Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 36

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, reflections on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and other losses; spiritual and creative renewal; and more. Enjoy.


And so, the book of the dead and the living are opened, and studied. For reckoning, for reconciliation, for release. The mother swirls watery, a whirlpool in slow motion now. The dead cling to rafts riding whitewater. Me–rafted, too–I wonder. In the oldest sense. At how short it is. How pointlessly brutal, when it is also the unutterable holy name embodied.

JJS, Days of Awe

Many hours I have watched this boy at sleep, wondering at him. A few hours old, having gravely observed every bright or moving object in the room, after studying my face with his deep, wet eyes, having suckled his first milk and bellowed at being cleaned up and weighed, he fell asleep in my arms. I had felt him asleep for some time within the womb, but now I could watch the drowsy process. Now he breathes. In and out. I could not count the minutes I’ve spent watching him; minutes and hours seem extravagant, faithless, artificial things. But breath! And the slight twitching behind the eyelids, and the pulsing fontanel! Only during his sleep could I appreciate these things.

For when he was awake, he was constantly active. In an instant, he could crawl. Another instant, and he ran. Then he acquired speech, the product of which he loved. Talking is what he’s been put on earth to do. For many years the only times I did not hear his voice chattering in the background of my daily life were when he was at school and when he was asleep.

The world opened itself to him. Cautious, sensitive, he was always secure in his understanding that the world is eternally novel, interesting, and eager to receive his attentions. In the mornings he would tell me his dreams. Even sleep was entertaining; he had few nightmares. He felt safe in the cosmos.

I knew that someday he’d meet the bully, the unfair teacher, the irredeemable tragedy, and wondered how he would face such a thing. For years, he came to me, discussed the behavior of other children, talked about evil characters in books and movies, showed me what is wonderful in his life. “Look, Mama,” he said a thousand times, “Look at this new kind of acorn. Look at how the corn is blowing. Look at that big truck. Look—I think that little girl is crying. Look at my drawing. Look at me, Mama—I’m balancing. I’m a pirate. I’m Peter Pan!”

            Buildings are collapsing, Mama.

            Look, don’t look.

He’s nearly thirteen. No incipient beard, no hairiness or sweaty armpits yet, no break in the tenor voice. He rolls his eyes at his peers’ hormonal hijinks, the schoolboy crushes, won’t attend a dance. But the time is coming—he knows it. He’s quieter, gets lost in books, stands out in the meadow with a whippy stick, slashing at goldenrod and sumac. He lies in bed after the lights are out. He’s thinking. It keeps him awake, kept him awake even before last Tuesday.

He just has more to think about now.

Ann E. Michael, 20 years ago

He carried a small body
and then the next
outside the village,
shoulder ripped by pain, a part of brain telling:
a cage of warm bones
now dead wood,
noisy, defying the lashing flames
like little boys who dart out of a mother’s attention.

Uma Gowrishankar, Home

Hearing my son howl in grief in his bedroom last night was the most terrible sound I have ever heard. It will haunt me my live long life but we are emotionally messy people. He is bereft and I am holding together to absorb what I can of his pain and grief. My son took this photo of Sam asleep in the backseat of his 57 Chevy.

Tomorrow Page heads to his father’s to the orchard and the lake and then I can let myself fall apart to wail my own hurt. Think of us when you can and when you can.

Rebecca Loudon, Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

Where is our common altar to pray on a day like this? Who is our common god for healing? Maybe the only thing that can save us now is to look at and examine our bodies: “This is our hand, this is our leg, these are our eyes.” We must start from the nil of our common humanity. Not in a sentimental way, but in the way when you get lost and look for a point of recognition in the landscape, a mountain, a lake or a river where you can start walking from.

And that walking will be long.

Magda Kapa, 9/11

A cosmic day is longer
than any of our ordinary
days: delirium of time
ticking in expanding circles,
distributing the slow-built
honey of the universe.
Telephone coil, endless
transmitting chain drive,
celestial ladder: the bounded
seas and rivers’ continuous
movements shadowing
the heavens, partitioning
these puny hours. What
is the actual length
of wars, of the track
by which both soldiers
and prisoners return?

Luisa A. Igloria, The Oldest Light in the Universe

The Nick of Time is a book of mortalities, writing her book-length suite of prose poem sequences and short bursts, each of which are constructed as collages of strands that form new quilts of meaning. “The difference of our bodies makes for different velocities.” she writes, as part of the final poem in the collection, “AGING,” the final poem of the suite “REHEARSING THE SYMPTOMS,” “But gravity / is always attractive, and my higher speed. Cannot outrun the inner / fright we seem made of. Though I gesticulate broadly. As in a silent / movie. Running after the train, waving goodbye.” As one could speak of her writing at any point across her lengthy publishing history, Waldrop writes on language, reading and perception, and the ways through which we think of the relationships between and amid meaning. The poems that shape to form The Nick of Time also incorporate and investigate concepts such as America, mortality and aging, crafting each poem as a furthering of her decades-long investigations into language, theory and philosophy.

rob mclennan, Rosmarie Waldrop, The Nick of Time

It seems these past weeks I have moved even further away from myself in an attempt to know how to move forward. It is true that death brings change, even deaths that do not spawn grief, but end it. I am “over it”. In a way. Past it, certainly. And now what?

We can do this, you know. We can own our own stories, or just give them up entirely. And we can let go of the need to dictate the stories of others.

We don’t need to be “a survivor” with a constructed story arc that makes us the hero. If we “win” all the battles. We can just live in world with no need to construct a dramaturgy that will bring everything to a satisfying end.

That sets us up to fail.

While avoiding writing, either publicly or privately, I have been thinking again about “whose story”. I have been thinking again about my choice to erase myself from the tidy narrative in my mother’s obituary (which described a woman I never knew): to take that name that is not my name, was my name, out of that paragraph with “[…] is survived by”. Because the truth is that the person who wore that name, who lived that life, did not survive but was born anew, and mothered by so many others.

We can do this. We can give up the need to carry a through-line through the days. Can’t we?

Today I will lecture on Antigone. Creon’s story. And I will ask the students to read the play, translated from a translation that was translated from a translation and handed down through cultures that have come and gone, and were born anew. I will ask them: Whose story is this? Why carry it? Will you somehow make it yours? How?

I learned yesterday that Antigone means “against-birth”.

Ren Powell, The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen.

Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss, I recall my life in Athens, Georgia in the early 80s and the punk rock scene that was drifting toward the New Wave/Alternative synthesizer heavy music of Brain Eno, Bowie, U2, and Depeche Mode by the time I left for Spain.

Seuss’s poem [I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious] brought me back to the times my friends and I drove to New York for a weekend to hear our boyfriends open for bigger bands at CBGB, the Mudd Club, and the Peppermint Lounge.

Unlike Seuss, I was more of a voyeur of the punk scene, a curious suburban college girl who wanted to graduate from uni and study in Spain. For a while, I got sidetracked by punk’s promise of anarchy and rebellious art making, but I never had the need to ‘escape from punk’s thesis.” That was a forgone conclusion with my conservative, Catholic father hovering in the background of my psyche.

Seuss, raised by a single mother, was the real deal.

The 80’s in Athens at UGA was steeped in systemic misogyny that I bumped up against in my creative life, although at the time, I thought this bumping up was due to my own failures as a writer and human being.

I tried to get into Coleman Barks’s creative writing poetry class, but when I approached him at his office he practically shut the door in my face.

Instead, I tagged along with the boys in the band, read their chapbooks, gathered at their art openings, and attended theater presentations at the Rat and Duck, named for the rats running along the ceiling above and having to duck from falling plaster.

Christine Swint, Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss

At this time of year, as every September, my thoughts return to the classroom. Questions such as ‘Can I still teach?’ and ‘Do I still have it?’ are perhaps less useful than ‘Let’s see what happens!’ I think this may apply to reading and writing poetry as well. Earlier this year, I completely lost my confidence in my ability to do both (just one of the reasons for taking a break from blogging). But while I did really lose my confidence, I mean, really, really lose it, it wouldn’t be true to say I gave up completely on both. I found myself re-reading some favourite poets, as well as new work by poets I admire. (More on these in future posts.) And gradually, without really planning it, words began to take shape again, as they always do, on scraps of papers and edges of envelopes, things that may or may not become something, who knows. Let’s see what happens!

I want to inhabit this open state of mind (for teaching, for reading, for writing) as long as possible, even though I know the new term is going to be tough and long, as it always is. The past, including the poems I’ve already written and sent off into the world, aren’t really any use to me, least of all what I laughingly call my career or reputation.

Anthony Wilson, In search of beginner’s mind

I’ve been trying this summer, at least once a week to have more writerly focused content–at least one post per week devoted to solely that, and I find I still have a lot to say on projects and my own process and history, but today, as I sat down on this final day before plunging into a new semester, I found I had nothing at all to say. The world feels heavy and I feel uninspired, so this may be part of it. My focus was everywhere last week, and nowhere good, so while I usually jot down a few ideas for posts, nothing stuck. But then maybe that subject matter is a post in itself.  How heavy the world feels and how that heaviness makes it harder to write.  

There was some buzz I was barely following on Twitter (because I still haven’t figured out how anyone follows anything on that platform), but the gist was a that a poet seems to have been talking about how poetry matters to no one but poets.  Which then was taken as an offense, by, you know, poets. Poets who have a lot of words, thus much buzzing.  I’ve been scheduling tweets in advance, so don’t hang out there as much as I do on that old dinosaur facebook and instagram.  But I can’t say that the initial poster is wrong, as book sales and public interest in poetry, particularly academic poetry, attest.  But then, she is probably wrong about poetry in general, which seems to be having, as I mentioned a few posts ago, a “moment.” (Not my poetry but someone’s poetry.) Poets like to buzz about things like this every so often, and no one is really wrong or right.  No, it seems a hard lot when the thing you are most passionate about is mostly ignored in a world where very few people read at all, even fewer read “literature” and even fewer than that, poems. Someone will usually come along and say that poets need to be more (insert accessible, political…etc.) Or that it’s our fault that we’ve wandered do far down this path–our own navel gazing, inaccessibility, cliquishness, lack of audience. 

Kristy Bowen, oh, poetry….

How many ways might a scarab threaten death?
How many ways might a poet turn accomplice?

Charlotte Hamrick, Scarabs Crawl Over Poetry Discourse

wet morning
the bin lorry is reversing 
in welsh 

Jim Young [no title]

I returned home to find a couple poems published in two different anthologies printed by the Australian press, Pure Slush. While this isn’t the first time I’ve published with Pure Slush, my response to doing so is consistently positive. Editor Matt Potter is a delight to correspond with as he’s not only quick to respond to writers, he’s thorough. This is one of the few publications that I’m required to sign a contract for and even its turnaround is timely and efficient.

So I thank Matt and Pure Slush for publishing “One Hundred Bucks for Public Radio” in the Friendship issue, and “The Goods” in the 25 Miles from Here collection. I’m also happy for my writing friend Larry Wright who also published his poem “Lost Boys” and “On Rattlesnakes” in these same anthologies.

As for summer, it is all too quickly coming to a close. I am trying, really trying, to settle into the groove of another school year and winter ahead. But my dreams taking up greater space. They are bright in color and I’m more restless than ever to chase them.

Kersten Christianson, Spinning Into September

It seems I have started to write essays. Why now? I’m feeling an escalating pressure to write down my thoughts, both because the moment feels so urgent, and because I want to remember them. And really, who knows how long I will be able to write? Carpe diem, as they say.

Of course, I’m reading essays too. I’ve been re-reading some of the wonderful essays of Virginia Woolf and I have Zadie Smiths Feel Free: Essays on board. And I’ve just ordered a forthcoming anthology of lyric essays by contemporary essayists, titled A Harp in the Stars.

Risa Denenberg, Getting Your Daily Fix of Culture

I write
so I can
remember

what I wrote,
the old monk
says.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (6)

Just like this beautiful harbor seal represents a creature that lives both below water and above it, we writers have to re-enter regular life after spending a week just devoted to nature and writing, going to sleep when the sun goes down, no internet or television or social media to distract you…and then coming home. Not that I hate coming home – fluffy cats and hummingbirds awaited – but it does take a little while to shake off the glamour of small-town island life. Unpacking, getting ready for Glenn’s surgery on Monday, responding to a ton of e-mails, catching up on what’s been going on in the news – well, it’s not exactly the stuff of sparkles and rainbows. But in a way, being a writer during regular life is a more important practice than doing it under special circumstances, right? Because that’s most of life.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The End of the Residency, Re-Entry, and Prepping for Surgery

We went away for a few days last week to my happy place, Ocean Shores, where I am always drawn to when I am in crisis, in need of a deep rest, or on the precipice of some major change in my life. While I don’t always immediately find the answers I am looking for there, it’s always been a place of peace and healing for me. I need the reminder that there is something larger in the world than my minuscule life, that there is a roaring, shining, glorious ecosystem with a thundering heart that goes on without me and will continue to do so even after I pass. Besides all that metaphorical stuff, I am just a plain old sucker for ticky-tacky beach stuff. I love all of the souvenir shops with their bright, cheap, silly wares. I love salt water taffy, kites, renting scooters, and all of the other touristy entrapments. It all delights me and makes me feel uncharacteristically light and care-free. And my creative block was lifted by the lilt of the sea, and I started a new poem for the first time in ages.

Kristen McHenry, Adventuring Practice, The Lilt of the Sea, Commercial Collusion

I’ve had moments of beginning to process this experience of going back to the classroom, but it’s something that feels huge and that I cannot begin to see clearly yet. I don’t think I can really describe what it was, but I will try a little.

It’s a cliche, but it wasn’t unlike riding a bike or skating after a long time of not biking or skating. I felt a little wobbly at first, but then I got my balance back and the wheels flew and it felt so right. Righter than anything has felt for years and years and years. It was hard and fun and exhausting. I have to think so hard when I am teaching–constantly taking in information and processing/assessing it and deciding what my next move needs to be, often in mere seconds. It works my body, too, in a way it hasn’t worked in so long; at one point, I realized sweat was running down my face inside my mask, and I was ravenous by the time I got to lunch. But at the same time, while I was in it, I wasn’t aware that I was thinking hard or that I was sweaty or hungry or thirsty. I was entirely present and engaged and energized and calm.

At the risk of sounding corny or over-wrought, I will say that it felt like my whole being was vibrating, maybe singing. I was very much in the state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow, one in which you become so involved in what you are doing that you can lose all sense of time and of yourself. Being able to experience flow states is, according to Csikszentmihalyi, essential to happiness. While I certainly had moments of flow in my earlier teaching experiences, I don’t remember it ever feeling quite like it did this past week. […]

I don’t know what I will be able to do with the understandings that are only just starting to develop. I’m seeing things about teaching, learning, creativity, struggle, work, and rest that I haven’t really understood before. But I’m grateful to be having them, even as they raise some difficult feelings. As I have experienced so much more joy in the past week at work than I had in all of last year, it’s been hard not to also feel anger and regret. Part of me is furious about how much suffering there is in our schools for both students and staff. In our world. We don’t have to do things the way we do them; our systems are a result of our priorities and our choices. If we truly valued our children the way we like to say we do, schools would look and function in radically different ways than they currently do.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Well, that was a fast week

Regular reader of this blog will have been grooving to the music of Pollyanna recently. I met her via Instagram earlier this year and I have been enjoying her music [and her lyrics] since. I can heartily recommend the LP Polly and the Feathers – it’s fantastic. But enough from me, let’s hear from the star herself!

Music, poetry or film? Which speaks the most to you?

Obviously, I’d say music, but as my favourite genre is songs, I guess it’s a little bit of poetry and literature too.

Why music?

Songs are both verbal and non-verbal. This is what I like about music: it addressesanother part of the brain, more emotional (or more mathematical?) even when you can’t put these emotions in words. What I like with songs is that it is also words, but words are not primary in it. First you get the sound, then the melodies/harmonies and then the words. It’s a bit less intellectual, it doesn’t need to be sophisticated, it’s more humble than “hard poetry”, I’d say.

What do you want to evoke in the reader/listener?

I want my songs to get into people’s mind and heart, and see if we can resonate together. I’m looking for some sort of verbal and non-verbal communication. I believe songs can heal, and can make people feel loved. I also have in mind the courses I had about Virginia Woolf in college. We were studying The Waves and streams of consciousness, and how literature and poetry were also an attempt to find some unity in the world that is, otherwise, a collection of sometimes contradictory perceptions. I believe songs can provide that feeling of unity. Especially when you play an instrument: body and soul are then working together, which is probably something I need. Maybe even for my mental health.

Paul Tobin, POLLYANNA: THE INTERVIEW

I’ll be swamped with teaching work soon, but with all this in mind, I just spent some time on Goodreads, giving stars and occasionally brief reviews to books I read this summer. This is an especial kindness to small press authors. None of us can afford to buy every book we might like by every author deserving more attention, but here’s a reminder to do what you can–Goodreads and Amazon reviews, social media praise, library requests, putting new books on your syllabi, whatever sounds doable for you. That circulation of dollars and attention rarely puts much money in a small-press author’s pocket, but it does enable indies to stay afloat, therefore publishing good writers who haven’t hit it big (yet) and keeping the literary world more lively, quirky, and full of risk. It’s much easier for a writer to place the next book when the previous one has done decently. And, of course, love gives a writer heart. This pandemic would have hurt worse without the company of books.

Lesley Wheeler, Pandemic books, like pandemics, keep coming

My reflective practice begins with me writing my journals. I have two journals at the minute – one in which I record my everyday life and observations, one in which I make notes specifically on the novel and also reflect on my own feelings and thoughts around it. Because I really, really struggle with anxiety and, where writing is concerned, this manifests as imposter syndrome, this journalling around the big project I’m working on helps me to pour out all the angst and address it with my rational brain, before I spiral into a proper pit of anxiety. I then read some buddhist lessons or texts (I’ve just finished re-reading Zen Mind, beginner’s Mind) , then I read at least five poems from whatever poetry collection I’m reading and a chapter of whatever novel I’m reading at that time. I drink my coffee, I eat my marmite on toast. Usually there is some chasing of the cat down the garden at this point, trying to extract some poor dead creature from his mouth. […]

One day this week I did not manage to write anything at all, I just arranged and rearranged post it notes. It knocked my confidence a bit because I can feel the month slipping away from me already and I want to make the most of it. The next day I managed 2000 words, so it all evens out. Writing a novel is not an A to Z process. But I am loving it. I am LOVING it. My anxiety is vastly reduced, I feel content and happy and like I’m ‘working well’. When I get into the writing groove in a project it is a phenomenal feeling. It’s like my brain has been working on this project for a good long time and now it’s ready to bring it out from the bottom of the cupboard to show me. I would not change this for the world. And, weirdly, I find myself more productive on the other work stuff I’m doing. I’m enjoying it more because I am being true to myself, I am prioritising my own creative practice and putting my faith in it.

Wendy Pratt, On Sabbatical: The First Week

Sometimes the Light inside of me is so strong and bright that even the stones by my feet have voices. Life opens up like a present, like a gift, and so it is. Listen to the wind, and listen to birds, for they understand the wind. Unwrap the gift. Is this too fast for you? I can go slower.

James Lee Jobe, Unwrap the gift.

What a gorgeous holiday weekend! I did my reading outside, and today is the Labor Day Parade. The blue sky is mostly lifting my personal blues, despite the simmering frustration and ongoing communal grief. I surprised myself by submitting some poems yesterday. Others are coming out this fall. But everything still feels suspended and slightly unreal to me. It helps to prick my fingers on coneflower seeds, sprinkling some on the earth for next year while tidying the flowerbeds. I leave some up all year for the birds. Next year, it’s possible the blackberry lilies and coneflowers and wild violets will take over the universe of my back yard, while lilies of the valley march down into the shared valley between houses. In the meantime, I do hope walking and gardening will undo my crankiness.

Kathleen Kirk, White Noise

In the meantime, I’m returning to Krista Tippet’s Becoming Wise. One section that popped out for me today goes like this:

“Spirituality doesn’t look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you’ve had a long day.”

So I guess I’m a bit of a believer in the church of folding towels. (Of course as the recipient of kind attentions, I’m going to be biased). Folding the towels with sweetness won’t change the world maybe, but as the saying goes, it might change yours.

I don’t know what your bandwidth is these days, so to speak. I know that mine has fluctuated more wildly than it ever has. And then, we all live in various parts of the world, and that changes a lot. Where I am, though, things are really not cool, and getting worse.

But I’ve been thinking about my strategy in my garden. Which is to plant enough flowers so that no one notices the weeds. And in my house, we put up enough art that when someone comes over with some luck they don’t notice the dust. (Easier to do when you’re married to an artist of course). I’m tired and I sure as hell am not sleeping well. But. I think I can plant some bloody flowers.

Shawna Lemay, I Need More Grace than I Thought

Endosymbiosis is the evolutionary phenomenon whereby one organism lives within another for the mutual benefit of both. Our mitochondria that provide us with our all energy need via the oxidative metabolism of sugars are derived from endosymbiont bacteria. Chloroplasts that convert sunlight to energy in plants are also derived from bacterial endosymbionts. At some stage in the future we may be engineered to host bacterial symbionts that can metabolise iron or sulphur or nitrogen to supplement our dwindling energy sources.

The Extreme Politics of Adaptive Endosymbiosis presents a combination of high-definition 10K video, industrial audio, and live vocal performance developed specifically for the giant LED screens of The Lab, Adelaide, South Australia. Source material includes my videos depicting dystopian cities, damaged habitats, and readapted life forms; massively re-processed audio samples of natural and urban environments linked with new video animations; and text written especially for this provocation.

Ian Gibbins, The Extreme Politics of Adaptive Endosymbiosis

–At the time, it seemed like a one time apocalyptic event, a day blazed in our memories.  As the pandemic has unfolded, I’ve reflected on the difference with a slow motion apocalypse, compared to a September 11 kind of event.

–But as I’ve reflected, Sept. 11 has also triggered its own slow motion apocalypse:  wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror and all the ways it transformed individual countries and the world, on and on I could go.  I feel like I had a bigger list at some point, but I can’t pull it up now.

–As we look back, I’m struck by all the opportunities lost along the way, all sorts of opportunities.

–And of course, I wonder what we’re missing now.  When the next apocalypse roars, we will look back and see what?  Will it be the apocalypse we’re expecting (then, mushroom clouds and nuclear war, now all sorts of climate change triggered awfulness)?  History tells us that the answer will be both yes and no.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, September 11, Twenty Years Later

As we look upward with our confusion, the sky will be clear, light shimmering as it catches little particles.  It has blinked and renewed itself.  

Matisse looked up and saw, in his 1944 cut-out, Icarus falling from the sky with a shattered red heart.  It was World War II, a pilot was falling from the lumunious blue sky.  The sky then renewed itself. 

Simone Weil said of the sea: ships are wrecked and sailors are drowned.  The sea causes grief. But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

Jill Pearlman, That Crystalline 9/11 Sky

I’ll never be too old or too young to understand how a tombstone is like an other-worldly paperweight. It holds a part of the dead to the earth, and in our hearts, as what remains of the spirit flies away.

Rich Ferguson, Untitled

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 31

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: wildfires and harvest metaphors, Covid worries, learning to swim, reading books for the Sealey challenge, and much more.


Mountains of fire, the forest
Is a fantastic red blaze.
Lightning in the summer sky,
The earth is as dry as old bones.
And we burn, each of us is an ember.
This is the hour to hold on to hope,
The hour to keep faith and have courage.
May we not fail, and if we do fail
Let it be brazen. Let it be fierce.
Let the final light of being
Illuminate the entire earth.

James Lee Jobe, each of us is an ember

When I began this pastel a month ago, I was thinking with longing about the silvery olive trees in Greece, billowing in the wind off the sea and the mountain tops. That was before the wildfires began that are now raging across the mainland and the Peloponnese, bringing enormous destruction, suffering and loss. Today I look at this picture with different eyes, and have been thinking of the legend of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from the Olympian gods and gave it to humans — for that deed he was glorified by humans, but punished by Zeus, who chained him to a rock where an eagle continually preyed upon his liver, until Hercules freed him many centuries later. But it has taken three millennia for us to begin to understand the deeper meaning behind that myth, and why the gods might not have wanted man to have fire, and to start to recognize the results and the price of our selfish neglect of the earth and all its gifts.

This particular olive tree grows at the top of a hill in Epidaurus, site of perhaps the most perfect ancient Greek theater, and of the shrine of Asclepias: a sacred place of pilgrimage and healing for the ancient Greeks. I had climbed up all the steps of the theater to the very top, and then looked out over the back in the opposite direction, where there was a farmer’s road and a grove of olive trees, whose leaves made rustling music in the wind.

In the pastel, I tried to capture that sense of restless, continual movement against the stony ochre-tinged earth and the tall mountains in the distance: the time I spent contemplating that scene remains a memory just as vivid as that of the theater and the surrounding shrine.

Beth Adams, Olive Trees at Epidaurus

Since my last post here, my main creative accomplishment has been to keep the door open to both writing and visual art just for the pleasure… no expectation to make reading notes and no expectation to write anything more than notes or jot down bits of inspiration. I quietly kept my toe in the writing waters by finishing up a micro class with Sarah Freligh and Zoom workshops with both the Madwomen and members of my local poetry community.

I also let expectations go for my social life, for wellness pursuits, for schedules, for work, for play, etc. I am terrible at going with the flow, but I did surrender to it.

I realize now that this was a delayed response to the Collective Big Pause (i.e. global pandemic and associated social distancing/lock downs). I don’t do well with transitions, and I loathe uncertainty. I prefer clear paths over liminal space. I appreciate deadlines and established time frames. While so many of you leaned into the stillness of the pandemic, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I don’t mean the solitude got to me: Solitude is a good friend of mine. I mean that while many were able to soothe themselves with familiar pleasures (like favorite hobbies) or even seek new pleasures (like fresh projects or development of long-desired skills), I pretty much froze. I understood that I could be (maybe even should be) using the time differently, but instead I just sat in it. I worked online during the day, and at night and on weekends, I got numb. I checked out.

The last few months, early spring at first, now deep into summer, have been about easing my way back into feeling. I’m not all the way there yet, but starting with pleasure seemed wise. Savoring morning coffee. Working my muscles hard. Putting my ear to the creative ground and capturing bits of language. Shooting the shit with my boys whenever the opportunity presents itself and for as long. Absorbing sun. Reading books cover-to-cover. Painting my nails. Eating and drinking what I want.

Carolee Bennett, the annoying chewing sounds my brain makes

brown water grey headland
litter of shattered shale
wave lines slant to the shore

junction 23 roundabout
a mass of moon daisies
horses up to their knees in buttercups

I have the right
to be absolutely
wrong

Ama Bolton, Desire Lines

I grew up in small towns. On top of that, I lived in the country, not in town. I think living in relative isolation was good preparation for living in a pandemic. Honestly, I’m only now starting to miss in-person socializing. A little. One good thing about isolation of this kind is that you have almost complete control over your life and how you want to spend your time because you don’t have a lot of outside choices. There have been minimal demands from “out there” and I’ve spent almost every day doing exactly what I wanted. Kind of like it was before I started grade school. I was an expert at entertaining myself. I had books, I had nature, I had animals. I was never bored. During the past year and a half I have rarely been bored. I feel sad for people who need more stimulation. I’m sure it’s been much harder on them.

