Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 46

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 (late) edition continues the sombre tone from last week, albeit with some joyful news as well. The season of death is upon us. But late autumn and winter is also a time for deeper thinking, and we have some of that as well.

Note that I will continue to share links to these posts on Twitter for as long as a significant portion of us still maintain accounts there, but in general, like many folks, I’m using the opportunity to move most of my microblogging over to the Fediverse, which as an open-source project was always a much better fit with my values. I hope you’ll join me there. (I’m on a medium-sized Mastodon server, here.)


Oh bathroom window, what are those ash-gray clouds,
needle in the morning’s eye —

dawn too early in its strange light-threading.
To 6am, I bring another party: 

my thoughts, light and frisky in dark crevices […]

Jill Pearlman, The Early Bird and other Myths

An interesting week. The tory clowns have come up with a forecast of a £60 billion black hole in the national finances. It’s their latest wheeze to make the poor pay more than the rich. JK Galbraith once said that “economic forecasting is there to make astrology look good.” But this has not stopped them from delivering one punitive budget after another. […]

there is a second
when the mop bucket’s contents
after being slung into the air
seems to just hang ignorant of gravity

in that moment you could mould the water
into any fantastic shape you pleased
if only you were quick enough

Paul Tobin, THE MOLECULES SIGH

As the wind howled, I thought about all the ways I have tried to make my way as a writer in the world:  build a website, develop a presence on various social media sites, try to publish everywhere, try to have a series of readings/presentations, slog, slog, slog.  Because it was the middle of the night, I wondered if I could have done anything differently, even though I know the stats about sales and who is making a living from their writing (not very many people).

And if we’re being honest, in many ways, I’m glad I’m not relying on any of my creative endeavors to pay the bills.  I am astonished at the ways that people hustle to try to sell their work, and I know all the ways that the various hustles would be hard for me.  And statistically, it’s hard these days to sell enough work to pay the bills.  Lots of people out there competing for fewer readers.  I’m glad that I can write what I want to write without worrying about marketability.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Winds of Metaphor, Winds of Change

What do you remember about the earth?

I am six and the terrible grandmother has come to live
with us. She smells of tobacco and the green eucalyptus-
mint Valda pastilles she is always popping into her mouth
from a tin hidden in her robe pocket. A game I like to play
with some of the neighborhood kids involves taking turns
putting Necco wafers in each other’s mouths while intoning
“The body of Christ.” We are careful not to bite down
so as not to cause the body of Christ to bleed. Then
we walk around the grassy perimeter of the truck yard
pretending we are floating, until the candy has melted
and our tongues turn lime green, orange, or pink.

Luisa A. Igloria, Six Questions

A commissioned poem is always a leap of faith in the dark. You get a phonecall with a request to write about a particular topic or idea, and you must decide whether you can do it, whether you want to do it, but most importantly, whether you can do it in the time available.

For this commission, and for many commissions for radio, there was a very tight turnaround. I think I got a phonecall on Friday evening from the producer of Woman’s Hour, Clare Walker. She wanted a poem that celebrated the different sounds that women have heard over 100 years. the poem would be two minutes long, but the whole thing would be about eight minutes becuase they were going to weave through the poem lots of archive recordings. “Brilliant!’ I replied – thinking this was a really interesting commission, and an enjoyable one.  I briefly envisaged some peaceful weeks trawling through archive recordings of suffragettes and the sond of the first washing machine.

“There’s just one snag” Clare said. “We’re on a bit of a tight deadline, so it has to be finished and recorded by Wednesday”.  “Ah” I said.  I thought about my looming deadline for a book of hybrid essays (more news to follow on that!) which was due just a few days later.  I thought about the five days I had available to write the poem, and how for at least two of those, I wouldn’t be writing, or in fact even thinking because I have no childcare at the weekend.

“That will be fine!” I replied recklessly. “Let’s do it!”.  What kind of person would turn down a commission from Woman’s Hour, I asked myself, even with a book deadline, and just five days to write it (well really three).

Kim Moore, The Commissioned Poem: A Leap of Faith

Tough, in its various meanings, and tender are the poems in Kathy Fagan’s Bad Hobby. Painful, in parts, as it recalls my own mother’s failings of memory, but funny too, as such things can be, in the right moment, with a good spirit, and with nothing left to lose.

From “Snow Moon & the Dementia Unit”:

Dad called again to see how his daughter Kathy’s doing,
and when I tell him I’m doing fine, he asks,

So you’ve talked to her recently? What did she say?
and really, what could I say then…

Through these poems we glimpse the inner and outer life of the speaker, especially the presence of her parents, real or ghostly. From “Animal Prudence”:

…Even when he was
a young drunk going deaf from target practice,
my father preferred picking his teeth
to brushing them. My mother preferred
crying. They bought or rented places
on streets named Castle, Ring, Greystone—
as if we were heroes in a Celtic epic.

The author is unsparing and unsentimental in her observations. Here she regards her own self through a sight of a hawk and its squirrel prey in “Cooper’s Hawk”:

… My tolerance for ‘Nature, red in tooth
and claw’ rose as my estrogen fell. The wish
to die died with my hormones, and with all that
powering down, I could finally hear myself
not think.

The wry wit, the dry eye, and the imagination that instills these poems made this hard book a pleasure to read.

Marilyn McCabe, Hello goodbye hello; or, On Kathy Fagan’s Bad Hobby

“Naming the Ghost” is a gentle, sensitive journey through bereavement and acceptance. It is not just the loss of the narrator’s father, but also that the newborn daughter will never know her grandfather, which exacerbates the sense of loss. However, the narrator acknowledges that she cannot let her daughter’s sole experience be a grief for someone she did not know. On her journey, she learns to adjust to looking to the future, informed by the past. These are poems that linger and haunt rather than grab the reader.

Emma Lee, “Naming the Ghost” Emily Hockaday (Cornerstone Press) – book review

What I was going to say is that I have reached an age where my peers all seem to be facing cancer. Illnesses like Parkinson’s. Bones that break all too easily. Unexpectedly. Everything hurts. Everyone hurts. And we are still comparing ourselves to one another.

Some of us move through the days thinking: but that won’t happen to me. I’ll be one of the shining septuagenarians on Instagram snatching more than their own bodyweight. Some of us hold on to the moments.

Some of us. Maybe only me. Have given up on narratives and justifications.

Here is my beginner’s mind. I pause in stillness. Then inhale and rise along the gentle slope of a polished pearl. Then exhale into stillness. One rich movement at a time, like gusts of wind slamming the body.

I read once that the ghazal was a series of discrete couplets, connected like pearls on a string.

Ren Powell, Life as a Ghazal

Here is what we do in our church: 
we never gather and we never sing
we blame but never praise
we cultivate indulgence; we wallow in dread;
we pick the scabs of anxiety.
The stupidest Congregation of the Bigot
in Podunkville does better than that.

Dale Favier, Inventing the Wheel

Readers accustomed to Fokkina [McDonnell]’s poems will know that she has a great gift for sudden shifts of thought and emphasis which wrong-foot and surprise the reader. Many years’ practice as a psychotherapist must have informed Fokkina’s acute sensitivity to how the brain and heart interact. Her poems implicitly ask questions but usually stop short of providing answers – as with effective haiku, the reader is invited to do some work, in effect to complete the poems. There’s a lightness or playfulness among the trauma which sporadically surfaces; a sense which I can only really explain fully by using the Japanese haiku concept of karumi, which Michael Dylan Welch explores so well in an essay available here. And where Fokkina does apparently provide answers, the reader has to wonder if they are the answers of an unreliable narrator of sorts.

Matthew Paul, On Fokkina McDonnell’s ‘Safe House’

What are you working on?

After a two-year hiatus in writing (due to parenting a 3yo and 1yo without childcare during the pandemic), I have just begun to write again while my baby naps and my 3yo attends preschool. My question the past few weeks has been what I can effectively work on given time constraints. Before my children were born I was working on a volume of Norse verse translations. The unpredictability of baby naps has made it nearly impossible to return to this. What surprised me was having inspiration for a fantasy novel and actually being able to write chapter drafts. Holding scenes and characters in my mind until I can work on them again has proven easier than holding the intricately-woven webs that are skaldic poems, with all their linguistic and historical threads. 

Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part three

More poets and songbirds. Shopaholics at the mall of mercy.

A Congress that engages in friendly congress.

For the homeless to become homeful. Wildfires to take a chill pill.

Gun muzzles to nuzzle love.

Rich Ferguson, What the world needs now

I’ve noticed in recent years, on social media since that is where I see discussions of poetry, is a criticism of poetry reviews. First the criticisms were about the reviews not being published in mainstream newspapers any more or, if they were, the tiny wordcount afforded to them. Then the criticism shifted to the reviews themselves, their “lack of critical engagement,” that they are “puff pieces”, concerning themselves with the poet and the “poet’s identity” rather than the actual poems, the craft and technique. All of these criticisms are valid, and perhaps the reviews under discussion seem ubiquitous because of the proliferation of online platforms like Goodreads, online journals and blogs, as well as in some poetry magazines. Also, there has been a trend to simply photograph a book or poem and share on social media without also offering any kind of considered review. Perhaps this has also offended people seeking detailed critiques. Unfortunately, in my view, the criticisms risk silencing a group of people who might want to review, or even to express that they like a book or poem, but who now won’t, for fear of being on the end of such criticism. I think it’s far to say that some of the criticisms I’ve observed are from poets who are also academics, used to the rigor of academic principles, and critical of work that strays from from, or seems to disregard, this rigor. I think that’s a shame. The poetry world has room for a rigorous, intellectually challenging approach to appraising and analysing poetry as well as a different kind of response, perhaps personal to the reviewer, regardless of their academic training and experience.

Unfortunately, perhaps because of the nature of social media, particularly Twitter with its limited wordage, these kinds of criticisms can appear aggressive, especially when a lot of people seem to join in. Perhaps one of the good things to come out of the current implosion happening at Twitter will be that this kind of ‘pile on’ will become less prominent in poetry (and other) circles.

Josephine Corcoran, On Reviewing

I read somewhere recently that writing poetry reviews (the traditional kind, for poetry mags) is a good discipline as it makes you really read closely and engage with poetry collections. I have to say that interviewing a poet on a podcast takes all that and then some – thinking up relevant questions to ask, talking with the poet about your reading/understanding of their work, suggesting which poems they read and commenting in a way that listeners may find interesting… it’s not easy, and I often curse myself for sounding like an idiot, a sycophant or a ‘womansplainer’, sometimes all three in the same episode. It’s all  good fun though!

Robin Houghton, Self-sabotage, womansplaining and other poetry joys

Winter is more insidious than summer.
The low-angled sun is a dull blade,
sheathed in bitter grey.

In winter I play old music.
The music my grandparents listened to
as they took me to Friendly’s or to

a clarinet lesson in the next town over.
It’s the music of nostalgia and longing
and emptiness. Winter music.

Jason Crane, POEM: A Winter Poem

I once borrowed her jean jacket so I could look cool, as a group of us made for Montreal for a Peace Concert at the Montreal Forum in 1987. The illustration she made of our pre-concert group in the park, drinking beer and playing guitar with a few dozen others, made its way onto the cover of the zine we invented as part of our high school “writer’s craft” class: assembling poems, stories, drawings. All of it published anonymously, of course. She could fall helpless into fits of giggles, including when dancing at the Carleton Tavern somewhere in the 00s, realizing her friend Joy’s dancing had caused Joy’s pants to fall off, without them noticing. There was an element to our pairing that rendered chaos, a joyous silliness that not everyone else had patience for, akin to six-year-old twins: each encouraging the other.

I published some of her poems in the first issue of my long poem magazine, STANZAS, in 1993, and in a chapbook, not that much later. She’d been working on a poetry manuscript she’d titled “Naked,” some of which sits in a file on my computer. The poems from STANZAS, her “Garden” series, that later fell into her novel, The Desmond Road Book of the Dead (Chaudiere Books, 2006). As the first of the series, “Garden,” reads:

I can make the garden grow, the sun fall up and down in the sky, a man full grown from passion in my tissue, in secret places I hide my fat and wait for rain for rain for rain

In August 2019, the last time I saw them, not long before Covid: an afternoon visiting Clare and Bryan on their farm in North Glengarry, a few miles east of the McLennan homestead, as my young ladies admired their two horses, and later accidentally stomped on a hive of bees at the end of the yard. At least we discovered neither young lady allergic, once they both stung. Clare offered them colouring, toys. They played a football game on the porch, and she delighted in them both.

How am I supposed to experience a world that Clare Latremouille no longer occupies? I shall have to be attentive enough for the both of us, I suppose. I shall have to be silly enough. An image in my head of the remaining members of Monty Python at Graham Chapman’s graveside, the first of the troupe to die: every one of them standing with pants at their ankles.

rob mclennan, Clare Latremouille (July 4, 1964 – November 16, 2022)

My recent video and furthermore (indexed), is getting its first public screening on 23rd November 2022 in the Living With Buildings – IV program in Coventry, UK, as part of their fabulous Disappear Here project, curated by Adam Steiner. This is a quarterly screening that explores human experiences of the urban environment through people, poetry and place.

In Ancient Greece, public notices were engraved in stone on building walls. Now, we find ourselves surrounded by texts: advertising, warnings, directions, graffiti… Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones are in town, violence, scandal and political intrigue vie for attention, someone won the football, and we worry about the future for our youth…

The video samples every occasion that the word “and” was used in the “NEWS” pages on one day in the local Adelaide newspaper. The words following each instance of “and” are listed alphabetically and read by Karen, the MacOS Australian female text-to-voice interpreter. In doing so, it creates a snapshot (indexed) of a day in the news of a contemporary city.

Ian Gibbins, and furthermore (indexed)…

In the old days writers would iambize their prose and dangle rhymes on their line-endings to make their words seem more significant, adding poetic words as glitter. As Samuel Johnson said, some people think that anything that doesn’t look like prose must be poetry. Nowadays writers use strange punctuation, deletions, discontinuities and line-breaks instead.

There’s still something about the label “poetry” that writers find tempting. And why not? Poetic license still exists. If you label a piece “poetry”, readers will look for hidden meanings. The meanings will expand to match the readers’ expectations. It saves the writer needing to do so much. A short text (about doing the housework, say) can go far given a big title like “Death”.

But readers might not be so compliant nowadays. They might distrust the label. They might think the shortness is a cop-out.

They’re more alert to tricks of ads, the lure of mistique, aura, etc. They know how the addition of false eyelashes and tan can trick the eye.

Tim Love, Ornamentation and aura

A first thing the poetry business and the wine trade have in common: the best way to end up with a small fortune in both poetry publishing and winemaking is to start off with a large one. In part, this is because winemaking is often a highly personal project, just like poetry publishing, and people thus often do stuff that makes little business sense.

And then there’s the question of personal taste: I don’t like big, oaky wines from Ribera del Duero. I do admire them in technical terms when they’re well crafted, but I can never bring myself to enjoy them. Same goes for certain types of poetry.

Matthew Stewart, A comparison between poetry and wine

I grew up in a valley bordered on the east by the Rocky Mountains and on the west by the Nevada desert.  Both landscapes were awesome and terrifying–people died in both.  When we drove across the desert on the way to California, the emptiness was so overwhelming I hid on the car floor.   But the sight of the mountains was central and powerful, and I missed them when I moved east.  When I took the train home I spent the last few hours staring out the window, desperate for my first glimpse of them.  Westerners are landscape snobs–I needed that scale.  In the east I sneered at the hills people referred to as mountains.  When people said, “Isn’t this landscape beautiful?,” I literally couldn’t see what they were talking about.  If it wasn’t awesome it didn’t even matter.  It took me years of living in it to realize one day, setting out for a hike (walk) with friends: Oh, this landscape is human scale, you can just walk out into it without risking your life.  And for the first time I saw the value in that.

I think the sublime has to do with extremity and intensity, with things larger and deeper than the human scale of things, with situations where one person encounters whatever it is–the void, the abyss, the unfathomable, immeasurable.  I think the sublime is something we can visit but not live in–the intensity would crush us, as Rilke says.  And the solitude.  Most of our lives include relationships with other people.  When it comes to poetry, the awesome/ sublime may be the most powerful, but I think more poems, including many great ones, are written out of our human relationships–that scale, the one with emotions that range from happiness to rage to love to sadness, subtle and nuanced, looked at closely.  I don’t think I’d describe any of Shakespeare’s sonnets as sublime, for example, however beautiful and moving they are.

Sharon Bryan, Poems of Daily Life

The poem is not simply a clever convolution of words but does ‘make sense’ when read carefully. Apart from its description of a time that is gone, it examines and exemplifies the tortured ambivalence between memory and fact. The slippery methodology of examining a personal memory when looking at a visual depiction of that place in that time. Indeed, can memories be altered by the holder of that memory, other than by recognising its inherent subjectivity.

Jim Young, poem with explanatory notes

Number of books read while here: 14 – 8 collections of poetry and 6 novels. (You can see all the books I’ve read this year on Goodreads – follow me if you don’t already!)

Number of manuscripts read for Riot in Your Throat: 22 and counting – the independent poetry press I run, Riot in Your Throat, is currently open for full length poetry manuscripts. I’m looking for 2-4 collections to publish in 2023 – submissions are open all month so if you haven’t yet submitted there’s still time!

Number of dreams about ex-lovers: 3 – seriously, what is going on in my brain?!

Courtney LeBlanc, VCCA: By the Numbers

A deer drives into a parking lot. It desires nothing. It’s my voice. I’ve been looking for you. Yeah, out on a joyride, now here to buy pants. Later, parking spots turn into breath. My voice full of venison and wheels. Fog and knives. What I desire, the deer says: An on and off switch. My thighs in lake water. But I’m wearing pants. I’m always wearing pants.

Gary Barwin, Pants

Tuesday is my dad’s memorial service, when we will placing both his ashes and my mother’s, which have been on the mantle for the past 5 years, in the ground of the plots they owned since around the time they got married. It is all moving very fast and I have yet to catch my breath or spend much time with my thoughts.  I’ve mostly been working furiously and napping frequently in equal measure. I have to keep reminding myself that its the holiday season, that Thanksgiving is this week.  I am not really feeling it, but am hoping to fake it til I make it, procuring new garlands and stockings from Amazon for my bookshelf, some new evergreen sprigs for some vases. I was going to just wait til I get back to the city next Sunday, but I may just put it up tomorrow. 

I write this post now as I would normally be embroiled in my twice-weekly call with my dad, an hour I have cautiously watched approach on the clock on all day as I did the usual Sunday things like sweep the floors and clean up the kitchen. The past few years, he had taken over where my mother had left off on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  I have always been grateful for that time, mostly since the previous 20-ish odd years of living away from them had involved very little phone convo with him, since my mom liked to do the talking for both of them with him occasionally chiming in from the other side of the room. Only when she was really sick and the delirium had set in did he take over. It was sort of like getting to know someone new, but also very familiar.  I am not quite sure what I will do with myself, especially on Sundays when the 6pm call was so engrained in my schedule my entire adult life. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 11/20/2022

clay and paper string
persuaded him not to prosecute
the silent sneeze

even in the cafeteria
her own aeroplane
is made to be burnt

Ama Bolton, ABCD November 2022

Word went out Thursday that he was moving to palliative. By now you’ve probably heard of the quick decline of Robert Hogg and our loss of him on Sunday.

I never did the math that he was 80. He was busy in the 60s with that zeitgeist of poetic excitement. He had a young energy. Even cancer’s “trauma age” didn’t impinge as much as on some people.

Death has offended and hurt many again. Its timing is never good. In the last few years, Bob was redoubling his efforts to get more of his work out before people while he could. Love while you can, write while you can and support while you can seemed to be his driver.

He was like electricity, always there at the ready when you reach for him. He had a calm gentle humour, plain spoken and as if amused by life.

It’s funny seeing the tributes coming out from so many and from so far and yet not surprising at the same time. He had the rare gift while talking to you of making you the only person in the room.

Pearl Pirie, Bob Hogg

What can poetry do?  

There have been many who advocate art for art’s sake, or l’art pour l’art, as the slogan was initially rendered in nineteenth century France. 

There have also been many, and indeed there are an ever-increasing number, of artists (in the broadest sense) who see their work as a focus for, or extension of, their activism. 

I feel fortunate to have had poems included in a variety of charity anthologies over the years, raising funds (and awareness) for Macmillan Cancer Support, Welney WWT and the Born Free Foundation, to name but three. 

I am delighted to add another to the list in the form of Voices for the Silent (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2022), the new companion volume to For the Silent (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2019), edited by Ronnie Goodyer, Poet-in-Residence at the League Against Cruel Sports. These companion (or stand-alone) volumes have been produced to aid the work of this charity, and not surprisingly some of the selected poems concern animal cruelty. Others focus on habitats and the wonders and complexities of the natural world. 

Caroline Gill, ‘Voices For The Silent’, New Anthology from Indigo Dreams Publishing

  1. My unfinished poems. Technically, what is the status of a half-done poem when life is finished?
  2. The first thirteen lines of a brand new poem. Quite unrelated to the situation at hand. Poetry comes when it comes. Even through a canula.
  3. One person I wanted to apologize to. From way back before way back. Time moves in mysterious trajectories inside a hospital, dodging right angles and ramps, needles and gurneys.
  4. How mesmerizing that infinitely slow drip from the IV pouch is – like an existential morse code. Drip. Dash. Dash. Damn. Drip.
  5. Two questions the universe hasn’t answered yet. The universe needs deadlines and then someone to enforce the deadlines. The united nations of forsaken questions.
Rajani Radhakrishnan, The night before surgery: thoughts and stuff…

You wait.
That’s what you do,
whether the poems
come, or not,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (94)

First, while the press aims to be sustainable, it is not trying to be profitable. Breaking even is acceptable to me, and I would consider it a victory to be able to break even while 1) putting good poetry into the world and 2) continuing to donate half of all sales. If there are times when I go into deficit by a hundred dollars or so, this too is acceptable to me personally. However, I am rigorously working to avoid this. And again, even without the $500 donation, I’ve still basically broken even on a relatively large ($1000) investment, and I’ve also managed to give away almost $850 — all while getting my poems into the world. So I’m OK with how things are going.

Secondly, the great majority of the money spent so far was “start up” money, and this does not represent ongoing costs. These initial costs include both tools I will not need to replace anytime soon, if ever, as well as a lot of practice materials I won’t ever be buying again (different weights of card stock and paper, in particular). Thus, the longer the press continues to exist, the more it will produce from these initial materials, and the more it will earn from them.

R.M. Haines, DMP Summary and Receipts: 10/17 to 11/14

So, this weekend, I am working on final edits of Flare, Corona for BOA – including updating last-minute acknowledgements, deciding on spelling conventions that I apparently don’t write twice the name way, and keeping an eye out for wayward commas, and I’m also sending out e-galleys of Flare, Corona to people who might be interested in reviewing it. If you are interested in reviewing it, in a Zoom class visit, or book club inclusion, please e-mail me at jeannine dot gailey at gmail dot com and I will send you a copy!

I’m monitoring the somewhat sad situation at Twitter. If I had 44 billion dollars, I think I’d do a better job of managing the product instead of destroying it, but Elon Musk is a really bad manager with a lot of money willing to hurt others in the process of getting his own way (toxic misogyny writ large, I’m afraid) and I’m sad because I’ve built relationships with not just the poetry community but disability Twitter and even fellow cat and flower lovers and I hate that a spoiled billionaire can make everything crumble in a few days that I’ve built for years. On the other hand, it makes you rethink your whole relationship with social media. For writers it’s essential to connect with audiences—and for a long time, Twitter was the place to connect with Millennial friends, writers, and readers.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Sunshine in the Pacific Northwest

Finally, there is this blog, which has endured all sorts of personal, technological, and societal changes since it began in 2003. As a firm believer in owning and controlling one’s own online content, I’ve no intention of letting it go, and instead, have been thinking about how to infuse it with more energy now that I have some time.  Could it be more educational, more helpful? Could it help to launch new projects and bring people together, as it has in the past (quarrtsiluni, Phoenicia Publishing, online groups)? What else is there that I haven’t considered? There’s nothing wrong with social media functioning as a hub where interested people find content and go to it, but as our disillusionment with these social platforms and their capitalist agendas grow, could blogs regain some of their gravitas and a new sense of purpose? I wonder.

It depends somewhat on our expectations. I do know that I don’t care about the number of followers or readers, and we are long since past those heady days where aspiring writers thought they’d become well-known through their blogs — there’s no way that someone steadily writing good but long-form posts would become famous like a seductive Instagram influencer, not in today’s world! But careful and engaged readers and writers still do exist […] Blogs like Language Hat, Velveteen Rabbi, Hoarded Ordinaries, and Whiskey River have kept on quietly, steadily, thoughtfully posting for nearly two decades now, and there are many others. If these are not impressive and worthy bodies of creative work, I don’t know what qualifies.

Beth Adams, Coming Up for Air

The weather is cold cold cold, but the days are so brightly sunny I keep saying I need to get my sunglasses back out. I’m savoring every last bit of true fall that I can, before we pass Thanksgiving and it is officially winter holiday season. I love this time of year, when we go inside and get cozy but don’t yet have a bunch of other obligations. When we love light all the more for its scarcity.

For so many reasons, I really can’t with Thanksgiving much any more, but I will always love taking time to notice and name what I am grateful for. In this funky week full with appointments and phone calls and triggers and wind and wool sweaters, there was one morning where everything sparkled because the temperatures had dropped below freezing overnight, but the sun was rising. Branches were newly bare, but there were still leaves clinging to them–leaves blazing with their final colors.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Pain management

I think some of the things I’m doing right now that are part of my work for the NF book – visiting museums, walking, reading – are exactly what I should be doing and I am realising just how stressed I get if I do too much ‘people’ stuff in one week. I’m trying to train myself out of feeling and labelling myself as ‘pathetic’ or ‘ridiculous’ or ‘weak’ if I need more rest than perhaps other people seem to, or if I’m not juggling 100 projects at once and just want to plod slowly into a book. This is where I have always wanted to be – plodding into my work, absorbed in it like the utter library nerd that I am. I just want to read books and write books and have the time and energy to do that.

Perhaps my dad’s death has opened up a few old wounds, wounds I thought I’d packed and sewed up tightly. I don’t know. It’s been a hell of a year, again. I’m starting to think about goals for next year, starting to think about my rituals of the new year. I’m ticking off some big goals from 2022 and that makes me wonderfully happy, and I am surprising myself with the new goals in my planner, they are much less poetry centred. I feel strangely guilty for moving away from poetry, even if it is only while I work on the non fiction project. I’ve cut my work back to some mentoring, running Spelt and running the occasional course. which still sounds like a lot really, on top of writing a book. Having the opportunity to help other poets progress their own writing is really important to me, and it’s also a source of absolute joy for me, mentoring in particular. And I love the camaraderie of the email courses I still run. When I come to write prompts and notes for a course it feels like putting a comfortable cardigan on, and mentoring always feels like meeting friends. I find, more and more, that the work that I am choosing to do brings me joy, I find that when I look around myself, my life is good. Terrible fretting over what the next terrible loss will be aside, I am happy and enjoying the way my brain works, and I’m looking forward to reflecting that in my writing. But still a part of me clings to the idea that if I’m not cramming in more stuff, applying for more things, winning more things, making more connections…I’m not doing well. I need to change the definition of ‘doing well’ and emphasise ‘feeling happy’ more I think.

Wendy Pratt, Writing and Reading the Trauma Poems

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by the good poetry news I’ve received lately, and I’m behind on sharing it here…

At the end of September, my poem “One Way to Use a Deck of Cards” from How to Play was featured on Verse Daily!

Last month, two of my poems were published in Writing in a Woman’s Voice: “After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night” and “What’s Something You Love That Can’t Love You Back?

Also in October, two of my poems were published in Pirene’s Fountain: “This Poem Is about Dinosaurs” and “Choosing a Moon.” This whole issue is fantastic, and you can purchase a copy at this link.

This month, I’ve gotten some happy award news! “After an Older Man from Church…” received the Moon Prize from Writing in a Woman’s Voice on November 9, and “This Poem Is about Dinosaurs” was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize this week! I’m so grateful to these editors who’ve published and affirmed my work and to the folks who encourage me and read my poems.

Katie Manning, Verse Daily & Moon Prize & Pushcart (Oh my!)

Lately I’ve been remembering the dances I’ve already had – the romantic ones with boys/men a long time ago.  I now know that at least three of those boys/men have passed on. That’s something else I’ve considered:  the synonyms for “died”:   passed on,  passed away,  etc.  One of my sisters always says “Gone to God.”   The dogs and cats who have “crossed the Rainbow Bridge”  

I still have the image in my head from when my dad died. I visited him on a Wednesday, and on the following Friday I was at a meeting in Buffalo and got a call from the nursing home that he had died in his sleep in the middle of the afternoon.  I envisioned him on a small boat, moving away from the shore of the living on the sea of eternity, quietly moving on, his face toward the horizon.

Anne Higgins, The Dances you’ve already had

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, turns in the weather and in politics bring things into sharper albeit sometimes also bleaker focus. I found thought-provoking essays on topics ranging from Twitter to the value of doubt to the importance of public libraries. Plus the usual quirky mix of off-beat observations and musings. Enjoy.


With the COP27 – the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – now running in Egypt, it was even more disheartening to read recent reports in the major science journals that the melting of the polar ice caps, the Greenland ice-cap and glaciers all around the world is accelerating at a pace beyond previous predictions. […]

As individuals, there is depressingly little we can do in the short term – major changes in direction are needed by governments and large corporations alike. Nevertheless, as artists, scientists and concerned citizens, we can continue to sound the alarm bells and spread their call anyway we can. Over the last few years, most of my videos have addressed environmental issues in some way or another.

Many of these videos have been shown as part of events addressing climate change. In November, floodtide and colony collapse are screening as part of the Nature and Culture Poetry Film Festival in Copenhagen, while floodtide is part of the ART Speaks Out program on IkonoTV, coinciding with COP27.

ANOMALY is a new video that combines a plot of the rising sea surface temperatures, recorded by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology over more than 120 years in Southern Australia, with a visualisation of the effect of modest sea level rise along a sunny beach at Moana / Potartang on the coast of South Australia, not far from Adelaide. It’s a depressing graph.

Ian Gibbins, World’s end…

The second full-length poetry collection by New Mexico-based Anchorage, Alaska Inupiaq-Inuit poet dg nanouk okpik, following the multiple award-winning Corpse Whale(Tucson AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2012), is blood snow (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2022), a collection of meditative, first-person descriptive lyrics populated by birds, inlets, polar bears, the north wind, polar cap and the thaw, moose tracks, seal, birch and berries. “Sunken sod of whalebone,” she writes, to open the poem “Ice Age Two,” “earth houses rising, / out of feathered sea / water.” Grounded in her particular northern landscape, okpik offers a perspective on a culture and climate, as well as man-made pollution and climate change, specifically around northern resource stripping. […]

This is a wonderfully evocative collection, with an open heart and a determined lyric, and there’s a straightforwardness to the structure of this collection that I’m quite enjoying, one that isn’t broken up into thematic or structural sections, but simply a collection of individual poems, assembled together to form a book. Her poems do seem composed to attempt, in her own way, to reconcile a suggested disconnect—the rippling effects of her outside adoption as an infant—between herself and the foundational elements of her culture and landscape. “No, not all at once did they come,” she writes, as part of the poem “When the Mosquitoes Came,” “those takers didn’t know. Then they came in waves of time, / curiosity driven in urgency of a newborn baby girl, / me to be only theirs, no matter what harm it caused me / it was to an Inupiaq family secret, / what they knew meant right makes might.” As a whole, blood snow exists as a document of witness, a love letter and a declaration of belonging, and an argument for both ecological and cultural preservation, simply through the evocative descriptions and language the flow of her lyric, the waves of her words, provide against such book-length shoreline. “I live in a dugout in the cliffs next to the ocean,” she writes, as part of the poem “Twilight Pain,” “bluffs receding filling with seawater rising / from melting glacial ice. Across the inlet seal island / not far from my dugout. / They bark and sun themselves all day, / but are in constant fear of losing ground to walrus.”

rob mclennan, dg nanouk okpik, blood snow

Bear with me now as I unpick it all, if you have the time, or sometimes feel haunted by your own dreams. I am, of course, the anxious woman. And yes, I qualify as a judgemental clientele. But I am myself too, opening the door and stepping into the clean, cool rain. And I am both the absence and presence of kindness which is, perhaps, something we all struggle with at times, when we must choose to bless ourselves over others. 

Lynne Rees, Haibun ~ The Reality of Dreams

I was ready to meet the Oracle but she was grumpy and unpredictable tonight, dismissing my almost-poem. I started again and saved a screenshot when she wouldn’t let go of my last word. So, here’s the screenshot and the poem with the last word.

Autumn Sky

Sun, like an eggy lake
a sleeping diamond lazy-gowned,
dream-drunk.

Summer’s sweat
a shadow, a moan,
a whisper.

