, like something I certainly should NOT be doing in work hours, but the reality is that I need to keep up with poetry collections in order to run decent poetry workshops, writing challenges and courses (see below for the lates writing challenge). I need to find books for the book club too, and I think of reading as a kind of ‘CPD’ – Continued Professional Development – something that I remember from my days as a microbiologist – the importance of keeping up to date with new research, new developments in the field.

Wendy Pratt, Come Write the Watery World With Me

Finishing the Phaedrus. Finally, I have a definition of dialectic, a word that has bedeviled me since college. (Probably because I first met it in Marx and Hegel, who both put it to strenuous and unaccustomed work.) For Plato, it’s the art of collection and division: “seeing together things that are scattered about everywhere and collecting them into one kind,” on the one hand, and being “able to cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints, and try not to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might do,” on the other. Note that this is not seen as imposing categories or distinctions, but as recognizing them. (Phaedrus 265d)

274c & following, is Socrates’ denunciation of depending on the written word: reading encourages you to think you know things, when you don’t; relying on texts leads to a feeble memory; writing fails to fit the message to its audience; texts are frozen and can’t answer questions. Writing is an amusement and an aide-memoire – not serious philosophy.

And now, on to the Parmenides.

If it didn’t mean wishing away the parable of the cave, I might wish Plato had never written The Republic: such an ugly book, full of Socrates at his worst: it put me off Plato, and in fact philosophy, for decades. I’m glad that I have lived long enough to meet this Socrates who prays to Pan by the riverside: asking for his daily bread, and to be made beautiful inside. A different man entirely.

Dale Favier, Dialectic

What should I call it? What should I call
the reading of the last word of the poem and the
inability to go back to the beginning, to go anywhere

because that devastating silence that follows, is the poem.
And that is the reading, that being rooted in the debris
for as long as it takes for the universe to stop shuddering?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 39

This poem was originally conceived as a response to my frustration at how having cancer had impacted on my life (spoiler alert – it ended up somewhere quite different!) Specifically, at how having a melanoma skin cancer in 2018 meant that I could no longer think about being out in the sunshine, of having the warmth of sunlight on my skin, without immediately feeling anxiety – did I have sun screen on, where’s my hat, cross the road to walk in shadow and so on.

What I was mourning here was the loss of a sense of spontaneity and freedom to bask in lightness. The poem became a meditation on how writing enables us to place ourselves in spaces and states of being that may no longer be possible in everyday life – where facts have no consequence and instead ‘all is shadowless velocity’ where I am ‘lit up, let loose’. I liked the sense that with each letter written on the page one can transport the ‘matter’ of myself to experience new or lost sensations, emotions and places.

In the repetition of ‘I can write myself’ I also played with the idea of ‘right-ing’ myself through this process – I’m very interested in writing for wellbeing. Following my second cancer diagnosis a year after my first – this time with breast cancer in 2019 – I won Arts Council funding for a residency at Macmillan’s Horizon Centre in Brighton, devising and delivering 16 poetry workshops for people affected by cancer.  I saw not just through my own experience but through running these workshops the power of poetry to support health and wellbeing. 

So in this poem I wanted to echo the sense of ‘writing oneself’ and its connection with ‘right-ing’ oneself, both mentally but also physically because I talk about the ‘lost nodes, radiated breast, sleeved right arm’ being parts of a ‘new entirety’ that is balanced and restored through a new way of being in the world.

Drop-in by Niki Strange (Nigel Kent)

Even the whales were invited

to the inauguration of the machine.

One of them said, I am tired of sorrowing

with my own voice, with my own blue heart

wanting to beach on the strand. I am tired

of making recordings that no one translates

with any accuracy, or at the very least into

flowers.

Luisa A. Igloria, Deus Ex Machina

Poetry and Music have been documented as being helpful for elderly people, including those living with dementia, the after effects of a stroke, and even physical disability. Often it is the familiar poems learned by heart at school that has the most noticeable effect. I have read several times for Northwich Stroke Club, and seen these effects for myself: memories suddenly become vivid, audience reciting as I read, smiles and animation, or the closing of eyes and relaxation from lulling words.

This world poetry day (21 March), I was invited to read at a private care home, where the residents have a poetry club to share favourite poems. In a two hour slot (with a tea break in the middle), I read them some of my favourite poems, and they contributed a few of theirs. Only two people were brave enough to read, but both read beautifully. In the second half, I read them a few of my own poems, choosing ones that I felt might resonate with them but avoiding anything too sad. Not everyone stayed till the end, which was fine. It was a relaxed and chatty session, and we all sat round in a circle together, so it was very friendly. […]

I worry for today’s generation of school students, and the generation before them, that they will have no loved poems to take forward into their old age. The way poetry is taught in some schools these days, and secondary schools are the most guilty, takes the pleasure out of the poem. Schoolchildren are told that they can’t understand poetry, without the teacher ‘translating’ for them; that poetry is hard and full of secret meanings that need to be decoded. This is a dishonest and wrong approach. Rather than forcing pupils to make heavy dictated annotations, they should be encouraged to ‘feel’ the poem first, not simply label the parts as if it were an engine or a dissected animal. Colleagues were always amazed that my classes got such great results ‘despite’ my allowing them to interpret the poem for themselves, using the skill set I had given them. Poems belong to the reader, and don’t need mediation. Allowing the pupils to ‘own’ the poem helps them understand on a deeper level what that poem is doing and how it is doing it. This is how I taught poetry myself in my 16 years in secondary school, and stint in FE prior to that.

Angela Topping, The Power of Poetry

At seven, I couldn’t close my ohs.
Amazement sloshed out of me;
each ache spilled a constellation.
Winter nights, I etched snow angels
and lay back in their wings to drink the sky,
but every time my heart rushed up
and I’d hurl helpless towards stars.

Kristen McHenry, At Seven

I didn’t get to write a post last week (like that matters) as I was knackered after a long weekend in Norfolk. I went back to see my friend John Rance. John is the dad of my two closest friends, but I have always thought of him as a friend too. He’s always treated me the same way- certainly since we’ve all be old enough to buy him a pint…(I jest, mostly). John has been ill since a series of strokes starting back in September last year, and it was made clear to his family a couple of weeks ago that he wasn’t going to recover—despite there having been some positive signs at the start of the year.

I’m glad I went and spoke with John and said my goodbyes, as the message I was dreading came on Tuesday afternoon to say that John had passed away. It had been utterly devastating to to see a man that had been so full of life reduced to the shell he was in the Norfolk and Norwich hospital. John had lived so many lives as a parent to five children, husband to two wives (not at the same time), travelling across Europe as a young man, living in New Zealand while in the army, working as a salesman, a landlord for a working man’s club, a pub, becoming the artist he’d always wanted to be in later life. He was the first to help start an occasion and often the last to leave, the first to say something wise, the first to see the silly side of something, an inveterate creator of myths and legends (apparently West Ham won us the World Cup). His laugh filled a room, his determination to play jazz sometimes cleared it. A friend of mine recently wrote that John introduced him to so much in the way of art, music and film that he could never fully say how grateful he was, and that seems a fair assessment. And also nowhere near enough to describe the man. John’s art hangs in my kitchen. John’s light and shadow (he’d appreciate the art of that, I hope) will hang over my life forever.

If it was devastating to see him reduced in life, then it was a billion times worse to get that call on Tuesday. I was at work at time, and the moment the message landed I gathered my things and set off for home. The world of media research seemed exactly trivial after that.

I stood on the platform in a daze and decided to blot things out with a podcast—music didn’t seem right at the time, and I played the latest Planet Poetry episode. It featured an interview with Robert Hamberger. Robert is a poet I knew of, but hadn’t yet explored his work, so I listened with interest as he talked about his life, his work, his work within form and how it’s less of a straitjacket and more of a way of finding freedom to let the poem say what it wants to say. I nodded along (inwardly, making a loose mental note to finally push the button on buying Robert’s books…and knowing I would, eventually, but probably not straight away). I think he’d read a poem before this, but then he read a poem called ‘Moments’ and I came close to utterly disintegrating on the Circle line to Victoria station.

Mat Riches, Altering the colour of words

Phone, shut up about the news.
War in Ukraine, assault on trans rights,

a perp walk and its possibilities —
even the very Facebook where people

will find this poem: none of them help me.
Alert me to pay a different attention.

Listen: the red-winged blackbirds are back.
Forsythia blooms across the muddy lawn.

Rachel Barenblat, Notice

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing not to have anything named after you. There’s a quiet beauty to wandering this life, one’s name kept only to themselves and those closest to them.

Sometimes when it’s stormy, I offer my name to a random raindrop falling from the sky.

I say it quick before the drop crashes to earth and rushes off with all the others.

Rich Ferguson, No things are named after me

So today, I think about time and projects and seizing the day. Today, I make blueberry muffins from a box mix and drink coffee and sort through print jobs I picked up earlier in the week like these great little collage posties soon to be in the shop. I think about the next book, collapsologies, and its overall concept and visual ideas for covers and such.  Yesterday, I scanned some analog artwork I’ve had in mind since the beginning that’s been sitting on my shelves for over three years, basically since the book was conceived during the strange summer of lockdown, though the poems took a little longer to finish. I’ve been working digitally entirely lately, which always feels more polished, so it’s always strange to look at paper pieces cobbled together from stacks of vintage magazines. Their imperfections.  Glue spots and ragged paper. But then again, the greater limitations of working with what you have vs. what you can find and manipulate are two very different kinds of creating sometimes.  Sort of like a game with defined pieces vs. a scavenger hunt.

So that book needs to be finalized in April or May, and maybe, just maybe, will be ready for the world in June or July. Meanwhile, I am closing in on the end of the short series of poems about houses I’ve been working on.  They are still very rough and need some serious clean-up time after I’m done, but at the moment, I am liking them very much.  I have found over time that my relationship to my own work is fewer highs and lows and more of an even keel.  I feel like I am writing better than ever, but I also feel like people care less and less. Or less than before. Which is of course, a folly to judge oneself by, and is totally my own fault at spending too much time on social media platforms, whose exodus and algorithms are always affecting internet attention spans.  The danger of embedding your creative life in something where everyone is jostling for space, which is true of the publishing world and less true on the internet, but still kind of works the same. 

So I try not to think too much about [it] and go on endlessly appreciating the people who I know are interested in reading my work. Or maybe reading it and I don’t even know it. And more that I should just look to satisfy myself anyway, to make sure I am happy with what I am putting out there in the world. To take pleasure in the experience of writing and its rewards and maybe a few little connections it makes with other people in this short amount of time I, or anyone, is plodding along on this planet. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 3/26/2023

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 10

Poetry Blogging Network

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

The enormous annual writers’ conference, AWP, just concluded in Seattle, so we have a few posts about that, though most writers who attended are probably still recovering, so expect a bit more coverage of that next week. Aside from that, just a lot of fun, off-beat posts on everything from Rimbaud’s lice to golden shovels to crochet. Enjoy.


In this letter, I’m going to pretend you are Kafka. Nocturnal. Secretive. Intense. 

Pained yet quietly open to the joy in the world. 

And tonight, I saw—or didn’t see—something which reminded me of you. After midnight as I walked the dog I saw a figure on the path. The forest was blue bright because of the full moon; even the shadows were blue. The dog howled and began to run, but I called him back. I couldn’t tell if the figure was coming towards us or away. We kept walking and the figure appeared to stride off into the trees. Maybe it was a trick of the turning path, but when we rounded the bend, it was gone. The dog nosed disconsolately for a minute then gave up. It was unsettling, alone at night in the woods and this figure appearing seemingly out of nowhere. What was it?

As I’m writing this, I feel as if I’m missing out on the other writing I could be doing.  

Gary Barwin, LETTER TO YOU AS IF YOU WERE KAFKA

I know the more sophisticated of my readers may be disappointed to hear this, but I have been to the football and I have been chanting, but not like a nun. I understand that some imagine me as a well-behaved lady poet, sitting behind my typewriter and waiting for poems to come to the rescue, but after the events of last weekend, I feel compelled to reveal the darker side to my character. […]

“It’s only a game,” I said to myself again, and this time I believed it. I embraced the truth of it. It being a game doesn’t make it not matter. Games are important, I reasoned, because they’re an opportunity to release our inner children. Hadn’t Michael Rosen said this, in his book Play?

Freed up by this thought, I starting jeering when the Bournemouth goalie got a yellow card for time-wasting. It’s only a game, I thought, so I can let go. “Send him off!” I heard myself shout. “Lo-ser! Give him a red card! Red ca-ard!” I looked across at my sons – they were roaring at the goalie too, shaking their fists. It was wonderful.  

Liz Lefroy, I Chant And We Cheer

This is the week that AWP opens in Seattle. The Annual Writers Pilgrimage to whatever Mecca is selected for that year.  Seattle it is. 

This is also the week I have eye surgery on my right eye. That happens Tuesday the 8th. As a result, my AWP will be virtual this year. This is disappointing because I know many poets and writers in the Pacific Northwest.  And, I’ve never been to Seattle. I get many excellent views of the area’s natural beauty in pictures, but that only makes me want to see it more. […]

Did I say I will miss the swag? Crazy buttons, promotional material from presses, and lit journals. Who knows what brilliant ideas people will have this year. There are always some oldies but goodies that you will see each year that have been done specifically for AWP 23. One of my favorites from the past was the do not disturb door hanger with cute writing-related quotes on it, like go away I’m writing my fucking memoir.  Oh wait, that was a sticker, but still. And various temporary tattoos.

Michael Allyn Wells, Conferencing from Home This Time Hopefully With Improved Eye Sight

Many people I know are in some state of travel this week. Lots of writers are headed to the big writing conference, the AWP conference. I went to a few of them; Tampa was an easy drive from my South Florida house, and we had such a good time that I decided to go the following year. Unfortunately by the time of the Portland conference in 2019, I had almost no travel money, and by the following year, I funded the whole thing myself, to San Antonio in early March 2020, where we watched conferences for later March being cancelled and wondered what precautions we should have been taking.

I am not on my way to Seattle this year for the AWP. It’s too expensive, and I’m no longer earning the kind of money that lets me fund the whole thing, which is easily $1,000 for the hotel by itself, not to mention airfare, which could also approach the $1,000 per ticket price, or not, if one is good at getting deals or traveling light, which I am not. The conference fare looks cheap by comparison.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, On Not Going to AWP and Other Moves

Most years, I watch from afar and feel like I am missing out, that everyone is getting to hang out with people I’d love to hang out with, the feeling that THIS is where it is all happening. That everyone is in one place, which is of course, deceptive. Most people can’t go for the same reasons I can’t. Many writers give no shits about AWP. This year, there is also a real feeling of relief to NOT be there. It’s a lot of work to be only one person lugging books and manning tables, organizing events, and orchestrating travel plans, even if you can afford them. It’s also just a whole lot for this frightened little introvert heart to handle. I don’t think I am up for it. Or maybe I am choosing to not be up for it. .Maybe this is evidence of new boundaries and trying to live a less stressful life and not be always throwing myself enthusiastically into things that are ridiculous when I look back on them. I’ve also learned that I don’t travel well at all. For one, I don’t want to or like it and it makes me anxious. Kind of like a fine potato salad.

Kristy Bowen, fomo, romo, and awp

I’m home from AWP and recovering, eating breakfast, and uploading photos. So, was it worth it to try to go? I had been in a pretty tight pandemic bubble for the last three years, so it was certainly a change! 9000 people attended! I saw lots of friends, both local and cross country, but I don’t think I got to say hi to half the people I wanted to! I definitely overscheduled—which I usually don’t do, but I’ve never had all my panels accepted before, and then had a new book come out at exactly the same time as AWP in my own town, so figured I had to go for it.

There were risks involved, and the conference center was under construction which made wheelchair access to the building problematic—roads were closed off, wheelchair drop-off places were blocked by construction vans. Before the event I felt very insecure about my identity as a writer and being older and yes, I walk with a cane or wheelchair. But after the first day, I felt like I was part of a community, I felt like a writer again, and I felt much less insecure. People I didn’t know came up to me to tell me about different books and how they loved them. People were enthusiastic about the panels I was on. It felt wonderful connecting with friends.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Feeling Like a Writer Again, and Part of a Community But Also, Overwhelmed: Conferences Are Tough and What I Learned – AWP Seattle 2023 Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

It’s true that every so often I weaken and write something more ‘conventional’, as if there’s still some need to speak in a way that’s expected. Thankfully the lapse doesn’t usually last long and the aversion to being a part of the ‘poetry club’ returns. I go back to trying to find images and lines that link from somewhere deep in the brain and hook them into something that moves me. Talking of ‘from somewhere deep in the brain’ I remembered the words of John Stuart Mill, which might well apply to the ‘How To Write Poetry’ blockheads who populate the scene with such back-slapping camaraderie in search of something approaching fame. He wrote, in 1823: “I see something of fashionable people here, and… there is not a more futile class of persons on the face of the earth.” Well said, sir. Perhaps he can hear me two hundred years on, who knows?

For good or bad, or indifferent, it seems the right time to write something without stopping, without prior intention. The words will come. The title will go on last. I just like writing this way. Is it ‘avant garde’? Who knows or cares?

Bob Mee, FOR THE AVANT GARDE

The Adirondack Center for Writing has “invented” poetry machines […] Each machine dispenses plastic bubbles containing a piece of paper with one of 10 poems. I’m dating myself, but as a kid, the only thing better than having a quarter for a random prize in a machine like this was having change for the coin-operated horse outside the store. Check out the ACW website (linked above) for details about the poems. And, if you live near the [Adirondacks] as I do, you can find the machines at locations in Blue Mountain Lake, Indian Lake and Northville.

Carolee Bennett, the artist googles “how to be an artist”

Old siddurim and holy books go in the cupboard to be buried in the sanctified ground of our cemetery. Once they are tattered from long use, we treat them with reverence and lay them to rest along with our beloved dead. But the secular books get stacked and bagged, or boxed, and hauled to the car, and taken away. It’s hard to let go of books. We’re the People of the Book! And yet there are so many books that haven’t been touched in years. Books we’d forgotten we had. Books we just don’t need.

Rachel Barenblat, Old books

I read somewhere that the the social elite invited Rimbaud to one of their soirees. He stood on a chair and shook himself to rain lice down over all on them. (I do think my memory is adding details here: the chair, not the lice.) They fell out of love with him then.

Only for a while because, like everyone does, he died. Once someone is dead you can pin down a story and no one can let you down or force you to deal with it in the present tense.

Head lice, a bloody gun wound, a severed ear, a water-logged corpse, all quite romantic if you don’t have to smell them. Mouches (French for flies) were fashionable as long as they were a bit of play-acting: a bit of self-irony for the syphilitic over-class.

Ren Powell, An Argument for Amorphous Stories

I’m thinking today of the courageous women I met in Mexico City on this day four years ago, demonstrating against the violent “disappearance” of so many Mexican women. I’m thinking of my friend Shirin and what she has told me about women today in Iran. I’m thinking about refugees I have met from Africa — women who escaped terrible situations and survived journeys toward a hoped-for freedom; some of whom were able to gain asylum and some who were deported to an uncertain fate. I’m thinking of women in detention centers, or whose bones now lie in the desert near the US/Mexican border, or at the bottom of the sea.

And I am thinking about women in general: our strength, our resilience and resourcefulness, our endless ability to do what we have to do to care for those around us in spite of everything that life throws at us, our ability to form enduring and powerful friendships, and, most of all, our ability to love. What would the world be without us?

So for me it’s a day of renewed commitment to help the women who are younger than I am in whatever ways I can. To try to help them find their way and their own strength in a world that has more opportunities than we had, but is harsh, hostile and frightening in ways we never had to experience when we were their age. How I hope that, in fifty more years, equality of all people will be much closer to a reality! But it will never come if we sit on our heels waiting, or ask meekly, or expect change without fighting for it, because this is a fight that will never be over, so long as the powers-that-be are in charge of the world.

Beth Adams, In Praise of Women, and in Fear for Them

On the stove, a hot water kettle boils

because it must. The urgency for release
comes in many other forms. Let

the last of those tears fall, and after that
tend to the earth where we are.

Luisa A. Igloria, On Remedies

There may be poets who can sit in front of their computer or notebook and spontaneously compose a poem, but I am not one of them. Generally, my poems have a long gestation. I tend to mull them over while doing other things: gardening, walking, cleaning the bathrooms. Crocheting.

My best friend Joanne taught me how to crochet when I was thirteen. I’ve never been particularly good with my hands and at school I struggled with activities such as knitting or sewing or art; but crochet, with its single hook and simple knotting technique, was relatively easy and I took to it straight away. My first project was a poncho (dear reader, we were the hippie generation! – ponchos ruled!), constructed of granny squares in shades of blue. 