Charlotte Hamrick, Favorite Fiction: 2nd Quarter 2021

I have to admit, my three days a week in the library (courtesy of all those extra vacation days I’d been hoarding the past couple years) have made this summer seem a bit lengthier than they usually are. While most pass in a stack of weeks that are indistinguishable from the next. Now there’s some space between the work weeks–days I can devote to other kinds of work–mostly writing and the press, but sometimes a little painting thrown in. They make the days I go downtown feel like a singular week and not just one bleeding into the next. But even still. we are already knee deep in August it seems. Already creeping closer to the beginning of the semester while side-eyeing the news headlines. Columbia seems to acting from a place of hope I’m not sure they will get to just yet. The edict a few weeks back about going maskless on campus was snatched away even before most of us actually took ours off for any period of time. There are plans for in-person outdoor convocation and 75 percent reduced instruction, but I still feel like they are being way too optimistic given that even in well-vaxxed Chicago, our positive rate is somehow, impossibly creeping up nevertheless and the rest of the state is a giant, under-vaccinated mess. I fear for the folks I know in Florida and have a governor intent on killing everyone it seems. Even places under good leadership are failing.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/7/2021

I don’t want to reckon with my choices:
feels like that’s all we’ve done for 18 months
(should I mask, is this safe, what if
we meet outside and never breathe together?)
I don’t want to query who will live
and who will die, who by wildfire and who
by flooded subway, who intubated and alone
and who will have enough while others lack.
I just want all of us to thrive: our hearts
at ease, our hopes in reach at last.
Come close to me, God. Comfort me with apples.
Remind me the world is born again each year —
even if I’m not ready, even if this year
I’m not sure I know the words to pray.

Rachel Barenblat, Sonnet for our second COVID Rosh Hashanah

I’ve staged this harvest, taking only enough spuds at a time for the next meal in order to achieve that tub-to-table-in-20-minutes freshness which has been the whole point, or at least a good part of the point. I’ve served them with mint from the window box, and roasted them with rosemary which grows next to the mint. With the next and final serving, I plan to smother then in buttery sage – the window box sage is flourishing, having been dug up and sent to me by Morar by Royal Mail last autumn. She’d read I didn’t have any to go with my parsley, rosemary, and thyme (I Bottle Abundance). 

The rest of the point of the harvest has been to do with the pleasure of engaging in the physical world, the necessity of it. The joy of it is the reminder that growth often takes place out of sight … but oh … this is beginning to sound like it’s heading in the direction of a sermon …

You’re right, dear reader: I’m going to use my potato harvest as a metaphor for creativity. You see, all the while these Charlottes were growing underground, I’ve been working on poems hidden in a file on my computer since 2019, now published by Fair Acre Press. I’d originally hoped their coming to light would coincide with Beethoven’s 250th birthday in December 2020. This late harvest has also come in stages: a Zoom launch, a reading at the Poetry Pharmacy, and then a performance in mid-Devon on a summer’s evening of extraordinary heat and calm. 

Carol Caffrey and I had hatched the idea of a joint event back in the spring when our host, Richard Higgins, was looking for productions for a short season of open air events. It had seemed, then, so theoretical, so impossible: the chances were that it would never happen.

And then, it did. 

Our journey down the M5 and through the high-hedged lanes was long. When we saw our names in huge letters on arrival at Brushford Barton, it was as if we had dug our hands into the soil, and, unbelieving until the moment of contact, found potatoes … 

Liz Lefroy, I Harvest My Crops

grain theory

there is something i need more than facts. i need a good theory. or better put i need a theory about good. consulting scientists seems useless. they want the former while i seek the later. what makes something anything or us good. i am listening to kenny garrett play his sax with miles davis. I believe that will be the starting point of my search for the theory of good. when miles plays a song you dont listen to the song you just listen to miles. the song will appear at some point but you just stay lost in miles and it will come when it feels like it. 

someday. maybe tomorrow. i will come to you all and report my findings in the middle of a five hundred acre field of rye…

the loose sounds
of jazz
composing a melody
out of a ‘riff’

Michael Rehling, Haibun 213

I like distinctions, categories, naming things. But then if I think too much about them, categories, they fall apart. I’ve been thinking again about this idea of “narrative” poetry and “lyric” poetry. Many intelligent things have been said about those categories, I’m sure, none of which I can remember at the moment. 

But I’ve been thinking too about time, as I often do, and time seems to be the primary distinction between the narrative and the lyric poem. A narrative unfolds over time; a lyric is of a moment. Is that true? 

I was asking a friend recently about a poem of hers that unfolds over a short period of time but is focused on the feeling of a moment. She describes what she’s been up to in her work recently as “trying to use fragments of narrative as part of an attempt to creat a non-narrative experience.” 

Is a narrative poem just a long way toward a lyric moment? I don’t know. Maybe. Isn’t the whole point of telling a story to give that moment of impact? When all the notes of the song come together in a resonant chord? 

But that idea of music is the purview of the lyric, isn’t it? The etymology of narrate is gnarus, meaning knowing. Not much is known about the origin of the word lyre, or Greek lyra or lura, that stringed instrument of long ago, but made its way to the French lyrique or short poem expression emotion suited for singing to the lyre. Or something like that. 

Marilyn McCabe, It’s time time time that you love; or, On Narrative, Lyric, and the Restless Eye

I’ve been in a funk this summer, and feeling, frankly, as though all this writing is pointless. Aren’t there already enough books in the world? Despite good friends, despite a class in which I was assigned to write one metaphor per day. (Which can also be similes, “This weird funk, purple like Puget Sound at dusk,” or brilliant word substitutions: “A blue funk washed over me.”) Despite walks. Despite baking many loaves of sourdough bread.

But it is August, and that means POPO, or POetry POstcard Fest. I don’t always sign up for August, as I participate in my friend Carla’s February postcards event each year. But this year, August postcards feels like a good idea. Somewhere I have a quote written down, about letting go of expectations and big-picture goals and doing just the one next right thing. The metaphors can be that next right thing; the postcards can be that next right thing.

Bethany Reid, Writing a Postcard

My grandfather cutting cantaloupe on a summer morning as he readies for work, the light shining through the sink window’s short curtains. He sprinkles his melon, soft and vivid as the Hermistons I offer to my son like jewels, with salt. Paul Harvey’s voice is tinny through the radio, and my grandmother is still sleeping in their bed upstairs. I like not needing to say anything, having him all to myself, being cared for only by him, who makes me a piece of toast in the toaster that now sits on a shelf in my mother’s kitchen. He dies of a heart attack at 63. The night he dies, I sleep in that bed with my grandma, in his spot. 

I sit at my kitchen table and read a piece my friend Sharon is writing about grandmothers and canning and writing. About preservation and sustenance. She writes that she cans with words, not food. Then I read my friend Bethany’s piece about doubting the purpose of writing, she who writes multiple books through decades of mothering and teaching. I consider my history, the jars of applesauce my great-grandmother sent to our suburban house every fall that she made from apples grown on the farm, and how three generations later I am only just now, well into a sixth decade of living, beginning to learn how to grow food. I consider the tomatoes ripening in a bowl on the table, the literal fruits of my labor. I consider the one book of poems I cultivated, now nearly 20 years ago, and I wonder if the writer in me is a pale hosta. Maybe she is. Or maybe she is a rat, scratching at survival through blog posts and Instasnippets. Maybe she is an invasive, drought-resistant perennial with deep, woody roots. Maybe she is none of those things and all of those things. Maybe she is everything in the garden–the hostas and rinds and rats and tomatoes and trumpets and weeds and bees, being fed by whatever they can find there, wherever they can find it. It’s a conceit that brings comfort, here on the edge of the cusp of autumn, these brief weeks of both harvesting and fading. 

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the edge of the cusp

clutching the letter —
her dad lifts her up
to the mail slot

Bill Waters, Haiku about family and friends

–As I looked at all the glassware, I thought of our younger selves, the ones who wanted to have a glass for every possible type of drink.  Have we ever made margaritas or martinis?  No, but if we do, we have the glass for it.

–I gave away the one, lonely wine glass, the first one I ever bought, at a store near the B.Dalton’s in a mall long ago.  I bought it the summer after I graduated from undergraduate school.  I imagined that a grown woman needed a wine glass.

–Why did I think a grown woman only needed one wine glass?  And why is it so small?

–How did we end up with so many pillowcases?  Where are the sheets that once went with these pillowcases?  Do the pillowcases miss the sheets that have gone on to other destinies?

When I got to the Good Will drop off station yesterday, I was surprised to see a line of cars.  I patiently waited my turn, watching the people pop out and haul their stuff to the pile:  a pair of shoes, a child’s scooter, bag after bag of stuff.  And then I added my two bags of stuff and my carton of glassware.  I pondered the basic question:  what will become of all this stuff?  Will it go round and round and round again?

There are larger questions, of course.  Do others really need my cast-aways?  How does the earth bear this burden?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wisdom from the Good Will Drop Off

Before becoming self-conscious of all the things I’m doing wrong, I didn’t used to think about swimming when swimming, but I did sometimes think about poems. Some poets like to go walking. Personally I rarely get inspired when I’m out and about. And I have to say I don’t really write anything in my head while swimming, but being in the water is fraught with metaphorical energy, as are (for me and many others I suspect) swimming pools generally. I’ve had a ‘lido’ poem on the go for at least a decade, I think it’s currently out somewhere but I won’t be surprised if it comes back rejected again. Unlike ‘Lido’ by Alison McVety from her fine collection Lighthouses (Smith Doorstop) that sticks in my mind, the swimmer ‘left to plough on’ in the rain, ‘ten years gone and I’m still turning and swimming, turning and swimming’.

I’m now trying to remember various ‘not waving but drowning’ type poems, particularly one by a (currently living) poet whose brother downed… perhaps you can help me out? I think I read it in a magazine some time in the last ten years. I just did a search for ‘poem about a brother who drowned’ and it threw up an extraordinary list of results, all of the ’25+ Heartening Poems for a Deceased Brother’s Funeral’ variety. Funerals are probably the only time 99% of the population ever wants to encounter a poem, to be fair. Anyway, if I ever get to do a flip turn I’ll let you know.

Robin Houghton, Not drowning but waving

I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve been on holiday for this past week which is extremely useful in refusing to be worn out. And when I say holiday, I mean that I’ve not been at my day job but have instead been working on the proofs for my book, Everything Affects Everyone, and sorting out various parts of my life and planning just a little into the future. We also went to Banff, and I visited this little tree growing in a stone fence, and which I’ve taken photos of for years. Still, this little tree refuses to give up its hold and boy do I admire and love this little tree for just rooting in and keeping the faith. I have communed with this little sapling for years via my camera lens, which I guess means that it’s not really a sapling, is it? Returning, I never really expect it to be there. Afterwards, I don’t think much about it. We go home, life resumes. But every year when we return to Banff, I mosey by and when it’s there it’s such a pleasant surprise.

Shawna Lemay, On Refusing to Be Worn Out

walking sideways
in bosherton’s lily ponds
freshwater crabs

swansea’s mirage
drinking with the dead poets
in the kardohma

dreams of empire
all the red in the atlas
fading away

laugharne
around every corner
dylan

blue pool
half the depth
of my trepidation

Jim Young [no title]

‘What’s wrong with me?’ you used to ask as you watched
the man you knew you were slipping from your grasp.
Oh Daddy, why can’t I just remember the good times?

Bingo, helping you with your Spanish homework, the time
we went to Laugharne together to Dylan’s boathouse,
how you used to say to me, ‘You’re just like your mother.’

But still, after all these months, when the curtain first
goes up on my memory it is the latter darkness
that steps towards the footlights. I have to believe

this will pass, that grief will loosen its shroud
and the stage will flood with light and I will be
filled with joy, with the grace of your well-lived life.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Stage

He recants forms, the shape and texture of her throat once
translucent as a lotus stem, an old woman’s pouch now. When
she lifts her feet to cross the threshold, he turns away to burrow
in the pastel core of silence, looking intently at the emptiness
as the air decants with the freedom of uncoupling.

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling

I’m starting to worry about having a job. I don’t mean whether I can find one. I mean whether it was a good idea to find the one I’ve got. I work just three days a week and that seems like not that much until I think THREE OUT OF SEVEN DAYS THAT’S ALMOST HALF and then I start questioning everything. Without the job I make about $250 a month doing my little things I do. Sending people weird emails and making the occasional podcast. I used to make twice that but I gave one of my shows to someone else because if there’s one thing I’ve always been good at it’s financial planning. I mostly don’t watch other van life videos or Instagram accounts anymore but the other day I caught up on one of my favorites and he’s out there climbing mountains and paddling across lakes and I have, like, five polo shirts so I can wear them to work and I wonder if I’ve slid back too far. Right now I’m listening to the rain on the roof of the van and thinking about the loon calls I heard earlier and remembering the smell of the high desert and that time I drove as far as you can drive until you have to start paddling toward Havana and maybe I should go to bed and think about all this tomorrow.

Jason Crane, Havana

What turned out to be four lines of the poem appeared as I was driving along the M4 in rain like stair rods. I found myself repeating them over and over in my head to avoid forgetting them, building on what was one line, then two before getting to the fourth one. I was just debating whether to ask Rachael to write them down for me or to ask Siri to take a note (that would have felt weird, talking gibberish into my wrist while R and F were listening), but thankfully a services popped up, so I could type it up to come back to.

It’s a start. Who knows what will come of it.

Mat Riches, Vona Groarke’s Trumpet

I’m really delighted that my video accidentals (recalculated) has been selected for the International Review of Poetry, Videopoetry and Video-Art for the special on-line 10th edition of Bologna in Lettere, screening on 4th August 2021, curated by Enzo Campi.

This video started out life as a more-or-less standard poem. But then I realised that I could replace many of the verbs, prepositions, conjunctions and other linguistic elements with mathematical operators or symbols used in algebra, statistic,computing and engineering. The implementation of these operators and symbols in the piece is all internally consistent, so that a given symbol always means the same thing. Video was the ideal way to integrate the new text with the original poem via the voice-over. Most of the images were filmed in and around my home in South Australia.

Ian Gibbins, accidentals (recalculated) at Bologna in Lettere 10th edition

I’m writing from a blessed weekend of rain after a 51-day drought here in the Seattle area. I took a long walk under the cloud cover and my garden is much happier. […]

So, the month of August is often a good month to get in a dose (or 30) of poetry with The Sealey Challenge, with the goal of reading a book of poetry a day and posting about it. So far, I didn’t quite make it to that (lots going on, read above) but I did read two new books and revisited a few old favorites, plus ordered a few signed copies of new books from friends. I also plan a visit to Open Books in Seattle when I can get the time.

I notice all the reading inspired me to write a few new poems – something I rarely do in August unless pressed – and helped me stay calm during a time of great stress. Also, Sylvia really enjoys getting in on the Sealey Challenge by playing model cat.

I encourage you all to do a little poetry shopping and/or revisiting old favorites on your shelf if you get the time, and posting about it. The conversation about poetry couldn’t happen at a better time – we all need a positive distraction from the endless stress of the past year and a half.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Too Much Drama, Sealey Challenges, Possible Good News, and Virtual Breadloaf Starting Tomorrow

Summer is almost over here in Finland, after months of high temps and no rain, thunderstorms hit last night and it’s been raining all day. Schools start back in a week, so we’re on the wind-down. 

I’m torn about going back, I will miss the lazy days, but I would really like to talk to adults again. My stress insomnia has already started up, but hopefully that will pass once I go back for our orientation. 

I’ve decided to try the Sealey Challenge this month, to read a poetry collection a day for the month of August. I have to admit I’m not good at keeping up with my poetry reading. I buy collections and dip into them, but often struggle to sit down and read the whole book at once. 

I’m not sure if I’ll get through a whole collection in one day and will sometimes feel I’m not doing justice to the poet. I read fiction quickly, too quickly to appreciate play of language and technique unless I force myself to really slow down like I’m doing with my current reread of Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon which is a beautifully poetic novel and needs a slow read. 

I will treat this challenge as the introduction to the poems I’m reading, a first splash about and then I can spend some time fully exploring my favourites later.

Gerry Stewart, Sealey Challenge: Day 1

The river runs through this book [Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz]. “The First Water is the Body” begins, “The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States–also, it is a part of my body.” Later, the “I” becomes a “we.” “We carry the river, its body of water, in our body.” In the poem called “exhibits from The American Water Museum,” water is like language: “I am fluent in water. Water is fluent in my body– / it spoke my body into existence.”

Love poems wind in and out. Animals. Snake, wolf, crane, coyote, bull, tiger, horse, yellow jacket, all the animals on the ark. More basketball. In “The Mustangs,” her brother is a high school basketball star; the team is beloved by the whole community. “We ran up and down the length of our lives, all of us, lit by the lights of the gym, toward freedom–we Mustangs. On those nights, we were forgiven for all we would ever do wrong.”

It was a beautiful day to read this book outside. I love August, its pure summer feel, its poignant, back-to-school-soon, summer’s-almost-over-feel—but it isn’t! Summer goes on and on, long past school. And now August is the Sealey Challenge for me, a poetry book a day, a lushness of reading in the green afternoon, the coneflowers blooming, phlox, round two of golden lilies, the oregano flower-headed and leaning out into the lawn. I love how I can read these poems to learn, to experience beauty and desire in someone else’s language, culture, voice. I’m reading for joy!–though, yes, I encounter grief–and for knowledge. I learn that “Manhattan is a Lenape Word.” I learn the “Top Ten Reasons Why Indians Are Good at Basketball.”

And what a thrill to find Kearney, Nebraska in a poem, a town I lived in as a child, and the sandhill cranes. In a heartbreaking brother poem with a dismantled Polaroid camera. What a book! And what is a sky hook? Ah, now I know!

Kathleen Kirk, Postcolonial Love Poem

Delayed due to lockdowns and pandemic but finally available is Jordan Abel’s incredibly powerful NISHGA (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021). His first book since his third poetry title, the Griffin Poetry Prize-winningInjun (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2016) [see my review of such here], the critical memoir that is NISHGA utilizes archival scraps, talks, interviews, visual poems and other forms into a book-length collage that speaks of and to generational trauma and the residential school system, and the ways in which he has used his work to engage larger conversations about aboriginal culture and colonialism, and an exploration on his own identity and indigeneity. As he writes early on in the collection under the title “Notes”: “I remember talking with a colleague of a colleague at a book launch in Vancouver. She came up to me after my reading and wanted to talk. At some point, she asked me if I spoke Nisga’a. I said no and she asked why. But it wasn’t just the question why. There was something else there too. She didn’t say it, but she wanted to know how I could have been so irresponsible. How I could have been Nisga’a my whole life but never bothered to learn the language. As if I had access. As if I could just flip a switch and know. as if I hadn’t wanted to. As if I hadn’t felt that hole inside me. As if filling it was that easy.”

He writes of generational violence that rippled out from the residential school system, and how his work in The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks, 2013) [see my review of such here], for example, responded directly to some of those concerns. He writes of his background as Nisga’a but without access to his biological father, a Nisga’a artist who left when Abel was still an infant. Abel speaks of that disconnect; of growing up Nisga’a without knowing or even meeting anyone else Nisga’a until, as an adult, he briefly met his father for the first time. There is an enormous amount of pain throughout this project, and Abel maps some dark and difficult histories, from his own personal disconnects to a generational trauma, prompted by that original break due to the theft of his grandparents as children. How might anyone respond in such a situation?

rob mclennan, Jordan Abel, NISHGA

Twenty years after the most deadly terrorist attack on United States soil, what comes to mind? 

For many of the 117 poets whose work was selected for the forthcoming commemorative anthology Crossing the Rift: North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath (Press 53, September 11, 2021), what comes to mind is “the morning / rainfreshed” (Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin, “Tony Writes to Say He’s Alive”), “[t]hat September morning’s iris of sky” (Debra Allbery, “The Wakeful Bird Sings Darkling”), cloudless and blued into brilliance before exploding into unforgettable images of fire and toxic smoke, of bodies falling and returned to dust. For others in this anniversary collection, memory remains “one of those days when you remember / exactly where you were,” when “we lost the last of our innocence” (Kaye Nelson Ratliff, “Infamous Days”) and were forever after to carry “the long litany of the lost” (Glenis Redmond, “Witness the Whole World”) into a “new age of wars, two wars abroad that never end, and one at home to rip the fabric of our nation apart” (Robert Morgan, “A Sickness in the Air”).  

The clarity of what is remembered, and of what was and continues to be done in consequence, acts as both thorn and spur. Raised as  they are, individually and collectively, the poets’ voices guide us through the wreckage of our common history and challenge us to seek something better.

Maureen Doallas, 9/11 Remembered: ‘Crossing the Rift’ (Review)

“The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” is a collection of flash fiction that shows how small moments can create the longest life changes, as exemplified in “Sarajevo Rose” where a man thinks back to his regular purchase of fresh flowers after a woman dropped a coin in the market place, “He doesn’t remember dropping his sister’s hand. The building shook with the blast. When he looked up, his sister was gone. Damir has read how Sarajevans painted red roses in the shell’s concrete scars. When his flowers wilt, the petals fall to the floor. Damir never picks them up.”

Most stories though are told from a woman’s viewpoint. The woman’s story starts with being a war reporter, in “Bulletproof” where “they loan me a flak jacket, a big blue thing designed for men. It squashes my shoulders, metal plates pinning flat my chest, breasts yielding to the weight of them.” Of course, she wears it for protection, but also because “there are more male journalists on the frontline than women, because men are better at the warry stuff, and women more lightweight. I wear it because I don’t want to rock the boat and give the news desk another reason not to send me to do this job. I wear it because I’ve told them I am the best ‘man’ for the job. I wear it because I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.” The problem isn’t that it’s ill-fitting or the sexism inherent in war-reporting but what it doesn’t protect her from: the very thing she’s there to report on.

Emma Lee, “The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” Hannah Storm (Reflex Press) – book review

In a recent interview, poet and essayist Erica Hunt shared the following in response to a question about the best writing advice she’d ever received:

From Rachel Blau DuPlessis in “Statement on Poetics”—paraphrasing now: A poem is “bottomless,” “intricate,” and “tangible” in detail. I like thinking this is true regardless of “school” or length. Here is what it has helped me to appreciate: A poem is a work made through language that bears rereading, to discover that difficulty is never without love.

Erica Hunt, interview

I’ve come to realize that these latter two concepts, rereading and difficulty, have become integral to my poetic practice. I have long considered rereading central to poetic experience. Rereading implies dwelling, lingering, becoming engrossed in the matter at hand. That we may read and reread a poem, each time coming away with more, with something different–that is poetry’s lifegiving gift. If nothing else, we reread because one can’t catch everything all at once. We look words up, try phrases aloud, wonder: Who talks like this? Life’s a cacophony we sense music out of; why shouldn’t art be similar?

The other concept, difficulty, is something that I have been slower to embrace. On one level, this reluctance seems natural. There is, for one, the early difficulty of the classroom, the way poetry is traditionally taught to be a kind of puzzle, a use of language shrouded in mystery, the poet a wizard behind a curtain, knowing more than you and deigning to obfuscate the ordinary for you to luck upon. And there are definitely poems that live up to this tradition; and this type of poetry remains teachable but not graspable, or, to use a word Hunt quotes above, tangible.

This occurrence of a poem being out of a reader’s grasp brings with it a number of connotations. On the one hand there is gaslighting; we have had whole generations believing that they are at fault for not understanding “great” poetry, which often leads people to give up on poetry altogether. This brings to mind the implication of the literal “grasp,” that there are certain people whose touch and presence around poetry would sully it. I try to dispel this kind of thinking in my own teaching practices by showing that linguistic difficulty should be embraced in good faith, that we can engage with a poem and allow it to teach us how to read it, but also that we should trust our reactions as readers as well. This good faith is a human trait, a way of endeavoring and persevering.

Finding ways of endeavoring and persevering is central to the body of work gathered in Hunt’s Jump the Clock: New & Selected Poems (Nightboat Books). Across Hunt’s lively body of work, one comes in contact with a voice able to interrogate while remaining attuned to language’s vulnerable and raw personal nature. When reading Hunt’s poems, one feels attuned to language’s plasticity at the service of connecting and not intellectual indulgence. To put it another way, her poems meet a reader half way and allow the reader space to work out meaning as well as a meaningful experience.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Erica Hunt’s Jump the Clock

A woman cradles a skull in her hands like a bouquet.
The sun carves scallops on every window. Each face
accepts the signature of time. Lie closer to the floor
where it is cooler. Dip a cotton square dipped in water
to lay across your brow. The procession
is just starting or ending. It begins
and ends at the same place.

Luisa A. Igloria, Acts of Levitation are Difficult in the Heat

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 20

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week found me in an odd mood, a bit disoriented by the sudden onset of summer here, and so in compiling this edition I found myself drawn to the odd sentence, the strange story, the unexpected efflorescence of the unsayable.


So this is all to say that in the absence of Things to Look Forward To just landing in my lap, I’m trying to create Things to Look Forward To all on my own, and when I write Things to Look Forward To, I mostly mean Things That Will Distract Me from Thinking About the Things I Don’t Want to Think About Anymore.

And if you’re a writer and reading this, you’ll know that’s a laughable goal, because if I write anything I’ll probably be Writing About Something I Think is Completely Unrelated to Things I Don’t Want to Think About Anymore But is Actually a Loose Metaphor or Allegory for Things I Don’t Want to Think About Anymore.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Once More Into the Fray: I Revive the Blog and Once Again Accost the Internet with Nonsense I Can’t Just Keep in My Damn Fool Head

Good morning from the West where we are but blood under the earth’s talons

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Cold enough still to sharpen the lungs to hitch and hurry, to be glad of the fullsuit even with lats and shoulders complaining of restriction; above, that cloudscape reflected, below, that cloudscape reflected; her skin in the palms of my hands patting her wave-greeting, a braille of lake-language, of where ya been babe, hi!, and a pouring of bliss immersed in her copper taste, her silky texture, the smell of her unique among all the lakes, as every beloved is unique; freshening wind enough to make real push at times, coasting in still sky others, fast, slow, hit by arctic blasts of springs from below, sun baking neoprene from above; breathing into cold joy; cruising slowly, going strong, coasting again to better listen to the dialogue, the poetry, the lovesong being sung by us both; power returning to my body and brought home to home ground, so many hundreds upon hundreds of miles in this water; alive–

JJS, Open!

I’m really pleased to be writing about Mike Farren’s Smithereens for all sorts of reasons that will become clear as we go along. But I have to say that the first one was its title, which is, I think, only the second use of the word in a poem since Tony Harrison’s Bookends in the 70s. The poet and his father are sitting in a morose silence, either side of the gas fire, sitting out the night of the day Harrison’s mother dropped dead. It’s one of many poems that explores the business of articulacy, of education, the way they separate families that should be close, make them inarticulate and awkward in each other’s company. Like Dylan says we never did too much talking anyway, but as he didn’t say, it’s not all right. Not at all.

A night you need my company to pass
and she not here to tell us we’re alike!
.
Your life’s all shattered into smithereens
.
Back in our silences and sullen looks
for all the Scotch we drink, what’s still between’s
not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books
.
It’s not just the title ‘Smithereens’ that resonates but the obduracy.. the stupidity, if you like.. of the men and their silence. As Harrison says in the poem, his mother’s not there to break it.

John Foggin, Catching up: Mike Farren’s “Smithereens”

The word flower thrives in every language, says Kate Farrell, and Julia Fiedorczuk tells her poem, “bloom, bear fruit / come to life.” Galway Kinnell reminds us that “everything flowers, / from within, of self-blessing; / though sometimes it is necessary / to reteach a thing its loveliness.”

