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