Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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.

Earth Day was this past week, and as cynical as I’ve become about that, what with rampant corporate greenwashing, making everything about consumer behavior rather than policy solutions, etc., I was surprised and pleased by the variety of off-beat and genuinely insightful perspectives I encountered in the poetry blogs. As usual with themed editions of the digest, however, there’s also plenty of interesting miscellaneous stuff toward the end. Enjoy.


The hand knows the pen, and greets it the way old friends do when they meet by accident on the street. The paper is there, waiting. The afternoon gets very quiet, and waits with the kind of patience that one sees in the elderly. An anxious excitement hangs in the air. Dust mites are watching as if they know, as if they understand. It is almost time. In a moment, the poem will begin.

James Lee Jobe, Truth? Sometimes. Not always.

The old masters were never wrong—
Auden knew this. Bruegel, too, understood
our worry: that all wars are plagues.
That plagues are endemic to the human condition.
And when the dead rise, there are those
who don’t even notice.

Christine Klocek-Lim, How to survive in an apocalypse

I’m wary of calls for unity. It’s not that I’m cynical (maybe a little), and I’ve certainly been idealistic in my time; but long experience and lots of stories and histories and my father’s background in how people behave in groups have led to feeling circumspect about unity. It works with people, yes, but it also leads to the worst aspects of tribalism. To the fostering of rigid ideologies. To acts against outliers, to the construct of evil Others. […]

For myself, I choose diversity. The earth manages its diversity wonderfully, even when human beings thwart it. Milkweed seeds and thistle find their ways into monoculture cornfields. Plants and insects gradually populate the rubble we make.

When circumstances keep me in a tribe-like bubble, I read books and poems that show me other perspectives, other climes, other social cultures, cities, classes, geographies–other histories than my own. I find ways to explore, in person or virtually, artwork and film work, drama, music, and dances from places I may never visit but without which I would be less attuned to the World. To its wonders, which are many. Insert here, instead of a unified goal all people “should” achieve, Whitman’s “Kosmos” or Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty” with its line “All things counter, original, spare, strange;” or, more contemporary, Vievee Francis’ glorious “Another Antipastoral” that states:

Don’t you see? I am shedding my skins. I am a paper hive, a wolf spider,
the creeping ivy, the ache of a birch, a heifer, a doc.

Ann E. Michael, Wary of unity

Lately I’ve been thinking about foxes. While walking my dog Red through the neighborhood, we saw (or smelled from Red’s point of view) a fox sunning itself in the middle of the street with a carefree attitude. It lifted its hind leg to scratch an ear as we approached. The mail carrier driving by said he sees that fox and others regularly in different parts of the neighborhood.

A large tract of farmland adjacent to our suburban street was sold a few years ago. A sizable woodland was plowed over and turned into another subdivision, so many of the animals that used to live there have had to migrate. In the last week or so I’ve encountered, wild turkeys, coyotes, Canada geese, mallard ducks, and now, this fox.

Christine Swint, Foxes, Archetypes, and Escape

Woodpigeons hunch on the open fence
in the freezing wind and rain
despite you providing shelter.

Woodpigeons perch on the gutters
and shit on the windows,
then fly off applauding themselves.

Sue Ibrahim, Woodpigeons

It’s in my next book, this place all fairy mounds and shifting beaver waterways, too apparently small to get lost in, yet every time, unpredictable tiny wild.

It’s the alive nature of risk, how even short and new paths suddenly turn bog, or turn left when the signs point right.

At the crossroads, sorrow to have to choose, again, one wrong over another. There should be a path unobstructed, somewhere.

Lacking that, there is just this that can only be enough for a short while already run too long.

JJS, The tiny wilds

I really like that phrase of Bob Horne’s…‘landscape made language’. It chimes with Macfarlane’s ‘landmarks’. Unconsciously, I hyphenate it. landscape-made-language.  And also language-made-landscape.  So much of Alison’s poetry is a poetry of place. A topological poetry if you like. Her landscape is particularly that of the watershed lands between the old textile towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire [2]; sour moorland tops, incut valleys full of canals and railway lines, and bridges. Old mills and dyeworks in small valleys, sometimes slightly sinister, gradually falling into dissolution; millponds and leats. Valley sides thick with sycamore and balsam.A layered, imbricated landscape, and one she knows intimately, about which she writes with what is often a textured precision. […]

Four years ago, while walking her dog in a familiar place, she slipped, broke her spine, almost drowned in a millpond, from which she somehow managed to drag herself, until she was found.

John Foggin, Catching up: Alison Lock’s “Lure”

On this Earth Day, I could have written about Iceland, where new earth is being born this very minute. But instead, here is a painting of an elemental landscape in Greece, one that’s probably existed in various forms for as long as human beings have gathered fruit from trees and fish from the sea: stony soil, an olive tree, the sea just beyond. If we listen, maybe we can hear the tinkle of bells on the collars of sheep and goats, herded into a hollow just beyond the picture frame… In Mexico, perhaps the olive would be replaced by some agaves. These are the sorts of natural and agricultural landscapes of basic sustainability that exist all over the world, which are threatened by climate change, and which we must protect. 

As I painted and thought about these things, I enjoyed knowing that some of the pigments I was using came directly from the earth too, and that water — the most basic substance of all — was the medium in which they were dissolved. But the connections go far deeper than the food we eat, or the elements we use in our daily lives.

For instance, it’s iron that gives its red color to the earth that was at my feet in this picture, and there’s an iron molecule in the center of each hemoglobin molecule in our blood, which is why it appears red.

Most of the time, we don’t even think about these interconnections. But actually we are creatures of the earth, just as much as the old olive tree with its roots in the rocks: it’s true on the macro level of our interdependency for life itself, and it’s true on the micro level of the smallest cells in our bodies.

Beth Adams, A Greek Landscape for Earth Day

Something about the bird that dropped
its feathers so it could remember
what it’s like to be naked in the mouth
of the world—Sometimes it mouthed
the shape of what sounded like love
or a kiss or a call. Even if it didn’t,
we had to forgive it for confusing
salt for sugar, for what dissolves easily
in foam. We stood without moving,
or learned to stop running away.

Luisa A. Igloria, Epiphora

Still thinking about Earth Day.

I read an interesting blog post – and an interesting comment there about how humans cooperating with one another is the key to the success of our species.

I’ve been thinking. What is the measure of success here? That we’ve overpopulated the earth? Overwhelmed other species? Poisoned our own homes? Occasionally wiped out huge swathes of our fellow humans in the name of “good”?

And what is the time frame here? Will we be as successful as the horseshoe crab? The jellyfish? It longevity a criteria? Is it to literally be the last man standing when we’ve eviscerated the earth entirely to make plastic toys? When the world is quiet but for our own voices?

Ren Powell, The Success of Our Species

seedling of another species :: is the language that i speak

Grant Hackett [no title]

… looking out of the patio windows, the grass pale because it hasn’t rained, and earlier, a goldfinch picking away at the curly branches of the twisted hazel. A cool breeze lulls the pine in the neighbour’s garden, cone-tipped branches, the place where the magpie likes to hop about, serious and concentrating on his next big find – a blackbird’s or a sparrow’s egg – and there’s a house sparrow, dipping and sipping the water from the birdbath, freckling the patio with droplets…

self isolation
picking up a dead fly
by its wings

Julie Mellor, Self isolation

It’s Earth Day, and this morning I spent my early hours rereading Passings, 15 poems about extinct birds—a luminous, heartbreaking, award-winning collection of poems from Holly J. Hughes.

Passings was first published in 2016 by Expedition Press as a limited-edition letterpress chapbook. It garnered national attention in 2017 when it received an American Book Award from The Before Columbus Foundation. As Holly says in her acknowledgments, “fitting that a small letterpress, itself an endangered art form, would be honored.” More than fitting, richly deserved.

It is our great good fortune that in 2019, Passings was reprinted by Jill McCabe Johnson’s Wandering Aengus Press. Although the gratitudes are slightly expanded, it is essentially the same and available from the press, or your independent bookstore

Bethany Reid, Holly Hughes: PASSINGS

In the meantime, I’m making plans for seminary housing.  On campus housing is cheap and furnished.  There’s also an option for intentional communal housing, but I’ve decided not to go that route.  In my younger years, I’d have gone that route, but these days, I’m in a more monastic cell kind of mindset.  This shift intrigues me.  I’ve requested a one bedroom apartment.

I have a vision of arriving at seminary with my sourdough starter, some musical instruments, and my markers.

Yesterday we transplanted seedlings.  We’ve been growing plants from seeds that we’ve collected from plants we’ve been growing.  Everything I researched told me that we would not be able to grow milkweed from seeds, but we gave it a try, and now we have 30 seedlings.  We did the same thing with peppers, cilantro, and dill.  We’ll continue to house them as long as we can.  

The future seems murky with possibilities.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Housing Options

Thumbing
through the old photo album I pause at that photo,
remember how my dad dug up the rose before
the old house was sold, replanted it in my
parents’ backyard. A few pages later
there it is, twirling over my parents’
porch, now only a picture in an
album. Gone from this earth,
like my grandparents,
like my mother,
one day,
like
me.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo Day 20

Even in the
is-ness of all things—
snow doused rut,
bleak skeleton of blackberry—
there is a waiting:
water of what’s next,
small fist of intent.
Who can live in the moment
amid all this soon-to-be:
bud of laurel,
aspen’s catkin, thirst
of the dirt road?

Marilyn McCabe, The poet’s game: or, On Waiting

Oh, moralizing culture! Since we have so little understanding of where we are, there will be endless pronouncements of where we are. Certainties about what we’ve learned from the pandemic, and prophetic images of our future.  The more we don’t know, the more we must say.  The more we shouldn’t say, the more we will.  No good void goes unfilled.  Enter a slogan.  

Carpe Diem?  It seems obviously capacious, which gives everyone room to pick bones.  The dessicated twigs in front of the carved letters in the photo look like they hide a sarcophagus.  Latin and Horace and Odes might overwhelm the swinging modern individualist, even if they agree with a misreading of “Seize the Day” as a consumer-ish urge to achieve personal triumph.  

Ideologues of a different stripe might battle the hedonistic “go for it” message, again misreading the more philosophic horticulturalish reminder to pluck and gather flowers at their moment.  To pluck each day in its fullness.

So little can be said.  It’s no wonder we keep at it. 

Jill Pearlman, The Carpe Diem Dilemma

no one thrives in a factory
we need sun on our faces
& snow underfoot

a hundred miles
with the crockpot on low
& some beer in the fridge

up the mountain
write your name
down the mountain, cook

the drone circles the summit
captures his tiny image there
one arm raised, smiling

Jason Crane, POEM: he lives in a van

Stupidity fairly oozes from me, these days. Dull ignorance and prejudice. I grow brittle. I roam my little spaces and think my my old stupid thoughts. The sky is a little airless cap over my little airless neighborhood. I count, and count, and count: the number of breaths since I started trying to sleep; the seconds until I take my eggs off the stove, the eighths of inches my waist has grown or shrunk, the number of pull ups done today. Sometimes I count backwards: from thirty to zero, while I wait for the oximeter to stabilize its numbers. For the novelty and piquancy of it. That’s how large the sphere of my mental operations has become.

