Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 30

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: anthologies, group projects, public relations, publishing and being published, the “I” persona, the inner critic, journals and diaries, sleep and waking, favorite desks, yoga, meditation, detritus, and time.


I am happy to announce that A Constellation of Kisses has just been published and is available wherever you buy books. I am enormously proud of this anthology. I received a record number of submissions and had to turn away many good poems, but I believe that the 107 I selected give the reader a wonderful variety of poems on the topic of kissing. The collection includes poems about first kisses and final kisses, French kisses, hot kisses, cold kisses, chocolate kisses, wanted and unwanted kisses, forbidden kisses, dangerous kisses, and even dog kisses. There are long poems and short ones, a few in parts, formal poems, prose poems, and free verse poems. You will laugh and you will cry. You will remember your own kisses. And you will want more kisses.

Diane Lockward, A Constellation of Kisses Has Landed on Earth

I also found out last week that I’ll be one of 75 writers included in a new coffee table book from Et Alia Press called Closet Cases: LGBTQI Writers on What We Wear. Writers were asked to submit a photo and essay (or poem) about an article of clothing that inspires us or has become a trademark. The book, edited by Megan Volpert, will be out next year.

Collin Kelley, A reading, a workshop, a nomination & publication news

At our meeting on 1st June, Ann Cullis proposed a project called The June Almanac. The object was to write a short observational piece for each day of the month, avoiding similes and metaphors and the use of the first person. Fourteen of us took part, and later submitted our choice of ten entries, which Ann collated and anonymised. They were read during the morning session by a team of five readers. Later, some of us read a few more entries. They were, on the whole, just as good as the chosen ones. Overall, a very high standard of observation and writing, taking in all the senses, and including notes on weather, human foibles, and activities of birds, animals, insects and  gastropods. Each one was complete in itself, and together they gave a wide-angled view of our lives over the previous month. All the participants enjoyed the process and felt they had benefited from it. We are grateful to Ann for proposing this project and for seeing it through. Below is a photo of the submissions laid out in date order. My June Almanac can be seen here.

The afternoon session of environmental writing was introduced by Peter Reason, starting with a showing of the film “Rise: from one island to another“. Do take a few minutes to watch this film, unplug from your daily distractions, immerse yourself in the beauty of our shared home, and let the poetry heal.

Sue’s presentation (mentioned above) was followed by an unrehearsed ceremony of readings in response to “Rise”. Each reader came to the lectern at what felt the right moment.

After two dear deaths in the past two weeks I was rather emotional, but even without this I think I would still have been moved to tears by many of the readings, and especially by Eileen Cameron’s short poem “A land laid bare”.

Conor Whelan brought the afternoon to a close with a performance from memory of Yeats’s  “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”. The day was a heartfelt sharing of our deepest concerns. As a group we are moving forward into new territory, growing into a deeper knowledge of ourselves and of one another.

Ama Bolton, With Bath Artists and Writers, 20th July

I am doing the unthinkable: changing the name under which I publish. No longer the cumbersome and all-too-common Laura E. Davis, now writing as Laura Desiano. Not married, just using my partner’s name, which is also our son’s surname. I wanted this to be a quick transition, but I realize it’s more like months or years as I eventually publish more work under my new name.

I am okay with distancing myself from my old name. There are thousands of people with my old name and too many are writers. I like the clean sound of my new name. It feels right, and sounds right, and makes searching for me on Google much more straight forward.

At readings I’ll also use this name. Not sure how I will introduce myself. Maybe my last name is less important in person unless it’s a writing connection. Business cards can take care of that.

Laura Desiano, New Name: Laura Desiano

Public relations and poetry are quite separate pursuits, in my mind, yet how else will readers learn that I have another chapbook nearing publication? Yes! Barefoot Girls, a series of 24 poems winnowed from a much longer set, will be appearing in print from Prolific Press later this year.

2021 still seems quite a way off, but perhaps it isn’t too early to mention that my full-length poetry collection The Red Queen Hypothesis will see publication then from  Salmon Poetry, an independent publisher in County Clare, Ireland.

Anticipation! I’m eager to see what the books will look like, eager to know whether anyone will read them, and experiencing that little frisson that comes with waiting for potential delight.

I cannot express how grateful I am to the folks behind small independent literary presses for all they do to keep poems circulating, to publish lesser-known writers, and to promote the literary arts generally. They are not making money from the process; they do it for love. Society benefits. Bless them all and donate to them if you can. But the best way to help small independent presses and publishers is to purchase books from them. Browse Prolific Press’ bookstore here, Salmon Poetry’s poetry book catalog here, and Brick Road Poetry’s books here (scroll down far enough & you’ll see my book Water-Rites, still available). Another small-press venture that has been plugging along for years is Michael Czarnecki’s FootHills Publishing. Two of my chapbooks are available from its website.

Ann E. Michael, Anticipation

Trying to publish poetry can be frustrating not only for those who want to get published but those doing the publishing, who are often underpaid and overworked. Both sides feel underappreciated. And for me, even after over a decade of sending work out, rejection still hurts and feels personal, especially books you think are your best work ever, grants you feel like you have a chance of getting, fellowships, or journals you particularly like. Gardening, on the other hand…if you put a rose or a dahlia or a blueberry or lavender shrub in the ground, you can almost guarantee in the Northwest that they will thrive and bloom and give you blueberries.

In the backyard, the flowers attract a ton of hummingbirds and butterflies, and you just feel the reward of doing work in the past that actually paid off. Sometimes in the poetry world, especially if you don’t have a big deal job with the Poetry Foundation or a tenured teaching job, you can feel a bit…unrewarded, both financially and spiritually. Gardening 100 percent has a better payoff. I planted an apple tree this year, and it will take years until it produced apples, or even shade, but I know I’m making the world a better and almost beautiful place – I mean, I hope my poetry does that too, but I know that planting an apple tree is 100 percent worth the effort.

Of course, as I said early in the post, I am immensely thankful when people review my work or buy a book or publish me. But there is a lot of “no,” almost zero money, and a LOT of effort with no payoff. This is not only true of poetry – almost every successful novelist I know literally wrote a whole book, sent it out for a while, got an agent, sent it out more…and then ended up putting their first book in a drawer and then wrote another book and did the same rigmarole again. (But at least fiction writers have a better chance of getting paid than poets do!)

And becoming an editor or publisher doesn’t guarantee a lot of warm fuzzies – a ton of editors can attest to the hate mail they’ve gotten from angry and entitled rejected writers, and most of them don’t draw much of a salary, if any. I wish I could help build a better place to plant poetry. I wish I could help build a wider audience for the whole art form, help literary magazines get more subscriptions, help writers find their appropriate publishing avenues. I guess we can befriend and encourage other writers, we can give advice or blurbs, we can read and review others, and in that way, we are sort of cultivating the poetry world garden. If we all gave each other more appreciation, less envy and resentment, that would probably help the poetry world bloom.

Maybe the metaphor is cheesy. Maybe I’ve been spending too much time with my flowers. But I always remember the quote from the end of Voltaire’s Candide: “Cultivate your own garden.” I didn’t understand what he meant when I read that advice in high school. But as I get older, I’ve learned to understand that it means that we help create the world we want, that what we plant and what we work for, if we plant good things, maybe we make the world a better place in a small way. We certainly could use more people who care about making the world a better place, one blueberry shrub (or poem or poetry review) at a time.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poets in the Park, a Review of Three of my Poems, Poetry Can Feel Like a Losing Game (But Gardens Never Do)

Allison Joseph is a personal hero of mine. Many creative writers focus primarily on their own work and their own careers. Joseph is that exemplary poet and educator who seems to be constantly supporting other writers. Beyond her considerable publication resume, and a staunch commitment to her craft, her bio of community building activities is impressive. And despite her gravitas as poet and professor, she frequently publishes her work with small independent presses. Bravo to that, I say!

Joseph is also that rare contemporary poet who has the talent for writing accomplished and accessible poetry in both free and formal verse. Her collection, my father’s kites (Steel Toe Press, 2010), an almost-chapbook at 56 pages, contains a section of formal sonnets eulogizing her father that I found both courageous and moving, at least in part because I’ve struggled to write about my own father. In an interview with Billy Jenkins at “The Fourth River” Joseph spoke about the difficulty she confronted in writing about her father:  

I found that it was harder to write about my father, who I had a fractured relationship with, than my mother, who died when I was a teenager.  . . . At first it stumped me . . . But it was because his death was  . . . about his life as a black man, the things he faced. His anger was a lot more emblematic. Even the very reason he died, diabetes, is something that affects far more disproportionately, the African American community.

But in this villanelle, “On Not Wanting to Write a Memoir” Joseph reminds us that memory is “insecure” and she circumnavigates the topic of disclosure in this way:  

Some memories lurk deep, in bone and tooth,
with consequences I can do without.
What’s there to write? I had ‘that’ kind of youth.
Forgive me if I don’t tell you the truth.

In another interview I came across online, she adds this intriguing caveat about the “I” persona, which she believes can be used very effectively not only for confession, but also to connect with others,

So the opportunity in a poem for the “I” to fool its own inventor, it’s huge.  …  I think the distance between the fictionalized “I” of my particular poems and the person sitting next to you usually isn’t that far. 

Risa Denenberg, my father’s kites and Corporal Muse, by Allison E. Joseph

I remember the first time I dipped my toes into the publishing world. It was 15 years ago. Excited and terrified, I spent hours online searching for local writing groups and didn’t have much luck finding anything in my rural area. What I found online was an enormous amount of writing groups and forums. At my fingertips, I could share, critique, and learn from writers around the world. It was exhilarating.

