Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 23

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week saw some sadness and outrage in the poetry blogs but on the whole the mood felt celebratory. As Jill Pearlman writes, “These are dark times, / Open the window, the sun shines today for 15 hours 10 minutes.” Opening windows is kind of what we’re all about, I think. Anyway, enjoy!


This morning, I woke up with a vague fear of abandoning my poet self. I thought about how I would feel 20 years in the future, if I stopped writing poetry, stopped submitting poetry. And then I wondered what led to this early morning quasi-panic.

I feel like I haven’t been writing poetry, but that’s not strictly true. In April, I did a lot with poetry for my seminary class project.  I’ve been continuing to experiment with my collection of abandoned yet evocative lines. I can’t write the way I once did because I have a broken wrist–or to be more accurate a wrist in a cast which limits my use of my dominant hand. 

I’ve had time periods before when I didn’t write. I’m thinking of the summer of 1996 where I wrote exactly one poem. That time was followed by a time of fertile poetry writing. […]

I think of other types of identity that are tearing the nation apart:  gender, sexual attraction, political affiliations. I think of religious identities that shape a person in deep and abiding ways. I don’t spend much time reflecting on these identities and what they mean to me. Is it strange that the writerly identity is the one that wakes me up at night with worries of losing it?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poet and Other Identities

As soon as we arrived at King’s Cross and I felt that unmistakable London vibe; a mix of voices and languages and styles and music and smells and street food, I felt invigorated. The exhibition itself was just incredible. I am so glad I got to see it. I’d been wanting to do a research trip to the [British Museum] for the new poetry collection, and the non fiction book, so it was great to be able to combine a little day out with that very necessary part of my creative practice, which is to be physically present around the things I’m writing about. I was awed. I felt connected to the people who I have been writing about in a way that is hard to describe. This object in particular (below) which was found just outside Scarborough, at a place that I have visited several times, a place that I have written about and whose people I have tried to imagine being near and being connected to, I found particularly moving. Its use is uncertain but most likely it was used as a lamp, or as a ritual offering bowl, the light passing through the carved holes. It is the first piece in the exhibition, displayed simply, elegantly, with a plain background allowing the piece to speak for itself. I feel like I know these people who lived near where I live, and to see object, held in their hands, see it all the way down in London, in this enormous museum with all those people looking at it, admiring it as the opening feature of such a beautifully curated exhibition made me emotional.

Because the exhibition was so well organised I was able to linger around the artefacts and look at them from every direction, getting up close to the backs of them to see the way they were worked. One day I dream of having access and permission to engage with and look at things like the Star Carr headdresses (picture of one above) with no glass between myself and the object. Perhaps on a future project this might be arranged. But the next best thing is this elegantly put together exhibition that allows space and time to look at the objects owned by our ancestors.

There is something quite beautiful about writing the poems for the new collection. I am feeling, with these last series and sets of poems about ancestry that I am somehow drawing the collection together, like a string being pulled taut through the eyelets of a cloth bag.

Wendy Pratt, To London and the World of Stonehenge exhibition

Since the end of the semester, I have been trying to settle myself  into a routine of reading and writing and creating. Last night, I attended poet Michael Czarnecki’s weekly poetry sessions.  This session, Michael read a selection of his spontaneous poems and the opening of his lyrical memoir; then opened the reading to an open mic.  The poets and friends who attend these weekly sessions are some of my favorite people. Their poetry is stunning: lyrical narratives that embrace, history, mythology, identity, travel, cultures . . . I get goosebumps listening to each and every one.

I am so grateful to this community.

Since [the] end of May, I have been writing every day.  Have a fistful of poems now, a few 100 word stories, too. I think beginning each day with the intent to accomplish: gardening, writing, drawing, walking, daydreaming will restore my soul that has been banged up in the last 100 days.

M. J. Iuppa, June 2022: 100 Days of Healing

As a pastoral caregiver I know that both laughter and tears are normal in a hospital. (Not just in a hospital; always! But emotions are heightened at times like these.) Sometimes I could lift up and let the current carry me. Sometimes I sank to the bottom and crashed into the riverbed rocks. 

On erev Shavuot I joined, via Zoom, the festival service I had planned to co-lead. I sang Hallel very quietly. I may never forget singing לֹא הַמֵּתִים יְהַלְלוּ־יָהּ וְלֹ֗א כּל־יֹרְדֵי דוּמָה (“The dead do not praise You, nor all those who go down into silence,” Ps. 115:16) attached to a heparin drip and cardiac monitors.

Now I am home, learning about MINOCA (myocardial infarction with non-obstructive coronary arteries), and preparing to seek out diagnosticians who might be able to weave my strokes 15 years ago, my shortness of breath, and this heart attack into a coherent narrative with a clear action plan.

After my strokes, I saw specialist after specialist in Boston. Eventually I leaned into not-knowing, into taking Mystery as a spiritual teacher. But now that I’ve added a heart attack to the mix, I’m hoping anew for a grand unifying theory. For now, I remain in the not-knowing, with gratitude to be alive.

Rachel Barenblat, Heart

Where death is, I am not: where I am, death is not,
said Epicurus. But still the cognitive theorists aver
that an autopoietic system
cares for itself. Willy nilly. Say when.

Love comes late and untidy
bold and crumpled, crooked and strong:
it’s a tune now hummed under my breath: it needs
no voice.

Dale Favier, Deaf

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

I think my first book, Punchline, which came out in 2012, gave me a sense of relief. Not validation necessarily, but I think it freed me to write when I wanted, rather than write as if life depended on it.  My newest book, The Forgotten World, is my third, and by far my most personal book, and my book most rooted in the real world, rather than any sort of metaphysical space. Being the Executive Editor of Atmosphere Press, which is not tied to the academic calendar, gave me the opportunity to explore the world more fully, and that exploration made for a book set in places, rather than in the one place of the abstract. […]

Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

I’ve done both, and for The Forgotten World it became clear along the way that I was writing a travel book and a book about the intellectual struggle of being American while not in America, and respecting cultures that have been mistreated by people who look like me. Once I realized that that was the subject matter I felt compelled to write, I just had to spend the years it took to go the places I needed to go to learn. This book is a product of years of feet-on-the-ground research in a way my others weren’t. […]

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

[…] I think one of the greatest roles of writing is to make the writer a more satisfied and content person. People often look to the value of a writer in relation to a reader, but I think the contrary view of what the writing does for the writer is more interesting. If all these writers weren’t writing, would they be less fulfilled individuals? Of course, the role of the reader is where this question would usually go, but as someone who helps writers every day with Atmosphere Press, it’s the satisfaction that writing can bring an individual that is at the forefront of my mind. Writing as art is a public service to the creator as much, if not more, than it is to the outside viewer of the creation.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nick Courtright

waves
the familiar anonymity 
of these thoughts

Jim Young [no title]

The collection is broken into seven sections and currently has 100 poems. It may have a few more or a few less as I continue to play with the sequence and figure out what can stay or go. I was fretting over the length of the book, but since this is likely my last full-length collection, I decided what the hell. 

There are selections from all of my previously published collections and chapbooks, but it leans more heavily on published-but-uncollected poems and never-before-published ones. It feels right, but there is still quite a bit of tinkering to do. We’re still on track for an Autumn 2023 publication date. Stay tuned. 

Oh, and the new header of this site and that I’ve used on my social media is not the cover of the collection. That’s simply a fun little placeholder while the final artwork is completed. 

Back in the early part of the spring, I had a massive infection in the scar tissue around the incision area for my cancer. Apparently, something bit me right behind my ear (where I still have no feeling) and it set up cellulitis. A trip to urgent care, an injection, and a round of antibiotics eventually cleared it.

I just passed the one-year anniversary of both my surgery and moving into the new condo (which I think I’m finally getting used to) and I’ve got another MRI and CT scan coming up in a couple of weeks to see if the cancer has metastasized to other parts of my body. Fingers crossed. 

I’m absolutely thrilled that Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” – my favorite song – has topped the charts around the world 37-years after its first release thanks to its use in crucial scenes from Stranger Things 4. A whole new generation is discovering Kate’s music and it has been absolutely wild to see so much news and hear the song everywhere. I’ve contributed a brand new essay about Kate for the 40th anniversary issue of her fanzine “HomeGround,” which will be out any day now.

Collin Kelley, A small update on my work, health, and Kate Bush

as if the houses
were to be drawn across
the loose earth on which
they stand and go down
as if the trees that shield us
were to shake once
and follow the houses
roots up and branches down
each the mirror of the other
as if the sky already broken open
were to fold and fold
and swallow itself like water does
as if we were to stand on nothing
watching the symphony up
to its last echoes and wonder
what now
what to do
whether to step back
or step forward
or like the houses trees
and sky itself just fold
and fold and swallow ourself
like water does

Dick Jones, Dog Latitudes §16

So, I set about making some visual collages, adding Spongebob (ShvomBob) into what seems like perfect Ashkenazi tropes. I was also thinking of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry. Why? Well, I’d listened to a couple podcasts about him (for example, the London Review of Books series about canonical poets.) I’ve also played with riffing off his poems, adding in internetspeak, colloquial language, and other contrasting tones. There’s a leaping electricity with playing with the contrast between his densely tactile hypercharged inscape-fueled language and other language which has its own world of associations. And so, I made the poem that appears below. It has a kind of Flarfy energy and, strangely, a bit of Celan-like sound to it. I also was intrigued to put the poem beside the image. It’s not quite an ekphastic poem — the poem doesn’t quite describe the image — but it does have a relation to it. That’s another kind of leaping.

Gary Barwin, All Shall Be Well with Spongebog Squarepant and Julian of Norwich.

Or the mouth keeps opening
in sleep, dreaming of bats
with indigo wings

opening and closing, closing
and opening with the uncertainty
of miniature parasols.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Palimpsest (4)

For a writer who has published over 30 books of poetry and prose in his native Germany, we have had too little of Durs Grünbein in English. Michael Hofmann‘s Ashes for Breakfast (Faber, 2005) introduced some of the earlier work and described Grünbein as possessed of melancholia, amplitude, a love of Brodsky, a love of the Classics, plus wide-ranging interests in medicine, neuroscience, contemporary art and metaphysics. John Ashbery praised Grünbein, identifying his subject as “this life, so useless, so rich” and the challenge to any translator is precisely this breadth and ambition. Happily, Karen Leeder is proving to be a really fine conduit for Grünbein’s work and here she triumphantly tackles his 2005 sequence of poems about the firebombing of his hometown, Dresden, by American and British planes in February 1945.

Porcelain is a sequence of 49 poems, 10 lines each, rhymed and grounded in Classical metre and given an air of Classical elegy by its subtitle, ‘Poem on the Downfall of My City’ (‘Poem vom Untergang meiner Stadt’). But if resolution, consolation or summing-up might be expected, this is, definitively, not what we get. The title, of course, refers to the Meissen pottery which, from the eighteenth century on, brought Dresden its great wealth and fame. But it is also a pun on the poet to whom the sequence is dedicated: Paul Celan. In Celan’s poem ‘Your eyes embraced’ there is an effort to swallow the ashes of genocide but they return to the throat as ‘Ash- / hiccups’, an image repeated in Grünbein’s opening poem: “It comes back like hiccups: elegy”. The sequence does indeed hiccup in the sense of its jerky shifts of tone, its multi-faceted images of Grunbein himself and in its close to choking articulation of the horrors of the Dresden bombing.

Martyn Crucefix, Ash-Hiccups: on ‘Porcelain’ (2005) by Durs Grünbein

Massive news for me: HappenStance Press will publish my second full collection in November 2023. I’m delighted/chuffed/overjoyed, etc, etc, to have the chance to work again with Helena Nelson, one of the best editors around.

What’s more, HappenStance books are gorgeous objects in themselves. Now to keep chipping away at my ms, only sixteen months to go…!

Matthew Stewart, My second full collection

I don’t take breaks from writing very often–hardly ever–I am a very diligent writer, since my time for writing is limited by the responsibilities of being a homeschooling mom of five kids, and my online adjuncting, and, and, and. There’s always something or other trying to nip away at any time I have for writing, so I typically hoard it pretty jealously and am loathe to give an inch of it.

However, writing 30 poems in 30 days plain wore me out! I ended up creating a chapbook out of it (which I just signed a contract for–hurrah!–and more info soon!), and I’m happy with the work I did, and the couple of poems I wrote in May.

I think I can get sort of bent on “output” and productivity as a poet though, and lose site of just letting myself sit, wonder, daydream. I need to refill with long walks and working in the yard and swimming in the neighborhood pool.

Renee Emerson, Summer Break

June that is succulent sin, the swell of mangoes,
the smell of wet mornings, the spell of every word
as it circles under a ceiling fan,
each word a world, finding an orbit, a speed,
each word with its own day and night
and horizon
and season for lovemaking.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Till the end of June

Had the pleasure of reading Melissa Studdard’s new book from Jackleg Press, Dear Selection Committee. This is a book of exuberant, joyful, and heck, sexy and fun poems set into the framework of applying for a very specialized kind of job. Some poems are heartbreaking, taking on contemporary tragedies. It’s an inspiring book, too, making me want to write for the first time in ages.

Here’s a short excerpt from “My Kind,” the opening poem: “I am my own kind. I’ll learn to play piano. Like Helene Grimaud, / I’ll see blue rising from the notes. I’ll be an amateur bird watcher,/ a volunteer firefighter, a gourmet chef, a great/ humanitarian. I’ll plant a prize-winning garden,/ grow a pot farm. My hair is on fire. I’m running/ out of time.” The cover art by Karynna McGlynn is also amazing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Zoo Visits, Crowns, and Family Emergencies, Melissa Studdard’s Dear Selection Committee and Setting Boundaries in the Lit World

I wrote this poem in 2015. Seven years later the problem of children being killed by guns in America has only escalated. How much mental illness in fact begins with living in a country where it does not feel safe to go to the grocery store, first grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, high school, college, a movie, a doctor’s office, your place of employment, a concert?

As poets we write about what we feel and witness. As poets we record-keep the actions of a culture. As poets we express in a few words the horror and beauty of this world. May the horror move you to action. May you find a way to preserve the beauty of this world, so that our children have the chance to bear witness to it.

Carey Taylor, Land of the Free and Dead

How come the preacher
is so good with a gun,
the old monk wondered.

Tom Montag, IN THE NEWS

These are dark times,
Open the window, the sun shines today for 15 hours 10 minutes.  

And windy, 
a piece of lettuce is blowing off my lunchplate.

Gesundheit, 
we say to the sneeze heard through the open window.

On my summer reading list is “In Defense of Ardor”
and intention to pronounce Zagajewski

Jill Pearlman, In Defense of Ardor

When I finally returned to a real, traditional classroom, I was reminded of what I did love about working in higher education, and why I returned, semester after semester, despite all of the other infuriating bullshit: sharing literature, talking about the craft of writing, connecting with my students. It was so much better than the asynchronous Blackboard discussion forums, where students and their instructor (*cough*) struggled to keep up, or even the synchronous Zoom classroom, where if I was lucky students would participate over the microphone, since almost no one participated with their cameras on.

So what I’m saying is that, well, it’s odd to be leaving for sabbatical after having just returned to some semblance of the before-times. (I had only one regular traditional class in the spring semester — everything else was some form of online teaching, due to student demand.) Of course, I’m still going to take sabbatical — I’d be a fool to walk away from this opportunity. And I’m hoping that when I return in spring 2023, more students will be turning away from the hellscape that is remote learning, and back in a classroom where we can make eye contact and speak to each other in the ways that humans were meant to communicate — face to face, person to person, focused brain to focused brain.

(That “focused brain” might be wishful thinking, for both my students and me.)

Sarah Kain Gutowski, See Ya, SuckYear 2021-2022; Hello, Half-Year Sabbatical. I’ve Been Waiting a Long Time to Meet You.

I walk another block past my grandpa’s
high school; I wore his graduation ring
on my pinkie for years,
marveling at his small hands.
My own hands are too big now.
It no longer fits.

Jason Crane, POEM: Hand-me-downs

I want to tell you that she was a good dog, as obituaries generally require us to speak well of the dead, but she was not, by most objective measures, a good dog. She paid attention to our words and wishes only when she wanted to, she was never reliably housebroken (not because she didn’t understand or couldn’t comply with the expectations, but because she really preferred, like the humans in her pack, to go inside), and she was notorious for getting her longtime companion, Rocky, all worked up over nothing. She was a fan of the grudge poop (middle of the hallway, where it couldn’t be missed), and she had no fucks to give about things we might have felt important that she did not.

Which just goes to show that you don’t have to be good to be loved–because love her we did, unconditionally and deeply. Sometimes we loved her more because she wasn’t “good,” and she had us laughing even as we scolded her (such as the time we caught her on the kitchen table, licking butter from the butter dish). She was funny, and strong-willed, and sassy. She did what she wanted. Lucky for us, one of the things she wanted all the time was to be as close to one of her humans as physically possible.

Aside from being with us, her favorite things were eating and taking a nap in a patch of sun. We could all learn a thing or two about living a happy life from her. (Take the nap. Eat with gusto. Love what you love without apology.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, Daisy May Ramstad, 2007-6/6/2022

It’s been a strange week, creatively speaking. The highlight of the Bearded Theory music festival, for me, was Patti Smith, especially when she read Ginsberg’s ‘Holy’ – I think I’m right in saying it’s the litany that comes at the end of Howl. Such a brave and committed thing to do, to recite that to a festival crowd who, let’s face it, aren’t there to hear poetry, although maybe these lines held some resonance:
‘Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace peyote pipes & drums!’
You’d think, spending last weekend at a festival, then having the week off work (half term) I’d be buzzing with ideas. However, as I said, it’s been strange, creatively speaking. I’ve jotted down about four haiku, one I like, the other three contrived and not really going anywhere. I’ve had a guitar lesson, but not given over enough time to practise. I’ve walked the dog, but dutifully, rather than enthusiastically. I know that’s how it goes sometimes. You just have to accept the peaks and troughs. And I know you can’t force a poem, although I do believe you can facilitate it. Writing this blog post, I’m trying to do that, because I realise it’s important to acknowledge success, especially when you think you’re hitting a fallow patch. So, I’ll leave you with this poem, which is one of three (I was amazed when they accepted three poems) recently published in the May edition of the British Haiku Society’s journal, Blithe Spirit:

dawn across the allotments
beads of coral spot
on last year’s pea sticks

Here’s hoping for further inspiration!

Julie Mellor, Tinywords etc

My colleagues in academic support–my university department–are still housed in the basement of the main classroom building. I miss them, and they envy the fact that I now have a window (and that it’s not freezing up here). But while I would never knock the value of a window after 15 years under the frost line, I’m happiest about having my work office located in my favorite building on campus: the library. Books make me comfortable. When I need a break from my computer screen or from meetings, I can take a deep breath and walk around the stacks in silence. It’s perfectly acceptable to be rather introverted in a library. And the people who surround me are as enthusiastic about books as I am.

I plan to take a short breather from blogging and work-related stuff to visit a far-away Best Beloved and am already plotting which paperbacks to pack for the tedious flights. I hope to avoid silverfish and viral stowaways. Wish me luck.

Meanwhile, embrace your inner bookworm!

Ann E. Michael, Thysanura

We mambo through rainbows laced along the Retiro
and two-step into the Garden of Earthly Delights,
where swallows burst through pink eggshells
and Adam plops down as though stupefied on the grass.
God, dressed in red velvet robes, stares at us
as he holds Eve’s wrist and takes her pulse.
We shed our clothes— drag queens expose
their statuesque torsos, and I reveal my pale potbelly,
my breasts like empty soup bowls. Here,
shame has drifted out to sea in a soap bubble.
Naked together, we are whippoorwills circling fountains
frothing with limonada, sangría, tinto de verano.
We are owls with pineapples on our heads,
symbolizing nothing, fizzing with delight.

Christine Swint, After the Pilgrimage, We Enter the Garden of Earthly Delights

The bad news is you will not become a marine biologist as planned. You’re too bad at math and too good at other things like words and books and that pretend play we call theater. Later, you will badly want to be a lawyer, a politician, or a psychiatrist. Then a teacher. You will read so much you never would have thought possible. The poems you wrote in your little blue diary with the lock, the ones you scribbled on pen pal stationery, they will become your own kind of gospel, and you will pick them up at intervals. In a year, you’ll typing a skinny poem on the electric typewriter you will buy in the next few weeks and sending out submissions. They will all be no’s, and you will get a lot of no’s in your life, so you’ll get used to it. College will be a lively time full of late night rehearsals and hours crouched in a cubicle in the library reading.

Kristy Bowen, letter to my 18 year old self

Chris James has a marvellous ability to create whole worlds in a few well-constructed lines. Each poem here carries with it subtle layers of experience and depth and ask questions that take it beyond whimsical fantasy. Some of the settings are stark, as in The Buddy Holly Fan Club of Damascus. We painted a pair of Buddy’s glasses on a twenty-foot portrait of Bashar-al-Assad./ Bombed out of our basement, we took to the hills… on every shattered tank, scratched True Love Ways.

Yes, there is a gentle humour in Sherlock of Aleppo but it’s another look at how in darkest times people have the capacity to invent escape routes, if only in the imagination. Their home is 221b Al Khandaq Street, a bombed out paint shop. Victor plays a violin with no strings. […]

As is usual in his work, there are characters here, endearing, sympathetic, sometimes psychologically strange. They do odd things – The Goldfish at the Opera begins: My grandmother took a goldfish to the opera; she let it swim in her handbag in a few inches of water. One of my favourites is Dorothy Wordsworth Is Sky-Diving: She emerges from a cloud,/at a hundred and twenty miles an hour./ In her black bonnet and shawl, she is/ a spider dropped from space. .. As she nears the ground, she’s a girl again/ in the house in Cockermouth, riding bannisters/ of sunlight, spilling down to the garden.

Bob Mee, THE STORM IN THE PIANO, New pamphlet by Christopher James

In twelve chapters, Lesley Wheeler discusses twelve poems. Her method is personal, though it’s also informed by her academic and poet cred. The reader feels immediately as though they are in good, capable, empathetic, poetic, and also nimble hands. The life of the writer is intertwined in the readings, and isn’t this the case for how most of us read poetry? If we spend a lifetime reading poetry, then our life is going to be brought to our reading a poem. I remember in poetry workshops back in my university days, where sometimes the entire critique or discussion of a poem would be about mechanics, when the subject of the poem was something incredibly heart wrenching. This was probably also at a time when “reader-response” was buried in favour of “critical theory” in the rest of the English department. I could never understand why we couldn’t have both…

In putting together this book, Wheeler says the process “helped me to consider what poetry is good for and how its magic operates.” I loved the discussion around “gut feelings” in the first chapter, where “gut feelings keep you whole and enrich your interactions with other people.” Wheeler says, “we should trust our guts about books, too.” All through Poetry’s Possible Worlds I felt as though I’d met a kindred spirit, someone who reads poetry in the same way that I do.

Shawna Lemay, On Poetry’s Possible Worlds by Lesley Wheeler

Yesterday’s programme of words and music was a celebration not only of Eliot’s great work but also of the collaboration and friendship of twenty four writers and performers, some of whom had never met in person before. Faces remembered from on-screen boxes turned into three-dimensional human beings with extraordinary skills. We have been working on this for the best part of a year, mostly on Zoom. The five editors got together twice in a cafe in Bath to work on a script collated by Sue Boyle, who has inspired and guided the project from its beginnings. Some excellent writing had to be omitted due to the limited performance time. I don’t doubt that it will find its place in the world.

Ama Bolton, The Waste Land Revisited

Kory Wells: One of the first things to strike me about Design is how color infuses this collection. The epigraphs introduce white and green through the words of Frost and Lorca, and soon the reader is drenched in color: the yellow of a magnolia goldfinch, a hosta “blue as a lung,” turquoise storefronts, the gray-greens of dreams, a burgundy dress, and so on. You even have several poems with color in the title—“Green,” “Embarrassed by Orange,” and “The New Black”—the latter of which I want to talk more about later!

So I really want to know: Is color as important to Theresa Burns the person as a whole as it is to Theresa Burns the poet? For example, what colors are in your home? Do your rooms mostly share a palette, or do they differ wildly? Do you dress in bright colors?

Theresa Burns: I love your question about color! It is important to me, and I think it’s become more so as I’ve gotten older. It’s probably rooted both in my kids’ enthusiasms when they were young and also what excites me in the landscape.

When my daughter was a toddler and we asked what her favorite color was, she genuinely couldn’t decide. “I love all the colors,” she’d say, helplessly. (Though I think she’s now settled on yellow.) The older I get, the more I’m with her on this. Why do we need to choose? My son, when he was young, loved purple most, then orange. The poem “Embarrassed by Orange” is about him helping me get over my adult need to push color away, blunt it somehow; he gets me to share his unabashed joy in it.

Color has a huge psychological impact on me. If I’m feeling a little depressed or dulled, I run out to find some orange to bring into the house. Orange tulips, a bowl of tangerines. And everyone in my house knows that if they spot an American goldfinch at the feeder, I must be summoned immediately. So colors make their way into the book, too.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Kory Wells Interviews Theresa Burns

We were the beginnings of a Monet
bursting to be an O’Keefe:
vivid, exuberant, grabbing forever
in fistfuls.

Charlotte Hamrick, As glasses were raised

Following up on last week’s post about Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, I want to talk about another Eastern European poet, Charles Simic, who was born in 1939 in what was then Yugoslavia.  I first read his poems in about 1970, when I was just beginning to write seriously, and his work opened doors in my mind that I didn’t even know were there.  That first excitement only deepened over time.  The tone reminds me some of Szymborska’s in its humor in the face of great tragedy.  But Simic’s work also summons up the magic of fairy tales–the impossible described very matter-of-factly.  In addition to his numerous books of poetry, he’s also published several that collect his essays and memoir fragments, which I find as compelling as his poems.  He won the Pulitzer prize in poetry for a collection of prose poems, The World Doesn’t End, which remind me of Joseph Cornell’s boxed assemblages.  Simic wrote an insightful book on Cornell’s work, and I think of Simic’s poems as similar to those boxes. 

Sharon Bryan, Charles Simic

[Pearl Pirie]: How did you get first find to haiku and haibun?

[Skylar Kay]: This is actually kind of a fun story! So the university where I did my undergrad, Mount Royal University, had these events where they would take old books that nobody took out from the library anymore, or books that were being replaced, and would sell them for a dollar. During my second year I stumbled across a copy of Basho’s travelogues. Looking back, the translations were not the best, but it still got me totally hooked! I was just so enthralled with just how much could be captured by such a short and seemingly simple form. I began to view haiku almost more as a philosophy than just a poetic form, and let it take over my life completely.

PP: Wow, that is a cool encounter. How did the form help shape the manuscript?

SK: As with many collections of haibun, Transcribing Moonlight follows a chronological progression through the seasons, through shifting lunar cycles. This was a perfect opportunity to use these poetic tropes to reflect and augment my own experience as a transgender woman, allowing my own phases of transition to kind of be swept up into the changes that one sees throughout the year. Beyond that, however, I felt that I needed more than just haiku. While I love the haiku form, and think it can capture a lot, there are quite a few instances of my life that I could not totally put into a handful of words. The longer length of haibun allowed me to provide a bit more detail and express myself more fully than I could have done otherwise. It took me a while to learn to write the prose, but I think it was a great experience!

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Skylar Kay

I was feeling a little let down before traveling because it is so so hard to get big media attention for a book, and I’d been pitching furiously. Then I read descriptions of exhausting, demoralizing book tours by bestselling authors in Hell of a Book and Sea of Tranquility–just a random coincidence, I chose the books for other reasons–and was reminded that big-time writerly success has drawbacks. When your work becomes “product” that makes money for corporations, it’s both lucky AND a ton of work and pressure (and media training–yikes). The gift economy less famous authors participate in has plenty of problems, but it’s also kinder. Mott’s and Mandel’s fictional writers, in fact, throw away the brass ring they’d grabbed in favor of the human connection they need to survive this stupid world. I notice that Mott and Mandel are not themselves making this choice!–but it suggests that both remember their former small-press careers with nostalgia, maybe even a little regret.

Lesley Wheeler, Tendrils, connections, & kindness in publishing

This is how it starts, dictating on my phone. It was going to be a short story, maybe a novella. A little bit of fun with an imaginary person that I throw into an improbable situation. Maybe a problem, maybe a puzzle. One day I will write a murder mystery, if I can bear to live with the idea of a murder for a year. It always takes me a year to write a book. That’s a long time to live with your imaginary friends. But on the other hand, it’s lonely without them. When you send them off to be published.

Rachel Dacus, Starting a New Book — Why Did I Do It?

Goodbye to the broken heart. Goodbye to the heart that crossdresses as death;

the heart that chases ambulances, cheats at Monopoly, plagiarizes skywriting.

Goodbye to the heart of fools gold and busted pianos, book burning and unlearning.

Goodbye to the heart that beats a crooked path in the blood.

Hello to the heart that beats a truer, steadier song.

Rise and continually repeat yourself.

Rich Ferguson, Goodbye/Hello

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

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

As Poetry Month wound down and May loomed, this week saw a profusion of flowers—alluring yet haunted by death and illness. There were poems to share, new and forthcoming books to celebrate, issues of craft to be hammered out and philosophical positions to be honed. A banner week, in other words. Enjoy.


