Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

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

The first digest of 2024 is a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short. (And yes, I know that expression dates me. I am an old.) Ten inches of snow fell and then were partly washed away again as I compiled this post today, which is quite Janus-faced: half looking back and half looking forward, half summarizing and half summoning. Let’s begin.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 1”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 51-52: Holidaze edition

Poetry Blogging Network

Happy 2024! This edition of the digest—a personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond—takes us from the winter solstice to New Year’s, with year-end summary posts, favorite books, and plans for the year ahead as well as reflections on the season. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 51-52: Holidaze edition”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 45

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, we embrace the miscellany: the poetics of wrongness, chaos and magic, love and rage, untethering, unknowing. Enjoy.


This one is 17×57. It’s tentatively called “A Mother Who Loves Books,” because I was thinking of my mother when I made it, and the text is a poem from Let it Be a Dark Roux, “My Mother’s Perfume.” It’s linen, and I am loving how unfinished linen looks like on the edges. I’ve been working on a few more, unfinished, pieces using torn linen, and I can’t imagine tiring of the tearing for awhile. There’s something powerfully, almost…archaic about linen that’s unraveling a bit at the edges.

Sheryl St. Germain, Color Dreams

Last week, I attended the launch of Matthew Stewart’s collection, Whatever You Do, Just Don’t (HappenStance Press) and Mat Riches’s Collecting the Data. The latter, available here from Red Squirrel Press, is Mat’s long-awaited and excellent debut pamphlet. The launch itself was a joyous and merrily raucous occasion, with readings not only from the two launchers, but also some mighty fine guest readers – Eleanor Livingstone, Hilary Menos and Maria Taylor.

There was a lot of love and affection in the room for Mat and his warm, witty  and well-crafted poems.

Matthew Paul, On Mat Riches’s ‘Half Term at Longleat Safari Park’

And it’s only now that I’ve managed to really sit and think about the fact that I have an actual book out there in the world. I’m not 100% convinced I will ever truly come to terms with it. There’s certainly a feeling of well, what now…? The poems are out there, people actually own them in a book. I’m not there to read them to them with an intro. That’s quite a strange feeling to come to terms with, but I’m getting there. What do I write next? When? How? For who? All good questions, but not for today. And not a question for this book.

I’ve found myself sitting and staring at it whenever I’ve had a spare moment. It’s a beautifully produced thing, just looking at it as an object it astonishing.

Mat Riches, Dating the collective

Last weekend I attended a funeral for a family member. “Have you been doing any writing?” my cousin’s husband asked me. He was a musician when I first knew him; after his son was born he gave up playing professionally and took a full-time day job with good pay and benefits. For years he has asked me this almost every time I see him, and my answer is always the same: “Not really.”

“How come?”

I shrug and smile. The real answer feels like too much to say in a big group of people standing around a small kitchen. I don’t actually know what the real answer is, but I know that much about it.

There is nothing like an unexpected funeral for someone younger than your parents to make you contemplate what it is you are doing with your life, and how it might be even shorter than you have, in recent years, come to realize it is.

“Are you just feeling like you don’t have anything to say?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding. That is a truth: I don’t have anything I feel compelled to say. But I was also thinking: Or maybe too much. And: There’s not enough time. And: There are so many voices in the world already, so much that I feel like I’m drowning in the cacophony.

Rita Ott Ramstad, It’s been a lot

this room this bright quilt
winter waits on the other side
of these dark windows
elsewhere cities
in dust and rubble
everywhere cities

on fire all this has nothing
to do with me the naked child running
through fire has nothing to do with me
these buildings become dust
have nothing to do with me
I sit on this bright quilt

blue and white and red
patterns of flowers and thread
I drink from my modern porcelain
blue and white cup a pale
version of Italian cappuccino
what is true? who is to blame?

Sharon Brogan, there is no good news

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

A poem usually starts for me with a bit of language that I overhear or receive subconsciously. Many poems start with my wife, the poet Kodi Saylor, saying something incredible. I’ll often respond, “That sounds like a line of a poem,” and she’s usually like, “Well, go and write it then.” Usually that little snippet of language has some rhythmic quality that suggests a next line. That’s usually enough to get started. I let the rhythm and associations of sound and image suggest themselves and just go with it. The poem emerges. I try not to overthink it, but of course I do sometimes. Currently, I’m much more of a writer of short pieces that accumulate into a larger project. The stakes are lower for me that way which is important for me to combat the voice of the perfectionist that lives inside me.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Matt Broaddus

My name is on the book cover, but the book is in fact written by many hands. My grateful thanks to the many Singaporeans in America who shared their stories with me and gave me permission to write them up in verse. Here it is, a book about us: SAMPLE AND LOOP: A SIMPLE HISTORY OF SINGAPOREANS IN AMERICA.

“Based on personal interviews, these poems together tell a part of the story of the migration of Singaporeans to the United States of America. Sample and Loop traces the nonlinear, multidimensional, and surprising trajectory of lived experience in musical verse. Here are the Ceramicist, the Pediatrician, the Scenic Designer, the Chef, the Porn Star, and a host of other migrant-pilgrims sharing the tales of their lives even as they continue to make those lives in a country not of their birth. By narrating their discoveries, troubles, hopes, and sorrows, they refract a powerful beam of light on both countries and compose a wayward music for the road.”

All sale proceeds go to Singapore Unbound, the NYC-based literary organization that envisions and works for a creative and fulfilling life for everyone. You can find the book on Bookshop.org and Amazon.

Jee Leong Koh, Sample and Loop: A Simple History of Singaporeans in America

[The Poetics of Wrongness], published earlier this year, is made up of four sections of newly edited texts originally delivered as lectures as part of the Bagley Wright Lecture Series (2016). Publisher Wave Books calls it [Rachel] Zucker’s “first book of critical non-fiction” and refers to its sections as “lecture-essays of protest and reckoning.” It says the poetics of wrongness itself — the list of anti-tenets Zucker offers as a new poetics — offers a “way of reading, writing and living that might create openness, connection, humility and engagement.” […]

This book strips off the itchy robe of what’s presumed to make poems successful (“Oh, teacher, I say you are wrong,” p. 8) and streaks through the halls of academia and publishing. It jumps over gates. It walks on the grass. It picks locks. This book encourages a build-our-own poetics. This book is a middle finger to the tools of the patriarchy embedded in so many of the “rules.” It disturbs the universe that makes oppressors comfortable and offers renewed, modern senses for beauty and time.

Carolee Bennett, my love letter to “the poetics of wrongness”

tonight i will show you
one thing. here is the bowl of whipped cream.
here is the spoon i use. here is
the way my stomach feels full of clouds
when i am done. here is how
i try to lick the last tastes of sweetness
from the bottom of the bowl.

Robin Gow, 11/11

One of my goals for 2023 was to want nothing from my creative work but good work. I mean, obviously, we all want things, book sales, publication opportunities, someone to just acknowledge that we exist and don’t suck. And partaking in things like social media and promo is part of it. But earlier this year I decided that those things, that kind of scrambling, was not where my best efforts lay and maybe I get more enjoyment from sharing and letting the chips fall as they may. I would continue to write and share things and express myself and create tiny strange worlds. It was freeing, but also think it kind of tripped me up. What to do? Where to go? If I am not struggling to get people to buy my books, read my publications, come to readings, etc. how does anyone ever encounter my work in a way that makes me feel seen? I tried to channel those energies into the writing instead, but what happened is that every great piece I wrote felt like yet another brick in a wall that made me lonelier. I am not sure I have crawled out of this funk just yet, but I am writing daily again. So we will see how I fare.

Maybe it’s chaos. And maybe it’s okay that it’s chaos. That it all means nothing. I will write and people will read it or they won’t. They will buy books and read posts or maybe they won’t. I will just keep doing my weird little things and take the joy from that. No one cares. It’s terrifying and sad. But it’s also kinda magical. Like tiny spells you throw out into the world and maybe one lands somewhere that needs it.

Kristy Bowen, chaos and magic

In 2000, friends of mine saw [Stanley] Kunitz read at the Dodge Festival. They both witnessed him helped to the stage and from their seats, they could see nothing but the crown on his balding head. But then something incredible happened. As Kunitz began to read, he became taller, his face appearing above the podium. It was as if poetry (they said) had restored his youth. Reading his poetry to a receptive audience brought him more fully to life. I have never forgotten that…

Here is a stellar interview I discovered today between Gregory Orr and Stanley Kunitz taped when Kunitz was 88 years old. He reads “Father and Son,” a poem written when Kunitz was a young man, giving a hard and uncompromising vision of his dad. Orr offers that Kunitz is the first poet to write of his father in this way. Kunitz shakes that accolade off but he has lots of important things to say about poetry. He also reads, “The Portrait,” a kind of self-portrait, perhaps one of the first pieces that has led to our preponderance of self-portrait poems today.

GO: What purpose does poetry serve?

SK: Poetry is most deeply concerned with telling us what it feels like be alive. To be alive at any given moment….Before the poets we had no idea what it meant to be a human person on this earth.

Wow. Kunitz lived to be 100. He won the Pulitzer prize when he was 63, became Poet Laureate at 95. He is an incredible example of poetry being a life long pursuit. When it was an incredibly unpopular thing to do, Kunitz consciously chose to elevate domestic experience in poetry. This was before Roethke, before Lowell, before Plath.

Susan Rich, Stanley Kunitz on my fridge, in the garden, and the joy of surviving.

Are your dreams shuffling
like cards (a random draw
flashing in the dim light),

stretching like strange cats,
or climbing upwards,
clutching to rockweed,

stiff salt stalks of kelp
guiding seaworthy
travelers from weight

of the waters to
the weightlessness
of approaching stars?

PF Anderson, Dear You

Writing is noticing, but it can also be the song of oneself. It can speak of who you are. And it gives you the opportunity of declaring it in your own voice and in your own words.  As UK writer John Berger writes, “Nobody knows exactly why birds sing as much as they do. What is certain is that they don’t sing to deceive themselves or others. They sing to announce themselves as they are.”

We can speak of the experience of others. We can speak of the experience of ourselves. In writing, you take agency. It is your story, your words and you are saying them when you want to. And writing imagines community. Perhaps you imagine sharing your words with another. Of creating a connection. Of being in this—all of this—together.

There’s an iconic poem called “Motto,” by Bertolt Brecht that you perhaps have heard:

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.

What does singing about the dark times mean? If we sing a happy song in a dark time, we know we are singing in the context of that dark time. Maybe it is a defiant, subversive act, a refusal to despair or be cowed by the darkness. If we sing darkly about the dark times, we name what is happening. We name what we are experiencing. We remember our humanity, our shared humanity. Our story may be dark, but we are the ones telling it. To tell the story is to have agency. […]

As a small child in Ireland, I remember hunting around my dad’s office and finding a little box that perfectly held a hundred blank index cards. The box seemed so magical and full of possibility I knew I had to write some magic spells, some mysterious incantations. I snuck the box into my room and immediately began writing on the cards. I didn’t know any spells but I wanted to capture the feeling of magic so I just made up a script. No one could read it, not even me. But that wasn’t the point. I filled all the index cards with this cursive hoodoo. My goal was to create a feeling, to use the form of spells and the loops and swirls, scratches and knurls of my invented script. I was whispering to life itself. We were connecting. My writing put me at the centre of speaking. In the middle of secrets. 

Gary Barwin, THE SONG OF OURSELVES IN THE SHADOW OF NOW, a speech about the importance of writing in dark times

This poem had its genesis in my move from London to the village of Rottingdean on the south coast of England, where you can stand on the South Downs and listen to the sea at the same time. Words and images often float up when I’m walking here, and I type them into my mobile app before they disappear. Then, when there are enough of them and they’ve had time to ripen, I sit at my computer and see what happens.

Winter shadows are accentuated in open spaces. When there are contours too, you get shadow magic, where you see your shape, or that of others, distorted, elongated, living a separate existence. Much of A Pocketful of Chalk is about seeing the ordinary from a different perspective, finding new aspects of yourself in the full glare of nature. We create mechanical things such as a windmill to harvest nature, and perhaps, because of this, become giants in our own minds. By the end of the poem, however, I’m insubstantial, ‘I float in the beaks of birds’.

Drop-in by Claire Booker (Nigel Kent)

At the terminal’s

edge, sunset outlines a row of cranes so they look
like a fleet of otherworldly sentinels, snouts

scouting the air. And I can hardly bear to watch the news:
for instance, today, a father wept as he dug, in vain,

for his children’s bodies. Around the bombed ruins of homes
can we say it is by luck or grace the living grieve? Even

the youngest ones can’t stop trembling: this word, from
the Latin tremulus—pertaining to the trauma of a wound.

Luisa A. Igloria, Tremble

My first purchase from Trickhouse Press was the inaugural Oulipo Puzzle Book (Spring 2022), one of a series of four delightful anthologies of poem puzzles that are informed by various constraints. In your introduction to Issue 4, you write:

‘My secret belief about Oulipo, in poetry and otherwise, is that the joy of Oulipo lies in the crafting of an Oulipo work moreso than in the reading of one…. What I’ve attempted to begin with this series of puzzle books is to put the pen in the reader’s hand, quite literally, and create spaces for readers to engage in Oulipoean thinking themselves. An Oulipo puzzle isn’t just a puzzle or a word game – it can also be a writing prompt, a springboard, a summertime, an autumn leaf, or a winter wondering land.’

Can you expand on this, with particular reference to your own relationship to poetry – as a reader, student, editor, and writer?

Dan [Power]: When I was a kid I was obsessed with wordsearches and mazes – actually I still am – and I liked making them and drawing them even more than trying to solve them. It’s very satisfying when you’re putting together a wordsearch or a crossword and you find the perfect word that intersects with the other words you’ve put down, and fills the space you’ve got left. Similarly with Oulipo, I like the challenge of writing under a constraint. I’m not great at it, and I think the things I’ve written that I’m most proud of came about from writing with absolutely no constraints, but it’s much more satisfying to complete an Oulipo poem because it has a kind of finality to it – there’s set rules, and a task to be completed within those rules, and eventually you get to a point where you can say for sure that it’s finished. There’s no finality with an unconstrained poem, you can keep editing and changing it forever. I thought of Oulipo writing as a kind of problem-solving, and a puzzle book working with Oulipian constraints seemed like a logical thing to make.

The idea for the Oulipo puzzle books came a few years ago when I was trying to get my head around how cryptic crosswords work, and I realised they had their own pretty consistent sets of constraints, and I wanted to see what other kinds of puzzles were possible by placing different sets of constraints on different kinds of puzzles. I also liked the idea of Oulipo as a method or a process, and was always more interested in the process of creating an Oulipo work than the finished work itself, trying out different combinations of words, exploring all possible avenues, tracing all possible connections… placing constraints on a piece of writing really makes you consider all the different detours it can take! As I said in the quote you mentioned, the puzzle books are about trying to give the reader that experience. The unfinished puzzles aren’t the poems, and the solutions aren’t either, they’re more like prompts – the poetry is going on in the reader’s head, it’s the thinking and the problem-solving itself.

Marian Christie, Anything could happen – An Interview with Dan Power of Trickhouse Press

The launch event for the Hastings Stanza Anthology last month was standing room only, and we were thrilled to raise several hundred pounds for the brilliant Refugee Buddy Project. Copies are still available (ask me) and since we’ve covered our costs all sales income now goes to the Project. The cover features a painting by the multi-talented Judith Shaw and there’s lots of lovely work in this book as you can see from the below.

I went to the London launch of Clare Best‘s new collection Beyond the Gate last month and it was a super evening. Unfortunately, having to leave to catch a train while Clare was still surrounded by a crowd of acolytes, I was delighted when my signed copy arrived in the post. It’s an excellent collection. I do love Clare’s work.

Also on my ‘to be read’ pile: Isabel Galleymore Significant Other (Carcanet) and Jane Clarke A Change in the Air (Bloodaxe), both poets I’m going to be interviewing soon for the podcast. Jane’s book was shortlisted for the Forward Prize this year and is on the TS Eliot shortlist. And I’m pretty sure Isabel’s collection was on the shortlists a couple of years ago.

Good news on the submissions front – Pindrop Press has offered to publish my collection next year and I’ve signed the contract, so I guess it’s official.  I’ve been so impressed with editor Sharon Black’s communication and enthusiasm. I feel very fortunate indeed, and in safe hands.

Robin Houghton, Currently reading, plus an anthology & a contract

I find it impossible not to feel guilty that I’m living a life without hardship and pain when others are not. But guilt is a pretty useless emotion, isn’t it, and rather self-indulgent. I have allowed myself to switch off the news and to think of other things once I’ve written and donated and done the small empathetic actions available to me.

On Saturday, I met with others from Trowbridge Stanza, the monthly poetry group I organise, and I ran a workshop centred on the Penned in the Margins anthology Adventures in Form. There were ten of us, reading about, trying out exercises, writing and sharing fragments of writing that might become poems. The session was quite tiring but fun and stimulating, according to feedback!

Josephine Corcoran, Guilt and Empathy

We stand on the street corner
for those whose streets run red
with blood and fire.

We stand on the street corner,
praying to awaken
from our collective nightmare,

to discover it was all a dream,
that we are safe in the arms of loved ones,
that all we hear are birds

and the laughter of children.

Jason Crane, POEM: Vigil

It’s a wide spectrum between the frictions of our daily lives and the bombs and rubble of Gaza and Ukraine, the Peace Wall in Belfast, but we’re all on it somewhere. When my Jewish friends worry about the surge in hate crimes, in verbal abuse on social media and on the streets, I sympathise of course, it must be horrible and frightening, but I’ve been surprised to find it so difficult. On summer Saturdays I have to listen to my neighbours singing songs about wading up to their knees in my blood, and we’re supposed to take it for granted – it’s just the marching season. When I hear people who wouldn’t personally be mean to a soul complaining that ‘you’re not allowed to say anything any more’, I wonder how their queer neighbours or their disabled friends feel about that. And when we say ‘we must be able to get along and why can’t people just be nice to each other?’ I think we don’t really understand peace at all.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Peace, Peace! They Say but There Is No Peace

gale force
how the shadows gesticulate
on the morning wall

Jim Young [no title]

“Where” was inspired by my maternal grandmother, who died in October 2000 after suffering from both cancer and Alzheimer’s. The poem began with a realization that what I wonder about more than where she is now, after her death, is where was she then, at the end of her life. Watching a loved one deteriorate is heartbreaking, and witnessing my vibrant grandmother lose access to her own memories—to her own life and sense of self—rocked me to my core. It was a formative experience for me as a human being and as a writer. I don’t think it’s an accident that so much of my work is concerned with memory.

I found myself, early on, testing the elasticity of the opening sentence. How much could it hold? How long could I extend it? The unwieldy nature of that first sentence reflects the difficulty I was having grappling with the subject matter. How best to articulate something that resists articulation? Then again, this is the work of poems, and—I think—work that poems are uniquely suited for. I think the commas create tension; those pauses that slow the reader down while at the same time building momentum because many of the sentences go on and on, and they’re loaded with repetition.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Where”

I’ve read many memoirs and non-fiction books about cognitive decline and living with a beloved person who has a neurodegenerative condition; from Oliver Sacks to the recent biography of Terry Pratchett and many of the books we’ve read in my “morbid book group,” information in these texts connects with the personal emotions involved in deeply complicated human ways. There are also quite a few poetry collections themed around this type of loss, and I ought to compile a list one of these days, because poetry has been helpful to me as my family and I contend with elders dealing with forms of dementia (and there are many forms). That fact has led me to wonder whether readers even need another poetry collection centered around cognitive loss. Since so many of my poems during the past four or five years intersect with or explore that topic, I have considered making a manuscript of them. I hesitate. Too much sadness?

Yet while the circumstances that evoke such poems are usually sad, the disease progression differs, as do the personalities of the persons with cognition loss and the personalities of their loved ones. Perspectives on the persons and the diseases also vary a great deal. Similarities exist–enough to make a reader feel recognized–but situations and value systems mean there are as many ways to write about dementia as there are to write about anything else. […]

These days, my mother sometimes seems unmoored from the present moment, but not absorbed in memory either–just kind of lost in the ozone. Self, language, memory…sometimes they slip away from her physical body. In this process, though, she has things to teach me. Just as my hospice patients do, and as their families do, by helping me to widen my understanding of human beings and how we get by in the world. Or how we flounder differently from one another. Or how we rescue one another.

I take this gradual loss into myself–that’s what most of us do–and it’s hard, it’s painful to keep myself open to learning and love when what I first notice is untethering and loss. But yesterday when visiting my mother I noticed she has a cobbled-together notebook in which she sometimes writes (in tiny, indecipherable script). Some pages she had divided into three columns, some have scraps of letters or newspaper clippings stapled to them. Are her pages a record, or a practice? She cannot tell me. Yet it was kind of amazing to realize she does this with apparent intent. She has her reasons, if not her reason in the classic sense.

Ann E. Michael, Untethering

I came across the most astonishing gentleman on YouTube this week named Troy Hawke. His entire shtick is dressing up in a ridiculously ornate suit, complete with an ascot, and walking around in public complimenting people. It’s really quite magical. I believe he is bestowed with a Godly gift. His compliments aren’t random or insincere, they are extremely incisive and show that he really sees the people that he compliments. In complimenting people, he shares a moment of joy and recognition with them. For example, he stops by a bench where two friends are chatting and says, “You look very comfortable in each other’s presence. It’s a lovely way to be with another human.” They light up with with delight at their friendship being seen and appreciated by another human being. I find his videos light and humorous, but also truly uplifting. And who doesn’t need some of that in the midst of what the world has become?

Kristen McHenry, DP Progress Pics, I Baked Bread, Compliment Man

I had a brain-wave a couple of months ago when I was out walking. Using my copy of Mammals of Prince Edward Island (And Adjacent Marine Waters),  my plan is to respond to entries in the book with a poem and a sketch. It’s a winter project for my personal enjoyment but I’ll share what I make on this blog. Please excuse my rough drawings – maybe just maybe, I’ll get better as I do more of them. Here’s my first poem and sketch.

E.E. Nobbs, The Flying Squirrel

It’s World Basking Shark Day. Airplane Mode Off.
Text Predictions On. Personal Data Up To Date.
I read your diary from before you knew me.
Bombs fall on refugee camps, hospitals, schools.
Ten thousand dead in a month. Save Draft.

Bob Mee, ON WORLD BASKING SHARK DAY, I READ THE BEEKEEPER’S BIBLE

I’ve been trying to prepare a 15-minute talk for my winery bookclub this Wednesday. We’ll be discussing the late Louise Gluck’s terrific book, Meadowlands.

I’ve taught classes to veterans and disadvantaged high school kids and college students, but I thought since I usually teach creative writing, I would instead talk more about how to write a poem than how to read one!

I know what I don’t want to say—poetry isn’t supposed to be an escape room, it’s supposed to be something enjoyed or appreciated the way a piece of visual art or music. Poetry isn’t autobiography—it can be memoirish, but it can also be fictionish.  But there are some tools poets use that non-poets might want to understand or know about, so I thought I’d talk about those—tone, diction, punctuation, sonics, images, metaphors, etc.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, How to Read a Poem, In Between Holidays, and Galloping Toward 2024

Yesterday I tried to take some old wooden rabbit run panels to the tip. It turns out that the tip is closed on Wednesdays, which I knew but thought, inexplicably, that it was already Thursday. I’ve not been well this week, which might explain my confusion. I’ve had a stupid a virus; which has been bad enough to make me uncomfortable and a bit brain-foggy with a cough and a heavy, liquid feeling in my lungs, but not bad enough for me to cancel work. I hate feeling vulnerable. And illness makes me feel exposed, and miserable and like my body is not my own. I have, however, enjoyed my work this week which has mostly been running early morning writing groups. There is something particularly special about the dark morning turning to light as you sit quietly, writing with others. It’s one of my favourite parts of being a facilitator, and of being a writer. I’ve fallen into a pattern of working from 6.30am until about 9am and then going walking with, and sometimes without, the dog. We don’t go so far anymore on account of the dog being quite elderly. But last week I walked up to the river which runs along the edge of our village. The river Hertford is a strange river, it rises just outside another nearby village, Muston, and despite being just a mile from the sea, it flows inland, down the wide, glacier carved valley where I live, where I have always lived. On the day I walked up to it I’d seen a fellow dog walker in the lane. I stroked the long muzzle of his lovely greyhound and we passed the time of day, talking about the ash and the beech leaves and how autumn had arrived so suddenly, how it seemed to do this every year, and that each year we were surprised. His dog waited patiently. My dog wound himself around my legs. He told me he’d been up to the river and had seen a king fisher for the first time in ages. I had never seen one, though had been with people when they had seen one. It seems I have often had my head turned the wrong way when the king fishers appear. On the day we; the dog and I, walked up to the river, we were lucky. We arrived on the wide metal bridge and stood patiently, or rather I stood patiently, but the dog got bored and started winding round my legs and trying to get into the river and then suddenly, out from under the bridge, there was the kingfisher. It was the colour of an Egyptian amulet, jewel-like, the most beautiful, bright blue I have ever seen, completely at odds with the brown, draping, wet landscape. I watched it flit down the length of the river and away and stood with my mouth open in an O of surprise. Perfect.

Wendy Pratt, If the Landscape is a Body then the Hertford is a Wound

Can we pray for rain yet?
Has time stopped?

Are we still family
even if we disagree?

Where is everyone else
in this cloud of unknowing?

Rachel Barenblat, Unknowing

I have been immersed in quilting since Wednesday afternoon.  It has been strange to resurface, strange to do other things.  I’ve gotten my reading responses done for tonight’s seminary class.  I’ve thought about other writing that I haven’t been doing, the writing that always slips to the bottom of my to do list when I have a chance to immerse myself in a retreat.

I’ve also been thinking about poets and quilters, wondering if there are similarities to what I’ve seen and experienced.  At the risk of talking in huge generalities, let me muse a bit.

