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. I’ve spent all afternoon and evening catching up on two weeks’ worth of poetry blogs — an embarrassment of riches. I found posts about the changing seasons, poetry and music, diversity and the immigrant experience, and much more.
Last night I dreamt myself into a poetry readingLynne Rees, Poem ~ All that matters
before an audience of hundreds – outdoors,
sunshine, cheers and applause before
I’d read a single word and a quickening
around my heart that carried both
anxiety and excitement as I leafed through
the books in my hands trying to find
the marked pages, the poems I’d already chosen
but knowing at the same time all that mattered
now would be the choices I’d make in that moment
and the next. And I looked up. I smiled. I spoke.
It’s an effect that’s easiest to see on a wet winter night, with a streetlight shining through a tangle of bare tree twigs: the surfaces that most directly reflect the streetlight to the observer form a circle around it, a halo of streaks. Each streak is itself more or less straight, but they’re arranged in a circle, a sort of crown of thorns. It moves as you do, tracking with the light.
You don’t usually see it with the sun, I think because the sun is just too bright: if you’re looking that directly towards it you’re too dazzled to see anything else.
The week of the fall equinox, though, the rising sun lines up with the east-west streets, and if you happen to be walking east on a tree-lined street at exactly sunrise, and the trees are wet from the recent rains, you can see the sun’s version of it: a brilliant circle of golden fire. A doorway into a world of unbearable light.
You can’t look at it for long, of course, and when you turn away and close your eyes, the negative image turns with you, in bruise purple and dark green. Within seconds, what you saw is replaced by what you wish you had seen; with fragments of Dante, with words for light. The golden apples of the sun. Mithraic altars built by homesick legionaries in godforsaken, rainswept Britain; Byzantine mosaics in candlelight. What did you really see? What door did you fail to open?Dale Favier, Equinox
This week I gave my students an assignment to read the academic standards to which we will all be held accountable. “What is a ‘grade level band of text complexity’?” they asked, their tongues tripping over familiar stones arranged into an unfamiliar pattern.
I laid the system of my classroom bare and invited them to choose how they will operate within it. “What does it mean to you, to do well in school?” I asked. They live in a viral world of devious licks and Likes, but also one in which a person might grow their own food.
Later, after the sky lightens, I let the dog into the backyard and pick pears from our tree. Fruit fallen onto the sun-scorched grass is half-eaten, and I wonder what kind of animal we are feeding. When I wash my lunch dishes at the sink, warm water running over my hands, I think of a woman I once worked with who always washed her dishes with cold. “Hot water is too expensive,” she told me. I was in college, and it had never occurred to me that a person could wash with anything other than warm or that heat could cost too much. I remember her as happy, in love with her children.
What does it mean to live well? I type later, sitting in a chair at a table in front of a window, in the middle of a day in which I could choose to do anything, or nothing.
The closer I get to the end, the more I find answers in memory, in poetry, in tomatoes.Rita Ott Ramstad, Fall Equinox
Six months have passed in a frozen moment that was something like a swift slap to the side of an television set to stop the vertical roll. But the world is never frozen entirely. Things shift imperceptibly until they are perceptible. You step back and find yourself in the middle of a new program.
I know that is an archaic metaphor. I know that. And I wonder what all these technological changes in the world have done to people like me, who’ve straddled a revolution that seems like magic. That encourages magical thinking?
I think about those years of my slowly-twisting fingers on knobs. These still slowly-twisting fingers that make me self-conscious. Age-conscious, which is nothing more than death-conscious. I think about the last six months, and what has happened along the edges of the bones in my left shoulder. The build-up of minerals within my body. I try to make sense of competing metaphors. My turning to stone, my falling to dust.
Tomorrow I head back to the physiotherapist who will press a bit of metal against my bruised shoulder and send invisible shockwaves through the skin to shatter the build-up of calcium that is biting into my tendon every time I lift my arms into a sun salutation.Ren Powell, Acknowledging Medusa
Another birthday. This is my first photo post surgery. Good lighting and a strategically placed hand do wonders to hide the scar and effects the cancer surgery has had on my face. I’m feeling stronger, but some days I still feel like absolute hell.
Over on social media, my dear friends and fellow poets Julie E. Bloemeke and Steven Reigns started a Go Fund Me account to help pay off my astronomical medical bills. While I have good insurance, it never pays everything. Between the fundraiser and private donations, the $15,000 goal has almost been met. I am – as the Brits say – gobsmacked by the generosity of friends and even folks I don’t even know. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I’ve started writing again. Five new poems in various stages. After more than six months, I finally cracked open the file on the new & selected collection. Slowly but surely. Collin Kelley, Self-portrait at 52
I am sitting deep in a garden after the sun has moved on; surrounded by trees thick with leaves, I feel like I’m in a well of grass. The atmosphere is swimming with filtered light, blue green, yellow green. The trees are budded, bonded, arabesqued, with fir needles and cypress needles, massive oak and holly. I look up from the bottom of their shadow ocean, as ripples of light toy with things, as shadows fall from forms onto grass. They spend their time leaping and teasing, suggesting that if you try to catch them, it will be a dizzying game.Jill Pearlman, Games of Shadow and Being
all morningJim Young [no title]
the shadow of a birdcage
moves across the wall
This is the story about a woman who has so far made it through the pandemic relatively unscathed but who has been changed by now in more ways than she will be able to set down in a simple blog post on the internet. Perhaps you are also this woman. This is a woman who was wont to say before the pandemic, I believe in stories and fundamental goodness and that understanding is worth working for, and that beauty might not be exactly the secret to the universe, but maybe it’s near it or beside it. This is the story of a woman who now regularly says, I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure that I believe in this or that any more. I want to but I’m not sure.