There are flowers,
so many flowers, so many,

so much to do. Floating. Air borne,
weightless and whimsical. Silly

heart. What are you doing? And then
it rests. Suddenly. My son folds

his arms around me and doesn’t
want to let go.

PF Anderson, Untitled

It’s been a strange, sort of “lost” week, and it’s not over yet, so not even fully lost. I’ve been busy, reading and writing, resting and drinking fluids, but time keeps folding over itself, like laundry, and drifting away, like lake waves… Despite relentless masking and a double booster, I did test positive (home test), and am in my isolation week before resuming my life in the community. Still writing a poem a day for April, National Poetry Month, and that, too, will slip away…on Sunday, right? May Day is coming.

On my first day of very mild illness, it was 80 degrees outside, and I rested on the glider, wrapped in a comforter, reading, journals at hand for any random poems or diary thoughts. A strong southerly wind blew over me. Out in the yard, my husband, mostly recovered from his own lost week, picked up sweetgum seedpods in the yard. Then it turned chilly for a while…

And now, suddenly, violets are blooming everywhere in the grass! The yellow tulips are fully blown, and the pink just beginning. My dark lilacs are also beginning their fragrant opening. Lily of the valley and hosta are spiking up in their distinctive curls! A little of the two-toned hosta has uncurled, green and white. And where are my celandine poppies? Did they not return this year? But my “library lilies,” rescued from a revamp of the library’s gardens, have auto-renewed themselves (ha!) and will give plenty of yellow blooms later in the summer. As much of my reading this lost week assures me, nothing is really lost…

Kathleen Kirk, Isolation Week

Each day flowers turn
petals from east to west, trees
add rings in a seasonal birth
and death. But we are like laundry
on the clothesline being washed
and worn, shedding our skins
without renewal. Our dissatisfaction
is rooted too deeply. Birds scatter
seeds from forest to seaside
safeguarding continued resurrection
while we flap and stumble
on wings we broke ourselves.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo 2022 day 30

Wasps and monkeys regularly cross each other’s paths in this forest that seems to have no end and no beginning. Pink azalea and bougainvillea bloom poisonously. Snakes cannot be seen but their slithering can be traced on the ground at which nobody looks. Peacocks stand here transfixed for hours observing their reflection on the slanted glass. There is a fountain near the hidden piazza from which prosecco flows. Trees as old as souls live here. Any moment, ripe jackfruits and unripe mangoes could fall on you. Jasmine perfumes the air like gas.

The native inhabitants of this forest have never seen the outside world nor do they wish to. At night, they dream of the rings of Saturn.

This enchanted forest has a secret name that cannot be revealed. I am here as a spy. I will report back to myself my findings.

Saudamini Deo, Delhi and other forests

If the child says My window
is a sheet of paper without anything
written on it
, then it means it’s ready
to catch the moon’s milky script,
the emerald peacock’s baby-cries or
its feathered drumroll. If he says
The night light is a little boat no larger
than a apricot in a dark-blue ocean,
right away I’ll trawl the waters with
my upstretched hand to feel
the wind lick my fingers with its
warm tongue.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Window

Sometimes having enough energy/stamina/dedication/obstinance to get through it all is a victory. When the plague burns through everything, no one said what is left standing is going to be a towering superhero. Sometimes it is a tiny, blind inchworm. Swaying just a little. Getting on with it.

The children’s song comes to mind. Measuring a marigold. I know very little about gardening or flowers in general, but I do remember the marigolds in the kitchen garden. How they took over. Beautiful but invasive. They just keep coming up through the soil, self-seeding. Inch after foot after yard.

That’s a lot of busywork for an inchworm.

Ren Powell, Theater of Cruelty

At 4:16 this morning a M3.6 earthquake shook me awake it was reported to have hit between Mount Vernon and Seattle which is basically my house. I made it through a cold and rain soaked April by reading and writing poetry drafts an exercise in humility and endurance. I missed six days but I kept going. It was glorious to jump start the part of my brain that wants/needs to find comfort in playing with language. I took that picture of a daffodil field at the Skagit River between the touristy tulip farms and La Conner. There is a nursery out there that I love to wander in even when the cold wind whistles through. 

I have planted herbs in a pot some chives and tarragon and catnip chocolate mint and peppermint in another. It’s been too cold to plant much else. Lilacs are just now beginning to open around the island. I have a new dermatologist so now I’m trying a cheapo version of some fancy medicine for rheumatoid arthritis though I am not convinced that I have it. My joints ache all the time but doesn’t that just happen when you get old and as of today I am the proud owner of of a Delta dental insurance policy that covers one half of dentures and a bizarre mix of other things some teeth to be extracted some not sometimes pain meds sometimes not if it’s Thursday and the dentist’s dog barfed on his kitchen floor that morning you don’t have insurance for that day etc but at least I moved forward at least I did something. Beethoven said Art demands of us that we do not stand still. I’m locked into the policy for a year. Maybe I can find an adult to explain it to me. In the meantime I will continue to wear a mask to hide my awful broken mouth while I shop for a dentist who does not live “out here” as  in here in the random wilderness. Except for a strange bout of laryngitis that was caused by bad air quality in Seattle a place that used to have the cleanest air in the world I haven’t been sick in two years. It’s been a while since I posted here and this sounds boring to me but here I am snaggle toothed and still crazy.

Welcome to May the most glorious month of spring.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

How will you spin fermented want into a poem? Doesn’t
ugliness propagate inside a clever turn of phrase? How can

you return to the place where it all began to go wrong? Don’t
understanding and awkwardness have different half-lives?

Can you imagine holding the sea to account? As if the waves
have learnt to settle scores with the daytime moon?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The unanswered grumble

Moored at portside, we ponder the uncertainty of what lies ahead. We know there are dangers: the ocean, quiet for now; impenetrable fogs; beasts watching us, lurking in anticipation; perhaps only the monsters of our imagination, the destruction wrought by our greed and disregard for the natural world.

The video is composited from footage from around Port Adelaide along with algorithmically generated animations. The soundtrack is built up from samples recorded at Birkenhead Bridge, which is seen in the title sequence. The audio samples were used to construct a soundscape for Water Under the Bridge, an installation with Tony Kearney, as part of BRIDGE, The Packing Shed, Hart’s Mill, Port Adelaide, Adelaide Fringe Festival, 23rd February – 11th March, 2018. The text in the video is adapted from The White – A Note on the Text originally published in e•ratio 26, 2018, inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, or The Whale.

Ian Gibbins, The Port Trilogy

While we were staying at the lake, another close friend of our family also died. Ray lived a few houses away, and was in his late 80s; the friendships between our families span three generations. We were able to see his children; we all tried to help each other and talked about the strange feeling of watching our parents’ generation, who have been such strong and constant figures of our childhoods and the long subsequent years, now pass the torch to us when we’re all getting on in age ourselves. 

The late spring weather was pretty wretched — grey and rainy, with days of windy snow squalls — but the lake was a reassuring presence. Every morning when I got up, I’d spend some time looking out at the water and its changing moods, and every evening when it was possible, my husband and I took a walk around the lake at sunset, looking out at the fields as the farmers began to plow, watching the migrating geese and a group of mergansers that had stopped at the lake for a while, and, to our great excitement, observing a bald eagle nest with vigilant adult birds, at the top of a tall pine tree.

Beth Adams, Changes

spring morning
the graveyard fills
with butterflies

Caroline Skaane, a few recent poems

You’ll carve your spine into a divining rod and learn to guide yourself towards calmer, more faithful waters.

All the bizarre and beastly skins you’ve inhabited, you’ll no longer recognize.

You’ll wish them well along their journey, but explain you’ll be taking a different path.

Soon this transformation will be complete, and you’ll become the road sign that says,

rest area ahead.

Rich Ferguson, Though certain pains may shadow you now

Last weekend I had the great joy to read my poem at the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita, Oregon, which is just up the road from where I learned to read and write at Garibaldi Grade School. To feel the trajectory of my writing come back to where it started 60 years ago was a homecoming of sorts, and the loss I felt as a child leaving the North Coast was replaced with the understanding that this place had never left me.

Judge Lana Ayers who selected my poem for the 2022 Neahkahnie Mountain Poetry Prize had this to say about “Birthday Fires”.

Birthday Fires is a marvel of imagery and complexity in 9 couplets. The fires are birth, creativity, life. The poem reminds us that even as hardships and sorrows sap joy, we can still celebrate and make our own light, as in the final captivating image of the poem.”

Carey Taylor, Full Circle

National Poetry Month comes to a close this week, as does my experiment with revising someone else’s poem. It was a fascinating practice, because it involved a kind of interpretation and re-imagining, taking–in this case–a poem written in Portuguese in 1928, and seeing whether through revising, I might make it mine (if not make it new). In slightly less than a month, I reworked the poem ten times. That’s a pace much quicker than I generally revise my own work. Which also made for an interesting process.

No judgment on the outcome, such as it is. The purpose of the prompt was to keep me writing and to remind me to get revising my poems, and it did have the intended effect. When emotional, physical, job or life obstacles clutter the writer’s terrain, attending to a writing project–however arbitrary–can have a salubrious effect. Or at least grease the wheels a bit. […]

One of the things I take away from this effort is that I do have a recognizable voice in my work. That was something I fretted over for many years, the concept of possessing a poetic voice. I have written in so many styles and taken different approaches to work and, for awhile, topic, that younger me worried that I had not developed a voice. Apparently someone long ago convinced me of the importance of having a recognizable voice; now, I barely recall why lacking it would feel like such a terrible thing. But reading my revision of Pessoa’s original, I sense his idea but hear my voice and my interpretation of his idea.

I’m not sure this is the final draft–whether this poem is finished or not, or whether it ever will be. I thank Pessoa for providing the starting point for the experiment and for making me stop and consider whether memory distinguishes who I am from who I was.

Ann E. Michael, Revision revisited

While I was excited to focus on my movement practice after spending so much time on writing, and while I am also looking forward to a new city, my poetry life had gotten a little stagnant. I was still writing, submitting, and publishing haiku, and became an active member of the Austin Haiku Study Group. But I was looking for more.

About a month ago, my waiting paid off. I got the idea for a new project: The Culinary Saijiki. As most people who read this blog probably know, I’m a big fan of food (eating more so than cooking). I’m also interested in the ways in which English-language haiku practitioners approach the seasons in their haiku practice. I realized that food is one way in which people can connect to the seasons, and decided I wanted to go deeper into exploring that connection. I launched the first blog post earlier in April. (I planned to announce it here that same week, but hey . . . I’m moving and wrapping up the semester. Things are a bit hectic.)

In addition to the blog, I’ve also decided to start a companion podcast, where I talk to haiku practitioners about the ways in which food shows up in their work.

Allyson Whipple, Introducing the Culinary Saijiki

“Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter” is an exploration of connection, roots and family relationships through the nourishing qualities of food. Sarah Mnatzaganian’s poems are tender and compassionate. Family is a symbol of support and love that allows its members to find their own way.

Emma Lee, “Lemonade in the Armenian Quarter” Sarah Mnatzaganian (Against the Grain) – book review

I wanted to do a quick reading report on Mary Biddinger’s newest book from Black Lawrence Press, Department of Elegy, a wonderfully nostalgic/anti-nostalgic, goth, reminiscence on a Gen-X childhood and young adulthood punctuated by midwestern vacant lot landscapes and marvelously bad decisions. I am loving it – it might be my favorite book of hers yet, so if you are on the fence, get it.

And just to punctuate this, here are some of my favorite lines from the book, from the poem “Bitch Wire:”

“Like many, I poured my best years into
a springform pan, but they were stupid years.”

I laughed out loud at this, and since I also spent a lot of my teen/young adult years making good and bad decisions in the Midwest, I felt like this book was something I could really identify with. Also, once again, kick-ass cover art.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem in Jet Fuel Review; Reading Report: Mary Biddinger, and Sun, Spring and Apple Blossoms Pre-Birthday

If you follow my blog regularly you will have seen that I have been delving into my own practice, exploring what it is to write poetry and how I can break out of some of the habits I have fallen into as a poet. I have been learning to take risks with my own work. I have thought about this development in my own writing as a slowing down, a cessation of striving for publication and success and a re-evaluation of what I want to achieve as a writer, and as a person. The two are not mutually exclusive. Happiness and contentment make me a different writer, they make me a better writer, I think. In my quest to find my own way I’ve been reading books and essays by poets and writers who have explored the impulse towards creativity, and I have been reading about the range of expression that poetry brings, how different art forms merge, and particularly about process; how we think our way to the poem. It has done me good. For me, learning your craft should be more than just creating the impulse to write, or finding a muse or being inspired. We can learn so much by listening to other poets not just reading their poetry, but talking about their process.

Wendy Pratt, A New Venture – Writers on Writing: Poetry

My mother died a year ago April 30th, so I’ve felt haunted these past few weeks. Many kind friends have been checking in with me; for now I’m just saying “okay” and wondering afterward what I meant. Truly, I’ve watched people go through life-rocking grief that lasts years, and that’s not me. My mother died sooner and with more suffering than I wished, but she was 81 and in pain and ready to go. I unpredictably have bad days during which I can’t concentrate and have a hard time being around other people–I call them “grief days.” I suspect this time of year will often conjure her difficult final weeks. Yet most of the time my memories and dreams focus more happily on earlier parts of her life. She feels near.

A friend recently said that she can’t mourn her mother even a few years later; there was too much trauma there. My father, ten years gone this May 30th, wasn’t someone I could grieve, either. From my twenties on I was aware of mourning the father I didn’t have–feeling sorrow even more acutely as I watched how loved and supported my kids felt by their dad–but my father was a storm of a person whom we were relieved to see pass. That’s the main personal narrative of my new book, Poetry’s Possible Worlds: learning the extent of his lies, watching the damage he did as he flamed out, and coming to see the ways his life and death reverberated in me, my understanding guided by poems.

The thing is, my mother was, of course, implicated in my father’s violence. I’ve just published a pair of poems about those times in Couplet, an exposure that would have been difficult when my mother was alive and still feels surprisingly risky. Even calling my father “violent” has been a struggle. My mother occasionally slapped us, but to me it felt fundamentally different, just what temporarily angry parents sometimes did in an age when spanking wasn’t taboo. My father’s violence came from a different place; sometimes it was cool, strategic. We never sustained the visible injuries a social worker would have recognized (or rarely? I’m not positive), but it was clear he wanted to hurt us and approached that line too often. His unpredictable temper, so difficult to read, helped wire my brain. I’m still more likely than some friends to sense dishonesty and possible physical threat from others. I trust those instincts.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and the truth of it

Having recently read a few gorgeous lyric poems that failed to transport me anywhere at all, I found myself (yet again!) wondering why.

Once more, I reached the conclusion that supposedly universal lyricism without context is just beautiful language that floats in a vacuum without an anchor. It’s to be admired rather than absorbed.

In my view, one ideal way to achieve universality in a poem is via a specific frame of reference. This is crucial to the ability of a poem to create a credible new reality that enlightens and transforms the reader’s pre-existing imaginary world.

Contrary to certain critical beliefs, the specific is a pathway towards the universal and never deserves to be disparaged as unambitious. In other words, so-called anecdotal poetry is capable of generating power that reaches far beyond its initial modest confines. The supposed anecdote is simply a point of departure…

Matthew Stewart, The specific as a pathway to the universal

Let us take, for example:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils…

This poem immediately demands the reader think about specifics – specifically specific ways of doing things, and daffodils.

What are the problems with that?

Firstly, it prevents the reader exploring their own ideas of how, for example, to wander in a lonely manner, or what they might see when doing so.

If one instead said:

I wandered lonely as a wandering lonely thing

and:

A host of things you could see a host of

then the reader’s imagination is allowed to run free inserting his or her own images as applicable to their own experience.

Even better:

I did something in the way I like doing it

and:

I could see what I wanted.

thus not restricting them to wandering, being lonely, or seeing too many things at once.

Secondly, the nature question. These nature specifics – and they appear in an awful lot of poems – also exclude those readers who do not have access to ‘nature’.

The city dweller is lucky if they’ve ever seen a vale or hill, and their knowledge of daffodils is likely to be either of that circle of yellow planted by the council on the concrete roundabout where the turn-off for Tesco is, or the drooping yellow things they’ve taken out of the green bucket outside the petrol station as a last minute present for Aunty Nora. These daffs are not dancing in the breeze – they’re gasping for air.

So what is this poem supposed to mean to these people?

To sum up: such specifics limit the imagination of the reader and are also exclusive.

While I’m at it, may I suggest that poets are a bit too obsessed with loneliness, solitude, lying on couches, and being vacant and pensive. They should get out there, get some mates, and get a life. And if they can’t be bothered to get off the couch (ok, fair enough), at least watch something decent on Netflix.

Sue Ibrahim, The dangers of specifics and specifically the specifics of nature in poetry

All of us who read poetry spend a lot of our time re-reading.  Whether it’s a poem we’re new to or one we’ve known for years, the impact changes from one reading to the next–something comes clear that wasn’t, it means something different to us at different times in our own lives, it thickens as we know more of the historical context, or look up a word or an allusion, see a pattern we’d missed.  Sometimes it thins as we realize it’s all dazzling surface, no depth.  Sometimes it’s just incremental changes, but sometimes it’s a real shift from something we disliked to something we find deeply moving.

One of the most significant examples for me was Wallace Stevens’ poetry.  I loved the words and images, but I could not find a way in, a way to take hold.  I kept reading for the surface beauty, and because all my teachers said he was a great poet.  Eventually something clicked, I started to see and hear them as whole poems, and he became one of my central poets.  I never understood why everyone assigned W. C. Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow” until I knew the historical context of imagism and free verse lines.  I loved the music and beauty of his poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” without paying much attention to what it was saying, the way I listened to rock songs, until someone mentioned it was about a man asking for his wife’s forgiveness.  Then I liked it even more, for a few minutes, until I re-read the poem and discovered that the speaker ends up forgiving himself.

I liked but didn’t sense the power of Dickinson’s poems until I read them without the reductive punctuation that had been added by editors.  And just last week I came to see how much deeper one of Whitman’s short poems, “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” is than I had ever thought when I did a little discussion with the poet Kevin Prufer and he drew an illuminating diagram of it.

Sharon Bryan, Poems You Changed Your Mind About

The latest from American poet Solmaz Sharif, following her Look (Minneapolis MN: Graywolf Press, 2016) [see my review of such here], is Customs (Graywolf Press, 2022), a collection of poems that masterfully examine one’s ongoing relationship with an adopted country and culture that requires constant adaptation, an America that seems to be built on the very foundation of reminding citizens that they don’t, or shouldn’t, belong. Sharif examines that painful space of absence, especially through the extended poem “Without which,” “A without which / I have learned to be.” Or:

Of which I am without
or away from.
I am without the kingdom

            ]]

and thus of it.

Her poems spool, and loop, return to movements monumental and jarring. Hers is a careful, considered lyric, one that slowly places one thought beyond another, composing her pauses and silences as carefully as her lines. Hers is a lyric of phrases, expositions and first-person narratives; a book of boundaries and borders, cultures and collisions, and of lines occasionally drawn in the sand. “Upon my return to the U.S.,” she writes, to open the poem “He, Too,” “he / asks my occupation. Teacher. // What do you teach? / Poetry. // I hate poetry, the officer says, / I only like writing / where you can make an argument. // Anything he asks, I must answer. / This, too, he likes.” Hers is a lyric of phrases and short turns, accumulations, pauses and open spaces. Sharif writes around the spaces left from and through absence, of belonging, exile, colonialism and othering.

rob mclennan, Solmaz Sharif, Customs

I knew Sharon Hashimoto in graduate school, and have long been an admirer. Her first book of poetry, The Crane Wife, was a co-winner of the 2003 Nicholas Roerich Prize, originally published by Story Line Press and now reprinted by Red Hen Press. It was a privilege, this morning, to read her 2021 book, More American.

Samuel Green, the inaugural Washington State Poet Laureate, writes of this book:

I often wonder whether the urge to share joy isn’t one of the most primal human urgencies. Perhaps that’s behind the impulse to read so many of the poems of Sharon Hashimoto’s More American aloud to someone else. “Old memories are ghosts we walk through,” she says in one poems. Hashimoto knows how to let those ghosts bear witness without nostalgia in poems of reconciliation, tolerance, forgiveness, and the sort of love that understands it might never be seen for what it is… (back cover)

And that comes as close as I can to explaining why I’m sharing this book with you. Hashimoto has crafted poems here that collect and treasure family voices, stories of internment and military service, education, and a grandmother, peeling onions, or rising from her bath. Every subject is given such poise and dignity, even when buttocks and breasts are “plump bags,” “socks stretched.” It is a book of family, and a book of witness to that family’s particular (and particularly) American history.

It’s also exquisitely crafted, both the book and the individual poems. In the first section, “Japanese-American Dictionary,” I found myself reading aloud, just for the pleasure of Hashimoto’s words, carefully chosen like ingredients her grandmother uses in her recipes: “shoyu-soaked ropes, / chicken sizzled in garlic and fat. Home // was smell: seaweed, ginger, and rice wine / vinegar” (“Oriental Flavors”).

Language abounds here. “What I knew of Japan / was in my parents’ faces: / okasan, ojisan—the baby sounds / I sometimes used for mother, father,” as we hear in another poem (“A Matter of Loyalty: Question #28, A Nisei’s Response”). These ghostly voices, though, are what I believe will stay with me.

Bethany Reid, Sharon Hashimoto, More American

A short post this week. Three tantalising teasers before the launch next Tuesday of Pressed for Time (Calder Valley Poetry). Shortly there should be a link via the Menu (top of the page) to My Books which will hopefully take you to the PayPal facility. Once it’s up, check out the special offer, available up to may 14th. In the meantime, here are three more poems which I hope will balance the bleakness of some of the work. […]

A poet in Hessle watched a man who pushed
a lawnmower down the cobbled street,
and wished him grass. He saw how a roofer’s trowel
makes diamonds of a slanting sun. Everywhere, 
they told me, there’s a view. Something going on.

John Foggin, Pressed for time……….

This little monster offspring is now available for order! Get it here: https://dulcetshop.myshopify.com/products/animal-vegetable-monster-kristy-bowen

What does it mean to be an artist in a world full of monsters?  What does it mean to be the monster?  This collection rifles through dusty museum halls and neglected cabinet drawers to get at the nature of art and creation in the face of danger—to the body, the heart, to the earth—and how art can both save us and destroy us at the same time.  

Kristy Bowen, animal, vegetable, monster

In some people’s minds his work is considered, well, uncool. Ubiquitous and made into too many copies in bad frames. But I love the work of Andrew Wyeth. I love the strange palette, the odd perspectives, the vast spaces in his work, the shadows, the splatters. I read an article recently that cited Wyeth as saying he considered himself an abstract artist, concerned with how things fill space. This explains his centralization of views through windows and doors, his treatment of walls and fields as vast and interesting subjects, and how often his paintings seem about to tumble off the canvas. And somehow this got me thinking about line breaks.

Line breaks too can serve to disequilibrate the world in interesting ways, can make a wall tilt or roll or file down to a slender needle. I’m speaking both literally and figuratively.  The great power of a line break is the exertion of tension, or its release; the creation of anticipation, of momentary confusion, of a headlong rush or a disconcerting pause. They’re fun to figure out too, in the writing/revision phase.

Marilyn McCabe, The break of noon; or, Line Beginnings and Breaks

When I fell on April 15th and hurt my wrist, I had some seminary assignments I needed to complete. I thought about asking for an extension, but in most of my classes we only get one extension, and I worried that I might need an extension more later. So I decided to see what the dictate function of Word would do.

In the early years of this century, I had done some work with voice recognition software, but I had to make so many corrections that it just didn’t seem worth it. That technology has come a long way. I have been doing all sorts of writing in the past several weeks, and I am amazed at how few mistakes I have to correct.

I’ve written comments for my students’ essays as I’ve graded them, and it’s much easier with voice recognition software. By easier I really mean it’s faster. I’ve responded to emails this way too. It requires some cutting and pasting, but that’s OK.

As I’ve been writing papers for seminary classes that I’m taking, I’ve been trying to observe the process. Do I write differently? Am I formulating thoughts differently? So far the writing process itself seems similar, whether I am typing directly or speaking out loud and watching the words scroll across the page. I go back to correct errors as I notice them with either process. I don’t think that one process or the other generates more errors.

Will I continue using this feature once I have regained the power to type the way I was trained? Maybe. It’s good to know that it’s available and that it works so easily. I do miss the ability to write with any kind of background noise; I can’t listen to the radio for example.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Voice Recognition Software

How to Reject My Work: I accept rejections only through my electronic rejection system (SUBMITTABLE) or via Email. I do not accept rejections delivered in person, through word-of-mouth, or through openly mocking me on social media.

Timing: Rejections may be received year round, though I may experience high volumes of rejection on days I am feeling insecure about my writing.

Simultaneous Rejections: I do so hope you are rejecting at least a couple other writers at the same time.

Response Time: Please reject me within the year. If it has been over a year, I will consider myself rejected. Please reject me before announcing contest winners on your Twitter account or website.

Rejection Fees: Magazines are always free to reject me without fee or consequence, in an effort to promote literary community.

Payment: I am currently a non-paying market.

Formatting Your Rejection: All rejections must be in 12-point Times New Roman font, with 1-inch margins. Form rejections must include one of the following signal words or phrases: Unfortunately, Although, Best of Luck, Elsewhere, Regret. Please include the correct author’s name with REJECTION in all caps in the email subject line (“Emerson REJECTION”). As tempting as it may be, please restrict yourself to rejecting me one submission at a time.

Thank you for your interest in rejecting my work; best of luck elsewhere!

Renee Emerson, Rejection Guidelines for Literary Magazines

in the rain
the lonely sound of a bell
how far it travels

Jim Young [no title]

Diane LeBlanc: The first poem in The Curator’s Notes, “My Mother Was Water,” introduces some of the collection’s central motifs: water, a mother/daughter relationship, origin stories, exile, survival. It serves as a preface or frontispiece. I always wonder if poets choose a poem with great weight for that position in a book, or if a poem gathers force when situated alone before a series of sections. What can you tell us about that poem and about its place in the collection?

Robin Rosen Chang: “My Mother Was Water” was actually the working title of my collection. However, I felt that, as a title, it incorrectly implied that the collection was all about the mother figure. On the other hand, the poem works well as a prefatory poem because it introduces many of the book’s themes. Through this poem, the reader is presented with the importance of stories—origin stories, stories we inherit, stories we adapt, stories we ourselves curate—as well as the types of relationships that are prominent in The Curator’s Notes, namely those between mothers and daughters and between women and men. It also serves as a launching point for my own origin story, while foreshadowing some of the turbulence that ensues.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Diane LeBlanc Interviews Robin Rosen Chang

Forgetting where the car is parked
means something important left undone.

The structure deflated like punched dough
means vulnerability and self-blame.

The taxi that makes stop after stop for hours
is the same as the airport with no signs:

what made you think you had any control
over where you’re going or when you arrive?

The suitcase that won’t hold everything
means the same as the one left behind.

The empty hot tub at the top of the house
is ambiguous, but skylights mean hope.

__________

None of these statements accord with any school of dream (or poem) interpretation I know. I’m also not sure how I feel about placing any single interpretation on a dream or poem. But both are worth holding up to the kaleidoscope, turning them to see what we learn from how the shapes (re)align.

Rachel Barenblat, Interpretation

a mother’s cancer, wired for electricity, wires that were her last connection to this world, then her poor ghost, wired for sound. 

a bell on the neck of the goat, it sounded evil and looked dull. the poor goat had to listen to it clang with every damn step for its entire life. 

lovely, lovely, lovely. above, a blue sky heaven with perfect white, fluffy clouds. below, the slums and the suffering on the streets of the city. 

a dead, beached whale, lit with floodlights, the rotting continued through the long sinews of the night, broken by the sound of the waves. 

the dreams that were cast aside, sins that were never forgiven and never forgotten. yesterday became today, but why? 

poems about beauty? sure. why not? but poems about the ugliness, too. don’t just tell a little. tell it all. every damn bit of it. 

James Lee Jobe, ugly, ugly, ugly

There is a suddenness to beauty, a shock to it. I sometimes think I’m quite dulled to the world these days, but then it happens, I’m pulled through, and that reminds me what I’m here for. What tasks are important to me. And that’s not just writing or photographing, but trying to make the world slightly better, however I’m able. And so my mind is slightly shifted, and I can go on.

Joan Chittester has said, “It is Beauty that magnetizes the contemplative, and it is the duty of the contemplative to give beauty away so that the rest of the world may, in the midst of squalor, ugliness, and pain, remember that beauty is possible.”

And maybe that’s the number one rule of beauty school: it is your obligation to keep giving beauty away. Or, as I often say here, you are required to make something beautiful. Which, can I even say that often enough? I think not.

Shawna Lemay, Beauty School

I’m grateful for another month filled with poems. Thank you to Maureen Thorson and our NaPoWriMo fellowship for this journey. We got all the way to Mordor and discovered there was no Sauron waiting for us, no Mount Doom, no ring that needed to be destroyed. The journey together was the purpose of it all and reaching our destination, the reward. I’m so glad I joined this year. Have an amazing year of writing and living life to the fullest! See you in April 2023.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo Day 30, 2022

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: night cities, dreams and apparitions, wake-up routines, books of nothing, alter egos, the future of lit mags, orgies and book proofs, and much more. Enjoy.


