Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 19

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 at Via Negativa or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack (where the posts might be truncated by some email providers).

This week: mothers and mothering, silence and mental noise, wonder and wreckage. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive at Via Negativa or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack (where the posts might be truncated by some email providers).

This week: words with friends, a loving attendance on the world, histories of brokenness and violence, lithium wasps, the Mouth of Hell volcano, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 16

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: a wasp’s heart, rearranging the ghosts, the language of cicadas, empires of the everyday, losing the moon and more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 14

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This first week of Poetry Month, doves abound and emptiness has teeth, finding dusty corners to live in, while April asks, “What, me? Cruel?” Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 9

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: the shadows of children, a different kind of faith, ellipses like off-ramps, poets as secret agents, and much more. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week, inclement weather kept many poets inside, blogging furiously. Some common themes include the winter itself; great poets and poems; and songs as poetry and vice versa. Enjoy and share.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week, poets were visionary, resolute, hunkering down, easing back into the grind. Some evinced minds of winter, while others dreamed of warmer times and climes. Enjoy.

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 48

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: old books and libraries, echo salesmen, mouths and spectacles, catastrophes and the delights of life. Enjoy!

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Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the equinox, telepathy, stream-writing, list poems, and much more. Enjoy.


It is peak bramble time, jam-making, pickling, apple cake and plum crumble time. The first geese are here, and the last housemartins are lining up to leave. The bird population in the garden has changed – the sparrows are mostly in the fields just now, so the blue tits have a chance at the feeders. The magpies are mostly bothering something else in the woods, there are starlings along all the roof tops, and the robin is noisily staking out his winter territory in the hawthorns over the burn. The temperature has dropped ten degrees over the last week, and I’m about to pick the last tomatoes and move the lemon verbenas and the scented leaf geraniums into the greenhouse before the frost. I’ll be stripping out the spent annuals, and sowing the seeds I’ve saved to jump start next summer’s flowers, and I’ll be making pot pourri and some dried flower arrangements to give us scent and colour through the dark days.

Because next week is the equinox, one of the tipping points of the year, and we’re heading for winter. I’m having a tipping point of some other kinds too. I seem to have shifted from ‘learning about’ this new territory, to ‘getting to know’ it. I am aware, not only of new facts as they come to my attention, but how they impact things I already know. I understand more about why some plants are thriving and some aren’t, how taking out all the stones from the front garden changes not only the drainage, but the feel of the soil, and I can hear when there’s a new bird in the garden. It feels like a more mutual phase, as the garden responds to what I’ve done – and not always in the way I expect. I had no idea the marshmallows would grow so tall, or how much shade the lilac tree casts.

And in writing, too. I’ll be in the house more than the garden, in my head more than the world. I’m out of the note-making, researching, puzzling, planning stage and into the real words on the page. Unwilding is still very short – less than five per cent of the total, but there are actual words! And more importantly, as it turns out, the next poetry collection has begun to happen. It is tentatively called The Midsummer Foxes but it is also going to have bees, weather, music, herbs and the moon. I have always wanted to do a ‘four elements’ collection, and this may well be it. I am embarrassingly excited about it!

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Tipping Point

straw bales
a lonely tractor giving birth
to autumn

Jim Young [no title]

On Eurostar from the Netherlands I wrote two poems about returning home and a poem about forgetting. I haven’t knowingly written a poem for a while. I had hoped I could, after bike rides, visits to museums, spending time with Giya. I felt refreshed by being away. I saw new things, including Snow White and the Broken Arm by Marlene Dumas, a South African by birth who lives in Amsterdam. And Snow White is holding a camera. When I went to visit mum and showed it to her she laughed. That was the response of a writer, I realised. It was subversive. 

There is lots to do now. It’s a question of pacing, breathing and breaks, I’m told. 

I want to think more. I’ve been in plant mind all spring and summer. Autumn’s provoking a change. 

Jackie Wills, Coming home and thinking more

In Latin, the word equinox means equal night—
there are two times each year when day

and night are the same length in all parts
of the world. On one side, she was dying.

On the other, she was already dead,
her breaths having slowed until

they could not mist the mirror anymore.
The three women who cared for her until

the end folded the sheets and prepared
her body for its last ceremony of fire,

for sifting into an urn bearing her name.

Luisa A. Igloria, Death in a Different Time Zone

A CBe event at the Barbican scheduled for Wednesday this week, the 27th, has been postponed (to 31 January next year) because of poor ticket sales. How many tickets were sold? As many as a tree-surgeon friend could count on his right hand, after having lost two fingers on that hand to one of those chopping machines into which fallen branches are fed.