I enrolled in many writing workshops and began stretching out of my comfort zone and embracing that I was a creative writer. In no time, I was exploring the world of nonfiction and submitted my work to print magazines and literary sites. It was a period where I learned what it meant to be vulnerable and how to receive (and give) feedback.

We all have limiting beliefs that can hold us back. Our inner critic can tell us a range of false things like we aren’t good enough or experienced enough to write a book or pitch a chapbook to a publisher. It’s important to acknowledge these thoughts, even when they are hurtful, and do whatever we need to keep moving forward.

The more connections I made online, the more opportunities began falling into my lap. I started writing for online websites, and I launched my literary magazine, Eye Candy. Boxes of Eye Candy were delivered on my doorstep every month, and I’d embark on the journey of distributing them to all the eclectic shops, coffeehouses, and colleges within an hour’s drive. I interviewed local artists and writers, hosted open mics, and explored traveling to writing events. I felt like I was creating a movement in my sleepy town.

Most of what I learned about creative blocks, writing, and publishing happened by doing the work and making mistakes. I used the mistakes as teachable moments and tried again and again until I got the results I was looking for. After years of having my work published, I began mentoring other writers with their projects. It was soul food to watch them conquer their fears and publish their work. And that’s when it was clear what I was supposed to be doing.

Writing Past the Inner Critic – guest blog post by Sage Adderley-Knox (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

I’ve started back into writing slowly after my long break. I’m not currently doing a poem a day prompt, but working everyday on older poems editing those I’ve started on my last two month long courses, focussing the language and intent. A few are ready to submit to journals, along with the pile of rejections that came in while I was away. I’ve noticed most American magazines seem to be on hiatus, but the British ones are still working on backlogs. 

I’m also going through some of my old journals for details of poems I’ve had on the back burner because I couldn’t remember what actually happened. It’s lovely how they have jogged my memory and taken me back to those places and times. Little details I have forgotten or placed onto different scenes brought into firm focus. Unfortunately, I didn’t write about everything. Moments that seem important now often didn’t get mentioned in my journals either because they didn’t seem of consequence at the time or life just got in the way of writing. I’ve never been one for writing every day which would help to rebuild moments later.

Gerry Stewart, Back to Work and to Barnhill

I didn’t sleep well last night; I often don’t as Sunday moves into Monday.  Last night I had a different kind of anxiety dream about needing to get to my spaceship before launch time–but my stuff was in a different building.  Was there time to make one last potty stop?  Did I really need all this stuff?  Would the space ship leave without me?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Anxiety Dreams for the Space Age

The first moments of dawn slowly illuminate the room. It’s something I enjoy. I close the book and get up to make the coffee; my wife will be up in a moment. How does one grow old living with the loss of a child? Stay close to the light, embrace it. Keep faith in the new day, live one day at a time. As the coffee brews I walk through the old house opening the curtains for the day. Letting in the light.

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘The first moments of dawn slowly illuminate…’

When I was a child, I badly wanted a desk.  For a long time, there was only one in the house that belonged to my father–a midcentury cheapie that instead of drawers, had side cabinets guarded by roll top panels. It lived first in the upstairs attic space until my bedroom moved there, and later in the basement.  My dad hoarded paper like you wouldn’t believe, so the surface was usually not visible, but mostly I dreamed of a time when I would have such a desk–a place to read and write and color.  To play school,  which was also a favorite thing–teacher’s desks being a similar magical space filled with red pens and star stickers. 

When I was 9, we lived briefly in the trailer of a great uncle, the room I squatted in having a huge desk with drawers that had been too large for him to move, and which thus transferred to the new owners.  It was summer and school long out, but I would pull the chair up to it and pretend to study. I kept a pair of scissors found in it’s copious drawers for years engraved with my cousin-by-marriage’s name, which was the same as mine except with an “i”. When we moved into a new house, eventually I inherited my father’s desk, by then, the doors broken completely, but I quickly painted it white and covered it in magazine clippings under tape and it served me well for quite a few years–through junior high and into highschool.  Eventually, it fell apart, and I traded it for  a huge board propped in the corner on a pet kennel we kept the new kittens in. It wobbled, and would fall off if I leaned to heavily, but I loved the space.  I made college plans, and wrote essays for Seventeen magazine on changing the world. Penned environmental editorials for the paper and begrudgingly did math homework perched on a metal work stool I’d lifted from the basement.  My dorm room at UNCW had the perfect tiny wood desk, my first with actual drawers I had very things to put in it, but I wrote a lot on the floor, my electric typewriter on my knees.

Kristy Bowen, to all the desks I’ve loved before…

I swear lavishly and viciously and feel better for it. At some point in the year, I’ll sit with my diary to browse the year I’m living through and laugh at what I’ve written.  I laugh at myself and feel tenderness for this person who has poured her heart onto pages that nobody else reads.

Notes about what is growing in garden, what isn’t growing, what is being eaten alive, who is  invading, who is digging under fences.  Notes about sounds; music playing, son’s band rehearsing, arguments overheard from neighbour’s gardens.  Notes about smells, cigarettes, barbecues, bonfires, weed, burnt toast, frying onions, incense, scented candles.  Late night revellers heard through open windows. Climate details. What I am writing about, when I wrote, how much I wrote, what needs to be finished. What my daughter said in a text.

Times I’ve cried.  Times I’ve laughed about crying.  Times I’ve read about the times I’ve cried and laughed about it and laughed about it again.  And cried.

Josephine Corcoran, Found in my diary

I am trying to achieve some assimilation of yoga into my daily living, and into my writing. 

Yoga takes discipline for starters. This is something that would likely help across many areas of my life. 

The byproduct contributing to a calming or peaceful presence that allows for a more meditative state of being; where yesterday and tomorrow are pushed aside to make way for being in the present. That is where we can find ourselves, stripped down of the weighted anxieties that we tend to carry. 

I’m not able to say that I have my meditative practice perfect. Still, I believe that I am becoming more receptive that inner silence and where that might lead. It seems kind of like nibbling on a cracker when wine tasting. A way to clear the pallet for the next new taste.  In this way, I can be receptive to the experience of new ways of bringing fresh material to the page. 

Michael Allyn Wells, Assimilation of Yoga , Writing, and Life in General

When the moon in the horoscope
moved to the eleventh house
he turned his gaze inward, sat at the temple prakaram
with the odhuvaar and trained his voice.

In the dark entrails of thrashing passion
words from the song housed in his sticky palate
she probed with her tongue into the cavity of his soul
smelling of areca nut and country hooch.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Tale From Mylai

That “gateway to beginning” found among the ends of things, the detritus, the beginning found in the ends of things, as a tree grows outward from the center and rots that way too, having absorbed a lifetime of nutrients, having shared what it had.

I didn’t love much of Garbage, but it taught me something about the glory of excess, and the boldness of pouring it all into the poem, carrot peels and rotten meat, old receipts and fancy packaging, and having the patience and faith in the process to make a path and find a pattern.

Marilyn McCabe, Doorbells and Sleighbells and; or, Reading A. R. Ammons’s Garbage

And behind the chanting
rain, a tenor voice called time, counting
down the seconds: the wall clock, stalking
shadows on one brass leg, soft-talking,

like the go-between whose tale is too important
to be shouted loud. This harbinger won’t rant
about decay, the end of worlds. So, doomed,
I watched and heard the hours unwind, consumed

by the oldest story.

Dick Jones, Mr. Moore’s Wall Clock

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week, many of the poetry bloggers I follow have been reflecting on the life and poetry of Mary Oliver — more even than I’ve included below. Not too many snobs in this corner of the poetry world, it seems. (But really, how can you not admire poetry of such subtlety and power?) Others wrote about such perennial topics as what they’ve been reading, how they’ve been teaching, the practice of writing, and the business of being a poet.


Mary Oliver’s poetry shows us how to pay attention, how to enter into a more deliberate state of attentiveness regarding what is unfolding in nature’s time. Her work is loved by so many because of this quality of intimate stillness simultaneously infused with life’s passionate urgency; her poems explore the path toward a balance of both, a fusion which delights and heals and transcends. Some have argued that poetry such as hers is too divorced from the daily realities we struggle with as a culture and a body politic, but I believe that there is an opportunity in every encounter with people, animals, and nature to deeply connect. Trying to articulate what that desire for connection, and the experience of it when it happens, feels like, looks like, is an important poetic pursuit. Her poems teach us how to bear witness to what really matters: the connection we are all trying to get back to, in one way or another.

Sarah Stockton, Mary Oliver and the Poems We Need

[Andrea] Wulf’s book [The Invention of Nature] begins as a biography of [Alexander] Humboldt but closes with several chapters on others who were inspired by his work; she makes the claim that Humboldt’s ideas about the deep connectedness of everything on earth laid groundwork for environmentalists and the discipline of ecology. Indeed, Darwin, Thoreau, Marsh, Muir, and many others found his texts revelatory and transformative. His writing is supposedly poetic and emotional–he did not think the earth and its denizens deserved less than awe and appreciation. Even though his books are packed with measurements, comparisons, careful botanical descriptions, and minute observations of practically everything he encountered, he allows space for admiring the view. Or, so Wulf’s book says. Now, I suppose I shall have to do a bit of reading Humboldt!
~
Along these lines, the lines of the natural world’s connectedness and relationships–ourselves among these, despite our frequent destruction of them–I find myself thinking of the recent death of poet Mary Oliver. I so admire the work and the woman, or what little I knew of her from a few appearances and through friends who studied with her. My social media feed has been alive with tributes, postings of her poems, and some critique about her standing as an American poet, as if that would matter to her (I doubt it would).

