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

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Weeks 20-21

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.

I didn’t manage a blog digest last week in part because i was rushing around with pre-travel housecleaning and packing. Now I’m settling in for a summer in London and waiting for jetlag to recede, and so when I went to compile this digest, I found myself drawn to blog posts and poems about traveling, as well as discussions of politics, reading, writing, and mother-daughter relationships.


My first poetry mentor, Rose MacMurray, titled her book Trips, Journeys, Voyages. These are snapshots from the trips, a day or two at a time. The journey took me from D.C. to Cork and back, and it’s a journey that (with any grace of luck) I’ll be making again. The last time I felt this strongly about a place was Mississippi, and I wouldn’t mind if they both turn out to be lifelong affiliations. The voyage is a larger one, of trying to figure out the writer I can be in this world. No map, but with the good fortune of the wind at my back, and these memories still fresh in my heart. 

Sandra Beasley, Trips, Journeys, Voyages

While sitting at a picnic table eating an apple and cheese I was staring North at the beauty of Mt. St. Helens in the Cascade Mountain Range. I felt grateful I had the good luck to be born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

I was also marveling at my younger self who had climbed this very mountain 30 years earlier shortly after it had blown its top.

How had I done it? Now it seemed like an almost impossible task. And yet, I did it the same way I write a poem, word by word, line by line, stanza by stanza, step by step until you reach a destination and know you have finally arrived.

And then, like after writing a poem, you look around and see the world through new eyes.

Carey Taylor, Hunger

He has stopped me in my tracks.
I drop down to my hands and knees,
And I bring my face very close to his.
He doesn’t run. He just cocks his head
And looks back me, and so in this way
We regard one another. A man and a lizard
On a Sierra Nevada trail in the heat of the afternoon.

James Lee Jobe, ‘The lizard is quite brave, like Hannibal’ //

I spend so much time on airplanes. Yesterday my flight from Barcelona to Frankfurt was delayed by a half hour, which is nothing, and the man beside me was livid. I was embarrassed for him. I think he was embarrassed, too. After his outburst, he spent most of the flight turned to the window. He asked the stewardess politely for a Coke. I’ve been livid, too. It’s rather a waste of life. But yesterday, I had Misery with me and with a bit of luck and the imprisonment of the airplane seat, I may have found a poem. So take that, 9 hours to Philadelphia.

Sarah J Sloat, Standing on the corner, suitcase in my hand

If I could fly
would I still float above the ocean,
tethered like a buoy over hidden depths
and clefts in which shine pale oblique lights
of hunger and horror and beauty
made fey and strange? This is it,
isn’t it? What’s the point
of leaping over
tall sky scrapers
if I can’t
hurdle
you?

PF Anderson, On the Limitations of Superpowers

I took a little me time this week and went to St Petersburg, Russia. I didn’t really have a plan, just wanted to take it easy, eat, walk, write. The weather was warm and bright, so it was a perfect short break.

I was half-planning on going to the Russian Art Museum, but stumbled across a sign for the Anna Akhmatova Museum at Fountain House and decided to go there instead. It’s set in the apartments that Akhmatova lived for almost 30 years with her son at times and her lover the art historian Nikolai Punin and his family. It’s where she wrote some of her ‘Poems without a hero’ and other poems that challenged Stalin and his regime that she was forced to hide her work and was a prisoner in the house. 

It was a place of such sadness. They’ve tried to gather photos, furniture, artworks that represent Anna, Punin and the period: Punin’s overcoat left behind when he was arrested with Anna’s son Lev, a drawing by Modigliani, travelling cases. They’ve also set up one room as the White Hall which is taken from ‘Poems without a hero’, featuring her poems and pages of handwritten texts. It felt so weighted with loss, every item connected with someone who carried so much grief around with them daily. 

Gerry Stewart, A Poetic Detour

[Mark] Monmonier rightly observes that most people assume that maps are factual representations of the physical and legal/abstract/imagined aspects of the “real” –and that assumption is incorrect. Maps can be manipulated. They can be propaganda. They can be drawn to reflect anything the people hiring the cartographer want to emphasize, or erase.

My husband has a German map from 1941. There is no Poland on it, no Austria, no Lithuania, no Ukraine…
~
When we built our house, I wanted to come up with a good name for it. Then I realized that the housing developments in our region all seemed to be named after things that weren’t there any more: Field Crest, Orchard Acres, Stony Meadows, Fox Stream…and the urge to name my house began to quiet down. Besides, all along I have recognized that the area around boundaries is more interesting to me than what is in the middle. Edges–the fringes, the spaces along and between–

And yet I’m trying to create boundaries around my garden to keep out the field voles, stands of cleome to discourage the deer, as another rainy spring keeps my shoes and gloves muddy and the weeds vigorous and tall. Paradoxes.

Ann E. Michael, Cartography

The flowers parted
before you and so did the tall
ferns and the trees
and after them the mountains,
splitting cleanly in two
to let you pass, and as you did,
closing behind you,
seamlessly, like an eyelid,
a forest of eyelashes blinking out
any trace of your passage.

Romana Iorga, The Photograph

I was thinking about ecotourism and the kind of tourism where people go to do good deeds.  I thought about my kind of tourism, going to retreat centers and cathedrals and places of spiritual intentional living.  I felt a brief moment of sorrow thinking about how I’d love to go to Iona with my mom–but Iona is so isolated that it might not be a good idea.  She has some medical issues with her heart which don’t usually affect her ability to live her normal life, but traveling to a place that’s far from good medical care might not be wise. 

Is Iona far from good medical care?

I lay in bed, thinking, note to self:  do that international travel before old age makes it impossible.  My work responsibilities make a long trip across oceans/time zones less easy, and when I am older without work responsibilities, old age might interfere.

Or maybe I’ll be that feisty old lady who inspires everyone to live their best life.

And then I realized that my bucket list at this point consists mainly of trips to monasteries and retreat centers.  I suspect when I am that feisty old lady, I may make time for the occasional trip to an international city that has an interesting art retrospective or food festival.  But if I never get around to seeing Rome, I may not be sad.

If I don’t get to see Iona, I will be sad.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Bucket Lists and Monasteries

I’ve been reading What You Have Heard is True by Carolyn Forche’ is a memoir of Carolyn Forche’s journey to El Salvador as a very young woman to witness the struggles and oppression that would bring bitter conflict to the country.

Much about this book is amazing to me. Not the least is the amount of danger that Forche’ placed herself in, at first perhaps naively, but there was a point that this had to be so obvious.  I confess that I have come to a realization from reading this book, just how much travel can play a beneficial role in the life and work of a poet. Forche’ is actually very well traveled. and it seems that this has informed so much of her poetry. It doesn’t hurt that she writes a lot of witness poetry and her travels have informed her world view and created the ability to count on so much opportunity to tap into her experiences when writing.

I confess to having never traveled outside of the United States and I do confess that I actually feel this is limiting as a writer.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Clumsy as Newborn Colt Legs – edition

I was in the U.S. last weekend for the 50th reunion of Dartmouth students who protested the Vietnam War, occupied the college administration building in 1969, and served prison terms as a result. My husband was not one of those jailed, but he was a close and supportive friend who documented that event and that time period photographically, and was invited to give a slide talk as part of the reunion. During the panel discussions and social times, I learned that nearly all of the fifty-some attendees were people who have spent their lives doing good, being creative, living with others in mind, working for the betterment of society — and are continuing to do that in spite of the prevailing climate of hate and negativity. I was impressed, proud to be part of the gathering, and often very moved.

As one of them said, “we won some fights and we lost some, but ‘success’ is not the only measure of whether things are worth doing.” And one of the current student activists said to these aging radicals with grey hair and achy joints: “It’s not over ’til it’s over — you’re still here, and we need you.”

There’s so much work that needs to be done — on the climate, on rights for women and minorities, on freedom and justice, against hate speech and white supremacy — the list is exhaustingly long. None of us can do everything, so just pick one thing, and work on it a little every day, wholeheartedly. Join a group of like-minded others; we can all accomplish more collectively. But do something real – don’t just talk or, worse yet, add to the endless complaints on social media. And please, if you’re a writer or artist or musician, keep doing your work. In a climate like today that attempts to suck the lifeblood out of creative people, and devalue who we are and what we do, making art can be a radical act. I certainly feel that way about publishing books, and about singing. 

Beth Adams, A Sketchbook as Bulwark Against the World

In verse, how a white author addresses, or sidesteps, whiteness comes through more clearly over a suite of pieces than in a single poem, mostly because a poem contains fewer words and less story than your average prose piece. A poem gives you select glimpses from which you intuit and imagine a landscape. Race, therefore, is sometimes a matter of hints and absences in the poems from this Shenandoah issue. I love them all, and I delight in the ways they refract different identities and experiences: 68.2 contains poetry about language, immigration, aging, abortion, artificial insemination, difficult parents, difficult children, difficult neighbors, food, friendship, nonhuman animals, love, anger, political treaties, sexual harassment, disability, music, apocalypse, and clowns. Race joins that heady mix, but mostly in poems by authors who are not white–and that’s something an editor, and an author, must think about.

Books of mine currently in the publication pipeline–especially a novel and my next poetry collection–DO concern whiteness. In early drafts of these works, I made mistakes, because my skill and thoughtfulness were inadequate. Many editors rejected many of those efforts–rightly, I now believe, although it was discouraging at the time. Writing about race in a contemporary or historical way, from the perspective of a white person who hasn’t always been required to pay attention to it, was/ is risky, and I’m not sure the products are thoroughly successful–I’m worried there are failures in the books I can’t yet see, and really hoping, if so, that my editors will call me out–but in any case, I did learn some things and end up with at least some good writing. I decided I’d rather fail by trying than by silence.

Lesley Wheeler, A view from the masthead

And I think it’s true, these poems of irony mask, for example, the admiration I have for Franklin, Jefferson, and the guys, yes, men, white men, slave owners, yes, and thinking deeply about society and the individual, the collective and the future, liberty and cooperation, what a document of declaration must say, what the foundational contract of a society must do. They made mistakes. They drank, whored, backstabbed, ducked some vital issues. They met heated hour after heated hour, wrote, listened, shouted, considered, drafted, redrafted. It was a monumental effort to craft this country. Extraordinary.

The irony I used masks the fears I have that we human beings are still so far from being able to love each other; that I am so far from being able to love my fellow humans; that we are killing each other and the planet because of it. It masks the grief I feel around the virulent divisiveness of the world.