Charlotte Hamrick, Autumn Sky

It’s November, and it seems that often this time of year good news and bad news comes together. Sharing a bit of good news, AWP decided to feature the panel I submitted on writing disability and chronic illness, so that’s very exciting news, and I’m extra happy for my panelists.

On the sad news, we lost our beloved 16-year-old Shakespeare this week. He has lost half his body weight in six months and was failing to hold down water, so we had a vet to the house and said goodbye to him there. It was incredibly sad, more than I ever expect (why is that the case?) Glenn took it very hard.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Good News, Bad News November: AWP Featuring My Panel, Losing Our Beloved Shakespeare, A Lunar Eclipse, Sprained Knee and a Monoclonal Antibody Shot, A Holiday Visit to Molbaks, and a New Poem in the West Trestle Review

But love must
be Shakespearean: a costume drama,
poetry frothing at its mouth, selfish,

greedy, visceral. Always wanting more,
wanting so much more that nothing is
enough. Not even love. We’re raised
on happy endings. Even tragedies are
normalized as the best possible result,

given the odds. When love fails, we ask
if it was real. Seek existential assurance.
A real love should have destroyed the
lover when it left.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 21

We are now in that dark dip in November, always a tricky place and moreso in recent years. With my dad still in the hospital and the outcome still uncertain, this week we hit the 5 year anniversary of my mother’s death and I am just trying to triage feelings and mounting work and general anxiety that is knife sharp and occasionally bleeds out all over the room and people around me. Or it doesn’t and I feel alone inside it like a dark lake and I am looking for a board or a broken door to float on. There are no poems here, there isn’t time, and outside of some orders, DGP work has been shelved for the coming weeks in favor of getting things done to get paid and pay rent and shit. In between, there are weekly trips to Rockford, which always makes me want to crawl out of my skin–even before illnesses and hospitalizations and this unbearably early dark. I find I have to be away from home base when I also feel I really need to be here–for the structure, for the cats, for some semblance of normality, yet if things go awry, I also want to spend more time with my dad, especially he’s unable to turn this around. Without structure, I am completely ragged and wind-tattered most of the time. I feel completely ill-equipped for almost everything. The time there is a vacuum [I] descend into and re-emerge [from]. This past weekend, a horrific scene in the waiting room that had nothing to do with me rattled me more than I’d like.

I’ve put a pin in AUTOMAGIC release since poetry is not where my head is, though some may argue that is exactly where it needs to be, but I just can’t right now. I still have to make final corrections and adjustments and order the final copies, so maybe in a few weeks I’ll feel more like it. Poetry seems pale and inconsequential.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 11/9/2022

Poets born just off-kilter
from the tipping point between

seasons dance with spinning tops,
teeter-totters, jungle gyms.
Balancing between slanted

light and eclipse, equipoise
and cascade, between anchor

and float, they learn how the thud
feels when it bounces off dirt
on either side.

PF Anderson, Untitled

Dear Graduating MFA Students,

Pssst. You don’t need to go into academia. Has anyone said that to you yet? Because it is so important to receive that message. 

You. Do. Not. Need. To. Go. Into. Academia.

But I love teaching! 

Then teach! 

I understand feeling that teaching is a vocation that you’re called to, enjoying the community that it provides, and wanting to incorporate it into your path of professional experience. But you can do those things without making teaching with being your primary source of income and (ahem, America) health care. For decades, every major city in the United States has had at least one if not multiple community-led spaces for workshopping poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic (not that the pandemic is over, nota bene), these organizations had to adapt to moving all their learning opportunities online. Most of these organizations are keeping those channels open, understanding the ways that online learning can increase equity and access–which means that even if you don’t end up living in a major city, you can still offer a class through that hub. 

Will you make much money? No. Best case scenario is a 50/50 split of proceeds with the hosting institution. But you’ll teach classes on topics in creative writing that you truly care about, versus composition, and you won’t be saddled with grading or advising (a responsibility that often falls back on beloved teachers, when those assigned to do it fail to do it). You might meet adult students who choose to take your classes again and again, and become a meaningful part of your audience (your “platform”) for when you get books out into the world. 

Sandra Beasley, Dear Graduating MFA Students

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

So many for so many different reasons… this insufficient list is baroque! Tomas Transtromer, for unexpected images that haunt with their use of familiarity and alterity. Egill Skallagrimsson, for boldness in wrestling with death and the gods in poetry. Amy Clampitt, for writing with a kaleidoscope of references and sonic effects and still making it all work and build to that perfect pitch. Lucille Clifton, for how she combines directness and nuance with such economy and effect. Marosa di Giorgio, for crafting a world in verse both fantastical and mundane. John Donne, for showing how a conceit can express a thing and then turn on itself again and again.

Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part two

[O]n Friday night I went to Crystal Palace to see Christopher Horton reading with the poet Joe Duggan. Chris, I know from having reviewed his excellent pamphlet, ‘Perfect Timing and having met him at the launch of Rob Selby’s ‘The Kentish Rebellion‘. He read a couple of poems from that alongside some great-sounding new work. All of which make me really want to read a full collection by him. NB he also has a wonderful poem in the latest issue of The North, edited by Stephanie Sy-Quia and Andrew McMillan— the mag, I mean, not Chris.

He was one of the support acts, the other was Magella Brady (sorry, can’t find an online presence) who was making their live performance debut— for Joe Duggan, another Tall-Lighthouse poet. I must confess to not knowing Joe’s work at all before. Although, spookily, there was a review by Chris Edgoose of his pamphlet, ‘Rescue Contraptions, in the latest Friday Poem that came out Friday morning. However, at the time of writing, I’ve not read that review.

Joe read for a good 35 minutes for what I later discovered was his second launch of the book, and the room was packed. There must have been 40-50 people, if not more, in the room. Maybe it’s me, but that feels like a lot for poetry gigs these days. The ranks were swelled by friends of his from his local walking football team and many others. He’s clearly a popular man in Crystal Palace and beyond. But regardless of this, the room was captivated throughout…pindrops were heard, etc..Why would you bring pins to a poetry gig? NB no actual pins were dropped. He covered a lot of ground, from family, family troubles, the troubles in Ireland, mental health–especially the issue around male mental health and depression (as discussed in the excellent recent edition of the Poetry Planet podcast with Peter Raynard and in the current ep of the Seren Podcast with Ben Wilkinson ), the pressure teachers are under, and many other things.

Mat Riches, Bands, those funny little plans…

Rob Taylor: It doesn’t take long to discover a fire in your debut collection, If You Discover a Fire (Brick Books, 2020). The book’s opening poem features matches and cigarettes, and some manifestation of fire/matches/flames appears in more than a quarter of the poems (yes, I counted!). What is it about fire, and the potential for fire, that keeps you returning to it? Are you part moth?

Shaun Robinson: Fire is both completely common and kind of magical, which is what I’m aiming for in my poems. I’m thinking in particular of the free books of matches you can get at a hotel or restaurant or gas station—it’s a minor miracle that a little strip of paper with a few chemicals on the end can turn into this tiny jewel of flame, and then flame can light a cigarette or candle or campfire or barbeque, or light up a dark room, or burn a letter, or start a forest fire. Fire is a very powerful force that many of us carry around in our pockets without giving it a second thought. 

Rob Taylor, A Real Donnie Brasco Situation: An Interview with Shaun Robinson

I first started tweeting in 2009 and connected with people interested in poetry – poets, publishers, magazines, and so on. I was looking for ways to get better at writing poetry and looking for recommendations of things to read and new publications. My family of two small children, and a husband who worked in London during the week, had moved out of London to a small town. I was pretty housebound in the evenings so I valued the interesting online connections Twitter helped me to create. I found links to useful articles and online courses (I found ModPo which I still think is amazing and one of the best literature courses I’ve ever done in my life). Over time, I also wanted to connect with people interested in all the kinds of things I’m interested in, lots of culture, the arts in general, music, visual arts, the environment, left-of-centre politics, film, theatre, books, parenting, cooking, small town living etc etc etc. I grew a circle of new friends, some who I soon met in real life and some who I started to communicate with, and continue to chat with, across other internet platforms.

To begin with, Twitter seemed to be mostly about chatting, joking, sharing points of view, opinions, information about things you were reading, seeing, listening to and thinking about. It was something like what happens in real life when you first meet a person you might have shared interests with. At some point, Twitter seemed to be become more about selling stuff. ‘Writers’ who had never followed me before suddenly appeared and, quickly after following me, sent me a link to buy their new book, or a link to a workshop they were running, or an event they were reading at to which I needed to buy a ticket. So it was clear that they hadn’t followed me because they were interested in me, and certainly not in reading my writing, but because they’d identified me as a person they could sell something to. The friends I’d made when I first started out were still in the room but it felt as if they were being crowded out.

So I suppose the initial glowingly warm feelings I first experienced have chilled somewhat since my early social media days. As time has gone on – both of my children are now post-university – I’ve been less stuck at home, more able to travel to live events and to be able to meet people in real life who’ve fulfilled my natural need for human interaction. It’s rare now that I make new friends online – in fact I can’t remember when that last happened.

Josephine Corcoran, Time for a Pause

Doubt afflicts all writers at one, sometimes unpredictable, point or another. It’s good for us. I’ve been going through one of those periods where I want to have a break from the way I’ve been writing recently. As is so often the case when I try to experiment a little, I get the big question-mark in my brain that says ‘Is this worth it? Is it working? Is it just awful?’ The only sensible answer is ‘I don’t know’.

In the end you either think yes, it’s working, or you accept the failure and move on again. I need the doubt. It’s just a part of the process of avoiding churning out the same old type of thing, which I hope is a part of the appeal. Yes, you need what people conveniently call ‘a voice’ that readers might recognise, but if you write for long enough you need to freshen yourself up and challenge your thinking and that of those who read what you do.

I’m not sure what will happen this time. The last two or three things on here have been an excursion into slower writing. I’m doing more each day. I’ll put a bit on the site today or tomorrow. At least, if I look back and think it dreadful, it can be ‘moved to Trash’ as the icon tells me. So it is, so it stays or goes.

Bob Mee, OF GERALD STERN, BERNADETTE MAYER, A SOUTH AFRICAN POETRY WEBSITE – AND DOUBT

I thought about sewing deep into the night, but we do have time this morning, so I decided to quit while I still had feeling in my fingers.  I walked down the dark road to our little house in the mountains.  I watched the wind blowing and felt a bit fretful about the saturated ground and the swaying trees.  I worried about trees falling down.

And then when I was almost home, I saw the bear.  He looked at me, and I backed away. He was at my driveway, so I kept walking down the hill away from my house. I turned back to my house, he gave me one last look, and then he ambled up the hill across the street. I remembered Pastor Sarah’s advice during our Lutheridge welcome meeting: “If you see a bear, just sing.” I started singing the song we created during our time together at quilt camp: “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this quilt square grow.” I did think about trying to get a picture, but I didn’t want to risk the flash making the bear mad.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilts and Bears and Progress

It’s downright magical to start reading a new library book and realize it’s a really good one. Like the magic of running errands and every traffic light is green, only a million times better. Lately, nearly every book I’ve brought home from the library has been one of those immersive delights. Good books are downright soul-saving for me in a time when the world’s news is so dire. The last few weeks I savored (among others) Richard Power’s Bewilderment, Javier Zamora’s Solito, Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life,  Dani Shapiro’s Signal Fires, Anthony Almojera’s Riding The Lightning, and Sharon Blackie’s Hagitude. Compelling, immersive, and entirely free to enjoy thanks to my local library.

Libraries have been a constant in my life from the time I learned to read. I’ve written about why I’m a library addict and the concept of library angels and how libraries changed lives. Libraries are unique public spaces, existing entirely for the common good.

As many have noted, if public libraries weren’t already part of our society, the concept would be considered an outrageous and dangerously liberal idea.

Laura Grace Weldon, Libraries = Freedom: Resist Book Censorship

My body is the sudden drop into darkness 
             at the end of daylight saving time; 
is the summer of power-washing mold  
            from the walls, and the unsettling pain of  
posterior deltoids; is the night it heard the green 
          mourning cries of crickets in the field, and a chorus 
of frogs answering; is the city that comes into view
          as a bus rounds a curve, but only as a faded
outline of lights.

Luisa A. Igloria, Wound With No Easy Translation

I cannot say enough about this amazing book by my good friend and long-time co-conspirator in all things creative, Priscilla Long. Watching Priscilla produce this book, reading drafts, devouring a number of her sources, has been a game-changer for how I think about aging, and how I want to behave in my next chapter.

Bethany Reid, Dancing with the Muse in Old Age

“Based on a True Story” risks being seen as a solipsistic take on dating and gay tropes. Its spare language is that of a plain-talker, not afraid to offend and not that of someone who wilts into the wallpaper. It’s a voice that doesn’t want to listen. However, on the page, where readers can revisit what’s being said and see between the lines, readers can imagine what the poems’ voice is not saying. How, ultimately, in trying to avoid being hurt, the speaker is hurting himself. Stewart invites readers to feel some sympathy for someone who has been hurt and is trying to make themselves invulnerable. There’s a subtle nudge into the world of the brash speaker who is hiding his pain.

Emma Lee, “Based on a True Story” Thomas Stewart (Fourteen Poems) – book review

I forget how I first encountered the poems of Charles Causley, but I was immediately drawn to them. And indeed, I have found some firm favourites among his body of work, favourites such as ‘Who?’, with its brilliant repetition in line 1 of the first stanza, and ‘Morwenstow’, in which the speaker interrogates the sea on the subject of its wildness. I have visited Causley’s hometown of Launceston a couple of times in recent years and have enjoyed exploring the castle, which dominates the scene. I even tried to do a quick pen-and-ink sketch of it.

I was delighted when Sue Wallace-Shaddad asked me if she could include a few stanzas from ‘Penwith Fingerstone’, one of my Cornish poems, in her November post for The Maker, which you can find on The Charles Causley Literary Blog. The poem, which features in Driftwood by Starlight (The Seventh Quarry Press, 2021), was awarded Third Prize by Brian Patten in the 2017 Milestones Poetry Competition, administered by Write Out Loud. As it happens, I posted a photo (here) of the fingerpost on Twitter a few days ago for #FingerpostFriday.

Caroline Gill, Fingerstone Poem Quoted in ‘The Maker’, The Charles Causley Literary Blog

I winnowed a great pool of Shenandoah submissions this week to just 12 poems to hand off to this year’s Graybeal-Gowen Prize judge, Oliver de la Paz. It’s hard to make final decisions on my own, especially when I get down to the poems that move and surprise me most. Distinguishing degrees of power and artfulness can seem impossible. I eventually used a strategy that helps me revise my own work: I read some semifinalists aloud. It’s radically clarifying. You hear sound patterns and other kinds of artfulness; you also hear the wordy or clumsy passages that most poems contain (very much including mine). The poems I rejected this week were really good; the ones I kept in the mix were really good and also damn close to fully realized.

Meanwhile, the fall issue of Shenandoah is nearing launch (proofreading time!); course registration madness is almost done for the moment (SO MANY emails from upset people!); and Thanksgiving Break approacheth. Thank god.

Lesley Wheeler, Book birthday and other shenanigans

I have been working out a choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) type flipbook chapbook of haiku for nearly 3 months now.

The number of options in how to read increases exponentially with more poems. A dozen haiku make for 1,726 possible readings. 18 haiku make for nearly 6000 possible readings. The goal is to make twists towards different emotional states with simple components that grammatically and semantically all fit together.

This constrains kigo, unless to make it all winter, or all summer, all day or all night. I have probably subbed in over 5 dozen haiku at this point.

It’s like CYOA, but with haiku. this small singing is based on what’s left unsaid: 125 haiku (2017) by Maxianne Berger, itself modelled on Raymond Queneau’s 1961 Cent mille milliard de poèmes [a hundred thousand billion poems] of strip sonnets, done with the help of mathematician Francois Le Lionnais, in the process of which they initiated Oulipo.

Pearl Pirie, Making chapbooks

did they make
the coffins little
so death could be smaller
or further away?

for fairies you say
found between flowers or weeds
tiny mummified creatures
no larger than clothespins

Gary Barwin, Fairy Coffins

There’s a yellow butterfly in the house. It blew in on the big wind a few warm days ago, when various doors were open, and is now alive among the houseplants and plants I brought in from the patio back when frost was predicted. It went down to the twenties last night, and we had a real first snow yesterday. Or first tiny iceball fall. It stuck a while, though not in flake form, and is gone in today’s sunshine.

I have been tidying again, and now have 5 empty shoeboxes to re-purpose. More shoes I had forgotten are now visible on the rack, and beloved shoes I wore out but was keeping…are gone. As are pants I wore till the seams were giving. And unraveling sweaters. During the process, I did a little decorating and re-organizing of the holiday closet and re-arranging of the wedding garlands, some of which now festoon the glass patio doors, where the yellow butterfly hovers between real and fake greenery. Pale pink appleblossom impatiens are still blooming in a pot that once hung from the eaves, now from a curtain rod.

I finished some books in progress so I could 1) put them away on bookshelves 2) pass one along to my book group. We are reading Annette Vallon, by James Tipton, about a real woman who helped resist the awful violence of (and after) the French Revolution. She was the lover of poet William Wordsworth, and the mother of his child, Caroline! I don’t think I knew that, and the author in his notes explains how England protected the reputation of their great poet, and Wordsworth “hid” her in his writings, as poets often do, but clearly loved her and cared about his child! We chose it from the library display table for The Revolutionists, by Lauren Gunderson, now playing at Heartland Theatre. Funny, moving, devastating play!

Kathleen Kirk, Yellow Butterfly

It’s raining in L.A.

A time when we shed our ghosts, transform those disparate and desperate skins into flotation devices of hope ferrying us from one end of the city to the other.

For the price of a well-sung song, crows become the Uber of the air, taxi us high above crosstown traffic.

Kids giddy with puddle-jumping joy, don’t bother wiping delighted smiles from their faces, and why should they?

Life here can be sweet. But we’re lucky if it rains once in the lifetime of a honeybee.

Rich Ferguson, It’s Raining In L.A.

I went back to my blog posts from November of last year, thinking I might pull words into a poem about the month. I copied and pasted snippets of language, and then I rearranged them and polished them and glued them together with some new words into something that is about late middle-age/early old-age, our current moment in history, and, I suppose, November:

In the November of Our Lives

One day it’s all sunshine-sharp air and leaves blazing against blue skies; 
the next, it’s wet sticks and relentless wind, 
our pumpkins on the front porch gone suddenly garish.
The bedrock upon which we’ve lived shifts 
and breaks, and there is no mending the fault lines, 
no way around canyons of looming catastrophe.  
With our children grown, our dogs buried, and our bodies 
both softer and more brittle than they’ve ever been, 
my missing is so deep it’s not even an ache.  
It’s something I don’t have a word for. 
There are moments I want to last forever, the wanting 
turning them to memory before they end. 
I thought surely we’d have more,
but darkness descends before we’re ready for it,
and something inside turns toward candlelight,
toward small flames still burning, hunkering down for the long haul of winter.

I’ve long liked writing cento poems (poems I’ve thought of as verbal collages), and I’m finding that using my own prose as source material might be a way into writing poetry again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Good medicine

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week found poets pondering time changes, book reviewing, work and leisure, and poetry vs. memoir, among other gnarly topics. Enjoy.


Poets born just off-kilter
from the tipping point between

seasons dance with spinning tops,
teeter-totters, jungle gyms.
Balancing between slanted

light and eclipse, equipoise
and cascade, between anchor

and float [….]

PF Anderson, Untitled

You can tell yourself nothing matters or that everything is related;

events filled with lifeblood allowing each new living moment to flow into the next.

Someone whispers something in a wild horse’s ear.

Someone tames fire long enough to gain wisdom from heat.

Rich Ferguson, What Connection Said To Coincidence While Walking Early Morning L.A. Streets

Carlotta kicks off her slippers, climbs up on the table, and begins to dance. National Geographics get crumpled, the TV Guide lands on the floor. One of the children stands on a chair near a light switch, and flashes the lights. Another turns on the television. Is that an earthquake? A psychic help line? Tina Turner dressed as a priest? Life is Jeopardy she calls out. Life is a Final Jeopardy that never ends. We stand before our friends and family and also before those whom we will never know. The questions are answers. We have answers before the questions.

Gary Barwin, THE LOVELY CARLOTTA, QUEEN OF MEXICO

The whole thing is about playing and experimenting and exploring. To be an active participant (which I think is important, especially given my recent thoughts about the value of creatively playing with others), I have to get over myself and share work that I haven’t had time to perfect. (My writing process requires germination. Even these blog posts are rarely a one-off creation.) Because we get assignments, I feel more freedom to play than I would if I were generating poems on my own, with a goal of publication. I have no big expectations around what I will write; they are just exercises, explorations. (Like my little embroidery houses. Like my doodles on ice.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, This week brought to you by the letter P

As autumn hones our edges,
brightens the leaves, and billows gray above,
the hours dim, shrink, and turn in
on themselves. All I want to do is turn
and go inside, switch on the lamps
and read someone’s hard-won words,
read their lavender memories,
sit inside their teal shadows,
and grow wiser than myself
minute by each minute.

Rachel Dacus, The Department of Lost Hours

After the autumn school holiday, the light and season switch from cool, brisk and bright to dark, wet and cold. The trees are emptied and the leaves lie limp and blackened in my yard. The change feels sudden and ominous, but I knew it was coming. 

Halloween isn’t celebrated here in Finland really. Families don’t have a reference of when to do things like trick-or-treating so kids have  been coming to the door randomly all week. At school we have been studying autumn festivals like Sukkot, Cheosok and Kekri and the kids will take any chance to dress-up. I love that so many autumn holidays are about light and laughter as I feel like we need to store up on both as winter nears. 

I’ve been drawn into my Uni course, trying to focus on that at the weekends, but I managed to write a few poems during the break. I feel like I’ve hit a dry spell, inspiration-wise, so I’m returning to prompts from various sources. I’ve also been trying to write poems disconnected from my life, find a new voice and character that isn’t me. It feels strange like slipping on someone else’s clothes, but I’m hoping it stimulates some new ideas. 

Gerry Stewart, The Nights Have Drawn In

It is a particularly lovely autumn in the region, colorful, clear, dry and mild. This evening at 5 pm: 70 degrees F, crickets and frogs singing. My mood has, however, been unsettled–and I have not been writing much. Indeed, this feels like a good time for a hiatus on a number of fronts and in a number of ways. I recently read Katherine May’s Wintering, which was not terribly memorable but which offers the reader support for, well, resting. Resting one’s bones, mind, endeavors…seasonally apropos.

Mostly I’ve been on a Murakami kick, reading three books that a recently-departed friend had with him in his hospice room. Novels take the place of doing my own creative thinking. I get wrapped up in their worlds and can rest from my own. Thus reading is a form of wintering. (May agrees.)

My poetry output has been minimal recently, and I have hardly sent out any work; mostly, I feel tired and eager for the semester to come to a close (one month or so hence). There are reasons for this it is not necessary to go into. But I miss the writing.

Ann E. Michael, Break-taking

I wrote a whole post earlier this week, and then Typepad went down due to a DDoS attack, and lost it. Now the platform is up again, but it’s impossible to post any images because Typepad is having difficulty migrating to a new server.

The best news is that we finished the studio move on October 30 – the space is swept and empty, and we returned the keys. It’s hard to believe that we’re actually done. It was a good space for us for many, many years and I’m grateful for that.

Meanwhile, the leaves are coming off the trees and winter definitely approaches, even though we haven’t had a major frost yet. We’ve usually had freezing weather by Halloween, but not this year — in fact, it’s supposed to be 68 degrees this weekend.

Beth Adams, The End of Autumn

parking in the shade of a leafless tree

Jason Crane, haiku: 3 November 2022

Dinosaurs weren’t in my plan, nor was green, not that I had a plan. Somewhere in the back of my mind was lodged the thought that I’m not the target market for dinosaurs. Being in the easy company of Ruth, an early years teacher, made all the difference. She was encouraging about dinosaurs – no shape out of bounds – and her enthusiasm released my inner green thunder lizard.

Having started with the dino, representative for me of my elder son, the next choices were easy: musical notes, flowers, a swallow, bees and three cakes; symbols of our family sponged onto a French bowl.

Shawna Lemay, I Decorate A Bowl

I was privileged to meet and work with the late writer and critic Kevin Jackson in 2011. We tutored a school group together at Arvon’s Hurst writing centre in Shropshire.

As Peter Carpenter says in the video below, the range and articulation of his knowledge was truly exceptional. He could segue from the things you knew (or thought you did), pop culture, films and authors you knew a little bit about and may even have been on speaking terms with, to that rarefied branch of opinion (and he had a few) and riffing (ditto) that only a few of us are qualified to attempt, let alone pull off successfully.

I remember his opening workshop, on that horny old chestnut showing not telling, which exemplified this precisely, jumping miraculously from an analysis of a Nicholas Lezard column in the New Statesman to an explification of the opening scences of Lawrence of Arabia. ‘Watch this bit!’ he said. ‘Steven Spielberg calls it the greatest cut in cinema history.’

Anthony Wilson, The Kevin Jackson Award

I have subscribed to Reach Poetry magazine for over twenty years. The magazine is edited by Ronnie Goodyer of Indigo Dreams Publishing. From time to time Ronnie has issued a particular challenge. The most recent was for a Terza Rima Sonnet, one of my favourite forms. 

I decided to have a go, and submitted my poem, ‘Navigating Knapdale’, which was published in the September 2022 issue. The focus of the narrative was a trip to Knapdale Forest in search of beavers. We failed to spot any; it is rare to do so in the daylight, but sometimes the quest is the thing that counts. Or so Cavafy implied in his well-loved poem, ‘Ithaka‘.

Caroline Gill, Beavers

Perhaps it was in response to – really I mean a way of avoiding – the Tory party leadership campaign over the long hot summer of 2022 (and look how that turned out – and then again turned out…) that Michael Glover and I spent much of our time reading for, researching, inviting and selecting poems for a brand new poetry anthology with a focus on Christmas and the winter solstice. I know this is a bit obvious but – hey! – this might well be the solution to your up-coming Christmas gift buying deliberations – elegant, stimulating, moving, clever and very easy to wrap. That’s this new anthology. What’s not to like? Click here to buy your copies.

In fact, it was Michael’s original, bright idea and I was delighted to be asked to collaborate with him. It is the first anthology I have had a hand in editing and the book, in its final form, has two main sections – his bit and mine.

I found it daunting at first – where do you begin? Well, I don’t think I’m giving away any anthology-making secrets by mentioning that this Christmas collection is not the first on the market. I had a couple on my shelves already and the internet provides ready-made selections of possibilities and then less familiar collections like Enitharmon’s excellent Light Unlocked: Christmas Card Poems, eds. Kevin Crossley-Holland & Lawrence Sail (Enitharmon Press, 2005) and the rich seams of Seren’s Christmas in Wales, ed. Dewi Lewis (Seren Books, 1997) provoked thoughts and – with due acknowledgement – suggested some definite items. It was exciting when other contemporary poets were kind enough to agree to offer as yet unpublished work for the anthology – my thanks to Neil Curry, John Greening, Jeremy Hooker, Denise Saul, Joan Michelson, Penelope Shuttle and Marvin Thompson.

Martyn Crucefix, Buy! New Christmas Poetry Anthology

I have had apocalypse on the brain for many reasons. In part, because it’s the week where we’ve had Halloween, All Saints and All Souls. I’ve seen the faces of collapsed jack-o-lanterns and wilting Halloween decorations. The wind blows many of the remaining leaves off the trees, and the mist obscures the moon.

Our Foundations of Preaching class has moved to preaching from Hebrew Scripture texts, and I chose the Isaiah 2: 1-5 text, beating swords into ploughshares. Of course, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be doing that anytime soon.

Last night, I found myself at various nuclear war sites, and I watched the first chunk of Threads, the scariest nuclear war movie ever. And then I had the best night of sleep that I had all week–what does that mean? Am I just exhausted or is there something about a worst case scenario that lulls me to sleep?

My Church History I class has arrived at the fall of Rome, which was really more of a slow motion collapse than a quick fall. On Thursday night we talked about Augustine, who was alive for much of the end times. Our professor talked about Augustine being able to see what was coming and asked if we had ever thought about what that might be like. I wanted to say, “Every single day.” I feel like we’re at a hinge point of history where things could go terribly wrong, but there’s a slender chance that we might shape a better future. I wonder if Augustine had similar thoughts, a hope that he knew was naïve, but he still wanted to cling to it.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, La Nuit de Temps, and Other Types of Apocalypse

It is just ahead, it is coming—
whatever it is you are waiting for

has been waiting for you. Every day,
ten more steps taken; five, four,

three. In previous months,
your hair has been trimmed

as if by lightning.

Luisa A. Igloria, Count the Number of Seconds Between a Flash and the Crack of Thunder and Divide That by Five

Sanita Fejzić is an editor, children’s writer, poet, playwright and point of a whirlwind. She did haiku for a while with KaDo. Way back was a regular at Tree and In/Words (and various things about town). At that tine she gracefully allowed me to publish some vispo in the form of The Union of 6 & 7 in 2014. (Impossibly long ago.)

Desiré in Three Brief Acts from battleaxepress was November 2016. That came with a CD song collaboration with the poems. I don’t know if she’d agree that she’s a polymath but she busts out in all directions of creativity.

PP: What have you creating lately?

SF: This is a busy period. I have been working on the production of a series of four short plays titled “Why Worry About Their Futures?” which foregrounds the kinds of multispecies futures we’re cultivating for our children. It will be directed by Keith Barker, who is one of the three playwrights, including Carol Churchill and me.

On the poetry side, I’m finalizing the edits of a collection, Refugee Mouth, which I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. This has been a labour of love, and for the last push, I’ve been collaborating with Chris Johnson, Arc Poetry Magazine editor and longtime friend (since our In/Words days at Carleton University). He’s been helping me with edits and a structural reorganization of the manuscript. I hope to send it out to publishers by December of this year.

December is also the deadline for me to submit my PhD thesis project to my committee, with the hopes of being a Doctor of Philosophy in Cultural Studies by the Fall of 2023.

In the meantime, I’m wrapping up a past-apocalyptic short animated film that’s grounded in queer, eco-feminist future dreamings. My friend and collaborator Ambivalently Yours did the illustrations and animations, and we’re working on a graphic novel version of the film. Did I say this was a busy period? 

Pearl Pirie, Checking In With: Sanita Fejzić

I’m fortunate to have arrived at a place in my life when I can devote more time to poetry than in the past. In order to get here, however, I spent years working at exhausting, non-creative day jobs that paid the bills while raising my two sons. Like so many of us, I wrote at the margins of my day, staying at my desk to work on a short story instead of going out to lunch with my boss and coworkers. Many days, I was happy to record a few lines in my journal. Just as many days, the pages stayed blank.

Other poets who worked demanding day jobs include Langston Hughes (crewman, busboy), William Carlos Williams (pediatrician), Gwendolyn Brooks (typist), Walt Whitman (office boy, printer), Marianne Moore (librarian), Lawrence Ferlinghetti (publisher, bookstore owner), Amy Clampitt (secretary, librarian), Frank O’Hara (museum curator), Mary Oliver (secretary), Philip Levine (auto factory worker), Denise Levertov (nurse, editor), Robert Frost (farmer), Wendell Berry (farmer).

If poetry is more avocation than bread labor, how do we structure our lives so we can devote as much time to it as possible? How can we balance our lives so that work supports us but doesn’t steal all of our energy?

Erica Goss, Bread Labor: Poetry and the Day Job

INVASION n. (i) invading with an armed force, (ii) incursion into a place or sphere of activity, (iii) unwelcome intrusion

Sometimes
it’s not what
a word means
but how its use
can blunt the heart
or fuel fear
or ignite the cankers
of anger in
the already fearful.

I do not know
what the answer is
only that I have to
try and understand
the stories
of those
who really need us.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Invasion

It’s week 4 of Bill Greenwell’s online workshop and I think I’m just settling in. Everyone there knows one another, and are familiar with the set-up. The first week went well, I jumped in and read everyone’s poems and commented on them all, although there’s no requirement to do so. But I like to be sociable and not appear stand-offish.

But by week 2 I was already feeling overwhelmed – so many poems to read and comment on, and trying to produce a new poem each week was weighing heavy on me. However, I seem to have now set my own pace. I try to read other people’s poems, but not if they’ve already had loads of comments. I sometimes add my comments but I don’t feel bad if I don’t.

Although I could just bring an old unpublished poem for workshopping each week (goodness knows I have a ton) I’ve set myself the task of only bringing new work, as a way of getting myself to write more. Having been away last week, yesterday I allowed myself a bit of leeway and posted an old poem that needs reviving. But overall, the course is proving to be very good for me.

Robin Houghton, A holiday and a vintage submissions spreadsheet

Poets generally like to get reviews of their books, though they don’t always like the reviews they get. They’re far less keen on the writing side, that is to say writing reviews of other poets’ books. A few, however, do take on the review task regularly, uncomplainingly and reliably. They are usually – but not invariably – unpaid. Reviewers are the Cinderellas of poetry. There are no national prizes or shortlists for them (fortunately). Occasionally, of course, a review does draw considerable attention by upsetting people, generally unintentionally.