–I am a person making it up as I go along.  I’m more in love with the fabric than with the quilting process.  I create quilts because it gives me a reason to collect fabric, but then I have to do something with it.  Once I might have thought about making a living with this art–even more reason to collect fabrics!  But now, I’m happy to be in my own corner of the world.

The same is true of writing.  Once I wanted to make a living with my writing, and if it should happen, I won’t complain.  But I want to do the writing I want to do, not what is likely to sell in the wider world.

–This week-end, I’ve watched many quilters working from kits.  Not only do the kits come with instructions and pictures, but they also come with pre-cut fabric.  There are designers out there that not only design the finished quilt, but they also design the fabrics.

I look at the pictures that come with the kit, and I think, no, I’d do it this way.  Nope, that color choice is all wrong.

In the writing world, the kit might represent an MFA program or a literary journal–that hope that there’s one way to do things, that we can unlock that one way if we go to the right school and get the right publications.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilters and Writers

The mixed-use heart.
All warmth and passion

or is it all red fury? 
Red Alert – a love or war 

emergency? 
Blood as in beating and alive,

or draining on a sidewalk?
We are unhappy people

in a happy world.  I heard
it said.  And it wobbled

in the red, fully lit garden.
Something will happen

We just don’t know what.

Jill Pearlman, Code RED

I talk to the birds about complicity
and courage. How both need wings.
How both burn red. How both grace
and macabre defy gravity. If only,
briefly. They come every evening.
Pied Wagtails with homes somewhere
I cannot see, to hop around on the
tiles and sing from the terrace walls.
All. All things can be obliterated in
moments.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Untitled -9

It’s a beautiful day in Portland, Oregon, sunny, with bright fall leaves blowing down and gray clouds massing in the distance, after days of rain, and that’s a peacock on the roof. I came here to help my daughter have a baby, and that has indeed happened. A beautiful baby named Lola, 8 lbs, 12 oz, 22 inches long. So far, she likes to sleep in the daytime and keep her parents awake from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., like lots of babies who sleep while the mother is active by day and kick around nocturnally. I am happy to hold this baby and stare at her. The activity that rocked her to sleep in the womb included a daily neighborhood walk that I got to do with the family a couple times before the birth, and that’s where the peacocks come in. Just as there is a flock of wild turkeys back at home, or trail turkeys, since they walk the Constitution Trail as well as the neighborhoods, here there is a flock of wild peacocks. Or you might say a pride of peacocks, a muster of peacocks, or an ostentation of peacocks. Although these local peacocks are quite modest and unostentatious. Shortly after getting this picture through my son’s window, I got to witness this one fly gently down to earth.

Then time stood still, as they say, suspended itself, and we had days of labor in a hospital room. The baby was born, and then my mother died, as if she had been waiting for the baby to come into the world before she went out of it.

Kathleen Kirk, Peacock on the Roof

立冬や椅子一つある古本屋 西生ゆかり

rittō ya isu hitotsu aru furuhonya

            beginning of winter−

            a second-hand bookstore

            with one chair inside

                                                Yukari Saisho

from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, November 2022 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (November 9, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44

Poetry Blogging Network

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

These past two weeks brought Halloween, Day of the Dead, and the return of Standard Time in the U.S. and Canada. Israel’s war on Gaza has, if anything, intensified. Unsurprisingly, poets had something to say about these things, although I think we tend to be more aware of the limitations of language than most. Also: parades for poets, a teetering between melody and madness, an epic poem about astrophysics, and much more. Enjoy.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Weeks 43-44”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 34

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: remembering Maureen Seaton, gearing up for fall book launches, making videopoems, pondering the big questions, and much more. Enjoy.


It’s rare to read a poetry collection and enthuse about every one included in it. Inevitably some poems will resonate with us more than others. But Matt Morden’s collection, Stumbles in Clover (Snapshot Press 2007) has me savouring every single haiku on every single page. I felt like that when I first bought it and feel it again today.

Nigel Jenkins, on the back cover, said, ‘They are as spare and translucent as it’s possible to be, yet they are deeply affecting…’. ‘Spare’ could easily suggest something that has been pared back to the detriment of content and meaning. But Morden has such a wonderful eye for detail, and humanity observed, that his micro poems expand beyond their physical boundaries. They are like miniature doorways into shared emotions, felt experiences. And the natural world, where it appears, always feels, through suggestion, like a parallel to the human one. […]

I mentioned in a previous post that, for me, the best poets and poetry collections are the ones that fire me up to write too. Here are a couple of haiku written today, thanks to Matt Morden.

unsettled weather
she deletes her Whatsapp
while I am reading it

summer’s end
he buys me a chilli plant
called ‘Basket of Fire’

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge

I came across a poem today that speaks with the voice of my aching heart. I was delighted to find the author is Amanda Gorman, whose poetic voice often resonates with me. She’s a poet for this moment on earth. Young, truthful, gifted, she speaks plainly with vibrant images, simply but with rhythm, alliteration, and assonance. Amanda Gorman is the author of The Hill We Climb and Other Poems. She was the youngest inaugural poet in America.

Right now, we are in a transitional world, upside down in our values, experiencing the hottest days on our planet and the most confusing and dichotomized (is that a word?) society. I am aging. At 74, my heart and my body hurt a lot of the time. We’ve survived a pandemic together, but somehow also apart. That experience has re-sculpted our way of life. Gorman’s poem felt as if it was torn from me.

Rachel Dacus, When Everything Hurts, Poetry Heals

While looking for a nonce meter form to use for this collection about sin-eaters and ornamental hermits, I’ve been wanting to follow numbers. 40. 42. 6.

Today, because of medication, my red blood cells are collectively at a low point—but if left alone, the individual cells would rise and fall independently in a staggered rhythm of roughly 40 days.

It takes 40 days to mend a fracture, and 40 days to replace the epidermis. Hindu women spend 40 days secluded after childbirth. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert. Muslims believe the dead may return on the 6th day or on the 40th.

The list goes on as far as you want to follow it. One half-truth will beget another.

In fact, you can pick any path alongside a river and follow it to the one sea.

This is my path.

Ren Powell, Searching for One True Form

John Greening’s recent, self-confessedly ‘tightly-focused’ little selection from Goethe’s vast output is, in part, a campaigning publication. In his Introduction, Greening notes the difficulties surrounding the great German poet’s presence in English: the sheer volume of work, the range of that work, the man’s polymathic achievements (as poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, critic), the long life untidily straddling all neat, period pigeon-holing. Christopher Reid has called him ‘the most forbidding of the great European poets’, but perhaps the English have come to see him as a mere jack-of-all-trades? And where do we turn to read and enjoy the poetry? Michael Hamburger’s and Christopher Middleton’s translations look more and more dated. David Luke’s Penguin Selected (1964; versified in 2005)is the most reliable source. But tellingly, as Greening says, one does not find young, contemporary poets offering individual translations of Goethe in their latest slim volume in the way we do with poems by Rilke or Hölderlin.

So here Greening sets out a selection box of various Goethes to encourage other translators: we find nature poetry, romance, the artist as rebel, meditations on fate, erotic love poems, a rollicking ballad, dramatic monologue and a very fine sonnet. I like Greening’s determination not to lose the singing. Here, he has ‘shadowed’ the original metres and retained rhyme schemes, though he sensibly makes more use of pararhyme than Goethe’s full rhyming. While not approaching Lowellesque ‘imitations’, Greening has also sought a ‘contemporary texture’ by venturing to ‘modernise an image or an idea if it helped the poem adapt to a different age’. For example, in ‘Harz Mountains, Winter Journey’ (‘Harzreise im Winter’) Goethe’s buzzard has become the more familiar image, in southern England at least, of a red kite. The carriage or wagon (‘Wagen’) driven by Fortune becomes a car in a ‘motorcade’ and another vehicle is imagined ‘winking on to / the slip-road’. There’s also an enjoyable touch of Auden in Greening’s updating of ‘crumbling cliffs / and disused airfields’ (Middleton has ‘On impassable tracks / Through the void countryside’).

Martyn Crucefix, Goethe’s poetry – some new translations by John Greening

I ran into a poetry acquaintance recently, and on being asked, I churned around in my brain and realized it has been 14 years since I got my MFA. The person then asked, “Are you still writing?” I stared at them blankly, thinking, “What the hell else would I be doing?” But I just said, “Oh…yes,” and was left feeling a bit stunned. You who know me well may know that I “quit writing forever” on a regular basis. I’ll have to remind myself of my stunned reaction next time I’m tempted to declare, “I’m done, done forever.” I’ll remind myself how stunned I was by that question, how confused that I would have quit writing, even though that degree is now in the murky past. How startled I was at the thought that not-writing might be “a thing.”

Marilyn McCabe, What’s he doing in there; or, On “Being a Writer”

Oh, well. Once again, I had every intention of following through on the Sealey Challenge this year and posting about what I read. Instead, I did a little traveling and the whole shebang fell apart. I have continued my way through my stack, but will not give extended commentary here. (The post would be very lengthy.) But here is the list of what I’ve read since the last time I posted:

  • Carl Phillips Then the War and Selected Poems
  • Mary Jean Chan Flèche
  • Robert Hass Time and Materials
  • Tiana Clark Equilibrium
  • Roberto Carlos Garcia What Can I Tell You? Selected Poems
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay The Harp Weaver and other Poems
  • Tracy K. Smith Such Color: New and Selected Poems

[…]
I went in to substitute teach for the afternoon on the first day of school at my old building, filling in for a friend who had to attend a family funeral. The kids were nice, the afternoon went quickly, I saw some old friends. But I got home and was TIRED. ALL CAPS TIRED. I legit yawned from 6:30 PM on like I hadn’t slept in days. A good reminder that I retired at the right time. And that teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world.

Donna Vorreyer, The best of intentions…

If I were doing the Sealey Challenge this year, I would embark on a re-reading of the Maureen Seaton books in my possession, having just learned of her death. I met her in Chicago and took a seminar with her, and she was an inspiration. She encouraged me to send some prose poems to Quarter After Eight, where they were taken. It became a favorite journal of mine, full of the challenging and unexpected. 

I would probably start with Furious Cooking.

Sadly, I am not doing the Sealey Challenge this year–voraciously reading a book of poems a day in August–because daily life has gotten a bit too complicated by caregiving, though resting with poetry might have helped. The heat wave did not. Now I think of throwing my ivy comforter on this wooden glider, putting the stack of Seaton books beside me, and at least leafing through, pausing here and there to concentrate on a poem. But the afternoon is spoken for.

Kathleen Kirk, Furious Cooking

This morning, news of 2 deaths took me back to specific times in my life:  Bob Barker and Maureen Seaton.  I was surprised, in some ways, to learn that Bob Barker had been alive these many years, and saddened to realize how relatively young Maureen Seaton was when she died, in her mid-70’s.  At this point, if there’s a cause of death, I haven’t found it.

Bob Barker seemed old when I was first aware of him, lazy summer days watching The Price Is Right, with my mom and sister.  We loved this game show, and I’m not sure why.  Looking back from a distance, the prizes seem less than fabulous, unless one won one of the showcases at the end.  I remember one babysitter pointing out that the contestant was lucky to have won extra cash because she’d need it to pay the taxes on the prize package.

Still, we tuned in, almost every morning, unless we had swim lessons.  And the show went on–and on and on–long after we quit watching, long after Bob Barker stopped hosting it.  Reading the news coverage, Barker seemed like a good human.  I’m glad he lived so long.

Maureen Seaton also seemed like a good person, but unlike many of my peers, I was not her student.  I was an adjunct at the University of Miami where she taught, but our paths rarely crossed.  Once I went to a reading where she and Denise Duhamel read from their new work.  I bought Little Ice Age, which had just been released.  Seaton signed it, and told me how much she appreciated the fact that I bought her book in the hardback edition.

I looked up the publication history–that reading must have been in 2001 or 2002.  Wow.  It seems a lifetime ago, and in so many ways, it’s just as distant a time as my suburban childhood watching The Price is Right.  I went to poetry readings so often that many faces started to seem familiar.  I had dreams of my own book with a spine, and when my first chapbook was accepted in 2003 for publication in 2004, it seemed a tantalizing possibility.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Pivoting to Past Times

I was very sad to hear about the death of poet Maureen Seaton, who was a tremendously encouraging and supportive writer as well as a really fun writer—I’ve been reading her for years, but it is her steady kindness to others that I saw in all the mentions of her in social media. I wonder—does our work matter more, or how we treat people along the way? Either way, if you haven’t picked up anything by Maureen yet, you should. Ed Ochester, the editor of 5 AM and University of Pittsburgh Press for a long time, also passed away—another poet who was known for kind editorial notes and support for writers. Yes, he sent me some of those notes. We feel real sorrow—not just an abstract sense of loss—when these kinds of people pass away. The poetry world can be cold and indifferent, but these were people who made it less so. It’s hard to say this without sounding like a cliche, but they were people who reminded me to be not just a better poet, but a better person, and I will miss them. I want to remember to be kind, how important it is to write that note, or that blurb, or that appreciation or review.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of Flare, Corona in F(r)iction, Still the Smoke and Heat, Poetry World Losses, A Blue Supermoon Coming…So Look Out (or Up)

The latest from Redmond, Washington poet (and that city’s second official poet laureate) Jeannine Hall Gailey is Flare Corona (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2023), a constellation of first-person narrative lyric portraits and self-portraits clustered into four sections—“Post-Life,” “Harbingers,” “Blood Moon” and “Corona”—as she articulates an uncertain future around the weather, ongoing fires and the opening months of the pandemic, and of living with Multiple sclerosis. “You were warned.” she writes, as part of the poem “To Survive So Many Disasters,” “You promised / never to return. You set out on a journey / far from home. You looked out into darkness / and saw possibility.” Her poems explore layers of complication, both from within and surrounding, simultaneously burning out and refusing to fade away. There are moments in poems that see powerful lines occasionally buried, but Gailey writes from the centre and from all sides of each of these ongoing crises, offering her lyric as a way to document what has happened, what is happening, what might still be happening. “Under the mountains,” she writes, as part of the short poem “That Summer,” “the earth tried to shake us off. / The oldest oak trees fell, / people sheltered and burned in swimming pools, / the screams of horses in the air.” She speaks of climate crisis and its ongoing traumas, as the poem ends: “We were tied to a troubled earth. / You said it was too late to leave anyway.”

rob mclennan, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Flare Corona

I had actually forgotten that I’d written this poem until someone shared this image on the site formerly known as Twitter. As soon as I read it, I remembered what was on my mind and heart when I wrote it. I had to search on my hard drive to date it, though — I wrote it in spring of 2015, earlier than I thought. Looks like it was originally written in couplets, though I also like the shape that someone gave it in this image. (There’s a slight transcription error in line 8, but I’m honored that someone liked the poem well enough to share it this way, even without the original punctuation and italics.) It’s not exactly a sonnet, in terms of rhyme or meter, though it’s inspired by the movement of a Petrarchan sonnet — eight lines, a turn, then six lines. My favorite line is still, “God isn’t / a diner waitress saying: what can I get you, hon?” That’s not how I understand prayer to work, even petitionary prayer. Sometimes I can’t help wishing it worked that way, though. I would order so much wholeness and healing and sweetness and fulfillment of hope. 

Rachel Barenblat, Find

Today’s post draws from my research into how, exactly, wonder can work in service of preservation efforts, and how poetry can be the invaluable link connecting the two.

I often revisit the work of my most humble, most brilliant friend, Robert Macfarlane. In addition to being one of the most mesmerizing and thoughtful writers on nature, he has, in my estimation, done the best job of succinctly capturing one of the chief issues we face in our efforts to address threats to the Anthropocene:

“As a species, we will not save what we do not love, and we rarely love what we cannot name.”

Inspired by the findings of Cambridge researchers who discovered that British children aged eight and over were significantly better able to identify Pokémon than organisms found in the natural world, Macfarlane set out to write a book that would reclaim “the magic of naming nature” through “summoning spells,”: short, rhythmic poems. That book, beautifully illustrated by Jackie Morris, is called The Lost Words, and it celebrates the identification and cherishing that naming the natural world allows. He provides a lexicon of slowly vanishing words—acorn, adder, bluebell, and so on—relying on a visual acrostic, whereby each stanza is capitalized to highlight the letters spelling out the thing described. Here is “Bramble”:

Bramble 

Bramble is on the march again,

Rolling and arching along the hedges,
   in to parks on city edges.

All streets are suddenly thick with briar:
   cars snarled fast, business over. 

Moths have come in their millions,
   drawn to the thorns. The air flutters. 

Bramble has reached each house now, 
   looped it in wire. People lock doors,
   close shutters.

Little shoots steal through keyholes,
   to leave – in quiet halls,

Empty stairwells—bowls of bright
   blackberries where the light falls. 

The poem relies on what Francis Spufford in The Child That Books Built called the “gloriously embedded” elements of language to which children are so attuned, “its texture, its timbre, its grain, its music.” Bramble is personified as “on the march again” across rural and urban landscapes, while the tightly woven pattern of full rhymes, “hedges / edges,” “flutters / shutters,” and slant rhymes “briar / over,” capture bramble’s invasiveness. Where things might turn sinister in the fifth stanza, “People lock doors, / close shutters,” Macfarlane redirects the story to acclaim the power and literal fruitfulness of bramble: “Little shoots steal through keyholes / to leave…/ bowls of bright / blackberries where the light falls.” The almost incantatory stresses make the poem ask to be spoken aloud.

In short: the poem enacts the wonder of the thing it describes.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday: The Lost Words, Wonder, and Environmental Preservation

when were stars erased by rain

when did sleep still live in a tree

who was the first to murder a dream

Grant Hackett [no title]

I’ve been a bit scant on posting this month because I’ve been a bit scant on everything—inspiration, creativity, energy, and pep. August feels like it has dragged on interminably, and I haven’t been able to get forward momentum on anything. The heat, smoke and terrible Seattle air quality hasn’t helped with my general sense of stagnation and ennui. I’m left to just sit and wait out whatever this is, while I hope for a return to crisp, cool air and a good week of cleansing rain. In the meantime, I haven’t had a lot to say, and I haven’t had the to drive to fight through it and muster up a post anyway.

Despite my listlessness, I have managed to make one decision this month, which is to return to journaling. I used to journal daily, and I can’t pinpoint the exact time that practice fell away for me, but I haven’t journaled in many years, and it feels like it’s time to start again. Journaling always brought me clarity, and I am feeling a need for clarity on many things right now. The act of sitting and writing with pen and paper, physically moving your hands over the page and connecting your thoughts to the movement, imbues a sort of magic. It brings calmness and calls forth truth and orderliness of the mind, which is something I long for right now. And of course, returning to journaling means buying a plethora of fancy new journals, which I am definitely not addicted to and don’t have a hoarding problem with at all.

Kristen McHenry, August Blahs, A Return to Journaling, Training Re-Set

I recently came across this blog post by Naush Sabah about why we send our poems to magazines (or not). I’m in agreement with her on just about all of it, although I needed telling some things; for example:

You needn’t seek to publish every poem you write. Some work is for the drawer, some work is for an audience of one or two friends, some work is better within a book, some work is for the trash and, if you’re lucky, a key to unlock the next piece of writing.

It hasn’t been a conscious thing, but when I think about it, I can put most poems I write these days into one of these categories. I haven’t been sending out as many poems to magazines as I used to, and among those I have sent not many have been accepted. I’ve been a bit disillusioned about this to be honest.

And yet at the same time I can see that quite a few of these poems belong with others in order to have the impact I’m after. In other words, in a collection.

A few might even be poems I should be treating as stepping stones to the actual poem I’m after, the ‘key to unlocking the next piece of writing’ that Naush talks about in her piece.

A funny thing to be saying, given my unofficial role as cheerleader for submitting to magazines. I still believe in the magazines, and still encourage people to send in their poems. But it’s what I’ve always said: it’s not a strategy that suits everyone all the time. Goals and ambitions change.

Robin Houghton, The positives of submitting less to magazines

Scientists say faking happiness can hurt you.

Scientists say the average person walks the equivalent of five times around the world in their lifetime.

Scientists say when you die, some companies will turn your ashes into fireworks.

Scientists say the universe is like a giant brain.

Rich Ferguson, Scientists Say

Last week, I was watering our garden in an effort to stave off the effects of the high heat we’ve been living in. I was in a hurry. I was impatient. I was anxious. I yanked the hose, and I broke off two large branches of a shrub I’d once given up on. It had been all wonky, growing a few measly branches on one side, with the other side of the bush bare. I moved it to its current spot, almost daring it to live. If it died completely there, I figured it was no loss.

It’s not only lived there, but thrived, filling in beautifully. It’s a story that has given me some joy. And then, in one quick moment, I broke off two full branches, returning it to a state of bare lopsidedness.

I was so glad that it was me who did that, rather than Cane. Because it just made me sad. I was glad to be angry with myself, rather than him.

Cane suggested putting the branches in water. Maybe they will sprout roots and we can replant, he suggested, get a new plant out of it. I think that’s not likely, but I did it anyway.

This morning, as I sat here writing these words, the branches were right in front of my face and I noticed something that stopped me:

The branches are flowering. My broken branches. Sprouting tiny little flowers. Not the roots we hoped for, but flowers we didn’t even know to hope for.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Wonky

Who knew, at the bend,
a long slant sun would meet me,

we’d eat a burst of tomatoes 
at night, already in shadow,

a wall of sound, sonic crickets
like monks in saffron robes 

lined from here to the mountains,
soft, soft their silken chant, hand clap.

Jill Pearlman, Slanting

I can now share/remind you that the launch event will also be on the 7th November, at The Deverux Pub in Temple. I will be reading with Matthew Stewart (launching his second full collection. I’ve read it and it’s excellent). There will also be readings by Maria Taylor, Hilary Menos and Eleanor Livingstone. It’s a Red Squirrel Press and HappenStance read off. Who will win? Who will hold the coats???

Come along to find out…I am very pleased as it will be the first time I’ve actually met Sheila, Hilary, Maria and Eleanor.

More details here. And my thanks to Nell for putting this up (and for putting up with me). And very much thanks to Sheila for agreeing to publish me in the first place.

More from me on the book when I have it, but I am very, very excited now and it’s all starting to feel scary. 

Mat Riches, Varroa-iations on a theme

Super-excited to share this cover! Thank you to everyone at Sundress Publications for their work on this! Special thanks to Ani Araguz, my partner and artist behind the artwork on this cover. […]

This piece is entitled “we go to sleep early so we can dream what’s never in it for us.” I love the sense of at once feeling mired and also breaking apart. This ties into the way ruining and becoming ruins because of want are used as a metaphor in the book.

Also, happy to share that the project has a description as well. Check it out:

Is selfhood constructed? And if so, by whom? Exploring queerness, race, body image, and family, Ruin & Want is a masterful meditation on otherness and identity. In a series of gripping, episodic prose pieces centered on an illicit relationship between a student and his high school English teacher, Araguz peels back the layers of his marginalized identity. By reflecting on his childhood into adulthood, Araguz grapples with finding a sense of self when early, predatory experiences have deeply affected his coming-of-age. In quixotic, deeply eviscerating lyric prose, Araguz delivers a troubling but bold memoir that handles this topic with courage while grieving what it costs survivors to reckon with harm’s aftermath. Yet in the midst of this struggle, we find many bittersweet and lingering gifts such as, “For the first time I saw myself as someone worth seeing,” that make this work necessary and unforgettable.

I’ve been working on R&W since 2016. The work has had me learning and growing over the years. The book is a testament to my survival. The final year of work had me realizing that I have been late in embracing my queer identity, something that has been difficult to do until the completion of this book. Still learning as I go.

José Angel Araguz, Ruin & Want cover reveal!

Writing really is a long game. I wrote Murder Girl gets wired in 2007 after I’d relocated from Perth to Adelaide and was still elbow-deep in writing for theatre. I didn’t know about prose poems. I thought I was just writing little sketches (were they poems? were they stories?) with a view to heightening ordinary fuckd-up urban and suburban folk to a kind-of mythological status. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’d give my characters names like Murder Girl, Violet Sweets, Beef Boy and they’d always drink too much & have low self-esteem. Auto-bio much? Now I can hear rhythms & a smattering of rhyme in this poem, which were the precursors to me writing and performing my first spoken word poem in 2016.

In 2020, when I received funding to record my first collection SIARAD as an audiobook & make some video poems, I wanted to record multiple sound-tracks for this poem, which were then edited & enhanced by the audio genius Jeffrey Zhang. Then, the poet indigo eli introduced me to featherful (not their real name) who agreed to make the video-poem. I still remember the feeling of being blown away the first time I watched it. It exceeded my expectations in capturing the feel of late-night, urban-gothic youth culture in small city Australia. The video poem’s interplay of dark and light, appearing & disappearing, is eerie.

Caroline Reid, VIDEO POEM: Murder Girl gets wired

Earlier in the week, a facebook friend asked everyone if they could think of a time they wanted to stop writing, and what made them carry on regardless.  How did they work through it? I was thinking of responding, but then realized the answer was way too complex and convoluted to deal with in a comments section. There are days when I feel this way about poetry specifically, not really writing in general, of which I have done many different types and genres at various points.  I love that I get to make a living writing other kinds of things now, but poetry sometimes feels like something I could easily drop from my life like a napkin from a table and I’m not sure anyone would notice. It certainly doesn’t contribute financially to my life, nor does the pursuit of it necessarily all the time contribute to my mental well-being. It is a lot of time and effort invested with steadily diminishing returns, something that took me a long time to realize.  That working harder or more or better wouldn’t necessarily show any kind of difference at all. And by returns, I don’t necessarily just mean po-biz things, many of which I have let go of in the past several years.  But more so the sense of purpose that I sometimes lose the thread of at times. Would I not spend my time better by writing things that allow me to make a living rather than dropping poems into what usually feels like a void. Would not these energies be more productive leveled elsewhere?