Ouch. It’s dose of realism. Event organisers who schedule Ian McEwan or Zadie Smith or Marie Kondo or Michael Palin can stroll into the box office, quids in; event organisers who schedule small-press writers have to run ten times faster for often, as here, zero result.

The Barbican event was ticketed. They pay the writers. Many book events don’t. This is tricky: earlier this month I heard a librarian speak about her unease at having to charge £3 for an author event when for many of the people she wanted to come that was a barrier. The regular charge for book events in London is £10, which equals 2.5 Costa coffees and the food budget for a week for many. We want open access; we want writers to be valued; and it’s depressing how often money gets in the way rather than helping.

Once, a friend and I were the only people to turn up to a stage adaptation of Kafka in a pub theatre and they put on the show just for us.

On the plus side: for publishers whose authors cannot fill stadia, every reader matters.

Charles Boyle, Postponed

21st June 2017, a sweltering day in London, was a significant date for me in two respects. The number one reason was that it was the launch of my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, at the LRB bookshop. But the second reason is that at the same event I met my mate Mat Riches for the first time.

On that back of that reading (and a fair few pints after the event itself!), we exchanged a couple of poems by email, gave each other feedback, found the feedback useful, realised we also had a fair bit in common apart from poetry, and began a WhatsApp chat that must now have thousands of messages in its archive. It soon stretched well beyond poetry to the key issues of dodgy craft beer, dodgy football teams, dodgy knees and dodgy tastes in shirts.

In fact, I’d argue that every poet needs a mate like Mat, and I feel hugely fortunate to have found him. He’s seen all the poems in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course. His development as a poet has been massive over these six years, and his forthcoming pamphlet, Collecting the Data, will be a terrific calling card.

Mat and I are very different poets, but I’d suggest the key to our successful mutual support is that we never attempt to get the other to write in our aesthetic or voice. Instead, we strive to understand, respect and sometimes push each other gently towards a stretching of our self-imposed limits.

Perhaps the only bad thing is that we now can’t ethically bring ourselves to review our respective books.

Matthew Stewart, My mate Mat

Rex Jung is a neuroscientist who studies creativity. He defines creativity as what is “novel and useful” [emphasis mine]. By choosing to live a creative life, by choosing to seek out the poetic in the humdrum details of our daily lives, we can use writing to gain the perspective we need to become the person each of us wants to be: we can live deliberately.

We can cultivate attention and gratitude. We can create stronger connections with the physical realities of Earth, and with each other. If we look inward, but aim toward art—and if we are fortunate—we can transcend ourselves.

Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.
Oscar Wilde

We construct our narratives. Which story are you choosing? Because this choice is who you are.

Ren Powell, Metaphor as a Present Tense Manifesto

Kierkegaard suggests that we’re depressed, in modern times, precisely because we’re trying to live in the present moment: we have emptied the past and the future of all meaning. “Everything is cut away but the present; no wonder, then, that one loses it in the constant anxiety about losing it.” In these conditions McMindfulness is more likely to exacerbate depression than to relieve it. Relying on the present moment to supply all our meaning was already overloading it: piling more on is not likely to help.

I still think most people will need mindfulness practices (very broadly construed) to have a life worth living. But I’ve joined the rebellion against locating the present moment as the place where reality lives. There’s a lot of reality. Some ways of reaching out to touch it are historical, and some are soteriological. The fact that “we look before and after” is a feature, not a bug. Sure, it can get us in trouble. What can’t? Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.

A quiet Fall day. I have failed in everything. And still no rain.

Dale Favier, “Everything is cut away but the Present”

One of the gifts of lyric poetry is the way that it can hold space for a full range of truths as well as ways to access understandings of truth. I often tell writers that what we are after is awkward human utterance. This can be interpreted both as craft as well as content. Figuring out what needs to be said as well as how it needs to be said–this is the gift and animation of engaging with poetry and its truths.

These thoughts are on my mind after spending time with the digital album Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 (Hello America Stereo Cassette) by Mugabi Byenkya. This album’s narrative arc centers the experiences of a disabled body navigating an able-bodied world as well as the themes of intimacy and love and their role in survival. What charges through the listening experience is Byenkya’s lyric sensibility.

