Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 23

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: the pleasures of summer, memories of childhood, remaining a kid at heart, and more.


“Wintering” is a season turned verb that served us during lockdown. During the 14-month hibernation, people proposed ways of thinking about dark days by developing a cool state of mind, lowering one’s emotional temperature so one could be nurtured by the reality of whatever comes, not what we create.  

Now comes “summering.”  Only wealthy people “summer,” people have long cried!  But the way we collectively re-verbed “winter” is being done with summer too.  We’re seeking a summer of the mind, because we’re still at home and time is moving on.  Call it a return to lightness.  The painters had their favorite spots for light — Provincetown, the south of France — yet on these cool, not-quite summer mornings light pours around a doorway in the house, streams through branches in the garden, becomes seamless in the sky. 

Jill Pearlman, “Wintering” becomes “Summering”

All I have seen here
I am seeing new —
June in the Sandhills.

Tom Montag, NEBRASKA SANDHILLS (3)

Suddenly, It’s June.  The work and stress of teaching is like the memory of childbirth.  Already, I have forgotten the intense labor of those last weeks. True, I learned a lot, teaching in the “remote” format, but  I missed being on campus.  I am looking forward to teaching face to face in Fall 2021. […]

I am not sure what exactly I learned  this past year. I stepped up; my students stepped up.  We got it done.  Now we’re looking around, feeling a tiny bit lost, because we are suddenly free to do whatever we want.   For me, that feeling of being oar-less is disconcerting, but I somehow right myself after two weeks of drifting . . .  Now working on new poems and stories; edited my novella, hoping that it holds up for my readers (we’ll see what they say!); sending manuscripts of prose and poems out. It’s been 4 years since I’ve put together a manuscript.  The process requires such concentration to get it just right (we’ll see what they say!).  

Of course, time doesn’t wait here on the farm.  Our gardens (5000 square feet) are nearly planted to capacity.  We are out there in the early morning, trying to get things done before the sun and its brash white light fries us to a crisp.  It’s been plenty warm lately.  Gardens are looking good, too.

My time in the garden is a mediation on whatever I’m writing or editing.  So I can weed a couple hours; then come in and work a few hours on writing projects.  I hope this will be a summer of healing and accomplishment.  Here’s hoping we have bushels and bushels of produce!  

M.J. Iuppa, June 6th, 2021: I have No Idea How It’s Suddenly June

in the mist he
missed tea
the fog swirled
into the saucer
the hot sun shone
winked at the pouring
just a sip of a sparkle
and the morning
brewed nicely
sipped slowly
buttercups
and daisies
days

Jim Young, summer morning

It’s new moon. It’s the start of Tamuz. Four weeks until Av. Then four weeks until Elul. Then four weeks until Rosh Hashanah. It’s twelve weeks until the Jewish new year, friends. I don’t want to think about it either! I want to revel in the nowat last.

Our sacred calendar is always tugging us forward. In deepest midwinter we celebrate Tu BiShvat and yearn toward the Purim and Pesach that will be our stepping-stones into spring. And now it’s barely summer, and our calendar points toward fall.

In my line of work, that means thinking about services and sermons — and, this year, questions of masks and pandemic and building capacity and airflow. But for all of us, clergy and laypeople alike, this moment points our hearts toward the horizon.

Rachel Barenblat, Three

The raw footage for the video was shot mainly in and around the city of Adelaide, its suburbs, the nearby Fleurieu Peninsula and Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, supplemented with images from around Greece. But nothing in the video is quite as it seems. Most scenes have been composited and animated from multiple sources. So we look down a city laneway and see friends walking along a beach. A derelict shed opens out onto a fairground, lit by mysterious warning flags. Storm clouds, ominously aglow, gather behind skylines. And after the rain, floodwater surges across plazas, covers the floors of ruined buildings.

Who inhabits these strange places? Whom will we meet there? Look carefully in the malls and side-streets: we can see our fellow walkers, and then, again, again… And in windows of city buildings, in old frames hung on walls of broken brick and cracked concrete, we see the faces of the young and old, the boys and girls, the men and women of our imagination, our desires, our reconstructed memories. As alluring as they seem, none of them is real. Rather, they are the product of artificial intelligence, trained on thousands of our fellow humans, and generated by cold, unfeeling algorithms.

No video can truly capture the inner thoughts that inspire a poet’s words. Instead, we can construct a world in which the real and unreal seamlessly merge, creating environments beyond day-to-day experience, yet somehow familiar, somehow recognisable as elements in the shared narratives of our lives.

Ian Gibbins, The Life We Live Is Not Life Itself at 9th International Video Poetry Festival in Athens

I was thinking about COVID, how it robs people of breath. What might symbolize breath, lungs, community, those things lost, appreciation for those things regained? 

I have a vision of an arboretum or a garden in each city, with a place for names, with meditational spots for people to sit and process or simply be with their grief. I see a labyrinth where people who need movement to process life have an opportunity, and a labyrinth seems symbolic of this disease too–we’re at different places on the path, we may feel separate and spaced out, but we’re together. 

If each community/city across the nation and world created their version of an arboretum or garden, with native plants, we’d help heal the planet in other ways too.

And then I continued to think about this idea.  

I like that this kind of memorial could have spiritual overtones or not, depending on who is there to experience it.  And it would be ecumenical.

I like the idea of large trees, of creating memorial spaces that preserve large trees.  That seems important as a symbol, but also to the health of the planet.  I spent some time on Sunday driving through housing complexes that have gotten rid of all the trees, and how depressing that is.  

I’m also thinking of the newer research that shows that trees are more communal creatures than we once thought.  They are not solitary bulwarks.

This kind of memorial, a garden and/or arboretum, would require some amount of care.  But if we couldn’t be sure the care would be there, a community could create a wild pasture/woodland/desert kind of approach–let the natural process take care of itself.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Memorial Arboretum

the easing of grief
a stone beneath the cypress
becomes a small frog

Lynne Rees, haiku

I have eight tall tightly-crowded bookcases in a small house, possibly not unlike many who might be reading this, but are you 71 yet? Do you wake up thinking about . . . and this is very much my reality . . . thinking about how I don’t want my son to have a mess to sort through when I die. I look around and wonder how, after stripping down to bare needs, and moving from East to West coast 13 years ago (and how is that possible?) I’ve managed to accumulate so many books. Not to mention, sheepishly, clothes, shoes, hair products, canned foods, house plants, cats, cat paraphernalia.

My mom’s death conferred upon me one of my two debilitating experiences in “taking down a house.” I’m not sure if there is an accurate term for this act—but there should be, and probably is in another language. (Short derail here to google “term for cleaning out a home after a death.” Nada.) Having done this chore for my mom and for my best friend who died of AIDS at only thirty-seven (another lingering topic), I often warn people that this act is possibly the most emotionally fraught task they will face following a death.

I was also thinking about an interview I am working on with a(nother) lesbian who is many years estranged from her family of origin. This takes me to emptying my friend’s apartment, deciding what to keep, what to give away, and grabbing his journals so his parents wouldn’t get ahold of them. My first poetry chapbook reveals what was in those journals. I’m wishy-washy, but think I will probably burn my journals—they are so consumed with despair and fury—the worst parts of a life that also includes joy and pleasure.

I think I was wondering if people might think that, since I’m on a mission to get rid of things, to tidy up my living space, I might be depressed, even considering suicide. You would not be entirely wrong, I’ve had a difficult few months. But the thing is, after this pandemic year, which we all have faced in our various ways, I am so looking forward to seeing my east coast family and friends in August, and spending a week at the beach house in Cape May where emerging versions of my family have gone to every summer for at least 25 years, until this last one. We have a new baby joining us this year. I remember how my mother loved the beach. And lived to see her first great grand boy before she died.

Risa Denenberg, Considering the Lyrical Essay

my grandfather’s hands ached from arthritis
and it hurt him to write
but he would write me letters when I was a boy
urging me to pray, to be kind
and to love god
when I was around him
he would teach me Catholic prayers
and baseball
soon it will be fifty years
since he passed
and I teach Buddhist prayers to my granddaughter
life, I love you

James Lee Jobe, Grandfathers. Dreams.

Have you come across the pseudo-fact, circulating recently, that claims 72% of all American adults live within 20 miles from where they grew up? I don’t trust that as a statistic, but its true that the when I map the driving distance from my home in SW Washington, DC, to my family’s home in Vienna, VA, the distance comes up as just 17 miles. Though I’d note that distance still takes more than a half-hour to travel thanks to Beltway traffic. 

There are moments when I nourish the instinct to get away, and moments when it feels incredibly rewarding to have stayed so close to home for so long. Evidence of the latter has been a recent dialogue with Fairfax County’s Public Libraries, which provided refuge on many a day growing up. Our conversation has resulted in both an hourlong “Meet the Poet” event recorded online last week (which you can view here) and an upcoming July seminar, free, on “Narrative Strategies and Truth-Telling in Nonfiction,” intended for folks interested in self-mentoring themselves toward writing a memoir. 

On the heels of a virtual 8th Period visit with the TJ Poets Club for National Poetry Month in April, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology asked me to speak at their graduation ceremonies. As an alumna, I couldn’t imagine saying no. But as the date neared and it got really real, I wondered how I was going to use this chance–all six glimmering minutes of it. [Click through to read Sandra’s speech.]

Sandra Beasley, Still a TJ Kid at Heart

As I’ve mentioned, one of the things I am looking most forward to this summer is my return to the thrift stores. While I occasionally hit up the ones in the city, I have far better luck at finding gems out in Rockford and environs (which are never quite as picked over as urban thrifts.) What I’m looking for varies. […]

I still have the media cabinets I always said I’d paint (but grew to love the avocado green.)  All the chairs and trunks and tables found at Goodwill and Salvation Army.  Slowly, I built up my collection of artwork and decor, dishes, various chairs, a green industrial school trashcan to catch paper shavings. Part of it is nostalgia–many things remind me of my grandmothers.  My dad’s mom collected animal salt and pepper shakers. My great grandmother wore cat eye glasses and dainty floral dresses and collected velvet souvenir pillows from the places she visited. My mom’s mom had an enormous collection of costume jewelry she’d allow me to play with, which spawned my obsession at making them into hair clips. But so much gets lost.  My mother and aunt burned my grandmother’s jewelry and clothes in a grief-stricken bonfire because they were angry she died so young. My great grandmother’s goods were sold off by an unscrupulous uncle. We salvaged some things from my paternal grandmother’s house–including a couple of diaries and a porcelain jewelry box I’ve broken and glued together three times.   It sits on a mirror tray on my built-in, but the salt-pepper shakers didn’t survive the years. 

In my first book, I wrote a piece called “the blue dress poems” which was about how we haunt such things as much as they haunt us. A fictional blue dress that holds not only personal memory, but the decades of its history before me. A tipsy woman in a boat. A war.  The seamstress who sews it.  I have a frequent dream where I inherit my maternal grandmother’s house, which was torn down decades ago, but it’s filled with all the things she left behind, completely intact.  I’ve written about this often and it crops up in poems and blog entries. Sometimes, the nostalgia isn’t mine (I once wrote a line in another poems “filled with a nostalgia that wasn’t even my own” and I feel this way sometimes. There are things that remind me of the past, but less in a personal connection way.  The metal green trash can echoes the gray and putty colored ones in every classroom throughout the 80’s.  I don’t have room for collecting them, but I’ll fondle vintage metal lunch boxes and remember my own. Show me something old, pre-1980’s–and I’m sure to love it.

Kristy Bowen, night scavenges our cellars : writing and thrifting

I found this book, along with some others from the 1860s and 70s, in a pile at the back of a closet, and now I’m altering it as a form of therapy.

It’s also a way to play, to discover, and to stay curious. What strange repetition of images and contexts will I find? What is this found poem trying to say say to me?

In my mind there’s an emotional context that a reader might not experience, but it doesn’t matter. We make our meaning of it as the moment happens. The reader finds their own meaning, and the drawings add another layer.

It’s very restorative, the process of finding poems. It’s a moment I can dip into over and over, pour m’amuse.

Christine Swint, Altered Books for Altered States

A Postcard To (Red Squirrel Press, 2021) is an unusual collection for many reasons. To start with, there are the obvious ones, such as the fact that it’s co-authored by two poets – John Greening and Stuart Henson – as the book is comprised of their sonnets initially written on postcards to each other over the past twenty-five years. And then there’s the innovative format: pages are turned horizontal to imitate those afore-mentioned postcards. The consequent, ingenious marriage of formats is surprising and pleasing to the mind and eye.

However, A Postcard To is also unusual in more subtle ways. First off, its focus on personal, social and literary history is acute. Even the format itself – the postcards in question – is an artefact that’s rooted in the 20th Century, halfway between letters and WhatsApps. In this context, the poets not only show awareness of epistolatory traditions, but they also choose an ideal length of poem for their postcards, 14 lines lines just squeezing on to the available surface.

In terms of contents, meanwhile, that afore-mentioned consciousness of the individual’s place in history becomes clear once more. If these postcards are written while the poets are on trips, they inevitably coincide with counterpoints to their everyday experiences. As such, of course, they serve as celebrations of the act of travel, and feel even more significant during this pandemic that inhibits our movements so much.

Matthew Stewart, A celebration of travel, John Greening’s and Stuart Henson’s A Postcard To

Q: Once the Vehicule Poets were formed as an informal group, what did that mean, exactly? Was this a way for the seven of you to distinguish yourselves from the other poets working in the city? Was it a marketing tool for readings? What did it mean to the group of you?

[Ken Norris]: In a way, the Vehicule Poets became aware of themselves by being denigrated by other folks in town who called them “those fucking Vehicule Poets.” And what they meant were those poets who were running the Press and the Reading Series down at the Gallery. And it was, “Oh, they must be talking about us.” And “Oh, they must be talking about the group of us.” And the “us” was the three of us who were editing books for the Press: Endre, Artie, and I. And the “us” was the folks who were running the Reading Series, which was Claudia, Endre, Artie, John, Stephen, and Tom. So when people are talking about “the fucking Vehicule Poets” that must be who they are talking about.

So that’s the way that we were aware of the fact that we were being talked about and being dismissed all together.

In late 1978, we called a meeting at Artie’s house to discuss whether we all wanted to appear in an anthology together. Everybody showed up. Everybody talked about it for a couple of hours. And we decided that we DID all want to appear in an anthology together. So we applied the label “The Vehicule Poets” to the anthology, and it was published by John’s Maker Press in 1979.

But Mouse Eggs started coming out in 1975, before we were ever officially “the Vehicule Poets.” We were just a bunch of friends doing a mimeographed magazine together.

Once we were a group, what it meant was that, when Artie died, and they ran his obituary in the Globe & Mail, they called him Artie Gold, Vehicule Poet.

You should read my poem “Montreal, 1975,” which is in South China Sea. I talk about what it was like for me to find the other six. I say that once we found one another we were “no longer alone / in the vast soup of being.”

So there’s THAT. And that, for me, was significant. I suddenly had friends. I suddenly had friends in poetry. I wasn’t going to have to conduct “a career” on my own. We didn’t THINK in careers then. Did we think “in marketing”? I don’t think so. We were just stating the obvious—we were 7 poets who were hanging out with one another and collaborating with one another.

And one of the things we were collaborating on was Mouse Eggs.

[Endre Farkas]: I don’t remember ever consciously thinking about being a Vehicule Poet as a way to distinguish myself from others. Ken is right us being dubbed the Vehicule Poets was derogatory.  I think Tom liked the label because it suggested motion, moving ahead. (Read “No Parking.”) We didn’t ever have a meeting about the name or writing a manifesto. Our manifesto, if you can consider it such, was our experimenting: Tom with his videopoetry, me with my collaboration with dance and music, Stephen in his work with a visual artist, John with concrete poetry, Ken in collaboration with Tom, John, Stephen and me. Claudia’s “radical” work was eroticism and feminism. I thought and still do that Stephen Morrissey poem “regard as sacred the disorder of my mind” was as close as we got to a manifesto. I consider it our unofficial anthem.

Peter Van Toorn referred to the Vehicule Poets as “the messies” and to himself, Solway & Harris as “the neats.” What he meant by “messy” was that that we didn’t focus on craft and form. It was a “fun” and “derogatory” term at the same time.  I think he and the other “neats” were wrong. We were probably as, if not more, concerned with craft. We just weren’t reproducing/manufacturing the old forms. We were interested in “making it new.” And we were having fun. Serious fun. And Mouse Eggs was one the ways we were having it. And for me that was important.

Marketing? The closest I got to doing that was going to the Atwater and Jean Talon markets to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

rob mclennan, Mouse Eggs (1976-80): an interview with Ken Norris and Endre Farkas, and (incomplete) bibliography,

The late, admired travel writer Jan Morris reacted favourably to [Peter] Finch’s writing about Cardiff, his home city where he gives or gave ‘alternative’ tours, but added that she skipped the poetry the book contained because she didn’t understand it. I suspect this is a common reaction that Finch accepts and perhaps almost expects. Over the years I’ve found it interesting, amusing, sometimes exhilarating to read some of the apparently weirder more playful pieces aloud. Poems for ghosts contains Hills, which begins conventionally – Just an ordinary man of the bald Welsh hills – but soon evolves into words linked by sound – Just grass gap, bald gap, garp gap, garp gap, gop gap, sharp grap shop shap sheep sugar sha shower shope sheep shear shoe slap sap grasp gap gosp – and eventually repeating 19 times (not 20 so not 5 complete lines) gap.

There are random word-association poems, poems with vowels missed out, list poems. Some things that are just raucously daft and pointless (which is the point as an artist would say). Take Sonnet No. 18 (from Useful) which begins Eeeee e eeeeee eeee ee e eeeeee’s eee? Something to do with Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet. Of course, he could be making that up.

Given that he spent six years, or was it 26, editing a poetry magazine, and 15 or so running a poetry press, Finch’s poem Little Mag (from poems for ghosts) about the years when he edited Second Aeon in the 60s and 70s holds a grim kind of truth. Spend three hours/ addressing envelopes./ Bic exhausted./ Towards the finish/ the hand finds itself/ totally unable to complete the/ tight circle of a letter o… In exchange I get misprints/ highlighted, protest, left topher/ off his name, no comma, word missing,/ poems, two renewals, one cancellation… A bag of post like a/ sack of kippers// Dear Editor,/ I enclose 38 poems about love./ My friends say these/ are better than anything/ else they’ve read./ I would like to buy your/ magazine please send a/ free copy./ I will pay for one/when I’m in it.

Bob Mee, THE VALUE OF DOING THINGS YOUR OWN WAY – A BRIEF LOOK AT THE WORK OF PETER FINCH

For my sins and very much against my better judgement, I have just launched a new online poetry zine, Kangaroos.

It takes its inspiration from the Frank O’Hara poem ‘Today’, which features kangaroos.

We will be open for submissions from 3rd-31st July, and would very much welcome you to join in the fun. Please check out our submissions guidelines here.

You can also find us on Twitter here.

Please do spread the word among your networks.

I look forward to seeing your poems with bounce!

Anthony Wilson, Welcome Kangaroos

Okay, so my cats weren’t impressed with the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers Workshop, but I was–although since I would have been able to attend in person, the virtual format was a bit of a bummer. (I know virtualness makes a weeklong workshop so much more accessible for others, though, and cheaper. Tradeoffs.) The scoop:

I was assigned to a poetry workshop with 5 other poets led by Dan Chiasson, whose writing I follow but about whom I knew nothing as a person. First blessing: he’s smart and generous with praise and help. We met for three two-hour workshops based on 10-page mss we had each submitted, and we also had individual half-hour conferences with Dan. I’m sure the various workshop teachers varied in style, but I felt lucky–this class was the best part of the conference for me. I learned a lot about my own work and spend the week revising like a demon. Another big benefit: the other people in the class were ALSO talented, kind, and wise, although our styles and concerns varied quite a bit. I felt grateful for their attention and really hunkered down over their work, too, trying to give what I received.

My classmates’ comments were sometimes contradictory, in the way of all workshops, but that can be useful. You gain a sense of what’s working for some readers and what’s not, but it’s up to you to pick through the suggestions and figure out how to address the issues they raise. What’s typical for me: I get praise for the sound textures of my poems, told they’re beautiful, but sometimes that I’m shying away from unfolding their deeper stakes. And of course some things are a challenge for any poet, such as closing with punch yet unpredictability. My job this week was to crack many of the poems open and figure out how to keep the language good while also going for broke on the material. I think I made progress, which is all anyone ever does, right? Part of the pleasure of poetry is that it’s an art no one ever masters.

Lesley Wheeler, About #Breadloaf21

I applied to Breadloaf for the first time since I was a young writer and I had just quit my job to try and be a real writer (but was too poor to afford to go), so I’m going to the all-virtual Breadloaf in August, which I’m pretty excited about – because having this event virtually allows someone like me, with disabilities and chronic illness, to attend. I’m an extrovert who can’t travel and go to as many literary things as she would like, so this is something exciting for me. Maybe conferences will start having a virtual component so those of us who can’t travel easily can still enjoy the cool opportunities, readings and classes – I mean, this year proved we could do it, right?

Then, I’m going to my first residency in a very long time on San Juan Island, one of my favorite places, in September for ten days, where I’m hoping to get to serious work on a new poetry manuscript. There will be foxes and otters and deer and seals and bioluminescent life forms right on the water to help me write, and maybe, if we’re lucky, dolphins and whales.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Stormy Week, Both Weather and Health-Wise; a Few Literary Things to Look Forward To

As ever, for 49 years now, a stop in Rockingham for treats, snacks, to pee, to breathe the balsam and pine and iron and soap scent of the Vermont Country Store, so changed now from the starker mess of former decades’ barrels and piles–and yet its character fundamentally unchanged, its medicine the same: halfway there, I would always know.

It’s something less than halfway really, but all my life, every summer moving the family and the dogs and the cats and the kids and everything but the danger and chaos up to the woods, I could begin to believe by Rockingham that Ripton, the Farm, the Green Mountain National Forest, the wolves, the bears, the deer, the coyotes, the bobwhites were coming, imminent now: soon I would be dropping all weights on that long dirt driveway backing up into the woods, emerging sunstruck into pools of meadow and hayfield stone walled, the sprawling white farmhouse at the center a boat in oceans of green.

This magic has never changed.

Coming here as an adult, living here with Gilgamesh and stalking these woods through six feet of snow and -50F winter shatterings of weeks and summer strawberries lining the roadside and literally bumping into bears and sitting next to a cow moose while she slurped water more loudly than seems precisely possible and I could barely contain the giggling, stalking deer, being stalked by the forest presence we pretend is extinct up here though it’s not and the hair on the back of my neck, on my arms, rising in warning—no, it has never changed.

I am healed, here. I am whole, here. There is integrity not just within, but in the forest here, the land itself, the animals: the self-evident fact of the non-human-centered-relationships unfolding puts everything where it belongs, and the relief is that of a thing constantly being jammed and battered into spaces it doesn’t fit being embraced by the place by which and for which it was designed.

JJS, Birth, re-birth, re-birth

Every morning I write a single poem – quick and dirty – as part of my writing practice. The idea is to let go of the idea that my writing is too precious, and my ideas too few to squander on an online blog. I suppose it has something to do with the pop psychology model of the scarcity vs abundance mindset. At any rate, this morning I wrote about a late childhood summer memory. The twitter-sized poem touched off a cascade of memories. And I’ve been trying to suss out why they came up now and how I feel about them.

Ambivalence is the first word that came to mind, but that isn’t true. I don’t have good memories of the Kentucky river with its stigmatizing impetigo (white trash rash), the drunken men in their flipping dune buggies with their near-misses, recklessly chewing up the riverbanks. My mother too stoned to care that my 6-year-old brother was on a minibike and split his skull open on the tailpipe of a parked car, while I fussed in a kind of vertical rut, like a hopping, cartoon drama queen. Making “too big a deal of it.”

But I swam across the river once. And back. Despite my fear of snapping turtles, water moccasins, fish in general, and step-fathers in the specific. Death. Despite my fear of drowning like my cousin had been drowned in a bathtub.

I swam over the dark cushion of fear that was almost like a buoy, like a propelling presence.

I’ve been wondering if this is really facing one’s fear at all. I suppose it is – but then, I don’t feel like I conquered it. It was more like a battle and a retreat. All these years of battle and retreat.

And if I were to conquer my fears, to puncture the cushion? What then? What’s going to buoy me and propel me through the world?

these dark shapes that stack
one on one like bones to hold
a body upright

Ren Powell, A Dark Comfort

Congratulations on publishing your new chapbook, And the Whale. Can you tell us a bit about the project and how it came into being?    

Thank you! So, the bulk of the poems were written in late 2015 and throughout 2016, though I didn’t actually assemble the manuscript until 2019. It’s always strange to talk about the ‘about’ of poetry, because so much of the medium’s magic is cupping it into your own hands and breathing life into it, but the poems in And the Whale are — to me, anyhow — about two things.

One, about the death of a dear friend. About death and loss and grief and the foreverness of sorrow.

And two, about coming out as non-binary the same year I released my full-length book Salt Is For Curing, which was about (‘about’) finding power as a woman after sexual assault. 

The poems in your collection are haunting, and I was particularly moved by the voice of the widow. How did you come to give rise to this persona in your work? 

‘Widow’ was the original title of ‘The Widow Tells An Anecdote I’, which was published by Brain Mill Press in 2016 (I think). It was intended as a one-off. I was trying to figure out a way to talk around my friend’s death, not about it but around it, and the archetype of the widow kept coming to me. I was incredibly drawn to the endlessness of her, the fact that this death — another’s death — has become her title, who she is to society. There’s just nothing comparable for platonic relationships. 

But I wanted her sorrow to have action. Forward movement. (Anecdote: I once attended a talk by Linda Woolverton. She wrote the screenplay for Disney’s Beauty & The Beast, which at the time was considered something of a feminist masterpiece, all things considered. She wanted to give Belle a hobby, and chose reading. ‘Not active enough’, she was told. Reading was a boring hobby. Linda’s response to this, instead of picking another hobby, was to have Belle read while walking.) So while some widows may climb the stairs of the lighthouse every night and look out at the sea that claimed their love, mine got a boat. 

And as for her anecdotes? Well, I love an anecdote. 

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Sonya Vatomsky on breathing life into poetry

At the end of the street before the turn,
a glimpse of river: choppy with light,
singed with coal dust. I forget

sometimes whether the barges crossing
look smaller or larger as you speed up.
Perspective is what they call it: a way

of looking at the world that’s shaped by
the length of time you can hold it in
your gaze without faltering.

Luisa A. Igloria, Vanishing Point

I’m back to joyfully jaunting around in my 17-year-old rust-pocked but trusty Honda to meetings, classes, and social gatherings. (The same Honda once starred in the Goose & Honda Love Story. Click HERE to read that weirdness.) Because I’m short and the driver’s seat is somewhat slumped, I position myself as far right on the seat as possible so the shoulder harness doesn’t catch me across the throat. And because my phone is often busy spitting out GPS directions, I listen to audiobooks on CD.

Each recorded book borrowed from the library comes in a plastic case harder to open than a pickle jar, at least while driving, so I situate the next disc on a soft fabric shopping bag on the passenger seat, careful to cover it with the another bag lest some convergence of sunlight and disc angle spark a conflagration. It’s entirely worth it since audiobooks combine the kindergarten-like pleasure of being read to with the magic of good literature.

That is, till hot weather returns. My CD player does not get along with my AC. I get about 20 to 30 minutes of audio play before the disc freezes up. Literally chills until it’s unplayable. I take it out, warm the disc against my chest, then slide it back in and stab buttons until the narration returns to where I left off. Sometimes I’m merging or looking for a turn-off and the disc plays on through weirdly repeated phrases and jittery vowel stutters. It is like innovative slam poetry or experimental theater coming at me right from the car speakers. I can’t help but listen for meaning.

It adds an entirely new layer to The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehsi Coates when the phrase “how much you see” repeats in a loop. It gives me more to consider about The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich when the single word “again” is stretched, over and over, to a whistle-sharp refrain. And when the narrator’s voice gets stuck on a single sound in J. Drew Lanham’s The Home Place, it becomes both less and more than a word, like visiting a foreign country where someone keeps saying the same thing as if repetition might aid comprehension.

I’m not annoyed, I’m entranced. It’s strangely fascinating to have these audio glitches pop up in the midst of an already-fascinating book. I am grateful to my elderly car and old technology for teaching me a whole new appreciation for words.  

Laura Grace Weldon, Linguistic Improvisation Via Honda

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 19

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 I’m a little under the weather following my second Covid jab—light fever, general brain fog—so if the arrangement seems especially random, that’s my excuse. I found so many interesting posts, I had to be a bit picky and exclude a few things that might’ve otherwise made the cut—if that’s you, my apologies.


If my mother were alive, she’d be asking me why I haven’t written anything this week about Israel and Gaza and the West Bank. (Well, in fairness: she’d be asking why I haven’t written about Israel. She didn’t care about Gaza or the West Bank.) We had this conversation often, when she was alive and was well enough to get cranky with me about what I did or didn’t write. 

I’m struggling to find words this week. Would my words actually make things better for anyone? Would they bring light, or only more heat? Would they open anyone’s heart, or just deepen entrenchment? What purpose would my words serve? Instead I’ve been seeking out the voices of Israelis and Palestinians. Their words matter right now in a way that mine does not.