And yet, I don’t know how I would live without it. Or where I would channel those same storytelling energies. Fiction, sure, but I am not really very good at it.  Essays, maybe. Writing poems, good or bad, have been part of my life since I was a stupid teenager who did a little too well on an English assignment and somehow locked in hard on a genre that most people don’t seem to care about at all. I used to dismiss that Rilke quote about HAVING to write, of dying if you were forbidden to do it,  as pretension and dramatics, but maybe he was right. Sometimes I am not certain how I could ever consider stopping. Sometimes I am not certain how I can keep going.

But there are still poems to be written. Projects to be executed.  I am digging in on the video poems that I will be releasing in September–the villains series–armed with a fancy new microphone […]

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/28/2023

One thing I love about poetry is the space it holds for nuanced conversation. It’s so magnificent when poets get their teeth in something, shake it about and snarl at it or fawn over it (or both!). Poems are places where we can wonder about things and be in awe just as likely in response to something beautiful as to something terrible.

Barbie is a spectacular subject for poetry. In addition to the cultural baggage noted above, she offers opportunities for ekphrasis and persona poems. She conjures nostalgia and personal story. She invites reflection on identity and body image. She churns up questions on gender, class and power. And of course, there are all those outfits: Who is she, really? “Just” a doll? Perhaps.

It’s all grist for the mill, as they say — frothy, frothy fodder for poets.

I, personally, haven’t written any Barbie poems, but I always enjoy reading them. Of course there are full collections worth noting, including KINKY by Denise Duhamel, Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang and Never Picked First for Playtime by Dustin Brookshire, which is an homage to Duhamel’s.

Carolee Bennett, barbie in the poetry world

“From From” explores the question “Where are you from from?” (where are you really from) by investigating the awkward state of being American yet being othered by white Americans and of the feeling of incompleteness when you discover your heritage through English sources. Youn’s approach is less direct than Claudia Rankin’s but equally as eloquent. Youn’s studies are inventive, setting up two perspectives to interrogate received knowledge and bias. “From From” is a multi-layered collection that rewards re-reading.

Emma Lee, “From From” Monica Youn (Carcarnet Press) – book review

My father died five years ago. Yesterday was his death anniversary. Five years seems wrong. It feels both too long and too short. In this state of unmooring, one becomes time’s orphan, just as moving from Singapore to New York made me an orphan of place. I have lived in New York as a foster child for 20 years. 20 years seems wrong too, for the same reason. Yesterday I tried to recall the exact day I landed in JFK airport and took the bus to Grand Central Station, in order to board the train to Sarah Lawrence College, where I was to learn how to write, but I could not remember. What I remembered was sitting across from an older Jewish man on the train. He told me he was a jeweler who opened his own shop. Tonight, 20 years after I came to this city to see if I would be any good as a poet, I am having dinner with a younger Singaporean poet and her mom. She is here to pursue further training in the craft of writing, as I did. She will meet a host of interesting people in NYC, the sedulous, the sadducees, the seducers. I hope she will meet my jeweler.

Jee Leong Koh, Foster Child of New York

I visited Magnetic Poetry this morning aka The Oracle. This is what she imparted.
Happy Saturday.

Beneath dreams and
shadows
your sweet tongue
bares a fasting and
a wanting
pants for roses raw and light
licks an ache
a sleeping love
cooling to rust

Charlotte Hamrick, a little something

Highland Park Poetry press has set up a book launch/poetry reading for The Red Queen Hypothesis (and me) with poet Rene Parks and an open mic to follow. This event takes place Saturday, September 9th at 5 pm, at Madame ZuZu’s, 1876 First Street, Highland Park IL. Here’s a link, and here’s another link. It’s a ways to travel from eastern Pennsylvania but a good reason for yours truly to visit a new place, meet new people–including the book’s publisher–and listen to other poets.

Too often, perhaps, I stay around the home front, indulge in my introversion by gardening and reading, and shy away from promoting my work. Lately, it’s been months since I did any submitting. There was my participation in the annual Goschenhoppen Festival, then a short but lovely week in North Carolina, camping and seeing friends. Now, the veggie season is starting to wind down–tomato sauce simmers on the burner–and I will have fewer excuses for why I am not sending out poems.

But my travel for the year is not quite done. In September there’s one more trip away from PA, and after that we can settle into autumn. I have writing plans, so once we return, I need to create a schedule that is flexible enough I can stick to it but framed clearly enough that it feels necessary and not difficult to integrate into my days and weeks. Every one of my writer friends knows how challenging that can be. Wish me luck. There’s a chapbook that’s been languishing in my desk area for quite a long time, but to which I’ve recently returned; there’s a ream of poems under 21 lines that might make up a collection, too. Then there’s the next manuscript, rather grief-heavy at present, that I need to re-think and revise.

Oh, and all those poem drafts I have not looked at in awhile…

Ann E. Michael, Book launch, travel, PR

Ann E. Michael, The Red Queen Hypothesis, Highland Park, 2023

Like her wonderful blog, Michael’s second full-length collection is meditative, witty, and smart, with a scientific and sometimes philosophical bent. Also like her blog, it’s closely observant of the more-than-human world in flux. “The Red Queen hypothesis,” I learned, comes from biology: species must keep evolving to survive. Poems and the people behind them must keep changing, too. In addition, The Red Queen Hypothesis suggests the advantage of sexual reproduction, and there are plenty of seductively “soft persuasions” in this collection. Like the “Stew Cook” speaking to her beloved, this is a book to “fill nooks with aromatic hours.” Shout-out to all the tasty slant-rhymes amid a profusion of traditional forms: rhetoric/ lick, beige/ strange, viola/ Iowa. My sense of knowing Ann pretty well by now might be an illusion—I’ve spent way more time reading her work than with her in person—but then again, intimacy with another person’s way of thinking is one of reading’s chief attractions.

Lesley Wheeler, Holding dear

As I was writing You Could Make This Place Beautiful, taking risks with both form and content, I suspected that for every reader who attached to certain craft choices, there would be a reader who’d chafe at those same choices. (Sort of like, “For every bird there’s a stone thrown at a bird.”) The direct address, the vignettes, the meta aspect of the narration, the privacy boundaries—I knew all of these were “love it or loathe it” choices.

All of this to say: I knew I was writing a book with a strong flavor. But I love strong flavors! Blue cheese. Smoked kalamata olives. (Smoked anything, really.) Very dark, bitter chocolate. Very black, bitter coffee. Chili crisp. Rose lemonade. Dill pickles. Hot curry. An imperial IPA. I find these things delicious, but I also completely understand how they might taste terrible to other people.* Taste is subjective.

You’re not for everyone. Your work is not for everyone. So be it!

“You are not responsible for the world—you are only responsible for your work—so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be.” —Sol LeWitt, in a letter to Eva Hesse

Whatever happens to your work when you send it into the world, with its sometimes treacherous landscapes, is none of your business, really. You made the thing, and now people can make up their own minds about it. Will everyone love it? Probably not. Will everyone hate it? Also, probably not.

But do you love it? Are you proud of it? Do you stand behind your choices? Have you made something uniquely yours?

Maggie Smith, Pep Talk

Does this story know how to walk into the sunset, arm around the waist of hope? Does it know when to stop, to let the past become the future, let the future rechristen the past, let time recalibrate itself around words — words written now, words written then, words that make no sound? Where the last part of the story stops, more has already happened. Before. ‘On Turning Fifty’ was a milestone-chapbook I released in 2019. Then from the quiet of the year that followed, came ‘The Night is my mirror’. The continuity surprises me, though much of it was inevitable. There was more. From the horror of the pandemic years came the anguished poetry in Duplicity, released in 2021. All the dots are connected now. Do you see the pattern? Do you remember the crow that became a line in the sky? The first line. Do you see what geometry that line has wreaked? How solemn are those polygons? Which side is up? Some of those edges follow the horizon, some of them touch the acute angles of one blinking star in the sky.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (53)

awaiting the summer rain:
a stick shaped
like a bird’s foot

Jason Crane, haiku: 28 August 2023

On Sunday I was part of a group of poets and musicians reading at an outdoor event in the Italian Gardens in Scarborough. I don’t think I’ve been in the Italian Gardens since I was a child. I have a strong memory of my mum and myself having a day there together, me playing with my Sindy doll and running around the pond and up and down the stairs imagining I was in a fairy world, my mum quietly reading a book in the shade. It was just as I’d left it, though in the mean time it had become quite run down, before receiving funding to be brought back to its former glory. As I sat in the shade with the other readers and musicians I could hear the breeze blowing through the leaves and the scent of the sea and the flower gardens were carried up to us. […]

Mostly I have been stuck in the office this week sending literally hundreds of emails to Spelt competition entrants, letting them know the outcome. Our brilliant judge Jane Burn has sifted through 788 individual entries to whittle down to a longlist of twenty poets. Alongside that I have been pulling the last bits of issue 09 together and sorting out problems with it. We’ll be going to print with it soon. And as if that wasn’t enough, I’m working on yet another Arts Council England bid for some Spelt stuff too. If you know me you will know filling in applications makes me want to pull my own eyes out and kick them out of the window. But I can see a light at the end of the tunnel. After spending so much time at my desk, we decided to have a walk along the beach last night at about 8pm. It was glorious. The sea was a gentle murmer, there were still people on the beach, some of them with little fires which seemed brighter in the dusk. Scent of sausages o the breeze. There were lots of dead jellyfish looking like hazy autumn sun sets.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience: The Scent of Summer

Heavy trucks cough out a smell of omelettes and salad, financial ruin.

Food is an answer, yes, always, but remember to spit it out.

I stood to one side, didn’t understand, didn’t get involved.

A book called A Very Short History Of Friends.

Guilt is a secret hand opening ancient maps, spreading them out.

Bob Mee, MEDITATIONS ON GUILT

Committing to commas, semi-colons, and cover layouts is an act of courage not demanded of us in the day-to-day virtual or verbal worlds where mistakes can (usually) be corrected at the touch of a few buttons, or with a cough and repetition of a line. It may not feel like it if you haven’t done it yet, but be assured that the process by which Moth, Aunts Come Armed with Tea Cakes (Thirza Clout), Body of Water (Emily Wilkinson), Lucidity (Ross Donlon), and I Buy A New Washer (Yours Truly) (all published by Mark Time) came to be in print form is a matter of precise, finite, and often late-at-night-squeezed-into-the-rest-of-life decision making. It’s also a matter of kind discussion with our editor, Ross, of benefitting from his poetry wisdom and skills.

It’s the finite, deadline bit that’s so difficult: a form of existential angst, made manifest. Never mind that saying, the one about ‘abandoning poems’; when you publish them on paper you have to release them carefully, tenderly, precisely, and, it may surprise some, soberly, and after lengthy and serious thought. This is because you release them to the possibility of changes of mind, misunderstandings, and (oh horror!) typos, as well as joy, understanding, and connection.

Liz Lefroy, I Mark Time

No time for lingering, except to linger
       in a room filled with simple light; no
call to pilfer coins it scatters freely
       at your feet. Bowl, water glass, figs 
softening on a tray—enough of need.
       Clear-eyed, unclouded: even as 
sweetness falls away, you want 
      the making of things that last.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ode to the Unsentimental

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, summer was winding down for many, but the Sealey Challenge remains in full effect through the end of the month, so the blogs are full of enthusiasm for books mingled with wistfulness and/or relief. I found posts on challenging ourselves as writers, learning from children, learning from film, and much more. Enjoy.


This week I’ve been running the Dawn Chorus early morning writing group and have been struck by the silence, the on-the-cusp-of-autumn peace of the early mornings. Yesterday morning I watched a stretched sunrise the colour of rose-quartz, with a few lonely herring gulls drifting past quietly, their white bellies reflecting the pink of it. It reminded me that there is a place in the morning in which there is no business, no planning or prepping or rushing or fighting, or working. It made me want to engage with that peace, and peace of mind, more. After the weeks of constant cool rain the heat of summer has returned in dribs and drabs, some days warm, some days hot. But it doesn’t feel like the blaze of summer is returning. There are now straggled Vs of geese over the house. There is now the scent of smoke in the air and it feels like the season tipping forward. It feels like August is a month that exists on a balancing point between summer and autumn, but now the weight of the season has fallen towards the mulch, earthy change of autumn now.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience – The Taste of Summer

To quiet the mind, to plant carrots,
to wash the sheets more often.
To banish judgment and meet
each morning with a corpulent heart.
The joy is never in the execution
but in the crossing off, the banishment
of each righteous act, the sweet relief of
two hard lines, muffling the burden.

Kristen McHenry, List Poem

The new titles: poetry, literary essays, and a couple that booksellers may shelve under fiction (Bebe) and non-fiction: memoir (Take Two), but like a number of CBe titles they are not as clear-cut as that. I know that when I sit down at the table I do want the menu arranged in a way that helps me to choose – starters, mains, desserts; fish, meat, vegetarian – but sometimes it works to just say that one, because I want to be surprised. I may like it, I may not. If the latter, I really haven’t lost much. Maybe think of this table as one big sharing platter.

Charles Boyle, Table for 6

If you’re new to reading this Substack, you may not know that I often review new books of poetry for journals. I have the great pleasure of reviewing Sam Sax’s new book, Pig, which will be out from Scribner Poetry next month. Since the book is NOT yet released, I cannot share poems here, but I can say with confidence that this collection is well worth your time as a poetry reader and as a human animal trying to navigate the world. (This is the first type of re-reading. When I review a book of poems, I read it a minimum of five times, so this was my third pass at Sam’s, the reading where I start pulling quotes to support the thematic strands I want to talk about in a review.)

Today’s re-read was of a collection I first encountered twelve years ago when I took a manuscript course with Daniel Khalastchi (a class that clarified the final version on my first book, A House of Many Windows, which was picked up the following year by Sundress). Daniel’s work in Manoleria (Tupelo Press, 2011) is another example of a writer’s work that is so different from my own that I want to learn from it. It is also not an easy book to read in terms of content. Its depictions of oppression physical suffering (with surreal vignettes full of body horror) are difficult and unnerving. But beneath the startling images lies a heart of hope, where “somewhere inside I hear calling a shepherd.”

Donna Vorreyer, Days 8 and 9: Two Kinds of Re-Reading

I might be absurdly late to the party, but my discovery of Dennis O’Driscoll’s poetry has been a joy over the past few months. 

On the back of that process, I sought out examples of his prose online, and stumbled on an excellent article by him from Poetry Ireland Review. It’s well worth a read in full (see link here) if you’ve got a few minutes free over the summer, but here’s a thought-provoking snippet as an initial taster…

“…Many of the techniques of poetry can be acquired and improved through practice and emulation. What cannot be taught, what must already be in place, is an individual perspective on the world. We want the poet’s own version of life, not a rehash of Dylan Thomas’s or Sylvia Plath’s world. The personal rhythms, obsessions, linguistic quirks which readers and reviewers may initially deprecate are the best foundations on which to build a poetic talent. The poems which the editor rejects may become your cornerstone…”

Matthew Stewart, Dennis O’Driscoll in Poetry Ireland Review

You are a prolific writer yourself, across several forms – including poetry, short stories, and novels – in both English and Shona. Does the fact that you are bilingual influence your writing, perhaps in subtle ways – for example imagery, sound effects, point of view?

Samantha [Rumbidzai Vazhure]Absolutely. I am a Karanga from Masvingo and most Shona-speakers will tell you how poetic, charming and dramatic the Karanga language is – full of humour, idioms and ideophones, metaphor, rhyme, etc. Karanga people are detail-oriented and when we tell a story, we call it kurondedzera, which loosely translated means “discourse at length”. As children, we wrote rondedzero (composition) in Shona class and my teachers expected to find the minutest detail in my work, because they too were Karanga. When accounting for any misdemeanours to anyone in authority, they expected the most granular details of what had taken place, including any pollen that may have been floating in the air when the incident happened. This background hugely influences my writing, particularly the concreteness of language in both my poetry and prose (this of course causes problems with editors sometimes, when they say some of my descriptions are superfluous, and I struggle to understand why they’d refuse the detail my teachers would have given me a merit badge for!).

Another important point is that musicianship and spirituality are cornerstones of the Karanga culture – you will find these elements peppered around my writing as well. I read Shona and English through to A-level. I think and dream in Karanga – a dialect of the Shona language, so even when I’m writing in English, that inherent Karanga flair will always show up in my work. That said, the reverse is also true, and I use some English words and concepts when I write in Shona, especially when I’m exploring themes that are foreign to the Shona culture, yet they have become a part of our lives due to migration and colonisation. 

The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe holds an annual awards ceremony to recognise outstanding achievements in the arts: the National Arts Merits Awards (NAMA). Last year several Carnelian Heart publications featured in the awards. Rudo Manyere’s collection ‘3:15 am and other stories’ made the shortlist, and two books won in their respective categories: David Chasumba’s  ‘The Madman on First Street and Other Short Stories’, and your poetry collection, ‘Starfish Blossoms’. This is an impressive achievement for a relatively unknown independent press! What does this recognition mean, both for Carnelian Heart and for you personally?

Samantha: As a publisher, the recognition was a huge honour and an affirmation that what I am doing at Carnelian Heart is bigger than myself. Some friends in the Zimbabwean literary circles had suggested the submissions as a way of increasing visibility for the press. I submitted all eight books by Zimbabwean authors published in 2022, and three of them were shortlisted for the awards. Interestingly, the visibility has attracted more writers wanting their works published, than readers who want to buy the books.   

For me personally, I had never been bothered by validation until my name was announced as a nominee for the award. I am usually happy to just write without being judged or compared to others. However, it felt great to know that my work had been read by a panel of respectable judges, some of whom are artists, and they thought it was outstanding. It was a truly humbling experience to receive the NAMA award, something I hope will aid the visibility of my past and future works. 

Marian Christie, Democratising literature – an interview with Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

Apart from a Welsh poem I memorised, while at Sandfields Comprehensive School for a recitation competition at the local Urdd (Mae Abertawe yn yr haul/ Yn cysgu’n dawel ger y lli./ Traeth o aur o gylch ei thread/ A Browyr wrth ei hystlys hi… – I came second), the only other poem I’ve memorised, successfully in its entirety, is Douglas Dunn’s, ‘The Kaleidsoscope’.

It was several years ago when I was running a couple of performance workshops at Simon Langton Grammar School, Canterbury with some of the 5th and 6th formers who were entering Poetry by Heart, an annual national poetry speaking competition. And there was no way I could stand in front of a group of young people offering advice on memorising and recitation if I couldn’t do it myself! Dunn’s poem is a sonnet, so only fourteen lines long and with a regular rhyme scheme and memorable imagery, which was a doddle to imprint onto my memory in comparison to some of the poems to choose from on the PBH list.

When I picked up the book again today, I couldn’t quite get through it without glancing at the page in a couple of places. But the overall shape of it was still there, hanging like a comfortable, old winter coat in the attic of my mind.

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge

The idea of the Sealey Challenge is to read one poetry collection a day in the month of August. I love the ambition of this challenge but it’s too much of a stretch for a slow reader like me to be able to read so prolifically. However, I like more poems popping up through my social media timeline in August, as Sealey Challenge people share what they’re reading. I’ve needed to choose shortish poems from each book so that they can be easily read on Instagram which is where I’ve been sharing them. […]

One thing that has been very good about the Sealey Challenge (for me) is that it’s encouraged me to dip inside many poetry books and magazines and this has been helpful for my upcoming poetry workshops in Bradford on Avon at The Make Space. I’m so pleased that bookings are coming in – and there are still places available, if you’d like to join us on 5 and 12 September for writing exercises, prompts and feedback.

Josephine Corcoran, Three poems from books in my TBR pile

The Best Canadian Poetry 2023, edited by John Barton (Biblioasis, 2022) [Sealey #8]. As I mentioned on IG before, the opening essay’s depth and lucidity is worth the price of admission. It’s 25% essay, 40% end notes of bios and about the poems chosen in the poet’s own words, and afterbits so the poems themselves are an excruciatingly small reduction from the thousands of poems read. Standouts are Karl Jirgens’ poem on dementia and the multilingual exploration of Moni Brar. Looking forward to a book from her, and to Laurie D. Graham’s whose book I just got. A Wayman poem and a Bertrand Bickersteth poem into the mix demonstrates how his choices are to reflect range, not a uniform aesthetic.

Pearl Pirie, Sealey Challenge, Week 2

If you’ve been following any of my social media this month, you know that I’m thrilled to be in the company of Lenard D. Moore as part of the Cuttlefish Books 2023 Summer Book Launch. Lenard is a military veteran, executive chair of the North Carolina Haiku Society, founder and executive chair of the Carolina African American Writers Collective, and the author of several books.

Although Lenard and I only had the chance to meet briefly at HNA, I have long admired the depth, breadth, and skill of his haiku. His attention not just to the details of the present, but also to the stories of the past, reflects a sense of artistic discipline that’s worth emulating. In celebration of his forthcoming chapbook, A Million Shadows at Noon, I wanted to feature him here to learn more about his process with this new collection. […]

AW: What is the thematic focus of A Million Shadows at Noon? What compelled you to create this chapbook?

The thematic focus of A Million Shadows at Noon is brotherhood, family, love and unity. I was compelled to create this project, because I drew inspiration from such a significant historical event. It was so powerful to see so many Black men come together and march for important issues. By now, I hope you know that I am referring to the Million Man March, which will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary in 2025. I wanted to do something innovative with the haiku form or a haiku sequence, an extensive of my poetic risks with my book, Desert Storm. Perhaps, I need to write one more book-length poem, employing the haiku form. To that end, maybe there is a trilogy in the making. Let’s see what happens with my future work.

Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: Lenard D. Moore

8 – Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Essential! Painful to the ego maybe, but essential. A good editor can see what you’re trying to accomplish and help you get there more efficiently. They can also call out your weaknesses that are hard to spot when you’ve looked at your manuscript a thousand times. One of my absolute favorite things about Four Way Books is the way they graciously and meticulously provide edits for our books. Two editors went through my manuscript to offer detailed feedback that I was free to accept or reject. The first note I got for Bianca was that I used the word “rage” way too many times throughout the manuscript. It deadened the effect and sometimes didn’t leave room for actual rage to simply exist without having to announce itself. I took out a bunch of rages and left a select few where necessary, but I absolutely loved that they caught this. Like I said earlier, I don’t trust my own writing, so I’m generally eager for feedback from editors I trust.

9 – What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Marie Howe told a graduate workshop I took to “write as if everyone you love is dead.” Don’t think about other people’s reactions to your work. Just get it all down. Kimiko Hahn said the same to me years later at a Kundiman retreat. Don’t bring your fears to the table when you write. Write everything that comes to you. Then later, once it’s written, you can evaluate each piece and ask whether you’re comfortable with publishing it. Writing and publishing are two separate beasts. Don’t let the idea of publishing limit your writing.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Eugenia Leigh

Another thing I recognize: All this talk about seeking comfort in a different kind of wardrobe or sense of self is likely a sign that something new is making its way through me. I’ve learned over the years that these feelings of agitation precede a big change. Not metamorphosis, exactly, not in the caterpillar –> butterfly sense but a kind of walking through fire. There’s something of importance on the other side.

And so I’m trying to remind myself of instances when I’m already on the other side. […] In 2009, when I was still a baby poet, I took a leap (and an Amtrak) to attend a generative workshop [Denise] Duhamel led through Louder Arts in New York City. It was one of the first times I’d invested in myself as a poet, one of the first times I dared to believe I could be a poet and do the things poets do. Looking back, it’s a clear building block to everything that came after.

The training we do at the gym reminds us that challenging ourselves consistently is the key to all kinds of gains. This is, of course, also true in writing and submitting/publishing. We can age (and do). We can change our hair and clothes. We can be in our feelings. But what matters is that we show up. And dare to test our limits.

Carolee Bennett, don’t mind me. i’m just poking around.

“Sky” is from a series of poems in Good Bones that I call “nonnets,” as in not-quite-sonnets. They’re all fourteen lines long and, to my mind, have a turn in the last third of the poem, but they aren’t traditional sonnets. Each of these poems has as its epigraph a question my daughter asked me in the car when she was three or four years old: “What is the past?” “What is the future?” Or, in the case of this poem, “Why is the sky so tall and over everything?” (I have a theory that preschoolers hear the automatic car door locks click and know they have a captive audience. Time for existential questions on the way to CVS or the bank!)

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: Two Related Poems

It’s ridiculous that we need science to confirm the value of enthusiasm. This is the energy each child brings fresh to the world. What they’re able to explore and experience with the whole of themselves, magnified by the capacity for awe, remains with them. 

Dr. Hüther gives an example,

“Children living in the Amazon forests learn 120 different shades of green and can name them all, using 120 different terms. Potential of that kind is either used in practice or is little used. Children here can at best distinguish light green, green, and dark green. How far a potential is actually used depends on how important it is .. in a given culture…The result is that what was once a possibility, this potential, …if not used, will just wither away.”       

Enthusiasm goes a long way toward explaining why children and nature go together so well. Children are themselves magic — able to shape shift into a toad or hawk, to feel what it’s like to hop nearly hidden under leaves or to glide on the air’s invisible currents. While imagination is alive everywhere, it can’t help but flourish when surrounded by aliveness. The more natural an area, the more kids have a chance to have meaningful encounters with the life around them. In fact, kids play differently in a park with play structures compared to more natural areas like an overgrown field, a row of trees, or a small creek.

As Richard Louv details in Last Child in the Woods, kids confined to structured play areas have poorer balance and agility than those who play in unpaved areas. The social dynamic changes too. Older and physically larger kids dominate on playgrounds but in more natural areas, it’s the creative kids who act as leaders.

Laura Grace Weldon, Outdoor Play is Sensory Play

The carcass resembles nothing
the audience usually sees
whose meat arrives in cellophane
processed—slices, nuggets.
The children, especially,
have never watched the studious
and useful taking-apart
of a body, never witnessed
anything dead
but the flattened,
nearly unrecognizable bodies
of road-killed opossums.

