Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 44

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week found poets pondering time changes, book reviewing, work and leisure, and poetry vs. memoir, among other gnarly topics. Enjoy.


Poets born just off-kilter
from the tipping point between

seasons dance with spinning tops,
teeter-totters, jungle gyms.
Balancing between slanted

light and eclipse, equipoise
and cascade, between anchor

and float [….]

PF Anderson, Untitled

You can tell yourself nothing matters or that everything is related;

events filled with lifeblood allowing each new living moment to flow into the next.

Someone whispers something in a wild horse’s ear.

Someone tames fire long enough to gain wisdom from heat.

Rich Ferguson, What Connection Said To Coincidence While Walking Early Morning L.A. Streets

Carlotta kicks off her slippers, climbs up on the table, and begins to dance. National Geographics get crumpled, the TV Guide lands on the floor. One of the children stands on a chair near a light switch, and flashes the lights. Another turns on the television. Is that an earthquake? A psychic help line? Tina Turner dressed as a priest? Life is Jeopardy she calls out. Life is a Final Jeopardy that never ends. We stand before our friends and family and also before those whom we will never know. The questions are answers. We have answers before the questions.

Gary Barwin, THE LOVELY CARLOTTA, QUEEN OF MEXICO

The whole thing is about playing and experimenting and exploring. To be an active participant (which I think is important, especially given my recent thoughts about the value of creatively playing with others), I have to get over myself and share work that I haven’t had time to perfect. (My writing process requires germination. Even these blog posts are rarely a one-off creation.) Because we get assignments, I feel more freedom to play than I would if I were generating poems on my own, with a goal of publication. I have no big expectations around what I will write; they are just exercises, explorations. (Like my little embroidery houses. Like my doodles on ice.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, This week brought to you by the letter P

As autumn hones our edges,
brightens the leaves, and billows gray above,
the hours dim, shrink, and turn in
on themselves. All I want to do is turn
and go inside, switch on the lamps
and read someone’s hard-won words,
read their lavender memories,
sit inside their teal shadows,
and grow wiser than myself
minute by each minute.

Rachel Dacus, The Department of Lost Hours

After the autumn school holiday, the light and season switch from cool, brisk and bright to dark, wet and cold. The trees are emptied and the leaves lie limp and blackened in my yard. The change feels sudden and ominous, but I knew it was coming. 

Halloween isn’t celebrated here in Finland really. Families don’t have a reference of when to do things like trick-or-treating so kids have  been coming to the door randomly all week. At school we have been studying autumn festivals like Sukkot, Cheosok and Kekri and the kids will take any chance to dress-up. I love that so many autumn holidays are about light and laughter as I feel like we need to store up on both as winter nears. 

I’ve been drawn into my Uni course, trying to focus on that at the weekends, but I managed to write a few poems during the break. I feel like I’ve hit a dry spell, inspiration-wise, so I’m returning to prompts from various sources. I’ve also been trying to write poems disconnected from my life, find a new voice and character that isn’t me. It feels strange like slipping on someone else’s clothes, but I’m hoping it stimulates some new ideas. 

Gerry Stewart, The Nights Have Drawn In

It is a particularly lovely autumn in the region, colorful, clear, dry and mild. This evening at 5 pm: 70 degrees F, crickets and frogs singing. My mood has, however, been unsettled–and I have not been writing much. Indeed, this feels like a good time for a hiatus on a number of fronts and in a number of ways. I recently read Katherine May’s Wintering, which was not terribly memorable but which offers the reader support for, well, resting. Resting one’s bones, mind, endeavors…seasonally apropos.

Mostly I’ve been on a Murakami kick, reading three books that a recently-departed friend had with him in his hospice room. Novels take the place of doing my own creative thinking. I get wrapped up in their worlds and can rest from my own. Thus reading is a form of wintering. (May agrees.)

My poetry output has been minimal recently, and I have hardly sent out any work; mostly, I feel tired and eager for the semester to come to a close (one month or so hence). There are reasons for this it is not necessary to go into. But I miss the writing.

Ann E. Michael, Break-taking

I wrote a whole post earlier this week, and then Typepad went down due to a DDoS attack, and lost it. Now the platform is up again, but it’s impossible to post any images because Typepad is having difficulty migrating to a new server.

The best news is that we finished the studio move on October 30 – the space is swept and empty, and we returned the keys. It’s hard to believe that we’re actually done. It was a good space for us for many, many years and I’m grateful for that.

Meanwhile, the leaves are coming off the trees and winter definitely approaches, even though we haven’t had a major frost yet. We’ve usually had freezing weather by Halloween, but not this year — in fact, it’s supposed to be 68 degrees this weekend.

Beth Adams, The End of Autumn

parking in the shade of a leafless tree

Jason Crane, haiku: 3 November 2022

Dinosaurs weren’t in my plan, nor was green, not that I had a plan. Somewhere in the back of my mind was lodged the thought that I’m not the target market for dinosaurs. Being in the easy company of Ruth, an early years teacher, made all the difference. She was encouraging about dinosaurs – no shape out of bounds – and her enthusiasm released my inner green thunder lizard.

Having started with the dino, representative for me of my elder son, the next choices were easy: musical notes, flowers, a swallow, bees and three cakes; symbols of our family sponged onto a French bowl.

Shawna Lemay, I Decorate A Bowl

I was privileged to meet and work with the late writer and critic Kevin Jackson in 2011. We tutored a school group together at Arvon’s Hurst writing centre in Shropshire.

As Peter Carpenter says in the video below, the range and articulation of his knowledge was truly exceptional. He could segue from the things you knew (or thought you did), pop culture, films and authors you knew a little bit about and may even have been on speaking terms with, to that rarefied branch of opinion (and he had a few) and riffing (ditto) that only a few of us are qualified to attempt, let alone pull off successfully.

I remember his opening workshop, on that horny old chestnut showing not telling, which exemplified this precisely, jumping miraculously from an analysis of a Nicholas Lezard column in the New Statesman to an explification of the opening scences of Lawrence of Arabia. ‘Watch this bit!’ he said. ‘Steven Spielberg calls it the greatest cut in cinema history.’

Anthony Wilson, The Kevin Jackson Award

I have subscribed to Reach Poetry magazine for over twenty years. The magazine is edited by Ronnie Goodyer of Indigo Dreams Publishing. From time to time Ronnie has issued a particular challenge. The most recent was for a Terza Rima Sonnet, one of my favourite forms. 

I decided to have a go, and submitted my poem, ‘Navigating Knapdale’, which was published in the September 2022 issue. The focus of the narrative was a trip to Knapdale Forest in search of beavers. We failed to spot any; it is rare to do so in the daylight, but sometimes the quest is the thing that counts. Or so Cavafy implied in his well-loved poem, ‘Ithaka‘.

Caroline Gill, Beavers

Perhaps it was in response to – really I mean a way of avoiding – the Tory party leadership campaign over the long hot summer of 2022 (and look how that turned out – and then again turned out…) that Michael Glover and I spent much of our time reading for, researching, inviting and selecting poems for a brand new poetry anthology with a focus on Christmas and the winter solstice. I know this is a bit obvious but – hey! – this might well be the solution to your up-coming Christmas gift buying deliberations – elegant, stimulating, moving, clever and very easy to wrap. That’s this new anthology. What’s not to like? Click here to buy your copies.

In fact, it was Michael’s original, bright idea and I was delighted to be asked to collaborate with him. It is the first anthology I have had a hand in editing and the book, in its final form, has two main sections – his bit and mine.

I found it daunting at first – where do you begin? Well, I don’t think I’m giving away any anthology-making secrets by mentioning that this Christmas collection is not the first on the market. I had a couple on my shelves already and the internet provides ready-made selections of possibilities and then less familiar collections like Enitharmon’s excellent Light Unlocked: Christmas Card Poems, eds. Kevin Crossley-Holland & Lawrence Sail (Enitharmon Press, 2005) and the rich seams of Seren’s Christmas in Wales, ed. Dewi Lewis (Seren Books, 1997) provoked thoughts and – with due acknowledgement – suggested some definite items. It was exciting when other contemporary poets were kind enough to agree to offer as yet unpublished work for the anthology – my thanks to Neil Curry, John Greening, Jeremy Hooker, Denise Saul, Joan Michelson, Penelope Shuttle and Marvin Thompson.

Martyn Crucefix, Buy! New Christmas Poetry Anthology

I have had apocalypse on the brain for many reasons. In part, because it’s the week where we’ve had Halloween, All Saints and All Souls. I’ve seen the faces of collapsed jack-o-lanterns and wilting Halloween decorations. The wind blows many of the remaining leaves off the trees, and the mist obscures the moon.

Our Foundations of Preaching class has moved to preaching from Hebrew Scripture texts, and I chose the Isaiah 2: 1-5 text, beating swords into ploughshares. Of course, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be doing that anytime soon.

Last night, I found myself at various nuclear war sites, and I watched the first chunk of Threads, the scariest nuclear war movie ever. And then I had the best night of sleep that I had all week–what does that mean? Am I just exhausted or is there something about a worst case scenario that lulls me to sleep?

My Church History I class has arrived at the fall of Rome, which was really more of a slow motion collapse than a quick fall. On Thursday night we talked about Augustine, who was alive for much of the end times. Our professor talked about Augustine being able to see what was coming and asked if we had ever thought about what that might be like. I wanted to say, “Every single day.” I feel like we’re at a hinge point of history where things could go terribly wrong, but there’s a slender chance that we might shape a better future. I wonder if Augustine had similar thoughts, a hope that he knew was naïve, but he still wanted to cling to it.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, La Nuit de Temps, and Other Types of Apocalypse

It is just ahead, it is coming—
whatever it is you are waiting for

has been waiting for you. Every day,
ten more steps taken; five, four,

three. In previous months,
your hair has been trimmed

as if by lightning.

Luisa A. Igloria, Count the Number of Seconds Between a Flash and the Crack of Thunder and Divide That by Five

Sanita Fejzić is an editor, children’s writer, poet, playwright and point of a whirlwind. She did haiku for a while with KaDo. Way back was a regular at Tree and In/Words (and various things about town). At that tine she gracefully allowed me to publish some vispo in the form of The Union of 6 & 7 in 2014. (Impossibly long ago.)

Desiré in Three Brief Acts from battleaxepress was November 2016. That came with a CD song collaboration with the poems. I don’t know if she’d agree that she’s a polymath but she busts out in all directions of creativity.

PP: What have you creating lately?

SF: This is a busy period. I have been working on the production of a series of four short plays titled “Why Worry About Their Futures?” which foregrounds the kinds of multispecies futures we’re cultivating for our children. It will be directed by Keith Barker, who is one of the three playwrights, including Carol Churchill and me.

On the poetry side, I’m finalizing the edits of a collection, Refugee Mouth, which I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. This has been a labour of love, and for the last push, I’ve been collaborating with Chris Johnson, Arc Poetry Magazine editor and longtime friend (since our In/Words days at Carleton University). He’s been helping me with edits and a structural reorganization of the manuscript. I hope to send it out to publishers by December of this year.

December is also the deadline for me to submit my PhD thesis project to my committee, with the hopes of being a Doctor of Philosophy in Cultural Studies by the Fall of 2023.

In the meantime, I’m wrapping up a past-apocalyptic short animated film that’s grounded in queer, eco-feminist future dreamings. My friend and collaborator Ambivalently Yours did the illustrations and animations, and we’re working on a graphic novel version of the film. Did I say this was a busy period? 

Pearl Pirie, Checking In With: Sanita Fejzić

I’m fortunate to have arrived at a place in my life when I can devote more time to poetry than in the past. In order to get here, however, I spent years working at exhausting, non-creative day jobs that paid the bills while raising my two sons. Like so many of us, I wrote at the margins of my day, staying at my desk to work on a short story instead of going out to lunch with my boss and coworkers. Many days, I was happy to record a few lines in my journal. Just as many days, the pages stayed blank.

Other poets who worked demanding day jobs include Langston Hughes (crewman, busboy), William Carlos Williams (pediatrician), Gwendolyn Brooks (typist), Walt Whitman (office boy, printer), Marianne Moore (librarian), Lawrence Ferlinghetti (publisher, bookstore owner), Amy Clampitt (secretary, librarian), Frank O’Hara (museum curator), Mary Oliver (secretary), Philip Levine (auto factory worker), Denise Levertov (nurse, editor), Robert Frost (farmer), Wendell Berry (farmer).

If poetry is more avocation than bread labor, how do we structure our lives so we can devote as much time to it as possible? How can we balance our lives so that work supports us but doesn’t steal all of our energy?

Erica Goss, Bread Labor: Poetry and the Day Job

INVASION n. (i) invading with an armed force, (ii) incursion into a place or sphere of activity, (iii) unwelcome intrusion

Sometimes
it’s not what
a word means
but how its use
can blunt the heart
or fuel fear
or ignite the cankers
of anger in
the already fearful.

I do not know
what the answer is
only that I have to
try and understand
the stories
of those
who really need us.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Invasion

It’s week 4 of Bill Greenwell’s online workshop and I think I’m just settling in. Everyone there knows one another, and are familiar with the set-up. The first week went well, I jumped in and read everyone’s poems and commented on them all, although there’s no requirement to do so. But I like to be sociable and not appear stand-offish.

But by week 2 I was already feeling overwhelmed – so many poems to read and comment on, and trying to produce a new poem each week was weighing heavy on me. However, I seem to have now set my own pace. I try to read other people’s poems, but not if they’ve already had loads of comments. I sometimes add my comments but I don’t feel bad if I don’t.

Although I could just bring an old unpublished poem for workshopping each week (goodness knows I have a ton) I’ve set myself the task of only bringing new work, as a way of getting myself to write more. Having been away last week, yesterday I allowed myself a bit of leeway and posted an old poem that needs reviving. But overall, the course is proving to be very good for me.

Robin Houghton, A holiday and a vintage submissions spreadsheet

Poets generally like to get reviews of their books, though they don’t always like the reviews they get. They’re far less keen on the writing side, that is to say writing reviews of other poets’ books. A few, however, do take on the review task regularly, uncomplainingly and reliably. They are usually – but not invariably – unpaid. Reviewers are the Cinderellas of poetry. There are no national prizes or shortlists for them (fortunately). Occasionally, of course, a review does draw considerable attention by upsetting people, generally unintentionally.

Since 2005, I’ve been running Sphinx Review: an online publication offering short written responses to poetry pamphlets. I have a co-editor (Charlotte Gann) and a team of 14 – 25 reviewers. Each time a set of reviews is ready, an email newsletter goes out. We have just over 400 subscribers; the ‘open’ rate is about 33% and the click rate 45%. People may also arrive at individual reviews through FaceBook, Twitter, email and word of mouth. Some of them are widely read. Some are copied onto other websites. Some are hardly read at all. But since they’re online, they’re there for as long as the site lasts. They help make a poet googlable.

Running Sphinx Review costs masses of time and a growing sum of money. I’ve been doing it since 2005, with unpaid helpers. It’s getting more difficult to afford, in every sense. Next year, when I’m seventy, I will stop. My bones are creaking.

But why start it in the first place? I thought it was important. I still do. I’m a publisher. I put out books and pamphlets and I want them to be noticed. I want there to be a conversation. And I believe in putting your money, as they say, where your mouth is.

Helena Nelson, WHY WRITE POETRY REVIEWS?

In light of Helena Nelson’s request for views on writing and reading poetry reviews (see this link), here are a few reflections on my own attitude towards reviewing in the current climate.

On the one hand, I write reviews not as blurbs or puff pieces but to promote the poetry I love by engaging with it, explaining just why it enthralls me. I try to get my hands dirty with the inner workings of a collection’s engine, hoping to enlighten the reader and encourage them to buy the book.

And on the other, I read them to find books I might want to buy. Or to find a new perspective on a collection I’ve already read. There are certain reviewers whose taste I trust and respect, from whom I learn loads. One thorny issue I would like to highlight is my growing feeling that social media’s tribal pile-ons are making it more and more uncomfortable to write reviews with a critical element. And then this is combined with the trend of poets who view their book as an extension of themselves, as a means of self-expression. Even mild criticism consequently becomes a personal affront…

Matthew Stewart, A few thoughts on poetry reviewing in the current climate

almost sundown —
The Devil
coming for candy

Bill Waters, Almost sundown

Years ago I went to a workshop where someone read out a first-person piece concerning first love. It sounded Adrian Mole-like to me, and people commented that they were amused by the main character’s naivity – their age unclear, but presumably teenage. Alas, the piece was deadly serious autobiography. Critics should have said it was a sensitive exploration of twentysomething love.

At another workshop, the poet was praised for their ironic use of clichés. After, the poet admitted that they hadn’t realised that the images were clichés.

Suppose a clever whodunnit is packed with middle-aged men who pretty young women keep falling for? Suppose a poem collection has many self-sabotage pieces but the poet’s theme is about fate being unfair? Suppose there’s a load about food in a novel? Suppose the “I” is right in all the poems, though the other characters only realise that later? Suppose the rhyme-scheme goes to pieces whenever the poet has something serious to say?

If the critic dutifully reads the blurb and reports on the intended meanings, quoting the phrases that most emphasise those meanings, the author will be delighted. Maybe that’s the reviewer’s intention.

Tim Love, What the author thinks

This week has given with one hand and taken with the other. A third hand has arrived to cause confusion. I have no idea what that means, so we’ll go back to the two hands for now (on the other hand…)

I have first hand experience of getting a no from Propel Magazine. I sort of expected it and it was disappointing, especially as if it had arrived 24 hours sooner I could have used some of the poems to bolster a different submission, but onwards and sideways.

This particular hand was balanced out by the publishing of a review in London Grip. Mike took, on spec I might add, my review of Hilary MenosFear Of Forks. I was pleased to see so many glowing reviews for this excellent book over at Sphinx Reviews as well, and I’m really pleased to see some focus back on Hilary as a poet and not as the editor at The Friday Poem. In other/further Hilary news, my copy of the latest Under The Radar arrived containing a new Hilary poem. I’ve not read it yet, but it’s got to be good, surely?

So, while not an acceptance of a poem, I’m chuffed that the review is out there, and that Hilary is happy with it too. It was a hard one to get right – not because the book is bad, far from it, but because I wanted to convey how good it is in the best way possible. Although, it’s fair to say it’s hard like that every time I write a review. Perhaps as Hilary is my editor at TFP it carried some extra weight…perhaps.

It does perhaps feed into recent chatter about the cosiness of the reviewing world, and make me second guess myself, but my first forays into reviewing and the TFP guidelines taught me to aim for the positive. To be fair the TFP guidelines do allow for criticism, but I can count on one hand the books I’ve been critical of. Perhaps, I should be harder, but where would it get me? It doesn’t change the poems, it doesn’t stop publication and poets and publishers need the sales, so if we/ I can help drive even one then I’m ok with it.

Mat Riches, Horses and Hand Magazine

Emily Osborne’s poetry, fiction and Old Norse-to-English verse translations have appeared in journals such as Vallum, CV2, Canthius, The Polyglot, The Literary Review of Canada, and Barren Magazine. Her debut book of poetry, Safety Razor, is forthcoming from Gordon Hill Press (Spring 2023). She is the author of the chapbook Biometrical (Anstruther Press) and winner of The Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award for Poetry. Emily has a PhD in Old Norse Literature from the University of Cambridge. She lives on Bowen Island, BC, with her husband and two young sons.

How did you first engage with poetry?

My childhood home was filled with poetry books, thanks to my mother who had done graduate degrees in modern American poetry and Sylvia Plath. I remember being six and trying to muddle my way through verse that was totally abstruse and yet which seemed desperately important for me to understand. And yet, the first times I concretely remember writing poetry began in emotional responses to aesthetic experiences that seemed inexplicable in language. How could these feelings be communicated? I think many people first create visual or verbal art because of this instinct that a feeling, thought or experience requires an altered form of language or visualization in which to exist and be given to others, even if this instinct is unconscious. I was also lucky to have early experiences with literary criticism, which came from the late Fred Cogswell, who was a close family friend. I would send my poems to him and he would write back with annotated comments and suggestions. As an adult I look back and think of his phenomenal kindness in doing this, considering how busy he was with The Fiddlehead and teaching and everything else life throws at us. His legacy inspires me. 

Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part one

That patch of clean clear grass will last only as long as I stand there, brown elm leaves
falling around me, and yet I keep raking.  

The sea of leaves will overtake us, as will early darkness. 

I keep stuffing them in bags, happily trouncing.

Ask Job, I say joyously.  

Clapping the piles to my chest: the only thing I can only believe in is the absurd.

Jill Pearlman, Why Rake

“Face the Strain” is a lyrical exploration of life under patriarchal capitalism as we emerge from the pandemic. Personal actions become political, although individuals are rendered powerless against large conglomerates and politicians in lobbyists’ pockets. Sparkes pulls no punches. The world is looked at through a critical lens, which particularly examines societal attitudes towards the powerless and vulnerable, and the extra loads of caring, parenting and household management that fall on predominately on women. The tone is spare and direct, making the poems’ intents clear and targeted.

Emma Lee, “Face the Strain” Joolz Sparkes (Against the Grain) – book review

I am so excited to finally reveal the cover of the upcoming Flare, Corona officially! Here it is! I am posting this a little earlier in the week than I usually do, but I thought I had enough news to justify it…

Designed by Sandy Knight at BOA Editions, the cover art is meant to suggest both an eclipse, a solar flare with corona, and the neurons that are attacked and inflamed during an MS flare. This was a harder cover than usual to think about in terms of design. There’s a lot of solar weather in there, I wanted the idea of the neurons, I thought about adding other things from the natural world. But in the end, this simple, striking design won out. As you may notice, the web site looks a little different too!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Cover Reveal and Pre-Order Page for Flare, Corona, a New Poem in The Indianapolis Review, Welcome to the Big Dark: November, Twitter, Voting, Book Club

As if to balance the recent rejection, I had a recent acceptance! Of 4 out of the 5 poems I sent to a magazine I had been meaning to send to for a long time, missing its deadline again and again. Because time keeps getting away from me. This batch was a sad one, but it had a ladder in it, leaning on a peach tree, and that makes it a Random Coinciday in the blog. Because I just read–or possibly re-read?–Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler, a sort of sweet, sad novel about a woman who walks away from her family one day… I could picture myself doing it as she did it, much as I love and would never leave my family, other than that time in Chicago when I walked out the back door and down to the streetlight while my toddler crawled around on the dining room floor at the feet of my husband and father, who were talking about politics and real estate. Really, this was not meant to be a Cranky Doodle Day in the blog. That was years ago. My kids are grown. I’m still married to the same man, and today, early in the morning, I looked all through the house for him and then saw the ladder on the patio, leaning against the house, and found him on the roof, sitting cross-legged at the edge, scooping leaves from the gutter into a plastic bag, during a Wind Advisory. It was a little like the time I was down in the church basement during a tornado, and the rain was horizontal, and the neighbor from across the street had come out to tell my husband, scooping leaves on the roof, that he should go inside. But not as windy, and I was there smiling and talking to him, waiting till he was done before going back inside…

Kathleen Kirk, Ladder of Years

Tim Carter: Howdy. R.M., I’m glad to ask you some questions about your newest book, Interrogation Days. This chapbook is published through Dead Mall Press, which is also your operation. Why don’t you start by telling me about both?

R.M. Haines: Thank you, Tim, for taking time with these poems and offering to do this interview. Interrogation Days is a chapbook about the so-called “War on Terror,” collecting various details and stories from those 20 years, and approaching them as the artifacts of a kind of demented poetic imagination. It was at one time the first section in a book also containing the poems from Dysnomia and Civil Society (my press’s earliest books), and I still think of them as a kind of trilogy. The three books speak to one another – about empire, psyche, capitalism, police, terror, violence — but upon reflection, it really seemed to me too much to put them all together into one reading experience. Each of the books approaches a certain feeling of finality, and it felt like I was forcing things to put them in the same volume. Of the three, Interrogation Days is the longest (28 pages compared to 11 and 10 pages for the others), so it feels like a bigger statement to me.

As for the press, I’d been intently studying how small press publishing works since roughly 2018. I wrote a lot of critical stuff about it, but not until fall 2021 did I think about actually making physical booklets and calling it a “press.” In March 2022, after thinking it all through and preparing some things, I officially launched DMP and put out three small chapbooks of my own. In 2023, I will be transitioning into publishing people other than myself, and that is hugely exciting to me (much more info to come!). Also, with DMP, I want to be as transparent as possible about the nuts-and-bolts of publishing: how much things cost, what the budget is, how much things sell, what I do with the money, etc. I think that concealing the material reality of publishing mystifies it, and this has numerous negative consequences. Against this, DMP aims to be transparent, to be generous and open with writers, to stay small and DIY, and to donate a sizable portion of the earnings to people doing work around social justice, abolition, mutual aid, and other causes. Right now, 50% of all sales is being donated to the Gitmo Survivors Fund, which I write about, in more detail on my blog.

R. M. Haines, A Conversation About INTERROGATION DAYS

The rain became my monster. The rain became
my foe. The rain became the hell I could not conquer. A

drizzle was a deluge. A deluge, the dark of an endless night.
The monsoon, an affliction without remedy. These are tests

I cannot pass. Tests I cannot fail. Always the same result.
Always the same consequence. Happiness is a constant.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 20

On one hand, for all their hope, I am being cautious with mine. My mother was sick in greater or lesser degrees for months, and yet her death shocked me to the core since I really believed she would pull through. The visuals on this one scare me…it looks terrible, this small, frail man hooked to a machine that is currently breathing for him (though the settings according to the nurse s are lower and more just augmenting his own breathing). I have prepared myself for the worst. Well, am trying to while still hoping for the best. A friend said via text today that hope is a tricky thing–difficult to have and difficult not to have.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | all hallows eve

There is such an electricity to the lyric of Lenapehoking/Brooklyn-based poet and performer imogen xtian smith’s full-length debut, stemmy things (New York NY: Nightboat Books, 2022). “Poetry both is & is not a luxury.” they write, to open the “author’s note” included at the beginning of the collection. “My intention has been to trouble the worlds in which i move, support, fail, live, struggle, love & continue trans-ing, addressing with rigor the circumstances that continuously shape me.” Through a book-length lyric, smith writes an extended sequence of sharp moments across narrative thought, one deeply engaged with numerous threads, all of which wrap in and around identity, self and gender. “Nothing is ever finished,” they write, as part of the poem “deep ecology,” set near the beginning. “Consequence gives a body / shape, says you cannot build home in a lie.”

One immediately garners a sense of Bernadette Mayer’s influence echoing through these poems (a quote by Mayer is one of two set to open the first section), as well as Eileen Myles, both of whom offer a fierce and even straightforward directness in their own ongoing works. Across the poems of stemmy things, smith unfolds a sequence of diaristic offerings of narrative examination, utilizing the suggestion of biography (whether actual or fictional, or some blend of both) for the sake of exploring and defining truths and discoveries across the length and breadth of becoming who they are meant to become. “By way of explanation,” they write, to open the poem “so the maggots know,” “i am / an unreliable narrator of my body / living gender to gender, marked / at birth yet far flung of phylum / straddling difference / between impossibility & lack—woman / & man—i, neither, though always / with children, a queendom / of eggs to the belly [.]” There is such a confidence to these lyrics, these examinations, reaching across vast distances with clarity and ease. If only a fraction of the rest of us could hold such fearlessness and poise while navigating uncertain terrain. “You need to know a radical touch,” they write, as part of the opening poem, “open letter utopia,” subtitled, “after Audre Lorde,” “that my yes means yes, my no, no, that yes & no / & maybe may shift while we linger, articulate, break / apart as moments ask. Does your blood taste iron?”

rob mclennan, imogen xtian smith, stemmy things

It’s so good to be reading again for me, not for students or class planning. One of the downsides to teaching is that you can neglect your own education and/or intellectual growth sometimes for the sake of the students’ needs. The chance to learn something again — of my choosing, not as dictated by the college and the administration’s fixations or needs — is almost as restorative as rest. Relaxing one part of the brain and letting a different part take over is, well, rejuvenating.

I’m taking stock now of what I’ve accomplished thus far and what I also need to complete in the next three months — I’ve read, taken extensive notes on the reading, drafted more of the play, and written some singular, one-off (not attached to a manuscript) poems. I have a lot more to do on the play — that will be the next 90 days’ primary focus — but I also have some reviews for the New York Journal of Books lined up, which will be good to finish before I return to teaching.

That return is looming, already, and I’m trying not to dread it.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, On Inspiration & Momentum

What I wanted to call your attention to is this issue of the slippery “I” in poems and the readerly insistence on reading poems as autobiography. Here’s Albert’s take: “I’m not comfortable with the question of what’s ‘true’ or ‘isn’t true.’ I like to say, not just for myself but on behalf of all poets, it’s all true. I mean in the way that a real novel is as true as a piece of nonfiction or memoir, as true about human beings and the human experience. Perhaps even truer than some memoirs, in fact. Memoirs are also fictionalized— by the time it’s a readable, publishable piece of work, it’s all become fictionalized, massaged to some extent.”

He then goes on to say: “I talk with people frequently who are not perplexed to read ‘Call me Ishmael’ even while finding the name Herman Melville on the cover; and yet who are surprised or even offended if I suggest the possibility that Plath might have invented, have shaped events for some of her poems, in the interest of their greatest possible power or her own greatest psychological needs.”

Anyway, just read the thing. It’s all good. Oh, but here’s one more thing:

In the interview he mentions a previous interview with the Georgia Review that he managed to waylay and reframe. He said: “What if all the questions come from other poets’ poems and all of the answers come from poems of mine?” 

I love this idea! Who wants to do a reading with me based on our poems’ questions and answers? I envision a round-robin meander with a handful of poets. Who’s in?

Marilyn McCabe, Five guys named Moe; or, Albert Goldbarth on “Truth” in Poetry

he finally got it
near enough words
poured from his mouth
they’d have to do for now

stopped at the lights
he repeats them
merging with the traffic
he speaks every one

so he finally arrives
writes down his litany
the mouth worn words
offer no point of entry

if he had it
it has gone

Paul Tobin, MUGGED ON DREAM STREET

If you stare at a word long enough it makes no sense. If you think about it long enough “old” becomes “new”. And “new” can take on an entirely new meaning: new as a shift, not a beginning.

I’ve felt these shifts before. Passing a fork in the road and knowing that was that. Poems I memorized as a child take on new significance. Maybe life is a series of ever-more-complex prisms. What seemed singularly beautiful has exploded with possibilities. Smaller, perhaps: like the beauty of a whole world under a microscope: this tiny, present pinch of life, thoroughly examined with an attitude of wonder!

At 16, I wanted to be a famous actress. I wanted to have an apartment in New York, and to wear shoes too fancy for the subway. But at 40-something, I found myself sitting on the hood of a car at the lookout point over Bishkek with strangers. I ate dried fish, learning how to pop out their eyes with my thumbs.

Then I flew home to a tiny duplex in need of renovation, and a job that left me scrambling for dignity every day. I flew home to the two kids I never planned for; my love for them would stun me sometimes. Still does. Continual, unexpected little bursts of joy/fear/gratitude. These bursts, these overwhelming moments that strike – not always pleasant- have defined my emotional life. Home is a constant ambiguous reality, though every detail is fleeting.