How to write those poems?

Marilyn McCabe, Bitter Pill; or, Considering Irony in Poetry

And while I was out of it in lots of pain, I did see a wonderful movie, Ladies in Black, about a young Australian girl who wants to be a poet and works at a department store set in what I think was the late forties. It had a really wonderful and timely message about the enrichment that immigrants bring to a country (I didn’t realize there had been so much anti-immigration feeling in Australia after WWII but apparently there was a lot – I also learned there was a war between Australia and New Guinea at some point? Americans learn literally nothing about Australia in any history class) and I might have been pretty out of it but I’d love to hear what you thought of it if you get to see it. I’m looking forward to seeing girl-friendly teen comedy “Booksmart” (I was a real nerd in high school who never went wild so it speaks to me) and “Late Night” with a killer combo of Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling soon. After my disappointment with Game of Thrones, I decided I wanted to give myself more female-empowering entertainment, written by women, with main characters who are women, with empowering storylines. Am I just kidding myself? Is there enough of this to actually go around?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem in Redactions, Spending Some Time with Poets, and a Week of MS Pain Management

There’s something about a live reading that really affects the way you respond to a poem. John Hegarty says that with storytelling, ‘our very physicality helps deepen our and others’ responses to it‘. It’s the same with poetry; a live reading creates a special tension and energy.

I’ve chosen a photograph I took outside the MeetFactory (above) for this post because it occurred to me that so much of our understanding depends on how we ‘hear’ a text. We all carry our own interpretational ‘freight’. Think about that saying, every picture tells a story. You might look at the car hanging from the building and think of a story set in a scrap yard, or the aftermath of a flood, or maybe you’d go for a dystopian future where cars hanging from buildings is the new normal, or you’d push further for the big idea, such as hanging cars as a symbol of the failure of capitalism. I like the potential for meaning that pictures and words carry. And after all those poems yesterday, I came away feeling excited, not just about what I’d heard, but the space it opened up for what is still to be said, because for every story that’s told, every poem that you hear, there are as many others that remain hidden, even unimagined, until you sit down to write them.

Since I’ve been doing my personal challenge of 2 pages a day, I’ve noticed a very fragmented narrative starting to emerge (so much so that I’ve labelled the file A Short Story until something more fitting comes into my head). Attending the Sheaf Poetry Festival gave me some new ideas and prompts, and other avenues to explore.  It was great to have that sort of experience, where you arrive thinking one thing (which is always what you know, and by extension, what comforts you and makes you feel safe) and then you leave at the end of a long day, full of questions that you want answering and eager to explore them in your writing. 

Julie Mellor, Every picture …

The winter rye continues to grow, and I continue to do my (daily-ish) writing practice.

I now have many free writes. They make me think of this patch of green stalks not yet ready to mature. I worry that I’ve forgotten how to take the raw, rough, wild stuff and cultivate it into a poem. This is not a new anxiety. I can keep writing, until the day when that writing compels me to complete it, guide or follow it into a form to be shared. Or I can, in time, turn all that writing over, trust that it’s down in the good ground of my mind and will help the next ideas prosper.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day five

Reading closely engenders intimacy.

Compassionate reading opens the text to diverse interpretations.

It’s helped me to love poems that I’ve always thought I couldn’t love.

I feel an intimacy with the poets whose books I review, even though I may never meet them in person. I imagine them reading my reviews and feeling known.

It was such a lovely surprise to find out I am good at it.

Writing reviews has become my own self-guided MFA program.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with List: Why I Write Poetry Reviews

Jenni Wyn Hyatt and I met on one of Wendy Pratt’s online poetry classes and that’s where I first started to read and enjoy the variety of Jenni’s skillful, wise and well-observed poetry.

Her second poetry collection Striped Scarves and Coal Dust was recently published, and I ordered a copy right away.

From the intro: “Her subjects include Wales, nature, the tragedy of war, childhood memories and the human condition, with a smattering of humorous verse.”

In other words, her poems are about life. Of special note are Jenni’s use of forms, rhyme and metre in many of her poems — and seeing how she uses these tools is inspiring me to experiment more with them in my own writing.

E.E. Nobbs, Striped Scarves & Coal Dust – five poems by Jenni Wyn Hyatt

But my more fairy tale oriented work seems to have a more everyday sort of magic happening.  About 20 years ago, when I first began writing anything that was of quality, I turned to fairy tales quite often–Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, wicked stepmother stories. My book of red project was about the latter, and my first attempt, for reals, at an artist book.  (though you could argue my junior year Scarlet Letter book was the inadvertent first.) It was followed, of course, by my longer project, the shared properties of water and stars, which was loosely based on Goldilocks and her three bears, told through math problems, but was more a riff on a certain suburban angst than about the fairy tale itself.  plump, of course, being the most recent example. 

I think because they are ingrained so much in the human consciousness, it’s hard not to fall into them sometimes.  I’ve been working on my “artist statement” series of late, and there is one poem about mothers and daughters that touches on fairy tales and writing.

“Fairy tales tell us that the daughter must die.  Or more often, the mother.  Light softening to violet and then the red from all that blood.  No one could tell who was bleeding more until the prince freed us from the castle.”

Sometimes, even when I am not writing about magic, I sort of am. 

Kristy Bowen, in a dark wood

I’m too far to visit
and anyway you’re not
there in the ground.

For your birthday
I put peonies
on my dining table.

The tight buds stand
straight like
young ballerinas.

The bigger blossoms
bend over,
already flirting

with the fragrance
of decay. Nothing
lasts for long.

Rachel Barenblat, Peonies

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 9

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week found a lot of poetry bloggers writing about self-definition, belonging, identity, embodiment, and political engagement. It was a rich haul.


like when you try to put the silence back into your imaginary cat

like a boat on a lake in your ear you live with the wind

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, likes/som’er

Still, after all my ambition, I’ll never own a home or publish my novel. Remember in high school, how I’d run wild, chasing girls, climbing trees to query clouds, that sort of thing. Once in Miami, on a dare, I jogged around a city block wearing nothing but Nikes. I may have fallen hard for someone back then, but what do you know in your twenties? Still, I didn’t expect life to fall so short or to be so unlucky in love.

My days are delayed orgasms that will never climax..

I don’t plan rash action. There will be dinner, if I wash dishes and peel potatoes. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I probably won’t write again. Bills pile up, they won’t let me drive now, and I’m busy giving things away.

Risa Denenberg, Not-about-me poem, on the occasion of my 69th Birthday.

as I was going to sleep last night I had a very clear vision of how my mind works. it was a delicate, erector-set-like machine constructed like a bridge over the much vaster body of direct experience. I could hear it humming. “that’s all there is to it?” I remember thinking

Dylan Tweney (untitled post)

Who am I when I am not interacting with someone specific? That quiet watcher who tilts her head in puzzlement. Like a dog: taking interest, but not making up a story to imagine the world into meaning. It is a peaceful place. But lonely. Maybe that is why dogs curl up tightly against each other in musky dens?

Why Leonard presses his skull into mine until I have to distract him with a pig’s ear or a bit of cheese.

This desire than needs an object.

I should have been a dancer.

Ren Powell, March 1, 2019

prayer kneels down
wind builds a nest
for the passenger you carry without knowing

Grant Hackett (untitled)

A fellowship isn’t a residency. My duties are more complicated than that–not only because of financial concerns, but because I feel a general responsibility to be out and about in the city. But like a residency, this time gives me distance and fresh perspective on life at home. I miss so much, but I don’t miss everything. And letting go of those things that I don’t miss will be an important part of returning.

The weather can be mercurial. The hills are steep. Strange to become a version of myself that reaches for blue jeans and flats, instead of skirts and heels, and buries herself in warm clothing. But this is a deeply good place, and I am grateful to be here. 

Sandra Beasley, The Road to Cork

The character of the pinko commie dyke, who is sometimes me and other times other women walking through the world, has been speaking to me in a series of poems that muse on contemporary life and the issues and ideas that are important in the world today. In some ways, I think that this series is representative of my work, which is invested in lyricism and also narrative. I also am interested in personae and exploring where the lyrical ‘I’ overlaps with the poet and where it does not. The disjuncture between the lyrical ‘I’ and the poet fascinate me much more today than they did ten years ago.

The Pinko Commie Dyke Kills / an interview with poet Julie R. Enszer (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

Cathy Warner’s newest collection of poetry, Home By Another Road, takes us down the highway of reflection and, whether she is the driver or the passenger, it is a journey that asks all the big questions. Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? What is home?

Warner uses every map she has available to answer these questions, and while on this journey we are fortunate to have an honest narrator at the wheel. While navigating the complicated territory of family, faith, forgiveness, regret, and redemption, Warner clearly understands we all must pay the toll master for the right of passage we call a life, where you cannot know, you never could, what might become/of you or anything you have ever loved.

Carey Taylor, Home By Another Road

No one ever means to cry, no one says, I think I’ll cry now, it’s such a good day for crying      cry more she said the ocean needs your tears

the trash on the beach was pink & sparkly

driftwood like a pile of slingshots

her eye is a storm that rages from sea to sea

Erica Goss, Writing at a Non-Writers’ Retreat

One of my favorite moments is a few episodes into Russian Doll where, convinced she is losing it, Natasha Leone’s character, talking with the woman who mostly raised her, utters her safe word for mental health.  I found this a nice idea–a single word that would show the people around us that we were in a bad space that required help.   I don’t think I’ve every been quite there, but part of my weird anxious brain worries that if I ever were in need of help, I wouldn’t be able to convey the difference between an ordinary kind of brain wonkiness and something that bordered on dangerous.  And truthfully, the weekend I sat down to watch this show the first time, I was in a weirder place.  I made it through one episode and it made me so undeniably anxious that I had to stop.  I went back the following week, and was glad I did, because it was so, so good.

And really, there was something so similar about the characters repeating groundhog day experiences and life pretty much–days spent doing mostly the same things with variations.  This is probably why I found it initially super anxiety-provoking, the routine and the missteps that could lead to disaster.  How each choice sets off a chain reaction of other choices.   If you  change A, the B happens, avoid B then you skip C and move ahead to D. It makes every choice unbearable sometimes thinking 10 steps ahead of everything.  And I guess, welcome to my brain. And particularly, my brain on winter.