No comparison, this 600-pound hog,
hooked and dangling, its interior
opened with jigsaw precision.
The man with the knife
is a revelation.
They stare fascinated
at the butcher’s truth
carving an exact history of
their breakfast bacon.

Ann E. Michael, How it’s done

This morning I fed and watered the hens and pigs, and for a while
sat on a chair in the pig pen as they ate and drank, rooted about.
Then they lay down in the shade and I went on sitting in the sun.
What was important? The hens, the pigs, me sitting, the chair itself.
(It was green, if you need to know. A gift a neighbour was throwing out.
It’s a good chair. Comfortable enough to sit in and watch pigs or just
to think in for a thousand years, two thousand, ignoring the phone.)
Meanwhile, you were busy blackberrying in your jeans and purple shirt.
And the straw hat you’ve had since before I knew you. Sometimes
you broke off from blackberrying to photograph a butterfly or moth.
Eventually, for lunch, we ate tomatoes with cucumber and a little bread,
over which we talked and I read a poem by Frank O’Hara that shocked me.

Bob Mee, WITH EVERY STEP WE ARRIVE SOMEWHERE

the road from angst to
poetry is a sharp backslash, the
pause at its end thickening to a
dot, a drowning exclamation, a
tired i, a failed connector: pain
takes time to disintegrate, regret
breaks up into molecules that
pollinate other minds, the last
of anger evaporates with a
hiss, cutting open the chest of
the sky, there, there at last,
finding the one missing poem.

Ann E. Michael, Part 59

Sometimes the past is pressed against the present, or another present is present. While traveling in Europe you feel it like a veil of wind on your skin.  You scratch the surface, the past rises up through the transparency of summer.  Sometimes you get at origins — Blue sky of Greece with a handmade white church.  Gray slate and zinc rooftops of Paris which started a dream you dip into and which will continue after you.  Previous city dwellers were seduced – are you there, Emma Bovary? –by a profusion of pinks and reds, silks and taffetas that inhabit the ground floor of a department store like Bon Marché.  Romantics swooned over a bunch of flowers pinned to a dress, a hat, to the swirl of a hem that swirls at recreated 19th century dance ball, where mesdames et messieurs dance in period costumes in the Luxembourg Gardens.  But simplicity: a bowl of eggs.  Wild cats.  The umber stones that came from the earth, were gathered by anonymous hands to make fences, return to the hillsides leaving sign that humans, and some gods were there. 

Jill Pearlman, The Past, Fellow Traveler

Caterpillar Suit” was inspired by the sculpture artist, Walter Oltmann. His sculpture is featured in the video alongside public-domain stills created by Latvian artist, Elina Krima.

This was my first video poem of 2020, and, in relation to the 2023 Phonotheque Poetry Film theme of Structures & Organisms, it explores what it means to shed a natural suit, as a caterpillar sheds itself to become larva then butterfly.

It relates to how we, as humans, are part of broader, natural ecosystem, all wearing the suits of natural instinct, moving through separations—especially in light of the global plight of children being cruelly separated from parents across international borders.

The poem also perhaps visually expresses the fear that we collectively gathered and recycled from history—a new-old fear for a new decade. It was also created just prior the pandemic, so it was an eerie foreboding of what was to come.

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Finalist! 2023 Poetic Phonotheque (Denmark)

I was making up some poetry postcard graphics for Instagram this morning and a path out of the current quagmire of poems appeared. Maybe not so much of a path, but an untangling of branches, a clearing through the trees.  I had been stuck, with about a dozen poems in the hopper that were loosely thematically related, but I was unsure of where to go with them. Or maybe more where they were trying to take me.  Not one to blindly follow along (the Taurus in me), I froze up and refused to work on them or even really think about them. Instead, I devoted time to making more collages.

The irony of course, is that those collages, at least some of them, may have offered up my solution, though I scarcely knew it when I was making them, coming off the heels of the Persephone collages and fiddling with extra images I had saved in a folder. The wild things series, which felt really random and just for kicks when I made them, may be something I can use to guide the focus of this particular text series and help propel me toward actually finishing them.

Kristy Bowen, of poems and pictures

It has honestly been a while since I have been “charmed” by a film. Someone (knowing I have been spending far too much time parked in front of the television screen these past months) recommended I watch The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018). The trailer was disappointing, I have to admit. I reluctantly started the film anyway. Besides providing me with a little romantic (comfortably predictable) escape, it also nudged me as a writer.

Beginning something new, something no one is waiting for, is difficult. So many formulas out there for how to get started – not a few of them asking: who are you writing for? And they almost always come with the caveat, “don’t wait for inspiration”. (Spoiler here:) In the film, the writer puts her romantic and professional life on hold to write the story that she needs to tell, knowing it won’t be published. I love that the film doesn’t give this part of the story a happy ending, wherein her intentions and her integrity are rewarded with permission to publish her book after all.

She’ll write something new.

I remember then I have an unpublishable novel somewhere on an external hard drive. It was worth writing. It was even worth paying an excellent consultant for feedback. It is not worth revisiting with an eye towards publication. It was never my story to tell. But that’s not to say I didn’t grow as a writer, or grow in terms of my ability to foster new, compassionate perspectives while working on it. It was a valuable practice.

I’ll write something new.

Ren Powell, Beginning Something New

The poets are writing about August:
a loam-like smell lining the air, and salt-
musk from every encircling body of water.
Friends come to pick the not-yet-last harvest
of figs from our tree, and as we reach up to twist
the deep purple orbs off the stems, I think
again of how each one is an inflorescence,
a walled garden with a narrow passage
through the ostiole small as a needle’s eye.

Luisa A. Igloria, To Flowering

Can I pull it off or will it just seem trite?  We shall see.  Even if I can’t pull it off, I’m happy that poems seem to be coming more quickly now.  For much of the past year, I’ve had a line here or there, and some days, I was able to create a poem, line by line, strand by strand.  In some ways, it was exciting to work that way, not knowing where the poem was headed, and being intrigued as I went along.  The work offered genuine surprises and discoveries, if I stuck with it long enough.

Yesterday felt like a process that is more familiar, when the poem comes to me more fully formed in terms of the idea and direction.  That process, too, can offer discoveries, but it’s different.  The discoveries and directions don’t feel quite as surprising, although they are delightful.

Should I should finish the Cassandra volunteering at summer camp before starting on this one?  Have I ever had 2 Cassandra poems in process at the same time?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra Colors Her Hair

This is my 300th blog post. Many thanks to all the blog’s followers, also for your likes and lovely comments. They are much appreciated. I’m taking a break from weekly blogging: I need to ‘fill the well’ – take myself out to find poems and art on the streets of The Hague, get inspired and fired up again. I’m celebrating the 300th post in the company of Cecile Bol – our August guest poet.

Cecile is also the organiser of the Poetry Society’s Groningen Stanza. When I moved back to The Netherlands , I was fortunate that their meetings were on Zoom due to the lockdown. It was great to meet Cecile and other members of the Stanza in person earlier this year. The hotel where I stayed is just a few houses down from the literary café De Graanrepubliek where they meet.

Fokkina McDonnell, paper crown

One of the pleasures of writing regular blog reviews is that you discover the output of new writers, whom you might otherwise have missed. That is the case with The Vessel of the Now by Ink. This refreshingly original pamphlet of brief poems published by Back Room Poetry (2023) is one that is sure to engage the reader and leave him or her reflecting long after (s)he has put it down.

I believe it is no coincidence that these poems first appeared as tweets, for this small collection has much to say about the use of Twitter (recently rebranded as ‘X’). The reference to it as a ‘vessel’ recalls the idiom, ‘Empty vessels make the most noise’, implying that this social media vehicle draws attention to the inane, the pointless and the worthless. It made me think of tweeted photographs of meals cooked, shoes just purchased, flowers bought etc. Who cares? As the poet writes, the Vessel of the Now ‘provides shelter/ and stage’. It provides an uncritical platform for self- promotion: ‘The Vessel of the Now/ is a date book page with one line,/ all of which is devoted to you.’ In one sense this makes Twitter ‘a great equalizer’ a democratizer, and yet underpinning the collection is the implication that all this is insignificant, inconsequential: it doesn’t really matter. Ink writes: ‘However large, you are/ only one fraction of the Now.’ Whatever is posted, no matter how frequently the output of Twitter is so large it will fail to make a lasting impact: ‘The Vessel of the Now never remembers/ what you’ve said.’

This collection then acts as a reflection on the nature of social media, but I believe it is more than that. In his ‘Drop-In’ Ink concludes by saying the collection can be as ‘shallow or as deep as you want it to be.’ When reading the poems, I constantly returned to them as I felt there were bigger ideas underpinning them.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘The Vessel of the Now’ by Ink

Is it the curse of a proofreader? Book of poems I’ve been hearing about. Author with some buzz, good publisher. Nice looking volume, tidy, interesting cover, nice typeface. First poem I encounter: Regular comma use then suddenly phoosh no commas, then regular comma use again. In one poem.

Okay, so I have to figure out whether there was method to this madness. Yes, okay, I can see that maybe this segment, which is sort of a list or litany, could be read breathlessly, could be a mash-up of sorts. Or was it an error? No, I think it was intentional. Right?

And now I’m on alert. Now with every poem some proofreaderly third eye is scanning for trouble. Nope, next one, regular comma use. Next one, fine. Next one, no punctuation at all, which is fine. But do you see how my whole reading experience has now been altered? And oops, here we go, another poem with a list-y section that has no commas but then the commas come back.

This makes me stop and think, all right, but for all the wrong reasons. It shouldn’t be the poem’s punctuation that makes me sit up and take notice, it should be a million other things about the poem. Unfortunately, now that I’ve finished this collection, the only thing that has stayed with me is the comma thing. Damn that third eye.

Marilyn McCabe, The nature of my game; or, On the Curse of the Proofreader’s Eye

But back to Greg[ory Leadbetter]’s poem. The notes to this poem stress that the interval of the title refers to musical sense of interval and “the difference in pitch between two tones.” I love that it seems to start with a sense of striving— the attempt at silence has failed, and for all its notes (no pun intended) about silence it is noise that interjects the most, from the “roaring world” going unmuzzled by a voice, a “singing nerve” throbbing in our ears, a buzzing gnat. I also love that it ends with a sense that we have to keep striving, to keep working at something lonely. It’s almost a Sisyphean task as “The closer you come to silence, the further it recedes.”, but we’ll get there. Dear god, I’m veering into self-help speech. Sorry.

However, what leaps out at me in this is the centre of the poem..

I found a place where cars and planes
were silent too, the air stilled
to standing water clear enough
to drink, and all my body drank.

The idea here of a calm and quiet place that feeds the whole body. As with restorative silence of home last week, I want to go to the place Greg identifies here and drink deeply, even if it is only possible in my own head. Even if such a place only really exists in our heads.

Mat Riches, Mind the gaps…

This has been the path of my summer: many paths, branching in obscure ways, as I pivot among projects and allow myself to take restorative breaks from work, too. I’m reading a lot for work and pleasure (and will post mini-reviews of some of my #sealeychallenge readings soon-ish). I’m also hanging with my son a lot; he’s home for just 9 days more before moving to NYC to start his math PhD program. We’ve been playing Wingspan, and he’s got the best head for games I’ve ever seen: if it’s a solvable game, he solves it swiftly, and if there’s a lot of chance involved, he makes the most strategic possible use of his luck. He’s won every game so far, but I intend to beat him once before he leaves. A poet should have SOME kind of an advantage where birds are concerned, right?!

All is quiet in my publishing life, although I never mentioned here that Verse Daily featured a poem of mine in July. Appropriately enough, it’s about trying to tilt the odds in your favor (and very much a channeling of the frustration we all feel sometimes when passed over for the prom queen tiara). The egregiously long title is “It Is Advantageous to Place on the Table a [Hollow Figurine] of Apollo, with Bibliomancy.”

Lesley Wheeler, Stars in my eyes, birds in my belfry

No matter what kind of summer you have, it feels an impossible prompt to write well to. I can remember summers that slipped by like dreams, days upon days of the same old wonderful same old, and others full of flat tedium; how to pluck any kind of narrative out of a span of days with no conflict, no rising action, no turning point?

Of course there have been a few summers with big, memorable events (big travel, big purchases, big life changes)–but those, too, are hard to write about. How to capture what a big event really was, what it really meant?

Early on in our Louisiana adventure this summer, I realized I could not write about it while living it. There were practical problems–no easy internet or time–but it was more about knowing I needed time to process the experience. From the very beginning, my summer was an “all of the above” kind of thing: big travel, big purchases, long days that quickly became a new same old, same old comprised of tedium, joy, pain, boredom, and wonder. I have not worked so many full, hard hours in such a long time, while also living through so many hours in which I felt like I was just killing time.

I was having big, tangly thoughts and feelings about all kinds of profound things–aging, mortality, the meaning of life, family, our country and the ramifications of its history, existential crises of various kinds–and I knew I wasn’t ready to share any of them in any public kind of way.

I didn’t trust my impressions to be lasting truth, and I didn’t trust my conclusions to hold water. Not when I was so exhausted and disoriented and mind-meltingly hot. (Good God, but the heat was relentless.) Not when I knew there were things I just couldn’t know in such a short time (and might never be able to know).

Rita Ott Ramstad, What I did on my summer vacation

I wish this week (and the last) could have been about gardening and writing, but instead it was about fighting to stay alive, with infusions of nausea meds and antibiotics and saline—not ideal. At 50 I find I have more fight in me to stick around than I did even a few years ago, when I was (incorrectly) diagnosed with terminal liver cancer (tumors still around but not dead yet.) Back then I thought, I’ve had a good life, I’ve accomplished enough—this time around I thought, I’ve still got so much to do! Maybe that has to do with the new book manuscript I’ve been working on, the new friends I’ve been making, the chances I’ve been taking, the steps I’ve been making to embrace life even as the pandemic has a minisurge and I fight to stave off even fairly normal germs. I am not ready to go yet. Writing seems like one way of making a survival stance, doesn’t it, a way to holding on, of marking down your name, of saying you were here. I’ve written eight books – six poetry, two non-fiction, and I’m not done yet. Will any of them survive a hundred years, or even outlive me? I’m not sure yet. Sorry for the more morbid bit of thought here—I tried to keep the tone light during my PR for Poets talk earlier today, but these kinds of thoughts kept slipping into my mind. Why, after all, do we promote our books? Yes, to honor the work, to honor the publisher’s work, but also, because we hope to leave something that lasts.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, More Hospital Visits (and Bobcat Visits), a PR for Poets Talk with Kelli Agodon, Glenn Graduates, and More

Rain taps on the roof like quiet hands.
So much softer than clods thudding
on a plain pine box.

Once everyone is gone
they take away the green tent
open on all sides, the worst chuppah.

The words wash away, but
I’ll never forget
who rolled up his sleeves to finish shoveling.

Rachel Barenblat, After the funeral

A few days ago, I headed out to a local park where my brilliant poet friend, Lorenz Mazon Dumuk, was hosting Glowing with the Moon, a summer open mic series that invites poets, musicians, performers, and other creative souls to come out and share their work. It’s one of my favorite open mics, mostly because Lorenz creates such a warm, welcoming, and fun space.

When I arrived, however, it was just Lorenz and me, so we sat on the park bench and spent two hours chatting about what was going on in our lives, what kind of creative work we were doing, and our current trajectory. We talked about how we approach our poetry and other kinds of writing. We talked about poetry that bullies, forcing the reader or listener down a path and leaving no space for anything outside the focus of the words themselves. We laughed about poop in poetry, both as a subject and as an analogy for writing, how a writer might find themselves blocked up and need some fiber-full reading to help loosen things up. We talked about poetry with spirit and poetry grounded in the flesh and bone reality of grass and stone and wind and bone. And we celebrated the fact that we both have new poetry books coming out sometime within the next year.

Then we read poems to each other, each giving something that we’d written recently, and we found ourselves delightedly jealous of each other’s unique way of approaching words. And as the Earth cartwheeled backwards, hiding the Sun behind trees and horizon, with the peach light splashing upon the dappled clouds, I was so grateful for this small moment of creative community — two poets sharing a joy of words and the world.

Andrea Blythe, Returning to Creative Communities

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 25

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

This past week, I was saddened to learn of the death of John Foggin, a one-of-a-kind poet from Yorkshire who I sense will be very, very missed in that part of the world. I loved his down-to-earth but always thoroughly researched and insightful blog, full of generosity and humility toward other poets, and I thought the poetry in his final collection, Pressed for Time—the only one of his I’ve read so far—was absolutely stunning, one of my favorite reads of 2022.

For those able to attend the celebration of his life on July 14, family members have blogged the details. For the rest of us, here’s a celebration of life, poetry, and embodied wisdom from poets around the world. Rest in peace, John, and thanks for all the light you brought into the world.


I remember a young woman dressed in velvet burgundy that I only saw from behind. The dress came off her shoulders in a deep V; she was bent close to hear what the not- yet-anointed Nobel prize-winning poet was saying. I still remember her exquisite skin: airbrushed before airbrushing existed. I watched as if through bulletproof glass.

Whomever I was with that night, told me Heaney was the most famous living Irish poet and that he came to Cambridge every spring. It was 1989, Seeing Things was not yet published; The Spirit Level, still a few years off.

After that party, I would see Heaney in his oversized tweeds hurrying along Plimpton Street quite regularly. Usually, he’d be carrying his dry cleaning in a plastic cover, his arm straight out in front of him as if the suit were leading him down the sidewalk and not the other way around.

I learned he lived at Adams House on Bow Street directly across from my first apartment (an over-the-top economic divide existing from one side of the street to the other). I found it funny and rather embarrassing that across the street from this white-haired, world-famous poet, I was staying up into the early hours writing my first real poems.

Susan Rich, Seamus Heaney: Dry Cleaning and a Nearly Unknown Poem

I keep thinking about all the way we humans meet and how often we squander these meetings. Whether it’s inviting folks into a public space, at a dinner party, a coffee with friends, a presentation, a poetry reading. I mean, I have totally squandered these moments throughout my life. But how can I change that? If you have read the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker (mentioned on this blog before if you recall) you will have received many great tools to turn a gathering or a meeting into a beauty shock, really.

She talks about how we need to avoid having “housekeeping” details as our opening. She says instead, “your opening needs to be a kind of pleasant shock therapy.” She says, “It should grab people. And in grabbing them, it should both awe the guests and honour them. It must plant in them the paradoxical feeling of being totally welcomed and deeply grateful to be there.”

And then, and I love this, she talks about the giant vases of flowers at the Four Seasons. (In Edmonton, you might think about the Hotel MacDonald, or in Banff at the Banff Springs Hotel). She says these flowers are “honour-awing.” These flowers are “stunning and maybe taller than you, and that awes you, intimidates you, makes you remember that you don’t live like this back home. But of course the flowers are there for you, to honour you.”

I actually think having a giant painting of flowers in your home, or one by your door, can do the same thing. But you know that I am ENTIRELY BIASED WHEN I SAY THAT.

And you know what, I’m okay with that :)

What are other ways that we can honour and awe each other when we meet?

All I know is that I want to be part of that beauty shock therapy stuff. I want to honour-awe you. And then I want you to pass it on.

It’s something we can do.

Shawna Lemay, Flowers to Honour and Awe

Summer flashes its shiny switchblade of long light, pries spring from its hinges, and slips boldly into its celebrated season.

Summer sings a radio-friendly popsong of let’s get it on. It rocks the mic with sugar-sweet honeysuckle harmonies.

Waves its freak flag of feeling good. Bonfires and festivals, Indigenous sun dancers and pagan revelers decked out in flower wreaths.

Rich Ferguson, Summer 2023

School is finally done and the sun is shining. The weather has been amazing, so hot and clear. Not great for the garden or the forests to go so long without rain, but the long days of light and heat are a relief. Beach weather, park weather, proper summer weather while we off to enjoy it. […]

I’m enjoying what I’m writing now. My style has changed a bit over the past year. My poetic style is always changing, but I sometimes get caught in a loop of subjects or styles, writing very similar poems for a period and when something comes along to shake me up, I find it refreshing. 

I use prompts to push me out of my rut. Writing from different points of view, occasionally trying a structured form (I’m currently trying to write a palindrome) and looking into unusual events for inspiration. I’ve even managed to put a bit of humour, sometimes black humour in my poems, playing with ideas that often aren’t found together. 

Gerry Stewart, Slowing Down into the Summer, Summer, Summertime

We’ve reached the point of tilt, when the earth falls towards the dark. Happy solstice. Yesterday I rose at 4am to drive down to the beach at Filey. I took my place on a memorial bench and sat, bleary eyed at first, then slowly coming alive in the light and warmth of the rising sun. I felt a genuine, primal sense of awe, as if I was connected to all the summer solstice sunrises that have ever been. The sun rose over Carr Naze, laying itself across the sea. I’d made a promise to myself that I would witness the solstice sunrise, rather than watching footage of Stonehenge, this year. I had promised myself the experience of magic – the early start, the silent streets, of being awake when other people are fast asleep and of seeing something utterly beautiful. I wanted to place myself before the sun in a ritual of my own making.

There were a few of us down there, a scattering of people taking their places to see the sun arrive on the longest day of the year. Afterwards I came home to the miracle of coffee and a purring cat, my husband softly sleeping, and I set to work and wrote until seven, after which I read and listened to the radio. It was the perfect way to see the longest day in. I like the idea of creating my own rituals.

Summer is a time when I revert to my child self. How I value not overthinking clothes; throwing on shorts and T-shirt and sandals and feeling bare skin against grasses and plants, feeling the soft shush of moving through long grass, the squeal of swifts overhead. Early summer mornings, when the world is fresh and dewy, the air filled only with birdsong and rose scent, there is such joy in the variety of green.

Wendy Pratt, A Square Metre of Summer

I can hardly believe it’s summer. That’s a strange thing to say considering I’m a stalker when it comes to warm weather. I obsess over temps and hours of daylight on the weather apps all winter, a season I loosely define as “the months I need a heavy coat.” Living in Upstate NY, this means (to me personally) early November through late April or early May. So roughly half the year I’m dismayed by the cold and lack of light — and constantly monitoring for glimmers of hope.

And yet every year, when summer is finally here, I manage to be surprised. Not by the calendar. I understand how that works. What surprises me, always, is the extent of my relief. Well, relief and belonging, which I greet with both awe and gratitude, as when you’ve found something you thought you’d lost, something you knew may not be guaranteed.

Hello, sunshine.

*

The arrival of summer this year coincides with finishing my Gertie manuscript, which means I successfully immersed myself in (and stuck to!) the revision schedule I’d created for March, April and May. That type of discipline and focus was made possible, I believe, by a habit I’d established through work (January through April) with D. Colin on what she calls a 365 Journey. I ended up bowing out of that 365 accountability group because I was so deep in the revisions that I didn’t even want to talk about the process. However, I’m grateful for the experience and energy of that approach and will absolutely tap it again in the future.

For now, I’m reading, resting, keeping up with Morning Pages (now over 230 days) and doing some generative writing prompts to shift my brain back into the world in which I write new things.

Carolee Bennett, hello, sunshine

The skies bend
their hammocks of rain.

Summer is a flag that unfurls slow and fast,
just as uncertain as we are.

A parent wheels
a chair-bound child through the clinic doors.

Luisa A. Igloria, Oasis

In terms of cancer diary facts:
1. My eyelashes are falling out now. Entering turtle-territory.
2. Hemorrhoids. No one mentioned hemorrhoids. Please.
Who benefits from decorum when talking about chemotherapy?
3. The most recent biopsy came back.
The second lump in the left breast is also cancerous.
4. Still waiting on the BCRA results.
5. I wake with headaches every single morning.
Sometimes at 2 a.m., again at 5 a.m.

I take pain relievers around the clock – staggering the different prescriptions. I take a nap when I need to. I take a walk with the dog when he won’t stop laying his snout over the keyboard to get my attention.

And I give everything I have to metaphors.

But I am grateful to have the play to work on now. B. is whispering in my ear that it is just a matter of “getting it done”. No excuses. Meet the deadline.

*

It’s almost 9 am. I’ve walked Leonard and clipped his nails. On my third cup of coffee now, I can settle down with the adaptation. I am honestly happy that I don’t make my living writing, because it makes the work that much more joyful. It’s a little revelation to myself after all these years. My motives are clear – if I ever had any doubts.

I can hear the rain coming down outside the window. Leonard is breathing heavily in his sleep.

Lear says, “When the mind’s free,/The body’s delicate.” I think there may be something to the idea that it is also true that the delicate body can free the mind.

Ren Powell, Catching Up

In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a hundred bones and nine orifices there is something, and this something is called windswept spirit for lack of a better name …‘ So said Basho in the opening to The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel, one of the travel sketches that preceded the more famous The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Basho acknowledges the odd fact that whatever we might pursue (in his case poetry) it’s never enough to truly satisfy the spirit.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a second hand bike – the mortal frame of my old one was beyond repair and I hadn’t used it in years. I’m now, very slowly, trying to get back into it. I took the above photo up at Dunford Bridge on the Trans Pennine Trail. I’ve been up there a few times now, seen a hare crouched in the grass, heard a cuckoo twice, watched endless curlews circling the moor, and come home tired but refreshed. I’m not intending going very far on my journey and won’t be kitting myself out in lycra, but I’m enjoying the weather, the peacefulness of the trail, and the sense of freedom that comes with getting out into open countryside under your own steam. To compliment that, here’s a lovely haiku from Penny Harter, whose book of haibun, ‘Keeping Time: haibun for the journey’ I’m reviewing at the moment. Apologies for taking the haiku out of context, but I liked the calm sense of purpose in it:

fog shrouds
the field’s edge
we keep walking

Julie Mellor, this mortal frame …

This is the first really long road trip I’ve taken since I was 14. It’s feeling a bit revelatory.