I can just make note that her poems have encouraged me to continue to write about nature, even when I’ve been told nature poets are unfashionable, uninteresting, or unnecessary. Her work taught me how to observe closely, like Aristotle at the tidal pools or Haeckel peering at radiolaria. First notice, listen; then describe, then try to obtain more information, and all the while percolate what experience has created within the observer herself. Maybe nothing earth-shattering comes of the process, but sometimes  there’s a poem…

Ann E. Michael, Observations

I heard her speak at Seattle University about five years ago. She was as generous a speaker as I have ever heard. She told us how she trains herself to write and how she’s kept going over the long haul.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Write about it.

These lines are imprinted on my course syllabus and I hope, give my students the sense that poetry is for all of us. They worry so much that they are not creative enough, that their vocabulary isn’t as big as the universe. I try to tell them that they just have to enjoy; just have to have a conversation with themselves. I need to share more Mary Oliver with them.

Here’s a recent interview with Oliver that I read today. It’s time to go out for a walk.

Susan Rich, Poems, Poets, and Posterity

I don’t think I had ever read [Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”] before 2018; those first three lines made me woozy with a variety of emotions.  And yet it’s not a poem that encourages us to hedonism–no, it calls us to be more attentive, to be present.

Before our Lenten journaling group, I hadn’t realized the spiritual nature of so many of her poems.  During Lent, we read “The Poet Thinks about the Donkey,” a poem that considers the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem, an event Christians celebrate on Palm Sunday.  As with many of her poems, I thought I understood it on the first read, and then it stuck with me much longer than other poems that are more complex.

During one of our sessions at church, my parents were with me, and later  my Dad called to get the name of the poet we’d been reading.  One of the things I admire about Oliver’s work is its wide appeal to so many people.  The poems are profoundly moving–and yet so quiet, so easy to grasp.

 I love that the poems are short–easy to read in a single sitting. I love that the natural elements draw us in to hear the central message.

I love the theology of these poems. It’s a theology of love and respect. It’s a theology that tells us that we are worthy. It’s a theology that tells us we don’t have forever, so quit wasting our precious days. It’s a theology rooted in nature, but in the every day kind of nature, not the travelling to a distant mountain slope with sherpas to assist us kind of nature. It’s a theology so understated that many readers likely don’t even recognize it as a theology.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Farewell, Mary Oliver

Many of the people who I saw mourning Oliver’s passing yesterday were not members of capital P Po-Biz. They were just folks who ran across a handful of Mary’s poems when they needed a lifeline, when they needed a poem that said you are part of this world, your life is precious. These people felt seen by Mary Oliver. They carried her poems on folded-soft paper in their wallets, taped them to their computer monitors, and probably never bought a copy of one of her books.

Mary Oliver had little to do with Po-Biz. I always appreciated that about her. She wanted to be outside in the wild wind more than she wanted to stand in front of adoring crowds. A goodly number of the Po-Biz world looked down their noses at Mary Oliver’s work. Some of that had to do with the fact that she was a woman, a lesbian, a person who didn’t often go to glitzy parties. They said she was soft, sappy, a (god-forbid) nature poet.

Yesterday, I looked at the world a little differently because of Mary Oliver’s passing. Yes, the world felt less observed, as if a spark of love for it had guttered. But also, I thought of all the times I was warned off writing about the natural world. Poems I’ve written about trees have been held up in workshop to ridicule. Even folks in the “eco-poetry” world have suggested that my poems need more of a call to action about the environmental crisis. These are the same folks who dismissed Oliver.

I’m not arguing that everything Mary Oliver wrote was genius. But, I am beginning to connect the dots in the denigration of women (soft, gentle, spiritual, accessible, adjectives used to signify not serious), the destruction and desacralization of the natural world, and some of the poetry that is lauded in our current Po-Biz culture. And I am thinking deeply about the (at this moment) 601 people who shared the graphic I made of Oliver’s “Instructions for Living a Life” on social media. How deeply we need to be reminded of astonishment, of our duty (dare I say sacred?) to share with each other what will buoy.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, One wild and precious life

Last night I finished Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter, from Small Beer Press. My favorite bits from the writing of her last decade were an essay called “Disappearing Grandmothers,” a diary of her time at our local Writer’s Retreat Hedgebook on Whidbey Island, “Learning to Write Science Fiction from Virginia Woolf” (whose letters I have been reading,) and some of her reviews, including Philip K. Dick. Quick quote from “Disappearing Grandmothers:”

“We really can’t go on letting good writers be disappeared and buried because they weren’t men, while writers who should be left to rot in peace are endlessly resurrected, the zombies of criticism and curriculum, because they weren’t women.”

I get the feeling I would really have gotten along with Ursula. And her commentary on Virginia Woolf made me realize why I’d been picking up her writings again – she really did have a way of approaching old subject matter in a singular way. I’m learning a lot from reading non-living writers, and coincidentally, a friend just sent me a collection by Mary Oliver, who recently passed away. Of course, we should appreciate and cheer our living writers, both friends and heroes, too! But it does feel fascinating to be reading letters from Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and essays by Ursula Le Guin – like the most terrific conversation with women writers across time.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem in Star*Line, Supermoon Eclipses, A Little Seattle Color, and Surviving January by Reading Writers’ Words on Writing

THE LETTERS OF SYLVIA PLATH, Volume 2:

First, you should know, I actually love reading other poets letters. Many many years ago, I read Elizabeth Bishop & Robert Lowell’s and Zelda & F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters (note: there is are many more Zelda letters than F. Scott given that Zelda didn’t bother to keep many of his letters–a fact I find rather funny and it worked for me because I have always been a little more interested in Zelda anyway). 

What I love? How Sylvia sometimes signs her letters “Sivvy,” and how as I read her letters I get a better since of her voice.  I love her boring details such as “I’d love vitamins! I’m convinced everything the British sell is without nourishment whatsoever” and “The Rice’s sent us the strangest Christmas card!…an ominous rhyme with all sorts of mixed metaphors. Well, no doubt they have good intentions.”

For me, this is my favorite parts of reading letters–the details of all of it. Plath’s words bring me into her world–which was SO Ted focus–(note: this is a LONG book, so I’m still just dabbling through it), but Ted this is and Ted got a poem here and … it’s a reminder how so much of Plath’s life was catering to Ted. Even one letter her has her telling her inlaws she made Ted eggs before sending him off.

I see the struggle as well as the joy in her writing and I can get lost in this different time very easily.

Kelli Russell Agodon, What I’m Reading… @MichelleObama @JenniferWeiner & Sylvia Plath Letters

A new episode of New Books in Poetry is up, in which I speak with poet and performance artist Ivy Johnson about her book, Born Again.

The poetry and prose in Ivy Johnson’s Born Again (The Operating System, 2018) beautifully dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, this collection gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. The work blends sensuality and spirituality, merging the grounded reality of existing a physical body in the world with a sense of worship, prayer, and spell casting.

“I submerge my hands in ink and smear them across the wall
I cover my body in rich purple paint and rub against white paper
I place a sticker of the Virgin Mary on my bedroom window next to the fire escape
She hurts with the glow of blue frost
I race down the stairs to make snow angels in the dog-piss
Fill the silhouette of my body with marigolds”
— from “Take a Moment to Gather Yourself”

You can listen to the episode here.

I’m still in the process of figuring out how to be a good interview podcast host, how to shuck off my own nervousness and dig up confidence enough to feel strong in these interviews. But whatever limitations I believe I have at this moment, they are more than surpassed by the intelligence and insight of my guests so far.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Born Again by Ivy Johnson

The blurb is a frequent anxiety-laden topic of discussion on Facebook. Some people have made alternative suggestions, e.g., putting a poem on the back cover. That’s a cool idea, but for now most publishers want you to obtain blurbs. So just go about it sensibly and trust that it will work out. Then later when some other poet with a new book coming out asks you to write a blurb, remember the poets who said yes to you and say yes to the poet who now asks you to do a blurb. 

Diane Lockward, The Blurbification of Poetry Books

So much drama in the Twitter writing community lately. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. We claim to be supportive, understanding, solid. We say we support emotional and mental illness or distress. We exclaim our inclusiveness and support for diversity. We’re open-minded……until someone’s opinion isn’t in line with ours. Or someone’s emotional state leads them to do/say something unacceptable or questionable. There’s no understanding or forgiveness then. Apologies are ignored and a lifetime of goodness rejected. And Twitter stays on the soap box for days and days and days, gaining momentum as it goes. I try hard to stay out of the drama and I try hard not to condemn the condemners. I don’t want to be that person. But, obviously, the whole situation bothers me. The hive mind can be a judgmental thing.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poem: Support is Conditional

Mimic claws cutting,
but imaginary
and shivering. Touch

the wound and it isn’t
there. No scar, no scab,
no knife. Shadows that mute

and marble light like waves
under water. Shadows
that blunt and block, black.

Shadows that stab the light
like spines of a cactus.
The thin blade of dusk

that separates sand from
dark. Bright at my back,
eyes that glitter and close.

