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.
Blogging turned 25 years old this week, using tech blogger Dave Winer’s first post as a starting point. And it’s been 20 years since Blogger and LiveJournal opened up blogging to the less-geeky masses in 1999. As John Naughton observes in The Guardian, “The furore over social media and its impact on democracy has obscured the fact that the blogosphere not only continues to exist, but also to fulfill many of the functions of a functioning public sphere.”
Via Negativa is coming up on its 16th birthday next month, and it occurs to me that its evolution has mirrored a big shift in blogging practice generally: away from miscellany toward more specialized content—in this case, poetry. Thanks to social media giving us ample spaces to share our more throw-away observations, as well as the sheer ease of starting new blogs where we can hive off some of our other specialized interests (e.g. my herbal brewing blog), blogging communities united by topic such as the Poetry Blogging Network can flourish.
That said, I do love it when poetry bloggers write more widely about their lives, because that’s where the poetry comes from. For many poets, there’s no such thing as a throw-away observation.
At any rate, Happy Birthday to blogging! In a world that feels increasingly fractious and fractured, let’s resolve to keep building and defending this public sphere.
On Thursday, I met a man with a grammatical error in his tattoo. This was rather sad. It was a quote from a Neil Young song.
On Friday morning, I found myself humming ‘Hi-Lili Hi-Lo’ and on Friday night I was watching a TV show in which the song was the background music.
Most days I was overwhelmed. There was so much minutia to keep track of, many staff concerns, interviews, decisions to make. I was supposed to be writing the last bits of my book before a deadline but I was working long days, no lunch, no exercise.
On Saturday, I listened to Phoebe Snow’s ‘Poetry Man.’ My son arrived for a week. He admired my robe. I told him his sister talked me into it. He read Oliver Twist on the couch.
On Sunday, I bought a book that consists of pictures of hands. Some were pointing or gesturing or straightening up, but mostly they were holding instruments. Sarah J. Sloat, The week that was
There are days when it feels like we can drag a fine-tooth comb through our troubles but still can’t remove all the tangles. When the panic closet in our heart is closed for repairs. Or everybody’s way too tense in the present tense, taking far too many swigs off the haterade. Then there are days when hope is in high resolution, packing a solution for every problem under the sun. Or how, when this living war gets to be too much, we’re guided back down into the foxhole of friendship. Or when kisses taste like home sweet home. When our Lady of Bandages doesn’t seek our bondage, only our healed release. Rich Ferguson, What My Granny Told Me After Packing a Wad of Chewing Tobacco
Yesterday a student asked if I had an extra notebook; her mom hadn’t had time to do the back to school shopping. I said that I didn’t have a notebook, but I had paper. I gave her a legal pad. When she returned it to me, she had written me a note, thanking me for all I did to make the school a better place. She specifically mentioned the bread and the butterfly garden.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Bread and Butterfly Initiatives, and All of our Arcs
When I think of things I’ve done to influence retention, I, too, think of the bread and the butterfly garden. I do not think of increasing the Average Registered Credit (ARC), that idea that if we could just get every student to take one more class, all sorts of problems would be solved; every male administrator to whom I’ve ever reported has been a big believer in increasing ARC.
Let me record a poem thought that just jabbed me. I’ve been at with a group planning a retreat around the theme of Noah and that ark–let me write something that weaves together that ancient thought of an ark, and the modern idol of the ARC. Let my subconscious chew on that–maybe on Thursday I’ll have a poem.
I also thought about writing a poem in the voice of the water. I’ve also thought of the fairy tale of the Little Mermaid and her sea foam destiny. Sea foam and dead sailors and some explanation for why the sea always wants to swamp us.
I feel better knowing that I have poems percolating, even if I don’t have time to do much writing these days.
I was out this morning picking up windfall apples. I still need to get the kids into the last tree to pick the hanging ones. I’ll spend this week ignoring my phone as I’m not waiting on work calls, cleaning up the garden, cooking the apples, putting away the trampoline and summer furniture, sleeping and writing as much as I can.Gerry Stewart, Half-Term Wallow
This weekend I’ve tried to catch up on some of the prompts I didn’t finish in my last course. This morning I stared out the window and wrote a poem based on what I saw, one of the prompts I regularly suggest to my students. I’m mulling over a prompt on conkers I’ve had in my head for the past two weeks, lots of images but nothing to tie them together yet. And I’m sure there’s a poem stuck to the burr that came back inside with me today.
