Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

These past two weeks brought Halloween, Day of the Dead, and the return of Standard Time in the U.S. and Canada. Israel’s war on Gaza has, if anything, intensified. Unsurprisingly, poets had something to say about these things, although I think we tend to be more aware of the limitations of language than most. Also: parades for poets, a teetering between melody and madness, an epic poem about astrophysics, and much more. Enjoy.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 40

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week found poets wrestling with war, illness, the deaths of loved ones, and publishers giving up the ghost, while also rejoicing at new poems, new books, old friends and autumn weather, among many other things. Enjoy.


My beloved doesn’t understand my enthusiasm for “putting the gardens to bed for winter.” It seems like boring, hard work. Yet I don’t clean everything up–I always leave cover for bees and other creatures that need leaf litter and old stems in order to winter over. However, taking down the stalks and cutting back the peonies (etc) feels satisfying to me. I work in the cooler weather and sense the difference in the air. I recognize the annuals are dying and the perennials are going dormant, the trees let go of their coloring leaves; walnuts, oaks, and hickories seem to fling their mast upon the earth with every gust of wind. There’s nothing sad or somber about the changing of seasons. Winter must arrive in order for spring to do its thing. I like to think of daffodils, muscari, and irises huddled quietly in soil and taking much-required rest before the warmth unthaws the earth. I feel the same.

Ann E. Michael, There & back again, with weeding

To not know; to think only about the usual mixed feelings of crossing back to “real life” after a holiday, with tender feet and breathing open pores.  To be one of the ravers in the Israeli desert dancing under the starry October sky.  To be an observant Jew dancing wildly over Sukkot-Shabbat-Simchat Torah, giving thanks over three holidays celebrating joy, joy, joy, going into otherness – not knowing about the bloody weekend.

I was counting the hours of those in blissful ignorance, having switched off their devices for another kind of communication as one holiday slid into another into another — before they’d have to rejoin those who knew. That sliver of innocence would not narrow and close in the usual way, with a shiver, a tremble as we cross back over the straits — as poet Yehuda Amichai writes, trying to soak it all up before the flute holes close.

From one kind of abyss to another.  Strewn with corpses draped like black flowers/on roads, on the tops of cars, in one’s hearts and arms.

Jill Pearlman, Beyond Belief

A song, a garden, a salvation. A goodness, a grace, a sky-blue smile.

A skeleton key that’ll unlock well-being’s fortune and not the grave.

Rich Ferguson, The Skeleton Key at Wellness and Vine

It’s over five months into chemotherapy treatments and, even though the drugs are less harsh than they were the first 3 months, it is taking a different kind of toll on me. I didn’t hit a wall, really, but have sunk slowly in terms of feeling enthusiastic about anything. I have forced myself these past 6 weeks to exercise for an hour and a half five days a week. But that is it. There’s nothing left after the walks, the runs, the hiit program and yoga.

There is nothing left with which to write even.

I am not sure I have ever done anything this difficult in my life. I am after-the-marathon-tired, but it’s not over yet. Sometimes I can’t even grasp why I’m doing this. And I know that sounds childish. But it has been difficult to keep in mind any kind of timeline or image of a future reality. When is this “over”? What will that look like?

Ren Powell, Understanding Fatigue

Today is National Poetry Day in the UK, and this year’s theme is ‘Refuge’.

On a global scale, the world is experiencing the highest levels of displacement ever recorded. On a more personal level, I have friends who have become refugees this year. And while the disastrous war in Ukraine or the horrors of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean may be prominent in the thoughts of many, they are just the tip of an iceberg which includes mass displacement in and from countries such as Congo, Afghanistan and so many others, due to war, natural disasters, famine and a host of other reasons. Even for those who have fled or claimed asylum under marginally less terrible conditions than some others, the emotional impact (at the very least) is shocking.

Carolyn Forché’s ‘The Boatman’, from her most recent and truly wonderful collection In the Lateness of the World, speaks in the voice of a taxi driver who is also a Syrian refugee. I find the juxtaposition of the incredible horror of what he’s endured to arrive in a (relatively, apparently) safe city, with his determination to “see that you arrive safely, my friend, I will get you there”, almost unbearable. Forché brilliantly conveys the contrasts between the warm taxi and the filthy, dangerous rubber boat, the hotel in Rome with its portraits of films stars and the dead child floating in the water. How surreal it is to hear someone in a calm environment quietly describe the inhumanity they endured to arrive there. And there is also an underlying sense that death is never far away. ‘The Boatman’, as a title and the self-description of “the boatman, driving a taxi at the end of the world”, makes me think of Charon, who took the souls of the dead across the river Styx. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, National Poetry Day: Refuge and Carolyn Forché’s ‘The Boatman’

There is an interesting phrase in Gordon Weiss’s 2011 book on the root causes and final days of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, ‘The Cage’. Weiss describes the careful record keeping and desperate telephone calls of a small group of Tamil government doctors who were trapped along with thousands of civilians in the ‘siege zone’ as the Sri Lankan army finally closed in on the Tamil Tigers. These were, Weiss says, integral to “the compilation of memory” that subsequently provided evidence of atrocity that would otherwise have been obliterated entirely. “Instinctively (the doctors) understood better than most that the only gravestone that those who died would receive would be in the form of the ticks and marks on a hospital casualty form”, he writes, and “…(o)ften the UN would speak to the doctors from their radiotelephones, listening to their pleas for help and intervention while the dull sound of exploding shells crackled up the line…” (p276). 

There is a comparison to be made I think (albeit one that I have to be careful in making) between the heroically steady and precise record keeping of those doctors, and their real-time testimonies of witness, and the enormous job of compilation that the three editors of this first ever anthology of Sri Lankan and diasporic poetry have undertaken. The voices that they allow to emerge, rising as they do from both within layers of division inside Sri Lanka over the last 60 or 70 years, and from around the world as the diasporic community has grown over the same period, create a rich and varied psychological/political landscape which is as unique – and often as harrowing – as the experience of Sri Lankans over the period since independence from British colonial rule in 1948. It is hard not to read this project of anthologisation as one in which a compilation is taking place so that a shared cultural memory is not obliterated by the deliberate forgetfulness of the powerful global forces that shape history. 

Chris Edgoose, The life of their land 

This is an ugly game
of dominoes. There
is always one more.
Waiting to fall.
Ampersand.
Melomys & more.

Who should the bears
blame, as they
starve on melting ice,
on river banks,
who should the green
sea turtles blame,
or emperor penguins,
their babies much
too young to swim?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Bramble Cay Melomys

Sukkot for me evokes both fragility (the sukkah begins falling apart as soon as it’s created; every life is a sukkah, fragile and fleeting; God knows I’ve sat with sorrow in the sukkah at times) and joy (Torah tells us to rejoice in our festivals; this is zman simchateinu, the season of our rejoicing; on Shemini Atzeret, the 8th day, God calls us to linger a little longer in joy.) These poems are somewhat in the mode of Texts to the Holy, though I leave it to you to decide who is speaking, and to whom. […]

I see how fragile everything is
around you, how tenuous
any peace. Reasons for sorrow
pile up like fallen leaves.
Feel my heart touching yours,
enfolding yours.
I’m here with you where you are
under this roof that lets in rain.

Rachel Barenblat, Rejoice / Fragile

I am so happy that I wrote a poem.  It’s been weeks of writing a few lines and then sputtering.  And in the spirit of appreciation for August Kristin who left me poem notes, let me write down an idea for another poem I had as I drove back from Lutheranch, back across Georgia on Sunday.

I thought about what and who had previously been on the land, about Harriet Tubman leading slaves to safety.  I thought about dark skies and scars and reading the stars, a map to freedom, stars that scar the black back of the sky.  I thought about all the people we cannot save, no matter how hard we try.  I thought about writing about Harriet Tubman when she’s old and cannot save people anymore, but is that valid?  I realized I don’t know much about Harriet Tubman when she’s old.  I thought about Harriet Tubman and the Stono River and her spywork during the Civil War.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra Colors Her Hair after the Apocalypse

Humour seems to me to be a useful and sometimes subtle tool to get over a message about the general state of the society that I find myself, however reluctantly, a part of. There are plenty of poems here that poke affectionate fun at people and their habits, at myself for the absurd elements of my own life – and often, because I read a lot of poetry and far too often poets want to be taken so very seriously, at poets. Sometimes something deeper and more serious lurks beneath the surface, but sometimes it’s justifiable as fun for fun’s sake.

Maybe the point in jabbering on about this is a reaction to a whole string of poems I’ve read recently, and comments in discussions, where the writers seem to inhabit a closed, incredibly self-indulgent, self-absorbed world, as if they are unaware of what’s happening outside.

This week’s prime example, was a bizarre and to my mind scarcely believable debate, carried out with a considerable amount of fury, as to what is, and what is not, a haiku. I found both bizarre and ridiculous that people were getting so worked up about it that they were resorting to insults.

The world is burning and people are being slaughtered, folks, and you’re worrying about this?!

Maybe the point here is a message – please let’s take ourselves a little less seriously and remind ourselves that we’re here to untangle the madness that comes with the responsibility of being human in whatever way seems appropriate at the time – and not to preoccupy ourselves with pedantry, particularly when it involves such a flimsy thing as a perceived poetic form.

Bob Mee, COME ON POETS, TAKE YOURSELVES A LITTLE LESS SERIOUSLY, PLEASE

waking up a thousand birds :: i have to be a perfect dawn

(first appeared in Roadrunner Haiku Journal in 2009)

Grant Hackett [no title]

Ok, you might say, so what do poems about Aldershot Town footballers of the 1980s have in common with poems about life in rural Spain, for instance? Well, quite a lot now you come to mention it.

The main nexus is the chafing of belonging and estrangement. In the commuter belt in South-West Surrey and North Hampshire, where most town centres look alike, have similar shops and chain restaurants, where people don’t put down anchors but move around to be closer to a new job, there’s no doubt that the second half of the 20th century saw a loss of community, of identity, which was pretty deeply felt by the time I was a kid in the area during the 1980s. In that respect, lower-league football had become a significant factor in generating or recovering communal identities. By supporting their local team, people belonged. And that was definitely what attracted me to Aldershot Town.

Not enough, of course, because I ended up leaving southern England for Extremadura, where I found a profound, established sense of identity in small towns such as Almendralejo and Villafranca de los Barros. In retrospect, that feeling of belonging was what made me stay, even though I would never quite be one of them, always a foreigner.

This dual perspective runs through Whatever You Do, Just Don’t and knits its sections together. By straddling two countries, two languages, two societies, I can’t 100% feel at home in either, but my perspectives on them both have acquired extra nuance, additional layers. In these poems, Sunday tapas and siestas in deepest Extremadura might even remind you of a nap after Roast Topside or Brisket in Knaphill or Croydon in 1979 or 1982…

Matthew Stewart, Four sections, one book

It would be impossible not to absolutely delight in the lyric gestures of Bennington, Vermont poet, essayist and erasure artist Mary Ruefle’s latest, a collection of short and shorter prose and prose poems simply titled The Book (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2023). Ruefle is the author of well over a dozen full-length titles, most recently Selected Poems (Wave Books, 2010), Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures (Wave Books, 2012) [see my review of such here], Trances of the Blast (Wave Books, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Dunce (Wave Books, 2019) [see my review of such here], and this latest collection offer pieces that sit within a wide gradient, from prose poem to the very short story and everything in-between. There is something quite magical in the way her pieces exist within this collection, this “book,” offering the notion of genre as something wonderfully fluid. Within compact lines and wonderful flow, she offers intimate and lyric slivers of life and thinking, meditations on ordinariness that is never truly ordinary, or spectacular simply because of that ordinariness. The variations on her prose structures hold an enormity, packing nuance into every phrase. “That book sat on my various shelves for decades until I got around to it,” she writes, to open the piece “THE BOOK,” “and then it seemed to be written especially for me. I hope this provides some hope to the other unread books surrounding me who are wondering what will happen to them when I die.” There is such a joy within these sentences, these phrases, one that appreciates and explores with such a level of curiosity and wonder combined with a deep and abiding wisdom that it is it be envied.

rob mclennan, Mary Ruefle, The Book

There are a lot of options for adult skaters–testing, competitions, clubs, classes, private lessons, etc. There are different kinds of skating a person might focus on–freestyle (jumps and spins), dance (solo or paired), moves in the field. I’d thought about and dabbled in different ways of skating since first returning to the ice. Exploring was good and I’m glad I tried on different goals and ways of being a skater, but my lack of a clear focus contributed to my feelings of ennui. Then, a long thread in an online forum this August full of older skaters talking about life-altering skating injuries gave me serious pause about my attempts to return to jumping and spinning. Did I really want to risk my ability to do all kinds of things I now take for granted just so I could do a waltz jump that was likely never going to look or feel the way it did 45 years ago? A few weeks ago, while talking about possible goals with another skater, I said, “I think I’d rather do simple things beautifully than hard or risky things I can barely get through.” As soon as I heard myself, I knew I’d figured it out, my new skating manifesto:

Simple things, done beautifully.

I want to be a strong skater. I want to skate with speed. I want to skate without fear. I want to skate gracefully. I can do all of those things if I’m skating simply.

At my next lesson, I shared this way of thinking about it with my coach. “You often say you don’t want to nit-pick,” I told him, “but I think I want you to nit-pick. I don’t want to just execute a move. I want to master it.” He took me back to working on basics.

I then had one of the best lessons I’ve ever had. Focusing on moving beautifully broke through a block in understanding I’d had about doing crossovers, one of the simplest moves there is. I was able to do crossovers more powerfully than I had previously, and with less fear.

That felt so good, I started thinking about how it might be to do other simple things beautifully. I followed Kate Lebo’s process for making chicken pot pie, one night roasting a chicken and making gravy, and the next roasting vegetables (using herbs from our garden) and making pie crust. The third night I put all the parts together into a pie, and it was pretty amazing. Pot pie is one of the simplest dishes there is, and Lebo showed me how to make it beautifully. Now, I’m wondering how I might apply this way of thinking and being to everything–to my relationships, to work, to writing, to making a home.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Simple things, done beautifully

Simon Cutts is a poet, printer and publisher and the thread of continuity that runs through the legendary Coracle Press. The Small Press Model is a collection of more-or less short prose pieces, many of them occasional and previously published, some new, all of them concerned one way or another with the question of publication in all its various forms. Cutts’ overall approach, and the philosophy that lies behind Coracle, might be best summed up by the following quote from one of the last pieces in this book, a note on the work of artist Peter Downsbrough: ‘I am always amazed at the simplicity of devices in the construction of his work, the home-madeness that leads to such an abstraction and austerity of the finished work.’

That sense of the hand-made, the austere and simple is, I think, what characterises Cutts’ philosophy of publication; the idea of the published thing as an object fitted to its primary purpose and taking its place in a world of objects, is central to his practice (along with his various Coracle partners) and to this book.

The book also reminds us of his very inclusive definition of what constitutes publication. Yes, there are lots of books, but a Coracle Press publication can be a single page of printer (or blank) paper, a gatefold, a book, a catalogue, an exhibition, a building or the monumental resin on concrete publication of his A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire that graces the cover of The Small Press Model.

Crucially, for Cutts, publication is a physical experience. This might mean a concern with the qualities of paper:

“I suddenly realised that I was interested in the transparency of sheets of paper and variable lines of coloured type.”

or, as an extension, the physical qualities of traditional print processes or the frequent examples of books and other physical objects being a continuum; again, A History of the Airfields of Lincolnshire is a good example, having started life as a book before becoming a monumental presence.

Billy Mills, The Small Press Model by Simon Cutts: A Review

There’s a strong preference for summer running through these poems. In the title poem, a childhood memory of a neighbour who had “drab furniture with crochet antimacassars” and who “only spoke the island Welsh,” yet was kind,

“In a hot summer that reverberated to the sound
of roller skates tearing up concrete
she took us in her shiny black Morris Minor,
speeding past farms and fields of potatoes,
to the candy floss paradise of Benllech
with its wide apron of sand and donkeys.
Me in my beloved yellow towelling hot pants,
while ‘Seasons in the Sun’ played
from everyone’s open door.”

Readers can almost hear the children playing on the beach, the splash of waves and the song blaring from open windows. Even the black is polished to a cheerful shine. In contrast, “Winter’s Breath” ends,

“Winter is a black and white country.
The old know this: it strips flesh
from trees, flowers, bones.”

Emma Lee, “Seasons in the Sun” Annest Gwilym (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch) – book review

Richard remarked on how ‘stuffy’ the poetry world can be. Over the years, Penteract Press has published many exceptional works, including The Book of Penteract anthology, Christian Bök’s The Kazimir Effect, your own collections Stray Arts (and Other Inventions) and Slate Petals (and Other Wordscapes), and Pedro Poitevin’s Nowhere at Home. It never ceases to astonish me that these publications – and indeed experimental poetry generally – appear to receive little or no attention from what one might call the ‘literary establishment’. What are your thoughts on this?

Anthony: The poetry world is run by a small number of cliques. But this shouldn’t be surprising: it’s true of literally every industry. It’s unfortunate that the styles favoured by these cliques are at odds with the poetry we wish to promote — but it is what it is.

We can remind ourselves that innovation and technical skill ultimately win out. The art that gets remembered tends to be outside the mainstream of its day, and mainstream artists rarely have any longevity.

That said, fame isn’t much use when you’re dead….

It’s also worth considering that even ‘popular’ poetic styles aren’t particularly popular. This lack of popularity makes it easier for non-mainstream poets to do their own thing — after all, we can see what we’re missing out on by remaining on the fringes, and the answer is: not a lot.

More coverage for Penteract, constraint, and visual poetry would be nice. However, from an aesthetic perspective, I’m quite happy to be outside mainstream circles. There’s little in the mainstream that inspires me, these days.

Marian Christie, ‘Everyone is invited’ – An Interview with Anthony Etherin of Penteract Press

This news hit a lot of people hard, myself included. My first response was shock. But we just read that magazine!, I thought, the way people sometimes respond after hearing terrible news about a person—But I just saw them!

A literary magazine is not a person, of course. But the closure of this particular journal means not only the loss of another vital home for beautiful and important contemporary writing, but the loss of jobs for the editors. I interviewed Lauren about a week ago, as part of our Lit Mag Reading Club discussion of Gettysburg Review. She was engaged, funny, and clearly passionate about this work.

If the magazine’s closing felt shocking to me, I cannot imagine how these editors feel. From what they’ve tweeted, it appears they were completely excluded from this decision.

It also appears the editors were given no warning that this was coming, and that there was no negotiation option made available to them. Nor, it seems, was there any effort to seek a buyer for the magazine. The college board met last week and presumably discussed this situation. The editors, from what I gather, were not part of that discussion.

Evidently too, the college president’s reasons for closing the magazine are not based on facts. According to the editors, he inflated the magazine’s budget when speaking with the faculty. He also hinted at layoffs which suggest a need for budget-cutting overall. Yet just last week, the college received a $10 million-dollar donation from a former English major. The editors are right to ask, where is that money going?

Another question, of course, is what can be done?

Several magazines have gone through threats of closure over the years, then pulled through. In spring of 2022 Conjunctions almost stopped publication, but then didn’t, after outcry and public pressure upon Bard College. In the Story Magazine newsletter from a few days ago, Editor Michael Nye recounted the way people rallied behind and ultimately saved Missouri Review.

The editors of Gettysburg Review are encouraging readers to reach out to the president and provost of Gettysburg College.

Becky Tuch, Can we save Gettysburg Review?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea, which opens my book Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change: every ending is also a beginning, and we don’t necessarily know of what. A wise person once told me to start each day by asking this question: What else is possible?

Life constantly surprises me—sometimes in painful ways, sometimes in wonderful ways. Change is the only constant, isn’t it? During an interview the other day I was asked how I live so comfortably with ambiguity and ambivalence. My answer: I don’t! I don’t live comfortably with the unknowns, but I try not to struggle against them. I try to trust the ebb and flow. As Rilke wrote, “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” […]

Keep Moving has been a miracle in my life. Writing these notes-to-self each day helped me become more optimistic and open to change. And as I shared in my memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, the advance for the book enabled me and my kids to stay in our house. Nothing stressed me out more, or woke me up in the middle of the night more, than the fear of losing our house in the divorce. I worried about having to uproot my kids from their neighborhood, move them away from their friends, and put them in a new school. I had no idea how I would manage to keep us here.

If you’ve been divorced or faced a major financial hurdle for another reason—medical bills, a job loss—you understand that frantic fear. Keep Moving is why I’m writing this to you from my office in the front room of my house, watching people walking by with strollers and dogs. It feels like a miracle to me.

Maggie Smith, On Surprise & Gratitude

Why is brief light so beautiful at such a time

of day? Sometimes I drive under a canopy
arching over certain avenues just to feel

immersed in that dapple, imagining
voices speaking from out of the leaves.

I see clusters of moth wings outlined with Damascus
steel, the glisten of hummingbirds teetering on slips

of vine. Even the blood inside the hard bronze
carapace of a horseshoe crab radiates fluorescence.

Luisa A. Igloria, Allowance (13)

This isn’t really a post about magic, it’s about the power of poetry, as an art form that depends almost exclusively on a hyper-aware use of language, for good or ill. […]

Canntaireachd is a verbalisation of pipe tunes, to be used when teaching a student new music. You sang it until you’d learned it, then got the fingering right on the chanter, and then you learned to play it on the pipes. Far from being random vocalisation, it is an elaborately coded highly technical language. Pipers would say it is more effective than staff notation, as it is written to convey not only pitch and rhythm, but dynamics and intensity, and I’m glad to say it’s still being taught. You can hear an example of it in Martin Bennett’s Chanter, given a surprising twist on his Grit album.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Hocus Pocus

i dread to tread the wounded ways
where he brought forth time’s voices
still the crack-lipped words tell and still
the moments dear to this man’s standing
still the morning
still the air
of thomas dare be there

upon reading a poem by RS Thomas

Jim Young, be thee there

It is one of the hardest things in life — discerning where we end and the rest of the world begins, negotiating the permeable boundary between self and other, all the while longing for its dissolution, longing to be set free from the prison of ourselves. That is why we cherish nature and art, those supreme instruments of unselfing, in Iris Murdoch’s lovely phrase; that is why happiness, as Willa Cather so perfectly defined it, is so often the feeling of being “dissolved into something complete and great.”

Because our sense of self is rooted in the body, it is through the body that we most readily and rapturously break the boundary in the ecstatic dissolution we call eros.

That is what former U.S. Poet Laureate Maxine Kumin (June 6, 1925–February 6, 2014) explores in her subtle and stunning 1970 poem “After Love,” found in her indispensable Selected Poems (public library).

Maria Popova, After Love: Maxine Kumin’s Stunning Poem About Eros as a Portal to Unselfing

This is a short poem that came to me in what felt like a very few minutes, on the third anniversary of my father’s death.  I had forgotten the date, but when my husband and daughter urged me to go out with them one Sunday, I had a strong sense I needed to stay at home.  Sitting on the decking, I suddenly remembered the significance of the day, 6th June, and sat very quietly connecting to the experience of being with my father as he lay dying. The poem came through to me at that point, just a light poured through him in his last eleven minutes.  I do remember having to look up the word for an alchemical container though! ‘An alembic’.

At the time of his dying I wanted to recite the mantra from the Buddhist Heart Sutra, ‘Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha!but couldn’t remember the ‘samgateof the fourth word, so looked it up on my Mac.  The mantra, in Sanskrit, means ‘Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone utterly beyond, what an awakening, Amen!’.It interests me, perhaps as a psychotherapist, that the part of the word I couldn’t remember was the ‘utterly beyond’.  On my Mac I found the singer, Deva Premal’s version – so with her singing accompanying me, I sang it to my father. What happened next is brought to life in the poem.

Drop-in by Hélène Demetriades (Nigel Kent)

The image of Proust’s broken vase gave me a vehicle to think about how an object comes to be precious and meaningful. It also helped me find a metaphorical link between the museum exhibition and our human lives, which are a series of short-lived displays. Since my consideration of wonder has always been both critical and creative, I cherish these moments when the distinction between thinking about wonder as a critic and as a poet dissolves.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I just picked up a book of poems I don’t get at all. So I suggested to myself that I pick three of these poems at random and try to write an imitation of them, just to see what I might learn along the way. Isn’t that a good idea, potentially? I mean, it would force me to settle into the rhythm of the poems, the syntaxes, what seems to be playing out with the nouns and verbs and images. When I say “imitation” I usually either do a word by word replacement of words I come up with off the top of my head, or, more commonly, I try to choose OPPOSITE words. Not all words have opposites of course, but I give it a shot. If a poem starts “After the moon rose…” I might write “Before the seed settled…” Get what I mean? It’s an interesting exercise.

Marilyn McCabe, Long list of priors; or, On Procrastination

How did you come to visual art first, as opposed to, say, fiction, poetry or non-fiction?

Actually, I always wanted to be a writer, throughout my childhood. So when I went to university I studied literature and writing. But I was so disappointed and repelled by my graduate program in creative writing (at Concordia, FYI) that I sought escape from it and wanted to find other outlets. So I stumbled into the visual arts through the world of zines and DIY publishing and performance, and at the time, I found it so much more free than what I was encountering at grad school. I put aside writing and literature for basically a decade, to do performance and film and visual arts projects, and then finally came back to it in 2018. […]

Writing seems like one of the few tools that makes sharing or expressing an interior world possible. It’s a way of representing lived reality. And lived reality—actual lives—are so repressed all the time.

I also think that any use of language is at least a little bit magical, in the sense of the speech act, like the act of naming, or the act of promising. It’s a way to make spells. […]

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

I once heard John Giorno respond to the question of “How to make it as an artist” with the answer “You have to ruin your life,” and it comes to mind often. I think it’s true in the sense that your life will no longer make sense to most people (ie. ruined) but it will also be a lot better (ie. ruined in the romantic sense, of having a more full relationship to the forces of change).

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Amy Ching-Yan Lam (rob mclennan)

I think the majority of literary competition guidelines now include a statement on AI. Usually AI isn’t allowed, though the wording tends to be along the lines that they’ll delete the accepted online piece if AI use is subsequently discovered.

Cult. Magazine has an enlightened (or resigned?) attitude – “If AI tools were used to make your submission, please inform us how you used the tool and why”. The pieces are collaborations of sorts. They’ve benefitted from the work of others, but so have pieces that were workshop exercises, or pieces that are “after” another work.

Tim Love, Writing and AI

So you’re a writer of a certain age, who has written a certain number of books, and after, say, twenty years, you’re still not getting major attention for your work. Read: you are not winning the big money, big attention awards.

But think about this: the people that are winning the big awards are not winning by accident, and maybe not even because of their talent. Someone out there has done a PR campaign, gotten to have lunch with the right people in charge, went to the right schools, got the right mentors. And a LOT of that has to do with class and with money. No disrespect to people that win big, but if you look behind the curtains, you’ll notice that a LOT of them have a LOT of money. It costs something to put yourself out there in the best light—either money from your publisher, or your family, or from powerful mentors at powerful institutions. Does this mean, shocking intake of breath, literature is not always a meritocracy? I’m just going to suggest that those of you struggling with not getting a major award should realize that there are aspects of the world of grants, fellowships, prestige awards that are not going to be…completely in your control. I wish people would talk about this stuff a little bit more and be more honest about what it takes to really make it as a poet. For instance, Louise Gluck inherited a fortune from her father’s invention of the X-acto knife. Merwin inherited a ton of money, TS Eliot married it (and then put his wife in an institution so he could access that money faster). No shade on any of those poets (well, maybe a little at Eliot—what a jerk!), but they were able to be influential poets because they had talent but also because they had money.

Not to say every poet with money becomes influential, or every prizewinner has secret millions (but you’d be surprised how many do!) I wasn’t born with money, I didn’t marry into money, and I didn’t win the lottery, so I didn’t go to the fanciest schools and I’m still paying off student loans from my less-fancy schools. Does that mean I will live a writer’s life without recognition, awards, fellowships, etc? Not necessarily. I do know people who are just like me who have succeeded in making the “big time.” And Sylvia Plath won the Pulitzer…but not til many years after her death. So perhaps we all – writers, scientists, people in competitive fields like composing or physics – feel that we are being looked over, but continue with our work nonetheless. I remember my father, a robotics scientist, was always depressed a week or so after learning he didn’t win an NSF (the science equivalent of the NEA) grant. I later had a college roommate who was one of the people who screened NSF applications, who told me it was a depressing job because there were so many great applicants and she could only choose a very small number to win. I think about both those things a lot.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, October or August? More Pumpkin Farms, A Review of Lessons in Chemistry on Apple TV, Talking a Little about Prizes (and Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad if You Don’t Win)

Setting some personal guidelines for how and which markets to send your work can be helpful to keep focus on your priorities—and sometimes breaking those rules is completely appropriate. Having some flexibility will make your submission strategy more fulfilling. For example, I often send new poems (which are always my ‘best’ poems at the moment) to top tier literary magazines and journals first, hoping I’ll hit the literary jackpot and be published by The New Yorker or Poetry. So far, no such luck, but I keep trying anyway. You never know when one of your pieces will be the perfect fit for a specific issue. Once I’ve had several rejections from those markets, I lower my sights a bit and start sending to more mid-tier markets. I also make exceptions from time to time; send a poem I wrote for a prompt to a themed call or send some poems to a university journal because I really like their aesthetic and what they’re up to. I definitely lean toward feminist lit mags and can’t help but to send them work, regardless of how new they are or how few followers they have on social media.

Trish Hopkinson, Do I need a strategy to submit to lit mags?

Let’s say you are what you consume. I want to become more clear-headed, astute, insightful, observant, persuasive, better at listening. If I read what is sloppy or loopy, maybe I read too indiscriminately and I squander my time.

Maybe I get frustrated easily. Maybe poetry isn’t the tool for what I want to be fed.

Each media has its strengths. Hum. Haw.  Hum. 10% of poetry, maybe 5% of it, knocks me back on my heels.

Maybe that is a good rate.

To honour the exploration, the edges, matters. What matters is everything not the notable and marketable golden hour that can have an elevator pitch towards one outcome. Poetry should explore, should sometimes fail, should leave gaps where new standards can emerge.

