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

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Weeks 51 & 52

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

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

Julie Mellor, Carousel

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

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

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

Liz Lefroy, I Snap A Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, Post Long Covid Torpor

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

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

JJS, contranym

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

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

Jackie Wills, Time of the foxes

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

Jill Pearlman, Mellow the Morning After

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

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

Laura Grace Weldon, Favorite 2022 Reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Paul, On obscurity

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

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

Sharon Brogan, Why I’m Not There

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

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

Beth Adams, Book List, 2022

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

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

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

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

Marly Youmans, Wiseblood, Seren, poems

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, Festive reading and giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Stewart, The future of poetry blogging

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

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books Read in 2022

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

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

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, The gifts of time

How does a poem begin?

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

Thomas Whyte, Subhaga Crystal Bacon : part five

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

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

Jee Leong Koh, Flying in Corsets, Dancing in Bars

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

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

Ian Gibbins, Dragonflies swarming

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

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

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

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

Carey Taylor, Peace be with Us

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

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

Josephine Corcoran, My End of Year Books

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

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

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

Collin Kelley, Wrapping up 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The kind that comes from joy.

Carolee Bennett, a new approach to writing goals

and here you are
rocking in the breeze
zero ballast

your shirt your sail
tack into the wind
above the pavement

there is now no rule book
all will become clear

Paul Tobin, ALL WILL BECOME CLEAR

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

Kersten Christianson, Top 9 of 2022

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

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

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

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

rob mclennan, Adrian Lürssen, Human Is to Wander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, On having allies

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, not dead, but waiting to be born

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Wikeley, Shepherds at the gate

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

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

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

Jason Crane, Deploying poetry

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 27

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Solo endeavor?

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

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

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2022

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

Jim Young, wild sea swimming

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renee Emerson, 2022 Writing Goals Update

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

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

Gary Barwin, WIDE ASLEEP: NIGHT THOUGHTS ON INSOMNIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Taylor, the 2022 roll of nickels year in review

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

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

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

To embody equilibrium amidst insanity.

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

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

Rich Ferguson, For Doug Knott, RIP

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

Sharon Bryan, Poems for the New Year

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

Poems, too, are gates. In my college teaching career I often encountered students who hated poetry. They saw a poem as a gate with a “no trespassing” sign hanging on it. But isn’t a poem, like a gate, an invitation? Open this. Walk through. See the world the way I see it. The first poem I brought was Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness,” and the study group climbed onto the bus with me. “There’s communion here,” one participant gleefully noted. And another: “it’s a story of the good Samaritan!”

Bethany Reid, Winter Solstice Greetings

This afternoon, while wrapping
gifts, I wept because my Uncle John
died three months before I was born,
and I’ve never heard him sing.

The barn cat hunts down the birds
that winter here. His coat spreads ropy
into the air. This year, he circles my legs,
grateful that I no longer have a dog.

In my head, we are slow-dancing
to Christmas songs in the kitchen. In reality,
you are cooking dinner, I am writing
at the table, and this is the loneliest I’ve felt all year.

Allyson Whipple, Some Terribly Sentimental Thing

In between reading work for Spelt, research papers and research books for my current work in project, journals and magazines, I managed to get through fifty poetry, fiction , narrative non fiction and non fiction books this year. In a year that was challenging at times as I dealt with grief around the death of my dad, books became my friends and my escape once again. Thank you to every writer who courageously puts themselves on the page, who creates something amazing out of the sparking of neural pathways in the brain, thank you to those who quietly wait for their books to be noticed, thank you to those who shouted from the roof tops, I salute you. You make the world a better place simply by doing the work that you love.

Wendy Pratt, I Like Big Book (lists) and I Cannot Lie – The 50 Books I read in 2022 and My Top Five

2022 has drawn to a close and I don’t really have a list of accomplishments to offer, but I do have a couple of highlights in poetry-world.

In February, the wonderful poetry journal Bad Lilies published my two poems ‘Brilliant cut’ and ‘Yustas’. They appeared in the journal’s sixth issue, entitled ‘Private Universe’, alongside a host of other great poets and poems. 

A few years ago I first discovered the work of Julian Semenov (or Yulian Semyonov). He was a Russian and Soviet thriller writer who is little known in Western countries but whose impact in Slavic countries, and regions formerly in the USSR and its sphere of influence, was profound. Most famously, Semenov wrote a book called Seventeen Moments of Spring, which was published in the late 1960s and a few years later was adapted into a television series of the same name, which is probably the most famous Soviet TV show ever made. This spy show is really only known in Western countries to those who are deeply interested in world spy films, or in Soviet or Russian culture. My own interest came mainly from a curiosity about what the USSR was doing with espionage fiction and film in the early 1970s, but watching Seventeen Moments of Spring also led in a very direct line to my starting to learn Russian in 2020. 

These two poems, specifically inspired by Semenov’s works, were published in late February. Less than a week later, Russia attacked Ukraine and beyond the fact that the news was shocking and overwhelming, it didn’t feel like an ideal time to be blogging about Russian pop culture (although “Soviet” is more accurate here than “Russian”, for what it’s worth) – hence the very long delay. Strangely, though, Seventeen Moments of Spring and Semenov’s books can genuinely be said to have slipped the considerable constraints of their origins. Today they are still relevant (even to the current moment), open to a wide variety of interpretations, and of course entertaining. The Seventeen Moments series was specifically intended as propaganda at the time of its release, part of a campaign to improve the KGB’s image. But the show’s surprising subtlety allowed many viewers to interpret it as a comment on the Soviet Union itself and the pressures of working inside, and against, a powerful oppressive system which keeps everyone under constant surveillance. Stirlitz, the double-agent hero, has inspired an endless stream of ironic jokes which continue to be instantly recognisable in countries formerly in the Soviet sphere of influence. And since February, I have often seen clips and quotes from the show online used as criticism of the Russian government’s actions.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Year-end: poems in Bad Lilies, and Best UK Poetry Blogs of 2022

If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that I struggle with the cold dark days at the turn of the secular year. In high summer I sometimes have to remind myself not to dread the winter that is always inevitably coming. And at this season I seek comfort in all kinds of ways, from warm-tinted lightbulbs to blankets to braises, but I still have to work hard to avoid the malaise of SAD. 

