Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week found poets musing about downtime and leisure time, outsiders and Ozymandias, collaborating with photographers, the life history of hermit crab, and more. Enjoy.


My friend, John Rae, husband of my godmother Anne, has died. John collaborated with me on the book of this blog, sending me line drawings through the post during 2020 when we were in lockdown. The drawings were, and are, a source of joy. […]

I thought of other friendships that have come to an end, whether through death or separation. I felt sad. Nearly 50 years after first setting off for Norwich (see, I Arrive In Norwich) I finally went into the cathedral, experienced evensong. The music, the company of other Lizes, the stained glass – all these became a still point in my turning world. 

John was a skillful artist, architect and teacher. A humane man – much loved. After our book was published, I received notes through the post from many people asking to buy a copy. The majority of these were friends of John and Anne’s. All spoke of long friendships, with affection and admiration. 

With death comes ending, as well as a continuation of thought and feelings. My thoughts and feelings have, this past few months, been circling around ideas for next poems. I’ve written little down, but I must get onto this in order to grow a little more. I also need to work out how to put up a curtain pole so that the curtains I bought in Norwich hang straight. 

So without either a bang or a whimper, I end this blog here. 

I Am Read.

I Thank You.

Fin

Liz Lefroy, I Sense An Ending

fragrance in a time of sadness 
petrichor says the emerging sun as
all steams right with the world again
the scent of a rambling rose

Jim Young, a vignette

One thing I’ve been thinking about quite a bit the past few months working on my own is the concept of leisure. What is it? Is it important? What legally constitutes leisure activities and what does not? Do hobbies count? Maybe, but what if your hobbies are in some way like a job? It’s especially wrought and all wound up if you are an artist, since so much of your way of being in the world is a kind of work..you are never NOT being an artist, even if it’s just thinking like one?

Kristy Bowen, all work and maybe more work

Jan always makes each issue [of Finished Creatures] look and feel glorious. Getting a copy in the post is always a joy. The envelopes they come in are lovely things with a string tie on the back. The addresses are handwritten, and if you’re getting a contributor’s copy then your page is bookmarked for you.

I’ve already mentioned that there was some back and forth on my poem that went in the mag. Jan was very helpful and very understanding, and while I’m happy with the version we ended up with, the poem is one that I’ve worked on and tweaked since it was accepted.

So it was a bit strange to be reading the published version on Wednesday evening as part of the online launch. It’s obviously a bit weird to be reading in a “room” full of the kinds of poets in this mag. I mean look at this lot…sadly not every one could make it.

I was disappointed not to hear Arji Manuelpillai read any of his poems as one of his is after mine in the mag, but I did get to hear Alex Josephy read hers, and that’s the one that precedes mine. I also got to hear Rebecca Gethin, Amlan Goswami, Hilary Hares, Joanna Inham, Simon Madrell, Caleb Parkin, Sarah Salway,Penelope Shuttle, Paul Stephenson and Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese read. I was in a break out group with Anthony Mair and Julian Bishop, but sadly we didn’t get to hear their poems —FYI both are excellent.

A couple of the poets that couldn’t make it also had their work read out, one of which was me reading James McDermott‘s excellent ‘Wild Flowers’. I prefaced it by suggesting using the names of flowers in poems is cheating as it’s guaranteed to sound great, but I love this poem. There’s a lot going on in there around belonging and survival.

Mat Riches, **Slaps Forehead**Remembers about Finished Creatures #6

Today, I enter the pebbled shallows of a man-made lake.
My footsteps tear through the reflection of pine trees,
Warp their curve upwards with hill’s rise, their sun-bright
Branches greening the water’s mirrored darkness.

Christine Swint, Memoir as a Body of Water

I read a book of poems, book of short stories, and finally finished a novel that had sat on my coffee table with a bookmark halfway through it for maybe…a year? It was finally the right time to finish it. But my favorite reading lately has been The Book of Eels, nonfiction about…yes, eels. Fascinating creatures, about which we finally know a few things, but which remain mysterious. They are all born in the Sargasso Sea and then swim/drift elsewhere.

I have also been writing–a variety of things, including a script I got to see performed last night at the History Makers Gala, honoring 4 wonderful people in our community! My poetry feels on standby, but I do remember writing some, sending some out, and storing some in the weird, dusty drawers of my mind. Sometimes, when I am waiting for something to come out, everything feels on hold for a while. I just checked the mail. It isn’t here yet, but it’s still very, very hot out there. The poor mail carrier!

Kathleen Kirk, Down Time

This syllable
means death in Hebrew
but let’s prolong
hope’s steady drip.

A tor rises
from the hillside:
aspiring only
to keep existing.

Listen to the trill
of cricket opera
as my little boat
glides on.

Rachel Barenblat, Lake

Out there boats patrol the coast on the lookout for misunderstandings.

Out there the remains of failure are found, or so it is announced.

Out there an armoured military truck smashes into a car. The invaders cover everything like fog.

In here what can I tell you? This is the factory of the mind, of the poem, of the portrait.

In here I thought I could leave but the battle for the bridge over the ocean was too intense.

In here are hundreds, thousands, millions of languages.

Out there someone is saying No really, I insist.

Bob Mee, OUT THERE, IN HERE

Finding your own community when you are an outsider is hard and made harder by not being close to the usual networks of support in the extended family, neighbours you grew up with, being able to rely on a childhood friend during a mid-life crisis. Moving on and reinventing yourself often means cutting off your roots and learning to sustain the plant you’ve become in shallower soil while others regard you as a weed, something grown outside the formal lines of the original flower bed, leaving you unsure as to whether you’re going to be left alone or cut down to size. Both the individual poem and collection explore that theme of how to maintain or keep in touch with the culture you belong to while settling. It questions how far compromises can go and whether those compromises are worth it. From the specific lens of Portuguese-Americans, it asks universal questions about the status of those regarded as outsiders.

Emma Lee, “Through a Grainy Landscape” Millicent Borges Accardi (New Meridian Arts) – book review

Percy Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ is not exactly a neglected poem. It was an option in my GCSE anthology fifteen years ago. For all I know, it still is. It’s tempting to approach the poem as a kind of relic, like those ‘two vast and trunkless legs of stone’ standing in the desert, a monument that won’t really speak to us.

But Ozymandias does, literally, speak. Reading the poem again after several years away from it (and, more recently, several months of looking around ancient ruins) the first thing that struck me was the number of different voices involved. The poem is a kind of Russian doll, reported speech enclosed within reported speech enclosed within reported speech: Ozymandias on the plinth, the traveller and the narrator.

It all happens very quickly. And not just the grand sweep of history: two words into the second line, someone new is already speaking. Do you pause at ‘said’, or carry straight on? It makes the poem surprisingly difficult to read: you can’t recite it ponderously like some people imagine this kind of poem needs reciting. The play of tone and phrase within the sheer square block of the poem and its metre give ‘Ozymandias’ a kind of glassy, artificial quality, like the sort of stone you might make a statue out of.

Jeremy Wikeley, ‘Ozymandias’ (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

How do you get from
nowhere to nothing?
You follow directions,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (71)

a brief morning rain
dances on the van
I follow my breath

Jason Crane, haiku: 16 June 2022

Last night was our experimentation with silence so we left the worship service in silence, except for the thunder that had been rumbling for hours. As I stared at the icon on my computer, I noticed that my west facing window was full of a strange light. I knew I could look at images of icons at any hour, but I wouldn’t ever again have this exact sunset with the light diffused by the gray clouds. I watched the sky for half an hour, but just something I do not do very often.

I didn’t even try to capture the light with my camera. I decided to use our experiment with silence as a prompt to be fully present to the light of the sunset, to the darkening sky, and to the presence of God.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Praying with Icons

Turning in the final copy of the book, as many writers will tell you, is stressful and involves a certain amount of “letting go”—you know, you can hold on to the book making tiny or large changes forever, and often making the book worse because of anxiety. A little like my garden—you can desperately edit, weed, fertilize, and at some point you will just make the garden worse with all your worrying. You have to appreciate the parts that are working, that are flourishing, like peonies, as much as you regret letting go of your four-year old rosemary. A good thing about turning in your book is that you can start working on your next book—I already have two manuscripts in progress going, still shaping them and writing new poems for them. I am hoping for the launch of Flare, Corona to be post-apocalypse—I mean, post-pandemic—and for next time this year to be peaceful, healthy, happy, with normal-ish weather and getting together with friends and family. I’m hoping.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Gardening in the Rain and a Plethora of Birds, Turning in the Final Copy of Flare Corona to BOA, and Favorite Father Poems

The thing about Offcumdens is that a) it has the courage to work in the same territory as [Ted] Hughes and [Fay] Godwin and b) it rather wonderfully provides the reader with an appendix of detailed commentaries, in which Bob and Emma write about their involvement in particular poems. There’s one telling moment when Bob, writing about the poem Walking away, says

“Emma is called upon to be very patient while we’re out walking together. I see something in the landscape that I think will make for a good photograph, and go running off to find the right spot……I often see shapes and textures in the patterns of the clouds, imagining how they are going to look in black and white…”

Emma’s comment is that 

“It can get very cold waiting for Bob to take photos…this was in March with frost on the ground and a bitter wind”

I really like the sense of the to-and-fro of the collaboration in which sometimes the image will generate the poems, and at other times the photographer will work to respond to or illustrate the poem.