Over the years I’ve progressed from granny squares to scarves, baby blankets, cardigans, filet crochet placemats, soft toys and amigurumi for my grandchildren. 

Crochet is relaxing and meditative. Stitches are looped in rows, integrating texture, shape and colour to create a beautiful object. It’s a process analogous to writing a poem, where lines of words, imagery, metre and form are crafted together to become something much more than the sum of the component parts.

Marian Christie, The Poetry and Mathematics of Crochet

Now my uni course is finished, I’m trying to get back into some writing routine. I can carve time in the weekends to write, but I’m unfocused. One of the paid projects I applied for didn’t happen, so I’m waiting on the other and have several unpaid opportunities coming up, but instead of writing something towards them, I spent most of yesterday morning chiselling away at one poem.

I’d written a poem with a slight scientific theme and I had been looking at the Fibonacci sequence and trying to incorporate it somehow. I discovered yesterday that there is a poetic form based around it, the Fib poem. It’s a simple, non-rhyming form which appeals to me. I’m trying it with word count instead of syllables as I’m lazy and am having enough trouble making it fit without having to break it down into further complications. It’s coming together, but I haven’t written anything new.

I’ve often taken writing courses as a way of boosting inspiration and getting back to writing daily. I might look into my regular ones and see what’s happening there. Until then I just need to pick up my pen and get scribbling. 

Gerry Stewart, The Struggle to Return

Whenever I review new poetry – which I used to do quite a bit, and now don’t do as much as I’d like – I always look to see what other people have been saying about the book in question. And I always wonder. Am I… cheating? Whatever I’m doing it’s a world away from the close reading practised in univerisities after the war, where English students were asked to respond to poems without knowing anything about them. But it is also just how I think. Or at least, how I write. I find my own responses hard to articulate without someone else’s to bounce off.

This is a long winded-way of thanking Graeme Richardson, whose brief remarks in the Sunday Times gave me a leg up. If they are going to have a poetry critic, perhaps they could let him write more full length reviews. But it is also to make a self-interested complaint – though one which I think may have wider ramifications. Because, beyond this review by Cheryl Mcgregor, Richardons’s were among the only un-blurby remarks I could find. And this is a book from Picador, a commercial imprint, and one that’s now been shortlisted for several prizes.

Jeremy Wikeley, Recent reviewing: bandit country

Dead Mall Press is happy to announce that two new chapbooks are now available for pre-order! This marks the beginning of a new phase for the press, and I am thrilled to share these writers’ books with you. […]

All sales will be split 50/50 between writer and press. Of the press’s half, 50% — or a quarter of all sales from both books — will be donated to Confluence HRKC, “a harm reduction collective serving people who use drugs and those who love them in the Kansas City, MO area.” This organization was agreed upon by myself (RM) and both writers (Amalia and Franziska), and we are proud to support their work providing autonomy and life-saving care for a criminalized and vulnerable population. Receipts for this donation will be provided at the end of the pre-order period.

R.M. Haines, DEAD MALL PRESS: NEW BOOKS AVAILABLE TODAY!

I’m celebrating having survived Covid and reached Launch Day with some ginger tea… sitting here under the rosy shadow of a whole forest of amaryllis blooms…

Seren of the Wildwood is the weekly feature of Autumn Sky Poetry Daily. To see, go HERE. And thanks to editor Christine Klocek-Lim!

Marly Youmans, Launch Day, March 6

Given the ways through which beloved Winnipeg poet, editor, critic, teacher, anthologist, theorist, mentor and publisher Dennis Cooley has worked as a poet over the years, the notion of a trajectory of his writing as seen through a sequence of published book-length poetry collections is less than straightforward; certainly far less straightforward than anyone else I’m aware of. His published work exists as less than a straight line than a complex tapestry, often producing chapbooks and books excised from lengthy manuscripts composed across years (and even decades), offering selected book-sized collections awash with myriad threads, some of which connect to some works over others, all of which spread out endlessly from whatever central point where his work once began.

rob mclennan, Dennis Cooley, body works

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

One of the first poets I studied with was Larry Levis. He taught me that it’s not enough for a poem to set a scene—it needs to take the reader on a journey of emotion, realization, recognition. From Dorianne Laux I learned that the process of writing can be playful and saw the depth conveyed when a poet writes about ordinary things. Gregory Orr, through his craft book A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry, taught me about order and disorder in poetry, our natural desire for balance between these opposites, and how each person has a different threshold for the shift from one to the other. (That teaching greatly affected the poems in Talk Smack to a Hurricane, my book about my mother’s mental illness—the more chaotic the content, the more I considered what and how much structure was needed.) As a result of Kim Addonizio’s poetry and her craft book Ordinary Genius, I realized there’s freedom in candor, regardless of the topic. I’ve learned new ways to start a poem. I now search for energy and emotional truth as it unfolds. Richard Hugo, in Triggering Town, his book of lectures and essays, taught me that the inspiration (trigger) for a poem is only sometimes what the poem is really about. Ed Skoog taught a whole class on taking the “side door” into poems—I learned to open myself to unexpected topcs and odd juxtapositions. He offered a new revision strategy: Alphabetize a poem’s lines according to the first word of each, then look for new connections or directions (I find this works best with poems of 20–30 lines or so). Rosebud ben Oni, in workshop and through her poetry, taught me that my purpose in writing is to tell my story and no one else’s—if someone’s missing from the conversation, I need to work to make space for their words, not speak for them. There’s too much I’ll never understand even though I want to. Through her book Odes to Lithium, Shira Ehrlichman showed me the power of a full poetry collection on psychiatric issues; it gave me the courage to build a manuscript of poems I’d written about my mother’s mental illness, our relationship, and psychiatry. 

Lynne Jensen Lampe : part two (Thomas Whyte)

My plan was to get the kids (years 8 and 9) writing their own poems and get them being creative. I think there had been lots of sessions where people went in to talk about business and TV, and I knew if I started talking about market research I’d lose them (Heck, I’m losing myself just typing it here), so poems it was. I asked the teachers what they’d been studying—the kids, not the teachers, and then took some of that it to get the kids writing their own golden shovels. I read the kids the Gwendolyn Brooks poem, We Real Cool and the first stanza of Terrance Hayes’ own poem. […]

Once we’d gone through those two poems, I gave the kids the choice of using a line from the Hayes poem, or from some others I’d supplied ( Nettles by Vernon Scannell, My City by George The Poet, I Wanna Be Yours by John Cooper Clarke and Walking Away by Cecil Day Lewis.) and then set them off writing. I think it all went fairly well. Note to self, put up a visual reference to what I want them to do…that would have made things a bit clearer up front, but we got them working with it quickly. Some kids we suggested using the words from their chosen line as the first words instead of the last on their lines to get them going.

There was one lad who was struggling to get going, but when I asked him what he liked doing outside of school he very quickly got a draft out about playing Zombie computer games using a line from the Scannell poem. Amazing stuff.

I’ve never been asked anything like this before and I know I won’t be giving up the day job to run these sessions, but I came out of there buzzing (and that was no mean feat as I’d been riddled with a cold in the run up to it). I was even asked for my autograph by a few of the kids, but I don’t think anyone that makes a career out of teaching creative writing (and I am perhaps overplaying the work I did) needs to worry. I didn’t get paid (as I was doing it on ITV Time). I wonder if I’ve done folks that do teach a disservice by doing it, but there was another poet there called Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan and I know she was getting paid.

Mat Riches, Whistles, shovels, calamine lotion and geese

Last night I participated in a lovely event at the Chenoa Public Library, a presentation about Fugue, an artist book with photographs by Ken Kashian and tiny poems by me. You can see a little video about it, with a fugue as background music, at Ken’s website and at the Fugue link above. Part of the joy was the absolute attention of the audience, and part was conversing with them afterwards in a relaxed and cozy way on a rainy night, us warm inside in comfortable chairs donated by other libraries! In fact, Sheryl the director and I realized we had attended the same regional library conference the day before. I guess that makes it a Random Coinciday as well as a Poetry Someday in the blog! Other coincidences: the library director had participated in a theatre in town that I work with, and I went to high school with her husband and his brothers. He farmed up the road from where I lived, and my son and his hometown have the same name! 

The town and its library are very near the Weston Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve, where the poems and photos are set. Not everyone in the audience had been there yet, but they’ll be visiting soon! I was so honored that people felt reverence for the place, and reverent in our space last night, thanks to the photos and poems, and, I think, the sense of community.

Kathleen Kirk, Tiny Poems

By day two, I knew that only steaming

thukpa and ginger tea were keeping me alive in that
stark desert. Everything felt freshly vacuumed, the

naked mountains, the Indus cutting a blue path through
the valley, the Zanskar snaking up to the confluence, the

stupas, the silver air. The cleanliness like a challenge to
my soul. But there was nothing else. No enlightenment,

no explanation, no intervention. On the third day, in
Chang La, at 17000 feet, there was more tea. Beyond

was Pangong Lake, so exquisite, like an illusion caused
by oxygen deprivation. Or despair. I was still expectant

but back at the lodge there was only the silence and the
mountains, exactly where I had left them.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 37

 a heron
lost in a blizzard
of seagulls

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 9

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week, there’s even more of a focus on books than usual—March 2 was World Books Day. From harbingers of spring to the borders beyond breath, it’s a very full edition of the digest. Enjoy.


The days are lengthening. Harbingers of spring
pierce through resistant soil; spikes of daffodils

and early tulips mingle, tight buds sprinkle
thin syringa stems. A few oak leaves linger,

crisp-curled and dead, rasping in the flowerbed –
but death is a stranger now. Pale hellebore

blushes shyly, fern fronds prepare to unfurl.

Marian Christie, February’s Garden

I dug out an old book over the weekend – Speak To Me, Swedish-language Women Poets, edited & translated by Lennart and Sonja Bruce, published in New York in 1989. Every so often I flick through this one but in previous readings I hadn’t noticed a comment by the Swedish poet Madeleine Gustafsson. She says: “..It is poetry that discovers/ scrutinizes/ explains me.”

It set me thinking. How far does poetry explain the poet, to themselves or to others? Sure, I walk about my life, talking to people (here and there…) and am, when the mood takes, or circumstances dictate, social enough. I get unnecessarily animated while watching football, like to watch Test Match cricket, enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren, talk to my hens and pigs, spend time pottering about doing jobs in our woods, pass through the world, I suppose. Life is full.

Is this what I am? Or does my poetry suggest something more that stays hidden through the habits and rituals of the days?

Bob Mee, ‘MY POETRY EXPLAINS ME’

March is here – my favorite month of the year. (And my birthday month.) Although the Spring equinox is on the 20th, the climate here in New Orleans says Spring is here now. I have garden planning and planting fever so I’ve been consulting my notes from last year as to what new things I want to experiment with in my planting. […]

I have a tiny essay in Still: The Journal called Moon Sick, which was reprinted from my Substack post in December. Many thanks to the wonderful editors at Still for believing this little piece was worthy of their wonderful journal.

It’s Saturday afternoon now and I’m going out into the backyard to cut off dead banana tree leaves and trim back my HUGE in ground Asparagus setaceus fern. And, of course, check on the Sweet Peas.

Charlotte Hamrick, I’m in Love with March

A fellow poet introduced me to the American poet Ted Kooser, now in his early 80s. His style is accomplished, yet extremely simple. My current bedtime reading is his poetry collection Winter Morning Walks: one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2001).

In the late 90s Kooser developed cancer. He gave up his insurance job and writing. When he began to write again, it was to paste daily poems on postcards he sent to his friend and fellow writer Jim Harrison. In the preface, Kooser tells us ‘I began to take a two-mile walk each morning. I’d been told by my radiation oncologist to stay out of the sun for a year because of skin sensitivity, so I exercised before dawn, hiking the isolated country roads near where I live.’ These country roads are in Nebraska.

The poems cover a period from 9 November until 20 March. In the poems Kooser doesn’t directly talk about the illness. He does so through metaphor. All the poems include a brief description of the weather. The clear and precise observation gives them a haiku quality.

Fokkina McDonnell, Books, books, books…

This posthumous collection is a work of impressive artistry and depth.

It was written under the shadow of a terminal diagnosis of laryngeal cancer and after the removal of Satyamurti’s voice box and part of her tongue. Some poems refer to these things. The way in which they do so reflects one of the qualities that make Satyamurti’s writing so attractive. Whatever may have been the case for her as a person, as poet she approaches her situation in a way virtually purged of ego.

We see this in ‘Small Change’. It opens:

This must be the room of last resort,
this half-lit passage under the dripping bridge
where, on the only route to the Underground,
you pass four, sometimes more, rough sleepers
strung out at intervals against the wall,

the same, day after day, week after week.

The tone is masterly. The language is unemotive, almost prosaically plain, suggesting a pedantic concern for factual accuracy by the pausing over ‘four, sometimes more’. And yet from the first line the scene has the compelling resonance of symbolism and myth. And line 6 seems to ache with empathy, not through emotive language but because the effect of its repetitions is heightened by the stanza break. What’s involved is a very skilful use of poetic technique to make facts seem to speak for themselves. They’re made to feel immediately present (‘This must be’) and the reader is drawn into a direct confrontation with the sleepers (‘you pass’). Keeping herself out of the picture, the poet makes us face the horror without distraction. And what we see is how for these rough sleepers the real has taken on the extremity of myth.

Edmund Prestwich, Carole Satyamurti, The Hopeful Hat – review

Far Field is the final part of a trilogy Jim Carruth has been working on for the last twenty-five years, and forms a magnificent culmination to what feels, for more than one reason, like a life’s work. Like its predecessors, Black Cart and Bale Fire and the standalone poetic novel Killochries, it deals with farming life in rural Renfrewshire, but this volume is more personal than the others. It focuses on his own family life, the family farm, the handing on of skills, property, and tradition. […]

In the final section, Stepping Stones, we move out to the wider community, to the landscape, to memory, and reflections of the future, and the book closes with Planting Aspen Saplings, father handing on the tradition and the responsibility to son. Aspen is an endangered species, but an important one to the Scottish landscape:

You tell me of the tree’s offer
To gall midges, birds, hare, deer

The importance of relationships
The interconnectedness of everything

They do not thrive in shade, need light
And space to grow.

Planting aspen saplings,
Son and father.Planting Aspen Saplings

The echoes of Seamus Heaney I find in these poems do not feel derivative, but establish a connection between two poets aware of the influence of landscape and farming on their work, but each with their own different and unique perspective on it. An Irish/Scottish tradition which enriches us all.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Far Field by Jim Carruth

Last week, a long train ride and poor internet connection gave me the chance to re-read two recent Forward Prizes anthologies, properly paying attention to each poem rather than flicking through the pages which is what I’d previously done. In particular, from the 2020 book, I loved ‘Partition’ a prose poem about the complexities of identity by Fatimah Asghar from her book If They Come for Us (Corsair, 2019) which begins

you’re kashmiri until they burn your home. take your orchards. stake a different flag. until no one remembers the road that brings you back. you’re indian until they draw a border through punjab. until the british captains spit paki as they sip your chai, add so much foam you can’t taste home.

I also loved the poem ‘Argument of Situations’ by Shangyang Fang which you can hear the poet reading here (amazing what you can find on the internet!). The poem begins

I was thinking, while making love, ‘this is beautiful’ – this
fine craftsmanship of his skin, the texture of wintry river.
I pinched him, three inches above his coccyx, so that he knew
I was still here, still in an argument with Fan Kuan’s
inkwash painting, where an old man, a white-gowned literatus,
dissolves into the landscape as a plastic bag into clouds.

I liked the fact that the two people in this poem are talking about and arguing about different interpretations of a painting. This happens so often with any kind of artistic work, sometimes these conversations take place in one person’s head (they do in mine).

Josephine Corcoran, February Update

You drop into the little terrarium world of a story or poem.
There is a talking clay dinosaur in it. You look familiar, you say.
She grunts and steps over the broccoli-tufted forest. Trust
means you can be fully here, next to a citizen of Mesozoic
time, and also exist outside the glass. All I want to do sometimes
is sleep, you sigh; or read. Every now and then, the shadows
of flying pterosaurs stretch a fleeting canopy that blots out
the sun. You’re convinced the writing residency you heard
about is here, somewhere beyond the teaspoon-sized pond
ringed with moss and breadcrumbs.

Luisa A. Igloria, Retreat

13 – David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I think knitting has influenced my process a lot in that sometimes one must unravel an ugly or misshapen or just not right thing, despite hours of work. To acknowledge that the hours of work spent weren’t wasted but a learning process toward something better, that seems very applicable to writing, drafting, editing, and letting go of the ugly or misshapen things we write. I also love drawing and reading graphic novels, but I think because I don’t feel like my expertise is in this area there is more room to play and learn and once again, make something ugly or misshapen. I mentioned her before, but Lynda Barry is a major inspiration to me and her work helps me to embrace the weird and unknown.

14 – What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I think returning to teachers and peers who taught me gets me really excited to make things and teach. I’ve loved reading Ross Gay’s essay collections, Ellen Hagan’s fiction and novels-in-verse, Joy Priest’s poetry and essays, Nikky Finney’s poetry and ephemera, and the debut poetry collections of my dear friends like Anni Liu (Border Vista), Su Cho (The Symmetry of Fish), Kien Lam (Extinction Theory), Jan-Henry Gray (Documents), and Marianne Chan (All Heathens). I also love to return to Ai, Lucille Clifton, Aracelis Girmay, and Ruth Stone, for teaching students and myself.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Danni Quintos

Since March is Women’s History Month, I thought I’d take some time to let readers know a few ways that the following poets have impacted my life’s journey in poetry and teaching. I’m ever grateful for their mentorship and support over the years. Please take some time read about the influence of these amazing poets and read (and buy) their work (I’ve included links to make it easier for you):

Carol Frost – Carol is first on my list. During my four years of collegiate undergraduate work in Upstate New York, Carol opened up so many opportunities for me to connect with the poetry world. Now Rollins College Professor of English and Director of Winter With the Writers, a Festival of the Literary Arts, Carol continues to write and teach and inspire. It was Carol who mentored me in my undergraduate years as both a poet and fiction writer, introducing me to Donald Justice, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and many, many more in the late 1990s. I even visited her once at Bread Loaf, where she introduced me to one of my fiction-writer heroes, Charles Baxter. She always believed in me as a student writer, and it was through her guidance and kindness that I kept up with a writing life well after college. As far as her poems go, her imagery and syntax dazzle. Her most recent collection is Alias City (2019). Carol is an exceptional poet and teacher, says everyone in the poetry-biz, not just me.

Scot Slaby, Celebrating the Women Who Have Nurtured My Poet-Teacher Life

“Imperfect Beginnings” is an exploration of rootlessness both of refugees and adopted children. The poems ask difficult questions about security a sense of belonging when those roots are absent and whether it is actually possible to settle into or create somewhere that feels like home. Viv Fogel also touches on intergenerational trauma. She didn’t inherit her adoptive parents’ trauma but was very much aware of their experiences and how those experiences informed their behaviour towards her. The later poems look at founding a mother/daughter relationship without a role model to create one from and whether it is possible to break away from the negative patterns learnt from those who failed to provide safe environments for children to grow in.

Emma Lee, “Imperfect Beginnings” Viv Fogel (Fly on the Wall Press) – Book Review

Though Vogel’s adoptive mother was a refugee living in a new country, it is clear she had not truly escaped the Holocaust. Parts Four and Five develop the notions of escape and repair. There is a hint of what is to come in Practical un-English when the poet writes: ‘Her pain became my art and then my craft.’ The act of writing is Vogel’s way of understanding and resolving such issues. In Practical UnEnglish, though the poet does not shy away from describing her adoptive mother’s cruelty, underpinning the poem is an understanding of why she acted in this way. There is also a desire to see her in the round, to recognise her strengths and as a result, towards the end of the poem, there is even a touch of warmth towards her: ‘And yet/ she baked, her Powidltascherl and Apfelstrudel were divine.’  In this understanding there is the beginnings of forgiveness on Vogel’s part that her adoptive mother was never able to feel.

Nigel Kent, Review* of ‘Imperfect Beginnings’ by Viv Fogel

Lynne Jensen Lampe’s debut collection, Talk Smack to a Hurricane (Ice Floe Press, 2022) concerns mother-daughter relationships, mental illness, and antisemitism. Her poems appear in many journals, including THRUSH, Figure 1, and Yemassee. A finalist for the 2020 Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Prize and Best of the Net nominee, she lives with her husband and two dogs in mid-Missouri, where she edits academic research. Visit her at https://lynnejensenlampe.com; on Twitter @LJensenLampe; or IG @lynnejensenlampe

How do you know when a poem is finished?