PF Anderson, Anamnesis

The one class I teach on Fridays, Protest Poetry, was also hard. On Wednesday I’d taught poems about the death of Malcolm X and while most of our discussion was productive, there had been a couple of bad moments–nothing ill-meaning, but students making insensitive comments as they thought aloud about deliberately disturbing poems. I had anticipated the need to discuss a homophobic slur in Amiri Baraka’s “Poem for Black Hearts,” and that went fine, but I hadn’t anticipated pushback, for instance, against anger itself. (We’d been reading about Emmett Till, the Baptist church bombed in Birmingham, a mounting death toll and litany of abuses–in what world is anger not inevitable and utterly just?–but as present politics continue to teach us, we don’t all live in the same world, and many of the students in my classroom are like Ursula, full of verve but not yet alert to the reality of other perspectives.) I responded in the moment, but in retrospect I realized I hadn’t responded strongly enough. So I began with an apology, asked the students to freewrite about a recent time they felt angry and what they did about it, then handed out “The Uses of Anger” by Audre Lorde. The discussion that followed was raw, messy, respectful, persistently oblivious, emotional, and awe-filled by turns, and I ended up having a couple of intense follow-ups with students afterwards. It didn’t do all the necessary work but it was a start.

Lesley Wheeler, Information and energy

While I want to do more with this poem, to lead them through it, I know that if I do, I’ll kill whatever has occurred organically. Some students will feel less competent if we reduce this experience to “look to the teacher.” I want them to feel competent in their abilities, that they (or anyone) can notice what is present in poems. To know what’s present in poems, one must be present with the language of poems. This is what they’re learning how to do.

They are beginning their journey as readers of poetry; they are noticing language and are beginning to make connections that are interesting and surprising. And they are all rooted in the language itself to do so.

The majority leave happy. I leave happy. A successful day one.
I walk out of my room into the hallway, energized by the learning that’s taken place, by their recent immersion in a small, beautiful poem on their own terms. I know this is setting them up for more of this good stuff of poetry that is to come. I know they’ll advance to larger and more complex poems. I know that we’ll have to get to analysis and all the ways one must learn to write about literature. However, today they slowed down and noticed what was there. Today they felt what it was like to really be present with poetry.

Scot Slaby, Day 1: Being Present with a Poem

I’ve stopped waiting for the magical ‘writing time’ to manifest itself. It rarely does. I work full time. Weekends are often busy. I walk the dog. I enjoy swimming. I hate housework but like things to be clean and tidy all the same. Somewhere in all this is my writing: a sentence written in my notebook is writing, a headline cut from the newspaper is writing, half an hour typing and editing a poem is writing, attending a day’s workshop is writing (luxury), watching a documentary about Blixa Bargeld’s work with German experimental music group Einstürzende Neubauten and transcribing some of that interview is also, for me, writing. It all goes into the mix. I  often write things I’m not happy with, but I’ve come to accept that as part of the process. It bothers me less and less. What’s important to me is that I’m doing the work and that occasionally I produce something good. I’ve gained more faith in myself and my work through this approach. As [Eric] Maisel says [in Fearless Creating]: ‘Working means starting’ (p.93) so I try to cut through any blocks and just do it, allowing myself lots of very small opportunities to ‘start’. That way, even a single word gleaned from a book or an article, or overheard in the pub, has some value. Making a note of it means I’ve said ‘yes’ to the work.

Julie Mellor, fearless creating

In November, after reading memorials to Lucie Brock-Broido, I took out her book Stay, Illusion and started a practice of pulling one image or line from a poem and writing from or in response to it. Will any of this turn into “real” poems? Maybe. The point is less about the results and more about showing up to give her poems time and attention and to experiment, play, and try writing in a way that doesn’t feel familiar to me.

I confess that I have not followed this practice strictly. Some days, other poems insist on being written. Some days, I fail to carve out the time. Most days I have a momentary panic that nothing will come. But it’s a practice, so I take a breath and start with something, anything, because I do believe in showing up, in reading as much as possible, in writing as close to daily as possible, in helping poetry to get into my body so that when the magic happens, I’m there for it with my whole self.

Joannie Stangeland, Pick your practice

I haven’t felt like doing much but now I’m coming back to life and revisiting old notebooks.  I’m beginning to assemble new poems.  I finished my commission for Ginkgo Projects/Bloor Homes and I think that some of the poems I wrote for this project will sit well in my next book.  My poem ‘To Bring Me Luck’ about older women and ageing might also belong there.  At this stage, I’m gathering poems and being open-minded about a possible theme.  I would dearly love my next book to feel coherent and thematic and my aim is to be able to articulate this.  I recognise that I really struggle with explaining to anyone what my work is about.

One thing is sure: I feel more determined about shaping my next book but that isn’t to say that I’m trying to force a theme upon it.  That would be a dreadful mistake.

Josephine Corcoran, Slow January continues

Have you ever wondered what it costs to be a poet? This year, I am tracking my readings: earnings (or lack thereof), expenses, book sales, etc. in an Excel spreadsheet.

Now, I’ve always done a bit of that for tax purposes. But what does it really cost to travel to a reading, not receive any payment, and sell one or two books? I’m keeping the numbers and making comments about each activity. I really want to know how much the effort is worth in the life cycle of a poetry collection. Here are some questions I want to know in the first year of a book’s publication:

1. Of the books I bring to readings, how many do I sell?
2. Will I peak in sales in my region, but decline towards year’s end? How can I counteract that?
3. How many readings do I participate in annually? How many free readings? 
4. If I cover travel and expenses, does that cancel out the stipend?

Put aside that poetry is an art, and it is a privilege to participate in this community. I’m looking at the numbers.

Will update you in a few months. April seems appropriate. 

January Gill O’Neil, By the Book

I think I’m going to create a new folder called Hold It! (I’m a great creator of folders…) and put in it every new poem I’m excited about, and I’m not allowed to look at them until at least a month after I’ve put it in the folder. AT LEAST a month. Six months is probably better.

In six months I’m a different person than I was six months before — new skin, blood, colon, fingernails, as cells replace themselves throughout the body at varying rates. So surely the new me will have some fresh insight.

But I’ll have the same eyeballs, though, and mostly the same brain, but new neuronal networks. So in order to shove myself along developmentally, as the pink-faced new poems cool their heels in the Hold It! folder, I should work on my eyesight and my memories. Which means to me that I should read more and widely in poetry especially, and when I find a poem that makes me say “wow, that is good work,” spend some time taking a look at how it works at working. But also other kinds of written work, because all kinds of literature can feed perspective. And I should also look at art, listen to music. And probably dance a little, even if it’s just in my kitchen.

All these kinds of inputs have the possibility of opening my brain to new ways of seeing, new ways of communicating, new ways to imagine. So when I open that folder again, I can see with altered vision and new light.

Marilyn McCabe, How Do I Know?; or, Learning to Assess Our Own Work

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a poetry blogger yourself, consider doing a regular links round-up of your own. It’s not enough to share links on social media; only through interlinking (and commenting) can we hope to build strong online communities.

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


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

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

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

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

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

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Of Lists and Longing

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

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

Collin Kelley, Looking back, looking ahead

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Swint, First Tarot Reading

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

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

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

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

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books of 2018

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

Beth Adams, Book List – 2018

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

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

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

like song
to guitar strings,

and smoke
to fire.

Claudia Serea, Survival story

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

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

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

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

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

Josephine Corcoran, A very quiet start to the year

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Year Trade-In

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

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

Julie Mellor, Why I made this for you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Lockward, Advance Call for Kissing Poems, Plus Prompt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grant Clauser, Notes on Poetry Energy

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

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

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

George Szirtes, MINDS AND HEARTS: SHAPING

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wise Ones and Modern Borders

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

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

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

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

*

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

I feel a cold current moving with the wind.

Ren Powell, January 5, 2019

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

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

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 16

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

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

This week, poets were pondering time and memory (well, OK, poets are pretty much always pondering time and memory) in between trading tips on how to start a poem, how to know when it’s finished, how to promote a book, and — most of all — what to read.

Unable to sleep, I sit before
the heartless brilliance of the screen
with the real-world darkness

hovering, fearful but persistent,
at my back. It seems as if time
has packed her bags and left

for the coast and then beyond.
I take off my glasses, knuckle away
the mess of my tears. And then,

like importunate drunks through
a suddenly opened door, the geese
are overhead.
Dick Jones, Their Voices in the Night

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Spring’s been happening in fits and starts–blossoms one minute, wind-strewn petals the next. I walk a nearby trail most mornings, and on Tuesday, Woods Creek churned and roared from heavy rains; parts of the path were massive puddles, and the lowest bridge was half-underwater. The next day was frigid; others have balmy and still. National Poetry Month basically occurs during the year’s moody adolescence.
Lesley Wheeler, News flash: in April, poet feels moody

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

A~Writing is a solitary act, but it’s equally important to actively seek, and maintain, an outward focus in order to inspire and inform one’s writing. Connect with other writers, both face-to-face and online (it’s never been easier); be an active participant in your local writing scene; attend writing workshops, poetry readings, literary events, festivals; support the work of others (it’s not a one-way street); live life (it’s the richest writing material I know). And, read far more poetry than you can ever write.
Jayne Stanton, interviewed in Bekah Steimel’s blog

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One of the writing strategies I like to use almost every time I begin a draft is to generate a list of words from another source, from a book of poetry or fiction or from almost anything written that’s lying about. Sometimes there’s some intentionality and sometimes not. I look for words that aren’t in my personal lexicon–not that I don’t know them, but I may not think to use them. Then I prop up that list of words in front of me at the computer or on my lap. SOMETIMES a word on that list will generate an entire poem.

