Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 18

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.

The end of Poetry Month last week prompted not just progress reports and posts about favorite books and poems, but also led a number of poets to ponder larger questions about productivity, ambition, and the nature of work. Several wrote about sleep and insomnia, and others talked about the importance of writing in community. And as usual there were a few miscellaneous posts that didn’t really fit anywhere but were too damn fun to leave out. Enjoy.


Today I clicked on a random link to a recent poem in a fancier journal (someone liked it, I’m not sure why) and reading through was kind of embarassed for the journal for publishing it.  (and kinda for the dude for writing it.) It committed the cardinal sin in my poetry church–the breaking of sentences into lines with no real “poetry” quality about it except it looked like one on the page.  Also, it was boring, and in places abstract and cliched. The venue in question misses the mark quite a bit, but this was supposed to be one of the poetry world darlings, someone who people hold up as an idol (not me, but other people).  I started laughing and literally could not stop for about 5 minutes.

I realized for every time I think to myself, question myself, that I do not know what I’m doing…my own work, even at it’s very throwaway worst was far better than this sampling.  That yes, maybe I totally DO know what I’m doing and am doing it pretty damn well.  And in fact all of us–poet friends, dgp authors, the mss. I help out with –ALL of us are doing so much better than this fancy poet with our work.  If this came across my desk as an editor it would be an immediate “no” not even a “maybe.”  I’ve met poets who have been writing for a year or less who are considerably stronger than this.  Don’t worry, we got this.

Kristy Bowen, poet pep talk # 786

We can get used to all sorts of fashions and default settings in poetry, getting comfortable with psalms, and sestinas, and free verse, and minimalism, and stanzaic bits of ekphrasis and sonnets, and narratives. Which reminds me of a writing course I went on where elegant lyricism and exquisitely crafted velleities were the name of the game, and, en passant, one lady of letters remarked, languidly enough: ‘The anecdotal, the bus-stop conversation, has its own charm.’ by which I understood that it has no place in serious poetry at all.

This set me to think of my own predilection for narrative in poetry, and my inability to engage with, or be engaged by, self-referential stylistic games with fleeting moments, and the fragility of, say, a lemon. It also made me think of what does engage me. Emotional and intellectual surprise and challenge… that grabs me. I like novels like ‘The Name of the Rose’, and ‘Tristram Shandy’. I like MacCaig’s outrageous similes. I like the Metaphysicals. I like early Tony Harrison. I like ‘The Waste land’. I like to be out of my comfort zone, put slightly off -balance; I like creative disturbance. And so I came to like Yvonne Reddick’s idiosyncratic take on the world and its multifariousness.

The first time I met her was (regular readers, you can now roll your eyes and get it over with) at a Poetry Business Writing Day. After all, that’s where I get all my new poetry and poets. I may be wrong, but I think that was the one where she brought a distinctly eccentric poem to workshop. The title gives you due warning: Holocene Extinction Memorial. Nineteen irregular stanzas, each of which might be an idiosyncratic label in a room full of unnervingly strange exhibits.

‘The Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse from Indefatigable Island wants to be invincible’

‘The Hacaath of Vancouver struggle with smallpox’

‘The quagga hopes Burchell’s zebra remembers her’

I have no idea if she made some of them up, or all, or none; I could Google them but I have no desire to find out. The thing is, she read with such emphatic conviction that I had no choice but to be convinced. I have no idea if anyone else was as taken as I, or even if it was ‘a Good Poem’. All I know is  it was unexpected, and memorable, and that’s not the case with everything you hear in a workshop. It was like the poem equivalent of the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford before it was tidied up and curated into rationality. Like the cabinets of curiosities beloved of the incumbents of Victorian rectories.

John Foggin, A polished gem revisited: Yvonne Reddick

I have returned to the poems in QUANTUM HERESIES many times in the last two months. How can a debut  collection of poems be so arresting, so superb?  One answer is that Mary Peelen has been hard at work on her craft for years; she is not a dilettante but rather a true poet. Also, she has lived a fascinating and hard-won life.

Take for example these lines from “String Theory,”

Here at the horizon of theoretical extinction,
we cut flowers for the table.

We sing the way weary mourners do,
praising geometry as if miracles could happen.

The environment, mathematics, love, and loss in two couplets. I am in awe of these lines and from many other poems as well including: “x”, “Unified Theory,” and “Sunday Morning” to name but a few stellar examples of Peelen’s deft and spare language.

Elizabeth Bishop once said that what she liked best in a poem was “to see a mind in motion.” And she then added that this was of course an impossibility. That the poems that did their best to mirror the mind’s movement were working hard to display such ease.

Susan Rich, Mary Peelen’s QUANTUM HERESIES is here and you want to read it!

I confess that I love finishing books because it gives me a chance to move to another one on my to read pile. That pile grows like the National Debt. But I’ve finished another and will be looking to start another. I’ve finished reading The Veronica Maneuver by Jennifer Moore.  I will be doing a review of the book soon. (adding to my growing to do list).

Goat Yoga. There is such a thing. I kid you not. (no pun intended) Yesterday I joined others at Paradise Park for a session of goat yoga. The cute little things wander around among us and challenge our focus. They will occasionally have accidents. My mat was missed by inches. Their poop looks like Raisinets.  See photo to right. Aside from, the experience was fun and we did get some light yoga in, which at this stage is about where I am at in the yoga experience overall.  Anyone who knows me well quite possibly knows my affinity towards goats.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – OM to the Goats Edition

Jeannine Hall Gailey’s terrifyingly useful PR For Poets is packed with ideas completely new to me, even though this is my third book. (Or fifth, depending on how such things are counted.) […]

Like nearly every other writer I know, I’m a friendly hermit with a serious allergy* to self-promotion. So I didn’t follow most of Jeannine’s good advice, like developing a PR kit or getting a headshot. But her book did foster another idea. “Hide in the house,” I said to myself. “Make something fun to help sell the new book.”

Book swag can include postcards, magnets, bookmarks, t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, pens, custom-decorated cookies, toys, and more. All the stuff most writers, let alone most publishers, can’t possibly afford. Jeannine calmly explains postcards and business cards are the most useful, and how to produce them at a reasonable cost. Of course I wanted to do something complicated. […]

Initially I hoped to create tiny replica book necklaces that could open to a poetry sample, somewhat like this project on Buttons & Paint. The time required, however, was too daunting, especially with time constraints like my actual editing job.

Then I decided to make book pendants that could be worn or used to mark one’s place. It seemed simple.

Laura Grace Weldon, How Not To Make Book Swag

Here are my thoughts as I read, and reread this poem.  What caught me up first was the detail of slow description of what is a fairly brief event: details like noting when the boy is seeing the bulbous end or the tapering end of the carrot.

Second, the word choices.  “Bulbous” is not a plain word. I particularly notice the way “whisker” is used as a verb and applied to the carrot, not the white hairs on a chin.  The “same glints” on the two caught my attention also, because I’ve seen such glints in early morning sun.

Another good touch is the delaying of the boy’s age until the short second stanza.  Now we meet the one for whom this very ordinary event is not ordinary at all.  And when the poem ends on “the world outside this garden” how could this garden not be Eden?

John C. Mannone has contributed to Sin Fronteras Journal, of which I am one of the editors.  I look forward to seeing more of his work wherever it appears.

Ellen Roberts Young, Reading a Poem: Mannone’s “Carrots”

When pondering what to post today, the last day of April and therefore the last post in this series of Great Poems for April—no pressure!—I realized a strange thing. Even though I’d been concentrating on going through my own trove of favorite poems through the month, I hadn’t really thought about which one poem is my very favorite. You know, that one that accompanies you through life, whose lines remain with you like bits of a song that you find yourself humming while doing dishes or driving to work. As soon as I thought that, I immediately knew which one was my favorite: “After Apple-Picking.”

What I love most about this poem is its unusual rhyme scheme. This being Frost, of course there’s a pattern. But it’s so erratic, so—dare I say—rebellious that I wonder if Frost was thinking, screw the establishment; I’m gonna go all Picasso on the old end rhyme. And he was a master of the old end rhyme. And yet he was young when he wrote this. And probably somebody out there knows what that was all about, but I’m kind of glad I don’t know, in the same way I’m glad I don’t know for sure what the different kinds of sleep are that he talks about. Or whether this is about the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the banishment from Eden. Or about the burdens of fame (that’s my go-to—“I am overtired / Of the great harvest I myself desired”—but again, he was young, so I’m not so sure). And if you want to see what other people think about all those things, spend an amusing hour or so surfing the internet, looking at the different theories. Those people are all so sure they know what this poem means.

What I do know about this poem is that it’s beautiful. Phrases of this poem are, I think, among the best in American poetry (“ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,” “load on load of apples coming in,” and that low-geared, four-word musical breakdown of a line, “As of no worth”). I love the way he changes up the rhythm and sentence length, and of course those erratic line lengths that sneak the rhymes in there among all the truncation where you can barely hear it. The phrasing is so memorable that I literally can’t pick up a stepladder without whispering “My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree / Toward heaven still,” or cut open an apple without thinking “Stem end and blossom end.” And this line—“Essence of winter sleep is on the night, / The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.” I can go back and read that for a lifetime and never get tired of it.

Every year that I reread this poem, it means something different to me; I find some small part I hadn’t thought much about before. (Right now it’s the “pane of glass / I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough”—can’t you see it? Don’t you sometimes go a whole day, unable to rub that strangeness from your sight?) Loving a good poem is like a friendship. You go through time together, and even though you never know everything about that poem, you keep discovering things that it didn’t tell you before. And your relationship with it changes too. If it’s really a great poem, the poem weathers the changes. And so do you.

Amy Miller, 30 Great Poems for April, Day 30: “After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost

As we come to the end of National Poetry Month I wanted to share with you a few poems I read and absolutely loved this month. Do yourself a favor and read them.

This one is an old poem – published in April 2017. But I only just discovered it earlier this month and it’s worth sharing:

I try to say—
I am lonely.
I try to say—
I want to come home,
to Earth, to Ithaca.
That this
was all a mistake.

~ from Yellowshirt Elegy by Meghan Phillips, published by Barrelhouse

Another one that was published back in July but thanks to the powers of Twitter, I just discovered it this month:

An analogy:
Pac-Man fills his mouth with pellets: you fill
your house with wine, your head with songs.

~from Nine Ways in Which Pac-Man Speaks to the Human Condition by Katie Willingham, published by Paper Darts

Courtney LeBlanc, Read These Poems

April is finished, thank goodness, it’s been a tough month for a variety of reasons. Now I can do a review of my efforts over GloPoWriMo, the Global Poetry Writing Month – my attempts to write at least one, sometimes two poems a day for my two online courses.

I wrote 22 poems that I consider done or almost done and 12 poems that still need a lot of work or will probably never make it past draft stage. There are also some drafts that I couldn’t count as going anywhere, so I haven’t counted them. That’s just over 30, so I’m very pleased with that. Some days I wrote nothing, some I wrote two, but I sat down regularly enough to have a poem a day for the month. 

Forcing myself to write a rough draft of a poem a day has pushed me to not avoid difficult subjects, to delve deeper into moments that have weight for me, but might not necessarily be an interesting telling on the face of it at first. I have pushed myself to write even when I’m not in the mood or don’t like where my writing is going. Sometimes just ranting on the page or exploring those emotionally charged subjects helps me to deal with them in a healthier way than bottling them up and letting them fizz inside me until I explode over nothing. 

Gerry Stewart, My April GloPoWriMo Assessment

I wrote 30 poems, one each day, as a sonnet cycle. It was surprisingly easy to keep going, as every day I had a prompt from the previous poem. By about 4/12, I found that I didn’t have to count lines, I just wrote 14 and stopped. The form entered me. I will be working on revisions for a good while, but I’m hopeful that I have something here. The cycle starts and ends with this line:
It was a warm day in April when the coleus died.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with My April Roundup

& so, I did what I set out to do: I exercised the necessary discipline to draft a poem a day during National Poetry Month, and I pushed against my “comfort zone” by publicly posting those drafts as they came to me. Usually I do not share my initial drafts with anyone other than fellow writers in my writer’s group or a few poets with whom I correspond. This was an interesting experiment on the personal level, therefore, a sort of forced extroversion as well as effort in productivity. I now have 30 new drafts to reflect upon, revise, or ignore.

It has been years since I came up with that much work in four weeks’ time. For the last decade or so, my average has been closer to six or seven poems a month. And I would not have posted any of them as they “hatched.” I would have waited until I spent some time with them and figured out how best to say what they seemed to want to say.

That’s not an unwise approach in general; I see nothing wrong with letting poems stew awhile. And quite a few would have ended up in the “dead poems” folder. Nevertheless, trying something innovative tends to prove valuable. The takeaway is that I am glad I finally managed the NaPoWriMo challenge. A few of the poem drafts you may have read here stand a chance of evolving into better poems. Maybe some will end up in a collection (years down the road). That result feels good.

The takeaway is also the realization that I no longer worry about how others judge my poems, the way I did when I was starting out and discouraged about having my stuff rejected by magazines. Not because there’s less at stake–indeed, I feel as invested in my writing as I ever was. The difference comes with the kind of investment, the ambition to write something meaningful or beautiful, and not viewing the poems as results waiting to be determined as valuable by someone more authoritative.

I’m 60 years old and well-educated in poetic craft, style, purpose, analysis. I’ve been writing poetry for over four decades. At this point in my life, that’s authority enough.

Ann E. Michael, The takeaway

Here’s wishing you a happy May Day and hoping that you enjoyed a marvelous Poetry Month.

In the photo, you can make out a couple of stones. Those make the line between the lawn’s lush green abundance and the scraggly patch of winter rye. Okay, some lawn grass is mixed in between the rye and the irises. But it’s had me thinking about what we cut and what we keep, about censoring and not censoring, about how we tend our writing. Even about where I’m putting my energy.

In thinking about writing, I’m seeing the two kinds of grasses not as separate things but as the different attentions required. There’s letting the creative rush run over, there’s perhaps (for me, always) the need to trim, to shape, and there’s the need to tend, to wait patiently.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day four

If you’re reading this, it must be some time between 3 -5 am and I am up listening to Vampire Weekend’s new song “Harmony Hill” on repeat.

I’ve written 2 poems and answered a few emails. I haven’t spoken to anyone in 36 hours, and this is the gift of the writing residency. I wonder–what if I didn’t talk to people for days in real life, would I have more to write? It seems the less I talk, the more I have to say when I write.

I know it would be almost impossible to achieve this at home, but it encourages me on my next retreat to see how long I could go without speaking.

Solitude, when chosen, is a gift. 
Solitude, when forced upon someone, is a punishment. 
Solitude, when not wanted, is loneliness in disguise.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Making the Most of Insomnia…

So we know all kinds of stuff about how the mind works, but we don’t know what this feeling is of knowing. Which makes me so confused I feel sleepy. And, let me tell you, from all the articles people insist on forwarding to me, we really know very little about sleep — how it works, why it works, why it works the way it works, and what’s going on when it doesn’t work, not to mention how to fix it. So we not only don’t know what this thing called “I” is but we don’t know why “I” can’t sleep. I’ll tell you, it keeps me awake at night.

Marilyn McCabe, Wake Me Up When It’s Over

One after the other you fall asleep
as the light moves on and wakes up
the ones at the other end of the line
We move so fast that we cannot see
A merry-go-round of dreams

Magda Kapa, Globally Speaking

Staying up most of the night working on poems. Oh Lonely Bones – can’t you rest? Why should I? Even now now a strong wind carries some pine seeds to the earth. Even now the boats slide down the long Sacramento River to the bay. A new day begins and I am alive.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Staying up most of the night working on poems.’

The buzz bang clatter shatter whooshing rush
of restaurant chatter. I just smile and nod.
This is not an aura, but a shockwave
pulsing against my skin with each heartbeat,
an auditory strobe staccato sheet
of porcupine pins flying in close shave
formation, grinding at 300 baud.

PF Anderson, On Aurality

The wipe-out of my hard drive and the subsequent computer clean-up continues. I went into my main drive this weekend to organize my years of fiction and poetry output, and was at once heartened and saddened by it, the sad part of which threw me immediately into the throes of writing self-pity, a very unbecoming state of being in which I lamented the failure of my novel, wallowed in my fear that writing poetry about my new-found passion for shooting will be roundly rejected by anti-gun leftist poetry publishers everywhere, as poets are almost universally anti-gun leftists, and lamented the  fact that I am hopelessly prone to writing run-on sentences. But I am also proud to report that I was fairly pleased overall with my review of my previous work. I read some things that I had forgotten I wrote and that can firmly say I stand by to this day, despite their thickness and amateur-ness. To balance this, the most hopeless amongst them were unceremoniously deleted. So it’s been a mixed bag.

Kristen McHenry, Fun with Projection, Ear to Mouth Ratio, Self-Pity Sunday

I’ve been ruthless this week, in a way that feels quite alien to me. I’ve shelved so many jobs in order to stick to my goal of writing two (yes, just two) pages of my notebook every day. The things I’ve put to one side include reading (poetry and prose, weekend supplements) making art/ collages, cleaning the bathroom, weeding the garden (although the weather was against me on this week). Still, you get the picture. What’s interesting is that because my target is quite low, in terms of word count, I’ve exceeded it nearly every day. This has been really positive. It’s given me that ‘Can do’ feeling, and made me keen to carry on, so much so that yesterday I treated myself to a new notebook, in anticipation of finishing the current one. I’ve stuck to A5 so I can keep the momentum – there’s something about turning the page that makes me feel I’m being more productive.

Writing is important to me, and I’ve said for a while now that I’ve embraced distractions as a way of feeding the work, but the bottom line is, if you’re not setting aside time to do the work, then anything you’ve gleaned from these distractions isn’t being given a fair chance to flourish into something new on the page. So, instead of finding excuses (or allowing the distractions to take over) I’m concentrating on finding ways to fit my writing into what seems, at times, an impossibly short day.

Julie Mellor, No excuses

Many years ago the doctor told me the best thing I could do for my mental health was to keep a routine. Take the mornings predictably, and slowly.

So since my kids hit their teens, I have been up early to run, write and do meditation. And for the past year, I have included a morning flow sequence.

How I wish I had done this when my children were young. I’ve spent most of my life – all of my adult life – obsessively attempting to be productive. The unquestioned belief being that my life would be of value only if I left something important behind; that I am somehow required to justify my time on earth by creating works of art. On days, and during months scattered with rejection slips from publishers, I’d rethink my life’s choices and feel obligated to toss my humanity degrees and get a nursing degree, or a counselling certification: the kind of thing that makes a person valuable, makes them the kind of person who can sign up with Médecins Sans Frontières and do good in the world.

Ren Powell, An Art of Living – Day 1

After that glass of wine, I walked home through a small town under construction and swarming with alumnae/i, pondering ambition. It was very much on my mind in my mid-forties, when I started writing the poems in my forthcoming collection. My current working title for the latter is The State She’s In, but whether or not my editor ultimately agrees about that, I’m polishing the ms now and the book will be out in March or April 2020. The collection, in fact, contains a sequence of five list-poems called “Ambitions,” and I considered whether I could or should incorporate the word in my book title. I guess I was asking common midlife questions: what is all this striving for? Am I on a path towards something good, goals I genuinely care about? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities to other people, to my work, and as a citizen–not the trivial stuff, but the deep obligations? Then an ambitious woman ran for office, and a man who despises women trumped her, and some of my struggle over that episode is in the book, too.

As I veered off Main St. onto the smaller road that leads home, I realized I may have turned a corner where ambition is concerned. I’m not sure how much of the change comes from turning fifty, or other revolutions in my life, or even just the fact that three books I worked on for years all have contracts now, so I can afford to be less anxious! Maybe my state of relative equilibrium is temporary. But while I still think many kinds of ambition are good and important, and anyone who’s nervous about ambition in women is a sexist jerk, I find I’m not fretting about productivity this summer, for once. I can’t even drum up worry about the reception my poetry book will eventually meet (the novel’s a bit different–still feel like an imposter there). I have a number of writing projects percolating, and I’ll be helping my kids launch into college and the working world, but I’m mainly grateful that a summer slow-down is allowing me to strengthen these mss and plan for how I can help them find audiences. My chief ambition, I’m realizing, is to make the books as moving and crafty and complicated and inspiring as possible.

Lesley Wheeler, The ambit of ambition

I’m thinking about trying to start a series of get-togethers at my house, since it’s become more difficult to get out and about but I’m still an extrovert who gets inspired by spending time with other creative people. My house is pretty good for entertaining, and Glenn is good at making snacks. Should I try to create a new writers feedback group, like the one I was in for thirteen plus years, or try salons, with a bunch of different kind of artists? I’ve been finishing up a series of Virginia Woolf letters, and I’m inspired by the way, though she was limited in the amount she went out or went to London, she brought a circle of artists around her houses, not always together at the same time, but encouraged them, published them, provided tea and conversation. She really did get inspired and enjoy helping others.

I was thinking about ways to help others and maybe start working again, a little bit, from home. But what? Technical writing or marketing writing? Offering manuscript consults again? Or perhaps some coaching for doing basic PR for poets with new books? When I’m feeling good, I’m pretty effective, but I do have these “slips” in time that happen when I’m sick, so I need something that’s flexible.

Women Writing Despite…

In fact, many of the “major” women writers that we read, including Flannery O’Conner, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Lucille Clifton, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, and Charlotte Bronte, all had limits on their health – physical and mental illnesses, constraints on their time and energy. They still managed to produce a ton of work, not just published books, but tons of journals and letters that I find fascinating and great research for women writers – how they succeed, how they struggled, how they maintained friendships and family demands. (Frida Kahlo is kind of the patron-saint of sick women creatives, too. Not only is her art getting more attention these days, but I read that her garden was recently restored – how I would love to see that!)

I think one reason I’ve been attracted to researching the lives of these writers is that they succeeded despite. Despite family opposition, money problems, health problems, during a literary time that was – shall we say – unfriendly to women’s voices. How they guarded their writing time, and struggled with “doing it all” – a woman’s problem for centuries, not just now, the expectations that women will be supportive of their family’s needs, domestic work, taking care of spouses or family members, plus write and spend time and cultivate connections with other creative people. So what I’m saying is, really, in this age of phones and internets and social media, it’s easier for me than it would have been for any of those writers, despite my illnesses, the physical limitations I might face, the frustrations I feel.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Another Birthday, Spring and All, Thinking About the Modern Salon and Writing Groups, Women Writing Despite, and Planning for the Year Ahead

As I’ve traveled, from AWP a month ago to the creativity retreat last week, I’ve been thinking about tribes, the tribes we choose and the tribes that claim us.  I saw many AWP posts that talked about the ecstasy of being back with one’s tribe, but I don’t feel that way at AWP.  I’m a different kind of participant, with a very different kind of non-writing job for pay than most people there.  I still have a good time, but it’s a much more industrial feel for me–it’s not the sigh of relief, the “I’m home again!” feeling for me.

Last week’s retreat was that way.  Let me preface by saying that I don’t always feel that way.  I’ve been coming to this retreat since 2003, and I’m not sure why some years it’s easy to settle in to the retreat rhythm and some years I never capture it.  This year I felt like I knew fewer people (in part, because we had a larger crowd with more new people), yet surprisingly, I had that return to the tribe feeling.

I don’t have many areas of my life when I’m surrounded by people who are interested in the intersections of creativity and spirituality; in fact, this retreat might be the only place where I am in a larger group of those kinds of people.  There are a few at my local church, but at the retreat, I’m with 70+ people who are.  And we’re interested in a wide variety of creative expressions.  It’s exhilarating.