As Philip Gross writes in his endorsement on the back cover: “Each double page is a conversation” That’s it, exactly!

John Foggin, My kind of poetry: Emma Storr’s and Bob Hamilton’s “Offcumdens”

How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to collaboration)? What do you see as the appeal?

I was living with a photographer for whom English is a second language and Korean the first. But it was even more complicated than that, he’s a photographer! There’s a line by the poet Rob Schlegel – “language is not my first language.” We had to find a way to communicate if we were going to stay together. You can fall in love with a lot of people but if you want to spend your life with someone you have to develop a language together. What was a necessity in my life became the necessary conditions of my work.

Collaboration is not a picnic. As I say this I remember that Young and I made a movie about a man and a woman having a picnic with a donkey – with an actual donkey. The donkey messed up every shot we planned, though we also planned the donkey’s messing up into the shooting script. When I say “collaboration is not a picnic” I mean it’s not a unity, it’s not a perfect marriage, and if it’s going to be interesting it can’t stay play or process forever. Collaboration surfaces misunderstandings and ruptures, it reminds one always of the distances one cannot travel. It can’t hide a power struggle even if it converts that into the making of something.

The appeal is that it’s real. Forrest Gander’s book Twice Aliveuses the word “combinatory” to describe this intuition, that one’s perceived aloneness is at least in part an illusion. I am not sure whether we are truly alone or truly collaborative beings. I do not know the nature of the great web of things, the way we might be connected to animals and plants and the earth, but I know I am involved with the question, sleeping or waking, paying attention to it or not.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Katie Peterson

the words go back to change what the words once were
my DNA the same as another giant tortoise found in 1906

wild and precious life intertwined
I will be a fantastic giant tortoise in my next life, too

Gary Barwin, fantastic giant tortoise

We cannot bring about a more regenerative and compassionate future using the same language that got us here– the kind churned out by advertisers, pundits, and politicians. Poetry calls us to make big world-restoring decisions by listening to voices wilder and wiser than our own. What does sea ice say? How about honeybees, gray whales, storm clouds, bonobos, leatherback turtles? What do our ancestors, leading all the way back to the First Mother, have to tell us? What do the smallest children want us to know? The oldest people? Poetry doesn’t offer answers, it simply helps to tune our capacity to see, hear, and be. That’s a start.

Laura Grace Weldon, Finding Solace In Poetry

In between booster shots, orthopedists, and ordinary life tasks, I’m seeking a daily and weekly balance between literary chores and literary delights. I continue to query bookstores, podcasts, and the like, hoping to get more “eyeballs on books”–what a smart former student, now in marketing, says is the most important task for authors. That emailing and calling isn’t much fun, though, except in the rare moments when you make a real connection. I’m making sure I spend part of each weekday, too, focusing on poems themselves. I’m deep in revisions of the next poetry ms, trying to transform each poem, as well as the whole, as into powerful things.

I discovered in the process that I’ve only drafted 4 poems in 2022 so far. Normally there would be at least a dozen. On the bright side: I typically toss out at least half of my drafts, but these 4 all seem to be keepers. It’s an interesting shift; I wonder if it will be a trend in my writing life.

Lesley Wheeler, Eyeballs on books & minds between covers

Last fall, I was asked to deliver a keynote to open the 2021 Fraser Valley Literary Festival. I spoke about my mother’s dementia, and moments of social dislocation (Pandemic, anyone?) and how poetry can see us through. I was really pleased with the talk and hoped it might find a way to live on in print. It was a blessing, then, when a few months later the League of Canadian Poets asked if I could write them an essay for their Poetry Month series “On Intimacy.” The essay that resulted expanded on my lecture, and you can read it here: “Why? And Why Now?: On Poetry and Companionship.”

Rob Taylor, Four Essays

I remember the days of abalone ceilings, the yolk
of my belly nestled in porcelain ribs, nights
when we met the Pylochelidae in secret,
to whirl across the sodden dune,
showing off our spiral cloches.
We danced to forget that our shelters
would again abandon us.

Kristen McHenry, Poem of the Month: Hermit Crab’s Lament

What I didn’t know then
and what I know now
can be summed up by the same

question: aren’t we all
born of some catastrophe
authored by other bodies?

What did we have
to lose but our early
sense of self.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Palimpsest (8)

once again, i find myself awake in this bed—

this ambien labyrinth, this insomnia museum 3:13 a.m. bus stop to sudden wide-awakeness, all-night waffle house of tossing and turning, this zoo of doom, crusher of circadian rhythms, hippie commune of sleep apnea, truck-stop along the highway to hell, war zone of snores, tram ride to slam time, snotwad of snoozelessness, scheme of rusted bedsprings, 9-1-1 crank caller, off switch to sleep onset, enigma of pin cushions, bloated corpse of corporal punishment, this boxspring lobotomy, dante’s inferno with a pillowtop—

this bed, this bed, this head, this dread, this way station between sun and moon that won’t let me sleep…

Rich Ferguson, this bed

I remember the half light of the pantry, 
where I stole packets of cocoa powder 
from people who had been only kind to me,
and would have given them to me if I had asked.

If I had asked? Who knows how to ask? The wind
comes up suddenly from the darkened beach.
It was a weary long time, before I would think to ask.
A life of erratic tacking, whose only through-line

was a desperate desire 
to disappear as I was and to appear as I was not.

Dale Favier, Half Light

PP: What’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?

AE: Managing my diabetes through changes in diet and exercise. I’m writing a poem series about diabetes. As a writer, I am forever curious and need to understand the history, etymology, science and culture in about just about everything I get involved in, I can’t help looking things up in order to learn. My brain doesn’t seem to be built for science, even though I’m fascinated by it, so I’ve been trying to learn more and understand the underpinnings of diabetes, the connection between blood sugar levels to food, exercise and sleep. This leads me down a rabbit hole of wonder and it excites me.  I might as well write about it.

A few days after the diagnosis, I began a blog: the Sexy Diabetic and from there I ended up starting to write poems. I have always written as a form of catharsis, connection, whimsy and exploration. Life and literary pursuits are usually not separate for me.

Pearl Pirie, Checking In: phafours poet: Amanda Earl

At the readings I gave when the book first came out in 2006, I made a point of including “Melissa’s Story” and “Bill’s Story” in my set pretty frequently. Reproductive rights had been a major issue in the 2004 presidential election, and I wanted to do my part to keep the issue front and center in whatever way I could. I wrote the poems after reading Back Rooms: Voices from the Illegal Abortion Era, edited by Ellen Messer and Kathryn E. May. “Melissa’s Story” is spoken by a woman who pays a doctor for an illegal abortion. “Bill’s Story” is spoken by a man some non-specified but significant number of years after his pregnant girlfriend was sent against her will, and against what the teen couple wanted for themselves, to what used to be called a home for unwed mothers, where she was forced to put the child they conceived up for adoption.

In practical terms at least, we are no doubt farther away from men having to live Bill’s experience than we are from women having to live Melissa’s. Given the particular form of Christian morality that is driving the anti-abortion movement, however, it would be naïve to think some version of homes for unwed mothers could never make a comeback. It was, and is, important to me to give voice to Bill’s experience because it represents a rarely acknowledged stake that those of us who can’t get pregnant have in reproductive autonomy.

Richard Jeffrey Newman, Three Poems Of Mine That Should Never Have Become As Relevant As They Are Now

let’s make it easier

I’ll write a poem about you
you write one about me

there are so many words
to describe
someone else’s life

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Anatomy of a poem

Death or glory
under the lights,
the sun, the stars,
we the mutualists,
the diggers and
the levellers
are bound in
a cargo net
of love that fills
the heart and stops
the breath. There’s
a joy you simply
cannot buy
in the moment
pledged towards
the shared self.

Dick Jones, MUTUAL AID

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 23

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week saw some sadness and outrage in the poetry blogs but on the whole the mood felt celebratory. As Jill Pearlman writes, “These are dark times, / Open the window, the sun shines today for 15 hours 10 minutes.” Opening windows is kind of what we’re all about, I think. Anyway, enjoy!


This morning, I woke up with a vague fear of abandoning my poet self. I thought about how I would feel 20 years in the future, if I stopped writing poetry, stopped submitting poetry. And then I wondered what led to this early morning quasi-panic.

I feel like I haven’t been writing poetry, but that’s not strictly true. In April, I did a lot with poetry for my seminary class project.  I’ve been continuing to experiment with my collection of abandoned yet evocative lines. I can’t write the way I once did because I have a broken wrist–or to be more accurate a wrist in a cast which limits my use of my dominant hand. 