One of my favourite essays is by Leslie Jamison and it begins, “This is the story of a layover. Who tells the story? I’m telling it to you right now.” I love her writing because it’s big hearted, but it’s dogged and not sentimental and she never lets herself off the hook. I love the way her mind works, and the way she works to get to know her subject, and gets to know herself, and say something larger in doing so. About strangers, she says, “Sometimes I feel I owe a stranger nothing, and then I feel I owe him everything; because he fought and I didn’t, because I dismissed him or misunderstood him, because I forgot, for a moment, that his life — like everyone else’s — holds more than I could ever possibly see.”
From time to time during the pandemic, I’ve started to write a document that I always call, “Impact Statement.” And then I end up deleting it, because a lot of the things that have impacted me have impacted others with much more force. I delete it because it’s full of things that are confidential or because the story of my impact would reflect badly on someone else. I delete my impact statement because who really cares? I delete my impact statement because some of it is embarrassing. I delete it because at first I weathered the storm quite well, and then I did not for a while, but I pretended quite convincingly to some people (though not all) that everything was fine. I delete the Impact Statement because I really want to put it behind me. I deleted my Impact Statement Document because at the end of it I’m always alive and in reasonably good health, and right now that seems to be a huge blessing. I delete my ISD every time because I don’t want any of those people who participate in the fuckery of the world to think that they’ve got anything over me.Shawna Lemay, This is the Story
I’m planning to recharge my batteries. That’s the priority. Chemo knocked me for six; I wasn’t prepared for that. But I’ve started going for walks again. The first one was a shock to the system inasmuch as I only managed a mile of easy walking; but in the last couple of weeks, egged on by my partner, it’s getting to be 4 or 5 Km, and the target is to be doing it every day until it’s no longer painful.
And this brings me to stocking fillers. I’ve been posting on Facebook about being introduced to the remarkable variety of field paths that start pretty well at my front door, and which I was almost totally unaware of until a couple of weeks ago.
There’s one that starts when the road I live on becomes a bridle path, and then a field path that eventually links to a path that leads you over the River Calder, under a railway line, and finally to the canal, beside which you can (if you want) walk for miles and miles. I’m no fan of towpath walks, mainly because no matter how far you walk you still seem to be in the same place. But I knew the path…and thought that it was the only one. It’s a popular path, part of the Kirklees Footpaths system, and for 30+ years I’ve been aware of groups of walkers passing our front window. To my shame I wrote a stocking-filler about what I thought was their being kitted out as if for hard walking in the Cairngorms, as opposed to having just come a quarter of a mile from the town centre. I poked fun at their Goretex, the OS maps slung in pastic wallets dangling round their necks, their Brasher boots, their air of being on a risky expedition.
Today I went for a walk in the sun, and I had boots on. And I had two walking poles. I beg absolution.John Foggin, Stocking fillers  On prohibitions
I’ve just been editing an interview I did with the wonderful Kim Addonizio recently, for Planet Poetry. I’m a huge fan of Kim’s and in my keenness not to sound like a goofy fangirl I’m slightly worried I wasn’t complimentary enough or warm enough. Which is probably silly. But there was something very reassuring about hearing her say (when asked what are you working on now) ‘I’m just trying to write the next poem’.
The other day I queried a magazine about a submission I made in March, only to be told the poems had been rejected months ago but for some reason I never got the memo – they were extremely apologetic, which makes it worse in that I couldn’t feel annoyed with them! So that led me back to my submissions record, and the realisation that I’ve had 31 poems rejected by magazines this year so far and only two accepted. In my defence, I’m not sending as many poems out as I used to, because I’m writing more of what I think of as ‘collection’ poems, which don’t necessarily stand alone. I know that placing poems gets harder all the time as the sheer number of poets submitting to mags keeps increasing (and hey! I’ve done my bit to help that! I must be mad!) but I also know that good (enough) quality will out. It’s just hitting that good enough sweet spot is all. And all a poet can do is just try to write the next damn poem.
Anyway, all this takes me back to poets like Kim – both her poetry and her wise words on the craft. Her Ordinary Genius is never far from my desk. When I find snippets that really speak to me I collect them and stick them on the wall: ‘the language we reach for first is the language we know’ (not a good thing, in case that wasn’t clear!)…’if a poem goes nowhere it’s dead’ …. ‘write colder’… And then there are her witty, eye-opening, multi-layered, highly original poems with all their many, many ‘I wish I’d written that’ moments.
Do subscribe to Planet Poetry if you’re interested in hearing the interview (and interviews with tons of other great poets). Look for it wherever you get your podcasts.Robin Houghton, Trying to write the next poem
Besides the changing temperatures and sudden deluge of rain, there’s change in the air metaphorically as well as physically. I am losing a lot of my mainstay doctors (another one quit – so much burnout in the industry, which I understand) and so I’m rethinking how I manage my health. I’m also considering applying for more things – not just grants, but jobs and residencies that I might have thought before were too hard for me – energy and health-wise. Have I been setting myself too many boundaries, I wonder? Shutting down my own horizons? During the pandemic, I’ve had repeated dreams about traveling to Paris. I don’t know exactly what this symbolizes but I think I should pay attention since it keeps coming up. Paris could represent art, literature, a life of the mind, maybe?