Kristy Bowen, russian doll

Where I grew up there was a mill at the bottom of the street and a farm at the top. A quarter of a mile up the road were acres of municipal park woodlands. Beyond that, an open-cast valley, more woodlands, brickworks, some working pits. In the valley where I live now, not far away from where I was born, is polluted river, a canal, a railway (think : The Rainbow).  There are defunct mills,a defunct marshalling yard. No one can build on the field beyond my back garden because it has pitshafts in it. There’s an even older pitshaft under my neighbour’s house. And so on. Everything formerly ‘organic’ has been managed, enclosed, changed, even the river itself. I live on the edge of a coalfield where the 19thcentury houses are on the boundary between stone and brick. My horizon is the skyline of high moorland from Holme Moss to Oxenhope. This is the lens through which I read the poems of Remains of Elmet, through which I imagine the landscape of the Wodo’s wanderings, the corroded dystopian landscape of Crow, and through which I see foxes, thrushes, pike, hawks.

John Foggin, Critics, poets and the common reader (Part Two)

I inhabit this place. Like a bat in a cave.
Like an owl in an elm. This place is my own.

I fill this land like a ghost fills a haunted house,
Like coffee fills a cup.

Starting out from here
Any direction is the right direction,

And turning about from any direction
Takes me back home.

James Lee Jobe, ‘From here you can see the snowy mountains’

I ate too much salt.

I listened to a podcast about a mystery person who turned out to be Sonia Sotomayor.

A flawed translation turned me into a lawyer.

Sarah J. Sloat, Tuesday minutiae

In response to my last post, friend David Graham wrote, “I’ve finally come to believe that ‘voice’ is not something to concern myself with. Others will or will not tag me with such a thing, but it just messes me up to think about it. I simply (ha! it ain’t simple!) try to write as well as I can & in the process figure out what I want to say (which for me always happens in the revision process, not before.)…In a similar way, worrying about originality is for me mostly a dead end. I love something Levertov said: ‘Originality is nothing else but the deepest honesty.’”

I thought about that for a while, and replied, “I wonder if it’s not the author that has a voice but the poems themselves. I know I get annoyed when a poem of mine starts having a kind of woff woff self-aggrandizing tone of some British lord or Oxford don. I have to shove it off its high horse. Then other poems just think they’re so damn funny they start laughing at themselves so hard I can’t understand what they’re saying.”

And soon after that exchange I found this notion by Richard Russo in the eponymous essay of his new book The Destiny Thief: “I’d been told before that writers had to have two identities, their real-life one…as well as another, who they become when they sit down to write. This second identity, I now saw, was fluid, as changeable as the weather, as unfixed as our emotions. As readers, we naturally expect novels to introduce us to a new cast of characters and dramatic events, but could it also be that the writer has to reinvent himself for the purpose of telling each new story?”

Marilyn McCabe, Mi, a name I call myself; or, More on Voice

Invisible damp fingers
leave prints on my skin,
out of sight, muffled roars –
uncertainty circles in a waltz.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Fog

Anticipation feels different from expectation, though the two are related. For me, at least, the connotation of the first is more open-ended. Anything can happen, though let’s hope what happens is good. Expectation seems more results-oriented. I am not a results-oriented gardener; I like surprises, I appreciate the education I get even from failures.

Come to think of it, I could describe myself that way as a writer or poet, too: not results-oriented, more intrigued by the things I learn when I work at the writing.

Ann E. Michael, Anticipation

imagine the newspaper you read every day
I will be the article you clip & never throw away

now do you smell the slow spring coming?
the grass humid with the buzz of dragonflies

an airplane’s drone reaches the rec yard
it’ll land somewhere in a few minutes

we will still be here
imagining birds & sky & other lives

James Brush, Air Mail

My mom had a couple of stories about my early childhood — one was that I didn’t walk until I was 13 months old. “I thought you were retarded,” she liked to say.

Another story was that I wouldn’t color in my coloring book until I figured out, at age three, how to do it perfectly, without going outside the lines.

I never had a spanking until I was three — around the time my next younger sister was born. “You never needed one until then,” Mom used to say.

So here I am, 59 years later, trying once again to finish a novel…and going back to the beginning, over and over, day after day, and trying to make it perfect.

Bethany Reid, What I’m Reading Now

These days, my thoughts return to the situation of our physical bodies quite often.  I have friends with very rare conditions:  one friend has kidneys that make cysts and another friend has a body that creates non-cancerous brain tumors.  Most of my friends are solidly in the land of middle age or older, so there’s vast terrains of discoveries–not unlike adolescence, but without some of the fun discoveries about what bodies can do.  Or maybe the fun discoveries are yet to come.

Or maybe as we age, the fun discoveries don’t revolve around our bodies but our spirits.

I’m still thinking about whether or not I could weave any of this into a poem that wouldn’t be trite or cover ground that’s well covered by past poets.  I joke about being rather medieval in my view of the body, that we’re holy spirits trapped in a prison of flesh; some days I’m joking, but other days I feel that way.  It’s a troubling theology, but it’s also pernicious and hard to root out of my consciousness.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Poet in the Body

“Protest Poetry” also carries my college’s “experiential learning” designation, which means the students are creating a couple of public-facing projects. The first, a collaborative venture, happened this Wednesday. We began planning it a few weeks ago, after a tour of the Rockbridge Area Relief Association as well as reading poems about hunger on the Split this Rock database. The assignment was (for very low stakes, grade-wise) to raise money for RARA through poetry. I told them a benefit reading would work–I’ve organized them before–but it was up to them. We toyed with the idea of a Haiku Booth or poetry-related crafts, but decided on an hourlong event that would be organized, promoted, and emceed by students in the class. They chose and booked a campus space, issued invitations to the readers, created fliers, set up sound equipment, decided the flow of the event, and brought refreshments (I acquired a small budget for the latter).

My undergraduates also did some extra work I did NOT expect or require, because, I think, they became genuinely invested in the cause. Some of them made another trip to the food pantry with questions for the clientele, cleared in advance by RARA staff, such as “What’s your favorite meal?” and “If you had to describe RARA in one word, what would it be?” They constructed poems out of the answers, performing them at the event as well as interspersing information between the poems about RARA’s work. They also set up a fundraising table for three days in the Commons, where they offered soft drinks and home-baked treats. Talking to unsuspecting muffin-eaters about how much food RARA can buy for a dollar, they then sweetly solicited donations in any amount. All told, they raised $470!

Lesley Wheeler, Teaching poetry activism

Home, for Syrians exiled by war, is gone, irretrievable, a lost paradise just as it is, at the same time, a place forever unattainable and mythic.  Listening to concerts this week by Kinan Azmeh, the Syrian clarinetist and composer, I was reminded of the  mystical desire of Arabic love poetry.  The object is unattainable. The wonderful paradox is that in evoking absence, art walked right in and created presence.

Azmeh’s music, presented by Community MusicWorks at local centers, evokes wistful longing with sighs, bends, microtonal wavering and high solemnity of Arab string exhortations — and Kinan’s clarinet wrangles with clarity and fading memory.  The feeling is raw, open and shared. Mohammed al Shawaf, a recent immigrant, jumped up spontaneously to read his own poem gathering at Dorcas Institute, a resettlement organization.  I scrawled down some of the lines as Kinan translated it into English. It’s about a nightingale who was encountering a displaced poet (apologies for the scrappy transcription!).

“Nightingale, I saw your sad face from the East…Are you a refugee like me? How did you leave heaven on earth? Everything is different, everything destroyed. Did you bring anything from home? You have awoken my feeling…. I promised you, Damascus, I would never forget you.” 

Jill Pearlman, Love, Our Inalienable Right

I also read three books of poetry in the past month. all this can be yours by Isobel O’Hare is a powerful collection of erasures from the celebrity sexual assault apologies. The poems are fierce explorations of how the men making these apologies try to evade their own culpability.

The chapbook Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned by Sara Ryan (Pork Belly Press) delves into the liminal space between living and dead, with this collection of poems about taxidermy. The nature of body is explored down to the bone, with footnotes that provide an expanded philosophical look at the art of preservation.

House of Mystery by Courtney Bates-Hardy draws on the dark undertones of fairy tales, providing a haunting look into the role of women in those stories.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: February 2019

The ceiling is low today. Clouds drift
through the window, grackles pick daintily
the last berries from frozen vines.
She can forgive winter

for its long oddity, its tired body
of a shrunken old woman. Vines spring
through her couch. A day comes when she must
do something, or simply lie there and bloom.

Romana Iorga, Spring Inspection

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 8

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 bloggers writing about challenging themselves in new and sometimes difficult ways, pondering revision, thinking about the ancient Greeks, fighting despair and depression, celebrating successes, and of course, reading poetry.


Last year I was worried about my poetry becoming stale. I wasn’t as excited by it as I used to be. So I started to experiment with found texts and suddenly I became more enthusiastic and creative. Since then, there have been many ‘oops’ moments, and I know there will continue to be many more. However, something interesting has sprung from them and I’m enjoying the writing process more. I’m also more open to new formats and platforms for poetry, and a little less concerned about getting work published (although I’m not abandoning that goal).

[Susan] Jeffers is clear: trust your impulses, accept responsibility and don’t stick with, or be protective of, wrong decisions – correct them. There’s no reason why you should stay on the well-trodden path (in writing or in life) if that path is making you feel unfulfilled. Poetry can feel very serious at times. Reading and writing it can be intense and provoke some odd disquieting feelings. However, adopting the ‘no lose’ approach allows you to step off the path and experience new ways of creating without feeling guilty that you’re not doing ‘proper’ writing (you know the feeling, when you sit down with pen and paper and time to write but you’re doing it out of a sense of duty rather than a drive to create ).

Julie Mellor, Crossing the line

Yesterday was the last day of my Lucie Brock-Broido Stay, Illusion practice. The idea was to sit down each day—at my desk, at the gym, on the bus, wherever—read a poem from Lucie’s book, choose a line, a fragment, an image, and write from or in response to it. I started on October 22. I did not show up daily, but I did show up. Yesterday was poem 65. And then a sadness that it was done.

Some of these drafts might become poems. A couple of them already have. One is in active revision. And many are pressed in the pages of my notebook. I’m hoping to get back to them, read and see which ones, or whether any, still ignite some spark worth nurturing.

What did I learn? This worked well for me. Each time, I’d write something. Even if I knew it wasn’t going to turn into anything else, I was writing. Even better, it gave me a chance to sit in active conversation with Brock-Broido’s poems again. My goal had been to choose not just compelling images but those that were difficult or uncomfortable—not the kinds of things that might naturally show up in my poems anyway. And that was the biggest challenge, to tug away from comfort’s gravity.