Since 2005, I’ve been running Sphinx Review: an online publication offering short written responses to poetry pamphlets. I have a co-editor (Charlotte Gann) and a team of 14 – 25 reviewers. Each time a set of reviews is ready, an email newsletter goes out. We have just over 400 subscribers; the ‘open’ rate is about 33% and the click rate 45%. People may also arrive at individual reviews through FaceBook, Twitter, email and word of mouth. Some of them are widely read. Some are copied onto other websites. Some are hardly read at all. But since they’re online, they’re there for as long as the site lasts. They help make a poet googlable.

Running Sphinx Review costs masses of time and a growing sum of money. I’ve been doing it since 2005, with unpaid helpers. It’s getting more difficult to afford, in every sense. Next year, when I’m seventy, I will stop. My bones are creaking.

But why start it in the first place? I thought it was important. I still do. I’m a publisher. I put out books and pamphlets and I want them to be noticed. I want there to be a conversation. And I believe in putting your money, as they say, where your mouth is.

Helena Nelson, WHY WRITE POETRY REVIEWS?

In light of Helena Nelson’s request for views on writing and reading poetry reviews (see this link), here are a few reflections on my own attitude towards reviewing in the current climate.

On the one hand, I write reviews not as blurbs or puff pieces but to promote the poetry I love by engaging with it, explaining just why it enthralls me. I try to get my hands dirty with the inner workings of a collection’s engine, hoping to enlighten the reader and encourage them to buy the book.

And on the other, I read them to find books I might want to buy. Or to find a new perspective on a collection I’ve already read. There are certain reviewers whose taste I trust and respect, from whom I learn loads. One thorny issue I would like to highlight is my growing feeling that social media’s tribal pile-ons are making it more and more uncomfortable to write reviews with a critical element. And then this is combined with the trend of poets who view their book as an extension of themselves, as a means of self-expression. Even mild criticism consequently becomes a personal affront…

Matthew Stewart, A few thoughts on poetry reviewing in the current climate

almost sundown —
The Devil
coming for candy

Bill Waters, Almost sundown

Years ago I went to a workshop where someone read out a first-person piece concerning first love. It sounded Adrian Mole-like to me, and people commented that they were amused by the main character’s naivity – their age unclear, but presumably teenage. Alas, the piece was deadly serious autobiography. Critics should have said it was a sensitive exploration of twentysomething love.

At another workshop, the poet was praised for their ironic use of clichés. After, the poet admitted that they hadn’t realised that the images were clichés.

Suppose a clever whodunnit is packed with middle-aged men who pretty young women keep falling for? Suppose a poem collection has many self-sabotage pieces but the poet’s theme is about fate being unfair? Suppose there’s a load about food in a novel? Suppose the “I” is right in all the poems, though the other characters only realise that later? Suppose the rhyme-scheme goes to pieces whenever the poet has something serious to say?

If the critic dutifully reads the blurb and reports on the intended meanings, quoting the phrases that most emphasise those meanings, the author will be delighted. Maybe that’s the reviewer’s intention.

Tim Love, What the author thinks

This week has given with one hand and taken with the other. A third hand has arrived to cause confusion. I have no idea what that means, so we’ll go back to the two hands for now (on the other hand…)

I have first hand experience of getting a no from Propel Magazine. I sort of expected it and it was disappointing, especially as if it had arrived 24 hours sooner I could have used some of the poems to bolster a different submission, but onwards and sideways.

This particular hand was balanced out by the publishing of a review in London Grip. Mike took, on spec I might add, my review of Hilary MenosFear Of Forks. I was pleased to see so many glowing reviews for this excellent book over at Sphinx Reviews as well, and I’m really pleased to see some focus back on Hilary as a poet and not as the editor at The Friday Poem. In other/further Hilary news, my copy of the latest Under The Radar arrived containing a new Hilary poem. I’ve not read it yet, but it’s got to be good, surely?

So, while not an acceptance of a poem, I’m chuffed that the review is out there, and that Hilary is happy with it too. It was a hard one to get right – not because the book is bad, far from it, but because I wanted to convey how good it is in the best way possible. Although, it’s fair to say it’s hard like that every time I write a review. Perhaps as Hilary is my editor at TFP it carried some extra weight…perhaps.

It does perhaps feed into recent chatter about the cosiness of the reviewing world, and make me second guess myself, but my first forays into reviewing and the TFP guidelines taught me to aim for the positive. To be fair the TFP guidelines do allow for criticism, but I can count on one hand the books I’ve been critical of. Perhaps, I should be harder, but where would it get me? It doesn’t change the poems, it doesn’t stop publication and poets and publishers need the sales, so if we/ I can help drive even one then I’m ok with it.

Mat Riches, Horses and Hand Magazine

Emily Osborne’s poetry, fiction and Old Norse-to-English verse translations have appeared in journals such as Vallum, CV2, Canthius, The Polyglot, The Literary Review of Canada, and Barren Magazine. Her debut book of poetry, Safety Razor, is forthcoming from Gordon Hill Press (Spring 2023). She is the author of the chapbook Biometrical (Anstruther Press) and winner of The Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award for Poetry. Emily has a PhD in Old Norse Literature from the University of Cambridge. She lives on Bowen Island, BC, with her husband and two young sons.

How did you first engage with poetry?

My childhood home was filled with poetry books, thanks to my mother who had done graduate degrees in modern American poetry and Sylvia Plath. I remember being six and trying to muddle my way through verse that was totally abstruse and yet which seemed desperately important for me to understand. And yet, the first times I concretely remember writing poetry began in emotional responses to aesthetic experiences that seemed inexplicable in language. How could these feelings be communicated? I think many people first create visual or verbal art because of this instinct that a feeling, thought or experience requires an altered form of language or visualization in which to exist and be given to others, even if this instinct is unconscious. I was also lucky to have early experiences with literary criticism, which came from the late Fred Cogswell, who was a close family friend. I would send my poems to him and he would write back with annotated comments and suggestions. As an adult I look back and think of his phenomenal kindness in doing this, considering how busy he was with The Fiddlehead and teaching and everything else life throws at us. His legacy inspires me. 

Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part one

That patch of clean clear grass will last only as long as I stand there, brown elm leaves
falling around me, and yet I keep raking.  

The sea of leaves will overtake us, as will early darkness. 

I keep stuffing them in bags, happily trouncing.

Ask Job, I say joyously.  

Clapping the piles to my chest: the only thing I can only believe in is the absurd.

Jill Pearlman, Why Rake

“Face the Strain” is a lyrical exploration of life under patriarchal capitalism as we emerge from the pandemic. Personal actions become political, although individuals are rendered powerless against large conglomerates and politicians in lobbyists’ pockets. Sparkes pulls no punches. The world is looked at through a critical lens, which particularly examines societal attitudes towards the powerless and vulnerable, and the extra loads of caring, parenting and household management that fall on predominately on women. The tone is spare and direct, making the poems’ intents clear and targeted.

Emma Lee, “Face the Strain” Joolz Sparkes (Against the Grain) – book review

I am so excited to finally reveal the cover of the upcoming Flare, Corona officially! Here it is! I am posting this a little earlier in the week than I usually do, but I thought I had enough news to justify it…

Designed by Sandy Knight at BOA Editions, the cover art is meant to suggest both an eclipse, a solar flare with corona, and the neurons that are attacked and inflamed during an MS flare. This was a harder cover than usual to think about in terms of design. There’s a lot of solar weather in there, I wanted the idea of the neurons, I thought about adding other things from the natural world. But in the end, this simple, striking design won out. As you may notice, the web site looks a little different too!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Cover Reveal and Pre-Order Page for Flare, Corona, a New Poem in The Indianapolis Review, Welcome to the Big Dark: November, Twitter, Voting, Book Club

As if to balance the recent rejection, I had a recent acceptance! Of 4 out of the 5 poems I sent to a magazine I had been meaning to send to for a long time, missing its deadline again and again. Because time keeps getting away from me. This batch was a sad one, but it had a ladder in it, leaning on a peach tree, and that makes it a Random Coinciday in the blog. Because I just read–or possibly re-read?–Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler, a sort of sweet, sad novel about a woman who walks away from her family one day… I could picture myself doing it as she did it, much as I love and would never leave my family, other than that time in Chicago when I walked out the back door and down to the streetlight while my toddler crawled around on the dining room floor at the feet of my husband and father, who were talking about politics and real estate. Really, this was not meant to be a Cranky Doodle Day in the blog. That was years ago. My kids are grown. I’m still married to the same man, and today, early in the morning, I looked all through the house for him and then saw the ladder on the patio, leaning against the house, and found him on the roof, sitting cross-legged at the edge, scooping leaves from the gutter into a plastic bag, during a Wind Advisory. It was a little like the time I was down in the church basement during a tornado, and the rain was horizontal, and the neighbor from across the street had come out to tell my husband, scooping leaves on the roof, that he should go inside. But not as windy, and I was there smiling and talking to him, waiting till he was done before going back inside…

Kathleen Kirk, Ladder of Years

Tim Carter: Howdy. R.M., I’m glad to ask you some questions about your newest book, Interrogation Days. This chapbook is published through Dead Mall Press, which is also your operation. Why don’t you start by telling me about both?

R.M. Haines: Thank you, Tim, for taking time with these poems and offering to do this interview. Interrogation Days is a chapbook about the so-called “War on Terror,” collecting various details and stories from those 20 years, and approaching them as the artifacts of a kind of demented poetic imagination. It was at one time the first section in a book also containing the poems from Dysnomia and Civil Society (my press’s earliest books), and I still think of them as a kind of trilogy. The three books speak to one another – about empire, psyche, capitalism, police, terror, violence — but upon reflection, it really seemed to me too much to put them all together into one reading experience. Each of the books approaches a certain feeling of finality, and it felt like I was forcing things to put them in the same volume. Of the three, Interrogation Days is the longest (28 pages compared to 11 and 10 pages for the others), so it feels like a bigger statement to me.

As for the press, I’d been intently studying how small press publishing works since roughly 2018. I wrote a lot of critical stuff about it, but not until fall 2021 did I think about actually making physical booklets and calling it a “press.” In March 2022, after thinking it all through and preparing some things, I officially launched DMP and put out three small chapbooks of my own. In 2023, I will be transitioning into publishing people other than myself, and that is hugely exciting to me (much more info to come!). Also, with DMP, I want to be as transparent as possible about the nuts-and-bolts of publishing: how much things cost, what the budget is, how much things sell, what I do with the money, etc. I think that concealing the material reality of publishing mystifies it, and this has numerous negative consequences. Against this, DMP aims to be transparent, to be generous and open with writers, to stay small and DIY, and to donate a sizable portion of the earnings to people doing work around social justice, abolition, mutual aid, and other causes. Right now, 50% of all sales is being donated to the Gitmo Survivors Fund, which I write about, in more detail on my blog.

R. M. Haines, A Conversation About INTERROGATION DAYS

The rain became my monster. The rain became
my foe. The rain became the hell I could not conquer. A

drizzle was a deluge. A deluge, the dark of an endless night.
The monsoon, an affliction without remedy. These are tests

I cannot pass. Tests I cannot fail. Always the same result.
Always the same consequence. Happiness is a constant.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 20

On one hand, for all their hope, I am being cautious with mine. My mother was sick in greater or lesser degrees for months, and yet her death shocked me to the core since I really believed she would pull through. The visuals on this one scare me…it looks terrible, this small, frail man hooked to a machine that is currently breathing for him (though the settings according to the nurse s are lower and more just augmenting his own breathing). I have prepared myself for the worst. Well, am trying to while still hoping for the best. A friend said via text today that hope is a tricky thing–difficult to have and difficult not to have.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | all hallows eve

There is such an electricity to the lyric of Lenapehoking/Brooklyn-based poet and performer imogen xtian smith’s full-length debut, stemmy things (New York NY: Nightboat Books, 2022). “Poetry both is & is not a luxury.” they write, to open the “author’s note” included at the beginning of the collection. “My intention has been to trouble the worlds in which i move, support, fail, live, struggle, love & continue trans-ing, addressing with rigor the circumstances that continuously shape me.” Through a book-length lyric, smith writes an extended sequence of sharp moments across narrative thought, one deeply engaged with numerous threads, all of which wrap in and around identity, self and gender. “Nothing is ever finished,” they write, as part of the poem “deep ecology,” set near the beginning. “Consequence gives a body / shape, says you cannot build home in a lie.”

One immediately garners a sense of Bernadette Mayer’s influence echoing through these poems (a quote by Mayer is one of two set to open the first section), as well as Eileen Myles, both of whom offer a fierce and even straightforward directness in their own ongoing works. Across the poems of stemmy things, smith unfolds a sequence of diaristic offerings of narrative examination, utilizing the suggestion of biography (whether actual or fictional, or some blend of both) for the sake of exploring and defining truths and discoveries across the length and breadth of becoming who they are meant to become. “By way of explanation,” they write, to open the poem “so the maggots know,” “i am / an unreliable narrator of my body / living gender to gender, marked / at birth yet far flung of phylum / straddling difference / between impossibility & lack—woman / & man—i, neither, though always / with children, a queendom / of eggs to the belly [.]” There is such a confidence to these lyrics, these examinations, reaching across vast distances with clarity and ease. If only a fraction of the rest of us could hold such fearlessness and poise while navigating uncertain terrain. “You need to know a radical touch,” they write, as part of the opening poem, “open letter utopia,” subtitled, “after Audre Lorde,” “that my yes means yes, my no, no, that yes & no / & maybe may shift while we linger, articulate, break / apart as moments ask. Does your blood taste iron?”

rob mclennan, imogen xtian smith, stemmy things

It’s so good to be reading again for me, not for students or class planning. One of the downsides to teaching is that you can neglect your own education and/or intellectual growth sometimes for the sake of the students’ needs. The chance to learn something again — of my choosing, not as dictated by the college and the administration’s fixations or needs — is almost as restorative as rest. Relaxing one part of the brain and letting a different part take over is, well, rejuvenating.

I’m taking stock now of what I’ve accomplished thus far and what I also need to complete in the next three months — I’ve read, taken extensive notes on the reading, drafted more of the play, and written some singular, one-off (not attached to a manuscript) poems. I have a lot more to do on the play — that will be the next 90 days’ primary focus — but I also have some reviews for the New York Journal of Books lined up, which will be good to finish before I return to teaching.

That return is looming, already, and I’m trying not to dread it.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, On Inspiration & Momentum

What I wanted to call your attention to is this issue of the slippery “I” in poems and the readerly insistence on reading poems as autobiography. Here’s Albert’s take: “I’m not comfortable with the question of what’s ‘true’ or ‘isn’t true.’ I like to say, not just for myself but on behalf of all poets, it’s all true. I mean in the way that a real novel is as true as a piece of nonfiction or memoir, as true about human beings and the human experience. Perhaps even truer than some memoirs, in fact. Memoirs are also fictionalized— by the time it’s a readable, publishable piece of work, it’s all become fictionalized, massaged to some extent.”

He then goes on to say: “I talk with people frequently who are not perplexed to read ‘Call me Ishmael’ even while finding the name Herman Melville on the cover; and yet who are surprised or even offended if I suggest the possibility that Plath might have invented, have shaped events for some of her poems, in the interest of their greatest possible power or her own greatest psychological needs.”

Anyway, just read the thing. It’s all good. Oh, but here’s one more thing:

In the interview he mentions a previous interview with the Georgia Review that he managed to waylay and reframe. He said: “What if all the questions come from other poets’ poems and all of the answers come from poems of mine?” 

I love this idea! Who wants to do a reading with me based on our poems’ questions and answers? I envision a round-robin meander with a handful of poets. Who’s in?

Marilyn McCabe, Five guys named Moe; or, Albert Goldbarth on “Truth” in Poetry

he finally got it
near enough words
poured from his mouth
they’d have to do for now

stopped at the lights
he repeats them
merging with the traffic
he speaks every one

so he finally arrives
writes down his litany
the mouth worn words
offer no point of entry

if he had it
it has gone

Paul Tobin, MUGGED ON DREAM STREET

If you stare at a word long enough it makes no sense. If you think about it long enough “old” becomes “new”. And “new” can take on an entirely new meaning: new as a shift, not a beginning.

I’ve felt these shifts before. Passing a fork in the road and knowing that was that. Poems I memorized as a child take on new significance. Maybe life is a series of ever-more-complex prisms. What seemed singularly beautiful has exploded with possibilities. Smaller, perhaps: like the beauty of a whole world under a microscope: this tiny, present pinch of life, thoroughly examined with an attitude of wonder!

At 16, I wanted to be a famous actress. I wanted to have an apartment in New York, and to wear shoes too fancy for the subway. But at 40-something, I found myself sitting on the hood of a car at the lookout point over Bishkek with strangers. I ate dried fish, learning how to pop out their eyes with my thumbs.

Then I flew home to a tiny duplex in need of renovation, and a job that left me scrambling for dignity every day. I flew home to the two kids I never planned for; my love for them would stun me sometimes. Still does. Continual, unexpected little bursts of joy/fear/gratitude. These bursts, these overwhelming moments that strike – not always pleasant- have defined my emotional life. Home is a constant ambiguous reality, though every detail is fleeting.

What do they say? The only constant is the laundry?

I traveled a lot in my 40s. I took a lot of photos of other people’s laundry. I have hundreds of pictures of t-shirts and towels drying on clotheslines. I am always a bit puzzled that I find something so utterly banal to be so compelling.

Beautiful. It’s like the photos don’t capture a moment in time, but the flow of a lifetime.

Ren Powell, A Celebration of the Banal

You need so much
rain for the flowers,

so much moonlight
on the pines,

the old monk said,
so much silence

in the evening.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (347)

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 43

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: displacement, heresy, breaking through thin ice, demonic advice, and other unsettling things. In addition to the usual poetry hijinks. Enjoy!


Decades ago, dazzled by a bold travel escapade,
I vowed to keep displacement center stage.  
We met a friend outside our office building,

It was dusk on Sixth Avenue, New York.
He was cursing the broken Xerox machine.

Rimbaud says make yourself a stranger.
He was young, so was I.  Still we try.  Je est.  
I is.  Til I trip again.

Jill Pearlman, Bastille to Puritan Village: Strange Magic

The poet Gerald Stern, who died last Friday at the age of 97, spent his life thundering against the mendacity and abuse of power; rebelling against all forms of authority, big and small; defying social conventions; and wielding his finely honed writing on behalf of the demonized, forgotten and oppressed. He was one of our great political poets. Poetry, he believed, had to speak to the great and small issues that define our lives. He was outrageous and profane, often in choice Yiddish, French and German. He was incredibly funny, but most of all brave. Rules were there, in his mind, to be broken. Power, no matter who held it, was an evil to be fought. Artists should be eternal heretics and rebels. He strung together obscenities to describe poets and artists who diluted their talent and sold out for status, grants, prizes, the blandness demanded by poetry journals and magazines like The New Yorker, and the death trap of tenured professorships.

I met Jerry when I was a pariah. I had repeatedly and publicly denounced the invasion of Iraq and, for my outspokenness, had been pushed out of The New York Times. I was receiving frequent death threats. My neighbors treated me as though I had leprosy. I had imploded my journalism career. Seeing how isolated I was, Jerry suggested we have lunch each week. His friendship and affirmation, at a precarious moment in my life, meant I had someone I admired assure me that it would be all right. He had the impetuosity and passion of youth, reaching into his pocket to pull out his latest poem or essay and reading long sections of it, ignoring his food. But, most of all, he knew where he stood, and where I should stand. 

“There is no love without justice,” he would say. “They are identical.”

Chris Hedges, Death of an Oracle

Well, Liz Truss has become a pub quiz question and the tories have avoided letting their members have a vote on the next Crime Minister. The rest of us, the majority, have no say. The death cult staggers on putting its own needs before those of the country…

I was in Portugal while all this was happening. I had a short break in Lisbon, a city I know and love. This first poem is about the weather holding up the plane.

a moderate coastal event over Spain
leaves us static on Bristol runway
the plane doors open

in the interlude three cabin staff
begin the emergency exit dance
to a pre-recorded soundtrack

we all continue to look at our screens

Paul Tobin, A MODERATE COASTAL EVENT

I went to the first event of a book festival recently, and the session and festival was opened by a local Native American, who with flute and prayer invoked his ancestors who hunted among these rivers and forests and considered this sacred land. Before it all started, amid the murmurs of the waiting audience, I heard the guy behind me explaining that the city hall auditorium we were in had once held a meeting of US bankers to start a national association back in the 1800s (good thing or bad thing?). Turns out the guy is from a long generational line of bankers. Then the guest speaker read poems that invoked his grandparents and their ghosts in him and their experiences fleeing the Armenian genocide. And I’ve been thinking a lot about two stories from Laurie Anderson I encountered recently, one about her breaking her back missing the pool from a diving board flip, and the other story about breaking through thin ice with her little brothers on a local pond and having to dive under the ice to save them. I’m as imprinted at the moment with those Laurie Anderson stories as if I’d fallen asleep on their 3D words and now they’re pressed into my cheek. I feel like I have stories coating my skin, layers of them, mine and others’. If you scrub my skin, whose stories will you find, what novels and family photos, what works of art? And will they scrub off or are they layers deep, tattooed with long needles and dark ink? More and more we learn that the mind is the body, not some separate thing, “consciousness” another function of it all, and cells are the whole system at work in miniature. If you slice a piece of me and examine it under a microscope, I’m all story.

Marilyn McCabe, You think you’re alone until you realize you’re in it; or, On Stories

As a journalist and nonfiction book author, I’ve written primarily about tea for many years. As the Chinese saying goes, “One never lives long enough to learn everything there is to know about tea.” I feel the same way about poetry.

Diana Rosen : coda (Thomas Whyte’s blog)

You know the path across the bottom field,
the one you can’t see from the house,
the one that bends around the old pond.
And further on, you know the iron seat where
when our mother was having one of her spells
in the sanatorium, our father would sit
and write long letters beginning Dear Cherub.
You know it’s best to go when the mist is low,
the grass wet. It’s hard to hold history against
the earth and harder to grasp that, in seeking
stillness, we’re always moving and looking out
for those we loved, just as they were.

Bob Mee, TWO POEMS: THE PATH and THE SHOPKEEPER AND HIS WIFE

I was walking yesterday, marveling at this particular tree [photo], and I saw a student walking with his head bent down, staring not as his phone but at the sidewalk. For one minute, I thought about becoming the crazy leaf lady, evangelist for fall colors.

But then I thought, maybe I am the foolish one, staring gape-mouthed at the trees. Maybe he’s avoiding sights like this one, trees close to being done for the season.

Maybe he’s avoiding the sadness that comes from knowing how the story ends. […]

I also picked up leaves from the wet, black streets. I held them to the blank canvas of the cinderblock walls for a different contrast.

My plan is to do some sketching, to see if I can capture some colors, the way I did at the beginning of October.

But I’m also enjoying just having them scattered around my seminary apartment, watching as they dry and curl.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Deeper Looks at Leaves

I know the best doctor, you say
or ask if I have tried this cure
or that, I wish you were joking
I wish I could wish you away
but you have more in reserve:
you will be fine, you tell me,
and then the magic words,
don’t worry, you will be yourself
in a few days. I wonder when

you leave here or hang up
the phone, if you will change
into your demonic form
again, your tongue bloated
with lies, your eyes foaming
with blood. I wrap the silence
closer now and make up
stories about apothecaries
and vials of poison. Just like
the other one in which, in
the end, everyone just died.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The right to rant against good intentions

As Department Head, I’ve been reading colleagues’ Five Year Plans, which oddly enough are due around Halloween or Samhain (or however you think about this spooky midpoint between the fall equinox and winter solstice). I have an official Five Year Plan myself–I’m halfway through that cycle–but maybe it’s time for a weirder one. I’m a planner by temperament, but for various reasons, I’ve been looking ahead even more than usual. Here goes.

– Yes, I could say: in the next few years, I wish to place my next poetry book (I have a good draft now) and my novel (drafted and revised but not yet ready). I have a nonfiction/ criticism book in mind, too, that’s lying around in fragments. Yet I’m skeptical about my familiar feeling of urgency about producing new books. It’s been a pleasure seeing Poetry’s Possible Worlds in readers’ hands, but I’ve put too much pressure on myself, I think, plus my current life doesn’t have much writing time in it.
– Instead, inspired by teaching modernist poetry recently, because I AM doing lots of teaching: I aspire to become pretentious enough to write a literary manifesto. I know that sounds like a joke, and it partly is, but I do love high-handed aesthetic programs and I’ve always wished I could find the chutzpah to devise one. Maybe I could just lie on a velvet divan and cultivate chutzpah.
– Or I could abandon all ambitions and just find more time to write whatever I feel like. Or not.
– Figure out my purpose on this earth. (I’m having an existential autumn.)
– Cease worrying about my purpose on this earth. Also reduce anxiety, period. I think the overwork of heading a department this fall has revved me up too much, because my base-level self-doubt and worry are almost unmanageably high. I’m trying to figure it out, but I am struggling.
– Maybe spells would help, or soup. Make more spells and soup. Be witchier.
– Keep teaching my heart out, because that feels like good work to do in the world. But teach my heart out within reasonable time parameters.
– As far as “service,” because that’s a section on our faculty five-year plans: do less service. I’m currently reading for Shenandoah again (the annual contest for Virginia poets), and I’m committed to helping my students and closest colleagues thrive, as many of them are struggling, too. That’s enough.

Lesley Wheeler, Five year writing plan for the witches’ new year

Rob Taylor: The title poems of both of your poetry collections, Leaving Howe Island (Oolichan Books, 2013) and The Outer Wards (Vehicule Press, 2020), are about leaving one world behind, and the passage to a new one. Both books feature plane trips and end on images from journeys.

Your experiences as an immigrant from the Netherlands seems to run through everything you write. And yet these are two very different books, born out of distinct times in your life. Can you talk a little about the two title poems, and what each says about the larger collection?

Sadiqa de Meijer: Yes, the title poems both have to do with a ferry crossing that is made difficult somehow—in the first, there’s a storm, and in the second, there’s the question of how to take essential things along. “Leaving Howe Island” is a poem of immigration—the continued arrivals that occur after the initial, physical one; it’s based in a real landscape that the speaker and her family are getting to know. In “The Outer Wards,” the landscape resides in memory, the companions are imaginary, and the crossing is between life and death. The speaker herself has become the ferry operator. Your question leads me to name it: Leaving Howe Island as a book is concerned with geographic migration within familial circles, while The Outer Wards encounters the crossing into death from an inevitable solitude.

RT: Yes – goodness, that hits at the core of the books so well (though it does make The Outer Wards sound darker than it is). In considering “crossings,” your two poetry books are joined by your new essay collection, alfabet/alphabet (Palimpsest Press, 2020), though the crossing it explores is never fully completed: “Language is our fatherland, from which we can never emigrate,” reads the Irina Grivnina epigraph to the book.

Rob Taylor, The Border Terrain: An Interview with Sadiqa de Meijer

What would you do if you believed
in this kind of spirit language?
Where did the bird in your dream go,
and who has spilled flour and sugar
on your kitchen counter, burned
the filament of the new light-
bulb? The sunflower in the vase
drops two petals. Inside the house,
it has grown lonely again;
when the clock chimes the hours
backwards, you wonder how
you got here.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Blue Light

I wish to thank Lidia very much for inviting me to supply a written contribution for the international Luci per la Città website. You can read my poem,  ‘Stars in Suburbia’, here

I was born in London and spent the first couple of years of my life in the capital, before moving out with my family to Kent’s ‘commuter-land’. Our road began at the foot of a slope near the railway station. The public library was situated near the top, where our road joined the High Street at right angles. We lived at the halfway point, neither up nor down. 

My bedroom window looked out onto the road where a lamp post (like the one in my picture here) sent its beams into the night sky. Looking back, it seems hard to believe that we still had a gas lamp, requiring the occasional services of a lamplighter; but I have looked into this, and am assured by those who know these things that my memory is indeed correct. 

Caroline Gill, TURIN: LUCI PER LA CITTÀ / LIGHTS FOR THE CITY

I’m too beat even to write about it
leaves fall onto the road in front of me
squirrels prepare and gather
high in the trees, I’ve heard they forget
74% of the nuts they bury
and this is important to new growth
a writerly thing here
would be to note things I forget
that make things better

Gary Barwin, Trees

All this excitement is great. But I have also started to recognise the signs of overkill. It happened last week, again with a sudden bump, when I mistyped the name of the poet I was blogging about and did not notice until it was pointed out to me. (Helena, I am sorry.) For the million-and-third time I realised with great force that scrolling the Guardian Live politics feed when I was trying to concentrate on something else (and I don’t mean ‘productive’ work here, I mean activity that feeds me: reading, writing, daydreaming, listening to Max Richter, checking out what Shawna Lemay has been up to, etc) was probably not going to make an improvement on my long-term happiness and mental health, not to mention the aformentioned productivity.

So I decided to stop. I’m going to do my best to access the world of news and commentary via the medium of paper, rather than the beautiful but disembodied screen version I have become addicted to scrolling. Or at the very least restrict it. To replace its sugar hit, I’m also busily rediscovering the places that feed me, like the aforementioned Shawna Lemay (more in a moment). Like the amazing My Small Press Writing Day that Rupert Loydell told me about a few years ago and which I had forgotten I had bookmarked. (It was set up as a corrective to the kind of thing you used to find in weekend supplements, which, you know, kind of assumed most writers live like, say, Martin Amis.) Like rereading some favourite posts from How a Poem Happens (ditto forgetfulness). And, last but not least, signing up to supporting Shawna’s new adventure on Patreon, Beauty School.

Anthony Wilson, Not much

With thanks to Chris Boultwood and Judy Kendall, my essay on the haiku of Caroline Gourlay, published in Presence #73 in July, is now on the journal’s website, here.

I owe a personal debt to Caroline, for a good deal of encouragement and friendly advice when I was starting out as a haiku poet 30 years ago or so.

Matthew Paul, On the haiku of Caroline Gourlay

Sarah Maguire was the founder of the Poetry Translation Centre, an organisation which was very important to me personally in my poetry development during the past decade or so. Sarah died in 2017, leaving the PTC and her own remarkably impressive body of work. In a time when cross-cultural understanding seems more important than ever, I’m glad that the Sarah Maguire Prize has become another part of her legacy.

Clarissa Aykroyd, 2022 Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation

One of the first places to take a poem from me was Obsessed With Pipework back in 2017. Charles took a poem of mine that I will like called The Breaks for issue #79, and a further 3 (YES, THREE!!!) for #88, so when I saw the shout out to former contributors for poems for #100 I really wanted to send something in. I was very grateful for the boost that that first acceptance gave me. It may not be the loudest of magazines, but it’s always had a certain cache to it, and I am happy to have been in among some wonderful poets over the issues, so to be in the 100th issue is an honour.

Bravo to any magazine that makes it to such a landmark. I’m particularly pleased they took a poem called ‘Spud’. It’s one about Flo when she was still in utero, and is one she’s always wanted to see in print. I don’t think it will be in the pamphlet, but at least it has a home.

Mat Riches, Obsessed With (what’s in the) Pipework

I have some poems coming out online soon to share and a spooky poetry podcast tomorrow, and I’ve had a bit of a health scare (at least it’s scary at the appropriate time of year!)

I’ll be reading some poems from the new book for the first time and some poems from Flare, Corona. I’m so appreciate of Rattle for giving me the opportunity! I’m also getting ready for our Read Between the Wines book club meeting on November 9 at J. Bookwalter winery, where we’ll be discussing poetry! This time, Melissa Studdard’s Dear Selection Committee, which I think is a great book for introducing people who might not usually read poetry to some fun, sexy, satirical poems.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Halloween, Spooky Poetry RattleCast This Sunday, More Health Scares, and A New Blurb for Flare, Corona

Years ago, I had a book that didn’t quite make it out before the press shuttered, fitting since it was about the end of the world and all (though we’ve had several apocalypses since.) I may at some point issue a bonus print version, but you can read it here, though: https://issuu.com/aestheticsofresearch/docs/littleapocfinal

Kristy Bowen, #31daysofhalloween | little apocalypse

The (perhaps) insane commitment of artists came up in a conversation with a writer friend this week, who is reading Patti Smith’s National Book Award winning Just Kids (2010), about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe in the late 1960s, when they were young and poor in New York, before either was known or had known artistic success.

“She gave up just about everything for her art,” my friend said. I asked what she meant by that, and she talked about Smith going to New York with nothing, by herself, and living with insecure housing and food.

“I’ve never done that,” I said. “And I never will.” My friend agreed that the same is true for her, which might have something to do with why neither of us has been or will be (as it’s really too late for both of us) a Twyla Tharp or Patti Smith.

I’ve come to realize that I am perfectly fine with not being that kind of creative. [Twyla] Tharp seems to believe we all have one, true creative calling (our “creative DNA”) and cautions against being distracted from it by other creative interests. If there is such a thing as creative DNA, mine is to be the opposite of a specialist. Tharp has a creative autobiography exercise, and the answers to mine are all over the creative map. Hers (because she shares it with readers) is not. I assume my creative DNA is why, although I have a kind of time for creative work now that I haven’t had since early adolescence, I’ve felt a bit creatively paralyzed. There are so many things I want to do–write (poems, essays, blog posts, hybrid forms)! sew! embroider! knit! collage! blog! cook!–that I have been doing (almost) none of them. I’ve been feeling time scarcity, even though I have a kind of time I could only dream of even six months ago.