This is where some extravagant meditation on natural beauty is supposed to come in: some memory of Mt Hood seen over the railyards at sunset, or the glowing fume of a waterfall before it drops into the deep green shadow of the Columbia Gorge. Really? I’m going to address this stupidity with images borrowed from picture postcards? Is anyone disposed to believe in that? Certainly I’m not.

All right. So that’s my state of mind. And my body? My back is totally borked, as it has not been in years. I had thought I was done with that affliction, but here it is again. And it gives the lie to the dreams of immortality I’ve been indulging of late: dreams of becoming so very healthy, so lean and fit, fasted and refitted, that I simply never decay. Such nonsense. 9% life extension in female mice: that is not immortality, Mr Favier. That’s another couple years of being an elderly male primate. If it translates at all.

Dale Favier, Counting Backwards

These are mangoes of desperation,
mangoes that were given promises
of eternal youth, but promises
were misleading at best, if not lies.
These are mangoes left to marinate
in the faint wishes of another
kind of life, wishes that sucked the life
right out of everything around them.
Still, this will have to be good enough
because these are the mangoes I have
here and now, and they are my dessert.

PF Anderson, Mangoes

The disposable
line ask for
nothing.

Write something
hard like rock
brought up

by winter’s
heave, left
to warm

in spring sun,
permanent,
mythic.

Tom Montag, THE DISPOSABLE

The lilacs are out on the island and are beginning to open on my deck. Lilacs make me giddy and stupid. Lilacs make me slather myself with fancy girl perfume and wear my tiara to the grocery store. Lilacs make me dance. Lilacs are the smooth rock hidden in my boot the secret to my creaky hips in the morning. I wanted nothing more than to be the famous Lilac Queen or one of the famous Lilac Princesses of Spokane when I was growing up. Of course I was not. I have grown weirdly nostalgic for the smell of city busses and lilacs in a vase or purloined lilacs in my arms. They grew everywhere when I was a girl. I thought they were wild flowers but they are in fact intentional. When I was a girl my stepfather told me that if I ever saw lilacs growing randomly in the woods or in some deserted old place it meant someone lived there once and loved there enough to plant those gorgeous flowers intentionally.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

dry stonewalling
we move the stone Buddha 
a blackbird visits

Jim Young [no title]

The man who sells magazines has the largest hands I’ve ever seen.  

               Keeps licking his fingers, fondling the pages. His tongue darts out, 

                                  then back in and my knees ache with spring. With the hinges in my haunches, 

the feathers in my lungs.  The whipoorwill spins on its weathervane

                in every direction. What is desire, but a soft turning of every gear

                                  in the body? The wrought interior, where the prism shatters with sun.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo day no. 22

I’m fascinated by Fredericton-based poet Mary Germaine’s lyric scenes, displayed through her full-length debut, Congratulations, Rhododendrons (Toronto ON: House of Anansi Press, 2021). Congratulations, Rhododendrons is a collection of poems braided together from odd musings, recollections and observations, and long stretches of lyric that run out and across beyond the patterns of narrative sentence. Consider the title of the poem “The Look on Your Face When You Learn / They Make Antacids Out of Marble,” and its subsequent opening: “Who knows the name of the empire that took your arms, or the earthquake / that left you to drag your way, legless, to the top of the rubble.” Her perspective is delightfully odd and slightly skewed. Uniquely singular and refreshing, Germaine provides new life into the narrative-driven lyric. Consider, too, the title of the poem “Upon Hearing How Long It Takes a Plastic Bag to Break Down,” that includes: “”We built them to make it easy / to carry groceries, gym shoes, / shorelines, treetops, and dog shit. / And they do. And they will, until the end / of time, or the next five hundred years— / whichever comes first. I will be buried / and I’m not sorry some plastic will outstay / my appreciation of sunsets. I suspect even sunsets / will be garbage by then.” Or again, the poem “Every Poem Where I Have to Pee in It Is a Pastoral,” that includes: “This is why everyone hates nature: / nothing to buy out here. / Plenty to smell but nothing good to eat. / Nobody knows that better // than the night-browsers, riding the crooked / wheel of their shopping carts / up and down the laneways, perusing for / who knows, finding wire hangers.” I think it is safe to say that Germaine is writing some of the finest poem-titles I’ve seen in some time. They are remarkable for their evocative wit and slightly twisted humour.

rob mclennan, Mary Germaine, Congratulations, Rhododendrons

This morning I was looking through the National Trust news and came across the latest Spring initiative, #blossomwatch, in which they are asking people to photograph blossom (I think the official day for it is tomorrow) and flood our social media channels with gorgeous pink and white. I dutifully downloaded the PDF ‘information pack’ and in it found a poem written by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett in response to members of the public who had contributed their thoughts on Spring. I confess I’d not heard of Elizabeth-Jane, and a crowd-sourced poem doesn’t always bode well, but I absolutely loved it and found myself reading it several times and wanting to show people.

I can’t post the whole poem here, and the extracts on the NT site and here on the Guardian website (which tells the whole story of how it was written) don’t do it justice, as the beauty is (for me) how the poem builds and ends. So do download the ‘pack’ and read the full poem.

Robin Houghton, #Blossomwatch poem by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett

It was Earth Day this week. Last Earth Day, I planted an apple tree and cherry tree in my yard, and over the last year, we’ve faithfully watered, fertilized them, and kept the deer from eating them, and this year, we were rewarded with a few leaves and a couple of blossoms on each. This last year we planted a Strawberry Tree and another cherry (this time, a fruiting Rainier cherry) and we are watching them grow in containers on the back deck. The birds love them. All of the tulips are almost done blooming now – remember last weekend, they had just opened? It’s definitely been a week to celebrate that brief burst of bloom as much as possible, and attend to the garden, cutting back, planting, putting coffee grounds on the roses. Sometimes it’s time to plant, and sometimes it’s time to nurture what you’ve already planted. Maybe I should try this on myself!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, National Poetry Month, Lilacs, Apple Blossoms and Melancholy, Earth Day, Zoom Poetry Inspirations, and a Book Giveaway

A cat wants to be a Cadillac. A Cadillac wants to be a garbage truck.

A garbage truck wants to be a wet dream. A wet dream wants to be heaven.

Heaven wants to be a dive bar. A dive bar wants to be diamonds.

Diamonds want to be handfuls of dirt. Handfuls of dirt want to be thrown into graves.

Graves want to be winds. Winds want to be human. And humans forever want to be everything at once.

Rich Ferguson, The Chain of Want

This tool has a smooth handle, satisfying to the hand. There’s a burn mark from some long-ago scorching-hot stove. The iron twists and curls. It’s beautiful; I think in one of my early apartments I hung it on the kitchen wall as an ornament. Today it was the perfect tool for flipping pumpernickel bagels in their simmering bath before putting them in the oven to bake. 

Learning to make bagels was one of the projects I planned for myself, imagining the long isolated pandemic winter. I baked loaf after loaf of rye bread, and soft golden challah almost every week. I kept putting off the bagel project. Maybe on a subconscious level I wanted to keep a treat for myself, something to look forward to in this year of solitude and grief. 

But the winter is past. The snows are over and gone. Every day more people here become vaccinated. (Though in India, the pandemic is raging worse than ever…) Baking bagels today felt like an act of hope. I don’t need to defer the tiny sweetness of trying a new recipe lest I need that sweetness to get me through some other, worse, day than this.

Rachel Barenblat, Unanswered

Recently I was chatting with two poet friends, and we remarked on how we did enjoy rain in a poem. 

Well, I feel the same way – actually, more so – about telephones.

Often, mentions of phones in poems can be immensely lonely and forlorn. There are of course famous examples. Philip Larkin’s ‘Aubade’ draws towards its wonderful close via:

Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring   
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.

Selima Hill’s ‘Cow’ has, in passing, 

unscrupulous restaurant-owners
who stumble, pink-eyed, from stale beds
into a world of lobsters and warm telephones

I never seem to forget these insomniac glimpses / images. Both also feature (almost horribly) real, physical telephones – in work spaces left empty and dark at night. Phones ringing in our lonelier lives.

In Sarah Jackson’s poem ‘The Red Telephone’ a small boy’s enormous impulse to get through to his mother almost overcomes the insurmountable obstacle – that he has only a toy phone, ‘red plastic with a curly white cord’, with which to do so.

Charlotte Gann, MEANWHILE TELEPHONES CROUCH

As the book might say, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? As the book also might say, I have been away. Which is to say, right here, shuffling around the same square footage of study for the last eight months, just like everyone else.

What have I been up to? I can’t really say, except that I have been engaging with the process. Except it has been a pleasure to dive into real head space and not have to think about communicating publiclly with anyone. Except that I want to stay here a little longer.

How to put it? William Stafford once said that a writer is someone who ‘is not so much someone who has something to say as she is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things she would not have thought of if she had not started to say them.’ I love that. It’s long been a touchstone for me.

So the one thing I thought I was working on has turned out to be other things, or rather more things, and those things are requiring of me that I spend more time with them and by the same token less with you, here.

Anthony Wilson, Head. Space.

It’s been hard. Excellent visiting nurses came in daily for extremely painful and elaborate wound care, but meanwhile I was learning to keep a mostly-incapacitated elderly woman safe, clean, fed, hydrated, and as content as possible. She was very grateful to get home. From her bed or the nearby recliner, she was following the Chauvin trial and news of violence across the country; she was also interested in the “helicopter” on Mars and in Prince Phillip’s funeral procession. When a phlebotomist couldn’t find a vein, my mother slyly said, “It’s Prince Phillip’s fault,” although I don’t think anyone understood she was joking but me. When she slept, I read some news, a bit of a mystery novel, and a bit of social media. I’ve been able to do maybe an hour a day of my own work, but it’s hard to concentrate. Logistically and emotionally, there’s a lot going on. I started writing a poem a few days ago involving the strange in-betweenness of illness, the haunted noises my mother’s refrigerator makes during the middle of the night, and her repeated statement that someone was trying to get in the front door–maybe those three weirdnesses could hang together? Anyway, I was interrupted.

Lesley Wheeler, Diagnosis / verdict

Anecdotal Poetry. What does this term mean to you? In my experience, it’soften invoked disparagingly and dismissively by certain critics, reviewers and editors to describe work that seems to take a rooted place or experience as a point of departure. It’s used to imply the poems under scrutiny are somehow lacking in imagination and of less consequent artistic value than pieces that have been written via other approaches.

In fact, this perspective isn’t just a slight on the poetry in question, but also a misinterpretation of the very essence of the genre’s transformational powers. In summary, it encapsulates a wilful confusion of the nature of poetic truth, as if such poems were a simple relaying and portrayal of fact.

What term might be used in its place? Realist Poetry is useless, as it also imposes similar pigeonholing limits that are equally and intrinsically absurd. For example, surrealism is simmering away just under the surface in any decent so-called realist poem. On second thoughts, I’ll leave this last question to people who are obliged to answer it by academic demands and constraints…

Matthew Stewart, Anecdotal Poetry…?

The police often have a rather bombastic way of expressing themselves which is based upon demonstrating power via vocabulary and particularly via polysyllabic and longwinded effusions. However, if this is the means by which linguistic prestige and authority is gained, it’s misguided.

The poetry world isn’t that different. Both fields seem to have this general assumption that intelligence is gauged via grandiloquence. Something isn’t ‘stolen’, it’s ‘purloined’. The suspect didn’t just run away, no, they ‘absquatulated from the purlieus of the malfeasance’.