It depends on the poem. In general, a poem is done when I read it aloud and feel the energy in my voice stay strong until the last word. Sometimes I can feel that in my body, other times I need to listen to a recording. Conversely, I know a poem needs work when I hear or sense a vocal weakness, a softness that doesn’t derive from the content. Places I stumble over words. The revision and just sitting with the poem can take months. A few times, though, I needed to write a quick draft in time for my critique group, think I have nothing like an actual poem, and they tell me to send it out. Or I submit a poem over and over, all of a sudden decide to change the last word, and the next journal accepts it.

Thomas Whyte, Lynne Jensen Lampe : part one

Clare Best’s new project, End of Season/Fine distagione (Frogmore Press, 2022), is a delicious portrayal of the tensions that run through life, yoking them to poetry so as to burrow down to the core of feelings.

To start with, as indicated by the title itself, there are linguistic tensions, each poem in English placed on the opposite page to its corresponding piece in Italian (written by Franca Mancinelli and John Taylor). Rather than translations, these feel like two independent texts that establish dialogues: views of Italy in English, then also in Italian but filtered through an English perspective. Languages, cultures and societies rub up against each other and generate further insight into how we view the world around us.

Matthew Stewart, Delicious tensions, Clare Best’s End of Season/Fine di stagione

One book I read recently and enjoyed immensely was Liz Berry’s The Home Child, a ‘novel in verse’, which is actually launched in two days’ time. I got hold of an early copy in order to prepare for interviewing Liz on Planet Poetry. We had a lovely chat about it yesterday, and the episode will go out some time in late March or early April.

I sometimes wonder if listeners think that Peter and I are awash with complimentary copies of poetry books thanks to all the poets we’ve interviewed. Well I’d like to crush that idea once and for all – I think this is the first book I’ve been sent from the publisher. I generally go out and buy a poet’s books, if I can’t get them in the local library.

I love public libraries and support them as much as I can. But the poetry offering is always minimal, and don’t get me started on trying to find novels by subject matter.

Robin Houghton, Been reading and about to read…

Even though I can get all the resources I need electronically, I occasionally cross the campus to the library.  I feel sorry for all those books, so neatly shelved, almost never checked out.  I do wonder how long the school (and schools across the country) will continue to dedicate themselves to the task of tending books that are never used.

I’m not talking about the censorship campaigns happening in parts of the country.  Those libraries that are being decimated have been in use.  I go to the physical library at my seminary, and I am almost always the only one in there who is not library staff.

A few weeks ago, I made this Facebook post:  “When I’m in the seminary library, I have to resist the temptation to check out the books that haven’t been checked out in awhile (that is to say, most of them)–in part to make the books feel loved, in part so that they won’t be culled, if the library is called upon to do such things.”

I love the smell of the library, even though I know I’m smelling the slow, slow crumbling of books turning to dust. […]

I’ve been sending out poetry submissions this morning, thinking about their passage in the world.  Will they find a place between covers in an old-fashioned book or periodical?  Why do I do this anyway?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Publication and Preservation

My 4th manuscript has been a finalist/semi-finalist in about half of the very few places I’ve sent it, so I think it is pretty close to ready. The thing is, it’s about my daughter Kit, who died at six months old from a rare genetic condition and heart defect, and I am incredibly protective of this manuscript and reluctant to let it go.

I wrote it to be read–and to share her story and the story of our grief for her–at the same time, it is difficult to let that project be Completed and out into the world.

And then I have questions like “how could I ever manage a reading from this book?” (without dissolving into tearful Anne Sexton level dramatics)

I suppose that is a question for my future self to handle.

As it is, I can get in there and enjoy crafting the manuscript as a separate thing, an art, rather than the emotional ties I have to it (reading it aloud to people would be a whole nother matter).

Renee Emerson, visions and revisions

This is not an unboxing video, this is a post-unboxing video so I could be at least somewhat composed. You Could Make This Place Beautiful is here! I still can’t get over the touching secret hiding underneath the book jacket: my handwriting on the spine. I had no idea! I love it.

Thank you to my editor Julia Cheiffetz and the whole magic-making team at One Signal and Atria, who’ve been with me through Keep Moving, Goldenrod, Keep Moving: The Journal, and now this memoir. Special thanks to Jimmy Iacobelli for this miracle of a cover. I can’t get over it.

Maggie Smith, The book is here

By virtue of social media algorithms and clicks, I keep encountering some articles by a tik tokker who has been talking up “Bare Minimum Mondays” as a way to combat weekly burn-out, the Sunday scaries, and the general feelings of overwhelm [with] which most of us greet the week. It’s something other people I know have mentioned as a way to combat these things, starting off slow and then with a more productive push toward the middle of the week that winds down to Friday. […]

That same tik tokker also talks a lot in her reels about monotasking, which I guess I’ve never considered that word for it, but this makes such a difference for me. It was one of the best things about working the night shift even when I was at the library–very few interruptions and spans of time to actually get stuff done without interruptions and phone calls and e-mails coming in. […]

When I first branched off on my own, it took a while to find and establish the rhythms, but even with the press work, I find it helpful to devote each day to one aspect. Mondays are slower and more-admin days. Tuesdays are layouts and Weds are cover design. Thursdays are edits and finalization of galleys, while Fridays are website work and updates. Saturdays are usually just e-mails that require more in- depth responses and printing loads of author copies. Sundays are for shop orders & assembling books. This way I can cycle through the things that need to get done without feeling overwhelmed by so much and switching gears.

Kristy Bowen, the virtues of monotasking

The other thing to know and possibly do, which I have absolutely not done, but will perhaps increase my efforts — is to “spend three years” marketing the book that you wrote over the same or longer span. Makes sense right? I learned this at Writing Quietly and promptly forgot it. :) And the thing is, you can take these things in, modify them, use them for what works for you. I’m not going to mention my book every day for 3 years, but also, a book (or painting) is not a loaf of bread. It doesn’t go bad. Your followership changes, grows, and forgets. The book I wrote published two years ago, might now again resonate with someone.

With anything that I’ve done on the internet, especially blogging, which I’ve done for the longest period of time, I try to not “promote” myself per se. I try to ask myself, what do you have to give? What do you know or what have you seen that might be of interest? Sure yes I’ll succumb to the “please buy my X” formula from time to time. But primarily, I’d rather lure you in with whatever it is I might have that’s of interest, haha. Then we can go from there. If I can be a wee bit inspiring and then you want to look into my wares, so to speak, that’s cool. That said, sometimes we have to make things easy for people! Tell them the price, where to buy. Offer a link. We’re all busy, man! Make it as easy as possible! Don’t be shy about that part.

Shawna Lemay, Social Media for the Soul

I want to say something about ambition. A word derived from “go around,” that is, go around seeking votes or support. Which sounds a bit embarrassing to me. But why? What’s wrong with wandering around seeking support for your position? Is the shame I feel around it a female thing? Is it the prospect of the closing door? The closed?

I want to say something about desire, a word meaning coming down from the stars. Which sounds a bit silly to me. Wishing upon, and all. As if.

I want to say something about striving, which comes from battle, or strife. Which sounds unpleasant.

Something about success, a word meaning to go next to something that yields. Which is a funny thing, making success more a verb than a noun, but succeed more an appreciation of a yield than a gathering of it.

Marilyn McCabe, On the edge of town: or, Some Thoughts on Striving

Do we need

a witness for every moment? For every sigh? Is it
more worthy, a life lived in the sunlight? What name

do you have for things growing in the shade? Inside
a second-class compartment, lovers lie on opposite

berths, feigning sleep. Between them space, depth,
strangers, doubts.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 36

Mr. Shannon told me to put the pencil on the paper and then never look down again. Draw exactly what you see. He never explained himself. But I still believe sensitivity of the line is far more interesting than the perceived gesture. I think of Schiele and how he stripped his work of the ornamental influence of his teacher Klimt. I’m not considering Schiele’s narrative, mind you, but his lines which are a translation of sensation. Touch – with the eyes opened and closed at the same time. Much later, in college, a professor told me that the trouble with my drawings were that the parts didn’t work together to create a whole.

Maybe that was my unconscious goal. Parts are potentials and prompts and promise, the whole is as inescapable as a closed circle.

When I run, sometimes I close my eyes for dangerous seconds. I listen to the soft snap of twigs on the trail. How would one draw that? How would one translate the sensation that is simultaneously a drop in the pelvis and a rise in the chest? And a hatch-working of browns. And there is a smell in the foreground. Moss-greens, sticky translucent sweets.

That things can smell sweet may be the first order of synesthesia.

Yesterday, the air temperature barely above freezing, and a fat bumble bee attempted to fly. It sounded like death and I will argue that is synesthesia not simile.

There is pleasure in the unfocused life. There is discovery.

Ren Powell, Done with Genres

I wanted to expand on the voice and I also thought that I took too much time getting to the gist. My aim is always to be as concise as possible. I also think that too much frame around the poem detracts from its impact. You need to interrogate every word, does it really need to be present? What does it bring? Does the poem work without it? 

Paul Tobin, A TURN UP FOR THE BOOKS

Yesterday I attended a Zoom event featuring Alexandra Fössinger. There was discussion between poet and publishers with just a few poems, then a Q+A session. I think the format worked well.

She revealed that there was a significant backstory to her recent book, “Contrapasso”. Does knowing the backstory help with appreciating the poems? Not especially, but I was interested to know that she had felt the need to conceal details, and distance herself from the story (by writing in English, etc). She said she hadn’t realised that she’d concealed so much and had made an effort during rewrites to be less obscure, but she liked the idea of leaving areas that readers might get lost in. A difficult balance.

Whenever a poem is driven by intense emotion it must be hard for the poet to assess its effect on the reader. I don’t trust my evaluation of such poems that I write, and am wary of sending them away – justifiably in most cases, in retrospect. But achieving that objectivity can take years. Might as well let editors make earlier decisions.

Tim Love, Cephalopress Writers in Conversation: Alexandra Fössinger

Chalkboard poems continue. Reading continues. I read a sort of magical realism short novel, The Crane Husband, by Kelly Barnhill because the description reminded me of a poem I had written a couple years back where a woman marries a sandhill crane. This was darker than that, though the poem is also about a cryptid, the Mothman, who might actually be a sandhill crane. I love my life, but it is sometimes hard to explain to people who are not me. Let’s just say I used to live in Kearney, Nebraska, and also passed through there on a trip west during sandhill crane nesting season.

I think there was more I meant to tell you, but it’s Friday, it’s snowing, and I am already drinking wine (in hopes of a nap…have I mentioned my weird sleeping patterns during the pandemic?)

Kathleen Kirk, Real ID

The collection I finished reading yesterday is by Robert Wood Lynn, whose amazing work I found a couple of years ago through Shenandoah submissions. Since then, he won the Yale Younger Poets Prize for Mothman Apologia, a collection strongly rooted in Appalachia. It contains a series of poems from the perspective of Mothman, a West Virginia cryptid, which gives the book a weirdness that always appeals to me; I’m also moved by how it addresses the urgent subjects of poverty, drug crisis, and environmental damage. I’d call it lyric in mode, like [Cynthia] Hogue’s work, which to me means sound-driven and personal (even when the poems use persona). Especially for a first collection, it’s startlingly good. And it turns out he lives very near me, although he commutes to NYU as he completes his MFA.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry reading (and readings: here comes AWP)

A lot of times writers don’t talk about the difficulties involved with the work of being a writer, which includes things like public speaking, publicity, attending conferences. If you have a disability—I use a cane for short distances, and a wheelchair for longer distances, which is obvious, but I also have problems swallowing, breathing, even things like vision and memory, which are less obvious. I also have an immune system deficiency that puts me at high risk for “bad outcomes” as the scholars write—with covid. I’m not ignoring any of that when I say I’m excited about AWP, because I am excited for a chance to see friends, to share my work, to meet my publishers, and all those good things.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Where I’ll Be at AWP, A Rhysling Nomination, Managing MS Symptoms and Anxiety Before Big Public Events: AWP Edition

In Minneapolis I arrived the day before the conference. I was six months pregnant and stiff and tired from the plane ride. I found a yoga studio nor far from where I was staying and inexpensive compared the east coast prices I was used to. The teacher was phenomenal. To this day it remains one of the best such classes I’ve ever taken.

In Chicago I spent over an hour in my room chatting with one of the hotel’s housekeepers. There was a hotel staff strike taking place down the street. This woman was more than eager to talk to me, and she gave me all the details of the strike and her job generally. It was an invaluable perspective to the space we were all gathering in and enjoying for the weekend.

All of this is to say, the best advice I can give anyone attending this conference is: Be okay with where you are. Don’t panic.

If you have a couple of good conversations, meet new people, get to know new magazines and/or presses, attend an interesting panel or two, then you’re doing great. If you pick up cool journals that you’ve never seen before and think you might like to submit to, then you’re just fine. If you come up with new ways to attempt to resolve a craft problem, good on ya.

Don’t worry about doing everything. Take breaks as you need to. Walk, rest, talk to people outside the literary world, stare into space.

Becky Tuch, What is AWP and how do we survive it?

I’m especially pleased to have this poem out in the wild; it’s one I intend to have in my pamphlet…and one that’s been accepted in what I think is its final form. Last week saw the long listing of another poem that should make it into the pamphlet, but I had to commit that cardinal sin of asking if they’d let me update the version they had. Thankfully, they said yes, but there’s a chance it may change (slightly) again before the pamphlet is out.

It’s always interesting to think of versions out there. I’m sure I heard it mentioned in a podcast recently (possibly Craig Finn interviewing Maggie Smith) about how interesting it is to read the mag version versus the final version of a poem. I’ve sort of stopped submitting for a while to keep the versions under wraps, and to hopefully have some back that haven’t been published before—although your move to the various mags that still have poems—either longlisted, or unreplied to yet.

Mat Riches, Toting Up The Velocities

The latest in my series of winter charcoal drawings of upstate and central New York is this one, of a pair of old trees in a field – probably apple trees, I’m thinking. They touch something in me; perhaps it’s the way they are still growing in spite of losing limbs and, in the case of one, practically its entire original trunk. Maybe it’s because they look like a pair. But it’s also because finding old trees like this feels typical of such a place, where people have been farming for a long time. Perhaps there was once a homestead nearby. I like the way these trees, with their individual personalities, stand in the foreground, set off by the indistinct woods in the little gully behind the hills; it makes me want to walk there, climb up the hill behind, see if there’s a stream.

Beth Adams, Old Apple Trees

I could have been quaint
and asked a stranger about those drooping
white blossoms, pointed leaves and slender stems,
flowers upside down, dripping like milk.

Instead I tasked my phone and asked
a stranger stranger, who gave me fifteen
fast photos of the flower before my eyes.
Snowdrops.

Jill Pearlman, Hey, Stranger Stranger

Jean Cocteau wrote that “A great literary masterpiece is simply a dictionary in disorder.” But a work of literature doesn’t use all the words of the dictionary. Is it possible that by looking at the parts of the dictionary that were not used, you could reconstruct the literary work? The work is both the words that were used and the words that were not used.

Or to put it another way, everything that Gertrude Stein’s dog doesn’t know isn’t Gertrude Stein and so by knowing what the dog doesn’t know, you could figure out who Gertrude Stein is. By knowing something about the hole, you know something about the donut. More and more, I’m figuring out who I am by figuring out who I’m not. 

It’s a kind of dead reckoning, a system of navigation that doesn’t rely on absolute position but on. figuring out where to go and where you are by measuring the distance and direction from where you’ve been. 

Who I am is both inside and outside my life. In my life. Around my life. Through my life. During. Despite. Because of. What is the apt preposition?

Gary Barwin, THREE SIDES TO EVERYTHING

Time braided into breath. Chiseled and stacked into monuments marking the span of human existence.

Time sublime, time unwind. Time a psalm, time a qualm.

All borders beyond breath, any lands we may discover in an eternity beyond us, let them be no less real because we cannot touch or name them at this time.

Time the bountiful, time bereft. Time desirable, time so desolate.

Perhaps there exists rest within breath—a majesty that dwells in the spaces between inhales and exhales.

Rich Ferguson, Breathology

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 7

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This edition features poets responding to Valentine’s Day—how can they not?!—interwoven with reflections on their own poems and appreciations of others’. This past week also saw a good example of the power of poetry blogging: Becky Tuch, former editor of The Review Review, used her Substack to expose some shady goings-on in the US po-biz, which I’ve included a link to below, along with a reaction from regular digest contributor Kristin Berkey-Abbott. Always good to see that kind of thing. At any rate, enjoy the digest.


Someone in a workshop recently wondered aloud if she wrote just to try to figure out if she exists. I sort of get and sort of don’t get what she means. I exist in my own mind. Loudly. I share a household with my husband and know we exist, sometimes irritatingly, for each other. Beyond that? Some days it does seem a bit unclear. What does Schrodinger’s cat think of it all? If he got in that box and Schrodinger didn’t know it…well…

“Less clumpy” than they’d thought, said the scientists, poetically, of the universe. Their models had predicted something more cold-butter-on-cold-bread, I guess, than what they’re finding as they map the universe. More ooze.

Marilyn McCabe, I’ve come to talk with you again; or, On Creation

It’s 6:30 PM and I confess this day has gone from euphoric joy to deep sadness. After this, the remainder of my evening plans will likely be scuttled in exchange for going to bed. I’m not tired, and I don’t expect to sleep – I just don’t have the desire to face anything else tonight. 

I confess I need to write about 5 new poems with some emphasis on night for my manuscript.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Joy and Sadness Issue

“Go to Aleppo!” my father-in-law exhorted us, on many occasions. It was his favorite among all the ancient cities, and he wanted us to see its beauty, which he described to us in detail, eyes closed, rhapsodizing. He and his two sons had gone to Damascus in 2000: a nostalgic final trip for the 90-year-old father and a bonding and learning journey for the sons, the elder of whom had been born there. My husband, the younger son by 11 years, came home and immediately wanted to us plan a trip to go back together, to both Damascus and Aleppo. And we did just that, sending our passports to the Syrian embassy for the requisite visas. But shortly before we were supposed to leave, the political situation became very unstable, and we decided — most unfortunately, in hindsight — to postpone. As we all know, our entire world, and the Middle East in particular, changed irreparably after that, so we never made it to the city Mounir had loved and which no longer exists; what he remembered will never be seen again.

Beth Adams, Aleppo

The earth
is so alive, murmuring apology
each time it takes or ruins,

each time it coughs up
rivers of mud. And so, in grief,
the woman gathers her skirts

and walks into the wood.
They speak of her as if
it was she who took

the last light from that
home; as if she could know
how to make the moon

stop pilfering the silver
in a poor box.

Luisa A. Igloria, Cloven

The first thing I’ve been thinking about is compassion and weariness and how it’s really hard to keep flexing our compassion muscles when we’re bone tired. I mean, I am. The insomnia is back. I keep thinking of my man Bruce, and his:

I get up in the evenin’
And I ain’t got nothin’ to say
I come home in the mornin’
I go to bed feelin’ the same way
I ain’t nothin’ but tired
Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself
Hey there, baby, I could use just a little help

You can’t start a fire
You can’t start a fire without a spark

When I have compassion fatigue, interestingly (at least to me), this is also when my creativity sags, too. Maybe a lot of us are weary of each other, though. That’s fair, right? It’s been a long haul through some trying times. I understand why people are tired of me.

Shawna Lemay, Creativity, Compassion, Conflict

I’ve been thinking of C. K. Williams’ poems recently, with their incredible formal inventions.  The first book I read of his was With Ignorance, published in 1977.  From its unusual shape to the poems inside, it was something new in the poetry universe.  It’s almost square, not rectangular, and the poems inside use long lines that go all the way across that wide page, with the longest turning over to the next line, and indented to indicate that. The poems themselves are long, two, three, or four pages.  But as soon as I started to read it was clear that that just as the lines weren’t prose, they also weren’t like any other long poetry lines I knew: Whitman’s and Ginsberg’s, for example.  In Williams’ poems, sentence cadences were rich and audible.  The scenes and characters were vivid.  And yet it was poetry, not prose.  It was like coming across a new plant species, or undiscovered butterfly.