Rita Ott Ramstad, chit-chat: on creativity

The grappling with craft to turn it into art?

Your self-worth? Your self-expression? Your sense of identity?

Likes and shares on social media? 

Your Mum? Your muse? Your mentor? Funding? Prizes? Publication? 

Is your poetry simply for yourself? If so, why do you bother to seek publication? For a sense of validation?

Your readers? But who are they? Where are they? Why might they want to read your poems? How might you reach them? Do you care about them? 

Matthew Stewart, What drives you to write and then attempt to publish your poetry?

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?

I do think writers have a role in trying to keep the bullshit out of language; or, in trying to purge the language of the bullshit, once the bullshit has gotten in.

Beyond that … writers are listeners, or should be; instruments through which the motion of meaning in the universe can register itself in the particular medium which is language. It has to all keep moving, though; if meaning stays written down, it gets dead. We have to read it, re-speak it, if it’s going to keep on living in the world.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Luke Hathaway

We don’t read submissions blind and that’s not going to change. I’m unconvinced that’s a particularly helpful strategy for ensuring balance” – Kathryn Gray (Bad Lilies). Anonymity is often suggested as a means to ensure fairness, but I can see that it hinders balance. I think that overall I’m in favour of some positive discrimination. If (say) only 10% of a poem in a magazine are by women, women might be unlikely to send to that magazine and the ratio won’t improve. The self-perpetuating loop has to be broken somehow. All the same, I’d like to think that blind submissions are something to strive towards.

we will publish poems that shock and unsettle. These poems will speak of trauma and injustice, because that is the world we live in. We will prioritize work that deals with issues of migration, economic injustice and freedom of speech” – André Naffis-Sahely (Poetry London editorial, Summer 2021). I don’t know about the shock/unsettle aspect, but the magazine content matched the manifesto as far as I could tell. The prioritisation extended to the reviews, it seemed to me. I made a note of what received any adverse criticism. Issues are good, and are discussed at the expense of the poetry. Issue-less poetry by males was the most vulnerable.

Tim Love, Periodical priorities

Elizabeth Lewis Williams’ father was a assistant scientific officer on the 1958 expedition to the Antarctic, finishing in 1965 at Scott Base. He passed away in 1996, leaving an unpublished book “Years on Ice”. “Erebus” grew from the poet’s desire to collate her half-remembered childhood stories drawing from memory, the unpublished book and letters left behind. “Portal Point” starts,

“Let me recall the four walls of a refuge hut
from the museum at Stanley, and set them here
on concrete blocks, fix them against the wind
with rope-metal tie-downs
and from the slatted, halve-jointed walls, cut and planed
in the sawmills of Norwich, I will conjure
the tang of pinewood, the smell of sawdust,
and the sound of hammer and nails.”

Part-memory, part-fact and a dosing of imagination to create what her father’s life might have been like on Antarctica. The poem ends,

“I summon all your measuring machines,
and, as the earth spins and signals
bounce, reflect, return, combine,
I say the coming world is seen from here.”

That creative streak can be drawn back to her father. He didn’t just measure and record, but built pictures from what the data told him. He understood the landscape and its risks.

Emma Lee, “Erebus” Elizabeth Lewis Williams (Story Machine) – book review

I sit in the chair in my doctor’s office and work backward. This is how I feel: this is why. Before that: this. Sometimes I throw her off in time by conflating decades in a trail of thought: experiences lying on parallel, not linear, paths. Because that’s the truth, isn’t it? Not paths, really, just a pile of dried leaves.

Other times she’s not thrown. She’s not listening to the words. I know she tunes the sense of them out. She’s listening to tempo, to registers, to repetitions.

I might as well be dancing.

When the theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold moved away from realism, he put trampolines and slides on stage. He suspended narrow beams for actors to balance on.

Ren Powell, Now That That’s Off My Chest

Swamp Witch Advice says this on Twitter: “You have no calling — no singular purpose. Do as many things as you can that make you and your loved ones happy as often as you can.” Right? Let’s just do those things we enjoy. This is a phrase I often repeat in my head from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse: “Let us enjoy what we do enjoy.” This is in the context of the previous sentence, “Who could tell what was going to last — in literature or indeed in anything else?”

Who knows what you’ll be remembered for. Whatever it is, it’s probably other than you think. We have no crystal balls. So enjoy what you enjoy.

Shawna Lemay, 20 Things That Might Be Helpful

Why does this light
still shine

when the rest
have let go?

The leaves aren’t hope.
The trees don’t mind.

Sometimes it lifts,
the sense of endless loss

and sometimes it settles in
like early winter.

Rachel Barenblat, Untitled poem

torrential rain
i stop swimming and look up
opening my arms

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 40

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, a journey from oneness to war zones, Parkinson’s, purity laws, reasons to live, living in the moment, being around other poets, UK National Poetry Day, The Frogmore Papers, Elizabeth Bishop, adventures with keyboards, temporary skin, counter-propaganda, a salty love letter, German Unity Day, patterns of breakage, haunted houses, a poet dispossessed by the Manhattan Project, wastelands, nighthawks, mentors, eggs and awakenings.


After the festival, the laundry.
After the festival, exhaustion
and punch-drunk laughter.

Collapsing into the armchair
and absently petting the cat.
After the festival, silence rings.

There’s so much to do — building
and repair, a new name for God,
making all our promises real.

But not today. Today, gratitude
for the washing machine, swirling
my Yom Kippur whites clean.

Rachel Barenblat, After the festival

there is a thing about the universe i love   and that is   that i am an integral part of it   i have come in contact with many great holy thinkers   they all have one thing in common   and that is the oneness of everything   even the electric impulses of our thoughts are part of it    and so there is no one who cannot be my friend   no application to fill out    boxes to check    or gifts to leave at my feet    some of the best gifts i have received    were from artists philosophers religious teachers of all faiths and musicians playing just the right notes in just the right moment    on September 24, 2022 the great sax player and composer Pharoah Sanders left his body   and still   he is with me right now…   when i die i will go nowhere and remain with him    and with you    enjoy this poem

clouds
shape into faces
do you see mine…

Michael Rehling, Haibun 214: journey into one

Under the falling leaves
I touch your footprints,
when hearing the news,
I hear your sighs
and when others speak,
I know what you’re saying.

Magda Kapa, Say

I suppose, this morning, as I see a photo of children lighting candles in a shelter in Dnipro and another of people lying dead in a road somewhere in the middle of this latest war zone, what follows is, in its tiny way, a personal manifesto.

For me at least, writing is not an escape route, it’s a method of confronting the chaos.

I’m not about to tell anyone else what to do or criticise them for seeing things differently. This is about my own sense of responsibility and nothing more.

I have always seen writing as primarily a political act. Yes, of course, there must be light amongst the shade, of course there must be a time to do something just plain daft or laugh with the general absurdities of how we cope with living alongside each other, but even this is in the context of a response to the general madness of the world. If I seek peace in some poems, it is a quest, an act of running towards not an act of running away.

Bob Mee, THE PRIMARY JOB OF A POET IS TO CONFRONT THE CHAOS

When a friend tells me
about her father, his Parkinson’s,
his dementia, his shuffling feet,
we are no longer

two separate women
two separate men
but a small congregation
of daughters and fathers.

Daughters whose hearts ache
for the dads who were rocks
and heroes. Fathers who worry
over losses they cannot name.

What can we do but listen
to each other and say, thank you.
Remember when our little hands
felt safe inside our dads’? The warmth.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Daughters, Fathers

6 – Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

Prevailing concerns I have are: What do we hear in the silence? And how do the words live off the page?

Some of the questions I worked to answer in Qorbanot were: What does it mean to “offer”? How do I translate the ancient practice of sacrificial offering into my life in the 21st century? How can a poem be an offering, or a book an altar upon which I place what I have to give? What does it mean to write one’s own sacred texts? What is it about giving up something that makes it a meaningful act of worship? Why the obsession with purity laws in Judaism, and how has this affected the way we relate to animal bodies and our own bodies? How do we reconcile these ancient, fleshly, violent rituals with Judaism and, more broadly, Western religion today? Do humans have an inherent tendency toward violence? Can we find parallels to sacrifice in recent history, such as war, politics or environmental issues?

The main question currently occupying my writer’s mind is: How can we find more language around suicide to better express its nuances, complexities, and diverse motivations? I’ve also been contemplating the relationship between depression and anger. And I’ve been grappling with how to share my story in a way that serves as a resource for others and, at the same time, protects my own vulnerability.

7 – 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?

I don’t think the writer has one role. There are so many different kinds of writers with different roles they can take on. A writer can serve as a lighthouse illuminating the moment in which we are living. The writer can be a dreamer, a prophet. The writer can be a court jester. The writer can offer medicine. And some writers have a role for themselves alone, to which the rest of the world is not privy.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Alisha Kaplan

I’m at a Claire Benn surface design workshop at the Crow Timber Barn in Ohio. This first week we are in ‘free fall,’ which means we are to have no intentions but simply follow the guidelines Claire gives us. The idea is to explore our tools and media and work in a kind of “call and response” way. We respond to whatever mark we make on the canvas. We are working with acrylic, a medium I have rarely used, so that we can work quickly and not worry about batching.

We were asked to pick three images or a piece of writing that resonated with us. We then spent time journaling words and phrases that the image or writing evoked in us. We were provided with a 10 foot by about 3 foot scroll of muslin that had been pre-primed with a 1-1 solution of liquid gel medium and water. We were asked to pick a six-color palette plus black and white.

I started with an image of a banana flower, an angel’s trumpet, and a poem, “Reasons to Live: the Color Red.”

Sheryl St. Germain, Acrylic, Acrylic and more Acrylic

         Of turmeric and ginger and the deep-tinted 

hearts of beet, the tight-curled fists of iris— I want 
         to know how they can trust so completely in that 

idea of return, even as animals turn fields into stubble 
         and bees begin their clustered pulsing to give their heat 

to the hive. Here, where we feed each other to keep alive, 
        I am wary and always watching for any sign you might slip  

away without me into that room soundproofed with loam, un-
         windowed: for how would I break its walls without breaking?  

Luisa A. Igloria, Perennate

When you’re helpless in a hospital bed, scanned, hooked up to monitors, not allowed to get up without assistance, you might be locked into a scary emotional place. I was. To escape my fear, I decided to move outward, and use my curiosity and writer brain. I began to observe people and activities instead of worrying about myself. What would a writer do? I interviewed people, asking each nurse and technician to tell me their story. How did they come to be in this field, to work in this hospital, and where did they come from? People are endlessly full of stories. Many of my nurses were from other parts of the world. Some were seasoned nurses, some brand-new. One night nurse was worried she wasn’t appreciated. She asked if I could nominate her for a nursing award. I did. We talked about books and reading, other hospitals and healthcare. […]

My writerly adventure included asking everyone who came to my room if they read fiction. That started a whole new conversation. Almost every one of them was a reader. My day nurse turned out to be a big reader! We compared notes about helping aging parents through illnesses. She gave me ideas for a sequel to The Invisibles when she told me how she and her siblings rotate taking in and caring for their mom.

Rachel Dacus, A Writerly Adventure in the Hospital

Another Monday after an uneventful weekend. The days slide by in a gray wash lately. I can’t seem to get enough sleep. When I walk Leonard, sometimes my head is full of words that disappear before I reach home. I suppose it makes no difference really. I thought the thoughts, which in some ways is no different than writing them. It is just a question of time really until anything will disappear. Or become so warped by translations of language and culture that it isn’t what it was anyway. It makes the entire idea of authorship immediate, and maybe irrelevant except for that tiny shove of influence that a bit of dust has on the air current in a closed room.

Again it comes back to living in the moment – the moment containing the past and future, morphing continuously. There is a phrase at the edge of my memory about… and I’ve lost it.

It’s odd how sometimes these things will circle back and enter my consciousness more defined. In a sunbeam.

Saturday the sky held a rainbow the entire time we drove into town. My sense of direction is so poor that I couldn’t be sure if it were moving, or if we were winding over the landscape. I should look at maps more often.

Ren Powell, Not Regret

The Skagit Poetry Festival was this weekend and it was really fun to sort of dip my toe back into social literary events again. I got to see a lot of old friends, picked up some books, stopped by some of my favorite places – Roozengaarde Flower Farm and Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, WA. And we had terrible air in Woodinville, so fleeing to La Conner for better air was a good bet. I’m looking forward to tonight’s reading and will have more pictures next week, I swear.

It was wonderful and therapeutic to be outside without worrying about asthma or burning eyes, especially with all the flowers. It was also wonderful and therapeutic to be around writers and book again, in a somewhat-almost normal setting. Some friends I hadn’t seen in over a year at least. And just being around poets gives you a feeling of…not being so alone in being a poet.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Skagit Poetry Festival and a Trip to La Conner, A Visit with my Brother and Bathing Hummingbirds, and Socializing Again While Trying to Dodge the Smoke

David and I have just returned from a wonderfully sunny day on the beach at Aldeburgh, where we joined other members of Suffolk Poetry Society (SPS) for the traditional National Poetry Day reading at the South Lookout, thanks to our Patron and host, Caroline Wiseman, and to members of the SPS committee who had organised the event.

We took the #NationalPoetryDay theme of the environment, which gave rise to a variety of largely serious poems on subjects as diverse as the ocean (and the devastation caused by plastic, oil slicks and pollution), a field where there had once been hedges with birds, and a beach with fossils. While acknowledging the gravitas of the Climate Crisis, we appreciated the occasional moments of wry humour which added to the sense of light and shade.

I read ‘Puffin’s Assembly’* from my poetry collection, Driftwood by Starlight, published last year by The Seventh Quarry Press (and available here for £6.99/$10).

The chip shop was still open at the end of the readings, and proved more than some of us could resist! 

Caroline Gill, National Poetry Day 2022 on Aldeburgh Beach

Last week I was in Lewes for the launch of The Frogmore Papers‘ 100th issue, an amazing feat, and under the editorship of Jeremy Page the whole time. We heard readings from some of the contributors and from co-founder Andre Evans on how it all began in a cafe in Folkestone. It’s a lovely story, and having heard it a few times it’s now taken on almost mythic status, up there with Aeneas crossing the Mediterranean to found the city of Rome, or Phil Knight making rubber outsoles on his mum’s waffle machine for the first Nike trainers. Anyway, having read the edition from cover to cover I can confirm it’s a fine book – and let’s face it, some of our ‘little magazines’ coming in at 90 pages or more deserve to be called books.  On that subject, I can also recommend Prole 33 which recently arrived, weighing in at 140 pages (although about half of it is short stories.)

The Lewes event was also the launch of Clare Best‘s new collection, End of Season (Fine di Stagione), published by the Frogmore Press, in which the poems are presented in both English and Italian. It was lovely to hear both Clare and Jeremy reading the poems in both languages – very evocative. I’m enjoying the book especially as it is about a beautiful place on Lake Maggiore called Cannero where Nick and I stayed for a week back in 2019 (on Clare’s recommendation).

Robin Houghton, National Poetry Day (week of)

The Frogmore Papers is one of my favourite poetry magazines. In fact, it’s accompanied me pretty much throughout my poetic life. Looking back through my records before writing this blog post, I noticed I first had a poem in its pages in Issue 57 back in 2001. That was followed by another in Issue 68 (2006), a third in Issue 76 (2010) and two more in Issue 81 (2013).

Jeremy Page, as well as being the journal’s founder and long-time editor, is also an excellent poet, so it’s a privilege whenever he chooses my work for publication. As a consequence, I’m especially pleased to have a further two poems in the brand-new commemorative 100th issue alongside the likes of Simon Armitage.

Matthew Stewart, The Frogmore Papers’ 100th Issue

Having savoured Colm Tóibín’s book On Elizabeth Bishop, I then re-read words on Bishop by another great Irish writer, Eavan Boland: the chapter ‘Elizabeth Bishop: an unromantic American’ in her wonderful book A Journey with Two Maps (Carcanet, 2011), available here.

The focus of that book is on Boland’s own poetic journey and how women poets helped her shape her ideas about how she could relate in poems her own experience as a woman, wife, and mother; therefore, her thoughts on Bishop are somewhat subsumed to that purpose. Nonetheless, Boland’s discussion of Bishop’s ‘tone’, as distinct from her ‘voice’, is illuminating. As is her dissection of ‘At the Fishhouses’, from Cold Spring (1955), available to read here: rightly, she notes that, in amongst Bishop’s usual litany of precise visual perceptions, there lurks a “superb meditation on water as an emblem of tragic knowledge”, interrupted by the lighthearted, cameo appearance of a seal: ‘He was curious about me. He was interested in music; / like me a believer in total immersion, / so I used to sing him Baptist hymns’.

While Tóibín highlights Bishop’s paradoxical observation, ‘as if the water were a transmutation of fire’, Boland’s commentary stops short of addressing the last 19 lines of the poem, in which Bishop’s description of the sea reaches a tidal crescendo, culminating in the poem’s brilliant, six-line final sentence:

It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

If a poet took lines like these to a workshop nowadays, the response would no doubt be that the poet should axe at least half the adjectives.

Matthew Paul, On (Eavan Boland and Colm Tóibín, again, on) Elizabeth Bishop

Yesterday I went to a harvest festival event on campus–it was primarily for those of us living here, and I did have a chance to meet and talk to some students I had only seen from a distance, plus there was lunch.  Over a never-ending bowl of kale harvest salad, I answered questions, like why I chose a Methodist seminary over a Lutheran one.

I answered that this seminary is one of few that has a track in Theology and the Arts, and one student asked what kind of art I do.  I said, “I’m a poet, and I do visual arts and fiber arts.”

She asked, “What kind of poems do you write?”

I tried to keep my answer simple, but I fumbled a bit at first.  “Well, I don’t write formal poems.  I’m not concerned about iambs.”  Then I shifted:  “I want to write a poem about an autumn leaf that will make you look at autumn leaves in a new way, that you’ll think about this new way of looking at a leaf any time in the future that you see one.”

And then I asked questions about them, the way I have been trained to do.  But I continued to think about my answer.  The mean voice in my brain broke in periodically to remind me of how long it’s been since I’ve written a poem and how dare I even think of myself as a poet.  

This morning, I resolved to finish a draft I started in the last week.  I have been continuing to work with abandoned lines, and last week, I wrote a few lines to go with one that I took from my master list.  And this morning, that draft is gone.  I had a computer issue earlier this week where the computer stopped saving my written work–at least, I think that’s what happened.  I had done a Save As for several documents, and those got saved as the earlier document.  This morning, I discovered the empty page instead of the rough draft of my poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Self-Definitions: the Poet Edition

The shift to a screen, a keyboard remains a critical transition. On screen, or on a phone, typed lines acquire an inertial resistance to being changed. On screen, I find my eye starts to narrow down to look at the poem’s physical shape and appearance on a would-be page. Such aspects are important in the long run, but they can prematurely cool the fluidity of the molten drafting process if they dominate too early. Beware the linearity of the screen!

But once it’s there, now I’m thinking ‘economy’. A linguistic cosmetic surgeon, I cut off verbal flab, repetition, redundancy. Crossing out is my most familiar activity. The American poet, Louise Gluck, says that a writer’s only real exercise of will “is negative: we have toward what we write the power of veto”. One of the keys to this is reading aloud. I go the whole hog: standing as if to deliver to an audience. Loud. And. Clear. This helps me listen to rhythm and line breaks. Actually, for any writer of poetry, prose, essays for your course, reading aloud highlights stumbling blocks of all kinds. My sense of the ebb and flow of a poem is always clarified because I distract myself in the physical act of standing and speaking. I experience my words more objectively, more as my potential reader would. Try it. It’s a revelation!

Martyn Crucefix, ‘How I Write’ – a second brief Royal Literary Fund talk

How much waste
do you want to

generate
to get a good one

the old monk asked
the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (328)

I have wonderful news! My new poetry collection “Temporary Skin” (my first one in English!) was accepted for publication by Glass Lyre Press. I couldn’t be happier and more excited about working with the Glass Lyre team. I love the authors they publish, the high quality of their books, their amazing covers! I know my manuscript is in good hands. I wish my mom were here to see this miracle in progress. She would have given me tips on how to deal with this overwhelming joy swirling inside me, making my fingertips tingle. I’m going to have a book, y’all!

Romana Iorga, Her Dark Materials

Karlo Sevilla of Quezon City, Philippines is the author of the full-length poetry book Metro Manila Mammal (Soma Publishing, 2018) and the smaller collections You (Origami Poems Project, 2017) and Outsourced! . . . (Revolt Magazine, 2021). In 2018, his work was recognized among that year’s Best of Kitaab, won runner-up in the Submittable-Centric Poetry Contest, and placed third in Tanggol Wika’s DALITEXT poetry contest. In 2021, his poem made it to the shortlist of the annual Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition. His poems appear in Philippines Graphic, Philippines Free Press, DIAGRAM, Protean, Better Than Starbucks, and elsewhere. He is currently a student in the Associate in Arts program of the University of the Philippines Open University.

What are you working on?

I have just submitted almost 70 of my previously published poems (in several literary magazines and other platforms) for a website that will be put up exclusively for them. The website is a side project of a group of undergraduate university students who major in Multimedia Arts. It will serve as accompaniment to their final thesis: a short animated film inspired by my other poems. In short, both their final thesis and its side project are all about my poetry. These students are risking their college graduation by choosing my poetry as main source material for their thesis, haha! Seriously, I’m grateful to these young people for reaching out to me from out of the blue with their emailed proposal, and now they’re halfway done with their short film.

At first, I was ambivalent because I have long considered gathering my poems in a manuscript again for consideration for print publication as my second full-length poetry collection.  But I ultimately favored this student project and have a third of my previously published poems freely accessible in one website. I opted for the latter because I feel the urgency to make available online more texts that heighten awareness of human rights violations and social injustices in the Philippines that remain unresolved from the infamous Marcos dictatorship to the likewise murderous Duterte administration. Under our current president who happens to be the son and namesake of the late dictator, the administration has been lying and denying that such atrocities happened during his father’s reign. Worse, the son claims that the years under his father’s iron rule that was also marked by economic crisis was the Golden Age of our country. 

The poems I selected are invariably political propaganda pieces – on “different levels.” Collectively, they are a small voice/counter-propaganda, among others that give the lie to the government’s false narratives. (I’m also glad for this project because it gives me the chance to share my poems again, with needed revisions in some of them.)

Thomas Whyte, Karlo Sevilla : part one

Rakhshan Rizwan was originally from Pakistan and has lived in Germany and the Netherlands before moving to the USA. The poems explore what it’s like not to belong, to be politely received but not fully welcomed and the imprint Europe has had on the writer. […]

Rizwan deploys humour rather than ranting or complaining. She doesn’t name racism, but it’s clear that’s the source of the disconnections. “Europe Love Me Back” is a salty love letter, not entirely unrequited, but from a lover who didn’t feel seen. From a lover who felt they made all the right connections, sent the right signals, searched for commonalities, links, threads but attempted to hook-up with someone who only saw differences, reasons not to continue the affair.

Emma Lee, “Europe, Love Me Back” Rakhshan Rizwan (The Emma Press) – book review

Monday was German Unity Day, and it was also the day the Berlin Lit launched their first issue with poems for a range of poets, some who are new to me, and some I recognise like Alice Miller, and John Glenday. And me with my poem, The Long Game. My thanks to Matthew McDonald for accepting it. Having recently read and loved John Glenday’s Selected Poems, it feels quite surreal to be in the same place as him, but I’ll absolutely take it.

It’s always nice to be in on the ground floor of these things (as it was with TFP…NB just realised today that I have to choose between shortening The Friday Poem or The Frogmore Papers to TFP), especially with a poem that has had a very long gestation period.

I started it when the article that inspired it was published in 2013, so to be here 9 years later with a published poem feels like dedication has been needed (much like the game that inspired it). I should have tried to work in the line about “burning magnesium in a pumpkin”.

I shared the poem with the three mates that I dedicated it to and one replied, “That’s nice, mate. I don’t get it, but that’s poetry”. Or words to that effect, the language he chose was different. It certainly helps keep your feet on the ground.

Mat Riches, Impossible Germany

Things break in predictable ways. The shard, the
jagged edge and the dust cloud follow a rule, a
pattern, a story. The way day breaks over and
over again without complaint, the way a promise

is broken without a sigh, without ceremony,
the way silence breaks without a word, without
a sob. The way we broke without ever being
whole.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 16

As I was putting the final touches on AUTOMAGIC last night, it is so fraught with ghosts…the fortune tellers in the strange victorian futurist landscape of the ordinary planet poems. The haunted sisters in unusual creatures. The Eleanor series and the more violent, sinister underpinnings of the bird artist and the HH Holmes stuff. More than any other recent book, this is a predominantly fictional, narrative world without much involvement from me. And at that, like GIRL SHOW, one set entirely in the past.  I, as a speaker, as a character, am absent from this book. But then again, not absent at all. It seemed fitting last night to be rounding things out as the wind howled and heavy, cold drops of rain hit the windows. I am running the space heater daily until they turn on the radiators, which management has dutifully promised this weekend. In this weather, I am sleeping well–too well–a dead-to-the-world slumber that makes my arms ache from remaining too much in the same position wound amidst my pillows (I am a side and stomach sleeper–never my back) I also have the same chronological impairment every change in seasons brings, never quite understanding internally what time it is–the light being so different from summer.

Kristy Bowen, poetry as haunted house

before the house sale was agreed
buyers demanded the ghosts be removed
so contractors were appointed

the workers arrived to divest the property
loading reluctant spectres into sealed skips
driving them away to wherever unwanted memories languish

that ambushing taste on the tongue
a face half glimpsed in the crowd
the 4am telephone that rings and rings and rings

Paul Tobin, A FACE HALF GLIMPSED

My article on the early poetry of Peggy Pond Church is coming out soon.  She was a central figure in the Santa Fe and Taos arts scene from the 1920s on, appearing in Alice Corbin Henderson’s influential modernist anthology The Turquoise Trail (1928), and the experience of reading her poetry is, as they say, something else.  My essay concentrates on Church’s first two collections, Foretaste (1933) and Familiar Journey (1936).  Though I touch on her third collection, Ultimatum for Man (1946), toward the end of the essay, it comes in as kind of a coda to the wild stuff that is happening in her first two.

But there’s plenty more that could be said about Ultimatum, much of which veers into the sociopolitical and, given its subject matter, remains relevant today (I’m thinking here of the prospect of nuclear war that a power-mad despot is currently threatening Ukraine with, but there’s wider application of course, e.g. to issues of climate change and environmental degradation, beyond the fact of the stunning experience of reading Church’s poetry as an aesthetic undertaking).  Without duplicating what I’ve written in my forthcoming article, I will say that there I analyze poems in her first two collections through the lens of what Timothy Morton has termed “dark ecology” (with a nod to the scholar Sarah Daw, who has analyzed Church’s letters and diaries in this manner before me).  Far from whatever stereotypes we may have about “nature poetry,” I argue that Church’s poetry of the 1930s is much closer to what we would think of today as ecocritical and material-feminist.

During the Second World War, until early 1943, Church lived at the Los Alamos school (in New Mexico) where her husband was the principal; they were dispossessed of their home to make way for the Manhattan Project, which commandeered the site in order to build the atomic bomb.  Church reacted with scathing poems in Ultimatum for Man, such as the collection’s title poem, along with “The Nuclear Physicists,” “Epitaph for Man,” “Newsreel: Dead Enemy,” “For a Son in High School A.D. 1940,” “Lines Written after a Political Argument,” “Comment on a Troubled Era,” and “Jeremiad” (from the latter: “This fury called man, / this fungus / gnawing the polished and hemispheric surface / of our bright earth…”).  In the introduction to Church’s New and Selected Poems (1976), T. M. Pearce characterizes Ultimatum as a “turn for Mrs. Church, a turn not away from the landscape line, but an adjustment to a new point of view in which the poet sees individuals as units in a social group” (iii), while Shelley Armitage writes in the introduction to Bones Incandescent: The Pajarito Journals of Peggy Pond Church (2001), “Whereas the lyrical Foretaste and Familiar Journey address a woman’s attempt to balance relationships, her own creative and independent personality, and her desire to develop spiritual bonds with nature, Ultimatum for Man sharply links the personal and creative quests to the meaning of the atomic age, war, and human responsibility” (6).  The furor and anger with which Church imbues many of these poems is striking, and she does so in ways that are not merely jeremiadic, but as powerful poems that now more than ever should be revisited.

Michael S. Begnal, On Peggy Pond Church’s Ultimatum for Man (1946)

I take the Waste Land as a day-to-day thing.  When a dismal, cold slate gray rain falls from a slate gray sky, when it looks like wartime London, need we say more — T.S. Eliot’s 1922 poem, celebrating its centennial, rules.  A wasteland is a wasteland is a wasteland.  The prophetic voice of the poem sets the stage, as it is dramatic, for the habitation of our current dark times.

Then the tail of the hurricane clears the way for a gleam of sun to make shoot through treetops of an elm treetops — oh fickle reader, I put catastrophe further back on the horizon, leave the charred landscape for another day.

As things change, there is one thing I know — the poem of the Wasteland, a gorgeous collage of urban, literary and mythical remixings — has many voices, many ways to see the flux.  Etymologically, the word Catastrophe, in ancient Greek, fuses “down, against” and “I turn” to signify “I overturn.”  

The current conversation about environment, the Anthropocene & impending disaster is different ways to turn our vision.  For me, it is the project of expanding and broadening the ways of beauty.  Poetry with its poking and prodding stick probably says it better, making forays into territories that were once forbidding but where with imagination and stillness we now can go.  Into wastelands as rich wild places, places of possible regeneration.  Or fascination, empty spaces that make poets from divergent times contemporaneous.

Jill Pearlman, The Waste Land is a Wasteland is a wasteland

Within this darkness—the white space between all the barely uttered emotions.

Here, you’ll discover a plague of grace, the duende of blackbirds transforming midnight’s ash into song.

Nighthawks murmuring a million and one names for a moon that offers itself as a loving mirror.

So beautiful every soul that wanders these desperate evening streets.

Rich Ferguson, Night’s White Space

Three mentors–none of them “famous,” all of them crucial to my development as a poet: they took my work, and my person, seriously. They listened critically and spoke to me encouragingly and listened. I think that’s what makes a person mentor material.

In later years, there have certainly been others who have been guides, coaches, teachers, mentors, friends-in-poetry…some of them better-known than Ariel, David, or Chris. But these three, all of whom are no longer walking about on the earthly plane, gave me so much more than I ever thanked them for. Which is why I’m doing so now.

Ann E. Michael, Poetry mentor: Chris Peditto

it’s a poem
about eggs

what’s inside?
eggs

outside?
eggs

it’s a poem
about eggs

Gary Barwin, POEM ABOUT EGGS

Truly, there is nothing quite like the sharp, earthy scent of the tomato plants when I go out in the morning to pick some for our breakfast. […]

I’m not saying anything new here, even to myself. But I’m knowing something in a different way–the way we know things from living them rather than from reading about them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Traffic Jam

when do the dead break into light

when did our poems cease writing the sea

how many abandoned awakenings
sleep inside a seed

Grant Hackett [no title]

speeding
up a one way street
a sparrow hawk

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 38

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: changes in season, changes in state, mentors, music, what shrinks and what expands, squeaky wheels, experiments with boredom, self-criticism sessions, the necessity of avoiding great blue herons, and a “ruckus network of howls.” Enjoy.


Hardly watered gardens hymn dry yellow melodies of thirst.

Desert flowers tell the wind’s fortune as coyotes howl a gallows prayer.

In bedrooms all across the city, I hear lovers’ bodies rub up against one another, strumming the strings of bliss.

I hear the mattresses of miserable landlords groan from the excess weight of it all.

Rich Ferguson, All Across the City

One thing about being home much of the time is that I feel more in tune with the rhythm of the days than I ever was in the closed cave of the library. […] Since I don’t have an A/C, there were days in the summer when I could feel the heat encroaching at my back. Could feel and smell the rain blowing in when it stormed. Today, the shivery cold that finally made me shut them. […]

Summer felt longer but faster, if that’s possible. I felt more of it, even if I only went out in it occasionally. But there was at the same time more variation in its texture, much less time spent under fluorescent lights amid book stacks and more time for noticing things, even just from a third floor window. Listening, as well, to unruly car alarms, distant sirens, how sometimes I can hear the train two blocks away clearly, but sometimes not at all. Every Monday, the lawn mower down below me and the scent of just cut grass. The steady bang of renovations in surrounding apartments. The creep and click of my remaining neighbor’s doors.

Kristy Bowen, love letter to summer, who has to be going

Remember these: the heft
of a sleeping child, half-
unlatched, hair matted with sweat;
the sound of cowbells
drifting downhill; the book
you climbed into, as in a womb.

