A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: displacement, heresy, breaking through thin ice, demonic advice, and other unsettling things. In addition to the usual poetry hijinks. Enjoy!
Decades ago, dazzled by a bold travel escapade,
I vowed to keep displacement center stage.
We met a friend outside our office building,
It was dusk on Sixth Avenue, New York.
He was cursing the broken Xerox machine.
Rimbaud says make yourself a stranger.Jill Pearlman, Bastille to Puritan Village: Strange Magic
He was young, so was I. Still we try. Je est.
I is. Til I trip again.
The poet Gerald Stern, who died last Friday at the age of 97, spent his life thundering against the mendacity and abuse of power; rebelling against all forms of authority, big and small; defying social conventions; and wielding his finely honed writing on behalf of the demonized, forgotten and oppressed. He was one of our great political poets. Poetry, he believed, had to speak to the great and small issues that define our lives. He was outrageous and profane, often in choice Yiddish, French and German. He was incredibly funny, but most of all brave. Rules were there, in his mind, to be broken. Power, no matter who held it, was an evil to be fought. Artists should be eternal heretics and rebels. He strung together obscenities to describe poets and artists who diluted their talent and sold out for status, grants, prizes, the blandness demanded by poetry journals and magazines like The New Yorker, and the death trap of tenured professorships.
I met Jerry when I was a pariah. I had repeatedly and publicly denounced the invasion of Iraq and, for my outspokenness, had been pushed out of The New York Times. I was receiving frequent death threats. My neighbors treated me as though I had leprosy. I had imploded my journalism career. Seeing how isolated I was, Jerry suggested we have lunch each week. His friendship and affirmation, at a precarious moment in my life, meant I had someone I admired assure me that it would be all right. He had the impetuosity and passion of youth, reaching into his pocket to pull out his latest poem or essay and reading long sections of it, ignoring his food. But, most of all, he knew where he stood, and where I should stand.
“There is no love without justice,” he would say. “They are identical.”Chris Hedges, Death of an Oracle
Well, Liz Truss has become a pub quiz question and the tories have avoided letting their members have a vote on the next Crime Minister. The rest of us, the majority, have no say. The death cult staggers on putting its own needs before those of the country…
I was in Portugal while all this was happening. I had a short break in Lisbon, a city I know and love. This first poem is about the weather holding up the plane.
a moderate coastal event over Spain
leaves us static on Bristol runway
the plane doors open
in the interlude three cabin staff
begin the emergency exit dance
to a pre-recorded soundtrack
we all continue to look at our screensPaul Tobin, A MODERATE COASTAL EVENT
I went to the first event of a book festival recently, and the session and festival was opened by a local Native American, who with flute and prayer invoked his ancestors who hunted among these rivers and forests and considered this sacred land. Before it all started, amid the murmurs of the waiting audience, I heard the guy behind me explaining that the city hall auditorium we were in had once held a meeting of US bankers to start a national association back in the 1800s (good thing or bad thing?). Turns out the guy is from a long generational line of bankers. Then the guest speaker read poems that invoked his grandparents and their ghosts in him and their experiences fleeing the Armenian genocide. And I’ve been thinking a lot about two stories from Laurie Anderson I encountered recently, one about her breaking her back missing the pool from a diving board flip, and the other story about breaking through thin ice with her little brothers on a local pond and having to dive under the ice to save them. I’m as imprinted at the moment with those Laurie Anderson stories as if I’d fallen asleep on their 3D words and now they’re pressed into my cheek. I feel like I have stories coating my skin, layers of them, mine and others’. If you scrub my skin, whose stories will you find, what novels and family photos, what works of art? And will they scrub off or are they layers deep, tattooed with long needles and dark ink? More and more we learn that the mind is the body, not some separate thing, “consciousness” another function of it all, and cells are the whole system at work in miniature. If you slice a piece of me and examine it under a microscope, I’m all story.Marilyn McCabe, You think you’re alone until you realize you’re in it; or, On Stories
As a journalist and nonfiction book author, I’ve written primarily about tea for many years. As the Chinese saying goes, “One never lives long enough to learn everything there is to know about tea.” I feel the same way about poetry.Diana Rosen : coda (Thomas Whyte’s blog)
You know the path across the bottom field,Bob Mee, TWO POEMS: THE PATH and THE SHOPKEEPER AND HIS WIFE
the one you can’t see from the house,
the one that bends around the old pond.