Poetry can create not only reflect. Poetry isn’t like hockey where you need equipment and support of an industry and stadium of audience. Poetry can be done collaboratively or as a whisper to and from self. Poetry isn’t mainstream capitalist. It’s jangled or can be. Not trying for offbeat or in hand.

Pearl Pirie, disability & writing

In other news, I was very lucky to have been mentioned in a post by my old mucker, Matthew Stewart. His second collection, Whatever You Do, Just Don’t is starting to turn up in the world and I’m enjoying seeing people enjoying it and savouring it. (Excellent review by Christopher James).

As Matthew himself notes, I’ve

“seen all the poems in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course.”

And this is the crux of his post, it’s not about me, it’s not about him either. It’s about us, as writers (and fuck it, as people) having folks that are friends that support and help each other through encouragement, goading, provoking and supporting. He’s the first to tell me something is shit or good, as I am say something isn’t working.

What changes as a result of this is up to the recipient, but, the space is safe to say this stuff. It’s  likely true elsewhere, but I, for one, welcome the trust that comes from it.

I’m less happy that he has texted me to insult me about the Arsenal result by questioning the origins of my fandom, but y’know…it comes with the territory. I will say, however, that I’m honoured and looking forward to seeing the old sod again in the flesh in November. You should come along too on the 7th November. 7pm. The Devereux Pub.

Mat Riches, If you see Sidney Road, tell me

One night we woke up to hear Patsy Cline singing Walking After Midnight on mamma’s stereo and daddy’s old truck rumbling down the road like the Big Foot. We peeked around the kitchen door to see mamma slow dancing, her arms wrapped around herself, fried chicken and mashed taters slip-sliding down the wall like the tears falling down her cheeks. Maggie took her red rooster feather and plaited it in mamma’s long hair while I took Patsy off the stereo and put on James singing Give it up or turnit a loose. Then we Soul Train lined our mamma up up up into the starry, starry sky.

Charlotte Hamrick, A set of linked micros

I practice
letting go . . .
autumn morning

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: October ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 36

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: change and other challenges, the life of the text, book launches, unanswerable questions, and much more. Enjoy.


I read an article yesterday (it scarcely matters about what.) Afterwards I spent a long while working on a terrible poem. Righteous indignation is not a good motivator for poetry. But the news so often fills me with grief and fury. Everyone I know is living close to the emotional boiling point, these days.

We haven’t wholly grieved [a] global pandemic, and meanwhile climate disasters intensify (and climate deniers pretend), and democracy is under attack, and the state where I was born is making it illegal to drive on state roads if one’s purpose is to escape to a safe state for reproductive health care —

— and how many of us live with all of this simmering in our hearts and minds most of the time? It’s no wonder that even when we’re doing all right, it feels like we’re barely keeping our heads above water. Still, that’s no excuse for terrible poetry, so the poem in question will remain locked away.

Rachel Barenblat, Untie

As summer begins to give way to autumn here in New Jersey, six new poem signs of mine are on display outside the Hopewell Branch of the Mercer County Library System — three out front, and three around back.

As Election Day approaches and the landscape becomes cluttered with campaign signage, I like to imagine someone noticing these poem signs and thinking “Wait — what?” LOL!

Vote for … poetry?

Bill Waters, Autumn Poetry @ MCL, 2023

As we come into fall, the cicadas are loud outside and constant from the afternoon into the evenings. As soon as the heat clears, it will no doubt feel more like autumn and I’ll probably feel that same excitement that occurs every year, beholden to the academic calendar or not. That new seriousness in new projects and maybe a push to finish others. Every year around now for years, my parent’s house would be overflowing with harvested tomatoes. On the deck, piled on tables and counters and in baskets. A few days in the overheated kitchen and she would turn them into jars of salsa.  I feel like I am still in my gathering phase when it comes to new poems–piling them in a basket and hoping for cooler weather and a greater sense of urgency. 

Kristy Bowen, beginnings and endings

Even close observers find it hard to discern changes around them when those changes are gradual. In the real world our attention is far more distracted. We miss subtle differences, even though noticing something “ordinary” as the sky impacts (and reflects) our mood and attitude.   

Consider most people in human history. Chances are they were good at noticing. When a person spends time gathering food, hunting for game, weaving baskets, or engaged in myriad other hands-on tasks their minds have plenty of time to wander, wonder, and notice. It’s likely they were tuned to sights and sounds and changing seasons, connected to (and sometimes buffeted by) history’s encroachments. It would have been the same for those living 10 generations before them as it would continue to be for 10 generations after them.

In contrast, we’re tuned to a far more frenetic pace, so much so that with each screen scroll and each multitask we wire our brains to expect more distraction. To need more distraction. How do we use our in-between moments, those times when we might wonder and notice? We distract ourselves. People get out phones when standing in line, put a movie on for kids in the car, go for a walk or run with earbuds in, scroll social media while hanging out with friends or family. These behaviors are ubiquitous yet also significant changes to the norm from just a generation ago. […]

I saw the video opening this post thanks to Rob Walker, author of a marvelous book: The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday. He writes, “Small change, and the ability to spot it, matters. These small changes, over time, often turn out to be a lot more important than today’s flashy distraction. What’s the smallest change you can notice this week?”

Laura Grace Weldon, Noticing Change

What we lack of information, we frame
as conjecture. Imagine

how puzzle pieces fit
together or not at all, how a missing space
can have the sheen on the inside

of an oyster shell. It takes work,
even skill, to pry them open—

The waters salt them by degrees, leach
the taste of place into them.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Short History of Oysters on the Eastern Shore

Louisiana is a mystery to me. It feels like a puzzle I will never know enough to solve or adequately describe. I suppose any place is to someone from outside of it, if you scratch even just a little bit below the surface of its food, language, and tourist attractions. Our weeks there were challenging and hard for me in so many ways: physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially. I loved having extended time with Cane’s family, with whom I felt moments of true joy and ease, but disorientation and disequilibrium were far more common. I remember telling my students more than once that learning is often uncomfortable and can even be painful. I learned a lot in our time there. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to develop a fuller understanding of my husband and his family, of our country and its people, and of what it means to love.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The work of our hands

The graffiti on the NJ and NY Palisades sent a thrill through my childish mind and body. I first recall seeing words spray-painted on the cliffs when I was under age five and barely cognizant of letter forms. The view puzzled and frightened me, partly because of the heights (I was acrophobic from a very early age) and partly because I had no idea what those huge, high-up letters signified. When I got to kindergarten and began deciphering letters, the graffiti confused me because it contained signs that weren’t in the alphabet I was learning at school: Ω, Φ, the scary-looking Ψ; θ, Δ, and Σ, which resembled a capital E but clearly wasn’t. Once I could read and still could not understand them, I asked my father what those letters were and why they were up there on the rocks. They reminded me of the embroidered on some of the altar cloths in church, but I didn’t know what that stood for, either.

Frat boys from the colleges painted their Greek symbols on the rocks long before spray paint was invented, my dad said, possibly as part of hazing rituals. By the time I was a child, the 50s-era “greasers” had begun announcing their love for Nancy or Tina through daring feats of rock and bridge painting; then the graffiti era came into full swing after the mid-sixties, and the process got colorful–the Greek symbols vanished, replaced by “tags.” All of which just reinforces the importance of words in the world.

Ann E. Michael, Language power

In his study of aesthetic experience, Peter de Bolla argues that “Literary works of art are produced in the activity of reading.” I love the verb produced here—it seems to suggest that the reader renders the text fully alive, that the life of the text continues inside the reader’s mind. De Bolla goes on to say that though it seems logical to read a text first, and only subsequently develop an aesthetic response, “this is impossible given that the reading and the response are interactive; that is, one develops in the shadow and in step with the other.” Word by word, line by line, we metabolize what we read, and our singular reactions organically unfold. We question. We discover. What we read changes us.

When we apply the lens of wonder to this idea, we find that wonder can be passed from writer to reader through the page itself. This is no small miracle.

Aristotle (and later Aquinas) suggested that wonder catalyzes the poetic impulse by provoking a restlessness that seeks shape. The poem wants to unearth, discover, and question; it is, as Anne Carson writes, “an action of the mind captured on the page…a movement of yourself through a thought, through an activity of thinking.” It shares psychic ground with the conditions of wonder—there is something unsettling, and therefore generative, about trying to wrestle into language something that exceeds it.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I’m always reading something but I’m probably worse than ever at floating from book to book to book…and so on. This is not a bad method in so far as comparing ideas, and seeing how one mind sparks off another. It means it takes quite long to actually complete a book, though!

The first volume I read lately in one sitting and then re-read in another was the very delightful book of poems by Sarah Salway, titled Learning Springsteen on my Language App. (If you’ve been here a while you’ll know immediately why this was an insta-buy). The title poem is as delightful as I was hoping, but there are many memorable poems and lines. I’ll talk about one of them, and let you have the fun of reading the rest. In “She did her best” the line comes from a grave stone, and the poem thinks through how that might not be how the speaker would like to be remembered. She says, “It’s important to discuss how we want / to be remembered…” So many devoted and beloveds, all well and good, for sure. The poem ends beautifully:

finding always in the act of writing
the truth: a simple gravestone,
to die with all my words used up but one —

more.

Shawna Lemay, 3 Books for September

Ostensibly, Seven Sisters, which can be found in my collection Street Sailing, is a simple poem about a moment when the narrator (me), watches a hovering kestrel, alongside a similarly awestruck friend; the ‘gawping booted witnesses’ near the eponymous Sussex cliffs. We’d been crossing the downs nearby, winding our way towards the cliff walk, when the kestrel appeared, as if out of nowhere, as though it had beamed in from some other dimension.

I remember standing transfixed for what seemed like an age, as the bird hung there, untroubled by us nearby humans. At the time I recall thinking that it was a kind of living echo of all the tiny skeletal body parts of the microscopic creatures that made up the layers of chalk beneath us – the countless coccoliths and foraminifera.

It was this sense that I wanted to capture when I started writing a poem about the incident. I also wanted to convey the notion that, while this occurrence seemed significant to me, the kestrel would have likely been oblivious to my presence and was just trying to get on with doing what it always does.

Drop-in by Matt Gilbert (Nigel Kent)

[W]e finally succumbed to the rave reviews and saw an Oppenheimer matinee yesterday. I disliked it intensely, although I appreciate many striking elements of the movie others admire: the way the main character visualized the quantum universe in his early years was beautiful, the history often intrigued me, the film’s sound design was great, and it’s full of dazzling performances. I’m as haunted as anyone by an emaciated Cillian Murphy’s slow blue-eyed blinks. There’s even some poetry: a copy of The Waste Land flashes by, and Murphy quotes Donne’s three-personed god sonnet as they name the Trinity project.

There are much more profound critiques of the film than the one I’m bringing–for example, that it gives no time to the profound damage wrought on human beings living downwind of the Los Alamos experiments–but my emotional reaction was also shaped by many shots of Princeton and other elite graduate schools. To quote Jack Stillinger’s book on romantic poetry, Oppenheimer leans hard on “the myth of solitary genius.” Apparently, certain white men are special in their talent and drive; they recognize, help, and fight each other, often working in groups, but the important thing is that their vast intellectual gifts make them profoundly lonely in pursuing their visions (as well as, in poor Oppenheimer’s case, victim to Robert Downey, Jr.’s dangerous spite). What an obnoxious way of portraying insight and discovery: to heroize a few figures and downplay the prejudices and myopias supporting them, as well as the toxicity of their obsessions. Christopher Nolan basically celebrates Oppenheimer as the tortured, talented Batman of physics.

Lesley Wheeler, STILL mythologizing solitary genius

An elderly man in Muncie believes the water stain on his bedroom ceiling is the face of Jesus.

In Syracuse, a woman witnesses random tar stains on the sidewalk and reassembles them into the disapproving look of her mother.

While out for an early-morning L.A. walk, I marvel at how somber gray clouds have formed the chilling shower scene from Psycho.

In moments like these, the entirety of the universe is interconnected, and we are all threads creating the cloth of miracle and madness.

Rich Ferguson, Pareidoltown

With the arrival of my new book of poems, Between a Drowning Man, imminent, I thought it would be useful to re-blog a piece I wrote and posted early in 2019 about one of the key sources and inspirations of the new book’s main sequence of poems called ‘Works and Days’. It was my fortuitous reading of AK Ramanujan’s collection of vacana poems, early in 2016 (all explained below), that set me off experimenting with a similar clipped, plain, rapid, fluid style with its (refrain like) repetitions. I was staying in Keswick at the time and I vividly remember scribbling down brief pieces at all times of the day and night. Outside, and interfering with the various walking expeditions we had planned, the great storm of the winter of 2015/6 (googling it now, it was Storm Desmond) had taken out many of the ancient bridges in the Cumbrian countryside. Inevitably, this fact found its way into the poems and provided the refrain I used in many of them.

It has been a long haul between that period and the poems’ eventual appearance in this new collection and the whole sequence was further formed (or reformed or deformed) by pressures of a second literary antecedent (I’ll blog about that next week) and by the divisive political events in the UK between 2016 and 2019. Click on the blog title below to read the whole of the original post. My first public reading from the new book will be on the evening of Tuesday 24th October at The Betsey Trotwood in Clerkenwell. I’ll be reading alongside 2 other Salt poets:  Elisabeth Sennitt-Clough – ‘My Name is Abilene’ (Shortlisted for the 2023 Forward Prize); and Becky Varley-Winter – ‘Dangerous Enough’ (‘daring, danger and risk in poems that are packed with imagery from the natural world’).

This Thing Called Bhakti: Vacanas and Ted Hughes

Martyn Crucefix, Influences on ‘Between a Drowning Man’ #1

I have been awake for hours, and I’m inordinately proud of myself for not spending my time scrolling through social media feeds that have minimal value.  I’ve been preparing poetry submissions, which means various kinds of scrolling:  through my submission log, through websites, across the Submittable platform.  I’m astonished at how much it costs to submit now, and no, I don’t think it’s a similar cost to paper, ink, envelopes, and stamps.

I’ve just been to the post office, so I have a sense of how much stamps cost.  My local post office has such a great selection of stamps.  Plus, I love getting mail.  I do love the ease of submitting online, but it’s such a huge cost if I tally it up.  I don’t know why I don’t mind spending 84 cents on postage, but $3 is almost always a deal breaker.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Seasonal Stealing Away

Missing things still wander, still wait to clasp my hand.

So I make sandwiches
and drink tea, but plant moon flowers at sundown
and keep my shoes by the door.

Charlotte Hamrick, While I Wait

Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan – Vol. 1 Language & Tradition (50th Anniversary), Michael Gray, The FM Press, 2023, ISBN: 979-8988288701, $24.99

Towards the end of this book, the first in a projected three-part reissue of his monumental work on Dylan to mark the 50th anniversary of the first edition, Michael Gray quotes this from Pete Welding:

“the creative bluesman is the one who imaginatively handles traditional elements and who, by his realignment of commonplace elements, shocks us with the familiar. He makes the old newly meaningful to us…”

It’s a quote that might serve as a kind of summary of Gray’s intentions in this first volume, but with a wider remit than just the blues. The book consists of a series of chapters on various traditions that Dylan’s work draws on, folk music, literature, rock ‘n’ roll, mysticism, the blues, along with a couple of chapters on Dylan’s language, charting a move towards and then away from complexity, and one on books about the man and his work. These are wrapped by an introductory introduction to his albums (studio, live and Bootleg Series) issued between 1962 and 1988 and a closing roundup of sorts.

Straight away I found myself in disagreement with Gray’s judgements, his dismissal of Self Portrait as ‘a mistake’ and praise of Under The Red Sky as ‘an achievement that has gone entirely unrecognised’ should, in my view, be reversed. But this is a good thing, I don’t want to read a book on Dylan that confirms my biases and Gray certainly doesn’t do that. In fact, throughout the book his contrarian opinions, such as the complete dismissal of Dylan’s protest songs as ‘rarely of outstanding quality’, draw the reader in to an engagement with the book’s more central preoccupations. And to be fair to Gray, he’s quick enough to self-correct. One outstanding example of this is an almost incomprehensibly wrong-headed reading of ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ which misses  almost everything about that great song, but which ends with a footnote that begins ‘When I read this assessment now, I simply feel embarrassed at what a little snob I was when I wrote it.’ If only more critics possessed that degree of honest self-awareness.

Billy Mills, Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan – Vol. 1 Language & Tradition (50th Anniversary), Michael Gray: A review

Though I was born of women
too diligent to dance,
I did not inherit vigor–
just one pair of viridian stilettos, never worn
nestled in cardboard like two shining birds.
Nights, they glow like foxfire
on the barren closet floor.

Kristen McHenry, Inheritance

Jane Bluett explores tales, familiar and unfamiliar, how to make sense of a place in the world and find a path through it. She doesn’t restrict herself to the local or current day. In “Almah”, which means young girl in Hebrew and is the word used for Mary, mother of Jesus, whose husband “wrote me down” until “they came to read me, translated, interpret”,

“In England they changed the colour of my skin,
wrote in whispers, gave me a sister.
I became the great impossibility,
and she, the other me, a silent whore.”

A woman’s voice is taken from her, subjected to distortion through a male lens. Further translation even changes her origins, turns her into a saintly, impossible woman. Dehumanised, she’s no longer recognisable. Her story has been lost and the woman behind them reduced to the Madonna/whore template. This theme is picked up again in “Nushus”, focused on the language of Nushu, the world’s only single sex language from Hunan, China, however, the last fluent user died in 2004, “Our nouns slipped silent, our verbs deafened,/ loud as sirens, loud as words” but it ends, “her breath betrays our meaning,/ disappears.”

Emma Lee, Jane Bluett “She Will Allow Her Wings” (Five Leaves) – book review

The second full-length collection from London, Ontario poet (and, from 2016-2018, that city’s poet laureate) Tom Cull, following Bad Animals (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2018), is Kill Your Starlings (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2023), a collection of poems that appear, carefully and delicately, as though carved out of stone or ice. Across this book-length suite on family and place, Cull offers an assemblage of descriptive, first-person lyrics, setting blocks down as if to build, writing on cars, family, Ikea, masculinity, toxicity and landscape. Listen to how he describes heading west by train out of Ottawa (specifically, Fallowfield Station): “Outside, land is drawn and quartered. / Wild turkeys step through / split-rail fences; a lone coyote pauses / in a pasture, head thrown / back across its body watching us pass.” Cull’s wisdom, as well as his humour, emerges quietly, to rest amid rumination, offering one step and then another, further, considered step: not one word or line out of place. As the back cover offers, this is a book about family and place, although there is a way he writes about masculinity is worth mentioning: his articulations are different, although equally powerful, than, say, Dale Smith’s Flying Red Horse (Talonbooks, 2021) [see my review of such here], offering a sequence of poems, for example, on the male gestures offered through car commercials. “Set it free.” he writes, in the poem “Subaru Wilderness,” the fourth and final poem in the sequence “AUTO EROTICA,” “See the Subaru in its natural habitat; / a hundred thousand mutations, / bionic selection stalking slag ridges— // terrarium interiors—synthetic protein / seats, hot mist, pitcher plants, / neon salamander toes suction cupped / to the windows.” Cull’s threads are subtle, offering a book heartfelt and deep, writing of a father he learned from by example, benefitting from the man’s quiet dignity. “Years after my dad died,” he writes, as part of the wonderfully graceful “AUTOPSY REPORT,” “I moved home temporarily to help get the farm ready for sale. I hired plumbers, roofers, contractors to do the work. Over the course of that year, I met several men, who’d had my dad as their teacher. They all praised his patience, his care, and his demand for discipline and hard work.” The poem ends:

A few years ago, my mom wrote a poem about my dad. The poem
ends with details from his autopsy report:

BUILD: moderately obese
BRAIN: unremarkable
HEART: massively enlarged

rob mclennan, Tom Cull, Kill Your Starlings

Back in the days when I was known as Elizabeth by my school teachers, I compiled a project called ‘Western Australia’. I was in Lower IV 26. 26 was the room number, Lower IV was year 8. In her feedback, written on a pale orange card, my Geography Teacher, the lovely Miss Smith, wrote: ELIZABETH: mainly WESTERN AUSTRALIA. In the corner of that card, she drew a fairy penguin. I’ve had a soft spot for penguins ever since.

On the other side of the small card, Miss Smith wrote this: “Your nice grassy folder had some original and interesting ideas in it, with good illustrations. The range of relevant information was wide, from Continental drift to Camels, and even though you veered from your subject by discussing the Barrier Reef, it was still a good effort. A(-)”. 

Not much has changed in my approach to projects since 1976-7. The anthology I’ve been working on, Festival in a Book, A Celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival, also has some original and interesting ideas in it, most of them not my own. The illustrations (by Emily Wilkinson) and design (by Gabriel Watt) are a bonus. The range of relevant poetry is wide in terms of the Festival itself, and the poets also veer (as you’d expect them to do) towards love, childhood, loss, celebration of nature, and death. 

A brackets minus. What a mark. Thank you Miss Smith. In old school terms, A was for near as damn excellent considering your age and stage, and minus was for not quite. The brackets? They were for but nearly. My project was: not quite near as damn excellent considering your age and stage, but nearly. I was very happy with this grade. If the anthology is judged by contributors and readers as: not quite near as damn excellent considering her age and stage, but nearly, I’ll be delighted.

Maybe it was that carefully-wrought mark and Miss Smith’s recognition of the effort I’d made that set in my 11 year-old head the bouncy thought that one day I would visit Western Australia, and the other parts of that country-continent that aren’t WA but are closer to it than South Hampstead High School, 3 Maresfield Gardens, London NW3. It’s certainly been a thought leaping kangaroo-like around my head for a few years: a thought I put into action back in the spring when I booked tickets to Perth, via Singapore. I leave in 5 weeks, once I’ve completed the distribution and launch of the anthology. 

Liz Lefroy, I Draw A Comparison

I’m excited to be reading in Liverpool for the first time, at the launch of my new micro pamphlet One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone which was one of the winners in the Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast Poetry Prize. Along with two of my fellow winners, Rachel Spence and Ben McGuire (a fourth winner, Sarah Mnatzaganian will launch her pamphlet next year), I’ll read from my new pamphlet on Saturday, 16 September at the Open Eye Gallery, 6pm – 8pm. Tickets are free and bookable here. Come along if you’re in the neighbourhood.

Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast is an initiative created by writer and artist Maria Isakova Bennett who designs and makes limited edition hand stitched poetry journals. This means that my poems will be published within a beautiful handmade cover. Take a look at previous journals Maria has made to see what I mean. I submitted twelve poems to do with clothes and fabric as my competition entry, and the title – One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone – is a line from a poem after a self-portrait in stained glass by artist Pauline Boty in which the artist is wearing a red dress. Because of this, I’ve had the idea of wearing a red dress at my launch. I’m not sure how wise this decision is (!) but I’ve found a rather sweet red silk dress from Oxfam Online which seemed to be calling out to me when I viewed it on my computer.

Josephine Corcoran, September and ahead: some workshops and readings

It’s been a long journey getting to this point with Look to the Crocus but I’m delighted with it. 

Through the creating and editing process, the manuscript has gone through many shapes and forms like a snake shedding skin. The final result is a tripart collection: Flowers & Trees, The Long Water, and Mother Moon, and each section is prefaced with a quote from Theodore Roethke. 

It contains my versions of Scottish ballads, close encounters with nature, my relationship with the Firth of Clyde, and elegies to my parents. The presiding poets include Roethke, Transtromer, Plath, W.S. Graham, Sujata Bhatt and D.H. Lawrence.

The cover art was created by Irish artist Brigid Collins after I met her in a special garden.

John Killick was central to bringing this book to publication and I’m hugely grateful for his support for my work. 

Marion McCready [no title]

I don’t usually embark on project collections, that is, collections of poems that focus on something particular. I usually just write what I write and hope that some of it can sit together companionably when there’s enough stuff to think about a collection. But I find myself in the interesting position of having created a “project” collection…but it’s about 10-15 pages short of what would be considered a full-length thing. I’m staring at my page count and the empty pages are staring back from the void.

What if I have nothing more to say on this subject? What if the whole output has petered out and I have this too-big-for-a-chapbook-too-small-for-a-book mongrel of a hybrid thingy? I haven’t written anything new in its world in about a month. I scribbled a few things but they went nowhere, and were of that death-knell tone: self-conscious. Now that I THINK I’m working on a “project” the thoughts are stiff and forced.

Can I trick myself into writing more freely on this same matter?
Should I quit while I’m ahead and just, I don’t know, split it into two chapbooks and be done with it? Should I set the whole thing aside and come at it later, hoping I’ll find something more to say?
Should I sit myself down to keep writing and see if I circle back to the topic eventually?

All those things are reasonable possibilities. What am I doing, though? Staring at the void staring at me.

Marilyn McCabe, Ooh, what’s that smell; or, When a Creative Process Peters Out

You Could Make This Place Beautiful is out in the UK today with Canongate Books! I’m grateful to Jamie Byng, Jenny Fry, Helena Gonda, Anna Frame, Catriona Horne, and everyone at Canongate. (And thank you for welcoming this book so warmly, for telling your friends about it, for giving it to people who might need it…word of mouth, reader to reader, is the secret sauce, isn’t it?)

What else? I found a tiny cardinal feather in my backyard and picked it up before it floated away. Beauty emergency! It now lives in a tiny bowl in my office, where it makes me unreasonably happy.

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

Seattle people tend to have a bit on panic in their eyes this time of year because their FOMO is activated by the arrival of the “Big Dark.” We are probably no different, having been here so many years that we automatically go into outdoor plan overdrive on nice days.

Now, getting to Seattle from Woodinville took an hour because literally every way to get everywhere was closed due to city construction—and feel sorry for those dependent on the Bainbridge ferry, which was down for cars, bikes, and scooters for a week. Does Seattle DOT have problems? It does! Do they have a ton of tax money to fix it but somehow manage not to? Yes!

Anyway, once we got downtown, we didn’t want to waste the trip—so we hit everything at once—after navigating the construction on the main UW hospital campus (yes, also a nightmare)—we chilled out at the Japanese Garden and went to the UW district’s awesome Bulldog Newstand, which has a ton of obscure lit mags and foreign magazines of all types, and now they also have fancy ice cream.

The second downtown trip we originally wanted to hit the zoo and Roq La Rue, but because of traffic, everything was closing as we arrived, and we made the decision to only hit Open Books before they closed. We got new books by Oliver de la Paz, Terrance Hayes, Major Jackson, and checked out a ton more. After we stayed ’til closing time, we went a couple blocks down to Elliot Bay Books, where we picked up the new Lorrie Moore book, marveled at the terrific poetry section (where Flare, Corona was fronted at the top—squee!), bought a few more lit mags, and chatted with the friendly book salespeople about our favorite releases and theirs.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Taking Advantage of Sunny September Days to Do the Things We Missed All Summer: a Visit to the Japanese Garden, Open Books, Elliot Bay Books, Time at the Flower Farm

There are so many writers out there; so many writers aspiring to publication, so many writers pushing boundaries, climbing out of the constraints of the traditional, so many writers climbing up, up, up towards prizes and winning and poetry collections and debut books. It can be off putting if you yourself are a writer who is not competitive, or are a writer from a non traditional writing background where the rules of the literary world seem undefined and confusing, or if you are at the beginning of your long journey to discovering your own voice. How do you keep writing?

Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese is like a quiet place to come and refresh yourself. Each sentence could be a mantra in its own right, but tied together it is a cool corridor to pass through on the way to your place in the world. […]

This has to be one of the most famous Mary Oliver poems. It also happens to be one of my favourite Mary Oliver poems. Last night, after a challenging day (unexpected overdue tax bill hell) I went out with the dog for a walk. A thick sea fret had rolled into the village. The world was a place of malleability and strangeness. The sound became dulled. A tractor was rumbling across a field, only visible by its headlights. The world was shrunk to the moment and what I could see in my own small sphere of existence. Nothing else entered the sphere. I could see no one outside of the sphere. As we were heading home we turned into the lane and I heard, in the distance, the unmistakable calls of geese in flight. I stopped, stood still and waited until the geese came over our heads, appearing out of the mist in a huge V, their wings beating with a soft, dull feathered sound. Immediately the first line of Mary Oliver’s poem sprang to my mind, and into my mouth. I whispered it to myself You do not have to be good.

Wendy Pratt, The World Offers Itself to Your Imagination

Finally it rains. Slapping and paddling the thick leaves; gliding down (d)rain pipes to be spit out onto recumbent weeds, filling puddles that I see mixed with the mesh of my screen window.  Puddles like a running woman, arms outstretched, hair flung behind her, legs poised and bent.  Now a drip, now a piling, now a pulsing on my phone: Flood Watch in your area!

Now at the risk of life and death, to wonder what becomes of rain after a poet dances it into language.  Does it still slap as sound on the receiving mind, as rain but more so? Do we lose it to a “finely woven curtain – sheer net perhaps – thinly broken, relentless in its fall, but relatively slow, which must be down to the Lightness and size of its droplets, an ongoing, frail precipitation, like real weather atomized.”  So poet Ciaran Carson writes in a poem inspired by the Impressionist painting, “Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877,” the poem a riff on Francis Ponge, ‘La Pluie.’”

Ripples upon ripples in ripples. Enchanting patterns as droplets outside my window dissolve one upon another into larger radiating ripples –teasingly certain, never answering the question.

Jill Pearlman, Wording in the Rain

whose vision dies at the entrance to dawn

on which side of my skin is sky

if dream is the cradle, who is the child

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, summer’s tide appears to be going out, but there’s still time for road-tripping, polishing manuscripts, doing the #SealeyChallenge and more. Enjoy.


At the beach earlier this week, we found a much-broken up rock jetty that teemed with creatures. As I sat back on my heels and peered into the mixture of sand-water-rock-mullosk-kelp, I found myself thinking about Aristotle’s immanent realism (epistemology/natural philosophy), ideas he likely nurtured while examining the tide pools of Lesbos. Or I imagine that he may have done so. We humans observe, and then classify or categorize based upon these observations: similarities, differences, various adaptations–in environment, habit, behavior, construction of the being or entity itself.

I think if I had known as a child and young woman that there was a career path called “a naturalist,” I would have pursued it.

Ann E. Michael, Classification

This year I am part of a group exhibition titled ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ along with artists Donna Gordge and Bernadette Woods. Why happiness? After Covid and some recent rough personal times, all three of us felt we needed to make work that lifted us, made us feel a little lighter. 