This is extreme, and of course, made-up, but it does show you that the places where elite language once were, are now the preserve of goons and florid language isn’t clever, at all. Poetry should really be trying to be accessible, not trying to exhibit and strut, and I suspect that people (poets) who use inkhorn language are actually trying to disguise a deeper deficiency in their work…

Richie McCaffery, Poetic licence REVOKED

I have cried at three video games in my entire life: “Syberia”, when Kate finally finds the woolly mammoths, “Gone Home” at the end when the big secret is revealed, and this one, called “Lost Words: Beyond the Page.” I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was written by Rhianna Pratchett, who is the daughter of Sir Terry Pratchett, the famed fantasy and sci-fi writer best known for the Discworld series. Terry Pratchett died after a battle with Alzheimer’s, and this game revolves around the main character Izzy’s struggle with her beloved grandma’s mental deterioration after a stroke. The game toggles between two alternating sequences—one is the young girl’s journal, where the words light up on the page and you reveal new pictures and words as you move through the written sentences, and one is a side-scroller that enacts the fantasy story that the girl is writing to help her cope with her grief and the chaos in her family. In one journal scene, Izzy recalls a trip to the beach with her grandmother, who was a marine biologist, and is introduced to the concept of bioluminescence. It’s one of the most beautiful, jaw-dropping scenes I’ve ever seen in a video game, and I feel like if I try to explain it I’m going to botch it.

I think at the core of what I want to get across here, and what I’ve been trying for years to explain, is that some of the very best literature out there now lives in the realm of video games. I know that this is anathema for academics and others who have outmoded ideas about gaming and gamers, but it’s the truth. It’s partly why I have been so drawn to certain games over the years and talk so much about games on this blog. I feel that there is a huge world of literary excellence that writers are missing out on by eschewing games. “Lost Words: Beyond the Page” is a perfect example. I’m so glad that I found it, and I feel compelled to share it with you, dear readers. If you don’t game at all, it’s a gentle introduction to gaming—it’s not twitchy; it’s very intuitive and forgiving, and it will be easy to learn. I would urge you to branch out and give it a try. I don’t know how far into the game I am or much more I have to go, but I find myself not wanting it to end.

Kristen McHenry, Baby Mystery, Game Rave, Literary Anathema

On those days, not infrequent, when I feel diminished as a poet, I still have a sense of confidence in my ability to write a really good book review. It’s become my writing practice and my connection with other poets. I like to think of the practice as my own personal MFA program. Writing poetry book reviews has deeply enriched my reading and writing experience– it’s taught me how to read “closely” and shown me how to recognize the craft of syntax, tone, meter, musicality. I believe it’s made me a better poet. It’s given me opportunities to connect with other poets and within the larger community of poetry.

Two years ago, in March 2019, I launched The Poetry Cafe Online: a Meeting Place Where Poetry Chapbooks are Celebrated and Reviewed with my review of Lauren Davis’s Each Wild Things Consent.

The goal of The Poetry Cafe is to create a comfortable, inviting home where interested poetry lovers can enter, feel welcomed, and read reviews of poetry chapbooks. As curator of The Poetry Café, I’ve received chapbooks from more than 100 poets. I’ve written many reviews myself, but more amazingly, I have published reviews by 27 guest reviewers and as of today, a total of 54 Reviews! I’ve also added Interviews to the site.

The project has grown far beyond my expectations. If you are not following it, please click over and add your email address to follow Cafe postings, usually once a week. I’m always looking for new reviewers or interviewers, and I could sure use some help with managing the site.

Risa Denenberg, A Writing Practice: Book Reviews

Last year I planned to take a break from #NaPoWriMo because I thought I’d be busy promoting “The Significance of a Dress” (still available as a print or ebook from Arachne Press). However, the pandemic led to cancellations so I ended up doing #NaPoWriMo, finding art an inspiration to compensate for the lack of planning. This year, I thought I’d take the break I’d planned last year but I found myself writing a poem on 1 April. Call it habit or discipline, but April seems to be a month for drafting poems.

It’s also a good month to start new habits. The drear, winter mornings have gone, clocks have gone forward an hour on to British Summer Time so the evenings are staying lighter for longer and the outdoors is looking greener with plants coming back to life. For me it’s also the month before hayfever really starts, a breathing space before outdoors becomes hellish. There’s a plus to having to wear a mask. I rarely bother with new year’s resolutions, but when I do I usually see January and February as planning, thinking months and get resolutions underway in March/April as the season turns. January’s a horrible month to start anything: there’s that post-holiday lull, the weather’s discouraging and it’s still dark at beginning and end of the day.

During the pandemic, I have been relatively privileged: classed as a keyworker but able to work from home with enough space to set up an office-at-home that’s not in my living area. Since my writing has always happened in the gaps around everything else, it still happens in the gaps around everything else. I don’t have a routine: a poem wants to be written, it gets written, a short story haunts me, it gets written and I’ve always got something to review. I think my breathing would have to stop before the writing does.

Emma Lee, NaPoWriMo 2021 and the Value of Writing Communities

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 15

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.

After last week’s flirtation with a tighter focus on poetry, it’s back to the usual, glorious miscellany of poets thinking out loud about all manner of things (but mainly poetry). Some themes did emerge: poetry about women’s experiences, hopefulness about the easing pandemic, the pleasures of books, and the numinous power of large animals. Enjoy.


paperboy
delivering births and deaths
on his cycle

Jim Young [no title]

Here I am again. Is it spring, with its stuttering reenactment of incarnation, that renders me numbskulled, vacant?

I’m inert. Such a great word, short-stopped by that cul-de-sac of an -ert.

Like the newly snow-emerged and dim-colored field, I am empty.

I have not written in a long time. Nothing is on my mind. I am thought-less. Seem to have nothing to say. Have no idea how to write a poem.

No idea why I would even do such a thing.

Have no sense that I’ve ever done such a thing in my life nor that I will ever do so. As the damp field curled with squashed lines of old weeds and broken stems of milkweed, languid pale humps of grasses tangled in mud will never be anything other than that.

Will it?

Marilyn McCabe, This must be the place; or, On Not Writing

What I know of grieving is that we have to feel all the feelings to move through it to some better place. Not back to the old place, but a better place than the one our losses have us currently in. I hated how I felt watching that video. I don’t have the capacity, right now, to feel those feelings. I have a lot of things to get through in the next 7 weeks. The morning I watched the video the first time, I didn’t get as much done as I would have if I hadn’t.

Still, there is this: This morning, for the first time since I wrote my last post, I felt like writing. Not this post; I worked on an essay I abandoned more than a year ago. And it felt good, which made me want to write to you, here.

I might have to think more deeply about what really needs getting done by June. In the meantime, what I want to say today is, I hope you’re all doing OK. It helped me to realize that I haven’t been as OK as I thought, and I wondered if sharing my experience might be helpful to you in some way. I’m understanding in a new way that coming out of this pandemic is going to be a process, and likely a long one. At least for some of us.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Just popping in with a quick note…

When twigs swell
and begin to bud

and leaves emerge
chartreuse and tender

I’m proclaiming
what I nurtured

in secret silence
through the long winter

and sleep’s cold blur.

Rachel Barenblat, Spring

I’m so grateful to Editor Carolina VonKampen of Capsule Stories for including some of my work in this sweet publication. This edition is chock-full of spring-themed poetry, and it couldn’t have landed in my mailbox at a better time. After a long year of Covid challenges and mitigations, the compilation of writing contained not only demonstrates that many small presses and their editors have persevered through this stretch, as have many writers. The struggle is real, and I know this firsthand, whether gathering the focus to edit, or the wherewithal to set aside time each day to truly write. I know it’s tough to put pen to paper, but if not now, when? Start small. Word into sentence into stanza, or paragraph. Start. The other piece I so greatly appreciate about Capsule Stories is much of the writing gives me hope. Much of the writing touches upon the natural world. Anyway, it’s a fantastic read.. Thank you to Capsule for publishing this. I know it’s not easy, but hopefully, it will become easier.

Kersten Christianson, Capsule Stories, Spring 2021 Edition

Spring as an ice storm spring as the first watermelon of the year is so blood red and perfectly sweet that your heart breaks a little spring as lilacs that refuse to let down their green knickers to show their purple spring as pale pink tulips in the house in a milk jug nodding their heads

all the tulip tourists have descended upon this quiet island so my coffee shop bakery is now overrun with women wearing bedazzled jeans dragging small children in by their arms to get an ice cream or use the bathroom while their tired cranky husbands wait so the line stretches out the door everyone crammed shoulder to shoulder ignoring the pandemic go away tourists I don’t love you eating my fear and scaring the whales

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Remember how the mist fell, a veil
floating from the sky’s crown, the sea

reaching up, up, up – a meeting of waters?
You said There is no horizon, no distance,

only the here and now. And it was true, the sea
and the air mingling, salt and oxygen drifting

into our faces as we watched under our tent,
the canvas billowing like lungs after a hard run.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo Day 12

Yesterday afternoon we’d walked along the beach at Horsey, and my wife turned to me and said “I feel better already”. That’s the kind of review we should be leaving in a guestbook—if beaches had guestbooks. Perhaps we should have just scratched it into the sand as a temporary review, and perhaps we would have done if a) we’d thought of it at the time and b) the beach wasn’t lined with seals. Horsey is famous for this, and it is one of my favourite places in the world, even though I don’t get there much. […]

The seals there are a magnificent sight, and the sea air was the perfect tonic after the best part of a year in the city. At the risk of being incredibly self-centred (and hey, why not) It reminded me of my poem, ‘Horsey Seals’ – can you tell why it reminded me of this?? [Click through to read it.]

Mat Riches, The Sea(ls)They Cure Everything

Driving back from the doctor’s this morning, a horse was standing at the top of a hill all alone. I can’t explain why it felt important. Single horses standing on hilltops just feel profound. I felt a flush of awe. […]

I am learning to leave awe alone. To accept the flood of emotion, like slipping into a warm bath, and let go of associations and interpretations about what it means to me or for me. I am learning to let the horse on the hill be a horse on the hill, and relish the flush of emotion for its own sake. Children do that, don’t they? Thrill in things without believing them to be omens or signs from the oracles. Without believing they either deserve them, or have to work to deserve them. They just observe. I’m sure there are adults who do that as well. I actually think I know one or two.

They think I’m weird. […]

I probably take a hundred photos a month. But I love what it has done to me. Now, when I am driving, or in the passenger seat, I see how beautiful the scenery is. I “frame” it in my mind and appreciate the reflections, the colors, the incidental composition of elements, the repetitions, and patterns.

I notice more – camera in hand, or not.

I also think it’s helped teach me to be passive. In a good way – to leave my ego out of the situation when my ego isn’t necessary. To fully embrace the value of being an observer and not a participant at times. To understand that it is possible to take center stage when it’s appropriate and then step back without the fear of losing “my place”. To be more generous. Less judgmental. Less fearful.

Ren Powell, The Horse on the Hilltop

The virus screwed itself into my cells,
twisting communication lines, breaking
code, inverting instructions. The bells
ring at night, my blood pools all day. Waking
like a hamadryad from hibernation,
wondering why, when everyone else sleeps,
why still leafless and bare. Claudication
reversed, cold pain crawls up from toes to knees
as I cocoon in fleece and furs. That freeze
is the sign of high noon’s warped heat baking
the cold sleeper into a fluffy sleeve
like a human Baked Alaska. Shaking
doesn’t warm enough. The body repels
vulnerability, recodes its shell.