I’ve had time periods before when I didn’t write. I’m thinking of the summer of 1996 where I wrote exactly one poem. That time was followed by a time of fertile poetry writing. […]

I think of other types of identity that are tearing the nation apart:  gender, sexual attraction, political affiliations. I think of religious identities that shape a person in deep and abiding ways. I don’t spend much time reflecting on these identities and what they mean to me. Is it strange that the writerly identity is the one that wakes me up at night with worries of losing it?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poet and Other Identities

As soon as we arrived at King’s Cross and I felt that unmistakable London vibe; a mix of voices and languages and styles and music and smells and street food, I felt invigorated. The exhibition itself was just incredible. I am so glad I got to see it. I’d been wanting to do a research trip to the [British Museum] for the new poetry collection, and the non fiction book, so it was great to be able to combine a little day out with that very necessary part of my creative practice, which is to be physically present around the things I’m writing about. I was awed. I felt connected to the people who I have been writing about in a way that is hard to describe. This object in particular (below) which was found just outside Scarborough, at a place that I have visited several times, a place that I have written about and whose people I have tried to imagine being near and being connected to, I found particularly moving. Its use is uncertain but most likely it was used as a lamp, or as a ritual offering bowl, the light passing through the carved holes. It is the first piece in the exhibition, displayed simply, elegantly, with a plain background allowing the piece to speak for itself. I feel like I know these people who lived near where I live, and to see object, held in their hands, see it all the way down in London, in this enormous museum with all those people looking at it, admiring it as the opening feature of such a beautifully curated exhibition made me emotional.

Because the exhibition was so well organised I was able to linger around the artefacts and look at them from every direction, getting up close to the backs of them to see the way they were worked. One day I dream of having access and permission to engage with and look at things like the Star Carr headdresses (picture of one above) with no glass between myself and the object. Perhaps on a future project this might be arranged. But the next best thing is this elegantly put together exhibition that allows space and time to look at the objects owned by our ancestors.

There is something quite beautiful about writing the poems for the new collection. I am feeling, with these last series and sets of poems about ancestry that I am somehow drawing the collection together, like a string being pulled taut through the eyelets of a cloth bag.

Wendy Pratt, To London and the World of Stonehenge exhibition

Since the end of the semester, I have been trying to settle myself  into a routine of reading and writing and creating. Last night, I attended poet Michael Czarnecki’s weekly poetry sessions.  This session, Michael read a selection of his spontaneous poems and the opening of his lyrical memoir; then opened the reading to an open mic.  The poets and friends who attend these weekly sessions are some of my favorite people. Their poetry is stunning: lyrical narratives that embrace, history, mythology, identity, travel, cultures . . . I get goosebumps listening to each and every one.

I am so grateful to this community.

Since [the] end of May, I have been writing every day.  Have a fistful of poems now, a few 100 word stories, too. I think beginning each day with the intent to accomplish: gardening, writing, drawing, walking, daydreaming will restore my soul that has been banged up in the last 100 days.

M. J. Iuppa, June 2022: 100 Days of Healing

As a pastoral caregiver I know that both laughter and tears are normal in a hospital. (Not just in a hospital; always! But emotions are heightened at times like these.) Sometimes I could lift up and let the current carry me. Sometimes I sank to the bottom and crashed into the riverbed rocks. 

On erev Shavuot I joined, via Zoom, the festival service I had planned to co-lead. I sang Hallel very quietly. I may never forget singing לֹא הַמֵּתִים יְהַלְלוּ־יָהּ וְלֹ֗א כּל־יֹרְדֵי דוּמָה (“The dead do not praise You, nor all those who go down into silence,” Ps. 115:16) attached to a heparin drip and cardiac monitors.

Now I am home, learning about MINOCA (myocardial infarction with non-obstructive coronary arteries), and preparing to seek out diagnosticians who might be able to weave my strokes 15 years ago, my shortness of breath, and this heart attack into a coherent narrative with a clear action plan.

After my strokes, I saw specialist after specialist in Boston. Eventually I leaned into not-knowing, into taking Mystery as a spiritual teacher. But now that I’ve added a heart attack to the mix, I’m hoping anew for a grand unifying theory. For now, I remain in the not-knowing, with gratitude to be alive.

Rachel Barenblat, Heart

Where death is, I am not: where I am, death is not,
said Epicurus. But still the cognitive theorists aver
that an autopoietic system
cares for itself. Willy nilly. Say when.

Love comes late and untidy
bold and crumpled, crooked and strong:
it’s a tune now hummed under my breath: it needs
no voice.

Dale Favier, Deaf

How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

I think my first book, Punchline, which came out in 2012, gave me a sense of relief. Not validation necessarily, but I think it freed me to write when I wanted, rather than write as if life depended on it.  My newest book, The Forgotten World, is my third, and by far my most personal book, and my book most rooted in the real world, rather than any sort of metaphysical space. Being the Executive Editor of Atmosphere Press, which is not tied to the academic calendar, gave me the opportunity to explore the world more fully, and that exploration made for a book set in places, rather than in the one place of the abstract. […]

Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?

I’ve done both, and for The Forgotten World it became clear along the way that I was writing a travel book and a book about the intellectual struggle of being American while not in America, and respecting cultures that have been mistreated by people who look like me. Once I realized that that was the subject matter I felt compelled to write, I just had to spend the years it took to go the places I needed to go to learn. This book is a product of years of feet-on-the-ground research in a way my others weren’t. […]

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

[…] I think one of the greatest roles of writing is to make the writer a more satisfied and content person. People often look to the value of a writer in relation to a reader, but I think the contrary view of what the writing does for the writer is more interesting. If all these writers weren’t writing, would they be less fulfilled individuals? Of course, the role of the reader is where this question would usually go, but as someone who helps writers every day with Atmosphere Press, it’s the satisfaction that writing can bring an individual that is at the forefront of my mind. Writing as art is a public service to the creator as much, if not more, than it is to the outside viewer of the creation.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Nick Courtright

waves
the familiar anonymity 
of these thoughts

Jim Young [no title]

The collection is broken into seven sections and currently has 100 poems. It may have a few more or a few less as I continue to play with the sequence and figure out what can stay or go. I was fretting over the length of the book, but since this is likely my last full-length collection, I decided what the hell. 

There are selections from all of my previously published collections and chapbooks, but it leans more heavily on published-but-uncollected poems and never-before-published ones. It feels right, but there is still quite a bit of tinkering to do. We’re still on track for an Autumn 2023 publication date. Stay tuned. 

Oh, and the new header of this site and that I’ve used on my social media is not the cover of the collection. That’s simply a fun little placeholder while the final artwork is completed. 

Back in the early part of the spring, I had a massive infection in the scar tissue around the incision area for my cancer. Apparently, something bit me right behind my ear (where I still have no feeling) and it set up cellulitis. A trip to urgent care, an injection, and a round of antibiotics eventually cleared it.

I just passed the one-year anniversary of both my surgery and moving into the new condo (which I think I’m finally getting used to) and I’ve got another MRI and CT scan coming up in a couple of weeks to see if the cancer has metastasized to other parts of my body. Fingers crossed. 

I’m absolutely thrilled that Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” – my favorite song – has topped the charts around the world 37-years after its first release thanks to its use in crucial scenes from Stranger Things 4. A whole new generation is discovering Kate’s music and it has been absolutely wild to see so much news and hear the song everywhere. I’ve contributed a brand new essay about Kate for the 40th anniversary issue of her fanzine “HomeGround,” which will be out any day now.

Collin Kelley, A small update on my work, health, and Kate Bush

as if the houses
were to be drawn across
the loose earth on which
they stand and go down
as if the trees that shield us
were to shake once
and follow the houses
roots up and branches down
each the mirror of the other
as if the sky already broken open
were to fold and fold
and swallow itself like water does
as if we were to stand on nothing
watching the symphony up
to its last echoes and wonder
what now
what to do
whether to step back
or step forward
or like the houses trees
and sky itself just fold
and fold and swallow ourself
like water does

Dick Jones, Dog Latitudes §16

So, I set about making some visual collages, adding Spongebob (ShvomBob) into what seems like perfect Ashkenazi tropes. I was also thinking of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry. Why? Well, I’d listened to a couple podcasts about him (for example, the London Review of Books series about canonical poets.) I’ve also played with riffing off his poems, adding in internetspeak, colloquial language, and other contrasting tones. There’s a leaping electricity with playing with the contrast between his densely tactile hypercharged inscape-fueled language and other language which has its own world of associations. And so, I made the poem that appears below. It has a kind of Flarfy energy and, strangely, a bit of Celan-like sound to it. I also was intrigued to put the poem beside the image. It’s not quite an ekphastic poem — the poem doesn’t quite describe the image — but it does have a relation to it. That’s another kind of leaping.

Gary Barwin, All Shall Be Well with Spongebog Squarepant and Julian of Norwich.

Or the mouth keeps opening
in sleep, dreaming of bats
with indigo wings

opening and closing, closing
and opening with the uncertainty
of miniature parasols.

Luisa A. Igloria, A Palimpsest (4)

For a writer who has published over 30 books of poetry and prose in his native Germany, we have had too little of Durs Grünbein in English. Michael Hofmann‘s Ashes for Breakfast (Faber, 2005) introduced some of the earlier work and described Grünbein as possessed of melancholia, amplitude, a love of Brodsky, a love of the Classics, plus wide-ranging interests in medicine, neuroscience, contemporary art and metaphysics. John Ashbery praised Grünbein, identifying his subject as “this life, so useless, so rich” and the challenge to any translator is precisely this breadth and ambition. Happily, Karen Leeder is proving to be a really fine conduit for Grünbein’s work and here she triumphantly tackles his 2005 sequence of poems about the firebombing of his hometown, Dresden, by American and British planes in February 1945.