Shawna Lemay, 10 Poems about Flowers

Like the protagonist of Jorge Luis Borges’s story “The Circular Ruins,” who seeks to dream into existence a man “with minute integrity,” Goodby dreams these poems onto the page only to reveal that we are all part of the dream, reader and poet alike.  As he writes in “The Ars” (the title poem), at first “he cannot imagine yet / ripped space”; finally, however, “his dream inscrutably feeds / on itself wrings pain bodies dry.”  The body “dry,” the table-soccer player of The Ars’s cover photo (taken by the author himself), a simulacrum, the seam of the mold visible from the crown of the head on down.  As the concluding poem, “Llu” (meaning “power” in Welsh), reminds, “To happen is finished and about to.”  That is, it is “finished” by fashioning hands, or in the case of the figure in the photo, not so finished; indeed, these poems are always about to be, but never quite, and in this manner, are.

Mike Begnal, John Goodby’s The Ars

listen to the illusive will o’ the wisp lisp
of voices beyond choices
extra-cranial in their introspection
the prolapse of a mind in depth defined
and all thought proscribed by thought

Jim Young, noise

Again last night I thought about something I wanted to explore this morning on the page. Well: screen. And I thought to make a note on my phone, but then figured it was so obvious that I would remember.

Obviously, I did not remember. I bet it was profound, though. And would have lead to a book auction for the small creature taking form from my navel-gazing and ethical brooding. There went that opportunity.

Instead, I sit here on a flat Thursday thinking my glasses really need cleaning. Glancing over at Leonard and feeling guilty again because he is more overweight than I am. Then wondering if he wants some peanut butter. Because I do.

Ren Powell, RL and The News

As many evenings as possible, I get out my work bag full of scraps of text from the librarian’s packet, and I begin to search for poems.

Christine Swint, Erasure Poems and the Pandemic

Even in my dreams
coyote sings.

Tom Montag, EVEN

Things that shouldn’t exist
in the same world: the scent
of lilacs in bloom and the stench
of the “skunk water” I read about
on Facebook this morning.

I sit on my mirpesset, surrounded
by green: trees in leaf, willows
trailing graceful fringes, pots
of oregano, rosemary, mint.
So tranquil I could forget

global pandemic still rages,
India’s cremation sites burning
around the clock. I could forget
bombs, rockets, mortar shells,
bereaved parents and orphaned children.

Rachel Barenblat, Bereaved

in love’s one tear

filling the whole flesh

hear me

Grant Hackett [no title]

I could imagine reversing this looking back. The new moon in all its newness with a long tail, the tail of all its memories and associations reaching behind it into the future. My future now. I live forwards but remember backwards. O ) ) ) ) ) )) A crenelating ripple through time, a wrinkling of the brain.

Gary Barwin, On Garage Doors: Do I feel like I am 16 now that I am 57?

I’m trying to avoid getting too carried away with what/how the poet is saying things as I found myself having to “have a word with myself” a couple of weeks ago in relation to a review that’s due out soon as part of a new thing. I can’t talk about the “new thing” yet, but it is exciting to be in “on the ground floor”. However, in writing a review I was really pleased with myself for seeing that the poet in question had changed a word in a poem when moving it from their pamphlet to their full collection.

The change was subtle, one letter, but it was a shift that made me wax lyrical about the poet’s intentions for a few sentences, exploring the reasons behind the change and what it might be saying about a poet’s voice becoming stronger with experience, etc. However, that was quickly deflated when the editor for “new thing” said (and I hope they don’t mind me quoting) that it was more the “proofreaders that preferred the more modern version (carcass) so I don’t think we can read anything much into that“.

A potent reminder that sometimes a change is just a change is just a change.

Mat Riches, The Flattened Calf and a (anti-)Matador

It’s late May, which means the garden is changing. My own roses aren’t blooming (dang deer ate the tops of every rose, even the ones in “deer proof” cages) but the peonies are about to go, the pink clematis, rhododendrons, and azaleas are blooming, and the birds are singing loudly every morning. I find myself sitting outside on the deck more and more each day, especially the cloudy days, and the birds are getting more comfortable with me.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Reintegration – Family Visits, Haircuts, and Roses – and Rejections

Clearly
the world is always changing, not even mildly

inclined to take your sensibility into account.
Before you know it, it’s high summer again

and the trees are filled with the high humming
of cicadas. They’ve awakened from a long

pause, an interlude. Should their bodies become
spore-infested so parts fall away, they won’t even

notice.

Luisa A. Igloria, Extravagance

I don’t know if this was inspired by Planet Zoo or not, but I had a terrifying nightmare a few days ago in which I was being eaten alive by a giant cobra. He had his jaws solidly around my leg and was making rapid progress on swallowing his meal whole. One of my hospital volunteers was attempting to rescue me and he kept telling me to be very, very still. I listened closely to his instructions, all of the time convinced I was going to die and devastated because I didn’t want to shed my mortal coil in the jaws of a giant cobra. In the end I was saved, but I woke up in a cold sweat and awash in adrenaline. I made the mistake of Googling “eaten by snake dream symbolic meaning of” and none of it’s good. I find it very unfair that a cobra was aggressively trying to eat me. I have always been very snake-positive and have stood up for snakes in the midst of wide-spread cultural fear and loathing of them. And this how they thank me. Sheesh.

Kristen McHenry, Grid-Blindness, Slow Creativity, When Cobras Attack

you chased the hare
a golden zigzag
covering the roots
and hollows
as if born amongst
bracken and moss
we waited
locked in time
i whistled and called
and you came
spinning in from
the wrong direction
hope intact
joy undiminished

Dick Jones, Dog Sutras §47

The odd thing is, mostly we did not talk about cancer. I told her my particular story, of course: the unusual way I presented; my misdiagnosis of relapse; my prolonged treatment ‘just to make sure.’ But that wasn’t what we talked about. We talked about my family, about language, about what she called ‘spiralling’, that sudden swirl of thoughts, like a gust of wind round the corner of a building, that can knock you off your feet from nowhere. Mostly we talked about that. And about relapse prevention. Not cancer relapse (there is no safety net there), but spiral-relapse.

Which, years later, is what I am still learning now. Or re-learning, with some new words and ideas thrown in. It’s good. I like learning languages, the names for things. I’m not good at them, but I have always liked the process. This is a chair. I sit in the chair. This is the door. I come through the door. I am happy to sit in the chair. I sit in the chair and we talk. We talk.

Anthony Wilson, On Being Chipper

It’s been strange to be on campus in the mornings and not be taking temperatures of everyone who arrives.  I had gotten used to it as a way to greet people.  I know that I can still greet them, of course.  I also laugh at myself, because I remember a weeping moment in the late summer of 2020 when I said, “I’m just so tired of taking temperatures.”

And now, it’s strange to retire that equipment.

On Thursday our internet went out, and I called the new IT people who asked me to go to the server room to tell them if I saw any lights blinking that shouldn’t be blinking.  When I told them that no one on this campus was ever allowed to have the code, I could tell they were just dumbfounded.  Within a few hours, the campus had internet restored, and I had the code to the server room (those 2 events are not causally related).  I made this Facebook post: “Because we have a new IT director, I have been given the code to the server room, a code which previously, no one but the few IT folks were allowed to have (much to the fire inspector’s puzzlement). I have used the code to go into the server room. I expected to find a great treasure. I found old equipment, including an ancient fax machine.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Retired Equipment

For some time, I mistook intuition for a door-to-door salesperson peddling snake-oil pleasures rather than recognizing those moments of elusive clarity as an otherworldly awareness far keener than rationality.

Still, there are times when logic learns to muzzle itself, and perception is allowed to freely surf the electromagnetic spectrum of consciousness,

follow psychological and physiological footprints until discovering that mysterious inner creature roaming around like Bigfoot

singing the well-tuned song of self.

Rich Ferguson, Gut Feelings and Bigfoot

This lurching is exhausting. But at the same time, we are also recording sensitive changes to our emotional body. Major concepts that are supposed to have held us are weak. Our relations in every encounter, human and nonhuman, create worlds. What is true in the morning might be overwritten by what is true in the evening. Come to it gently.

Jill Pearlman, Shock of the (Post-Covid) New

You know how I’m a bit of a sucker for interesting poetry formats? Well, I’ve often wondered what The A3 Review was all about – a paean to the London to Portsmouth road, perhaps? Or a massive mag that won’t go through your letterbox? I bought a copy of issue #13 to find it’s neither of those. As the website says, it’s ‘a magazine that behaves like a map’ – it comes folded into A6 size, but opens out to reveal its contents.

In it I found poems by a number of international writers who I wasn’t familiar with, plus a pocket-sized Q & A with Roger Robinson (top tip: ‘read & write more, publish less’) and some quirky graphics. It was really interesting to see the poems spread out, so you get a visual sense of how they sit together as well as how they ‘talk’ to each other.

Robin Houghton, On poetry magazines: The A3 Review

As a reader, I’m especially keen on poets who show a knack for trapping and then heightening the natural ebbs and flows of language. Of course, many don’t even want to. However, their forced and artificial turns of phrase tend to leave me cold despite their popularity with certain editors and judges. I seek an apparent simplicity in a poem, accompanied by an almost imperceptible tightening of its cadences and layering of its potential ramifications. This is difficult to achieve and notoriously undervalued, but it moves me far more than linguistic fireworks that don’t earn their corn. 

In the above context, I was especially drawn to Ruth Beddow’s two poems on Wild Court last week (you can read them yourself via this link). Their connection to experience is clear, while their capacity to reach way beyond mere anecdote is also startling. In other words, I thoroughly recommend them and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more work from this excellent poet whose name is new to me. Yet another example of the role of a fine editorial eye at a poetry journal: spotting talent and bringing it to readers…

Matthew Stewart, The natural flow of language, Ruth Beddow’s poems on Wild Court

The poems of Late Human explore, in unusual twists of perspective and thinking, the questions between the unanswerable, and around certain questions that have long been answered. “Having sopped up the mess,” [Jean] Day writes, to end the eighth section of the ten-part sequence “WHERE THE BOYS ARE,” “Or stopped a door with a thud from closing / So the Children of Corn may sow their seed / absolutely certain / That the longer a person remains unsexed / The older he or she will live // To apostrophize [.]” These poems are quite remarkable for not only what they achive, but what they achieve so quietly, and with such ease. Day’s poems play off sound, meaning and rhythm, offering sequences of thoughts pulled apart and strewn together in a delightful and almost deadpan linearity that makes sense even as one knows it possibly shouldn’t.

rob mclennan, Jean Day, Late Human

Raymond Carver’s story continues. The poet gets a ladder, climbs up to the first floor. Then, finds himself face to face with his own room, with his desk:

This is not like downstairs, I thought.
This is something else.

Why? I think it’s because this is where he normally writes: that inner life – room – he’s built for himself. (He repeats ‘desk’ a number of times: showing this is the pivotal spot.)

There is an intensity to this strange, and touching perspective, as well as something overwhelming: ‘I don’t even think I can talk about it.’ 

I’m reminded of the Winnicottian idea of finding room inside yourself, somewhere robust you can work and play.

Charlotte Gann, ROOM IN MY HOUSE

I’ve been reading Diane Seuss’s Frank: Sonnets, which has got me thinking about cracker sandwiches. She mentions them a couple of times in the poems. I have never had a cracker sandwich, but the idea really sent me into a deep recollection of peanut butter crackers. Saltines, of course. The way the peanut butter eases up through the holes like little brown worms.

I’m pretty sure it was my sister who showed me you could put jelly on there too. Jelly! The purple not easing but full-on squooching up through the holes. Plooping out the sides if you weren’t careful.

It was best to stuff the whole thing in the mouth at once. The dry cracker on the tongue, its salt, how it melted quickly on the tongue to merge with the peanut butter but for the edges that caught on the teeth, still brittle and crunchy to the bite down. The jelly, grape, sweet, soft, cool on the roof of the mouth.

Marilyn McCabe, Blue dress blue dress; or, Writing the Lived Experience

On the project front, this week I hope to finish the website edits I started last week and get a finalized draft for dark country.  I also need to create my Patreon postcards for May, and I’m obsessed with watercolors and trees, so that’s what I’m thinking. I’m getting the last batch of dgp 2020 titles production ready, so look for a whole batch of them to drop soon as I get their pages up. A couple 2021 titles have also been hitting the site. It’s also the end of May, which means next week, we’ll be opening for submissions for next year, and this seems wholly impossible.  I think I blinked and entire year went by, but also it dragged heavy, especially through November and beyond. I am still getting used to not being afraid as much moving about in the world, and it opens up so many doors in my mind that have been shut for so long.  

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 5/23/2021

Tree branches flailing in the wind.
Crows claiming territory.
The river when it’s in a hurry.
The sky thundering about a coming storm.
The earth when she shakes.
Leather shoes dancing over a hardwood floor.
The automobile horn under an angry hand.
The chattering squirrel.
The orca lowing in the deep.
Things and beings speak.
Ssh.
Listen.

James Lee Jobe, Crows, leather shoes, inner strength.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 17

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: hearts, mothers, birthdays, uniquely poetic dilemmas and much more as another Poetry Month came to an end… but the pandemic, sadly, proved to be far from over.


Certain variations of alone have served us well.

But in other situations, if you spell that word backwards, it becomes the first name of the aircraft to drop an atom bomb during times of war.

In other words, you can love the rain but not to the point you become it, where you flood the streets, spill into gutters, and are swept out to sea.

If there was something I said you don’t fully understand, hold these words up to a mirror.

Perhaps they’ll make better sense.

Rich Ferguson, Enola / Alone

It’s been a catastrophic April in India, with Covid-19 ravaging the country and causing bottomless suffering. I’ve tried to write micro-poetry through it all (on instagram – @tp_poetry), only to realize that there are not enough words for pain and grief. This was the last poem for April. Where do we go from here? What will May bring?

countless broken hearts:
each fragment a universe
in which stars are dying.
there is a reason we should not see
stars imploding —
the sky is part-dream, part-faith, wholly alabaster,
the ceiling that keeps out the endless deluge,
the monsoon is our one unspoken compromise.
but now silver turns to dust in wet eyes.
grief that needs to be intensely personal,
grief that belongs inside the occasional soul,
that grief is now plural.
we hold that polished stone inside our chests,
abandoned, naked,
naked in this city of wailing mirrors.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Countless broken hearts

The heart is a shoe: it grows tattered over time, worn down by its footfall that keeps trudging forward into each night.

The heart is a phone: it cannot speak but words come and go from it, not things it says but others, a conversation around the heart clutched and answered, only the side of someone else’s face for intimacy.

You touch my arm, and the set of toy teeth inside me I call a heart is set off chattering. All my life I’ve never heard this shudder and jolt. My heart’s all motion and gnash now, all kick and snap—a toy, but all bite.

José Angel Araguz, heartlines

After reading the first poem in  Karen Dennison’s most recent book Of Hearts, (Broken Sleep Books, 2021), I discovered that Point Nemo is the spot on the earth furthest from any land and also the place where “retired spacecraft are sent”

Karen takes this strange fact and imagines a  life over time from the invincibility of a young woman in love, to her sudden descent into waves: “… knocked off course by junk and debris. For decades I lay on the seabed with other wrecks and remnants of life”. Will the speaker resurface after loss and grief? That’s the question.

Many of the poems  show us love-lost and grief, but they also give us a cosmic viewpoint blended with the human scale. The grandness of the Universe offers the gift of imagination, awe and perhaps comfort. For example, in “After you’re gone”, the speaker’s “heart’s a pulsar/ sweeping the night,/ warm breath on cold glass/ condensing to gas clouds,/ constellations … ”

Karen is really good at this sort of melding of imagery, scale and emotions, and in “Moon song” she gives the moon a heart: “She knows the destitute, the homeless, feels / Their dust-cold shivers in her empty seas, drips/ her thought-tears on midnight …”

E.E. Nobbs, Of Hearts by Karen Dennison

I met John [Higgs], Robin [Ince] and Kae [Tempest] at the British Library and we had the extraordinary pleasure of viewing Blake’s only surviving notebook. It was so well preserved, beautiful, filled with Blake’s sketches and first drafts. In this photo I am reading the early drafts of the poem London. 

It was such a wonderful experience. We recorded some of Blake’s poetry for this event alongside my great friend the poet Kae Tempest. Even though we wore masks, I could see our eyes all smiling. Kae is the president of The Blake Society and it was so lovely to spend some time in the library with Kae and John and Robin and William Blake. What a glorious way to gently ease myself out of lockdown and out of my cocoon! Like so many I haven’t been out-out for a long time and have not seen my friends and peers, so this was an extra special day for me. 

After the recording was done, the light was good, the golden hour, so I took a walk and saw my city again. I felt like I was coming back from war, returning home from a great battle. I ached and I felt older walking through London yesterday. How London was vibrating with youth and life, all London, all coming out of her cocoon. Kae said of butterflies, how it is good it is hard to break out of a cocoon, it makes the butterfly build muscle so they can fly, Kae said, if there was no fight and it was easy to leave a cocoon the butterfly wings would be too weak to fly. I thought about this a lot as I walked. I thought about butterflies and cocoons and wing muscles and how we are all building up our muscles to fly again – the collective noun for butterflies is a kaleidoscope of butterflies and I really like that. I want us to be a beautiful, powerful kaleidoscope of butterflies in flight. 

Selena Godden, Tyger Tyger!

They arrive at the door. Late. They carry me out, upright, stiff, one man on each elbow, taking good care not to bump me against the door frames. They swing me horizontal to put me into the truck, stand me in a corner like a grandfather clock, strap me to the wall. In an easy chair, a woman in a Fair Isle cardigan and tweed skirt smokes a pipe. Are they moving both of us at the same time? I ask. She raises one eyebrow as if I should know. She picks up a battered copy of Slaughterhouse Angel, the underground magazine, from the dusty floor, begins to read the classified ads aloud.

Bob Mee, GROOVY REMOVALS (HOMAGE TO 1971)

We gathered our moments
gratefully — bits of starlight,
deep woods quiet, wild violets
and jonquils in Spring. We held them
close, like talismans for the future.
We held on until we didn’t have to.

*

[…]
So I missed the last two days of NaPoWriMo. I’m sad but it couldn’t be helped. I had my last COVID-19 vaccination on Wednesday and was rather sick for 48 hours after. All I wanted was to sleep or try to sleep. But I’m all better now and when I saw the bonus prompt I decided to jump in. My poem is on the sad side but we write what rises to the top, no? I hope everyone is having a great weekend. Mine is definitely on the upswing!

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo Day 31: Bonus

My enormously generous and gifted friend Georgia Writer [my name for her on this blog], invited me to an actual community poetry workshop and open mic, in person!

This declaration warrants an exclamation point considering I read two new poems as well as an erasure poem that Georgia Writer guided us to write. I got so emotionally charged during the outdoor reading that I grew flustered and tripped over the mic cord on my way back to the seating area.

Of course, I warned everyone that I had retired from teaching this year and have been pretty much in lock down since Thanksgiving. I’ve barely seen my own family members, including my 81-year old mother, who, I’m grateful to say, is very healthy because of an active lifestyle, good fortune, and lots of time outdoors in the garden and on trails.

Georgia Writer is a longtime university librarian, poet, and natural historian, a true polymath. Several years ago, when I visited her university office, it was like entering a cabinet of curiosities: sculptures, drawings, birds’ nests, wasp nests, animal skeletons, plants and plants and plants under lights and in terrariums. Of course, there were towers of books everywhere, and yes, she really does read them all.

Christine Swint, April Erasure Poem

Have you ever done something as you planned and prepared for it, received well-intentioned compliments, and only felt terrible afterward? Well, it’s over: Thursday’s Zoom reading in which I read new material next to some amazing poets that shattered me temporarily (Raising Our Voices poetry reading hosted by Carlow University’s MFA program). I couldn’t figure out why I felt disappointed and very, very sad. Sure, it was almost 3 a.m. in my time zone (the Zoom was hosted in EDT) when it ended so I was tired. I stayed awake for another hour trying to sort out my feelings: was I embarrassed to hear my poems next to the other fantastic ones; was I doing that thing where I compare my work and want to give up writing forever; was I expecting something more from the audience; was I expecting more people? The honest answer to these questions was a certain, “no,” but still I felt let-down, an anti-climax of sorts.

I reached out to my cousin, a musical performer who I grew up admiring because his voice resonates (I can hear him as Joseph in Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat all these 30-some years later). He relates. He said that sharing our work is, “vulnerable so … it’s natural to have those types of feelings afterwards.  We can be our own worst critic, which … goes hand in hand with wanting to do well.”  He has developed compassion for himself and an ability to laugh and to keep things in a broad perspective. I wish I were so mature (turning fifty this year). 

I reached out to poet-friends who agreed that, especially during this Zoom-era, readings can leave us feeling sad. There is no immediate response from the audience (on “mute”), no head nods, no affirmative “mmm-mmm’s,” no questions afterword or congratulations. It can make us feel isolated when we are left with the chat, which I only discovered in its entirety the next day. I didn’t know until the morning after that so many of my friends scattered all over the world (from Norway to Singapore) would be listening. The emails were very generous. My poet-mentor even wrote to ask if one of the new poems was published yet. I got lots of virtual big hugs and congratulations. The words beautiful, and great and vivid and moving were scattered about. It was very nice but, did I feel better? 

What is this self-doubt all about? Is it a mechanism to improve our work? How could it be if I’m not revising all of my poems? I like them the way they are. There. I said it. I was reacting like a Kindergartner, who throws tantrums. I certainly had not reached the maturity level of my cousin. It was not a conscious decision to feel badly, it was a disappointment I am not used to and it has to do with the Zoom-room. I usually love the excitement of reading to a room, however small the party. I miss the warmth of the crowd. It has been a year of isolation and no wonder, I miss people. 

Cathy Wittmeyer, Managing Expectations within The Honesty of the Room

I haven’t made an update here since February, but there hasn’t been much to say. And that’s not a bad thing. 

Work continues on compiling and sequencing the new & selected volume, I’ve got a few poems out at literary magazines, and I’ve significantly pulled back on posting on all of my social media accounts (it’s been a breath of fresh air). I also decided to opt out of accepting any invitations for readings during the almost over National Poetry Month. 

My head and iPhone notes app are filled with lines in search of a poem to plug them into, so that’s always a gift from the inspiration goddess. But, honestly, I feel like the “poetry hiatus” I wrote about at the end of last year has already begun. 

Collin Kelley, I’m still here

Despite pandemic restrictions, or perhaps because of them, I have been blessed with poetry the past few weeks. I have attended workshops and readings remotely/virtually, and I’ve participated in a few of those as well as giving one in-real-life poetry reading. I signed up to get the Dodge Poetry Festival’s poetry packet & prompts, and those appear daily in my email. Best of all, poems have been showing up in my mind–I started quite a few drafts in April.

Up to my ears in potential manuscripts (I have at least two books I am trying to organize), I’m also waiting rather anxiously to see whether my collection The Red Queen Hypothesis will indeed be published this year as planned. The virus and resulting lockdowns have interfered with so much. The publication of another of my books matters to me, but it remains a small thing in a global perspective, so I try to be patient.

Meanwhile, I thank poet Carol Dorf of Berkeley CA, who has been kind enough to read through one of my manuscripts and offer suggestions. It’s such a necessary step, getting a reader. I recently enjoyed this essay by Alan Shapiro in TriQuarterly, in which the author reflects on his many years of poetry-exchanges (he calls it dialogues) with C.K. Williams. His words reminded me of my friend-in-poetry David Dunn, who was, for close to 20 years, my poetry sounding board, epistolary critic, and nonjudgmental pal who often recognized what I was going for in a poem better than I did. Shapiro says he feels Williams looking over his shoulder as he writes, even after Williams’ death (in 2015). In a section of the essay Shapiro has an imagined (possibly?) conversation with a post-death Williams, conjuring the remarks his friend might have made in life, or after. I have had such dialogues with David, but not recently. It may be time to try again. Or, as Williams told Shapiro before he died, “Find a younger reader.”

Ann E. Michael, Imagined discourse, new skills

“For her graphic imagination and her instinct for matching feeling to image, I chose Erica Goss’s poems. It is far easier to describe in language the push-pull and shove of emotional attraction than it is to locate and pinpoint the meaning of feeling in time and space. Put another way, this poet has a gift for putting into vivid word-pictures her passion for life as well as her grasp of its unfolding complexity.”

So wrote Al Young when he chose my poems for the inaugural Edwin Markham Prize in Poetry in 2007. Those three sentences changed my life. As a woman re-inventing herself in her late forties, I simply could not believe my good fortune in winning that contest, but Al’s words about my poems mattered much more than winning. Clearly, he had read my poems, understood them, and, with his phrase “the push-pull and shove of emotional attraction,” aptly described the time of life I was in: pulled in a million directions, between family, school, and work, with the burning need to write.

When I won the contest, I didn’t know much about Al. As I got to know him better, I realized that I was just one of many people who’d received Al’s kindness. He was generous in that way. His optimism was infectious. He made students want to get up and do things, write poems, connect with others. He had an amazing voice, deep and resonant, that made his ordinary speech sound like poetry.

Erica Goss, A Tribute to Al Young

I’ve long appreciated the slow lyric across which Canadian poet (residing in St. John’s, Newfoundland) Don McKay contemplates, something I’m reminded of through his recent All New Animal Acts: Essays, Stretchers, Poems (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2020). Over the years, and across multiple books of poetry, essays and thinking, McKay has developed a meditative way of approaching and considering the physical world, which for him includes the written word, specifically poetry, as physical to his considerations as pebbles along a shore, the development of the Laurentian Plateau or an outcrop of trees. As he writes in the opening piece, “The Path Between Bewilderment & Wonder: Contemplating Lichens,” “Another way to put this: lichens are naturally occurring koans, puzzles placed in our path to shift our paradigms of thinking and help us into fresh spaces in the contemplation of life forms, natural systems, language, and ultimately the organ we are contemplating them with.”

Across six essay sections, two of which are broken up, further, into pairs, McKay contemplates the works of Joanne Page and Margaret Avison, linguistic study, the grotesque, geological time, confronting grief and the clarity of the lyric. What I appreciate about this collection is that, occasionally, McKay responds via a poem over the exposition of prose, and occasionally poems are included here to illustrate his thinking. Through both forms (and what are “stretchers,” exactly?), his meditations and lyric concerns remain, moving from birds to geology to geologic time, but through what prose might offer, as though his best thinking form has expanded from the seemingly almost-exclusive realm of the lyric poem and further into prose.

rob mclennan, Don McKay, All New Animal Acts: Essays, Stretchers, Poems

Mountains
hollowed for silver and gold, for copper

vein. The opening in the land a skylight
for all the dark bodies dropped into it,

made to extract their most sacred
elements. In time, the land publishes

every incursion— Open any rock face to read
the overlapping tables. Make a pin map

of every place where matter was atomized
for some kind of conquest or consumption.

Luisa A. Igloria, Histories of Conquest

I can’t keep up. Here’s a book published in 2019, and I’m only just getting round to it. In the poetry world that churns out collections and pamphlets and chapbooks by the thousand, 2019 might as well be the remote past. It’s like when I used to subscribe to Q magazine, and attempted to keep up with reviews of hundreds of new albums a month, all of which were the next Big Thing. And then they weren’t. It was pointless. I stopped trying.

With poetry I more and more rely on word of mouth, which sort of dries up when there are no readings to go to, no courses where people say, “have you read…?”. Everyone loses out.

And what if you’ve just published something. Imagine, you struggle, and work, and rework, and submit, and go to open mics, and one day someone offers to publish your first pamphlet/chapbook/whatever. There’s no feeling quite like it. But it happens in the middle of a pandemic, so you can’t go to readings and open mics and get the chance to sell your book (most of my sales have been on the back of readings), and you can’t charge your batteries on that energy, and gradually you see the wave’s subsided under you, and you’re floating in dead water. And you have books you can’t shift.