PF Anderson, Sleeping

A woman walks to church the Monday
after Easter. She’s wearing a light
sweater because at last it feels
like it could truly be spring. But who
even goes to church anymore
on a weekday morning in New York?
The immigrant healthcare workers
will tell you. The nannies and short-
order cooks, the 1 AM custodial
workers; grandmothers who spent
years polishing other people’s floors
on their knees as if before a god who only
cares that every surface reflects
his many countenances.

Luisa A. Igloria, They Ask What Came First: The Hate Speech or the Attack

I was recently having a small discussion with someone on IG about our angers and our darknesses. I am maybe at the stage where I have identified a few new dark parts of my soul. And I think there is a value in sharing those, but that also there is so much darkness right now, that I don’t think it’s a useful time for me to sort of interrogate it in public. Others have more pressing issues, more is at stake currently. I was thinking about the difference between taking dark things into a dark time vs taking something dark into a light place. And really, just the privilege to even be mulling over stuff like that gives me pause.

Maybe it’s worth something small though to yell out, yes I am dealing with the new dark parts of my soul! I honestly don’t know if this is true.

I think part of me would rather be planting flowers in unexpected place on a city street. But there is another part of me that feels it’s worthwhile to just sit and try to understand.

Shawna Lemay, Peace Love Chocolate Cake

Kelli Russell Agodon and I had not seen each other in over a year and she and her husband Rose came over. We were all fully vaccinated and so happy to be able take one more step towards re-entry to a normal life. Hugs! Unicorn sprinklers! Pink cupcakes and sparkling rose for my birthday AND to celebrate Kelli’s new book from Copper Canyon, Dialogue with Rising Tides.

It was great to talk poetry, gardens, hang out on the back porch on rocking chairs with hummingbirds, and just goof around. And we had a lovely day for it – the warmest day of the year so far. The tulips in our gardens bloomed while our visitors were here, which seemed like a sign of something good.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Post-Vaccine Visits with Friends, A New Poem in Chestnut Review, and a Zoom Reading

I have always joked that I’m a medieval mind trapped in a modern body.  And what I’ve meant by that statement is that I’m queasy when it comes to bodies, that I see myself as a soul trapped in flesh, flesh that is out to betray me in any number of ways.  I’m queasy when it comes to fluids and all the ways the body wants to ooze. […]

And now my poetry brain has the last word:  I seem to be writing a series of poems about breast cancer.  I’m a woman who has tried to deny the power of the flesh, only to be reminded again and again, in ways both affirming and terrifying.

My thoughts keep returning to my medical sleuthing, looking for diseases in the family tree.  I think of my grandmother and her sister, who had breast cancer that did not kill them.  I think of their aunt, who took a train from the Tennessee farm to Johns Hopkins but nothing could be done about the breast cancer that would kill her.  I think of breast cancer as a runner, that shoot of mint that shows up in a different part of the yard, far from the mother plant.

My grandmother told me stories about this spinster aunt but never mentioned her breast cancer or the train trip.  Until my medical sleuthing, I had always had this idea of my grandmother as the one who achieved escape velocity, the only one who left the family farm with the others never leaving the farm at all, since my grandparents always went back to visit, never the other way round.

I have inherited the cedar chest made by the older brother Andrew, filled with quilts made by the spinster Aunt Jenny.   I’m thinking about chests and breast cancer.  I’m thinking about cedar and trees, the newish research on trees, how they communicate to each other in subterranean ways, how they nourish each other.  My thoughts often go to this article in The New York Times which introduced me to the arboreal work of Suzanne Simard.

This morning, I have spent hours trying to twist/weave/braid these strands into a poem.  At this point, I don’t even feel like I have a tangle, so much as strands that don’t want to come near each other.  Let me go for a walk to ponder what’s next.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Flesh and the Diseases that Shoot across Generations and the Poems We Try to Create

I move among this cemetery of words,
run my fingers along the headstones of conversations.
I asked my grandfather to interpret my dreams as, kneeling,
I trimmed the grass by the grave of his faith.
The details will blur, moss and lichen will muffle voices.
Slowly the earth of our thoughts will turn, subside.

Bob Mee, 5 a.m. APRIL. WRITING YOURSELF OUT OF WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

I wrote my poetry collections Noir and The Girl Who Cried from what I’ve called my ‘Understory’: I’d always had a distinct sense of life running along two parallel lines, even as a child. And I learnt very young there were things it was acceptable to talk about, and things it was not. On the whole, unhappy things were the ones that caused trouble.

I think in terms of having an ‘elephant’ that decides what I actually do in life, whatever my rational brain might say. It makes the big moves. 

And I, or my elephant, ended up shaping my collections around the subjects I’d found most painful in my life, and most difficult to talk about. Noir (HappenStance, 2016) explored vulnerability as a teen, and the fallout from exploitation; and The Girl Who Cried (HappenStance, 2020) probes a lifelong struggle with attachment.

Writing these made more sense of things, somehow. As though the invisible suffering wasn’t all for nothing.

Ongoing group

So then I decided to set up an ongoing online group under the banner ‘The Understory Conversation’ – for other poets who are also curious. The group has been meeting since autumn, and feels truly nourishing. […]

The thing I think we most value is the fact we meet with a shared understanding that having an Understory is part and parcel of normal human experience. So we start from there, without pathologising.

It’s liberating. 

Common themes emerge in a way that’s almost uncanny. We learn so much from hearing from each other. We really listen.

And the group offers some refuge – as each member wends her way through the processes of writing, submitting, publishing.

Charlotte Gann, THE UNDERSTORY CONVERSATION

I’ve been working this week on preliminary design for the next book project, which is my collection of midwest gothic awesomeness, dark country.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve finished an ungodly amount of full-length manuscripts (well, it’s just 4, but it feels ungodly when they are sitting quietly unpublished.) I decided this year, since I don’t have any book releases on the immediate horizon, and it had been a year since Black Lawrence released sex & violence, that I might as well get them out in the world.  It’s been a learning curve–and something altogether different than publishing zines or chapbooks, which I am used to. A full-length book is just so much more unruly than a shorter book. More editing, more proofing, more design hits and misses.  And also, the after work of actually getting it in the hands of readers and getting any sort of blip on the promotion side. It feels hard with anything I write and put out there, but especially something like a full-length collection. 

I’ve spoken before on my reasons for self-publishing this series of books–mostly that my current publisher passed on a couple of them during reading periods (and obviously, they can’t publish everything I write, cause yo, I write a lot.) I’m not feeling like sending to other contests and reading periods is really something I want or have resources to do.  I am also aware of the space I take up as a mid-career, already reasonably well-published author when there are so many other emerging writers out there who could have those opportunities. (I think this sometimes when I’m on the self-pity train, the why not me? train, but really sometimes, things like publishing luck seem really capricious and obviously skewed toward the privileged–whether it’s age or gender or ethnicity.) We should all take up less space. Or at best, try to make room through our endeavors. But you also have to balance this with a desire to find your readers and thrive as a creative. 

Of course, there is a lot of uncertainty when you don’t have someone–an editor, a publisher, backing you up.  Lots of doubts that you’re not just putting more crap into the world.   Other people who probably think your work is crap.  But one thing I hope I’ve gained as I get older is not so much blatant overconfidence (which is totally true sometimes) , but moreso an ability to discern what is good, what is crap, what’s worth launching into the world, and what should just stay safely on my computer for awhile or needs more work.  I also know how to put a book together now, more than I ever did.  Have even been able to help other authors with their through manuscript consultations.  Consultations which actually have taught me as much as I’ve helped the other author (hopefully anyway..lol… I may have just muddied the waters).

Kristy Bowen, a year of self publishing

Who I am is constructed, in part, out of books I’ve read. When I read, especially if I love what I’m reading, I feel as if the book has entered my very bone marrow. But I read, on average, four or five books a week. Often more. Where has my mind put decades of books?   

Julie Beck’s article in The Atlantic offers an answer. It’s titled, “Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read.” She writes, “people often shove more into their brains than they can possibly hold.” She cites a study from 2009 showing the average American encounters 100,000 words a day. Our memories simply cannot keep all this information readily available. I say pish posh, the memories we take in from what we read has to do with its relevance. We hang on to the information that most impacts us, intrigues us, or that we put to use.  

Beck also points out we’re better able to recall the context in which we read a book, so we remember reading a green-jacketed novel based in Sierra Leone while on vacation, but are likely to recall the book’s contents. To me that’s one of memory’s gifts. I’ll never forget reading The Color Purple while nursing my firstborn or reading The World According To Garp while on the couch recovering from knee surgery or becoming so immersed in by Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House while at an airport departure gate that I missed my flight.

Okay, maybe I feel threatened by the idea that I’ve wasted literal years of my life reading books that simply float beyond memory into a void. But there’s plenty of evidence that books change us, whether we remember them well or not at all.

Laura Grace Weldon, Forgetting Books We’ve Read

Life’s been way too busy but I did want to get a post out this week to shoutout a few notable poetry collections published recently:

Janel Pineda’s Lineage of Rain (Haymarket Books) is a dynamic collection that I’m happy to see out in the world. I’ve been teaching and admiring Pineda’s work for years now. Check out her poem “Rain” to get a sense of her compelling lyricism.

Amelia Díaz Ettinger’s Fossils On A Red Flag (Finishing Line Press) is another recent publication that I’m happy to shoutout. I got a chance to spend time with this chapbook and write a blurb. Here’s what I said:

Fossils on a Red Flag by Amelia Díaz Ettinger is a powerful collection of poems that interrogates the (mis)use as a gunnery and bombing practice site by the U.S. military of Puerto Rico’s Isla Culebra. This work grapples with what is lost in the language of official government orders and, by doing so, sheds light on the human and environmental costs. With sharp turns of lyricism and image shaped by the insistent voice of witness, this collection honors the history of los Culebrenses who have spent generations gathering “baskets of loss / —[and who] still gather after so many hurricanes.” Like the queen conch, present in a series of these poems and whose shell is a symbol of survival and beauty, Fossils on a Red Flag presents a vision of perseverance.

José Angel Araguz, shoutouts

Even without knowing that Ashley Farmer is predominantly the author of works of prose—including the forthcoming essay collection Dear Damage (Sarabande Books, 2022), the chapbook Farm Town (Rust Belt Bindery, 2012), the short story collection Beside Myself (PANK/Tiny Hardcore Press, 2014) and the novella The Farmacist (Jellyfish Highway Press, Inc., 2015)—the pieces in The Women might suggest that. This isn’t a swipe or a complaint, but an acknowledgment that her poems are constructed very much out of sentences, allowing one to build upon another, and allowing that accumulation, or even that collision, to inform each piece’s short narrative. Sometimes the narrative is a collage of ideas around a particular phrase or thought, and other times, the narrative is more straightforward, allowing one foot to step directly in front of another, towards a conclusion.