Joannie Stangeland, The end of one practice…

Last week I presented a project that seemed unlikely to exist and equally unlikely to succeed, but it managed to do both.  It was a live poetry performance called Mirrors.  In spite of the simple title, every time I tried to explain to the people I’d enlisted to read, we all got tangled up.  Three groups of four pairs, with ten-minute breaks for discussion — too much information!  Just dive in!

Which we did.

I chose bits of writing from observant feminist/literary scholar of Torah, Avivah Zornberg, whose verbal pyrotechnics and all-around genre-bending work I’ve long admired.  I placed these powerful excerpt opposite a selection of my poems.  Zornberg’s dense text, out of context, next to my dense text … a case of heightening complexity to obtain clarity?

The idea was to put them side by side and let the sparks fly.  They’re not one-to-one correspondences, more like juxtapositions, points of departure, spiky soul mates.  Zornberg’s probing of the unconscious of a Torah passage, her eliciting of emotion inside discontinuities gaps and white spaces left room for my poetic eruptions about existential condition.

Did they tango?  Well, yes.  Rumblings, premonitions, regret, amazement, praise – voices were liberated in the room, a choral celebration of the many.

Jill Pearlman, How do you know when you’re ready?

For the Greeks, Delphi was the center of the universe. Kings traveled in person from all the city-states, including the islands, to consult the Pythia, the Delphic oracle in the temple, and they built treasuries on the side of the hill to house part of the spoils won in battle, as a gift to the gods. Mount Parnassus is remote, and far from the sea; at 2,457 m (8,061 ft) it is one of the highest mountains in Greece, sacred to Apollo and Dionysus, and it was also the home of the Muses, who inspired poetry, art, and dance. Delphi is located far up on its slopes. It was a real journey for us to get there, in a modern car, on winding mountain roads. I can hardly imagine what it took for ancient people to make that journey and arduous climb; clearly it was of vital spiritual and political importance to them.

But going there myself, I could see and feel why they thought it was so special. On the way up, we drove hairpin turns, stopping once for a shepherd with his flock of goats, the bells around their necks tinkling, their hooves clicking and scrambling on the loose rocks. We passed through the narrow winding streets of the town of Delphi, perched precariously on the slope, and back into the wilderness to the ancient site, from which you see no signs of human habitation. It’s spectacular and wild: from the steep rocky slope with its pines and cedars, you look down across a deep rugged valley. Hawks and owls and crows must have been common then as now, the wind blows, the dark cedars punctuate the sky, and you climb the same paths, past the market and the treasuries, up toward the man temple where the oracle gave her riddles, and even higher to the theatre. Of course, what was once a busy mecca is deserted except for tourists. I tried to imagine a bustling marketplace, smoke rising from sacrificial fires, human voices everywhere: that was difficult. But there was something about the place itself that hadn’t tumbled with the stones, and had perhaps even preceded them. Standing on the ridge above the main temple, I tried to imagine coming there any of the grand buildings had even been built. Who were the people who identified this place and first called it sacred? Perhaps what I was seeing and feeling now was closer to what they felt. I kept hearing the cry of a hawk as it circled and rose in the mountain thermals, and then plunged down into the deep valley we can had come from. Above us was snow, the inaccessible realms of the gods. Closer by, in a glade in the woods, near a rushing spring, perhaps the Muses still danced: it wasn’t hard to imagine. 

Beth Adams, Exploring Delphi on Paper

The ancient Greek stage was constructed at the heart of a stadium: no proscenium, just pillars, ramps, and the mechene. Machine of the gods, later Romans would call it, since it was usually Apollo up there holding forth and tying up loose ends—unless Euripides wrote the play, in which case it would probably be a slave, and very little of this human mess would be resolved.

Aeschylus, Sophocles—these men wrote such elegant language. Pristine and pure. Cathedral-like, their imagined worlds. I like Euripides best. He tells the bloody truth.

The ramps were called paradoi, and were used for the choral entrance and exit. At the end of a tragedy, the Chorus would sing their kommos—song of lament—during the exodos, the exit scene that served as a kind of afterword, bodies strewn across the stage.
 
Is this a tragedy?

God, I hope not. Please, let it be not.
[…]  

Euripides said
A coward turns away, but a brave man’s choice is danger.
Euripides said
Time cancels young pain.
Euripides said
The fountains of sacred rivers flow upwards.
 
A week into the antidepressant, I start to be able to smile again.
Two weeks in, I can work effectively, at least for short stretches.
Three weeks in, my real focus comes back.

JJS, Skaha, Part VI: Exodos. Kommos. Afterword. Beginning Again.

She shakes her head, pushes the sleeve of her tunic

dismantles the stockpile that fences her house – the rubble
of bones, pellets of flesh,  the moon marks on nails, adamant warts.
The spray of dandruff like burning stars scatters
in the garden, the smoke palls his face as she throws
a handful of soil over the eyes, the mouth open in prayer.

Uma Gowrishankar,How a mother processes a terror attack

The first gray light of a winter morning.
Walking among my fruit trees
I cry for my dead son.
I then scatter those tears
Like seed across the cold ground,
But the birds won’t even go near.

James Lee Jobe, ‘The first gray light of a winter morning.’

Sometimes my despair arrives as a result of too much focus on the gatekeepers of the creative commons: those people and systems granted with the culture’s ability to say pass, or fail, to our creative work and our desire to send it out into the world with some form of recognition and acclaim.  Sometimes it takes fortitude to keep working the system, but today I’m going to ignore the gatekeepers altogether and post a new poem right here.

A Good Clear Out

I divested myself
of what lies downriver
the rusted cans and blackberry thorns
the animal traps lined with bloody fur
I’m boxing up whole decades
And giving them to strangers
yearbooks, prayer books
the necklace I bought for you-
the one I couldn’t bear to part with in the end
Yet
was too ashamed to ever wear out, so
Here. Take it.
It doesn’t suit me anymore. I’m going bare.
 (SES, 2019)

And Lastly, What I’m reading:

I’ve been reading a collection of poems: New Poets of Native Nations, edited by Heid E. Erdrich. I cannot recommend this book of poetry with enough fervor. If you were sitting across from me I’d wave it in your face and read poem after poem out loud, while you poured yet another cup of tea and tried to absorb the grievous beauty coming at you in words, lines, stanzas, incomparable images. 

Because making art and experiencing art is a way of choosing life, and disrupts the cycle of despair. 

Sarah Stockton, Disrupting the Cycle of Despair

After moving to Portland last summer, I was introduced to Portland poet Melissa Reeser Poulin through another fine Portland poet, Kristin Berger.  
We all read together in January at Mother Foucault’s Bookshop where I had the opportunity to hear Melissa read from her new chapbook-RUPTURE, LIGHT.

RUPTURE, LIGHT is a book filled with poems that speak both to the personal and universal.  The poems in this collection take us on a journey through the worlds of pregnancy, children, and marriage, and with this poet’s keen eye, helps us see both the transitory nature of the domestic scenes and their continued ability for rebirth: It turns out life is a will/an overfed bulb/that can be forced to bloom again/and again.

Hope is never forsaken in these poems, but as a keen observer the poet lets us know that all we love is leaving us: In the graveyard,/the snow softens the stones/while we walk, idle talk about how/we’ll be buried//You want to live forever/in the canyon we love,/your skin and bone/become sugar pine/and chaparral. 

Carey Taylor, Rupture, Light

You can’t tell which year the book was first checked out because the date stamps note no year until we get to a handwritten Jun. 21, 1937. The book is then checked out every year until Feb. 19, 1943, the year bombing began in earnest in Frankfurt. It was especially heavy in 1944 and continued into early 1945. The war ended that spring.

The book is taken out again on April 15, 1946. In 1947 it’s taken out eight times. Boy, people were really hungry for poetry written in the Frankfurt dialect.

The library card makes history tactile. I’d meant to use this and the other cards for collage but this one will be spared. The others, also aged and discolored, will do as well.

Sarah J Sloat, Loose Ephemera

[…] no one would recognize
a heartbeat on the edge of familiar

songs written in dead languages
& trees that grow twisted on the plains

could be the old hair metal guitar
that escaped the pawnshop wall

James Brush, Dead Letter Office

It seems so simple to these children, the idea of a farmer-poet who once nursed a badger. I imagine they would not have been fazed to know that in his early life he’d hunted and trapped and killed animals, and throughout his life had been a fisherman. They would possibly be baffled by the fact that critics of Hughes and his poetry find it problematic. What Yvonne Reddick’s book [Ted Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet] does, with a clarity that belies its density, is to sure-footedly take the reader through the thickets of academic controversy that surround the poetry and the poet; to analyse their relationship to the burgeoning environmental  movement; to deftly unpick interpretations of art’s relationship with ecology, and equally to the alarming number of sects and subsects that occupy the fields of eco-poetics and eco-poetry. […]

Hughes was a prodigious reader of just about everything, and a prodigious writer of letters (700 pages of the collected letters), of poems (1200 pages), of plays and essays and so on. He was an educator, a broadcaster, a lecturer and a performer. He was conflicted hunter, a conflicted farmer (how many other poets do a full time job like that?), a conflicted and unfaithful husband, father, lover. He grew up in the physically and historically imbricated landscapes of the upper Calder Valley, and of Mexborough. Landscapes of the kind D H Lawrence grew up in. When I read Reddick’s accounts of various critics’ condemnation of his inconsistencies when it come to ecopolitics, I get annoyed. Because, I think, why should a poet be consistent, why should a life be simplified into ‘consistency’?

John Foggin, Critics, poets and the common reader (Part One)

I’ve been writing a lot of words on the page. Scrawled loopdiloos, but what do they say?  What are they getting at? That’s the problem. I feel like I’m sleepwriting. All this impressionistic stuff is rushing out, but what is it all about? I’m not sure. I’m trying not to disrupt the process with criticism and analysis at this point, but I’m eyeing it all suspiciously.

Okay, well, then in fact, I AM disrupting the process with criticism and analysis. I know that only when I plunge into the editing process will I discover what there is in here. But there’s so MUCH of it. And I fear that’s it’s all fluff and no substance, or that I’m racing around something but not getting any closer.

How do we balance the creative impulse with creative intent? Too much intent can flatten an impulse like my hair when it gets too long. No body. No bounce. Too much impulse with too little intent is all bounce, all Marlo-Thomas’s-That-Girl-flip-curl.