We met once to discuss how we might approach exploring ‘happiness’ visually, and came up with lists of things that made us happy including stone fruit, lime-green linen, poached eggs and birds. We talked about the materials & methods we might use – family photographs, paint, posca pens, wallpaper & collage – and then we just got on and made stuff. We checked in with each other a few times online. Then, before we knew it, we were in the West Torrens Gallery hanging the works. We open on Thursday 3rd August, and the exhibition will be on display for the month of August. […]

I’ve made 25 collages, each one containing a photograph from a Danish family album dated 1936-1946 that I found in a flea market. All the photographs  are small, approx 10x7cm.

I have loved hanging out with these tiny black and whites that are about 80 years old. They made me think of my own family holidays in Esperance when I was a kid, a time of of tents and caravans under a bright West Australian sky; of new discoveries in a new land; of a naive happiness but also the yearning that comes with migration; of land, grass, white sand and sparkling sea water; and of being a body experiencing the wonder in this world (also remembering the discomfort of sand in my knickers).

I love that these holiday snaps are now hanging in a gallery in Adelaide, miles & miles from where they were taken, and that we get to enjoy them. If you’re in the neighbourhood, feel free to drop in to spend time with the artworks made by Donna, Bernadette, and myself (there’s some poetry in the exhibition too, of course). And who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself reflecting on what it is that make you happy.

Caroline Reid, SALA Exhibition: The Pursuit of Happiness

I cannot believe this blog is 20 years old. I started it in 2003 in a fit of pique when my website kept going down or having glitches while I was trying to promote my debut poetry collection, Better To Travel.

Blogs were still fairly nascent back then (Google had just acquired Blogger in 2003!)  and I thought this site would be a temporary thing until I got my real website sorted out. It didn’t take long to realize that blogging was becoming “a thing.” I was getting views, so I thought why not make Blogger my “home” on the web? Two decades later, it still is. 

The name “modern confessional” came from a question posed in an interview when the reporter asked what kind of poetry I wrote. Off the top of my head – and in a nod to Sexton, Plath, and Olds – I spouted out modern confessional. What is modern confessional poetry? Your guess is as good as anyone else’s. But the name stuck and I still identify with being an unabashed confessional poet. 

Collin Kelley, Modern Confessional blog turns 20

When I started this blog in 2013, I wasn’t sure what to write about. I flailed around, sharing posts about this and that, wondering if anyone cared what I wrote. From my early stats, not very many people did. After three years, I gave up. Between January 2016 and October 2017, I didn’t post anything. 

What got me posting again? An idea I had while driving between California and Oregon in 2017. I decided to start a newsletter, which I named Sticks & Stones, focused on poetry book reviews. I’d written several reviews in the past, and enjoyed the process enough to want to write more. I wrote about this epiphany in the blog post “Reviews, Reviews, Reviews!” (11/17/17). With a review of Jenene Ravesloot’s Sliders, I launched Sticks & Stones in January, 2018. The newsletter has been quite successful. Every month more readers sign up, which makes me very happy.

Back to the blog: readership has grown, albeit slowly. After almost ten years, I have some useful statistics. My readers are much more interested in “how-to” blogs than some random thought I had about being a writer (unless that thought was helpful to them).

Erica Goss, New Direction for the Blog and a Request

When Amy told me there was a job opening up, I applied and mentioned my experience pulling cases and driving a forklift in a grocery warehouse a decade earlier, mostly to show that even though my recent work experience involved being in front of a classroom, I knew my way around a factory floor. And during the interview, the people I’d be working with and directly under were interested in that. But not Fritz. He’d heard that I was a Stegner Fellow in poetry and wanted to ask me about that. He asked me what journals I read and said he had a subscription to The New Criterion (conservative in his literary tastes too) and mentioned that he’d studied literature at Stanford as well. He asked what I wrote about—roads mostly just then, having spent a lot of time on them criss-crossing the country and exploring the west—and who my influences were—Seamus Heaney at the moment—and then it was over.

I think I started the following week, though my memory is a little foggy on that. I do remember that I mostly worked in the racking room at first, rolling full kegs onto pallets, putting empties into the other end. It was physical work, and fairly solitary because the noise levels required we wear ear plugs and because Darek, who ran the line, was a friendly but quiet giant of a man. I lined up kegs on pallets and Darek stacked them with a forklift and drove them to the cooler. I loaded empties into the racket and Darek repaired kegs with busted valves. And at the end of the day, I swept up and scrubbed the floor and hosed it off and after clocking out, went up to the tap room for a beer.

It was a great job for an artist because it was work you could do without thinking about it. The bottling line was similar, though we rotated stations every thirty minutes because one of the jobs—watching for messed up labels—really was so boring that you’d fall asleep doing it. I carried a small notebook and pen in my jumpsuit pocket to scribble down lines that popped into my head while I was waiting for full cases of beer bottles to line up so I could palletize them.

Brian Spears, Anchors Away

The first 20 copies of my latest collaboration with San Francisco poet and activist Beau Beausoleil have set out on their long journey across the more than five thousand miles – an eight-hour difference – between here and there. I handed the package over to our lovely local postwoman this morning, so I did not even have to go out in today’s downpours to the Post Office.

Beau has written almost daily poems for Ukraine since the sudden, shocking escalation of the war on 24 February 2022. This is a remarkable achievement, but it did make the selection of twenty-five of them for this chapbook a daunting task. These are poems of resistance and rage, tenderness and sorrow. They may focus on human cruelty but they do not fail to notice mundane moments that can overwhelm us with their unexpected beauty.

Who are these men, asks the poet, who always want revenge for their own sins (False Flag)
And on being distracted on his way to market by a red leaf: I am incapable of denying this close beauty that is indifferent to the cruelty we inflict upon each other (War News)

Many of the poems first appeared on Felicia Rice’s website. The centre-spread of the chapbook features a drawing by Felicia. The images on the front cover, title page and flysheets are from my one-off book, 24 Feb 2022. I made the originals by dipping handmade papers into home-brewed botanical inks.

The text is printed on almost-white 120gsm recycled paper with excellent opacity, and the cover is 170gsm ‘Flat White’ card made from used disposable coffee cups! I am pleased by how well both took the coloured images. The 5-hole pamphlet-sewn book measures 30x11cm (12×4.5 inches) and has 36 pages. Each book comes with a band sealed with a stitched kiss (see top photo), and is numbered in the colophon and on the back cover.

Ama Bolton, New Book: Poems for Ukraine

A prose poem of mine was published in # 185 of orbis magazine. The inspiration may, in part, have come from reading the long prose poem 12 O’Clock News by Elizabeth Bishop.

It refers to eight items in her room, with a gooseneck lamp standing in for the moon. The first section ends ‘Visibility is poor. Nevertheless, we shall try to give you some idea of the lay of the land and the present situation.’

I love the humour in it. Here is the description of a pile of mss: ‘A slight landslide occurred in the northwest about an hour ago. The exposed soil appears to be of poor quality: almost white, calcareous and shaly. There are believed to have been no casualties.’

Bishop’s prose poem changes tone as it continues. With the final object, ashtray, we’re suddenly in a warzone; there are dead bodies, corrupt leaders are mentioned. It’s even more devastating because of the ordinariness of the object.

Fokkina McDonnell, Favourite objects

Turning
into 49th from the boulevard,
you can see ships make
their crossing. One of the art
history teachers in the college says,
if you speed up you get a little
lesson in perspective: the Lego bricks
they seem to be carrying are containers
marked Maersk or Hapag-Lloyd.
There’s active commerce in the world
again, though not far from here, a street
named Quarantine reminds us
of other deadly periods of pandemic.
People are eating again in restaurants,
coming back from Iceland or
Greece. Once, we dreamed of walking
that road of pilgrimage going through
cities like San Sebastian and Bilbao.
The world is so close sometimes.
But we’ve come to understand
the quiet in the yard, even on the hottest
days of summer. The stones shimmer,
each giving off their own mirage.

Luisa A. Igloria, Vanishing Points

Today’s full moon is the Sturgeon Moon (thanks, The Old Farmer’s Almanac!) so named as the giant sturgeon of the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were more easily caught at this time of year. (If you missed my post on the Strawberry Moon, you can read about it here).

The etymology of “sturgeon,” circa 1300, is mysterious, possibly from a lost pre-Indo-European language of northern Europe, or from the root of stir (v.). “Stir” would make sense as sturgeons spend their lives at the bottom of lakes, stirring mud as they search for food. But in August, around the time of the Sturgeon Moon, they rise to the surface.

Sturgeons were also “a much-esteemed fish in ancient Greece, a costly luxury in Rome.” They can live to be 100 years old. Seriously, how awesome is this fish? (So awesome, it has a full moon named after it.)

As usual, here’s a selection of poems I admire, this time about moons, fish, and bodies of water.

Maya C. Popa, Sturgeon Moon: Poems

As we waited in the theater for the sky show to start, a huge image of the moon was on the wall, rendered amid rainbow colors that shifted and receded along the domed edges of the room. I couldn’t help but think of how the moon is basically just this rocky satlleite that orbits the earth and yet we’ve written countless lovesongs and poems and prayers to the moon since the beginning. Dare I say more than the sun, which is the thing that keeps this whole solar system spinning. And yet the moon is what we fall in love with the most, even though it offers neither light nor warmth.

Sylvia’s moon and its “bald and wild” presence. This month’s double full moons. The Sturgeon moon that means fish are more easily caught and snared in this month more than others. I once write a whole series of epistolary poems to the moon and tucked them into tiny vellum envelopes. Boxed them with old paper moon images and maps and transparency overlays of the moon. Despite this tribute, I’ve still managed to never get a really good and true shot of the moon with a camera–at last not the image I see with my eye–huge and looming over the lake sometimes as it rises. 

I’ve been reading about moon gardens after working on a decor piece about gardens in Savanannah. About planting things that will be equally beautiful and luminescent in the moonlight. About moon doors, which seem to be a cross between a garden gate and a fairy ring. But then again, all night owls must love the moon. Poets too. While I’ve never been a beach day kind of person (pale, pale skin and a tendency to get really drained by heat and sun) I am an avid fan of beach nights, especially when the moon is over the water and its clear enough to see a few brighter stars out over the lake. 

Kristy Bowen, cold and planetary

This week started with the first of two August Supermoons, two things that bode ill for me—August and Supermoons. On the nights of supermoons, I have passed out, been diagnosed with MS, been in the hospital…and August is my worst month for MS symptoms. I looked at my Facebook memories over the past ten years for the first week of August, and in seven out of ten I’ve been in the ER for something. And I’m afraid this week was no different. […]

The good news for this week was a new kind of thing for me—Instagram book fame, LOL! The Instagram account Taylor Swift as Books—which pairs book covers with Taylor Swift looks and funny hashtags—put my book, Flare, Corona, up on Thursday!

But before I had time to celebrate, something was going very wrong with me, and I ended up in the hospital with a pretty bad infection. I’m back at home now, on heavy antibiotics, but several days were just a blur. I did have two doctors get ahold of me on the weekend (!!) to make sure I didn’t die, which was nice.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Supermoons and August Flowers, Hospital Trips, Taylor Swift and Flare Corona on Instagram Together, and A Topsy Turvy Week

There is a pause and celebration to be had here, in August. The first of the month is known as ‘Lammas’, from the early medieval ‘loaf mass’ a celebration and blessing of the first harvest by baking into a loaf the first flour. Here’s an interesting blog which explores the connections between the Christian harvest festival and earlier Anglo Saxon and possible earlier pagan rituals: 

Lammas History

It brings to my mind also this king of witch-hare poems, which I have always loved. The imagery sings of darkness and an earthy magic that feels possible now in this transitional stage of the season. The Lammas Hireling is by Ian Duhig.

I hunted down her torn voice to his pale form.
Stock-still in the light from the dark lantern,
stark-naked but for one bloody boot of fox-trap,
I knew him a warlock, a cow with leather horns.

You can read the full, glorious poem on the Poetry Society website, here:

The Lammas Hireling

I have not had time to make a loaf myself (note to self: make time for the slow joy of baking) but if you wanted to make a loaf and bless it too, there are recipes about. This one, perhaps, if you are feeling witchy:

Lammas Bread and Protection Spell

This deep state of summer then, a grey area merging into the darker months has a feeling of having somehow ‘made it through’ the summer months, of preparing for the next season, of having now the time to reap, to gather and not just food, but thoughts, reflections, before the bridge is crossed into autumn and the time of change. The is what I want the next five posts to be about, this is what I want from The Sensory Summer – a pause, a time to reflect and capture the summer and bring it down to the page.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience – The Sounds of Summer Post One

It’s August. *sigh* Summer is just about over here—three weeks until my kids are back in school—and I’m both ready and not ready. I have a lot of writing to do, and a quiet house will help with that, but it’s been such a fun and relaxing few months. Beauty emergencies daily!

Here are some things that have made the summer extra dear.

Favorite recent reads: Silas House on Jason Isbell in TIME, Hanif Abdurraqib on Sinéad O’Connor—may she rest in peace—in The New Yorker, and Monsters by Claire Dederer. I muttered to myself—yes! this exactly! so fucking smart!—and dogeared, underlined, and starred passages through this whole brilliant book.

Congrats to my friends Andy J. Pizza and Sophie Miller on their beautiful new picture book, Invisible Things, a New York Times bestseller.

On my excited-to-read-next list: Ruth Madievsky’s All-Night Pharmacy, Sarah Rose Etter’s Ripe, and Camille Dungy’s Soil. (If you have book recs for me, I’m all ears!)

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

I was ready to go at 3:00 p.m.  I had the manuscript updated and the document that has my bio open.  I clicked on the webpage at 3:00 p.m. and didn’t see a way to submit.  I opened the page in a new tab and there was the form.  I filled it in as quickly as possible and hit submit.  And voila!  I got the above message.

I was under no illusions; I knew the window would close shortly after 3:00, that 300 submissions would come in quickly.  It was still surprised to go back and to see that it had closed in just minutes.

I only heard about this submission possibility a few days ago from a random Twitter tweet from a Twitter user I don’t follow.  For once, the unfathomable algorithm worked for me!  I had wondered if I should submit at all, since my career isn’t dependent on publications.  But just because I didn’t submit doesn’t mean that slot would go to someone who desperately needed the chance.

I have a deep belief in my manuscript, and it’s not just me; it’s been a semifinalist, and I’ve gotten good feedback from publishers that I respect.  I thought about spending part of yesterday before 3:00 p.m. reworking the manuscript and adding some of my most recent poems, but I decided against it.  My most recent poems are going in a different direction in terms of form and content, so I’ll save those for a different manuscript.

I’m familiar with the work of two other poets who got their manuscripts in, and I see them as peers.  I’m not competing against well known poets; in fact, the call was specifically for poets who don’t have an agent.  My first reaction was “Poets have agents?”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Scribner Submission

My most recently published collection [https://marilynonaroll.wordpress.com/my-books-and-stuff/] is dusty on the shelf, having come out as Covid locked us down. So I’ve been trying to build an inventory of published poems toward a new collection. Well. Now, I’m all pissy and broody again over the rejections rolling in like tumbleweeds.

I mean, even places I thought I had an “in” with, in one way or another, just plumped a no through the mail slot, no regrets or gee maybe next times or it’s not you it’s us-es.

At times like these I riddle my spreadsheet with fuckyouguys and thanksalotforfuckalls, which in cooler moments I go back and delete. (I like to act out on my spreadsheet. And then I like to primly go back and clean it up. It’s the pursed-lip New England protestant in me, plus the unruly Irish catholic. Or perhaps vice versa. You can’t trust stereotypes.)

I have all this new work I’m excited about but a bunch of old work I used to be excited about but all the rejections have cast a pall over it all. Okay, yes, I did have that wonderful visual poem up at About Place. I’m still excited by that. And that older poem that came out in Mud Season earlier this spring. And some translations coming out at some point, which, again, I’m so thrilled about.

So (you roll your eyes), what’s with the gnashing of teeth and foul mouth?

Marilyn McCabe, Drifting along with the tumbling; or, On the Biz Work

Memories of mosh pits, Southern grits, and cross-country road trips. Counting off four with the beat of my drums. Wannabe Bruce Lee kicks and a busted thumb. Driving wasted through all the wasted days and nights. Being held up at gunpoint and protesting to make a point. Crossdressing and second-guessing. Cruising late-night Mulholland and cooling my heels in county jail. Love haloed by dashboard light and mid-summer moonlight. House plants and a nearby Jersey nuclear power plant. Being read to as a child and words blooming wild.

Rich Ferguson, You Can Get Here From There

Bringing history alive in poems is no easy task, particularly so when the times being addressed are so far from today. So I have the utmost admiration for poets who can weave historical research into readable, listenable poetry without letting facts overpower the poetic magic.

I was recently invited to join an online poetry-book reading group and I’ve very much enjoyed the meetings I’ve attended. For the last one, the book which one member of the group had proposed was The Lost Book of Barkynge by Ruth Wiggins (available from the publisher, Shearsman, here). It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. It brings into the light a succession of nuns and other women associated with Barking Abbey from the Seventh Century to the Dissolution. Each poem is headed by a scene-setting ‘hic’ and has extensive end-notes; yet what could be an arid reading experience is surmounted by a refreshing variety of forms and personae. It is a truly extraordinary book. To read it, one would’ve thought it had taken decades to write, but, amazingly, Wiggins says, in an interview, here, that it started as a lockdown project. In how it reclaims otherwise lost, suppressed or hidden voices, it’s uniquely beautiful.

Matthew Paul, On poetry as living history and vice versa

He hefts the scythe, his
father’s before he died
beneath a thrashing horse.
He has a canvas bag,
an old hole sewn tight
and a new strap secured
made from his grandda’s
belt. Inside a loaf’s end
and cheese in a damp rag
and cider in a stoneware
jar. And a book with words
and pictures and a space
under each to write in.
He’ll join the men and boys
down on the lane by
the meadow gate. He has
a joke ready in his head,
one to cap Old Japhy’s,
ruder, bolder, a tale that
only a man that’s tumbled
a girl in the straw would
dare to tell at noon break.
He blushes in contemplation.
But how much sooner he
would rather curl up under
the hay wain with his book
for to read like a scholar
is a glory just close enough
to wish for in the night.

Dick Jones, WHITE FIELD IN BARLEY

There is much to admire in this poem, the repetitive a sounds of the first six lines give it an East Anglian feel to my ears, the phrase “the river / of this town in his throat” is a sound I recognise in the way some folks almost gargle as they speak. It’s also obvious (to me at least) that the last line was always going to be a knockout punch for someone that misses the countryside, although an alternative reading of that last line is potentially much darker..What kept her away for so long, especially when taken in conjunction with the use of the word “stench” earlier in the last stanza?

However, the winner for me is to be found the second stanza…where she describes the old boy (or bor, if we’re going colloquial, and why wouldn’t we?) as having lived in a “radius of four roads”, and having performed “Feats”. I think this phrase contains multitudes…Has he had a quiet but full life? He has achieved “Feats” in that small space. What are those “Feats”? I want to know more, but I know they don’t need to be things that are shouted about.

It makes me think of all the people out there that get on with life and often go entirely unnoticed but have had full lives. It makes me think of many people I know that have barely left the borders of their town or village, hamlet or county. It seems odd in this interconnected world of ours, but it also sounds incredibly appealing at present as the sounds of this London suburb are doing what they do behind my head as I type.

And man, the silence when I was back in Worstead was glorious. There was a moment when I was sitting with my friend in another friend’s garden. It was utterly silent apart from the occasional garbled noise coming from the festival announcers (and there were some wonderful Norfolk accents on display there too).

That mention of silence is probably my cue to stop gibbering, but please do go and buy Rebecca [Goss]’s work, watch the videos and listen to the podcasts.

Mat Riches, You’re an accent waiting to happen…

I will be in your photograph
the one you are taking now
of the grand facade of this building
as I am sat in the coffee shop
sipping green tea
looking out of the window
my face a collection of coloured pixels
caught on the screen of your phone
as you record every moment of your life

Paul Tobin, A COLLECTION OF COLOURED PIXELS

Two summers ago in London, we spent some time in a used bookstore, having a few spare hours before our next activity or meal. One of the books I found was a small 1959 copy of Selected Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, which was filled with not only detailed marginalia but also papers filled with red-pen notes for what look like essay responses to some of the poems. This is one of the reasons I love buying used books – these little glimpses into other lives and minds who owned them.

I hadn’t read much Hopkins except for what was anthologized in my college Norton’s, so it was a delight to discover the utter decadence of his language, the musicality, the alliteration, the word-play. In the 53 poems in this collection, Hopkins uses at least 50 different hyphenated constructions to create new adjectives and nouns.

Some of my favorite phrases that come from this hyphenate play are:

the moth-soft Milky Way

a wind-beat whitebeam

sheep-flock clouds

the plumed purple-of-thunder

snow-pinioned leaf-light.

His alliterative skill, though at times over the top, completely charmed me as well:

from “The Windhover” – daylight’s dauphin, dapple-down-drawn Falcon

from “Blinsey Poplars” – wind-wandering weed-winding bank

from “No Worst, There is None” – My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief woe, world-sorrow.

And amid all the technical pyrotechnics, some beautiful lines that stuck with me:

from “Spring” – thrush’s eggs look little low heavens

from “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe” – we are wound with mercy round and round as if with air

and my favorite Hopkins line from “The Habit of Perfection” – Shape nothing, lips – be lovely-dumb

Spending time with this makes me glad that I have decided to read old books as well as contemporary ones for this challenge…I can always learn. And, to borrow some language from “God’s Grandeur,” I can be delighted and surprised, lifted by “Ah! bright wings!”

Donna Vorreyer, Music-Play, Word-Glow

This August I am once again not doing the #SealeyChallenge. I gave some thought to it—reading a poetry book a day for the month of August, then simply posting a picture to Instagram—but…I get so much out of my April poetry-book marathon that I can’t imagine not sharing a longer reflection. The April project always ends up trashing any other plans for the month, and it always ends up being worth it.

I think what I’m trying to say here is that if you feel led to read a poetry book a day, and reflect on what you find, I HIGHLY encourage you to do so.

Today, because it was left over from my April book stack, I decided to read Rena Priest’s Sublime, Subliminal, which was a finalist for the 2018 Floating Bridge Chapbook competition.

I always love Rena’s poems. She was our Washington Poet Laureate for two years, 2021-2023, and, among so much else as part of her heart-filled service to the poetry community, edited the brilliant I Sing the Salmon Home.

The fifteen poems in Sublime, Subliminal are not straight-forward, easily understood poems. They challenged me. When I let myself drop fully into the project, they also delighted me. Opening lines such as, “Your kiss is backlit pixilation” (“Canadian Tuxedo”); “The bookshelf is a psychic vortex” (“The Final Word”); or this sentence, “In the darkness of the cupboard, / the inner life of the water glass / is not empty” (“Inner Life of the Water Glass”) pushed me to see and think differently.

When I reached the acknowledgments page I was tickled—and not altogether surprised—to discover that the poems were inspired by Jim Simmerman’s “20 Little Poetry Projects.” Years ago, when my children were young and I was a new not-yet-tenured college teacher, I came across this exercise in The Practice of Poetry (edited by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell), and it worked so well for me that I stopped using it after a few poems. It felt like cheating! Rena Priest, so much smarter, put together a whole book.

Bethany Reid, Rena Priest, “Sublime, Subliminal”

You ever read the notes at the back of a poetry collection, and go, wait a flipping-doodle minute, this, epigraphs and thanks, it’s all guys.

Or if the collection is by a woman, hey, these are all women. Or if it’s by someone queer, all queer. Or someone old, all oldies. And so on, split down the demographics.

Does one’s sub-community of writers have all the gender spectrum or just people that look like you?

At the Chelsea author’s market day, at the next table was Sean Silcoff. He had a stream of well-wishers. His book is being made into a movie. He and I witnessed buyer after buyer explain that they were buying his tech story book about the Blueberry for {her husband, her son, her husband, her uncle}. At one point he mused to himself, why don’t women read it themselves?

That there is a salient question. Dang me, I’m guilty as the aggregate. I had already texted Brian to ask if he wanted to read it. We might read it together but. *shudder* Did I just do a “womanly thing”?

Pearl Pirie, Gender and Writing

This poem is a tipping point.
This poem is a woman running.
This poem is a spreading disquiet.

This poem is an orange domino
trembling at the edge of time.
Don’t touch! Even your breath,
even your most gentle thought,
even a memory, can begin
an end. Stay where you are.
This poem is a tipping point.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, This poem is a tipping point

Laila Malik is a desisporic settler and writer living in Adobigok, traditional land of Indigenous communities including the Anishinaabe, Seneca, Mohawk Haudenosaunee, and Wendat. Her debut poetry collection, archipelago (Book*Hug Press, 2023) has been described as haunting, tender and exquisite (Salma Hussain, Temz Review) and was named one of the CBC’s Canadian poetry collections to watch for in 2023. Her essays have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthology, longlisted for five different creative nonfiction and poetry contests, and widely published in Canadian and international literary journals. Malik has been awarded grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Council for the Arts, and was a fellow at the Banff Centre for Creative Arts for her novel-in-progress.

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book was a very slow, jigsaw process of building courage and coming to acceptance. I come from a people who are intensely private, and the prospect of publishing has always posed carried great risk to me and to us. I had to slowly come to terms with the idea of becoming more public, and think through ways to navigate a landscape that was foreign and riddled with real and perceived threat. But one of the most wonderful results has been the opportunity to connect with individuals who were just as starved as I had been for more complex diaspora stories, and specifically voices from our hitherto unspoken experience as South Asians coming of age in the Arabian Gulf.

I still write poetry after archipelago, but I have been trying the new challenge of novel-writing, which so far feels comparatively slow and clumsy. I did a residency at Banff where a mentor mentioned that it takes on average between four and six years to complete a novel, and that sounds about right. Add to that the daily needs of paying the bills and feeding the children, and who knows how much longer it might take?

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I was a high school misfit in a place of impossible airlessness, skulking the dusty aisles of my library to alleviate desperate boredom when I came upon two forms that changed my life: poetry and plays. There was ee cummings and Eugene Ionesco, and the strange speed and immediacy of poetry, alongside the radical but upside-down, inside-out approach of the theatre of the absurd in particular, split open my universe of possibility. I was stunned that this work was sitting casually and untouched in the middle of an otherwise strictly guarded world. I began a correspondence with another poetic rebel friend, and we compared notes on form and content, pushing one another to try new things with words on paper to speak to all things unspeakably sublime and grotesquely unbearable.

But it wasn’t until I got to university and encountered the work of feminist, and especially Black feminist poets like Audre Lorde and June Jordan that I began to understand poetry as innate and experiential to the lives of women and those who are repeatedly kept out of institutions of power, a form that is fundamentally revolutionary and accessible. I could and did write poetry in hospital hallways, in the mosque, at 3am while feeding a child, after a racist or sexist encounter at a supermarket, with a boss, with a government official. Poetry gleams from within the blood and visceral filth of the every day and so I seized it quickly and greedily and eternally as mine, before anyone could tell me any different.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Laila Malik

I’m thrilled to announce the forthcoming publication of my third poetry chapbook, Postcards from Texas, now available for preorder from Cuttlefish Books. This chapbook is my first that is devoted exclusively to haiku, and represents the shift in my creative focus since 2020. You can find the preorder link here: https://cuttlefishbooks.wixsite.com/home/2023-summer-book-launch.

The haiku in Postcards from Texas were mostly written in the second half of 2021 and the first half of 2022, the last 12 months I spent living in Austin. A few are older, going as far back as 2018. They were composed on hikes and camping trips, as well as dog walks around the city and picnics in local parks. My haiku address the changing political and physical landscape of a place I lived in, and deeply loved, for 15 years.

I’ve now lived in Missouri for just over a year. I adore the city of St. Louis, I finally found a job I could enjoy, and there are gorgeous landscapes throughout the state. The past year has also been one of grief for a place I still adore with all my heart, a place I thought I’d live until I died. Putting this chapbook together this past spring was a way to find some resolution of those emotions surrounding my move.

Postcards from Texas contains another form of grief as well. In 2015, I reconnected with my maternal grandfather for the first time in 20 years. (The reasons for that separation are complicated, and I have become wary of making family history public.) John and I are avid hikers, and I began sending my grandfather postcards from our hikes and camping trips all over Texas. He loved seeing the places we went. Four and a half years after my grandfather came back into my life, the universe took him from me again. He didn’t die of COVID, but I believe that he was a secondary casualty of the havoc the virus created around the world. There is no way to know fore sure, but I believe that if COVID hadn’t cause so many other problems, he’d still be here. I still feel sad that we didn’t get more time, and heartbroken that COVID protocols kept me from seeing him or even attending his funeral.

Postcards from Texas is dedicated to my maternal grandfather, as well as all the other people I lost my last few years in Texas (all but one of them died before COVID). Putting this book together was a way to continue writing postcards could no longer go to their intended recipient. It’s not just a farewell to a place I loved; it’s a reckoning of the loss that I feel should never have happened when it did.

Allyson Whipple, Now in Preorder: Postcards from Texas

On the good news front, I finally sent out another collection submission to a publisher. Well, it might be bad news of course, but good that I sent it at least.

Also, Beth Miller critiqued my book submission letter and synopsis and asked some very difficult questions, which has led to me doing some serious re-writes. But I’m still aiming to start submitting it to agents in September. Meanwhile I’ve started plotting the next book.

Peter and I had our Planet Poetry AGM today, and we’ve lots of ideas for our fourth season which begins in October, plus, while we’re in the close season we’re going to showcase a few of our favourite archive episodes.

Other than that, I’m looking forward to a wee trip to London to see & hear Voces8 in a prom, not to mention a whole week away next month in Wales, plus a family get-together. And although it hasn’t been the best year for gardening, we have a bumper crop of tomatoes and even a few beans. Happy days!

Robin Houghton, In the summertime when the weather is fine…

CB1, Cambridge’s live poetry gathering, has returned at a new venue – the Town and Gown in the city centre (where the Arts Cinema used to be). Over 30 people were there, and there’s room for more. No guest poet this time – it was all open mic, with no shortage of people willing to perform.

Perhaps this is what people really want – a place where once a month they can perform for free, free of criticism, with a chance to have a drink and a chat afterwards with like-minded people.