Porcelain is a sequence of 49 poems, 10 lines each, rhymed and grounded in Classical metre and given an air of Classical elegy by its subtitle, ‘Poem on the Downfall of My City’ (‘Poem vom Untergang meiner Stadt’). But if resolution, consolation or summing-up might be expected, this is, definitively, not what we get. The title, of course, refers to the Meissen pottery which, from the eighteenth century on, brought Dresden its great wealth and fame. But it is also a pun on the poet to whom the sequence is dedicated: Paul Celan. In Celan’s poem ‘Your eyes embraced’ there is an effort to swallow the ashes of genocide but they return to the throat as ‘Ash- / hiccups’, an image repeated in Grünbein’s opening poem: “It comes back like hiccups: elegy”. The sequence does indeed hiccup in the sense of its jerky shifts of tone, its multi-faceted images of Grunbein himself and in its close to choking articulation of the horrors of the Dresden bombing.

Martyn Crucefix, Ash-Hiccups: on ‘Porcelain’ (2005) by Durs Grünbein

Massive news for me: HappenStance Press will publish my second full collection in November 2023. I’m delighted/chuffed/overjoyed, etc, etc, to have the chance to work again with Helena Nelson, one of the best editors around.

What’s more, HappenStance books are gorgeous objects in themselves. Now to keep chipping away at my ms, only sixteen months to go…!

Matthew Stewart, My second full collection

I don’t take breaks from writing very often–hardly ever–I am a very diligent writer, since my time for writing is limited by the responsibilities of being a homeschooling mom of five kids, and my online adjuncting, and, and, and. There’s always something or other trying to nip away at any time I have for writing, so I typically hoard it pretty jealously and am loathe to give an inch of it.

However, writing 30 poems in 30 days plain wore me out! I ended up creating a chapbook out of it (which I just signed a contract for–hurrah!–and more info soon!), and I’m happy with the work I did, and the couple of poems I wrote in May.

I think I can get sort of bent on “output” and productivity as a poet though, and lose site of just letting myself sit, wonder, daydream. I need to refill with long walks and working in the yard and swimming in the neighborhood pool.

Renee Emerson, Summer Break

June that is succulent sin, the swell of mangoes,
the smell of wet mornings, the spell of every word
as it circles under a ceiling fan,
each word a world, finding an orbit, a speed,
each word with its own day and night
and horizon
and season for lovemaking.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Till the end of June

Had the pleasure of reading Melissa Studdard’s new book from Jackleg Press, Dear Selection Committee. This is a book of exuberant, joyful, and heck, sexy and fun poems set into the framework of applying for a very specialized kind of job. Some poems are heartbreaking, taking on contemporary tragedies. It’s an inspiring book, too, making me want to write for the first time in ages.

Here’s a short excerpt from “My Kind,” the opening poem: “I am my own kind. I’ll learn to play piano. Like Helene Grimaud, / I’ll see blue rising from the notes. I’ll be an amateur bird watcher,/ a volunteer firefighter, a gourmet chef, a great/ humanitarian. I’ll plant a prize-winning garden,/ grow a pot farm. My hair is on fire. I’m running/ out of time.” The cover art by Karynna McGlynn is also amazing.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Zoo Visits, Crowns, and Family Emergencies, Melissa Studdard’s Dear Selection Committee and Setting Boundaries in the Lit World

I wrote this poem in 2015. Seven years later the problem of children being killed by guns in America has only escalated. How much mental illness in fact begins with living in a country where it does not feel safe to go to the grocery store, first grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, high school, college, a movie, a doctor’s office, your place of employment, a concert?

As poets we write about what we feel and witness. As poets we record-keep the actions of a culture. As poets we express in a few words the horror and beauty of this world. May the horror move you to action. May you find a way to preserve the beauty of this world, so that our children have the chance to bear witness to it.

Carey Taylor, Land of the Free and Dead

How come the preacher
is so good with a gun,
the old monk wondered.

Tom Montag, IN THE NEWS

These are dark times,
Open the window, the sun shines today for 15 hours 10 minutes.  

And windy, 
a piece of lettuce is blowing off my lunchplate.

Gesundheit, 
we say to the sneeze heard through the open window.

On my summer reading list is “In Defense of Ardor”
and intention to pronounce Zagajewski

Jill Pearlman, In Defense of Ardor

When I finally returned to a real, traditional classroom, I was reminded of what I did love about working in higher education, and why I returned, semester after semester, despite all of the other infuriating bullshit: sharing literature, talking about the craft of writing, connecting with my students. It was so much better than the asynchronous Blackboard discussion forums, where students and their instructor (*cough*) struggled to keep up, or even the synchronous Zoom classroom, where if I was lucky students would participate over the microphone, since almost no one participated with their cameras on.

So what I’m saying is that, well, it’s odd to be leaving for sabbatical after having just returned to some semblance of the before-times. (I had only one regular traditional class in the spring semester — everything else was some form of online teaching, due to student demand.) Of course, I’m still going to take sabbatical — I’d be a fool to walk away from this opportunity. And I’m hoping that when I return in spring 2023, more students will be turning away from the hellscape that is remote learning, and back in a classroom where we can make eye contact and speak to each other in the ways that humans were meant to communicate — face to face, person to person, focused brain to focused brain.

(That “focused brain” might be wishful thinking, for both my students and me.)

Sarah Kain Gutowski, See Ya, SuckYear 2021-2022; Hello, Half-Year Sabbatical. I’ve Been Waiting a Long Time to Meet You.

I walk another block past my grandpa’s
high school; I wore his graduation ring
on my pinkie for years,
marveling at his small hands.
My own hands are too big now.
It no longer fits.

Jason Crane, POEM: Hand-me-downs

I want to tell you that she was a good dog, as obituaries generally require us to speak well of the dead, but she was not, by most objective measures, a good dog. She paid attention to our words and wishes only when she wanted to, she was never reliably housebroken (not because she didn’t understand or couldn’t comply with the expectations, but because she really preferred, like the humans in her pack, to go inside), and she was notorious for getting her longtime companion, Rocky, all worked up over nothing. She was a fan of the grudge poop (middle of the hallway, where it couldn’t be missed), and she had no fucks to give about things we might have felt important that she did not.

Which just goes to show that you don’t have to be good to be loved–because love her we did, unconditionally and deeply. Sometimes we loved her more because she wasn’t “good,” and she had us laughing even as we scolded her (such as the time we caught her on the kitchen table, licking butter from the butter dish). She was funny, and strong-willed, and sassy. She did what she wanted. Lucky for us, one of the things she wanted all the time was to be as close to one of her humans as physically possible.

Aside from being with us, her favorite things were eating and taking a nap in a patch of sun. We could all learn a thing or two about living a happy life from her. (Take the nap. Eat with gusto. Love what you love without apology.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, Daisy May Ramstad, 2007-6/6/2022

It’s been a strange week, creatively speaking. The highlight of the Bearded Theory music festival, for me, was Patti Smith, especially when she read Ginsberg’s ‘Holy’ – I think I’m right in saying it’s the litany that comes at the end of Howl. Such a brave and committed thing to do, to recite that to a festival crowd who, let’s face it, aren’t there to hear poetry, although maybe these lines held some resonance:
‘Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace peyote pipes & drums!’
You’d think, spending last weekend at a festival, then having the week off work (half term) I’d be buzzing with ideas. However, as I said, it’s been strange, creatively speaking. I’ve jotted down about four haiku, one I like, the other three contrived and not really going anywhere. I’ve had a guitar lesson, but not given over enough time to practise. I’ve walked the dog, but dutifully, rather than enthusiastically. I know that’s how it goes sometimes. You just have to accept the peaks and troughs. And I know you can’t force a poem, although I do believe you can facilitate it. Writing this blog post, I’m trying to do that, because I realise it’s important to acknowledge success, especially when you think you’re hitting a fallow patch. So, I’ll leave you with this poem, which is one of three (I was amazed when they accepted three poems) recently published in the May edition of the British Haiku Society’s journal, Blithe Spirit:

dawn across the allotments
beads of coral spot
on last year’s pea sticks

Here’s hoping for further inspiration!

Julie Mellor, Tinywords etc

My colleagues in academic support–my university department–are still housed in the basement of the main classroom building. I miss them, and they envy the fact that I now have a window (and that it’s not freezing up here). But while I would never knock the value of a window after 15 years under the frost line, I’m happiest about having my work office located in my favorite building on campus: the library. Books make me comfortable. When I need a break from my computer screen or from meetings, I can take a deep breath and walk around the stacks in silence. It’s perfectly acceptable to be rather introverted in a library. And the people who surround me are as enthusiastic about books as I am.

I plan to take a short breather from blogging and work-related stuff to visit a far-away Best Beloved and am already plotting which paperbacks to pack for the tedious flights. I hope to avoid silverfish and viral stowaways. Wish me luck.

Meanwhile, embrace your inner bookworm!

Ann E. Michael, Thysanura

We mambo through rainbows laced along the Retiro
and two-step into the Garden of Earthly Delights,
where swallows burst through pink eggshells
and Adam plops down as though stupefied on the grass.
God, dressed in red velvet robes, stares at us
as he holds Eve’s wrist and takes her pulse.
We shed our clothes— drag queens expose
their statuesque torsos, and I reveal my pale potbelly,
my breasts like empty soup bowls. Here,
shame has drifted out to sea in a soap bubble.
Naked together, we are whippoorwills circling fountains
frothing with limonada, sangría, tinto de verano.
We are owls with pineapples on our heads,
symbolizing nothing, fizzing with delight.