Night settles over the park, shadows have rolled themselves up;
the sky, a flat translucence behind cut-out branches
casts a blue light on the snow.

In the hedge, little lights glow like forgotten fireflies,
the sparrow-flock has flown, a leaping squirrel
leaves sculpted waves of white along the rail.

Now, only furtive shapes move on the white path:
runner, skier, the eager dog
pulling his master further into the black trees.

Beth Adams, Winter Night

Amidst hardly blogging at all last autumn (can you do something amidst not doing something?), I sadly neglected to apprise my more-faithful-than-I-deserve blog readers of a new poem publication. 

My poem ‘Return to the Night City’ appeared late last year in The Crank, a new-ish online poetry journal edited by Humphrey Astley. This journal is trend-minimal (or words to that effect), and thus inclines more to formal or formal-adjacent poetry than my work often does, although I do think my poetry likes nodding to form. 

You can download the PDF of issue 4, where my poem appears, here: https://www.thecrankmag.com/issue-4

The past issues are very much worth reading, and I think another is on its way soon. 

‘Return to the Night City’ was specifically inspired by WS Graham’s ‘The Night City’, one of my favourite poems about London. My tribute came partly from reading ‘The Night City’ and thinking of all the associations, particularly literary, that I have with this city. It also came from a slightly stupid incident a few years ago when I flew back so late from somewhere in Europe (Portugal, maybe?) that I could only get a train to Blackfriars, and I then started hiking along the Thames with my suitcase at about 2 in the morning. I came to my senses after about fifteen minutes and got a cab, but this poem is sort of the magical realism version of that incident. Tonally, I tried to approach the original Graham poem, without turning my own poem into pastiche. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, New(ish) poem in The Crank: Return to the Night City

We are unable to accept
these poems

We are on fire and possibly
infected. The Poetry Editorial Board responded

strongly, admiring your craft and total rage
but disagreed about how to extinguish

fire or end infection.
Eat the rich.

They’re not infected. The poems struck
like bowling balls in a flu

knocking readers down.
We coughed. Our flesh burned.

Gary Barwin, THANK YOU, a poem based on a rejection letter from a literary journal

Sometime near Christmas, it might even have been Christmas day, a black pheasant appeared in the woods and tree-lined lanes round the village. I say it was black, but in actual fact it was the most lustrous dark green/black, an oily, moss black. I was out walking the dog when it appeared from the grounds of the manor house: elegant, watchful, picking and placing its feet among the beech leaves, moving forward in that slightly hunched-shouldered way. It had with it a brown, bog standard pheasant and they were moving through the murky, rainy dusk of winter without knowing how beautiful they were.

It felt like some kind of ornithomancy, I kept reading into its appearance a dark mark. But it was/is so beautiful, I was always pleased to see it. I kept seeing it around the village when I was out and about, sometimes with its friend, sometimes on its own. I saw it after a flurry of snow had set once, it seemed to grow more elegant against the white. I wanted to write a poem about it, tried to write a poem about it and have been trying ever since. Nothing seems to quite do it justice, it slips from me, slips away from the poem and ends up being some Christmas card depiction of a pheasant. I can’t quite seem to find the way into the poem, the direction of it, the purpose of it. There have been some great poems written about pheasants, perhaps I should stop making myself feel bad about my own by reading them, but when I come across poems like this one by Graham Mort, on the Poetry Society website, it makes me want to read every poem ever written, and strive to create something better. Here it is on the PS website: Cock Pheasant. […]

I have been trying to write poems since January, not just poems about pheasants, but poems specifically for a new collection to be published by Smith-Doorstop. I’ve struggled a bit to push through imposter syndrome and also to remember how to write a poem. I heard this week that the collection has been put back a little, as have many other collections. I think the pandemic has had a big effect on the publishing industry and I do think the canaries are always the smaller, indie publishers. I thought I’d be disappointed, but all of a sudden, with the pressure off, knowing I have more time, I started writing more poems; in fact I started writing better poems and started to see how to edit and adapt the poems already written, how to push the boundaries in them. This week I finished the first draft of a sonnet crown I’d been working on since December, and whilst it needs fettling, needs the judders tuning and the angles sanding, I’m pleased with it. I’ve ended up writing about twenty sonnets in all, but my aim was seven, and I can see that the other thirteen sonnets are the tools I’ve been using to dig down to these seven sonnets, this sonnet crown.

Wendy Pratt, The Black Pheasant

Waking from a dream that was both strong and strange
I quietly slip outside to the patio. The house is dark and cold,
and the patio is wet from an earlier rain, although the sky
has now cleared. Lifting my arms, I reach for heaven like one
might reach up for a book on a high shelf. Can I see the title
of the book? No, I can’t, not from here. But I reach for it anyway.

James Lee Jobe, Reaching for heaven, or a book.

The hazel’s buds are about to open, first yellow of the season; red-winged blackbirds have returned; this morning, several flocks of snow geese in Vs high above me. Then, a brief but crazy-wild snow squall. Yes, it is February.

What I find myself assessing lately is “the need to publish” thing. I feel a reckoning coming on, personally, in which societal changes are implicated–and my age, as well.

Let me backtrack.

When I first started writing poetry seriously (reading, studying, crafting, workshopping), publishing was a paper-only endeavor that involved typing and retyping poems, sending them with SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) to various literary magazines and journals both Major and minor, and waiting for up to a year for rejection or acceptance. The acceptances were necessary if I wanted a book publisher to take my work seriously, or to have an academic institution consider me as worthy of hire, or to apply for higher-stakes literary grants and opportunities. The game, as it were, operated on those hierarchies: journal publications, chapbooks, solo collections, college stints.

I did a bit of that, though not enough, I suppose. I got my chapbooks and solo collections (see books here) and a fair number of poems in actual (and, now, virtual) print. But ambition ain’t exactly my middle name; my college work has not been tenured and doesn’t fall under the creative writing category–I run the writing center at my university, where it’s all about grammar, spelling, documentation, essay structure. I enjoy the work, but it is not poetry.

Back to poetry publication: the new assessment is about whether I care anymore.

Ann E. Michael, That need to publish? –eh…

books of nothing
a chained library
not an invitation

huge dead thistles
where blue butterflies breed
a flat-pack beetle

Ama Bolton, ABCD February 2022

Here’s a thing. I’ve just checked, and found that since early November last year I’ve written only two appreciations/reviews of other people’s poetry.

How on earth did I end up like this?After all, I started the great fogginzo’s cobweb precisely to share and celebrate work I’d just come across and couldn’t wait to tell you about. Part of the answer to this is obvious..like many others I’ve been locked out of the everyday world of trips and visits and chance encounters. And in this context, particularly I’ve not been able to go on retreats or to readings or to open mics for over two years. I’ve not been well for most those two years, and I’ve not heard new poems being performed. I’ve not bought books at a reading because of the poems I heard, and brought them home, and reread them, and got to know them as friends .

Let’s throw into the mix that, apart from missing the frisson, the buzz of company and of new experiences, I’ve been putting a collection together and trying to lay some nagging half-written poems to rest. I’ve been turned inwards. It might work for some, but it’s never worked for me, because, for me, poetry is performative, feeding on the to and fro of people’s reaction. For months now I’ve not been able to hear the poem on the page; its meaning drifts away in a jumble of words. 

I thought it was all coming back when I wrote about Kim Moore and Carola Luther, but then I lost track of it again. You’ll be familiar with the idea of Writer’s Block. I never imagined that there could be such a thing as Reader’s Block, and it’s truly alarming to be in the middle of it.

Anyway. Maybe it’s something to do with the early onset of spring, the urgency in the air and at the tips and edges of things, but the buzz and excitement is coming back, bit by bit. I’m reading poems aloud to myself again, relishing the texture and brush of another mind. The words are coming alive off the page for the first time in ages and ages. I found myself absorbed in other folk’s poems, and hearing them rather than just looking, nose pressed to the window. Loved re-reading Samantha Wynne-Rydderch’s Banjo. Ditto MacCaig favourites, and David Constantine……never thought it would come back, that music.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Jean Atkin’s “The bicycles of ice and salt”

My kind is doomed
but since when was I a partisan of men?
My country is ruined
but since when was I a patriot?

My loyalties
are elsewhere. To the violet
swell of the sky against the east:

to the long pull of words
muttered by soldiers going
to pile their bones by the lake.

I have Du Fu for company,
and Ovidius Naso; 
you could travel further
and do worse.

Dale Favier, A Northern Bank

Dizzy this morning. Waking again in a shirt so damp it borders on wet. Oh, these growing pains. I remember when growing pains were the deep throbs behind a breast bud, an ache in the femur that felt like the sharp edge of cold.

Now there is the ache in the femur that is the sharp edge of cold, a deep throb likely a straining bubble of panic. A night sweat: a who-knows-what. Don’t google it.

I remember when taking a nap meant crying. And here we are again.

Since I have stopped worrying about the truth of the details and focused on letting the memories surface as they will (still half-submerged, like the Loch Ness monster, more suggestion than shape), my sleep has been crowded with sensual details. Mostly from the desert.

Cinder block, a metal slide at noon, a scraped and weeping knee – the wound full of sand. Dry heat filling the lungs. My lungs. My knee. My fingers running over the porous, snagging surface of the cinder block wall.

Ren Powell, Opening Letters to the World

Since I live in a bat cave, only to emerge for work, the gym, and a weekly grocery run, until recently I was blissfully unaware of the “That Girl” YouTube trend. I came across it while I was perusing videos by Abby Sharp, a common-sense dietitian who I watch now and then. Abby was very fired up about the proliferation of “That Girl” videos, which I have come to learn are self-improvement videos, usually made by models, minor internet stars or fitness gurus, detailing their uber-healthy morning routines. From what I’ve seen from my relatively shallow dive into these videos, these routines invariably involve a “gratitude journal,” a green drink, fruit, a workout, and a skincare regimen. The idea is that these routines will lead to a healthier physical and mental mindset, improve your productivity, and allow you to be “the best version of yourself.” The problem is that they are laughably unrealistic for the average person, which is why Abby took umbrage with the whole thing while reviewing a “That Girl” video by someone named Vanessa Tiiu. I have no idea who Vanessa Tiiu is, but she certainly seems to have some leisure time on her hands. Her morning routine is lovely. She gets up early, spends about fifteen minutes rubbing various products onto her face, drinks a big glass of lemon water, and then writes in not one, but two journals, followed by a breakfast of some sort of oatmeal-looking thing topped with berries, and the inevitable green drink. She follows all of that with a full workout and a long walk, all while encouraging her viewers to do the same. Personally, I think how out of touch Vanessa is with the average working person is hilarious, but Abby is a bit of a perfectionist and I could tell it got under her skin and made her feel inferior. It didn’t make me feel inferior in the least. I found the whole thing quite inspiring, in fact. I shall now present, for your edification, my own “That Girl” routine. Feel free to take from it whatever works for you:

Switch alarm off at 5:45 a.m. and cover head with blanket, trying to stave off creeping existential despair. Fall vaguely back asleep until jerked awake by the terror of having possibly overslept. Check clock and groan. Throw off blanket and head to the bathroom for morning pee. Vacillate on whether or not to weigh self, scrutinize body in contact-lens-less eyes, and decide against it. Stumble to kitchen for cup of coffee and head to computer room to look at news. Give up in horror after about three minutes and switch on video game instead. Play video game for too long in attempt to tame cows so I can trade milk to the local tinker for weapons upgrade. Reluctantly switch off video game and go to living room to get dressed. Hate what I picked out the night before and creep into bedroom (if Mr. Typist is still sleeping) to get new clothes. Pick out another wrong thing in the dark and decide to just give up and go with original wrong thing. Suck down another cup of coffee while getting dressed and debating whether or not to do morning ab exercises. Ultimately negotiate with self to do them at work on my lunch break knowing full well I likely won’t do them at work on my lunch break. Decidedly skip the gratitude journal, as it dulls my anger and I need my anger for fuel. Mindlessly wolf down a few breakfast pickles while deciding whether or not to make my typical fried egg over tuna or just get something quick from the case at work. (This one is 50-50.) Head back to the bathroom to brush teeth and slather on makeup while feeling vaguely resentful about the professional necessity of slathering on makeup. Do final face check and decide it will have to do. Suck down one more hasty cup of coffee before popping an Altoid (coffee breath) and shambling into coat. Grab purse, adjust headphones, fire up a podcast so I don’t have to be alone with my thoughts, and head out the door.

I don’t detail all of this to make you feel inferior. After all, as Abby points out, we must all do what is best for us personally and not compare ourselves to others. I’m just telling you what makes me my best self, that’s all. It has taken years of practice to cultivate this routine, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t achieve those heights right out of the gate. Start small and build up! Before you know it, you too will be That Girl.

Kristen McHenry, I’m That Girl!

I am thrilled to have had my poem “Birthday Fires” chosen as the winner of the 2022 Neahkahnie Mountain Poetry Prize. This is an annual contest held by the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita, Oregon, with this year’s judge being Lana Hechtman Ayers.

This poem began after I read the line in a poem from Henri Cole: “I came from a place with a hole in it”. As poems are wont to do, it found its own story to tell, its own feelings to express.

Having learned to read and write at Garibaldi Grade School, I am thrilled my words have returned full circle to this part of the Northern Oregon Coast. I have fond memories of living at the Coast Guard Station in Garibaldi, learning to swim at the Nehalem pool, and having the ability to roam this small town with the freedom of an earlier era.

You can check out my poem and the 2nd and 3rd place winners here: Hoffman Center for the Arts.

Carey Taylor, Neahkahnie Mountain Poetry Prize

I’m re-reading Kim Addonizio’s Bukowski in a Sundress. I needed something refreshing and grounding, and her straight shooting memoir came to mind. Her honesty about the messiness of life helps me accept my own missteps and shenanigans and work with them from a writing standpoint. Plus, I’m a sucker for feisty little nuggets of writing advice, like this:

“Have an uncomfortable mind; be strange. Be disturbed: by what is happening on the planet, and to it; by the cruelty, and stupidity humanity is capable of; by the unbearable beauty of certain music, and the mysteries and failures of love, and the brief, confusing, exhilarating hour of your own life.”

The ending there — “brief, confusing, exhilarating hour” — brings to mind Mary Oliver’s line about your one wild and precious life, but that’s not the part that grabs me. It’s the opening: “Have an uncomfortable mind. Be strange.” That’s a sweet spot for me (and for many others). I do my best work when I’m agitated in some way.

*

It’s perfect timing to be reminded of the generative power of disturbance. After growing my hair long during the pandemic, I’m now trying to rediscover the spit and vinegar of my signature short, short, short red ‘do and to tap into the spunky, edgy version of myself I used to rely upon so heavily. I’ve grown weary of feeling so “meh.”

I’m also pushing a bit harder on my Gertie poem project. I wrote some about it here, but the gist is that Gertie is a persona (an alter ego, I suppose) to whom I turn for protection and comfort. It’s a true story. I started talking to Gertie in my head while taking walks at the start of pandemic. Then she found her way into my poems. I was delighted by her presence on the page and also a bit spooked. I’m less likely to reveal my uncomfortable, strange mind now than I used to be. I am not sure why and hope it’s not a long affliction because I can see it holding me back.

Since Gertie is a direct representation of that discomfort and weirdness, I fall sometimes into the old bear trap of doubt: Is this silly? Will I seem ridiculous? Does this voice have anything important to say? Is it of value to anyone but me? Is this thing even going to work? Those questions are fine to ask once the poems are written, but they’re deadly as the drafts are trying to be birthed. I’m grateful for writing pals (Jill, Sarah and the Madwomen) and for amazing examples by other writers I admire, like Addonizio. Their words shake me by my shoulders and send me back in to do the work.

Carolee Bennett, “an uncomfortable mind”

Somewhere, a vein.
Little tributary encircling

a lower region. A calf,
perhaps. No, lower:
an ankle. Who dipped
their foot in the same

river twice, three times,
uncountable; and emerged
hypostatic.

Luisa A. Igloria, Diagnostic

The issue of notes is a thorny one. I recently read a poetry collection containing lots of end-notes which were often more interesting than the actual poems. (I realise that is subjective and what the poet chooses to include and what to omit from the poem is up to them.) Other poems seemed all but nonsensical without the notes; a feeling familiar to me from being in galleries looking at pieces of art whose labels were essential to be able to grasp the significance of the images / constructions. Equally, I’ve read poetry collections where the poems have been crying out for end-notes, as though not to include them constitutes a deliberate withholding of requisite information. Yes, we all have access to search engines and reference books, but it is arguably an act of generosity to the reader to provide notes where they are needed.

Matthew Paul, On ‘The Rupert Man’

After the storm
we go out
to survey the damage
reflect on whether
we could have prepared
better, differently.

But some trees will fall.
Some places
where we believed
we were safe, protected
can sometimes
disappoint.

We could
Ignore the debris
for as long as possible
and nurse
the unfairness of it all
or get on with

clearing the ground
repair what we can
a little less fearful
perhaps
of the next gust
when it comes.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Clearing the ground

now is that a storm moon
far away above the restless harbour
is it beguiled by the colours
seduced by the moods of
the houses riding the palette
of the town sloped away
far above the rash of buoys

Jim Young, tenby evening after a storm

CNN did an article this week, surprisingly, on the future of literary magazines, particularly smaller mags: Long-standing literary magazines are struggling to stay afloat. Where do they go from here? – CNN Style.  They talk about the lit mags going under – even big ones, like The Believer.

In the fifties and sixties, the CIA, among other government agencies, sunk a surprising amount of money into literary magazines like The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, and many others, in order to fight the cold war, so the speak, in the art world.

For a while, universities seemed willing to foot the bill for literary magazines for the prestige, but now, they’re shutting down MFA programs and their accompanying literary magazines left and right, as unbusiness-y, unprofitable.

So what is the future of lit mags? I joked that maybe it’s in the hands of some of the richest people in the country – the ex-wives of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, aka Melinda and MacKenzie. I met MacKenzie once at a writer’s conference, not knowing who she was, assuming she was just another struggling writer. I think she might be open to a solicitation for the right kind of magazine – she’s giving away her fortune at astounding rates, which: good for her. Their husbands were never going to do much for the arts out here, even though they live here in Seattle (and the Eastside). You’d think they’d do more for local culture! But their ex-wives will be big contenders in shaping where Seattle’s non-profit scene is at, and not just that, but the whole country’s non-profit scene.

When I volunteered for several lit mags, I begged them to try to raise subscription numbers, to take adds from local businesses, to hold more creative fundraisers, anything so they weren’t so attached to either a) a university’s funding or b) a single angel investor. How can a literary magazine make a profit, and do we even want to worry about that? My answer is, if you want to keep them around, then yes. Often, lit mags are very expensive compared even to the fanciest “regular” magazines. Younger readers expect to get their content for free – even regular mags are struggling with subscriptions. So we have to give readers a reason to buy the magazine. What would that be? What do you think? Are lit mags doomed? Can someone start throwing awesome parties that might attract billionaires looking to share the wealth with the literary arts? And invite me?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Future of Lit Mags, Birds and Blooms in February

The Journal has, I’m pleased to say, reached Issue 65 – or 75 if, as it says in the welcome, you include its former life as The Journal of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry. Edited and published by Sam Smith, who somehow keeps up his enthusiasm for the job year upon year, it usually provides me with something unusual, something that takes it out of the ordinary.

This time I was drawn to a four-page piece by Estill Pollock, Night Watch, ostensibly about Rembrandt but as you’d expect about far more than that; and Julie Maclean’s fine How We Love A Dead Scribe, an imaginary podcast interview with Marianne Moore. (For those who don’t know, Moore died in 1972, aged 86.)

It says so much for Sam Smith that he would happily give Pollock four pages of his magazine for this one poem. Most editors would frown and think Pollock unreasonable for submitting such a thing. I like long poems, so I suppose I would be more inclined to take to it than some, but it’s far more than ‘another ekphrastic poem’, many of which I find a bit tiresome. It could be seen as a run-through of Rembrandt’s life, using the famous painting as a hook, but Pollock writes so well it rattles along, full of conversational phrases and vivid images. Sometimes the style is loose but never uneconomical, as in Rembrandt’s apprenticeship:

Rembrandt, eighteen, yawns – drudge Apprentice/ To still-life squibs of pelt and pear, to infill/ Landscapes with distant hills, windmills or/ The lowering skies favoured by the Master for yet/ Another version of Apocalypse, the genre/ And his screw-loose boss both
Long out of fashion

Pollock captures a kitchen-maid perfectly – her root-vegetable features – and Rembrandt as a jobbing young painter picking up commissions where he can – the patrons, their wives/ And butterball daughters. He has fun, too, with the image of Rembrandt up in his studio having some kind of accident: Crashing lath-and-plaster, Saskia shouting up the stairs/ For God’s sake you blockhead you ruined the stew. / Rembrandt, white with dust, coughing. (Saskia, his wife and sometime model.)

It’s this kind of detail that gives the poem its life and vibrancy. Yes, it tells of Rembrandt’s life, and is therefore a biography, which can feel a bit wooden: In 1638, he buys the Breestraat house… but it’s as if even in this Pollock is playing with the subject, with the task he has set himself. By including the incident of the insane 1985 attack on the painting Danae, he takes the poem on to a new level, a consideration of the fragility of what we achieve, if we attempt some kind of art and puts words into, or quotes, the perpetrator: I warned her to atone – she is mine, and mine alone.

There is sadness, inevitably, as Pollock finishes off with Rembrandt’s decline into poverty: For the burial, no tolling bells at Westerkerk, no stone, the pallbearers/All strangers, paid in day-rate ale.

I enjoyed the poem, its images and language, and it set me off in search of an old book of Pollock’s, from 2006, published by Cinnamon Press, called Relic Environments, which is well worth exploring if you can find it. I’ll try to review that soon. He had a book published in the USA recently but I don’t yet have that. It may be easier to find.

Bob Mee, THE JOURNAL: ESTILL POLLOCK’S NIGHT WATCH & JULIE MACLEAN’S HOW WE LOVE A DEAD SCRIBE

The latest from Sydney, Australian poet and editor Pam Brown is the pandemic response poems of Stasis Shuffle (St. Lucia, Queensland: Hunter Publishers, 2021), her second book to appear last year, after Endings & Spacings (Sydney Australia: Never-Never Books, 2021) [see my review of such here]. Stasis Shuffle is a book directly responding to the restlessness of uncertainty, health measures and remaining in place. In this way, Stasis Shuffle adds to a growing list of pandemic-response poetry projects, a list that already includes Lillian Nećakov’s il virus (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2021) [see my review of such here] and Lisa Samuels’ Breach (Norwich England: Boiler House Press, 2021) [see my review of such here]. Brown’s poems appear to be composed in the quick-sketch form of the poetic journal, attempting to capture, through the long form of the book-length poem, a particular period of time from her home in Sydney; composed in an accretion of short lines, phrases and quick turns, in a kind of perpetual ongoingness, akin to a lengthier structure of what might be called “Creeleyesque,” after the late American poet Robert Creeley. “the / it’s-interesting / bla-bla,” she writes, near the beginning of the collection, “question is – // is your slowly accreting poem / morphing into a larger cloud yet – // a major poem / ghosting in to sydney / past the heads, / making its way to ashfield // darker & darker / birds swirling around in it – / leaves / rubbish & debris / full of menace & meaning?”

She writes of memory and nostalgia, situating herself and her thinking through an assemblage of playful breaths and breaks, collage and accumulation, phrases and visuals. While the poems here offer an ongoingness, they also provide a sense of a gathering of fragments collected over an extended period, something reminiscent of American poet and translator Joshua Beckman’s Animal Days (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2021) [see my review of such here]. Her poems accumulate, offering a portrait of a space, of a time; and a texture across a singular lyric.

rob mclennan, Pam Brown, Stasis Shuffle

An intriguing idea: take a collection of postcards and the messages written on them and publish with the message alongside the front of the postcard. The full name and address of the recipient is excluded so readers have to focus on the messages for clues. The reader is drawn in by questioning why the sender picked that particular card, why they chose to focus on those particular details – in a brief message there’s no space for small talk and pleasantries – and what the relationship might be between sender and recipient. One of the first is a seaside postcard with five images from the English costal town of Newquay, three of the images show small yachts in the harbour, one shows holiday-makers sitting on the quay wall and the last shows the beach with the town in the background, the message,

“One night, a cat bit Dan and Raz on the thigh. They were fined for biting the cat back. If anything, it is too peaceful here. One feels that there is something wrong. Perhaps there is.”

Emma Lee, “Life Here is Full of Tomorrows” Mélisande Fitzsimons (Leafe Press) – book review

Just like last night,
the stars and their stories,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (135)

I know, we’re in the second month of 2022 and I’m only now talking about the journals I filled in 2021? Yes, I am woefully behind the curve and I have no excuse other than *waves hands wildly about* life.

In 2020 I filled six full journals and started on a seventh before the calendar flipped into 2021. In 2021, I continued and filled six journals with poems. As you can see, I tend to prefer a slim Moleskin with a blank cover I can then cover with stickers — because who doesn’t love stickers?! My sister sent me the unicorn/mermaid journal while I was recovering from meniscus repair surgery and so of course I filled it with poems.

Now, two weeks into February and I’m pages away from filling my first journal of the year (that last one in the photo, on the bottom right). Which is good because I just ordered a bunch of new stickers from Redbubble and I need to put them somewhere.

I’ve started a poetry exchange with a friend – she writes a poem and then I respond to her poem with one of my own. Back and forth we go, using one another’s words to prompt more poems. It’s a wonderful exercise, it keeps me motivated, it gives me inspiration, and it allows me to fill my journal. It’s a pretty great thing.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journals of 2021

–It is delightful to have time to cook, especially on days that would have been heavy with meetings if I was still employed at the full-time job.  Last week, I made lemon muffins.  This week I’ll take the pumpkin butter that I made and experiment with turning it into pumpkin bread.  My pumpkin butter recipe is essentially cans of pumpkin, spices, and sugar.  Next week, I’ll try turning pumpkin butter into a ricotta cake.

–My pumpkin butter recipe makes WAY too much for one household, and I make it so seldom, that I always forget.

–I am delighting in lunch dates with friends.  It’s good to reconnect with people, while at the same time sad to realize how unconnected I had become.

–I do like having time to walk, although there are days when I feel like Dorothy Wordsworth.  Of course, a life of long walks, cooking, and journaling about it all does not seem like a bad deal to me.

–I am reminded of a friend who was reading a biography of Wordsworth and came away convinced that British citizens in England had gobs more time in the early 19th century regardless of social status,  She may be right. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Bits and Pieces from the First Thirteen Days of Underemployment

“You’re home from the hospital,” we prompt
our father, back in assisted living.
“No I’m not,” he insists. “This isn’t home.”
I wonder which house he’s remembering.
He thinks he’s somewhere temporary.
In the end, does the body feel
as extraneous as the oxygen tank
he keeps forgetting he’s tethered to?
But there’s country music at happy hour
and he tells himself stories
that turn his nurses into old friends.
He knows he’s somewhere temporary.
A mezuzah gleams on the final door.
We don’t know when he’ll go through.

Rachel Barenblat, Through

Today, a snow storm and the really amazing realization that I do not have to go out into it unless I want to (and I certainly do not.) Instead, I stayed tucked inside with a writing assignment on Slavic Mythology I was finishing up. On the subject of further proof that Christian missionaries ruin all the fun, I had a hard time,  since I know the lesson content is written with high school kids in mind, trying to convey that some celebrations involved orgies, without actually using the word, ya know, “orgies. ” I settled on “fertility rites” but it loses something in the translation.  The myth and fairy tale content is a nice break sometimes from the lit, esp since yesterday involved  an in-deep piece on confessional poetry, and earlier in the week, the rabbit holes of Lillian Hellman and her testimony in front of the House Committee of Un-American Activities (something easily I could have spent many more hours reading about but had to stop before I went too deep into 1950’s nonsense and the evil figure of Walt Disney.)

A couple days ago, my proof copy of animal, vegetable. monster arrived, and there is the usual adjustments on the interior, but am very happy with the cover. I should be able to get the whole shebang finalized in early March, which pushes back the release a bit later than I intended, but April is my birthday month, so it seems propitious to bring it out then. In the meantime, I plan to start making some videos, including some for the artist statement pieces that open the book. Also some other promos for reels and such as we get closer. I went with a slightly smaller trim size and am really liking the look, as well as the creme paper instead of the usual white.  

Kristy Bowen, orgies and book proofs, oh my!

when colors die are they laid to rest :: in a bliss as white as the moon

Grant Hackett [no title]

Geraldine Connolly: What central themes haunted you in the writing of Ghost Dogs?

Dion O’Reilly: The mind grappling with a world full of both exquisite beauty and also unimaginable evil pervades Ghost Dogs. We shy away from what we call the cruel facts, but if they can be balanced, almost in the way a painter balances light and dark in chiaroscuro, then the poems come alive with insight. I believe such juxtaposition of supposed opposites ignites the lyric moment, an experience of deep connection with the Living World. So I guess I would say connection haunts the book–how to connect, which I feel is the work of poetry.

Gerry: The California landscape is very vivid in your work. How does the landscape of your childhood inform the poems?