The best mood-lifter by far that I’ve found this winter is… being terrible at Arabic. To be clear, I’ve never learned Arabic, though ever since the summer I spent in Jerusalem I’ve aspired to someday be the kind of rabbi who speaks some Arabic. (Someday. Later. You know, when I have time.) And then I read R. David’s Why This Rabbi Is Learning Arabic (And Every Rabbi Should), and I thought: ok, I’ll try.

It’s engrossing. It feels like it’s working a different part of my brain — learning new characters, trying to train my ear to distinguish new-to-me sounds. Maybe best of all is that I am an absolute beginner. I know nothing, so every little bit of learning is progress. Remembering the initial, medial, or final forms of any letter feels like victory. And maybe that’s part of what lifts my spirits.

I’m using Duolingo. And before anyone objects: yes, I know all the reasons why that isn’t ideal. I should take a real class. I should find Arabic speakers with whom to practice. I can’t do those right now, for all kinds of reasons. What I can do is keep a tab open on my computer, and instead of doomscrolling, work on parsing a new-to-me alphabet. (It’s also great instead of doomscrolling on my phone.)

I can practice sounding out syllables while my kid’s brushing his teeth. Remind myself of letter-shapes over morning coffee. Short digital bursts are not pedagogical best practice — and yet I am learning, bit by bit.

Rachel Barenblat, Arabic: a remedy for the winter blues

falling snow
beyond the window . . .
our cat
curls deeper
into himself

Bill Waters, Our cat

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 49

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: epic eels, commonplace misfortunes, fog advisories, St. Nicholas communicating in sign language, and much more. Enjoy.


i leave the earth
in steam even
under a winter sun
i become a cold-
shouldered cloud
uneven inconstant
i hide the sky
and you wonder
will we ever know
blue around
our heads again

Dick Jones, waterdrops

This past Monday night in Toronto, Mansfield Press hosted an evening of book launches, including five poetry titles—Amy Dennis’ The Sleep Orchard [see my review of such here], Anton Pooles’ Ghost Walk, Candace de Taeye’s Pronounced / Workable, Corrado Paina’s Changing Residence: New and Selected Poems and Stephen Brockwell’s Immune to the Sacred [see my review of such here]—as well as my suite of pandemic essays, covering the first one hundred days of original Covid-19 lockdown, essays in the face of uncertainties [I also have copies available, if anyone is so inclined]. It was a very good night! Although the lighting was odd, and more than a wee bit distracting (it kept changing colours, which meant the lighting shifted, and we all each stumbled a bit during our individual sets, finding difficulty with seeing properly). And yes, most if not all of the crowd were masked (unmasking only to read, obviously). And our dear publisher, Denis, was even good enough to post a small report on the event, as well as a lovely post referencing me, my book, and some of my own ongoing reviewing and interviewing work.

Everyone gave stellar readings, naturally. It was particularly interesting, as I hadn’t actually heard most of these writers read, so that was good. And there were plenty of folk there I hadn’t seen in some time, from Stephen Cain and Sharon Harris, Andy Weaver, Jennifer LoveGrove, Phlip Arima, Carol Harvey Steski and Catherine Graham! Stephen and I travelled to Toronto by train, only staying overnight, but managing to catch a good amount of breath after a flurry of other recent activities and events. […] And I even manged to convince Stephen to play pinball with me! Right at the end of the evening, last to leave (naturally). Oh, and did I mention we saw David O’Meara on the train ride back home the next morning?

rob mclennan, report from the mansfield launch, toronto: mclennan, brockwell, dennis etc

hen did WordPress begin to offer a writing prompt on the blank post page? Have I been gone so long?

It feels intrusive. It’s an offering that probably feels like a service to the giver, but feels like a tiny condescension from this end. Now wild animals are creeping around the edges of my thought, disturbing everything.

Or maybe that is just where my head is today after dealing with the “city pastors” yesterday, who apparently have a mandate (not quite sure from whom) to wander the school building and talk to students who are sitting alone. My students were sitting alone in the library working on an assignment. One of the pastors started “chatting” with my student about his project on Oedipus Rex. I am kind of thinking that is not within his mandate for so many reasons.

The church and state haven’t been separated in this country for very long, but this seems like a weird reactionary move on the part of the school system.

I am inclined this morning to seek this guy out and have a proper discussion with him about the Dionysian festival, about parallels with later Christian tropes and iconology. I have always wondered how lambs usurped goats. How highly sexualized androgyny became asexual. So much really to muse about. I do have a lot of questions and am curious about a lot of things, but there is a time and a place.

My mandate is to teach theater history in that building.

Ren Powell, The Tyranny of the Gift

I have to share this generous and thorough review of my forthcoming chapbook, The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants (Bellepoint Press, forthcoming).

Megon McDermott writes, “Overall, Emerson gives a relatively understated experience of grief. Again, her title is informative. “Misfortunes,” as a word, seems to indicate a companionship with smaller griefs than the death of a child. Despite the chapbook’s understated quality, the poems don’t come across as repressed or cold. Instead, its subtlety suggests something about its purpose. I don’t think these poems mean to fully immerse us in the experience of a parent’s grief, which is perhaps too holy and sorrowful a thing to enter.”

To read the rest, hop on over to Trampoline!

Renee Emerson, The Commonplace Misfortunes, Reviewed!

The state of the UK now, under this most clapped-out and uncaring government, is at its worst since the days of that trip to Guildford. The despair they are inflicting is insidious, infectious and deadly – they’re even reviving the coal industry which their forebears used all manner of state-inflicted violence and subversion to kill off. Finding glimmers of light among it all is far from easy.