What do they say? The only constant is the laundry?

I traveled a lot in my 40s. I took a lot of photos of other people’s laundry. I have hundreds of pictures of t-shirts and towels drying on clotheslines. I am always a bit puzzled that I find something so utterly banal to be so compelling.

Beautiful. It’s like the photos don’t capture a moment in time, but the flow of a lifetime.

Ren Powell, A Celebration of the Banal

You need so much
rain for the flowers,

so much moonlight
on the pines,

the old monk said,
so much silence

in the evening.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (347)

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 42

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’s compilation is a bit of a rush job after a busy weekend. I hope it coheres.


morning walk —
the gentle touch
of fog

Bill Waters, Morning walk

– Walking through a cloud—droplets beaded my black wool

– Today, I painted a tropical bird

– I cried in the parking lot, my friend as witness

– A family of deer stepped along a creek bed

– Thunder shook the rain loose and then it cleared

Christine Swint, Accountability With Writing and Art

Nothing happened, said the
shape-shifting moon. Nothing walked
away from nothing. Nothing became of
nothing. Erasure is the way the world copes
with history. The ease of negation. The
amputation of time. Never. Nothing. No one.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 18

But I found the revelation in the documentary, new to me at least, that Eliot was sent off to Margate with Vivienne to recuperate from a breakdown, lent real weight to the line in The Fire Sermon section, ‘On Margate sands/ I can connect/ Nothing with nothing’. OK, I had picked up the desolation, obviously, but now I can see Eliot’s own desolation as he wrote the lines. And that is no longer making too much of an assumption. It makes the lines clearer. He is with his wife but can connect nothing with nothing.

For once, the documentary also used talking heads that had something to say. Daljit Nagra explained eloquently the impact of the words ‘Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata./ Shantih, Shantih, Shantih’ that close the poem and, in effect, turn it into some kind of a prayer or resolution with which we must confront what is to come. Nagra could remember his grandfather saying Shantih, Shantih, Shantih, in the house in the morning. This lent the poem an increased validity. The words are not just something Eliot read somewhere and used.

The documentary, which as you’ve gathered, I recommend, also contained enough gossipy anecdotes to give light to the shade. I particularly enjoyed knowing that Virginia Woolf found the slow pace at which Eliot spoke too much to bear, so much so that she couldn’t wait for him to finish a sentence – literally. She would sometimes leave the room before he’d got there.

Bob Mee, HOW MUCH DOES BIOGRAPHICAL DETAIL MATTER IN ‘THE WASTE LAND’?

it is enough
to lose count of the pebbles
in the cry of the tide’s mourning
to wait for an eye of rust to blink
or for the ocean to say sorry
and to mean it

Jim Young, sometimes

Heather Trickey was a social research scientist, charity worker, Quaker and poet. In 2020, during the first Covid lockdown, she received a diagnosis of cancer. She died in July 2021, aged 50. In 2020 she published a remarkable book of poems, Sorry About the Mess, with Happenstance Press. I urge you to read it.

Her poems bring to mind the everyday language, directness of tone, and craft shaped by wit rather than irony of great poets like Ann Gray, Myra Schneider, Rose Cook, Ann Sansom, Naomi Jaffa, and Julia Darling.

Next week I will have the privilege of taking her amazing poem ‘Metamorphosis’, told from the perspective of a patient receiving a life-changing diagnosis, into a classroom of medical professionals. I can hardly wait to see what they make of it.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: Pobble, by Helen Trickey

My new chapbook, Interrogation Days, is now available for pre-order! This book focuses on the psychic toll of two decades of the US “War on Terror,” and it forms a small trilogy with the press’s previous releases, Dysnomia and Civil Society. Over the next four weeks, I will be sharing a bit more about it, so stay tuned for that. For now, you can read a sample poem and place an order, and the book will be shipped on Nov. 14th.

Also, I will be donating 50% of all sales to The Guantánamo Survivors Reparations fund. This is a joint project between two organizations — Healing and Recovery after Trauma (HeaRT) and the Tea Project — devoted to supporting the victims of the US’s illegal prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. For donation, our specific goal is to sell 40 copies of the book, which will raise $200 for the fund. I hope you will join me in supporting this work.

R. M. Haines, New Release from Dead Mall Press

Rumors, Secrets, & Lies is a collection of narrative poems, prose poems, flash fiction — stories about abortions, unplanned pregnancies and joyous births. 116 writers, including Naomi Shihab Nye, Ellen Bass, and Alicia Ostriker, write from experience. Women, and men, recall how they navigated this always-charged and emotional landscape before and during Roe v. Wade.

This heart-felt collection was inspired by the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. A team of women sent the book to the printer on Aug. 31, just two months later.

Submissions arrived from all over the U.S., but also from as far away as South Korea and Israel.

Cathy Wittmeyer, RUMORS SECRETS & LIES

Struggling to rise again from a fall. Winded. Sick of an old grief,
scolded by regrets of such long standing that they qualify for pensions (go ahead,
retire, please!) and the long low bank of dirty cloud carries particulates 
from sweet mossy forests that were never meant to burn, but are burning now.

What I have to ask myself is, do I feel lucky? And I do not. Lucky all my life
but not today. Dust off the knees of my old-man jeans; straighten the last few inches
that used to come for free. The masks for the pestilence work very well
for fire smoke. Isn’t that convenient!

Dale Favier, Fall 2022

I like having a hobby that has so little to do with any other part of my life, and also I need it. Playing with my “toy” camera, an Instax Square, is that hobby. It brings me joy to just play, and to not worry about product. I have zero creative investment in the outcome, I just enjoy the process. Taking photos along my walks (with both the iPhone and the Instax) has been a release and a yet another necessary reminder about how I should be focusing on process/the journey/etc. (I still like sharing some of the “products,” though.)

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Some Discoveries This Week

A collection of poems that span a week in the life of the poet and family (not in lockdown; this is not a pandemic collection), friction, delight, a near miss in a car. The idea is that the specific focus can be extrapolated like a trail of cupcake crumbs to build connections and a more complete picture of human interactions and concerns. […]

“One Week, One Span of Human Life” is a week’s journey looking at the wider implications of a series of seemingly-small, regular events. Paul Ings’ writing is sparse, sketching details for the readers to fill in and connect with their own lives.

Emma Lee, “One Week, One Span of Human Life” Paul Ings (Alien Buddha Press) – book review

Last week I spent an enjoyable afternoon walking around the British Art Show 2022 in Plymouth. I know the majority of readers of this blog live in America but as Liz Truss has managed to tank our economy and bring Sterling to an all time low, you may be able to afford to visit. Let’s face it we Brits will all be on our uppers if this insane tory death cult is not replaced…

The Home Secretary has resigned citing her opponents as the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati– hey! She means me! I read said newspaper, I eat tofu and I thoroughly detest this [unelected] government. 

Let’s return to saner topics. At the exhibition one installation that caught my attention was by Oliver Beer and explored the relationship between sound and space. The installation was divided into three parts and represented his grandmother, his mother and his sister. He has taken objects that were significant to them and miked them up to reproduce the notes they produce. The effect is rather similar to an orchestra tuning up. My attention was caught by a golden hare. 

Paul Tobin, THE GOLDEN HARE SINGS

What I remember: the blue sibilance of a sad farewell.

Shadows uttering rosaries in forsaken alleyways.

Pale silences slipping from the bodies of mannequins, painting our lips with all the words we’ve been afraid to share with one another.

Rich Ferguson, The Re-Rememberer

Travis Helms gave a poetry reading at 12:45, but it was unusual. We sat in the front behind the altar in a group of chairs in a u shape. The poet read one poem, discussed it, and read another. Consequently, we only heard about 5 poems–but the discussion was superb. We talked about Jericho Brown’s approach with lines from past poems. It was really cool to hear about another poet’s experiment with this approach. Helms takes stanzas from old rough drafts, and he also keeps track of observations on the Notes feature on his phone which gives him a starting point each writing day.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Work Comes Due (in a Good Way)

The full-length debut by Chicago poet Benjamin Niespodziany, following chapbooks through above/ground press and Dark Hour Books, is no farther than the end of the street (Los Angeles CA: Okay Donkey Press, 2022), a collection predominantly constructed out of short, single-stanza prose poems that float the realm between lyric, short story and lullaby. “I wrote you a poem,” he writes, to open the poem “Publicity Stunt,” “called ‘Planet Earth.’ / It’s a ghost / poem or maybe a poem // I ghost wrote. It’s an / X-ray I pass around / the neighborhood.” Holding echoes of myth and fable, Niespodziany’s poems offer a selection of prose openings into whole worlds that might even exist between the curved narratives of Lydia Davis and the surrealisms of Stuart Ross. “You can’t / take my call.” he writes, to open the poem “The Silence That Finds Us,” “You’re busy // making volcanoes / out of swamp products // and ketchup packets.” […]

There is such a delight to these pieces, and there are moments throughout this collection that I almost see echoes of the short stories of Richard Brautigan, offering insights into daily interactions and simply being and living in and moving through the world, tinged with a wistful surrealism simultaneously playful and dark, moving in, out and through focus, from sentence to sentence. there is such a delight, even across such dark foundations of loss, death and distance, as connections are established, demolished or never quite connect. Across eighty-four poems, Niespodziany writes of first dates, first loves, weddings, streetscapes and neighbours, suggesting a lyric set entirely within the focus of a small geography, even one centred on the domestic, with not one poem set beyond a boundary set just down Niespodziany’s imaginary or actual street. One imagines a cul-de-sac, just down from an urban setting of shops and what-have-you; a small tucked-aside corner of residencial space, not far from everything else in the world. One imagines a set of boundaries established to attempt to keep the narrator and his household safe, from whatever dangers might exist beyond.

rob mclennan, Benjamin Niespodziany, no farther than the end of the street

Why do you
grip your pen
so tightly
when you write?

Write lightly,
the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (337)

I wrote about six new poems in the weeks after I received my funding, using the money to keep me afloat, so that I didn’t need to worry about finding paid work over the summer. I also used some of the bursary to fund writer-in-school training with the National Literacy Trust, which was very helpful. I wrote about that here.

There was no pressure to report back to the bursary funders, although I did send regular updates, and no strict dates to adhere to, or rules about the number of poems I wrote or what I had to do with them. If anyone was measuring my productivity, I think they would have been underwhelmed by my creative output! Nevertheless, the bursary has most definitely enhanced my practice even though it’s taken a while for me to get there. I don’t think I would have written these particular poems at all if I hadn’t been given this small pot of money, since I hadn’t written about place before, or closely observed landscapes or researched the heritage of any area. However, once I began researching and planning for these poems, I became more and more interested in writing about all of these things, particularly in the context of climate change. The money gifted me time and nudged me in a particular direction without imposing restrictive rules.

Josephine Corcoran, The impact of receiving funding on my creative practice: update about a 2018 Local Artist’s Bursary

Today, my proof copy of AUTOMAGIC arrived in the mail, which means I hope to spend the next couple days searching for ever-elusive typos and tweaking margins and getting it ready before I place an order for the first batch.  Every time, I am amazed at how beautiful and nice the quality is for the POD books, which have come a long way from the humble beginnings in the early aughts.  I am probably right when I say that a good number of trad publishers I’ve worked with also use POD instead of printings, thus the quality has improved overall in terms of cover gloss and interior papers.  I opted for cream this time as with ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MONSTER though I went with the size I used for FEED, so it’s an inch or so larger and tops out at 100 pages. I need to nudge over my title riding a little far to the right, but otherwise the cover is glorious both front and back. I had initially planned for a hardcover edition, but it does seem unnecessarily expensive per copy (which would raise the sales price higher), so I nixed those plans in favor of paperback. 

I am learning how much I revel each time in the process of bringing a book into the world with each step.  I usually compile the manuscripts a couple years in advance, so AUTOMAGIC has been waiting, mostly finished since the end of 2020, though I added in a new section, the bird artist, that I wrote last year in this longer version, as well as what remained of the unfinished unusual creatures series completed in  2021. The other stuff is older, beginning with work from as early as 2018.  This was prior to writing most of what went into FEED and AVM, but after finishing up SEX & VIOLENCE in late 2017. Unlike a couple of the others I did give BLP first dibs on, I knew I would probably issue this one on my own–it being an idiosyncratic little victorian dream of a book, largely since I had more timely and pressing projects with newer books like COLLAPSOLOGIES.

The past few months I have been picking at bits and pieces and revising some things, but mostly it was intact and only needed the final layout and adjustments and of course, the cover and promo graphics and trailers. The business of launching a book into the world of course being arduous even with a publisher behind you, let alone fending it alone. I’ve been more and less successful with past books depending on how much effort I put into them, with comparable sales to my trad published books so I know better now what works and what does not. Where to sink efforts and what is wasted time. 

Kristy Bowen, automagic coming soon….

Autumn is here and that should mean that I have more time to write. More time to breathe. Summer in Alaska is a time of long days packed with work and garden. For me, autumn heading into winter is a time to turn back to my desk. This year, that means Black Earth Institute and my project on Bridget Cleary.

Earlier this month, I was in Black Earth, Wisconsin meeting with the rest of the Black Earth Institute cohort. It was four days of good talk, amazing presentations, and forming bonds that will help us collaborate on various projects. It was incredible to spend time with such vibrant, intelligent, and diverse people. I am really excited about how the next three years will unfold.

Meanwhile, I am reading and writing about Bridget Cleary. I’m planning a trip to Clonmel in Ireland for February 2023. And of course, I’m working my butt off with Storyknife and the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The fire of autumn

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Audre Lorde and her book Sister Outsider changed the way I saw myself and the way I saw poetry. I learned how poetry belonged to Black women because it was something that we could do anywhere. It is an art of economy. It is an art that gives us power. You can write poetry on a napkin and stick it in your pocket. It can carry the weight of the world, and it can fit on the tiniest slip of paper. How amazing is that?

Thomas Whyte, Katerina Canyon : part eight

I can’t help but feel that there is a meta-perspective just beyond my scope, from which my whole life makes sense. And something tells me that I am not supposed to have thoughts like these. They might line a slippery slope to conspiracy theories and religious epiphanies.

Or they might form a poem.

Dorothea Lynde Dix wrote during what was likely a period of manic depression (mixed state): “I cannot write – I ought not.” I have always felt like I understood what she meant. These thoughts, diagramed and articulated, conjure the black dogs that will rip your life apart.

I am a scattering of facts- banal facts. Random.

Who has the power to choose, to bother, to make sense of it – to validate your life’s story? You risk annihilation by writing it. You risk petrification – from a single perspective, even your own. This, too, is still death.

We spent our time becoming fiction based on fact. I am not sure that I really want conscious control of that.

Ren Powell, Today When I Rattle the Bones

What I find most sobering is the plight of artists and craftspeople who still desperately need those large studio spaces, yet are being pushed out of one once-affordable but now-gentrified neighborhood after another. During the moving process, we’ve shared the freight elevator, loading dock and dumpster with many other tenants of this large former factory building, who can no longer afford the rent charged by the new landlords who are upgrading and changing the building into a place for small businesses, high-tech firms, and offices — all of which can afford considerably higher rents. It is a business decision for the owners, and they have a right to do that; the building is much more attractive than when we moved in more than fifteen years ago. But as I’ve talked to others who are leaving, their anxiety and stress are palpable, and there are few good options for them in this city. And while a society without art is unbearable, and the governments everywhere tout their artists as intrinsic to the society’s identity, very few actually give the necessary support. Relentless capitalism always wins.

Beth Adams, Artists, Moving On

The fourth tells of the long, circuitous route to get
away from stethoscope or scalpel, and instead
to brushes and color swatches. Everyone in this town
seems to have a maritime connection, a giant
wooden spoon and fork, a saint in velvet and gold
filigree taking up space on the walls. The youngest
of them wants to write stories and poems about
the in-between, where the light can glance off
surfaces in so many ways and in so many beautiful
directions, none of them merely resembling
brown, none of them merely falling like leaves
to be raked over, season after season.

Luisa A. Igloria, Five compatriots

It’s truly turning—I don’t know if it feels like fall, it feels like we went straight from a hot, smoky summer to winter-time temperatures and rain, which is a shame. Winter means more writing, of course. But less time in the garden with flowers and birds.

So, we’re saying goodbye, finally, to smoke and fire, to over 80° temperatures, and welcoming in the rain and the cold, and occasionally putting on pumpkin sweaters. I’m so excited about some AWP news that I can’t quite share yet, and there’s more news about Flare, Corona coming soon.

And I’m doing a podcast – the “Rattlecast” on Sunday, October 30th, 8pm Eastern Time: Jeannine Hall Gailey I’ll be talking, appropriately enough, about spooky poetry, and reading a few spooky poems from Field Guide to the End of the World and the new book, Flare, Corona. So tune in if you want a sneak listen to my new book’s poems.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Some Good News from AWP, A Quote in Poets & Writers, Blurbs for Flare, Corona, and Visiting with Writer Friends as Smoke Season Turns to Rain Season

It’s been six years since Otoniya J. Okot Bitek published her debut poetry collection 100 Days, which powerfully explored the 100 days of the Rwandan genocide. I was lucky enough to interview Otoniya shortly after the book came out – you can read that interview here. The book went on to be shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay, Pat Lowther and Robert Kroetsch awards, among others. 

I’ve been waiting patiently for Otoniya’s next book – and I need wait no more! Her new book, A Is For Acholi, will officially be published next week. As the titled suggests, this book focuses attention on her people, the Acholi of Northern Uganda. 

A bit of a side note: Song of Lawino, the most famous work by Otoniya’s father, Okot p’Bitek, was originally written in Acholi. p’Bitek opened the English translation of the book with a note that read: “Translated from the Acoli by the author who has thus clipped a bit of the eagle’s wings and rendered the sharp edges of the warrior’s sword rusty and blunt, and has also murdered rhythm and rhyme.” […]

The book ranges more widely than the tight thematic and stylistic focus of 100 Days. Its subject matter includes “exploring diaspora, the marginalization of the Acholi people, the dusty streets of Nairobi and the cold grey of Vancouver.” Formally, the book is wide-ranging as well: lineated poems brush up against prose poems, concrete poems, erasures and – in keeping with Otoniya’s 2019 chapbook Gauntlet – voluminous footnotes. 

Rob Taylor, “A is for Acholi” by Ontoniya J. Okot Bitek

Family Riches are not long back from a trip to Seville. I’m thinking of it as a midweek long weekend as we went from Tuesday to Friday. A lovely time was had by all that attended, we walked, we ate, we walked and ate some more. We visited the Giralda, Real Alcazar De Sevilla, and Plaza de España. I had also hoped to visit Convento de San Leandro to sample some of the nun’s biscuits, but couldn’t due to forgetting that most things shut down between 2 and 5 in Spain. I suspect the nuns were having a well-earned kip.

I’d read about the place on the Atlas Obscura website I linked to above, but I was also aware of the practice through a poem by Matthew Stewart called Bishop’s Hearts. My plan was to get a photo of me receiving said biscuits and then link to Matthew’s excellent poem…

However, this experience has taught me two things.

1. Remember the local knowledge given to you by people. In this case, the aforementioned Matthew Stewart
2. Always remember to capture PDFs/images of your poems when they are published online, lest the site close down.

Bishop’s Hearts was published by the excellent Algebra of Owls site, but that now looks to be out of business/has closed down. I was lucky enough to have a poem published there too, but I don’t have a copy of it. Well, I do, obvs, but not the page and the link is now dead. I’m not sure what happened to the team behind AoO, but I hope they’re ok.

Mat Riches, Having nun of it

How do you know if what you’re revising out of a piece isn’t the very thing that made the piece interesting to someone else? What is the difference between thinking about “the reader” and pandering to “the reader”? How do you know if you’re thinking too much about “the reader” or not enough? What if you never think about “the reader”? Do you risk writing poems that are just you mumbling to yourself? What if there is no “reader”? Ever? Is the thing you made still a poem?

Marilyn McCabe, I’ve lived my life like a howling wind; or, On Some Questions

unhurried, the window becomes a mirror

Jason Crane, haiku: 20 October 2022

Reading helped during the stress, a way to step aside, as did doing crossword puzzles in old New Yorkers, passed along to me by my mom, for me to read and recycle. “Watch out,” she said, “you can get hooked.” I did. Going to and from the hospital in Peoria, we had lunch twice, and pie once, at Busy Corner, a popular eating place at, yes, a busy corner. And saw the colors of the changing leaves by the side of the road. A joy to my mom. Less so to my colorblind dad, but his joy was getting out of the hospital!

Reading books with colorful covers, too. Balladz by Sharon Olds and Where Are the Snows by Kathleen Rooney, the latter in my stack of books to review for Escape Into Life. I need to 1) read slowly and repeatedly for a review 2) have a clear mind, ability to focus…so I am behind in this task. But I got the laundry done! Plus, these two books look great on my coffee table.

My own poetry waits patiently for me to get back to it. I have a composition book at hand for bits of inspiration. I flip back through the pages and see lots of actual poems there, awaiting revision and assembly. I have sent out a few things, received a few rejections, and one wonderful acceptance. A nice surprise. 

Kathleen Kirk, 10,000 Steps

There is a ghost in this book, the title, The Most Charming Creatures, because it came from the title of a poem which, in the end, I took out of the book. It was something that I wrote for an eponymous video work by Catherine Heard. The video was published in the Heavy Feather Review, Catherine’s work is so beautiful – both so human and so non-human, both vast and tiny.

The phrase comes from Ernst Haeckel’s Monograph on Radiolarians, published in 1862. He described radiolarians, ancient single-celled organisms with mineral skeletons, as “the most charming creatures.” But look: we’re all the most charming creatures. Who? Us. Letters. Words. We neurons.

Gary Barwin on Form, Social Media, and the “Epistemological Hijinks of Poems”

What I know now, having escaped the toxic relationship and untenable career is that I didn’t need to work harder, change my attitude, have more self-discipline, or stay where I was and count my blessings. What I needed was to get out.

I finally fully have, and I wish more than anything I could share some way for everyone else to get away from whatever is making them not-OK, but the truth I’m seeing now is that there isn’t always a way. I made the moves I was able to make (leaving that marriage, changing to a different job within my industry), and I searched constantly for better alternatives. But I couldn’t leave everything that was damaging AND take care of my people the way I wanted and needed to care for them. I am not looking back and thinking that I should have made different choices. (I don’t regret them, given my givens.) I am looking back and wishing only that our culture had been more honest about the scarcity of good choices for many of us to make.

Think of what I might have done to actually improve my life if I hadn’t wasted energy on blaming myself, on attempting to fix what wasn’t mine to fix, or on “solutions” that were never going to address the source of the problem.

I wish I could change the world so that everyone could have what I now do. I wish there was some formula I could share for how to get it in the world as it is. For myself, it has required some compromise, some luck, some risk, and a lot of years of living in poor health and doing what I had to do to get here. (The promise of that pension kept me in the world of K-12 education, and without it the life I have now would not be possible.) I can’t tell you how to do it, and I want to acknowledge that not everyone can do it, no matter how hard they work, but I’m writing this because if nothing else, I can give an assurance that I wish others had given me. If you’ve worked to heal from and deal with your childhood traumas and have a clear sense of your strengths and challenges and are working hard within the systems you have to live within and are still struggling to be OK, I want you to hear (especially if you’re of my generation and grew up drinking a lot of Kool-Aid) that it’s not just you, no matter the privileges you have. Keep doing what you can for yourself, for sure, but be as clear-eyed as you can about what’s yours to own/do and what is not.

Think of what a different world we might live in if our goal was that everyone in it could be OK.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The pursuit of okayness

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 41

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: blooming continuously, breaking poems, working without a safety net, talking to the underworld, building an honest nest, and more. Enjoy.


I’ve been thinking of enchanted forests.  I’ve been thinking of a cottage in the woods and what happens to wicked witches who mellow.  I’ve been thinking about herb gardens and ovens that bake bread, not little boys.

This morning I thought of the Bruno Bettelheim text, once classic not discredited, The Uses of Enchantment.  I thought of all those children using fairy tales to process the scary, incomprehensible stuff going on in their lives.  Am I doing the same thing for my mid-life fears?

Yesterday I took my daily walk by the tidal lake, as I do each day.  For the past several weeks, the lake has been jumping–or more precisely, the fish have been jumping.  I’ve seen a dolphin here and there.  I’ve seen lots of little fish skittering out, as if they were members of a water ballet company.  Yesterday, the word “enchanted” came to mind.

If we grew up hearing stories about enchanted lakes instead of enchanted forests, would our imaginations function differently?  Would we do more to protect bodies of water?  Probably not.

I think of the orchid on my office windowsill, the one that has bloomed continuously since July of 2020 when I got it from colleagues at work.  

Orchids are not supposed to bloom continuously for 15 months, but this one has: [photo]

People come into my office and stop at the sight of the orchid.  They ask me my secret.  I say, “Every day I pour the dregs of my cups of tea into it.  Maybe it likes the tannins.”  I try to beam my best swamp witch radiance when I say things like this.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Uses of Enchantment: the Mid-Life Edition

and so yes the jaguars still make me work, they are not gentle teachers you know, not always, not jaguars,

this isn’t self-help-soft-focus-someone-else’s-stolen-story this is my own bone and muscle and blood and death and dream,

and so when I wrap my body around his so determined to protect him fully this time, even from death,

I am quadruped and black as he, low bunched muscle and claw and teeth, and I will bite through the temporal bones of any who try for him and cast them off neck-broken into underbrush

JJS, the search

For much of the year, I’ve been breaking poems–trying different forms, writing into and out of different tensions. Not just deleting my darlings, but investigating them. Trying to play, knowing that I can always go back.

And then this past week, I read Tony Hoagland’s essay “Tis Backed Like a Weasel”: The Slipperiness of Metaphor, and the part about some people just not having the gift of metaphor made me sad, because I suspect that I might be one of those people. So I decided to pair play with the idea of deliberate practice. Maybe, despite what Aristotle says, I could become stronger at writing metaphors. I can play at what I’m trying to improve. And it was fun. To really practice, I should probably have written a full page of them, every day. But I don’t like the word should, and it doesn’t sound like play.

Joannie Stangeland, Spelling Bee and poetry

experiments with iron
liberating the colours
a mad book of masks

Penelope Circe Ariadne
alive in spite of everything
my missing grandmother

the word was made song
wayfaring lines
stop and look

a tidal island
dark brown and ancient
the pink elephant moth

weeding and mulching
preparing the ground
everything changes

Ama Bolton, ABCD October 2021

It has also been a long time since I gave anything resembling a public reading. But last Sunday afternoon I travelled with poet, Hilary Davies, out of London to Kimbolton School, north of Bedford for an actual in person book launch! The book was the sumptuous new anthology, Hollow Palaces, published by Liverpool University press and edited by John Greening and Kevin Gardner from Baylor University in the USA. The book is the first complete anthology of modern country house poems, including over 160 poets from Yeats and Betjeman to Heaney, Boland, Armitage and Evaristo.

The venue was fittingly grand. Kimbolton Castle is a country house in the little town of Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire and it was the final home of King Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Originally a medieval castle, it was later converted into a stately palace and was the family seat of the Dukes of Manchester from 1615 until 1950. It now houses Kimbolton School and this is where John Greening taught for a number of years (alongside Stuart Henson, another poet represented in the anthology).

With the declining sun streaming in through the opened French windows, looking out across the school playing fields, after an introduction from Kevin Gardner, we each read a couple of poems from the anthology. So – amongst others – John Greening read ‘A Huntingdonshire Nocturne’ about the very room we were assembled in, a subtle take on English history and education, Ulster and Drogheda. Hilary Davies’s poem rooted in Old Gwernyfed Manor in Wales, was a fantasy of lust, sacrifice, murder and hauntings. Stuart Henson’s compressed novelistic piece mysteriously described the murder or suicide of a Fourteenth Earl. Anne Berkeley remembered childhood isolation and bullying at a dilapidated Revesby Abbey. Rory Waterman re-visited the ruins of an old, tied lodge-house his grandmother once lived in. Lisa Kelly’s chewy foregrounded language (‘O drear, o dreary dreary dirge for this deer’) shaped itself into a sonnet. Rebecca Watts looked slant and briefly at Ickworth House, a glimpse of bees in lavender. Robert Selby was at Chevening, considering the clash of perspectives between the tourist’s casual gaze and the realities of tombs, time and history.

Martyn Crucefix, We’ll Meet Again/Well Met Again: my first public reading since lockdown

The full moon was rising, casting a shine on the water, casting a spell on me. Cypress trees hulked in their super power, long gnarled fingers sunken into the briny bottom, waiting patiently, so patiently. What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this stony rubbish? 

It felt like entering a womb; warm, languid, swaddling. Your white dress ballooning like a ghostly Datura, your hair a raft of floating silk, my fingers woven in its strands, my lips mouthing your secret, tender name…

Charlotte Hamrick, Those Dead Shrimp Blues

Patrick Dougherty makes large-scale sculptures from sticks, twigs, stripped saplings. You can enter into the worlds of these structures like a creature, like wind. He said this about his medium, “I feel that materials have rules, they tend to have sets of possibilities….Sticks snag and entangle easily…so they have an inherent method of joining….For me sticks are not only the material of my structures, but are lines with which to draw.”

I love thinking about language in this way, words and syntax as tangling elements, sentences as lines drawn across and down the page. Multimedia artist Tara Rebele said to me once, “Everything is text.” This idea both confounds and opens me. It’s the possibilities inherent in half-heard conversations, street signs, the way shadows stripe the winter woods into zebra, the several zebras that have been at large for weeks in some Maryland suburb.

Marilyn McCabe, Isn’t it good; or, On Word as Material

It’s been a dreary week with record cold days (with the records of cold going back to the 1800’s!) and record rain. To cheer ourselves up, we visited the local farm stands, so we had fresh corn to make salads with and sweet baby peppers and apples and squashes of all sorts. We made pear soup (don’t know if I’d recommend) and baked cranberry apply bread and generally tried to stay warm. Glenn also had a physical on Monday and his third Pfizer booster shot. By the end of the week, not just Pfizer, but all the boosters had been approved.

After our weekend plans to visit my little brother and a friend over the water were ruined by problems with the ferries, we decided to make the most of the warmer day and partial sunlight and visited a brand new but beautiful pumpkin farm near our house, JB’s Pumpkins in Redmond, and Kirkland’s Carillon Point to find roses on the water still blooming, and went grocery shopping in person (something we rarely do) at Metropolitan Market. Plentiful produce and flowers, but other shelves – frozen aisle, dry goods, paper goods – were empty. A little unnerving, like we were having a hurricane that we didn’t know about. But everyone was in a kind mood – even friendly – which seems like people responding to lowering covid levels and, of course, the nicer weather after a very dark cold week.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Harvests (with Record Cold and Rain,) A Poem in Bellevue Literary Review, A Meditation on Boosters, Ferry Snafus and Shortages

It’s been a crazy week, but then, I expected it.  One deadline was moved forward a couple weeks, which offered a little reprieve, but the end of this one found me hanging an exhibit over the span of two floors, meeting with the college paper for an in-depth interview about it, and  giving an hour long academic talk about zines (thankfully, even paid!).  All the while trying to do, you know, my regular duties in the library, so things felt a little sideways as the week wore on.  Yet still, this morning, I was awake early with coffee and a delicious raspberry danish, making plans for the coming week and settling into a day of chapbook making on new titles. It was so chilly, I had to close all the open windows–a first this season–so it does seem we have moved fully into autumn. It’s two weeks til Halloween. Three weeks until that weird first week of November anniversary that plagues me even four years later. My dreams get weirder as we move through fall, sometimes involving my mother, sometimes not.  Last night, I dreamed I was harboring a small horse as a pet in my apartment.  Shit gets strange.