Rita Dove just announced she was diagnosed in the late nineties with multiple sclerosis, which made me feel more hopeful about my own future – after all, she was the United States Poet Laureate and still does public readings. I just got ahold of her Playlist for the Apocalypse and am looking forward to reading it. Rita Dove has been one of my favorite poets since I first read “Parsley” in a Norton anthology when I was 19. She is an inspiration.
I’m also reading a fascinating book about women in an experimental program for middle-aged “gifted” women in the sixties called The Equivalents by Maggie Doherty. The book focuses on how friendship, camaraderie and institutional support made a huge difference in the lives of five midlife women: Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin, Barbara Swan, Marianna Pineda, and Tillie Olsen – in the 1960s. (They called themselves “The Equivalents” because the program required a PhD or “equivalent” artistic achievement.)
What do women need to succeed as artists now? Well, things haven’t changed all that much – we still struggle to get institutional support, to get paid and respected, to get our work reviewed and in the public eye – and to make friends with women who can inspire, support, and push us forward. I know a lot of men my age with fewer books/accomplishments than me who walked into tenure-track jobs without much effort. A lot of the people doing the hiring, the grant-giving, and the publishing are still men. How can we midlife women put change in the air in the literary and art worlds? Definitely something to think about.
Anyway, change isn’t always a bad thing.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Fall Arrives Early: A Failed Surgery, Visiting with my Nephew, and Applying for a Big Grant
if you were a starRomana Iorga, astronomy 101
you’d resent it too. that bright
existence at a distance from loss.
so much freedom and nothing
to wish for. how you’d welcome
a comet as a sign of imminent death.
an asteroid the size of a bus as the child
you’ll never have. how you’d open
the pit of your stomach to swallow
the waste of the universe. how
you’d liquify it into light.
I was an avid letter-writer once, a great correspondent, a reliable pen pal. In return, I received long, descriptive letters from far-flung friends and relished every trip to my mailbox to discover what had arrived that day. A letter from a friend? A poem rejection? A poem acceptance? A postcard from a family member off traveling? Critique and feedback from a poetry-colleague on a series of poems? Junk mail, bills…
These days, my mailbox mostly disgorges junk mail and bills. The few friends who write lengthy correspondence usually do so by email (which I do, truly do, appreciate). My keen interest in other people’s thinking, and my opportunity to acquire perspective into their lives, must now be satisfied by other means. That’s why I follow blogs and other “long-form social media.” (I thought I had coined that term, but apparently it has been in the lexicon awhile.)
Is a letter just a blog written for an audience of one? Is a blog a diary written for an imagined public, or is it a letter to the world? What purpose do private journals serve for those of us who keep them? And what’s behind the urge to keep old correspondence? The discovery of a cache of letters features in many novels and in a host of memoirs and histories, so there’s some kind of human-interest frisson resonating there. Perhaps the simple fact that such writings were intended to be private–that audience of one–piques curiosity.
For me the hardest aspect of letting go of past correspondence is that so many of the people to whom I wrote letters have died. In my attic, there are boxes of letters from these departed friends…suggesting a different meaning for the phrase “dead letter.” In a similar vein, there certainly exist blogs by now-dead writers that remain in the cloud, hanging stuck in the interwebs. Are these memorial pages, or are they digital ghosts, and to whom do they belong?Ann E. Michael, Why don’t you write?
If you called would I go back? Of course. But that call is never coming, no matter how many state lines I cross. “I think I’m getting over it,” I told my sister. As if it ever goes away. We add each tragedy to our nervous system like an organ transplant. The body never rejects these phantoms. It’s only too happy to pump blood into the past. There’s a trail of red in my rearview mirror.Jason Crane, phantoms
Are we there yet, asks the speaking donkey.Luisa A. Igloria, Post-
Evidently not, if animation extends only to a 3D screen.
Meaning after the statues have come down
there are still dark, haunted histories.
Meaning we are in the throat of a moment
that hasn’t completely spat us out yet.
We’re working as hard as we can.
We can be as rust-colored fishbones,
as calcium stones, a mouthful of marbles
refusing to translate their brilliance.
Excited to say that our book is now available at Stinkweeds Record Store if you’re ever in Downtown Phoenix. This is especially cool because back in high school, I used to drive out to Kimber Lanning’s original shops in Mesa and Tempe to buy import bootleg CDs. I’ve also seen in-store performances by folks like Jello Biafra and Lou Barlow’s Folk Implosion over the years.