Christine Swint, After the Pilgrimage, We Enter the Garden of Earthly Delights

The bad news is you will not become a marine biologist as planned. You’re too bad at math and too good at other things like words and books and that pretend play we call theater. Later, you will badly want to be a lawyer, a politician, or a psychiatrist. Then a teacher. You will read so much you never would have thought possible. The poems you wrote in your little blue diary with the lock, the ones you scribbled on pen pal stationery, they will become your own kind of gospel, and you will pick them up at intervals. In a year, you’ll typing a skinny poem on the electric typewriter you will buy in the next few weeks and sending out submissions. They will all be no’s, and you will get a lot of no’s in your life, so you’ll get used to it. College will be a lively time full of late night rehearsals and hours crouched in a cubicle in the library reading.

Kristy Bowen, letter to my 18 year old self

Chris James has a marvellous ability to create whole worlds in a few well-constructed lines. Each poem here carries with it subtle layers of experience and depth and ask questions that take it beyond whimsical fantasy. Some of the settings are stark, as in The Buddy Holly Fan Club of Damascus. We painted a pair of Buddy’s glasses on a twenty-foot portrait of Bashar-al-Assad./ Bombed out of our basement, we took to the hills… on every shattered tank, scratched True Love Ways.

Yes, there is a gentle humour in Sherlock of Aleppo but it’s another look at how in darkest times people have the capacity to invent escape routes, if only in the imagination. Their home is 221b Al Khandaq Street, a bombed out paint shop. Victor plays a violin with no strings. […]

As is usual in his work, there are characters here, endearing, sympathetic, sometimes psychologically strange. They do odd things – The Goldfish at the Opera begins: My grandmother took a goldfish to the opera; she let it swim in her handbag in a few inches of water. One of my favourites is Dorothy Wordsworth Is Sky-Diving: She emerges from a cloud,/at a hundred and twenty miles an hour./ In her black bonnet and shawl, she is/ a spider dropped from space. .. As she nears the ground, she’s a girl again/ in the house in Cockermouth, riding bannisters/ of sunlight, spilling down to the garden.

Bob Mee, THE STORM IN THE PIANO, New pamphlet by Christopher James

In twelve chapters, Lesley Wheeler discusses twelve poems. Her method is personal, though it’s also informed by her academic and poet cred. The reader feels immediately as though they are in good, capable, empathetic, poetic, and also nimble hands. The life of the writer is intertwined in the readings, and isn’t this the case for how most of us read poetry? If we spend a lifetime reading poetry, then our life is going to be brought to our reading a poem. I remember in poetry workshops back in my university days, where sometimes the entire critique or discussion of a poem would be about mechanics, when the subject of the poem was something incredibly heart wrenching. This was probably also at a time when “reader-response” was buried in favour of “critical theory” in the rest of the English department. I could never understand why we couldn’t have both…

In putting together this book, Wheeler says the process “helped me to consider what poetry is good for and how its magic operates.” I loved the discussion around “gut feelings” in the first chapter, where “gut feelings keep you whole and enrich your interactions with other people.” Wheeler says, “we should trust our guts about books, too.” All through Poetry’s Possible Worlds I felt as though I’d met a kindred spirit, someone who reads poetry in the same way that I do.

Shawna Lemay, On Poetry’s Possible Worlds by Lesley Wheeler

Yesterday’s programme of words and music was a celebration not only of Eliot’s great work but also of the collaboration and friendship of twenty four writers and performers, some of whom had never met in person before. Faces remembered from on-screen boxes turned into three-dimensional human beings with extraordinary skills. We have been working on this for the best part of a year, mostly on Zoom. The five editors got together twice in a cafe in Bath to work on a script collated by Sue Boyle, who has inspired and guided the project from its beginnings. Some excellent writing had to be omitted due to the limited performance time. I don’t doubt that it will find its place in the world.

Ama Bolton, The Waste Land Revisited

Kory Wells: One of the first things to strike me about Design is how color infuses this collection. The epigraphs introduce white and green through the words of Frost and Lorca, and soon the reader is drenched in color: the yellow of a magnolia goldfinch, a hosta “blue as a lung,” turquoise storefronts, the gray-greens of dreams, a burgundy dress, and so on. You even have several poems with color in the title—“Green,” “Embarrassed by Orange,” and “The New Black”—the latter of which I want to talk more about later!

So I really want to know: Is color as important to Theresa Burns the person as a whole as it is to Theresa Burns the poet? For example, what colors are in your home? Do your rooms mostly share a palette, or do they differ wildly? Do you dress in bright colors?

Theresa Burns: I love your question about color! It is important to me, and I think it’s become more so as I’ve gotten older. It’s probably rooted both in my kids’ enthusiasms when they were young and also what excites me in the landscape.

When my daughter was a toddler and we asked what her favorite color was, she genuinely couldn’t decide. “I love all the colors,” she’d say, helplessly. (Though I think she’s now settled on yellow.) The older I get, the more I’m with her on this. Why do we need to choose? My son, when he was young, loved purple most, then orange. The poem “Embarrassed by Orange” is about him helping me get over my adult need to push color away, blunt it somehow; he gets me to share his unabashed joy in it.

Color has a huge psychological impact on me. If I’m feeling a little depressed or dulled, I run out to find some orange to bring into the house. Orange tulips, a bowl of tangerines. And everyone in my house knows that if they spot an American goldfinch at the feeder, I must be summoned immediately. So colors make their way into the book, too.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Kory Wells Interviews Theresa Burns

We were the beginnings of a Monet
bursting to be an O’Keefe:
vivid, exuberant, grabbing forever
in fistfuls.

Charlotte Hamrick, As glasses were raised

Following up on last week’s post about Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, I want to talk about another Eastern European poet, Charles Simic, who was born in 1939 in what was then Yugoslavia.  I first read his poems in about 1970, when I was just beginning to write seriously, and his work opened doors in my mind that I didn’t even know were there.  That first excitement only deepened over time.  The tone reminds me some of Szymborska’s in its humor in the face of great tragedy.  But Simic’s work also summons up the magic of fairy tales–the impossible described very matter-of-factly.  In addition to his numerous books of poetry, he’s also published several that collect his essays and memoir fragments, which I find as compelling as his poems.  He won the Pulitzer prize in poetry for a collection of prose poems, The World Doesn’t End, which remind me of Joseph Cornell’s boxed assemblages.  Simic wrote an insightful book on Cornell’s work, and I think of Simic’s poems as similar to those boxes. 

Sharon Bryan, Charles Simic

[Pearl Pirie]: How did you get first find to haiku and haibun?

[Skylar Kay]: This is actually kind of a fun story! So the university where I did my undergrad, Mount Royal University, had these events where they would take old books that nobody took out from the library anymore, or books that were being replaced, and would sell them for a dollar. During my second year I stumbled across a copy of Basho’s travelogues. Looking back, the translations were not the best, but it still got me totally hooked! I was just so enthralled with just how much could be captured by such a short and seemingly simple form. I began to view haiku almost more as a philosophy than just a poetic form, and let it take over my life completely.

PP: Wow, that is a cool encounter. How did the form help shape the manuscript?

SK: As with many collections of haibun, Transcribing Moonlight follows a chronological progression through the seasons, through shifting lunar cycles. This was a perfect opportunity to use these poetic tropes to reflect and augment my own experience as a transgender woman, allowing my own phases of transition to kind of be swept up into the changes that one sees throughout the year. Beyond that, however, I felt that I needed more than just haiku. While I love the haiku form, and think it can capture a lot, there are quite a few instances of my life that I could not totally put into a handful of words. The longer length of haibun allowed me to provide a bit more detail and express myself more fully than I could have done otherwise. It took me a while to learn to write the prose, but I think it was a great experience!

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Skylar Kay

I was feeling a little let down before traveling because it is so so hard to get big media attention for a book, and I’d been pitching furiously. Then I read descriptions of exhausting, demoralizing book tours by bestselling authors in Hell of a Book and Sea of Tranquility–just a random coincidence, I chose the books for other reasons–and was reminded that big-time writerly success has drawbacks. When your work becomes “product” that makes money for corporations, it’s both lucky AND a ton of work and pressure (and media training–yikes). The gift economy less famous authors participate in has plenty of problems, but it’s also kinder. Mott’s and Mandel’s fictional writers, in fact, throw away the brass ring they’d grabbed in favor of the human connection they need to survive this stupid world. I notice that Mott and Mandel are not themselves making this choice!–but it suggests that both remember their former small-press careers with nostalgia, maybe even a little regret.

Lesley Wheeler, Tendrils, connections, & kindness in publishing

This is how it starts, dictating on my phone. It was going to be a short story, maybe a novella. A little bit of fun with an imaginary person that I throw into an improbable situation. Maybe a problem, maybe a puzzle. One day I will write a murder mystery, if I can bear to live with the idea of a murder for a year. It always takes me a year to write a book. That’s a long time to live with your imaginary friends. But on the other hand, it’s lonely without them. When you send them off to be published.