Sometimes,  I feel like the day to day vacillates between dead ends and possibility. Ways in and ways out.  I don’t have a plan any more than I have a possible trajectory over the next few months. A way of traveling I hope will lead to better things. It’s scary to be working without a safety net, and yet, if you rely too much on the safety net, you never learn to balance.  I’ve been on a break from poems, a little bit to work on the fiction I’ve been dallying with, also just because my head is full of so much, there is less room for words.  I am also hovering between larger projects, so there is a moment of pause as I choose where to go next.  I feel like I am missing the motivation I used to have for certain things but gaining in others. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/16/2021

[Dobby] Gibson shows how our routines distract us from pending disaster, how — instead of compelling us toward action — our daily routines compel us to repeat our daily routines. The poem even mimics this uninterrupted cycle: We’re with the speaker as he consumes reminders of the crisis then goes about his day as planned. We claim to be awake to the danger (the poem opens, “Once awake”), but then we go about our business. We get on with the sameness. Its repetition is a sedative: “When I asked you what day it was, / you said the day after yesterday.” Our inability to stop mutes our response to climate crisis. Awareness is a dull weapon. Our habits are stronger than our fears, more reliable than our desire.

I think immediately of Rachel Zucker’s book the pedestrians and jump up to grab it off the shelf. I’ve written before about the power of that book, which evokes the experience of how painful it can be when things (relationships, life, etc.) become humdrum, how lack of feeling, or maybe appropriate feeling, can be extremely painful. Inattention is gut-wrenching. Indifference is unendurable. For example, Zucker writes, “Many days passed. Many nights. The same number of days and nights. They slept in the smoke-drenched bed or rather the husband snored and sputtered and she lay awake and unseeing under her chilled eye mask.” In its willfulness, the word unseeing gets me every time. And this, as well: “They were sitting on the deck having that same difficult conversation they had every few months no matter where they were or what else was happening.” Zucker captures the harm in doing what we’ve always done just because it’s what we’ve always done. Do we know how to make space for change?

Gibson’s poem evokes in me that same question, along with some others: Do we deserve to hope? Do we care, really? What does it say that we see what comes next and then let it happen anyway? The poem strongly implicates all of us. Take a look at the vase near the end of the poem: “No matter where we move the glass vase, / it leaves a ring.” We’re marked by evidence of our coveting, but instead of interrogating it, we’re distracted by what’s inconsequential: the ring vs. the container or what the container holds. The language Gibson uses throughout the poem builds up to this moment of profound distraction. He makes the objects in the poem far sexier than “survival.” He describes his smartphone as a “terrible orb” and animates the barbershop’s combs, which are “swimming in little blue aquariums.”

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt about climate crisis

‘Awful but cheerful’ is the final phrase and line of ‘The Bight‘, by Elizabeth Bishop. I’ve always felt that the poem was like the lesser-played song on a double A-side single. ‘At the Fishhouses‘, its sister-poem of coastal life, seems so much more elemental, necessary, and, well, likeable. […]

And yet, in these strange and troubling times, it is to ‘The Bight’ that I find myself turning more often, and to its ending in particular, with its dying fall cadences, its note of things going on because they have to and in spite of. Isn’t this where a lot of our lives are lived, in ‘awful but cheerful’? From queuing at the supermarket (or for petrol) to waiting for chemotherapy drugs which may or may not arrive; from hoping for a climate miracle or just for a good night’s sleep: awful but cheerful is where I am at right now. I sit with it and watch the tide going out, knowing it will be back again soon. As Peter Carpenter once said about a goal being scored, the music of the line feels both inevitable and a complete surprise. This is why I read poetry.

Anthony Wilson, Awful but cheerful

I call myself agnostic mainly, atheist occasionally, but I pray sometimes. I don’t discuss it much: saying you talk to the underworld is likely to concern religious friends on behalf of your soul and skeptical friends on behalf of your brain. But while praying the way I was taught in Sunday school felt terrible–addressing formal words to a pale and distant father in the sky who never answered–connecting imaginatively to soil and rock settles me. I even get good advice sometimes. Yep, what’s returning my calls may be a deeper part of myself rather than an outside force, yet I have an inkling that the inside-outside distinction is wrong-headed anyway, so I don’t worry about it. I’ll take whatever help the universe is offering.

Lesley Wheeler, Currents and circuits

Reasons to weep
are as numerous as the stars.

Every bodyworker knows
the muscle that cries out

is the victim: something else
has tightened into immobility.

But when it’s the heart
that cries out —

how can I delaminate
years of fused-together sorrows?

Rachel Barenblat, Tight

All the small hells beneath our tongue crumble. To no one in particular, we say how we are grateful for this shining breath and our next one.

Night whispers back how we are not alone. The skin of its voice soft to the touch as it tells us it will not leave us.

Rich Ferguson, Once Upon a Coyote Night

I’ve also long had an interest in the poetry of work, and so when I saw that Krista Tippett shared an interview from 2010 with Mike Rose, it got me thinking again in old ways (by which I mean independent of the pandemic). Sure ordinary life is different, but it’s still ordinary life, we still work, and we need to look for the joy in that. From On Being: “I grew up a witness,” Mike Rose wrote, “to the intelligence of the waitress in motion, the reflective welder, the strategy of the guy on the assembly line. This then is something I know: the thought it takes to do physical work.”

Isn’t it uplifting when you run into someone who does the thing they do with an enthusiasm, a precision, a care? And when they do it with delight, it IS a delight. Wow!

There is a book of conversations I love between Hélène Cixous and Mireille Calle-Gruber where MCG talks about the vulnerability one needs to write, and “the fact that it takes a lot of love to write.” And I think, it’s like that with everything, really, whatever work you do. HC says, “In the end, love is very easy. When you love, it’s easy; all that is difficult is easy. Because you are continually paying yourself…” I’m sure some people wonder why the heck I do this blog for little fanfare or acclaim or cash damn dollars. I always come back to this answer, that I love it and so I am constantly paying myself. Don’t get me wrong I also love dollars, but I can’t think about them, I just have to think about what I love. I rather foolishly and brilliantly put most of my faith in doing what I love. I am continually paying myself.

Shawna Lemay, Life I love You

When the book gets accepted, everything is awesome.

THEN, you start editing it and realize the book is awful, actually awful. There are so many mistakes and also so much just pure awfulness.

THEN you have to ask for blurbs.
Oh Lord Have Mercy.

There are some really wonderful people who say Yes!, but there are some that say No (for various good reasons, but still. NO.).

THEN when the book comes out, some people read it and review it (Oh again Lord have Mercy!) and some offer Critique and not just nice-things (the nice things though are really, really nice to hear).

OR no one really reads it, and that is probably even worse.

All that to say, it is still totally worth pursuing publication. I’m not one of the three poets that America is interested in (Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Whoever Is Big on Instagram), so I don’t expect to reach more than a Poetry audience.

And I write religious poetry. From the perspective of a woman. So that just slashed readership in halves and halves.

(and I don’t really like it when people who know me read my books. If you know me, and you haven’t read my books–GOOD. Let’s keep it that way. I’ll maybe write more on this some other post.)

But sometimes I have people who read my book and really like it, and that is really nice.

Kinda makes it all worth it nice.

Renee Emerson, if you think publishing a book will make you feel super validated and great, then you are in for a surprise!

It’s good to crawl out from under the thin and watery blues with some good news. Hotel Almighty has been chosen as having one of the best-designed covers of 2020 by AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Artists! This is really a thrill. Back when I used to sojourn over to the Frankfurt Book Fair to do book-cover slide shows for one of my company’s publications, I used to pore over this very list swooning over good design.

The cover of Hotel Almighty was designed by Danika Isdahl and Kristen Miller at Sarabande, who suggested the cut-out method I use with various collages in the book. I made the cover collage in a dank basement in the Austrian Alps two summers ago. I mocked up three ideas and they liked this one. And I did too. I couldn’t be happier. It’s a good cover and a good ambassador for the book.

Sarah J Sloat, A Design Winner

It [is] very moving to receive a Jewish award for a novel about the Holocaust, particularly one that draws deeply on the story and experiences of my family and their history in Lithuania.

Literature can offer connection, empathy, understanding and consolation between those of vastly different experiences. It explains ourselves to ourselves but also to others. 

And my book makes connections between the Shoah and Indigenous genocide. Once, the remarkable Metis writer, Cherie Dimaline said to me that “we’re genocide buddies.” Jews and Indigenous peoples. That’s brutally true. And important.

Since I first encountered them as a teenager, I often think of these lines from Marvin Bell’s poem “Gemwood.” “Now it seems to me the heart /must enlarge to hold the losses /we have ahead of us.”

 To me this means that while we must be ready for what the future brings, we must be also be ready for the extent of the losses of the past and present as we continue to learn. Like the universe itself, both past and present never stop expanding. That’s one function of writing. To expand but also to encounter that expansion, those stories.

Gary Barwin, Canadian Jewish Literary Award and new paperback cover for NOTHING THE SAME, EVERYTHING HAUNTED

Although I’m on a year’s leave of absence from the University of York, I’m actually still plugged in to Dante and also Chaucer these days, and find myself referring to notes I was making on my core course module last year. I’m loving Mary Jo Bang’s translation of Purgatorio, incorporating characters and language from the present day, although I suspect it might be sniffed at in some scholarly circles!

As regards submissions to magazines, I’ve decided to step away from them for bit. I have half a dozen poems out at the moment, but I’m not sending any more for now. I have a few reasons for this.

Firstly, I don’t need to, in the sense that I have a track record of publication now, and I’ve nothing to prove to myself or anyone else. I think I’ve found my level. It would have been nice to be have published in The Poetry Review or Granta, but it’s OK to accept that it’s not going to happen. I could kill myself trying to write the ‘right’ sort of stuff, or I could write what I want to write, and enjoy honing it as best I can.

Secondly (related to the first point), I have a publisher for my first collection. I don’t have the collection yet, but I have the freedom to complete it, knowing it will have a home. This is a very privileged position to be in and I want to enjoy the moment, not fret about why Publication A, B or C don’t want any of the individual poems. Plenty of high profile poets have told about how the individual poems in their (successful) collections were consistently rejected by magazines. Or even that they never submitted them to magazines.

I can’t swear that I won’t submit the odd poem here and there, but I’ll be very happy not to be constantly putting my work up for possible rejection. I think the course at York has opened my eyes/mind to a lot of things. Perhaps a leave of absence makes the heart grow fonder – I’m starting to look forward to going back, which is quite a turnaround.

Robin Houghton, Readings, decisions, fresh starts

Now, in the wake of Covid, doing something only because it’s the way we used to do it feels like a thing of the past. We are reminded frequently of all that our students have been through and of what they are still enduring, and many things seem up for reconsideration.

Now, I strive to ground all of my practices in authentic purpose and true care. When I could see that some students were submitting assignments in the middle of the night, I told them that I never want to see that they’ve turned an assignment in after 11:00 pm. I’d rather they sleep and turn it in late. It doesn’t mean I don’t have due dates. I do. Every time, many students meet them, and some don’t. When they don’t, though, our conversations are not about the points they’ll lose. They are instead about what barriers are keeping them from getting their work done and what strategies we might use to remove them. No one seems to care that someone who turned the assignment in late gets the same full credit as someone who turned it in on time. Maybe it’s because we’ve talked about how grades should reflect what we know and can do with regard to our learning standards (rather than our behaviors), or maybe it’s because they like knowing that, should they need it, they will be given some grace when they can’t meet a deadline. (Because things happen to all of us, eventually.)

To be honest, I don’t know why they’re responding differently. I don’t really care. It doesn’t matter.

It is so freeing to teach this way, to be this way. It feels so much more humane. There are some natural consequences when deadlines are missed (say, when progress report grades are due), but I am driven much less by plans and deadlines that I’ve created and much more by what all of us need. The grace I extend comes back to me; when I explained to my students that some assignments wouldn’t be reflected in the progress report grades because I hadn’t had time to grade them yet, no one grumbled. It’s just how we are now, it seems. We trust that the soup will get made eventually, and some nights we eat take-out pizza because that’s all we can manage if we want to be OK. We’ll all live.

As I rest from this week and begin turning toward the next one, I’m wondering what more I can let go of, in order to free my hands for other things to hold on to. This week, the more I let go of ideas about some days being for work and others for the things I want to do, the more work became a fulfilling thing I wanted to do, and the more peace I felt about whatever I could and couldn’t accomplish in any given day, either in my school life or my home life.

All of this pondering about plans sent me back to the Burns poem alluded to in the title of this post, and re-reading it I focused on things I never have before, such as its line about Man’s dominion breaking social union. I realized how much our pandemic has been like his farmer’s plow, and how much I’m coming to think, like the farmer, that in spite of the sudden and unwanted destruction we’ve lived through (those of us who are still alive), it might be better to be the mouse than him, who looks back at prospects drear and forward to fears. Even though I know it could be upturned at any moment, I’m much preferring the honest nest I’m building now than the one that gave me false security before.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Best laid plans

Four Loblolly Pines—also called Sea Pines, Frankincense Pines, Southern Pines—send their straight trunks through the North Carolina humidity. In a tangle of pine boughs, two hawks have built a nest you might mistake—as I have—for a squirrel’s. Under these pines, under the weep-like hawk cries circling their nest, is my house. In a back room on the first floor, the door closed against the sounds of my children’s play, is my desk. I think of the pines above me as I write, needles brushing the house, pinecones falling with a thunk against the roof. When the wind blows, you can hear the needles blow with it. I welcome the pines’ presence, even when I imagine one falling in a storm’s high winds, as one did through my neighbor Waverly’s kitchen, a few years back. If a pine wants in, it comes in—that pine made a skylight out of Waverly’s kitchen ceiling. Waverly says it took months to fix properly, and several contractors. The tree removal service for a single a large pine like a Loblolly can run you upwards and above a thousand dollars—one lesson here is that it costs to lower something, to haul something pine-sized away, to mulch the evidence of branches.

That the pines do not fall on our house I consider a daily mercy, and the hawks nesting in the pines a grace—especially since I own no chickens, unlike my mother and her grandparents, the majority of our Southern family tree filled with squawking fowl.

Han VanderHart, Learn from the Pine

He had finally stopped sweating. For once
Nixon didn’t look like he was trying to sell
us a ’65 Ford Galaxy with an off-color
hood. His body jerked and flipped as
wolves, in winter, tore long, dry strips of
flesh from Nixon’s carcass, chewing on
sinew under the moonless sky. Nixon’s
internal organs were already gone and
his bones hung like sugar skeletons inside
his skin. When the grizzly meal was finished
the wolves trotted off, their almost silent
footsteps fading into the trees.

James Lee Jobe, Nixon’s Body, Dug Up By Wolves

In New Jersey, 2021 was the Summer of Love — for the 17-year cicada. ;- )

My wife Nancy Fischer Waters and I collaborated on a prose / poem piece that captures a moment from that crazy-short time when the air was abuzz with cicadas. Talk about speed dating! […]

nothing to lose!
the way we danced
when we were 17

Bill Waters, Seventeen

The latest project translated by Montreal poet, editor, translator and critic Erín Moure is Uxío Novoneyra’s The Uplands: Book of the Courel and other poems, a bilingual edition with Moure’s English translation alongside Novoneyra’s original Galician “with an Erín Moure poem from Little Theatres, a dictionary, an essay, an introduction, and dreams” (El Paso TX: Veliz Books, 2020). As the back cover offers on the work and life of the late Galician poet Uxí oNovoneyra (1930-1999): “He was an eco-poet before the concept existed. Maybe he even invented it. He wrote and rewrote one great book all his life, Os Eidos[The Uplands], from which most of these poems are drawn.” […]

It has been interested to watch Erín Moure’s ongoing explorations through translation over the past two decades-plus, and it would appear that for Moure, translation isn’t purely a singular project or trajectory, but an extension and continuation of conversations that run throughout her work as a whole. One could point to the use of multiple languages and stitched-in materials throughout her own poetry collection to her early book-length translations of poetry from French into English (Nicole Brossard, for example), before eventually extending further, to engage with Portuguese and  Spanish, and Galician texts, beginning with the work of poet Chus Pato. Moure has long been attentive to both translation and what she calls transelation, attending to shifts not simply between and amid language but the possibilities themselves, of which there are so often more than a simple, single one. Her overlay across and into the work of Pessoa, Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2001), was a particular high point in her evolution as and through translation, and the ways through which she seems to approach the work of Uxío Novoneyra furthers the possibilities of what might be possible. Her notion of translation appears to be one of polyphonic conversation, writing out not but a singular definitive thread or perspective. It is her openness that allow for multiple elements in the original text, interacting with her own approaches and considerations, their equal weight.

rob mclennan, Uxío Novoneyra, The Uplands: Book of the Courel and other poems, trans. Erín Moure

[Rob Taylor]: You’ve translated the poetry of Wacław Iwaniuk and Andrzej Busza, Polish poets who, like yourself, immigrated to Canada soon after the war. Could you talk a little about how translation and, more broadly, Polish poetry and the Polish language, have influenced your own writing style?

[Lillian Boraks-Nemetz]: Translation influenced my English writing hugely. J. Michael Yates, an American poet teaching a creative writing course at UBC, noticed that I had a knack for translation and encouraged me. I was also encouraged by a British Poet at UBC , Michael Bullock, also known worldwide for his German translations.

I come from a broken language. I wrote in Polish as a little girl, then I was told when we came here that my past did not exist, only my English future. When I saw a Polish poem translated into English, I saw the possibility of my own writing. Here no one understood my harsh imagery, nor anything else I wrote about, and my work was rejected. A Polish scholar and a German poet told me once that when two animals fight with each other a third emerges. That was my version of English poetry.

Rob Taylor, A Third Animal Emerges: An Interview with Lillian Boraks-Nemetz

As I said, I’ve chosen to concentrate on poems that place themselves where the sky is enormous and isolating and where the landscape inevitably ends in a shadow line like the numinous dividing ‘lines’ in Rothko’s great canvasses. The collection is in six sections, or chapters, and each one contains a tidal river, or a sea shore, or saltings or estuaries reedbed and marsh and the dangerous unstable effulgent light off such places. As though you find yourself in a Turner that’s suddenly become live and cold and dangerous. This first poem is the opening poem of the first section, and and contains whole millennia of refugees. […]

I found it next to impossible to clear my mind of the appalling image of the fleeing being dragged down by all that had gone before, drowned by the clawing hands of history. Who can tell if they escaped in that wild boat, or who may plunge down with the cormorants ‘folding themselves like paper‘ into the detritus of the jettisoned and abandoned and wrecked.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Ruth Valentine’s “If you want thunder”

There you are in the garden, amazed
at how the time moved so quickly, a stone
that finally learned to lightly graze

each watery crest
instead of sinking with the weight
of its own resistance—

The crepe myrtle trees shed
their tattered tissue but you don’t know
if they’re entering or leaving their grief.

You yourself pull at threads: weft
and weave, your soul still anxious
about stitches and holes—

A thimbleful of seed,
a mouthful of feathers, a box
filled with all the words you remember—

Luisa A. Igloria, Weaving

Even when you cross it out
that doesn’t mean it’s gone,
the old monk told the poet.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (36)

Stop doing something, then start again to incur wonder. I.e., travel! You give your suitcase to strangers and pick it up on a Mediterranean island? You fly in the belly of a mechanical bird? Suddenly you’re above the clouds where the sun streaks pink, you look out the window again and you’re in darkness. You fly over a sepia city, small beads sewn into a warm fabric, a ground. There is a sinuous line dividing dark ocean from coast, dark wash of the Atlantic to urbanscape. This is night, do they never turn off the lights? It could be any city, but this is Lisbon, the first stop out of three. It’s 5am. Men shine in their fluorescent green vests, joking as they unload bags from the belly of the bird.Up and away to Rome, descending towards Rome. How stunned the ships, becalmed toys in the Mediterranean. What is that jagged shark…if not our plane’s trailing shadow. Flying over land, that cluster of reddish structures has the brush of the antique. Get closer, there’s a Roman amphitheater in the middle of weeds and industrial blocks. Made it to stop three. Welcome to Palermo, Sicily!

Jill Pearlman, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…Travel Again

shiny rock
many silent feet
before me

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 31

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: wildfires and harvest metaphors, Covid worries, learning to swim, reading books for the Sealey challenge, and much more.


Mountains of fire, the forest
Is a fantastic red blaze.
Lightning in the summer sky,
The earth is as dry as old bones.
And we burn, each of us is an ember.
This is the hour to hold on to hope,
The hour to keep faith and have courage.
May we not fail, and if we do fail
Let it be brazen. Let it be fierce.
Let the final light of being
Illuminate the entire earth.

James Lee Jobe, each of us is an ember

When I began this pastel a month ago, I was thinking with longing about the silvery olive trees in Greece, billowing in the wind off the sea and the mountain tops. That was before the wildfires began that are now raging across the mainland and the Peloponnese, bringing enormous destruction, suffering and loss. Today I look at this picture with different eyes, and have been thinking of the legend of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from the Olympian gods and gave it to humans — for that deed he was glorified by humans, but punished by Zeus, who chained him to a rock where an eagle continually preyed upon his liver, until Hercules freed him many centuries later. But it has taken three millennia for us to begin to understand the deeper meaning behind that myth, and why the gods might not have wanted man to have fire, and to start to recognize the results and the price of our selfish neglect of the earth and all its gifts.

This particular olive tree grows at the top of a hill in Epidaurus, site of perhaps the most perfect ancient Greek theater, and of the shrine of Asclepias: a sacred place of pilgrimage and healing for the ancient Greeks. I had climbed up all the steps of the theater to the very top, and then looked out over the back in the opposite direction, where there was a farmer’s road and a grove of olive trees, whose leaves made rustling music in the wind.

In the pastel, I tried to capture that sense of restless, continual movement against the stony ochre-tinged earth and the tall mountains in the distance: the time I spent contemplating that scene remains a memory just as vivid as that of the theater and the surrounding shrine.

Beth Adams, Olive Trees at Epidaurus

Since my last post here, my main creative accomplishment has been to keep the door open to both writing and visual art just for the pleasure… no expectation to make reading notes and no expectation to write anything more than notes or jot down bits of inspiration. I quietly kept my toe in the writing waters by finishing up a micro class with Sarah Freligh and Zoom workshops with both the Madwomen and members of my local poetry community.

I also let expectations go for my social life, for wellness pursuits, for schedules, for work, for play, etc. I am terrible at going with the flow, but I did surrender to it.

I realize now that this was a delayed response to the Collective Big Pause (i.e. global pandemic and associated social distancing/lock downs). I don’t do well with transitions, and I loathe uncertainty. I prefer clear paths over liminal space. I appreciate deadlines and established time frames. While so many of you leaned into the stillness of the pandemic, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I don’t mean the solitude got to me: Solitude is a good friend of mine. I mean that while many were able to soothe themselves with familiar pleasures (like favorite hobbies) or even seek new pleasures (like fresh projects or development of long-desired skills), I pretty much froze. I understood that I could be (maybe even should be) using the time differently, but instead I just sat in it. I worked online during the day, and at night and on weekends, I got numb. I checked out.

The last few months, early spring at first, now deep into summer, have been about easing my way back into feeling. I’m not all the way there yet, but starting with pleasure seemed wise. Savoring morning coffee. Working my muscles hard. Putting my ear to the creative ground and capturing bits of language. Shooting the shit with my boys whenever the opportunity presents itself and for as long. Absorbing sun. Reading books cover-to-cover. Painting my nails. Eating and drinking what I want.

Carolee Bennett, the annoying chewing sounds my brain makes

brown water grey headland
litter of shattered shale
wave lines slant to the shore

junction 23 roundabout
a mass of moon daisies
horses up to their knees in buttercups

I have the right
to be absolutely
wrong

Ama Bolton, Desire Lines

I grew up in small towns. On top of that, I lived in the country, not in town. I think living in relative isolation was good preparation for living in a pandemic. Honestly, I’m only now starting to miss in-person socializing. A little. One good thing about isolation of this kind is that you have almost complete control over your life and how you want to spend your time because you don’t have a lot of outside choices. There have been minimal demands from “out there” and I’ve spent almost every day doing exactly what I wanted. Kind of like it was before I started grade school. I was an expert at entertaining myself. I had books, I had nature, I had animals. I was never bored. During the past year and a half I have rarely been bored. I feel sad for people who need more stimulation. I’m sure it’s been much harder on them.

Charlotte Hamrick, Favorite Fiction: 2nd Quarter 2021

I have to admit, my three days a week in the library (courtesy of all those extra vacation days I’d been hoarding the past couple years) have made this summer seem a bit lengthier than they usually are. While most pass in a stack of weeks that are indistinguishable from the next. Now there’s some space between the work weeks–days I can devote to other kinds of work–mostly writing and the press, but sometimes a little painting thrown in. They make the days I go downtown feel like a singular week and not just one bleeding into the next. But even still. we are already knee deep in August it seems. Already creeping closer to the beginning of the semester while side-eyeing the news headlines. Columbia seems to acting from a place of hope I’m not sure they will get to just yet. The edict a few weeks back about going maskless on campus was snatched away even before most of us actually took ours off for any period of time. There are plans for in-person outdoor convocation and 75 percent reduced instruction, but I still feel like they are being way too optimistic given that even in well-vaxxed Chicago, our positive rate is somehow, impossibly creeping up nevertheless and the rest of the state is a giant, under-vaccinated mess. I fear for the folks I know in Florida and have a governor intent on killing everyone it seems. Even places under good leadership are failing.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/7/2021

I don’t want to reckon with my choices:
feels like that’s all we’ve done for 18 months
(should I mask, is this safe, what if
we meet outside and never breathe together?)
I don’t want to query who will live
and who will die, who by wildfire and who
by flooded subway, who intubated and alone
and who will have enough while others lack.
I just want all of us to thrive: our hearts
at ease, our hopes in reach at last.
Come close to me, God. Comfort me with apples.
Remind me the world is born again each year —
even if I’m not ready, even if this year
I’m not sure I know the words to pray.

Rachel Barenblat, Sonnet for our second COVID Rosh Hashanah

I’ve staged this harvest, taking only enough spuds at a time for the next meal in order to achieve that tub-to-table-in-20-minutes freshness which has been the whole point, or at least a good part of the point. I’ve served them with mint from the window box, and roasted them with rosemary which grows next to the mint. With the next and final serving, I plan to smother then in buttery sage – the window box sage is flourishing, having been dug up and sent to me by Morar by Royal Mail last autumn. She’d read I didn’t have any to go with my parsley, rosemary, and thyme (I Bottle Abundance). 

The rest of the point of the harvest has been to do with the pleasure of engaging in the physical world, the necessity of it. The joy of it is the reminder that growth often takes place out of sight … but oh … this is beginning to sound like it’s heading in the direction of a sermon …

You’re right, dear reader: I’m going to use my potato harvest as a metaphor for creativity. You see, all the while these Charlottes were growing underground, I’ve been working on poems hidden in a file on my computer since 2019, now published by Fair Acre Press. I’d originally hoped their coming to light would coincide with Beethoven’s 250th birthday in December 2020. This late harvest has also come in stages: a Zoom launch, a reading at the Poetry Pharmacy, and then a performance in mid-Devon on a summer’s evening of extraordinary heat and calm. 

Carol Caffrey and I had hatched the idea of a joint event back in the spring when our host, Richard Higgins, was looking for productions for a short season of open air events. It had seemed, then, so theoretical, so impossible: the chances were that it would never happen.

And then, it did. 

Our journey down the M5 and through the high-hedged lanes was long. When we saw our names in huge letters on arrival at Brushford Barton, it was as if we had dug our hands into the soil, and, unbelieving until the moment of contact, found potatoes … 

Liz Lefroy, I Harvest My Crops

grain theory

there is something i need more than facts. i need a good theory. or better put i need a theory about good. consulting scientists seems useless. they want the former while i seek the later. what makes something anything or us good. i am listening to kenny garrett play his sax with miles davis. I believe that will be the starting point of my search for the theory of good. when miles plays a song you dont listen to the song you just listen to miles. the song will appear at some point but you just stay lost in miles and it will come when it feels like it. 

someday. maybe tomorrow. i will come to you all and report my findings in the middle of a five hundred acre field of rye…

the loose sounds
of jazz
composing a melody
out of a ‘riff’

Michael Rehling, Haibun 213

I like distinctions, categories, naming things. But then if I think too much about them, categories, they fall apart. I’ve been thinking again about this idea of “narrative” poetry and “lyric” poetry. Many intelligent things have been said about those categories, I’m sure, none of which I can remember at the moment. 

But I’ve been thinking too about time, as I often do, and time seems to be the primary distinction between the narrative and the lyric poem. A narrative unfolds over time; a lyric is of a moment. Is that true? 

I was asking a friend recently about a poem of hers that unfolds over a short period of time but is focused on the feeling of a moment. She describes what she’s been up to in her work recently as “trying to use fragments of narrative as part of an attempt to creat a non-narrative experience.” 

Is a narrative poem just a long way toward a lyric moment? I don’t know. Maybe. Isn’t the whole point of telling a story to give that moment of impact? When all the notes of the song come together in a resonant chord? 

But that idea of music is the purview of the lyric, isn’t it? The etymology of narrate is gnarus, meaning knowing. Not much is known about the origin of the word lyre, or Greek lyra or lura, that stringed instrument of long ago, but made its way to the French lyrique or short poem expression emotion suited for singing to the lyre. Or something like that. 

Marilyn McCabe, It’s time time time that you love; or, On Narrative, Lyric, and the Restless Eye

I’ve been in a funk this summer, and feeling, frankly, as though all this writing is pointless. Aren’t there already enough books in the world? Despite good friends, despite a class in which I was assigned to write one metaphor per day. (Which can also be similes, “This weird funk, purple like Puget Sound at dusk,” or brilliant word substitutions: “A blue funk washed over me.”) Despite walks. Despite baking many loaves of sourdough bread.

But it is August, and that means POPO, or POetry POstcard Fest. I don’t always sign up for August, as I participate in my friend Carla’s February postcards event each year. But this year, August postcards feels like a good idea. Somewhere I have a quote written down, about letting go of expectations and big-picture goals and doing just the one next right thing. The metaphors can be that next right thing; the postcards can be that next right thing.