I will wallow in autumn, in autumn writing full of spice and warmth, damp and earthy.
Somehow we had this gift, probably luck, for finding the right trees for the job. In our style of tree fort, you needed three or four trees. They were the main structural supports. They had to be close enough together that our frame boards could reach, reasonably straight and not too rotten. For our largest and most well-built tree fort we used four trees growing out of a hill so one side was closer to the ground than the other, which made it easier to build a ramp to get to it. I think about those support trees when thinking about poems. Their position determined a lot—the shape and size of the rooms especially—and I’ve asked myself what the equivalent would be in a poem. It varies of course, but having some secure starting place to hang your first board, or your first line, and build on that, can be the difference between a fort that leaks and gets overrun by raccoons and one that you can spend the night in without fearing collapse.
“You use what you have, you learn to work the structure to create what you need.” writes Julia Alvarez about writing sonnets in her essay Housekeeping Cages. This was our approach, my friends and I. We had plenty of woods with tall trees. We had access to limited building materials (from our parents or stolen from construction sites) and we had time on our hands. Our materials gave us a start, even gave us the ideas to work with, but they didn’t limit us. We took risks (like building a hibachi and old tin pipe into a fireplace 40 feet off the ground), and got creative (we sealed cracks with melted candle wax, which of course melted away in the summer.)
We also had a reasonable arsenal of tools for the job. Hammers and saws mostly, buckets of nails, because we were crude builders making up the rules as we went along. “One has to know the tools, so he doesn’t work against himself. Tools make the job easier.” writes Yusef Komunyakaa about a period in the ’80s when he discovered the voice and form for some of his poems. Our forts would probably have gone higher, lasted longer and looked less like trash heaps with better tools. Grant Clauser, On Tree Forts and Poetry, Structure and Support
and then the chimneys fell,Jim Young, and then the chimneys fell
one by one by the ton of
ancient soot billowing applause
from the lads in the sidings
wagoned in trammelled bravado.
some by explosive nostalgia,
some by pick and prop and fire
and hope for the tugged heart strings,
bricked in piles, taking the stacks
down brick by brick, upending the past.
Back in April, which is ironically National Poetry Month, I did a bit of reorganizing and moved my to-be-read poetry pile to the bookshelf in my office. Now given their own space, I realized I had quite a stack to work through.
After seeing the unread books lined up I vowed to not buy any new books of poetry until I’d read at least half on this shelf. True to my word, I started working my way through the stack and refrained from buying from any additional books. By the end of September, my shelf looked decidedly emptier.
Then in quick succession I bought boy/girl/ghost by torrin a. greathouse, Odes to Lithium by Shira Erlichman, Diary of a Ghost Girl by Shay Alexi, How to Cook a Ghost by Logan February, and Good Grief by Mikey Swanberg. I did this for two reasons:
1. I love poetry and am always interested in reading new poets that I find and love.
2. I want to support poets and independent presses.
Not only do the above two reasons serve as huge motivators to keep buying poetry, but my new book, Beautiful & Full of Monsters, is now available for pre-order from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. It would be hypocritical of me to ask others to order my book if I’m not ordering theirs. So I keep buying and reading poetry and I keep asking others to buy and read mine.
Of course, one thing I didn’t exactly plan for was the twice-annual library book sale. Not only do I attend every year but I volunteer every year as well, spending hours arranging and rearranging and reshelving books. And because I volunteer and am a lifetime Friends of the Arlington Library (FOAL) member, I get to purchase up to 20 books at a 50% discount (10 books for being a FOAL member, 10 books for volunteering). You can see where this is going… Courtney LeBlanc, Supporting Poetry
I’m very happy to announce that my new chapbook, The Green Waves: Poems from Roblin Lake, has just been published by London, Ontario based 845 Press!Rob Taylor, The Green Waves: Poems from Roblin Lake
The chapbook contains 15 poems, written before, during and after my family’s stay at the Al Purdy A-frame. The poems feature my family (the boy was barely toddling at the time), the A-frame, Al and Eurithe Purdy, disgusting pancakes, bonfires (book and otherwise), carbon monoxide poisoning, black holes, drowned mice, a heron named Ike, lilacs, frozen turtles, Nick Thran, etc. Mostly they are about making space in your life for the things you love.