The poems included here are constructed via selecting threads and phrases from Google searches. Through her searches, Farmer collects sequences of threads and interweaves those searches into poems that each sit beneath titles that one might suspect were lifted from her original search phrase, but for the acknowledgments that include that certain “of these pieces previously appeared, sometimes in slightly different forms, under slightly different titles.” It would suggest that the searches, however they were conducted, utilized an array of phrases and sentences, sorting the barrage into bins, and from each of those bins, crafting each poem from those materials. The Women plays with elements of exploring and documenting how women are seen, depicted and discussed, pulling at a variety of depictions of cultural space, worked neither as flarf nor conceptual, but shaped into poems that write of domestic labour, violence, home, love, fear, strength and community, body image, health, leadership, marriage, weathering storms and notions of being bad or inherent goodness.

Her poems include shades of the works of Cindy Sherman and Francesca Stern Woodman, in that all three determined their gaze on and around the form and cultural ideas surrounding women, from the abstract, the absolute and the absurd to concurrently acknowledge and document as well as strip away those layers of overlaid determinations by a male-dominated culture; all three of these artists, in their own way, allowing the women they were viewing and/or discussing, their subjects, to determine the shape of their gaze, but also shaping that final result. “See two young women harvesting hope in Marion County, / 1944,” Farmer writes, in the poem “Women Land,” “cultivating new pathways to the boardroom.”

Stop Women

Sometimes one wonders if our nation is a public strip club. A mother and daughter who run a brothel for truckers fight back when the mafia tries to take over their operation. Men’s fragrances smell like excuses for getting home late. You will not stop women.

rob mclennan, Ashley Farmer, The Women

I couldn’t have been more thrilled to hear that Rena Priest will be our new Washington State Poet Laureate. I took a workshop with Rena at Chuckanut Sandstone in 2018, and have been happily singing her praises ever since. She is an exceptional poet and—you have only to meet her once to know this—a generous and kind teacher.

Plus, I had just ordered her book Patriarchy Blues, from Village Books so that I could include her in my blog line-up this April. Serendipity all over the place!

Patriarchy Blues was published by MoonPath Press in 2017, and received an American Book Award in 2018. Many (all?) of its 26 poems are about desire, specifically, the lopsided desire that comes of living in a patriarchy. Dedicated to “the subterranean homesick matriarchy,” the book holds up a mirror to the world and the world puts on its lipstick and dances. Scissors desire the thread and the moon longs to turn her face away. “Can you climb into a person’s / longing for you and float away?” asks one poem (“The Encyclopedia Britannica, Sunshine, a Mosquito”); another, “Is desire not acted upon a betrayal?” (“Creeping Out of Orbit”).  And, always, this lushness, the body nourished by drums and bells and honey.

Bethany Reid, Rena Priest

“A Cap of Horror” is subtitled “First World War poetry written by female nurses and carers” and is edited by Leo van Bergen, Marijke Foncke and Renee Schoffelen. Leo van Bergen’s introduction explains the rationale behind the anthology, “I wondered whether besides Brittain and Borden other female nurses had turned their wartime experiences into poetry as well. Eventually I found seventeen women, nurses and others working in the medical line, who in forty poems and a cycle of sonnets reflected on various aspects of the (medical) war. Many of these touched me deeply, as I hope they will do you.” The anthology is bilingual in English and Dutch in the hope of gaining recognition for the poets in Dutch-speaking countries. Open the book from the English language title to get the poems in English, reverse the book to the Dutch title to get the poems in Dutch. The contents list includes Vera Brittain, Mary Borden, May Sinclair and Rose Macauley and the poems are organised by theme. […]

“A Cap of Horror/Een Kap van Afschuw” is a welcome anthology of war poetry from the viewpoint of nurses and support workers who cared for the casualties. While there is some jingoism and some poets cast soldiers as heroes, others temper this by addressing the affect caring for the injured had on the nurses. Loss is also acknowledged and questions raised about the nature of war and the importance of remembering. The research in tracking down the poems and rediscovering women poets of the period is a useful reminder that there is more to be written about war than the work produced by soldier-poets. A useful addition to the canon of First World War poetry.

Emma Lee, “A Cap of Horror/Een Kap van Afschuw” edited Leo Van Bergen (dt) – book review

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a riveting conversation with Sarah J. Sloat about her new book Hotel Almighty (Sarabande Books). […]

“When I was doing [Hotel Almighty] and even now when I work on projects, a lot of what I find I’m doing is just expressing a love of reading and of books themselves,” says Sloat in discussing her new book. “I mean, I just love paper. To take a book and be able to make it into something — that was really fun and exciting for me.”

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Hotel Almighty by Sarah J. Sloat

Yellow. How do we read you?  Sickly or simple as happiness?  Simple as just living without ponderous thought.   Daffodils in their junior prom dresses.  Come rain, come light snow petals quiver but they don’t drop.  

Forstyhia too.  On the frontline of joy.  Out from under, like Easter.  In the face of death.  Breathing quivering glaring at darkening rain clouds that glare and brighten them

 A duck egg’s yolk, outsized sun.  That which feeds in scarcity is revered as a goddess

and fear, and disillusion, too much optimism, too much yellow that fades, becomes dingy, a street sign — crossing! bus! children! — in need of attention

and fear of the other in their own birthed skin —

Jill Pearlman, A Season of Yellow

Those distant sirens are spreading rumors. They say the seasons are loveless and can only offer damage as a diamond ring.

Those sirens swear that zombie-walking romeos are the only fix we can find for what ails us. That the streets have nothing promising to share, they can only teach us how to curse in gutterspeak.

Those sirens don’t reveal how we can have our lighter moments, like loud-sugar lovers in some FM pop song. Or that we can outlast destruction, just as Joan of Arc was made saintly when ravaged by flames.

Those distant sirens don’t mention how optimism, dressed in its halo of golden moments, can linger with us in alleyways, show us how to find that one good vein even in our darkest moments.

Rich Ferguson, If you listen carefully

But wow, did today feel like my dream of orcas who invited me to ride them: two of them side by side so I could stand with one foot on each orca back as they held a rein of kelp through their mouths so I had something to hold onto: their powerful, pent bodies also reined in to not throw their rider, the ripples of trying to remember to go gently because right, we invited this weird fragile thing to come along and we don’t want to drown her by accident something I could feel in them through my feet: the body does what the body loves. What it is made to do.

You know what happened in that dream? They said you know what this is dumb just come down with us and I answered but how will I breathe? And they said you won’t need to, and I didn’t. I went down with them, orca myself now I suppose, and I could see their powerful bodies with my own, flashing even in that dense weight of black depth.

It was pure bliss.

The body does what the body loves, so for the final 100 of the 4rth 400, I loped with powerful pull reserving nothing much at all, and for the final 50 kicked like I was finishing, and for the final 25 turned up the volume enough to bring it in at 1:15 again and slosh the wall.

What did my heart rate do during that last 100 of the last 400? It went DOWN. Ha.

My body loves wholeness: animal power unconscious of itself, just pure expression and pure experience.

JJS, Day 6: 4x400s round two – the body does what the body loves

Imagine it: gathering again, with other human beings, engaged in listening, in art, in entertainment. You know–all that stuff we once took for granted, pre-pandemic and back when virtual events were mostly either experimental or TV shows.

In recent years, I have not been participating in many poetry readings; attending them still, yes–when possible, when life has not intervened too much–but not actively looking for reading venues, not the way I did in previous decades when I was learning how to present my work publicly. Lately, even when I’ve attended readings with open mics, I often choose not to sign up to read. I need to get home to grade papers or go to bed.

This situation has led to a gap in my reading-poetry practice. True, I teach; I am accustomed to speaking in front of a group of near-strangers, and that is a kind of public-speaking skill. There’s a distinct difference between being the authority and being the author, however. I found myself trying to explain this difference to a friend of mine last evening as we drove home from: MY FIRST IN-PERSON POETRY READING IN AGES!

[An aside here to express boundless thanks to Jenny Hill and Dan Waber of the Wunderbarn in East Greenville PA, who asked me to lead off their Just about an Hour and a Half Variety Hour for the 2021 season–quite an honor!]

I had some preparation, however, because local friends-in-poetry had invited me to read for a video that will stream on April 27th from the Facebook page of Bethlehem PA’s venue The Ice House. That was a new experience for me, though strange: I had to stay in one place without walking and fidgeting while reading to a very kind person behind a camera and another kind person connected to me by a microphone and earphones–in an otherwise empty performance space. O, Brave New World…

The reading at the Wunderbarn commenced the following evening, so the practice in front of the camera helped by giving me the opportunity to organize both my poems and my thoughts. I would not say that putting together a reading is exciting, but it offers some of the quiet challenges of a puzzle or word game. The act of reading in person to an audience changes those challenges to one of performance. It has been a pleasant task to expend energy thinking about poetry; I’ve been attending readings and craft talks remotely all month. And the performance space at Wunderbarn is sweetly rural. We were seated outdoors, and as dusk came on the human voices were accompanied by ducks and frogs. As so many of my poems feature the natural world, that felt fitting.

Friends in the audience, an added boon. That fact encouraged me to read two or three newer poems that I’ve not read out loud before and not to feel too awkward about possibly stumbling through my own lines. Also, though the grounds were muddy and the air rather cool, the rain held off. If I were the sort of person who believed in omens, I would say this event bodes well. Instead, I lift up my voice in gratitude.

Ann E. Michael, In person

fires lit in circles
burning across the page

elliptical but intersecting
on late-night bridges

off on a lark
in front of the crowd

looking through telescopes
wondering what we are

cloud-obscured stars
outside the bar

Jason Crane, POEM: orbits

We might take off our shoes and walk together through the dew-damp grass of the very early morning. We might sit down together with coffee and quiet talk, speaking of those things in our lives that are real. It might be that we have beliefs and values in common, and that our hearts are our own, that we are not controlled by some dogma or ideology. That who we are and what we are might be more important than where we were born or how we pray. Wouldn’t that be something? In these things I will place my hopes, and I promise to leave room for your hopes as well.

James Lee Jobe, Our hearts are our own.

Red buds
of the silver maples

making promises
to the wind.

Tom Montag, RED BUDS

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 7

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: a hodge-podge of delightful and challenging posts that nonetheless seem to converge on a single point, or cluster of related points, though at the moment I’m too tired to work out quite what that might be. Enjoy.


The big conversation that the world is having. Human voices are only the tiniest part of it. Zipper of crow flight against the white blank sky. Syllables of sea birds that float, read left to right, right to left, moment to disappear. Alder branch hashmarks over a smudge of obscured sunlight. Blue slash of shadow, so sharp it cuts you.

In the preface of The Way Winter Comes, Sherry Simpson writes, “The more you looked, the more you saw, but you could never see it all.” The poet Jane Hirshfield says, “Everything changes. Everything is connected. Pay attention.” Two voices that I love speaking to each other over time. I walk along the beach, cobbles shifting beneath my feet. I am watching a group of seabirds continually rearrange themselves in a line. They go beneath the waves and then resurface. Dot dot dash. Dot…… dot. Dot.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The big conversation that the world is having

The point from the start was to figure out how to live. Some people grow out of asking “why? why? why?” — with infuriating persistence — in toddlerhood. Not me. Partly no doubt because my parents strongly encouraged curiosity, so I generally felt I was a good boy when I inquired. And then, I had a rare father who could actually tell me why the sky was blue, and what held the Moon up, or what was really happening in Southeast Asia. But mostly because what you don’t know can cut you off at the knees, and often does. It’s pure self-defense to know as much as you can, about everything you can. You have to look after yourself, in this life.