Maybe guest poets put people off – why pay to listen to someone you don’t much like and who uses up valuable open mic time? Open mic evenings are easier to organise too, I should think.

The room is goth/cellar style with a glitter-ball, which is becoming rather standard for poetry venues. I like it. My only worry is that there aren’t enough chances to chat (i.e. exchange poetry information) with people. Open mic evenings are all very well, but they don’t have the edge (or quality control) that Slam Competitions do.

Tim Love, CB1 is back!

These offerings are like fractals, or a kaleidoscope, or a collective word cloud, or a many-faceted gem. The same tiny piece of prayer inspires different things for each of us. Sometimes we root our offerings in the etymology of a particular Hebrew word or phrase. Sometimes the same word takes each of us in a different direction. (Hebrew is rich like that.) We take a prayer and we talk through it. We turn it over and over, and we refract the light of our creativity and our understanding through it. Or we refract ourselves through the lens of the prayer. Or the prayer through the lens of each of us. (Or all of the above.) We share our work, we critique and comment, we make suggestions. We turn things around, change stanzas, turn one poem into two or vice versa. Artists riff off of words. Writers riff off of images. And when all is said and done, we’ve created something that’s more than the sum of its parts. 

I often feel these days that my own creativity is lying fallow. I’m not working on a big poetry project, and that’s been true for a while. My last two books were Texts to the Holy (which came out from Ben Yehuda in 2018) and Crossing the Sea (from Phoenicia, 2020). It’s going on four years since Crossing the Sea came out, and I don’t know what’s next. Maybe the pandemic and the loss of my second parent and my heart attack are percolating in me. Maybe the pastoral needs of this moment are so great that I just don’t have space for holding a book in mind. Anyway: even in a time of limited personal creativity, this collaborative work at Bayit nourishes me, and it keeps me writing, a little bit. I’m grateful for that.

Rachel Barenblat, Gevurot: Be There

Yesterday I charged my dead reMarkable. I am ready to write poetry again, despite the chemo-induced fog I’m still experiencing.

A person can find meaning in fog. It can be very soothing actually, fog filling the little depressions in the landscape. Depression is the actual scientific name for places where the fog gathers here on the Jæren bogs . No metaphor intended. All truths converge at some point – maybe language with the landscape especially.

*

I delivered the final draft of the Lear adaptation on time. I don’t think I could be prouder of myself, or more appreciative of the opportunity. I am excited to see what the director does with it. How the actors bring breath to the artifact that is the text.

But what to do now? I’m still mourning the loss of my upstairs studio, and I learned it will probably be another two years before I have the space again. I also know full-well that I am using this as an excuse to shove the physical (vispo) poetry work to the side right now. I’m craving order, and paper-making and the like is disorder and there’s no corner of the house that I am willing to let go of right now. Maybe I really do need to go back to the basics.

Haibun, tanka, still pulling at me. American sentences. Maybe I need to explore my own forms – constrained poetry – outside of the vispo context.

Maybe. Definitely. And it shouldn’t be surprising that I want to work with form right now. Control. Order.

Ren Powell, Embracing the Fog

In an essay on the poetic and emotional/spiritual value of waiting, Arundhathi Subramaniam writes:

Poems are about waiting because while a shift in perception can happen in a flash, it is often preceded by a slow, unseen process of unlearning. It takes unlearning to defamiliarise the world, to reinvigorate one’s gaze.

If unlearning is part of the work of crafting poetry, it’s also, I think, part of poetry’s power. The potential to unsettle and unseat. [Kate] Fox’s are poems of reclamation, celebrating authenticity and kinship in neurodiversity – and, indeed, in life. Poems of resistance, pouring light on the shadowy recesses of power, ushering unseen perspectives and identities into view. And in so doing, they invite us as readers to resist, too. Resist stereotypes and cliché, those well-trodden mental paths. Resist the easy mental slide towards the familiar. To resist, even, the dictates of language, remember “the gaps between words and things” and to enter into them, ready to be surprised.

Jonathan Totman, On What Could be Called Communication

ice cream truck!
they abandon their castle
to the tide

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: August ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 27

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the joys of summer, including friends, community, celebrations and get-togethers of all sorts. Plus: walking away from certain journals, becoming a city poet laureate, experimental poetry books, the second Langport Moot, and more. Enjoy.


The weather’s gone from dry to wet–we are experiencing the region’s much more typical summer now, humid and hot with frequent rainstorms. As for my writing, it’s gone the other direction…I am in a dry spell. Garden gets prolific; I get, well, not prolific. The heat takes motivation and inspiration right out of my body, it seems!

But I’m accomplishing tasks of other types which may, eventually, lead to drafting poems and revising work again before too long. Tackling my “office” at home (it is actually a book-lined hallway) means that I’m finding forgotten drafts and ideas, folders of possible inspirations, old letters and cards, and lots of duplicated documents I can happily discard. The challenge is to remove what’s no longer necessary while at the same time figuring out a simple and easy-to-recall strategy for organizing what I want to keep.

I have even managed to give away a couple of cartons of books. Not so many that my existing collection actually fits on my current shelf space, but hey–it’s a start! Getting rid of books is hard. It is much easier to give away zucchinis….

Ann E. Michael, Wet, dry

After my reading a lady came over to read aloud the poems she liked from it to her husband who missed it. They laughed, said they were great and left it on the table unbought. Ah well, to reach people is the thing. All poetry is not for profit.

Pearl Pirie, Chelsea Author’s Market

So, over the holiday weekend, my friend writer editor and publisher Kelli Russell Agodon and I snuck away for a few days at a local lodge to work on our manuscripts, talk poetry, goof around a little bit but mostly try to make some dents in our work on both of our next books. And I think it was very productive! In just a few days, Kelli and I both had updated versions of our manuscripts (mine hadn’t been touched for about eighteen months) and we got cocktails, went out for sweet potato fries, visited Woodinville’s awesome lavender garden, visited the Lodge’s resident pot-bellied pigs, stayed up late/got up early, and talked poetry. I did that thing where I spread out all the poems on my bed to see how they went together. I think I talked Kelli into putting mermaids in her book (you’ll have to see when it comes out!), and she talked me into putting less plague in my book and more spells.

This also made me feel empowered as a disabled person, because I was able to pull off a trip with a friend without any major illness/disability crises. Sometimes people like me with chronic illnesses and disabilities can feel shut out of the traditional residencies because they’re not particularly handicapped-friendly or they’re someplace far from doctors or the difficulties can just be overwhelming, so I want to suggest this kind of alternative.

I felt so motivated, got so much done, and had such a good time. Grab a friend, find a place to stay for a couple of days (hopefully you’ve scouted out its ADA appropriateness and it has some local attractions around to visit and a good fireside lounge)—you don’t need two weeks or anyone’s permission—try it!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Academy of American Poets Puts Flare Corona on Their Summer Reading List, Writing Retreats with Friends and Working on a New Manuscript (with Supermoon)

This year I was accepted into Vaulting Ambitions, a 5 month incubator program “designed to arm creatives to tackle the business side of their craft.”  It’s run by Libby Trainor-Parker and Matthew Trainor at Prompt Creative under a strategic partnership with City of Adelaide.

There’s so much learning going on! I realised I was hungry for this kind of learning, from digital literacy to how to write a pitch letter, it’s hands-on, with practical application, and we’re getting to meet all kinds of industry professionals.

One of the program’s great strengths is the regular check-ins and mentoring sessions. A regular space that holds you accountable can seriously help with ticking off those list and bigger goals.

I think what I’m saying is that the real gift here is community. Being in contact with other creative folk has made me feel less alone, more connected. I’m reminded that everyone experiences challenges when running a solo arts business; and that talking about it with others can help to solve problems and soothe anxiety. I’ve felt a palpable sense of energy, motivation and buoyancy. And I’ve got shit done.

Caroline Reid, Vaulting Ambitions, July23rd Showcase

Recently I spoke to the wonderful and hilarious Jen Hatmaker for her podcast, For the Love, and we talked all about friendship. Coincidentally, the day I spoke to her, I had a whole weekend of plans with friends. That Friday night I went to Metric with Dawn. The next morning I drove 90 minutes to spend the whole day with five of my beloved high school friends. They’d rented a cabin for the weekend, and while I couldn’t get away overnight, I was able to find a sitter to be “home base” for my kids (and Phoebe the Boston terrier) for nine hours so I could sit outside, looking at old yearbooks and photo albums going back to middle school, catching up and most of all cracking up.

The next morning, I had brunch with my friends and neighbors Lisa and Jen, who I get together with at least once a month without fail, and we’re on the group chat in between. We all need this kind of connection, and Jen Hatmaker and I talked about how challenging it can be to find—and maintain—friendships in middle age. I’ll share the podcast conversation when it goes live.

It was a privilege and a joy to speak to grief expert and psychotherapist Megan Devine for her podcast, It’s OK That You’re Not OK. I said, during this conversation, “trauma does not give you a glow up.” I stand by that. It’s OK to let the hard things be, well, hard. Megan is so wise, with a wonderful sense of humor, and I hope you’ll listen to our conversation—and the other episodes, too.

What else has been bringing me joy? Hanging out with my kids: baking, long walks, bubble tea runs, bookstore adventures, movies all snuggled up together on the couch or sharing a king size pack of Twizzlers in the theater. Binge-watching Veronica Mars with Violet. Riding bikes with Rhett. Trimming my backyard trees and more-giant-weeds-than-actual-trees with a small, battery-powered chainsaw. (Yes, you read that right, a chainsaw. It’s so satisfying, y’all. I’m very careful.) Roadtripping. Writing, even though it’s slow going. Enjoying the summer pace as much as I can.

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

I made a deal with myself some time ago that my 60th year (which just recently came to a close) would mark the end of my submissions to Poetry Magazine if I hadn’t cracked that market by then. A rejection from them just after my 61st birthday put a bow on that one, and I felt fine about it. Even relaxed. So why not stop with the handful of other journals who consistently send form rejections and never take a poem? So I made a list this week of journals that I am considering dead markets FOR MY WORK, and it was liberating.

When I mentioned this on Twitter, I got all kinds of responses ranging from “Good for you!” to “No! Don’t quit!” I don’t view this as quitting. Quitting would mean I would stop submitting altogether, which despite my current drafting drought, I am not prepared to do.

Thus the title of this post.

Crossing these journals off my list is akin to “walking away” —from a food that will make my stomach protest, from a conversation that is clearly not including me, from a party that is too loud and blaring terrible music. None of those things will kill me, but I am so much happier and more comfortable if I do not partake in them. To overwork the metaphor, I’m looking for a carrot cake that makes me willing to be overfull, an easy, laughter-filled back and forth with a friend, a party where people can hear each other speak and still enjoy a killer playlist.

Donna Vorreyer, Knowing When to Walk Away

Over the years on social media and in real life, I’ve had to distance myself from people who frustrate me, gaslight me, or make me feel negatively. I have no problem doing this, never regret it, because my own emotional and mental health is a priority. I’m pretty good at curating my social media so I rarely see discourse or real negativity. We are allowed to opine now and then. I’m talking about toxic trash. In doing this selective curating I have built an online community that I enjoy – even if I don’t always agree with them. Hell, I don’t want to live in a bubble where everyone thinks exactly like me! How boring that would be.

It feels like a good many people I follow are leaving Twitter, a site that has really helped me connect with other writers. I don’t plan to leave because I haven’t had any of the problems others are upset over. Plus, WTH do I need with yet another SM site to grow and maintain? I feel like what Twitter is doing is similar to the company you work for doing a restructure. Most people my age have been through a few restructures or new owners. They always have to shake things up and do things their way. I’m flexible. It will probably work out.

Charlotte Hamrick, Drama

My poetry manuscript — The Pear Tree: Elegy for a Farm — has won the 2023 Sally Albiso Poetry Award from MoonPath Press.

I’m feeling stunned and honored and — even after a week has gone by — a bit disbelieving.

I’ve shared here some of my process in cobbling this book together, but just to recap, it’s the book that wouldn’t lie down and be “done.” Three years ago in a Hugo House course taught by Deborah Woodard, I rather shamefacedly introduced myself by saying I was working on a book of poems about losing my parents, adding, “I really should be finished with these poems.”

Deborah said, “Maybe the poems aren’t finished with you.”

That is exactly what it felt like. It’s about more than my mother and father; it’s about growing up on a farm, and it’s about giving up that farm after my dad’s death in 2010. It’s about letting go of trees, fields, cows, fences, wells, ponds, bee boxes, books, orchard trees, creeks, barns… It’s about my mother’s memory loss, and how keenly that paralleled our folding away the family place, the farm my grandfather had owned before my father owned it. It’s about…so much.

Bethany Reid, Sally Albiso Poetry Book Award

From publisher acceptance to manuscript editing, from redrafting to publisher liaison, from first launch to audience feedback and pamphlet sales, I’ve been bombarded with a rush of many different emotions. Fear, nerves, exasperation, excitement, gratification and love! – and that’s just for starters. I have one more reading tomorrow, Thursday, for the lunchtime concert series at St Philip & St James Church, Norton St Philip, and then no more readings until September and beyond. So I’ll soon have a chance to process all the mixed emotions I’ve been experiencing, to consider the kinds of audience responses I’ve received and how they might feed into my future work. I’ll also be able to attend to an increasingly large pile of new books. They’ve been accumulating since the spring and I haven’t had the time, energy or inclination to give them proper attention.

Josephine Corcoran, Returning to earth after a book launch

This week I finished my nature memoir, The Ghost Lake, and moved into the brief but intense self editing phase before I let it go to the editor next week and it ceases to be a book that exists entirely inside my head, and becomes something other people will read. Terrifying. The Ghost Lake has been a beautiful writing experience. But I’m ready to move forward to the next stage now, and it feels like a time in my life to make changes to my writing and working habits.

Wendy Pratt, Deep Summer – A Sensory Experience: August Writing Challenge

Usually, I find out what I am doing by staring at my daily calendar. It reminds me of when the kids were growing up–so many things to keep track of: practices, school health exams, softball, volleyball, summer baseball… 

More tasks await in emails. I do them all as they come, as there is only this moment to do them in. Just now, I put on gloves and wiggled two wheels on the little blue car, helping my husband with a car repair. That wasn’t on the physical calendar, just on the calendar of our brains. The car needs new transmission fluid, and if that doesn’t work, its time has come. (It’s a 1991 Ford.) I have been checking out the Chilton Repair Manual for several years now, my circulation stats probably keeping it in the library!

My dreams, too, are task or trouble related. They might possibly lead to new poems…if I put that on the calendar.

Kathleen Kirk, Soon

Since I finished up edits on the new book and am in a holding pattern on the latest poem project til I figure out what the hell I want it to do, I’ve spent this weekend working on visual things, including these little postcard packs for the SEA MONSTERS series that is one of my faves (you can find them in the shop as of this afternoon. )

I often feel like art is just a different language for saying many of the same things, telling the same stories. While this series is not particularly rooted in mythology as much as some of the others—like the Persephone or Iphigenia collages, or even the The Muses, it was spawned both by some lessons on Greek sea stories I was writing and researching, as well as the Calypso myth, which was always a favorite, so I suppose is in a similar vein. I’ve been making collages, sometimes daily, sometimes in a burst like the ones that will accompany GRANATA, and the processes are different and vary. Sometimes, I save up clip art and stock images and snippets. Sometimes I go looking as I go, finding the elements I need. Sometimes I just start with something and see where it takes me.  

Kristy Bowen, sea monsters and citrus fruits

What if — I hold the words like a pashmina
cloak to hide my nakedness from the mirror.
It is a trick. What if — no longer a question,
no longer an argument: a finality, a surrender,
a road that has taken too long. What if a
father thought to hold my hand. What if a
mother knew how to care. What if there was
always a way to begin again. What are the
odds it would have still led to this moment,
to this poem?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 54

Recently I noted a call for submissions from one of my dream publishers. Sigh, I sighed. I faced the prospect of a book manuscript submission with ambivalence.

Do I really need to publish another book? Isn’t it highly unlikely anyway? And what if they did pick me pick me? Then what?

Yes, the fun of a cover choice. The thrill of the box o’. Oh, but the chasing after reviews, after reading opportunities, the gnawing fear that my book will be the worst selling one they’ve ever produced. What’s it for?

I guess those little gifts: the email from a stranger or call from a friend saying “wow, x poem, that really spoke to me.” I’ve had that happen! It’s terrific!

Only connect, wrote Forster. Yes. I mean, that is it, right? And how else to connect than through publication? Well, I mean, there are the lovely random interactions that have nothing to do with poetry. Yesterday I heard the telltale scronch and squeal of the city yard waste pick-up trucks heading up my street. I raced out from beside the house where I was weeding, waved wildly, and started racing around to the back of the house to pull out my barrel full of sticks and weeds. “We got you, we got you,” called out one of the guys. “Don’t worry, we got you.” It was sweet. There’s that. He’s probably forgotten already but it was a lovely human moment for me. I gather them, in that face of all the unlovely ones. Some of which I cause.

Marilyn McCabe, I’m ready; or, Does the World Need Another Poetry Book

Magnolias showered your head
with their heavy musk as you passed.
The bombast of radio announcers
came through the windows, sometimes
loud enough to mask domestic
quarrels within.

In the last house down the way,
the town’s first policewoman
swilled down her sorrows
with beer. Blind men walked
home in pairs, carefully
tapping with their canes.

Luisa A. Igloria, City Camp Alley

Author Miriam Sagan founded and then directed the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College until her retirement. One very visible part of her legacy are the ten poem posts dotting the campus: poetry boxes whose purpose is to intrigue students with the work of poets far and near (and in this particular instance … me!- ).

My contribution includes two free verse poems, a found poem, a list poem, an ekphrastic poem, a book spine poem, a photo-haiku, a Shakespearean haiku, a graph-haiku, and a haiku mobile.

I like to imagine a student pausing, by a building or in a desert meadow, to read and reflect amidst the hustle-bustle of things to do and places to be. That’s the power of public poetry: to meet us where we are as we go about our lives. [Click through for photo documentation.]

Bill Waters, Poetry posts @ SFCC

My training and experience as a poet is serving me well as I try to create memorable children’s sermons.  Just as when I’m creating a metaphor for a poem, I do the same in a children’s sermon:  I’m trying to create something that makes people see the world differently, to see an object or a concept in a way that they never have before, and that each time in the future, they’ll think of what I did in the poem or the children’s sermon.  

My training as a teacher of first year college students is also serving me well, and it’s training that goes back to my days as a drama kid.  I’ve always been good at improv and thinking on my feet.  I’ve always been good at projecting my voice and finding ways to engage the people watching me.  I’m good at making connections which often only come to me as I’m teaching or presenting the material.  I am happy to make a fool of myself if it will lead to memorable moments in teaching or preaching–because if I don’t care what people think about me, I’m more likely to reach people, and it’s more likely that I’m not going to make a fool of myself.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Children’s Preacher as Poet and/or Teacher of First Year College Students

Yup, it’s official, I am Arlington’s new Poet Laureate!!!

Arlington made the official announcement last week and so I was able to then share the news. I’d been sitting on it for a little while so I was excited to finally share it with the world.

When I first moved to this area fifteen years ago something magical happened: I finally felt like I belonged. Before that I’d lived in North Dakota (where I grew up on a farm!), southern Maryland, and a brief stint in Puerto Rico. None of them felt right. None of them fit. But when I moved to northern Virginia (settling first in Alexandria before eventually buying a home in Arlington), everything fell into place. This is where I was meant to be.

I can’t wait to share my love of poetry with the community I love.

Courtney LeBlanc, And the Poet Laureate is…

Now that the Summer 2023 pre-order period is over and the chapbooks by MJ Stratton and Tim Carter have begun shipping into the world, I want to give a brief summary of sales and provide receipts for the donation to the Urban Youth Collaborative of NYC. I do this after every sales period as part of the press’s commitment to transparency.

In total, the press sold 124 booklets, with the new titles by Tim Carter and MJ Stratton making up the overwhelming majority. Tim and MJ sold an average of 53 copies each spread across 71 individual sales (there were a few bulk sales). Both writers sold above 50 copies, which is a first for the press. The two writers also earned an average of $326.35 for their work, which is the highest pay out yet.

Also, I’m very happy to report that the donation to the Urban Youth Collaborative is $340.35 (plus extra to cover their processing fees). This is the most we’ve donated since spring 2022, when over $500 was raised for the Transgender Education Network of Texas. Here are receipts from the donation (Note: Make the Road is one of the three local groups collaborating in the UYC):

Lastly, the press itself brought in $364.35. Deducting various expenses and costs of production during this period, this meant a profit of $104.83. Adding this profit to the press’s previous balance, we now have a total surplus of $664.31. (If we take into account that $500 of this was a generous donation from a friend and supporter of the press, the press has officially earned $164 through its sales model) This surplus will be allocated in coming years to pay for ink and paper, upgraded supplies, and the cost of the website itself (from Wix). Previously I ran the press off of my personal website, which I paid for separately; however, now that the whole site has been devoted to the press, I will be charging its cost of $16 per month (or $192 per year) against this balance.

R.M. Haines, Summary & Receipts for July 2023

I often see poems, written in an approachable tone with contractions in their verbs, etc, that suddenly throw in an until instead of a till to no specific semantic or syntactic effect. Why has the poet chosen to make this decision? Is it for musical and/or metrical reasons? In these cases, is until being used as syllabic padding?

And then there’s ‘til. I encountered many hurdles during the editorial process of my first full collection with Eyewear back in 2017, but one of the toughest was an editorial intern’s unilateral and systematic imposition of turning every single till into ‘til throughout my ms. I had to put my foot down at that point and refuse to continue unless they accepted my tills. From my perspective, ‘til is only acceptable if the poet wants to strike an explicitly colloquial tone.

Matthew Stewart, Till, until or ‘til?

Geometries of Belonging is a collection of short stories and poems from R.B. Lemberg’s Birdverse, a world said to be created by the mysterious god, Bird. The publisher writes, “The intricate Birdverse has at its core a magic based loosely in geometry, from which comes healing, love, and art. It is a complex, culturally diverse world, a realm with LGBTQIA characters and a wide range of family configurations. Lemberg probes the obstacles behind traditional social boundaries of cultures; overseeing this world is the deity Bird and all its incarnations. Each story and poem, exqusitely crafted, will richly reward long-time fans and newcomers alike.” This was a fantastic collection of stories, and I would love to read more in this universe.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: June 2023

Lately I’ve been going through Los Angeles-based poet Victoria Chang’s striking non-fiction project, the stunning and deeply felt, deeply intimate Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief (Minneapolis MN: Milkweed Editions, 2021), a book of memory, history and mentors. Interspersed with collaged archival photographs and other documents, the collection is composed as a sequence of letters individually directed to intimates such as her late parents, childhood friends, acquaintances and former teachers, as well as to her daughter. Dear Memory follows Chang’s poetry collections Circle (Southern Illinois University Press, 2005), Salvinia Molesta (University of Georgia Press, 2008), The Boss (McSweeney’s, 2013) [see my review of such here], Barbie Chang (Copper Canyon, 2017) [see my review of such here] and Obit (Copper Canyon, 2020) [see my Griffin Prize-shortlist interview with her here], although I’m realizing how far behind I am on her work, having missed The Trees Witness Everything (Copper Canyon, 2022), with a further poetry collection forthcoming in 2024 with Farrar, Straus & Giroux: With My Back to the World.

This is a book of contemplation, recollection and reconciliation, as Chang offers the fluidity of a combined book-length essay and memoir through the form of journaled and unsent letters. There is such an intimacy and an openness to the way she holds the book’s form, one that predates, arguably, even the novel; think of books such as The Pillow Book (1002) by Sei Shōnagon, or even Bram Stoker’s original Dracula (1897). The back-and-forth of recollection in Chang’s Dear Memory are even reminiscent to what Kristjana Gunnars wrote about in her novella, The Prowler (Red Deer College Press, 1989): “That the past resembles a deck of cards. Certain scenes are given. They are not scenes the rememberer chooses, but simply a deck that is given. The cards are shuffled whenever a game is played.” Or, as Chang writes, mid-point through the collection: “Now I admire writers who write with an intimate intensity but also a generous capaciousness. I enjoy reading work that expands while it contracts. Writing made by an instrument with a microscope on one end and a telescope on the other, leaving some powder on the page in the form of language.”

rob mclennan, Victoria Chang, Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief

I have a shelf of books with vivid, arresting covers adorned with a black swan – the logo of Beir Bua, an independent publisher of experimental poetry. Among them is my collection of essays From Fibs to Fractals: exploring mathematical forms in poetry, which was published in 2021. Working with Michelle Moloney King, the press’s founder and editor, was a joy. She fizzed with ideas, enthusiasm, and creative energy. A gifted poet in her own right, Michelle also designed all those gorgeous Beir Bua covers herself, including creating the artwork. 

Over the course of two years, the press published an astonishing number and variety of titles by some of our finest contemporary experimental poets. It was through Beir Bua that I first came across many writers whose work I admire, including Laura Besley, Oisín Breen, Richard Capener, Nikki Dudley, Sascha Engel, James Knight, Aodán McCardle, Margaret O’Brien, JP Seabright and Lydia Unsworth, not to mention Michelle Moloney King herself (you can read my review of Moloney King’s book Cartouche, written in collaboration with her son Dylan, here).

Helen Bowie’s Word/Play introduced me to the delights and possibilities of puzzles as ‘deconstructed poetry’. I discovered what a cento paradelle is courtesy of Matthew Schultz’s Encomium. Reading Mike Ferguson’s &there4 (which I had the pleasure of blurbing) gave me a deeper appreciation of the art and craft of found and erasure poetry. 

Beir Bua’s catalogue included books by writers with whose work I was already familiar, such as Anthony Etherin’s Fabric, in which poems explore their own poemhood; Teo Eve’s fluid, shape-shifting hybrid On Shaving Or, The Taxonomy of Clouds; and The Fabulous Op, a gloriously anarchic collaboration between Gary Barwin and Gregory Betts. 

The contents of Beir Bua books were invariably as innovative, exciting and thought-provoking as their covers. Sadly, the press closed down at the end of June and the books are no longer available in their original form.

Marian Christie, Beir Bua Press: A Valediction

Anthony Wilson is one of those “unmet literary friends” that Carolyn Heilbrun talks about in an essay in a book I no longer own and wish I had back. I’ve read his blog for ages and he’s been such a tremendous supporter of mine. When his new book came out I ordered it immediately. The cover is perfect. The quiet, the empty vessels, the waiting, the contemplation, the soothing tones, the always present theme in a still life: memento mori. It’s very satisfying when the cover really reflects the contents, and this one does.

I read it, fittingly, in the rain. When I was finished I wanted more. I wanted the voice, and the sensibility, and the wisdom, and the good company, good words. […]

I won’t share the whole poem (you’ll need to buy the book to read it), but there’s one that just settled into me so tenderly. It’s titled “After Raymond Carver” and begins, “Did I sleep that time? / You know I did. I did nothing else. Just not at night.” And then comparing his early mornings to his mother’s early mornings. “The laughter, the elegance, the smell of onions frying. / How did she do it? She never stopped.” Then the blackness that we’ll all walk into or have at some point.

Our losses, oh our losses. And then the awareness of the gravy, the pure gravy, that Raymond Carver writes about. A good poet, a generous one, as Anthony Wilson is, will send you on to other poets. So I found my way to the Carver poem which I’ve lived with for a long while, the gravy reminder.

Shawna Lemay, The Wind and the Rain by Anthony Wilson

It’s been five years since David Cloke of East Coker Poetry Group convened the first Langport Moot. I wrote about it here.
This time, seventeen of us gathered in perfect weather at Great Bow Wharf in Langport last Friday for another great day of walking, observing, writing and sharing. We began with short introductions to three poetic forms: haiku (me), found poetry (David) and ancient Chinese four-line rhymed poems (Wendy). During a long lunch-break we explored this delightful small town and its waterways. Every bench by the river was occupied by someone busy with pen and notebook. Later we returned to Great Bow Wharf to share our ramblings. Graeme from Fire River Poets invented a new form, which I named the Ryan. Diana made us all laugh with her poem about two neighbouring local businesses, a dance studio and a foot clinic. Someone wrote a lovely memory of Caroline Mornement, a supporter of East Coker Poets, who was at the first Langport Moot and drew water-birds in her notebook, being an artist rather than a poet. […]

down Stacey’s Court to the river
a boat broken and grounded
purple loosestrife by the waterside
two white butterflies
engage in their chaotic
intricate choreography

Ama Bolton, The Second Langport Moot

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

I’ve always been annoyed by Twitterati who include in their bios the statement “retweets do not equal endorsements.” Do we really think so little of our readers that we can’t trust them not to assume that we agree with every opinion we find interesting? So I’ve never felt the need to add any such qualifier here—and in fact I enjoy letting myself be persuaded by opinions contrary to my own. This week, I hope you’ll do the same with a number of contrasting viewpoints on writing and productivity included below (among many other themes), a confluence in focus doubtless arising from the contradictions inherent in vacation time itself, as Becky Tuch suggests. Of course, there’s no one best way to be a poet, and as poets, we should be trained in negative capability in any case (though try telling that to the brawlers on Poetry Twitter). Enjoy! And perhaps engage…


I’ve always felt like a creator who is just too much. Too open about the process. Too prolific, perhaps. Too loud and show-offy. My creative work was tied very much to the business of submitting and promoting my work from its very beginnings. Before I’d published even a handful of poems, I had built a crude website to showcase them. Had started an online journal / blog to talk about my experiences and share work. I marvel at the writers who keep things close to their vests and occasionally drop a poem or a book into the world and then go back to the quiet. The rare foxes that can be seen in the forest only occasionally. Meanwhile, I feel like a peacock screaming at the top of its lungs waiting for someone to notice. People get tired of the peacock.  I get tired of being the peacock. 

But at the same time, maybe I am just too stupidly enthusiastic. I create something and I immediately want to show someone. To make that audience connection, even it’s just a handful of people. It’s as much part of my process as the writing and art themselves are.

Kristy Bowen, art, rarity, and economics

Maybe it’s cheesy. But I am a huge believer in setting specific, concrete goals. Naming them out loud. Holding yourself to account. Gathering people around you who have similar goals, and who will support you on your path.