I’m always looking for a way in–and about 80% of the time I’d say, my poems spring from a list. There’s nothing proprietary about a list of words from another source, but I love how the list pushes me in a new direction or actually becomes the prompt or allows me to use much fresher language than I might otherwise. It eliminates hum-drum, I hope.

I’ve divined words from poetry books like Break the Habit by Tara Betts and Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, and Pattiann Rogers’ book, Holy Heathen Rhapsody, and even a fiction book, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I still marvel at what gets spit out on the page. I’ve read through entire books circling words as I read or just found and used a single longer poem. Rarely am I looking for a specific type of word for a specific subject. Rather, the goal is to gather words that do not seem to fit together or the subject, if there is one. The list IS my entry to the draft whether I’m writing about Frida Kahlo, the hospice caregiver bathing my mother, or my brother’s childhood clubhouse.
Gail Goepfert, Behind the Purple Door–One Way In

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Of course, invariably, each retyping meant a new re-entry, a complete opportunity to alter, change, fudge, reconsider, letter by letter, the whole poem and its possibilities. Even if you didn’t change a thing, it was a true revision opportunity for the poem. I also enjoyed how it was to re-enter those poems that way, too. Maybe it was the punctuation of the line with the return of the carriage, the clacking of each letter, the meticulous folding the manuscript into thirds to fit into the envelope. That slowness, that luxury, that inefficiency seems so distant now.
Jim Brock, Old Inefficiencies, Old Joys

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A month or so later the audiobook was finished. The recording was done by Lily Ricciardi, one of eBookit’s professional readers. She has a beautiful voice and did a great job. The book is reproduced in its entirety except, of course, for the Table of Contents, the bio notes, and the Index.

I wondered initially how someone might use an audiobook of this sort, as opposed to, say, a novel. But it seems that people are enjoying it as they go walking and as they pound away on the treadmill. Some listen and learn in bed. Someone told me she begins her morning writing session by listening for 10 minutes; what she hears then inspires her writing that day. Excellent! Others listen while traveling in the car or plane. Obviously, I had a lot to learn about audiobooks.
Diane Lockward, The Crafty Poet Goes Audible

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People sometimes ask me how they might know when a poem is “Done.” I resist that term, actually; I think of poems as ideas gathered to the consciousness of the poet. The text on the page (or as delivered live, in readings) is always just the best possible approximation the ‘poem’ available to that poet at the given moment. There’s no one definitive version of a poem.

The practical advantage of that attitude is that I’m pretty easygoing about accepting other people’s edits or even typos in reproduction. Poems aren’t like cars; you can’t ding their bodywork or crack their glass. Poems are clouds you get to ride, if you’re lucky.
Sandra Beasley, Heirloom (Old Poem / New Poem)

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It’s been a while since I read her work, and though I often think of Ruth Stone (1915-2011) along the lines of girls in dresses of Alice blue, and mares beneath the apple trees, I was pleasingly surprised at how bawdy Stone’s poetry is. Men line up like silverback gorillas at the counter of the donut shop. At the bus station, “two couples are not just kissing / they are dry fucking.” In these poems we are not allowed to forget that we have bodies. A younger sister lies in the grave, her breasts, “wizened flaps.” A husband dead of suicide haunts the poems (an insistent “you”). Time doesn’t merely pass, but runs through our fingers as we clutch at what cannot be held onto. The title of the book, Ordinary Words, seems to insist on the humble subjects and (sometimes) plain speech of the poems. But I tiptoe through these poems, never sure where a trap will spring open.
Bethany Reid, Ruth Stone’s Ordinary Words

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I learned to vanish, was saved by my knack
for flying away with fluttering sleeves
and hair through wet grass and over trestles,
falling, and hiding again. A vessel
is coming, I will leave. My mother grieves.
Light and shadows fold themselves around me;
feathers brush my face, erase memory.
PF Anderson, Kaguyahime Sonnet

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Why do some things hold in our memories when others go? Was it less painful for my mother to think of me as the young girl she could dress in nice clothes and whose hair was consistently combed? Was her memory loss entirely organic or was there something else involved? And why, oh why, can I remember so little from certain periods of my life? What have I put into storage and then thrown away the key?

The first poem of Every Atom includes the lines: “The world we are born into / is not the one that clings to us as we leave.” We change the world by moving through it, by the stories we choose to tell, by the ever-widening ripples of our actions. Sometimes, I go back through old notebooks to remind myself of what my world contained during different times. Sometimes, I go back through old notebooks to remind myself who I was in those worlds.

Sometimes I don’t recognize any of it. But there it is, in my own handwriting, like a river ebbing and pulsing, continual and irreversible.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The River of Memory

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An amalgam of ground pecans, chopped apples,
red wine, and nutmeg
primes us to recall the taste of mortar—

the timeworn saga of servitude and how despots’
sovereignties always hinge on slavery.
But instead, it is sweet as honey

and reminds me that all history
is gloss, and how recollection, like nostalgia,
adds false notes of harmony to bitter herbs.
Risa Denenberg, Charoset and Bitter Herbs

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The poet community is one less. I confess I did not personally know Sam Hamil, but I knew of him. I knew some of his rugged past that probably had a lot to do with the person he was. I became acquainted with him during the Poets Against the War lead up to U.S. Bombing Iraq. When I think of Copper Canyon Press I think of Sam. When I think of Sam, I think of Copper Canyon Press. It’s that simple. Sam was all about peace. There was a quiet spirit that resided in Sam, but Sam also had the ability to unleash tremendous indignation where appropriate. One thing I don’t think I ever saw in Sam was much optimism. His worldview of governments including and perhaps especially our own was highly pessimistic. War, hate, violence, greed, corruption. These were things that kept his vision from seeing a reason for optimism. But Sam gave us poetry. His gift to us all, are words that will continue to speak to us if only we will listen.
Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Schizophrenia is in Full Bloom this Spring

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Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I like the poetry itself. The writing, the revising, the reading, the submitting, the independent non-corporate publishing, the sharing, the interpretation, the connecting to others through the poetry. Poetry as expression, poetry as art, poetry as emotion, poetry as questioning, poetry as exploring.

I dislike aspects of the poetry scene that feel too close for comfort to some sort of popularity contest involving group attacks or judgment calls. Poetry can be political in many different, powerful ways, but I don’t like the forming of groups outside of the poetry that take a side and lump other sides together and judge them and try to send other poets to jail.

I’m a small scale individual poet, not a large scale judge.
Juliet Cook, interviewed in Bekah Steimel’s blog

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The conversation in this lovely book between text and image is direct and intense, without seeming constricted or constrained. Although its visual and verbal components are fully capable of standing alone, together they make magic. Seasoned and grave, yet crackling with irony and pleasure, these poems are also erudite, salted with references to Duchamp (a “nude descending an escalator”); Orpheus (a narrator who “turned back to see you disappear”); and Turner (“the red buoy bobbing on the waves.”) Their engagement with the paintings yields a tapestry of responsive, but imaginative, tropes, such as the structure of matter, fragmentation, the entangled relationship between creation and destruction – and, of course, static. This book handily refutes the counsel (mentioned in “where was it I”) of those “frozen in place” to “stay inside the lines.”
This! On “breath to oblivion no ladder no chaser” by Charles Borkhuis–guest blog post by Susan Lewis at TrishHopkinson.com

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Think about Browning’s My last duchess. There’s a poem about the predatory male gaze if ever there was one. But whose gaze is turned on the Duke, and whose on the woman whose portrait the Duke is showing off? What is the poet assuming about the duchess? Or think about Philip Larkin’s The less deceived and how he imagines (gazes on) the little street girl abducted and taken into fulfilment’s desolate attic. At every turn I feel the ground slipping away from under my feet.

At this point, I’m going to go back to an earlier post, (December 2014) in which I was equally uncertain of what I was arguing about or why. I started with a quotation from George Eliot…who had to assume a male persona to get published.

“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary life it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well-wadded with stupidity.”

I went on to write about my response to work by Pascale Petit, Kim Moore, Fiona Benson and Wendy Pratt, and to wonder whether I could access their experience of the world via their poems. I wrote:

“I read these poems, and then I read what I’ve written in the last two years and I see what isn’t there, and I wonder if I have access to what’s missing. Just to explain why I chose that opening quotation from George Eliot; for the last 18 months or so I have grown gradually more deaf. It’s something that can be dealt with, and will be, but at the moment I hear the world through a soft sieve. I miss the point of conversations and questions if I’m not attending. It’s like listening to French. I recognise songs on the radio by the bass lines and drum patterns but I can’t hear the whole tune. And now these poets. It’s as though they’ve shown me emotional registers and harmonies that I can’t hear or feel for myself, as though, in George Eliot’s word I’m ‘well-wadded’. I’m writing rhetoric and well-observed landscapes, and anecdotes, but I’m not accessing the whole picture.”
John Foggin, Here’s looking at you: the male gaze

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The cacophony of voices – high & shrill, low & gruff –
pressed in on her as the knobs of her spine pressed
into the wall, mouths opening and closing
like hungry baby birds, insatiable and demanding.
Beneath the din she heard the whisper of leaves

rubbing in the breeze a promise of disappearance,
of peace caressing her ramrod body. Her eyes
found the door as the sea of prattle parted.
She gathered her resolve and lifted one foot.
Charlotte Hamrick, Not a Party Girl