The most striking thing about the miles we’ve covered so far is how empty of humans and the detritus of our civilizations they are. Miles and miles of nothing but open land. The highlight for me was a small group of horses living their best life somewhere in western Wyoming, running free, eating grass, no fences in sight.

The low point was a small town that used to be the home of a state penitentiary, which was operational until 1981. The main drag of the town was pocked with shuttered motels and empty restaurants. There was a neighborhood of what might have been charming homes. We’d hoped to eat there, but we couldn’t find any place we wanted to enter, and, honestly, the whole town felt creepy AF (even before we stumbled upon the penitentiary, which is two blocks off the main street) and we got the hell out of Dodge right after filling up our tank. (Later, I googled the penitentiary, and it IS creepy AF. Operational until 1981, with a grisly history. Now it’s a tourist attraction? And apparently haunted?) It was clear that the town was once thriving, but whatever it had was probably built on the misery of that prison. The whole thing left me feeling sad and icky and unsettled.

Driving through miles and miles (and miles) of land so different from what I know, I had a lot of thoughts about our country and its divisions. I won’t share them, as I know I don’t really know anything about what life is like in the places we’ve driven past, and they are all just speculation. I can say that I found myself having an easier time understanding why so many of us have such different world views; we are living vastly different lives. I knew that before Friday, but in a more abstract way. Something about driving through all these places makes it more concrete.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the road

Last week seemed to be a week of farewells.

There was the sad death of John Foggin, I didn’t know John, but his work was excellent and his website, The Cobweb, was an absolute trove and gift to beginners and old lags alike. His last full post from 2022 is just such a trove. Go, go read it. I’ll wait.

This week saw the final OPOI reviews from Sphinx. We knew it was coming, and it’s very much case of don’t be sad it’s over, just be glad you were there at the time. It will live on as an archive and as a way of approaching things.

Mat Riches, For years I shrunk weekends

I want to believe
that heaven is down on Earth
—here—where the light shaft
shoots through a downpour,
the rainbow, the charcoal sketched
rain cloud, the snowbell piercing ice
to make way for the grape hyacinth,
the snowflake, the whiteout
that in the hours we spent on our bellies
in the sun on the front lawn
when we were six and seven
searching for four leaves
among the clover blooms, how
we weren’t looking for luck,
but the Heaven we always believed in.

Cathy Wittmeyer, A Poem for My Sister, Listening in Heaven

Yesterday, these two lines came to me.  Those of you not steeped in feast days or prophets or the early parts of New Testament Gospels may not recognize John the Baptist, whose feast day was on Saturday–shorthand for saying that I wasn’t surprised when these lines floated up through my brain late yesterday as I took a walk: I have eaten your locusts and wild honey / and I am not impressed.  

This morning, I got rid of the second line, and now the stanza looks like this:

I have eaten your locusts and wild honey

And created a new menu with the bones

Of all the deer killed by carelessness.

And then I wanted to write a bit more, but I wasn’t sure what.  I peered into my dirty coffee cup and the next stanza emerged:

I drink my wine out of a dirty

coffee mug and bathe in the creek

that comes from the cooling

ponds at the nuclear plant.

I have no idea where this poem is heading or if it is going anywhere.  I’ll keep the document open in case anything else bubbles up.   I’m composing on the computer instead of by hand, and for the past few months, I haven’t written by hand.  Hmmm–is this change permanent?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, John the Baptist Inspired Stanzas

submersible 
the tip of the iceberg 
of our anxiety

Jim Young [no title]

The solstice came this year gently – a little overcast, temperatures in the 70s, and the sunset lasted til almost past 9 PM. We celebrated more simply this year, a trip to 21 Acres, a local farmer’s market, where we bought local honey, cherries, peas, and carrots, and a sunset spent at the lavender farm down the street, where the blooms have just started on the oldest lavender plants. It was lovely to feel the grass, smell the lavender, feel the sun – not too hot or punishing – and welcome in this fraught season. (Fraught because of the wildfire risk and because MS patients tend to [fare] worse in the heat.) […]

I am grateful to WICN and Mark Lynch for interviewing me for their station about my new book, Flare, Corona. It was a pleasure – we talked about a shared love of 50’s sci-fi movies, health crises, and more. We actually went on talking after we were off the air, and it was so fun, It felt like talking to a friend, which means that guy is really good at his job!

Here’s the link to listen to the whole thing: Jeannine Hall Gailey – 90.5 WICN Public Radio

Anyway, I hope you enjoy and it gives you some insight into the book, writing during a pandemic, and killer shrews.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome Summer! Celebrating the Solstice and a New England Radio Interview about Flare, Corona

I’m drinking tea and watching the sunrise and I feel like writing a blog post and taking a moment to process and share some poetry and thoughts and photos here on my blog from the amazing Windrush 75 concert at The Royal Albert Hall before it fades into memory, and before I jump into the next shiny thing. You will find more clips on my insta and tiktok and twitter but I have always liked to treat this blog like a scrap book, keeping an archive of highlights and my adventures in making books and poetry and gigs over the decades. Thank you to anyone following this page, hello to any new people who find me here. Welcome. 

Firstly, thank you for all of your comments and messages about this one gig and poem. I was blown away by your messages, thank you. I was so honoured and so excited to be invited by Trevor Nelson to perform and write a piece for the Windrush 75 Concert. I was also nervous about it as I knew I wanted to write something new for it. I was not sure where to begin to try to capture this moment in history and experience, and my own feelings about Windrush and heritage and ancestry and migration and colonialism and empire in a poem to be broadcast on the BBC and perform to peers and elders on such a big stage. 

I left London and headed south to perform two lovely shows in Exeter and Totnes and stayed down there for a while with dear friends on the coast. I looked at the Devon skies and seas and sun rises and went deep into the themes of this poem and the process. I knew right away that I wanted to fill the Royal Albert Hall with the ocean, with timelessness and the weight of ocean water and our conversation with it. 

I wanted to share in that united feeling that we are not all in the same boat, and that so many of us came here by boat, and that many are still arriving by boat, and how we are all connected in blood and saltwater. I wanted to celebrate that we share the same time in history, that we share an ancient resilience and courage. As some of you know I am currently working on the second Mrs Death Misses Death novel and so this was setting the tone for me and leaking into my writing, I was visualising and dreaming of Mrs Death filling the Albert Hall with ocean, with ancestors and ghosts, with loss and grief, and with BIGlove, ONE Love. 

Salena Godden, Poem: My Heart Is A Boat | Windrush 75 | The Royal Albert Hall

“Genetic memory” was inspired by the theory that memories may be inherited, and that perhaps we “remember” our ancestors’ formative experiences. The details in the poem are pulled from my grandparents’ lives. For example, my father’s father, Raymond Edward Smith, was the first Columbus, Ohio, resident reported killed in action at Pearl Harbor. On Christmas Eve, his parents were informed that it was a mistake—their son was alive. My grandfather never spoke about Pearl Harbor, but reading about genetic memory, I wondered: Could I be carrying traces of experiences like this one? What if?

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Genetic memory”

This is a poem about me – the poetic I is also the actual I in this poem – listening to a particular song by one of my favourite bands. It’s my thoughts on the song itself, and what it meant to me in 2019 when I listened to it and had a moment of clarity. I wrote it for myself, not publication, but when I decided to share some of my work, this was included. There’s a lot more to it than that, obviously…

Firstly the song I was listening to. William’s Last Words is the final track on the Manic Street Preachers 2009 album Journal for Plague Lovers and is sung not by James Dean Bradfield – lead singer, huge rasping soul voice – but by Nicky Wire, the bass player with a softer, less confident delivery. The lyrics to the song, and all the songs on this album, were recovered from notebooks left by the band’s former guitarist and childhood friend, Richey James Edwards, who had gone missing fifteen years earlier.

The lyrics read like a goodbye message, a break-up letter, a suicide note: given the context of the album, it feels like a final note from Richey himself. But it’s actually a great example of editing, as the original typewritten notes for the song show something very different – lines and phrases have been taking from what seems to be a vignette with allusions to Launce Olivier’s film The Entertainer, about a music-hall star. And when you find that out, it does seem a little artificial, but the words that remain, the poignancy, the fact they got Nicky to sing it, it all makes for a song that is a beautiful as it is sad, as natural as it is manufactured.

Why was this important to me? Why did I write a poem about it, and not an essay?

In August 2019 I was hospitalized in Cardiff with Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia – an incredibly rare and easily fatal form of blood cancer. And the drugs weren’t working. My mental health was suppressed by Lorazepam, Diazepam, and Prozac. I refused to get angry. I couldn’t be happy, but I couldn’t cry. And my god I needed to cry so bad.

Drop-in by Jamie Woods [Nigel Kent]

I’ve got five visual poems from the ‘Classic Crimes’ series in the new Seneca Review. These were accepted last year and it’s great to see them out. I got to see them in the issue, my mother having forwarded one I had sent to her house. Generally when a print magazine sends me a copy in Germany I end up paying customs on it, so not to seem ungrateful but I ask that no one do it anymore.

I like the batch Seneca took! The poems are: Without Speaking, Side-Wisps(pictured), I Shook My Head, To Be Deplored and Spell. They’ll go up in color online. In the print issue they are in b/w, which I thought they might not come off well. But they look fine.

(I’ve always wondered, on that note, what Hotel Almighty looks like on Kindle. I realized well after publication that it’s all in b/w.)

I put them all up on Instagram over the past few days if you visit there. If you don’t mind the explosion of ads. If they are ads? It seems more like being force-fed cat and baby videos.

Sarah J Sloat, The Mustaches of Scoundrels

A funny thing did happen the other day, I suddenly wrote four poems – a sort of sequence I suppose – out of nowhere. But I haven’t really given poetry writing a lot of headspace lately. The ‘sudden burst’ actually came after listening to an online book launch by Pindrop Press. I was enjoying poems by Lydia Harris, and was inspired enough to buy her collection, Objects of Private Devotion. I haven’t started it yet though, mainly because I’ve been ploughing though historical novels to try to gauge where mine sits. But also, I have two poetry books to review for the Frogmore Papers, plus Jill Abram‘s debut collection Forgetting My Father (Broken Sleep) waiting to be read. Patience!

Another project I’m involved with at the moment is an anthology that the Hastings Stanza is putting together, to be published in October under the Telltale Press imprint. There are four of us on the editorial “committee” and at the moment I’m busy on the typesetting. I think the standard of poems is pretty high, though I say so myself, so it’s a pleasure to work on.

Robin Houghton, Midsummer update: poetry projects, novel stuff, podcast…

Catherine Truman and I have been working together on projects bridging art and science since 2006. Here is a glimpse of our current project, The Taken Path. This is a speculative, durational project that hangs of a poetic idea: what would we notice if we walked the same path, once a month over the course of a year and filmed the journey? […]

Together, the two videos attempt to illustrate the largely unsolvable problem of representing the uniqueness, the ephemerality and perceptual uncertainty of lived experience. We cannot attend to everything that happens around us and we cannot fully portray those elements of our experience that do take our attention, form memories, generate lasting significance.

Ian Gibbins, The Taken Path: a durational project with Catherine Truman

I’m intrigued by Quietly Between (Fort Collins CO: A Viewing Space, 2022), a quartet of solicited poem sequences and photography by American poets Megan Kaminski, Brad Vogler, Lori Anderson Moseman and Sarah Green that each respond to the same very particular prompt. As the original prompt, included at the back of the collection, opens:

15-25 images/cards (combination of text and image).

Begin with place and time.

Place(s): where you are/were. Both text and photos could be of your present place. Or one element is, and the other draws from something else.

Time: some element of time is incorporated into the project. In the film All the Days of the Year, Walter Ungerer returns to the same place in Mount Battie, Camden, Maine every day for one year. He sets up his camera, and takes thirteen, ten second shots while turning the camera clockwise. […]

Via the poetic sequence, each of these four poets offer their variation on the stretched-out lyric sketch, allowing this collection to emerge into a book about being present in temporal and physical space, each poet blending lyric and photographic attention from their own particular American corners, across a quartet of American states moving straight west from the Midwest to the Coast.

rob mclennan, Quietly Between: Megan Kaminski, Brad Vogler, Lori Anderson Moseman and Sarah Green

First up is a shout-out to Goran Gatalica who was kind enough to share his haiku collection, Night Jasmine (Stajer Graf) with me. This multilingual translation collection (the haiku are translated from the original Croatian into English, French, Italian, Czech, Hindi, and Japanese) is filled with vivid examples of contemporary haiku navigating traditional themes with a contemporary sensibility.

The book is framed within the cycle of seasons, starting with spring and ending in winter. Here is a selection of four haiku, one from each season:

empty commuter train –
listening to spring drizzle
through an open window

August flood –
a softened meadow
reflects the stars

mother’s death –
I fold the first autumn rain
in my handkerchief

family reunion –
the half-frozen pond
flickering

Across these four haiku, one can get a sense of the sensibility Gatalica works with throughout Night Jasmine. There’s the haiku that frames an immediate sensation, as in the first one here which lingers over a moment of rain.

One sees the theme of rain come up again in the “August flood” and “first autumn rain” of the second and third haiku above. Rain continues to change life, but not suppress it; even in the grief of the third haiku, there is the animation of the folding handkerchief.

No rain in the last one here, but water is present in the “half-frozen pond.” What I love in this last one is the way the animation and presence is implied in the reflections on the pond, of fire, of the reunion itself.

To read more haiku by Gatalica go here. To learn more about Night Jasmine as well as to check out a reading of the collection, go here and here, respectively. Lastly, if you’re interested in a copy [of] the book, reach out to me via my contact form and I’ll put you in touch with the poet.

José Angel Araguz, shout-outs: haiku, flight, & opportunity

Patricia Smith has collected over 200 cabinet cards, cartes de visite, ambrotypes, daguerreotypes and tintypes from garage and vintage sales, online markets and estate sales. However, only a few images had names, and often just a first name. A studio address might offer a location. “They are wraiths, their stories growing dim”. Smith’s mother moved from Alabama to Chicago. Ashamed of her impoverished roots, her mother severed her past, refusing to put names to the people in photos. Actions that also severed her daughter from history. These poems put imaginary voices to the photos, sometimes drawing on the location to incorporate a historical event such as a yellow fever outbreak in Memphis or lynching in Virginia. […]

Publishing the images alongside the poems gives readers the opportunity to see how they complement each other. Each poem gives voice to the silent images, left without name and without family connections. The collection is about more than the featured photographs. It’s a reminder of how families were cut from their roots and exploited. How, in an effort to fit in with a white community, people purposely lost their origins and sometimes their names. The difficulty of tracing family trees when names are lost or changed, means most give up. It can also cause friction between generations as younger generations research a past older generations deliberately discarded. Patricia Smith empathically gives the people in the photographs voices, succinctly conveying what might have been their stories.

Emma Lee, “Unshuttered” Patricia Smith (TriQuarterly Books, Northwestern University Press) – book review

The eponymous figure from Grünbein’s sequence’s 11th poem,‘Hans im Glück’, draws on one of the stories in The Children’s and Household Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1812). In the original, Hans has anything of value taken from him, bit by bit, yet he remains optimistic, refusing to acknowledge reality. Within the context of Porcelain, Grunbein treats this is as an additional image of the myth of the city of Dresden as undeserving victim. Interestingly, the same figure appears in Ulrike Almut Sandig’s collection, but her presentation of Hans is more poignant, less ironic, as even the boy’s language is stripped from him and he tries to write a letter to a loved one: “what are you up to? // + esp: where r u? / ru ru // ru”. In the context of I Am a Field Full of Rapeseed… , the boy might be thought of as a refugee, forcibly having his culture and language stripped from him, though one of the strengths of the poem is that it also works as an updated fairy tale, a little myth of loss and diminished presence with more universal application. Such re-purposing of several of Grimm’s tales is one of the most striking things about this collection. Sandig announces in another poem, “we find ourselves deep in the future of fairy tale” (‘the sweet porridge’) and she, like Angela Carter before her, redeploys the fairy tale’s surreal narratives, bold characterisation, its humour and violence, its symbolism and moral intensity for her own purposes.

Martyn Crucefix, Greedy alpha-creatures: the poetry of Ulrike Almut Sandig

Through her erstwhile directorship of Malika’s Kitchen, staging of the highly successful ‘Stablemates’ series of readings and ever-supportive presence at many poets’ launch events and other readings, Jill Abram, as much as anyone in the UK poetry community, has championed, and continues to champion, its happily increasing diversity of outstanding voices.

As an exceptional poet in her own right, Jill’s poems have been appearing with increasing frequency in high-quality journals in the last few years. It’s therefore excellent news that Jill’s debut publication, Forgetting my Father, has recently appeared from Broken Sleep Books. It’s available here, with an attractive cover designed by Broken Sleep’s owner and principal editor, Aaron Kent. It consists of 23 tremendous poems about family, Jewishness, bereavement, the passage of time and much besides; above all, how memories, and their jewel-like details, still colour the present.

Matthew Paul, On Jill Abram’s ‘Inheritance’

A year ago this month, Gina Wilson died. The two of us met just over a decade ago on the Writing School run by Ann and Peter Sansom of The Poetry Business. We were both psychotherapists, working in private practice.

Gina was published first as a children’s writer – novels (Faber), poetry (Cape), picture books (Walker Books). Her adult poems are ‘complex, though deceptively simple’ and ‘tough and compelling, no verbiage, no sentimentality’ (Kate Clanchy).

Gina’s poems ‘lure you into thinking you’re on safe, possibly domestic territory. Then they catch you unawares, taking off at an unexpected, often surreal tangent.’

I am grateful to her family for permission to share three poems from Gina’s poetry pamphlets (Scissors Paper Stone, HappenStance, 2010; It Was And It Wasn’t, Mariscat Press, 2017.) [Click through to read.]

Fokkina McDonnell, Photograph with a Very Small Moon

Like jokes, poems have finely tuned relationships to time. They are, like music, unfolding in a culture of time, of kinds of time and their corresponding effects. They are, like heartbeats, rhythmic or arrhythmic. In her research into medieval wonder, medievalist Carol Walker Bynum argued that the wonder reaction is a significance reaction—our experience of wonder is an instinctive recognition of meaning. Our experience of that meaning, as I’ve argued elsewhere, would be different were the eventual end of all feeling not guaranteed (more on mortality and wonder here).

But, we’re alive for now—so, the issue gets crafty. Since wonder is fundamentally a question of vision in its widest sense, we are left to ponder “the zodiac of [our] own wit” (Sir Philip Sidney). Whatever mental constellations we report, we must also be able to recognize a sky beyond them.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

So look, I’m not going to try to bullshit you into saying that either one of these poems is good. I don’t usually do the good-bad dichotomy with poems to begin with. The reason this newsletter is called “Another Poem to Love” instead of something like “Great Poems You Should Read” is that I figured out a long time ago that there are a lot of poems out there that just aren’t for me, and that doesn’t make them bad. It just makes them not for me. Like I said earlier, people are wired differently.

But when it comes to the question of which poem is more interesting, I think the one done by the Vogon Poetry Generator wins easily. I mean at least it’s weird, and the closing line, “Corrupt, corrupt brilliance? That’s what a slug’s life is about? Really.” is jarring and funny. And if you’re high, it’s probably hilarious. Somebody do that and report back, would you?

Whereas the ChatGPT one is predictable. The most fun line in there is “When Vogons come, plug up your holes” but only if you read it with a dirty mind. Which you should. That’s my definitive poetry statement here. If you can read lines of a poem with a dirty mind, you should. Discourse!

Brian Spears, So Long and Thanks For All the Fish

Back in 2014, a reply-all unsubscribe outbreak on the Malahat Review listserv brought such joy to my heart that I wrote a found poem compiled from the various replies. You can read that poem here.

One might have thought that in the intervening nine years, the Malahat Review would have addressed this flaw in their listserv system but, bless them, it appears they did not. We’re back at it, and the replies are even more confused, angry and conspiratorial this time around (this is Pierre Poilievre’s Canada we’re living in, after all).

Rhonda Ganz has stepped up to write a found poem for this year’s meltdown. I present it below. If you’d like to contribute your own Malahat Review listserv found poem, please email it to me at roblucastaylor(at)gmail(dot)com and I will post it here. And most importantly, enjoy the madness while it lasts. It will be another nine years before we get to do it again!

[Five more found poems have come in since this post. Visit Rob’s blog Roll of Nickles to read them all.]

Rob Taylor, this makes me nervous

For all my time with others, I still feel I move about in the world alone–this is true when it comes to writing, to social things, to work, to love. Even in love, I am resistant to giving up parts of myself–my peace and privacy that only usually exists when no one else is in the room. It’s never really loneliness, not in the moment, though I have been lonely. Acutely so after the death of my mother especially. Like a gaping hole of loneliness. Cosmologically lonely, if that makes sense. Absolutely lonely, though I was surrounded by family and friends and partners. It was like someone had torn a hole in the universe and all the air was bleeding out. Time closed it, but it still yawns and gapes every once in a while, though just as often in a group as alone. Sometimes more so in a group of people, especially ones where she should have been. My dad is different..a more acute and situation-specific kind of lonely, but still with sharp edges. 

I frighten myself sometimes, with my love of being alone, which feels enjoyable yet wrong somehow. Articles crop up in my feed occasionally about the importance of being social animals. How much I relish my days alone and uninterrupted with nothing but cats for company. I enjoy the company of people, some exquisitely, some more than others, but I am most myself when alone. It’s the baseline. The blank state to be returned to necessary for creativity and productivity. Which may be why introverts love midnights so much when it seems the entire world is sleeping but them.

Kristy Bowen, aloneness vs. lonely | the introvert heart

Haven’t I lived at
different distances from myself? Alone and

young and afraid, I didn’t let myself too close.
Who would want the mirage to unravel? When
I could bear to say it aloud, to myself, find
words for estrangement, abandonment, apathy,

find words to console those words, I began to
tolerate myself, in small doses. Before the sink
holes opened again. What is the antonym of
father? Of mother? What is the colour of

disaffection? The man is smiling at me, watching
my experiments. I wonder what he sees. How far
away he is. How far away I am. What is the perfect
distance for the surreal to sharpen into truth?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 52

夏空へ両手あげ脱皮する少女   酒井弘司

natsuzora e morote age dappi suru shôjo

            raising both arms

            to the summer sky

            a girl casts off her skin

                                                Hiroshi Sakai

from Haiku, a monthly haiku magazine, August 2022 Issue, Kabushiki Kaisha Kadokawa, Tokyo

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (June 24, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 10

Poetry Blogging Network

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

The enormous annual writers’ conference, AWP, just concluded in Seattle, so we have a few posts about that, though most writers who attended are probably still recovering, so expect a bit more coverage of that next week. Aside from that, just a lot of fun, off-beat posts on everything from Rimbaud’s lice to golden shovels to crochet. Enjoy.


In this letter, I’m going to pretend you are Kafka. Nocturnal. Secretive. Intense. 

Pained yet quietly open to the joy in the world. 

And tonight, I saw—or didn’t see—something which reminded me of you. After midnight as I walked the dog I saw a figure on the path. The forest was blue bright because of the full moon; even the shadows were blue. The dog howled and began to run, but I called him back. I couldn’t tell if the figure was coming towards us or away. We kept walking and the figure appeared to stride off into the trees. Maybe it was a trick of the turning path, but when we rounded the bend, it was gone. The dog nosed disconsolately for a minute then gave up. It was unsettling, alone at night in the woods and this figure appearing seemingly out of nowhere. What was it?

As I’m writing this, I feel as if I’m missing out on the other writing I could be doing.  

Gary Barwin, LETTER TO YOU AS IF YOU WERE KAFKA

I know the more sophisticated of my readers may be disappointed to hear this, but I have been to the football and I have been chanting, but not like a nun. I understand that some imagine me as a well-behaved lady poet, sitting behind my typewriter and waiting for poems to come to the rescue, but after the events of last weekend, I feel compelled to reveal the darker side to my character. […]

“It’s only a game,” I said to myself again, and this time I believed it. I embraced the truth of it. It being a game doesn’t make it not matter. Games are important, I reasoned, because they’re an opportunity to release our inner children. Hadn’t Michael Rosen said this, in his book Play?

Freed up by this thought, I starting jeering when the Bournemouth goalie got a yellow card for time-wasting. It’s only a game, I thought, so I can let go. “Send him off!” I heard myself shout. “Lo-ser! Give him a red card! Red ca-ard!” I looked across at my sons – they were roaring at the goalie too, shaking their fists. It was wonderful.  

Liz Lefroy, I Chant And We Cheer

This is the week that AWP opens in Seattle. The Annual Writers Pilgrimage to whatever Mecca is selected for that year.  Seattle it is. 

This is also the week I have eye surgery on my right eye. That happens Tuesday the 8th. As a result, my AWP will be virtual this year. This is disappointing because I know many poets and writers in the Pacific Northwest.  And, I’ve never been to Seattle. I get many excellent views of the area’s natural beauty in pictures, but that only makes me want to see it more. […]

Did I say I will miss the swag? Crazy buttons, promotional material from presses, and lit journals. Who knows what brilliant ideas people will have this year. There are always some oldies but goodies that you will see each year that have been done specifically for AWP 23. One of my favorites from the past was the do not disturb door hanger with cute writing-related quotes on it, like go away I’m writing my fucking memoir.  Oh wait, that was a sticker, but still. And various temporary tattoos.

Michael Allyn Wells, Conferencing from Home This Time Hopefully With Improved Eye Sight

Many people I know are in some state of travel this week. Lots of writers are headed to the big writing conference, the AWP conference. I went to a few of them; Tampa was an easy drive from my South Florida house, and we had such a good time that I decided to go the following year. Unfortunately by the time of the Portland conference in 2019, I had almost no travel money, and by the following year, I funded the whole thing myself, to San Antonio in early March 2020, where we watched conferences for later March being cancelled and wondered what precautions we should have been taking.

