Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 38

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week’s digest comes front-loaded with poetry because I feel there’s been a bit of a deficit of actual poems in recent editions. Of course personal essays are always the bread and butter of this series, along with book reviews or appreciations and the occasional literary criticism, but let’s not lose sight of what we’re all about.

Though as the rest of the digest hopefully demonstrates, poets do tend to be pretty damn good at not losing sight of important things—even (or especially) those things that the culture or the state is heavily invested in us not noticing.


There’s a farmhouse at the edge
of a Romanian village, lonely and thick
with shadows as dusk sets in.
People inside are afraid to turn on the lights.
Once in a while, stones fall
from the sky, dent the roof, chip bits
from the eaves. Stones fall, never bigger
than someone’s fist, never hurled
from great distance to burrow
through the roof and kill.

Romana Iorga, The Meadow Is Filled with Stones

At first I think I hear the binder,
wheels beating, turning at the headrow,
but the fields are bare.
Such a beating, a clattering.
More geese searching for a lake
in this land of furrows? Or
the rector in his Wolesely
come to seek me out?

Dick Jones, FLIGHTPATHS – POEMS ABOUT AEROPLANES

I think of my father,
if I’m meeting him

here. This
night-colored wine
wavers between us,
its taste shaped

by so much waiting.

José Angel Araguz, new poems out in the world!

this morning I was finally able to go outside and breathe I stood on the front porch and inhaled the scent of rain soaked forest then I went out to the deck to take that photo of a sugar maple in my yard I opened all the windows in the house put the screens in then drove to the beach there is some stuff going on with my mental health that I am not ready to write about here and so I am stopped from writing anything at all for now last night I dreamed of a giant cabbage and women with weary intelligent eyes and huge dogs I am okay but not okay I will be okay just checking in here to say hello hello

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I’m sick of the coronavirus. Sick of wildfires and hurricanes.

Sick of hate-mongers and a derailed America. I’m sick of Twitter tantrums and conspiracy rants.

Sick of days so bleak, it’s like a chapel of black cats is a safer place to pray.

Sick of flossing with barbed wire and counting the newly bloomed flowers along the boulevard of the bereft.

Sick of watching the walls close in, businesses close down, neighbors move out.

Yet despite it all, I still recall those stories written on your skin. All the stories written on my skin.

I still marvel at our shared storylines, all our mysterious twists and turns.

How they held me, how they held me.

Rich Ferguson, Second Thoughts in the First Person

That video brought to mind something my family used to do years ago, when the kids were little. If someone cut us off in traffic or was rude in public we’d say, “What is her story?” and then everyone would volunteer random possibilities. Her baby was up all night or a stone was stuck in her shoe or she’s late for work (or as one of my sons liked to contribute) “her butt itches but she can’t scratch it.”  It didn’t just distract us from our annoyance, it was a playful way to consider other people’s perspectives. I hoped this practice let us feel closer, for a moment, to the oneness underlying all life on this planet.

Laura Grace Weldon, Reframing the Story

It was freezing in the winter. I got those Dickens gloves without fingertips. It was sweltering in the summer. I took off all my clothes. It was at that desk that I made [Once he forced a small miracle…] and [Fluid the promise…] and many others. I was in the apartment in July 2018 when Sarabande offered to publish the book.

After a year I moved to an apartment closer to the sea. It too had a desk, but a small and charmless one. I adopted the dining table. I lived alone. I could. In March I left in a hurry for Germany without giving the future much thought. All my things are still scattered across that table with no one to touch them.

I’ve been back with my family in Germany through the spring and summer. It’s greener here. I speak the language.

I took the day off as a gift to myself for writing a book.

Sarah J. Sloat, Hotel Almighty

I’ve brought the angel wing into the house now that the temperatures have dropped below 15C. The perennials are dying. Or going dormant.

The honeysuckle has twined its way far fast the trellis I put up in May. It’s choking the thuja, but blooming with such a fragrance that I can’t bring myself to cut it back.

I do have hope. There’s the winter to read, and to learn. And there is something to be said for learning one’s place in the making of things.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

INTERPRETIVE TRANSLATION OF TALMUDIC TEXTS. Gratefulness.org

There is a personal grief in private failures, in every missed deadline – every lost hour.

Ren Powell, Cultivating My Mind

She walked until                                 she couldn’t
identify a single species of tree

to learn anew
                                         which one yielded edible berries
if Pandanus bore flowers
in the rosette                               of spiked leaves

Uma Gowrishankar, the flower discovers the poet

They are cutting down the pine tree on the corner. It was maybe 80’ tall and almost three feet in diameter, perfectly healthy, an old tree full of years. And now it’s mostly wood chips. Today, for the first time in weeks, the sky is blue, and there is more of it than before. I walk past, grieving.

air quality index
counting the trees
we have left

Dylan Tweney [no title]

In a time of grief and gravity and gratitude for some wonderfully-lived lives, I happen to find myself reading Mark Doty’s book What Is the Grass? Walt Whitman in My Life.

And I find this paragraph; and for now, I need add nothing more.

The dead are not lost, but in circulation; they are involved in the present, in active participation. Bits of them are streaming through your hand and mine, just as language is circulating through us. Lexicon and materiality forever move onward and outward in the continuous wheeling expansion this world is. This is no mere philosophical proposition on Whitman’s part, not an intellectual understanding but a felt actuality. We are alive forever in the endless circulation of matter. Nothing luckier, stranger, or more beautiful could ever happen. There is no better place.

Ann E. Michael, No better place

What is a love poem in the underworld, in the light, in that worst of all place in between? I orca between them, or crawl. Liminal. What if the beauty is only that.

In my kitchen, a love poem to the vixen by Adrienne Rich. For a human animal to call for help on another animal is the most riven the most revolted cry on earth, she says while I drink my coffee all sharp and soft.

When covid was killing me, I ate oranges two, three at a time. How my body demanded them, sure they would save me: how I scraped their peels with my teeth for even pulp. How I wished I could get them all the way inside my lungs, rub the dying walls with their acid light. Convinced. If I could just—

Corona: a halo of light, hallucinatory and orange. Too late now for arrhythmic heart, a thing that actually happened. Too late for sacred marriage, also a thing that actually happened. What the body remembers is joy: that part was real, and while some is better than none, all is what is required—and so it was immolated. A fever dream, teethmarks in pulp and bone on waking: the body remembers that salmon colored haze is where this all began. In fire, and cilia burned away. If I could just—
Just—
Even corona extinguished, only the carving is left

JJS, Covid-19 and Other Deaths: The Descent

Before Tisha b’Av, I gathered a group of liturgists to collaborate on a project that became Megillat Covid, Lamentations for this time of covid-19.

In recent weeks we’ve gathered again — in slightly different configuration — to build something new for this pandemic season: a set of prayer-poems for Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which we’ve titled Ushpizin. That’s the Aramaic word for guests, usually used to refer to the practice of inviting ancestral / supernal guests like Abraham and Sarah into our Sukkah… though this year, what does it mean to invite Biblical guests when many of us don’t feel safe inviting in-person guests? That’s the question that gave rise to the project.

The prayers / poems that we wrote arose out of that question and more. What does it mean to find safety in a sketch of a dwelling in this pandemic year? With what, or whom, are we “sitting” when we sit in our sukkot this year? What about those of us who can’t build this year at all? And what can our Simchat Torah be if we are sheltering-in-place, or if our shul buildings are closed, or if we are not gathering in person with others? 

Rachel Barenblat, Liturgy for Sukkot in times of covid-19

To the best of my knowledge, Ellen Bass does not identify herself as a religious poet, or as having any personal belief in God. What I love about this poem is the way that she has kept that worldview out of the picture as it were and created a universe in which it is possible to imagine a being (Anne Lamott says if you can’t cope with the word ‘God’, try David Byrne, the name of your favourite pet, or the word Phil) who is sentient, suffers, and therefore goes through grief like the rest of us, its ‘heart huge as a gray whale’. As I enter a new stage of grieving, this is the kind of god/God I want to believe in. That Ellen Bass has outstripped her unbelief and created this space in which it is possible to spend time believing, if only briefly, is something I am grateful for this morning.

Anthony Wilson, God’s Grief

cut out the dead herb growing spirals inside your chest
inside the sour plum, find a seed with the initials of god

see how the mouth hungers for the unwritten century
collect, if you can, the honey left by ants on the road

in the morning, run and unfasten the gate to the sea
keep the first feather that brushes against your throat

Luisa A. Igloria, resetas (1)

It has been a labor of love to walk this one into the world. There are poems gathered here that were composed years ago in sweeter times – and others written through days more heartbreaking and challenging.  Initially, I envisioned this collection to be one of grief and bereavement.  What else could it be after the sudden death of a husband?  In fact, when I first organized the manuscript under that tarp, it was titled Clutter & Scree – the things left behind, the rubble that proves difficult in which to establish firm footing.  The poems then were largely too fresh, too close, too raw, and at a time I simply needed the motion and process of writing as one might need a trekking pole on a hike.

The manuscript as such did not initially get picked up.  So, I pulled it apart, blue-taped the poems on the walls of an empty room at home, and spent a winter subtracting, adding, writing, revising, and organizing what would become Curating the House of Nostalgia.  I aimed for better balance between between the two titles.  The collection shifted from straight sorrow to envelop the beauty that ultimately embraces and occasionally overshadows heartache in one way or another, often in small ways.  With each day comes night.  What else could this manuscript be from a northern woman poet who refuses to claim the word widow?  This shift was especially important as my now 14-year-old daughter and I continue to move forward in ways that are hopefully both spirited and healthy.

Kersten Christianson, Curating the House of Nostalgia

I recently ordered a 2021 calendar–I favor a portable Moleskine number–but, with heavy-handed symbolism, the order keeps being delayed. I’m a planner by temperament and I SO wish I could anticipate my future doings again. Not possible. It’s all clouds.

For the near term, all a calendar-minded person can do is brainstorm short-term ways to mark the passage of time, because around here, the cooling air and spots of yellow at the tops of trees strongly imply that the fall equinox is near. I keep daily work rhythms, even on sabbatical. On Saturdays, we take walks somewhere outside of this small town, hiking in the woods if we can. I’m applying for writing-related opportunities that might bear fruit next spring or summer. Other people are desperately trying to layer multiple workdays on top of each other right now–work, homeschooling, other responsibilities–so feeling lost in blurry weeks means I’m getting off easy, but to a surprising degree, it’s still a stressor.

Here’s a small anniversary: my fifth poetry collection, The State She’s In, was published on March 17th, 2020, so if it were a baby, it would be a chubby little person rocking forward onto its hands and trying to figure out locomotion. I bought it flowers and arranged a photo shoot to celebrate the occasion. It actually IS a book about time, among other subjects–the history of my region but also the approach and arrival of my 50th birthday, an event that I could watch descending like Wile E. Coyote awaiting the anvil. Processing age and change, I wrote many poems that reference the dreaded number explicitly (as in “Fifty-Fifty”) or use 50 as a formal constraint: poems of 50 syllables, 50 words, 50 lines, and more. I’m sure much of that formal play is invisible. It worked, though. Attacking a number every which way gave me some control over its meaning. I wonder if I could do some version of that by writing poems about 2021? I refuse to give 2020 that honor.

Lesley Wheeler, 6 month birthday for THE STATE SHE’S IN (time does not exist)

I’ve been trying to take things a little slower lately. Maybe it’s the shortening days, maybe it’s a hangover from lockdown when life slowed almost to a standstill and I was actually able to notice the small things for the first time in ages. As I write this, there’s a wasp crawling up the pane of the patio door. It does this busily, zithering about (zithering, if I remember rightly, is a word I picked up from Jacob Polley’s Jackself – he uses it to describe greyhounds I think, but it suits wasps equally well). Of course, the wasp is trying to find an exit, in order to survive. Everything it needs is out there, beyond the glass, easy to see, hard to reach. If the wasp slowed down a bit, it might realise how close it is to freedom. As it is, it continues to buzz frantically, getting nowhere. Eventually it will burn out and drop to the floor exhausted.

Okay, I’m not the wasp. Not exactly. But I know that feeling of trying too hard to get to something that seems close, tangible, achievable, having to work like fury to get there. Poems that come out of that state of mind generally don’t please me, and neither does the process of creating them. I’m not saying that I now intend to sit about and do nothing in the hope that poems arrive unbidden. Most likely they won’t. But I have promised myself I won’t be so anxious about ‘doing’ things and overloading myself. Hence the photograph above. We spent Sunday picking blackberries to make some wine. I had a hundred other things I needed to do but I gave myself over to picking this humble fruit. It was slow work, but the sun was out and the fruit was ripe and I felt like I was doing something important. The blog didn’t get done on Sunday because of this. It didn’t get done yesterday because I had a heavy day at work. I’m writing it today because I feel like it. This is as it should be.

Julie Mellor, Blackberry moon

I’ve recently took a little inventory of new projects and while this year has been a doozy on all other fronts, and while I was paralyzed a bit when it came to writing and creating through the spring, there is still quite a bit of work to show for the summer months–the overlook poems, the tabloid pieces, the bloom project, and now, my series of plague letters.  While visual art feels a little bit harder to settle in with (mostly due to time constraints) I am enjoying the video projects. On the whole, a productive season as we settle into fall.  I have a few more epistolaries and then I’m not sure where to go next, but we’ll see what I’m in the mood for.  I have a notebook full of projects and ideas that are ripe for the picking.

Today, warmer weather, but it’s supposed to get colder by the end of the week. There has also been strange milky white skies from the smoke in the west way high in the atmosphere.  People are dying and the worlds on fire, so it seems hard to exist sometimes. To person sometimes. I’ve been busy, so less for the doomscrolling now that the semester has started and my days are full with reserves and ILL.  I spent the weekend in Rockford, which at least granted some outdoor campfire s’more activity in a summer that has barely been a summer.  As always, I most like coming home. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/15/2020

This week was so stressful, among other things, I broke a tooth in my sleep. My regular dentist couldn’t get me in because three other patients had done the same thing that day. Hoping to get it fixed on Monday, but of course every dental trip brings anxiety because of Covid risk. […]

The enforced enclosure of the terrible smoke did result in one good thing – I got to catch up on my reading. Besides reading Joan Didion with my mom (this month: The Book of Common Prayer), I finally read the wonderful third book from January Gill O’Neil, Rewilding. (Pictured to the left: Sylvia loved my “fall mood” table so much that she came and put her paws directly on January’s book! She really does love to cuddle a poetry book!)

This book addresses the natural process of rewilding – what happens when we leave a field or a stream alone for a while – and the dissolving and building of bonds between family members during a divorce. January’s language is clear and straightforward, but lovely, in this collection that will move you and make you rethink your own search for your rewilding self.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Field Guide Book Giveaway Winner, a Heck of a Week: Broken Teeth, Birds in Smoke, and Saying Goodbye to RBG, Poetry Reading Corner – Rewilding

A rare glimpse of an owl hunting in the park. I imagine a field mouse running for its life. Watching, I feel so hollow. I am a steel tube. Something is missing inside of me. Empty. What? The owl rises back up from the field, flapping hard. She has something in her claw, but I can’t tell what it is. A slow mouse, perhaps. She lands high up in one the tall pines to eat in privacy.

James Lee Jobe, No, you fool, it’s only the moon.

“And there you are – happened a few minutes ago.” In a sense, this is the retrospective acknowledgement that a subjectivity—you—has been constituted by this text, and that someone is now looking back upon and narrating you’re having happened here. And now, this “voice” is proceeding to weave you into its own material, which is sutured to the cosmic and the violently technological. That is, “you” exist here as subject in a process of analysis, subdivision, transduction, routing and relay, etc. As reader, you are partly subjected: an operation is happening here, and it is not immediately clear what it intends.

R.M. Haines, Reading the Pharmakon: Part III

why do i re-read this?

is that turned corner stuck in my craw?

are the words vesiculating

in your / my / that heart?

so many question marks that

i have to re-read it again and again 

that turned down corner

stuck in this my crowing

Jim Young, why do i re-read this?

Readers who think they can see what a poem’s “about” (who can paraphrase) have a foundation to help appreciate the poem. It probably means that the poem has some cohesion, which also aids conventional understanding. It may only be a prop to be discarded after use, but there’s no harm offering a helping hand to readers, is there?

If a collection has aboutness (e.g. a theme or two), the themes can provide the narrative for a review, which helps both poet and reviewer. It makes commercial sense for the back cover to say what the collection is “about” even if a minority of the poems match the description. If the poet’s autobiography matches the theme, so much the better.

But “aboutness” isn’t univerally popular. I’ve heard poets say of a poem of theirs that “If I knew what it’s about I wouldn’t have written it.” I rather like trying to discover what a poem is “about”, which is perhaps why I’m not so keen on single-theme autobiographical collections. I like trying to work out how a poem achieves its effect, which leads to psychology and market awareness more than soul-baring. Even if a poem doesn’t work for me, I’m interested in how might it work for others.

Tim Love, Aboutness

Richie McCaffery is an unusual poet. To start with, his poems are immediately recognisable. And then there’s his commitment to his method. Instead of shedding a skin after every book, reinventing himself for the following collection, he chips away at his concerns. This quality shines through once more in his new pamphlet, First Hare (Mariscat Press, 2020), which builds on the foundations of his previous books, layering them with additional nuances in both aesthetic and thematic terms.

I’ve mentioned in the past that McCaffery is one of the best in the business when it comes to so-called poetic leaps. This device involves the invocation of an object, person or situation, followed by an unexpected, startling comparison with another object, person or situation. The comparison might at first seem incongruous, but poets of McCaffery’s skill render it inevitable and enlightening, thus capturing their reader.

One such instance in First Harecan be found in Lighthouse. This poem portrays a picture that’s hung on a bedroom wall in the first stanza; the second stanza introduces the figure of a sleeping partner; the third then brings both elements together as follows:

…It’s drawn in such a way
to imply that the onlooker
is deep in the eye of the storm.

Matthew Stewart, The darkening hue of the years, Richie McCaffery’s First Hare

I was also very pleased to discover the work of Jamie Baxter as a result of Matthew Stewart’s (him, again, FFS!!!) success this week with placing a poem in The Spectator.

I urge you to seek out this poem by Jamie. I am going to dig into his poems as soon as I find some more. I understand he’s not got a pamphlet or book out yet, but I hope this is resolved soon.

And to go and get a copy of The Spectator to see Matthew’s poem. I know there are many things wrong with The Speccie (not least that they continue to give Rod Liddle, T*by Y*ung and James Delingpole opportunities to peddle their racist, shortsighted shite*). However, it does feel like this is a shift into a different world for Matthew’s work. I am sure that Hugo Williams has a very different editorial approach.

The idea of being published in poetry journals and websites, etc is, of course, an absolute dream. He’s been published in a great many of the “biggies” and, still, of course, it’s important to try to get into them. I certainly won’t give up, but when you’re being published in places where the opportunities to be seen and read by folks that may not normally read poetry are increased is a massive achievement, and for that I applaud the lad.

*Please note that I know Matthew does not share the views of that particular bunch of shithouses.

Mat Riches, Echo Location

Lately I’ve been feeling some sadness about the cool classes that I used to teach, about all the classes that I will likely never teach again.  Of course, I’m remembering the fun parts, the actual teaching, not the endless grading.

Part of my sadness is triggered by finding some old teaching materials when I cleaned out some boxes, materials from almost 20 years ago now, back when I was first teaching creative writing.  I cut out all sorts of pictures of humans from magazines, mainly from ads.  Each student took a picture from the envelope–some terms I let them look at the pictures, while in others it was done blind.  Then I asked a series of questions to help people think about the picture as a character.  Then I walked them through the character’s deepest desires in a way to help them think about plot.

I kept the pictures because I thought I might want to do the exercise some day–but I’ve never had any trouble creating characters.  Plus, there was always the chance I might teach creative writing again.

I also had a huge interoffice mail envelope full of words that I used for a sestina exercise.  First we read a sestina and tried to ascertain the pattern.  Then I had them choose six words and put them in the end of each line in the correct order.  Then I gave them some writing time to see what happened.  Did we create brilliant sestinas?  Rarely.  But it was great fun.

I realize that even if I had gotten the kind of teaching job where I used these teaching materials all the time, I still might arrive at a time when I needed to decide whether or not to keep them.  Sandra Beasley has a poignant blog post about the closing of an MFA program, and I think we’re just seeing the beginning of lots of program closures of all kinds. 

My grief is not that kind of sharp grief, but more the mid-life kind, the kind where I stumble across an artifact and think about where I thought I was headed and where I am right now.  I realize it’s not where I’ve ended up–that could still change, although many of my options look a bit less bright now than they once did.  But finding those artifacts is like getting a letter from my past self, in a way.  What would my future self observe?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Letters as Teaching Ideas, Artifacts as Letters

My devotion might have been particularly acute because I had nowhere else where I taught on a regular basis. Tampa will always be where I developed my workshop style: bright, performative, probably reading- and vocabulary-heavy, hopefully with a lot of laughter to ease the rigor. Tampa is where I developed my first dozen go-to hourlong lectures, which I’ll carry with me for the rest of my teaching career. Tampa is where I discovered what I’m most gifted at (line edits) and what I spend way too much time on (line edits). Tampa is where I had the time to form lasting mentorships with students, often seeded by the solidarity of shared identities or reference points. 

Tampa is where, ironically, I learned these mentorships were not limited by geography. I took student work with me to Cyprus, to Kansas, to Ireland. I conferenced with a student on my wedding day, while someone fussed with the back-closure of my dress. I conferenced with a student while I was hunkered down on the floor of my SW DC apartment with my dying cat. 

Students, you have been so, so kind and patient with me, and you trusted me with such valuable material of life and art. I’ll never forget that. 

On the scale of 2020 losses, this is bearable. I’ve already heard from teachers delighted by the UT transfer students landing in their respective low-res MFA programs. I have every faith that they’ll thrive. I’m fortunate to have a final two talented students, both of whom I taught in earlier semesters, with whom I’ll get the satisfaction of shaping thesis manuscript–one last poetry collection, one last nonfiction work.

That said, I wish we’d gotten a proper send-off. When we met in January of this year, though there was open concern, there was also a resolve to rally and recruit. By February, the program had been shut down via an e-mail. In March, all of our AWP gatherings were cancelled. The June residency moved to Zoom because of COVID-19. I suspect the January 2021 capstone events for our last round of graduates will also be online or, even if there is an in-person component, it will feel risky for our scattered (former) faculty to fly in for the festivities. We deserved one more dance party. 

Sandra Beasley, “The End of an MFA”

Much has been written about meetings by Zoom, Google Meet and the lamentable MS Teams. In general terms, I can only add that online work meetings have been more focused and more courteous, with much less interruption and talking over one another. For poetry, it’s been a boon, of course, enabling launches and readings to be attended from anywhere in the world, and Leicester. Not that I’ve been to that many – work’s been so full-on that frequently the last thing I’ve wanted to do of an evening is continue to stare at a screen. There have been some memorable events, though, chief among them Happenstance readings/webinars involving Alan Buckley and Charlotte Gann, in support of their respective brilliant recent collections. It isn’t the same as being there in person, naturally, because you can’t go and talk to the poets after and get them to sign copies of their books, or natter to other poet friends.

Write Out Loud Woking, hosted by the estimable double act of Greg Freeman and Rodney Wood, has seamlessly gravitated from the cafe in The Lightbox to Zoom, enabling guest readers from far afield to join in the fun, welcoming and diverse proceedings. I’ve tried out five or six new poems in those Zoom readings, which has been very helpful for hearing where the poems catch and need tweaking. More to the point, it’s been lovely to see all the regulars, like Karen Izod, Heather Moulson, Ray Pool and Greg and Rodney themselves.

The Red Door Poets have also moved to Zoom and at a time of day more conducive to my occasional attendance. I’ve also attended a few Poetry Business virtual residential weekends and one-off workshops, all of which were as inspiring as if they were in-person.

Heading towards the last session of this current, 2019–2021, Poetry Business Writing School programme, I’ve been grouped with Jim Caruth and Philip Rush, two poets whose distinctively personal poetries are right up my street. So far, we’ve had two very enjoyable Zoom sessions, comparing notes on various poets’ poems and workshopping our own, with another session due soon, shortly before the final Zoom session with Ann and Peter Sansom and the other participants. The plan is still, I think, that, Covid restrictions permitting, there will be an end-of-programme celebration next February or so at the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage in Grasmere. I know from last time how exciting a prospect that is.

Matthew Paul, The last six months

I’ve been thinking, as I often do, about how both photography and writing are on many levels about waiting, the discipline of waiting. Someone last week on Twitter wrote that hope is a discipline. And I was thinking about how photography, and writing, but maybe more tangibly, photography is about hope. Photography is about waiting and hoping that the light will be interesting or workable or better yet, magical. Photography is about that hope that our seeing and our skills will converge with a lucky or split second, with a sweet moment of light or an essence or quality of the day that is surprising or at the very least lovely.

A book I’ve been dipping in and out of for months is Blind Spot by Teju Cole. I highly recommend it for those interested in photography, writing, noticing, being alive, alert.

The intro to the book is by another writer I admire, Siri Hustvedt. In it she says, “The camera’s eye is not the human eye. The camera takes in everything inside its frame. We do not. Human beings have poor peripheral vision. Details vanish because we cannot focus on everything at once. Sequences blur.” Because I do a lot of my seeing with a camera, I often see things at least twice. Anyone who processes their photos in Lightroom or another program, is looking at what they’ve shot in a way that is not our usual way of looking. And so that in turn affects future seeing, looking, noticing. Am I any better at seeing the world than anyone else? I doubt it. But the discipline of pursuing an image I’m interested in seeing in a digital form has taught me a few things. Well, obviously, the discipline itself is a thing.

I’ve learned that sometimes we see what we’re not seeing. We know, somehow, that those things at the outside edge of our peripheral vision are there. The camera has trained me to trust in what lies beyond the focal point. Anyway, the book is great because it’s an amazing example of how we process what we see, what’s in the frame, what’s just out of it, and then all those other things we bring to an image, things from way beyond it. We process a lot more than we think we do. But it’s good to sit with things, process how we’re processing, to allow ourselves tangents, peripheral thoughts, precision but also blur, quirkiness and the obvious, not to mention the ordinary and the odd, expansiveness and detail.

Shawna Lemay, Waiting is a Discipline

As news of Ginsberg’s death moved swiftly on Friday, I saw a slew of reactions along lines I’ve come to expect in the aftermath of any perceived political threat: “Of course they can’t fill her seat until we have a new President!” (Yes, they can, if enough Republican senators toe the party line, which they have done unfailingly for the past nearly four years.) “Now we really have to get out the vote!” (Sure, of course, but with respect to the question of the Supreme Court in general and Ginsberg’s seat in particular, that ship really left the dock in 2016.) Inspirational memes about coming back to fight another day. (Without any acknowledgement of how unfair the fight is, or how the unwritten but fundamental rules of engagement have changed, or how losing this fight might make future fights almost impossible to win.)

Initially these responses filled me with frustration because they remind me of 2016 me and because I cannot understand how anyone paying real attention now can think any of those responses are grounded in reality. Later, they filled me with sadness because that is just where a lot of people are, and it’s how they hang onto hope, and I have to accept that reality, too.

Please don’t misunderstand. I know that hope is crucial and that we are truly doomed if we all lose it, but it needs to be a critical hope. Our hope needs to be grounded in what is actually true right now today, not in what used to be true or what we wish or believe to be true–which means facing and feeling our sorrow and fear rather than pushing them away with half-truths that make us feel better. We need to accept the contradictory truths that things are terrible and that hope is reasonable so that we will take actions that might actually make a damn difference in our fight to make a better world, one in which we can all live and work without threat of death and raise children who believe they can make good lives for themselves on the soil from which they sprang.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Testing, testing

The universe is
a pair of angel
wings. I have seen them.