Romana Iorga, Things to Do with Silence

As I stood in a crowd of Canadians on Sunday, at the conclusion of the service, and the organ moved from the final hymn and blessing to the opening bars of “God Save the King”, sung to those words for the first time in 70 years, I could feel the emotion around me. Likewise, who could remain completely unmoved by the final minutes of the Windsor committal service, when the crown and other symbols of Elizabeth’s earthly and historical power were removed from the coffin before it sank beneath the floor?

Under the September sun, thirty friends and family members stood around my father’s grave in the old village cemetery where I played as a young child. At the conclusion of the brief committal service, we placed the paper box containing his ashes into the same grave where my mother’s remains had been buried sixteen years before. Then I took a shovel into my hands and put the first earth into the grave, passed the shovel to my husband, who did the same, and then, slowly, silently, nearly all of the people present took a turn, and we buried my father together and then strewed red roses on the grave. […]

For death, I think, is the great leveler: it comes to us all, we all go down to the dust, and no one can take their earthly goods or power with them. When those deaths occur which stop us in our tracks and cause a shudder or even an earthquake in our own lives, it is a time to look in the mirror. What can we learn from the life of this person who is with us no longer? What lasts, what remains? What do we want to do with the unknowable balance of time that remains to us, and with the friends who surround us in those moments, surely far more precious than gold?

Beth Adams, Unparallel Lives

the rest
as they say
is history

Jim Young [no title]

Adrian Owles. That was her anagrammed alias. She used that name for things like electric and phone company bills when her real name set off “overdue payment” notices, resulting in her inability to get services. She did, in her youth, have a conniver’s sense of how to skive and get away with it. To some degree. She learned the skills from her father, a brilliant alcoholic from a once-wealthy family. From her mother, she learned poetry and an idealistic, romantic outlook on life…but also that she should be independent and never rely on men to take care of her or keep their promises.

Well, maybe she learned that last part from her father. Her parents never divorced, but her father was an absentee dad. That’s the picture she supplied to me. I suspect it was true, but I know only a tiny part of her story. Ariel Dawson, my poetry mentor, was a year younger than I but so well-read, aware of the “poetry scene,” reading craft essays and books before I knew such things existed–and taking reasoned issue with some of the writers, too, in ways it never would have occurred to me to do. Question such recognized authority? I would not have dared.

What is a mentor? A kind of teacher or model of behavior? Ariel’s behavior was far from conventional, which did appeal to me. We hitchhiked from Michigan to NYC and back. We stayed up almost until dawn and drank wine and talked about poetry. We ganged up on the poor man teaching a creative writing class at our college by questioning his pronouncements and asking about poets and poetry he had not specialized in. We sneaked into bars without paying the cover charge or having our IDs checked (Michigan had a liquor law that permitted 18-year-olds to drink, but Ariel was only 17). I kept wondering quietly to myself: Is this how poets behave? Is unconventionality necessary to the craft?

Ann E. Michael, Poetry mentor: Ariel Dawson

Each day oscillates between what shrinks
and what expands, what I once could do

and what I can, sweet jazz and pounding,
a clock that crumbles into dry ash
or measuring cups overflowing

with uncooked rice and broken nut bars.

PF Anderson, NINES

Back in the day when I was a kid, it seemed cool to be an old soul.  Whoever first enlightened me, when I first heard the phrase (to be or to have?), I don’t recall.  Being an old soul seemed like a good defense for a solitary or brooding adolescent— especially when you have big black eyes too serious for your face!

Now that I’m not a kid, I’m thinking it might be cool to be a young soul.  It’s not up to us, of course, not on the smorgasboard of options. Yet after yet another birthday, I’m thinking why not.  It always takes a while to come to oneself.  This old soul has learned a few things; it understands that play makes everything tick, beauty is real, everything keeps turning and flowing, go!

Now during the Jewish High Holidays, we are told that our souls are washed, we get refreshed, the clock is set back to how God made us, we get spanking fresh souls. Birthday of the world — aha!  Old soul, meet young soul.  May you be renewed, and be yourself.

Jill Pearlman, Old Soul/Young Soul

I promise I am going to talk about real serious writer book stuff in a minute, but for this first part, can I say…whee, it’s decorative gourd season and I am celebrating fall by visiting pumpkin farms and burning candles like there’s no tomorrow.

We visited one pumpkin farm on the autumn equinox and another the next day. We had beautiful, unsmoky weather and I decided we should take advantage of it before it all turns into the inevitable winter rain. (Someone joked that Seattle has three seasons: rain, summer, and smoke. Sort of true for the last few years!) Besides getting to talk to local farmers, which I love, it gave me and Glenn a chance to get out of the house, into fresh air, get some mild exercise (I’m still using a cane, there’s only so much pumpkin farm tramping I can do), but it also sort of helps your body know: hey, we are changing seasons, pay attention to the leaves, to what is blooming and what is dying, what grows out of the ground, the colors of the sky. Haven’t poets been writing poems about that stuff for years?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s Decorative Gourd Season! Autumn Equinox and Fall Feels, Pumpkin Farms, and Decisions About Cover Art

jazz in the morning
country in the afternoon
dead cricket in the light fixture

Jason Crane, haiku: 19 September 2022

alone
every other weekend
in a new house
I experimented with boredom

I listened to those cds
you said would improve me
but I never got that music
it was a country I could starve in

Paul Tobin, EXPERIMENTS WITH BOREDOM

“Yeah, I didn’t want to remind you about the equinox,” my spouse said.

“Right? Another thing on the to-do list,” I agreed. We mimed leaning our shoulders into the wheel of the year. “But I got it done!”

It’s autumn and my birthday and I’m struggling. Sleep has been especially hard. If I’m to have any chance at all, I have to turn off the screens, even Netflix, an hour and or two before bedtime and read something completely unrelated to work, as well as popping Unisom and melatonin–and while I love sinking into a book, the new routine makes the day feel even shorter. I’m ruminating about some old conflicts and challenging people in my work-life; self-doubt has blown back into my life with a vengeance. I wish I could stop THAT wheel and get off. I live less than a ten-minute walk from campus, which is a beautiful way to commute, but sometimes I get home and it still feels too close, looming in my imagination. It’s also inherently a job without solid boundaries. On what side of the line, for instance, does writing sit? Is criticism work and poetry play? What about now that I’m writing creative criticism?

I like many aspects of my job, and as I’ve been writing in a forthcoming column, that’s how they get you. Universities run on uncompensated enthusiasm; without it, they’d have to change the business model.

Lesley Wheeler, The wheel(er) considers turning

This ocean knows everything, her
sand is coarse inside my mouth when I talk,

inside my thoughts as they spawn. All I know,
I learnt from her brown-blueness, lapping
around my ankles like a warning. How to

talk without speaking, how to listen while
still retreating, how to let go even when the
full moon is drowning in your belly.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 14

At first I thought about going to a different part of campus.  I didn’t see any elements I could use:  so many dead leaves, so many shades of brown, ugh.  But then I saw a leaf that was more rust than brown, and then a burgundy leaf, and then some leaves drifted by on the breeze, and I started examining not only color but texture.

I thought about creating some sort of creche with sticks, but it was a breezy day.  As I contemplated that base of a tree which I thought might shelter my unmade creation, and then I looked at the trunk.  I realize it had marvelous possibilities, so I took a leaf and threaded the stem of a leaf into an opening.

The breeze didn’t blow it away, so I did it again, and then again.  Soon, I had a trunk full.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Autumn Leaves from a Different Angle

After that there were a lot of random poems, experiments, some of which turned colors and boiled over, which is good, and some of which didn’t. Two of my favorites were about black widow spiders. I always seem to write about black widows during August, since they’re in the crooks and corners of patios and garages around here, growing big and shiny in the sweltering heat and knitting their cottony egg sacs. Of course their ferocity is legendary, but in reality they’re mostly timid and serene. I always get a lot of poetic mileage out of black widows. […]

This year I tried something new: painting postcards specifically for the poems, and also the reverse—writing ekphrastic poems about my own paintings on the postcards*. I sort of liked painting to complement the poems; that was a free-wheeling exercise in abstraction, or in surreal representation. But I didn’t like writing ekphrastic poems about the paintings; that felt weirdly self-referential, a kind of narcissistic loop. Like, I painted this somewhat abstract landscape, and now I’m writing a poem about it. It was a sham, a trick I was pulling on the reader—a made-up poem about a made-up visual scene. It was like trying to build a house on air. There didn’t seem to be much point to it. 

One of my favorite poems of the month was about a baby that someone at a party asked me to keep an eye on for a few minutes. We were outside, it was raining a bit, the baby was sleeping in a little covered hammock—and suddenly the world exploded into metaphors. That was way better than any made-up landscape. There’s something to be said for writing poems about real things. This was a good reminder of that.

Amy Miller, Art Imitates Art: Poetry Postcard Fest 2022 Wrap-Up

my Work of Breathing poetry book was in the top 8 for the Able Muse award

as much as winning would be great, honorable mention is not so bad.

thinking about the hundreds and hundreds (I assume even a small press gets quite a few submissions?), getting to the top 8 tells me my book is probably just about THERE –it might be a matter or rearrangement or the judge’s particular taste.

besides, this book is very precious to me, particularly precious being about my daughter Kit, so I’m in no rush and feeling awful choosey about where I send it in the first place.

I also don’t really have any doubts about it. I read a lot of poetry, and I think (my own emotions about it aside) that it is a good book. Not everyone’s cup of tea…fairly dark…but I think the quality is there.

Renee Emerson, honorable mention

The origin of the word critic is “sieve.” I like this idea. That a criticism or a critique (whose positivity or negativity is surely in the eyes of the receiver) is like a mesh, and what comes through is a clearer substance. Certainly the goal of receiving a criticism or critique is receiving some kind of clarity.

Apparently I have a reputation for being critical. And I don’t mean vital to something’s existence. It means I have opinions and articulate them apparently sometimes to people who don’t want to hear them. Be that as it may, I am concerned at the moment that I’m not being critical enough of my own work. I may have mentioned — and it is by no means bragging, it’s just a fact — that I have three manuscripts of poems I’d like to get published. There is some crossover between two of them — I figure whichever gets published first wins. But they’re not getting published and nor am I having great luck with the individual poems. So one must cast a glance askance at the poems, I guess.

My editorial approach at this point in the development of the mss, which range in age from one to four years old, is to put them away while I’m awaiting the glacial process of submissions, and occasionally, every few months or so, give them a look see. Sometimes it results in me giving a poem or two the heave ho. But by and large, I read the collections and think, yeah, I like that.

This worries me. Shouldn’t I be suffering over every word? Shouldn’t I be shuffling around the order restlessly until some golden order is achieved? From whence comets this troublesome onset of “it’s all gooood”? Critic, criticize thyself.

Marilyn McCabe, All that’s left is flesh and bone; or, On Casting the Critical Eye on Your Own Damn Poems

We’re not hanging about this week. Too much to get done. Sunday lunch has just gone in the oven and I have a hot date with the Red Door Poets in couple of hours to hear Mary Mulholland, Tom Cunliffe and Katie Griffiths, Alex Corrin-Tachibana, Matthew Paul and Claire Collison reading. Can’t wait.

Before then I have to do this and answer some questions about my own work. I’ve been invited to do so for a magazine this week. It won’t be published for a while, but I don’t want to get behind on stuff. Sorry, I don’t want to get further behind. The invitation was lovely, it was a bit of a double-edged sword as it meant I didn’t make it into the print mag, but I think that in many ways this means my poem will reach further, but more on that closer to the time.

The only real developments this week was me sitting down to think about the running order of my pamphlet again. As you can see I got somewhere, but I think you will also see that my cats disagreed. So, we start again. And we lock the door.

Mat Riches, Sun-bleached bunting

I think of this place before
we opened the door and crossed
the threshold—every gleaming
floorboard and clear

piece of tile, cornices like violin
scrolls; the air in the rooms
already singing of work and days.
If you stood in the center, the years
would tumble into your hands. And
the only thing to do is open them.

Luisa A. Igloria, Work and Days

I think I’m tired of reading books that not only match the poet’s own life-path to the point where they feel wholly autobiographical but that they are self-absorbed, insecure, obsessed with the behaviour of the body and past indignities inflicted on it – and by the frustrating, demoralising ‘struggle’ to conquer the trauma these things have created.

Sure, there are some excellent poetry books dealing with the consequences of real life trauma that feel raw and powerful. Claire Williamson’s Visiting The Minotaur is wonderful.

There are also several I’ve read recently, however, that feel fake, as if the trauma is exaggerated for the sake of writing a book about it, a subject to be explored because it’s fashionable. Sadly, this one felt as if the poet had struggled with some kind of block and had fallen back on this to emerge from it and get a book out. The back page blurb, naturally, called it a brave book. It’s really not.

I could have mentioned the book. What’s the point? Any publicity is good publicity.

MAYBE my reaction is in line with my growing tendency to be reclusive, certainly in terms of the ‘poetry community’. I read poetry most days, buy books, prefer to support the smaller presses, if possible. I think I’m capable of writing better than I have done at any point in my life up to now. Partly, I think, that’s because I’ve managed to shed contact with all but a few poets and that I have no need of acclaim or recognition. I don’t need a prize (wouldn’t know what to do with it), don’t need to teach anyone how to write, don’t need another book with my name on the cover. I like to spend time exploring writing and what it brings to the experience of living – along with watching football, looking after hens and pigs, managing woodland and watching wildlife. I pay homage to the need to ‘get writing’ out there by including various bits and pieces on this blog and am interested in the reaction they provoke – an old friend who saw them told me last week he found them demented, which I appreciated – but mostly the rest is frills and frippery. Someone else said there were so many poems on here that they need to be divided into books. Maybe. For now, it’s too time-consuming and distracting from the real business of getting it down. So it goes.

Bob Mee, STRUGGLING TO BE GENEROUS AGAIN…

6. In your poems, be parsimonious with “how” clauses. I too often see lists of these. This has become an overused strategy. Likewise, avoid overusing “the way” to begin items in a series.

7. Be very sparing with poems about poems. I can take maybe one per manuscript. You won’t get rejected if you have more, but if your manuscript is accepted, I will almost certainly ask you to revise some of those poems. I find this kind of poem particularly vexing when the poem is making its way along beautifully on a particular topic and then suddenly starts referring to itself as “this poem.” That knocks me right out of the poem. My heart sinks with disappointment.

8. Avoid great blue herons in your poems. I add this here for a light touch, but seriously that bird is so overused in poetry! Surely there are other magnificent birds. And does it have to be a bird?

Diane Lockward, Thoughts on Poetry Manuscript Submission

Fast forward through five years in Cambridge, when I was working and finding it hard to find a writing group, to the early 1990s when we moved to Swansea, hometown of Dylan Thomas. I took some classes in the Welsh language and soon became acquainted with simple greetings, mutations, and popular words such as ‘hwyl’ and ‘hiraeth’.

A few months later, Peter Thabit Jones introduced me to some English versions of the Englyn. Thanks to poems in English by Gerard Manley-Hopkins, I came to understand something of Cynghanedd, the Welsh notion of ‘sound-arrangement’ or harmony within a single line, achieved by following one of four set patterns involving rhyme and alliteration. I would recommend Listening to Welsh Verse by Mererid Hopwood (Gomer Press, 2005) for those who are interested in learning more.

I have a deep love of poetry forms. This was nurtured by The Book of Forms: a Handbook of Poetics by Lewis P. Turco. Little did I expect to have three of my own sample poems, a Clang, a Folding Mirror poem and a Bref Double with Echo, published in the turquoise-covered 2012 edition, which included odd and invented forms. 

During my Swansea years, I came to love the poetry of Edward Thomas, whose four grandparents hailed from Wales. I was already familiar with ‘Adlestrop’, but was unaware that Thomas had written so many poems in such a short space of time before his untimely death in the Great War. ‘Swedes’ may not be a ‘typical’ Thomas poem, but it immediately caught my eye and made me realise how powerful metaphor can be and how the smallest details can transform a text. In ‘Swedes’, the discovery of an ancient Egyptian tomb is compared to the opening of a swede clamp. David, my archaeologist husband, and I became so intrigued by the detail in the poem that we undertook some research and wrote a short paper, ‘Leaving Town’ and ‘Swedes’: Edward Thomas and Amen‐Hotep (Notes and Queries, Volume 50, Issue 3, OUP, September 2003, pp. 325–327).  

Caroline Gill : part two (Thomas Whyte)

In a poem
something has to

rhyme. It doesn’t
always have to

be the words,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (85)

The adult still contains the child he once was. The child thinking up word combinations to make a lesson pass more quickly grows into an adult who still enjoys word games. Our past is still with us and we have a choice as to whether that is a good thing or not.

“The Past is a Dangerous Driver” looks at how the past seeps into the present and the consequences of that. In some poems nature reclaims human structures, reminding readers of man’s relatively short time on the planet. In others the boundaries between past and present are more permeable. A storm prompts thoughts of war or the collection of metal for the war effort inspires thoughts of other uses of metal, particularly a medal representing a life after its end and the impact of a hypothetical lost life on the present. There are lighter moments too, the game of guessing what an acronym might represent. Mason’s structured poems guide readers through a journey where people might be ready to move on but the past isn’t ready to let them go yet.

Emma Lee, “The Past is a Dangerous Driver” Neal Mason (Holland Park Press) – Book Review

The fourth full-length poetry collection by Toronto poet Adebe DeRango-Adem, following Ex Nihilo (Calgary AB: Frontenac House, 2010), Terra Incognita (Toronto ON: Inanna Publications, 2015) and The Unmooring (Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2018), is HUMANA (Toronto ON: Book*hug, 2022), an assemblage of vibrant and performative poems akin to chants, focusing on voice and the polyrhythmic lyric. “GREAT FOREST CHORUS OF SCREAMS,” she writes, to open the poem “VOX TELUM/MEMORIAM,” “composition in a key / of a tree reluctant to give life […]” Her poems are composed as gestural sweeps of language, utterances and tradition, song, prayer and declaration. She speaks and sings on race and identity, history and community, doing so with such force, and clearly a voice to be heard, to be acknowledged; to be reckoned with. “O COMMONWEALTH—!” she writes, to open “VOX LINGUA/MALEDICTUM,” “HEX your gilded lexicons—! I spook / the master’s   language    I see how     texts / turn white & whiter                    foam // the colour of dissolve […]”

Set in three sections—“FUGUE I,” “FUGUE II” and “FUGUE III”—DeRango-Adem sings a song-sequence against and of silence, arranged in performative gasps, gaps, staccato declarations and long, languid sweeps. These are poems to be performed, composed as passionate celebration and of witness, and her performance radiates. As the two page “VOX GENUS/PROVECTUS” ends: “a    ruckus network // of howls [.]”

rob mclennan, Adebe DeRango-Adem, HUMANA

Rob Taylor: Standing in a River of Time is a hybrid — part prose memoir, part poetry. Each section opens with a prose narrative and closes with poems on the same subject. What drew you to this structure, as opposed to writing one or the other?

Jónína Kirton: This book was to be a collection of poetry. While working on the collection I had been experimenting with essay writing, and had a few essays published in anthologies. One of the essays is in Good Mom on Paper, and it includes a poem that is also in this collection. I found it hard to write about being a mother, and yet it was such a big part of my life. As with every other essay I had written I had many false starts. After a number of attempts an idea emerged: perhaps I could not only merge prose and poetry, but I could also keep the prose short. I give thanks to the editors Jen Sookfong Lee and Stacy May Fowles for allowing me to experiment and to include a poem.

RT: What role did the mentorship of Betsy Warland (she who mastered the form so fully they named a hybrid book prize after her!) play in helping you find this form?

JK: After writing the essay for Good Mom on Paper, I returned to writing my book and did what Betsy had taught me; I let the narrative lead. I never intended for the book to be this long but as I wrote the prose kept coming. Then while working with my substantive editor, Joanne Arnott, a rupture occurred, and the book exploded. Suddenly, I was going back into some of my childhood. The book became about the effects of colonization on one Métis family. Often, the discoveries revealed in the book were happening for me in real time.

In many ways the narrative chose the structure. The writing of it was at times healing and had a mystical feel to it. I would sit at the computer, and it poured out of me. Sometimes I would be crying so much that the front of my blouse was soaked but I could not stop to dry my eyes. I had to keep writing.  

It was my husband who noticed after reading the prose he felt the poems, most of which he knew well, were made stronger by knowing the back story. When he said this, I knew I was on the right track.

Rob Taylor, My Body Knows More Than I Do: An Interview with Jónína Kirton

Throw the windows wide. Comfort poor Van, who is appalled by Martha’s disappearance, and sleeps all day on her spot on the couch, not even rousing himself at the sound of a can of cat food being opened. (His consciousness is on strike: it refuses to return to work until she’s back). Water the plants. Muse on the variations of cloud building and dissolving, north over the neighbor’s gable. Count, if I must. One hundred and fifty breaths is one attempt at falling asleep. Fifteen long breaths, if I’m lying on my belly, opens the subway stops along the lumbar spine.

Dale Favier, Aurelito

where is the child missing from my death

where is a road that walks on its knees

how many waters are never dreamed

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, bloggers sounded more hopeful notes as another school year got underway in many places and a hint of autumn crept into the air.


I remember some key things from psychotherapy. It was a revelation to me when my therapist said: 

It’s okay to change your mind

He didn’t, in that moment, mean about what I was having for dinner, but that’s included in the permission to understand that our words are not always our bond, but our process – a way of getting to grips with thought, emotion, woundedness, intent, desire, the bewilderment of being unsure of what we want because of, well, because of (for one thing) our unique interaction with the world not being taken seriously enough as children. Being squashed down. 

The poems: they don’t come out fully formed, you know. It’s usually a bit messy. 

So here I am, back in my blog which, I have learned since I announced its demise in June, is a friend I don’t want to live without. Not right now, anyway, when I’m in grief and times are so troubled. 

Liz Lefroy, I Step Through The Gate

And a father sells his nine-year-old daughter in marriage to a sixty-year-old man and tells his screaming wife Get back inside, you donkey!

Ah, but this is not poetry, you say.

And a child’s arm is blown off when a guided missile smashes into an apartment block.

Ah, but this is not poetry, you say.

The humiliated stand silently in small groups, waiting for re-education to begin.
Repeat after me: I am guilty on all counts.

Ah, but this is not poetry, you say.

Any minute now, nothing will happen.

It’s always about the unsaid.

Bob Mee, AH, BUT THIS IS NOT POETRY, YOU SAY

watching the storm
from the darkness
of the driver’s seat

Jason Crane, haiku: 21 August 2022

I feel an amorphous weight inside. I think it is because of the new series of poems I am writing. Or attempting to write. Honesty does not come easy. Words that should want to break free of restraint and guilt, sit and stare at you with soft, reproachful eyes. I have backspaced more than I have written. I have written more than I thought I could. There is still a mountain to climb. One step up, two steps down. One poem in. Two poems out. The mornings are weary of my wounds. The night refuses to listen.

I read instead of writing. Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’. I read a little. I backspace some more. I meet friends, people who may be friends. I talk a little. I backspace even more.

Austen’s Anne says in the book, “that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry, to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly, were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.”

I wonder if poetry should be enjoyed safely. I wonder if it should sear and chill and raise and drown. Both poet and reader. Austen in her dulcet voice sounds a note of caution. For both poet and reader. So, I ask myself as Rilke commands. Must I write?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Survival Guide for Poets

In a previous life, I was a waitress…before that, a farm girl. I spent a lot of my farm-girl childhood pretending to be a horse named Stormy. I think somewhere in time I was a tree.

Bethany Reid, In Your Previous Life

I’m rereading [Rebecca] Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which is completely dog-eared from my first time through, so many pages I tagged that had ideas I needed to revisit and think about or phrases I loved or things I needed to go back and write about. Now too I have to pause after every page or two because so much thought is incited in me by her own. This is reading at its finest! “Reading with a purpose,” as it were, as I was in need of food for thought, and this is a feast indeed.

And yet the what the book also is teaching me is that as a writer and as a traveler, I need to learn how to be lost. If I can unclutch the map, not worry so much about where I’m going but focus more on where I am, I could discover more. And don’t we travel, and don’t we write, to discover?

I can feel sometimes my rising anxiety to get where I’m going — I’m speaking here both about travel and about writing, of course. Feel the urge toward the relief of “oh, there it is.” But what is my hurry, and what is the problem with lingering withOUT purpose, with turning and ambling, poking down an alley just to double-back. What is the problem with being a stranger here myself?

What Solnit does so well is just that, diverge, pause, seem to take an odd turn, but somehow she finds her way back, and I, the reader, am perfectly content with the zig and the zag. To wander and to wonder. The word wander is from words related to wend and weave. The origin of wonder is unknown.

Marilyn McCabe, Why am I soft in the middle; or, On Writing and the Unknown

The most important question behind the question is: is reality something we can have a relationship with? Is it something that we can love? Is it something that can love us? And my answer to that, again emphatically — passionately — is yes. It’s not only possible, it’s necessary. We already do love it: it already loves us. To understand and unfold that is a work much larger than a lifetime, larger than all the lifetimes. But we did not step into reality from somewhere outside it. We are not strangers here, looking to strike up an acquaintance. To see the universe as alien and unintelligible — that is a really extravagant philosophical position, a totally untenable one. That we, each of us, popped into existence ex nihilo, and must grope about looking for ways to make contact with an alien universe — that is the default philosophical position of the modern world, and it makes even less sense than God as a patriarch of ancient Palestinian herdsmen. We are not foreigners here. We love, and are loved, from the very beginning to the very end. For better and for worse.

Such a sweeping statement prompts the question, “am I really saying anything? What is this love worth, if everyone has it all the time?” This love isn’t (necessarily) passion, or fondness, or esteem: it’s only a philosophical assertion of connectedness. It’s not what one hankers for on a lonely Saturday night by a silent phone.

In a way, no, it’s not saying anything. But it flips figure and ground. It changes the question of loneliness from, “how do I connect in this alien, unintelligible universe?” to “what must I do to shake off this delusion of separation?” My loneliness is not something I have found: it is something that I make, moment by moment. The task is to not to start something, or build something; it’s to stop something, dismantle something.

Dale Favier, Dismantling

Every so often, I still taste soap from all those years ago when my mom would wash my mouth out for talking dirty.

The taste reminds me there’s a fine line between what is acceptable and unacceptable, and how that fine line can sometimes come in the form of Irish Spring or Dove.

In her own way, my mom did me a favor. At least I didn’t grow up sounding like a drunken sailor with Tourette’s.

To honor my mom, I keep a sweet-talking spot beneath my tongue.

Rich Ferguson, Soap or No Soap

My father died today: the end of a very long, mostly happy, vigorous life. We were with him. I’m grateful for so much, relieved that his suffering was short, and yet still feel like a tree has fallen in the forest: it’s hard to imagine life without him being in it too. But of course, as long as I am alive, he will live in me.

Beth Adams, My Father. December 15, 1924 – August 22, 2022

I finally saw the hedgehog that has taken up residence under the holly bush. Leonard is curious, but fortunately, he hides behind my legs while he sniffs at the air from a safe distance. The creature’s not a hare, he knows that much. It makes me happy to know there’s a hedgehog here again. I can’t even begin to explain why. We will only catch glimpses of him in the half-dark for a few more months before he sleeps for the winter. But somehow knowing he is there… like a weird kind of vague promise of something good.

Unexamined hope.

I keep reminding myself that life is good right now. I am even learning not to brace myself for bad news when a message notification pops up on my phone. T. sends snaps of their new puppy swimming in a pond way up North. I can hear the splashing, and him and his wife laughing softly.

Ren Powell, Unexamined Hope

As a traveler, I understand;
you, a traveler, too, 
must travel, we must
say good-bye,
but a drop 
of radiance,
a grape
of imaginary sun,
has touched the blind blood 
of everyday…

—  Pablo Neruda, excerpt from “Ode to the Third Day”

Neruda, were you writing about a day of the week?  Or were you lamenting the end of summer, as I hear through the howl of my re-entry struggles?  You who understood all things, of course felt the keen sorrow of leaving behind life’s elements — gracious friends, groundedness, sea, sardines, openness.  To your odes, we sing along with sweet regret, knowing how lucky we are to touch those values.  Loss is the nature of the game!

Back at home, I am resolved to bring expansive “summer” — i.e. human values —  into what seems like our never-ending strife, conflict, struggle.  I’m modeling my plans after more balanced friends to 1) create the better world of our little garden rather than rail against the one that seems to loom, and 2) to bring lightness to the truth that we’re all flawed, to laugh rather than judge.  

Seems rather North American.  I prefer Neruda’s continuing language: “we will cherish/ this insurgent day,/ blazing,/ unforgettable,/ a bright flame/in the midst of dust and time.”

Jill Pearlman, A Drop of Radiance has Touched the Everyday

As I was getting ready to leave New York City last week, it occurred to me that much of the art I saw on my trip, from the Statue of Liberty to the majority of the art at the MOMA, was a response to oppression. I started thinking about what it means to live in an age when so much of the work of artists is a form of resistance. Of course, artists and poets have always functioned as truth-tellers, often to their peril, but the intensity and scale of the art I saw emphasized this fact to me in new and thought-provoking ways.

For example, on the Statue of Liberty tour, I learned that the statue was more than just “a gift from France to the people of the United States,” as I’d been told as a child. Its main purpose was to commemorate the end of slavery. Hidden at the statue’s base are broken chains, meant to symbolize the freeing of America’s enslaved people; the statue’s designer, Frederic Bartholdi, “originally designed Lady Liberty holding broken chains, but later deemed the explicit reference to slavery too controversial. Instead, a broken chain and shackles lie at the statue’s feet, delivering the abolitionist message more subtlety.” 

It’s beyond ironic that a statue celebrating the end of slavery had to be toned down. Our tour guide told us that Bartholdi took this action, at least in part, to appease wealthy donors whose money was crucial in paying for the statue.

The statue is also the site of one of the world’s most conspicuous displays of ekphrasis: Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus,” printed at the statue’s base. Many phrases hit me as I read the poem, : “brazen giant,” “imprisoned lightning,” “world-wide welcome,” and of course, the famous lines about the tired, poor, the wretched refuse, homeless and “tempest-tost.” The poem asks the world for these “huddled masses,” indeed demands them. Not the wealthy, the educated, the strong and beautiful, but their polar opposites.

“The New Colossus” transformed the statue from its original purpose to “the role of unofficial greeter of incoming immigrants,” as New York journalist John T. Cunningham put it. On that windy dot of an island in the New York Harbor, I was profoundly moved, imagining boatload after boatload of immigrants being greeted by this gigantic Mother of Exiles, as Lazarus calls her, before they landed at Ellis Island. 

Erica Goss, Pictures & Words: My Visit to New York City

Paralyzed by her past, she can do nothing.
She sits on a rock and stares at the junction
of three rivers, this spot that Thomas Jefferson
declared the most beautiful in the New World.

The parents return to a field of calm.
Their boys have recruited other disaffected
children. They’ve created a game with inscrutable
rules. The parents discover that the boys have devoured
the best parts of the picnic. As the sun skips
west, they munch carrot sticks and apples as they watch
the children play, making up rules as they go along.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Harper’s Ferry and the Looming History

Summer’s heat is lingering here in Finland, but autumn is coming up fast. Cooler mornings, the birch turning gold overnight, geese starting to move on in long, noisy threads. My favourite season, but it’s always tinged here with the knowledge that winter won’t be far behind and will last too long. I should probably get out and do something in the nice weather while it lasts, but there are never enough hours in the weekend. […]

This week, I’ve also dealt with the recording the Helsinki Writers Group is doing for Helsinki Open Waves, liaising with the technician and the 3 other poets. I can’t wait to hear the final product, it sounded so cool even without embellishments, but the technician was going to try and add a soundscape behind our poems. 

We had a rough theme, Below the Surface, but we each went our own way with it. When we brought them together there were overlaps and echoes of each other’s work that we hadn’t planned or expected. It can be a repeated phrase or image or sound though all the poems’ subjects are very different. We shared our work briefly in the writing and editing stage and I find those chats often bring a poem to fruition. What you can’t quite reach alone is nurtured through sharing it with others. The group has a few poets now, after a long time of me being the only one and these collaborations are so much fun. 

Gerry Stewart, The Switch from Summer to Autumn

My son left this week for his senior year at college, which removed a handy barrier between me and working all the time. My writer self, my teaching self, and my role as Department Head are competing hardest for my hours. Teaching and chairing are more deadline-driven so my writer self is hanging on by her fingernails. She has grit, though.

What I’ve been writing during the past few weeks–it actually does have a deadline, Tuesday–is a column for the web platform of a scholarly journal. This longish piece concerns creative scholarship and has made vivid to me how fiercely creative writing and scholarly training are fighting in the colosseum of my brain. Seriously, I’ve published a book of creative criticism and other essays besides. You’d think I’d know how to argue for it by now, but I’m finding this piece very hard for reasons that may be emotional as well as logistical. I think the essay is clicking now, but it’s one of those subjects I had to write too much about before I could cut the thing back to a better version of itself. The throughline kept shifting and I kept finding other sources I wanted to consult. Both creative writers and scholars discover what they think by writing about it–despite animosity between the fields, they have more in common than not–but scholarship places a much higher value on reading all major statements on the subject so far. I think that’s what serious, curious writers should do, learning everything they can if they’re going to make some kind of beyond-the-personal pronouncement, but it’s also true that this assignment is an online column, not a full-fledged article. Sometimes you just have to stop.