I’ve been much less active on social media, because that too is infinitely deflating. However, thanks to a Tweet by Roy Marshall, I’ve read a 2020 interview, available here, with Jane Hirshfield, a poet whose output I’ve warmed to slowly. (My favourite collection of hers is probably The October Palace, 1994, which contains as high a count of poems which I really like as any collection I’ve ever read.) Just the first sentence of her response to the interviewer’s second question alone is extraordinary: ‘Beauty unweights the iron bell of abyss, letting a person hear that even that iron bell, lifted from ground-level, can make a sound our human ears thirst to know.’ Hirshfield has followed a Zen path since the early Seventies, so it’s no wonder that her gnomic utterances sometimes sound intensely profound.

Being able to rise above pessimism and sorrow, and be sufficiently within the moment to appreciate fleeting beauty and be at one with it, is a gift; and one that, as Hirshfield has written about, informs the best, most resonant haiku. In some ways, I wish I still wrote haiku with the same level of productivity that I managed 10 or 20 years ago; but these days they very rarely form in my mind, and I’m old and weary enough to know that forcing them out would be utterly self-defeating.

Matthew Paul, On disillusionment

where the river
meets the sea
remembering
my parents

Lynne Rees, Haiku

[Hannah] Hodgson’s collection [Queen of Hearts] particularly startled (and then sank into) me, not because she is a palliative care patient who brings an unusual, difficult and inspiring perspective to the big subjects like life, death, love, and dildos, but because her imagery, pacing and sheer clarity of thought are just so arresting (“We specialise in living when we shouldn’t. / Death between our teeth, a cold black flag.” she says in ‘Colonel Mustard is Waiting in the Dining Room’). Somehow, Hodgson manages to create a surreal world from hospital and house interiors, where the psychological turmoil of her family comes through as clearly and movingly as her own – perhaps more so.  

While the physical pain of her condition is not ignored (‘Last Night, I Finally Remembered the Screaming’ is a shocking journey into the agony behind the anaesthetised mind) neither is it highlighted or played for pity. And as for fear – surely there must be fear if you live in such a position – but if that is part of Hodgson’s experience, when we look for it (and this is one of the marvels of the pamphlet) we find in its place fury and humour, the former sharpening the latter, and the latter leavening the former. 

Chris Edgoose, The Body as Anarchist and Anchor 

In my efforts to embrace a season I am not really feeling, J and I hit up a Christmas choral concert at DePaul his friend was performing in. I’d brung a mask, but we ended up on some of the extra chairs in the back and not too close to others, so I didn’t really need put it on. But still it was nice to be out, and the church at DePaul was lovely, a surprise since I hadn’t ever been in there, even in my grad school years. Despite my reluctance to go places and do things, sometimes I feel better in general when I have–whatever those things are. This was true prior to covid, the difference now being that I am less tired and weighted by wanting to be home not working full-time, and also having my nights free to spend as I choose, a luxury I’ve lacked most of my adulthood.

If any week needed a break in the routines, it was this one, which because of slew of cloudy days, and just being so close to the equinox, has felt unusually dark and heavy. I wake around noon and then work through the afternoons, which are so short right now it kills me. I’ve put up my tree and garlands and wreaths, which provide some interior lights along with the star lights hung near my desk, but the I groan a little every night when I am forced to turn on lamps at 4:30.  I keep telling myself it is only temporary.  In a week and a half, we’ll hit the darkest day and then it’s all downhill, very slowly though, through late February when you start to notice the days getting a little longer. 

Last week, to cheer myself, I ordered some dresses, one for Christmas Day–a plaid smocked peasant dress, and then a burgundy velvet spaghetti strap number for New Years, which I am determined to do something with to close out this year that has been equal parts awesome and terrible.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/10/2022

little pots of ammonia
all round my garden with a listening stick
they send a rat down with a camera

kites flying from the roof
birds on springs
a revolving door

build the Sagrada Familia
looking like gold
a library of dreams

Ama Bolton, ABCD December 2022

In this week’s installment of our story, parashat Vayishlach brings us the night-time wrestle between Jacob and the figure tradition names as an angel. This is the encounter from which we get our name as a people. The verse explains the name ישראל / Yisrael as shorthand for the phrase שרית עם–אלהים / sarita im-Elohim: striven or persisted (“wrestled”) with God.  

He comes out of that wrestle with a new name and a limp. Life’s challenges (and sometimes injustices) leave most of us with a limp, spiritually speaking. Our task is to persevere. To say to our struggles or losses or grief, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” And then to live into the new name, the new chapter of who we can become, granted to us by our struggle with what’s been hard.

So what is this new name about? What (else) does it imply?

One of my favorite tools in the rabbinic toolbox is the use of anagrams and wordplay. Spiritual life can also be playful! So here’s some holy wordplay I learned this week from the Kedushat Levi. The name Yisrael contains the letters of ישר‎ / yashar / “upright,” e.g. moral and ethical.  The letters in Yisrael can also make ראש‎ לי/ Li rosh / “head” and “to Me,” in other words, a mind turned toward God.

The name Ya’akov contains the word עקב‎ / ekev / “heel.” Name changes in Torah are always spiritually significant, and this is a prime example of that. The name change from Ya’akov to Yisrael symbolizes a profound internal change, a kind of spiritual ascent.  His name used to mean “heel,” and now it implies God-consciousness. He’s shifting from feet in earthly dust to the highest heavens beyond the stars. […]

Last week we heard my son teach about Jacob’s dream of the ladder, and how he woke with awe but then forgot it. How Jacob lost sight of the “wow” — how we all lose sight of the wow, all the time. As a people, we take our name not from Jacob, whose name means more or less “the heel,” but from Yisrael who lived in awe and could maintain consciousness of God while doing ordinary things.

Rachel Barenblat, From Dust to Stars (Vayishlach 5783 / 2022)

I have friends who are struggling, and I struggle to give them the encouragement and cheer they need. Charities need more money as layoffs proliferate in our area. If you believe in the original Christmas story, it was really about two poor kids who couldn’t find food and shelter during a winter in a strange town, a baby born among people who didn’t care enough to make sure he was born safely, who had nothing. It’s a reminder to take care of each other in a world than can seem cruel, cold, and uncaring, especially to the unhomed, the unwealthy, the unpowerful.