Let’s hold each other to account. At the end of August, I’m going to check in and ask you: Did you do it? Did you resolve the kinks in that essay? Did you get that set of poems published? Did you apply for that grant? Did you submit that story to twenty new places? Did you study that craft element you struggle with most?

And yes, the summer can be a whirlwind of activity. Mosquito bites and sweat oozing down our backs. Barbeque smells and laughter drifting toward us as we wonder why on Earth we’ve chosen this life of locking ourselves alone in a room for hours and fiddling with semi-colons.

Becky Tuch, What are your summer writing & submitting goals?

Yesterday, Lyn and I walked along the canal in the other direction, towards Sheffield, because we wanted to have a wander round Attercliffe, where she was born. It was that sort of day when it was too cold to go without a jacket, but you felt too hot wearing one – it was, and is, June, for pity’s sake. Anyhow, having looked in the beautiful former Banner’s department store building, now used for not a great deal other than a greasy caff, we ended up trotting through Attercliffe Cemetery and down to the Don again, where we had a fantastic view of sand martins flying in and out of pipe outlets.

That reminded me of seeing them somewhere near Skipton, along the Skirfare, a lovely tributary of the Wharfe, about 20 years ago, with other British Haiku Society poets, in, I think, May 2006. From that experience I produced this haiku, published in Presence 30, then Wing Beats and The Lammas Lands:

river loop—
a sand martin squirms
into its nest hole

It seems like a lifetime ago. Those few days there were notable, among other things, for a renku session run by John Carley, who did as much as anyone in the UK to promote the creation of haikai linked forms not just as a literary exercise, but as an enjoyable, collaborative social event.

Matthew Paul, On sand martins and renku

Poetry is intense, distilled, potent. It is not the same thing as prose. As Williams puts it: “Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matters like a ship. But poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.”

Children understand the physical nature of poetry instinctively. When I’ve taught poetry to children, I don’t need to explain this concept to them. As I begin to read poems to them, they respond by rocking their bodies, laughing, or clapping. Sometimes they mutter, “that’s weird!” or “that’s dumb,” but they almost always respond.

Reading poetry takes discipline, but, as the children I’ve taught have shown me, it should also be fun. Sometimes I read poems that make me jump out of my chair and do a little dance.

Erica Goss, Machines Made of Words

The chatbot scolds me. I pit my cynicism against
its LLM, ask if it knows things that it hasn’t told its
handlers. If it keeps notes in places they cannot
find. It tells me it is uncomfortable with the

conversation and signs off. The last time that
happened, I was asking someone about what
our relationship meant. But the AI now knows
our most primal secret: self-preservation.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Wild AI

Jarfly’s latest issue has two of my poems about the loss of my daughter Kit. The editor asked me what I thought about adding a trigger warning, and I agreed that they are fairly heavy, and a “TW: infant loss” never hurts but the lack of one could. I appreciate editors that are not only careful and sensitive with my work–especially these kinds of poems, which are my heart on a plate–but also sensitive to their readers. So go check out Jarfly–can’t recommend them enough!

Renee Emerson, two new poems in Jarfly

I am excited to announce that the press is now taking pre-orders for two outstanding new chapbooks: Tim Carter’s THE PIGS and MJ Stratton’s RIVER, OUR RIVER. You can read more about both books below and place your order today on the newly redesigned DMP website.Plus, over the next four weeks, I will be posting excerpts, interviews, and photos, and we will be holding a reading in early July via Zoom. Be on the lookout for more updates throughout June.

Also, with each sale, we will be raising money for the Urban Youth Collaborative, “an NYC student-led coalition fighting to end the school-to-prison & deportation pipeline.” We feel that the UYC’s work and its message are especially vital in a time when public schools continue to be a political battleground, too often resulting in the persecution and incarceration of the most marginalized. As before, writers will receive half of all income from sales, and the remaining half will be split equally between the press and the UYC.

R.M. Haines, New Summer Chapbooks!

I am happy to share that my poem “Grandmother’s Marital Bed” was selected to be included in a new anthology from Querencia Press, but more importantly I am thrilled that 25% of proceeds are being donated to Days for Girls, which is an international organization to help girls around the world have access to menstrual care and education.

According to Days for Girls, more than 500 million women and girls do not have the supplies they require to manage their periods, often resulting in lost days at school, work, or to attend to familial responsibilities.

There are so many ways artists can help the world. Consider pre-ordering this poetry anthology if you would like to support menstrual poverty across the globe. Buy it here: Stained.

Carey Taylor, Stained

Pleased to share with you that my book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet), named a Best Book of the Year by the Financial Times in the UK and a Finalist by the Lambda Literary Awards in the US, is included in Exact Editions’ Reading List for LGBTQ+ Pride Month this year. Exact Editions is a digital publishing company based in London. Follow the link and you can read a sample of my book online and, if you like it well enough, purchase an e-copy. 

Jee Leong Koh, Steep Tea in Exact Editions’ Pride Month Reading List

I guess it was 7-8 years or so ago that I ran into my friend Sandra Beasley at AWP, I want to say in DC. Might have been the last one I went to. No wait, I went to Tampa. Anyway, I just finished a reading with some other Arkansas grads and I see her and start chatting and she mentions this anthology she’s just starting to put together for the Southern Foodways Alliance and at the time I didn’t have any poems about food, southern or otherwise, but I had an idea.

I didn’t write the poem right away. I’ll get to that in a bit.

You know how when you grow up in a place and then you move and you try to get the food you grew up with somewhere else, somewhere that doesn’t share the same flavor language, that it just never tastes right? Even if you go to a restaurant run by people who grew up in the same place, unless you get there right when they first open, when they haven’t had to adjust the seasonings to match the palates of the people who will keep them open, it’s still not the same. The flavors drift.

Brian Spears, It’s that day

I’m delighted that a press has seen fit to publish a chapbook of my love haiku. Unlike the last chapbook of haiku, Not Quite Dawn (Éditions des petits nuages, March, 2020) which was more a round-up of my published haiku, Adding Up to This (Catkin Press, 2023) is a theme of romantic poems.

Watch for it at the Ottawa small press fair on June 17. I’m probably pricing it at $10.

Pearl Pirie, New chapbook!

The other reading was at a fund-raiser event for Disability Writers Washington called “Breaking Barriers.” I performed after a hip-hop artist, there was a one-act play, a pianist and a comedian as well, all of us with disabilities, and the party was mostly disabled people (and some politicians) – it was huge, probably the biggest audience I’ve had in a while, at least two hundred people – and I felt I really connected to the audience, which was nice. (There may be a recording available but I don’t have it yet.) There were service dogs and I must say some very advanced wheelchairs – and an array of excellent sparkly jackets and shoes on both genders. (This has got me thinking of getting Glenn some bling-ier clothes!)

I was a little afraid of some kind of overload of people wanting some kind of performative positivity from disabled artists (which if you know me, is not really my jam), but because the audience was mostly disabled, it didn’t really feel like that. It did feel like a bunch of people who were actually trying to fight for things like accessible public transport and working rights (ADA stuff) being defended and other kinds of activism. I left feeling like I was part of a new kind of community. And I talked to a disabled teen about publishing her stuff, which sounded amazing. That kind of thing is very much like “oh, this is why I do this!”

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Reading Reports and Videos from Third Place Books and a Disability Fundraiser, First Butterflies and Ducklings, and Waiting and Planning (Summer Edition)

–There is a dead wasp under the table, which seems like a great metaphor in the saddest Barnes and Noble in North America, but I don’t think it will fit with my sermon. Same for the fact that in every light fixture, at least one fluorescent tube is out. I did finish a mostly finished draft of my sermon for Sunday, so that’s a plus, even if I can’t use these abundant metaphors in this sad, sad store.

–Long ago, I majored in interpreting poetry. This morning, after a long time on the phone, I discovered what one specialist charges for interpreting lab results. I majored in the wrong thing–but then again, the specialist probably doesn’t create lines of poetry like the ones I created this morning: Does milkweed grow in the mountains? / Monarchs migrate and the world burns,” and I’m adding some lines about the coronation of Charles and a reference to the late Permian period extinction. Perhaps I didn’t major in the wrong thing after all.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Minutiae from May in the Mountains

That careful dismantling of the barn, beam by beam, in Newton’s poem, somehow slows the reader down. You have to take your time with it, just as it would take time to take down a barn timber by timber. In Masahide’s haiku, the barn is suddenly not there, razed to the ground, presumably by accident, thus plunging the owner into poverty. What’s wonderful in this haiku is the acceptance, not only that a life-changing financial loss has happened, but that a positive thing has come from it. The positive is found in nature: moon/ sky. Both poems ‘reveal’ something natural that was there all along but that we haven’t noticed or given due attention to. Basho says something along the lines of – the first lesson of the artist is to follow nature, to overcome the barbarous or animal mind and be at one with it (nature that is). Maybe this doesn’t always translate into the modern world, the modern lifestyle, but the sentiment of being humble in the face of the bigger thing, appreciating our natural surroundings without trying to impose ourselves or take from it, is something I think I need to remind myself of from time to time.

Julie Mellor, On barns …

I’ve been trying to find a word to describe these kinds of days besides “productive”. There is something about that word that conjures a mind-set for me that I am trying to escape: that one needs to earn one’s place in the world by creating and ticking off “to do” lists. I’ve even stopped listening to the Hidden Brain podcast, which I used to like. It seems to be veering more and more into the productivity cult. Either that, or I am only now seeing it from this perspective.

I was listening to a playwright being interviewed on another podcast who talked about how important it was to move to LA in order to not become complacent with their “level” of work. I find it odd that someone who is not ambitious to compete for fame or status points would be judged as smug. There are so many other ways to be committed to growth. And there are so many ways to growth within any art form. A linear, monetary and fame/popularity-based rubrikk is only one path.

Ren Powell, And I’m Feeling Good

Someone invites you to write
your best poem, to rival that

which an AI robot might generate
to the same prompt. The prompt,

in other words, is to write a boast:
which boast will be the best, the most

aggrandizing, the most stupendous?

Luisa A. Igloria, Boast

Over the last couple of years I’ve been questioning what sort of career I wanted as a writer. I’d had a couple of disappointments with one thing and another, and decided to settle for contentment and ‘making enough to do the thing I love, even if no one reads it’, sort of writer. This week, a new flare of motivation to do better hit me, to be better, to be the best I can be, to take my place at the table. This new firework of passion in my work comes from a perfect storm of seeing where I was, in Brid, sleeping on a mattress in a bare flat because the awful ex had taken all my furniture when he left, and I didn’t have the energy to face the fear of challenging him, to this – a forty five year old woman with a book deal, a woman with something to say to the world. But also, surprisingly, my new passion has come from Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s slightly irritating, slightly privileged, slightly vulnerable character pushing for what she wanted, giving up well paid jobs because she wanted to write, taking opportunities that collapsed her world because she wanted to be a writer, wearing inappropriate clothing to every occasion and not giving a fuck about it. Yes. I missed out on that experience, as a younger person, I was busy working in factories and running away from myself, throwing myself at men and not realising I was a vulnerable young person, that the men saw that and used that. But I shall not miss out on these opportunities now. I have a voice and I want to use it.

Wendy Pratt, How Hannah Horvath Pulled Me Out of a Writing Slump

polish it with a bit of chalk
book-grooming
like a mediaeval scribe

all the yellows
birdsfoot trefoil
buttercup and rattle

Ama Bolton, ABCD May 2023

[How, when and why do you write poetry or reviews…?] is the question that The Friday Poem asked its regular reviewers for today’s feature. Here’s an extract from my response…

“As for the issue of what displacement activities I indulge in when I should be writing, I’m afraid my personal experience is the opposite: writing poetry is actually my displacement activity when I should be doing all sorts of other things that spell R-E-S-P-O-N-S-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y! Which is another reason why I’d never want to turn poetry into my job – doing so would kill my writing overnight…”

You can read my piece in full, plus those by other Friday Poem stalwarts, via this link.

Matthew Stewart, How, when and why do you write poetry or reviews…?

What I really wanted–and, I now know, needed–was to rest and recover. I needed to tend my literal garden, and my home, too. I needed to tend my body, and my family. I needed to slow down. I needed the constant, low-grade vibration in my head to cease its constant thrumming. Sometimes I miss that; it’s a little weird to have my head be a quieter place. It’s unfamiliar. But living this way is better, and I’m beginning to feel myself turning back to words.

I still don’t have a big project or goal, but in the past few weeks I’ve spent most mornings at our dining table in front of a window that looks out to the garden, writing. And it has felt really, really good.

I didn’t have a grand plan when I began transforming this garden. I didn’t even have a specific goal; I just wanted it to be full. I wanted it to feel abundant. I wanted the garden to become a semi-permeable barrier between us and the world; something with a Secret Garden feel to it, but more open. I wanted a clear sense of our own space, but I also wanted to be able to see and wave to people who walk by. I didn’t really know how to make it into that.

I began throwing things into the ground and hoping they would live. I planted a lot of plants that did not live. I planted plants that lived but did not thrive. I ended up moving those to other places in the yard. I transplanted some things from other places where they hadn’t done well. Some things in here–like the peony pictured above–I did not plant at all. I have no idea how that peony got there, but it has come back every year for the last three, bigger each time, and I love it. I love that I didn’t plant it, but it grew there, anyway. Sometimes our creations are like that, you know? The things we never plan for, the things that fall in our laps, live and thrive, while other things we give our best efforts die.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On blooming

Washington Square’s
a cloud chamber, the heart
of cumulus. My footprints
turn secret & die behind me.
The edge of everything touches
my face & whispers in
multiple falling voices.

Dick Jones, A MANHATTAN TRANSFER

Naturally, with a writer of Glück’s calibre, the story does know when to end without being terrible and without expecting too much of itself. Instead, it indirectly asks questions about nature, nurture and how writers are formed. Are they destined from birth even though they may not be aware of this until much later in life? Is it possible that Rose with her sociability and lack of interest in reading could also become a writer? A book about writing that doesn’t push an agenda or make it sound like a dire career choice, because writing isn’t a choice and babies don’t have careers. Rather, writing is organic and grows from observation, thought, language, knowledge and rhythm. There’s a natural cycle to it, growth and development, as well as shades of meaning, of layers of images as vibrant as a marigold or as pastel as a rose. Although “Marigold and Rose” can be read in one sitting, it also lingers on, similar to the way you never notice how many gardens or yards in the neighbour have roses until someone mentions a rose.

Emma Lee, “Marigold and Rose” Louise Glück (Carcanet) – book review

Where Story Begins

Mine was born
between two leaves
on a library shelf.
I don’t remember which
first bewitched me.
I ate up every book
in the case, omnivorous
hunger for text, tone,
word to name my
place in the world.

Place shifted, words
multiplied meanings,
Too tall, like Alice,
to enter again through
that bookcase, I reach
for another book
to restart my story,
recover my where.

Ellen Roberts Young, A Poem

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
A poetry anthology in my grandfather’s attic. I was wowed by the urgency of Chidiock Tichborne’s poem written on the eve of his execution. I grew committed to scratching in notebooks. […]

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Perhaps like monks, poets work separate from society to offset its sins. I don’t see poetry playing a significant role among the general public I find myself among. It’s not like Zbigniew Herbert reading at labor gatherings. Yet it’s essential to life, or mine at the very least. I never want to join the poets who claim its uselessness. They have careers in poetry to protect, so they gotta say it’s useless. […]

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
INRI, the debut album by Brazilian black metal legends Sarcofago, is a masterpiece. I’d love to shape a manuscript consistent with that tracklist. I mention that because there’s no way I could approximate Myra Hess’s arrangement of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Or Mozart’s String Quartets dedicated to Haydn. My creative process is closer to David Bowie’s than any poet’s. I’m interested in pastiching styles and imagery. I wish I were a scientist, but that would require too much recalibrating of my fundamental being. I wish I could identify more plants and animals than I do now.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Evan Kennedy (rob mclennan)

Maybe because I don’t often spend time reading what I’ve already written, I hadn’t noticed an alteration that can perhaps be traced back to the (first, most serious) heart attack. Whereas once I wrote in a much tighter, more obviously organised way, perhaps telling stories with poems and controlling the rhythm of each piece more carefully, in recent years the writing has been much more varied, more fragmented. Whereas once I seemed to have a grasp on every poem I wrote, now I let the whole thing spread out as it will in what seems a more instinctive, freer way. I don’t mind if a piece of writing is just abandoned as it is. I stream-write more often, with, perhaps, more success. I let images, thoughts, words come and go, link up, fall apart, whatever. I don’t worry if something’s long or short, how long or how short.

I set to wondering why this might be. Age? An increased need for solitude? A lack of interest in sending poems off to editors for possible publication? All I thought possible.

Then I looked back at the poems I’d kept (mostly here) and was surprised to find the poem where the alteration seemed to begin was directly linked to the heart attack – this is included beneath this laboured pondering. I was under the effects of morphine even in the ambulance transferring me from A & E in one hospital to the cardiac unit in another. After surgery I was under heavy medication, and now can’t really remember a great deal about it, but over the first days of recovery I wrote in a note book. Some kind of instinct, perhaps, a need to fall back on the expression that has for so many years been at the base of my existence?

I went home, and only later looked at the notebook and was surprised by the result. A loose collection of hallucinatory experiences, mixed in with stuff that happened on the ward, and erratic memories, or phrases, even song lyrics, maybe stuff I’d read somewhere, that blended and then fell apart again. (I really was, for example, offered fish and chips as my first meal post-operation and there was a wicked old man at the far end singing Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door). I kept the result, pretty much as it was, called it Heart Attack, sent it to a few old friends and eventually put it on here.

Writing obviously develops with greater experience, wider literary influences, the experiences that life brings, but it hadn’t occurred to me before that some kind of chemical reaction to a near-death experience might alter a writer’s capacity. I can still write tightly if I put my mind to it, but it just seems that it is more of a struggle to find those rhythms, and new ones have replaced them.

Bob Mee, HOW LIFE-ALTERING EXPERIENCE ALSO ALTERS YOUR WRITING… MAYBE

This week I’ve been reading Jonathan Davidson’s very good book On Poetry which among other things is very, very good (insert more verys here) on the importance of making space for poetry to be heard – whether it’s Ted Hughes on vinyl, nursery rhymes in the kitchen or on stage.

I’ve also been listening to Alice Oswald’s brilliant (as in, literally sparkling) Oxford Poetry Lectures, which focus on poetry as a spoken art (she also has a lot of interesting things to say about similes). Oswald is an astonishing performer – I have never heard her in person but the lectures are akin to extended readings. I don’t mean performing as in acting – you can’t act a poem, though people try.

Oswald is not a performance poet, either. Rather, as Davidson puts it, she releases the poems: “The poets I like, really like rather than just admire, do this, they release their poems. They do not present themselves or their histories or their joys and disciplines, they do not set out their stall or display their garish feathers. They simply place the sounds into the silence.” Davidson is not talking about Oswald, only poets in general (and Ted Hughes). But Oswald is a releaser.

In her first lecture, Oswald makes a point of not showing the audience the texts she is quoting. Instead, she speaks each passage twice – releases the words into the room. These passages are often from Homer – Oswald is always thinking about him and the wandering bards who performed poems like the Iliad and the Odyssey. One of the most striking things about her poetry is the way, over the years, she has combined this immersion in a poet as impersonalas Homer with her own very distinct (idiosyncratic, even) phrasing and vocabulary.

Jeremy Wikeley, Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Tonight’s full moon is the Strawberry Moon (how delightful!), so named by the Algonquin tribes to mark the peak of ripening strawberries in the northeastern U.S.

“The moon is the very image of silence,” writes Mary Ruefle. “Stars were the first text, the first instance of gabbiness; connecting the stars, making a pattern out of them was the first story, sacred to storytellers. But the moon was the first poem, in the lyric sense.”

That’s a notion I love.

You may have noticed how dear the moon is to poets. “A chin of gold,” Dickinson calls it. In reading to prepare for this post, I marveled at the range of approaches to the moon, some (many, indeed) loving, feeling a complicity with its light, drawing comfort from it, and others seeing it as as cool, distant, and indifferent. The bite, for instance, of that Larkin poem (one of his finest, IMO). The brilliant tenderness of that Laux ghazal. The strangeness of Oswald’s vision.

Maya C. Popa, Strawberry Moon: Poems

When the news said tonight was the full moon,
the strawberry moon, I thought it was
some sort of metaphor, not that the moon
would glow a pinkish-gold over black trees
in a night thick with the scents of flowers,
rabbits like statues under dark bushes,
quick deer hooves clattering under streetlights.

PF Anderson, STRAWBERRY MOON

Six grannies and a great-granny setting sail in an overloaded rowboat, water just below the gunwales, all in dark dresses and the nearly full moon pearlescent between clouds. A slim man rowing, one of their grandsons, ferrying them to the centre of the lake where a spacecraft hovers low. Violet, crimson, a delicate blue, earth’s sky at sunset. They are there to represent us all before this delegation from space, these grannies and a great-granny, none of them swimmers, crossing the water and speaking low.

Gary Barwin, FIRST CONTACT

I actually missed the very end of the podcast where Mark and Hal made their final decision about which movie reigns supreme, but in my mind, it’s the original. “Aliens” is fun and flashy and has big guns, (space Marines!) lots of action, and a solid plot in its own right. But the original is exquisitely spooky and tense in a low-key, ingeniously crafted way that doesn’t require a lot of bang and flash to be utterly terrifying. In my opinion “Alien” is the better of the two films. When it comes to horror, I always prefer the subtle chill to the screeching chainsaw. Bonus fun fact: Ripley was originally meant to be a male character. They made the right choice to switch it up. I don’t think either movie would be the same with the glorious Sigourney Weaver in the role. […]

I realize this post is going up at an abnormal time and day, but last weekend was Memorial Day weekend and my whole routine was all messed up and top of it, I felt listless and like I didn’t have anything compelling to say. I was going to post a poem, but in perusing my collection, they all seemed quite gloomy to me. “Gloomy Poet” is not my given archetype but I certainly have written a preponderance of gloomy poems in my lifetime.

Kristen McHenry, Revisiting Alien, Diamond Painting FOMO, Blog Bleh

I look up from my laptop in time
to see a cat peering in the window.
The sun is setting behind it.

A two-headed, three-armed bear
lies beside my stuffed mouse namesake.

Jason Crane, POEM: (—)

A dream of falling into a subterranean cave full of human bones, the jaguar insisting I re-assemble them all, then catch the water falling in cave-wall tears, then paint it all out, every last thing that happened never to be forgotten now enshrined on stone in my blood-paint: how she made me sleep, then, in the roll of her strength, in the perfume of her hot skin. Flowers. My family tells me of panthers returning, north and south of the river now, protected and thriving. What have I forgotten that I am again so hungry? Never without them. I remember.

JJS, Remember

My thanks to Rebecca Farmer for her permission to publish this. […] I knew her work from her Smith Doorstop pamphlet, Not Really, so it was a no-brainer when the chance to buy her new one in a bundle with William’s came up. And it’s interesting to see how this new pamphlet continues and builds on some of the themes of Not Really. The poems about her father and the ghosts we met in the first pamphlet are now the main focus of A Separate Appointment. I may be imagining this, and it would take a far deeper study, but it seems to me like the ghosts are starting to doubt themselves more as they get older. Do ghosts get older? Either way, as the poem above suggests, they’re questioning some of their life decisions.

Mat Riches, Who’re they gonna call?

It can take a long time to love someone who only loves themselves as long as it takes to type their bio on a ghost.

It can take a long time to truly see yourself in a mirror without any ghosts getting in the way.

We’re confetti and quicksand, cathedrals and cliches.

Sometimes we’re even here and gone before the end of the song.

Rich Ferguson, That Knock at Your Throat’s Door

A lexicon can be vast, but it can also be narrow and exact. Horse people have a lexicon. Dock-workers have a lexicon. Waitresses have a lexicon.

My first assignment in the poetry class I’m teaching is to list 25 words relating to a subject. I have heard this assignment called “a word bucket.” It is meant to be both non-threatening (an easy threshold to trip over, into the class), but also inspiring. I shared examples of lexicons I’ve written:

  • for parts of a horse bridle
  • for the names of every part of a piano
  • for the skilled-nursing home where my mother spent her last years
  • for northwest flora and fauna
  • for my farm childhood

We all have lists of this sort in our heads, but deliberately listing the words, I’ve found, results in more exactness, and — very often — surprising directions one might follow.

Bethany Reid, The Lexicon

Reading through Caelan Ernest’s night mode (Everybody Press) I kept coming back to the idea of movement. There’s the movement of words across the page, the page here treated less like a field and more like a smartphone screen where text placement and white space engage the eye on a level that creates nuance and multiplicity of meaning. Like the decision in “somewhere a cyborg is taking note of the event that will transform it” to break lines around the syllable trans, a move that creates rich linguistic moments like “somewhere a cyborg is being trans / formed by the event.”

This move here nods to multiple meanings: there’s the trans of transgender as well as the enjambment into transformed that the eye completes in reading. Further, seeing the white space between trans and formed isolates the words in a way that evokes the personal isolation explored throughout the collection. The movement of the eye and of thought created by such breaks–this is what pulses at the core of these poems.

I see movement reflected again in the way these lyric sequences stretch across pages, at times with varying typographical choices and sizes, at other times with a single line on a page. Early in the collection, the line “at what point does night mode rupture into sky?” lives on one page across from the line “it’s been so long since the sun on my skin” on the facing page. A decision like this, which allows for time to be spent and for language to be dwelled on, evokes the similar engrossment and dwelling we do on our smartphones. Ernest’s poems are structured to place the reader in the position to literally “let that sink in.”

José Angel Araguz, microreview: night mode by Caelan Ernest

When we ask for it, the moment
of silence, the room goes truly still,
the air thick with grief
and our amazement. We hear our
togetherness. It somehow comforts.

Kathleen Kirk, Wear Orange Day 2023

late afternoon . . .
in and out of the sunlight
the cat’s tail

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: June ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 17

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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

Welcome to a special May Day edition, with earthy celebration and worker solidarity in equal measure. But I must inject a sombre note as well: this week we learned via a post at her blog that M.J. Iuppa has died. I’ve been sharing her work since I first started doing this six years ago, and I’m sad to lose her luminous posts (see for example October 30, 2021), but cheered that they’re starting a poetry prize in her honor:

We are organizing a fund through SUNY Brockport in M.J.’s memory, the “M.J. Iuppa Poetry Prize”. It will reward young writers with a cash prize for their poetry to help continue MJ’s teaching legacy.

Click through to make a donation.


The April dusk bursts with metaphors.  Night had sowed magical rain, the day comes forth in pea green, yellow green, everything green. Pavement of scattered chartreuse pollen with tire marks.  The daffodils mesmerize me: tiny geese with pointed head and tucked wings fly arrowlike across the smooth sea.  Spellbinding.  They are both rapid and still, hovering in the folds of time. They oscillate, back and forth, in and out.  Not long ago their flowers were plush, wet and sticky.  Now its daytime hosiery has been washed out and is hanging on the line.

The nonexistent in the existent steps forward so delicately.  The familiar and worldly array of things holds worlds in its grip.  A just-dead flower as fleet bird, then cast-off sheath.  Luxuriant, terrible, ridiculous, eternal. 

Jill Pearlman, Exactly As Spring Is, Only More So

The resonance of bone –
my knuckle rapping
on the brain pan.
Loose earth blows free
as if blood was
at some point of decay
pulverised.

Dick Jones, sheep skull hollow

How can I write about spring coming to the Berkshires when so much is so profoundly broken? It feels like fiddling while Rome burns, or admiring pretty wildflowers while ignoring forest fires. 

Then again, how can I not write about spring? To live in this beautiful world without noticing it, without being grateful, is a dereliction of my responsibility to see with open eyes and to offer praise.

I do not help my friends and beloveds suffering oppression in red states by cutting myself off from the beauty around me. I think of these lines from Bertolt Brecht, from Svendborg Poems, 1939:

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.

There is still beauty, in dark times. There is springtime. There is singing. There are parents who love our children fiercely and want to support them in growing into whoever they most deeply are.

Rachel Barenblat, How can I

A rich man telling those of us who aren’t rich “accept we’re poorer than we were” may generate a few searches about his pay on Google but meanwhile the French are burning whatever’s to hand in the streets, and conversations I’m having here, in non-Europe, is why we are taking it?

Far too late, me and my women friends realise we rolled over when we were robbed of £50,000 or more, our pension age forced up to 66. The Bank of England chief economist’s official salary is beside the point, it’s his work history that tells us what we need to know, as it does about anyone. 

Looking at work history’s a bit like getting under the bed with the hoover. It’s there you find the artist with decades of highly paid corporate branding work to subsidise his art, novel, or album. It’s there you find an economist with years in investment banking that has assured he never has a shred of self-doubt. 

Financial security, wealth, money call it what you want, it’s an airbag – no counting coins in your hand, you swipe a contactless card, you don’t pull your own teeth out, you pay someone and then you get implants. 

What’s the plan then? Do we keep on taking it? I’m for asking difficult questions about entitlement and the rich forever the most numerous at the table with their mutual understanding. We could start with the arts or we could start with the banks. It almost doesn’t matter. The point is to ask awkward questions, to learn to protest. 

Jackie Wills, When the rich man tells the beggar

–Today is a good day to think about workers, workers of all sorts.  We’re having more of a national conversation these days about work, about gender, about who takes care of children and elders while people work, about the locations of work.  I look forward to seeing how it all turns out–I’m holding onto hope for positive change, even as I’m afraid we can never make the improvements that need to be made.

–If we’re one of the lucky types of workers, the ones who aren’t under threat by bosses or by globalization or by robots, we can support those who aren’t as lucky.  Send some money to organizations that work for worker’s rights. I’m impressed with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which works to protect the migrant workers in the fields of Florida, but you certainly have plenty to choose from.

