Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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.

Last week, I told someone who’d just read the digest that there’d been 35 quotes in all and they expressed disbelief — it seemed so short, they said (or words to that effect). This week, there are 36… and I can tell you that the hours I spent gathering them went by much too quickly. If posting slows now with Poetry Month behind us, I’ll be sad. True, some may need to gather their breath. But writers never remain silent for long.


From confessions and digressions, open books of hope and secret diaries of dilemmas. From dead air and stringed silences, forward-thinking dreams and counterclockwise insomnia. From what we cannot remember, what we refuse to forget. From broken bones and broken Spanish, broken homes and broken English. The chains from which we escape and the kindred spirits with which we’re linked. We the weary, we the wounded, we the wizened, we the wondrous—we rise.

Rich Ferguson, All the Bright and Battered Places

We have relied
on the promises of the labyrinth:
one path in, no dead ends,
no false turns, not a maze.

We have trusted
that the path leads
to a center that can hold
us all in all our complexities.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, World Labyrinth Day 2020

dog gods tied goose feathers to their ears to sing with wren tongues in the scribbly forest there is always a chance of betrayal there might be a quest monarch butterflies and bees hum straight up through the cloud layer tomato vine perfume on my elegant hands cat on the windowsill taking note animals as protectors animals as rippling safe spaces animals as letters and songs yesterday I found my childhood copy of Charlotte’s Web moth eaten rat chewed from my time in the known world and dog gods tied seaweed to their ears to sing with trout mouths and tomatoes clapped their green hands this morning I rinsed my hair in apple cider vinegar today I’ll scrub the floors and sing today I’ll thank my animal body for crawling out of the fire alive

Rebecca Loudon, corona 17.

I would prefer
America not be
my name but it
is my name &
is the name of
the poem’s market
place & share
holders even its
eventual dead it is
the name of this
lithium ion
battery this soft
ware pharma
ceutical logo
is the name of
the Tower where
I make my cameos
as a face discovered
in a poem’s country

R.M. Haines, Poem After May Day

Sometimes, the numbers on their own speak to us, as they do at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.; at the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia; at the Field of Empty Chairs Memorial to those killed in the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. At such places, the abstract is made conceivable, if still unbearable, through representation in artful form. 

What we don’t get is something more fundamental: the stories of the lives behind the numbers that collectively tell us who we are. 

A paragraph in a “Lives Lost” column, a column-inch obituary, a poem, a recitation of names, a tolling of bells: at most, they remind us, offer glimpses.

What does it mean to grieve if we have only numbers, build memorials based on numbers, but fail to learn and keep alive our stories?

And how do we grieve, knowing there exist throughout the country the counted but the unknown? Who grieves for those buried en masse in the trenches on Hart Island in Long Island Sound? With what certainty do we account for the disappeared and unremembered? For the lost stories of joy and hope?

Maureen E. Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XVI

People are suffering. I’m very worried for small business owners and deeply saddened by all of the boarded up businesses in my neighborhood. The financial hardships will have devastating consequences for years to come. Families have not been able to be with their loved ones when they pass away. Some people will have permanent physical damage from this virus. So a part of me feels very judgmental and irritated by what I deem to be petty complaints and overly-dramatic teeth-gnashing about “how hard it is” from people who are getting paid to work in the comfort of their own homes. I find myself thinking, We’ve gotten soft. We’ve allowed luxury and abundance to weaken us. People used to be tougher, more self-sacrificing and community-minded, stronger in mind and body. People need to buck up, face reality and get their shit together. Now is the time to stop wallowing, tighten up and get into fighting shape. If you didn’t lose your job or your business, or you didn’t lose a loved one, you have no right to be complaining right now. I don’t care about your visible roots or the fact that you can’t go to a cocktail party or that there’s no basketball.

And yet those losses are real and legitimate. Those are things that signify normalcy and a functioning society. Shared culture experiences such as March Madness matter. Visits to the salon matter. Parties matter. All of the things that we are not able to engage in right now are important to maintaining the integrity of a culture and our identity within it. It’s natural to be sad about their loss.

When I thought about it honestly, I realized that my judgmentalness is a projection. A part of me is angry at myself for the grief I’m carrying about my own losses, because I’ve deemed them to be petty compared to what other people are suffering. Yet they are still my losses, they are real, and they hurt–a lot.

Kristen McHenry, On Grief, Loss, Guilt and Judgment: A Little Light Reading

Most of my work meetings begin with a grounding activity, in which we are given some stimulus to help us center our ensuing conversation in our students and families, the majority of whom are people of color and/or living in poverty. The general theme when we are sharing our responses to the stimulus, since we’ve been closed, is this:

We are so fortunate, to be living in the privilege we do. We need to keep at the forefront our families who are not.

True and true.

Fortune is a relative thing, though, isn’t it? (Seriously, after you finish reading, come back and click on this link.)

In comparison to those who are sick, out of work, working on the front lines (which increasingly feels more literal than metaphorical), and/or targeted by bigots, we white educators who are working are fortunate. As an educator who is not providing direct service to students, I am more fortunate (at least in some ways) than those who are. (More than one I know has shared this teacher’s post this week.)

And yet, as the title of a book a therapist once put in my hands claims, The Body Keeps the Score.

I’m writing these words having woken up, again, in pain: spikes in the head, sharp ache in the back (it’s still with me, though not accute). The dull, medicated fuzz is settling in.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Whole enough

It’s been nice to have a cool spring, to enjoy the afternoon hikes I’m taking with my dog each day. And to be honest, this cool, overcast weather matches my mood lately.

This spring has been hard for me. Not only has the pandemic cancelled my book launch and all my readings, I’ve also dealt with some blows in my professional and writing life. I didn’t receive a promotion I was hoping for. My phone died unexpectedly and I had to buy a new one (seriously, why are phones so expensive?!), my car went in for work twice in three weeks, costing nearly $1k each time. And then, the worst – I received a wonderful, amazing rejection.

I know that sounds strange, to call a rejection both wonderful and amazing, but it really was. The press said my poetry was “visceral, vivid, and alive” and if they had the capacity to publish more collections of poetry next year mine would “almost certainly make the cut.” I was both elated and crushed. This was a press I felt was a good fit for my work. And they agreed, but they couldn’t add my book to their roster.

Courtney LeBlanc, Sometimes it Rains

I can’t stop thinking about the trend to make bread and Dali’s obsession with bread. For those of you who have followed Rob’s work over the years, you might remember that as part of a series titled, History of Still Life, he did a riff on Dali’s bread. Essays have been written about Dali’s bread.

We usually think of Dali’s melting clocks and surreal imagery but he said of bread that it “has always been one of the oldest fetishistic and obsessive subjects in my work, the one to which I have remained the most faithful.” Bread is a trope throughout Dali’s work — used to comment on consumerism, mass consumption, capitalism, moral hunger, etc. Bread has the ability to hold so many meanings at once and to resonate through time and take on new connotations and historical moments. Bread is always with us. 

When I think of bread I also think of the words of Gaston Bachelard. On bread in poetry and its place in the memories from childhood he says, “In days of happiness, the world is edible.” And “I am taken by the urge to collect all the warm bread to be found in poetry.” And then, “How they would help me give to memory the great odors of the celebration begun again, or a life which one would take up again, swearing gratitude for the original joys.”  

Perhaps it will be the perfume of baking bread at this time that will permeate children’s memories when they are grown. Perhaps, though lonely, they’ll come away with happier memories than we imagine.

Shawna Lemay, Why Still Life Might Speak to You Now

I’ve been keeping a pandemic journal. In many respects, it reflects what I’m posting on Instagram — baking bread (like everyone else), drinking, exercising in my house, etc.

But what the journal is capturing that social media (mostly) doesn’t is my incredible angst about returning to the office and to normal life after this is all done, whatever “done” means.

I’ve been honest about my struggles with anxiety and the grind, and although pandemic stress (even from my current distance to it) is real, social distancing and lock down have created a kind of comfort and stability that I haven’t had in a while. A fair amount of the pressure — which can come from too few hours in a day — is off. I no longer have to commute back and forth to work. I’m no longer driving 30 minutes each way to the gym. School activities are canceled. My frequent trips to the grocery store have been curtailed. I don’t have to maintain a wardrobe for work or social activities. I no longer eat lunch out several days a week. I am still working, but the hours in my day — even those work hours — feel more like they belong to me.

In thinking about what comes next, I can’t imagine returning to normal. That frenzy was poisonous to me.

And it’s poisonous to all of us. I’ll fully admit I’m a sensitive soul, but going 900 mph all day every day to support a household is terrible for nearly all of us. If we have a choice — and I’m not entirely sure we do — why would we choose it?

And how can we go back, really? If we didn’t know it before, our ability to stock up on and maintain “emergency” supplies is based on our privilege. Our ability to stay safe and social distance is also based in privilege. And whether we’re talking about preventing a contagion or limiting our carbon footprints, what will we do with that privilege after this? Will it remain a selfish force or can we stand up for collective survival?

Carolee Bennett, “ocean’s stomach of inevitability”

Over here in Spain, we’ve been in lockdown, or confinamiento, as we term it, since 15th March. The rules have been that nobody is allowed to leave their house unless it’s to work, shop for essentials or go to the doctor. In other words, no exercise has been permitted outside the home.

These rules have been widely accepted, especially as cases have dropped significantly since their implementation. The good news is that as a consequence today we were able to go out to exercise for the first time. Of course, the rules are still far stricter than in the U.K., as we’re not allowed, for instance, to drive anywhere to have a walk. Moreover, we’re also limited to a certain time slot by age group (ours was 6-10 a.m. or 8-11 p.m.).

We decided to have our first walk in the vineyards that begin about two hundred yards beyond our house. It was exciting to see how much the vines have grown over the past six weeks. As you can see in the first photo below, bunches of grapes are now starting to form. As for the views over the rolling hills, deep blue skies set against clay soil, they’re as gorgeous as ever.

Matthew Stewart, Our first walk

Today, I woke to rampant sunshine and the feeling that maybe, after a couple false start days, but not even enough of those, that spring may finally be going to happen out there with or without us. And at least without me for another month or so. But at least, it’s happening.  On the whole, I’m finding I can feel a little more normal when I avoid the news and social media until later in the day and dive into work–whether that be library or press related immediately when I get up, which sometimes is weirdly very early for me (I’m guessing I finally, after more than a month have caught up on sleep deficit) or sometimes after a nap due to that early rising. I find I can concentrate best if I turn something on that I enjoy, but doesn’t need too much of my attention (I’ve been revisiting The Office this past week.) So there has been more web-curation, and blog posts, and some other things in the hopper.  When I do read the news it’s as troubling, at least nationally, as it was before, even though Illinois seems to continue to be wiser and more cautious than the rest of the country.

Kristy Bowen, may

So, our governor has extended Washington State’s lockdown til May 31. Some things are opening: state parks and elective surgery, some construction. I have a lot of health problems and know I’m at high risk so I’m glad they’re being safe rather than sorry. Some states that opened too soon (Georgia, North Carolina) are already experiencing increased cases. I feel terrible for small business owners, for people who can’t run their businesses during the shutdown. Restaurants in particular will be hard hit. Glenn was working from home since February, and probably will until this fall; even Amazon has announced its tech employees can work from home til October. One in five people in Seattle have filed for unemployment. Meanwhile, things break: cell phones, stand mixers, my laptop. We learn to try to cut our own hair.

I will admit I miss some things – book stores, coffee shops, seeing my little brother on the weekend or taking a trip to one of the beautiful areas around Washington State. Walking around without being terrified of other people; remember that? This month I usually visit Skagit Valley’s tulip festival, hike around the waterfall at Ollalie State Park, or take a trip to Port Townsend or Bainbridge Island. This month, of course, we’re staying close to home. This is one of the only months that we can get outside (too much rain the rest of the year, wildfires during midsummer) so I understand that people are restless.

So, we continue to get by with grocery deliveries and walks around our neighborhood (to avoid people, I mostly walk around abandoned office parks and closed wineries, tbh) and spring continues to bloom. This week, lilacs, azaleas, wisteria. Our lilies were eaten by rabbits (or deer maybe?) but we continue to plant things in the garden.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s May and Lockdown Continues, Reading Stack During a Pandemic, Celebrating a Melancholy Birthday

Despite Georgia’s moronic governor opening businesses and restaurants and letting the shelter-in-place order expire, I’m still in lockdown mode. Here in Atlanta and Fulton County, we have the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying to resume their normal lives by completely ignoring social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. I’m guessing we’ll see a significant spike in cases in a few weeks, especially after this weekend’s sunny weather and a much ballyhooed flyover by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds brought thousands out to the parks and walking trails. I digress.

In the month since I last posted, I’ve done absolutely zero of my own writing (save for putting some stray words and lines into my iPhone that might eventually become poems), but I’ve written enough about COVID-19 for the magazine to fill a new trilogy of novels. My days have been spent posting updates and covering how the pandemic has affected Atlanta. After sitting in front of my computer all day and half the night, the last thing I want to do is even more writing.

Since April was National Poetry Month, there were plenty of online poetry readings. Maybe too many. Many of my interviews for the magazine and all of our staff meetings have been on Zoom and, honestly, I’m kinda over it. Zoom fatigue is real, y’all.

Collin Kelley, I’m still here…

It’s hard to say yet whether April was the worst month for the pandemic in the US, but I’m still glad it’s over! I tried to kick the poetry-writing part of my brain into gear, attempting to write a poem a day and share drafts with a small group of friends. What I wrote was neither great nor daily, but it felt like a productive practice and a way to feel connected across distances. I also devoted time and energy to getting word out about The State She’s In, although time and energy both seemed to be in short supply. (It’s a book about gender and ambition, among other subjects, which is another reason why I’m finding Whitman interesting to reread.) Maybe I’ve set myself up better for May. April’s unpredictability was getting me down so I organized my May class better: M/W for online discussion forums, T/Th for Zoom discussions, and Fridays and weekends, I hope, for poetry revisions, submissions, and publicity.

Any of you poets trying to submit work have probably noticed, too, the rush of editor verdicts lately. I’ve had some acceptances and some rejections (without wanting to assassinate anybody). It probably helps me stay philosophical that another April task was to reject some damn fine poems submitted to Shenandoah (650 subs for 12-15 spots). There was much hair-tearing and teeth-gnashing on my part, truly, so I now mostly see people who reject me not as nepotistic demon kings but as other stressed-out people making hard calls.

Lesley Wheeler, Hope, ambition, and other tricky green things

If you view a chapbook or book as the destination, you’ll almost invariably be let down on some matter of production value, interaction with the editors, or lack of media recognition. No process is perfect, especially if it’s coming after years of anticipation. 

I use the metaphor of book as passport; online or in person, where can a collection can take you? What conversations will it spark? That said, your publisher is not your travel agent. People are often surprised to realize that W. W. Norton doesn’t arrange or fund my participation in readings, conferences, or festivals. I do it all on my own. And there’s a lot to consider about the privileges and iniquities embedded in an attitude of “you make your own path”–that’s not a tidy end to any conversation. But it’s where we need to begin, in understanding the value of contests that yield an artifact of bound pages and a judge’s citation. What I’ve experienced over and over is that what matters most is not a physical book, but the community it fuels. 

Sandra Beasley, What Breaks Through: Poetry Book Contests

The downside of using competitions as a focusing method is the cost of entering competitions.  At the same time, I’m usually contributing a small amount of money to a worthwhile enterprise, a charity, that gives out a lot in terms of support for writers, writer development and public events.

I switch off my phone, I switch off the internet sometimes – when I need to.  I recognise when scrolling is a distraction.  The timer on my phone is a brilliant tool for helping me to focus in small chunks of time.  Sometimes a small chunk of time is all I need.

Sometimes losing focus is a means of providing inspiration.  Mindless scrolling on the internet turns out to not be mindless at all when it leads to an interesting article that leads me to a new writer; a wonderful image leads me to discover a new artist; a recommendation of a programme leads me to a worthwhile series.

Not adhering to a timetable can produce a conversation with someone I wouldn’t usually have connected with at that time.  In my head, I imagine I would like to be the kind of person who sets themselves a daily target of writing 5,000 words a day and doesn’t leave their seat until the words are written.  But I am not that kind of person.  Also, I spent at least five minutes fiddling around taking photographs of my glasses to try to capture a suitable image for this post.

Josephine Corcoran, Discover Prompts: Focus

Writers as famous as Tartt can go years without producing a book and still be part of the scene – they’re talked about in their absence. Other writers aren’t so lucky. One might think that the situation’s easier for poets than for story writers – they can place single poems in magazines, ticking over – but there aren’t that many opportunities available in good magazines, and lead times can be many months. Meanwhile, new graduates from Creative Writing courses flood the market. Consequently there’s a temptation to manage one’s image. If you stand still you’ll get left behind.

In The Poet Tasters Ben Etherington wrote about the Australian scene, pointing out that “a lingering sense of hobbyism can afflict the vocation. Just about anyone who has decided that poetry is their thing, and who has enough private means and persistence, can be confident of edging their way into a scene like Australia’s. Even long-established poets can be nagged by the feeling that the aesthetic communities from which they gain recognition only reflect back the effort they put in; miss a few readings, take a break from publishing, leave an editorial post and you and your work might disappear.

I can think of a few poets for whom that nagging feeling was confirmed by what happened after their death.

Tim Love, Visibility in the literary scene

Days pass strangely of late. I move through the rooms of my house in all the normal ways — eat food, watch TV, work, read, or clean — and yet there’s an oddness in every peripheral.

Time passes — quick, quick, slow.

Nothing is normal — and it’s hard to know how to feel when nothing is normal.

Today, I get to announce the wonderful news that Twelve, my chapbook of prose poems based on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” will be published by Interstellar Flight Press later this year.

I’m delighted — of course I’m delighted. Though some small part of me wonders if, considering everything that’s going on in the world, all the stress and doubt and fear, whether I should be subdued in my excitement, more respectful of those who are struggling right now.

But here’s the thing, I think the world needs good news. It needs victories great and small. It needs celebration in whatever small spades that life can offer.

Andrea Blythe, A Bit of Good News

I am pleased to announce the publication of a new collection of poems. “Being Many Seeds” won the Grayson Books Chapbook Contest and has just been released into the world:graysonbooks.com.

The collection is a hybrid thing in that, in addition to the poems, running across the bottom of each page of poetry is a brief essay of some thoughts about the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit priest and paleontologist. Plus each poem has three parts: the first poem, then another poem I “found” inside it by erasing some of the words, then a third such erasure, with each iteration either distilling, moving away from, or suggesting something different from the original poem. I’d say the theme of the collection is our connection to each other and to the earth.

It is a “chapbook” of poems, which is a common form in the poetry world meaning that it is about half the length of a full-length collection, and tends to be more thematically focused than a full-length, but also, since it is staple-bound rather than having a spine, it is a format often not sold in bookstores, as it has no shelf presence, nor carried by libraries. Buying a copy from the publisher helps this little press keep up its good work of getting poetry into the world.

I also have a stash of copies and will likely keep a box in my car, should we ever see each other again.

But if you are creative in some other realm and commit to trying to use this collection as a leaping off point for a creative work — turn the pages into origami, bake a poem cake, compose a symphony, dance a quadrille while humming the poems, soak the pages into a pulp and make sculpture, knit a poem scarf, whatever — I’ll send you a book for free right now!

Marilyn McCabe, I write the book; or, On My New Book of Poems

I’ve become quietly addicted to these little poems – click here to view the above.

For me, they’re the perfect antidote (or do I mean complement) to both the restrictions of lockdown and the long haul of editing my novel. I have 6 short films on You Tube now. The quality is variable, but given the restrictions of the equipment I’m using, plus my woeful lack of technical expertise, they are the best I can do for the moment. My focus, inevitably, has been on small things, the here and now: sun and rain, blossom and bees. Having said that, by really honing down the writing, and closing in on what I’m observing, other possibilities and meanings seem to open up.

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown

Cat Stevens’ voice breaks
when he sings the word “listen.”
Hummingbird flies off.

Jason Crane, haiku: 28 April 2020

had my death never happened :: who would listen to the rain

Grant Hackett [no title]

She leans over the microscope,
an incandescent eye, radiant
and restrained. Her dragons are shapechangers,
quiescent one moment, knit with stars
the next. They sidestep each question
like a dancer, a duelist,
incomplete but still close,
an invitation
(what will you do,
what won’t you)
with no
way
to say
yes. Or not.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah, Immortal

One metre fifty
from each other. In the queue
of lost needless things.

Behind a mask, eyes
that do not try hard language,
they’re soft and get it

that you’re vulnerable
too. Then the distance moves on,
fast to someone else,

before one must speak.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time (April – Part 2)

Today’s prompt challenges us to “write a poem about something that returns. For, just as the swallows come back to Capistrano each year, NaPoWriMo and GloPoWriMo will ride again!” ~ NaPoWriMo, Day 30

Once again, NaPoWriMo has been a wild, exuberant, insanely rewarding experience! I’m beyond grateful to Maureen Thorson for her delightful prompts and for the community she brings together every year. And I’m grateful to everyone who has been supportive and kind and endlessly enthusiastic about poetry.

I love this last prompt because it ends on a hopeful note. NaPoWriMo will indeed return next year. I know I’ll miss it this May, when my poetry-writing routine suffers from a lack of discipline (self-imposed deadlines don’t seem quite as urgent). And you know what else will return? Birthdays. Here’s a photo of the gluten-free cake my daughter made for me yesterday. And a photo of the meal my husband and son prepared for me in secret–and included some Romanian dishes. And a photo of the cards my kids wrote for me that brought me to my knees. It’s terrible how we forget sometimes how much we’re loved.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 30

In between working and crashing out on the sofa from too much screen time and sadness (are they the same thing? Discuss) the other day a line of a poem I have not read in twenty (?) or so years came to me: ‘I haven’t had time to stand and fart recently’. I first read it in the late and much missed poetry magazine Smiths Knoll, jointly edited at that time by Roy Blackman  Michael Laskey. I am guessing this must have been sometime in the early 1990s, when I was heroically trying to read everything I could get my hands on (a feat which I am very late in the day coming to realise I failed). Still, there was Smiths Knoll and The North and The Rialto  and Tears in the Fence and this thing I took a punt on one wild day called Scratch.

Links were being made. Tentative, pre-internet-and-email friendships, with things we still call paper and envelopes and stamps. Janet Fisher rang me up once about a poem and it was like a visit from Royalty. (I had to lie down then, too.) It turned out Mark Robinson was editor of said Scratch, so his name jumped off the page at me as I read about farting and love and poverty and anger and struggling. It appeared a few years later in one of my all-time favourite collections of poems, his debut with Stride, The Horse Burning Park.

Not remembering anything about the poem except its first line, I took down Mark’s New and Selected (Horse Burning is in my office at work…) yesterday and spent a very happy hour revisiting some (very old) favourites as well as making some startling new acquaintances. His tone, subject matter and political concerns are amazingly consistent. Reading the poem again now I am struck by how prescient it feels to our current moment: ‘spinning on the spot like a mad dog’; ‘Passing / on the street’; ‘I am hurrying, from one tired place / to another’; feeling ‘happier / on less’; and that remarkable couplet about poverty.

Now, in spite of what they told me at school, I am not stupid. This is a poem written nearly thirty years ago. It isn’t ‘about’ coronavirus or the lockdown any more than my left foot is. But what did happen is that it appeared when I needed it to, just like that, and that felt like a good thing in a week in which struggling has been the main thing. Years and years later, another connection, unasked for as Seamus Heaney might say. Another way of feeling and being alive.

Anthony Wilson, Struggling

How many lives will be
claimed when this
pandemic is finally history?
That, and for how long

this enforced isolation will
continue are a fatal mystery.
But you and I are blessed
that while living through

such stressful times, we are
one another’s shelter in place,
each other’s compassionate grace.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Pandemic Wonder, for Andy

– My wife and I are right at 2 months of sheltering at home. At times it is almost blissful; we love each other, our marriage is a good one, we still make each other laugh.

– Sometimes one of us will break down. Maybe it was the latest update of deaths, or maybe the talk of death takes one of us, or both of us, back to the grief of losing our youngest son at age 25, just 3 years ago. Sometimes it just happens. No reason needed.

– We both miss going to church, the movies, the coffee shops and cafes, getting our hair cut. My wife misses shopping; I detest shopping. But my God! My poetry readings! Holy crap.

James Lee Jobe, 29 April 2020 – The COVID-19 List

HOLD FAST, Holly J. Hughes. Empty Bowl, 14172 Madrona Drive, Anacortes, Washington 98221, 2020, 115 pages, $16 paper, www.emptybowl.org.

Rereading Hold Fast made my day. Among other superlatives I can offer about this collection, it’s a perfect book to hole up with during a pandemic. I knew this before Claudia Castro Luna, writing for The Seattle Times, closed her editorial (“Sheltering in Place, Our Inner Poet Soars”) with Hughes’s poem, “Holdfast.” (Click on the link to read Castro Luna’s wise words.)

One paradox of these poems is the way Hughes manages a deft and powerful critique of the world, while celebrating it: “all that can’t be said…./ the bodies, the dreams, the shattered stars flowing down / to where the river weaves the mustn’t tell with the imagined, / the unseen, the unheard, the fragile….” (“If the River”).