Marilyn McCabe, There there; or On Substance and Style and the Writing Process

I like revision, even though it hijacks ALL my creative energies. (With these rewrites to tackle, plus Shenandoah poems to read and grant proposals to draft for my 2020-2021 sabbatical and this pesky full-time job as teacher-adviser-program coordinator, I feel like I’ll never write a new poem again.) It’s rewarding to hone old efforts and feel sentences click into their grooves. But I’ve been thinking about the word “revision.” Its emphasis on “looking anew” doesn’t entirely capture what I’m doing. In both genres, I’m re-sounding lines, trying to hear them freshly, managing echoes within mss. I’m also thinking hard, as I revise, in order to revise, about giving readings. What passages or poems would I choose to read aloud to audiences, and why? Do they sound right in my voice? If I would want to kick off a reading with this poem, or end it with that scene, do those preferences have implications for the arrangement of a printed book? Or do the mediums of print and live reading simply have different requirements?

Lesley Wheeler, Revision, re-audition

Maybe the month of February calls to us as a quiet time of yin creativity, which is a way of looking at revision as an inwardly-focused energy–as opposed to marvelous bursts of creativity from inspiration or the much-vaunted Muse. The lunisolar calendar used for centuries in Asia calls February the first month of spring (立春  lìchūn)! I had better keep at the revising, therefore. Before I know it, yan energy will return with the start of the gardening season in eastern Pennsylvania.

Ann E. Michael, On revision (again)

Read and edit old poems. Recently, I went through my files in Google Drive reading some of my old poems. I pulled out a few and edited them with fresh eyes. I submitted three and all three were accepted. Yesterday I looked through my journal from 2014 and found a poem I had completely forgotten. I added a little to it, but not much, and plan to submit it.

Play around with  black-out & found poetry. Just grab a newspaper or magazine and begin circling words that you’re drawn to, then rearrange them – or not – into a poem. This is an exercise that often gets me kick started.

Another exercise I like to do is use a poem that you like by another poet. Staring at the last line, write a response to it. Work your way up to the first line, writing responses to each. I don’t remember where I read about this technique but I really like it. In fact, I plan to do it this week-end.

Charlotte Hamrick, I Need a Jump Start

Q~What’s your writing process like?
A~I don’t really have a writing process, and every year I keep trying to get into a writing routine, but I fail. But yes, I usually jot down ideas and phrases on my phone or in a notebook, and most of my poems either begin with a word or an image, or a central idea. Sometimes I might be stuck in the subway and write a short poem on my phone to pass the time, or maybe I am studying for a test and I’m frustrated, so I’ll jot some lines down that may later become a poem. In short, there isn’t really planning involved. However if I’m writing a story, I’ll usually plan it out in terms of a chart or a timeline of events and then begin.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?
A~My poetry tastes have been through many phases. There was a time, I’d almost exclusively read only Romantic and Victorian poets, and I went through a phase where I literally worshipped Sylvia Plath. In my high school, I went around quoting Eliot’s Prufrock and Marvell’s His Coy Mistress (only the bit at the end, “though we cannot make our sun /Stand still, yet we will make him run” because I found that incredibly daring and hopeful) the whole time. I’d also read a lot of Rilke, Neruda and Rumi in translation. Closer to my culture, I loved children’s rhymes in Bengali and the playful non-sense poems of Sukumar Ray. For a while, I followed a lot of insta poets like Rupi Kaur and Lang Leav, but I’ve grown out of it now. In college, as an English major, I had to read tons of poets, and in my fourth semester I took up this course called “Postcolonial Poetry,” and we read so many wonderful, beautiful contemporary poets, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I also love Carol Ann Duffy for how accessible she is, and I think accessibility is one of my personal preferences when it comes to reading poetry nowadays. Maybe the whole poem doesn’t have to be accessible, but there has to something or some part that I can understand or sparks a trail of emotions or something I find inexplicably beautiful.

death of an imaginary friend / an interview with poet Archita Mittra (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

OMG! OMG! OMG! Here I am in The New York Times Magazine next to John Legend! Well, not me so much as my poem, “Hoodie,” which was selected by Rita Dove for this week’s NYTimes Magazine.

Can’t tell you how much this little poem means to me. It is my Alex poem, and it addresses a fear I share with many people of color about the safety of our kids, children of color in particular. Seems more relevant now then when I wrote it. He’s 15 and looks more adult and child. When I say “be careful” as he leaves the house, it’s not him I’m worried about–it’s everyone else.

Needless to say, I’m very thankful that Rita picked Hoodie. She’s always been an inspiration for me so it just means that much that this poem will reach a wider audience.

January Gill O’Neil, Hoodie

I have been watching the frustration of some much loved writer friends who send out their first manuscripts over and over and get a ton of “finalists” but don’t get chosen. At least not yet. It’s a shame because these are very strong writers and I want to hug them and tell them to ignore the noise and that they’re terrific. If I had my own press I would have already published them. I don’t want them to feel that they are “less” as people or writers because today’s trends or editors don’t validate their work. In the letters of Virginia Woolf I’m reading, she tells another younger writer that she didn’t publish a thing (besides reviews) in her thirties. And her forties were when she wrote and published nearly all of the work we consider ‘important’ today. Sometimes it takes time to come into your own.

I’ve also watched some friends get wonderful news – my friend Kelli Russell Agodon just won a PSA prize for lyric poetry – and Martha Silano has a new book, Gravity Assist, coming out with a book launch in a few weeks – which, yes, I am actually happy to celebrate. You want your friends to succeed. You cross your fingers for them and cry when they cry and rejoice when they finally get the good news. As a reviewer, I come across a lot of poetry books – some of which absolutely blow me away. They are so good they are humbling.

Tomorrow I’m meeting up for coffee with a new friend who not only does poetry but documentary filmmaking (which seems an even more difficult world than poetry.) I think the best cure for feeling unloved, rejected, is to get back out there, send out your work (which I’m doing right after this post – carrying a poetry manuscript – a paper submission – to the post office) and get together with other creative folks.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Six New Poems in the newest issue of Rosebud, and When You’re Not the Chosen One

I gave myself permission to devote myself for the weekend to one book. To be within it while the snow fell and then another front pushed in rain. To keep turning pages, stopping only to feed spruce logs to the fire, as the light filtered in over the mountains through the front windows then shifted to the western windows, then faded behind the bench.

I’d waited impatiently for my copy of Casting Deep Shade by C.D. Wright, and like any acolyte, I felt a little nervous. The book opened like slow steps on creaky wooden stairs, the rumble of words, history, memories, science, photography, art, the body. The sound of rumination, of devotion.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Casting Deep Shade

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 47

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

Poetry bloggers weren’t at a loss for words this week, despite the occurrence of a major American holiday (or perhaps because of it?) but I didn’t see too many common themes, so I’ve presented the posts in a completely random order. Topics include dreams, writing as exploration, Gaia Holmes, the origins of wonder, Bethany Reid, Streetcake magazine, whether there’s any difference between prose poems and flash fiction, poetry gift recommendations, the chapbook as a specialized art form, the consequences of anger, why “eminently publishable” poems suck, epistle as writing practice, horror and the dilemma of female power, and how working with another poet or source material changes one’s writing. That sort of thing.

I used to not dream or
remember my dreams
but last night
when time hung in the belly
of the moon I dreamt of a yard
where the yard was the mind
where the mind was playing
tricks where tricks were not
fun and fun was not paid.
Crystal Ignatowski, To Turn To Daybreak To Turn To Dawn

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Q~How would you describe your style?

A~Poetry happens in a moment of collision between myself and the world. On occasion, I strike sparks. If I’m lucky, I have words at hand for kindling, but still I’m scrabbling, reaching for anything that might sustain the flame, and anything goes, stylistically speaking. Some of my poems are strongly narrative; others revel in fragment and elliptical movement. I’ll go months avoiding first-person and then embrace it wholeheartedly. Poetry as distillation. Poetry as outpouring. I’m drawn to the freewheeling, associative mode of renga, each verse linking only to the previous, as much as I am drawn to the complex code of rules that dictate the appearance of motifs and seasonal references in a classical renga’s hundred verses. I struggle to describe my style since the formal aspects of my writing continually shift from poem to poem.

Writing poetry for me is a mode of exploration, of reaching out and often struggling to find out even what it is I’m grasping for. I’m often guided by the physicality of language when I get lost–the sound of the words, the cadence of the line, how the text exists on the page as a visual field. I know I value openness. I want the reader to have a place to enter into the work. I once heard a poem described as a full and laden table except for a single empty seat–that’s the space for the reader to sit down. I love that image, the idea of the reader sitting down and partaking, of us somehow going from strangers to friends at the table of poetry.
Not This / an interview with poet Hyejung Kook (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

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Jane Draycott talks about the point where a poem detonates. Gaia [Holmes]’ poems often put me in mind of Chemistry lessons in the blissfully pre-Health and Safety 1950’s, when to demonstrate the meaning of the word crepitation a teacher would toss a slack handful of crystals (potassium?) into a sinkful of water and stand well back. So many poems in Where the road runs out detonate in line after line, like dangerous Rice Krispies. But because many of her poems are about separation and loss of love or lovers, and in this collection, of a father…..sometimes tender and sometimes vengeful, sometimes wistful and sometimes heartbreaking…….. they also take a reader into dark woods and lose her. […]

I hope that, like me, you’re snagged and reeled in by listening to frost, understanding its cold, lacquering glamour, and being out in the bright, dumb dark; a folktale world of snow and lost girls, and chickens that make me think of Baba Yaga and her house on hen’s legs. There’s a lot of ice (and also stars, and milk and fire) in Gaia’s poems ; there’s even an Ice Hotel in an earlier collection. There’s the cold of loneliness and love gone wrong, and broken things that might be hearts or dreams which make you think twice about walking in bare feet. There’s the orphan voice of a narrator who sees things that no-one seems to notice her seeing.
[Click through to read a number of sample poems.]
John Foggin, Gaia Holmes’ “Where the road runs out”: a labour of love

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Wonder, it turns out, is a mystery word; its origins unclear, but many Germanic languages have a version of it — wundor, wundrian, wunder. So that got me thinking about some synonyms.

Amaze is from the OE amasian meaning stupefy or stun but may have had an original sense of being knocked on the head unconscious (those Old Norse roustabouts). This word actually led to the word maze, rather than the other way around, but which started as a word describing a state of mind — dazed, delusional — and then became a structure to effect that end.