Now, imagine that poetry is your business, your profession. You rely on readings, on running courses, on tutoring…and on the back of that you go on writing, and hopefully selling your work. That’s how it is. Your job. Lockdown leaves you in dead water just as surely as if being published was a hobby. A nice one. But a sideline. Meanwhile, The Anatomical Venus should be flying off the shelves and hoovering up the accolades and starring at festivals. If you’ve bought it already you’ll need no telling. And if you haven’t, I hope the next few minutes will persuade you your life is incomplete till you do.

Sometimes a poem, a book, a voice speaks to you, makes you sit up. The Anatomical Venus does that for me, to me, no question. It’s full of what Clive James calls ‘the moments that draw you in’, when you recognise a poem as a poem, when it says that this is what it is. Something that memorises itself as you speak it, something that hooks you and reels you in. Sometimes it’s the sheer zestfulness of the thing, the unabashed love of language, its quirks and textures that are the stuff of en-chantment and incantation. So, yes, that. But also precision, the accurate control of the medium, a sure ear and eye, all that, and passion too. I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that Helen Ivory has all of that.

When I first read The Anatomical Venus I’d taken it with me to hospital . A session of chemotherapy is, counterintuitively, a good place to read poetry in. Quiet and peaceful as a Quaker meeting. It does mean you can’t read aloud, but this collection has a voice you can hear in your head.

John Foggin, Catching up: Helen Ivory’s “The Anatomical Venus”

The past few days have been a blur of real-life things like vaccinating and library things like our Urban Legends trivia (plus I worked from home Thursday in case I got sick from my vax, and didn’t really, so Friday was a catch-up). As such I have stalled out a bit on my napowrimo-ing and the bird artist pieces I have hope for, but not only things getting in the way, but also me getting in the way.  I know where I want it to go, but am having a hard time connecting the dots. So I stall.

One of the things I appreciate most about writing is play, how it feels sometimes like I have no idea where I’m going until I get there.  Which work for awhile, but at some point, the trip is over and you have to get yourself home somehow and finish the damn thing. I’ve written myself down a lovely road and now need to get back and so I lay in the grass a while and dally.  This happens every time, though usually it doesn’t matter unless I’m purposefully trying to finish something in an allotted time  I am all about cutting myself some slack.  It will happen eventually. Last year, due to the pandemic crazy, I actually didn’t finish the series I started until well into July, and am determined it turned out the better for it. As such, I will keep sharing them here, April being over be damned. But it might be a minute before the next installment. 

I have some other ideas in the hopper, both written and visual, I am hoping May yields. If I were responsible in tending to my projects, I would return to the things that forever languish uncompleted (&nbsp, the blue swallow project) but just as likely I’ll dive into something new that I also may never finish.  Though the odds are about 50/50 at this point.  Writing is also a little like crossing a high perilous bridge and doing fine until you actually look down. I reach a point with every project…sometimes I’m closer to the other side, sometimes it seems very far. 

Kristy Bowen, the road out…

I’m first-round-reading again for a poetry contest, and it’s usually very informative (I’ve written several blog post about lessons learned). But this time feels different. I think it’s because I myself am doing no writing, and have received a rejection every day for a week from work I’ve sent out. So as I encounter manuscripts I think are weaker than others, they seem to become a mirror of my own fears about my own work. Which is working me into paroxysms. 

All the manuscripts are competent. All have merit. But my job is to choose only up to 5— out of 25+ manuscripts — to move on to the next readers. So that’s a lot of manuscripts to say no to, and I have to, in my own mind, identify why I’m moving them into my No pile. I have to have good reason. But I can’t always articulate it, and that’s got me agonizing over my assessment prowess. And then as I articulate it I begin to question not only my own assessment but also my own work. Aargh.

For example, one manuscript: again, perfectly fine poems, but the thought occurred to me that too many of the poems seemed, and this is the word that popped into my head: “solipsistic.” But wait, I said. What the hell do I mean by that? That’s a terrible word.

As I’ve already talked about in the past in this space, I use a lot of “I” in my poems. Is that solipsistic? 

But wait, here’s another manuscript that I’ve shuffled into my Good Maybe pile. And look: a ton of “I” poems. So what is this other manuscript doing?

It seems like the Maybe manuscript is using the “I” to look through the speaker self at the world, but the No manuscript poems seem to stop at the speaker self and never really get beyond. 

So which kind of “I” poems am I writing? Oy. 

Marilyn McCabe, No, no, no; or, Why Do I Keep Agreeing to Be a First-Round Reader; or, More on Doubt

Anyway, my birthday weekend visit with vaccinated doctor/poet Natasha Moni – only my second post-vaccine in person visit with anyone – was wonderful. We realized we hadn’t seen each other in a year and a half! So we celebrated my birthday (yesterday) and hers (in January). It is so weird to see people in person, to sit around a table eating and drinking just like it was the good old pre-covid day. And Glenn made a terrific spread – chocolate cake, a wonderful cheese tray, crudités with avocado dip, goat-cheese stuffed baby peppers – he even sat down with us – briefly, if you know Glenn – for some poetry and grad school talk.

We talked about favorite poets, jobs, medicine, talked about how medical improvements made during covid might apply to other diseases after the covid pandemic has died down – like MS, cancer, lupus, and other conditions that have taken far too long to get good, effective treatments for. We talked about the benefits and downsides of Zoom doctor visits and Zoom poetry readings. We talked about Joan Didion, Haruki Murakami, Sylvia Plath, and Siri Hustvedt. Anyway, if you don’t have Natasha Moni’s poetry book from Two Sylvias Press, The Cardiologist’s Daughter, do yourself a favor and check it out. […]

Speaking of books and birthdays, besides being my birthday, this was also the week of the book launch (otherwise known as book birthday) of Kelli Russell Agodon’s new book, Dialogues with Rising Tides (see left, with Sylvia, who gives the book two paws up) from Copper Canyon Press. Happy to have my own copy and I’m sending one to my mom for Mother’s Day!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Birthday Celebrations with Spring Flowers and Friends, Kelli’s Book Birthday, Book Giveaway Winner Results, and More Re-Integration into Society

Yesterday I called to make an appointment for my first manicure since the pandemic started almost fifteen months ago. A few moments later I reached for my phone in my pocket. It was playing a number-out-of-service message, with your picture icon in the corner. Did I accidentally dial you after calling the Clip Shop? Or was that you, trying to call me? Well, here’s the news: I have a pulmonologist and a nebulizer and a manicure appointment. I am your daughter in every measurable way.

There’s a dazzling yellow goldfinch in the tree outside my window. It matches the dazzling yellow tulips behind the rock. There are tulips on my dining table, too, striated in yellow and red. You would like those. Like the ones we used to see on Fifth Avenue. I wish we could walk arm in arm down the city sidewalk. When I was a kid it seemed to me that those sidewalks sparkled, as though shot through with mica flakes, something that glinted and shone if you looked at it just right.

Rachel Barenblat, My mother’s daughter

My mother taught me to understand my life as a series of tales in which I was the adventurous heroine. She also gave me books. Each Christmas, the best present was a heavy shirt box filled with paperbacks, with the implication that at nine or ten, I was plenty old enough to enjoy them. They included most of the Alcott and Brontë novels plus works by Shakespeare, Jules Verne, Sir Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Homer, Chaucer, and much more. I remember walking down stairs carpeted in cream shag to ask her the difference between “impudent” and “imprudent.” When I was having trouble making sense of Wuthering Heights, she reread it and explained the story to me. Her taste wasn’t all high-flown, though. I also devoured her Reader’s Digests and Harlequin romances. It’s largely due to her that I always had my nose in a novel or play or epic poem, depending on them for escape and education. I told her how much I owed her for this a week ago, when she lay semi-conscious in a hospital bed, and it won me a rare smile.

She was also the parent who read all my poems and stories and, eventually, my published books, cheering me on. I owe certain teachers, too, for encouraging me to write poetry particularly, but I wrote Unbecoming because my mother taught me to love character-driven genre fiction (though she would never have used those words!). There’s a maybe-supernatural character in my novel because she loaded me up with tales about fairies and brownies and ghosts. I can’t believe that’s all in the past now, but my mother will survive as the stories we tell about her.

Lesley Wheeler, Mother of stories

My mother got a far away look in her eyes,
remembering breaking the bones of chicken legs

and sucking out the marrow. So good it was,
so good. Blood isn’t kosher, but is marrow?

The rabbi didn’t know, but the kitchen lady
does. My mother’s face looked satisfied and hungry,

both. I eat marrow to remember her hunger
and her satisfaction. All those children she had!

Making their bodies took something out of her own,
slowly sucked the bone itself out of her body

leaving the marrow surrounded by cobwebs.
The doctors said her bones looked like feathers. One fall,

that’s all it would take, and she’d snap into pieces,
but she didn’t. She fell over and over and

never broke a thing, going out of this life with
with all the bits and parts that survived her childhood.

PF Anderson, Breaking

We, the humans, move through the week like shapeshifters.
Monday is a dog with three legs, it barks at any noise,
And if it had a fourth leg and more motivation
It might just walk away and leave you.
Tuesday is your mother, as she was before your birth,
Lighter of heart, and far quicker to laugh,
Not as she became, a bag of bones, worn down by life.

James Lee Jobe, We are the crows, a happy child.

Tomorrow is my birthday and I’m going to have E. make some paleo hot chocolate and take me to the beach after work. I’m hoping the oystercatchers are back. The curlews. I’m hoping the wind is still but the sea is wild, white, and loud.

It’s been several weeks since we went to the beach. And then I was busy writing poems on stones, and thinking too much.

My new personal goal is to separate my day job from my personal work, and fold that work into the quiet, like shuffling a deck of cards.

Isn’t this the image people have in their heads of what poets do? Take things easily? Move through the world aware and in the moment, and then effortlessly shape the impressions into a written missive to convey the human experience? A recognizable experience. An idealized experience?

I don’t know. Does the general reader seek the familiar? Even Sexton and Path’s pain is idealized too often. I realize I could be wrong: my teenage preconceptions of what it is to be a writer are still lodged somewhere beneath my solar plexus, gnawing at me sometimes. I’m not living up to my own fantasy. Being the poet people say puts words to their own feelings for them. The successful poets with thousands of followers on Instagram, who self-publish and make enough money to retire at 30.

But the truth is I don’t want to do that. Not that I could either.

When I was 16 I sent some submissions to Hallmark Greeting Cards and was ignored. They were inauthentic. I was trying to “write pretty”. I am too intense for the general public. Too angular for comfort. I once told a colleague that I had a nice relationship with my step-daughter, and they asked me if she got my sense of humor. Apparently, I am an acquired taste.

This is real human experience, too, though. Even the being an acquired taste part.

I never imagined myself as the kind of person who would sit on the beach in wool socks and gloves. Who would walk through the sumps on purpose for no other reason than to inhale the smells of mud and broken branches of heather. Sheep shit.

I never aspired to be a poet who wrote about sheep shit.

Every year I try to explain to my students the differences between Romanticism, Bucolics, and Kitsch. Most of them don’t care. Maybe I do it to remind myself. I may be coming back to that separation of day job and personal work again.

I can feel my shoulders release now. I can let in the space of the ocean air – even here in my little room, fingers on the keys. Imagination is a wonderful thing when used right. Imagination stopped in its tracks just before it hardens everything into the familiar.

I am easing into a new ars poetica. That’s kind of exciting.

It will probably be an acquired taste.

Ren Powell, Against Idealization

For our last book of my National Poetry Month jamboree, I reread Priscilla Long’s Holy Magic (MoonPath Press, 2020) and was once again astonished by its interplay of light and language, science and art, artists and song. If you don’t already have this book on your shelf, you should find a copy immediately. It’s a tutorial in how to live …and write. And though suffused with color and light, it isn’t afraid of the dark: death marches through these poems with its equal-opportunity scythe (Trayvon Martin, Matisse, Otis Redding, the poet’s sister, old friends, old loves, even a young T. Rex). Comprising seven sections and 56 poems, Holy Magic is … well, magic. I loved spending time in this book again, and delighted especially in soundplay that bumps and grinds and burns its way through every page:

Fire is cookery, crockery,
Celtic cauldrons worked
in iron or gold—smoke
of sacrificial fat.

(from “Ode to Fire”)

Holy Magic is arranged by the color wheel, and so artists are invited in, not just their art—as it strikes me this morning, but their bodies—as in lines from this short poem dedicated to Meret Oppenheimer:

Kisses rot under logs.
Lost purple thrills
perfume purloined shadows

(from “What Can Happen”)

Bethany Reid, Priscilla Long: HOLY MAGIC

Deborah Bacharach’s Shake and Tremor is about relations between men and women, the complications and deceits involved.  She combines Biblical stories of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, Lot and his wife, and Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, with contemporary examples.  She mixes past and present so that the reader may not know where she is as she moves from poem to poem and also within poems. […]

The shifting of both topics and attitudes keeps the reader off balance. But Bacharach is having a wonderful time with the mixture.  It’s worth the trouble to go with the flow.

The key poem for access to the mind of the poet, for me, is “I Am Writing About Fucking,” which gives a sequence of reasons: “because I am human, . . .because sorrow was taken . . .” ending with:

because it’s not polite and I am always very
please and thank you
because there are already
enough words for snow
because of shame, that fishbone in the throat
because we are made of stars.

If this word play pleases you, you should enjoy the book.  And perhaps be a bit jealous of Bacharach’s skill and her leaps of imagination.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Shake and Tremor by Deborah Bacharach

so many poems
will my mind ever empty
midnight moon

Jim Young [no title]

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 10

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, the one-year anniversary of the official beginning of the pandemic in many places loomed large, but creative resilience found expression in many other ways, as well. Here in central Pennsylvania, I’m pleased to report that early spring is well underway, with the return of the phoebe and field sparrow and the weird nightly courtship rituals of the timberdoodle, AKA American woodcock, a shorebird whose ancestors decided that oceans were highly overrated and actually an overgrown meadow is just as good as a beach. Which in a time of continued travel restrictions is kind of an inspiring attitude.


Rooster consciousness,
the rooster that sees light in darkness
rooster announces the light while submerged in darkness
from the deepest place as it’s starting to turn

soon we’ll be in light, you can feel it
it teases, it plays in spring dazzle
that exhilaration, that rush forward
to leave everything behind

Jill Pearlman, That Old Keen Darkness

Like many people I am having my pandemic anniversary today. Last March on Friday the 13th I had a ticket from Barcelona to Frankfurt. I was nervous about flying but I also a little excited because I thought that instead of the usual long weekend I might get to stay two or even three weeks in Germany. I stayed just short of a year, and only returned to Barcelona in late February to renew my visa, a sad hassle I won’t go into except to say I’m now a prisoner of Spain until the card is in my hand. I am considering clandestinely crossing and re-crossing the border. I have a couple days to decide.

I’m not one of those who dislikes the pandemic because it prohibits contact with other people. I am not big on contact with other people. My homefolk are enough for me although it has been difficult not to be able to see my parents, whom I can’t wave to from a backyard because of the ocean.

For me, the biggest problem is the anxiety, always worrying about whether you or a loved one might be struck by the virus. Counting the days from your trip to the store, or interaction with a person who got too close asking for directions, or doctor visit or, hey, the appointment at the Spanish visa office!

I don’t lament the ‘loss’ of the past 12 months. It was a gift to stay in one place with my family. I published a book. I read a lot. I tried new things creatively. A take-out meal became a special event. I discovered a little public garden near my home. Our sweet dog died. We got a new sofa and chair. I gave up make-up and bras. I saved a lot on airfare and things that I might have bought as a kind of pastime. I saw my first sequoias. I cut my husband’s and son’s hair without a mishap. It dawned on me that ordering wine online was better than lugging it home. I made do.

Sarah J Sloat, Get Your Year On

So, are we there yet? Chronically ill and disabled people in Washington State are STILL not eligible for the vaccination yet, but I’m hoping the time is drawing closer (and I’m twittering about it to my governor as much as possible.) With the vaccine being an important step to being able to live a normal life again for both me and Glenn – we are starting to think about things we might be able to do again without worry – shopping at a grocery store or picking up flowers, browsing in a bookstore or going for my MRIs (among other doctor and dentist appointments) without fear of dying as a result. I have been in a stew of anxiety since the year began – wondering and waiting for the vaccine to be available – but now I’m starting to hope I’ll be vaccinated by my birthday at the end of April, that I’ll be able to visit Skagit Valley’s tulip gardens while they’re still in bloom, that I might be able to see my friends and family in person and even hug them (?) I’d like to visit Snoqualmie Falls in spring, too – I love the woods – and maybe even an exotic day trip out to Port Townsend. […]

During this last two weeks, I also had some pretty crushing rejections – including a press that kept my book for a year (ouch) – and am hoping that a good press will give one or both of my books a chance very soon. I want to be able to focus on something positive as we wait out the rest of this painful year (plus) of plague.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Changing Times (and Seasons), New Poems in the Fairy Tale Review, Science Fiction Libraries, and Daring to Hope

It’s been a year of a lot of pastoral listening: sometimes trying to offer comfort, and sometimes just sitting with people in the low or frightened or anxious or despairing place where we are. It’s been a year of learning how to lead services on Zoom, how to facilitate spiritual experience from afar. It’s been a year of contactless grocery pickup and staying apart and washing masks. It’s been a year of loneliness and solitude and grief and losses — so many losses, even for those of us who’ve made it through.

I think it will likely take years for the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to be known. How will this year have shaped us: the loneliness, the loss, the grief — the science denialism and politicization of masks — and also the unexpected moments of connection or kindness against the backdrop of so much trauma? Those of us who have made it through will be changed by what this last year has held. I want to believe that we can harness those changes for the good of each other, but I don’t know how.

Rachel Barenblat, One year

And meanwhile, who could have predicted the state I’m in now? My teacher daughter, my mother, and I all received our first shots in the last ten days. (I’m eligible because having a BMI over 25 makes me elevated-risk, which seems both bogus and dispiriting, but I’ll take it.) I received the Moderna vaccine, and the following day, I was intermittently woozy and headachey and even more insomniac than usual. Honestly, the latter could be a kind of future shock. I’m a veteran student of apocalypse, but I hadn’t imagined this.

The vaccine site epitomized the current weirdness. There was a Peebles department store on the edge of town for decades that went out of business a couple of years ago. Then it became a Gorman’s, which also died, and then the state leased the empty building for vaccinations. I arrived there Friday morning and a line snaked out the building, the most people I’d seen in one spot in ages, but it moved with rapid efficiency. Cheerful guards at the door kept us spaced six feet apart. Inside, I checked in then waited on along a switchback line made of yellow caution tape strung along traffic cones. Above our heads hung purple retail signs saying “big names not big bucks!” and “fashion is fierce!” The jab with a tiny needle was painless. I waited in the sea of chairs for longer than the required 15 minutes, just watching people and feeling stunned. It looked sf, surreal. Even more strangely, the people inhabiting the dreamscape were fizzing with hope.

Lesley Wheeler, Change of State

I’m a fan of Terry Pratchett – that wise, witty, inventive, humane man. I have 30+ of his audio books on a flash drive, and I listen to them over and over in the car. I love his characters, not least Tiffany Aching, the witch and keeper of sheep. She has a great love of words that she experiences in a kind of synaesthesia. They are mobile, tactile, visual, aural, all at once.Like this:

Susurrus . . . according to her grandmother’s dictionary, it meant ‘a low soft sound, as of whispering or muttering’. Tiffany liked the taste of the word. It made her think of mysterious people in long cloaks whispering important secrets behind a door: susurrususssurrusss … (The Wee Free Men)

There’s one that’s stuck in my head of late. Desultory. Limp-wristed, indolent, dilatory. That’s me. That’s twelve months of self-isolating and procrastination. It’s what happens when days fail to have meaning as events or sequences, when deadlines seem like irrelevances. Time to do something about it. Time to catch up.

It’s what we say when we haven’t seen someone for a long time…”let’s get together and do some catching up”. Of course there is the obverse …as in “playing catch up” which is when a team will rush things, and forget the plan and take risks, and generally lose the plot on the way to losing. I’ll keep that in mind. The thing is, poets go on writing, and even through a year of Covid, books are published and I buy them, and I mean to tell folk about the ones I liked. And then I go all desultory. So here’s the plan. I’m going to do some catching up; I resolve to get back to a proper routine of regular cobweb posts and tell you about the books that have made me happier in the last year.

John Foggin, Catching up: John Duffy’s “A Gowpen”

Right now, with five kids between the ages of 6 months old and 9 years old at home all the time, writing feels like wringing water from a stone.

I love it, sincerely love it, but its difficult to find time to come to the page at all, let alone to create something I’m satisfied with enough to show other actual real live humans.

Even the acrobatics required to come to this space means…eating cold soup.

The point is to be faithful.
Faithful to keep creating my work, revising my work, and submitting my work.

I fully believe creativity and writing is a gift from God–but also believe it isn’t up to me what He does with it. I’d love to see something bloom from all this–I’d love to put some poems in the hands of readers.

Until then, I’m going to keep believing in the value of showing up, of revising, of eating cold soup.

Renee Emerson, Cold Soup

I think about the things I’ve learned and done this past year. I finessed my cooking skills once I was working from home and got a little bit more culinarily adventurous. I got really good at building online exhibits and programming. I watched every apocalyptic disaster movie on streaming, all of The Office, and the entirety of the Friday the 13th sequels.  I went back to working onsite in July, but I still managed to finish a manuscript of poems. To go to Rockford a couple times to see my dad & sister before rates went up in the fall, then again at Christmas after a short quarantine. I’ve done readings, hosted meetings, and ran trivia nights on zoom. I released a new book into the world last summer and another one this week.  Sometimes doubly masked, I’ve white knuckled it on bus rides to and fro for months. While my co-workers and I share distanced spaces and chat, I haven’t socially seen anyone but my boyfriend in months. 

What didn’t I do?  Read books for pleasure for one (lack of concentration).  Or really, outside of a couple more practical paintings and couple postcards, make art.  While I filled orders for books, I lacked concentration for layouts or cover designs. Just reading manuscripts last fall was unbearably hard, as was answering the simplest emails. I didn’t eat takeout for months because I wan’t sure it was safe.I didn’t go to movies or thrift stores or the places I enjoy greatly. At first, I didn’t spend money because I thought for sure, the academic world would collapse and me with it.  When the first stimulus came through, I bought sheets and new bedding since that was there I spent most of my time.   

Kristy Bowen, apocalypse ravioli: one year later

Thinking back to the first lockdown how did it affect you and your writing?

I wasn’t really writing anything new at the beginning of the year, and when the lockdown began I think I became even less motivated to write. I think I needed physical activity more – gardening, walking, cleaning and moving furniture. I struggle to write poetry unless I’m on my own in the house. As a consequence I didn’t send anything out to magazines in 2020. And I was already under a self-imposed moratorium on entering competitions.

Have you found a distinction between your motivation to write poetry and your work on Planet Poetry?

Yes, Planet Poetry harks back to an urge I’ve had for years, to do some kind of podcast/radio thing. I looked into podcasting a couple of years ago with my friend Lucy. We used to do little ‘audio blogs’ years ago, on Foursquare (remember that?). But starting a podcast felt like a big project and I had other things on the go. Then when Peter Kenny mentioned the idea to me last summer I jumped at it. It’s great fun to do with a friend, and poetry was the obvious topic. It feels like I’m still participating in the poetry community, even though I’m not meeting people at live readings or workshopping groups, or sending work to magazines.

You published your updated version of A Guide to Getting Published in UK Poetry Magazines in November, was it helpful to have this project to work on during 2020?

Absolutely. The timing wasn’t great, because it coincided with my starting a new course (more about that below) and also the launch of Planet Poetry. But I’m so glad I did it, as I think the time was right and people were very receptive. It’s also a guilt-free way of funding my poetry book-buying, magazine subs and other small poetry costs.

Do you see a relationship between creativity and wellbeing?

For me, certainly. I derive great pleasure both from making things, and also from making things happen. It’s very satisfying, and it’s fun! I realise I’m very lucky to have the time to do so. Usually at least half my energy goes into managing musical projects with my husband. But there hasn’t been much to do on that this last year. Hence the podcast, and then the ‘guide’. I also hand-made some little booklets for a few friends last spring, each with a little recipe, a favourite poem, some images etc. As one recipient remarked, “it’s fascinating what people get up to in lockdown!”

Abegail Morely, Creativity and Lockdown: In Conversation with Robin Houghton

That [Edward] Burra lived most of his life in the part of the world from whence my Paul grandparents’ forebears hailed adds to my sense of connection with him. My paternal and idiosyncratic grandfather, Walter RH Paul (1903–1989), from Eastbourne, thirty miles west of Rye, undertook teacher training at the College of St Mark a mile away up the Kings Road from where Burra was honing his craft at Chelsea Polytechnic. I like to imagine they may have bumped into each other occasionally, but who knows.

If you are unfamiliar with Burra’s art, you’re missing out. Seek it out.

All of this is a long preamble to the fact that, last summer, I wrote several poems inspired by Burra paintings. Many ekphrastic poems seem to me to be simply a rendering into words of the scene depicted in the artwork. I tend to use them, as I always did on Pascale Petit’s now legendary Poetry from Art sessions at Tate, as springboards to explore my own tangents. That’s the case with both my published poems after Burra: ‘The Nitpickers’, and ‘Blue Baby: Blitz Over Britain’. The latter is one of three poems of mine published in the spring issue of The High Window today.

Matthew Paul, On Edward Burra

It began with Chilean poet, Vincente Huidobro. The opening / preface of his poetic masterpiece, Altazor, launches into a metaphysical cascade of imagery. This was exciting to a young poet like me—at age 29 with some Spanish knowledge and seeking a manifesto to climb (the name “altazor” is a combination of the noun “altura” / “altitude” and the adjective “azorado” / “bewildered” or “taken aback”). 

I’d been experimenting with layered or looking-glass ekphrasis (a term that I’ve coined for this process). As I create cinepoems, a visual language in of itself, I found this poem in particular to be different: it was fueled by a homophonic translation (three languages fused: English, Spanish, and the visual). From this, a separate Lithuanian poem sprung, inspired by the overlapped sounds of street noise, a looped harpsichord, and selected juxtapositions of the poet’s translated phrases and/or words. Now four languages.

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Keeping Up With The Huidobros • (New Cinepoem, 2021)

I am mesmerized by this videopoem, linked below, the rapid flash images that nevertheless seem rarely to change, short stops in motel or diner parking lots nothwithstanding, and an occasional glimpse of the changing character of the landscape, but only a glimpse, as the landscape is chiefly anti-land, it’s the roadscape, mostly the highwayscape. We all know it. The blacktop, the yellow lines, the signs flashing by flashing by and the rear ends of trucks, stolid, unimpressed with your own meager mileage-eating.

The voice drones on and I mean that in the nicest way, because it’s saying interesting things, mournful things, meaningful things, and I drift in and out of focus, as I do on the road as the miles slip by and I think suddenly, wait a minute, where am I.

There is music in the background that is meant to live in the background, the way the radio blurbles along as if anyone is really listening, when often times it’s just noise against the great and awful silence, the silence of Life, or Aloneness, or Eternity, or The Grave, and the DJ prattles on, and the songs merge as if one long song and what you thought at one point was your finger bopping to a beat had become many miles before just a nervous tapping, or vice versa.

And arrival becomes a strange and new way of being, disorienting, and for a moment you forget how to live in one place, and you miss, a little bit, the moving road.

I skied today under a wide blue sky, and had the trail to myself, and was thinking about this videopoem, and also wondering, as I often do, what is the purpose of life, if life has a purpose. Sometimes I go down a nihilistic spiral with that question, but often I end up at Rilke: “Maybe we are here to say: house, bridge, fountain, gate…”

Everywhere West

Marilyn McCabe, Sitting downtown in a railway station; or, On videopoem “Everywhere West” by Chris Green and Mark Neumann

I was just sitting on the patio enjoying the cool of late afternoon when I decided to visit The Oracle. She provided lots of words, as usual, but I created a brief verse, as is my way.