Lesley Wheeler, Splitting / creative scholarship

Poet Sonia Greenfield shared on her Facebook page an essay written by Haley Mlotek, “Against August” (The Paris Review) and I think it’s pretty damn wonderful. Yes, August is well-planted within summer months, but it doesn’t carry the late-spring anticipation of May, the giddy affection of June, or the full-blown buzz and hum of July. In fact, my reply to Sonia’s thread consisted of this: August is to muck around in the mire of all least favorite things: summer’s end, teacher in-service, and rain, rain, and rain, at least here. I am especially keen on her borrow of a few lines by poet Marge Piercy to make her point about August. In her poem “Blue Tuesday in August,” Piercy writes,

The world smelled like a mattress you find
on the street and leave there,
or like a humid house reciting yesterday’s
dinner menu and the day before’s.

Perfect!

Kersten Christianson, Not Much Love for August

A thrill to be read so enthusiastically and perceptively by Shirley Geok-Lin Lim, one of the three judges of the Singapore Literature Prize English fiction category. She made her thoughts public on her FB page after the award ceremony was over. She has really good things to say too about my fellow nominees, Cyril Wong and Mallika Naguran.

“The Singapore Book Council celebration of the 2022 Prize winners for various genres in different languages was yesterday (Thursday), so I no longer feel bound to discreet silence as one of the three judges for the English Fiction Award. I wrote up my enthusiasm for three of the 33 novels and short story collections mailed to me, and include them here, to share with their readers!

“Jee Leong Koh’s Snow at 5 P.M.: Translations of an Insignificant Japanese Poet

Jee Leong Koh’s Snow at 5 P.M. may be Singapore first global novel. It is multi-genre, with 107 haiku introducing many of the prose passages. Set chiefly in contemporary Manhattan, with Central Park as the jewel in the setting, the fiction flashes off and on, like red warning signals, to a futuristic climate-changed Singapore Island and planet. The novel is multi-civilizational, the protagonist-narrator being a diasporic Singaporean living in New York City, in quest of his speculative protagonist, a Japanese poet immigrant to the same American territory. The novel is a mash-up of sub-genres. It is a mystery story, puzzling a missing poet known only through the half-burnt sheaves of haiku left in the apartment the narrator has moved into. The fiction is thickened, like Herman Melville’s Moby Dick’s whaling information, with empirical botanical knowledge that offers a different discursive dimension to the haiku images of flora and fauna. Asian American scholarship and displays of literary erudition are scored with erotic gay intimacies. Multitudinous digressive language plays, sub-characters’ lineages and histories, suggest unities in the tradition of Joycean epic works. Snow at 5 p.m.’s hybrid literary traditions, genres and sub-genres, generating complex threads, each digressing and spinning other threads, achieve a tour de force, a globalized Singapore imaginary that dazzles.”

Jee Leong Koh, SNOW AT 5 PM Won the Singapore Literature Prize

Susan Glickman is an artist of words and brush. She paints, edits, teaches and writes many genres: fiction, essays of literary history, non-fiction, children’s books and poetry. She has won a whack of awards for her writing. (I can’t believe her fabulous collection from Vehicule The Smooth Yarrow is already a decade ago. Time to reread.)

PP: Susan, what have you read lately that lit you up? 

SG: In addition to my typical diet of poetry (recently a lot of Jane Hirshfield as well as Dionne Brand, Dorianne Lux, and John Steffler), and historical fiction such as Lauren Groff’s magnificent novel Matrix, I have been reading a fair bit of sci-fi and sci-fact. The former includes a deep dive into Ursula Le Guin as well as more contemporary stuff like Emily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility, the fabulous time-travel novels of Connie Willis, and Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, the latter inspiring books such as Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus, Charles Foster’s Being a Beast, and Carl Safina’s Becoming Wild.

PP: Well, my reading list just got a longer. Those last two in particular. I’ve heard very good things about Sea of Tranquility and The Soul of an Octopus was great. Can you add a why or how for the shoutout?

SG: I’m overcome with grief at how humanity has abused this planet. I am seeking a better understanding of other creatures as well as paradigms of alternate ways to live.

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: With Susan Glickman

I’m tired, physically and mentally–a lot on my mind these days–and I feared I was tired of poetry, but, no. Early this morning, I picked up Break the Glass, by Jean Valentine (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), and could not put it down. The poems felt both fragmentary and liquidy, like pieces floating or somehow flowing…with little punctuation to stop the flow. That body of water [on the cover] with bodies in it, which looks like people standing, is an installation in Germany by Antony Gormley, called Another Place (1997, cast iron/100 elements), photographed by Helmut Kunde. The poems dropped me in another time and place, some celebrating Lucy, that early hominid, and who knew I’d find the coincidence of the word Australopithecus in three books this August, two books of poetry and one about teeth.

Kathleen Kirk, Break the Glass

The narrative [CJ] Evans writes across the seventy stanzas, each five lines in length, of “TRYING TO HEAR A HYMN TO LIFE” loop and swirl around a variety of images of wetlands and Lake Merritt, resting in the centre of Oakland, California, the Simon and Garfunkle song “America,” the memory of Sandy Hook, his daughter’s imaginary sabertooth, “Toothy,” and other family moments, connections, memories, dislocations and trauma, all wrapped up and around not only a belief in life itself, but the very act of that particular brand of faith. “I can’t see the lake from here,” he writes, early on in the poem, “but I believe / it still is. Just as I believe in the shellmounds / I’ll never see, the sabertooth, that the flat moon / is actually a sphere. I believe as I do / in this tabletop you can’t touch: wood pulp crushed // in a hydraulic press with glue.” Or later on in the same poem, offering: “I believe in this as much as god / or biology, which is to say, a bit less // than to make a bet with it against a bullet, / but enough. I call it belief, but it’s purposefully, / wondrously unexamined.” There is such a stunning beauty to this collection, one that shows itself as open-hearted while playing rather close to what might suggest a deeply-wounded chest. This is what one might call a darkly optimistic book; one filled with as much beauty as one can muster, and everything one can see after having been in the dark.

rob mclennan, CJ Evans, LIVES

The fig’s branches lean closer to the ground
exhausted from all their summer bearing

My tongue fingers the space where
a cracked tooth used to be

I thought the potted Buddha’s hand citrus
given by a friend had perished in winter

But here it is pushing out its signature
green laddered with fresh new thorns

Luisa A. Igloria, On the Cusp

On Saturday, fellow poets Ian Parks, Simon Beech, Tracy Day Dawson and I walked the route of Ted Hughes’s paper round up from Mexborough to Old Denaby, as described here. Ian, born and brought up in Mexborough, led us on the route which took in the former newsagent’s where Hughes and his family lived from 1938.

At the right-hand-side of the shop is Hughes’s bedroom window overlooking what was a slaughter-yard back then. It inspired his gruesome poem ‘View of a Pig’, published in his second collection, Lupercal (1960). Like most, if not all, English children of my generation, I studied the poems of Hughes more than anyone else’s, except perhaps Owen and Sassoon, and it was the earthier, meatier poems like this one, and ‘Pike’, also from Lupercal, which we read the most. The poem’s last two lines – with the perfectly-judged anaphora, alliteration and simile – ring across the years from an England long-gone:

I stared at it a long time. They were going to scald it,
Scald it and scour it like a doorstep.
 

The route took in the possible setting of ‘Pike’:

A pond I fished, fifty yards across,
Whose lilies and muscular tench
Had outlasted every visible stone
Of the monastery that planted them—

Stilled legendary depths:
It was as deep as England. It held
Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old


The route took in Manor Farm, where Hughes went trapping and shooting with his brother. It’s the setting of his poem, ‘Sunstroke’, again in Lupercal:

Reek of paraffin oil and creosote
Swabbing my lungs doctored me back

Laid on a sack in the great-beamed engine-shed.
I drank at stone, at iron of plough and harrow
[. . .]

I should add that Ian has a wonderful poem published today over at Black Nore Review, here, and I’m looking forward to hearing Ian read at Mexborough Library this Wednesday.

Matthew Paul, On Ted Hughes

This morning, as I was lying in bed, half awake and trying to decide if I should just start the day or sleep another couple of hours,  I found myself thinking about words and media, about literature and books and all the ways we take in information now.  Also the nature of that information, particularly when it seems all is possible and there is an outlet for everyone. How it can be misused and handled badly.  How the good has a sturdy platform, but also the bad. 

When I was a teenager and young adult, the world touted the danger of televisions..of the downfall of reading and literate culture. It seemed inevitable.  Even among people my age, not all were readers, which was strange to me, having had books in my hand since before I even understood what was in them.  The same child who scribbled in notebooks and said I was writing when I barely knew the alphabet. The Mother Goose volume I carried around until it fell apart despite not being able to do much beyond read the pictures to discern the story unless I convinced my mother to read it to me.

My parents, especially my dad, who were only high school graduates, were still readers.  My mom liked stories and painting, but her reading was mostly magazines. Still, words were something always available in some form. Whether it was mags and novels passed off from my aunt (one of the most prolific readers in the family) or our weekly trips to the library, books were just always present.  My dad read the newspaper daily, and books about everything–not just novels. No one read poetry of course,  or maybe even knew people were writing it, but words in general were not foreign. I only learned about poems in junior high and high school, though it depends on what you consider poems. We all fought over Shel Silverstein books in the 5th grade, so maybe I guess I just didn’t think of them as poems but rhymes. Poets were like unicorns and outside of some teens who wrote poems and professor, I didn’t see a real poet until my second year of undergrad (in some weird confluence of stars,  I later got to publish her.)

Kristy Bowen, words and the world

“Violet Existence” explores issues of class, sexism and imposter syndrome, a sense of being the outsider and not being fully seen. Katy Wareham Morris captures the maternal voice: protective of her children but wary of a society that holds mothers up to an impossible ideal. The poems open to a vulnerability as they spill across the page, presenting contemporary situations with a promise not to raid the myth kitty or assume readers have a knowledge of Greek myths.

Emma Lee, “Violet Existence” Katy Wareham Morris (Broken Sleep) – book review

The typewriter is a recurring theme here and it seems that I’m overdue on sharing some poems about them, about the act of typing, and the music of typing. I love how Clarice Lispector and Annie Dillard and May Sarton wrote about typewriters and typing in their prose and I’ve shared some of their words in a post titled My Most Intimate Friend.

The first poem is by Charles Simic who I’m beautifully indebted to because he allowed me to use his poem “In the Library” in my novel, Everything Affects Everyone. His poem strikes upon the both-ness of delight and dark despair that it’s possible to feel these days.

Next is Australian poet, David Malouf’s poem about grasshoppers and the music they make — you can just hear the typewriter sounds as you read. The poem by Matthew Francis immediately caught my eye because he talks about a blue Smith Corona, which is what you see in my photograph. Adam Zagajewski’s poem is a self-portrait that begins with an image of his writing implements and goes on from there. But honestly, I’ll always share an AZ poem even if it only loosely fits the theme. The final poem is quite shamelessly, my own. It’s also the shortest piece I’ve ever written. I’ve shared it around a fair bit since my book came out and is probably one of those things that I like a lot more than anyone else, but that’s okay! It’s about typing rather than typewriters, but I think still works in this grouping. Which I hope you enjoy!

Shawna Lemay, 5 Poems about Typewriters

What do you feel poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t?

I should say first that I appreciate the use of the term form over the term genre. I find genre largely pointless—recently a brilliant friend of mine told me, If you want to write poems, write poems. If you want to sell poems, call them stories. I’m getting away from form.

Poetry as a form is fundamentally limber. It is a form that attempts to undermine categories of form. Poetry collects, but it does not horde. It is a form of accumulation which constantly is compelled to let go of itself. 

I have a deep respect for other forms, other disciplines—they are hard. I don’t wish to say that there is anything that they cannot do. Questions of formal capacity do not seem to me like questions related to Can it? but rather questions related to Is it willing? Poetry is willing. Poetry is always willing. 

Thomas Whyte, Evan Williams : part five

Today, Elee sent me a line she thought might be good in a poem.
“I no longer consider it necessary to find alternatives to harmony.”

Earlier, my friend Donato suggested I try writing a triolet.
So it was good that Elee sent the line—it’s true: it’d be good in a poem.

The line is a quote from the composer John Cage.
And it’s hard not think how it might apply to everything.

For instance, it’d be harmonious to end with Elee’s good-in-a-poem line:
“I no longer consider it necessary to find alternatives to harmony.”

Gary Barwin, Alternatives to Harmony: TRIOLET with CAGE refrain

As someone who has been entranced not only by the otherworldly song of the seals, but also by the author’s skilful dexterity as a poet, Where the Seals Sing fascinated me from the outset. I delighted in the Pembrokeshire seal-watching cameos and the small but memorable details of the natural world, such as the fragrance of the Elderflowers encountered along the coast. The sections on music and mythology were intriguing. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the reports of cruelty, pollution and plastic were often devastating. I was totally captivated by Susan’s engaging affection for, and whole-hearted dedication to, her Grey Seal subjects. I would love to think that some of her zeal and practical actions might inspire us all to play our part in these uncertain ecological times.

Caroline Gill, ‘Where the Seals Sing’ by Susan Richardson

I recalled a visit in 1984 to Goodrich Castle in Ross on Wye, Herefordshire, England, where we did just that–dropped a small stone into the well–and waited what seemed a long time for the sound to reach us. From what I understand, tourists can’t do that anymore; the National Historic Trust has upgraded the ruins to make them safer to visit. The tourist board doesn’t want anyone falling down wells.

But I digress. I meant the metaphor to apply to how writers listen eagerly for response to their work once it is published. Will anyone review it? Will anyone read the review? Will anyone post about it on social media? Will anyone contact the writer to say those words we want to hear: “I love your book!” –?

Sometimes, yes. And for those who have done so already, a million thanks.

Ann E. Michael, Pebble in the well

I was talking to my family about the careful balance of re-entering the world after two and a half years of basically living in a bubble. Tomorrow, I’m having over a poet friend and I’m looking forward to making friends at our new Woodinville book club at J. Bookwalters. But I have to be careful – I still haven’t gotten covid, though I have friends who are getting it for the first time and family who are getting it the second and third time. I’ve been talking about re-entering the working world a bit more, with my MS vocational therapist, talking about setting limits and boundaries, balancing my ambition and physical limits. I’m cautiously optimistic, I guess – and hoping to stay healthy enough for AWP in Seattle and my April book launch.

But how do we know what’s safe, with the confusing and often contradictory guidelines about covid, and is life ever really safe for those of us who are immune compromised? I nearly died from complications of pneumonia from the swine flu and people barely made a big deal of it of swine flu. I think about how the pandemic will affect art for the years to come – and artists who’ve suffered from complications of covid – the way the 1918 flu affected art and artists. Will people want to read, or see art, or hear music about the experiences of loss, isolation, and anxiety that came with this pandemic? Will people want to stamp out the last few years in denial?  Americans don’t like dealing with death, and they certainly don’t like dealing with mass death.

As the summer seems to be drawing to a close, and people are talking about a fall rise in covid cases, new variants, new vaccines and how well they might work, I am looking forward to the natural increase in writing energy I get when it gets a little cooler – the “back to school” feeling that never really goes away.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, More Sunflowers and Dahlias in Late August, Thinking About the Balance of Re-Entry and the Effects of the Pandemic on Art and Artists, and What’s on the Horizon

outside the dentist
gaps in the autumn trees

the numbing of time

Jim Young [no title]

Forever Young
For CB

on my birthday
I light a candle

and watch it burn
down to the dark

this is no time for wishes
time has no hold on you

Ama Bolton, Forever young

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 21

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, I tried something different: compiling the digest in a completely random fashion, without any effort to find common themes. I think it hangs together just about as well as usual! Go figure.


Many years back–let’s say decades–my friend David Dunn and I briefly became small press chapbook publishers. It was not an easy task at the time, and expensive; but I worked at a type shop and could get the type set for free and a discount on the printing. We dubbed our concern LiMbo bar&grill Books. It was decidedly a labor of love, but we published four chapbooks and two broadsides before packing it in. The name emerged from David’s postcards and letters to me, in which he’d sometimes begin “Greetings from the Limbo Bar & Grill.” We were poets in our early 20s, underemployed during a recession, without any network to universities or well-connected writers. It felt like limbo.

Forty years later, dear David is dead; I have had modest success as a published poet since then–not enough to move me past avocation status–and the entire globe spins in limbo as pandemic, climate crisis, war, and oligarchies combine to keep things as interesting and unsteady as ever they were. It feels like limbo.

Feels like limbo on the publication side, too. Because my poetry collection that was supposed to be in print by 2020 seems to be indefinitely on hold. Covid interfered, the contract never arrived, and I’m beginning to wonder whether my emails are ending up in the publisher’s SPAM filter. It’s not surprising that a small independent press–in most cases underfunded and understaffed–might lose track of, say, a manuscript or two during the hassles of the pandemic protocols and all that has wrought.

Or perhaps the press has decided not to publish my book after all. The oft-rejected writer who lives inside my head supposes that could be the case and mourns, assuming the worst.

Ann E. Michael, Limbo

In the “mom-and-me pandemic book club” news, we have started a new novel, Lorna Mott Comes Home, by Le Divorce‘s Diane Johnson, about a sixty-something formerly highly respected art historian who ends her second marriage and comes home from France to California. The passages about trying to promote her book in a post-internet world are particularly appealing – the frustration trying to get back in the game after being out of it for 20 years – her daughter writes her Amazon reviews and she goes to bookstores for signings and they can’t find her books. Her adult children and two ex-husbands are in various levels of crisis as well. I might have mentioned I’m fascinated by these newer books that seem to focus on women in academia (or post-academia) going through midlife crises – there are so many about men, so few about women! The last one I really loved was Lesley Wheeler’s Unbecoming. (If you have recommendations for others, please leave them in the comments!)

Speaking of Lesley, I finished a new book by Lesley Wheeler that’s a fascinating mix of poetry close reading, cultural criticism, and personal essay, called Poetry’s Possible Worlds. She navigates difficult subject matter – including the death of a parent and political turbulence – by reading contemporary poems and then connecting them to the wider world.

She talks about how each book of poetry opens up alternate possible worlds for us to inhabit, which can help us deal with life’s crises and foibles alike. Like poet-essayist Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves, which combines personal essay, navigating a mysterious autoimmune illness, and pop culture representations of disability, it’s a thought-provoking collection that makes me want to try my hand at this kind of hybrid essay-criticism. Anyway, if want to curl up with a good poetry/criticism/personal essay hybrid book, pick this up. The last essay, about her writing process, was one of my favorites in terms of its descriptions of writing flow and how projects interact with each other.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Somber Week, Reading Lesley Wheeler’s Poetry’s Possible Worlds and Diane Johnson, and a Visit to the Japanese Gardens

rest up
get well soon

how easily it is said
however sincere
it doesn’t help much

i lost my voice in the sea a while ago
felt very miserable
i found it later on the shoreline
it had been on an adventure

now it is back we’re on speaking terms

it hurts ~ then you laugh again

Jim Young, for beth ~ hope you are bether soon

I sat with my twelve year old on the deck, and listened as he chanted the first few lines of his Torah portion. His voice cracked once or twice. That’s been happening lately. All I could think about was the parents in Uvalde whose ten year olds won’t grow up to be twelve year olds with cracking voices. 

Shortly before we started Torah portion practice, I’d told him that there was another school shooting. I wanted him to hear it from me and not from a friend at school in the morning. I assured him that where we live is one of the safest places to be. He said, “I know, Mom,” and changed the subject.

I believe what I said to him. The place where we live is as safe a place as any I can think of. And yet I can’t promise him that an angry gunman won’t break into his school, or into our synagogue, or into the supermarket where his auntie shops with his Black cousins. I can’t promise safety. No one can.

Rachel Barenblat, Morning after

Finding the glowing pine
Is not enough. I need to travel
Down the winding road
To the decrepit cabin
Full of cobwebs, broken boards.
Even deeper, I need to go,
Below the foundation,
Down to the level of packed dirt,
Down to the damp, dark place
Where memories sleep in fits,
Pushing like roots in the soil.

Christine Swint, The Numinous Pine

This is a post that begins by saying, “trust me.” This is a post written from a place of pure love. This is a post about how an author can change your life, about how books matter, and about how writers are simultaneously magical and utterly real. It’s also a post that references a line from Jane Austen about how if I loved this book less, I could talk about it more. […]

The introduction to this collection is by Kazim Ali, and it’s perfect. It ends, “These novels are meant to be experienced, not just in language, but in their rhythms, in their interruptions and silences, in their structures and patterns and shapes of thought.” Ali finds in them “a music daily as life.” Ali notes, “they are themselves alive. And in them a reader comes to life.”

Writers, too, will come to life.

Shawna Lemay, The Scent of Light by Kristjana Gunnars

It was the intriguing title that made me want to read this beautiful collection in the first place. I love the way in which the Moon Daisy weaves her way through the pages. I admire the sense of balance between joy and wonder on the one hand, and concern and pain on the other. This judicious inclusion of this ‘light and shade’ seems fitting for a dappled woodland backdrop. There are, however, other habitats to explore and enjoy; the opening poem offers a coastal setting, while the kingfisher prefers the willows by the river and the fox prepares ‘to curl up tight nose to tail’ in an urban garden.

Like Jill, the author, I found myself very worried when I first heard that a significant number of ‘nature’ words (‘acorn’, ‘buttercup’ and ‘catkin’, to name but three) had been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary back in 2007. Many will be familiar with Robert Macfarlane’s book, The Lost Words (illustrated by Jackie Morris); the poignant reference to ‘last words’ in Jill’s final poem, ‘The Nightjar’, did not pass me by.

The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy will surely appeal to adults and children alike. The author’s subjects are most engaging; we marvel at the Moorhen in her ‘green stockinged feet’ and are introduced to the Dandelion with its ‘mustardy roar’. The collection can be enjoyed for these wonderful descriptions alone, but I sense most readers will allow themselves to be transported downstream on the metaphorical undercurrent of something a little deeper, something linked to the joys, sorrows and responsibilities that reflect our humanity. 

Caroline Gill, ‘The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy’, a Poetry Collection by Jill Stanton-Huxton

Sometimes I start a class with a book that takes me straight to the heart of wanting to write poetry: First Loves: Poets Introduce the Essential Poems that Captivated and Inspired Them, edited by Carmela Ciuraru (Scribners 2001). If you don’t already know it, I’d recommend the amazon page review for a sense of what it’s like. Ciuraru asked a wide range of contemporary poets to choose a poem that inspired them early on and say a few words about it. Every time I read around in the book I’m taken back to some of my own sources, and the same thing happens to students when they read it: a direct line opens to those original urges. The book is full of surprises: Robert Creeley chooses Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman” and Wanda Coleman picks Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” for example.

A number of experiences made me fall in love with words: my father asking “What’s black and white and red all over?” I was stumped. “A newspaper.” What? Oh! Read! That language could do that. Or my grandmother writing out “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and little lambsy divey” after she’d sung it. Later it was Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and—like Creeley—the galloping “Highwayman.” But it was Frost’s ability to see through tranquil surfaces to the depths below that resonated with something in me, from the opening of “My November Guest” (“My sorrow, when she’s here with me/ Thinks these dark days of autumn rain/ Are beautiful as days can be….”) to the horrifying “Out, Out—,” where a young boy is mortally wounded as he’s sawing lumber.

Sharon Bryan, First Loves Redux

My first book had come out the previous fall, when I was both at my sickest and my most romantically fraught.  I only remember it in bits—bright yellow fall trees, a downtown fire that closed down our campus, headaches and lingering lunch dates. I was already in my 30’s. I was older than almost everyone in my program. I had long before determined workshops were only useful when everyone actually shared some idea on what made a poem good, which was an impossibility. In many ways, I found the program to be a nice incendiary, spurring me to projects I might not have done otherwise (my archer avenue poems, for example, or actually finally finishing my Cornell poems for an ekphastic class.) The lit and craft classes were interesting, the workshops mostly tedious.

We all know the horror stories of the MFAers who walk out of graduation and never write another thing.  I worried over this, in that stretch right after I finished the program, when things felt too close, too tight, and I wrote very little. I would talk to other writers and get insanely anxious when they asked me about new projects, the dreadful “what are you writing now?” I did lots of other things–like move the press operation into the Fine Arts–start the web shop, sell vintage and paper goods, and soap–and all the while, tried to distract myself from the non-writing self that only churned out a poem every couple months, nary anything I really liked. I tend to be a prolific writer, before grad school, during grad school, and even now, but between 2007 and 2011 I probably wrote about 20 poems total. A couple things happened in 2011 that set me writing again, one being the process of writing the James Franco pieces that barely felt like poems at all.  The other was girl show finding a home at Black Lawrence. By the end of the year, it seemed possible that I might actually want to write more than I was. The next spring I finished what would become beautiful, sinister that had been languishing for a couple years. I also wrote what is one of my all-time favorite series, shipwrecks of lake michigan. The poems were back and I’ve been pretty steadily writing since–an output that has filled 9 other book mss. in a decade. It’s hard to believe sometimes that I have that many poems in me, let alone that I managed to get them successfully on the page and out into the world. 

Sometimes, when eyeing my student loan balance I have been chiseling away at in small ridiculous bits, I wonder if the degree was worth it.  If either grad degree was worth it.  I do feel some of the lesson content I’ve been writing is served well by my MA degree, but the yeilds of my MFA are a little more slippery.  I absolutely believe I could have written and published (and was doing so) without the degree.  Would I be writing the same poems? In the same style? Would I be as good? Maybe not..but then again, so many poets I know do just fine without advanced degrees.  I also know many really lackluster poets with a train of them.  Many say the time to work uhindered by other things is priceless, though doing it while also working full time cut into that experience and made it more unweildy and harrowing. On the other hand, I got a discount for working on campus, so maybe it was a trade.  The 29 year old me who enrolled wasn’t sure what I was looking for.skills? legitimacy? knowledge? She could scarce have told you any more than I can now. I got better by writing more, reading more, of course,  and for that, maybe I owe those few years of study and attention I may have not gotten otherwise. 

Kristy Bowen, 15 year itch | notes on the mfa

How it is
when it comes apart
is how it is,

the old monk told
the mechanic.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (213)

“Holy Things” comprises confessional poems about relics, other items held with reverence, and bodies with a self-deprecating sense of humour. The poems don’t go the circular route but get straight to the point. In “Goddamn”, a light bulb blows,

“You unscrew
the supernova.
Mind the black
hole webs.
They’re torture
in your hair.
There, now
don’t drop—

Goddamn.
Spores of
stardust
everywhere.
It’s a nightmare
trying to get
celestial crumbs
out of the
good rug.”

A simple task to replace the bulb spotlights other areas of neglect: the ceiling cobwebs, the dust falling from the fixture or lightshade, the mess on the rug that now needs cleaning. Might it have been better to have left the bulb alone? A familiar scene where an improvement in one area, makes others look shabby in comparison and suddenly you’re spring cleaning the entire house.

Emma Lee, “Holy Things” Jay Rafferty (The Broken Spine) – book review

Tonight, tired and worried about my father, I came into this room, which we seldom use, and stretched out on the couch. I did my Duolingo lesson and the Times mini crossword and Spelling Bee on the free phone app which always kicks me out after a certain point. Then I pulled a knitted afghan over myself, thinking I might take a little nap, accompanied by the contemplative robin that’s nesting in the light fixture just outside the terrace door…but my eyes kept opening and gazing across the room at the desk. After a few minutes I had gotten up, opened the top, and set to work sorting the incongruous things I found inside: a strange, heavy antique brass writing stand with two glass inkwells; bottles of disk cleaner for LP records; three old letter openers, an intricate silver one that looked Turkish and quite lethal, and two that are clearly African; a collection of DVDs; a Silva compass with a leather case; a collection of old brass drafting equipment and a velvet snap-top jewelry box filled with old Schaeffer and Parker graphite leads; a handwritten wiring map for my father’s cabinet of turntables, tape decks and DVD players. As I did this, slowly, the thought began to form: could I actually use this desk? Could I write something here? When all the surfaces and pigeonholes were empty, I removed the vases and candlesticks to the piano, and wiped the wood with a barely-damp cloth. My sketchbook and watercolor palette went on the left side, some pens on the right. Then I ascertained that, yes, there was an outlet on the wall in fairly close proximity, set my laptop, mousepad and mouse in the center of the open desk, noticing for the first time the reassuring dents and scratches in the old mahogany — and turned the computer on.

It felt like… a moment. Like introducing your close but perhaps slightly questionable young friend to a beloved elderly grandparent. But the hinges didn’t give way, the marquetry didn’t fall out: in fact, the wood felt warm and beckoning and somehow personal, and I began immediately to write.

Beth Adams, Desk, Domain

Having finished Ulysses, I’ve gained the confidence to read other books that have been tapping me on the shoulder for years. One such is Jung’s Memories, Dreams and Reflections, recommended to me by  Anne. It’s as if, having climbed Everest, I can consider K2 (though I’d like to make clear this is a metaphor – I have attempted neither, and if I did, I would need to be carried or air-lifted down at some point).

I’m currently dog-sitting a beautiful lurcher, and she and I take long walks together. Sometimes, on these walks, I listen to the birdsong in the woods, or the lambs bleating in the fields, and sometimes, I plug myself into my phone and listen to a book. And this is how I’ve read Jung. 

It’s not an easy read – though parts of it are. That would be my review if asked for a line for the back cover. 

As Jaffa was trotting about, this is what I heard the other morning, and it illustrates my summary: 

“I never think that I am the one who must see to it that cherries grow on stalks. I stand and behold, admiring what nature can do.” Carl Jung – Memories, Dreams and Reflections. 

When I heard this, I stopped and typed it into my phone to remember the wisdom.  

I called Jaffa to me, and she came up, looking hopeful. I read out Jung’s words to her and she looked at me with her deep, kind eyes, hoping for a more edible treat, or perhaps something on the interpretation of dreams, then trotted off, ears flopping gently with each step. She urinated on some bracken. 

Liz Lefroy, I Read Jung (With Dog)

and here we are
we two
you crazy free
me creeping across
the fallen leaves
a poacher sans
traps lifting only
the mushrooms picking
only the berries
breathing just the
loaded air and
its traffic of
loam and pine
pitch and the
musk of deer

Dick Jones, Dog Latitudes §17

I could tell you how many civilians
were killed today in Iraq or Afghanistan
or Gaza or Pakistan or Yemen
by us or by our allies or with our weapons
but what’s the use?
a new season of your favorite show
will start soon and you’ll plop down
on your couch with some popcorn
or a nice plate of nachos
and go back to sleep
in a few weeks you’ll have to
Google this date to figure out
what this poem is about
and in another few weeks after that
so will I

Jason Crane, (Re-post) POEM: this changes nothing

It was chilly, the day I wanted to be dead,
but the azaleas finally tipped with pink,
finally breaking through the long cold that now bled

tiny vivid spearpoints struggling thru blunted blades,
as if their shrieking magenta opened a chink
in the brick wall. The day I wanted to be dead,

I actually didn’t. Some neuro biochem’d,
gamed my brain, meds and pain that brought me to the brink,
flipped the switch, and broke through the long calm that now fled

from my eyes, while logical-me questioned, and said,
“This makes no sense. I don’t want this. Dammit, stop. Think.
Who loses, and who wins, if I want to be dead?”

PF Anderson, Villanelle (“the day I wanted to be dead”)

I feel like I’ve been rather ruthless, but we’re still going to end up with about 10 boxes of books. That’s about half of where we started. I’m trying to give myself credit for being willing to part with so many books. I’m trying not to think about the fact that in later years,  I’m likely to part with some of the ones that I’m keeping. I’d like to get better at buying books and letting them go right after I read them, but that may not happen.

As I’ve sorted books, I’ve thought about what’s happening, across the nation and the planet. I’ve thought about the power of words, and I’ve wondered if any of our words can make a difference. I’ve thought about these books that have been important enough to me to hang onto for years and decades. I’ve thought about books as solace and inspiration. I’ve wished that I could create the kind of works that people will hang onto for decades. And who knows? I still have decades of writing life left he read. Perhaps that will happen.