And further on, you know the iron seat where
when our mother was having one of her spells
in the sanatorium, our father would sit
and write long letters beginning Dear Cherub.
You know it’s best to go when the mist is low,
the grass wet. It’s hard to hold history against
the earth and harder to grasp that, in seeking
stillness, we’re always moving and looking out
for those we loved, just as they were.
I was walking yesterday, marveling at this particular tree [photo], and I saw a student walking with his head bent down, staring not as his phone but at the sidewalk. For one minute, I thought about becoming the crazy leaf lady, evangelist for fall colors.
But then I thought, maybe I am the foolish one, staring gape-mouthed at the trees. Maybe he’s avoiding sights like this one, trees close to being done for the season.
Maybe he’s avoiding the sadness that comes from knowing how the story ends. […]
I also picked up leaves from the wet, black streets. I held them to the blank canvas of the cinderblock walls for a different contrast.
My plan is to do some sketching, to see if I can capture some colors, the way I did at the beginning of October.
But I’m also enjoying just having them scattered around my seminary apartment, watching as they dry and curl.Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Deeper Looks at Leaves
I know the best doctor, you say
or ask if I have tried this cure
or that, I wish you were joking
I wish I could wish you away
but you have more in reserve:
you will be fine, you tell me,
and then the magic words,
don’t worry, you will be yourself
in a few days. I wonder when
you leave here or hang upRajani Radhakrishnan, The right to rant against good intentions
the phone, if you will change
into your demonic form
again, your tongue bloated
with lies, your eyes foaming
with blood. I wrap the silence
closer now and make up
stories about apothecaries
and vials of poison. Just like
the other one in which, in
the end, everyone just died.
As Department Head, I’ve been reading colleagues’ Five Year Plans, which oddly enough are due around Halloween or Samhain (or however you think about this spooky midpoint between the fall equinox and winter solstice). I have an official Five Year Plan myself–I’m halfway through that cycle–but maybe it’s time for a weirder one. I’m a planner by temperament, but for various reasons, I’ve been looking ahead even more than usual. Here goes.
– Yes, I could say: in the next few years, I wish to place my next poetry book (I have a good draft now) and my novel (drafted and revised but not yet ready). I have a nonfiction/ criticism book in mind, too, that’s lying around in fragments. Yet I’m skeptical about my familiar feeling of urgency about producing new books. It’s been a pleasure seeing Poetry’s Possible Worlds in readers’ hands, but I’ve put too much pressure on myself, I think, plus my current life doesn’t have much writing time in it.Lesley Wheeler, Five year writing plan for the witches’ new year
– Instead, inspired by teaching modernist poetry recently, because I AM doing lots of teaching: I aspire to become pretentious enough to write a literary manifesto. I know that sounds like a joke, and it partly is, but I do love high-handed aesthetic programs and I’ve always wished I could find the chutzpah to devise one. Maybe I could just lie on a velvet divan and cultivate chutzpah.
– Or I could abandon all ambitions and just find more time to write whatever I feel like. Or not.
– Figure out my purpose on this earth. (I’m having an existential autumn.)
– Cease worrying about my purpose on this earth. Also reduce anxiety, period. I think the overwork of heading a department this fall has revved me up too much, because my base-level self-doubt and worry are almost unmanageably high. I’m trying to figure it out, but I am struggling.
– Maybe spells would help, or soup. Make more spells and soup. Be witchier.
– Keep teaching my heart out, because that feels like good work to do in the world. But teach my heart out within reasonable time parameters.
– As far as “service,” because that’s a section on our faculty five-year plans: do less service. I’m currently reading for Shenandoah again (the annual contest for Virginia poets), and I’m committed to helping my students and closest colleagues thrive, as many of them are struggling, too. That’s enough.
Rob Taylor: The title poems of both of your poetry collections, Leaving Howe Island (Oolichan Books, 2013) and The Outer Wards (Vehicule Press, 2020), are about leaving one world behind, and the passage to a new one. Both books feature plane trips and end on images from journeys.