The opening to “Tina,” for example, sets a scene deftly then quickly makes clear what the stakes are:

Housekeeping keeps knocking on the door telling me to open up. I sit and listen. I’m the reason that the towel rack lies mangled askew on the chalky linoleum floor, wondering how much this is going to rack up in charges, wracking my mind for a convincing enough excuse, because I had a seizure while getting out of the shower is a little too much truth, a little too much awkward silence, a little too much shifty eyes, a little too much tiptoeing past the room but barging in when the fork clatters to the ground, a little too much.

The scene here depicts the liminal space of having to negotiate around vulnerability. The physical vulnerability of the moment runs parallel with the emotional vulnerability behind the speaker’s voice. Reading the words alone makes clear the mind at work; the wordplay of “open up” can be appreciated and lingered over in text, such a poignant note to hit before moving forward. Listening to Byenkya’s voice behind words, however, adds a further dimension, makes clear exactly the “opening up” to come.

The idea present in the phrasing “a little too much truth” lives at the core of this album. Byenkya’s awareness and ability to evoke for listeners moments of “a little too much truth” is a gift to watch in action.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 by Mugabi Byenkya

Geoff Bouvier’s first book, Living Room, was selected by Heather McHugh as the winner of the 2005 APR/Honickman First Book Prize. His second book, Glass Harmonica, was published in 2011 by Quale Press. He received an MFA from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts in 1997 and a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University in 2016. In 2009, he was the Roberta C. Holloway visiting poet at the University of California – Berkeley. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his partner, the novelist SJ Sindu, and teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I don’t remember the first book I ever read, but it fundamentally changed me. The mere fact of words – lines of little scribbles that were somehow signs of meaning – shifted my basic understanding of everything.

The first book I wrote – “The Cake Who Lost Its Crumbs,” when I was three – taught me that I could sculpt those little significant meaningful scribbles. My audience was my mother and father, who were quite encouraging.

The first book I published, thirty-three years later, relined my confidence. Though Living Room found only a modest audience, it did earn me some inroads into academia, where I’ve been able to cultivate a life of the mind.

With my new book, Us From Nothing, I wanted words to again shift my basic understanding of everything. I had to try to understand who I am, why I’m here, where I came from, and where I might be headed. It took me 7 years to research and revise what became a serial epic prose poem about the most important milestones in human history.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Psychologically, from the moment I learned to read, it was the words that got me, first and foremost. The mere fact of words. I didn’t care about stories or characters. Those words were drawing attention to themselves as words. That’s the poetry. That hooked me.

Factually, I grew up in a house full of books – my parents were both teachers and readers – but the shelf with the poetry books was the only one with cobwebs on it. I think I gravitated toward it because no one else ever touched it; the poetry books could be mine, all mine.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Geoff Bouvier

My latest poetry book has an unusual backstory: the pandemic and my telepathic parents.

My parents communicated telepathically — mostly when my father was at work. She was a stay-at-home Mom; he was a shipman in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and had no access to a telephone.  When I was too young for school, she’d ask me to play quietly and then converse with him. Naturally, I thought all married couples could transmit thought messages.

I inherited this useful ability, which granted me access to communications “across the miles,” so to speak.  For example, I could reach my father while he was driving and insist that he turn around and come home. I kept this channel open so the dead could reach out, too; My Dungeon Ghost is a memoir poem about an elementary school classmate who became a paid assassin, died behind bars, and telepathically requested “a boon.”
 
With outsiders, this was never discussed, even though my family considers telepathy to be a normal thing even children are expected to do. Though I’ve had my share of uncanny conversations and experiences, I deliberately excluded these from my writing. Then the pandemic arrived with a panicked lockdown — and the silken privacy of isolation granted permission to open a locked door. I decided this collection would be different: a conjuring of the literary and speculative, the familiar and the alien, with judicious sampling from other poets.

Drop-in by LindaAnn LoSchiavo (Nigel Kent)

This was the first in-person reading I’ve done in a long time. I’d forgotten how bad the nerves are when I read out. Getting the collections off the bookshelf and going through them, choosing what to read was like going backwards in time, like looking through photos and seeing images of previous selves. I literally had to knock the dust off them, especially the early ones. I have five collections in all: three full and two pamphlets and I have another full collection coming out next year. You’d think by now I’d feel reasonably confident in my abilities as a poet but for some reason, poetry is probably my main area of intense feelings of imposter syndrome. Often I get so nervous before a reading that I’ll spend the whole day beforehand stuck in ‘waiting mode’ feeling sick with nerves. But I think something might have changed this year, the nerves are definitely not as bad. I think it’s since I signed the book deal contract on my nature-landscape-memoir. I have spent a year writing about belonging and what it is to belong, to feel you have a place in the world. I feel like I have spent a year validating my right to exist in the arts sphere, and other places, my own landscape, my own skin. The difference between having a poetry collection published and a main stream trad published non poetry book is immense – I’m going to write a post about it in the future – and it helps that there’s a team working with me, all of us working towards getting the edits finished, getting the book landed and absolutely shining. I don’t know what it is I’m trying to say – something about being taken seriously as a writer, but also, that self recognition, the finding of inner value in your own work…you have got to have that to grow.