Astonish, astound and that ilk came from extondre, meaning leave someone thuderstruck, from the Latin verb to thunder, tonare, which, traced back, apparently just means noise.

And I think of those days when the sky is dark and low, foreboding of precipitation, and suddenly you hear beneath the chatter of the day, that noise, thunder.

So as I write I must listen for the noise under the noise, the thunder of what’s coming or what’s happening behind those clouds of words on the page.
Marilyn McCabe, Hmm; or, A Little More on Wonder

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As many of you know, I moved back to Portland last summer and in an either brilliant or insane move purchased a 1947 home which was in need of some major renovations. Today this blog is being written from my new office. Outside my office window my contractor is jackhammering away the basement foundation in order to install an egress window. It is noisy. It is dirty. I am hoping the house does not collapse and the new earthquake retrofit holds. In the meantime, I am visualizing a beautiful finished basement that is light-filled and has a second bathroom.

Also during this time, a family member died, another family member had colon-cancer surgery, and an adult child moved back home. I had something die in the chimney and for a week flies flew out of the fireplace like bats from under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin.

And while I haven’t been writing much, I did travel to Iceland and Ireland, have been invited to poetry readings to read from my new book, and I organized a poetry event in the small town where I graduated from high school and invited Finnish poet Gary Anderson to come read with me.

Last week I hiked seven miles up the Salmon River trail on the southwestern flank of Mt. Hood with old friends, and I’ve been reading and cooking more than usual—all things that anchor me during this fallow writing port-of-call.

So while my world is being disassembled and reconstructed I have complete faith the one thing that will remain intact (even if it is silent for now) is my poetry, because I can feel the seeds beginning to germinate, and a gentle push of green carrying a word or a line up through the dark with a story to tell.

But for now I am reading the poetry of Bethany Reid, who is a poet friend from Edmonds, Washington. Her new collection Body My House (Goldfish Press Seattle) is a collection that as author Priscilla Long so aptly conveys: are poems to read and reread, and to savor. I recommend you check her out.
Carey Taylor, Jackhammer Days

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I’m over the moon to be in Streetcake again, the online journal of experimental writing. The editors (Trini Decombe and Nikki Dudley) took a found poem of mine earlier this year. This time they’ve taken a cut-up (I mean the actual collage of cut-up texts – see example below). Usually I produce the collage then type the poem and send the typed copy out. In this case, I sent the ‘raw’ version. To add to the excitement, the Streetcake team have an incredibly highspeed turn around between submission, acceptance and publication that makes you feel as though you’re part of something very contemporary, and with an amazing potential to shape the future of writing. I’m full of admiration for the editors who are prepared to take such risks with what they publish and it’s a real boost for me because let’s face it, poetry is a niche market, so to be experimental within this small field really narrows down the options when it comes to sending work out. In the current issue, I’ve really enjoyed encountering Kate Gillespie’s poem ‘Diversification’ (take a look at it and you’ll see why I say encounter rather than read). It’s given me another idea about how experimental writing might appear on the page/ screen.
Julie Mellor, Streetcake – grab your bite

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Every emerging writer dreams of finding herself in a conversation with the editor of an esteemed literary magazine. For the new writer, especially, there are hundreds of unanswered questions about the submission process. So you can imagine my excitement when I found myself speaking with Ralph Hamilton, the editor of RHINO Poetry. During the course of our conversation, he was kind enough to offer some insights into the publishing world. In the process of discussing the typical type of submission that Rhino receives, Mr. Hamilton acknowledged an odd disparity. For whatever the reason, writers generally submit higher quality prose poems than flash fiction.

Our conversation was long over before I thought to ask the obvious question. What exactly is the difference between prose poems and flash fiction. To be honest, I’m guilty of submitting the same piece of writing as both. For the most part, the call for submissions determines how I submit the piece. If a magazine calls for flash, I’ll submit it as a flash. If a magazine calls for a prose poem, I’ll submit my piece as a prose poem.

Suddenly panicked, and convinced that I had been making a fool of myself by consistently submitting the wrong genre, I decided that it was time to do some research. If flash fiction and prose poems were different, the question remained. Why?
“Prose Poem or Flash Fiction – What’s the Difference?” – guest blog post by Jessica Terson (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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I try not to be too commercial, but buying a book from a small press or even just leaving an Amazon review can make a giant difference in a writer’s outlook.

So, if you are interested in getting a signed copy from me of PR for Poets, or Field Guide to the End of the World, or any of my books, follow these links. And I will really appreciate it and try to include a little something extra in there (and am happy to sign to a special someone.)

Looking for a few more poetry book recommendations? Here’s a list of more new books I think would make great gifts!

Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumuathil from Copper Canyon Press – a wonderful collection that celebrates nature, diversity, and I can’t think of anyone who would hate this book.

Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang from Copper Canyon Press. Victoria Chang takes on the difficult subjects of race and class in America through the lens of Barbie and Jane Austen in a really smart, fun way.

A Nation (Imagined) by Natasha K. Moni Floating Bridge Press – Super timely exploration of what being the child of immigrants in America means right now and how it is to be part of the world and simultaneously an outside observer.

Electrical Theories of Femininity (from Black Radish Books) by Sarah Mangold – Feminism, science and computers? You had me at hello.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Holiday Shopping Suggestions – Writers, Artists, Zoo and Museum Memberships and More Ideas!

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Did you know that Laura Madeline Wiseman hosts a wonderful website called “The Chapbook Interview: Talking all things chapbook”? I recently did an interview with Wiseman which is published on her site, here. If you are a chapbook aficionado you will want to spend some time reading her scores of interviews with like-minded chapbook fans- writers, editors, publishers. I have published three poetry chapbooks, and am an editor at Headmistress Press, a press that primarily publishes chapbooks, but oddly, I don’t think I had spent much time prior to this interview thinking about the chapbook as a specialized art form, not just a short book. It definitely is, and I was grateful for the opportunity to have a conversation with Wiseman about it!
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Thoughts of Chapbooks, New Work, and a Survey

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One task I completed just before the trip was a residency application for 2020 (!), which gave me cause to reflect on where my poetry has been and where it’s going. I knew midlife had been a big topic in recent years, but I realized more clearly just how much of my poetry has also been about anger, more specifically women’s anger. Now I’m thinking about the consequences of anger, how it can be useful but also harmful, so my poems seem to concern healing and metamorphosis. My new magazine publications contain some of each–poems from a complete ms, in which I’m coming to terms with being middle-aged in the middle of nowhere in an especially messed-up part of a messed-up country, and from a newer ms, just taking shape, that I feel superstitious about describing yet (except in grant/ residency applications, in which you basically have to act like you know EXACTLY what you’ll be writing for the next two years).
Lesley Wheeler, The ending’s beginning

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For the past month, I have been rereading some poetry reviews by David Orr that appeared in Poetry magazine in 2001. Orr is a tough critic. Much like Dorothy Parker. Not afraid to say: ‘Antony and Cleopatra travel on the Nile on a barge, and the barge sank.’ Orr makes me a bit nervous. In one review, he considers the mundane and the concept of what is publishable; that is, poems that are thoughtful, polished, and unsurprising. Unsurprising = competent = in his words ’eminently publishable.’ I continue reading and realize his point is not all published poems deserve to be collected into a volume of poetry. He detests ‘wise’ poems and prefers short lyrics. He wants verbal facility, but sneers at poetry professionals. He thinks these poets and their wholly publishable poems are foolish; at best offering the reader a metaphorical muddle, rather than something that moves beyond its gesture. Orr seems to be quickly bored by the perfected endings. Most often, couplets, which aren’t incompetent, and most often are effective and moving, but have become the poet’s formula– the “Wait, for it, big ending.” Obviously, in 2001, he was hell bent on putting the spotlight on the seven steps to writing the essential “Workshop Lyric Poem.” He had had enough of the same old, same old life lessons. He wants something more.
M.J. Iuppa, Poetry (re) Views . . .17 years later . . .

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Before I assigned in-class letter-writing, I asked whether any of them ever writes letters. Not one hand went up. I withdrew from my tote bag a clutch of old correspondence (yes, of course I would be that person who keeps the letters people write to me). After flourishing an envelope–with a 29-cent stamp–I disclosed the contents, a ten-page, handwritten letter from a dear friend. The students audibly gasped. “How long did that take to write?” “Did you read all of that?” Sure! When long-distance phone calls were expensive, letters were social media. We couldn’t just snapchat a photo of ourselves standing on a pile of snow and caption it “Snow!” We’d have to send a photo. Or we’d have to describe without the visual–and this is a practice my students have almost never had to employ.

Lack of informal writing practice translates into lack of writing practice, period.

I even read passages from three letters aloud, and the students were impressed with the vivid writing…writing by “non-writers.” “You could write like this, too,” I told them. “You just haven’t needed to do it, and therefore you think you can’t do it.” Then I asked them to think of a person, a specific person, and come up with a reason or purpose to write to that person, and then just write. The response was amazing. Some of these students wrote more in 15 minutes than they ever have for an in-class assignment. Most of them enjoyed it! One student even said that “this old style of long form texting intrigues me” and plans to start writing letters to a sibling once a week.

Success!
Ann E. Michael, Epistle as writing practice

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You recently published your debut collection of poetry, Basement Gemini (Hyacinth Girl Press). Tell us a bit about the chapbook and how it came into being.

Well, I wrote Basement Gemini at a time when I was thinking very extensively about The Ring. I think it’s a fascinating movie, and no, I haven’t seen the original Japanese version. I’m a straight-up American Ring poseur. Anyways, The Ring is really interesting to me because of the ambiguity of its message. The takeaway is essentially that a little girl has been abused and ultimately murdered, but the twist is that she was presumably inherently evil the whole time, and you end up with this weird message/ethical dilemma about misplaced empathy, feminine power, and nature vs. nurture. At the end of the day, though, no matter how evil and powerful she was, Samara couldn’t get herself out of that well.

I remember watching it at age twelve when it came out. I was a total tomboy and actively discouraged being perceived as feminine, but lots of horror movies (think The Ring, Carrie, and even Psycho, in a deferred kind of way) reinforce that femininity can be dangerous, which is problematic, obviously, but also weirdly empowering. Basement Gemini was kind of born out of that idea — the simultaneous, seemingly-contradictory-but-not-really victimization, vilification, and empowerment of women that’s encountered so often in horror. I was also reading Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Carol J. Clover around the time I was writing the chapbook, which provides a pretty interesting critical look at the genre.

I love the way Basement Gemini explores female agency and voice through horror movie tropes. What draws you to horror?