It does take me away from poetry writing, which is strange since the retreat almost always happens during National Poetry Month.  But it’s great to be distracted by a retreat, not by the drudgery of administrative work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Tribes and Poetry and the Focus of a Month

This week I submitted a proposal for AWP 2020, which will take place in San Antonio, TX. I haven’t had a panel picked up for the conference in a few years, so maybe I’m due. I hope it’s accepted — it gives me a chance to collaborate with a couple of my friends: one from college, J.C., who is a playwright and TV/film writer and essayist who lives now in Los Angeles. The topic is on DIY residencies and retreats — granting yourself time and space to write — and she’s been doing these kinds of things for years now; also with C.Y.M., who completed an Artist Residency in Motherhood a short while ago.

M.S. and I have been planning, and putting the final necessary pieces in place, for doing our own Artist Residency in Motherhood this summer, for a week in July. We have all of our kiddos signed up for day camps, and we’re renting a tiny apartment not far from the camps. We’re going to use an apartment booked through AirBnB as a joint workspace. The plan is to use 3-4 hours in the morning for work on writing and art-making, break briefly for lunch, and then either go back to work or go on some kind of excursion we wouldn’t normally be able to do with three kids in tow. Also, our work, our writing and art, will be focused around a joint theme — so that possibly we can exhibit or publish it somewhere together. Or maybe we won’t. We’re trying not to put too much pressure on the week — just enough to provides some focus or direction.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Returning to Blogging, More Bathroom Renovating, DIY Residency Planning, and a Cover Reveal

windless our sails of blood and bone become moons in a jar

when all else is emptied your name takes on the shape of a swan

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, seq. 30.04 2019/sekv. 30.04 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 14

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts.

A lot of poets are writing a poem a day this month, and bloggers seem split between those willing to share their rough drafts and those who prefer to post already published pieces instead. I’ve shared snippets of both sorts of poems below, and I defy anyone to identify without clicking through which are which. (Please note that if I’ve shared a quote from a poem that you plan to later take down so that you can submit it somewhere, shoot me an email or message me on Twitter so I can erase the evidence here!) Also in the mix: musings on language and poetry, surviving the AWP, and working in collage and other media and genres. And I love Amy Miller’s Poetry Month project of writing about a favorite poem every day, in posts that are the perfect bloggish blend of the personal and the analytical.


I took this week off from work and have spent most of it writing poems, writing poetry reviews, setting up a new website for publishing poetry chapbook reviews, submitting poems, writing poems. Sort of a trial run for retirement. I can’t wait to have more time to write, more control over my schedule, more reading, writing, reviewing poetry.

For the something-ith year (10th I think) I am writing a poem-a-day for April. After a couple of poems, I realized that I am writing a sonnet cycle. I am excited about this!

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse is Poetry Month with a Vegan Twist

I will blame the blueness in the sky
the berries fallen and crushed under feet, seeds carried away by wind

the plain breasted bird on a dying tree.
Sun soaks through everything, stitches specialness into the ordinary

Uma Gowrishanker, where poems hide

Not named for the coarse open fabric of flags,
but named after sifting seeds,
after  blue dye from hairy blooms of the legume family
in India, Indigo Buntings flash,
hue of the portion of the visible spectrum from blue to violet
evoked in the human observer
by radiant energy,
by iridescence in flight.

Anne Higgins, In the hand of the bander

Isn’t it funny how the words super and superb are so close to each other orthographically, and close in meaning, and yet one is considered plebian while the other is a lofty, almost snobbish choice?

Super: 1) of a high grade or quality; 2) very large or powerful.

Superb: 1) marked to the highest degree by grandeur, excellence, brilliance or competence.

It’s almost as if back in 1802, someone who couldn’t handle consonant clusters downgraded superb to super, stripping away the ‘grandeur, excellence’ etc.

Sarah J. Sloat, I open my mouth and there it is

A poet
might vajazzle a cloaca with ommatidia
just because they like the sparkle and bounce of the words, but
trust me, you do not want to see those words put together.
Pray they don’t add a sprinkling of blastomeres for some cleavage,
or knit neuroglia over biofilm for a net
to scrunch into a purple nictitating membrane. What
it comes down to is no one quite wants a poet’s body.

PF Anderson, On Making Beautiful Monsters

Poets don’t assume a thing is just a thing—they look beyond the obvious truths for the truths that require more digging. And that comes to the second thing Keita said that I wrote down in my notebook: “the impulse to research changes everything.” I underlined that three times, because that is such a powerful truth about poetry, writing poetry, and the urge to create. Creating isn’t so much about making something new as it is finding new ways to experience the old (or the things that already exist). [M. Nzadi] Keita went on to talk about the world as multiple words, and the need to acknowledge and sort through the many layers of it. This, she said, is a de-centering experience, and poets thrive on that de-centering.

Grant Clauser, Not Taking for Granted: Notes on Why Poetry

Read “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” in the online journal Jellyfish Review here.

This hybrid poem/prose piece by Kathy Fish, published in the online journal Jellyfish Review just after the mass shooting at the Route 21 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, went viral in October 2017. When I read it at the time, it gave me shivers. The poem stuck with me, particularly those last few hair-raising lines.

But by the time I came back to this poem a few months ago, in my mind it had grown; I remembered it as being a long, list-y poem. So I was surprised to read it again and find that it’s actually very short, concise, even lean—and I think that’s one of its great strengths, the fact that it can start out so larky, sweet, offhand, and then so quickly take that dark turn at the end. Its whiplash is swift and sure. I also love the fact that it’s not exactly a poem, though many regard it as one; it’s a great example of the flexibility of hybrid forms. This is one of those poems that make me think anything is possible with words.

Amy Miller, 30 Great Poems for April, Day 4: “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” by Kathy Fish

When you have a rabbi for a daughter
sometimes you get texts from the hearse.
You must have known what I was doing:
reminding myself that I still had a mother,
bracing against — well, now: not being able
to reach you to talk about purses or friends
as the cemetery’s energy slowly drained.

Rachel Barenblat, Texts from the hearse

The walls are thin, transparent.
Angels stand at right angles.
I close my eyes to see the bees
breaking and entering. Honeycomb
dipped in sorrow. Eyeballs
rolling like grapes on my palm.
I see a handful of pennies fallen
through the grate. Shallow sludge,
the refuse of a city feigning sleep.

Romana Iorga, Falling Asleep with Carpenter Bees

The bottomland rose up behind you,
a hard, broken ripening.
You sewed yourself by thirds out of your softness,
holding all of you out of the sun
to feel yourself settle in.
You ran into the bottomland’s cloudy eye.

Charlotte Hamrick, Stones & Moss

The woman holds inside herself
for nine months the evolving child
and every moment is one of multiplying,
expending energy during the wait
which may result in either life
or death. Even the Zen place of repose
requires breath: action, inhalation,
oxygenation, illumination. Notice:
this morning, the plum trees blossomed.

Ann E. Michael, Patience

It rained at Spring Equinox, and
A beautiful quiet filled the house
In the dark just before sunrise;
There was only the sound of the rain
And my wife yelling for more
Toilet paper.

James Lee Jobe, ‘It rained at Spring Equinox, and’

Strange to navigate the busy waters of the Cork International Poetry Festival, and then the very next week–from a distance, via social media–watch writers navigate the even busier waters of the AWP Conference in Portland, Oregon. I managed to photograph every reader I saw in the Cork Arts Theater, except for closing night when my phone died. (Note that this happened mid-email. So I spent an agonizing twenty minutes wondering if I was standing up Kim Addonizio. Luckily, she got the message and made her way to Cask to meet up for dinner.) The downside of the phone dying is that I can’t show you Kim’s awesome shoes, or the sweet interplay between Billy Collins and Leanne O’Sullivan, a rising star of Irish poetry who had received the Farmgate Café National Poetry Award earlier in the week. The upside is that I was able to relax and fully inhabit those moments. 

Sandra Beasley, Teaching (& Festival-ing!) in Cork

The next morning I woke up brighter and more alert and ready to take on my Friday, which included the first event: a book signing for PR for Poets at the Two Sylvias Booth, where I got to visit with my beautiful editors, Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy – really well attended, thanks to everyone who came by and bought books! It was a wonderful opportunity to chat – albeit briefly – with some people I have been friends with online for literally over a decade! I could hardly breathe because I was hugging so many people. Really, I love doing readings and panels, but hugging your friends is the best part of AWP, or telling someone how much their book meant, or thanking editors/publishers. It’s the people that make the event what it is. Swag is terrific, but human interaction between writers is even better.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Poetry Month! And AWP Report, Part I: Welcome to Portland! Disability Readings, Disability Issues, and Seeing Writers in Real Life

One of my favorite poetry publishers, in fact, they’re my dream publisher, is Write Bloody. They publish amazing poets and poetry that constantly inspires and awes me. And so of course I stopped by their table at the book fair. As I flipped through books I chatted with the woman standing beside me. It wasn’t till she walked to the other side of the table that I realized I’d been talking to the author of the book I held in my hands. So of course I bought the book and snapped a picture with Seema Reza. And, as it turns out, she’s a local DC poet and she’ll be at an upcoming Readings on the Pike so I’ll get to see her again soon!

I went to a panel titled, How We Need Another Soul to Cling To: Writing Love Poems in Difficult Times. During that panel I heard, for the first time, Meg Day, read their poems. Let me just say, the poems Meg read completely wowed me. After the reading I fangirled over Meg and they were kind enough to take a picture with me. *swoon* Seriously, I may have fallen in love a little bit, they are that amazing.

And absolutely worth mentioning – the time I spent with my friends, connecting with fellow writers, sharing meals and glasses of wine, attending readings together. The camaraderie rejuvenated me and my heart was filled.

Courtney LeBlanc, I Survived AWP

I know some people go to AWP to network, to roam the Book Fair, to attend off-sites and book-signings, and to hear the keynote speakers. These are important reasons, and I’ve done my share. However, my main reason for spending the time and money that AWP requires is to get ideas for writing and/or teaching. To that end, I have a process I’ll share with you.

As soon as I get home, I get out my notebook and the conference program. For each panel I attended, I locate the panel description in the program, and then I write down the title, the date, and the names of the people who gave the panel. Then I write. After I fill up a page or two, I highlight anything that stands out. Then I look for connections, circling that which seems related.

For example, I attended a panel titled “Mind-Meld: Re-imagining Creative Writing and Science.” As I wrote, I remembered that panelist Adam Dickinson stated that he’d used himself as a science experiment. He talked about the psychological stress of testing himself daily to see what chemicals and bacteria lurked within his body. He also mentioned that serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for well-being, is made in the gut. As you can see from the page in my notebook, I connected this idea to others I’d remembered from the panel: [Click through to view the photo.]

Erica Goss, Getting the Most Out of AWP

A week ago, I’d be waking up in Portland, eating a hearty breakfast, getting ready to figure out the mass transit system to make my way to the Convention Center.  As I think back over all the AWP sessions I attended, the one that made me want to ditch the rest of the conference to approach my writing in a new way was the one on Intersections of Poetry and Visual Art at 10:30 on Thursday.

My brain had already been thinking about this possibility (see this blog post from December, for example). […]

It made me want to return to some poems and see if parts of them might make good sketching prompts.  I was interested in the process of the poets at the AWP session.  As you might expect, they approached the intersection of visual art and poetry from a variety of angles:  some of the poets and artists worked in true collaboration, in some the words came first and then images, and then one woman worked more as a collage artist. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Intersections of Poetry and Visual Art

Influenced by a Winston Plowes poetry workshop a couple of weeks ago (see previous post ‘Butterflies of the Night‘), the work of poet and artist Helen Ivory, and the boxes of Joseph Cornell, here’s my latest composite fiction. [Click through for the photo.]

I’ve used the found text I am devoted to nobody but myself as a starting point, then created a series of paper butterflies using copies of a photograph of myself taken when I was 19. Although I’ve worked with a single photograph, each butterfly is unique. The whole thing has been incredibly time-consuming but utterly absorbing. Partly, it’s been a problem-solving exercise, and that’s good because it’s made me think in a different way. It’s been a case of literally thinking outside the box!

Julie Mellor, I am devoted to nobody but myself

By summer 2004, I was going all in on visual exploits, and it coincided with the very beginnings of the press, so I was designing the first few covers as well. I took a summer collage workshop at the Center for Book & Paper (it kills me this no longer exists, I was considering another ill-advised masters degree if they still offered it to bone up on my bookmaking skills.)  By 2008 or so, I’d also made quite a bit of money selling originals, prints, and paper goods online–far more than I will probably ever make as a writer.  I had finally found the medium that did not depend on me having to render anything perfectly at all.   In having to struggle with how I expected something to look vs. how it ended up looking.  With collage, so much is happenstance, depending on what bits and pieces you have available.

I’ve mentioned before, how the form actually also changed me as a writer, in my approach to composition. The poems I wrote in late 2004 and early 2005 were written very different from the poems I was writing before and were far better for it.  Writing, which I’d always approached as a very serious endeavor with an intended aim in mind, a point of success or failure,  became much more..well..FUN.  Collages (and by proxy poems)  are more this wild territory where anything can happen, I don’t really know what I will get, and therefore, am always usually pretty happy with the results. Even my adventures in other mediums, the ones I most enjoy, have a certain experimental approach–abstract watercolors, nature prints, ink painting. What happens tends to happen and it’s the discovery that is always the best part. (I could easily say this about most of my writing these days as well.)  Sometimes the mistakes and trip-ups are the most interesting elements. Sometimes, they lead to other possibilities or change the course of the river.

Sometimes, I truly have no idea where I am going or what will come of it.  It’s actually kind of awesome…

Kristy Bowen, wild territory | adventures in collage

I was just putting together some notes for a poetry workshop I’m giving to the general public in April, which is, of course “poetry month.” I would not usually offer a “poetry” workshop. Rather the workshops I have offered ask people to just think creatively and imaginatively and not worry about what genre comes out.

In my intro notes to this workshop (the host organization said I could “do anything I wanted but it had to be focused on poetry”) I want to say something like what this article said, the idea of letting the work figure out its own form. This is part of the mysterious process of making.

Marilyn McCabe, Make Me an Angel; or, On Not Committing to a Genre

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network (deadline: February 14).

Books, books, and more books! Writing them, reading them, collecting them: That’s what I found in my feed this week, even more so than usual. Maybe it’s the inevitable effect of a long winter. Other themes included listening and therapy, vocabulary and rhythm, getting out and about, and learning from Sylvia Plath. Enjoy.


Alfred Edward Newton, author and book collector (Not to be confused with Alfred E. Newman of Mad magazine fame)  is quoted as saying, “Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity … we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.”  In this context, Tsundoku appears to be a positive thing. Alternatively, I have heard it used to describe book hoarding. The latter is a less flattering description of the pastime.

Let me say that  I am guilty of having more books that I have read. Or at least completed. I have a fairly extensive personal library. I make no bones about it. 

I confess that I love the feel of books. Not so much the feel of e-readers. I love the sight of books. And yes, I love the smell of books. […]

According to statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, unread volumes represent what he calls an “antilibrary,” and he believes our antilibraries aren’t signs of intellectual failings, but the opposite.

Alberto Manguel puts it very lovingly – “I have no feelings of guilt regarding the books I have not read and perhaps will never read; I know that my books have unlimited patience. They will wait for me till the end of my days.”  There may come a day in which I am no longer able to add books to my library. I hope that is not the case, But I keep reading. And yes, buying. For the time being.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Tsundoku – Pronounced sun-do-ku / Illness or Healthy?

The man who’d died, Raimond, was a bibliophile. The majority of his books were in German so I skipped the novels and history and went for art and photography, though I did surrender to some particularly beautiful books, whether for the covers or subject or gothic font. I don’t have much shelf space left at home so I tried to be disciplined and discerning. I even turned my back on his ample poetry collection. 

I did give in to one small book, though. I felt like a voyeur leafing through something so personal, but in a flimsy floral notebook, Raimond had pasted poems he chose from newspapers and magazines. Some clippings were still bunched together at the back of the book. In pasting, he grouped a poet’s work together — there’d be two pages of Günter Eich, for example, before moving on to Sarah Kirsch, whom he obviously loved.

The notebook appealed to me because I have one in which I’ve done exactly the same thing. The difference is I pasted only one poem per page, accompanied by an image. I remember the hours spent carefully choosing and arranging, and enjoyed thinking of my kindred out there doing the same.

Sarah J. Sloat, The golden notebooks

Q~You mentioned that you are finishing up your MFA. What are the best/worst parts of this for you?

A~I completed my MFA in January 2019, and it was an amazing experience. I wrote so much over the past two years and finished with a full manuscript. Being in an MFA program forces you to write and to read – both fellow student’s work but also your instructors and everything that gets assigned. I felt fully immersed in poetry for two years. It’s very bittersweet to be over – I already miss the program, but I found my community there, and it has been a wonderful experience.

Q~Who are you reading now? According to your blog, you read A LOT of books. How does this inform your own writing?

A~I do read a lot; in 2018 I read 221 books which was a personal best for me! I read a little of everything – a ton of poetry, literary fiction, genre fiction (fantasy is great for audio books!), CNF, memoir, etc. (Friend me on Goodreads to follow what I read: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6611777.Courtney_LeBlanc) I get recommendations from friends and Twitter (shoutout to DC Public Library for running great book chats – https://twitter.com/dcpl). I just finished Seducing the Asparagus Queen by Amorak Huey, which is a gorgeous collection of poetry and a great way to kick off 2019. Next, I plan on reading some of Mary Oliver’s work since she just passed away, and I’m already missing her words. I recently read The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and really enjoyed it (fiction). My favorite fantasy is Strange the Dreamer (book #1) and Muse of Nightmares (book #2) by Laini Taylor, which I recommend to everyone, haha.

When reading books of poetry I’m often inspired to write my own poems – either by something I read or just the general feeling I get from a book or a poem. I think the better read you are, the better writer you’ll be. As poet Jane Kenyon said, “Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.”

To My Ex Who Asked If Every Poem Was About Him / an interview with poet Courtney LeBlanc (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

In September, I was notified that my full-length manuscript, Fabulous Beast, was the runner-up for the X.J. Kennedy Prize and that it was selected for publication in the fall of 2019. The contract didn’t arrive until January, but it’s finally signed. (Yay!) And now we’re moving into book cover stuff and that’s making everything feel more real.

Most of the first section of this manuscript was published as a chapbook by Hyacinth Girl Press in 2015, as Fabulous Beast: The Sow. Having that little book out in the world has meant so much to me — Margaret Bashaar, the editor, creates beautiful books and supports her authors with a tireless energy. I’ve been so grateful to be a Hyacinth Girl author, and I’ve been introduced to (both in-person and electronically, over social media) a supportive community of fellow poets through the press.

But now it’s really exciting to think of the second section, a ten-chapter fairy tale written in Spenserian stanzas (hahaha, it sounds AWESOME, doesn’t it?) and the third section, poems employing the imagery of Norse and Greek myths, being out in the world, too. I worked so hard on this manuscript, and put so much time and energy (and yes, money) into submissions to various awards and calls for publication, it’s really gratifying to know the entire book will be a real-life object soon.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Full-Length Fabulous Beast is Going to Be A Thing in the World. Which is Pretty Cool.

Last autumn I pulled together a manuscript of poems written since my first collection was published. I know it takes a long time to find a home for a book of poetry. And since I can’t afford to submit it to publishing houses that charge reading fees or contest entry fees, the list of publishing houses I might approach is smaller. But I pulled up my optimism socks and sent it to my first choice, Grayson Books. This is the publishing house that included one of my poems in their beautiful Poetry of Presence anthology last year.

Their submission guidelines warn they only publish a few books each year, so I expected to send the manuscript along to another publisher after I got the inevitable rejection. I didn’t even open their emailed response right away in order to postpone the disappointment.

Instead I got an acceptance! (I’m pretty sure I heard trumpets.)

I am strange about my own good news, suddenly more shy, and have only told a few people since signing the book contract back in October. Each step of the process —- editing, choosing a title, approving art commissioned for the cover — has been a testament to the professionalism and patience of Grayson Books publisher Ginny Connors. I still cannot believe my good fortune.

Laura Grace Weldon, My New Book!

So apparently, one of the magical transformations of midlife is that a poet can become a novelist. I have moments of elation about that, and moments of alarm. My turn to novels is a way bigger change than anything that’s happened in my writing life since I won a prize for Heterotopia ten years ago. It’s NOT a turn away from poetry, which is still very much at the center of my daily life, but it will be a turn away from traditional scholarship, I think. My novel, Unbecoming, and my next poetry collection, whose title I’m still fiddling with, will be out in 2020 (there’s a small chance of late 2019 for the novel, but I’m not banking on it). AND I have a book of poetry-based nonfiction, a hybrid of criticism and memoir, scheduled for 2021 (more details on that soon!).

Creative writing across the genres, full speed ahead!–I’ve been drafting a lot of micro-essays and some micro-fiction this winter. Reviewing, too. But I can’t do everything. And I know where my heart lies.

Learning to write a novel has been hard and surprising and wonderful, but now I have to learn about publishing one. PLUS do my best job ever at getting the word out about my new poetry collection, simultaneously, while revising the essay collection. It’s a lot. I anticipate a big pivot next year from the introversion of writing/ revision/ submission work to the extroversion required for traveling, reading, guest-teaching, panel-surfing, and all the other stuff. Some of it at SF conventions! And all this will happen right at my empty nest moment–this is also the winter of helping my son get college applications out and waiting for the verdicts. I mean, really–what’s the appropriate cheerful-but-scared expletive for THAT?

Lesley Wheeler, Change of (literary) life

I finished three fantastic poetry collections this month. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is a justifiably lauded collection of poetry and essays. The collection offers an unflinching look at the everyday realities of racism in America, with the second person narration drawing the reader directly into the experience. The blend of writing styles and art make for a powerful and necessary read.

My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing by Kelly Lorraine Andrews is a beautiful little chapbook published by Pork Belly Press. These poems explore the physicality of existing in a body, with a blend of mortality and eroticism.

Ivy Johnson’s Born Again dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, it gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. Check out my interview with Johnson on the New Books in Poetry podcast.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: January 2019

It’s not a social norm–real listening. Despite the recognition that human beings are social animals that require communication, despite the recognition that “talk therapy” (which at its foundation employs active listening) and writing therapy can heal broken psyches,  even though many studies over decades have demonstrated how relationships rely upon partners’ openness to listening–listening stays a bit unconventional.

So many people think listening is passive. No, it is an active verb. Bombarded with information from numerous sources, the processes of discerning what one should listen to get tattered and confused. Our brains want to chunk information, to ignore, to elide, to suppress and glean and separate the various threads so the mind can prioritize.

Listening is difficult.

~

William Carlos Williams famously claims it’s difficult to get the news from poetry–and, in the same poem, he asks us (by way of Flossie, his wife) to listen:
…Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life
from books
and out of them
about love.
Death
is not the end of it.
There is a hierarchy
which can be attained,
I think,
in its service.

the mind
that must be cured
short of death’s
intervention,
and the will becomes again
a garden. The poem
is complex and the place made
in our lives
for the poem.
[I am not html-savvy enough to code the spacing of this poem on my blog, but you can find it here (p. 20) or here; the excerpts are from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower.”]

Ann E. Michael, Hear me out

[…]
Birds whirl around your room, and then you die,
even though you’ve swept them from the roof beams
out the window. Birds have taught you to fly
through this world, stitched with invisible seams.
Even though you’ve swept me from your roof beams,
I come to ask you where you’ve gone and why
this world is stitched with invisible seams. […]

One of the last times I met with my therapist, a beautiful elderly woman who became like a mother to me, she was seeing clients in a home office. She had suffered a car accident, and she thought the accident was contributing to her memory loss.

That day in her office a bird flew into an adjoining room, so Joanne (a made up name to protect her privacy), got a broom and swept it through the open springtime window.

And around the same time period, we had a bird’s nest near our bedroom window, probably a wren, hence this poem.