Your experiences as an immigrant from the Netherlands seems to run through everything you write. And yet these are two very different books, born out of distinct times in your life. Can you talk a little about the two title poems, and what each says about the larger collection?
Sadiqa de Meijer: Yes, the title poems both have to do with a ferry crossing that is made difficult somehow—in the first, there’s a storm, and in the second, there’s the question of how to take essential things along. “Leaving Howe Island” is a poem of immigration—the continued arrivals that occur after the initial, physical one; it’s based in a real landscape that the speaker and her family are getting to know. In “The Outer Wards,” the landscape resides in memory, the companions are imaginary, and the crossing is between life and death. The speaker herself has become the ferry operator. Your question leads me to name it: Leaving Howe Island as a book is concerned with geographic migration within familial circles, while The Outer Wards encounters the crossing into death from an inevitable solitude.
RT: Yes – goodness, that hits at the core of the books so well (though it does make The Outer Wards sound darker than it is). In considering “crossings,” your two poetry books are joined by your new essay collection, alfabet/alphabet (Palimpsest Press, 2020), though the crossing it explores is never fully completed: “Language is our fatherland, from which we can never emigrate,” reads the Irina Grivnina epigraph to the book.Rob Taylor, The Border Terrain: An Interview with Sadiqa de Meijer
What would you do if you believedLuisa A. Igloria, Poem with Blue Light
in this kind of spirit language?
Where did the bird in your dream go,
and who has spilled flour and sugar
on your kitchen counter, burned
the filament of the new light-
bulb? The sunflower in the vase
drops two petals. Inside the house,
it has grown lonely again;
when the clock chimes the hours
backwards, you wonder how
you got here.
I wish to thank Lidia very much for inviting me to supply a written contribution for the international Luci per la Città website. You can read my poem, ‘Stars in Suburbia’, here.
I was born in London and spent the first couple of years of my life in the capital, before moving out with my family to Kent’s ‘commuter-land’. Our road began at the foot of a slope near the railway station. The public library was situated near the top, where our road joined the High Street at right angles. We lived at the halfway point, neither up nor down.
My bedroom window looked out onto the road where a lamp post (like the one in my picture here) sent its beams into the night sky. Looking back, it seems hard to believe that we still had a gas lamp, requiring the occasional services of a lamplighter; but I have looked into this, and am assured by those who know these things that my memory is indeed correct.Caroline Gill, TURIN: LUCI PER LA CITTÀ / LIGHTS FOR THE CITY
I’m too beat even to write about itGary Barwin, Trees
leaves fall onto the road in front of me
squirrels prepare and gather
high in the trees, I’ve heard they forget
74% of the nuts they bury
and this is important to new growth
a writerly thing here
would be to note things I forget
that make things better
All this excitement is great. But I have also started to recognise the signs of overkill. It happened last week, again with a sudden bump, when I mistyped the name of the poet I was blogging about and did not notice until it was pointed out to me. (Helena, I am sorry.) For the million-and-third time I realised with great force that scrolling the Guardian Live politics feed when I was trying to concentrate on something else (and I don’t mean ‘productive’ work here, I mean activity that feeds me: reading, writing, daydreaming, listening to Max Richter, checking out what Shawna Lemay has been up to, etc) was probably not going to make an improvement on my long-term happiness and mental health, not to mention the aformentioned productivity.
So I decided to stop. I’m going to do my best to access the world of news and commentary via the medium of paper, rather than the beautiful but disembodied screen version I have become addicted to scrolling. Or at the very least restrict it. To replace its sugar hit, I’m also busily rediscovering the places that feed me, like the aforementioned Shawna Lemay (more in a moment). Like the amazing My Small Press Writing Day that Rupert Loydell told me about a few years ago and which I had forgotten I had bookmarked. (It was set up as a corrective to the kind of thing you used to find in weekend supplements, which, you know, kind of assumed most writers live like, say, Martin Amis.) Like rereading some favourite posts from How a Poem Happens (ditto forgetfulness). And, last but not least, signing up to supporting Shawna’s new adventure on Patreon, Beauty School.Anthony Wilson, Not much
With thanks to Chris Boultwood and Judy Kendall, my essay on the haiku of Caroline Gourlay, published in Presence #73 in July, is now on the journal’s website, here.