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Q: Readings make me anxious – how many do I have to do?
A: I say in the book PR for Poets that many poets sell most of their books through readings, and though that’s true, there are plenty of other options that I outline in the book for you to sell books, including sending out an e-mail newsletter, book postcards, or talking to professors about teaching your book. Every book is unique, and every poet is unique. Some people are extroverted and confident public speakers – those people should do lots of readings as long as it makes them happy. But if they’re torture for you, do one or two readings in places you know you have lots of support and see how it goes from there.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Q&A for PR for Poets

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I think that poetry offers what Plato calls psychagogia— “an enlargement of the soul” in C.S. Lewis’ definition, or see John Joseph Jasso’s dissertation chronicling it as “the idea that rhetoric can lead souls to their own betterment; that is, guide them in an ascent along a metaphysical hierarchy through beauty, goodness, and truth to a fuller participation in being.” Poetry provides such enlargement by permitting the reader to imaginatively undergo transformation via images and places the poem offers, to experience the turn in the poem’s rhetoric, to feel ‘along with’ the poem’s nature. The poem is a threshold at which the reader stands and makes the choice of whether or not to enter.
Ann E. Michael, Imaginative, not imaginary

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This is all to say that sometimes dramatic lit does exactly what it’s supposed to do: remove us from our own lives, provide catharsis, and then place us back into our lives with a better sense of perspective, a little more wisdom, and a little more clarity — or even more with more confusion, but a confusion that lets you know a veil has been lifted, and that somehow you’re un-seeing something that was distorted (for you) previously.

And it’s nothing short of amazing these days when something works the way it’s supposed to work. And that’s not pure cynicism — it’s more celebration than anything else. I really love other people’s writing.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, When You Come, Then You’ll See: Real Drama! (i.e. Not My Own)

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And all the cycles in between- the river running dry
for fifteen years, the earth knotted in stubbornness

loops of suffering, the cycle of mourning, the womb
stretched and inelastic filled with the husk of grief.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Cycles

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 14

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

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

It’s just-spring (in the northern hemisphere, at any rate) and the world is, to be sure, mud-luscious. But most mornings, that mud is frozen solid. A few hardy flowers try to bloom, only to wither in the next snow squall. Well, it is the cruelest month. But the birds are migrating through or returning to nest more or less on schedule. An honest-to-god trumpeter swan was just spotted in a farm pond less than a mile from me. And of course, since it’s Poetry Month, the poets are out in force. Even some poetry bloggers who went into hibernation back in January are emerging bleary-eyed like bears from their dens.

I am citizen of an overdressed republic
that knows itself as more than an illusion
and will keep donning clothes and moving on.
Sometimes I think I too am overdressed.
I think I should strip naked, walk the street
with nothing on, and face the filthy weather

we emerge from. I think I is another
as we all are. I think it’s getting late
and dark. It’s hard to see. I smell the dust
that’s everywhere and settles. I know it mine.
I am in love. I am standing at the station
waiting to board. I’m not about to panic.
George Szirtes, What I am Losing by Leaving the EU 1

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8. Write about a medical procedure that made you become a mystic.

9. Write from the perspective of a gym machine or a kitchen gadget/appliance.

10. The gods used to speak in cataclysms, burning bushes, angelic appearances. How would gods communicate today? What would Jesus Tweet?
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, 30 Prompts for April and Beyond

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I found the whole experience of choosing a book cover, and a title for the collection, a challenge – albeit a challenge I was happy to undertake. I spent time looking at various artists’ work, trying to decide if their paintings or drawings would make a suitable cover. I knew that I wanted to have some kind of real life connection with the artist, so I stayed away from browsing the internet or sites like Pinterest. This also helped me to avoid the sensation of being overwhelmed by too much choice.
Josephine Corcoran, My book cover

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All that he owned was a tamarind tree
even the land where the house stood was not his.

So, what is yours, the young wife asked coiling her finger
into his matted hair. His drunken eyes looked from her

to the pods on the tree, her skin the texture of seeds.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Anatomy Of A Tamarind Tree

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The thrill, for this class, is that we are reading works that were published in the last five years (I have to remind my students that the poems might have been written and finished years and years before that), and that the students and I are dealing with the same unfamiliar terrain–I have yet to “teach” or present a poem by one of these poets in a class. To be sure, my students’ footing may be more secure than mine in their reading and understanding of any one of these diverse poets. It’s also transparent to my students that these poets may share more with them, their world and concerns, than what these poets may or may not share with me. Our engagement is about the questions, the troubling disruptions, the things that seem a little beyond, and then those moments were we see something, right there, that the language reveals, animates, or kills.
Jim Brock, De-anthologized

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I’ve been meaning for a while to post some reflections about my winter term courses. One of them, a general-education level seminar, focused on poetry and music. We started with prosody and moved through a series of mini-lessons on poetry riffing on various musical genres: spirituals, blues, jazz, punk, hip hop. Anna Lena Phillips Bell visited and talked about old-time music in relation to her book Ornament. A student composer stopped in, and two other visitors analyzed song lyrics poetically, focusing on Kendrick Lamar and Bob Dylan. It was all tremendously fun, not least because my students were smart and game. I’m not sure I feel much closer to answering my big question: what possible relations exist between poetry and song? But I did write up the thoughts below for my students and they seem worth sharing.

First: while there are pieces about which I’d say with perfect confidence, “That strongly fits my definition of poetry,” or “that’s absolutely a song,” there’s a gray area where the genres lean strongly towards each other–a cappella singing, rap, poems recited rhythmically or over music. If music means “sound organized in time,” performed poetry fits the bill, whether or not the words are set to melody or there’s instrumental accompaniment. Rhythm is latent in words; voices have pitch, timbre, dynamics.

Conversely, song lyrics can be printed out and analyzed poetically, and singer-composers in various eras have had a very strong influence on what page-poets try to accomplish. I’m still bothered when people conflate the genres or put them in competition with each other, because the differences in media feel profound to me, yet lyric poetry and songs with lyrics share a strong sisterhood.
Lesley Wheeler, How poetry approaches music (and dances away again)

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Emily Dickinson/Ghost line (209/520): Mermaids in the basement came out to look at me..

(But) what if I am the ocean/my slim pout/dull teeth/what if I am a paper doll/cut from/from my mother’s grief/ the hate she clutches because I resemble/my father/how misery is her wheeze/her gaze bitter/I drink energy drinks/until my eyes bulge/heart screams/laughs/sobs/in empty parking lots/I could fall in love with myself/like a dog/a loyal hound falls in love with the sound/of fast food wrappers/crinkling/my pulse sugared and accountable.
Jennifer E. Hudgens, 6/30

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Last night, my husband gave me the word paraphernalia. My favorite phrases were: repel the leper, the bells peal, a panel of liars, the rapier’s rip. I ended up with a draft that might be going in the direction of a “dark days” type of poem. Today with my students, we brainstormed a list from ventriloquist. My favorite phrase from that list was a quiver in the soil brings violets.
Donna Vorreyer, The Sounds & the Fury…

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It might seem odd, but the most impressive part of the day was the award ceremony. You might think boring, long, drawn out, but more than 300 students gathered in the auditorium to celebrate each other and WRITING awards. Students CHOSE to attend this LitFest. chose to submit pieces of writing beforehand. Judges read and assigned awards for Honorable Mention, Third, Second, and First Place, and then lastly, the Critic’s Choice award. I actually felt quite emotional thinking about the efforts behind this annual event that has taken place for a couple decades, the people who made it happen, and the excitement of individual students when names were announced and celebrated by classmates who cheered them on. My mind spun to sporting events where the cheering can be deafening. How often do we get to see this type of jubilation over WRITING. It’s so often such a solitary endeavor, and often unrecognized. While judges read the top winning pieces, there was no audience chatter, no cell phone distraction, and no one exited. The audience was diverse, but the response was uniform–respectful!
Gail Goepfert, Back to High School, Mary, and Chocolate

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Some years I have endeavored to draft a poem a day for 30 days, some years I have been active giving and performing readings, some years in teaching; it varies on circumstance and energy. This year, I am celebrating by reading more than by writing.

When I buy poetry books, I try to purchase them–if possible–from the author or from the author’s original publisher rather than more cheaply (Amazon, used books, etc.) The author gets no royalties from books bought second-hand, and because few poets are rolling in cash from book sales–and while gaining an audience may be of value–even a small royalty check is a welcome thing, a confirmation of the work in the world.

Best-selling poetry is not necessarily the “best” poetry. Those of us who love the art can contribute in small ways by using the almighty dollar to support the writers we think need to be read.
Ann E. Michael, Poetry books & the $

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It is National Poetry Month, and having gone through all of my books in March (and letting go of a great number of them), I thought I would read an entire poetry book, each day in April, and then tell you about it. […]

The Moons of August is like a series of hallways and stairwells that take you deeper and deeper into a house. You turn a corner and find a picture of her late brother, or her lost infant. Sometimes, you find hieroglyphics or cave drawings on the walls. There’s the funny story about her mother measuring penises, that turns into a reflection about God counting the hairs on our heads. We see people walking ahead of us, catch only a glimpse of Jack Gilbert or Temple Grandin as they disappear into a basement or climb out a window. Humor and heartbreak and a wry, forgiving and encompassing compassion are threaded all the way through.
Bethany Reid, Danusha Laméris: The Moons of August

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Truth is brutal. So much we can’t recover,
years I’ve begged for you to wait for Spring to bloom
again, living in despair beside each other, and another

stormy season while we tussle for an answer
or a coda to the sum of all of life’s bother.
I’ve learned to hold my tongue, to question
nothing. Questions are another sort of winter.
Risa Denenberg, Abiding Winter

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In 2004, my debut poetry collection had been out less than a year and I was trying to book a gig in New York City. I can’t remember who suggested getting in touch with Jackie, who was the host of the Pink Pony Reading Series at Cornelia Street Cafe, but I got her email and, with little hope, sent her a note. A day or two later, Jaxx responded with an invitation not only to read at Cornelia Street, but to join her at the Bowery Poetry Club as well. When I spoke to her on the phone about my travel plans, she told me I was crazy for booking an expensive hotel room. “Are you crazy? Come and stay at my place.” And so I did. Jackie’s walk-up in Harlem would became my home-away-from-home for my many subsequent visits to NYC. There would be plenty more invitations to read at Cornelia Street and other gigs Jaxx was involved in. She was generous in ways so many poets are not, especially in championing new voices and giving them space. She thought the “po’biz” scene was bullshit and many of the poets involved in it were boring, self-important assholes. She was most definitely right about that.