The angel itself
is dark matter, of
course, which I have not
seen. See dark matter?

Don’t be silly.

If you could see dark
matter, you couldn’t
hope to see the wings.

Tom Montag, THE UNIVERSE IS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 24

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.

It was easy to feel a little gaslit this week by politicians and an increasing percentage of the public acting like the need for social distancing and other safety measures is over; in the US and the UK, at any rate, the covid infection rate shows little sign of slowing. Many in the poetry blogging community shared this unease, as well as cautious optimism on social justice issues. Writing continued to be elusive for some and a lifeline for others. Mostly, I was just pleased to find so many like-minded souls. La lucha continua!


I said to some friends: it is like playing Monopoly. You pick up a Chance card which tells you to go to Mayfair. (At which moment, you may win or lose the game.) ‘Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200.’

You have to go straight there. You cannot delay. You cannot take anything with you. There is no time to say goodbye.

You have to leave right that second.

There is no time for sitting with the trauma and the loss and the grief of the moment because what is needed right now is a solution for how we are going to [insert your own thing in here] and plan for [insert] and cope with [insert].

There is no time.

No time for grieving. No time for sitting with it, for preparing to bleed.

Anthony Wilson, Do not pass go, do not collect £200

Fool if you expected silence,
or thought that the trees would be empty.

But the contrails have gone and the big roads
are all but deserted. I don’t hear the kids
with their acrobat bikes and clattering skateboards.
And no Mr. Singh (“Call me Ajay”) with his deep,
deep voice over the parcels and stamps. All the buses
are empty when they stop at the curbs.
Are they discharging ghosts?

Dick Jones, LOCKDOWN

One of my daily chalkboard poems was about masks. So was another, one I chose not to put up, as it seemed too harsh and might upset the mail carrier. But you can probably handle it:

Unmasked

If you don’t wear a mask         
you reveal who you are

in more ways than one.

It is a little mean and glib. (And, oddly, it reminds me of a line from one of the Batman movies.) But, really, that’s what’s going on around here, out there, many people not wearing masks, thinking it’s all over, we’re all OK. Friends and co-workers are experiencing it out in the world and are worried. My parents decided not to go to an outdoor restaurant with friends when they saw how crowded it was, how few people were wearing masks, how some were sitting indoors… I’ve only seen my parents four times since March 13, in their back yard or their huge great room, six feet apart. A friend from Chicago came to town, and I visited with him outdoors and at the proper distance, no hugging. […]

Sigh… Yes, constant chalk revisions of our very lives. Chalk circles now on park greens to designate areas to sit in the sun. But don’t be fooled, the virus hasn’t been erased.

Kathleen Kirk, Chalk Revisions

I seem to be having lots of conversations about how the world is changing as we emerge from lockdown, about how our lives will never be the same and yet at the same time we are supposed to carry on as ‘normal’. Of course, many people are still isolated, cut off from friends and family, the wider community. My experience of lockdown has been much easier. In fact, now I’m back at work I’m missing all the free time I had.

Then there are those conversations I only have with other writers, about what poetry can and can’t do, about how we should respond to current events. In terms of creativity, I tend to try and carry on regardless. The world is a fascinating place, even in times of hardship, even in times of great trauma. It will always provoke a creative response in me, although the form of that response is ever-changing. I have a second draft of a novel that still needs more work, I have a short story that I know I must go back to, if only to satisfy myself that it can be finished, and a file of haiku of which a handful are probably good enough to send out. Oh, I also have a few sketches that are embarrassingly bad and are unlikely to ever see the light of day! What I’m getting round to is that being creative has helped me through lockdown. It’s given me a purpose. I like to be active, to be doing something. Writing is a great way of ‘doing’ because it doesn’t require much space or many resources. A pen and a piece of paper and you’re away. It’s affordable and portable. It does, however, make demands on your time. You have to commit. And there’s no guarantee of success. Time. Commitment. Failure and rejection. Small moments of success. These are constants.

We are living in a very unsettling period. There’s a general feeling of apprehension. And yet the impulse to write is still there. And for that, I’m grateful.

Julie Mellor, A changing world

–It’s very strange to have spent the months of March, April, and May reading about disease in general, COVID-19 in specifics, and some general apocalyptic works of fiction, and then to see states re-open and people gather with and without masks, with seemingly no care in the world. I’m still asking myself if any gathering is worth the risk. Grocery stores–yes. Spin class–still feels dangerous to me, since my spin class is held in a gym that’s in a hospital. Protest marches–much too dangerous, all the chanting and yelling in close proximity. Of course, that’s all from an epidemiology point of view–there are other points of view, like the need to demand social justice, the need to be with humans, the need to restock, the need to take care of oneself.

–I am also struck by how our students are responding. Everyone complies with the rule that masks must be worn, but many of them can’t seem to keep them on properly. And then there are a few students who have not only a mask but a face shield and gloves.

–NASCAR has banned Confederate flags and imagery. This moment seems like a real turning point somehow, even as I realize it won’t be a teaching moment for many NASCAR fans (either because they already understand the importance of it, or they will never understand).

–These types of shifts on race make my head spin. The polls that show a huge shift in attitudes towards racism and policing–it’s a shift that seems similar to the shift towards approval of gay marriage almost a decade ago. It feels like it happens overnight, but I know it’s because of years and decades and centuries of hard work, shifting those attitudes one by one.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days of Cognitive Dissonance

Beyond where I live, two (invisible) pandemics become visible. Daily, I am distraught by what is happening. I wish for a cure, and know that a cure comes about when we care for each other.

I listen to the news, like three doses a day. In between, I am outside working in our three gardens, or preparing reports, or courses, or writing to keep me centered and calm, because I feel overwhelmed by the hardships people are facing daily, in cities and small towns, across our country. Reports are saying the death toll from Covid-19 will reach 170,000 by October, 2020. That number is staggering and frightening, knowing the cruel way this virus work. Equally, moving into 18th day of protest in some cities means “Enough is enough.” Things have to change. Things are changing.

I had no idea, (truly) no idea, that the Army bases in the United States were named after Confederate Generals. I was stunned by that revelation this week. Why would the Army honor the Confederate Generals? It’s a strange contradiction, seemingly supporting a Confederate mindset; and, it’s been an “under-telling” narrative for years.

M.J. Iuppa, Vistations and Dreams, June 12, 2020

No baseball has been played. I filled my gas tank once, I watch thousands of protesters on TV. I saw too many fires and broken windows. I watched too many incidents of police swinging clubs at people, pushing to the ground, spraying chemicals at protesters, I grieved for people hurt and those killed. I grieved for families that lost loved ones. I wrote most nights. Failed to get enough walking in, thought about yoga but did none. Grilled BBQ stake. Had a root bear float at work. Wore mask up in public, washed and rewashed my hands too many fucking times. All this and more since my last confession a week ago.

I confess that I do not know what day of the Covid-19 pandemic it is, I just know we are no where near the end. Last I saw there were 786 related deaths in Missouri. Nationwide deaths exceed 114,000. I saw today that there are flair ups in Texas and Mexico. People aren’t exercising social distancing very well and I totally expect that we will have to go through another shut down.

Baseball is my go-to to pull me out of the winder doldrums and into the spring then summer and it just makes life remind me of poetry and brings comfort. I confess I am struggling for this comfort.

I’m awaiting some poetry books and I’m really bad at waiting for books to arrive. Amazon has spoiled me, but. I do order elsewhere and I still want them yesterday. Is this impatience a sign of a character flaw?

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday Spontaneous Combustion Edition

I was initially afraid that we were all just shouting booklists at each other, but it turns out books related to BLM are selling out. That’s reassuring.

I keep thinking of this Tweet by Charles Blow: “Anti-racism is so hip right now. Yay! But, don’t let it be a fad; make it forever.” It should be just the basic level of what being a human is but we know that IRL it’s otherwise.

Of course, if as a white person you’re finding all of this wildly stressful, then you are feeling only a tiny fraction of what BIPOC feel all the time. So I keep thinking, let us not tire, let us not let up, and let us pledge to be in this for the long haul.

I was pretty exhausted by the Covid-19 situation. And I’m not any less so now. But I’m trying to keep alert, too. I think if we just each quietly did something positive, whether that’s buying a book and learning more about anti-racism, to donating money, even a small amount to a good cause, this can be something. If you live in Edmonton and want to support an Indigenous organization, I’m very fond of the Edmonton Native Healing Center and here is their donation page.

Thanks for reading, and looking at the photos from my backyard (which have nothing whatsoever to do with this post!), but where I’m spending a fair bit of time thinking things through these days.

Shawna Lemay, Let Us Not Tire

In these lengthening days
it’s easy to feel that we
are past any danger. The idea
of crowded hospital beds
and makeshift isolation tents inside
stadiums sounds like a bad fairy tale,
until the angel of sickness walks
across your threshold and sets down
his luggage. When he hangs up a towel,
sets a worn toothbrush on the sink.
you know he’s there to stay
a little while longer.
Even so, he is not the enemy.
Without any special malice,
he is only doing what’s in his nature.
But the enemy took ships across the water
and returned with shackled bodies
loaded in the hold. The enemy
cracked a whip across the fields
where our people bent over beds
of garlic and strawberries.
The enemy is a bullet
that will take out your eye
or stop your heart even when you’ve
knelt on the ground as instructed.
The enemy is a god unto himself.
It shows no mercy but fears
every dusky body running
and playing in sunlight,
numbers of them walking now
with a single purpose across the land.

Luisa A. Igloria, Enemy

erect a statue 
to the statue topplers
and topple it

Jim Young [no title]

You may or may not, if you live somewhere far away from Seattle, have been getting reports – mostly false – of chaos and crime and uproar in Seattle. But for the most part, we are all fine here. Hearing that Fox News doctored photos from Capital Hill’s protest zone (See: WA Post’s story here) didn’t surprise me, but I had to reassure people who don’t live here that things were mostly operating as normal, that I had friends going to the protest zone where people were sharing food and doing poetry readings, you know, truly revolutionary behaviors. Artists drew a beautiful mural spelling out “Black Lives Matter” on the street. Ah! Chaos! So you don’t need to worry about us here, and you definitely shouldn’t support sending in the military. As Han Solo said, “Everything’s fine, we’re all fine here. How are you?” […]

I’ve been talking about the defunding the police all week, and this made me think about other corrupt systems, and how we correct them, and if necessary, dismantle them. Does this make me a revolutionary? I think few people would consider me a radical, but the corruption and bias of the police is a big problem, and I don’t think “reform” is enough. At least it hasn’t been enough over the last, oh, I don’t know, 100 years. Besides racism and sexism (talk to me about how the police handle rape and domestic violence cases, in case you want some horror stories), corruption of power, problematic protections by a corrupt police union, the militarization against citizenry, and questionable immunity status…how do you reform the system of policing? Judges, sheriffs, mayors…we vote for them all. Are we holding the people we vote for accountable enough?

And there were aftershocks even in the poetry community. The Poetry Foundation had two resignations. Outrage against editors and publishers bloomed all over social media for offenses minor and major. The discussion of how much writers get paid was also a hot topic – of course, for poets, all mostly a theoretical discussion, getting paid, but interesting to see the disparities nonetheless. Do we hold non-profits and groups who support the arts to the same standards we hold, say, corporations or government entities? Is the literary publishing world as messed up as, say, the educational system (which many would say also needs a little dismantling at this point for its inequities)? Who are we holding accountable, and why? How do we build a better world, the world we say we want? A world that treats people equally regardless of race or gender or (dis)ability? How does that begin? The status quo does not seem to be working for the vast majority.

I often feel like an outsider here in America. After all, I’m disabled and chronically ill (which numerous Americans lately have been indicating makes my life worthless, in the face of the coronavirus) and a woman. I’m white, but I’ve witnessed enough racism to believe that yeah, it’s still a problem that did not magically get erased somehow in the last fifty years. Then there’s the issue of social and economic disparities that appear to be getting worse, not better. So how do we make America better, fairer, a place where everyone can actually have a chance at the American dream even without being born a healthy white heterosexual male?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The 13th of Juneuary, Seattle is Probably More Peaceful Than You Think, Being Sick and Considering the Dismantling of Corrupt Systems

It’s useful to remember that when people like me call for the abolition of the police, our proposal is not “leave the world exactly as it is except without the police.” The idea of police abolition goes hand in hand with the idea of communities taking care of the basic needs of their people. No baby is born to a life of crime. Instead, babies are born into a world without adequate shelter, food, education, leisure time, arts, communal structures, play, and all the other things that make life worth living or even possible in terms other than mere existence. As long as we continue to allow our society to work at the whim of corporations and the wealthy and the powerful, there will always be a need for an armed force to enforce those whims. When I say “get rid of cops,” I also mean “take the money we use on cops – whether here inside our borders or via our armed forces – and use it to build a better world.”

Jason Crane, What I Mean When I Say “Get Rid Of Cops”

When I decided to go quiet,
was the time I should have been speaking out.
When the screens started going dark,
black voices said to offer lifelines.
When I wanted to write,
I knew my voice wasn’t one that needed to be heard.
I couldn’t watch the violence any more,
but can’t turn away any longer.

Gerry Stewart, Apologies for My Lack of Response to Current Events

It’s easy to understand why people would want to avoid the topics of privilege and of systemic racism. We are taught to be polite; one of the social contracts I was urged to respect was to keep conversation friendly, to avoid religion, politics, and other hot topics in order to get along with my neighbors and coworkers–to maintain friendships with people whose perspectives are different from my own. This approach does work, to a degree. Politeness, though, is not the same as compassionate interest and doesn’t always encourage listening and reflecting.

So it stops the conversation just when the conversation might be getting interesting. Or difficult. I have seen this play out in the course I teach time and again. Some students try to mediate as soon as a disagreement starts. Some tune out; some get embarrassed; some shut it down. Some talk to me after class, individually. Only a few times are my freshmen confident and mature enough to speak up assertively but in a way that admits of, and permits, other points of view.

That behavior is what I try to teach and to encourage. We need to admit of other perspectives rather than keep comparing this with that or bring up side arguments or shut people down with ad hominem attacks. That means ideologically “liberal” people also have to listen and to allow opposition, by the way. I teach in a fairly conservative university; and as a rather unconventional thinker in that environment, it can be a challenge for me to let students express views with which I disagree. But that’s the point: to listen and try to understand, and then to show where the argument goes awry–if it does–and acknowledge the validity of the stance, as there often is some.

Ann E. Michael, Just speak

I’ve been extraordinary fortunate with [dancing girl press] in that, with such a large number of submissions, I have a healthy number of manuscripts coming across the desk–a variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, gender/sexual orientations, subject matter, experiences. Others come to me through recommendations of other writers or happenstance. I can usually find a decent percentage of writers of color whose work I want to publish, but of course, there is always more work to be done if you truly want to reflect the breadth of work and decenter the glaring whiteness of the publishing world. And these are what I’ve been thinking about in the past couple weeks as this is on everyone’s mind and publishers are examining how to do things better in the future–how to welcome more writers of color, particularly BIPOC into publications and presses. How to find those authors, because they are out there, and how to bring them to the forefront of publishing efforts as an industry (which includes the biggest of the large publishers down to the tiniest of the indies). And specifically, how I can make those things manifest through dgp, where while we do get to publish a somewhat diverse list, it seems like there is still more work to be done to have a chapbook series that truly reflects population percentages in general. I’d like to do a bit more soliciting and maybe pushing POC authors to the front of queue and making them a priority this summer. In the meantime, also championing and promoting the work of writers we have published is a useful thing as well. More soon on this as I mull it around…

Kristy Bowen, decentering and publishing in the era of #blacklivesmatter

protest hate / love peace—

this battle waged on bloodied american soil / countless bodies converging in cities all across the country / human spirit refusing to become collateral damage amidst systemic brutality and oppression / see the courageous display what happens to equality long-deferred / it doesn’t go quietly to the back of the bus / it explodes out onto the streets / enduring bullets, brawls & pepper-spray halos to get its message heard

do not / protest love / hate peace

Rich Ferguson, It’s All in the Way the Words are Arranged

I’ve never had much talent for hope, and what hope I’ve managed to summon tends to get squashed. It’s a feeling I’ve learned to distrust. Yet widespread public outrage at police assaults to Black lives and dignity: it springs from that four-letter-word. Protests and anger, imply at least some tiny spark of faith that the world can change.

I’ve been trying to write more poetry from and about hope during the past couple of years, and one of those pieces, “We Could Be,” appeared recently in About Place: Practices of Hope. I’ll be reading it–and listening to some of the other fabulous contributors–in a group reading today, Friday 6/12, at 7pm EST on YouTube Live (details above). I find poems of joy, hope, gratitude, and love hard to generate. For me, poems grow more readily from complex, often negative, emotions and situations: conflict often powers the turn or volta that makes a poem surprising; ambivalence and ambiguity somehow sharpen the language (I’m not sure how that last process works, but I certainly feel it). “Unsonnet,” a poem of mine recently published by Ecotone and reprinted by Verse Daily, operates in the latter mode of darkness and uncertainty. It comes from grief about my son growing up and getting ready to leave for college, and it ends not with optimism but denial and a wish to turn back the clock. I like the vivid language of “Unsonnet,” a poem that came relatively easily last spring; I started “We Could Be” four years ago and revising it was monstrously difficult. I don’t know if one is aesthetically better than the other. But the way the latter poem puts hope out there does seem ethically better. (Those are fighting words, I know, that poetry can have an ethics, but I think it can. It’s just slippery, as language itself is.)

Lesley Wheeler, Practicing Hope

For the last two days I’ve been reading Koon Woon‘s Water Chasing Water (Kaya Press, 2013) and feeling my own heart swell upwards as if on a rising tide. Other reviewers have described him as a “writer of solitudes,” but I love the community Koon Woon invokes in almost every poem. I love his poems for his father, poems about sleeping under bridges, about the Chinese waiter reading Nietzsche and dreaming a writing life into being. In this time of madness and isolation, he gives me hope.

Bethany Reid, A Poem and a Writing Prompt

You might hear them before
you see them, the sign says
but we still look up

a little like the way we hear
the voice of our own conscience
or our fears, and look around

for a sign that might convince us
to take that first step forward.

Lynne Rees, Skylarks ~ a poem

I had a lovely phone conversation yesterday with my long-time writing mentor. We mostly communicate via e-mail, so it was great to connect over the phone. We chatted about a lot of things, but a great deal of it was about literature, which was a treat for me. This person is extremely knowledgeable and passionate, and the conversation transported me back to feeling like I was in college again and listening to a professor wax poetic about the beauty of language. I realized that I just don’t have those kinds of conversations anymore. I haven’t in years, and it’s really a shame. I didn’t realize how hungry I was for it. I don’t have anyone in my day-to-day life to talk to literature about on that level. And my reading habits have gotten very lazy. Reading for me has become just a way to unwind before bed, rather than an experience of delving deep into a rich work of art. I’ve read a few heavy novels here and there, but it’s mostly been literary junk food. I made a semi-resolution on this very blog several years ago to read one classic a month, and I never followed through. I think it’s time to dust that resolution off and give it an honest try this time.

Kristen McHenry, Poor Soup Outcome, Literary Hunger, Plug-and-Play Genius

I’ve made a poem collage for  the Begin Afresh Campaign for Poets for the Planet  following their open call for poems which reads as follows:

Poets for the Planet warmly invite you to join us in writing poems on the theme of ‘beginning afresh’.

We are calling for poems that respond to the need for change. How must the world change as we come out of lockdown? Is there anything we’ve gained from lockdown that we should hang onto? What do we need to let go of? We’d love you to share your poems of no going back, starting again, turning over a new leaf, letting go.

My contribution includes daisies, buttercups, common knapweed and yellow hawkweed – wildflowers which have grown in our back garden since we stopped mowing it.  The #NoMowMay and #NoMowJune campaigns encourage people to leave their lawns alone, so encouraging weeds to flower and provide a greater source of pollen for bees and other pollinators, and habitats for more insects and other garden wildlife. This is one small change I’ve made with my family  – not just in the lockdown because we also did this last year, influenced by this article by Alys Fowler in The Guardian – but the lockdown has made me even more aware of my desire to do more to care for our planet.  Not mowing the lawn is my very small gesture of starting afresh.

Josephine Corcoran, We found the O My! in No Mow May

I played her the song on the way home and then promptly forgot about it..until earlier today when I heard it coming from her room. I was pleased, checked my dad privilege and then got on with enjoying it as a moment. As is often the wont, that’s a poem, I thought. There’s an idea there, however shite, it’s an idea, but how to get anywhere near writing down the history of how we got to that moment (especially without referring to Beckenham Tescos) and without making it sound like I’d made her listen to it. It felt like a tall order (even once I’d navigated the internal monologue about whether it was a shit idea). And to be honest with you, I’ve got this far into this post without really knowing what my point is other than thinking that I see lots of posts about the poems we have written, the poems we didn’t write, how to write the poem we didn’t know we wanted to write (via prompts), how to edit the poem we have written (for example this great one from today by Natalie), but I can’t recall seeing one that talks about something from the moment of conception, how it got that far and whether it should then carry on.

To be fair this isn’t that post either, but it’s potentially a marker in the sand (another Pearl Jam song, as it happens) for the future. If I get beyond my internal wrangling about how to even start it and if I should start it I’ll let you know. In the mean time, I’ve linked to a few great songs on the way.

Mat Riches, Is Whilst

The farm-cabin is not for everyone–the closest any kind of restaurant is 20 minutes of driving through fields, there’s only phone /internet signal if you sit on the porch at the right time of day, and the view is fields and more fields. But for us this is perfect–we’ll only be a couple of hours away from our girls (and my generous mother who will be caring for them) so we could get home in a hurry if need-be, we’re not too far away from the hospital if I went into surprise early labor, and we actually enjoy quiet isolation and have our own writing projects that we’ve been slogging away on inch by inch. […]

I wonder too how with the state of the world if it is the right time for either of my areas of interest in my manuscripts–what do poetry readers need and want to read right now? The oppression of nuns and the mourning of a baby? I don’t know. I suppose I can’t help but write what feels important and alive to me. Perhaps these are questions to ask myself during the weekend at the cabin.

Renee Emerson, Preparing for a DIY Writing Retreat

I grieve for my finished unfinished manuscript. Ten years worth of research and scrawl that feels stillborn now even though it is still alive still kicking dust from the molding with its tiny shoes in the office of a publisher. I feel guilty for my grief for giving into it in such a powerful historic moment decade.

I stack my unread copies of the Paris Review in numerical order on the child sized roll top desk from which I used to teach pretend school as a small girl believing that one day I would actually be a true student. I’m afraid of opening them. The smell of fresh ink makes me high. Mimeograph ink was my first drug. I would shake when I held the damp slick test paper gentian letters swimming into my malleable brain.

Since the plague I’ve been afraid to turn on my pc where my manuscript lives. I tell myself the boxy computer is going to be dead or the monitor ultra bright wavy constant updates whirling away the white mesmerizing circle on the blue field Word won’t allow me access my pages will come up as Read Only and I won’t know how to fix it my story will be broken even though I have four copies maybe more in my email. It feels like sickness.

Rebecca Loudon,  Sarah Manguso wrote in the Paris Review “ How far along are you? people will ask of your book

Here I am, showing up, doing the thing I’ve assigned myself to do.

I feel a little hollow, scraped out. Writer’s block is when you have the words but can’t release them. They’re trapped behind a wall. I think I’ve got writer’s drought. Lots of arid sky in my head, dendrites dry as August dirt.

Tears came easily this week. Thursday, I had a panting, sweaty meltdown: droplets spattered everywhere. I thought some physical work would make me feel better, but instead of dissipating a persistent ennui it activated a wet rage. (At least my garage and yard look better.)

I have nothing worth saying today. Feel as if I have been swimming and swimming in everyone’s torrent of words for weeks now, and all I want to do is lie still on some shore and dry out a bit.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Showing up

In the end, COVID-19 covered the earth like a blanket covering a small and trembling child. This virus filled the sky as if it were smoke from a tremendous fire, a fire that burned for a thousand years. It flowed with swift rivers and filled the oceans. Entire oceans of COVID-19. We are simple people. We touch the virus, we breathe the virus, we wear the virus like a suit of the finest silk, perfectly cut to fit. And so now we embrace COVID-19. We embrace death. We are Little Red Ridinghood embracing the wolf at last. Come. Let me hold you. Die with me tonight.

James Lee Jobe, In the end, COVID-19 covered the earth like a blanket covering a small and trembling child.

We get to wholeness and peace both by pursuing justice with all that we are, and by surrendering to everything we can’t know about how we’re going to get there from here. It’s not an either/or: it’s a both/and. If we wait until we feel fully ready we might never act at all, and, if we imagine we know all the answers we’re guaranteed to be wrong. We need humility and chutzpah.

“Not by might and not by power, but by spirit.” The Hebrew word for “spirit” here, ruach, can also be translated as breath. I find a message in that for our current moment too. We reach wholeness not through pursuing power, but through ensuring that everyone can breathe freely. When all of God’s children can breathe, that’s wholeness and peace. 

Eric Garner’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” Racism, like coronavirus, steals the breath. Just this morning we sang nishmat kol chai — “Breath of Life, the breath of all that lives praises Your name.” We name God as the Breath of Life. When a human breath is diminished, it’s as though God were diminished. 

We don’t know when the cloud will lift — when justice will roll like thunder and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Amos 5:24) We don’t know when the cloud will lift — when the pandemic will end and it will be safe to return to the world again. We only know that right now, we’re in the cloud. It’s hard to see how we get there from here. But that doesn’t exempt us from trying.

Our task is to protect ourselves and each other during these pandemic times. To end racism in all its forms. To cultivate the chutzpah of believing we can make the world a better place alongside the humility of knowing that we don’t have all the answers. When the cloud lifts, we move forward. When the cloud doesn’t lift, we do what we can to build justice right here where we are.

Rachel Barenblat, In the cloud

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 19

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 was for many our 8th under quarantine, which prompted reflections, as did Mother’s Day—in a darker vein than usual—as well as mounting death tolls, incompetent leaders, and other recurring themes of life in a pandemic. But also there were appreciations of new books, memories of libraries, writing experiments, and as always, newly birthed poems in all their rough, raw beauty.


There is a lot of grief in the world right now.

For you.

For me.

I hope your grief is not unbearable.

Despite all of it, I have gratitude as well. I don’t exactly like that word, “gratitude.” It has religious connotations to my ear. But, well, it works.

I am lucky that I can work from home. My company has been fantastic, and actually quite surprisingly agile.

All of my loved ones are still with me. We have had to be in the hospital with unrelated illnesses, and yet we are safe.

Since the last time I wrote on here two years ago, the new baby has grown. He’s two and a half now. […]

You would think there’s all kinds of extra time to do things like productive writing, yard work, etc. But no.

There is no time. There is even less time than when I was commuting two hours a day.

What a strange world.

What strangeness it is to see profit opportunity instead of humanitarian opportunities. What grotesque macabre times we live through.

Inane cruelty. Stupid selfishness.

What protest can we mount while physically distancing?

Find a way. Write. Put it out there.

Vote.

Eric M. R. Webb, Grief and Isolation

I started baking for porch drop-offs in my small rural township over a month ago. I figured I had a good stockpile of flour, butter, and sugar. I had way too many eggs from our chickens. And I had to do something with my despair. […]

Although we’ve lived in this township for nearly 23 years, we simply haven’t gotten to know many people. Perhaps it’s because the houses are farther apart than in our previous neighborhoods. Perhaps because we homeschooled. Perhaps because of other encounters in our first few months here that made us wary, starting with a veiled death threat.  But as the baking donation weeks have gone by I’ve started to feel closer to my community.