Christine Swint, Nests in the Wall

I wrote a poem this morning that came to me yesterday as I walked across the campus of my parents’ retirement community.  I reflected that it was the feast day of St. Brigid; I wondered if a retirement community was similar to a medieval abbey in significant ways.

The poem I wrote this morning was a bit different than the one I thought I would write, but it made me happy.

I also read a bit of poetry that made me happy.  When I sent my book length manuscript to Copper Canyon, I got to choose 2 books, and I chose Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones by Lucia Perillo, mainly because I loved the title.  It’s a new and selected collection, and wow–what powerful poems.  I had no idea.

It’s been a good writing week.  I could feel my well being filled by my traveling and by my reading.  On the plane ride back, I finished Old in Art School by Nell Painter–what an intriguing book.  It made me want to go home and paint.  I did sketch on the plane, but I felt constrained by the space and the bumpiness, so I made it a quick sketch.

Kristin Berkey-Abbot, Back to Regular Life, Sweetened by Time Away

[…] Her mouth moves in prayer,

her tongue runs along the soft palate, the molars extracted after years
of the root canal: it is a soft mound like the grave at the edge of the village

she saw him dig. Her breasts produced the extra ounce of milk
at every childbirth to be squeezed into the mouth filled with soil.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Feed

In the structure of a poem, each word, as an I-beam or a column, needs to be carrying weight and be balanced with the others, or be deliberately off-balance. Multisyllabic words have to be used carefully because they can visually and sonically outweigh or overshadow other words, rocking the whole enterprise, and not in a good way. They also run the risk of sounding self-conscious. (Why use “utilize” when “use” will do, except that you think it sounds fancier?) (Or maybe you need three beats in that line, I suppose. That might be a justification…but a pretty shaky one.)

Similarly, grand and abstract words can weigh too much: love, for example, soul, universe. Even “moon” has to be handled with care. (I was advised once to not use the moon at all, as it’s been soooooo overdone. But, I mean, geez, I can’t NOT talk about the moon.)

It takes patience (and humility), I think, to not get caught up in my own extensive vocabulary options, to instead wait for, or mine for the often more simple utterance that says more than its parts.

And then to have the courage to surround it with silence, the vital partner of speech.

Marilyn McCabe, Shunning the Frumious Bandersnatch; or, Finding the Right Words

I was reading my Christmas present, The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963, when I came across a mention of syllabic verse. Plath’s poem “Mussel-Hunter at Rock Harbor” is written in stanzas of seven lines, each line containing seven syllables. In a letter to her brother Warren, dated June 11, 1958, she writes about the poem and the form she used:

“This is written in what’s known as ‘syllabic verse’, measuring lines not by heavy & light stresses, but by the numberof syllables, which here is 7: I find this form satisfactorily strict (a pattern varying the number of syllables in each line can be set up, as M. Moore does it) and yet it has a speaking illusion of freedom (which the measured stress doesn’t have) as stresses vary freely.” (247) 

According to The Handbook of Poetic Terms (every writer should have one on her desk), “Writing in syllables is a terrific way to ‘even out’ a poem, and is useful also to writers who feel stymied when deciding where to break their lines.”

For a poet whose “mind was brilliantly off-kilter, its emphasis falling in surprising places,” to quote Dan Chiasson’s review of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963, which appeared in the November 5, 2018 issue of the New Yorker, this “satisfactorily strict” form worked very well.

I just tried this with a recent poem. It started as a free-verse poem, then morphed into a prose poem, but is now a series of bouncy, mostly seven-syllable lines. I like the odd breaks this form imposes, and I think it gives the poem a kind of energetic forward motion it didn’t have before. 

Give syllabic verse a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Erica Goss, Syllabic Verse

A few days with cold rain and a cold have given me time to catch up on my reading, specifically Virginia Woolf’s letters and now I’m dead in the middle of Sylvia Plath’s letters, Volume II. I thought this quote might have about today’s poetry publishing world, instead of 1959’s:

Here’s a quote regarding not getting the Yale Younger Prize in Summer, 1959:
“I am currently quite gloomy about this poetry book of about 46 poems, 37 of them published (and all written since college, which means leaving out lots of published juvenalia.) I just got word from the annual Yale Contest that I “missed by a whisper” and it so happened that a louse of a guy I know I know personally, who writes very glib light verse with no stomach to them, won, and he lives around the corner & is an editor at a good publishing house here, and I have that very annoying feeling which is tempting to write off as sour grapes that my book was deeper, if more grim, and all those other feelings of thwart. I don’t want to try a novel until I feel I am writing good salable short stories for the simple reason that the time, sweat and tears involved in a 300-page book which is rejection all round is too large to cope with while I have the book of Poems kicking about. Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing, which remark I guess shows I still don’t have pure motives (O-it’s-such-fun-I-just-can’t-stop-who-cares-if-it’s-published-or-read) about writing. It is more fun to me, than it was when I used to solely as a love-and-admiration-getting mechanism (bless my psychiatrist.) But I still want to see it ritualized in print.”

(She’s referring to George Starbuck, a neo-formalist who went on to run the Iowa Writers Workshop and may have had CIA connections…please read Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers to learn more about the CIA’s deep connections to the literary world and all we hold dear…Oh Sylvia, if you had only known how deep the cronyism and favoritism went back then for male writers…you might have been less bitter, but maybe not.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Winter Witch Arrives in Seattle, New Poem up at Gingerbread House Lit, Queen Anne and More Sylvia Plath, and Looking Towards Spring

In terms of poetry, things are going great. A poem I wrote for Malala is part of a multi-art performance in March. I was asked at a candlelight vigil for a murdered police officer. I was asked to read at a city council meeting, a county board of supervisors meeting, and for Martin Luther King day. Original, new poems for everyone. Also, I was part of a poets-on-posters project for downtown. I want to do a broadside project, and I seem to raised the funds for it.

I have been trying to cut down my time on Facebook and Twitter. It isn’t really good for my Buddhist practice; at least it feels that way. I am trying to cut down to just posting my poetry links (to my blog and event notices), but like an addict I get pulled back in. Working on it.

“Hi, I’m James, and I am a social media addict.”

My work with the homeless shelter has been affected by my health, but I am still on the board of directors and doing what I can. I can only be on my feet for so long at a time.

What else? I’ve been focusing on shorter poems with an emphasis on place, using Basho and Li Po as my prototypes. For years I did deeper image, somewhat ecstatic poems, and every so often one comes up, but I enjoy this a lot more. Very satisfying, these little things.

James Lee Jobe, journal update: 31 January 2019

In Miami, I had a brief residency at The Betsy. The Writer’s Room program is amazing (in return for a reading and a meet-the-artist reception, they give you a place to stay and a $50 / day tab at their restaurants). That said, one has to get past the strangeness of the entire staff knowing who you are and why you’re there. SWWIM was kind enough to host our reading, where I finally got to meet Vinegar and Char contributor Elisa Albo. (Have you signed up for SWWIM’s daily poem? You should!) I read four books in two days–Jessica Hopper’s Night Moves, David Menconi’s Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown, Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, and Porochista Khakpour’s Sick–lounging whenever I could by the Betsy’s rooftop pool. I checked into a cat cafe for an hour. And I walked down to the South Pointe Park, a walk that brought me comfort so many days back when I was living in Miami in February 2011, as part of a now-defunct artist residency. I’m working on my next nonfiction book, and this was the perfect setting. But that’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Sandra Beasley, January Tidings

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network.

This week saw some poets continuing to blog about their 2019 resolutions, goals, or plans. I also found a number of interesting reports on morning routines and local weather conditions, and thought-provoking, brief essays on such topics as poetry and place (Erica Goss), music vs. poetry (Marilyn McCabe), and creativity in poetry publishing (Ann E. Michael). And of course it’s fun to hear what people have been reading. As usual, I’m sure there’s much I’ve missed, and I encourage all who can spare the time to put together their own blog digests. It’s a fun way to kind of stroll around the blog neighborhood—that’s how it feels. All you really need is a free Feedly account.


Two of the books I received for review consideration in 2018 came from poets who live and write in the Mojave Desert of southeastern California: Starshine Road by L.I. Henley, and Waking Life by Cynthia Anderson. Henley writes of growing up in the Mojave, of walking down dirt roads as a child past a house filled with sketchy humans to catch the school bus, while Anderson focuses on the desert as an ever-changing presence, balanced between reality and mythology.

These books caught me by surprise, not just because of their subject matter, but because of my own history with the Mojave Desert. My grandparents built a cabin on top of a hill in Landers, fifteen miles north of Yucca Valley. Before they retired, the cabin served as a weekend and holiday getaway for their children and grandchildren. I spent many happy days in the desert while I was growing up, exploring the area around the cabin, and going on adventures with my grandmother in her ancient El Camino.

In June 1992, the Landers quake destroyed the cabin. I went to see the destruction in August of that year, and I haven’t been back since.

These two books evoked nostalgia for the Mojave Desert that took me completely by surprise. I remembered the brightness of the stars at night against the blackest sky I’ve ever seen, kicking up anthills and running from the huge, furious ants as fast as I could, and peering into the faces of desert tortoises. I remembered sitting at night with my grandmother and watching fake bombs from the Marine base explode over the eastern mountains. I remembered the looks on my parents’ faces when I stomped on a scorpion in my bare feet. And I remembered the heat, silence, and the smell of the creosote bushes.

Erica Goss, The Poetry of Place

night bleeds in from the east
count the tourniquet stars

so slow we dream
like poisoned trees

in the morning I take
the same little walk I always do

James Brush, routine

I woke up before I meant to–I had a coughing fit and found myself fully awake.  I got up thinking I might go back to sleep, but as is often the case, I didn’t.  I spent some time looking through my poetry notebooks from October 2017 to now; one of my goals for this year is to type more of my finished drafts into the computer.

I am struck by all the hurricane imagery in these poems, which is no real surprise–Hurricane Irma came through in September of 2017.  I’m still seeing hurricane damage mainly in terms of trees that are permanently bent and roof repairs in various states of progress.  Of course, I also see the trees that aren’t there, like the beautiful frangipani tree that I saw on my way driving to and from work.  I had looked forward to growing old with some of those trees, but now, they’re gone.  And of course, because of the hurricane, along with reports of faster sea level rise than expected, we’re rethinking those retirement plans too.

It’s been a delightful morning.  I often wonder if I wake up early because I so treasure these early mornings of creativity.  I suspect that’s true.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Hurricane Hauntings

In the dark I hear the rustle of wings in the treetops: on Wednesday, E. commented on the quiet, the crows having already flown north to start their day. Then the rustle again, and a call of a bird of prey. A hawk maybe? The dog doesn’t even look up, but keeps the steady pace of “Gå pent” on the morning run. We’ve discussed renaming him Pacer.

Stuck in traffic last week and late for work, I had time to look around and over the fields. Now brown and flooded in places – edged with ice, and mostly empty. A hawk was perched on a fence post right next to motorway. Still and beautiful in the sunrise, he was like an exclamation point highlighting the exceptional.

Ren Powell, January 12, 2019

My black and white tuxedo cat with milk-dipped paws is fast asleep in the other room. He is more interested in actions than in words with food coming in a close second. Poetry is pretty far down his list. Getting a job doesn’t even enter his mind.

Tomorrow I return to work after an extended break which had me writing full-time, traveling to Morocco, and generally feeling more myself. I exercised more, read more, ate healthier, and was a kinder friend and lover. My goal is to keep things going in this direction even as I enter back into the work world.

Tonight this poem reminds me that even when time is short, I can take 5 minutes and watch the sky, study the Olympics outside my window and check out the morning bird population which changes daily. If you are a teacher or a professor, a student or colleague—may it all go well tomorrow.

Susan Rich, Extended Outlook for 2019 – Tuxedo Cats, Sabbatical Look Back, and Happiness

So what are your survival tips for surviving the dark, cold winter months? January and February are my least favorite months to live around Seattle, it’s pitch black by 5 PM and the sun doesn’t really come all the way up…ever, plus the cold wind and rain mean you never really enjoy being outside. It’s cold and flu season so I’m not surprised I finally caught something, and this bug is a loooong one. I’ve reorganized my office, written a few poems and revised both my poetry manuscripts, but honestly, I’m restless, ready for a little springtime. (I know, we’re still a long way, but Seattle does start to have some camellia and cherry blooms sometimes as early as late February.) I’ve already started thinking about how to successfully approach AWP – I’ll be doing one offsite reading, and I’m planning to spend max time at the Bookfair saying hi to friends and checking out books and lit mags, my favorite part of the conference. My big goals were: getting more sleep, trying to do something fun once a week, and reaching out and socializing with more people, have all been rendered moot by this evil virus (waking up with early asthma attacks and tossing and turning with fever not conducive to more sleep, sadly, and you definitely don’t want to give this bug to anyone you like), but I hope to be getting better soon and back to my 2019 goals! I also made a playlist called “Survivor 2019” which includes this Sam Smith song from the Netflix series Watership Down, called “Fire on Fire.” Happy January!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of Who is Mary Sue in The Rumpus, New Poem in Scryptic, Poems set to Jazz, and the January Doldrums

The painting above is “Breath” by Lee Krasner, which I found in the New Orleans Museum of Art last week, on a breather from work (the new term starts tomorrow). I don’t know much about Krasner, but the exhibit caption says this painting’s “rhythmic marks…call forth the rise and fall of breathing, as well as the more meditative act of taking a deep breath. Krasner’s paintings were often more subtle and introspective than her husband Jackson Pollock’s frenzied ‘action painting’…one reviewer condescendingly claimed, ‘There is a tendency among some of these wives to ‘tidy up’ their husband’s styles.” I was drawn to the canvas for its beauty, but that caption transformed me into an ally.

Looking at art, I’d been wondering about my lack of interest, this year, in making new year’s resolutions. Do I really need another list? I’d also just read this article about resolutions and was considering a couple of points the reporter made. For instance: “Imagine it’s the next New Year’s Eve. What change are you going to be most grateful you made?” Hmm–living a more peaceful life, I guess. Concentrating effort more thoughtfully and taking care of myself so that I can be more open to unpredictable emotions, and to other people. I love January O’Neil’s “Poetry Action Plan”, but I tend to tick so doggedly down checklists, virtue becomes bad habit, in that I get so busy fulfilling promises to myself and others that I don’t take enough meditative, restorative time. Also, one of the experts the journalist interviewed (oh, so many experts out there on self-improvement!–shouldn’t we all be perfect by now?) recommended “reflecting on what changes would make you happiest, then picking a ‘theme’ for your year. That way, even if a particular habit doesn’t stick, your overarching intention will.” As someone who has tried and failed to create a meditation practice about five million times, that resonated.

So, standing in front of “Breath,” I chose my theme for 2019. Breathe.

Lesley Wheeler, Breathe (a brief post on posting)

If I were the type to make resolutions for self-improvement, I would resolve to start doing yoga again, schedule a mammogram, get outdoors more, and lose some weight.  But I’m more the type to break, rather than keep, promises to myself. So I’ll just say I have some goals for the next 12 months or so, which are some of my commitments to poetry.
Publish at least 12 reviews of books of poetry.
Start a new website devoted to reviews of poetry chapbooks. (BTW, if anyone wants to join me in this endeavor, just email me at risaden@gmail.com)
Accrue at least 50 rejections of poetry submissions to journals, and 10 rejections of my current manuscript. (I’m not quite ready for the 100 club!)
Read, read, read. Write, write, write.

Also planning to attend the Palm Beach Poetry Festival this month; share a booth for Headmistress Press with Lana Ayers of MoonPath Press at AWP in Portland in March; do a workshop with Carl Phillips at the Port Townsend Writers Conference in July and meet monthly with the Upper Room Poets for workshopping poems.

Most notably, I plan to retire in 2020 (which probably won’t mean leaving healthcare entirely, but a big workload reduction) to clear up time for more poetry-related activity. And, after I retire, I hope to plan a road trip across the US to visit with poets that I’ve only so far met in cyberspace.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse in 2019

As 2018 ended I spent a lot of time reflecting on the past year, both on the good things and the not-so-good things. In early 2019 I would complete my MFA in poetry and turn 40 so the year would start off with some pretty big milestones. I thought about what I wanted for 2019 and as I entered a new decade of my life. After a bit of thinking and reflecting, here are my goals for 2019 – I’m not calling them resolutions because those seem fleeting. So I’ve settled on calling them goals.

1. Write reviews and leave ratings for the books of poetry I read. I read a lot, 221 last year to be exact, and at least 50 of those were poetry (I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me). One way to easily support poets is to leave ratings and reviews for their books. This is something I ask of people for my books of poetry so I need to always do this for others. I always leave ratings but reserve my reviews for books I love. I need to spend the time to write a review for each book of poetry – it doesn’t have to be a long essay, but a few sentences go a long way.

Courtney LeBlanc, 2019 Goals

Despite so  many low energy days I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research. I don’t think I’ve shared that I’m a Contributing Editor for Barren Magazine and Mockingheart Review now. I recently published an interview on MR with poet Sam Rasnake and I’ll have an interview with poet and writer Tina Barry on site later this  month. I love doing interviews with writers and I thank Clare Martin, creator and Editor, for giving me this beautiful gift of a venue to publish them. The new issue of MR will publish some time after January 25 and the new submission window will open March 1.

I read Flash Fiction and Short Fiction for Barren and I just love it. It’s so exciting to read such a diversity of writing and to find golden nuggets to share with our readers. We get submissions from all over the world which is so gratifying. Our new issue will drop tomorrow, January 14 and I can not wait for y’all to read it! Submissions are always open so polish up your poetry, fiction, CNF, and photography and sent it to us!

Also, I’m working on a project for Barren that has me so excited I can hardly keep from blurting it out to everyone. Watch this space, watch my Twitter account (@charlotteAsh) and Barren’s Twitter (@BarrenMagazine). I don’t know exactly when it will be revealed but it’s dynamite!

I’ve been reading some great poetry. Right now I’m reading Duende by Tracy K. Smith, A Woman of Property by Robyn Schiff, Tropic of Squalor by Mary Karr, and The New Testament by Jericho Brown. Only As the Day is Long by Dorianne Laux is on it’s way to me via snail mail and I’m really looking forward to reading it. Love me some Dorianne!

Charlotte Hamrick, What I’ve Been Up To: #Writing #Reading #Poetry #Books

I love words, poetry, but it’s music that wrenches me most deeply, often vocal music, often that magic of tune and word and beat that creates a live thing that enters me, skin and bone, gut and vein. Many things move me, but only music guts me. Well, with an exception: Hearing Ilya Kaminsky orate “Do not go gentle.” That was transformational.

I dabble in music but am no musician. Still I can hope and strive to create in my own written work this kind of reaching and opening, this level of capturing light. If I could write a poem that could even slightly glitter like those performances, I will have done what I set out on this path to do.

So for this new year, I wish for all of us that we find some light to let loose from our jagged edges, that we find our shine.

Marilyn McCabe, This Little Light; or, A Wish for the New Year

Having lost about 50% of my hearing, even with hearing aids, there’s a lot of music I can’t listen to because I’ve lost all the top end (which makes the sublime Everley Brothers sound as though they’re singing flat), and being in a pub for a reading can produce a sound effect in which all the individual sounds claim equal value and lose their relative depths and distances…the sound equivalent, I suppose, of an out of focus image, which can be quite pretty until the image you’re looking at is print. […]

I’ve been to several readings since the start of December, and what I especially liked about them was that I could hear the poems. It was nothing to do with the mic being set right. It was all about the the readers and their delivery, which was so clean and clear I could do without hearing aids. One reader was Julia Deakin, who is always accurate, distinct. One was Tom Weir (twice) who read quietly, but always with that concern for the heft and texture of the words, who, like Julia, tastes the consonants that matter, and also, like her, reads with a rhythm that falls on the key words, so sound never displaces meaning, never over-rides the syntax and the sense, and lets the words have their surrounding silent space, which is the aural equivalent of white space on the page. And one poet was today’s guest, Emma Storr, who I’d never heard reading before and who was a revelation. We all know poets, some of them famous, who simply can’t read like that. I wish they’d make the effort. It’s not about theatricality, or volume or elocution. It’s about diction and a concentration on the meaning of the words they say. Thank you Tom and Julia for letting me hear the poems, and thanks to both of them for respectively guesting at the last session of The Puzzle Poets Live (at The Shepherds Rest) and at the first of a new venue which we hope will now be our permanent home..The Navigation in Sowerby Bridge.

John Foggin, On hearing and listening. And an (un)discovered gem: Emma Storr

In the later 80s, I started doing some editing and publishing of other people’s work. My dear friend, David Dunn, and I had a small press that put out two broadsides and four chapbooks. Taught me a great deal. I helped to edit a Xerox-zine in Philadelphia in the 80s. Meanwhile, I kept getting work into small press journals nationwide, mostly these photocopied deals with tiny readerships; but the minor successes kept me going. After awhile I had enough hubris to try the better-recognized journals, with some success. This is how it works: persistence, but not bull-headed, blind persistence. One persists through the learning process; revises, practices, finds trustworthy people for feedback.

My sister, husband, and I all have worked in the publishing business-as-business, in how-to and B2B magazines; I was a typographer, proofreader, copyeditor, writer, indexer. All of that background was valuable in its way and never kept me from pursuing creative work. So I did eventually go for my MFA, in my 40s, and I got chapbooks and a collection published at long last in spite of—oh, you know—life.

Because I feel that poetry needs audience, I was early to jump on the online publishing wagon, despite colleagues who warned that it wasn’t really as acceptable a venue as academically-affiliated print journals. Nonetheless I’ve found myself enthralled by online journals, by audio-poems, moving-poems (video), podcasts, blogs. I’ve watched well-respected magazines migrate to the internet. And there are problems with online publishing. I know about them, wrestle with them, yeah—keeps life interesting.

My route has not been the academic route, although I work at a college today; I am more of an outlier. Poets and writers can be nurses, doctors, mechanics, or landscapers, grandparents, people with disabilities, insurance industry managers, post office workers, tutors. Each of us discovers her own process for writing and for getting the poems into the world. Mine is pokey and slow and frequently interrupted, and my next long collection won’t appear until 2021, nine years after Water-Rites, my first. But I feel satisfied with my publishing record, such as it is. People do read my work, which is kind of the entire point of writing, no?

When everything is easy and there’s no chance of failure, life is boring. Writing creatively means taking risks, creating tension. Publishing creatively requires the same things. Risks, imagination, persistence, curiosity, analysis and a willingness to be open-minded. Fun pursuits, but not always easy ones.

Ann E. Michael, Creative publishing

A stormy week here in the Sacramento Valley,
Rain on and off, on and off.
Above, in the high passes of the Sierra Nevada,
Deep drifts of snow. The bears are sleeping.
Down here, rain on the rooftop,
No finches, no crows, no owls.
And like them all, I am also laying low;
It has been days since I even went outside.
James says it doesn’t matter where you are,
It is what you do that counts.
So.. back to work on these poems.

James Lee Jobe, ‘A stormy week here in the Sacramento Valley’

All day long the air has been full of the promise of snow. It’s just twilight and it’s not here yet, but any time now.

I have hunkered down, slept, gone out for the groceries early in the morning, prayed, listened to an audiobook  (Over Sea, Under Stone  by Susan Cooper) and finally, finished a poem I’ve been struggling with.  I sent it, and five others, to the New Yorker just now.  Always hoping!

Anne Higgins, Waiting for Snow

It’s quite cold in Alaska right now. The kind of blue cracking cold that is beautiful but stinging. The kind of cold that makes iron of snow and ice beneath all. And yet, it’s important to get outside, to fill our eyes with sunlight, to remember that this time has beauty unavailable at other, perhaps more temperate, times of year.