Anyway, I think because the nerves were less debilitating this time, and because I didn’t have books to flog or a course to sell, I think because I was simply taking part (not organising for a change – the relief!) I was able to enjoy the evening more fully, I was fully present. I chatted to poetry friends, I got the gossip on other sectors of the arts world, I enjoyed, oh fully enjoyed, the readings by the other poets and when I came to read I felt a genuine connection with the audience. As I sat watching the night draw in on Northway, listening to the musicians between sets and watching the good folk of Scarborough going out into the town, or coming in and out of the SJT theatre opposite, the shop lights and the street lights glittering, the sound of traffic moving through the town, I thought – this could be anywhere. We could be in London, we could be in Manchester, but here we are in Scarborough.’ It pleases me to see cultural events like this springing up in the town, and I’m pleased to just be a tiny part of that.

Wendy Pratt, Knocking the Dust Off – Reading Out

I have a live reading as part of an Acumen evening coming up this week […]. Do pop in if you find yourself in Dulwich on Thursday. I liked what Wendy [Pratt] had to say about not having to organise the reading so she could step back and enjoy just reading. I liked her note about not having books to sell as well— this will be my last reading before I do have to start thinking about that.

However, what I really liked was the poem that Wendy included at the end of the post. It’s her lovely ‘Love Letter to Scarborough on a Saturday Night‘ from her most recent collection, ‘ When I Think of My Body as a Horse‘ (reviewed by some knobhead here). Maybe it’s the fact that I have family in Scarbados—NB, I don’t think it is, but I love this poem.  The whole collection is a moving feast, a marvel and  just moving, so if you’ve not read it please do.

Now, I could just cheat and tell you to read the Scarborough poem and call that it, but oh no, dear reader…I want you to have more…

Mat Riches, Nationalising Breaking Glass and Rood-Screens

On Thursday evening I did a reading with Catherine Kyle Broadwall (she read from her fun new book, Fulgurite—full of fairy tale poems!) and read from Field Guide to the End of the World and Flare, Corona, which I think went pretty well. Had a good crowd, it was a super cute store—great eclectic magazine sections, great fiction and poetry sections, and a stuffed narwhal hanging from the ceiling, and we sold a lot of books, which was fun. It had been a minute since I’d done a reading, so I was glad it went pretty well. […]

I got a total of four rejections and two acceptances this week – and one was from a place I’ve been trying to get into for years, JAMA, or the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not a doctor, but I do have a pre-med biology degree, and I write medically themed poetry all the time, so it seemed like a natural fit—but the first poem they took wasn’t at all medically related, ironically. Ha ha!

Fall always means new pens and notebooks, catching up on paperwork, starting the academic year—so even those of us who don’t work in academia will be affected by the increased work at literary magazines or invitations to come read at classes, all that sort of thing.

Although I am still recovering from my antibody infusion from almost two weeks ago, I’m starting to feel a little more productive as the days get colder and shorter.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s Fall Witches! Autumn Equinox with Glass Pumpkins, a Reading Report from Edmonds Bookshop and an Upcoming Zoom Reading, Exciting Acceptances

Such a joy last weekend to attend one of a few readings organized by Editor Cassandra Arnold to celebrate her release of Alchemy and Miracles (Gilbert & Hall Press, 2023). Everyone read so beautifully! This collection is filled with nature poems written by 83 poets from all over the world, including three writers from right here in Southeast Alaska. Yes, I’m over the moon to have work in this compilation with fellow Blue Canoe writers Mandy Ramsey from Haines and Bonnie Demerjian from Wrangell. If you get the chance, give Cassandra Arnold a follow on Instagram (@cassandra_art_and_stories) where you’ll surely be inspired about all things poetry. And yes, she designed this lovely cover, too! Alchemy and Miracles may be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Happy Autumn, all! In true, Southeast Alaskan form, termination dust on the high peaks yesterday morning.