I read words from Leah Solomon about her heartbreak and desperation. I read words from Ismail (a young man writing under a pseudonym to protect himself) about feeling trapped between a quick death and a slow one. I read words from Lama M. Abarqoub about bereaved parents. I read words from Sarah Tuttle-Singer about blockades and parenthood and children. 

My heart breaks for all who have worked there toward justice and peace and coexistence.  The actions (and inactions) of governments and extremists are pushing justice and peace and coexistence further and further out of the realm of possibility. And I know the same emboldening of rightwing supremacists that scares me in the States is happening there too. 

So I pray this prayer by Rabbi Jordan Braunig, and this prayer of mothers for life and peace by R. Tamar Elad-Appelbaum and Sheikha Ibtisam Maḥameed (transl. by R. Amichai Lau-Lavie), and The smoke has not cleared by Hila Ratzabi. I pray poems by Yehuda Amichai and Mahmoud Darwish, Rachel Tzvia Back and Carolina Ebeid. I pray, and their words become my own.

Rachel Barenblat, Wordless

Some days we can lose ourselves in the labyrinth of dark news headlines.

Blindfolded by grief, we wander from one tragedy to another, tattooed with wounds feeling so un-akin to our natural skin.

We’re taught, yet again, how a bullet spelled backwards might not sound the same way but it still leaves a gun at the same speed.

Or how awful words can build upon one another, calcify, create the spine of hate.

Some days are so dark you can taste the fear of becoming a relic, an artifact, an extinct thing in the museum of breathing.

Gentle heart, return to us from the wild. Bell our weariness to a many-petalled joy.

Rich Ferguson, When the Bullet Meets the Bone

This past year I have not been able to write much, or rather, I haven’t been able to write much new poetry. I’ve written here from time to time. (Thank goodness for this blog, and the book that’s come from it – so much pleasure there, and the kind reading and sharing of it). And I’ve written thousands of emails, texts, even posted the odd tweet …I’ve written for my job as a university lecturer: thousands and thousands and thousands of words about, well, about how and why we can and must care for and empower each other, about how we try to learn when we cannot be together. That work has been utterly exhausting, though I regret none of it. 

As for the music of poetry? The place from which that comes feels numbed, weary, tuneless. 

    I asked, with everything I did not
    have, to be born. And nowhere in any
    of it was there meaning …

I woke this morning and after a bit of Sunday morning laying around, talked with myself about first things – about how I came to write poetry in the beginning, how I scribbled lines, hid them and tore them up, then eventually had the courage to join a writing group in my 40s. It was through reading poetry, not writing, that I found what I needed to know. After the reading, the writing – the impetus to express my own longings. I knew, I reminded myself decades later, that it was reading The Wasteland in my 1980s London bedroom that convinced me that I was not alone.

Sharon Olds, in her poem I Cannot Say I Did Not addresses the question of unbidden existence more clearly than anything I’ve heard or read in any other context: church, family, school, social work text books, The School of Life website …  This existential conundrum haunted my youth –  none of us asked to be born. Olds takes it head on in this poem, even daring to end on a preposition. It’s brilliant, and reading it again this morning (from the Bloodaxe Staying Human anthology) it confirmed to me that if I turn back to reading the poetry that moves me most, poetry which is about this existence of ours – the one that we’ve been hanging onto for dear life – if I turn back to the well-worn pages of Olds, Rich, Hopkins, Eliot, Collins, McMillan, Clarke, Sprackland, Duffy, Oliver …  in time, and with gentleness, and quietly, I will, in time, find my voice again.

    … I want to say that love
    is the meaning, but I think that love may be
    the means, what we ask with. 
Sharon Olds – I Cannot Say I Did Not

Liz Lefroy, I Struggle With Words

Strangely, in the last few weeks, I have taken some of the incredibly negative writing I’ve been churning out for months and months, and am turning it into something more positive. There is still an underlying sadness and fear but it also has hope. I had previously tried to find, in my vast pile of writing, some poems that were positive. I didn’t find many. I submitted those to a competition and was shortlisted. That was a positive in itself. And it is clear that people want hope right now – well, always, obviously. So I thought I’d try it on myself. If I can write it, maybe I can believe it. Some days it works. I’ll keep fighting.

Sue Ibrahim, Fighting

And the boat will light the night sky
enough for a sudden, uproarious rush
to the sea, in old clothes, good clothes,
underclothes or no clothes at all.
A wrecked boat with stories to be told
but nobody interested enough to hear.
Somebody will make a good fire of it
and it’ll be gone. Charcoal, ash, good to
spread on an allotment, or for the wind
to pick up and blow far out to sea.

Bob Mee, ON MADNESS STREET

I discovered the cure to writer’s block. Decide finally your rattly old car needs to be replaced so you can stop worrying about it. Do some dreadful car shopping, including endless reading of articles in Car and Driver or other magazines you would not otherwise frequent. While you’re in the middle of a reaction from your second Covid shot, buy a car you can live with for a price that gives you only partial dyspepsia. Sell the old car for far less than you had thought you could get. Boom: Start writing again.

Or was it springtime.

Or finally boredom.

Well. I guess I’m not sure. Anyway, I have several pages of scrawl, so that’s good. But I’ve also got a pile of really good reads (hm…could that have been what got me going…?), so I thought I’d share some.

Marilyn McCabe, But you gotta have something; or, On Writer’s Block and Reading

I’m not a silver linings kind of gal. Not a “look on the bright side” person. Not because I insist on wallowing, but that I believe I need to allow myself to accept what is hard, or unpleasant or destructive, for what it is – honestly. I need to see this “thing” for what it is and acknowledge the real consequences.

It seems to me that looking for bright sides is gaslighting oneself. A kind of emotional sleight of hand. That said, life is full of “things”. Dark things and bright things. And sometimes it does help to keep the nourishing things in view while dealing with the things that can kill us.

I remember seeing a drawing a few years ago of a dark tangle of lines inside a small circle. It represented grief. The image was followed by a larger circle with the same size dark tangle of lines inside. The idea being that grief doesn’t get smaller, but that life goes on and becomes fuller, and the grief takes up less space in our lives.

I am no expert on grief, but this makes sense to me. And I see no reason why it wouldn’t help to look around and make my life larger in the present. To make my circle of awareness larger.

Ren Powell, “All the Things”

As I read through Frances of the Wider Field, I think of my own grandmothers, one who died suddenly 30 years ago, and one who died 17 years ago from Parkinson’s. I often feel that I never really got to know them, and that is its own kind of grief. I see your poems as a way to stay in conversation with people you cannot converse with anymore, at least not in the way you once did. Do you feel there is something special about poetry as a genre that allows for these conversations to happen? 

I hadn’t really thought about it like this before, but yes. Poetry allows for all kinds of unexpected turns as opposed to, say, a mode that has some expectation of linearity. It seems to me that poems are not only a way to stay in conversation with people we can no longer access, but that writing into the unknown allows us to converse with mysteries. The Frances poems originated with that energy, of being open to conversations with people I never met, with places that existed before me, with lineage, with ghosts, with concepts of god. The energy was at first an impulse to write toward a very specific absence, but the poems turned into presence–Frances began permeating the landscape, the dailiness of past, present and maybe even future. I’m interested in the continuum of time and memory and how we move long through different planes of experience, sometimes all at once.

Allyson Whipple, Poetry Interview with Laura Van Prooyen

When I visit, now, he makes sure that I know that he wants me to have his onyx bookends. It’s hard to know if he knows that he’s said that before: he’s always had the good teacher’s capacity for clear repetition. He knows it’s not enough to say something once. One of the reasons I’ve always been a poor teacher is that I’m not able to repeat myself. If I even suspect that I repeating myself, I stop short; I’m mortified; I can’t proceed. Not that it actually stops me from repeating myself: I’m often startled, if I look back at my older posts, to see how often, how tiresomely, I say the same thing. I’ve said all this before, too. 

The bookends are massive, Mexican onyx, from some foray into Juárez. And I do indeed like them.

The mallet just kisses the huge metal disk: it rings, or rather throbs: a low tone on the edge of hearing, but a sweet call. If the huge slow earth were a cat chirruping with pleasure at the sight of a friend, it would make this sound. More things, more things in heaven and earth. A la deriva, but at least in motion. The sky is a pure wordless blue. This year’s wildfires haven’t started up yet. And we don’t actually know that they will.  There’s lots we don’t know.

Dale Favier, Bells that still Ring

You must forget what came before,
how really there was no cloud
of mosquitos that night, only a stinging
flurry of words, how everything happened
too fast once she arrived, and how
you were the only one left to bury her.
Afterwards, you ate and cried as you ate,
the toast black like the black soil
you kept turning inside your mind,
covering and uncovering a grave.

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke, so you
sat there, waiting, eating the burned
toast, raising your hands in surrender
to imaginary knocks on the door.
The makeshift table wobbled, half-chewed
by termites. The TV flickered on mute.
You made your own news, platefuls
of it, the gift of an alternate reality,
where the world was still the same, but
was played back in reverse, and last night
with its soft-pink center was yet to come,
led by the peace of a dreamless sleep.

Romana Iorga, Nothing Left to Do

I do not own a powerful telephoto lens for my old digital camera, so I rarely take successful pictures of birds. My noticing tends toward the small and not-fast-moving: flowers, mosses, flora, lichen, fungi, landscapes. I have learned to look mostly at my feet, and occasionally at the clouds. It seems that the limits of my camera and of my vision (terribly, terribly nearsighted) have led to a particular perspective that affects my photos, my botanical interests, and my poetry.

Which is, sometimes, all to the good–but not uniformly. Perspective should be varied; we humans need to imagine that other humans (and non-humans) may witness life from other points of view. This concept is fundamental to psychological understanding and to the much-vaunted and controversial “theory of mind.” It also gives us the pathetic fallacy and anthropomorphism, which expand human ideas about consciousness and offer plangent and resonant metaphors that writers can employ.

All of this came to top of mind today when a student brought in a Philosophy paper concerning Nietzsche’s perspectivism.

Nietzsche opposes philosophers who ignore the fact that individuals have limitations on their theorizing. What makes his idea so thorny is that at the same time he suggests–goes so far as to claim–that perspective (even limited, ideological perspective) is imaginative, is one of our human freedoms.

Ann E. Michael, Perspective(s)

Poetry is difficult to define. It’s a nebulous creature. Even if one were to point to particular tropes or concepts as being hallmarks of poetry, the definition shifts along with its multitude of forms, styles, and expectations.

The first episode of this Writing Excuses master class attempts to answer this question. However, instead of simply presenting her own definition of poetry, El-Mohtar wisely turns the tables, asking the question, “What is prose?”

Prose is so ubiquitous — being present in novels, short stories, and non-fiction works all around us — that we tend to take it for granted. By asking “What is prose?” Amal shakes up our understanding of what we read and write.

Since Kowal, Wells, and Taylor are all seasoned professionals, their answers to this question are thoughtful and enlightening. The discussion leads to the conclusion that poetry and prose are not opposites (as is often perceived), rather they use the same tools and elements to engage with language in order to create specific effects.

As a person who has recently published Twelve, a book that blurs the line between poetry and prose, I found this conversation particularly resonant. Each of the poems within my book are narrative-heavy prose poems, in which poetic language is broken into blocks of text similar to paragraphs. As such, it’s been interesting reading some of the reviews and commentary about the book, as some readers feel that labeling these pieces poems is an inaccurate description, calling them instead vignettes.

Personally, I don’t blame readers for feeling bewilderment. When I started writing this collection, my intention was to write poetry with a heavy narrative focus. However, as my writing process continued, each piece grew into a hybrid creature I wasn’t quite able to define. Ultimately, I decided that since my intention was to write poetry — and these pieces feel like poetry to me — that’s what I call them.

Andrea Blythe, What is Poetry? A Writing Excuses Master Class

Tomorrow is #DylanDay (see here), so I wanted to post some photographs linked to the poet whose hometown of Swansea was also my home for two decades. […]

Italian poet and Dylan Thomas aficionado, Lidia Chiarelli, charter member and co-ordinator of the Immagine e Poesia movement, has been busy assembling and curating a website of international writing and visual art to mark the day. I am delighted to have my poem, ‘The Gothic Arch’, posted on this webpage (the easiest way to find it is to scroll to the bottom here and then move the cursor up the page a little). The poem, as you will see, was written in response to a few words from one of Dylan’s poems. 

The site also contains articles, such as one by Peter Thabit Jones on ‘Dylan Thomas and Greenwich Village, New York’, in which he ponders some of the fascinating ‘what ifs’ in relation to Dylan’s short but extraordinary literary life. 

Caroline Gill, Marking #DylanDay 2021 … Immagine e Poesia

as was youth
beer-bloated and curled
a smile – winsome
isn’t that what they say
to the wide-eyed

but to the writers of poems
it is the meagre wages
of time squandered
in the good company
of laughter un-worded
worldly but unworldly
is this tragedy to behold

Jim Young, older dylan dying

Most of the time, I feel much more at home among zine culture practitioners than I ever did poets, and it may just be that my DIY ethos has never fit well in a system where such things are frowned upon. Where I have sat on panels arguing about self-publishing that are the exact opposite of zine panels.   Fellow zinesters are welcoming and excited about indie publishing, where many poets are just looking for the “acceptable” routes of work dissemination–academic journals, fancy presses, the things poets have been fighting over since the early 20th century and maybe before which have more to do with “legitimacy” and less with actually cultivating an audience.  Zinesters have to take the means of production into their own hands by definition, so the results are much more varied and diverse. 

And perhaps it is that seizing I try to convey to the classes the most. The idea of authorship and creating media in spaces and from voices that don’t always get heard. I am excited to see what comes of this year’s programming once we are back in the physical spaces..so stay tuned.

Kristy Bowen, for the love of zines

Q: How did Queen Street Quarterly get started?

[Suzanne Zelazo]: I had been volunteering as the photography editor (which was the only position open) at my college literary mag (The Trinity Review). The journal was as formally traditional as the campus. Although I found that limiting, I got to see a little of what went into such an enterprise. Most importantly, I got to see how and where it was printed, which was around the corner at Coach House Press. The singularity of that press with its commitment to the book as an art object was absolutely crucial to how I conceived of the QSQ. What they do as printers made it very clear to me that I wanted to produce a periodical that would showcase the materiality of the text, specifically by including sound and visual poetry. But, as a lover of much lyric work as well, I wanted a venue that would integrate the traditional and the avant garde. I believed and still do in the power of reciprocal exchange between different genres. One way I saw of enabling that was by according the ephemerality that characterizes much experimental work the weighted presence of a proper bound text and to have it appear on zephyr laid paper that would do much to fix the fleeting in place for the benefit of extended engagement. Additionally, I believed the less experimental material in this configuration would take on a different charge featured alongside seemingly incongruous work.

Looking back, part of the impetus to start the QSQ was no doubt youthful arrogance—I did not see any magazines at that time to which I wanted to submit work, or more precisely, which reflected the kind of work I was writing and interested in, so I figured I’d make one.

Q: What were your models when starting out? Were you basing the journal on anything specific, or working more intuitively?

SZ: I wasn’t basing it on anything specific but discovering older copies of Between C and D: Neo-Expressionist Lower East Side Fiction Magazine, edited by Joel Rose and Catherine Texier (1983-1990) made a huge impact on me. I read every one I could get my hands on. Printed and “bound” as it was, or rather, computer-printed accordion-style and packaged in zipped plastic bags, cultivated my understanding of the periodical as art object. The entire print run is stunning and the magazine’s commitment to the avant garde scene was so inspiring to me. Tish was the same for me in terms of prioritizing generic experimentation.

rob mclennan, Queen Street Quarterly (1997-2005): bibliography, and an interview with Suzanne Zelazo

I can barely lead this morning’s writing class. A sudden migraine hit only a few minutes before students began to show up on Zoom. It’s a bad one — pain and nausea plus vivid wavy lines distorting my vision. I take some restorative slow breaths, drink a glass of water, then welcome everyone to the class.

I love teaching. I’m particularly mesmerized by the way community writing classes effortlessly build connections between strangers. Over weeks of reading and discussing their writing, people can’t help but get to know one another. Ordinary conversations, even between close friends, tend to fritter time away on surface topics. But in writing class we skip weather and family updates, going directly to deeper topics. It’s entirely natural to bond after sharing universal experiences like fear, regret, grief, embarrassment, triumph, and joy. I suspect we carry one another’s poems and stories with us long after the class is over. I certainly do. Many friendships built in writing class persist and several former classes of mine continue to meet independently as writing groups. Writing together has a magic all its own. 

But this morning I am in trouble. I can’t easily focus on the screen and can barely see my notes. Worst of all, I have trouble explaining concepts due to migraine-imposed brain fog, In this session I introduce persona poems. I explain, falteringly, how persona poems free us to write from the perspective of a soup bowl, a tree, an astronomer, a virus. I point out persona poems can help to stretch us. After all, if we’re writing in the voice of a dolphin or the voice of Donald Trump, we are writing our way toward understanding those lives more completely. I note that some people insist all poems are persona poems because the “I” in the poem is still a persona the poet choose to present. I’m not sure how much I get across because I feel like a balloon floating over the class.

Laura Grace Weldon, Healing Power Of Writing Via Zoom

After trying checklists and flowcharts and a variety of other revision tools, all of which felt too prescriptive, I finally landed on the poetry revision bingo card. I figured making revision an actual game might encourage a greater degree of playfulness. I tell my students that the goal is to get a bingo, not to get a perfect poem. This frees them up to be experimental and take chances they might not otherwise take. While they also have the option of jumping around the board at random, getting a bingo forces them to try things that might be unfamiliar to them, instead of just going for low hanging fruit. I sell it as an opportunity to be surprised, to find out what secrets the poem is keeping, as well as what it has to teach about craft. And of course, sometimes what the experiment teaches is that you had it right the first time, which isn’t a failure of the revision process, but a validation of your instincts.

Poetry Revision Bingo – guest post by Suzanne Langlois (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

A thousand pages flutter open in the wind.

Translation: The days are gods
who haven’t shown their faces yet.
It’s when they appear as nothingness
that we think of them as powerful.
How can you supplicate
what isn’t there?

Luisa A. Igloria, (Continuing) Improvisations

spring daylight lingers
longer through the evening

we talk video games
coasting down hills
our bike lights blinking

James Brush, 05.10.21

A roar of Harleys,
a long rumble of them

coming through town–
spring.

Tom Montag, A ROAR OF HARLEYS

Walking home the other day, I noticed a cop car pulled up in front of a coffee shop on the main drag of my neighborhood. When I rubbernecked to see what was going on, I was a bit shocked to see a 100% buck-naked lady standing out in front of the entrance in full view of God and everyone. I would have expected this from an elderly person with dementia, but this was a young, attractive woman who appeared completely normal in every other way. She was perfectly calm and reposeful, not all at combative, just…naked. At one point she settled into one the chairs in the outdoor seating section, drew her knees up, and just sat there. It was quite strange. The cop on site was in observation mode, being very hands-off and obviously trying to shield her body as much as possible. I hope the naked lady is okay and that she got connected with some good mental health resources and that no one took pictures of her and posted them on the internet (I was watching the other pedestrians closely to make sure they didn’t have their phones out). The whole thing made me wonder about my own capacity to crack to the point that one day I just decide take all my clothes off in public and stand around nonchalantly. Somehow I don’t think this will ever happen. I am innately as modest as a nun and have a horror of being seen in anything less than full-length pants and skirts, so hopefully, even if I do have a complete mental breakdown one day, it won’t involve me stripping in public.

Mr. Typist and I took a long walk yesterday in celebration of the outdoor mask mandate being lifted, and I was surprised at how joyous it made me to see people’s faces again. It was a sunny, almost-warm day, there were a lot of people out, and practically no one had a mask on. Every time we passed people without masks, I was filled with a little zing of happiness at being able to see their full faces. I don’t know any of these people; they are just strangers out in public, but somehow seeing their whole faces brought me a sense of jubilance. This brings up all kinds of questions about what sort of long-term psychological affects that masking has had on us, and how it has affected our sense of our own humanity, and what it means from a biological and evolutionary standpoint to be visually cut off from the view of our fellow human’s faces for prolonged periods of time.

Kristen McHenry, In Defense of Hufflepuff, Buck-Naked Lady, The Joy of Seeing Faces

Finally, one from Rembrandt — I love this because it’s deliberately left unfinished, and we can see his fast, scribbling line. Look at that barely-indicated tree, over on the left! Picasso loved Rembrandt and you can see why. His facility is unnerving, and just makes me smile with delight when I see the way he “builds” the trees with just that line before starting to add any shading or detail, and then starts to go in: “yes, let’s work on the side of that trunk to show its gnarliness, let’s show the little leaves on the ground and the way the bank is uneven, these branches I’ll leave white against the dark foliage, but those others need to be dark against the light shining through”… I could feel him thinking some of the same thoughts and making some of the same decisions I did in my own drawing, and all those years and the distance between anonymity and fame collapse, and we’re just two artists concentrated on our work, looking intently at trees.

Beth Adams, On Drawing Trees

Can light redeem every/anything? Since I have lost my faith in so many things of late, maybe irredeemably, it occurs to me that my latest photo excursion was in part about testing that idea. Can light still change us? Can beauty? Can a seagull perched on top of a TacoTime cactus after rummaging through the trash show me something that I need to know? Can all of this, this attempt, be a synonym for happiness, even if it is couched in despair and a loss of faith?

Shawna Lemay, Synonyms of Happiness

The photographer wonders how to say in deer language: “I come in peace; be not afraid.”

The deer wonders how to say in human language: “Breakfast is ready and there’s enough for you. Come and eat.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Deer and the Photographer

This morning I thought with a start: does “console” mean with-alone? It doesn’t, it turns out. According to the OED, it comes from the Latin con- (with) + sōlārī (to solace, soothe). We used to say “consolate” until Dryden, Pope, and others shortened it. But I like my pretend etymology, too. There’s inwardness to mourning, but it’s also touching how many people reach out kindly.

Last spring I found it deeply strange that the world was coming to life so beautifully as a virus ravaged populations all over the world. This spring, as the human social world stirs in harmony with the natural one, I’m thinking about how my mother would have appreciated the warm weather, the annual sequence of blooms, and the lift of mask mandates (I worry about the latter, but I bet she would have flung hers away triumphantly and gone to brunch with her friends, to her children’s exasperation). It’s strange not to text and call her. Guilt and shame sometimes flood in about the times I wasn’t kind to her. I woke up in the middle of the night mad at a relative who wouldn’t talk to her during the last year (although he’s also elderly, I thought in the morning, and deserving of compassion, so I will NOT be extending the grudge). I wish my mother had one more summer.

On the “with” side of lonely brooding, I’m thinking about traveling and connecting with friends, in person. I rebooked last June’s cancelled trip to Iceland as well as an August week at a NC beach house with my kids–and I’ll come to the latter straight from the Sewanee Writers Conference, which I’m looking forward to with excitement now. This Thursday Chris and I are driving up to NJ to spend three nights at my sister’s beach house before attending a small memorial for my mother in my sister’s backyard, with a few friends and relatives I haven’t seen in ages. I’ve picked out a poem from Heterotopia to read, and I’ll share a letter from my mother’s best friend while growing up in England, but other than that, this writer has no idea what to say. There’s so much, and a lot of it feels private.

Lesley Wheeler, Celebration & consolation

sad at the passing
of a friend
we few now
the sun sets
but still
you drive
the dark paths
as if they had
no end

Dick Jones, Dog Sutra §22

So I spent some time this week reading Joan Didion’s new collection of as-yet uncollected essays from the 1960’s – 2000s, What I Mean – a great book to dip in and out of on the weekends. Standout essays include “Why I Write” and “On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice,” as well as some of her asides about her early days working as a copywriter at Vogue. […]

I also finished Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz, about the friendship and relationships between Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. There were two fun chapters – on how they met in a workshop with Robert Lowell, their meetups, and on their writing habits – and about four excruciating chapters on how both women suffered in their marriages, their poor treatment at the hands of psychiatrists, Anne’s abuse of her daughter, and their eventual suicides. I know it’s hard to get around those subjects in any kind of biography about either poet but it just – oof – made for tough going. It’s well-researched and the author makes useful notes and asides for context, but I was glad to have Joan Didion to go back to – she seemed so solidly upbeat in comparison!

I was also interested to find out for which book and when Anne Sexton won the Pulitzer Prize – click the link for more detailed info from a Poetry Foundation blog post – and how she negotiated for equal pay for readings, appearances, and publications. When reading about successful female authors of the past for inspiration, I often wonder how they would fare now. How much more equitable is our current system – health system, and the poetry system? How can we make it even better? How can we find successful women writers who had more stable, less abusive relationships, better help and more success in life who can be role models? There’s always Margaret Atwood, who remains bracingly cheerful in the face of a long, happy marriage and a lot of late-in-life success, I guess…Suggestions welcome in the comments!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Poem on Verse Daily – I Can’t Stop, Birds and Blooms, and Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion

Poetry has been a balm for many over the past difficult year, for others it has been an outlet to express the whirlwind of emotions. Chris Campbell’s White Eye of the Needle, currently available from The Choir Press, is the first published collection I’ve read that mentions the current epidemic, though its presence has been felt through poems in journals and online since this all began.

Covid’s stamp on the current poetry scene can’t be ignored as I’m sure it will continue to weigh down many poetic collections in the near future, but former journalist Campbell doesn’t dwell on the epidemic. The poetry collection themes range from travel to relationships. They are well-matched by Sandra Evans’ sweet, detailed line drawings, gems in themselves.

Campbell’s writing is delightful, focusing on those simple moments that in retrospect carry so much importance now, especially as many ordinary habits of our life, visiting a café, going to an open air market have been denied us in the last year. His poems remind us to savour the things we once enjoyed freely.

Gerry Stewart, Book Review – White Eye of the Needle – Chris Campbell – Blog Tour

A second review of Strangers is in! This one meant so much to me because it was written by Chris Banks, a poet whose writing and blogging have meant a lot to me (as you can see if you check out my ten Chris Banks “quotes” here on this site, which reach back over the last twelve years!). As Chris mentions in the review, Strangers features a quote from Chris’ second book, The Cold Panes of Surfaces

The quote accompanies the book’s dedication to my father and two brothers: “For we are who we are, and more, all that is ridden within us / in the same way our fathers are not our fathers but someone / else’s inconsolable sons” (“LaHave River, Cable Ferry”).

So I suppose Chris wasn’t a fully unbiased reader, nor am I a fully unbiased recipient. Chris’ attention being given to my book was an absolute joy. His observation that the book focuses on “grief for a larger world that is constantly passing forever into the past” echoes one of my favourite conversations, between Stephanie Bolster and Don Coles, on the”presentiment of loss” in Coles’ poetry. I hadn’t realized – slow as one is to see their own work – that I was in part drawn to that conversation because I think and write in similar ways. 

Rob Taylor, New Strangers Review

I’ve been blown away by some of the haiku in paul m.’s ‘witness tree’, and reading Wally Swist’s ‘The Windbreak Pine’ has made me appreciate the longer line (many of his poems are 17 syllables, although not necessarily 5-7-5). Both books are from Snapshot Press. I’d like to say more about these collections, but work has been hectic (plugging gaps due to an outbreak of Covid that seems to be rumbling on despite many other areas having lowers cases). Time hasn’t been on my side – is it ever? What I would say though, is that I have never been disappointed by any books I’ve bought from Snapshot Press. And I have a few more still on my wish list!

This sort of brings me round to another thing that I’m starting to do, which is sell some of my poetry books. From time to time, I give books away, either to fellow writers, or to the local Oxfam bookshop in nearby Holmfirth. I don’t do this lightly, but space is always a premium and sometimes I realise I’m unlikely to keep returning to a particular book. Most of the books I own aren’t worth that much, but one or two might be considered collectible. So, I’m dipping my toe in the waters of e-bay, in the hope that some of these books will find the right home, so to speak. My mother has a saying that goes something along the lines of: ‘She knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. I’ve had a careful think about what I value, and currently, it’s haiku. Any money I raise will go towards the purchase of haiku books. And I’ve taken the plunge and joined The British Haiku Society too (not sure why it’s taken me so long, something about a formal organisation that I find slightly off-putting, but we’ll see). Anyway, that’s where I’m up to on this rather rain-soaked Saturday afternoon. I hope that wherever you are, you are reading, and writing, and loving what you do!

Julie Mellor, rain-washed gritstone

The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by; have I come to threaten them? No? This is the anxiety of death that we all know. The burrowing owls, small, colored like the earth, like the cold ground, relax a little as I pass. I can see this. O cold night, let them know peace and comfort, these little beings who look at me and think of danger. 

James Lee Jobe, Flesh, time, fate, and some rather small owls.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: hearts, mothers, birthdays, uniquely poetic dilemmas and much more as another Poetry Month came to an end… but the pandemic, sadly, proved to be far from over.


Certain variations of alone have served us well.

But in other situations, if you spell that word backwards, it becomes the first name of the aircraft to drop an atom bomb during times of war.

In other words, you can love the rain but not to the point you become it, where you flood the streets, spill into gutters, and are swept out to sea.

If there was something I said you don’t fully understand, hold these words up to a mirror.

Perhaps they’ll make better sense.