And also, as I’ve baked muffins and loaves and cookies, my mood has leveled off. I’m starting to catch up on work. I’m back to writing and reading and happily tending seedlings nearly ready for the garden.

I’ve also gotten some perspective on despair after talking with my friend Maureen. She told me she’s been inert and ineffectual, retreating into herself. She also said she was feeling on a deeper level all the loss she’s been through in the past few years while at the same time feeling guilty about her grief because so many people are going through far worse.

I realized I’d been feeling the same way, not depression at all but some kind of collective mourning. All that our species is going through can’t help but ask us to more intensely feel our own losses. Perhaps feeling our own grief more fully — seeing it, naming it, letting it walk with us –may help us on a collective level.

Maybe the different ways we react rise from wise inner promptings, helping to heal what has felt unbalanced in our lives while, on some level, we process the world’s larger fear, loss, and terrifying uncertainty.

As I pack up today’s Hermit Bars, I am grateful that offering homemade sweetness to strangers restores sweetness to my life. And I choose to believe everyone who claps for healthcare workers, or shops for neighbors, or sends cards to nursing home residents, or donates food, or adopts shelter animals, or plays music from balconies, or supports local businesses, or abides by social distancing to keep others safe is remaking a more connected and compassionate future for us all.

Laura Grace Weldon, Hermit Bars, Despair, and Collective Renewal

Alex Trebek is a fit fitter
coal mine canary
if contestants don’t know
an answer I shout it to them
through the blue water screen
in Poplar diphtheria sweeps
the town and every single
person gets tested all I do
is stand in the forest and stab
the dirt with a shovel
as ivy widdershins
up two hemlocks I have named
The Sisters if I tell you
I pray it’s a lie god
does not live in my ear
god bless or goddamn let’s finish it
the american president wants us
to illuminate our guts
with poison The Sisters
are guards and looming gates
history drowns itself
let me lick your Kevlar vest
let me drink your mask
there is still so much to do here
in the sorrow church I look up
just in time to see Ed Harris tumble
through an open window
bang bang how dare the world
mirror itself back to me

Rebecca Loudon, corona 18.

The dead of COVID19 visit you in dreams and ask you to remember them, to remember their names, their lives. Morning comes to you, and these dreams are forgotten. You awaken each day to a feeling of sadness, a dull emptiness. Nights come and go, and you are, in time, full of these forgotten dreams, forgotten names, and everyday the number of COVID-19 deaths grows. Everyday.

James Lee Jobe, The dead of COVID19 visit you in dreams

I try to document the change of seasons, the flowers, the birds. With quarantine I’ve become a better documentarian of local birds; I notice species I could swear I’ve never seen before. I glimpse an osprey overhead with a fish, a red house finch lands briefly on my balcony while I water flowers. I see my first ever black-headed grosbeak. Paying attention to something, taking your time, staying quiet, that’s birdwatching, and gardening, paying attention to something outside yourself. It is surprisingly rewarding. This seems like a metaphor, doesn’t it? If we just stay quiet, and still, we can much better observe the world around us, in all its surprise and beauty. Woodpecker and hummingbird were there the whole time; we just don’t usually notice them.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Flower Supermoons, the Art and Science of Birdwatching, and Mother’s Day with Social Distancing

In a time of pandemic, I sustain my sanity the usual ways. Garden. Poetry. Walks. Family. Reading. Tai chi. Going, most of all, for balance and observation. On the lookout for the things that delight me, though those things may seem “small” or easily overlooked.

Which brings me to the book I’ve been savoring, Ross Gay‘s The Book of Delights.

Nicole Rudick, in The New York Review of Books, has already composed a wonderful write-up about The Book of Delights–so I don’t need to. (Do read it: here). But, back to last month’s posts about responses to poetry collections, Gay’s latest–not-poetry, mini-prose, essayettes–evoked from me the response I suppose the author sought from his readers: delight. Delights, plural. Gay’s close observations and slightly goofy sense of what is funny (fallible, silly, skewed but not skewered) feel kin to my own, though my perspective differs from his due to how we are differently embodied and differently socialized, or non-conformist as to said socialization. For any human being, perspective’s inherently lodged in the body; and other people’s perspectives about us, or assumptions about us, are socially based upon the bodies in which we dwell.

Which is to say that he is a Black man in his 40s and I am a White woman in her 60s; yet Ross Gay and I have overlapping backgrounds and interests. Hoosierism and Philadelphia-dwelling, for a time. Poetry. Students, whom we love. Gardening. Passion for figs, awareness of pawpaw fruit and hickory trees. Observers, the sort of people who want to learn more about animal scat and bee species. “Jenky” gardeners. [My term is jury-rigged, but it means about the same thing, without the urban/ghetto connotations: adapting to one’s immediate need without overmuch consumerism…which is to say, making do with a crappy substitute. I learned that from my folks, too.]

And the urge to recognize, and celebrate, delights.

Ann E. Michael, Delights

As we’ve been transitioning from spring to summer and finishing up the last of this year’s curriculum, I can feel our house fall into new rhythms. We don’t follow a strict daily schedule, but sort of an “ish” one–we start school at 8ish, have lunch at 11ish, nap around 1ish, etc.

I’ve finally managed to start waking up before the children; there are seasons where this works for me, and seasons where it doesn’t. I know as I get more pregnant, I’ll not be able to do it anymore, and of course when the new baby comes this August he or she will bring his or her own schedule along with.

Waking up before the kids has been good for me though. During the day and even after B gets home from work, I have very little time where I can sit quietly and think–and consequently, very little time for grief. It is hard to fully feel my emotions and really give my grief space when I’m reading a picture book to D, doing the dishes or helping Z with math. […]

I’ve been keeping up my daily writing practice–usually about 15 minutes during “quiet rest time” in the afternoon–I’ve been a little more strict about this time actually happening, since I’ve been getting more tired and needing the time to actually get off my feet and rest. […]

I know when Quarantine finally lifts we’ll shift again, but this is a pretty pleasant season actually–with all our natural space from each other being taken away from us by forced shelter-in-place, I’ve had to be more purposeful about making space for myself (hard to want to do) and learning how necessary that space is (hard to want to do until you find you have to do it).

My prayer is that I can continue to meet each new season with gratitude and hope.

Renee Emerson, Spring-to-Summer Rhythms

You have such potential, I tell the small oak tree that Tony found sprouting in a damp corner of the lawn, dropped there by a bird, I guess, or perhaps, now I think about it, from one of the oaks the railway men cut down some years ago, to clear the track, then brought the logs up to our barn, the thought not entering anyone’s head that this was not an end, only a beginning.

I draw the line at showing it the photo I took this morning of a great oak sweeping its low branches across sunlit bluebells and resist the weaving and unravelling of any stories of its possible future, after all none of us want our paths mapped out for us by others.

But look how the light on those young leaves illuminates the pulse of chlorophyll. Sometimes it’s the science that breaks open our hearts with gratitude.

Lynne Rees, Sometimes it’s the science…

How many times have I thought that I needed to go back and study medicine? Become a gardener, a carpenter – someone to be stuck on a desert island with.

And here we are, now: socially distanced. Each of us feeling a bit like an island. And each of us looking at what we valued in the work done by the people in our communities.

The nurses, yes. But the people who wash our desks, drive our buses, put the fresh fruit in the bins.

No one is banging on my door to hear me recite an original epic poem. But I find myself answering a phone call from a student on a Saturday afternoon. Because I want to. Because it is what I do.

Nine times out of ten I say the wrong thing. But I talk a lot, so there is that one time when I say what is needed.

And I know I threw out numbers, but I’m not keeping a tally: “You win some, you lose some.” 

I’ve stopped questioning motives. I’ve stopped thinking of myself as a character in a play. (An unexpected advantage to having aged-out of Hollywood storylines.)

Something has shifted in me. Somewhere along these last years I have lost a lot of need, and desire has flooded into that space. And I hadn’t even noticed.

Maybe every kind of truth, told or achieved, must be approached obliquely?

Tell all the truth but tell it slant  – Emily Dickinson

What do you fill your life with? What do you dare to take?

I do believe I am getting old: It’s not that I’ve lost ambition. I’ve lost fear. And it is wonderful.

I have a round life
and it keeps expanding, like
dough rising for bread.

Ren Powell, What We Do With Our Lives

There’s so much I want to say about the beauty of libraries. I’m not yet mourning or grieving the closure of the library. I guess I’m busy looking to the future of libraries. And let me say also, that I have no idea what they’ll be like. That’s not even really my job. I’m lucky that I work where I have perfect confidence in our library system and executive to guide us through this (I’m just gonna use the word however tired we are of it) unprecedented time. The one thing I do feel convinced of is that libraries will persist, they will lead, and they will find a way to do the important things that libraries have always done: libraries share knowledge, they help us to learn and grow, and they will find unique ways to do it.

Do I sound like a library infomercial? I mean, it’s fine if I do. I find hope in libraries, in my library, and I hope you do too. I’ve been criticized in the past for making libraries sound like simply happy cozy places, but I know about the layers; I have lived the layers. I have dived deeply into those layers. In my branch we have a lot of at-risk customers and difficult conversations and tricky behaviours, a lot of really difficult and rewarding and emotionally intense moments every single day. But we are instrumental in guiding and helping and referring people or just being there for them. In fact, that’s what I miss the most. I’ve had conversations with some of my co-workers about this — that this is what we miss most. Helping people. Being there. Listening. Making whatever small difference we’re able to. […]

There are so many things to say about libraries. But I think right now it’s okay just to love them. One of my favourite writers (C.D. Wright) once said about the trees in the Ozarks, “the trees true me.” I would amend that to, “libraries true me.” Wright said of poetry that “the radical of poetry lies not in the resolution of doubts but in their proliferation, in an ongoing interrogation with what Roberto Juarroz called the poet’s one untranslatable song.” What libraries do is what poetry does: they engage in a radical and ongoing interrogation with the untranslatable song of the universe. They live with doubts, they are interested in the human condition, they are never indifferent spectators.

Shawna Lemay, Are You Missing the Library?

I find myself missing my mom, even though she’s still alive, and I can call her later today. My mom is/was a great mom in so many ways, but the one that was perhaps most important to me was that she kept me supplied in books. Before I could drive myself to the library, she drove me and checked out as many books as I wanted (the Montgomery Alabama public library only allowed children to check out 5 books at a time–5 books??!!–I could read that amount in a lazy afternoon!). And when our family only had one car, we biked to the library. She was supportive in any number of my future endeavors too, like writing and drama and choosing a college and writing a dissertation and oh, the list is so long–but all those quests are rooted in my early reading. It was those books that showed me all the possible lives that humans could have. And it was my mom that made it possible for me to have books.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, “Necessity of Moisture”: A Poem for Mother’s Day

I knew only
my mother’s laugh,
her head thrown back,

my father’s tread
on the rising stairs,
and your silence.

Yet, even then,
its bending edge
cast light enough to read by.

Dick Jones, AIW – 2007

I don’t understand her terrible,
insatiable hunger. How she calls
through the day and night
to be fed,
           though she has eaten;
though the day is a conjugation of meals
that will pass through her as if
it is her ghost
                whose mouth closes around
the spoon and gums rice or bread
into pieces that can be swallowed.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem in Which the Woman I Knew Only as my Mother is Never Appeased

There have been many moments in the past two months when I was again thankful about not having my own children. About the choices I’ve made. Not just the more practical reasons of wanting time for myself, now more than ever, when I see others struggling with work and homeschooling and children that really don’t want to be inside and are going stir-crazy. That would be another life, of course, but I’m not sure I’d be as content in it as I am in my current one. Those desires could probably be called selfish by some , and maybe they are, but it’s a kind of selfish I think is okay. Women shouldn’t have to not be selfish if they don’t want to (and men don’t feel that sort of pressure at all, nor are they burdened with as much of the child-rearing.) But also, the whole other thing– the worry of having children in this world, whether they’re locked in the house, or worse out in the world. How I’m not sure my heart could handle that sort of strain, so endless hats off to all the mothers who manage it without their hearts utterly breaking in half.

Kristy Bowen, mothers and the worry monster

I have never been a mother
to any but four-legged creatures.
Suddenly I have this lethal urge
to hug this young man—
Coronavirus be damned—
tell him he is wonderful
and loved and the world is
better for his presence in it.

I do neither.
I don’t know him.
But I do wish him well
and thank him
for his heroism in this time.
I hope the world will be
the kind of mother
he needs most.

As for me,
today is as good a last day
on earth as any.
Though I’d rather rain
than this balmy sun.
I’ve had a mere five decades to
practice my humanity,
still very much a work in progress.

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Mother’s Day Gift in the Pandemic

When I think of all the things my son is losing this year, I grieve. I tell myself that he’ll be okay, that he’s resilient, that he is learning good tools.

Time becomes fluid. The two months (so far) of sheltering in place and social distancing feel simultaneously shorter and longer than they measurably are.

And of course this is a journey of unknown duration. It’s easier if we know when a thing will end. There is absolutely no knowing when this will end.

And yet life goes on. I make coffee. I cook meals. My son does math problems, plays Minecraft, re-reads a favorite book. It’s like normalcy… almost.

I know how fortunate we are to have something like normalcy. I try not to think about how precarious that is. How easily these comforts could fall away.

Rachel Barenblat, Almost normalcy

In a phone conversation I try to tell my son, the Marine I don’t know when I’ll see again, how the world felt to me when I was growing up in my working class home. Although some definitely had more than others of us, I don’t remember any of the kids I went to school with worrying about food or living in cars or surfing for sofas to sleep on, the way so many do now. In my memory, almost everyone looked down upon racists and fascists and censorship and monopolies and religious zealots, and it was socially taboo to openly express that some of us were lesser than others of us–because we all knew such a belief was wrong. The people I knew respected science and education. We knew there were problems (racism, sexism, all the -isms), but there was such surety in our elders’ belief that we were forever on a march forward, that each generation would do better and have it better than the ones that came before it, their belief felt like fact.

No one I know feels that way now. “I’m worried for our kids,” we say to each other, not in large groups, but privately. Guiltily–not only for not passing on the same prospects, but for having had them when others did not. For not understanding, earlier, that not everyone had them and that others were working to strip them from many of us who did. For wondering what else we might not be seeing now, because having been profoundly blind once, we can surely be as blind again.

My son and I catalog all the ways in which his grandparents and I had it better than any other generations of Americans (including his), which, perhaps, makes us supremely unprepared for this time. “I feel soft,” I admit to him.

“I don’t want to go back in time,” I tell him. I don’t want to go back to an incomplete understanding of my country, or to a time in which so many people like me didn’t understand that only people who looked like us had the kind of security we took for granted. Still, I want my children–everyone’s children–to have what I had, and in profound ways they don’t. “It doesn’t have to be like this,” I say. “We could make so many things better for everyone.” I wonder if my belief is naive, as little tied to evidence as any faith.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What’s left

On Zoom today, I told about how wonderful it was to talk to my mom on the phone when I was young and alone and homesick on my own in the big city. Sometimes I’d call up and say, “I’m sad, sad, sad,” and she would help me remember the beauty of the world. Today on Zoom, my daughter began to tell how I helped her learn to breathe…to handle pain…and then she cried, and I cried, and the Zoom went on, and we had our quiet tears and quiet recovery, and here we are again.

Kathleen Kirk, Mother’s Day, Again

One of the first phrases I underlined in Ruth Dickey’s debut collection, Mud Blooms, occurs on page 5 in “Four-twenty-one,” a poem about a beloved calf Dickey’s parents wouldn’t let her name. It’s the last line: “my brother and me leaning on the fence, stretching our hands through.” The first poem, “Somoto, Nicaragua, #3,” tells you Mud Blooms will be about hunger, but by page 5 you see the book also concerns a longing for connection with the human and more-than-human world, past all the barriers thrown up by difference. Dickey expresses humility about these efforts, especially in her deeply moving poems about working at Miriam’s Kitchen in DC. She orders apples people can’t eat before she knows that “almost everyone who is homeless has dental problems”; “my stupidity galls me,” she adds in an intermittent, abecedarian prose poem sequence called “Alphabet Soup Kitchen.” Sometimes, too, Dickey doubts the worth of her own efforts, because homelessness and hunger are such huge, seemingly intractable problems. There’s so much loss and suffering here, but what impresses you most about the book is its big-heartedness and radical openness. I love this collection and the spirit that shines through it.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #10 with Ruth Dickey

A while back, I read an article about the lost art of memorizing poems, and I was intrigued. I resolved to build up a catalog of memorized poems, but I never followed through. Recently, this came up for me again and I decided to actually do it, starting with a beloved favorite, “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry. It’s short and has beats that make it easy to commit to memory, so I figured it was a good one to start with. I only started memorizing it a day or two ago so I don’t have it completely “in there” yet, but the process of memorizing it has given me an even deeper appreciation for the genius of this seemingly simple poem, which is not simple at all. It’s quite the musical feat, actually. I’m excited about this new plan of mine. I can already sense that this process will deepen my appreciation of poetry and help my own poetry improve. But more importantly, if we ever have gatherings again, it will be a great party trick to pull out.

Kristen McHenry, Warrior Mindset Meets Crushing Blow, Bright Spot, Literary Party Trick

I’ve finished Nan Shepherd’s A Living Mountain. I love her sweeping language, totally caught up in her place. As a sweet coincidence, my copy of A Scots Dictionary of Nature by Amanda Thomson has arrived. I knew the author as an artist before I left Scotland, so I was surprised to see there’s not a lot of illustrations in the book and they seem to be photographs. But I’m looking forward to rummaging through the book with ideas for writing. I don’t write in Scots often, but I love the feel of the words I do use. I mean, curl-doddy for a pine cone just screams ‘write a poem about me,’ doesn’t it?

I also ordered Moder Dy/ Mother Wave, a poetry collection by the Shetland writer Roseanne Watt. The poems flit between English and Shetlandic, sometimes as translations, sometimes within the same stanza. I can’t wait to have a look tonight when the craziness of home-schooling and kids has passed. I just had to interrupt writing this to help a child understand his math lesson and because another dropped a laptop on her lip?! But even the first poem pulls me in…

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Eight: Distracted

When I picked up Madwoman [by Shara McCallum] in my hands, noting what appears to be a scribble and a line drawn in crayon line and also noting its size (slightly larger than standard), I had the sense that I was about to embark on the kind of journey one enters when reading a child’s storybook out loud. And so I began with that feeling, best described, perhaps, at least for me, as a kind of tumbling. Remember rolling down hills as a kid? Anticipated dizziness. Invigoration. Fear. Speed and rocks as questions. The halt at the end both a relief and the realization of wanting more. Except for how the book felt in my hands, I am [not] entirely sure why I settled into reading the book to myself this way (the way we read to children), but I did. In a voice that wasn’t quite mine. In a rhythm that took over and propelled me (like that tumbling). In wide-eyed greeting of characters and struggles and triumphs. Whatever the impetus, I have to say that it worked. I don’t mean to imply that the verse is sing-song. It isn’t. I don’t mean to convey that its themes are simplistic. They are not. But there was something to feigning a kind of innocence in the beginning — and ultimately, of course, watching that innocence unwind itself — that really worked. […]

I can’t stop thinking about this pair of lines: “Stories wake in us what is inconsolable, / begin in us again our animal mewling.” It’s one reason I turn to poetry: to validate my thirst/hunger, which feels — regardless of what I’m craving — absolutely primal. Anyone else?

Carolee Bennett, “the sun / is a mound of butter”

If the mind were a bullet, perhaps it would never stop screaming. But I am not screaming. I am speaking to you in a whisper. I am saying my heart feels vast and bright, like an oasis of spilled ink when writing your name across the sky. I am saying there are bruises that leave the body when sung home by angels. That sometimes the breath calls the voice collect. Inside that breath and voice—light. Torn lives mended. Mended lives torn into the bright confetti for love’s parade. Perhaps I am not phrasing any of this in the right way. What I am trying to say is: we will all reach one another when the time is right.

Rich Ferguson, If the Mind Were a Bullet

Spring is only
this sauntering.

Its leaf-green
offering is

only a tug at
our wanting more

every day than
the grey memory

of winter’s
bitterness.

Tom Montag, SPRING IS ONLY

I had begun to envision this as a digital object, something you could watch while the erased words disappeared before your eyes, and the essay text appeared down the side of the virtual page. But I didn’t know how to do this, nor did I know how to contact an organization or person that did, nor did I know how I would get such a thing out into the world. So I created a paper-based version, at first having the essay text running sideways on each page, so you’d actually physically have to turn the page around. But some beta readers questioned this, so I ran the text across the bottom.

But the idea of a visual version haunted me, so I began experimenting with what software I did know how to use to try to approximate my vision. This was arduous and had several dead ends, but I finally figured out how to make it all happen in iMovie, and created some music/sound and manipulated some of my own photos.

So more than any other collection of poems, this one came together through a series of “lemme try thises” and “maybe I’ll try thats.” I felt through much of the process that I was moving through a combination of instinct and blunder, like walking around a familiar room but in the total dark. I was never entirely comfortable. It was a really stimulating process, and fun, in the end, if a bit bumbly in the middle.

So I encourage you to get uncomfortable. Turn out the lights, get up and wander around. Let something catch your eye and turn toward it, try it. Don’t think too much. Have a little fear, but not too much. Whether my book or video appeal to you or not, you will have a very interesting experience, I can promise you that.

Marilyn McCabe, I don’t know I don’t know; or, On Writing a Chapbook: The Story of Being Many Seeds

This is third haiku/lockdown post I’ve done and I’m beginning to realise I need to hang on to some poems, otherwise I won’t have anything to send out to magazines!

Still, I love the video poem format, no matter how cack-handed I am at it. Poem plus visual image gives such a neat little hit. Also, it’s made me focus on my surroundings and re-instilled a sense of place into my writing. Of course, the lockdown has done this too. I’ve had to stay local and I’ve had to stay in the moment. Form and content have come together in a way I hadn’t thought of as being my sort of thing. I tend to worry if I sit down to write (whether at home or in one of the excellent online workshops the Poetry Business have been running) and don’t produce a sizeable wordcount. Haiku force all that to one side. I’m tempted to sum it up as quality over quantity, except to put a ‘quality’ judgement on work that’s so recent is probably unfair, and not really in the spirit of the endeavour, which is simply this: to remain creative in these strange and difficult times.

I understand that many people’s lockdown experiences will be far more difficult and claustrophobic than mine, so I hope my focus on creativity doesn’t come across as shallow or selfish. It’s just my way of coping, and maybe it’s yours too.

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown #3

Little Richard’s
obituary on radio
I spill my soup

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 15

Poetry Blogging Network

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

One thing I’ll say about the current crisis: it’s certainly made organizing this digest a breeze, since most blog posts these days don’t stray far from a single, inevitable concern. And for many of us who write, I suspect, almost every poem eventually morphs into a pandemic poem, as Jeannine Hall Gailey observes – “The coronavirus has saturated the view.” But views are of course as varied as the eyes that see them; I’m finding the diversity of responses to the crisis really fascinating and inspiring.

One small change to the digest: starting this week, I’m adding Luisa Igloria’s poems here at Via Negativa to the mix, since stats suggest that most digest readers don’t visit the blog much the rest of the week. (I still won’t be linking to my own posts, though, don’t worry. This will never become an exercise in self-promotion.)


In Ptolemy’s
model, where the earth stands still at

the center of the universe, all heavenly
bodies should trace a perfect circle around

the earth. But they also wobble, slowing down
as they move farther away and speeding up

as they come closer again. Secluded now
for weeks in our homes, not going to work or

school or church, not eating out or seeing any-
one except whoever is sheltering in place with us,

it’s as if we share that same eccentricity of
movement: and our bodies quicken at the sight

of other bodies just out walking, trying but
not always able to keep to their own path.

Luisa Igloria, On the Orbit of Socially Distanced Bodies

The man with broad-brimmed hat and bird-mask waits
a moment before entering. His scent
wafts by you, Highness, as presentiment
of what must follow. Watch how he operates

in his full gown. Observe how he inspects
the body, turning it here and there at distance
with his cane, meeting no resistance.
Note how he prods it. He’s the bird that pecks

at corruption. He sees the patient’s hands
are black with the usual buboes. This is all
by the script. It’s the very reason for his call.
The plague is spreading. It makes strict demands.

We watch familiar birds hovering in the air.
They will not ring the bell. Nor are we there.

George Szirtes, FIVE  BAROQUE PLAGUE SONNETS

B is for Brothers. I think of them every day. B is for Boys – my two sons: brilliant, bold, kind, funny, optimistic. B is for the Buns I am baking for breakfast (it’s Good Friday, so they’re Hot Cross, not Belgian) – kneading dough when there’s no particular rush. B is for bulbs, for the hyacinths and daffodils blooming in two window boxes which Mike installed for me. I have compost with which I can work and plan, seeds germinating and growing on. B is for Board Games. B is for Bathroom and my new blue tiles. B is for Book – of course. For the one I’m working on, and the ones I’m reading. B is for Banoffee pie. For Beethoven. And B is for Bob, and Bill, blue tits I have anthropomorphised, who might also be Bert and Brian on some days. They visit my bird feeder, and if I sit in my blue chair, and am very still, I can watch them cracking seeds on the side of the feeder’s perches. B is for Best Friend, a London GP and isolating with the virus. She has described all the symptoms, they include annoyance. B is for brave. B is for better. B is for fit and well, hale and hearty, in the pink, tip top, fine fettle. B is for the camping we will be doing later this year, for risotto, Trangia stoves, Sauvignon Blanc, swims, and our Bicycles. B is for Boudicca, and for Cleopatra.

Liz Lefroy, I Count to B

before breakfast
I walk for miles
hungry, sated

I’ve found writing haiku a really satisfying way of working over the last couple of weeks. The brevity and focus appeal to me at a time when I’m finding it hard to concentrate on bigger projects. I’m not dismissing the magnitude of the current situation, far from it, but it’s important for us to continue to create. Haiku are all about capturing the moment. It’s surprising the things that come to your attention when you force yourself to be still for a while. And the economy of language in these poems makes them seem quite experimental, which is something I’m always interested in.

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown

Here’s my second post on what new or new-ish or new-to-me books of poetry I am reading during 2020 National Poetry Month. This time, newly-released from Tinderbox Editions, Lesley Wheeler‘s collection The State She’s In. […]

Wheeler’s use of haibun forms to explore state’s-rights racism or workplace harassment is something I found startling. I keep returning to these and other poems to appreciate, on each subsequent reading, the surprises in the craft as well as the barely-contained frenzy expressed, and also the keen observations of the world that act to calm the speaker down. A tough balance, that.

On the whole, The State She’s In feels like a fierce call to pay attention, not just to the reader but to the speaker in these poems–she’s finding her route toward sagacity but kicking away at what we take for granted, not wanting to find personal equanimity if it means hiding what she knows to be true. These poems oppose ignorance in all its forms, including the privilege of choosing not to learn (or not to act, or not to act fairly and justly) that gets practiced at the highest levels of the academy, the government, and in any form of society. Wow!

Ann E. Michael, More reading, more poems

An ability to play with the multiple meanings of words is also present in the collection’s title, The Aftermath. Initial readings might offer up religious connotations of life after death. In fact, Wilson is referring to a second life that comes after having faced your own death, a second life in which everything has changed forever.