Kersten Christianson, Autumnal Alchemy

You can’t see in the photograph that the speaker is sitting on her hands, nor can you see her feet, described later as “thick toes, accustomed to field” that are squeezed painfully into borrowed shoes. And the face gives no evidence of physical pain, but that makes the speaker even more believable. She has prepared for this moment, this unveiling, and nervous as she is, she will not allow something as minor as discomfort to ruin it.

Smith turns the poem in the second stanza by changing the verb tense, moving into second person, though it feels more like the speaker is talking to the picture or into a mirror rather than talking directly to the reader. It’s a fantastic use of the second person, because usually the effect of the move is to grab the reader by the shirt, so to speak, and demand their attention, but here it’s more introspective.

Tell me that I have earned at least this much woman. Tell me

that this day is worth all the nights I wished the muscle

of myself away.

The “tell me” is a request for validation or acceptance, but again, the speaker isn’t asking for it from us. She’s asking it from herself, which is important because she isn’t sure that she’ll receive it from anyone else. The end of the poem leaves this uncertain:

Here I am, Mama, vexing your savior,

barely alive beneath face powder and wild prayer. Here I am,

both your daughter and your son, stinking of violet water.

The “vexing your savior” combined with “wild prayer” really hits hard for me because of my own experiences of estrangement from family over matters of faith. I feel what’s at stake and why she still needs to be this person no matter the cost. There’s an ache here that stays unresolved, and I think that’s why it sticks with me.

Brian Spears, Sitting for a picture

Wow, I felt a lot of love for RS Thomas after my last blog post.

I wonder if we need more spirituality today, generally I mean. I speak as a moderate atheist. I think I used to call myself an ‘agnostic’ – wanting to leave the door open I suppose – but we all grow older, and so our thoughts and beliefs mature one way or another. I now love a lot of things about the church of my upbringing (although I hated it as a child!), but it stops well short of faith. The only church service I enjoy is Evensong, but I love the architecture of churches and can’t resist going inside any I come across. I’ve often sung the services in cathedrals with my choir the Lewes Singers: I will sing anything, but I never say the creed. It’s always a moving experience, but perhaps that’s the feeling of being in the presence of faith: people who truly believe. I don’t just mean those participating in the service, but also the thousands of souls who have worshipped there for centuries, right back to the stonemasons and labourers who built the massive edifices. I respect all that, and feel privileged to be a part of it.

But spirituality feels much wider, more inclusive than religion as such. My impression is that RS continually questioned his faith. Isn’t that what many of us do, even the atheists? What do we believe in? Surely it can’t just be Gaia, politics, football or reality TV?

Robin Houghton, On spirituality, a submission and the wonder of lists

The Days of Awe open on Rosh Hashanah and close on Yom Kippur. When my birthday falls on Rosh Hashanah, it gets lost in the birthday of the world; when it falls on Yom Kippur, celebrations turn sober and thin. Gallows humor when fasting, enacting symbolic death? Fat chance! 

This year, the birthday fell smack in the middle of the Days of Awe – and I got a day or two of awe. When your walls come tumbling down (Rabbi Alan Lew’s image), as they did unbidden during this season of introspection, you get some light in the gaps of the rebuilding. That happened mid-week – all in betweens! – in a New England-y place familiar and known (Maine) but charged. I cleared the slate and came with heightened sensibility; came to the sapphire sky with such a mind. Something came to meet me. 

Everything got renewed by the sea, standing on the deck of a fishery
in the presence of a rope coiled, braided, stiff with the sting of fish iodine
and rusted wires woven together with gates, doors, traps
and floats bulbed in mottled white and bright fuchsia 
hanging like a bunch of radishes. 

Yes to Paul Eluard: “Is there another world? Yes, in this one.”

Jill Pearlman, All the Days of Awe

Do I read Emily Dickinson because she speaks to me directly and clearly? In truth, no. I’m very often mystified. And I think this is a point worth making: we don’t always read the writers we love out of a profound sense of familiarity or comprehension. But where I don’t understand her, a different kind of understanding steps in, a knowledge layers deep that I would not otherwise have activated that day. Dickinson makes me experience what she herself described here:

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Dickinson’s social quickness and wit is often overlooked in favor of her reclusive tendencies. If you don’t believe me, read her letters. I have just flipped to a passage at random and found a letter to her brother Austin that I had marked years ago. It reads:

Your welcome letter found me all engrossed in the history of Sulphuric Acid!!!!!