Bethany Reid, Holly J. Hughes

Water is not—
at the same time is more than—
two drops fixed by gold wire
and dangling from the earlobe.
Put it to bed in a box flocked
with velvet.
Carry it cupped
in both hands as you walk
through a field that feels
larger than any sense of yourself
that you know. But still tenderly.

Luisa A Igloria, After many years, the river runs into the river

Apparently we’re now all feasting on The Repair Shop and reruns of The Vicar of Dibley. The skies are bluer and quieter than ever, all the better to hear birdsong. Stars are brighter, if you have access to outdoor space at night time. I realise these are terrible times for so many people and I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’m not facing financial ruin, I’m ‘locked down’ in the company of my best friend and I have a garden. I’m able to appreciate Spring and watch things grow. Just the word grow makes me slow down. So what if I haven’t written any stonking new poems lately. I have a few ideas, but they need time to grow. SloPo seems to have come into its own. […]

I enjoyed reading an interview with Julia Cameron in the Sunday Times last week, (apologies if this is behind a paywall) on dealing with social isolation (“As westerners, we have a hard time sitting and doing nothing”). I remember reading The Artist’s Way and struggled to follow its advice. There’s something about ‘free writing’ that feels to me like the opposite: I feel restricted, I regress to cliche, old reminiscences, boring language and prosaic nonsense. An advocate might say ‘yes that’s the idea – not to think, just write’. But sadly it doesn’t free me up. I guess I could adapt the daily free writing to something else: word games around a theme or something that at least begins with a structure.

Robin Houghton, SloPo

Again, the violet bows to the lily.
Again, the rose is tearing off her gown!
   ~ Rumi

I am trying to make more sense of Rumi. He seems to transcend all religions, and speak to all people. We could use more of that. Even in our tragic moments when life is challenged and hinges on the edge of tipping one way or the other, we still have people driven and divided by fear and ignorance. The fear is natural. We all experience it at times. But when fear is fed by ignorance, the results are never good.

Just as I believe Rumi has a lot to offer us to better our life, call me a romantic if you wish, but I still believe poetry matters. I believe we can find our tattered and torn self in poetry. I have been reading Like A Bird of a Thousand Wings, by Melissa Studdard. Her words seem to be taking up residence in my soul.

Self is a place
we keep getting sewn back into.
We fly away.
It sews us back. We tear
the fabric, here comes the needle.
 ~ Melissa Studdard – But Who Will Hear You From So Far Across The Sky?
From Like A Bird of A Thousand Wings.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – How Are You?

After I had my strokes in my early 30s, I did a lot of reading and thinking and praying and spiritual direction, trying to come to terms with the mortality they had shown me. I studied the Baal Shem Tov’s writing on equanimity. I journaled endlessly. Eventually I reached the conclusion that yes, I could die at any time. But until that happens, my job is to live as best I can.

The strokes brought home my participation in our common human mortality. In truth, none of us know when our lives will end. I don’t mean that to be depressing or paralyzing: on the contrary! I mean it as a reminder that the only time we have is now. The time to be the person we want to be is now. Because now is what we have. It’s all anyone has. It’s all anyone has ever had.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” wrote Mary Oliver. This, right now, is our wild and precious life. Even in quarantine or lockdown or shelter-in-place. Even in uncertainty. (Especially in uncertainty.) Life isn’t on pause until a hoped-for return to normalcy comes. This is life, right here, right now. Our job is to live it as best we can.

Even with the possibility that we’re already incubating the virus. Because so what if I am? What can I do about it, other than what I’m already doing: wearing a mask in public, keeping my distance to protect others in case I’m an asymptomatic carrier, and meanwhile doing what I can to care for my child, my congregation, my beloveds, in the ways that are open to me?

Rachel Barenblat, With both eyes open

On the virtual Camino today our guide takes us past ruins, which I suppose have a particular resonance in our imagination these days. I love ruins. It’s easy to romanticize when the darker ages become concepts we can wear like heirlooms. Vicarious courage? Maybe a more generous perspective would be a connection to the hopes and fears of previous generations?

It’s funny. This plague. It does not feel like a “dark” age. It feels plastic and slick-yellow.

Ah, but the sky. Yesterday the blues were soothing. Today the grays are varied, dark as stones – and still soothing. A variable constant.

I grabbed the mail at the beginning our walk around the block. Silly, but a book in the mailbox will override common sense. The cardboard of the package soaked through by the time we got home. Leonard shook a cup-full of rain over the walls in the entrance hall while I opened the package. I don’t care. It’s a book written by a friend from long ago, whom I’m grateful to have reconnected with recently.

I have thought about gratitude before on this virtual Camino. How sometimes it doesn’t come honestly to me, and how I choose to open myself to delight instead – and let gratitude come. This, if I find easier. Small delights. Dog-flops and hugs, and the I-don’t-care-if-my-house-needs-vacuuming-come-in moments.

Ren Powell, Letting Go of The Facade

meeting an old friend‬
‪and the pain‬
‪of backing away‬
‪does not go away‬
‪with our smiles‬
‪stretching thinner‬
‪and thinner‬
‪passing by on the other side‬
‪with our thoughts‬

Jim Young, anti-social distancing

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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. This week, another onslaught of blog posts in my feed reader as a few more long-dormant bloggers emerged, now to post GloPoWriMo poems. Others, meanwhile, report feeling blocked or frustrated. Some are in domestic productivity mode. Some are fighting the virus. A few are too busy to feel much of anything but exhaustion or rage. By and large, it sounds as if poets are rising to the occasion.


The milk is spoiling, or has finished the job. The apple-a-day calendar is stuck at March 13, when I flew off despite misgivings about flying. Luckily I’d emptied the garbage, as I always do before leaving. The refrigerator and its white noise set to perpetual.

The collage clippings are scattered on the table, the needles are sunk in the pincushion at a courteous distance. Books, clothes… if I’d only thought a little further. My bag was lightly packed.

Sarah J Sloat, The empty apartment

Of course we introverts have feelings.  We know that real grief is sometimes too deep for words.  The Covid-19 plague blew in with a whiplash of emotional states, laced with adrenaline and black humor.  I made jokes, rolled my eyes in the vertigo of each shifting reality, rode the waves of social media — until the torrent of words, emotions, anger, f-words, words, words, f-words, knocked me down.

What exhausted me was the snap mastery, the fear-driven rush to judgment.  Then the need, akin to the Biblical Job’s friends, to mouth all-knowing vindications of tragedy.  It didn’t leave much room for the kind of tongue-tied response of silence and awe that made me sit, shaken and numb and full of longing. I pulled in and pulled from my shelf the books of my companion poets.  In the language game, whose words would stand up to reality? Great artists who had taken harrowing journeys and sent word back.  Those guides brought me across the void, helped me mourn and feel sorrow for the immensity of what is being lost.

The weeks since then have been spinning by.  Spring is celebrating itself.  Pink buds wave towards the future while we are stuck on reruns.  The new reality is taking shape.  It is technological.  It is busy while being stilled.  It used to be a metaphor that if you’re not online, you’re invisible.  Now it is a reality.  

Jill Pearlman, The Introvert’s Guide to the New Reality

Being an extrovert means I get energy from being around other people. This is one reason I love, and very much miss, my gym. It’s not just that the OrangeTheory Fitness workouts are hard and great, it’s that I’m working out with a group of people. And because my preferred time to workout was 5am, I was working out with the same group of early risers every morning. We were a community who knew each other by name and chatted happily, if sometimes sleepily, before starting our workout. Now my days start with a solo run, followed by solo yoga and solo TRX and then a solo hike with my dog. I’m still fit and healthy but I miss people. I miss high-fiving friends after a hard set, or cheering on someone as they push hard on the rower or treadmill or pick up heavier weights than usual. I miss the comradery.

Poetry is what I usually turn to in times of emotional turmoil but lately, the words haven’t been flowing as much as I’d like. April is National Poetry Month and in years past I’ve participated in 30/30 – 30 poems in 30 days, writing one poem per day. This year I’m not setting this goal as I don’t honestly think I’d be able to do it and I don’t want to feel bad or guilty or like I’m underachieving if I don’t write a poem each day. Instead I’m reading a lot of poetry and when the words come, I capture them, grateful to have them and have this outlet.

So I’m celebrating National Poetry Month by being gentle with myself, by being kind to myself, and not setting expectations so high that I’m certain to be disappointed. I’m surrounding myself with beautiful words and hopefully, this will inspire me to write some of my own. But this year, it’s okay if it doesn’t. This year is different from any I’ve experienced and so I’m taking it a day at a time, letting my heart lead me where it needs to go.

Courtney LeBlanc, Celebrating

As a comfort during this strange and difficult time, I am re-reading Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, first read in childhood. I recalled the March family hunkered at home during the war between the states, their father off serving as a chaplain for the army, but little did I know quite how much their situation would resonate now!

When I picked up my book this morning, opening to where my bookmark had fallen in place the night before, the little women and their mother had received news of the illness of Mr. March. Illness in war is common, and our big flu pandemic of 1918 happened in war, and here we are again. So Marmee, as her daughters call her, packs a trunk and heads off to tend him, leaving the little women on their own, in the care of Hannah the cook, and with the protection of the neighbor, Mr. Laurence, and his grandson, Laurie.

The next morning, they wake to the completely changed circumstances. “’I feel as if there had been an earthquake,’ said Jo…” Indeed!

Kathleen Kirk, The Pertinence of Little Women

yes i do kiss you
right now in plain sight
right here on this park bench

in front of the ducks
in front of the trees
still bare from winter

in front of the broken
clouds in front
of the person

biking past
face covered
with a bandana

bandit-style
in front of the person
with the Ronald-

McDonald hair
turning away
from two old people

kissing, standing,
walking this little dog
crowding our feet, one

of your hands filled
with litter collected from
the river bank the other filled

with mine yes do hold
my hand, hold my hand,
hold tighter

Sharon Brogan, Day One of the Pandemic

Strange to move so poorly in these woods, shortened steps so slow: the last time I moved with such caution in here it was my back that was halved. Freshly screwed and stapled, bones on fire and nerve signals still scrambled: the risk of falling was severance, then.

Now, it’s lungs on fire, covid’s chest-spreader cracking sternum on each breath.

But better, today, eighteen days in: enough that I can slow-walk crackle and snap past the vixen’s den and down, all the way to the stream, past vulpine latrine (territory’ edge) and deer, past bear scat and scratches.

Quartz extrusions, some lifted into walls, some still in situ, are bleached to bone.

Near the water, a snapped pine is a hundred years of falling in a moss-encroached grave. It means something different to me than to others here.

In this difference, the severance. The fall.

JJS, Crack

The tradition says each of us is to see ourselves as though we ourselves had been brought out of Mitzrayim. I don’t know about you, but the idea that we are living in Mitzrayim — the Narrow Place; tight constriction; dire straits — feels very real to me this year. If we are feeling constricted, anxious, afraid, uncertain, maybe newly-aware of some of our society’s fundamental inequalities and the harm they cause to the most vulnerable… then we are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be.

When we left that Narrow Place, we didn’t know where we were going. We didn’t have time to fully prepare for our journey of transformation. We didn’t know where we were going or how we would get there. We left the Narrow Place anyway, because it had become clear that staying where we were — staying with the status quo — meant death. If we are feeling unready, unprepared, maybe thrust into a journey we don’t know how to take… then we are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be.

Rachel Barenblat, We are exactly where the Pesach story calls us to be

I signed up to receive daily writing prompts from Two Sylvias Press, and I’m planning to go back to them at some point, but I can’t find the release valve on my writing brain to let the words just come.

Instead, I catch myself staring out the window for long stretches, watching the new hickory leaves unfurl. I’ve been walking my dog and letting him get filthy in the pond where pollen pools on the surface like a film of a crushed hard boiled egg yolk. I’m washing my hands probably more than I need to, considering the raw, chapped patches on the left hand.

I’ve re-started my personal yoga practice finally, although I have taken a few Zoom classes. It’s hard for me to pin myself down to a specific time to practice now that the classes are streamed live. When I’m home, I don’t usually keep to a schedule.

But maybe a schedule is what I need, especially if I want to beckon my creative mind. Sitting myself at my desk or out on the back porch with a pen and a notebook every day, just like I roll out my mat. Yoga, meditation, and writing are interconnected for me. One leads to another.

As far as The Wasteland goes, last year I was emerging from a painful depression during April, and I agreed with Eliot’s first line that “April is the cruelest month,” though maybe it was for different reasons than his own intentions for writing.

This year April is also a cruel month. Just when the earth is greening in the Northern hemisphere, thousands of people are dying. It’s a sorrow that’s hard to reconcile with the season.

Christine Swint, Poetry Month

My English A-level was combined Language and Literature. I had a different teacher for each, and each had their own collection of classrooms. There is no denying that studying Thomas Hardy’s poetry from a language perspective was a huge influence in starting me writing my own poems, but a heavily-annotated copy of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Other Poems — not much larger than a pamphlet — was, and remains, a definite influence on my writing. I suspect that if it’d not been heavily annotated then it wouldn’t have fired my imagination. Learning how a poet could hide so many meanings beneath the words was fascinating. We weren’t studying Eliot at all, I found the book at the back of a cupboard, but I took the book home and devoured it!

Giles L. Turnbull, The Top Ten Books that have Inspired me (as a Reader and a Writer), Part 1

We have gained some perspective in the pandemic. We now know that Italo Calvino would have been more useful as a grocer. Clarice should have been an emergency doctor. And, of course, Mark Rothko should have used his time more wisely and become a rich businessman. Mir Taqi Mir should have at least composed a couplet in praise of Dettol’s scent. And Ghalib should have been a manufacturer of hand sanitizers. We have certainly gained some perspective. Pianos should be repurposed into something that will be more useful to society. I demand that from now on no resource should be wasted on the production of canvases or brushes. Every piece of stone should be used to build a useful building. I know I sound a bit radical but – hear me out – I think even flowers should be replaced with vegetables. The pandemic has taught us some important lessons. Alas, history cannot be changed! If only physics had enough funding, we would’ve been able to travel back in time and knock some sense into Bach’s head. Oh what a waste of talent! But at least now we have learnt our lesson. The other day, I don’t know why a man looked at me like I were crazy when I asked him which page of Baudelaire should be used as toilet paper first?

Saudamini Deo, Lockdown diary / 5-6-7-8

My watch conked out yesterday. Suddenly it was half past five and actually it was five to six. So now I live watch-less.

Just as well. I have started reading How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell (thank you Shawna Lemay for the recommendation):

Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram act like dams that capitalize on our natural interest in others and an ageless need for community, hijacking and frustrating our most innate desires, and profiting from them. Solitude, observation, and simple conviviality should be recognized not only as ends in and of themselves, but inalienable rights belonging to anyone lucky enough to be alive.’ 

Well, I have been having quite a lot of conviviality and connection right by my front gate, thanks to being in the garden so much. I have had more conversation these last two weeks than I have had for months. Even with strangers.

What is that telling me?

Anthony Wilson, Practice

I have washed my hands for twenty seconds
with soap and music. I have gloves to wear.
I have dreamed up a house with invisible walls
That let me see the sun and the moon and the trees,
Oh let me be trapped there for forty days
And forty nights, like Jesus in the desert.

James Lee Jobe, I have washed my hands for twenty seconds

So how barbaric is it to write poetry during a pandemic? How wrong to suppress a pang of guilt at the thought that there are people dying out there, while I’m fiddling with words? And if I need to keep fiddling to stay sane, should I perhaps hide that discordant, painful music under a bushel?

I keep hearing from friends, family, and the ubiquitous newsfeed in my mailbox that things will get worse before they get better. Things already are unimaginably tragic for so many families around the world. I’m afraid that thinking of worse things yet to come might somehow bring them into being. I must shift my focus or succumb to anguish for my children’s future.

Outside, the birds, the insects, the trees, and the flowers are busy making spring happen. I feel joy and gratitude when I watch them. Their tiniest gestures acquire instant symbolism, becoming a sign of hope, of resilience, of triumph over despair. All around me, nature breathes and sends her messengers to knock on my doors, my windows, my forehead. They all know something I don’t–or have chosen not to acknowledge. Not yet. I must keep watch. Any day now, I’ll find out what nature has been hiding from me. What she’s been telling me all along.

So there it is, my reason for fiddling. I’m trying to bring about spring. It’s the only way I know how.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMo 2020: Poetry from the trenches, Day 0

If you had asked me 3 days ago how I was, I’d probably have broken down in tears. Home schooling is breaking me, but I’ve had a few days respite as the kids were away to their dad’s so I’ve been able to catch up with my studies, go to the allotment, hang some photos that have been sitting unloved for years, do some reading and crafting and, most importantly for the blog, join in with Angela Carr’s new 30 day writing challenge which coincides with GloPoWriMo (or NaPoWriMo if you insist on being US-centric) the poetry writing month which encourages people to write a poem a day. And so far because of the isolation I’ve been able to keep up. Four new rough drafts done and as soon as I hit Publish for this I’ll start on the next one. 

In honour of GloPoWriMo, I usually include a poem by a poet I like. This time I’m including The Hill Burns by the Scottish writer Nan Shepherd. I have to admit I’ve never read her poems before, but I’ve recently started her book The Living Mountain which is part of a online read-along started by nature writer Rob MacFarlane. I  haven’t been able to keep up with the read-along and discussion, but it’s worth following Rob on Twitter and reading his books, he has a lovely way with words and inspiring people to explore nature and to write about it. I’ve only managed The Wild Places and The Lost Words (written with Jackie Morris and with her beautiful illustrations, a magical book) so far as it’s hard to get his books here, but I’m in a queue of about a million waiting for his latest book Underland once the libraries reopen here in Helsinki. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Three – Chinks of Light

nanny state‬
‪the goats take over‬
‪roaming‬

Jim Young [no title]

I finished reading Margaret Atwood’s 2000 book, Cat’s Eye. After ten years of mostly reading and writing poetry, I’ve regained an appetite for fiction.  I enjoyed the book very much and it felt luxurious to spend long days with the same characters, visiting another section of their lives each time I picked up the book.  It’s hard to replicate that experience when reading poetry. However, at the book’s end, I wasn’t hit by a sensation of something profound, exact and transformative.  I didn’t deeply recognise a human emotion conveyed in the story – or, if I did, the poet in me couldn’t help asking  did we need 421 pages to say that?  Could it have been said in 14 lines?

I’ve had some extremely happy moments this week: discovering that both of my now adult children can cook; watching my 19 year old son teaching himself to do handstands and cartwheels in our back garden; being in awe of my 20 year old student daughter’s ability to focus on her academic work in a houseful of people, one of whom plays his music ridiculously loud.  We’re very lucky to be in lockdown together and not alone.  I’ve felt guilty for feeling happy in the middle of an international crisis.

I’ve been trying to write a poem but I’m scuppered by the old adage of a watched pot never boils.  I need to quickly look away and let the poem do some of its work without me.

Josephine Corcoran, Corona Diary: Lockdown Continues

We should have known it well
it thrives. indeed, on being human
our touching each other; hands on face
speak out loud, droplets & breath
hold on to the handrail
move down the carriage,
use all available space
it’s proximity & closeness
shaking hands, kissing once or twice,
(don’t stand so/don’t stand so close to me)
the embrace, the popping in,
the cup of tea, the walk together,
y’alright mate,
saying cheers, give me five,
would you like a top-up,
anytime, here for you.
And they thought we could raise fences

Ernesto Priego, The Plague

Last April, I challenged myself to write a poem a day and posted the drafts on this blog. That turned out to be a useful experience, but I feel no need to repeat it. This year, I want to post about some new(ish) books of poetry. Not critiques or book reviews, just what the poems evoke for this particular reader.

~

First up– Lynn Levin‘s The Minor Virtues, 2020, Ragged Sky Press. The cover’s appropriate to the month: a lovely image of dogwood blossoms. And I have to admit that what drew me into the book is the charming mundanity of the first few poem titles, in which the speaker is tying shoelaces or buying marked-down produce. Most of the poems in the first section begin with a gerund phrase and place the reader in a present-progressive act of doing something. The poems here feel so grounded in reality (quite a few are sonnets), often humorous–grabbing the wrong wineglass at a banquet, trying to think about nothing–that I immediately settled in to the pages.

The topics, or the reflective closures, move toward seriousness at times; her poem “Dilaudid” shook me awake and left me in admiration for a number of reasons (some of them personal resonance–but). Levin’s humor tends to be intellectual–wordplay, allusions, wry asides–and I revel in that sort of thing. Her approach to craft also works for me, because she’s usually subtle going about form or rhyme schemes, so I enjoy the poem for what it says and means and then enjoy it again for how it’s structured and inventive.

I mean, that’s one way I read poems. There are other ways. Some books carry me pell mell through word-urgency or the writer’s rage or passion and some build lyrical intertwining networks of imagery and some make their own rules and some stagger me with their innovation. And I may have to be in the right mood to read a collection.

I was in the right mood to read Levin’s book. It was a good way to begin National Poetry Month in the midst of stay-at-home mandates, taking me gently through a “normal life” and reminding me of all that is surprising there, the riddles and the unexpected, the minor virtues and the actions we take as we practice them. Whether or not we think of them as virtues.

Ann E. Michael, Reading poems

How many hands move to tell the story when
the voice is lost, the voice is a violin throbbing
with loss, the voice has become a ghost, mute
and moving. The hands beat the body like a drum
and hum, the hands beat the drum as if it tells
the stories, the hands beat and are beaten. That
is the tale that must be told, the surprise ending.

PF Anderson, Shekhinah as Sheherazade

And now, the wisdom/advice/guidance comes for all of us to wear masks when we’re out in public. Of course, the nation faces a shortage of medical grade masks that might actually block the virus, but there’s some thought that a cloth mask might help.

I do have a lot of cloth that I could use to create masks. If only I had time to sew.

I see various types of posts from people who are holed up in quarantine who have made thousands of masks or written the definitive biography of Julian of Norwich or made their thirty-sixth loaf of homemade bread with sourdough starter that they created with native yeasts that they captured in their back yard. I have spent this past work week in the office.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Longest Week

Anyway, long story short, I am masking at work now, and it’s weird both physically and psychologically. It feels alien to have a piece of material covering over half my face. It’s hot, it’s vaguely itchy, it smells disconcertingly medical, and I am brushing my teeth and rinsing with mouthwash multiple times per day because I can’t tolerate even the slightest whiff of odor on my breath. With the amount of coffee I’m sucking down these days, this is a challenge. I’ve always been very paranoid about my breath as it is, and I’m one of those people who compulsively pop Altoids and breath gums. Now there is no escaping the smell of my own breath. I’m going to have a get a handle on this neurosis because skipping lunch and living on Dentyne is not a sustainable option.

With the advent of the mask, I’ve ditched the lipstick (the masks go to be reprocessed and they can’t reprocess a mask that has lipstick stains on it), and I have decided to go minimalist on the makeup. I just brush on a little mascara and call it good, which saves me a remarkable amount of time in the mornings.I’ve also taken to wearing tennis shoes because I’m constantly running to our Entry Control Points to deal with issues and my normal work shoes aren’t great for clocking miles on a hard surface.No one’s said anything about the tennis shoes. The way things are going, I could probably get away with jeans and hoodies at this point.This same sort of sartorial breakdown also happened during the strike, with senior management all but wandering around in their pajamas towards the end. The near-total breakdown of professional appearance is an interesting signifier of a crisis.

Kristen McHenry, Reaction Time, Sartorial Signifier, Future Cave Woman

cornmeal into the blue bowl
flour into the blue bowl
my son stands in the kitchen
to tell me the news
no no not now I say the last
of the baking powder
sifts into the blue bowl people
are dying he says no no
I say salt and sugar
into the blue bowl he tells
me about a ship in New York
I stir with my fingers he
keeps talking I add buttermilk
into the blue bowl he says
there is no room for the bodies
I crack two brown eggs
on the blue bowl’s rim
then I pour in honey
my son describes body bags
lining the harbor worse
than war honey rises to the bowl’s
blue lip I keep pouring honey
oozes out of the blue bowl
onto the counter then the floor
I keep at the honey pouring
pouring the floor thick
with it I can barely move
my feet soon my calves
are covered I pour honey
until it shimmers golden heavy
around my waist fills the kitchen
above my shoulders pressed
to my sides the most intense
perfume I pour in enough honey
to flood the yard now I see the sun
right out that window the sun
stupid and round as any
discarded toy

Rebecca Loudon, corona 10.

Still: dead labor asserts its claim. The workers and exploited ones. Slaves and caretakers. The nameless, lost, derided. The invisible. All the others. The child in the cobalt mine living inside your battery. They live in each head as well as in the complex of social fact. An entire civilization is dedicated to consuming and concealing them. How long does something like this last? How long can it? Never to confront the discarded traces. To build an infinity from denial. Acceleration as the energy required to sustain the denial forestalling absolute cataclysm. Who speaks to and for those inside of us, which we ourselves are inside of in turn? Who admits those who refuse to be part of the “I”?

Rimbaud learned early: “I is an other.” The fundamental insight. As revolutionary and poetic truth.