But you end up studying yourself in the mirror, and seeing a strange, inquisitive face examining you, with great attention, although maybe not with overflowing sympathy. The eyes overlarge, and the belly swollen with — promise? Or what? You tell me.

How to live: which includes what to do with your days: maybe boils down to that. Certainly how to hold your days up to the sun. (Or up to whatever sky God gives you.) 

But first, anyway, you have to slow down and quiet down, until you can hear the drip of the snowmelt and the grooming of the cat and the shift of the heat exchanger. More haste, less speed. 

Dale Favier, Mahamudra

I don’t think the world has ever been less messy than it is now. That the struggles and cruelties and hates haven’t always been there… somewhere. But there’s also been space for refuge. Not ignorance, but rest.

A little space for all of the tiny creatures that make us who we are to thrive again. And rise again. In a world that’s not a matrix, not a thought experiment.

What I yearn for now may well be something we yearn for more as we age, but it is oddly familiar to what we were given naturally — what we allowed ourselves — when we were very young.

cut roses drying
in the vase — fragments of dead
leaves turn to powder
wedging themselves in the grain
of this old oak writing desk

Ren Powell, What I’ve Learned in the Pandemic

Last week I noticed a poem shared by Blue Diode Press on Twitter. ‘Meditation’, by Eunice De Souza, appeared in the collection A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems (Penguin).

The poem’s first two lines leapt out at me:

The lonely ask too much and then
too little

I love how the form reflects its content: how these two lines mirror what they’re describing.

All those words (relatively) crammed into that first line, in haste and at too great length; only to fall away into the sad stump of the second. 

How differently it would read if the line break fell in the obvious place – after ‘too much’. I really FEEL it this way.

I see a baby who cries and cries, then gives up crying.

I also think about ideas I’ve explored before – people thinking they know what they want (read ‘lack’) but that familiar yearning masking an ambivalence, or terror. 

I explore similar concerns myself – to all of these – in The Girl Who Cried.

Because I can feel I’ve spent my life rushing towards people, then retreating. Asking ‘too much and then / too little’.

So there it is: the magic. 

A whole lifetime’s dilemma distilled – understood, reflected back – in two short lines of poetry.

Charlotte Gann, TWO SHORT LINES OF POETRY

I remember in grad school hearing that one of my teachers would sometimes take sizeable breaks from writing — six month, year long, insane (to me) breaks from writing–but she still managed to be Louise Gluck, so I suppose it did her no harm.

I have one manuscript languishing for a publisher (I finished it at a difficult time in my life so did not send it out for the longest), one manuscript recently completed (all about that difficult time in my life and emotionally challenging to write), so now I feel like I might need a bit of a breather from poetry.

That time between projects–because I tend to be a project-type of writer–has historically been a bit panicky for me. What do I do next?! I think, biting my nails. But this has been more like…Do I write another grief poem? Ugh. Do I write historical persona like I once loved? Double Ugh.

So I think it’s time to let the field lie fallow, so to speak, until it feels like it’s time to dive in again.

Have you ever taken a writing break? What was it like?

Renee Emerson, Shelving It

I haven’t been writing much. This is not unusual for me. I go for long periods without writing much, or writing little bits that I discover later, or writing quite a bit only I haven’t noticed it. Mostly these days the notebook sits closed. But I’ve been willing to paint. Maybe not with alacrity, but I’m more likely to open my little sketchbook than my notebook.

I’ve been painting mostly from photographs, even though I know from my artist friends that that is frowned upon, although I’m unclear why, but one friend is Rather Stern about it. So I do it anyway, but feel guilty about it, which I figure makes it okay.

Marilyn McCabe, Kiss me on a midnight street; or, Creativity and Letting Go of Control

Hard to believe that this photo was only taken last Friday- this afternoon it’s been about 15 degrees warmer. Interestingly, the word ‘edge’ seems to have been cropping up quite a bit in my haiku recently. On the surface, I think it’s to do with the walks I take, which often follow field boundaries marked by dry stone walls. Millstone grit is a feature of the landscape here, and the walls are a couple of hundred years old at least. The stone is mapped with lichen of various colours: yellow, green, white, and after hard weather the iron deposits oxidise and the stone becomes rust-coloured.

But, back to the word ‘edge’. Perhaps it’s signalling where my work is right now, sort of on the fringes, between making and doing. Somehow haiku demand more ‘doing’, more living. Nothing seems to surface unless I’ve been out walking, crossing the fields while it’s still quiet, listening, thinking. I walk everyday. The end of last week was hard because there was a bitter East wind. The start of that week was even harder because I was still self-isolating. But my period of self-confinement was short. Some people have been isolating for the best part of a year. I can’t imagine how that must feel, what it must do to a person. I found myself constantly going to the spare room window to look out over the fields, almost as if I needed to check they were still there. I didn’t write much either.

Julie Mellor, edge of day

My book turned 5 months old this week and I have a feeling now that it is something quite separate from me. An iceberg broken away and drifting off, handkerchiefs waving from the deck.

I always loved the word handkerchief because of that silent -d-, but also because of the dainty waving of it, the lace or embroidery. Always for crying or goodbye. I bought some old handkerchiefs online recently and god knows why. Would it be affected to use one? It would be an exercise in sustainability. Ok, I’ve sold myself on toting a handkerchief around. I love washing things in the sink. That feeling of care.

Sarah J Sloat, Behold Your Horses

Of course, we more commonly use “limbo” to mean a place of transition or uncertainty here on earth, often one in which we feel trapped. (If a person has been in this kind of limbo during the past week, they might have spent more time than is probably healthy wondering if a certain person who departed life has landed in Bolgia 9 or 10 of Hell’s eighth circle.) It can feel like a kind of hell to be in this kind of limbo, and it can require the agility and flexibility a person needs to successfully pass under the limbo stick. I think of the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal, in which his main character is trapped in airport limbo, neither permitted to enter the United States nor return home to his country no longer recognized as a country, and how he adapted to a way of being that feels impossible to most of us.

It’s been a long time since I saw that movie (and I think I slept through a good portion of it) or danced the limbo or read Dante–so these thoughts might be all kinds of gibberish–but I’m claiming “limbo” as my word of the week. It’s been six days since I’ve lived at home, and while I am grateful to have a place with heat and light and water and food, it feels as if I’ve slipped into a deeper circle of pandemic hell, where life is simultaneously both on hold and moving forward, and I don’t know how long it will remain this way. When I packed my little suitcase last Monday, I thought, surely, I would only be gone a few days. I told myself to think of it as a little vacation, a lark, a treat: permission to relax that it is so hard to give myself at home. It was not unlike my initial stance toward Covid shutdown; I optimistically threw a box of brownie mix and supplies for an embroidery project into a bag before closing the door to my dark, frigid house.

Now, after 6 days and four phone conversations with the power company and daily trips back and forth just to make sure that the power is, indeed, still not on, I find myself re-enacting the stages of acceptance I first lived last March. I long to go home at the same time I’m almost feeling as if the life I lived there is slipping away from me. I’m moving from disbelief to acceptance, and my new not-normal is beginning to feel some kind of normal, a transformation I am both resisting and welcoming. We are perverse and adaptable creatures, we humans, whether we want to be or not.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Meditation on Limbo

rolling blackouts
how the wind howls
& the candles dance

on the radio Lizzo
feeling good as hell

James Brush, 02.16.21

This is the time of year when I would ordinarily be taking my kid back to my birthplace — to see family, to breathe the air of where I come from, to enjoy Mexican breakfast at Panchito’s and big fluffy Texas-sized pancakes at the Pioneer Flour Mill. In this pandemic year, there’s no trip to Texas. The last time I was there was for mom’s unveiling.

Knowing that most of Texas is suffering cold and snow and rolling power outages, making these enchiladas feels like a kind of embodied prayer. When I make challah on Fridays I sing while kneading the dough. Tonight I am praying for Texas as I simmer the chili sauce, as I dip the corn tortillas in oil, as I tuck each rolled enchilada into the baking dish.

I spoke with family there this morning, and texted with them again later in the day. Like most of Texas, they didn’t have power or heat. Southern homes aren’t build to keep out the cold — they’re designed to retain cool. A lot of Texans don’t own warm winter clothes; why would they? Often at this time of year, it’s warm enough to wear short sleeves.

I could talk about why Texas has its own power grid, or the outrage of wholly preventable tragedies, or the importance of a robust safety net and good infrastructure in all neighborhoods, or the climate crisis that inevitably feeds worsening weather patterns. Instead I’m rolling enchiladas and praying that somebody can get the power up and running again.

Rachel Barenblat, A prayer in a casserole dish

L.A. winds whip through alleyways, wail eulogies for the lost, tear ghost sheets from cemetery clotheslines.

L.A. winds steer birds off course; break trees of their branches and will; deflower flowers, scatter all cautions to the wind.

They huff and puff, blow down homeless encampments, give rise to stray plastic bags tracing the wind’s form yet unable to comprehend the wind’s full shape and power.

Then, without warning, L.A. winds die out.

All the plastic bags, flower petals, ragged tents, cardboard shelters, and stray bird feathers fall to the ground, joining the broken branches.

The city grows quiet.

Takes on the many colors of its inner mood ring: violet for loving, amber for unsettled, gray for anxious.

Rich Ferguson, L.A. Winds

Yesterday, I had the TV on for background noise while working on a writing project, and there was a dude on Naked and Afraid claiming he had nothing but good vibes while being absolutely devoured by mosquitos. By contrast, his female companion and co-contestant was quite freaked out and complained lots. He had less tolerance for those complaints — i.e. her honesty about her discomfort — than she had for the mosquitos.

Of course, I found it hilarious that his supposed good vibes were so powerless against the agitation he felt as a result of how his partner met her own needs. His belief that his (selectively) good attitude was the only acceptable response to the mosquitos reminded me of a relatively new concept: “toxic positivity.” It insists that if we just turn that frown upside down, all will be well. Or better, at least.

While I’m not a Debbie Downer, I am a known skeptic of silver lining theories, and it’s refreshing that some positivity is being called out as harmful. Why must we take everything in stride?

Carolee Bennett, where the sun don’t shine

For reasons, I felt gritty and low-down and wicked this weekend, so I set about downloading “Grand Theft Auto 5.” I didn’t realize the process was going to take ten years. This game is a monster. I kept checking on the download throughout the day, but it wasn’t until 9:00 p.m. that it fully propagated on my system, and by then I was too tired to figure out how to get through the tutorial. I’m going to try again today. So far it’s quite loud and violent, and I’m stuck in the tutorial because I can’t figure out how to “take cover.” But I’m looking forward to playing someone mean and crooked. I want to steal cars and blow things up. I want to be bad and sultry and quick and criminal. I want to zip around L.A. in a flashy stolen vehicle and bask in the blazing California sun. I am tired of living a grim, responsible life in a cold, gray respectable city. I’m bustin’ out, folks. If the Feds kick my door down, it’s been nice knowing you.

Kristen McHenry, Low-Down Gritty Me, Age Shock, Gym Bag Redux

A lovely evening for a swim. The tide was low and the water cool, and as I waded out (quite far before it was deep enough to swim) I noticed that the squishy mud I was wading through was warm, quite a bit warmer than the water actually.

estuary ::
the night gives back
what the day has taken

Dylan Tweney [untitled photo post]

after my bath
i sit and compose haiku
about my swim

Jim Young [no title]

I was delighted to unpack my copies of the new Locked Down anthology from Susan Jane Sims of Poetry Space. The book has just been published and contains a large mix of poems, diary extracts, photographs and art. 