Jaxx loved her apartment in Harlem. It was rent-controlled, steps from the subway and she loved the mix of people in her neighborhood. She believed in supporting the bodegas, the local restaurants and was livid when one of the big banks opened a branch on her block. Her apartment was full of books and music, great art and a giant, over-priced yellow leather couch. She loved that fucking couch (she even wrote a poem about how much she loved that fucking couch). I had the honor of sleeping on that fucking couch, as well as laughing, crying over love affairs gone wrong, and staying up late to gossip, talk poetry and politics or listen to music. Especially Patti Smith. Jaxx was inspired to create her own band, Talk Engine, which produced some fantastic personal and political music revolving around her poetry. […]

And, of course, her poetry was brilliant. Her collections The Memory Factory (Buttonwood Press) and Earthquake Came to Harlem (NYQ Books) are, as her mentor Ellen Bass said, “vivd, compelling work.” (You can read my interview with Jaxx about her poetry at this link.) Jaxx’s past was filled with harrowing tales of molestation, rape and living as a junkie on the street. She had the strength and determination to turn her life around, and was big in the IT world. When I met her, she was the director of employee support at Yahoo’s headquarters in Manhattan. In her spare time, she was tteaching poetry to inmates at Rikers Island prison. She also kept up Poetz, a calendar of all the poetry open mics and readings happening around the city.
Collin Kelley, In Memoriam: Jackie Sheeler

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Today I found the plaster Virgin with Child,
Her mountaintop avatar wound with plastic rosary beads
Left in offering. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
My father taught me to pray, but the incantations didn’t stick,
Maybe because of the good swift kick
He said I needed, and then gave, seeds
Of my future rebellions– Wiccan symbols, Celtic
Knots I traced in the dirt at Mary’s feet, the wind wild.
Christine Swint, Fourth Leg of the Journey-to-Somewhere Poem

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boom of surf at Bastendorff Beach
field of whitecaps on the Coos Bay Bar
seasick swells of the Pacific

brisk current of Rosario Strait
narrow roil of Deception Pass
Light-year twinkle on Admiralty Inlet

mirror of Mats Mats bay
foamy wake behind the Bainbridge Ferry
swirl of kelp beds off Burrows Island

When they ask her
what she will miss most

she answers

all     that           water
Carey Taylor, All That Water

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SHIFTING SANDS

Demons and marvels
Winds and tides
In the distance the sea has already vanished
Demons and marvels
Winds and tides
And you
Like seagrass touched gently by the wind
In your bed of sand you shift in dreams
Demons and marvels
Winds and tides
In the distance the sea has already vanished
But in your half-closed eyes
Two little waves remain
Demons and marvels
Winds and tides
Two little waves in which to drown.
Jacques Prévert, translated by Dick Jones

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I feel as if my head is bowl of sticky noodles and I can’t get my thoughts straight.

When I come to blog, I think, “What could I say that is interesting or useful?” And then decide to turn on Queer Eye and eat pistachios.

It occurred to me today (and maybe because it’s National Poetry Month and I’m writing a poem a day) that I need to lower my standards a bit on this blog, especially if I want to get a post a week.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Average Blogger = More Words Than Not

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Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~ee cummings was the first poet whose work I committed to memory—I suppose his poetry “looks” the most like poetry (or what I thought poetry should look like) on the page, with its crazy line breaks and spacing. There’s something about the sparseness in his poems that really resonated with me, the way he seems to say more in what he’s leaving off the page than what he includes on it. I still remember each line of my favorite poem of his, a short one starting “no time ago” and ending with two simple, devastating lines: “made of nothing / except loneliness.”
Bekah Steimel, Sirenia / An interview with poet Emily Holland

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I was wowed to discover the book Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics, edited by Chris Duffy, in our own public library! What a powerful book. Contemporary cartoonists “adapt” (interpret, illustrate) poems from the Great War, whether by the actual Trench Poets (poets who really served in the trenches) or others connected to that war. I reviewed it over at Escape Into Life, and should review more poetry books there this month, National Poetry Month, but I am a fast/slow reader of poetry. Even if I whiz through a book on first read, like eating M&Ms, I then slow down and go poem by poem, taking notes, savoring, mulling….um, to pursue the original simile, sucking off the candy coating to get to the chocolate. No, that doesn’t apply at all to most poetry I read! Never mind.
Kathleen Kirk, Above the Dreamless Dead

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Look up the vocabulary of an esoteric subject that has nothing to do with your poem. The subject might be mushroom foraging, astronomy, cryogenics, perfume-making, bee keeping, the Argentinian tango, or zombies. Make a list of at least ten words. Include a variety of parts of speech. Import the words into your poem. Develop as needed.
10 Revision Ideas for Poetry Month – guest blog post by Diane Lockward at Trish Hopkinson’s blog

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My father has a gun. I don’t know
where it is. It must be somewhere.
Maybe in his dresser drawer.
Maybe underneath his bed.

We don’t speak of it. The gun is not
meant to kill. We don’t believe in that.
I repeat, We don’t believe in that.

Outside, frost butters my window.
The world cracks at a slow pace.
Crystal Ignatowski, A Gun Is Not A Father Or A Husband Or A Saint

Woodrat Podcast 36: Diane Lockward

Diane Lockward

For the first of our Poetry Month conversations, Kristin Berkey-Abbott and I talked by phone with Diane Lockward, whose most recent book of poems, Temptation by Water, we had both recently read (or re-read, in Kristin’s case). For links to all three of Diane’s books, see her website. She blogs about poetry at Blogalicious.

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Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

Reading Diane Lockward’s Temptation by Water

Temptation by WaterLive-blogging seems to be making a bit of a comeback lately, but you still don’t see too many readers live-blogging their reading, for some reason. I resolved to try and remedy that today — except that instead of a computer, I used a pen and clipboard and transcribed the whole thing this evening, so it wasn’t quite live, but close. This is the first of four books that Kristin Berkey-Abbott and I are encouraging others to also read and blog about this month. If you do so anytime before the end of the month, please send me the link and I’ll update this post to include it, right up here at the top. Also, we’re going to be interviewing Diane by phone this coming Saturday, lord-willing-and-the-creek-don’t-rise. So let us know if there’s anything in particular you’d like us to ask.

[4/7/11] Kristin Berkey-Abbott: “The Temptations of Diane Lockward’s Latest Book”

[4/9] Dale Favier @mole: “The Lesson of Loss: Temptation by Water”

[4/10] Dale @mole: “More on Lockward’s Temptation by Water”

[4/23] Nic S., Very Like a Whale: “‘Tempation by Water’ — Daine Lockward”

7:51 a.m. It’s in the high 40s and I’m sitting on the porch with my coffee, reading Diane Lockward’s Temptation by Water. There’s “the weather outside and the weather inside,” Lockward reminds me (“Weather Report”). Indeed.

A loose confederation of kinglets moves through the birches, identifiable not by their crowns — the birds are silhouettes against the overcast sky — but their diminutive size and their rootless lack of allegiance to any perch. Hard to believe they ever pause long enough to nest. “Grief, a vagrant huddled in the corner,” I read (“Implosion”). I spot a brown creeper, first on the dead elm and then on the trunk of the walnut beside the driveway, like a nuthatch with its wiring switched, ascending rather than descending, in the same way that spring is autumn played backwards. Or something like that. A squirrel trots into the woods with his black, disinterred breakfast between his teeth.

“Leaving in Pieces” is a lot of fun. “The hairless head was yellowish-white/ and shiny as a peeled clove of garlic.” Poor bald husband!

“This is the season of the centipede.” Terrific opening line there for “What He Doesn’t Know.” I wish I’d written it.

I try to stop hearing the white-throated sparrow’s song as wistful (or the bluebird’s as bubbly) but it’s hard. Like Lockward’s centipede, the birds are “without our human flaws,” but not by nearly as much.

“Pleasure,” I read, and a nearby mourning dove goes “Who-OH!”

“Outside, goldfinches bright as lemon peels” (“Pleasure”). Then in “Stripping the Lemon”: “Would you grate/ my goldfinch/ gold[?]” This is the most gold I’ve read about since Mark Doty. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The witch-doctor rattle of our smallest woodpecker, he of the down. “The slow slide of warm stones/ over hills and valleys of flesh” (“Why I Won’t Have a Full Body Massage”).

Crows, crows.

Lockward tends to put poems with similar themes together. Next up is “My Mother Turns Her Back.” Wow, I like this one! “The snake on my mother’s/ back thickens, a python/ bulging with rats.”