Rich Ferguson, Enola / Alone

It’s been a catastrophic April in India, with Covid-19 ravaging the country and causing bottomless suffering. I’ve tried to write micro-poetry through it all (on instagram – @tp_poetry), only to realize that there are not enough words for pain and grief. This was the last poem for April. Where do we go from here? What will May bring?

countless broken hearts:
each fragment a universe
in which stars are dying.
there is a reason we should not see
stars imploding —
the sky is part-dream, part-faith, wholly alabaster,
the ceiling that keeps out the endless deluge,
the monsoon is our one unspoken compromise.
but now silver turns to dust in wet eyes.
grief that needs to be intensely personal,
grief that belongs inside the occasional soul,
that grief is now plural.
we hold that polished stone inside our chests,
abandoned, naked,
naked in this city of wailing mirrors.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Countless broken hearts

The heart is a shoe: it grows tattered over time, worn down by its footfall that keeps trudging forward into each night.

The heart is a phone: it cannot speak but words come and go from it, not things it says but others, a conversation around the heart clutched and answered, only the side of someone else’s face for intimacy.

You touch my arm, and the set of toy teeth inside me I call a heart is set off chattering. All my life I’ve never heard this shudder and jolt. My heart’s all motion and gnash now, all kick and snap—a toy, but all bite.

José Angel Araguz, heartlines

After reading the first poem in  Karen Dennison’s most recent book Of Hearts, (Broken Sleep Books, 2021), I discovered that Point Nemo is the spot on the earth furthest from any land and also the place where “retired spacecraft are sent”

Karen takes this strange fact and imagines a  life over time from the invincibility of a young woman in love, to her sudden descent into waves: “… knocked off course by junk and debris. For decades I lay on the seabed with other wrecks and remnants of life”. Will the speaker resurface after loss and grief? That’s the question.

Many of the poems  show us love-lost and grief, but they also give us a cosmic viewpoint blended with the human scale. The grandness of the Universe offers the gift of imagination, awe and perhaps comfort. For example, in “After you’re gone”, the speaker’s “heart’s a pulsar/ sweeping the night,/ warm breath on cold glass/ condensing to gas clouds,/ constellations … ”

Karen is really good at this sort of melding of imagery, scale and emotions, and in “Moon song” she gives the moon a heart: “She knows the destitute, the homeless, feels / Their dust-cold shivers in her empty seas, drips/ her thought-tears on midnight …”

E.E. Nobbs, Of Hearts by Karen Dennison

I met John [Higgs], Robin [Ince] and Kae [Tempest] at the British Library and we had the extraordinary pleasure of viewing Blake’s only surviving notebook. It was so well preserved, beautiful, filled with Blake’s sketches and first drafts. In this photo I am reading the early drafts of the poem London. 

It was such a wonderful experience. We recorded some of Blake’s poetry for this event alongside my great friend the poet Kae Tempest. Even though we wore masks, I could see our eyes all smiling. Kae is the president of The Blake Society and it was so lovely to spend some time in the library with Kae and John and Robin and William Blake. What a glorious way to gently ease myself out of lockdown and out of my cocoon! Like so many I haven’t been out-out for a long time and have not seen my friends and peers, so this was an extra special day for me. 

After the recording was done, the light was good, the golden hour, so I took a walk and saw my city again. I felt like I was coming back from war, returning home from a great battle. I ached and I felt older walking through London yesterday. How London was vibrating with youth and life, all London, all coming out of her cocoon. Kae said of butterflies, how it is good it is hard to break out of a cocoon, it makes the butterfly build muscle so they can fly, Kae said, if there was no fight and it was easy to leave a cocoon the butterfly wings would be too weak to fly. I thought about this a lot as I walked. I thought about butterflies and cocoons and wing muscles and how we are all building up our muscles to fly again – the collective noun for butterflies is a kaleidoscope of butterflies and I really like that. I want us to be a beautiful, powerful kaleidoscope of butterflies in flight. 

Selena Godden, Tyger Tyger!

They arrive at the door. Late. They carry me out, upright, stiff, one man on each elbow, taking good care not to bump me against the door frames. They swing me horizontal to put me into the truck, stand me in a corner like a grandfather clock, strap me to the wall. In an easy chair, a woman in a Fair Isle cardigan and tweed skirt smokes a pipe. Are they moving both of us at the same time? I ask. She raises one eyebrow as if I should know. She picks up a battered copy of Slaughterhouse Angel, the underground magazine, from the dusty floor, begins to read the classified ads aloud.

Bob Mee, GROOVY REMOVALS (HOMAGE TO 1971)

We gathered our moments
gratefully — bits of starlight,
deep woods quiet, wild violets
and jonquils in Spring. We held them
close, like talismans for the future.
We held on until we didn’t have to.

*

[…]
So I missed the last two days of NaPoWriMo. I’m sad but it couldn’t be helped. I had my last COVID-19 vaccination on Wednesday and was rather sick for 48 hours after. All I wanted was to sleep or try to sleep. But I’m all better now and when I saw the bonus prompt I decided to jump in. My poem is on the sad side but we write what rises to the top, no? I hope everyone is having a great weekend. Mine is definitely on the upswing!

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo Day 31: Bonus

My enormously generous and gifted friend Georgia Writer [my name for her on this blog], invited me to an actual community poetry workshop and open mic, in person!

This declaration warrants an exclamation point considering I read two new poems as well as an erasure poem that Georgia Writer guided us to write. I got so emotionally charged during the outdoor reading that I grew flustered and tripped over the mic cord on my way back to the seating area.

Of course, I warned everyone that I had retired from teaching this year and have been pretty much in lock down since Thanksgiving. I’ve barely seen my own family members, including my 81-year old mother, who, I’m grateful to say, is very healthy because of an active lifestyle, good fortune, and lots of time outdoors in the garden and on trails.

Georgia Writer is a longtime university librarian, poet, and natural historian, a true polymath. Several years ago, when I visited her university office, it was like entering a cabinet of curiosities: sculptures, drawings, birds’ nests, wasp nests, animal skeletons, plants and plants and plants under lights and in terrariums. Of course, there were towers of books everywhere, and yes, she really does read them all.

Christine Swint, April Erasure Poem

Have you ever done something as you planned and prepared for it, received well-intentioned compliments, and only felt terrible afterward? Well, it’s over: Thursday’s Zoom reading in which I read new material next to some amazing poets that shattered me temporarily (Raising Our Voices poetry reading hosted by Carlow University’s MFA program). I couldn’t figure out why I felt disappointed and very, very sad. Sure, it was almost 3 a.m. in my time zone (the Zoom was hosted in EDT) when it ended so I was tired. I stayed awake for another hour trying to sort out my feelings: was I embarrassed to hear my poems next to the other fantastic ones; was I doing that thing where I compare my work and want to give up writing forever; was I expecting something more from the audience; was I expecting more people? The honest answer to these questions was a certain, “no,” but still I felt let-down, an anti-climax of sorts.

I reached out to my cousin, a musical performer who I grew up admiring because his voice resonates (I can hear him as Joseph in Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat all these 30-some years later). He relates. He said that sharing our work is, “vulnerable so … it’s natural to have those types of feelings afterwards.  We can be our own worst critic, which … goes hand in hand with wanting to do well.”  He has developed compassion for himself and an ability to laugh and to keep things in a broad perspective. I wish I were so mature (turning fifty this year). 

I reached out to poet-friends who agreed that, especially during this Zoom-era, readings can leave us feeling sad. There is no immediate response from the audience (on “mute”), no head nods, no affirmative “mmm-mmm’s,” no questions afterword or congratulations. It can make us feel isolated when we are left with the chat, which I only discovered in its entirety the next day. I didn’t know until the morning after that so many of my friends scattered all over the world (from Norway to Singapore) would be listening. The emails were very generous. My poet-mentor even wrote to ask if one of the new poems was published yet. I got lots of virtual big hugs and congratulations. The words beautiful, and great and vivid and moving were scattered about. It was very nice but, did I feel better? 

What is this self-doubt all about? Is it a mechanism to improve our work? How could it be if I’m not revising all of my poems? I like them the way they are. There. I said it. I was reacting like a Kindergartner, who throws tantrums. I certainly had not reached the maturity level of my cousin. It was not a conscious decision to feel badly, it was a disappointment I am not used to and it has to do with the Zoom-room. I usually love the excitement of reading to a room, however small the party. I miss the warmth of the crowd. It has been a year of isolation and no wonder, I miss people. 

Cathy Wittmeyer, Managing Expectations within The Honesty of the Room

I haven’t made an update here since February, but there hasn’t been much to say. And that’s not a bad thing. 

Work continues on compiling and sequencing the new & selected volume, I’ve got a few poems out at literary magazines, and I’ve significantly pulled back on posting on all of my social media accounts (it’s been a breath of fresh air). I also decided to opt out of accepting any invitations for readings during the almost over National Poetry Month. 

My head and iPhone notes app are filled with lines in search of a poem to plug them into, so that’s always a gift from the inspiration goddess. But, honestly, I feel like the “poetry hiatus” I wrote about at the end of last year has already begun. 

Collin Kelley, I’m still here

Despite pandemic restrictions, or perhaps because of them, I have been blessed with poetry the past few weeks. I have attended workshops and readings remotely/virtually, and I’ve participated in a few of those as well as giving one in-real-life poetry reading. I signed up to get the Dodge Poetry Festival’s poetry packet & prompts, and those appear daily in my email. Best of all, poems have been showing up in my mind–I started quite a few drafts in April.

Up to my ears in potential manuscripts (I have at least two books I am trying to organize), I’m also waiting rather anxiously to see whether my collection The Red Queen Hypothesis will indeed be published this year as planned. The virus and resulting lockdowns have interfered with so much. The publication of another of my books matters to me, but it remains a small thing in a global perspective, so I try to be patient.

Meanwhile, I thank poet Carol Dorf of Berkeley CA, who has been kind enough to read through one of my manuscripts and offer suggestions. It’s such a necessary step, getting a reader. I recently enjoyed this essay by Alan Shapiro in TriQuarterly, in which the author reflects on his many years of poetry-exchanges (he calls it dialogues) with C.K. Williams. His words reminded me of my friend-in-poetry David Dunn, who was, for close to 20 years, my poetry sounding board, epistolary critic, and nonjudgmental pal who often recognized what I was going for in a poem better than I did. Shapiro says he feels Williams looking over his shoulder as he writes, even after Williams’ death (in 2015). In a section of the essay Shapiro has an imagined (possibly?) conversation with a post-death Williams, conjuring the remarks his friend might have made in life, or after. I have had such dialogues with David, but not recently. It may be time to try again. Or, as Williams told Shapiro before he died, “Find a younger reader.”

Ann E. Michael, Imagined discourse, new skills

“For her graphic imagination and her instinct for matching feeling to image, I chose Erica Goss’s poems. It is far easier to describe in language the push-pull and shove of emotional attraction than it is to locate and pinpoint the meaning of feeling in time and space. Put another way, this poet has a gift for putting into vivid word-pictures her passion for life as well as her grasp of its unfolding complexity.”

So wrote Al Young when he chose my poems for the inaugural Edwin Markham Prize in Poetry in 2007. Those three sentences changed my life. As a woman re-inventing herself in her late forties, I simply could not believe my good fortune in winning that contest, but Al’s words about my poems mattered much more than winning. Clearly, he had read my poems, understood them, and, with his phrase “the push-pull and shove of emotional attraction,” aptly described the time of life I was in: pulled in a million directions, between family, school, and work, with the burning need to write.

When I won the contest, I didn’t know much about Al. As I got to know him better, I realized that I was just one of many people who’d received Al’s kindness. He was generous in that way. His optimism was infectious. He made students want to get up and do things, write poems, connect with others. He had an amazing voice, deep and resonant, that made his ordinary speech sound like poetry.

Erica Goss, A Tribute to Al Young

I’ve long appreciated the slow lyric across which Canadian poet (residing in St. John’s, Newfoundland) Don McKay contemplates, something I’m reminded of through his recent All New Animal Acts: Essays, Stretchers, Poems (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2020). Over the years, and across multiple books of poetry, essays and thinking, McKay has developed a meditative way of approaching and considering the physical world, which for him includes the written word, specifically poetry, as physical to his considerations as pebbles along a shore, the development of the Laurentian Plateau or an outcrop of trees. As he writes in the opening piece, “The Path Between Bewilderment & Wonder: Contemplating Lichens,” “Another way to put this: lichens are naturally occurring koans, puzzles placed in our path to shift our paradigms of thinking and help us into fresh spaces in the contemplation of life forms, natural systems, language, and ultimately the organ we are contemplating them with.”

Across six essay sections, two of which are broken up, further, into pairs, McKay contemplates the works of Joanne Page and Margaret Avison, linguistic study, the grotesque, geological time, confronting grief and the clarity of the lyric. What I appreciate about this collection is that, occasionally, McKay responds via a poem over the exposition of prose, and occasionally poems are included here to illustrate his thinking. Through both forms (and what are “stretchers,” exactly?), his meditations and lyric concerns remain, moving from birds to geology to geologic time, but through what prose might offer, as though his best thinking form has expanded from the seemingly almost-exclusive realm of the lyric poem and further into prose.

rob mclennan, Don McKay, All New Animal Acts: Essays, Stretchers, Poems

Mountains
hollowed for silver and gold, for copper

vein. The opening in the land a skylight
for all the dark bodies dropped into it,

made to extract their most sacred
elements. In time, the land publishes

every incursion— Open any rock face to read
the overlapping tables. Make a pin map

of every place where matter was atomized
for some kind of conquest or consumption.

Luisa A. Igloria, Histories of Conquest

I can’t keep up. Here’s a book published in 2019, and I’m only just getting round to it. In the poetry world that churns out collections and pamphlets and chapbooks by the thousand, 2019 might as well be the remote past. It’s like when I used to subscribe to Q magazine, and attempted to keep up with reviews of hundreds of new albums a month, all of which were the next Big Thing. And then they weren’t. It was pointless. I stopped trying.

With poetry I more and more rely on word of mouth, which sort of dries up when there are no readings to go to, no courses where people say, “have you read…?”. Everyone loses out.

And what if you’ve just published something. Imagine, you struggle, and work, and rework, and submit, and go to open mics, and one day someone offers to publish your first pamphlet/chapbook/whatever. There’s no feeling quite like it. But it happens in the middle of a pandemic, so you can’t go to readings and open mics and get the chance to sell your book (most of my sales have been on the back of readings), and you can’t charge your batteries on that energy, and gradually you see the wave’s subsided under you, and you’re floating in dead water. And you have books you can’t shift.

Now, imagine that poetry is your business, your profession. You rely on readings, on running courses, on tutoring…and on the back of that you go on writing, and hopefully selling your work. That’s how it is. Your job. Lockdown leaves you in dead water just as surely as if being published was a hobby. A nice one. But a sideline. Meanwhile, The Anatomical Venus should be flying off the shelves and hoovering up the accolades and starring at festivals. If you’ve bought it already you’ll need no telling. And if you haven’t, I hope the next few minutes will persuade you your life is incomplete till you do.

Sometimes a poem, a book, a voice speaks to you, makes you sit up. The Anatomical Venus does that for me, to me, no question. It’s full of what Clive James calls ‘the moments that draw you in’, when you recognise a poem as a poem, when it says that this is what it is. Something that memorises itself as you speak it, something that hooks you and reels you in. Sometimes it’s the sheer zestfulness of the thing, the unabashed love of language, its quirks and textures that are the stuff of en-chantment and incantation. So, yes, that. But also precision, the accurate control of the medium, a sure ear and eye, all that, and passion too. I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that Helen Ivory has all of that.

When I first read The Anatomical Venus I’d taken it with me to hospital . A session of chemotherapy is, counterintuitively, a good place to read poetry in. Quiet and peaceful as a Quaker meeting. It does mean you can’t read aloud, but this collection has a voice you can hear in your head.

John Foggin, Catching up: Helen Ivory’s “The Anatomical Venus”

The past few days have been a blur of real-life things like vaccinating and library things like our Urban Legends trivia (plus I worked from home Thursday in case I got sick from my vax, and didn’t really, so Friday was a catch-up). As such I have stalled out a bit on my napowrimo-ing and the bird artist pieces I have hope for, but not only things getting in the way, but also me getting in the way.  I know where I want it to go, but am having a hard time connecting the dots. So I stall.

One of the things I appreciate most about writing is play, how it feels sometimes like I have no idea where I’m going until I get there.  Which work for awhile, but at some point, the trip is over and you have to get yourself home somehow and finish the damn thing. I’ve written myself down a lovely road and now need to get back and so I lay in the grass a while and dally.  This happens every time, though usually it doesn’t matter unless I’m purposefully trying to finish something in an allotted time  I am all about cutting myself some slack.  It will happen eventually. Last year, due to the pandemic crazy, I actually didn’t finish the series I started until well into July, and am determined it turned out the better for it. As such, I will keep sharing them here, April being over be damned. But it might be a minute before the next installment. 

I have some other ideas in the hopper, both written and visual, I am hoping May yields. If I were responsible in tending to my projects, I would return to the things that forever languish uncompleted (&nbsp, the blue swallow project) but just as likely I’ll dive into something new that I also may never finish.  Though the odds are about 50/50 at this point.  Writing is also a little like crossing a high perilous bridge and doing fine until you actually look down. I reach a point with every project…sometimes I’m closer to the other side, sometimes it seems very far. 

Kristy Bowen, the road out…

I’m first-round-reading again for a poetry contest, and it’s usually very informative (I’ve written several blog post about lessons learned). But this time feels different. I think it’s because I myself am doing no writing, and have received a rejection every day for a week from work I’ve sent out. So as I encounter manuscripts I think are weaker than others, they seem to become a mirror of my own fears about my own work. Which is working me into paroxysms. 

All the manuscripts are competent. All have merit. But my job is to choose only up to 5— out of 25+ manuscripts — to move on to the next readers. So that’s a lot of manuscripts to say no to, and I have to, in my own mind, identify why I’m moving them into my No pile. I have to have good reason. But I can’t always articulate it, and that’s got me agonizing over my assessment prowess. And then as I articulate it I begin to question not only my own assessment but also my own work. Aargh.

For example, one manuscript: again, perfectly fine poems, but the thought occurred to me that too many of the poems seemed, and this is the word that popped into my head: “solipsistic.” But wait, I said. What the hell do I mean by that? That’s a terrible word.

As I’ve already talked about in the past in this space, I use a lot of “I” in my poems. Is that solipsistic? 

But wait, here’s another manuscript that I’ve shuffled into my Good Maybe pile. And look: a ton of “I” poems. So what is this other manuscript doing?

It seems like the Maybe manuscript is using the “I” to look through the speaker self at the world, but the No manuscript poems seem to stop at the speaker self and never really get beyond. 

So which kind of “I” poems am I writing? Oy. 

Marilyn McCabe, No, no, no; or, Why Do I Keep Agreeing to Be a First-Round Reader; or, More on Doubt

Anyway, my birthday weekend visit with vaccinated doctor/poet Natasha Moni – only my second post-vaccine in person visit with anyone – was wonderful. We realized we hadn’t seen each other in a year and a half! So we celebrated my birthday (yesterday) and hers (in January). It is so weird to see people in person, to sit around a table eating and drinking just like it was the good old pre-covid day. And Glenn made a terrific spread – chocolate cake, a wonderful cheese tray, crudités with avocado dip, goat-cheese stuffed baby peppers – he even sat down with us – briefly, if you know Glenn – for some poetry and grad school talk.

We talked about favorite poets, jobs, medicine, talked about how medical improvements made during covid might apply to other diseases after the covid pandemic has died down – like MS, cancer, lupus, and other conditions that have taken far too long to get good, effective treatments for. We talked about the benefits and downsides of Zoom doctor visits and Zoom poetry readings. We talked about Joan Didion, Haruki Murakami, Sylvia Plath, and Siri Hustvedt. Anyway, if you don’t have Natasha Moni’s poetry book from Two Sylvias Press, The Cardiologist’s Daughter, do yourself a favor and check it out. […]

Speaking of books and birthdays, besides being my birthday, this was also the week of the book launch (otherwise known as book birthday) of Kelli Russell Agodon’s new book, Dialogues with Rising Tides (see left, with Sylvia, who gives the book two paws up) from Copper Canyon Press. Happy to have my own copy and I’m sending one to my mom for Mother’s Day!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Birthday Celebrations with Spring Flowers and Friends, Kelli’s Book Birthday, Book Giveaway Winner Results, and More Re-Integration into Society

Yesterday I called to make an appointment for my first manicure since the pandemic started almost fifteen months ago. A few moments later I reached for my phone in my pocket. It was playing a number-out-of-service message, with your picture icon in the corner. Did I accidentally dial you after calling the Clip Shop? Or was that you, trying to call me? Well, here’s the news: I have a pulmonologist and a nebulizer and a manicure appointment. I am your daughter in every measurable way.

There’s a dazzling yellow goldfinch in the tree outside my window. It matches the dazzling yellow tulips behind the rock. There are tulips on my dining table, too, striated in yellow and red. You would like those. Like the ones we used to see on Fifth Avenue. I wish we could walk arm in arm down the city sidewalk. When I was a kid it seemed to me that those sidewalks sparkled, as though shot through with mica flakes, something that glinted and shone if you looked at it just right.

Rachel Barenblat, My mother’s daughter

My mother taught me to understand my life as a series of tales in which I was the adventurous heroine. She also gave me books. Each Christmas, the best present was a heavy shirt box filled with paperbacks, with the implication that at nine or ten, I was plenty old enough to enjoy them. They included most of the Alcott and Brontë novels plus works by Shakespeare, Jules Verne, Sir Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Homer, Chaucer, and much more. I remember walking down stairs carpeted in cream shag to ask her the difference between “impudent” and “imprudent.” When I was having trouble making sense of Wuthering Heights, she reread it and explained the story to me. Her taste wasn’t all high-flown, though. I also devoured her Reader’s Digests and Harlequin romances. It’s largely due to her that I always had my nose in a novel or play or epic poem, depending on them for escape and education. I told her how much I owed her for this a week ago, when she lay semi-conscious in a hospital bed, and it won me a rare smile.

She was also the parent who read all my poems and stories and, eventually, my published books, cheering me on. I owe certain teachers, too, for encouraging me to write poetry particularly, but I wrote Unbecoming because my mother taught me to love character-driven genre fiction (though she would never have used those words!). There’s a maybe-supernatural character in my novel because she loaded me up with tales about fairies and brownies and ghosts. I can’t believe that’s all in the past now, but my mother will survive as the stories we tell about her.

Lesley Wheeler, Mother of stories

My mother got a far away look in her eyes,
remembering breaking the bones of chicken legs

and sucking out the marrow. So good it was,
so good. Blood isn’t kosher, but is marrow?

The rabbi didn’t know, but the kitchen lady
does. My mother’s face looked satisfied and hungry,

both. I eat marrow to remember her hunger
and her satisfaction. All those children she had!

Making their bodies took something out of her own,
slowly sucked the bone itself out of her body

leaving the marrow surrounded by cobwebs.
The doctors said her bones looked like feathers. One fall,

that’s all it would take, and she’d snap into pieces,
but she didn’t. She fell over and over and

never broke a thing, going out of this life with
with all the bits and parts that survived her childhood.

PF Anderson, Breaking

We, the humans, move through the week like shapeshifters.
Monday is a dog with three legs, it barks at any noise,
And if it had a fourth leg and more motivation
It might just walk away and leave you.
Tuesday is your mother, as she was before your birth,
Lighter of heart, and far quicker to laugh,
Not as she became, a bag of bones, worn down by life.

James Lee Jobe, We are the crows, a happy child.

Tomorrow is my birthday and I’m going to have E. make some paleo hot chocolate and take me to the beach after work. I’m hoping the oystercatchers are back. The curlews. I’m hoping the wind is still but the sea is wild, white, and loud.

It’s been several weeks since we went to the beach. And then I was busy writing poems on stones, and thinking too much.

My new personal goal is to separate my day job from my personal work, and fold that work into the quiet, like shuffling a deck of cards.

Isn’t this the image people have in their heads of what poets do? Take things easily? Move through the world aware and in the moment, and then effortlessly shape the impressions into a written missive to convey the human experience? A recognizable experience. An idealized experience?

I don’t know. Does the general reader seek the familiar? Even Sexton and Path’s pain is idealized too often. I realize I could be wrong: my teenage preconceptions of what it is to be a writer are still lodged somewhere beneath my solar plexus, gnawing at me sometimes. I’m not living up to my own fantasy. Being the poet people say puts words to their own feelings for them. The successful poets with thousands of followers on Instagram, who self-publish and make enough money to retire at 30.

But the truth is I don’t want to do that. Not that I could either.

When I was 16 I sent some submissions to Hallmark Greeting Cards and was ignored. They were inauthentic. I was trying to “write pretty”. I am too intense for the general public. Too angular for comfort. I once told a colleague that I had a nice relationship with my step-daughter, and they asked me if she got my sense of humor. Apparently, I am an acquired taste.

This is real human experience, too, though. Even the being an acquired taste part.

I never imagined myself as the kind of person who would sit on the beach in wool socks and gloves. Who would walk through the sumps on purpose for no other reason than to inhale the smells of mud and broken branches of heather. Sheep shit.

I never aspired to be a poet who wrote about sheep shit.

Every year I try to explain to my students the differences between Romanticism, Bucolics, and Kitsch. Most of them don’t care. Maybe I do it to remind myself. I may be coming back to that separation of day job and personal work again.

I can feel my shoulders release now. I can let in the space of the ocean air – even here in my little room, fingers on the keys. Imagination is a wonderful thing when used right. Imagination stopped in its tracks just before it hardens everything into the familiar.

I am easing into a new ars poetica. That’s kind of exciting.

It will probably be an acquired taste.

Ren Powell, Against Idealization

For our last book of my National Poetry Month jamboree, I reread Priscilla Long’s Holy Magic (MoonPath Press, 2020) and was once again astonished by its interplay of light and language, science and art, artists and song. If you don’t already have this book on your shelf, you should find a copy immediately. It’s a tutorial in how to live …and write. And though suffused with color and light, it isn’t afraid of the dark: death marches through these poems with its equal-opportunity scythe (Trayvon Martin, Matisse, Otis Redding, the poet’s sister, old friends, old loves, even a young T. Rex). Comprising seven sections and 56 poems, Holy Magic is … well, magic. I loved spending time in this book again, and delighted especially in soundplay that bumps and grinds and burns its way through every page:

Fire is cookery, crockery,
Celtic cauldrons worked
in iron or gold—smoke
of sacrificial fat.

(from “Ode to Fire”)

Holy Magic is arranged by the color wheel, and so artists are invited in, not just their art—as it strikes me this morning, but their bodies—as in lines from this short poem dedicated to Meret Oppenheimer:

Kisses rot under logs.
Lost purple thrills
perfume purloined shadows

(from “What Can Happen”)

Bethany Reid, Priscilla Long: HOLY MAGIC

Deborah Bacharach’s Shake and Tremor is about relations between men and women, the complications and deceits involved.  She combines Biblical stories of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, Lot and his wife, and Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, with contemporary examples.  She mixes past and present so that the reader may not know where she is as she moves from poem to poem and also within poems. […]

The shifting of both topics and attitudes keeps the reader off balance. But Bacharach is having a wonderful time with the mixture.  It’s worth the trouble to go with the flow.

The key poem for access to the mind of the poet, for me, is “I Am Writing About Fucking,” which gives a sequence of reasons: “because I am human, . . .because sorrow was taken . . .” ending with:

because it’s not polite and I am always very
please and thank you
because there are already
enough words for snow
because of shame, that fishbone in the throat
because we are made of stars.

If this word play pleases you, you should enjoy the book.  And perhaps be a bit jealous of Bacharach’s skill and her leaps of imagination.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Shake and Tremor by Deborah Bacharach

so many poems
will my mind ever empty
midnight moon

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 15

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.

After last week’s flirtation with a tighter focus on poetry, it’s back to the usual, glorious miscellany of poets thinking out loud about all manner of things (but mainly poetry). Some themes did emerge: poetry about women’s experiences, hopefulness about the easing pandemic, the pleasures of books, and the numinous power of large animals. Enjoy.


paperboy
delivering births and deaths
on his cycle

Jim Young [no title]

Here I am again. Is it spring, with its stuttering reenactment of incarnation, that renders me numbskulled, vacant?

I’m inert. Such a great word, short-stopped by that cul-de-sac of an -ert.

Like the newly snow-emerged and dim-colored field, I am empty.

I have not written in a long time. Nothing is on my mind. I am thought-less. Seem to have nothing to say. Have no idea how to write a poem.

No idea why I would even do such a thing.

Have no sense that I’ve ever done such a thing in my life nor that I will ever do so. As the damp field curled with squashed lines of old weeds and broken stems of milkweed, languid pale humps of grasses tangled in mud will never be anything other than that.

Will it?

Marilyn McCabe, This must be the place; or, On Not Writing

What I know of grieving is that we have to feel all the feelings to move through it to some better place. Not back to the old place, but a better place than the one our losses have us currently in. I hated how I felt watching that video. I don’t have the capacity, right now, to feel those feelings. I have a lot of things to get through in the next 7 weeks. The morning I watched the video the first time, I didn’t get as much done as I would have if I hadn’t.

Still, there is this: This morning, for the first time since I wrote my last post, I felt like writing. Not this post; I worked on an essay I abandoned more than a year ago. And it felt good, which made me want to write to you, here.

I might have to think more deeply about what really needs getting done by June. In the meantime, what I want to say today is, I hope you’re all doing OK. It helped me to realize that I haven’t been as OK as I thought, and I wondered if sharing my experience might be helpful to you in some way. I’m understanding in a new way that coming out of this pandemic is going to be a process, and likely a long one. At least for some of us.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Just popping in with a quick note…

When twigs swell
and begin to bud

and leaves emerge
chartreuse and tender

I’m proclaiming
what I nurtured

in secret silence
through the long winter

and sleep’s cold blur.