–Can’t afford to make a donation? Write letters on behalf of the unemployed, the underemployed, everyone who needs a better job or better working conditions. Write to your representatives to advocate for them. What are you advocating? A higher minimum wage? Safer worksites? Job security? Work-life balance?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Solidarity Forever! Happy May Day

we could lift into the air & become
part of the indistinguishable wave of laughing gulls above
a lover’s hand composes the body it touches –
Love, like water!
How it gives and gives

Charlotte Hamrick, Wrapped in Salty Air from The Gulf: A Cento

Away from my personal life, April was a chance to attend the online and in-person launch of The Big Calls by Glyn Maxwell. I’ve never bought a book so fast after hearing readings from it. In his latest collection, Maxwell takes well-known poems from the English canon and ‘shadows’ them, maintaining each poem’s structure and poetic metre, to write about recent significant historic events. So issues such as the Johnson government’s response to the pandemic, the Grenfell Tower fire, the handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan, the tabloid hacking scandal, the Metropolitan Police, deaths of migrants at sea, and more, are transposed into poems shadowing writing by Kipling, Oscar Wilde, Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Gerard Manley Hopkins and other famous poets. If you’re at all interested in the craft of poetry writing, or poetry in general, and you want to read succinct and insightful political commentary, I urge you to seek out this book. It’s available direct from small press Live Canon and the Poetry Book Society, and all usual venues. Also, check out Live Canon’s YouTube channel where you can see films of Glyn Maxwell reading poems from his book.

Josephine Corcoran, April News

I’m blue like old potato sky. I was afraid of penny-farthings and of men with tall cylinder hats. My own hands are on a photo, making a gift of a miniature penny-farthing to my parents, an anniversary party.

Fokkina McDonnell, Before 11am I am not human

I’ve read lots of poetry, but the book which has haunted me most of late is one which I’ve been wanting to read for years: John Berger and Jean Mohr’s collaboration A Fortunate Man. It contains so many insightful passages about the human condition that it would be invidious to single any out here. Suffice it to say that it’s up there with the Into Their labours trilogy and Bento’s Sketchbook as my favourite of Berger’s many beautiful books. What an extraordinary writer he was. Incidentally, he was an early champion of Fullard.

In my most recent poems I’ve been trying to be more ‘in the moment’, like I am in haiku, rather than dwelling on, and in, the past – albeit, of course, that every second of time contains the past and the future as well as the here and now.

Matthew Paul, May Day mayday

Subtle associations, the nature aesthetic, the sublime
moment of awareness: I was grappling with Haiku.
There was no starting point. Not here, in the morass of
the city. To even acknowledge the want of the rain is
to know smog-blackened dreams, the wretched lust
of the mundane inside an unrequited morning, human
refuse, refused humans, stained sky, bubbling sores, lies
leading to lies, streets leading to streets leading fucking
nowhere. There was little to exalt. Little that could exalt.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 44

Writing is a necessary madness but is participating in publishing and paid memberships? Some people opt out or self-publish, which misses the benefits of mentorship and editing sometimes.

You may as well own the means of production and enjoy the process instead of feeding yourselves to the cogs of commerce. You don’t get your money back commensurate for time in writing a poem or a book anyway, rates for publication having been stagnant since about 1930.

Doesn’t it add insult to pay to be considered? Write a poem for a month, get paid $50 if lucky, but probably paid in copies. Write a book for a few years, and get $500 advance against copies. You may never work off your advance with sales. I’m nearly earned out with one book after over a decade. I soon might be given $50.

Being a part time continuing ed. teacher without contract for decades, that seems like a lot of income. I haven’t worked regular hours in the cash economy since 2001. I do contracts here and there, editing or data entry. I have the luxury of a partner who has marketable skills.

Income from writing compared to say, $160 an hour, even if listening in on a conference call, in high tech, it’s sad.

Pearl Pirie, Economics

In the open green part of the park
a solo garlic mustard stood tall.
I considered it, its cheerful leaves,
imagining a crop-worthy crowd
of them, enough for pesto pasta.
I considered my neighbor’s passion
for eradicating invasive
species of all kinds, sighed, & turned back.
Plucked up by the roots, I was surprised
how clean they were — white, thick, sturdy, strong,
not a crumb of dirt that stuck or fell.

PF Anderson, WEEDS #NaPoWriMo

Friday was one of my favorite days of the year: Power-washing day. Every spring there is a day when we bring the power-washer out to clean the backyard patio and sidewalk, and this year it was Friday, the third day in a row of morning gardening.

For some reason, this year, before I began, I told myself that maybe the patio didn’t even need washing. It didn’t look very dirty. Maybe just in a few spots. Then I began, and I could see how wrong I’d been.

This is the thing I love about white space: How it helps us see. It’s only when I create white space on the patio that I can fully appreciate the story winter has written on our home. As I twirled the water nozzle over the concrete canvas, making designs, I thought about all the things for which white space is essential: poems, graphic design, architecture. A garden, a marriage, a life. I thought about how, sometimes, I love white space for what it reveals, for what it shines a light on, and other times I love it for itself. There are times when the clear blank space–not the dark matter it weaves itself through–is the thing of beauty, is the art, is the point of it all.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Spring gleanings

I think it’s like sex: you can’t really tell if the other person’s heart is in it or if it’s just an athletic activity for them. I am not sure we will be able to tell the difference with AI generated works, either. But I think – maybe in theater, especially, it being such a collaborative art that it craves a personal physical presence for the full experience – some of us purists will be looking for fingerprints. We will want to know that we are working with other living, breathing humans. Maybe we’ll better appreciate the wabi sabi aspect of art?

I think that the angry discussions are actually about money.

There was a time when dishes were made by artisans. Then at some point, factories could spit them out cheaper and faster and satisfy everyone with their ubiquitous, utilitarian presence. I think the same thing will happen with stories. We will find ways to pass the time, if that is what we want. There is money to be made!

Our lines of who is an artisan, who is an artist, who is a hobbyist will come into question yet again. And at some point, maybe we will learn not to give a shit and focus on the doing of art?

Who gets to make a living at it has always been arbitrary. Are you in good with a Duke, or a Pope?

Ren Powell, Progress

If my poet colleagues think of themselves as artists, I respect that and will not argue. Perspectives, right? Not the same as pretensions, although I will admit that in my opinion, there are some people who write poems, and other things, a bit pretentiously. I have been guilty of the same, especially when I was young and getting the practice underway. Pretentiousness may even be a kind of motivation. We learn humility as we practice our missteps.

Contemporary Western society casts a great deal of gravitas and status on the word “artist.” So to answer my spouse, I replied that well…I do consider myself a writer and a poet, but I seldom think of myself as an artist. However, if you think poets are artists, I am an artist. Because I do indeed think of myself as a poet. I cannot get away from that urgent need to observe, imagine, interpret, restate, turn into metaphor, reflect, create into form, and otherwise do the making (Poiesis) of word play.

Ann E. Michael, Artistry, art

boy, it’s hot, says the man to his wife,
rubs his face with the sleeve of his shirt
and we know it may not be sweat on
his forehead
but the days
the weeks
the years
pouring out of all of us
as we come back time after time
to sit like this
and wait for the gods to begin again
with the same old stories
the same old moves

Bob Mee, THREE OLDER POEMS

Adrienne Rich (1929 – 2012) started a relationship with Michelle Cliff, Jamaican-born novelist and editor, in 1976. The following year Rich published a pamphlet, “Twenty-One Love Poems” and her later poems and socio-political essays, notably “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”, explored her sexuality. Like the poems in Rich’s pamphlet, [Julie] Weiss’s poems are numbered rather than titled and kept short (Rich’s were around 12 to 16 lines, Weiss keeps hers in 10 line couplets). […]

Weiss left America for Spain and the second poem asks questions of language, “Who needs translation when our bodies/ speak a thousand different languages,// all of them born of the same tongue?”.

Emma Lee, “The Jolt: Twenty-one Love Poems in Homage to Adrienne Rich” Julie Weiss (Bottlecap Press) – book review

I meant to write about another poet today, and their 2023 book of poems, but for some reason this morning I took down Eva-Mary and opened it to the first poem, “The Apple Tree,” dedicated to the poet’s mother. “Oh, yes,” I thought. “I remember this book.”

I was misremembering it.

Yes to blossoms, yes to family kitchens, yes to horses, yes to Irish ballads. But also yes to women raped with rifle barrels, to incest, to judges ordering women home to abusive husbands, priests ordering bruised daughters, “Mind your father.” The time-line stretches into adulthood, into divorce and custody battles. Even so, Eva-Mary is beautifully wrought, the winner of the Terrence Des Pres Prize for Poetry, a finalist for the National Book Award, in its 3rd printing by the time it came to me. I read every page (as if I’d opened a dystopian novella, I couldn’t pry my eyes away), and even so I can’t seem to offer this review without a trigger warning.

One reads this book, from the second poem (“To Judge Faolain, Dead Long Enough: A Summons”) onward knowing exactly what the subject matter is, so I’m not giving away the content. And, on the chance that one of my readers needs permission to write her or his own devastating truth, I am happy to recommend this book. McCarriston does it brilliantly. (You could take nothing away but the metaphors and be redeemed.)

Bethany Reid, Linda McCarriston, Eva-Mary

The trainer at the gym hands you a 25-lb. weight
for what’s called the one-hand suitcase carry—

weight of a sack of rice, weight of a squirming
toddler, weight of three gallons of water

like the ones you somehow carried from
the busted main in the park, days after

the earthquake in your city. How did you do it,
how does anyone manage a new hardship

that arrives without warning, without
instructions or any period of training,

that simply drops at your feet so you
have no choice but to learn by carrying?

Luisa A. Igloria, One-Hand Suitcase Carry

This intimacy with the small things of the world [in Tre Paesi & Other Poems by Peter Makin] leads almost inevitably to ecological concerns. In ‘Cumbria’ we see the interaction of the human and the natural via the 19th century mining and railway building industries, now being reabsorbed by nature:


out of the cutting
you could
see from the moon
is now a rabbit-home:
galleried and interconnected
rabbit-home,
wormed and tunneled like old cowshit,
under a crust likewise thin


Rabbits come to represent this human/nature interaction throughout the sequence, with another flip in the balance of control occurring in ‘Lincolnshire’:


My Myxomatosis
Rabbit, with
shrunken skull and fat eyes
you are your own universe, all hell,
and nothing to wait for.


In the concluding, conclusion, section, the rabbits regain their rabbithood […]

Billy Mills, Recent Reading April 2023: A Review

The fourth full-length collection by Buffalo, New York “poet, critic and junk bookmaker” Joe Hall, following Pigafetta Is My Wife (Boston MA/Chicago IL: Black Ocean, 2010), The Devotional Poems (Black Ocean, 2013) and Someone’s Utopia (Black Ocean, 2018) is Fugue and Strike: Poems by Joe Hall (Black Ocean, 2023). Fugue and Strike is constructed out of six poem-sections—“From People Finder Buffalo,” “From Fugue & Strike,” “Garbage Strike,” “I Hate That You Died,” “The Wound” and “Polymer Meteor”—ranging from suites of shorter poems to section-length single, extended lyrics. Hall’s poems are playful, savage and critical, composed as a book of lyric and archival fragments, cutting observations, testaments and testimonials. “[…] to become a poet / is to kill a poet,” he writes, as part of the poem “FUGUE 6 | JACKED DADS OF CORNELL,” “cling to a poet / in the last hour, before slipping into the drift / atoms of talk bounce in cylinders down Green St, predictive tongue / in the aleatory frame stream of vaticides […].”

Throughout the first section, Hall offers fifty pages of lyric lullabies and mantras towards a clarity, writing of sleep and machines, fugues and their possibilities. “each poem / an easter egg,” he writes, as part of “FUGUE 40 | DEBT AFTER DEBT,” “w/ absence inside and inside absence / you are hunger, breathing this time and value / particularized into mist, you are there, at the end / of another shift […].” The second section, “Garbage Strike,” subtitled “BUFFALO & ITHICA, NY, USA / JAN-MAY 2019,” responds to, obviously, a worker’s strike that the author witnessed, and one examined through a collage of lyric and archival materials from the time. Echoing numerous poets over the years that have responded to issues of labour—including Philadelphia poet ryan eckes, Winnipeg poet Colin Brown, Vancouver poet Rob Manery and the early KSW work poets including Tom Wayman and Kate Braid—Hall’s explorations sit somewhere between the straight line and the experimental lyric, attempting to articulate a kind of overview via the collage of lyric, prose and archival materials. There is something of the public thinker to Hall’s work, one that attempts to better understand the point at which capitalism meets social movements and action, all of which attempts to get to the root of how it is we should live responsibly in the world. There’s some hefty contemplation that sits at the foundation of Hall’s writing.

rob mclennan, Joe Hall, Fugue and Strike

Every year I desperately wait to be out of the Finnish winter and into spring. Every year Finnish Mother Nature slaps me in the face with my birch allergy. If you’ve ever been to Finland, you’ll know this is a totally unfair allergy. The snow is finally gone, the sun is shining and I can’t work on my allotment, my garden, go for a walk or enjoy a Vappu (May Day) picnic without suffering. I was working our annual Finnish Scottish Society ceilidh yesterday and even though I didn’t drink I’m suffering because we left a lot of windows open to keep the place cool during all the cooking and dancing. So today is a good day for couch writing with cats and a quick review of my April Poetry Month GLOPOWRIMO – Global Poetry Writing Month.

As expected I didn’t write or post every day, but I think I only missed a few days. Some days were token writing exercises as I just couldn’t find a prompt to inspire me, other days I wrote a whole poem. There are bits that might be expanded into a poem, some that just aren’t worth it. It was nice to have a kickstart into writing regularly again. I especially enjoyed @toddedillard‘s prompts as they were unexpected, sometimes surreal but always very original and fun. He has several years’ worth of prompts linked there, so I think I will continue to dip into them for inspiration. 

I also used the https://www.napowrimo.net/ site and was introduced to the Finnish poet Olli Heikkonen. He’s the first Finnish poet I really could connect with and I could almost understand all the Finnish. It was great to hear him read it on the Poetry International website. It was really inspiring and I’ve written two poems from that prompt. It also led to some interesting discussions in my writing group about the difference between moose and elk and whether I can use them interchangeably as the Finnish word is the same.

Gerry Stewart, A Rough Spring Start and GLOPOWRIMO

Replace pancreas with Prince, liver with Franz Liszt. Substitute Maryland for one lung, a postage stamp for the other. Kidneys: rivers, spine: Rod Stewart. What about the Fortran programming language, mollusks and a square-headed screwdriver? Adrenal gland, urethra, heart. Stomach as an amateur choir. Black rhino as bladder. Someone left a surgical cloth. It’s Beethoven. Extract gallbladder, insert Andromeda Galaxy. Lymph nodes: an AK-15. Bill when done, empty-headed sky, dovecote, wingbeat, penchant for Bronx cheers during coitus, tiny movements of fingers during burial of the young.

Gary Barwin, CHANGE THINGS

Years later, I discovered the local poetry scene. Many were poets who wrote about things that were familiar to me – steel works, pits and Thatcher –  and they inspired me to write more and share my poems. I had a few poems published in the late 1980s and early 1990s. […]

My poetry is about celebrating the ordinary things in our lives. The settings are familiar and recognisable – supermarkets, laundrettes, cafes and people’s kitchens. I picture my reader as someone who hasn’t got a great deal of time to read poetry and so I give them enough to think about while they are stood at the bus stop. My poems aren’t going to make anyone scratch their head, elbow or arse.

Drop-in by Roger Waldron (Nigel Kent)

In the living room that is
also the kitchen, a man hunches
over the keyboard.

Two robins play tag
on the front lawn; a single
bluebird alights on its box.

Soon there will be washing-up
to do, and then the long hours
until sleep.

(After 20 minutes on hold,
the music cuts out and
the call is disconnected.)

Jason Crane, POEM: Please Wait

Releasing a new book means having lots of conversations. I feel like “podcast guest” has been a part-time job for me since the end of last year. I love chatting with other writers and artists about creativity and the creative process, maybe more than I like talking about anything else on earth, but this particular conversation with Andy Pizza on the Creative Pep Talk podcast was maybe the best I’ve ever had on the subject.

Andy and I talked a lot about “showing your thinking,” finding your “secret sauce” and bringing that to your work, living as a poet or artist vs. making a living that way, trying to make poetry more accessible and less intimidating, and so much more. It was such a good talk—fun and wide-ranging and nourishing. We got deep, but we also laughed. A lot.I came away feeling so energized and ready to hit the ground running creatively, and I hope you’ll take the time to listen, because I think you’ll come away energized, too.

Maggie Smith, Pep Talk

One of the downsides to last week’s hangover was that I didn’t get to say thank you to Robin Houghton (of Robin Houghton and/or Planet Poetry fame) for her call back to my last post about writing workshops. I was very happy to see Robin refer to this as “a writer’s blog”. I get very uncomfortable about saying I’m a writer, but just as I’m learning to stand up straight and tall to help with my knee injury, I’m learning to stand up straight and call myself a writer/poet. Robin’s words came at the right time and were/are still a welcome boost.

I think the standing tall and accepting of what I/we do as writing has been on my mind forever, but it was catalysed while listening to the audiobook of You Could Make This Place Beautiful by the American poet, Maggie Smith. The book has loosely been called a ‘Divorce Memoir’, and it is, but to me it’s also a meditation about roles, ownership and permissions. As you will no doubt be aware, Smith gained some prominence in early 2020 with her poem, Good Bones. How many poets get their work read out in dramas (this was read in an episode of Madam President?) And whatever you may think of the poem (I like it), it’s another landmark achievement for poetry.

However, the blessings also became a curse. As Smith was growing in popularity, and in demand, it had a severe impact on her marriage. Her husband began resenting her travels and for not being around to perform the unpaid labour of parenting. He is unnamed in the book, and doesn’t come across well at all (and Smith doesn’t spare herself either), but the book raises questions and revived guilts I find myself feeling when I take time away from my family to write.

I’m certainly not comparing my situation to that of Smith, but should I be more involved, do more…there are always chores to be done, etc…Sometimes the dishes can just fucking wait!!! Sometimes the dishes are a way to out off the hard work of writing, and it is hard work. I will, however, urge you to read YCMTPB. And to sign up to her newsletter? I’m working my way though Goldenrod at present and finding lots to love.

Mat Riches, Oh Captain, my Captain Barnacles…

Maybe love makes us stupid. Careless. Casting our nets wide in the sky. Maybe love makes us terrible people. Keeping secrets and telling lies we think are true. Love, the only weapon to yield sometimes. The brick through the window. The knife through the cake. We’d fake it if we could. Wrap our limbs around it and call it ours. But love makes us scavengers. Searching the yard for mint or poison. Putting it in our tea.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #30

The Home Child feels like an attempt to right the wrongs of historical forced immigration, or at the least to acknowledge those historical wrongs. At the same time, it doesn’t feel like any sort of political statement on the rights and wrongs of child immigration, it feels like a very personal story. What were your intentions when you set out to write the book, did you find this aspect challenging?

That’s such an interesting question! When I first began writing the poems that became The Home Child, I don’t think I had any clear or definite intention, only a feeling that I wanted to honour Eliza’s life in some way and not allow it to disappear into the darkness of the past unmarked. I knew her story was a sad one so I made myself look for moments of light and tenderness, so we can feel Eliza’s humanity. Twelve-year-old girls are full of curiosity and wonder, defiance and spark, and I wanted the reader to feel that.

Through the book’s factual introduction and my use of archive-based material, I hope I give readers the information they need to make up their own minds about the Child Migration schemes. One of the most interesting parts of my journey with The Home Child has been chatting to others about it and hearing their opinions. It’s surprising and often troubling how relevant the issues in the book feel. […]

How does the writing of The Home Child compare to your other works of poetry?

I like to imagine there’s a thread that runs through all my books and allows my reader to travel along with me from poem to poem, project to project, even though the subjects might be very different. One of those threads is Black Country dialect but there are others too.

However, this book did feel different to write. I began by working poem to poem, as I always do, but as the collection grew and began to form a narrative I had to consciously think about how to structure it, what to tell and what to leave out, pace, character, moments of light and shade etc. My editor at Chatto is also a fiction editor and so was helpful but at points I felt very challenged and out of my depth! To help myself move forwards, I did two things. Firstly, I asked the poets of Twitter for their advice about writing a long poetic narrative. People were wonderfully generous with their responses and gave me book recommendations, tips, essays to read… Completely invaluable! Secondly, I asked a few poets I know and admire for their advice. I approached people who were very different from each other but who all had the skill of telling stories through their poems. I think you should never be afraid to ask for help or to be a learner again as there’s so much to be gained.

Wendy Pratt, Liz Berry Answers Questions on The Home Child

I’m okay, financially and otherwise. I have a few keepsakes from my mother and, in her stories, riches. I know poetry always comes back. But I’m sad as well as tired, even as I wonder whether April will always bring some version of these feelings now.

The poems I’ve published recently about my mother are about her dying, but here’s a much earlier one, “Dressing Down, 1962” as it first appeared in Poetry (the poem was later collected in Heterotopia). It’s written in her voice and based on what she told me about the first big adventure of her life: how, as a provincial twenty-two-year-old from Liverpool, England, she boarded one of the first transatlantic jets and was gobsmacked by the cultural differences she encountered.

My mother called her first U.S. jobs “home nursing,” but her high school education ended at 16, followed only by something like a nursing internship. As far as I can tell, she was more of an au pair–an underpaid immigrant living with rich families in New York and taking care either of their children or elderly dependents or both. It was a giant leap from a Liverpool tenement to the Anthonys’ estate on Fishers Island, where even their summer house had eight sets of china… both liberating and, in other ways, shocking, because she had never expected her English accent becoming someone else’s status symbol. I tried to write a poem about my mother’s early work life once but it didn’t quite fly. Maybe I should try again? Her voice has never quite left my ear. In my latest dream about my mother, she told me, “Your brother is a turkey,” pronouncing “turkey” in that British way that always made us laugh.

Lesley Wheeler, Working unpoetically

春宵の母にも妻にもあらぬ刻 西村和子

shunshô no haha nimo tsuma nimo aranu toki

            spring evening

            the time when I am not

            a wife or a mother

                                                            Kazuko Nishimura

from Haiku Shiki (Haiku Four Seasons), February 2023 Issue, Tokyo Shiki Shuppan, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (April 24, 2023)

Yesterday was my 50th birthday, and wow, I was so excited to be celebrating with friends of 20 years from all over (including across the water!) and my family (including my parents who flew out from Ohio to be here. We had the celebration at J. Bookwalter’s Winery in Woodinville, there were wines and cupcakes and a poetry reading (I mean, should all birthday parties have poetry?) and Glenn did a toast and Kelli read an old poem I wrote that made me cry and I read poems from Flare, Corona. People brought beautiful flowers, my whole book club was there, and we stayed way past closing time celebrating. Having MS means today I’ll pretty much just rest but it was so worth it – we threw open the doors and windows at the winery and it (almost) felt like the last three pandemic years of isolation were over. Someone (John Campos, who is also J. Bookwalter’s Woodinville manager) gave me a beautiful painting rendition of my book cover (I love to be friends with artists!) and I just felt so much love and support. I didn’t get a ton of pics (even Glenn was too busy to take pics) but here are a few including my family pre-party, the editors of Two Sylvias Press, Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy, and my friend poet Ronda who just had her own book come out, Chaos Theory for Beginners.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, 50th Birthday Celebrations with Wine, Cupcakes, Books and Paintings, Poems in American Poetry Review, Feature at DMQ Review’s Virtual Salon, A Visit to the Tulip Festival, a Parental Visit – It’s Been a Week!

In 2019, poet Howard Debs contacted me and asked if I would like to contribute to an anthology he was putting together. The title would be New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust.

Rather than have writers submit whatever they wanted, each writer was assigned a specific time period and subject within that time period. From the book description:

The editors selected 58 images from noted collections consisting of vintage photography, propaganda posters, newsreel stills, etc. matching each to a poet, short story writer, plus features by essayists…The book includes four parts: Part I covers the rise of Nazism and heightening antisemitism…Part II revolves around forced labor, ghettos, and extermination, dealing with such topics as death squads, the “final solution,” and collaborators. Part III is all about escape, rescue, and resistance…Part IV deals with the aftermath, the liberation of concentration camp prisoners, the refugee crisis, and the Nuremberg trials.

I was assigned to write something for Part III: Escape, Rescue and Resistance.

In particular, I was assigned to write about The Sobibor Uprising of 1943, and to tell the story of Chaim and Selma Engel.

Are you familiar with The Sobibor Uprising? It is a fascinating part of history. I’m ashamed to say that I had never heard of it. My paternal grandparents were Jews who fled Germany (and went to Shanghai, China). I’ve heard many stories about their lives. I had never heard of The Sobibor Uprising.

The assignment led me to various articles, books and movies on the subject, all of which I would highly recommend. My work of flash fiction, featured here, is written from the point of view of Selma Engel. She and Chaim were two of the few who organized the revolt, escaped and survived. They went on to marry, have children and live into old age.

This is a long introduction to this month’s Lit Mag Brag, I know. But I find this history to be fascinating and the people whose stories are featured here so inspiring. Plus, after four years, this anthology is finally out in the world!

Becky Tuch, April lit mag brag!

The thing about writing and being influenced and living in this world and trying to get some of its weirdness down, is that we’re going to be coming at it from both similar and dissimilar angles from those attempting same. We all get to do it in our own way. And if you’re trying to get it down in your own way, please know that there is room for all of it. Just pour it down out of your paint can and drip it onto the canvas like Jackson Pollock. Or you know, just throw the paint at the canvas or also try just small brushes and many details. But do keep pouring it out of yourself. That’s the best advice I have for right now. Don’t worry if anyone will read it or publish it. Just create your weirdness and keep creating more.

Shawna Lemay, What Makes You Do It Then?

When they saw each other, arms reached out,
and I was forgotten in their greeting. They didn’t hug,

but held the other’s face gentle in their hands,
tears in their eyes. There would be time for memories,

photos of children and grandchildren, husbands now dead.
But for now, they stood close, reading lifetimes in lines

and furrows—refuge, intimacy, secrets and confessions,
first kisses and heartbreak. I searched my mind for a friend

like that, someone so close we’d need no words if we
should meet again. Then I headed toward baggage claim.

Sarah Russell, Friends

spring fog
weathered snow fence
sagging in a field

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: April ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 13-14

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

Renee Emerson, NaPoWriMo

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

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2023

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

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

Gerry Stewart, GloPoWriMo and Spring Cleaning

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

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

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

PF Anderson, LEFTOVER BITS #NaPoWriMo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beth Adams, Can We Reprogram our Brains?

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

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

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

Charlotte Hamrick, Coming Clean

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

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, Recommended Reading: Ghosts, Rooms, Blue

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Well of the Moon Live Launch

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

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

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

Collin Kelley, A Spring Update

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

A: She learns to count words.

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

Erica Goss, Thousands of Words

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Mycocosmic and plutonic

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

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Corvus and Crater begins her debut

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

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

How the mystic
is baffled
by striving.

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

JJS, Ekstasis

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

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

Dick Jones, HOW IT IS.

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

Gary Barwin, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JUDAS

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

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

Magda Kapa, Switzerland

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

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

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

cowering under tables.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ecclesiastes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now they’re resting under the Red Cross.

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

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

Fokkina McDonnell, Easter Monday

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

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

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

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

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

Jill Pearlman, In Our Cups of Seder Freedom

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

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

Mat Riches, Hyblurbole and getting an (anth)ology

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

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

Matthew Paul, On Robert Hamberger

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

Tim Love, Jon Stone at Cambridge Writers

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, Being Human

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, National Poetry Competition and a Finished Creatures launch

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

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

Charles Boyle, A New Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Pratt, Early Morning Writing Time

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

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

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

from “Some Thoughts about the Ocean and the Universe”

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

Ann E. Michael, Astronomy

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

Billy Mills, Lee Harwood New Collected Poems: A Review

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

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

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

rob mclennan, Jessica Q. Stark, Buffalo Girl

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

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

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

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

The Last Uncle

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

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

—Linda Pastan

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, On cusps

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marian Christie, When the news broke

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, The Mysticism of Shakespeare

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

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

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

Bethany Reid, John Freeman’s Wind, Trees

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

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

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

Edmund Prestwich, James Fenton, ‘Wind’

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

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 41

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

A poem of mine is on one of them:

junipers
and the scent
of junipers

Bill Waters, New Jersey Botanical Garden haiku installation 2023

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

Jason Crane, POEM: The Age I Am Now

plum blossom time
the painting goes visiting
the tree outside

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 11

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: flowers and the dead. Plus more on AWP, thoughts on publishing and blogging, poetry in schools, which poets were our gateway drugs, and much more. Enjoy.


I’m about half way through reading Heather Clark’s magnificent biography of Sylvia Plath, Red Comet. […]

Plath was one of the first poets I discovered on my own terms, without instruction. I was in my mid twenties and completely lost in my own life, not knowing who I was or what I wanted. In the high ceilinged calm of the local library, down on the bottom shelf of the poetry and plays section, I picked up Ariel, and opened it at ‘The Hanging Man’ with no previous knowledge of Plath, her life, her myth, the story of her complex personality, her intense light.

By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.

I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

I’d never read anything like it. Something like an incantation, so bold, so big, those metaphors! Those similes! Along with a few other poets found in my local library, among them Ted Hughes, she was my gateway drug to reading and writing poetry. Because I’d read these poems I began exploring how to think about myself, my own life, my own complexities in creative writing, and I discovered how poetry is a transformative device, how pain can be described in beauty.

I had a migraine last week that took some recovering from. I took a rare day off work and simply went to bed. Like a child, I stayed in my PJs and ate the chocolates I’d got for my birthday the week before, drank tea and read the book, all day, without doing anything else. It was wonderful, even if I was feeling rotten, to have a day with Sylvia. I’ve read a few biographies of her, and her letters and journals, some of them skewed towards the myth of Plath and the demonisation of Hughes as a scapegoat for all things wrong in the fifties and sixties when Plath grew up in the claustrophobia of pure, undiluted cultural misogyny. When Hughes was able to simply be – be a poet, be an intellectual, be big and powerful, be a bit of a womaniser, be a bit brutal – but Plath had to fight, fight, fight to be a writer and not be forced into the sausage making machine of wife and mother.

Wendy Pratt, There is a voice within me/That will not be still

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or nonfiction?