Bethany Reid, Writing a Postcard

My grandfather cutting cantaloupe on a summer morning as he readies for work, the light shining through the sink window’s short curtains. He sprinkles his melon, soft and vivid as the Hermistons I offer to my son like jewels, with salt. Paul Harvey’s voice is tinny through the radio, and my grandmother is still sleeping in their bed upstairs. I like not needing to say anything, having him all to myself, being cared for only by him, who makes me a piece of toast in the toaster that now sits on a shelf in my mother’s kitchen. He dies of a heart attack at 63. The night he dies, I sleep in that bed with my grandma, in his spot. 

I sit at my kitchen table and read a piece my friend Sharon is writing about grandmothers and canning and writing. About preservation and sustenance. She writes that she cans with words, not food. Then I read my friend Bethany’s piece about doubting the purpose of writing, she who writes multiple books through decades of mothering and teaching. I consider my history, the jars of applesauce my great-grandmother sent to our suburban house every fall that she made from apples grown on the farm, and how three generations later I am only just now, well into a sixth decade of living, beginning to learn how to grow food. I consider the tomatoes ripening in a bowl on the table, the literal fruits of my labor. I consider the one book of poems I cultivated, now nearly 20 years ago, and I wonder if the writer in me is a pale hosta. Maybe she is. Or maybe she is a rat, scratching at survival through blog posts and Instasnippets. Maybe she is an invasive, drought-resistant perennial with deep, woody roots. Maybe she is none of those things and all of those things. Maybe she is everything in the garden–the hostas and rinds and rats and tomatoes and trumpets and weeds and bees, being fed by whatever they can find there, wherever they can find it. It’s a conceit that brings comfort, here on the edge of the cusp of autumn, these brief weeks of both harvesting and fading. 

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the edge of the cusp

clutching the letter —
her dad lifts her up
to the mail slot

Bill Waters, Haiku about family and friends

–As I looked at all the glassware, I thought of our younger selves, the ones who wanted to have a glass for every possible type of drink.  Have we ever made margaritas or martinis?  No, but if we do, we have the glass for it.

–I gave away the one, lonely wine glass, the first one I ever bought, at a store near the B.Dalton’s in a mall long ago.  I bought it the summer after I graduated from undergraduate school.  I imagined that a grown woman needed a wine glass.

–Why did I think a grown woman only needed one wine glass?  And why is it so small?

–How did we end up with so many pillowcases?  Where are the sheets that once went with these pillowcases?  Do the pillowcases miss the sheets that have gone on to other destinies?

When I got to the Good Will drop off station yesterday, I was surprised to see a line of cars.  I patiently waited my turn, watching the people pop out and haul their stuff to the pile:  a pair of shoes, a child’s scooter, bag after bag of stuff.  And then I added my two bags of stuff and my carton of glassware.  I pondered the basic question:  what will become of all this stuff?  Will it go round and round and round again?

There are larger questions, of course.  Do others really need my cast-aways?  How does the earth bear this burden?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wisdom from the Good Will Drop Off

Before becoming self-conscious of all the things I’m doing wrong, I didn’t used to think about swimming when swimming, but I did sometimes think about poems. Some poets like to go walking. Personally I rarely get inspired when I’m out and about. And I have to say I don’t really write anything in my head while swimming, but being in the water is fraught with metaphorical energy, as are (for me and many others I suspect) swimming pools generally. I’ve had a ‘lido’ poem on the go for at least a decade, I think it’s currently out somewhere but I won’t be surprised if it comes back rejected again. Unlike ‘Lido’ by Alison McVety from her fine collection Lighthouses (Smith Doorstop) that sticks in my mind, the swimmer ‘left to plough on’ in the rain, ‘ten years gone and I’m still turning and swimming, turning and swimming’.

I’m now trying to remember various ‘not waving but drowning’ type poems, particularly one by a (currently living) poet whose brother downed… perhaps you can help me out? I think I read it in a magazine some time in the last ten years. I just did a search for ‘poem about a brother who drowned’ and it threw up an extraordinary list of results, all of the ’25+ Heartening Poems for a Deceased Brother’s Funeral’ variety. Funerals are probably the only time 99% of the population ever wants to encounter a poem, to be fair. Anyway, if I ever get to do a flip turn I’ll let you know.

Robin Houghton, Not drowning but waving

I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve been on holiday for this past week which is extremely useful in refusing to be worn out. And when I say holiday, I mean that I’ve not been at my day job but have instead been working on the proofs for my book, Everything Affects Everyone, and sorting out various parts of my life and planning just a little into the future. We also went to Banff, and I visited this little tree growing in a stone fence, and which I’ve taken photos of for years. Still, this little tree refuses to give up its hold and boy do I admire and love this little tree for just rooting in and keeping the faith. I have communed with this little sapling for years via my camera lens, which I guess means that it’s not really a sapling, is it? Returning, I never really expect it to be there. Afterwards, I don’t think much about it. We go home, life resumes. But every year when we return to Banff, I mosey by and when it’s there it’s such a pleasant surprise.

Shawna Lemay, On Refusing to Be Worn Out

walking sideways
in bosherton’s lily ponds
freshwater crabs

swansea’s mirage
drinking with the dead poets
in the kardohma

dreams of empire
all the red in the atlas
fading away

laugharne
around every corner
dylan

blue pool
half the depth
of my trepidation

Jim Young [no title]

‘What’s wrong with me?’ you used to ask as you watched
the man you knew you were slipping from your grasp.
Oh Daddy, why can’t I just remember the good times?

Bingo, helping you with your Spanish homework, the time
we went to Laugharne together to Dylan’s boathouse,
how you used to say to me, ‘You’re just like your mother.’

But still, after all these months, when the curtain first
goes up on my memory it is the latter darkness
that steps towards the footlights. I have to believe

this will pass, that grief will loosen its shroud
and the stage will flood with light and I will be
filled with joy, with the grace of your well-lived life.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Stage

He recants forms, the shape and texture of her throat once
translucent as a lotus stem, an old woman’s pouch now. When
she lifts her feet to cross the threshold, he turns away to burrow
in the pastel core of silence, looking intently at the emptiness
as the air decants with the freedom of uncoupling.

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling

I’m starting to worry about having a job. I don’t mean whether I can find one. I mean whether it was a good idea to find the one I’ve got. I work just three days a week and that seems like not that much until I think THREE OUT OF SEVEN DAYS THAT’S ALMOST HALF and then I start questioning everything. Without the job I make about $250 a month doing my little things I do. Sending people weird emails and making the occasional podcast. I used to make twice that but I gave one of my shows to someone else because if there’s one thing I’ve always been good at it’s financial planning. I mostly don’t watch other van life videos or Instagram accounts anymore but the other day I caught up on one of my favorites and he’s out there climbing mountains and paddling across lakes and I have, like, five polo shirts so I can wear them to work and I wonder if I’ve slid back too far. Right now I’m listening to the rain on the roof of the van and thinking about the loon calls I heard earlier and remembering the smell of the high desert and that time I drove as far as you can drive until you have to start paddling toward Havana and maybe I should go to bed and think about all this tomorrow.

Jason Crane, Havana

What turned out to be four lines of the poem appeared as I was driving along the M4 in rain like stair rods. I found myself repeating them over and over in my head to avoid forgetting them, building on what was one line, then two before getting to the fourth one. I was just debating whether to ask Rachael to write them down for me or to ask Siri to take a note (that would have felt weird, talking gibberish into my wrist while R and F were listening), but thankfully a services popped up, so I could type it up to come back to.

It’s a start. Who knows what will come of it.

Mat Riches, Vona Groarke’s Trumpet

I’m really delighted that my video accidentals (recalculated) has been selected for the International Review of Poetry, Videopoetry and Video-Art for the special on-line 10th edition of Bologna in Lettere, screening on 4th August 2021, curated by Enzo Campi.

This video started out life as a more-or-less standard poem. But then I realised that I could replace many of the verbs, prepositions, conjunctions and other linguistic elements with mathematical operators or symbols used in algebra, statistic,computing and engineering. The implementation of these operators and symbols in the piece is all internally consistent, so that a given symbol always means the same thing. Video was the ideal way to integrate the new text with the original poem via the voice-over. Most of the images were filmed in and around my home in South Australia.

Ian Gibbins, accidentals (recalculated) at Bologna in Lettere 10th edition

I’m writing from a blessed weekend of rain after a 51-day drought here in the Seattle area. I took a long walk under the cloud cover and my garden is much happier. […]

So, the month of August is often a good month to get in a dose (or 30) of poetry with The Sealey Challenge, with the goal of reading a book of poetry a day and posting about it. So far, I didn’t quite make it to that (lots going on, read above) but I did read two new books and revisited a few old favorites, plus ordered a few signed copies of new books from friends. I also plan a visit to Open Books in Seattle when I can get the time.

I notice all the reading inspired me to write a few new poems – something I rarely do in August unless pressed – and helped me stay calm during a time of great stress. Also, Sylvia really enjoys getting in on the Sealey Challenge by playing model cat.

I encourage you all to do a little poetry shopping and/or revisiting old favorites on your shelf if you get the time, and posting about it. The conversation about poetry couldn’t happen at a better time – we all need a positive distraction from the endless stress of the past year and a half.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Too Much Drama, Sealey Challenges, Possible Good News, and Virtual Breadloaf Starting Tomorrow

Summer is almost over here in Finland, after months of high temps and no rain, thunderstorms hit last night and it’s been raining all day. Schools start back in a week, so we’re on the wind-down. 

I’m torn about going back, I will miss the lazy days, but I would really like to talk to adults again. My stress insomnia has already started up, but hopefully that will pass once I go back for our orientation. 

I’ve decided to try the Sealey Challenge this month, to read a poetry collection a day for the month of August. I have to admit I’m not good at keeping up with my poetry reading. I buy collections and dip into them, but often struggle to sit down and read the whole book at once. 

I’m not sure if I’ll get through a whole collection in one day and will sometimes feel I’m not doing justice to the poet. I read fiction quickly, too quickly to appreciate play of language and technique unless I force myself to really slow down like I’m doing with my current reread of Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon which is a beautifully poetic novel and needs a slow read. 

I will treat this challenge as the introduction to the poems I’m reading, a first splash about and then I can spend some time fully exploring my favourites later.

Gerry Stewart, Sealey Challenge: Day 1

The river runs through this book [Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz]. “The First Water is the Body” begins, “The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States–also, it is a part of my body.” Later, the “I” becomes a “we.” “We carry the river, its body of water, in our body.” In the poem called “exhibits from The American Water Museum,” water is like language: “I am fluent in water. Water is fluent in my body– / it spoke my body into existence.”

Love poems wind in and out. Animals. Snake, wolf, crane, coyote, bull, tiger, horse, yellow jacket, all the animals on the ark. More basketball. In “The Mustangs,” her brother is a high school basketball star; the team is beloved by the whole community. “We ran up and down the length of our lives, all of us, lit by the lights of the gym, toward freedom–we Mustangs. On those nights, we were forgiven for all we would ever do wrong.”

It was a beautiful day to read this book outside. I love August, its pure summer feel, its poignant, back-to-school-soon, summer’s-almost-over-feel—but it isn’t! Summer goes on and on, long past school. And now August is the Sealey Challenge for me, a poetry book a day, a lushness of reading in the green afternoon, the coneflowers blooming, phlox, round two of golden lilies, the oregano flower-headed and leaning out into the lawn. I love how I can read these poems to learn, to experience beauty and desire in someone else’s language, culture, voice. I’m reading for joy!–though, yes, I encounter grief–and for knowledge. I learn that “Manhattan is a Lenape Word.” I learn the “Top Ten Reasons Why Indians Are Good at Basketball.”

And what a thrill to find Kearney, Nebraska in a poem, a town I lived in as a child, and the sandhill cranes. In a heartbreaking brother poem with a dismantled Polaroid camera. What a book! And what is a sky hook? Ah, now I know!

Kathleen Kirk, Postcolonial Love Poem

Delayed due to lockdowns and pandemic but finally available is Jordan Abel’s incredibly powerful NISHGA (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021). His first book since his third poetry title, the Griffin Poetry Prize-winningInjun (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2016) [see my review of such here], the critical memoir that is NISHGA utilizes archival scraps, talks, interviews, visual poems and other forms into a book-length collage that speaks of and to generational trauma and the residential school system, and the ways in which he has used his work to engage larger conversations about aboriginal culture and colonialism, and an exploration on his own identity and indigeneity. As he writes early on in the collection under the title “Notes”: “I remember talking with a colleague of a colleague at a book launch in Vancouver. She came up to me after my reading and wanted to talk. At some point, she asked me if I spoke Nisga’a. I said no and she asked why. But it wasn’t just the question why. There was something else there too. She didn’t say it, but she wanted to know how I could have been so irresponsible. How I could have been Nisga’a my whole life but never bothered to learn the language. As if I had access. As if I could just flip a switch and know. as if I hadn’t wanted to. As if I hadn’t felt that hole inside me. As if filling it was that easy.”

He writes of generational violence that rippled out from the residential school system, and how his work in The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks, 2013) [see my review of such here], for example, responded directly to some of those concerns. He writes of his background as Nisga’a but without access to his biological father, a Nisga’a artist who left when Abel was still an infant. Abel speaks of that disconnect; of growing up Nisga’a without knowing or even meeting anyone else Nisga’a until, as an adult, he briefly met his father for the first time. There is an enormous amount of pain throughout this project, and Abel maps some dark and difficult histories, from his own personal disconnects to a generational trauma, prompted by that original break due to the theft of his grandparents as children. How might anyone respond in such a situation?

rob mclennan, Jordan Abel, NISHGA

Twenty years after the most deadly terrorist attack on United States soil, what comes to mind? 

For many of the 117 poets whose work was selected for the forthcoming commemorative anthology Crossing the Rift: North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath (Press 53, September 11, 2021), what comes to mind is “the morning / rainfreshed” (Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin, “Tony Writes to Say He’s Alive”), “[t]hat September morning’s iris of sky” (Debra Allbery, “The Wakeful Bird Sings Darkling”), cloudless and blued into brilliance before exploding into unforgettable images of fire and toxic smoke, of bodies falling and returned to dust. For others in this anniversary collection, memory remains “one of those days when you remember / exactly where you were,” when “we lost the last of our innocence” (Kaye Nelson Ratliff, “Infamous Days”) and were forever after to carry “the long litany of the lost” (Glenis Redmond, “Witness the Whole World”) into a “new age of wars, two wars abroad that never end, and one at home to rip the fabric of our nation apart” (Robert Morgan, “A Sickness in the Air”).  

The clarity of what is remembered, and of what was and continues to be done in consequence, acts as both thorn and spur. Raised as  they are, individually and collectively, the poets’ voices guide us through the wreckage of our common history and challenge us to seek something better.

Maureen Doallas, 9/11 Remembered: ‘Crossing the Rift’ (Review)

“The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” is a collection of flash fiction that shows how small moments can create the longest life changes, as exemplified in “Sarajevo Rose” where a man thinks back to his regular purchase of fresh flowers after a woman dropped a coin in the market place, “He doesn’t remember dropping his sister’s hand. The building shook with the blast. When he looked up, his sister was gone. Damir has read how Sarajevans painted red roses in the shell’s concrete scars. When his flowers wilt, the petals fall to the floor. Damir never picks them up.”

Most stories though are told from a woman’s viewpoint. The woman’s story starts with being a war reporter, in “Bulletproof” where “they loan me a flak jacket, a big blue thing designed for men. It squashes my shoulders, metal plates pinning flat my chest, breasts yielding to the weight of them.” Of course, she wears it for protection, but also because “there are more male journalists on the frontline than women, because men are better at the warry stuff, and women more lightweight. I wear it because I don’t want to rock the boat and give the news desk another reason not to send me to do this job. I wear it because I’ve told them I am the best ‘man’ for the job. I wear it because I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.” The problem isn’t that it’s ill-fitting or the sexism inherent in war-reporting but what it doesn’t protect her from: the very thing she’s there to report on.

Emma Lee, “The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” Hannah Storm (Reflex Press) – book review

In a recent interview, poet and essayist Erica Hunt shared the following in response to a question about the best writing advice she’d ever received:

From Rachel Blau DuPlessis in “Statement on Poetics”—paraphrasing now: A poem is “bottomless,” “intricate,” and “tangible” in detail. I like thinking this is true regardless of “school” or length. Here is what it has helped me to appreciate: A poem is a work made through language that bears rereading, to discover that difficulty is never without love.

Erica Hunt, interview

I’ve come to realize that these latter two concepts, rereading and difficulty, have become integral to my poetic practice. I have long considered rereading central to poetic experience. Rereading implies dwelling, lingering, becoming engrossed in the matter at hand. That we may read and reread a poem, each time coming away with more, with something different–that is poetry’s lifegiving gift. If nothing else, we reread because one can’t catch everything all at once. We look words up, try phrases aloud, wonder: Who talks like this? Life’s a cacophony we sense music out of; why shouldn’t art be similar?

The other concept, difficulty, is something that I have been slower to embrace. On one level, this reluctance seems natural. There is, for one, the early difficulty of the classroom, the way poetry is traditionally taught to be a kind of puzzle, a use of language shrouded in mystery, the poet a wizard behind a curtain, knowing more than you and deigning to obfuscate the ordinary for you to luck upon. And there are definitely poems that live up to this tradition; and this type of poetry remains teachable but not graspable, or, to use a word Hunt quotes above, tangible.

This occurrence of a poem being out of a reader’s grasp brings with it a number of connotations. On the one hand there is gaslighting; we have had whole generations believing that they are at fault for not understanding “great” poetry, which often leads people to give up on poetry altogether. This brings to mind the implication of the literal “grasp,” that there are certain people whose touch and presence around poetry would sully it. I try to dispel this kind of thinking in my own teaching practices by showing that linguistic difficulty should be embraced in good faith, that we can engage with a poem and allow it to teach us how to read it, but also that we should trust our reactions as readers as well. This good faith is a human trait, a way of endeavoring and persevering.

Finding ways of endeavoring and persevering is central to the body of work gathered in Hunt’s Jump the Clock: New & Selected Poems (Nightboat Books). Across Hunt’s lively body of work, one comes in contact with a voice able to interrogate while remaining attuned to language’s vulnerable and raw personal nature. When reading Hunt’s poems, one feels attuned to language’s plasticity at the service of connecting and not intellectual indulgence. To put it another way, her poems meet a reader half way and allow the reader space to work out meaning as well as a meaningful experience.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Erica Hunt’s Jump the Clock

A woman cradles a skull in her hands like a bouquet.
The sun carves scallops on every window. Each face
accepts the signature of time. Lie closer to the floor
where it is cooler. Dip a cotton square dipped in water
to lay across your brow. The procession
is just starting or ending. It begins
and ends at the same place.

Luisa A. Igloria, Acts of Levitation are Difficult in the Heat

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 26

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This July Fourth edition begins with some great meditations on being a writer and a reader, and goes on to include musings on interconnectedness, division, independence days, and more — proof that deep thinking can and does take place even in a season traditionally associated with breezy beach reads.


What comes in on the tide?
An empty chair.
Upright, screwed to metal plates on a flat rectangle of wood.
It settles at the foot of the cliffs.
The tide goes out.
Does the chair go with it or stay?
If I were the chair, I’d go.

If the empty chair doesn’t want to move, it won’t.
If, trying to ease the aches that come with age,
it welcomes the wind off the sea, if it tips back
its head and takes all its weight on its heels,
stretches out its battered arms, why then perhaps
it will find a way to rethink why it’s settled here,
as the early sun breaks through clouds dark with
rain and hunger and lightens the leaves of
the late-flowering cherry planted long ago
on a whim by the lighthouse keepers inside
the white wall of their garden, now overgrown.

Bob Mee, THE QUIET MAN WHO LIVED ON THE CLIFF TOP RETURNS

I was thinking about the way we think about good news, and the way we poets are always waiting for good news, and get a lot of rejections, and steel ourselves against disappointment, sometimes so much so that when we actually get this long-awaited good news, we underplay it, to keep ourselves from further disappointment. Isn’t it hard to celebrate? So much easier to expect the worse than to even dare to think about expecting the best possible thing? Is this a writer thing?

And here are some flowers from my garden, a little bit of Seattle in July. In the garden, I expect the deer to come and eat some flowers, and for unexpected plant illnesses to kill some of my favorite plants sometime. I just shrug and go ahead planting different plants and hoping for the best. Gardening is so optimistic – you plant some seeds, and you hope some of the seedlings survive and flower. I planted a bunch of poppy and sunflower seeds last year, and although they didn’t all come up, a lot of them survived and gave me flowers I didn’t have before. If you plant a tree in the wrong place, or with the wrong conditions, sometimes it dies. But if you fertilize, and water, and protect it from predators large and small, eventually, you will probably have a full-grown awe-inspiring tree. Trees make me happy. Flowers do too. Maybe the attitude I have towards gardening should also be the attitude I have towards my writing life.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Poem “Divination” in the new issue of Shenandoah, Birds, Heat Waves and the Fourth, Good News and Gardening

In order to allay their fear of each other they want
To create a forest of their own, where every leaf
And root is of their design and in thrall to them.
But the basic matter of their being confuses
And causes them (a) to mistake this structure
For theirs alone and their opposite pilgrim
For a statue or an ants’ nest, or (b) to fail
In their fury to notice that all they are doing
Is gathering small stones and withering flowers,
Constructing a frame of brittle twigs
With such care and laughable solemnity.
They are making a little castle like children
In the soft dirt at the feet of trees.

Chris Edgoose, When Reader Meets Text

But I think one thing I am doing wrong — if I want to read as I did back in the old eat and read days — is that I am reading too many books at once, and taking my books as medicine, rather than as psychedelics. The whole point is opening the doors of perception, nicht? Washing the windows. Instead I’ve been primly reading improving books. No wonder my attention flags. I should take my reading in heroic doses.

As I walked this morning, before dawn, there was actually a little rain, or a least a heavy dewfall. It felt miraculous. A post-apocalyptic blessing.

Dale Favier, Eat and Reading

even in a parallel universe –
is there this longing,
this poem?

[…]
But, in the middle of pandemic listlessness, absent inspiration, disappeared muse and a time-devouring day job, I’m compiling a book. More on that, when the path stops being so utterly uphill. Hope to read all your posts this week and write more-post more-read more…think I miss this space… more than I realized. Stay safe all…the planet of the variants is not a friendly place.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, This poem

What do you want your poetry to do?/what do you want to evoke in the reader/listener?

I want them to sense the life in the poem. Recognise it – something palpable. I’m interested in that place where thought and feeling meet; my poems are my emotions distilled, framed. It’s been about trying to find language. I want a reader to notice if they have that feeling in themself. I’m curious about resonance, and often writing about the other side of that coin: loneliness. If a reader recognises the emotion maybe that leaves us both subtly less isolated. I know that’s the effect reading can have on me.

I’ve focused a lot of my poems on areas of my life that caused me distress over decades, however ‘irrationally’. All I can do is share my feelings truthfully. So that’s what I’ve done. I wanted to leave a record: a kind of refusal, eventually, to suffer in silence. I like that adage cited by Banksy(?): art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. Yes.

Paul Tobin, interview with Charlotte Gann

From page one, Kay’s poetry resounds with a stunning sense of humanity that went straight to my heart. I had driven myself out into the woods in the search for solitude — and yet, here was this book, charged with heartache and spirit and and love, making me long for human connection.

I don’t mean to say that I was swamped with feelings of loneliness. Rather, this book shaped in me the kind of longing that carried its own pleasure.

A perfect example is the poem “Montauk,” in which Kay shares the story of a place her family would visit in the summers. While at a pool, she sees a little girl and is about to speak to her, when the moment is interrupted by an older woman cannonballing into the water. Kay writes, “She comes up coughing, flailing, water in her nose. She comes / up laughing.  The little girl giggles. And me? Well, I am laughing, too.”

All of a sudden, three human beings, three strangers, are suddenly and briefly connected to each other through their shared laughter. And reading this, I smiled along, also connected to that simple, beautiful moment through the words on the page. I found myself hugging the book to my chest. I love people, I thought. Sometimes they’re wonderful.

Andrea Blythe, The Resounding Humanity of Sarah Kay’s ‘No Matter the Wreckage’

that moment
when the sea is yours
alone

Jim Young [no title]

The poems in this book are brave. There’s a co-existence of a huge zest for life with an awareness of the ageing process to such an extent that it’s impossible to read the collection without being infected with an urge to make the most of life. And then there’s Cox’s embracing and subverting of poetic influences to layer them with her own idiosyncrasies, as in ‘Marmalade’…

There’s a pot of your dark orange marmalade in my cupboard,
still unopened. It lasts a long time but I might never open it now.
The last time you gave me some jars I asked how much
you’d made and you said enough to see us out…

This poem doesn’t hide from its connection with Larkin’s ‘An April Sunday brings the snow’. Instead, it takes his male, filial perspective and filters it through an intensely female view of friendship.

In other words, Meg Cox’s poetry is a joy. Whether savoured in sips or gulped down in one, A Square of Sunlightis an excellent read. As mentioned above, it will probably lodge in people’s minds thanks to its excellent rhyming pieces. However, the collection’s greatest value perhaps lies in Cox’s diction. It’s claimed that the best radio presenters manage to speak as if addressing a single person, striking up a conversation, making the addressee feel special and unique, as if the presenter in question is talking only to them. Few poets achieve such an effect, but Meg Cox does so. Get hold of her book and let her talk to you too…

Matthew Stewart, Talking to you, Meg Cox’s A Square of Sunlight

I’m thinking about Piaget and his notions of assimilation and of accommodation, and what that has to do with the great fogginzo. I’m probably over-simplifying, at best, but I always took it to refer to two modes of learning (both essential. Not an either/or). The first kind consolidates your ideas about the way the world works. It doesn’t disturb you. We tend to read news that we agree with, or agrees with our model of things. Ditto fiction, and poetry. And so on. The second challenges and disturbs. It demands that you change your models and assumptions in greater or lesser degree…. like recognising, say, that the earth goes round the sun and not vice versa. Or agreeing that the Bible might be written in English. People died for ideas like that. Being challenged by a feisty headmistress to accept a role no one gave you the lines for demands accommodation.

If we want to grow, we need to be disturbed (in good ways). What I look for in poems and poets is that challenge to see the world anew, and in ways that ultimately change me. And it’s what I find, in spades, in the work of today’s guest, Natalie Rees, and particularly in her pamphlet Low Tide from Calder Valley Poetry.

John Foggin, Catching up: Natalie Rees’ “Low Tide”

Inspiration is rare, precious, and best not relied on. It tends to occur when we least expect it. When it does, it’s as if the heavens opened up and it rained golden lollipops. Those lollipops can be deceiving, however, leading us to think we only have to wait for brilliance to occur.

An example from my own practice is the poem “After the Migraine,” which I sent to The Cumberland River Review. The editor responded a few weeks later: “We like your poem,” his email said, “but we think it needs a few more stanzas. It’s just getting started when it ends.” The first four stanzas of that poem wrote themselves, as they say, but now I had to write four more stanzas to stand a chance at getting the poem accepted. I worked hard, doubling the length of the poem, and after two weeks I had a new draft. I sent that one in and hurray! it was accepted. Needless to say, the last four stanzas were much more difficult to write than the first four, and I had to go deeper into the territory I’d begun exploring in the first draft. The effort was worth it, and I’m grateful to Graham Hillard, The Cumberland River Review’s editor, for giving me the chance to write that draft. 

The harder you look, the deeper you go, the more you will rely on your skills as a story-teller. It’s fine to write what you know, of course, but don’t limit what you know to just a few experiences or topics. You will find that the more you write, the more your own writing becomes your inspiration.

If that sounds a bit existential, well, it is. 

Erica Goss, What’s Wrong with Inspiration?

It’s here, it’s here! So incredibly thrilled to share my poem “Spring Coronal” is in the July/August issue of POETRY Magazine! Endless gratitude to Ashley M. Jones for including me alongside so many poets I admire and to all the staff for the care they’ve shown my work.

I would have to transcribe the entire table of contents to include everyone I’m honored to share space with, but it’s a particular joy to be published with Monica Ong Reed, with whom I attended my first Kundiman retreat. I urge you to get a copy of the issue for the sheer pleasure of seeing her beautiful work unfolding and unfolding out, celestially. 

At bedtime tonight, my five-year-old daughter asked to read my poem–I hadn’t realized she meant she would try reading it aloud! It brought tears to my eyes to hear her.

Hyejung Kook [no title]

Last year, the mother / daughter duo Maternal Mitochondria created an installation of up-cycled metal fairy houses at the Santa Fe Skies RV Park. Inside each miniature dwelling was a little fairy poem on a beautifully wrought scroll that visitors could take out and read.

The installation was a success! In fact, people liked interacting with it so much that they left little tokens of their own: pebbles, pennies, painted rocks, and bits of their own art projects.

This year I was invited to provide the poems for the scrolls — an opportunity for which I’m very grateful, both as a poet and an advocate for poetry in public places.

Bill Waters, New scrolls in the fairy houses

It was lovely to follow a Tweet this morning and find my poem, “Catastrophe–,” in Issue 7 — the one year anniversary edition — of River Mouth Review.

So much has happened this year that my head’s all aswim, and when I get an acceptance or rejection email I have to remind myself of the 100+ submissions I made January-April, 2021. (Yes, this year, Bethany.) Most of them, I admit, are rejections. So, when I saw this blogpost, “How to Deal with Rejection,” from English writer Louise Tondeur, I eagerly read it. And was reassured. I thought you might be, as well.

Meanwhile, I notice that it’s about time to submit to Windfall: a Journal of Poetry of Place. Editors Bill Siverly and Michael McDowell publish only twice a year, and in the old, pre-Pandemic world, I would now and then  run into a copy of this lovely PNW-focused small journal at Powell’s in Portland, or Elliott Bay Books in Seattle. When I blogged about my friend Christine Kendall’s new book (back in April) and saw that she has published poems there, I thought, I miss them! And I immediately sent a check for a two-year subscription.

Bethany Reid, River Mouth Review, Issue 7

My new book, Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart, will officially be published on July 1st but books are shipping now. I’m signing each one so if you haven’t yet ordered a copy, do so today! I’m planning a small, private launch party to celebrate both this book, and my first book, Beautiful & Full of Monsters, as I never got to celebrate that one. Damn pandemic ruins everything… I’m looking forward to this small gathering of friends.

I was interviewed by Melodie at Soren Lit – we talked the south, writing, and expectations put on women. Give it a listen!

Courtney LeBlanc, Long Time, No Post

What day of the week did you write
your poem about spiders? Where

did light fall, and in which
direction? I imagine

you by third-storey window,
facing Bank Street, possibly

nineteen eighty-six, or eighty-five,
cascade of businesses long emptied

along the Somerset to Laurier corridor,
dust clouds tunnelling the absolute.

rob mclennan, Four poems for Michael Dennis

This week I’d like to highlight the recent release of the latest issue of Salamander! If I’m being honest, it’s still surreal to me be in the position of Editor-in-chief. A literary magazine is a confluence and meeting ground; it is also a lot of work, often in solitude. […]

I have edited more issues of Salamander under the pandemic than not. I share these details in order to give an impression of how my experience of Salamander has been framed. The emphasis on survival and perseverance that colors and shapes my personal, teaching, and writing life also has its place in the work represented by these pages. The hours of reading submissions, followed by the hours it takes to organize and order the contents of an issue, and then more hours in front of the computer working out the layout and design, these hours have happened across a wide range of moments of my life. Hours talking and writing with friends and loved ones affected by Covid-19 as well as grieving for those lost; hours of preparing lesson plans and answering emails to students navigating their own unpredictable lives; hours poring over the news for updates about vaccines—these hours all blur together and live around the work put into this issue.