Here are three sample poems:
For only the second time in my life (the first being “Oh Not So Great”: Poems from the Depression Project), something I wrote has blurbs! I like blurbs but hate nothing more than asking someone to blurb my books, so I was overjoyed when the wonderful team at 845 Press (Aaron Schneider and Amy Mitchell) went and organized blurbs on my behalf. It even inspired me to ask a couple more people, which led to a very imbalanced poem-to-blurb ratio (15 to 4 – one blurb for every 4 poems!).
As the New York Times reports, we’re seeing industry-wide hand-wringing right now about how rarely books are fact-checked, following scandals involving Naomi Wolff and others. I’m proud that Shenandoah editor Beth Staples makes fact-checking a priority: the interns comb through every piece we publish, following up on names, dates, and a host of other check-able details. Not every poem needs fact-checking, of course, but some do. For example, I posted my own poem about the moon landing recently. Most people wouldn’t notice if I got the date wrong, but some would, and spotting the error might impair their faith in me as a writer.
So what level of precision do poets owe their audiences? Spelling proper nouns correctly, and checking dates and quotes, seems important, if a poem references real-world people and events. The trivia doesn’t matter, really–if I tell you right now that my teapot is as blue as loneliness, but it’s actually an unromantic beige, that seems like a reasonable bit of poetic trickery. (Gotcha! It’s orange.) Even in a persona poem like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” a piece that’s obviously fictional, you’d want to check the Dante quote before you hit send.
I just handed in copy-edits for my next book, The State She’s In–overcoming the usual Prufrockian abulia to do so, because finalizing a book makes me REALLY ANXIOUS–and the process involved a final round of fact-checking on my end. Several poems involve public history that’s important to get right. While I know I was careful during the period of composition, what if I made a bad mistake in a poem about slavery, say, or Confederate history? The vultures aren’t wheeling around my publications the way they do around high-profile nonfiction, but still, I’m addressing sensitive material. Lesley Wheeler, Copy-editing and fact-checking poems
– It’s way past time to cut loose from Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook and Instagram. Sure, Elizabeth Warren is right; it’s too big, but there’s something else. It isn’t fun anymore. Facebook feels kind of like rock music did when the corporations got control of it. […]James Lee Jobe, Journal notes – 12 Oct 2019
– I have a conure, a sort of smallish type of parrot. At 11 years old, he understands a lot of English, even though he doesn’t talk. Pico Verde Jobe is his name.
He’s holding something in his claw, eating it while standing on one leg.
“What are you eating, Pico?”
He holds it up and shows me. A nut.
“Is is it good?”
Pico vigorously nods yes.
We could playTom Montag, We Could Play
the way men
play at war,
blood shed, it
would be stars
lost to us.
the sky […]
I like to tell my friends that I never, ever have writer’s block, and yes, I rarely have the full-blown version. I do, however, experience creative slowdowns, periods where I produce less work than I’d like, or my ideas seem stale, or I feel a lack of interest in writing. This is more dangerous than it sounds: lack of energy, interest, and concentration are also symptoms of depression. In order to avoid falling into this pit of despair, I’ve tried to build a practice that anticipates and mitigates writer’s block as much as possible.
History is rife with examples of artists who self-medicated with drugs and alcohol (poets are over-represented in this area) during unproductive periods. Clearly, this is unwise. Writer’s block is always temporary, and there’s plenty a writer can do to address it when it does occur.
Here are a few things I do when I get stuck.
I take a nap. Sometimes I just need a rest. Often, I wake up from a nap in the middle of a “light bulb” moment. As Shakespeare put it in Julius Caesar: “Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber.”
I go for a walk. A couple of days ago, I was working on a review and a short piece for my newsletter. After a 45-minute walk, I had solutions for both. Had I stayed home, I would have stared at my computer for 45 minutes, become more and more frustrated, and probably not had any ideas.
I turn to my collection of craft books. I pull them out of the bookshelf, grab my notebook and pen, and sit on the floor. Eventually, I’ll find something that kick-starts my writing. […]Erica Goss, How I Banish Writer’s Block
The university takes a long weekend in October; I thought it a propitious time to snare some solitude for writing and revising and thus betook myself and a mountain of my work to a semi-secluded cabin. Designed and largely built by Jack Fisher, the place offers light, comfort, memories, art, nature and spaciousness of environment. While I had no particular plan in mind–in retrospect, possibly a mistake–I imagined these days would act as a mini-writing retreat.