Rachel Dacus, Starting a New Book — Why Did I Do It?

Goodbye to the broken heart. Goodbye to the heart that crossdresses as death;

the heart that chases ambulances, cheats at Monopoly, plagiarizes skywriting.

Goodbye to the heart of fools gold and busted pianos, book burning and unlearning.

Goodbye to the heart that beats a crooked path in the blood.

Hello to the heart that beats a truer, steadier song.

Rise and continually repeat yourself.

Rich Ferguson, Goodbye/Hello

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 21

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, I tried something different: compiling the digest in a completely random fashion, without any effort to find common themes. I think it hangs together just about as well as usual! Go figure.


Many years back–let’s say decades–my friend David Dunn and I briefly became small press chapbook publishers. It was not an easy task at the time, and expensive; but I worked at a type shop and could get the type set for free and a discount on the printing. We dubbed our concern LiMbo bar&grill Books. It was decidedly a labor of love, but we published four chapbooks and two broadsides before packing it in. The name emerged from David’s postcards and letters to me, in which he’d sometimes begin “Greetings from the Limbo Bar & Grill.” We were poets in our early 20s, underemployed during a recession, without any network to universities or well-connected writers. It felt like limbo.

Forty years later, dear David is dead; I have had modest success as a published poet since then–not enough to move me past avocation status–and the entire globe spins in limbo as pandemic, climate crisis, war, and oligarchies combine to keep things as interesting and unsteady as ever they were. It feels like limbo.

Feels like limbo on the publication side, too. Because my poetry collection that was supposed to be in print by 2020 seems to be indefinitely on hold. Covid interfered, the contract never arrived, and I’m beginning to wonder whether my emails are ending up in the publisher’s SPAM filter. It’s not surprising that a small independent press–in most cases underfunded and understaffed–might lose track of, say, a manuscript or two during the hassles of the pandemic protocols and all that has wrought.

Or perhaps the press has decided not to publish my book after all. The oft-rejected writer who lives inside my head supposes that could be the case and mourns, assuming the worst.

Ann E. Michael, Limbo

In the “mom-and-me pandemic book club” news, we have started a new novel, Lorna Mott Comes Home, by Le Divorce‘s Diane Johnson, about a sixty-something formerly highly respected art historian who ends her second marriage and comes home from France to California. The passages about trying to promote her book in a post-internet world are particularly appealing – the frustration trying to get back in the game after being out of it for 20 years – her daughter writes her Amazon reviews and she goes to bookstores for signings and they can’t find her books. Her adult children and two ex-husbands are in various levels of crisis as well. I might have mentioned I’m fascinated by these newer books that seem to focus on women in academia (or post-academia) going through midlife crises – there are so many about men, so few about women! The last one I really loved was Lesley Wheeler’s Unbecoming. (If you have recommendations for others, please leave them in the comments!)

Speaking of Lesley, I finished a new book by Lesley Wheeler that’s a fascinating mix of poetry close reading, cultural criticism, and personal essay, called Poetry’s Possible Worlds. She navigates difficult subject matter – including the death of a parent and political turbulence – by reading contemporary poems and then connecting them to the wider world.

She talks about how each book of poetry opens up alternate possible worlds for us to inhabit, which can help us deal with life’s crises and foibles alike. Like poet-essayist Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves, which combines personal essay, navigating a mysterious autoimmune illness, and pop culture representations of disability, it’s a thought-provoking collection that makes me want to try my hand at this kind of hybrid essay-criticism. Anyway, if want to curl up with a good poetry/criticism/personal essay hybrid book, pick this up. The last essay, about her writing process, was one of my favorites in terms of its descriptions of writing flow and how projects interact with each other.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Somber Week, Reading Lesley Wheeler’s Poetry’s Possible Worlds and Diane Johnson, and a Visit to the Japanese Gardens

rest up
get well soon

how easily it is said
however sincere
it doesn’t help much

i lost my voice in the sea a while ago
felt very miserable
i found it later on the shoreline
it had been on an adventure

now it is back we’re on speaking terms

it hurts ~ then you laugh again

Jim Young, for beth ~ hope you are bether soon

I sat with my twelve year old on the deck, and listened as he chanted the first few lines of his Torah portion. His voice cracked once or twice. That’s been happening lately. All I could think about was the parents in Uvalde whose ten year olds won’t grow up to be twelve year olds with cracking voices. 

Shortly before we started Torah portion practice, I’d told him that there was another school shooting. I wanted him to hear it from me and not from a friend at school in the morning. I assured him that where we live is one of the safest places to be. He said, “I know, Mom,” and changed the subject.

I believe what I said to him. The place where we live is as safe a place as any I can think of. And yet I can’t promise him that an angry gunman won’t break into his school, or into our synagogue, or into the supermarket where his auntie shops with his Black cousins. I can’t promise safety. No one can.

Rachel Barenblat, Morning after

Finding the glowing pine
Is not enough. I need to travel
Down the winding road
To the decrepit cabin
Full of cobwebs, broken boards.
Even deeper, I need to go,
Below the foundation,
Down to the level of packed dirt,
Down to the damp, dark place
Where memories sleep in fits,
Pushing like roots in the soil.

Christine Swint, The Numinous Pine

This is a post that begins by saying, “trust me.” This is a post written from a place of pure love. This is a post about how an author can change your life, about how books matter, and about how writers are simultaneously magical and utterly real. It’s also a post that references a line from Jane Austen about how if I loved this book less, I could talk about it more. […]

The introduction to this collection is by Kazim Ali, and it’s perfect. It ends, “These novels are meant to be experienced, not just in language, but in their rhythms, in their interruptions and silences, in their structures and patterns and shapes of thought.” Ali finds in them “a music daily as life.” Ali notes, “they are themselves alive. And in them a reader comes to life.”

Writers, too, will come to life.

Shawna Lemay, The Scent of Light by Kristjana Gunnars

It was the intriguing title that made me want to read this beautiful collection in the first place. I love the way in which the Moon Daisy weaves her way through the pages. I admire the sense of balance between joy and wonder on the one hand, and concern and pain on the other. This judicious inclusion of this ‘light and shade’ seems fitting for a dappled woodland backdrop. There are, however, other habitats to explore and enjoy; the opening poem offers a coastal setting, while the kingfisher prefers the willows by the river and the fox prepares ‘to curl up tight nose to tail’ in an urban garden.

Like Jill, the author, I found myself very worried when I first heard that a significant number of ‘nature’ words (‘acorn’, ‘buttercup’ and ‘catkin’, to name but three) had been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary back in 2007. Many will be familiar with Robert Macfarlane’s book, The Lost Words (illustrated by Jackie Morris); the poignant reference to ‘last words’ in Jill’s final poem, ‘The Nightjar’, did not pass me by.

The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy will surely appeal to adults and children alike. The author’s subjects are most engaging; we marvel at the Moorhen in her ‘green stockinged feet’ and are introduced to the Dandelion with its ‘mustardy roar’. The collection can be enjoyed for these wonderful descriptions alone, but I sense most readers will allow themselves to be transported downstream on the metaphorical undercurrent of something a little deeper, something linked to the joys, sorrows and responsibilities that reflect our humanity. 

Caroline Gill, ‘The Leaping Hare and the Moon Daisy’, a Poetry Collection by Jill Stanton-Huxton

Sometimes I start a class with a book that takes me straight to the heart of wanting to write poetry: First Loves: Poets Introduce the Essential Poems that Captivated and Inspired Them, edited by Carmela Ciuraru (Scribners 2001). If you don’t already know it, I’d recommend the amazon page review for a sense of what it’s like. Ciuraru asked a wide range of contemporary poets to choose a poem that inspired them early on and say a few words about it. Every time I read around in the book I’m taken back to some of my own sources, and the same thing happens to students when they read it: a direct line opens to those original urges. The book is full of surprises: Robert Creeley chooses Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman” and Wanda Coleman picks Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” for example.

A number of experiences made me fall in love with words: my father asking “What’s black and white and red all over?” I was stumped. “A newspaper.” What? Oh! Read! That language could do that. Or my grandmother writing out “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and little lambsy divey” after she’d sung it. Later it was Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and—like Creeley—the galloping “Highwayman.” But it was Frost’s ability to see through tranquil surfaces to the depths below that resonated with something in me, from the opening of “My November Guest” (“My sorrow, when she’s here with me/ Thinks these dark days of autumn rain/ Are beautiful as days can be….”) to the horrifying “Out, Out—,” where a young boy is mortally wounded as he’s sawing lumber.

Sharon Bryan, First Loves Redux

My first book had come out the previous fall, when I was both at my sickest and my most romantically fraught.  I only remember it in bits—bright yellow fall trees, a downtown fire that closed down our campus, headaches and lingering lunch dates. I was already in my 30’s. I was older than almost everyone in my program. I had long before determined workshops were only useful when everyone actually shared some idea on what made a poem good, which was an impossibility. In many ways, I found the program to be a nice incendiary, spurring me to projects I might not have done otherwise (my archer avenue poems, for example, or actually finally finishing my Cornell poems for an ekphastic class.) The lit and craft classes were interesting, the workshops mostly tedious.