Erin Coughlin Hallowell, Some winter solace

Every January there is a day when I first return to my desk after the hectic rush of December. My son is back in school. I’ve discharged my responsibilities to the community I serve, and today is a home-day. I resist the temptation to fritter it away on laundry and unloading the dishwasher — the little endless maintenance tasks of daily life.

The first thing is to clear the desk of extraneous things that have landed there during the annual hiatus from writing. I need a clear physical space to call forth the clear internal space within which poems can arise. Maybe classical music is called-for. Kronos Quartet’s Early Music has a spareness that matches my heart, matches the season.

Next I reread all of last year’s poems. It’s an annual ritual. Some of them are familiar to me: I remember writing them, revising them, I recognize them in all of their incarnations. Inevitably I find one I had forgotten altogether. I read the scraps and partial poems, too. I don’t know the shape of my next book of poems, but I get glimpses.

Then I open a blank file and let the words come. The first poem of this new year surprises me. When I started out I thought I knew where it might go, but it takes a turn midway through. When I reach the end I realize the poem was always intending to go there. I just had to open myself to surprise, letting it take me where I didn’t know I needed to go.

Rachel Barenblat, Where I needed to go

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 1

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. And if you’re a poetry blogger yourself, consider doing a regular links round-up of your own. It’s not enough to share links on social media; only through interlinking (and commenting) can we hope to build strong online communities.

Poetry bloggers this week shared thoughts about the year just past and hopes or resolutions for 2019. There were book lists and reviews, writing prompts, political reflections, original poems, and more. Some time in March or April when the pickings become slimmer, I imagine I’ll look back with longing at this first week of January when we were all so full of energy and resolve…


After a picture-book snowy December, we are pounded by rain, raveled by high winds. The gracious curve of the snow banks is now pocked and dirty, broken limbs, unburied trash, dog shit. And yet, a junco landed on the railing outside my window and clearly looked me in the eyes. There was a break in the cloud cover this morning unveiling a tiny sunrise, all golden and pink for the few minutes it held open.

2019 comes apace, a date I could not have even imagined when I was a child. The world now is different and the same. Politics eerily repeating itself like a warped tape, but I take a breath and there is ocean, rain, tomatoes to grow.

Books to read. And so, I cross the threshold to the new year, the new list. I’ve been keeping a reading list for a decade or more, and how I wish I started sooner. Looking back, I see patterns, interests evolve and then fade away. But poetry. Oh, poetry remains. So this year I read 138 books, 82 of which were poetry collections. I’ve listed them below in alphabetical order by title. A rich stew of ideas, language, and heart’s blood.

May the new year find us all looking toward the light. May we listen well. May we feel heard. May we not forget our place in the web of all life on this planet. May we remember that kindness is better than money. May no person be made to feel less than human, less than worthy of compassion. May we find teachers that help us become the most full expression of our hearts.

And may we read some poetry that connects us to each other.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Of Lists and Longing

Five years ago, my poetry collection Render was published and, shortly thereafter, my father passed away. Fast forward to 2018 and another new collection, Midnight in a Perfect World, was released and my mother made her transition a few weeks later. Some might think of this as a curse, but I see it as a natural cycle of birth and death. The books and their attendant need for publicity, readings and planning have helped distract me from thinking about the loss of my parents, but have also caused me to reflect more deeply on the time I have left and what I want to accomplish.

My mother’s death was not as peaceful as it should have been. She believed she had more time and her rapid decline knocked her sideways. Although she had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in the summer of 2016, my mom thought the radiation treatment had bought her additional years, so when she became ill in September she was thoroughly unprepared. There was anger, fear and irrational behavior. She should have had comfort care many weeks before she actually got it at the hospice. I have friends who have been caretakers for their ill or dying parents and heard plenty of horror stories, but the reality is much worse. The physical and emotional toll is something I will have to contend with for awhile, but I am processing the last few months by writing about it. I have four poems so far in various stages of completion. I wish I didn’t have to write them, but perhaps they will be useful to others who are in a similar situation. My hope with everything I write is that readers will find resonance.

Collin Kelley, Looking back, looking ahead

I received the Oceanic Tarot by Jayne Wallace as a Christmas present from one of my sons. It’s a beautiful deck that appeals to my love of water and swimming, and it provides simple, positive explanations for each of the cards. This morning I did my first reading with it.

In fact, it was the first reading I’ve ever done. Even though the tarot has always fascinated me, I’ve only used individual cards as writing prompts, and I’ve never taken the time to learn the symbolism or history behind them.

My interpretation of this three-card reading, which pertains to past, present, and future, is the following:

I need to let go of the guilt I feel about taking a semester off from teaching English. Devoting time to healing from depression, regaining my energy, spending time with family and friends, and completing my current poetry project are more than worthy endeavors–following this path is lifesaving, at least for now.

Time for reflecting on my relationship with my father and also with all the people I met on the Camino will help me finish the poems I’ve been writing for the last three and a half years.

Christine Swint, First Tarot Reading

I may need to rethink my no-getterness when it comes to writing, because I recently had a dream about the Egyptian god Thoth. He wrote a message on a scroll for me and was very insistent that I read it. In the space between dreaming and waking, I was desperately trying to remember the message, but of course it was gone the second I woke up. I do not know why I was visited by Thoth. I had to go and look him up because I had no memory of who he was in the Egyptian pantheon. It turns out that among other things, Thoth was the patron of scribes and of the written word. He maintained the library of the gods, was said to have created himself through the power of language, and wrote a song that created the eight deities of the Ogdoad. So I was visited by the one of the big dogs, and I don’t care who thinks that’s loopy, I believe in paying attention to that kind of stuff.

Kristen McHenry, Go-Getter vs No-Getter, Leg Lag, A Visit from the Big Dog

Last year, I read 202 books. I really thought that was the most books I could read in one year. Turns out, I was very wrong. In 2018, I read 221 books. That’s a book every 1.65 days.

Of the 221 books I read in 2018, here are my favorites:
Poetry
~ Nothing is Okay by Rachel Wiley
~ Strange Children by Dan Brady
~ Secure Your Own Mask by Shaindel Beers
~ Prey by Jeanann Verlee

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books of 2018

In the past year, I read fewer books than usual, but if anything I thought about them more. The year began with a big project: reading Homer’s Odyssey chapter by chapter with two other friends, each of us reading a different translation and discussing them online. As the only one of the three readers with any ancient Greek, I was the one who looked up and struggled through passages we wanted to compare. This not only revived my interest in the language but rekindled my desire to go to Greece, which came true at the end of the year. The final book I’m reading, Mary Renault’s Fire from Heaven, is a novelistic treatment of the life of Alexander the Great, whose Macedonian birthplace we visited. There were a number of other classical books, or works inspired by them, in the early part of 2018 – specifically several by Seamus Heaney; Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, a version of Antigone with an immigrant heroine and her brother, a suspected ISIS terrorist; Alice Oswald’s Memorial, a poem that lists all the deaths mentioned in the Iliad, and Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey, about teaching the book to a class that included his own father and then going on a trip with him that recreated the ancient voyage.

Beth Adams, Book List – 2018

The old year is dead!
Dead, cold, gone.

We drifted and swam through its wide river,
what a survival story that was.

And now we cling to the new one 
like dawn to eyelashes,

like song
to guitar strings,

and smoke
to fire.

Claudia Serea, Survival story

I suppose for a lot of us who write poetry it’s the firm intention to write better this year, to send out all those poems we’ve been sitting on and humming and hawing about, and, if you’re like me, checking out the plethora of competitions that seem to come swarming around now. You might be lighting a candle for the ones you sent in for the National (which is the poetry equivalent of the Lottery double roll-over; spare a thought for Kim Moore lying on her sofa…she notes in her latest blog post that she has 9,500 poems to read through before sending in her choices for the long-list). Or you may, like me, be checking out Poets and Players or the Kent and Sussex, or Prole or York Mix……the list stretches out like Macbeth’s line of taunting kings. As regular readers know, I’m a sucker for competitions. I like the tingle. And I’ve been lucky, but it’s worth recording one illusion I was under at one time. I thought if I won a big competition, the world of poetry would beat a path to my door. It doesn’t. Basically, if you want to make a mark (which significantly, I haven’t) you have to keep on writing and working and submitting and begging for readings, and networking like crazy. The company you keep is important, but no-one owes you a living. You get the days of euphoria, and then it’s back to earth.

John Foggin, The glittering prizes, and the return of a Polished Gem: Stephanie Conn

There are a few poetry books coming out (or already out) this year that I’m looking forward to.  These include new pamphlets from HappenStance Press (on order), Vertigo and Ghost by Fiona Benson, new books by Rebecca Goss (Carcanet Press) and Niall Campbell (Bloodaxe), debuts by Lisa Kelly (Carcenet), Tom Sastry (Nine Arches Press) and Mary Jean Chan (Faber).  There are many more but these are the ones I have my eye on at the moment.  How about you?

I’m writing this on Friday evening, and expecting my family back from their Australian holiday early tomorrow morning.  Now that I’ve finally grown used to a very quiet house, I am, of course, feeling nostalgic and a little sad about my quiet Christmas and New Year which are about to be mightily shattered.  It’s been an interestingly different time for me.  I’ve made no resolutions, I’ve set no goals.  I do have vague ideas about what I’d like to achieve this year but I’m not setting my heart on anything.

A cold snap has reminded me to break the ice and fill up the bird baths that I keep dotted around our garden, front and back.  I use old roasting tins and bashed up flower pots.  I’ve been rewarded many times by beautiful, variously-coloured and sized feathered visitors and I like to think that it’s what you do each day, and keep on remembering to do, that counts – more than what you say you’re going to do at the start of the year.  Have a great week.

Josephine Corcoran, A very quiet start to the year

One of my goals for 2019, besides getting more sleep (I average four hours a night, which I hear from doctors is not enough, what?) is getting out more and spending more time with wonderful creative people! Yesterday I had the chance to meet up for lunch with the lovely and talented local poet Sarah Mangold. I had run into her work at Open Books and liked it, so I was happy to have this opportunity to talk over coffee. And now I’m looking forward to reading her chapbook, Cupcake Royale! Nothing cheers me up like spending time with artists, writers, and musicians – I think it decreases the feeling of “I am crazy for doing this” and always inspires me to do more in my own creative life!

I’ve been reading a beautiful hardcover illustrated edition of Virginia Woolf’s letters and the second volume of Sylvia Plath’s letters. Virginia Woolf is always cheerful, restrained and clever in her letters while Plath is a little more self-revealing, passionate in her happiness and her disappointments, but I think both can teach us lessons about women writers. I’m also reading After Emily, a book by Julie Dobrow about the two women who devoted a ton of time and energy to make sure Emily Dickinson had a legacy and a reputation as a great poet. It’s kind of a wonderful lesson in what it takes to become a household name in the 1800’s in upper-crust society in New England and dispels the illusion that Emily didn’t make en effort or that she became a sensation out of nowhere – a sort of early template for PR for Poets! (Book Clubs were very big, FYI.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Year So Far, Poem in Natural Bridge, Lunch Dates with Poets and Poet Letters, and 2019 Goals

I confess that  2018 was defined by the frustration all around us – all of us. One of the things I am going to do in 2019 is to lessen the chaos around me that distracts and drags me down. No, I’m not turning off the news. Burying my head in the sand makes me an irresponsible citizen and voter.  But I intend to avoid the crap that none of us need. What we engage in is a choice we make. I want to make better choices.

I saw a graphic that said something like this:  We have 365 pages this year to write our new life story. That made me realize several things. One, urgency. If we don’t put anything on a page, that’s a lost day. I can’t write today’s page tomorrow. It also means I am responsible for my own story, my own year. Yes, I have to work with what the world throws at me, but that is only part of the story. What I do with my resources, time, events, people are my responsibility. Choose well. Kevin Larimer, the editor-in-chief of Poets & Writers said something in his note in the newest edition that resonated with me. He spoke of deeper gratitude for the idea of production that isn’t entirely based on what is put on the page and more on how we honor those moments of living off the page.

One thing I am going to do this year is to guard and protect the time I allocate for writing and reading.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Year Trade-In

Here’s great way to kickstart your writing in the New Year. Cut some snippets of text from a range of newspapers/ magazines/ novels (whatever you can lay your hands on). Maybe add some found images too. Pop them in a bag and post them to a fellow poet, challenging them to make a poem out of the contents. This is what my good friend, the academic (and poet) Dr Zoe Walkington did for me just before Christmas. I didn’t realise until I’d created the poem (above) that Zoe had already had a go with the same bits of text and image. I can’t reprint her poem here yet, because I’ve urged her to submit it to an online journal. However, here’s what she says about the process:

The way I created it was cutting up two magazines. As you have identified one was a Sunday supplement, and the other was a “specialist” magazine which was a sort of ‘psychologists digest’ type magazine which I receive as part of my membership of an American psychological society.
I made up my own poem, then – being lazy – never glued it together, and so the parts of the poem sat on my desk for a while, and I then looked at the bits one day and thought “what would Julie do with these?”
The idea of putting it in a freezer bag was just a random method of transport but then I thought it could merit the title of “a poem in a bag”!! ‘

Julie Mellor, Why I made this for you

2019: 
Now, reading post the one thing that stands out to me besides that I now having muesli everyday instead of Raisin Bran, is that I wrote, 

“Am I being kissed or am I the onlooker?”

My concern with that question is that — if I’m being kissed, then it means I’m waiting for someone/something to do something so I can be engaged in the moment.

I don’t want to be part of the “pick me” generation. 

So I think the biggest change this year is I’m stepping up. Things have changed since that last post 6 years ago– I am no longer in that same house and my daughter is at college. 

If anything holds me back this year, I no longer have the excuse of parenting or not enough time. So, yeah, accountability, it’s the nametag I’m wearing.

Anyway, looking again at the photo– maybe I’m none of those people (the kisser, the kissee, or the onlooker), maybe I’m the full glass of champagne, sparkly and bubbly, and just being the best I can as the world does its thing…

Kelli Russell Agodon, Thoughts before 2019: Am I the Kisser, the Kissee, or the Onlooker?

Let’s write a kissing poem. First, go back to the past and recall an important kiss or kisses—the first kiss, a French kiss, an unwanted kiss, a stolen kiss, an illicit kiss, a last kiss, a goodbye kiss, perhaps a metaphorical kiss. Your poem need not recall a warmly positive memory of kissing.

Recreate the scene. Make it clear that your first-person speaker is going back to the past. Use descriptive details to call forth that time: What was the music then or the dance style? What were the clothing styles? Any fragrance from perfume or aftershave? Any local color, e.g., flowers, trees, food?

Be sure to include some metaphors. Try to make one of them an exploited metaphor.

Use some hyperbole. If, however, your scene is not a tender one, hyperbole might not work. Try it and see what happens. If your poem becomes overly dramatic, revise it out.

Diane Lockward, Advance Call for Kissing Poems, Plus Prompt

There is now an increasing number of poets who are making their own films. I’d go so far as to say that it’s when poets see that there is a type of film poem that does not need to respond to the hype generated around the visually powerful imagery of music and YouTube videos, and that they can forefront their poetry, that poets get involved.

This year, Chaucer Cameron and I brought together ten poets to meet over a six-month period to learn more about, and to create, film poetry. The group worked together as a ‘collective,’ each person was responsible for creating at least one film poem, but also worked together sharing skills with the rest of the group. As facilitators, we were there to teach, inspire and encourage. One poet said: “I wouldn’t have realised quite how much potential it offers to explore and experience poetry in new ways unless I’d actually made my own poetry films. My relationship with my own and others’ poems has shifted and deepened as a result of working in this way, enriching my writing practice.” And another observed: “It offers fresh opportunities for bringing your work to the world.”

The ‘collective’ resulted in the group presenting a final showing of sixteen film poems to an audience of fifty people, mainly new to poetry, and a tour which included the films going to the 2018 Athens International Video Poetry Festival.

So, maybe where the roots of film poetry lie do not matter – it’s the act of communication, inherent in poetry, that’s important. It is the potential of film poetry, to offer creative opportunities for exploring and communicating poetry in new ways, that’s exciting. Audiences new to poetry in particular, engage more easily with visual and auditory content, making film poems an ideal medium to share work. It’s the magic that counts.

Poets at the Root of Film Poetry – guest blog post by Helen Dewbery of Poetry Film Live (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

All poems are triangles. They either start narrow (at the point) and expand as they progress, or they start wide and compress or shed excess to a fine point at the end.

Grant Clauser, Notes on Poetry Energy

Michael Carrino sent me a link to an article that discusses the idea of fully thematic collections, what the author calls ‘project’ books. The article sets ‘mind’ against ‘heart’.

Well, no-one is going to argue against ‘heart’ so that battle is won before it has started. It’s a little like calling certain kinds of poetry ‘academic’. Label applied: job done.

These are all false dichotomies. Hearts have minds and minds have hearts. One feels what one thinks and one thinks what one feels.

George Szirtes, MINDS AND HEARTS: SHAPING

Yesterday, as I drove to a very early morning spin class, I had a vision of a poem.  What would happen if the 3 wise men had come to a border situation like the ones we have in the southern parts of the U.S. […]

This morning I attempted the poem that started to glimmer at me yesterday.  It did not turn out to be the poem I first thought about.  This morning’s poem begins, “I am the border agent who looks / the other way.  . . . ”  The poem goes on to reference the East German soldiers who didn’t shoot as people assembled at the Berlin Wall in 1989, but the wise men do make an appearance later in the poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wise Ones and Modern Borders

As I shifted uncomfortably in my hard chair the other evening, it occurred to me that sometimes my experience of attending an open mic is not dissimilar from my experience, at times, of the editing process.
I approach with a mixture of anticipation and dread.
The lights go down. I can’t see clearly.
I eat a cookie.
Poems are going on and on.
I feel like a small ogre in the dark, thinking things to myself like: “No, no, no.” “Cut that line. That one two.” “Stop there. Stop. Stop.” “What are you going on about now?” “Nooo.” “What on earth are you talking about??” “Too long! Too long!” “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
I feel uncharitable. Can’t I be more open-minded to these poems?
One cookie is not enough. I eat a second cookie.
Sometimes I think things like: “Hm, that wasn’t half bad.” “Hey, something really interesting is going on in this one.” “Oh, wow, now THAT is a poem.” “That was interesting. I could learn from that.”
Sometimes I laugh out loud.
Two cookies is too much.

Marilyn McCabe, Open Mic, Insert Pen; or, Notes on the Editing Experience

I run in darkness now – either in the early mornings are after work. And I miss taking photos along the route. It isn’t the photos themselves, but the function of photography as a tool for noticing. Appreciating. Instead I listen: the rattle of the dog’s tag on the leash, our footfalls in an odd kind of syncopation, approaching bicycle tires on the gravel, the blackbird sweeping over the dead leaves.

I inhale attentively and try to put a kind of frame around the wet smells of the earth, the sharp smells of the rusting metal of the old train tracks.

*

On my way to work I pass the adult daycare center and through the window see a man and a woman dancing. She is maybe 30, and her enthusiasm heavy. His age is impossible to guess, his joy expressed only in a pinch between his left eye and the left corner of his mouth. She lifts his arms for him. I can’t hear what she is singing.

I feel a cold current moving with the wind.

Ren Powell, January 5, 2019

She likes to think about angels and mermaids
And when she dances it is with her arms outstretched
She spins and whirls
My granddaughter, only five years old
Today I gave her some prayers beads that I had strung
And told her about the LovingKindness prayer
Sweet child, she touched one bead at a time
Saying
I love my Momma, let her be good
I love my Daddy, let him be good
Oh, there are days when it is just so fine
To be an old man

James Lee Jobe, ‘She likes to think about angels and mermaids’

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 50

poet bloggers revival tour 2018
poet bloggers revival tour 2018

A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

Many poetry blogs are falling silent—’tis the season—but a surprising number of new posts have appeared in my feed reader this week regardless. If they have anything in common, it’s a more contemplative tone. As if the long nights are leading many of us to turn inward. Or maybe it’s just an end-of-year, taking-stock kind of thing.

Speaking of taking stock, whither the revival tour in 2019? This digest will probably continue in some form regardless, but I’m wondering how people who revived their blogging practice this year feel about it? Now that the old band has completed one more tour, is it time to  throw in the towel?

Whenever I’m writing I’m also fully, hyper-aware that there are other responsibilities I’m ignoring; at these points, I try to remember all of those interviews with writers and artists I’ve read (and taught!) that stress the necessity of making your writing time “intractable and nonnegotiable.” 

This semester, I’ve been MUCH better about keeping writing time sacred, but once again everything fell apart at the end of the term, from writing to exercising to eating well to getting enough sleep.

One more week, tho. And then final grades in, and then holidays and some travel to Virginia, and then maybe, maybe, writing and running and rest. Maybe.

And on a last note: This is my three hundredth post for this blog . . . since. . .  2011? I’ll have to fact check that. Anyway. I don’t know what that means. I whine at the internet a lot, I suppose. Thanks for absorbing my panic and myopia, Interwebs! Yer the best!

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Mother of the Year, Teacher of the Year, and Other Awards I’m Not Earning

Yesterday we had quite an adventure! We had been planning to go to Copper Canyon‘s Holiday party and book release for Ursula Le Guin’s final poetry collection. But an hour before we planned to leave, I started hearing branches hitting the window, and the power went out. Then we had to eat dinner without power or light (hard), dress (harder), and do makeup (hardest by far), which was exciting. The Hugo House still had power (although I heard later 100,000 people ended up losing power throughout the area) so we set out in our car with branches and even whole trees down on both sides of us, wind whipping our car around on the Floating Bridge, and when we got there, I could barely stand up against the wind, let alone walk! […]

The readers did a wonderful job with their tribute to Ursula, including Karen FinneyfrockJane Wong, and fellow Two Sylvias author Lena Khalaf Tuffaha. One person talked about a memorial where Margaret Atwood said Ursula had “the best dragons in fiction” and Jane Wong talked about feeding our inner dragons lettuce, which was such a wonderful image.

People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination

I was very moved, and remembered the gigantic windstorm that hit the night about ten years ago that I heard Ursula read poetry on the Oregon Coast and talk about science fiction poetry years ago in Oregon. She insisted women science fiction writers should not be placed in a literary ghetto, that speculative poetry should not be considered non-literary, and that poetry should not be ignored and women should not be ignored – she was very feisty! And there was a giant wall of glass facing the outdoors, and it kept banging with thunder and wind, but it seemed to accompany her, not compete. She was a force of nature that deserved the tribute of the storm.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poetry Parties, Windstorms and Power Outages, and Ursula Le Guin’s Dragons

There are rumors of big cats. I’ve seen two elk—
one stared through me as if she knew my secrets, the other,
roadkill. You once told me my poems are too grim

and I should try my hand at something more pastoral.
I’ve seen powdered snow on Cedars, and I’ve grown
passably fond of rain. Everyday, the clouds amaze.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Powers that Be

Two years ago, I wrote a post overflowing with admiration for a January Gill O’Neil poem and then added a prompt to go with it on this site.  What unmitigated joy to see this same poem in the brand new pages of Rewilding, just out from Cavaan Kerry Press.

If Sharon Olds and Robert Hayden had a love child, I think it would be January O’Neil. She employs the smooth, shiny surface of a Sharon Olds poem with the more emotionally nuanced and extended outlook of poet Robert Hayden (think “Water Lillies” and “Those Winter Sundays”). [Click through to read two poems from the book.]

Susan Rich, Best Holiday Present for Poets: Rewilding by January Gill O’Neil

As writers, we put a lot of focus on producing – writing poems or prose pieces, editing, editing again, editing one more time (at least), then getting those polished pieces out the door and hopefully published. Of course, the point of all that work is to share. And in a world where we can post links to thousands of others via social media, we certainly hope that we are sharing, but it’s hard to know how many people are really reading. If they are reading, are they delving into the piece, sitting with it? Or is the writing just getting a cursory glance on the way to work/school/daycare pickup/grocery shopping, etc.?