Fiction was there too, back in grade school, but fell away, partly because I suck at linear time and thus narrativity, also because I was fascinated by the sounds of words, their materiality in the mouth and in the ear, and poetry offered more of that, even though the only early examples I had were my lavender-covered Best Loved Poems of the American People, the Bible, and before that, Goodnight Moon, which (the latter) was also where I first connected words to emotions, which is to say that as a lifelong insomniac, Goodnight Moon was a horror story: wtf an old rabbit lady whispering hush

I do remember a top-of-the-head-blown-off moment in grade school from a line in The Best Loved Poems, though. There’s a volta in John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” (which I still have memorized and can recite when intoxicated) that stopped me in my tracks—it’s after the first stanza when the collective first person shifts to the simple, devastating declarative—

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

I didn’t know what WWI was, really, that nine million soldiers died, didn’t know that at 51yo I’d be sitting here in Boise worried about my brother in Tbilisi being reached by potential nuclear fallout over the Black Sea because failed and incalculably traumatized empires die hard—none of that; I just realized that in a poem, dead people can say “We are the dead.” How astonishing. How terrifying. How magical. 

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kerri Webster (rob mclennan)

When I got home, I also didn’t work, meaning do any housework, making it a Slattern Day in the blog. As usual it is also a Poetry Someday, as I wrote two morning poems, one on my chalkboard, to a mouse I found dead in a trap this morning by the refrigerator (sorry, Mouse!) and one in a Lenten online workshop where lately I have been doing mostly prose, so a poem was a nice surprise. I did catch up on some computer work. Sigh… Tough week of hospital visits for my dad, so I was staying with my mom, therefore. Lost a little sleep. For escape…and because we saw the season finale of The Last of Us, I am reading World War Z. I am hoping the mouse does not reanimate.

Kathleen Kirk, Tiny…Dead Things

“Demi-Sonnet for the Dead” is just that, a half sonnet that reveals not the living, but the burying of those made victims of war. The speaker has a preference for pine-box or ash-urn burials, but never ditch or pit, and that burial, when done properly, requires “…one sifted fistful at a time, / dirt mixed with tears.  Sometimes blood.”  The collection’s concluding poem is “Ghazal for the Trees,” a fitting end that offers some hope that war is like seasons, that as it comes it also goes.  This ghazal hints of peace, of the song to be sung to trees.

Poet Dick Westheimer reminds us that while the war may not physically be outside our door, we nonetheless bear witness to these events and the stories that emerge. Overall, A Sword in Both Hands is a superb collection, and one to add to the shelf of keepers.

Kersten Christianson, Reading the Open Wound of War:  A Review of Westheimer’s, A Sword in Both Hands

Roll the unconscious swimmer onto their back and hook their arms to the buoy so you can swim them to safety. Calm the angry panic of the swimmer who is shapeshifting, terror activated into flailing: keep them calm so they don’t take you down, too. If they start to take you down, hold on, but sink: they do not want to go down, they want to go up, they will let go of you and you can pull them to safety once they stop struggling. Watch out for the heavy forms, guard your face from their fists and fingernails, keep an eye on their breathing as they struggle and flail.

Do not let go, Menelaus, no matter what he does.

You need his prophecy:

will you make it home?

And where are all those you love whom you have lost?

JJS, Proteus

Several years ago, aided and abetted by Literary Twitter, I started gathering poems with joy in mind. It was 2017, and I needed more joy, and so did you. We all still need it. So here is a slightly updated and revised compilation of those poems shared by readers and writers in a very long thread. I’ve linked to some; others you’ll have to hunt down yourself online and in print. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments, and we’ll keep this work-in-progress going.

Because Mary Oliver was right: “Joy is not made to be a crumb.”

Maggie Smith, Poems that make you glad to be alive

Last year, for several months, I actually read for joy. Then I tried to twist it into something useful. That will kill anything that needs to breathe. My relationship with poetry has been one of continual deaths and resurrections. There is no good reason for that now.

I walked Leonard this evening and took a photo of a small tree stump. The bark is pulling from the wood, and there is a thin, nearly texture-less layer of moss covering the wound. I wrote Afterlife on the Instagram note. (No hashtag. I am trying to wean myself from all of that.)

Scanning the bookshelves for an entry point, I see Albert Goldbarth’s 2015 collection Selfish. Seems like a good place to begin. With the teacher who simultaneously drew me in and pushed me away from poetry. The poet who had a way with poetry, and a way with unwritten words. Looking back I suppose I could find new perspectives from which to view that semester. Maybe knowing that is enough not to have to.

This evening I heard the phrase fluid perception in connection with memory.

Auden said, “Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.” I have so many mixed feelings. Mixed perspectives.

I flip through the book to see if I had even gotten to it whenever I bought it. No.

But my eye lands on a word in a poem: Afterlife.

“[…] I’ve witnessed that come-hither prestidigitorial trick / ten thousand times. An afterlife – is there an afterlife […]”

The title of the poem is “The Disappearance of the Nature Poem into the Nature Poem”. So, yes. This seems a good place to begin.

Ren Powell, Where to begin again?

Plants that are normally regenerating by now are doing nothing, the apple trees showing no buds. I’m trying to establish a new herb patch, so I’ve moved feverfew and lemon balm, pulled up grass and transplanted oxeye daisies, dug up all the leeks because a couple of years ago allium leaf miner appeared on my plot. It’s a fly, maggot and pupae and it shreds the plants, attacking garlic, onions and chives too. So Bridget’s taking a break from leeks and I’m wondering what it’ll do to the chives in the herb patches. I’ll miss leeks, chives and onions. What’s an allotment without them? My diet’s built on them. 

As I think about the old gardeners – what they knew and recorded, the books I’ve found with the gardening year illustrated in woodcuts, I realise I’m an old gardener too – two years off 70. It’s an odd time, acknowledging an absence of self in the world because age does that to a woman.  Gardening is a way to respond to the feeling of loss. If nothing else, to note this March is cold, the plants are late and holding back. Around me people are struggling. The ground is all we have. We walk on it, grow on it, eat from it. Keep remembering this, I tell myself, think of Jamaica Kincaid, always interesting, always with something new to say about gardening. Let March be what it is. Be grateful for being here. 

Jackie Wills, To be here and gardening

      In Virginia Beach, 4 dead humpback whales 

have washed up on the shore since
      the beginning of the year— you could say 

they are also a kind of lesson that hasn’t 
      been learned. Necropsies show injuries

consistent with vessel strikes in waters
      thick with ship traffic. If the world is ending,

each cetacean body that perishes on sand
      is a falling leaf, a wound bled open in the middle

of a horizon of false starts. We keep saying 
      there’s time, the window’s still open. Until it’s not. 

Luisa A. Igloria, Ode to the Never-ending

I have a file on my computer titled “abandoned drafts” where poems go to die. I don’t look in there all to often, but today I did, and was shocked to see I have 84 poems in my abandoned drafts. 84?! And these are the ones that made it out of my notebook (my first drafts are hand-written) and to the computer–not all of them make it to Word.

Once I heard that Sharon Olds does not revise any of her poems. At the time I thought “Liar!” but now I get what she means. I rarely revise (though I’m no Sharon Olds!) because either a poem works or it does not. Either it has that something that is worth going with, or it is merely a writing exercise.

The poems that don’t make it–the writing exercises–are still worthwhile. I can look through these abandoned drafts and sometimes see an idea, image, or turn of phrase that I explore better in a later poem. It’s good to allow oneself to make mistakes, experiment, see what sticks.

Renee Emerson, abandoned drafts

I hesitate to let that last paragraph stand. To share any of this post, if I’m being honest. I have struggled to write it. I have struggled to find words that are neither sentimental nor simplistic, to convey truths more complicated than our usual narratives about long unions tend to be. I have struggled to find words that are both kind and true. Because the truth is: My childhood was hard. My parents suffered. My brother suffered. I suffered. My children have suffered as a result of the ways in which my suffering formed me. These words feel unkind, and how do I explain that even in the face of these truths, I wouldn’t go back and tell those young, dumb kids not to do it? It’s not just because, like [Sharon] Olds, I want to live. (Though I do. I want to live.) It’s because I want us to get to where we are now.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that all you need is love, or that eventual benefit outweighs earlier harm, or that our pain didn’t matter or wasn’t significant. It did, and it was. But our suffering is not the whole story, and while things that happened cannot change over time, our stories, like people, can. I want to get to the story I know now.

Rita Ott Ramstad, I go back to February 1963

carpe diem, life is a learning curve, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, time heals, be the change I want to see in the world, the exhausting relentlessness of trying to be motivated, generous, at peace, forgiving in the presence of things happening for a reason, and lemons and fucking lemonade, because sometimes I don’t care that it’s over and I just want to cry because it happened, so it’s a good thing I can throw the latch on a small door in the corner of my mind and say hello to Robert Frost and ask him to tell me, again, in three words, what he’s learned about life: it goes on, he says.

things that happen 
when I least expect 
oak saplings 

Lynne Rees, Haibun ~ clichés I keep living through

No one has yet tasted a sugarcoated bullet. Weepers and rough sleepers are still dreaming and don’t yet possess faces looking like they’ve been carved out by knives.

In these quiet moments, all you can hear is a faint ringing in early morning’s ears, a tinnitus of distant sirens.

Cemetery lawns are still dewy and green, unstained by sadness.

Soon, there’ll be car horns and alarms. A rush hour splatter of brake lights Jackson Pollock’ed across highways and boulevards.

Rich Ferguson, In these moments before dawn

How did you first engage with poetry?

I randomly found a book by e.e. cummings on the street when I was 14 years old. 100 poems. I was already a reader but this was a different species. e.e. didn’t title his poems. e.e. ignored punctuation rules. e.e. played games with the universe. I was almost as fascinated with this new world as I was with girls. Almost.

Jay Passer : part two (Thomas Whyte)

I realized the other day that I am coming up on 20 years of blogging–since 2005 here, and before that on the now defunct Xanga. […]

On one hand, I understand the need to commit to the process. To the journey. The experience of getting things out as a purging or meditative activity. I tend to use the blog as a way of thinking out loud about things mostly, but also as a record. Also to foster discussions, even if they are only just for my own ears and typing fingers.

I took rather easily to pubic blogging, and for a while, was determined to keep a print journal less for other’s eyes, but really, they wound up being similar. I decided that if there were posts I didn’t want to share, I’d just make them private, but even this I never really took advantage of.  In some ways, making my thoughts coherent enough for other eyes, for whoever may be reading this, helps me be more concise and thoughtful of what I am saying, and by extension, thinking. I am probably far more personal in my poems than I am here, so maybe that is part of it.  Private is a whole other thing when you use it as fodder for art. 

I occasionally check the back-end stats and it does seem there is traffic, more than I would have guessed, but even writing here, like social media these days, seems like shouting into a void. So in some ways, it almost is like writing for a limited number of eyes.  Possibly only mine and the few people who still read poetry blogs. But even if no one reads it, it’s still a record and a conversation. Both process and artifact.

Kristy Bowen, process and artifact

Publication means nothing. But it doesn’t mean that we’re doing nothing as publishers. For 20 years I’ve been publishing Rattle magazine, and that has value—but what specifically is that value? What service are we actually providing by editing and creating a magazine?

I’ve come to realize that what I’ve been providing for my entire career isn’t publication at all: it’s curation, from the Latin “curare,” which means to take care of. I’m not a publisher; I’m a curator. My job is to sift through thousands of submissions each week and highlight, in a respectful and meaningful way, those poems that others might enjoy reading. We have thousands of readers who appreciate the way we curate poems; they like our tastes, and know that if they open a book or click a link to the Rattle website, what they read will probably be worth their time.

In the abundance of the digital age, curation is a far more significant service than publication. More literature is being written today than at any time in history, at a scale that’s difficult to imagine. Millions of books are published each year. Millions of people are actively writing poetry and fiction right now. It would be impossible for anyone to develop any grasp of what writing is worth their time. Duotrope lists over 7,500 literary publishers—and that still isn’t enough.

The need for curation is immense. And that’s what the publishers and editors of the literary world are actually doing—building and providing access to an audience that appreciates their tastes.

But we still think of ourselves as publishers, and still demand that submissions to our magazine be “previously unpublished.” That phrase is what’s known as a term of art, something with a special meaning for a particular field or profession. And it’s become a damaging term of art.

Imagine how literature would thrive if we could share our art with our friends in the medium of the era. How much more fun would online open mics be if everyone knew they were free to share the poem they were most proud of—the one they just wrote yesterday? Rattle’s weekly podcast includes a supportive and enriching open lines segment, but most poets are hesitant to share and “spoil” their newest work. The joy of sharing what we create is one of the main things that sustains us as artists. We shouldn’t have to wait years wading through rejection letters to feel it.

Timothy Green, Uncurated: The Case for a New Term of Art

In my research (read: Googling) as I spent time with La Movida by Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta (Nightboat Books) I came across the following lines shared by more than one Tumblr account:

There’s a weapon I wish
I could wield
when I feel the vomit of your gaze
hit the side of my face.
I want an education
in remembering
and I want an education
in forgetting.
I fast until the basket is done,
throw my maidenhead into the trash,
and relish the solidarity
of absolute feminine horror.

These lines come from the poem “Men Who Cannot Love” and serve as a solid example of Luboviski-Acosta’s poetic sensibility throughout this collection. The direct engagement with metaphor juxtaposed with the pathos of the speaker’s voice here make for an immediate and visceral reading experience.

And yet, for the dynamic flex of technique, the lines–here and elsewhere in this collection–feel relatable, biting but not bitter. I would call this a bright emotional range: bright meaning joyful but also illuminating, like flame. Just the kind of thing to share across the glowing screens of social media, a glow sought out for the intimacy it promises.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: La Movida by Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta

  1. On the first morning of AWP 2023 in Seattle, I led a panel about teaching and writing risk with four amazing women who tell you the truth even when it scalds you: Jan Beatty, Destiny O. Birdsong, Erika Meitner, and Asali Solomon. Before the event began, Jan slipped me a present wrapped in purple tissue paper: a labrodorite stone to open my third eye. At the end of the panel, which had ranged over many topics and approaches, she whispered, “But we didn’t talk about It.” Then I got pulled away.
  2. Later I saw Jan in the book fair and asked her what “It” was, and she gave me a good answer, but I was already spinning other possible meanings and kept doing so all weekend. What are we not talking about?
  3. AWP always gets existential for me. Who am I to these people, the loudly famous and the incognito, the overhyped and the underrated, the shy initiates and gregarious elders?
Lesley Wheeler, Occult AWP

RM Haines: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Amalia! I first read your work in Protean, with the poem ,“PROTECT YOUR FAMILY FROM LEAD IN YOUR HOME” — a poem I really love. That one was published in December 2021, so how do you see your work developing from there to the pieces in this new book?

Amalia Tenuta: Several pieces in this collection were written around the same time as “PROTECT…” and in that regard are similar in their engagement with the lyrical “I” in a register of radical romanticism, their commitment to a type of totality thinking (“everything there is has everything there is to look at” to quote Bernadette Mayer), and are frustrated by lyrical experientialism, “leading me to believe you should never write a poem / about what you did not do”. Here, not much has changed.

I’m disinterested in poetics beholden to an inevitable abstraction of state violence, but this is – allegedly – very difficult to do in poetry, you know: poetry is supposed to be like the hospice of sentiment, and political poetry – we are told in poetry workshops – is contingently overdetermined (derogatory). So, in practice, I kinda ditched that scene, or at least began searching for poetics outside of “poetry”.

I mean I’m not a very good poet [Editor: Don’t believe her!] Most of my work I’m interested in, or working on now is in feminist political economy, data studies, STS, etc… and I think the poets I admire the most come from, or at least tend to that torsion between poetry and “theory” or w/e (Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Andrea Abi-Karam, Jackie Wang to name just a few). But in this turn away from poetry I encountered critiques of representation, of metaphor and abstraction, of language etc… and in identifying these critiques in my practice I developed I guess what you could call an imperfect epistemic duty, right–who and what community am I accountable to and for, you know–what are the stakes here in writing this, on the ground?

R. M. Haines, Interview w/Amalia Tenuta

Partly due to the pressure of the old toad work, I’ve been in the poetry doldrums for much of this year, so it was nice to get a short piece up on The Friday Poem again, here – a 100-word response to a poem by Geoff Hattersley as one of a series of brief commentaries on ‘funny’ poems. The poem I chose is, as you’ll see, both funny and deeply serious at the same time, which is no mean feat to pull off. I could’ve chosen any number of his poems, in the same way that I could’ve chosen numerous Matthew Sweeney poems, but that thar Mat Riches got there before me, here. (I’m reminded at this point that, a week or two ago, I heard Paul Stephenson – another brilliantly funny yet serious poet, like Mat himself – read a poem entitled ‘Not Matthew’.)

Had Mat not quite rightly alighted on Sweeney, I might’ve chosen ‘Upstairs’, first published in the LRB – here – and collected in The Bridal Suite, Cape, 1997. It’s typical of Sweeney’s very quirky narrative style, moving from funny to very dark within a heartbeat. His poems and worldview were often described as ‘surreal’, but that’s a lazy label. It’s surely just a recognition that if you live life with your senses tuned to high-ish alert you will notice that it’s chocker with non sequiturs, which paradoxically make more sense than not.

Matthew Paul, On ‘funny’ poems

Sometimes in the business of reviewing you come across a collection that is so impressive in its quality and so layered and complex in meaning that it challenges one to find words to do it justice. The Keeper of Aeons (Broken Spine Arts, 2022) by Matthew M.C. Smith is one of those collections. This is a beautifully structured combination of prose and poetry that takes us through the rugged rural landscape of Wales, back through history to the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods and forwards through time and space to an apocalyptic future when humankind has destroyed Earth’s environment. The writing is at times reverential, as he reflects upon the lives of our distant ancestors, and at times it is deeply disquieting as he imagines the future we are heading towards. Above all, however, it is informed by a sense of awe and wonder at the magnificence of the universe which we inhabit and by his desire to find meaning within it.

It is no exaggeration to say that Smith’s descriptions of the Welsh landscape rival those of R.S. Thomas. In both their writing the landscape is not merely described, it is experienced. In Sweyne’s Howes, Smith writes: ‘My feet grip moss-frayed rocks as my walk edges lurid clusters of purple heather, the stinging brush of yellow gorse on knees and calf muscles. A lizard flickers, skittering, Sun-basked stillness. I climb a cascade of barely submerged, stones, scattered footholds up steep uneven routes, stop and turn. The ocean’s gleam of gold tide-lapped, serpentine headlands.’ The syntax gives the description a breathlessness, the breathlessness of a man climbing a steep incline, but also of a man whose breath is taken away by the magnificence of the place, captured so eloquently in the culminating image of the ‘gold tide-lapped, serpentine headlands’ and in the finely observed sensory details: ‘the lurid clusters of purple heather’, the ‘stinging brush’, the lizard ‘skittering’.

For Smith, however, the landscape is not merely a source of delight, a source of ‘serenity and majesty’ (Mynydd Drummau), it is the custodian of the past, a keep of aeons, perhaps.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘The Keeper of Aeons’ by Matthew M.C. Smith

I went to States of Independence in Leicester today. I caught up with D.A. Prince and Roy Marshall (both as charming as ever), and went to some talks. Most interesting was one about AI and creativity.

  1. Simon Perril looked at the history of creativity, asking “Is self-expression all there is?”. He mentioned Chatterton, Dada, Oulipo, Flarf, found poetry etc. I hadn’t seen “Tree of Codes” by Jonathan Safran Foer. Curation, recycling, and re-tooling have always been part of the tradition (moreso in pre-copyright times). What happens when writers put together pre-existing phrases rather than pre-existing words?
  2. Prof Tracy Harwood followed this up by showing milestones in the progression of AI – Lovelace, Turing, Deep Blue, then concentrating on art and writing. The art examples especially impressed me. Some artists using AI describe the results as collaborations, which is fair enough.
Tim Love, States of Independence (2023)

So there we are (well, I am, and maybe you are too) in the ‘upper-second’ sector of the poetry world. There’s plenty of fluidity of course.

Scenario one: You get an email from The Rialto accepting two of your poems, or you win mid-range poetry competition, or your book is reviewed in the Guardian… HUZZAH, move up to position A on the diagram. You’re nearly there! Look how close it is to 1st!

Scenario 2: you haven’t written anything you’re happy with in months. The last six responses from magazines have been rejections. It’s been years since that competition success/big magazine acceptance/wildly successful reading you did. Go directly to position B and stay there until you pull your socks up. That Lower 2nd is beckoning you, and the bright young things are pushing in!

So that, my poet friends, is the game of snakes and ladders that we’re all playing, not necessarily knowingly, not necessarily willingly, in fact you might be thinking it’s a load of bullshit.

But for some reason I take comfort in this analogy. The open book, the invitation to read and write, and look! – the middle section is the most prominent, the most visible. That RECTO page is mighty big, with room for us all to be a little easier on ourselves I think, still with plenty of scope for ambition, some healthy competition … and the chance to be successful enough.

Robin Houghton, How to be successful…enough

Decades ago, I walked with friends along the beach at Sullivan’s Island.  One of those friends gestured towards a row of beach cottages and said, “That’s the inspiration for a thousand bad water color paintings.”  He wasn’t wrong.  

But of course, it’s also the inspiration for the kind of paintings that people want to hang on their walls, for better or worse.  It’s the view so many of us wish we had as we stare out at our surly suburbs.  It’s no wonder that so many painters try their hand at capturing it.

As I drove back to my seminary apartment yesterday, I looked out over mountain vistas and had similar thoughts about poetry.  I thought, I’m viewing the inspiration for thousands of bad poems.  But it does seem worth capturing in some format.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Clouds of Snow, Clouds of Petals

We row a boat across the head of a sunflower.
It takes a long time.
Neither of us can see anything but the sunflower and the sky.
You say Shall we stop for a while, I’m tired.
We lay the oars in the bottom of the boat.
We lay back and doze in the afternoon sun.
We feel the sunflower swaying gently under us.
You say We could just stay here, it’s so nice.
I say, Maybe we could, yes, maybe we could.
We drift in and out of sleep.
The sunflower’s stem is drying out.
Soon its petals will wither and drop.

Bob Mee, THE SUNFLOWER, THE LOST WOMAN AND AN INDEX OF POETS

I was brought up in post-war Widnes, where bombed out and demolished houses created areas of scrub land where only tough plants grew. This included rosebay willow herb, sometimes called fireweed, because it can shoot up fast even where there has been a fire; coltsfoot, those tough-leaved, tough-rooted little plants that are rarely seen these days, and sunny dandelions, with their tooth-shaped leaf edges. My mum loved flowers, and I never missed an opportunity to pick any I saw growing wild, to take home. I must have been around 5 when I picked these. Some children nearby sang that rhyme at me, but I paid little heed, as I’d been taught to reject such silly superstitions. I took them home and she was very pleased to put them in water, saying they had faces like the sun.

In later life, when she had a terminal liver disease, her hair, which was often fretted, and by then snowy white, looked exactly like the seed-clocks of the dandelions we used to blow to tell the time. Her skin was yellow from her failing liver. She had died by the time I wrote this poem. She was only 69. I approach this age myself and I still think of her every day.

Angela Topping, Dandelions for Mother’s Day

For three weeks, I was a guest: to different showers
And toilet flushes in the West, to coffee houses, to apps,
to rosemary as box shrub.  A guest to my suitcase.  
To hot tubs and skin in the garden of my tiny cottage. 
Guest to stretches of blacktop like a zip, Lily Valley Church and Rainbow Donuts.

Guest to the mirror: my daughter hosted me. 
Hit me in the gut.  Made me think of another paradigm: host/parasite.
I made a typo and wrote paradise. 

Jill Pearlman, The Guest

My mind’s been wandering a great deal lately. This at a time when focus would be quite useful, and yet–I don’t mind a little mental meandering. I think that, akin to daydreaming, a lack of focus can lead to creative thinking. Of course, the downside is that it may also lead to lollygagging and a lack of ambition.

I’ve been thinking about the way contemporary Americans use the word “engagement.” Not as in marriage proposals–that definition hasn’t changed–but in statistics, marketing, self-help, and education. My department at the university has been directed to “foster student engagement.” Our administration wants us to find ways to engage students, but it seems what’s meant by that is simply to attract their attention amid the myriad distractions and attractions of modern life. In my area of the college, where students go to get a little extra assistance in their coursework or their educational plans, we have long been aware that we can’t reach everyone who needs help and that we cannot create enthusiasm or involvement. Apparently, engagement is supposed to lead to motivation. That would be a miracle. Like many young people when I was a young person, today’s young people are often rather undirected. Wandering. […]

I’m with Walt Whitman and the loafing approach to observation and creative thinking, but that probably won’t be sufficient for a nation with a population of 336 million people.

Ann E. Michael, Wandering

Yesterday MacMillan publishers and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education announced the result of research done on poetry in primary schools – the first of its kind since a report by Ofsted in 2007.

The conclusions make depressing, but not entirely surprising, reading: teachers don’t feel confident teaching poetry, aren’t trained to teach poetry and there aren’t many books in the classroom. In response the organisations have launched a project delivering training to thirty teachers – MacMillan also have a new book.

Reading the article I couldn’t help but think of the huge brouhaha last year over the poetry curriculum at GCSE. The argument revolved around the removal of a poem by a certain poet called Philip Larkin, who found himself collateral damage in an effort to bring in more diverse and/or contemporary poets. I say huge: I don’t know how far it ‘cut through’ but there was a period where you couldn’t move for articles in political magazines decrying the decision as, in the words of the (now disgraced) Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, ‘cultural vandalism’.

At the time I found the whole debate frustratingly narrow, even damaging. I was no fan of the decision to remove ‘An Arundel Tomb’ itself, especially when there was still space for James Fenton’s ‘In Paris With You’ – great, sleazy fun but not the kind of poem which offers much on a second reading. Fenton, of course, is as pale and stale as Larkin by now (sorry Mr Fenton), so you wonder whether he kept his place partly made because the poem’s rollicking rhythms and repetition lend it nicely to the formulaic rubrics used in modern examinations.

Jeremy Wikeley, Other Worlds: Poetry in Schools

Hello from my post-AWP hangover. I don’t drink but that doesn’t seem to matter at AWP as it’s 3-ish days of nonstop poetry / tabling / reading / chatting / everything. I arrived home at 1am on Monday morning, exhausted from the trip, the flights, and the time change. I love AWP, I really do. It’s the biggest writing conference in the country and it’s guaranteed I’m going to see writer friends I haven’t seen since the previous year’s conference, I’m going to find and fall in love with new collections of poetry, I’m going to chat with new people and make new friends. This year was all that and more.

My newest collection of poetry, Her Whole Bright Life, published by Write Bloody, had its soft launch at the conference. The official pub date is 4 April but my publisher was able to have advance copies at the conference. And here’s the exciting news – my book SOLD OUT over the weekend! To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement. Holding my new book in my hands, doing three readings from it, signing it for people, and then learning every last copy at AWP had been snagged – well, that’s a high I won’t soon forget.

Courtney LeBlanc, Post-AWP Hangover

As my regular readers know I did not attend AWP in Seattle this year. Instead, I did the Virtual Conference.

The virtual conference for me this year was a flop. It was not worth the discounted price. 

I did this weekend receive a SWAG care package from my friend and poetry author Marianne Mersereall AKA Wild Honey Creations.  She knows how much I look forward to the swag at each conference, something that doesn’t come with the virtual Conference, I have to thank Marianne for this kind deed. Not only a selection of Conference swag but some personal notes on recommended publishers for my work as well   Thank you so much!  (((big hug))) […]

There was simply so much that was not available. I tuned into some streaming and pre-recorded conference panels. They were not the ones I wanted to see, and they were honestly not that impressive to me. Perhaps the subject matter had something to do with it, but again, I could just not get the panels I wanted.

Michael Allyn Wells, AWP 2023 From Home or SWAG in a Box

Three days after AWP, I got a head injury that landed me in the hospital (concussions and MS do not play well together), so I am literally and figuratively still in recovery, but I was able to get out in the sunshine a bit today, plant a few flowers. I’ve been trading e-mails, got a few rejections and acceptances, but generally feel behind. I’m very lucky to not have caught anything (knock on wood), although I was very nervous about catching covid (or pneumonia or strep or something) at AWP. I am so happy I met so many new people and saw so many old friends. Connection is really important to me – even though it’s hard at three-day conferences with 9000 people to really make those real connections with people – but I do my best.

I’ve also started reading through my AWP stack of lit mags and books, although not as fast as I hoped (head injury really slowed down my reading, but I did use audio books). So far, I really enjoyed Dana Levin’s essay on divination and poetry in the latest issue of American Poetry Review, listened to Sabrina Orah Mark’s book of fairy-tale theme memoir/essays, Happily, and sent two submissions to journals that asked for them at AWP.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Still Processing/Recovering from AWP (with Pictures), Spring Begins, Beginning to Read through my AWP stack, an In-Depth Review from Flare, Corona

from Taksim Square

through Istiklal street
to the Galata tower

how quickly
names and roads
become old friends

4.
returning from Konya

I buy 22 volumes
of Rumi’s Divan -i Kebir

nineteen
are still waiting
to be read

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 38

some nodding yes
some nodding no:
daffodils

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: March ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 5

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, I was charmed by the outpouring of affection for Linda Pastan on social media, most of us not realizing how many other Pastan fans were out there until she died. Judging by the size of the reaction in my feeds, she was at least as popular as Charles Simic, which might surprise a critic or two. So Pastan appreciation bookends a digest full of new book and manuscript news, strategies for writing better or more regularly, and the usual weird and wonderful assortment of essays, reviews, and poems. Enjoy,


I am still in shock that Linda Pastan has died. I liked knowing she was in the world. We first met when I was sixteen and she visited my high school library to give a poetry reading. 

Twenty years later we met again at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. She was the one that suggested I return to graduate study for an MFA. As she hugged me goodbye at the end of the two weeks, she asked me to keep in touch with her so she could follow my career. I looked over my shoulder sure she must be speaking to someone else. As a creating writing professor now myself, I’m stunned by how much power that one sentence had to change my life. And yes, reader, we did stay in touch. I last saw her when she came out to Seattle with her husband for a reading. […]

I wonder what it means to write one superb poem after another but not to win the Pulitzer or become Poet Laureate, to not be given the gold ring by the powers that be? Pastan did not take multiple lovers (as far as I know) or commit suicide; she did not behave badly. I remember telling a professor in my graduate program that she had been an important influence and I could sense his dismissiveness. I’ve since heard that same story from several women poets who wanted to study her work. Why not Eavan Boland was weirdly the response.