I am not on my way to Seattle this year for the AWP. It’s too expensive, and I’m no longer earning the kind of money that lets me fund the whole thing, which is easily $1,000 for the hotel by itself, not to mention airfare, which could also approach the $1,000 per ticket price, or not, if one is good at getting deals or traveling light, which I am not. The conference fare looks cheap by comparison.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, On Not Going to AWP and Other Moves

Most years, I watch from afar and feel like I am missing out, that everyone is getting to hang out with people I’d love to hang out with, the feeling that THIS is where it is all happening. That everyone is in one place, which is of course, deceptive. Most people can’t go for the same reasons I can’t. Many writers give no shits about AWP. This year, there is also a real feeling of relief to NOT be there. It’s a lot of work to be only one person lugging books and manning tables, organizing events, and orchestrating travel plans, even if you can afford them. It’s also just a whole lot for this frightened little introvert heart to handle. I don’t think I am up for it. Or maybe I am choosing to not be up for it. .Maybe this is evidence of new boundaries and trying to live a less stressful life and not be always throwing myself enthusiastically into things that are ridiculous when I look back on them. I’ve also learned that I don’t travel well at all. For one, I don’t want to or like it and it makes me anxious. Kind of like a fine potato salad.

Kristy Bowen, fomo, romo, and awp

I’m home from AWP and recovering, eating breakfast, and uploading photos. So, was it worth it to try to go? I had been in a pretty tight pandemic bubble for the last three years, so it was certainly a change! 9000 people attended! I saw lots of friends, both local and cross country, but I don’t think I got to say hi to half the people I wanted to! I definitely overscheduled—which I usually don’t do, but I’ve never had all my panels accepted before, and then had a new book come out at exactly the same time as AWP in my own town, so figured I had to go for it.

There were risks involved, and the conference center was under construction which made wheelchair access to the building problematic—roads were closed off, wheelchair drop-off places were blocked by construction vans. Before the event I felt very insecure about my identity as a writer and being older and yes, I walk with a cane or wheelchair. But after the first day, I felt like I was part of a community, I felt like a writer again, and I felt much less insecure. People I didn’t know came up to me to tell me about different books and how they loved them. People were enthusiastic about the panels I was on. It felt wonderful connecting with friends.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Feeling Like a Writer Again, and Part of a Community But Also, Overwhelmed: Conferences Are Tough and What I Learned – AWP Seattle 2023 Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

It’s true that every so often I weaken and write something more ‘conventional’, as if there’s still some need to speak in a way that’s expected. Thankfully the lapse doesn’t usually last long and the aversion to being a part of the ‘poetry club’ returns. I go back to trying to find images and lines that link from somewhere deep in the brain and hook them into something that moves me. Talking of ‘from somewhere deep in the brain’ I remembered the words of John Stuart Mill, which might well apply to the ‘How To Write Poetry’ blockheads who populate the scene with such back-slapping camaraderie in search of something approaching fame. He wrote, in 1823: “I see something of fashionable people here, and… there is not a more futile class of persons on the face of the earth.” Well said, sir. Perhaps he can hear me two hundred years on, who knows?

For good or bad, or indifferent, it seems the right time to write something without stopping, without prior intention. The words will come. The title will go on last. I just like writing this way. Is it ‘avant garde’? Who knows or cares?

Bob Mee, FOR THE AVANT GARDE

The Adirondack Center for Writing has “invented” poetry machines […] Each machine dispenses plastic bubbles containing a piece of paper with one of 10 poems. I’m dating myself, but as a kid, the only thing better than having a quarter for a random prize in a machine like this was having change for the coin-operated horse outside the store. Check out the ACW website (linked above) for details about the poems. And, if you live near the [Adirondacks] as I do, you can find the machines at locations in Blue Mountain Lake, Indian Lake and Northville.

Carolee Bennett, the artist googles “how to be an artist”

Old siddurim and holy books go in the cupboard to be buried in the sanctified ground of our cemetery. Once they are tattered from long use, we treat them with reverence and lay them to rest along with our beloved dead. But the secular books get stacked and bagged, or boxed, and hauled to the car, and taken away. It’s hard to let go of books. We’re the People of the Book! And yet there are so many books that haven’t been touched in years. Books we’d forgotten we had. Books we just don’t need.

Rachel Barenblat, Old books

I read somewhere that the the social elite invited Rimbaud to one of their soirees. He stood on a chair and shook himself to rain lice down over all on them. (I do think my memory is adding details here: the chair, not the lice.) They fell out of love with him then.

Only for a while because, like everyone does, he died. Once someone is dead you can pin down a story and no one can let you down or force you to deal with it in the present tense.

Head lice, a bloody gun wound, a severed ear, a water-logged corpse, all quite romantic if you don’t have to smell them. Mouches (French for flies) were fashionable as long as they were a bit of play-acting: a bit of self-irony for the syphilitic over-class.

Ren Powell, An Argument for Amorphous Stories

I’m thinking today of the courageous women I met in Mexico City on this day four years ago, demonstrating against the violent “disappearance” of so many Mexican women. I’m thinking of my friend Shirin and what she has told me about women today in Iran. I’m thinking about refugees I have met from Africa — women who escaped terrible situations and survived journeys toward a hoped-for freedom; some of whom were able to gain asylum and some who were deported to an uncertain fate. I’m thinking of women in detention centers, or whose bones now lie in the desert near the US/Mexican border, or at the bottom of the sea.

And I am thinking about women in general: our strength, our resilience and resourcefulness, our endless ability to do what we have to do to care for those around us in spite of everything that life throws at us, our ability to form enduring and powerful friendships, and, most of all, our ability to love. What would the world be without us?

So for me it’s a day of renewed commitment to help the women who are younger than I am in whatever ways I can. To try to help them find their way and their own strength in a world that has more opportunities than we had, but is harsh, hostile and frightening in ways we never had to experience when we were their age. How I hope that, in fifty more years, equality of all people will be much closer to a reality! But it will never come if we sit on our heels waiting, or ask meekly, or expect change without fighting for it, because this is a fight that will never be over, so long as the powers-that-be are in charge of the world.

Beth Adams, In Praise of Women, and in Fear for Them

On the stove, a hot water kettle boils

because it must. The urgency for release
comes in many other forms. Let

the last of those tears fall, and after that
tend to the earth where we are.

Luisa A. Igloria, On Remedies

There may be poets who can sit in front of their computer or notebook and spontaneously compose a poem, but I am not one of them. Generally, my poems have a long gestation. I tend to mull them over while doing other things: gardening, walking, cleaning the bathrooms. Crocheting.

My best friend Joanne taught me how to crochet when I was thirteen. I’ve never been particularly good with my hands and at school I struggled with activities such as knitting or sewing or art; but crochet, with its single hook and simple knotting technique, was relatively easy and I took to it straight away. My first project was a poncho (dear reader, we were the hippie generation! – ponchos ruled!), constructed of granny squares in shades of blue. 

Over the years I’ve progressed from granny squares to scarves, baby blankets, cardigans, filet crochet placemats, soft toys and amigurumi for my grandchildren. 

Crochet is relaxing and meditative. Stitches are looped in rows, integrating texture, shape and colour to create a beautiful object. It’s a process analogous to writing a poem, where lines of words, imagery, metre and form are crafted together to become something much more than the sum of the component parts.

Marian Christie, The Poetry and Mathematics of Crochet

Now my uni course is finished, I’m trying to get back into some writing routine. I can carve time in the weekends to write, but I’m unfocused. One of the paid projects I applied for didn’t happen, so I’m waiting on the other and have several unpaid opportunities coming up, but instead of writing something towards them, I spent most of yesterday morning chiselling away at one poem.

I’d written a poem with a slight scientific theme and I had been looking at the Fibonacci sequence and trying to incorporate it somehow. I discovered yesterday that there is a poetic form based around it, the Fib poem. It’s a simple, non-rhyming form which appeals to me. I’m trying it with word count instead of syllables as I’m lazy and am having enough trouble making it fit without having to break it down into further complications. It’s coming together, but I haven’t written anything new.

I’ve often taken writing courses as a way of boosting inspiration and getting back to writing daily. I might look into my regular ones and see what’s happening there. Until then I just need to pick up my pen and get scribbling. 

Gerry Stewart, The Struggle to Return

Whenever I review new poetry – which I used to do quite a bit, and now don’t do as much as I’d like – I always look to see what other people have been saying about the book in question. And I always wonder. Am I… cheating? Whatever I’m doing it’s a world away from the close reading practised in univerisities after the war, where English students were asked to respond to poems without knowing anything about them. But it is also just how I think. Or at least, how I write. I find my own responses hard to articulate without someone else’s to bounce off.

This is a long winded-way of thanking Graeme Richardson, whose brief remarks in the Sunday Times gave me a leg up. If they are going to have a poetry critic, perhaps they could let him write more full length reviews. But it is also to make a self-interested complaint – though one which I think may have wider ramifications. Because, beyond this review by Cheryl Mcgregor, Richardons’s were among the only un-blurby remarks I could find. And this is a book from Picador, a commercial imprint, and one that’s now been shortlisted for several prizes.

Jeremy Wikeley, Recent reviewing: bandit country

Dead Mall Press is happy to announce that two new chapbooks are now available for pre-order! This marks the beginning of a new phase for the press, and I am thrilled to share these writers’ books with you. […]

All sales will be split 50/50 between writer and press. Of the press’s half, 50% — or a quarter of all sales from both books — will be donated to Confluence HRKC, “a harm reduction collective serving people who use drugs and those who love them in the Kansas City, MO area.” This organization was agreed upon by myself (RM) and both writers (Amalia and Franziska), and we are proud to support their work providing autonomy and life-saving care for a criminalized and vulnerable population. Receipts for this donation will be provided at the end of the pre-order period.

R.M. Haines, DEAD MALL PRESS: NEW BOOKS AVAILABLE TODAY!

I’m celebrating having survived Covid and reached Launch Day with some ginger tea… sitting here under the rosy shadow of a whole forest of amaryllis blooms…

Seren of the Wildwood is the weekly feature of Autumn Sky Poetry Daily. To see, go HERE. And thanks to editor Christine Klocek-Lim!

Marly Youmans, Launch Day, March 6

Given the ways through which beloved Winnipeg poet, editor, critic, teacher, anthologist, theorist, mentor and publisher Dennis Cooley has worked as a poet over the years, the notion of a trajectory of his writing as seen through a sequence of published book-length poetry collections is less than straightforward; certainly far less straightforward than anyone else I’m aware of. His published work exists as less than a straight line than a complex tapestry, often producing chapbooks and books excised from lengthy manuscripts composed across years (and even decades), offering selected book-sized collections awash with myriad threads, some of which connect to some works over others, all of which spread out endlessly from whatever central point where his work once began.

rob mclennan, Dennis Cooley, body works

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

One of the first poets I studied with was Larry Levis. He taught me that it’s not enough for a poem to set a scene—it needs to take the reader on a journey of emotion, realization, recognition. From Dorianne Laux I learned that the process of writing can be playful and saw the depth conveyed when a poet writes about ordinary things. Gregory Orr, through his craft book A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry, taught me about order and disorder in poetry, our natural desire for balance between these opposites, and how each person has a different threshold for the shift from one to the other. (That teaching greatly affected the poems in Talk Smack to a Hurricane, my book about my mother’s mental illness—the more chaotic the content, the more I considered what and how much structure was needed.) As a result of Kim Addonizio’s poetry and her craft book Ordinary Genius, I realized there’s freedom in candor, regardless of the topic. I’ve learned new ways to start a poem. I now search for energy and emotional truth as it unfolds. Richard Hugo, in Triggering Town, his book of lectures and essays, taught me that the inspiration (trigger) for a poem is only sometimes what the poem is really about. Ed Skoog taught a whole class on taking the “side door” into poems—I learned to open myself to unexpected topcs and odd juxtapositions. He offered a new revision strategy: Alphabetize a poem’s lines according to the first word of each, then look for new connections or directions (I find this works best with poems of 20–30 lines or so). Rosebud ben Oni, in workshop and through her poetry, taught me that my purpose in writing is to tell my story and no one else’s—if someone’s missing from the conversation, I need to work to make space for their words, not speak for them. There’s too much I’ll never understand even though I want to. Through her book Odes to Lithium, Shira Ehrlichman showed me the power of a full poetry collection on psychiatric issues; it gave me the courage to build a manuscript of poems I’d written about my mother’s mental illness, our relationship, and psychiatry. 

Lynne Jensen Lampe : part two (Thomas Whyte)

My plan was to get the kids (years 8 and 9) writing their own poems and get them being creative. I think there had been lots of sessions where people went in to talk about business and TV, and I knew if I started talking about market research I’d lose them (Heck, I’m losing myself just typing it here), so poems it was. I asked the teachers what they’d been studying—the kids, not the teachers, and then took some of that it to get the kids writing their own golden shovels. I read the kids the Gwendolyn Brooks poem, We Real Cool and the first stanza of Terrance Hayes’ own poem. […]

Once we’d gone through those two poems, I gave the kids the choice of using a line from the Hayes poem, or from some others I’d supplied ( Nettles by Vernon Scannell, My City by George The Poet, I Wanna Be Yours by John Cooper Clarke and Walking Away by Cecil Day Lewis.) and then set them off writing. I think it all went fairly well. Note to self, put up a visual reference to what I want them to do…that would have made things a bit clearer up front, but we got them working with it quickly. Some kids we suggested using the words from their chosen line as the first words instead of the last on their lines to get them going.

There was one lad who was struggling to get going, but when I asked him what he liked doing outside of school he very quickly got a draft out about playing Zombie computer games using a line from the Scannell poem. Amazing stuff.

I’ve never been asked anything like this before and I know I won’t be giving up the day job to run these sessions, but I came out of there buzzing (and that was no mean feat as I’d been riddled with a cold in the run up to it). I was even asked for my autograph by a few of the kids, but I don’t think anyone that makes a career out of teaching creative writing (and I am perhaps overplaying the work I did) needs to worry. I didn’t get paid (as I was doing it on ITV Time). I wonder if I’ve done folks that do teach a disservice by doing it, but there was another poet there called Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan and I know she was getting paid.

Mat Riches, Whistles, shovels, calamine lotion and geese

Last night I participated in a lovely event at the Chenoa Public Library, a presentation about Fugue, an artist book with photographs by Ken Kashian and tiny poems by me. You can see a little video about it, with a fugue as background music, at Ken’s website and at the Fugue link above. Part of the joy was the absolute attention of the audience, and part was conversing with them afterwards in a relaxed and cozy way on a rainy night, us warm inside in comfortable chairs donated by other libraries! In fact, Sheryl the director and I realized we had attended the same regional library conference the day before. I guess that makes it a Random Coinciday as well as a Poetry Someday in the blog! Other coincidences: the library director had participated in a theatre in town that I work with, and I went to high school with her husband and his brothers. He farmed up the road from where I lived, and my son and his hometown have the same name! 

The town and its library are very near the Weston Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve, where the poems and photos are set. Not everyone in the audience had been there yet, but they’ll be visiting soon! I was so honored that people felt reverence for the place, and reverent in our space last night, thanks to the photos and poems, and, I think, the sense of community.

Kathleen Kirk, Tiny Poems

By day two, I knew that only steaming

thukpa and ginger tea were keeping me alive in that
stark desert. Everything felt freshly vacuumed, the

naked mountains, the Indus cutting a blue path through
the valley, the Zanskar snaking up to the confluence, the

stupas, the silver air. The cleanliness like a challenge to
my soul. But there was nothing else. No enlightenment,

no explanation, no intervention. On the third day, in
Chang La, at 17000 feet, there was more tea. Beyond

was Pangong Lake, so exquisite, like an illusion caused
by oxygen deprivation. Or despair. I was still expectant

but back at the lodge there was only the silence and the
mountains, exactly where I had left them.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 37

 a heron
lost in a blizzard
of seagulls

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 5

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, I was charmed by the outpouring of affection for Linda Pastan on social media, most of us not realizing how many other Pastan fans were out there until she died. Judging by the size of the reaction in my feeds, she was at least as popular as Charles Simic, which might surprise a critic or two. So Pastan appreciation bookends a digest full of new book and manuscript news, strategies for writing better or more regularly, and the usual weird and wonderful assortment of essays, reviews, and poems. Enjoy,


I am still in shock that Linda Pastan has died. I liked knowing she was in the world. We first met when I was sixteen and she visited my high school library to give a poetry reading. 

Twenty years later we met again at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. She was the one that suggested I return to graduate study for an MFA. As she hugged me goodbye at the end of the two weeks, she asked me to keep in touch with her so she could follow my career. I looked over my shoulder sure she must be speaking to someone else. As a creating writing professor now myself, I’m stunned by how much power that one sentence had to change my life. And yes, reader, we did stay in touch. I last saw her when she came out to Seattle with her husband for a reading. […]

I wonder what it means to write one superb poem after another but not to win the Pulitzer or become Poet Laureate, to not be given the gold ring by the powers that be? Pastan did not take multiple lovers (as far as I know) or commit suicide; she did not behave badly. I remember telling a professor in my graduate program that she had been an important influence and I could sense his dismissiveness. I’ve since heard that same story from several women poets who wanted to study her work. Why not Eavan Boland was weirdly the response.

I am hopeful that someone organizes a book of critical essays on Pastan’s work or perhaps is already at work on a biography. Perhaps that will be me…

Susan Rich, Linda Pastan (1932 – 2023)

In the Belly

As a woman carries an insect, unconscious
of the sign it shapes with diplomatic footfalls
across her skin, she carries me. As a lake
lifts the sky’s image, all burnished admiration, or
proffers a crushed cup, a leaf, a rainbow slick
of grease. […]

“In the Belly” is one translation of Imbolc, a.k.a. St. Brigid’s day, midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, a time for lambing, spring cleaning, and many blessings, including lengthening daylight. I’m no expert on Irish, pagan, Christian, or any other kind of festival, but this seasonal turn matters to me. I wrote the poem above around Imbolc years ago, when a sensation of being held up by a benevolent force arrived suddenly and very strongly. I perceived the feeling itself, and the poem accompanying it, as gifts.

Lesley Wheeler, She carries me

It is strange how an absence of weight makes me feel heavier rather than lighter. Her warm, black-furred body, usually pressed against my hip all night, has been replaced by emptiness when I reach out for her in the dark and fall into a depth of grief I thought had passed. Perhaps that one small grief for a cat calls out to the others that are still sheltering in my heart. And maybe all they want to do is shake off their sleepiness for a while, take a walk around my bed. Still here, they say, proving to me, once again, that grief is the proof of great love. But this addition of a cat’s life to the parade seems, for now, almost unbearable. This will pass, I know. We owe it to ourselves, the living, as well as to the memory of the dead, to turn our faces to the light of the world, remind ourselves of the joy we have gathered, the joy there is yet to be gathered. 

Lynne Rees, Prose poem ~ When cats curl up in your heart and fall asleep there

This year, as I thought about the feast day of Saint Brigid, I thought, I could make a woven cross. Sure, I don’t have reeds or rushes, but I have cloth. I have so much cloth. Just a year ago, I didn’t have enough to even think about a small project, much less a bigger one. But now I have enough cloth for several large projects and any small project I might want to do. […]

I am glad to have had this experience, although it took longer than I thought it would, about an hour from start to finish.  I tried to do it meditatively, giving thanks for women like Saint Brigid, who founded some of the first Christian monasteries in Ireland, most famously the legendary one in Kildare.  She also founded a school of art that focuses on metal working and illumination. 

Now let me go out for a walk.  We got our first dusting of snow last night, and it’s beautiful to look at from inside.  Let me go get a closer look.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Saint Brigid’s Cross in Cloth

There is maybe a melancholy
in the burdened curve
of its filaments, but
there’s a wisdom too
within the flesh of its anthers.

And, if you peer close,
there on the single stamen eye,
the limpid markings
that they call old man’s tears.

Dick Jones, OLD MAN’S TEARS

Nine years ago, I reviewed Rebecca Farmer’s first pamphlet, Not Really (Smith-Doorstep, 2014) on this blog, admiring its subtle treatment of love, suffering and death, noting…

the role of ghosts. They crop up in several poems. They are characters. They take on human traits. As such, their haunting qualities are exacerbated.

And today, as I sit down to write about her second pamphlet, A Separate Appointment (New Walk Editions, 2022), I’m struck by how much of my previous review holds true for these new poems, which seem to present two different strands – roughly speaking, hospitals and those afore-mentioned ghosts – that intertwine. In these poems, Farmer reminds us that death cannot exist without life, and that the living have to contend with others’ deaths.

In this context, the final stanza of ‘The Ghosts regret joining a self-help group’ provides an excellent illustration of the latent tension between life and death, Farmer’s work inhabiting a no-man’s land between the two.

Matthew Stewart, The intertwining of life and death, Rebecca Farmer’s A Separate Appointment

Weekend mornings are for writing, and submitting writing, and keeping the coffee hot and topped off. This morning, I’ve supplemented that routine with the read of an interview, the listen to a podcast, and a read of an article written by poet friends; each piece as diverse and wonderful as the thinker writers behind it. Worth your time to read and listen and marvel. Thank you, Eric Coughlin Hollowell, Lisa Stice, and Vivian Faith Prescott.

Kersten Christianson, Untangling by Beach, Military Poetry, and Salmonberry Dreams

snow
the lights of the houses
on the river

Jim Young [no title]

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they  even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

There are loads of roles writers can take on. Amanda Gorman took on a public role with her inauguration poem “The Hill We Climb.” Jericho Brown and Ilya Kaminsky seem to be part of larger discourses that go beyond poetry.

I often remind myself of all the Archibald MacLeish books that lined the book aisles of every thrift store in America I’ve ever been to. We’re all writing in a historical context about things that address very specific historical contexts. If we’re lucky one or a few of pieces might speak beyond that, but that isn’t really up to us.

I recently read Ted Hughes’ translation of Racine’s Phedre. I think poets translating poets is an essential role that those of us who are bi- or multilingual should consider. It’s a service to the craft.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with David Harrison Horton

The other evening I was in Lewes listening to Jackie Wills and Grace Nichols being interviewed by Mark Hewitt. One of the topics they discussed was the idea of having a ‘personal canon’, in other words those poets or poetry collections that have either been formative influences, or that you dip into regularly for inspiration. The talk was of how important it was to remember that poetry is very much a matter of personal taste, and that it’s pretty difficult for everyone to agree on ‘the poetry canon’, except perhaps for Shakespeare and a handful of other ‘greats’.

It made me think of the huge variety of ‘exemplar’ poems you come across in poetry workshops. On Grace’s list were Derek Walcott, Elizabeth Jennings and Sylvia Plath. She very cannily declined to mention the names of any living poets, for fear (she said) of upsetting anyone, since many of her contemporaries are her friends.

I started wondering who would be on my list.

Robin Houghton, A quickfire ‘personal canon’

I was especially pleased to hear Pat Winslow’s poem ‘As for the owl’ which carries a dedication to the late, much-missed Helen Kidd. By a strange coincidence, Helen was one of the members of the Old Fire Station Poetry Workshop (led by Tom Rawling by in the 1980s) ) about which I talk in my piece.

I also talk about growing up in rural Wiltshire in a house with few books. My years spent pursuing science – beginning to study medicine at Guys Hospital in London – then my drastic shift to studying Philosophy and English at Lancaster University, where I worked with the Scottish poet, David Craig, on one of the first Creative Writing courses in the UK. At Worcester College, Oxford, in the 1980s I was writing a DPhil thesis on the poet Shelley while also attending poetry workshops with WN Herbert, Peter Forbes, Pauline Stainer, Keith Jebb, Anne Born (and Tom and Helen).

Kathleen also asked me to say something about the poets I go back to and I talk a little (and read from) Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and WS Merwin. Trying to pick contemporary poets to highlight is an impossible task but, on this occasion at least, I speak about Marvin Thompson, Nancy Campbell and John McCullough.

Martyn Crucefix, Interviewed on ‘Poetry Worth Hearing’

Can’t force a poem,
only invite it.
Like spring.

Keep the door propped
the circuits open
bag packed

for when
Elijah arrives, singing
better days coming.

Build a perch
for the goldfinch
from painted willow.

Even if
it’s hard to believe.
Especially then.

Rachel Barenblat, Open

If nuclear winter were just a long dream of spring.

If clocks took an occasional time out to give us more breathing room between good times and the grave.

If lies wore prison stripes and could be easily recognized.

If police brutality was nothing more than that song talking about how early one morning, the sun was shining,

and everything was tangled up in blue.

Rich Ferguson, Blue

Throughout my reading of Year of the Murder Hornet I kept marveling over Cane’s ability to linger over the spaces in between things. Specifically, the choice to include additional white space within the lines of each poem emphasizes both how stalled shifts in the pandemic can make us feel as well as how necessary it is to take our time. By take our time I mean in terms of reading the situation — whether it be assessing what the reality behind phrases like “the new normal” actually is like, to preparing (mentally, physically) for the changes brought on by decisions at our jobs or by the government which we have no say in.

The poems “Essay on Gentrification” and “Minority Report” also work in this vein and are good examples of how this collection takes its time interrogating the nuances of life during a pandemic, nuances that are often lost in debates and political discourse.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Year of the Murder Hornet by Tina Cane

Lee Ann Roripaugh’s fifth volume of poetry, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 (Milkweed Editions, 2019), was named a “Best Book of 2019” by the New York Public Library, selected as a poetry Finalist in the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards, cited as a Society of Midland Authors 2020 Honoree in Poetry, and was named one of the “50 Must-Read Poetry Collections in 2019” by Book Riot. She is the author of four other volumes of poetry […]

What are you working on?