Given all that, what a pleasure to take an evening and do with poems what we are meant to do – enjoy them. Everyone around the table loved writing, and found profound emotional connections in certain pieces. So, for the price of admission (which was nothing! you can sit around a table with your friends absolutely for free!) we got a curated reading. We shared some of our own pieces, and we shared the pieces that keep us inspired. Amazing poetry and CNF, chosen by writers forwriters. Adrian Bleins, Maggie Deets, Jill McDonough, Ross Gay, Diane Seuss, Hayden Carruth, Jack Gilbert, J. Robert Lennon, Ted Kooser. Every piece made your breath catch in your throat. Every piece made you want more.

So let’s bring back the salon. Get some friends together. Have coffee, tea, an adult beverage if you like. Ask everyone to bring a few pieces of writing that just knock their proverbial socks off, and read to each other.

Bring Back the Salon – guest blog post by Sonja Johanson (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I have been looking for a poem to read at the memorial of the young man who died recently. Death is supposed to be the subject matter best suited to poets, and the obvious purview of poetry, but after perusing many poems on the topic, I’m now convinced that most poets don’t know how to write about it very effectively. We are good at writing about our personal pain and our own cynicism and our clever detachment from both, but as a group, I’m not convinced that we have much of a grip on the topic of death. The two groups of poets who I find write about death the most effectively and clear-headedly are physicians and war veterans, and I don’t know of many who are poets. I wish that more doctors and vets wrote poetry, but alas, that is not the case, and I think that’s a huge loss. Their insights count at least as much as English majors with pricey MFA’s. We need to design poetry workshops specifically for docs and vets. I’m fully up to spearhead this. Who’s with me??

Kristen McHenry, The Problem with Poetry, Get After It, Bad Cat Redux

I have been making my way slowly through Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. Slowly because it is tough stuff, both the — what should I call it? theology? the study of his own faith/God/self-in-God?, and the intensity of it: a dying man sending dispatches from the edge.

Diagnosed with a rare and fitful disease, Wiman has been dragging himself through years of treatment sometimes as ravaging as the disease, approaching death only to have death pull away, only to catch up to it again, like some long drag race in the desert. Throughout much of it he has been trying to make sense of his call toward God or Christ or some ineffable -ness that is not captured by the wan word “religion,” with its weight of institutions and hierarchies.

Marilyn McCabe, Postcards from the Edge; or, On Reading Wiman’s My Bright Abyss

My first podcast interview at New Books in Poetry is live! I had a lovely conversation with Emily Jungmin Yoon regarding her  first full-length collection, A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco Books, 2018), which examines forms of violence against women. At its core these poems delve into the lives of Korean comfort women of the 1930s and 40s, reflecting on not only the history of sexual slavery, but also considering its ongoing impact. Her poems beautifully lift the voices of these women, helping to make them heard and remembered — while also providing insight into current events, environmentalism, and her own personal experiences as a woman in the world.

I loved this collection of poetry, which was so moving in how it addressed intense subject matters. Her words are lyrical, vivid, and enriched with a playful examination of language, the way mean slips depending on perspective and how language can be a powerful tool. These poems help to give voice to women whose stories are not commonly told. It’s beautifully done.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon

My friends liked me because I listened to them. One of them referred to me as her psychologist. Through these young women, I learned about love, lust, yearning, sex, educational aspirations, the behaviors of men, family stresses, jobs, career hopes, personal values, fears, thrills, recreational drugs, alcohol, birth control, popular music, dancing, concert-going, lies, mistakes, and heartbreak. The only thing I can think of that has taught me as much is the reading of books, particularly poems, novels, and memoirs.

Years later, I asked my parents whether they ever felt concerned about my choice of friends. Did they ever worry that these young people were somehow bad influences on me? My dad paused a moment, thoughtful, and answered, “I don’t think we ever worried about your friends being bad influences on you. I kind of thought you were maybe a good influence on them.” I’m not sure that’s accurate; but looking back, perhaps my parents, or my family, presented a positive “model” for my friends who endured much more challenging home lives and had less support for education, career, and independent futures. And most of them have grown up to have successful lives–but that’s not because of me.

Four or five years ago I found myself reminiscing through writing poems; it was quite accidental on my part, and initially just a response to a Bruce Springsteen song. Influences: popular song, teen friends, the suburban environment of my youth. I ended up with at least 40 poems, of which there may be enough good ones to make up a chapbook collection someday. [In 2014, I blogged a bit about the project here.] I call them my Barefoot Girls poems. They provide, I suppose, one aspect to answering the question posed in my last blog. My friends’ experiences, flowing through me.

Ann E. Michael, More on influences

Travel completely engages me when I’m there, and then feels almost unreal when return to my own space. And yet, flight makes those sudden shifts in reality possible. I wouldn’t call it disorienting, per se, but it is certainly strange to find yourself inhabiting an image like the one above, that you’ve seen in countless sources, from textbooks to travel videos. We don’t go on tours but figure out our itinerary and plans completely from scratch, and unexpected things happen, so during the trips we always feel like we’re very heads-up, paying sharp attention; there’s a high level of intensity. I try hard to really be in a place — to feel it and engage with it with all my senses as well as my mind — and not just be a person behind a camera, capturing moments like trophies. It takes time to think about a significant journey and to see what I’ve learned and how it has changed me; I’m doing that now and will be doing it for quite a long time. And I already want to go back. There were good reasons why, as a young girl, Greece got under my skin. I see that better now, and am glad I wasn’t disappointed by being face to face with the real thing. Yet I also see that I made the right decision to live a less linear and more personally creative life; it was a better fit with who I really am, but in many ways, it has been a reflection of the values and ideals that attracted me to the Greeks in the first place. As a woman, I’m lucky I live now, though, instead of back then.

Beth Adams, Home from a Journey

My twenties were fine, full of a lot of learning experiences, including quitting college to follow a boy to the Caribbean, buying a home at the top of the market, right before the bottom fell away, and a short-lived, ill-fated marriage. With a bit of serendipity, I got out of the house (at a huge loss but ce la vie) and my divorce was finalized a month before I turned thirty which meant I started my thirties as a whole different person. And my thirties have been great, I really felt like I became the person I was supposed to be and I checked off a bunch of milestones too – I found a career I liked, was good at, and started getting paid well for doing it. I bought a condo and when I sold it five years later, it wasn’t at a loss. I started taking my writing seriously and published two chapbooks and applied to an MFA program. I traveled to places I’d always dreamed of visiting. I found a partner and we married. We bought a house and two cars. I’m in a great book club, I have a great group of friends. In short, my thirties have turned me into a bonafide adult. So if my thirties have been so great, why do I feel so strange about entering my forties?

Courtney LeBlanc, Aging

Because it was an early night, I got up in the wee, small hours of the morning.  I’ve been reading a variety of interesting things, working on a poem that weaves together the cracking of the older Arctic ice and home repairs/grading/writing, putting together a poem submission for the Tampa Review–in other words, the kind of morning I like best.

I loved this piece at the On Being blog.  It’s full of wisdom and ideas for writing and heartbreaking observations.  This bit led to some interesting research on both Wittgenstein and Spinoza:  “For a time, I required my students to write a Wittgensteinian essay: Start with one idea. Notice where it goes. Number each idea. Keep them short. Don’t worry if you hop around. Read and play with what emerges. It may take a while to understand what you are trying to say. To yourself.”

He also makes lots of spiritual connections:  “I discovered that the Desert Fathers and other ascetics employed this approach. They sought a way to move from contemplative sense to paper. Sometimes they called what they wrote a century: 100 pieces of heart-sourced inklings. Heart to hand to ink. Follow what comes. Only the numbers seem orderly. Like prayer.”

I am interested in the composition of these short pieces.  I also stumbled across this site which talks about the writing practice of William Stafford.  He, too, began his writing day by writing a short observation:  “Some prose notes from a recent experience, a few sentences about a recent connection with friends, an account of a dream. This short passage of ‘throwaway’ writing, it turns out, is very important, as it keeps the pen moving and gets the mind sniffing along through ‘ordinary’ experience. You are beginning the act of writing without needing to write anything profound. No struggle, no effort, no heroic reach. Just writing.”

This morning, I also went outside in hopes of catching a glimpse of a meteor in these waning days of the Geminid meteor shower.  No luck.  I stood on the sidewalk, looking up and looking at the 3 small trees that lit up my front windowsill.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wittgensteinian Wanderings

Maybe I need to blog about poetic self-doubt more often. As soon as I did, my luck seemed to shift under my feet. I had been doing math some of you have surely done, too: I’ve been showing the ms around for a while now. What if this poetry collection I thought was so great doesn’t strike any editors the same way? The poems have done well in magazines, but what would I do with the larger structure, with its support beams and fancy finials, if no press wanted I genuinely wanted to work with returned my affections? Keep trying while I write another one, I realized.

I don’t feel that way about literary criticism; blogging about poetry is fun and I care very much about boosting the poetry that inspires me, but there’s no way I’d keep writing footnoted articles if no one wanted to publish them. I’ll write the best poetry I can for as long as I can, however. It’s work I love desperately. Returning to it after occasional absences, with renewed interest, joy, and creative ambition–that’s been one of the deepest rhythms of my adult life.

Then a piece of fan mail popped up from Molly Sutton Kiefer at Tinderbox Editions, to whom I sent the ms a year ago. Submittable still said “In Progress” but I figured she’d given it a pass. Au contraire. She loved the book. Was it still available?

Lesley Wheeler, Pleased as punch (with recipe)

Q~Your partner is also a writer. What’s that like?

A~Mostly, it’s good! Chris is a scholar of comics who has started working in visual modes, so he and I started collaborating this year. Our first poetry comic was just accepted by Split Lip Magazine, and that’s giving me delusions of hipsterism. It’s called “Made for Each Other,” which sounds romantic, but it’s about ambivalent, aging, gender-ambiguous robots, so it addresses marriage from a pretty strange slant. He’s also my first reader and a very helpful one. One tougher aspect of two writers making a life together: it was hard for two desperate writers to negotiate time when the kids were little. And now that our youngest is about to fly the coop, I’m worried that he and I will have to work hard NOT to work hard all the time, just out of sadness and confusion. We were so time-starved for so long.

Belief / an interview with poet Lesley Wheeler (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 46

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

This week we begin with a confession and end with a spell. In between there’s politics, wildness and rewilding, reports from the writing trenches, love, death, you name it.

Dear Reader, all is not well. You know it (some of you anyway) and I know it. This country is ill. I’ve watched as the fever rises. I’ve observed its unsteadiness in the world community. I’ve seen its values denied by some. Hate is perhaps at an all-time high. The patient seems listless and those of us with concern are gathered with Lady Liberty at her bedside. Who will offer blood for a transfusion? Who will give comfort and support? Who will help her stand again and walk? I confess it is so easy to be hateful at these times because one hate breads another. This is a challenge we face. But I think we have to be certain that not meeting hate with more hate means we simply roll over and do nothing. The absence of hates is not weakness. It is even a greater strength than the haters have. It is a will to defend, to support our democracy and that means be there for the inclusiveness of others. It is to have very wide arms.
Michael Allyn Wells, Mega-Confession On Tuesday

*

But the bottom line is this: what [Facebook] is doing is wrong. George Soros is right when he says it’s a threat to democracy. Yet we have all become hostage to it because it preys on all our deepest insecurities and desires. I don’t want to lose the blog traffic I have. I don’t want to lose the ability to publicize events, or a new book from Phoenicia — though buying paid advertising is a business transaction, and I am more OK with that. And I don’t want to lose touch with certain friends — but, you know, email still exists. It just takes a little more effort.

It’s like so much else that’s wrong with our world. We choose convenience and connection and take the easy way out, even when it makes us complicit in data-mining schemes or the spread of fake news, even when it enriches unscrupulous people, even when our actions harm the planet. We are sheep. Human beings don’t seem to have the will to do what is right in large enough numbers to make the differences that needs to be made, or to send the message to both government and business that we won’t tolerate their behavior any longer. If I delete my FB account, it will be a useless gesture that will have no effect other than making a statement like this one; I’ll only be hurting myself. But it still may be the right thing to do.
Beth Adams, Complicity: The FB Scandal and Our Individual Responsibility

*

In October, I was happily writing a poem about gardening, when it took a sudden turn and revealed its true topic: the calamity of immigrant children held in cages at the US/Mexico Border. That day, I posted “For some reason my nature poems keep turning into political poems” to my Facebook page.

In her essay “On Theme,” from Madness, Rack and Honey, Mary Ruefle writes, “theme is always an extrapolation, a projection, an extension of an original idea, if such a thing as an original idea exists…sometimes we seem to extrapolate so strangely that it is the supposedly known source itself that becomes unknown, becomes unrecognizably distorted and weird.” When I finished the poem about the immigrant children in cages, gardening – the idea I’d started out with – was still part of the poem, but utterly submersed.

I’ve never set out to write a deliberately political poem. Like most of my poems, the political ones start the same as the non-political poems: with a fragment of conversation, an experience, something I came across while reading, a dream, or an idea that showed up in my brain. […]

“As a maker of poems, a poet is always engaged in battle, though the opponents may be unclear, the stakes unknowable, and the victories and defeats felt far away, in different domains, by people other than himself,” writes David Orr in “The Political,” an essay from his book Beautiful & Pointless, a Guide to Modern Poetry.

Politics has intruded on my consciousness in a whole new way. I see politics in everything, including gardening, an activity that involves being outside and observing the changing climate, which politicians seem incapable of addressing in spite of clear evidence based in scientific research.
Erica Goss, Politics, Theme and Poetry

*

I would tell you a story
about a brother and sister
who walked and walked
and walked, trying to find
their way to a safe
place, whose hearts lifted
in hope when their
(mind’s) eye spied
the sweet house, when
they thought they could
finally stop fearing.

But you know the story
of Hansel and Gretel
already, and you know
what they found when
they reached it.
Laura M Kaminski, Sharing the Journey, 13-November-2018

*

Roads wetted like the day of my Father’s funeral
First snow of the year, last snow of the year
18-wheelers hauling ass at 90 mph
Windshield covered in slosh and spit

Black soot and my heart rate vibrating
out of my chest, I see the first of three deer
resting on the side of the highway
Eyes frosted, silent – shocked by the flash

of headlights, she was ruddy and soft
My own skin reminiscent of pain measured
by silence – I turn the radio down
take my foot off the gas, it feels so much

late night and bedtime, and the whole world
is asleep – crawling the dark like a fearful child
Jennifer E. Hudgens, Three Deer I-35 South 7/30

*

If any of you are still out there coming to this site, I’m sure it would make Paula [Tatarunis] happy. I haven’t posted here for over a year..but oh, I still miss her so….the grief has maybe changed, but it will never go away.

I haven’t done very well in my quest to get her more published, but haven’t given up.

In the meantime, I put out a new album…it has settings of two of Paula’s poems, those being To An Angel, and How to Clean A Sewer (in a piece called Windfall Lemons). And: Rebecca Shrimpton extracted a song from Paula’s writing on this blog about the loss of a dear friend. From this House of Toast post.

This is the disc….the art work on the front (and the back) is, of course Paula’s…
Darrell Katz, Rats Live On No Evil Star

*

The setting sun fills the darkening blue-purple sky with pink and orange streaks, vivid enough to catch my attention through the kitchen window. I step out onto the deck and the cool air on my face reminds me: It’s all still here. The sky, the air, the trees, the space around me. Nothing has gone away. I take a deep breath and release it slowly. The neighbor’s dying oak stands out, its naked limbs stark against the dusk.

bread dough ::
the way we coax it into life
Dylan Tweney (untitled post)

*

I become obsessed with the idea of responding to Ken Smith’s ‘Fox Running’ in some way. But I felt that even the act of reading Smith’s poem had exhausted the image of Fox for me, or rather confirmed a sense that to chase Fox further would be futile or arrogant. My own response would have to follow a different animal. ‘Fox Running’ gave me the confidence – the permission almost – to do so, to find a totem or an emblem that preoccupied me.

I first sat down to write my response in Suffolk in 2015. I was staying in a house that made me perpetually alert: it was full of windows and empty beds, overlooking the solitary grey line of the beach. The rooms made me think of M.R. James ghost stories. Every night before I slept, I drew the curtains obsessively, terrified by the idea of glass and openness to the sea. At the time, I was working on a collection of poems which explored the representation of women in climbing literature and I was interested in women as both too visible and invisible in social contexts. I knew that the totem animal of my poem should be a dog, half-domestic and half wild.
Helen Mort, Fox & Bloodhound (hat-tip: John Foggin)

*

I track the absence of dogs: how quickly they disappear. A tether, a run gone, and no trace now of the pale-eyed mutt, wolf-like, who spoke such dangerous violence until I learned her name and sang it out, perplexing her with an intimate song of sweetness: I would whisper-sing her name, songs of her ice-pale eyes and their glinting fire, and her snarling terrors would turn to aching whimper, a plea for me not to pass by. Come back, she would whisper-sing around long canine teeth, and sing to me that I am beautiful, again?
JJS, November 17, 2018: the mountain that isn’t there

*

At Home Poetry Retreat:
On Wednesday, my friend Ronda Broach came over to write poems with me. She got her at 3ish, we put out snacks and started writing poems (from openings of lines, from prompts, from word lists, etc.). By midnight, we had written about 14 poems. She spent the night and the next morning, we woke up and wrote a few more poems. When all was said and done, I had about 17 new drafts. I know, it’s a bit of a poetry marathon, but it’s kind of my favorite way to write poems.

And while we were writing, Ronda said, “Oh, I have a new favorite book to show you…” and I said, “Me too!” Then we both pulled out January Gill O’Neil’s new book REWILDING (just out from CavanKerry Press).

Mini Review:
January is one of my very favorite poets writing today. I have every one of her books and have been a fan of her work since the wayback days–I actually met her through the blog community.

Her poems always get my attention, but this book is really some of the best poetry I’ve read. It’s immediate. It smart, strong, it breaks your heart while you are falling in love with this. For me, these poems remind me what is means to be alive–they deal with loss (from divorce to death), fear, beauty, love of family, love of life, and how absolutely complicated this world is and life can be.

They are not afraid to deal with any topic or subject, and this book is award-winning–in fact, if this book doesn’t win some award, there is something really wrong in the world because I am one of the pickiest poetry readers around, and this book hits me hard and in all the right ways, and I know how strong it is.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Mini Book Review: Rewilding by January Gill O’Neil & At Home Poetry Writing Retreat

*

Fall is funny. The cool weather brings people outside – the trails are busier, the wineries more crowded, the neighborhoods filled with people who’ve been waiting out the heat and humidity from the comfort of their air-conditioned homes. And I don’t blame them, fall is a great time to get outside. But the leaves changing is actually trees withdrawing nutrients from them, pulling them back into their core so they can survive the cold winters. Fall, in reality, is about dying. This fact inspired a poem, of course.

Hike Toward the End of the Affair

We’ve done this trail before, each mis-timed – either

too early and the leaves still lush with green or too late,

and naked trees staring back at us. Today the timing

is perfect, when we reach the top, a kaleidoscope

of fall – burnt orange, scarlet, amber – these trees

the first fire of autumn. I don’t mention that these brilliant

colors are the trees’ final hurrah, I don’t mention the brush

with death they are avoiding.
Courtney LeBlanc, Falling for Fall

*

The world stands perfectly still.
The world hasn’t moved an inch in weeks.
Crows have gone under, dreaming
that Spring lies limpid in their beaks. Earth
is off the hook entirely.
We shall expect
nothing of it. What’s required now,
my friends,
is scarves—not for their warmth
but for their brilliance: Lime and
scarlet, fire and turquoise,
coral, fuchsia and polished plum, plumage
fanned around our pallid necks, its dazzle
meant to send a message
in no uncertain terms:

We will not
ourselves go bald and
rigid as the trees. We will not be frozen out.
Kristen McHenry, A Nation of Natterers, Loom Dyslexia, “Manifesto”

*

As part of my Ginkgo Projects/Bloor Homes commission to write new poems that engage with the landscape and heritage of the area in and around Amesbury, Wiltshire, I bought a return ticket to travel on the number 49 bus from Trowbridge to Avebury. A persistent knee injury is making it difficult for me to drive a car at the moment – and you can’t deny that travelling by public transport is a greener option than taking a car, plus it’s much easier to observe the scenery. So, on a glorious October morning, I packed a sandwich, a pen, a notebook and my mobile phone and set off for Avebury.

At about 10am on a Tuesday, I had the whole of the front row to myself. It was such a treat to be driven! I found myself thinking that I was missing out by not taking the bus more often. The downside is the time it takes, of course. But on a clear Autumn day of gorgeous blue skies, and with no pressure to do anything but look out of the window, think and write poems, I settled in for the ride. […]

Once on the bus, there were new snippets of conversations to collect at every bus stop. From somewhere, I heard two people fill the air with maliciousness about a man who’d done them wrong. In Devizes, our driver braked to let a lady with a limp cross the road.

Thank you for not killing me!

Meanwhile, two fellow bus passengers continued with their character assassination

… indistinguishable, indistinguisable…DIPSTICK.

Avebury was as beautiful and mysterious as always. When visiting henges, I personally prefer Avebury to Stonehenge. For one thing there is no charge (and no queues) – although there is a charge to go into the adjacent National Trust owned Avebury Manor which is highly recommended – and the public share the site with sheep who graze freely around the standing stones.
Josephine Corcoran, Trowbridge to Avebury on the Number 49 Bus

*

I went to the Manchester Art Gallery this weekend and saw the ‘Speech Acts’ exhibition, which includes a piece by Chris Ofili (Untitled 1996). I’ve not been able to find a picture of it on the internet so I’ll have a go at describing it: it’s a sort of intricate doodle in pencil, but when you look closely, hidden names (and therefore hidden meanings) appear. I made out Mike Tyson, Tito Jackson, Gill Scott Heron to name but a few. Maybe it wasn’t asemic writing, because it was legible to some extent, but the viewer had to work hard and really engage with it in order to arrive at some sort of reading.

I’m always interested in process, and there’s something in the process of creating asemic writing that really appeals to me. I know because I’ve had a go at it, although I’m not happy enough with my efforts to post them yet. Anyway, the process is strange. You’re somehow working away from meaning, and at some point the mark/making becomes more important than what’s being said, if that makes sense. Cecil Touchon, whose work appears below, says: ‘I felt there was a meditational element to working with silence and illegibility to express the indescribable.’ I love this description, and I love his piece below, an overlapped and overwritten poem, beautiful in its own right.
Julie Mellor, Asemic writing

*

When I signed up for the [online journaling] class, I didn’t realize I’d be inspired to make a sketch a day. It’s been amazing. Even when I think I have nothing to say/write/sketch, something has bubbled up and often multiple times a day.

I’m enjoying the class beyond just the motivation. I really like seeing what others are sketching. We’re making interesting comments, even though we don’t know each other. I’m loving seeing the sketching/drawing techniques that others are using–and it’s not like any of us are trained artists (at least, I don’t think we are). We’re all women, although the class was open to everyone. I’m not sure why it all interests me so much–well, actually, I am–because we all seem to be wrestling with similar questions (albeit in different arenas): what next?

I’ve been taking the Rupp book, my small sketchbook (8 x 6), and my markers with me everywhere I go, and I’ve been doing a bit of sketching that way. It really helps to have it all with me.

I’ve also been writing a poem a day since November started (the class started Nov. 4). I haven’t been this prolific in ages.