My poem, a metaphorical lockdown one, has as its focus the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, as witnessed and recorded by the Younger Pliny. The theme seems particularly pertinent and poignant in the light of yesterday’s eruption of Etna on Sicily. 

Back in the mid-1980s David and I spent a year in Italy, and during that time travelled from Rome to Herculaneum and Pompeii, in the shadow of Vesuvius. We also journeyed further south, crossing to Sicily in the train on board the ferry. Naples had been absolutely bitter (this was February); but once we reached the shadow of Mount Etna, the sun beat down on us as we cast our coats aside and rolled up our shirt sleeves. Kind Italian fruit growers offered us giant oranges as we disembarked.  

Caroline Gill, ‘Locked Down’ anthology from Poetry Space

So here I am in the backseat, struggling to relax and enjoy the scenery. This February is a holding-pattern of a month; it’s also busy. I’m halfway through the master class I’m teaching at Randolph College. I’m virtually attending the Poetry and Pedagogy Conference hosted by West Chester starting tomorrow and looking forward to hearing panels about teaching. The workshop I’m running on Saturday morning, on how and why to teach single-author collections, is nearly ready, and I’m giving a reading with the other workshop leaders on Saturday night. Meanwhile, my department is assembling a list for the registrar of our fall courses, so I’m in planning mode for my own fall offerings. The clock is definitely ticking on my sabbatical, even though the second half of the leave year remains fuzzy in many ways, for obvious reasons. (Deep breaths through the diaphragm. Amygdala, calm down.)

Nope, amygdala thinks my editorial load is fight-or-flight. It’s a privilege to work for a great magazine with a great Editor-in-Chief; accepting poems and promoting their wonderfulness is a thrill. Yet, open for submissions for the first two weeks of February, Shenandoah received 736 batches of poems. 736!!! I’m working hard, but when I get down to the most irresistible poems I’ll still have more than enough for multiple issues, which means more hours of difficult siftings and rejection letters that can be wrenching to write. (I have 19 spots max for Fall ’21 and Spring ’22 combined, with some reserved for a portfolio curated by our BIPOC Editorial Fellow in poetry, Sylvia Jones.) I’m trying to take it more slowly than usual and not feel so overwhelmed, but it’s a lot.

The stressy busy-ness is only partly about work, after all. Part of my brain is always rehearsing the vigilance script: steer clear of that maskless man; what can I cook over the next several days to postpone another trip to the supermarket, because it never feels safe there; my mother and daughter are on that airplane, how do I keep it aloft from down here? Oh, February. Oh, amygdala.

Lesley Wheeler, Oh, February. Oh, amygdala.

The towel dried
in the open, a flag rigged to mean look

away, she isn’t who you want. Nobody said
double or shadow. Outside in the world:

you stepped out of that jerry-built
altar, careful to rinse the musk-smell

of magnolias from your nape. You
learned to answer but quietly. How long

did it take before the two of you drew
closer to one another, breathed

in unison under blankets, clasped
hands under a billow of netting.

Luisa A. Igloria, Imago

something with a tail to nuzzle into your palm           to pierce
                             the soft                shell of your heart             something
to take home

something that rolls from under your feet      gathers
              no moss           loves              glass houses        something
to hold in your fist

something with roots you want to slip       sleep under
            climb into           hug          borrow its skin

Romana Iorga, some things to watch out for in a poem

We’d uncoil our Sargent jumps, tapping your top
as you became our iceberg, Sherman tank,
or high-rise block. Your walls were stormed,
but stayed unopened by broken bricks or pot-shots
from our BB guns. David lost an eye
in the ricochet, though I can barely
recall how he came to be standing there.
You were hauled away for scrap soon after.
I should find out where he is now.

Mat Riches, Post-Rock Shipping Containers

Sandra Beasley, a friend of mine who has several severe food allergies like my own, wrote this essay about claiming her identity as a disabled writer. It’s worth a read. And it made me think of my own nervousness, two AWP’s ago, when I was on a panel and was part of a reading for disabled writers. Was I disabled enough?  Could I speak to this group with any authority? Anyway, what does it mean to add “disabled” to your bio, or your descriptions of yourself on social media? If you look at my pictures, you wouldn’t necessarily see any disability, unless you looked closely, or looked at how I cropped out a wheelchair or cane. I notice small things (like my left side never fully recovered from the 2018 MS flare, and I still limp a little on that side, and my eye on that side isn’t quite the same as the one on the right side. Another small thing is I have more trouble reading my poems correctly out loud than I used to. A poetry editor recently asked me to record a video for their site, and asked for a re-recording because I had made minor errors in the words. But I knew that in a re-recording, I was likely to make the same, or worse, errors, because MS makes it difficult for me to read, focus on a camera, and stand at the same time. Did the editor know how bad she made me feel for this neurological anomaly? Probably not. It’s the same with Zoom readings and meetings – I have to shut off my camera sometimes when my brain gets overwhelmed trying to sort noise and imagery and trying to respond properly that that information. It could be perceived as a bad attitude – but really it’s my disability that’s controlling things. During quarantine, I have not asked as much of my body – not trying to walk unfamiliar routes, or dealing with people who don’t know I have MS, or driving to downtown readings that require stairs or doctor’s appointments that take hours of physical endurance to go to. But I still get tired doing things the average person wouldn’t. I have a telltale sign when I’ve done too much that my husband notices – my hands and legs start to tremble fairly aggressively, and this usually means worse symptoms will happen. “Time to rest,” he’ll say, and though I might resist his advice, he’s right. Anyway, I’m telling you all this because it’s hard to be vulnerable and admit your physical, neurological, and mental disabilities. Everyone who has them has a hard time claiming them in a positive way. Do we call ourselves a “disabled person” or a “person with disabilities.” This is an actual thing we have to think about.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Snow Woes, Who Gets to Be a Disabled Writer, and Having Trouble Getting It Together? Me too.

My pastor asked me if I wanted to do the meditation for Ash Wednesday, and I jumped at the chance.  I knew it would be pre-recorded, and I knew that I’ve been enjoying my approach of recording segments and seeing how to stitch them together.  I like that the process pulls on my poetry brain.  I like trying to think of ways to make the message new.

This year offers additional challenges.  There’s the standard challenge of having heard the message already:  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Some of us might say, “We hear this every year.  Blah, blah, blah, dust, ash, rust, smash.”

But this year, with Ash Wednesday coming after a year of these reminders of our mortality, how do we make the message new?  This year, after a year of watching all we’ve built implode, explode, decay, and disappear, how do we create a message that touches on these themes but doesn’t leave us clinically depressed?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Video Sermon on Ash Wednesday

I’ve been shielding and self-isolating for a year. It’s my Covid-versary. At the start, you don’t mark the date. I just remember thinking that it would be sorted by the end of April, and I’d go to St Ives to write. And then that became September, except it didn’t. And so on. Can you remember what day it is anymore? 

If someone told you a year ago you’ll be isolated for a year you’d probably say but I can’t do that. Much in the style of folk who post on social media that they can’t wait for X or Y or whatever. meaning that they don’t want to. I can’t do that. I’m reminded of Kim Moore’s glorious Trumpet Teacher’s curse

a curse on the teacher who says I’m rubbish at music
in a loud enough voice for the whole class to hear

I can’t do that. We believe we can’t cope. We lose someone we love. We lose an occupation. How will we survive? It turns out that you can, that you have, that you do. I had another anniversary in January. Eight years ago I joined an inspirational fellowship and gave up alcohol. I thought I couldn’t do it, but it turned out I could. The remarkable thing is that, as a result, I started to write, seriously, and joined another inspirational fellowship of people who write poems. I’ve had a book published every year since. I started to write a poetry blog, and about 750,000 words later, I’m still writing it. It turns out I could do it after all. As can we all, mostly. 

John Foggin, Keeping on: my kind of poetry. Martin Zarrop

One of the things I enjoy most about readings is the live audience – you can see how they’re reacting, you can address people through eye contact. And on Zoom? You’re lucky if you’ve spotted your friends, who could be on page 2 of the mosaic, you could be faced with a patchwork of faces and blank screens with names, some of which are something like ‘K’s laptop’. Everyone’s muted. Ugh!

The last reading I did, I had the poems on my computer screen so I could read off them and not keep looking down. When it’s just your head and shoulders visible, if people are looking at me (and hopefully they’re not all the time!) I want to seem as if I’m addressing them. I know I like this when I’m watching a poet read, and a number of people have told me they like it too. The downside to this strategy is, if you’re on a laptop, you might find your Word document (with the poems on) obscures the Zoom window, and with no ‘feedback loop’ you just have to carry on and trust people are there and haven’t all gone home, or that your connection has died and you haven’t realised, so you’ve been talking to yourself for ten minutes. Another way might be to pin your poems on the wall above your screen, which come to think of it might work better as you’ll be looking at a point just above the camera. OK now I’m overthinking things, and making myself more anxious…

Robin Houghton, On giving a poetry reading via Zoom

Today someone said I
seemed like a pink lady.

In another part of town
I heard a tiny bird-

song that touched me.
A meeting was held and

I got naked on a screen,
with my clothes on.

I kept someone waiting
for over an hour,

was forgiven.

Marie Craven, I Heard a Bird

Have you noticed a change in submissions to Atrium Poetry since lockdown?

I think we received more submissions in 2020 than in previous years, and I’m sure a good chunk of that was lockdown-related. Some people commented in their cover email or bio that they’d been inspired to start writing/return to writing when lockdown began. We have had a lot of poems about Covid (see next question!).

If poets are considering sending work to you should they send poems about Covid or are you saturated by them?

We don’t have any set themes at Atrium, so poets are free to send us work on whatever subjects they wish. Having said that, we have been (understandably) sent a lot of Covid-related poems, and I would make the point that the only ones we’ve gone on to accept for publication have been ones that look at the pandemic in a fresh and original light (though the same applies to any subject, really!). We’ve received many poems that essentially say the same sorts of things as each other (‘it’s hard not seeing family and friends/ I’m worried about older relatives/ I’m washing my hands a lot’!). It’s not eye-catching or ‘different’ enough to simply state the more obvious aspects, relatable though they are.

How will you focus on your writing during this current lockdown and do you have any tips for other poets?

I’d just made my ‘Writing Projects for 2021’ list when lockdown was announced, and my initial feeling was ‘just carry on regardless’, despite the restrictions on time.

The reality, though, is that I’ve not been able to keep up with things – daytime is taken up by home school and other work, and I’m too old now to have any energy left to write in the evenings! But my experience of the first lockdown reassures me that writing will pick back up again in time, and I’m trying to be relaxed about it! Needs must, and it’s not forever.