I’m currently in the process of finishing up my sixth volume of poetry, a manuscript titled Kaze no Denwa / The Wind Phone. While conducting research for my prior book, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, I learned that a man named Itaru Sasaki had placed a phone booth with a disconnected rotary-dial phone in a hilltop garden overlooking Otsuchi, Japan—a century-old town decimated by the 2011 tsunami. Sasaki originally used the phone to process his grief over the loss of a beloved family member. He described these conversations as phone calls made “on the wind.” After the tsunami, survivors who’d lost loved ones started visiting Sasaki’s phone booth from all along the Tohoku coast—making pilgrimages to speak to their dead on what became known as the kaze no denwa, or “wind phone.” Apparently, visitors would share their daily news, or express their regrets. Sometimes callers would plead with their deceased to please come back, or beseech them to look out for one another. Sometimes they’d simply say that they were lonely. In the most heartbreaking phone calls, callers would apologize for not having been able to save their dead. 

Needless to say, I found these accounts of the wind phone resonant and incredibly moving. But also, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about intersections of loss (environmental loss; personal loss; parental losses due to aging, death, and dementia; losses due to trauma; losses due to disasters such as COVID-19 or climate change), I began to ask myself what it might mean to write a “wind phone” poem. And so I began drafting direct-address elegiac poems that speak to these types of grief, putting them in conversation with one another: my father’s death, my mother’s Alzheimer’s, extinction, climate change, COVID-19, as well as psychological and emotional losses due to abuse, illness, or trauma.

These direct-address poems are interspersed with poems written in five parts that circulate associationally and linguistically around a single word, or concept. I’ve been thinking of these poems as “mappings.” I also wanted to set these mappings in dialogue with an ancient Japanese map called “Jishin-no-ben.” “Jishin-no-ben” represents an ouroboros, a dragon eating its own tail, circling around a geographical area in Japan. This map was apparently meant to serve as a visual explanation, or warning, for the earthquakes and tsunamis that had occurred there. These are poems in which I map out a larger context for the disasters creating the griefs, or losses, that are spoken on the wind. Each section also contains a hybrid prose poem/lyric flash essay “notes” piece that unpacks some of the related psychological underpinnings, or fallout, of trauma. 

Thomas Whyte, Lee Ann Roripaugh : part one

It is one of those mornings when I put my fingers on the keys and stare a few moment at my hands. The pattern of blood vessels on the back of each. Ropey and bluish, like a coarse crochet work. There are still things these hands will learn to do, or learn to do better. They are the rough beauty of solid machinery. They are their own “back in the day” and still going.

They are the touchstone for earned wisdom. Sometimes offering the touch that frightens young and old alike. Where bones become stone, and foreshadow everything overwrought in our poems.

As here.

I wonder what it would be like to live without mirrors – without looking at oneself, or pieces of oneself, as a constructed and staged other.

Ren Powell, Can We Look Away?

I haven’t felt like writing lately. I mean, as in I don’t even have the desire nor does it bother me. Or does it? I saw a call for micro poems this morning which closes today and began looking through my files. But that’s done writing, not to-be-done writing, so it doesn’t count. I keep seeing calls for submissions and think should I try to write something? but the thought flows away like a cloud with another destination. I have made some minor changes in the essay I’ve been working on from time to time. I have a vague feeling I’d like to sub it here but I don’t know that I’ll make the deadline. I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing is a general malaise or a rebellion. (Isn’t that a provocative statement?)

Charlotte Hamrick, Reading and Eating

A few days ago, realizing that the daily haiku practice was reminding me of why I stopped last year, I changed the task on my daily to-do list from “haiku” to “write something.” That’s what I’m trying to do each day. It doesn’t need to be a haiku or a poem or a story or any specific thing. I just need to write something. I guess I mean something more than a photo caption or a tweet. Something that exists for its own sake, if that makes any sense.

Most days I’ve written something. As time passes, I’ll probably come up with a stronger feeling about what “write something” means to me. For now, though, I like that it’s nebulous. The idea is to just keep using my brain and heart via the medium of words. The rest will work itself out.

Jason Crane, Write something

They say when the migratory cranes come to the
Phobjika Valley, they circle the monastery three
times. They fly around it again when they leave
after winter. The places we go to sink deep into
our bones.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 32

It’s been a challenging few months for poetry.

I don’t know of another art form that is subjected to such frequent death threats. When have you heard someone proclaim the death of music, dance, or the visual or performing arts? None of these seems to inspire the type of fury that poetry does. As Muriel Rukeyser wrote in “The Resistances,” the first chapter of her essential book The Life of Poetry, “Anyone dealing with poetry and the love of poetry must deal, then, with the hatred of poetry, and perhaps even more with the indifference which is driven toward the center.”

Erica Goss, Poetry Survives Latest Death Threat

The road from spark to book is long. Longer than you would guess. For some writers, that moment from inspiration to finished book can span decades. My newest collection, Corvus and Crater, was a year in the writing and revising. That’s pretty quick, even for a poet. After you finish the manuscript, there is the long road to publication – and well, that took three years. But I’m very excited to announce that Corvus and Crater will be released next month by the wonderful publisher Salmon Poetry.

Corvus and Crater sprung from my fear that with the weight of responsibilities of my beloved work at Storyknife Writers Retreat and the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference I would just never write again. That I would become a full-time arts administrator, zero-time poet. A past poet. So, on my birthday in 2019, I set myself an assignment: write a poem each day with fifty-four syllables – six lines of nine syllables apiece. There was no end destination – it was just a way to keep myself going.

The limits of the form really pressurized my writing, and the poems became a conversation with myself and with the books I was reading and the ideas that I was surrounding myself with. And because they were all written within a one year period – they held together as a manuscript. Here’s the description I wrote for the book: the enigmatic poems of Corvus and Crater explore a single winter though the eyes of Crow. The wheeling constellations, seasonal rituals, and Alaska’s charismatic landscape feature in a struggle to claim home and bodily agency, to control the myths and stories that form us. Composed of fifty-four sestets of fifty-four syllables apiece, Corvus and Crater resides in the tension between gleam and darkness, introspection and outward conflict, the self and the world.  

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Introducing Corvus and Crater

Here’s a bit of glad tidings. My manuscript The Red Queen Hypothesis won the Prairie State Poetry Prize and will be published before the end of 2023–maybe even by the end of this summer! It’s thrilling to have won an award like this.

In fact, I should be jumping up and down with glee that RQH finally will see print, as it has taken me numerous submissions, two acceptances that did not come to fruition, and a considerable number of pauses to reassess the manuscript. But my initial feeling is more of relief than elation. Relief that now I can turn all of my focus to newer work: a manuscript nearly completed and one that I’m just starting to collate and imagine. Well–not all of my focus in those directions. There is the work of promoting the new book, work that I find difficult and challenging because it’s not really in my wheelhouse. Highland Park Poetry is a tiny independent non-profit press and doesn’t have the resources to do much promotion; Jennifer Dotson, Founder & Creative Engine behind the organization, runs several contests, produces a newsletter, and hosts a Facebook page of contributing poets. She also hosts a poetry podcast and at least one reading series…a busy person, working on a small budget. People like her and Larry Robin are the guardian angels of poetry in the USA. Many thanks, Jennifer. I’ll do what I can to promote my book.

Ann E. Michael, Book news!

Well, this week held a happy surprise: three boxes of books arrived at my door yesterday morning! Since the book’s official release date is several months down the line in spring, I was happy but also felt that I was suddenly behind on everything related to the book.

The book is bigger and more square and substantial feeling than all of my previous books (which should make shipping more interesting), but it felt absolutely terrific to be holding a book that was six years in the making—and contains some of my most vulnerable work, from the most challenging time in my life.

I tried my hand at making videos again (this time, a short unboxing video) and took pictures of the cats with my book. I was so overwhelmed I felt literally light-headed!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Early Arrival of Author Copies of Flare, Corona (!!!), Celebrations with Poet Friends, Fun Videos, Imbolc/St. Brigid’s Day/Groundhog Day and the Sun’s Slow Return

In school, I was struggling with forming perfect letters, but at home, I was filling notebooks with things only I could decipher. When we mastered printing and moved on to cursive, it was better, though I was still not as neat as I would later be, when in high school, I modeled my perfectly slanted penmanship after my French teacher with her perfect little crossed sevens.  I still continued my brand of writing even after I was learning how to actually write–it was faster, less laborious, and really no one was reading it anyway, not even me. […]

My mother, in her later years, once remarked to a stranger, at a reading they accompanied me to at a university, that she always wondered what I was doing, hiding in my room with my pen scratching across some notebook, or writing hunched over the coffee table cross-legged on the floor, even in summer when I was not studying. Only now she saw the fruits of it in the poems that I read and published (this was 2008 or so). That she finally got it–what I was doing all that time.  What I continued to do. 

Still, I love a pretty notebook and occasionally buy one just for the beauty of it, even now when so much of my writing happens through the click of keys. I also decorate my notebooks much as I did in high school to keep them identifiable according to which writing job they’re for. They sit in a stack underneath my monitor, though I do, at least, throw them out when they’re full.

Kristy Bowen, on graphomania, or for the love of notebooks

When I was a little left-handed kid growing up in Ireland we used fountain pens and I always smudged the letters as I wrote. I was really happy when I began going to Hebrew school and found out that Hebrew is read from right to left—the opposite of English. I could write clearly while all the other right-handed kids smudged their writing and got ink all over their hands. This was electric: this idea that language could be turned around. That it could make you look at things differently. Your inky hand. The page. Your way of being in the world. I know that in the modern world, in modern Israel, Hebrew is used to ask for an oil change or go on the Internet and order socks, but for me, my first association these particular letterforms, the Hebrew alphabet, the otiyot, was that it was the language of my ancestors, the shape of my people. Ancient, mysterious, and numinous. Not that they didn’t speak of socks and B.O., but for centuries, it was a sacred, but not an everyday language. Its shapes: thick lines of black-and-white each ending in a little curl like a black flame rising. Was this flame something to do with the temple? With eternal light? Or perhaps an arcane Kabbalistic alchemy of words. The prayerbooks in the shul of my childhood were musty and worn, like the old tefillim of the praying men…or the threadbare carpets. The prayerbooks had been shaped by use, the way an old tool takes the form of the hand that touched it. And it seemed like the Hebrew letters had also been shaped this way: They had been worn over millenia by the touch and speech of those who had muttered their sounds. And Hebrew, at least in the traditional shapes, seemed to preserve the motions of ink and brush, the motions of a scribe not writing so much as drawing the letters, his hand floating above the surface of the parchment like a hovering bird.

Gary Barwin, BROKEN LIGHT: THE ALEFBEIT AND THE MISSING LETTER

One thing I noticed about painting stripes onto paper is how much more difficult it is than I had imagined. For instance, I couldn’t go ahead and paint each sonnet in one sitting but had to, instead, wait until each stripe was dry to prevent the colours bleeding. Sounds blooming obvious, doesn’t it, but not to me! I’m conscious of using a lot of paper for this project so I’m grateful to have in my possession a box of different sizes, types and colours of paper that were left on the pavement of a neighbour’s house. They originally belonged to a lady who died, and her family gave away some of her belongings rather than discarding them when they sold the house. I think about that person each time I make a poem using some of her paper. I hope she feels my gratitude, wherever she is. As well as painting, I’ve also been pattern making, using Sharpie pens, and I’m going to cut into these patterns to make more visual poems.

Josephine Corcoran, January Update

Wednesday was the biggest day of action for decades but the government didn’t care. They appear to be only interested in ruining the country. But enough of the public school educated elite who are not interested in the people they are supposed to represent, I found an old poem the other day, one I had forgotten about. I rearranged the layout and changed the odd word.

DECOUPAGE FOR THE MIND

He can think photographs
scry alternate worlds

He holds the light sensitive paper to his forehead
his thoughts embellish it with another life […]

Paul Tobin, DECOUPAGE FOR THE MIND

In the adjoining room a man from Missouri is proud that, according to the radio station KCFZ, four of the thirty-four greatest poets who ever lived are from Missouri. He tells his seven hundred and sixteen followers on Twitter about this and waits excitedly at his laptop for replies to come in, for retweets and likes. After twenty minutes he walks into the communal kitchen to make himself a coffee but there is no milk and he can never understand people who take their coffee without milk. He returns to his room. Still no replies. His day has taken a morose and bitter turn. He tells himself: Somebody, somewhere, will pay for this.

Dolores tells Edith, who helps her with washing and dressing: Dance until the bagpipes kill the sheep. That’s what you must do. You’re young, my dear, so very young. And after all it is forbidden to climb the steps of the pyramid of Kukulcan and Avian Flu has been found in otters and foxes.

Bob Mee, DANCE UNTIL THE BAGPIPES KILL THE SHEEP, SHE SAID

Moths tuck themselves
into drawers, where they
work out their hidden
citzenships in scripts
of perforated silver.

The taut threads
of the hammock loosen;
day loses to night,
and night again to day,

Who was I
before the earth
shook my world to pieces,
before parts of barely formed
history were buried along with beams
of a house that no longer exists?

Luisa A. Igloria, Dear Exile

how far from her moon shall the sleeper wander

how far from water can one drown

when all that is dust returns to song
where will i be found

Grant Hackett [no title]

As I shared in December, I’ve planned a kinder, gentler approach to my creative life for 2023. The new approach is like sensible shoes: not quite as sexy but less pain, more mileage. At least that’s the idea. And so far, so good!

I’ve been keeping up with art and writing by doing at least one small thing each day.* Some days, I’m happy with what I get done. Other days, it’s hard to believe that these small efforts will reach critical mass. And on both types of days, I’m trusting the process. Overall, that means less fretting, so that’s an early win for the self-imposed shake-up.

It’s also helping me reconstruct the idea of myself as a poet and artist, and I’m shamelessly nurturing that both on my “regular”/poetry Instagram (@carolee26) and my visual art Instagram (@gooduniversenextdoor).

Carolee Bennett, the shake-up is shaping up

Even if one reads the haiku merely as an expression of curiosity – that the moon has appeared to align its bright white roundness into and with the roundness of the glass’s bottom – it is still a magical moment, like the alignment of planetary bodies.

A more cynical reading might be that including ‘the well / of’ enables the haiku to fall unobtrusively into a 5–7–5 pattern and provides an alliteration with ‘whisky’. For me, though, the addition truly enriches the poem. This haiku is the exception to the rule that 5–7–5 haiku in English are generally too verbose and therefore need trimming: here, cutting back to a 5–4–5 would diminish the poem’s effectiveness.

Matthew Paul, On a haiku by John Hawkhead

I spoke to a new writer the other day. They were rosy-cheek-excited about how they were writing right along, happily, regularly. They also mentioned they’d signed up for a course at a community college about how to get published.

I groaned inwardly. (It’s possible I groaned outwardly.) I know the way excitement about a creation leaps quite readily to trying to put that creation out in the world. (I fall prey to it still all the damn time.) I also know how people are happy to take your money to tell you some handy things without mentioning the other stuff, specifically, in this case, the waiting, the doubt, the rejection after rejection after rejection. (I may have mentioned to them that last item.)

What I didn’t mention that maybe I should have , or maybe not, not quite yet, is that vital, hard-won, takes-a-lifetime-to-learn, oft overlooked middle step: the revision step. The put-your-tender-darling-in-a-drawer step. The read-read-read step, which means not just read slaphappily, but read as a writer. Which means read with questions in mind: what is pleasing me about this work, displeasing me, and why, and how can I apply any lessons learned to my own work.

Marilyn McCabe, The real thing come and the real thing go; or, The Bad News About Revision

I have finished my poetry manuscript. “Finished”? I finished it last April, too, and sent it out, then withdrew it from several contests. I couldn’t say why it didn’t feel ready, it simply didn’t.

A friend suggested that I not think globally, condemning the entire ms, but to instead focus on individual poems. What I actually did was ignore it. I took a class. I worked on my send-out practice. I (finally) returned to my mystery novel. Then, in October, I finished the rewrite of the mystery.

And the poems were still sitting there, muddy and neglected, their unwashed faces looking up at me.

I again found useful distractions. A short story re-write, notably. Then, I broke my arm and was unable to type.

Bethany Reid, Where You’ll Find Me

As with many writers, I’m better known outside my community than within it.

Sure, a couple dozen of my poems have appeared on signs at local events, and yes, the people in charge of the events liked my work (thank you so much! <3), but I don’t think anyone who didn’t already know me connected the poems with the poet. (In one instance, someone looked at one of my poem signs and actually turned to me and said “Who is Bill Waters?”) So I’m hoping that an article in the widely circulated Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine (pictured below) will serve to introduce me to readers where I live.

It’s not that I’m seeking attention. It’s just that local publication will add greater credibility to my reputation so that perhaps I’ll have an easier time getting people interested in future public poetry efforts. “Have you seen this article? Here are the kind of poems I write,” I’ll say in a way that’s both enthusiastic and modest. (In my dreams! In real life, I’ll probably just stammer something out and then wish I were someplace else.)

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine

This is one of a couple of poems that I can date fairly precisely — at least in terms of the year. I was working in London and living in Luton when I found an online poetry forum called Crystal Lake Poetics. It ceased a long time ago, and it was pretty small, but this was the early days of the internet — before the social media world that we are familiar with today. The forum was based in America, and it had a chat box where I chatted most nights to a couple of girls from Denton, TX, and one from Stockton, CA who had lived in Denton. The time difference therefore was pretty substantial! And that is what made me think of portraying these conversations like the scene in Turandot, where Princess Turandot has decreed, as related in the famous tenor aria, Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep), that none shall sleep that night until the unknown prince’s name is known.

We really were like shadows nattering back and forth, talking about everything and nothing; occasionally I’d start something poetic based on these discussions. I remember a favourite random acronym that got flung into the chat window related to tacos with extra cheese and lots of mayo, though I can’t remember it exactly enough to recreate the acronym!

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetry On Stage

I don’t know about you, but sometimes a poem just hits hard and is the right thing to read at the right time. It’s been one hell of a week at work and in life. Despite the wonderful news this week that I now have a publication date for my Red Squirrel pamphlet and that work can now begin in earnest on it (not that it hasn’t already, but you take my point, I hope), the week has been dragged down by the continued decline of our eldest cat, an unexpected and unwelcome outlay on a new washing machine, and a hectic week that has barely allowed for a moment to pause.

So when I sat down to read my copy of Pearls this week after it had made its way to the top of my TBR pile, I found myself being absolutely smacked round the chops (in a good way) by reading the poem above. I felt Philpott’s pain. I was there with him in every sentence.

Mat Riches, Pearls before sauces

What burdens would you let that abyss
of worn satin swallow?
And what would you tuck away
in the place of honor, that one-off
disfigured, awkward pocket
where you stash your favorite secret
like a stale and stolen butterscotch?

Kristen McHenry, Baggage

Judith‘s large-format Buttonhole binding is made from a huge charcoal drawing done in 1989, torn apart and machine-stitched onto washi paper. The charcoal cover and pages are sealed with beeswax polish. The book smells wonderful! […]

Here are some photos of my Buttonhole binding. On cotton rag paper pages dyed with vegetable waste I have handwritten a found poem written on a dreadful day when I avidly consumed the news on BBC Radio 4. The silk for the book-cloth was alum-mordanted and dyed with red cabbage leaves and onion skins. The cover is lined with a piece of marbled paper that has been lying in a drawer for years.

Ama Bolton, ABCD February 2023

Weren’t we lucky, once?

I want to say that we had no idea how good we had it, but that’s too easy and not quite true. Filling out an intake form recently, I wrote that I am, right now, the best I’ve ever been. And I am. That is true. Sure, I would love to still have my 20-year-old body–and so many of the things and people and places and opportunities I’ve had and lost since then–but not the fears and worries and nearly unbearable weight of the impending choices my younger self struggled to carry.

Yes, we had so much. Yes, we had it all ahead of us. Yes, there is something wonderful about a mostly blank slate. And also: It was terrifying and hard and confusing because there was so much we didn’t know and so much pressure to get it All Right. We didn’t know, then, that all right was a fantasy, a myth. That we would never be entirely OK, no matter which choices we did and didn’t make. That simply choosing right would not prevent wounds or heal the ones we didn’t even know, yet, that we had. That even the golden ones among us would suffer. That our lives would always be as they were and had always been, a terrible, gorgeous mix.

Rita Ott Ramstad, And don’t it feel good

I had taken these still life photographs at about the same time I learned about the death of Linda Pastan. I knew she had written a poem about still life, so I looked that up. I read her obit in The Washington Post, finding it interesting that she placed first in a contest in Mademoiselle magazine where Sylvia Plath placed second. She was 90. Poets always feel so timeless in their work so this was a surprise, too. In short, I did all the things I always do when a poet I’ve read and admired died. Took her books off my shelf. Read a few dogeared poems.

It never seems enough, but there it is. […]

I recently picked up Diane Seuss’s Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl. I’ve honestly just opened it up and read a line or two here or there and you know that thing where something is so freaking good you just can’t? Yah. I mean for sure I will read it, but also, it’s hard when it’s also your big subject and likely this writer did it so much better :) But that’s GOOD too, right?

Because, here is the big secret of the writing life. We can all do it. Some people will get more acclaim and some will deserve it and some will maybe not quite so very much but none of that actually matters. The writing matters. Your life is going to be made so much more amazing by doing the writing you do, or whatever art you make. So just persist and be rigorous and joyful and delight in the whole beautiful ridiculous mess of it, sometimes rubbish, sometimes chocolate cake delicious. Laugh at your successes and laugh at the rejections and your bloody anonymity and be graceful and humble and raise your eyebrows at times and take such a deep and wonderful delight at everything that everyone is making. Because it could be fucking otherwise? You’re here. This is your time. Make whatever things you have always wanted to make. Please. Trust me it’s all worth it. You’ll look back some day at your little pile of books or stacks of paintings or files of photographs and go, huh! And really, ain’t that pretty cool?

Shawna Lemay, Still Life and Learning to Abandon the World

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: surreal squirrels, underwear mindfulness, insouciant exclamations, missing hearts, the beyondward, and more. Enjoy.


The mind leaps. The squirrel leaps, now inert, now live in our imaginations, now live on the tree outside my writing window. Its nails play the keys of dry bark; clinging sideways, it freezes in utter silence, eyes fixing me in a staring contest. Abruptly it turns, its gray hairs fly in streaks of black and tan across scaly gray bark and lichen, the opening chapter in the life of gray.

Jill Pearlman, How a Surreal Squirrel Alerts Us

I have placed stones on gravestones. I’ve also lifted stones, cupped them in my hands, felt their heft, that they are made of the earth as well as archetype. Something bigger. Whenever I lift a stone I think of history, of those who have died, perhaps buried beneath headstones, of those who have been lost. Sorrow turned to stone? A petrified ritual? Charles Simic evokes the mystery of a stone in his famous and mysteriously named poem, “Stone”: I have seen sparks fly out/When two stones are rubbed/…Just enough light to make out/The strange writings, the star-charts/On the inner walls.”

When I lift a stone, I think of those who have no headstone, those who are buried beneath stones only in unmarked earth. The parents of that great-grandfather after whom we named our son, my great grandparents, were shot in a small town outside of the city of Panevėžys, Lithuania during the Holocaust. Through archival research, I found details of their death in a registry. The name of the town. The approximate date. My grandfather was told about their murder years later by a drunk guest at a Bar Mitzvah in South Africa, came home and told my teenage father. Simic: “Let somebody else become a dove/Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth./I am happy to be a stone.”

Gary Barwin, RACING FUTURITY

ivy berries
the snow birds are shitting
on a blue buddha

Jim Young [no title]

There are loads of recordings of Alan Watts on the internet, so I’m not quite sure where I got this from, except he’s talking about haiku, and how good haiku exhibit ‘the virtue of knowing when to stop’. Having looked at some notes I’d hoped would become a haiku, I realise that I don’t need to keep reworking them, trying to substitute ‘abreuvoir’ for trough for example, or adding the description ‘galvanized’. What I actually need to do is leave the poem alone!

The problem is, even as I write this, there’s still something seductive about the word abreuvoir!

Julie Mellor, The art of knowing when to stop

Why dialect? This is the only sonnet in the collection written throughout in dialect. Others hint at the Northern way of speaking through their grammar. The tradition has been to write humorous verse when you write in dialect. I want to show that dialect can be used for weightier subjects, too. I use it for its immediacy, the sinews of its storytelling, and knack for conveying emotion. It gives a sense of belonging, of history. The alliteration at the beginning hints at the Norse origins of the language. It stands witness to the event. It gives the sonnet an authenticity and a sense of place.

Nigel Kent, Drop in by Paul Brookes

David’s interest in wordplay began at a very early age. “In first grade,” he told me, “I dropped the ball on my first show-and-tell and forgot to bring anything to class. But I had just read a book about palindromes and loved them, so when it was my time to stand in front of the class I talked about that. Afterwards my teacher took me to see the principal… because he loved wordplay too. And he showed me some wordplay puzzles from a GAMES magazine he had in his office. […]”

In my end of year reflections last year I wrote about the positive aspects of Twitter communities. An enthusiastic and welcoming community has formed around David’s Scrabblegram posts, including a monthly challenge and contributions by wordplay enthusiasts from around the world. 

David makes writing Scrabblegrams seem effortless, but they are, I’ve discovered, very hard! If you don’t have access to a set of Scrabble tiles, there’s a helpful online tool; even so, I’ve spent hours and hours trying to construct a simple, coherent, Scrabblegram. 

Write one now for fun – radiate humour, be quirky, odd, imageable, erotic, sad, scintillating, zany, deep, explosive. Just have a go!

Marian Christie, 100 letter tiles – the joy of Scrabblegrams

“Excitement comes from being lazy and fun loving. O’Hara worked hard, but he also took it easy. His Collected Poems are a manifesto of the high aesthetic rewards that accrue from a life—albeit a tragically abbreviated life—of taking easiness as the gold standard. Like Warhol’s professed love of easy art (or art that was easy to make), O’Hara’s love of easeful production stood in ironic contrast to the uneasy intensity that electrifies his work and complicates its every emotional posture, threading melancholy and ambivalence and the threat of self-loss into the most apparently insouciant exclamations.” 