I am hopeful that someone organizes a book of critical essays on Pastan’s work or perhaps is already at work on a biography. Perhaps that will be me…

Susan Rich, Linda Pastan (1932 – 2023)

In the Belly

As a woman carries an insect, unconscious
of the sign it shapes with diplomatic footfalls
across her skin, she carries me. As a lake
lifts the sky’s image, all burnished admiration, or
proffers a crushed cup, a leaf, a rainbow slick
of grease. […]

“In the Belly” is one translation of Imbolc, a.k.a. St. Brigid’s day, midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, a time for lambing, spring cleaning, and many blessings, including lengthening daylight. I’m no expert on Irish, pagan, Christian, or any other kind of festival, but this seasonal turn matters to me. I wrote the poem above around Imbolc years ago, when a sensation of being held up by a benevolent force arrived suddenly and very strongly. I perceived the feeling itself, and the poem accompanying it, as gifts.

Lesley Wheeler, She carries me

It is strange how an absence of weight makes me feel heavier rather than lighter. Her warm, black-furred body, usually pressed against my hip all night, has been replaced by emptiness when I reach out for her in the dark and fall into a depth of grief I thought had passed. Perhaps that one small grief for a cat calls out to the others that are still sheltering in my heart. And maybe all they want to do is shake off their sleepiness for a while, take a walk around my bed. Still here, they say, proving to me, once again, that grief is the proof of great love. But this addition of a cat’s life to the parade seems, for now, almost unbearable. This will pass, I know. We owe it to ourselves, the living, as well as to the memory of the dead, to turn our faces to the light of the world, remind ourselves of the joy we have gathered, the joy there is yet to be gathered. 

Lynne Rees, Prose poem ~ When cats curl up in your heart and fall asleep there

This year, as I thought about the feast day of Saint Brigid, I thought, I could make a woven cross. Sure, I don’t have reeds or rushes, but I have cloth. I have so much cloth. Just a year ago, I didn’t have enough to even think about a small project, much less a bigger one. But now I have enough cloth for several large projects and any small project I might want to do. […]

I am glad to have had this experience, although it took longer than I thought it would, about an hour from start to finish.  I tried to do it meditatively, giving thanks for women like Saint Brigid, who founded some of the first Christian monasteries in Ireland, most famously the legendary one in Kildare.  She also founded a school of art that focuses on metal working and illumination. 

Now let me go out for a walk.  We got our first dusting of snow last night, and it’s beautiful to look at from inside.  Let me go get a closer look.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Saint Brigid’s Cross in Cloth

There is maybe a melancholy
in the burdened curve
of its filaments, but
there’s a wisdom too
within the flesh of its anthers.

And, if you peer close,
there on the single stamen eye,
the limpid markings
that they call old man’s tears.

Dick Jones, OLD MAN’S TEARS

Nine years ago, I reviewed Rebecca Farmer’s first pamphlet, Not Really (Smith-Doorstep, 2014) on this blog, admiring its subtle treatment of love, suffering and death, noting…

the role of ghosts. They crop up in several poems. They are characters. They take on human traits. As such, their haunting qualities are exacerbated.

And today, as I sit down to write about her second pamphlet, A Separate Appointment (New Walk Editions, 2022), I’m struck by how much of my previous review holds true for these new poems, which seem to present two different strands – roughly speaking, hospitals and those afore-mentioned ghosts – that intertwine. In these poems, Farmer reminds us that death cannot exist without life, and that the living have to contend with others’ deaths.

In this context, the final stanza of ‘The Ghosts regret joining a self-help group’ provides an excellent illustration of the latent tension between life and death, Farmer’s work inhabiting a no-man’s land between the two.

Matthew Stewart, The intertwining of life and death, Rebecca Farmer’s A Separate Appointment

Weekend mornings are for writing, and submitting writing, and keeping the coffee hot and topped off. This morning, I’ve supplemented that routine with the read of an interview, the listen to a podcast, and a read of an article written by poet friends; each piece as diverse and wonderful as the thinker writers behind it. Worth your time to read and listen and marvel. Thank you, Eric Coughlin Hollowell, Lisa Stice, and Vivian Faith Prescott.

Kersten Christianson, Untangling by Beach, Military Poetry, and Salmonberry Dreams

snow
the lights of the houses
on the river

Jim Young [no title]

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they  even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

There are loads of roles writers can take on. Amanda Gorman took on a public role with her inauguration poem “The Hill We Climb.” Jericho Brown and Ilya Kaminsky seem to be part of larger discourses that go beyond poetry.

I often remind myself of all the Archibald MacLeish books that lined the book aisles of every thrift store in America I’ve ever been to. We’re all writing in a historical context about things that address very specific historical contexts. If we’re lucky one or a few of pieces might speak beyond that, but that isn’t really up to us.

I recently read Ted Hughes’ translation of Racine’s Phedre. I think poets translating poets is an essential role that those of us who are bi- or multilingual should consider. It’s a service to the craft.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with David Harrison Horton

The other evening I was in Lewes listening to Jackie Wills and Grace Nichols being interviewed by Mark Hewitt. One of the topics they discussed was the idea of having a ‘personal canon’, in other words those poets or poetry collections that have either been formative influences, or that you dip into regularly for inspiration. The talk was of how important it was to remember that poetry is very much a matter of personal taste, and that it’s pretty difficult for everyone to agree on ‘the poetry canon’, except perhaps for Shakespeare and a handful of other ‘greats’.

It made me think of the huge variety of ‘exemplar’ poems you come across in poetry workshops. On Grace’s list were Derek Walcott, Elizabeth Jennings and Sylvia Plath. She very cannily declined to mention the names of any living poets, for fear (she said) of upsetting anyone, since many of her contemporaries are her friends.

I started wondering who would be on my list.

Robin Houghton, A quickfire ‘personal canon’

I was especially pleased to hear Pat Winslow’s poem ‘As for the owl’ which carries a dedication to the late, much-missed Helen Kidd. By a strange coincidence, Helen was one of the members of the Old Fire Station Poetry Workshop (led by Tom Rawling by in the 1980s) ) about which I talk in my piece.

I also talk about growing up in rural Wiltshire in a house with few books. My years spent pursuing science – beginning to study medicine at Guys Hospital in London – then my drastic shift to studying Philosophy and English at Lancaster University, where I worked with the Scottish poet, David Craig, on one of the first Creative Writing courses in the UK. At Worcester College, Oxford, in the 1980s I was writing a DPhil thesis on the poet Shelley while also attending poetry workshops with WN Herbert, Peter Forbes, Pauline Stainer, Keith Jebb, Anne Born (and Tom and Helen).

Kathleen also asked me to say something about the poets I go back to and I talk a little (and read from) Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and WS Merwin. Trying to pick contemporary poets to highlight is an impossible task but, on this occasion at least, I speak about Marvin Thompson, Nancy Campbell and John McCullough.

Martyn Crucefix, Interviewed on ‘Poetry Worth Hearing’

Can’t force a poem,
only invite it.
Like spring.

Keep the door propped
the circuits open
bag packed

for when
Elijah arrives, singing
better days coming.

Build a perch
for the goldfinch
from painted willow.

Even if
it’s hard to believe.
Especially then.

Rachel Barenblat, Open

If nuclear winter were just a long dream of spring.

If clocks took an occasional time out to give us more breathing room between good times and the grave.

If lies wore prison stripes and could be easily recognized.

If police brutality was nothing more than that song talking about how early one morning, the sun was shining,

and everything was tangled up in blue.

Rich Ferguson, Blue

Throughout my reading of Year of the Murder Hornet I kept marveling over Cane’s ability to linger over the spaces in between things. Specifically, the choice to include additional white space within the lines of each poem emphasizes both how stalled shifts in the pandemic can make us feel as well as how necessary it is to take our time. By take our time I mean in terms of reading the situation — whether it be assessing what the reality behind phrases like “the new normal” actually is like, to preparing (mentally, physically) for the changes brought on by decisions at our jobs or by the government which we have no say in.

The poems “Essay on Gentrification” and “Minority Report” also work in this vein and are good examples of how this collection takes its time interrogating the nuances of life during a pandemic, nuances that are often lost in debates and political discourse.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Year of the Murder Hornet by Tina Cane

Lee Ann Roripaugh’s fifth volume of poetry, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 (Milkweed Editions, 2019), was named a “Best Book of 2019” by the New York Public Library, selected as a poetry Finalist in the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards, cited as a Society of Midland Authors 2020 Honoree in Poetry, and was named one of the “50 Must-Read Poetry Collections in 2019” by Book Riot. She is the author of four other volumes of poetry […]

What are you working on?

I’m currently in the process of finishing up my sixth volume of poetry, a manuscript titled Kaze no Denwa / The Wind Phone. While conducting research for my prior book, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, I learned that a man named Itaru Sasaki had placed a phone booth with a disconnected rotary-dial phone in a hilltop garden overlooking Otsuchi, Japan—a century-old town decimated by the 2011 tsunami. Sasaki originally used the phone to process his grief over the loss of a beloved family member. He described these conversations as phone calls made “on the wind.” After the tsunami, survivors who’d lost loved ones started visiting Sasaki’s phone booth from all along the Tohoku coast—making pilgrimages to speak to their dead on what became known as the kaze no denwa, or “wind phone.” Apparently, visitors would share their daily news, or express their regrets. Sometimes callers would plead with their deceased to please come back, or beseech them to look out for one another. Sometimes they’d simply say that they were lonely. In the most heartbreaking phone calls, callers would apologize for not having been able to save their dead. 

Needless to say, I found these accounts of the wind phone resonant and incredibly moving. But also, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about intersections of loss (environmental loss; personal loss; parental losses due to aging, death, and dementia; losses due to trauma; losses due to disasters such as COVID-19 or climate change), I began to ask myself what it might mean to write a “wind phone” poem. And so I began drafting direct-address elegiac poems that speak to these types of grief, putting them in conversation with one another: my father’s death, my mother’s Alzheimer’s, extinction, climate change, COVID-19, as well as psychological and emotional losses due to abuse, illness, or trauma.

These direct-address poems are interspersed with poems written in five parts that circulate associationally and linguistically around a single word, or concept. I’ve been thinking of these poems as “mappings.” I also wanted to set these mappings in dialogue with an ancient Japanese map called “Jishin-no-ben.” “Jishin-no-ben” represents an ouroboros, a dragon eating its own tail, circling around a geographical area in Japan. This map was apparently meant to serve as a visual explanation, or warning, for the earthquakes and tsunamis that had occurred there. These are poems in which I map out a larger context for the disasters creating the griefs, or losses, that are spoken on the wind. Each section also contains a hybrid prose poem/lyric flash essay “notes” piece that unpacks some of the related psychological underpinnings, or fallout, of trauma. 

Thomas Whyte, Lee Ann Roripaugh : part one

It is one of those mornings when I put my fingers on the keys and stare a few moment at my hands. The pattern of blood vessels on the back of each. Ropey and bluish, like a coarse crochet work. There are still things these hands will learn to do, or learn to do better. They are the rough beauty of solid machinery. They are their own “back in the day” and still going.

They are the touchstone for earned wisdom. Sometimes offering the touch that frightens young and old alike. Where bones become stone, and foreshadow everything overwrought in our poems.

As here.

I wonder what it would be like to live without mirrors – without looking at oneself, or pieces of oneself, as a constructed and staged other.

Ren Powell, Can We Look Away?

I haven’t felt like writing lately. I mean, as in I don’t even have the desire nor does it bother me. Or does it? I saw a call for micro poems this morning which closes today and began looking through my files. But that’s done writing, not to-be-done writing, so it doesn’t count. I keep seeing calls for submissions and think should I try to write something? but the thought flows away like a cloud with another destination. I have made some minor changes in the essay I’ve been working on from time to time. I have a vague feeling I’d like to sub it here but I don’t know that I’ll make the deadline. I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing is a general malaise or a rebellion. (Isn’t that a provocative statement?)

Charlotte Hamrick, Reading and Eating

A few days ago, realizing that the daily haiku practice was reminding me of why I stopped last year, I changed the task on my daily to-do list from “haiku” to “write something.” That’s what I’m trying to do each day. It doesn’t need to be a haiku or a poem or a story or any specific thing. I just need to write something. I guess I mean something more than a photo caption or a tweet. Something that exists for its own sake, if that makes any sense.

Most days I’ve written something. As time passes, I’ll probably come up with a stronger feeling about what “write something” means to me. For now, though, I like that it’s nebulous. The idea is to just keep using my brain and heart via the medium of words. The rest will work itself out.

Jason Crane, Write something

They say when the migratory cranes come to the
Phobjika Valley, they circle the monastery three
times. They fly around it again when they leave
after winter. The places we go to sink deep into
our bones.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 32

It’s been a challenging few months for poetry.

I don’t know of another art form that is subjected to such frequent death threats. When have you heard someone proclaim the death of music, dance, or the visual or performing arts? None of these seems to inspire the type of fury that poetry does. As Muriel Rukeyser wrote in “The Resistances,” the first chapter of her essential book The Life of Poetry, “Anyone dealing with poetry and the love of poetry must deal, then, with the hatred of poetry, and perhaps even more with the indifference which is driven toward the center.”

Erica Goss, Poetry Survives Latest Death Threat

The road from spark to book is long. Longer than you would guess. For some writers, that moment from inspiration to finished book can span decades. My newest collection, Corvus and Crater, was a year in the writing and revising. That’s pretty quick, even for a poet. After you finish the manuscript, there is the long road to publication – and well, that took three years. But I’m very excited to announce that Corvus and Crater will be released next month by the wonderful publisher Salmon Poetry.

Corvus and Crater sprung from my fear that with the weight of responsibilities of my beloved work at Storyknife Writers Retreat and the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference I would just never write again. That I would become a full-time arts administrator, zero-time poet. A past poet. So, on my birthday in 2019, I set myself an assignment: write a poem each day with fifty-four syllables – six lines of nine syllables apiece. There was no end destination – it was just a way to keep myself going.

The limits of the form really pressurized my writing, and the poems became a conversation with myself and with the books I was reading and the ideas that I was surrounding myself with. And because they were all written within a one year period – they held together as a manuscript. Here’s the description I wrote for the book: the enigmatic poems of Corvus and Crater explore a single winter though the eyes of Crow. The wheeling constellations, seasonal rituals, and Alaska’s charismatic landscape feature in a struggle to claim home and bodily agency, to control the myths and stories that form us. Composed of fifty-four sestets of fifty-four syllables apiece, Corvus and Crater resides in the tension between gleam and darkness, introspection and outward conflict, the self and the world.  

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Introducing Corvus and Crater

Here’s a bit of glad tidings. My manuscript The Red Queen Hypothesis won the Prairie State Poetry Prize and will be published before the end of 2023–maybe even by the end of this summer! It’s thrilling to have won an award like this.

In fact, I should be jumping up and down with glee that RQH finally will see print, as it has taken me numerous submissions, two acceptances that did not come to fruition, and a considerable number of pauses to reassess the manuscript. But my initial feeling is more of relief than elation. Relief that now I can turn all of my focus to newer work: a manuscript nearly completed and one that I’m just starting to collate and imagine. Well–not all of my focus in those directions. There is the work of promoting the new book, work that I find difficult and challenging because it’s not really in my wheelhouse. Highland Park Poetry is a tiny independent non-profit press and doesn’t have the resources to do much promotion; Jennifer Dotson, Founder & Creative Engine behind the organization, runs several contests, produces a newsletter, and hosts a Facebook page of contributing poets. She also hosts a poetry podcast and at least one reading series…a busy person, working on a small budget. People like her and Larry Robin are the guardian angels of poetry in the USA. Many thanks, Jennifer. I’ll do what I can to promote my book.

Ann E. Michael, Book news!

Well, this week held a happy surprise: three boxes of books arrived at my door yesterday morning! Since the book’s official release date is several months down the line in spring, I was happy but also felt that I was suddenly behind on everything related to the book.

The book is bigger and more square and substantial feeling than all of my previous books (which should make shipping more interesting), but it felt absolutely terrific to be holding a book that was six years in the making—and contains some of my most vulnerable work, from the most challenging time in my life.

I tried my hand at making videos again (this time, a short unboxing video) and took pictures of the cats with my book. I was so overwhelmed I felt literally light-headed!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Early Arrival of Author Copies of Flare, Corona (!!!), Celebrations with Poet Friends, Fun Videos, Imbolc/St. Brigid’s Day/Groundhog Day and the Sun’s Slow Return

In school, I was struggling with forming perfect letters, but at home, I was filling notebooks with things only I could decipher. When we mastered printing and moved on to cursive, it was better, though I was still not as neat as I would later be, when in high school, I modeled my perfectly slanted penmanship after my French teacher with her perfect little crossed sevens.  I still continued my brand of writing even after I was learning how to actually write–it was faster, less laborious, and really no one was reading it anyway, not even me. […]

My mother, in her later years, once remarked to a stranger, at a reading they accompanied me to at a university, that she always wondered what I was doing, hiding in my room with my pen scratching across some notebook, or writing hunched over the coffee table cross-legged on the floor, even in summer when I was not studying. Only now she saw the fruits of it in the poems that I read and published (this was 2008 or so). That she finally got it–what I was doing all that time.  What I continued to do. 

Still, I love a pretty notebook and occasionally buy one just for the beauty of it, even now when so much of my writing happens through the click of keys. I also decorate my notebooks much as I did in high school to keep them identifiable according to which writing job they’re for. They sit in a stack underneath my monitor, though I do, at least, throw them out when they’re full.

Kristy Bowen, on graphomania, or for the love of notebooks

When I was a little left-handed kid growing up in Ireland we used fountain pens and I always smudged the letters as I wrote. I was really happy when I began going to Hebrew school and found out that Hebrew is read from right to left—the opposite of English. I could write clearly while all the other right-handed kids smudged their writing and got ink all over their hands. This was electric: this idea that language could be turned around. That it could make you look at things differently. Your inky hand. The page. Your way of being in the world. I know that in the modern world, in modern Israel, Hebrew is used to ask for an oil change or go on the Internet and order socks, but for me, my first association these particular letterforms, the Hebrew alphabet, the otiyot, was that it was the language of my ancestors, the shape of my people. Ancient, mysterious, and numinous. Not that they didn’t speak of socks and B.O., but for centuries, it was a sacred, but not an everyday language. Its shapes: thick lines of black-and-white each ending in a little curl like a black flame rising. Was this flame something to do with the temple? With eternal light? Or perhaps an arcane Kabbalistic alchemy of words. The prayerbooks in the shul of my childhood were musty and worn, like the old tefillim of the praying men…or the threadbare carpets. The prayerbooks had been shaped by use, the way an old tool takes the form of the hand that touched it. And it seemed like the Hebrew letters had also been shaped this way: They had been worn over millenia by the touch and speech of those who had muttered their sounds. And Hebrew, at least in the traditional shapes, seemed to preserve the motions of ink and brush, the motions of a scribe not writing so much as drawing the letters, his hand floating above the surface of the parchment like a hovering bird.

Gary Barwin, BROKEN LIGHT: THE ALEFBEIT AND THE MISSING LETTER

One thing I noticed about painting stripes onto paper is how much more difficult it is than I had imagined. For instance, I couldn’t go ahead and paint each sonnet in one sitting but had to, instead, wait until each stripe was dry to prevent the colours bleeding. Sounds blooming obvious, doesn’t it, but not to me! I’m conscious of using a lot of paper for this project so I’m grateful to have in my possession a box of different sizes, types and colours of paper that were left on the pavement of a neighbour’s house. They originally belonged to a lady who died, and her family gave away some of her belongings rather than discarding them when they sold the house. I think about that person each time I make a poem using some of her paper. I hope she feels my gratitude, wherever she is. As well as painting, I’ve also been pattern making, using Sharpie pens, and I’m going to cut into these patterns to make more visual poems.

Josephine Corcoran, January Update

Wednesday was the biggest day of action for decades but the government didn’t care. They appear to be only interested in ruining the country. But enough of the public school educated elite who are not interested in the people they are supposed to represent, I found an old poem the other day, one I had forgotten about. I rearranged the layout and changed the odd word.

DECOUPAGE FOR THE MIND

He can think photographs
scry alternate worlds

He holds the light sensitive paper to his forehead
his thoughts embellish it with another life […]

Paul Tobin, DECOUPAGE FOR THE MIND

In the adjoining room a man from Missouri is proud that, according to the radio station KCFZ, four of the thirty-four greatest poets who ever lived are from Missouri. He tells his seven hundred and sixteen followers on Twitter about this and waits excitedly at his laptop for replies to come in, for retweets and likes. After twenty minutes he walks into the communal kitchen to make himself a coffee but there is no milk and he can never understand people who take their coffee without milk. He returns to his room. Still no replies. His day has taken a morose and bitter turn. He tells himself: Somebody, somewhere, will pay for this.

Dolores tells Edith, who helps her with washing and dressing: Dance until the bagpipes kill the sheep. That’s what you must do. You’re young, my dear, so very young. And after all it is forbidden to climb the steps of the pyramid of Kukulcan and Avian Flu has been found in otters and foxes.

Bob Mee, DANCE UNTIL THE BAGPIPES KILL THE SHEEP, SHE SAID

Moths tuck themselves
into drawers, where they
work out their hidden
citzenships in scripts
of perforated silver.

The taut threads
of the hammock loosen;
day loses to night,
and night again to day,

Who was I
before the earth
shook my world to pieces,
before parts of barely formed
history were buried along with beams
of a house that no longer exists?

Luisa A. Igloria, Dear Exile

how far from her moon shall the sleeper wander

how far from water can one drown

when all that is dust returns to song
where will i be found

Grant Hackett [no title]

As I shared in December, I’ve planned a kinder, gentler approach to my creative life for 2023. The new approach is like sensible shoes: not quite as sexy but less pain, more mileage. At least that’s the idea. And so far, so good!

I’ve been keeping up with art and writing by doing at least one small thing each day.* Some days, I’m happy with what I get done. Other days, it’s hard to believe that these small efforts will reach critical mass. And on both types of days, I’m trusting the process. Overall, that means less fretting, so that’s an early win for the self-imposed shake-up.

It’s also helping me reconstruct the idea of myself as a poet and artist, and I’m shamelessly nurturing that both on my “regular”/poetry Instagram (@carolee26) and my visual art Instagram (@gooduniversenextdoor).

Carolee Bennett, the shake-up is shaping up

Even if one reads the haiku merely as an expression of curiosity – that the moon has appeared to align its bright white roundness into and with the roundness of the glass’s bottom – it is still a magical moment, like the alignment of planetary bodies.

A more cynical reading might be that including ‘the well / of’ enables the haiku to fall unobtrusively into a 5–7–5 pattern and provides an alliteration with ‘whisky’. For me, though, the addition truly enriches the poem. This haiku is the exception to the rule that 5–7–5 haiku in English are generally too verbose and therefore need trimming: here, cutting back to a 5–4–5 would diminish the poem’s effectiveness.

Matthew Paul, On a haiku by John Hawkhead

I spoke to a new writer the other day. They were rosy-cheek-excited about how they were writing right along, happily, regularly. They also mentioned they’d signed up for a course at a community college about how to get published.

I groaned inwardly. (It’s possible I groaned outwardly.) I know the way excitement about a creation leaps quite readily to trying to put that creation out in the world. (I fall prey to it still all the damn time.) I also know how people are happy to take your money to tell you some handy things without mentioning the other stuff, specifically, in this case, the waiting, the doubt, the rejection after rejection after rejection. (I may have mentioned to them that last item.)

What I didn’t mention that maybe I should have , or maybe not, not quite yet, is that vital, hard-won, takes-a-lifetime-to-learn, oft overlooked middle step: the revision step. The put-your-tender-darling-in-a-drawer step. The read-read-read step, which means not just read slaphappily, but read as a writer. Which means read with questions in mind: what is pleasing me about this work, displeasing me, and why, and how can I apply any lessons learned to my own work.

Marilyn McCabe, The real thing come and the real thing go; or, The Bad News About Revision

I have finished my poetry manuscript. “Finished”? I finished it last April, too, and sent it out, then withdrew it from several contests. I couldn’t say why it didn’t feel ready, it simply didn’t.

A friend suggested that I not think globally, condemning the entire ms, but to instead focus on individual poems. What I actually did was ignore it. I took a class. I worked on my send-out practice. I (finally) returned to my mystery novel. Then, in October, I finished the rewrite of the mystery.

And the poems were still sitting there, muddy and neglected, their unwashed faces looking up at me.

I again found useful distractions. A short story re-write, notably. Then, I broke my arm and was unable to type.

Bethany Reid, Where You’ll Find Me

As with many writers, I’m better known outside my community than within it.

Sure, a couple dozen of my poems have appeared on signs at local events, and yes, the people in charge of the events liked my work (thank you so much! <3), but I don’t think anyone who didn’t already know me connected the poems with the poet. (In one instance, someone looked at one of my poem signs and actually turned to me and said “Who is Bill Waters?”) So I’m hoping that an article in the widely circulated Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine (pictured below) will serve to introduce me to readers where I live.

It’s not that I’m seeking attention. It’s just that local publication will add greater credibility to my reputation so that perhaps I’ll have an easier time getting people interested in future public poetry efforts. “Have you seen this article? Here are the kind of poems I write,” I’ll say in a way that’s both enthusiastic and modest. (In my dreams! In real life, I’ll probably just stammer something out and then wish I were someplace else.)

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine

This is one of a couple of poems that I can date fairly precisely — at least in terms of the year. I was working in London and living in Luton when I found an online poetry forum called Crystal Lake Poetics. It ceased a long time ago, and it was pretty small, but this was the early days of the internet — before the social media world that we are familiar with today. The forum was based in America, and it had a chat box where I chatted most nights to a couple of girls from Denton, TX, and one from Stockton, CA who had lived in Denton. The time difference therefore was pretty substantial! And that is what made me think of portraying these conversations like the scene in Turandot, where Princess Turandot has decreed, as related in the famous tenor aria, Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep), that none shall sleep that night until the unknown prince’s name is known.

We really were like shadows nattering back and forth, talking about everything and nothing; occasionally I’d start something poetic based on these discussions. I remember a favourite random acronym that got flung into the chat window related to tacos with extra cheese and lots of mayo, though I can’t remember it exactly enough to recreate the acronym!

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry On Stage

I don’t know about you, but sometimes a poem just hits hard and is the right thing to read at the right time. It’s been one hell of a week at work and in life. Despite the wonderful news this week that I now have a publication date for my Red Squirrel pamphlet and that work can now begin in earnest on it (not that it hasn’t already, but you take my point, I hope), the week has been dragged down by the continued decline of our eldest cat, an unexpected and unwelcome outlay on a new washing machine, and a hectic week that has barely allowed for a moment to pause.

So when I sat down to read my copy of Pearls this week after it had made its way to the top of my TBR pile, I found myself being absolutely smacked round the chops (in a good way) by reading the poem above. I felt Philpott’s pain. I was there with him in every sentence.

Mat Riches, Pearls before sauces

What burdens would you let that abyss
of worn satin swallow?
And what would you tuck away
in the place of honor, that one-off
disfigured, awkward pocket
where you stash your favorite secret
like a stale and stolen butterscotch?

Kristen McHenry, Baggage

Judith‘s large-format Buttonhole binding is made from a huge charcoal drawing done in 1989, torn apart and machine-stitched onto washi paper. The charcoal cover and pages are sealed with beeswax polish. The book smells wonderful! […]

Here are some photos of my Buttonhole binding. On cotton rag paper pages dyed with vegetable waste I have handwritten a found poem written on a dreadful day when I avidly consumed the news on BBC Radio 4. The silk for the book-cloth was alum-mordanted and dyed with red cabbage leaves and onion skins. The cover is lined with a piece of marbled paper that has been lying in a drawer for years.

Ama Bolton, ABCD February 2023

Weren’t we lucky, once?

I want to say that we had no idea how good we had it, but that’s too easy and not quite true. Filling out an intake form recently, I wrote that I am, right now, the best I’ve ever been. And I am. That is true. Sure, I would love to still have my 20-year-old body–and so many of the things and people and places and opportunities I’ve had and lost since then–but not the fears and worries and nearly unbearable weight of the impending choices my younger self struggled to carry.

Yes, we had so much. Yes, we had it all ahead of us. Yes, there is something wonderful about a mostly blank slate. And also: It was terrifying and hard and confusing because there was so much we didn’t know and so much pressure to get it All Right. We didn’t know, then, that all right was a fantasy, a myth. That we would never be entirely OK, no matter which choices we did and didn’t make. That simply choosing right would not prevent wounds or heal the ones we didn’t even know, yet, that we had. That even the golden ones among us would suffer. That our lives would always be as they were and had always been, a terrible, gorgeous mix.

Rita Ott Ramstad, And don’t it feel good

I had taken these still life photographs at about the same time I learned about the death of Linda Pastan. I knew she had written a poem about still life, so I looked that up. I read her obit in The Washington Post, finding it interesting that she placed first in a contest in Mademoiselle magazine where Sylvia Plath placed second. She was 90. Poets always feel so timeless in their work so this was a surprise, too. In short, I did all the things I always do when a poet I’ve read and admired died. Took her books off my shelf. Read a few dogeared poems.

It never seems enough, but there it is. […]

I recently picked up Diane Seuss’s Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl. I’ve honestly just opened it up and read a line or two here or there and you know that thing where something is so freaking good you just can’t? Yah. I mean for sure I will read it, but also, it’s hard when it’s also your big subject and likely this writer did it so much better :) But that’s GOOD too, right?

Because, here is the big secret of the writing life. We can all do it. Some people will get more acclaim and some will deserve it and some will maybe not quite so very much but none of that actually matters. The writing matters. Your life is going to be made so much more amazing by doing the writing you do, or whatever art you make. So just persist and be rigorous and joyful and delight in the whole beautiful ridiculous mess of it, sometimes rubbish, sometimes chocolate cake delicious. Laugh at your successes and laugh at the rejections and your bloody anonymity and be graceful and humble and raise your eyebrows at times and take such a deep and wonderful delight at everything that everyone is making. Because it could be fucking otherwise? You’re here. This is your time. Make whatever things you have always wanted to make. Please. Trust me it’s all worth it. You’ll look back some day at your little pile of books or stacks of paintings or files of photographs and go, huh! And really, ain’t that pretty cool?

Shawna Lemay, Still Life and Learning to Abandon the World