Dion: I grew up in a beautiful place–the Soquel Valley, on an eighteen acre ranch with two streams running through it. So I write what I know. But I think it’s a mistake to think we are separate from the world around us. A landscape is a self-portrait; a self-portrait contains a world. I would hope if I grew up in Detroit, I would be able to write about it the way Jamaal May does.
 
Gerry: Can you tell us about your writing process?

Dion: Ghost Dogs contains stories I carried for many years. The difficulty was in seeing the narratives differently. For example, writing about my sister led me to express a new compassion for her. I struggle not to be the heroine of the tale, not to write revenge poems, not to reinforce tired grudges or viewpoints. Gotta say, that’s hard to do, and I don’t know if it’s any easier now than it ever was. Nowadays, I work less from my old narratives and more from prompts, word lists, and form. I think that’s a common evolution for poets. Still, word lists often excavate memories related to those in Ghost Dogs. I think it’s good to allow yourself to be obsessed.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Book Interview Series: Geraldine Connolly Interviews Dion O’Reilly

I started this blog in March 2011, during a Fulbright fellowship in Wellington, New Zealand, as an intellectual diary during one of my life’s biggest adventures. My forthcoming book, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, is in many ways this blog’s culmination. I’ve always read to survive my life, and in the blog, then called “The Cave, The Hive,” I chronicled what I was reading and what I thought about it. This book puts reading under a microscope: how do poets create little worlds, and why does it sustain me to dwell in them?

I began conceiving and drafting this hybrid essay collection–criticism blended with personal narrative–in 2012. I had NO IDEA it would take this long to deliver it to the world. I started with questions about audience, wanting to write a book that non-poetry-insiders might enjoy: hence each chapter begins with a contemporary poem reprinted in full, so you can have your own feelings about it before I bring my professorial wonkiness to bear. I dialed the wonkiness way down, for that matter, although I researched the hell out of many intersecting fields: narrative theory, poetry studies, the cognitive science of “literary transportation,” and more. And I got pretty personal. I read these poems as my parents split and the astonishing scope of my father’s lies came to light. He died; my kids grew up; midlife crisis slammed me; my mother got sick. Poetry helped me think through harassment at work, the repercussions of sexual assault during college, and my struggle to accept life in an aging body. It’s all in there, my intellectual, artistic, teacherly, physical, and spiritual selves in collision. I gave the book everything I had.

That emotional work made the book hard to shape, but so did trying to invent a form. The chapters braid story and argument, a mixed art plenty of people practice, but I had to ponder what proportions of each would serve each of my goals best. I have scholarly standards–you need to read every text you can find that bears on your topics!–but then I sublimated that research in service to pace, suspense, and readability. I thought a memoiristic book might be easier than writing straight-up scholarship like Voicing American Poetry, but ha! It was at least as strenuous, just in different ways.

Lesley Wheeler, On the threshold of Poetry’s Possible Worlds

To those wearing three-piece suits of demagoguery. Those who deforest landscapes of possibilities.

All the politicians who’ve hollowed out mother nature‘s womb and created a war room.

To those who turn dance floors into killing floors. Those hooked on the apocalypse jukebox, continually tuned into the static of crashtastic demise.

To those who slaughter the bebop of birdsong with the sounds of one bomb drop after another.

Those who bully blue skies to black and blue. Those who separate the light from the dark and then enchain the bright, enslave the bright—

above all your noise and destruction, there is still a wondrous song ringing in our ears.

A song that remains the steady core of our dizzily spinning world.

Rich Ferguson, Not a Dear John Letter, But Close

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 39

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, fall in the northern hemisphere prompts reflections on childhood and attachment to place. Halloween nears. Once again we apprentice ourselves to the dead.


It’s time to bring the potted plants indoors.
It’s time to find the wooden crate of socks

and figure out which ones are pairs. To use
the bundt pan Mona handed down to me

for apple cake; to look up how I roasted
delicata squash last year. It’s time

to pause the New York Times again, to frame
the tweet from Kelli Agodon that says,

“Write poetry instead of doomscrolling.”

Rachel Barenblat, Time

I am honored to have my poem “A Woman on 22nd and Killingsworth” published in the 8th edition of the North Coast Squid.

Please check out the link above for where to purchase this journal doing great work on the north Oregon coast. Isn’t the cover just lovely? I can’t wait to settle down with my morning coffee and check it out.

I have fond memories of my time as a child living on the north Oregon coast at the Tillamook Bay Coast Guard Station where my father was Chief. I learned to swim at the Nehalem Pool, had my tonsils and adenoids taken out in Wheeler, met my first best friend Marla, in Mrs. Jones first grade class at Garibaldi Grade School.

I can still remember my father pulling our car onto Highway 101 and heading south after yet another Coast Guard transfer. As I looked back at the base, and then out to the boathouse, I began to cry. It was the first time I had a feeling that I would only understand later. How a heart can attach to place.

To come back to this place through my words is both an honor and a reminder that we can go home, because any home we have been loved in, embeds itself into the core of our being.

Carey Taylor, North Coast Squid

launching a leaf boat
down the river for my son
i call it daddy

Jim Young [no title]

If you were a child broken by a sudden family move, then you might have a strong attachment to place. In other words: what writers and artists sometimes spend their lives looking for (or trying to get right), you already have: you have carried it with you.

Cornfields by the house, green ribbons and tassels. The bike shed with the flat roof you played house on. Stream (more rightly a crick) where you dumped your organic yogurt, so your mother didn’t find out you hadn’t eaten it. Where you hunted for crayfish under rocks. Bridge to the garden. The garden. The house painted pale apricot with deep peach shutters, repainted a crisp white with green shutters when your family moved. The iron railing they added to the concrete front steps, for safety. You had never needed safety. Orange Tupperware pitcher you watered the front beds with. Front yard swings. Woods where you roamed, found a passable cedar tree for Christmas. Mayapples and Jack-in-the-pulpits, violets and ferns. Burrs. Milkweed pods, fox berries, trumpet vines, pokeberries, dandelions, clover. Swimming in the Rappahannock, the deep cool of the wide, green riverbank. The rocks only half-submerged in the shallows. Swimming there with your friend Celia. Celia’s house for fourth of July: small fireworks spinning on a glass front door, laid down on the grass. Hostas and orchard: peach, plum, apple, dwarf cherry and pear. Pears falling to the ground. Eating pears all afternoon. Celia’s old white horse: Sweet Chariot. Old Bud, the Billy goat that butted you over the moment you turned your child back. The indignity of it. And still you played near Old Bud and the junked cars, wasp nests in their vinyl, heated hollows. Dug for plastic shotgun shells on the red dirt hill. Once: threw eggs in the hen house. Uncle Al, upset about his eggs. Played in the barn with the kittens, the sweet hay. The red and black oaks towering thinly above. Sycamore, tulip poplar, hickory, elm. Summer like a yard stick of good play.

Can we always live here? asks my child. Our house sits on a quarter acre, in town. Fenced backyard. Loblolly pines creaking above us. I grew up on five, then ten acres. Not enough room to wander here, to be outside, away from the sound and sight of neighbors. But still, that attachment to place.

Han VanderHart, A Child of Place

Under the clothes-
line, you strung two blankets to make
a tent. We sat underneath it, shelling
peas or snapping winged beans
in two—ink-edged and ruffled,
a thing that grew in the hot
sun as if from nothing. Bitter
gourd and spongy gourd,
armored squash and spears
of okra—out of hardscrabble
soil insisting on the truth of life.

Luisa A. Igloria, Living Proof

It’s late September, harvest in progress. I think I mean that metaphorically as well as literally. These are images of my dad climbing into and out of the red and green harvesting machines. Our neighbor is a farmer, the grandson of the farmer who lived there till he was 101. I say “our,” but I haven’t lived there for a long time. It was my childhood home. […]

These pictures are out of order. In the one just above, he’s grabbing the sides of the ladder of the steps to go up. With their arms open, this looks like a gorgeous greeting. Up I go, into the harvesting machine. Hello, hello! What a beautiful blue sky behind it all.

When he came down, my dad said it was sort of scary in the machines. Way up there, very loud. It reminded me of when my son was a toddler, and Gus (still alive!) invited him up into the combine. We almost did it, but I imagined my son up in the cab, the noise beginning, the terror, my son wailing, reaching out for me, unable to exit. I couldn’t put any of us through that. Ah, I have a poem about this.

It’s almost October. Later in the month, my kids are coming for a visit. I hope they’ll be able to spend some time with their grandparents, looking over photo albums; if it’s warm enough still, sitting in the yard, gazing over the fields at the windfarm horizon, the setting sun. 

If you look closely, you can see my dad on the steps of the machine.

Kathleen Kirk, Harvest in Progress

Listening to the terrible
murmurings of my imagination,
which comes for us nightly,
I hear small assurances
of living: turns, irregular
breathing, half-awake mumblings

But mostly the silence
of their separate
rooms, and how far
away from me they are now.

Renee Emerson, Our Sleeping Children

‘Then came the dead streetlamp’. The poor streetlamp has to do its shining all on its own (as it were), without the help of other sentences starting with then to prop it up. It’s a kind of one-line list poem (within a list poem?) with no safety net. My (faulty) memory has stored it as one Then after another, but there it is glaring up at me in black and white, no extra thens and no endless listyness of listing lists (or are there). It’s a great line. It moves me. And it’s not even the greatest line in the (great) book!

I had not thought about it in years till yesterday, doing other things, when memory of it took me back to the book and got me rereading at speed for the list-that-wasn’t-there, a pleasurable twenty minutes in an otherwise long day (do I put the heating on yet?) of talking and sitting and thinking and rereading things, a line that took me back years (thank you, Naomi, for the recommendation!), to a simpler time but nevertheless one where I had misread the original cargo of the magnificent container ship of the poem while still holding onto the essence of that missing something, something passing (or passed?) of the poem’s original words in my mind and yet still recognisable to me as poetry, having survived.

Anthony Wilson, The dead streetlamp

sing, bird of prey
revisiting the music
of my youth

Jason Crane, haiku: 30 September 2021

Our gardens are lasting longer here in Edmonton than is often the norm. My Facebook page has been filled with photo-memories of past years with snow and frost but we’ve yet to experience either so far.

One day this past week, I was sitting, then, in our backyard and it really did hit me in a “sudden rush of the world,” that “it isn’t nothing / to know even one moment alive.” And yes, our hearts by now are broken, but maybe that’s the prerequisite for knowing those moments when they come. Let them come. Let the leaves come, let them go. Let’s believe the leaves, as [Lucille] Clifton says.

Shawna Lemay, Agreeing with the Leaves

When fall arrives here it’s easy to let the suddenly shorter days and lack of sun (we did need the rain) affect your mood, and I’m not immune to that. One thing my friends and I do to counteract a lack of motivation is give ourselves a month when we write a poem a day (um, not always great at that) and another month where we do a submission a day. It’s a reminder that summer is indeed over and writing season has begun, and always helps us actually get some work done. Those book deadlines can creep up on you if you don’t pay attention!

It is submission season, after all, that rare time when most poetry journals are open (and you’ll probably get some rejections you’ve been waiting a year for – and hopefully some acceptances as well!) […]

I was very happy this week to see Don Mee Choi – whose work I truly have admired for years – win a MacArthur Genius grant – something that can truly alter the quality and nature of a poets’ life. Money, time, and a room of one’s own – as Virginia Woolf wrote a long time ago – go a long way towards making a writer’s life possible. But writers that are overlooked, denied grants, awards, prizes – what happens to them? How do they persevere, or even get in the public’s view? It is so easy to give up, to get lost.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Fall Trips to the Arboretum and Open Books, Talking about Taboos: Money in Poetry, Poets and Self-Destruction, and the Importance of Community, and Submission Season

I’m chuffed and honored and gobsmacked to announce that TWELVE, my short collection of prose poetry, has placed second in the Elgin Awards. I’m so grateful the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) for giving my strange little collection of prose poetry some love.

When I started writing the poem “The First Sister,” I had no idea that this would turn into a series of poems — but each of the women in “Twelve Dancing Princesses” called out to me with their own stories to be told.

As I continued returning to these women over the years, with their words taking on the shape of prose poetry, I had no idea that this collection would ever find a home. And I’m so grateful to Holly Walrath and Interstellar Flight Press for taking a chance and publishing this little book (of which I’m so proud).

Andrea Blythe, TWELVE Honored with an Elgin Award

When I set about seriously writing poems in my mid-20’s, the bedrock was there.  Though I wrote poems about many things, there was definitely a darkness to even the lightest subject matter. It was how I moved in the world and all my points of reference. I wrote a lot about mythology and history, but my best poems were about witch trials and Bloody Mary.  After a reading in the mid-aughts, someone told me they loved my work because it seemed like a melding of Sylvia Plath and David Lynch, which seemed like the highest compliment I would ever receive. 

They say, as we grow older, we don’t really change, but really only become more and more of what we already are.  The great thing about releasing DARK COUNTRY a month or so back was launching a book so well suited for my teenage girl self  (the one who devoured King and Christopher Pike and loved horror that it was pretty much the only thing she wanted to rent from the video store every Friday night.) So maybe, inadvertently, I’ve become a horror poet somehow. Not only a horror poet, surely, but somehow more than I am any other kind of poet I suppose. I can live with that. 

Kristy Bowen, becoming who you are

Many years ago, at a concert in Rambagh in Jaipur, the famous Indian singer Hemant Kumar finally got tired of audience requests and announced defiantly to everyone who had bought a ticket, “Hey! You will listen to whatever I sing.”

Not too long ago, however not too far from Rambagh in Jaipur, the unknown devil’s daughter finally got tired of everyone and whispered to everyone who could not hear her, “Hey! You will read whatever I write.”

The dying god wrote in gold an invisible will that read:

“The devil is dead, long live the devil.”

Saudamini Deo, Devil’s Daughter VI

This morning the AC cut off, and I wondered if it had sprung some sort of leak. No–what I was hearing was rain. I usually don’t hear the rain in the well-protected 6th floor condo where we live now. October is off to a rainy start down here in South Florida. If we can’t have leaves scuttling across the pavement, at least the rain will keep the temperature less hot. Can I write a whole blog post about the weather? A poem? I’m sure that I can, but it seems so tiresome. Once you’ve read the autumn poems of Keats and Yeats, why bother?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, “Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness”: October Arrives

The very brief rehearsal of The Rime was an object-lesson in how to coax surprisingly good results from non-performers and improved results from seasoned performers. Our official understudy stepped into the space left by one who was at short notice unable to come. The performance itself was far from perfect; how could it be? But I hope we were convincing, and I certainly enjoyed taking part. All twelve of us will be better performers for having done it, thanks to Graeme. He is an inspirational drama coach. It was great to have a few spare minutes for a Q&A afterwards. We learned that The Rime had started life as a collaboration between Coleridge and Wordsworth. William wrote one line, scrapped it and left the job to Samuel. Coleridge revised the text many times over the years. […]

The version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner that we performed last week was pruned by me to give a running time of 25 minutes and to omit the more sentimental or repetitive passages. For no particular reason I have continued the pruning, revealing four sonnet-like poems hidden in The Rime’s more than 600 lines. My rule is to use words or part-words in the same order in which they occur in the original. On this occasion I abandoned my other rule of erasure, which is that it should tell a different story from that in the original.

Ama Bolton, After The Rime

Rachel Fenton’s Charlotte Brontë is the best friend anyone could want: someone who is there, who doesn’t judge and understands the drive to write and love of books. She’s a sounding board, someone you can run seemingly-daft ideas past and get useful replies. Someone to share a beer with. The poems explore the nature of friendships, how we make family when our actual relatives aren’t available (for whatever reason) and the need to communicate and share stories to make sense of our worlds. The poems are engaging and hold their charm.

Emma Lee, “Beerstorming with Charlotte Bronte in New York” Rachel J Fenton (Ethel Zine and Micro Press) – book review

I’ve already spent half the day resisting the writing of this, but Edmonton poet, editor, publisher, critic and general literary enthusiast Douglas Barbour passed away this week, after an extended illness. He was an accomplished and easily underappreciated poet, and one of the finest literary critics that Canada has produced, something that was also less appreciated over the years than it should have been. As part of editing the feature “Douglas Barbour at 70” for Jacket Magazine in 2009, I wrote a bit about Doug’s work, and my own frustration with seeing how his work should have garnered far more appreciation than it did. He was well-known, well-loved and well-read in the Canadian prairies, but seemingly not much beyond that (although he had a number of conversations and engagements with New Zealand and Australian poets). His enthusiasm for poetry, jazz, science fiction and speculative fiction, as Andy Weaver suggested over Twitter yesterday, was unwavering over the years, and it took very little to get him talking excitedly about any of those subjects. There was always a kindness, an openness and an enthusiasm with Doug, and an involvement in the literary culture around him, even through his involvement over the past decade or so with Edmonton’s Olive Reading Series, or returning to being more involved with NeWest Press a decade or so back, due to some unexpected staffing changes. He showed up to do the work that so many writers and readers tend not to think about, and take for granted. […]

It was Doug who taught me the real value in exchanging books with other writers: the ability to connect with writers outside of Canada. It was far cheaper to get a copy of a book by an American, Australian or New Zealand poet, he suggested, by offering to exchange books through the mail. Apparently he’d been doing this for years, which had, in part, allowed his work to garner more appreciation, one might think, outside of Canada than from within. And consider how it was only through his enthusiastic and communal engagement as a reader that he was able to push any sort of self-promotion. Literature for him was very much the conversation that Robert Kroetsch had offered it, so many years prior. And I, along with many others, I know, am very much going to miss his voice.

rob mclennan, Douglas Barbour (March 21, 1940-September 25, 2021)

[Joanne M.] Clarkson’s poem is a time-machine. Typing those words, I’m struck by how many poems are precisely that. But here it’s not just that the poem woos the past back but that the particular moment we’re invited to visit is one in which the poet steps into an enchanted circle and…goes…somewhere. Is it just that the poet has entered a “thin place,” where the past, present, and future all whirl together? In the fall of the year, it seems to me, we are especially susceptible to such places. Everything is changing. We can struggle to hang onto what we know, or we can, as someone wise once told me, “embrace the changing.”

So that’s what I’m tasking myself with. What are those slippery places in my own life where time has stopped rushing forward and held me in place to look? Or catapulted me backwards, “the clockwise spin / and then…”? When have I felt “such stillness /and radiance, abandoned…”?

Bethany Reid, What I’m Falling For

Last night I found myself in a nightclub crowded with déjà vus.

It was a scene of the already seen, which made the occasion all the stranger, being elbow-to-elbow with so many strangers who suddenly seemed so familiar.

Transient beings feeling like friends with whom I’ve already danced beneath a glittery disco ball.

The music was pumping and the drinks were strong.

Maybe it was all an anomaly of memory, wish fulfillment or a recollection of steps already taken.

Rich Ferguson, A Club Called Déjà Vu

There has very much been a layoff from this condensery of late, but I can feel the snuffling of ideas coming, and perhaps more importantly, the desire to sit down and capture them.

I felt an idea come out of the ether last weekend when I was at the launch for Neil Elder’s pamphlet, Like This. It was during Lorraine Mariner’s excellent first set of poems. Please note that I waited for the reading to finish before writing it down. I’m not a monster.

Perhaps, it really is about what you put in. I’ve been reading, but maybe just being in a room again with excellent words flying around me was/is the catalyst I needed.

I was also reading at this event, and with it being the first reading in public for sometime it got me thinking about constructing a set list of my work. I noted to the audience last week after Lorraine had read a set of new poems that all mine were technically new poems when you don’t have a book out yet.

Both Neil and Lorraine were a joy to watch in full flight and it was an honour to read with them both, and to see them both reaching beyond their current collections to read new stuff, and at least, unlike at music gigs, the audience didn’t head to the bar/loos when the words “this is a new one” came out. There were a surprising amount of references to petrol. I’d even inadvertently included a poem that mentions it as my starting poem. That said, it’s my standard opener – if I can be said to have such a thing

I also read ‘Riches’ (a poem based on cars, sort of) and called it my “big hit” because of the New Statesman, but do poets have “big hits”, or poems they have to read every time? Do you have such a poem that you read every time? I wonder if there’s a Setlist fm for poets.

Mat Riches, Get set, go….

Ah, these poems,
the old monk says,

like a hundred birds
flying together

seeking their roost.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (17)

My dream-life has been off-the-scale intense, populated by strangers demanding I change my life. The tarot spreads of my daily meditations keep saying so, too–that I’m feeling a call and soon to walk away from something but resisting change so far. I must have carried that energy to Harpers Ferry this weekend, when my spouse and I met our kids for a pseudo-Parents Weekend at a rented house. They all seem much more balanced at life cruxes than I am: my husband unbalanced by midlife transitions; my college-aged son, just turned 21, trying to divine what he wants to do with his life; my 24-year-old daughter recovering from a tough summer and pondering grad school. Me, I’m just a postmenopausal writer struggling to straddle different obligations, a bunch of books behind me and more in development, although in general I’m trying to treat myself more kindly. I’m not exactly sure what the big transformation is although my unconscious keeps insisting it’s coming.

It was the perfect landscape for wondering about it, where the Shenandoah and Potomac converge in sparkling streams. Perhaps because we were VRBOing in a Civil War-era house, different histories seemed to be streaming together, too. Union and Confederate troops battled furiously over this bit of land and water; for a while it was something like an international border. Perhaps that was why I kept hearing ghost-men sobbing and moaning during the night, although there’s also a brutal history of enslavement to consider. The river is now lined by ruined mills among which we walked as the morning fog burned off.

Lesley Wheeler, Dream, river, poetic convergences

we leave the porchlight on at night
but I am not sure why
no one is coming
this light weakens at sunrise
as if the lamp itself is tired
from its long hours of labor
and something in the air at dawn tastes of change
whatever this is doesn’t require my permission
i turn the light off and put on some coffee
all the while the entire planet has been spinning
as it does throughout all the years of our lives
think of that

James Lee Jobe, whatever this is doesn’t require my permission

There was more wind than we would have liked, but it felt good to move in the fresh air – with the fresh air – outside of the little black box where we all spend the majority of our days. With another group of students, I would have had them let the wind push them around. I would have had them risk the judgemental looks from people passing by. I would have reminded them to commit, to challenge the onlookers’ projections of insecurity, to confuse them. Forget them. Forget the swan. But these students have been affected by the Covid restrictions for most of their theatre studies. There’s little trust in each other, little trust in in their own bodies… little trust in me.

The sunshine barely grazed my skin, but felt good on my retinas. Since the morning and evening walks are in the dark now, it felt like a flicker of past already. Everything is softer now, during this transition. Winter’s sharpness will come, but right now there is a bluntness to the days.

The afternoon is a oversized, red rubber ball that smells like the dark side of childhood.

Everything in its time, returning in its time with a surprising perspective. I am in a holding pattern. Holding so very much.

Ren Powell, Where the Green Grows

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 25

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, I found a lot of summery posts, but with that bright, hot summer light often balanced with darkness. As it should be.


I usually like to run and immerse myself in a world of earthly delights.   It’s a yes-world, a way of soaking in color, judiciously chosen openness.   What would my first long-awaited travel be like, after being sprung from lockdown?

It was immersion, but not the same yes kind —  a vast world of strangers, airports made of retractable bands and systems and uniformed people.  Alongside immersion was interrogation.  I don’t mean security and pat-downs, though that existed — I mean the world interrogating me, and me interrogating the world.  It was made of strangers — better word: strange.  The settings were familiar — I know airports and Denver, where I have landed many times, with its dung-colored scruff and line of blue mountains in the distance, emptiness that gives way to four, then eight lanes of black suburban highways.  It kept asking questions, forming and reforming, my curiosity tinged with neither trust nor distrust.  All real, this world I belong to but now, how exactly?  

Under all the real things, something was walking with me — the violence of the past year.  The idea that the naked truth had been exposed, and dark reality had emerged into plain view.  After all that death, what was appearing was a posthumous world.  Interrogate that!

Jill Pearlman, World of Curious Delights

One of my favorite juxtapositions in all genres is something beautiful that is also tinged or shot through with darkness. The Conjuring does not look like a horror movie usually would. Even something like Haunting of Hill House, while dark and lovely, seemed like a haunted house from the get go, with crumbling statuary and dark corners. But there is so much light, so much floral wall paper and sun swept floors in this film. How could ghosts live in something so filled with light?  Some of the most horrific scenes–the hanging witch over the shoulder, the sheet scene, happen in broad daylight, not in shadowy dark.  One of my favorite horror films, It Follows, does this well and has a similar seventies feel–lots of light and daylight and horrific things that live in it.  

I have a line in my website’s artist statement about this juxtaposition of the beautiful and the terrible, and I think it may be one of the things I am always striving toward, both written and visual. Collages that seems pretty but are darker (the conspiracy theory pieces for example.)  The whole of dark country flirts with this, scenes that seem pretty and subdued, but with a darkness underneath them. (My promo pieces for it are actually set alongside vintage wallpaper samples, and the footage I’ll be using for the book trailer has a similar feel.)  The book itself, playing off the photo,  is pink–a color I was hoping to be reminiscent of a teen girl’s pink bedroom. And yet, it’s very much a book about horror and things that go bump in the night.  Sort of like if you scraped away the floral wallpaper and found the devil underneath. 

Kristy Bowen, film notes | beauty and terror

Writing my way backward through intense joy writing my way backward through the beginning solstice writing my way backward through my newly shorn blonde blonde hair writing my way backward through pushing paint around until I stop judging myself writing my way backward to practice writing my way backward through miles (and miles) of jam writing my way backward through the farmers market kettle corn fresh fried doughnut spring onion pink dahlias lolling in my arms writing my way backward into summer dresses writing my way backward into reading writing my way backward I. Hope. Finally. into writing the full moon extraordinary low tides that salt air fragrant woodsmoke from campers at the state park the startled heron in my yard the hoard of giant monarch butterflies that suddenly descended drinking from my hummingbird feeders flickering in and out of vision and my joy unabated this morning I shaved my legs for only the second time in two years and opened all the windows to morning before drowning in cherry light there is no bell box on the door the lantern light casts down hard to my left near my heart I want to volunteer a standard method of gloriously happy

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

My trusty travel box of watercolors has been a good companion during the pandemic: even though I was going precisely nowhere, seeing it on my desk was often an incentive to do a sketch, and the small size of my sketchbook and the paintbox seemed to work in our small apartment, where there’s no place to spread out, or set up an easel. Though I went up to the studio once a week or so, just to check on things, I didn’t do any artwork there because we weren’t really comfortable staying very long. Too many young people and random strangers, too few masks worn in the hallways both by other renters and workmen (although they were required), and the necessity of using shared bathrooms. After getting a first dose of vaccine, I felt better about it, and now that I’ve had the second, I will work there more. Today, in fact, I started a large pastel and it felt like such a relief to work big, and in a different medium. There’s no way I could do a pastel in the apartment, the process is way too messy.

So I’m wondering if maybe these late spring watercolors are the last I’ll do for a while. Probably not, but part of the loosening of restrictions for me feels like it ought to include a creative expansion: bigger work in pastels, oil, and maybe some prints. Besides, I’m just tired of struggling with watercolor, the most difficult medium of all, and working so small. I need a break, and to shake myself up!

Beth Adams, Watercolor Wanes

My son and I head north, his first visit with his grandparents since Christmas, 2019–before Covid, before his discharge from the military. So much has changed.

We have a wonderfully unremarkable visit. We eat lunches out. We watch old movies at night. We sit on the deck and talk. My son and his grandfather go golfing. My mom and I go shopping for an outfit for her to wear to my dad’s high school reunion later in the summer.

After shopping, we get a slice of pizza from a sidewalk window and take it to a table near the beach. It is a perfect day; 76 and sunny, with a hint of breeze.

We reminisce about our visits to town when my children were children, when our time in each shop was limited and every outing included a visit to a now long-closed toy store.

“Remember when we used to talk about how one day we’d have enough time to stay as long as we wanted in the shops?” I ask her. She smiles and nods. “And now it’s that day, and we sit here and talk about missing those days.”

“Yeah,” she says.

We miss the children my children once were, those beings we’ll never get to spend another afternoon with, but This is nice, too, I think. I loved the earlier times–the earlier us–but I love this time, too, even as it contains longing. You’re going to miss this someday, too, I tell myself, and now the moment contains a different kind of longing.

“I guess we never get to have everything we want all at once,” I say.

“That’s for sure,” she answers.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Strawberry season

some kind of moth has settled
on the other lawn chair
here in the tent that keeps away the bugs
I’m listening to Verdi’s Rigoletto
for the third time today
it’s the soundtrack to the novel
that has caught me in its grasp
rain falls gently on the tent
the dog scampers toward me
but he can never find the entrance
somewhere up the hill a cow lows
(if that’s the word I want)
it’s all nearly perfect
which is probably close enough

Jason Crane, POEM: aria

The wind was creating conditions similar to the ones on the day the chop pounding into me created that awful spasm – but unlike that day, the sky was clear and the waves stayed short of whitecaps. It was gentler, and the water temperature could not have been more perfect if I’d calculated it myself. I wasn’t rushed getting in, I had enough space and time to acclimate even stiff muscle.

I wasn’t very conscious of anxiety about the place, because the water there is so glorious and clean, and in spite of the wind, the weather conditions so perfect – just about 85F, water warm on the surface and delightfully cool underneath – that I was just happy to swim.

I was tight with it at first, though.