R.M. Haines, Identity and Its Discontents: Notes on Rimbaud

[…]They bring him wrapped, calf muscles buckled
from what the human body is not meant to do –
walk three hundred miles, drop like a yellowed leaf
to be rested under the cassia tree in full bloom
just a mile from home.

The context:
After the 21 day lockdown in India to contain the spread of Coronavirus, the states have closed their borders, bus and train services have been suspended. The lockdown has left tens of millions of migrant workers unemployed. They are from rural India, small towns and villages, but live most of the year in India’s megacities. Believed to number at least 120 million, possibly more, they are walking to their homes, hundreds or thousands of miles away from where they had migrated for work.

A 23 year old man walking from Nagpur in Maharashtra to Namakkal in Tamil Nadu, after completing 500 kilometers in the summer heat of the southern Indian plains, died of cardiac arrest in Secunderabad, many miles away from home.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Walk

I was surprised to see this week that my writing has finally turned. After months and months of writing despairing poems, I can see more light and hope in my work now. I saw a few glimmers of this before the quarantine, but what I can really pin it down to is my daily practice of writing a single description of what is around me–focusing on the here and now has brought about more hopeful poems. I was hoping to get there, to not write the darkest of poems forever (and it felt like forever). The grief is still there, and the loss, and I don’t suspect that it will go away any time soon or ever, but I am so relieved to see the Light there as well.

Renee Emerson, the turn

(lack begins as a tiny rumble), a brand new collection by my pressmate Caroline Cabrera, belies its title: these hybrid poems, almost lyric essays, brim with language that nourishes me. Pain and grief are starting points, but line by line, with amazing persistence, Cabrera digs herself out of those very dark places. Sisterhood helps, but so does a renegotiation of her relationship with her own body. “The womb is a world,” she writes in one poem, clarifying that image with the eye-opening closure, “Our first act is one of emigration.” In many poems, too, Cabrera unfolds what it means to be a blonde-haired Cuban American: “My skin keeps me safe. My blood, it boils in me.” My own concentration is poor these days, but this book riveted me. Bonus: the collection includes great poems about toxic bosses. I really appreciate poems about toxic bosses.

This book, by the way, feels very much in sisterhood with Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen, star of my last salon, but really I’m just contacting people with new books and posting these interviews in the order I receive them. I’m really enjoying this project, as well as the new books it’s leading me through. Virginia’s governor just gave a stay-at-home order. I totally agree with it, but it makes connecting through writing more important than ever.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Poetry Salon #5 with Caroline Cabrera

This is a tough, tough time for all of us. In that context, it’s important to empathise with others such as publishers who’ve seen their distributors close down, festivals/readings cancel (where poetry is most often sold) and new books lose the impetus of launches. Of course, it also goes without saying that the poets in question are suffering too. They might well have been working away on a manuscript for years, only to find that publication turns into a damp squib.

One of those cases is David J. Costello and his first full collection, Heft, which has just been published by Red Squirrel Press. David had a whole host of launches and readings lined up, but he’s seen all of them gradually disappear for the foreseeable future. I was fortunate enough to read a proof of his book prior to going to press, and here’s the endorsement that I provided:

David Costello’s poetry is especially adept at evoking the passing of time. Throughout this collection, he portrays the ambiguities and ambivalences of relationships between the individual and the collective, the human and the natural, the historical and the present, moving his readers in every poem.’

Moreover, you can read three poems from Heft over at Elizabeth Rimmer’s blog, BurnedThumb, where she generously held a virtual launch for the collection. If that then encourages you to get hold of a copy for yourself, you can do so via the Red Squirrel Press website here.

Matthew Stewart, David J. Costello’s Heft

Scientists say the teeny virus isn’t alive,
exactly, just a bit of protein that possesses
our same uncanny drive to reproduce,
replace, and colonize everything
not itself with acres of its progeny.

O, the irony of being done in
by a beast with our selfsame gluttony.

But love, for this moment now,
let us set aside these fears and feast
on eggs and apples, allow me
to nourish you with all the love I can,
every sacred mouthful.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Feast and Fear in the Time of Coronavirus

There are worse places to shelter. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel an enormous sense of gratitude. And yes, it’s time to think about moving back home. We’re ready–almost.

****

Blogging keeps me limber. Gives me something to do in between binge-watching episodes of Chicago P.D., and 30 Rock with my daughter. It’s also a good way to open up my brainspace to poems.

****

I’m participating in two writing groups for National Poetry Month. Pandemic poetry seems to be a theme in both. Truth is, I have been writing fairly consistently for months. It has certainly ramped up the last three weeks after I broke up with my boyfriend.

January Gill O’Neil, Kibbles and Bits

From the crossweave of the song, I stepped into the cry
of gulls. Sickle wings looped and turned in the dark.
I sat on the wall and thought of home. I lifted my face

into the rain and thought of you and the children. All of you
asleep – your hair auburn-red over the counterpane,
their faces spellbound. And I called along the alleys

of the rain and out across the tenements of clouds
to where you lay sleeping, thinking not to wake you but
just to stand for a heartbeat at the corner of your dreams.

Dick Jones, UNDER BLUE ANCHOR

Despite my frequently dire tone here, I am an idealist and an eternal optimist. (It’s why I’m so often angry and railing.) “This is an opportunity,” I have said to anyone who might listen. “Here is our chance to do things differently, to see our mission differently, to really think about what matters in education.”

Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I mean, maybe. But not this week, and surely not next.

Instead of releasing much of the utter crap that permeates public education, it feels as if our state has doubled down on it (as have many states). We love to talk about “trauma-informed practice” and “culturally-responsive teaching” until we’re blue in the face, but we are about to embark on delivering “education” in a time of tremendous trauma in ways that are likely to exacerbate it, especially for our most vulnerable students.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirus diary #4: the wrong kind of hard

Nearly every day I share stories with a stranger thanks to Quarantine Chat. Recently I talked to an older gentleman in Canada who is staying at his fishing cabin. When we talked he’d just come in from what he said would be the last ice fishing of the season. He reported that, once again, he didn’t catch anything. I asked how often his ice fishing was successful. “It’s always successful, in that I get outside for a few hours of peace. But it’s 100 percent unsuccessful if you mean catching anything after decades of trying,” he said. His good cheer couldn’t help but cheer me. I’ve talked to people in Spain,  Russia, Israel, and many U.S. states — a graduate student, business owner, graphic artist, stay-at-home dad, insurance broker, teenaged musician, police officer. We talk about what we can see out our windows, how our plans have changed, what worries us most, what we’re having for supper. It’s like any conversation, except it’s easier to get past the superficial.

Yesterday’s call was with a retired veteran who said he was really struggling with anxiety. I asked if he had a family story, maybe even from generations ago, that made him feel he and his kids would get through this. He told me about his grandmother, who was the first Black woman in their city to become a bus driver. He called her a “little powerhouse of a lady.” He said she was a woman of faith who also took  “no guff” from anybody. Once, he said, she was robbed as she was walking to the side entrance of her apartment building. She never carried a purse, but pulled a worn Bible out of her coat pocket and told the desperate young man holding a knife, “Take this, it has all my treasure inside.” He grabbed it and ran off, assuming she had money stuffed in its pages. She turned and hurried after him. When he threw it down after rifling it through, she picked it up moments later. The police declined her offer to dust it for finger prints. The veteran said he had lots of stories about his grandmother, and realized he hadn’t told them to his daughters. “I see her in my girls,” he said. “They’ve got her fight and her big heart.”

Laura Grace Weldon, Stories: Now More Than Ever

Don’t socially distance yourself from your inner wisdom.

Don’t wear a noose for a necklace.

Don’t confuse a museum with a mausoleum, or a Cajun with a contagion.

Don’t think Gucci is better than Fauci.

Don’t think life is all one-sided when 6 can be 9.

Don’t confuse your coffee with a coffin, or you may drink yourself to death.

Don’t linger with a bee’s stinger. Don’t hide your wounds when they make you a warrior.

Don’t ask for a half-moon when you want the whole night to shine.

Don’t stop believin’ when self-quarantinin’.

Rich Ferguson, Gucci vs. Fauci

What a difference a week makes… I’ve been attempting to stay positive this week, but it was getting tricky towards the end of the week as work got busier. I heard Susanna Reid (Saint Susanna) mention something called F.O.N.D.A or Fear of Not Doing Anything. A distant cousin of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out – where have you been?), FONDA is a new one of these horrible bloody feelings we’re all meant to have according to the culture sections of broadsheets. Apparently, we’re meant to be using this time to learn Sumerian or how to perform brain surgery and recreate Citizen Kane in stop motion using only Lego minifigs or repurposed Barbie Dolls.

Well fuck that. It’s a lovely idea, and I hope you get the chance to learn a new skill and to make the most of this time. I’ve not seen any evidence of it happening for me yet. I’m too busy, either working or drinking to forget. I can’t concentrate on anything else for long enough.

Add in to this the fact that NaNoWriMo has arrived and that means signs of people being busy/writing loads…It’s almost too much. I’m not anti-NaNoWriMo (despite tweets to the contrary), I just can’t do it.

Mat Riches, Accentuate the positive

Rats in the pantry chew through boxes
of shredded wheat and start in
on the rice. We can’t keep the outside

out, anymore than we can keep
the inside in. In the freezer, a dozen
corpse cows, 40 chickens missing

their heads. How long does it take
to move through that much flesh?
Gnawing our way to hunger with sharp,

angry teeth?

Kristy Bowen, napwrimo  | day 5

Cleaning is what I do when everything else feels out of control. My parents used to ride on me unmercifully for my reluctance to clean my desk, my room, my dresser drawers — I always had something more compelling to do, and it just didn’t feel important; besides, I knew where everything was. Oddly, once I had my own spaces and shared them with a partner, I got neater — though there have always been neglected areas. But when unhappiness or chaos or uncertainty seep into my world, I’ve noticed that I instinctively look for things to do that feel ordered, methodical, and incremental: making a patchwork quilt, knitting stitch after stitch, practicing music or a language, following a complicated recipe, taking the food out of the fridge and scrubbing the shelves. There’s a quiet satisfaction today in opening the door to the spice cabinet and seeing the neatly-labeled jars and tins; maybe today I’ll do another drawer of my desk. It’s all easier than staring at a blank screen, wondering what I can possibly write to make sense of this thing that’s happening to all of us — but, ironically, that time spent doing mundane tasks is when the ideas come, and I’ve learned to trust that, too.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 12. The Spice Cabinet

We are not
what we think
we are

until we
dream: then
we are

what we are,
everywhere
at once.

Tom Montag, We Are Not

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 8

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week’s digest includes posts about the poetry business as most of us actually live it: going to readings and book fairs, meeting up with writer friends, promoting new work, struggling to juggle writing with other commitments, caring for family members, teaching, dreaming, reading, pondering the big questions, and making books and poems out of whatever comes to hand.


So he helps us follow words

by drawing dance steps through the air, dotted
lines that appear like gestures of language

sculpted with his fervor for this, for what
must be said, for what he has said before,

and again, so many times now, waiting
still to be heard by someone who has not

met these words before. Now and then he takes
a step with tenderness, wrapped in woolen

memories as if a child’s blanket curves
and spins around him; he waltzes to words.

PF Anderson, Seeing Ilya Read

I love walking around London and discovering quirky, lost or almost lost sites. Author Paul Talling’s ‘Derelict London’ walks are a must if you’re into this sort of thing and within striking distance of the city. I’ve been on a few of them – but you have to book months ahead, as they fill up within minutes of his posting them online. Subscribe to his email alerts and you’re given a day’s warning so you can be ready on the dot of 9am to hit ‘buy tickets’. Paul’s site is fascinating and labyrinthine, but you can sign up for his emails here if you’re interested the walks.

You may wonder what this has got to do with poetry, but in fact it segues very neatly into a little pamphlet from Tamar Yoseloff’s Hercules Editions that I picked up yesterday, called Formerly. It was the first pamphlet from the press, and a collaboration with photographer Vici Macdonald. Vici’s photos of London’s derelict buildings, ghost adverts and Victorian boozers were the prompts for Tammy’s sonnets. Doorstep sellers, ‘Sweeney’-style low life, barmaids and the dead are some of the voices in these poems, as the poet imagines the people inhabiting these nearly-gone and semi-lost places.  It’s accompanied by a pull-out guide describing the locations, and Vici’s and Tammy’s accompanying notes. Fascinating. I admit I’m a sucker for attractive packaging and Hercules specialise in gorgeous covers – fab fonts, spot varnish and gold leaf abound! The press’s latest publication is Martyn Crucefix’s Cargo of Limbs, which I also bought and am looking forward to reading.

Robin Houghton, Free Verse at Conway Hall

I’m not going to recount the entire half year in this post — but I’ll end with some of the good things: A second book launch in September on Long Island, on my birthday, with friends and family. A trip to Austin, Texas with our children — the first time we’d attempted any kind of family vacation like this — which coincided with the Texas Book Festival, where I signed some books and met more members of Texas Review Press. And a return to the Pen Parentis Annual Winter Poetry Salon, this time with the full-length Fabulous Beast (the last time was with my chapbook), which was celebratory and gratifying and an excellent introduction to some new (to me) fellow parent-writers.

I’m writing new poems and slowly editing my new manuscript, and also applying when and where I can to post-publication awards. I’m trying to support the book and promote it whenever possible without being obsessive and unbearable. The difficulties in securing reviews is a little depressing, but that’s offset by the fact I’ve received some lovely feedback recently — informally and mostly from strangers, but cherished all the same.

Isn’t that really why one writes, and then publishes? In the hope that someone out there is listening?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, It’s Been A Time: The Six Months Recap No One Asked For

Between volleyball matches, at last weekend’s intercity tournament and this weekend’s invitational tournament, I continued to read Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver, and finished it this morning. I was sensing that one of the characters, Mary Treat, who wrote letters to Charles Darwin and Asa Gray, must be a real person, and she was! A naturalist who has plants and ants named after her! I liked her a lot. In the novel, she lets a Venus flytrap gnaw on her finger.

It was a lovely, busy, birthday week for me. The Poetry is Normal open mic at the library resumed for 2020. Our overall theme this year is life itself, its major events, starting with Birth, and, delightfully, our first date coincided with my actual birthday. People read poems on and mostly-on theme, by themselves or others. I gave away candy and books. Our next theme is Childhood, in April, National Poetry Month.

A lovely child named Dusty is born into grief in Unsheltered and is almost ready to walk right into joy at the end.

Kathleen Kirk, Venus Flytrap

Karen Head and I read 300 submissions for the Mother Mary Comes To Me poetry anthology forthcoming from Madville Publishing this fall. We’re getting ready to start sending out acceptance letters and contracts. We’re excited about the work and poets who will appear in this book. We can’t wait for you to see it.

A number of events are on the horizon, including the launch event for Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wear (et alia press) edited by Megan Volpert. I’m one of 75 queer writers who contributed an essay and photo about an article of clothing that define and inspire us. Mine? Black t-shirts, of course. The launch is March 29, 4 p.m., at the Decatur Library in conjunction with Georgia Center for the Book. The same day, I’ll be celebrating the release of Julie E. Bloemeke’s long-awaited debut collection, Slide to Unlock (Sibling Rivalry Press). Julie has cooked up a theatrical evening of sights and sounds along with the help of fellow poets (including yours truly) interpreting her work. Watch for details on her website.

Collin Kelley, On the horizon

It might not have been a night for promenading outdoors, but it was a privilege to take to the stage and perform at the microphone. Judge Katherine Stansfield advised that poets would be called up to read, and would be handed their book bundle prize by the new editor of Poetry Wales magazine, Jonathan Edwards. The last three poets to be called would be the three award winners … hence there was a nervous pause after the end of each poet’s performance, wondering who the next poet called would be. The email from Poetry Wales one month before the awards event was unspecific in its congratulation. Essentially it hoped the shortlisted poets would be able to attend to receive their prizes … of course the word prize could signify one of the three awards or one of the highly commended places.

I don’t know about the other shortlistees but I was counting on my fingers how many names were called and my pulse began to quicken as we passed the halfway point! … Might I be one of the three award winners?

I was the penultimate name to be called! Number 9 of the 10 shortlisted poets. I was guided up to the mic and read my poem, ‘Refugee Piece … Existential Jigsaw’. It was a delight to shake Jonathan’s hand as he revealed that there were no hard-copy books for me … Seren had considered my sight limitations and would send me PDF copies that my computer screen reading software would be able to read aloud for me :)

Giles L. Turnbull, Pick of the Poetry

Sometimes it seems like the hardest part has already been done – I already wrote the poems and edited them multiple times. I arranged and rearranged them. I deleted some poems and added others. I submitted it to lots of presses and publishers and was fortunate that Vegetarian Alcoholic Press snapped it up. I found the cover art and did final edits. All of this was hard work. All of this was time consuming. All of this took time and effort. And yet, that was easy compared to what came next: promotion.

No one likes to talk about this because self-promotion has become a dirty word – it seems and yucky and kind of skeezy. But it’s not. And if you want to be successful, you have to self-promote. (For poets I highly recommend PR for Poets by Jeannine Hall Gailey, it is excellent and has a lot of good advice and guidance for how to better promote your poetry.)

I didn’t write a book of poetry to get rich. I’ll never quit my day job, I’ll never be able to live off the money I make from poetry, I’ll likely never even make a single mortgage payment from poetry. I wrote a book of poetry because I love poetry and I think the world needs it. I process things via poetry and it’s one way I see and experience the world. And I think poetry is necessary in today’s world. So I’m okay with knowing I can’t live off my writing but that doesn’t mean I don’t want my book to do well. I still want people to read my book, I want it in libraries and I want it around the world. And this means self-promotion.

Courtney LeBlanc, Dirty Word

It’s Sunday evening and there are so many things I could have done today that I didn’t.  I didn’t send any notes to anyone for no reason than just to say hi. I did not go outside and take a walk, looking up at the clouds or tree tops.  Other than to get out and drive to yoga, I went no place else.  I read maybe 4 or five poems this morning. I journaled around 2:30 a.m. when my mind raced, chased by anxiety throughout the house. […]

Earlier in the day, I was thinking a lot about the upcoming AWP conference. I always get  anxious as it gets closer.  I will likely have bouts of anxiety daily between now and the time I leave.  Also, on my mind today is Ash Wednesday that is approaching. What will I give up for Lent? Will I give up anything?  Will I substitute some proactive thing to do instead?

Michael Allyn Wells, Looking for the Good

If I know in advance that I’m going to have some time free, I try to plan accordingly. Alas, more often than not my inspirational moods don’t sync with the free time. The same usually goes for residential courses too.

Carrying a notepad around helps, as does being able to assemble fragments. Audio book might make me more efficient too. Just occasionally I can combine work and play. But mostly I cope by cutting corners, and doing nothing as well as I could have. I feel I’ve plateau’d in the things I’ve tried. There are no longer any quick wins – significant progress will require significant time investment. It’s just the way things are. I’ve noticed already that I’m compensating by remembering past successes more than planning future ones – see my Illustrated CV. And unexpectedly I’m gaining pleasure from the successes of people I know.

Tim Love, Finding time

Carved out some time (and energy – been a little under the weather) to attend a poetry potluck celebrating my friend Kelli Russell Agodon’s book contract with Copper Canyon Press, and it was great! I got to catch up with some friends I don’t see very often who I’ve known for fifteen, sixteen years now and meet others I’ve only “seen” on Facebook. Some of my old friends had little kids when I met the who are now in college or grown-up with jobs. We talked about where our lives had taken us. Some talked about not submitting or writing for a while. Some talked about new books and planning readings.  It always helps give me perspective on the writing life and all of our journeys when I hang out with other writers. It also gave me motivation – I came home and submitted a piece of fiction (which I rarely do) and sent out some poems as well. There is just something about being with other writers that inspires me to action. […]

I was reminded that the writing life is a journey. There are ups and downs and detours, time to write and time to rest. We don’t all go at the same pace. Life gets in the way sometimes. A supportive spouse can make a lot of difference (and I feel lucky to have mine – plus everyone raved about his gluten-free mini pumpkin pear cupcakes!) And encouraging each other is part of the job. It can feel awfully lonely when those rejection slips roll in, or when your grant application is denied, or that job doesn’t come through. It’s good to have the company of people who have been there, done that.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Hanging Out with Poet Friends, Signs that Spring Is On The Way

My poems ‘Hare Moon’ and ‘The Postscript’ have been published in issue 89 of Obsessed with Pipework. Thanks so much to the Charles and Katerina for making such a lovely issue and for taking the time to ship it to my far corner of Europe. My kids were excited to see my name in the issue and hear me read one of the poems out, they don’t usually get to see my writing. Though my son said it didn’t rhyme, so I’ll need to spend some time working on his poetry knowledge.

I’ve had a couple of chances to teach creative writing to kids here in Finland as part of my substituting. I recently had to whip up a quick lesson when a teacher accidentally made a mistake in her lesson plans and asked me to teach the same lesson I had taught her class the week before. I gave them three vague prompts about aliens, sports, holidays and asked them to focus on ‘to be verbs’ which our lesson was covering. Some students wrote their one page dutifully, but showed very little excitement because it was just another assignment, but the wee group of boys who had been keeping me on my toes all week took a while getting into it. I forgot how much I enjoy watching kids enjoy writing.

I could see it, the fire behind their eyes as ideas began to grow, as words filled page after page. They didn’t want to go out to break, they wanted to continue writing after they finished their required work in the next lesson. One asked if I could publish their work. If only. That’s why I used to teach creative writing, to see that excitement. Even my teaching assistant was surprised that these particular kids, who struggled with school, who didn’t read according to her, were able to find the imagination to come up with stories that they wanted to write and share. It can be a challenge to find a way to kick start their interest, but there’s usually a way if you can take the time to work with them. I hope it get to use my skills more during the rest of this year.

Gerry Stewart, Teaching Kids and Creative Writing

How to respond in such a way that I might serve both the girl in front of me and the woman she will become? How to be honest (because she has a sense for dissembling sharper than any I’ve known)? How to answer this question that so many women have struggled to answer? That I have struggled to answer?

Let’s re-frame the premise, I remember thinking.

“You know,” I said, “you don’t have to choose. You can be a mommy and still be an artist.”

Not entirely true, but not entirely false. Good enough?

“But I want my art to come first. And if you’re a mommy, that should come first.”

“Lots of women do both. You can, too.”

I remember her looking directly at me. “But you don’t,” she said.

BAM.

Oh, I thought, as her words walloped me. Why is this so hard? “This” being all of it–parenting, art-making, making a living. Being so goddamned tired all the time.

It was not the first time, and most certainly not the last, that I knew with swift, sharp clarity that every single choice I made was teaching my children something about how to live, and that my actions carried more weight than my words ever would or could.

What was I teaching her about how to be a woman? How to make a meaningful life? About serving others and serving ourselves?

She knew that I had a published book. She and her twin brother and father had traveled with me for poetry readings, where she’d seen me on stage, reading my work. I had thought I was a pretty bang-up role model, being a fully-present mom, a published writer, and, through my work as a teacher, a financially independent wife. Apparently, however, she knew that I wasn’t doing much writing. And, clearly, she was attributing that to my being a mother. Her mother.

Shit.

“No,” I said, knowing I had to tell the truth. “I don’t very much.”

Rita Ott Ramstad, Creating Life

I’m so excited to have another poem published by one of favorites–Voicemail Poems! My poem “Resurrection Party” is included in their Winter 2020 issue, along with some really great recordings by several other poets, including Ariel Francisco, Usman Hameedi, Sarah Matthes, and more.

Resurrection Party” is a poem of recovery. It’s important to me that this personal poem is out in the world. Special thanks to Tinderbox who originally published it in 2017. Many of you know that in 2015 my son (21 at the time) was in a horrible accident in which he was hit on his bicycle by someone in a pickup truck in downtown Salt Lake City. He nearly lost his life. Recovery was difficult, but he made it through and I’m grateful every day that he is still the same amazing, creative person he was before the accident. His personality definitely comes out in this poem.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “Resurrection Party” published by Voicemail Poems – always open for submissions

Take me and my poetry – why would someone continue to professionally and financially handicap themselves in order to do something they love, even if society is against it, even if your contemporaries are hardly supportive – why don’t you do something that pays lots of money. The answer is simple: I haven’t the will-power and threshold for bullshit that you do, but I have an inexhaustible desire to do what I want to do, even if I don’t do it well. And the poetry world is based on demonstrable accomplishments, so if you’re like me – 33 years old and no prizes to show for it – then you must be in the wrong game, yes? No, hell no.

Dad began as a careerist. He fell into a really well paid job as a surveyor for the Opencast, then they promoted him to a site manager. The job, he recalls, was pretty laid-back and relaxed but then he got made redundant as coal mining was slowly dissolved in this country. He then trained as a lawyer – he spent three years and graduated top of his class. He came home from his graduation and told my mother that he’d never be a lawyer as long as he lived, it was an awful, morally bankrupt profession. So he went back to university, got a degree in urban planning and got involved in conserving old buildings. It’s something he’s utterly passionate about, but like his job at the Opencast, it’s something in direct opposition to the prevailing winds of taste. Nobody cares about really, truly conserving old buildings now unless they’re castles. Councils are so under-staffed and under-funded that greedy property developers now that they can rips out the old windows of building, put in tawdry plastic ones and even if someone complains, it’ll never get taken to court. Not even a tree protection order works, because tree surgeons can be bought – all it takes is insisting the beautiful tree has some disease and must come down. The architectural fabric of this country is being ripped up just so the venal neo-Thatcherite greed-heads can get ahead and it sickens me, it sickens him.