Rachel Barenblat, Spring

I’m so grateful to Editor Carolina VonKampen of Capsule Stories for including some of my work in this sweet publication. This edition is chock-full of spring-themed poetry, and it couldn’t have landed in my mailbox at a better time. After a long year of Covid challenges and mitigations, the compilation of writing contained not only demonstrates that many small presses and their editors have persevered through this stretch, as have many writers. The struggle is real, and I know this firsthand, whether gathering the focus to edit, or the wherewithal to set aside time each day to truly write. I know it’s tough to put pen to paper, but if not now, when? Start small. Word into sentence into stanza, or paragraph. Start. The other piece I so greatly appreciate about Capsule Stories is much of the writing gives me hope. Much of the writing touches upon the natural world. Anyway, it’s a fantastic read.. Thank you to Capsule for publishing this. I know it’s not easy, but hopefully, it will become easier.

Kersten Christianson, Capsule Stories, Spring 2021 Edition

Spring as an ice storm spring as the first watermelon of the year is so blood red and perfectly sweet that your heart breaks a little spring as lilacs that refuse to let down their green knickers to show their purple spring as pale pink tulips in the house in a milk jug nodding their heads

all the tulip tourists have descended upon this quiet island so my coffee shop bakery is now overrun with women wearing bedazzled jeans dragging small children in by their arms to get an ice cream or use the bathroom while their tired cranky husbands wait so the line stretches out the door everyone crammed shoulder to shoulder ignoring the pandemic go away tourists I don’t love you eating my fear and scaring the whales

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Remember how the mist fell, a veil
floating from the sky’s crown, the sea

reaching up, up, up – a meeting of waters?
You said There is no horizon, no distance,

only the here and now. And it was true, the sea
and the air mingling, salt and oxygen drifting

into our faces as we watched under our tent,
the canvas billowing like lungs after a hard run.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo Day 12

Yesterday afternoon we’d walked along the beach at Horsey, and my wife turned to me and said “I feel better already”. That’s the kind of review we should be leaving in a guestbook—if beaches had guestbooks. Perhaps we should have just scratched it into the sand as a temporary review, and perhaps we would have done if a) we’d thought of it at the time and b) the beach wasn’t lined with seals. Horsey is famous for this, and it is one of my favourite places in the world, even though I don’t get there much. […]

The seals there are a magnificent sight, and the sea air was the perfect tonic after the best part of a year in the city. At the risk of being incredibly self-centred (and hey, why not) It reminded me of my poem, ‘Horsey Seals’ – can you tell why it reminded me of this?? [Click through to read it.]

Mat Riches, The Sea(ls)They Cure Everything

Driving back from the doctor’s this morning, a horse was standing at the top of a hill all alone. I can’t explain why it felt important. Single horses standing on hilltops just feel profound. I felt a flush of awe. […]

I am learning to leave awe alone. To accept the flood of emotion, like slipping into a warm bath, and let go of associations and interpretations about what it means to me or for me. I am learning to let the horse on the hill be a horse on the hill, and relish the flush of emotion for its own sake. Children do that, don’t they? Thrill in things without believing them to be omens or signs from the oracles. Without believing they either deserve them, or have to work to deserve them. They just observe. I’m sure there are adults who do that as well. I actually think I know one or two.

They think I’m weird. […]

I probably take a hundred photos a month. But I love what it has done to me. Now, when I am driving, or in the passenger seat, I see how beautiful the scenery is. I “frame” it in my mind and appreciate the reflections, the colors, the incidental composition of elements, the repetitions, and patterns.

I notice more – camera in hand, or not.

I also think it’s helped teach me to be passive. In a good way – to leave my ego out of the situation when my ego isn’t necessary. To fully embrace the value of being an observer and not a participant at times. To understand that it is possible to take center stage when it’s appropriate and then step back without the fear of losing “my place”. To be more generous. Less judgmental. Less fearful.

Ren Powell, The Horse on the Hilltop

The virus screwed itself into my cells,
twisting communication lines, breaking
code, inverting instructions. The bells
ring at night, my blood pools all day. Waking
like a hamadryad from hibernation,
wondering why, when everyone else sleeps,
why still leafless and bare. Claudication
reversed, cold pain crawls up from toes to knees
as I cocoon in fleece and furs. That freeze
is the sign of high noon’s warped heat baking
the cold sleeper into a fluffy sleeve
like a human Baked Alaska. Shaking
doesn’t warm enough. The body repels
vulnerability, recodes its shell.

PF Anderson, Sleeping

A woman walks to church the Monday
after Easter. She’s wearing a light
sweater because at last it feels
like it could truly be spring. But who
even goes to church anymore
on a weekday morning in New York?
The immigrant healthcare workers
will tell you. The nannies and short-
order cooks, the 1 AM custodial
workers; grandmothers who spent
years polishing other people’s floors
on their knees as if before a god who only
cares that every surface reflects
his many countenances.

Luisa A. Igloria, They Ask What Came First: The Hate Speech or the Attack

I was recently having a small discussion with someone on IG about our angers and our darknesses. I am maybe at the stage where I have identified a few new dark parts of my soul. And I think there is a value in sharing those, but that also there is so much darkness right now, that I don’t think it’s a useful time for me to sort of interrogate it in public. Others have more pressing issues, more is at stake currently. I was thinking about the difference between taking dark things into a dark time vs taking something dark into a light place. And really, just the privilege to even be mulling over stuff like that gives me pause.

Maybe it’s worth something small though to yell out, yes I am dealing with the new dark parts of my soul! I honestly don’t know if this is true.

I think part of me would rather be planting flowers in unexpected place on a city street. But there is another part of me that feels it’s worthwhile to just sit and try to understand.

Shawna Lemay, Peace Love Chocolate Cake

Kelli Russell Agodon and I had not seen each other in over a year and she and her husband Rose came over. We were all fully vaccinated and so happy to be able take one more step towards re-entry to a normal life. Hugs! Unicorn sprinklers! Pink cupcakes and sparkling rose for my birthday AND to celebrate Kelli’s new book from Copper Canyon, Dialogue with Rising Tides.

It was great to talk poetry, gardens, hang out on the back porch on rocking chairs with hummingbirds, and just goof around. And we had a lovely day for it – the warmest day of the year so far. The tulips in our gardens bloomed while our visitors were here, which seemed like a sign of something good.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Post-Vaccine Visits with Friends, A New Poem in Chestnut Review, and a Zoom Reading

I have always joked that I’m a medieval mind trapped in a modern body.  And what I’ve meant by that statement is that I’m queasy when it comes to bodies, that I see myself as a soul trapped in flesh, flesh that is out to betray me in any number of ways.  I’m queasy when it comes to fluids and all the ways the body wants to ooze. […]

And now my poetry brain has the last word:  I seem to be writing a series of poems about breast cancer.  I’m a woman who has tried to deny the power of the flesh, only to be reminded again and again, in ways both affirming and terrifying.

My thoughts keep returning to my medical sleuthing, looking for diseases in the family tree.  I think of my grandmother and her sister, who had breast cancer that did not kill them.  I think of their aunt, who took a train from the Tennessee farm to Johns Hopkins but nothing could be done about the breast cancer that would kill her.  I think of breast cancer as a runner, that shoot of mint that shows up in a different part of the yard, far from the mother plant.

My grandmother told me stories about this spinster aunt but never mentioned her breast cancer or the train trip.  Until my medical sleuthing, I had always had this idea of my grandmother as the one who achieved escape velocity, the only one who left the family farm with the others never leaving the farm at all, since my grandparents always went back to visit, never the other way round.

I have inherited the cedar chest made by the older brother Andrew, filled with quilts made by the spinster Aunt Jenny.   I’m thinking about chests and breast cancer.  I’m thinking about cedar and trees, the newish research on trees, how they communicate to each other in subterranean ways, how they nourish each other.  My thoughts often go to this article in The New York Times which introduced me to the arboreal work of Suzanne Simard.

This morning, I have spent hours trying to twist/weave/braid these strands into a poem.  At this point, I don’t even feel like I have a tangle, so much as strands that don’t want to come near each other.  Let me go for a walk to ponder what’s next.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Flesh and the Diseases that Shoot across Generations and the Poems We Try to Create

I move among this cemetery of words,
run my fingers along the headstones of conversations.
I asked my grandfather to interpret my dreams as, kneeling,
I trimmed the grass by the grave of his faith.
The details will blur, moss and lichen will muffle voices.
Slowly the earth of our thoughts will turn, subside.

Bob Mee, 5 a.m. APRIL. WRITING YOURSELF OUT OF WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

I wrote my poetry collections Noir and The Girl Who Cried from what I’ve called my ‘Understory’: I’d always had a distinct sense of life running along two parallel lines, even as a child. And I learnt very young there were things it was acceptable to talk about, and things it was not. On the whole, unhappy things were the ones that caused trouble.

I think in terms of having an ‘elephant’ that decides what I actually do in life, whatever my rational brain might say. It makes the big moves. 

And I, or my elephant, ended up shaping my collections around the subjects I’d found most painful in my life, and most difficult to talk about. Noir (HappenStance, 2016) explored vulnerability as a teen, and the fallout from exploitation; and The Girl Who Cried (HappenStance, 2020) probes a lifelong struggle with attachment.

Writing these made more sense of things, somehow. As though the invisible suffering wasn’t all for nothing.

Ongoing group

So then I decided to set up an ongoing online group under the banner ‘The Understory Conversation’ – for other poets who are also curious. The group has been meeting since autumn, and feels truly nourishing. […]

The thing I think we most value is the fact we meet with a shared understanding that having an Understory is part and parcel of normal human experience. So we start from there, without pathologising.

It’s liberating. 

Common themes emerge in a way that’s almost uncanny. We learn so much from hearing from each other. We really listen.

And the group offers some refuge – as each member wends her way through the processes of writing, submitting, publishing.

Charlotte Gann, THE UNDERSTORY CONVERSATION

I’ve been working this week on preliminary design for the next book project, which is my collection of midwest gothic awesomeness, dark country.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve finished an ungodly amount of full-length manuscripts (well, it’s just 4, but it feels ungodly when they are sitting quietly unpublished.) I decided this year, since I don’t have any book releases on the immediate horizon, and it had been a year since Black Lawrence released sex & violence, that I might as well get them out in the world.  It’s been a learning curve–and something altogether different than publishing zines or chapbooks, which I am used to. A full-length book is just so much more unruly than a shorter book. More editing, more proofing, more design hits and misses.  And also, the after work of actually getting it in the hands of readers and getting any sort of blip on the promotion side. It feels hard with anything I write and put out there, but especially something like a full-length collection. 

I’ve spoken before on my reasons for self-publishing this series of books–mostly that my current publisher passed on a couple of them during reading periods (and obviously, they can’t publish everything I write, cause yo, I write a lot.) I’m not feeling like sending to other contests and reading periods is really something I want or have resources to do.  I am also aware of the space I take up as a mid-career, already reasonably well-published author when there are so many other emerging writers out there who could have those opportunities. (I think this sometimes when I’m on the self-pity train, the why not me? train, but really sometimes, things like publishing luck seem really capricious and obviously skewed toward the privileged–whether it’s age or gender or ethnicity.) We should all take up less space. Or at best, try to make room through our endeavors. But you also have to balance this with a desire to find your readers and thrive as a creative. 

Of course, there is a lot of uncertainty when you don’t have someone–an editor, a publisher, backing you up.  Lots of doubts that you’re not just putting more crap into the world.   Other people who probably think your work is crap.  But one thing I hope I’ve gained as I get older is not so much blatant overconfidence (which is totally true sometimes) , but moreso an ability to discern what is good, what is crap, what’s worth launching into the world, and what should just stay safely on my computer for awhile or needs more work.  I also know how to put a book together now, more than I ever did.  Have even been able to help other authors with their through manuscript consultations.  Consultations which actually have taught me as much as I’ve helped the other author (hopefully anyway..lol… I may have just muddied the waters).

Kristy Bowen, a year of self publishing

Who I am is constructed, in part, out of books I’ve read. When I read, especially if I love what I’m reading, I feel as if the book has entered my very bone marrow. But I read, on average, four or five books a week. Often more. Where has my mind put decades of books?   

Julie Beck’s article in The Atlantic offers an answer. It’s titled, “Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read.” She writes, “people often shove more into their brains than they can possibly hold.” She cites a study from 2009 showing the average American encounters 100,000 words a day. Our memories simply cannot keep all this information readily available. I say pish posh, the memories we take in from what we read has to do with its relevance. We hang on to the information that most impacts us, intrigues us, or that we put to use.  

Beck also points out we’re better able to recall the context in which we read a book, so we remember reading a green-jacketed novel based in Sierra Leone while on vacation, but are likely to recall the book’s contents. To me that’s one of memory’s gifts. I’ll never forget reading The Color Purple while nursing my firstborn or reading The World According To Garp while on the couch recovering from knee surgery or becoming so immersed in by Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House while at an airport departure gate that I missed my flight.

Okay, maybe I feel threatened by the idea that I’ve wasted literal years of my life reading books that simply float beyond memory into a void. But there’s plenty of evidence that books change us, whether we remember them well or not at all.

Laura Grace Weldon, Forgetting Books We’ve Read

Life’s been way too busy but I did want to get a post out this week to shoutout a few notable poetry collections published recently:

Janel Pineda’s Lineage of Rain (Haymarket Books) is a dynamic collection that I’m happy to see out in the world. I’ve been teaching and admiring Pineda’s work for years now. Check out her poem “Rain” to get a sense of her compelling lyricism.

Amelia Díaz Ettinger’s Fossils On A Red Flag (Finishing Line Press) is another recent publication that I’m happy to shoutout. I got a chance to spend time with this chapbook and write a blurb. Here’s what I said:

Fossils on a Red Flag by Amelia Díaz Ettinger is a powerful collection of poems that interrogates the (mis)use as a gunnery and bombing practice site by the U.S. military of Puerto Rico’s Isla Culebra. This work grapples with what is lost in the language of official government orders and, by doing so, sheds light on the human and environmental costs. With sharp turns of lyricism and image shaped by the insistent voice of witness, this collection honors the history of los Culebrenses who have spent generations gathering “baskets of loss / —[and who] still gather after so many hurricanes.” Like the queen conch, present in a series of these poems and whose shell is a symbol of survival and beauty, Fossils on a Red Flag presents a vision of perseverance.

José Angel Araguz, shoutouts

Even without knowing that Ashley Farmer is predominantly the author of works of prose—including the forthcoming essay collection Dear Damage (Sarabande Books, 2022), the chapbook Farm Town (Rust Belt Bindery, 2012), the short story collection Beside Myself (PANK/Tiny Hardcore Press, 2014) and the novella The Farmacist (Jellyfish Highway Press, Inc., 2015)—the pieces in The Women might suggest that. This isn’t a swipe or a complaint, but an acknowledgment that her poems are constructed very much out of sentences, allowing one to build upon another, and allowing that accumulation, or even that collision, to inform each piece’s short narrative. Sometimes the narrative is a collage of ideas around a particular phrase or thought, and other times, the narrative is more straightforward, allowing one foot to step directly in front of another, towards a conclusion.

The poems included here are constructed via selecting threads and phrases from Google searches. Through her searches, Farmer collects sequences of threads and interweaves those searches into poems that each sit beneath titles that one might suspect were lifted from her original search phrase, but for the acknowledgments that include that certain “of these pieces previously appeared, sometimes in slightly different forms, under slightly different titles.” It would suggest that the searches, however they were conducted, utilized an array of phrases and sentences, sorting the barrage into bins, and from each of those bins, crafting each poem from those materials. The Women plays with elements of exploring and documenting how women are seen, depicted and discussed, pulling at a variety of depictions of cultural space, worked neither as flarf nor conceptual, but shaped into poems that write of domestic labour, violence, home, love, fear, strength and community, body image, health, leadership, marriage, weathering storms and notions of being bad or inherent goodness.

Her poems include shades of the works of Cindy Sherman and Francesca Stern Woodman, in that all three determined their gaze on and around the form and cultural ideas surrounding women, from the abstract, the absolute and the absurd to concurrently acknowledge and document as well as strip away those layers of overlaid determinations by a male-dominated culture; all three of these artists, in their own way, allowing the women they were viewing and/or discussing, their subjects, to determine the shape of their gaze, but also shaping that final result. “See two young women harvesting hope in Marion County, / 1944,” Farmer writes, in the poem “Women Land,” “cultivating new pathways to the boardroom.”

Stop Women

Sometimes one wonders if our nation is a public strip club. A mother and daughter who run a brothel for truckers fight back when the mafia tries to take over their operation. Men’s fragrances smell like excuses for getting home late. You will not stop women.

rob mclennan, Ashley Farmer, The Women

I couldn’t have been more thrilled to hear that Rena Priest will be our new Washington State Poet Laureate. I took a workshop with Rena at Chuckanut Sandstone in 2018, and have been happily singing her praises ever since. She is an exceptional poet and—you have only to meet her once to know this—a generous and kind teacher.

Plus, I had just ordered her book Patriarchy Blues, from Village Books so that I could include her in my blog line-up this April. Serendipity all over the place!

Patriarchy Blues was published by MoonPath Press in 2017, and received an American Book Award in 2018. Many (all?) of its 26 poems are about desire, specifically, the lopsided desire that comes of living in a patriarchy. Dedicated to “the subterranean homesick matriarchy,” the book holds up a mirror to the world and the world puts on its lipstick and dances. Scissors desire the thread and the moon longs to turn her face away. “Can you climb into a person’s / longing for you and float away?” asks one poem (“The Encyclopedia Britannica, Sunshine, a Mosquito”); another, “Is desire not acted upon a betrayal?” (“Creeping Out of Orbit”).  And, always, this lushness, the body nourished by drums and bells and honey.

Bethany Reid, Rena Priest

“A Cap of Horror” is subtitled “First World War poetry written by female nurses and carers” and is edited by Leo van Bergen, Marijke Foncke and Renee Schoffelen. Leo van Bergen’s introduction explains the rationale behind the anthology, “I wondered whether besides Brittain and Borden other female nurses had turned their wartime experiences into poetry as well. Eventually I found seventeen women, nurses and others working in the medical line, who in forty poems and a cycle of sonnets reflected on various aspects of the (medical) war. Many of these touched me deeply, as I hope they will do you.” The anthology is bilingual in English and Dutch in the hope of gaining recognition for the poets in Dutch-speaking countries. Open the book from the English language title to get the poems in English, reverse the book to the Dutch title to get the poems in Dutch. The contents list includes Vera Brittain, Mary Borden, May Sinclair and Rose Macauley and the poems are organised by theme. […]

“A Cap of Horror/Een Kap van Afschuw” is a welcome anthology of war poetry from the viewpoint of nurses and support workers who cared for the casualties. While there is some jingoism and some poets cast soldiers as heroes, others temper this by addressing the affect caring for the injured had on the nurses. Loss is also acknowledged and questions raised about the nature of war and the importance of remembering. The research in tracking down the poems and rediscovering women poets of the period is a useful reminder that there is more to be written about war than the work produced by soldier-poets. A useful addition to the canon of First World War poetry.

Emma Lee, “A Cap of Horror/Een Kap van Afschuw” edited Leo Van Bergen (dt) – book review

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a riveting conversation with Sarah J. Sloat about her new book Hotel Almighty (Sarabande Books). […]

“When I was doing [Hotel Almighty] and even now when I work on projects, a lot of what I find I’m doing is just expressing a love of reading and of books themselves,” says Sloat in discussing her new book. “I mean, I just love paper. To take a book and be able to make it into something — that was really fun and exciting for me.”

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Hotel Almighty by Sarah J. Sloat

Yellow. How do we read you?  Sickly or simple as happiness?  Simple as just living without ponderous thought.   Daffodils in their junior prom dresses.  Come rain, come light snow petals quiver but they don’t drop.  

Forstyhia too.  On the frontline of joy.  Out from under, like Easter.  In the face of death.  Breathing quivering glaring at darkening rain clouds that glare and brighten them

 A duck egg’s yolk, outsized sun.  That which feeds in scarcity is revered as a goddess

and fear, and disillusion, too much optimism, too much yellow that fades, becomes dingy, a street sign — crossing! bus! children! — in need of attention

and fear of the other in their own birthed skin —

Jill Pearlman, A Season of Yellow

Those distant sirens are spreading rumors. They say the seasons are loveless and can only offer damage as a diamond ring.

Those sirens swear that zombie-walking romeos are the only fix we can find for what ails us. That the streets have nothing promising to share, they can only teach us how to curse in gutterspeak.

Those sirens don’t reveal how we can have our lighter moments, like loud-sugar lovers in some FM pop song. Or that we can outlast destruction, just as Joan of Arc was made saintly when ravaged by flames.

Those distant sirens don’t mention how optimism, dressed in its halo of golden moments, can linger with us in alleyways, show us how to find that one good vein even in our darkest moments.

Rich Ferguson, If you listen carefully

But wow, did today feel like my dream of orcas who invited me to ride them: two of them side by side so I could stand with one foot on each orca back as they held a rein of kelp through their mouths so I had something to hold onto: their powerful, pent bodies also reined in to not throw their rider, the ripples of trying to remember to go gently because right, we invited this weird fragile thing to come along and we don’t want to drown her by accident something I could feel in them through my feet: the body does what the body loves. What it is made to do.

You know what happened in that dream? They said you know what this is dumb just come down with us and I answered but how will I breathe? And they said you won’t need to, and I didn’t. I went down with them, orca myself now I suppose, and I could see their powerful bodies with my own, flashing even in that dense weight of black depth.

It was pure bliss.

The body does what the body loves, so for the final 100 of the 4rth 400, I loped with powerful pull reserving nothing much at all, and for the final 50 kicked like I was finishing, and for the final 25 turned up the volume enough to bring it in at 1:15 again and slosh the wall.

What did my heart rate do during that last 100 of the last 400? It went DOWN. Ha.

My body loves wholeness: animal power unconscious of itself, just pure expression and pure experience.

JJS, Day 6: 4x400s round two – the body does what the body loves

Imagine it: gathering again, with other human beings, engaged in listening, in art, in entertainment. You know–all that stuff we once took for granted, pre-pandemic and back when virtual events were mostly either experimental or TV shows.

In recent years, I have not been participating in many poetry readings; attending them still, yes–when possible, when life has not intervened too much–but not actively looking for reading venues, not the way I did in previous decades when I was learning how to present my work publicly. Lately, even when I’ve attended readings with open mics, I often choose not to sign up to read. I need to get home to grade papers or go to bed.

This situation has led to a gap in my reading-poetry practice. True, I teach; I am accustomed to speaking in front of a group of near-strangers, and that is a kind of public-speaking skill. There’s a distinct difference between being the authority and being the author, however. I found myself trying to explain this difference to a friend of mine last evening as we drove home from: MY FIRST IN-PERSON POETRY READING IN AGES!

[An aside here to express boundless thanks to Jenny Hill and Dan Waber of the Wunderbarn in East Greenville PA, who asked me to lead off their Just about an Hour and a Half Variety Hour for the 2021 season–quite an honor!]

I had some preparation, however, because local friends-in-poetry had invited me to read for a video that will stream on April 27th from the Facebook page of Bethlehem PA’s venue The Ice House. That was a new experience for me, though strange: I had to stay in one place without walking and fidgeting while reading to a very kind person behind a camera and another kind person connected to me by a microphone and earphones–in an otherwise empty performance space. O, Brave New World…

The reading at the Wunderbarn commenced the following evening, so the practice in front of the camera helped by giving me the opportunity to organize both my poems and my thoughts. I would not say that putting together a reading is exciting, but it offers some of the quiet challenges of a puzzle or word game. The act of reading in person to an audience changes those challenges to one of performance. It has been a pleasant task to expend energy thinking about poetry; I’ve been attending readings and craft talks remotely all month. And the performance space at Wunderbarn is sweetly rural. We were seated outdoors, and as dusk came on the human voices were accompanied by ducks and frogs. As so many of my poems feature the natural world, that felt fitting.

Friends in the audience, an added boon. That fact encouraged me to read two or three newer poems that I’ve not read out loud before and not to feel too awkward about possibly stumbling through my own lines. Also, though the grounds were muddy and the air rather cool, the rain held off. If I were the sort of person who believed in omens, I would say this event bodes well. Instead, I lift up my voice in gratitude.

Ann E. Michael, In person

fires lit in circles
burning across the page

elliptical but intersecting
on late-night bridges

off on a lark
in front of the crowd

looking through telescopes
wondering what we are

cloud-obscured stars
outside the bar

Jason Crane, POEM: orbits

We might take off our shoes and walk together through the dew-damp grass of the very early morning. We might sit down together with coffee and quiet talk, speaking of those things in our lives that are real. It might be that we have beliefs and values in common, and that our hearts are our own, that we are not controlled by some dogma or ideology. That who we are and what we are might be more important than where we were born or how we pray. Wouldn’t that be something? In these things I will place my hopes, and I promise to leave room for your hopes as well.

James Lee Jobe, Our hearts are our own.

Red buds
of the silver maples

making promises
to the wind.

Tom Montag, RED BUDS

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 14

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: just a lot of poems, poetry reviews, and posts about poetry. I mean, you’d think that would be the case here every week, but as regular readers know, I’m fond of quoting poets (or poetry publishers) musing about all manner of things. But for once, I stayed on task. Almost.


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

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

Kathleen Kirk, Long Hard March

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Conferencing, distance

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING AFTER MY 68TH BIRTHDAY

Another influence is John Wills’ wonderful haiku:

going
where the river goes
first day of spring

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

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

Julie Mellor, following the river

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

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Moon Poetry

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

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, Breath and the Poet

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

Lynne Rees, Poem: wherever you are … For Mammy

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

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

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

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Quintin Collins

my head is full of oceans
full of plastic

sea foam memories
pass for wisdom

sea green trees
whisper like grey waves

come home come home

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

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

James Brush, Oceans

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

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

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

Cathy Wittmeyer, April 2021

it was my understanding there would be no math on this

a vi-
gin-
tillion
is a

one

with
s i x t y – t h r e e
zeroes

you can
look it up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In some language
the word for language
also means stumble.

Tom Montag, IN SOME LANGUAGE (31)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Ferguson, It is Not Enough

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

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

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

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

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

Mat Riches, Derek Mahon’s Toilet Roll Holder

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

PF Anderson, Singing

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

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

JJS, Day 5: 2×800, a DRAMEDY

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

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

Memory makes a silk knot
in the vein.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem for Making our Dead Visible

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

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

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

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

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

a cold snap
is that snow or plum blossom
blowing around

Jim Young [no title]

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

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

Bethany Reid, Julio Cortázar

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

Roman Iorga, NaPoWriMo, Day 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, napwrimo day no 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Lee Jobe, watching the heron wade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ren Powell, Imagining the Real World

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

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

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, Methodologies of Wonder

out in the rain
that girl who twirls
her umbrella

Bill Waters, Haiku about things that make us happy

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 13

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 saw the beginning of Poetry Month, which nets us even more original poems than usual, and given that it’s Easter today I decided to focus on themes of death/rebirth, renewal and hope. Rounding out the digest are appreciations of books and authors and other musings on poetry, with several poets sharing exciting news about new projects and publications. Enjoy.


The spruce trees are filled with siskins whose bright voices patter and swoop. Such brilliant conversation from the world at this turn of the season, two weeks past solstice, Easter Sunday, Eostre. Even though there is still a bitter chill in the air, everything begins to consider breaking hibernation – somewhere up the hill the bears are turning in their dens, the trees must be passing the news of snowmelt from root to root deep in the ground.

And here am I, considering how to let rise my own clear and sweet spring. I have my second vaccination shot this week, and both of my large projects, the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference and Storyknife, are gearing up to commence. I’ve just finished the last set of comments on one of my grad student’s final thesis. 

I feel like a little kid crammed into a too-tight sweater. Mostly what I ache to do is write poetry. 

“Let us remember that in the end we go to poetry for one reason,” Christian Wiman writes, “so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Turn

Praise the God that broke our spines. 
That lined us up like children at our desks. 
Stuffed us full of sawdust and now nothing 

is clean or upright. Everything tight in our 
bodies, but nothing where it should be. 
The heart, cut clean out. Our tiny tongues. 

Kristy Bowen, rabbit classroom

I drew at sunset again. For the second time in a row I pulled the card Thanatos from The Wild Unknown Archetype Deck, even after shuffling the deck several times. It was the card on top. From the bottom, I drew Agape.

I tried to connect my feelings of divine love and wonder and my inner, emotional concept of death. There are some feelings about death and loss in me that I doubt my capacity to handle. Drawing and coloring, writing the actual words, helps me process my fears or doubts in a healing way.

I listened to Nina Simone and worked on reconciling living in the eternal present while looking at Thanatos as directly as I could manage, knowing that my body will one day return to the earth.

Christine Swint, Art Journaling and Archetypes for Healing

I must admit that at the writing of this
poem–this made thing–I know
nothing about poetry. I am like Socrates
in that I’m bent on dying, albeit
slowly and not necessarily of a surfeit
of wisdom. The poem–shall we
call it poem for now?–is still a block
of wood. Who knows what it may turn into?