The less-familiar body of her and how she almost crushed me once.

It was hard to loosen, to lengthen as necessary for a good stroke and easy breathing, so I spoke to her: hello, I said. Again. I’m happy to be with you today, will you have me this time? And she said, in taste and smell and texture and wave: yes, you’re welcome here, and I began to relax.

3,300/two miles later, we were besties.

My swim-mate and I made perfect sighting lines and clean corners, drinking in the sweet, wild, aliveness of the place: raptors soared above, one of them a bald eagle, another a peregrine, another a redtail. A family of geese, the cygnets still messy-feathered, tracked us briefly: a family of ducks, 7 ducklings not even teacup-sized, swam alongside later.

It was hard to stop, and I could have stayed for another round, maybe this time faster – but instead I added a couple hundred to hit 2 miles even, thanked her, and let it be: Highland Lake, amended. Mended. Made joy and safety, as water should be, and usually is.

So relieved, when I realized what sharp edges of past trouble had just been smoothed away.

JJS, Spasm Lake, revisited

In long years, long after the new webbing of my new grown wings
has extended and dried, after my first exultations in the air,

after I am so used to strength and freedom
that this present weakness is a dream: I will come home to this
cold green dark and shadowed river and lay my drops of fire

in the river mud, to glow and blaze and glitter;
you will need both hands to prise one up, should you
be so unwise, and it will carry heat like the pennies

so long ago, when you were a tow-headed boy
and the river-water made you gasp, and red coins
winked in the sun.

Dale Favier, Copper

I don’t want to write today. My computer screens’ backgrounds are black instead of showing the photo I have had on them for four years. It is one of those days. Everything seems to be slightly out of its respective groove. Out of focus. Grinding. Even Leonard, who is lying on the floor next to me, is breathing more heavily than usual. Arhythmically.

On the walk this evening I was thinking about work. Already playing out autumn term scenes in my head that are unlikely to happen and unnecessary to itch about. What’s wrong with me? I’m trying to breathe easily and to listen to the blackbirds. And the train that is passing. And the truth is that once it has passed, the fading sound is pleasurable to focus on. The quieting to a hush. The world goes on. Is going on.

Someone outside is scolding. Leonard takes notice. Stands up. Figures it’s none of his business and lies down again.

These tiny things make up my days now. Sometimes it is difficult to find meaning in them. I mean, isn’t that what we have to do when our lives are stuck: find meaning in/for the small, meaningless things?

I write. I suppose that is an attempt to make meaning. To dig up what’s needed from memory to construct a story I can be satisfied with. That will justify the extra glass of wine, the extra hour of sleep, the dropped obligation.

Dropped obligations – so many of them – swept up into closets and threatening to topple on my head like a bit of slapstick if I ever go there in my mind.

And yet. Walking in the sunshine felt good this evening. It’s been a year since I felt the sun on my face like that. The grass in the field has grown past my waist. A dozen or so oystercatchers were calling while they skimmed the surface of the pond.

Ren Powell, Circular Stories

Further up. Dense shrubs
thickets of berries slubbed
like raw silk, leaves daubed

with stippled insect eggs
or lichen, fungus, swags
of spider webbing, sacs and bags

and butterflies, brute gnats
undeterred by repellent. We swat
stobs, are scratched. The scat

along trailside I recognize as bear
but say nothing, though a fear
threads my ribs tightly where

instinct thumps.

Ann E. Michael, The berries

The television news never speaks of the health of the creatures in the forest or of the deeds of insects. The reporters do not give updates on the growth of the spruce trees or the douglas fir, and no one describes the sound the wind makes in tree branches to the home audience. But the number of COVID-19 deaths? That is information that you cannot escape. Grief is our cloak as the wind blows.

James Lee Jobe, 2 prose poems. Eh

It has been a week of horrifying headlines.  I spent much of yesterday toggling back to accounts of the collapse of the condo building in Surfside Beach, even though I knew it was much too early for anyone to know the cause of it.

But I also want to remember this week as one of natural wonders.  I began the work week seeing dolphins in a tidal lake near me, and I’m finishing the work week seeing a rainbow in the sky: [photo]

I also noticed the pots of milkweed that we grew from seed.  Why does that ability to grow a plant from a seed always seem like a miracle?

Later this week-end, we’ll enjoy this pineapple, grown from a pineapple top that we planted years ago.  It, too, feels like a miracle.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Horrifying Headlines and Miracles of Nature

Summer was rind and fruit;
then sudden, humid fermentation.

We held one ear in the direction of rain,
the other open to cricket call.

Not even locusts gathered
as clouds on the horizon.

The fields radiated in all
directions, as though in those

old dreams of possibility.
We tried to take the measure

of this intractable body of heat.
No one had the heart to open

one striped umbrella, one
gaudy beach chair.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Vision

After a long year, it was time to leave the house, and I knew where I was headed. To those early places of sand and sea.

I watched a tug crossing the Coos Bay Bar. Sat on the same jetty I climbed on as a young girl. Found comfort in the smell of ocean. The wind blowing my hair. Remembered bits of a poem by John Masefield called Sea-Fever.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of
the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day and white clouds
flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the
the sea-gulls crying.

It has been a long 15 months—a sitting on the knife’s edge of coming and going.

But I am one of the lucky ones, who has been lucky enough to walk the beach again, grow a garden, give peas to the neighbors, bouquets of flowers to the bedroom, create one small patch in the middle of a changing city, where bees, hummingbirds, and scrub jays, can find a place to land.

Just imagine if moving forward we could all find one small thing that would show this stressed planet how much we love being here and how much we long to stay. What if we wore amulets of sea water around our necks to remind us what holiness is?

Carey Taylor, Sea-Fever

a year and a half of survival
I lived three weeks in a cave
the beds were tombstones

Ama Bolton, ABCD June 2021

I’ve been dreaming of my mother as a younger woman, the way she looked when I was a child and teenager, although in these dreams, she’s also somehow elderly and dying. The night of the summer solstice, she was sick in bed staring at a crack that had just formed on the ceiling. It looked like a man with antlers, and she was afraid of him. The next morning I, of course, went down an internet rabbit hole reading about deer-deities and Horned Gods. Underworld guides and mediators. Huh.

I thought more about the dream as I caught up with fellow poetry bloggers and read Ann Michael’s post “Constricted” about literary blockages related to sorrow. I’m pretty healthy right now, aside from the usual trouble sleeping and some chronic tendonitis (ah, middle age), but I feel the draggy reluctance to work, cook, or take walks that I associate with illness. The heat and humidity, my husband said. Sadness for my daughter, who is going through a rough breakup, is in the mix. But grief for my mother is also moving through my body and mind even when I’m not aware of it. It’s a more complicated, subterranean, barbed process than I would have guessed.

Lesley Wheeler, Snagged in the antlers

A poem by Rosemary Wahtola Trommer titled, “How it Might Continue” begins:

“Wherever we go, the chance for joy,
whole orchards of amazement —

one more reason to always travel
with our pockets full of exclamation marks,

so that we might scatter them for others
like apple seeds.”

I found this poem in the “Indie Poetry Bestseller” — What the World Needs Now: Poetry of Gratitude and Hope. And to be honest, I almost did not pick up this book, partly because of the word bestseller, and because of late I have become so freaking bitter and jaded. There it is, the truth, haha. But then I noticed that Ross Gay who wrote a book I love, The Book of Delights had written the foreword. So I was first a little swayed by the word “indie” and then more so by the name, Ross Gay. And I was right to be swayed. I was worried that the poetry would be light and frothy, but instead found that it is steadying and real.

The thing is, that in the proper context, talk of gratitude is helpful. (When it’s just offered as a chaser to the usual, “remember to breathe and drink water” platitudes I can’t help but roll my eyes). In the intro, the editor, James Crews quotes David Steindl-Rast who said, “In daily life, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.” Crews says that this book is a model for “the kind of mindfulness that is the gateway to a fuller, more sustainable happiness that can be called joy.” And “We may survive without it, but we cannot thrive.” I love that the book has reading group questions in the back. I would definitely choose this for a book club book at the library, for example. And as it turns out this book and the wonderful array of writers and poems did lead me back to joy, at least a little joy, a small pocket of joy. And you know what? I’ll take that.

Shawna Lemay, Pockets Full of Exclamation Marks

Excited to share that my next book, we say Yes way before you, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in March 2022! You can read about the project as well as two poems from it in this profile. Special thanks to Diane Goettel and the BLP crew for being so welcoming!

Been sitting on this news for a few weeks. I actually got the phone call a day or two before we moved all our belongings to a new city. I’ve been going through a difficult time specifically in terms of how I see myself as a writer. Getting this news was a win I didn’t know I needed.

Part of this new book process has me writing for permissions, something that is new to me and which this article by Jane Friedman gives invaluable advice about. Along with learning a new literacy and genre of writing, there’s the work of reconciling the metaphor in the language, the word permission itself. I often get stuck in such conceptual/metaphorical tangents while doing the “office work” type of things of a writing life. The very language of publication–submission, rejection, acceptance, etc.–is charged with (un)intentional and telling meaning.

José Angel Araguz, book news & co.

3 – 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?

I set myself deadlines, and find that concentrates my mind. I write notes on my phone and always keep a pen and paper on my bedside locker, ready to record a dream or some thought that comes to me in the night – if I wait until morning, the notion will have dissolved with the dark, and nothing I do will entice it back to me.

I need to be at my desk every day and write, waiting for inspiration is just procrastination and doesn’t work.

I try to get the first draft down in one or two days.  Re-writes and edits can take days or weeks, longer sometimes. Often the completed poem bears little resemblance to the seed from which it grew.

4 – Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

My poems used to arrive from ideas that needed to be shaped by words, but now my poems begin with phrases or words or things in the world that startle themselves, and me, by being things in the world.

Stories begin with language; I love listening to people talk, to steal a bit of their talk for dialogue.

Curiously, it’s not until I’m putting a poetry collection together that I identify themes running through series of the poems, which I put into sections in the book.

Poems arrive over time, often unbidden, and they will declare their bruises if they’re pressed into a ‘book’ shape for the sake of a theme.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Eleanor Hooker

Go more wild, was the advice about a recent poem draft. I know what she meant. Sort of. But how?

She meant let the poem leap more, keeping the reader surprised and fleet on her feet. Let my mind go more wild, she meant.

So I said, Okay, mind, go more wild. But it just sat there. Jump! I said. Dance, you varmint! Nothing. I felt like Toad (of Frog and) trying to get his garden to grow, jumping up and down and yelling at the seeds.

But I realized, actually thanks to the Rick Barot book I’m reading, that when my poems get leapy, it’s not because my mind has leaped but rather because it has picked up shiny objects like a crow, objects that are similar, or reflect each other. In one poem in Barot’s The Galleons, he mentions an old woman at a casino, Gertrude Stein, time, a food court, lost languages, extinct birds, Keats. Some of these act as metaphors, some more as associations. Not so much “like” as “as.”

When my mind is usefully gathering, it’s catching the glimpse of connections as I read or listen or watch in the world. At times I’m stunned by the ways in which books and articles I seemingly randomly pick up to read begin to resonate with each other. At times like these, I can just reach out and pluck ideas as they whirl in front of me, so tuned am I to what I’m thinking about that the act feels almost mindless, like reaching for pistachios in a bowl. Later at the page, I’ll do the work of figuring out how to present the images or ideas in a networked way.

Marilyn McCabe, Can’t make no connection; or, On Poetry and Creative Association

reading a poem
i look for the like button

the book quivers

Jim Young [no title]

Happy to have an interview I did for Redactions Issue 25 with poet, friend, and publisher Kelli Russell Agodon about her new book with Copper Canyon Press, Dialogues with Rising Tides, available online and in the new print issue. Here’s a quick quote:

“JHG: You have an interesting philosophy about the attitude of competition and scarcity in the poetry world. Could you talk a little about that?

KRA: I guess I do have an interesting philosophy in that regards – I believe in the poetry world, there is enough for everyone. I reject the scarcity mindset that the field is only big enough for so many of us and only so many can come to play. That’s nonsense, we can always use another poet. And we don’t have to feel threatened by them, that now there will be one less spot for me to publish my poems…Just because a poet doesn’t win a prize, doesn’t mean that their book isn’t changing someone else’s life this very moment or having a profound effect on someone. I have never believed success can be measured in art – people try to measure it based on American beliefs such as “this book is better because it 1) sold more copies 2) won a prize 3) was published by a certain press 4) was featured in a certain journal or magazine 5) got an excellent review 6) made the author earn X number of dollars” and so on. . . . Who said that was success? Who wrote that definition? That’s not my definition of success – my idea of success isn’t built from opinion and numbers.”

Here is a link to read it.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, My Interview with Kelli Agodon in Redactions, Some Scenes of Hummingbirds, Supermoons, and Mt Rainier, 100 plus Heat Wave

A correspondence on haiku and then sonnets led me to dip into Don Paterson’s 1999 anthology 101 Sonnets (Faber). I was pleased to find Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘Inniskeen Road: July Evening’ included. It’s the only poem I’ve ever ‘borrowed’ from – I used the equally punning phrase ‘blooming sun’ in the first poem, concerning a herd of cows in County Down, which I had published, in Poetry Ireland Review, appropriately, in 1987.

I bought a copy of, and was greatly affected by, Kavanagh’s Collected Poems in my first year at university, in 1985/86. That was around the time that Tom MacIntyre’s play adaptation of Kavanagh’s masterpiece, ‘The Great Hunger’, was finishing a triumphant run at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, which had revived interest in a poet whose posthumous reputation had, it seems, not been as high as it ought to have been, despite advocacy from the likes of Heaney and Montague. (The play incidentally reminds me of Paul Durcan’s poem, ‘What Shall I Wear, Darling, to The Great Hunger?’ which I saw him read at Coleraine in, I think, 1990.)

Paterson’s verdict on Kavanagh’s sonnet is brief but mostly spot-on:

This is about as good as it gets – effortless rhymes, effortless accommodation of natural speech to the form – and that lovely pun on ‘blooming’. Fine witty poem on the predicament of the provincial aesthete.

The Predicament of the Provincial Aesthete sounds rather like the title of an Angus Wilson novel.

I like the way that the first half of the octet is packed full of an energy and activity which is deliberately lacking from the second half, as if the ‘mile of road’ could be in a Beckett play or a Jack B. Yeats painting. The three phrases which stand out from the octet – ‘the half-talk of mysteries’, ‘the wink-and-elbow language of delight’ and (‘not / A footfall tapping secrecies of stone’ – are perfect: economical yet conveying some sort of magic in the air.

The turn of the poem is a large one: whereas the octet is entirely observation of the all-seeing narrator, the sestet moves into the personal. Poems which talk about poetry are often dull as ditch-water, but here the comparison with the model for Robinson Crusoe leads the reader, this one at least, to consider whether Kavanagh was doing more than a sketch of ‘the predicament of the provincial aesthete’. Do these six lines, especially the couplet, not give a sense, again, that a poet anywhere is as isolated as Selkirk was, and, like an old-time traveller or tramp, ‘king / Of banks and stones and every blooming thing’. That would do for me.

Matthew Paul, On Kavanagh, Hughes, Burra and Sisson

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Marco Fraticelli’s Night Coach (Guernica Editions, 1983) this week. The book was published in 1983, so I’m playing catch up (as I am with haiku publications in general) but after reading Drifting, I wanted to get to know Fraticelli’s work a bit more. And reading Drifting beforehand really enriched my reading experience of this collection. Night Coach contains some beautiful haiku. Many are love poems, some tender, some erotic, and the illustrations by Marlene L’Abbe are spare and powerful, perfectly complementing the text. […]

The inspiration for the later collection, Drifting, came from Fraticelli’s discovery of some letters in an abandoned house, and there’s a sense of walking through some of those empty rooms in one or two poems in Night Coach. For example:

A religious calendar
In the dead man’s room
And maps pinned to the walls

There’s just enough here to hint at a narrative, while leaving space for the reader to construct their own. A small number of the Night Coach poems do appear in Drifting, for example:

Moonlight on ice
The farmer carries heavy rocks
In his dreams

I’m tempted to say that the word ‘heavy’ might be superfluous here, but it does add emphasis – there’s a sense of burden, of exhaustion, of getting nowhere, and that cold ‘moonlight on ice’ lights up the scene, as though we’re watching the man’s struggle.

Julie Mellor, Night Coach by Marco Fraticelli

Aside from tweaking yesterday’s poem, I have managed to lay waste to the morning without much accomplishment. Unlike yesterday, when I was a weeding demon in the garden, and also cut down the leaves of autumn crocuses (croci!) that will magically return as flowers in the fall… What a weird emblem of resurrection they are! The big broad leaves of spring turn brown and die, and the the autumn ravishment comes, dreamy and floating and leafless. Spirit flowers…

Despite having wasted my precious time, today I am pleased with the thought that at 4:00 p.m. for approximately 30 minutes (if you believe the prophecies of the weather mages), it will hit 80 degrees. I do not really believe the online weather mages but am still pleased (being a Southerner not adjusted to Yankeedom despite all these years here) by the hope. 

And I am also idly, not particularly seriously, wondering if the world has changed so much that it’s really not mine anymore, and so it’s a good thing that I live a mostly unseen life in an obscure little village. Out there in the world, do people read books anymore? Do they read poetry? And if they do, do they read what’s called free verse and / or formal poetry (the thing we used to call “poetry”?) 

Are poets and writers like modern-day lacemakers, addicted to making things of beauty and truth? Everybody loves the idea of beautiful handmade lace, but few have any. (What does it mean for lace to be truthful? Well-made, I suppose. Delicate but strong.) Maybe for a marriage? For a wedding dress? 

Except some of us elope and need no lace. 

I eloped.  

Marly Youmans, Late morning thoughts

up and down the boulevard, we ponder, we prowl; we hope, we howl.

and while our grammar may be a bit rusty and restless from being stuck in the slammer of solitude for so long,

I hear our summer parades will only be rained upon by non-fretting confetti.

Rich Ferguson, Up and down the boulevard

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 11

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: celebration and mourning, outrage and humor. The equinox and all it implies. Playing make believe and other strategies for survival. And (as always) more.


Unrecognizable, this same crossroads again,

every time unrecognizable: what to risk now
solid, and what to mourn? I swim foramina,

canals, a scything nerve weaving sole witness
to slim remainder of youth: ten years aged

in four. Cored, hollowed out. Will there be
joy again? Embodied strength not taken

for granted, I swim accursed sprints: designed
for endurance, my covid lungs shriek. Still.

An absurd time, so fast fins don’t explain;
all this power in my flesh, wasted, almost

lost, gained, cherished, lost. Where now,
and what use? Distance a recurring answer—

that and climbing back from broken.

JJS, Surgiversary 4

It took weeks of calls and clicks to schedule this appointment. Now I feel disoriented.  I haven’t been in a store for nearly a year. So much stimulus — doors that open to let me in, shelves with products, actual shoppers! When I sit down with the nurse to get my inoculation I have to stop myself from using the word “grateful” in every sentence.

Grateful isn’t large enough to express this feeling. I’m not aware of a term that can fully encompass the year all of us have been through. A word that includes our isolation and fear, our efforts to pull through and pull together while apart. A word that acknowledges all the ways we’ve been divided. A word that doesn’t forget a leader who, according to experts, could have averted forty percent of Covid-19 deaths in the U.S.  A word that incorporates fear, grief, exhaustion, fury, longing, despair, hope, uncertainty, and so much more.

I wait the required 15 minutes before I can leave. I watch others who are also waiting. They look at their phones or listen to the nurse talk about potential side effects. Every person here looks beautiful to me. Already I imagine our antibodies responding to this shot, better protecting the trillions of cells that make it possible for us to breathe, smile, crack awful jokes, hug, sleep, dream.    

As I walk to my car I recognize the heaviness in my chest as the weight of guilt for getting the shot before anyone anywhere who might need it more than I do. Still, I sit in the driver’s seat, tears welling in my eyes, and whisper thank you thank you thank you. Then I turn the music up louder than I should, start the car, and drive home.

Laura Grace Weldon, Beyond Gratitude

We sit with the trauma, the sirens, the losses —
the journey to Pesach begins where we are.
Feel ourselves lift from constriction to freedom.
Someday we’ll dance at the shore of the sea.

The journey from COVID begins where we are.
The vaccines were distant. Soon they’ll be here.
Someday we’ll touch on the shore of the sea,
ready for morning we can almost see coming.

Rachel Barenblat, The virus was distant, the virus was here

When I began writing this blog, eighteen years ago today, it seemed appropriate to name it after the Trojan princess Cassandra, cursed by her spurned lover, Apollo, to utter prophesies that would always be accurate but never believed. That was on the eve of the Iraq War, the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks, which I was certain would plunge the world into an endless war between cultures, and a great destabilization that would cause untold human misery through civil war, destruction, loss of life and livelihood, and migration that would be rejected by much of the western world, which would also refuse to admit they had caused it. I am not happy to say that I was right; I would have loved to be wrong.

At the time, I couldn’t have predicted the exact shape that the far right would take in the United States, or in other countries: this has been worse than I ever anticipated. Climate change has accelerated even faster than I feared, and I never would have thought the United States would actually withdraw from international environmental agreements – thankfully, this decision has been reversed. I didn’t know that I would not only move to Canada, but become a Canadian citizen, though it was a possibility. I’m appalled but not surprised by the racism, ethnic hatred, misogyny, and violence of these years,  as I wrote in that first blog post in 2003 […]

Still, I never would have predicted what the world has lived through over the past year: a pandemic of such magnitude that it brought the entire world to its knees, cost the lives of millions, and caused untold human suffering that has been unjustly borne by the poor, by people of color, the elderly in care homes, those working in high-risk professions without proper protection, and those without access to technology. 

Because I am not in those categories, I have been safe throughout this long year. Two days ago, I had my first vaccination. It was given in a huge conference center here in Montreal, the Palais des Congres: Quebec has made a commitment to vaccinate all adults with a first dose by our national holiday, June 24, St-Jean Baptiste Day and they are moving very fast toward that goal. The nurse who gave me my shot seemed to be about my age, and I asked her in French if she had been working throughout the pandemic. No, she replied, I’m retired, but I volunteered to come back and do this because I have the training. Merci beaucoup, I replied, and our eyes smiled at each other above our masks. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude — for the scientists who dedicated themselves to developing the vaccine, the people who were working to deliver it, for being in a country that believed in science, planned well enough and has the money to provide for its citizens, and for reaching this point of greater safety. And I felt overwhelmed, at the same time, with sorrow for the loss, suffering, separation, and disrupted or damaged lives that may take years to recover, if they ever do.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 60. Full Circle

I am honored to share that my poem “In Like a Lion” has been included in the Oregon Poetry Association 2020 Anthology of Pandemic Poems. This is a stunning collection of poetry written by Oregon poets as witness to these times. It is a document that will have both significant historical value regarding the event itself and the writers in this place who have shared their poetic response to it.

I urge you to consider purchasing a copy of this anthology either through Submittable or Wild Apricot. All the proceeds will go to continued funding for the Oregon Poetry Association. If you love poets, or if you just want a record of this year told through the words of Oregon State poets, I encourage you to buy a copy.

In so many ways my thoughts of this year will probably not be completely known until more time has passed. It has been such a difficult time for so many, especially to those who have lost people to Covid-19. I have been privileged to have a warm home to live in, food to eat, health care. I have had the privilege to reflect during this time, to think about how I would like to contribute to the world in a way that helps those less able to have the basic needs of life. And frankly, I have no desire to return to “Normal”, for it was with the slowing down, the staying put, that helped me see how much happiness could be found in my own home, my small block, my changing neighborhood. There have been things I have missed, like live music, poetry readings, coffee shops, going to dinner with friends, and I look forward to doing them again. But I have changed, and these days I wonder what I will find when I re-enter the world and will I belong?

Carey Taylor, Pandemic Anthology and Thoughts

It was a more celebratory St. Patrick’s Day this year than usual because I was finally able to get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, so a lucky day indeed. I felt great the day of the shot, no allergic reactions, though had a down day the next day (like a normal human – fever, chills, headache, nothing crazy.) It was sunny and Glenn and I went out and took pictures with the plum blossoms afterwards. Glenn won’t have his shot for another week or two at least so it’s a moderated celebration, but it feels like there’s something positive on the horizon. after so much stress and anxiety about when and how I’d get the shot and if I’d catch covid before I got the shot.

Washington State has only vaccinated about 12 percent of people so far, so we still have a long way to go to any kind of “safe” opening up, but at least it’s finally moving forward after crawling at a snail’s pace while other states raced ahead. The process of getting the vaccination appointment took three people (myself, my mother in Ohio, and Glenn) after a friend called me to clue me into to how the vaccines were proceeding so yay teamwork, but it shouldn’t have been such an undertaking. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are still waiting for your shot – your tech-savvy friends and family, your friends who are volunteering at vaccine sites – and I hope you all get your treasured vaccines sooner rather than later. It really took away a great weight and anxiety I had been feeling for at least a year, but even more recently as numbers and variants have been on the rise. I feel like I can focus on other aspects of life again. Like writing. And friendships. And living life.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Spring Equinox, St Patrick’s Day, Vaccinations, a New Book in the Works, and an Upcoming Redmond Poet Laureate Reading

If you listen without language, you may hear
my grandfather playing Brahms on the cello,
grunting every now and then with the effort
of an old man soon to die. He played for me

that spring I lay sick with pneumonia.
I was nine and lonely for my mothership,
her planets and galaxies preparing me
for a life of stargazing and solitude.    

Although at times I say too much, there is much
I will never say.  If you are sad, go to the ocean.
There, is music. Lay your tongue aside, listen.
May you hear the stillness between breakers.

Risa Denenberg, How to Be Sad

It’s light in the morning when I go to work and light when I come back, even from my later clubs. This makes everything that little bit easier. We’re still covered in a hard layer of icy snow, but every day it melts back a tiny bit as we’re hovering just around zero at the moment. Spring is coming, but we’re still getting hit by blasts of takatalvi, a return to wintery weather that will last well into May. 

I’m hoping with the return of the light, the warming temps and my after-school clubs soon finishing, I will find a new burst of energy. My writing clubs were a bit of a disappointment to begin with. With Corona, they said we couldn’t hold them inside and Finland January to March is too cold to take your gloves off to write. I tried rap and rhyming games and even verbal story-telling, but it’s hard when you’re in a dark park and the kids are hyper and tired after a long day. So we usually went sledging. 

Except my first graders. They were struggling with writing and sitting still indoors anyway, so with them I’ve been going on ‘adventures’. It started out as a ‘Going on a Bear Hunt’ type walk around the school, but it has evolved into an elaborate game where each child takes turn leading us through some imaginary world that they hold in their heads, but never fully explain to us. Some bits we do over and over, going into the bushes which we treat like a house, hotel, tent and resting, sliding down the icy hills. Sometimes we’re hunting things, other times we’re being chased by monsters. We often are given super powers, weapons or vehicles. One little boy loves to organise the food, so is always making me cups of tea and fishing for dinner or making pizza. They love it and can now run their adventures on their own, so I just follow along and let their imaginations tell me what I should be doing. 

I introduced the second graders to it this week and they also loved it. One of the other club leaders only had one student, so they came along on our space adventure. We even got a chance to sit back and let them run about themselves while we had a chat. After a year of not having much social interaction, standing in a cold park to talk about something other than work for 10 minutes while watching kids runabout after polar bears is a real blessing.

Gerry Stewart, Going on an Adventure

Let’s call them a family
and imagine them close up,
give them faces and dreams,

assume they laughed, argued,
slit fish, held as we do
wood smoke in their hair.

Let’s follow their eyes
across the marsh, towards
a low, dark line of trees

and wonder with them
what the great red and silver
discs above will bring.

As they walk along the seabed,
carrying their ancestors,
let’s say they lack, like us,

understanding beyond their horizon,
compassion beyond their reach,
language beyond their need.

Chris Edgoose, In Aeternum

And silence, despite what they’ll say,
is not our preferred language.
Grandmother is 75 and she
picked up a wooden plank—
her rage: the sound of it smacking
the face of the white man
who punched her, unprovoked,
in the eye. Hate is not an abstraction.
Try pushing your own face into
the sidewalk under the weight
of your own boot. Try sighting
down a cold bore at your own
contorted face before you pull
the trigger. We are still here
burning with a thousand fevers,
though now more discerning.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Lines from Carlos Bulosan’s “Letter in Exile”

This morning, I made this tweet:  “I am thinking of the hate crime in Atlanta, the Vietnamese girl running burned and naked while I got to be safe in 2nd grade, wondering if I can write a poem that weaves these threads without committing the sins of privilege and appropriation.”  For future readers who can’t remember which hate crime I’m mentioning here, I’m talking about the white man who killed 8 people in 2 different massage parlors and an aromatherapy spa in Atlanta; six of the victims were of Asian descent.

I have been thinking about my profession in academia, where I am not allowed to touch naked bodies, and I’m thinking about those industries that require touching naked bodies:  backs, nails, feet.  And then there are the other industries that require more mingling than just touching.

I came across this article with this quote that will likely haunt me all day:  “To be an Asian woman working in the US South in the massage industry means being an object, not a subject; being neither Black nor White and thus seen to have honorary white status, which in practice conveys a false belief that you aren’t subject to White supremacy; being invisible except when you have been killed by a white man who claims it’s not his fault — it’s his addiction. It means further disappearing: being one of six women killed in what people aren’t even calling a racially motivated crime, although can there be any doubt that it was misogyny and toxic masculinity that killed you?”