So if your holiday isn’t going exactly as you planned, you’re not alone. Be kind to yourself. Not everything is within our control, and the holidays can bring up extra family stress and expectations that can’t possibly be met. Do the things that feel important to you, like watching your favorite holiday movies (whether that’s the extended Lord of the Rings series or Shop Around the Corner or the Holiday), maybe eating the way you want for a change, and cancelling the things that aren’t really actually necessary. “Christmas magic” often falls disproportionately on women’s – often mothers’ – shoulders. But maybe it’s okay to have a little less magic, and a little more mental health.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, AI Self-Portraits and When Robots Take Creative Jobs; When Things Aren’t Merry and Bright at the Holidays: MS Flares and More

Just before dusk this afternoon, I stood at my window and marveled at the dense cloudiness of the valley, at the stark bare trees snaking their way up through the pale damp air. I felt a twinge of European Romanticism: Caspar Friedrich’s “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” and all that. The view was analogous to my fusty mind. All sorts of possibilities out there in the mist, nothing to strike toward, no path, potential risk. But beautiful in its way. I thought to myself, “There is something hidden in all this, and among the hidden-ness, things that are dear and familiar to me, not just fearful unknowns.”

The garden is there. The deer. The beech tree, some of its leaves still clinging. The bank voles and the red squirrels, the holly bush, the daffodils underground that will emerge in April. My fog will clear.

Then darkness overtook fog, and the coyotes called their carols in the moist air.

Ann E. Michael, In deepest fog

I do feel a little blurry these days, despite my new glasses (trifocals) and updated prescription. There were days of dense fog here, and then rain, and then After Rain, that melancholy book of short stories by William Trevor, also mentioned yesterday, and then I stared and stared at poems I’ve been writing, wondering 1) how to revise and/or 2) where to submit. Often there was a foggy feeling of, “I wrote that?” or “When did I write that?” but it was easy to track down, as I had included dates and prompts, etc. I began to feel great empathy, in ways I hadn’t before, for people who don’t send out their work, or dawdle at it. I am foggily dawdling at it this Dressember. Now I will go stare at my closet.

Kathleen Kirk, Dressember

It is the howling hour when dogs find that perfect pitch in music where to lay their pain.

The hour when wolves lower, when each offers a unique cry to lend to the choir.

Certain burdens are laid down by the river, others at the intersection of rosary and cold sweat.

Some are left tongue-torn and speechless after their communion with knives.

Others sound like electric guitars banned from the Bible,

searing the air with psalms and scorch unimagined by powers above and below.

Rich Ferguson, The Howling Hour

To be honest, I was just thrilled to catch HAD’s submission period for once. I usually miss them since they open and close so quickly. I came back to my office after a Friday morning class, opened my laptop, and saw the call. The theme: Endings. Well, that’s my specialty these days (years) I suppose. I raced to send some poems before they reached the cap. I was so surprised to get a message from Mitch Nobis later that day saying that he loved “Matter and Antimatter.” It’s a heavy one, so I’m extra grateful for the love. I wrote it in response to a news article I read last year.

Katie Manning, “Matter and Antimatter” in HAD

Eventually something beckons the eel back to the sea. Although it has been yellow-skinned while living in fresh water, once it’s ready to go back to the sea it transforms again. Its skin thickens, stomach shrivels, eyes enlarge, head streamlines, and its color changes to silver. It embarks on a many-month journey back to the place of its birth. According to The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World (indie link) by Patrik Svensson, it navigates using olfactory sensitivity, perhaps also by sensing the Earth’s magnetic lines, and keeps to extreme ocean depths for safety. The journey back is brutal. Eels are weakened by pollution, eaten by many predators, prone to infection and infestation, and even at journey’s end can be blocked by damns and other constructions. If it arrives, here it will mate. Or presumably mate, as no one has seen mature eels in the Sargasso Sea. These final mysteries conclude the eel’s lifespan.

But if an eel, determined to make the final trip back to its birthplace, cannot make it to the sea it will switch back from silver to yellow and wait. And wait. This may serve many of them well. Branches blocking a waterway or pipes blocked by debris may eventually clear. Eels trapped in freshwater have epic patience.  

Åle, the eel left in the well, had no way to make this return journey. It simply waited for its pathway to the sea to reopen. It waited as Samuel grew up, then waited as generations of Samuel’s family were born, lived, and died. Occasionally the local papers wrote about Åle. Eventually another eel was tossed in the well as a companion. The long-lived Åle gained notoriety in Sweden. It was featured on television and in children’s books. It lived longer than Pute, an eel kept in a Swedish aquarium for 85 years. It lived longer than any eel on record.  

Duing that time, adult eels suffered from overfishing and eel larvae became a delicacy in some Asian countries. Waterway pollution and habitat destruction added even more pressure on the species. The population of these hardy creatures declined by 90 percent and they were put on the critically endangered list. Åle remained in the well, still waiting to swim back to the Sargasso Sea. That little creature waited as humanity went on into the space age and into a time of worsening climate change.

Åle might be living still, who knows, if not for an unfortunate incident when the well water got so hot that the elderly eel died at the purported age of 155. His eel companion, age 110, is said to still wait for its route the sea to open.  

I don’t know why I’m captivated by eels. Åle’s life, and much about these enigmatic and misunderstood creatures, seems like a mythic tale where one’s destiny is so vital that nothing can get in the way—not despair, not loneliness, not even mortality. It reminds me of those who wait a substantial part of their lives to let themselves be who they want to be. Or even to discover who they are becoming.

Laura Grace Weldon, Epic Eels

Well, how long has it been? Maybe more pertinently, who am I? You may well ask! To answer those questions in turn, it was the 19th of April, 2020 that I last posted on the blog. Shameful I know, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart if you’re reading this brand new post in November 2022. Just to remind you, my name is Giles L. Turnbull, and I began blogging here in 2016, talking about poetry and blindness matters.