Sharon Bryan, C. K. Williams

words can never capture nothing
but the space around it
bordering on nothing
shines

even when the butterfly lands
on the dog’s nose
it sleeps on

Jim Young, all about nothing

[T]his past week, I was contacted by a source (who wishes to remain anonymous). The source shared with me pages of documents, websites, testimonials from writers and social media posts, all of which put PANK Magazine into a larger and important context. I spent the week investigating, and can confirm that my source’s information checks out. I will now do my best to share these insights with you. […]

Are all the entities named above complicit in some kind of concerted scheme being orchestrated by a few powerful and well-connected individuals? No. Of course not. At The Review Review back in the day, I hosted ads for both C & R Press and Fjords Review. If no one is talking about any of this, how could anyone have any idea what is going on? 

And what is “this” exactly? Is there truly such a scheme taking place?

What really is going on?

The only way to find out is to start asking questions. Which is just what I have come here to do.

Becky Tuch, Showcase Magazine, Ephemera, C & R Press, Steel Toe Books, Fjords Review, PANK Magazine, American Poetry Journal…oh my?

In some ways, I’m very lucky.  If my poetry career never enlarges further, I’ll be fine.  I don’t have tenure decisions riding on my poetry publications.  I haven’t signed a book deal with publishers who are hoping I’ll write the same thing which brought fame and fortune before.  Trust me, if I knew what to write to bring fame and fortune, I’d have written it already, and I’d be working on that follow up.

I’m also lucky in that I’m not desperate, which means I’m less likely to fall victim to predators that are out there.  I read this piece which made me think about my younger years, and how I might have taken the bait offered by certain types of scammers.  Apparently there are people out there who buy small publishers and then use that platform to prey on writers.  I feel lucky to have avoided that mess.  It also seems like a strange kind of con.  Of course, I used to say the same thing about the real estate market.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Publication and Its Predators

I’m 46 today! (Gen X Aquarius here.) If you’d like to send a little birthday love and care, I hope you’ll consider preordering my next book, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, which will be out April 11. If you preorder now, you might just snag a signed, limited-edition print of “Bride.” I love the idea of offering perks to folks who are kind enough to buy the book ahead of time.

Self-promotion is hard, but I believe in this book and invested so much of myself in it, so yes, I want you to read it, give it as a gift, suggest it for your book club, teach it in your writing classes, request it from your local library. One of the big ideas in the memoir is betting on yourself. I am.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Bride”

I have it on good authority that “there ain’t no noun that can’t be verbed” so I’m valentining today. Why? Because I’ve found that waiting for a noun to drop through the letterbox is a poor way to approach love. 

The way I’m going to valentine my day is to go to work by train, and to notice all that’s beautiful and wondrous: a frosty sunrise, a conversation with a colleague who’s full of enthusiasm, the repairs to the keys ‘O’ and ‘R’ carried out on my laptop, new sheets of card. I will reflect on the many blessings of love I have in my life, one of which is for mushroom risotto which I’ll cook for myself this evening when I get back to my warm home. As I stir the onions in oil, I’ll remember the times I’ve done this on a stove each evening of the brilliant camping trips I’ve shared with my longest-serving friend. Our next adventure begins in 3 months, 13 days, 15 hours and 57 minutes’ time.

Liz Lefroy, I Valentine This Day

Every night
I tuck my teen in bed

and close his door, humming
the lullaby you used to sing.

Most kids of his generation
don’t know “A Bushel

and a Peck.” 1950:
you were glamorous,

flirting with the bugler
you would later marry.

Rachel Barenblat, Music, music, music

The title makes my student giggle. She’s transfixed by how the song’s chunka-chunka guitar and thunderous drum opening bottoms out to a hush during the verse.

As Kurt Cobain sings, I tell my student, “He was a great songwriter. A great singer.”

My student notices my use of “was” and offers a curious look.

“Sadly,” I say. “He committed suicide. I wish he were still here. He would’ve written so many more great songs.”

My student agrees, then we continue watching the video, mesmerized as Cobain intones, “Hello, hello, hello, how low…”

During this quiet part, I tell my student, “Wait for it. Things are gonna get loud.” My student’s eyes widen in anticipation.

The song’s tension continues building. “Hello, hello, hello, how low…”

Again, I tell her, “Wait for it…”

When the raucous chorus finally avalanches us, my student and I are beaming like we’ve got bells in our blood.

Rich Ferguson, Queen of the Audio Ball

As you’ll probably realise from reading this poem, it is not about the act of self-harming. It is about being friends with somebody who self-harms. I wrote it to help myself try to understand how I felt about two girls in an online poetry community I had joined. One of the girls previously had self-harmed, and the other was self-harming. I tried to be supportive, and they were mostly very cheerful girls. I remember one time though how the one who was self-harming at the time, had been absent for a day, and related the next day how she had been taken to the Emergency Room to have her cuts stitched up.

There was a great distance separating myself and these girls. I was in the UK and one of them lived in Texas; the other lived in California but previously lived in the same city in Texas. The year was 2002 when I first joined the poetry community. It was a very small group, but this was the pretty early days of the internet, so there was no Facebook. There was quite a difference, relatively speaking, between us as well — I would have been twenty nine years old, and they were fourteen and fifteen years old (the older one was the one who had stopped self-harming). Needless to say, I knew nothing about what self-harming involved, so I was learning as I heard about it.

I’m not going to do a line-by-line or stanza-by-stanza commentary on this poem. It is very much a flow of emotion that came from trying to understand the act of self-harming, and how I could best support them. Around sixteen years later, when I met another person who became a good friend and also was self-harming, I felt I understood better how to be a supportive friend without being out of my depth.

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry at the Bleeding Edge

As the boundaries between the body of the speaker and the elements of the landscape – which the former initially observes and then moves through while changing form – became increasingly blurred, I realized the poem needed to flow differently: in prose interspersed with dashes that set phrases apart while also keeping them connected and supporting the fluidity of the text.

The shape of the poem on the page – with its first and last two words set apart from the rest (a justified block text) emerged towards the end of the creative process; it puts emphasis on the parallels between ‘a stranger’ and ‘a kin’ and indicates the latter to be an understanding of the self which results from the distinct processes described in the remainder of the poem.

Of all the different challenges I faced when creating this piece and despite choosing the format myself, the latter remains the feature of this poem that still puzzles me a little when I think about it. It felt right at the time of writing, and still does, but I cannot fully explain why.

Drop in by Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig (Nigel Kent)

“The truth is like poetry. And most people f**king hate poetry.”  The Big Short

An entirely minor political poem of mine from almost five years ago is beginning to sound more predictive than sarcastic. Any sort of “Final Economy-Boosting Solution” is not the future I want to see.

And yet…we are living in a time when influential people suggest, for real, that elders should sacrifice themselves–should die– for the sake of the economy. Those voices are getting louder and much more alarming.

Laura Grace Weldon, At What Price

My very part-time gig this school year is developing SEL (social-emotional learning) curriculum for the school I taught at last year, which Cane still teaches at full-time. He and I create the curriculum together and provide some supports for teachers to implement it. Our most recent lesson happened to fall on Tuesday, which was Valentine’s Day. Instead of doing a typical lesson, we planned a love poetry slam, which provided an opportunity to talk about a core SEL skill, social awareness. We got to talk about how not everyone loves VD, and how there are lots of different kinds of love and ways to love, in a way that was fun and built community. Our teachers were the contestants, and they delivered poems conveying a wide range of perspectives on both love and poetry. Some wrote original works, some used song lyrics, and two incorporated AI-written poems into their performances. It was sometimes funny, and sometimes touching, and always so, so good. And it was poetry! (I felt like a stealth English teacher.) Students were pretty much glued to the slammers, but I was glued to them. So many smiles and so much engagement. With poetry! At the end of the day, Cane said, “This was the best Valentine’s Day I can remember in a long, long time.” It really was.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Checking in

In a city somewhere the girl plays
an old love song for her husband.
It’s fine playing, Valentine’s Day, a gift.
He does not listen.
Outside in the reeds by the river
the future waits with all the tunes
she’ll ever need to remember.
She hides behind her flowing hair.

Bob Mee, THE DREAM OF THE PRIEST

These men made it into poems, though sometimes, I created a Frankenstein of their worst traits. My major characters in minor films book had a lot about the 10-year ordeal. As did dirty blonde, which I used as a way to ill-advisedly re-open communication between us 5 years later. The shipwrecks of lake michigan poems were about the delivery man / engineering grad who I turned into a physicist because it was sexier. There were also longer relationships that never quite made it into poems, or only in small details and situations. Emily D’s more slanted truth.  Some weren’t memorable enough to earn a mention at all.  These men merge together to prove a point, or just slip in anecdotally in a poem about something else entirely. Nothing is purely autobiographical. Nothing is not.

This was true even in good, long-lasting healthy relationships. I tried to write a book of love poems for my current partner of 8 years as a Valentine early on and even that, due to some strange circumstances outside the relationship, morphed into a book about men and women and the me-too conversations in society at large and navigating romantic relationships with men in general. I think the initial impetus and details of those poems came from that framework, but they wound up being about something else. As far as I know, he’s never read these poems, but knows the contents of them and that they exist. Some day we will have a laugh and I’ll show him. Outside of that, the better relationships, the sounder ones, have far less appearances in poems, but I think that’s just a condition of culture. 

Kristy Bowen, on exes and exorcisms

The weather is grim, friends. In recent weeks, the days have alternated from snow to rain, but often settling into a fine blend of sn-rain. Such is winter in the rainforest of Southeast Alaska. A few more minutes of daylight each week is the sole sign that spring is coming.

The continued indoor time has kept me hopping with pen and keyboard. Sheila-Na-Gig has held recently a series of poetry readings both in late January and through February to celebrate new publications! The time difference between there and here allowed me to partake in poet Simona Carini’s reading of her new collection of poetry, Survival Time. Such a bright gathering of work here, this is a book to add to the shelf.

Additionally, George Franklin’s new collection, Remote Cities, is soon to be released. I’m so eager to read this! And, there is a 20% discount on preorders if ordered by February 28th.

I’ve been quite motivated this winter to return to previous years’ efforts to write regularly and submit work weekly. Duotrope helps me achieve the latter.

Kersten Christianson, Winter Illuminations

What if we crank open the window, not afraid
of death noticing us, take in February
as it is – unshaven, mottled skin, built of
roots and armpits, calm and rough built
before the season of erotic grooming?

Jill Pearlman, Scrappy February

I’ve been working on something really special. Not long after meeting visual artist Donna Gordge, I discovered that we were making work in response to similar themes – grief and the loss of a parent. I suggested we exchange some work, and create new work out of that exchange. The outcome is SOLACE, an exhibition of art and poetry that opens at Mrs Harris Shop at 6pm on Saturday 18 February . SOLACE is a free Adelaide Fringe event.

Mrs Harris Shop is a suburban single room gallery that, yes, used to be a shop before supermarkets became the place we went to buy our groceries and these little shops disappeared. It’s a beautiful, light-filled space.

Donna’s work is on display (including a canopy made out of teabags!), and my seven poems are exhibited alongside. I copied out the poems using a fountain pen on rice paper and I’ll be doing some free readings over the duration of the exhibition.

Caroline Reid, SOLACE, art and poetry exhibition

In Dante’s Inferno, the poet is guided by Virgil on a journey through the nine circles of Hell, witnessing the punishment of souls in ways that are appropriate to the sins they committed in life – a process described as contrapasso,’to suffer the opposite’. Souls are trapped for eternity in a state of retribution specific to their own wrongdoing.

Contrapasso is the title of Alexandra Fössinger’s debut collection, in which poems circle around themes of incarceration, punishment and survival. Her motivation for writing, Fössinger explains, was ‘an attempt at survival after an entirely unexpected bereavement – the imprisonment of someone very dear to me.’  A quote from the Inferno introduces the first part of the collection, a sequence of oneiric poems that are laden with grief and loss.

Marian Christie, Review: Contrapasso by Alexandra Fössinger

The images capture what might lie behind the known. Known things can be categorised and mapped. Imagination that might sneak off on detours or revive memories triggered by senses isn’t categorisable or mappable. Here, smoke, which could be incense, is tempered with flowers then the imagination switches to the colour red, particularly fire which is fuelled by wood. By the end of the poem the travellers have forgotten their purpose and find no signs to get them back on track.

Emma Lee, “Plato is Better at Metaphor than I Am” E M Sherwood Foster (Yavanika Press) – book review

Back in December, I was delighted to be the guest poet on the Planet Poetry Podcast, hosted by Robin Houghton and Peter Kenny. Round about the same time, I began to notice more and more podcasts appearing in my newsfeed on social media, many of which had been running for some time but had slipped under my radar. And then there were comments from my mate Mat Riches about this and that interview or feature that he’d heard on this or that podcast.

And so I started to explore the scene, asking for recommendations on Twitter, realising that while I don’t have the joy of a commute, I do have hours batch-cooking in my kitchen without access to live radio in English – a perfect opportunity to work my way through a fair few poetry podcasts. I quickly found that not only is there a thriving scene, but it’s growing all the time.

Matthew Stewart, U.K. Poetry Podcasts – a list of resources

Constructed out of two extended long poems—the thirteen-page “Hibernia Mon Amour” and eighty-page “Field Guide”—the paired duo critique and examine resource extraction, and rightly savage a corporate ethos simultaneously bathed in blood and oil, and buried deep (as one’s head in the sand), where corporations might pretend that no critique might land. Across a continuous stream of language-lyric, [ryan] fitzpatrick writes of ecological devastation and depictions, planetary destruction, industry-promoted distractions and outright lies. […]

fitzpatrick’s work increasingly embraces an aesthetic core shared with what has long been considered a Kootenay School of Writing standard—a left-leaning worker-centred political and social engagement that begins with the immediate local, articulated through language accumulation, touchstones and disjointedness—comparable to the work of Jeff Derksen, Stephen Collis, Christine Leclerc, Dorothy Trujillo Lusk, Colin Smithand Rita Wong, among others. Whereas most of those poets I’ve listed (being in or around Vancouver, naturally; with the Winnipeg-centred exception of Colin Smith) centre their poetics on more western-specific examples—the trans-mountain pipeline, say—fitzpatrick responds to the specific concerns of his Alberta origins, emerging from a culture and climate that insists on enrichment through mineral extraction even to the point of potential self-annihilation.

rob mclennan, ryan fitzpatrick, Sunny Ways

I think that poetry is perhaps one of the most anti-capitalist of the art forms in that a poem is rarely generated for large sums of capital and poems rarely function as traditional commodities. And yet the circulation and exchange of poems/poetry continues, which to me affirms the necessity and value not only just of poetry per se, but of systems or currencies that exist outside of, or aren’t centered in, capital: language, incantation, song, breath, experiment, narrative or anti-narrative, image, line, communion, compassion, inspiration, creative play. I believe that poetry circles around a shared sense of ineffabilities, things felt or understood but unsayable and unsaid, that pulls us into a space of meaning, or meaning making, that reminds us not only of our ephemerality but also allows us to transcend the state of being mere meatsacks in the service of capital.

Lee Ann Roripaugh : part four (Thomas Whyte)

Spending time reading contemporary poetry books may be a contributing factor to my flurry of new drafts. In the past two weeks or so, I’ve enjoyed perusals of books by Ocean Vuong, Lynn Levin, Jaan Kaplinski, Cleveland Wall, Kim Addonizio. I’m also reading Ian Haight’s newer (unpublished) translations of some Nansorhon poems, a process accompanied by research into the precepts of Taoism and its heavenly denizens and hierarchies. I need some context if I’m going to get as much out of her Taoist poems as I’d like. Thanks to Ian’s research and translations, I did some study of this poet and her work ten years ago; but I focused more on her family situation and constraints and did not examine the most religiously-influenced poems.

One Taoist goddess whose realms and attributes intrigue me is the Queen of the West, also called Queen Mother of the West, or Xiwangmu 西王母. She’s the mythical source of the peach of immortality and was likely important to Nansorhon as a powerful, much-worshiped female deity. Indeed, she’s invoked in several of the Nansorhon poems.

Ann E. Michael, Reading poetry

From a sandy bank
up in the Garhwal mountains
I watched the Ganga ride a gradient —
whitewater in a feverish race to the plains.
Above the hills, an eagle circled slowly.
How lonely is a river running
through all this thriving abundance?
Mother of the earth.
Daughter of the sky.
Praise. Question. Providence.
Your being, your leaving —
between being and leaving

between us
between skin
between time —
I translate silence into
verbs the river understands.
Fish move in deliberate formation
soundless, efficient
splitting the water
not caring about the million thoughts
drowning around them.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 34

I love the way the final line of each stanza seems to dart back like a goldfish. I appreciate the restraint in only using the names of 4 different types of fish. I find I’m often drawn to character studies like this, especially where the protagonist gets a bit obsessive about something to the point of ignoring everything else around them. I’ve written a few myself, and so this was pure catnip when I came across it in the book. It sent me back to my own fish poems as well, but they were written from the creature’s point of view. The first stanza sent me back to my own first experience with fish, it was at a scout fair, I think, in the village of Tunstead. I saw someone win a goldfish on a tombola, I think, and then cycled the three miles home to convince my mum to take me to the pet shop in North Walsham (three more miles on) to buy some fish and a tank. I started with a bowl and stones, and little plastic diver, but soon went on to a tank in my room. A tank meant oxygenation kit and regular cleaning, but I loved those fish.

Mat Riches, Drifting Towards A Modest Shark

I’m learning to listen. And to trust that that – in my silence – things are settling into a deeper understanding: more wholly, and more secure with roots taking hold through the time it takes to connect to memory – to experience. I am taking time. Probably because I have to. None of this is by choice. I would much rather slide over everything as though it’s all part of a pop-quiz “close reading” to pin down the meaning of each interaction. But every non-sequitur in a conversation doesn’t need to be a Freudian puzzle or a Cassandrian prophecy. I don’t have to participate in the construction of a distance between moment and mind.

I no longer believe that if I can put words to it, I can handle it better. I can pack it into a carpet bag and carry it with me. Heavily pulling on one shoulder, then the other. I can give someone I love a “truth” wrapped in cellophane and ribbons, but it will always be symbolic: a kind of allusion that takes us both away from ourselves.

I mean, it’s not like we swim in the river then take it home with us, dragging it along like an enormous plastic bag with a single goldfish we want to keep in a bowl in the entrance hall – with blue marbles.

Ren Powell, Just Keep Swimming

I’ve been setting up book launches around town – one at a winery in Woodinville, one at Open Books, and now one at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, too. I even have a virtual reading in New York State set up. All this, and trying not to catch covid, or break anything, or have any health crises before all these events. We don’t control everything, but I’m trying to be careful and conscious. I’m also hoping the winter ends soon as we can see spring instead of snow. I can just hope for the best, and hope I might see some of you soon.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Getting Ready for AWP: New Glasses, New Hair, New Book, and Getting Used to Hugs Again

Outside my bedroom window it’s not quite dawn. Palm tree fronds are black against the lighter black of the birthing day. A lone car occasionally whooshes on the street reminding me of the whoosh of skates on ice. It’s a soothing yet active sound. An early morning sound before the constant growl of engines begins. I imagine these few people going to open their donut shop or to their shift at the hospital. A bird is singing. Why do we always think the bird is happy in its song? Maybe the bird is gathering its strength for a day of hunting for food, feeding its young. Skating through the day until she can rest again. Kind of like us.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Skating

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: trees, ghosts, good questions, dead poets, and more. Enjoy.


Two trees stand out like postcards I might have posted to myself from nearly a year ago if I’d listened to the prophesy. 

The bulbous ends of pollarded trees used to fascinate me when I was a child and the woman’s head, so sculpted among the stumps, is wise and collected. She maintains her calm. 

The ghost tree was in a wood below ramparts built high on a hill in one of those small towns in Provence that defy cliffs and sheer drops. The trees around it were conifers, evergreens, but somehow this silver birch grew into a landmark by a bend in the path. Comrade trees, I report to you that bend in the path and all who look after others who are standing there. 

Jackie Wills, To comrade tree

I awake to dread, and the cold winter light
walking its fingers down the wall. 

There is a little comfort in the thought:
maybe God has called you to this task

not because you can do it, but because you can’t.

Dale Favier, Comfort

I was on a journey, a memory check. After a poetry reading in Baton Rouge, I drove back to Missouri by way of East Louisiana State Hospital. Most folks just called it Jackson, same name as the nearest town. Many weekends during elementary school and junior high, Daddy and I drove there to visit my mother. It seemed to take hours to get there—turns out it’s just 33 miles from our old house. I don’t know how often or how long we stayed. This trip, I hoped the visit would help me with details. I can’t ask Daddy. He just says the place was torture. Sometimes he cries.