I had been thinking about these issues already.  On Sunday, I listened to On Being, which featured an interview with Ocean Vuong, who talked about his Vietnamese mother grandmother and the war in Vietnam and nail salons.  I thought about the photo of the young girl running burned and naked.  I tried to write a poem on Sunday.

Today I returned to that poem and tried to write something else, but so far, I haven’t developed anything that makes me happy.  But I have trails and whisps that may coalesce into a poem.  And even if they don’t, they’ve helped me think about important issues in a way that many won’t.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Work that Touches

Michigan poet Carlina Duan’s second poetry collection, Alien Miss (Madison WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2021), is a poetry title composed via lyric narratives, tight lines and observational turns across a reclamation of her family’s language and culture, working to reconcile two entirely separate selves in a foreign space into a singular body. As the cover copy reads: “Tracing familial lore and love, Duan reflects on the experience of growing up as a diasporic, bilingual daughter of immigrants in the American Midwest, exploring the fraught complexities of identity, history, belonging, and linguistic reclamation.” In the opening, title section, Duan works through the beginnings of her family’s immigration, citing past versions of racist immigration law that deliberately limited Chinese admission into the United States. “what’s an American dream but / a debt. a price to pay.” (“ALIEN MISS CONSULTS HER PAST”).  The collection is constructed in three sections of lyric narratives—“ALIEN MISS,” “LINEAGE OF” and “INHERIT WHAT YOU CAN”—all aiming to both acknowledge and document the past, and the implications that those racist policies have had across the generations and into the present. As the poem “‘THE SITUATION IS GRATIFYING’” ends: “my father was my father until / I watched him turn his mouth into / a pearl. soundless when the officer / implied counterrevolutionary action & he / said nothing. flattened from my father / into a line of water. they took him away, / made my face river. made / an entire country flood.”

Duan writes a suite of connections between cultures, between two distinct paths, attempting to navigate that unfamiliar, impossible between. “o / chinese god,” she writes, as part of the poem “NONE ON THE ROOFTOPS,” “are you there, are you / smoking? please hear me out. I am / stupid & young & I like your necklace.” She writes the minutae of family and family relationships, of family and cultural lore, and the weight of expectation, and how, so often, those expectations fall victim to the collision of cultures. Alien Miss is a book of outreach, seeking to investigate both the past and the present, seeking out what must not be lost or left behind, and how certain external forces shifted her family in ways that must also be reconciled with.

rob mclennan, Carlina Duan, Alien Miss

afternoon sunshine
above the sea grass
a golden dragon

afternoon sunshine
above the golden dragon
honeysuckle buds

Jim Young [no title]

I’m procrastinating on finishing the manuscript. So if I put off the morning tanka prose practice, it means putting off the manuscript. I have competing goals: a crisis in confidence means I want to protect my ego – not writing means I can still count on the validation of the last thing I published.

And if I think too hard about that, I will fall apart like a loaf of bread in water.

Speaking of which, yesterday I took the paper mache bust to a waterfall to film it disintegrating under the flow of the water. But paper mache floats. And floats away. I watched my head get pulled under the mill-house – never to come out the other side. I waited 20 minutes. I figure it’s trapped under the continual torrent of water, probably wedged between old planks and stones. I felt sick to my stomach about littering. And silly – standing there with the fishing-net that I’d purchased that morning to make sure I got all the paper fragments out of the creek once I’d filmed my head’s disintegration.

This was not helpful in regards to my confidence.

I’m taking a visual poetry course and feeling like a gate-crashing novice among the craftsmen there. I’m reliving the criticism of art professors from thirty years ago: poor craftsmanship, derivative concepts. I keep telling myself this is what bravery is. Youth has nothing to overcome. Age has the experiences of youth. At least age means I know now that originality, in and of itself, is bullshit.

Ren Powell, Disintegration

everyone hoped
we would recover

but we got worse
& stronger

when the daylight wanes
& the moon grins

we are this and that—
blue with time
& forgery

we are trees tangling
between the shadow
& the sky

James Brush, P.S.

The bulk of feed was written in 2018, shortly after the death of my mother.  The central portion, the hunger palace, existed before that, although the focus was more on the young girl body and disordered eating than it was the circumstances of the last year of my mother’s life, but somehow, these two threads became one–the parts particularly about childhood and the foregrounding in her death.  What had been a lyric essay project about my own historical body image issues &  how they echoed my mother’s became extremely poignant in those last months of her life.  The fragments in the series were eventually integrated into a single piece that appeared in 2019 in The Journal, and now, in  this book. Other similarly themed projects followed that same year. The Hansel and Gretal inspired plump.  The changeling focused the summer house. swallow, which is another dip into adolescent body image. The final segment,  the science of impossible objects, was another series that previously existed and some pieces already existed in draft form, but it took on a different lens in 2018.

What to do with all these mother and daughter, food and body related pieces, but make them into a full-length book. I began pulling it all together in 2019.  Looking at it now especially, there are so many echoes of each segment in those that surround it.  The apocalyptically shorn Barbie of the first section is echoed in  the “Barbie cake…so big, it swallowed us all.”  The bee changeling of the summer house is revived in plump as the witch (this was unintentional, but worked out nicely.) The animals that take over the house in the hunger palace are the same animals that gather to watch the slaughter in plump.  May perhaps be the same animals lifted from the museum in the science of imaginary objects. Or the “the outside animals that long to be inside animals” of the summer house. There is also violation of the body.  The gauntlet of boys hands and predator/prey in swallow.  My mother’s creepy cousins in the hunger palace. The trapper’s son in plump, “his fit around my throat.”

It’s particularly interesting to write a book about mother, about being a daughter, about (I guess metaphorically) being a mother, when mothering is, in this sense, an act of creation, of art making. So much of this entire book felt like a purging of sorts, which is also in many ways, it feels important to get it out in the world.  

You can pick up a copy here .

Kristy Bowen, mother tongues

Hotel Almighty has been out for six months today. It’s been wonderful having a book out and the best thing about it is—surprise!—readers. I’ve had teachers tell me how the book excited their students; I heard from a reader who credited it with rekindling her interest in and openness to poetry; I’ve seen bloggers talk about being inspired by it; and a fellow poet told me that her six-year old sat down to read it with her because of the collages.

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s published a book but one of the best (& worst) experiences is reading reviews on GoodReads and the like by complete strangers. One reviewer on GoodReads wrote “This book changed my life.” I mean, that’s a moment for a poet to gulp and make sure you’re on the right page. I guess getting feedback shouldn’t have surprised me. Of course people were going to read the book when it was published. That was the point.

Sarah J. Sloat, happy half year

The joy of this world—there are no empty
places, everything is full of energy and life—
is equally its horror. The biome of the gut,
the hollow tube that pierces us. Archipelagos
where the most violent exchanges occur at
microscopic scale, whose tiny denizens first
preserve us, and then, at last, consume us.

Lori Witzel, Negative space (A cadralor)

it is hard not to feel hopeful these days I have been oddly bi polar symptom free for a year no mania no depression all while the world was tumbling into the gray there is no explaining it but I am grateful though occasionally shaky as in this morning trying to type on my pc and hitting the wrong keys forgive me my frozen animal hands my mistyped words I have been practicing Bach for no concert ever I have been practicing Bach for that girl for remembering that girl maybe she was moaning maybe she was bleeding maybe she was giving birth in the crook of my arm in this time of blood

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report Vernal Equinox edition

[H]epatica is about as close to a sprite as any blossom I know of.

They aren’t common where I now live. Here, the vernal ephemerals I see most often are trout lily, bloodroot, spring beauty, violets, coltsfoot, trillium. Probably a few others that I’m forgetting because the ephemerals haven’t popped up yet. Still far too cold and a bit dry after a month of snow cover. The emergent greens in my gardens consist mainly of winter weeds, and I’m happy even to see those. Because: green.

“Just a little green like the color when the spring is born” says a line in Joni Mitchell’s song. The green things rise up or out of what surrounds them, coming into view.

I have been keeping under the standing snow, leaf litter, and dross for three months, processing (as the jargon terms it) my father’s death and a new manuscript and a backlog of poem drafts and covid-19 with its attendant disruptions, limitations, and opportunities. But the snow has subsided from all but a few gullies on the north sides of hills; iris reticulata and snowdrops are in bloom, along with the winter-blooming witch hazel. There’s work to do in the garden. Poems to revise. National Poetry Month ahead (April!). It’s the 25th year for this literary celebration.

Time for me, like the skunks and the skunk cabbage and the little ephemerals, to rise out of my surroundings. And take up this blog again? It’s a start. A little green shoot emerging in the chilly sunlight. Hello.

Ann E. Michael, Emergent

Like a dog’s ear
asking “What?”

the day waits,
the sun patient

at its rounds,
the wind letting

off, joy making
its morning noise.

Tom Montag, LIKE A DOG’S EAR

I finished choosing Shenandoah poems a couple of weeks ago. It’s such a pleasure to accept work, but there was so much strong poetry that I had to turn down, I could have built another good issue out of what I rejected. Honestly, I agonized so much I wondered if I’m cut out for this. Trying to shake it off, I figured I’d use my decision-sharpened mind to start submitting my own poems again–I’ve been delinquent–but I spent most of this week in a spiral of uncertainty (although family worries also contributed to that). I did finally get poems under consideration in a few places. It took me a ton of revision and reading through old folders, as well as research into markets, to make it happen. I’m freshly aware of the odds against making the cut, so I did a lot of hard thinking about the stakes of each poem, trying to delete or change iffy passages as ruthlessly as I could. And now I won’t know how well I managed it for months! 

The Zoom conversation I recently had with Celia Lisset Alvarez and Jen Karetnick therefore felt timely. See here for a recording of “She Persists: Rebounding from Rejection” that includes readings and lots of frank talk about our personal stats. Below are some bonus tracks consisting of their answers to my follow-up questions, plus their bios so you can find out about their many projects. I bolded a few bits that strike me as especially useful and inspiriting. At the very end, look for a few footnotes from me, too. [click through to read the interview]

Lesley Wheeler, Three editors on rejection and persistence

Remember how we pondered on finding our muse in these dark times? How for some of us, lockdown  deadened our creativity which had an impact on our wellbeing – home schooling gave no head space or time to write, and working from home gave us back ache.

We’re now inviting you to submit your poetic responses to this series of conversations, artwork and dialogues from a whole host of poets, editors and artists.  I am so grateful to them for their generosity. How amazing are poets, editors and artist?! What I have learnt from this is how supportive people in the poetry community are, sending out our work is hard, and rejections are harder. What is wonderful is that everyone who has been part of this project has given their time and words and energy for free so each can create something new. Write better. Write more. I can’t thank them enough. Watch out for Helen Ivory next Friday. We are all eager to read your work. The guidelines are:

Submit one poem based on a piece of artwork from the Creativity in Lockdown series. Include the name of the artwork and artist. 

Send your work to: thepoetryshed@hotmail.com

Abegail Morley, Creativity in lockdown – your response – submissions deadline 31st March 2021

The collection ends on a note of hope, in “Seollal (Korean New Year)”, where a young girl has fallen asleep on a subway train,

“Her father worms out of his coat,
rolls it as best as he can, into a squished pupa.
Tipping his daughter’s head to the side,
he plumps it into place against the partition;
lets her head fall back to a pillow of goose down.

The little girl
continues to dream.”

Perhaps the poet also still dreams of her father. It’s a poignant image of paternal love.

“Aftereffects” is an engaging, eloquent exploration of bereavement and loss. Jiye Lee’s situation is personal but she broadens it out to be of wider interest. The relationship between father and daughter is delicately and accurately probed, showing readers what has been lost without telling them how to feel. The poems’ deceptive gentleness have readers focused on the sheen of a feather before re-reading and looking again shows the bird can fly.

Emma Lee, “Aftereffects” Jiye Lee (Fly on the Wall Press) – book review

I gave up on writing fiction about 10 years ago. I concluded that I just couldn’t write anything with a plot that moves, and I ought to just stick to poetry, where my writing isn’t totally boring.

Every now and then I’d read a book and think oh if I could only write such a wonderful book!

But of course I only write poetry.

But then I lost Kit. And I wrote hundreds of poems about her, and I have this manuscript that is just my bleeding heart on a page.

I needed a break. I needed a break.

So I decided to try to write a middle grade novel. And I actually did it! There are characters, a beginning middle end, there are words on the page! It was simply astounding to my poet-mind to see the thousands of words stretch out in this ocean of prose.

Is it good?

No!

But I am revising. And I even sent it to a few beta reader friends which felt so scary and exhilarating— so different from sending friends a poem to read, since I usually feel somewhat if a poem works or not — here, in fiction, I’m an absolute beginner, trying to clumsily trace out my abcs.

Even if the book never gets an agent, never gets published, was just me taking apart the gears of novel writing to see how it worked, I am proud of myself for trying. That 9 year old Renee who read Ray Bradbury and dreamed of making fiction that could sing, I think I’ve (finally) been as brave as she hoped I’d be.

Renee Emerson, Writing a Novel

To those of you who were waiting with baited breath last week for my non-existent post, I apologize. I’m not generally prone to getting sick, but I got hit with something again, some horrid crud that knocked me out for about three days straight, and all I could do was shiver under the blankets in a state of perpetual chills and severe fatigue. (It wasn’t COVID.) I have come to the conclusion that the massive, intense, non-stop stress over this last month strained my immune system and left me vulnerable. Thus, I am experimenting with short, “gentle” Yoga and calming videos to try and reduce my cortisol levels. All it’s done so far is make me jealous of the beautiful young blondes who occupy such videos, which are always filmed in gorgeous, beachy, tropical settings. Of course these women are relaxed. They live on the beach and they have glossy hair and flawless figures. I would like to see a de-stressing video shot by a working mother of four with some middle-aged flab who is filming in her messy living room while her five-year-old twins fight over the i-Pad and the cat hacks up a hairball. Now that would be impressive.

Kristen McHenry, Boating Blunders, Barbell Joy, Real Meditation

transplanting rice

she complains
about her heartless lover

to a scarecrow
without
a head

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Poetry of the rice fields

There are several species of owl here in my valley. I especially [like] the barn owls. Listen closely; maybe you will hear one, especially at night. I have noticed that they always seem to sound as though they are pleased; there are no complaints from owls that I have ever heard. I think that the owls know something about living that humans do not know. Whatever this truth is, we may have known it once, back when we were closer to the tribal fire, but if we did, this truth is long forgotten. Come to my valley. Hear the owls. Perhaps you and I, together, can begin the work to form the tribe once again.

James Lee Jobe, Come to my valley. Hear the owls.

Night falls and evening surrounds us with a gardenia’s voice sweet on air as the sounds of approaching sirens weave themselves into the fabric of accidents.

Sepia-stained sorrows seek technicolor tomorrows as hustlers decked out in tattered garments of calamity stroll all-night boulevards of now or never.

Kisses of uplift refuse to claim gravity as their bride as the wayward and weary roam the streets, closer to the grave than their best intentions.

Cherished hopes glow brightly as the spines of books penned by absolute bliss while certain dreams are forever abandoned at bus stops going nowhere.

Night falls. Evening surrounds us.

If we can withstand the heat, bear the pressure of burden and beauty, we’ll be crushed into diamonds of morning light.

Rich Ferguson, Sirens Sound Themselves Into the Fabric of Accidents

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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 past week found poetry bloggers breathing, grieving, reading, dreaming, revising manuscripts, speaking for others, meeting with others, planning for AWP, planning for a possible pandemic, paying attention, feeling sorry, feeling out of step, shaping lines, and remembering to breathe.


Inhale. Pause. Exhale, slowly and deeply, as if you were sighing. Notice that pause at the end of the out-breath: That emptied-out moment, when you let go of everything just a little bit more, and the body settles into itself just a little bit deeper. That moment: A glimpse of the last breath, of the peace that might be possible when you let go with both hands.

And then: The in-breath, as natural as can be, filling the lungs again.

Dylan Tweney, Grief and gratitude.

Much as at the point when suddenly rain stops,
    or wind abates,
        or cloud obscures the sun,

there is a moment just between
    breathe in and breathe out
        when shock stops the spin and hum of it all

and in the silence and the stillness
    we are changed entirely.

Dick Jones, Fragile

I have taken the last few months off from the world for some internal reflection. The death of four people in my family in 12 months caused me to turn inward, to withdraw socially and surround myself with only my greatest loves: husband, family, books, poetry, home, open spaces, neighborhood walks, and yes, I will admit, binge watching High Fidelity and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Thank you Rob and Midge for making me laugh.

And now it is Spring and out my writing window I see yellow daffodils, orange pansies and purple hellebore. The 70 year-old camellia is laden in the softest of pink blooms and the neighbor’s cherry trees are ready to pop.

And for those of you who have followed my “car wash” photos, last week I took my car to get washed and began taking pictures for the 2020 series.

I submitted five new poems (the first submission in almost a year) and heard yesterday a journal in Galway, Ireland called Dodging the Rain will publish them in May and June.

By allowing myself permission to withdraw from the world for awhile, to grieve and acknowledge the losses, the color bursting before me is calling my name to rejoin the ranks.

Or it could have been the Prozac. Either way, I am doing just fine.

Carey Taylor, It’s Been Awhile

This book gripped me: Poets on Prozac, edited by Richard M. Berlin, a set of essays by various poets on Mental Illness, Treatment and the Creative Process. I checked it out of the library because it’s what came up when I searched for work by Denise Duhamel, who judged the 2019 Patricia Dobler Award. […]

I learned a lot about many things and was delighted to find in this book two of our Escape Into Life poets, Ren Powell and Martha Silano, as well as Chase Twichell, whose book The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach, co-edited with Robin Behn, sits on a shelf above my computer, ready to grab when I need a creative push. I used it when I was teaching, and I use it now.

I always love to read about a poet’s process, and Poets on Prozac has the added interest of how mental illness, whether temporary or permanent, chronic or intermittent, and the treatment or medication for it affects the writing. Excerpts and whole poems are provided in this context, and the authors include mental health professionals who write poems.

Kathleen Kirk, Poets on Prozac

In The Hidden Life of Trees, the author talks about how a woodpecker makes a wound in the bark of a tree, and then leaves to let fungus soften things before returning. The fungus keeps at it, even after the cavity is too large to serve the woodpecker. So another creature moves into the expanding space. Then another. And all the while, is the tree feeling this as pain? Like my reality of a tender hamstring and an arthritic toe joint?

*

I had a nightmare last night. I have them only rarely now. And not nearly as vividly as once. Though sometimes it takes me longer to reorient to the real world as I wake —

like turning over scattered puzzle pieces and fitting them together into a somewhat less frightening order.

It seems that, as I age, there is a shifting of the kind of pain I experience.

The cold hurts my bones more than it used to. But heartbreak hurts far less. I can only hope the latter is a matter of  it having already been cracked open once, and having adjusted to the openness, each new love moving into a growing spaciousness.

Ren Powell, Aches and Pains

I dreamed I watered my cactus. I dreamed a long scrolled piece of paper upon which my sins and good deeds were being accounted for were being shaded in by a lead pencil. The sins were shaded over and over until they were a black ribbon and the good deeds were erasing the black.

It’s so quiet this morning I hear the train whistle all the way from Mount Vernon. Sometimes sound carries weirdly over the water. There is something comforting about a train whistle. Something old fashioned and ghostly and solid and forsaken. I once rode a train from Spokane to Montana. It took several days. I was a girl. I read and rocked and read and rocked. I lived for a little while on Flathead Lake. I lived for a little while on a reservation in Havre where I chewed resin from the trees until it turned to gum and ate rosehips and sang church songs.

Mahler sings Kindertotenlieder tends the forest keeps an eye on the magnolias which is how I keep going forward. I don’t even touch them (only once forgive me) I just watch and keep track and wonder at all of it. It’s a still day. I listened to birdsong and the train and I am forgiven my sins. My trees lift up their hands.

Rebecca Loudon, On the anniversary of my mother’s birth

I’m working on revising my 3rd manuscript. Since Kit passed away, and even when she was still in the ICU—perhaps even since her diagnosis—I’ve had little passion for the project, but have instead used writing as a way to process grief. There have been good and bad, far more bad I suppose, poems come from this experiment. But I’m at a point now where I feel like it is time to revisit Church Ladies and see if it is still possibly a book.

One theme very clear in the book is suffering and fear of the death of my children; its what leads my family to sometimes say my poems are creepily prophetic. But I don’t think so—I just think losing my children is my very real, utmost fear.

So I’ve thought about including my poems where the Worst Fear actually happens—my poems about Kit—but I can’t bridge them in my own mind. I can see the bridge on paper, how it could work—but Kit is very separate to me. Eventually those poems might need to be included; or maybe they are a different book entirely.

The true problem is that I am not the person or writer that I was when I wrote Church Ladies. I can edit with an indifferent eye, but to add to it feels wrong somehow, just as I’d never add to another writer’s project.

Renee Emerson, Revising the Manuscript

The Big Smoke, [Adrian] Matejka’s book-length persona poem collection, explores the life and relationships of boxing legend Jack Johnson. Matejka writes in the voices of Jack Johnson and the women in Johnson’s life, an ambitious project that took eight years of research and writing. It wound up as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, a well-deserved honor.

In the workshop, he told us that the hardest poems for him to write were the ones in the voices of the women, and that he would never attempt to write in a woman’s voice again, not feeling able, artistically, to accurately portray a woman’s psyche in the first person.

Part of this discussion of whose voices to write in involved the subject of cultural appropriation. The week of the poetry festival, American Dirt launched, and with it, the controversy surrounding the white author’s choice to write in the first person about a migrant Latina woman and her struggles to cross into the US.

It was a timely example of the pitfalls of choosing to write in the voice of someone whose life is completely outside our own experiences.

Christine Swint, Persona Poems at Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Franny Choi’s book-length collection of poetry, Soft Science, explores queer, Asian American femininity through the lens of robots, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence. As she notes in this interview, “this book is a study of softness,” exploring feeling, vulnerability, and desire. How can you be tender and still survive in a hard and violent world? What does it mean to have desire when you yourself are made into an object of desire? What does it mean to have a body that bears the weight of history? Choi’s poetry contemplates such questions through the technology of poetic form.

Here is a little snippet from our discussion, in which Choi discusses the idea of speaking for the voiceless:

“Early in my writing career, I was really struck by the concept of being a voice for the voiceless. I think this has to do with being a young activist kid and realizing that having the ability to write and speak in a way that moved people was a privilege, and [I had] a desire to use that privledge for good. I think not that long after I encountered this concept it started to feel icky to want to speak for people that have mostly been called voiceless but aren’t — and [it became] much more important to highlight those voices rather than speaking for them.

“For someone who is politically minded and writer and is interested in the craft of persona work, I think it makes for a difficult space to know how to operate in, you know. So, I think that the ways I’ve tried to — at least in this book — manage that have been to kind of relocate the voiceless as a populace within myself, like what are the parts of me that feel unspoken for or unable to explain themselves through normal language. There’s a lot that is unspeakable within all of us. For me, I feel my job as a poet is to try to use poetry to navigate those spaces.”

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Soft Science by Franny Choi

We had started online with MacNeice – this largely elicited a negative response – form over content, too difficult… My attempts to argue for MacNeice were unsuccessful. People said they wanted something ‘lighter’ (undefined), and one or two people suggested John Betjeman, so we thought we’d give that a try.

In our comfortable-ish new meeting place, we started our discussion of Betjeman’s poems. It did not go as I expected. Each person had chosen a poem to talk about. What happened was that people talked about really personal and often moving experiences, none of them happy ones. When we talked more, people recognised that their responses were not always really related to the poems themselves, and that their experiences had very much coloured their view of the poems. 

It highlighted incredibly strongly how much we bring ourselves to every poem we read – the things that have happened in our lives, our beliefs, everything. This is not a revelation, of course, but I did find it surprising that this kind of discussion was in response to the poems of Betjeman, as did the others when I mentioned it. Everyone said they were happy with the meeting though, and felt that poetry had got them thinking, so that feels right and we’ll see how it progresses.

Sue Ibrahim, A surprising reaction to the poems of John Betjeman

AWP #20 will occur in San Antonio, starting on Wednesday the 4th. I can confirm that I have already experienced a bit of the typical anxiety associated with the pilgrimage.  Each year there are generally 12,000 or more in attendance. If I recall correctly there were like 14,000 last year in Portland.

I have somewhat introvert tendencies, although at times I may break free of the chains. As long as I am able to retreat and recharge from time to time, I can deal with it. For me the stressors are being away from home, being in the midst of a crushing mob (slight exaggeration),  meeting people I am in awe of and being fearful I appear to be a complete goofball, and meeting complete strangers and feeling my first impression (and lasting one) totally sucked.

WHY EVEN GO?  Good question.  I think it has to be personal for each attendee.  For some it is seeing friends that you may see only once or twice a year.  Or it could be meeting  publishers.  Crisscrossing the book fair (always enormous) in search of bargains, newly published material, author signings, or readings. Both onsite and offsite. It could be learning more about the craft at panel presentations, or ideas, learning about marketing or working with publishers, agents, etc.

This year, I am focusing  on a couple aspects of craft. Seeing some friends, attending some readings and doing a reading myself. I want to springboard from the conference into a greater energy in my writing. I have a manuscript I am trying to finish and this could help push me over the finish line.

Michael Allyn Wells, It’s Coming – AWP #20 blogging

It seems in times of crisis I want to spend more time in nature. This last week we had early cherry and plum trees starting to flower, and I spent a lot of time taking pictures of them. Plum blossoms in particular have a strong, beautiful scent, especially in a grove of trees, which along with a little more sunlight, increases your feelings of well-being no matter what the headlines. […]

Yes, I’ll be missing AWP this year. I’m supposed to get an emergency root canal tomorrow instead of flying into Texas. Much less glamorous. But AWP kind of has a pall over it this year, especially as it is happening just as more confirmed cases of COVID-19 are appearing all over the US. Hey, let’s all get together in one big room right as a highly communicable virus is hitting! Yikes. I have a genetic immune deficiency AND MS, so this is probably a more frightening prospect for me than most people. That estimated 2 percent death rate is higher for people with other health conditions, and much higher for the elderly – up to 15 percent.

We had the first US death from Coronavirus here yesterday, at a hospital about a mile from my house, and a small breakout (fifty people, both caregivers and patients) has happened in a long-term care home in Kirkland (and Kirkland and Redmond firefighters are in quarantine after reto an emergency there.) There is a lot of uncertainty right now – the doctors and systems here don’t have enough test kits or the capacity to test everyone, we don’t have enough masks even for medical personnel due to poor government planning, and we’re showing more community-acquired illness (two high school kids at opposite ends of town just this week.) In my local neighborhood stores, there’s been some panic-buying – shelves of masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, even in some places bottled water and toilet paper have all been cleaned out. My husband has been running most of the errands to keep me out of crowds, so I’m getting my reports second-hand. Going back to spending time outside, which can really help you not feel too house-bound when you’re mostly confined in your home, is really important. Hence my red-winged blackbird picture (photographed down the street from my house.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems in Cherry Tree and Split Rock Review, Early Spring Flowers, Missing AWP and the Coronovirus

It’s good to take notes on the details.

There is the spot in the sky
Where the first lip of night rubs the sunset raw.
Write that down.

Or the sound of the tire sliding across the asphalt
As the stink of the burning rubber fills the air.
Note that, too.

The looks a dog gives when it gets confused.
That’s a good one.

James Lee Jobe, It’s good to take notes on the details.

I’ll be honest here; I have little hope of being placed in this year’s competition. Ultimately, I felt my poems lacked the carefree openness that I value in a good poem; you know, that lack of awareness of it actually being a poem. This might sound like nonsense. After all, when you pick up the pen, you intend to write. Poetry or prose, you’ve no doubt decided, on some level, what it’s going to be, before you start writing. So how can a poem lack awareness that it is a poem? Well, I’ve recently returned to Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds. It’s full of beautifully rich language and imagery, but what I admire most of all is the sense of the writer allowing thoughts and images on the page without telling the reader what to think, allowing the reader to take part in the poem and run with it. So, in terms of a model of what poetry should be, for me, Vuong’s debut is it, because it’s full of poems that aren’t screaming, ‘Read me, I’m a poem. Look what tricks I can do.’

This is quite nebulous, and very subjective, I know. And being brutally honest and self-critical, my poems fall far short. So why the euphoria? Well, it’s that small but vital ‘hit’ of completing the work. The manuscript will sink or swim, but that’s out of my hands now. I’ve done my bit. I’ve turned up and done the work (see Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way – she’s big on this). There’s something satisfying about completing a task, so much so that I rewarded myself with a trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park today, to see Saad Qureshi’s Something About Paradise (photographs above and below). 

Maybe something about this exhibition will feed into my writing. Maybe it was just because it wasn’t raining this afternoon. Whatever the forces at work, underlying it all  was a feeling of satisfaction with life which was self-induced. I’d submitted 20 poems to a publisher whom I respect, and who has been totally supportive of my work so far. That submission depended on no one else. It was down to me. The judging is out of my hands. I can’t control or influence it. And what would be the job of a judge if no one submitted? You know the saying, ‘It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part.’ Well, there’s some truth in it.