That’s from a lyric essay by the poet-scholar Wayne Koestenbaum. I just taught it, asking the students to choose quotes they wanted to discuss, and the above paragraph was a favorite. O’Hara, like Allen Ginsberg, made his name in the 1950s, when poets were especially interested in improvisation, process, and generally distinguishing themselves from Protestant-work-ethic-obsessed besuited capitalist businessmen. I realized, as we discussed O’Hara’s poems and Koestenbaum’s take on them, what a far cry this is from how I hear any poet discuss poetry today. Poets talk about being busy and stressed; about how disrespected we feel by markets that pay nothing and send us belated, cold-hearted form rejections; how complex our craft is. At least, my friends and I do. Even first drafts, which once came easily to me, don’t seem to, lately. I’m interrupted by self-questioning. Am a digging deeply enough into difficult emotions or ideas because, as O’Hara agreed, this can be a terrible world? Are the stakes of this piece, I ask midstream or before even starting, really high enough for me to spend so much time on it? (What a tellingly economic verb for devoting time: spending it.)

Lesley Wheeler, Easy poetry

“What is a guinea?” a student in my seventh-grade English class asked recently. We had just read that the rich old lady Miss Havisham was giving the young Pip twenty-five guineas as a premium for apprenticing him to a blacksmith in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I explained that a guinea was one pound and one shilling. There was much more that could have been said, but I did not know then that the name of the coin was directly derived from Europe’s economic exploitation of Africa, in particular West Africa, through extractive capitalism. 

And even if I did know, would I have paused our study of this great Bildungsroman to take my students down this sidetrack of European colonialism? There are so many wonderful details, of plot, character, and language, in Great Expectations to lavish our attention on, and there is so little time to look at them all. The guinea is not an unimportant detail if we remember that Miss Havisham’s fortune came from not only landed property but also the family brewery, the same business that kept the English working class sloshed and servile. Indeed, Pip grows up and redeems his sin of ambition by working in ship insurance in Cairo to lubricate the sea-lanes of the British empire. Class oppression is joined with imperial domination in the guinea.

This is a constant dilemma when teaching an Eurocentric text: because it transposes an important history into minor details, a teacher seems to need special justification or to pursue a special agenda if they dwell on the margins of the text, whereas the main “story,” of bourgeois personal development, appears to be free of ideology. By not spending a minute on the guinea, I have missed the opportunity of teaching my students to read more critically. More, I have missed the opportunity of showing my students the importance of reading texts that do not center Europe.

Jee Leong Koh, What Is a Guinea?

Both Kevin and I had manuscripts accepted by Salmon Poetry at the same time, circa 2000.  His first collection The Boy with No Face appeared in 2005.  Though he went on to publish many more books, both poetry and essay collections, it is this initial one that still resonates for me the most, as it is the most personal in terms of my own memories of him.  So many of the poems in that collection I knew first from the poetry readings, the little magazines, the work shared around the bar or lounge or coffeeshop table.  We remained in touch over the years and decades.  Kevin and his partner Susan DuMars hosted me for an Over the Edge reading (the series they cofounded in Galway in the early 2000s).  I attended others at which I did not read.  Our communication had long since become warm, its tone familiar; we were old friends who, even if we did not talk or email regularly, could immediately lapse back into a mutual understanding.  That kind of friendship, rooted in but going beyond our investments in poetry (and politics), is rare indeed.

I last saw Kevin just this past November (2022), in his room on the Claddagh Ward of University Hospital Galway (“the Regional, to the old heads,” as Kevin clarified as we were making the arrangements of day and time).  In his battle with leukemia, complicated by sarcoidosis, he was stalwart, braver than I imagine I could be, still deploying his very wry sense of humor, but also so sincere at the same time.  At this point, there was much hope; he was doing better.  It was a great two-hour or so conversation.  I will miss him deeply.  One thing I will say is that I think he would want his memory to stir us to action and to work, to write and to agitate, to fight against, as he put it in “The Leader,” “the sort of man who hasn’t read / Mein Kampf just yet. But he’ll be here, / like the old man buying The Racing Post / who growls about ‘invaders’ or the skinhead / with the petrol bomb whose hour is striking now” — or against, as the title of another poem in The Boy with No Face has it, “The Hidden Hand” of free-market economics, the capitalist interests which underlie both liberalism and the resurgent Right, whose hour is indeed seemingly striking now.

Michael S. Begnal, i.m. Kevin Higgins

Scene: the Brookline High School Library, many plastic chairs set out in rows for this special event.

It was 1973 or 1974 and there was a poet in the library! Could you be alive and still be a poet? I remember thinking that she looked like she could be someone’s mother (she was) and I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed by this realization.

That is, until she started reading her poems. 

I remember being amazed at how clear each poem appeared in the air, as in: shimmering with layers of nuance. Linda Pastan made it look so easy! I was sixteen years old and just beginning to consider poetry I might write (sadly, over my desire to be a novelist).

I met Linda Pastan again at the Breadloaf Writers Conference in 1993. Twenty years later I was still flirting with a life in poetry. She was the poet whom I asked to study with and she was the poet that I was lucky enough to meet one on one.

Susan Rich, Linda Pastan: My First Living Poet in the Flesh

2023 marks 25 years since Peter Mortimer’s Iron Press published The Iron Book of British Haiku, still available on the Iron website, here. It was co-edited by David Cobb and Martin Lucas, both of whom are no longer with us. I seem to remember reading somewhere that it sold over 5,000 copies. It certainly found its way into many bookshops and for years was usually the only English-language haiku book available.

It contained 73 haiku poets, including two of the four who participated in a kasen renga which was appended after the individual poets. Of the 73, I reckon just 14 are still writing haiku and at least three of those 14 have ceased seeking publication for their output. A good few of the others have since died – Norman Barraclough, Seamus Heaney (!), Ken Jones, Stuart Quine and David Walker among them. That’s unsurprising, because in those early days of the British Haiku Society (BHS), which had only been founded eight years before, the average age of the membership must’ve been well over 60, and I was usually the youngest attendee at events.

At the time, I was chuffed to bits to be in the anthology, even though I only had two haiku (both about snails!) in it. I went to the launch at a bookshop whose name and exact location in London escapes me, and which was memorable for a hypnotic reading by Mimi Khalvati, one of three poetry ‘heavyweights’ (alongside famous Seamus and Anthony Thwaite) who were shoehorned into the book to add some clout. Of course, haiku readings are mercifully brief.

Matthew Paul, On The Iron Book of British Haiku

Friendship is the theme of this year’s Poetry Week, celebrated in The Netherlands and the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium through 400+ events. It starts on Thursday 26 January. Miriam Van Hee (B) and Hester Knibbe (NL), two poets who have been friends for almost 40 years were commissioned to write five poems each for a book. In a recent interview they said that trust and curiosity are key elements for a friendship to endure and last.

Anyone who spends over 21,50 Euro on poetry books during Poetry Week will be given a copy. It’s not hard to spend that sort of money, as poetry books are expensive in The Netherlands!

Fokkina McDonnell, Friendship

I walk peripheries to the half-way mark where he meets me,
having done some joyous, icy laps, and we go back together
across the deepest parts. I listen to the ice beneath his wheels,
my feet: how mostly there is safe hush, how sometimes it slushes,
or creaks, crackles, even, and trust in skill does not obviate frisson
of fear, the need to move to more solid spans. Sure, metaphor, easy;
but also literal—we know can break through, hypothermic in seconds,
unable to save ourselves, or each other, if we are not smart: no iteration
of water can be underestimated. The cold is a bright expanse, a fixed
and green translucence of inches, miles.

JJS, Between the Woods and Frozen Lake

I’ve been watching John Vervaeke’s new series, After Socrates. I appreciate Vervaeke very much, and I’m finding the series very worth watching.

My problem is that I roundly dislike Socrates, and have from the moment I met him. He is a humble-braggart and a busybody, minding everyone’s business but his own: on his own showing he neglected his family and let them fall into poverty while he spent his time gadflying about town and picking quarrels with anyone reputed to be wise. What kind of conduct is that? 

And so often, such pettifogging, nitpicky arguments! Such sophomoric glee in mere triumphs of words! That sort of thing is forgivable in an undergraduate, but a man in his prime ought to have moved on. He should be listening to the heart by then, not to the words: and he should care more about the person he’s speaking to than about scoring points in a debate. But Socrates just loves to win arguments, and to rub his opponents’ noses in their defeats. I have been trying to read him fairly. Starting again, and making every assumption I can in his favor.

Dale Favier, After Socrates

It took me far more time to start running again than the surgeon had suggested, undoubtedly a response to grief as well as physical healing. And it was only a year after Mam died that I woke up one morning, suddenly lighter, able at last to process the details of my post-surgery pathology report, and, after more than a year, to feel grateful again, for life, for each day. A gift. 

I’m back to my pre-surgery level of running now: 7 and 8 miles with my women’s running group. Aiming to build this year to 10. Running on my own a couple of times a week too, along the fields and lanes of the Kent countryside, or across the beach and mountainsides of Port Talbot. 

Those solo runs feel as if I am freeing my mind from a leash, letting it roam into the landscapes around me, and, at the same time, watching it settle, internally, to understandings and insights. Sometimes answers. Sometimes more questions.

And sometimes those runs give rise to words that feel worth sharing: I run/write. 

Lynne Rees, run/write

I was getting along fine with my new year’s routines of morning yoga, coffee, reading & writing, work, random housework, and various meetings and commitments, when I became mindful of my underwear drawer. It was looking pretty sparse! Hadn’t I just laundered the bedsheets? Um, yes, but then days/weeks went by. So how mindful am I, anyway?

But you know what? I have already sent out two poetry submissions, and it’s still the middle of January. I don’t think I got going on poetry submissions until February of last year. So, poetry or clean underwear, which will it be?

Kathleen Kirk, The Yoga of Laundry

I thought when I finished my course (I finished my course!!!) and handed in that last assignment I’d have more time to do things that had been shuffled aside these last three months and for most of 2022 really. But here I am three weeks later and I feel like I’m still struggling to get on with things. I’m unsure if it’s a lack of motivation, the lack of a whip encouraging me to move forward or the fact that we’re still buried under a dark and snowy winter here in Finland that’s holding me back. […]

I have a pile of poetry books to read, but they require more focus than I’ve had recently, so I hope to get back into reading them more now that my course is out of the way. 

2023 is a year of getting back into the things I love. The course was for my work. I enjoyed it, but it was more to help me move forward in my job and do better for my school kids. Writing is for me, so I hope to focus on that more. A few plans are crawling into motion, so I’ll see how they pan out and keep looking for new opportunities. 

Gerry Stewart, 2022 Writing Review

There’s a terrific poem up at The Spectator today (see here) by Ian Harrow, a poet who’s new to me. However, the shocking detail was the appearance of brackets after his name. A quick google led me to another excellent article from the same journal, written by him in February 2022, titled The Delicate Business of Writing Poetry (see here), which states..

Living, as Clive James put it, under a life sentence, and having refused chemotherapy, I find I respond to the time issue in contradictory ways.

And then a further google brought me to his website, with some examples of his poems (see here). Moreover, it also explains that he published several collections and pamphlets in his lifetime, while…

Since the mid-70s his work has appeared in a wide range of periodicals and magazines including the Times Literary Supplement, The Spectator, Oxford Magazine, Stand, Poetry Wales, Other Poetry, Literary Review, London Magazine, Archipelago, Poetry Ireland Review, Shop Magazine and New Walk.

All this has made me reflect once more on the fleeting nature of poetic fame.

Matthew Stewart, Ian Harrow, poet (1945-2022)

She doesn’t believe that the dead can’t hear her.
Don’t they live in the air, in dappled shadow, in water?
Who lay with her on satin sheets, who wed her?
Fish in the shallows, moths in the net of a lamp.

Luisa A. Igloria, Repetition Pantoum

The Harm Field opens with a prose sequence, ‘Leavings’ a memoir of sorts in three parts, the first focused on experiences of hostility in London in, I guess, the 1970s, the second primarily memories of childhood and the third a looking back on Ireland from the same position of exile that informs Terra Terra, a ‘homesickness for places that were never yours’. A new element that intrudes here is the question of language, and specifically the loss or lack of Irish as a native tongue, as in a mamoty of the narrator’s mother teaching him and his brother ‘the numbers’:

…a-hain, a-doe, a-tray, a-kather, a-cooig, a-shock, a-shay, the rest escapes me. Lisping in numbers. The road dips and turns, if I remember right, the architect’s modernist bungalow dominating the bend. I left on the ferry and come back by plane. Sometimes I think the language that I never learnt still weighs on my tongue, thickening my Ts behind my teeth.

Again, the reader is struck by the complex web that lies behind this apparently simple memory: the striking conjunction of modernism and the rural belies any straightforward narrative of unsophisticated home versus cosmopolitan exile; this contrasts with he clear evidence of change in the narrator’s fortunes (ferry/plane); the rich inter-relationship between the language not learnt and the language that is the narrator’s professional concern. We are, as in Terra Terra, in a world of necessary ambiguity.

Billy Mills, Terra Terra and Bar Null by David Lloyd: a Review

“We Saw It All Happen” is a collection that has the climate emergency firmly in its sights, but it’s not a didactic, handwringing swansong that writes humanity off completely. Politicians are fair game, their reluctance to make real, lasting change explored through satire. Oil swaggers in and drifts out like Trump. Julian Bishop seeds hope. It’s not too late (yet). We can each make small changes to bring out larger wins. It entertains.

Emma Lee, “We Saw It All Happen” Julian Bishop (Fly on the Wall) – book review

Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology is out now from Madville Publishing! Edited by Julie E. Blomeke and Dustin Brookshire, the volume contains 54 poets (including yours truly) rhapsodizing over the cultural icon. 

I’ll be giving my first in-person reading in nearly two years at the Atlanta launch of the anthology on Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. hosted by Georgia Center for the Book at the Decatur Library. Please join us! 

Collin Kelley, Let Me Say This; A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology out now!

Set in three lettered section-sequences—“A,” “B” and “A’”—lyrics of her latest, Pink Waves (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2022), exist in a kind of rush, one that nearly overwhelms through a wash or wave of sequenced text; a sequence of lyric examinations that come up to the end of each poem and retreat, working back up to the beginning of a further and lengthier crest. The first sequence, for example, offers an accumulation of eight poems, each opening returning to the beginning, with the line “it was a wave all along.” Each piece in sequence builds upon that singular line as a kind of mantra, rhythmically following repeating variations of what had come prior and adding, akin to a childhood memory game. As the fourth poem of the opening sequence begins: “it was a wave all along // a passing moment reveals itself to have cued the long apology // i sat with a friend and the loss of her child // sliding between the heat of now and surrender [.]” The repetitions, something rife throughout her work to date, provides not only a series of rippling echoes throughout, but allows for the ability to incorporate variety without reducing, and perhaps even expanding, the echo.

rob mclennan, Sawako Nakayasu, Pink Waves

I love the escape TikTok offers me. I turn to it for laughs — full belly laughs — and deeply love the comical way TikTok-ers highlight our flaws as human beings. People are creative, funny and often generous. And, when carefully curated (as is the case with all social platforms), I find it delightful.

After downloading the app and joining a couple years ago, I enjoyed TikTok exclusively from the sidelines, scrolling but never posting. However, in August I took a huge leap and published (gasp!) several videos. You can check out my profile here: @caroleebennett_poet.

At age 50, I’m ancient for the platform, so why (dear god, why LOL) did I do it? One word: community. As with this blog and my other social media accounts, I was interested in creating and supporting literary community — and having a little fun along the way. In that same spirit, I want to share some intel with you, including what I’ve found there (so far) in terms of writing community and how I personally use the platform.

Carolee Bennett, poetry tiktok: writing community, lit mags, presses, tips and more

I was talking to my little brother this week and he asked me what my goals were for my upcoming book. I hemmed and hawed a little bit, because honestly, I hadn’t really thought a lot in those terms. Isn’t creating the book, finding a publisher, and helping the book get into the world enough of a goal? But of course, my little brother is very practical and ambitious and wants to know what I want to happen with Flare, Corona. I guess when I close my eyes and dream, I hope to connect with a bigger audience, hope to have some good reviews in good places (whatever we think those are right now), hope to, yes, have some book sales (part of that whole reaching a bigger audience thing). I hope that people with MS or difficult diagnoses will find some comfort or fellowship in these poems. I hope it wins a big book prize, too! Do we dare to hope for big media coverage—a radio or television appearance, or being picked by a big book club?

I actually posted this question on Facebook and heard lots of people’s views on whether or not we should even have goals for our poetry books, what they might be for each person, and how overwhelming it can be for poets (who often want to separate the art from the promotion part) to even think about what they are actually hoping to have happen. It can feel overly ambitious to even dream of some of these things. Some just want to focus on the work, which I totally understand, and totally reject even the idea of having goals for a book. But I think it helps me to imagine a future for my little book, that goes beyond just me and my friends and family. And my little brother’s right in some ways—if you have no goals, do you think you might act differently? Plan differently?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems in California Quarterly, Book Galleys/ARCs, Winery Book Club Report, and Setting Goals for…Poetry Books?

There has been a lot spoken and written this winter about using the dark time of the year for recovery and reflection, and I’ve certainly been doing a lot of that. Last year brought me a lot of change and new understanding, not only of the place I now live, but of the way my mind works, and what I bring to the dialogue I hold with the territory. This is taking my thinking about poetry in a completely unexpected and exciting direction. I decided to spend a lot of the year reading Irish poetry, starting with Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland, but also Yeats, Moya Cannon and Kerry Hardie, and it opens new possibilities in my thinking about the relationship between place, community and language. I have begun learning the Irish language – you would think I might have started with Scottish Gaelic, living where I do, but somehow Irish fits my brain and my ear much more sympathetically, and I hope this will give me a way into Scottish later.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Returning to the Light

What I want to
say is caught like
wind in the grasses,

the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (386)

Yesterday I got my hair professionally cut for the first time since 2020, cut and highlighted.  The hair stylist also blew it completely dry and straight, which is unusual for me.  I was surprised by how much lighter and bouncier my hair felt when we were done.

As with all activities that I once did pre-Covid but never resumed, it felt a bit odd to be back.  It was a morning appointment, so it wasn’t as packed as it could have been.  There was plexiglass around the hair washing stations, which I hope they keep.  The woman next to me coughed, and it was nice not to worry about that.

While I waited for the highlights to sink into my hair, I read Celeste Ng’s latest book.  Later, when I finished it, I made this Facebook post:  “If you need a novel that reminds you of the power of words and language, that convinces you that you do believe in the power of words and language, I highly recommend Celeste Ng’s latest, “Our Missing Hearts”–it also will remind you of the power of love, the power of perseverance, the reasons why librarians may yet save us all, and how poetry can surprise us. And it’s an interesting commentary on modern life, even as it reads like a dystopia, in the time honored tradition of Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler.”

It is an amazing book.  I read it because my mom had checked it out from the library and saved it for me, knowing I would be here and could finish it.  I’m so glad I did.  One of the main characters is a poet, the kind of poet that most people are, having one slim volume of poems published by a very small press, not much in the way of sales–until it all blows up in so many unpredictable ways.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Back to School

Ah, the challenges of staying organized! I spent this morning finally starting the process of reorganizing my poetry files–the paper ones, which I keep in various arrangements of document boxes, accordion file boxes, and an index card box. This is stage one of a project I have procrastinated on for far too long. The digital files will be the next step, assuming I actually complete this stage. Being something of a Luddite when it comes to digital organization methods, I have no idea how to manage that stage yet; paper documents, however, I understand.

January’s tenor usually strikes me as a bit dull, damp, chilly, dark, and generally unmotivating. My mood concurs. It’s therefore rather heartening that I find myself up to this task–and that the task itself has given me a sense of accomplishment in more ways than one.

Ann E. Michael, Oh, the mundanity!

This week, I was able to finish up the last of the poems for the smallish series I started at the end of last summer after not touching it for the last few months of the year. It’s a strange, surreal little romp through romantic history and intimacy and kind of just a little bit of humor and nonsensicality I appreciate.  it also goes dark a few times, but I love it all the more for it. I considered possibly sending some of them out into the world, but realize that my desire to send out work is even less than normal. To write it, yes, that is returning, but I also feel like I serve it much better by just sharing things on social media on occasion.

This may no doubt change, since my satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the literary world, or at least the space I personally inhabit in that world, my little corner of it, changes on the day to day. One one hand, I love journals–both publishing in them, reading them, and for their sense of community building. On the other hand, I get impatient with the process of building submissions and waiting (not even the rejection part really, since that is woven into the process) but just the work of it for very little gains even when you’re successful (and paid markets, while they exist are still tiny bits of income at best.)  Ie, the rewards are nice and one of the major building blocks of community, but I begin to feel less and less over time that they are worth the energy, especially when time is short, of researching guidelines and keeping track of open reading periods and keeping tabs on submissions, to the point that there is almost a sense of relief when I don’t have anything out in submission to fret over or keep track of.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new projects

Why is poetry important?

For me, poetry – and all art, really – is about possibility. It’s about expanding possibility in the world by introducing new forms, new ideas, and new experiences. I’m not really interested in poetry as a form of self-expression; I’m interested in it as a site of ongoing public cultural and intellectual invention. A site of communal, continual meaning-making. 

I have this concept of something I call “the beyondward.” It’s essentially a metaphorical, metaphysical realm representing all the possibilities and meanings that exist beyond our immediate realities. We are hemmed in by a capitalist economy, by sham democracies, by debt and alienation and ideology. Mark Fisher called it “capitalist realism,” the sense that there is no alternative to the world we’ve constructed.

But I think there is an alternative, and it exists in the “beyondward” – the epistemic space that houses all the other ways we could arrange our lives. And I don’t just mean our personal lives – where to work, who to spend time with, what matters to me – but also our public lives – how to arrange the economy so everyone’s needs are met, how to build a truly free and fair system of governance, what matters to all of us together on this planet. 

I think poetry is important because it’s one of the ways we can all contribute to the beyondward, to the stock of possibilities and meanings available there. By playing with language and pushing it to new places, we can create opportunities for ourselves to encounter the world in new ways. We can invent forms that help all of us think new thoughts and feel new things and arrive at new meanings. Those new thoughts, those new encounters, can expand our horizons of possibility. And then it becomes easier, bit by bit, to believe that the world could – and should – be different, better. 

Look, I’m a socialist, and that heavily informs my ideas about art and poetry. And being a poet informs my politics, too: It is because poetry pointed me toward the beyondward in the first place that I began to think a transformative politics was possible. 

But I need to emphasize that I don’t think poetry is important only because it serves a political project. Rather, I think it’s important because it – and all art – is one of the ways in which we human beings build a shared intellectual world together – i.e., my “beyondward.” It’s important to have that world and to tend it carefully. The more thriving and full of possibility our beyondward is, the more thriving and full of possibility our own lives are.

Matthew Kosinski : part four (Thomas Whyte’s blog)

To our astonishment a sleek black car with tinted windows and diplomatic numberplates stopped to give us a ride. The driver was an Italian returning to work at the embassy in London after a visit home. At Calais we bought our ferry tickets and shared a sandwich for lunch. The amiable diplomat, with us two dirty hippies in the back seat, was waved through Customs and Immigration at Dover. He dropped us off at an Underground station in central London. The record time for hitchhiking from Istanbul to London was said to be three days. We were happy to have done it in five.

We arrived at Martin’s parents’ house in Woodford Green late that afternoon, heads full of stories, pockets empty.

[image] This is a book of twelve Turkish map-fold pages that I made to contain the story. I later gave it to Martin, my travelling-companion.

Ama Bolton, Twelve Border Crossings

On the walls of Angkor Wat, the
extraordinary comes alive. A confluence of art and
faith and the subtlety of being. A place of worship.

A place of submission. Of belief. Of hope. All that
is vulnerable inside us is on display. All that we are
capable of, surrendered to a greater abstraction.
At dawn, colours are smeared across the clouds
like a child’s finger painting, the temple inverted

in reflecting lily pools.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 30

In Bangalore, it seemed that nothing was in stasis: things were either under construction or deconstructing themselves. Huge buildings going up one brick at a time. I watched a man hanging from a harness placing one brick after the other. It looked like slow, meticulous work. I can’t fathom how many bricks it would take to complete the high-rise apartment building. I’ve never considered him before: the bricklayer. How long will it take? What goes through his mind, brick by brick, day by week by month. Does he look down at the people, the cows, the tuk-tuks? Can he hear it all from up there? Does he feel a sense of ownership when the work is done and the millionaires move in?

There were buildings still standing, but their edifices had been sheered away somehow, like full sized doll-houses. The loose wires and fibers holding chunks of concrete reminded me of damaged spiderwebs, or heirloom lace too fragile to use, too laden with memories to let go of.

Running to the lake, I sometimes pass some relatively new apartment buildings. Along the path there are remnants of old piles that probably propped up a previous railway track. They outline flower beds; they are trimmed like trees, restored as “ruins”. I have never considered before the inauthenticity of their decay. The affectation of urbanity. A prettied-up representation of the “past”.

Most of all: the illusion of a current state of stasis, the illusion of a period of decay that is the “past” – we are the present continuous.

We don’t contemplate a foreign future.

I can’t imagine the future because I am trying so hard to make sense of – to take control of – to understand the now.

Ren Powell, So, not Artaud’s spurt of blood

I think about the light that bright orb contains, the orange. I think about my skull, and all the light in there. The way an orange casts a shadow, the way it glows. I’m thinking about the importance of staying calm in the chaos. I’m thinking about your urgencies; I’m thinking about mine. I’m thinking about opening up my heart like one opens up an orange. It has to be this way, the light, the opening, the shadow cast by the skin cast off. The clear moments. Then the darkness, again. But the light.

Always the blisters of bright juicy light.

Shawna Lemay, Equanimity and Oranges