This theme runs through the collection and marks a step forward in the poet’s thematic concerns. In dealing with his second life, Wilson works to find reconciliation between his inner and outer worlds, as in the opening lines of There are Days…

There are days I lose to knowing
it has come back.

An ache in my back, a run of night sweats.
Then nothing.

I am me again, climbing out of bed
to make the tea…


Physical acts are here portrayed alongside emotional torment, routine seen as a necessary counterpoint to the loss of former certainties.

The Aftermath is far from being a depressing or morbid read. Instead, its poems celebrate life with greater intensity thanks to their acknowledgement of our frailty, encouraging us to seize our days too. I thoroughly recommend it.

Matthew Stewart, Inner and outer worlds, Anthony Wilson’s The Afterlife

We can still celebrate National Poetry Month during a pandemic, despite the lack of the usual book launch parties and poetry readings. There are still books to buy (support your local bookstore if you can) and there is time to spend on poetry, and even some hope to be found. People are doing readings on Facebook Live (I’ve been enjoying talks on Japanese fairy tales by Rebecca Solnit) and offering readings on YouTube and podcasts instead of in-person. I’ve been writing too many pandemic poems. It seems almost impossible to write a poem about one thing and not have it turn into a pandemic poem, in fact. The coronavirus has saturated the view.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, April Hours, National Poetry Month, and Four More Weeks of Quarantine: How Are You Holding Up?

The question these mornings of birdsong
to wear a mask or not
working from home:
intimacy inside out
like a glove
after this- will we all go back
without pretending
there’s no life back home
the commute as space travel
the atmosphere of the real left behind
no crying children, no flushing toilets,
no hammering next door

Ernesto Priego, Face Masks

I’ve been making masks this week. The sewing machine and ironing board took over the living room and dining table, along with bags of fabric, spools of wire, and thread, and elastic. Sewing is almost always a pleasure for me, and I tried to make it so this time, but I’ve never sewn something for such an ominous purpose. Underneath the cheerful bright fabrics lurked the searing images we’ve received this week from New York City, the UK, Europe, Africa, India. Images of human beings trying to protect themselves and others, often with the flimsiest of barriers between the invisible but potentially deadly: my breath, your breath.

This is also Holy Week, the solemn culmination of the reflective, penitential season of Lent. A season that got blindsided by a worldwide pandemic that seems nothing if not Biblical, forcing the religious and non-religious alike to give at least a passing thought to the questions, “What is going on? Why now? Why us?” The past two months have presented all of us with images and descriptions of suffering we will never, ever forget, if in fact we are fortunate enough to survive. One iconic image of this pandemic will certainly be the mask, and, if we are willing to look closer, at the eyes above it, filled with fear, exhaustion, and too much knowing.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 15: Masking and Unmasking – Holy Week 2020

Always – this time of year – I feel the lack of sunshine as physical pain. No. It’s not the lack of sunshine, it’s a lack of warmth.

The sky is blue, and the flowers are blooming in bright blues and yellows and purples, but we are still on the edge of freezing. The wind still pushing snow flurries under my collar.

I need a run, but I’m still taking account of a swollen lymph node. So I settle for another cup of coffee.

Out the window I can see the man left alone in his chair now. Wrapped in a blanket, his face tilted up toward the sun.

Ren Powell, All the Blues

Having cancelled an anticipated spring trip, and maintaining the recommended isolation, I’m experiencing the wakening of wanderlust, as friends south of me post pictures of croci and daffodils but all around me is the bleak of northern early spring.

But isolation is forcing us to roam very locally, trespassing here and there, following logging roads or ATV trails currently quiet. With leaves not yet out the land remains revealed in all its lumps and wrinkles, and we course through it, following streams or the lines of topography, discovering a neighbor’s old apple orchards, a rocky and windy hilltop that seems elf-haunted.

In Boundless, Katherine Winter wrote this: “What if we were to stay in one place, get to know it, and listen? What might happen if we were not always on our way somewhere else?”

Marilyn McCabe, Of Rich and Royal Hue; or, On Writing and Paying Attention

An owl crosses
over, watching the limbs dangling fruit, then headfirst
flies back on wings made of mute, that shed sound as the wet
rejects oil. There is an enormous sound still unheard,
an enormous sorrow set on pause, ready to tilt
and cascade into the frantic arms trying to blur
the moments between gasp and guttering, cold and clasp.

P.F. Anderson, Shekhinah Stands at the Border

For some of us, this particular Easter may feel more like the tomb than like resurrection.  We are still waiting.  We don’t know what the outcome will be:  will this new virus mutate and become worse?  Will our favorite schools, businesses, social institutions survive?  What will the new normal look like?  Can we bring some of our favorite aspects of the old normal with us to the new normal?

In many ways, these questions are the essential Easter questions.  Life changes, and often faster than we can process the information.  We’re left struggling, grasping for meaning, refusing to believe the good news that’s embodied right before our eyes.  We don’t recognize the answer to our prayers, our desperate longings, even when it’s right before our eyes.  We’re stuck grieving in the pre-dawn dark.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Easter in a Time of Plague

What interests me so much more than
those pages of scripture foxed with turning
is his choosing of a blue gown over a white;

his weighing of two stones in either hand, the one
mottled like a perfect moon, the other pale and blind
as a sleeper’s face

Dick Jones, TWO EASTER POEMS

While digging in the dirt, I thought about the stock market crash of 1929, and what it meant to those who were my age when that life-changing event happened. It was followed by the Depression, and then WWII. A person who was 55 in 1929 would have been 72 by 1946, the beginning of a return to life not being lived through prolonged, world-wide crisis.

I realized then that ever since the pandemic reached our continent, I’ve been living on hold, feeling as if these days are some time outside of my real life, a time apart. But the pandemic’s effects and what they have revealed about us aren’t going to to be over in a few weeks or even months. After decades of daily, relentless erosion to the institutions and systems that, in real ways, gave me a kind of security that allowed me to live without developing life skills and dispositions that might now become essential, here we are. We are in the thick of the weeds, and I can no longer ignore them and focus on the pretty parts of the yard. I need to learn how to survive–maybe even thrive?–while living within them. Because they have grown so, so tall, and it will take a long time to eradicate them.

If a person my age at the time of that earlier crash lived “on hold” until the crises ended and things felt like some good kind of normal, they would, in important ways, miss most of the last years of their life. And I don’t want to do that. Out in the garden, I resolved to stop living through my days as if they are, somehow, lesser days than any others I’ve had. I don’t know that it will be years until we feel as if we out from under this, but I do know I don’t have enough left to me to wait for some normal to start really living again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirusdiary #5: Of dirt, weeds, digging, and optimism

While I’m busy not going anywhere, below my feet, down on the ground, there there are insects journeying through the weedy jungle of our garden, in and among the weeds sprouting up on the patio.

What I call ‘weeds’ are really wildflowers, pollen-givers, insect-enablers. Last year, we left our lawn unmowed until August and loved the havoc of wildflowers plaited inside the tall grass.

Daisies grew bigger and bolder, reinventing themselves as they were left unchecked.

Josephine Corcoran, Look Down

As I passed the truck, I realized I was walking through a fine mist. I put my head down, held my breath, and walked until I was clear of the mist, then turned around.

I saw that the mist was coming from an air vent at the top of the truck. The mist had now turned to a spray, and the spray was turning dark gray, almost black, in color. It was blasting against a traffic sign, a yellow diamond warning trucks about the height of the train bridge just ahead, and the sign had turned almost completely black.

It was then I realized I had just walked through a cloud of aerosolized sewage. A literal shitstorm. […]

After getting a new truck and cleaning up the gutter properly, the men washed off the neighbor’s car and hosed down our porch (twice). And while I was nervous for a few days, it seems clear I didn’t get sick from the sewage, nor did any of our family members. It’s possible, if it contained coronavirus, that I could still be incubating it. But the black water was from older sludge on the bottom of the sewer line, not fresh sewage, so I think my odds are pretty good.

Still, walking through a literal shitstorm is not what you want to be doing during a pandemic.

Your Zen teachers will have a field day with that story about the shit mist, my friend Susan said, reminding me of the story about Unmon and the shit stick.

I suppose this is a chance to cultivate equanimity. It’s not easy. But in the meantime, it makes for a good story.

Ordinary mind, Buddha mind. Shit stick, shit mist. What’s the difference?

Can you see the Buddha in a cloud of shit? In the middle of a pandemic?

Buddha mind ::
the doctor holds up a nasal swab

Dylan Tweney, Walking through a shitstorm.

finished with clocks my time stopped morning shook its gold fist at my sloth ticktock Rebecca now the parable of Night Nurse and Bitter Angel crawls sideways across the blue carpet howl yes make your god blasted noise at gravity’s sweet lack ticktock Rebecca where are your steady shoes opaque yellow stockings run now run Rebecca calla lily collided her thick rhizome through your mouth into your lung as you slept rise now now drink from the trumpet spathe the basal leaf cleaved against your whelpy heart now is your time run Rebecca run across the sea salt meadow through the bullfrog palace the blown cattail the blackberry thicket the blackbird’s bright underwing wake up Rebecca wake up run against the world’s cold brass mouthpiece run against the world’s last frozen spring

Rebecca Loudon, corona 13.

In the last rites of most Hindu people, a close family member of the deceased has to take a bamboo stave and break the skull of the dead body already burning in the funeral pyre. It is called Kapala Kriya. What burns before you is nothing but body and so you must destroy it with your own hands.

At the end of puja, the worshipped idols made of clay (that took months to be sculpted) must be immersed into water. They must dissolve into nothing.

There are no graves, no epigraphs, no cemeteries to be visited years after the death. The dead cannot take space from the living. The dead must be forgotten.

The gods’ task doesn’t end with creation alone. What gods created, gods must destroy.

Even the ashes of the burnt body cannot be kept in urns. They, too, must be immersed into water. Your bones will not be found centuries later.

Saudamini Deo, Lockdown Diary / Fragmented notes from the 21st or 22nd day?

The word “pandemic” derives from the Greek words “pan,” meaning “all” and “demos,” meaning “people.”

The etymology of “pandemic” is different but somewhat related to the word “panic,’ which traces back to the French, “panique” and the Greek god Pan, the deity with goat legs, the torso of a man, and goat horns growing from his man-like skull.

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, Pan became an exceedingly popular god whose name soldiers invoked in the heat of battle. Later, the terror and chaos that arises during war was also associated with this god.

During Roman times, Pan increased in importance, becoming “known as the All, a sort of universal god, which was a play on the other meaning of the word pan.

Christine Swint, Pandemic, Pandemonium, Panic, and Poetry

the tomb closes again
god has changed its mind
the thorny corona
of dried blood
on the road to
don’t make us
again
the pain
is just too great

Jim Young, easter hard reset

I don’t think you need to have an especially religious frame of mind to find the notion of wanting to be saved quite appealing, rational even, in the current situation. Nevertheless, it doesn’t feel that wide of the mark to attach such a framework to Roo Borson’s incantatory prayer of deliverance from a modern way of life which is already starting to look antiquated, as far off, say, as those bearded, corseted Edwardians, their world about to explode in the First World War. Part of me wants to take the poem by the scruff of the neck and shout it has no idea what is about to happen to the world it describes. But what we wouldn’t now give to drive down a ‘bleak open highway’ and turn into an ’all-night cafe’ and consume ’ghoulish slices of pie’ just because we can.

In truth, having lost track of the days, I chose this poem to fall on Easter Day a whole week before I knew what I had committed to doing: talking about being saved, from a position of privilege and luxury compared to most of the planet.

Whether you are enduring ‘another measureless day’ or rather enjoying the company of your own solitude, perhaps with loved ones or re-reading Dickens or what Thomas Lux calls ‘painting tulips exclusively’, I hope you will join with me today in envisioning a future, after this is all over, whenever that may be, of increased empathy and of public figures who express that as a matter of course, with humility and transparency, of taking time to relish the tiny overlooked things of everyday life, of family and friends, the weird luxury of sitting at a table and staring into space, rather than at a screen, conjuring a future that has no place for ’insomnia’ or ’nightmares’.

Anthony Wilson, Save Us From

Death is blurrier than people realize. I sometimes think of the moment she had her stroke as the moment she died, since so much of her died in that moment–and all hope for her died then, though it took us (and the doctors) a little while to verify that. None of us wanted that to be true.

I had to tell a neighbor who didn’t know the other day, tell her what happened. She said she thought Kit was inside, being sick (she knew she was fragile) and the weather cold this winter. She had wondered.

I’ve become pretty good at telling the story in a concise way that hits enough of the highlights for someone to understand but doesn’t go deep enough for me to cry. Not everyone wants the whole story, and I don’t want to tell the whole story to everyone. It’s impossible to live like that, so very raw and open.

I am not entirely ungrateful for this Quarantine, this time of isolation. Even though He did not heal Kit in the way I hoped and wanted, I still trust God as the ultimate healer, and I’ve been interested to see, in a sort of passive, observing way, how He plans to heal me after this horrible thing. Now what do you plan to do about this, huh? I pray sometimes.

Renee Emerson, 5 months

The more freedom, the more we struggle
to know what it means. The truth of Exodus
is on trial, in crisis. Salt waters crest
to our chins. Awestruck, we know nothing
can be said though we testify and babble
in quivering attempt. We want to want more keenly.
On high, the Lover is never quite satisfied;
He sees our desire raw, though not raw enough.

Jill Pearlman, A Sonnet for Seder during Lockdown

Each day, new blessings—

like how the bombs haven’t yet gone off, zombies haven’t taken over our streets, the four horsemen are still socially distancing themselves from the apocalypse.

Manson’s ghost hasn’t carved X’s into the foreheads of our best intentions. The machines of sorrow having completely broken down into inconsolable fits of tears.

The wonderful drug they call love hasn’t completely failed in clinical trials.

New blessings amidst these crazy-making days. The tightly wound clocks of us,

still keeping time.

Rich Ferguson, The Bright Spot Behind the Tombstone

Things at the hospital continue to be in a state of preparedness coupled with constant change. It’s not chaos—I don’t want to alarm anyone. We are very prepared. But it is a stressful environment for everyone right now and information changes and evolves by the hour, so we are in constant reactive mode. My well-ordered world is gone, the familiar rhythms of my regular job have been obliterated, and I continue to adapt to ever-changing circumstances in an environment where fear is palpable. It’s exhausting, and I don’t know what is to be on the other side of this. The Word of the Day is “adaptability.”

Kristen McHenry, Defining Confidence, Word of the Day: Adaptability

– In the span of a month or so of sheltering at home my wife has gone from not knowing how to play rummy to being a card shark. A rummy hustler

– My wife’s ankle is messed up; she has to wear one of those immobilizing boots, so I am the cook, the laundryman, the guy who goes out for supplies, whatever. And it’s cool, I am OK with that.

– Though I was rather stupid, I did know enough not to tell a strange woman that I intended to marry her. I introduced myself and asked her to dance. If she had said no this would have been far duller life.

– My only real fear of the virus is what will happen to my wife if I get it. Who will get her groceries? How would she stand long enough to cook? And those cookies she loves; would she just have to do without them? That last one might seem hinky to you, cookies, but after the 5th week, I broke down and cried one day getting the cookies down for her. My god, she’s spent her life with me! She deserves a cookie! 

– I know that real change comes from within, that you have to want that change for yourself, not for someone else, but it was wanting to be a better man for her that got me started. I realized it was actually time to grow up. 

– We lost a (grown) child three years ago. The grief is still there. If I now fall during this pandemic, her pain will be horrible. That scares me more than the thought of being dead. That she would suffer like that again, I can’t bear that.

– As I write this list, tomorrow is Easter Sunday. It is also the third anniversary of the day son, William, died. I am not sure how we will face that odd combination while the two of us are locked away from the world. 

James Lee Jobe, Ten Things during COVID-19/Shelter-at-home

I’m having a hard time writing. Even morning pages are flat. Few poems, little journaling of any kind. I know I’m not alone in this. 

I’m exhausted. Of course, that’s my diagnosis: chronic fatigue. But this is different, more than that. My mind, my heart, my heart-mind is exhausted. 

And I’m outraged, and tired of being outraged. I’ve been outraged too long. I look at my Facebook page and it’s just one rage-inducing post after another, nearly all shared from others, who share my outrage. It’s tiring. It begins to seem pointless. 

I feel so helpless, powerless, old and ill and unable to make a difference. Writing seems beside the point. Others do it better, more clearly, with more passion. 

And I am aware of my privilege. I am housed in a beautiful little house, with someone I love, who takes excellent care of me. I am fed and surrounded by art and books and constant entertainment, should I make use of it. Instead I feed my anger – and fear – with too much television news. I fear for the lives of my friends and of my country. 

I fear being separated from my love as one or the other or both of us are dying. I fear for my young friends, one has “underlying conditions” and others are on the front lines. And what country will the survivors enter into, later? 

Sharon Brogan, Outrage

I was not fully prepared for answering quite so many emails. I don’t know why — it makes sense — and yet it means that I haven’t been able to grade quite so much. I participate in the discussion boards, but if the students don’t respond to my comments I have no idea whether or not they are reading those comments, and those comments are the only supplement I have right now for lecturing and classroom discussion.

Additionally, quite a few of my students haven’t participated at all in the classroom activities. They haven’t answered emails. I’ve pushed back deadlines to give them time — I know that quite a few don’t have regular access to technology, because they are sharing computers with family members or they have spotty WiFi or they are continuing to work through the pandemic, because they are employed by grocery and convenience stores or restaurants that offer take-out or delivery. Some of them have sick family members. Some of them went through surgery just before the pandemic and are in a kind of fraught recovery — their risk of infection is so much greater, and their ability to protect themselves has become so diminished. I’m trying not to lose them, in a figurative sense as well as, unfortunately, a literal one.

And some of them are using email to ask for clarification about assignments, to get feedback for papers, and this is really great. I’m “talking” with those students perhaps more than I would have in a regular semester, and that’s kind of lovely. It’s one of the aspects of community college that I really value — the mentoring, where I can see actual growth and results from my facilitation in their learning, my guidance.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, On Rage, Responsibility, and Resilience

I don’t think there’s a person not wondering how to live in a worthwhile way at this time. How to live and not just wait. How to live and not just worry. I don’t think you can not not wait and you can not not worry. But you can do other things too. You can doodle. You can practice your handwriting. You can tell the truth. I read something the other day that said even five minutes of exercise is better than no exercise. So I exercise.

I’m doing my best to wring another found poem out of Sleepless Night but it is hard going. I’ve also been trying to put together a collage or embroidery for a poem I have finished from Sleepless Night, but the poem is a sensitive thing.

Sarah J. Sloat, From the isolation files

I’ve been keeping a ‘lockdown’ journal, just for my own interest and to remind myself (hopefully in years to come!) how we (hopefully!) got through it. Reading other people’s blogs I get the feeling the initial euphoria of it all has flattened out to more a sense of restlessness or powerlessness, even sadness. I know ‘euphoria’ sounds wrong, but I mean that initial excitement in terms of ‘it’s really happening’ and ‘no-one in the world knows how this is going to go’ and ‘we’re all (kind of) in it together’, plus getting used to all the changes and rising to the occasion. As Mat Riches says in his recent post, “apparently, we’re meant to be using this time to learn Sumerian or how to perform brain surgery and recreate Citizen Kane in stop motion using only Lego minifigs or repurposed Barbie Dolls” – but for many people it’s enough to get through the day and not worry about the family they’re not seeing or the business they’re losing.

Robin Houghton, Tending seedlings & taking comfort from ‘wee granny’

My daily updates on the coronatine have dwindled, dear reader, mostly because one day bleeds into the next. I find myself washing the dishes or emptying the cat boxes and thing “Didn’t I just do this?” and yes, dear reader, I just did. Perhaps the strangest thing about nothing to break up the days is how nothing is delineated by place or event. Normally, the things that happen in 24 hours are split up. I get up. I ride the bus. I go to work. I come home. The day is split into defined times. These are all one thing, now, where I roll out of bed at some point, eat breakfast, do some work, eat lunch, do some more different work. Then dinner, then streaming movies, then sleep. Maybe some cleaning in between or a trip to the lobby for packages, taking the trash to the dumpster. I try to vary it by showering when I first get up or right before I go to bed, but it hardly matters much, since I don’t really get ready to go anywhere. I am not one to complain, mostly since I really like being home and not having to go out, but it takes some getting used to, this new way of experiencing time. […]

I am still having a bit of trouble caring about things I used to quite as fiercely in this world, but I suppose this is to be expected. I promised myself I would keep producing, even if some things sparkle less than they did before. I’m somewhat motivated to work on library things, mostly because justifying my paycheck depends on it, so I’ve been busy working on programming, lib guides, grant applications and such that can be done away from the physical collection. Poetry and art are a trickier matter. I’ve been hammering away on the NAPOWRIMO pieces, but they feel a little bit like doing sit ups or laps around the block. I do it, and it’s done, but it doesn’t spark the way it used to. I’m digging into new layouts and cover designs for the press nevertheless, so hopefully I can fake it til I make it. It occurs to me I would normally be opening for submissions in May, but since this year is out of whack, I might wait til June and hope by then I’ve regained some of my passion for poetry things and will be a much kinder reader.

Kristy Bowen, one month in

Easter Sunday.

On the phone, my son’s excited voice: number 20 is just hatching before my eyes! Loud cheeping in the background. I am almost as excited about my tomato seedlings that have come up overnight. I salvaged the seeds from a rotten tomato only a week ago and sowed them in a seed-tray with scant hope that they would germinate. And the chickpeas that showed no more than bent white necks last week are six inches high.

Ama Bolton, Week 4 of distancing

I know beyond our thin atmosphere
we’re cradled in the vastness of space.
Even when I feel stuck in my skin

in the seclusion of social distancing
cloaked in mask and gloves
unable to touch

the maple and I are breathing together
(you and I are breathing together)
even when I feel apart.

Rachel Barenblat, A part

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 14

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, another onslaught of blog posts in my feed reader as a few more long-dormant bloggers emerged, now to post GloPoWriMo poems. Others, meanwhile, report feeling blocked or frustrated. Some are in domestic productivity mode. Some are fighting the virus. A few are too busy to feel much of anything but exhaustion or rage. By and large, it sounds as if poets are rising to the occasion.


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

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

Sarah J Sloat, The empty apartment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtney LeBlanc, Celebrating

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

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, The Pertinence of Little Women

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

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

in front of the broken
clouds in front
of the person

biking past
face covered
with a bandana

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

McDonald hair
turning away
from two old people

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

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

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

Sharon Brogan, Day One of the Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

In this difference, the severance. The fall.

JJS, Crack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Swint, Poetry Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is that telling me?

Anthony Wilson, Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Three – Chinks of Light

nanny state‬
‪the goats take over‬
‪roaming‬

Jim Young [no title]

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

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

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

Josephine Corcoran, Corona Diary: Lockdown Continues

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

Ernesto Priego, The Plague

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

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

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Reading poems

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

PF Anderson, Shekhinah as Sheherazade

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Longest Week

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

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

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

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

Rebecca Loudon, corona 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uma Gowrishankar, The Walk

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

Renee Emerson, the turn

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Poetry Salon #5 with Caroline Cabrera

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

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

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

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

Matthew Stewart, David J. Costello’s Heft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January Gill O’Neil, Kibbles and Bits

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

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

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

Dick Jones, UNDER BLUE ANCHOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura Grace Weldon, Stories: Now More Than Ever

Don’t socially distance yourself from your inner wisdom.

Don’t wear a noose for a necklace.

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

Don’t think Gucci is better than Fauci.

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Ferguson, Gucci vs. Fauci

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

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

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

Mat Riches, Accentuate the positive

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

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

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

angry teeth?

Kristy Bowen, napwrimo  | day 5

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

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

We are not
what we think
we are

until we
dream: then
we are

what we are,
everywhere
at once.

Tom Montag, We Are Not

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 13

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… holy hell. Poets I know are coming down with unmistakable cases of coronavirus. Many people’s worlds are turning upside-down. And more poetry bloggers continue to come out of the woodwork, so with priority given to them, again this week I’ve had to be a bit selective, though I think this may still be one of the longest editions of the digest to date.

Be careful out there. And don’t stop blogging!


So thirsty, suddenly. Lungs desiccant. Obsession: a glass of cold Coke.

Corona: disability activists fight being triaged out.

Drum: am I drowning, or just panicking

Corona: I can grade papers this afternoon, I can. I’m good, I’m ok.

Drum: sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Corona: the light, it’s so yellow, it’s late summer yellow, is it August? Why can’t I hear the crickets—

Drum: slow expanse of breath, wide and deep.

Corona: high shallows pant and froth. Harsh circle of hospital illumination—

Drum: No. No. No. No. No hospitals. No.

Corona: viscera of yes a myrrh-drip from my fingers upon the drum.

Drum: expand. Expel. Expand. Expel.

JJS, Corona

Well, here we are in Seattle, many of us locked in our domiciles for the foreseeable future. As someone in health care, I am considered an “essential worker” (it even says so on my badge!) so I don’t have the option of not going in to work. It’s such a wasted opportunity. As a life-long introvert, I could rock a good house-bounding. My whole life has been leading up to me being a proper-shut in, and now I can’t even take advantage of the legal mandate. I know that extroverts are genuinely struggling right now and I don’t mean to diminish their pain, but a small, mean, wounded part of myself is thinking, “Hmmph. Now you know how it feels to be the outlier, extroverts.” I’ve complained more than once on this blog about the constant pressure I’ve experienced to be more outgoing, to express myself, to speakup, to put myself “out there,” and other introvert horrors. Introverts have been dismissed and overlooked numerous times both in the workplace and socially, and I feel like this is our time to shine. We shall rise (quietly), our noses in books, silent heroes of the apocalypse, and the world will gasp in awe at our twin superpowers of Holing Up and Staying Put.

Kristen McHenry, Introverts Arise, Virus-Induced Science Hair, I Was Push-up Shamed

The only in-person conversation I’ve had with anyone other than my husband was when one of the workers from Officina ran over with a bag of groceries. With their dine-in options shuttered, they’re trying hard to stay afloat. He recognized me from my regular pop-ins to their market, where I usually buy fresh bread and pork sausages. Now they’re selling me produce straight from the prep kitchen that might otherwise go to waste: bags of parsley and broccolini, Idaho potatoes, huge onions, and a whole brined hen we’ll roast this weekend. 

Beyond that indulgence, we’re sticking to what’s in hand–pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, tinned sardines, bacon, and every imaginable kind of bean and pea. I got really excited because Cento is still shipping their basics. I have a huge jug of olive oil and a stash of white wine. When I was editing Vinegar and Char, I spent a lot of time thinking about the good, sturdy foods we deem essential in times of crisis. Yesterday, as I worked through preparing Made to Explode for W. W. Norton (the manuscript goes to the copyediting desk next week), I paused on this poem, an earlier version of which appeared in the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Gravy~

IN PRAISE OF PINTOS

Phaseolus vulgaris.
Forgive these mottled punks,
children burst 
from the piñata of the New World,
and their ridiculous names
of Lariat, Kodiak, Othello,
Burke, Sierra, Maverick. 
Forgive these rapscallions that 
would fill the hot tub with ham
while their parents 
go away for the weekend,
just to soak in that salt.  
Forgive their climbing instinct.
Forgive their ignorance
of their grandparents who
ennobled Rome’s greatest: 
Fabius, Lentulus, Pisa, Cicero
the chickpea. Legume 
is the enclosure, fruit in pod,
but pulse is the seed.
From the Latin, puls
is to beat, to mash, to throb.
Forgive that thirst. Forgive 
that gallop. Beans are the promise
of outlasting the coldest season.
They are a wink in the palm of God.