Richie McCaffery, Dad

The poet Lisel Mueller has died.  Every time I came across a poem of hers, I liked it, but I never bought one of her books–in many ways, she reminds me of Mary Oliver, whom I also liked, but until recently, never bought a book of hers.  Both women were much older than I thought that they were–I don’t say this to be ageist, but to say how they seemed to be part of the poetry landscape, but with a much fresher approach to poetry that made me think of them as just bursting on the scene. 

Perhaps I am being ageist after all. Or maybe I’m unfairly dismissing the years of work that go into making fresh poems.  In this idea, I find inspiration.

When I heard of her death this morning, I read some of her poems that I found online.  I was delighted by her approach to history:

“A close-up of a five-year-old
living on turnips. Her older sister,
my not-yet-mother, already
wearing my daughter’s eyes,
is reading a letter as we cut
to a young man with thick glasses
who lies in a trench and writes
a study of Ibsen. I recognize him,
he is going to be my father,
and this is his way of keeping alive.”
from “Beginning with 1914”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Late Appreciation for Lisel Mueller

Poe claimed that there was no subject more suitable for poetry than the death of a beautiful woman; but he was full of crap about that or, at any rate, too swayed by the culture in which he resided in his awkward and outsider way. Nonetheless, he puts forth the assertion that from death can come something that is itself beautiful: a work of art, a lyric, a poem. I do not disagree with him on that point.

Certainly many poets end up writing about, with, or against death; raging or praising; querying, challenging, wondering, fearing, fighting, sometimes embracing or accepting. Do I hear Emily Dickinson in that chorus? Dylan Thomas? Walt Whitman? Marie Howe? Mark Doty? Ilyse Kusnetz?

In a previous post, I alluded to the death of a beautiful woman (a friend), and asked about the value(s) we humans place on beauty–and the way(s) we define, describe, and name it.

Because death’s one of The Big Mysteries–and writers tend to gnaw around the edges of things that are not easily put into words, and mortal is what we are–poets poke at death, encounter it, question it, and question the religious, biological, and social accretions that surround it. Can we find beauty in death, from it, surrounding it? Recently, I attended a philosophy lecture concerning death and the soul from a Catholic (Thomist) perspective, and the talk briefly moved into inquiry concerning the intersection of death and beauty. I did not ask, what sort of beauty–aesthetics, or awe?

But I am asking now.

Ann E. Michael, Death & beauty

Soshin immortalized
an iris on the page.
She herself gone
at twenty-seven.
You & I seek
the same permanence;
faces turned toward the sun
till a breeze carries us away.

Jason Crane, POEM: Petals

I was asleep, and I dreamed of a life with no hands.
Instead, at the end of each arm was a large, evil crow.
Whenever these crows would caw, a person died,
Not where I was, but faraway in a place that is nameless.
I struggled to keep the crows quiet, but I failed.
I woke up from the dream exhausted,
Still shushing the damned crows on my arms.
It was my own dream, and I had death for hands.

James Lee Jobe, I was asleep, and I dreamed of a life with no hands

Even beyond the images of teeth and skulls and wildflowers, or weeds, that haunt these poems, the music itself is haunting, staying in the mind and the ear. Consider this passage from “Maar”:

“Buffaloburr veins around siltstone
mounds on the monocline

flow rock smooths over into oar
cutleaf cornflower overgrown

pollen blown out
larkspur and beeplant on the meadow

grasp at the basement fault
taut atop diatreme”

A later line in the same poem says “laccolith ghost shadows over hungry dust,” and the word laccolith has lodged in my brain.

The collection includes several multiple-poem sequences, and in these sequences, [Jake] Skeets allows each poem its own form, its own space on the page.

Skeets attends to space on the page masterfully. In “In the Fields,” a discussion of white space interacts with the white space around it.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers

the book has a QR code
but I don’t have a smart-phone
do you read music though

a parish map from 1886
iridescent turquoise beetles
and a ladybird in the floodwater

I tried to knit with dried grass
wrap it round a rusty can
and boil it for an hour

the next day I went to the hedge
for ink beyond the oak gall
the golden glow of the first rust

Ama Bolton, ABCD: February 2020

titanium, that dream of pages being torn one at a time from the book as you are trying to write it, but writing, writing it anyway;

stainless, that hurling of knives against ice-slick targets, fingers sliced and blood on snow but increasing accuracy and control in spite of numb;

a ring of Damascus steel lost somewhere under all this cold, silver, brass, copper braids no longer spun and flesh-warmed but I guess down there somewhere;

something forged white hot, this small, rounded praxis in my body of praise song, praise song, praise song, praise song.

JJS, February 21, 2020: more metal than hope

The problem is that I’m a sucker for a well-put idea, even if it’s my own. I get dazzled by thought. I forget that what moves me, stirs something deeper than dazzle, is the combination of idea and that other thing that arises from the body, sensorial, flesh on flesh or wind on flesh or hum on ear, tang on tongue.

Get out of your head, I say to myself. In my head.

It’s funny because lately I’ve been living much more outside, so am filled with fresh air and pines and the rumple of hilltops and dit dit dah of tracks in the snow. You’d think my body would have something to more to say to my head.

Where in my body have these concerns risen? Where is the slant of my truth? Where is the half-open door from which these ideas breathe a scent — damp cellar? root vegetables? cumin and cinnamon? Where do the tracks lead?

Marilyn McCabe, Going out of my head day and night; or, On Finding a Hook to Hang an Idea On

This little poem is solar-powered, sucking up the sun’s rays and putting them to good use like a hummingbird’s tiny wings do with air.

This short poem doesn’t use more energy than it generates. Does its best to make your light brighter, offer electricity to your coffee maker and cell-phone charger.

This subtle, solar-powered poem longs to cut carbon pollution, create jobs, and empower communities.

Even after its warranty expires, this bright and fleeting poem will not give up the ghost.

Its every word fluoresces across your lips.

Rich Ferguson, Tiny Champion

my first typewriter was called a
‘Little Brother’ and I was ten
much better than a pen
I thought
that the poems looked real
typecast and not typecast
and putting the words down
clattered as if they mattered
to me they emptied my pockets
to make room for more of the words
that were simmering on the back burner
of the rain on the hobs of childhood
wait – stop
don’t smudge the ink with tears you silly old man

Jim Young, My Little Brother

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 51

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.

Yesterday was the solstice, Hanukkah began this evening, and Christmas is on Wednesday, so it’s no surprise that this week’s digest is full of lights in the darkness. Me, I’ve always loved the dark, so it’s probably also no surprise that a blog with a name like Via Negativa was birthed this time of year as well. It turned 16 on the 17th.

Poetry bloggers are continuing to post year-end assessments, and although I’m too disorganized to do this kind of accounting myself, it’s fascinating to see the various metrics people use to measure their writing success.


How invisible
we are. In the winter fog,
last year’s candlelight.

The sun reigns elsewhere.
Warm skins, bare feet, all small sins
that don’t leave shadows.

Magda Kapa, Moons and Stars Apart

It is dark out. The darkest I’ve ever seen. We are blindfolded and behind the wheel of a car. The fastest, most deadly car I’ve ever seen. We rush towards time, time rushes towards us. Sometimes I wonder who will be the first to relent in this metaphysical game of chicken. It is dark out. The darkest I’ve ever seen. Godspeed is the speed at which a light heart makes its own light as it travels faster than the speed of light.

Rich Ferguson, The Speed of Light

lanterns 
when the candle dies
night lives

Jim Young [no title]

There is a thread of blood
in the water, in the
fire, in the light. It is

time for light to tip
over and spill red
along the edges

of dawn, shivering
as if we are stepping
through a mirage into

water, or into Spring,
or into waking, or
into day. It is time.

P.F. Anderson, Time For Light

Midday the clouds morph from one grey-white
shape to another, shadows strong, drawn from tall
pines onto the unpaved road. What hours lie ahead
we never know. No Terce or Compline ring here,
no call to prayer but antiphon train horn
& the disturbed ducks.

Ann E. Michael, Praise

O manual, laboring handbook,
gladden the work of our hands.
We wait for peace,
but terror comes instead.
What factory fashioned the
slashing shrapnel?

Emanate
manual light, new elevation,
elicit handmade candles,
bread, bowls,
chairs,
decoys.
Carpenter, potter, baker,
emit manual glory.

Anne Higgins, The  “O Antiphons”

Near silence under the valley oaks, in California’s great valley. The only sound is the wind blowing up the delta, along the Sacramento River. It begins in the Gulf of Alaska, this wind, and spins in a vast circle that takes it far out into the northern Pacific Ocean and then back again, so that when it crosses the California coast it is actually traveling northeast. The wind then comes in through the Golden Gate, blows across the San Francisco Bay and up the wide, deep Sacramento River. As the wind reaches the park by my home it is toned down, a nice breeze, and the oak trees, naked for winter, wiggle and dance just a bit with the pine trees that are always green. Looking up, I see branches backed by the steel gray sky. Looking down I see a pine cone by my feet. Weather, from Alaska to me.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Near silence under the valley oaks’

The heap of rice glistened in the lazy slant of winter light,
her fingers flicked the stones, husked grains.

In the courtyard, the sparrows washed by the song
lapped against the wall marked with flecks of betel juice.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Terrace Concert

Darling, tonight the whole horizon
closed like a lid. The traffic sighs on
rainy tarmac, men flit like flies on

jets of wind, the river fractures,
and a streetlight manufactures
a wealth of frazzled broken textures.

So beautiful: the petrol station’s
amber flatness, the quotations
of lit shopfronts, the impatience

of running clouds. The winter races
into darkness, interlaces
bodies in its breathing spaces.

George Szirtes, Prayer for my Daughter

I sit in the quiet.
I leaf through
your cookbooks.

I remember
how you loved
the beauty shop’s bustle.

When night falls
I sing my way
through the door.

Rachel Barenblat, On the shortest day

I’ve been reading Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, to give me, yes, hope in the dark. It was first published back in 2004, so this is a third edition, published by Haymarket Books in 2016, with an updated Foreword and Afterword to give new context to hopeful thinking that continues even now. Even now.

I picked it up at the ongoing library book sale, meaning I am supporting my library and its non-profit foundation, and started reading it December 1, the beginning of Advent. This cover is perfect, bright white like stars on a dark night. When I set it down, I set it down beside a Christmas card of white lights on a snowy tree in a dark night, with “Silent Night” printed beside the image, a card from my next-door neighbor. The book is part of my holiday decorating now. Along with ebony heads from Africa and a black mask from Mexico, and a silver bird.

What’s so wonderful, comforting, and inspiring about this book is its embrace of uncertainty and its recorded knowledge of how small, steady acts of quiet resistance or concerted protest moved people to continue to act and change things. Small acts led to big changes, and that is ongoing, and I am participating in this in my own small, steady, local ways.

Kathleen Kirk, Hope in the Dark

Sometimes I wish I were more of a “holiday person,” someone who takes delight in the rituals and traditions of the season and gets excited about decorations and gifts and parties and seasonal music. I don’t know if something broke in me long ago, or if I am just naturally like this, but holidays have always been fairly meaningless to me. I’ve never cooked or hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, I’ve never held a Christmas party, and I don’t bake anything. I don’t send out holiday cards to my volunteers at work, and I could barely muster the will to see that a single, shabby Christmas tree got put up in the lobby of the hospital this year. I hate the strained conversations about what you, me or anyone else is doing for the holidays, and then afterwards, the strained conversations about what you, me or anyone else did for the holidays. I don’t know why I have so much Christmas dysthymia. Christmas never did anything to me personally. It has just always evoked in me a vague  sense of melancholy and loneliness. This is all being magnified for me this year by the fact that this will be my first Christmas without my dad, and I won’t be able to give him a can of Almond Roca or a gift certificate to Cabela’s. He loved both of those things. […]

My biggest mistake was in thinking that I had more time. You never have more time. Even though I’m not a big fan of Christmas, it is a time of coming together with people who matter in your life. Make it count. Heal what you can, if you can. Appreciate them. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that you have forever. You don’t.

Kristen McHenry, Christmas Dysthymia

I need to go to the grocery store in town this morning and I am fearing it with deep and abiding stomach clutching dread Christmas shoppers tend to be pushy and aggressive I only need to get broccoli and avocados and fruit and cheese for my Christmas dinner which over the years has become mostly a day of grazing a quiche a pumpkin pie some guacamole and chips I figure one giant meal a year that I am expected to cook is enough for me now that my life is so much smaller and so much larger ( my son asked what’s for Christmas breakfast waffles? and I burned a hole into him with my blazing eyebulbs)

I want to run a hot bath but I hear the breathing of more than one adult child I don’t know who is here I might have to tippy toe into the kitchen to make coffee and get my oatmeal going before we can all be our most beautiful selves one day into winter and I’m already longing for summer I will always be a summer girl

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

On good days I am at my desk before the sun shows up.  I watch the increasing light on my back yard tree and bushes.  Here’s what I see:

Signals on stone, light
through gaps between branches as
sun clears the mountain,
friendly wave of a morning
walker not breaking his stride.

What else do I do to honor the solstice?  I close out my summer/fall writing folder and start one for winter/spring.

Ellen Roberts Young, A Tanka for the Solstice

So I’ve cracked open the collection tonight, stepping into the cold Scottish rain again of my poems, the hard gray stone and cups of tea. The images I draw together for the cover. Wool and sand, loch and Glasgow streets. Touching the words I’ve written again. It’s like going home.

I’m looking forward to seeing this chapbook, but there’s a sense of regret to finish it, to close the book on things I’ve been working on for almost two decades. Also to not be publishing the whole collection, though these are my favourite poems from it. And the poems I’m not publishing are more difficult to face just now, stepping back into the muddied waters of my old relationship which I’m happy not to ford just now.

I’m moving slowly back into the words, to find my way through them again. 

Gerry Stewart, Going Home

I also make sandwiches for our church’s soup and sandwich run for homeless people and people in need. This is a soup run organised by all the churches in Trowbridge who work together on a rota to provide hot soup and sandwiches. Even if you’re not religious, it’s worth checking out what churches are doing in your community where you live and offering support and/or donations if you can. We donate food for our local foodbank through our church, for example. St Nicholas of Tolentino in Bristol is particularly active in the community and does amazing work but is in need of more support.

So the point of this long letter is to say where I am in person and to tell you what’s helping me get through what has been a sad time. But I am a writer (and a poet to boot!) so I am extremely used to disappointments and I am absolutely not going to feel defeated or pessimistic about anything.

Josephine Corcoran, Where I am

As 2019 closes, I managed to submit new poems to two journals. I’ve crafted about 20 new poems this year, mainly while I was in Los Angeles and London. These poems are about my mother’s death, and having distance from Atlanta certainly helped with clarity and perspective. While those poems won’t be part of my LA/San Francisco-inspired collection, they will, hopefully, begin to appear in lit mags soon.

Karen Head and I have been reading submissions for the Mother Mary Comes to Me anthology due out from Madville Publishing late next year. Submissions are open through Jan. 1, so there’s still time to submit your pop culture, Virgin Mary-inspired poems for consideration.

I travelled widely in 2019, both for poetry readings from Midnight in a Perfect World and for pleasure. LA and London were magical — especially since I got to see so many friends in the process. It was a treat to read with Dustin Lance Black at Polari (thank you, Paul Burston!) and to spend nearly two weeks writing every night with my dear friend Agnes Meadows. Sometimes you have to make your own residency.

Collin Kelley, Looking back at 2019 and ahead to 2020

When I printed them all out this afternoon, I found close to 80 pieces written this year, across  5 different series–nothing to scoff at to be sure, and certainly more than I was tallying in my head. This also did not include the last batch of zodiac poems I can never keep track of, so probably approaching 100 more likely. Poems about changelings and body image, about serial killers and mass extinctions. With so much in flux this past year, and the niggling feeling I am doing so much, but only a little bit well, I am happy to see something solid and good to show for it, especially since my visual exploits have been more stagnant outside of cover designs.  I’ve never been much for numbers for the sake of numbers, but I’m aware that the higher number of things you write in a year, the better for the actual quality–like running laps or situps–even the less inspiring ones make you stronger.

Kristy Bowen, art and productivity in 2019

I’m sorry to admit that in 2019 I’ve spent £95 on individual poem competition entries and £84 on pamphlet competitions. This was all possible because of the ‘How to submit to poetry magazines’ booklet that I wrote and published end of last year – I told myself I’d use the profit from that on poetry fees and magazine subscriptions this year. But most of it’s gone now, and with competition winnings at zero pounds I just have to think of those entry fees as donations. […]

I’ve decided that in 2020 I won’t be entering any competitions. None where you pay an entry fee, anyway. I generally spend around £75 a year on magazine subscriptions, and I’ll carry on doing this as they are the lifeblood of the poetry world. You always have something in your hand to show for a subscription, and many magazines are real works of art. I’m going to send more poems to magazines. I also want to give more time to writing generally, without trying to whip up ‘competition poems’. Maybe I can pull together a full collection. Or just write more poems on the themes I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’m leaving it open and not putting pressure on myself. But no comps for at least a year is my goal.

I know that some poets don’t enter comps at all, often because they find the idea of a ‘poetry competition’ completely at odds with the creativity of writing. I’m not sure that’s me. But I do think comps have an addictive quality (“I’ll just enter one more competition and this could be the Big One!”), and breaking the habit (for me at least) requires a complete break. Let’s see if I can stick to it.

Robin Houghton, My 2019 submissions: successes & fails | poetry blog

You can see this year I wrote in a variety of journals, each one a little different. I filled a journal about every two-and-a-half months, which is a lot of writing. I’m happy about that, satisfied with how much writing I did this year. And I’m excited to see what next year brings.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journaling

My happy news–honored above by a photo of Ursula ecstatic about catnip–is receiving a Katherine Bakeless Nason Scholarship to Breadloaf Environmental Writers Conference this June. This is also the season I gear up for book publicity, and I’m SO glad to have ONE set of dates in stone now, as I query bookstores and reading series and the like. I’m thinking I’ll roadtrip to Vermont and book a few dates at mid-points along the journey, since both the poetry collection and the novel will be out by then. I’m also applying for additional conferences, residencies, etc., which is a ton of work. I’m really grateful that of the dozen or more applications I’ve already put out there, one came through. In the spirit of making visible my shadow c.v.: I’ve also received a cartload of rejections and non-answers (if you can imagine those ghostly silences filling up a cart, anyway). That’s just the way it goes, but it’s good to have one nice shiny “yes” to light up these long dark nights.

Lesley Wheeler, Not with a whimper but a bang!

When drawing up a list of candidates for Rogue Strands’ annual list of the best U.K. poetry blogs, it soon became clear that there was no dodging the fact that 2019 was far from being a vintage year. Too many veterans, who might have faltered in the past but then returned to the fold, have finally succumbed and fallen by the wayside, while few newcomers have stepped up to the plate.

It’s worth pausing to indulge in a spot of speculation as to the reasons why. Drawing on personal experience, I have to admit that writing a blog can become a grind. That can lead you to pause, then the pause becomes a long hiatus, then a silence, and then it’s extremely tough to get back in the saddle.

And as for that feeling of the blog becoming a grind, one major issue is the feeling that you’re writing into a vacuum, especially if few comments are posted to the blog. […]

I love poetry blogging because it provides the writer and reader with a unique combination of immediacy and longevity that lies far beyond the reach of social media. For instance, if I were to take a top ten of popular posts from Rogue Strands last month, two or three would be over five years old. That’s down to the power of search engines, which continue to attract new readers to old posts, often making surprising, new connections.

In other words, I very much continue to see a strong future for poetry blogs, though they have to adapt and evolve to the changing world around them. I still waste several hours a week browsing them, and I recommend you do so too! Despite this year’s relative decline, they still offer a special blend of news, views and thought-provoking perspectives on contemporary verse.

Matthew Stewart, The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2019

I’ve recently been watching the Netflix series Magic For Humans. Most of the show revolves around the magician Justin Willman stopping people in the street to perform tricks for them. They’re usually in-close tricks—coins, cards, etc rather than disappearing elephants (yet)—the audience, both in person and over television, is captivated and bewildered. And that’s where the connection to poetry comes in for me.

Willman’s magic, in part, relies on his ability to draw the audience into his world. He makes them feel welcome, safe. In short, though they may be skeptical, they trust him. His demeanor, his forthrightness, his easy smile, break through people’s built-in skeptic barrier. The audience opens up to the experience, whatever will happen. Yes, by default everyone knows it’s a trick, a series of gestures, mechanics and slight of hand to convince the viewer of the veracity of what they’re experiencing. It’s that trust that solidifies the experience, that makes it work for the viewer, even when they’re being manipulated.

For me, that’s a lot of what I look for in poetry, or what makes the poetry I like work for me.

Grant Clauser, Poetry (Magic) for Humans

We only have the days we have, and I want to spend as many of them filled with things that give me joy – poetry, spending time with friends, spending time in nature, and trying to appreciate the little things—a new song or book to love, the way the light reflects off a streetlight, or even a cat hiding in a box of presents—along the way. I laughed tonight watching Eddie Murphy on SNL and enjoyed Lizzo singing with so much joie de vivre. I sat by the fireplace and drank herbal tea and looked through pictures of the last year. We can live in fear of the unexpected tragedies and misfortunes that await us, but we can also expect unexpected beauty, humor, and happiness.  May your days have more light than darkness!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Solstice, Feeling a Little Under the Weather on the Darkest Day of the Year, Imagining 2020, and Manuscript Redux

In everything
we repeat

we repeat
everything.

That is the
poet’s duty,

to keep the wheel
in motion,

the mind moving
wind on water,

making one wave,
another.

Tom Montag, IN EVERYTHING

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 48

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This past week found poets striking seasonal notes, writing about Thanksgiving, writing about writing (of course), reading, thinking, asking the tough questions.

The past week mostly did not find poets sending me brief blurbs about their favorite poetry books of the past year for a bloggers’ best-of-2019 compendium, as I’d hoped. Possibly in part because of the aforementioned holiday. Or possibly because I’m not on Facebook to spread the message there, as I’d done in the past. But please do consider sending something along by Wednesday the 4th instructions here.


My left hamstring singing like a piano wire. The painful high note of the soprano’s aria. On the edge of a scream. Then falling along the scale.

I take a deep breath and search for balance in the objects of the world. How equilibrium is something discovered. A subjective perspective of the way of things.

Walking this slowly, I notice the reflection in the puddle on the sidewalk. Yellow leaves hover over shadows.

Ren Powell, Settling into the Groove

the leafless hedgerow
studded with red berries
each wintry morning
my walk’s accompanied
by bittersweet

~

how dull gold husks
open to red fruit
how such slender vines
grow to strangle trees
–bittersweet

Ann E. Michael, Bittersweet

With a snap of an icy finger, we have a sprinkling of snow which is enough to lift the mood by brightening the scene. The dark, rainy days of winter are always tough as we come to this end of the year. The sun has set in Northern Finland for the next five weeks or so and even down south we feel the oppressive weight of the days getting shorter and shorter. So as much as I hate snow and, yes, I realise I’m living in the wrong place for that attitude, it does help alleviate the darkness. So far we have enough for the kids to go sledging and it’s melted off the paths and drive, so I don’t have to shovel, so that’s enough for me.

What’s that to do with poetry? It puts me in a more wintry mood than the damp leafless scenes we’ve had the past few weeks. Wendy Pratt is running a one-week winter poetry course, if anyone is looking for a short, but sweet exploration of winter. And it costs only a tenner. I’d do it, but I’m behind with the previous course, so want to focus on that. Her daily prompts whether visual, other poet’s work or just short suggestions and ideas are great jump starts for the poetic brain. 

Gerry Stewart, Short, but Sweet Steps into Winter

Not to think
the universe

into being
but simply

to breathe.

Tom Montag, Writing the Poem

Sometimes if a poem does not seem to work it’s because I have not reached far enough. In this case, it may be that I’ve reached too far — beyond the scope of the poem into another poem all together.

This is the most interesting aspect of the editing process, eyeballing one’s own utterances, meditating on the source of images, the hidden reasons behind unconscious choices of vocabulary, choices of sound. Something has appeared here on the page, blurted out of my various levels of consciousness. It interests me. It fails me.

Marilyn McCabe, Then we take Berlin; or, Editing the Heart of the Matter

A few years back, I met someone whose profession involved maximizing impact across social media platforms. He’d taken a particular interest in poets and so when I introduced myself, he immediately observed, familiar with my handles–oh, yeah, you’re a “burst” person. Apparently that refers to my tendency to post to Twitter seven times in one day, but then go quiet for two weeks; or the way that I post long, substantive posts to this blog of unique content, but I only post them once a month. I suspect that’s one of the patterns where return on investment is lowest, but it’s what feels right (or at least necessary) for now. 

Sandra Beasley, Odd & Ends & Giblets

It was good to be together.  We had 18 people gathered around the tables this year.  We saw relatives whom we hadn’t seen since 2014, along with the relatives who come every year.  It’s startling to realize how the children are racing to pre-teen/teenage years. 