Since Jia’s photos and my poems were heavily influenced by some of our beloved Phoenix bands, we’re proud to have this book available in that same iconic record store for less than it would cost from Amaz*n (in keeping with Kimber’s local indie-first ethos localfirstaz.com).Shawnte Orion, Stinkweeds Record Store and the Academy Of American Poets
In an average week, I guess I read two poetry collections (and/or journals), but I rarely get so engaged with any of them that I read them straight through again immediately after. That happened to me last week, though, when I read Country Music by Will Burns, published by Offord Road Books. It wasn’t that (m)any of the poems were so individually brilliant that they jumped out at me; rather it was their cumulative power, how they are beautifully crafted to cohere with one another and form a whole. At their best, they have that quality which Michael Donaghy’s poems had, of seeming both impeccably honed and effortlessly natural. Like Donaghy, Burns is a bit of a muso (the Chilton of the Chilterns perhaps?) as attested by the title of his collection, his collaborations with Hannah Peel, and his appearances on the eclectic bills of Caught By the River shows. His poems make reference to the late great Townes Van Zandt, Chet Baker, Warren Zevon, Merle Haggard (twice) and Elvis. I especially enjoyed a trio of sonnets – ‘Bastard Service’, ‘True Service’ and ‘Wild Service’ – which convey an unexpectedly edgy edgelands feel to (presumably) Buckinghamshire. Above all, there’s just a simpatico, warmly melancholic tone about his poems which makes me enjoy them so much.Matthew Paul, Autumn almanac
How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Poetry got into my mouth. The simple physical pulsations and clicks of it. My mother says that as a small child whilst on the back seat of the car I’d natter to myself and chunner along. Just the feel of vowels flowing through the rub of consonants. I do love a good story, and I love film … and I do actually make fiction. But it’s the scraping of one word against another, or indeed the cracking open or snapping of words, without knowing how many sparks or what colours they will be or where or how far they will fly … that is what really makes me want to make. It is the picking up of sound and … handling it! But it is also the translations, and transformations of sound into marks & patterns ona page … and the materiality of the alphabet and how it can be manipulated withinthe frame of a page, or through the space (place) of a page … or of course, across a carefully placed series of pages … […]
Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I am a maker who speaks, as well as writes, in various ways. Making the sound of poetry is essential for me. And so is intercreativity – seeing others listening and then feeling them pick up those sounds and also make with them as I speak is … well, one of the most satisfying and thrilling things in my life.
Unfortunately (and indirectly related to Covid-19) my hearing in my right ear is now impaired, in that certain frequencies and levels of sound are unpleasant. It is improving, and I hope it improves enough for me to be able to speak out loud again to an audience, and also perhaps for me to begin again making field-recordings and sound-enhanced poems … something that has been a vital part of my practice.rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Mark Goodwin
Yesterday, I recorded a new autumn poem with my writers group, Helsinki Writers this weekend as part of a Superwood Festival project a local university has organised. It’s one of a series of poems my group is providing as audio for a forest walk. I was nervous about professionally recording. It’s almost ok in my quiet house with no one watching, but reading in front of my friends and a handful of students was a bit nerve-wracking. But it’s a well-paid gig, so I jumped at the chance. It was a lot of fun to work with the other writers and come up with separate poems on a similar theme that worked with each other. I’m excited to hear the final project.
Even though it was a bit strange to hear my voice played back to me, they made it sound pretty good, even in the raw form. And the experience wasn’t that scary. My poem was one of the longer ones, but I managed to get through it twice and had one small mistake early on for each of those versions, so it wasn’t too bad. They managed to take one line out of one version that was said with better emphasis and put it in the other take which was better overall. So I’m happy with my end.
It was interesting to write a poem that I knew would primarily exist in audio form, to think about what I could say easily and what could be understood from sound alone rather than the words on the page. I made a lot of changes once I started to practice reading it aloud, words and phrases that became tongue-twisters next to each other, images that would be lost unless given space to breathe. Hopefully, it will work, but it’s hard to know until hear the poems next to each other, cleaned up. Gerry Stewart, Take One: Recording Poetry
While walking in the park with my daughter yesterday, she wore a sweet voice-knitted melody on her lips.
It came to her naturally as breathing.
It wasn’t a song I’d ever heard before; she was making it up on the spot.
It poured softly from her being, the sonic manifestation of her at that moment.
As she grows older, I hope she builds an inner song garden that can withstand the darkest moments.
I hope she has anti-gravity running through her veins, so falling doesn’t hurt as much.
My daughter continues singing.
Inside the song, outside the song, she wears her melody perfectly.Rich Ferguson, At the store of perpetual optimism
Then the silenceTom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (10)
then the silence
then the silence
the old monk said,
pounding the beat.
Within the constraints of the format of a blog, it’s difficult to do justice to the complex simplicity of M.R. Peacocke’s poetry. As a consequence, rather than offering up a condensed review of her excellent new collection, The Long Habit of Living (HappenStancePress, 2021), today’s post attempts an in-depth analysis of an individual poem from the book in question. Peacocke’s work very much lends itself to such close attention, rewarding the peeling-off of her delicately applied layers of potential sense.
The poem in question, titled ‘The Path through the Wood’, feels especially significant because it comes to represent something of an Ars Poetica and, by extension, a vision of life itself. The opening lines of ‘The Path through the Wood’ immediately set out the co-existence of opposites. This is achieved via their juxtaposition:
Through the little gate. A breath in, a breath out
measured the interim between is and is not…
‘In’ and ‘out’, ‘is’ and ‘is not’: both these opposites are interconnected by inhabiting the ends of consecutive lines. And then there’s the use of the word interim instead of interval, which might at first glance seem more natural. Peacocke’s choice underlines the provisional rather than the inevitable, the relative rather than the absolute.
As the narrator of the poem progresses through the wood, so conventional vision has to be put to one side:
…One sense became another: sigh of an odour,
taste of the darkness, fragrance of touch. My eyes found rest…
In other words, the absence of sight means that other senses have to work overtime. The consequence is transcendence via unexpected perspectives and sensations. Is the poet referring to a fresh understanding of the world around us or to a creative process whereby experience and anecdote are turned into poetry? Or to both?Matthew Stewart, A close reading of M.R. Peacocke’s The Path through the Wood
Rob Taylor: Early in eat salt | gaze at the ocean you wonder “how to write about zombies: / when you’re a generation / removed from the soil”. Your parents immigrated to Canada from Haiti, and you were born in Montreal. Did writing this book bring you closer to your Haitian culture? In writing and publishing this book, what insights have you learned about writing about a home you weren’t born in?