So why the absence? The honest answer is that I had poetry burn out. Writing forty poems for my Creative Writing MA dissertation really drained me. I really liked the nineteen monologue poems that formed the first half of the dissertation; but I wasn’t really convinced that the second half of the collection really worked — or maybe the two halves just didn’t seem to comfortably co-exist. After graduation, I did ponder attempting to publish the poems as a full collection, or the monologues as a pamphlet and the other poems as a separate pamphlet … but after much deliberating, I decided to put the project on the back-burner. […]

An Die Ferne Gelibte is Beethoven’s only song cycle. It is scored for a male voice and piano, and it is a setting of six poems by Alois Isidor Jeitteles. The title translates as To the Distant Beloved, and I first came across it in roughly 1989, as a simplified piece in a book of piano solos for intermediate pianists. Here is a recording of the great baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore.

The text was written by a physician named Alois Isidor Jeitteles, probably at Beethoven’s request. Jeitteles had published several short verses, economic in style, in Viennese magazines or almanacks, particularly Selam and Aglaja, and was making his name as a poet. He was an active, selfless young man who later distinguished himself by working tirelessly for his patients during a dreadful cholera epidemic and mortality in Brno. Jeitteles’s poetic sequence An die ferne Geliebte was written in 1815 when he was 21.

(wiki article)

I like the phrase, to the distant beloved. It covers anybody – human, animal, object or creation that we are physically separated from but still have deep affection for. I feel that applies to everybody who used to read this blog, sometimes commenting or liking the links to it which I posted on Facebook or Twitter (where I was, and still am, @Bix_cool); it covers my poetry which, despite being on an indefinite hiatus, is still a form of writing that I love; and it includes the large number of poetry friends who I follow (and who follow me) on Facebook and Twitter.

Giles L. Turnbull, The Distant Beloved

Whole universes erupt beneath your mask.
Ancient skeletons shift in the permafrost of your sleep.

Opposite the great cinder mountain
rises a spring that will cure scrofula and dropsy.

The stench of the bone-stores will seal itself into the earth.
It’s the weather for maggots.

Take your time, think it through.
Maybe try another church?

You sit in the prison of your experience,
watch daylight fade through yellow windows.

Cafe Mistaken Identity is open to all.
Think of the girl you left standing there.

Bob Mee, TWO OLD POEMS REVISITED

S. T. Brant is a Las Vegas high school teacher. His debut collection Melody in Exile will be out in 2022. His work has appeared in numerous journals including Honest Ulsterman, EcoTheo, Timber, and Rain Taxi. You can reach him on his website at ShaneBrant.com, Twitter: @terriblebinth, or Instagram: @shanelemagne

What are you working on?

Everything and nothing, it feels like. I’m trying to make a point to review more work, so I have a few poetry reviews on the docket. Otherwise, I have a poetry manuscript in the works. Life Between Transmigrations. That title will change but for now it helps me keep track of the idea. It’ll be the first note in a big song. Told through a series of dramatic monologues and narratives, an ‘epic’ in psychic fragments, traversing mythical, literary, historical personas, the same soul’s journey from the origin when he broke off from god to now, the day it All ends, and he confronts his exiled source. We’ll see what becomes of it. I have a few things written for it now. But it may wind up being multiple volumes because I also have a gnostic treatise of epistles written from one of Paul’s rivals going, St. Brant, which was supposed to be part of that manuscript but has seemed to take on a life of its own. These poetic works are supposed to complement the dramatic as well. Like O’Neill’s plan to write a huge cycle, I have a Vegas cycle: Meadow the Shadow of Golgotha. Also a title I’m not married to but helps keep me grounded to the concept. To turn Vegas into Dublin, that’s the plan, and be synonymous with Sin. Plays and poems: those are the projects, with the littlest bit of critical prose to help fight off the indolence. These ideas probably sound like unpublishable hodge-podge (most journals agree with you!), but hopefully not. If I get it right… that’s the thing… if I get it right, it’ll be Great. 

Thomas Whyte, S. T. Brant : part one

This post has been lingering as a draft in WordPress since mid-October, and I’ve been frustrated by its inertia all these weeks. Only today did I realize how hilarious it is to procrastinate on a post about losing ambition.

So here we are. Irony is a place you can live.

There’s also this: I’ve embraced productivity as a synonym for writing success for so long that it’s hard now to accept my desire for something else in its place. The delay in finishing the post came, in part, from not knowing what to say.

What even makes sense after your main drive ceases to be interesting?

Carolee Bennett, what comes after ambition

The leitmotif of my social, political, and personal life: we don’t know how to live. At one point I was thinking: you know, Dale, maybe all you mean is I don’t know how to live. There’s a great deal of profit in mulling that one over, and I’m not done doing it, but I think I’ll stand by the first formulation. This is not just my problem. This is our problem. 

It’s a political problem in the local and immediate sense that until we know how to live, our opponents have not the slightest reason to listen to us. If we’re not offering a better life, why should they? We consider ourselves just reeking with virtue and goodness, but of course so do they, for equally flimsy reasons. Given that we can’t and won’t talk to each other, what else could we ground our choices on? Each of us looks at the other and thinks, “well, that looks like a petty and stupid life.” And we’re both right. So. Impasse.

It’s our problem, not just mine, also in this way: I can’t work it out by myself. I can’t unilaterally start living a different life. I need people to live it with. And, more importantly, I need people to work it out with. Hegel (I’m told) said of Kant, “he wants to learn to swim before he gets in the water,” and that’s what I think I’m doing when I try to figure out how to live before I have a community to live with. That’s not how how to live works. But I’m so imbued with individualist doctrine that any whiff of community panics me. I might be circumscribed! Horrors! As if this present life was freedom.

Dale Favier, How to Live

I miss the fig’s abundance, wild
until the sun turned the fruits

to stone. I long for a life
I don’t completely have

but that edges close every time
I sink into the periwinkle of a book.

Every square of bathroom tile
reminds me of how much work

it takes to purge each spore
of nostalgia from any memory—

I’d prefer it to work like a flashlight
beam in an attic crammed with boxes.