Even without solid internet connectivity, we still had to wrestle the attention away from the screens.  As a child who always wanted to be left alone to read, I am torn in multiple directions.  I know that some of the parents would be fine with children’s noses in books, but screens are different.  I also understand needing to escape the family bedlam. 

For the most part, we avoided arguments, even though the grown ups come from different political persuasions, and the children fought over fair distribution of resources and over the rules.  We had the kind of good conversations that come from lots of trips to get supplies and from long hours without screens.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Quick Look Back at Thanksgiving Week

As this first Thanksgiving
without you draws near,
I’m emailing my sister

and scouring the internet
for a recipe that looks
like the mango mousse

you always made. It’s a relic
of the 1950s when your marriage
was new. I don’t think

I’ve ever bought Jell-O
or canned mango before, and
I don’t own a fluted ring mold

but when my spoon slices
through creamy sun-gold yellow
it will taste for an instant

like you were in my kitchen,
like you’re at my table,
like you’re still here.

Rachel Barenblat, Recipe

Longitudes & latitudes of gratitude for my friends, family & lion-hearted daughter. Thanks for those with green thumbs & purple hearts, gravediggers & garbage collectors. Praise for bringers of incense, orchids & music. All the poets, writers & artists that have inspired me, coaxed me off the ledges of brief madnesses. Graces to the teachers & healers, zen masters & car mechanics. Mother Nature & the Mothers of Invention, animal vets & pets that say the wisest and kindest things with their eyes. Grateful for the ground under my feet & roof over my head. Indebted to the lights that haven’t burned out—in my apartment, my heart & mind. 

Rich Ferguson, Longitudes & Latitudes of Gratitude

I am getting to the age where I think of the holidays with not as much anticipation as nostalgia. Do you remember when you used to make lists for Christmas, when you looked forward to that one toy or a pony or you wished to become a cat? (That last one was me.)

As adults, we wish for different kinds of things. Good health, good friends, world peace. The car and house not breaking down at important moments. It’s all quotidian. One of the good things about being a poet is the idea that we can still have our dreams come true – we might win that one book prize, the MacArthur Genius Grant, whatever. One of my  dream journals sent me an acceptance and it was from one of my dream poetry people. I applied for one of those big things I always felt too insignificant to apply for and I am really trying not to get my hopes up (but if you want to send some good energy my way, you are welcome)! I just found out I had a poem nominated for a Pushcart (again, I try not to be cynical – hey, it could be my year).

I try not to stress out about my health which is so up and down but I want to get these two poetry books out while I can still walk with a cane and think reasonably. MS is so unpredictable. I’m pretty proactive about trying to do the best for my health, but not everything’s under my control (a fact that makes me somewhat anxious as a person who likes to be in control of things). Poetry and Health – both are out of my control, actually. The health of myself or my husband or my loved ones – we don’t really get to control the timing of when bad things happen. We don’t control when good things happen, either. It’s enough to wish, I guess.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, What Are You Wishing For? A Quiet Holiday Weekend, and Welcome to December!

Last week, I was unpacking a stack of my own  books I’d brought home from the studio, and they were so strange to me..that I have written this many books, let alone found someone to publish them, is still a little surreal sometimes. In some cases they were written over many years, in some, barely any time at all, but they seem at times massive and unruly, though I’m pretty sure even my longest book taps out considerably before 100 pages.  I couldn’t imagine what one would do with a novel.

So I polish the cheeks and send my little feed manuscript off into the world. It’s an odd little bird, and feels extra vulnerable, given the subject matter (mothers and daughters, food issues and body image).  It begins with the line “Every so often, the snake eats the spider.  The spider eats the fly.” and ends with a bunch of stolen dead birds in a fridge.   In other words, it pretty much encompasses my aesthetic to a tee.

Kristy Bowen, over and under the transom

Whale Dave says you can be yourself
at the 7-Eleven. Or at the Pentagon.
Or in a shed on the Cape. Hmmm. Maybe.
I haven’t tried any of those spots yet,
but I’ve tried 40 or so different towns,

an equal number of jobs, and it’s only
occasionally, just every once in a while,
that I’m myself. Like on a Sunday afternoon
or a Wednesday morning.
Times like that.

My radio plays “I Got You Babe”
one morning, like the guy in the movie.
I reach over to shut it off but I can’t find it.
I open my eyes to see my bed
floating through space.

Jason Crane, POEM: I Got Me Babe

Remember that winter night
in the kitchen, hot
jasmine tea poured
slowly, a dreamlike draught,
my clumsy hands
warming your porcelain skin?

Or was it the other way around?

Were you the one holding
my gaze, the spoon
stirring endlessly and in vain,
our promises rising
like steam
as we began to forget them?

Romana Iorga, Midnight Jasmine

Saturday night brought a wedding and so for me this meant dancing till the final song, singing along with Love Shack – because it is impossible not to sing along to that song, and having a great time celebrating our friends’ nuptials. By the time we were home and walked Piper, it was another post-midnight bedtime.

Sunday I woke at 9am and again, by the time I walked and fed Piper, the 9:30am HIIT class I usually attend was already starting. So I brewed my coffee and curled up on my couch with my book of poetry. Piper joined me and we spent the morning reading (highly recommend These Many Rooms by Laure-Anne Bosselaar, it’s quiet and raw and a beautiful read) and writing poems.

As someone with a strong Type A personality, routines and schedules and to-do lists are something I crave. This weekend it felt good to sit on my couch under a blanket, my dog laying beside me, a good book of poetry in my hands. It reminded me that sometimes an unexpected change in plans can be a good thing, it can lead to a great experience, a new idea, or just a wonderfully quiet morning. And these things are good for my body and soul.

Courtney LeBlanc, Routine

Yesterday, I completed reading notes for the 25th book in my 100-book project.

In addition to helping me re-learn how to sit with my feelings and get back in touch with what it is I love about writing poetry, reading that many books in three months reminded me how good poems are at teaching us about our world. Its beauty. Its violence. Possibility. Disappointment. Affection. Absence. Abundance.

Here are a few highlights of what the poetry I’ve read so far teaches us:

about grief and loss;

about race, class and imbalances of power;

about challenging the status quo;

about the horrors humans are capable of inflicting on one another;

that wherever you go there you are;

that our own stories have value;

that the places we live are characters in those stories;

how capitalism can fail to deliver;

how much tenderness there can be in our day-to-day lives;

how complicated forgiveness is;

how culture may shape us;

how women experience pregnancy and childbirth;

how humor belies our sadness; and

what war does to families and communities.

That’s just a sampling. The list of what my recent reading has taught me is MUCH longer than that, and certainly The Big List of what poetry teaches us is nearly endless.

And I am so excited to see what it will show me next.

I have made note, however, of something lacking: the first 25 books in this reading project were really light on zombies. Isn’t anyone writing zombie poems?

Carolee Bennett, “for meaning beyond this world”

Then last night I was at the newly-opened Boulevard Theatre in London’s Soho, where Live Canon had taken over the bar for the launch of four new pamphlets, one of which is mine. The other poets (Tania Hershman, Miranda Peake and Katie Griffiths) gave brilliant readings and I felt very privileged to be a part of it all.

Helen Eastman, who runs Live Canon, is always astonishing – a one-woman powerhouse who manages several large-scale projects at a time as well as a family. I’ll have what she’s having! Not only that but she gives the most generous introductions you could ever imagine. I don’t know about my fellow pamphleteers but I felt like Poet Royalty for the night.

I’d been a bit sad during the day, I think partly because all the poet friends I had invited either lived too far away or were unwell or already committed to another launch on the same night. So it was wonderful that my good (non-poet) friend Lucy was there, and then I realised there were many friendly poet faces in the audience: Jill Abram, Heather Walker, Fiona Larkin, Cheryl Moskowitz and Susannah Hart to name a few.

Robin Houghton, To London, for poetry &

I was honored to be invited to read my work at a poetry reading at Chin Music Press this weekend in celebration of the new Rose Alley Press anthology, “Footbridge over the Falls.” I haven’t been out and about much in the poetry world over the last few years, and it was nice to reconnect with some folks I hadn’t seen in a while and hear some great poetry. This is where I could ponder some truths about why I have self-isolated from that sphere over the last several years, but instead I am going to complain about the massive overcrowding at the Pike Place Market and the near-panic attack it caused me. I avoid downtown Seattle as much as possible these days, and I had forgotten how profoundly and I would say even dangerously overcrowded the Market has become. On my way to the venue, I was trying to center myself and focus on my reading, but instead I found myself getting wildly disoriented and panicked by literally having to shove myself through the teeming crowds and deal with the cacophonous racket of thousands of people crammed into too small of a space. Aren’t there fire regulations? It just seems really dangerous to me. That whole structure is extremely old and made out of wood, and I didn’t see any sprinklers or fire extinguishers. One errant spark would be very bad news.

By the time I got to the venue, I was a trembling wreck, but I managed to pull myself together and not completely decompensate in front of my fellow poets. That was a rough ride though. I’ve never been much suited to normal existence in a city, and I’m becoming less so as I get older. I totally understand why the late Mary Oliver lived out her days in an isolated cabin deep in a Florida outpost. I am not in any way comparing myself to Mary Oliver, I’m just saying that it’s looking more and more like an isolated cabin is in my future. Ah, yes…I can hear the quiet now.

Kristen McHenry, Chin Music at Chin Music, Crowd Consternation, Pixel Puttering

wait
the words are on their way
book a space 

Jim Young [no title]

It’s a challenge to walk in the Tenderloin and not become numb to the world around you. So much squalor and hopelessness. And yet you can still look up from a street corner and see a flock of birds flying out of the sunrise like messengers of the light. Could you see that light in the faces of the people living on the street too?

doorway ::
she tells off the man
who grabbed her ass

Dylan Tweney [no title]

these holidays are now for my son and me proudly and profoundly and for whomever else might be in need I bought a carful of groceries for the town’s food bank and diapers and toiletries for the homeless shelter there we have no such programs out here on the island though I know the hungry people are out here I recognize at least one red truck that has been camping (living) at the state park for months now a man and a woman I wish I could do something for them but they have built a little fortress for themselves and I understand that too the best I can do for now is look out for them keep my blue eyes on them make sure their truck and camping gear are safe when I walk into the trails I will never take anything for granted and I will never forget

I woke before dawn and threw six apples into the woods for the deer and the foxes and the rabbits then I came in and had kuchen and coffee and thawed out in front of the little propane fire later I will candy some pecans and later I just might decide to stay here in my house in my woods until January

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

– I like a cold, gray sky, wet air, and the need of a woolen scarf.

– I met a very old man today, an interesting fellow. He told me a story of being a clerk of the superior court and what happened one day. It was as if he was reliving it as he spoke.

– I feel honored when people share something of their life with me, something of their own experience as a human being. 

– Spent a little time with Emily Dickinson, after a long while. It was like visiting an old friend. 

– I saw a finch playing in the very light rain. This rain was just more than a mist, and the little finch seemed to enjoy it. 

– We rest in the love we are blessed with, we rest in the love that we help to create. 

James Lee Jobe, 8 Things – 01 Dec 2019 – Journal notes

We stay inside when it is storming
Failure to Thrive
Open Heart Surgery, 6 Months

During Kit’s hospitalizations..and even now..I’ve written more than I expected to (I expected I’d write nothing). But I find that I’ve been writing a few poems a week, and many more journals. What is strange is that I barely remember writing any of it. I remember sitting down to start the act of writing, but these poems, even looking at them published (and hopefully edited) and surely sent out, and I only vaguely remember the act of writing them. So maybe they are a little messier than I would typically allow, but maybe a little more honest too.

Renee Emerson, 3 poems in 236 Magazine

Silence boomed in her blood.  She forgot
to breathe.  She stared into the hole in time
through which he’d slipped .  She saw dark wings
that beat too fast for angels’, saw
the place where bones come from
and where bones go.  All this in a heartbeat –
wiser than scripture, swifter than light:
a destination on the other side of grief.

Dick Jones, Event Horizon

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week I want to depart from my usual pattern here in the intro and draw your attention to a call-out I just posted: Wanted: Your picks for best poetry collections of 2019(ish). This is for something in addition to the blog digest — modeled after blog carnivals, if anyone remembers those — in which I hope we can together create our own, bloggish alternative to all those lists that poetry critics assemble each year. I’m asking for a short post about one favorite book (and an optional few runners up), with a deadline of December 3 so we can have a compendium of recommendations out in time for holiday shopping. Check it out.

And as long as I’m breaking habits, I want to include a quote from one of Via Negativa’s own posts, because I really like what Luisa wrote about hitting the ninth birthday of her poem-a-day practice here and what that practice means to her.


What have I learned, what am I still learning? That fear is probably the biggest obstacle to getting anything written. We all cycle through moments of exhilaration and anxiety, confidence and paralysis; too much of either can turn into writer’s block. Fear goes by other names like impostor syndrome. And perfectionism. That what it is I crave that’s met in part by coming to my daily writing is the promise of untrammelled time and space— which as all creatives know, is the ideal condition for dreaming and making art. For such as it is, it means that I want to create even a small space in my day, every day, to try to meet myself there; whatever might come out of it is already surplus, a gift.

Luisa A. Igloria, Nine Years! and, “Love Poem to Skins”

Every day was still jam-packed with meetings, but I found myself scratching out poems during some of the meetings – maybe it was in the air, maybe it was all the champagne I consumed that week, maybe it was me reminiscing on the first time I was in Paris, maybe it was me reminiscing on another lost love. Or maybe it’s just that Paris is a city that inspires poetry.

After slightly terrifying my colleagues by reading some of my recent poems, every time I started writing in my notebook one of them would ask, “Are you writing a poem?” and more often than not, I would nod my head yes. There was something about being in that city that kept the words coming.

Courtney LeBlanc, Writing Poetry in Paris

I have been awake for hours–but have I been writing?  No, I’ve been grading.  It’s that time of the term.  I am caught up–but I will only be caught up for a day or two.  It’s that time of the term.

But let me also note–I wrote a poem yesterday.  Yesterday I was watering the plants in the butterfly garden at school.  I noticed that 2 of the milkweed plants had aphids on them, so I spent some time killing them by rubbing them off the leaves.  Their dying stained my fingers bright yellow, even after I washed my hands.

This line came to me:  On the last day of the impeachment hearings, I kill the aphids on the milkweed plants.  I played with it off and on throughout the day, and eventually a poem came together.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Killing Aphids, Listening to Impeachment Hearings

Some terrific people at my university just organized our first ever Native American Heritage Month, involving two lectures, two documentaries, and a poetry reading with tastings of traditional foods. I made it to four out of five events, and every one was interesting, moving, and really fun–I’m so grateful to the organizers for their work.

The commemoration also made me return to a teaching/ research question that’s bothered me for a long time. My “modernist” poetry course hasn’t, in fact, carried that label for years, because I find it limited and misleading. Instead, I teach “U.S. Poetry from 1900-1950.” Alongside the modernist canon I was trained in, and the white women poets I added to my mental list of innovators during my PhD years, we read the formalisms of Frost, Millay, Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and others, and the poetic experiments of the New Negro Renaissance (these people and bodies of work overlap, of course). I’m currently teaching the most inclusive version of this course I’ve ever constructed. So where are the Native American poets?

Lesley Wheeler, Modernism in Native American Heritage Month

I got a chance to see Mary Ruefle read some poetry and prose and do a Q&A at SAL this week. Getting downtown was a nightmare, which reminded me why we don’t go downtown very often, and the building didn’t have any handicapped parking and was a million miles from any kind of parking, and getting to the hall the reading was in the required using an elevator that tried to kill me with crazed hard-slamming doors, but I was happy I made it. Mary Ruefle was very funny and I liked her prose work on friendship almost as much as I liked her poetry.

During the Q&A, someone asked her why she was a bad kisser (a reference to one of her poems.) She said “I find it boring. There are just so many better ways to spend your time. I’d much rather be reading and writing.” Well, there you go then.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome to the Holidays, Mary Ruefle, Lizzo, and Another Round of Revision and Thinking of Poets and Charisma

It’s fair to say that, 18 months after my book was published, I’d put it to bed, gone downstairs and thought it was fast asleep.  A delightful surprise, then, to discover that the book has been staying up late chatting to Jonathan Edwards who described the poems in What Are You After? as “accessible, witty, moving, memorable, class conscious” and the writing as “warm and memorable, full of personality…”

I haven’t been blogging much recently as I’ve been travelling about going to poetry festivals and readings, as well as working on poems which I hope will form themselves into my second collection of poetry.  I’m still on the poetry competition trail (not sure if I mentioned that I’m finding competitions a useful way to focus on completing poems).  Recently I was shortlisted in the Bridport Prize and longlisted in the Ginkgo Prize.  All this, plus the surprise review, is a lovely nod to keep on keeping on.

Josephine Corcoran, ‘What Are You After?’ reviewed at Poetry Wales

Goodness, I can’t believe I missed the whole month of October here in the blog. Yes, I continue to be busy, with necessary downtime between tasks and events. At an event in November, I read poems from a new book, This Moment…in Sarah’s Garden, for which I had written poems in the voice of Sarah Davis to accompany photographs by Ken Kashian. That’s it above, accordian style, with its box and inserts, which include a packet of poppy seeds and a booklet about the history of David and Sarah Davis, their letters, her garden, and you can learn more about it at Ken’s Artist Book site here. After a busy week of meetings and events, including a story slam last night, I am having a grand Slattern Day today, of rest, reading, grocery shopping, and an at-home movie, borrowed from the library. My Cousin Rachel, based on the book by Daphne du Maurier, but not exactly the same story. […]

Perhaps all this movie watching and novel reading is escapism…from politics, despair, impeachment hearings, desperate reality. But Monday I will turn in my ballot petition to run again as a precinct committeeperson, because I have to do something. Of course I will vote. And see the new Tom Hanks movie about Mr. Rogers. “Look for the helpers.”

Kathleen Kirk, This Moment…

I’ve hit my 100 rejection target and I can see the positive results in the numbers. I’ve submitted about twice as many so far this year and have had about a 12% acceptance rate which of course I’m very happy with. The daily writing I’ve done most of the year has helped as I have a good amount of poems to submit, but it has been hard work.

I no longer edit a poem every time I submit it, though I do proof it for errors. I maybe cast a more serious eye of them every few submissions, longer if they’ve had a quick turnaround. I still research the magazines as much as I can, via guidelines, masthead blurbs and looking at old issues if I can, but I am more open to online magazines. I currently have a big backlog of unsubmitted poems, just because I don’t have the time or energy to do tons of submissions. […]

The writing course I’m on has been a nice distraction, its focus is works found in several museums, art and artefacts. So I’ve been losing myself in research black holes about photograms, gum diggers, curiosity cabinets and other unexpected subjects. I try not to spend too much time researching, but sometimes jumping from one subject to another is how I find the sweet spot from which a poem can spring.

Gerry Stewart, Targets and Black Holes

It’s my 5th straight day of yoga tonight,  even as I don’t feel well.  It’s the coughy – runny stuff. I confess that I would like to stay home tomorrow but we will see how I am in the morning. I have started some Clairton – D so maybe that will help. The coughing has brought on chest pain. 

I was telling someone the other day that it did not know if yoga was making me a better writer, but it sure was making me a less stressed writer.  I am hoping that over time that will translate into better writing. I confess that hope is a good thing. 

This past week I have been spotty as far as writing. No, I confess I have not written daily. This is the ugly truth. I say that because I know all too well how important it is to do so. I do have a new draft that I will need to work on more, so this has not been a total loss of a week. 

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Dark Pillows – Impeachment – Yoga – and Poetry drafts.

I’ve got into a rhythm of reading a Canto of Dante’s Purgatory each night before falling asleep, sometimes I get through the chapter commentary & notes too, sometimes not. If I’m too tired to finish the Canto I have to start it again the next day. Purgatorio is a more complex read than Inferno. There are just as many references to people and politics of the time, requiring explanation, but it seems to me there’s more characterisation and symbolism to get one’s head around, not to mention the philosophical wondering it’s sent me on.

Alongside this I’ve had a number of poetry collections on the go recently. Perhaps I’m getting more reading done this month because I’m not drinking alcohol? I can’t really see the connection, but I’m struggling to notice any other benefits to Dry November except the feeling of smug satisfaction that I can do it, if I put my mind to it. I hope I’m not jinxing it by making that claim when there are twelve days to go. Anyway, I wish I could commune with my internal organs and ask them if they’re feeling detoxified or rejuvenated.

Robin Houghton, Recent reading

This weekend, I find myself banging my head against the wall over these new poems I’m working on. With both of them, I think I’m trying to do too many things in too small of a space, and I’m getting all tangled and twisted up in confusing metaphors involving fire and churning waters and clarity of mind and the Trapezius. (That’s the big triangular muscle in your upper back, in case you didn’t know.) Also, Glut Bridges, although that’s a separate poem and will be a bit more…cheeky. Ha! (If I can’t write a proper poem I can at least crack myself up with a terrible pun.) I know it will all come together, but I’m very frustrated at the moment. It’s all in there, I canfeel it, but it won’t comeoutright. Argh! I need a writers-frustration helmet to keep me from bruising my forehead.

I’m also frustrated about the crocodiles. Of late, I have been playing lots of vintage Tomb Raider while waiting with baited breath for the award-winning Divinity: Original Sin 2 to go on sale…and it finally did! I downloaded it with great excitement, only to find that’s it just as hair-pulling as trying to write poems.

Kristen McHenry, Poem-Induced Head-Banging, Crocodile Wars, Clothes Complaint

Wherever inspiration is traded for expiration, or atoms of grace are centrifuged into one feud after another. Wherever life’s breath root is cut from flowers of affection, or love’s architects are left dumbfounded when their homes have been burned down—that is where you’ll find a hint of humanity blooming through those leaves of grass as Walt Whitman’s beard points faithfully towards peace. 

Rich Ferguson, Walt Whitman’s Beard

Last night, assembling books at 1am before I went to bed, I was struck by how much calmer I am now than a couple months ago.  It’s a realization that strikes me, especially when I am able to finish a batch of books (or several) during a time like overnight when I normally would have had to sandwich all of them into the couple hours I was able to be at the studio.  It does occur to me occasionally that I’d have been better served to have never rented the space, the only thing sustaining me being some more storage space for supplies (and having the whole operation & big shelves at home has proved less taxing. The dining room is a mess right now, but it’s just a few unpacked boxes I’ll get to this weekend.) There was the dream, of course, of events and open studios, but there wasn’t room for anything more than the occasional open studio (which never really happened that frequently.)  And perhaps that is the need that needed to be cast off–that little dream at the back of my head that I would one day have a little public space, a little shop, maybe, somewhere to sell books and art and maybe host readings and workshops. Maybe a bigger space there in the building (which is hilarious since I could barely afford the one had most months.) 

Kristy Bowen, new ways of working and letting go…

My S.O. and I were talking the other day about work ethic and how deeply ingrained it is in us. We were raised to be industrious. Great value was placed on labor. Laziness and leisure were suspect. To work hard, more often than not, meant you were a good person.

But work hard at what?

Because that’s what people do isn’t as satisfying an answer as it used to be.

And then there’s this: exactly what are we working hard for?

* * *

Like many of you, I turn to books and poetry for this kind of thing. Poems nearly always show me the pearl. And when they don’t do that, they describe the irritant so clearly that I understand better what I’m up against. Reading the Fall 2019 issue of Waxwing Magazine recently was like putting on a mood ring: the poems reflected back to me what I was feeling; they showed me what I was up against.

You must lift your own tired self
beyond the threshold of the door

You Must Lift Your Son’s Languid Body by Oliver de la Paz, Waxwing Magazine, Fall 2019

Here’s how it goes: We commute, we work, we commute. We shop for dinner, we cook dinner, we clean up after dinner. We watch the evening news and search our brains for the right questions (on Jeopardy, of course). We read things and text people. We scroll. We lift heavy things at the gym and run in circles around the neighborhood. We shower, dry, dress, brush.

Literally and figuratively, the days lather, rinse, repeat.

Carolee Bennett, “on the other side is what?”

This year I’ve learned the language of doctors, immersed myself in medical journals, kept daily tabs on her vitals. Everything a nurse or therapist would take the time to teach me, I learned–changing NG tubes, hep-locking a PICC line, what every single monitor meant, and there were so many monitors; what every potential side effect of a drug was, and there were so many drugs.

I returned the medical equipment a few days after Kit died, along with a note of gratitude for her surgeon, nurses, doctors. Hand-written, thanking by name, on high-school notebook paper: my resignation letter. I felt like I had been part of their team in a high stakes game; I’d been all in, and we lost.

I’ve forgotten what it is like to live this life I gave up last January, on the ultrasound table, when I learned I was having a baby–my fifth daughter!–with a potentially fatal heart condition. I took each role as doctors handed them to me–mom to a heart baby, a special needs baby, a potentially blind baby. I acclimated to native culture.

I didn’t realize, when I brought my daughter in to the hospital for that last stay, that it was her last stay. That it was the last time I would have all my children together earthside, the last time I would cradle her in my arms cord-free before I cradled her lifeless body.