I’m still not sure how much I want to know. But when Talk Smack to a Hurricane (Ice Floe Press, 2022), my first book, was accepted for publication, I knew I wanted to read the poems in Baton Rouge and stop at Jackson. The collection centers on my mother’s mental illness, which was diagnosed within a few weeks of my birth. The poems explore our relationship—tender yet volatile—as well as psychiatric treatments of the latter part of the 20th century. She was diagnosed in 1959. Mama narrowly missed the ice bath, insulin coma, lobotomy. But she was just in time for (what I consider) rudimentary electroshock therapy and Thorazine. Lots of Thorazine. That I was angry at psychiatry rather than my mother surprised me. Not until I was preparing the manuscript did I fully recognize the shift in my emotions.

Lynne Jensen Lampe, Old Colony 5 Road

In the city at the end of her mind it’s minus forty-five degrees.
If you sit by her bed, she will tell you
there are rules for walking between trees,
rules for carrying a spider out of the fire, how
laughter fades under the weight of the heavy water of desire.
One by one pilgrims leap into the hole in the frozen lake.
As they fall they make the sign of the cross.
Atonement. At one ment. Take what you need to be free.
She remembers the priest called it debauchery.
If you sit by her bed, she will tell you trees know
what they’re doing, know how to move, which way to sway,
until it’s time for them to fall.
We become forgettable, forgotten, she says.
Inbox Zero, even if there’s a signal.
There never were any heroes, not then anyway, just
urgent whispering at the top of the stairs.
What did they want? she says.
I never found out what they wanted.

Bob Mee, THE CRACKS IN THE EARTH (IN EVERYTHING) SCREAM PLEASE FORGIVE ME

On its own at the end of a line, “missing” invokes the ongoing history of femicide along the US / Mexico border. Then the latter “missing / fingers” rings out both in its evocation of a musician’s physical absence but also its implication of violence.

Even without knowledge of Juárez, one reaches the end of the poem with a haunted sense of something more than music being lost here. This haunted sense is what grounds the poem in its urgency. All the distancing through image and metaphor makes the city and its history all the more present, and offers the speaker a chance to voice the ultimate difficulty implied via the speculation of the title.

José Angel Araguz, dispatch 011223

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

All my books, in their own way, dwell on and participate in a variety of concerns, from identity to violence to ecology. I find it close to impossible to read any work of literature and not uncover such concerns, if not simply see them on the surface, the exception being those writings that go out of their way to demystify just about everything—and even then, they still speak to something outside the work itself.

I’ve read and taught ancient literature for many years, and those works reveal that our many of our concerns today are old as dirt. Some are new, obviously, but if they are described generally enough, it becomes clear that we’ve been dealing with similar problems as the ancients, just differently. I’m not 100% sure, for example, that my children, if they choose to raise children of their own, can even live where we now live. Another way to state this concern: our world is falling apart, is fragile. We live in Houston, and there’s a strong possibility that in a few decades, the geography will change so dramatically, because of the climate crisis, that the city as we know—portions of it, at least—may not be inhabitable or else may be too dangerous, too unpredictable to live in. It already feels that way. Only a few years ago, Hurricane Harvey dumped 60 inches of rain on parts of Houston—that’s 33 trillion gallons of water, in about a week. Places that have never flooded, not since records began being made, were under water. That’s a concern. But is it new? No.

I’ve also always been very concerned with political violence, the history of which has unfortunately touched the lives of my family all too closely. And that kind of violence, from the perspective of the last few decades, seems ever more likely. It was always present in my family’s homeland (Lebanon), and in my hometown (Detroit), and it seems to be more pervasive today, more spread out, targeting more people, more groups, and the rules have changed, the technology on which violence thrives has become more sophisticated.

The list of concerns goes on and on.

What I won’t do, as far poetry goes is allow the concerns to take the reins. I’m not writing theory, I’m not writing newspaper stories, or history, or memoir, or political manifestos. Yes, genres blend. Yes, disciplines inform each other. Yes, the boundaries are porous, and at times they disappear. But I write poetry, which is to say that’s what I have in mind when I am making a poem. This informs not only what I do and how I do it, but also what I knowingly resist.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Hayan Charara

At the heart of the poem is the symbol of ‘fire’, which is as important to other poems in the collection, such as The brown berries have turned black, Amazon and Ashes. The symbol is developed by Clive in such a way that it resonates with a rich complexity of meanings. Fire he suggests has the capacity for good: it is one of the bounties of nature. It brings us warmth and safety from danger: ‘the campfire … keeps the dark at bay/ as it prowls, hungry, indiscriminate, waiting to eat us’. It can also guide us or direct us, like a ‘beacon, a torch, / a mighty Pharos raised to guide ships to harbour across tumultuous seas raised against us.’ Yet in humankind’s hands it has become destructive: ‘sacred groves we now cut down/ to feed the fire.’ In our hands it destroys because is fed by ignorance and greed. We are blind to nature’s beauties and bounty because our minds are ‘filled with smoke and fire’ so that ‘we have stopped being able to see miracles’. The effect of this is to think ‘it is reasonable to consume each other as indiscriminately as we consumed the world around us/ with no regard for what we damaged or destroyed along the way/…this is the way of things in the age of fire…/as the fire consumes without replenishing its source’. There is both greed here and a recklessness, a disregard for the consequences of our actions. We have the knowledge and understanding to be different and to help us find a more productive way forward. Yet this type of  ‘fire’ is directed towards serving the consumption of goods and the pursuit of material wealth (‘the fire was honed until it became hot/ and narrow enough to cut through metal,/ great metal sheets with which we clad the ships of our mind/ as they traversed new realms of knowledge/ welded fast and tight’) and to engaging in conflict (‘we choose to see a fire/in the same we  choose to see a blade/ hidden in a lump of virgin flint/ see the shaft of a spear in every pine.’?

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘the end of the age of fire’ by Peter Clive

Every once in awhile a book comes along that makes me totally rethink my received or assumed knowledge by shaking up the usual perceptions. The most recent book to have wrought such a rethinking on my part is The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, by David Graeber and David Wengrow. The effusive blurbs–and there are many–on the MacMillan page the preceding link takes you to strike me as accurate; on every page or two I find myself saying, “I have to look that up! I never heard about that! I need to read that book/author/article!”

Beyond the illuminating information, though, what excites me most about this book is how revelatory it is concerning human possibilities. These authors (unfortunately Graeber died in 2020) are drily funny and unrepentantly anarchists among the scholars of so-called pre-history. The research they gather and present, and their theories based upon what we now know about ancient peoples, upend the evolution of human society that I was taught and that seemed so logical I never thought to question–the foragers/hunter-gatherers/agriculturalists/city-makers “development” of human societies and cultures that Rousseau’s philosophical state-of-nature idea essentially founded. I was aware that archeological discoveries have been found that challenge the narrative, but I wasn’t aware of how many of these are being examined and the amazing data they reveal. I was aware that views of indigenous peoples, past and present, are most often through a lens of “Western civilization” and tainted by the assumptions of researchers but was not alert to my own blind spots and received assumptions.

Which makes me pretty much a human being, right? We do tend to short-cut to our beliefs and accept the “logical information” we learn from parents, teachers, and other authorities. Then, we use that framework to test out the logic of other assumptions. Sometimes that framework is not as strong, correct, or universal as we thought. And it feels marvelously disruptive, sometimes, to buck the system, make art, behave differently–illogically–and find that new ways of thinking about the world can be fun.

Ann E. Michael, Received assumptions

White erasers in different sizes and shapes are indispensable tools for charcoal work – they allow you to erase large areas, for sure, but also to go backwards and forwards, working with both the charcoal and the eraser. The main use is to lighten areas or pick out highlights and create texture. And you must work on good paper that has some “tooth” to catch all the little particles of charcoal, but will stand up to scrubbing and both the buildup of dark areas and the erasure of others.

Beth Adams, Working in Monochrome

Sometimes the words
want to go right
through the paper,
the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (102)

I got an opportunity from the Arizona Commission On The Arts to do a reading that incorporated projected images throughout the performance.

So I was able to put together a show at one of the iconic Phoenix venues The Trunk Space with some of my favorite artists and we called the night Jackalope In Retrograde.

JJ Horner was doing live painting. 

GOHNE opened the night (new band project from Lonna Kelley and Jay Hufman)

Writer Erik Bitsui came down from Flagstaff.

The Necronauts played as a two-piece and were also joined by Rocky Yazzie for a set.

Most of my images were Jia Oak Baker’s photographs from our collaborative book Gravity & Spectacle, but we also had some bonus content, videos etc. [Click though to view photo documentation.]

Shawnte Orion, Jackalope In Retrograde

Beginning in 2007 with four books and no intention to publish more, CBe has been humming along fine for 15 years: here a prize, there a shortlisting, quite often semi-silence but every one of the books was more than worth publishing.

It’s now 2023 and print costs have been escalating and postage costs too; there are other small presses who can sell X’s new novel or Y’s book of poems into bookshops better than CBe can; and I’m into my 70s and getting smaller. From this year CBe will concentrate on publishing, perhaps exclusively, small A-format books, the model being the three books published last year in that size and with covers with image on white card (Agota Kristof, The Illiterate; Caroline Clark, Own Sweet Time; myself, 99 Interruptions). This will mean goodbye to the brown covers (those books are more expensive to print: retro costs). It will mean hello to more short books: if prose, fiction or non-fiction, say 10 to 20,000 words (rough guide only). And poetry, yes: Cape Editions did poetry in A-format, and so now do NYRB.

Charles Boyle, Plan B

Part of my hesitancy to leave full time work was fear. I’d had the same job for 21 years.  I was never really entirely sure how I’d been lucky enough to land that job in the first place.  At least in the beginning.  Because I was scared to try something new, I stayed longer than I should have.  In fact, under different circumstances I may still have hesitant to leave.  I’ve heard friends say this about bad relationships. It wasn’t working. or he was abusive, controlling, but they were afraid of making their way in the world alone. And while I admit I stayed in bad relationships for a number of reasons (usually impulse control, masochism,  or thinking I could change things) this wasn’t one of them. I’ve had entirely single spans, most of my 20’s, in fact. But then, later, when a relationship was in the death grip, there were other people and things to occupy my time. I was okay with alone, but rarely was I actually without something going on in that arena, even if it was just a crush I wanted to become something more. 

And this is true of art and writing.  The years where the words were more fallow were some of the best years for art, and maybe vice versa. Even now, I don’t get much time to spend with collage or painting, but I do spend a lot of time making video poems and designing covers.   I like having many options, especially when some options are more fleeting than others.  Other things have to earn their way into your daily practice. Or seem like a good thing for awhile but then you move on. 

There’s a lot of talk these days on the potential harm of the gig economy and people working multiple jobs to make ends meet–driving uber or deliveries–and actually not getting the sort of stability of things like paid sick days, insurance, etc that traditional employers provide. But then again, you have a certain amount of freedom and discretion you don’t get being beholden to one workplace, so I totally get it.   Everyone, coming out of covid lockdowns, wondered where all the workers went.  Could it be that many of them were willing to trade certain securities for lower pay, but more freedom and more eggs in many baskets. That when you decide you’re getting screwed, you can find somethings else. When the alternative was sometimes tyrannical bosses, unwieldy shifts, unsafe workplaces, and toxic corporate culture. Could be. 

Kristy Bowen, eggs and baskets: on jobs, art, and love

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’ve been engaging with poetic audiobooks. There is something really special about listening to the poet narrate their work. I recently listened to The Blue Clerk by Dionne Brand and Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith. I love the audiobook experience because I can hear the intended emphasis in the poet’s own voice. It’s magic to be able to push a button and have Dionne Brand read to you. I’m also reading a few paperbacks—Tend by Kate Hargreaves, which I am loving. I’m always in awe of poetry that can rile me up and then make me laugh on the next page. I have Victoria Mbabazi’s FLIP on my side table. I was hooked on Mbabazi’s work after reading chapbook and look forward to reading more. I’ll be lined up for all future work by Mbabazi.

Thomas Whyte, Samantha Jones : part five

I want to form poems
I can hold in my palms and make use of.
I want to sew a skirt of a poem
that blooms like a flame when I twirl.
I want to make a silk bag of a poem
to tote home my onions and wine.
I want to crochet a long warm
scarf of a poem, with matching fingerless gloves.
I want to slow-cook a poem like a pot roast, and
serve it with beer and potatoes.

Kristen McHenry, Poetry of the Practical

I also practice my balance by 1) putting on pants 2) putting on shoes. Sometimes I try to stand like a crane, one leg straight, one leg bent, to put on each shoe. This morning, by chance, Facebook offered me a picture of the flamingo sculpture at the Tampa airport, making it a Random Coinciday in the blog! Also, I dreamed of putting on a shoe. And often I write poems while walking, a different kind of walking meditation.

Kathleen Kirk, Balance

With the thwack

of a cleaver handle, I sever
the drumstick joint just above
the ankle so I can work it free

of meat and muscle. I stuff it
with a mixture of pork, ham, and
hard-boiled eggs before patting it

back into shape and sewing it shut
with twine. What I have then is what
cookbooks describe as a farce—

Elaborate comedy of illusion, the lengths
we’ll go to keep an appearance intact,
armor over the soft jelly of flesh inside.

Luisa A. Igloria, Farce

In one passage in the 1663 diaries, they have a blazing row, and Pepys calls Elisabeth a ‘beggar’ because she brought no dowry to the marriage and she responds by calling him ‘pricklouse’ (which vexed him) referring to him being the son of a tailor. A cracking insult. Since I read this altercation I have seen her in my mind’s eye, mad as hell, sitting on the bed with balled fists fuming at him. I wonder what else she was mad at. Pepys records how often she fell out with servants and lady’s maids, probably because she saw his eye turned to them. What a precarious thing it must have been, to live at that time and to be owned and how did those women create a life within the prison of their husband’s lives? I wonder what she would think of me, remembering her and her flung insults, 360 years after she flung them. She died of typhoid in 1669. Pepys had stopped writing his diaries by them, but there are letters to naval captains excusing himself from work for a good four weeks because he is so devastated. After her death he was in a long term relationship with Mary Skinner, but never married her. When he died he was buried next to Elisabeth.

The diaries can be quite challenging; they are, after all, written in a world very different from our own. But at the same time, there’s a thread of human behaviour which simply hasn’t changed and I love that. That the complexities of human behaviour are still complex, that marriage and love and this short span of life in which you try to do your best, and fail and win, that hasn’t changed. Mrs. Pepys, Elisabeth, today I remember you and your life; as a person separate from your husband, though I don’t know you but through your husband’s diaries, I acknowledge your life and your anger and your love and the short span of life you spent on the earth.

Wendy Pratt, Remembering Elisabeth, Pepys’s Wife – Reading the 1663 Pepys Diaries

This is what we were made
of, soft skin and paradise and the bouquet
of unbearable desire. This is what we can make
of soil and water and endless sky. This is what
bubbles in the orange shaft of light that falls
upon my empty couch. I watch, I inhale, I
shiver, I hide, inside a perfumed shadow.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, This is what

Dan Brady’s “Songs in E–” was winner of the Barclay Prize for Poetry. It has an intriguing premise, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” translated into Portguese and then back into English via an unreliable internet translator and the resulting material reshaped into “Songs in E–“. A similar process was used for the latter half of the book, “E–‘s Song” which used Robert Browning’s “One Word More” also dubiously translated into Portguese and back into English and then reshaped. […]

It’s no surprise that the poems in the first part are recognisably sonnets. None contain the most famous lines either. This underlines the value of translation is not just about fluency or vocabulary but an understanding of what’s being translated and a sympathy to the aims of the writer. Barrett Browning only pretended her poems were translations to distance herself from them because she thought them too personal to publish. The poems returned via the translation process have become so generic as to be almost impersonal. Most of them seem to have lost sight of the originals being love poems.

Emma Lee, “Songs in E–” Dan Brady (Trnsfr Books) – book review

Yesterday as I quilted, I watched two movies, each one about a nineteenth century woman writer.  Mary Shelley was compelling; I wrote this Facebook post:  “The weather has turned gloomy, so one needs an appropriately gloomy movie to keep one company while one stitches. I’ve chosen the 2017 movie “Mary Shelley,” which takes some liberties with the biography. I love its depiction of writing and creativity, and the costumes and sets warm my Brit Lit heart. But the movie does make me feel ancient. I see Mary and Claire Clairmont making a terrible mistake in running away with this cad Percy Shelley who has already ruined one woman’s life (his wife Harriet), and I want to talk some sense into them, even as I know that talking sense into these besotted girls is impossible. Sigh.

Enter Lord Byron–oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”

I also watched A Quiet Passion, about Emily Dickinson.  While I appreciate aspects of it, parts of it were slow, slow, slow.  While I can appreciate what Cynthia Dixon went through to inhabit the role, did we really need to see the extended scene of her shaking because of her kidney disease?  And there wasn’t just one scene of her shaking either.  I also got weary at the end of the movie substituting voice overs of poems instead of dialogue–that part seemed to go on for hours.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Scrapping Plans

This trip happened back in 2005 — far too long ago to remember the nitty-gritty as I write this blog post in 2023. The one thing I do remember well, and which features in the opening of the poem, is that it matters what you have on your feet! My friend Fliss, editor of Splinter, and I were emerging from a London Underground station. Fliss was wearing flip-flops … and it was raining!

I liked the idea that, at least for women, a day can be different choices of footwear that features at different times of the day. In this poem we’ve got the inappropriate flip-flops in the daytime, followed by an elegant pair of heels in the evening. Before Dressing Up (the pamphlet) had been one of the Cinnamon Press pamphlet winners, a day-job colleague had kindly adapted a ShutterStock image that I’d paid for into a cover that, I felt, would have been perfect for the cover of Dressing Up. I later learned that there wasn’t the possibility of using cover art, so the cover never got used … but I’m delighted to post it here to brighten your day.

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetic Naming

Turning 50: I’ve decided to celebrate this milestone instead of dreading it, so I’m having a party on my actual birthday. Do I look 50? Am I dressing correctly for a 50-year-old? Also, can I still have pink hair? The rules are different now than they were when I was a kid. I do know that I see living this long as a real victory, for someone who has been told she was going to die by multiple doctors not so long ago. Hey, every year above ground is a good year.

Launching a book (still) during a pandemic: so, how does one plan a book launch when there’s still sort of pandemic conditions and you worry you’ve forgotten everything about doing book promotion (are there still book festivals, for instance? If so, which are disability friendly? Can I do college class visits virtually? How much travel can I do as someone with MS and a junk immune system before the body crashes? So many questions…and the first phase of 2023’s publicity efforts for Flare, Corona will really start soon. (In the meantime, check out BOA’s new book page for my book, with blurbs and a sample poem!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Healthier Kittens and Sicker Me, New Hair and Imagining 2023: Re-Entry Fears

冬空や猫塀づたひどこへもゆける 波多野爽波

fuyu-zora ya neko hei zutai dokoemo yukeru

            winter sky—

            a cat can go anywhere

            walking on fences

                                                Soha Hatano

from Haiku Saijiki electronic version edited by Kadokawa Shoten, published by Kodansha Sophia Shuppan, Tokyo, Japan, 2018

Fay’s Note:  Soha Hatano (1923-1991)

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (January 10, 2023)

Those of our readers who live in Las Cruces, or who were contributors to Sin Fronteras Journal may remember Joanne Townsend, an active poet in our circle since she and her husband Dan moved down from Alaska in 2005, with several poems in the Journal.  She hoped to produce a collection of her poems in her later years, but when she died two years ago, she left a pile of poems in hard copy with no indication of a possible order.

Thanks to Joe Somoza for his ordering skills and Ellen Young and Christine Eber for following up with the details, a manuscript was created and has now been published by Cirque Press.

Sample, from “Ponder, Partake”

On the church grounds, a single white iris,
its velvet petals calling
wind from the west.
Speak, Memory  Nabokov insisted.
Crimson spilling into parched throats –
Wine.  Poetry.

Poetry was central to Joanne’s life.  Between Promise and Sadness” is available on Amazon via the Cirque Press website: From Promise to Sadness

Ellen Roberts Young, Joanne Townsend: Between Promise and Sadness

I have bought this book several times as it seems to always be disappearing. In the early 90’s, I had never seen a book with this color on the cover, I’d never read a prose poem, or heard of Joseph Cornell. This all seems impossible looking back, but this book was a unicorn. There was no other American surrealist that I had ever heard of and the ekphrastic tradition of poets finding inspiration in the visual arts, was, if not exactly frowned on, it certainly was not in vogue. I read and reread this book. I still do.