What does any of this mean for the future? I don’t know yet. But it’s good to feel some creative juices flowing.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Process Notes on a Time of Visual Journaling

*

11.13.18: Just logging this here, as one does when one keeps a blog that tracks one’s writing process: I’ve reached a weird, uncomfortable place with the poetry manuscript. Here’s a list of my ridiculous fears/problems:

  1. I fear I’ve jinxed myself by calling this collection of poems a manuscript.
  2. I’ve written myself into a weird space with the narrative arc. I don’t know where to go next.
  3. I’m not having as much fun writing the poems, which tells me they probably aren’t good.
  4. Part of this is because my mind feels pretty divided. Feeling like I should be grading instead of writing really squashes creativity.
  5. Blergh.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Blergh and More Blergh: Notes from the Week

*

I turned down a chapbook publisher a few months ago because they required their authors to do a lot of publicizing and with us moving and a new baby on the way, I didn’t have time for that.

The hard truth is that even if a book deal landed in my lap today, I don’t have time to publicize a book properly–no time for readings, travels, conferences. No time for social media really. My family life is demanding right now, at a fever pitch of demanding, and even though I think continuing to work on my writing is Vitally important, publishing a manuscript needs to wait.

I’ve decided to wait until our last baby is 1 year old before I send out any manuscripts again.

Typing that sentence goes against every bone in my firstborndaughterambitious body but at the same time I know it is what I need to do, it is right for my work, right for me, and right for my family.
Renee Emerson, Wait, Wait…don’t tell me…

*

Yes, it’s been nearly two years since they discovered that my liver had a bunch of tumors in it, which look like cancer, but may or may not be cancer, so I have to keep having tumor marker tests and getting MRIs to make sure they haven’t spread or grown. I don’t like having MRIs, and I don’t like being reminded of the many many thing that are wrong with me, so these tests always put me in a bit one edge. I’m also claustrophobic and I lost my liver cancer specialist when he took a new job on the East coast, so I’m meeting with a new guy at the end of the month. My MS new drug stuff has been put on hold briefly because the MS drug can be dangerous for livers, so I’ve got to go complete a whole new batch of blood work. Fun stuff, right? You can see why I’ve been needing the cheer factor.

But I’m trying to glean some lessons on surviving the tough rigors of the life of a poet from Sylvia Plath – The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, which just came out. You know, we assume that Plath had little or no success while she was alive, but W.S. Merwin and T.S. Eliot tried to help her out, she had her first poetry book, The Colossus, in the US published by Knopf (not too shabby, even though she was discouraged that Marianne Moore gave it a bad review and she had been aiming for the Yale Younger Prize.) Even with Merwin’s good word at the New Yorker, it took her ten years to get her first poem published there, and that was after a year’s worth of back-and-forth edits on her poem. She had written and published The Bell Jar, been anthologized in several big time anthologies of American and English poetry, and been paid to read her poems on the radio. She talked of needing “a little of our callousness and brazenness to be a proper sender-out of MSS” – I definitely need that as I’m sending out my sixth book manuscript to publishers. All this is to say that she worked at poetry like a “real job,” besides being a typist, teaching, researching, and other side gigs, on top of having two babies and a pretty solidly terrible husband who messed around on her and didn’t do much cleaning up, cooking, or childcare. I think a little more money would have helped her too – she had to side hustle pretty much all the time to make ends meet. All in all a kind of cautionary tale – she had a lot of ingredients for success, and sometimes I think, if she’d waited a few years, if the medications of the time (right before the birth control pill and a bunch of mental health breakthrough drugs) had been better, if she’d cultivated friendships with women poets instead of getting so wrapped up in her toxic husband, if the literary world hadn’t been so solidly misogynist during her time – I mean, sometimes I think, if I could only tell her how successful she’ll be. She’d be around 85 now. Anyway, in no way was she a perfect person – she had a mean streak which probably lessened her social support circle and was deeply flawed as well as talented – but I do think that anyone who thought she was weak or didn’t work hard for her success should read these letters. It’s a wonderful (and terrifying) portrait of the woman writer’s life in the late fifties and early sixties. I’ve been working my way through the letters of women with different illnesses – Flannery O’Connor’s life as a writer with her lupus, Elizabeth Bishop and her depression and alcoholism, Sylvia Plath – in order to glean something – strength? Advice? Lessons in what to do and not do? All of these women were very prodigious letter writers, too – in turns, funny, warm, bitter, and a lot about money stress and success (or the lack of it.) I think I’m looking for a path that may not exist yet.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Fighting Back Against Sad with Penguins and Holiday Scenes, More Cancer Tests and Poetry Lessons from Plath

*

And here is a poem for a friend:

I first saw cancer

I first saw cancer in winter, rocking gently
as if to mollify a small child by keening
a lullaby. She murmured a promise,
a truss of blossoms.

After a chill, in the thaw of spring,
wisps of hair returned, a limp corkscrew crown,
while pain cracked open bones and shred
them into lacy stalks.

Cancer rocked gently again in autumn, smothering
the lumpish soil with a thin coat of saltpeter.
And when it dried out like a codfish on the shore,
she offered her caress.

This was first published online on YB in 2009. YB is a no longer available journal, produced by Rose Hunter and Sherry O’Keefe– both wonderful poets, who were some of the very first poets to publish my work.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Topical Memes

*

From page 100 of a childhood compendium of Brontë novels: “Threading this chaos,” Charlotte writes in Jane Eyre, “I at last reached the larder; there I took possession of a cold chicken, a roll of bread, some tarts, a plate or two and a knife and fork: with this booty I made a hasty retreat.” Sounds like Thanksgiving week, during which I am retreating with pies and poultry. Let there be solitude for any writer who needs it, and let it be filling.

Let the editors also have quiet brains, the better to appreciate your and my genius, and let them offer us contracts for our masterworks–lo, promptly and with praise! Let our laptops pant with the warmth of our email exchanges.

In the sage-scented steam, let every brain in these territories brim with new metaphors and opening lines of poems yet to be. Let lying politicians swoon under sonnet attacks and be unable to utter any words except in meditative strains of iambic pentameter. Let swords be beaten into sibilance, power-abusers shuffled off in pantoums, and every vacated position find a feminine rhyme.
Lesley Wheeler, November invocations

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 41

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

This week, a number of poetry bloggers wrote about deaths of loved ones and about seeking inspiration in art — sometimes in the same post. Other bloggers wrote about their quests to become more organized or more productive. There were a couple of interesting reports from conferences, and as usual, plenty of other random delights.

The morning sears its way into my day. There is the sparkling glint of sun on water and across Discovery Bay I can see the snowy top of Mount Baker and the backside of Port Townsend off to the East. I am blessed with this view when it appears out my window as I sit at my desk and wonder what to do next. How different life seems to me on a day when no fog rises up to obscure my view, no rain smacks at the glass. And yet, some days I can convince myself that Port Townsend, Mount Baker, the whole damn universe, is still there, even when I can’t see it. Or feel it. Or find it. Or be a part of it. My own fear of death seems easy to overcome with the thought that this, all of this, will all go on with me or without me.

Embracing death, notwithstanding, I am able to feel anxious about my many failures. I’ve fallen behind in promises, and nothing feels worse to me than not meeting deadlines, failing to fulfill a commitment, or having a dirty house. These are things to get over. The universe is made of dust, as I was recently reminded, and moving the dust around is not always a productive activity. Determining what is really worthwhile can be debilitating. So much seems worth so little.

Writing a Sunday blog joins me with others in a way that helps me to connect with a common purpose. I seem to be able to continually write poems. I’ve started meeting with a small writing group in my rural area that is proving to be a remedy for the sense of isolation I feel most days.

I’m sick with worry about our planet, but I guess that’s nothing new. Just because I am a nihilist at heart does not mean I am disengaged. I am trying to uncover meaning, step up to the plate, look for opportunities to serve, seek crevices of hope.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Musings

*

Sit down here, by this closed window
and consider it this way:
that not even dust remains
of how things were
before the sleep of reason;
that not a carbon trace is left
of what once might have been.

Relax. Sit back in your chair
and listen to my voice.

You know the properties
of hope,
of dreams,
of rumours.

You know how rich
the imagined landscape,
and how true that stranger’s voice,
its cadences so clear.
Dick Jones, The Way Things Are

*

After supper, after gin rummy and pages
turning and the rhythmic click of a sweater
growing row by row, bed greets you
like a childhood friend, and sleep
keeps company with the blue black sky
and the owl’s whispered flight.
Sarah Russell, Home

*

Earlier, as I was walking up the stairs that started the trail’s steep ascent out of Mill Valley’s Old Mill Park, I had been glancing at the plaques embedded into the concrete risers. Most of them paid tribute to loved ones, or memorialized families, but one caught my eye. “Enjoy this wonderful moment,” the plaque said, which was somewhat amusing to consider from the point of view of a person suffering up a brutally steep climb equivalent to the height of a 55-story skyscraper. But it also reminded me of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, whose writings repeatedly remind us to recognize the present moment, to enjoy this wonderful moment. So I was savoring that saying, and the awareness of the wonderful moment, as I jogged through the ancient trees, the filtered light, the ferns and dirt and rocks of the trail above Muir Woods.

And then I noticed the trail wasn’t connecting with the Dipsea. In fact, it was curving back down to rejoin the lower, level path through Muir Woods. Dammit! I had jogged back almost to the entrance of the park! Clearly, I realized, I’d taken a wrong turn — again.

Rather than head back out and start over, I decided to take a second jog through Cathedral Grove and turn the correct way this time. Looking at another sign, it was clear that I needed to turn to the right, not left, immediately after crossing Bridge 4, so that’s what I did on my second time across. And as I made my second ascent from Bridge 4 I realized where I had gone wrong the first time: In my rush to pass the large extended family on the trail, I had jogged past the turnoff to the Ben Johnson Trail. The people I was passing had probably stepped aside onto the trail I actually wanted to take in order to let me go by on the wrong path. A lesson in mindfulness: You can enjoy this wonderful moment, but don’t forget to look for the trail signs.
Dylan Tweney, How Not to Run a Double Dipsea

*

I intended to publish this post last month, actually in the month of September, but life got in the way and so here we are, nearly halfway through October and I’m only just now finishing this and getting it online. Sorry. The below is still relevant, just a little dated.

Twitter has a hashtag #SeptWomenPoets to honor and recognize women poets. My Twitter feed was filled with women poets all month, something I absolutely loved. And it would seem the poetry gods were shining upon me this month as I had six poems published and several more accepted for future publication.

Aside from the wonderful publications, it was a very busy month for me. I spent most of the month on work travel – in Hawaii and then Tunisia.

Hawaii was its usual mix of lush green hiking, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and 60-hour work weeks…

Tunisia was also beautiful – the weather was still warm and the days were clear and once I got on antibiotics for strep throat and started feeling a little better, I was able to enjoy it. I even got to do a little sightseeing after my meetings wrapped up. (Side note: I’ve never had strep throat and I had NO IDEA how painful and awful it is!)
Courtney LeBlanc, September Women Poets

*

It seemed to me to have been a long time since I devoted serious focus to my creative work–I mean in terms of organizing, keeping track, revising, submitting to journals, compiling a draft manuscript of newer work…the so-called business of poetry. I resolved therefore to spend a weekend at the task. Alas. The weekend revealed to me the extent of my benign neglect: ten years of not-really-being-on-the-ball.

I do not consider myself a particularly prolific poet, but I found myself faced with well over a ream of poetry pages, many poems only in their second or third draft and far from “finished.” Maybe an average of 70 poems a year for ten years. Do the math: this is not a weekend’s work. [le sigh]

Where to begin? There is no beginning. After an hour or so of trying to prioritize the various components of the job, I gave up and just started at whatever had become the top of the pile. Analysis: which drafts had any glimmer of possibility? Some erstwhile poems could easily be culled into the “dead poems file” I keep under the cabinet with the dust bunnies. Others required considerable revision.

Fascinating process, despite aspects of tedium. I encountered poems I forgot I’d composed. I looked at the dates I began and revised them, tried to discern where my thoughts and feelings were at the time. Somehow, going through poems in no way resembles looking at old photographs–it’s not that sort of memory jog. Indeed, the poems are not involved with the memory part of my brain but with the creative part.

And that is exactly what I have been neglecting: the creative, imaginative, intuitively analytical side of myself.
Ann E. Michael, Neglecting the work

*

Small press magazines are invaluable – they give poetry a space in the world. I’ve had a good run this year. Lots of magazines have taken my work. I’m grateful for it, but I don’t take it for granted. Of course, I still get plenty of rejections. That’s no bad thing because it keeps me (and the work) grounded. What I really appreciate though, is a quick turn around (from submission to acceptance and publication). It seems to me that when magazines are able to go to print quickly, what you’re reading is the freshest work, poems that give you that sense of excitement and discovery, that sometimes confound or confront you (it’s good to be challenged once in a while). For me that’s what makes these magazines so special. Long may they continue to print new work.
Julie Mellor, Shearsman

*

I was also determined, since I lost a little over a month of writing and submitting time, to get back on track, so I sent out a couple of submissions, but I notice that the way my brain functions since the MS, I’m a little slower putting together submissions, making sure I’m following the guidelines of different journals…what used to take twenty minutes takes more than two hours now. My reading times have also slowed, although my vision didn’t get worse – it just takes my brain longer to process a poem, a page of prose. I should send my book manuscript out some more as well. […] Autumn downtime seems so decadent, to me – a time supposed to be a flurry of business, returning to school, coming back from vacation, paying bills, rearranging closets to reach coats and scarves and boots – but it feels the most necessary, too – extra sleep, extra vitamins, extra consumption of pumpkin and apple. It seems like good poetry-writing time. My own recent poems, I notice, have been full of death and dahlias.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, October Adventures, Playing Catch Up, Art Gallery Openings, and Autumn Downtime

*

It has come to be natural, not trusting my eyes, how their hyperopic excellence can no longer be drawn in: ask me about the horizon, about that hawk’s messy neck or which of the treeline’s members are healthiest, but book, but my own face, but scale? It cannot be, these vague numbers down below and too close, they make no sense. My body is massive and stone, vast as desert and as desiccated, miles and tons of body, these numbers dysmorphing before my eyes. Fewer now than before, it makes no sense. Corrective lenses unmorph nothing. Pressed far enough, only incongruence is real.
JJS, October 12, 2018: disembodied condition

*

I am so thrilled to have a poem up in Hyphen Magazine and so deeply grateful for Eugenia Leigh’s thoughtful, generous comments! “Cheongomabi / 천고마비” was drafted during my Tupelo 30/30 run three years ago, and I wrote quite a bit about working on the poem here.

Autumn is my favorite season, and while it’s been humid and rainy here lately in Kansas, I’ve always reveled in the blueness of the sky this time of year. It must be something about the particular angle of the sun in the fall and how it affects the way molecules in the air scatter more blue light, but there is some depth to the color I’ve always found especially moving. I love how “천고마비” evokes that quality with a feeling of height rather than depth, the sky reaching upward and upward into an blue that seems boundless, that can hold hope and fear of hope. That can hold everything.
Hyejung Kook, October Poetry: “Cheongomabi / 천고마비”

*

  1. Every U.S.-residing woman I’m in conversation with, of every generation, remains upset about Kavanaugh’s confirmation. For me it’s like trying to do my best work as some disembodied voice mutters in my ear, Even when we believe you, we consider the “assaults” you have suffered laughable. This is worth remembering about people as we walk through the world, how some are raining on the inside.
  2. The day I rotated off the AWP Board of Trustees, the scale read two pounds lighter. You think that’s related to salt consumption, and you’re entitled to that opinion.
  3. Grounded by Hurricane Michael, I missed my last board meeting in San Antonio. I’m sad to have missed catching up with the AWP staff and other board members, who are really the most wonderful people. But I wrote a poem (about Kavanaugh). Rested. Caught up on some work. As soon as I gave up trying to rebook flights, the sun came out.
  4. One of the papers I graded argued that while it was offensive for Sylvia Plath to use Holocaust metaphors in the persona poem “Daddy,” she may have appropriated that collective persecution because she knew that her own story, as a survivor of domestic abuse, would not have been believed. It was such a measured essay, not excusing anything, yet tending towards empathy in a way I found moving. People have to stop trash-talking millennials.
  5. The other essays were pretty damn good, too. Messy, sometimes, but we’re all messes, right?

Lesley Wheeler, October list, with bright spots

*

Before we get to the vacation slides, though (I’m channeling every 1950s father here . . .), I’ll share that Bread Loaf Sicily was a really wonderful program. Far less formal and intense, I believe, than the regular program in Vermont, but no less useful for this particular writer. In fact, I’d venture to say — even though I’ve never attended the regular program — that it was probably far more useful than the regular program ever could have been.

I learned much from observing C. Dale Young teach our poetry workshop — practical things (skills? techniques? I’M A WRITER!!) that I can carry back to my own creative writing classroom, and my conference with him was extremely helpful in terms of my new, emerging manuscript (there, I said it). Also: writing time! I continued with my a.m. writing sessions, albeit NOT fueled with coffee because it wasn’t available that early in the morning — and between that and the airplane travel, and even without the caffeine, I wrote 6 new poems over the course of the week.

BAM. Also, also, A. and I met some of the nicest and most charming people, which felt lucky. I mean, being thrown into these conference things, you can’t trust that you’re going to find anyone you genuinely like and admire, let alone a whole table full of them, but we did. Including two Jonathans, one prose writer and one poet, both talented writers, but whom A. and I sadly could not convince to fight to the death, Highlander-style. Because, you know. There can only be one.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Bread Loaf Sicily 2018 Recap

*

Speaking of artsy, I’ve been spending a good deal of time this weekend working on some edits for some poems that are going to be in an upcoming anthology. For some reason, I’m finding it extremely difficult to make decisions. I haven’t written much poetry since finishing the novel, and the poem section of my brain seems to have atrophied. I don’t believe in overthinking poetry too much either when writing it or reading it, but even simple decisions about commas are feeling loaded and daunting to me. But on the plus side, it has inspired me to sit down with my gigantic Wallace Stevens anthology and start reading poetry again, with the aim to find my way back into writing it again eventually.
Kristen McHenry, Fancy Fail, Brain Tangle, Cow Punching

*

As I walk around with words whispering just unheard in my head, I’m engaged in the ritualized act of seeing that is museum-going. As I spent time in one small gallery, I noticed the rapid coming and going of five or six people, who were in the what’s-this-what’s-that mode that I too get into often when I’m visiting a museum. Some of that has to do with the sheer volume of work to absorb in a day’s visit. You have to measure time and energy in such a situation, and I appreciate that. I wish museums offered multiple-day passes to allow this kind of focused attention absent the anxiety of time and what-am-I-missing. As an artist in residence here, I have the leisure to return again and again.

Because I’m here on a mission of art-making, everything is more alive to my eye, ear, nose. I feel the rubble of metal plates underfoot or the knobs of gravel, the yield of damp grass. Being here I feel art begetting art, and I want to crumple my page of poem into some shadow-casting form to attach to a wall, or mutter my words into the tunnel of an old air duct.

I begin to experience “ostranenie,” a term meaning to defamiliarize, to make the familiar strange. And in that state I can relook at my own work, my usual turns of phrase and modes of expression and come to embrace it, clarify it, discard it as too limited, pile on it, twist it, shatter it open, hone it to a knife-edge. Ideas of new work I might make emerge as bright possibilities just beyond the edges of these buildings, skittering leaves glimpsed through a window, a stalking crow, and I can’t wait to give myself over to what might happen.

I am giddy with the world, the mind, imagination.
Marilyn McCabe, Art for Art’s Sake; or How Other Artistic Media Can Generate New Writing

*

A couple of weeks after David’s funeral my good friend Bob Hogarth, the Art Adviser said: why don’t you do a painting of him? Why don’t you paint his life? I set out on a collage of maps of the city, photographs of his childhood, images of a small attache case and a strange ugly ring that he’d left on the top floor of that block of flats behind the Merrion Centre, an old atlas open at a map of Africa. Buddleia. Hydrangeas. I worked on it for a week or so. And then stopped. Just a layer of collage and thinned down acrylics. Every couple of years I’ll have a look at it, and resolve to finish it. But I don’t think I want to. I suspect I understand why. It took a long time…more than twenty years…to find out that for me the answer lay in writing. Maybe it started with a friend of a friend buying me Jackie Kay’s Adoption Papers, and then started again with being told about Carrie Etter’s Imagined Sons.

It started with rediscovering Greek myths, and particularly the story of Icarus. It was discovering, through the process of retelling the story, that the character no one pays enough attention to is Daedalus, or points out that if Daedalus had used his amazing gifts well, he would never have needed to build a labyrinth, would not have given away its secret, would not have been imprisoned in a tower with his son, would never have needed to conceive of making wings. I understood, through this that if you make wings for your children, it’s not enough to just watch them fly. Whether they fly into the sun or the heart of darkness, if they fall, then are you responsible, and how will you live with that.

Tony Harrison wrote that in the silence that surrounds all poetry

articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting’.

I believe articulation is healing, a way to atonement and to being able to forgive yourself. The serenity to accept the things you cannot change. Articulation can be confessional, too. You can’t change the past; ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ simply make you spiritually ill. We know this, rationally, consciously, but living by it needs help. Two poets have given me that help. Clare Shaw’s credo “I do not believe in silence” and her unwavering frank gaze at her history of self-harm, and psychological disturbance gave me courage. As did Kim Moore’s decision to use poetry to deal with her experience of domestic abuse. And, finally, one moment in a writing class that Kim was running that somehow unlocked suppressed and unarticulated belief, guilt, knowledge. I remember I wept silently all the time I was writing. It only lasted five minutes, that task. But an insight, an acknowledgement takes only a moment no matter how long the process that leads up to it. This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine says Prospero at the end. I think I understand the release he must have felt in that split second.
John Foggin, A loss you can’t imagine: young men and suicide

*

Four years and three months ago, Mom had a major stroke, and while she had, up until then, maintained much of her independence, the stroke put her on the fast train into dementia. We moved her into a skilled nursing facility, thinking we would lose her soon. Four years…

Yesterday, Mom’s journey ended, or — as a wise friend put it — her brand new journey began.

During the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to carry on as though nothing was changed. After Mom took a turn for the worse (and was no longer speaking) in September, yet continued to hang on, I told myself that I’d better get on with my life. I was scheduled to teach two classes at my college, and on the first day of classes (completely unprepared) I pulled myself together and got started with that.

I also had an on-line course all set up and ready to go, and I launched the free opening of it from my blog. The on-line course is small — just a few prompts so far (possibly an actual course, depending on interest) — you can read about it here (if you haven’t already). But one of the reasons I wanted to blog today is to say that my heart is really not up for it right now. Laura Day, in The Circle, says that our desires, our hungers, are what make us human, and I agree. I continue to believe that it’s helpful to identify what we want to achieve — in our writing lives as in the rest of our lives. I think it’s better to see these things clearly and I think it’s better to bring them out into the open, than to keep them buried. I also think it’s good to winnow through our desires and decide which are the truly important, which are for “some day” but not now, and which are really the universe’s job, and not ours at all.
Bethany Reid, What Do You Really Want?