José Angel Araguz, new Salamander issue!

This year you won two categories in the Saboteur Awards – no mean feat. Can you tell me what it means to you to have been voted Most Innovative Publisher?

It was the second time we’d been honoured with this, the first time was in 2017 and it felt just as wonderful. It’s been a difficult time for us all and the indie publishing industry was no exception. Bookshops closed, printers and others with less staff/longer turnaround etc To not only survive this but emerge strongly and with sufficient people thinking we were worthy of their vote just made our hearts sing. We are acutely aware that these awards are mostly down to the energy and enthusiasm of our Indigo community: our Indigo Dreamers must have supported us in droves! We shepherd a team of fantastic poets and it highlights them too, which is terrific and deserved.

What exciting things do you have planned for next year and has this year’s win enticed you down the road less travelled to explore new ventures?

We’ll actually be publishing fewer books than recent years. The pandemic has taught us all to evaluate time, and we will be working on poetry projects that we commission or request, continue as normal with our 3 magazines, and our own writing. Indigo have just published an innovative anthology, Dear Dylan, which not only contained ‘poems after’ Dylan but ‘letters to’ him. What would today’s poets like to say to him? We have a few more ‘different’ ideas along these lines and will also be publishing the second anthology with League Against Cruel Sports (Ronnie is poet-in-residence). We published the first in their near 100 year history.

Abegail Morley, An interview with Ronnie Goodyer on Indigo Dreams Publishing and the Saboteur Awards

There was and still are still some poetry blogger holdouts-those of us who still like a more open space to occupy. We blog about writing but also about other things in our lives. I remember an argument in the mid-aughts, incredibly sexist, that the reason male authored poetry blogs were more well known & respected  than women’s was because women tended not to limit their content to reviews and discussions solely about poetry and po-biz, but becuase their lives and personalities were too much in the blogs.  They wrote about their children.  About what they were reading.  What they were struggling with.  What they had for breakfast.  But these were always the most interesting things about these little windows into author’s lives.  While your review of the latest releases might be a cool skim through, I wanted to know what you were writing about, thinking about.  What scared you, because I was was probably scared of that too.  

In truth, my greatest opus, even with those earliest three years under lock and key, is this very space you are standing in. It’s not all genius or valuable.  Some of it’s insecure and whiny and cringe-worthy in retrospect.  Some of it helpful in guaging how my opinions have changed over time–my routines and general mood levels. Some of it useful for remembering things–almost like a photograph in words. The way the moon looked or the color of the lake. Sometimes, when I read old entries, they make me also think of what is not there–what was going on that I didn’t write about happening in the wings. Good things and really bad things. Things that I was too afraid to talk about lest I jinx them. Things I was too afraid of to put into words. But even still, so much is here–my giddiness over my first book being accepted. My MFA rants. The first photos of the empty studio space I spent so many years in. Readings and publication woes and notes for projects I was working on. Books I was editing and assembling. My first zine projects and collage exploits.  Snippets of poems in progress here and there. 

Kristy Bowen, little windows | on blogging

We are blessed to live at a time when we are largely free to embrace what we find meaningful, connecting our choices to what we truly value. That reconnection is profoundly restorative for us, but also resonates well beyond our own lives. Why? Because it’s a step toward healing much greater divides in ourselves and the world around us.

We’ve grown accustomed to division. Early on we learn to value our physical selves by little more than appearance and ability, turning to professionals to manage the symptoms our misunderstood bodies develop. We ignore inner promptings guiding us toward more authentic lives, then expect the resulting misery can be resolved by assigning blame, seeking distraction, or ingesting comfort. We cede our true authority to experts until we no longer recognize it in ourselves.

Laura Grace Weldon, Inner & Outer Coherence

Though I’m a relatively new Canadian, I am a North American of New England settler/colonial stock, and therefore share in the shame of what was done to the indigenous population of this continent. There is no way I can celebrate Canada Day, in light of the discovery of the graves of nearly 1,000 children who died at residential schools — and there will certainly be many more. I urge all of us to spend at least some time this day in reflection and sorrow about the tragedy that took place on this soil, and consideration of what can be done to make reparation.  

In addition, the indigenous people have warned repeatedly about the damage being done to the natural world, and have never abandoned their sense of stewardship. Do we need any more proof than the temperatures and wildfires in western Canada, or the recent tornadoes and violent weather here in Quebec? This is a time of reckoning on so many fronts, and we can either bury our heads in the sand, or demand genuine action by our governments, and work individually for change.

Beth Adams, A Somber July 1

Later, I thought about what a strange morning it was–first the biohazardous waste guy shows up to pick up the rotting corpses of last term (safely stored, according to the law, of course) and later I’m asked about hot dogs and the lack of enthusiasm for a contest to shovel a lot of them down our throats.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, My Day in Meat

I made an apple pie my son’s favorite and had a slice for breakfast with coffee which was delicious which made me feel my tiptop best like crap 

the neighbors have been shooting off fireworks since Wednesday fireworks that sound like cannons that sound like guns that sound like a rifle pointing at my head

every year on this day I relive my trauma my PTSD reels me to the floor (my bed my little boat where I hold onto the sides as I capsize) I used to think fireworks PTSD was only for soldiers even back in the 1990s before I had a name for it my anxiety cracked me through the roof which looked like my son becoming injured in a horrible accident or the house in flames or me losing my hearing or my cats running away the litany of woes dancing through my blood when I was still expected to show up to bring the giant bowl of potato salad make the pico de gallo with my tomatoes and peppers 

bake

the pie

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Happy Birthday, Red, White and Blue, our fragile young democracy. Young because all the people were given voting rights only with the Civil Rights movements of the ’60s, fragile because those rights to vote are being eroded by forces at the highest levels, democracy because it’s an aspirational idea that way back we dreamt, fought for and put on paper. We are as unstable as water, as pale though tough as volcanic rock, as shiftingly desirable as berries — one nation under an ever-changing composition of values and character beyond our flag’s colors.

Jill Pearlman, The Fruited, Tuffed Red, White & Blue

The next morning I got out the sprinklers to water the blueberry bushes. I thought I’d have a whole summer of berries from them, the way I did last year. Last week I bought a carton from the produce market, thinking they’d likely the be last one I’d have to purchase this year. I thought about childhood summers, where an 85 degree day was a scorcher, and about all the people who filled those days and are now gone from my life forever. I thought about time, and how events of the past year have distorted all my previous sense of it. Or maybe it’s just getting older, and having so many layers of memories that the earlier ones are getting soft as the mildewy pages of an old book.

For the first time since the heat broke, I really examined my blueberry bushes and could see that while my yield will be smaller this year, there will still be some. Among the shriveled husks of some are the plump bodies of others, already ripening and darkening. The morning after I say good-bye to my friend, I focus on those, on feeding them, understanding that I’m always going to want more of everything I love.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Dessication

And of course it is difficult to talk of what beauty can do for the human soul when so many think there is no element in us that could be named as soul. Dissect us, and the soul proves invisible, impossible to capture. We’re materialists! Why not get rid of the past when its beauties can do nothing for a non-existent thing? And so if people never pick up Emily Dickinson’s poems or Fielding’s Tom Jones, well, there’s just no finding out that perhaps works of arts do something strange and potent and stirring to an incorporeal, hard-to-pin part of them. 

Meanwhile, in a time of chaos and lack of unity between peoples, Gogol goes on telling us to reach for the highest possible thing in the realm of art. Imagine a making so strong and beautiful and full of energies that it leads to the transformation of all those who encounter it.

Marly Youmans, Stay cool! Winter poem. Gogol on art and transformation.

a-bomb into angel, bullet into bird, catatonia into crazyhorse, drudgery into drum solo, edema into embrace, fear into flying, gag rule into galileo, hacksaw into haiku, inept into indigo, junk mail into jukebox, kaput into keepsake, languish into lambent, mutter into mother, nadir into nighthawk, odious into oath, puddle into parable, quandary into quatrain, reckless into remedy, seethe into symphony, tumor into tuning fork, ulcer into utopia, villain into vesper, weasel into wonderland, xenophobe into xylophone, yoked yuck into yin and yang, zombie logic into zydeco delight.

Rich Ferguson, the reason for meaning

Fences
in the Sandhills

don’t know
what to do —

to hold in,
hold out,

hold on?

Tom Montag, NEBRASKA SANDHILLS (25)

In this chapter there may be time to stop
the course of events. The roof of the world
hasn’t dissolved completely from the heat
of collected emissions. Everything
that would flower is a little bit late,
but it might still be possible to sow
fields without dreading the old
aftermath of armies rising whole
from under each rock. The clocks
haven’t morphed into oversized lips
sliding down from their towers.
Wind stirs the pages, fills sails. Wind
that might actually fuel the change.

Luisa A. Igloria, Penultimate

That we might be folded together like napkins in a drawer. 

That midnight might find us close, night after night. 

That we might breathe as one, and yet be two. 

That time might be our bond, just as the river is bound to the valley. 

Yes, like the river and the valley.

James Lee Jobe, Words that grow like sunflowers.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 24

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: midsummer meditations on flow and current, invention and re-invention, translation and migration, food and domesticity, Father’s Day, Juneteenth, and more.


If you make a bowl of your hands
and let it fill with light, how will you keep it? It spills

and the moving air takes it. That high-strung English boy
thought it was seed for the west wind, but it is only the splash
of a ruined vessel. All of the made things break;

all of the leaves crumble. The pouring rain smells of tannin,
the mud runs clean, and the gutters fill with yellow and orange and red.
Please let this rain never end. Let this one be the last.

Dale Favier, A Prayer for the Last Rain

I’m open to doing other work, and the universe keeps putting job openings in my path that are enticing, but I haven’t applied for any. I’m making myself take a real break from employment first. I got my first job at 15, and other than the first few weeks of my freshman year of college, I’ve never been without one since. Even when I was on bedrest with my twins, I still did freelance editing gigs.

It all feels weird and uncomfortable and sad and strange and exciting. Sort of like being a teen-ager, but with a whole lot more insight and knowledge–about time, love, and myself.

I think I’m ready to start writing here again. Words have been knocking at the door of my head for a little while now, and I think there’s enough space cleared that I can begin to let them in.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Oh, hey there. It’s me again…

Juneteenth . . .
I free myself
from illusions

Bill Waters, Juneteenth

This week Peter Kenny and I got our 16th episode of Planet Poetry up and out … yesterday in fact… it would have been Thursday but I hadn’t finished editing it plus had a schoolpals meetup that afternoon then a Needlewriters event in the evening to co-host. This week the interviewee is Helen Ivory – a fine poet and a wonderful guest, fascinating, fun and generous. Do have a listen. Peter and I also chat about what we’ve been reading lately: Tomas Transtromer (me) and Robert Hamberger (Peter), then we get a tiny bit grumpy about this and that, as per usual!

There’s been so much to learn about podcasting and we’re still very much learning. Something we’re planning to have is an actual website sometime. We’ve got the domain, we’ve got the hosting and we’ve got the know-how. Just a bit more time required. Peter and I are a tad busier than when we started it last October! What we both agree on though is how it has opened us up to so much poetry that’s new to us and so many interesting poets and editors. It’s also super to get the occasional nice feedback, because when we’re recording it we do sometimes wonder if anyone’s going to be listening!

Robin Houghton, A sick kitty, Arvon, podcasting and MA latest

Here comes that voice of an out-of-tune piano going through puberty.

That voice of disillusioned lion tamers and agoraphobic elevators.

Here comes that voice of corpse flowers, halitosis, and half-witted party clowns down to their last balloon animal trick.

Here’s that voice of an expired driver’s license and siren lights in the rearview mirror.

That voice of an unemployed fortune-teller turned street preacher.

Here comes that voice of a grenade cross-dressing as a blade of grass.

Constipated jackhammers, clogged sinks, computers on the blink.

Here’s that voice of every moronic thing I’ve said and all the witty and insightful things I wish I’d said—

all those voices, and more, coming at me while I continue waiting on hold for someone from my bank to pick up the phone.

Rich Ferguson, Hardly a Party Line

The ghosts of COVID-19 are asking for new names and new faces. They come to me in the night and whisper their absurd requests in my ear. I am never frightened, but I also never oblige them; I offer them poems instead. So far not one ghost has accepted.

James Lee Jobe, 2 prose poems.

I only care about Bloomsday as a sort of cosmic accident. When I got to grad school and pored over the list of classes I could take, I discovered that most of them were full. As a new grad student, I was last to register. And so I found myself in Tom Rice’s class on James Joyce. What a life-changing experience that was.

I notice that several of the stories from Dubliners show up in anthologies, even first year literature anthologies. But would I have ever had the patience to wade through Ulysses all by myself? Absolutely not.

Bloomsday celebrates the day, June 16, on which all the action in Ulysses takes place. The book covers almost every kind of action that can take place in a human day: we see Leopold Bloom in the bathroom, we see Stephen Dedalus pick his nose, we see Leopold Bloom masturbate . . . and we finally get to the masterful final chapter, where Molly Bloom muses on the physicality of being a woman.

As with many books, whose scandalous reputations preceded them, I read and read and waited for the scandalous stuff. As a post-modern reader, I was most scandalized by how difficult it was. It’s hard to imagine that such a book would be published today.

But what a glorious book it is. What fun Joyce has, as he writes in different styles and plays with words. What a treat for English majors like me, who delighted in chasing down all the allusions.

I went on to write my M.A. thesis on Joyce, trying to prove that he wasn’t as anti-woman as his reputation painted him to be. Since then, other scholars have done a more thorough job than I did. But I’m still proud of that thesis. I learned a lot by writing it. At the time, it was the longest thing I had ever written–in the neighborhood of 50 pages. A few years later, I’d be writing 150 pages as I tackled my dissertation–on domestic violence in the Gothic. By the time I’d written my thesis, I had said all I had to say on Joyce.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Bloomsday Fuss

In the brain melting heat of last week, I pulled out a very short book I’ve read many times but it was the only thing I thought I could concentrate on. And what a pleasure it was again. Poet friends, if you have any interest at all in translation and you have not read this book, please find a copy of it: 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, by Eliot Weinberger with additional commentary by Octavio Paz. My MFA experience was not my favorite life experience, but it brought me to this book, for which I am forever grateful.

Presented is a 4 line poem of 5 characters per line, by Wang Wei, a Chinese poet from the 700s, written in an ancient Chinese literary language no longer spoken. A rough character-by-character English approximation is offered, and then 19 different translations from both scholarly-oriented and poetry-oriented translators, each with a short observation by Weinberger, often containing some delightful asperity. For example, he says of one attempt: “Thus Liu’s version is more accurate than most, but the first two lines heave, the third gasps, and the fourth falls with a thud on the mossy ground.”

But even as he is being impatient with a particular translation attempt, Weinberger is very forthcoming about the enormity of the translation task, detailing some of the challenges of translation in general, and particularly, translating a tonal language with a tradition of strict syllabics.

Marilyn McCabe, Hey, that’s no way to say…; or, On Translating Wang Wei

Shash Trevett’s debut pamphlet, From a Borrowed Land (Smith|Doorstop) begins with what feels like a cleansing, or perhaps a renewal. As a recent arrival to the UK as a refugee from the Sri Lankan civil war, in the first line of the opening poem, ‘New Words, New Clothes’, the speaker declares: “I discarded the words first”, immediately evoking not so much a sense of loss as one of self-will . The verb discard is surprising here, it is a deliberate action, not a passive one; we do not get the sense, even in a strange new country, that the “mute silence” she finds herself in is something happening to her, but rather it is being done by her; and I think there is a manifesto of strength in this short opening line. The speaker then begins observing – “I watched and learned like a mynah bird” – and building, as she replaces one language with another, transmogrifies one into another would be closer, as Trevett uses Tamil script (“அ became A”) to emphasise the physical transformation entailed in the process of language learning.

After a while through whispers and croaks
new words emerged
in the borrowed tongue of a borrowed land.

This first poem gives an authentic sense of a new-language user’s building confidence, from the symbol-changes, to the child-like simplicity of Edward Lear’s nonsense alphabet lines, to the “single, stuttering, borrowed syllables”, to the final graceful torrent implicit in “and the new words began to flow”. The new words, like a new set of clothes, have transformed the speaker, made her new again as she has escaped the painful history contained in her own language.

Chris Edgoose, Bearing the Beauty of Music

The Bidoon literati did not think of themselves as constituting a distinct group within a literary community of foreigners in a country whose cultural sector had collapsed in the wake of the Gulf War. They simply considered themselves individuals on the margin, so there were no attempts to present Bidoon writing as necessary or urgent. Most of them found a comfortable space for themselves in poetry—where it was comparatively less dangerous to write about identity and belonging and pillaging. Some critics traced the Bidoon preference for poetry over prose narration back to their Bedouin culture, which would be a reasonable enough interpretation if it wasn’t for its narrow horizons. The funny thing is that poetry was not actually ever safe as far as the Bidoon were concerned: all of us have always heard about visits by state security to poets’ homes, or decisions to fire Bidoon from the Kuwaiti press. Fahd Aafat is perhaps the most famous example of this, given that he disappeared into the prison system for a while on account of a poem that was interpreted as satirizing the Kuwaiti Emir, before later reappearing as a migrant in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. […]

In exile, I have met other Gulf peoples. Their origins on paper are India, or Iran, or Egypt, or the Philippines, and some of them write in English, but they were born and raised in the Gulf and then ended up in exile for one reason or another. They define themselves as “a writer from Abu Dhabi” or “a poet from Dubai” even though some of them don’t speak Arabic. Through reading their textural conjuring of a whole other Gulf I came to understand that my imagination had fallen victim to definitions of national literature. How have state institutions in the entire Arab world pulled off corroborating the notion of national literature as literature written by citizens, and necessarily in Arabic? Literature linked to state identity and state narratives, rather than to geography, which is in reality the natural vessel for any creative act. The state formation system across the Arab world—or even across the Third World as a whole—has been downloaded like a revelation received on the same template everywhere: in order to create your state, you must manufacture a folkloric culture, a literature, some arts and a traditional local dress, and then the lie is bound to become truth. Gamal Abdel Nasser dispatched his specialist committees to every corner of the Gulf, to organize cultural operations and trajectories that have come to be repeated ever since by successive generations of citizens who guard over them, their chests swelling with pride. And within these violent operations, no one leaves any space for the migrant or the Bidoon—or any other passerby stranded along with them—to join in and contribute with their own cultural production.

Mona Kareem, Bidoon: A Cause and Its Literature Are Born

we know so little about the journey :: when canyon smells of moon and mind

Grant Hackett [no title]

We slip back into the current
            of ourselves as if there hadn’t been
a break; as if the year didn’t add 
           long intervals of silence that branched 
across the four dimensions of space.
           We’re eager to throw back 
the shutters and put away 
           the books of the dead— 
Do they miss how near we came; how
           the wilderness between us at times
seemed as close as a wick to flame?

Luisa A. Igloria, We slip back into the current

I have finally decided on what my new poetry manuscript is—or, I’ve almost decided.

Poems about my childhood on a farm, about the farm and about the trees on the farm, about the people and animals there, and (especially) about my parents up to and including their deaths. It’s been an exhausting though rewarding journey, choosing which 60 poems would stand in for all the other poems I’ve written on these subjects.

My tentative title is The Dryad, which appears to be incomprehensible (to date) to about 1/20th of people I’ve shared it with. (My friend Karen says, “Keep it. They can look it up.”)

Subjects not in the book: waitressing, most of the 1,000,000 poems about my daughters (if the poem was set on a visit to the farm, it was fair game), poems explicitly about my marriage, poems about teaching, poems about recent politics, COVID-19, and so forth. Just farm poems and mom/dad poems (since our parents sort of are our geography, it all makes sense. I hope).

One part of my process has been reading many many poetry books by other people, with a steely eye looking out for book structure. Even though my mss. Is almost there, I’m still reading other poets’ books, and this week I am reading two books by Barbara Crooker.

A poet who writes about cows (and she does) never has any trouble winning my heart.

Bethany Reid, What Poetry Books Are Made of

I’m reading poems again for a literary magazine and I found myself leaving a cranky comment on the submission site about how poems about food bore me. I try not to leave cranky comments even though they are only seen by the editorial staff, but I could not stay silent any longer. There is no food experience I have ever had, no matter how toothsome or novel, that has inspired me to write a poem about it. I don’t care a whit about pomegranates or orange pulp or dates or fragrant stews or fresh-baked bread. Those thing are all fine and good, but my philosophy has always been, it’s just food. Eat and move on already. What’s with the fascination? It makes me wonder if I am somehow missing out on something. Like maybe I have a dulled sense of taste or that something fundamental to the human experience of food consumption is missing within me. I do often find myself annoyed that I have to eat and at odds with my stomach’s insistence that it’s hungry, so maybe there is something wonky in that part of my brain. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have a food experience amazing enough to inspire poetry, but I am solidly middle-aged and it hasn’t happened yet. (All this reminds me that I ate turtle stew once. It was okay.)

Kristen McHenry, Mild Hypochondria, Food Anhedonia, Emotional Growth

I hope there are poems about sandwiches. There are Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, but I hope there are poets writing sandwich poems right now. Or at least their own lunch poems.

I hope someone makes you a sandwich for your journey. I hope someone wraps you up a sandwich for your busy work day so you don’t have to run out of the office and stand in a too long line-up. I hope someone knows what your favourite sandwich is. I hope you smile when you open it up. I hope you also get chips or a pickle to go with. I hope your sandwich is a deep comfort to you. I hope your sandwich brings up a good memory. I hope your sandwich isn’t too soggy or too dry. If you made it yourself, I hope your sandwich reminds you that you’re worth all the sandwiches. I hope you have something good to read with your sandwich, and just the right drink — a Diet Coke, or an orangina, or a glass of cold white wine, or maybe a coffee. I hope your sandwich is satisfying and I hope your sandwich tides you over.

Shawna Lemay, The Emotional Life with Respect to Sandwiches

Sometimes when I wash the dishes, I am seized by the notion that I can attain some kind of transcendent absolute, will have brushed my scrubby against a joyful, radiant beauty if I can just clean every speck, every burnt skirmish from the surface of the pots and pans. It’s a lovely idea really, but perhaps I’d be better off cleaning the dishes reasonably well, learning to appreciate the imperfections and burned-on rice fragments, and then leaving the kitchen and playing saxophone or organizing poetry readings which have a stubby, spattered, ill-attended beauty all of their own. Poetry is great at asking questions, at destabilizing and making us look things (language, life, baboons, dishes, abstractions) in a different or renewed way, asking where is the poem coming from –who and why are behind or in the poem—and what is the occasion that it was made for or presented. And how do we read things, including ourselves? What is stuff: language, the world, ideas, values, communication, looking, reading, hearing, speaking, listening, witnessing, making, power, bodies, hierarchies, values, life, poetry, thinking. And how are things connected to other things. What’s going on and what isn’t. Creative rioting, writhing, riting. Rising. 

Gary Barwin, Washing the Dishes: Ars Poetica

Recently, I’ve been trying to thin out my book pile, and I’ve got rid of a few poetry books that, for whatever reason, I don’t think I’ll go back to. I’ve even managed to sell three on eBay for a small profit! Of course, the chances are that whatever space I’ve created on the book shelf will soon be swallowed up. However, one thing I’ve decided to do more of is make use of libraries. I ordered Jack Kerouac’s ‘The Dharma Bums’ last week, and this week got an email saying it was ready to collect. No charge as it was in the area. I’m impressed by the speed of that. No doubt for collections of haiku I’ll have to make a request outside my local area, so the wait will be longer. After all, haiku is a niche area to say the least.
Another great resource is The Haiku Foundation’s digital library. After a presentation at the Spring Gathering, I wanted to read ‘Drifting’ by Marco Fraticelli. Luckily, there it was, in the archive. Not that I’m a big fan of reading on the screen, but the instant availability won me over. Drifting is a collection of diary extracts by a woman called Celesta Taylor (written between 1905 and 1916) compiled by, and coupled with, haiku by Marco Fraticelli. As such, the collection is a haibun narrative, a poignant examination of love and loss set against a backdrop of financial hardship, domestic drudgery and ill health. This might sound too downbeat, but the writing is beautifully pitched and there’s a sense of lightness in the haiku that functions as a counterpoint to the bleak reality of Celeste’s lot. The extract below gives a flavour of the book, and I hope it whets your appetite enough to follow the link and read it for yourselves – Drifting.

Julie Mellor, Drifting

Throughout wifthing, McCarthy blends contemporary perspectives with Medieval experiences in the terrain of women through mothering, daughtering and the dreaded, dissolute “thing-ness” of how female work, thought, action and birth have been devalued generally and very specifically, cited as little more than the property of men. She writes a dialogue of previously unspoken, unrecorded and unheralded women and their experiences, writing to recover the absences and dismissals of history. “you get what you get & you don’t get upset,” she writes, in an early “margerykempething,” “margery kempe gives birth in a hairshirt / queen victoria in a shift nightdress / gives birth nine times & then her daughterthing / gives birth in same            a braid with & against / the wisp              patience is not her pigeon [.]” Or, as the poem that immediately follows opens: “there were two types of daughterthings     the ones / who purposely stepped on ginkgo ovules / & the ones who picked their ways around them [.]” She writes on female agency, from childhood to marriage; she writes on female desire, sexuality, motherhood and the complications that can arise postpartum. Engaged with deep and ongoing research, McCarthy explores the lives of Medieval women, writing the two sides of the long view: “you are the shape of my midlife crisis / margery kempe             where is your body / the cairn to mark you,” she writes, early on in the collection. As she cited in the chapbook edition, “margerykempething” took its title from the Book of Margery Kempe, the manuscript of which that sits in the British Library. It is an edition that sits as a single copy, giving Margery Kempe the title of “first English autobiographer.”

rob mclennan, Pattie McCarthy, wifthing

On weekends, my Youtube viewing schedule is largely plus-size fashion or thrifting hauls, a smattering of van and cabin life programming (aspirationally), some weird paranormal and urban legend stuff, and artist studio vlogs.  All of it happens while I am working on other things–cleaning, folding books, etc, so my concentration is rarely focused,  but Sunday  I was watching a painter do a study of a flower, kneeling carefully on the ground in her yard and it occurred to me how I very rarely attempt to render what is there in the physical world.  She would begin with a sketch, then moved closer to do more detail work.  While ultimately her pieces were a bit abstract and not true-to-life, it was definitely a different approach to creating that abstract object. While I have painted many flowers and trees and landscapes, they usually come not from something observed in the real world, but much more, the imagined. Or the developmental, what appears and can be finessed from whatever happens on the page when I start raking the brush across it.  Much is experimental and more about process–drips and smudges and color variations.  So much more about color and mood and a hint of realness, but no real efforts toward verisimilitude.

It occurred to me that my approach to writing is very similar, and poetry, by its nature may be as well. So much is color and shade and music, maybe a hint of  story pulling it along like an engine. I’ve often thought about how my work is definitely split along the demarcation line–circa 2004, when I began my first attempts at visual work.  The poems before were like trying to paint that flower but always feeling like I came up short. I knew exactly what I was trying to do, what I was trying to say, but like that perfectly rendered flower, I failed. I was never happy with the work.  The writing process, while I liked to have done it, was tolerable, but scarcely enjoyable.  More like kneeling in the sun on my heels uncomfortably for hours, only to get back inside and find I’d done the bloom no justice whatsoever.  And so it was like this poem after poem–all the way through my first book manuscript.  I’m not sure I would have stayed in the game had it always been like this book after book, poem after poem. 

In 2004 and 2005, something shifted.  The process of writing became much more like an assemblage. Of words, of images, of feelings and fragments.  I did a lot of collage-style writing and incorporating found texts then.  Would keep a notebook close to me to catch the stray line or images for later.  I would pluck a few and stick them down on the page and move them around to see what developed.  Some of it was word-salad, but some of it took shape into solid things. The best part was never knowing what I was going to get, so I was always delighted when I got anything at all. It didn’t have to look like a real flower or say the thing I most desperately wanted to say, mostly because it would create even more beautiful flowers, say things that i would never, with my intentions, think to say.  Sometimes, the most interesting narratives and themes came from the subconscious or the happenstance. There was a certain flow that made writing, if not always easier, highly enjoyable. Without expectations, everything was a success, no matter how small.

Kristy Bowen, the painter and the poem

I’m embracing the dialectic aspect of being a grown-up. The circling back. My students are my teachers in so many ways. Instead of a deeper education, I am getting a broader education in all that it is to be human. I have let go of the stupid notion that I’ve “seen it all” (at any age) and realize that if I believe that – that I have seen it before – I’m not looking closely enough at the details. What knowledge I have from before might offer itself as a key to unlocking something, but it isn’t the solution itself. There is no one-size-fits-all.

Until this year I struggled with the division of my efforts: nurturing other people’s talents, and making room for my own creative work/practices. I thought that the former sucked energy from the latter. But I am beginning to see how it doesn’t work like that. There is no either-or. That’s an excuse.

The occupation of teaching is the continuing education that is necessary for my vocation as an artist. For my growth. It connects me to a world beyond my own narrow perspective, and it keeps me soft and strong and capable of kneading the big emotions.

Ren Powell, Circling Back

Regardless of the challenge I was facing, from academic or artistic endeavors, to finding my way at a big university, to starting a business, my father always encouraged me to persevere, to be fair in all my dealings, concentrate on doing my own work tot he best of my ability rather than worrying about the competition, and to learn from my mistakes. If I had agreed to do something, or take a course, or learn something new, the rule was that I couldn’t stop in the middle, but had to see it through for the agreed-upon duration. His other mantra was “a thing worth doing at all is worth doing well.” I took that to heart as well. In combination with the influence of the strong women of my family, he also gave me the confidence to believe I could do whatever I wanted as a woman. I got my outgoing nature and love of humor from him, too. And in our nuclear family we had a rule: never let the sun go down on your anger.

My dad and I don’t agree about everything, of course, but we’ve kept to that rule, we’ve always been close, and there’s an unshakable bond of love and loyalty between us. It’s been hard not to see each other in person during these months of the pandemic and a closed border, but we’ve kept in touch by frequent phone calls and the occasional zoom. Today, at last, I received my second vaccination, and hope to be able to go down to see him in the fairly near future, so that’s something to celebrate in addition to Father’s Day. Dad, je t’embrasse!

Beth Adams, Happy Father’s Day

At school we had to pray they’d be forgiven,
those trespassers, who rambled viking fells,
ghylls and cloughs, sour gritstone moors
and green lanes cropped by mourning sheep.
They knew the land they walked should not be owned,
wished it was theirs; coveted the cottages
of the small stone villages, their tidy gardens.
Those men like my father, the woollen spinner,
namer of birds; presser of wild flowers.