Maybe like every missionary, I am desperate to go back. If I could have another day–even in her most critical days, where I spent hours bent over her bed, rubbing her forehead on the only spot with no monitors and wires–I would take it. I would walk those hall again, sit through the scary talks with doctors again, even, yes, hold her as she died again. I want to go back to that Holy Land.

I’ll always be her mom; but my assignment of mothering her, of raising her, is over. So here I am learning a new language, this incomprehensible dialect of grief.

Renee Emerson, Re-Entry

my son lithely dropped to the forest floor to shoot that mothership mushroom that is so huge it seems to be trying to lift my house from its foundation it is hubcap sized and strange and fantastic Thanksgiving will only be the two of us but I’m cooking for all his friends too who don’t have families as I always do for us it is a day to indulge in food I only eat once a year buttery rich dressing hollandaise sauce that took me years to perfect salad with candied pecans and Boursin cheese and raspberries mashed potatoes with real cream and of course pumpkin pie it is a day to relax and for my son who is remarkably normal it is a day in which he visits his friends and their families I used to cook for huge gatherings even in my tiny house friends who had no place to go and for a very long time for my ex husband which my son requested then I eventually lost touch with my friends or felt too uncomfortable around people to function and I realized that having my ex there was terrible because I had cooked for him for ten years without ever receiving a thank you when we were married and I knew when I stood in my kitchen one year making vegetarian mushroom gravy and was considering poisoning him that it was be his last meal at my house ever did I resent him for leaving my year old son and me to fend for ourselves with no child support forever you’re goddamned right I did and I still do

I am glad now that I was pushed out of the messy matrimonial bed where I was never happy to go to work in the factories to be self sufficient enough to put my son in private schools to care for him and build a home for us to watch him become such an outstanding human to teach and play music professionally to write and be published to eventually earn a union won pension to survive and thrive against all odds I am proud of what I have done

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Lock me up or I will
say the word
that stops the lying,
stops the hate,
stops the pain
inflicted on the innocent.

Lock me up or I will
say the word
that resists,
pushes back,
says no, no, no.

Tom Montag, LOCK ME UP

I was young and wanted out of my family and out of my past. I had not yet learned that this was impossible. So what did I do? I ate several years of the calendar. I then vomited up a new calendar with new days, strange numbers, and different names for the months. And my family? What did they do? The same as always; my father kept drinking good bourbon and my mother told everyone that things were fine, just fine. and my poor sister tore a page from the first calendar, wrapped it around herself like a blanket, lives that way to this very day. “Sis, are you alright?” No answer. Just big eyes and a shiver.

James Lee Jobe, ‘I was young and wanted out of my family and out of my past.’

Winner of the Walt Whitman Award, Emily Skaja’s BRUTE (Graywolf Press, 2019) is a stunning collection of poetry that navigates the dark corridors of trauma found at the end of an abusive relationship. “Everyone if we’re going to talk about love please we have to talk about violence,” writes Skaja in the poem “remarkable the litter of birds.” She indeed talks about the intersections of both love and violence, evoking a range of emotional experiences ranging from sorrow and loss to rage, guilt, hope, self discovery, and reinvention. These poems reflect the present moment — ripe with cell phones, social media, and technologies that shift the way humans interact with each other — while maintaining a mythic quality, with the speaker feeling like a character struggling to survive in a surreal fairytale world.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: BRUTE by Emily Skaja

A few years ago, in mid-July, I revisited Reedham. I stood at the edge of the first field, the one that bordered the rambling gardens of the Old Hall and across which I used to stride at the beginning of my explorations. Initially it looked much the same, but a cursory inspection swiftly revealed the changes: the windbreak hedgerows had gone; the crop had been harvested already; not a single skylark spiralled high into the clear air.

I learned recently that since 1970 the skylark population has declined by 52%. Major changes in cultivation and harvesting procedures are thought to be responsible for this, notably the switch from spring to autumn-sown cereals, the disappearance of the hedgerows and the vulnerability of birds to the massively increased use of insecticides and weedkillers.

It would seem, then, that the skylark – a bird whose rural associations transcend entirely the phoney bucolic Merrie England clichés – is another casualty of the late-20th century. Apparently not. Although a 52% decline in a little over 30 years is dramatic and alarming, a government-funded study has demonstrated that merely the provision of two small patches left untouched within a hectare of cultivated land can reverse local decline. Experiments done over a two-year period resulted in an increase of nearly 50% in skylark breeding. So to encourage the process, farmers are being offered £30.00 per hectare to join a scheme involving small, undrilled patches across their field systems.

A small resistance to an advancing tide. ‘So shines a bright deed in a naughty world’. If the farmers of East Norfolk are an enlightened crew, maybe I’ll be able to lie on my back in the great fields by The Old Hall, Reedham again in a year or two, watching & hearing the larks ascending.

Dick Jones, LARKS ASCENDING

I stand at the threshold
where one thing
becomes another.

I choose sky.
Water.
Sitka spruce.

Return of
snowy plover.

Carey Taylor, Threshold

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 46

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.

Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in, but this week, poetry bloggers seemed especially off-beat. Which isn’t to say I didn’t still find some common themes: morning meditations, anecdotes about sharing poetry in public, discussions of book covers, and appreciations for poets of unvarnished originality, among others. Enjoy.


I have been awake since 4:30 this morning listening to the rain caught in a bit of fairy magik during the quiet that happens when waking after my guts feel sorry and strained then calm it’s still dark one or two cats purring at my feet or near my side the day has not yet intruded my email goes untended the house is settled the day still out of reach shiny as a wrapped present and I read a little bit usually the online version of The Paris Review or some other journal to the blue glow of my iPad this is when my brain works at maximum flow this is the time in which I should write but more often than not I just lie in bed under my snow white comforter and bask until the owls hoo their wake up question I don’t know when exactly I became a morning person I think it must have been when the composer disbanded the orchestra and I stopped going to rehearsals every Tuesday at 7 pm then went out after to The Berkshire Grill with everyone until very late then woke too early to get to work on time I used to practice at night and write at night inside my most creative self but now that I have the forest and the sea to care for mornings have become touchstones they have become magik the fairy time in between sleep and solid wakefulness

Rebecca Loudon, The blue hour

The fish rejects my worm, the old dog does not wish to be petted by me, and my perfectly tended tomato plants yield amazingly few tomatoes. I am learning, through much trial and error, to not take life personally. Looking up, I notice that the sky is the same shade of blue as the eyes of my grandmother, Rosemund.

James Lee Jobe, ‘The fish rejects my worm, the old dog’

… a free verse of peeling paint,
the rust working in silence. 

Claudia Serea, The locked door

When you write a poem that resembles a spell, prayer, charm, curse, or blessing, are you trying to make something happen, and if so, what or how?

That’s what we talked about on the Uncanny Activisms panel I organized for the C.D. Wright Women Writers Conference last weekend (the conference as a whole was wonderful, especially the keynote by Camille Dungy). “We” from left includes Hyejung Kook, Jane Satterfield, Anna Lena Phillips Bell, Anna Maria Hong, Ashley M. Jones, and yours truly, talking with her hands again. Some brilliant tidbits I scribbled down from this brilliant cohort: Ashley remarking that all poems are spells; Anna Lena responding that spell-poems are the poemiest kind of poem, and speaking about how poems help us focus attention; Jane musing about shape-shifting through reading and writing, and how poetry can be a means to power, sometimes as an alternative when legal recourse isn’t working; Hyejung talking about poetry as an act of transformation (and about Icelandic fart curses, which I have yet to look up). I LOVED this conversation and it seems as if others did, too, which made me happy, as if we might be a small band of spellcasters setting out to fix the world through verse. If you want to join the effort, check out the amazing prompts I gathered from these writers for a pretty handout (less prettily listed below). We will be soliciting uncanny activist work for a future issue of Shenandoah, but for the moment, note that poetry subs open today (11/15-12/15), and there’s a special prize for Virginia poets: $1000 for the Graybeal-Gowan award, no entry fee, judged by Beth and me. Everything submitted will be considered for general publication as well as the prize. I’m excited to start reading but also a little worried about managing the deluge. My novel galleys just came in, and my students need lots of conferences this time of year, and I’m trying to squeeze in time to apply for book promotion opportunities…oy.

Lesley Wheeler, Uncanny paneling

restaurant 
the curry waiter sparkles
i too write poetry

Jim Young (untitled haiku)

One afternoon we were meeting with our French colleagues at L’ecole Militaire and because we have a joint project with them, we wanted to get to know each other a little bit better. We went around the room stating our name, our background, and something interesting about ourselves. When it was my turn I stated the required information and then stated that I was a published poet with a new book coming out in March 2020. Few of my US colleagues knew this and certainly none of my French colleagues did so everyone was quite surprised.

That evening, after our required social event — which had us drinking champagne and eating hors d’oeuvres while enjoying a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower — my colleagues and I settled into the hotel bar for another drink.

My colleagues inquired about my poetry and I told them a little about my book, Beautiful & Full of Monsters, and about my poetry in general. Then someone asked a question they may have ultimately regretted: “Can you read us some of your poems?”

Never one to shy away from reading poetry, I told them I would read a poem that had been published that very day, Did Not, published by Dovecote. They fell into a hush when I started reading and then the look of surprise and on some faces – shock – stared back at me. I continued with Butcher, which was a finalist in Furious Gazelle’s 2019 Spring Writing Contest. And then I laughed and said, “I’ll read you a lighter one!” and read To My Ex Who Asked if Every Poem was About Him. By the time I finished most sat in stunned silence. Yes, I could have eased them into my poetry with poems that are a little less intense…but that’s not really what I write and I’m proud of these poems and think they’re a good representation of what I write. I mean, if you’re going to jump into poetry you may as well do it head-first.

Courtney LeBlanc, Then Paris, Always Paris

If you have anything in print, always always always carry a couple of copies of it wherever you go! Naturally the best source of sales is at poetry readings and open mic events, but I’ve sold two copies of my pamphlet and one of the audiobook version on two different train journeys. I’ve sold one at an art exhibition I attended to support a friend. Yesterday I went to a conference about how technology is being used and developed in the treatment of Type 1 diabetes. I lost my sight and have a kidney transplant as the result of diabetic complications and, still being a bit of a geek, I like to know what technological devices are currently available and might soon be available. Diabetes Cymru allocated two sighted guides to meet me from the taxi and help me to the auditorium and out again to get my lunch. As we talked before the first speaker, I mentioned that I wrote poetry … ‘Just a moment,’ I said, ‘I have a copy of my pamphlet in my bag!’ … first sale ensued :) Then while I was talking to her and the man she was at the time talking to, she told the man I wrote poetry,
‘Oh really? That’s marvellous … can I see a copy?’
Indeed you can, sir! Sale number two! Those two sales paid for my taxi ride home ;) I live in the poetry economy ;)

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetic Hangings

When I send out poems for publication I look for a trifecta of things (+2) that have made me happy in the past. Do you have a list of things that make you go through the permutations of cover letter, bio, final revisions of revised poems? The longer I do this, the longer this whole process seems to take. And that’s why when I find a magazine like December, it makes me want to share the news!

1. Most importantly, the magazine must be physically gorgeous. Call me shallow but I do judge a journal by its cover. And its font, quality of paper, layout. I want to know that a good deal of care and yes, love, went into the making of this object. There are 1,000s of literary journals publishing today. You get to choose where to send your work. The poem you perhaps worked on for years deserves the best!

2. In this world, I want my poems to also have some on-line presence. While December selects a few poems to place on their website (and mine wasn’t one of them this time) they do have a user friendly site. At the end of this post I will share the beginnings of the the two poems I published in their recent issue so you can get a sense of their taste although the journal a a whole showcases diverse talents and tastes. As an aside, The Baltimore Review publishes every poet on-line and in an annual journal. I should say, however, that their annual journal is not as elegant as December. But they also pay in gift cards!

3. Cool fellow poets. This one’s self explanatory. I love being in the same issue with friends or poets that I look up to. My poet friends and I are always trading sources and so it’s imperative to read the journal before you send them your work!

4. Payment. Yes, I want to be compensated for my work in the exchange material that our culture values. And no, $20 for a poem is not an hourly fee. I don’t believe anyone who writes poetry does it for the money. (Okay I once met a Zimbabwean poet who told me he was getting rich off his poetry but that’s a different story.) I worked on “Binocular Vision” for many years and so even a small check feels as if the world is valuing my poem a little more. I did come across a press recently that gives all their books away for free as long as the reader makes a donation to an organization of her choice or passes the book along. I like this model, too — although the funding must be all donations?

5. And this last one might be a bit more controversial. I look for a woman editor. Thank you Gianna Jacobson! Yes, gender matters. In my decades and decades of sending work to journals and being published in all 50 states, I’ve noticed that women editors tend to be more communicative, more generous in offering small but important edits, and more interested in my work. I know there are many exceptions to this statement. For example, Rick Barot at New England Review and Peter Grimes at Pembroke Magazine are two exemplary editors and people.

Susan Rich, 5 Things to Look for When Sending Out Your Work: December

The rejections keep coming, difficulties pop up when you’re least expecting them, but I’m trying to keep focused on the occasional acceptance or bit of good news. I wait for the days when the rain stops, so I can rake the carpet of leaves that still covers the lawn. I remind myself that I have a pamphlet coming out next year. I’m getting more teaching jobs, adding a new school this week. I try to make things to look forward to, I’m planning a short holiday with some friends. I keep on writing poems whenever I can. Forward momentum. 

And on the pamphlet, I’ve been looking at artwork for my cover. I have no firm ideas, I have feelings and themes, but staring at Pixabay isn’t getting me anywhere. I’ve also contacted a photographer about getting my author photo done. Ahh, too real. 

Gerry Stewart, The Ups and Downs of Writing Life

Diane [Lockward]: I recall that the first image we seriously considered for the cover of Sugar Fix was a single slice of red velvet cake on a plate floating in air. It initially seemed perfect for your book which several times references red velvet cake. We both loved that image. I enhanced the colors, then muted them. I worked up several sample covers. You did too, but we ended up not using the image. Tell us why we had to abandon it.

Kory [Wells]: I am quite taken with the work of Charles Keiger, and as you say, his red velvet cake was so tempting to use. On his blog he even says that the painting to him is about nostalgia and longing, two themes that  occur in Sugar Fix. Ultimately, though, the image didn’t pass my gut check. Although some of the poems in the book turn toward darkness, the painting felt too moody for the collection as a whole. Some might consider this a poor aesthetic, but I wanted a cover that simply made me feel happy when I looked at it.

Diane: I recall that you next zeroed in on the art of Janet Hill. What attracted you to her work?

Kory: I’d discovered Janet Hill not too long ago when I was adding images to my Pinterest board “The Art of Reading,” paintings that show people engaged with books. To me, much of Hill’s work is a delightful combination of romantic and quirky; they feel vintage and yet contemporary. Her paintings have a charm that seems very Southern (although Hill lives in Ontario) and are at times darkly comic. I like to think all those same descriptions apply to Sugar Fix.

Diane Lockward, Finding the Right Cover Art for Your Poetry Book

I have been settling back into press duties after the upheaval, and despite occasionally not being able to find things–tape, the staples, covers for books in progress–shuffled during the move, things are going well. […]

I am still battling printers, of which I am less than happy with the cover finishes, and am shopping for a good color laser with a smooth finish-I have my eye on a Canon ImageClass model that seems to be more what I’m looking for (the Brother is good for insides, but the color seems a little chalkier than I like.).  Meanwhile, I have a stock of the last covers printed on the Lexmark for the latest titles before I tossed it and the little Epson inkjet, which works for some things and has a scanner/copier if I need it. But I need the new probably within the next week as I run out.

I am also just happier to be working at a more efficient, but still more leisurely pace than my studio time used to allow. Now, if I can’t finish something before I go to bed, it’s easy to make time in the morning, and not lose a whole day until I can get back to it. So much progress was stalled by limited time, by stops and starts, and while it took me a long time to admit that I really had to do what I had to do, I am certain it was the best decision. The stranglehold of never having sufficient time in the workspace that I’ve felt for the last 12 years has eased a bit, and already I feel like I am the better for it. 

Kristy Bowen, dgp notes | november edition

It took some time for me to figure out how I wanted to capture my thoughts on what I’m reading as part of my 100 books in 12 months project. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to slow down enough to write formal reviews, I decided to use a reading notes format where I keep a list of thoughts as I read, quote some lines that knock my socks off and include links to reviews and poems from each book.

While doing that for Donna Vorreyer’s Every Love Story Is an Apocalypse Story, I stumbled upon her non-traditional book review of Amorak Huey’s Boom Box.

The review is a sketch. That’s it. That’s the whole thing.

And I loved it.

She tells us a lot about the book with quick impressions and short quotes and, of course, an image that aligns with the book’s title. She sketched a cassette tape along with the folded, detailed card stock inserts that — back in *my* day — served as “album” cover for the cassette… and lyrics, if we were lucky.

Donna’s nontraditional book review delighted me, as I was already curious about inventive ways to respond to the books we read. I had written a nontraditional review to an essay collection a couple years back, but I had no idea what else was out there. With this blog post, I attempt to correct that.

Carolee Bennett, book reviews with unexpected style

This week, I’m reflecting on Kyna Leski‘s marvelous little book The Storm of Creativity. How to describe this text? It’s written by someone who teaches architecture as well as designs spaces, and who reads across disciplines and thinks both deeply and widely. It is not a how-to book; more of a how-it-works book. I learned of this book through Deborah Barlow (in 2015!) and finally have gotten around to reading it.

Leski uses the analogy of a storm system, from moisture in the ground or bodies of water through the gathering of the storm organizing itself into, say, a hurricane, and takes the process all the way through to dissipation (a kind of “death”) and restarting the cycle, when what we have is new again–and will not be exactly the same next time. […]

Here’s the thing: she captures the process as I myself experience it. I keep re-reading sections of this book and nodding in recognition. I am not the sort of person who spends much time analyzing creativity; I prefer to read how other people analyze the process and decide whether their reflections or analyses dovetail with my own. In this case, yes. For me, anyway, the creative process organizes like a storm.

The gathering part of the work coincides with that aspect of writing that I call observing. Gathering is a good word for it (Leski uses denotations and etymology as she defines her process, so that appeals to me, too). There’s a phrase my relatives used referring to someone daydreaming or loafing reflectively: “woolgathering.” Despite this interesting inquiry into the appropriateness of the phrase to mean loafing or daydreaming, in our family it meant daydreaming. I used to think the phrase referred to watching clouds–one of my favorite activities as a child–because clouds often look like wool. At any rate, woolgathering’s essential to my writing practice.

And sometimes, those clouds collect together, and create a storm.

Ann E. Michael, Storms

The poem that I was somewhat more satisfied with last week underwent another procedure this weekend, and is again transformed. It’s interesting what time and distance will do in providing solutions to tricky poems. One of my co-workers recently ask me how my poetry was going, as she knows I have a reading coming up soon, and I told her that it was going okay, but that writing poems isn’t the sort of thing that you can do effectively on a strict production schedule. I’m finally starting to accept that poems evolve, ever so slowly and in their own time, and pushing the process is almost never effective. Part of the strain for me is this entirely self-created pressure to ensure that I have something “new” to read, because I feel like such a failure for not have written much poetry over the last few years. But I am trying to let go and trust in the poems to reveal what they need to bloom.

Kristen McHenry, I Miss Cats, Anatomy of A Poem, Puttin’ Some Stank on It

I hear the tick of drips off my metal roof onto the deck, somewhere a low hum of a machine in the neighborhood, far off a rumble of a truck just discernible, the leaves are moving outside my window but I can’t hear their titter in here. I hear the steady jangle of my tinnitus in one ear. Now the truck is gone. Now I hear the dehumidifier in the basement kick in. More drip drip from the roof. This sounds like noise on the page, but feels like quiet to me. Most of the year my neighborhood is blessedly quiet. […]

I wonder if this is why I was drawn to poetry: the importance of silence in it, the tension between sound and silence that often resolves in a sound spoken into and reverberating in silence, and then dying away, leaving silence (or the post-poem moo) once again, replacing the noisy self, at least for a moment.

I need silence. It’s a visceral thing sometimes. […]

I’ve been experimenting in my poetry with placing white on the page among words. We had an interesting conversation about this at my recent writing retreat — how do you decide where the space goes in such a setting? Natural pauses, deliberate choices to withhold information or make the reader wait, and some instinct about what words or phrases could use the kind of emphasis that silence around them can provide was our best guess at an equation for such decisionmaking.

Sometimes I fear it makes the poem look too self-conscious on the page. Ooh, look at me all spread out here. But mostly I like it. It eases me somehow to allow some light and space into these poems I’ve been working on, and even imposing them on old poems in revision. Nothing worse than a poem that barks at you from the page, incessant, tied to a pole in the backyard.

Marilyn McCabe, So Quiet in Here; or, In Praise of Silence in Poetry

I was at a poetry reading at the The Albert Poets on Thursday. It was a room full of people who loved Mark Hinchcliffe. Mark had been in intensive care for days, surgeons fighting for his life after his liver transplant. At some point in the evening, his wife texted his close friend, Stephanie Bowgett, to say that Mark had died. At the end of the evening, Steph gave us the news. We’d all lost someone important to us, and something irreplaceable. I’ve known Mark for six years or so, sharing so many Monday evening workshops, listening to yet another of his remarkable poems arrive in the world. I guess most of you won’t know his work. But Ted Hughes did. That’s recommendation enough, I think. […]

This is what another of the Albert Poets, Carola Luther, wrote about Mark’s work. She puts it better than I can.

“Mark Hinchcliffe writes love poems, praise poems and poems of lamentation and devotion…these are not ironic poems. They weave myth into both the dark and the everyday with a seriousness and attention that could be prayer”

The phrase that really nails it for me is these are not ironic poems. Nor are they naive or innocent or playful, though they might be any or all of these things. I said at the start there are things I just don’t ‘get’ and I should end by saying there are things I think I ‘get’ but can’t explain. I just know that I keep re-reading these poems because they keep puzzling me.

I find it unbelievable that there will be no more of them. But those cats , those hares, The Green Man, the mermaids and foxes are out there, now, and always will be. A boy who looks for aeroplanes on the moors is out there too. You may meet him out on the cottongrass millstone Pennines. Give him good day.

John Foggin, Out of the ordinary.

Anne Barngrover wrote in her debut book, with simply smashing imagery. “I feel like a wasps nest nailed to a door, all the stingers dried to rose thorns.”  This was another Mary (knows how to pick them) Biddinger find. The book, Brazen Creature.

Loving, losing,  and all that happens in-between in these poems. Each is bold and unapologetic. Each is brazen. It could be in some ways a feminist manifesto. 

Metaphor is not lost on the revenge of the brown recluse. “Our hearts are nothing//but lies and lilac bruises. Old friend, we both want/each other dead tonight.” This collection of poems was like an emotional workout. I want more of her work to read!

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday: My 2019 Poet Crush Six Pack

I posted a post on Facebook about coming to the realization, as I was doing poetry submissions of my poems and books, that perhaps my poetry is not going to be for everyone. Here’s what I wrote:

“Sometimes when I’m doing poetry submissions I get insight into why not everyone wants to publish my poetry: it’s funny, but in a dark way; the worldview is pretty depressing; it’s environmental, but not in a warm-and-fuzzy way, more in a mother-nature-is-a-scary-avenging angel way. It’s feminist, but also not in an easy, “dancing in a circle celebrating menses” way. I mean, I write love poems, but not a ton. Anyway, I recognize I’m not an easy, feel-good poet. I’m not a Netflix holiday romantic comedy. I get it. I’m the indie movie your film friend recommended and then you’re like “Why did she make me see that?” But still, I’ll probably try knocking at your door, poetry editors…”

When Sylvia Plath complained in her letters and journals about not getting publishing enough or not getting recognition, she doesn’t seem to realize her writing might be off-putting to the conservative patriarchal poetry world that was on the rise in her lifetime – her husband was being actively encouraged by T.S. Eliot for goodness’ sake, while she could barely get a mentor. Virginia Woolf, before Sylvia, suffered because she lacked getting enough critical attention for her ground-breaking fiction – but her style is just now being recognized as genius and ground-breaking. I just read in a British magazine that Daphne du Maurier – one of my favorite gothic fiction writers from my childhood – is regaining a reputation as a fine literary writer after years as being denigrated as a writer of trashy horror/romances and PhD students are newly studying her archives. I read an article about Margaret Atwood where she talked about self-publishing her first book of poetry and  hand-selling it to bookstores; she didn’t write The Handmaid’s Tale, which shot her to fame, until she was in her forties – my age, in fact. I mean, my writer heroines – such as they are, a motley crew – have never really had an easy time of it, especially early, even if they had more success than I’ve had in my lifetime yet. So I’ve got to remember that my writer heroines struggled and suffered and continued to write and send out their work even in an unfriendly hour, at an unfriendly time.  I will continue to write what I write and send it out into the world, hoping it will find its audience.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Notes from November, How to Cheer Yourself Up and Stave Off SAD, and Surviving Being an Idiosyncratic Woman Writer

This morning, I wrote a poem.  I’d like to say that I wrote a poem, as I do every morning.  But I don’t do that every morning.  I wonder if I would wrest more meaning from life if I did write a poem every morning.  I suspect I would have a similar reaction as I do to liturgical seasons.  Some of my poetry writing mornings would feel important and significant, but many more would leave me wondering about the larger meaning of it all and reflecting on drudgery.