*

Getting back to oils has been in my mind over the past year or so — a kind of nagging little voice in the back of my head. When we lost our friend and fellow artist, Jenny, at the end of the summer, and I thought about my own upcoming birthday, I realized a decision had already been made, almost without consciously realizing it. Jenny had also worked in many different media over her lifetime, but in recent years she had turned to ceramics and was making fantastic, often whimsical objects and sculptures that were a reflection of her personality and spirit — and she loved it, she had really found her perfect medium. At the musical wake the day after Jenny’s memorial service, I sat on the couch in their apartment, singing and listening to music being played, talking to old friends, while looking at Jenny’s ceramics arrayed on a long window shelf, the towers of Manhattan rising behind them. On a perpendicular wall, over the piano, was an oil painting of mine that I gave Jenny and Bill a long time ago, accompanied by one of Jonathan’s photographs, and a portrait in oils of Jenny’s mother by a well-known New York artist. It made me think. To some extent, my desire to start again in this medium is a way to remember and honor our friend, and acknowledge that time is passing. If not now, when? […]

It makes me happy to be doing this. Painting always feels like a miracle to me, as do all the arts: beginning from blankness and silence, then creating and building something that grows out of what felt empty, but was always actually filled with potential. What could be more hopeful and life-affirming than that? And yet it’s so easy to get caught in the destructive and doubting void, particularly now, when the world often feels hopeless and negative, and so many are despairing and angry. I don’t want to be like that; I want to work, as long as I’m able, to see and express something better and more beautiful about our world and my small place in it. That’s the real decision that was made.
Beth Adams, Back to oils

*

Sorting through my mother’s belongings, I uncovered a perplexing life. She was an artist and a connoisseur of the absurd. As a child, I admired her paintings, but tiptoed past the stranger ones. In nightmares, my mother stood in a dark closet behind a portrait of a gnarled crone. Glowering from the canvas, the old woman clutched a terrified goose.

Disturbing questions followed me as I traveled to the vacation condo my mother shared with my stepfather, who was also deceased. I needed to clear out the place, but wanted to leave time for writing and contemplation. I scrubbed years of grime from tile grout, pulled down mildewed curtains, and gazed out at the ocean. Words shimmered on the horizon and dissolved. To write about my mother, I had to look—really look—at her paintings. And so, during a solidary stay in Florida, I took a deep dive into ekphrastic poetry. […]

Excited by the possibilities, I explored ways to interpret, confront, question, and hear my mother through her art. For the first time, I studied the angry abstract she displayed by the door to the kitchen. Orange and black slashed across the tall canvas. The colors, applied in slabs, shrieked for attention. The shapes were incomprehensible. Even more puzzling: On the back of the frame, the carefully printed words, “Lahey 10 A.M.”

A Google search for “Lahey” unleashed a string of associations. A person named Lahey declared, “I am Alcohol in the Flesh.” Another Lahey “turned to art late in life.” My poem about the abstract painting segued into a meditation on wild departures from lifelong patterns. The incomprehensible shapes, I suddenly realized, were crows in flight.

Ekphrastic poetry invites non sequiturs, digressions, and surprises. The disturbing image of the old woman and the goose, painted several months before I was born, transported me to a mother I didn’t remember and had never considered: an ambitious and frustrated painter who “must’ve felt queasy / perched on her artist stool, // swooping her palette knife / side to side while I swam / inside her.”
Ekphrastic Poetry: A Writer Finds Messages in Her Mother’s Art – guest blog post by Jackie Craven (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

*

The morning started with keynote speaker Kim Stafford, Oregon Poet Laureate and son of legendary Pacific Northwest poet, William Stafford. Kim shared one of his father’s quotes (I’m paraphrasing from memory): “William Stafford said that he wasn’t impressed with people who said they wanted to support the arts; what impressed him was the person who confessed a weakness for the arts.”

After I gave my workshop (“Beyond the Sonnet: New Poetic Forms to Boost Your Writing Practice) I attended six more. I’m happy to report that I came home with inspiration for poems leaping off the pages of my notebook. “Facing It,” given by Judith Montgomery and Carl Barrett, dealt with the challenges of care-giving, including “diagnosis, treatment, and healing.” From the paragraph I wrote in response the word “diagnosis:”

One week later I was in the “mental health” section of the brand-new, beautiful library, whose huge open ceiling and light-flooded bookshelves contrasted starkly with the dark subject I researched. That day I checked out a wobbly armload of books with titles like Loving Your Crazy Kid, Freedom From the Voices, and Bi-Polar Joy. How it hurt to imagine him ending up like the people in these books: alone, afraid, even homeless. I didn’t know what was coming. I held the books against my chest like armor.

In Joan Dobbie’s workshop, “The Mask Speaks,” the only session that included craft supplies, I made a butterfly mask and wrote it a list poem:

If butterflies vanished
I would draw them
on walls on car doors
on windows I would
cut them out of paper out of
cloth I would pin them
onto flowers onto trucks
leave them in hospitals
in daycare centers
paste them all over the bathtub
eat only butterfly-shaped food
wear my butterfly mask
everywhere

In “The Ordinary as Muse,” given by Cecelia Hagen, we explored the poetry of Mary Ruefle. Using her poem “Full Moon” as inspiration, I came up with this:

Kilauea

It looks like an unfinished pyramid,
as if the Egyptians had run out of mud bricks
one hot Wednesday

and abandoned the job
resigning the future dead king
to a roofless tomb.

Erica Goss, The 2018 Oregon Poetry Association Annual Conference, September 29-30, Eugene, OR

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 27

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

It’s high summer in the northern hemisphere, and for many poets this week, that seems to have triggered reflections on productivity, perhaps because for most of us, poetry writing is something we look forward to doing on vacation. I guess that’s good, because it implies that we think of it in part as a leisure pursuit, an avocation as much as a vocation. Summer’s also the time for poetry festivals, writing retreats, and of course, extra reading. I’ll admit, I don’t always find hot, humid weather conducive to good writing myself, in part because it’s so damn hard to sleep…

Head-exploding insomniac connections firing: Athena and Penelope
incarnations of each other, all a plot device, see, and Pan, there’s always Pan—

(Get it? Get it?) What, she thinks suddenly, is even happening
to my arms
, whose flesh is this, so loom-muscled, weaving water itself

into story, into a new body with which kingdoms shall be run
by guile, yes, by wile, epithets carefully-chosen; Penelope and Odysseus

incarnations of each other too, and Circe, let’s not even pretend
she’s different from the rest of us, I could turn you all to pigs

and you’d be cleaner, ya Trump-voting motherfuckers, Circe said…
JJS, July 7, 2018: Penelope as Lady of the Lake

*

I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew this summer and that’s just fine with me. I have work to do: a thesis adviser who needs to see ten new poems in the fall, a chapbook to assemble and send out to the masses, a bunch of poems on audio to edit, a podcast to create, 17 more hours of film to screen for the Austin Film Festival, a few graphic narrative poems to illustrate, four or five drafts of poetry blog posts started but not finished, and two essays to complete and send off for hopeful publication in a litmag. I’m in sweet, heavenly, artmaking bliss.

I really am. I love all this creation happening inside and all around me. It’s exciting and makes me happy. And ain’t nobody making me do this. It’s my own, wonderful, glorious work (sure wish I’d get paid for it, though). The only things getting in my way are a full-time job doing none of this stuff during prime “I feel creative” time, and the other full-time job of raising three precious children and taking care of my family, my home, myself.

This is not a sob story. You, dear poetry reader, may know just how I feel. Maybe not now but possibly at a different time in your life. I have learned to juggle and forgive myself and finally to just start, dammit, stop putting it off. That’s how the art gets made. That’s how the words are put on the page and the paint stays wet. Just trudging on.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, 1000 words + two sylvias = making art

*

Though I keep my poetry writing time consistent—not long, but everyday, with reading and notes—I find that my creativity and actual-finishing-of-poems varies, depending on what is going on in life. And, as cliche as it is, I suppose suffering does beget poetry.

I don’t want to go into detail, but I will say of all the problems we could have, ours is not a Dire one (it doesn’t threaten those I love in a permanent way) but it is a problem and a cause of Stress, though it is so romanticized (only in such wealthy societies can it be looked at as romantic to be an orphan or very poor). We have our health and each other.

But it is a sizeable problem with no easy solution and so I supposed that all my poetry writing would come to a complete stop as we wonder and pray and wonder. However, I’ve written more poetry in this month than I had in the earlier half of the entire year.
Renee Emerson, When Between a Poem and a Hard Place…

*

I got back from teaching and had two days to unpack my suitcase. Then I re-packed it for the Berkshires. We made the seven-hour drive and I co-hosted a poetry symposium in a quirky new hotel space, TOURISTS; a reimagined motor lodge in North Adams, Massachusetts, thanks to the vision of Scott Stedman and Jeff Gordinier. There was hugs with Beth Ann Fennelly and Erika Meitner and January Gill O’Neil and finally meeting Rachel Zucker, new friends, poem-toasts, an oddly tasty spread of pork and Calabrian chiles on seed bread thanks to Cortney Burns, wandering through the woods to the chime chapel, more poems around an open fire, Jeff & company’s late arrival from the Esquire thing, touring Mass MOCA (Louise Bourgeois & James Turrell & Anselm Kiefer), lunch at Bright Ideas Brewing, a p*cha k*cha talk, broccoli rabe with wood-ear mushrooms, beet salad, more reciting of poems, live music from Sean Rowe (whose foraging expedition I’d missed earlier in the day while on the hunt for a digital projector), following Jan’s lead to talk about fostering inclusivity in the literary scene, finally meeting Laurie’s brother (which made me miss Mississippi), more beet salad, introducing some folks to Tommy Pico’s Nature Poem, learning one of my co-conspirators had been Tommy’s classmate, getting up to the top of Mount Greylock, and stopping off for a Sam Gilliam glimpse and dinner in Troy on the way home.

Issue 18 of Barrelhouse came out, with my essay on “Pioneers of the Digital Trail.” If you want an essay that name-checks Mavis Bacon, Carmen Sandiego, Number Muncher, The Oregon Trail, The Secret of Monkey Island, and pained teenage love affairs, this is the essay for you. You can’t find the text online–thank god–but the issue is for sale here, and they typically sell out every print run.

And somewhere in there, I wrote a 3,000-word craft essay about sestinas that is scheduled to run in American Poets.

The funny thing is that when I came here to explain my June absence, I felt nothing but a sense of failure–a silent blog, a wasted month, and a fixation on the deadlines that were missed and are still pending, rather than any of the ones met. This despite an envelope full of thank-you notes that arrived from the KIPP students. Don’t let the corrosions of the world fool you, friends. Please keep doing the good work that I know you are doing.
Sandra Beasley, June

*

Turns out this is a good year for blackberries. The canes are loaded with fruit and weighted with vining wild grapes and honeysuckle. The latter bloomed rather late this year and are still putting forth fragrant flowers. The marvelous scent made berry-picking quite soothing.

Soon, the catbirds and orioles and everyone else will be harvesting these berries. Despite their thorns (which didn’t deter me, either).

~

It has been far too hot to work in the garden, however; so I have been writing, and submitting work to literary journals, and even painting a little–something I have not done in years. Finding ways to be both creative and relaxed. Much needed.
Ann E. Michael, Berrying

*

What a full-on week it’s been: a glorious mix of poetry, music and family. Consequently it’s Sunday evening already and I’ve only just sat down in front of my PC to write this week’s blog post.

The poetry highlight of my week was my first visit to Ledbury Poetry Festival. This has been on my wish list (recently renamed my Life’s For Living list) for some time, so I’m pleased that, at last, I’m able to put some of my poetry plans into action.

As Ledbury is a small market town, it was quick and easy to move between venues without getting lost (I found I didn’t really use the street guide I’d picked up at the festival office). The festival is extremely well-organised and executed with a warm and friendly vibe. Add to this an uneventful return road trip on well-behaved motorways, a spot of retail therapy along The Homend and an overnight stay in a thatched country cottage B & B: just the ticket!
Jayne Stanton, Ledbury Poetry Festival

*

I wrote in June: I’ve been trying to juggle the availabilities of 7 guest poets against those of four or five possible venues. It’s like herding cats and knitting fog. I’m in open-mouthed admiration of anyone who manages to run a poetry festival. How are they sane afterwards? Right now I’ve not managed to book a single venue. At this rate I’ll be putting it off till September. We shall see. Well, I made all the arrangements. Lovely venues like the stunning Halifax Central Library which is stitched into the even more stunning Piece Hall, and also the splendid Hyde Park Book Club in Leeds. I bought drinks and nibbles and napkins and paper plates..all that. I ordered too many books from the printer. I had not allowed for hot weather nor for football. It was a delight to read with wonderfully talented poets…Gaia Holmes, Vicky Gatehouse, Alicia Fernandez, Tom Weir, Ian Harker. It was a shame that we almost outnumbered the audience. But gods bless the ones who came, anyway. Was it worth it? Yes. It’s always worth it. Why write, otherwise. And there’s still one launch reading to go. Fingers crossed.

There’s been furniture moving, and painting and decorating, and mixing cement and raking-out and pointing, too. Some wall mending, thrown in, and more to come. It all distracts from ‘the work’, and the less you write, the less you write, and then you get frustrated, you lose all the carefully hoarded vestiges of serenity, and you might just lose your temper and do something(s) you regret.
John Foggin, The tigers of wrath, and an (un)discovered gem: David Spencer

*

Usually the summertime brings a flurry of activity to my part of the country, people desperate to get outdoors and in the brief season of sun, and usually also unofficially doesn’t start until the day after July 4 – and this kind of weather is why. By next weekend we’re supposed to be back in the sunny seventies, and I hope I’m over this cold/MS double-hit by then! I’m not a sun-lover – MS folks are supposed to avoid sun and heat, and I was allergic to the sun since I was a kid (hence my lovely vampire-esque complexion, LOL.) But the long string of grey days gave me time to think about how I’m spending my time, how much time I should give to political activism vs arguing politics on social media, to dealing with insurance/prescription/medical-related nonsense (it could literally take over my entire life if I let it, but it’s dangerous to ignore it) and writing new work vs revision vs manuscript shaping vs submitting vs writing. How much time I can afford to spend alone in nature, which seems to me to be restorative both health-wise and spiritually. I’m usually a go-go-go type of girl, but MS has taken a bit of that out of me, and being a bit slower and more deliberate hasn’t actually really made my life worse, though I often feel frustrated by not “getting enough done.” I have to quit judging my life by the amount I get done, and start appreciating the good things that happen without a deadline, outside of time.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poems in Tinderbox, a New Review of PR for Poets, a new Poetry Star, and Summer Downtime

*

Time to lounge under lamplight
or a fan, at least, in this solemn sweatbox town,
sin city, hidden city, dark city. What kind
of city is it? The kind where “They say it’s your
birthday” gets bellowed out on Facebook, and Facebook
denizens bellow back (not at all concerned with
the shadow behind the curtain, the sooty shoes
poking out from under the bed). It’s never time,
never the right time.
PF Anderson, Black Birthday

*

I’m getting a perfectly respectable amount of work done for an empty-nest academic in the summer, but so far, no holy miracle of ramped-up sentence success. I spent June enacting deep revisions to my novel manuscript, responding to very good advice I received from a small press, and we’ll see where that goes. I enjoyed concentrating on it, at any rate, and it’s definitely a way better book now. And I’m a better writer for having undertaken the challenge.

I’ve also been reading in all genres, working on submissions, and writing a few poems, although I find tuning my brain to fiction-writing makes poetry harder. I’m now revising a couple of essays and finishing research for a third–I’m visiting an archive near Richmond on Tuesday, so Chris and I will stay overnight and share a fancy dinner, maybe visit a museum. I really don’t know yet how much I’ll finish by the time September hits in all its frantic glory. I’m trying not to worry too much about that, either, although being zen about the passage of summers and outcome of my labors–well, it hasn’t been my specialty. Working on it.
Lesley Wheeler, Prove or disprove and salvage if possible

*

I had been working on a multipart essay when I wondered if it was really a sectioned poem. So I spent days and days easing, tapping, tweaking, clipping each segment into lineation, attention to rhythm, structures, and all the various things that poetic forms allow/require of us. And now I’m not sure it works. But the process has been interesting.

On the one hand, the poeming process helped me make the language and sentences more taut and efficient, catch repetitions, reorder thoughts. Creating lines allowed me to inject additional suggestions into the ideas, or even with a line break subvert what I was saying, or at least question it.

But too often, the lines gave gravitas to places I didn’t really want emphasized. It made some ideas too weighty, too self-important. Some ideas I wanted to slip in with more subtlety, subtlety that demands of lineation did not seem to allow.

So I’m going to take the newly taut language and spread it back out, give some good fat back to some of the sentences, allow a more languid pace.
Marilyn McCabe, Formtion, Functiorm; or On Navigating Form and Function

*

E-grazing to Eureka

Mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Twitter etc. is one classic way most of us procrastinate, right? Let us turn this ‘e-grazing’ to account. When you see something that you want to comment on or share – a meme, a line in a message, a snippet, a poem or a quote – do that, but also screen-shot it and save it. That word or line that made you go ‘wow, cool!’, ‘lol, that’s hilarious’, ‘that’s so me/us’, ‘ugh, what an idiot!’, etc. – it made you think and feel, however fleetingly. A few hours or days later, go over these fragments that found echoes within you, and you may just see new poems taking shape from and around them.

Poetry in Foreign Languages

One way to reconnect with the form and sound of language is to listen to a poem or a folk song in a language you do not know, or one you know just a little, so you can connect to its rhythms but block out the meaning at will. You can go for a softly chanted poem, like biya o josh e tamanna, where you can immerse yourself in the melody, but in one’s more restless humours a faster tempo can also be welcome ex. Laila O Laila. Free-write to the song on infinite loop, just listen to it and brainstorm, or write your own ‘imaginary translation’, etc.
Seven Selcouth Sources of Poetic Inspiration – guest blog post by Hibah Shabkhez (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

*

As I walked, I paid attention to the trash that I saw. It will all be picked up by later today, but for now, random pieces of trash lined the Broadwalk. I was most struck by the debris that once we would have hauled home: coolers, umbrellas, a variety of clothes.

In a history class long ago, our teacher reminded us that most of what archaeologists discover comes from digging in the garbage dumps of former societies. I often wonder what future archaeologists will make of our trash. Certainly they will comment on the huge amount of plastic.

This morning, I looked at all the trash, both the collective version and the individual pieces, and I thought about the symbolism. What could we learn if we use this trash as a symbol?

I plan to write a poem on this very topic. What will you write as the week winds down?
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Prompt: The Morning After the Day Before

*

Once back at camp and we’d traded our hiking shoes for flip-flops, we gathered in a loose circle, drinks and snacks within reaching distance. Suddenly, Jonathan said, “Uhhh, guys?…” and pointed to the road that ran through the campground. There was a snake, crossing the road.

Of course we all popped up to investigate and that’s when we heard the telltale rattle of its tail. Yup, a rattlesnake. Eventually the rattler made its way to the woods — away from our tents, thankfully — and we carried on talking. But the image of the snake, its beautifully slinking body, stayed with me.

Once home on Sunday I perused Twitter and came across Mary Oliver’s poem, The Black Snake. I knew then I needed to write a poem about the snake that appeared at our campsite.

The poem is still a work in progress but I’m excited about nature inspiring a poem. What are your favorite nature poems?
Courtney LeBlanc, A Week of Work

*

Your latest book is New and Selected Poems. What will readers find inside? Obviously new work but also poems culled from your previous two collections? Tell us more.
This book was born out of a drunken love affair between myself and my editor at a Manhattan dive bar. I was originally going to release a third collection called Human Algorithm that fused my twenty years in the tech industry with trying to find sex and love with strangers on the smartphone apps. But since I’ve decided to focus on fiction and autobiography for the next few years, New and Selected has become a magnum opus for me. The poems I originally planned for the third collection are in here, plus work from the previous volumes and other unreleased poems from early in my writing career.

You, like many other artists these days, operate outside the mainstream – using micro/small presses or self-publishing to get your work to readers. That method was once frowned upon, but has now become commonplace. Any regrets?
I know it was once frowned upon, but times have changed. I read Rupi Kaur’s collection, Milk and Honey, last year and it’s brilliant. She began her career by posting poems on social media. You do whatever you can to make your voice heard. Unless someone’s going to give me a million-dollar book deal, my poetry and graphic novel publications will remain 100 percent in my control. I had a nasty experience with a publisher with my first collection and it left a bad taste in my mouth. So, I figured out how to do it on my own and it’s been great.

You seem to have written a lot of work, but aren’t in a rush to publish it. Most authors are burning up to get their work out there.
Yes, I have a backlog and it’s wild. I’ve written eight children’s books and I also have another graphic novel called The Philadelphia War, which should be out in 2019. I’ve started an autobiography and I’m deep into writing a dangerous, fucked up novel set on Wall Street. That book actually is my main focus right now. I also have a novella called Midnight that I wrote for five years and it’s just sitting there.
Collin Kelley, He’ll Take Manhattan: An interview with poet, writer & photographer Montgomery Maxton

*

Francesca Bell caught a lot of attention with her poem I Long to Hold The Poetry Editor’s Penis in My Hand. I mean it’s hard to overlook a good penis poem. Bell, however, holds a special place in this poet’s heart because her talent has come without a formal writing education background. Reading her work you would never know it. She has carved out a very successful non-traditional road on her poet journey. Her publication credits are lengthy and include River Styx, North American Review, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, and Crab Creek Review to name a few. She has had at 6 Pushcart Prize nominations and been a finalist in several notable poetry awards.

In December of 2014 Bell had five poems published in Pank that are riveting. They touch on the delicate subject of children sexually abused by priests. These poems underscore something about Bell that I especially appreciate in a poet, a fearlessness in writing. I want to write as fearlessly as Bell does. Who wouldn’t, but it is not easy. In her poem Regrets, she talks about undressing every emotion and how silence is a too-tight dress I can’t wait to escape. She is genuine. Her writing has a depth that can be peeled back like layers of an archaeological excavation, or she can turn one her humor on the page and entertain you.

Another remarkable thing about Francesca Bell is her translation. She translated the book A Love That Hovers Like a Bedeviling Mosquito by the Palestinian poet Shatha Abu Hnaish along with Noor Nader Al A’bed. This book is a collection of largely tender verse that I often go to and reread parts of each night before I go to sleep.
Michael Allyn Wells, My 2018 Poets Crush 6 Pack

*

When we first read the poems, students talked about how and why the poets had used or not used punctuation, spacing, keyboard functions (crossing through text in Chan’s poem). They suggested that Rebecca Perry had used this spacing to perhaps replicate the to and fro conversation that was taking place between a father and an adult child in a car (they worked out the ‘child’ was driving so must be at least 17 or 18 years old). They thought that perhaps someone had died, perhaps one of the father’s parents, and they were driving to or from the funeral.

Then they discussed times that they had had conversations with a parent or grandparent, and had a go at writing their own poems using the same lay out as the Perry poem if they wished. They could also borrow some of the poet’s phrases if they got stuck. This gave students the space to write about reflective, intimate conversations they’d had with an adult they trusted and were close to. One student wrote about chatting with their grandmother while shopping, another wrote about gardening with their Mum, another about walking with their Dad. Students shared snippets of advice adults had given them (as Perry does “remember, if you get married, to pick a ring bigger than your finger, because your fingers, like your mother’s, swell slightly in the heat”.) Often these poems were tender and moving, and even if the conversations were stilted and awkward, humour and love shone through.
Josephine Corcoran, Poems that find a way to say what isn’t said #writerinschool

*

At the publication of Empty Clip, this is how Emilia Phillips introduced it on her twitter feed:

This is my “book of fears”

It is true there is much fear in these poems–molestation, animal murder, hotel fights, campus shooters, prior tenant on the lam, suicide, self-inflicted gunshot wounds, and on and on, poem after poem of frightful situations and the poet’s responses captured in pristine time capsules. So stomach up, because the rewards here are large. Phillips has developed, in this book, the uncanny ability to put the reader right into the scene of the poem, through exposing meticulous authentic details accompanied by pinpoint emotional responses. You feel these poems as much as read them.

While reading, I highlighted a number of phrases–way too many to share here– that struck me as prophetic. A warning. What can happen. What does happen. What has happened. What might happen again at any moment.

Lie down,
said the grass to the sky.

the same
stiff casualness of someone
pretending they’re not on guard

another girl in the class said, “Girls
get raped all the time here I don’t know why
this time was so special.”

back when I was looking down the barrel
of days of grief

how the bullet grooved clean into the skin below
her clavicle. A button hole
a baby’s mouth.