Junie Désil: I can’t say that writing this book brought me closer necessarily. I think the fact is I will always be removed from “home” and “culture.” There are ways of being and knowing that I can attribute to my culture and upbringing, but at the end of the day there is a sense of loss at the interruption, whether it’s my parents immigrating to these territories as a result of the political atmosphere in Haiti, or the larger interruption of the collective “Black” history. Certainly, that not-home/un-home feeling informs my writing and, in particular, this collection. I think it’s something you’ll note in many of the Caribbean diaspora writers.
Haiti is there whether I speak to it or not. I suppose it’s like loss, you don’t get over it, it’s always there, it imparts a gauze on your lens, and you either make peace or not. For myself, I found it organized my thoughts and feelings on the subject. It forced me to confront the things not talked about in my family. As a result of who I am, where I was born, the choices my parents made, the choices I’ve made and continue to make, there will always be unknowns and the unresolved. I suppose then that the insight is just that writing about “home” will always be an unfillable hole.
RT: Let’s move from “home” to the other half of that quote: zombies. “How to write about zombies” speaks not only to your distance from Haiti, but also the trickiness of writing about zombies within a Canadian/American cultural context (earlier in the same poem, you list zombie movies you’ve watched: I Am Legend, World War Z, Shaun of the Dead, etc.). Was it daunting to write about Haitian zombies through the fog of American media representations? Do you think the gap between Haitian traditions and pop culture is bridgeable, and if so, was it important for you to try to bridge it?
JD: It certainly was fascinating (appealing to the nerd part of me) and daunting for a number of reasons. The information and the directions I could go with zombies were so vast; I felt inclined to write a dissertation of sorts! I think what was overwhelming was realizing how much heavy lifting the zombie imagery does. For a moment it left me bereft. I know this sounds dramatic, but hear me out. The zombie is a metaphor for the condition of slavery, and here this very metaphor is still “working” across the screen, across various narratives, to be what we need it to be. It’s seeing how this symbol in Haitian culture has become American culture. That even in death/undeath Haitians can’t catch a break.
Anyway, it was more important to share what zombies mean and that zombies aren’t what we’ve grown up knowing; that zombies have been misrepresented. There was also the thrill of understanding and re-discovering what zombies meant to Haitians, and more so the thrill of discovering that Zora Neal Hurston, a writer whose fiction, essay and anthropological work I long have admired, was also interested in Haitian folk tales, zombies, etc. She really put her whole self into the study of zombies and Haitian spiritual and cultural life.Rob Taylor, I’m Not Supposed to Be Here: An Interview with Junie Désil
Moving away from such eminently valid individual attestations of the importance of poetry, two particular texts come to me that further articulate the power that poetry can have. One is Audre Lorde’s essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” (1977), which I return to frequently. While I realize that I am not Lorde’s primary audience in that essay, with my own position(ality) in mind I am nonetheless always struck when she writes,
Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.
The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us — the poet — whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom. (38)
Here, not only does Lorde delineate the power of poetry as personal, political, and beyond, she also critiques those very same Enlightenment values that the Western chauvinists invoke in their quest to uphold white supremacy — the notion that “logical” debate is an inherently positive value (i.e. rather than one that historically tends to benefit white, male, privileged property-holders). Actually, while Lorde skillfully exposes the tyranny of rationality (here expressed in the Cartesian mind/body split of “white father” thinking), she goes on to identify the fusion of thought and feeling as the best framework for approaching both poetry and political action, and her essay is one of the best I can think of that expresses why, as her title argues, poetry is not a luxury but a necessity in the lives of many. (Even Auden, in his poem, went on to assert that poetry is “a way of happening, a mouth.”)
The other text is Gary Snyder’s The Real Work: Interviews & Talks, 1964-79 (1980). In a 1977 interview, Snyder responds to the Auden line by pointing out that poets “are out at the very edge of the unraveling cause-and-effect network of a society in time” (71). For Snyder, poets do have a social and political function (and what is “power” if not the function of politics?), though it might be out of the mainstream discourse and thus unrecognized as powerful. Snyder goes on to elaborate that poets are also
tuned into other voices than simply the social or human voice. So they are like an early warning system that hears the trees and the air and the clouds and the watersheds beginning to groan and complain a little bit. . . . They also can hear stresses and the fault block slippage creaking in the social batholith and also begin to give out warnings. . . . Poetry effects change by fiddling with the archetypes and getting at people’s dreams about a century before it actually effects historical change. A poet would be, in terms of the ecology of symbols, noting the main structural connections and seeing which parts of the symbol system are no longer useful or applicable, though everyone is giving them credence. (71)
For Synder, poets are (or can be) a kind of advance platoon (even a century in advance) of cultural experimenters who critique existing certainties and in their work register the limitations of dominant narratives. Both Snyder and Lorde see poetry as existing at least partly in the realm of the dream, and thus point to non-Cartesian, non-rational means of making meaning and even making arguments.