I suppose, with that in mind, my tip for other poets would be don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get much writing done during lockdown – for some it’s a very productive time, but for others (most?) there are too many other things going on to focus properly on writing, whether that be because of other commitments or just because you can’t find the oomph to do it in amongst the general worry! The urge/time/brain-space to write will return – you’ve not written your last poem. Trying to follow my own advice there…

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Claire Walker

I’ve been thinking about submissions from a different angle recently. In the autumn, I had to embark on a recruitment exercise at work for the first time in many moons and was disappointed, but not surprised, that nothing had changed in terms of the information gathered on the application form: the requirement for the applicant to state their full name, date of birth, gender, educational and work histories, with dates, surely provides more than enough ammunition for a bigoted manager to discriminate negatively on the grounds of age, gender, schooling and, in many cases, their ethnicity and class also. There should surely be scope for pseudonymous applications, without a requirement to state gender unless the job requires it in accordance with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010. In many cases, though, stating the name of one’s school would give away one’s gender, or birth gender at least. Does any information really matter other than work history and how the skills and knowledge the applicant has acquired over the years might be applicable to the role they are applying for?

A similar pseudonymous approach could of course be tried for all poetry submissions, with the proviso that acceptance is conditional so that unrepentant plagiarists or criminals convicted of the most serious offences might be subsequently excluded as appropriate. But then there’s the argument that subject-matter and/or the authorial time and outlook often convey as much about the poet as any full disclosure of name and biography might. In the poetry world, there’s been much talk of ‘levelling-up’ long before our abominable government started hoodwinking the gullible into thinking they were serious about that agenda. (Outlawing the establishment of fee-paying schools and turning existing ones into non-fee-paying might be a good start, if you ask me.) Much excellent positive discrimination in the last decade has enabled the diversification of poets being published in the UK. Ultimately, letting fine poems shine regardless of their authors’ background or identity so that otherwise marginalised voices are heard as loudly as any others ought to be an essential part of the mission statement for any journal now, and I struggle to think of any UK-based journal which fails to adhere to that basic principle. None of this is original thinking, I know, and none of it is rocket science either. Yet, in the same way that there is now a war on ‘woke-ness’ in wider British society, I suspect there is a disgruntled (no doubt 99% white middle-class male) minority within the poetry community who feel that positive discrimination has gone much too far. Well, yaboo-sucks to them.

Matthew Paul, The information

I sometimes turn a short story into Flash as an exercise. What I try to avoid is ending up with a piece that has lost weight but is still wearing the same old clothes. I focus on a single scene, lose a side-plot, or lose a character. If I return to the short story I’m usually able to exploit what I’ve learned when writing the Flash.

Sometimes I’ve made a page-long poem more episodic, then I’ve broken it into a few poems. Not all of the shorter poems succeed, but at least I’ve salvaged something.

Welsh writer Cynan Jones’ story “The Edge of the Shoal” began as a 30,000-word short novel but he cut it to 11,500 words because “it didn’t work.”  When he sent it to The New Yorker they liked it but asked him to cut it in half. He took 4 days to cut the story to 6,000 words. In that form the New Yorker published it and it won The 2017 BBC National Short Story Award. The original version was published by Granta as a novella entitled “Cove”, which then won the Wales Book of the Year Fiction Prize.

Moral – you may want to keep more than one version of some of your pieces – short and long versions. If you chop, keep your drafts. You may never become famous enough to sell them, but they may have something valuable that gets worn away by rewrites.

Tim Love, Editing down

In 2017 – 2018 I had a lovely time working in a secondary school in Bath one day work, employed as a Writer in Residence. I used this blog as a notebook to document the workshops, so I thought I’d link to a few of the posts I wrote, for anyone who might find them useful at this time of homeschooling and being stuck indoors. The young writers I worked with were mostly aged 11 – 16 but the workshops can be adapted for other ages – and for yourself if you’re in the mood to do some writing and you need a little inspiration. […]
 
Cutting up text to write poems – This workshop produced an impressive amount of work by the students I worked with, even those who told me they “didn’t like writing”. Cutting up and manipulating text can be satisfying and fun and makes a change from facing up to the blank page. I was strict with my young writers and didn’t allow them to add in extra words “so a sentence made sense” but they were allowed to write anything they wanted in their own notebooks, so many new phrases and ideas popped up, leading to fresh poems and stories.

Josephine Corcoran, DIY Poetry Writing Workshops

Edmonton poet Paul Zits’ third collection is Exhibit (Calgary AB: University of Calgary Press, 2019), following Massacre Street(University of Alberta Press, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Leap-seconds(Insomniac Press, 2017). I’m frustrated in that I don’t even think I saw a copy of that second collection, and only received a copy of this latest collection a few months back; why is Paul Zits so silent on these books he’s been publishing? As the back cover to this new collection offers: “In the winter of 1926, Margaret McPhail went on trial for the murder of Alex, and throughout, maintained her innocence. More than a retelling of her trial, Exhibit chronicles the path to a verdict, misstep by misstep. Unique and rewarding, this is a masterful work of collage poetry that rests in the spaces where reality is constructed and where reality is blurred.” I’m immediately fascinated at Zits’ exploration of the prairie document, retelling the bones of a story of early prairie history through the shape of poetry, putting him in a lineage of multiple prairie writers such as Dennis Cooley, Monty Reid, Robert Kroetsch and Kristjana Gunners, among others. Zits applies the elements of the story into short, sketched lyrics, presenting and capturing moments that accumulate and shape into a larger narrative of what might, or may, have happened. He writes out the spaces amid the spaces; what is known and impossible to know. Unlike Kroetsch or Cooley, Zits’ collage-story attempts the impossibility of truth, even through the knowledge of that impossibility. His lyrics present with the facts as best as possible, allowing the reader the space to get inside.

rob mclennan, Three short reviews: June Gehringer, Tess Brown-Lavoie + Paul Zits

 I’ve always considered myself a poet whose work relies tremendously on research, whether it’s more serious (the Chicago World’s Fair, the Italian Reniassance) or less serious (tabloid headlines and slenderman lore.) In the early 2000’s my errata project, which cobbled together both orginal and found texts was one of the first things I’d written that involved external sources directly, but I’d touched on bits obliquely before.  Many of my first, better poems were steeped in history, mythology/folklore, and literature. (I always say I din’t have much to write about myself, so I plumbed these to exhaustion.) Thus I have a lot of mermaid poems, even from the beginning. Fairy tale poems –my favorites being Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Hansel & Gretel–all things that I’ve written more than one poem about.  My entire project, the shared properties of water and stars is basially a take on Goldilocks that’s expanded into story problem logic.  

Later, I devoted an entire chapbook length series to Resurrection Mary, Chicago’s own vanishing hitchhiker legend, a project that not only had me deep in chicago history, but doing fun things like ghost tours. girl show involved a lot of searching into sideshow and carnival performers of the 30s and 40’s (and the discovery of the Hilton sisters, after which my two siamese are named.) There was the summer I spent reading Slenderman stories and books about the legend, as well as digging into true crime about the stabbing in Waukesha. There was research into pin-ups and nuclear america for strange machine and terrestrial animal. Extinction and evolution for my series written for the Field Museum. Ekphrastic subject matter for the Cornell Project, my Dali series, the Shining poems.

Kristy Bowen, writing history and myth

I’m talking brain imaging, I say. Our brains mirror other brains; that’s how we understand one another. He’s still got his patient listener face on, so I continue. This explains how clichés impair writing. Because when we hear a cliché like put the cart before the horse our brains don’t evidence any interest. That saying was originally a clever use of language the first 1,000 or 100,000 times it was said but our brains react minimally to clichés. Brain imaging shows we take them in only at the most basic level. Phrases like “scared out of my wits” or “made of money” were original once, but now they deaden our responses.  Besides, many clichés in common usage come to us from generations ago, when everyone knew how foolhardy it was to put the actual cart before the actual horse. Take the cliché “caught red-handed.” This likely came from centuries back, when serfs worked the land of some lord or another. There were strict rules against poaching. Even if one’s family was starving on what little they could grow, it was illegal to hunt on the lord’s land. Caught red-handed meant you had blood on your hands and would be severely punished.         

Mark alleges he still likes clichés and gleefully adds the cliché, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”* It’s a game now. We continue to toss out ever more ridiculous clichés until we weary of them and put the audiobook back on.

Listening to it, we finally we reach a cliché-related accord. I agree with him that a book’s character can and perhaps should use clichés if it’s in keeping with that character. In this pop mystery, I can see why a character or two would talk this way. Mark agrees with me that the book we’re listening to also uses clichés in description and plot development outside of character narration, and it’s off-putting. We listen a few more miles and he says. “Now I can’t help but hear all the clichés. Thanks.” We give up on the book.

Yes, we’re still married. And yes, I still give that cliché talk but have learned to keep it in the classroom.

Laura Grace Weldon, Clichés

In “The Oscillations” Kate Fox has a collection that explores neurodivergency and how masking differences comes at a cost and the isolation that can result, although there’s also hope in new connections as a world shifts. The pandemic is a backdrop, something battled and overcome with a journey towards renewal. The poems have a focused, conversational tone which belies their careful structure: the apparent casualness relies on sound echoes and partial rhymes. These poems both skim the surface and explore the depths, which path is taken is up to the reader.

Emma Lee, “The Oscillations” Kate Fox (Nine Arches Press) – book review

I have had the pleasure of knowing [Saddiq] Dzukogi over a number of years, sharing correspondence over poems and life. In his work, I have always found a paced, meditative way with the line that develops emotional depth across images that hold for a reader like sunsets: intense, clear, and with a momentum one can feel.

“Wineglass” below is a good example of this. Through intimate narration, the poem develops from its title image into a vessel of its own, holding the speaker’s grief while also moving through the experience of it. Physical details such as “Hands, cloudy from rubbing the grave,” evoke the speaker’s state of mind through the image of cloudiness and emphatic action of rubbing, while the word choice of cloudy/grave parallel the speaker’s desire to mix and be heard across worlds.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Saddiq Dzukogi

How do I hold
her in tenderness— one way of tending a life is to stand in a queue

at the shop as beans get roasted. It takes time to prepare
a tumbler of frothy coffee— a lifetime if it is the final gulp.

You in your chair overlooking the deck and I in my terrace where
the hibiscus shrub is eaten by mealybugs, hold the cup of absence.

Uma Gowrishankar, how to drink loss

There is nothing more pleasing than to write with a newly filled, well-flowing fountain pen, on the pages of a C.D. Notebook (another obsession). Let me make this case for writers of all kinds to use a fountain pen: the more you write and use your writing instrument, the better it will flow. If you leave off writing, there is the possibility that the ink will dry in the mechanism, and things will start to get hinky. Which is to say blotchy or dry or skippish. The more you write the more you flow. And that, my friends is the secret to fountain pens and the secret to writing. And the secret to refraining from giving in to the cussedness of it all. You know.

Shawna Lemay, The Cussedness of Fountain Pens

that moment when the very first raindrops
tumble down from the broken sky
scattered and fat
perfect
lovely

James Lee Jobe, you are alone in the silence

A xylophone of icycles on a rusted bridge, a bass drum of cloud.
A glimmer of moonlight on the coldest night for twenty years.
I have your last letter in my pocket.

I hear you saying I wish I could see you once more.
Someone saw you in your house by the sea.
A sense of lamps. I should have known you’d understand

The laziness of forgiveness, the hard work of bitterness,
The emptiness in every room. Did anyone see you move in?
One by one your books will abandon you.

Bob Mee, A QUESTION OF SIGHT AND SOUND AND THREE OTHER NEW PIECES THAT MUST SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES

I think
of us loving
into the night,

the darkness
not something
we have feared.

We empty
ourselves into it
again and again.

Loss fills us
for another
go at hope.

Tom Montag, AN IMAGE OF