Is that a flicker calling from the corner of the field? Sure sounds like it.

The heat effect from my morning shower has almost entirely worn off, and the cold and damp are beginning to get to me. But listen: “I watch my mother// grow down, as if she carries/ a burden of basket, as if/ already greeting the earth.” Simply a magnificent poem.

In “Hunger in the Garden,” Lockward depicts raccoons as forming nuclear families — oops. The deer eating the spring and summer blossoms still in the bud, though, that sure sounds familiar.

“April at the Arboretum.” I’m listening to the cowbird’s liquid lisp from atop the tallest tree in the yard, as usual: the nest parasite and his mate miss nothing. Their eyes are on the sparrow, you could say. Lockward is describing an April sleet storm crushing the flowers. Then… more goldfinches! Yay! “Tarnished, soft, and brilliant.”

The sky suddenly brightens. A pair of red-bellied woodpeckers are really going at it — fighting or courting, it’s hard to tell. You’d think I’d know all the neighbors’ habits by now. “Without the noun of his name” (“Without Words for It”): sometimes the simplest phrases are the most resonant, aren’t they?

I become aware of the highway noise from the southwest; it’s not too loud today. A drone note.

“All the sentences were simple and declarative” quoth she. This is one poem about language that actually doesn’t annoy me too much. Right on cue, the monosyllables of a nuthatch.

“Don’t call him witch doctor” (“Nostrum”). Cool, I was thinking about witch doctors! Not nearly as P.C. as “shamans,” but you know, some so-called shamans are or were, in fact, witch doctors. They could fuck you up and would tell you so to your face, or so certain ethnographers have reported. Anyway…

“Inside the sack, seeds that crackle like grit”: description of eating a fig in “Woman with Fruit.” Lockward is really good at food poems. I’m been considering writing a collection of food poems myself, so this is a welcome schooling.

8:55. Fingers frozen. Maybe it’ll warm up later and I can resume this after lunch.

*

2:45 p.m. Well, it’s up to 56 degrees. I’ll take it! One rain shower just past, the air smells of ozone and wet soil. Two, or possibly three, wood frogs are quacking in the teacup-sized pond down in the boggy corner of the field.

“If Only Humpty Dumpty Had Been a Cookie”: I’m not even that crazy about cookies, but this poem has me salivating. Damn.

And then there’s “Learning to Live Alone,” something I know a little about. “Trees that capitulate to nothing,// and speckled sparrows that light on the lawn.” Yep, companionship is where you find it. (Helps to be drunk, though. Then every beetle is like a brother.)

A chipmunk’s alarm call. The sun won’t quite come out.

“To a Potato” solidifies my intention to make twice-baked potatoes for supper tonight. “I love the smell of you just before baking,” I read. Wonderful ode. Then it’s on to “My Dark Lord” and: “Lay me among the potatoes./ Shroud me in a shirt of loam and peat moss.”

“Spying on My New Neighbors” describes a modern suburban heiros gamos, “his hoe dropped on her rake […] flowers blooming/ from ears and eyes, the red peonies of their mouths.” Nice.

One of the wood frogs has a sudden burst of enthusiasm, or maybe a fit of rage. Hard to tell. But excitement is running high after so many too-cold weeks.

There’s a “scrim of evergreens” in one poem, and a “scrim of trees” in the very next poem. That’s at least one scrim too many. One per book is pretty much the limit. I fault the editor there. But from the latter, “Bathing in Forest Dusk,” I absolutely love these lines: “I breathe the duff/ of deciduous leaves,// leave my sorrows/ among moss and mushrooms,/ among lilies of the valley/ and jack-in-the-pulpits.” And: “Your trees breathe/ me in.” Wow.

Two doves exchange baritone clarinet notes, as they are wont to do.

“When Pigs Flee” almost makes me like feral pigs. That’s something. And then it turns into another good food poem, by talking about all the pork products these pigs won’t be in. Yay, a mention of scrapple!

Was that a rumble of thunder? Crap.

Nice capture of the photobug impulse in “Capturing the Image.” Then more thunder. And more potatoes! “Jesus Potato” is written in one of those annoying forms that repeats the same rhyme words in a cyclic pattern, but it has too many good lines to dislike. The potato turns into the Pope by the end, a cool move that might be opaque to anyone who doesn’t know Spanish. (Or maybe I am reading into it.)

I read “The way lightning sometimes strikes,” and there’s a flash of distant lightning. Really! May God strike me dead if I’m lying.

The rumbles seem to be growing more distant, but here come some fat raindrops rustling the leaves. As long as it doesn’t blow in, though, it can rain all it wants.

“Ecdysiast” — bitchin’ title for a poem about an exotic dancer. Her gaze is “at once smoldering and icy.”

It’s getting dark four hours too early. This can’t be good.

“The chunk of day we appropriate/ for happiness, when we will be happy/ because that is the appointed hour” (“Happy Hour”). Yeah, mandatory fun sucks. But Lockward really evokes the mood well.

The scattered raindrops multiply into a mob. A squirrel races from the tulip poplar.

“Filbert” — a poem about the Charlie Brown of nuts. “You’re that kid whose mother named him/ Filbert.”

Oops, that flash was kind of close. The rain has already stopped, though. This storm is a bit of a filbert.

Ah, the obligatory dead-animal poem: “A Murmuration of Starlings.” I like it though, especially the ending, which laments the mass poisoning of “Birds who’d sung their own song/ and wooed their mates with lavender and thistle.” As a conservationist I do feel there are times when local eradications of invasive species are appropriate, but that doesn’t — or shouldn’t — make such actions any less horrible, or we who are the uber-invasive species any less culpable. Poems like this are essential reminders of, uh, how much we suck.

Another shower, but the thunder is now to the northeast. Well, most of it, anyway. Temperature down to 55. The smell of smoke. There’s a typo on page 61, I think, “draught” for “drought.” The poem is “Supplication to Water”: “I have polluted the pristine lake, peed in the pool, … I have … prayed for your conversion/ to wine.” A great litany of sins. “Catch me between the devil and the deep deep blue./ Let me enter the same river twice, for I am grungy.” I love this poem! Also, use of “grungy” more than atones for the earlier double-scrim offense.

Now this here’s some rain. (Have the coltsfoot flowers that were out along the road this morning — first of the year! — folded up, I wonder?) Time to put the potatoes in the oven and do a quick check of email.

*

4:33. It’s down to 53F, though the sky is once again brightening. Sound is coming out of the east now, whatever that might portend: traffic going through the gap.

I read: “She remembers how you slid into this world ass first,/ a comic reversal forewarning who you would be” — a poem about an asshole (“It Runs This Deep”). If breech birth is destiny, I’m in trouble.

This may well be the definitive asshole poem against which all other asshole poems will henceforth be measured. I don’t want to give away the ending, but it’s… perfect. Must get Lockward to read this for the podcast.

A robin is singing — first one I’ve heard since this morning. Nothing remarkable, I realize, but hey, it’s been a long damn winter.

A very good poem about peaches, followed by “You Offer Lychees to Your American Friends,” in which the speaker is trying to convert her Chinese friend to chocolate, urging her to “Learn to love what is decadent,/ what grows in other gardens.” I like the subtle way the topic of inequality is broached.

“Kerfuffle”: a poem made to read out loud, so I do. Again, Lockward places like with like, the decadent pleasure of language right after the chocolate. “He was onomatopoetic,” she explains.

Another poem about a male lover, “Side Effects,” is just what it says: an artful list of dangerous side effects. Impressive. I also can’t help thinking that if this could be reworked into a ballad, it might very well go platinum on the country music charts.

Song sparrow now. A car coming up the road. Another small thunderstorm rolls in — or is all the same, very relaxed storm? “The tinny sound of steel,/ wind swirling…” (“There Where Love Had Been”)

“I … want to believe/ the trees are a sign I could be wood” (“The Desolation of Wood”). Me too.

Getting dark again. This will be a day with multiple dusks.

*

5:25, 51F. I’m back from eviscerating the potatoes and refilling them with their new and improved flesh. Thunder still. A squirrel chisels open a black walnut. “Inside that shell, the sound of regret, relentless as any ocean.” (“How is a Shell Like Regret?”) This poem reminds me of my shell-collecting grandmother.

Reading “The Temptation of Mirage,” I make appreciative noises at “the levitation of lake.” The poem ends with a night-blooming cereus, too. Can’t go wrong with that.

Another fruit poem, “Love Song with Plum,” has some wonderful word-play with the near-rhymes: plumb, plumes, plumage, plummet. Another one to read out loud.

“‘No Soup for You!'” — In a book with so many edible things, you can’t not include an evocation of the great and holy ur-food. “I believe in the power of soup,” she says, and conjures up a Whitmanesque soup kitchen where (contrary to the title) all are welcome.

No sound now but rain and distant traffic.

“This is the geometry of longing” (“Phone in a White Room”). I’m glad she included this poem, so different from all the others in the book with its dystopian dreamscape. It’s a good antidote to the soupy utopia.

The rain’s easing up again. A crow calls. (Pretty much the only calls I get are from crows.)

“Twilight” features a baby who is also a muffin, “his pure buttery goodness…” Why is this not disturbing?

“Seventh-Grade Science Project”: last poem. The speaker is collecting butterflies all summer, her parents recently separated. She left her “multi-colored fingerprints/ on everything I touched.” Deft move to close with an ars poetica in the last two lines.

Time for supper.