I love the cabin, the memories, the aesthetics of the house and generally I love solitude as long as it does not extend for too many days. The circumstance I discovered once I opened up my pile of poetry drafts, however, led me to one conclusion: I was going to have to organize, read, evaluate, consider, and cull before even getting to the “fun” part of revising. This level of work tends to discomfit me, feels tedious and draining and sometimes fruitless–which is why I have pretty much put it off since…oh…graduate school. Almost two decades.
But I made myself time to be alone and undisturbed, so let my work disturb me as it must. If a writer never allows herself to experience discomfort, she is unlikely to move her work forward in any meaningful or craft-related way. Ann E. Michael, (Dis)order & (dis)comfort
A friend once told me something a friend told her that had been told to him by a mentor, and it’s basically this about writing: It’s okay to climb the same mountain again and again, but you need to be going up by different routes. I think of this often. In other words, it’s find that I’m obsessed by a subject matter, with trying to get to some new way of understanding it, but my poems need to approach it by different means.
Makes total sense. But at the moment I feel I’m trodding a well-worn path. I think I’m trying different things, but all I’m doing really is skirting a bit the old route only to find my way back there again.
The solution I’m pursuing is my same old solution, which is not necessarily a bad thing — exposing myself to other people’s art. (And reading widely [wildly?].) I like rattling around in the art world looking for something that stops me and twirls me around. Sometimes this dizziment can open a pathway to a new way to approach my own work. Marilyn McCabe, With Sally in the Alley; or, Finding New Ways Into the Poetry Work
With the oil pastels and the picture cropped this way, I really like the strong cobalt blue with the lavender and dull green of the mountain. The foreground is missing in this crop, but the gouache helps me see better what to do with it. In addition to the beautiful, iconic trees, one of the most striking aspects of this landscape was the circular pattern of rocks and scrubby growth of the mountain behind the cedars. I like how the oil pastels have worked to capture that — it’s subtle, not detailed, but effective. Now I’m thinking about making a larger painting, in oils, based on what I’ve discovered by analyzing these pictures. The main message is simplify.
While I was working on this piece, I found a suite of poems by Seamus Heaney that he had written in Greece. One of them is set in Delphi, and it speaks of Heaney’s desire to drink from the spring where all visitors to Delphi who came to consult the oracle stopped to wash and drink; the same spring was used by the Pythia and the priests for a ritual cleansing before giving an oracular pronouncement or interpreting an oracle.
The Greeks believed that the spring was located at the center of the earth. Zeus, king of the gods, had loosed two eagles from opposite ends of the world, and, flying at the same speed, they crossed paths above Delphi. Zeus let a stone fall from the air where they crossed, and where it fell became the sacred site, marked by a stone called the omphalos, or navel of the world. Under the omphalos was buried the mythological monster called Python, which had guarded the sacred spring, until it was killed by the god Apollo, to whom Delphi and the Oracle became sacred. We saw a Roman copy of this large carved stone in the museum in Delphi. The carved pattern represents a woolen net that was once thought to cover the stone.Beth Adams, The Navel of the World
If you’ve been to Delphi, you would have thought, as I did, what a long, difficult journey it must have been to get there from any of the major city-states of Greece, and then to have to add the arduous climb up the side of Mt Parnassus. I wish I had known that the spring still exists, and that there’s a modern fountain by the side of the road for modern travelers, but I had no idea! Heaney, visiting in the 1960s, did know this, and of course — as a poet who had been steeped in the Greek classics, translated some, and used so many references and stories in his own poems and plays — he was determined to drink from it himself.
Reading Groundspeed, I took note of how [Emilia] Phillips’ narrator refuses to let her own traumas (in this case her own cancer or the death of a half brother) carry any more weight in the collection than the tragic events and lives around her. Our suffering truly is ordinary, and in treating it as such, Groundspeed mimics for us what life is actually like: one long road trip, hotel overnights and stops at home, all interspersed with encounters we have, dramas large and small, our own and everyone else’s. My tendency in my own work — including when I’ve put manuscripts together — is to visit my obsessions (distance, intimacy, romance, etc.) far too often. I learn from this book that our obsessions/favorite themes carry a little more weight when they don’t tag along in every… single… poem. I’m grateful for this model.
I love how Phillips creates scenery from ordinary observations, as though the poems are movies. As pseudo- short films, the poems in Groundspeed celebrate “the glories of their mundane” (a line from one of the poems) as they include beer cans, chewing gum, pollen in the ditch, etc.