But even if it doesn’t, I am grateful for the solace of words, for the solace of words collected into books.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Solace of Books

In certain ways, this is a collection of poems composed around and on the very idea of silence (reminiscent, through that singular element, of Nicole Markotić’s debut novel). “My birth / mother found me decades later,” [Nancy] Lee offers, “only to lose her own mom. This was / a sign, she was sure of it. The gods made her a trade for silence.” Composed through great care and a deep attention, Hsin emerges as a work of grief and loss, discovery and searching, held as the notes produced across the journey as it unfolds, unfolding. “predictable /// if you know // from where / in the sequence ///// does a mother / want [.]” she offers, elsewhere in the first section. There are elements of this collection that echo some other titles that Brick has been producing lately, especially since the shift in editorial and ownership; an echo of other of their book-length poetry debuts that explore familial loss, identity and placement through the gathering of meditative and narrative lyric fragment, whether Andrea Actis’ Grey All Over (2021) [see my review of such here], or David Bradford’s Griffin Prize-shortlisted Dream of No One but Myself (2021) [see my review of such here]. “Nothing from nothing means nothing,” Lee writes, early on in the collection, “she hummed from the back- / seat of the Pontiac, swallowed in afternoon sun.” To open the collection, she offers a brief note for the sake of context to her title. The short note ends: “Body is history and Hsin holds silence in ways that both claim and keep it at bay.”

rob mclennan, Nanci Lee, Hsin

Yesterday, as I was troubleshooting on various book-related fronts, I started wondering if “troubleshooting” was another of the military metaphors that colonize my vocabulary (“front” is one). The original meaning of troubleshooting, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was a pleasant surprise. Here’s the first usage in print: “1905, Strand Mag.: ‘A good looking young ‘trouble-shooter’—as a mender of telephone lines is called—had asked her to marry him.’” Whoa! It’s a COMMUNICATIONS metaphor!

There have been plenty of broken connections lately, so after an initial high, I’m struggling to focus on the good stuff. Appearing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival last weekend, for example, was lucky and lovely (it’s a pretty interesting festival, too, with a political flavor). Early readers have been generous–I so appreciate every thoughtful note. None of that, though, stopped my spirits crashing. Maybe that was inevitable after logistical hairiness and physical stress (the festival was outdoors with 95 degree temperatures, plus my Achilles tendinitis flared up). The turning point mood-wise was a paradoxical one. Seeing Poetry’s Possible Worlds amid the many, many books Politics & Prose was selling was great, but it also reminded me how many, many authors are trying to get attention for their book-babies. I do have a strong core of confidence that my book is a very good one. But it’s increasingly clear to me that while I’m working harder than ever to get word out, in addition to investing money in a publicist for the first time, Poetry’s Possible Worlds is unlikely to stand out in the mob. Placing “Brave Words” on the Poets & Writers website was a glorious win, but each successful connection has 10 failed attempts behind it–magazine pitches, event queries, and other efforts that mostly don’t even get replies. I keep throwing out filament, filament, filament (sorry, changing metaphors here to Whitman’s spider), but I suspect I need to rewire my hopes as well. After all, twenty years ago, I longed to reach any audience at all, feeling increasingly hopeless about ever publishing a creative book. Here I am, after so many successes, doing that tiresome thing: training my vision on the next line of mountains.

Troubleshooting Monday involved updating various websites, including improving the book’s Goodreads listing. I finally figured out how to get the cover to appear, yay!, but can’t seem fix the issue on Amazon, and it’s such a handsome cover. I can’t get it to appear on Bookshop.org at all. How much does each of those little efforts even matter? I don’t know. I managed to settle myself down, though, by putting up a couple of reviews for other indie books. Helping other writers feels better, sometimes, than trying to boost your own signal.

Lesley Wheeler, Filaments & telephone lines

We don’t reach strong conclusions about the poem’s meaning as a class. We are a diverse group. I like leaving them with some ambiguity. I want them to figure it out for themselves, to be able to sit with complex and contradictory truths. I know that me telling them what to think or insisting on a particular interpretation won’t meet my goals. They might say what they think I want to hear, but they’re going to think what they think, do what they want to do with their ideas.

As they are gathering their things and heading for the door at the end of class, the boy who shared his ideas about the birds says to me, “I liked class today.” He’s a student I have struggled to engage. We are very different people, he and I. He hasn’t done very well with me, and I know that most days he hasn’t liked my class.

“I’m glad,” I say. “I really appreciated your contributions to our discussion.”

“Thanks,” he says, with feeling, and he smiles at me. I smile back, also with feeling. We have such different views of the world he sometimes astounds me, but I will miss him when this school year ends in just a few short weeks. I am glad to have known him, and I think he might say the same about me. There are things in each of us that the other likes and respects. I want to believe that, anyway.

We have no way of knowing, right then, what the afternoon will bring. I don’t know that after I spend it grading my students’ reading logs–which will prompt me to think hard about purposes and how I might determine if they’ve been met–I will learn, while waiting for the copy machine after school, about the latest shooting in Texas. I don’t know that I will numbly run off copies of another poem for our next class, then go to my empty classroom and sit at my desk and wonder what I should feel and do. I don’t know that I will spend long minutes wondering about the nest I’ve built for us, with its twinkle lights stretched across the ceiling, and posters with art from around the world, and a cart full of window/mirror books, and chart paper with our lists of class norms. I don’t know that I will sit in that space, remembering the day in September we began building those norms as we discussed memes about gun control, or that I will leave memory as I tune into the sounds of students playing ping-pong in the foyer while they wait to be picked up, and that it will be the pock-pock-pock of those balls hitting the paddles that will be the thing that brings me to tears.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the morning of the latest massacre of American schoolchildren

Someone said the word obliterate.
Meaning an erasure so hard,
Nothing remains.

As children we were told
not to whistle too loudly at clouds
so they wouldn’t come too close.

The world must have whistled
in a great chorus. Or that’s what
we might want to believe.

But wind and rain have
their own voice, their own
logic.

We are always trying to put
our unformed words
into their throats.

Luisa A. Igloria, Rain Writes, Wind Erases

When our pains become so great we can no longer bear them.

When our feelings seek release, when they move us to the ends of the earth,

our hearts desiring an Eden of our own making.

It’s then we create: sing, dance, paint, write, cry out.

Our expressions: beautiful cracks in the bell of a perfectly toned hallelujah.

Not so much a cousin to longing, but the pure longing itself.

Rich Ferguson, Cracks In the Bell

In the last month or so, the book I’ve most enjoyed reading is the excellent Everyman (selected) Poems of James Merrill, edited by his biographer, Langdon Hammer. The combination of his formalist brilliance and his hedonistic, but engaged, attitude to life is irresistible.

Here’s Merrill reading Elizabeth’s Bishop exemplary villanelle ‘One Art’ and a poem of his own which he dedicated to Bishop, ‘Developers at Crystal River’.

And here’s a short but fascinating interview with him from 1991, four years before his death, in which he discusses political poetry, his awareness of the luck he had in being born so rich, and the datedness of language.

Matthew Paul, James Merrill

The downside about Napowrimo: the writing hang over.

Though I think that my month of writing a poem a day was pretty productive — probably about half the poems are usable– I was wiped out this month and only wrote one poem.

I have a kind of plodding type of writing schedule though–I usually complete two poems a month. I guess like running sprints, shaking it up and writing thirty poems vs. my typical two, could help my creativity possibly.

But after all that poetry, I find my mind wandering to different things, different projects.

I’m currently working on a cross-stitch (because it’s good to work with your hands), starting to consider revising my sci-fi middle grade novel again, and in the beginning (obsessive) stages of getting a new project (an anthology?) off the ground.

I used to worry when my steady two-poems-per-month pace was interrupted–existential questions of “will I ever write again?” plagued me. However, after many years of writing, I’ve found that there are some seasons in life that breaks are needed and good. I tend to take a break over part of the summer and let my mind wander other fields.

Renee Emerson, Writing Hang-over

The poet was exasperated that his voice had become a metaphor;
he wanted to see the blood of his voice, its lard and flesh,
its lineage—to hear its chords vibrating
even if a single utterance would cost him his life.

In our language, he finds himself placing nouns before verbs,
tainted by the lyrical I, perhaps. He picks words
that had wilted until they turned to gold. Wiping away
the dust of the centuries, he plants them in small pots.
The poet thinks he can
heal the dumb, and revive the dead.

Meanwhile, in their language, he crosses mountains and oceans
leaving a talisman on every tree
to find his way back.

Mona Kareem, Four poems – tr: Sara Elkamel

I haven’t worked on the wasp project for two weeks now. It is in my head, but I have not put in the work. Today I will pick up some parchment for the flexagon poems, though. Tomorrow, I will make the paper for the corsets and hives.

Last week on Instagram I saw something freakishly similar to what I am working on. It was well-executed, too. It has taken me a while to remind myself that there is nothing new under the sun and that the existence of something similar out there doesn’t discount the authenticity of what I am doing. I might keep my head down a while. I have a feeling if I go looking for it, I will find more similar work. And really, that is a good thing, right? It means there is something – if not universal – then relatable. Something that is a successful expression of human experience. So what?

Too often I am my own gatekeeper. That little voice. That bird with the sharp beak that keeps wounds open and blood flowing out of habit.

Not working is not humility. This assumption, belief, and self-deception that eventually I will turn out something stunningly, unequivocally unique is a kind of arrogance.

Ren Powell, Fear of Exposing Oneself

Book: Quiet Night Think: Poems & Essays  (a misFit book, ECW, 2022) by Gillian Sze. […]

During the remarkable period of early parenthood, Sze’s new maternal role urges her to contemplate her own origins, both familial and artistic. Comprised of six personal essays, poems, and a concluding long poem, Quiet Night Think takes its title from a direct translation of an eighth-century Chinese poem by Li Bai, the subject of the opening essay. Sze’s memory of reading Li Bai’s poem as a child marks the beginning of an unshakable encounter with poetry. What follows is an intimate anatomization of her particular entanglement with languages and cultures.

Sze invites readers to meditate with her on questions of emergence and transformation: What are you trying to be? Where does a word break off? What calls to us throughout the night? […]

PP: Your opening essays starts with all the paradoxes of translation, what is literally said, what is implied, what is embedded. It strikes me that poetry in the translation from life to words has some of the same challenges. In your work you mention letting work set until it has clarity and heft. Do you find that way in time alone or do you have a set of readers who help you see what is distilled enough?

GS: I think one of the best things to do with a draft is to forget about it and return to it afterwards. That little spell of amnesia allows me to, for a moment, pretend that the work isn’t even mine to begin with, and I can examine, edit, and revise it more effectively. Only when I feel like I have moved the work to a less vulnerable space do I seek out my trusted first readers.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Gillian Sze

Of all the ways to encounter loss, I picked the one in which it arrives as a stranger. A stranger who emerges from the bowels of a subway station, into the sunlight, as I hurtle down the steps into the darkness, directly in his path, looking away, refusing to meet his gaze, only a strong musky scent of an unborn morning , staining the air as we pass.

It returns sometimes, that fragrance, like a wind from a faraway place, come to moult its memory skin . Or like a pigeon that flew into a room that it doesn’t know how to escape, thrashing against the glass pane, screaming at the walls in low, gurgling sounds, rising and falling, rising and falling, trapped, afraid…alone.

On some nights, the stranger stops and calls my name. A name he should not know. A voice I should not recognize. A longing that should not be. For a morning, yet to come.

what should we call it,
the sky that does not know
it is the sky?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A name he should not know

My next book, Look to the Crocus, will be published in 2023 by Shoestring Press!!!

I’ve been going through the editorial process poem by poem over the last few weeks, gradually ironing out the errors, tightening up poems, culling the weak. It’s been a wonderfully therapeutic process! 

It’s great to have such editorial support going through the manuscript from both publisher, John Lucas, and poet and editor, John Killick, who has been such an enthusiastic supporter of my work since he wrote a rather wonderful review of Madame Ecosse a few years back. 

The current format of the collection is a thematic division into 4 parts each with their own sub-title and each prefaced with a quote from Theodore Roethke. 

I’ve moved backwards and forwards on the idea of breaking up the manuscript into sections, and overall, I do have a preference for sections. I love the structural element of it – like chapters / seasons / weather systems. 

Also, I love introducing the sections with titles and quotes. Roethke has been such an important poet to me and I love having his words flow throughout my manuscript. 

Marion McCready, *Look to the Crocus*

I belong to a Facebook writing group called Every Damn Day Writers.  We set it up to encourage ourselves to write  every day. The practice of writing every day builds the habit of creating and of course pushes your manuscript forward. A daily schedule stirs the creative brain into action. It’s a magical key that unlocks the door — not only to a new room, but eventually a whole new book. So how do you establish a daily writing habit? Read on.

Writing Practiced

Writing practice is like ballet. Whatever talent you possess, it gets better with daily exercise. It’s impossible not to improve if you sit down to your work on a regular basis. Like meditation, the act of creating is vigorous. It’s intense and difficult, requiring great focus, making it hard to think of anything else.

It can be argued that writing is meditation. Though the body may be still for long minutes during this act, a lot is going on neurologically. Your sympathetic nervous system calms, the scientists report. And over a long period of exercising this function, the brain changes, studies have found. It moves toward the habit of sustained happiness.

Changing Your Brain to Enhance Creativity

Do you feel happier after a period of writing? I call it “writer’s glow”. It occurs to me even after a short bout of creating, say working out a one-page poem. The focus drops away the “monkey mind” habit of my brain to be distracted by passing thoughts. The space left afterward is clear and fresh, like a beautiful landscape. In fact, everything feels beautiful for a while writing.

The lucky thing is that this daily writing practice becomes easier the more you do it. It’s the power of habit, which works for good habits as well as bad ones because we’re all essentially addictive personalities. I choose to be addicted to writing because it makes me happy. And because of it, I have published four novels in four years.

Rachel Dacus, Writing Tips — The Practice of Writing Every Day

I was listening to a podcast recently with a guest who explained that after a terrible period of psychological distress, she decided that she needed a project in order to focus her mind on something besides her own emotional pain. She bought an enormous amount of yarn and spent the next six months steadily knitting a gigantic blanket, working on it every single day no matter what. At the end of the project, she felt a little better, but just as importantly, she learned the value of persistence and consistency, and her faith in her ability to heal herself was restored. I think that was a very wise thing for her to do for herself. As a culture, we seem to have abandoned the value of pushing through and persisting in the face of adversity. Fuddy-duddy concepts like patience, stoicism, and simply taking our minds off of our pain for a little while with something productive like work or creative pursuits is considered old-fashioned. The trendy way to cope with mental distress is to make TikTok videos and engage in pathological wallowing. I say this as someone who has wallowed in many bouts of psychological distress, especially when I was younger. I have since learned that emotional distress is often passing and that it’s okay to subsume it in work, physical activity or other distractions. Contrary to popular counseling wisdom, I believe that distraction is a very useful tool. In many cases, the distress simply resolves itself on its own due to not having been fed. As the Brits tend to say, sometimes you just need to get on with it. I’m also reminded that I still have a punch needle embroidery project to finish and I should get on with that.

Today would probably be a good day for it, as it is a pre-planned No-Leave Sunday, wherein I stay in pajamas all day, eschew make-up and don’t leave the house, not even to check the mail. I used to engage in No-Leave Sundays fairly regularly, but they have fallen by the wayside over the years for various reasons. I find No-Leave Sundays very restorative. I like to have what feels like an enormous expanse of unscheduled time in front of me in which to knock around, putter and waste. It helps my brain unravel from the work stress of having way too freaking much to do all of the time and never enough to time do all of it. It feels lavish and indulgent and a little transgressive.

Kristen McHenry, Coping by Crafting, No-Leave Sunday Revival, Litmus Test

In spite of myself, my resentment that they are rats with tails, that they lounge in my chaises longues and massage themselves in the rims of my flowered pots, I have been admiring squirrels.

Such looseness; such fearless sense of play.  One — followed by her playmate — in motion leaps to her sure death from the roof but catches a frail branch, hangs belly-up as the branch dip low with weight until she rights herself, scrapes the bark with her nails — and darts.

Lilies of the valley have dropped their sweet white flowers, confetti is scattered around the hawthorn tree, the Dionysian rally of spring is exhausting —

but there are the squirrels, defying reason.

Once they’re hanging from a thread, how do they will themselves back? 
Do these masters of risk appraise a car tire and decide— uh uh,  not this one, over and over? 

And don’t these tricksters know these are dark times?  That destructive forces are overwhelming us?

And yet they play, play, play.  Before our tired eyes, they play, as if their very survival depended on it. If I banished them from the garden, who would remind us to play?

Jill Pearlman, Lessons from My Backyard Enemies

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 20

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: spring storms, writing with disabilities, fountain pens, alphabet soup, book covers, and quite a bit more—a glorious miscellany. Enjoy!


Everything begins in childhood.
The song starts there, the poem.

It was a spring morning when I was born.
It was May. My mother’s hair was long.

The animals and earth were waking up,
preparing for a summer riot.

Han VanderHart, Poem with Birth Ledger and Crawfish

Far too many hate mongers strolling gun gardens.

Far too many bullets serving as the nails for other people’s coffins.

Imagine what it must feel like going to the store to put food on your table, only to find yourself staring down the barrel of a rifle.

Where is our night of star-spangled joy?

Where have all the maps gone to discover new territories of togetherness?

Far too many young minds trapping themselves in the burning bodies of executioners

with no good excuse for their actions.

Rich Ferguson, When Executioners Wander Gun Gardens

After the windstorms, we wake
to snowslides of petals on the grass,
First loss of the season, these lung-soft ghosts.

Fire-striped tulips affront our sorrow,
waving their wild colors as we walk past.
After the storms, we awaken

to what we should have known,
that the first kiss could also be the last. […]

Dark pools of water show up frequently in my dreams, and they show up in my poems, as well.

Sometimes I see animals coming up out of the water such as alligators. In general, when I see dark, murky waters in my dreams, I think I’m dealing with the unconscious mind, memories I might be afraid to look at.

But if I do manage to sit with the fears during the dream, the water sometimes will become clear and the creatures inhabiting the dreamscape become colorful and whimsical, not at all scary and creepy.

Christine Swint, Equinox Lovesong During Late Stage Pandemic

One thing I have noticed lately – with the new medication – is that emotions aren’t blunted, but they don’t bleed outside of their circumstances. I think it is part of this quiet that has settled.

These last mornings I have done the yoga sequence without music or mantras. I have focused entirely on breathing, as one should, but as I never could. I am content with one single focus, one train of thought at a time. My resting heart rate has dropped. When I am hungry I take the time to cook.

I don’t know what this will mean in the long run. But for now, I am going to take it one bright and shiny day, one hard, sharp day at a time. Stacking them like discrete building blocks. When I teach acting, I tell the students never to try to play love/hate at once. Like red and green, you get a muddy, unexciting smear of whatever. Play one moment of love with your whole body, play one movement of hate. Because that is how we often experience it. Give yourself over (within reason) and allow yourself to feel the fullness of each.

I have caught myself on occasion, wondering if I believed what I was saying.

Now though, I’m beginning to wonder if this is what it is to “live in the moment”.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Ren Powell, An Exceptional Day

We struggle with expressing how we feel – in life and in poetry. As a disabled, sick or cared for person, there may be a balancing act we try to sustain between wanting to still appear independent, positive, in control, and allowing ourselves to look vulnerable and say how bad we sometimes feel.

As a carer, the balancing act may be between wanting to express that we care and love, and suppressing the frustration, resentment, guilt, we may sometimes feel.

There is a pressure to be positive, even when going through hell. Because positive people fight on, put on a brave face, smile through the tears, and are inspirational. If you say the pain is unbearable, the loss of dignity is destroying you, that you can’t cope any more, then you’re at risk of being seen as whining, weak… 

I’m not suggesting that positivity is bad – it can provide comfort and hope to many, but it can, unintentionally, mask some very harsh realities and lessen people’s perception that there are a very large number of people who really need help.

There are acclaimed poets who write about these things, and others – often carers – who make no claim to be poets, but write their feelings in poetic form – and both can help others to understand in their own way.

Where am I going with this? Can poetry make a difference? Can the personal show a broader truth? Can the personal be political? Not if poets and occasional writers of poems are not allowed to express how they’re feeling because it’s either seen as whinging or as not good poetry. If people who write poetry succumb to the pressures to be constantly positive, how will anyone ever know their truth? How will people know change is needed?

Sue Ibrahim, Poetry and care

A collection I only picked up recently is Montreal poet Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch’s full-length debut, knot body (Montreal QC: Metatron Press, 2020), a title that was subsequently followed-up with their second collection,, The Good Arabs (Montreal QC: Metonymy Press, 2021). The epistolary prose poem collection knot body focuses on illness not as metaphor, but writing disability, including chronic and daily pain, expanding the possibility of what has been termed “disability poetics” (following work by Nicole Markotić, Roxanna Bennett, Shane Neilson and multiple others); a body that for merely existing is considered political. El Bechelany-Lynch writes of the many layers and levels of endurance, attempting to comprehend how one might safely and comfortably live within the body. “The pain hovers above an impossible memory.” one piece begins, early on the collection. Writing a pain endured, and even lived, one might suggest. The next piece offers: “I worry that in writing this, I am revealing too much.” Written through a kind of direct and even stark tenderness, the poems of knot body examine the possibilities of a body that exists with constant pain, attempting to negotiate the daily elements of living in a world and culture that perpetually denies their existence. There is something really striking in these prose poems, in the way that El Bechelany-Lynch writes as a way to articulate the self into, if not being, but into an acknowledgment and a belonging; writing themselves into existence that, until this point, perhaps had been pushed into invisibility by just about everyone else.

rob mclennan, Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch, knot body

It is hot again.
Wooden planks
curl up from the deck.
Piano keys stick.

What if I die
while I continue to wait
to live my life?

Send money,
I sent money
Take care,
I took care.

Send help.
Send help.

Luisa A. Igloria, L’estate

It’s all well and good to say, “just breathe”–and I have moments when I intentionally do just that. But life has been moving swiftly and requiring my brain to attend to many other things. Mostly, I now realize, I’ve been getting through the days with my breath held, preparing for shoes to drop or ducking to avoid them. It’s become habit, and most of most days is really pretty good, so I hadn’t noticed the breath-holding until someone else pointed it out. I suppose it’s why I haven’t had much to share here lately; perhaps it’s because, like the blogger whose post prompted the comment, I have so many words that I have no words about quite a lot of things.

Rita Ott Ramstad, “…with my breath held”

I’ve not paid full attention to the importance of words since the turn of the year, at least in blogging terms. In early February, I received notice from Editor Bethany Rivers that she had selected two of my older poems, “Death by Staff Meeting” and “Strong Voice” for publication in Issue 8. Thrilled to see these oldies build their nest among other related writings. And while my feelings about staff meetings really haven’t change much, I can say that strong voice is a bit like a tide experiencing everything in its path.

Kersten Christianson, As Above So Below: The Importance of Words

Although in theory I love cards and stationary and all things beautiful paper and Papyrus-y, I don’t actually send out cards or letters very often. I had to buy a card for a momentous occasion recently, and I was completely addled by how oddly specific greeting cards have gotten. They had greeting cards for every type of couple, every obscure occasion, every combination of life events, and every age, country of origin, and creed. I had to wade through a ton of cards to find just a general one that didn’t list an exhaustive bio and specify the date of the event in question. There used to just be birthday cards, anniversary cards, and sympathy cards, with the occasional, coveted blank card. I don’t know why there now needs to be card for every type of vacation, vocation, and possible life incident. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I don’t feel like this speaks well of us as a society. I feel that it indicates a certain lack of faith in our imaginations and our ability to express ourselves. I think it should be a routine practice to buy a blank card, write your own message on it, and send it to a friend or relative at least once a quarter to keep those expressive juices flowing, and to remind people that email and text is not the only mode of communication available to humans.

Kristen McHenry, Dental Shaming, Overly-Specific Greeting Cards, Cat Lady Hero

Those things that we hid from the rest of the world, the shame of it. And those other things, the ones we felt we should have been proud of, even though we weren’t, that we showed to anyone who would look. Things neither beautiful nor repulsive. The things that were soft enough to eat with a spoon, but we used a knife and fork anyway. No one was watching, of course. The things that the paramedics used to stop the bleeding, or the things we used to make a tail for our kite. I’m not sure which anymore, it has been a long time. The kite is gone but no one bled to death. The things we say to ourselves when the night is frightening and empty. Say them quickly. Say them now. 

James Lee Jobe, what we hid and what we did not hide

One trait I developed as a shy child was a capacity to listen to others. I wanted to hear their stories, their points of view, their silly songs, their big ideas. What I regret is that later on, when I gained some self-confidence and began telling my own tales or dispersing acquired knowledge and advice, I lost some of my listening ability. It took hard work and practice on my part to feel secure when speaking to groups, and I started with the hardest practice: reading my own poetry aloud to other people. Eventually the shyness wore off, for the most part.

Then I had to get the listening back. Raising children was a tough balance between saying and listening. I fault myself for not listening quite enough. As an instructor, I found it difficult to listen to a group of students: too much cacophony, too many distractions, hard to gauge where the conversation was headed. I’ve always felt more comfortable with one-to-one tutoring, which makes listening so much easier. As this semester has wrapped, I find I am already dwelling on the fall. What did covid-protocol instruction teach me? Mostly that the listening is even more important than I thought. The students still feel freaked out; overwhelmed by, more than excited about, their futures.

Ann E. Michael, Shy

Can a person who is still living haunt a place?
The future speaks to us in widow’s weeds
while I try to balance the accounts.
I am the sea that swallowed the world.

Mangoes rot before they ripen; shorebirds lose their way.
I examine the recipes from my mother’s battered box,
the buttons my grandmother saved.
I keep my powder dry while I knit socks.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Evocative Lines and a Looser Form

Several weeks ago I was full of big talk about challenging myself to write in form. Yeah, I didn’t do that.

I did fall back on one of my old tricks, and that’s to write a little every day about the same thing. (I say “about” but I really mean take the same thing as a starting point each day.) I did that for about two weeks. It’s good fun to do this, because it’s like chipping away facets in a geode to see various angles and lays of light. I’ve left it to sit in my notebook for a couple of weeks and am just now revisiting where my mind was for those two weeks.

Yes, with such a game, my mind does loop around the same things. But the mind does, right? Gets stuck in grooves. And because in this game, the thing I chose to revisit day after day was a small river (brook, might be more accurate, or stream) that I know, it can bring the same things to my mind, the same memories. But of course, the body of water is different every day, as am I, a bit, with each day I think about it.

To have this view of how my mind shifted and circled over those two weeks is interesting. Of course, if my goal is to turn this exercise into actual poems, works of art in themselves, I can’t rest in my fascination with my own mind. I need to dig a bit about how the two things come together: mind and thing.

Art is to be made of the conjunction. If it’s to be made at all.

Marilyn McCabe, Bits of Blue and Gold; or, On Facing the Raw Material

Book launch days bring a weird energy. That combined with the planetary riffs in Poetry’s Possible Worlds has Bowie’s “Space Oddity” looping in my head, which is a pretty good soundtrack, really. Not that I’ve become untethered like Major Tom, but yesterday was full of “Big Bang Day” social media tweets, pre-party anxiety, and a post-party otherworldly feeling. This book really was 10 years in the making and I can’t believe it’s finally out there.

My launch event, surrounded by art and backed by a table of fancy snacks, felt good. I centered it on poetry’s power rather than on myself. Four fellow poetry professors at my university read favorite poems and talked about why they loved them: their choices were Lorca, Amichai, Limón, and Clifton. I spoke last, reading “Faith” by Tim Seibles, a poem that hit me like a lightning bolt before I had any real acquaintance with his work. Each short chapter in my book is keyed to a single poem and prefaced by the poem reprinted in full, in a bid to make Poetry’s Possible Worlds accessible to non-poetry-insiders. Through “Faith” I write about fiction vs truth in a poem’s world-building; the chapter’s memoir element involves my mother-in-law’s dementia, how it processed through story-telling to silence. As I told the audience, I love how Seibles’ angry, loving poem reaches through skepticism for belief in something. I had planned to read “Faith” before the shootings in Buffalo, but it is appropriate to the fear and desperation people feel in many places around the world, near and far. I would like to have a book launch one day that didn’t occur in a time of crisis–last time, for me, it was pandemic, wildfires, George Floyd’s murder–but this is the world we live in, that poetry helps us live in.

Lesley Wheeler, I’m floating in a most peculiar way

For an atheist, I’ve been a religious attendee of the Edinburgh Christian Aid Booksale from 2008 to the present day, and this year’s sale (still in action as I write this – it runs for a week) is the first after a necessary interregnum because of something called ‘Covid’. This sale is an experiential necessity – there’s no-way of describing it to the lay-person who has never queued for an hour in advance of the opening time and then charged inside like an antiquarian berserker.

It’s not for the faint hearted. Basically, it’s the bibliophilic equivalent of the Pamplona bull-run. People queue outside the very stately, pilastered St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church on George Street in a very civilised manner. I’m not sure if people camp out in advance, but I’ve been there a hour in advance and still have been a 100 yard race away from the door. By 9:45 the queue has usually long snaked behind the edge of George Street and out of view. One of my pet peeves is how known bookdealers walk up and down the queue looking for a familiar face to tag on to. Once a conversation is started, you legitimately jumped the queue. This practice is prevalent and, in my opinion, ungodly.

As soon as the bells ring at 10am, the queue gives way like a hypnagogic jerk and we’re off.

Richie McCaffery, Christian Aid Booksale, Edinburgh, 2022: A post-mortem

A couple of years ago the poet Christopher James wrote a thought-provoking blog which asked the question: Can poets retire?

I thought about this again this week when I discovered a friend of many years has stopped writing. It appears to be a permanent choice.

I suppose the level of surprise was a result of my assumption that he would write for the whole of his life. I have never known him not to write, or at least try to. Of course, there have been short breaks when domestic or professional commitments have taken over, but these were irrelevant. We both knew he would write again shortly, and might come back to it fresher for the interruption. He also happened to be very good at it, which perhaps has enhanced my sense of loss now.

Now, though, it seems, he has closed the notebook for the last time, stopped the habit of scribbling some idea or line on the back of a shop receipt, cut away the hours of wrestling with a poem until finally he has thrown his head back with an almost delirious laugh, knowing he’s got down something that works.

Why? I don’t know. I have asked but have had no reply. It’s too easy to paraphrase Louis Armstrong and say Poets don’t retire, they stop when there are no more poems in them.

I have said several times on here that writing is what I do in order to untangle the world as best I can. It helps me make sense of living. And, hopefully, those who read what I write, find something that resonates, something that reaches them.

If I didn’t do that, would writing be replaced by something else? Or would it be a case of not bothering to attempt to untangle it or make sense of it? Would a different kind of meditation descend, a different stillness, the emptiness that some who prefer mysticism seek? It’s possible. Do I really need to communicate?

Perhaps that’s it. That, for whatever reason, my friend feels no further need to communicate.

Bob Mee, WHAT IF YOU STOP WRITING ALTOGETHER?

I was scrolling FB recently and chimed in on a post about ridiculously rigid guidelines for submissions and the editors who make them.  While I understand there needs to be some basic framework and procedure to save yourself editorial headaches and facilitate easy reading (esp if you have more than one editor considering), some guidelines are laughably complex and send me, as a submitter, just looking for somewhere else. Obviously, you want to have read what they publish and stay within the length and genre guidelines, not use attachments if they prohibit them, etc.  you also want to put it in a  readable font, submit only during submission periods, include a bio if necessary or remain anonymous if they read submissions blind.  These are reasonable and easy, but some get nitpicky about fonts and page numbers and all sorts of minute details that will, they usually say, promptly get your work thrown in the virtual trash.  I always get the impression the editors who love these sorts of guidelines and inflexible rules really get off on their role as a gatekeeper and their ability to dismiss accordingly.

The same day, I was writing about Charles Eastlake and his snooty pronouncements that Victorian decor was overly wrought and ornate and all needed to be thrown in a fire. It was followed by critics saying Eastlake pieces needed to be thrown into the fire.  It got me thinking about gatekeeping and tastemaking on a larger scale and how it works.  I’ve never felt like editing was gatekeeping, but more just a curating of things I want to show people.  But of course, it’s all gatekeeping in some way.  What you choose to highlight. What you do not. I am lucky that I get enough submissions, but not too many that make things unwieldy. And can publish enough to accept about 10% of what I get every summer.  These are numbers I am happy with, though some might raise their noses and think accessible publication is not quite rare and erudite enough. That by having a more open gate, the prize is not worth it.  I always file this under stupid things writers say, esp. when talking about journals and their acceptance rates and whether things are “Top Tier.” I always think you want to be in a journal that has wide reach because people think the work is great, not just because they are hard to get into. The New Yorker for example has great reach and prestige, but I can count on one hand the recent poems in there I actually liked. 

The whole zine community ethos, of which I have always felt more in line with, is “Fuck the Gatekeepers!” and in many ways I agree. Gatekeepers are suspect, and I say that fully knowing I suppose I am one.  What I choose to publish or not publish is very much based on what I like or don’t like. I may pass on something completely publishable that doesn’t excite me. Something other editors have passed on might tickle my very peculiar fancy. Editing is subjectivism at its core, and beyond some basic principles of quality (ie, your poems don’t deal in cliches or sound like dirty limericks) I will at least read it with interest. I also have weird days where I love everything and days where I hate everything, probably for no real reason that has anything to do with literature or poetry at all. 

Kristy Bowen, gatekeepers and community

We build bridges. Bridges between our realities.

Temporary bridges. Retractable bridges. Bridges that will bring us back. Bridges made of dreams. Bridges made of fear. Bridges made of want.