Away. Then Back.

elaborate shadows drive a
sleepy beauty
blue languid love
sweats in arms of honey
chants over skin
raw as rain
on the moon

*

Inspiration via magneticpoetry.com .

Charlotte Hamrick, Away. Then Back.

The neighbours have cut a hole in the hedge opposite our house for a new driveway, freeing an old five bar gate from a decade of knotted ivy and uprooting a screen of spindly trees to reveal a canopy of sky I have never seen from my window before. But even knowing this, when I glanced across the room this morning all I saw was a barricade of dull grey hoarding, something they must have erected while I slept, for privacy perhaps, or to keep people out from the half-built garage, and effectively blocked my view. And then I unsaw what my imagination wanted me to see and stared at the canopy of sky left by a retreating storm. Perhaps we are all too hasty at times, slipping into the satisfaction of our nurtured suspicions and resentments, rather than seeing what lies before us. 

Lynne Rees, Prose poem: Gaps in a hedge

I’ve always had mixed feelings about poetry readings, and I hate Zoom. Poetry readings can be great and they can be terrible. Some poets can read their poems well and some can’t. Sometimes people want to talk before and after the readings and are friendly and welcoming. Sometimes they just go off into their own huddles and ignore you if you’re not part of that group. Sometimes they throw up fascinating characters.

I’ve just found this, which I jotted down about one such character shortly after the reading:

It’s been the best of times,
the worst of times,
and I’ve taken myself off
to recover,
to reflect,
to write stuff
which even I can’t categorise,
which just seems to flow out of me
formlessly,
from page to page,
each one of which
I throw over my shoulder
as I finish performing them.

And she did!

Sue Ibrahim, Poetry readings

Because writing, my whole life, has been marked by fallow periods that are just as important as the ones in which words bloom.

Because I can still connect with far-away folks through their blogs or through email or social media.

Because too much heat and light will kill the seeds of whimsy before they sprout.

Because white space might be the most important element of design.

Because the days are getting longer but life is getting shorter.

Because sometimes even I need a break from my voice.

Because right now I want to listen more than talk.

Because a hiatus is a pause, not a stop.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On hiatus

I’m not trying to make any tired statements about how the unpleasant sets the pleasant in relief and makes us appreciate it more. That’s an intellectual exercise.

I am thinking more about letting go of the need to judge each moment according to expectations and stories. To physically be in the moment and notice what I am perceiving, letting go of the illusion that it can or should be anything else.

It’s humbling. All this powerlessness. Even the powerlessness in rejecting the stories that my mind wants to cling to, to make sense of the world. To give myself an illusion of comprehension, of control. If I can’t change things, I can put them in boxes.

Numb toes are “bad”. When I get back to the house, they’ll hurt as the circulation begins again. I should hurry back to the house. Don’t stand here and stare at the pink water.

I’m not an idiot. This animal body of mine will avoid what is unpleasant and will seek what is pleasant when it can. This meaty head will justify it all somehow.

But where I put my attention in the meantime is my choice.

In the meantime. That’s an interesting word: meantime. I looked it up. It means during a time when something else is being done, or during a time before something happens.

My life is a series of meantimes.

I’ve been working now for a while on a manuscript that focuses on time and impermanence. And I have been considering my own relationship with the concept. Like an anorexic with food, I put a lot of attention and effort into controlling the hours of my days. But like an anorexic, the more controlling and precise I become, the less nourishment I am able to take in. I am not using my time well. I want to stop time until I “figure it out”. But time is unavoidable.

And time rushes at me in the meantime. But there is no “there” there. Except for death.

I recently read about complexity as a form of avoidance. Systems, calendars, plans. Over-thinking. This should all be so simple. To stop telling myself the stories. To be here now – and not in a meantime.

Ren Powell, In the Meantime

What is it that we owe each other as human beings? When I say, take care, to someone how do I mean it now, and why would I say it if it’s provisional? How far does our empathy stretch? How far, how deep really, are we willing do dig to understand why someone believes what they believe? How can we have quieter conversations with people we disagree with? How can we still be humble and open and resist coldness? How can we continue to be interested in the stories of ordinary people with whom we disagree? In what ways are we obligated to share what we know? How are we obligated to one another? What is happiness? What does it mean to forgive and how does forgiving (or not forgiving) change us? How do we hold our mistakes in our hands? How do we make moral and ethical decisions without succumbing to fatigue?

How can we exercise our moral imagination? How can we tend to our soul? Is it ethical to leverage shame for a common good? What is our relationship to hope now? What are our griefs and how can we help others navigate their griefs? Is our life, though perhaps less wild, more precious now and what will you do with that one life, thank you Mary Oliver as always for that one. If how we live our life is how we live our days, then how can we adapt our pandemic-informed days to incorporate our hopes, dreams, delights, values, our goals? What is our relationship to beauty now? Can asking questions be a kind of spiritual practice? What happens when we consider the opposite?

Shawna Lemay, One Year Later…I Have Some Questions

the horizon thickens

the sea separates
from the curdled sky

we rise like wet birds
from the water
into emptiness, into nothing

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Throwback to some Cherita

Let’s say that your poems wear old Wellington boots and walk through mud on the way to the market. At the market people buy these poems even though they are rather worn and dirty. Frayed at the ends. Threadbare poems. Used. Let’s say that the hopes of your early years are not the hopes you have now. Once you wanted so much, but now? Some sleep. A day where things don’t hurt so much. What things? Your feet. Your empty house. In fact, let’s say that the sun skips your house today, all the other houses have sunshine. Not yours. Let’s say that it is time for goodbye. Let’s say you have become a memory.

James Lee Jobe, Threadbare poems. Used.

To the ancestors, I make offerings
of wood and fire, strings of dried

marigold and strawflower— Yet it’s
as if they want to tithe every small

joy I put away in a box under my bed,
every small stretch of time that seems

to have escaped the mouth of some
new agony. Through sparse, dry grass

that slept all winter, now the sharp
green spades of daffodils begin

to make openings in the soil.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Benefaction

Checking in this week after being absent last week due to spraining my ankle while going downstairs doing the laundry. Been describing my foot as looking like rotten meat. Like, Charles Baudelaire would’ve written about it rotten. Like, Upton Sinclair would’ve seen in it a metaphor to use in The Jungle rotten.

But I’m back at it, life. Last night, I had a blast reading as part of the Pangyrus issue 8 reading alongside Pam Painter, Joelle Fraser, Ryane Nicole Granados, and Artress Bethany White. Highlights included White’s poem “Outlander Blues” and Granados’ essay “Love Letter to My Soon to Be 13-Year-Old Black Son.” We also had a lovely conversation among the readers afterward, moderated by Greg Harris. At one point, I took a shot at the Norton anthology and suggested that lit mags hold the real lively canons of our times. Do with that what you will.

Another highlight of my week was sharing the work of J. Jennifer Espinoza with my literature students. Espinoza’s “Makeup Ritual” (second poem at the link) in particular led to some engaging conversations about human experience and the value of daily rituals to provide grounding in a world constantly upended.

José Angel Araguz, sprained & rotten thoughts

TL;DR Press paired with Action Against Hunger, an international organization committed to supporting malnourished children and their families by beating hunger. 41 writers from around the world have contributed writings to this anthology: Hope. I am thrilled that my short poem, “Sitting with Emily,” is included. Thank you to the editors of TL;DR for including it and pushing this publication out into the world, and to Action Against Hunger for the important work they do to increase access to food sustainability.

Kersten Christianson, TL;DR Press: Hope

Your book is split into two sections, with the first offering free verse poetry and the second memoir as a series of poetic vignettes. Why did you choose to blend poetry and memoir into a single book? How are the two sections meant to balance and communicate with each other? 

The first section, Vaudeville, is more performative, playing with persona. I see the second section, Diagnosis, as offstage/backstage/behind the scenes. While the first section is poetry and the second section is flash nonfiction, they both address topics like illness, identity, and politics. I wanted the two parts to be in conversation with each other, but in a subtle way. I wanted the sections to be two distinct experiences about the same world. Two ways of looking at things. I think the two sections of short forms support each other, but not in overly obvious ways. I wanted to keep surprising the reader, but also keep the overall manuscript cohesive. I wanted the reader to find their own way through material that isn’t linear without getting lost. 

You mention that Vaudeville, the first section of the book, is more performative. How do you approach expressing performance or persona in a poem? To what degree do the performative aspects connect to your own personal experience? 

I worked in the performing arts for many years before I was a writer, so I often approach poetry with that mindset. Since poetry feels so much like performing to me, I feel unafraid writing most poems. There is a nervous energy to it, but it’s mostly positive energy. Embracing the idea of performance as a poet makes it easier for me to generate poems. It doesn’t matter if the poem is revealingly autobiographical or if the voice of the poem is odd and the opposite of my personality. Taking risks with poetry feels good because there is a sort of buffer. I feel keenly aware of the absence of such a buffer when writing nonfiction, but I have worked to become more comfortable with it.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Meg Johnson on Illness, Persona, and the Performance of Poetry

Known as “the first Tibetan female poet to be published in English,” San Francisco poet and writer Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s latest publication, her first poetry title in a decade, is the chapbook REVOLUTE (Charlottesville VA: Albion Books, 2021), produced as the fourth title of Albion Books’ Series Seven [see here for my reviews of the first, second and third of the same series]. Dhompa is the author of the poetry collections Rules of the House (Berkeley CA: Apogee Press, 2002), In the Absent Everyday (Apogee Press, 2005) and My rice tastes like the lake (Apogee Press, 2011) [see my review of such here], as well as the memoir/non-fiction book A Home in Tibet (Penguin India, 2013), a title published in the United States as Coming Home to Tibet: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Belonging (Boulder CO: Shambhala Publications, 2016). Furthering a number of the concerns of her earlier works, Dhompa’s new chapbook speaks of exile and return, and the translation into further exile, with the discovery that what was once “home” has since changed, evolved, to a point beyond recognition. In a triptych of three poem-sequences—“Revolute,” “The history of sadness” and “Inner revolution”—Dhompa writes on memory and belonging, home and time, temporal and familiar spaces, and the collision that can’t help but emerge between two different cultures. “What grouping of texts, which images,” she writes, as part of the longer title sequence, “will speak to someone who is not me, / but like me, has no place to escape / from the place of belonging / that is no more.”

Dhompa’s published work-to-date has very much engaged with lyric explorations around emerging from one culture and continent to living fully within another, writing in and around exile and notions of belonging, as well as the concerns and complications around attempting to exist fully within the possibilities of both spaces. “Mothers remember / the bodies they buried. / Life after death,” she writes, as part of “The history of sadness,” “and death / in every breath. Belonging: a verb, / and belonging / a strip of hope fed with orchids / on sale and recipes / brought from a country I now hover / over in virtual maps.” What is curious about this current work is the way in which her poems extend across a larger canvas: not composed as suites of shorter meditations, but longer sequences that stretch beyond what she has previously attempted. The effect allows for a further level of depth and inquiry, and an admission in how her lyrics are so very much connected to each other. Further on in the same opening sequence, she writes: “The point that ink makes is storied, we’ve memorized / its conventions. The primary theme is land / and who stole it.” Through the triptych of poems, Dhompa slowly evolves her lyric from one of the disappearance of what it was they had left behind, to a poem that includes her mother, writing around mothers and mothering, and the potential loss of her mother, even beyond her mother’s own loss of homeland. “Is there a replacement / for the slow and stretched vowels in a mouth / accommodating something new?”

rob mclennan, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, REVOLUTE

power cut
all the news stopped
except mine

Jim Young [no title]

A few days ago, I asked Twitter whether the expression Full-Time Poet is a contradiction in terms. The wide range of replies was fascinating.

Some people homed in on the cash, as in the need for an inheritance or a high-earning partner if somebody wanted to devote all their time to writing. This suggestion, in turn, garnered responses from others who understood Full-Time to be a synonym of Professional. In other words, certain poets do view themselves as Full-Time in the sense that their professional lives revolve around poetry: its teaching, its workshopping, its reviewing, etc, which also combines with their own writing. The counter-argument, of course, is that their workload means that they might not have much time or energy left for actual creation of the genre, meaning that they’re anything but Full-Time in one sense but completely committed in another.

And then there’s an alternative take, which is implicit in my loaded question. This involves questioning whether poetry is improved by spending eight hours a day at a desk, trying to write, draft and re-draft the stuff. It wonders whether the creation of poetry’s not better served by other stimuli, be they sleeping (!), drinking or doing a job that has nothing to do with poetry whatsoever. Moreover, this issue connects with a false dichotomy between so-called Amateur and Professional poets, as if the origin of a person’s earnings were to dictate the artistic value of their creation. On both sides of this absurd debate, there seem to be delicate egos.

For what it’s worth, my own perspective was brought into focus by my wife when I mentioned this issue to her. She innocently remarked that if I suddenly stopped talking to her in the car because I mulling over a stanza, or if she found herself waiting by the door, shopping bags in hand, because I’d suddenly had to jot down a line in my notebook before we left for the market, then I was most definitely a Full-Time Poet myself. In other words, the term might well be applied to anyone who writes in the genre. This is because our creative process is alive, both consciously and subconsciously, in our heads and hearts, throughout the day and night. We never stop being poets, starting to write our poems long before we put pen to paper…

Matthew Stewart, Full-Time Poet?

So I’ve submitted about 70 poems multiple times and had 8 accepted? That’s not a bad ratio, and I’m grateful.

A lot of my friends don’t realize that my superpower as a child was to be invisible. Even now I sometimes imagine disappearing, dropping off everyone’s radar, moving to a desert island or a cabin on a creek somewhere. I’d write for the joy of it, for myself. (My brother and sisters would say that I’m already doing this. “Where are you?”) I’d stack all my notebooks up on a shelf and admire them, all by my lonesome. But here I am, well into this journey called life, and my art (not to mention my husband and three daughters) has consistently asked me to step forward and be seen. Yes, it terrifies me. Again and again, my poetry friends and the writing world in general has scooted over and made a place for me. They brought cake.

Thanks for being here with me.

Bethany Reid, Welcome to the New Website!

For this poetry prompt on foreplay, start by reading “When We’re in Bed and You Take Out Your Mouth Guard, I Know It’s On” by Melissa Crowe and give some thought to what you like/admire.

As an awkward, clumsy person, my delight in this poem starts with the title. I have great affection for its nerdiness (the mouth guard) and its smoothness (the slang “it’s on”). But mostly, it’s hilarious. And frankly, so is sex. Wonderful, yes, but so strange, especially if you’re doing it right LOL

I also think the title is extra endearing because of what Crowe does with it: The removal of mouth guard as foreplay isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the poem. It would be tempting to make the poem “about” that ritual or use it as a starting point for a narrative play-by-play of what happened next, but Crowe’s poem leaves it alone entirely and surprises us by jump back in time (instead of gunning straight for whatever happens after the lover takes out the mouth guard).

What the body of the poem offers is spectacular, as well. As told through a string of scenes and memories, Crowe’s narrator shares past habits she and her partner had developed ahead of being intimate. The snapshots give us a fascinating history of the romantic and sexual relationship. And although it starts in such a goofy place, the poem builds in significant ways, including pacing, eroticism/heat and meaning. In fact, the poem ends up taking sex quite seriously, elevating it to the sacred: “your worshipful mouth, my whole body lit / from within and without.”

It’s also worth noting that Crowe makes the poem sensual without being raunchy or explicit: “my lap, where you’d sweat and sweat until I cried out.”

Carolee Bennett, poetry prompt for when you want to get it on

some mornings address us through a twilight zone microphone.

others allure us with their long, sleek horizon lines resembling the clavicles of modigliani models.

some mornings got slumbirds unwowing us with melodies of gutter-uttered vowels.

other mornings mix us a xanadu-infused cocktail whose insobriety offers us quiet joy.

Rich Ferguson, some mornings

orange flies on the sheep-poo
butterflies on snowdrops
brimstones on crocus

a ladybird in my bed all winter
all over my duvet oh dear
disdained by the family

Arthur the Aardvark
took on another life
he tells me nothing

Ama Bolton, ABCD February 2021

Sunday was a day of re-arranging rooms, re-ordering tidiness, setting the house straight again and preparing for the week ahead. Over the weekend I was drawn again and again to a new poem by Jemma Borg in the TLS. The poem is called ‘Dissection of a marriage’. There are so many extraordinary lines and images I like. For instance

“She swam alone in her body, carrying nothing
but her shadow. She was as bored as a parked car.”

What does it mean? I keep returning to the poem and now I’ve printed it out so I can keep reading it. What I like most is that it’s about more than it says on the page. It lives another life. That’s poetry for you! How have I forgotten poetry’s ability to shape shift and slip between meanings? Because I have forgotten that in recent times.

Josephine Corcoran, Diary Snippets, weekending 14 March, 2021

We aren’t finished with the virus, and it is certainly not finished with us, in spite of the fact that many of us in wealthy western countries now have access to vaccines. The disparity in access, as always, has to do with poverty, the color of our skins, our ability to use technology, the strengths and weaknesses of our governments. I am holding in my heart those who desperately wait, and also thinking of the incalculable toll of loss and grief, interrupted lives, and dashed hopes that this year has cost. Those of us who survive will continue and someday fairly soon, we’ll start picking up the threads of our former lives. I don’t think any of us will be the same, but each of us has a chance to be a better person than we were before.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 59. Late Winter, Interior

a new day
traffic cones & trees
in the fog

James Brush, 03.11.21

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 5

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: shadows of the past, shadows in the present. Parents and children. Grief and joy. And, as always, books and journals.


For the last six years I’ve worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school. Last week, one of the children in our class tested positive. So, suddenly we’re all at home, working online. It’s been a strange week, one where time has slowed right down, where I’ve felt a deep longing to be outside, cold as it is, with the wind scouring my cheeks and the dog at my side, uncertain about whether he really wants to be out in the harsh weather or inside, curled up in his bed by the radiator.

Today it’s my birthday and I still can’t go out. I’m watching the wind blow tiny flakes of snow across the garden, watching how it whips round on itself, changing direction. Earlier, I put extra food out for the garden birds and then watched as the jackdaws sailed in from nowhere, borne on this bitter East wind, hardly flapping their wings at all, just cruising in to take what they wanted. Not that I begrudge them. In fact, I quite like to see them: stooping, ponderous, unhurried.

My mother likes to remind me that when I was born the snowfall was heavy and treacherous.

Julie Mellor, February

Late yesterday afternoon, I made this Facebook post:   “It is the eve of the feast day of St. Brigid, and just today, I came across the tradition of Brat Bhride: leaving a cloak or a piece of cloth or a ribbon outside the door for Saint Brigid to bless and give healing powers.”  One website said that a red silk ribbon was preferable.

Just before Christmas I was awash in red ribbons, but yesterday afternoon, they all seemed to have disappeared.  Happily, I was able to find one in a stack of paperwork, a little scrap of glittery red ribbon.  So I left it outside overnight, and this morning, before dawn, I retrieved it.  I’m not sure what to do with it now–carry it with me at all times?  Put it back in the stack of paperwork?

It says something about the past year that I went looking for a red ribbon.  Most years, I’d have read about these ancient customs and thought they were charming and given them not another thought again until next year.

This year, with new strains of the corona virus burning their way through the nation, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to get extra blessings any place I could find them.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Feast Day of Saint Brigid in a Time of Raging Virus

We glide effortlessly on the wings of Saturday park laughter.

At one point, my daughter insists we go shopping. She directs me to a tree rising from the earth; a massive congregation of green.

My daughter and I gather stray pinecones; they become fruits, vegetables, and toys. One we call strawberry. Another we joke is a Malibu Barbie sports car.

Again, those wings of laughter lift us far above our concerns of needing to wear face masks and maintain a healthy distance from others.

Right then, my daughter is so overcome by glee she wraps her arms around my knee and hugs me.

Years from now, I’m not sure what she’ll remember of her four-year-old life and these pandemic days.

What I do know, however, is that forever engraved within me will be the blueprint of my daughter‘s embrace.

Rich Ferguson, We run, we play

There is a layering here: the past is a dangerous place to wander, somewhere the unwary, careless traveller might get lost or worse; but it is also a dangerous animal guarding and protecting those who are dead from those who are living. There is certainly a sense, here and elsewhere, that the dead are in need of such protection because of the need the living feel to take possession of the past for their own purposes. [Maria] Stepanova notes at one point “This was all about her (Stepanova) and not about them (her ancestors)”, and at another she confesses to being “horrified and offended” at her father for not allowing her to quote from his letters in her book. Her ruminations on her father’s refusal are a good example, not only of Stepanova’s remarkable self-awareness and clarity of thought, but also of her ‘poet’s sense’ for metaphor which runs through and enhances the book. Considering her evolving relationship with her father’s letters, she says 

Without being aware of it, I had internalized the logic of ownership. Not in the sense of a tyrant, lording it over his hundreds of enslaved peasants, but perhaps like the tyrant’s enlightened neighbour, with a landscaped park and a theatre in which his serfs acted and sang.

And with this understanding of the power the present has over the past, we also come to realise our ancestors’ inherent vulnerability (“The dead have no rights”), because whether the tyrant is enlightened or not is entirely a question for the living.

Chris Edgoose, Everything Rhymes: In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova

It’s been more than a year now since the last time I visited San Antonio. In a normal year, I would take my kid there a few times a year to see my dad and my brothers. The last time I went, I went alone for the unveiling of my mother’s headstone.

I promised my dad that I would come back soon with my son. A few weeks later, we started hearing about something called novel coronavirus. Soon we were sheltering-in-place to slow the spread. For a while I thought it would be safe to go back to Texas by summertime. Then it became clear what we were facing…

I don’t want everything I write to become an elegy or a lament. This was supposed to be a light-hearted remembrance of an old record and my old record player! But all paths seem to lead to remembered loss, or to the ache of yearning for something that isn’t yet possible.

To meet my father and brothers for Mexican breakfast at our favorite brunch joint in the old neighborhood. To visit my childhood home where my parents haven’t lived in decades. To hug my mother who’s no longer here. To hug my beloveds who are (thank God) still alive, but we can’t safely touch. 

Rachel Barenblat, The San Antonio Song

Donna Vorreyer in Limp Wrist Magazine – Refusal

My brothers and I
crying in the car so my father wouldn’t see. Watching her go, their

sixty years flashing before him, he bent his head to hold her hand
through every visit. She wanted to come home. 

Comment: One of life’s hardest passages is watching your elderly parents go through sickness and separation. Pull out the tissues before you read Donna’s heartbreaking poem.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poetry That Will Drop Your Mouth Open

I’m taking a bit of a social media hiatus now that the election is over and my plate is full with hunting for a condo and working on the new and selected poetry collection due out in 2023. That means I neglected to mention that I have a brand new poem called “Roosters and Hens” in Limp Wrist’s special Dolly Parton 75th birthday tribute issue. You can read my poem at this link, but be sure to read the brilliant work selected by Dustin Brookshire and Julie E. Bloemeke for the issue.

I’ve been a Dolly fan since I was little kid and I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing her in concert a couple of times. She’s always been a touchstone, so I’m tickled that I now have a poem to honor that. 

The poem almost didn’t happen. I wrote a much longer draft before Christmas and couldn’t figure out how to cut it. I even wrote an entirely different poem about an entirely different person (Mary Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life – hopefully it will have a home soon, too!) to try and clear the cobwebs, since my output in 2020 was practically nil. 

While I was on a socially-distanced getaway after Christmas, I sat in my little motel room in Mountain City, Tennessee and finished the poem an hour before the deadline. Whew! 

Collin Kelley, New poem “Roosters and Hens” in Limp Wrist

I phoned Bob this week, after years of thinking about him, sending and receiving Christmas cards. Happily, joyfully, he’s well, in his 90s now. North London’s still audible in his vowels, although he moved away, as I did, years ago.

When we met, I was 5 or 6 years old, and he was around 40. He had been widowed: devastated by the death of his first wife, and turned up at my father’s church, looking for consolation. I was bored, hanging around, at a loose end while something was going on: prayer, singing, meeting, adults chatting – something a 5-year-old couldn’t, or wouldn’t, share. 

There I was, small, awkward for my age, idling, waiting (it turns out) for a hand to hold –  metaphorically, emotionally, psychologically, and literally. 

“I noticed you,” Bob recalled towards the end of our conversation, “and prayed that you would come and hold my hand. And you did.” 

I thought, momentarily, of naming this blog I Answer A Prayer, but my views on prayer are complicated. I realise this is one of the reasons I haven’t phoned Bob for so long. I didn’t want him to be disappointed that I’ve turned out poet, not angel. 

Liz Lefroy, I Phone A Friend

All morning,
wind against

the house. Winter
birds hidden

in their bushes.
The grey fields,

the grey sky.
Grey sorrow.

Hawk in his
tree, speaking

to death, death
speaking back.

Tom Montag, All Morning

This week, I dedicate this post to the memory of Alfonso M. Gomez, father of friend and great poet, Rodney Gomez. I have admired Gomez’s work for years now (here’s another point of connection and another). I have shared his work in classes at both the undergrad and grad level (his “Our Lady of San Juan” is one in particular that keeps teaching me). He has also been kind to my work as well.

Along with poetry, we share South Texas between us. Much of my childhood was spent with driving from Corpus Christi to Matamoros, often stopping to visit folks in Brownsville, where Rodney himself was born and raised. Through South Texas, we have mesquite trees and hot summers and community forged through a mix of perseverance, hard work, and hope. Now, we are connected in absence.

Life in the pandemic has made it hard for me to reach out to everyone I would like to when I would like to. I saw news of Rodney’s father passing online and sent my condolences to him. When Rodney later shared the art piece below, which he said was inspired by my poem “Scripture: Hour,” it is not enough to say I was moved. I felt seen. This particular poem–one of a sequence of poems that engages with how little I know of my own father’s death, down to not knowing what day he died–was a hard fight to get right.

José Angel Araguz, in memory: Alfonso M. Gomez

My mother died recently, and I was grateful for all the emails, phone calls, and Facebook comments, people moved to reach out to me, to touch, electronically. I was moved. And I was amazed that a ton of people sent me cards. It was so lovely to receive these bits of paper and color through the, let’s face it, miracle of the US Postal Service. It was startling and thrilling to see, of all things, people’s handwriting! The loops of one friend, the scratch of another dear soul.

Wow. That all these people took the time to stand in front of a selection of cards at some store, trying not to breathe in someone else’s Covid germs, debating whether this card was too sappy, that one too cute, then took it home and, I would bet, to a person, paused, pen clutched in curled fingers, thinking “what on earth will I say??” And then they commenced, and said in black pen or blue all number of lovely things, including just “thinking of you,” which was true and warming.

And the signatures! Do I sound like a lunatic?

But this evidence of our selves, our scrawly names. In these typefaced days of electronic signatures and stock emojis, of typing someone’s address or phone number into your phone rather than have them scribble it on a scrap of paper, the distinctiveness of handwriting has been hidden. It exists. We all haven’t collectively forgotten how to write. Although I do hear that children are no longer taught to write cursive. We all still, at some point or another, put pen point to paper, and the heft of pen and hand and arm, the wick of inkpoint, the tautness or looseness of loop or line are an intimate part of us.

It was a tender moment for me to see this evidence of my friends on paper, to see in their lines, thick or thin, even or jiggly, their thoughts of me, and of course, as the death of a mother is a big event for everyone, their thoughts from within themselves and their own experience of loss or the anticipation thereof. Stunning.