I’ve always been a big fan of horror — particularly the supernatural variety. I’m an atheist and a devout nonbeliever in all things superstitious, but at the same time, the paranormal and/or demonic makes for some very compelling metaphors. My ideal horror movie involves a house, a ghost, and something unsavory that’s been repressed or glossed over. The idea that there could exist repercussions for abuse/violence/suffering that transcend societal action (or inaction) is kind of a satisfying notion, isn’t it? I’m thinking What Lies Beneath — you’re a young woman, you get murdered by your professor/lover, you come back as a ghost and exact vengeance with the help of his wife. Suddenly you’ve got a level of agency that goes way beyond being a thing that violence is done upon. It’s a fantasy of cosmic justice, or a cautionary tale with the message “don’t kill women,” depending on how you look at it.

That being said, I’ve watched a lot of very bad horror films with immense enjoyment. My favorites are probably The Manitou and Frozen in Fear, aka The Flying Dutchman. Sometimes I just like the performance and spectacle of putting together these tropes and seeking a quick buck. It can be kind of charming. Fitting the same tropes horror films utilize into poetry was a fun time, and I also realized I actually had a lot to say through them.
Poet Spotlight: Chelsea Margaret Bodnar on horror and the dilemma of female power (Andrea Blythe’s blog)

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Q~Your two most recent works are a collaborative book and a collection of erasure poems. How does working with another poet or source material change your writing?

A~Working collaboratively with Laura Madeline Wiseman on our collection Every Girl Becomes the Wolf (Finishing Line Press) and other projects has strengthened my writing. During our collaboration sessions, I find there’s a tug and pull, in which I am simultaneously offering up space in a piece in order to allow Madeline’s voice into the poem while also claiming room for my own voice. Our poems are written together and then jointly edited, so that our voices become layered over each other to the point that in some completed poems, I can’t tell where her words begin and mine end. Throughout it all, I’m continually surprised by Madeline’s skill in choosing words and editing for clarity. It’s an intimate education in another person’s method of writing, which has provided me with new tools to approach my own writing.

In the act of creating erasure poetry presents an interesting restriction. Rather than the infinite possibilities of the blank page, I’m confronted with an existing text (in the case of my collection A Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch, I was working with the product descriptions in Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyers). The puzzle of striking out words to find the poem left behind stretches me into new directions — Can I siphon out a new meaning from these words? Are there enough of them to complete a particular thought? Do I need to modify the direction of the poem because the available words are steering me another way? It’s resulted in some surprising, surreal turns that I might not have taken in a standard free verse poem. It’s a kind of freedom nested within the restrictions, which can in turn empower me to explore more playfully when I approach an empty page.
Ursula / an interview with poet Andrea Blythe (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 39

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

If there’s one thing poets are good at, it’s finding words for the unspeakable and the outrageous. That quality was at the forefront this week among American poetry bloggers. Also, no surprise, we seek solace in reading and writing poems. So much of this digest is concerned directly or indirectly with the Kavanaugh hearings, but there’s also some fascinating miscellaneous stuff toward the end, so if you find some of the initial posts triggering, scroll quickly to about two-thirds of the way down.

How intense it was this week to be alternately following and averting my eyes from the Senate hearings as I taught Sylvia Plath to seventeen stingingly sharp students–trying to open up space to talk about anger, violence, gender, and race in powerful but often disturbing poems. Plath’s handling of metaphors related to the Holocaust, slavery, and Civil Rights always seemed problematic to me–it was a big topic in the early nineties, when I attended grad school–but I am now wondering how defensible it is even to keep the poem “Ariel” in particular on an undergraduate syllabus. While Plath’s use of terrible slurs wears worse and worse over the years, however, her bee poems–explorations of rage and other dark drives, sometimes encoded in racial metaphors–also feel more and more fundamental. Plus last year’s news about her abusive marriage , especially as captured in Emily Van Duyne’s “Why are we so unwilling to take Plath at her word?”, is crucial right now. We need to do a way better job at respecting survivors and understanding the costs they suffer.
Lesley Wheeler, The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

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As I have mentioned before, my new book of poetry The Lure of Impermanence came out in July. I included in this collection a poem called 9 to 5. I wrote this poem when the #MeToo movement had just begun its groundswell.

Today, Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in jail for sexual assault and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is currently being scrutinized for a number of behaviors with women that are at best disturbing. And these are just a few of so, so many more stories just like them.

I have lost confidence in the ability of the news to report in any unbiased manner and therefore I am more often than not left to my own judgment and experience by which to consider stories reported in the media.

And what my experience considers is that I personally know girls and women who have been abused by boyfriends, family members and spouses.

What I do know is that I was carried to a bedroom by a man who was much older than me when I was barely of legal age and stoned on marijuana. A man who held a position of respect in the community.

What I do know is I am shaking as I write that last sentence because I recall that night as vividly as if it were today. Only it wasn’t today. It was 45 years ago.

What I do know is that I told no one. What I do know is that I was ashamed.

What I do know is that I am someone’s mother, wife, daughter and friend and none of them knew. What I do know is I am not sure I want them to know now.

What I do know is that all women deserve the simple right to be respected and have control of what happens to her body and if I could ask anything of you it would be to consider the women you love. Consider their experience. Because it is possible that the people who love her most, don’t know the dark places she has been afraid to shed the light on. Because to do so is to expose herself to being rejected, silenced, not believed or worst yet blamed.

And until history proves it unnecessary, may we all slash, slash, slash, this roughshod blazing path.
[Click through to hear and read the poem.]
Carey Taylor, 9 to 5

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I’m feeling a strange mix of anger and resignation. How can we not be any further along towards a vision of a just world than we are right now? How can we be decades after the Anita Hill hearings and still be no better at handling these kinds of allegations?

But let me also remember that these times are not those times. This year, 2018, is still a better time to be a woman than 1918 or 1818–or even 1991. A woman can bring a charge forward, and she has a better chance of being believed. We are better at knowing what boundaries should be, even if those boundaries are not always respected. There are laws that might protect us all–once those laws didn’t exist, and the idea that they should would not have existed.

Still, we have not yet arrived at the future that I hoped for when Anita Hill testified, and I was a younger woman in grad school. Let me hold onto that idea of a time when people’s bodies are respected, when boundaries are maintained, when people will not trespass even when we are unconscious, when the powerful do not prey on the weak. Let that time come soon.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Self Care on a Day of Many Triggers

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It says something that most of my women friends are posting today about the courage of Christine Blasey Ford and how difficult and deeply discouraging these days are for them, while most of the men — even the liberal ones — are posting…well, let’s just say, the usual stuff. For many of us women, it is impossible to look away or to think of much else right now. There is a disconnect between the sexes that goes very deep in our society, just as there is a deep disconnect between the races, and until that changes fundamentally, we will keep repeating the pain. I have appreciated the men, like my own husband, who have expressed their understanding and dismay, and I would ask that those of you who haven’t please try to put yourselves in our places as people who have endured behaviors, harassment and assaults that have affected us all our lives – and yet we have tried our best to forgive those who hurt us, to love and trust other men, and enter into full, loving relationships with them. Please try to think about that, and what it takes.
Beth Adams, #BelieveSurvivors

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Just in time for the Halloween season. I Am Not Your Final Girl is a collection of horror-themed poetry draws on the female characters of horror cinema — the survivors, victims, villains, and monsters — who prowl through dark worlds, facing oppression, persecution, violence, and death. In her introduction, Claire C. Holland notes, “I draw strength from the many strong women around me, both real and fictional.” The women in this collection channel their pain and rage into a galvanizing force. They fight. They claim power over their own bodies. They take their power back. They do not relent.

“I have known monsters and I have known men.
I have stood in their long shadows, propped
them up with my own two hands, reached
for their inscrutable faces in the dark. They
are harder to set apart than you know.
— “Clarice,” The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

As a horror fan, I know many of the characters and movies referenced, and it’s fascinating to peer in at them from the unique perspective of these Holland’s words. That said, there just as many that I haven’t seen and a few I had not hear of — but not knowing the direct reference in each case did not stop me from enjoying the poem for its own sake, the words drawing me in. And now I have a list of movies that I need to seek out and watch.

“Separate yourself, like sliding wire through
clay. Divide your organs – heart, lungs, tongue,
and brain. You think you need them all?
You’d be shocked what a woman can live
without. We’re like roaches, we thrive”
— from “Shideh,” Under the Shadow (2016)
Andrea Blythe, Book Love: I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire C. Holland

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I took this photograph less than one week ago but so much has changed since then that I can hardly recognize that it wasn’t so long ago: before Dr. Blasey-Ford’s testimony, before two brave women, Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila, confronted Senator Flake (R-AZ) in an elevator and before he changed the course of history — at least for one week; we hope more.

Lucille Clifton and Adrienne Rich are two important poets for me (for American poetry) that I return to again and again. The day after the 2016 election I shared the Clifton poem with my Highline College students. I’ll never forget one young man sitting with this poem and then articulating his thoughts and ideas about it beyond anything he had done in class before. He illuminated the levels of this piece for me, for the entire class, in a new and necessary way. He brought in the idea of immigration, the trip many of my students have taken in boats, in braving a new world. I share these pieces now as a way to hold onto sanity in this new insane time. May they be of help to you, too. [Click through to read the poems.]
Susan Rich, Two Poems for Right Now

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If you’re a woman, or a rape survivor, you probably had, like me, a very tough week. It’s hard to watch rape victims who bravely come forward against powerful (and terrible) men be jeered, or things being said like “it’s no big deal” and “boys will be boys.” Infuriating to those who have had that happen to us.
That was on top of the fact that I’m still recovering from a month of MS illness, still getting my legs literally back under me again, starting to eat solid food, coaching myself in swallowing, in catching a ball, in using a cane.

So to keep my sanity, as I was recovering, I decided to read A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf and signed up for a Masterclass on writing with Margaret Atwood, and started watching Netflix’s Alias Grace at the same time. Woolf is tough and unemotional in her journals – quite a departure from my last journal/letters of Sylvia Plath – she mainly gives an account of her walks, what she’s reading and what she thinks of it (she can be quite a snippy critic), some thoughts on feminism and literary notes about what she’s writing, stress about deadlines and money. The last bit – right before her suicide – she mostly talks about the bombings on London in a remarkable chipper tone (I want to live! she says over and over in these pages) even after one of her houses is destroyed by a bomb, while the countryside around her is showing signs of destruction, while Germany is threatening in invade. She talked about wanting to live, but then a few days later, she’s dead. Woolf was a driven writer, ambitious and sharp, an intellectual aiming to change the culture. Like Plath, deeply flawed, and though she was much older than Plath when she took her life, it’s almost incomprehensible, even when you know it’s coming.