But bridges don’t unite realities. They become an alternative. A sacred middle. Not belonging. Not owning. Distorting space. Distorting distance.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A sacred middle

when you write haiku
ten thousand rain drops
are filling a lake

Jim Young [no title]

I was very excited that the author Judith Waller Carroll’s sent me a copy of her book Ordinary Splendor from Lana Ayers’s MoonPath Press, which I have the honor of having a cover artist credit on. My photograph of a fox from San Juan Island last year was used as the cover art for the book, and I couldn’t be happier.

I feel like a real photographer now, not just a five-year amateur. I took some real photography classes in high school, but it’s been just the last five years that I spent the time and effort to use a good camera and try to learn the tricks of digital photography beyond my iPhone.

Meanwhile, I’m working with BOA’s designer to figure out what we want on the cover of Flare, Corona. I wish I had a good vision for exactly what belongs on the cover. But that’s why we have collaborations!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Podcasts, First Time Cover Artists, Being Under the Weather, and Real Spring Begins

I was delighted when Neil Leadbeater asked if he could use my Redwing photograph for the cover of his latest poetry collection, The Gloucester Fragments, recently published by Mervyn Linford of Littoral Press

I first met Neil at Swansea’s First International Poetry Festival, organised by Peter Thabit Jones (The Seventh Quarry Press, Wales) and Stanley H. Barkan (Cross-Cultural Communications, New York). 

Polly Stretton in her back-cover blurb describes The Gloucester Fragments as ‘a real treat’ and helpfully informs the reader that the new collection includes poems on the themes of ‘nature’, ‘language’ and ‘myth’. And indeed, I am greatly enjoying poems ‘inhabited’ by the Shoveler (‘Frampton Pools’), poems that ‘play’ with the building blocks of language to singular effect (‘Errata for an English Pangram’), and a clever shape-shifting poem that re-casts the Homeric tale of Odysseus and Circe. 

There is so much more: take, for instance, Neil’s clever allusion to nursery rhymes or the way in which he moves deftly from serious subject matter, such as detritus in the Severn, to the magical botanical names of wildflowers like ‘periwinkle’, ‘fumitory’ and ‘hemp agrimony’, which we find sprinkled, or scattered, throughout this vivid and compelling collection. 

Gloucester, and perhaps particularly Gloucestershire, will doubtless evoke different images among Neil’s readers. I think especially of Edward Thomas, and am immediately taken in my mind to Adlestrop, which I visited some years ago on a frosty morning when there were certainly no ‘haycocks dry’ in evidence. Neil’s delightful and inventive response to this well-loved poem by Thomas took me by surprise and put a wide smile on my face.

Caroline Gill, ‘The Gloucester Fragments’, a Poetry Collection by Neil Leadbeater

Paige Riehl:  Thank you, Ann, for discussing your powerful poetry collection Somatic with me. Somatic is organized into four sections that explore the complexities of illness, in particular the diagnosis of hysteria, through the life and treatment of Anna O, the first hysteric diagnosed by Dr. Josef Breuer in the late 1800s. You expressed your interest in the relationship between the creative and scholarly, so would you tell us a bit about those intersections in Somatic as they relate to your process of researching hysteria and Anna’s case and writing the poems? Was it a more circuitous than linear process? From where does your interest in the subject matter stem?

Ann Keniston:  The book evolved from several sources. One was the aftermath of my mother’s death; I actually published a chapbook of elegies about her (November Wasps, Finishing Line), some of which I revised—mostly pretty heavily—for Somatic. My interest in Anna O. and hysteria had several sources: I’ve always been interested in the relation of mind and body, and somehow I stumbled across a bunch of documents about Anna, from the first case study to a radically revisionary article by H.F. Ellenberger published in 1972 to a bunch of more recent feminist and other studies. Anna was kind of a blank screen for critics, it seems, who projected their own interests onto her. Before I ever thought of writing poems about this topic, I compiled a little anthology of those writings as a unit in an honors composition course I was teaching about memory. I just kept reading about Anna and hysteria and got more and more fascinated, and also a little repelled. I began writing poems about Anna, and also in her voice (or that of a more generic hysteric who was also, of course, partly me), and realized that the elegies were in fact relevant to the Anna poems, so I worked to bring those elements of the ms together.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Paige Riehl Interviews Ann Keniston

I am now commuting an extra 30 minutes to our new office at White City, and this is giving me more time to catch up on podcasts and the like. I’m hoping it will give me more time for reading, but the journey is such that every time I start to settle into it; I have to change trains, and this doesn’t lend itself to reading.

However, it has meant I can pick up on my podcast listening. (Aside, as my friend Simon said yesterday, “podcasts are just radio you can listen to whenever you want”). Working from home a lot sort of put the moccers on my podcast listening as I can’t concentrate on them and work at the same time, but I’ve started working my way through episodes of The Verb and Robin Houghton/Peter Kenny’s Planet Poetry.

Recent episodes that stand out are The Verb’s episode about pens with Naush Sabah and Gerry Cambridge talking about, among other things, their mutual love of fountain pens. I love a fountain pen, and use one most of the time, even at work, but I am enjoying writing with the Fisher Space Pen* my friend Mike got me for my birthday.

It’s a lovely thing that makes me think of an alien spaceship, and reminds me that I once started a poem about development of the space pen. It was based on the premise of the millions of dollars invested in the Space Pen and its ability to work in space, but that the Russians solved the issue by taking a pencil. A great apocryphal tale, that sadly, isn’t true. Does it need to be? Maybe I’ll go back to the notes at some (ball) point. I don’t think the “poem” ever really got beyond the idea stage, but who knows what might come of it**.

* I’ve been sing a bastardised version of the Babylon Zoo song every time I used the pen.
**Almost certainly fuck all

Mat Riches, A martian nicks a Space Pen from the stationery cupboard to write a postcard home

My skull is filled with alphabet soup. Occasionally the letters make a word, but mostly they slosh around, defeating my every attempt to make sense of them. It wasn’t always this way. My brain used to be a series of filing cabinets. The drawers were shallow but numerous; an inch of information about any particular subject, miles of breadth. Just enough knowledge to stay in most conversations, not enough to truly master any one subject. That was fine. I liked that. A friend called it “librarian brain.” Who doesn’t like librarians? But “soup brain”? That has neither the same ring nor the same positive connotation. Soup brain means never quite having the details at my fingertips; a blank spot on the tip of my tongue. I don’t think it’s a sign of disease. Rather, it’s a symptom of discombobulation. The circumstances of my external world are so disordered that my internal landscape can’t help but reflect them. My prediction is that the presence of family and friends, along with a place to live and a more stable life, will slowly drain the soup, revealing the long rows of shallow cabinets that have been there all along.

Jason Crane, Soup’s On!

I think, though maybe I’m wrong, that at the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people had trouble writing because they didn’t want to write about what was happening per se. We were too “in it” for one thing. It was tricky at the beginning. But now we’ve been steeped in it for two years. We know some things even as we don’t know how things will play out. But we can write about now. On Twitter someone posted a poem by Constance Hansen on Four Way Review that took my breath away. It’s a prose poem that starts off:

“I watered the plants. I plucked their dead leaves. I fed the children and dog. I asked the coffee to raise spirits. I made no beds. I made an inadequate donation to a parentless child, survivor of the car wreck that killed my friends. I paid with my thumbprint. I sent another friend money who sent another friend flowers to celebrate a new baby. I pressed C to confirm my vaccination appointment.”

Honestly, the ending…..wow. Highly recommend getting over there to Four Way Review to read it. Not only is it an amazing work, but gets me re-thinking the how of how the heck do we write at this time. At least this is one wonderful possible way that is real and fierce and in the moment and heart squeezing on many levels.

Shawna Lemay, Drawing Out the Creativity

I left Texas at seventeen. I’ve lived here almost twice as long as I ever lived there. And yet some inchoate sense of time and light and season was set there. And those are different here. It draws me up short.

Every year I know I need to brace myself against winter’s long nights, maybe because the days were never that brief where I grew up. I have to remind myself how to seek the beauty in short winter days.

And every year I swoon at summer evenings, how the late light gilds the green hills and pinks the sky at the western horizon. I text friends: It’s almost 9pm and it’s not even dark yet, what is this magic?!

No magic, of course. Just life at latitude 42.7, as opposed to 29.4. Remember those circles around the globe? I grew up near the Tropic of Cancer. I live now near the midpoint between equator and pole.

I was born on the spring equinox (more or less). It seems appropriate, somehow, that I have settled more or less at another midpoint. And oh, how I love these brightest months of the solar year here.

How good it is to sit outside and listen to twilight birdsong as Shabbat gives way to a new week, and to gaze with wonder at the sky — always changing, always perfect, and at this time of year, full of light.

Rachel Barenblat, Light

Light on the ledge of my lids
or is it the sill’s seepage?
From the trees, cacophony

the birds, no doubt
though I doubt —
a circus, pieces of a gambling

game being turned –
clacking and sparring,
castanets, bingo.

The Creator as croupier?
Each element in joy, in play,
the world depends on it.

Jill Pearlman, The Morning Gamble

Sometimes
in the evening

after the stars
have gotten

comfortable,
the trees might start

to talk to you,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (207)

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 8

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week found poets, like almost everyone else, glued to the news as Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But there were still books to read and write, writing problems to ponder, and causes for celebration, however muted. And spring might or might not be just around the corner.


When I say it’s a sunny day, what I mean is it’s raining frogs.

When I say it’s quiet outside, what I mean is, isn’t that the sound of Nero’s fiddle?

When I say everything will be OK, what I mean is, it looks like history is practicing its blindfolded, knife-throwing trick again.

When I say, listen to the world sing in the key of life, what I meant is, our earth is moaning a vertigo blues that sends our souls reeling.

When I say I do my best to look on the bright side of life, what I mean to say is, there are days when my inner child should be named Dostoyevsky.

Rich Ferguson, When the Truth Serum Hadn’t Completely Kicked In

We made friends with several Ukrainian folks when my husband worked there years ago. We keep in touch; ever since the seizure of Crimea in 2014, we have been worried despite our friends’ apparent unconcern. But life was normal. On Monday, Y. called to discuss a recent job offer; should she take the position with a big corporation? On Thursday, she called at 9 pm (pre-dawn in Kyiv) to say she could hear bombing over the city and was thinking of hiding in the woods near her suburban house.

Now, she’s trying to get to Poland.

What rattles me is the way this reminds me of September 11, 2001, when things were initially so mundane and typical and then…not.

Here’s a poem from a visit we made to Lavra-Kiev in more peaceful, warmer, sunnier times. May such times return to all of us, and soon: https://aboutplacejournal.org/issues/the-future-of-water/praise/ann-michael/

Ann E. Michael, What war does

Everything I’ve looked at since yesterday has been through
the idea of a fistful of seeds buried deep in a pocket

We too will lie down and wherever we are, bodies
could turn into flowers without need of permission

Names are so beautiful said in their first tongues
Everywhere, their sounds fill shelters and trains

They should be heard like bells or prayers,
outside in a square filled with sunlight and trees

Luisa A. Igloria, February

Those of you who are students of history could not be unaware of the parallels to WWI and WWII right now – the financial instability, the crazed dictator and his alliance with an equally sketchy country or two, the global pandemic and war stresses at the very same time, and the stubborn slowness of the US government’s response to both pandemic and war. You know Woodrow Wilson never even publicly addressed the 1918 flu, despite the deaths of one out of every ten Americans from it and he actively increased infection by shipping infected young soldiers around in too-close quarters? Did you know most Americans didn’t want to help Europe in WWII, despite so much evidence that Hitler was a monster and committing heinous crimes – and that we refused refugees’ applications to enter the US, especially of Jewish people, even Anne Frank? (True fact!)

And despite all of this alarming information, the birds are singing louder, the flowers are starting to show their willingness to bloom despite temperamental weather. I feel like I should be tougher, more resilient, like the flowers. My body betrays me – lying awake, uneasy dreams when I do finally get an hour or two of sleep – the fevers, dark circles, nails splitting and a nagging cough. My body knows things are really not okay, no matter what meditation apps I use, or deep breathing exercises I try, or cures of tea, soup, and vitamins.

In the unease of the end of February, let’s hope for a better spring – easing up of pandemic death rates, an end to Putin’s ambitious power grabs (and China’s eyeing of Taiwan in the background) that put the entire globe out of balance – a time when we can once again see our friends and family, that America defends its allies and welcomes refugees from despots. The hope that my doctors can help sort out the haywire immune system problems that keep me from living the life I want. If I can banish the discouragement brought on by plague, and war threats, the political strife in America – maybe I can write more poems. Even if the poems can’t bring peace and health to the planet, or even bring an end to my insomnia.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Insomnia, the Threat of Nuclear War and Ukraine Heartbreak, Spring Approaches but with Record Cold and Snow (plus bobkitten!)

If you want to start a world war,
do something stupid and keep doing it,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, IN THE NEWS

There is a video on the news: Putin dressing down the head of his own foreign intelligence service. I don’t know that I have ever seen a man so terrified.

And I don’t know that I am not reading something into the video. I am not sure who would qualify as an “expert” in body language. And I would not claim that, but after teaching movement for stage (body language) for more than 20 years, I would say I have consciously observed enough to be justified going with my gut feeling here.

I wish I weren’t. I wish I could unsee the fear. Because now it is in my own body. Mirror neurons and all that.

Today I want to work on a particular poem sequence with erasure that is part of the wasp project. I feel guilty for turning back to such a personal subject matter.

And my body is completely confused. The mirror neurons set in motion. The image of Putin, leaning back, sighing, chuckling. It brings up memories of helplessness that my body can not sort, or shake off. The hide-under-the-desk drills, the step-father cleaning his gun…

Again, my doctor’s words (recklessly paraphrased): no matter the veracity of the details of the narrative, the emotions are real.

The neurons record. So maybe I can keep my head down in a small bubble of time and space and trust that my personal little project is still universal.

Then I can look up and take in what I can of the world here and now. Weaving, sewing myself in and out of the fabric of community?

That life isn’t an either/or of the individual and the community – it is a messy and very unregulated, self-deceiving geothermal pool. In the shadow of a volcano.

Ren Powell, In the Shadow of a Volcano

I sit with a flask of coffee on the edge of the wood where
the wounded tramp the by-ways, where
the left-behind pause at a milestone.
There are those who walk a thousand miles
from here to nowhere and back again.
The earth can take you into itself.
Pass down the hill, a prayer can’t hurt.
Stamp out the frost from your toes,
stamp out clumsy words, regretted.
Bitterness, perhaps. No, not really.
An echo: I’m not that hard to find.
I wish you would find me.
Nothing lasts for long, oh that old line.
An echo: a siren, an explosion. And another.

Bob Mee, FEBRUARY 24, 2022

–Periodically throughout the day yesterday, I looked at the brilliant blue sky with its beautiful cloud sculptures.  I thought of ICBMs and wondered where Russia has them pointed these days.  I can still sing all the words to Sting’s “Russians,” or at least the refrain.  Does Putin have children?  Can you imagine having Putin as your dad?

–My friend sent me this message:  “I wish I could come over and we could have tea and bake things and not be in wwIII”; I responded, “I can arrange tea and baking but there may only be 1 man who can help with the decision not to go towards WWIII–and I don’t think Putin shares our love of tea and baking.”  I spent the rest of the day thinking about tea and scones with Putin and remembering a different song composed by Sting, “Tea in the Sahara.”  

–My friend and I also shared an interesting exchange about women in previous world wars, plucky women in war rooms, and what would that look like today?

–I thought about electromagnetic pulses and all the ways our data can be destroyed.  I asked my spouse if we should take a screen shot of our bank balance page, print it out, and save it.  My spouse told me about the special nuclear weapon that Russia has that will do something to the stratosphere and wipe out humanity immediately.  I said, “So I’m hearing you say we don’t need to bother printing proof of our bank balance?”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, On the First Day of a Land War in Europe

What is colder than sadness? What if that sharp bulbul cry is
not song, just wretched swearing at the sky? Awake so far

ahead of dawn, I have already bargained for a thing you
would call happiness with a thing you wouldn’t call god.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Awake

All I want on a Sunday morning is to
luxuriate in my laziness. I want to watch
old movies with the volume turned up loud,
the newspaper crackling as I shift my supine
body on the couch, the words of duplicitous
politicians and photos of narcissistic socialites
mashed under my ass.

I want to gaze out my window where heat
rises on the street like steam from a gumbo
pot while I lie, cool as a nectar cream snowball,
in my Maggie The Cat slip, painting my toenails
a color called Bad Influence.

Charlotte Hamrick, A Poem for Liz

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, mixed marriage of the ardent.  Tolstoy the pacifist, the vegetarian, the disciplinarian who insisted that Levin (Anna K) thresh his fields.  Only fools would grab sabres, run to kill others, with great faith and grandeur, to save fellow Slavs.  In August, subvert nature and its harvest, let villages starve while sending villagers to fight long-distance wars? Dostoevsky livid, he wanted to take Constantinople.

Tools required: nimble minds.  Torah students must argue 70 interpretations, fully inhabiting each point of view.  After diving into the kinks, pits, ears, and flesh of each angle, they reject most.  But they hold the key. They have recovered unknown faces.

Jill Pearlman, Mixed Marriages

I forgot to tell you
this is not a film.

When the bodies of two men
were washed out on a shore.

When tanks rolled over
a school yard.

When borders opened
for some people.

When forty years
became four days.

When I stopped giving
promises to my son.

When the morning light
took me hostage.

Out of mercy.

Magda Kapa, Not a Film

When the USSR, which just existed for us  as a big pink blob on all the school maps, shattered into other colored, smaller blobs when I was a teenager, I remember noting it briefly and being a little relieved that all my childhood bedtime fretting was much less of a threat.  There were other threats, but they seemed less large and looming over the midwest. My high school AP Bio teacher, who was responsible for the environmental fervor that drove me toward studying marine bio and various snippets of wisdom (including why sex was pleasurable from an evolutionary stance, because otherwise we’d all rather nap and eat donuts,  which was a shocking revelation to a bunch of 11th Graders) off handedly one day talked about war and starvation and how any country (though he meant Russia) could be starving and wave their weapons around threatening the rest of the world unless we helped them. I had a couple years not fearing nuclear war, but there it was again..because the weapons didn’t just vanish. They were still tucked soundly in their silos, sleeping, getting faster and more powerful in the intervening 30 years. They’ve been there all along.

A couple years later, in college, I remember reading about how Emily Dickinson is notable for barely, in her work, in her letters, talking about the Civil War. Sure, Amherst was far from the Mason-Dixon line, but people usually say that she was disengaged from the world in isolation.  At the time, I thought, how sheltered and privileged.  The older I get, the more I understand the need for shelter sometimes for mental health. For turning away from things you do not have control of. Some people, mostly soft bellied Millennials and Z-ers are freaked out, rightfully so.  Many of the X-ers have danced this dance before and are no more worried or less than we were as children. The internet means it’s much more raw than the drone of the 6 o’clock news of our childhoods. Some say, there is always war somewhere. Someone is always in crisis, it’s just on a larger scale and with bigger weapons than usual. 

I float somewhere in between, my X-er shell uncrackable, but a tiny sense of panic underneath the ice..  The problem is my panic is all used up after two years of Covid, so I don’t think my energy reserves are big enough to truly freak out. Again, I am tired of living through history–through big things like wars and deadly pandemics and whatever other atrocities dominate the news. I just want some quiet. I’ve also been thinking about my nightly viewing of Reign, all those European countries just fighting over nothing and conquering things to conquer them. Men and their endless warmongering and male toxicity.  It might be time for a complete news hiatus. (which also means a social media hiatus, because things like Facebook are as troubling as the news for doomscrolling. ) 

Kristy Bowen, the poets, when we talk about war

what do you want now
you have everything in the world
pussy cat

Jim Young [no title]

Writing pals — I noticed how my tiny terrier is almost always curled up touching my foot or arm as I write. Do you have a furry, feathery, or finny writing companion? Mine is named Terry, and she’s almost always curled up next to my leg.

Creative people spend a lot of time alone. I think the silent, soothing presence of another being is a spur to imagination. It feels to me that I’m telling my stories to my dog as I type. I write on a laptop most often, on a couch or in bed. Yes, I’m one of those people who has to have her feet up to think!

Terry always has to be nearby, though sometimes she chooses an adjacent couch to mine. I find myself reaching over to give her a cuddle when I’ve finished a passage or a page of writing. As if to comfort us both that this story is progressing.

On Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, I see so many writers posting pictures of pets! And those photos give me inspiration and heart too. It’s as if we’re all in a large space, silent together, fingers tapping, pets breathing and circling or sleeping nearby. A community of beings who don’t need to speak while we’re — ironically — speaking.

Rachel Dacus, Dogs, cats, birds, and writers — a love story

I won’t try to play it cool and tell you I was happy but not surprised. Nope, I full-on screamed with unexpected joy! All day I had been prepping myself to cry and feel disappointed but instead tears of joy leaked out my eyes as I danced around the room and my dogs jumped around me in excitement. (They are sweet but simple dogs so if I’m excited, they’re excited without understanding why. Just one reason I love them so much!) I then called my husband at the office (I still work from home most of the time) and screamed in his ear. Then I called my sister and screamed in her ear. Basically, there was a lot of screaming and dancing in my house that afternoon.

Courtney LeBlanc, Screaming Again

After a tricky ten days, it was a real boost to hear that I had won First Prize in the ‘Wee Collection’ Challenge, set last November by Mark Davidson of the Hedgehog Poetry Press. This means that my sequence of seven interlinked sonnets will be published as a slim pamphlet. 

Watch this space!  

In other news, I very much enjoyed taking part in the ACW-Trellis online poetry day last Saturday. Participating poets came from England, Scotland, Ireland, France and Albania. I read ‘Dunwich in Winter’ from my 2021 collection, Driftwood by Starlight (The Seventh Quarry Press).

Caroline Gill, First Prize (Publication)

here is the field guide to being complete,
the instructions that have been so needed
for so very long.
touch the rocks,
touch the afterbirth of the calf,
call out across the crust of the icy fields.
monosyllabic,
sewn to the underbelly of trees.

James Lee Jobe, being taller than all of the short people in the world

If you’re human, odds are you’re finding it hard to concentrate right now.

It’s hard to settle in. (Understatement). Maybe we’re not supposed to settle in. I’m flitting from book to book, from Twitter to Instagram, from post to post, poem to poem. I don’t have answers; I’m looking for hope. I’m looking for wisdom. I don’t wish for consolation even, but evidence of deep thinking. Evidence of the human and the humane. […]

I said I was reading things but not wanting necessarily to be consoled. But I do admit that I generally read Charles Wright to be consoled. He sits in his backyard, his voice drawls soft and steady, but he tells it like it is:

“The world is dirty and dark.
Who thought that words were salvation?”

“We wait for the consolation of the commonplace,
the belt of light to buckle us in.
We wait for the counterpart,
the secretive music
That only we can hear, or we think that only we can hear.”

Shawna Lemay, It’s Hard to Concentrate Right Now

we unfold the sofa-bed
and curl up downstairs
visitors in our own home

the moon stares blindly
between the curtains
night holds its breath

I wake at 5.15
to a blackbird’s song
in the calm before dawn

at 7.25 a long sigh
passes through the sycamores
like a foreboding

Ama Bolton, Eunice

In the “back on” of my poetry life, I have 1) submitted some poems 2) researched and prepared some other submissions, and 3) looked again at a chapbook manuscript I will probably submit in March. Everything feels slow…but at exactly the right pace. Meanwhile, the poetry notebook continues to fill up with drafts, including a recent one based on a nightmare (morning mare) that I call “Scary America” in my mind (and in the notebook) but which I realize was premonitory, as in one day in advance of Putin’s actual attack on Ukraine, which had been looming darkly in my brain as well as the news. The dream was like a juxtaposition of the June 6 insurrection in the USA if it had continued into an overthrow of our government + the Russia/Ukraine situation. I feel further and weirdly connected, as my Life Sucks character Babs was of Ukrainian ancestry.

Kathleen Kirk, Back On

The gods will ask me
did I do right by what resides
in all the lavish desert—for the lizard’s eyesight,
for Coyote
who dissolves into the bush?
For the disgraced
night sky, mottled with a light that isn’t hers.

And I will say, it wasn’t love as I have known it.
Instead it was a falling in.
A disability of love.
I could do nothing
but paint the nothing I became.

Kristen McHenry, The Artist

Since my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, back in 2017, I’ve had perhaps my most fruitful period ever in terms of placing new poems in high-quality journals. In fact, I’ve published a total of 44 poems in outlets such as The Spectator, The New European, Stand, Acumen, Poetry Birmingham, Wild Court, etc, etc.

However, in that same period, absolutely everything I’ve submitted via Submittable has been rejected – a total of 31 batches of poems, all declined. Why? What might the reasons be?

Of course, one immediate reason may be that more people submit to journals via Submittable than via other means, while another suggestion might be that many of the most prestigious mags use Submittable. Oh, and an additional option is that younger editors tend to work with the platform, and my poems are less to their taste. Nevertheless, I do believe that I’ve accumulated a pretty decent and broad list of credits elsewhere (see above) during that same period.

What’s my point? What potential conclusions could be drawn? Well, I’d argue that the use of Submittable is extremely detrimental to the type of poetry I write. It favours work that catches a superficial eye rather than poems that layer their effects with subtlety. This isn’t to knock editors’ decisions, just a reflection on the way Submittable potentially skews their choices. Do you agree? If so, is the use of Submittable changing the poetry some people write and subsequently read? Is this a change for the better…?

Matthew Stewart, Poetry submissions via Submittable

That morning
Dad asked where you are
three times.
Each time I answered
I watched him lose you again.

Magnified and sanctified,
I whispered in Aramaic.
My horse’s ears twitched.
The mourning doves
murmured amen.

Rachel Barenblat, Trail

Effective music is not the words, it’s the intervals between the notes, how the notes are made: plunk or draw, hum or tatat. I’ve mentioned this before. Music has an emotional narrative made up of tension and relief, just as a story does, or a poem. I once tried to write a poem using just sounds to communicate an emotion. I don’t know if the poem worked, but it was a fun project.

And of course choice of words should be governed not only by meaning, significations, suggestions, but also sound, as we word-ers go about our poem-making. I think I do this intuitively, but it’s useful to be reminded.

Some words weigh more than others, sonically. “Indubitably” is going to do something different in so many ways than “yup.” (Now I want to write a poem that uses both…) I read a poem recently that was drunk on the short i sound of “if,” making use of something of its uncertainty, its effort toward something. There’s something certain about the landing in a word like “jump,” the satisfying ump signifying you’ve stuck the landing, versus “leap,” which even though ends in a p (as all falling things land) the eeee sound takes you out into the air, that silent a like your open mouth, your wide eyes. There’s a p coming, but how long, how far away? eeeee

Marilyn McCabe, Singin’ la la la; or, On Music and Poetry

lung wrecked in the wing back chair
my father was marooned in his house

he rewatched the programmes
he did not like the first time round

told me that there was a certain
safety in knowing what comes next

Paul Tobin, LUNG WRECKED

Of course, Ukraine has been on my mind lately, like it has been on everyone’s mind. Yesterday, someone on my Facebook feed posted a field recording of an old Ukrainian woman singing. I was very struck by the song and her haunting voice as well as by her powerful presence. However, the thing that struck me the most was her hands: strong, thick and always moving as she sang. They were very expressive: a life, emotions, age, strength. So, I made this video using two of my poems which I feel relate to loss, strength, war,  grief and love; I feel like they connect to a sense of what is happening now.

I used a close-up of this singer’s hands in this video as well as introducing other visual elements. The music is a remix that I did (adding various clarinets and saxophones plus a bunch of electronics) to a recording of a rehearsal which my sister-in-law Pam Campbell sent me of her singing with her group Tupan. 

Gary Barwin, A Singer’s Hands

I’m bothered by the abrupt shift from a protective warmth to the skin of a boat in icy seas, which morph into a harbour where the last ferry  pulses and slide like a birthday cake off the plated sea. Every one of the phrases rings true, but belong in different places in space and history. I can make connections with the typical folk-tale of a man who steals a female selkie’s skin, finds her naked on the sea shore, and compels her to become his wife, and how the wife will spend her time in captivity longing for the sea, her true home.  She may bear several children by her human husband, but once she discovers her skin, she will immediately return to the sea and abandon the children she loved. But then I have to connect that with what well may be an Orkney harbour, a CalMac ferry, the shimmering bodies, the skintight suit that may (or may not) be a diver’s wet suit. Everything is real and baffling. And everything is precisely placed, filmic. I love it. Just don’t ask me to explain it. I keep coming up with different answers.

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Marion Oxley’s “In the taxidermist’s house”

The prose poems in We Are Hopelessly Small and Modern Birds are curiously built, with each stanza-block existing as a single breath, a single thought, composing a semi-ongoing narrative amid lyric bursts. Through a lyric of surreal narratives, Lefsyk’s poem offer a story that exists in a shimmering dream-state, shifting in and out of focus. “OCCASIONALLY,” she writes, to open a poem early on in the collection, “OUR APARTMENT COMPLEX floats out to sea. As it was, Kant and I had our noses somewhere in the distance. ‘Most likely there is no meaning in things,’ Kant says. ‘Or only in the ultimate logic of certain animal forms and avian noises.’ // For this reason my bones feel like the small broken bones of a very tiny goldfish.” Set in five sections with an opening salvo, a poem-as-dedication “for and after FEDERICO GARCİA LORCA,” her narrator speaks from a ward and of doctors, dentists, husbands and philosophers in poems composed out of a kind of easy-flowing, clear and liquid motion. As well, there is something interesting about the way she writes of the body and the self, the narrator writing from a perspective that verges on primal, seen through a surreal lens. “IF I WERE A WIFE and a mother I would be a wife and a mother.” she writes, mid-way through the collection. “All my children say: ‘Build me,’ but the son takes my pelvis and runs it through the supermarket. // I go into and out of this supermarket whenever I want.” After having gone through this collection, I’m genuinely curious to find out what she’s been working on since.

rob mclennan, Sara Lefsyk, We Are Hopelessly Small and Modern Birds

Heather Swan: David, your book, Years Beyond the River, is filled with such a wide array of specific language describing the plants and animals in the landscapes you inhabit. Did you cultivate this intimate knowing and capacity for naming these things as an adult or did you grow up knowing them? And what is the importance of that naming to you?

David Axelrod:
That’s a great question to begin with and the answer is yes and no, or more precisely it wasn’t and isn’t an either/or matter for me. My maternal grandfather was enchanted by living things and plant lore, and I was prone to grotesque cases of “poison ivory” as he used to say (he also enjoyed punning). It was he who taught me about the cooling effects of the crushed stalks of jewelweed, that is, spotted touch-me-not, which grew in abundance in the creek bottoms and along farm lanes. I recall him washing my legs with the crushed plant after I’d inadvertently walked through poison ivy in shorts, and for once I didn’t suffer the consequences of my blindness to things. I’d found an ally! He taught me to identify animal tracks, common birds, trees by leaf and bark, the stars, and stories of rare things I must never miss an opportunity to see should they ever return, such as the Ohio Buckeye or Halley’s Comet, which he saw as a child. We even planted a small forest together of birches and pine. I realized that only by knowing a name would I even be able to begin to perceive what is named. The animating anxiety there is being otherwise blind to what we can’t name. I’m reminded too of something Zbigniew Herbert wrote in his poem “Never About You”: “Don’t be surprised that we can’t describe the world / we just speak to things tenderly by name.” That tenderness is what I hope to convey when I name things in poems. It’s the tenderness my odd grandfather felt for life and wished to share with me.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Book Interview Series: Heather Swan Interviews David Axelrod

It feels entirely selfish and strange to be thinking about anything other than Ukraine and Kyiv, and those incredible people taking up arms against Russia and how utterly 2022 is is to have a Ukrainian president who is famous for being an actor/comedian who played the president in a sit-com. What a time to be alive. I’m watching WW III beginning on TikTok and Twitter because this is the world we live in today, one of mass communication via social media apps. I genuinely think that while those platforms have and will be used to disinform they are also one of the greatest ways of informing people. I’ve just read that the hacking contingency Anonymous hacked Russian state TV and played either (depending on your source) the Ukraine national anthem or Rick Astley into Russian homes. I don’t know if that’s true, I desperately want it to be true.

And so I limp to the end of February literally not knowing what the future holds, but knowing this: the birds are building nests, the rooks are in the rookery that overhangs the road and are carrying twigs about, the snow drops are out, the daffodils are emerging. The corner of my garden which was horribly flooded by a burst pipe and completely dug out during the pandemic, the corner that just so happened to be my source of spring joy with its overflowing snowdrops has, this year, come back with even more snowdrops, as if the obliteration of the soil woke them up and made them work harder to be even more splendid. Spring is coming and I will be grasping it and enjoying it. I’m so ready for winter to be over.

Wendy Pratt, Heading into March like…

Before the ice cracks
there’s a sigh
like the last attempt
at holding things
together – the moment
before whatever is going
to happen, happens –
the slightest tremble
under the skin
invisible to the eye.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Walking on thin ice