Marilyn McCabe, Sit right down; or, On Handwriting

looking for the reflection of self

the other half of the ticket for the ferry
to cross over after you
on the other side of me
the doppelgänger of a smile
in the mirror that brings death to life

i nearly said life to death

Jim Young, i nearly said

Just when I thought nothing could be worse than January, along comes the first week of February.

Granted, no insurrection and murder at the capital—but this past week was brutal. For me, personally. And it seems there’s a lot of struggle in the zeitgeist over the past seven days. A lot of folks saying they’re hitting a wall of some sorts. If that’s you, I feel ya.

So, I got nuthin’ much for you this week. Any words I might have mustered on pretty much any topic would have been soaked in bitterness, pessimism, and dank, sour defeat. I muted several folks on Instagram back around Wednesday because their relentless exhortations to adjust my attitude and find joy and manifest and transform and dream felt like an assault.

I fuckin’ know how to look for joy, y’all. I. am. doing. it. all. the. damn. time.

I feel increasingly hostile toward those who do not acknowledge systemic causes of illness, burnout, and general failure to thrive. Although I’m not a working mom any more, I felt every word of this article that’s been making the rounds. Especially these few:

A critical first step is to remind yourself that the reason you feel guilty, apathetic and exhausted during this worldwide crisis is due to choices that were made by people other than yourself.

At the same time, I realize that we all do get to make choices. Sometimes we don’t have very good ones to make, but we almost always have some. This week, I chose not to write.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of walls and hitting them

I read two great poetry books this month. Meg Johnson’s Without: Body, Name, Country (Vine Leaves Press) presents poems and flash creative nonfiction that explore identity, illness, and politics. Broken into two parts, the first section offers poems that explore various personas, while the second presents memoir the author’s experience with a harrowing illness in the form of short, evocative flash pieces.

And the Whale by Sonya Vatomsky (Paper Nautilus) is a gorgeous chapbook, filled with powerful poems that weave mythology and Russian folklore into an exploration of love, sex, grief, and trauma. I was personally in love with the persona of the Widow, who features in several poems that examine the shadows of the past.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: January 2021

Many of the women I know feel like we’ve “been through something” during the Tr*mp administration. The very good reason for that is that we’d already “been through something” (likely many somethings), and recent years scratched those vulnerabilities raw. They made us aware more than ever of the molds we’re meant to fit and the difficulty of navigating them, something we’ve been doing all our lives.

Much of that has to do with sex. The adventures of it. Its hazards and manipulations. Parts that entice us. Parts that repel us. How we see ourselves inside that context. How others see us in it (and if they can see us outside it). For example, “Truckers honked around us, past us. We waved to the cute ones, hiked our skirts higher on our pale thighs.” We age into sexualized versions of ourselves, age a bit inside those years and then just age.

A new chapbook, We by Sarah Freligh (2021, Harbor Editions, Small Harbor Publishing), interrogates those spaces: What say do we have? What do we claim as our own? Here are some poem titles with answers: “Those Girls.” “Good Girls.” “A Kind of Magic.” “Goddesses.” In just 16 poems, We takes us through all of those and more. “We” are those girls. In any combination. Or one at a time. Or none at all. And “we” are made appealing for ourselves instead of any “other,” though we go through some things figuring that out.

We is a balm for that — beginning with its dedication page, which reads, “All the girls, everywhere.”

Carolee Bennett, “kind of lovely in their shadowed dark”

As a global community, a nation, and as individuals, we are navigating grief. For some, it’s the loss of a family member to COVID or their employment; for others it’s the loss of the vacation or dining at a restaurant. I’m not casting aspersions at anyone. Grief is complicated. There truly isn’t a grief olympics.

Grief stitches itself into a person and leaves the ends of the thread hanging out. Sometimes, you feel the twinge of the deeply-seated stitch of the loss of your father six years ago. Sometimes, the dangling thread catches on a current moment and you cast books from your shelves searching for an ephemeral gift from a newly gone friend. Your response to “Did you maybe throw it away?” is a wail of “I didn’t know she was going to die!”

Grief challenges our ideas of how our lives are meant to be – of course our good friends, our spouses, our beloved pets will be with us always, of course our lives will continue forward with total freedom and no mass casualty events like a pandemic. For most of us, we don’t have ready tools to move forward in grief because we have never imagined a scenario where we would truly suffer loss. Grief always catches us by surprise, even if the person we lose is 93 years old, even if we know, though do not acknowledge, that everything is always changing. Sometimes we are mourning the loss of what we thought would be.

I try to write the grief out. Write about my father, about my friend, about a dream (and livelihood) on hold, the ravages of cancer. I try to reason my way through to the other side. But there is no other side.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The persistence of grief

My visiting writer gig at Randolph College started yesterday. As the Pearl S. Buck Writer in Residence (virtually), I’m teaching a 4-session workshop each Thursday night in February, 7-9pm. There are only 4 members, all advanced poetry students, so it’s a pretty nice gig. The topic is “Haunted and Weird,” since the organizer told me these students were also jazzed about speculative fiction–but also because strangeness and surprise make for complicated, interesting, powerful poems. […]

Here are some poems they had to read for class, as well as each other’s drafts. I also asked them to be ready to explain which poem unsettled them most and why.

– Emily Dickinson, “One Need Not Be a Chamber”

– Paul Mariani, “Ghost”

– Margaret Atwood, “Morning in the Burned House”

– Christopher Kennedy, “Ghost in the Land of Skeletons”

– Janice N. Harrington, “Shaking the Grass”

– Mary Oliver, “The Mango”

– Shane McRae, “Whose Story of Us Is We Is Told Is Us”

– Derek Sheffield, “Monsters”

I started us off with “Monsters,” which triggers all my parent-fear. One student named Mariani’s “Ghost” as the most unsettling–that’s another poem full of guilt, and very crafty in how it sets up situations and then dissolves them. For everyone else it was “The Mango,” in which the speaker hears voices–and yet it’s more political than supernatural. One way all of these poems are shifty: what’s “real” is up for grabs, although there’s plenty of realistic detail within them.

Lesley Wheeler, Haunted and weird poetry: a lesson plan

As I watched Trumpism wash through America, I thought again and again: “what was my contribution to this? How did I make this happen, or allow this to happen?”

Well, the answer was clear. I had a least one devoted reader who was also a devoted Trump fan, and I recognized at once that I was appealing in exactly the same way Mr Trump was. I used to practice a sort of diaristic magical realism. I talked to stars and mountains and ghosts. Something that appealed emotionally got free rein, and if facts got trampled in the process, who cares? Other people would take care of the facts. I was busy with the realm of the emotions and of the soul. What I was interested in was joy and delight. Nothing else mattered, not really.

And so I was shocked into silence, inward and outward. I didn’t want to be part of spreading this poison. I mistrusted myself deeply. I stopped my supposedly harmless riffing on supernatural themes. No, I’m not meeting Vajrasattva in the parking garage. No, I am not conversing with ghosts. No, I am not dissolving into the wind. I’m someone who washes his hands and wears a mask and is determined to get the vaccine, because viruses don’t give a damn about Vajrasattva and never have. Misty devotion to to deities such as the Great South Wall Protector lead straight to children in cages. The hell with misty devotion. The hell with deities. I’m trying to keep my family alive. 

When I was setting out in life, the Enlightenment looked like a done deal. Everyone acknowledged the primacy of science. I gave myself to old books and old stories, partly because I already loved them, and partly with a sense that the post-Enlightenment world was losing something precious: that a salvage operation was in order. That we were throwing sources of joy and wisdom out, as well as sources of superstition and bigotry, The march of science was inevitable: it had the backing of the liberal West, of Soviet Communism, and of global Capital: how could it falter? It needed no help from me. I could wander among the wreckage of our cultural past, find lost treasures in the rubble, wash the mud off them and hold them up to the sun.

And the treasures are there, sure enough. I was right about that part. But science, reason, rationality, commitment to what can be ascertained and confirmed by rigorous experiment — they turned out to be as fragile as the treasures I was hunting. I had misunderstood. It was all fragile.

The joy blew out like a candle, and I lost my place. I read political news in the morning, instead of poetry. I begin a novel and drop it impatiently: they’re just making stuff up. Anyone can make stuff up. The hard thing is sticking to the truth.

I don’t quite recognize myself, in all this, and that’s probably a good sign.

In order to arrive at what you are not
       You must go through the way in which you are not.

Dale Favier, Losing My Place

Like [Dean] Young, I admit to envy of my visual artist friends. Here is my painting of some pears with a lemon. Here is my sculpture of a man in a decaying suit. They have the ‘opportunity to interact with the medium [of their creation] in a primal, physical way.’ This physical, primal method of creation, this disappearing into the bombed cathedral to vandalise what I have created in order to make something new, is what I have long longed for in my practice.

I think of my books of poems and I think of the pain of birthing them, not the individual poems, but the the ripping apart and stitching back together of sequences, for the first four books, with intense help from others as my small-minded control-freakery threatened to refuse to allow them what they wanted to become. Four books. By the time of the fifth, I told myself I had learned how to proceed. (I hadn’t; I almost blew it.) My favourite part of book five was realising I needed to rip it apart and start again. And, just when I thought I had rescued it, to begin yet again.

So, I say pain, but I don’t really mean it. What I mean is fun. Ripping poems apart and interrogating them till they tell me what they need to become. Ditto the books. I spent part of yesterday taking one of Spurrier’s sanders to a poem that I had previously thought of as inviolable. I have plans for others. The bombed cathedral. It’s the only place to be.

Anthony Wilson, The bombed cathedral

Yesterday we ran along the beach. The polished stones each sheltering a patch of snow. The tide pools frozen, ostensibly lifeless. E. pointed to the lighthouse on the island in the distance. The ship nearby. Both appearing to hover over the ocean.

The cold wedges itself into our reality. Pulls the pieces apart.

The cold is a serpent that creeps over the earth, that pulls it from itself. Islands float on air, we float from one another, shivering. Closing our doors. Shuttering the windows.

E. explains how the cold settles in the hollows. How it clings to the ground and creeps. You can dig a hole to trap the cold outside your threshold. Like you might any other animal bound by gravity.

I can hear the cold
its infrasonic growling
filling the basement
rumbling in dark corners, like
the dog who wants to pile-on

There’s no need to
appropriate magic.
Notice, and believe
in the world as much as you
believe in flesh and blood.

Ren Powell, When Islands Hover

When I was child, in that weird time when memory is just beginning to form, I was obsessed with a black and white checkered volume of illustrated Mother Goose tales.  I carried it from room to room until it fell apart, staring at the pictures, imagining each story based only on the visuals. It would be a hot minute before I could read it.  Before I learned the alphabet, which my dad would have me recite in exchange for a pack of Rolos.  (thus my long trajectory of bribing myself to write with chocolate.)  I’m sure the bribing only happened once, but I remember the feeling of accomplishment as he handed over the candy.  I landed in kindergarten knowing the letters, but it’d be a year or so til they started making sense as words, as patterns, as something familiar. Waiting alone  in the car while my mom was in the store (because yo, it was the late 70’s), I remember the exact moment the orange-lit words on the Jewel-Osco sign made sense and suddenly the code was broken.  I spent the next couple years writing out letters on those lined newsprint tablets, perfecting a neatness I never exhibit in my scrawling. While I had spent years before obsessed with pens & notebooks,  drawing squiggled lines and making up stories, now I could do it for real.  

On the phone last night, my dad tells me the story of how he kept getting in trouble in elementary school for not paying attention to lessons and instead writing ghost stories surreptitiously at his desk. Suddenly, a secret question was long-answered.  Where this all comes from.  The need to tell stories.  My mother would, when alive, regularly to others say about my writing or my smarts, we don’t know where she gets it. My mother was less of a reader, her enthusiasms tending toward True Romance magazines, but then only on vacation when she could unwind. Words, however,  were always in the house, but the kind varied. Hunting & fishing manuals.  National Geographics. Horror novels passed off from my aunt. Later, overloaded trips home from the library. I had always known my dad was a big reader, even now when a lot of that reading happens online. But I’d never know about the stories. Those similar tendencies that show up, even without having made themselves known. 

Kristy Bowen, roots

Gypsum and karst my consonants;
pine and mountain-fed streams, my vowels.
My syntax and speech of copper-mined and gold-
veined hills; the craggy, rain-soaked vowels
that won’t stop stippling the ceilings.
My tutors: stonecroppings and terraces,
ochre-traced sunflowers; the flint-tapping call
of the mountain shrike. My avatars: stick
shift jeepneys, five of them crowded into
two-lane roads. My aubades from hot
bean curd vendors, the molasses of their song.

Luisa A. Igloria, Lexicography

What I remember most is that I was really feverish for a few days and for some reason the name of the ‘Avant Garde’ composer Cornelius Cardew popped into my head. I looked his details up and found that he died in the early hours of 13 December, 1981, a victim of a hit-and-run on Leyton high road, on the humpback bridge next to Leyton Tube station. Conspiracy theorists claimed that his politics made his death suspicious. One can’t really blame anyone for thinking that, given that it was round about the same time that Hilda Murrell was bumped off (though a local man was subsequently convicted for her murder).

At the time of my illness, I’d just started reading an Amy Clampitt collection What the Light Was like, published by Faber in 1986, and, immediately after looking up Cardew on my phone, I opened the book on her elegiac poem ‘A Curfew’, about the day that her brother Richard, a doctor, died, at the age of 56. The poem is subtitled ‘December 13, 1981’. The billions-to-one coincidence was increased by the fact that ‘fever’ occurs three times in the poem, including as its opening word.

Matthew Paul, On coincidence

So, things have been rough this week. It’s been dreary, rainy, and too cold to go outside much. America hit the 450,000 mark in people that have been lost to covid, as variants with higher contagion rates and seemingly slightly more dangerous consequences are spreading around the world.

Washington State has still got a shortage of vaccines, and they don’t seem to prioritizing the chronically ill or the disabled. I’ve been struggling with anxiety about that and at the same time, trying to get better from a sinus thing and a stomach thing (not covid, just the result of my normally crappy immune system.)

Meanwhile, a literary magazine I’ve respected and longed to get into for twenty years, about ten months after my work appeared in it for the first time, decided to publish a former professor-pedophile who abused students and kept a gigantic collection of child rape films. This triggered a lot of sadness and anger from a lot of abuse survivors, including me (I was raped when I was six years old). The literary magazine then published a non-apology. The whole thing left me feeling sick and disappointed in the poetryworld. Meanwhile, I’m sending my manuscripts out into the world, hoping for a good press to pick them up. Have we decided what a “good press” means to us?  What are we even hoping for?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Envisioning Better Things

This is the first of a mini-series about print poetry magazines. Although I do my quarterly spreadsheet, there’s no room for any description of the mags, so I thought it would be nice to feature some of my favourites as a reader, where I like to submit myself and what I subscribe to. […]

The other day it was time to subscribe to some new titles, and I decided to give PN Review a proper try. I’ve only ever read the odd single issue, and I found it a bit academic. But now I’m getting into the academic mindset, perhaps it’s a good time to try it again? PN Review hasn’t arrived yet, but I’ve also just subbed to Butcher’s Dog, a small mag, but with a big bite, perhaps. I sat next to editor Jo Clement at a Poetry Book Fair once, and came away with a couple of back issues. Here’s what came in the post yesterday. My favourite poem in it is ‘I crossed the Humber Bridge without paying’ by Rachel Bower

Another magazine I want to give a shout out to is Prole. Edited by Brett Evans and Phil Robertson, Prole has been going for some years now and they have a unique system as regards paying contributors which I admire very much. Basically, instead of offering contributors a free copy of the issue they are in, they give contributors a share in any profit an issue makes. So as a contributor you’re given a PDF of the mag, but if you want a hard copy then you buy it. Your buying it then helps grow the potential pot that ends up being shared amongst contributors. Or you can opt to let Prole keep it for their funds, but that’s entirely up to you. We’re talking a very small amount, but it’s the principle that counts. More power to Prole! I do have a couple of poems in this latest issue, which I’m very pleased about, as they were both a bit ‘out there’, and I had a feeling they might sit well in the magazine. There’s a lot of prose in Prole, if you’re interested in that too.

Another longstanding poetry magazine with great character is The Frogmore Papers. It’s packed full of poetry and is, I think, unique in publishing micro-reviews (which I really appreciate as a reader, but also contribute to occasionally). The magazine features covers by local artists and has a ‘sister’ online publication called Morphrog – can you see what they did there?

Robin Houghton, On poetry magazines: Butcher’s Dog, Prole, Frogmore Papers

After over 30 years, Patricia Oxley is standing down as Acumen’s editor. Danielle Hope, who’s long been connected with the magazine, will take over. I wish them both luck.

I suspect that Acumen’s loyal readership is on the older side. I’ve been a subscriber for a long time. I’ve had several poems, letters and the odd article in it – worthwhile pieces (in my opinion) that I’d have trouble placing elsewhere, especially nowadays: pieces that non-poets might like.

The extensive reviews section (35 pages in the current issue) is very ably managed by Glyn Pursglove. It doesn’t rush to cover all the latest stunning debuts. It also deals with translations and the work of established (though perhaps not fashionable) poets (Etty, etc). Books by, amongst others, Ni Chuilleanain and Longley are reviewed at length in the current issue.

Having a letters section (with maybe 4 months from submission to publication) may seem quaint in this Twitter age. The letters are often mini-articles though.

Tim Love, Acumen

You have continued to launch and promote your poets’ work. How have you managed to stay motivated?

I’m not good at doing nothing. I like keeping busy and having a sense of purpose. I also have a strong sense of responsibility and generally find it’s easier to promote others’ work than my own. The sheer volume of possible marketing and social media sharing etc can become overwhelming though – it is a potentially 24-7 job. I think prioritising and routine help here. V. Press has been running over 7 years (over 5 years publishing solo-authored pamphlets and collections), so I’ve tried and tested what’s most effective. I mostly stick to that, but then also explore a few new possibilities regularly as and when appropriate. During covid-19, this has included eBook versions of some of our flash fiction titles and an expanded winter sale.

Is it easier to enable others than yourself when it comes to writing?

Yes!

What non-writing ways do you think poets can feed themselves with when the muse has packed up her bags and gone away for a while?

I’m a firm believer in ‘two birds with one stone’ and ‘not having all one’s eggs in one basket’. I think anything anyone loves outside of writing is joyful in itself, a potential source of inspiration, and hopefully replenishes energy, which may then be used for new writing.

For me this includes:

Reading – always a source of inspiration as well as enjoyment. (Reviewing for a journal can help give me an added focus and permission to prioritise reading over more mundane chores or tasks.)

Exercise (walking, swimming, cycling, running) – the feel-good hormones are a mental and physical health boost. Wherever I exercise, in moments of boredom (or concentration on the movement), I often find my subconscious will start playing with editing options or ideas for new work. The exercise pace can be especially useful with rhythms in poetry. If I’m outdoors, there’s the extra bonus that I’ll often notice something in the world around me that makes me stop to take a photograph or provides notes for a new poem.

Painting – because I’m a novice painter, the creativity of painting is less fettered by the critical editing eye that is always there when I’m writing. So, it’s much easier for me to replenish creative energy this way, that then often re-sparks the urge to write.

Photography – as with painting. except the critical part of my brain interferes more. But, in contrast, I’m more likely with photography than painting to then be inspired to combine text with an image and turn it into a haiku-influenced photo-poem.

Meditation/Pauses – I try to start each day with a ten-minute meditation. (I use Sam Harris’s Waking Up course as a framework https://wakingup.com/.) This often brings me a sense of peace, greater perspective and reminds me to be grateful for all the small things that make me smile, laugh or feel good. It’s easy to forget that there’s joy and wonder in simply being alive, breathing. If I get stressed or agitated during the day, I’ll maybe try to do a small pause, tuning in to each of the five senses in turn. Occasionally, inspiration for a poem will also arise from these, as if from nowhere. But, for me, this example isn’t really about writing directly, it’s about re-energising and re-grounding for whatever the day brings, including hopefully some writing!

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Sarah James

Mid-week I attended a reading put on by the folks at Seren, Jonathan Edwards and Gillian Clarke both read wonderfully, as well as a host of open mic folks. I had totally missed the invitation to take part in the open mic, so missed my chance to say I’ve shared a bill with those two. One day perhaps!! I am at least two books behind on Gillian’s work, so I’d best do something about that.

I do miss reading aloud to people. I can’t imagine we’ll be doing a Rogue Strands night for a while yet, sadly, but I have bagged a slot at a Zoom-based evening of poetry that’s been organised by my local beer shop. A perfect combination for me, I reckon…Who knew, but one of the chaps that works there is also a poet.

Friday night, I watched Derek Mahon, The Poetry Nonsense on BBC two. I am ashamed to say I don’t know much about Mahon, other than how well he is/was respected. I have a selected Mahon by my bedside ready to read, so I will get there eventually, but he came across as an interesting if troubled soul in this doc. I think, however, it was leaving a lot more out about the man. I guess that may come out when I get to the poems.

I think the doc will be on the iPlayer for a while yet..get yerself over there and get it watched.

However, before I bugger off to get on with cooking dinner I shall leave you with a quote from a book that is t the top of my reading pile, eg I am reading at the mo…It’s also another Derek, the mighty Derek Walcott. I saw this opening to one of his poems last night and it seems apt for the world as it stands at present.

“The starved eye devours the seascape for the morsel
Of a sail.

The horizon threads it infinitely.”

They are the opening lines from ‘The Castaway” and have made me desperate for the smell of salt in my nostrils, they’ve made me desperate to get back to the coast of Norfolk, but I’ll settle for something outside of the streets of Beckenham.

Christ, I want to go to Walcott, Derek.

Mat Riches, The Dels

In Heather Seller’s wonderful craft book Page After Page (or its sequel, Chapter After Chapter), she tells a story about sending her work out once a year. It’s like getting all the little ballerinas ready for a recital, she writes. Lots of polishing and fixing of hems, adjusting of tiaras. Getting those toe-shoes on and telling everyone to smile. Then shooing them out onto the stage

That’s what it feels like to me, too. Before anything goes out, I feel a need to read it out loud and make a few adjustments, changing a line or a word here–sometimes rewriting an entire poem. Knowing that complete strangers are going to take a close look at my darlings makes me take a closer look at them first.

The exciting bit is that sometimes I find a slight-ish feeling poem that has made its way into the submission file, and this process results in an overhaul.

If you ever check my ancient blog (now called One Bad Poem), you’ll find poems I’ve culled from the send-out book over the years. But just as often as I set them aside, I revise them. So, this past week, a slight poem about a woman waking up from a dream into an unreal world became a Covid-19 / mask poem, much bigger in its reach. It doesn’t feel slight any longer, and it immediately went out (“to some lucky editor!” as Professor Bentley used to say).

Bethany Reid, The Resolution

Over here at Rogue Strands Towers, we’re always looking out for a decent excuse to sideline all our commitments and dive into poetry blogs. Of course, this feeling only grows as the pandemic rumbles on, so I was delighted to discover Bob Mee’s terrific poetry blog (see what I mean here) a few weeks ago.

I might be late to the party, as his blog’s been going for a fair while now, but the excellent news is that I’ve thus had loads of top-notch reading matter to get through. Bob Mee’s been involved in poetry for decades, and I’ve realised he even published one of my poems back in 2004 when he was running iota magazine (via Ragged Raven Press) with Janet Murch. His experience, knowledge and astute vision of the genre shine through in every post, whether reviewing, commenting on news, posting original work, etc, etc. All in all, his poetry blog’s a gem and I thoroughly recommend it. 

Matthew Stewart, Bob Mee’s poetry blog

I’ve been blogging on this site since 2008. (I have a limited reserve of consistency, and what I do have I use up on this blog and the gym.) Lately I’ve been kicking around the idea of putting together a book of essays from some of my posts, but there is a huge amount of material to comb through and I don’t know if it would be interesting to anyone. I don’t know if my yammering about nonsense and complaining about the shoddy state of retail is enough to warrant an entire book. Also, it seems a little grandiose, as though I think that what I have to say is so riveting that it all needs to go into book so that the whole world may have easy access to all of my amazing thoughts. (This attitude is probably why I never gained much traction as a writer.) Nonetheless, I’m still considering this book thing. There are certain Big Themes that have emerged over time that I could work with. Or I could just go full fluff and make the entire book about my exploits in Stardew Valley. Stranger things have sold.

Kristen McHenry, Gateway Peanut Can, Book Musings, Gym Bag Envy

The Emperor penguin broods a substitute rock because the rest of the flock need him to stay with them and play his part in keeping them all collectively warm. If those who lost eggs all left to return to the seas, too few would remain to allow all to survive. He uses the rock to mimic his fellow penguins. The life-support machines allow Amma-ji to mimic life while the poem’s narrator has to adjust to life without her.

“The Bone that Sang” is tender, wryly humoured and humane in the treatment of its subjects. Claire Booker writes lyrical poems with compassion, allowing readers to construct the stories they tell.

Emma Lee, “The Bone that Sang” Claire Booker (Indigo Dreams Publishing) – book review

i folded the sheet of newspaper into a hat
the way my mother did when I was a child
if i made two more folds
it would have become a boat
but i stop at the hat and i place it on my head
once upon a time i did this to please my mother
so she would know that i learned from her
years later i wore the hat to make my children laugh
now my mother is gone and so are the children
in the silence of the house i wear the foolish hat
a hat made of folded newspaper.
no one sees
no one laughs
from outside
i hear the sound of a blue jay.
it is a lonely sound

James Lee Jobe, faith rings like a hammer

I have some people who have helped me out these past few weeks, and one went so far as to put on a gorilla suit to cheer me up. You wouldn’t think a gorilla suit would cheer you up to such a degree, but I’m here to tell you it changed my life. Also many other just sweet nice things that friends have said and done. And all the listening! and checking in. Feeling very blessed in that regard.

Early Sunday morning photowalks have continued to save my life. Out there right about sunrise, and no one around really. I need to write an entire essay about that process and what I’m learning from it. So that’s hopeful. Thinking about what I want to write when I have time. […]

Poetry. I own all the previously published of Bronwen Wallace, but a collected with a few new early unpublished poems was too hard to resist. How is it that in a new format, nice cover, all the poetry seems new and fresh still? Maybe because Bronwen Wallace has so much depth. If you’ve not read her, well, please do.

Shawna Lemay, Breathing During a Pandemic

I will not write you an obituary, it has been
but five days. It has been a week. It has been

the whole

of your life. Where are you? Now, they say
you’re found, and now. A tribute

of dazzling, knitted scarves. Today,
the longest day. Richard,

we love you. Please get up.

rob mclennan, Two poems for RM Vaughan

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 47

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: grief and horror, wanderlust and staying put, soft joys and tough political questions.


It’s been a rough week. It started with me staying up all night with kitten Sylvia that required the emergency vet (okay now, but gave us quite a scare), continued with me being too sick (not covid, but a stomach and sinus infection) to get much work reading or writing done, and ended with the news that my maternal grandmother, after surviving covid-19 for two weeks, passed away today, just a few days short of her 96th birthday. This was my last surviving grandparent, and one who shared with me a love of literature – Poe, Hemingway and Faulkner were a few of her favorites, and in her youth she read voraciously. She lived in Missouri, which has some of the highest covid rates, and no one was able to visit her the last weeks of her life, because of covid.

I know people are chafing under travel restrictions during Thanksgiving, but remember that people like me – and my grandmother – are the people that need protection. Wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and stay home. Having to miss a Thanksgiving with family is much better than having to mourn a family member you can’t even have a funeral for, which is what I’m doing this week. No amount of pumpkin pie is worth that.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Doldrums, Grieving a Loss and Moments of Light

Yesterday, someone bought a pocket watch that would have been mine at an auction. I will not know the name of the person who now owns it but our fates are now forever intertwined. On the English Crown rests the mountain of light. The fundamental principle of the world is the same as that of love: what is mine today will be yours tomorrow. Yesterday, someone bought a heart that would have been mine at an auction. I will not know the name of the person who now owns it but our fates are now forever intertwined.