In a way, this is the true sense of the term “avant-garde” — to make that new meaning through new forms of art and modes of living (rather than avant-garde in the mere sense of now-recognized stylistic departures) — Lorde’s “dream and vision” and “skeleton architecture.” What is becoming increasingly clear, wherever you stand in the recent Rose/Barren-related exchanges (and again, I don’t think it’s an either/or situation), is that political systems and social values, no matter how much “everyone [supposedly] is giving them credence” (per Snyder), which privilege a dominant class and thus inherently oppress others (whether classes of people or even non-human animals and nature), should no longer be given such credence — in poetry or elsewhere in the social discourse.Michael S. Begnal, Poetry Controversy, “Free Speech” Debates, and the Power of Poetry
Obviously, if you go through the effort of doing the mostly unpaid labor of curating a literary project, you can publish whoever you damn want. This may be why we do it. Our own collection of poets like rare birds. Like stones in the hand. And obviously I too have published people I know, mostly because in knowing them–the reason I know them usually–is BECAUSE I am interested in their work. However, do this too much and it seems a little circle-jerkish, no? I’m not saying the task of the editor is to be impartial, or front that the quality of the work, or THEIR judgement of it, is objective. I obviously publish things I like. Things that excite me for some reason (and those reasons vary from project to project.) I make no claims otherwise, no gestures of superiority as a gatekeeper. Publishing is not The Hunger Games (though some people act like it is.)
But I also think we have, as gatekeepers, and obligation to promote new voices. More diverse voices–to seek the out. Voices that aren’t getting published everywhere at once. I’ve been thinking of this tonight as I dig further into the summer dgp submissions for next year. What I am looking for. What I am particularly excited by. And while I spotted a half dozen past authors amongst the offerings (who I will always make room for if I like their project–because I like supporting the authors who support me), I was most excited by the people I had never seen work from before. Some of them writing for decades. Some of them still in undergrad and just beginning to send out work.I want to see these manuscripts, even if they are not for dgp, because I want to know who to look out for next. If something doesn’t appeal to me but is promising, I will ask them to submit again next period. I would never want to be the press that just keeps publishing the same coterie of poets over and over again. You will of course, find some familiar faces next year, but I try to publish a much larger ratio of poets I know nothing about. Who have somehow found this little press and think their work might have a home and harbor here. Judging by what I have read and earmarked for second reading, next year will be amazing and contain quite a few surprises and new authors. I can’t wait to share them.Kristy Bowen, notes from the submission wilds
I know there are issues with the reviewing world, that the review tend to lean towards white men writing about white men (yes, yes, not all reviews, etc, but the balance is still far from being even close to right, despite the amazing work being done by the likes of the Ledbury Poetry Critics).
However, whoever they are written about or by, if reviews don’t help sell then it’s hard not to think Well, what is the fucking point of them then? I know they are helpful for the writer of the review—well, they are to me. They help me to engage more. I suspect there is a massive difference in impact (whatever that is) between reviews in the national press (as column inches dwindle there). I know there’s an argument that reviewers pull punches these days, every book gets a prize like it’s some sort of primary school sports day….this article by Dorian Lynskey was an interesting read (and I am a big fan of Ted Lasso). I’m guilty myself of writing some puff, but it’s done trying to find something positive in everything….
I wonder who the audience is for reviews these days, in most types of art I suspect it’s largely fans and the like, but I suspect most poetry reviews are read by poets…I have no idea, it would be nice to think it’s non-poets as well, and that they are all likely to buy the books they read reviews of.
I hope so, this came into stark reality this week when a review I wrote of Patrick Cotter‘s Sonic White Poise was published this week in The High Window (I think I mentioned this a few months ago). Obvs go and read the others too, and the excellent poems in this latest release. However, I emailed Patrick to tell him the review was up and he replied to say thank you—which is lovely to hear, but that it’s only the second review the book has had. That’s quite scary and I guess true of so many books. This reminds me of this article I saw linked to this week, where an author talks about his book getting lost in the pandemic..Again, this must be true of so many authors/writers/artists, etc (and not just during the pandemic).
It’s almost enough to make you wonder why we bother, any of us. Thankfully we all know why. I’d love to hear about the books (or anything else) you’ve bought off the back of a review.Mat Riches, Review, review…electric blue
The words like warm blankets, “human rights” and “discrimination” should have been keys to open border locks and offer safe passage. Instead the locks resist and become gatekeepers. How do you produce evidence when you only have what you could carry? What can you do to guide or speed bureaucratic processes that will creak along at their own speed when you need shelter and food and trying to speak in a rapidly-learnt language that is still unfamiliar?
The legacy of what was left behind, doesn’t stay behind. After stories of her grandmother’s fear of never opening the door, the poem “Knock Knock” includes,
“here I stand,
one side of the locked door,
noticing how my heart
is racing to open the latch
while my head is pounding
leave me alone,”
“Here I stand” roots the speaker by the locked door. Even though she’s not lived her grandmother’s stories, she still shares that experience of the fear of the knock. She’s caught between the need to open and welcome whoever’s outside while knowing that the outsider could bring danger. It’s not a reaction that can be shaken off. […]
“An Embroidery of Old Maps and New” explores the liminal space between inherited culture, language and traditions and life in a new country where those inheritances are woven into the fabric of a new traditions and cultures. Angela Costi’s poems are a quiet celebration of small, but important steps taken, while not shying away from the reasons that prompted this new life. Readers get to see both the intricacy and delicacy of the top stitches as well as the thumb pricks and calloused hands that made them.Emma Lee, “An Embroidery of Old Maps and New” Angela Costi (Spinifex Press) – book review
My review of My Mother’s Language/La langue de ma mère by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated and introduced by André Naffis-Sahely (Poetry Translation Centre, 2021), is online at MPT magazine.
This is a generous selection of poems (in a neat, pocket-sized French/English edition – perfect to carry with me on a recent train journey) from a poet widely acknowledged to be one of Morocco’s leading writers, published by the Poetry Translation Centre’s World Poet Series.