This morning I baked the gluten free communion bread.  It needs to be made on the day of the worship service because of the nature of gluten free bread; I know from experience that it doesn’t freeze well.  As I stirred together the ingredients, this line came to me:  On the last Sunday of Ordinary Time, I bake the communion bread.  Once I got the bread in the oven, I sat down to write.

I played with the line–should it be bake or create?  The idea of Hildegard of Bingen bubbled up in my brain–a creative woman of her time, a woman I see as subversive, although I don’t know that she saw herself that way.  I wanted to hear some of her music, and we live in a wonderful age where the Internet can provide.  I spent some time writing my poem and listening to this group sing the medieval music of Hildegard of Bingen.

I was struck by the woman with the green swoosh in her auburn hair and the chunky boots visible from the slit of her formal gown singing the music written by a monastic woman centuries earlier.  What would Hildegard have said?

I like to think of Hildegard of Bingen smiling at the many ways we’ve seized her legacy and taken up her mantle.  Some of us do that by writing, the way that she did.  Some of us have seized her mantle by singing the music that she left us.  Some of us tend our gardens, the ones we grow for food, the ones we grow for herbs, the ones we grow for the beauty of the flowers, the interior gardens that we may or may not share.  Some of us take on the Hildegard’s mantle when we scold bishops and legislators and remind them of the obligation of creating a more just society.  We wear Hildegard’s mantle as we care for the next generations, some of whom we’re related to biologically, some of whom we will never meet.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Last Sunday in Ordinary Time: Hildegard of Bingen’s Mantle

Into the lives of the wealthy and weary, the healthy and homeless, buddhists, brawlers, and churchgoers with shoes spit-shined to Sunday. Into the hearts of families and friends, caretakers and gravediggers, the warring, wounded, and those rolling along on rackety wheels of glad. Into the eyes of dogs and drunks, landlords and store clerks, the old, infirm, and young lovers loud and lavish at the borderlands of yes—the new glow of this lighted living sun.

Rich Ferguson, Another Day in L.A.

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 43

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: “discontent, joy, / resignation, rekindling” to quote Lynne Rees, one of two newcomers to the digest (the other being Robin Houghton). I was happy to find some Halloweenish posts in my feed, but disappointed not to find any about Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights which is being celebrated right now in the north London neighborhood where I’m staying with lots of things that go explody-boom. I guess that falls under “rekindling.”


Standing by the river Neva, wanting to compose poetry in St Petersburg, I couldn’t hear beyond the lines of great poets – Akhmatova, Blok, Tsvetaeva, Mandelstam. History dominates voice, especially in Russia. The Revolution, Stalin’s terrors, the siege, all produced that great heroic resistance. We’re not in the same history. We’re in a vertiginous whirl, a global mess – oy! We stare, fixated, single-minded, stuck in one voice, while the river rushes in its own voices.

I like a multiplicity of voices, both full of critique and full of observation of humble objects that affirm our reality. So in Russia, who will write about young designers, scattering autumn leaves in its planked floor to show their rough hemp and peasant dresses? A hipster cafe by the canal, millet with pumpkin and pumpkin seeds? Restaurants that serve persimmon and yuzu over tuna.

Jill Pearlman, Petersburg’s Fresh Waters

I’ve stopped listening to the urgent voices of my friends discussing
The news that I brought from Paris
On both sides of the train close by or along the banks of
The distant valley
The forest is there watching me unsettling me enticing me like
a mummy’s mask
I watch back
Never the flicker of an eye.

Some poems by Blaise Cendrars translated by Dick Jones

Deaf Republic swiftly vacillates between death/violence to sex/love and back again. This is jarring both in a good way and a bad way: the love poems save us from the war in the streets; the war poems devastate us more on account of understanding the love that’s being stolen/interrupted. It continues. The brutality accumulates. [Ilya] Kaminsky succeeds in making everything feel precarious. There is horror everywhere. It exists alongside personal tenderness. These poems create a fear in me, not of a world that’s possible but of a world that is. […]

There are several very powerful devices deployed in the collection, including the illustrations of signs (as in sign language), portrayal of the town/setting as a character (“Vasenka watches us watch…”) and the presence of puppets (not a metaphor). It took me a while to “get” the puppets. Having just finished the collection this evening, I am still absorbing all of it, but at the moment, for me, the puppets serve as a foil for the humans. Kaminsky practices great restraint in using this device. It could easily be overdone. Instead, the puppets are there as echoes of humans. Their simple presence (which isn’t overstated at all) sets up an inherent contrast with humans. And yet, humans can also be silent and lack volition. And this can be self-preservation. And we can hate them for it.

Carolee Bennett, “why did you allow all this?”

As we close in on the height of spooky season, it seems appropriate that some of the exquisite damage series is getting a little bit of airplay (see some of it here, here, and here.) It being devoted most singularly to a certain kind of middle class fear and anxiety as glimpsed through horror movies. In some ways, it was a project I was mostly just futzing around with last spring, that is, until we went to the slasher convention at DePaul and something started take shape during the keynote speech–a comment about how, as people became more and more securely middle class, they started to seek out ways to get an adrenaline rush from the sensation of being unsafe.  I imagine, if you were starving, at war, or much less comfortable, further scaring yourself wouldn’t be at the top of the list.   You see it in the golden age of gothic novels–in the audience of predominantly women, predominantly secure in their homes. In the late 70’s, surely that middle class comfort level spawned slasher movies.  You, there, in your house, while outside, any number of killers could be watching you from the bushes outside. Growing up in the 80’s was both a time of immense freedom and immense fear.  Yes, we could disappear for hours from our parents and come back at dusk, but everyone warned us of stranger danger, of the man in the creepy white van. When I was a pre-teen, there was a very high profile case of a teenager who’d gone missing from a park, her face plastered on billboards all over the area. A year or so later, they found her body in a forest preserve.

Kristy Bowen, middle class horror & american anxiety

Are there words
to stitch up the cuts?
If I hold a pebble
against my gum, will it
put down roots, and bud?

PF Anderson, (untitled)

But this taught me that it is ok for me to say I can’t do this right now, and it is ok for me Not to cry. When I am at the hospital, I am there to listen, to learn, to talk to doctors and understand so I can make smart choices for my daughter. It isn’t the place for weeping, not at all moments anyway. If I don’t want to weep that day, they’ve got no place prying at me until they find the right phrase that makes me weep. It is ok for me to preserve whatever walls I need there so that I can best advocate for my daughter.

I also learned to never, ever read poetry to social workers.

Renee Emerson, I can’t

Autumn plays us like this: discontent, joy,
resignation, rekindling. While darkness moves
closer each day we find comfort in the season’s shift:
a palette of bronze leaves, wood-smoke, a coin
found in the pocket of a heavy coat.

Lynne Rees, Rewards

– Here, around Sacramento, California, it’s a time for poets to grieve; we lost three from our ranks, all in a row. James Moose, Jane Blue, and Dennis Schmitz. Fine poets, fine people. They will be missed.

– I live in Davis, 11 miles west of downtown Sacramento. In our local newspaper, The Davis Enterprise, I do a monthly feature, a poem of the month. The mayor wanted me to do this as part of being the poet laureate. This month I am featuring a poem by James Moose on loss.

– As a young man I spent some time as a hermit. An urban hermit, but a hermit nonetheless. I would go to a new city, rent a small room, and keep to myself. It was very monk-like (monkish?), my existence. What did I do? Study poetry, mostly. Oh, I’d have a job, and go out into the world, but I kept to myself as much as I could. I was alone, but I was not lonely. I liked it.

– A number of older family members died while I was an urban hermit. Sometimes it would be months before I found out.

– Through the window above my desk I can see the leaves changing color. Why does autumn feel like Death to me? Is it the leaves?

James Lee Jobe, journal – 21 Oct 2019

At a Halloween fair on Saturday, my daughter and I rapped drumbeats in unison as we strolled amidst the ghosts and skeletons—a downbeat to diamond our uplift, an upbeat to sapphire our sweet and lows. At one point, a stranger remarked at the sturdiness of my daughter’s voice and her sense of rhythm. It heartens me that my baby girl and I can guide one another towards ever more lively and luminous music, even as strange spirits and boneyards surround us. A downbeat to diamond our uplift, an upbeat to sapphire our sweet and lows.

Rich Ferguson, Drumbeats to Banish the Boneyard Blues

The Amazing Pumpkin Carve, which I described in The Amazing Pumpkin Carve 2019, part 1, has come and gone. Omigosh, those huge sculpted pumpkins!  :- D

It was an honor, indeed, to have had a small part in the success of this big annual event. The Hopewell Valley Arts Council, who ran it, generously allowed me to place ten of my micro-poem signs around the fairgrounds for the five-day duration of the fall festival’s run. [Click through for photos of the signs.]

Bill Waters, The Amazing Pumpkin Carve 2019, part 2

autumn
leaves littering
Twitter

Jim Young [untitled haiku]

It’s been said plenty of times before. Social media (and the internet long before social media) is a goldfish bowl of performative behaviour. I think those of us who spend a lot of time on it have a responsibility to remember that. There was a time when out-and-out self-promotion seemed to take over Facebook and Twitter (which was a big reason why I left Facebook some years ago). The rule of ‘Twitizenship’ now seems to be: only promote one’s own successes if at the same time you shout about everyone/anyone else’s.

And failures? Someone once said they hated the way some people filled up Facebook with their bad news, which no-one wants to be dragged down by. And yet, whenever I talk about my many poetry rejections on this blog, it gets the most positive comments. It would certainly be refreshing to see the odd ‘for the tenth year running I came nowhere in the Bridport’ on Twitter. But who wants to be accused of sour grapes?

I just wish we could a) talk more realistically (and more often) about the fact that the vast majority of poems don’t win prizes, as this may help us all to put things in perspective, b) worry a little less about keeping up a saintly/sanitised appearance on social media, and c) put the brakes on the ‘congratulations’ circulars: by all means send a DM, but no-one needs to be congratulated publicly/anonymously on Twitter for being on a shortlist, in my humble opinion. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Am I just being grumpy?

Robin Houghton, Let’s talk about failures…

I’m also very happy to share the list of “Notable Poems,” the silver medalists in this strange Olympian struggle. My first brush with the BCP [Best Canadian Poetry] series was when a poem of mine was “Noted” in the 2011 edition. I flipped a copy open in a bookstore and was floored. The Other Side of Ourselves had come out earlier that year and in the final edits I’d removed the “Noted” poem from the manuscript! So I felt ridiculous and afloat all at once. I was only beginning to learn the vagaries of literary awards and lists of “Bests”: how little one should let these things get to them (be they excluded or included), and how impossible it is to fully manage that.

The 2011 guest editor was Priscila Uppal, who I met for the first time when she came to Vancouver for a BCP 2011 launch. There were only a handful of Vancouver-based BCP contributors that year (I don’t want to shock you, but seven of the series’ first ten guest editors were Ontario-based!), so I was asked to read as a “Noted” poet. From the stage, I teased Priscila/BCP/the universe about my runner-up status, and though she laughed it off with the good humour she was so known for, I could tell it pained her a bit as well, and I later regretted doing it. In hindsight, I understand her reaction – oh, how you come to love all of these poems and their poets! The arbitrary severing at poem #50 feels unbearably cruel, as does the one at poem #100. So I very much appreciate this chance to recognize the “next 50” poems, which would make just as strong an anthology as the fifty selected. I wish I could have included an “Also Notable Poems” featuring the next 50, too, and another after that, and another after that…

Funnily enough, Priscila herself is on the 2019 “Notable” list. She published a powerful, very funny suite of poems in ottawater not long before she died in September 2018. I agonized over including one of her poems in the anthology, and I wish I could invite her up on stage at one of the BCP 2019 launches to read it. I like to believe she would have teased me mercilessly (as I would have rightly deserved).

To the poets on the “Notable” list (posted below and included in the back of the anthology), I hope you float a bit, as I did in 2011. And I hope you aren’t too hard on me for making what is obviously the wrong decision. Where possible, I’ve provided links to the poems themselves. These poems may not have made the book, but the upside is that you can read them now for free (and, goodness, you should)!

Rob Taylor, Best Canadian Poetry 2019 is here! (Contributors and Notable Poems)

I am trying to write a narrative poem, which is unusual for me. “Narrative” meaning there’s a story in it.

And the poem is a story that is not my story. It’s not even the person’s who told the story — I’m a bystander three times away from the action.
And the emotion of the central character, desperation that spurs an action that risks everything, is not one I know — desperation, I know; action for action’s sake, I know; but risking everything? I’m far too cautious, canny, and grasping for that.

So can I write this poem?

I have a couple of unsuccessful drafts. They are missing the punch. My advice to myself is good: stick with the visceral image, keep close to the body. And I know that, James Wright-like, I can ask the title to do some work. But I’m not finding my way in, not finding my way out.

Should I not be writing a story that is not my own, however fictionalized? Is the situation I’m trying to write about too foreign from my own experiences? Is it possible for my imagination to fall short?

Marilyn McCabe, Like a Knight from some Old Fashioned Book; or, On Writing Outside of Lived Experience

Many years ago, I wrote a poem about baggage, called Baggage. Over the weekend, I started working on a new poem about luggage. I like the word “luggage” because it’s more evocative. That’s what we do with it, lug it around. Pull it and push it and attend to it because it must be attended to at all times. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just stopped lugging my luggage around, but I don’t know how. I’ve lugged it with me for so long that I would feel slightly bereft without its burden. We’ll see where this goes poem-wise.

Kristen McHenry, Naked Spa Day, Baggage vs. Luggage, Badge of Strength

I feel like there is an adjustment period during this time of year, going from the more mild long nights of summer into the short, dark, wet evenings of fall, and you have to care for yourself appropriately, You change your diet (soup!), your sleeping patterns (more!) the way you dress (getting out boots, sweaters, even winter coats.) You drink hot cider and hot chocolate and hot coffee, you watch shows you probably would give me a miss if was nice outside, you reorganize drawers and closets so you can get to your boots and cardigans.

As I move into my mid-forties, I also notice I have to adjust to life as a middle aged person. College students don’t always get my references to Kurt Cobain (or even Heath Ledger.) I need to wear moisturizer every day now. It takes me a little longer to bounce back after a night out. Old fillings fall out of my teeth. Teeth give you more trouble and are literally a budget item. (I swear I spend more on teeth than I do on clothes, which stinks!)

There’s also an adjustment period after being diagnosed with something like MS. You have to learn how to care for yourself with a new condition, even if it’s not really new, just newly diagnosed. Once again, you learn that a night out means at least one down day, maybe two or three. It takes longer to recover from illnesses. I need to rest more, and if I don’t, my body makes sure I do it by giving me unpleasant reminders. So I’m working on increasing patience for my body, resilience from hard times, bad moods, and viruses, or even “normal” symptoms of MS that might not seem normal to me. Not yet. Recovering from rejections also takes me a couple of days now. They don’t stop me from writing, though.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Seeing Poets, Learning to Adjust, Seasonal Change

“An extra vertebrae? I’m a mutant!” I exclaimed. “It would be better if I could breathe under water or fly. This is kind of a lame mutation.”

She laughed and then began the hard work – putting my SI joint back into place and getting the muscles in my back to release. I have a weekly appointment through the end of the year and hope to see an improvement.

I don’t write much about my crooked spine anymore, though a few (very old) poems exist. Vertebrae, was published in Connections Literary Magazine in Fall 2007. Yes, this poem is more than twelve years old and it decidedly not my best work. But, we all gotta start somewhere.

Right now I’m focused on corrected some of the things I’ve been doing – like crossing my legs. This pulls my SI joint out and so I’m trying to stop doing it. But it’s a habit and so I still catch myself doing it all the damn time. And once we can get my SI joint to stay where it should be I’ll begin exercises that will strengthen the lazy side of my back. For now, I’m going to write some new poems, maybe an ode to my extra vertebrae, maybe a love poem to the curve of my spine.

Courtney LeBlanc, I’m Not Even a Cool Mutant

As if
the poem

will lead me
to heaven.

I keep
walking.

Tom Montag, AS IF

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 41

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.

Blogging turned 25 years old this week, using tech blogger Dave Winer’s first post as a starting point. And it’s been 20 years since Blogger and LiveJournal opened up blogging to the less-geeky masses in 1999. As John Naughton observes in The Guardian, “The furore over social media and its impact on democracy has obscured the fact that the blogosphere not only continues to exist, but also to fulfill many of the functions of a functioning public sphere.”

Via Negativa is coming up on its 16th birthday next month, and it occurs to me that its evolution has mirrored a big shift in blogging practice generally: away from miscellany toward more specialized content—in this case, poetry. Thanks to social media giving us ample spaces to share our more throw-away observations, as well as the sheer ease of starting new blogs where we can hive off some of our other specialized interests (e.g. my herbal brewing blog), blogging communities united by topic such as the Poetry Blogging Network can flourish.

That said, I do love it when poetry bloggers write more widely about their lives, because that’s where the poetry comes from. For many poets, there’s no such thing as a throw-away observation.

At any rate, Happy Birthday to blogging! In a world that feels increasingly fractious and fractured, let’s resolve to keep building and defending this public sphere.


On Thursday, I met a man with a grammatical error in his tattoo. This was rather sad. It was a quote from a Neil Young song.

On Friday morning, I found myself humming ‘Hi-Lili Hi-Lo’ and on Friday night I was watching a TV show in which the song was the background music.

Most days I was overwhelmed. There was so much minutia to keep track of, many staff concerns, interviews, decisions to make. I was supposed to be writing the last bits of my book before a deadline but I was working long days, no lunch, no exercise. 

On Saturday, I listened to Phoebe Snow’s ‘Poetry Man.’ My son arrived for a week. He admired my robe. I told him his sister talked me into it. He read Oliver Twist on the couch. 

On Sunday, I bought a book that consists of pictures of hands. Some were pointing or gesturing or straightening up, but mostly they were holding instruments.

Sarah J. Sloat, The week that was

There are days when it feels like we can drag a fine-tooth comb through our troubles but still can’t remove all the tangles. When the panic closet in our heart is closed for repairs. Or everybody’s way too tense in the present tense, taking far too many swigs off the haterade. Then there are days when hope is in high resolution, packing a solution for every problem under the sun. Or how, when this living war gets to be too much, we’re guided back down into the foxhole of friendship. Or when kisses taste like home sweet home. When our Lady of Bandages doesn’t seek our bondage, only our healed release.

Rich Ferguson, What My Granny Told Me After Packing a Wad of Chewing Tobacco

Yesterday a student asked if I had an extra notebook; her mom hadn’t had time to do the back to school shopping.  I said that I didn’t have a notebook, but I had paper.  I gave her a legal pad.  When she returned it to me, she had written me a note, thanking me for all I did to make the school a better place.  She specifically mentioned the bread and the butterfly garden.

When I think of things I’ve done to influence retention, I, too, think of the bread and the butterfly garden.  I do not think of increasing the Average Registered Credit (ARC), that idea that if we could just get every student to take one more class, all sorts of problems would be solved; every male administrator to whom I’ve ever reported has been a big believer in increasing ARC.

Let me record a poem thought that just jabbed me.  I’ve been at with a group planning a retreat around the theme of Noah and that ark–let me write something that weaves together that ancient thought of an ark, and the modern idol of the ARC.  Let my subconscious chew on that–maybe on Thursday I’ll have a poem.

I also thought about writing a poem in the voice of the water.  I’ve also thought of the fairy tale of the Little Mermaid and her sea foam destiny.  Sea foam and dead sailors and some explanation for why the sea always wants to swamp us.

I feel better knowing that I have poems percolating, even if I don’t have time to do much writing these days.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Bread and Butterfly Initiatives, and All of our Arcs

I was out this morning picking up windfall apples. I still need to get the kids into the last tree to pick the hanging ones. I’ll spend this week ignoring my phone as I’m not waiting on work calls, cleaning up the garden, cooking the apples, putting away the trampoline and summer furniture, sleeping and writing as much as I can.

This weekend I’ve tried to catch up on some of the prompts I didn’t finish in my last course. This morning I stared out the window and wrote a poem based on what I saw, one of the prompts I regularly suggest to my students. I’m mulling over a prompt on conkers I’ve had in my head for the past two weeks, lots of images but nothing to tie them together yet. And I’m sure there’s a poem stuck to the burr that came back inside with me today.

I will wallow in autumn, in autumn writing full of spice and warmth, damp and earthy. 

Gerry Stewart, Half-Term Wallow

Somehow we had this gift, probably luck, for finding the right trees for the job. In our style of tree fort, you needed three or four trees. They were the main structural supports. They had to be close enough together that our frame boards could reach, reasonably straight and not too rotten. For our largest and most well-built tree fort we used four trees growing out of a hill so one side was closer to the ground than the other, which made it easier to build a ramp to get to it. I think about those support trees when thinking about poems. Their position determined a lot—the shape and size of the rooms especially—and I’ve asked myself what the equivalent would be in a poem. It varies of course, but having some secure starting place to hang your first board, or your first line, and build on that, can be the difference between a fort that leaks and gets overrun by raccoons and one that you can spend the night in without fearing collapse.

“You use what you have, you learn to work the structure to create what you need.” writes Julia Alvarez about writing sonnets in her essay Housekeeping Cages. This was our approach, my friends and I. We had plenty of woods with tall trees. We had access to limited building materials (from our parents or stolen from construction sites) and we had time on our hands. Our materials gave us a start, even gave us the ideas to work with, but they didn’t limit us. We took risks (like building a hibachi and old tin pipe into a fireplace 40 feet off the ground), and got creative (we sealed cracks with melted candle wax, which of course melted away in the summer.)

We also had a reasonable arsenal of tools for the job. Hammers and saws mostly, buckets of nails, because we were crude builders making up the rules as we went along. “One has to know the tools, so he doesn’t work against himself. Tools make the job easier.” writes Yusef Komunyakaa about a period in the ’80s when he discovered the voice and form for some of his poems. Our forts would probably have gone higher, lasted longer and looked less like trash heaps with better tools.

Grant Clauser, On Tree Forts and Poetry, Structure and Support

and then the chimneys fell,
one by one by the ton of
ancient soot billowing applause
from the lads in the sidings 
wagoned in trammelled bravado.

some by explosive nostalgia,
some by pick and prop and fire 
and hope for the tugged heart strings,
bricked in piles, taking the stacks
down brick by brick, upending the past.

Jim Young, and then the chimneys fell

Back in April, which is ironically National Poetry Month, I did a bit of reorganizing and moved my to-be-read poetry pile to the bookshelf in my office. Now given their own space, I realized I had quite a stack to work through.

After seeing the unread books lined up I vowed to not buy any new books of poetry until I’d read at least half on this shelf. True to my word, I started working my way through the stack and refrained from buying from any additional books. By the end of September, my shelf looked decidedly emptier.

Then in quick succession I bought boy/girl/ghost by torrin a. greathouse, Odes to Lithium by Shira Erlichman, Diary of a Ghost Girl by Shay Alexi, How to Cook a Ghost by Logan February, and Good Grief by Mikey Swanberg. I did this for two reasons:

1. I love poetry and am always interested in reading new poets that I find and love.
2. I want to support poets and independent presses.

Not only do the above two reasons serve as huge motivators to keep buying poetry, but my new book, Beautiful & Full of Monsters, is now available for pre-order from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. It would be hypocritical of me to ask others to order my book if I’m not ordering theirs. So I keep buying and reading poetry and I keep asking others to buy and read mine.

Of course, one thing I didn’t exactly plan for was the twice-annual library book sale. Not only do I attend every year but I volunteer every year as well, spending hours arranging and rearranging and reshelving books. And because I volunteer and am a lifetime Friends of the Arlington Library (FOAL) member, I get to purchase up to 20 books at a 50% discount (10 books for being a FOAL member, 10 books for volunteering). You can see where this is going…

Courtney LeBlanc, Supporting Poetry

I’m very happy to announce that my new chapbook, The Green Waves: Poems from Roblin Lake, has just been published by London, Ontario based 845 Press!

The chapbook contains 15 poems, written before, during and after my family’s stay at the Al Purdy A-frame. The poems feature my family (the boy was barely toddling at the time), the A-frame, Al and Eurithe Purdy, disgusting pancakes, bonfires (book and otherwise), carbon monoxide poisoning, black holes, drowned mice, a heron named Ike, lilacs, frozen turtles, Nick Thran, etc. Mostly they are about making space in your life for the things you love.

Here are three sample poems:

County Roads
Last Embers
Lyric

For only the second time in my life (the first being “Oh Not So Great”: Poems from the Depression Project), something I wrote has blurbs! I like blurbs but hate nothing more than asking someone to blurb my books, so I was overjoyed when the wonderful team at 845 Press (Aaron Schneider and Amy Mitchell) went and organized blurbs on my behalf. It even inspired me to ask a couple more people, which led to a very imbalanced poem-to-blurb ratio (15 to 4 – one blurb for every 4 poems!).