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2021–Day 0

things that are half-lost
stories in a box
disable you

on the first of May
a long time ago
I was ritually sacrificed

Ama Bolton, ABCD March 2021

they flutter like butterflies in a forest of glade
up along a sunbeam and they are gone
either side the dark is depth 
the rubbed eyes of disbelief hover there
like the celandine between the gravestones 
before we turn away with our net
the jam jar of childhood empty
but full of hope

Jim Young, DAYS OF VERSE

I take my vaccinated, scarred lungs back to the pool: it’s the beginning of week four back in the water, and I’ve been coaxing and calling these sails-turned-antique-bellows – their leather cracked and wheezing – into healing.

Breathe. Continuous. Bigger than that. Come on, breathe, better than that!, you know what to do, continuous, expand ribs sideways in quick, vast inhale, then steady continuous exhale, never not cycling, come on, babies, breathe for me.

JJS, a year out from the first hospital trip

I found a teakettle
at the high water mark
after years
of riversong
movements
magic lamp
water djinn
beaten up
broken in
boiling off
impurities
because all that mess
is still serviceable.
Three wishes
after dishes
because we still have cleaning up to do.

Jared A. Conti, Another Chore

I want flowers and I want beautiful light that makes me scream out in joy like you would scream in the front row at a concert with your favourite band. I want you to have flowers, too, and screaming light. I want to “refrain from quoting authors I’ve only read secondhand.” (Moyra Davey). I want to take one really fucking holy wow photograph that makes everyone gasp. I want to write more. I want to understand and mull and watch funny sitcoms and laugh. I want waffles and maple syrup and cream of wheat with brown sugar. I want a single martini with a single olive at the end of a long day. I want to hear your witticisms. I want to want to be kinder again. I want to watch all the varieties of peonies grow in our garden this spring. I want to put out seeds for the birds and I want to grow some tall sunflowers. I want to sit on the bench on the island at Pyramid Lake again and look at that wild mountain reflection until it fills the inside of my mouth.

Shawna Lemay, Cry Out Your Want

Expect nothing
and morning

will bring joy.
We know that,

yet we don’t.
Look away,

then look back:
there is hawk,

there is fox,
coyote

standing side-
wise to hope.

Tom Montag, EXPECT NOTHING

This year’s celebration of Easter is tinged with reflection on rebirth and re-emergence. The whole story of rolling away the stone, rising and walking out of the cave into the garden where Mary mistook Jesus for a gardener – I mean, imagine the metaphor of blinking in the light after quarantining for over a year, having finally waited your two weeks after your vaccination, and re-entering the living world. That was me this weekend. It’s still strange to walk into a store or get your haircut – everyone is still in masks, of course (only 17 percent of Washington is vaccinated, compared to 19 percent of the US) – and there are different things – no reading material in salons, or drinks, no waiting areas. […] I went to Molbaks (our local gardening store) and bought flowers and herbs to plant – and the wares still seem a little scant and of course the crowds you’d expect at Easter aren’t quite there. I walked through the bookstore, taking my time and looking at new titles, and instead of feeling scared I’d catch something, I felt…not scared. That’s the big change.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Rebirth and Re-Emergence on Easter, Cherry Blossoms and Magnolia, and Staff Poetry Picks (Including Field Guide to the End of the World)

A crisp sprig of Italian parsley dipped in salt water. Vibrant and green, salt giving way to savory as the stem crunches. It’s the third step of the seder, karpas: greens representing spring and new life, salt water representing the tears of slavery in ancient days and our tears at injustice even now. It’s a gustatory hyperlink. The minute that first bite hits my tongue, I feel it in my bones: change is coming. If we wait until we feel fully ready we might never take the leap at all. It’s time to go.

Storebought matzah spread with horseradish is another one. Matzah, at once the humble hardtack of our affliction and the hasty waybread of our freedom. Maror, evoking the bitterness of slavery, the sharpness of oppression. The cracker shatters with a crunch, the horseradish stings the nose. This year, its sharp scent is another reason for gratitude: I don’t have anosmia, I don’t have COVID-19. It’s a humble taste, a simple taste, and one that speaks volumes. We’re leaving this narrow place.

Rachel Barenblat, Four flavors

This has been a strange week for me, adapting to major changes in my work life, adjusting to the new world of Lyft, which I frequent now almost daily, and processing memories from my time at a former hospital that I have now returned to work at again. All of this has made me contemplative and strangely nostalgic. I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend Jules, who died at age 96 in the same hospital that he was born in and that he served in as a volunteer for over thirty years, right up until two weeks before his death. I recall putting together his memorial, and how obsessive I was about getting the poem reading right. I chose a poem called “Directions” by Billy Collins, and every time I rehearsed it in my office, I fell to pieces at this one simple line:

“I will walk with you as far as the garden.”

That line haunted my dreams and broke me apart time and time again. It took me a while understand why it brought me to tears every time I came to it: It’s because I knew in my bones that no matter how close I was to Jules, no matter how many people loved and adored him, (and there were many), no matter how strong and extensive and close-knit his family, no matter how many gathered at his bedside to be with him for his last breath, that ultimately death was a journey he would need to take on his own. I could only go with him so far. And that is the truth for all of us. It’s a line that speaks to the final letting go, the point past which we can no longer be accompanied, the point at which we release our hands from our loved ones shoulders and watch them walk off into the mystery of the afterlife, knowing we will never see them again on this plane of existence. Death is always a solo crossing.

Kristen McHenry, Lyrical Simplicity

Owl’s racket and god appears
in the low bones of mice
my daughter sews spangles
to her left heel the kitchen clangs
with her ghosts and copper hooves

let’s build a death star behind the fig tree
stitch marigolds into our manes
float along the salt edge
take honey from its gold gold bed

Rebecca Loudon, Maundy Thursday

Let me be clear:  I do not believe in the substitutionary atonement theory that explains the death of Jesus as necessary to keep us all from going to hell.  I believe that Jesus was killed because he was a threat to the Roman empire.  Crucifixion was the punishment for terrorists; other types of criminals were stoned or beheaded.

I can’t find the Richard Rohr quote that I’d like to end with, so I’ll paraphrase.  The cross is not God’s requirement to love us.  Crucifixion is the world’s response to God’s love.  Jesus comes to show us of the depth of Divine love, and for his trouble, the Roman empire crucified him.

And yet, God can use this ugliness too.  The empty tomb tells us that empires and other powers will not have the last word.  Out of utter cruelty and depravity, we can find new life, new hope.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Good Friday in a Week of Depressingly Ordinary Violence

Spending an Easter alone — first time for that. Alas, I am shipwrecked in Spain waiting for my residence permit to become a physical document.

But my favorite restaurant is open for take-out, I picked up various goodies at the pharmacy, I exercised, and danced around a little to some 70s music (is there gas in the car, yes there’s gas in the car). The last two days I hadn’t felt well and I cried about it to my husband on the phone, but I’m a bit restored today.

At midday I finished Tove Ditlevsen’s Copenhagen Trilogy. My daughter warned I’d be sorry to finish because you become so enveloped in Ditlevsen’s life. I did miss it when I sat down for lunch, since I like to read at lunchtime. But I missed it too because apropos of Easter it has its holy elements — the hardscrabble, the yearning to breathe the oxygen outside your own suffocating environment, the vibrancy and drive and honesty. Ditlevsen says she hates change yet she was an element of upheaval, too. It’s a bit of a miracle how she escaped her childhood milieu, despite her later troubles.

Sarah J. Sloat, Easter/  drove a tent pole in / to a kiss

One ear whistling middle C
while the other sings D flat.

One ear taking slow steps, softly,
as if it is just a bit tired.

One ear holds up a mirror,
and talks to itself, crackling

like ice over air, an old
telephone wire, and says, don’t

forget to unmute yourself.

PF Anderson, Mismatch

Moments when lightning bolts in the sky resemble a map of Pangaea.

Or when you see the face of your first pet in the folds of a tissue. Or how all the lines on a lover’s hand can resemble the canals on Mars.

When the birdpoop on your windshield is the face of that high school teacher you most disliked.

Or the burn marks on a grilled cheese sandwich offering the Virgin Mary’s appearance seared into your savory snack.

Moments when all of existence feels woven into a patchwork quilt of awe and interconnectedness.

Like when I play the song of life backward and continually hear your name.

Rich Ferguson, Moments when lightning bolts

I fail poetry and poetry gives up on me. This is the machination
of muses and fates. The present is a documentary playing on the

back of a cloud. These Bangalore nights. The uncensored underbelly.
The filth, the loneliness, the lies, the insomniac buildings that

follow the sun, the bikes tripping on empty roads past midnight,
the feet stumbling out of overpriced pubs and seedy bars, all

dreaming the same dream, all reaching for the same exit, a
one-way street jammed from this red light to the next.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, These Bangalore Nights

Here’s a go at translating “Sobre la tierra amarga…” (1903). I take unconscionable liberties with the stanza and the punctuation. [Antonio] Machado has three four line stanzas, but I think it works better in English with two sixes. And I can’t bear ellipses in poetry. (What the hell are line breaks for?) But other than that it’s a pretty close translation.

Dreaming, on this bitter earth,
has labyrinthine roads,
tortuous paths, parks
in flower and in shade and in silence;
deep crypts, ladders over stars;
altarpieces of hope and memory.

Figurines that walk and smile
(the melancholy toys of age):
kindly images
at the flowered turn of a lane,
and rosy chimaeras making their way
into the distance.

Dale Favier, Sundry Remarks

It’s been very straining to sort out this odd dream space — something like trying to navigate the whole world based only on what I can see through the peephole. Compelled to investigate sounds, the only answer I get is a blurry view of a hallway. Sometimes, a distorted figure, too. I keep the door closed, but my poems entertain all of them.

Our second spring of the pandemic has been a really fruitful time for me creatively. It may have taken me longer than most to hit my pandemic bread making and writing strides, but I’m happy to have both right now.

I’m also back to my workouts. The physical activity is probably more closely linked to the mental stamina for poetry than I’m aware. Whenever I try to figure it out what comes first, I end up with a chicken-and-egg situation, which is terribly boring. But either way, the movement — like the daffodils — announces brighter moods ahead.

*

The strangeness of it all has caused me to expand my idea of the kind of writer I am. I’ll never return this poet costume to the store. I’ll be buried in it. But I am getting more playful about what it means and how little the label actually matters.

Carolee Bennett, daffodil is just a word

There are these fine moments when I forget that I am getting old, and just exist. No, I don’t feel young again, it’s more like age doesn’t matter, like time doesn’t matter, and I am just alive, as the universe is alive. Like everything is connected together, one, and I am a part of that. A part of the whole. I love those moments. […]

This is how the sunshine tastes. Like gold, like power. And this is how it tastes to be a man in sunlight. Even now, in the darkness, the flavor is on my lips, on my tongue. 

James Lee Jobe, to be a man in sunlight

Here’s another way time is tricky. Spring always reminds you of previous springs, for better and worse. Academe, too, is structured by seasonal recurrences: semesters and breaks, registrations and grading, and the longer cycles of teaching years and sabbatical interludes (if you’re very lucky). The latter are big markers in my memory. 2015-16, when my mother was sick; 2010-11, when a life-changing Fulbright brought us to New Zealand; 2005-6, when I wrote Voicing American Poetry in “Mod Hall,” overflow office space in a decrepit trailer by a stream; and my first leave in 2000-1, when my son was born, my first scholarly book went under contract, and in the long deep breath after achieving tenure, I thought about what I wanted for my liberated writing life. Perhaps I have two sabbaticals left before I retire–again, if I’m lucky.

All of which is to say I’m feeling the cyclicality of time right now just as much as the forward march of my precious writing year and uneasy anticipation about the difficult-to-plan future. I’m more than okay, plenty anxious, glad to be balancing different kinds of writing work, well aware of how spinning plates can unexpectedly crash. Meanwhile, the trees are budding maybe a little earlier than they have before, as the world heats up. It’s freshly amazing how beauty and danger arrive together.

Lesley Wheeler, Spring’s nonlinearity

Aren’t the tulip trees and
Bradford Pear again in flower; and the dogwood and sweet-
bay magnolia; and soon, the leaves and darkening syconia
of the fig, drooping like fleshy sacs? You might say we’ve
weathered and are weathering still. In the frenzy of rain
or hail or the froth of seawater, what mouths tilt even more
widely open? In the beginning, the mother goddess wept
for all her children thinning to bone across the earth.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Spring Rain and Ephesian Goddess

I am thinking about my absent dad and the significance of the holiday in my growing-up years. In church, the purple vestments were switched for white with gold trim on Easter; and my father, in his clerical robe and stole, looked important and shiny behind the pulpit. White flowers, especially lilies, showed up; everyone wore their best spring outfits. I feel nostalgia around these rituals, but they did not settle into my heart and create a believer of me. To my dad’s sorrow. I know my decision to leave the Church grieved him, but he accepted me and loved me all the same. He believed he’d see us in heaven, though he’d admit he had no idea what the afterlife would hold.

Rejoicing in the world’s beauty, the sharing of fellow humans’ suffering, and the way words can express the things that matter–the Biblical poetry–those things have settled into my heart. My consciousness. Hence metaphor and symbol and rhythm, songs of grief and praise.

They rise.

Ann E. Michael, Traditions

Eternal memories from the Eternal City, Rome, 2018, from the weeks we were lucky enough to spend in Testaccio. That year, religious holidays fell at the same time — Passover Seder was finishing as Easter bells began to ring.   In the days before the holidays, I got swept up in the emotional intensity, the cresting of passions in theatrical and religious Rome. I was fascinated with the intricately woven histories and texts of two great faiths.   I found some journal notes where the timeless ritual makes appearance in the living moment.  I share them: 

Last night the Trevi fountain, with its gaudy excess, the water lit to resemble tropical Hawaii, was crowded with holiday tourists.  Groups of long-skirted priests walked by, disappearing into the dark streets.  Two steps away, a church that seemed carved out of grotto rock, opened its doors. Inside a few worshipers were sitting in pews alone.  A nun began to strum a little guitar, maybe ukulele, and in a high voice slipped off, then refound her key and wavered with naked vulnerability. 

At six this morning, a group of worshipers stood at the back of the neighborhood church  chanting what sounded, in its open repetitions like the Kaddish prayer.  Aramaic speaking to Latin?  Probably not, but the cultural overlaps were beginning to seem like the point.

Jill Pearlman, Eternal Memories in the Eternal City

Fernwood Press, an imprint of the Quaker press Barclay, has accepted my poetry collection Church Ladies for publication in spring 2022!

I’m very excited to work with this press; I found them when a writer I follow announced her forthcoming book. Knowing we had similar topics and styles, I sent a query, and a month later had a phone call with the editor to discuss a contract. CL is a sort of niche book, so I’m pleased to see it matched with a press that will best understand its intentions and how to market it.

I began writing Church Ladies in 2016, researching women from church history and writing persona poems about them. The project was fairly done by early 2019, but that was also when we got Kit’s diagnosis in utero – and the rest of that year did not allow time for poetry.

I started sending the manuscript out again in 2020. A poet friend gave me some feedback on it – that it needed some more personal, relatable poems mixed in. So I added poems about my family (still not myself! Oh I was so bent on hiding!).

After several almost-not-quites with some presses, I laid the manuscript aside to pursue novel writing for a while. Between 2017 and 2020, its various iterations had been rejected 20x.

One night while up with baby, I suddenly KNEW how to revise it – how I could move it from Almost there to There! I added some titled section breaks, mixed in some personal poems about faith, and had what was accepted by Fernwood a couple months later. I’m happy to see this little poetry manuscript find its way.

Renee Emerson, Forthcoming new book: Church Ladies!

I realized this week that, although Mad Orphan Lit has been a long time in the planning, everything is a process and I have been working steadily toward this – at a slant.

When my first book was published in 1999, the original concept with the publisher was a coffee table book of light verse and photography on the theme of childbirth. For reasons I won’t go into, the book wound up a traditional paperback. Though, I was still both grateful and proud of my first book.

The next books were beautiful hardback, bilingual editions of not-so-light poetry with Wigestrand Publishing in Norway. I have also been fortunate to work with Beth Adams at Phoenicia Publishing in Canada on a selected poems book called Mercy Island. Still, all this time, I wanted to work more holistically with the presentation of the poetry.

I have always cared about how the words look on the page. And I have always had a drive to work with studio art – in college, I shifted my major back and forth from art twice.

I’ve wanted to literally be more “hands-on” with my poetry books. About ten years ago I took a book-binding course with the award-winning binder, and expert teacher Ingeir Djuvik. I made blank books at first. Then personal planners. Then I wrote a poetry book for my now-husband. A one-of-a-kind. And the idea for Mad Orphan has been brewing since then.

Who knows, maybe it was the physical isolation of the pandemic, the consequential need for touch, that pushed me onto the playing field finally?

Mad Orphan Lit’s first project is IMPERMANENCE

The project began with my daily meditation on the philosophical problem of impermanence, and the Noble Truth that our suffering is caused by our inability to accept (or even see) impermanence. The poems and the visual/physical presentation of the work evolved together.

The bust was made of plaster and paper mache (using my handwritten poems for the project ripped into strips). I photographed the bust in various locations in the Jæren landscape of Norway. If you read my blog, you already know the story of how I lost my head: it was supposed to break up slowly in the waterfall during filming. Instead, it was taken by the current and slipped under an old mill house - trapped by the torrent of water, the wooden beams, and the rocks.

That’s the way of things, isn’t it?

Ren Powell, A Little Announcement

While I mostly write in free verse, most of my poet friends know that I love form. In fact, even in my free verse, I usually incorporate some formal aspect… Something that my MFA thesis advisor and I butted heads about on a regular basis! Even though I don’t regularly write with rhyme and meter, I do enjoy incorporating some formal structure into my work. Sometimes that means only writing in tercets, or repeating a specific word, or making the poem fit a predetermined shape. I find the challenge a major source of inspiration.

Starting this April, I’m launching A Year of Forms. Whether it be meditation, writing, or some other endeavor, I’ve found long periods of practice and study to be invaluable. I’ve decided I want to spend the next year of my life studying form, and I want to study it with you!

While I’ve created a yearlong program, I know that might not work for everyone. To that end, I’ve divided the workshop into four themed series. That way, you can still get the benefit of some longer structured study. Single workshop sessions are also available. Finally, if you’re looking for one-on-one critiques, I’m offering optional private sessions to supplement the program.

Check out the program page for details. I look studying form with you this year!

Allyson Whipple, Let’s Spend a Year Studying Form

One of my favorite things about poetry is how it can not only detail an experience but also be an experience. The intimacy of language to be known and shared between us, to be changed and yet hold despite the changing, speaks to the human experience in a way that is simultaneously of the mind as much as the body. In Radiant Obstacles (Wipf & Stock 2020) by Luke Hankins, one encounters a poetic sensibility aware and after such simultaneous experience.

Take the poem “The Night Garden,” a short lyric which engages with some of these ideas despite its brevity:

I am the waterer of the night garden.
I can hardly see.
I water what I remember
being there.

In four lines we have a narrative and a turn that defines that act of remembering. That alone is stunning. But what makes the poem speak to the human experience is the parallel blurring implied by the fact of the poem and the poetry within. The fact of the poem sets a two-line narrative about the night garden; the other two lines, then, reflect back this narrative as the ephemeral act it is narratively and in language. The garden that can barely be held in the speaker’s vision is parallel to what the poet has rendered for us on the page. Through brevity, clarity, and thought, Hankins is able to evoke an intimacy similar to the remembering the speaker engages in.

José Angel Araguz, microreview & interview: Radiant Obstacles by Luke Hankins

Arctic Dreams explicates the landscape, a place that includes the indigenous people who understand it better than anyone but to whom few listen, the scientists who study it via industry-funded grants, and its animals and plants. My favorite section of the book, “The Country of the Mind,” describes the tiny Beaufort Sea Island called Pingok: “to a Western imagination that finds a stand of full-crowned trees heartening, that finds the flight and voice of larks exhilarating, and the sight of wind rolling over fields of tall grass more agreeable, Pingok seems impoverished.” By the end of the chapter, Lopez questions our acceptance of the need to leave home (“it is a convention of Western thought to believe all cultures are compelled to explore”), wonders “which plants separate at a glance mesic tundra from hydric, hydric from xeric?” and observes the remains of human settlement on the island.

Lopez offers the deep connection the Inuit people have to the land that’s sustained them for centuries as a balm for what ails our present culture: “This archaic affinity for the land, I believe, is an antidote to the loneliness that in our own culture we associate with individual estrangement and despair.” Reading these words, I suddenly understood why I should care about this vast and distant land: because someone else did. That, I believe, is the message that underscores Lopez’s nature writing: we should care, passionately, powerfully, about every place on Earth, no matter how strange or unforgiving.

In the mid-2000s, I sat in the audience in Saratoga, California, listening as Barry Lopez recited W.S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks” from memory. After the poem ended on the line “dark though it is,” Lopez let the silence last, then began, finally, to read a short story from his latest book.

Erica Goss, Barry Lopez: An Appreciation

Aside from the duty of passing on his religious code, I don’t remember my father giving me advice. You knew by osmosis the basic rule: Get on with it, do your best and don’t bring trouble to the house.

When I was nine or ten, I took to climbing on to the roof of the blacksmith’s forge and, lying flat, watching him through a loose slate. It must have been winter because it was dark. When I shinned back down the iron drainpipe to the ground I was met by the local police constable’s boot landing squarely on my behind. He grabbed me by the ear and marched me off home, twisting it as we went. At the gate, he sent me in with a warning not to let him catch me doing that again. He knew if he’d banged on the front door and handed me over himself I’d have got far worse from my mother than he’d given me. An act of kindness, then. And advice that I didn’t need to be told.

To others now, that faraway time is a monochrome world. To me it’s full colour. You grow with it, alter a little as the world ‘develops’, but it is always there, sometimes positive and good, sometimes not.

Anyway, back to social media. And poetry. Or writing anyway. You only have to scan it to realise that so many people have become accustomed to feel it’s their responsibility to dish out advice – all it takes is the trigger of someone asking for help to solve some linguistic conundrum or to end some kind of torment that writing is inflicting on them and a torrent of quasi-psychological or practical ‘help’ arrives, followed by a deluge of likes and retweets or shares.

Frankly, I find it disturbing.

Perhaps it’s genuinely kind. Or maybe just self-serving nonsense disguised as generosity. A kind of cesspit of supposed goodwill.

Partly I blame the proliferation of ‘how to write poetry’ courses, creative writing classes, and more broadly just the availability of contact that is a product of the technology we have available to us. We can interact with each other so easily and so do because, well it seems so many of us are able to find some kind of validation through it.

Progress, I suppose, but I’m not cut out for this. I don’t need your validation and you, believe me, don’t need mine.

It may be inevitable that at some point anybody who has made some kind of living out of writing or at least has had some books published will be asked questions about this and that. And, in my case, for fear of seeming aloof and unpleasant, have made an attempt to answer.

OK, I can ramble on to strangers about the craft of writing if necessary, but I don’t have the patience to be a teacher, nor the inclination to tell anyone else what to do. You find your own way and that’s about it.

But one thing – perhaps the only thing – that I have ever felt it’s useful to say is ‘Without having fun with it sometimes, writing is a pretty empty activity. Sure, for me as well as for most who write it’s about investigating, reflecting, untangling the mysterious experience of being on this planet but there are times when it’s necessary and, well the right thing to do, to open the pressure valves and enjoy yourself, let the music of the words loose, let yourself dance without a care for how the dance turns out. Relax!’.

So that’s it, then. Now if anyone asks I can refer them to this blog. Job done. Thank you and goodbye.

Bob Mee, ADVICE? NOT SURE I’M MUCH HELP, SORRY…

In The Octopus Museum, Brenda Shaughnessy envisions a future in which cephalopods have taken over the world. The museum of note is not a museum of cephalopod history, but of human history, a record of our present moment interpreted by strange new rulers. Each poem in this collection is beautifully, richly contextualized, presenting a vibrant capsule of the human experience, like a carefully curated museum exhibit. This is a powerful and stunning collection, one I highly recommend reading.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: March 2021

Consider this my little National Poetry Month party for our current United States Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo. There isn’t much I can add to the abundance of material already on the web — reviews, You Tube interviews, music and performance videos — but I can at least point you in their direction.

In addition to being a poet and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned performer. (Click on her name to find a wealth of information.) She is the executive editor of the 2021 anthology, When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, and her most recent book of poems is American Sunrise. In 2016 I read (devoured) her memoir, Crazy Braveand then gave it to a dear friend. I met Harjo in 1993, when I was serving on the committee for the Watermark Reading Series at the University of Washington, and at one time I had all of her books. There is something about the way Harjo unleashes color and image, the incantatory voice of these books that demands to be shared.

Bethany Reid, Joy Harjo

The title poem, fittingly, is at the end, focused on when the credits roll at the end of a movie and cinema-goers have the chance to move out into daylight again. Likewise a cancer diagnosis need not be fatal.

“The End” is a collection of poems with gallows humour and a soul of brevity. Gareth Writer-Davies’s wry observations and minimal expression suit the overall tone of the poems. The short stanzas, with some lines pivoting on one word, offer plenty of space for readers to engage and think around what’s being said.

Emma Lee, “The End” Gareth Writer-Davies (Arenig Press) – book review

As I am perpetually behind on everything, I am just now getting to Washington D.C. poet K. Lorraine Graham’s The Rest is Censored (Lambertville NJ: Bloof Books, 2017), a book-length accumulation of short lyric fragments that encompass the length and breadth of those lived moments that exist between or around what might otherwise get recorded. “Sit next to someone,” she writes, early on in the collection, “who doesn’t want / Next to                           / Yes  but is this interesting?” The Rest is Censored shifts the notion of the day book, a daily archive composed through the lens of the lyric, into a book of moments, framed within the boundaries daily life, opening as the body and the narrator wake. The narrator wakes, and the poem begins, suggesting less a “day book” than the book of a single day (although this temporal presumption on my part might be both missing the point and completely irrelevant). Composed as nine sections and a brief coda across one hundred or so pages, Graham composes short bursts as a sketchbook; composed of threads and moments, a poem of connection, fragment, sentences and disconnection. “insert bland / excited comment about landscape.” she writes. As part of her February 2019 “12 or 20 questions” interview, she references the compositional structure The Rest is Censored, as well as that of her debut, Terminal Humming (New York NY: Edge Books, 2009):

It felt good to have my first book, Terminal Humming, in the world as something I could celebrate and share with others, but it didn’t change my life. I used to think that the The Rest Is Censored, my second book, was very different from the first. Formally, it is. Terminal Humming is dense. The Rest Is Censored is spacious. But they both emerged through interventions into my daily routine. I wrote Terminal Humming when I was research assistant at a think tank in Washington researching US-China-Taiwan relations and missile defense systems. I’d read Vallejo’s Trilce on lunch break and then write for a while in my cubicle or outside. I wrote The Rest Is Censored on my daily bus commute between Carlsbad, CA and UC San Diego. It was a beautiful, miserable, hour-plus ride along the Pacific Ocean. I’d write until I was too nauseous to continue.

rob mclennan, K. Lorraine Graham, The Rest is Censored

It’s the retired steelworker’s turn. Before sitting in the chair for his shot, he turns to us. “I’m leaving two weeks from today,” he says with a grin, “driving across Ohio to hold the baby girl I’ve been missing.”

The dark-haired woman is next. She says “I hope I don’t cry. This has me all emotional.”

Then it’s my turn. I find it hard to contain my exuberance. “I expected trumpet fanfares with each shot!” I say to the pharmacist. What does she do? She bursts into song.

Laura Grace Weldon, A Short Bridge Between Us

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 9

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, as many are marking the one-year anniversary of the coming of the pandemic, the love of reading and poetry, as something that’s been helping so many of us get through it all, is almost palpable.


You set
yourself

for this,
your work,

every day,
this, and

nothing
else.

Tom Montag, POET

It’s spring all over the place but I’ve never been fond of spring and now is the month my father died. I never forgave spring for taking my father away from me with the noisy lush savage green growth everywhere. I got my first vaccine on February 25 absolute winter and today I made an appointment for my second vaccine at the end of winter. Making the first appointment felt like a Jesus miracle. Making the second appointment felt like a panic attack. The first vaccine knocked me on my buttocks I tell you what I thought for sure I’d get the shot roll my sleeve down put my coat back on and head for my car ignoring the advised 15 minute wait but I ended up being exceeding grateful for that wait. Whoa. Who cares. I don’t want to die.

My son is camping with his friends at the state park eight minutes away from here. It’s the first time he’s seen his friends in over a year. He came home for a minute last night to gather firewood from our yard and he smelled like a campfire his clothes and hair thick with sea air and matches and dinner cooked on a grate. He is intensely beautiful.

I feel almost normal these days. Better than normal. I float up and out of my chair up and out of my body. There are bears and wild salmon and orca under my skin pulsing my blood along with growls and fluid muscular grace. Yesterday I bent down in my garden and an eagle flew up his heavy wings flapping right next to my head and my heart hammered in its cage. Incredible. This is called healing. I am not overly fond of spring so I ignore it and consider summer dresses and flats and my awful shrub of hair. I am too terrified of humans to get a haircut yet. Or a manicure or any damn thing.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

The hearse got stuck
in the mud-snow.

I watched from graveside
as they tried reverse

then pushing —
finally backing down

to approach
from the other side.

Mourners in
inappropriate footwear

struggled in icy mud.