I wasn’t familiar with the poet’s work so I was glad of a succinct introduction by André Naffis-Sahely, and an afterword by Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, to provide contextual background. The poems are from across Laâbi’s fifty-year writing career, so a wonderful introduction. The English translation is directly opposite each page of poetry in French, line by line translation, so this is also an ideal book for anyone interested in poetry translating, or, indeed, in general translating from French to English. My French is reasonably good, having lived there for three years, although I am mostly self-taught with regard to grammar. It was often fascinating to read André Naffis-Sahely’s word choices, and made me appreciate the creative work of poetry translation. There is, of course, no need to have any understanding or familiarity with the French language in order to read and appreciate these poems.
In addition to poems that witness Laâbi’s incarceration and torture as a political prisoner in the 1970s, there is a long extract from Casablanca Spleen, published in the late nineties, a poem of fragments, diary entries, notes and observations made when Laâbi returned, as a visitor from exile in France, to the country of his birth.Josephine Corcoran, My review of a new selection of poems by Abdellatif Laâbi
Two poems per month.
Like I like to say when I’m running, “That is just as fast as I go.”
Writing lately has been in what I like to think of as my “plodding along” pace.
It feels especially slow compared to the breakneck novel-writing marathon I did this summer, or when I’ve really hit a vein of inspiration (whether that is research I’m excited about, or heart-wrenching grief that makes me want to die).
I’ve also been journaling more, reading more, touching up my manuscript Church Ladies (forthcoming next spring!) and my middle grade novel (WSMMLTRAB for short. Maybe needs some title work…)(also forthcoming!).
The truth is life is really busy right now. I used to worry that I would give up on writing during times like this–that it would just drop off the to-do list and never claw it’s way back on. But I know now that it is too much of a part of me to drop away, even when I’ve thrown it to the ground and tried to shatter it.
So, two poems a month.
Better than none.Renee Emerson, slow & steady
I’ve been thinking about external validation, that siren, that false friend, that bastard. I was in one of my usual and cyclical can’t-get-a-g’d-thing-published-why-do-I-suck writhings. I knew it and was just sort of standing around waiting for myself to be done with it. In the meantime, I finished a project I had developed with both myself in mind, but also some others, including and especially one audience member, for whom I created one specific aspect, thinking that person would love it. The response was tepid. That on top of my see-above-phase devastated me. Which gave me pause.
I refuse to be ashamed at seeking external validation, which popular psychology has given a bad name. As with all things: moderation. One of the things insidious about external validation and what has given it a bad name is that essentially it cedes control to someone other than yourself with regard to your perceived worth or the worth of your work. Whatever worth means. So the trick is to not allow anyone’s opinion to exert that much control over you. To seek external as the central strategy of life is a losing game. To seek it as part of the ongoing, layered, multifaceted, mutli-faced, multi-pie-in-the-faced, many-armed slapstick that is life, well, who can’t?
We all need a “good on yer” to come our way, early and often. And as much as I have a horror of feeling disappointed, have made elaborate mental games to avoid feeding the hopes that disappointment can smithereenize, I think maybe I’m old enough now to learn how to feel disappointment, give it too a little nod of validation, and move through.Marilyn McCabe, Want you to want me; or, On Validation and Creative Work
This week I have done almost zero writing. Instead, I have been focussing on getting ready to run the courses I have planned for October – two with the York Centre for Lifelong Learning and one under my own ‘brand’. One of my York classes is accredited, and it will be the first time, except as a day retreat tutor, that I have taught an accredited course. I’m a bit nervous about it, but also very excited.
I did all of my degrees part time, two of them distance learning. I was a mature student when I studied for, and obtained, my degrees. I worked full time around my degrees. I come from a working class background and this isn’t an unusual thing. I found my way into poetry and literature through the fantastic Open University and I did my Masters distance learning at Manchester Met. I think it is important that high quality learning opportunities are available for people who work full time and/or are coming to literature, poetry in this case, later on in life. Part time learning shouldn’t be any less quality than full time education and I try to keep that in mind when I am putting course content together. It sometimes means working more hours for less money, because freelancers in teaching tend to be paid fairly crap wages. And that’s possibly why the literary arts and teaching are not areas with strong working class representation, but that’s a soap box for another day. Teaching and workshop facilitating take a lot of time and preparation, so this was a week I was happy to give over to that work, in the hope that when I start teaching again next week I’ll be prepared enough that I can carry on writing on a morning and working in the afternoons. Ha! Famous last words.Wendy Pratt, A Teaching Prep Week
My first full week of teaching was exhausting, full of positive feelings about my students but inflected by pandemic fears, too. Cases are rising fast here. We’re in person, masked, but students are having tons of unmasked encounters–let’s call them encounters–in residence and dining halls and, I presume, at parties. Prepping for and teaching 6 90-minute classes is as hard as I remembered, even before the grading starts; things are high-powered here, with smart students chewing through material fast, something that’s both lucky and sometimes a major challenge to keep up with. And there are all the extras like advising, reference letters, department meetings and consultations, university-wide meetings and events, etc etc. I’m beat.