Yes, she included five exclamation points. Later in the letter, she tells her brother she’s eager for a Valentine—all the other girls have received them—so, where is hers? She insists that Austin tell Thomas she’s pining for one.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

Since learning that yoga is not, in fact, a sinister cult but a really useful way of caring for my back, I regularly breathe out deeply. This is something I’ve done both in classes, and in front of ‘Yoga with Adrienne’ and her free YouTube videos. 

When younger, I did breathing exercises for wellbeing by default when playing the flute. A lot of my lessons were spent with my teacher encouraging me to develop breath and diaphragm control. I had no idea how useful a life skill this was as I channelled a column of air into a top C. 

More recently, I exhaled deeply on opening a box of copies of Festival in a Book – A Celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival. I had been holding my breath for two weeks: between the moment of pressing send on the final proofs and lifting out the first book. I breathed even more freely when Anna Dreda, Festival Founder, said she loves the anthology created in honour of her Festival and its legacy. 

It has struck me since that the publication of a book of poetry is, in some ways, an exhalation, a letting go. A breathing out of thought and word and music into the world. Breath and word. The word made paper. It can’t be taken back now. And it will become part of other people’s breathing, internal and external, when read. 

Liz Lefroy, I Exhale Deeply

I know sometimes a poem can simmer away for years before the poet feels it’s done, or at least in a state competent enough to be abandoned. I know some people feel writing slowly and meticulously, working on the placing of words in relation to each other, how each fits or alters the metre, a rhyming scheme, or the demands and rigours of the particular form that is at the heart of the attempt, is the proper way to pay respect to poetry as a craft to be learned. Sometimes this process allows time for an exploration into what the poet actually wants to say – because it’s not always obvious to the poet at the outset. I appreciate this, and have written this way.

And of course there is the question of feedback. A poem might be sent to a trusted poetry friend for appraisal, even for thorough workshopping. Bits might be lopped off, the tense altered, adjectives questioned, the lines rejigged to the point of a new opening or closing line. And if the poem ever becomes a part of a collection, then the publisher’s editor, who might or might not be the same person, might well want to suggest even more alterations. This is normal enough stuff. Some thinner-skinned poets seem to struggle with it but after many years of working for newspapers, I understand the role of the sub-editor and the value of a good one. Far from it being bothersome, I appreciate the effort and generosity of those who take the time to offer their thoughts.

However, not all poetry is written as methodically and meticulously as this. An obvious point, perhaps, but in poetry’s case ‘rules are not always rules’.

More recently, or at least recently more frequently, I have felt more confident in the technique of stream-writing, not simply as a warm-up exercise, but as a valid form of delving into what the mind contains and wants to share. When I begin I have no idea what will come out of it. I might have one line, one image, and I usually feel calm enough to shut everything else out and let the words, images, phrases, chunks of conversation maybe, emerge and work out their own order. It’s an exploration, without prior warning, of the recesses of the mind. Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, the result is completely disconnected rubbish because I’m unable to think or connect thought and so it is deleted. Other times, it feels as if I may have hit on something, that the words have a relationship to one another, a rhythm that might alter and swing around, but that forms a whole that contains some kind of meaning, in the strict sense of the word, as in an emotional connection not simply a logical process. The validity of this way of doing things is a matter of opinion and it’s certainly not something I would do every time I sat down to write, but I’m finding that with more practice comes more consistency, as I suppose is the way with any technique.

That is not to say the ‘end result’ cannot stand editing. There are poets who employ stream-writing as an inviolable technique, valid only if left well alone as the produce of the mind at that particular moment in life or time. I see the point in this as a principle but the obvious danger is that it may end up as a stream of self-indulgent drivel, a celebration of egotism in a string of boring sentences.

Bob Mee, Untitled

There can be beauty in a list: its specificity, also the rhythm and sound–which order does the poet choose for each word? That matters. Chronology perhaps; category, like the scientist; or else sound, such as alliteration; or possibly by the thread of some concatenation that gradually creates associations. The logic of a list poem differs from other forms of lists.

I always think of Whitman as an early and consummate “list poet,” though a great many of his poems do not rely on the strategy. There are list poems that employ anaphora and those that build through phrases. Others rely on modifiers that escalate or change tone to surprise the reader. In my own process it has been useful to begin drafting poems through listing, though often I abandon the list when I revise.

Also, I teach myself about the world and its people, environs, and ideas through lists.