Rachel Barenblat, March funeral

When I heard about Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s death last week, I was checking news items on my phone after digging over the boggy, rain-saturated ground at our land ready for this year’s vegetables and hoping for a dry spell soon. I went home and read again the poem of his I have enjoyed more than any other, The Old Italians Dying, and sat and thought awhile on Ferlinghetti’s fame and long life. The Old Italians Dying was first published in the Los Angeles Times but I first read it in Landscapes of Living & Dying, published in 1979, and then again in Wild Dreams Of A New Beginning, which this morning I settled to read in full over a strong coffee as I forced into nothingness a night of complicated, exhausting, travelling dreams filled with people I recognised and some I did not. I’d forgotten the details of the dreams but not the experience of them. I took three cups of coffee before my toast with honey and bowl of porridge and the pills that help keep me alive. Then I fed and watered the hens, and talked to them a little to see if they had anything to say about the way the world is and how it was for them in the darkness. Frankly, they were more interested in their food, though a bantam cockerel, an Ancona from Italy, took time out to curse me first.

Later after the practical stuff of the day, necessary conversations by phone and email, and other less relevant interruptions, I sat with more coffee and saw beyond the window two magpies chase off songbirds as a pigeon on the grass watched in the way that pigeons watch most things. Motionless. Without comment. And out of nowhere came a thought of the orator Quintus Hortensius – how his opponents sneered at him as he held his audience’s attention with his words and an extravagant swirl of his toga, how in retirement he bred fish, how he persuaded a very young woman to divorce her husband and marry him and how all of his great speeches are now lost. Ancient Rome doesn’t particularly interest me but occasionally I experience a flimsy connection to ancient civilisations as if the human chain really does sometimes reach out and pull me back through the generations to think of these lives so full and impassioned but so long gone.

And then on TV came the latest news on the virus and I thought as usual of the lives that have gone out over the past year. It’s a sad, difficult time for so many. I gave thanks yet again for life not only because the ‘anniversary’ of my first heart attack is approaching once again, but also because I was born almost dead. My flesh darkened by lack of oxygen, the midwife breathed into me long past the moment most would have given up until they say she felt something move in my chest and I lived. My father put an Easter egg in my cot, for it was Good Friday. If I’d died what would I have remembered that I don’t remember now? Darkness. A sense of light. Sound? Fifty years on, four thousand miles away, our daughter, a midwife, breathed into a child long past the moment most would have given up until she said she felt something move in his chest and he lived. His father’s lament changed into a dance of joy, his mother in her chair came back from numb grief to hold her living, breathing son. What will he be told? What will his memory hold on to? Will he remember darkness. A sense of light. Sound ? I hope he has as good a life as I have had and hope to continue to have.

Bob Mee, ABOUT THE DEATH OF LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI AND THE LOST SPEECHES OF QUINTUS HORTENSIUS

the grackles opened
like gates in the trees
shadow birds, eyes glistening
you could almost imagine
these noisy shades
abandoning tangible birds,
parking lots and steel dumpsters
in their odyssey through
suburban woods,
clacking and creaking
like machines or clocks
ticking away the last
hoarse seconds of winter.

James Brush, On March 1st

I wonder if someone might have begun reading these ‘diary snippets’ thinking they were going to be interesting? One review is finished. Hurray! Two more to go. My son has packed up his things ready to return to his student accommodation. My hair is incredibly long. It’s been over a year since it was cut or coloured. There are blond coloured bits on the ends and the rest is mouse with grey sprinkled through. I have a vague memory of feeling very frightened of old ladies with long grey hair when I was a little girl. I haven’t noticed any small children bursting into tears at the sight of me yet. I’ve just been sent a date for my first covid jab. The avocado plant I grew from a stone in the first lockdown is still with me. Onwards.

Josephine Corcoran, Recent Diary Snippets

To wake from a dream into another dream, and in the second dream to feel compelled to explain the first one, to define a moment that wasn’t real in another moment that also isn’t real. That’s what I like about sleeping.

James Lee Jobe, from a dream into another dream

You know the way somebody makes a remark and it clangs in you, your body vibrating with recognition? A friend recently told me that she’s learned a lot over the past year about what she needs to be happy. Yes. I’ve had other lesson years: for instance, I learned during my long-ago stint as department head is that I start falling apart if I don’t have an hour or so of flow experience each day, usually through reading or writing. Even class prep–rereading books, thinking about how to inspire engagement–can satisfy that hunger. Answering emails from the Business Office cannot.

The pandemic has been a tough teacher. I’ve had to be more deliberate this year about pairing periods of work-output with periods of restorative activities, and the range of possible restorative activities is necessarily smaller. I discovered how much travel had scaffolded my emotional life–choosing destinations and planning trips as well as the sheer relief of escaping my small town–and how sad the days felt without even small adventures to anticipate. I dealt with the restlessness through spring, summer, and fall by planning a new hike every Saturday, but tendonitis hobbled me in January, and February was just too icy as well as being crammed with deadlines, meetings, guest classes, and other tiring Zoomy things. I’m introverted enough not to mind some isolation, but projecting energy and enthusiasm via screens really takes it out of me. I entered March both revved up and melting down.

At my worried spouse’s suggestion, we spent 3 nights at a rented house by a deserted lake, which helped me reset. One reason I travel is because it puts distance between me and laptop-oriented work vigilance; I can’t seem to assert that boundary in my own house. I wasn’t looking forward to coming home and retethering myself to professional effort by “attending” this AWP, for which I had registered in a long-ago fit of optimism. Plus I’d learned that most of the sessions were pre-recorded, which I thought would remove that last frail shred of human interactivity. Virtual conferencing at its worst, I thought.

Somehow, though, I’ve done okay. I tried to watch multiple sessions on the first day then managed to listen to myself: I have it in me to pay high-quality attention to one session per day and reduced attention to a second, but that’s it. Why beat myself up about an incapacity to do more? The live chats enabled by the platform are more interactive and interesting than I expected, but I’m still not fulfilling that old, anxious “see and be seen” AWP imperative anyway, so, I told myself, just chill.

Lesley Wheeler, Learning, unlearning, and #AWP21

A year ago, I wrote these words:

As I’m watching the world around me shift to accommodate the shape of something we’ve never experienced here, there is something that feels almost holy in this moment. I have been thinking for a long time that it would probably take some kind of disaster to turn us around on the path we’ve been hurtling down. That is the opportunity inherent in this unfolding disaster that will touch all of us in some way, if it hasn’t already.

My deep, fervent hope today is that this will propel us to remember how inter-connected we all are, to reach out to each other rather than erect walls between us, to uphold ideas and ideals that have always been the best part of us, and to act more from love than from fear.

I want to reach back in time and pat myself on the head and murmur, “Bless your heart.”

While a pandemic will, of course, always create hardship and change and pain, ours hasn’t had to play out the way that it has–and I just want us to, for once, be honest about that and about why that is. I want us to be honest about all the ways in which our schools were broken and not serving kids before the pandemic. I want us to be honest about what we are going to get–and not–from the choices we are making.

If this post has any real point, it is only this: To shine a light. To share experience. To mark a significant anniversary. To tell a truth. To be seen.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Whiplash

There is a relentlessness to bright sun on unmarked snow. A type of perfection that hurts the eyes. 

Let me get small and smaller. Let me get as small as I possibly can. Spruce needle on a suspension of snow.  The way the world cannot be anything other than what it is. There is no great secret, but there is a lot of mystery.

May I admit that when I think about what I want to leave behind, I am struck by the sheer amount of time I have wasted not paying attention? 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Spindrift

bottom water
the moon loosens its grip
on the starfish

Jim Young, ashes

The research is beginning to stack up that the vaccine is curing long covid, or knocking it way down, anyway, or something, we don’t know yet, wait and see, we will learn more:

this is what I say now too, all the time, wait and see, I will learn more, we’ll see: I can’t trust covid farther than I can throw her, the wily bitch.

I say: cautious optimism. I say, in a whisper: I feel better than I have in a year.

JJS, the clarity of cardiac damage

in the bedroom of the epidemic will my devotion to sky end without dawn

was my shadow a bird :: in the desert i could have been

is crocus the flesh where your absence nests

Grant Hackett [no title]

Our Lady of destroyed flowers and abandoned children, stolen lawn gnomes and homophobia.

Goddess of sideways nights and placebo days leaving us feeling neither up nor down.

Hacked computers and gone electricity, bitter words and bitter coffee grounds. Stress and loneliness, revenge and hate-scented candles.

Our Lady of lost love, lost keys, lost phones, and when the ping leaves our iHope—

leave us so we may pray our way back to safety and sanity.

Rich Ferguson, A Prayer for Anti-Prayer

Entering the ocean is always a risky business. The ocean is immense. It obeys its own laws, rhythms, and tides. At any moment, it can push you under and sweep you away.

Many times as a child, I’ve braved the shallow water along the shore, leaping through the waves. Many times, I’ve been surprised by a wave larger than I expected and tumbled, caught in a seemingly never-ending spiral of water, buffeted against the sand and rocks below, bubbling foam swirling all around with no sign of which way is up. Anyone who’s been submerged by a wave has experience a moment of terror, a moment when you realize you might not surface at all.

As I returned to the shore after my most recent ocean swim, I began to think about how the risks faced by writers and artists seem to parallel the risks of the ocean. The act of creating prose, poetry, or other forms of art can sometimes feel fraught with danger. Yet, we continue writing, continue creating, continue delving into the depths.

Andrea Blythe, Diving into the Deep

One of the poets I am mentoring now asks me what is too mundane a subject for poetry. Nothing, I say. It’s all about perspective. What I didn’t confess was my own fear that people will judge my perspective to be mundane. Or derivative. (What about human experience is not derivative?)

They will, you know: judge. And that is okay. I shrug sometimes, too, at things that touch other people deeply. Our experiences meet randomly through art – every poem is a crap-shoot at an over-crowded table.

This poet I mentioned had a little epiphany reading Mary Oliver. And Patricia Fargnoli. And what is more mundane than cancer, really? Mental illness? Death? Sex? And the fact is if the subject of the poem is truly original then what human would understand it? Human experience is the subject matter of all art, isn’t it? (Even when intellectual activity is the experience being addressed).

I’m pretty sure trees create poetry. Mushrooms, absolutely. And maybe someday I will see it for what it is. We all will. Maybe every network of roots that run along the forest floor tells a story in carefully metered verse. Internal rhymes, intertextuality with lines that will reach right into our coffins.

Ren Powell, “Said by you, though, George?”

In “When I Think of My Body as a Horse” Wendy Pratt explores cycles of pregnancy and grief, the ability of a body to transform and the effects of those transformations through the lens of the natural world. A daughter becomes a hare, a fleeting, furtive visitor of dreams, shaped by her mother so that her mother can survive her loss. The mother’s body starts as a foal, unsure and giddy on its own legs, and becomes a controlled horse of purposeful movement, learning lessons from the natural world. The poems are written with the control and power of their spirit animal and tackle motherhood and loss with poise and a compelling force.

Emma Lee, “When I Think of My Body as a Horse” Wendy Pratt (Smith|Doorstop) – book review

Wendy Pratt’s new collection, When I Think of my Body as a Horse (Smith-Doorstep, 2021) is not only brave and ambitious in its thematic scope and aesthetic approach, but also achieves an astonishing degree of humanity, coherence and cohesion.

Pratt takes received formats by the scruff of their necks and lifts them out of their expected usages, such as in the case of Two Week Wait. At first sight, it seems a supposed, so-called list poem, beginning with a conventional couplet and starting three of its first six lines with a repeated form (love + verb + and`+ verb), as follows:

Love turned the dial up
and watched us burn.
Love caught us like frogspawn
and cupped us in the light
of a duck egg blue day…

This technique creates the effect of a chant, lulling the reader into a false sense of syntactic security. However, Pratt quickly changes gear as the poems moves forward, piling up irregular line breaks, then two clauses per line, then a foreshortened final line…

…Love was needles and charts
and scans, love was clinic visits
and operations, love riddled us
with drugs, love shook us with hope,
love gave us you, love lost us both,
love lost us all.

Via her subverting of a list poem, Pratt rips away an initial incantation and transforms it into a wail, into a heartrending lament.

Matthew Stewart, Emotion transformed into art, Wendy Pratt’s When I Think of my Body as a Horse

I often think of a poem as a snapshot. How would you describe your relationship with poetry and photography and are the two artforms linked?

My father was a keen amateur photographer and I had hundreds of images to draw on when writing Whistle, the collection dealing with my childhood. Although autobiographical Whistle relies almost entirely on ‘metaphorical truth’ – much of it is imagined. The mechanics, materials, science and process of photography provided endless metaphorical possibilities, as did its mysteries. Each image carried a memory or an insight into my parent’s’ lives before I existed.

Photography also gave me a metaphorical lexicon, allowing me to write about personal events that would otherwise have seemed unsayable.

The language of photography still sneaks its way into my writing. I photographed people and I write about people; small human stories are what interest me. I try to bring the same tenderness and gentle in both mediums.

I was a photographer first and agree parallels exist. The critical writing about both mediums cross over and are often interchangeable. Poems and photographs exist within a physical and temporal frame, giving the viewer/reader their own imaginative space.  Both depend on acute observation, the moment or object that has something to say beyond its own self. Photographs depend on rhythm, shape and tone in presenting their moments. You could also see repetition of shapes and colours within a photograph, as rhyme.

Abegail Morley, Unlocking creativity with Martin Figura

How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Because I have very little free time I am in some ways always writing. Like David Ly said in these interviews, everything seems to begin with my iphone. I write down mixes of what I hear, what I read, what I see, just lines lines lines sometimes words words words. When I sit down to write at home I take out those e-notes and put a little order on them, write them into notebooks longhand see what goes with what. Are there areas of overlap rhythmically or thematically? Shove lines together and see if they fit or fight, fighting is often better. If a thread emerges or something interests me I go with it and see what happens. I never approach my laptop early in this process, by the time I finally start to transcribe a piece ‘on screen’ I’m acknowledging the language is mostly done and I now want to see what it might ‘look like’ because the visual, the shape of a poem is of great importance to me.

With respect to the commencement / accumulation of a project I have found with my upcoming book, Recovery Community, and subsequent work throughout this year, that I gradually come to an awareness that something is starting to take shape, that is to say I become aware that I am starting to write around a commonality of sorts. Often, it’s an attitude or a basic emotion so, for example in Recovery Community I realized I was constantly being drawn to David Lynch films and certain music (Swans, Tool, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance), and I was hyper-focussed on anxiety, the physical experience of rising anxiety, moving through a physical space with dread, and how those moments might relate to old and/or imprinted traumas, but also how it may be a necessary journey on the way, well, to Recovery. After a while I bowed to the returning influences and just submerged myself in their consumption – as many books films songs etc as I could find – see what falls together. Sometimes it’s nothing, sometimes it’s one good short poem, sometimes it’s a chapbook, sometimes more. The interesting thing for me is that I know more definitively when a project is done than when it’s begun as I will notice I have ‘moved on’ to write in a different way altogether and at that point I know I can bring the curtain down on that particular project. While I may add an occasional piece here and there the fever of highest activity is done with; it has burned its way through my system. A specific example of this would be the poem The Scalded Sea (from Recovery Community). I had read Oliver Sacks’ heart-breaking 5-6 page account of one man’s battle with mental illness, I then went deeper and read that man’s published diaries and a biography. I made notes all the way through, maybe 4 weeks’ worth of reading (some 500-600 pages) resulted in 10-12 pages of notes and became a 5-page poem. When I finished The Scalded Sea I knew what Recovery Community was or needed to be and knew I was very close to being done because something felt realized through the writing of that particular poem. It felt like in writing that poem I had answered all my unasked questions of this project. Is it the best poem in the book? No. Am I proud of it? Yes. And once it was written I knew for better or worse I had come to a place of acceptance relative to personal lifelong questions around trauma, suicide, anxiety addiction and alcoholism that told me I was done with the particular energy I had been channeling for this book. The work then remained was to revisit my other poems, remove what was no longer relevant (and we removed a lot of stuff from this MS including some personal faves), put them together in a certain careful order to see if they told a story I could follow, then stand back and accept/hope it was done for better or worse.

The very next day I began writing other poems and probably because of the pandemic and again because of new influences arriving (this time Cronenberg, Ballard, Psychic TV, Mandy, Johansson) I found myself very quickly engaged by a new energy ie project which I subsequently wrapped up a week or two ago. So, for now I’m just enjoying reading without feeling like some sort of receiver where I have to drop the book or pause the film every five minutes to write something down.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Conor Mc Donnell

As an addendum to my previous post on reading poems aloud, tonight, I stumbled upon an old recording from a Chicago Poetry Center reading in 2004 and was thinking how strange it is to encounter your older self.  I feel this much with writing–poems and blog posts and old drafts of things, but much stranger audio-wise. I kept thinking how my voice sounds different, but maybe it’s all in my head.  The girl (and I say girl, though she was already 30) who showed up in the swanky SAIC ballroom clutching her handmade copies of Blood Mary seems very far away.  I was there because I had somehow won their juried reading the previous spring. You could have knocked me over with a feather when not only did people want to buy copies, but they wanted, in one of my first writerly moments, to actually sign them. […]

That 30 year old hadn’t had her heart really, really,  broken yet.  Hadn’t suffered the sort of losses that come with getting older. And it’s stranger still to think of the value of those things to one’s writing at the same time.   She hadn’t been worn down to a stone, but still had some rough edges. She also hadn’t become quite so disillusioned with the poetry biz status quo and was quite a bit more the optimist than the realist she finds herself now. At the same time, in some ways, it might have well happened last week. Last month. Last year.  I don’t know if pandemic time is especially disorienting, but maybe it’s always like this. 

Kristy Bowen, voice and the spaces between, part two

It’s taken me a while (maybe since the pace of my 9-to-5 has been so hectic), but I’ve finally been leaning heavily on this time at home to write and read more, including, in recent weeks, pulling some old favorites off my shelves. I’m re-reading a handful of poetry collections that achieve elements of what I’m trying to do in my new manuscripts, including one that’s “about” an invented character (an alter ego, of sorts) and one that may end up being a novella in verse with an entirely different main character. I’ve never done either of those things, but the bones of them have been in past poems, and their themes have been chattering to me incessantly.

One book I’ve revisited, as you can see in the images below, is Rachel Zucker’s “the pedestrians.” […]

I’ll always have a relationship with this book. When you find “simpatico” during any moment of great need and longing, it sticks with you. Poetry gives us so much. It’s often a better friend than we deserve.

The time I’m spending with “the pedestrians” now is less about surviving painful emotions (and painful numbness) and more about craft. How does Zucker convey such emotion while deploying such sparse, well, emotion? In portraying the flatness of love (habitual) and life (deflated), how does she gut us like she does? The poems really connect, as in, they land all their punches. The collection is devastating.

I’m re-reading it now to study that and to see how Zucker so deftly creates “characters” out of her speaker and the speaker’s husband and navigates their interior and exterior worlds within the context of a strange — somehow glimmering! — dullness.

Carolee Bennett, “no word in her language”

Everyone loves John Keats.  

I’ve looked for #KeatsHate online just to see if it exists – there is hate for everything else after all – but as far as I can discover there is nothing in the modern world but love for this particular JK, love for the poetry and love for the man*. If the haters are there, they’re keeping very quiet. My conclusion is this: those who love poetry love Keats, and those who don’t love poetry don’t care enough about Keats to hate him. Perhaps now, 200 years since his death, is the wrong moment to be looking for criticism of the man and his work, but thinking back I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone express serious reservations – not unless you go right back to the classist snobbery of Yeats. And I’m not about to set a precedent, but I am interested in why his stock remains so high, particularly amongst poets themselves.  

It is a paradox, but true I think, that one of the reasons he remains so well remembered and so well loved is exactly because he is so well remembered and so well loved. Even for those whose tastes do not run to the Romantic, Keats represents the kind of poetic longevity every poet hankers after, whether they admit it or not. All literary writing is a bid for immortality, even the ancient Egyptians sensed something along these lines. Keats was intensely aware of this, and the cynic in me is tempted to read his final request of Joseph Severn to have ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water’ inscribed on his gravestone as one last, slightly duplicitous but nonetheless genius attempt to make such a bid. Like Shakespeare, Keats is living the kind of literary afterlife we all aspire to but which none of us will achieve (and yes, that includes you, 99.99% of published poets). Poets love Keats, in part at least, because they want to be him. They want to be one of the tiny fraction of poets who poets and readers will still be admiring and taking inspiration from in 200 years’ time, and that Keats did it means they can do it too.

Chris Edgoose, ‘I would have made myself remember’d’: Why Poets ♥ Keats

Many thanks to Existere for publishing my poem “In Having Been to the Capella Sistina” about exactly that, a not too long ago visit to the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City that feels worlds and worlds away. Just as I was finding the means to travel and the inspiration of experiencing in person the fine art I’d only ever seen in photos, the pandemic took hold and I resorted to virtual museum tours via digital screen. The lines from my poem “compare the scene to all / the kitsch—mugs and mousepads, / postcards and pamphlets, / digital images—zoomed in / on god’s finger reaching” seem far too real and much less ironic than I originally meant them to be.

Existere is a Journal of Arts and Literature founded in 1978, established and administered by students at York University in Toronto, Canada. They publish biannual issues in fall/winter and spring/summer of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and artwork. They are currently open for their next issue and pay their contributors $50 along with a print copy of the issue. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, they are now offering free copies of Volume 39 Issue 1, downloadable as a PDF! So you can check out the issue, read the wonderful variety of work, and see what types of work they accept before submitting. 

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “In Having Been to the Capella Sistina” published by Existere + Paying submission call!

Today, I learn, is #WorldBookDay. Who makes up these things? (And immediately hear a response in my head: “Publishers like you!”) Be that as it may, in my life, every day is book day, and it’s been so practically ever since I can remember. Last week the members of my book group started talking about when we had begun to be readers, and what form it took for each of us. We told stories about the books in our homes, local libraries in the small towns many of us had grown up in, how reading early made problems for us in school, happy hours spent reading in treehouses, or curled up on couches on rainy days, what those favorite books were and how they shaped us as the readers we are today. I’ve never been a solitary introvert, but I was definitely a bookworm whose parents often told me, “Come on, get your nose out of that book, and go outside!” This was a somewhat half-hearted admonition from my mother, who was pretty much of a bookworm herself. As an only child, I was alone a lot, and books always felt like my friends as well as boats and planes and magic carpets on which I could travel to other places and times.

Exactly one year ago today, Jonathan and I made a decision at 5:00 in the morning, half an hour before calling a taxi, to cancel our planned trip to Mexico City because a pandemic looked like it was actually going to happen. We figured we could get down there all right, but coming back on March 20 might not be easy, or safe. A number of people thought we were being over-cautious, but it proved to be the right decision. During this long year, one that I don’t think any of us will be able to truly process until much more time has passed, life has changed a lot. In addition to the good developments, like becoming proficient at Zoom and finding new friends, communities, and artistic outlets through that medium, we’ve stopped seeing family and friends, moving freely from place to place even within the city, having a studio, singing with my choir and going to the cathedral, shopping in stores, having routine medical appointments or getting our hair cut, going to any kind of in-person event, or even having normal visits with our neighbors. Montreal has been hit very hard, and people over 65 have been asked, and at times required, to stay in their homes. Thank God none of us knew it would be this bad, or go on this long, or I think we would have been even more despairing. Although it’s been a very hard year for us in a number of ways, I feel incredibly lucky that we’re still here, and we have appointments for our first vaccinations next week. I’m immeasurably grateful to the scientists who have developed these life-saving, world-saving vaccines in record time. I just wish that they would be available equally and fairly to all human beings — but, as this year has also shown, inequality and injustice are concentrated in minority populations, and there is no vaccine for that: we ourselves are the only solution.

Fortunately, during this time I’ve had three steady companions: my husband, my cat, and books.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 58. My Companions the Books

This morning, I read a review of Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, and it gave me pause, as these book reviews often do.  I always feel a bit abashed at how few of these important novelists I’m reading–he’s a Nobel laureate, after all.  And then there’s a moment when I do a Google search and read the Wikipedia article–which books am I feeling bad about not reading?

And then there’s a moment of further self-castigation:  I haven’t even seen the movies of the very important books!

I try to remember the names of other authors whom I haven’t read, and I spend a bit more time in Googling and remembering and trying to convince myself that I’m more well-read than I’m giving myself credit for.  I think of my grad school days and trying to figure out how I would ever catch up with 20th century British Lit, one of the fields I studied intensely.  And now I’m further behind.

Oh, let’s be honest.  I’m not going to catch up–to say I’m behind implies I will even try.  And I won’t.  I wish I could say that I’m not catching up because I’m maintaining my expert status elsewhere, but that’s not true either.

These days, I have a serendipitous approach to my reading life.  I just finished a fabulous book about Athens, Georgia in the 1970’s and 80’s, and how it became so influential in the world of pop and rock music:  Grace Elizabeth Hale’s Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  It was not only a deep dive into one town and into bands I loved once (but don’t really listen to these days), but also a meditation on how to be an artist and how to stay true to that calling.

While I don’t want to deny myself the treat of serendipitous finds like that one, perhaps it is time to be more intentional.  I remember back in high school when I was worried I would get to college and be unprepared.  I thought my high school wasn’t requiring enough of the classic, so I took it upon myself to read more.  For every 2 books I read for pleasure, I required myself to read one of the great books.  They tended to be 19th century classics from England and the U.S., white, and male.  That’s how we defined classics in the 1980’s. 

Perhaps it’s time to try some self-improvement via reading again.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Being Well-Read in the Twenty-first Century

I think it’s time for me to pick up John O’Donohue’s book, Beauty, again. I’ve read it many times, and it’s always a good comfort. he reminds us of the words by Pascal, “In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.” If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last year, is that this is what saves the soul, this is what keeps the heart from hardening, this is what makes me want to open my eyes up in the morning. From the hope of seeing the light on the wall, to reading a poem, or listening to a piece of music that lifts me — these things keep me breathing well. So for now, I wish you, too, good breathing, and many moments of beauty in each day.

Shawna Lemay, Beautiful Stuff

The river and its hem.
Magnolia trees holding in
their creamy cocoons.
An egret dipping
one leg into
the current.

All around us
only the things
originally belonging
to this world
are allowed
to touch.

Luisa A. Igloria, Haplos

twisted branches
the blackbird retreats
into his song

Julie Mellor, twisted branches

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 7

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: a hodge-podge of delightful and challenging posts that nonetheless seem to converge on a single point, or cluster of related points, though at the moment I’m too tired to work out quite what that might be. Enjoy.


The big conversation that the world is having. Human voices are only the tiniest part of it. Zipper of crow flight against the white blank sky. Syllables of sea birds that float, read left to right, right to left, moment to disappear. Alder branch hashmarks over a smudge of obscured sunlight. Blue slash of shadow, so sharp it cuts you.

In the preface of The Way Winter Comes, Sherry Simpson writes, “The more you looked, the more you saw, but you could never see it all.” The poet Jane Hirshfield says, “Everything changes. Everything is connected. Pay attention.” Two voices that I love speaking to each other over time. I walk along the beach, cobbles shifting beneath my feet. I am watching a group of seabirds continually rearrange themselves in a line. They go beneath the waves and then resurface. Dot dot dash. Dot…… dot. Dot.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The big conversation that the world is having

The point from the start was to figure out how to live. Some people grow out of asking “why? why? why?” — with infuriating persistence — in toddlerhood. Not me. Partly no doubt because my parents strongly encouraged curiosity, so I generally felt I was a good boy when I inquired. And then, I had a rare father who could actually tell me why the sky was blue, and what held the Moon up, or what was really happening in Southeast Asia. But mostly because what you don’t know can cut you off at the knees, and often does. It’s pure self-defense to know as much as you can, about everything you can. You have to look after yourself, in this life.

But you end up studying yourself in the mirror, and seeing a strange, inquisitive face examining you, with great attention, although maybe not with overflowing sympathy. The eyes overlarge, and the belly swollen with — promise? Or what? You tell me.

How to live: which includes what to do with your days: maybe boils down to that. Certainly how to hold your days up to the sun. (Or up to whatever sky God gives you.) 

But first, anyway, you have to slow down and quiet down, until you can hear the drip of the snowmelt and the grooming of the cat and the shift of the heat exchanger. More haste, less speed. 

Dale Favier, Mahamudra

I don’t think the world has ever been less messy than it is now. That the struggles and cruelties and hates haven’t always been there… somewhere. But there’s also been space for refuge. Not ignorance, but rest.

A little space for all of the tiny creatures that make us who we are to thrive again. And rise again. In a world that’s not a matrix, not a thought experiment.

What I yearn for now may well be something we yearn for more as we age, but it is oddly familiar to what we were given naturally — what we allowed ourselves — when we were very young.

cut roses drying
in the vase — fragments of dead
leaves turn to powder
wedging themselves in the grain
of this old oak writing desk

Ren Powell, What I’ve Learned in the Pandemic

Last week I noticed a poem shared by Blue Diode Press on Twitter. ‘Meditation’, by Eunice De Souza, appeared in the collection A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems (Penguin).

The poem’s first two lines leapt out at me:

The lonely ask too much and then
too little

I love how the form reflects its content: how these two lines mirror what they’re describing.

All those words (relatively) crammed into that first line, in haste and at too great length; only to fall away into the sad stump of the second. 

How differently it would read if the line break fell in the obvious place – after ‘too much’. I really FEEL it this way.

I see a baby who cries and cries, then gives up crying.

I also think about ideas I’ve explored before – people thinking they know what they want (read ‘lack’) but that familiar yearning masking an ambivalence, or terror. 