I am sharpening my pen like an ancient knife. Tell me your name, you, on whose slender swan neck shines the sapphire that will be mine tomorrow. I will mount it in gold.

Saudamini Deo, Omnes una manet nox

let’s stop all this
        clearly it’s not working

no one can say
                we didn’t try

                        but it collapsed under its own wait (sic)

instead let’s make ready the soil

        plant seeds & care for them                tenderly

                until something (new) & (better)

springs wildly toward the sun

Jason Crane, POEM: wildly toward the sun

The feathered chonk plomps on my shoulder. “Bonjourno!” My funny, gray angster.

She laughs and explains the situation.
“Good girl!”

Only two words, but I catch her meaning. She has indeed been well behaved today and deserves a reward.

I hold a slice of Lite-Brite pink grapefruit out on my palm.

Dancing excitedly, my ersatz child digs her black beak into the acidic flesh.

In an instant, her reward becomes my regret as it squirts to land in my eye.

Life. It would be nothing without these bad surprises from good decisions.

Allyson Whipple, November Poetry Contest Winner

We stop to look upon the corpse in the snow. Blue skin and an open mouth. Open eyes. Moonlight across the frozen face. Moonlight that plays a soft music that entertains the snow. We say a prayer for the deceased. We say a prayer for the ones who grieve. And we say a prayer for ourselves, for our lives. We stop to look upon the corpse in the snow. And around us gather the ghosts of many others who died alone, without even their names. We stop. We speak the words. And we move on. But before we move on, we cover the body with snow, using our cold and wet hands like shovels.

James Lee Jobe, We say a prayer for the ones who grieve.

As I move further away from her death she appears to me more clearly. Not as she was in her last months, but as she was when I was young, when she was just going around gobbling up life with wit and humour and grace. The tables groaning with food, the house a constant stream of guests. Her laughter. Her elegance.

I have lived long enough to look back and beg for it again. I am begging for it again, even those moments when I knew I disappointed her, when we were not really talking. When I am out walking the dog. When I look through old photographs. Th autumn rain. Her fry-ups before Saturday school. I meet all of it.

I had no idea I would miss it.

Anthony Wilson, Before

black dress gloves on a polished table
black lace veils on hats laid aside
the tide of conversation turns
around hat pins and other things
no one is the first to go as the clock chimes
silence leads the way as sadness falls
upon the thought that soon
soon maybe
perhaps
another cup of tea and a cake

Jim Young, heirloom in the room

No, I’m not crying because I’m waiting for my own spinal tap results. I don’t cling to life that much. But I know he does. Most people I know have a Velcro-like attraction to life as if we didn’t know this is all temporary. Maybe we didn’t at first, not until that first goldfish died–or grandparent. The results aren’t even here yet and I’m thinking about him letting go of us, of us letting go of him. That’s different from clinging to one’s own life—clinging to others. We like having them around while we’re still here and it won’t be the same without them. So, the goldfish died and Mom helped with the funeral and the note you wrote for the coffin in crayon and she said, “That’s life,” and only now you know she meant that life is a bunch of comings and goings. Here I am talking about my life again and I don’t want it to be about mine, but his—that’s what we’re talking about: why it matters that his could be ending if the tests say so. It matters because it’s ending within my life span and that’s not fair and that’s just selfish. I always want to go first. I’ll still be here missing him and the kids will be torn up with grief. Their eyes are puffy just imagining what’s coming and I can’t bear to see them cry like this, and here we are talking about me again. It hurts you know. You know we are talking about putting our beloved bunny down? The results aren’t here yet, so we’ll worry about those later.

Cathy Wittmeyer, That’s Life

No NEH grant again, a magazine acceptance, a solicitation of poems from a magazine I’d never cracked (!), several poem rejections, some drafting and revising, lots of Shenandoah work, a vague but persistent headache, short days and blustery cold–hello from a mixed-blessing November in Sabbatical Land. I hereby mark the sixth-month birthday of my novel Unbecoming, and remind you that you can message me if you want a signed bookplate for that OR The State She’s In. (Here, by the way, is a new and very lovely review of the latter by Luisa Igloria in RHINO.) I can’t say I’m in much of a mood for hustle, though; it feels like crawling-under-a-rock season. I’m not doing a ton of writing, nor am I experiencing that burst of energy I’d hoped for after the election, but maybe that’s because there’s no “after”? It’s more like an intensification of suspense, a “now” that just keeps spreading its tentacles.

Lesley Wheeler, Future schmuture

Twelve: Poems Inspired by the Brother’s Grimm Fairy Tale is officially available from Interstellar Flight Press. 

I mean . . ., okay, technically, it’s been out in the world since September. I just haven’t got around to saying it until now.

You may as well as me, Why? Aren’t you excited?

And the answer is yes, I’m very excited. Yet, somehow I’m having a hard time sharing that excitement with people.

Maybe it’s just the general 2020 vibes and all the anxiety and weirdness that comes with it. I’m sure that’s at least a part of it — however, another part is some strange block I have about promoting and celebrating my own work.

Example One. Sitting around a campfire with my aunt, cousins, and sister, we were taking turns saying the things we felt most proud off this year. When it was my turn, I rattled off a few things (of which I don’t remember). When I finished, my sister was flabbergasted. “I thought you were going talk about your book coming out. How could you not talk about your book coming out?”

“Oh, yeaaaah,” I said. “Yes, yeah, of course, I’m super proud of that, too.”

Example Two. Shortly after my book came out, I was hanging out with my brother. He turns to me and says, “I’m really enjoying your book.”

“Oh, yeah, which one?” I ask, thinking he’s talking about one of the books I’d loaned him recently.

He gives me a funny look. “You know, your book. Twelve?”

“Oh, yeaaaah” I start laughing, finding myself embarrassed for forgetting I published a book. It’s out in the world. People are reading it.

2020 is indeed a strange year, rife with intense extremes of emotion. Sometimes I don’t know how to process those emotions or even how to move through my day, shifting from the living room to the dinning room to the bedroom as I push through the tasks of my day job and squeeze in space for the writing and work I’m passionate about.

I want to be excited about Twelve. I’m proud of my little collection of prose poems. I’m proud of the work I did.

I want to be better about celebrating my own work, about following through with the business of promoting it, and with sharing it with others who might fall in love with it.

To that end, I can say, Twelve is officially out. People have been buying it, and you can buy it, too.

Andrea Blythe, TWELVE is Available & Other Goings On

I’ve had trouble sharing this because I get too excited about it, but here goes: Victor Labenske has made a song cycle from poems in my book Tasty Other

In May, we met via Zoom so we could talk through poems and plans.

In June, we met again so Victor could show me his first complete draft, and he sang through the whole thing for me, which was amusing and wonderful!

This past Friday, Victor recorded the song cycle with two sopranos, Elda Peralta McGinty and Judi Labenske. I can’t wait to hear the final version! Having my poems turned into a song cycle is such a dream for this choir girl for life.

Katie Manning, Tasty Other: A Dramatic Song Cycle!

unvoiced is made from the text of Articles 18 – 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, having removed all the vowels, rendering the text unvoiced. 

This is a form of redaction, whereby ruling bodies erase portions of publicly available text deemed to be against national interest or community standards or the well-being of holders of high office or whatever. Yet this reduced, redacted text can still be spoken, albeit by a computer algorithm that does its best to articulate what remains, to give some kind of voice to the unvoiced. 

Visualising the outcome of this process employs the imagery of video streaming and surveillance in a world where bandwidth and access can be reduced or cut off at a mere flick of a switch.

After being initially published in non-compliant 01: censorship (2019), unvoiced was an Offical Selection at FILE Electronic Language International Festival (Sao Paolo, August, 2020), and 2020 Newlyn Short Film Festival (UK, April, 2020). Now it is Official Selection for 2020 Film and Video Poetry Symposium (Los Angeles, which is streaming in full during November and December. You can watch the Symposium via the stream below.

Ian Gibbins, unvoiced at the 2020 Film and Video Poetry Symposium

Mother Mary Comes To Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology is out now from Madville Publishing. On Nov. 16, we held a launch event via Zoom in conjunction with Poetry Atlanta and Georgia Center for the Book. You can watch it above. On Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m., we’ll have a second reading event hosted by the Wild & Precious Life Series

Karen Head and I are thrilled that this project we dreamed up seven years ago has finally come to fruition and we think you’ll agree this is a stellar lineup of poets paying homage to Mary. 

Collin Kelley, Mother Mary Comes To Me out now!

Who knew the apocalypse could be so cozy? So teaming with contagion and my own tiny paper tigers. let one by one out of cages? One disaster movie after another playing out in my dreams where the pipes bleed and water sprouts from all the sockets.” 

Back in the spring, as it dragged into summer, I had a hard time writing at all. What eventually happened in June & July was a short series somewhat related to lockdown and somewhat not. Since coronapoems are everywhere, and indeed, corona everywhere, they seem a dime a dozen right now, but I made a little zine with them because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them but they seem ripe for sharing right now, if anything as a snapshot of a moment.

You can read it here: https://issuu.com/aestheticsofresearch/docs/bloomzineelectronic

Kristy Bowen, bloom

Being a poet during a pandemic is a test of brevity. How best can the endless void, the featureless grey wrapped sky, the road that bends into the horizon, the distance that is measured in everything other than distance — how best can the infinite be compressed into neat lines that in the seventh reading still make some sense.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, 2020: Outro

So why have I been thinking about the sea so much? I’m not sure. Some is wistfulness about not being able to travel, and wondering if I’ll ever go back to some of the places I love, but I think it’s more elemental than that. Maybe it’s just a desire to sit and watch the waves crashing on the rocks, taking away my thoughts as I follow each wave like a breath, and then another: a desire for that renewal coming from somewhere I can’t see, imagine, or understand.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 46. Missing the Sea

The stories for our leavings. It’s funny that I am never asked about those – but for the stories of my destinations. “Why did you come here?”

Why not? It could have been anywhere unknown. Anywhere that smelled of strangers. Anywhere that would allow memories to lie still. Still enough for reflection.

I’ve noticed how the sea smells different everywhere it touches land. In winter sometimes, along Stavanger’s quayside it smells of watermelon. Orre strand smells dark as the rot that brings new life. Along the Canaries, the shore is jagged to inhale. Up north near the North Cape, it’s razor sharp.

I’ve been landlocked before, and lakes don’t breathe on their own. I’ve read that everything depends on the birds that come and go with the seasons, and on storms temperamental enough to drag bits of the world around with them. Transgressions like those of traveling merchants. Or militias.

I’m still pulled to wander, but I’m also learning now how porous the borders are. How even still waters will swell imperceptibly and spill into your path. How storms will drop fish and lizards from another county into your lap. No bridges necessary.

In Norway the name for hopscotch is å hoppe paradis. I have no idea why paradise. But hopping from square to square – chasing small stones, turn and return – does good to me right now. Simple. A little naive.

And meditative.

Ren Powell, Accidental Immigrant

And everyone comes from imagined
origins: land of dark sugar hills, land

of multiplying gravestones. You can clean
windowpanes with balled-up newsprint

and their shine will be like cathedral
glass dipped in milk. This is your

history, and you bind it in ink and crosses.
You were born in its shed but left for an

unholy land. Whatever you erect in its image
becomes an orchard where you will spend

the rest of your days like a bride who can’t
return until every fruit is charred or picked

clean. Who has decided to live in the present.
That is, between the crescent’s horns.

Luisa A. Igloria, Last Telegram

I’ve been slowly moving through Kingston poet Sadiqa de Meijer’s utterly fascinating alfabet/ alphabet: a memoir of a first language (Windsor ON: Palimpsest Press, 2020), composed as an exploration of how language thinks and swims, through her ongoing experience with moving physically from one language, culture and country into another. In a suite of short essays arranged alphabetically by title, she narrates and explores the shifts between the Dutch language, from her origins in the Netherlands, to English-speaking Canada, working her way through multiple implied and inherent differences, many of which she has only begun to fathom. She writes of the alphabet, the bare bones of the language itself, one against another. As she writes of the openings of that lengthy transition: “In Canada, my clothes were odd, and I had no idea what malls or Cabbage Patch Kids or gimp bracelets were, and when I tried to be funny with my peers the silences were awkward and prolonged. I felt an urgent wish to restore my own significance. I read everything I could—flyers, packaging, signs—and listening to the mumblings of my classmates and teachers. Willing myself to make the same sounds, I strove to regain a sense of fluency, of language as my element. That was all I had in my sights; it didn’t occur to me that this was also the start of a slow and nebulous loss.”

The author of two full-length poetry collections—Leaving Howe Island (Fernie BC: Oolichan Books, 2013) [see my review of such here] and The Outer Wards(Montreal QC: Signal Editions/Vehicule Press, 2020) [see my review of such here]—de Meijer’s biography at the back of the collection offers that she “was born in Amsterdam to a Dutch-Kenyan-Pakistani-Afghani family, and moved to Canada as a child.” There is a lot of geography to unpack in that simple array of words, and a complicated sequence, well before the dislocation of arriving into Canada. The effect of her shift from one cultural space into another reveals itself to be deeply felt, and lifelong. This is in part, no doubt, due to the fact that it was not a journey precipitated as an adult, but one made when she was twelve years old; during such a formative period, felt down to the foundation of how she speaks, thinks and breathes, and interacts with herself and with the world beyond. Particularly curious is how her migration into English allowed her new pathways back into certain of the dialects of her native language  “English was both a dominant and an eccentric language,” she writes, as part of the “verzen / verses” section, “no wonder that it had been adapted and interpreted by various groups to make its own local sense. Even in the culture of three that comprised my brothers and I, we improvised on its strangeness, usually while we played with LEGO in our basement.”

rob mclennan, Sadiqa de Meijer, alfabet/ alphabet: a memoir of a first language

This poem offers us a tremendous example of Hilary Menos’ gift for using physical, often everyday detail, layering it and accumulating its effect, so as to reach out towards a vision that reflects back on to its readers. It doesn’t just evoke the process of giving a kidney, but speaks to anyone who’s been alone, afraid, in hospital and missing their loved ones.  In other words, while we might not have gone through this specific experience, we are so moved by its poetic transformation that we are invited to ruminate on our own versions and visions of love.

Such a ravaging context, however, never leads Menos down the path of melodrama. Instead, it enables her to delve deeply into another of her concerns, one that runs through all her collections: the strained yet vital relationship between the human and natural worlds, If this theme was already present in the pamphlet’s first piece, it culminates in the closing lines to its final poem, Sloe Gin, as follows…

…Time matures the thing. At least, adds distance.
I sit at the kitchen table, trying to make sense

and pouring a shot of sweet liquor into a glass.
The filtered magenta, sharp and unctuous,

reminds me of sour plum, of undergrowth,
the scrub, the blackthorn and the hard path.

In this poem, perfectly cadenced metre is set against unsettling doubts, while the transformative quality of human hand is present via the liquor that has been created from fruit and undeniably changed. Nevertheless, it’s then undercut by the realisation that the darker side of nature can never be ignored and forms an inevitable part of our journey through life.

Matthew Stewart, For us all, Hilary Menos’ Human Tissue

Manuscript #4 is my manuscript of lament. It’s my bleeding heart on a page. It may be altogether too sad for anyone to want to read–very sad, and very honest. I feel a little protective of it, a little afraid to put it in anyone’s hands. At the same time, I want it published–I’d like to mail a copy to a few of Kit’s doctors and nurses. Not a thank you exactly–I’ve written them that–but just so they can Know..so they can Know what it was like for me.

As far as individual poem writing is going–well it isn’t. I’ve written four of five false-start drafts, not much coming of them. I’m kind of stalled out. You know what I need? To read a really good poetry book (feel free to recommend). It will wake me up, and I’ll write some good poems then. Also, we’re moving house–and a new, settled spot is always inspiring.

Renee Emerson, poem & manuscript updates

Mid-morning at work, I saw the email showing a picture of (individually-wrapped) goodies and little Starbuck’s iced coffee bottles! So I had some! Then home to a Honeycrisp apple, and the Governor, live, telling us we are back in Tier 3, to please stay home, starting Friday, to keep us all alive. I am glad that my little chalkboard poems are “soft joys” for those who see them here, or on Facebook or Instagram. I’m grateful they are hitting the spot.

Likewise, I was delighted with the response to my story, “A Retiring Woman,” and grateful to Calyx for publishing it online. My daughter and her boyfriend were gripped by it, and she quoted a passage on integrity of voice. My son said he laughed out loud! Yay! It’s a long story, and so many people read it and responded. I am wowed. 

Those are big things in my life, but the little, goofy things help, too. One day, I found myself gardening in pearls. Ah, it was Election Day, a lovely warm day, and I was wearing (fake) pearls to honor RBG, and there was yard work to be done. Another day, I was dusting in earrings, post Zoom, which is the only time I put on drop earrings. It felt good to dust, and to re-stack my stacks of books awaiting the second lockdown, as I sometimes think of it, but nobody likes the word “lockdown,” and the Governor is just announcing a return to Tier 3, for all of Illinois, to help avoid a firmer stay-at-home order. This is a stay-at-home-as-much-as-you-can situation. Till then…(on a Fat Tuesday in the blog) I’ve got candy.

Kathleen Kirk, Soft Joys

When I think about yesterday, a Saturday in late November in 2020, I will remember that phone conversation.  It wasn’t particularly traumatic.  I think we all knew we were headed to that decision.  But it does feel significant.

It was a bit surreal to have that conversation and then to watch several hours of Thanksgiving cooking shows on the PBS Create channel.  I took a long nap and woke up and wondered if we’d really had that conversation.  Had we really canceled our Christmas get together?

It’s a shame that we didn’t have this epiphany a week ago, before my mom snagged the extra villa.  It’s interesting to track these epiphanies.  On Tuesday, my mom had called to tell me the good news of the extra villa.  By Saturday, we were canceling.

It seems like a metaphor for the entire year.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Metaphors in Cancellations

I have declared myself Boss of Grocery Stores Elect and now pronounce that unless absolutely necessary, couples may no longer shop together. Restrictions have been put in place and yet there remain scofflaws aplenty who swan into the store as a couple, sharing one tiny basket between them and lingering over the oranges. Grocery shopping is not a recreational activity, folks. It’s business. You get in and you get out. You don’t bring your girlfriend and five of your closest cousins to pick up a loaf of bread and some Twizzlers. You don’t wander the aisles in a slow daze touching everything like a ballerina with Alzheimer’s. You make a list, you follow an orderly trajectory through the store at a brisk clip and for God’s sake, you get your bagging game together before you check out. I don’t want my radishes getting all mixed up with your diet ice cream at the check stand because you can’t quickly and competently put your items into a bag. Yes, I fully realize that these demands are coming from a projection of my anxiety around The Surge, but there have been a lot of dire meetings at the hospital of late and I’m getting very nervous. Also, they closed my gym again so I can no longer work off my excess adrenaline in the squat rack. So please everyone, just follow my simple grocery store prescriptions so I don’t end up on the wrong end of a viral YouTube video as the latest ranting Karen.

Kristen McHenry, Future Karen, Cohesive Horror, Marriage Update

I’m hoping to start a new feature here on the blog. So many people have started baking again since the pandemic, including me, and I thought it would be fun to share recipes. Since this is primarily a writing blog I thought I’d put out a call to writers who bake that would be into sharing a recipe. Holidays are fast approaching with so many who won’t be traveling or spending them with family so I’m hoping this might be a good (small) project for the writing community and give all of us new recipes to try.

Along with your recipe, I’d want to post your bio and a link to your latest book or publication. My last post involving writers has 80 shares on Facebook,so far, so chances are you’d get some good exposure for your work – and your recipe! (Only 8 shares on Twitter – what’s up with that, #writingcommunity?!)

I’ll be posting first in the next couple of days. Whoever is interested can email me at charlotteham504 at gmail with “Writers Who Bake” in the subject line. I can’t wait to see who shows up. Inundate me!

Charlotte Hamrick, Calling Writers Who Bake!

Of course our stories and poems won’t change the world, but I’m interested in them nevertheless. I’m interested in how you are, how you’re holding up. What edges are frayed? Where are you feeling strong? What and who have you lost? What have you gained? What’s good, what’s terrible, what makes your heart hurt, and what joys are you also experiencing? When we first start talking about how we are, I’ve found that it starts off in ways that aren’t surprising. But the longer we stay with the subject the more is revealed. I know there are a lot of stories we’re not going to be able to talk about right now and that’s okay too.

Whatever stories we tell, it’s also true that only so much will fit in the frame. In distilling our story into a narrative or into the lines of a poem, a lot will be left out. One thing that I think it’s safe to assume, is that everyone has a lot of stuff just outside the frame.

What would happen if we told our everyday stories, the happy ones along with the sad ones, and everything in between? This doesn’t feel wrong to me. How important will all these stories be when we emerge from this time? How will they help us reconsider? I’m drawn to re-read Susan Griffin’s book, The Eros of Everyday. She says, “To change how we see involves some loss, certainly the death of habitual metaphors for order. And the changes needed are great as well as small. It is not only philosophy as it is written in books, but philosophies written into our lives, in institutions, social systems, economies, and governments which need to be reconsidered. For it is by and through these living structures that communities think and perceive. If we could change a habit of mind that has become destructive we must revise the social architecture of our thought.”

The other things that keeps popping into my head are lines by Emily Dickinson, “I dwell in possibility” and “Hope is the thing with feathers.” I keep wondering what is it that we can do with what we have, rather than bemoaning what once was. I say to myself, though perhaps it’s too macabre for some, that if I’m going down, I’m going down with as much joy as I can muster and with as much beauty as I can glean every day.

Shawna Lemay, Behind the Scenes

Of the many things I admire in this quote, the core one is how Lucier posits the work to be done as both outer and inner, social and personal. This multiplicity of stakes, awareness, and investment is something that as a marginalized person I have always lived with. It is something marginalized folks are born into having to reckon with. Political conversations–however formal or informal, in person or online–are never theory, but rather grounded in experiences. That the election was as close as it was means few marginalized folks are breathing easier.

I encourage y’all to read these materials and also to check out The Offing. Also, take time to reflect. Are you taking time to consider the welfare of others? To learn about them? To connect, we need to see each other as well as see ourselves, know their stories as we know our own.

I’ll leave you with two poems to check out. In working with a student on an essay about the Black Lives Matter movement, I shared these poems and spoke of poetry as a space of presence. Words, inside of us as outside of us, are where we can be present with others. Thank you for taking the time to be present here.

José Angel Araguz, community feature: The Offing

When Isaac’s servants, digging in the wadi
found a spring, the herdsmen quarreled: “This is ours.”

Frustrated, they named that place Contention.
He dug another, they fought again: Dispute.

How different are things now? Today, who drills
— and who drinks only the infrequent rains?

What new name might we choose if we could build
a world where everyone gets enough water?

Rachel Barenblat, Looking for Water

Modalities of mortality play out in different ways—

the song of Lady Day blows sweetly on a blues breeze as the tropics of hate continue to rage beyond boiling.

Good-hearted people still find reasons to sing in the rain as this ongoing reign of annihilation pummels us with injustices forged from stone-blind stone.

Every day, “Amazing Grace” plays on a humble record player refusing to skip over the scratches in our collective psyche.

And while the rhythms sound extremely warped and one-sided at times,

there’s still beauty to be found in the song of who we are.

Rich Ferguson, Down at the Junction of Rhythm and Ruin

So, yes, the
universe
hums

an E-flat
thousands of
octaves

below what
we can
hear,

a jazz
trumpet or
sax

wailing
the only
note

that matters.

Tom Montag, SO, YES, THE

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 44

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week found bloggers pondering time and how we experience it, reflecting on reading, book reviewing, and learning languages, mourning, and daring to hope as we negotiate the ancient Celtic turning of the year and anticipate a fraught election.


I was excited to hear from my cousin Carolyn in Prague this week about the re-launch of her esteemed poetry magazine, “Literary Bohemian.” I read submissions for Lit Bo for many years and I found great joy in it, so I’m pleased as all heck to announce I will soon be back on the masthead for the new incarnation. When she invited me to be involved again, she asked me to send her an updated bio and a photo of “where I am from.” This simple request sent me into a familiar identity crisis, as questions of this nature always do. When I was a massage therapist, often clients would ask me where I was from as a way of making friendly conversation, and the question always flummoxed me. I’m not really “from” anywhere. I have little sense of home and where I am from is not clear-cut. The place that I was born in was a place that I was whisked away from shortly after birth and that I have no connection to whatsoever. I grew up in a military family and we moved multiple times during my childhood (although not nearly as often as many military families.) When I think about my home, I think first and foremost about Alaska and Upper Michigan. I think about the cold, the remote, an environment of harshness and severity, places that did not envelop humans in a warm and loving embrace. Places that taught you to survive them. Places that mandated toughness and grit.

When I was looking for a photo of my “from”, I had a memory of standing on the shores of Lake Superior when I was around twelve or so, during a wild storm. The lake was whipped into a roaring, boiling froth and the wind was savage. The sky was almost black and the cold was ferocious. In that moment I was imbued with the deep and primal understanding that this collection of raging entities didn’t care one whit about whether or not I existed, and that feeling has informed my being ever since. I believe it’s what has enabled me to survive through everything that was to come, and what will enable to me to survive into the future. All I wanted to do when I was a teen was move away from these cold, feral, isolated places and live in a city, but now I wonder if dwelling in cities is bad for a person’s soul. There is too much noise and too much disconnection, too much protection and too much ease. We begin to feel important and entitled to be alive. We forget how little nature actually cares about our existence.

Kristen McHenry, Literary Re-launch, Where I am From, Childhood Anthem

The streets are empty,
nobody but fallen leaves
and their soft rustle.

We knew of curfews
from history books, stories
our grandpas told us.

Now we’re a page too,
in a future book about
a year when the leaves

were louder than we.

Magda Kapa, October 2020

Anticipating the earlier sunset, wishing to avoid exercising in the evening streets, I went out midday for my walk in the park, an eye on my watch to get back home in time for the next videocall class. The sun eeked itself out from behind the showers, and the riverside paths beyond the weir were golden-brown with autumn leaves embedded in mud. I walked cautiously. Even in a pandemic, there are dog owners who don’t pick up after, and twice in the past fortnight I’ve come home with stinking dog mess caked into my soles. 

After class, catching up on the admin. which grows heads like a hydra, I needed to search my emails for Hope, looking for the last email I’d written to her. I tapped ‘Hope’ into the search bar, pressed Return.

What I found was that almost every email I write contains hope:

I hope you are well.

I hope we can meet before too long.

I hope you feel better soon.

I hope you are able to find time for yourself.

Search your inbox for Faith, for Charity. You may not find them there. But Hope, Hope, Hope. It’s everywhere, littering words like golden leaves in all the mud and mess, its small, round, comforting sound topped off with the softest of plosives.

Liz Lefroy, I Search For Hope

my aged cat never left my side ever I slept on feathers crossed my Ts clean as a fishwife the moment in which he rose up hallelujah I was not afraid of solitude but reckless pursuit neckties guns in the temple the low dome last week’s rent drew out the lining the ache in my side that proved resolve men rode motorcycles up and down the street pounded my door demanded open up demanded money as Russian girls in the cafeteria argued over the napkin dispensers cooed like release doves lacking a center I’m not nostalgic for the parasite the waterworm there is nothing left to talk about apples and sandwiches stuffed with fruit the mokrie dela disappeared from automats turn and slide the plastic door or the washateria the Laundra in Newport Loadstar Dryers coin tumble orbiting sensors in my bed gossiping bodies at night target practice on Thursdays in Dallas go ahead go ahead now tell me about the white capped angel of terror and desire

Rebecca Loudon, Paregoric

My father cups water from the river,
pods, leaves, algae lace his hands, residue
from the silver streams down his darkened skin.