Luisa A. Igloria, Entering Winter

I mentioned online that I’m getting into street photography and I tagged photographer Reuben Radding, who shared my post. That led to folks recommending documentaries for me to watch. Last night I watched Finding Vivian Maier, a film about a street photographer whose work was unknown during her lifetime. It was complicated and moving. This afternoon I watched Everybody Street, which served as a great overview of many different photographers. Other docs that people have recommended but that I haven’t yet seen are Everything Is Photographable, about Garry Winogrand, and Elliott Erwitt: Silence Sounds Good. Before this, the only documentary about a photographer I’d seen was the wonderful Bill Cunnningham New York.

Today I walked around downtown State College with my phone set in camera mode and held to my chest. I used the volume button to snap photos as I walked, and I didn’t see the results until I got back to my van. […]

I have a tendency to get really into things for a while and then move on. But I’ve been taking photographs nearly every day for years, so this is less about adding a completely new practice than about refining a practice I already have.

Jason Crane, Trying my hand at street photography

England felt old and familiar in the way that
America seemed new and strange. April grey,
like a blurry photograph, literature and history
popping out of the incessant drizzle, scratching

the learnt distress of a colonial past, a question
stuck at the back of my throat. I straddle zero-
degree longitude, splitting myself between east
and west. Isn’t a line both a meeting and a

separation? Both imagined and real? I file past
the Kohinoor like a thousand others, in silence. I
stare at a white peacock in Leeds. In Shakespeare’s
garden, a bust of Tagore stares back at me.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 24

I know I’ve written the first and or only reviews of certain books, and that the review is just one part of getting your book out there. We, as writers, need to be hustling as much as we can to generate sales. If we don’t, we can’t complain when we don’t sell. As much as I’d love to not engage in the murky world of commercial practices, publishers want to sell, poets want to be read, publishers can’t do it all (especially in poetry world) and we can’t all be like PJ Harvey and sell poetry off the back of a successful music career. Reviewing space is tight, etc…All the same stuff you will have heard repeated in a thousand articles about the state of poetry and poetry reviewing.

(NB Not having a go at PJ Harvey. I love her music and haven’t read the book, and I totally get why the press, etc promote her over a “smaller poet” as she will drive clicks, etc. Getting isn’t the same as condoning, obvs)

However, a word-of-mouth sale still generates the same sale price as a review, but where did the awareness come from for the word to leave the mouth in recommendation?

I’ve now started thinking about a poetic version of the Net Promoter Score. NB I’m sure you’re like me and marketing scholars like Mark Ritson and think NPS is an utterly pointless metric…issues with the point and timing of the collection, the fact that perfectly acceptable scores like 7-8 are coded as neutral scores and thus ignored, the fact that it’s often asked about ridiculous subjects like recommending a banking app, or I think I was once asked about recommending a leading DIY retailer having purchased a bag of sharp sand. I didn’t respond.

So while NPS isn’t great, perhaps things like sharing screenshots on social media might be a new form of NPS…is it copyright theft??? Probably, but it also feels, for the most part, like an endorsement. I try to avoid photos of poems to avoid copyright infringement, and it’s not possible to endorse or share everything, but for example, I had to share this week’s The Friday Poem entry by Richard Meier because I loved it instantly. And it’s already out there in the ether, so it’s easier/safer to share. In fact, that’s almost the point. What an odd state of affairs we find ourselves in when we can share stuff posted online, but not a copy of a printed page.

Mat Riches, Bontempirary Poetry and the Poetic NPS

I love the ecumenical nature of this picture of Santa: Santa statues coexisting peacefully with Buddha statues. And then I thought, how perfect for the Feast Day of St. Nicholas!

More recently, a new favorite Saint Nicholas image, courtesy of my cousin’s wife: [click through to view]

In this image, Santa communicates by way of American Sign Language. As I looked at the background of the photo, I realized Santa sits in a school–the sign on the bulletin board announces free breakfast and lunch.

The photo seems both modern and ancient to me: a saint who can communicate in the language we will hear, the promise that the hungry will be filled.

In our time, when ancient customs seem in danger of being taken over by consumerist frenzy, let us pause for a moment to reflect on gifts of all kinds. Let us remember those who don’t have the money that gifts so often require. Let us invite the gifts of communication and generosity into our lives.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Feast Day of Saint Nicholas

you drive down the M5
we talk
the sun sets behind us

across the wing mirror
a web flexes
vibrates in the turbulence

I think of my own anchor points
how little it would take
to send me tumbling in the slipstream

Someone said of Burning Music, my first collection, that it was all rather accessible, as if this was a bad thing, no cryptic verse to worry over long into the night. At the time I was upset by this, thinking the act of producing a book was akin to climbing Mount Everest. Now I wear my accessibility as a badge of pride. 

Paul Tobin, TUMBLING IN THE SLIPSTREAM

It’s been one helluva year for writing for me. I won the Jack McCarthy book prize and wrote poems that are included in my forthcoming collection, Her Whole Bright Life. I spent two weeks in Crete, writing and soaking up the sunshine. I spent eleven days at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, writing and working on poetry-related projects. And this year I filled five journals with poems: [photo]

Last year I filled seven journals and in 2022 I filled six journals so while I filled fewer journals this year, I feel like it’s been a wildly productive poetry year for me.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journals of 2022

The conversation went much the way Masutani’s poems do. When a student would ask him a question, his answer – often preceded by a length of silence – was short and to the point. If he didn’t have a good answer to a question, he simply reply, with a smile, “I don’t know.” (How different from other writers – like me – who’d fill that space with panicked babble.) When an answer came, though, it was as precise and open as his poems, and very useful. 

During our talk, a storm on was raging on Denman Island, where Masutani lives with his wife (the star of many of his poems), and his connection was cut on a couple occasions. I was lucky, in those moments, to be able to circle back to what had been said, and record some of Masutani’s very quotable replies before I’d forgotten them. Here are a few of his many observations, which I think are great reminders for poets, both aspiring and mid-career: 

On why he writes poetry: 

“Most of my friends are great talkers, but I’m not, so I wrote poems instead.”