Julie Mellor, Why it’s important to finish …

I started listening to this this week. It’s Helen Mort discussing her relationship with the word Sorry and apologies. I’ve only listened to the first ep so far, but I really enjoyed what I heard. I was at the end of a long week at work and on a bus ride home after a diverted train journey, so I apologise to Helen for needing to go back to it to fill in some gaps before finishing the series.

It did get me thinking back to a draft of a poem I wrote a couple of years ago called ‘Tiny Sorries’. I was looking at all the small apologies I find myself making. I often apologise, under my breath, if I make someone deviate from their course, even by an inch, when walking along the street, or for not holding a door open far enough, for not being fast enough at the water fountain at work, even when I can do nothing about it…

The idea was that it would start there, build up to taking responsibility for not doing enough to stop something we are all collectively responsible for and then…and then…Well, I didn’t know where to go with it, or if it was even worth trying to find out. I think the answer is that it isn’t worth pursuing. However, it was on my mind before seeing that the show was on air. I think it, the poem, pops back into my head daily because of something that happens when commuting or in the office, etc.

Thankfully, what I do know from listening to Helen’s show is that there are plenty of poems about saying sorry, apologising, contrition, etc, so perhaps I don’t need to worry about adding mine to the pile.

Sorry, you’ve been witness to me working stuff out as I go.

Mat Riches, Apologies for Noogies

Clare Pollard in an article pointed out how an interest in translation can lead to escaping the limitation of local trends. She admits to admiring Somali poems “which can seem clumsy … the politically charged rhetoric … the seeming bagginess, the extreme alliteration, the shifts in address, the digressions” thinking that “they just use techniques which are currently deemed ‘unfashionable’ on Creative Writing courses.

Literature has its fashions. The “From Apocalypse to The Movement” module at Warwick looks at one lurch in style. Of course there are many parallel tracks of development happening at different speeds, but if you’re the wrong type of writer for your era you’ll be fighting against the tide.

Because culture isn’t frozen in time, one option is to wait for it to change. I notice at local writing clubs that my conventions don’t always match those of other members. Sometimes mine are more literary – in particular I puncture the sense of immersion – but often I’m just out of step. My guess is that the literary styles that I employed years ago are now becoming mainstream, and the styles I currently use were popular 20 years ago, and may well be so again.

Tim Love, Ahead of my time? Or behind?

he’s the man who draws the white lines
on the pitches every Friday
ready for the games on Saturday
always straight
always the right length
with the leftover lime tipped
and running down the red brick wall
then he goes away
and comes back the next Friday
all through the winter

Jim Young, life’s a pitch

I’ve written the starts of two new poems this week. I haven’t finished any poems I’ve started this year and only finished 10 from last year. I feel like I’m writing in slow motion. After writing everyday for so much of last year and writing so many poems, it’s harder to get back into the flow. Once I actually clear my desk of work and admin, it’s difficult to turn my head towards writing. The less attention I give it, the more I have to work at making time for it, to remember to take out my notebook rather than my phone, to not give into the tiredness on Friday night after work and go to my writing group where I usually have a bit of time beforehand to write. 

I’m back to where I was a year and a half ago when writing was work. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it didn’t come naturally, each line had to be pulled from me and shaped, rather than just me falling into a rhythm of writing.

Difference is, I know what is possible now. I couldn’t believe then that I could write a draft of a poem daily, that it could be easy. Now, I need to make the effort to slot it in on days when I’m not teaching. I should try to adapt to writing in the evening when the kids are in bed, but it’s never been a natural time for me to work. But I’ve proven that this old horse can learn new tricks, so it won’t hurt to try. 

Gerry Stewart, Dipping Back into Poetry

When your heart’s piano tuner becomes tone-deaf;

when your soul’s window washer forgets to clean your eyes;

when the walls of your thoughts are painted beige and left taken for granted;

when a bird in the hand feels more like a nail in the foot;

when every sentence you speak feels more like a life sentence in Sing Sing;

when your lips feel like the zombie apocalypse;

when you wear your face like a pair of unpressed pants;

when your socks feel like Nagasaki;

when your heart’s drummer becomes a total bummer—

for goodness sake, don’t forget to breathe.

Rich Ferguson, When at the Borders of the Absurd

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week I want to depart from my usual pattern here in the intro and draw your attention to a call-out I just posted: Wanted: Your picks for best poetry collections of 2019(ish). This is for something in addition to the blog digest — modeled after blog carnivals, if anyone remembers those — in which I hope we can together create our own, bloggish alternative to all those lists that poetry critics assemble each year. I’m asking for a short post about one favorite book (and an optional few runners up), with a deadline of December 3 so we can have a compendium of recommendations out in time for holiday shopping. Check it out.

And as long as I’m breaking habits, I want to include a quote from one of Via Negativa’s own posts, because I really like what Luisa wrote about hitting the ninth birthday of her poem-a-day practice here and what that practice means to her.


What have I learned, what am I still learning? That fear is probably the biggest obstacle to getting anything written. We all cycle through moments of exhilaration and anxiety, confidence and paralysis; too much of either can turn into writer’s block. Fear goes by other names like impostor syndrome. And perfectionism. That what it is I crave that’s met in part by coming to my daily writing is the promise of untrammelled time and space— which as all creatives know, is the ideal condition for dreaming and making art. For such as it is, it means that I want to create even a small space in my day, every day, to try to meet myself there; whatever might come out of it is already surplus, a gift.

Luisa A. Igloria, Nine Years! and, “Love Poem to Skins”

Every day was still jam-packed with meetings, but I found myself scratching out poems during some of the meetings – maybe it was in the air, maybe it was all the champagne I consumed that week, maybe it was me reminiscing on the first time I was in Paris, maybe it was me reminiscing on another lost love. Or maybe it’s just that Paris is a city that inspires poetry.

After slightly terrifying my colleagues by reading some of my recent poems, every time I started writing in my notebook one of them would ask, “Are you writing a poem?” and more often than not, I would nod my head yes. There was something about being in that city that kept the words coming.

Courtney LeBlanc, Writing Poetry in Paris

I have been awake for hours–but have I been writing?  No, I’ve been grading.  It’s that time of the term.  I am caught up–but I will only be caught up for a day or two.  It’s that time of the term.

But let me also note–I wrote a poem yesterday.  Yesterday I was watering the plants in the butterfly garden at school.  I noticed that 2 of the milkweed plants had aphids on them, so I spent some time killing them by rubbing them off the leaves.  Their dying stained my fingers bright yellow, even after I washed my hands.

This line came to me:  On the last day of the impeachment hearings, I kill the aphids on the milkweed plants.  I played with it off and on throughout the day, and eventually a poem came together.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Killing Aphids, Listening to Impeachment Hearings

Some terrific people at my university just organized our first ever Native American Heritage Month, involving two lectures, two documentaries, and a poetry reading with tastings of traditional foods. I made it to four out of five events, and every one was interesting, moving, and really fun–I’m so grateful to the organizers for their work.

The commemoration also made me return to a teaching/ research question that’s bothered me for a long time. My “modernist” poetry course hasn’t, in fact, carried that label for years, because I find it limited and misleading. Instead, I teach “U.S. Poetry from 1900-1950.” Alongside the modernist canon I was trained in, and the white women poets I added to my mental list of innovators during my PhD years, we read the formalisms of Frost, Millay, Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and others, and the poetic experiments of the New Negro Renaissance (these people and bodies of work overlap, of course). I’m currently teaching the most inclusive version of this course I’ve ever constructed. So where are the Native American poets?

Lesley Wheeler, Modernism in Native American Heritage Month

I got a chance to see Mary Ruefle read some poetry and prose and do a Q&A at SAL this week. Getting downtown was a nightmare, which reminded me why we don’t go downtown very often, and the building didn’t have any handicapped parking and was a million miles from any kind of parking, and getting to the hall the reading was in the required using an elevator that tried to kill me with crazed hard-slamming doors, but I was happy I made it. Mary Ruefle was very funny and I liked her prose work on friendship almost as much as I liked her poetry.

During the Q&A, someone asked her why she was a bad kisser (a reference to one of her poems.) She said “I find it boring. There are just so many better ways to spend your time. I’d much rather be reading and writing.” Well, there you go then.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome to the Holidays, Mary Ruefle, Lizzo, and Another Round of Revision and Thinking of Poets and Charisma

It’s fair to say that, 18 months after my book was published, I’d put it to bed, gone downstairs and thought it was fast asleep.  A delightful surprise, then, to discover that the book has been staying up late chatting to Jonathan Edwards who described the poems in What Are You After? as “accessible, witty, moving, memorable, class conscious” and the writing as “warm and memorable, full of personality…”

I haven’t been blogging much recently as I’ve been travelling about going to poetry festivals and readings, as well as working on poems which I hope will form themselves into my second collection of poetry.  I’m still on the poetry competition trail (not sure if I mentioned that I’m finding competitions a useful way to focus on completing poems).  Recently I was shortlisted in the Bridport Prize and longlisted in the Ginkgo Prize.  All this, plus the surprise review, is a lovely nod to keep on keeping on.

Josephine Corcoran, ‘What Are You After?’ reviewed at Poetry Wales

Goodness, I can’t believe I missed the whole month of October here in the blog. Yes, I continue to be busy, with necessary downtime between tasks and events. At an event in November, I read poems from a new book, This Moment…in Sarah’s Garden, for which I had written poems in the voice of Sarah Davis to accompany photographs by Ken Kashian. That’s it above, accordian style, with its box and inserts, which include a packet of poppy seeds and a booklet about the history of David and Sarah Davis, their letters, her garden, and you can learn more about it at Ken’s Artist Book site here. After a busy week of meetings and events, including a story slam last night, I am having a grand Slattern Day today, of rest, reading, grocery shopping, and an at-home movie, borrowed from the library. My Cousin Rachel, based on the book by Daphne du Maurier, but not exactly the same story. […]

Perhaps all this movie watching and novel reading is escapism…from politics, despair, impeachment hearings, desperate reality. But Monday I will turn in my ballot petition to run again as a precinct committeeperson, because I have to do something. Of course I will vote. And see the new Tom Hanks movie about Mr. Rogers. “Look for the helpers.”

Kathleen Kirk, This Moment…

I’ve hit my 100 rejection target and I can see the positive results in the numbers. I’ve submitted about twice as many so far this year and have had about a 12% acceptance rate which of course I’m very happy with. The daily writing I’ve done most of the year has helped as I have a good amount of poems to submit, but it has been hard work.

I no longer edit a poem every time I submit it, though I do proof it for errors. I maybe cast a more serious eye of them every few submissions, longer if they’ve had a quick turnaround. I still research the magazines as much as I can, via guidelines, masthead blurbs and looking at old issues if I can, but I am more open to online magazines. I currently have a big backlog of unsubmitted poems, just because I don’t have the time or energy to do tons of submissions. […]

The writing course I’m on has been a nice distraction, its focus is works found in several museums, art and artefacts. So I’ve been losing myself in research black holes about photograms, gum diggers, curiosity cabinets and other unexpected subjects. I try not to spend too much time researching, but sometimes jumping from one subject to another is how I find the sweet spot from which a poem can spring.

Gerry Stewart, Targets and Black Holes

It’s my 5th straight day of yoga tonight,  even as I don’t feel well.  It’s the coughy – runny stuff. I confess that I would like to stay home tomorrow but we will see how I am in the morning. I have started some Clairton – D so maybe that will help. The coughing has brought on chest pain. 

I was telling someone the other day that it did not know if yoga was making me a better writer, but it sure was making me a less stressed writer.  I am hoping that over time that will translate into better writing. I confess that hope is a good thing. 

This past week I have been spotty as far as writing. No, I confess I have not written daily. This is the ugly truth. I say that because I know all too well how important it is to do so. I do have a new draft that I will need to work on more, so this has not been a total loss of a week. 

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Dark Pillows – Impeachment – Yoga – and Poetry drafts.

I’ve got into a rhythm of reading a Canto of Dante’s Purgatory each night before falling asleep, sometimes I get through the chapter commentary & notes too, sometimes not. If I’m too tired to finish the Canto I have to start it again the next day. Purgatorio is a more complex read than Inferno. There are just as many references to people and politics of the time, requiring explanation, but it seems to me there’s more characterisation and symbolism to get one’s head around, not to mention the philosophical wondering it’s sent me on.

Alongside this I’ve had a number of poetry collections on the go recently. Perhaps I’m getting more reading done this month because I’m not drinking alcohol? I can’t really see the connection, but I’m struggling to notice any other benefits to Dry November except the feeling of smug satisfaction that I can do it, if I put my mind to it. I hope I’m not jinxing it by making that claim when there are twelve days to go. Anyway, I wish I could commune with my internal organs and ask them if they’re feeling detoxified or rejuvenated.

Robin Houghton, Recent reading

This weekend, I find myself banging my head against the wall over these new poems I’m working on. With both of them, I think I’m trying to do too many things in too small of a space, and I’m getting all tangled and twisted up in confusing metaphors involving fire and churning waters and clarity of mind and the Trapezius. (That’s the big triangular muscle in your upper back, in case you didn’t know.) Also, Glut Bridges, although that’s a separate poem and will be a bit more…cheeky. Ha! (If I can’t write a proper poem I can at least crack myself up with a terrible pun.) I know it will all come together, but I’m very frustrated at the moment. It’s all in there, I canfeel it, but it won’t comeoutright. Argh! I need a writers-frustration helmet to keep me from bruising my forehead.

I’m also frustrated about the crocodiles. Of late, I have been playing lots of vintage Tomb Raider while waiting with baited breath for the award-winning Divinity: Original Sin 2 to go on sale…and it finally did! I downloaded it with great excitement, only to find that’s it just as hair-pulling as trying to write poems.

Kristen McHenry, Poem-Induced Head-Banging, Crocodile Wars, Clothes Complaint

Wherever inspiration is traded for expiration, or atoms of grace are centrifuged into one feud after another. Wherever life’s breath root is cut from flowers of affection, or love’s architects are left dumbfounded when their homes have been burned down—that is where you’ll find a hint of humanity blooming through those leaves of grass as Walt Whitman’s beard points faithfully towards peace. 

Rich Ferguson, Walt Whitman’s Beard

Last night, assembling books at 1am before I went to bed, I was struck by how much calmer I am now than a couple months ago.  It’s a realization that strikes me, especially when I am able to finish a batch of books (or several) during a time like overnight when I normally would have had to sandwich all of them into the couple hours I was able to be at the studio.  It does occur to me occasionally that I’d have been better served to have never rented the space, the only thing sustaining me being some more storage space for supplies (and having the whole operation & big shelves at home has proved less taxing. The dining room is a mess right now, but it’s just a few unpacked boxes I’ll get to this weekend.) There was the dream, of course, of events and open studios, but there wasn’t room for anything more than the occasional open studio (which never really happened that frequently.)  And perhaps that is the need that needed to be cast off–that little dream at the back of my head that I would one day have a little public space, a little shop, maybe, somewhere to sell books and art and maybe host readings and workshops. Maybe a bigger space there in the building (which is hilarious since I could barely afford the one had most months.) 

Kristy Bowen, new ways of working and letting go…

My S.O. and I were talking the other day about work ethic and how deeply ingrained it is in us. We were raised to be industrious. Great value was placed on labor. Laziness and leisure were suspect. To work hard, more often than not, meant you were a good person.

But work hard at what?

Because that’s what people do isn’t as satisfying an answer as it used to be.

And then there’s this: exactly what are we working hard for?

* * *

Like many of you, I turn to books and poetry for this kind of thing. Poems nearly always show me the pearl. And when they don’t do that, they describe the irritant so clearly that I understand better what I’m up against. Reading the Fall 2019 issue of Waxwing Magazine recently was like putting on a mood ring: the poems reflected back to me what I was feeling; they showed me what I was up against.

You must lift your own tired self
beyond the threshold of the door

You Must Lift Your Son’s Languid Body by Oliver de la Paz, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019

Here’s how it goes: We commute, we work, we commute. We shop for dinner, we cook dinner, we clean up after dinner. We watch the evening news and search our brains for the right questions (on Jeopardy, of course). We read things and text people. We scroll. We lift heavy things at the gym and run in circles around the neighborhood. We shower, dry, dress, brush.

Literally and figuratively, the days lather, rinse, repeat.

Carolee Bennett, “on the other side is what?”

This year I’ve learned the language of doctors, immersed myself in medical journals, kept daily tabs on her vitals. Everything a nurse or therapist would take the time to teach me, I learned–changing NG tubes, hep-locking a PICC line, what every single monitor meant, and there were so many monitors; what every potential side effect of a drug was, and there were so many drugs.

I returned the medical equipment a few days after Kit died, along with a note of gratitude for her surgeon, nurses, doctors. Hand-written, thanking by name, on high-school notebook paper: my resignation letter. I felt like I had been part of their team in a high stakes game; I’d been all in, and we lost.

I’ve forgotten what it is like to live this life I gave up last January, on the ultrasound table, when I learned I was having a baby–my fifth daughter!–with a potentially fatal heart condition. I took each role as doctors handed them to me–mom to a heart baby, a special needs baby, a potentially blind baby. I acclimated to native culture.

I didn’t realize, when I brought my daughter in to the hospital for that last stay, that it was her last stay. That it was the last time I would have all my children together earthside, the last time I would cradle her in my arms cord-free before I cradled her lifeless body.

Maybe like every missionary, I am desperate to go back. If I could have another day–even in her most critical days, where I spent hours bent over her bed, rubbing her forehead on the only spot with no monitors and wires–I would take it. I would walk those hall again, sit through the scary talks with doctors again, even, yes, hold her as she died again. I want to go back to that Holy Land.

I’ll always be her mom; but my assignment of mothering her, of raising her, is over. So here I am learning a new language, this incomprehensible dialect of grief.

Renee Emerson, Re-Entry

my son lithely dropped to the forest floor to shoot that mothership mushroom that is so huge it seems to be trying to lift my house from its foundation it is hubcap sized and strange and fantastic Thanksgiving will only be the two of us but I’m cooking for all his friends too who don’t have families as I always do for us it is a day to indulge in food I only eat once a year buttery rich dressing hollandaise sauce that took me years to perfect salad with candied pecans and Boursin cheese and raspberries mashed potatoes with real cream and of course pumpkin pie it is a day to relax and for my son who is remarkably normal it is a day in which he visits his friends and their families I used to cook for huge gatherings even in my tiny house friends who had no place to go and for a very long time for my ex husband which my son requested then I eventually lost touch with my friends or felt too uncomfortable around people to function and I realized that having my ex there was terrible because I had cooked for him for ten years without ever receiving a thank you when we were married and I knew when I stood in my kitchen one year making vegetarian mushroom gravy and was considering poisoning him that it was be his last meal at my house ever did I resent him for leaving my year old son and me to fend for ourselves with no child support forever you’re goddamned right I did and I still do

I am glad now that I was pushed out of the messy matrimonial bed where I was never happy to go to work in the factories to be self sufficient enough to put my son in private schools to care for him and build a home for us to watch him become such an outstanding human to teach and play music professionally to write and be published to eventually earn a union won pension to survive and thrive against all odds I am proud of what I have done

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Lock me up or I will
say the word
that stops the lying,
stops the hate,
stops the pain
inflicted on the innocent.

Lock me up or I will
say the word
that resists,
pushes back,
says no, no, no.

Tom Montag, LOCK ME UP

I was young and wanted out of my family and out of my past. I had not yet learned that this was impossible. So what did I do? I ate several years of the calendar. I then vomited up a new calendar with new days, strange numbers, and different names for the months. And my family? What did they do? The same as always; my father kept drinking good bourbon and my mother told everyone that things were fine, just fine. and my poor sister tore a page from the first calendar, wrapped it around herself like a blanket, lives that way to this very day. “Sis, are you alright?” No answer. Just big eyes and a shiver.

James Lee Jobe, ‘I was young and wanted out of my family and out of my past.’

Winner of the Walt Whitman Award, Emily Skaja’s BRUTE (Graywolf Press, 2019) is a stunning collection of poetry that navigates the dark corridors of trauma found at the end of an abusive relationship. “Everyone if we’re going to talk about love please we have to talk about violence,” writes Skaja in the poem “remarkable the litter of birds.” She indeed talks about the intersections of both love and violence, evoking a range of emotional experiences ranging from sorrow and loss to rage, guilt, hope, self discovery, and reinvention. These poems reflect the present moment — ripe with cell phones, social media, and technologies that shift the way humans interact with each other — while maintaining a mythic quality, with the speaker feeling like a character struggling to survive in a surreal fairytale world.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: BRUTE by Emily Skaja

A few years ago, in mid-July, I revisited Reedham. I stood at the edge of the first field, the one that bordered the rambling gardens of the Old Hall and across which I used to stride at the beginning of my explorations. Initially it looked much the same, but a cursory inspection swiftly revealed the changes: the windbreak hedgerows had gone; the crop had been harvested already; not a single skylark spiralled high into the clear air.

I learned recently that since 1970 the skylark population has declined by 52%. Major changes in cultivation and harvesting procedures are thought to be responsible for this, notably the switch from spring to autumn-sown cereals, the disappearance of the hedgerows and the vulnerability of birds to the massively increased use of insecticides and weedkillers.

It would seem, then, that the skylark – a bird whose rural associations transcend entirely the phoney bucolic Merrie England clichés – is another casualty of the late-20th century. Apparently not. Although a 52% decline in a little over 30 years is dramatic and alarming, a government-funded study has demonstrated that merely the provision of two small patches left untouched within a hectare of cultivated land can reverse local decline. Experiments done over a two-year period resulted in an increase of nearly 50% in skylark breeding. So to encourage the process, farmers are being offered £30.00 per hectare to join a scheme involving small, undrilled patches across their field systems.

A small resistance to an advancing tide. ‘So shines a bright deed in a naughty world’. If the farmers of East Norfolk are an enlightened crew, maybe I’ll be able to lie on my back in the great fields by The Old Hall, Reedham again in a year or two, watching & hearing the larks ascending.

Dick Jones, LARKS ASCENDING

I stand at the threshold
where one thing
becomes another.

I choose sky.
Water.
Sitka spruce.

Return of
snowy plover.

Carey Taylor, Threshold

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 24

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: how to make time to write, how to pull a chapbook together, how to cultivate the proper mindset for poetry, how to stay motivated (especially in the summer), how to measure success as a poet, how to write about rock ‘n roll, and more.

It’s the summer holidays here, kids everywhere and I don’t know if I’m coming or going with my writing. We’ve all been sick with various bugs so I’ve been too tired or ill to focus much on the Wendy Pratt course I’ve joined though I’m enjoying the different focus of the prompts. I’m not able to write every day, but I’m trying to grab time here and there. I hate not being able to join in on the Facebook page as much as I would like, though we had a good online group chat last week. Wendy’s releasing a new course soon, so keep an eye on her site for details. 

The current course is focussing on ‘Writing with a Beginner’s Mind,’ offering techniques that help you lose that critical voice that often plagues writers, the worries that the work isn’t good enough, the guilt that we never will be able to balance our lives and writing. I do struggle with the later most, trying to be a single parent and a writer and find a real job to support my family has its share of guilt. I need to try Wendy’s meditation and focus exercises more, my monkey brain has monkey brain and I can never turn all the noise off. Even more so with four monkeys climbing around the house. 

One of my favourite prompts so far has been to think about the idea of ‘banned words’ in poetry, words that are too dated, over-used, purple. I went and found a list of archaic words and wrote a poem playing with them. I love dictionaries and thesaurus and using them to find new words and meanings. It makes you see language in a new light. What do you think, should words like shard and gossamer be banned from contemporary poetry?

Gerry Stewart, Writing with Monkeys

Day Five, June 14, 2019: Did I say I liked those new drafts? Phbbbbtttt. I spent today reworking the original four, and then working on two more, and then trying to psych myself up for a third or fourth. But Starbucks was freezing, and I found myself distracted by ALL THE INTERNET THINGS, which is dangerous and I should probably get one of those internet-blocking apps for my laptop and ALSO probably lay off the coffee IF my absence of periods in this paragraph are any indication of what it does to me on an empty stomach.

But one of the good things about my internet distraction is that this morning I read this beautiful new/old poem by S.P. (I believe it was written a while ago, but it’s something unpublished as of yet) and that restored a little bit of my faith in the poetry universe. NYRB is actually publishing long poems! NYRB is actually publishing poems! By someone I know who really deserves it!

Yeah, I should probably lay off the caffeine.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical/DIY Starbucks Residency 2019: Take Two

Coming back on the subway I was like, you know, actually that poem with the astronaut image kind of sucks, the collage is good but otherwise it’s trash and you should tear it up.

I reluctantly agreed with this ‘second opinion.’ I did like the launch of the poem but the end deteriorated. I spent another who knows how long rethinking the poem. With a visual poem it’s not like you just erase the offending line. I had to destroy the page and hope there was another untouched p. 57 (?) in one of my five copies of Misery (there was).  Luckily I could peel the collage off the page and re-use it. Thank you Uhu.

I believe I’ve salvaged it. It’s been about 22 hours now and I haven’t had any ominous pangs of doubt yet.

Sarah J Sloat, Ground control

Looking back, I’ve identified that piece of writing as a breakthrough for me. I wrote prose because I was responding to prose, certainly, but I think I was also looking for something new. Now I’ve committed myself to a target of 2 pages of writing a day, prose naturally lends itself to that. It’s much harder to do that type of target for poems; they come from a different place for me, a different process. It’s like the sculpture of Giuseppe Penone above. Poems are the words that snag in the branches, whereas prose is the tree – it starts from the solid trunk and spreads out. This is a very subjective definition, I know, but sticking to two pages a day I feel I can follow a branch to its tip, then return to the trunk and follow another branch, and so the writing grows. Another thing I’ve begun to realise is that the short story, as a form, probably won’t hold everything I want to say. So, I’ve had to admit to myself that I’m working on a novel. This isn’t intentional. It’s just sort of crept up on me.

Julie Mellor, Poems are the words that snag in the branches

I enjoy the way your chapbook, Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises), offers a cohesive narrative arc. Please tell us about your collection and how it came into being? Did you plan to have a narrative arc to these poems or did you discover the narrative as you started writing?

For several years, I was working on this collection in bits and pieces. I had it tentatively titled “45” on my computer, because I tentatively planned to complete it when I was that age. It ended up taking longer. Basically, any time I wrote a few poem lines or a possible poem that was focused on personal age related issues, personal body based issues, negative memories of past relationships, and so forth, I’d place it in the collection-in-progress.

So I did plan to have a narrative arc, but during most of the writing process, I wasn’t focused on how I was going to arrange that arc. I was focused on the writing.

When it reached the point where I was ready to actually format it into a chapbook manuscript, there was some revision, including lines removed, lines added, and removing some whole poems — but the most challenging and time consuming part of finalizing the manuscript was deciding how to order all of the poems. I just had various different poems and poem lines semi-randomly bunched together, 2-4 on a page, and had to decide how to format their order, both thematically, and in a certain time frame sort of way — but not entirely past to present, more of a back and forth, semi-circle sort of interrelated intersection. As I was reading and re-reading the poems, I was tentatively numbering them — but then I’d think I had 1-7 numbered the right way, but then I’d end up changing my mind or writing another poem and suddenly having a 5.2 and 5.3 in the mix. Furthermore, I’d occasionally change what had been two separate poems into one whole poem or add another three lines to a poem and so on.

It took some time, but when I finally got all the poems ordered in a way that I thought worked stylistically and thematically, I then removed all of the numbers and bolded the first line of each poem.

Not too long after I had the manuscript completed, I then started to feel kind of weird about the collection, because I feel like it might be almost TOO confessional in a way that makes me seem really unappealing — not in terms of my poetry itself; but in terms of my negativity, my  lifestyle choices, my relationship issues, my body-focused issues and related attributes — but that was what felt the need to come out in this collection, uncomfortable or not.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Juliet Cook on dolls, body, and uncomfortable poetry

Hail: One of Nature’s curve balls

Except: Nature is always throwing curve balls. My mother-in-law’s gardens were beautiful, but she always eyed them critically. It is true that most gardeners notice what isn’t thriving, where the weeds are, or what has not grown out or bloomed as hoped. That comes with the territory. But the process of gardening is so much more enjoyable, even soothing, when one is not a perfectionist.

Not being a perfectionist myself, I find that time in the garden acts as a meditative oasis. It is part mindless physical labor, part problem-solving, part mindful awareness of the environment. This year, I’m making it even easier by planting fewer vegetables and fruits and more blooms to attract pollinators; I’ve a smaller variety of produce but am experimenting with some new (to me) seeds–a melon from the Caucasus, a few heirloom tomatoes, black beans as well as green ones.

I learn as I go–as I cull and thin, inspect insect damage, note responses to growing conditions. It occurs to me that this activity bears a resemblance to the writing process, particularly when putting together a collection for a chapbook or longer manuscript. In that undertaking, I’m also not a perfectionist; and I should not be quite so quick to gainsay the need for the perfectionist attitude when creating one’s art (as long as it does not lead to fruitless caviling).

But I’m just not constitutionally ordered towards that sort of purist idealism. The best I can do with my poems is similar to the best I can do with my gardens: devote mindful attentiveness to the “product” and try not to worry about eventual outcomes.

“Write a little each day, without hope, without despair.”  —Isak Dinesen [Karen Blixen]

See what grows.