John Foggin, Fathers Day

One of the wonderful things about Port Townsend is the ocean and the wildlife – so different from the woods and gardens of our home. We saw at least ten seals, several eagles, and tons of deer, including two little fawns. It was odd to go back and find some things changed – an old boat dock at Fort Warden that otters used to love to run across with their pups was torn down, to our dismay, and a roundabout in the road that was never there, plus some ugly development where there used to only be old growth forest. And an old-growth rose bower at Chetzemoka Park had been cut back almost to the root. We’ve only been absent a year or two, and yet…all these changes.

Another wonderful thing about Port Townsend is that besides offering beautiful views, fascinating flora and fauna, is that several of my friends (and soon, my little brother) live nearby. So I got to have a spontaneous afternoon coffee visit with poet friend Kelli Russell Agodon. We got to catch up on poetry news, then we hiked around a bit, birdwatched, and got rained on multiple times.

We talked about her latest book from Copper Canyon Press, we talked about my projects-in-progress, and generally I was reminded about the positive way that writer friends can help support our dreams and goals. After a year and a half of mostly staying in touch through phone calls, it is especially nice to be seeing people in person. It made me feel grateful.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Port Townsend Visit, Happy Solstice, and Appreciating Things While the Sun Stands Still

an ocean in a field
leading down to the sea
waving on an onshore
prevailing to be

a meadow in mist
the breath of a cow
morning thoughts
a series of how

can it be
this season of me
when all of the spaces
between spaces
lead down to the sea

Jim Young, to the sea

I am forcing myself to write despite my sense that the flow, such as it is, has narrowed. I’m keenly aware that there’s a lot of material beyond the blockage and opening the floodgates may be as unmanageable as the “dry period” is unrewarding. Funny thing about balance. Keeping the seesaw level–no easy task. And as my peers and I progress toward aging, the constriction metaphor applies all too well. Many people I know now walk around with plastic or metal tubes inserted in their interiors to keep vital organs ‘flowing.’ My mother’s brain operates through constricted blood vessels, and now she can barely produce an understandable sentence. My lower back’s accumulating calcium deposits that have narrowed the path my spinal cord takes as it does its daily, necessary work.

Sometimes the flow of anything gets constricted. In our bodies. In the earth’s rivers. In our cities and houses: clogging and backups, plumbing and traffic. We implant stents, dig culverts, widen highways, remove the blockage–once we have determined where it is. There’s the challenge. Where is the rub that keeps us from our dreams? (Hamlet couldn’t figure it out, either).

Ann E. Michael, Constricted

These are not your
Sandhills to write

about, the wind
tells the poet.

The poet doesn’t
listen to the wind,

but to the stars.

Tom Montag, NEBRASKA SANDHILLS (10)

My poems often engage with strangeness, but the first poem in this new book was haunted in new ways. This poem describes the night a family comes apart. It’s a moment I’d been trying to write for over twenty years. I’d almost given up when, drafting one morning, I let a bit of the strangeness of my recent fairy-tale poems cross over into this piece. That is to say, while I was drafting, ghost wolves showed up in the poem’s backyard. It’s actually a little less surprising than it sounds; these wolves had been a part of my dreams since childhood.

When I made room for them in this poem, though, something happened—not only to this draft, but to the next, and the next. Those wolves stuck around. They began taking up space, inviting their wildness and magic into the mix, and redefining what danger, safety, and even story meant in, and to, those memories.

From what places can you pull strangeness into your writing? If inviting it into your work feels challenging at first, try starting a dream journal. Keep a small notebook by your bed (or your phone), and when you wake—during the night, or first thing in the morning—take down odd images that linger from your dreams. Don’t worry about accuracy: allow whatever dream imagery, shapes and colors you recall—animals, weather, odd phrases—to lead you to words and images by association. Follow the flow; fill in the dream’s blanks. When you sit down to draft, open that journal back up, and copy out the more resonant bits. Let them seep into the work you’re doing, even if they don’t seem connected at first. Build bridges to the strange.

Tools for Re-Membering: Re-Framing Experience in Your Poems – guest post by Sally Rosen Kindred (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

Here, finally, the skybowl of night.

Milky Way within reach, our fingers can skate it; here Andromeda, Dipper, Orion, Sirius—lightning at the edges because night storm is the thing here, passionate and wild for fresh-washed days entirely skinless with gold and green—

And here, shooting stars above while below, spread over the grass as we are, a bowl of lightning bugs.

Discrete light, miraculous, above and below: we are of it, in it, entered.

Who is the ‘we’ now? The answer is yes.

To be human in this world has always seemed an error to me, for me, but in this one place, it is no deficit: here, for those who can listen, there is an invitation, a door to walk through, a way to be entirely inside and of the largest pattern, even so terribly small and badly constructed; spoken to by all of it and able to articulate back. There are no distinctions between this world and the spirit, between spirits, between animals, being.

Integrity, in every embodied breath.

Everything that could be, has been, sundered: here made whole.

JJS, Cleave

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, many bloggers took an existential turn. Others aired grievances and critiques. Sometimes they converged. Enjoy.


Fox barking to my right, to my left: what does it mean to be open? Risk, and patience. One bark after another, on and on they call and respond. Once home, once lost, once dead and blue at the bottom of the stair, stepped over: dream. Just a dream. The calls of foxes sound like screaming coughs, lungs gone closed and blued: I remember my dreams, even the ones I’d forget. What does it mean, “a wild patience has taken me this far,” if risk, if death? They bark and bark, echoing against June midnight, mountain. Crickets. Frogs. A whiffle of horse, a sussurus of sleep. I miss her, also gone. The new ones make sure to say my name.

JJS, Almost-ghazal, vulpine

and the rain
fell in one
long story
we sidestepped
between trees
i tripped my length
into fallen water
and you chased
a hare
into a rainbow

Dick Jones, dog sutras

You asked me once to tell about the whales
still in the deep places, untroubled. So I did.
I had a voice that persuaded then: I was young
and believed in victory. Far out to sea and far below,
I said, they are moving, huge and slow, older than us,
older than time, waiting us out. They know places still
that we do not. At last you fell asleep,
exhausted by fear and wretchedness: but I lay awake
and all night the stars picked their way across the sky.

Dale Favier, The Doubts

There are even organisms      

that rarely die simply because they get  old. Take the immortal jellyfish, for instance: faced
     with danger or threat, its clear, pulsing tent dandelion-ringed with 90 stingers might hitch a ride
     on the bottom of a cargo ship; or better yet, press the reset button to change itself back into a polyp.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Immortal Jellyfish Says No to Your Ageist Crap

The 27 year old finds a picture of your house, a picture of your writing room.  She imagines long mornings writing in dappled sunlight, drinking strong coffee.  She does not consider the long hours you have to work in your non-writing job to pay for the writing room where you never get to stay long enough. 

The 27 year old thinks about her own life trajectory, so much of it yet to come.  She thinks about your trajectory, both your writing arc and the other elements of your life’s narrative.  She cannot realize how fast it all goes, how one minute you are just starting out, full of resolve, ready to change the world with your words, and then the next minutes, decades have disappeared, while you still feel like your younger self.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writer Me: Younger Me, Older Me

between the soul and its autumn :: all of time can be found

Grant Hackett [no title]

I was, I wasn’t, I am, I’m not, I will be, I won’t be
I shot twenty-four arrows this afternoon
one hit the small pink target on the hay bale
the rest disappeared into the mist

I have a post office box & a driver’s license
am I real now?

Jason Crane, POEM: vespers

How many of you remember The Interlude on television, when there was only one (b/w) channel and a 17” screen was regarded as excessive, and potentially damaging to eyesight unless you lived  in a huge house? Programme sequences were interrupted intermittently by the interlude. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because the programmers had all grown up with the notion that visual entertainment like the theatre and the cinema traditionally had interval breaks when you could in one case go to the bar, and in another, buy an ice cream from a lady with a tray. Or maybe they thought that television posed too great a challenge to the concentration and/or eyesight, and that viewers needed a break for reasons of health and safety. 

Whatever the  reason, there would be a break that might feature a gently turning windmill or the hands of a person you never saw working at a potter’s wheel. It’s only just now struck me that they both involved turning wheels. Why? Are wheels soothing? If you use Google, you’ll find there was also one with a lady working a spinning wheel, but every now and then, a kitten playing with a ball of wool, and one of teams of horse drawn ploughs.

So I thought that if it was good enough for the BBC in its pomp, it was good enough for me. One reason why I write poems, and about poems, is that some years ago I used to go to folk clubs which were essentially sing-/play-arounds. The organiser would point to me and say “are you performing” and I’d say no and that would be it, until one night the organiser said ‘can’t you do a poem or something’. That’s how it started.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers

What struck me about the movie [I Used to Go Here], which was enjoyable enough, was a scene with the writer and a student in a cafe, where she begins to suggest edits and is cut off by the young writer’s reluctance to change her work in the interest of making it “publishable.” Set aside that most fiction writers have no idea about the experience of poets, and vice-versa, and the fact that it was weird they were having the conversation in the first place. There was something familiar and aggravating about the scene.  Especially given the main character’s queasy dissatisfaction with her publishing experience–no control on the edits, the cover, a general dislike of the book she just put into the world. The younger writer, who seems unliked by her fellow students for whatever reason,  is self-possessed enough to hold her ground in a way I’m not sure I would have been, even at 30.  She mentions that she likes her title and has no desire to change things for publishability. Is, in fact, planning on starting a press to publish work she wants to. You watch as the main character is both flabbergasted and deeply uncomfortable by the conversation, even mocking when she learns of the press and dismissive of the work she is shown.

It’s familiar because it happens to many of us.  Maybe all of us. When I was in my MFA program, I’d already started an online journal and was on the verge of starting the press, and yet people I met seemed one of two things–shocked or surprised, and largely put-off.  Instead of support, it was like a dirty little secret.   I once had a conversation with a male student I didn’t know all that well, and in the hallway outside class, he told me he “didn’t believe the things people said about” me and I was really confused.  I always felt like an outsider anyway–being slightly older, working for the college, being further along in publishing my work, and also, writing at a different stage in my development. I had a full-time job, creative distractions and limited time, so I wasn’t as much part of the socializing so many people talk about in programs. In the first few weeks of the very first workshop people seemed to at first, love my work, then slowly begin to hate it. The comments went from nice, to really mean, and I don’t think the work changed all that much. Later, I went out for a beer with two classmates and they said people didn’t like me because I didn’t seem to give a fuck about all of it, and maybe I didn’t.  It got better, I was part-time, so actually took classes over a four year span, and better and more self-directed poets joined on later and did things like start journals and presses and do the work of poeting.  The first year left a taste in my mouth, though, that never fully went away. 

Sometimes, I page back through this blog from those years, where I was very honest about my experience and my struggles.  I would fault myself not as not caring, but maybe caring too much about the wrong things. Or the things that weren’t for me. Unlike the younger writer in the film, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to question things like that publicly–that push to fit things into neat publishable boxes and to do things the way they’d been done only because someone said that was where they were done.  I might do so secretly under cover of the internet, but not in person. I saw so much bad advice in those years. For me and my classmates. I’m always shocked at the stats on MFA-ers who never write another word, but I get it. I totally do. 

Kristy Bowen, film notes | the mfa on screen

Sitting on my mother’s couch in Rohnert Park, watching the blue and red flashing lights on the television screen, I realized what must have happened. Of all the times for this to occur, my first and so far only reading at Moe’s happened to coincide with an event that included the possibility of violence. Not even the most die-hard poetry fans would risk bodily injury to hear me read, nor should they. The five people who’d come must not have realized what was going on just a few blocks from the bookstore. I felt bad for them.

In What Could Possibly Go Wrong, which starts with an illuminating quote from Harry Crews: “The artist lives in an atmosphere of perpetual failure,” the issue of scheduling comes up often. Lola Haskins’ university reading was empty due to the simultaneous audience-sucks of a very important test plus another famous speaker; Jo McDougall was pre-empted by Monica Lewinsky’s TV interview; Marilyn Stablein was upstaged by a “faculty event.” Bar noise, changes in personnel, and lack of promotion added to the woes of reading in front of an audience. 

On the back cover, after the price, a short phrase sums up the book’s classifications: Bad Luck / Fate / Literature. Sounds like the plot of a Russian novel. 

Or the life of a poet.

Erica Goss, My Worst Poetry Reading

I came across an article the other day that reminded me that instead of hopelessly dreading my likely failure to make the most of a good opportunity, I could consider planning ways to manage stress. Self-help is not my preferred genre, and I have successfully avoided lots of pieces about social reentry post-Covid, but I was click-baited this time by a title about “using sobriety strategies,” about which I know little. Plus I’m desperate. The Washington Post article by Erin Shaw Street is here, although I don’t know if the link will work for everyone.

In short, the advice is to “start with acceptance”–this reentry thing will probably take a while, and that’s okay. “Have a plan, but stay flexible”: well, I always have a plan. My idea was to turn the week into a writer’s retreat at home, so my spouse is visiting family. Next week I’ll order out, let the dust pile up, and refuse to answer email. Write write write, I thought, and get back on the submission train, too. Maybe even use the empty house to lay out all my recent poems and see if they’re beginning to form a new collection! My revised plan: sure, try all that stuff, but if it doesn’t work, just do my workshop, make the best of my two 15-minute meetings with fancy editors, forgive myself if some of it falls flat, and otherwise chill. That’s the “pay attention to your feelings” part, which lately have made themselves very clear. “Practice gratitude and mindfulness”: well, all right, I know breathing exercises and I’ve actually worked on mindfulness lately, in my distracted way. What I’m proudest of, by the way of emotional planning, is in the “having a group of trusted friends to call on” category. I have actually scheduled a phone chat with Jeannine Hall Gailey right before the conference, because she is the best literary cheerleader I know. How about that! Me, planning a social interaction for my own sake, because it will make me feel connected and maybe even slightly more confident!! Miracles can happen. I also wrote the principles on a post-it note and stuck it on my office window frame, hoping I’ll stick with the program.

Lesley Wheeler, Conference anxiety times a million

And in my writing life, it’s been a season of rejection, rejection, rejection. Yes, I try to comfort myself that I’ve been lucky enough to have five poetry books published, or that I’ve gotten into some of my dream journals, or that I have wonderful supportive poet friends to help celebrate the wins and mourn the losses. But sometimes I wonder if the rewards are worth the effort. So, if one day I just stopped writing or sending out poetry, it’s not like anyone would demand it or clamor for my next book. To be honest, I also wonder about the effort of keeping this blog up as well – it does take time and energy, and I’m not sure that many people even read it (thanks, those that read and comment though, of course!)

I don’t want you to think it’s all gloom and doom in my head; it’s not. And I certainly recognize that many people, including some of my friends and family, have had it much worse than me lately. Every poet probably struggles with rejection, and we do tend to be prone to melancholy; it’s been a hard year for everyone; I recognize that catastrophic feelings don’t help anything. I think it would be nice if I could feel like I was able to do something useful again in the world, get paid for my work, or at least feel like I was helping others. I’m writing an essay for an anthology on speculative work and I’ll be offering an online class on speculative poetry soon (of course I’ll post details when it’s closer.) So those projects are good. And I really am thinking about moving forward on acquiring a place to use as a writer’s retreat – La Conner, WA or Port Townsend, WA maybe? So I’m trying to see the good things coming. I promise.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Butterflies, Sunny Days and Speculative Poetry Picks, Broken Teeth and Meditations on Melancholy

I have a pamphlet of poems without a publisher – that is, I haven’t found a publisher who wants the poems – that is, I’ve sent the pamphlet to two pamphlet competitions without luck. So, you could say I haven’t tried that hard to find a publisher, perhaps because I have doubts about the pamphlet as a whole, but earlier this year I made a decision to put these poems to one side, for now, which has been liberating and released some new writing energy. I’m now working on new poems, approaching them in a completely different way to usual, and gradually accumulating poems that might be a book, eventually. Individual poems from my unpublished pamphlet – I think of it as a ghost pamphlet – have been published in magazines and perhaps I will be able to salvage some of those poems and include them in my newer manuscript. Not an unhappy state to be in, just not a state brimming with success.

Josephine Corcoran, End of month blog and some wildflower poems

1. Compile a rough draft of a draft of a draft manuscript.

2. Slash and burn – round 1/n. Doubt spelling, suspect grammar, hate most lines.

3. Cold acceptance that this is crap but maybe it is marginally better than other crap. No? Probably not.

4. Idea! Write new poems. Abandon idea.

5. Existential question: To book or not to book?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, 10 steps to a new poetry book

I say if a lit mag can’t get to your submission in 6 months, they have to publish it whether they want to or not. I mean, by that point hope has been sparked in the little writer’s otherwise dark and bitter heart. And a year with no reply? That spark has lit the kindling. “Surely that they kept it this long means it’s in the line-up,” the writer begins to allow herself to think, warming her hands on the fire. Come on, lit mags, are you really going to send your hard, cold rain down now, douse the small flame?

Yes. Apparently, yes. Back in 2018 I submitted to a magazine I had been published in before. A year and eight months later I got a rejection. Standard reject, no “thanks for your patience,” no “sorry it took us a while.” (That’s the last they’ll hear of ME. THAT’ll learn ’em.) Not to mention the no-simultaneous-submissions mag that’s now had three poems for six months.

Talk about being nibbled to death by ducks. My goodness po is a terrible biz.

Marilyn McCabe, Bird on a wire; or, On Seeking Publication

Nell also mentions an interesting and often-since-asserted observation by Billy Collins, made two decades ago, that, in Britain, ‘the number of poets is equal to the number of readers of poetry’. Nell, rightly I think, says that there may well be more poets than there are readers of poetry. Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but 10 or 15 years ago, when I was directly employed by a certain south-west London local authority, there was an article in the staff newspaper about a member of staff who had self-published a pamphlet of his poems and who was quoted as saying words-to-the-effect that he didn’t read contemporary poets because he considered none of them to be worthy of his attention. It hadn’t seemed to occur to him that potential readers of his pamphlet might agree with him and therefore decide that his output was equally unworthy of their attention. I have no idea whether he sold any copies. I hope not. The sheer arrogance of someone wanting to write and air poems without first reading widely and absorbing the lessons of their reading into their own poetry-writing goes beyond (predominantly male) entitlement to the point of being downright peculiar. He’s probably since progressed to become one of those people who go along to open mic sessions to read their poem, invariably exceeding their time-slot, then leave at the interval so that there’s no possibility that they might feel obliged to hear too many of anyone else’s poems or to look at, let alone buy, any of the books on sale. (I realise, though, that not everyone has the financial wherewithal to buy books.)

Nell also says that ‘a good and loyal reader is harder to find than a poet’. If every person who knows the value of contemporary poetry were to buy books for those who haven’t read any poems since school and tell them, with as much vehemence as necessary, that they really will enjoy the experience, then the poetry readership can grow. Despite the un-self-aware idiots like the one I’ve described above, there are still many fine poets to be discovered; more, probably, than one could ever hope to read whilst living a full-ish life. Why shouldn’t a book or two of poems on the beach be as common a sight as crime novels, thrillers or bonkbusters?

Matthew Paul, On HappenStance Press, the reader and the poet

I once heard Sonny Rollins play in Toronto. It was a perfect summer day in the 80s when I was studying music at York University, and a bunch of us went to the Molson Amphitheatre on Toronto’s waterfront. We lay on the grass just outside the cover of the roof watching Sonny, the blue of Lake Ontario in our vision. I remember one extended solo by Rollins, where the band dropped out and it was just him. Such a delightful squonking. Low register honks. Motifs broken up and tossed around. Time made into a salad. And all of it connected with Rollins’ characteristically playful intelligence. As Wallace Stevens says, “the poem of the mind in the act of finding/ What will suffice.” 

Ok, so gravitas didn’t seem to be explicitly there and the Coltrane-like bursting the seams, burning through the gates to another world. But there was meaning. Significance. And humility. And the sense of deeply being oneself. How? For Rollins his playing is often all about “the mind in the act of finding.” And what will suffice? Intelligence. Resilience. Creativity. Joy. A celebration of being. Of communication.

And the other thing I’ve come to understand in Rollins’ approach is ethics. Living through action and making choices. In a recent interview, Rollins says, “I’m just progressing through life, able to evolve now and to realize that to really live in a spiritual way I have to be an ethical person.”  In his music I hear this decision to live ethically. To be in the world. To choose one note after the other as an ethical act. To embrace life. To choose positivity, communication, joy. The life-force. To keep playing, performing. To be an old man and to St-Thomas-the-hell out of life. 

It’s an astounding thing.

Gary Barwin, Ethical Squonking: On the Coltrane-Rollins Continuum

It began with pain right where my heart is — a pain I initially discounted as probably a bad case of heartburn. It wasn’t such a big pain you’d right away think, heart attack. But after I lay down and it went away, I got up and went around doing things and it came back. Again, I went into denial. This is really bad heartburn — could my ulcer have reopened? Never, heart attack. I just turned 72 this month. Although my father and brother both had heart disease, my mantra was, I’ll take after my mother.

Called my doc’s private number. He picked right up, listened, said “Go to the ER and tell them you’re having chest pain. You’ll go to the head of the line.”

It wasn’t a comfortable procedure or hospital stay. But everyone who cared for me was wonderful. It was comforting to feel I’d survive and live well after this, as my cardiologist told me. […]

And the first thing I wanted to write when I could, was a poem. This one is for everyone I met and everyone who sent love.

The Heart

The heart is a muscle.
I feel its clench
protesting the lack
of blood, its nourishment,
and I go down, prone, bowing
to a central throne it inhabits in my body,
thrown to my back
and then to hospital,
where relinquishing clothes
and goods, I’m surrounded
by those familiar with a distressed heart’s ways.

Hours later, I am profoundly
embraced by science and love
that inexplicably flows
from these people whose powerful hearts
and muscles show up here every day.
And prayers that like a cavalcade of butterflies
shore me up in this new and sweeter life.

Rachel Dacus, A new heart, a new path forward

“We’ve been lucky. There was the nursing home outbreak,” she says, her voice lowering. The nursing home in town is a scant quarter-mile from the office where I’m getting my blood drawn. “And the soldiers’ home in Holyoke. But other than that, it’s been pretty good here.”

“May it stay that way,” I agree. 

“All done!” She smiles, pressing a wad of gauze where the needle was just withdrawn. Now I look over, and I see the test-tubes full of dark red blood. The color always surprises me. It’s so vivid, so deep. 

I’m not sure what they’re looking for this time, but we can’t schedule the next procedure until they run whatever tests they need to run on these gleaming garnet vials.

I wonder how many mini-conversations like this she has over the course of a day. How many lives she briefly touches with her blue-gloved hands. 

When I exit the building, I inhale lilacs under the clouded sky. 

Rachel Barenblat, Garnet

This weekend I spent some time reading poetry—some for a literary magazine I judge submissions for, and some from books that have been lying around that I haven’t cracked open for a while, namely by Wallace Stevens, who is my favorite poet, and Kahil Gibran. I needed to read both of those poets because somewhere in all of the chaos and heaviness of working at a hospital during the pandemic, I have lost my sense of passion and wonder. I feel ground-down and machine-like. I’ve been in survival mode for a long time, devoid of a sense of beauty and boundlessness, afraid to take any time to notice the natural world around me, afraid to slow down, afraid to allow for any sense of space and openness in my life. I shut everything out except the work that is front of me day-to-day, and I’ve been driven by dread—dread of the massive responsibility that has been handed to me at my place of work and at the same time, dread of being laid off, dread of loss both real and anticipated, and dread of what may come in the future for our country and for the world. I needed to read about love and astonishment and the miracle of pineapples and the cat forgotten in the moon and how the trees are there for me. I needed good language, the language of noticing, the language of elevation of the spirit and the essential divinity of human life:

“The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges.”
–Wallace Stevens, A Rabbit as the King of Ghosts

We’re coming out of it now, and I’m ready. Ready to breathe without a mask muffling my nose and mouth, ready for traffic and shopping malls and movies and night parties, ready for patients to flow into our facilities again, ready for the world to open its petals like a rose and for humanity to return to human-ing. For better or for worse, I don’t have a particular religion to hang my spiritual beliefs on, but I believe that we are children of God, and we need to remember our origins.

Kristen McHenry, Swimming Nostalgia, The Language of Divinity, Opening Day

“Remember we must die” need not be a call to religious fervor or to pessimistic existentialism. It is merely a fact that we ignore at our peril; for if we remember death is ahead, we can attune ourselves more closely to the lives we do have–and those others with whom we are in relationships. For whether you know it or not, your body has a relationship to Earth and all of its beings. Even, perhaps, the carrion beetle, not to mention billions of microbes and your best friend’s mother.

When I write about death (and I do), I find the tone of the poem depends a great deal on which words or images I use: the clear flow, or the leavings in the sieve. Different purposes, of course. Sometimes the poem wanders in sorrow, sometimes there’s clarity or a lifting of grief. It depends on the perspective (sometimes the speaker of the poem isn’t me), and on where the poem itself decides to go, particularly as I revise. Many readers believe that poems only ever arise from the writer’s experience, but poems are works of the imagination. And they are sometimes informed, or re-formed, by experience or insight that comes later in the writing process.

My own grief? That’s private. I may not decide ever to communicate how that feels. However, having sensed sorrow in my bones and gut and in the empty places in my community of loved ones, I can write about being in the moment of bereavement and the many moments afterwards when the losses make us ache. I like to imagine that memento mori keeps me alert to life. Even when I feel sad.

Ann E. Michael, Memento mori

It is a raw dawn on the morning of the poor.
“Be thankful,” they are told, “Here is your daily crust.”
The feathers of the wealthy have been groomed for the ball.
The day passes quickly for those who are pleasured.
Evening is a pistol and a whip; all the knives have been sharpened.
There will be fresh meat. “Where did the day go?”
Even as the poor ones scurry off, the music begins to play,
And the sound of laughter escapes the ballroom
The way a balloon escapes a child’s hand.

James Lee Jobe, Fresh meat.

cut the wild flowers were livid
~
living the wild flowers were vivid
~
in the hedgerows of my never mind
~
the limp excuses fall dry
~
in the hushed vase
~
the petals fall
~
lonely is the room
~
now
~

Jim Young, them cut

Otherworldly beauty, otherworldly creatures, otherworldly powers.

History lessons that keep writing and rewriting themselves.

Fake moon landings, alleged alien abductions, labyrinthine underground bunkers running through our blood.

It’s all part of how we’re hot-wired to allow our imaginations to roam wild, how we reverse engineer out-of-this-world technologies to better understand ourselves.

Close encounters of the lovebird kind, unknown lifeforms roaming darker minds.

From conspiracy theories to rational inquiry, from matters of the heart to unidentified aerial phenomena—

there’s a little Area 51 in all of us.

Rich Ferguson, You and Me Ufology

No, today’s post takes as its point of departure the fact that many younger generations always write poetry via a keyboard and a screen. Their typing is far more rapid than my two-fingered efforts, and a fair chunk of them don’t even own a printer. This last point means that they read through their drafts on a monitor rather than on a piece of paper, of course.

The key issue is whether the above-mentioned shift in writing habits is affecting the way their poetry is functioning. There seem to be two major questions. The first is whether speed of writing encourages lines to be longer, freer, less tense. The pen weighs up every letter before committing it to the notebook, but the keyboard rushes onwards.

The second matter for debate, meanwhile, is whether trends in line endings are also altering. The argument might be that moving a line ending with a pen involves writing the poem or at least the stanza out again (and again). It entails meditated probing as to whether an experiment functions. However, on a screen, the return key encourages the poet to play around with line endings at will, changing and then changing back in a few seconds flat, spotting immediately how semantics and synax might interact with expected and unexpected line endings. 

In other words, my suggestion is that if there’s a generalised evolution towards longer lines and more unexpected line endings among younger poets, it might not just be because of their aesthetic tastes but because the actual means by which they write are also different. And this is before even starting to consider poems that might have been drafted on phones…!

Matthew Stewart, Line length and line endings in the digital age

low battery —
trying to silence
the wrong smoke alarm

Bill Waters, Haiku about sounds or silences

I feel such a kinship with library systems, especially those in small towns. Often a hub, they have the ability to bring together, and in many cases, create community. When Bruce and I traveled Canada for many summers, our first stop was often the local library. It wasn’t just to borrow Wi-Fi to contact home, but also check out local happenings, what types of resources were offered, what folks were reading in their neck of the woods. In fact, I collected a good 7-10 library cards from small town libraries across Canada, from British Columbia to Newfoundland. I may never return to these destinations, but I like to think that my card-carrying membership added to their collective reader base, somehow.

Last fall, I sent some poetry to Mason Street, the Newark Library Literary Journal. The Newark Library is located in Newark, New York, and of course my curiosity about such an offering through a library system got the best of me and I had to learn more about this particular library. Like so many libraries I’ve had the joy of experiencing, the Newark Library is really no different. Community within community.

Mason Street’s Editor and Founder, Celeste Schantz selected my poem “Troubadour” for the winter issue and “Faithful” for the spring. Both poems are in good company, and I was especially delighted, no, fangirl delighted, to see that poet Marge Piercy headlines the spring issue with “My Library Memories.” Swoon! If you haven’t read her work, you should. The first collection of hers that I savored is titled The Moon Is Always Female, a must-read. This is her 7th collection of writing. Organized into two sections, the first is categorized as “amusingly elegiac to the erotic, the classical to the funny (Amazon).” The second section is lunar in nature. It consists of a series of 15 poems for “a calendar based on lunar rather than solar divisions” (Amazon).

I’m really thankful that both “Troubadour” and “Faithful” found a home in the pages of a literary journal of a thriving library far away from home. Should you get the chance, read both issues. Visit the archives. But most importantly, keep writing and sharing our work with the world.

Kersten Christianson, Mason Street, Newark Library Literary Journal

I think TFP (not 100% sure about The Frip yet, but it will sink in and become shorthand soon enough, I’m sure) will be with us for a long time to come. I’m looking forward to seeing the new poems arriving week by week, perhaps I may even manage to get one in there; although the famous adage of Meet us half way and submit one first applies at the moment.

I must confess that I was a bit worried when Hilary first approached me and asked me to review Rendang. I can’t put my finger on it, but it felt like the biggest review I’ve been asked to write so far, the most complex book yet, and I wondered if I was up to the task if I could find something interesting to say (and to be fair that’s the same with every review I write, and every poem, and every post here…and every sentence I say out loud, etc).

If I’m honest I was worried about engaging with the “contradictions of identity and cultural memory” mentioned in the blurb. Not because I didn’t want to or don’t feel I need to. I absolutely do, it was more a feeling of do I have anything valid to say on the matter without falling into the lazy tropes that Alyca Pirmohamed refers to here in her excellent essay at Wild Court, those adjectives like ‘urgent’, ‘important’, etc?

I think I avoided that, but I don’t think I can be the judge as to whether I had anything interesting to say. However, I found it fascinating and educational for a variety of reasons to engage with the collection as a whole by examining how the poems developed between pamphlet and collection, as well as the newer work, and how that benefits from the space and time afforded by a collection (literally and metaphorically).