On working with his family and publisher to make his book: 

“Making a book is a collaboration. I’m just a part of it.”

On the importance of writing in a writer’s life: 

“Life is more than just literature.” 
 
On translating his own writing into Japanese: 

“I know more than the words about these poems.”  

On receiving edits to his poems: 

“It was difficult, but I knew these are not the last poems I’ll write.”

I’ll have to paraphrase another one of my favourite quotes, as I didn’t get it down, but when asked about the audience he writes for, he said he writes for his wife, in hopes that he might make her laugh. I can think of few more lovely ways to approach the page. 

Rob Taylor, Matsuki Masutani on Writing

reading the poets
not to write like the poets
but like myself

Jim Young [no title]

I’ve got a lot of thoughts and feelings about the sources of my chronic stress and complex trauma, especially those that relate to working for 3+ decades in public education. The thoughts are barely formed and if I tried to share anything right now, it would just be a big word vomit. But I can say this:

Things are not the same as they were when you went to school. Our teachers and students are under constant stress, and it’s different than it was 15 or 20 or 30 years ago, and it’s not sustainable. We have got to find better ways, because a society full of traumatized and under-supported people is going to look…well, a lot like the one we’re living in.

Despite that dire last paragraph, I am feeling hopeful in ways that I haven’t in decades, and the hope is a tremendous gift. Now that I have it, I can see how long I didn’t, and what impact a lack of hope has had on me. For many weeks now, I have not been attending to much other than my health. I go to various appointments, I go skating, I make nourishing food, I tend my primary relationships, I run our household, and I rest. All of that adds up to a full-time job. I haven’t had much time for writing or any other creative work (other than the small curriculum job) or other kinds of things that have typically filled my tank (for example, dates with friends). But I’m OK with that. This isn’t the season for me to fill my tank; it’s the season for me to repair the holes in it. I’m playing a long game here.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On tanks, the repairing and filling of them

Magenta?  I swoon, no matter how much naysayers insist I should pay attention to the end of the world.  Pantone may have anointed Viva Magenta the color of 2023, but I’ve been living in that color since the cusp of adolescence.  In a series of evolving poems, I’m exploring the how, what, why of colors.  Here, from childhood memory, are some lines with jolts of pure precision about self-construction:

streams of plastic beads in orange and pink
over my childhood window,
wall of color, and what of the palette I made of my skin,
vocabulary of my first identity
a bolder version of girl that I envisioned

black-haired, black-eyed, skin olivy (my mother
called it green) 
Picasso glazed a green girl before a mirror
Manet working magic with black 
I did magic with magenta, painting a hot-pink babe

Jill Pearlman, Viva My Magenta!

who can find their way with a broken flame

who will breathe when there is only moon

shall too many words leave an empty tomb

Grant Hackett [no title]

construction site —
even in the dark
the fragrance of lumber

Bill Waters, Night haiku

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 44

Poetry Blogging Network

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


Poets born just off-kilter
from the tipping point between

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

light and eclipse, equipoise
and cascade, between anchor

and float [….]

PF Anderson, Untitled

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

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

Someone whispers something in a wild horse’s ear.

Someone tames fire long enough to gain wisdom from heat.

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

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

Gary Barwin, THE LOVELY CARLOTTA, QUEEN OF MEXICO

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

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

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

Rachel Dacus, The Department of Lost Hours

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, The Nights Have Drawn In

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Break-taking

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

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

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

Beth Adams, The End of Autumn

parking in the shade of a leafless tree

Jason Crane, haiku: 3 November 2022

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

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

Shawna Lemay, I Decorate A Bowl

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, The Kevin Jackson Award

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

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

Caroline Gill, Beavers

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

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

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

Martyn Crucefix, Buy! New Christmas Poetry Anthology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

three. In previous months,
your hair has been trimmed

as if by lightning.

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

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

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

PP: What have you creating lately?

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

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

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

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

Pearl Pirie, Checking In With: Sanita Fejzić

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

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

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

Erica Goss, Bread Labor: Poetry and the Day Job

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

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

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

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Invasion

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, A holiday and a vintage submissions spreadsheet

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

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

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

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

Helena Nelson, WHY WRITE POETRY REVIEWS?

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

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

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

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

almost sundown —
The Devil
coming for candy

Bill Waters, Almost sundown

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

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

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

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

Tim Love, What the author thinks

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

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

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

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

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

Mat Riches, Horses and Hand Magazine

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

How did you first engage with poetry?

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

Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part one

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

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

I keep stuffing them in bags, happily trouncing.

Ask Job, I say joyously.  

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

Jill Pearlman, Why Rake

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, Ladder of Years

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

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

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

R. M. Haines, A Conversation About INTERROGATION DAYS

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

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

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 20

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

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | all hallows eve

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

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

rob mclennan, imogen xtian smith, stemmy things

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

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

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

Sarah Kain Gutowski, On Inspiration & Momentum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

if he had it
it has gone

Paul Tobin, MUGGED ON DREAM STREET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, A Celebration of the Banal

You need so much
rain for the flowers,

so much moonlight
on the pines,

the old monk said,
so much silence

in the evening.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (347)

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 42

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


morning walk —
the gentle touch
of fog

Bill Waters, Morning walk

– Walking through a cloud—droplets beaded my black wool

– Today, I painted a tropical bird

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

– A family of deer stepped along a creek bed

– Thunder shook the rain loose and then it cleared

Christine Swint, Accountability With Writing and Art

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 18

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Young, sometimes

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: Pobble, by Helen Trickey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cathy Wittmeyer, RUMORS SECRETS & LIES

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

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

Dale Favier, Fall 2022

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

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Some Discoveries This Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Tobin, THE GOLDEN HARE SINGS

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

Shadows uttering rosaries in forsaken alleyways.

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

Rich Ferguson, The Re-Rememberer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Write lightly,
the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (337)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, automagic coming soon….