I owe a personal debt to Caroline, for a good deal of encouragement and friendly advice when I was starting out as a haiku poet 30 years ago or so.Matthew Paul, On the haiku of Caroline Gourlay
Sarah Maguire was the founder of the Poetry Translation Centre, an organisation which was very important to me personally in my poetry development during the past decade or so. Sarah died in 2017, leaving the PTC and her own remarkably impressive body of work. In a time when cross-cultural understanding seems more important than ever, I’m glad that the Sarah Maguire Prize has become another part of her legacy.Clarissa Aykroyd, 2022 Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation
One of the first places to take a poem from me was Obsessed With Pipework back in 2017. Charles took a poem of mine that I will like called The Breaks for issue #79, and a further 3 (YES, THREE!!!) for #88, so when I saw the shout out to former contributors for poems for #100 I really wanted to send something in. I was very grateful for the boost that that first acceptance gave me. It may not be the loudest of magazines, but it’s always had a certain cache to it, and I am happy to have been in among some wonderful poets over the issues, so to be in the 100th issue is an honour.
Bravo to any magazine that makes it to such a landmark. I’m particularly pleased they took a poem called ‘Spud’. It’s one about Flo when she was still in utero, and is one she’s always wanted to see in print. I don’t think it will be in the pamphlet, but at least it has a home.Mat Riches, Obsessed With (what’s in the) Pipework
I have some poems coming out online soon to share and a spooky poetry podcast tomorrow, and I’ve had a bit of a health scare (at least it’s scary at the appropriate time of year!)
I’ll be reading some poems from the new book for the first time and some poems from Flare, Corona. I’m so appreciate of Rattle for giving me the opportunity! I’m also getting ready for our Read Between the Wines book club meeting on November 9 at J. Bookwalter winery, where we’ll be discussing poetry! This time, Melissa Studdard’s Dear Selection Committee, which I think is a great book for introducing people who might not usually read poetry to some fun, sexy, satirical poems.Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Halloween, Spooky Poetry RattleCast This Sunday, More Health Scares, and A New Blurb for Flare, Corona
Years ago, I had a book that didn’t quite make it out before the press shuttered, fitting since it was about the end of the world and all (though we’ve had several apocalypses since.) I may at some point issue a bonus print version, but you can read it here, though: https://issuu.com/aestheticsofresearch/docs/littleapocfinalKristy Bowen, #31daysofhalloween | little apocalypse
The (perhaps) insane commitment of artists came up in a conversation with a writer friend this week, who is reading Patti Smith’s National Book Award winning Just Kids (2010), about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe in the late 1960s, when they were young and poor in New York, before either was known or had known artistic success.
“She gave up just about everything for her art,” my friend said. I asked what she meant by that, and she talked about Smith going to New York with nothing, by herself, and living with insecure housing and food.
“I’ve never done that,” I said. “And I never will.” My friend agreed that the same is true for her, which might have something to do with why neither of us has been or will be (as it’s really too late for both of us) a Twyla Tharp or Patti Smith.
I’ve come to realize that I am perfectly fine with not being that kind of creative. [Twyla] Tharp seems to believe we all have one, true creative calling (our “creative DNA”) and cautions against being distracted from it by other creative interests. If there is such a thing as creative DNA, mine is to be the opposite of a specialist. Tharp has a creative autobiography exercise, and the answers to mine are all over the creative map. Hers (because she shares it with readers) is not. I assume my creative DNA is why, although I have a kind of time for creative work now that I haven’t had since early adolescence, I’ve felt a bit creatively paralyzed. There are so many things I want to do–write (poems, essays, blog posts, hybrid forms)! sew! embroider! knit! collage! blog! cook!–that I have been doing (almost) none of them. I’ve been feeling time scarcity, even though I have a kind of time I could only dream of even six months ago.Rita Ott Ramstad, chit-chat: on creativity
The grappling with craft to turn it into art?
Your self-worth? Your self-expression? Your sense of identity?Matthew Stewart, What drives you to write and then attempt to publish your poetry?
Likes and shares on social media?
Your Mum? Your muse? Your mentor? Funding? Prizes? Publication?
Is your poetry simply for yourself? If so, why do you bother to seek publication? For a sense of validation?