Mat Riches, That Friday (poem) Feeling

So much for my New Year’s resolution to avoid buying new books. Somehow, my April blog push led me hither and yon over the entire poetry landscape, and I ended up buying a truckload of books. Among them, Ada Limon’s Bright Dead Things (Milkweed, 2015). Looks like The Carrying is next (winner of the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry).

I have a major poetry-crush on this poet. Not only does she write about horses and honky-tonks (subjects dear to my heart), but dogs, owls, sex, and death. She’s got it all. And language! Oh, my!

Bethany Reid, The amazing ADA LIMÓN

First up is the almost obligatory cat poem, simply called “cat” which didn’t come with trigger warning but introduces the idea of suicide and ends,

“we are all decomposing slowly
so that is of some comfort
we are all a million dying stars
so that is of some comfort “

The ability of the narrator to be comforted by the idea life will end anyway and it ends for everything around us is enough for him to accept natural causes is a better way to go. It also shows how something unexpected, encountering a cat, can knock someone out of a rut, a pattern of rumination and look beyond themselves. Instead of feeling like a burden the world would be better off without, the narrator has seen he can have a place in this world and the current pattern of things will stop, not with a sudden jerk, but a series of small changes.

Emma Lee, “Blue the Green Sky” Stuart M Buck (The Broken Spine) – book review

Theirs is a fascinating kind of call-and-response through the poems in Hearing, each short single-stanza lyric burst including author initials, so one doesn’t lose track of who composed which, from two poets deeply engaged with language, listening and experimentation. The crediting of each individual author is something I find interesting, suggesting the collection less a collaboration-per-se than a conversation in poetic form. This is a lyric through which each poet is responding to the other, akin to what Canadian poets and married couple Kim Maltman and Roo Borson did in their own conversation through lyric, the poetry title The Transparence of November / Snow (Kingston ON: Quarry Press, 1985). In Hearing, there is something lovely about a collection that exists as such a conversation, especially between two highly accomplished poets who happen to also be close friends, as though we are being allowed to listen in on, or even overhear, a conversation that might otherwise have been privately spoken.

rob mclennan, Lyn Hejinian and Leslie Scalapino, Hearing

[A] teacher friend has gotten me into the Poetry Unbound podcast and this has set me off on a new tangent. I’m also not into audio stuff much. I have struggled to focus on online lectures, audio books, music, podcasts, becoming distracted, flipping away if it’s on a screen. I listened to one PU podcast because my friend was raving about the title of the poem being a sign of a great poem, so I though I’d listen to the poem at least. 

The poem read on the podcast was Hanif Abdurraqib’s ‘When We Were 13, Jeff’s Father Left The Needle Down On A Journey Record Before Leaving The House One Morning And Never Coming Back’ and my friend was right. The title is killer, the poem even more so. The presenter Pádraig Ó Tuama has an amazing voice for reading poetry and he brings his own gentle enthusiasm for the poems he shares. So I listened on. And again on the way home from school that afternoon. I continued to pick another episode and another and another, in the mornings before work and often on the way home. 

One day after a partially tough morning with the child I support at school, I brought my lunch up to the classroom, rather than sit amongst the noise of fourth graders in the cafeteria. I needed to calm down before the next class started, so I stuck on a random episode called ‘A Poem for What You Learn Alone’ which seemed to suit my mood. The poem was Brad Aaron’s Modlin’s poem ‘What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade’. It is nothing about fourth grade and exactly what I needed. I think I’ve heard all three seasons now, but keep going back to favourites or finding one that I that I’ve forgotten. 

Gerry Stewart, A Poetic Daunder – Stepping Away from the Familiar

There are days when I fantasize about not having to teach. Not to get away from the work exactly, but to spread myself out thinly over the days. To breathe easily. While the pandemic has been difficult in so many ways, it has also given me the opportunity to slow down. Listen. Can I listen to the birds with the same sustained interest that I listen to a student presentation? This is a kind of work, too. What do I earn from this?

My childhood was a cramped succession of dramas, of noise and movement. A montage of cigarettes and speed, cocaine and black eyes. Drama became a kind of addiction that I struggled with through my 20s. I walked that jagged edge of violence where you never know which side someone will fall on: wounded or… disappeared. And as soon as I write this down I think: no, I’m not being fair to everyone. And still, I censor myself. After censoring myself in the first place. I make excuses for other people.

Maybe no one should ever tell the whole truth? At least not for the sake of entertainment or to makes one’s self interesting like a spectacle at Coney Island. Though people do buy tickets.

When I was in high school I went to the county fair alone and bought a ticket to see one of the “freaks”, assuming it would be a mirror trick of some sort. A kind of theatrical presentation. It wasn’t. The “freak” was a person. I turned around immediately and threw up outside the tent.

No. That would make a good story. I didn’t throw up. I just wanted to. I felt a sense of shame that was too familiar. But weirdly, I felt a shared sense of shame. With the person in the tent. I couldn’t explain it then, and I can’t explain it now except to say I understand why the whales that are kept in tiny pools and mistreated at theme parks will give kisses to their trainers on cue.

I don’t want to choose revenge or forgiveness. I want a middle path here, too. It seems even my personal life isn’t really free of ethical concerns.

And my writing never will be.

So for now, I write about mundane things like lapwings and chaffinches. The vibrating silence of the Hardanger plateau where the snow still lies in July. How cold has a smell where the North Sea is untouched by the Gulf Stream, and the harbour in Stavanger can smell like watermelon.

Ren Powell, A Story of Going Feral

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 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. This week: just a lot of poems, poetry reviews, and posts about poetry. I mean, you’d think that would be the case here every week, but as regular readers know, I’m fond of quoting poets (or poetry publishers) musing about all manner of things. But for once, I stayed on task. Almost.


It was a long hard March, and now evidently it’s April, as the poems and flowers prove. On March 6, my mother fell down the (carpeted!) stairs—we hope only 2 or 3 of them—and broke several bones in “non-displaced” ways. That, and the fact that both parents were already fully vaccinated, was the lucky part! She is making a steady and remarkable recovery, with good days and bad days, and great home health care, plus lots of family and local support. Our fragility and resilience continue to amaze me. 

During this time, I participated in an outdoor event on the steps of the history museum, a Remembrance of those lost to Covid-19 in the past year. Candace Summers, Education Director at the McLean County Museum of History, had arranged it, bringing speakers, a singer, young dancers, and me. “I’m no Amanda Gorman,” I had warned her, but I was honored to be asked. My inspiration came from our shared experiences over the last year, plus words from the community, offered in the 12 Months in 6 Words project, and I used many of the shared words, ideas, feelings I found there, creating a poem of 6 stanzas of 6 lines each of 6 words each. (The 666 association was, sadly, not lost on me.) My sister, who had come from Nebraska to help, set it up on her laptop for my parents to watch as it streamed live, and the audience sat or stood in the blocked-off street at safe social distances, bundled against the March chill. Candace had placed 175 small white flags on the museum lawn, one for each of our community’s residents who died; later, updated statistics raised that number to 200+. It was good to come together, safely, solemn and amazed. 

Kathleen Kirk, Long Hard March

I managed to draft a sonnet in 15 minutes, thanks to Molly Peacock, and heard some new-to-me voices in poetry, and listened to poets who are deeply engaged in the work and art of poetry discuss their processes, enthuse over their influences, and say what drives their curiosity. I found kindred writers who are, like me, endeavoring to put voice to people with dementia and express the grief we experience as our Best Beloveds lose personality, language, ego-consciousness.

Lesley Wheeler shared the writing prompts her panel put together on her blog, here; she and her four co-panelists (see blog) reflected on feeling across distance, another apropos topic in the current times. It seems we can and do find methods to be human together, even when we are apart. I think of all the letters I wrote when I was in college, and afterward, as I moved around the eastern USA, changed addresses, and tried to keep my friends and family informed as to who I was and what my interests were. In my attic, there are boxes of correspondence written in the days before email. Many of them are now letters from ghosts. Words I will never hear again from living mouths, but a way we kept “in touch” despite, and over, distance. And still do.

Ann E. Michael, Conferencing, distance

Swinburne is bemused as Betjeman wins at whist yet again
and scoops the coins off the formica. Anybody would think
you knew what cards I’d got
, Swinburne says. Betjeman smiles.

Holub selects Tonight At Noon on the jukebox
and stands looking confused as it spews out Adrian Henri
Live In Liverpool ’69 instead of Charlie Mingus.

There’s a collective shout of Switch It Off!
Holub kicks the machine, pulls the plug from the wall.
Coleridge runs from the kitchen with a kitchen-knife, screams

Holub when are you going to get it through your thick skull?
This is a poetry cafe. The jukebox plays poetry, not jazz.
And none of us like the bloody stuff, so nobody plays it. OK?

Dryden is mumbling, trying to make his laptop work. It won’t.

Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING AFTER MY 68TH BIRTHDAY

Another influence is John Wills’ wonderful haiku:

going
where the river goes
first day of spring

(taken from Allan Burns’ Where the River Goes, Snapshot Press 2013).

I love the spare use of language in this poem, the plain-spoken and utterly clear image of following the river’s path, the sense of freedom it suggests, but also the possibility that we’re not free, that the river must take the course dictated by the lie of the land, and therefore we can only take certain paths as circumstances allow. There’s a sense of adventure too – rivers are beautiful to follow, and yet they can be difficult as well. Sometimes the river bank has eroded and the path falls away. We turn back, or we scramble on. Either way, it’s spring and there’s that feeling of optimism that comes with longer daylight, birdsong, milder weather. Wills’ haiku opens with a single verb; it’s hard to pare writing back further than this. By leaving out the subject, we can place ourselves in the poem (I am going) although it’s equally possible to read the haiku as ‘the river is going’. Either way, the journey this poem evokes is at once truthful and metaphorical, as much about stillness and contemplation as it is about movement. For me, this is one of those poems that stays with you. I often hear it in my head when I’m out walking. I don’t walk by the river much, but when I do, it’s the River Don, which starts its course just a few miles up the valley from where I live. The photographs, above and below, were taken further downriver near Deepcar, where the river widens and the remains of old iron works can be seen along the way.

Julie Mellor, following the river

“and moonlight on naked skin.”
– even one more word
could be too much for a poem

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Moon Poetry

I’ve been thinking about the poetic breath this week, how poets use punctuation and line breaks to direct the reader. I’ve been reading my own collection out-loud, listening for mistakes and difficult phrasing, but also how the speed of the poem is directed by these little internal controls. I’ve also recorded a couple of poems recently which requires you to slow them down even more for clarity. 

A poet in my writing group said he uses line breaks like punctuation, but then we noticed he used both randomly in his poem we were discussing and when he didn’t pay attention to it, it lead to confusion for me. I’m not sure if he’ll change it, but it was good to discuss.

Some poets are hyper-aware of how they use punctuation and line breaks to add emphasis and control how the poem is read. I enjoy this, read their work out-loud, measuring how I read to their layout. Short or long lines, big pauses and smaller intakes of breath, commas, full stops, line ends, it lends life to the poem that isn’t always felt on the page.

I’m wary when reading other poets’ work of placing my values on how they create pauses for breath in a poem. I read a poem this week that seemed so badly broken up for no reason that it made it painful to follow, sentences broken repeatedly across stanzas it seemed just to keep the two stanza format going. It made me wish to hear the poet read his own poem, so I could understand how he envisioned the poem. 

Gerry Stewart, Breath and the Poet

I call out to you when I run through the underpass,
my words echoing back from the walls in the cold, still air.
And when I pass the quarry, I throw the same words
across the excavated chasm into a towering wall of layered sand.
And again, as I cross the motorway, high above the traffic.
I let them ride the bitter wind rushing from the North Downs.

Lynne Rees, Poem: wherever you are … For Mammy

This week I am proud to feature the work of Quintin Collins whose debut collection The Dandelion Speaks of Survival arrives this month from Cherry Castle Publishing. I have been admirer of Collins’ work both on and off the page for a few years now. As an activist and organizer, Collins has helped foster a dynamic community as assistant director of the Solstice Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program.

On the page, Collins’ work is marked by a direct engagement with the physical world, lingering over it with a curious attention that pays off in nuanced and fateful meaning. In his poem, “Exegesis On a Chicken Wing,” the act of eating is given space so that it is honored but also meditated on in a way that gives over its essential stakes. That to be human is survival and celebration–this is a key message in Collins’ work.

In “This is Where You Belong” (below) one encounters a similar engagement with the physical world. Through a catalogue of a neighborhood, the poem ruminates over the coming and going of many lives with such clarity that nothing feels ephemeral despite its fleeting nature. Like Galway Kinnell, Collins writes of place with a gravity that is accessible and essential. One feels the weight of “The American flag, / two hundred fifty pounds of polyester” flapping over the life the speaker is witness to, but also feels the horizon it flaps against, made up of human life and sky.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Quintin Collins

my head is full of oceans
full of plastic

sea foam memories
pass for wisdom

sea green trees
whisper like grey waves

come home come home

trickle down through chest
and lungs and drown and drown
where plastic bits break down

where seabirds soar
and drift beneath the sea-
glass shards of stars

James Brush, Oceans

I was listening to the January 25 The Poet Salon podcast with hosts Gabrielle Bates, Luther Hughes, and Dujie Tahat and their guest Ada Limón. They discussed the virtues of poetic “play,” among other wonderful topics. The play topic stuck out for me because the craft talk I did for my final residency of my MFA was on just that. 

Since the subject popped up two more times that week on Twitter and somewhere else, I decided to post the video of my craft talk, “Play: the Craft that Turns Words Into Poetry.” Unfortunately, the quality of the original talk wasn’t great so I used Zoom to record my voice over the stop-motion video I had used for my presentation. The result isn’t perfect: the sound cuts out in parts. The closed captioning should suffice to fix this problem. 

If you too are interested in the subject of play and poetry, check my talk out on YouTube:  https://youtu.be/KaVITYEojGI (don’t forget to turn CC on).

Cathy Wittmeyer, April 2021

it was my understanding there would be no math on this

a vi-
gin-
tillion
is a

one

with
s i x t y – t h r e e
zeroes

you can
look it up

Jason Crane, POEM: it was my understanding there would be no math on this

I am delighted to welcome Sue Wallace-Shaddad as my guest poet for this mini-series of posts. Sue and I both live in Suffolk and have known each other for nearly a decade. Sue is Secretary of Suffolk Poetry Society.

Following the publication of Sue’s poetry pamphlet, A Working Life, Sue had her first short collection, A City Waking Up, published last year by Dempsey & Windle. The book costs £8.00 and can be purchased here by PayPal (UK) or by contacting the poet (international and other orders).

Sue has been visiting Khartoum since the 1970s, and has recently begun to draw her poetic inspiration from the city itself. Khartoum is not only the place at which the Blue and White Nile converge; but also, as Paul Stephenson points out, the ‘Meeting Point’ (the title of Sue’s opening poem) at which so many aspects of Sudanese life, not least ‘city and countryside’, come together against a backdrop of tradition and fast-moving political change.

First impressions are important, and the glossy cover photograph, taken by the poet herself, invites the reader into this sun-baked land as day begins. Sue’s poems are often tight, and not infrequently short in length, which means that each piece has been given what I might call its own space in which to breathe. The glossary of Arabic words at the back of the book is brief and helpful. The Arabic words for food items in the poem Al fatur – Breakfast add a sense of the exotic to a piece that is almost a list poem.

Sue’s palette is a colourful one. In a few deft strokes, she conjures up cameo after cameo before the eyes of her readers; take for example her vision of Sudan in the early morning. Pastel-green houses, we discover, dot the khaki landscape, scattered like fresh mint. I am drawn to the poet’s description of pyramids of cucumber, tomatoes ready to be sold (A City Waking Up, p.10). Sue’s images are crisp and visual, but we are also invited to experience Khartoum via the senses of hearing (‘unseen ghosts screech into life’), touch (‘the desert smothers us in its sticky embrace’), smell (‘the scent of pink grapefruit lingering in the air’) and taste (‘Feta, hard squares, salt to the tongue’).

Caroline Gill, ‘A City Waking Up’ by Sue Wallace-Shaddad (Post 1: Mini-Review)

In some language
the word for language
also means stumble.

Tom Montag, IN SOME LANGUAGE (31)

Dhaliwal’s relationship with languages finds its way into most of the poems in the collection, but nowhere more beautifully and poignantly than in the brilliant villanelle ‘Migrant Words’ where she expresses “a vain hope” that the “buried…words” of her ancestral tongue “will grow / into a dialect of some hybrid descent” and that her Punjabi vowels “will plough / a cadence that my anglophone tongue could not invent”. It could not be a lovelier, sadder poem, which I think could stand as a fine representative of the collection as a whole.

On the evidence of this work, we have in Supriya Kaur Dhaliwal a poet who sees complexity with great clarity, and who does not allow her sadness to turn to rage. She writes with genuine lyrical beauty and while she has surely benefited from the several top-level Irish lyric poet teachers and mentors she lists in the acknowledgements, there is a sure-footed handling of cadence and rhyme, and a fluidity to both the stricter closed forms and the prose poems, which indicates that the heart of a natural poet beats inside her. As with much diasporic poetry (that I have read anyway), the work itself seems to become something not entirely unlike the hoped-for, intangible and perhaps impossible home whose absence drives the lyric – and this prompts me to ask the question (it seems appropriate to end this review on a question): where, I wonder, will this remarkable poet’s journey lead her next?

Chris Edgoose, The Wisdom of Questions – The Yak Dilemma by Supriya Kaur Dhaliwal

It is not enough to write our feelings down on paper. Write them on flesh. Better yet, go deeper.

Scribe them on bones, commit them to memory, to bloodflow.

Give those feelings a home on the tongue, in the heart and soul, so that everything that is said and done comes from the beginning and end of everything wondrous inside us.

So that all those feelings can lead to something pure and true; meaning even blindfolded, we can find one another during rupture or rapture.

Meaning when we catch sunlight in our hands, we choose to caress it, not crush it.

Rich Ferguson, It is Not Enough

It’s coming up on a year now since I printed out Derek Mahon’s ‘Everything Is Going To Be Alright’ and Blu-Tacked it to the wall near the skylight in the home office I made for myself when it looked like this was going on for a bit longer than a month. […]

On Tuesday this week, the printout finally fell off the wall, and while it’s now up on the pinboard I put on the wall the day before, it felt like something of a sign. Something to pay attention to, that perhaps the ghost of Derek had chosen to tell me something.

That sign from beyond had me starting to think that the last line might be right, that things are starting to recover, that it is all going to be ok or alright; but perhaps that’s very naive and very foolish of me. Am I placing too much focus on the powerful last line, and not enough on what gets us to it…not enough on the “There will be dying, there will be dying”? Arguably, there very much is the need to ” go into that”, Del…!

However, that does feel a bit like being one of those Whataboutery-wankers…You know the kind, the type that finds it impossible to believe you can hold different concepts together in your head at the same time. It is possible to be happy about one thing, and then sad about another at the same time.

So, I’m choosing to focus on the sense of some relief that is coming down the line, the sense of things opening up again – in a literal and metaphorical sense. That may come to bite us on the literal and or metaphorical arse further down the line, but in a week where I’ve seen more people in one place (well-spaced out gardens, of course) than in the last year, and in the week where things in our garden have started turning green (as they should), and in the week we have wifi back, there’s some cause to focus on Mahon’s last line.

Mat Riches, Derek Mahon’s Toilet Roll Holder

“Life could not better be,” my song today.
I’ll let Danny belt it out, and whisper
along in the background. “Luckiest girl
on the planet” to follow. What went right?
A day almost like beforetime, when I
could walk if I wanted and still breathe, twirl
as if music is lilting or play twister
and not fall. The luxury of an airway
uncluttered, muscles not withered, and hey,
look at me: hefting cast iron when Mister
Ladyhands feels unwell, lays down, and curls
on the couch, leaving the food prep to blue skies
and me, suddenly able and headstrong,
making noodles with grins and a singalong.

PF Anderson, Singing

The last year of suffering and doom in this flesh sets my self-image low: my body is changing so fast I can’t even keep up. Pants are slipping, hips emerging from pandemic and cruelty-padding, my swimmer-triangle shape uncovering itself by the day with all its utility of lats and pecs and steel-cable hip flexors; muscle – more than anything, muscle – is growing back with the speed of sudden green in the forest in April: wasn’t this laurel dry and dead half an hour ago? Solid wall of luscious green, reaching visibly for sky. My god, I can SEE it GROWING, we say, every year, amazed. Wreaths of entwined green extending, extending, right before our eyes.

I’m whiplashed from the speed of change, of return: new body who dis my fleshly answer to every call.

JJS, Day 5: 2×800, a DRAMEDY

When a butterfly
When a bird of a different color
When a residue of ash forms the hand-
drawn shapes of your names

When a pattern of lifted fish scales
makes a trellis on the body—

Memory makes a silk knot
in the vein.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem for Making our Dead Visible

I had such a wonderful experience working with Moment Poetry on this unique poetry format! Special thanks to Berenika Polomová for the lovely artwork made just to go along with my poem “Ode to a Young Screech Owl.” You can read more about the story behind this poem here.

Trish Hopkinson, the author of Moment Poetry poem #7, is one of the few poetry bloggers we followed even before launching our own project. We find the energy and enthusiasm with which she provides her readers with valuable information from the literary world truly inspirational.”

They are a new poetry press publishing poems in a printed visual format similar to a small vinyl record with an exterior sleeve with beautiful artwork and the poem slipped inside, signed by the author. Each poem is a limited edition of 100 prints, so don’t wait too long before ordering! Their “ultimate goal is to help spread good poetry and support aspiring poets. That is why 25% of the sale price (€ 8.50) of each sold poem goes directly to its author.”

You can check out their store to see what type of work they publish and support this unique press. They are always open to submissions of previously unpublished poems to feature in this print-run series. Read my interview with founders Ivan and Sonja.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “Ode to a Young Screech Owl” published by Moment Poetry

a cold snap
is that snow or plum blossom
blowing around

Jim Young [no title]

I purchased a copy of Julio Cortázar’s Save Twilight (City Lights Books, 1984) years and years ago. I remember that I was trying not to spend any money at the time, but I told myself I would give the book to my friend Paul as a birthday gift. Almost every year, I think, “Aren’t you going to give this to Paul?” And then I reread it. And I keep it.

Cortázar was born in 1914, to Argentinian parents, and spent his childhood and youth in Argentina. He is primarily known as a novelist and was a revered and early influencer among Spanish-speaking writers. He died in 1984, and if I had known he was buried in Montparnasse, I would have visited in 2019 when I was in Paris. Once again, I pick up the book and it works its magic (“my loves, my drinks, my smokes….little black book for the late hours” [87]).

Bethany Reid, Julio Cortázar

I think periods & semicolons, I think language
bleeding from imaginary mouths like meager
light. I think parentheses where words are
insufficient & I fill them with silence.
I think musk & deer & secretion & how certain
shapes are drawn in the mind for pleasure
& can only be conjured in certain moods.

Roman Iorga, NaPoWriMo, Day 8

In years past, as I read past blog posts for April, I noticed I would attend about three readings a week, give a couple of readings, attend a conference or a ‘con, get together with friends for their book launches. It was so much it was overwhelming even to read about!

This year feels quieter and more muted. So how are you still celebrating Poetry Month during the pandemic? I managed to squeeze in a couple of Zoom talks this week, one by Dana Levin (who talked about strangeness in poetry) and C. Dale Young (who talked about rhetoric vs the image among other things) – two poets who would be hard for me to see in person, so that was cool.

I’m giving a Zoom reading on April 18th (I’ll post more when I have the link) and I’ve been reading more and trying to write more (although I haven’t been able to do a poem a day this year.) Too many in-person re-entry things to do! It takes more energy than it used to to do simple things, like go a store or the doctor, in person. This is part of the re-entry pains. My favorite all-poetry bookstore hasn’t re-opened yet for shopping in person, but soon, and I’ll enjoy browsing there again – it’s a great place to run into poets books you might not have heard about anyplace else.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, On Re-Entry, MRIs and Tulip Fields, National Poetry Month – What Are You Doing?

So much gets buried. The song,
The worm. The soft feathered
spring. We all lose our innocence

as soon as the ground goes soft.
Its muck and tumble. I was looking
away when the nest unraveled

and out fell a half dozen eggs,
blue as the ocean. Before long the earth
devoured them—little shell, little yolk.

I broke my wing thrashing into
the same window, the same time
every March.

Kristy Bowen, napwrimo day no 8

5 – Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

To answer this question from the isolation of COVID-19 is to become flagrantly nostalgic for a “before time” that involved impossibly cold winter walks to Librairie Drawn & Quarterly to stand at the back of a sweating, snow-damp crowd, as well as long and humid summer nights in green-lit bars on Saint-Laurent with a troupe of poets or performance artists or both. Sometimes I was invited on stage or to the head of a friend’s charmed living room to partake in the reading and I have always felt so terribly honoured by this opportunity. It is also with a sepia sort of longing that I think of the person-to-person readings I will not host as my first book enters the world.

6 – 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?

I’m having a difficult time answering this question because I am equally provoked to say yes and no. Yes, every syllable of my writing is engaged in the feminist project of redefining experience and personhood, as inspired by the uncanny language of the French thinkers Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva and the re-visionary citational praxis of Ahmed. It’s also sparking up against the minor-becomings of Deleuze and Guattari and circling back (with the modernist poet H. D.) to the foundational mistakes by Freud. But no, when the poem comes out, the thought is not theory-inflected. Not in an explicit way. It’s a far too elemental struggle to say anything at all that I’m engaged in when pencil lead is hovering over the notebook page.

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

I believe there are too many types of writing and too many types of writers for there to one role for the writer in culture. I can say, however, that my greatest service to the public at large, as a writer, was as the teenage author of erotic Harry Potter fanfiction. A service I may never surpass.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jessi MacEachern

Words growing like fresh whiskers, no shave lasts forever. If I write long enough this beard might someday reach the floor. 

James Lee Jobe, watching the heron wade

This extract contains a pivotal, beautiful turn of phrase, the archaeology of home, that very much encapsulates the drive behind The Marks on the Map. Moreover, Johnstone’s tracing of the gradual loss of the souvenirs plays a pivotal role in pitching his own ageing process against that of the building. Of course, the evocation of autumn in the last line invites connection with the four seasons of life, human beings, nature and buildings all coming together. There’s no instruction to the reader, just juxtapositions that allow implicit connections to be made.

Brian Johnstone’s interpretation of the role of maps, landmarks and buildings in our lives is not only skilled and infused with experience, but it also provides a personal perspective that encourages us to view those roles afresh, leaving us to ponder the marks on our own maps. It might be time to stow our Sat Nav and dig out those old Ordnance Surveys once more.

Matthew Stewart, The archaeology of home, Brian Johnstone’s The Marks on the Map

This evening I’m going to dive back into Rachel Barenblat’s book Crossing the Sea. […] I’m halfway through and incredibly moved. I’ve been thinking of Dave (at The Skeptic’s Kaddish) who set up a blog as a way to grieve his father. Barenblat is a rabbi and this collection is about her mother’s death.

People say that everyone goes through this, but I never will. I say that to point out how powerful these poems are. The speaker draws me into her relationship with her mother and her grief. Her poem “Mother’s Day” begins with: It’s a year of firsts/and most of them hurt.

In “Pedicure”, she talks about the simple thing of removing the nail polish that she had on for the funeral: […] replaced with periwinkle, luminous and bright/like your big string of pearls you do not know/are mine now that you’re gone.

There’s a reason why I couldn’t read this book in one day. It’s like trying to eat a whole mayonnaise cake in one sitting. But I’m looking forward to picking it up again.

But first, there’s housework. And some yoga. Trying to get back into – oh, I don’t know, integrated with the rest of the world here: friends I haven’t seen or spoken with in nearly two months. And then there is work later this week. Students. There’s clothing that isn’t loungewear. Make-up. Shoes.

In some ways I’ve been
in a womb, cocoon, nestled
with the dull sounds of
blunted percussives, every
thing in the world – swaddled

Ren Powell, Imagining the Real World

“A Woven Rope” is a lyrical exploration of maternal lineage through transitional roles of daughter becoming mother, mother becoming granddaughter and the potential for the line to continue through the new daughter. Jenna Plowes’ attention to details, whether marks that create a watercolour, phrases used by a mother realising she’s quoting her own mother, the tension in a high wire, let the reader admire the intricacy and feel their deceptive strength.

Emma Lee, “A Woven Rope” Jenna Plewes (V. Press) – book review

The relationship with [Elie] Wiesel that Ariel Burger describes is enviable. He says that his professor “didn’t respond to my struggles with answers. Rather, he saw what I actually needed was someone with whom to share my questions, someone who would be with me without trying to fix things.” He describes Wiesel’s teachings in the classroom as a “methodology of wonder” which “has the potential to awaken students’ ethical and moral powers.”

At an earlier point in the book, the author comes to the professor with questions and is given this:

“We all ask questions, and we should. It is more dangerous if we do not. But perhaps you are not looking for answers. You are looking for responses to your questions, to your life, for ways to live rather than ideas to espouse. Answers close things down; responses do not.”

Shawna Lemay, Methodologies of Wonder

out in the rain
that girl who twirls
her umbrella

Bill Waters, Haiku about things that make us happy

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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. This week: moments of insight, lessons in forbearance, the good news found in new books, and much more.


Vials, frozen. Chest-freezers, full.
She’s not using her wheelchair today,
she’s walking. Slow, but walking. Good,
I answer, that will help. Too late, we give
consent. Ashambles, the whole ward now.

JJS, Protection

Mary is delighted to live in the moment of what she currently sees, despite knowing that the star is dying. A similar sentiment to the earlier poem “A Fire” where the narrator wants to stay in the process of losing a friend, not yet ready to acknowledge the loss. Mary’s voice seems childlike, but Mary is the also name of Jesus’ mother. God, naturally, is paternal. The reader is left not sure who Mary is or who she represents.

“You Do Not Have To Be Good” leaves an opaqueness at the heart of each poem, inviting readers to speculate and try to figure out the narrator’s relationship with others in the poems. That said, the poems do explore trauma effectively, particularly losses that come from being unable to fully reveal a self to a listener or someone who might be of help. They come from a place of affirmation and healing.

Emma Lee, “You Do Not Have to Be Good” Madeleine Barnes (Trio House Press) – book review

What a lucky chance, then, that Dr Zhivago is currently on iPlayer, and that after forty years of adventures I have 1) A TV, 2) A TV licence, 3) A range of techniques learnt in psychotherapy enabling me to side-step any feelings of guilt incurred by watching a film whilst it’s still light outside. We all need doctors more than ever these days, so maybe it was this that prompted me, finally, to satisfy my curiosity, watch the film. 

As it turns out, Dr Zhivago is more like early 2021 Shropshire than you’d think, filled as it is with snow, difficult decisions, furs, untimely deaths, beautiful vistas, confusion, heroes, quiet resolve, and drumbeats. And with trains (although ours are largely empty). We also lack a famous, but strangely irritating as the hours ticked by, theme tune.