Sandra Beasley, Hill of Beans

Thank you for this food, gathered and grown
at unknown price by unknown hands;

brought from far places by those
who would rather be at home.

Thank you for these loved ones 
who step glad and unafraid

into darkness, take my hand,
and find the courage I could not.

Dale Favier, Daily Bread

This is a weird, weird time.

****

I have enough poems to put together a new manuscript, which has some of the best work of my life.  Mississippi has been nothing but inspiring for me. And I continue to be inspired by its wondrous and tragic sides. This morning I started four new drafts, which I think I’ll finish today. I mean, I have an abundance of time.

****

We are good. There are worse places to shelter in place. We miss Massachusetts but my hope is that by the time we’re ready to return in May, the state has hit their piece. Mississippi is a few weeks behind the curve (in many respects).

January Gill O’Neill, Never Say Never

Amongst all the isolation and angst of COVID-19, some good things are happening… I’m totally amazed that my video future perfect has been selected for five (5!) international video festivals already this year: REELPoetry (Texas); Newlyn Short Film Festival (UK); Carmarthen Bay Film Festival (Wales); FILE Electronic Language International Festival (Sao Paolo, Brazil)and Cadence Video Poetry Festival (Seattle).It was first screened at the 8th International Video Poetry Festival in Athens last year.

Although these all were planned to be live theatre screenings, most of them will end up being on-line, so stay tuned for info as it comes to hand.

Here’s my blurb for the vid – maybe a harbinger of where we are and where we are going…

“Words stripped of their ornamentation, pared back to monosyllabic cores… Are these the roots of language? Or are they the skeletal remains of a lost form of communication? Who is trying to speak here? What exactly are we being told? Perhaps a coded message. More likely, a cry for help…”

Ian Gibbins, future perfect screens around the world

In Alaska, schools are closed until May 1st [at least].  As with all teachers,  I’ve spent too many hours last week online, moving my English classes to an online platform that will hopefully allow my students to keep moving forward in the month ahead.  Tuesday will offer a better idea on how effective this plan is while both teachers and students adjust to this learning curve and either gather, assess and post work OR complete and submit assignments.  The online platforms in my house will be smoking come Tuesday.  My daughter will be taking her online courses while I monitor my online courses.  Interesting times!

So it was timely that the literary journal Whatever Keeps the Lights On published its special edition anthology, “Stolen Moments:  Poem Written at Desk Jobs” at this given time.  One, we’ve all been given this strange time to tend, reflect, and — at least in my home, read.  Two, I’m happy to share that I have a couple of poems in this issue, “How to Disappear” and “Tidal Zone.”  I’m grateful the editors gave these two a home in their pages.

Kersten Christianson, Whatever Keeps the Lights On

This is my tribute to Stuart Quine, the haiku poet, who died, aged 57, this week, from coronavirus. Others who knew Stuart better than me are far more qualified to write a full appreciation of Stuart’s qualities, so this is necessarily only a heartfelt, brief tribute, rather than a thorough obituary, of a lovely bloke who also happened to be a fine poet. […]

Stuart was largely known for his inventiveness with the one-line haiku form, though his haiku career is book-ended by his use of the more traditional three-line form. He was also a fine tanka and haibun poet, and a perceptive reviewer.

Here are some of Stuart’s lesser-known poems which I’ve liked over the years:

outside the nightclub
drum’n’bass
shudders a puddle

(Presence 7 and The New Haiku)

as real as any dream cherry blossom

(Presence 54)

Such is life . . .
a pachinko ball
careering wildly
between bells
and lights.

(Presence 55)

the implausibility of it all
yet here I am stumbling home
through the rain

(Presence 55)

Stuart’s poems rarely needed any explication and these four all speak eloquently for themselves. Of them, I like the pell-mell tanka most of all, not least because it resonates so strongly now. A large proportion of Stuart’s poems contained his essence, his humility and often black humour, rather than simply being objective observations. Therein lies their power and the reason why his writing will still be read with admiration and fondness for many years to come.

Matthew Paul, Stuart Quine

Helen was a loose farmer — what bloomed
bloomed wherever; greenhouse customers
left notes and payment
clothespin-clipped to a board
by the broken door; eggs were sold
from an old refrigerator propped outside,
cartons stacked next to the change box.

So when the blood blossomed
in her brain as she drove to pick up
pig scraps from a restaurant,
she just pulled to the shoulder, planted
her foot on the brake and waited.
Twenty seasons later, hardy and startlingly
new, here again, her crocuses.

Grace Mattern, Helen’s Crocuses

Shakespeare wrote Lear, so what is your excuse? Right?

Well. I suppose Shakespeare would have written Lear quarantined or not. Sometimes I find times of stress and uncertainty to be paralytics to my creativity–I can sit down at the page everyday, and still write nothing, because my brain is always background humming over the scariness of the world.

I have still been writing though because not even a worldwide pandemic can eclipse the grief I feel over Kit, and that is what I write about.

Renee Emerson, Writing in Quarantine

I’m not sure if this strange time had a proper beginning and I certainly can’t see its end.  This week I haven’t wanted to be online much even though there has been an explosion of people offering online workshops, readings and classes.  I’ve been slightly ill and still feel under the weather but I’m  sure (more or less but who knows??) it’s not Covid-19.  I’ve downloaded the Kings College, London, Symptom Checker App – now downloaded by over 1.5 million people – in the interests of research and treatment/ vaccine development.

It goes without saying that it is perfectly OK to not be online at the moment (I’m kind of talking to myself here, but perhaps I’m talking to you, too).  I’m still trying to find time every day for myself and my reading and writing.  I also try to walk by myself every day, or to be quiet even when I’m walking with someone else.  I really need silence and stillness which is harder to find now that the house is full.  I don’t mean to be ungrateful because I am glad that l have a house with a garden, and that my immediate family is here with me.

Something I did this week that felt useful was make sandwiches for the soup and sandwich run for people who are in need which is organised by the church I go to, and to continue to commit to support it.  It’s a Churches Together project in Trowbridge, a collaborative effort by all churches to make and distribute hot soup and a sandwich to those who need it from a pre-arranged place every day.  When I made and dropped of my sandwiches at the back of the church, I waved hello to our Parish Priest and a few Parishioners.  We had a shouty conversation, keeping our social distance. How weird not to be at weekly Mass.  There are services online but I really haven’t wanted to ‘attend’.  Perhaps I will in time.

Josephine Corcoran, Corona Diary: Possibly Week 3 – but are you counting?

Like everyone else on Planet Earth, the coronavirus landed in my life like a bomb. My months-long preparations for Women’s History Month went poof. Instead, I was now fretting about the availability of bread and toilet paper. In a matter of a few days, life as we knew it collapsed.

During the first week of isolation, I found that I lacked the focus for anything more challenging than scrolling through social media and pausing occasionally on stories that confirmed the feeling I had right then: no one knows what the hell is going on and we’re doomed. I thought of my goddaughter, who gave birth to a premature baby just as the world was waking up to the danger of coronavirus. I thought of my youngest brother, a high school teacher in New York City, who worries that he’s been exposed. I thought of my other brother, forced to cut his book tour short and return from California to his home in New Zealand. I thought of my friends and family members, many of whom are in the vulnerable category due to their age or physical and mental health, now furloughed, laid off, and isolated.

This morning my husband and I went to our local grocery store during its “seniors and vulnerable people-only” hours. The store’s employees were patient and kind. We tried our best to stay six feet away from the other shoppers. There was no toilet paper, but plenty of other things, including a bouquet of “Get Well” balloons floating above the check-out stand. This seems poignant in a way I can’t yet fathom. Everyone looked worried, and a few wore facemasks, some clearly homemade. There were no children or people under age 60. 

Erica Goss, Trying to Focus During a Pandemic

I haven’t got it in me to concentrate on learning a new language or watching YouTube videos on brain surgery for beginners. However, I did sign up for a Poetry Business Virtual Writing Workshop on Saturday.

I’ve always been a bit reticent about attending one of these courses, not least because it’s too bloody expensive to get to Sheffield and back and pay for the course, but also because I didn’t think it would be any good for me – not to cast aspersions on Ann and Peter than run the courses, it’s more that I didn’t think I’d create anything of any use/value or, more importantly, that I could actually write anything in the time you get given for these things.

However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. We were put at ease immediately, the whole event was well planned and kept pretty much within the timings. I assume because they’ve run so many of these events…I won’t say what happened on the course, but the exercises were interesting, the stimuli were all new to me and I met 15 other interesting people. I think there is some way to go in terms of the technology – Video calling still isn’t second nature to some.

I think I was ok, having spent plenty of time on the aforementioned Google Hangouts with work. However, I think there’s still a lot of the etiquette to be worked out with that. It’s hard to not cut over someone talking when you can’t see the non-verbal cues of face-to-face conversation. If you factor in various broadband/wifi signals, feedback and microphones it can be a bit disorientating.

At the end of it though, I have four poems that I would never have written, 2 of them I suspect will never make it anywhere, but 1 might. I can’t say about the other one yet. I have to let the excitement of a new poem wear off. I got some helpful feedback on the poem from earlier in the week. It’s currently called People Tell Me That Talking To Plants Is Good For Them.

Mat Riches, Biddy Baxter’s Bacchanalian Bidet…

Yesterday, it snowed, what seemed like quite a lot, but judging from what I can see from the 3rd floor vantage..not a lot on the ground. Such snowfall not unusual for this time of year, and the sort of thing that would want me to hunker down today rather than go out and walk around in it.. But even so,  I’m guessing the magnolias over near the catholic school where I catch the bus are starting to bloom about now and I miss watching them. I keep thinking about my mother, while perhaps one blessing is that she did not live to see this, to obsessively worry about me and my sister being out in the world (my sister more than I at this point as an essential worker.) . I’m sure my dad is concerned no doubt, but for my mom, her worry bordered on the pathological at times.  I dreamed about her for the first time in a bit..that I had written a book that upset her.  It was strange, as all dreams seem to be these days.  Most of them where I am somehow working to solve a problem of some sort. Or that there is something important I am forgetting to do–played out in various contexts and scenarios. If anything I am sleeping a lot, and I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. I go to bed at my normal time–around 2 am, but I keep waking up as soon as it’s daylight, scrolling frantically through my newsfeed for the latest horrors, then falling back to sleep until around 2pm.

Kristy Bowen, faking it

I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw my thirty year old body and I saw 2 million deaths and 20 million infected bodies. I saw the body of a baby goat float on the Sundarbans Delta. I saw a crow eating the body of a cow floating on the Ganges. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw a helpless horse standing beside a dead white horse on Esplanade. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw a dream I was six years old picking flowers. I saw a man feeding pigeons in front of a homeless man. I saw a tiger drinking water. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw a woman collapse on the streets of Paris. I saw my face in the mirror. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw my locked door. I saw government advisories. I saw the quarantine stamp on a woman’s wrist. I saw a bottle of Polish vodka. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw the Spanish Flu. I saw the man I love fall in love with another woman. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw myself fall. I saw my unborn child. I saw Hiroshima. I saw a dream that I was six years old again. I saw my hand write. I saw 20 million infected bodies. I saw Vermeer. I saw myself. I saw 2 million deaths. I saw a sheep chew thorns.

Saudamini Deo, Lockdown diary / 1

The world is turning,
we reluctantly spin with
it, dizzy and weak.

We hold on the next day,
the next curve on our way,
the blackbirds in spring.

Not what we know is
now. Now is not what we know.
Yet spring, yet flowers,

yet night, yet dreaming.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time (Part 1)

Sunday: British Summer Time began. The first bird I heard was a raven.

It’s been a week of cold clear fine weather, perfect for walking.
We have little flour or yeast, and there was none in the two shops I went to this week. I made a rather heavy loaf from rye flour and pasta flour, half and half. The next loaf was made by the man of the house.

teach me he said
I want to know how to make bread
‘when you’re dead’ left unsaid
so I did
the boy done good

Then I turned out the cupboards in the hope of finding more flour.

We have no bread

in the depths of a cupboard
I found a bag of flour
shelf-life expired

there’s mould on the outside
and I think something’s living
inside the bag

but we have oatmeal and ginger
treacle and dates
let us eat cake

Ama Bolton, Week 2 of distancing

Wow, things are changing so quickly it’s hard to believe – for example, how people are getting themselves online – to teach, to meet, to try new things, but mostly I think to keep relationships going with family, friends, customers… when the going gets tough, the tough get tooled-up on tech. This coming week our esteemed Hastings Stanza rep Antony Mair has arranged for us to hold our monthly workshop via Zoom, which is clearly the conferencing app du jour. And last week my dear husband actually started a blog, to keep in touch with all his choirs, and had 92 followers within hours. Whaaaa?! He’ll be writing poetry next. […]

On the poetry front I am loving Sharon Olds’ Arias. It’s firing up my writing too. I’ve no idea what the effect is of the pandemic on poetry magazines, whether editors have too much on their plates dealing with the exigencies of life under lockdown to be thinking about the publishing schedule, or reading submissions or what have you. No doubt they’ll be inundated with poems now that we all have more time to write. And plenty on the subject of you-know-what. I wonder how much ‘pestilence poetry’ we can all take for the next few years as the theme filters through to publication?

Robin Houghton, As the world moves online

Spring continues its celebrations, despite our mostly silent roads and store fronts, despite humanity’s disappearance from their daily activities. The cherries bloom, the woodpeckers and towhees and stellar jays and hummingbirds are busy. It’s been a cold and gloomy week, but April is almost here.

The big excitement this week was the arrival of a new birdfeeder and the April contributor copies of Poetry Magazine. I’ve been writing and reading more, watching tv less. During the forty-degree, rainy March days of grim reports of deaths and pandemics, it becomes almost impossible to remember anything cheerful. I’ve been practicing my bird photography. I ordered watercolors. I still take pictures of trees.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Spring, Quarantine, Poetry, and All

All that is before us—

the engines of disease driving us mad, unfulfilled desires, loved ones dying,

politicians with demeanors like ingrown toenails with hangovers.

Still,

there are chorus lines of birds just outside the window, fresh flowers on graves, doctors and nurses, postal workers and supermarket cashiers.

Books to read and songs to sing.

Pets with wet and soulful eyes looking up at you like you’re the god of their world.

As I write these words, my city is so quiet, like the soft hum of a womb where we’re all waiting to be reborn.

Rich Ferguson, As the 5 am Heater Hums, So Does My Pen

I’ve been asking E. for a week now, what do I do with all these numbers?

Two years ago a colleague lost a baby in childbirth. It seemed to me like something that rarely happens now. It should be a scenario documented in a black-and-white photo.

But I learned than an average of 30 stillbirths a year is normal in this town. In any town this size, in this country. Statistically.

I thought if that had been a headline in the paper: 30 Stillborn in Stavanger this Year, it would have been terrifying news. Our realities are limited by what we put our attention on. And I suppose we pay attention day-to-day to what our hearts can hold comfortably.

So what do I do with all these numbers – these past two weeks when I have had too much time at the computer to jump between tabs and read the news too many times a day to count.

I know how many people are on a respirator at the local hospital today. I have no idea what that number means. I have no idea how many were on them in December. A year ago today. Or if that is even relevant.

I look at a map of Europe and we are dark orange where Italy is red. The chart below compares countries and numbers. People, percentages.

I have no idea what to do with these numbers – not intellectually – not emotionally. How do I hold these numbers?

It’s like grabbing at fish. With the same ambivalence about actually getting your hands around one.

What now?  What do I do with this?

Ren Powell, Two Weeks Not Knowing

The little boy David came as a blessing after the catastrophe of my father’s illness, and he is now Consultant Cardiologist at the Hammersmith Hospital, London. I’ve always been proud of this fact and have to try not to mention it too often, whilst he’s unassuming about his talents, and talks about his work as if it were ordinary to perform life-saving procedures week by week.  As brothers go, he is top of the admiration list at the moment, and I’m sure Jeremy and Matthew would agree.

He phoned me yesterday to explain his role in the front-line of patient care in London during the pandemic. He will be heading a team, working with acutely ill patients in a hospital which was cleared last week in readiness for a sharp rise in complex corona virus admissions. He told me that everyone in the NHS – doctors, cleaners, porters, nurses, midwives, physios, cooks, administrators – everyone who so much as sets foot in a hospital in the coming weeks is a hero, before s/he even does anything. The courage being required of them is hard to imagine. They are feeling fear, and carrying on, organising themselves for the tsunami, the battle, the overwhelm.

David and I said more than we usually do (and not nearly enough) about our appreciation of each other, just in case. I asked if he’d forgiven me for writing a poem about a previous telephone conversation (Running Advice, below). He replied, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” – this absolution is a relief.

Liz Lefroy, I Admire My Brothers

I don’t really plan to write about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its worldwide consequences – or I won’t be doing so until I have something I really want to say.

However, UK readers of my blog will agree that the NHS needs support, especially right now. And to offer your support in a poetry-relevant way, you could buy the new anthology These Are the Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS (Fair Acre Press).

This anthology was published just a few days ago and was planned for the 60th anniversary of the NHS. Rather sadly, right now, it is all too relevant and important – even more so than usual. It was edited by Deborah Alma (who you may also know as the Emergency Poet and proprietor of the Poetry Pharmacy) and Dr Katie Amiel, and the foreword is by Michael Rosen. The poems themselves are by NHS employees, along with contributions from well-known poets.

Profits from the anthology go to the NHS Charities Together COVID-19 Emergency Fund. I hear it’s selling really well.

Again, you can buy it here: https://fairacrepress.co.uk/shop/these-are-the-hands-poems-from-the-heart-of-the-nhs/

Clarissa Aykroyd, These Are the Hands: Poems from the Heart of the NHS

Yesterday one of our program chairs shared that she doesn’t really have an adequate home computer.  If she doesn’t have adequate computer resources, how many of our students will?

Those were the thoughts that woke me up much too early this morning.  Each morning, a different set of panicky thoughts jolts me from sleep around midnight to 2 a.m.  For several weeks, I have rarely fallen back asleep.

This morning, I was rereading chapter 1 of Cynthia Bourgeault’s Mystical Hope as I prepared to sketch.  On p. 12, I underlined this text:  “The spiritual life can only be lived in the present moment, in the now.  All the great religious traditions insist upon this simple but difficult truth.  When we go rushing ahead into the future or shrinking back into the past, we miss the hand of God, which can only touch us in the now.”

I started making a list to describe “the now,” only to realize that much of what was in my head is worry about the near future.  Interesting.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Plague Fugue

Another restless night. At 01.20 I stood at the window watching the skyline. During previous bouts of insomnia, there was always something faintly comforting about the long, probing lights of planes flying into Luton Airport from the east and descending elegantly behind the trees. Others awake like me, but in transit from Sofia, Talinn, Lyon, Kutaisi, Reykjavik, Cork. The enigma of arrival.

But in the small hours this morning nothing disturbed the skyline. And my sense of solitude was strangely heightened by the sudden doppler whine of a motorbike speeding by one the road below. But, of course, the solitude is real. Yesterday we went for a walk. We crossed the fields and walked down the long slope of the lane. We were passed by just one car before turning onto the muddy track that took us past the farm and onto the bottom of the hill leading up to our house. As we walked alongside the meadow where the horses are grazed, half way up it a lone figure was slipping a bridle over the neck and head of a piebald shire horse. She turned as she gathered it into her arms and saw the three of us paused by the fence. With the solemnity of the stay-at-home edict still fresh in our minds, there was a curious hesitancy in the distant encounter. Then the woman raised her free arm in a strangely stiff and formal salute; we returned it in similar manner; she turned and walked towards the stable buildings and we continued on our way.

So suddenly we’re strangers in a strange land. And as the economic structure purées all standard procedure around us, the normal social protocols go into suspension. In one street an act of inexplicable cruelty and stupidity occurs; in a parallel street the self-sacrifical kindness of a stranger demonstrates the extraordinary generosity that ennobles humanity in crisis.

Dick Jones, LIFE IN A TIME OF CORONA 5.

last night I dreamed I was teaching Whitman’s last lesson I left a jellyfish red blood bloom in his bathroom then tried to clean myself his mother’s friends were there getting ready for a party and when I finally got my violin out and he got his violin out and I managed to right the wire music stand which kept slipping out of my hands I played a few notes then apologized because I knew I would never see him again

the dream woke me at 2:30 then again at 4:30 then I finally woke at 7:30 feeling anxious and sad are we all dreaming through it I feel such a strong connection to everyone I’ve ever known right now it feels other worldly it feels like religious science fiction but it is real

my csa box arrived today bringing sweet blackberries and carrots and celery and radishes and potatoes and a squash and oranges and kiwis and I was so grateful for it Page and I opened it like the first Christmas

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

All in all, the days I’ve been in have melded into a dreamy bubble. Days drifted by, or I drifted through them. Somehow, there was a large sense of drift. It feels wrong or dangerous to say that out loud, to share pretty pictures of my time in refuge. As I do, I feel superstitious fears rising up in me, based in irrational beliefs that if we draw attention to our good fortune, the gods or fate or spiteful humans will do something to ruin it. It feels callous or shallow to do so when others are suffering, and maybe it is.

Or maybe, instead, you might read my story and wonder, as I have been, why it can’t be everyone’s. It feels fundamentally wrong to me that I have had it as relatively easy as I have, when others are sacrificing so much–especially our healthcare workers, and those who stock our shelves and pump our gas and do the work we’ve all realized, in new ways, is essential.

I have been thankful over and over again that I have not had to work the past two weeks or worry about immediate income loss because it has allowed me time and space to process what is happening and keep my anxiety low-grade rather than acute. It has allowed me to do what our scientists and public health officials have been pleading with us to do: stay home.

I know life can never be entirely fair, but why, in a country with as much wealth as we have, has our public health system failed so dramatically and so many of us had to worry about how we’re going to pay rent and take care of ourselves if we get sick? It’s not that way in other countries, where lower-wage workers don’t live so close the bone, and where laid off workers and their employers are receiving more funds than ours will to keep their economies afloat. Why is it that way here?

And, if more people could have spent the past weeks the way I have–sequestered at home, not feeling the need to leave to pay bills–perhaps the virus could be managed and contained to reasonable levels in every state in our country (as we seem to be doing here in Oregon), reducing the tremendous and inequitable impact on not only our health care systems, but on our healthcare workers.

Coming up on the end of week two, it’s seeming to me that there is more than one type of impact curve that we could be flattening.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirusdiary #3: Soft monotony

Any optimistic or ‘positive’ approaches to the coronavirus pandemic should, in my opinion, be framed and motivated by an awareness of the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. In order for us to be well others need to be well too, and others will be well only if we are well too. It goes both ways- and this wellness is also dependent on the circulation of capital, and this depends on people’s ability to earn a living. The pandemic affects everyone- and this means it affects everything we humans do.

Finding the balance between critically engaging with what is happening and trying to maintain a semblance of normality is important, but not easy. Gramsci’s motto, “Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will”  calls for this ongoing interrogation of what happens whilst having trust in our ability to stand up to challenges pragmatically and strategically. There cannot be solidarity and empathy unless there is awareness of difference, and this implies an awareness of privilege, and of the fragility of that privilege.

In a time in which nearly everyone has the ability to broadcast publicly aspects of their private lives, and when many -but definitely not all- will be at home, some of which will be working from home- it’s to me essential that we try to reflect on the interconnectedness of everything- home, until recently the quintessential ‘private’ space, does not exist outside society, even if we never physically leave it.

Ernesto Priego, “Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will”: Empathy and Solidarity in the Times of COVID-19

The only way I manage even
a few hours of restless sleep
is to keep inventing a movie
inside my head I hope someday
some director will actually film—

unreeling across my closed eyelids
I watch strangers hugging
in restaurants, strangers hugging
in offices, in the middle of crowded
streets, hugging in grocery stores
and at gas stations—

this and only this allows me
to let go of the day’s dread,
this envisioning of humans
reaching out for one another,
with open arms and hearts,
these embraces after pandemic

Lana Hechtman Ayers, Embraces, a pandemic poem

As we are already not-quite-sick-of-saying: the garden has never looked lovelier. And we have played a lot of cards. And generally spent much more time around the table, convening for coffee and lunch as if pulled by invisible threads from different points in the house. We are so lucky to have a house. And a garden. I have spent a lot of time drinking from bowls, sometimes not even really drinking, just cradling the coffee as though it may never appear in my life again. The texting and emailing of friends, the re-connection with people over miles and years of separation, habitually and briefly fused at Christmas only for another year to go by with nothing having changed. Well, this is changing us. Slowly, but it is. A neighbour who has steadfastly refused to acknowledge me for years finally gave me a smile yesterday. We are doing a lot of laughing, and crying at orchestras who somehow manage to put on stunning music for free in their separate Toronto rooms just so we can cry and feel something deeply human while we do it (especially the triangle guy). The old battered thing, my diary (it isn’t a diary, really, I just call it that) makes a guest appearance and suddenly becomes a necessity. The poetry of James Schuyler, as if he ever went away. I have never taken such pleasure over hanging out the washing.

Anthony Wilson, Any Common Desolation

If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?

So far, I would say, I am physically healthy. My mental state is stable. I have adopted a “one day at a time” approach to moving through these weeks and months. I am trying to actively practice gratitude each day, lest I fall into the trap of bemoaning all the canceled events and missed opportunities. I am getting used to my own face staring at me as I record videos for my students. I realize that I miss them, and this is bittersweet; I will be very happy to be back in my classroom again.

When I’m not busy with school-related work, I putter. I completed a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, and my crossword game is growing fiercer; I have been considering cross-stitching. Writing comes in sharp little bursts, then eludes me for days. I am trying to be patient, to find a voice that’s louder than the one telling me all the things I “should” be doing. I am finding a new rhythm, as we all are, and trying to remember that this, like everything, is temporary.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #4 with Elizabeth Hazen

On a smaller personal scale, everything that’s on going right now seems so momentous, but I haven’t been able to write about it. I edit unfinished poems, but I can’t write more than a few notes about the self-isolation. I have one poem I started just as this began to take hold where the virus is beginning to work its way into. It was supposed to be just about the drama of beginnings and endings at a hospital, but I can’t help to see the impact of the virus in the stanza. In everything, I read, watch, think about the virus seems to overwrite itself. 

I started scribbling the previous paragraph last night, far too deep into the wee hours and followed up by rewriting another half-finished poem about home isolation. So I guess it will find a way to write itself. I can’t approach it head on. I’m uncertain of where to start, worrying whether my view is worth speaking. I feel so insignificant, locked away, protected by the privilege of being able to wash my hands, stay off work, protect my family. Our lives feel on the verge of a huge change and I’m just holding my breath, waiting to see what will happen, how we will be affected, what will remain.

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Two – Facing Isolation

As we shelter in place, I see that many of my friends and online acquaintances are having trouble sleeping. And some are dealing with surges of depression and anxiety. My heart goes out to everyone in this. I go through periods of change in my sleep patterns, and, yes, I am in one now. My usual solution when I find myself awake in bed, and sense I am unlikely to go back to sleep, is to accept this and get up and go downstairs to read on the couch, where I fall asleep reading.

The new twist is that I may doze while reading on the couch, well before bedtime, and 1) just stay there or 2) go up to bed, find myself awake, and come back. This morning my husband greeted me with a kiss (ack! too close! social distancing! but we know we’ve already been too close and can’t do anything about it now!) and the comment, “You are becoming one with that couch.”

I arrange myself in various ways to 1) avoid a crick in the neck in the morning 2) have the bookmark fall into the right spot when I fall asleep and the book closes. Today I finished Rebecca Solnit’s Recollections of My Nonexistence, which I wrote about yesterday. (Was it yesterday? I know I am not alone these days in losing track of what day it is.) I’m sure I’ll share more about it, but this seemed particularly pertinent this morning:

So much of the work of writing happens when you are seemingly not working, made by that part of yourself you may not know and do not control, and when the work shows up like that your job is to get out of the way.