We all know the horror stories of the MFAers who walk out of graduation and never write another thing.  I worried over this, in that stretch right after I finished the program, when things felt too close, too tight, and I wrote very little. I would talk to other writers and get insanely anxious when they asked me about new projects, the dreadful “what are you writing now?” I did lots of other things–like move the press operation into the Fine Arts–start the web shop, sell vintage and paper goods, and soap–and all the while, tried to distract myself from the non-writing self that only churned out a poem every couple months, nary anything I really liked. I tend to be a prolific writer, before grad school, during grad school, and even now, but between 2007 and 2011 I probably wrote about 20 poems total. A couple things happened in 2011 that set me writing again, one being the process of writing the James Franco pieces that barely felt like poems at all.  The other was girl show finding a home at Black Lawrence. By the end of the year, it seemed possible that I might actually want to write more than I was. The next spring I finished what would become beautiful, sinister that had been languishing for a couple years. I also wrote what is one of my all-time favorite series, shipwrecks of lake michigan. The poems were back and I’ve been pretty steadily writing since–an output that has filled 9 other book mss. in a decade. It’s hard to believe sometimes that I have that many poems in me, let alone that I managed to get them successfully on the page and out into the world. 

Sometimes, when eyeing my student loan balance I have been chiseling away at in small ridiculous bits, I wonder if the degree was worth it.  If either grad degree was worth it.  I do feel some of the lesson content I’ve been writing is served well by my MA degree, but the yeilds of my MFA are a little more slippery.  I absolutely believe I could have written and published (and was doing so) without the degree.  Would I be writing the same poems? In the same style? Would I be as good? Maybe not..but then again, so many poets I know do just fine without advanced degrees.  I also know many really lackluster poets with a train of them.  Many say the time to work uhindered by other things is priceless, though doing it while also working full time cut into that experience and made it more unweildy and harrowing. On the other hand, I got a discount for working on campus, so maybe it was a trade.  The 29 year old me who enrolled wasn’t sure what I was looking for.skills? legitimacy? knowledge? She could scarce have told you any more than I can now. I got better by writing more, reading more, of course,  and for that, maybe I owe those few years of study and attention I may have not gotten otherwise. 

Kristy Bowen, 15 year itch | notes on the mfa

How it is
when it comes apart
is how it is,

the old monk told
the mechanic.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (213)

“Holy Things” comprises confessional poems about relics, other items held with reverence, and bodies with a self-deprecating sense of humour. The poems don’t go the circular route but get straight to the point. In “Goddamn”, a light bulb blows,

“You unscrew
the supernova.
Mind the black
hole webs.
They’re torture
in your hair.
There, now
don’t drop—

Goddamn.
Spores of
stardust
everywhere.
It’s a nightmare
trying to get
celestial crumbs
out of the
good rug.”

A simple task to replace the bulb spotlights other areas of neglect: the ceiling cobwebs, the dust falling from the fixture or lightshade, the mess on the rug that now needs cleaning. Might it have been better to have left the bulb alone? A familiar scene where an improvement in one area, makes others look shabby in comparison and suddenly you’re spring cleaning the entire house.

Emma Lee, “Holy Things” Jay Rafferty (The Broken Spine) – book review

Tonight, tired and worried about my father, I came into this room, which we seldom use, and stretched out on the couch. I did my Duolingo lesson and the Times mini crossword and Spelling Bee on the free phone app which always kicks me out after a certain point. Then I pulled a knitted afghan over myself, thinking I might take a little nap, accompanied by the contemplative robin that’s nesting in the light fixture just outside the terrace door…but my eyes kept opening and gazing across the room at the desk. After a few minutes I had gotten up, opened the top, and set to work sorting the incongruous things I found inside: a strange, heavy antique brass writing stand with two glass inkwells; bottles of disk cleaner for LP records; three old letter openers, an intricate silver one that looked Turkish and quite lethal, and two that are clearly African; a collection of DVDs; a Silva compass with a leather case; a collection of old brass drafting equipment and a velvet snap-top jewelry box filled with old Schaeffer and Parker graphite leads; a handwritten wiring map for my father’s cabinet of turntables, tape decks and DVD players. As I did this, slowly, the thought began to form: could I actually use this desk? Could I write something here? When all the surfaces and pigeonholes were empty, I removed the vases and candlesticks to the piano, and wiped the wood with a barely-damp cloth. My sketchbook and watercolor palette went on the left side, some pens on the right. Then I ascertained that, yes, there was an outlet on the wall in fairly close proximity, set my laptop, mousepad and mouse in the center of the open desk, noticing for the first time the reassuring dents and scratches in the old mahogany — and turned the computer on.

It felt like… a moment. Like introducing your close but perhaps slightly questionable young friend to a beloved elderly grandparent. But the hinges didn’t give way, the marquetry didn’t fall out: in fact, the wood felt warm and beckoning and somehow personal, and I began immediately to write.

Beth Adams, Desk, Domain

Having finished Ulysses, I’ve gained the confidence to read other books that have been tapping me on the shoulder for years. One such is Jung’s Memories, Dreams and Reflections, recommended to me by  Anne. It’s as if, having climbed Everest, I can consider K2 (though I’d like to make clear this is a metaphor – I have attempted neither, and if I did, I would need to be carried or air-lifted down at some point).

I’m currently dog-sitting a beautiful lurcher, and she and I take long walks together. Sometimes, on these walks, I listen to the birdsong in the woods, or the lambs bleating in the fields, and sometimes, I plug myself into my phone and listen to a book. And this is how I’ve read Jung. 

It’s not an easy read – though parts of it are. That would be my review if asked for a line for the back cover. 

As Jaffa was trotting about, this is what I heard the other morning, and it illustrates my summary: 

“I never think that I am the one who must see to it that cherries grow on stalks. I stand and behold, admiring what nature can do.” Carl Jung – Memories, Dreams and Reflections. 

When I heard this, I stopped and typed it into my phone to remember the wisdom.  

I called Jaffa to me, and she came up, looking hopeful. I read out Jung’s words to her and she looked at me with her deep, kind eyes, hoping for a more edible treat, or perhaps something on the interpretation of dreams, then trotted off, ears flopping gently with each step. She urinated on some bracken. 

Liz Lefroy, I Read Jung (With Dog)

and here we are
we two
you crazy free
me creeping across
the fallen leaves
a poacher sans
traps lifting only
the mushrooms picking
only the berries
breathing just the
loaded air and
its traffic of
loam and pine
pitch and the
musk of deer

Dick Jones, Dog Latitudes §17

I could tell you how many civilians
were killed today in Iraq or Afghanistan
or Gaza or Pakistan or Yemen
by us or by our allies or with our weapons
but what’s the use?
a new season of your favorite show
will start soon and you’ll plop down
on your couch with some popcorn
or a nice plate of nachos
and go back to sleep
in a few weeks you’ll have to
Google this date to figure out
what this poem is about
and in another few weeks after that
so will I

Jason Crane, (Re-post) POEM: this changes nothing

It was chilly, the day I wanted to be dead,
but the azaleas finally tipped with pink,
finally breaking through the long cold that now bled

tiny vivid spearpoints struggling thru blunted blades,
as if their shrieking magenta opened a chink
in the brick wall. The day I wanted to be dead,

I actually didn’t. Some neuro biochem’d,
gamed my brain, meds and pain that brought me to the brink,
flipped the switch, and broke through the long calm that now fled

from my eyes, while logical-me questioned, and said,
“This makes no sense. I don’t want this. Dammit, stop. Think.
Who loses, and who wins, if I want to be dead?”

PF Anderson, Villanelle (“the day I wanted to be dead”)

I feel like I’ve been rather ruthless, but we’re still going to end up with about 10 boxes of books. That’s about half of where we started. I’m trying to give myself credit for being willing to part with so many books. I’m trying not to think about the fact that in later years,  I’m likely to part with some of the ones that I’m keeping. I’d like to get better at buying books and letting them go right after I read them, but that may not happen.

As I’ve sorted books, I’ve thought about what’s happening, across the nation and the planet. I’ve thought about the power of words, and I’ve wondered if any of our words can make a difference. I’ve thought about these books that have been important enough to me to hang onto for years and decades. I’ve thought about books as solace and inspiration. I’ve wished that I could create the kind of works that people will hang onto for decades. And who knows? I still have decades of writing life left he read. Perhaps that will happen.

But even if it doesn’t, I am grateful for the solace of words, for the solace of words collected into books.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Solace of Books

In certain ways, this is a collection of poems composed around and on the very idea of silence (reminiscent, through that singular element, of Nicole Markotić’s debut novel). “My birth / mother found me decades later,” [Nancy] Lee offers, “only to lose her own mom. This was / a sign, she was sure of it. The gods made her a trade for silence.” Composed through great care and a deep attention, Hsin emerges as a work of grief and loss, discovery and searching, held as the notes produced across the journey as it unfolds, unfolding. “predictable /// if you know // from where / in the sequence ///// does a mother / want [.]” she offers, elsewhere in the first section. There are elements of this collection that echo some other titles that Brick has been producing lately, especially since the shift in editorial and ownership; an echo of other of their book-length poetry debuts that explore familial loss, identity and placement through the gathering of meditative and narrative lyric fragment, whether Andrea Actis’ Grey All Over (2021) [see my review of such here], or David Bradford’s Griffin Prize-shortlisted Dream of No One but Myself (2021) [see my review of such here]. “Nothing from nothing means nothing,” Lee writes, early on in the collection, “she hummed from the back- / seat of the Pontiac, swallowed in afternoon sun.” To open the collection, she offers a brief note for the sake of context to her title. The short note ends: “Body is history and Hsin holds silence in ways that both claim and keep it at bay.”

rob mclennan, Nanci Lee, Hsin

Yesterday, as I was troubleshooting on various book-related fronts, I started wondering if “troubleshooting” was another of the military metaphors that colonize my vocabulary (“front” is one). The original meaning of troubleshooting, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was a pleasant surprise. Here’s the first usage in print: “1905, Strand Mag.: ‘A good looking young ‘trouble-shooter’—as a mender of telephone lines is called—had asked her to marry him.’” Whoa! It’s a COMMUNICATIONS metaphor!