A friend of mine had a husband who had studied with Simic at the University of New Hampshire and adored him. This week’s piece in The Yale Review by Megan O’Rourke gives a moving homage to her mentor, friend, and dinner companion. (You can find it here)

Oh, yes, and of course, Pulitzer Prize winning poet. I just found this video of Simic reading his poem “Stone” and for a moment, he comes alive again. 

The great poets I grew up on: Elizabeth Bishop, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Seamus Heaney, W.S. Merwin, Derek Walcott, and now, Charles Simic, are all gone now. The people, not the poems. 

Susan Rich, Thinking about Charles Simic

I also recalled the joy of singing along, badly, to various songs on the drive down, and the fact that I was about to go and see more friends. All of the travelling and visiting, etc meant that I was quite late to seeing the interview with Don Paterson in the Guardian last week. When I did see it I thought it was all fairly nondescript, but there seems to have been some “discourse” of late about a comment he made about poets and not being able to drive. It all seemed quite throwaway to me, but some of the reactions showed just how seriously some poets can take things and themselves. I was more reminded of Wendy Cope’s poem about Typically Useless Male Poets.

Oh well. In other news, where do I file my copy of Don Paterson by Ben Wilkinson? The book is a brilliant look at the work and themes of DP’s life. Do I put it under Don on my shelves or with Ben’s books???

I was reminded again of Don Paterson when I saw the news this week that Charles Simic had died. Simic is a poet I admire, but don’t know brilliantly, despite reading his Selected once. I make the connection with Paterson as I once saw them on the same bill at the Southbank. I think it was when DP was making his famous speech about leaving poetry to the proper poets (or words to that effect), but I could be wrong about both. I remember being enthralled by both, but not quite getting Simic. I’m still not sure I do, but I like it. That seems to be enough.

Mat Riches, Disappointing Baguette

This book is full of memory, and mysticism, and God speaking the world into being in Her own inimitable way, and Reb Nachman with his tears under the table pretending to be a turkey.

Fallen leaves recite kaddish. The infinite arrives on lightning feet. Every word is broken. Only the hidden can burst forth. We forgot what we were yearning for. Every one and every thing is for you.

I’m cheating: that paragraph is a pastiche of Rodger [Kamenetz]’s lines. If that doesn’t entice you, I don’t know what would. I want to start a new commonplace book so I can copy these lines in my own hand.

Rachel Barenblat, Finding The Missing Jew anew

[Jonathon] Cott explains that the journalistic interview was a nineteenth century invention and that the word comes from the French entrevue meaning, “a meeting.” And then this word is derived from entrevoir, meaning “to glimpse, to catch sight of, or to get an inkling of.” Cott then connects this to Martin Buber saying, “all real living is meeting.” And then, he also quotes the psychologist James Hillman saying that “the interview itself is a kind of love…How can one do an interview without love, without imagination working…”

So, if you’ve read Everything Affects Everyone, you can probably see why I was so excited by Cott’s words. I’ve not read every interview in the book, but I started off with the Bob Dylan one, which is so honestly wonderfully weird. Cott quotes Dylan saying, “The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?” There is a point where Dylan says: “Music attracts the angels in the universe. A group of angels sitting at a table are going to be attracted by that.”

Shawna Lemay, Did You Ask a Good Question Today?

street light
half moon
half awake

Jim Young [no title]

Not sure where I’m going with this blog but, inspired by Patti Smith’s A Book of Days, I wanted to try and post something every day for a month. I wanted to reflect some of her generosity, her reverence for things, but I also wanted to consider what makes me ‘me’, my influences, my surroundings. So, there will be some random stuff I suspect, which is a bit of a disclaimer, but at least you understand the thinking behind it.

Anyway, this photograph was taken on a walk to Heptonstall last summer. I like the fingers pointing in opposite directions, challenging me to decided which way to go. Could be a metaphor. Early January is the period when we take stock, try to figure out where we’re going, where we’d like to be. I’m trying not to think too far ahead though, to be present. I tell myself it’s okay to drift a little, to take in what comes along rather than push myself to find new things. So, forgive the random stuff. It comes with good intentions.

Julie Mellor, Slanted landscapes II

Wondering…what it means to be a poet (or anything, really). In the context of a conversation this week, a co-worker of my daughter’s said to me, “You’re a poet, right?” and I wasn’t sure of how to respond. Later, she and I debated my answer to the question. Since I rarely write poetry now, I don’t really think of myself as a poet. She says that, since I have written and am still capable of writing poetry, I am one. Which has me thinking about the labels we attach to ourselves and how we use them. Am I still a teacher? What about a librarian? Am I still a grand-daughter, even though I have no living grandparents? Was I a skater all those years (45!) I didn’t skate? If I’m not the things I used to be, what am I now? (Is this a question we need/get to keep answering until we die?)

Rita Ott Ramstad, Following serendipitous breadcrumbs

who remains when all that is silent is said

who arrives when death is a seed

how deep within the breathing pine
is sky and open sea

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This first week of the year saw many bloggers recommitting to blogging, among other resolutions, hopes, and reflections about the new year. The weather and food also figured prominently, as one might expect.

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


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

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

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

PF Anderson, Falling Into Focus

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

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

by music, returns    to earth.

rob mclennan, Short poem for a long winter

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, Champagne Poetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, Some Practices for 2023

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

Caroline Reid, I Just Wanna Wish You Well

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

Kristy Bowen, word counts and strange weather

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

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

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

Tim Love, How many poems does a story cost?

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

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

Josephine Corcoran, Visual Poetry Workshops at Trowbridge Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bethany Reid, Giving Thanks for 2022

stairwell
which is Purgatorio
when everything’s on hold

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

Ama Bolton, ABCD January 2023

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

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

Paul Tobin, WORDS HAVE FLED

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

Dick Jones, STAND UNDER FALLING WATER

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

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

What a long strange trip it’s been.

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

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

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

Carey Taylor, Poets Support Ukraine

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

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

Fokkina McDonnell, The Other (Michael Conley)

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

to whom I can
address these lines.

Yet again I speak the question
into existence.

Yet again I listen
for the answer.

Jason Crane, POEM: Margaret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heavy and beautiful.

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

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

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

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

Carolee Bennett, “electrifying experiments”

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

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

Thomas Whyte, Samantha Jones : part four

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

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

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

Erica Goss, Visualize the Reader—or Don’t

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

Julie Mellor, A Book of Days

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Barwin, TEETH ASK THE BIG QUESTIONS

Who stirs the pot
remains calm —

which explains
the universe,

the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (373)

I read a Chinese folk tale of a boatman 

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

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

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

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

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

shadow and sunlight.

Luisa A. Igloria, Stone Fruit

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

I tell her no thank you.

This time she insists. Her kindness floors me.

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

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

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

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

Rich Ferguson, A Saint For All Days

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Epiphanies Past and Present

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, New year, old places

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Epiphany

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

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

Wendy Pratt, Seeking Mid-Winter Peace

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

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

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

Matthew Stewart, The Poetry Publishing Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharon Bryan, Some Recent Poems

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, James Schuyler: Centenary year celebrations

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

Jim Young, blizzard

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

Rachel Dacus, Why I Like Weather – a timely poem

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

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

Beth Adams, New Year in a New Neighborhood

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

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

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

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

To the new year, OUI.

Jill Pearlman, OUI/WE

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Weeks 51 & 52

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

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

Julie Mellor, Carousel

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

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

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

Liz Lefroy, I Snap A Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, Post Long Covid Torpor

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

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

JJS, contranym

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

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

Jackie Wills, Time of the foxes

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

Jill Pearlman, Mellow the Morning After

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

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

Laura Grace Weldon, Favorite 2022 Reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Paul, On obscurity

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

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

Sharon Brogan, Why I’m Not There

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

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

Beth Adams, Book List, 2022

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

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

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

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

Marly Youmans, Wiseblood, Seren, poems

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, Festive reading and giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Stewart, The future of poetry blogging

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

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books Read in 2022

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

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

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, The gifts of time

How does a poem begin?

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

Thomas Whyte, Subhaga Crystal Bacon : part five

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

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

Jee Leong Koh, Flying in Corsets, Dancing in Bars

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

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

Ian Gibbins, Dragonflies swarming

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

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

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

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

Carey Taylor, Peace be with Us

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

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

Josephine Corcoran, My End of Year Books

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

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

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

Collin Kelley, Wrapping up 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The kind that comes from joy.

Carolee Bennett, a new approach to writing goals

and here you are
rocking in the breeze
zero ballast

your shirt your sail
tack into the wind
above the pavement

there is now no rule book
all will become clear

Paul Tobin, ALL WILL BECOME CLEAR

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

Kersten Christianson, Top 9 of 2022

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

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

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

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

rob mclennan, Adrian Lürssen, Human Is to Wander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, On having allies

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, not dead, but waiting to be born

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Wikeley, Shepherds at the gate

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

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

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

Jason Crane, Deploying poetry

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 27

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Solo endeavor?

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

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

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2022

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

Jim Young, wild sea swimming

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renee Emerson, 2022 Writing Goals Update

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

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

Gary Barwin, WIDE ASLEEP: NIGHT THOUGHTS ON INSOMNIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Taylor, the 2022 roll of nickels year in review

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

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

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

To embody equilibrium amidst insanity.

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

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

Rich Ferguson, For Doug Knott, RIP

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

Sharon Bryan, Poems for the New Year

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

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

Bethany Reid, Winter Solstice Greetings

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

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

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

Allyson Whipple, Some Terribly Sentimental Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, Arabic: a remedy for the winter blues

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

Bill Waters, Our cat

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 50

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: the weirdo lottery, wild forms, snowball poems, hermetic research, a loner’s manifesto and more. Enjoy.


I don’t make people comfortable very often. I think that’s why I turn inwards for long stretches of time. If making other people comfortable is the measure of my existence, maybe converting to a religion that offers me long stretches of solitude is my only option if I want to stay “sane”.

Solitude can be the privilege of the artist, of course. But there’s the committee that will decide whether you (or them, or I) make what society deems art. Or whether we are just deluded. It’s the weirdo lottery.

There’s no safe bet for the outliers.

Just juggling the social pressures as the holiday shifts them. Thinking a week in my library is as good as a cave.

Ren Powell, Pulling Inwards

As of the implementation (application) of the system (entity)
to increase efficiency of output and streamline to improve (better serve) workflow portability and redundancy reduction and to seamlessly integrate, store, access, analyze, harness productivity, and increase ROI with a complete suite of capture tools, your efforts will be un-measurable.
You will no longer need
to view your stacks grow thinner as you’ll become so
efficacious there will be no results. Therefore you may come
to dream of butterflies, which may rise up
from a field of lilacs on 8½ x 11
wings of bright white acid free paper of ten percent post-consumer content that will not yellow or
crumble over time, and will land
expertly in green hanging files alphabetized in rows.

Kristen McHenry, Paperless

Elee Kraljii Gardiner sent me a post by artist Laura Kerr referring to the lungs of the blue whale. Whales are mammals like us, but there is something inspiring, otherworldly, planetary about how large they are and how the things that they do (like breathe) is both like and unlike us. And the fact that live in regions so foreign and mysterious. Also, they have songs and they communicate across vast distances. How they communicate, are alone, travel in pods. Their lung volume is around 5000L, about 1000x a human lung, and enough air to inflate about 2000 balloons! The 5000L of air in the lungs can be replaced in around 2 seconds.

Gary Barwin, Inwhale

Pantoums are a nice form. I think I’ve said before that I like repeating forms. I like them because a lot of my work is about the overlaying of self over self, the seams between past versions of self and current, the way that times move in a non-linear fashion and often life events feel like they have just happened. This is, obviously, a difficult concept to capture in a poem. Any big concept is difficult to capture in a poem. Structured forms can help in that regard. Where free verse is structured from the inside, structured forms are containers, or exterior scaffolding of the poem. They can shape how the reader comes to the poem and a poet can use a structured form to enhance the content of the poem. Which is what my aim was for the pantoum sequence.

The pantoum form is derived from the ‘Pantun’ which is a Malay form, an oral poetry form thought to be older than written language. The idea that I can capture my own poem, about my own experiences, in a poem form derived from a form that was passed mouth to mouth in a part of the world far, far away, and that there is a link there; between the timelessness of language and story telling and more – humanity and our need to communicate via art, it gives me goose bumps.

Wendy Pratt, Pantoums: The Boulder’s Dream

Restraint is out of fashion, along with linguistic control. And few poets trust us to probe beyond what’s left unsaid. But these are precisely the qualities that make Hilary Menos’ poetry so convincing.

My review of ‘Fear of Forks’, Hilary Menos’ new pamphlet from HappenStance Press, is now up at Wild Court (read the piece in full via this link).

Matthew Stewart, My review of Hilary Menos’ new pamphlet on Wild Court

Guelph-based poet and paramedic Candace de Taeye’s full-length poetry debut is Pronounced/Workable(Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2022), a collection composed as sketch-notes during work-shifts. “Two thumbs on the lower third of the sternum with fingers,” she writes, to close the poem “BLS STANDARDS -OBSTETRICS,” “tearing into that croissant, cradling cappuccino. / Encircling the chest and supporting the back. / Promoted off the road at your discretion, or it’s / been determined that birth is imminent.” Through a progression of first-person lyric narratives, de Taeye writes directly into the nuts-and-bolts of her work and experiences as a Toronto-area paramedic, offering description and commentary, or simply the jarring effect of pure detail. And yet, de Taeyre’s poems read with a particularly casual and deceptive ease, as though composed in mid-thought, mid-stride, and everything in-between, even through utilizing an array of formal techniques, whether the pantoum, list poem, call-and-response, open lyric or sonnet-sequence. “And service providers from being subjected / to,” she writes, in the opening poem, “PREFACE TO BASIC LIFE SUPPORT STANDARDS,” “always remember that resuscitation is one part lullaby. // Provide verbal and where deemed appropriate, tactile / comfort and reassurance. That you have mistaken my hunger // for sadness.” She works through formal structures almost as a way to sharpen each poem’s focus, hold each mess of language, experience and realization together as she attends to medical emergencies and the chaos of working on the front lines of medical trauma and recovery. The chaos is held, it would seem, precisely by and even through such formal techniques.

rob mclennan, Candace de Taeye, Pronounced/Workable

I’ve never wanted to
make anything too

big for fear it might
collapse on me,

the old monk said.
This explains all

my short poems.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (363)

In the past, I’ve been guilty of skipping over poems that are formatted outside the “norms” of stanza and line. I’ve sometimes struggled to find my way into these poems, assuming they required an intellect or brilliance that evaded me. I would have told you I couldn’t understand what they were doing.

But then I found Natalie Diaz’s “My American Crown” (linked in the list below) in which Diaz uses diagrammed sentences in place of sonnets. It clicked for me: These inventive poetry forms are an invitation to participate in the poem in ways that are important and necessary.

Encountering the diagrammed sentences in “My American Crown” takes me back to a very specific place: a sixth or seventh grade classroom in a small paper mill town in northern Maine. Mr. Russell stands at the chalkboard. He wears a V-neck red sweater over a button-down dress shirt. I am sitting in a row of desks, where I try to understand the parts of speech and learn other basics about the world, like how we’re “supposed to” see it. What a perfect space to breakdown American history, as Diaz does in this crown!

As grown-up me worked to piece back together the sentences (and harmful sentiments) Diaz had chosen to deconstruct in this crown of nontraditional sonnets, I struggled to make them make sense. And that’s just one of the many experiential layers of metaphor embedded in Diaz’s inventive form. It also hits home the way history had carefully composed these racist nuggets in the first place. Their authors had labored. The work in this country to “other” indigenous populations was an active crafting and shaping. And now, we are tasked with exposing the structures behind that work.

Through “My American Crown,” I started to understand inventive poems as opportunities for heightened reading experiences, chances for something to travel from my brain (the intellect) to my body (all those cells).

Carolee Bennett, 15 wild poetry forms for writing inspiration

Worse still are those workshops where the dominant voice or voices have decided that poetry needs to be poetic and can’t possibly be in that dingy alleyway that collects windblown carrier bags or drunkenly swagger home after a hazy night out or lie in the spill of oil reflecting the moon. Their poetry lies in miraculously unindustrialised farmland, in the feminine voice of a torch song or looking up at the moon, in lyrics untainted by ugly crying, a hacking cough or even swearing.

All these commentors are falling into the same trap: they are imposing their own expectations and ideas onto a poem and making it conform to their rigid ideas of what a poem should be. Instead of engaging with the poem on its own terms, they have brought their own agendas to the poem and found it lacking.

It would never occur to them that their judgment might be lacking. That breakup poem doesn’t want to be tidied into a constrictive form, it wants to be ragged and breathless and spilling on the page. That tanka is never going to be compressed into a haiku. Sonnets need a volta, but even Shakespeare had to reinvent the rhyme scheme because English lacks the access to rhyming words that Italian has.

Emma Lee, Reviewers must not have an Agenda

It’s Solstice season, and I’m thinking harder about my life, what I want to keep and what I want to let go, about my relationships too, with my family, with Glenn, with my friends, what I want in my life as a writer, how I can help my health, both mental and physical…envisioning what’s been problematic in the last few years (besides the pandemic), and how to envision a better, more satisfying life. I had a dream in which Santa (yep, that Santa) told me “You always plan for the worst. Why not plan for the best?” And for a minute, this familiar positivity mantra made sense to this admitted skeptic.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Holiday Happenings and Lights, New Book (and New Kitten), and the Big 50 on the Horizon…

My new studio is very small, but efficient, and the north light in it is beautiful. I was really worried about fitting myself into it, and got rid of everything I could in order to make it work; that meant some steely decisions about equipment and studio furniture I’ve had all my working life, as well as weeding out a great many books, supplies I either didn’t need or could easily replace, and even a good deal of artwork and project samples. I photographed things, and let the objects go. It wasn’t easy, especially at first: I felt like I was giving up my identity and admitting to being much older than I feel. But as we found homes for our things with younger people who would use them, we both felt better.

Beth Adams, Of Studios, New and Old

The poems unfold against a Wiltshire backdrop of henges and standing stones and reflect a time when my life was interrupted by grown up children leaving the nest and returning home in a global pandemic, the natural world in crisis but still finding a way to cling to its wonder. I’m still thinking about a title for this short collection – ‘Last Chance, Strawberries’, a title of one of the poems, is a temporary name badge until I make a firm decision.

When I heard the news that I’d won pamphlet publication, my lovely family sent these beautiful congratulatory flowers but I should be the one sending flowers to them since they feature in some of these poems and I couldn’t be a writer at all without their patience, understanding and support.

Josephine Corcoran, A new pamphlet in 2023

I have a couple of poems in the latest issue of Stand Magazine, a couple of poems in Ofi Press issue 71 which you can read here. And, I’m particularly pleased to have a poem in the latest issue of The Manhattan Review.

Quite probably the last poems in magazine publication from my next poetry collection, Look to the Crocus, before it is due out in Springtime (may Spring come quickly). 

I’m going through various drafts of my forthcoming collection, editing and cutting poems from it. I have way too many poems. It’s a pleasant process to be absorbed in, particularly in these wintry cold days. 

Marion McCready, And then it was December…

So I guess that concludes my year of literary events. I’ve seen Zoom-only, hybrid (in-person and remotely), in-person, and residential (a weekend). People are in the main comfortable with the technology now (few “can you hear me?” interruptions) and the all important chit-chat aspect is catered for, whatever the delivery method.

Organisers of future small events have decisions to make. Some people can only attend remotely. Others like the in-person vibe and interesting venues. Hybrid might sound like the best option but it’s the most challenging technologically and organisationally. Some groups are planning a programme with mix of in-person meetings and Zoom meetings. This risks splitting established groups (which may be small already) into 2, but at least it keeps most people happy most of the time.

Tim Love, Future Karaoke #2

I’ve finished a novel and will see it published on December 27 of this year. Attending to a lot of the homework of promoting a new book, I find myself yearning for a new long-form story, wading through many plot, character, and title ideas, and yet frozen as the leaves that remain on the trees in this wintry month. I can’t summon energy to write scenes and do plot outlines, so I fall back into my home turf, poetry. Every image and moment of this month and the cold snap that has gripped the San Francisco region slows down my creative process, chips off excess words like breaking icicles off a roofline. I am as bare as the trees, as windy and skeletal. And that’s a good place from which to contemplate.

Rachel Dacus, Poetry as a Winter Sport

What are you working on?