Kathleen Kirk, Sleeping in Place

The most-read article in The Guardian today is a letter from Italian novelist Francesca Melandri to her fellow Europeans, and to the United Kingdom. In it she says “we were just like you,” and traces the pattern I’ve alluded to here: the progression from the arguments between those who say “it’s just like the flu” to those who know it’s not, to the early novelty of self-isolation, the focus on food, the fleeting attraction of apocalyptic books and films, the obsessive fascination with online connection and video meetups, the online fitness workouts and virtual cocktail hours, the fights with our elders to try to get them to stay home, the ways we buoy each other with songs from balconies and rooftops, the dark humor, the growing awareness of domestic abuse and the divisions of class — and the gradual falling away of the superfluous and superficial, the transparency of our friends’ and families’ behavior, the sleeplessness and anxiety, and the sense that nothing is going to be the same ever again.

So, yes, writers write, some better than others.

The advice I’m giving myself today, from decades of writing and editing, and after thinking about the words of Cave and Melandri and others, is: write what you know, and then ask yourself if it feels necessary to say out loud.

Sometimes the best thing a writer can do is listen.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 11. What to say?

The cave diver has lost his way,
there is no way back
from the caverns filled with tears.
Beauty gyrating in his lamp suspended,
as he floats forever in this cathedral.
Replaying the old songs.
Rebreathing the air.
Hold me tight and
listen.

Jim Young, Look

We keep trying to imagine the future, knowing that what we should hold on to is the present. Perhaps, as writers, we know how to handle the silence. Personally, I think I’m learning how to manage my time in a different way, to keep to some sort of productive routine, trying not to panic when I look out of the kitchen window and see constant queues outside the supermarket. And when I do feel that sense of anxiety, I go back to reading Thoreau and try to keep it all in perspective: ‘I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.’

Julie Mellor, Life in the Woods

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 12

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, poetry bloggers, along with nearly everyone else, wrestled with our strange and disorienting new global reality of pandemic, social isolation, and economic collapse. I have had to be a bit more selective here than usual, as a growing number of normally infrequent bloggers are returning to their blogs, and those who post regularly are going into hyperdrive. Needless to say, it was a quality problem.

Please take care out there. Despite my doomer outlook, I do feel fairly sanguine that the lights and the internet will stay on… but I hope you have a typewriter in storage, as I do, just in case!


How are you doing? we ask each other (through text, messaging, phone calls, zoom calls).

How are we doing? It feels as if many of us had a day of reckoning this week–a day in which we understood, in a deeper way, the ramifications of what is happening. For me, it came on Wednesday. I woke sometime in the night the way I have in the direct wake of other life-altering events, forgetting for a brief moment that life was no longer as I knew it, and then suddenly remembering that my earth had slipped off its axis. The coronavirus, I thought, and then remembered that I wasn’t going to be getting up and going to school, that my daughter wasn’t returning from Sweden, that our markets are crashing, that small businesses are failing, that friends are out of work, that people are dying and going to die, that I could not go visit my parents or go see a movie or eat at my favorite restaurants or get my haircut or see my friends or or or… I felt the kind of need to ground myself in a new reality that I have felt when people died, when a marriage ended, when my children left home. Things are both exactly the same and very much not the same, and I’m off-balance, wobbly on my feet. The coronavirus, I thought, grounding myself in the reality that there is no solid ground to our reality right now. […]

How are you doing? Early in the week I am drifting, floundering. I lose big parts of days doing…what? I’m not sure. I start projects and don’t finish them. I buy food in case I can’t later, including treats I normally wouldn’t, but right now I have little desire to eat. I watch people around me mobilize into action that looks almost manic, but maybe that’s just in comparison to me, who is floating. I lose two days to headache because it’s not that bad (I tell myself) and because I don’t take my meds because I am afraid I might run out and be unable to get more. I finally take them, and as the fog clears I can see that it was bad, worse than I’d allowed myself to acknowledge. I write. I think about what it is that most needs doing, and how it feels impossible that “nothing” might be the right answer to the question, even as it feels like it probably is. I try to pay attention–pay attention!–to the ordinary pleasures that remain, so that I might not be kicking myself in the future the way I am now about not fully noticing and appreciating the night two weekends ago we went out for dinner and a movie, even though I suspected at the time that it might be the last time we did it for awhile. I can’t even remember now where we ate. I long to remember where we ate.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Coronavirusdiary #1

in this version of America
my son and I eat Sunday breakfast
every morning at the kitchen table
where the first day of spring streams
in cold sun and roses open
and cherry trees carry on unperturbed

in this version of America
we are all grieving each day a funeral
each sparkling proud city closes its ears
puts on blindfolds holds its breath
and descends to its maximum depth

Rebecca Loudon, corona 5.

Praise to all those who go to work
every day, side by side with a death
virus at work, invisible as breath. […]

Praise to the postal workers
even if it’s mostly bills, praise to
all the utility employees,
everyone who keeps the power on,
the water flowing cleanly, freely.

Praise to the garbage men,
praise to the cleaners and janitors
perhaps most of all, blessings
and endless praise for making
every surface safe once again.

Praise to the homeless man
who looked at my privileged self
with pity on his weather-beaten face
and said, “You can get through this,
honey. I’ve done it for years.”

Lana Hechtman Ayers, A gratitude poem: Praise in a Viral Time

For now, I am working at home on various things—writing and/or library related—and alternating these tasks with household tasks and reading, all to keep the body moving and the worry away. But Worry is not so good at “social distancing.” It sometimes gets in my face and my brain and my chest, a little pinch there when I try to sleep at night, so I get up and read myself back to sleep. It’s hard to stay focused, I lose track of the time and what day it is, and I feel so cold in the house—which always happens at this time of year, the transition to spring, before it truly warms up.

My local friends and my online friends are stressed, anxious, scared, worried about jobs as well as health, worried about kids and parents. We are all going through this together, and I see so much kindness. Sadly, I see judgmental comments, too, and hear about mean comments. Goodness, we need to be patient with each other as well as the situation! And I also appreciate the humor—dark humor, gentle humor, wacky humor. And the wine. I didn’t hoard it. So it will run out. Maybe before I do!

Kathleen Kirk, Hunker at Home

We’ve been social distancing for a week, me and my 4 kids stuck together, home schooling. It’s been pretty tough. I keep seeing memes from people without kids or who had kids decades ago telling me I should teach them to sew buttons on and make homemade playdough or don’t bother with home schooling, let kids be kids. Finland doesn’t work that way. They expect the kids to log online in various methods for certain classes, to do specific work everyday. They all assign work for their classes. Every teacher is using different apps for notifications and collecting work, I’m exhausted from juggling it all. […]

So my hopes of writing a King Lear type masterpiece as the memes are suggesting is not happening. But I know all this adventure, this stress and upheaval will collect in me, compost into some beautiful poems at a later date. I’m keeping my own journal and making notes. Something good will be created from all this. I’m trying not to stress, worry or pressure myself or my kids. We’ll get through it. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Isolation – Week One

No touching. 

We need these weak ties that bind us to more than our little, nuclear lives.

Handshakes.
Awkward hugs.

Weak ties that keep us from hunkering down with our xenophobic tendencies.

I worry about the quarantine. I worry that the Prime Minister just told kids to pick a best friend to hang out with through this time.

What about the kids who don’t get picked, Ms. Prime Minister?
When the world pairs up neatly into their tiny tribes.

What about our weaker ties?

Ren Powell, Weak Ties and A Soft Touch

Friends who are at high risk are “self-isolating” and hyper-alert, and I worry for them. My best-beloveds are all on various forms of lockdown, but we have worked out communication methods so we can stay in touch. Well– “in touch.” Because touching is discouraged, but communicating matters so much right now. Examples:

My tai chi instructor sends out messages of encouragement, ideas for practice at home, reliable COVID-19 information, and reminders to stay grounded and balanced.

The distance-education IT/software platform department at my college has a staff working overtime and under considerable pressure to assist instructors in the rapid move to online instruction. They send out cheerful and informative emails, encouragement, jokes–and are hosting a 3 pm Friday ‘cocktail hour’ meeting we can log into so we can complain, ask questions, joke around, and visit virtually.

The staff at my parents’ assisted living campus has two employees working (extremely patiently!) with residents who need assistance communicating with loved ones who can no longer visit them. The residents have hearing loss, vision loss, neuropathy in their fingers, arthritis, and often, some cognitive losses. Staff members sit with residents and work out methods of staying in touch. Elderly people are already isolated; they truly need connections with others, need to know that their lives are valued.

A friend whose church group sponsors a free meal for all every Tuesday night in Philadelphia continues to serve the at-risk community by packing up the dinners for takeout instead of serving at communal tables.

We are fortunate. I am trying not to forget how fortunate such inconvenience is. For many other human beings, the inconvenience is compounded by danger.

In Wuhan, China, authorities report that there have been no new cases of the illness in the past week. There’s hope. When we touch again, let us rejoice more mindfully, recognizing how powerful touch can be.

Ann E. Michael, Isolated

I wish I could say that I am in a much better place this week than I was last week but alas, that would be untrue. I am still dealing with all of the same stuff, along with working long hours in an environment in which people grow more and more on edge each day. I’m not sleeping very well despite being tired most of the time, and I’m still fighting off creeping depression. We have locked down our hospital and are screening every single person who comes through the two remaining open entrances. After getting home from work on Saturday, I was on my last nerve and I ranted to Mr. Typist that no one should be coming to the hospitals right now, we need the space and resources for sick people, not the worried well, what the hell are people thinking? “Well what if someone has testicular cancer?” he asked. “It can wait,” I snapped. “Testicular cancer is very slow-growing.” That is what working at a hospital during an outbreak is doing to my mind. I don’t know if I’m going to have a shred of sanity left by the end of this. (By the way, I don’t actually know if testicular cancer is slow-growing or not, so if you think you have it, you should probably go to the doctor. You have my permission.)

Kristen McHenry, About the Same, Old New Escapism, Home Workout Jackpot

Many of us think of Derek Walcott first as a poet of the Caribbean, but he was widely-traveled and wrote some of his most evocative poems about, and in, the different places he found himself. In his elegiac book White Egrets, written late in life, there’s a sequence of twelve poems under the title “In Italy.” In the fourth poem, he speaks about coming to that beautiful country late in life, and how perhaps that was better. I feel the same way. Even though Italian art and music, and Italian food and their zest for life, had always meant a great deal to me, I didn’t visit Italy in person until I was over 60. It was as if an impression I’d built in my mind finally took on its true color and sound, taste and smell, and became so much more vivid — and also more nuanced — than I had been able to imagine: I fell in love with Rome, with Palermo, with Catania, and the ancient Greek cities on the coasts; with the Roman pines and the lichen-covered ancient stones; the pale frescoes and glittery mosaics; the lemon trees and the blue sea; the wizened olive trees and vibrant purple artichokes and glistening fish markets; and most of all the people, without whom Italy would not be Italy. What they are going through now is so terrible, and yet the pictures of the streets that we see, and the people singing from their rooftops, are a moving and beautiful witness to what makes Italy, Italy. Walcott’s poems capture some of that combination of beauty and melancholy.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary, Montreal. 8. In Italy, Derek Walcott

I have been preparing to become a shut-in. Karen Head and I have selected all the poems for the Mother Mary Comes To Me anthology and we’re starting to work on sequencing, which we can do online. I have enough food (I think), a stack of books and every streaming channel in Christendom, so I’m ready. Maybe.

Like everyone else, I’m worried about my health, my job, my retirement account and what coronavirus will do to the poetry and writing community. The anxiety and uncertainty is undoing a lot of my friends.

While you’re likely trapped in your home and doing the whole social distancing thing, buy books and have them delivered (as long as delivery is available). Buy them directly from poets and writers who are hurting due to lack of gigs, buy them from the small presses, buy them from your indie bookstores. My publisher, Sibling Rivalry Press, is offering free shipping using the code read, and my favorite local bookstore here in Atlanta, Charis Books, is offering $1 shipping. See if your local bookstores are offering something simple. We’re going to need literature more than ever to get us through this crisis.

Collin Kelley, Social Distancing

cities empty
wilds go viral
the isolator has tripped up
the mountain passes where we
meet a metre apart
to view the temptation
of the wilderness to
explain these times
but it fails
and our trails
only lead back down
again

Jim Young, isolated

Yesterday I think I truly understood what the word melancholy means, waving the children off from school for the last time this term, possibly for this academic year, not knowing what the future holds. Parents were upset, mystified, numb. I’m a teaching assistant, but we’ve all had to pitch in this week due to staff absence. During school closure we’re going to be working on a rota basis to cater for the children of key workers etc. Strange times indeed.

After work, I went for a walk. I don’t mind admitting that I was in tears. Everything seemed so overwhelmingly sad. I walked part of the Penistone Poetry Trail, a project I was involved in a few years ago. When I reached the corner of a fallow field, there was Marion New’s poem (above). It seemed to have taken on a new meaning. Odd how we’re wired to make these connections, to read words from the past and reinterpret them in light of the present. For me, the poem links back to all the writers whose lines were used in the cut-up process, but it also links to the landscape, the fields and boundaries, walls, stiles, ditches and streams I encounter every day when I walk my dog. I’ve posted some pictures below – it all looks fairly bleak at the moment, due to the heavy rain in February which somehow seems to have bleached the colour from the ground, as well as the fact that we’re so high up. Don’t be fooled though. New shoots are poking through. Things are starting to turn green again. The birds are singing. And there’s still poetry of course. It’s good to live in a place where ‘arteries of kindness converge’ and ‘love soaks into the ground’.

Julie Mellor, Nothing can ever be the same as it was

It’s alarming to watch Netflix now: all those strangers in unconcerned proximity, sharing bread, shaking hands! Poor hygiene is not, I suspect, what those directors wanted me to focus on. So when I say that William Woolfitt’s lovely third collection is crowded with isolates, full of hungry survivors, am I distorting the book through a lens of present anxieties? When I notice that many of the landscapes he evokes are like the places I walk through daily–degraded, haunted, but beautiful–am I biased? I think a person always reads from where she is, and that’s okay, although that’s one of the reasons I like in-person, open-ended discussions about books, too. It’s helpful when someone else’s reactions knock your own perspective ajar.

Still, I feel sure that Woolfitt’s book is exceptionally musical, both in its references and in the sonic density of his own alliterative lines (you’ll find listening suggestions in the mini-interview below, to boot). Spring Up Everlasting gives witness to human hardship, vulnerable creatures, and environmental damage with love and compassion: the author sees fully and justly, and the poems he builds from those observances are beautifully weighted, crafty in rhythm and structure. And one last point: Woolfitt really does describe people washing their hands a lot, from Rulina who plunges an arm into “icy creek-water” that “chills her blood, needles her with stars of pain,” to the laborer in “Red Notes” who dreams of release and reunion:

Before they meet, he’ll wash with a bucket,
scrub the pulp off his hands, sing the notes
he’s strung for her, tomato lonesome, tomato blue.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #2 with William Woolfitt

It’s quiet in the village today. My amaryllis is silently, slowly opening. Though we’re near the hospital, there is little traffic going by, and a good many Sunday villagers are or have been or will be snug in a comfy chair, watching the streaming services of their local church… or not, as they choose. 

At top, see a Clive Hicks-Jenkins peacock with its tail furled, one of the chapter division images for Charis in the World of Wonders. Peacocks have been a natural for symbolic bird since ancient times and for many cultures. Those eyes. The splendor of the shaking, unfurling fan. The rich, glitter of color. The piercing cry.

The early Christians adopted a belief of the ancient Greeks that the peacock was connected to immortality. Aristotle believed that the flesh of the peacock did not become corrupt after death. Perhaps ancient Greeks never let peacock leftovers last long enough to find out! But many years later, St. Augustine made experiment of the meat and agreed with Aristotle, finding that the flesh became only a little drier over time.

Marly Youmans, Peacock-thoughts for a Pandemic Sunday

Reading

It’s a bit obvious for a poet that now’s a great opportunity to read all those collections that have been piling up. However, I’d like to throw down the gauntlet. I’ve been reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, and am finding Paradiso heavy going. BUT I see there’s Digital Dante – all the text, context, commentary and much more. I’m definitely going to get help here to get me through Paradiso with a greater appreciation. If you’ve not read this work, why not set yourself the goal? Alternatively, my next classic tome to tackle is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Can I even call myself a poet and not have read this work? I did study the Prologue and some other bits of it at school, about 100 years ago. I’m ready to go for it now, in the interests of furthering my knowledge of The Canon. At the Poetry Foundation you can read the whole prologue.

Studying

How about taking an online course? Search for ‘poetry’ at Coursera and there are any number of free courses you can join. ‘Words Spun Out of Images: Visual and Literary Culture in Nineteenth Century Japan’, ‘Modern American Poetry’,  ‘The Ancient Greeks’ – actually that last one isn’t poetry, but I bet it’s interesting. Or if you’re willing to pay, the Poetry School runs a number of online courses, but hurry up as they seem to be selling out.

Growing

The satisfaction to be gained from sowing seeds and watching them grow is hard to overestimate. I’m very, very lucky to have a garden, but even if you only have a window sill you still may be able to grow something. I think the first bit of growing I ever did was to sprout some seeds. Urban Turnip has a post entitled Best urban gardening & container growing blogs – not a recent post, but it includes links to various indie gardening blogs (ie not the big ones where you’re encouraged to buy stuff). Now’s exactly the time of year to be sowing stuff, and if it’s something you can eat, even better. It really makes you feel that life goes on, and it’s a beautiful thing. Happy growing.

Robin Houghton, Making, moving, cleaning, reading, studying, growing … life while social distancing

if things don’t go as planned
it’s not going to kill anybody

we didn’t know this
was going to be the playlist
what happened here
wherever you are

so many things are happening
a very exciting time
nobody has ever seen
anything like this

i’m finished

– all text taken from President Trump at the coronavirus task force press conference 19 March 2020.

james w. moore

it’s time we looked out for each other
it’s time that we did for ourselves
it’s time that we stopped hoarding TP
and food from the grocery shelves

it’s time that we aid one another
do it the mutual way
keep going that way forever
on a move to a sunnier day

the thing that I’ve seen in this crisis
the thing that is giving me hope
is that all of our rules are just fictions
we don’t really need them to cope

we don’t have to keep paying landlords
we don’t have to scrape and to bow
we can come together as comrades
we can make a better world now

Jason Crane, POEM: The Covid-19 Blues

We can number these days of isolation on the walls of our abodes, or on the dark cave walls where our minds get so easily lost.

These days we can become chaos or the cure.

To remedy, not ruin, remember there’s no one, but one.

Resist fracture. Resist getting too perplexed by the higher mathematics of anxiety attacks.

Try believing in We.

Rich Ferguson, When Conjuring the Child Ghost of Michael Jackson

So not afraid for myself, just sad, terribly sad. Bereft, I guess – so sudden a loss. The Tuesday before last I was at Steve and Jo’s for our weekly music session. I had a bassline to put on a song of Gemma’s after which we played through Steve’s and my two latest songs. Then there was to be next week at mine and the following at Steve’s and so on into our mutual indefinite futures. Now Steve and Jo are in voluntary seclusion through the months ahead and the shared music that has for each one of us served our souls in troubled times must await the silent, invisible movement of this toxic global cloud.

That’s my immediate sorrow. In the world at large there’s ‘a drawing down of blinds’ as everything that has animated our quotidian lives for generations ceases, bringing about a huge empty, uncomprehending vacancy. From those hastening up and down the corridors of power to the puzzled soul standing alone in a once busy street, no one knows what must happen next. The Four Estates are dumbfounded. All about us the signal-to-noise ratio loses out to mere babble. A rumpled, baffled PM mangles his silver spoon vowels, turning with ill-concealed relief to one of the two skeletal science supremoes who flank him on either side. I watch the mouths flapping and think of Yeats: The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.

I sleep fitfully, wondering in my momentary half-consciousness what it is that’s shifting out there in the darkness. And in the morning I know.

Dick Jones, LIFE IN A TIME OF CORONA 1.

I find myself shaking my head at times as I think, wow, I’m in the beginning of a dystopian narrative, the early chapters, where we see what might be coming towards us, but it still doesn’t seem real.  I have friends who have gone into total isolation, while I have others who scoff at the closures and the stockpiling.

This morning, in the midst of Internet wandering, I came up with an idea for a poem, and I’ve even written much of it:  how does Cassandra cope in a world where her prophecies are coming true, but her spouse still does not believe her?

Today a friend and I may go to a friend who owns a wine bar in Miami Shores.  We can’t stay there and drink, but we can buy wine and yummies to support her.

Or we may not–by now, there may be restrictions on alcohol sales.

In some ways it’s a normal Saturday:  we’ve got homemade pizza in the oven.  In a way, it’s not normal.  I’m going to watch the movie Contagion, but I’m going to watch it early, in case it makes me too scared to fall asleep.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cassandra Coping

Today, somehow, is the very first day of spring.  I keep thinking about the first stanza of The Wasteland and summer coming over the Starngerbersee.  This week, I’m having a hard time coming into or caring about art or poetry or anything at all.  I think this will pass, hopefully, in the next week or so.  I see everyone talking about online readings, book releases, and poetry stuff and I am just ambivalent about it all.  I have moments in life where poetry life seems like a game in which there are no stakes and no one cares.   Maybe this is one of those moments. But part of me think the poetry obviously important more than ever (thus my obsession with the Eliot lines), but maybe the po-biz stuff is what is just seeming to fall flat for me.  I do have a book set to come out in the next month and while I was thinking any release activity would have to wait til summer anyhow, it seems strange to be in a place of limbo in terms of when the world will go back to business as usual, if ever.  It’s a beautiful, rough book, with a press I love, though, so I will regroup and focus on maybe selling some copies. There is also NaPoWriMo, which it seems, with a slowdown in hustle, I have ample time for in April and of course, ample ideas for new projects.  I just need to get focused and motivated.  I do intend to keep blogging here daily on various things, focused and unfocused, specific and random.

As for spring, it’s sort of dreary out there today nevertheless, but the sun, if nothing else, will return. 

Kristy Bowen, springtime according to Eliot

– The coronavirus. It kills some people, others live. I’ve been taking precautions, but I am not especially frightened. I buried a son; think I care about a fucking disease? About death? Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t crave death, but why fear it? It’s going happen to every one of us at some point.

– I love the feel of a light rain on my face, of cold air tightening my cheeks, and the sight of storm clouds moving across the sky. 

– There are people among us for whom death would be a blessing. A gift. Relief.

– I recently discovered that I love the music of Philip Glass. It’s not that I was ever against his music, I just never really sat down and listen to it. I especially like the music he did for the soundtrack of the movie, The Hours. It’s haunting and compelling. 

– Since the disease has us staying indoors, I’ve been watching movies, listening to music, and catching up on my reading. I am something of an urban hermit by nature, so that part is actually kind of nice. Every meal is with my wife.

– When I die, I hope I face it with some grace and some courage. I hope I get one more chance to tell my wife that I love her, that being married to her made me grow. 

– I don’t believe in any form of afterlife. No gods, no heaven, no hell, no ghosts. Just nonexistence. And I’m OK with that. 

James Lee Jobe, 10 Things – (Journal notes)

I wasn’t planning on resuming this blog until at least May, but with the crashing of coronavirus into all of our lives I felt the need to reach out and find an ‘answer’ to the situation in poetry, as Robert Pinsky puts it in Poetry and the World, not to make it go away, but in keeping with the spirit of all poetry, as an act of resistance and re-assertion of the human flame.

I came across this lovely slow lyric by Jill Bialosky in Late January. It was on a page of a book about the notion of ‘sabbath’ that my brother was reading and had left lying around. The book’s central premise, that we regularly need to pull away from the world of work and actively withdraw into the world of contemplation and silence  appealed to me on several levels, not least because I have really benefited from not blogging since the turn of the year. For a variety of reasons I finished last year in a state of great tiredness, fatigue almost. I am not pretending that this has gone away, but I have been able to recharge my batteries via an array of tiny practices largely gleaned from the advice of others.

I have switched my phone to grayscale. I have taken all email off my phone. Game-changers. If I go for a walk I leave the phone at home. I leave the phone in one place, just off the hallway, which means that if I want to check messages I need to go downstairs to check it. I have taken off all notifications of messages, which means I only look at them when I actively visit various messaging apps, which in turn means I only look at them about twice a day. I don’t really feel that I have missed very much.

Instead I have been reading, and writing. (I may talk about these at another time, at greater length.) And listening to music, mostly Max Richter and slightly more than the legal amount of Hammock (see below). I am working on introducing other sabbaths and other replacement activities. (As and when they happen, I will let you know.)

For now, let us breathe in (we should all do this regularly a drama teacher once told me, or we will die) the spirit of this poem of letting go. Of comforting the child (or what represents child) of whatever is vulnerable or hurting in our lives. God knows, there are losses. And there will be more to come. Let’s take care of ourselves and each other. See you in the silence.

Anthony Wilson, Another Loss to Stop For

I don’t know how to end this post. My literary training suggests that this post needs to go somewhere, but I don’t know where anything is going right now. I trust that we will eventually make it to the far side of this pandemic — we who survive. I hope that I am among the survivors; I hope that you are too. 

But I don’t know what after will look like, or whether this will be only the first pandemic of many in this strange new world, or how my parenting (everyone’s parenting) will have to shift in response to pandemic and a possible new Great Depression, or how my Judaism (everyone’s Judaism) will have to shift too.

I did my best to have a Shabbes. I’m doing all the things I know how (in isolation) to connect my heart and spirit with others, with my traditions, with my Source. (I even baked myself a birthday cake.) I know that the new week will ask a lot. In Robert Frost’s words, “there’s no way out but through.”

Rachel Barenblat, The new normal

This desk
again
my hermitage

where silence
speaks of
holy things.

Tom Montag, This Desk

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 9

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This past week found poetry bloggers breathing, grieving, reading, dreaming, revising manuscripts, speaking for others, meeting with others, planning for AWP, planning for a possible pandemic, paying attention, feeling sorry, feeling out of step, shaping lines, and remembering to breathe.


Inhale. Pause. Exhale, slowly and deeply, as if you were sighing. Notice that pause at the end of the out-breath: That emptied-out moment, when you let go of everything just a little bit more, and the body settles into itself just a little bit deeper. That moment: A glimpse of the last breath, of the peace that might be possible when you let go with both hands.

And then: The in-breath, as natural as can be, filling the lungs again.

Dylan Tweney, Grief and gratitude.

Much as at the point when suddenly rain stops,
    or wind abates,
        or cloud obscures the sun,

there is a moment just between
    breathe in and breathe out
        when shock stops the spin and hum of it all

and in the silence and the stillness
    we are changed entirely.

Dick Jones, Fragile

I have taken the last few months off from the world for some internal reflection. The death of four people in my family in 12 months caused me to turn inward, to withdraw socially and surround myself with only my greatest loves: husband, family, books, poetry, home, open spaces, neighborhood walks, and yes, I will admit, binge watching High Fidelity and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Thank you Rob and Midge for making me laugh.

And now it is Spring and out my writing window I see yellow daffodils, orange pansies and purple hellebore. The 70 year-old camellia is laden in the softest of pink blooms and the neighbor’s cherry trees are ready to pop.

And for those of you who have followed my “car wash” photos, last week I took my car to get washed and began taking pictures for the 2020 series.

I submitted five new poems (the first submission in almost a year) and heard yesterday a journal in Galway, Ireland called Dodging the Rain will publish them in May and June.