On the other hand, the bracing wisdoms of Margaret Atwood – also intellectual and very sharp – in her Masterclass (about $90, a bargain I think, which includes teaching video modules, pdf worksheets, and outside resources like Lorrie Moore’s book review of one of Margaret’s books and an hour long panel on speculative writing) gave me inspiration, homework, real insight into her own rewriting of her books and her own journey to becoming a writer, feminism, speculative writing – I’m not done with all the modules yet and I’ve already written a short story (very rare for me) and two poems as part of my homework. If anyone could be an antidote to this week’s terrible misogyny by men in power, it’s Margaret. I’ve read all her books, but her descriptions of rewriting Alias Grace inspired me to watch Netflix’s version of the story, which I’ve found more subtle and also, more hopeful than Handmaid’s Tale.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Margaret Atwood and Virginia Woolf during a Tough Week, Healing and the Last Fall Flowers, and Poems of Resistance

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Still I dream. Last night, seven dead mice
strewn across my coverlet, harking back
to an arresting image—Bodily Harm

rat emerging from vagina. I do not
make these things up, I’m too weary.
There is not enough salve

on the continent to swathe this busted body,
nor breath to resuscitate this heartbreak.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning with Heartbreak

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Wislawa Szymborska’s poems are in my head today, prompted by finding a dead beetle on my porch. Novice entomologist identifies dead bug, then thinks of poems. […]

In Joanna Trzeciak‘s translation, the second stanza begins:

For our peace of mind, animals do not pass away,
but die a seemingly shallower death

…a phrasing that evokes more clearly (to me) how humans use a sort of euphemistic, possibly spiritual phrase for being dead. And in this translation, the last stanza reads:

So here it is: the dead beetle in the road
gleams unlamented at the sun.
A glance would be as good as a thought:
it seems that nothing happened here.
Important supposedly applies only to us.
Only to our life, only to our death,
a death which enjoys a forced right of way.

Both translations are lovely, but I think I prefer the Trzeciak version, though I would be hard-pressed to say why; and I certainly cannot compare either to the original, since I do not know Polish.

What I love about this poem is its perspective, as reflected in the stances of title and stanzas. Literally, the speaker is above–looking down at a beetle husk. Tidiness in an insect’s demise–as opposed to our own. Then the point of view shifts, suggesting we humans are “above” the animals, their deaths less upsetting to the cosmos. But we are the cosmos, in our egotistical narcissism; and then, at last, death reminds us how unimportant we are…no matter how we think of ourselves.
Ann E. Michael, Seen from above

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Chief Uniform bans the attachment
of the inferior where he is
in front. The band is found descending
on the borders. These bands serve, produce
character. They are scattered. They spread
out. Uniforms form beings. They form
layers. They become and form the coat.
PF Anderson, Uniforms

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If you want to write, if you want to be the writer you dream of being, then you have to write. And yes, you, too, have a life. So how do you carve writing time from that busy life?

  1. Write first thing in the morning, before everything else gets in the way.
  2. Write for a short, doable amount of time. Decide how much time that is, and if it’s only 15 minutes or 5, don’t fret about it. Set a timer and write.
  3. Write an email to yourself (or to your mother), but instead of “Hello, how are you / I am fine,” write a few lines for a poem, or a character sketch or a summary of the greatest blog post ever. (I find that I dash off emails, and within that framework I can sometimes circumvent what’s keeping me from writing.)
  4. Write ONE great 140-character line and Tweet it. Apply this principle (see #3) to whatever sort of writing you find easiest–just hijack it and go.
  5. Write in your car (parked of course, preferably in a very safe park, but a parking lot will do). Five or even fifteen minutes of writing in your car will not make you (too) late to dinner.
  6. Write during meetings. If nothing else, write a character description of the person leading the meeting. (I have a very interesting poem in which my former boss morphs into a dragon.)
  7. When you feel blocked–try writing out someone else’s words (attribute them clearly, of course) as a way to kick start your own words. Try following up with a close imitation, but with your own subject matter.

If you’re a teacher–here’s one more suggestions: WRITE WHILE YOUR STUDENTS WRITE.
Bethany Reid, 7 Ways to Get More Writing Time

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It feels a little strange not to be in a school in September but it’s also rather pleasant! I’m really enjoying writing poems about Wiltshire with my Ginkgo Projects/Bloor Homes Bursary. The brief for this project is fairly broad but I’m responding in poetry to the landscape and heritage of the area in and around Amesbury. I can’t share any work here yet (I’ve written a few poems but I’ve sent them out somewhere for consideration so need to keep them under wraps for now). I’m quite excited, though, that some of these ‘Wiltshire’ poems might also tie in with themes that seem to be emerging in other new poems I’m writing, which are to do with being in a long-term relationship, ageing, the menopause, being an older parent, being a parent to young adults, and other matters. How to package all of these ideas into a concept that will sound enticing on the back of a book?? I think I need to work on that!
Josephine Corcoran, Mid-week catch-up

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The poetry-book publishing world remains a strange place. There’s not much money for anyone in it, really, and not much social capital beyond our relatively small circle of poets and poetry readers. Whether you have a book is not reflective of your worth as an artist. I know all this. And yet it means so much to me. The idea of having my poems made into a book that I can hold, that maybe someone else will hold and even read? It’s magic, or at least I’ve built it up to that in my mind. […]

The story isn’t done yet. It gets weird at the end. Weird in a good way, mostly. Literally the day I wrote the first draft of this essay, with the manuscript pending at three final presses and the rejections due any day, I received an email from a small press accepting Seducing the Asparagus Queen.

I was stunned, happy. It felt like cheating. It felt undeserved, in the way that such good news often does. It didn’t feel quite real. Really? An acceptance on the same day I began drafting the goodbye essay? Sounds made up for the movie version. But there it was.

I told only my wife and a friend or two, waiting to make the announcement to the world until I’d signed a contract. A contract, it turned out, that was not forthcoming. I mentioned to the publisher that I’d like to get it signed and that I didn’t want to withdraw the manuscript from consideration at the other two presses where it remained without a contract. No problem, I was assured. But no contract. Another reminder from me a month later, a quick response to the email, but still no contract. I was starting to get worried, began to think I might need to revisit that goodbye essay after all.

Two months and a day after the acceptance, still no contract in sight, I heard from the very last place that had the manuscript under consideration: Seducing the Asparagus Queen had won the Vern Rutsala Prize from Cloudbank Books and they would be publishing it late in the summer. They sent me the contract the same day.

I didn’t feel good withdrawing it from the first place that had said yes. I talked to several writers to make sure I was doing the right thing. Everyone assured me that yes, I was well within my rights to accept the prize from Cloudbank. So I did. I still feel a good bit of guilt about that first press, which is a small operation that puts out good-looking books, but I did spend two months asking for a contract, and if I’d received one, I would have instantly withdrawn it from Cloudbank. But I never got one, I didn’t withdraw, and now the book is a physical thing in the world.

When I tell people this story, they often say something about persistence paying off. And yeah, submissions 50 and 51 were the ones to get a yes after hearing no from 1-49. I did the work and eventually got the result I wanted. But I could have decided to shelve the collection one round earlier, which honestly I would have if not for a heartbreakingly kind “almost” rejection I received the previous summer from a press I love. Both Cloudbank and the other press certainly could easily have picked someone else. To me, the fact that they picked my collection feels more like a bit of arbitrary good luck more than a reward for my continued efforts.

When I decided to put this collection in a drawer, I was at peace with that decision. I had given it a fair shot and then some. Not every poem I write needs to be in a book. Now that these particular poems will, in fact, end up in a book together, I’m pretty glad about that, too. It means something to me. Probably more than it should. When I finally held the physical book in my hands this week, I knew how close it came to not happening. Here’s something else I know: I was not entitled to this result. There is no deserve to this. I did the work, yes, and I do think the poems are pretty good, but lots of writers do the work; lots of poems are pretty good or better. I got lucky, and I know it.
Publishing The Asparagus Queen – guest blog post by Amorak Huey (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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The dreams themselves are on another storey,
where the concierge uses the master key to let himself in
using the mathematics of the number 3,
a magic number, relevant to everything we do,
so our lives are in this book too, like the man
who makes it his business to track down the au-pair
who drowned his only child in the bath
using a series of calculations based on the probability
that any closing chapter ends in a rented room,
the television talking quietly to itself,
a couple asleep on their backs.
Julie Mellor, Life: A User’s Manual

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Q~Why do you write poetry?

A~Honestly, because I don’t sing very well. When I write poetry, and it flows, I feel a kind of catharsis similar to singing drunk in the bathtub: it’s an emotional and physical release. It’s like orgasm. It’s like running. I wonder if any scientist will ever hook up with a poet and measure their serotonin and oxytocin and all that, just as she finishes the line that pulls it all together. I would volunteer.

Q~On Twitter, you mention that your two passions are writing and running. Do you see a connection between the two?

A~I think running clears the space for me to write. I run in the mornings and then come home and write for fifteen minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the workday. Running is about breathing and taking in the smells and sounds of the world. It’s about listening. I had a project a few years ago called Running Metaphors that I’m excited to be starting up again from my blog and on Instagram.

Q~You said you have an “ambivalence and confusion regarding social media and what being part of a poetry ‘community’ means.” Can you explain what you mean?

A~Norway doesn’t have a tradition of academic writing programs in the Universities. My whole goal of getting a PhD and becoming “a poet” (i.e. teaching poetry at a university) and finding a tribe (as they say) went *poof* when I decided to stay here in Norway. I live here, and I write in English. That makes me an outsider. I am lucky to have an amazing translator, but I’ll always be considered an American poet by my colleagues here.

And yet, having been here so long, I no longer write to the American experience, and especially these days, that makes me an outsider in virtual poetry communities.

I don’t go to conferences or residencies. I see Instagram posts with hashtags like #poetshavingfun and get as jealous as a teenager. I guess I still crave the validation and community I’d planned for and imagined.

But then, I get eyes off the computer and go for a run, handwrite a poem in my journal and remember it was all a consumer package that I wanted. This is what I’ve got, and I make it work.
Bekah Steimel, Spinster’s Shroud / an interview with poet Ren Powell