Chandrama vaa apaam pushpam: Moon is the flower
of the waters. Who was this poet from a time
so long ago when red dust rose to the sky?

Uma Gowrishankar, The Celestial Flower

a man has
his hands
on his face
the heels across
his working mouth
that sound is
told in an
animal’s voice
one brought down
but not yet dead
he has to
enunciate the pain
so he selects
a sort of cataract
of vowels to drain
the airtight sack
of his grief

Dick Jones, NEW POEMS

Stay out of my house, and my head. When you
were alive, were you a voyeur? This is
one thousand percent creepy. Damn, they’ve queued
up to watch, to talk about flunked tests, his
leftovers, her starting over. They say
I’ve lost my colors, and life is gone gray.

PF Anderson, Ghosts

I remember at the beginning of the pandemic how people were saying, “Oh, with all this time, we ought to be able to write that novel, learn a language, study classical guitar, read Ulysses or War and Peace…” and then, when our concentration went to hell, our sleep became terrible, we fought with our partners or kids or became consumed by loneliness and confinement, and we didn’t even know what day it was — that was when we got obsessed by the news and started riding a rollercoaster of anxiety and depression, amid other days that felt more normal and optimistic. A lot of us felt guilty or confused about why we couldn’t seem to do the things that we thought we were going to do — I had hoped to finish writing a book, for instance, and I’m nowhere close. A friend sent me an article written by someone funny, who was trying to express her depression and lack of motivation, and she describes herself telling her therapist, ‘I feel like I should be learning Portuguese” and the therapist says, “Don’t you DARE learn Portuguese!” And no matter how well we may have managed in one area, I bet most of us feel like that in many others, and wish somebody would just say, “Don’t you dare…!” and let us off our self-hung hook.

My sister-in-law, a retired academic who’s gifted in languages, is studying Arabic for the third time in her life, and this time it’s finally taking hold. She’s taking a rigorous online course, and working on it for many many hours a day, and I think that’s fantastic. But I can’t do that, and don’t really want to. Fifteen minutes a day works for me, and I’ve made enough progress that when I see a Greek sentence I know the parts of speech I’m seeing, even if I don’t know the words, and my vocabulary is growing. Will I ever use it? Who knows. I think what this exercise has shown me is that the little-bit-every-day approach does pay off over time in language study, just as it does in a drawing practice. A seemingly daunting but desired goal is broken down into manageable little bits, and you commit to it, try not to get discouraged and give up, and eventually you see you’ve actually made progress. That’s all.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 44. Lockdown Language Learning

At our house, we’ve just completed eight months of a combination of shielding, enforced lockdown, and self-isolation. Most of it was, well, bearable. We had months of good weather to work on the garden, and reclaim another bit of the neighbouring farmer’s field for a wild flower patch. When the weather was bad I had picture framing, decorating…and in between showers, repointing various walls and gable ends. I had the ‘When all this is over’ project to keep my my brain ticking over in May and June. The annual trip to St Ives for a poetry residential was cancelled, but I managed a consolation in the form of a Garsdale Zoom course tutored by Kim Moore.

But right now I’m stalled. If you’re from my part of the West Riding the resonance of this will be understood. When my mum or my grandma said ‘I’m stalled’ they meant they were stuck, depressed, bored, fed-up, frustrated and generally out of sorts. I’ve finally become unable to shut out the appalling state of the country and its wilful mismanagement. I can’t think straight or clearly. I had an email from the poet Steve Ely (who will feature in a moment) in which he said he was ‘******* stir crazy’. He said he could go to the gym, and go for walks but (and this is the kicker) “there’s no joy in it” . Not a fashionable word joy. But I know exactly what he meant. Where’s the joy? It’s compounded by the fact that I’ll spend Wednesday in Pontefract Hospital for minor surgery. I wouldn’t think twice about it in the normal run of things. But nothing’s normal, and for the first time in my life I’m assailed by anxiety, timidity. Today was set aside for writing an enthusiastic appreciation of Steve Ely’s latest pamphlet I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heauen. But my head’s like a washing machine, and I can’t do it justice.

John Foggin, Backtrack: On sequences, with Steve Ely and Pascale Petit

It’s a Tuesday that feels like a Thursday. The past few days have been a dip in my mood and a desire to sleep all the time, which has also left me with an achy back and a feeling like there’s just a lot of emotional icky boiling just under the surface. I thought a news fast might be in order after yesterday–since cases continue to climb, we just elected a Handmaid’s Tale villain to the Supreme Court, the election is next week, and I’ve already done as much as I can (the covid precautions I’ve been doing all along and continue to do, voting, etc.) and can only wait it out at this point. But, it’s hard when part of my job (and even my creative endeavors) involves social media to, you know, stay away from it. So I get sucked back into doomscrolling. And then the news in general. And then also the attendant anxiety and mood swinginess. I am extra cagey around this time of year anyway, what with the anniversary of my mother’s death and a lack of daylight. It is not making for a good combination. 

It’s Tuesday, and I’m trying to find a center to weather out the storm–new writing projects I’ll be starting next week.  Some artmaking endeavors planned for the weekend. An invitation to send some video poem exploits to a journal. Beginning to send out some work from the plague letters.  I keep amassing books in my to-read pile hoping that I’ll have the concentration for again and this may be part of the problem.  I need more reading, less doomscrolling. Meanwhile, I watch a lot of van-life and cabin renovation videos on Youtube and dream about running away from everything to live in the woods. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/27/2020

Time slows down     
stands 
still 
the top keeps 
spinning tottering 
neither stopping nor falling 
turning in exhaustion

We knew to cut the rug
foot-deep in the middle of the sensuous world,
each moment waking the next

Whisk, whisk.  Blow.  Spin it on its head
to rest in the dark.  
Whirl, dear life, impertinent joy. 

Jill Pearlman, THEY

The sun and moon have gone on hiatus, leaving us with just our floor lamps and ring lights to make ourselves shine.

Virtual drinking parties and reunions have become the tech form of Xanax, while failed wi-fi and cooled-off hotspots can cast us into Dante’s first circle of hell.

In our Zoom room universe, we are boredom-boned and hug-lost; flirtations reduced to pixels on a screen.

Pregnant pauses give birth to quintuplets of abrupt fits and starts of conversations stepping on one another in glitchy lag time.

Rich Ferguson, In Our Zoom Room Universe

The other day, in my Modernity in Literature class, I taught them about the poem “As I Walked Out One Evening” by W.H. Auden.

As I was working through it with them, it occurred to me that the central theme of all the literature I had chosen to teach for this course is TIME.

I won’t go into all of the texts now, but trust me: it is.

In Auden’s poem, written in 1937, he has a narrator, and two speakers:  the lovers, and the clocks.

The lovers are lyrical and delirious and full of hyperbole in the first half of the poem, and then the clocks take up their song, which basically is that “You cannot conquer Time.”

The lines that hit me this year :  The clocks sing:

“Time watches from the shadow

And coughs when you would kiss.”

It’s like a prophecy of COVID.

Anne Higgins, You Cannot Conquer Time

When I was a college freshman, I interviewed my great-grandmother (born in 1884) for a cultural anthropology project. She talked about living on a small farm, nursing her 12-year-old son through the Spanish flu, baking and slaughtering and canning and drawing water–life before rural electrification. She said:

Times was hard, but times is always hard, and our lives were no harder than anybody else’s.

Good to keep that in mind at present.

My temperament has always tended more melancholic than anxious; but in these days of covid, flu, and concerns about my bereaved and elderly mother, worried thoughts arrive, especially in the wee hours, especially as cases climb upward in my region and my mother’s assisted living center starts yet another lockdown. I try to imagine the changes the extreme elderly experience…I imagine her being ‘assisted’ by caring, gentle people she does not really know and with whom she can barely communicate due to anomia and aphasia, which makes her grief for my father truly inexpressible.

“I can’t say anymore what I say,” she tells me by phone. “On the wall, it says, what is it? Now?”

“The calendar? It’s Tuesday, Mom.”

“No, the other. The…weather. Season.”

“Oh. October. It’s October.”

“How is it? And I am trying…when was it? That he died?”

“August, Mom. August 25th.”

“Has it been since August? Was it August? Already? So many now. Many…pills. No, ice. Ices gone by. I don’t mean that. I said–“

“Many days, I know. Can it really be October already? And he’s been gone since the end of August. Summer.”

“25. 25 days, August, October. How can it be?” she asks; and I can tell, over the phone, that she is shaking her head slowly the way she does, wondering, surprised, how can it be…

There are times she says exactly the right thing.

How can it be? Something I might want to meditate upon.

Ann E. Michael, How can it be

She thinks of refugees and all they carried,
jewels sewn into hemlines
or those who flee without papers.
She checks her wallet one last time,
all the plastic cards that define
her in place.

She leaves the door unlocked
as she eats one last supper out
with a grad school friend. She writes
the wrong forwarding address on a napkin
before boarding the plane.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Process Notes: “Oregon Trail”

The house of country, the nation of us.
Whispering, whispering. America
Has become a house of secrets and lies,
A house of deceit, a house of lament.
The people are hiding, the truth is hiding;
Even the president is hiding
His true face from the sun.

James Lee Jobe, I walk the path slowly

We did not turn on our porch light for trick-or-treaters this year. Instead, I put book hedgehogs and candy in the Little Free Library in case anybody came by. Somebody did come by, leaving two bags of peanut M&Ms, my favorite! But I haven’t checked yet today to see if some books went home with kids or grownups, and whether I’ll need to bring candy back inside. I had put some solar lights in the ground that day, and they worked: they lit up fine at night.

There was a Trump rally in our town on October 22. I found out about it after the fact–900 people at the local baseball stadium. Pictures showed the masked and unmasked, and people sort of spread out in the bleachers. It was a watch party for the debate, with the debate on the big electronic screen out there. Yes, Covid cases have been on the uptick since, but that’s happening everywhere. The direct result of the rally that I saw locally was the appearance of yard signs. A news photo from the rally showed all the Republican signs stacked up for people to take, and, sure enough, they started popping up over the next few days in my precinct, which had mostly Democrat yard signs before, plus some perennial Republican incumbent signs.

Of the above, the labyrinth, the fall beauty, and the Little Free Library give me joy and peace. Hang in there, everybody. We really are all in this together. I hope we make it through with as much love and kindness as we can muster, “muster” being a battle term, alas, or a group of peacocks.

Kathleen Kirk, Yard Signs, Gun Shots, Trick-or-Treat

I am of a generation that was naive, patriotic, attached to nostalgia for what never was. Now we mourn the loss of what we thought was real, the American (United States of American) commitment to equality, possibility, responsibility, and community. We thought if we promised to be good, that would be good enough. Somehow we convinced ourselves that if we believed in equal opportunity, equal respect, equal value for all, it would make it true. 

Now we confront the actuality of our citizenship. Now we see (or try not to see) the suffering of our neighbors; suffering we benefit from, suffering we participate in, willingly or not. Now we see the bigotry in our families, in the generations before us, in our cousins and siblings, and in ourselves. We learn about The Talk, if we have refused to learn it before. 

And now we must talk to ourselves: stay home, because your neighbors will not, do not, sometimes cannot. Mask up, and recognize that some of your neighbors will not. Learn to value the lives of others, as you have learned to value your own. 

Struggle to forgive others for saying these beings, and those beings, and you – matter less. Or matter not at all. 

Struggle to forgive yourself, while still holding yourself, and your neighbors, accountable. 

I am struggling.

Sharon Brogan, 300,000

So, with a fraught election and a pretend king who doesn’t want to give up power, I notice the media has been teeming with mentions of civil war. That’s not comforting. I hope we have a peaceful, overwhelming Biden win on election day. I hope we can sleep better soon.

People are storing up food, medication, and some are buying guns. What am I doing, you ask? Why, planning to write a page a day in November on my novel-in-progress, participating for the first time in NaNoWriMo. Why not be optimistic in the face of apocalypse? I have always done it before.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Post-Halloween and Blue Moon, Election Day Voting Interview on Health, and More!

Inspired by writer Liz Ward, I’m going to gently join in with National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) and post a blog a little more regularly during November. I love reading Liz at her blog and I also enjoyed her collection of essays which she published in 2018.

One of the reasons I haven’t been posting here very much is that I’ve been writing more in the offline world as I hinted at in my previous post. Last week I took advantage of a lovely offer by Trowbridge Town Hall and rented a desk for day in their beautiful Victorian building so that I could spend a day writing in a different setting.

Although I’m lucky enough to be able to write from home without distractions, it made a difference to be somewhere else entirely, in my own space behind a closed door. As a friend commented on my Instagram post “A room of one’s own… at least for a day!” – and she’s exactly right. I’ve rented the room for one day a week for a few weeks – but this was before we had the announcement in the UK that we’re entering a second national lockdown. So, like thousands of others, my plans for the next month will be scuppered, although my inconvenience is nothing compared to most. Don’t get me started on the lockdown or the UK government’s incompetent handling of the pandemic, I’ve come to this blog for some moments of distraction. I hope that wherever you are and whatever your situation, you manage to deal with what is happening as best as you can.

Josephine Corcoran, National Blog Posting Month

Sorry if this haiku seems a little gloomy, and really, I’ve had a lovely quiet week off work with plenty of dog walks and some memorable visits to our local pub. They’ve opened their tiny kitchen to do food every night, worked their socks off to keep everyone safe and happy, only to find out at the drop of a hat that they will have to close later this week. I understand there have to be some rules and restrictions, and sometimes it ends up being one size fits all, but behind every business closure there are the hopes and aspirations of ordinary people just trying to make a living. I’m not a political poet, and I don’t want this to sound like a rant, so let’s just say that my heart goes out to them.

Julie Mellor, knee deep

Writing has felt too heavy this week; poetry requires a kind of vulnerability that I just don’t have to give in this first part of November, the days leading up to the anniversary of Kit’s death.

At the same time, it feels more urgent and necessary than ever to engage with language – so I’m working on the larger poems of these two manuscripts (the manuscript itself is a kind of composite poem, or at least that is how I think of it when editing).

Impatient as I’ve always been with publication, In wondering if I’ve tried as much as I should with [Church Ladies] or if I haven’t tried near long enough. How much do I believe this book should be a book? Was it just a learning experience? Really I do think it’s worthwhile to fight for and that I’m like a child with a shiny new toy preferring my newer manuscript to champion.

Renee Emerson, Manuscript work

From my sofa, I can look out at the changing leaves and fog rising from the valley and think about everything I learned. I learned first and most from our student poets who traveled all the way from Berlin by train (10 hours) to do our writing retreat. Years before, they traveled all the way to Germany from Syria and Afghanistan. Their stories are of fable: they weave heartbreak, hope and heroics together with a very modest thread. These are talented poets. I learned that it is truly a luxury to care about the environmental crises facing our planet when so many people can only focus on the next meal or the next life-altering bombardment. I learned that speaking in one’s heart language connects oneself to the listener in ways deeper than translation can accommodate. We spent evenings translating poems from Farsi and Arabic to English (later to German). Finding new words to make sure we shared the meaning was a joy.

Next, I reflect on the wisdom that was offered to us every day in Zoom calls with our invited poet guests: Will McInerney, Oliver Miltenberger, Romana Iorga, Craig Santos Perez, Kelli Russell Agodon, Richard Blanco, Enda Wyley and Tess Barry. Some of these folks I met by email, some I’ve known a longer while. They all gave their time to give us advice, to answer questions and to read to us. We learned a lot about Seamus Heaney’s work (Enda); the magical process of poem writing (Tess); the roles of poet, peacebuilder and researcher in interrupting apathy (Will); not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good (Oliver); how to answer questions the reader is going to ask (Romana); about narrating our reaction to things political and cultural (Craig); about tapping into the quality of the poet community (Kelli); and about personifying an object of nature to take the ego out of the poem as a more gentle way to bring politics into the conversation (Richard).

Finally, I see a clear picture for moving forward and that picture has a lot of haze in it (a continued or new pandemic, other crises, other demands on time): behind the fog is hope that writing poems and putting them into the world will create ripples. The more of us that are out there making ripples, the harder our words will be to ignore. Poetry changes the world with a collective of small vibrations that move through one, two, or a thousand people at a time.

Cathy Wittmeyer, Reflecting on Word to Action

The WHY of reviewing is probably obvious. Most poetry books don’t get much love, so you serve writers, presses, and readers by bringing your favorites to wider attention. Every poet with means and time should give public service to the art they love, and reviewing is one way to do it (panel/ event organizing like Anya’s is another). Generosity occasionally pays off–if people appreciate you, they may help you in some future, unexpected way–and any byline can increase your name recognition. That’s not the core reason for literary service, though. Fandom is at the heart of it, plus desire to strengthen a fragile community. If you write a thoughtful review, you’ve shown the author they have at least one good reader out there. It makes all parties feel glowy.

Love of poetry isn’t all a reviewer needs, though. I’ve written a ton of criticism, so I’m a faster writer than many, but reviewing a poetry book is still an eight-hour commitment, more or less. I read the book once; put it down and think about it; reread it and start drafting; then take a break from the draft for a day, or a few days, and come back, rewrite, and polish. They’re typically 750-1500 words. Writing micro-reviews (250-300 words) is quicker, but I always end up writing long then boiling them down, a process that takes time, too.

Although I don’t always have the hours, I like reviewing a lot. It feels freeing to analyze a book without scholarly protocols. No bibliography, no citing Very Important Theorists! I’m trying to write a few reviews this year because I’m on sabbatical, grateful for good notices my books are receiving, and, at this bad moment, having a hard time concentrating on big stuff. Writing a poetry review is a way of procrastinating while still putting some useful writing out there.

Lesley Wheeler, Writing and publishing poetry book reviews

Is it just my perception or have UK poetry reviews and criticism generally become – with the exception of one completely ludicrous, notorious and discredited outlier – kinder in the last few years? It’s within that context that I was surprised by the tenor and content of Rory Waterman’s review of Keith Hutson’s debut collection Baldwin’s Catholic Geese for the latest issue (#255) of PN Review. […]

One might conclude from Waterman’s condescending conclusion – ‘Every poem comes with a sprightly note about its subject, and perhaps the greatest lasting pleasure this book will give you is several hours disappearing down internet rabbit holes as you shadow the author’s impressive research’ – that what he wants to say is, ‘Jolly well done on the research, but shame about the poems’, which is grossly dismissive. Given that the book’s glowing endorsements come from Carol Ann Duffy, Peter Sansom and Michael Symmons Roberts, Waterman’s verdict is also more than a little against the grain and makes me wonder just how much time he gave to reading the book with care.

My own verdict on Baldwin’s Catholic Geese is that it lays bare, in a way which surely refracts on today’s celebrity culture, how natural an ambition it is to aim for fame and fortune by any, and sometimes bizarre, means; and that to fail in doing so is equally as natural – so few entertainers stay on the top of their game for the duration of their careers and it’s only human for the overwhelming majority to have no more than a fleeting moment in the limelight. That’s hardly an original thought (c.f., for example, ‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more’), but Hutson explores the highways and byways of that ambition in a rich way that emphasises his subjects’ egos, successes and flaws without ridicule and more often than not in joyous, zestful language.

Matthew Paul, On Keith Hutson’s Baldwin’s Catholic Geese

I’ve been going through San Diego poet Heather Sweeney’s new full-length poetry title, Dear Marshall, Language Is Our Only Wilderness (Brooklyn NY: Spuyten Duyvil, 2020), following a handful of chapbooks (including one from above/ground press) as well as the full-length Call Me California (Finishing Line Press, 2020), a book published almost simultaneously alongside this one (although I have yet to see a copy). Dear Marshall is constructed as a book-length lyric suite of prose poems that employ elements of the first-person journal entry against that of the letter-poem, offering observation, memory, introspection and an immediacy that brings one right into the action of her sentences. She writes of violence, love, family and loss, a childhood of rebellion and survival, a flurry of impulse, heartbreak and outcomes deeply-felt. “My feet are unusually narrow. I can run a long distance at a slow pace. I / have had past-life visions. In one I am hunting a boar in a dense jungle. / In another I am running with a baby in one arm wrapped in a brown / blanket. We are close to death. In a field of ice. In the long neck of a / dream.” The poems run from direct statement and stories retold into abstract, lyric layerings, and is structured as a curious kind of call-and-response, as every page an opening call paired with a response directly to “Marshall.” Who is Marshall? Given the rhetorical aspect of the letter-poem, it might not be as important who Marshall is or was, but what and how she writes to him. […]

Sweeney’s poems are first-person declarations that attempt to place herself, to centre herself in a collage of experience, situations and potential chaos, shaping the chaos into a particular kind of order. “I am a sentence made of two icy twigs. Of splintered afterthought. I’m / at the airport again. The wall of windows, a stanza.” She weaves in a collage of pilfered lines, lived experiences, questions and observations into a coherent line, working a shape of the world in which she exists. This book-length poem, this book-length suite of poems, read as a journal of accumulated sentences shaped as a way to write one’s way into being, into becoming; to write through and beyond the unsettled past and present into a less uncertain future.

rob mclennan, Heather Sweeney, Dear Marshall, Language Is Our Only Wilderness

With the pandemic now (arguably) in its 8th month, I’ve been noticing lots of talk about books on social media. It looks like reading is enjoying a boom and that’s a good thing! In the past few months, though, I find that my reading choices are pickier than usual. Memoirs and Poetry are probably my favorite genres but I have loved a good dystopian novel (read Blindness by Jose Saramago or Station Eleven by Emily St. Mandel). However, I seem to have lost my taste for the dystopian in books and in tv. When I try to read or watch, I get a lump in my stomach and have to stop. It got me wondering if anyone else is feeling this way and if the pandemic has affected others similarly. I’m always interested in what others are reading so I thought I’d ask some of my writer friends what books they’ve read this year that they’d recommend for pandemic reading and why. I’m curious if the pandemic has influenced what they (and you) prefer right now – immersion in the dystopian or maybe something more soothing. Here’s what they said. [Click through to read recommendations from Candace Hartsuyker, Meagan Lucas, Paul Crenshaw, Dorianne Laux, Exodus Brownlow, and Robert Okaji.]

Charlotte Hamrick, Pandemic Reading: Writers Share Their Picks

I recently watched Free Solo, that documentary of a man’s extraordinary un-roped ascent up El Capitan. Before I saw the movie, if I thought of his journey at all, I just that “wow, that’s nuts.” I had somehow not expected the amazing preparations he made, both with his body, and certainly with his mind, but also the carefully mapped, hold by hold, route, which he practiced roped again and again until he had every move internalized. Certainly this was a tale of an internal journey, for sure, both into his certainty that he could do it, but also, I think most significantly, when he was able to say, cameras trained on him, partway up the wall face, “No. This is not the day for this.” And called it off and went back down, knowing he’d have to wait another six months to try again, knowing he was tangling up the film producer and his crew as well. But when he finally did the ascent, he knew every move so well, he went surely and rapidly right up the face in a scant few hours with no hesitation, as a strange dance with the wall. It was indeed a kind of choreography he created.

I thought of this movie in contrast to the “journeys” described by two poet friends of mine who got it into their heads to each write a heroic crown of sonnets — that is 14 sonnets of 14 lines each, the 14th of which contains the first lines of each of the previous sonnets. Or something like that. Wow, that’s nuts.

But what struck me, in contrast to Free Solo, was how each of them talked about the great unknowns of their journeys, every step being felt out in the dark. They said things like “I thought I was going to start in this way, but then decided to try this other way” or “I thought I was writing about this thing, but the more I got into the unfolding of the poems the more I realized I was writing about this other thing entirely.”

Marilyn McCabe, Lazy days, Sunday afternoon; or, On Artistic Journeys

I’ve been carrying a moment of self-consciousness since I read the galleys for my most recent book. (Not that recent, I’m afraid). The translator wrote an essay on how he experienced my development as a writer. He labeled the (then) new work as “late period”.

It was a little like reading my own obituary (flattering as it was). And I feared it would trip me up. And it has.

I wrote Friday that nothing has to try to grow. And today I’m thinking that trying to grow is counter-productive. It’s the tennis player suddenly thinking about her strong backhand, and losing it in the analysis.

I can’t speak for others, but I believe art is created through a practice of wu-wei: art as process and experience, not as product and commodity. And this kind of practice is such a far cry from the zeitgeist of knowing one’s passion/calling/brand.

I spent so many years studying craft. Only to find that my best writing is without craft.

Every time I begin to analyse my process, it stops – usually in a cloud of self-consciousness and shame. A woman once commented on my blog after I had begun writing again: “I was wondering where that woman went who wrote letters to her friends.”

Ren Powell, Amor Fati as Ars Poetic

[AW] One of the things that fascinates me about spiritual practice is the ways in which form lies at the heart of worship. We can find form in the instructions for Islamic prayer, in Communion rituals, and in meditation practice. I’m curious as to whether the formal aspects of Christian practice connect in some way to your love of the sestina form.

[EK] I hadn’t thought about that connection. I didn’t grow up with a lot of rituals, but they are valuable to me now. I didn’t grow up celebrating Lent, but it is something I practice as an adult. Something fascinating about Lent is that you can just fast from certain things, such a sugar, or add a practice during Lent. That would be a wonderful exercise as a poet- to fast from something commonly used, or to add something for a period of time.  For me, I could abstain from writing in first person, or add an image from nature in each poem.

 I recently started practicing TaeKwonDo, which has form. My instructor said that no one would use form during a fight, but it is about practicing the movement and creating muscle memory. Form can be considered an exercise to make us stronger writers. I recommend The Poetry Dictionary by John Drury because it defines many forms and other poetry terms.

What I love about form is that it prevents poets from just bleeding into the page.  The sestina is my favorite because it creates a theme with the repeated words, but it is subtle enough that the reader doesn’t anticipate the next line. Ezra Pound said the sestina is “a thin sheet of flame folding and infolding upon itself.”

Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: what mothers withhold by Elizabeth Kropf

finally
in this book of chinese poets
ancient to modern i find
one born the same year as me
and still alive
i feel vindicated
but why
for we are worlds apart
he is on a mountain
i am still in a dark valley
for i have not swallowed blood

Jim Young, i simply cannot did not

Someone shakes drops of gin
on the ground and claps
like a bridegroom signaling
to start the dance.
This will go on for days,
for what is elegy but
the muffled sound of marching
along the old road that goes
down to the sea: no one
left to look out of windows,
willow fronds quiet until
the mourners start singing.

Luisa A. Igloria, Honras a los muertos

Whatever happens next week, and I hope what happens will bring us before and into some great and formidable wedge of light, leaving us blinking and gasping, whatever happens, we will need to adjust our eyes. We’ll need to continue refining our seeing. We’ll be squinting as we come into the light, or closing our eyes a little as the darkness shudders. Which perhaps sounds dramatic. So be it.

Four years ago I was listening to the then new Leonard Cohen album, You Want it Darker. It seems like yesterday, it seems like 12000 years ago. We know the darkness now in thousands of different ways though we would rather that we didn’t.

Shawna Lemay, To Go in the Dark

I always forget how dried beans swell.
They start as tiny stones in my hand

but after an overnight salt water soak
they fill my red bowl to overflowing.

This week I revise them into posole —
it’s meant to include hominy, but

in these pandemic times we all learn
to make do. I curl my tongue around

ancho and pasilla, remembering the music
of your lushly-swirled double ll’s.

Raisiny peppers soften and come apart.
I want to blend into a chord like that.

Rachel Barenblat, Soup