For example, having strayed temporarily from my home region, I’m getting acquainted with a “new” place by making lists of birds, trees, flowers–yeah, the naming-things approach so basic to human beings, like when my children were just learning to talk and conversation with them consisted largely of naming objects or actions.

This is not a poem:

Pygmy nuthatch, juniper titmouse, pinyon jay. Gambel oak, Abert’s squirrel, pinacate stink beetle, skink. Quaking aspen, limber pine. Common raven, Woodhouse’s scrub-jay, fireweed, globemallow, bear corn, oak gall, crow. Pinyon, cholla, Ponderosa pine, alligator juniper, Apache plume, sandwort, groundsel. Gneiss, granite, gray oak, spotted towhee, rabbitbrush, bajada, arroyo, muttongrass, mesa, schist.

Ann E. Michael, Lists

Somewhere a chair is waiting for us. Maybe at home. Maybe at the doctor’s office. Maybe in an empty lot beside a busy street where a sparrow sings in the thicket.

Carey Taylor, Off Killingsworth


When his partner suddenly died, life changed utterly for Paul Stephenson. In Hard Drive a prologue and epilogue hold six parts of almost equal length. These poems take the reader through the journey of grief: Signature, Officialdom, Clearing Shelves, Covered Reservoir, Intentions, Attachment.

‘A noted formalist, with a flair for experiment, pattern and the use of constraints’, Paul also has a talent for intriguing titles: Other people who died at 38; Better Verbs for Scattering; We weren’t married. He was my civil partner.

There is a great variety of form: erasure poems, use of indents and columns, haibun, prose poems, alongside the narrative poems which range in length from three lines to the five-page poem Your Brain.

Fokkina McDonnell, Hard Drive

A little while ago, I read a pamphlet by Nikki Dudley. It was about her Nan, Greenie, and about how Greenie´s dementia had a huge impact not only on her, but also on Nikki and the whole family. At the time I was reading this, my father had died after living with Parkinson´s-related dementia for the last years of his life. And my mother, who was (and still is) alive, was living with dementia as well. The book meant a lot to me and I came back to it again and again. It is a mixture of poetry, CNF and visual poetry, the latter illustrating perfectly that dementia is not a linear thing, but something scattered, murky, out of reach for those who live with it and those who are their witnesses in this process. When I wrote my own book, St. Eisenberg and the Sunshine Bus, Nikki’s book helped me to think outside the box in describing my father’s dementia.

So when Beir Bua Press closed down and it wasn’t clear what would happen with all the books, I approached Nikki and asked her what she thought about Sídhe Press re-publishing her book. We agreed on working together and on September 15, Just One More I Go, was re-published by Sídhe Press. It is, of course, the same book it was, but I hope we have added and improved to it in a way that honours Greenie. As well as an additional poem, we now have photos of Greenie not only on the cover, but also tucked inside the book- one more thing to illustrate who she was and is to Nikki, and once we read it, to us. And it slots in seamlessly with Our Own Coordinates- Poems About Dementia, which was the first book I published with Sídhe Press.

Annick Yerem, Just One More Before I Go by Nikki Dudley

母と娘(こ)に生れあはせし花野かな 正木ゆう子

haha to ko ni umareawaseshi hanano kana

            our fate of being

            a mother and a daughter

            flowering field …

                                                            Yuko Masaki

from Haiku Dai-Saijiki (Comprehensive Haiku Saijiki), Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo, 2006

Fay’s Note:  “hanano” (flowering field) is an autumn kigo.

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (September 25, 2023)

Two of Trish Kerrison’s sons have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which triggers progressive muscle failure and usually limits life to eighteen years or below, although they are now in their late-twenties. The poems are an honest, and occasionally humorous, look at life as a mother and carer. The short introductory poem takes the image of four lines drawn in sand to make a box, “to put people in// to live,/contained,// until the sands shift.” Children are life-changing events but also a tickbox on a life’s milestones: job, marry, children, etc. A disabled child can leave parents feeling as if their life’s foundations have slipped away. No one pictures themselves with a disabled child. There’s not only the extra care work involved but battles to get the support parents are entitled to, the juggling of carers and work, and the feeling of constantly fighting the same battles over and over. But parents keep going, as “The Ground Beneath Our Feet” concludes as parents

“laugh, even as the sands are shifting.
We walk on unsteady feet, unsteady ground.
We don’t look down.”