Funny, if you’d asked me this a month or so ago I would have said nothing at all, and then all of a sudden, after a long barren patch, something clicks and you start writing again (though it has to be said, I’m not writing as prolifically as I used to and that’s a strange space to be in). I’m working on a new sequence of snowballs, a form I’ve worked with before. Snowballs are perhaps most associated with Oulipo and usually have ten lines. Typically, in a snowball, line 1 has one letter, line 2 two letters and so on until ten letters in the tenth line. Rather than letters I’ve changed the form by increasing the amount of words per line. There’s a lot of flexibility in the form and it shares a similarity to the sonnet in its effects. A few months ago I finished editing my collection it is like toys but also like video taped in a mall, which is out with Pamenar Press. I’m really pleased with it. It’s a series of 201 two-line minimalist poems, which took around five years to write and edit.

Thomas Whyte, James Davies : part two

This week has seen a long serving star of the scene, someone that always delivers, but has yet to win the ultimate plaudit and accolade finally achieve the pinnacle of their chosen field.

No, not Lionel Messi and Argentina winning the (Men’s) World Cup—at the time of writing that isn’t guaranteed, France have just pulled a goal back. Christ, now they’ve equalised—where else do you get live commentary, eh?

No, I mean Matthew Stewart and his appearance on the final Poetry Planet podcast of the year….I’ve loved all of the PPP’s to date, but go and have a listen to this one. Matthew makes a lot of sense…and says the word “Exactly” a lot.

When you’ve heard that, it would be worth spending some time reading the following.

Bad Lillies. Issue 11 is out now. I can’t lie, I’ve not read it yet, but the line up looks very strong, so I reckon it can’t fail.

London Grip – I did read this all yesterday, and despite theme of poems about poems and mothers, what stood out for me was Glenn Hubbard’s Heron poem. I think it resonated because I saw a heron on the roof of the house behind mine this week.

Mat Riches, A Bat(tlestar), Galactico from Heron in

I drive with the sunroof open
increased petrol use wind in my branches

I eat for two in autumn
in preparation

my thoughts sluggish this second winter
as the tree on my head slumbers

Paul Tobin, A TREE ON YOUR HEAD

Like wearing my coat and hat indoors, like bringing a tree into my living space, like eating big meals at the wrong time of day, like speaking and writing to forgotten relatives, like listening to other people’s music, like a World Cup at the wrong time of the year, like a baby born to the wrong family, Christmas, the thing I love/hate/can’t wait for/want to skip/can’t do without, comes to me dressed in unfamiliar clothes, disrupts my life and my complacency and holds a steady mirror to my consistent inconsistency.

Anthony Wilson, Advent meditation

When I started the newsletter in 2018, I wasn’t sure how long I would continue it. I didn’t really have a plan beyond making sure that I wrote the best possible reviews about the books poets sent me. Now, over sixty reviews later, I’m committed to continuing the practice for as long as I can.

2022 brought a wealth of incredible books from poets who wrote with depth and compassion about the times we’re living in. They wrote about relationships, death, love, the vulnerability of the planet, politics, and simple survival, which, as it turns out, is pretty complicated.

More people than ever are finding solace and inspiration in the art of poetry.

Erica Goss, Sticks & Stones: 2022 Book Covers

One thing I did realise, though not until after the pamphlet was published and I started performing this poem at events, is that I use the word, card, three times in the last two stanzas, which is too much. When I perform the poem I try to remember to change library card to library ticket; this is, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, a perfect example of why it is important to read your work aloud because you might spot something that didn’t spring out at you when you looked at it on the page.

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetic Awakenings

I do love when I find snippets that an artist has said about their own work, a poet’s backstory of a poem. I figure that information, freely offered, is fair game. (Also, of course, suspicious, as when do any of us really know what we’re up to, in the moment?)

But aren’t we all dancing to the rhythm of the tinking and clanking of our own griefs and oddnesses? You may not hear it, literally, you watcher, but you can see it in my dance. I just feel uneasy at this tendency to eyeball the dancer extricated from the dance, to look at a poem through pathology’s lens, to insist on biography as part of someone’s art. Do I need to understand the entirety of a suicide’s artistic output through the suicide? I’m just asking. I do have my DSM right here, just in case, though.

Marilyn McCabe, Put on my my my…; or, On Poetry and Biography

Recent read: Party of One: A Loner’s Manifesto by Anneli Rufus, a book that I would have found enlightening if it had only been around when I was 18 years old. But many things were as yet unwritten 45 years ago, and even if this book had been–I might not have discovered it. Rufus celebrates social loners, decrying the myth that people who prefer time by themselves to socializing are by nature dangerous and threatening. That knowledge would have been a great relief to me when I was young; but I eventually learned on my own that the “loner myth” is, indeed, a mistaken idea perpetrated by too many so-called experts in our society. Through my lifelong bookworm habit, I learned a great deal about people who chose to be alone, chose small circles of friends, or chose to keep friendships going by letter rather than through visits. […]

Loner, introvert, eccentric, moody, artistic, creative, sensitive, weird–at my age, I don’t need a manifesto. Experience demonstrates a person can be friendly and funny and easily-tired and sometimes withdrawn and able to speak in public and irritated by too much noise or novelty and can dance at parties and laugh too loudly and a thousand other things that are contradictory and not simple to pin down. (And capable of polysyndeton!) But if you know a child who is content being by themselves and who may feel pressured by well-intentioned adults, I recommend Leo Lionni‘s Caldecott-winning book Frederick. It is a story I loved as a child, and now I realize why. The quiet mouse who is off on his own while his busy community harvests food for winter proves valuable to his mouse-society by offering them poems and stories that ease their discomfort when they are cold and hungry.

In some ways, that has been my lifelong dream.

Ann E. Michael, Alone not lonely

This lovely little stack of AUTOMAGICs arrived in my mail room on Wednesday and I can’t quite stop staring at them. The exterior turned out even more lovely than I imagined as I was designing it over the summer. While the release, which was expected around Halloween was delayed due to my dad’s passing, I was able to finalize the tweaks that were in progress and order a set of copies to make available at the end of the month. One of the biggest blessings of self-publishing of course being that flexibility in scheduling and timelines. The manuscript itself had been finished for a year when I first started the editing project to make the book a reality and I appreciated the space between finishing the last section of the poem in spring of 2021 and starting those edits this summer. Even though some of the segments were chaps and zines previously, its good to spend some time away from work and then come back in with fresh eyes, another benefit of creative control on a project. 

Kristy Bowen, the self publishing diaries

I realized during the fall term that there was a recent book on H.D.’s intense relationship with the occult: Astral H.D. by Matte Robinson. I have an idea for a hermit crab essay that depends in part on what kind of tarot deck H.D. used. Could it be among her papers at the Beinecke? The finding aide says the collection contains astrological charts. Robinson’s book is very useful, but I need to triangulate with an older book, Susan Stanford Friedman’s Pysche Reborn, as well as read a lot of other materials published since I was last deep in H.D.-land. Anyway, no luck so far, but Robinson describes H.D.’s readings of Jean Chaboseau, who designed a deck that’s partly pictured below, so maybe his? I can’t find a duplicate deck of Chaboseau’s; his book about tarot is rare and might not exist in translation. In other words, these hermetic materials are hidden from me, so far. My research into H.D.’s occult research is getting very meta.

But I’m about to cut off this poking around because we’re going to INDIA Thursday for a 12 day trip. I’ve long been sorting out immunizations, visas, what to pack, etc., but at least my grades are in, so I can now get a jump on January tasks. The new term will start less than a week after I return in early January.

We took yesterday off for a short post-grading hike in a wetlands park. I’m appreciating the winter palette perhaps more than usual because I’m about to temporarily depart it. I’d also never done this particular walk with the leaves down and didn’t realize the upper trail had mountain views. Even though plenty of 2023 is occluded from sight, it’s nice to glimpse or at least imagine a vista beyond this school year’s work grind.

Lesley Wheeler, H.D., tarot, & occluded vistas

So recently I submitted groups of poems to magazines once again. Not this time just to a selection of the excellent little known publications that abound on the internet, but to the best known and most highly regarded ones. I have much less time in front of me than there is behind so it’s now surely that this man’s reach should exceed his grasp! And in reaching further I set myself up, of course, both for almost inevitable rejection and its corollary dejection. 

No surprises, then, that to date Poetry London and the members’ page of Poetry Review have said no thanks. However, with that grasp in mind, I’m delighted that London Grip is taking two poems for next spring. But even on the back of that success I’m far from optimistic that the other poems are going to find landfall and I regret greatly not having pushed back harder a long time ago. Maybe had I spread the words more energetically and celebrated success more loudly , then I’d be occupying a bit more shelf space now! 

Dick Jones, POEMS: IN HERE AND OUT THERE.

The difference in how I work, now, is striking: I used often to hit a wall — if I was lucky, not till mid-afternoon — beyond which I was utterly unable to push myself to do anything more. This happened daily; and there were days when I never managed to work at all. That just doesn’t happen to me now. I get tired, sure, but if I look at a stack of work that will just take an hour more, and make tomorrow much easier — I just do the work. No fuss, no bucking or shying of the mind. This is intimately related to restraining my eating: it’s subjectively obvious that the virtue that enables me to proceed with work is the same one that enables me to refrain from eating what I’ve decided not to eat. I’d call it fortitude. Psychologists call it self-regulation. The general public calls it will power. 

I really think fortitude is a better name. Because it’s not a matter of one part of me dominating the other parts: it’s a matter of holding fast to a larger understanding of what’s going on, and a matter of the various constituents of my spirit being better aligned. Self-regulation and will power suffer all the ills of despotism: blindness and caprice and grandiosity. And they’re prone to sudden catastrophic failure. Fortitude is the opposite of that. I don’t try to not to be tired, or not to be hungry. I just do what needs to be done anyway.

There is not much glory to this progress. I am well aware that this is remedial work. Many people were trained up in fortitude, as children, or at least discovered it early. I came to it late: so I’m celebrating triumphs more appropriate to a nine-year-old than a sixty-four-year-old. But it was the obvious, first thing that I needed to do, and I’m doing it.

Dale Favier, Because I Think I’m Making Progress

I’m still wearing dresses for Dressember. Really, to raise awareness and protest human trafficking, I should be posting pictures of myself in dresses and starting a campaign page to encourage donations, but I am not good at those things. I am better at supporting people and causes through words, human contact, and moral support. I am pretty good at wearing dresses, too. They have patiently waited for me in the closet, and tolerate my winter layering–long sweaters, scarves, multiple slips, tights, boots–so I can wear them (the dresses) to work. Today I am wearing a sort of fancy black-and-white floral dress, three-quarter length sleeves, not really a summer dress but for an indeterminate season, with a white sweater and a black pashmina, so I can go out to dinner with my husband (and a friend in town from Chicago) for our 33rd (legal) wedding anniversary. Forty-one years of togetherness, but who’s counting (correctly)?*

*math-challenged me

This afternoon, and yesterday afternoon, too, I have been reading and revising poems I wrote in spring. (I’m in a dress! How could I do housework after regular work? OK, I did go down into a cobwebby basement to retrieve boxes of Christmas ornaments for my mom and dad.) I fiddle, I make notes to self, I set them (the poems) aside (electronically…the files are open in various windows, even now). Yesterday, I actually managed a submission. There are December deadlines… When, if ever, will I bake the pumpkin bread?!

Kathleen Kirk, Anniversary in Dressember

It’s terrifying to read a book set during a time called “the Great Depression,” a time synonymous with darkness and poverty and pain, and see in it the familiar sights and sounds and stories of our era, more than eight decades later. This is a book to be read from the safety of your own home or apartment, the novel propped on your tummy as a cup of tea cools on the end table beside you. To read it when you yourself are in a state of turmoil is to add fuel to a fire that would be better extinguished.

This is all sounding quite dramatic, I’m sure, but I’m feeling quite dramatic. My life has slid rapidly downhill in the two years since my partner and I split up and I started living in a van, and no amount of pithy Instagram wisdom or TikTok psychology is enough to paint a rosier picture. On my best days I can imagine the little studio apartment I’ll have in some small, warm town where I talk on the radio and meet someone who cares about me. But a lot of the time I feel like the Joads, looking toward the promise of endless fields of fruit and cotton but finding that you’ve just taken the hardship with you.

So look, I’m not really telling you not to read The Grapes of Wrath. I’m just saying that it’s a heavy book and if you’re not careful it will make it hard for you to breathe. Perhaps that’s the best compliment I can pay to Mr. Steinbeck. Consider yourself warned.  

Jason Crane, Don’t Read The Grapes Of Wrath

This is the part of life when
a great silence approaches;
if not, then a chorus will burst
from unimaginable mouths.

You don’t believe when I say you
are a thought I carry every day, a seed
I scoop out of a hull of green, hoping
its heart returns to green.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Spell

Long ago I shed the parts of the holiday season that make it most stressful.  I do only the decorating and the baking that I want to do.  We don’t do much in the way of gifts anymore.  So far, I can manage the holiday grief that sometimes comes when I think about people who are no longer with us, the past holidays that I miss, the children (including me) who have grown up.

So in some ways, my Christmas is a bit more minimalist this year.  I decided not to put the ornaments out.  I won’t bake cookies, particularly not the ones that need to be rolled out and cut into holiday shapes.

This year, though, there are some elements I haven’t had in past years.  It’s chilly, downright cold!  I know that I may get tired of cold weather in months to come, but right now, I love it.  I love walking through the beautiful neighborhoods around the seminary, enjoying the decorations both in the daylight and in the dark, when the lights shine.  Yesterday I went to see the therapy dogs; the seminary brings them to campus several times at the end of a term to offer some self-care and stress relief.  I wasn’t feeling the same stress that the end of the term sometimes triggers, but it was delightful anyway.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Season’s Enchantments: Santa Lucia and Small Stoves Snippets

The midrash says when the invaders left
they carried off the golden lamp as loot.
The absence of the lampstand was an ache –
without its light, reserves of hope ran low.
We had to improvise with what we had:
the iron spears our enemies had dropped.

We made our Ner Tamid that year with trash,
repurposing the implements of war
for bringing sacred light. How about now?
The planet is our Temple – and it burns.
We can’t just close our eyes. We’re all
indicted by the plastics in the seas.

Rachel Barenblat, Recycling (first published in The Light Travels)

It doesn’t matter how many times I read this poem, I feel it. The slant rhymes, the eh, eh, eh going through the poem like muffled cries themselves. The helpless sense of being witnesses to each other and at the same time unable to do anything but bear witness.

Pearl Pirie, Loved then, Loved now: My Neighbour

I’m feeling a bit of sadness, too, some longing for holidays of years past. Today some of my cousins are gathering, but I won’t be joining them, much as I’d like to. They are too far away, Cane has to work tomorrow, and we are limiting our contact with others to increase chances that we’ll be healthy for a visit to my parents in the week after Christmas. We haven’t seen them since the summer, as illness keeps canceling our plans. The last time my extended family gathered was the Christmas of 2019. We ate the food we always eat together (Croatian spaghetti, kroštule, scotcheroos), and after dinner we sat at the table and played Apples to Apples. It was normal, familiar, comfortable, unremarkable, wonderful. For much of my life we gathered every year, around my grandmother’s table, but that year was the first time we’d been able to do so in several. We said then that we needed to make sure we didn’t let so much time pass, that we would need to make sure to meet again the following year. We had no idea what was coming at us in 2020, or that it would be years before we could gather in such a way again. Writing these words, I can’t help wondering if we ever will. How many years can we go before a tradition that had already frayed breaks completely?

I’m doing my best to let that sadness sit beside different kinds of comfort and joy–to accept that a long life is a thing of constant inconstancy, a coming-and-going stream of people and places and things that we love, a rich amalgam of grief, abundance, loss, gain, and surprise of various kinds. (We never know what might happen in any given day, do we?) This year we have my daughter with us, and her husband will be joining us from Sweden. We are looking forward to good food, a fusion of Swedish and American holiday traditions, and a day designed for introverts. I am sure there will be a year in the future–if I’m lucky–in which I will look back on this one and miss the parts of it I no longer have.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Tidings

If only we could sing tombstones back into sand.

The sand to build castles by seashores, where oceans sing us to joy.

Rich Ferguson, Working Backwards From That One Particular Moment in Time

cold swim
the dance of my hands
all the way home

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 48

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, an exceptionally varied gathering of posts as the semester winds down and the holiday season is upon us, ready or not—a “stripped, dry, testing time at the end of the year” as Beth Adams calls it, a time that seems to prompt writers to look and think more deeply about their lives. Enjoy.


I found this portion of a poem in Etel Adnan’s Time (trans. Sarah Riggs): “… In the splendor of the/gray morning,/in the death camp/of Beit Sahour,/with a little dew/and a handful of clay,/we created/life…”

And then this snippet from Martin Amis’s Sweet Tooth: “…ultimately reality is social, it’s among others that we have to live and their judgments matter.”

And I think about the poem I was trying to write about a kingfisher, that quickblue and chittering presence I value so much when I encounter it, and why it is an image in my mind just now, as I rail in my way against my own petty sufferings. Yes, I see you, self. What ails thee? And I find myself finding myself rich in the presence of other minds.

Marilyn McCabe, I been all around this world; or, On Thematic Convergence

We have raked our leaves toward the street–but not into it, which is bad for the storm drains, etc.–and they await the second coming of the great leaf-sucking machine. We’ve had glorious warm sunny weather for the Thanksgiving holiday, and I took long walks, alone and with friends. I took a notebook with me on the long walk alone and was grateful to have poems tumble out. I stopped at various benches to write them down. At one I found a key and a dog leash in the leaves underneath, attached the one to the other, hung it over the bench, and moved on to the next. A woman came by, looking at her feet. “I’m looking for my keys,” she said. “I found it,” I said, “a single key, and a dog leash.” “That’s it!” she said. Yay! 

Kathleen Kirk, Leaves, But No Leavings…

I would have called you
today to tell you this, 
on what would have been 
your 90th birthday. Instead

I am holding this jar, a gift, 
and proof of something 

I am struggling to find 
the right words for

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Pulse

Poetry in general feels not at all important but maybe then that’s when I need it the most. That when I am not writing is maybe exactly when I should. I looked at the very pretty proof copy of the book yesterday and felt the weight of sitting down to make those final edits.  To even care about releasing a book when I do not feel like reality is quite real anyway. Or that poetry life and real life are not even meeting each other. Not to mention the drag of December when I swear yesterday it was well on its way to darkness at 3pm. 

But then again, barring the heft of all that has happened, this feeling is always here, the uncertainty of December, especially without even a glimmer at the end of Christmas, which is less bright this year and sort of murky in the distance. I will hopefully snap out of it by New Year’s–all of it, the holiday funk, the SAD depression, the writing fallow ground. Or at least I hope so.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/2/2022

Maybe then I’ll get back to writing? I hope so. I miss it, truly. But the words seem stuck inside/between endless spreadsheets and Zoom meetings and oh my god the emails. (This is not about my students. I love teaching them.)

Is it any wonder my synapses are scrambled?

But painting is not stuck. Painting un-scrambles me in continually surprising and energizing ways. I am excited to paint almost every day. (Will I ever feel this way about writing? Did I? Is it even possible to?)

My son recently discovered he likes watching World Cup soccer. This is surprising. Shocking, even, to all of us living in this totally un-sporty home. But he’s delighted and I told him I was so glad he allowed himself to be open to discovering this about himself.

That’s what this year of painting has been for me. An incredible process of discovery.

I had no idea how much I needed it.

I can’t imagine my life, now, without it.

Sheila Squillante, Still at It

This graduate class was a beautiful gift. Maybe it wouldn’t have been if I was submersed in a regular semester of teaching at the community college, but I kind of doubt that. There’s something to be said for students who show up ready to learn … whether it’s from me or each other or the work that we’re reading and discussing. There’s something to be said for older students who have shaken off the cloak of high school and undergraduate nonsense and are present because they’re in possession of themselves as people in the world.

To be clear, I’m also really appreciative of my students who are decidedly NOT in the world. Students who don’t really know what they want to do or where they want to be — I love having honest conversations with them and acknowledging that sometimes not-knowing is part of the process. But it takes a particular kind of energy to engage like that — and after almost two decades of that kind of engagement, I’m happy to try something different.

The difference comes down to the students who wrote some really cool prose and poetry this semester. And some of them failed in their aims, but it was awesome to see them try to meet those aims, and to hear them speak about what they learned in the process. AND to hear them talk about their “final projects” in terms that made it clear that the projects themselves aren’t over, aren’t final, aren’t anywhere near complete.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Lessons & Gratitude

How do you know when a poem is finished?