So yes, there is pain, distress, frightful memories. You already know about that, even if you haven’t been as close to the barrel of a gun as Phillips has. This happened. Face it with me. Feel it with me. And so, make it bearable or at least help me to resist.

But. Then. There is the lyricism– the translation of facts into emotions into lyrics, a skill Phillips is expert at. This is the balm of language that demonstrates how horrifying experiences can be digested, how poetic sense can be made of of terror.
Risa Denenberg, What I’m Reading: Empty Clip

*

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~My first poetry love was Nikki Giovanni. Her work is so practical, honest and revolutionary. When I tumbled across her poetry in a college library during my first years of undergrad, I had never heard a black woman so self-assured and intelligent. Her poetry not only showed me how to better use my words, but it helped me mature as a black woman and writer. Ms. Giovanni’s work taught me confidence, sincerity, and how to be relatable.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I just picked up Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds and cannot put it down. I was also just reading Charles Simic’s Scribbled in the Dark. I like contemporary poetry, but I really appreciate classics, too. I am also looking forward to reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s Americanah before summer ends.

Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~The poem will never be perfect. I often hear people say that they have never submitted a piece of work to a publisher because they have been editing it for a year. I’m like, “let go and give it to someone who needs it.” We write not only for ourselves but because there is someone who needs to hear it. I think as writers we tend to get obsessed with our work. If you can take a deep breath, close your eyes, and feel calm after editing your work a few times, let it go.
Bekah Steimel, Maybe / an interview with poet Kay Bell

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 26

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

What a great week for poetry blogging this has been! The year is now half over, and many of those who began 2018 vowing to blog every week have slowed down (or stopped altogether), but thank Whomever for that because otherwise how would I ever find time to read it all? And it’s fascinating the way themes continue to emerge most weeks in the process of compiling this digest: this time, for example, I found quite a few people pondering how to organize poetry manuscripts, and there was some strong blogging on the perennial subject of death. And I continue to be impressed by the varied and creative ways in which poet bloggers are responding to the political moment. I think Lesley Wheeler had the quote of the week: “While poems contain struggle of all kinds, they also constitute separate worlds it can be a great relief to enter, because good poems are not unjust or disruptive of bodily integrity.” And I was excited to see George Szirtes firing up the old blog again to start a series on political poetry…

Everything in this country is falling apart and the things I value and hold dear are in jeopardy of being taken away, dismantled, overturned or burned to the ground. In short, it’s a hard time and I struggle with feelings of loss, hopelessness, anger, frustration, rage, helplessness, and fear. It’s a difficult place to be yet every time someone says, “Things can’t get worse,” they, in fact, do. And so when I’m feeling this way I turn to poetry.

As part of the research for my craft paper for my MFA, I’m currently reading a book titled Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism edited by Danielle Barnhart and Iris Mahan.

This book of poetry is exactly what I need right now. The very first poem, A Woman’s Place by Denice Frohman, is one of my favorite in the book. The opening line: “i heard a woman becomes herself / the first time she speaks / without permission // then, every word out of her mouth / a riot”. Damn. DAMN that is powerful. And just what I needed to know that I do have a voice and not all is lost. This doesn’t mean any of those emotions I’m feeling go away, but it does mean I feel a little less alone. I feel like I can keep fighting and I can make myself heard. And while the world is still scary and there’s still a lot of things that could potentially fall apart, I feel like I’m up to the task of helping to fight it.
Courtney LeBlanc, When the World Falls Apart

*

This is not a poem about children being ripped
from their families. This is a poem about gardening.
The dirt is just dirt, the hands are just hands,
and the butter lettuce is just a vegetable. Roots hang
from its body like roots, not like marionette strings.
Not like marionette strings, I said.
Crystal Ignatowski, The Butter Lettuce Is Just a Vegetable

*

I’ve learned to tell the fir from the yew; the silver
from the red cedar. At sunrise, there is a thin glint of light
northeastward where I await Mt Baker’s frozen specter

careening over Discovery Bay. The lamps of Port
Townsend blink; strands of fog hang over fields.
Peckish deer nibble dandelions.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse on A Cloudy Morn

*

Nature plays a key role in Where Wind Meets Wing. Rather than viewing nature as a separate pristine, pure space, your poems address the ways people and nature come into conflict with each other. Is this a subject that you work with often? Or was it discovered through the more organic process of crafting this collection?

It’s a subject I’m now working with more often. […] Mostly, this is the world work that I do. My day job is in pest control so those conflicts between humanity and nature are a part of my daily life. And, as we often say, I write what I know.

To Gain the Day was written early in my pest control career and focuses more on the humanity of that work — on the people who work these kinds of jobs — and on my transition from academia to pest control. I think of it as a Whitman book (and its title comes from a line from “Song of Myself”).

Where Wind Meets Wing developed after I had processed a lot of that strange career transition stuff but while I was still trying to navigate my work with my strong concerns about the environmental impacts of people, something that is heightened by my job. If TGtD is a Whitman book, focused on people, WWMW is a Dickinson book (with a Dickinson epigraph), focused on spirit and nature and self.

I consider myself an environmentalist, which some people consider odd considering what I do to pay my bills. WWMW tries to explore my relationship with my job and my love of the planet and my concerns for the planet. And I’m interested in what you say here about nature being viewed as “a separate pristine, pure space.” Because it isn’t separate (we are a part of our ecosystem and we are animals ourselves so we are nature as much as a tree is). I partly want to honor that — that we are an intrinsic part of our world — while also looking at the effects we have on our world (and on each other).
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Anthony Frame on the environmental impact of people and making poetry dance

*

In keeping with the title, Field Notes, I intend the poems to be observational, a record of the natural world as I experience it, less a chronological account than an emotional exploration. I want them to interlock, to borrow a phrase from Susan Grimm’s introduction to the wonderful book, Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems. On the first page, she asks, “Which is the more useful question – How do the poems fit together? or What is the whole trying to do?”
Erica Goss, Organizing the Field

*

For some reason, this manuscript has been a bear to work with. And not one of those friendly Winnie the Pooh types, all sweet and honey covered, this is the bear that wanders into a forest so large you can hardly see him until you do, then you realize he is chasing a camper or shredding a tent.

This bear is surrounded by poems and so many, he’s not sure which are good anymore. He’s eating sour blackberries and pulling thorns out of his wrist.

This bear doesn’t want to be organized, it wants to run wild through rivers while grabbing a fish.

This bear growls at the thought of having to “have a theme” or any sort of structure.

This bear doesn’t even want to be named. Just call me “Bear” he says. But you name him something clever, and for a week, he’s happy, then he says, “I hate my name and so do you.”
Kelli Russell Agodon, My Poetry Manuscript is a Bear…

*

Most poetry books today (including mine) are broken into smaller sections. Sometimes these sections are thematically linked to tell a particular story (the first parts of both The Trouble with Rivers and Reckless Constellations focus on specific people and narratives). Think of those sections as necessary detours on your trip—but they still need to function as steps toward your goal. If you’re driving across Pennsylvania, you may make detours to visit the Anthracite Museum or Gettysburg, but how will those stops contribute to the overall experience of the trip? How will they help bring you to the end of the book? Do they support a transformation that happens in the book? Do they expand or contribute to themes you’re working toward?
Grant Clauser, How to Organize or Arrange A Poetry Book, GPS Style

*

Manuscript 1 is my Church Ladies collection–nearly complete with about 60ish poems, a large number placed in literary magazines already. I’ve got a full vision for this manuscript, right down to the table of contents, and it is exciting to see it almost finished. The poems are primarily in persona, from the point of view of various ladies from church history–missionaries, saints, pastor’s wives. These poems have required a bit of research so they feel a little more demure and academic than the poems in Manuscript 2.

Manuscript 2 began as a folder of misfit poems–poems I wrote because I was inspired to write them but that weren’t about church ladies. When it so happened that all the poems were centering on a certain theme, I knew this was the core of a new manuscript. This one is riskier for me personally. I’m a firstborn girl and concerned with being “good” so I never wrote things that would make people upset or feel uncomfortable, all the way until a couple of years ago, after writing my first manuscript.

I had the good fortune of having dinner with Sharon Olds, the queen of uncomfortable poetry, and I asked her how she did it, how she wrote things that would make people she loved upset. She said she could either write it now, never let them read it, or wait til they were dead, but she was going to write it. I felt after that, that I needed to give myself Permission to write what I wanted to write–even if I never published it or waited fifty years to publish it, I did not need to censor myself during my writing process.
Renee Emerson, Two Manuscripts Diverged in a Wood…

*

The Emily Dickinson Collages

These were made for an Instagram competition which was organised by The Poetry Society and people linked to the film The Quiet Passion. You can read about the winners and see their splendid work here. Brilliant poet/artist Sophie Herxheimer went on to do a whole series and you can see them on her Instagram.

Mine weren’t in the same league but I like them and they were fun to do: I write each as a poem too.

Out of my window

bold annunciate

the women cooling the flames

as if truth had

never been dis storted

This one has a background of a long bathroom tile, some paint and tissue paper with cut out figures and headlines.
Pam Thompson, “Part of the fun of being …”

*

Take a word, image — slice & dice them through
like sausage (or the stuff of which sausage
is made). Scrap old meanings, & stuff in new.
Things you see but can’t say become bossage,
old words carved into new symbols, bone bright,
delicate & sharp.
PF Anderson, Suicide Sonnet

*

In previous years I felt no impulse, as Orwell put it, “to make political writing into an art”. As a poet I would secretly have agreed with Auden’s In Memory of W B Yeats, where he says that poetry makes nothing happen but survives in the valley of its saying, a way of happening, a mouth; and would have argued that that precisely was the point of poetry, that it did not set out with a specific intention to achieve an aim, but was deeper, more various and more troubling than that: an intuitive enquiry, through language, into some kind of intuitive truth.

And I would have backed that up with Keats’s feeling that we hated poetry that had “a palpable design on us”. Poetry was not an advertisement for our views but an exploration of the nature of things, standing at an angle to action, not a spur to it, or means of it. That which Keats called ‘negative capability’ seemed to be the whole raison d’être of poetry.

It wasn’t that I felt that poetry should be closeted away from the public world but that its necessary engagement with it would be on other terms: as witness, clown, or prophet.

[…]

Last week I was at Lumb Bank tutoring developing poets among whom was a seasoned foreign correspondent who had spent extended periods in Liberia and Rwanda reporting on the carnage there. Having come back he was turning to poetry to find a way of understanding events of which he had given factual accounts. It seemed vital for him to do so. The poetry is harrowing but formal and disciplined. It is not polemical. It is another kind of reportage as filtered through memory and the wounded imagination.
George Szirtes, Worlds on Orwell and Writing: 1 Political Purpose

*

Honey, I love you
like salt in food:

a pinch,
a grain,

a sprinkle’s
all it takes.

Sugar,
I don’t love you like sugar,

but like salt and pepper
for which wars were fought.
Claudia Serea, Don’t ask me to love you like sugar

*

It’s funny, eleven-year-old-me making solo hikes through the woods to the drugstore for Colgate. It’s also awful, because my family was so poisonously miserable, so hostile to the person I was trying to become, that I couldn’t imagine staying in that house one second longer than I absolutely had to. And, of course, freedom was a long time coming, even with scholarships and summer jobs and, eventually, teaching assistantships. As my professional life has demonstrated, I’ll take a certain amount of abuse, playing the long game, as long as I have some safe space in which I can retain dignity, do work that feels worthwhile, and speak my mind.

Take that space away, though, and I’ll break, whether or not I break and run. This is one of the many ways poetry has saved me–reading and writing puts me in an honest place. Plus, while poems contain struggle of all kinds, they also constitute separate worlds it can be a great relief to enter, because good poems are not unjust or disruptive of bodily integrity.

Poetry’s doing just fine during the current political mayhem, but other spaces seem way less safe than they ever did. Not that I ever felt welcome and at home in Lexington, Virginia!–but I had friends’ houses, and a few public spots that I felt comfortable in, and a creek to walk beside. Ever since the co-owner of the Red Hen, a few blocks from my house, took her moral stand against hatred and lies by asking Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave, the full ugliness of where I live has been on inescapable display. Media that are often depressing–from Facebook to the local paper’s editorial page–got vicious; picketers with offensive signs staked out the restaurant, which has not yet been able to reopen; the KKK leafleted our neighborhoods with fliers reading “Boycott the Red Hen” as well as “Wake Up White America.”

I want to get out of here. Aside from short trips, I can’t. My husband just got tenure; I also receive, for my kids, a major tuition benefit, which we need for the next five years. I’m finding it really difficult, however, to negotiate the fight-or-flight response that keeps ripping through my body. I hate living in the middle of the Confederacy. I hate how my government commits abuses in my name.

I said so to my daughter the other night, and she answered something like: I’m not leaving. I’ve committed. I’m going to fix this country.

I know that’s a better answer. I just have to figure out how to get through this woods of bad feeling. To feel peace in my body as a prerequisite for helping make peace in this damaged, damaging place.
Lesley Wheeler, Not fleeing

*

I met [Donald] Hall for the first time when he read with Charles Simic at the Library of Congress in early March 1999. We spoke after the reading and he asked how the Haines anthology was coming along. After that we continued to correspond until we met again in the autumn of 2000 when he gave a reading from Kenyon’s posthumous collection, One Hundred White Daffodils, at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. I was there doing literary research at the Houghton Library and saw an announcement for the reading on a kiosk in Harvard Yard. That evening I wandered over to the museum after the library had closed and once again I enjoyed a nice conversation with Hall as he inscribed Kenyon’s book to me as “Jane’s remains.” The next day we bumped into each other at the minuscule Grolier’s Poetry Bookshop near Harvard Yard. Hall used to hang out there during his undergraduate days and was making a few purchases before returning to Eagle Pond Farm.

Our correspondence continued for many years after that as age and infirmities began to take their toll on Hall’s body although he continued to reside at his ancient farm up until his death. His mind remained sharp when the well of poems eventually dried up eight years ago. He nevertheless continued to write essays in which he described the afflictions of age. Essays After Eighty appeared in 2014 and he recognized that his own mortal coil was quickly shuffling off. “In a paragraph or two, my prose embodies a momentary victory over fatigue.” Still he kept writing.

Last year I received a nice letter from Hall informing me that he was assembling yet another collection of essays. He included a mock up of the proposed cover – A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety – along with a couple brief excerpts. “In your eighties you are invisible. Nearing ninety you hope nobody sees you.” Just a few days before his passing I wrote to Hall telling him how much I was looking forward to the publication of the new book in July. Unfortunately I doubt he saw my letter, and it is sad to think he will not see the publication of his last book and revel in its success. It will be hard to read knowing Hall is no longer among us. Writing about his friend Richard Wilbur, who died last year at age 96: “In his work he ought to survive, but probably, like most of us, he won’t.” I disagree. I am certain Hall’s legacy will live beyond my own years.

Today Donald Hall was buried beside his beloved Jane in Proctor Cemetery, sharing the “double solitude” they experienced together for two decades at nearby Eagle Pond Farm. But his poetry and prose will remain with us as we carry on – Don’s remains. They are his prodigy, his miracles of art.
Steven B. Rogers, The Miracles of Art: Remembering Donald Hall

*

At this point the surgeon reads morbidity into
the shift and twist of tissue,
the plasticity of form,
the salt and vinegar of spirit.

And from then, back on the street,
you may glimpse over and again
around the crook of each and every corner,

mortality’s black sleeve flapping
like a torn flag.
Dick Jones, Fragile

*

Some might keep ashes,
but I dig from your compost patch,
the place where you buried
the scraps left from every meal you ever ate.

You followed the almanac’s instructions,
but I don’t have that resource.
I blend your Carolina dirt
with the sandy soil that roots
my mango tree.

Some of it I keep in a jar
that once held Duke’s mayonnaise.
I place it on the mantel
of the fireplace I rarely use,
to keep watch with a half burned
candle and a shell
from a distant vacation.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Tuesday: “Artifacts”

*

Inadvertently, I discovered conditioning on my own, when I was about twelve. I decided to study some things I was afraid of–spiders, bees, darkness–and managed to unlearn the fear. It does not work with everything: I’m still acrophobic.

My biggest fear was one most human beings acknowledge–the fear of death. From the time I was quite small, I worried and feared and had trouble getting to sleep because my mind raced around the Big Unknown of what it would be like to die. Many years into my adult life, I decided to explore that fear through my usual method: self-education. I read novels and medical texts and philosophy and religious works in the process. Finally, after visiting an ICU many times during the serious illness of a best-beloved, I decided to sign up as a hospice volunteer.

It’s one way to face death–one sees a great deal of it in hospice care. But the education I received from other caregivers, from the program instructors, and from the patients and their families, has proven immensely valuable to me. Am I afraid of death? Well, sure; but fear of death (thanatophobia) no longer keeps me up nights. I possess a set of skills that helps me recognize how individual each death is–just as each life is. More important still? I treasure and value the small stuff more and am less anxious about the Big Unknown. It’s going to happen, so why agonize over it? This is conditioning. For me, anyway.

Conditioning does not have the same meaning as habituation, because conditioning requires learning and is more “mindful” than habituation. Habituation occurs when we just get accustomed to something and carry on; perhaps we repress our emotions or our values in order to do that carrying on. People can habituate to war, poverty, all kinds of pain, and can make not caring into a habit. We are amazing in our capacity to carry on, but it isn’t necessarily healthy. Getting into the habit of warfare, hatred, ignorance, hiding our feelings, or other hurtful behaviors is often easier than getting into more helpful habits like daily walks. I do not know why that is.

I am, however, endeavoring to condition myself to stay awake to new perspectives, to stay inquisitive, to plumb the world to find, if not beauty, at least understanding and compassion and gratitude. Maybe one day I will even manage to get that perspective from somewhere very, very high up… [yikes!]
Ann E. Michael, Conditioning

*

Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

A~It is the human heart on fire.

Q~Tell us more about Collective Unrest. Why did you found it? What do you hope to accomplish?

A~My friend, Mat, and I had this idea for a magazine that is solely focused on social justice, humanity, and unity. We are both anti-Trump and everything that he and his administration stand for, as are hundreds of thousands of artists around the world. But Trump is just one piece of the puzzle. As much as we despise him, there has been injustice in the world ever since human beings came to be. We want to highlight the human experience in the face of discrimination, cruelty, abuse, oppression, or otherwise. We want to humanize the victims of injustice through their art and expression. Our goal is to create a safe space for people who are feeling unsettled, terrified, angry, and powerless.
Bekah Steimel, my allergy pills / an interview with poet Marisa Crane

*

Last year, Big Machine – a storm of an album by Eliza Carthy and The Wayward Band – won awards and was performed at festivals and venues up and down the land. Outside of The Wayward Band was another contributor, Dizraeli aka Rowan Sawday. I remember when I first saw Dizraeli and The Small Gods at the Beautiful Days festival perhaps ten years ago and I was struck by Dizraeli’s fusion of politics and rhythm and The Small God’s fusion of rap with reggae, folk and Balkan music. For someone who is a mix of many things, it was inspiring to see.

Dizraeli is a rapper and poet from Bristol in the South of England. He moved to London to seek his fortune, and brought out his first solo album in 2009. He joins the bombastic Big Machine album to rap over Eliza Carthy’s vocals and the band’s instruments on the track You Know Me. You Know Me is about the UK’s strong tradition of hospitality – do we extend it to people fleeing conflicts? The refrain of the song, “the fruit in our garden is good” is a reference to Jesus’ words about the people who follow him. Eliza Carthy said that You Know Me reminds her of her great- grandmother’s quoting of the Bible, when Jesus said we are to serve others and in doing so, we won’t know it, but we may have been serving angels disguised as humans in need.

On the second CD of Big Machine, all the music is stripped away and allows us to hear Dizraeli the poet. He recites Aleppo As It Was. He reminds us that Syria was a thriving and wealthy nation with computers and all the trappings of modern life, with citizens who were friends who worked in their professions and welcomed each other in the cafes. And then Dizraeli reminds us that the way these people are described by our politicians in their hour of need is dehumanising. These people were referred to as insects, cockroaches, so that people like you and me would not view them as fellow human beings who deserve a safe place to sleep. Dizraeli, in pausing the music on Big Machine, makes us pause and reflect on our own lives and responses to people in need.
Catherine Hume, Dizraeli, Tim Matthew and Eliza Carthy

*

I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. As a young child, I spent many a night reading by torchlight under the bed covers. Aged 8, I’d cycle to the nearest branch library just over half a mile away and spend my Saturdays getting lost in the worlds of books. During school holidays, I’d sometimes take a book into the blissful silence of the reference room and copy out whole passages, for the love of words. O’ and A’ level English Lit followed by a B. Ed degree (English Lit and History) meant I did fall out of love with reading for a while (all those holidays spent chewing my way through set books for the following term’s syllabus). Then we emigrated to South Africa and, when the new life we’d craved seemed largely unfamiliar and daunting, the town’s public library became my sanctuary.

I don’t remember when I went from borrowing books to buying books. Perhaps it began with the appearance of cheap paperbacks on supermarket shelves. Or when library stocks no longer satisfied my growing appetite for poetry. But I do know that, for years now, my buying habit has out-stripped both my reading speed (I’m a slow reader as I sub-vocalise everything) and available time for reading. Concerted efforts to quit have been short-lived. My habit is fed by my poetry social life, social media links to reviews, publishers/small presses, book vloggers, etc. My collection of poetry books remains relatively intact despite a massive cull of ‘stuff’ when we down-sized last year. The reading of poetry is a vital part of my writing process and my ongoing education. Much of what I read is published by small presses and unavailable on library loan. But I do wonder if my buying habit is, in part, consumerism by another name.
Jayne Stanton, Public libraries

*

I’ve just been reading Sarah Passingham’s article, ‘Finding Flow’, in Brittle Star (issue 42). I’ve been lucky enough to have a few poems published in Brittle Star, including one in the current issue.

This poem, entitled ‘Testing the Water’, was definitely written while I was in flow or ‘in the zone’. I remember writing it at a Poetry Business Writing Day. Unlike some of the poems I’ve written there which have gone on to have a life of their own, I almost forgot about this one. I typed it up but never sent it anywhere. It was only when skim reading a word document with lots of other poems in it, looking for something to bulk up a submission, that I found this one again. I worked on it, but when it came to sending it out, I chose the original version (a block of text, no line breaks, minor edits on the grammar).

To achieve ‘flow’, Passingham suggests we look at the idea put forward by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, whose argument she summarises as follows: ‘boredom and relaxation need to move into control, but worry and anxiety must be simultaneously channelled towards excitement’.

Control and excitement. Channelling worry and anxiety. All this rings very true to me.
Julie Mellor, Flow

*

I actually meditated on the differences between last year’s solstice – still reeling from a stage IV liver cancer diagnosis, right before the MS flare that sent me to the hospital and left me house-bound for several months with problems eating, talking, and walking and this year’s – relatively calm, despite the first paragraph of this post. Last solstice, I had a coyote sighting on my street – this year, it was a pair of quail and an immature eagle, and seeing a turtle laying eggs in the Japanese garden. I’m learning, slowly, how to manage symptoms, avoiding MS triggers like stress and heat, and after having to be “up” for a day, taking a day of rest. Being thankful that my liver tumors have been “stable.” I’ve learned to appreciate the good days, the small things like the visits of goldfinches and hummingbirds, time spent talking poetry with a friend. I’ve also learned I have to prioritize things that bring joy, because life will certainly bring you enough stress and pain, so it’s important to take an afternoon to just focus on writing, on one other person, or on the changes of the seasons. I am trying to schedule these things in between the necessary evils. I’m trying not to get overwhelmed by the dark.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, After the Storm, and a New Review of PR for Poets