By allowing myself permission to withdraw from the world for awhile, to grieve and acknowledge the losses, the color bursting before me is calling my name to rejoin the ranks.

Or it could have been the Prozac. Either way, I am doing just fine.

Carey Taylor, It’s Been Awhile

This book gripped me: Poets on Prozac, edited by Richard M. Berlin, a set of essays by various poets on Mental Illness, Treatment and the Creative Process. I checked it out of the library because it’s what came up when I searched for work by Denise Duhamel, who judged the 2019 Patricia Dobler Award. […]

I learned a lot about many things and was delighted to find in this book two of our Escape Into Life poets, Ren Powell and Martha Silano, as well as Chase Twichell, whose book The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises from Poets Who Teach, co-edited with Robin Behn, sits on a shelf above my computer, ready to grab when I need a creative push. I used it when I was teaching, and I use it now.

I always love to read about a poet’s process, and Poets on Prozac has the added interest of how mental illness, whether temporary or permanent, chronic or intermittent, and the treatment or medication for it affects the writing. Excerpts and whole poems are provided in this context, and the authors include mental health professionals who write poems.

Kathleen Kirk, Poets on Prozac

In The Hidden Life of Trees, the author talks about how a woodpecker makes a wound in the bark of a tree, and then leaves to let fungus soften things before returning. The fungus keeps at it, even after the cavity is too large to serve the woodpecker. So another creature moves into the expanding space. Then another. And all the while, is the tree feeling this as pain? Like my reality of a tender hamstring and an arthritic toe joint?

*

I had a nightmare last night. I have them only rarely now. And not nearly as vividly as once. Though sometimes it takes me longer to reorient to the real world as I wake —

like turning over scattered puzzle pieces and fitting them together into a somewhat less frightening order.

It seems that, as I age, there is a shifting of the kind of pain I experience.

The cold hurts my bones more than it used to. But heartbreak hurts far less. I can only hope the latter is a matter of  it having already been cracked open once, and having adjusted to the openness, each new love moving into a growing spaciousness.

Ren Powell, Aches and Pains

I dreamed I watered my cactus. I dreamed a long scrolled piece of paper upon which my sins and good deeds were being accounted for were being shaded in by a lead pencil. The sins were shaded over and over until they were a black ribbon and the good deeds were erasing the black.

It’s so quiet this morning I hear the train whistle all the way from Mount Vernon. Sometimes sound carries weirdly over the water. There is something comforting about a train whistle. Something old fashioned and ghostly and solid and forsaken. I once rode a train from Spokane to Montana. It took several days. I was a girl. I read and rocked and read and rocked. I lived for a little while on Flathead Lake. I lived for a little while on a reservation in Havre where I chewed resin from the trees until it turned to gum and ate rosehips and sang church songs.

Mahler sings Kindertotenlieder tends the forest keeps an eye on the magnolias which is how I keep going forward. I don’t even touch them (only once forgive me) I just watch and keep track and wonder at all of it. It’s a still day. I listened to birdsong and the train and I am forgiven my sins. My trees lift up their hands.

Rebecca Loudon, On the anniversary of my mother’s birth

I’m working on revising my 3rd manuscript. Since Kit passed away, and even when she was still in the ICU—perhaps even since her diagnosis—I’ve had little passion for the project, but have instead used writing as a way to process grief. There have been good and bad, far more bad I suppose, poems come from this experiment. But I’m at a point now where I feel like it is time to revisit Church Ladies and see if it is still possibly a book.

One theme very clear in the book is suffering and fear of the death of my children; its what leads my family to sometimes say my poems are creepily prophetic. But I don’t think so—I just think losing my children is my very real, utmost fear.

So I’ve thought about including my poems where the Worst Fear actually happens—my poems about Kit—but I can’t bridge them in my own mind. I can see the bridge on paper, how it could work—but Kit is very separate to me. Eventually those poems might need to be included; or maybe they are a different book entirely.

The true problem is that I am not the person or writer that I was when I wrote Church Ladies. I can edit with an indifferent eye, but to add to it feels wrong somehow, just as I’d never add to another writer’s project.

Renee Emerson, Revising the Manuscript

The Big Smoke, [Adrian] Matejka’s book-length persona poem collection, explores the life and relationships of boxing legend Jack Johnson. Matejka writes in the voices of Jack Johnson and the women in Johnson’s life, an ambitious project that took eight years of research and writing. It wound up as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, a well-deserved honor.

In the workshop, he told us that the hardest poems for him to write were the ones in the voices of the women, and that he would never attempt to write in a woman’s voice again, not feeling able, artistically, to accurately portray a woman’s psyche in the first person.

Part of this discussion of whose voices to write in involved the subject of cultural appropriation. The week of the poetry festival, American Dirt launched, and with it, the controversy surrounding the white author’s choice to write in the first person about a migrant Latina woman and her struggles to cross into the US.

It was a timely example of the pitfalls of choosing to write in the voice of someone whose life is completely outside our own experiences.

Christine Swint, Persona Poems at Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Franny Choi’s book-length collection of poetry, Soft Science, explores queer, Asian American femininity through the lens of robots, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence. As she notes in this interview, “this book is a study of softness,” exploring feeling, vulnerability, and desire. How can you be tender and still survive in a hard and violent world? What does it mean to have desire when you yourself are made into an object of desire? What does it mean to have a body that bears the weight of history? Choi’s poetry contemplates such questions through the technology of poetic form.

Here is a little snippet from our discussion, in which Choi discusses the idea of speaking for the voiceless:

“Early in my writing career, I was really struck by the concept of being a voice for the voiceless. I think this has to do with being a young activist kid and realizing that having the ability to write and speak in a way that moved people was a privilege, and [I had] a desire to use that privledge for good. I think not that long after I encountered this concept it started to feel icky to want to speak for people that have mostly been called voiceless but aren’t — and [it became] much more important to highlight those voices rather than speaking for them.

“For someone who is politically minded and writer and is interested in the craft of persona work, I think it makes for a difficult space to know how to operate in, you know. So, I think that the ways I’ve tried to — at least in this book — manage that have been to kind of relocate the voiceless as a populace within myself, like what are the parts of me that feel unspoken for or unable to explain themselves through normal language. There’s a lot that is unspeakable within all of us. For me, I feel my job as a poet is to try to use poetry to navigate those spaces.”

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Soft Science by Franny Choi

We had started online with MacNeice – this largely elicited a negative response – form over content, too difficult… My attempts to argue for MacNeice were unsuccessful. People said they wanted something ‘lighter’ (undefined), and one or two people suggested John Betjeman, so we thought we’d give that a try.

In our comfortable-ish new meeting place, we started our discussion of Betjeman’s poems. It did not go as I expected. Each person had chosen a poem to talk about. What happened was that people talked about really personal and often moving experiences, none of them happy ones. When we talked more, people recognised that their responses were not always really related to the poems themselves, and that their experiences had very much coloured their view of the poems. 

It highlighted incredibly strongly how much we bring ourselves to every poem we read – the things that have happened in our lives, our beliefs, everything. This is not a revelation, of course, but I did find it surprising that this kind of discussion was in response to the poems of Betjeman, as did the others when I mentioned it. Everyone said they were happy with the meeting though, and felt that poetry had got them thinking, so that feels right and we’ll see how it progresses.

Sue Ibrahim, A surprising reaction to the poems of John Betjeman

AWP #20 will occur in San Antonio, starting on Wednesday the 4th. I can confirm that I have already experienced a bit of the typical anxiety associated with the pilgrimage.  Each year there are generally 12,000 or more in attendance. If I recall correctly there were like 14,000 last year in Portland.

I have somewhat introvert tendencies, although at times I may break free of the chains. As long as I am able to retreat and recharge from time to time, I can deal with it. For me the stressors are being away from home, being in the midst of a crushing mob (slight exaggeration),  meeting people I am in awe of and being fearful I appear to be a complete goofball, and meeting complete strangers and feeling my first impression (and lasting one) totally sucked.

WHY EVEN GO?  Good question.  I think it has to be personal for each attendee.  For some it is seeing friends that you may see only once or twice a year.  Or it could be meeting  publishers.  Crisscrossing the book fair (always enormous) in search of bargains, newly published material, author signings, or readings. Both onsite and offsite. It could be learning more about the craft at panel presentations, or ideas, learning about marketing or working with publishers, agents, etc.

This year, I am focusing  on a couple aspects of craft. Seeing some friends, attending some readings and doing a reading myself. I want to springboard from the conference into a greater energy in my writing. I have a manuscript I am trying to finish and this could help push me over the finish line.

Michael Allyn Wells, It’s Coming – AWP #20 blogging

It seems in times of crisis I want to spend more time in nature. This last week we had early cherry and plum trees starting to flower, and I spent a lot of time taking pictures of them. Plum blossoms in particular have a strong, beautiful scent, especially in a grove of trees, which along with a little more sunlight, increases your feelings of well-being no matter what the headlines. […]

Yes, I’ll be missing AWP this year. I’m supposed to get an emergency root canal tomorrow instead of flying into Texas. Much less glamorous. But AWP kind of has a pall over it this year, especially as it is happening just as more confirmed cases of COVID-19 are appearing all over the US. Hey, let’s all get together in one big room right as a highly communicable virus is hitting! Yikes. I have a genetic immune deficiency AND MS, so this is probably a more frightening prospect for me than most people. That estimated 2 percent death rate is higher for people with other health conditions, and much higher for the elderly – up to 15 percent.

We had the first US death from Coronavirus here yesterday, at a hospital about a mile from my house, and a small breakout (fifty people, both caregivers and patients) has happened in a long-term care home in Kirkland (and Kirkland and Redmond firefighters are in quarantine after reto an emergency there.) There is a lot of uncertainty right now – the doctors and systems here don’t have enough test kits or the capacity to test everyone, we don’t have enough masks even for medical personnel due to poor government planning, and we’re showing more community-acquired illness (two high school kids at opposite ends of town just this week.) In my local neighborhood stores, there’s been some panic-buying – shelves of masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, even in some places bottled water and toilet paper have all been cleaned out. My husband has been running most of the errands to keep me out of crowds, so I’m getting my reports second-hand. Going back to spending time outside, which can really help you not feel too house-bound when you’re mostly confined in your home, is really important. Hence my red-winged blackbird picture (photographed down the street from my house.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems in Cherry Tree and Split Rock Review, Early Spring Flowers, Missing AWP and the Coronovirus

It’s good to take notes on the details.

There is the spot in the sky
Where the first lip of night rubs the sunset raw.
Write that down.

Or the sound of the tire sliding across the asphalt
As the stink of the burning rubber fills the air.
Note that, too.

The looks a dog gives when it gets confused.
That’s a good one.

James Lee Jobe, It’s good to take notes on the details.

I’ll be honest here; I have little hope of being placed in this year’s competition. Ultimately, I felt my poems lacked the carefree openness that I value in a good poem; you know, that lack of awareness of it actually being a poem. This might sound like nonsense. After all, when you pick up the pen, you intend to write. Poetry or prose, you’ve no doubt decided, on some level, what it’s going to be, before you start writing. So how can a poem lack awareness that it is a poem? Well, I’ve recently returned to Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds. It’s full of beautifully rich language and imagery, but what I admire most of all is the sense of the writer allowing thoughts and images on the page without telling the reader what to think, allowing the reader to take part in the poem and run with it. So, in terms of a model of what poetry should be, for me, Vuong’s debut is it, because it’s full of poems that aren’t screaming, ‘Read me, I’m a poem. Look what tricks I can do.’

This is quite nebulous, and very subjective, I know. And being brutally honest and self-critical, my poems fall far short. So why the euphoria? Well, it’s that small but vital ‘hit’ of completing the work. The manuscript will sink or swim, but that’s out of my hands now. I’ve done my bit. I’ve turned up and done the work (see Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way – she’s big on this). There’s something satisfying about completing a task, so much so that I rewarded myself with a trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park today, to see Saad Qureshi’s Something About Paradise (photographs above and below). 

Maybe something about this exhibition will feed into my writing. Maybe it was just because it wasn’t raining this afternoon. Whatever the forces at work, underlying it all  was a feeling of satisfaction with life which was self-induced. I’d submitted 20 poems to a publisher whom I respect, and who has been totally supportive of my work so far. That submission depended on no one else. It was down to me. The judging is out of my hands. I can’t control or influence it. And what would be the job of a judge if no one submitted? You know the saying, ‘It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part.’ Well, there’s some truth in it.

Julie Mellor, Why it’s important to finish …

I started listening to this this week. It’s Helen Mort discussing her relationship with the word Sorry and apologies. I’ve only listened to the first ep so far, but I really enjoyed what I heard. I was at the end of a long week at work and on a bus ride home after a diverted train journey, so I apologise to Helen for needing to go back to it to fill in some gaps before finishing the series.

It did get me thinking back to a draft of a poem I wrote a couple of years ago called ‘Tiny Sorries’. I was looking at all the small apologies I find myself making. I often apologise, under my breath, if I make someone deviate from their course, even by an inch, when walking along the street, or for not holding a door open far enough, for not being fast enough at the water fountain at work, even when I can do nothing about it…

The idea was that it would start there, build up to taking responsibility for not doing enough to stop something we are all collectively responsible for and then…and then…Well, I didn’t know where to go with it, or if it was even worth trying to find out. I think the answer is that it isn’t worth pursuing. However, it was on my mind before seeing that the show was on air. I think it, the poem, pops back into my head daily because of something that happens when commuting or in the office, etc.

Thankfully, what I do know from listening to Helen’s show is that there are plenty of poems about saying sorry, apologising, contrition, etc, so perhaps I don’t need to worry about adding mine to the pile.

Sorry, you’ve been witness to me working stuff out as I go.

Mat Riches, Apologies for Noogies

Clare Pollard in an article pointed out how an interest in translation can lead to escaping the limitation of local trends. She admits to admiring Somali poems “which can seem clumsy … the politically charged rhetoric … the seeming bagginess, the extreme alliteration, the shifts in address, the digressions” thinking that “they just use techniques which are currently deemed ‘unfashionable’ on Creative Writing courses.

Literature has its fashions. The “From Apocalypse to The Movement” module at Warwick looks at one lurch in style. Of course there are many parallel tracks of development happening at different speeds, but if you’re the wrong type of writer for your era you’ll be fighting against the tide.

Because culture isn’t frozen in time, one option is to wait for it to change. I notice at local writing clubs that my conventions don’t always match those of other members. Sometimes mine are more literary – in particular I puncture the sense of immersion – but often I’m just out of step. My guess is that the literary styles that I employed years ago are now becoming mainstream, and the styles I currently use were popular 20 years ago, and may well be so again.

Tim Love, Ahead of my time? Or behind?

he’s the man who draws the white lines
on the pitches every Friday
ready for the games on Saturday
always straight
always the right length
with the leftover lime tipped
and running down the red brick wall
then he goes away
and comes back the next Friday
all through the winter

Jim Young, life’s a pitch

I’ve written the starts of two new poems this week. I haven’t finished any poems I’ve started this year and only finished 10 from last year. I feel like I’m writing in slow motion. After writing everyday for so much of last year and writing so many poems, it’s harder to get back into the flow. Once I actually clear my desk of work and admin, it’s difficult to turn my head towards writing. The less attention I give it, the more I have to work at making time for it, to remember to take out my notebook rather than my phone, to not give into the tiredness on Friday night after work and go to my writing group where I usually have a bit of time beforehand to write. 

I’m back to where I was a year and a half ago when writing was work. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it didn’t come naturally, each line had to be pulled from me and shaped, rather than just me falling into a rhythm of writing.

Difference is, I know what is possible now. I couldn’t believe then that I could write a draft of a poem daily, that it could be easy. Now, I need to make the effort to slot it in on days when I’m not teaching. I should try to adapt to writing in the evening when the kids are in bed, but it’s never been a natural time for me to work. But I’ve proven that this old horse can learn new tricks, so it won’t hurt to try. 

Gerry Stewart, Dipping Back into Poetry

When your heart’s piano tuner becomes tone-deaf;

when your soul’s window washer forgets to clean your eyes;

when the walls of your thoughts are painted beige and left taken for granted;

when a bird in the hand feels more like a nail in the foot;

when every sentence you speak feels more like a life sentence in Sing Sing;

when your lips feel like the zombie apocalypse;

when you wear your face like a pair of unpressed pants;

when your socks feel like Nagasaki;

when your heart’s drummer becomes a total bummer—

for goodness sake, don’t forget to breathe.

Rich Ferguson, When at the Borders of the Absurd

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Weeks 4-5

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This time, I am playing catch-up, which of course meant twice as much reading as usual, but I can’t say it hasn’t been a pleasant way to spend a lazy Sunday while recovering (I hope) from a mild virus. Poetry bloggers have been in fine form over the past two weeks.

Incidentally, for those craving a poem-a-day exercise this month, it’s not too late to join NaHaiWriMo or Post-It Note Poetry — or both!


I discovered wordpools in Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy. “I collect…hats, coins, cougars, old Studebakers,” she writes. “That is, I collect the words. Pith helmet, fragment, Frigidaire, quarrel, love seat, lily. I call gathering words this way creating a wordpool. This process helps free us to follow the words and write poems.”

When I read this, I’d been writing poems a long time, but the idea of collecting words to spark creativity was new to me. That a poem might be lurking in some random words—surge, hit, new, kiss, overallfork, innocence, bumblebee, fingers—was exhilarating.

Around this time, the late 1990s, Magnetic Poetry kits appeared. I received many as gifts. They came in sheets, requiring the recipient to detach the words from each other. I’ve lost count of how many kits I processed this way, only to find the words I’d carefully separated uninspiring. Staring at a refrigerator covered with words that someone else selected did little for my creativity.

Erica Goss, Dive Into the Wordpool

public library
the little girl skips
to the door

Bill Waters, Public library

Funny how, once a character is on the page, the author loses control.

Sometimes I stumble on my own writing – an old poem, or a bit of a journal entry – and it is completely foreign to me.

I wrote a draft of a novel once.
And realized that I am a poet: fragmented.

Shattered.

Ren Powell, Being Seen and the Value of Journaling

Maggie Smith talked about embracing brokenness and error in poems.  She talked about the kintsugi method of ceramics, where cracks and even broken pieces are filled in with metallic lacquer.  She talked about ways to use this technique in poetry through the things we mistype, the spelling errors, the things we hear wrong, and all the other ways we should embrace our mistakes.  If we’re open to our imperfections, the poems may take us to surprising places that a rigid poet would never discover.

My favorite quote of hers:  “I don’t got to poetry for comfort, as a reader or a writer, but to be changed.”

Her craft lecture was paired with Adrian Matejka, who talked about persona poetry and issues of history, culture and appropriation.  I wasn’t familiar with his work, but he was a dynamic, engaging speaker, and I enjoyed the topic.  How interesting to be talking about these issues during a week when the nation has been talking about these issues in the latest Oprah book pick, American Dirt.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Craft Talks at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Days like these, it’s hard to tell up from down. Days like these, when the flow and deluge of the cosmos rubs up against our flesh, the universe hymning and howling the joys and sorrows for which we struggle to find words.

Days when our hearts strain against the unknown until the pain becomes a part of us.

Days like these, when all we can do is put our shoulder to the wheel. Lean into love.

Rich Ferguson, Days Like These

And, of course, there are always the ‘let’s-all-spread-across-the-sidewalk-and-take-up-as-much-room-as-we-can’ walkers. And dog walkers. And a woman who must have splashed through the ocean’s shallows, standing one-legged at her open trunk wiping sand from her feet. And a man wandering the boardwalk with a phone in his hand, who could be waiting for someone. Or even for himself.

And here’s me, trying to remember to keep right not left but forgetting when I run back to the beach, and spit some water onto the rocks, which way the wind is blowing.

sunrise
all of us
in this
together

Lynne Rees, Deerfield Mile

I forget how much I enjoy the camaraderie of other writers, especially foreign writers here in Finland. We’re a good mix of nations, last night there were British, American, Hungarian, Romanian and Jamaican writers attending. We usually have a Finn or two as well. We went out for a drink afterwards, to talk shop, politics and just generally blether. We may not agree on everything politically and I was grateful the conversation did not turn to Brexit, but I feel we can actually debate and break open subjects that touch on writing, teaching, literature and being immigrants.

Though the other writers and I are on different paths in our writing careers, there are few poets in the group, it’s nice to have a small community to share worries, successes and struggles. If someone asks, how do you decide when a piece is finished, there are lots of different points of view and stories shared, poems that get rehashed to death, stories that never get finished. They understand. I’m so glad I’ve managed to find this in a place where I can’t properly engage with the local literature because my language skills just aren’t up to it. Even if I can’t make it every week, I know it’s there when I have time. 

Gerry Stewart, A Bright Light on a Dark Brexit Day

I often like to think that the paid employment I do on week-days gets in the way of my true vocation. Yes, I know that sounds pretentious, but how I envy those who can set aside time when they are fresh and alert to do some writing. Like many others, I mostly make do with writing on evenings and weekends when all I really want to do is slouch; and doing so is knackering. Lately, though, I seem to have snatched some decent writing time on bus journeys, from Hampton Court or Kingston to Twickenham, which has been a boon. My wife’s mantra is, “It’s later than you think” – wise words made wiser recently by news of the deaths of three friends and acquaintances of my age. So I’ve been trying to make the most of my time with a mantra of my own: “Get running, get writing, get the fuck on with it.”

Matthew Paul, Writing time

I like to write, but boy, do I have trouble at times settling down.  I love to write, even, but the other pole – the love of motion – makes it rough to sit at that desk.  I’ve got to keep moving.  I’m not the kind of writer to dictate into an IPhone as I’m walking, or as I’m doing spins on the dancefloor; so I do need my desk.  Once I re-discover my desk as a long-lost love, I start to wander in my head.  

I’ve paired up with a compatible subject for a poetry sequence — home/homelessness. It troubles the idea of home and explores the commonality of homelessness. Is it something about me, my tribe? Wandering Jews are well-known entity, starting with God ordering Abraham and Sarah to leave their home and get moving into the unknown.  In the current cyclical readings of Torah, we are in Exodus, wandering in the desert. 

My tribe as human?  Metaphorically we might now feel that we are all wandering in the desert.  The first thing my IPhone showed me this morning was a suggestion on the Home Screen: “It’s true that nothing makes sense.” What the —? 

Jill Pearlman, The New Vertigo

THIS is the best thing about this week: a stunning cover for my forthcoming poetry book, featuring a painting called “Censer” by Ida Floreak and designed by Nikkita Colhoon. Nikkita’s work was one of the draws, for me, in working with Tinderbox Editions–all her covers stop you in your tracks. I feel really lucky. I owe thanks, too, to Clover Archer for bringing Ida’s art to Staniar Gallery on campus, and to Kevin Remington for getting a high-quality photograph of the work. I went to Ida’s talk just as I was puzzling over possible covers, so there was something magical about the convergence.

Like Ida’s other work, “Censer” has a meditative quality I love. She’s arranged a shrine out of natural objects, highlighting their grace–and the cracking egg suggests rebirth (when am I being reborn again? I’m ready!). Ida says she’s influenced both by botanical drawings and religious art, and this book is full of plants, creatures, and spirit-questions. I had wondered what colors Nikkita would choose for the words on the cover; the pink is both surprising and right. The poems reference pink constantly, from pussy hats to magnolia blossoms to rose-tinted medicines. And somehow the pink lettering makes the shadows more striking, which feels appropriate to this collection, too. Yes, I know I’m close-reading my own cover at length, but I’m excited, dammit.

Lesley Wheeler, She’s in a state, all right

I’ve parked the hedgerow
where the bees might be

can’t find the way into my book
I don’t know where it will take me
it’s quite fugitive

oak-gall ink
copper pomegranate and avocado
I’ve never wanted to do this

the Red Dress is coming next weekend
a kitten is arriving on March 1st
I can’t stop drawing trees

Ama Bolton, ABCD: January 2020

[Colleen Anderson:] What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

[Jeannine Hall Gailey:] I think that definitely the mood of our current age is one of apocalypse–there’s a reason there are so many disaster movies and superhero movies. We look to the mythological and the epic to try to make our own stories make more sense.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I have two book manuscripts in circulation to publishers and I have a speculative poem coming up in the latest issue of Ploughshares called “Irradiate” and an upcoming poem in Poetry called “Calamity.”

Is there anything else you would like to say about horror and speculative poetry and fiction?

I am really glad the horror and speculative communities exist and I’ve made friends within the SFPA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association) and the HWA (Horror Writers Association) that are really important to me. Often, we can be treated as “outsiders” in the literary world, but we aren’t really outsiders–I guarantee there are more poetry fans of speculative and horror work than people think.

Colleen Anderson, Women in Horror: Jeannine Hall Gailey

Alice Oswald, who is definitely “the great Alice Oswald” and is also now the first woman Oxford Professor of Poetry (though not the first to be elected – that was Ruth Padel), performed at Kings Place on 17 January with live music by Ansuman Biswas. Oswald does specifically “perform” rather than “recite” or “read” – even her more conventional appearances involve her almost chanting her poems off by heart, unforgettable performances unlike anyone else’s. I have written about seeing her a couple of times before, and this was one of the less conventional appearances. It started with a “sound calendar” or seascape by Chris Watson, and the actual performance was mostly in total darkness, although there was partial lighting for sections of it.

Oswald was performing Nobody, her most recent book, based on stories of water, humans and gods from Greek mythology. I’m only superficially knowledgeable about the Odyssey and related works, so I appreciated Nobody more from a sea-perspective, but the tales that washed in and out sometimes had an odd familiarity. Ansuman Biswas performed on the aquaphone, which reminded me of sea sounds washing into a cave, and also an enormous gong, which was overwhelming to the point of being almost distressing at certain points. The whole performance was mesmerising, thrilling and absolutely haunting.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Alice Oswald’s Nobody at Kings Place, and Anselm Kiefer at White Cube

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but reading Sharon Olds’s Arias has released something in me, and I’ve been writing a lot of new poems! Olds writes about anything–troubled family relationships, her mother who beat her, sex, death, childbirth, the intense love of one’s children, scattering ashes, how California got made tectonically, etc.–so she probably gives me “permission” to write about anything, too! Or sing (in the shower, arias) about anything!! And I have to say I like the coincidence of how the black-and-white book cover matches that of Hope in the Dark!

Kathleen Kirk, Arias

We’re taken  through a series of good and bad days, self-obsession and tortured thoughts. The world through this person’s eyes is full of squirming creatures, human and otherwise, destined for the slaughterhouse, the dustbin, ‘squelching late-night screenings’, or just dead, fossilised, taken, ‘yawning for air in their anxious hell.’ The narrator saves his harshest criticism for himself, who he sees behaving badly in some scenarios, and victimised in others.  Catching the reflection of his face as he tortures a fish out of boredom ‘I hate myself, / loathing whatever thing is watching me.’ (‘Siamese Fighting Fish’). A game of pool is going well, and then: ‘He’s back, that version of me, / the choker who doesn’t deserve it. So I choke again’.

I found myself compelled onward through the sequence and really enjoyed the form – each poem just two stanzas of four lines each – there’s a loose narrative arc driving it and the sheer exuberance and creativity is wonderfully gripping. Not so much a romp as a yomp – there’s no missing the real anguish here, but it’s worked through with such wit and originality. Sin Cycle succeeds in being luscious, gruesome, poignant and hilarious somehow all at once.