I explore similar concerns myself – to all of these – in The Girl Who Cried.

Because I can feel I’ve spent my life rushing towards people, then retreating. Asking ‘too much and then / too little’.

So there it is: the magic. 

A whole lifetime’s dilemma distilled – understood, reflected back – in two short lines of poetry.

Charlotte Gann, TWO SHORT LINES OF POETRY

I remember in grad school hearing that one of my teachers would sometimes take sizeable breaks from writing — six month, year long, insane (to me) breaks from writing–but she still managed to be Louise Gluck, so I suppose it did her no harm.

I have one manuscript languishing for a publisher (I finished it at a difficult time in my life so did not send it out for the longest), one manuscript recently completed (all about that difficult time in my life and emotionally challenging to write), so now I feel like I might need a bit of a breather from poetry.

That time between projects–because I tend to be a project-type of writer–has historically been a bit panicky for me. What do I do next?! I think, biting my nails. But this has been more like…Do I write another grief poem? Ugh. Do I write historical persona like I once loved? Double Ugh.

So I think it’s time to let the field lie fallow, so to speak, until it feels like it’s time to dive in again.

Have you ever taken a writing break? What was it like?

Renee Emerson, Shelving It

I haven’t been writing much. This is not unusual for me. I go for long periods without writing much, or writing little bits that I discover later, or writing quite a bit only I haven’t noticed it. Mostly these days the notebook sits closed. But I’ve been willing to paint. Maybe not with alacrity, but I’m more likely to open my little sketchbook than my notebook.

I’ve been painting mostly from photographs, even though I know from my artist friends that that is frowned upon, although I’m unclear why, but one friend is Rather Stern about it. So I do it anyway, but feel guilty about it, which I figure makes it okay.

Marilyn McCabe, Kiss me on a midnight street; or, Creativity and Letting Go of Control

Hard to believe that this photo was only taken last Friday- this afternoon it’s been about 15 degrees warmer. Interestingly, the word ‘edge’ seems to have been cropping up quite a bit in my haiku recently. On the surface, I think it’s to do with the walks I take, which often follow field boundaries marked by dry stone walls. Millstone grit is a feature of the landscape here, and the walls are a couple of hundred years old at least. The stone is mapped with lichen of various colours: yellow, green, white, and after hard weather the iron deposits oxidise and the stone becomes rust-coloured.

But, back to the word ‘edge’. Perhaps it’s signalling where my work is right now, sort of on the fringes, between making and doing. Somehow haiku demand more ‘doing’, more living. Nothing seems to surface unless I’ve been out walking, crossing the fields while it’s still quiet, listening, thinking. I walk everyday. The end of last week was hard because there was a bitter East wind. The start of that week was even harder because I was still self-isolating. But my period of self-confinement was short. Some people have been isolating for the best part of a year. I can’t imagine how that must feel, what it must do to a person. I found myself constantly going to the spare room window to look out over the fields, almost as if I needed to check they were still there. I didn’t write much either.

Julie Mellor, edge of day

My book turned 5 months old this week and I have a feeling now that it is something quite separate from me. An iceberg broken away and drifting off, handkerchiefs waving from the deck.

I always loved the word handkerchief because of that silent -d-, but also because of the dainty waving of it, the lace or embroidery. Always for crying or goodbye. I bought some old handkerchiefs online recently and god knows why. Would it be affected to use one? It would be an exercise in sustainability. Ok, I’ve sold myself on toting a handkerchief around. I love washing things in the sink. That feeling of care.

Sarah J Sloat, Behold Your Horses

Of course, we more commonly use “limbo” to mean a place of transition or uncertainty here on earth, often one in which we feel trapped. (If a person has been in this kind of limbo during the past week, they might have spent more time than is probably healthy wondering if a certain person who departed life has landed in Bolgia 9 or 10 of Hell’s eighth circle.) It can feel like a kind of hell to be in this kind of limbo, and it can require the agility and flexibility a person needs to successfully pass under the limbo stick. I think of the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal, in which his main character is trapped in airport limbo, neither permitted to enter the United States nor return home to his country no longer recognized as a country, and how he adapted to a way of being that feels impossible to most of us.

It’s been a long time since I saw that movie (and I think I slept through a good portion of it) or danced the limbo or read Dante–so these thoughts might be all kinds of gibberish–but I’m claiming “limbo” as my word of the week. It’s been six days since I’ve lived at home, and while I am grateful to have a place with heat and light and water and food, it feels as if I’ve slipped into a deeper circle of pandemic hell, where life is simultaneously both on hold and moving forward, and I don’t know how long it will remain this way. When I packed my little suitcase last Monday, I thought, surely, I would only be gone a few days. I told myself to think of it as a little vacation, a lark, a treat: permission to relax that it is so hard to give myself at home. It was not unlike my initial stance toward Covid shutdown; I optimistically threw a box of brownie mix and supplies for an embroidery project into a bag before closing the door to my dark, frigid house.

Now, after 6 days and four phone conversations with the power company and daily trips back and forth just to make sure that the power is, indeed, still not on, I find myself re-enacting the stages of acceptance I first lived last March. I long to go home at the same time I’m almost feeling as if the life I lived there is slipping away from me. I’m moving from disbelief to acceptance, and my new not-normal is beginning to feel some kind of normal, a transformation I am both resisting and welcoming. We are perverse and adaptable creatures, we humans, whether we want to be or not.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Meditation on Limbo

rolling blackouts
how the wind howls
& the candles dance

on the radio Lizzo
feeling good as hell

James Brush, 02.16.21

This is the time of year when I would ordinarily be taking my kid back to my birthplace — to see family, to breathe the air of where I come from, to enjoy Mexican breakfast at Panchito’s and big fluffy Texas-sized pancakes at the Pioneer Flour Mill. In this pandemic year, there’s no trip to Texas. The last time I was there was for mom’s unveiling.

Knowing that most of Texas is suffering cold and snow and rolling power outages, making these enchiladas feels like a kind of embodied prayer. When I make challah on Fridays I sing while kneading the dough. Tonight I am praying for Texas as I simmer the chili sauce, as I dip the corn tortillas in oil, as I tuck each rolled enchilada into the baking dish.

I spoke with family there this morning, and texted with them again later in the day. Like most of Texas, they didn’t have power or heat. Southern homes aren’t build to keep out the cold — they’re designed to retain cool. A lot of Texans don’t own warm winter clothes; why would they? Often at this time of year, it’s warm enough to wear short sleeves.

I could talk about why Texas has its own power grid, or the outrage of wholly preventable tragedies, or the importance of a robust safety net and good infrastructure in all neighborhoods, or the climate crisis that inevitably feeds worsening weather patterns. Instead I’m rolling enchiladas and praying that somebody can get the power up and running again.

Rachel Barenblat, A prayer in a casserole dish

L.A. winds whip through alleyways, wail eulogies for the lost, tear ghost sheets from cemetery clotheslines.

L.A. winds steer birds off course; break trees of their branches and will; deflower flowers, scatter all cautions to the wind.

They huff and puff, blow down homeless encampments, give rise to stray plastic bags tracing the wind’s form yet unable to comprehend the wind’s full shape and power.

Then, without warning, L.A. winds die out.

All the plastic bags, flower petals, ragged tents, cardboard shelters, and stray bird feathers fall to the ground, joining the broken branches.

The city grows quiet.

Takes on the many colors of its inner mood ring: violet for loving, amber for unsettled, gray for anxious.

Rich Ferguson, L.A. Winds

Yesterday, I had the TV on for background noise while working on a writing project, and there was a dude on Naked and Afraid claiming he had nothing but good vibes while being absolutely devoured by mosquitos. By contrast, his female companion and co-contestant was quite freaked out and complained lots. He had less tolerance for those complaints — i.e. her honesty about her discomfort — than she had for the mosquitos.

Of course, I found it hilarious that his supposed good vibes were so powerless against the agitation he felt as a result of how his partner met her own needs. His belief that his (selectively) good attitude was the only acceptable response to the mosquitos reminded me of a relatively new concept: “toxic positivity.” It insists that if we just turn that frown upside down, all will be well. Or better, at least.

While I’m not a Debbie Downer, I am a known skeptic of silver lining theories, and it’s refreshing that some positivity is being called out as harmful. Why must we take everything in stride?

Carolee Bennett, where the sun don’t shine

For reasons, I felt gritty and low-down and wicked this weekend, so I set about downloading “Grand Theft Auto 5.” I didn’t realize the process was going to take ten years. This game is a monster. I kept checking on the download throughout the day, but it wasn’t until 9:00 p.m. that it fully propagated on my system, and by then I was too tired to figure out how to get through the tutorial. I’m going to try again today. So far it’s quite loud and violent, and I’m stuck in the tutorial because I can’t figure out how to “take cover.” But I’m looking forward to playing someone mean and crooked. I want to steal cars and blow things up. I want to be bad and sultry and quick and criminal. I want to zip around L.A. in a flashy stolen vehicle and bask in the blazing California sun. I am tired of living a grim, responsible life in a cold, gray respectable city. I’m bustin’ out, folks. If the Feds kick my door down, it’s been nice knowing you.

Kristen McHenry, Low-Down Gritty Me, Age Shock, Gym Bag Redux

A lovely evening for a swim. The tide was low and the water cool, and as I waded out (quite far before it was deep enough to swim) I noticed that the squishy mud I was wading through was warm, quite a bit warmer than the water actually.

estuary ::
the night gives back
what the day has taken

Dylan Tweney [untitled photo post]

after my bath
i sit and compose haiku
about my swim

Jim Young [no title]

I was delighted to unpack my copies of the new Locked Down anthology from Susan Jane Sims of Poetry Space. The book has just been published and contains a large mix of poems, diary extracts, photographs and art. 

My poem, a metaphorical lockdown one, has as its focus the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, as witnessed and recorded by the Younger Pliny. The theme seems particularly pertinent and poignant in the light of yesterday’s eruption of Etna on Sicily. 

Back in the mid-1980s David and I spent a year in Italy, and during that time travelled from Rome to Herculaneum and Pompeii, in the shadow of Vesuvius. We also journeyed further south, crossing to Sicily in the train on board the ferry. Naples had been absolutely bitter (this was February); but once we reached the shadow of Mount Etna, the sun beat down on us as we cast our coats aside and rolled up our shirt sleeves. Kind Italian fruit growers offered us giant oranges as we disembarked.  

Caroline Gill, ‘Locked Down’ anthology from Poetry Space

So here I am in the backseat, struggling to relax and enjoy the scenery. This February is a holding-pattern of a month; it’s also busy. I’m halfway through the master class I’m teaching at Randolph College. I’m virtually attending the Poetry and Pedagogy Conference hosted by West Chester starting tomorrow and looking forward to hearing panels about teaching. The workshop I’m running on Saturday morning, on how and why to teach single-author collections, is nearly ready, and I’m giving a reading with the other workshop leaders on Saturday night. Meanwhile, my department is assembling a list for the registrar of our fall courses, so I’m in planning mode for my own fall offerings. The clock is definitely ticking on my sabbatical, even though the second half of the leave year remains fuzzy in many ways, for obvious reasons. (Deep breaths through the diaphragm. Amygdala, calm down.)

Nope, amygdala thinks my editorial load is fight-or-flight. It’s a privilege to work for a great magazine with a great Editor-in-Chief; accepting poems and promoting their wonderfulness is a thrill. Yet, open for submissions for the first two weeks of February, Shenandoah received 736 batches of poems. 736!!! I’m working hard, but when I get down to the most irresistible poems I’ll still have more than enough for multiple issues, which means more hours of difficult siftings and rejection letters that can be wrenching to write. (I have 19 spots max for Fall ’21 and Spring ’22 combined, with some reserved for a portfolio curated by our BIPOC Editorial Fellow in poetry, Sylvia Jones.) I’m trying to take it more slowly than usual and not feel so overwhelmed, but it’s a lot.

The stressy busy-ness is only partly about work, after all. Part of my brain is always rehearsing the vigilance script: steer clear of that maskless man; what can I cook over the next several days to postpone another trip to the supermarket, because it never feels safe there; my mother and daughter are on that airplane, how do I keep it aloft from down here? Oh, February. Oh, amygdala.

Lesley Wheeler, Oh, February. Oh, amygdala.

The towel dried
in the open, a flag rigged to mean look

away, she isn’t who you want. Nobody said
double or shadow. Outside in the world:

you stepped out of that jerry-built
altar, careful to rinse the musk-smell

of magnolias from your nape. You
learned to answer but quietly. How long

did it take before the two of you drew
closer to one another, breathed

in unison under blankets, clasped
hands under a billow of netting.

Luisa A. Igloria, Imago

something with a tail to nuzzle into your palm           to pierce
                             the soft                shell of your heart             something
to take home

something that rolls from under your feet      gathers
              no moss           loves              glass houses        something
to hold in your fist

something with roots you want to slip       sleep under
            climb into           hug          borrow its skin

Romana Iorga, some things to watch out for in a poem

We’d uncoil our Sargent jumps, tapping your top
as you became our iceberg, Sherman tank,
or high-rise block. Your walls were stormed,
but stayed unopened by broken bricks or pot-shots
from our BB guns. David lost an eye
in the ricochet, though I can barely
recall how he came to be standing there.
You were hauled away for scrap soon after.
I should find out where he is now.

Mat Riches, Post-Rock Shipping Containers

Sandra Beasley, a friend of mine who has several severe food allergies like my own, wrote this essay about claiming her identity as a disabled writer. It’s worth a read. And it made me think of my own nervousness, two AWP’s ago, when I was on a panel and was part of a reading for disabled writers. Was I disabled enough?  Could I speak to this group with any authority? Anyway, what does it mean to add “disabled” to your bio, or your descriptions of yourself on social media? If you look at my pictures, you wouldn’t necessarily see any disability, unless you looked closely, or looked at how I cropped out a wheelchair or cane. I notice small things (like my left side never fully recovered from the 2018 MS flare, and I still limp a little on that side, and my eye on that side isn’t quite the same as the one on the right side. Another small thing is I have more trouble reading my poems correctly out loud than I used to. A poetry editor recently asked me to record a video for their site, and asked for a re-recording because I had made minor errors in the words. But I knew that in a re-recording, I was likely to make the same, or worse, errors, because MS makes it difficult for me to read, focus on a camera, and stand at the same time. Did the editor know how bad she made me feel for this neurological anomaly? Probably not. It’s the same with Zoom readings and meetings – I have to shut off my camera sometimes when my brain gets overwhelmed trying to sort noise and imagery and trying to respond properly that that information. It could be perceived as a bad attitude – but really it’s my disability that’s controlling things. During quarantine, I have not asked as much of my body – not trying to walk unfamiliar routes, or dealing with people who don’t know I have MS, or driving to downtown readings that require stairs or doctor’s appointments that take hours of physical endurance to go to. But I still get tired doing things the average person wouldn’t. I have a telltale sign when I’ve done too much that my husband notices – my hands and legs start to tremble fairly aggressively, and this usually means worse symptoms will happen. “Time to rest,” he’ll say, and though I might resist his advice, he’s right. Anyway, I’m telling you all this because it’s hard to be vulnerable and admit your physical, neurological, and mental disabilities. Everyone who has them has a hard time claiming them in a positive way. Do we call ourselves a “disabled person” or a “person with disabilities.” This is an actual thing we have to think about.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Snow Woes, Who Gets to Be a Disabled Writer, and Having Trouble Getting It Together? Me too.

My pastor asked me if I wanted to do the meditation for Ash Wednesday, and I jumped at the chance.  I knew it would be pre-recorded, and I knew that I’ve been enjoying my approach of recording segments and seeing how to stitch them together.  I like that the process pulls on my poetry brain.  I like trying to think of ways to make the message new.

This year offers additional challenges.  There’s the standard challenge of having heard the message already:  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Some of us might say, “We hear this every year.  Blah, blah, blah, dust, ash, rust, smash.”

But this year, with Ash Wednesday coming after a year of these reminders of our mortality, how do we make the message new?  This year, after a year of watching all we’ve built implode, explode, decay, and disappear, how do we create a message that touches on these themes but doesn’t leave us clinically depressed?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Video Sermon on Ash Wednesday

I’ve been shielding and self-isolating for a year. It’s my Covid-versary. At the start, you don’t mark the date. I just remember thinking that it would be sorted by the end of April, and I’d go to St Ives to write. And then that became September, except it didn’t. And so on. Can you remember what day it is anymore? 

If someone told you a year ago you’ll be isolated for a year you’d probably say but I can’t do that. Much in the style of folk who post on social media that they can’t wait for X or Y or whatever. meaning that they don’t want to. I can’t do that. I’m reminded of Kim Moore’s glorious Trumpet Teacher’s curse

a curse on the teacher who says I’m rubbish at music
in a loud enough voice for the whole class to hear

I can’t do that. We believe we can’t cope. We lose someone we love. We lose an occupation. How will we survive? It turns out that you can, that you have, that you do. I had another anniversary in January. Eight years ago I joined an inspirational fellowship and gave up alcohol. I thought I couldn’t do it, but it turned out I could. The remarkable thing is that, as a result, I started to write, seriously, and joined another inspirational fellowship of people who write poems. I’ve had a book published every year since. I started to write a poetry blog, and about 750,000 words later, I’m still writing it. It turns out I could do it after all. As can we all, mostly. 

John Foggin, Keeping on: my kind of poetry. Martin Zarrop

One of the things I enjoy most about readings is the live audience – you can see how they’re reacting, you can address people through eye contact. And on Zoom? You’re lucky if you’ve spotted your friends, who could be on page 2 of the mosaic, you could be faced with a patchwork of faces and blank screens with names, some of which are something like ‘K’s laptop’. Everyone’s muted. Ugh!

The last reading I did, I had the poems on my computer screen so I could read off them and not keep looking down. When it’s just your head and shoulders visible, if people are looking at me (and hopefully they’re not all the time!) I want to seem as if I’m addressing them. I know I like this when I’m watching a poet read, and a number of people have told me they like it too. The downside to this strategy is, if you’re on a laptop, you might find your Word document (with the poems on) obscures the Zoom window, and with no ‘feedback loop’ you just have to carry on and trust people are there and haven’t all gone home, or that your connection has died and you haven’t realised, so you’ve been talking to yourself for ten minutes. Another way might be to pin your poems on the wall above your screen, which come to think of it might work better as you’ll be looking at a point just above the camera. OK now I’m overthinking things, and making myself more anxious…

Robin Houghton, On giving a poetry reading via Zoom

Today someone said I
seemed like a pink lady.

In another part of town
I heard a tiny bird-

song that touched me.
A meeting was held and

I got naked on a screen,
with my clothes on.

I kept someone waiting
for over an hour,

was forgiven.

Marie Craven, I Heard a Bird

Have you noticed a change in submissions to Atrium Poetry since lockdown?

I think we received more submissions in 2020 than in previous years, and I’m sure a good chunk of that was lockdown-related. Some people commented in their cover email or bio that they’d been inspired to start writing/return to writing when lockdown began. We have had a lot of poems about Covid (see next question!).

If poets are considering sending work to you should they send poems about Covid or are you saturated by them?

We don’t have any set themes at Atrium, so poets are free to send us work on whatever subjects they wish. Having said that, we have been (understandably) sent a lot of Covid-related poems, and I would make the point that the only ones we’ve gone on to accept for publication have been ones that look at the pandemic in a fresh and original light (though the same applies to any subject, really!). We’ve received many poems that essentially say the same sorts of things as each other (‘it’s hard not seeing family and friends/ I’m worried about older relatives/ I’m washing my hands a lot’!). It’s not eye-catching or ‘different’ enough to simply state the more obvious aspects, relatable though they are.

How will you focus on your writing during this current lockdown and do you have any tips for other poets?

I’d just made my ‘Writing Projects for 2021’ list when lockdown was announced, and my initial feeling was ‘just carry on regardless’, despite the restrictions on time.

The reality, though, is that I’ve not been able to keep up with things – daytime is taken up by home school and other work, and I’m too old now to have any energy left to write in the evenings! But my experience of the first lockdown reassures me that writing will pick back up again in time, and I’m trying to be relaxed about it! Needs must, and it’s not forever.

I suppose, with that in mind, my tip for other poets would be don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get much writing done during lockdown – for some it’s a very productive time, but for others (most?) there are too many other things going on to focus properly on writing, whether that be because of other commitments or just because you can’t find the oomph to do it in amongst the general worry! The urge/time/brain-space to write will return – you’ve not written your last poem. Trying to follow my own advice there…

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Claire Walker

I’ve been thinking about submissions from a different angle recently. In the autumn, I had to embark on a recruitment exercise at work for the first time in many moons and was disappointed, but not surprised, that nothing had changed in terms of the information gathered on the application form: the requirement for the applicant to state their full name, date of birth, gender, educational and work histories, with dates, surely provides more than enough ammunition for a bigoted manager to discriminate negatively on the grounds of age, gender, schooling and, in many cases, their ethnicity and class also. There should surely be scope for pseudonymous applications, without a requirement to state gender unless the job requires it in accordance with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010. In many cases, though, stating the name of one’s school would give away one’s gender, or birth gender at least. Does any information really matter other than work history and how the skills and knowledge the applicant has acquired over the years might be applicable to the role they are applying for?

A similar pseudonymous approach could of course be tried for all poetry submissions, with the proviso that acceptance is conditional so that unrepentant plagiarists or criminals convicted of the most serious offences might be subsequently excluded as appropriate. But then there’s the argument that subject-matter and/or the authorial time and outlook often convey as much about the poet as any full disclosure of name and biography might. In the poetry world, there’s been much talk of ‘levelling-up’ long before our abominable government started hoodwinking the gullible into thinking they were serious about that agenda. (Outlawing the establishment of fee-paying schools and turning existing ones into non-fee-paying might be a good start, if you ask me.) Much excellent positive discrimination in the last decade has enabled the diversification of poets being published in the UK. Ultimately, letting fine poems shine regardless of their authors’ background or identity so that otherwise marginalised voices are heard as loudly as any others ought to be an essential part of the mission statement for any journal now, and I struggle to think of any UK-based journal which fails to adhere to that basic principle. None of this is original thinking, I know, and none of it is rocket science either. Yet, in the same way that there is now a war on ‘woke-ness’ in wider British society, I suspect there is a disgruntled (no doubt 99% white middle-class male) minority within the poetry community who feel that positive discrimination has gone much too far. Well, yaboo-sucks to them.

Matthew Paul, The information

I sometimes turn a short story into Flash as an exercise. What I try to avoid is ending up with a piece that has lost weight but is still wearing the same old clothes. I focus on a single scene, lose a side-plot, or lose a character. If I return to the short story I’m usually able to exploit what I’ve learned when writing the Flash.

Sometimes I’ve made a page-long poem more episodic, then I’ve broken it into a few poems. Not all of the shorter poems succeed, but at least I’ve salvaged something.

Welsh writer Cynan Jones’ story “The Edge of the Shoal” began as a 30,000-word short novel but he cut it to 11,500 words because “it didn’t work.”  When he sent it to The New Yorker they liked it but asked him to cut it in half. He took 4 days to cut the story to 6,000 words. In that form the New Yorker published it and it won The 2017 BBC National Short Story Award. The original version was published by Granta as a novella entitled “Cove”, which then won the Wales Book of the Year Fiction Prize.

Moral – you may want to keep more than one version of some of your pieces – short and long versions. If you chop, keep your drafts. You may never become famous enough to sell them, but they may have something valuable that gets worn away by rewrites.

Tim Love, Editing down

In 2017 – 2018 I had a lovely time working in a secondary school in Bath one day work, employed as a Writer in Residence. I used this blog as a notebook to document the workshops, so I thought I’d link to a few of the posts I wrote, for anyone who might find them useful at this time of homeschooling and being stuck indoors. The young writers I worked with were mostly aged 11 – 16 but the workshops can be adapted for other ages – and for yourself if you’re in the mood to do some writing and you need a little inspiration. […]
 
Cutting up text to write poems – This workshop produced an impressive amount of work by the students I worked with, even those who told me they “didn’t like writing”. Cutting up and manipulating text can be satisfying and fun and makes a change from facing up to the blank page. I was strict with my young writers and didn’t allow them to add in extra words “so a sentence made sense” but they were allowed to write anything they wanted in their own notebooks, so many new phrases and ideas popped up, leading to fresh poems and stories.

Josephine Corcoran, DIY Poetry Writing Workshops

Edmonton poet Paul Zits’ third collection is Exhibit (Calgary AB: University of Calgary Press, 2019), following Massacre Street(University of Alberta Press, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Leap-seconds(Insomniac Press, 2017). I’m frustrated in that I don’t even think I saw a copy of that second collection, and only received a copy of this latest collection a few months back; why is Paul Zits so silent on these books he’s been publishing? As the back cover to this new collection offers: “In the winter of 1926, Margaret McPhail went on trial for the murder of Alex, and throughout, maintained her innocence. More than a retelling of her trial, Exhibit chronicles the path to a verdict, misstep by misstep. Unique and rewarding, this is a masterful work of collage poetry that rests in the spaces where reality is constructed and where reality is blurred.” I’m immediately fascinated at Zits’ exploration of the prairie document, retelling the bones of a story of early prairie history through the shape of poetry, putting him in a lineage of multiple prairie writers such as Dennis Cooley, Monty Reid, Robert Kroetsch and Kristjana Gunners, among others. Zits applies the elements of the story into short, sketched lyrics, presenting and capturing moments that accumulate and shape into a larger narrative of what might, or may, have happened. He writes out the spaces amid the spaces; what is known and impossible to know. Unlike Kroetsch or Cooley, Zits’ collage-story attempts the impossibility of truth, even through the knowledge of that impossibility. His lyrics present with the facts as best as possible, allowing the reader the space to get inside.

rob mclennan, Three short reviews: June Gehringer, Tess Brown-Lavoie + Paul Zits

 I’ve always considered myself a poet whose work relies tremendously on research, whether it’s more serious (the Chicago World’s Fair, the Italian Reniassance) or less serious (tabloid headlines and slenderman lore.) In the early 2000’s my errata project, which cobbled together both orginal and found texts was one of the first things I’d written that involved external sources directly, but I’d touched on bits obliquely before.  Many of my first, better poems were steeped in history, mythology/folklore, and literature. (I always say I din’t have much to write about myself, so I plumbed these to exhaustion.) Thus I have a lot of mermaid poems, even from the beginning. Fairy tale poems –my favorites being Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Hansel & Gretel–all things that I’ve written more than one poem about.  My entire project, the shared properties of water and stars is basially a take on Goldilocks that’s expanded into story problem logic.  

Later, I devoted an entire chapbook length series to Resurrection Mary, Chicago’s own vanishing hitchhiker legend, a project that not only had me deep in chicago history, but doing fun things like ghost tours. girl show involved a lot of searching into sideshow and carnival performers of the 30s and 40’s (and the discovery of the Hilton sisters, after which my two siamese are named.) There was the summer I spent reading Slenderman stories and books about the legend, as well as digging into true crime about the stabbing in Waukesha. There was research into pin-ups and nuclear america for strange machine and terrestrial animal. Extinction and evolution for my series written for the Field Museum. Ekphrastic subject matter for the Cornell Project, my Dali series, the Shining poems.

Kristy Bowen, writing history and myth

I’m talking brain imaging, I say. Our brains mirror other brains; that’s how we understand one another. He’s still got his patient listener face on, so I continue. This explains how clichés impair writing. Because when we hear a cliché like put the cart before the horse our brains don’t evidence any interest. That saying was originally a clever use of language the first 1,000 or 100,000 times it was said but our brains react minimally to clichés. Brain imaging shows we take them in only at the most basic level. Phrases like “scared out of my wits” or “made of money” were original once, but now they deaden our responses.  Besides, many clichés in common usage come to us from generations ago, when everyone knew how foolhardy it was to put the actual cart before the actual horse. Take the cliché “caught red-handed.” This likely came from centuries back, when serfs worked the land of some lord or another. There were strict rules against poaching. Even if one’s family was starving on what little they could grow, it was illegal to hunt on the lord’s land. Caught red-handed meant you had blood on your hands and would be severely punished.         

Mark alleges he still likes clichés and gleefully adds the cliché, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”* It’s a game now. We continue to toss out ever more ridiculous clichés until we weary of them and put the audiobook back on.

Listening to it, we finally we reach a cliché-related accord. I agree with him that a book’s character can and perhaps should use clichés if it’s in keeping with that character. In this pop mystery, I can see why a character or two would talk this way. Mark agrees with me that the book we’re listening to also uses clichés in description and plot development outside of character narration, and it’s off-putting. We listen a few more miles and he says. “Now I can’t help but hear all the clichés. Thanks.” We give up on the book.

Yes, we’re still married. And yes, I still give that cliché talk but have learned to keep it in the classroom.

Laura Grace Weldon, Clichés

In “The Oscillations” Kate Fox has a collection that explores neurodivergency and how masking differences comes at a cost and the isolation that can result, although there’s also hope in new connections as a world shifts. The pandemic is a backdrop, something battled and overcome with a journey towards renewal. The poems have a focused, conversational tone which belies their careful structure: the apparent casualness relies on sound echoes and partial rhymes. These poems both skim the surface and explore the depths, which path is taken is up to the reader.

Emma Lee, “The Oscillations” Kate Fox (Nine Arches Press) – book review

I have had the pleasure of knowing [Saddiq] Dzukogi over a number of years, sharing correspondence over poems and life. In his work, I have always found a paced, meditative way with the line that develops emotional depth across images that hold for a reader like sunsets: intense, clear, and with a momentum one can feel.