Your readers? But who are they? Where are they? Why might they want to read your poems? How might you reach them? Do you care about them?
What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I do think writers have a role in trying to keep the bullshit out of language; or, in trying to purge the language of the bullshit, once the bullshit has gotten in.
Beyond that … writers are listeners, or should be; instruments through which the motion of meaning in the universe can register itself in the particular medium which is language. It has to all keep moving, though; if meaning stays written down, it gets dead. We have to read it, re-speak it, if it’s going to keep on living in the world.rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Luke Hathaway
“We don’t read submissions blind and that’s not going to change. I’m unconvinced that’s a particularly helpful strategy for ensuring balance” – Kathryn Gray (Bad Lilies). Anonymity is often suggested as a means to ensure fairness, but I can see that it hinders balance. I think that overall I’m in favour of some positive discrimination. If (say) only 10% of a poem in a magazine are by women, women might be unlikely to send to that magazine and the ratio won’t improve. The self-perpetuating loop has to be broken somehow. All the same, I’d like to think that blind submissions are something to strive towards.
“we will publish poems that shock and unsettle. These poems will speak of trauma and injustice, because that is the world we live in. We will prioritize work that deals with issues of migration, economic injustice and freedom of speech” – André Naffis-Sahely (Poetry London editorial, Summer 2021). I don’t know about the shock/unsettle aspect, but the magazine content matched the manifesto as far as I could tell. The prioritisation extended to the reviews, it seemed to me. I made a note of what received any adverse criticism. Issues are good, and are discussed at the expense of the poetry. Issue-less poetry by males was the most vulnerable.Tim Love, Periodical priorities
Elizabeth Lewis Williams’ father was a assistant scientific officer on the 1958 expedition to the Antarctic, finishing in 1965 at Scott Base. He passed away in 1996, leaving an unpublished book “Years on Ice”. “Erebus” grew from the poet’s desire to collate her half-remembered childhood stories drawing from memory, the unpublished book and letters left behind. “Portal Point” starts,
“Let me recall the four walls of a refuge hut
from the museum at Stanley, and set them here
on concrete blocks, fix them against the wind
with rope-metal tie-downs
and from the slatted, halve-jointed walls, cut and planed
in the sawmills of Norwich, I will conjure
the tang of pinewood, the smell of sawdust,
and the sound of hammer and nails.”
Part-memory, part-fact and a dosing of imagination to create what her father’s life might have been like on Antarctica. The poem ends,
“I summon all your measuring machines,
and, as the earth spins and signals
bounce, reflect, return, combine,
I say the coming world is seen from here.”
That creative streak can be drawn back to her father. He didn’t just measure and record, but built pictures from what the data told him. He understood the landscape and its risks.Emma Lee, “Erebus” Elizabeth Lewis Williams (Story Machine) – book review
I sit in the chair in my doctor’s office and work backward. This is how I feel: this is why. Before that: this. Sometimes I throw her off in time by conflating decades in a trail of thought: experiences lying on parallel, not linear, paths. Because that’s the truth, isn’t it? Not paths, really, just a pile of dried leaves.
Other times she’s not thrown. She’s not listening to the words. I know she tunes the sense of them out. She’s listening to tempo, to registers, to repetitions.
I might as well be dancing.
When the theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold moved away from realism, he put trampolines and slides on stage. He suspended narrow beams for actors to balance on.Ren Powell, Now That That’s Off My Chest
Swamp Witch Advice says this on Twitter: “You have no calling — no singular purpose. Do as many things as you can that make you and your loved ones happy as often as you can.” Right? Let’s just do those things we enjoy. This is a phrase I often repeat in my head from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse: “Let us enjoy what we do enjoy.” This is in the context of the previous sentence, “Who could tell what was going to last — in literature or indeed in anything else?”
Who knows what you’ll be remembered for. Whatever it is, it’s probably other than you think. We have no crystal balls. So enjoy what you enjoy.Shawna Lemay, 20 Things That Might Be Helpful
Why does this light
when the rest
have let go?
The leaves aren’t hope.
The trees don’t mind.
Sometimes it lifts,
the sense of endless loss
and sometimes it settles inRachel Barenblat, Untitled poem
like early winter.
torrential rainJim Young [no title]
i stop swimming and look up
opening my arms