Robin Houghton, Sin Cycle, a new poetry sequence from Peter Kenny

In Almost Famous, the fourth chapbook by the consummate literary citizen, Trish Hopkinson, we find powerful and painful coming-of-age stories crafted as poems. The book starts with a vivid depiction of her own birth, written from her perspective, and it carries forward into the childhood and teen years, and every poem packs a potent gut-punch. While there were parts of my own life that diverged widely from the childhood Hopkinson describes, there was enough here that was familiar and shared.

For me, the strongest parts of the book were the first and last poems. The first, “Third Day, Third Month, 1972,” describes Hopkinson’s birth, which included the use of forceps:
 
                 A doctor,
or a man rather, pressed
a tool inside her, like the back

of a soup spoon reaching in
to a bowl of cold grits,
fished around for my tender

skull, and excised me for comfort.


The image here — forceps in a birth canal as a spoon in cold grits — casts the birth scene into an otherworldly sphere, I think mainly because the grits are cold. What kind of birth is this? It’s such a small touch, but a smart poetic decision because of its perfect not-quite-rightness.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: “Almost Famous”­­ by Trish Hopkinson

I was captivated by the intersection of motherhood, self, and humanity—including the monsters. Remember when I was connecting not living on earth with death in the first poem? Shortly past the halfway point, the book embarks on a long poem called “Starship.” When I say long, I mean fifty pages—a book within a book. Each page consists of two poems, or scenes, that lead the reader on a journey through relationships, time travel, and the stars. [Sarah] Blake’s style in this collection is narrative—a stance I admire because I think it’s hard to do without drifting into prose. And “Starship” is narrative at its epic best, its story line opening questions of desire, abandonment, choice. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say anything about the last line–but if you read the book, let me know and we’ll talk!

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Let’s Not Live on Earth

Though it is not stated (it doesn’t need to be), the farmer in his wrangle with the earth ultimately produces food.  The poet of course produces poetry, and as a poet himself, Williams suggests poetry is on the level of food.  For Williams, poetry is just as much a necessary product of his artistic labor as edible crops are of a farmer’s sowing.  In this sense, “The Farmer” can be seen to anticipate WCW’s own more famous lines in the much later “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” (1955): “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.”

Mike Begnal, William Carlos Williams’s “The Farmer”

Speaking of memory and observation, how much I wish that I had trained mine more. How I wish I had employed that excellent method of looking at an object, going into another room to draw it, returning to refresh my memory, and so on, until that drawing was completed without it and the object ever having met, as it were. What a training for an artist interested primarily in character, who sees for a minute a face which, if he cannot draw from memory, he will never draw at all!

I believe I am right in saying that, ages before such a thing as photography was even guessed at, this was the method by which Chinese artists were taught … So developed did their powers of observation and memory become by this training that by shutting their eyes, opening them for the fraction of a second, and shutting them again, they could keep in their minds the visual image of what they saw long enough to be able to transfer that visual image to paper. It was in this manner that they were enabled to draw insects and birds in flight, and it is an indubitable fact that, when the camera was invented and ‘instantaneous’ pictures were produced, it was proved by comparison that these artists’ memorisations were perfectly accurate.

Ann E. Michael, Observation, memory, & art

During my first semester of my MFA program, Karen Volkman, who was a visiting writer teaching a craft class I’ve forgotten the name of,  took us specifically to see the Cornell boxes at the Art Institute and I was hooked. I started writing about them, sneaking over to see them occasionally on my writing days (ie the days I had only classes and no library shifts).  It was a time when the museum allowed pay what you can, and since I usually was there in the afternoon, I felt confident paying a couple bucks and wandering through the museum’s wings, but mostly hanging out around the Cornell boxes. Years later, the Institute built a monolithic modern wing and shoved all the boxes in a big glass case all together and basically ruined everything, but at the time, they were strung through a series of small rooms, which allowed you to encounter each one singularly. To sit down in front of the tabled ones. I spent a lot of time there, working over the next few years on what would become at the hotel andromeda.

It was while working on those pieces that I filed away my encounter with Dali’s Invention of the Monsters, which was hung in a room I had to pass through to reach the Cornells and had a bench upon which I often sat to jot down notes.  While Cornell was icy blue and haunted, Dali was all wild and in flames, and just really weird in a way I appreciated.  It took me years to return to that painting as subject matter., and when I did, it turned into a sort of meditation on the ghostly little blue dog in the corner and Dali’s own wife, who occupies the painting with him.

Kristy Bowen, ekphrastic desires

Lately I’ve been exploring my emotional response to rocks.

Does that say something unfortunate about me? Shouldn’t I be exploring my relationship to my long-dead father, or my inner fears, or why I hate my neighbors, or my notions of gods and the spirit?

Or is it all the same thing? Am I on some spiritual trip, a connection with the ineffable, that thing we humans can’t seem to resist, finding something bigger than ourselves? And in my case at the moment, LITERALLY bigger than myself — this glacial erratic my forest trail has led me to.

This giant boulder takes up space, it has a relationship to time, albeit far different than mine. It is a natural history of which I am a moment, one hand on the cool side of the rock, a sinew in the grand continuity of matter and energy, as far as we know. We are briefly together, erratic and I.

Marilyn McCabe, Like a Southbound Train; or, Writing out of the Animated World

seeing the stream
i throw a stone
into the sky

Jim Young [no title]

These letters, kite-string
or umbilicus: do they
tether you? When I
stop writing will you
dissolve, a water droplet
rejoining the flowing stream?

Rachel Barenblat, Tether

I am learning to navigate the dreaded Disneyland of CostCo. First I park a billion miles away so I won’t get hit by a car or one of those huge fucking baskets careening wildly out of control. Once inside I keep to the left of the store so I won’t get lost in the labyrinth of cheese and meat and bread and cleaning products and screaming children and goats and booze and bales of hay and coffins. Then I get what I need which is usually cheese and butter and cleaning supplies and while I’m doing this I smile at everyone. Smiling at people in CostCo freaks them out. Bad. Seriously bad. They look at me like I’m going to steal their purses or rip their lungs out with my enormous teeth. When I get to the 15 mile long checkout line I lean my arms on my basket and continue to smile. Today my checker’s name was Falcon. I told him it was a beautiful name and asked if he knew the Robert Duncan poem My Mother Would Be A Falconress one of my most beloved poems of all time. The first time I read this poem I almost fell down. I worship this poem. I memorized it right after I read it which is an old fashioned thing I still do. The poem makes my head burn like a church on fire. The checker Falcon had not read or heard of the poem so I wrote Robert Duncanthen My Mother Would Be A Falconress on a slip of paper and told him to Google it when he got home. So I held up the line for almost an entire minute. Sometimes you have to do it.

Rebecca Loudon, Outing

I called to God in the night.
I knelt, I rose, I answered, I sang.
Beneath my shirt I hid my vow.
No one can say I didn’t try to keep it.

Jason Crane, POEM: Imbolc

In this cone of silence just
before the dawn, the shadow
world is palpable: gods

and monsters glide and crawl
by my garden gate. Half-dreams,
uncertain memories, dust devils rolling.

Here and now, I sense, is the pagan
junction where all things meet:
skeletons into flesh, ghosts

into plasma, rumours, fears, the whole
arcana hard wired into the dark.

Dick Jones, Insomnia.

I was sleeping in the recliner chair like my Uncle Richard used to do. I slept heavily and dreamed of words that were made from solid objects of various shapes and sizes, and of many different materials. Words built from metal, wood, concrete, plastic, and so on. I was using tools to assemble these words into poems; a hammer and nails, a handsaw, a drill, nuts and bolts, a sander, and wrenches. The poems I built were as large as a man and crazy looking, but they read beautifully. The poems I built were better than any I ever wrote, but that isn’t saying much.

James Lee Jobe, I was sleeping in the recliner chair like my Uncle Richard

Anyway, yay, I survived, and even though I was a weirdo dental patient  – a little out of the ordinary, the endodontist had to use a special filling, my root was shaped unusually, and all that no Novocain thing – everything was just fine. The funny thing was, they tell you not to sign any contracts or shop while you’re on the sedation drug, called Versed – but I submitted three book manuscripts that night, which I don’t remember, and bought two lipsticks and a shampoo – I guess it could have been worse! And a couple of days later, mostly sleeping I stumbled out into the rain…and found deer in the yard! They had munched on a bit of our camellias, but I guess that’s all right. And I’ve been trying to take advantage of all the sunbreaks and rainbows I can.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Sunbreaks in the Rain, Surviving My First Root Canal, Finding Flowers in Our Darkest Winter Month

Who never tires of me?
This hermitage, my desk.

Tom Montag, Who Never

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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. This week brings an extra long and meaty digest—with posts about making it big, careerism, “the internet with its weird prying snake eyes” (R. Loudon) and much, much more—because in all likelihood the digest will be MIA next week while I’m off doing this.


The new year has certainly begun with bangs and whimpers.

During the strangely mild weather, as snow geese and buzzards return but before the juncos leave us, I have been watching the flocking behavior of starlings.

For lack of anything more relevant to write at this time, I’m posting here my poem “Liturgy,” circa 2002 or 2003, from Small Things Rise and Go. […]

We will not know peace.
Here, the caterpillar
Tires chew fields into slog;
Here a child’s toy erupts
Into a village of amputees.
Sands shift under an abstraction,
The sea grows warm.

Ann E. Michael, Peace & starlings

Time grows, after New Years, like a cauliflower–
half handsome, half deformed, blooming
at its own isotropic rate. On the 3rd we skate
towards war; a plane of travelers crashes
in Iran; Down Under, animals, mostly sheep, burn.

Did the bubbly not last long? At midnight
we’d stomped and danced, undid ourselves
like Mandelstam shaking caraway seeds from a sack.

Jill Pearlman, A Poem for 19 Days into the New Year

The poems capture truths, experiences and feelings for which ordinary prose/description/definition would fail. See what [Mary] Biddinger does here [in Partial Genius] to depict something like the doldrums or stagnation: “I frequented a desolate pie shop. The drinks were lukewarm and all songs on the jukebox were about dying. I did not do this because I thought it would make me authentic. I was lukewarm about everything, often felt war was imminent. I lived in a neighborhood full of homeowners terrified of being first to roll the trash cans down to the curb.”

Carolee Bennett, “regardless of previous circus employment”

For all that I can sometimes add to a well-turned sentence a word too far, only to have it collapse in on itself like some poorly constructed architectural folly, I have problems with language on the fly.  Listening to cornered politicians turning on the tap and shamelessly letting it flow unchecked has me barracking from the sofa.  Hysterical Oscar winners in verbal free fall, pretentious artists endeavouring to translate piles of house bricks into meaningful messages, pop stars who read a book once and now imagine themselves to be sages – all who sling words around like frisbees – have me grinding my teeth down to stumps.  This is not language in search of light; it’s language whose sole context is sound.

Dick Jones, LINGUA FRANCA.

In a book about therapy I read about the technique of replacing “but” by the non-judgemental “and” – e.g. using “he’s cute and he’s a scientist” rather than “he’s cute but he’s a scientist”. This challenges the underlying thought-pattern – the root of my stylistic problem. The underlying thesis-antithesis rhythm’s ok for representing disappointment and dashed hopes (which is why [Margaret] Drabble uses it, I guess). It needn’t be used at the sentence level so often though, even if the piece as a whole is structured along thesis, antithesis, (then maybe synthesis) lines.

Using “and” instead of “but” reduces structural detail and contrast, but opposition is the most simplistic of structures. Using “and” to make lists lets the reader decide what the contrasts are.

Tim Love, But

Most of my personal journal writing, as well as many of my blog posts, tends to be self-reflective and self-referential, often musing on the nature and challenges of writing. It’s writing about writing, or, often, about being unable to write. Why do we write? Why do many of us feel like we need to write? What do we write about? Does it matter?

After more than two decades of blogging, I still believe I should blog more. I realise it’s perfectionism what often stops me from writing publicly more. I also know that becoming a full time academic also meant being in the crossfire between my ideals for the future of scholarly communications and the conventional expectations around academic “productivity”. When time is poor, it may seem as a waste of time and effort to spend time writing in a format that will not “count” nor satisfy others’ expectations.

However as I find some rare reflective time this Saturday I would like to say I still find it essential to be able to have different channels for expression, sandpits where ideas can be rehearsed and, why not, anxieties exorcised.

Ernesto Priego, Scraps- Quick Drafts

In his book, Fearless Creating, Eric Maisel talks about completing work for the purpose of showing: ‘It may mean rewriting the first chapter three times so that it is really strong’.  He says that work is not ready to be shown if you cannot speak about it clearly, and he also suggests that there is a period of transition between the ‘working stage’ and the ‘showing stage’. It makes me wonder if I’m stuck in the period of transition. I’m avoiding the redraft, perhaps because I’m scared the novel won’t be any good when I return to it. I tell myself that doesn’t matter. What’s important is to complete it, to complete a manuscript that is ready to be shown.

Julie Mellor, Making time …

Back in the summer I decided to read Dante’s Divine Comedy, in a Penguin parallel edition with the original Italian and Robert Kirkpatrick’s translation. Many decades ago I was an eighteen-year-old ingenue in Rome, arriving by train and taking up an au pair job while speaking no Italian. My host family were kind enough to enrol me in the Dante Alighieri School to learn the language. This was my first encounter with Dante, and I’m ashamed to say it took me all this time to decide to actually read his most famous work. It would have happened sooner if I hadn’t changed course at University and ditched Italian literature. So – I galloped through Hell (Inferno), then spent around two months in Purgatory. There was so much to process. When I reached the end, I felt I needed to re-read the introduction. But now I’ve just started Paradiso – although I’m still only on the introduction, which is itself daunting. Interestingly, Nick is conducting a performance of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in Brighton in March, which is basically a story about a soul’s journey after death through Purgatory and beyond. So we’re been comparing notes over dinner: is there actually a Lake in Purgatory, or two rivers (as Dante describes)? Is it possible to be regaled by Demons trying to lure you to Hell once you’re in Purgatory (Gerontius) or are you impervious to that? (Dante) I have to remind myself now and then that this is all pretty much theoretical.

Robin Houghton, A chilled start to the year

Anyway, there was a Titian, a Raphael, and several El Greco paintings, but that painting is one I had been obsessed with since I saw a slide of it in in Art Appreciation Class when I was 19 – a painting of Judith Beheading Holfernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. The painting itself is striking, the portrayal of the female body in struggle amazing,  but the story behind it even more so – Artemesia was seventeen and an apprentice to another painter who violently raped her. Her father, also a renowned artist, took the rapist artist to court, but it was a strung out procedure and Artemesia did not find justice. She did, however, find the inspiration to paint her new subject – female saints and Biblical figures, usually unfairly attacked or in the middle of attack.  My art history teacher said that Judith is modeled on Artemesia and Holfernes on her rapist. The dark and light, the shadow, the blood, and the odd muscularity of the action would all make this a fascinating piece even without the history. They recently discovered a self-portrait of the artist and she did, indeed, resemble this Judith very much. I just ordered a book about her history because it deserves more study, don’t you think?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Being Snowed In, Art Date at the SAM, and a Little Poetry Catchup

The tomb of the monastery’s founder, Luke (not the evangelist), was originally in the crypt, but his bones now lie in the tiny glass-topped coffin shown above, in a passage between the two churches on the site. Luke, known as a great healer, levitator, and worker of miracles, died in February 953, and for centuries afterward, pilgrims came to be healed by “incubation,” which meant that they slept in the main church building (katholikon) or in the crypt near his tomb, breathing the scent of the myrrh, being exposed to the oil from the lamp above, and experiencing dreams in which the saint would appear and tell them what they needed to do to be healed. I found this practice particularly fascinating, because earlier in the trip we had also been to the 5th century BC Shrine of Asclepias at Epidaurus, where pilgrims did pretty much the same thing — sleeping in the katholikon, among holy snakes that slithered on the floor, and experiencing dreams whose healing instructions were interpreted by pagan priests.

Beth Adams, A Byzantine angel, and where she came from

Countless poets imagine on a daily or nightly basis (or both!) just what it would be like to make it big in poetry. They’re convinced that they only need one major win or acceptance for their path to be cleared to stardom, for their arrival at some hidden inner sanctum to be declared. […]

[Christopher] James has gone through the process of winning and has come out the other side. He tells his story beautifully, with self-awareness in spades and zero narcissism. Making it big in poetry is a fantasy that blurs our focus on the most important things: the reading and writing process itself, followed by a search for readers. Even if we just find one, we’ve discovered real success.

Matthew Stewart, Making it big in poetry

I like the idea of traditional publishing in that it gives an editorial eye. I appreciate that extra once-over and perhaps a bit more publicity support and wider reach than doing it on your own. Also the camaraderie of fellow press-sibling authors and that feeling of belonging.  Editors work really hard, and obv. as an editor, I appreciate that.  But you could also have a friend edit your book.  You could pay a publicist yourself. (Literary presses in general are strapped–no one is doing this for fame or money.) There were a few models that were collective initially that I really liked the idea of–people chipping in to publish others’ books along with their own. So many ways of getting that work out there.  Which is why it makes me sad when I see writers who have really good books sinking money into contests they lose year after year that seem so much like lotteries.  Or worse, that they will never find their audience and give up.

You might look at instagram poets.  While I don’t necessarily like the work I see there sometimes, I also don’t like what I usually see in the The New Yorker, so there’s that.  Neither one more valid than the other, but I would argue that one is far more successful in its reach than the other.   I would take instagram fame in a heartbeat over a magazine geared toward the Lexus crowd. Someone like Rupi Kaur’s reach is enviable, if not for the work itself, but its audience scope. The academic may scoff and dismiss, but hopefully there is something we can learn there.

I do like books and presses and journals, but only moreso because they get things out there a little farther and engage me more with community.  I love my little zines & objects series, but I have only a handful of regular subscribers. yearly. I sell more online separately throughout the year and give many away and trade them at readings . I post a good amount of work on social media and submit/publish in journals, to generate interest.   But I also like putting pdf versions online to get more eyes on them eventually.  I feel like the most read thing I ever wrote my James Franco e-chap @ Sundress.   That and probably my poets zodiac poems–all of them published on instagram.  Poetry publishing feels like an experiment to find that sweet spot sometimes..and I’m not at all convinced it’s landing in the “right” journal or with the right press, but more catching an audiences eye at the perfect moment in the absolute perfect way.

Kristy Bowen, poetry and careerism revisited

this morning the wind is crawling up again so far it’s at an easy going 20 mph I’m still in bed with two cats rereading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential because I wanted to have his voice in my head I have not forgotten what a great writer he was before his television shows and that’s how I knew him first

“I’ve asked a lot what the best thing about cooking for a living is. And it’s this: to be a part of a subculture. To be part of a historical continuum, a secret society with its own language and customs. To enjoy the instant gratification of making something good with one’s hands—using all one’s senses.”

This is very much how I feel about being a musician that I am in a secret society a strange little aquarium of skilled obsessives closed to the outside world that the sound of rehearsals the guts of the music library their stacks ceiling high and valuable the after hour parties the competition and the ache that hours of practice brings the sharp emotional pain of having a student you’ve taught for eleven years go away to school the smell of rosin in a cold church on a Saturday morning are things that the world at large cannot gain admittance to not even the internet with its weird prying snake eyes can take it away I don’t feel that way about being a poet I never have perhaps because you can fake being a poet but you cannot fake playing a Mozart violin concerto but to be honest it’s probably because I’ve never felt like I belonged to poetryworld where having an MFA attached to your name or at least a college education is what allows you access to the top tier journals and conferences no matter the quality of your work no matter that I have published five books no matter that one of those books was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize I will never feel part of  but plop me down in any size group of musicians then I feel it always and immediately ahhhhh yes this is it this is home and I am so grateful for that strange eccentric family

Rebecca Loudon, Saturnday

Nevada sunrise
a hot-air balloon floats
above the brothel

Dylan Tweney [untitled]

As I drove, I was intrigued to watch my thoughts.  You would think I’d be having contemplative thoughts as I drove to the first of my onground intensives for my certificate program in spiritual direction.  Perhaps you imagine hour after hour of prayer.

Alas, no.  For much of the trip, I found my thoughts circling back to work.  I thought about creating some sort of poem that linked runaway slaves to how hard it is to get away from modern work, but I’m not sure I can pull that off.  I always have the history of the nation on my mind as I drive through the U.S. South, especially during foggy mornings like yesterday.

I listened to the radio for much of the trip.  When John Cougar Mellancamp’s “Jack and Diane” came on, I thought of Sandy Longhorn’s recent pair of poems that imagines both Diane and Beth (of the KISS song) grown up.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Journeys

Late at night I’d sometimes catch
the Jackson frequency, hear
“Born to Run”, feel a bright
cold jetstream run through my veins,
leather under my hands.
It was always about the leaving,
movement, knowing there was something
else out there –
something besides pine trees
and kudzu, besides cruising
Main Street and parking at The Lake.

I never thought of evolution as
a by-product of time passing – or
that the 70’s would become
the 80’s, 90’s, then 2000’s,
that my teenage yearnings
would turn into been there,
done that.
I never thought one day I’d
be homesick for those damn pine trees
and my recycled hometown.

Charlotte Hamrick, Seventies

I remember a coveted ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins in the shape of a train. And a fun fifth grade birthday party with a homemade yellow sheet cake from mom that my friends and I got to decorate ourselves, thanks to food coloring and different frostings.

I like how a celebratory cake shows up in poet Natalia Diaz’ poem No More Cake Here. The narrative turn she takes at the end is especially compelling. She is remembering a cake from a celebration (we can call it that) that possibly never happened.

Diaz holds the memory of her brother in two hands, with both a firm and a loose grasp. There lies love and anger side-by-side, at once asleep and blowing up balloons. Our families will celebrate and mourn, many times together. We hold each other loosely when we have to.

Lorena Parker Matejowsky, lovely lemon birthday cake

I have a hard time sitting in front of a puzzle without trying to solve it. Don’t we all mindlessly reach down to fit the shapes together? At the doctor’s office, I’ve seen 60 year-old men slide the wooden pieces of a children’s puzzle into place.

If I can solve the puzzle, I can pin down a truth. I can have expectations. I can expect other people to behave accordingly. Puzzle-solving as an act of prayer.

There’s nothing new here. I know that.

In school we line up after recess. We sit in assigned seats. We face each other in a pleasing circle, and sometimes we hold hands. We make adjustments. Palms facing forward or backward out of habit, are silently negotiated. We are laser-cut pieces that can flip and turn: even in our rigidness we can fit so neatly into one another’s hands.

But sometimes there is a painful beauty in risking it all, trusting ourselves to improvise: upright and unbalanced, throwing our arms around one another in praise of Chaos.

Ren Powell, Performative Existentialism

The owl
knows
the night.

Wisdom
is a
soft-

feathered
flight
through

darkness
to that
quietest

of moments,
a mouse.

Tom Montag, The Owl

Unrelenting. That’s a good word to describe Karen Neuberg’s chapbook the elephants are asking, a collection that sounds a clear alarm about the environmental catastrophe that some refer to as “looming,” but that is clearly happening all around us.

The title poem lays the responsibility for addressing the issue squarely at the feet of the reader. It states,

the elephants are asking—
and the bees and the bats, the prairie dogs, the lemurs, the dolphins—one in six species—asking!
And the coral reefs, the rivers & oceans, the islands & shorelines—asking!


The poem goes through a longer list before nothing that the baby, with wiggling toes and plump arms, is asking. “Even God is asking,” Neuberg writes. With urgent work to be done, these animals and babies are asking us what we plan to do about the situation, and maybe why it exists.

The poem I liked most in the collection is called “Information,” and it starts with an epigraph by Gertrude Stein: “Everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” It’s a powerful indictment, I can say after noting that I have been on phone or internet this entire day as I write this. It’s no wonder the environment has gone to hell; its caretakers are asleep at the wheel.

Karen Craigo, Poem366: “the elephants are asking” by Karen Neuberg

When I think of a chapbook, I think of a slim volume. But the poems in Katrina Roberts’s collection Lace are large—generous and wide-ranging. When I think of lace, I think mostly of the spaces, the air inside the shapes. But here, Roberts gives stitching a weight of strength and consequence, threads tightly woven, a density of images like swathes of lace, heavy bolts of it. These poems evoke the threads that hold us together, tether us to each other, tie us to the land. They speak to how life comes together and unravels, the knots that we embroider, the knots we pick apart like scabs.

In the poem “Threads,” she describes the yearning to both be free of wounds and to sustain them: “Index finger nattering a scab’s edge, lifting it to leave the hole gluey like meat,” and later in the same stanza, “As soon as it’s crusted, / it needs to be picked. Scars with scars under ooze.”

In “Ode to Absence,” Roberts evokes another kind of lace in “crackers, nets of meal, oats, and corn / moths have knit to lace, inedible.” There’s a tension between the decay, the waste, and the creation of those webs. Like the ephemeral shrouds of cobwebs, their constant haunting.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: Lace

I’ve also received the new Hedgehog Poetry Press Cult bundle, a big pile of pamphlets that come with my subscription. I was especially looking forward to Raine Geoghegan’s new collection they lit fires: lenti hatch o yog, monologues, songs and haibun about her family’s Romany life. I had read her previous collection Apple Water: Povel Panni and was really taken by the mixture of poetry, culture and language woven into her writingIt was actually some of Raine’s poems on Chris Murray’s Poethead website that led me to Hedgehog. I was so taken by her writing and thought the house that published her would be worth looking into and it definitely was.

The new collection doesn’t disappoint. I love the colours, the sound of the Romany words her writing evokes. Each piece makes me feel as if I was by those fires listening to those stories, travelling down the roads with a warm, tight-knit family. Raine Geoghegan’s writing offers a different and welcome insight to the Romany culture than most popular media offers these days. 

Gerry Stewart, Too Tired to Think of a Title

You say tomato and I say there are far too many wine-stained pages in the book of this questionable existence. Still, one shouldn’t consider that tome a tomb. The book of life is still legible and well worth reading. 

Rich Ferguson, You Say Potato and I Say

i went for a swim
in a storm with no name
the waves were huge
there was no one to blame
no one in the sea but me
no one there but me and the sea

Jim Young, Storm swim

But what all this has brought out is this – when the news of the demise of someone culturally significant drops, why is there suddenly this frantic race to be the first to offer some sort of encomium? Alasdair Gray’s death generated a supra-tsunami of tweets and obituaries and tributes. You go on YouTube and like a rash, every video featuring the deceased is peppered with ‘RIP’ bromides. I remember as a child my father getting almost giddily excited when someone majorly famous died and being the first to announce it to us. I’m as guilty as anyone else – I mean, I wrote memorial blogs of a sort after the deaths of Marcus and Tom Leonard. But in most instances I managed to say to the face of the person / poet what their work meant to me (as if it ever mattered what I thought) while they still walked the earth.

Richie McCaffery, The RIP Race

They said that the wind would come today, son. It didn’t, but that’s alright. I have my grief and your ghost to keep me company. Who needs the wind?

James Lee Jobe, They said that the wind would come today, son.

Almost eleven months now I’ve been
writing to you, each line a monument

to memory. These poems,
the pebbles I leave on your stone.

Rachel Barenblat, Pebbles

Each street grows its people.
They ripen and wait to be picked up.

I fear that future in which I live
less than I die. Beyond the window

pregnant buildings
hide what they carry in their wombs.

Romana Iorga, On the Bus

Speaking of the weather, bitter winter has arrived! So has the first poem of the new year, which has a little snow in it. And a boombox. And Cole Porter. And that reminds me that I want to hear Harry Connick, Jr. sing the songs of Cole Porter on his new album, True Love. And to read Sontag, by Benjamin Moser, a new biography that awaits me at the library. So much to read, such a nice soft corner of the couch to read it in!

Kathleen Kirk, Right After the Weather