“Wineglass” below is a good example of this. Through intimate narration, the poem develops from its title image into a vessel of its own, holding the speaker’s grief while also moving through the experience of it. Physical details such as “Hands, cloudy from rubbing the grave,” evoke the speaker’s state of mind through the image of cloudiness and emphatic action of rubbing, while the word choice of cloudy/grave parallel the speaker’s desire to mix and be heard across worlds.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Saddiq Dzukogi

How do I hold
her in tenderness— one way of tending a life is to stand in a queue

at the shop as beans get roasted. It takes time to prepare
a tumbler of frothy coffee— a lifetime if it is the final gulp.

You in your chair overlooking the deck and I in my terrace where
the hibiscus shrub is eaten by mealybugs, hold the cup of absence.

Uma Gowrishankar, how to drink loss

There is nothing more pleasing than to write with a newly filled, well-flowing fountain pen, on the pages of a C.D. Notebook (another obsession). Let me make this case for writers of all kinds to use a fountain pen: the more you write and use your writing instrument, the better it will flow. If you leave off writing, there is the possibility that the ink will dry in the mechanism, and things will start to get hinky. Which is to say blotchy or dry or skippish. The more you write the more you flow. And that, my friends is the secret to fountain pens and the secret to writing. And the secret to refraining from giving in to the cussedness of it all. You know.

Shawna Lemay, The Cussedness of Fountain Pens

that moment when the very first raindrops
tumble down from the broken sky
scattered and fat
perfect
lovely

James Lee Jobe, you are alone in the silence

A xylophone of icycles on a rusted bridge, a bass drum of cloud.
A glimmer of moonlight on the coldest night for twenty years.
I have your last letter in my pocket.

I hear you saying I wish I could see you once more.
Someone saw you in your house by the sea.
A sense of lamps. I should have known you’d understand

The laziness of forgiveness, the hard work of bitterness,
The emptiness in every room. Did anyone see you move in?
One by one your books will abandon you.

Bob Mee, A QUESTION OF SIGHT AND SOUND AND THREE OTHER NEW PIECES THAT MUST SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES

I think
of us loving
into the night,

the darkness
not something
we have feared.

We empty
ourselves into it
again and again.

Loss fills us
for another
go at hope.

Tom Montag, AN IMAGE OF

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 6

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, we’re a month and a half into 2021 and years into an endless, if somehow also endangered, winter. But today, reading the poetry blogs, I found valentines. Not the mushy, sentimental kind, of course. These were stronger, darker, riskier—like love itself.


On this Valentine’s Day I’m thinking about all the people who’ve lost their lover, their husband or wife, their child or parent — especially those losses that have occurred during the past year. It’s an astronomical number. A mind-boggling number. A river of tears stretching around the world. For many of us, there may not have been an actual death of someone we loved deeply, but days and months when we feared it more than anything we’ve ever feared.

Why do we take the risk? Why do we love, if we know we’re either opening ourselves, or the ones we love, to inevitable, eventual pain?

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 56. Eros and his bow

Finally the mug, lovely gift from Mike. Last night, I wondered darkly how long I have to go without writing a poem before I stop being a poet. This morning, preparing a Valentine’s breakfast for one, this was the obvious mug to choose. 

I sat in bed this morning in the company of crockery, eating toast, drinking orange juice. Three times, I poured milk from the tiny jug into the mug-of-affirmation, before pouring on the English Breakfast / Earl Grey mix. With each mugful, I felt the warmth of love, in all its richness and many forms, grow stronger.  

Liz Lefroy, I Set A Breakfast Tray

We do have the privilege of a garden.
It’s all relatively new to us. A blessing just in time
before the world got stopped.
We established our very own animal pub there-
it’s called The Grain & Shell.
Birds & squirrels
feed & drink
& fight &
dance & mate,
but this Winter the water in the shell freezes
first a below-zero ice-skating rink, then a small mountain of hard snow.
Thirsty squeaking little birds cannot break through it;
squirrels lick the frozen surface
then leave in clear disappointment.
Every morning after tea & coffee
we now put another kettle on & melt
the glacial, hazy and rigid mirror
& watch the lot steam up in the cold air.

Ernesto Priego, The Shell

You ask, can music do that – curl the tongue around the stitch of ache –
when the note touches the ceiling of the hospital room as you take
your walk and the night sky rotting green burns at edges with city lights.

You wear black, rest like fractured old wood on the migraine flare
that flames your body. I gather your feet to trace the rings of age, sluices
of calcium whorled in volcanic blooms.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Journey

Here’s me on my bicycle, with the long shadows of a bright February evening. Better to head into the shadows than cycle with the sun in my eyes – and in the eyes of the drivers behind me. Lockdown has brought my bicycle and me even closer together. I really should oil it soon.

Tim Love, Long shadows

Don’t tell me how to lose someone.
I’ve earned this experience.
Some knitting, a watch, a photograph:
through these things I remember.
The blood rises to my cheeks, already red
from genes I no longer trust.
I’m like the ship of Theseus.
How much can I cast away & still be myself?
I try to identify my face in the bathroom mirror
at the grocery store. Those are my eyes,
there’s my crooked nose, that’s the gap between my teeth.
Every seven years all the cells in my body renew.
I set the boat on the water, push it out to sea.

Jason Crane, POEM: Hello sailor

This Valentine’s Day, my object of love is the world, and what kind of a clear manageable object is that?  

I could narrow it down, focus, make it a simple object, like an oyster, and use all of my five senses to explore its delicate being, its opalescent color, its sand and pearly shell  

I might complicate things by thinking about the ocean, and how many people die in it every year, and how many sailors and fishermen have perished over centuries, how many in the Middle Passage, and wonder if I can still love the ocean

or that oyster that is its product and essence of the ocean itself

and I might be eating the oyster as I am listening to a roll call, to documentation of a country falling apart

Jill Pearlman, World Valentine

For this poetry prompt for Valentine’s Day, start by reading “Untitled [Do you still remember: falling stars]” by Rainer Maria Rilke (as translated by Edward Snow) and give some thought to what you like/admire.

For me, it’s that Rilke captures the delusions of grandeur being in love can inspire. And instead of poking fun at us (or at himself), he embraces the phenomenon as a shared human experience. How silly (and necessary!) for us to feel as though our current romance is the biggest love that’s ever existed in all of the universe and surely will transcend time itself! And although he acknowledges the absurdity of that in the poem’s final line, he does it gently, via a kind of nostalgia for this collective culpability.

I also appreciate that the poem avoids being overly sentimental. Tricky for a love poem to do! This is accomplished by incorporating words that offer a glimpse into the imperfections of romantic love: words like “hurdles,” “hazards” and “disintegration.” These are not typical love poem words and may seem in opposition to what the poem is saying about love being grand and lasting forever. Instead, they’re subtle reminders that love encompasses risk and a fair amount of disappointment, including paling in comparison to what “forever” actually is in the context of the cosmos. Risk is just part of it — “wedded to the swift hazard of their play” — and unlikely to deter us.

Note that word, too: “wedded.”

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt for valentine’s day

breaking boughs
bent live oak branches
the weight of ice

today this mask
feels good

James Brush, 02.12.21

I’ve been sending missives from menopause and perimenopause over the last few years, and sometimes they feel like dead letters. Well, almost all poems land softly–but the so-called change of life feels so BIG to me that it feels like there ought to be a much larger body of literature about it. So I was really happy when “Oxidation Story” was accepted by Kenyon Review Online this fall, and even happier to receive lots of positive responses when they published it yesterday. I’d worked on this one for years. Maybe I got the words right, or the subject matter called to people, or the prestige of the venue attracted attention? In any case, it made me feel seen for a shining moment, for the writer in me.

That’s one of the weird side effects of crossing over to this side of 50: you’re catcalled, harassed, and menaced for most of your life, then you become invisible. I prefer invisibility on the whole, but it would be even better to become, say, “distinguished.” Most TV shows and movies provide illustrations of how impossible that seems to be. As my spouse and I burn through all the shows streaming services have to offer, we just tried “The Undoing,” which pairs Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman as high-powered professionals in unholy matrimony. Kidman is ultra-fit and facelifted and bewigged into a simulacrum of Pre-Raphaelite maidenhood; Grant is carrying more pounds than in his lean thirties, hair grayed and face a little jowly, but he remains very much the leading man. It’s not that I’d put Grant on a diet; I’d rather see Kidman, or any older woman, allowed to wrinkle and accumulate a spare tire and still play a complicated, vital main character. The disparity gets old. (As does the effort to discern facial expressions in an actor post-botox.)

Even in the underresourced world of literary publishing, most successful women-identified authors are glamorously slim and able-bodied. I sometimes wonder if the best thing I could do for my career would be to go paleo and get my eyebrows done, but I’d rather jump my game-token right to witchy croneland.

Lesley Wheeler, Report from hagdom

slid into a place where
long worn grooves of
deep body habit
flourish in the dirt
making mud pies in
a hot back yard the
taste is bitter.

loving the ugliness
of the deep body its
sweat and grease and
pungency its freely
unwashed hair and
legs of fur its
old Lilith.

Marie Craven, Slid

Meet my new friend, the viscacha. He’s got a look that is simultaneously wise, weary, and worked-over. While I can’t claim to be wise, I am definitely feeling weary and worked over by the world. Introduced this friend to my students this week and one responded with: “What does he hear that we don’t that he needs ears so big?”

José Angel Araguz, viscacha vibes, recent pubs, & upcoming virtual event

I had a rough week of not being able to do or say anything right 1) in Zoom meetings 2) in general. People sometimes disappear in Zoom if someone is screen sharing, and it’s getting harder and harder for me to connect, engage in true communication, and feel like myself. Also, it’s so very cold outside, and I’d rather sit on the couch reading books, wrapped up in a soft blue fleece blanket, than do anything else. 

Today I gave in to the couch, and that produced 4 poem drafts, a healing calm, and restored my sense of who I really am. Sigh… It helped this past week to call up some friends up spontaneously on the phone. Thank you, friends! It’s been almost a year of isolation, and maybe I hadn’t felt it as intensely till now. I know I’ve had it easier than many, as a shy person and an introvert and someone with a safe, masked, part-time job. Feeling for all the rest of you, you can be sure.

Kathleen Kirk, Rough Week

We ended the day on the porch with our mandolins trying to pick out the melody of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (a Leadbelly tune also known as “In the Pines” perhaps made famous most recently by Nirvana).  It’s not a very hard tune, so we also had time to talk some music theory, about key signatures and sharps and flats, theory that my spouse has internalized but astonishes me.  It reminds me of when my beloved undergrad English professor Dr. Swanson told me that all fiction must have conflict, and I ascertained that it did not, and she challenged me to give her one example.

Literary theory, music theory, political theory–why is my initial response to ascertain that the theory is wrong?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days Off, Days on My Feet

is awakened the word
for a seed that dies, then is sown

when i believe in what wind listens for
why does my nest unravel

can anyone else open a poem
to the fate of its reader

Grant Hackett [no title]

Somewhere in my drawers is a tape I made circa 1995.  I was coming off my first poetry workshop in the spring and was writing and submitting work at a rate I hadn’t been in a while. .  I would take my small black boombox out to the dining room table of my parent’s house where I would write in the afternoons and record myself reading the poems.  Mostly, to see if the sounded good when read aloud, since so much of poetry depends on the auditory. I saved the tape and traveled with me from apartment to apartment since , though I don’t even have a tape deck to play it these days.  Besides I am not sure I could handle hearing 21 year old Kristy and her terrible poems from this distance.  I do like the fact that it exists, along with cd recordings of several other radio readings preceding the rise of digital files. I also have a taped version of a reading we wound up recording in a bustling diner near Northeastern U. complete with dishes clattering and secret slot machine noise from the back. 

I have a strange relationship with the sound of my own voice, which of course does not sound anything like it does in my head when I hear it played back. Too childlike, too formal  I sometimes struggle with this when it comes to the video poems.  I remarked to a friend recently about the delight and surrealness of hearing other people’s voices read your work. Hearing your words in other people’s mouths and I remember the shock of the first time. Someone once told me at AWP that she had had her students read all the poems in a chapbook of mine, one poem per student, all in a circle and this felt like a ritual.  I wanted to see it and hear it all. This along with a local poet who once told me my work reminded her of a hybrid between Plath and a Davis Lynch film is one of the coolest things and highest compliments anyone has ever said about my writing. .  I want to put his on my tombstone. 

Kristy Bowen, voice and the spaces between

The body is always talking to us. 

This week, for me, included a recurring cricopharyngeal spasm – or in other words, a cramp in one of the muscles of my pharynx, typified in my case by the feeling of a painful lump in my throat and the sensation that something is stuck that cannot be swallowed down. 

Doctors aren’t quite sure what causes these spasms, but of course, anxiety is indicated. Anxiety, oh my faithful companion since childhood. Anxiety, gift-wrapped and presented to me by my mother who suffered mightily under its influence.

And of course, there’s plenty to be anxious about. No need to list here as I’m sure you have your own list which likely shares several items with mine. I wonder though if this week’s cricopharyngeal spasm might be my body manifesting what I feel so acutely – that I cannot get the words on the page – that I am choking on unwritten poems. 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Listening to the body

Having just finished “The Secret of the Old Clock” I have learned many astonishing things, among them that cinnamon cake topped with hot apple sauce is a thing that exists. Another is that we were once brave and hardy and healthy and wholesome. We knew how to do basic things like a change a tire, operate a motor boat and alter a garment. (Nancy does all three in the first few chapters alone.) I won’t go too far down the “we were better people then” rabbit hole, but it was a bit of a culture shock. The early Nancy Drew books were published in the 1930’s, and obviously it’s a whole other world now. We have lost a lot of competencies that used to be a given part of adulthood. Speaking of adulthood, it never occurred to me reading the books as a kid that Nancy is eighteen years old and living at home with her father with seemingly no plans for college or getting a job. For someone with nothing to do, she certainly manages to keep busy. And her Dad…can we just talk about her dad for a minute? I guess it must have been lost on me as a kid because I didn’t recall much about him, but Carson Drew is the best dad ever. He’s a kind and indulgent father, but he’s always pushing Nancy to think logically and to be courageous and make bold moves. And he raised Nancy as a single dad when her mother died.

Along those lines, I found it interesting how many of the characters in “Clock” had alternative living arrangements to the nuclear family. There were two cousins who lived together on a farm and made their living selling crops, sisters who were raising an orphaned child together, and Nancy herself, who lives with her father and his housekeeper. In fact, I don’t believe there was a single character in a nuclear family in the entire book. Most of the characters were struggling financially to some degree or another but they were getting by and they embodied stoicism. I can feel another bout of “we were better then” nostalgia coming on so I better wrap this up. The bottom line is, I have a Nancy Drew box set and I highly encourage you to obtain a box set as well…any box set. They are a thing of joy, no matter what your reading preference.

Kristen McHenry, Box Set Bonanza

One important factor when approaching poetry collections is their attitude to the reader. Some seem intent on talking to themselves in an echo chamber, while others generate an implicit dialogue with anyone who opens them. However, a select few establish their own interior dialogue, before offering the reader a role as observer and even as an additional participant.

If Jonathan Davidson’s new book, A Commonplace (Smith-Doorstep, 2020) achieves the unusual feat of belonging to this final category, it’s primarily because his method when assembling the manuscript also deviated from the norm. Not an anthology, not a single-author collection, Davidson’s book is a unique combination of his own poetry with work by others, all interwoven through snippets of prose that comment on, complement and join up the poems themselves. In itself, his breaking with convention is already a statement of intent.

Matthew Stewart, Challenging our preconceptions, Jonathan Davidson’s A Commonplace

One of the pleasing things about an anthology site like And Other Poems is the variety of themes, styles, and voices available.  Heidi Beck’s ecopoem ‘I Write to You from a Tree Museum’ takes as its starting point, lines from a Joni Mitchell song “‘They took all the trees / And put ’em in a tree museum” – the poem then makes real the grim possibility of earth’s great diversity of trees existing only within the confines of such a ‘museum’.
 
Caleb Parkin also imagines a world of species extinction, and draws attention to the climate emergency with the use of humour in his poem  ‘Please Do Not Touch the Walrus or Sit on the Iceberg’.  The speaker of the poem exuberantly ignores this instruction, an actual sign on an exhibit in London’s Horniman Museum, bringing to the foreground a reality which is all too easy to ignore.

Josephine Corcoran, January 2021 at And Other Poems

All cups of tea are generally amazing, but I’m thinking at the moment one of those cups you have when you have to say aloud “Ooh, that’s a good cup of tea”. The kind that usually only happen either at the start of the day or outside on a cold day, the kind that goes down in three to four boiling hot mouthfuls, but somehow doesn’t cause you third-degree burns of the gullet. You know the type.

This week my pre-bedtime reading has mainly been the latest copy of The North, #65.

The North is usually a great read and remains high on my list of magazines I’d love to be featured in. NB I have poems out for reading at The North at present, but I’m not writing this as an attempt to blow smoke up any arses, I am writing this because I am half-tempted to burn this copy. Not because it’s bad, quite the opposite. This issue is one of those cups of tea. I’ve come away from it with a long list of poets to investigate further—I suspect this means some of the folks who had found themselves close to the top of the TBR pile may find themselves nudged back down again.

I’ve turned over so many pages to come back to, to look up poets, etc that I probably should have just folded the mag in half when I’d finished.

Mat Riches, Bang To Rights

I’m absolutely floored to realize I’ve been missing out on a whole series of critical publications on small press endeavors (Derek Beaulieu did bring it up a while back, but I hadn’t gone to explore any of it), the “Among the Neighbors” chapbook series curated by Edric Mesmer, “a pamphlet series for the study of Little Magazines,” run through The Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo. The chapbooks that Mesmer was good enough to send along include Derek Beaulieu’s “TISH – Another ‘Sense of Things’” (#3, 2017), Tim Wright’s “Migrating Ears: Kris Hemensley’s The Merri Creek, Or, Neroand H/EAR, with some brief comments on the earlier publications Our Glass, Earth Ship, and The Ear in a Wheatfield” (#7, 2019), Tina Darragh’s“Washington, DC Poetry—Mass Transit and Folio Books Reading Series” (#11, 2020), Catherine Noske’s “Reading Piglets: Westerly Magazine, metadata, and the play of digital access to literary publication” (#12, 2020) and Adeena Karasick and Kedrick James’ “To Breathe Poetry Among the Neighbors: Two Essays on Anerca, a Journal of Experimental Writing (1985-1990)” (#13, 2020). What appeals in these publications is not simply the critical and conversational exploration of small press, but a recording and documentation of journals that might otherwise have simply disappeared into the ether of history—I’m struck, for example, to learn that Adeena Karasick and Kedrick James produced a small journal for half a decade, and I hadn’t heard a peep about it prior to this. It reminds of when I was gifted various bins of the late Ottawa poet Jane Jordan’s extensive librarya few years back, and discovered numerous Ottawa-based literary journals and presses from the 1970s and 80s I had never even heard of [see my post on such here].

rob mclennan, Among the Neighbors: a pamphlet series for the study of Little Magazines : #3, 7, 11-13

My second manuscript, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, was alphabetical by title. Because I wanted certain poems to appear earlier in the collection, this constraint of alphabetizing made me have to be more inventive with my titles, which ultimately strengthened my books. (One of these blog posts, I’m going to have to talk about constraints in our work as I feel it’s one of the most powerful tools for artists, poets, and writers for inventiveness, imagination, and getting out of our own ways…) 

But back to this manuscript stuff, my new book (which is currently heading to the printers as I type this!), Dialogues with Rising Tides is in sections, and it’s the most sections I’ve ever had in a book. Seven! 7 freakin’ sections! I would have never thought I’d write a book full of sections, but I realized for this book, for me to weave together the different themes (environmental collapse, suicide, relationships, love/desire, melancholy, anxiety, cruel politics), I needed the reader to have more pauses in the book so they could have space to take it all in. 

Because the ocean plays such a big role in my book, my section titles are named after lightvessels (also called lightships). These are huge ships that act as floating lighthouses to keep people away from hazards. There’s a section called Break Sea (ways the world tries to break us), Black Deep (lots of melancholy themed poems in here), Shambles (poems about America and getting an IUD during 45s inauguration!) My hope was also the poems would be lightvessels for readers–even while they explore some tougher subjects. 

Kelli Russell Agodon, Thoughts on Putting Together a Poetry Manuscript

So, as we watch old movies, and watch the snow come down, I’m tentatively thinking about the future. Have you started doing that yet? I’m thinking about my birthday, April 30, and daring to hope I will have the vaccine by then so I can safely go to, for instance, the bookstore or the dentist. Things I’ve been putting off – like going to the gardening store I love, or schedule an appointment to go into Open Books again to browse poetry. I hope to have a celebration, even if it’s just a small one.

And I’m scheduling some medical appointments I’ve been putting off. I’m getting my MRI of my liver  – which I haven’t had for a year – next week, and hoping for good news (or no news) there, and soon I’ll be getting my brain MRI for my MS. Health care does feel a little safer now that health care workers, at least, have been vaccinated, even if I haven’t.

And looking at book publishers and imagining which I would like to have publish one of my book manuscripts. There are great established publishers I love – like Copper Canyon, or BOA, or Graywolf – and some great newer ones, like Acre Books or Yes Yes Books. I’ve even started thinking about book covers…I’m hoping that the acceptance of one of the books isn’t too far off now. Is this unfounded optimism? I don’t know. I’m even working on a third manuscript – which seems like the height of nuttiness, but I think I’ve written another book after the second one, all about the pandemic. I’ve also reached out to a couple of poets that I’ve been online friends with for a long time to talk about publication, and it turns out, it’s a great idea to talk on the phone to people instead of just social media. It reminds me of the eighties, when you’d write letters to your friends and sometimes call them, but it was probably too expensive to do often. I’m realizing I have a poetry friends I’ve known for years all over the US, and talking to them reminds me we are all in this together – whether you’re in upstate New York, rural Virginia, or like me, in a far-out suburb of Seattle. Everyone has struggles and doubts, and talking about them seems to make them lessen, and encouraging friends make everything a little better.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Valentine’s Day (during a Pandemic and a Snowstorm!), Tentatively Thinking About the Future, and Adventures in Japanese and Plath

The 40 days of Lent — which comes from an Anglo Saxon word meaning lengthen, as in days lengthening into Spring — are just around the corner. They begin February 17 this year, and continue (with Sundays off, as a day of rest) until April 3, the day before Easter. Traditionally, many Christians give something up for Lent: chocolate or plastics or red meat. I encourage whatever giving-up you feel will help you confront yourself this season.

But what if you also gave up “not writing” for Lent this year? […]

I have so many irons in the fire right now, that it’s probably a little crazy to add one more thing. Even so, I’ve been really really procrastinating on getting my next poetry manuscript together — making excuses not to start it — so that’s what I’m going to give up “not working on.”

Bethany Reid, So, What Will You Give Up for Lent?

Feeding the horse there’s extra hay, a carrot
            & my own body offered up for science, they study

my fires. I immolate 5, 6 times a night, you know
            how it is, or you don’t, quantitative now this heart

rate tachycardic still 11 months later. 5 degrees outside,
            1000 in (or plummet, depending). One time a fragment

burned so hot it turned obsidian then cracked heart-shaped:
            millennia later, you found it on a beach & pocketed

hope, a thing with feathers, metaphor.

JJS, Valentine with death and life

You did leave, she was right. The odds she had given me – 83%, she said, not 80 or 85, I always loved the precision of that – turned out well. And though I have been certain at least twice that you were returning, still you have not come back. I am amazed by that, and grateful. Most days I do not even think about you.

Only, I do. I think about you a lot. I have written two books about you (possibly three). You are in everything I do, because I am still being touched by what you did (are doing) to me, even though you have left and are no longer in my body. Those ghost-pains down my right side, just above my kidneys (we thought it was stones). The hours I still lose wondering if you are there and if you were there, how would I live my life then, having been known by you already?

For someone with no presence, you have a long shadow. In my life, my body, my mind, and in the lives of those I love whose bodies you also seem to need. People used to ask me, was I angry that I had you. No, I said. But I was sad that my children had to know about you at such a young age. I am angry, though. I am angry that you took away my friends and are trying to take away others. I am angry that we still talk about fighting you, as though we have individual responsibility for making ourselves better. Tomorrow, next week, next month, a person we all love will die having fought a ‘battle’ with you. For one so common, you have so much power. We can be cured from having you, but we cannot cure our addiction to needing to talk about you as a battle to the death.

At least we no longer refer to you by your initial. At least we now say cancer. A doctor friend of mine says the next word we need to deal with is depression. (I know about that too, thanks in part to you.) I am no expert, but think he may be right. When I was ill with you I talked about you all the time. Then wrote about you all the time. Writing and talking about depression is much harder for me. (We can maybe talk about the reasons another time.) But you, cancer, you were the one who changed everything. You were the one, you see. You changed the way I read, the way I believe, the way I am in my body, my family. I still stand by what I said: you made me pay attention. Though you taught me more than I ever want to know, I still don’t think I can say thank you.

Anthony Wilson, Dear Cancer

dreams passed through me like miracles
is it still the same life

James Lee Jobe, is it still the same life

infinite nightmare storage system
to make space in my life
for the ancestor

cola-pen calligraphy
tiny little pamphlet books
close to our hearts

Ama Bolton, ABCD late January 2021

Given my inclination towards the ruthless, I’d imagine the answer to that question would have been – chuck them straight into the recycling bin. As for reading them, just don’t go there.

And so, why, when I did find a small clutch of loose pages of poems under old papers at the bottom of a drawer unexplored for years a few days ago, did I find myself flicking through them and then settling down to read? A self-indulgent, weak moment, certainly. What did I hope to find or learn? I didn’t know. It was eerie, looking at things typed out more than forty, in some cases almost fifty years ago. Who was this person? Not me, surely. And what, after the reading of them, made me think about, not only keeping them, but putting some of them up here for public consumption? Perhaps because it’s what this blog should be about – a writing life, to include the naive, potentially embarrassing attempts, as well as those you believe might have a little more value.

Bob Mee, WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU FIND OLD POEMS YOU THOUGHT WERE LONG THROWN OUT?

the sargasso sea 

the words that are becalmed
the plastic words
the slippery elver words
the journeys ahead for them 
even
the ones that slowly sink longingly

Jim Young, see

I want at last to be honored,
not for me, but for the work

I’ve done, for the moments I have
recorded, for the light I have

praised, the trees I have sung of,
the birds, oh, yes, the birds. That these

least small things shall not be lost,
I want at last to be honored.

Tom Montag, I WANT AT LAST TO BE HONORED

The woman gestures, one hand

near her lips and the other as if drawing
a curtain aside. That’s all we can really do

until the rider looms closer on the plain.
We can see the sparks from his horse’s hooves;

then there’s no mistaking his cloak of bitumen
or his slate, marked with names and numbers.

Luisa A. Igloria, We Don’t See Death Until After it Arrives

Still life has been referred to as a world on a table, planet on a table, and that seems to help me sort out my thoughts. There’s so much chaos. At least on the table of things, order can be found or made or at least composed temporarily. […]

So yes, I keep thinking about how everything in our lives is getting arranged and rearranged on the regular. We get laid off from our jobs, we’re called back, only to be laid off again. Or we’re kept on, in my case, but the job is radically different. The numbers are high and we’re told to stay home, then they drop and guidelines are relaxed, then it’s all reversed. You all know how it goes by now. You had one plan, and now you have another. You looked forward to this thing, and now you tend to look forward to other smaller things, closer to home.

In a still life, you move one object, and three more slide off the table. A glass gets broken occasionally, or the unwinding rind of the lemon becomes detached from the fruit and you stick it back on with a toothpick. Scotch tape is hauled out. A dish is propped up from behind by a couple of walnuts. Everything is too much. You start to subtract. You go minimalist, and that’s fine for a bit too.

Shawna Lemay, Rearranging Things

Things I cannot fix,
an incomplete list:

armed militias.
Global pandemic.

The grief of staying apart
and unbearable yearning.

Rage at insurrectionists
and anti-maskers.

Things I can fix:
lunch for my child.

This winter stew, meat
from the freezer

and dried mushrooms
plumping in hot broth.

Warm speckled rye dough
pliant beneath my hands.

Rachel Barenblat, Fix

I haven’t been able to write this week.
I’ve been unraveling from the edges that brush against the world.
The softness falls away, and I am a skeleton of splintered glass.
Balancing fractured surfaces upright.

I took a course once on trauma and movement and the instructor said something that shifted my perspective. Drama teachers I’ve had, and have worked with use a standard image during warm-up sequences: “Now roll up: one vertebra at a time. Stacking one on top of the other.”

An upright stack of bones being pulled toward the earth.

But the body doesn’t work that way. You cannot stack a skeleton. Not in death. Not in life.

We are suspension bridges.

I think about this image a lot. I come back to it when I feel heavy in the world. We are animated by opposing tensions. Naturally pulled in varying directions as we go about our days. It opens us. Our ribs open and lift like wings when we breathe.

Ren Powell, Suspension

When I say I hear your voice across the miles, what I mean is river, moon, sage, sermon, orchard, wish, and wilderness.

In other words, simply knowing there is room in our beings for the ethical and ethereal, the earthbound and unimaginable, is all I need right now.

Put another way, knowing we wander this earth together at this time in history might not be the inoculation I need for a pandemic,

but it is the perfect medicine for my heart.

Rich Ferguson, Heart Medicine