In a contributor spotlight in Memorious, Phillips says, “For years I’ve been seduced again and again by two lines of Fanny Howe: ‘My vagabondage is unlonelied by poems.’ In some ways, this statement has become a kind of mantra for me, especially in difficult times. ‘My vagabondage / is unlonelied by poems.’ Not only does it recognize the loneliness of one’s life in that word ‘vagabondage,’ it also speaks to the restlessness I’ve felt my whole life—this draw to move from one place, physical or otherwise, to another.” Howe’s phrase will stick with me, along with Phillips’ mention of it. Unlonelied by poems. Amen. Carolee Bennett, “the glories of their mundane”
Yesterday, at the end of the reading at the Field Museum, someone in the audience asked if I consider myself a nature poet. I realized I’d just spent a good half hour or so talking about how I can’t stop writing about birds. About how a project that was supposed to be about dinosaurs and extinction would up also being largely bird-laden. About the Cornell Boxes andmy second book, in the bird museum. About how I’d made a bee-line on my first visit, not to the Evolving Planet exhibit, but to the Hall of Birds, the very same hall where I was giving that very reading. And yet, I faltered and wasn’t sure what to say.
When I think nature, I often think of Mary Oliver, whose poems, while I find a lot of them sort of facile, usually use nature as a means to teach us something about humanity. The nature is the tool by which we come to understand something more about ourselves. I know many poets who write similar observances and explorations of the natural world, and in fact, have published a good many (much better than Oliver) with dgp. But as for me, it’s strange to claim it. […]
As I worked on extinction event, I’ve been reading idly a few pieces on the eco-gothic, whose gist is largely that nature is not just a background for human activity to occur in, but a force itself. The menacing forest. The haunted garden. The terrible sea. That nature (including plants, animals, landscape, weather) is just as much a character in any story as the ones with speaking parts.
I like this sort of nature, the kind that is dangerous and may just kill you. Much of that is where extinction event comes from. My answer to the question, in the moment, was that I tended to write a lot about horror and the supernatural lately–scary movies, serial killers, stabby adolescents urged on by Slenderman. But that nature is always present in them–weird or twisted as it may be. Kristy Bowen, nature, writing, & the ecogothic imagination
Please tell us about the genesis of your new chapbook, little ditch. What is the collection about and how did it come into being?
little ditch is a chapbook about survival through sexual abuse, rape culture, & internalized misogyny. This is also a book about being sexualized as a young, non-binary person growing up in rape culture. About being a preteen on the verge of something shattering. About the fur.
As I was completing my first book, Field Guide to Autobiography, I was visited by these urgent, dark spells or calls to action to write a way towards these poems. These poems felt caked in dirt, but very alive – I felt the need to dig deeper. Using various creative exercises like trance, tarot, & cut-ups, I tried to summon the hidden. There were times where I’d not be able to recall anything, other times I’d feel immersed in sense memory. All these gaps and leaks where trauma holds in the body. I later referred to these as “the ditch poems.”
Many of the poems in your collection explore the intersection between body and the natural and human-made world. What drew you to this imagery?
Many of the poems in this collection are based on a type of mineral. The more I explored the language of minerals, the more I came to see the connections between that vocabulary and the oppressive vocabularies of patriarchy. Using found language from field guides, these poems tell a story of the nature of patriarchy; how we build upon & reinforce this hegemonic palimpsest. It also begins to explore how the sedimentary foundation of American rape culture is inherent in mineral structures of the Earth’s crust. This book is about trusting yourself enough to claw your way out.
Do you feel that writing and engaging with poetry is one of the ways a person can help find their way out of these structures?
Yes. I think poetry allows us to reimagine and reshape how we perceive language, and the larger world. I’ve found this to be especially true of experimental poetry, which sometimes feel to me like a great puzzle, or an algebraic equation. Poetry = music + math. Wrestling with diction or meter can lead to creative solutions or enhance our understanding of the world of a poem, and that praxis forges new neural pathways in the brain that expand consciousness as we know it. Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Melissa Eleftherion on survival and how language reshapes our perception of the world
And now the thin edge of an eastern wind brings Dick Jones, MOTHER RUSSIA.
tears of resin, a scent of green disorder, a cataract
of leaves and berries far ahead. Darkness crowds us
back onto the train. Rocked but sleepless, we sit
and stand by night-curtained windows, watching
the dim images of ourselves watching the flying trees.