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

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

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

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The fire of autumn

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

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

Thomas Whyte, Katerina Canyon : part eight

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

Or they might form a poem.

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, Today When I Rattle the Bones

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

Beth Adams, Artists, Moving On

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

Luisa A. Igloria, Five compatriots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, this experience has taught me two things.

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

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

Mat Riches, Having nun of it

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

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

unhurried, the window becomes a mirror

Jason Crane, haiku: 20 October 2022

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, 10,000 Steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, The pursuit of okayness

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 41

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JJS, the search

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

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

Joannie Stangeland, Spelling Bee and poetry

experiments with iron
liberating the colours
a mad book of masks

Penelope Circe Ariadne
alive in spite of everything
my missing grandmother

the word was made song
wayfaring lines
stop and look

a tidal island
dark brown and ancient
the pink elephant moth

weeding and mulching
preparing the ground
everything changes

Ama Bolton, ABCD October 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlotte Hamrick, Those Dead Shrimp Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt about climate crisis

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

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

Anthony Wilson, Awful but cheerful

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

Lesley Wheeler, Currents and circuits

Reasons to weep
are as numerous as the stars.

Every bodyworker knows
the muscle that cries out

is the victim: something else
has tightened into immobility.

But when it’s the heart
that cries out —

how can I delaminate
years of fused-together sorrows?

Rachel Barenblat, Tight

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

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

Rich Ferguson, Once Upon a Coyote Night

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, Life I love You

When the book gets accepted, everything is awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kinda makes it all worth it nice.

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

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

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

Sarah J Sloat, A Design Winner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, Readings, decisions, fresh starts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Best laid plans

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

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

Han VanderHart, Learn from the Pine

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Waters, Seventeen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luisa A. Igloria, Weaving

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

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (36)

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

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

shiny rock
many silent feet
before me

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 31

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

James Lee Jobe, each of us is an ember

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

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

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

Beth Adams, Olive Trees at Epidaurus

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

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

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

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

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

Carolee Bennett, the annoying chewing sounds my brain makes

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

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

I have the right
to be absolutely
wrong

Ama Bolton, Desire Lines

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

Charlotte Hamrick, Favorite Fiction: 2nd Quarter 2021

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, Sonnet for our second COVID Rosh Hashanah

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

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

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

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

And then, it did. 

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

Liz Lefroy, I Harvest My Crops

grain theory

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

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

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

Michael Rehling, Haibun 213

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bethany Reid, Writing a Postcard

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the edge of the cusp

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

Bill Waters, Haiku about family and friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Houghton, Not drowning but waving

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

Shawna Lemay, On Refusing to Be Worn Out

walking sideways
in bosherton’s lily ponds
freshwater crabs

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

dreams of empire
all the red in the atlas
fading away

laugharne
around every corner
dylan

blue pool
half the depth
of my trepidation

Jim Young [no title]

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

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

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

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

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Stage

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

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling

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

Jason Crane, Havana

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

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

Mat Riches, Vona Groarke’s Trumpet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, Sealey Challenge: Day 1

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, Postcolonial Love Poem

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

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

rob mclennan, Jordan Abel, NISHGA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Hunt, interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 26

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Edgoose, When Reader Meets Text

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

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

Dale Favier, Eat and Reading

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

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, This poem

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

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

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

Paul Tobin, interview with Charlotte Gann

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

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

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

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

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

that moment
when the sea is yours
alone

Jim Young [no title]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Goss, What’s Wrong with Inspiration?

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

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

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

Hyejung Kook [no title]

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

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

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

Bill Waters, New scrolls in the fairy houses

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

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

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

Bethany Reid, River Mouth Review, Issue 7

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

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

Courtney LeBlanc, Long Time, No Post

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

did light fall, and in which
direction? I imagine

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

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

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

rob mclennan, Four poems for Michael Dennis

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

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

José Angel Araguz, new Salamander issue!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, little windows | on blogging

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

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

Laura Grace Weldon, Inner & Outer Coherence

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

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

Beth Adams, A Somber July 1

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, My Day in Meat

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

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

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

bake

the pie

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

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

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Dessication

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

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

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

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

Rich Ferguson, the reason for meaning

Fences
in the Sandhills

don’t know
what to do —

to hold in,
hold out,

hold on?

Tom Montag, NEBRASKA SANDHILLS (25)

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

Luisa A. Igloria, Penultimate

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

That midnight might find us close, night after night. 

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

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

Yes, like the river and the valley.

James Lee Jobe, Words that grow like sunflowers.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 24

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

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

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

Dale Favier, A Prayer for the Last Rain

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

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

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

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

Juneteenth . . .
I free myself
from illusions

Bill Waters, Juneteenth

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

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

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

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

That voice of disillusioned lion tamers and agoraphobic elevators.

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

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

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

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

Constipated jackhammers, clogged sinks, computers on the blink.

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

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

Rich Ferguson, Hardly a Party Line

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

James Lee Jobe, 2 prose poems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Bloomsday Fuss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Edgoose, Bearing the Beauty of Music

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

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

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

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

Grant Hackett [no title]

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

Luisa A. Igloria, We slip back into the current

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bethany Reid, What Poetry Books Are Made of

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

Kristen McHenry, Mild Hypochondria, Food Anhedonia, Emotional Growth

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

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

Shawna Lemay, The Emotional Life with Respect to Sandwiches

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

Gary Barwin, Washing the Dishes: Ars Poetica

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

Julie Mellor, Drifting

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

rob mclennan, Pattie McCarthy, wifthing

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, the painter and the poem

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

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

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

Ren Powell, Circling Back

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

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

Beth Adams, Happy Father’s Day

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

John Foggin, Fathers Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Young, to the sea

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Constricted

These are not your
Sandhills to write

about, the wind
tells the poet.

The poet doesn’t
listen to the wind,

but to the stars.

Tom Montag, NEBRASKA SANDHILLS (10)

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

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

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

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

Here, finally, the skybowl of night.

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

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

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

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

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

Integrity, in every embodied breath.

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

JJS, Cleave