Yet I’m having fun, too. I’m prepping Sedgwick’s essay for a senior seminar called “Taking Literature Personally”; during that session we’ll try some paranoid and reparative reading of Frank O’Hara’s poetry (no spoilers, but my lesson plan involves crayons). For yesterday’s class, we read the poem “Philomela” and the essay “Nightingale” by Paisley Rekdal as well as the Ovid tale for background, which is infinitely darker material though just as powerful. Whatever the literature at hand, the flow experiences of rereading then planning discussions feels really good. I wish I had more time to linger in it, but I’m being strict with myself about stopping work when I’m tired. I’m an introvert who HAS to recharge and a grown-up person who HAS to rest and sleep. I’m doing okay at it for now.Lesley Wheeler, Rereading Sedgwick, or, Oh Yeah, I Like Teaching
Friday night, my step-mom-in-law asked, “What do y’all do for fun on a Saturday?”Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Free Time and Fun
I tried to remember. It’s been awhile since we felt like we had an empty Saturday that we could fill with fun. We’ve been in the process of life changes, as we’ve been in a downsizing project, downsizing our housing expenses if not our space. We’ve spent the summer season sorting and packing and moving to a condo we’ll be renting for the next 2 years. We then pivoted to getting the house ready to go on the market, which it now is. And now, we’ve been pivoting to the paperwork phase of the project.
But I have hopes that we’ll be in a position to have fun soon. Will I remember what that looks like? What is more likely is that about the time the house sale closes, my spouse’s additional classes will start, and we won’t have huge expanses of time to have fun.
I am recognizing a pattern. I am also remembering what many a creativity consultant has advised: don’t wait until you have huge swathes of free time before you do your creative work. You’ll be waiting forever. Similarly, I should probably plan for fun in smaller units. We are unlikely to have a fully free Saturday any time soon.
When I think of what would be fun, I think of pumpkin patches and apple orchards, which I can’t do easily down here. I need to adjust my thinking to a smaller scale, both in terms of having fun and in terms of creativity. I’ve been feeling like I’m not writing poems regularly enough. I worry that in gaining seminary, I’m losing poetry.
Let me remember an idea I had for a poem: Noah’s wife sells the house. I’ve been using the Bible story of Noah to explore modern ideas of climate change.
And let me remember that I don’t need a huge chunk of time to write a poem. Let me do that more often.
I am still reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter — an essay each week or so — and I just came across “The Beast in the Book.” She got me thinking about animals and how we share the world with them, not very politely, and how rich children’s literature is with animals. As Le Guin puts it:
The general purpose of a myth is to tell us who we are — who we are as a people. Mythic narrative affirms our community and our responsibilities, and is told in the form of teaching-stories both to children and adults.
Le Guin doesn’t find it at all curious that children learn to read by sounding out the words in “Peter Rabbit,” or that they weep over Black Beauty. She finds it a shame that as we grow older we lose our facility to identify with animals. I loved this paragraph, about T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone:
Merlyn undertakes Arthur’s education, which consists mostly of being turned into animals. Here we meet the great mythic theme of Transformation, which is a central act of shamanism, though Merlyn doesn’t make any fuss about it. The boy becomes a fish, a hawk, a snake, an owl, and a badger. He participates, at thirty years per minute, in the sentience of trees, and then, at two million years per second, in the sentience of stones. All these scenes of participation in nonhuman being are funny, vivid, startling, and wise.
I think it’s that “sentience of trees” that really made that paragraph stick for me, as I’ve also been reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. Bethany Reid, The Autumn Equinox
Sitting in my sukkah this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what endures. That might seem counterintuitive: after all, a sukkah is the opposite of that. It’s temporary structure. Its roof is made from organic matter, casting some shade but also letting in the raindrops and the light of the full harvest moon. A sukkah begins falling apart almost as soon as it is built. And yet…
And yet the sukkah will be rebuilt, next year. And the year after. The practice is perennial. When I sit in my sukkah on my mirpesset, drinking coffee and lifting my etrog to my face to inhale its scent, I remember every year I have ever sat in a sukkah. I think of generations before me who built sukkot. I imagine the generations after me who will do the same. […]
One morning in the sukkah this year our conversation veered into American politics. I used to believe that the structures of democracy would protect us from demagogues. I thought it was generally accepted that government’s function is to serve everyone, to protect the vulnerable, to ensure and uphold human rights and dignity. That structure feels fragile now.
The American experiment is only a few centuries old — an eyeblink in the span of human history. It may prove to be temporary. Some argue that it’s already over, that our constitutional crisis is already here and democracy as we have known it is already falling to gerrymandering, insurrection, cult of personality, and the terrible persistence of the Big Lie.
I think of the later stories in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Orsinian tales, where her fictional European country has become an Eastern Bloc nation. In those stories the government can’t be trusted. Privations are the norm. And yet people continue to live and love, even when multiple families share a single apartment, even under surveillance. Isn’t that what human beings do?Rachel Barenblat, What endures
drinking coffee black and readingJames Lee Jobe, just fine poetry?
the poems of osip mandelstam
the ground quivers and shakes
is it an earthquake
or just fine poetry?
now the coffee is finished
and the morning sky is blue
like my grandmother’s eyes
Walking night woods, noticing: tired. This one spot smells so strongly of cedar it might be perfume this rotting tree casts into my face. My back hurts, from lack of daily water. I ate too much chicken and rice. Fatigue beyond poor sleep. Uncertainty beyond circumstances. I do not have to settle, I have to root. There must be fertile ground: there are many fertile grounds. Choices of paths.
In the powerline cut, a raptor cry.
In the dark trail, scatters of imminent fall. The awake time.
I plan another lake swim, before it is too cold. A life, too. I wait for enough information. An owl calls.
The compass needle slows, after years of spinning, but I cannot yet read north.JJS, attendance
will the poem i am buried in :: be the weave of my last wordsGrant Hackett [no title]