Liz Lefroy, I Relax With Dr Zhivago

staying up most of the night working on poems 
oh lonely bones – can’t you rest 
why should i 
even now a strong wind carries 
some pine seeds to the earth 
even now the boats slide 
down the long sacramento river to the bay 
a new day begins and i am alive

James Lee Jobe, on the nose of the puppy

At about the same time, the house began hollowing out, it shed plaster – chunks of them. They were getting old – both her father and her house. Cracks bisected diagonally a wall in the storeroom; timber room, part of the study upstairs, wooden steps leading to the terrace were advised not to be used, and they became nesting places for scorpions. Saferoom remained safe with its iron vault which was for the most part empty but for my grandfather’s silver plate. The vault was weighed in rupees and sold as scrap when the house fell after my grandfather died. The money that came from selling the land and the strong wooden doors were shared between my mother and her siblings. My uncle’s share was put away in a bank and used for his medicines and stay as a life-long resident in a home. My mother used her share to re-lay the floor in our house, the cement floor was replaced with mosaic tiles. Houses are not meant to speak and care must be taken to keep them mute.

Uma Gowrishankar, laid to rest

For years my partner and I cared for elderly parents, one way and another, and I watched as their worlds shrank, physically, as did their curiosity. Slowly and inevitably they stopped taking any notice, stopped listening, stopped reading, being interested, talking. They were just busy dying. 

I’ve decided I want none of it. I can learn from Solzhenitsyn and his take on Epicureanism, especially in One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch. The idea that happiness lies, at least in part, in taking inventory of the day and identifying how it could have been much worse if X or Y had not happened or didn’t exist. And then focussing on X or Y. Things that made life better. An extra bowl of kasha. A bit of hacksaw blade. Building a wall. 

What did I do in 2020? I have a house, I have a garden, a field beyond the garden, a view beyond the field. I have a garage full of bits of timber and power tools. In February three days of incessant horizontal rain worked through the gable end and round the kitchen window and poured in. So when the rain stopped, I got out the gear and repointed all the damage, and replastered and painted inside. I enjoyed it. Most of it. 

The weather was nice this summer. I repainted a lot of the outside woodwork; when it rained I decorated indoors or resprayed picture frames.

On a whim, via the cobweb and Facebook I invited folk to send me poems inspired by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s wonderful, artful poem Swineherd. Scores of people sent me poems, and then Bob Horne of Calder Valley Poetry suggested that we make a book of them, which involved asking Kim Moore to select the 26 best ones in an alphabet of occupations we’d leave When all this is over.  

It’s only just struck me that probably every single submission involved a future of being left alone. You’d have thought that lockdown might have inspired dreams of crowds, of festivals of concerts. What most folk seemed to dream of was travelling alone, and almost invariably, in wild places or on the sea. Yes. My dreams too, I realise. But there you are. A book out.

I missed physical poetry courses, but I’ve been, virtually, to Garsdale Head with Kim Moore, to Sneaton Castle with the Poetry Business; I’ve joined in Joe Bell’s project To heal the mutilated world …and that was terrific…as well as Winston Plowes’ and Gaia Holmes’ Muse-li courses. And every Monday night, via Zoom, there was the Albert Poets’ Workshop. What else…oh yes. Tom Weir and I will be zoom-workshopping together, hopefully right through 2021. A lot of extra bowls of Kasha.

John Foggin, Busy being born

Let people be divided over and over and over again
till they fit in tiny spreadsheet cells.
Let me be gathered as a data point by a factory of
algorithms that build a bubble around me.
Wasn’t it the scriptures that said that the world is just
perception. (And that was before Facebook.)
What do you want to resist most, today?
What outrage fills your coffee cup this morning?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, RIP

It’s cold and dark, friends. Not my favorite time of year. (I am not happy with the weather unless it’s July.) When we say in Upstate NY that it’s cold for six months a year, we aren’t exaggerating; it may even be seven. And I wonder each year how I’ll get through it. I’ve been trying (recently) to get outside for a walk every day, but I’m not really happy about it. I’ve been listening to books on Audible as a way to tempt myself and get out the door. So far, I’ve listened in full to Convenience Store Woman, a novel by Sayaka Murata, and started The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, a true story written by Michael Finkel.

What intrigues me most in each is that the central figures make a conscious choice about who they’re going to be — and then they play it out turn after turn. They double down, repeatedly, and in doing so, forego much of what the rest of us call “normal” parts of life. And though the natural assumption may be that they’re renegades of some kind, both rely heavily on following strict — almost clichéd — rules of specific “character” types: store clerk (Keiko Furukura) and hermit (Christopher Knight).

Encountering these stories back-to-back has me thinking about who makes the rules and why we follow them and how expectations (our own and those from others) have so much power. If you can believe this story in The Onion (lol) — “‘I Can’t Do This Anymore,’ Think 320 Million Americans Quietly Going About Their Day” — we even abide by the self-imposed rules of inertia and accept, not just the need to work, but most painfully, its drudgery. The truth hurts.

It makes me wish to be the heroic figure in a story like Furukura’s or Knight’s. Admittedly, they’re tragic figures, as well, but allow me to indulge in oversimplifying a bit; let me romanticize breaking free of Undesirable Things without having to trade them for Different Things That Are Also Undesirable. Who would I become if I could take on any type/character? What kind of world would that create for myself?

Carolee Bennett, on showing up and setting poetry goals

Late on a pale afternoon in January,
sitting, unmoving, the puff-chested blackbird.
She has been there for a while now,
just under the reflection of my reading lamp;
just the odd stretch of a wing and the thought
of preening the day down.
You cannot see it from there; don’t move!
It will scare her. We are sharing this
moment? Call it what you will.
Soon, too soon, she will be gone. Around, yes,
but busy nesting. Just like the pecking dunnock,
the darty robin, the acrobat tits.
But now, twelve lines written, and she is still there.
The pallor of the day ivory poached; a north breeze
stirring; tea and scones have jammed the day.
She is still there, a sparrow riding shotgun.
Sonny Rollins on the radio.
Whoops!
She’s gone now.
She’s gone.

Jim Young, The sitting

I’ve been trying to keep my mind off troubling FBI reports of white nationalist terrorist threats leading up the the inauguration, and focusing on the cheerful fact that the youngest poet ever chosen will be reading at the inauguration, and soon Trump won’t be able to hurt us anymore. One hopes. I’ve been noticing strangely unseasonable things, like the first bloom on my camellia, long before it should be blooming. We’ve been having wet, cold winter, so it’s very odd but I will take an out-of-season flower where I can.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Blooms, New Poems in Gargoyle, Hoping for Better Days Ahead

Somewhere
an old silence
waits for me

to enter
the emptiness.
It is like

swimming naked–
the knowledge
you are

who you are
when you walk in-
to cold water.

It is not like
light piercing
a dark room.

Tom Montag, SOMEWHERE

The morning her veterinarian woke in her bed he fed her spaghetti smashed the noodles into her mouth lit a candy cigarette after sauce on her white coverlet the vinegar-bleached sheets. There wasn’t a fight. She simply wished him empty of music. He was not allowed to tell her how his feet burned how bright steam rose from the dog’s bowl. He held her head under water and sang Mahler Saint John has let his little lamb go to the butcher Herod. They watched TV at night drowning. It felt like progress. Life was good under the ginger bell the animal hospital’s glowing blue cross.

Rebecca Loudon, And angels bake the bread

There it is, sketched in red-
ochre, head lifted and watching.
Broad strokes of its rounded back
and short legs, found on a karst
wall in Leang Tedongnge. Now
it’s the oldest-known animal
cave painting. But why,
as I read about it, does my brain
think party pig? Perhaps it reminds
me of Andy Warhol’s Fiesta Pig:
ballet-slipper-pink, nosing around
in the excess of some post-bacchanalian
frenzy. Migration in packs, in the wild,
through curtains of berries and matted
roots. They’re mostly feral, but sometimes
give in.

Luisa A. Igloria, Brief History of the Sulawesi Warty Pig

I’ve always been a little fascinated by conspiracy theories, by the stories that take shape to impose order on the world and make it feel like net of carefully placed happenings and facts and not a chaotic swirling mass of randomness and chance  Alien autopsies, for example. Explanations for strange phenomena.  Untimely deaths and crazy historical coincidences.  They are fun to look at, less because I am seeking a pattern of order or cause/effect, but more that they are a way of understanding things, or at least the obsessions behind them.  A couple semesters ago, our Strange Fevers  Mass Delusions, Illusions, and Obsessions programming delved into this a little bit. 

I often think about how they go wrong.  Obviously the events of this past Weds. are a perfect example.  In my own work, the necessary violence series and the girls who tried to stab their friend based on Slenderman lore.  I think about these girls a lot when I think about politics. The mental illness in one girl who influenced another, and it’s not hard to make the jump to political conspiracies and the inevitable bad outcomes.  These are everywhere and inscribed in our history long before the current ones–McCarthyism, the Satanic Panic of the 80’s. All usually fueled by someone’s agenda–the goverments, men who wanted working women to stay home and keep an eye on their kids. .  A lot of the mythmaking of these was believable..communist infiltrations of Hollywood and the media, missing housepets,  the rise of latch key kids getting up to god knows what in the off hours. Most not things one had to stretch their imagination too far into the absurd to get to, which made things all the more believable.

At some point, contemporary conspiracies got crazier.  Even alien abduction lore is easier to believe than a lot of what is floating out there.

Kristy Bowen, absurdities and atrocities

One does not realize, until one does it, how heavy the burden of all those opinions is, how anxiously they must be defended, how vulnerable they make you to every passing stranger. I practice not having opinions about other drivers, when I’m on the freeway. What do I know of what they are rushing toward, and what they are fending off? “No one made me a traffic cop,” I murmur. Thank God. I am so grateful that no one made me a traffic cop. And I am correspondingly grateful for the people who undertake that burden, leaving me to float, irresponsible and free, in the flow of traffic. If someone’s driving strikes me as aggressive or erratic, I simply drop back in the current till I’m well away from them. 

Dale Favier, Opinions: Throwing Rocks: Being a Traffic Cop

In November I took a Hugo House class on “writing angry poems,” taught by the poet Sharon Bryan. One of my discoveries was that it is freaking hard for me to express anger. Feel it, yes; turn it loose in poem: no. So I struggled. “This is like a poem about repressing anger,” was one of the comments I received. Another: “This poem doesn’t seem to be about anger, but maybe mild annoyance.”

One of Bryan’s recommendations was to read Deaf Republic: Poems, by Ilya Kamnisky. I dutifully ordered a copy and have been avoiding it ever since. This week, I read it. It could not have been more timely for me. In the 1960s people used to say, “the personal is political.” Over the last ten days, we have seen how true that still is.

Deaf Republic is profoundly personal. It struck me as being less a collection of poems than one poem, or a play-in-verse perhaps. Tracy K. Smith writes that what she finds here is “conscience, terror, silence, and rage made to coexist alongside moments of tenderness, piercing beauty, and emphatic lyricism.” Kaminsky’s story opens when a young, deaf boy is shot down by soldiers in an occupied town, and then it winds through the perspectives of other characters in the town, which is struck deaf by the violence, introducing a couple expecting a child, then Momma Galya, the puppeteer who rescues their infant. But the poems transcend their place of “otherness.” As Smith, who has served as the United States Poet Laureate, continues in her cover blurb: “It hurts to read these poems. It hurts to read them and find the world I belong to stricken by a contagion of silence.”

Bethany Reid, Writing the Political Poem

Uncertainty has a daughter whose body is smoke and mirrors. Her eyes, numb and numberless. Her mouth, covered by a mask.

In her more sober moments, she tells me, the heart is no place for a graveyard. Barbed wire, no place for a bed.

She smells like wilted flowers and the whiskey of cold contrition.

I whisper in her ear, let us hope this winter doesn’t last forever.

Rich Ferguson, The Graveyard Bed Where the Heart Says I Love You

Apathy is a kind of cruelness, and denial is a tricky thing. More and more, I look back at the pre-2016 me and feel shame and disgust at all I didn’t see and know that I now do. The information about who and what we are was there all along. I saw much of it a long time ago and turned away from it and then forgot it. I told myself that things were not really as bad as some said. I cautioned myself against over-reacting. I know that denial is a protective mechanism we employ without awareness to protect ourselves from truth we aren’t yet equipped to manage, and in my good moments I can feel empathy for my pre-2016 self. I suppose she was doing the best she could with what she had. In my bad moments, I want to shake her and yell at her to wake the fuck up. I want to hide her in a closet and pretend she was never me.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On vertigo, normalcy, and light: revisiting Sarah Kendzior

when we turn against the sea
how many deserts appear

when the poem sheds its final skin
why does one still have to wait for dawn

for how many lives after i am gone
will my heart come searching for me

Grant Hackett [no title]

Back in April 2020, in the first lockdown, my collection, The Unmapped Woman was launched by Nine Arches Press on Zoom with great support from the fab poets Katie Griffith and Robert Peake. I didn’t know at the time that Jane Commane was in conversation with Helen Dewberry about a variety of film poems including one for a poem of mine. Helen is an Associate member of the Royal Photographic Society and has worked with a variety of poets on film poems which have screened at festivals. You can find a number of them at Elephant’s Footprint Film Verse. I have my favourites, but dip in and see what appeals to you.

It was later in the year that Helen and I had a chat on Zoom to discuss which poem had all those visual qualities just crying out to be shown in another medium. It was interesting that both Helen and Jane had selected Neap Tide as one of their favourites and it is one, which when Helen ask me questions about, I realised, as I unpicked the poem line by line, I had a very clear image of place and people without having made that conscious decision when writing it. I am hoping to catch up with Helen later for an interview, so will keep details of the process for that post, but working with her on this collaboration renewed my interest in my work during what had felt like a very fallow furlough.

Abegail Morely, Creativity in Lockdown – A Film Poem by Helen Dewberry

They’re dwindling,
those who might turn up to mourn,
and some of those are just in tow.
Some went before –
the ones you mourned the most
the ones that would have
mourned you most –
to be expected.

Some you lose through death,
some fade away,
some are blocked,
some block you,
some you knew well,
some just slightly,
the rest you didn’t know at all –
to be expected.

Sue Ibrahim, Expectations

I must confess, though, this interests me intellectually, but it’s the other book I happened to grab in quick Covid-breathing-down-my-neck visit to the library that grabs my poetry heart. It too takes its cues from something concrete, in this case a video clip and some photographs. Ross Gay seems to be attaining incadescence in front of my very eyes with each new book. Be Holding is magnificent, as it achingly slowly tells of the fleet seconds details of an improbable dunk, a “baseline scoop,” by Dr. J during a 1980 NBA finals game, interspersed with curling and twining tendrils of sidebars and meditations on holding, on flying and falling, on love. This is poetry that truly engages me as a reader, a writer, and as a human bean.

This is news of the finest kind. Oh, boy.

Marilyn McCabe, I heard the news today; or, On Poetry Making Use of Non-poetic Texts

The latest from American poet and translator Joshua Beckman is Animal Days (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2021). As the back cover offers: “Written from inside of illness and gathered over several years, these fragments or moments invite readers to contemplate how the compromised body transforms our conceptions of selfhood and our sense of the world.” Animal Days is composed via six extended poem sequences, each threading together an accumulation of short fragments: “IT SEEMED TOO MUCH,” “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “THE GLACIAL TRIP,” “DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE,” “AUGUST” and “ANIMAL DAYS.” Beckman writes from the inside of an awareness of the frailty of the human body, even from the first page of the opening poem: “the pursing / and bursting / of cells / blood / in the skin / in the face / blood exploding / inside us / like that [.]” There is such a slowness etched into the lines and fragments of these accumulations, extended stretches of thought that sit perfectly against each other. There is such a slowness etched into every word—a slowness that coheres and allows for simultaneous pause and quick thought—and one that is remarkably physical. Honestly, for anyone who is attracted to slow, thoughtful work with remarkable speed—one could think, also, of Cameron Anstee, Michael e. Casteels, Jack Davis and the late Nelson Ball—Beckman’s dual essay collections The Lives of the Poems and Three Talks (Wave Books, 2018) are perhaps the finest collections of critical prose I’ve read (so much so that I’ve been completely unable to articulate how good they are).

There are moments when his sketched-out fragments give an epistolary sense, as though he is writing from his kitchen table, perhaps, out to someone (whether generally or specifically) in the wider world: “reading it / even as I / got reading / it even as / I write you / this letter” (“DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE”). Throughout the six threads of Animal Days, Beckman’s lines adhere to a particular minimalism, but one that furthers the line of thought as far as might be possible, stretching out across the lyric. “a sheet / of it / held,” he writes, as part of “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “constellation-like / in the back yard / responding / to wind // clothespins for / fingers // houses / blown down the road / through the town // like a toy [.]”

rob mclennan, Joshua Beckman, Animal Days

There was a real nip in the air on Wednesday afternoon which created frost ferns on the Velux windows in our kitchen. I stood underneath and took some photos, and although it wasn’t dark outside and there was plenty of light, the flash kept going off, so I assumed all I’d get was a blur. In fact, I got these finely beaded images, frost ferns pearled with light from the flash, almost like underwater photos of coral. It was the sub-aqua atmosphere that gave me the word ‘surfacing’, and originally I had ‘frost ferns’ in the poem, but that seemed too obvious, so I was left with what appears above.

Julie Mellor, night frost

winter night
— from out of our wreath
a wren

Bill Waters, Winter night

Yesterday’s later part of the onground intensive revolved around silence, and the leader of the last session offered us an extensive guided meditation.  I tried so hard to follow the directions.  I sat in my desk chair and closed my eyes.  I visualized energy moving through my body.  After what felt like an endless journey from head to toe, we got to a space where God was waiting for us.  We visualized the space.  We visualized God.  Then the leader said, “God has a special word or phrase for you. Let’s sit in silence and wait for that word or phrase to emerge.”

It didn’t take long for my word to emerge:  patient.  Not patience, but patient.  I thought about the difference between the two.  I sat resisting the urge to open my eyes and flip through other online sites.  I was not concentrating on God or my word.

I opened my eyes and reached for my sketchbook.  I decided to write the word across the page, and then I wrote it on other parts of the page in different ways (all capital letters, block print, cursive).  I turned the page around.  I wrote patience instead of patient, but I turned that word back to patient.  I revolved my sketchbook again.

Then I wrote Pain. I only realized what I wrote when I paused to think, how do I spell patient again? Then I looked down and realized that I wasn’t just a letter or two off. I looked at the word.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Unsettling Mystical Experiences and a Special Word from God

This year seems to be taking its toll on me more than all of last year did. I don’t know why, although I suspect I could hazard a few guesses. All of them would be different and all of them would likely be correct (I suspect insider trading).

I am certainly losing track of the days as I could have sworn today was the TS Eliot prizegiving. It isn’t – I think it’s next week. I guess as long as the poets, the judges, and Ian McMillan all know, then the rest is irrelevant. That said, I do enjoy following along on Twitter, although one year I’d like to actually go. Maybe next year.

I think I’d got my wires all crossed about dates as I finished J.O. Morgan’s ‘A Martian’s Regress‘ this week. It’s the only one of the books on the list for this year that I’ve read. I will eventually remedy this, and while I loved it I can’t say whether I want it to win or not because I have nothing to balance it against. I’ve read poems by most of the authors on the list and enjoyed them, so come join me on the fence; it’s comfy.

Mat Riches, Gravy Reservoir

Many thanks to They Call Us for publishing my poem “All Words for a Woman” in their most recent issue. I love the aesthetic and artwork in this feminist zine! Make sure to check out the entire zine while you listen to the corresponding curated playlist.

They Call Us is a new  online, feminist literary magazine publishing a themed issue every three months. Past themes include They Call Us Flawed and They Call Us Theirs. They seek “to showcase the talents of writers, designers, and artists. However, our goal first and foremost is to tell the stories of people who feel like they often don’t have a voice.”

You can read more about what they are up to in my interview with them from last year here.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “All Words for a Woman” published by They Call Us “Bossy” zine + list of Feminist Lit Mags

First things first, I do understand and respect that prompts and exercises help certain poets unblock ideas at specific difficult points in their writing lives.

However, as a poet, I personally find that my own poetry is best served when I get on with my daily business, making sure I read, read, read in the gaps between the stuff I’m doing, thus allowing poems to ripen in my mind before putting pen to paper. As mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, sometimes it’s better to wait rather than forcing work to come out.

As a reader, meanwhile, I get the impression that certain collections seem to use prompts and exercises as a systematic method of writing. I’m afraid I have to admit these are books I don’t tend to enjoy because I find it extremely hard to connect with the poems in question…

Matthew Stewart, Prompts and exercises

Richard Nicholson (aka the singer-songwriter Billy Penn’s Brother) burst into my life towards the end of the 80’s when he invited the band I was in to play at Harry, a tiny festival of faith, arts and politics in Harrogate (get it?), North Yorkshire. Way ahead of its time, and therefore tiny and fleeting, Harry attracted a loving mixture of what Theodore Roethke called the ‘innocent, hapless, [and] forsaken’: misfits, visionaries, burnt-out charismatics, and house church and acid house refugees. Such was the size of the crowd, you felt by the time you went home that you had encountered everyone present: road crew, singers, and punters alike. It was heady and intoxicating and beautiful. In the sense that I met people there who seemed to think, question, doubt, pray and haphazardly pretend they were artists while doing other things (and that this was fine, normal, even), I do think it changed my life.

Around the same time, Richard became a mainstay of a writers’ and artists’ group I used to host in my kitchen. Without the resources of the internet we now take for granted, it was a word of mouth affair, friends of friends of dubious friends pitching up with their entry fee of Bulgarian red, to read, pontificate or argue about their latest masterwork. Naturally Richard came and held forth with the best of them, making lugubrious wisecracks in his deep Geordie voice while sipping Oolong tea through his pipe smoke. One week he would bring a painting, the next a new song, another a manifesto in reply to Marshall McLuhan.

Then, one week, he brought a little sequence of poems which stunned me with their brevity, mordant humour and precision. I think there were no more than half a dozen of them, but each seemed to carry the freight of a lifetime’s reading, study, reflection and rage. I told him at the time I thought they were as good as Ivor Cutler, one of our shared heroes. I still think this today. I saw him perform the poems once, in the basement of Holy Joe’s, the Harry crew’s London base, below Brixton’s Acre Lane. He declaimed them without introduction sitting upright in bed wearing striped pyjamas and a Scrooge nightcap. The effect was charming and unsettling in equal measure.

Anthony Wilson, Intense

The lake has frozen.
Ice fishermen scatter,
tiny dark figures

making their way
across its flat
white expanse.

My heart pounds
gunfire
in my chest.

If the ice breaks
there is no one
to call.

Rachel Barenblat, Watching armed insurrection from afar

I haven’t been sleeping well. Though I suspect few of us are these days. This weekend several of the local lakes were declared to be “safe”, then on Sunday two men fell through the ice of two different lakes. On the other side of the country, an environmental activist fell through and died.

I know that “liminal” has become one of those overused words, but the truth is these liminal spaces are dangerous. The in-betweens and the uncertainties and this continual sense of being on the edge.

Flight, freeze, fight, faint or f#%&. But before that, the suspense, the suspension of our own unconscious flow. Heightened awareness is exhausting.

Even with the yaktrax this morning, the asphalt is dangerous. There’s a light dusting of snow over the ice. The small plow pushes snow into the street and spreads sand on the sidewalk. I want to run this morning, but don’t dare. I’m too unstable, too tired. I won’t be able to catch myself and find my balance if I slip.

A time-out would be nice. Is nice, when I allow myself this. Last week my youngest son visited and told me there is another possibility to the “Flight, freeze…” scenario: submit. Startled and frighten dogs sometimes do it. It’s not the same as playing dead. There’s no deception involved. It’s a matter of softening.

We are so sure that surrender is a bad thing. I’ve been thinking that there is a reason so many religions demand it. We need a time-out from our own will. A reality-check in the midst of all the prophets. Surrender to, acknowledge this moment and its omnipotence. And the next.

Ren Powell, Playground with Dreamcatcher

Finally, I identified with the problems of writing itself: “You write a thing down because you’re hoping to get a hold on it. You write about experiences partly to understand what they mean…. But there’s always the danger of the opposite happening. Losing the memory of the experience to the memory of writing about it.” [Sigrid] Nunez makes that connection to people who realize some of their memories arise not so much from events themselves but from photographs of these events.

I know I sometimes lose track of what really happened if I make a poem of my own experience, or base a story on observed life and behaviors. I often write to better understand something or someone, to expand my compassion for someone who hurt me or behaved badly or inexplicably. What would make someone do that? I ask, and then try to answer that question in a story that loves the character who did it, in part by exploring the character’s motivation, as I would as an actor…  By the time the story is finished, my compassion is expanded, yes, but my imagination has already taken over, and my fiction-writing self has mixed and matched details as needed, and who knows what the “facts” were on the way to the new truth? That’s why it’s fiction.

Kathleen Kirk, Still the Right Book at the Right Time

This year, I intend to make more collages and poem collages to add to those I made in 2020, and previously, which I’ve shown you in several posts, such as Collage Poems (from 2017); Once Upon a Lockdown (sequence of nine prose poems/collages from 2020); Collages of Exasperation (also from 2020).  In my collage work, I’m inspired by poet, writer, artist, and teacher Sophie Herxheimer.

I’m mentioning my collage project now as a means of recording my intention to do the work, and in an attempt to avoid procrastination. I would love to set myself a target of at least two pieces a month but I am going to say at least one piece a month, to be less demanding on myself.  Having said that, I have in January 2021 made two pieces so far.  Hurray!

For my first 2021 piece, I’ve used a cut-up calendar from last year, headlines from The Guardian newspaper (which I tend to buy on a Saturday) and flowers and foliage from my garden.  I’ve made another piece in tandem, without any foliage, so that I can retain this month’s collage.  I plan on doing this with every piece I make from now on (as much as possible).  Last year, I used a lot of natural materials (flowers and foliage) in my collages which meant that I couldn’t physically save them – I only photographed them.  I set up a separate Instagram account for my visual pieces last year – @andothermakings.  I recycled and composted all unsaved materials, by the way!

Josephine Corcoran, Collages for 2021

Traveling to an alternate universe of thinking and writing has been helpful lately given an attempted coup, and racist police response, AND the apocalyptic daily death count and a catastrophically lame vaccine rollout. I don’t manage the leap into literary concentration every day, but that’s actually what my next book is about: what helps us slip into the reading trance, where poetry is concerned, and what that border-crossing does for a reader.

I’m polishing and updating my forthcoming essay collection, to be called Poetry’s Possible Worlds or Taking Poetry Personally depending on what my editor says. It requires reading and rereading widely and wildly to make sure my thinking and research are up-to-date: Carolyn Dinshaw’s exhilarating How Soon Is Now, Nicole Seymour’s Bad Environmentalism, and essays on narrative theory, deep attention, presentism, poetry of witness, and much more. New to me is Brian Attebery’s Stories About Stories, of interest partly because I’m thinking about story in poetry but also because of my investment in speculative fiction. Attebery argues that the cultural importance of literary fantasy as a genre lies in how it “redefine[s] the relationship between contemporary readers and mythic texts.” I’m not wholly satisfied with that as a definition, yet the book is useful and interesting. He describes genre, for instance, as “fuzzy sets”: “the question of what genre a particular text belongs to will never be resolved, nor need it be. The interesting question about any given story is not whether it is fantasy or science fiction or realistic novel, but rather what happens when we read it as one of those things.”

In the larger sense, I write in many genres–poetry, fiction, criticism, reviews, literary nonfiction–but I also think of myself as operating in the borderlands between smaller categories. My poetry has appeared and been reviewed in both “mainstream” and sf venues; it’s been called lyric, political, formalist, fabulist, and more, to which I say, cool. My forthcoming hybrid essay collection (blending criticism, theory, and personal narrative) argues that most poetry is not just fiction but fantasy. It’s fiction because framing it on a page as literary art sets it apart from truth and lies; it’s fantasy because, notwithstanding, it’s obsessed with what’s true. I define fantasy in a way that’s tangential to Attebery’s idea; I think of it as fiction exploring questions of what’s real, what matters.

Lesley Wheeler, Multiple worlds in poetry, fiction, and politics

I’m not gonna sugar coat it. We are in the rubble.

This blog has more or less been built around the idea that we are all required to make something beautiful. But it’s been a long time since I’ve quoted the passage from which the line is taken. Here it is:

“The barrenness of the poetic task: as if every day we look out at a courtyard of rubble and from this are required to make something beautiful. ”

— Theodore Roethke from Straw for the Fire

Well, we have no shortage of rubble at present. No shortage of barrenness, if that’s even a possibility.

I’ve read a lot of advice about how to continue to get through this time and probably I’ve thrown out some of my own. But honestly whenever I read anything in the realm of “thou shalt” my brain just turns off. The best tips seem to come from previous times, for me, anyway. Fernando Pessoa, for example, said this in 1931: “Don’t squander yourself, giving what you don’t have.” And, “Enjoy being the little you are. The hovel you’re given is a better shelter than the palace you’re owed.”

Shawna Lemay, Don’t Squander

How does the writer’s brain work? It is a bewilderment to me, why it must be this particular word, or that particular image. How is it that now, in this time of several national and global crises, I emerge from sleep holding to this juxtaposition: 

    i wake 

    my face is wet 

        the blue heron stands 

        one foot 

        on a slate roof 

Sharon Brogan, questions

Poetry Blog Digest 2020/21, Week 0

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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

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


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

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

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

I wrote a lot about the pandemic. 

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

I wrote almost nothing about a disaster close to home.

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

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, How Was It, For you?

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

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

Gerry Stewart, I’m Still Here – 2020 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, Poem of the year?

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, 2020: Opera Extraordinaire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First poem of the new year:

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

I woke up lazily
and smelled the sovereignty. 

Bitter as stewed tea,
it sickened me.

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

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

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

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

Ama Bolton, 1st January 2021

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

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

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

a call for writers.

Magda Kapa, December 2020

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

Ichiku

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

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

Julie Mellor, New Year’s Day

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

life sketches by Shiki Masaoka

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

José Angel Araguz, ending & starting: shiki masaoka

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

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

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

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 52. A New Year Begins

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

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

Renee Emerson, 2021 resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristen McHenry, Lessons I Learned from 2020

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, A Very Good Anti-Best List

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

*

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

Bill Waters, Book-lover’s bedtime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Paul, On the haiku of Thomas Powell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Szirtes, The Death of Poets

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

Poetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books Read in 2020

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

But things did not fall into place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, the same auld lang syne

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

James Lee Jobe, you might need a better poet

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

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

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

Josephine Corcoran, End of *That* Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, Arbitrary Beginnings

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

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

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

Let’s see where that might lead.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Long drive home

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Ferguson, Self-Help Guide for 2021

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

Luisa A. Igloria, Garden

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

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

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Last Look at 2020

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

Jim Young, on the dunes of the year

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, End of December

The old man
dances on gravel,

smoothing it
where flooding

washed out
the driveway.

He doesn’t
know anyone

is watching.
His dancing

settles the world
anyway.

Tom Montag, THE OLD MAN