A couple of years ago, I asked one of my poetry mentors this same question. She chuckled and told me about how she recently dug up the Microsoft Word file of a poem that was published many years ago and started editing the poem again, because she “felt like it.” That was incredibly liberating for me. My relationship with poems became much more fluid once I understood that a poem may never be finished and instead, I could aspire for the poem to be good enough. 

Thomas Whyte, Jaeyun Yoo : part two

So Peter and I managed to get the latest episode of Planet Poetry edited and up last Thursday, featuring Peter’s interview with Sarah Barnsley on her first full collection The Thoughts. It’s an excellent book, in fact it’s one of my recommendations in the forthcoming edition of Poetry News. The poddy is going well. Now all we need are <unsubtle-hint> a few kind donations to help us pay the costs of the recording and hosting platforms! </unsubtle-hint> We were especially chuffed to hear that Kim Moore (who we interviewed in our Season 3 opener recently) won the Forward Prize! We bask in the reflected glory! Our Christmas episode is coming up on December 15th, featuring my interview with Matthew Stewart plus party hats, carols and bloopers. Don’t miss it!!

Meanwhile I’ve just sent out the updated spreadsheet of poetry magazine windows, and although I’ve lost patience with a few of the mags that seem to be permanently closed and/or never updated, there are some interesting additions. Even one journal that’s finally open for poetry after I took it off the list some time ago because it was never open and didn’t respond to queries. Perhaps poetry mags never die, they just pass out for a while (to nick a line from Prole).

Robin Houghton, Subs, pods and mags

This morning I read Anne Helen Peterson’s latest newsletter offering (linked above), on reading, and so much hit so close to home. I miss reading the way I once did. I keep trying to find my way back to it, and it eludes me. I then spent a good amount of time deleting apps from my phone. I’d already deactivated the dumpster fire that is Twitter, which I rarely used anyway, but I’ve put both Instagram and Facebook in timeout. I really love some Instagram accounts I follow (e.g., poetryisnotaluxury), but I would rather be the kind of reader I once was. I’m not sure this will do the trick, but I’m willing to try it.

Not much in store for today. I’m sitting at our dining table in the living room, on new-to-us old chairs we bought and recovered last weekend, watching snow blow out the window. The weather app tells me it’s supposed to be rain and 37 degrees, but my eyes tell me those are snowflakes and that they are sticking to the ground. I’d rather believe my eyes than my phone.

Rita Ott Ramstad, ’tis the season…

There is something curious about how so much poetry out of Vancouver is centred on movement, whether [Edward] Bryne’s compositions while riding BC Transit, on bicycle or on foot, comparable to Meredith Quartermain’s walking [see her 2005 collection Vancouver Walking] or George Stanley riding a similar Vancouver bus route [see my review of his 2008 collection Vancouver: a poem here], to George Bowering thinking his way through Duino Elegies via Kerrisdale. In comparison, there aren’t many poems I’m aware of composed overtly across the lines of the Montreal Metro, or Toronto’s GO Trains, let alone their expansive subway system (although bpNichol famously spoke first-draft thoughts into a hand-held tape machine while driving the distance between Coach House and Therafields). In certain ways, there’s almost something comparable to Vancouver’s transit-poems to England’s handful of poems composed on foot, responding to the uniquely-English meditative tradition of walking vast countryside distances [see my review Mark Goodwin’s 2014 collection Steps, for example, here]. Frank O’Hara may have composed a collection of poems during his lunch break, but, more recently, Mary Austin Speaker composed her 2016 collection, The Bridge, while riding daily commuter distances across New York’s Manhattan Bridge [see my review of such here]. How much, we might begin to ask, has literature been shaped through the physical requirements of each author’s particular geography? As Byrne offers as part of “MORNING SONGS”: “I saw Kirilov / fifty years ago / on the Barton Street bus / and again this morning / on 6th Avenue // One of us hasn’t changed / in all those years [.]”

rob mclennan, Edward Byrne, Tracery

Once I had writing habits, some that worked better than others.  This past year has given me one disruption after another:  job loss which might have opened up extra time, had I not broken my wrist, coupled with a huge move mid-summer and a smaller move at the end of the summer and a heavier class load than in the past.

Next term, I will try to set up some writing habits that will result in more writing time.  What will that look like?  I don’t know yet.  Let me think about it before 2023 gets away from me.  For now, I’m trying to keep my poetry legal pad close to me, and to go ahead and start writing, even if I only have a glimmer of an idea.

Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast about the end of Byzantium.  I thought about the Yeats poem, and as I read it, a line came to me:  This is no country for young women.  I decided to write it down and to keep going.  I decided to have something inspired from the Yeats poem in each stanza. […]

I will continue to work with the poem–one of my habits that has developed in the past few years is that I write a draft and don’t return.  I’d like to actually finish a poem, type it into the computer, and send it off to see if anyone would like to publish it.  But more than publication, I want to have the joy of having crafted a rough draft into a more finished draft.  These days, I often end a writing session without a complete rough draft.  I write a few lines or stanzas and drift away, thinking I’ll return when I’m more inspired, and I don’t return, not yet.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Sailing from Byzantium: Process Notes

Downtown, counterfeit angels wander dark streets drop kicking smiles for kicks.

Mispronounced junky dreams fumble through alleyways, mistaking fentanyl for sentinels.

All across the city, many spend their time waiting for something great that comes a little too late, like winning the lottery while on the way to the electric chair.

I press an ear to a cloud to listen in on the heavens.

I hear someone say a kiss is fluent in all languages.

Rich Ferguson, When Pondering the Language of Salvation

A while back I wrote a series of poems about Amy Winehouse. I’ve always been a huge fan of her music and her second album, Back to Black, will forever be one of my favorites and I listened to it on repeat when my first marriage fell apart so those songs and these poems weave together a lot of emotional topics: her untimely death, disordered eating, dysfunctional relationships.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with the poems – they didn’t fit in my forthcoming collection but there weren’t enough for a chapbook. After thinking about it for a while, I decided I would handmake a microchap of the Amy Winehouse poems. Of course, I just had to figure out how to do that…

I spent an afternoon figuring out how to format the pages correctly. Then I spent $500 on supplies – paper, an awl, book binding needles, heavy duty thread. Once I had the supplies I spent another afternoon printing all the pages. I decided I wanted to make 100 copies. Which seemed ambitious but still doable. Famous last words? Maybe…

Courtney LeBlanc, Your Hands are Going to Ache

I’m just back from a very wintry dog walk with my very slow and elderly dog. There is something to be said for the slow walk and the honesty of bad weather, how a really good soaking freezes you so deeply it’s like it’s cleaned the very bones of you. And going so slowly allows for a close examination of the landscape; not just the valley and the hills around you, but of the landscape with a small L, the place where we exist every day, the areas that, in some ways, become background. I think of hedgerows like that. Hedgerows are a constant in the landscape, acting as dividers, boundary lines, shade for livestock. They sew the lands together, tracking across the countryside and lining the lanes. The hedgerows around my village feel timeless, and some are in fact likely to be boundary lines going back a thousand years or more. Hedgerows are like that – timeless, ancient, magical. Even the name – hedgerow, feels old and rounded with time, so close to the old english hegeræwe I can feel the weight of all those years in my mouth as I say it. I like the way you look at a hedge and see its history. Here’s a picture of a hedge in my village that has a history of being maintained in the traditional way, in which the living Hawthorn is cut down through the stem almost to the ground and then bent over and woven through the other stems to create a living fence. This is called ‘plashing’ and the bent part is the plasher. It’s an ancient technique that is lovely to see still in use. Sometimes you might see a lovely old hawthorn on its own and you might notice that it has a strange ‘elbow’ shape to some of its lower branches. That is the history of the tree, its brethren all gone and only the angle of its branches telling how once it was part of a hedgerow, a living fence that kept sheep in.

Wendy Pratt, The Winter Hedgerow

I’m delighted to announce that The Wind and the Rain, my sixth collection of poems, will be published with Blue Diode Publishing in June 2023.

The Wind and the Rain is a book of loss. It combines personal and environmental grief through the metaphor of rain.

You can read recently published poems from the book by following the links here.

Anthony Wilson, The Wind and the Rain – due in June 2023

I was gathering strangeness, like little stones. Tossing
them into a jar, waiting for the water to rise to the
top. A thirsty crow, negotiating with the universe.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 23

According to a 2006 study funded by the Poetry Foundation and the National Organization for Research at the University of Chicago, the sneak attack is the best approach when attempting to reach people who say they don’t read poetry.* Non-readers of poetry were more likely to read or listen to a poem when they were exposed to one in unexpected places. These unexpected places include billboards, public transportation, events, and the newspaper. 

I wonder if this willingness to tolerate a poem is due the nature of the encounter. If a person doesn’t like poetry, and knows she’ll have to sit through one at an upcoming event, she’s probably already prepared to tune out. But if she happens to glance up while driving on the freeway and pass a poem in giant letters on a billboard or see one while riding the subway, the surprise might just startle her into a new appreciation.

When I was Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, CA, I decided that the most important part of my job was to increase those chance encounters with poetry. I tried my best to put poems in places where people were forced to stand or sit for undetermined lengths of time: the bank, grocery store, cleaners, coffee shop, hardware store, dentist’s office, etc. 

My hairdresser hung a short poem by Hafiz on a wall in her salon, framed like a painting. She told me that people would look at it, first thinking it was a picture, and then, puzzled, ask her about it. I also organized a “Poem in Your Pocket” day, where volunteers handed out poems to unsuspecting members of our town. The reactions were varied—some people seemed delighted, some confused, and a few shrank back in horror. I also conducted holiday-themed poetry events (Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day), which were surprisingly well-received.

After three years of being the town’s self-appointed poetry sniper, I was worn out, happy to retreat back into my previous persona as a private person. But every once in a while, I’d come across a tattered poem printed on mint-green cardstock, taped to a cash register in a local business. And I would smile a secret smile of satisfaction. 

Erica Goss, Poetry: the Sneak Attack

One cool perk of blogging is that occasionally complete strangers contact me out of the blue and ask if I would like to have a book. My answer is always, Yes! Book, please!

This week’s mail brought me a chapbook of poems from Atmosphere Press, a debut collection by Damian White, of Columbus, Ohio. When I receive poetry books, I often set them aside until my April poetry blogging binge (a book a day), but I Made a Place for You was just released, and I told Damian I would blog about it right away.

The poems are short—“language poetry crossed with gospel,” as one reviewer puts it—but they well up from the poet’s own life and are a testament to how dire circumstances (in White’s case, homelessness) can be “channeled … into poetry to heal a fractured identity.” Predictably the poems are often ontological, a chronicle of a spiritual journey.

Bethany Reid, I Made a Place for You

the urn is light but heavy
weight upon his shoulders
unscrews the lid

grey ash onto white water
tips three times
on three outgoing waves

shakes the canister
grey motes on the air
retraces his footprints

Paul Tobin, GREY MOTES ON THE AIR

I had the pleasure of being on library shift with Wakefield’s Village poet emeritus, Phil Cohen. Phil started in New York City, went to MIT in engineering, and somehow ended up Quebec by 1984. […]

Phil’s a big deal in town, with his birthday celebrated as part of February’s Dragonfest. There’s a DVD of his poems in tribute. He has at least 2 books. One of his poems was the source of the name of the TaDa arts fest.

He says there are big P poets who do it for a living, small p poets who do it seriously and no p poets like him. He says poetry is in the living, and in involvement in the community.

Pearl Pirie, Village Poet

As it is poetry manuscript contest season, and I’m once again finding myself reading manuscripts, I thought I’d offer some “notes from a manuscript reader.” These are all just my opinions, and your mileage may vary.

  1. If you’ve never heard this before, make sure your first five poems are doing a lot of heavy lifting for the book—and then the last final poems. Because you know what? Tired and (mostly) unpaid readers are probably not going to sift through every single poem unless you’ve already hooked them.
  2. This is for contests that allow acknowledgements (some do not, so just ignore this if that is the case.) Do acknowledgements matter? Well, if you have none, it might. I think if you haven’t done the work of submitting individual poems for publication, you’re probably not ready for the work of publishing and publicizing a book. I don’t really pay attention to number or the names of the publications, but having none or only one or two acknowledgements kind of puts you in the danger zone. Now, if I still loved the poetry, I might still put it through. Just know that getting individual poems published shows you’re trying, you’re part of the literary world, and you’re trying to build an audience—all things I’d care about as a publisher, and as an extension, a reader.
  3. For books leaning heavily on one historical period or incident—this can work for or against you. I’ve read terrific books done in this way, but also a lot of boring ones. If you choose this route, make sure you vary voices, styles, and forms to keep the reader’s interest.
  4. There is a weird sameness of tone in the manuscripts I’ve read this year—and granted, it’s just a portion of submissions from one publisher—but there’s a monotone in the manuscripts. They’re not poorly written, but they lack emotion, power, passion. I wonder if this is possibly the effect of pandemic fatigue—it’s flattened out our voices, our writing? Anyway, don’t be afraid to be a little weird, out there, or show you care about something or someone. It’ll likely jolt the readers – which is usually a good thing.
  5. Good titles never hurt you. Once again, don’t be afraid to be a little weird.

I hope this was helpful! (And not too cranky! Anyway, as I said, this is just one person’s opinion.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Snow (with Power Outages, Haircuts and Holiday Things), Pushcart Nominations, Notes from a Manuscript Reader

Because we’re about to embark on our other family Xmas tradition of watching a film together on a Sunday evening in the lead up to Xmas (Mainly Xmas films, obvs), time is tight today, but I do want to post a poem—especially as I have permission to do so from the poet themselves.

Given the last thing we put on the tree was the star, this poem feels even more timely. It’s Each Star is a Sun by Jo Haslam from her second collection, ‘The Sign for Water‘. Sadly, the book appears to be out of print, but it’s one of the earliest poetry books I can recall buying in Waterstones, Norwich. I hadn’t read the book in years, but stumbled across it on my shelves last week. I knew I had to post something from it, and asked Jo’s permission. Out of the two I suggested this was her preference, and it’s the perfect choice.

I love the way the poem contains an element of the magical, and alludes to the way that we know the science of things, but still ascribe some sort of magic to the light that reaches us from such a distance. The way the lines of the poem seem to expand and contract like a galaxy and the universe seems entirely right.

Mat Riches, It must be a sign (for water)

Someone kept
watching the stars.

They were always
watching the stars.

They kept listening.
That’s how we

got here today,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (354)

Issue 59 of antennae – the journal of nature in visual culture is now out on the theme Microbial Ecologies. It is an extraordinary collection of multidisciplinary practices, approaches, methodologies, and conceptions to help us see and value the microbial worlds that until recently have remained invisible. As editor Giovanni Aloi says, “It is only by recognizing and engaging with microbial agencies that fuller networks of interconnectedness will enable us to tell the stories we truly need for our time and for the future.”

I’m delighted to have a piece in this edition. Ferrovores: the iron eaters is an extended version of the text of my video The Ferrovores.

Iron is the most common metal on earth. Indeed, it forms much of the molten core of the planet which in turn generates the earth’s magnetic poles. The red soils of the world are due to iron. At a biochemical level, iron is essential for human life, amongst other things, making our blood red. In the societal domain, iron is essential for manufacturing, electricity generation, and much more. Certain bacteria can derive energy for life directly from dissolved iron compounds (“rust”) rather than from oxygen as we do. Perhaps, at some time in the future, we, our descendants, the Ferrovores, may need to do the same.

Yet the Ferrovores are a product of digital code: generational, mutating, synthesising. Even so, the environment collapses around them, as they mine the language of pre-industrial times for reassurance and comfort, dreaming of the days when manufacturing really was handicraft and shared skills.

Ian Gibbins, Ferrovores: the iron eaters in Antennae

In her book Index Cards, Moyra Davey quotes someone saying that everyone should take a one year sabbatical — the person dares her listeners to “imagine what that would be like.” And I think the word “dares” is meaningful here, and maybe now especially. Because it did feel even quite daring to take a month (especially during a pandemic, admittedly). The idea, Davey says, is that everyone in their time on earth should get to experience an interval of just freaking joy. Just as Cixous talked about fecundity being the natural state for writers, I believe that the state of feeling joy and being delighted on a daily basis is a basic human right. Which of course is so hard to attain. But there it is.

And I don’t think we’re likely to feel delighted and joyful all day long or anything like that. But in my month in Rome, doing whatever we wanted every single day which included looking at amazing art, writing, photographing, being creative, really reset my beleaguered pandemic brain. For the last couple of years, I have not felt myself. I’ve hit some distressing levels of depression. I know I’m not alone in that.

And so, to live a month in utter happiness, contentedness, joy: I can tell you that it rewired my brain, reset my soul. Obviously, I want to keep those good vibes going. How? So that will be my ongoing quest.

Shawna Lemay, A Month in Rome

Friday: Late fall in the north: this is the stripped, dry, testing time at the end of the year. Short days, distant pale sun, bare trees, and an increasingly penetrating cold. Ironically, when there’s more snow covering the ground, it often seems warmer, and easier to be outside: during these current weeks, though, the landscape feels like a bed without a blanket. We are all driven more and more into the interiors of our homes, and of ourselves. 

I swam, early this morning. Sleepy and not in the best of moods when I pushed myself into the elevator, into the locker room, on with the suit and cap and goggles and into the water, the rhythm quickly took over and after five laps I was already feeling better; after twenty-five I felt renewed, at home in my body in spite of its creaky and achy parts, ready to face the day.  A couple of afternoons ago, I rode down and walked back up the many flights of stairs to my apartment — this is something I should, and could, do regularly. And while swimming does stretch and use most muscle groups, some yoga focused on balance and strength would be good this winter too.

For someone who tends to be pretty consumed with thoughts and words, I know that I can’t live entirely in my head, or let myself become distracted and immobile for hours on end. I need to use my body to make music, make art, knit and sew, chop and cook, move from place to place. It helps to feel my lungs breathing and my heart pumping blood. I think that one of the problems of living in harsh winter climates, especially as we get older, is the feeling of enclosure and constriction which can lead to a lack of embodiment.

Beth Adams, Squalls

“Hope is a Silhouette” is a contemporary, empathetic look at life, particularly love and desires. Lana McDonagh explores how hope can become two-edged if ill-defined: it can keep a gambler hooked on his downfall, it can make a building look like a home, it can consume lovers and trick them into isolating themselves from a wider world. It can be as in/fallible as memory. Slender but thought-provoking, like a song you somehow keep noticing in the bar, on a passing car radio, an advert’s anthem that becomes a soundtrack to life.

Emma Lee, “Hope is a Silhouette” Lana McDonagh (Wordville) – book review

Often enough, I don’t fully understand the origins of what I write until long after. I had a funny correspondence with a high schooler a couple of months ago, not long after “Prescriptions” was published in Poetry. She asked, “What does it mean?” I knew that I’d drafted “Prescriptions” shortly after my mother’s death; that it was originally longer but I had to pare it down; and that while I was grieving as I wrote it, I was also relieved for my mother that she got to shed some of the harder aspects of her life. It consoled me to imagine her moving back to a state of openness and possibility. As I tried to distill all these thoughts into a short email, I realized there had been a more specific trigger: the hospice nurse advising us to tell our mother that it was okay to let go, if she wanted to; that we were grateful for her years of caring for us but we would be all right without her. She was unresponsive by then, but my siblings and I did, one by one, speaking to her privately. She died that night.

Lesley Wheeler, Haunted Matisse & packing light

surface ripples
the songs my mother
knew by heart

Almost as soon as I’d pressed ‘publish’ on my previous post (in which I mentioned I had a poem forthcoming in Tinywords, ) the poem was published. So, here it is (above) a little more abstract than I’m used to writing, but hopefully it works!

Far more important than my small poem though, is this bit of news: let’s celebrate Kim Moore winning the Forward Prize for best collection. What a fantastic achievement. I was fortunate enough to read alongside Kim when we both had pamphlets published by Smith/Doorstop in 2012. She is hugely talented, and also incredibly hard-working. Since I got into haiku, I’ve been a bit out of the mainstream poetry loop, but luckily I had 6 Music on the radio on the way home from my guitar lesson today, and there was Kim, being interviewed by Cerys Matthews. So, congratulations Kim. I’m so happy for you and I know there will be more prizes to come! You are an amazing poet who works incredibly hard and your achievement is testimony to that. Hats off to you!

Julie Mellor, Surface ripples

May the leaves continue 
to open their pores and soak up carbon 
          emissions. May we reward the industry 
of their green and saffron, their ruby 
          and bark. May we bring the parched  
envelopes of ourselves and be filled with
          the languages of all we love, at tables 
overflowing into the end of the world.

Luisa A. Igloria, Prayer in Aid of Continuance