Ann E. Michael, Not a perfectionist

I confess that I feel like I need to be a bit of a hustler. Hurry and get more work submitted. I try to balance writing time with administrative things, like submissions, notes, and reading. I need to learn to transition from one to the other better. It’s like yoga for me as a newbie-  Learning the individual poses is one thing. It’s another whole challenge to learn to smoothly flow from one position into another and another. I confess that when I have an acceptance or rejection I always feel the need to immediately make sure I have more work out there. There was a time when I had a lot of poems floating around between various venues but as I work harder to satisfy myself with each poem, the time spent increasing  my vault (so to speak) of material that is available means I am adding to it at a slower pace and therefore feel the pressure to increase material available for submission.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – One Less Orphan Poem.

One of the things we talked about was how to stay motivated to keep writing and sending out in the summertime, how to bounce back from rejections that feel personal, and the harm of “Instant Star” narratives. These are the profiles in magazines or podcasts from young writers where they say “I sent my poetry manuscript out once, and it was taken at a big press, and then I won a major fellowship and got a tenure-track teaching job and was sprinkled with rainbows and unicorns.” Well, the end might be a little bit of hyperbole. The reason I don’t like younger writers to read these kinds of interviews and profiles is because it’s not even close to the reality for most writers, and if they think it is, then they will start out feeling more discouraged than they should. One writer friend said she was taking a class from Nick Flynn and he said it took him ten years to get his first book published. It took me eighteen months to find a publisher for my first book, but six years to find a publisher for the second. Right now I’m researching presses for my sixth poetry book which I think is pretty close to being done and a seventh that’s in progress. I expect to spend some money on reading fees (they are getting higher every year, so I set aside any money I make from poetry to spend on them) and to get some rejections. I worry that I’m getting a little older and the editors are getting younger. I worry my poetry is not “hip” enough, and that the subject matter (like my poems about dealing with multiple sclerosis) might be too downbeat. But I think I know to expect some rejections along the way, and I try not to take rejections of the manuscript (or fellowship/grant applications) personally, although honestly, it’s difficult not to. Hey, I’m not made of stone. One of the reasons it’s important to talk with other poets is that it reminds us we are not the only ones who struggle with these things. All of my poet friends – no matter how successful they seem to me – worry about a lot of the same things. Very few people are instant stars. A lot more people work really hard in obscurity, taking adjunct jobs and doing reading where few people show up and sending out their manuscripts as many times as they can afford. A lot of times rejections come in waves, but so do acceptances. And sometimes good luck happens in clusters. Anyway, for those of you looking towards summer, don’t forget to keep writing and keep sending out your work – these days publishers and literary magazines have deadlines year-round, especially the non-academic ones. And remember not to get beaten down by your rejections, and to help celebrate when you or your friends have a success, even if it seems small to you – I think our brains are hard-wired to focus more on the rejections than the acceptances, so we have to break out the sparkling wine and cake more often!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Almost Summer, Poet Friend Hang Out Time, and Sending Out (Even When You Feel Discouraged) and the Harm of Instant Star Narratives

But all in all, except for having a very lovely set of books on my shelf and a sense of accomplishment for actually having filled their pages with words, I can’t say publishing a book has changed much in my way of life.  I still have a day job where most of the people I encounter do not know about my books, or even that I’m a writer.  Outside of occasional tiny royalty checks from a couple of the publishers, there hasn’t been much financial gains. I’m not an academic, and I know having books might make tenure considerations easier, but since I don’t really seek out positions or awards or fellowships, my books are pretty much useless there. When you a re trying to get that first book accepted it sometimes feel like this is the thing–THE THING–that will make you a real poet.  But it’s not.  Writing the poems is what makes you the poet. I had two books by the late aughts, and for several years, I felt like barely a poet because I wasn’t writing hardly at all.

Even with those successes, it still feels hard when you’re trying to figure out where to send something new, particularly if the work feels different and you haven’t figured out which press it would fit into.  And subsequent books are usually harder–2nd books especially so, since even if you win a contest, there are very few for 2-3 books and you’ve yet to establish the sort of career  that might make it a bit easier in the long haul.  Some advice?  Forge those connections and find those publishers. Study the books of presses you admire and think about how your work might fit.  Don’t be afraid to take chances on new publishers that are willing to take chances on you. Sometimes, it helps to swim ahead of the bottleneck  Aside from contests, there are a lot of open reading periods out there waiting to read your book. If you enter contests, pay attention to who is judging and whether their style meshes with yours (not always a requirement, sometimes judges make surprising choices of work not anything like theirs) but usually you look at a winner and think, well, yes, I can see why that held appeal for that particular judge.

And in the end, do what feels necessary for you.  If you have spent hundreds unsuccessfully on reading fees and still no takers, but feel you could market and sustain an audience for a self-published book, that is another option.  I’ve long believed that you create the market for your work whoever does the printing, so self-issuing might be another way to go. It’s a ridiculous  bottle neck and becomes moreso every year, and sometimes we don’t want to wait for the winds of chance to blow our book into exactly the right editor’s hands at the exactly right moment.

Kristy Bowen, the myth of poetry stardom

I am reading about thermodynamics and quantum theory in order to better understand some poems, naturally. A former undergraduate student–a poet and a Physics/ English double-major, Max Chapnick–is now an English PhD student at Boston University, and he contacted me last summer about putting together a panel on physics and poetry for the International MLA Symposium. It was accepted, so now we’re all going to Lisbon in late July (hurrah!). This requires me to spend a few preparatory weeks analyzing Samiya Bashir’s excellent 2017 collection from Nightboat, Field Theories. I understood what she was doing with thermodynamics and quantum theory just enough to generate a proposal, but to be able to write in some depth about what radiation means in her book, how blackbodies function, whether or not that one poem is meant to resemble the “ultraviolet catastrophe” graph, etc.–well, it’s hard.

Work is motion against an opposing force,” [Peter] Atkins writes [in The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction], and I’ve definitely been feeling the weight of my own intellectual resistance. It’s not that I don’t want to do the writing or even the thinking; it’s a privilege, truly. But I’ve been puzzling through problems laboriously, in a mood of worry. I’ve written before about the annual difficulty of kicking my brain into a different gear, and surely that’s part of it, but I’m also experiencing one of those bouts of insecurity that afflict most writers I know, no matter the genre. It’s not only “am I interpreting these difficult poems in plausible ways?” but something more like “are my scholarly/ interpretive moves sufficiently interesting that anyone would really want to read or listen to me, or is everyone just humoring me because I once showed some intellectual promise and remain a reasonably nice person who tends to do the work and show up on time?” It doesn’t help my morale that I was just informed that I’ll receive an average raise this year, percentage-wise, when I know my DH recommended me for an exceptional one. Between you and me, I did a monstrous amount of good teaching, service, and publication in 2018, but my radiation did not seem to fall into the spectrum of visible light.

This is not my first self-doubt rodeo, so I can reassure myself that continuing to work is better than the alternatives, and confidence comes back. Besides, delivering Bashir’s accomplishments to new audiences is in itself worthwhile service to an art I love. And when self-doubt veers into guilt, as it should sometimes–a mediocre raise, how sad for you! or why do I get to eat a nice lunch and metabolize the results into criticism while refugees ail at the border in dangerously overcrowded detention camps?–I should make a donation or put that rally on my calendar, but still keep dispersing most of my daytime labor among tasks I’m competent at and believe are worthwhile.

Lesley Wheeler, We are all steam engines

Since the potency of rock-and-roll derives from its synthesis of lyric, melody and instrumental delivery, attempts in fiction to cast a net of words over the process have, in general, delivered little more than arid analysis or histrionic reportage. As far as I’m aware, poetry has, by and large, left the territory unexplored. So my desire to try to write a sequence of poems about an individual musician’s experience of the suffocation of creative endeavour by the payload of commercial and cultural overlay that is so much a part of the phenomenon seems ill-advised, even a tad arrogant, so many having failed thus far.

But that first superstructure and the skeletal infrastructural notions that followed them won’t go away. Originally I wrote a first stanza, a sort of chorus that I decided would intersperse subsequent sections. Now it just sits at the top of the poem as a sort of testament to what it is that in performance fires the adrenaline and pops the endorphins. The rest – the narrative content, the pumped language and the form that contains it – keeps shifting every time I return to it. All that reiterates after the abandonment of one version after another is the drive to bring something into being. So here is how it lies across the page at this precise point in time… [Click through for the poem.]

Dick Jones, BRIGHT STAR, BIG SKY.

A big thank you to writer and artist J.I. Kleinberg for writing a review of my book of poetry The Lure of Impermanence (Cirque Press 2018), in the most recent volume of Cirque Journal – Vol. 10. No. 1. You can check the complete review by going to the Cirque link above.

Reviews are scary things. Having your work judged by another takes a certain amount of armor. Putting yourself out there is a bit like being back in Junior High and wondering if you are going to be asked to sit at the “cool kids” table.

With that said, Judy was kind and gave me one of the biggest compliments I could have craved. As many of you know, who follow this blog, my last blog post was called Return Flight and I wrote about flying home to my beloved Pacific Northwest. Kleinberg says my poems are painterly and cinematic, that they are crafted with care and precision, all of which I appreciate. But what I especially appreciate is that she “got” my poems are rooted in most profoundly, place and anchored in the towns of Oregon and Washington.

I hope in some small way my writing can be a witness to how place has the ability to nurture and shape us. I am a fourth generation Oregonian. My family stories are rooted west of the Cascade Mountain Range in both these States and I believe like William Stegner that no place is a place until things that have happened in it are remembered in history, ballads, yarns, legends or monuments. And though not all the poems in this collection are about place, I appreciate that Kleinberg felt its presence important to note.

Carey Taylor, Grateful

Trish Hopkinson is a force in the poetry community with her almost-daily publication of an all-things-poetry blog that informs poets where, how, and why to submit poems; conducts interviews with editors of no-submission-fee journals; and publishes guest blogs addressing all aspects of writing, reading, submitting and publishing poetry. I’ve followed this blog avidly and very much appreciated her recent interview introducing The Poetry Café.

With such a footprint in the world of poetry, I was curious to read Hopkinson’s work. Footnote was published by Lithic Press in 2017 with the subtitle of “A Chapbook of Response Poems.” Each of the twenty poems in Footnote has either a footnote or a dedication (some as ‘for,’ others as ‘after‘), inscribed beneath the poem. Each poem embraces the spirit of its annotation, at times using found lines, erasures, or the style of another writer. While visually each poem has the familiar appearance of lines and stanzas on the page, they each possess a quirky—somewhat experimental—writing style.  An example of a poem I particularly enjoyed was, “And Finished Knowing – Then –,” footnoted with a nod to Emily Dickinson, of course, but with Hopkinson’s sly imprint,

I conjured a childbirth, in the air,
and nurses all askew
stood standing – standing – till the dream
seemed real enough to chew.

I wondered how the poems in the book came together. At an interview at The Literary Librarian, Hopkinson explained the book’s origins:

“In 2015, after teaching a community poetry writing workshop on response poetry, I realized I had quite a few response poems of my own. So in this case, the collection was a surprise waiting for me in already completed work.”

These days we find a wealth of ‘Response Poems’ that foment resistance to injustice and oppression. Hopkinson’s responses come from a different tradition—emotional and spiritual responses to other artists that have affected, influenced, and secured a solid foothold in her psyche and writing. Footnote is in essence a work of conversations. Her dedications include an artist (Everett Ruess), a musician (Janice Joplin), a filmmaker (David Lynch), and a writer (James Joyce), but are mostly poets (Baraka, Paz, Rilke, Ai, Neruda, Dickinson, Plath, Rumi, Poe, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg). As a reader, I always find myself wanting to know the poet through the poems. We get a nuanced taste of Hopkinson from her choices. While a first person voice is mostly absent in these pages, the poems are strong evidence of her appetites.  

Risa Denenberg, Footnote, by Trish Hopkinson

I read this as a pibroch, a lament for dispossession, and for the despoiling of the earth. Bothies shelter storm-caught walkers, but they are invariably the abandoned houses of folk who could no longer be sustained by the land, or who were forcibly cleared from it. Homes Fit for Heroes indeed. Nothing can sentimentalise them. The moors are ‘marching back’, the masonry’s crumbling, the seas are choked with plastic and the birds and the fish are gone. What’s left is the roll-call of the Gaelic placenames from a time when the people who spoke them knew what they described. It’s a haunting angry poem that sticks in the mind and the heart.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: David Underdown

I read an article recently about an exhibition of what remained of the refugee camp at Calais, the things carried by people who, forced to again move on, carried them no farther. Notes and small weapons and paper dolls. I think about the artwork by the children of the Terezin ghetto, now held in Prague’s Jewish Museum. In an article in the Atlantic, “Elegy for the American Century,” George Packer writes about Richard Holbrooke and the break-up of Yugoslavia, and atrocities in Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. In the article, Holbrooke visits a refugee camp near Zagreb hosting Bosnian Muslums who had escaped the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. The author wrote:

“As Holbrooke started to leave, the baker brought out a dirty plastic bag from under his mattress. Inside was a pair of small figures, three or four inches tall, in blond wood. Human figures, with nearly featureless faces and heads bowed and hands together behind their backs. The baker had carved them with a piece of broken glass while he was interned at the Manjača camp, where the prisoners had stood bound for hours with their heads down to avoid being beaten.”

We are makers, we people, of objects that, though mute, express the best, and the worst of us (there are at least eight torture museums in Europe alone). For all our wordiness, our flapping mouths, it’s what we make that remains to tell the tale.

Poetry too is a made thing, and I love the “poem in your pocket” day idea, although I’ve never actually taken part, love the idea of that little curled piece of paper, an artifact of a tender skinned human in the world.

Marilyn McCabe, There’s a hole in the bucket; or, the Stories of Objects

Long fingers on the metal of a knife
Dinner before one leaves for many years
Even if you forget how a body feels
it can still take place and hold your hand at night
 
It’s not a ghost if it’s a living soul
It’s not lost if it doesn’t want to be found
It’s not there but also not gone

Magda Kapa, Dinner Talk

I no longer remember why I started out, or where I thought I was going. It doesn’t matter anyway. It is the journey itself that counts. Was I kind? Did I help? What did I learn? When a person can give positive answers to questions like that, they’ve had a life. 

Warmer today. Upper 90s. There’s air conditioning at today’s poetry reading, but I’ll get sweaty anyway.

Stayed up 1 AM last night, working on poems. Didn’t even notice the time. It took me all of 30 seconds to fall asleep.

James Lee Jobe, journal notes – 16 june 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 23

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

This week found poetry bloggers pondering existential themes: being at home, surviving, healing, cultivating acceptance, dealing with digital ghosts, coming to terms with evil, learning from trees, (not) procrastinating, being whole.


No matter the journey. No matter other roads taken. No matter you misplaced the map of your life behind a wheel of grief. No matter you took a multitude of detours.

Because as you look out the plane window, you understand the agency of this place. How it has been etched in your mind over decades of slow accrual through streams you have fished, forests you have hiked, mountains you have climbed, lakes you have swam in, oceans you have sailed.

And how like its great river that flows to the sea, it also flows through you, and you call it by name—home.

Carey Taylor, Return Flight

It seems to me that all the poets I originally gravitated towards, and whose books I bought were ‘northern’. Or, at the least, not metropolitan. When they weren’t self-evidently ‘northern’ they were ‘regional’; they came with distinct voices that could not be described as RP, and would lose something important if they were read in RP…and I guess that what they would lose would be music, rhythm, texture. I’ve shared the idea with other writers that this poetry was somehow more ‘committed’, less inclined to be ironic, more inclined to wear its heart on its sleeve. I know it’s teetering on the edge of a generalising sentimentality, but I’m trying hard to be honest, to nail some kind of felt truth. One of my northern poet friends opined that ‘metropolitan’ poetry was ‘too cool for school’, that it prided itself in its avoidance of a felt emotional engagement. I don’t know if that’s accurate or fair. But something about it resonates enough for me to want to try to pin down that elusive idea of ‘north’ and ‘northernness’.

Let’s start with ‘accent’, and (predictably) with a quotation from Tony Harrison’s ‘Them and Uz’.

“All poetry (even Cockney Keats?) you see 
‘s been dubbed by [ɅS] into RP, 
Received Pronunciation please believe [ɅS] 
your speech is in the hands of the Receivers”

Harrison spoke for tens of thousands of us who, in the 50’s, were harried for our accents in the Grammar Schools we sat scholarships to get into. It goes deeper than accent…which we can train ourselves to change. It springs from lexis, the words themselves, their resonance, their heft and texture. All the Old English, Germanic, Scandinavian words.

John Foggin, Northwords: Bob Beagrie

It took a long time to get here,
sailing, drifting, 
and dreaming, curled,

homesick 
and world-sick,

so much alike,
the young and the old.

Past lives peeled off like skins,
and I turned and tumbled and traveled

only to find myself 
in front of these closed gates.

Claudia Serea, Young/Old

I started counting the months that we’ve been recovering.  We’re mostly recovered in the big house, except for some of the difficult decisions about what comes back in the house from the cottage.  But the cottage needs serious attention, and I am just so tired.

I’m also thinking of a poem I wrote years ago.  I got the title from a powerful essay by Philip Gerard that appears in one of the very first books about how to teach creative non-fiction.  My poem was written years after after Hurricane Wilma (which wreaked devestation in 2 months after Katrina, just after we had finished up our hurricane Katrina clean-up) when I found myself weeping in the car, flooded by post-hurricane despair, even though the clean-up had been done and regular life mostly restored:

What They Don’t Tell You About Hurricanes

You expected the ache in your lazy
muscles, as you hauled debris
to the curb, day after day.

You expected your insurance
agent to treat
you like a lover spurned.

You expected to curse
your bad luck,
but then feel grateful
when you met someone suffering
an even more devastating loss.

You did not expect
that months, even years afterwards
you would find yourself inexplicably
weeping in your car, parked
in a garage that overlooks
an industrial wasteland.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Hurricane Season Begins

I spent almost a whole day going to my hematologist down at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. My doctor there I have known for fifteen years. The last time we talked it was when we thought I might be dying of liver cancer, and we talked about safe biopsies and chemo and surgery obstacles. This time I brought her my newest book and we discussed my mild anemia (she’s worried about it, but I’m not) and MS drug risks and pain drugs and pain clinic consultations. I sat in the reclining chairs watching the beautiful Puget sound blue by all the people getting chemo and waiting to get chemo. I wound through the blood lab around patients much worse off than me. It gives you perspective, these kinds of visits. The doctor, which was very unusual, gave me a hug at the end of the appointment. It felt like a blessing, a sort of hopeful encouragement. I walked out into the rainy early evening, feeling the ghost of my previous experiences, of the fear of death, and the gratefulness of feeling alive.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poems Up at WordGathering, Woodinville Wine Country, and a Day at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

I walked up to Renshin afterward and said: I have a problem with this idea. There is a similar concept in Byron Katie, that you can’t argue with life because it’s perfect exactly as it is. And it shows up in all kinds of Zen books. It makes a certain kind of sense, and it does help in achieving a certain level of equanimity. But it’s one thing for me to apply that insight to my own life, another thing entirely to tell someone else that.

Ah, but you’re making a big jump there, Renshin said. Who said anything about telling someone else what to do or what to think?

And then she added: Watch out for that first step – it’s a doozy.

I was briefly stunned. She had in fact identified something about the way my particular mind works, and showed it to me in a few seconds of casual conversation. All I could think to do was bow.

Later, as I was leaving, I was sort of backing out the front door of the church while saying goodbye to a few people in the breezeway. And I almost fell over because there was a step down from the door – a tiny little step.

stumbling ::
the gap between the sky
and the ground

D. F. Tweney, Watch out for that first step

So how can I react to these digital ghosts and the griefs they awaken: online reminders of my wedding, or of my mother who has died, or of friendships that evaporated or hopes that didn’t come to pass? The only answer I have is to feel whatever I feel — the sorrow, the wistfulness, the regret — and to thank my heart for its capacity to feel both the bitter and the sweet.

And I can choose to be real, even in digital spaces. Even when what’s real is a hurt or an ache, a memory or a sorrow. Because I think being real with ourselves and one another is what we’re here for in this life. Because I think spiritual life asks our authenticity. Because life is too short for pretense. Because being real comes with its own blessings, its own reward.

Rachel Barenblat, Fragments: digital ghosts, gratitude, and grief

Here is what I want you to know about the silence, still as death and colder: it moved from you to me, see, here in this bonecage gone titanium, this immune system propped by goblin armies:
 
couplets emerge from scar, relentlessly enjambed. This body is a verse form dealing with both loss and love, but choked by anaphylaxis there is no scheme. The poet’s moniker appears at the end.
 
Once I took you all the way in, once I choked. They are peculiar twins, vulnerability and memory: I am made and remade as neural network linking like things, a synesthesia.

JJS, June 4, 2019: Ghazalish, The Flood

John Sibley Williams’ As One Fire Consumes Another presents a familiar world full of burnings carried out on both the grand and intimate scale. I love the way the newspaper-like columns of prose poetry in his work provide a social critique of violence in American culture while working within the boundaries of self, family, and the natural world. The book permeates an apocalyptic tension, but what makes it so great is the way in which his poems envision the kind of fires that not only provide destruction but also illuminate a spark of hope.  And I also interviewed Williams about his book, which will be coming out on NBP podcast soon (seems like most of my poetry reading is focused around my podcasting work these days).  

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: May 2019

There was a rash of gang shootings in Seattle over the last month, and my precious, gentle friend and co-worker recently saw the fresh body of a seventeen-year-old kid shot to death, bleeding out on the sidewalk at the hospital campus she works at. I didn’t realize the extent of her trauma until a recent get-together with my colleagues from my hospital’s other campuses. My co-worker is someone who I would consider a classic “good person,” a warm, kind human being who is probably a little too trusting. Part of her trauma came from the shock of seeing true evil at play. 

I am coming to realize that it’s been been a luxury for me to go through life believing that people are essentially good. We hear about horrible things happening all of the time, but until we come face to face with them, they remain more or less theoretical. We can’t really process that human beings have darkness and savagery within them until we see something like that. And because we don’t see it in other people, it’s very hard to see it in ourselves. And that’s the really dangerous part. In trying to process this local tragedy, I spent the morning listening to a podcast about the much bigger and far more atrocious My Lai massacre. It drove home to me how important it is to not get complacent about our own potential for evil. Believing that humanity is essentially good is dangerous and foolish. We have to face the truth of who we are as human beings and be vigilant, or we will fall to prey to savagery, violence and acts of inhumanity, no matter how “good” we convince ourselves we are. 

Kristen McHenry, Good People, Dark Places

A great deal of thought and planning had gone into the manner of the preservation of Bergen-Belsen. The absence of any of the accommodation huts, the vehicle parks, the workshops, the guards’ quarters, the administrative buildings that had once filled the grim estate and the restitution of the heathland and copses that had gone under their foundations creates a powerfully moving sense of a territory both haunted by the unendurable horrors of the past and yet now salved and dignified by nature. It’s an extraordinary place – an eloquent testimony both to utter destruction and tenacious survival. I shall never forget our quiet, slow day amongst the harebells and the graves.

ARTEFACTS

There is the heaped equality
of spectacles, the comfort
of linked arms –
wire, gold and tortoiseshell,
the white opacity
of the tilted lens.

There is the kicking scramble
of empty shoes, piled
like bean pods, shelled
of movement, scuffed and dusty
from the longest walk
in the world.

There is the hollow clothing,
the empty-handed gloves,
the headless hats and cap,
the hanks of hair, bagged,
sprung teeth in boxes,
stamped and labelled.

Bones we know;
we scrambled up and out
of the millennium
on bones.  These clothes,
these artefacts endure,
undiminished, unconsumed.

Dick Jones, BERGEN-BELSEN

I’ve been thinking about trees because I’m reading Peter Wohlleben’s 2016 book The Hidden Life of Trees. The text reads like a friendly forester inviting readers to learn what he loves about trees and their encounters with us, with the environment (soil, air, sun, water, pollutants, pests, fungi), and with one another. I have to say I remain somewhat skeptical about the scientific veracity of his source material, but I do enjoy his warm enthusiasm for his subjects and his reminders that we humans don’t know even the smallest fraction of what goes on in the planet’s interconnected and unplumbed depths.

Although some critics object to what they see as too much anthropomorphism in Wohllebehn’s book, his use of the analogy of the human and the tree “bodies” makes his information about how trees and forests work easy to grasp.

For science nerds, there are other texts. The Hidden Life of Trees is meant to make the less scientifically-inclined reader more aware of his or her environment, to convince the average human being to consider plant life more consciously.

~

I take many photos of trees; and they appear in my poems pretty regularly, not as main characters but in supporting roles–not symbolic, but actual. Wohllebehn’s book may influence my work somehow…possible inspiration? But then, the trees themselves, especially the oldest ones, are inspiration enough.

Ann E. Michael, Trees

This is a beautiful and gentle book.  It does not claim to be poetry, but it is written by a poet and it begins with a powerful image, comparing the children of a large family to pansies, which “are a persistent breed.  They take to the same soil, year after year.”  If you didn’t read the back of the book it would take you until the third of these finely crafted vignettes to find out what is going on; this is the story of a compassionate woman who needs a babysitter and ends up learning about a sub-culture very different from her own.  The young woman she hires teaches her bit by bit about another way of living, of understanding one’s place in the world.

Young people, who only hear bad stories about different peoples, such as Muslims or unwanted immigrants, should read this book.  So should those who are older and weary of bad news.  The writing is concise, elegant, and honest about the narrator’s mistakes and misunderstandings, as well as about the limits to the relationship.

No, these are not prose poems, but they are close cousins.  I will share it with my poetry group and I expect that they will like it as well as I do.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Pansies by Carol Barrett

When we were in our first years of library programming endeavors, people often wondered how we had so many ideas.  For workshops, for panels, for focus topics.  What I didn’t share were the back burners, or the ones that were a little too costly or the effort vs result ratio was poor.  I have suggestions for workshop ideas in my notebook that have been there for 3 or more years that I’m still hoping to make happen down the line. And maybe they’ll happen, or maybe they’ll get pushed out of the way by newer, better ideas.

In my notebook, there is a page full of tiny post-its for art projects, another with writing projects.   Another with anthology projects and other press doings.  Another with crafty things I’d like to make for the shop.  This is all in addition to the half finished things–like unusual creatures, postcards from the blue swallow, the mermaid anthology, swim. They stand like a weight in my other hand while the things I do finish or see to the end balance in the other.  I try not to let them get too out of whack, otherwise I flounder about feeling like I never finish anything I’ve started.  But I remind myself I do.  Just not those particular  things.

Kristy Bowen, on ideas, and too many of them

This also made me remember something that happened in (or to) my writing life many years ago. My daughters were young, I had my first full-time teaching job, and I told a writing friend that I would write…later. I may have said that maybe I wouldn’t ever get back to writing. In any case, I gave the clear impression that despite an MFA in poetry and all my huge writing goals, which my friend knew all about, I was going to put off writing.

She wrote me a letter — old school, sat down and wrote it in long-hand and mailed it to me (of course, that happened more often back then, but we did have email). She said something like this:

No one cares if you write. The world is not going to come and pound on your door and insist that you write. No one will miss it if you don’t write. They won’t even know. Meanwhile, life will unfold. You’ll get older. You’ll get farther and farther from your writing dreams. Eventually you’ll say to your grandchildren, “I used to write.” But your grandchildren won’t especially care either. It makes no difference whether you write or not. EXCEPT TO YOU. A place inside YOU will dry up and never be expressed if you don’t write. YOU will miss it. YOU will care. The only way to keep your writing alive, to keep this important part of yourself alive, is to write.

I probably have this letter somewhere. I should have framed it. I took it seriously (even though it was like that small, inner voice that I so often don’t heed). And I kept writing. Often, I didn’t have much time; I had little kids for a lot of years; I had a teaching career; I had teenagers and a mother who was ill. Nonetheless, I made a little time every day and I wrote. Some days the little bit of time turned into enough time.

And it has mattered. It has mattered to me. Writing has sustained me and saved me and even made things like parenting and teaching richer and more enjoyable. I am glad that I kept writing.

Bethany Reid, Procrastination Kills

A hot day. That’s OK. If I hated the heat I wouldn’t love the Sacramento Valley like I do. I like a hot, dry summer and a cool, wet winter. 

There’s a lot going on. There’s my two on-going poetry reading series. There’s the events I attend as poet laureate, another one tomorrow. I am giving a reading in Sacramento this coming Monday. The homeless shelter where I volunteer as a board member is always active. My church is always active. My wife and I are part of an extended family group that I love very much. And then there’s all the chores that I put off. Never put off for tomorrow the procrastination you can do today.

And I love all those things. But what do I love best? Simply being. I meditate twice a day, write poems, wander around town. There’s a park right across the street from my house. I can watch the light changing against the huge pine trees as the hours pass. There’s an owl – at least one. At night, when it’s cool I like to go out there and listen for the owl. 2 AM, 3 AM, just whenever I happen to wake up. I see what the clouds and the moon are up to. Then I go back to bed.

And you?

James Lee Jobe, Journal Update – 04 June 2019

That Poem You Wrote

             is only half of something unsaid
hold it                next to the mirror
             so that it looks                 whole

do you look whole?      how

             can you tell?

Romana Iorga, That Poem You Wrote