Rob Taylor, The Green Waves: Poems from Roblin Lake

As the New York Times reports, we’re seeing industry-wide hand-wringing right now about how rarely books are fact-checked, following scandals involving Naomi Wolff and others. I’m proud that Shenandoah editor Beth Staples makes fact-checking a priority: the interns comb through every piece we publish, following up on names, dates, and a host of other check-able details. Not every poem needs fact-checking, of course, but some do. For example, I posted my own poem about the moon landing recently. Most people wouldn’t notice if I got the date wrong, but some would, and spotting the error might impair their faith in me as a writer.

So what level of precision do poets owe their audiences? Spelling proper nouns correctly, and checking dates and quotes, seems important, if a poem references real-world people and events. The trivia doesn’t matter, really–if I tell you right now that my teapot is as blue as loneliness, but it’s actually an unromantic beige, that seems like a reasonable bit of poetic trickery. (Gotcha! It’s orange.) Even in a persona poem like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” a piece that’s obviously fictional, you’d want to check the Dante quote before you hit send.

I just handed in copy-edits for my next book, The State She’s In–overcoming the usual Prufrockian abulia to do so, because finalizing a book makes me REALLY ANXIOUS–and the process involved a final round of fact-checking on my end. Several poems involve public history that’s important to get right. While I know I was careful during the period of composition, what if I made a bad mistake in a poem about slavery, say, or Confederate history? The vultures aren’t wheeling around my publications the way they do around high-profile nonfiction, but still, I’m addressing sensitive material.

Lesley Wheeler, Copy-editing and fact-checking poems

– It’s way past time to cut loose from Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook and Instagram. Sure, Elizabeth Warren is right; it’s too big, but there’s something else. It isn’t fun anymore. Facebook feels kind of like rock music did when the corporations got control of it. […]

– I have a conure, a sort of smallish type of parrot. At 11 years old, he understands a lot of English, even though he doesn’t talk. Pico Verde Jobe is his name.

  He’s holding something in his claw, eating it while standing on one leg.

   “What are you eating, Pico?”
   He holds it up and shows me. A nut.

   “Is is it good?”
   Pico vigorously nods yes. 

James Lee Jobe, Journal notes – 12 Oct 2019

We could play
at poetry
the way men

play at war,
except not
blood shed, it

would be stars
lost to us.
Warring poets

would darken
the sky […]

Tom Montag, We Could Play

I like to tell my friends that I never, ever have writer’s block, and yes, I rarely have the full-blown version. I do, however, experience creative slowdowns, periods where I produce less work than I’d like, or my ideas seem stale, or I feel a lack of interest in writing. This is more dangerous than it sounds: lack of energy, interest, and concentration are also symptoms of depression. In order to avoid falling into this pit of despair, I’ve tried to build a practice that anticipates and mitigates writer’s block as much as possible.

History is rife with examples of artists who self-medicated with drugs and alcohol (poets are over-represented in this area) during unproductive periods. Clearly, this is unwise. Writer’s block is always temporary, and there’s plenty a writer can do to address it when it does occur.

Here are a few things I do when I get stuck. 

I take a nap. Sometimes I just need a rest. Often, I wake up from a nap in the middle of a “light bulb” moment. As Shakespeare put it in Julius Caesar: “Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber.”

I go for a walk. A couple of days ago, I was working on a review and a short piece for my newsletter. After a 45-minute walk, I had solutions for both. Had I stayed home, I would have stared at my computer for 45 minutes, become more and more frustrated, and probably not had any ideas.

I turn to my collection of craft books. I pull them out of the bookshelf, grab my notebook and pen, and sit on the floor. Eventually, I’ll find something that kick-starts my writing. […]

Erica Goss, How I Banish Writer’s Block

The university takes a long weekend in October; I thought it a propitious time to snare some solitude for writing and revising and thus betook myself and a mountain of my work to a semi-secluded cabin. Designed and largely built by Jack Fisher, the place offers light, comfort, memories, art, nature and spaciousness of environment. While I had no particular plan in mind–in retrospect, possibly a mistake–I imagined these days would act as a mini-writing retreat.

I love the cabin, the memories, the aesthetics of the house and generally I love solitude as long as it does not extend for too many days. The circumstance I discovered once I opened up my pile of poetry drafts, however, led me to one conclusion: I was going to have to organize, read, evaluate, consider, and cull before even getting to the “fun” part of revising. This level of work tends to discomfit me, feels tedious and draining and sometimes fruitless–which is why I have pretty much put it off since…oh…graduate school. Almost two decades.

But I made myself time to be alone and undisturbed, so let my work disturb me as it must. If a writer never allows herself to experience discomfort, she is unlikely to move her work forward in any meaningful or craft-related way.

Ann E. Michael, (Dis)order & (dis)comfort

A friend once told me something a friend told her that had been told to him by a mentor, and it’s basically this about writing: It’s okay to climb the same mountain again and again, but you need to be going up by different routes. I think of this often. In other words, it’s find that I’m obsessed by a subject matter, with trying to get to some new way of understanding it, but my poems need to approach it by different means.

Makes total sense. But at the moment I feel I’m trodding a well-worn path. I think I’m trying different things, but all I’m doing really is skirting a bit the old route only to find my way back there again.

The solution I’m pursuing is my same old solution, which is not necessarily a bad thing — exposing myself to other people’s art. (And reading widely [wildly?].) I like rattling around in the art world looking for something that stops me and twirls me around. Sometimes this dizziment can open a pathway to a new way to approach my own work.

Marilyn McCabe, With Sally in the Alley; or, Finding New Ways Into the Poetry Work

With the oil pastels and the picture cropped this way, I really like the strong cobalt blue with the lavender and dull green of the mountain. The foreground is missing in this crop, but the gouache helps me see better what to do with it. In addition to the beautiful, iconic trees, one of the most striking aspects of this landscape was the circular pattern of rocks and scrubby growth of the mountain behind the cedars. I like how the oil pastels have worked to capture that — it’s subtle, not detailed, but effective. Now I’m thinking about making a larger painting, in oils, based on what I’ve discovered by analyzing these pictures. The main message is simplify.

While I was working on this piece, I found a suite of poems by Seamus Heaney that he had written in Greece. One of them is set in Delphi, and it speaks of Heaney’s desire to drink from the spring where all visitors to Delphi who came to consult the oracle stopped to wash and drink; the same spring was used by the Pythia and the priests for a ritual cleansing before giving an oracular pronouncement or interpreting an oracle.

The Greeks believed that the spring was located at the center of the earth. Zeus, king of the gods, had loosed two eagles from opposite ends of the world, and, flying at the same speed, they crossed paths above Delphi. Zeus let a stone fall from the air where they crossed, and where it fell became the sacred site, marked by a stone called the omphalos, or navel of the world. Under the omphalos was buried the mythological monster called Python, which had guarded the sacred spring, until it was killed by the god Apollo, to whom Delphi and the Oracle became sacred. We saw a Roman copy of this large carved stone in the museum in Delphi. The carved pattern represents a woolen net that was once thought to cover the stone.

If you’ve been to Delphi, you would have thought, as I did, what a long, difficult journey it must have been to get there from any of the major city-states of Greece, and then to have to add the arduous climb up the side of Mt Parnassus. I wish I had known that the spring still exists, and that there’s a modern fountain by the side of the road for modern travelers, but I had no idea! Heaney, visiting in the 1960s, did know this, and of course — as a poet who had been steeped in the Greek classics, translated some, and used so many references and stories in his own poems and plays — he was determined to drink from it himself.

Beth Adams, The Navel of the World

Reading Groundspeed, I took note of how [Emilia] Phillips’ narrator refuses to let her own traumas (in this case her own cancer or the death of a half brother) carry any more weight in the collection than the tragic events and lives around her. Our suffering truly is ordinary, and in treating it as such, Groundspeed mimics for us what life is actually like: one long road trip, hotel overnights and stops at home, all interspersed with encounters we have, dramas large and small, our own and everyone else’s. My tendency in my own work — including when I’ve put manuscripts together — is to visit my obsessions (distance, intimacy, romance, etc.) far too often. I learn from this book that our obsessions/favorite themes carry a little more weight when they don’t tag along in every… single… poem. I’m grateful for this model.

I love how Phillips creates scenery from ordinary observations, as though the poems are movies. As pseudo- short films, the poems in Groundspeed celebrate “the glories of their mundane” (a line from one of the poems) as they include beer cans, chewing gum, pollen in the ditch, etc.

In a contributor spotlight in Memorious, Phillips says, “For years I’ve been seduced again and again by two lines of Fanny Howe: ‘My vagabondage is unlonelied by poems.’ In some ways, this statement has become a kind of mantra for me, especially in difficult times. ‘My vagabondage / is unlonelied by poems.’ Not only does it recognize the loneliness of one’s life in that word ‘vagabondage,’ it also speaks to the restlessness I’ve felt my whole life—this draw to move from one place, physical or otherwise, to another.” Howe’s phrase will stick with me, along with Phillips’ mention of it. Unlonelied by poems. Amen.

Carolee Bennett, “the glories of their mundane”

Yesterday, at the end of the reading at the Field Museum, someone in the audience asked if I consider myself a nature poet.  I realized I’d just spent a good  half hour or so talking about how I can’t stop writing about birds.  About how a project that was supposed to be about dinosaurs and extinction would up also being largely bird-laden.  About the Cornell Boxes andmy second book, in the bird museum. About how I’d made a bee-line on my first visit, not to the Evolving Planet exhibit, but to the Hall of Birds, the very same hall where I was giving that very reading.  And yet, I faltered and wasn’t sure what to say.

When I think nature, I often think of Mary Oliver, whose poems, while I find a lot of them sort of facile, usually use nature as a means to teach us something about humanity. The nature is the tool by which we come to understand something more about ourselves.  I know many poets who write similar observances and explorations of the natural world, and in fact, have published a good many (much better than Oliver) with dgp.  But as for me, it’s strange to claim it.  […]

As I worked on extinction event, I’ve been reading idly a few pieces on the eco-gothic, whose gist is largely that nature is not just a background for human activity to occur in, but a force itself.  The menacing forest.  The haunted garden. The terrible sea. That nature (including plants, animals, landscape, weather) is just as much a character in any story as the ones with speaking parts.

I like this sort of nature, the kind that is dangerous and may just kill you.  Much of that is where extinction event comes from. My answer to the question, in the moment, was that I tended to write a lot about horror and the supernatural lately–scary movies, serial killers, stabby adolescents urged on by Slenderman. But that nature is always present in them–weird or twisted as it may be.

Kristy Bowen, nature, writing, & the ecogothic imagination

Please tell us about the genesis of your new chapbook, little ditch. What is the collection about and how did it come into being?

little ditch is a chapbook about survival through sexual abuse, rape culture, & internalized misogyny. This is also a book about being sexualized as a young, non-binary person growing up in rape culture. About being a preteen on the verge of something shattering. About the fur.   

As I was completing my first book, Field Guide to Autobiography, I was visited by these urgent, dark spells or calls to action to write a way towards these poems. These poems felt caked in dirt, but very alive – I felt the need to dig deeper. Using various creative exercises like trance, tarot, & cut-ups, I tried to summon the hidden. There were times where I’d not be able to recall anything, other times I’d feel immersed in sense memory. All these gaps and leaks where trauma holds in the body. I later referred to these as “the ditch poems.”

Many of the poems in your collection explore the intersection between body and the natural and human-made world. What drew you to this imagery? 

Many of the poems in this collection are based on a type of mineral. The more I explored the language of minerals, the more I came to see the connections between that vocabulary and the oppressive vocabularies of patriarchy. Using found language from field guides, these poems tell a story of the nature of patriarchy; how we build upon & reinforce this hegemonic palimpsest. It also begins to explore how the sedimentary foundation of American rape culture is inherent in mineral structures of the Earth’s crust. This book is about trusting yourself enough to claw your way out.

Do you feel that writing and engaging with poetry is one of the ways a person can help find their way out of these structures? 

Yes. I think poetry allows us to reimagine and reshape how we perceive language, and the larger world. I’ve found this to be especially true of experimental poetry, which sometimes feel to me like a great puzzle, or an algebraic equation. Poetry = music + math. Wrestling with diction or meter can lead to creative solutions or enhance our understanding of the world of a poem, and that praxis forges new neural pathways in the brain that expand consciousness as we know it.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Melissa Eleftherion on survival and how language reshapes our perception of the world

And now the thin edge of an eastern wind brings
tears of resin, a scent of green disorder, a cataract
of leaves and berries far ahead. Darkness crowds us
back onto the train. Rocked but sleepless, we sit
and stand by night-curtained windows, watching
the dim images of ourselves watching the flying trees.

Dick Jones, MOTHER RUSSIA.

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 35

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. Bloggers were in a stock-taking mood this week, it seems, with posts about strength and renewal, growing older, finding time to write, and bearing witness to broken things.

Incidentally, there may not be an edition of the digest next week, since I’ll be on vacation in a place alleged to be like paradise. On the other hand, I quickly bore of paradises. And the place we’re staying may well have good wifi…


You sense summer coming to an end. The days don’t smell so much of suntan lotion & Ferris-wheel sweetness but of camphor & time lost. You hop a ride towards the ocean, your bus stop of grace. Along the way, you pass fog-tongued counterfeiters, dead-eyed mystics & heaven-haired girls dressed in plush heartbreak. Once you reach the ocean, a woman on the boardwalk offers you stones & charms, says they’ll ward off ghosts & sirens; keep the blue oblivion at bay. You hold the woman’s offerings in your hand. As the ocean sings its bittersweet song of summer’s end, you count backward from your last bad day & allow yourself to gracefully fall into the coming fall.

Rich Ferguson, A Bittersweet Song of Summer’s End

So abstract was my day—
though bloodied

with details, it scorns
any ordering into some

form easily claimed
by memory. I’ve got

the scraps, the tidbits
of flesh and bone, charred,

unlikely to match anything
I’ve gladly stored

in my mind. I must find
a place for these bones.

Romana Iorga, Portrait with Crows

One thing I try to remember is that there have always been stubborn people who have continued to do art, read and write books, make music, love and protect nature, cherish and guard all aspects of human culture, and take care of one another even when life felt the most hopeless. Often they have also been the same people who quietly sheltered refugees or the persecuted, visited prisoners, wrote underground tracts, participated in protests, smuggled food for people in need…the list goes on. These are not the people who get written about in history books, but let’s try for a moment to imagine what would have happened if they had not existed. Where would we be? That’s what is meant by action and contemplation as two sides of one coin. People who have found their own sources of strength and renewal — what I like to call “wells” that we are able to go back to drink from again and again — have more ability to see what needs to be done, and help others. So no, I don’t think we need to feel guilty for spending time doing these things, not at all. We just need to try to see the whole picture, and move back and forth between the active and contemplative parts of our lives, keenly aware of what each is, and how they complement each other.

Beth Adams, More Sicilian Explorations, and a Watercolor Disaster

The proofs for Tears in the Fence came through for me to check – two poems, one of which I think of as a ‘menopause’ poem. Is there such a thing? Well, there is now. I can’t give too much away about the poem as it’s not been published yet, other than it references Susan Sontag and uses some found text. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve submitted to that magazine, so I was on cloud nine for a while after they accepted the poems. The other good news is that I’ve had a poem accepted by The Interpreter’s House. Again, I was really pleased as it’s a magazine I enjoy reading. Having said this, I’m aware that I don’t have many poems in reserve now. I haven’t written any new ones  for quite a while as I’ve been typing up my novel (unfinished, but it feels like it’s nearing some sort of conclusion). So, there’s a quiet sense of dread in knowing that particular well is empty, and knowing the only way to fill it is to knuckle down and write some more. Ultimately, I know it’s a case of priorities.

Julie Mellor, Old Woman’s Lane

What I really loved about this book [Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert] was she says a person doesn’t have to quit their day job to fully embrace their creative life. This was something that has been plaguing me – how do I balance my very government-corporate day job with my poetry life, the part of my life that fulfills me in ways my day job never will. While I don’t have all the answers for what my future holds, I am feeling calmer and a little more balanced in how I can move forward.

In addition to doing a lot of reading and studying over the next ten months, I also plan on spending a lot of time thinking about my goals for the future, figuring out how to move forward with my desires, and how to balance everything.

Courtney LeBlanc, Mid-Life Crisis

I’ve gotten back into a routine of writing a rough draft of a poem daily in between job searches, attending interviews and writing the article. While I need to financially and want to mentally get back to the real working world, I know I will miss my mornings at the kitchen table scribbling in my notebook and then typing away on the laptop. I need a full-time writing job. Me and lots of other writers. 

Gerry Stewart, Changing Hats

After my trip to Peru, I started feeling called to write again. I finished an essay that’s out for submission. I revised my manuscript and started sending it out again. And I’ve even written a few poems.

Still, I wonder whether I really want to continue keeping this space. On some level, it’s so deeply connected to a past life: my marriage that ended five years ago, old jobs, old friends, old adventures that are distant memories. I needed that hard break after my MFA, and I am starting to re-emerge as a writer. And yet I don’t necessarily want to return here. When I think about this site, and how much of the past it contains, I’m just not sure I want to keep it.

I’m not making any decisions just yet. Quite frankly, I’d be surprised if there were any readers left to see this after such a long silence. Perhaps I just need a total fresh start with my digital life. I’ll always be writing, but maybe this isn’t the place for it anymore. We’ll see.

Allyson Whipple, This Space: A Reckoning

I asked writers who’d published their first books of poetry at or beyond the age of fifty to discuss their experiences. Was there any particular reason they’d waited to publish? Did they think there was an advantage to publishing later in life? How had publishing a first book changed their lives?

The responses from over twenty writers became the subject of September’s “The Reading Life” column in my newsletter, Sticks & Stones, due to subscribers on Monday, September 2. Subscribe here.

There was much more than I could fit into the column, however. I’m sharing some of the best lines from these writers’ answers in this month’s blog.

I hope you’ll enjoy these thoughtful, perceptive, and often humorous comments on the pain and pleasure of writing and poetry as much as I did.

Margo Berdeshevsky: “I’ve long believed that poetry is the language of the soul.”

Donna Vorreyer: “Poetry is one place where the voice of age can ring clear and meaningful in the world.”

Connie Post: “I hope in some way, our poems can help others to understand how we can heal the earth.”

Roy Mash: “Publishing a first book is like having another child, only without having to clean up the diapers.”

[Click through to read the rest!]

Erica Goss, Chop Wood, Carry Water: Publishing a First Poetry Book After Fifty

On Saturday, I read this blog post by Jeannine Hall Gailey.  She had reviewed Lee Ann Roripaugh’s Tsunami vs. The Fukushima 50.  It sounded like a book that would hit several of my reading sweet spots:  nuclear disaster, natural disaster, poetry, and a female-centered take on it all.  It’s been awhile since I’ve ordered a book of poems, so I ordered it.

It arrived on Sunday.  Usually books arrive and go to my ever growing books to be read shelf, but I decided to read it while I could still remember why I had ordered it.  So I did.

It’s a great book–but it’s also the kind of book that makes me wonder if I’d appreciate it more if I had more background.  There are some pop culture references that I can sense are there, but they’re not mine, like the reference to Watchmen.

There were also some references that may or may not be reference to Japanese pop culture, but I can’t be sure.  I know even less about the pop culture of other cultures than my own.

It’s not enough to keep me from enjoying the poems, and also not enough to send me on a quest to know more.  It is the kind of moment that makes me feel old–once I knew all sorts of stuff about a wide variety of pop culture, and not just that pop culture coming from my own society.  Once I could keep track.

My favorite poems were the ones that gave the tsunami a voice.  I thought of Patricia Smith’s Hurricane Katrina poems in Blood Dazzler.  If I was a grad student, I might do more with those comparisons.  If I was an ambitious woman on a tenure track, I might write a book that explores the ways we give natural disasters a personality.

I am a poet feeling like a dried out crisp.  Maybe I need to play with the idea of weather having a personality.  Maybe I should start with the August weather that’s leaving me so worn out.  Hurricanes get so much press (speaking of which, I should keep an eye on Tropical Storm Dorian down in the Caribbean), but heat waves can kill far more people.  Maybe I should write a poem in the voice of the disappearing Arctic ice.

This morning, I went to Jeannine’s review on The Rumpus.  I had decided not to read it until I read the book.  It’s an amazing review–wow.  It does just what a review should do.  It puts the poems in context and gives me insight.  It makes me want to read the book again.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Giving Natural Disaster a Voice

Earlier this month, during my final residency of graduate school at the Rainier Writing Workshop, I presented my critical paper on how time works in poetry—how, by changing our perceptions, sound and image in poetry create a space where we can step outside of time. Because I’m drawn to music, I started out with sound and then repetition—including refrain and anaphora. While reading poems for this paper, I came across looping and stretching. Someone asked where I found those terms. My answer? I made them up, as a way to talk about these specific moves.

Joannie Stangeland, Looping and stretching

We are only at the year’s ninth month, and already 2019 has been, for me, a year of broken things. It began with the broken furnace, then the water heater and the entire water handling system (we have a well); then the septic pump gave out, and the stove broke, too. During the second, and longest, heat wave, our central air conditioning unit fried itself with a snap and sizzle. We had plumbing under the kitchen sink to replace, and hail damage to the roof and porch railings. Also broken hearts at the deaths of people we wanted to keep in our lives. And a few days back, I twisted my foot and damaged a metatarsal muscle–now I, too, am one of the broken things.

It’s “an unusual injury” according to my physician, in that the way I rolled my foot and twisted led to damage (inflammation, at this point) to the flexor digiti minimi brevis muscle, which is not one of the foot muscles people usually injure. While not serious, it’s painful and slow to heal. The first weeks of the semester have arrived, and here I am stumping around campus with a wrapped-up foot and a crazy-busy schedule.

Endeavoring to be mindful of the moment and keep equanimity in my life proves difficult, but I have been working at the challenge by asking myself how we measure our losses and whether there’s any benefit in doing so. After all, that I possess enough things that can break demonstrates that I have considerably more comfort in my life than most human beings on the planet; so who should care if I rant? On the one hand, measuring loss seems judgmental and arbitrary–and there’s no way a broken cooktop can be assessed against a friend’s death. Yet we do need to make some kind of accounting for loss, because if we never acknowledge it, we smother compassion. Bearing witness to our brokenness, our losses, our fears, permits us to feel with others and with ourselves.

Ann E. Michael, Twist & shout

Like Noah, we build and build, but the space gets smaller.  Nothing can breathe. Least of all me, my lungs stopped up with feathers and the small animals I’ve smuggled inside the body for safekeeping. In the box, we rustle the feathers and bend the bones, but nothing fits, even side by side, stacked vertically in rows.  Nothing sits upright or thrives. We name them, tag their tiny feet, and still, nothing moves inside the box.  All night we soothe them with sounds their mothers make, but still they sleep and dream of trees.

Kristy Bowen, broken things

Back in January of this year, I was supposed to go to FEMA school in Alabama and learn about disaster management and pull life-sized dummies from smoking cars and walk around crisply with a clipboard being a cool head in a crisis while things went bang during mass-casualty simulations. I was relieved to get out of that whole scenario when the government shut down and they canceled all of the classes. But the government re-opened and the classes were re-booked and I got my flight information and now I guess I’m going in a few weeks. I thought I had gotten used to the idea, but I read my FEMA training manual this week, and the nerves rushed back. I know intellectually that this is literally one of the safest things I could do. It’s the definition of a well-oiled machine; a highly structured and extremely monitored operation with government officials there to guide us at every turn and make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to do at all times. For once, I’m not worried about the navigational side of things. I’m worried about my mind. I’ve been worried about my mind a lot lately. 

Kristen McHenry, Serenity Later

It’s easy for us to forget that we live so close to so many amazing landscapes – mountain ranges we rarely visit, a roaring ocean we don’t see often enough, a whole different menagerie of birds and butterflies. One of the benefits of taking these kinds of road trips is re-familiarizing yourself with the area you live in, the microclimates, the tiny different ecosystems. Also, we listened to almost the full book (and I finished when I got home) of Yoko Ogawa’s depressing with very salient The Memory Police, about the dangers of succumbing to authoritarian governments without too much resistance. (And also the very Japanese emotion of aware – the sadness and beauty of things that disappear – in this case, memories.) We try to get through one book on every road trip. Glenn said it would be easy to do nothing but watch the sea – as the light changes, as the birds go up and down the beach, watching various vehicles get towed off the beach after getting stuck in the sand.

But I remain attached to Woodinville – the abundance of flowers, especially, and hummingbirds, which were missing in our beach visit. I think of myself more as a tree/forest/waterfall person than a true beach lover. I love the shade rather than sunning. I like the shapes of the leaves overhead.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Two New Poems up at Cold Mountain Review and Picturing the Oregon Coast

Shall we sweep the forest clean? Shall we walk across the ocean? We shall. For years we’ve counted the bodies of the dead from our wars, so many bodies. We’ve listened to the leaders tell us that now it will be alright, that now the end is in sight. It isn’t. Lower the flag, it’s dirty. Light a candle and leave it in the window for the souls of the damned to see their way home. Shall we sweep the forest clean? Shall we walk across the ocean? Yes, we shall. Friend, it is a one-way trip. 

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Shall we sweep the forest clean?’

So for you
for a little
longer yet
may water run
uphill, may nights
square circles,
mornings
rattle the key
in the lock,
and may love
be unconsidered.

Dick Jones, HEART SUTRA 1.