Emma Lee, “Beyond Caring” Trish Kerrison (Five Leaves) – book review

Today, riding back to the city, and drinking my first PSL of the year, I noticed some trees were somehow bright yellow amid still plentiful green and remembered we had crossed that official threshold into autumn–the equinox. That early dark creeps in slowly, but starts racing toward December about now, helped along by the time change that will come in early November.  I have not started my fall decorating or swapped out my summer clothes for cooler weather but possibly this week I will do both. 

This week is less thick with writing than last week with lots of deadlines and the first draft of the poetry study guide trial assignment. In addition to the usual lifestyle and design stuff, it was really nice to spend some time, deep diving on a single poem (Sharon Olds’ “Rite of Passage)” and putting all that literary analysis education I paid so much for to good use. There were chapbook orders and layouts on new books that will be coming. There was one new poem in the cryptozoology series, but it feels halting and stiff like I haven’t written enough in the past couple of months, poetry-wise, sort of like clearing your throat after a long silence. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/25/2023

I sometimes laugh when I think back to my NY post and declaring 2023 to be the year of my ALL. This year, and it’s only September, has already exceeded expectations. I’m looking forward honestly to January when I can write down the plot of this past year, and call forth the next. (Carefully, very carefully….)

But also, don’t worry, it seems with every amazing thing that’s happened, there’s been a balance check. But I still believe in the unsaid, (a post I wrote in 2017), I still believe in the words of Nicole Brossard who says, “You have to be insane to confide the essential to anyone anywhere except in a poem.” 

Still, life is wonderful, still life is wonderful……My book on that subject and the art life will be coming out in January, and I remain very proud of it. More on that soon…..

In the meantime, our garden season is coming to a close, the poetry of fall is upon us.

Shawna Lemay, Another Season of Seeing

I often sort of felt like I was the only stranger at a party where everyone else were lifelong friends. Much hugging and exclaiming around me while I stand awkwardly smiling and clutching my wine glass. One of the many great things about online learning though is that I don’t have to be there in the room with the awkward smile and the wine glass. I can be HOME with the video turned off, my brow furrowed, thinking wait…what? […]

And no, I’m not going to tell you which poet, because I’m sure you love love love their work and might be a tad judge-y of me for noooot really being tuned into it. I’m hoping, though, that sense of not-getting-it -even-though-you-want-to resonates. I’m happy to be reminded that I don’t need to love it all, that I can just keep reading on. And that maybe there will come a time when this poet’s work is exactly what I’ll need.

The poetry mansion has many rooms, so it’s okay that I slide out of this one and wander into some other room, or lurk in the hallway for a while. I’m sure there’s another party I’ll feel more comfortable in. Have wine glass, will travel.

Marilyn McCabe, You don’t know what love is; or, On Learning and Appreciation

Famished for good fortune, well fed on the hungers of the needy, we can name all the saints but cannot bend their mercies so one size fits all.

To sing, to seek, to rosary old stones.

To regal and re-gold tired sunrises.

Scatter worries for the birds feasting on hard times.

For the ones flying south in winter, scatter hopes so joy may expand.

Rich Ferguson, Blessed Light For the Dying

For the Earth,
both hands in an arc.
A fist for the moon.
Gravity a rope,
unseen in the dark.

Palms up for the tides,
both high and low,
the hands raise and lower
as they ebb and flow.

The planet spins,
the pull taunts,
the moon is what
the water wants.

Jason Crane, POEM: Describing A Satellite

island: the moon
that swallowed the moon
a mouth that gathered clouds

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 32

Poetry Blogging Network

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


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

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

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

Kristen McHenry, List Poem

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

Charles Boyle, Table for 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Stewart, Dennis O’Driscoll in Poetry Ireland Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge

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

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

Josephine Corcoran, Three poems from books in my TBR pile

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

Pearl Pirie, Sealey Challenge, Week 2

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

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

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

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

Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: Lenard D. Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Hüther gives an example,

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

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

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

Laura Grace Weldon, Outdoor Play is Sensory Play

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

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

Ann E. Michael, How it’s done

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

Bob Mee, WITH EVERY STEP WE ARRIVE SOMEWHERE

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

Ann E. Michael, Part 59

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

Jill Pearlman, The Past, Fellow Traveler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, of poems and pictures

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

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

She’ll write something new.

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

I’ll write something new.

Ren Powell, Beginning Something New

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

Luisa A. Igloria, To Flowering

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra Colors Her Hair

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

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

Fokkina McDonnell, paper crown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mat Riches, Mind the gaps…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, What I did on my summer vacation

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, After the funeral

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

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

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

Andrea Blythe, Returning to Creative Communities