There have been plenty of broken connections lately, so after an initial high, I’m struggling to focus on the good stuff. Appearing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival last weekend, for example, was lucky and lovely (it’s a pretty interesting festival, too, with a political flavor). Early readers have been generous–I so appreciate every thoughtful note. None of that, though, stopped my spirits crashing. Maybe that was inevitable after logistical hairiness and physical stress (the festival was outdoors with 95 degree temperatures, plus my Achilles tendinitis flared up). The turning point mood-wise was a paradoxical one. Seeing Poetry’s Possible Worlds amid the many, many books Politics & Prose was selling was great, but it also reminded me how many, many authors are trying to get attention for their book-babies. I do have a strong core of confidence that my book is a very good one. But it’s increasingly clear to me that while I’m working harder than ever to get word out, in addition to investing money in a publicist for the first time, Poetry’s Possible Worlds is unlikely to stand out in the mob. Placing “Brave Words” on the Poets & Writers website was a glorious win, but each successful connection has 10 failed attempts behind it–magazine pitches, event queries, and other efforts that mostly don’t even get replies. I keep throwing out filament, filament, filament (sorry, changing metaphors here to Whitman’s spider), but I suspect I need to rewire my hopes as well. After all, twenty years ago, I longed to reach any audience at all, feeling increasingly hopeless about ever publishing a creative book. Here I am, after so many successes, doing that tiresome thing: training my vision on the next line of mountains.

Troubleshooting Monday involved updating various websites, including improving the book’s Goodreads listing. I finally figured out how to get the cover to appear, yay!, but can’t seem fix the issue on Amazon, and it’s such a handsome cover. I can’t get it to appear on Bookshop.org at all. How much does each of those little efforts even matter? I don’t know. I managed to settle myself down, though, by putting up a couple of reviews for other indie books. Helping other writers feels better, sometimes, than trying to boost your own signal.

Lesley Wheeler, Filaments & telephone lines

We don’t reach strong conclusions about the poem’s meaning as a class. We are a diverse group. I like leaving them with some ambiguity. I want them to figure it out for themselves, to be able to sit with complex and contradictory truths. I know that me telling them what to think or insisting on a particular interpretation won’t meet my goals. They might say what they think I want to hear, but they’re going to think what they think, do what they want to do with their ideas.

As they are gathering their things and heading for the door at the end of class, the boy who shared his ideas about the birds says to me, “I liked class today.” He’s a student I have struggled to engage. We are very different people, he and I. He hasn’t done very well with me, and I know that most days he hasn’t liked my class.

“I’m glad,” I say. “I really appreciated your contributions to our discussion.”

“Thanks,” he says, with feeling, and he smiles at me. I smile back, also with feeling. We have such different views of the world he sometimes astounds me, but I will miss him when this school year ends in just a few short weeks. I am glad to have known him, and I think he might say the same about me. There are things in each of us that the other likes and respects. I want to believe that, anyway.

We have no way of knowing, right then, what the afternoon will bring. I don’t know that after I spend it grading my students’ reading logs–which will prompt me to think hard about purposes and how I might determine if they’ve been met–I will learn, while waiting for the copy machine after school, about the latest shooting in Texas. I don’t know that I will numbly run off copies of another poem for our next class, then go to my empty classroom and sit at my desk and wonder what I should feel and do. I don’t know that I will spend long minutes wondering about the nest I’ve built for us, with its twinkle lights stretched across the ceiling, and posters with art from around the world, and a cart full of window/mirror books, and chart paper with our lists of class norms. I don’t know that I will sit in that space, remembering the day in September we began building those norms as we discussed memes about gun control, or that I will leave memory as I tune into the sounds of students playing ping-pong in the foyer while they wait to be picked up, and that it will be the pock-pock-pock of those balls hitting the paddles that will be the thing that brings me to tears.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the morning of the latest massacre of American schoolchildren

Someone said the word obliterate.
Meaning an erasure so hard,
Nothing remains.

As children we were told
not to whistle too loudly at clouds
so they wouldn’t come too close.

The world must have whistled
in a great chorus. Or that’s what
we might want to believe.

But wind and rain have
their own voice, their own
logic.

We are always trying to put
our unformed words
into their throats.

Luisa A. Igloria, Rain Writes, Wind Erases

When our pains become so great we can no longer bear them.

When our feelings seek release, when they move us to the ends of the earth,

our hearts desiring an Eden of our own making.

It’s then we create: sing, dance, paint, write, cry out.

Our expressions: beautiful cracks in the bell of a perfectly toned hallelujah.

Not so much a cousin to longing, but the pure longing itself.

Rich Ferguson, Cracks In the Bell

In the last month or so, the book I’ve most enjoyed reading is the excellent Everyman (selected) Poems of James Merrill, edited by his biographer, Langdon Hammer. The combination of his formalist brilliance and his hedonistic, but engaged, attitude to life is irresistible.

Here’s Merrill reading Elizabeth’s Bishop exemplary villanelle ‘One Art’ and a poem of his own which he dedicated to Bishop, ‘Developers at Crystal River’.

And here’s a short but fascinating interview with him from 1991, four years before his death, in which he discusses political poetry, his awareness of the luck he had in being born so rich, and the datedness of language.

Matthew Paul, James Merrill

The downside about Napowrimo: the writing hang over.

Though I think that my month of writing a poem a day was pretty productive — probably about half the poems are usable– I was wiped out this month and only wrote one poem.

I have a kind of plodding type of writing schedule though–I usually complete two poems a month. I guess like running sprints, shaking it up and writing thirty poems vs. my typical two, could help my creativity possibly.

But after all that poetry, I find my mind wandering to different things, different projects.

I’m currently working on a cross-stitch (because it’s good to work with your hands), starting to consider revising my sci-fi middle grade novel again, and in the beginning (obsessive) stages of getting a new project (an anthology?) off the ground.

I used to worry when my steady two-poems-per-month pace was interrupted–existential questions of “will I ever write again?” plagued me. However, after many years of writing, I’ve found that there are some seasons in life that breaks are needed and good. I tend to take a break over part of the summer and let my mind wander other fields.

Renee Emerson, Writing Hang-over

The poet was exasperated that his voice had become a metaphor;
he wanted to see the blood of his voice, its lard and flesh,
its lineage—to hear its chords vibrating
even if a single utterance would cost him his life.

In our language, he finds himself placing nouns before verbs,
tainted by the lyrical I, perhaps. He picks words
that had wilted until they turned to gold. Wiping away
the dust of the centuries, he plants them in small pots.
The poet thinks he can
heal the dumb, and revive the dead.

Meanwhile, in their language, he crosses mountains and oceans
leaving a talisman on every tree
to find his way back.

Mona Kareem, Four poems – tr: Sara Elkamel

I haven’t worked on the wasp project for two weeks now. It is in my head, but I have not put in the work. Today I will pick up some parchment for the flexagon poems, though. Tomorrow, I will make the paper for the corsets and hives.

Last week on Instagram I saw something freakishly similar to what I am working on. It was well-executed, too. It has taken me a while to remind myself that there is nothing new under the sun and that the existence of something similar out there doesn’t discount the authenticity of what I am doing. I might keep my head down a while. I have a feeling if I go looking for it, I will find more similar work. And really, that is a good thing, right? It means there is something – if not universal – then relatable. Something that is a successful expression of human experience. So what?

Too often I am my own gatekeeper. That little voice. That bird with the sharp beak that keeps wounds open and blood flowing out of habit.

Not working is not humility. This assumption, belief, and self-deception that eventually I will turn out something stunningly, unequivocally unique is a kind of arrogance.

Ren Powell, Fear of Exposing Oneself

Book: Quiet Night Think: Poems & Essays  (a misFit book, ECW, 2022) by Gillian Sze. […]

During the remarkable period of early parenthood, Sze’s new maternal role urges her to contemplate her own origins, both familial and artistic. Comprised of six personal essays, poems, and a concluding long poem, Quiet Night Think takes its title from a direct translation of an eighth-century Chinese poem by Li Bai, the subject of the opening essay. Sze’s memory of reading Li Bai’s poem as a child marks the beginning of an unshakable encounter with poetry. What follows is an intimate anatomization of her particular entanglement with languages and cultures.

Sze invites readers to meditate with her on questions of emergence and transformation: What are you trying to be? Where does a word break off? What calls to us throughout the night? […]

PP: Your opening essays starts with all the paradoxes of translation, what is literally said, what is implied, what is embedded. It strikes me that poetry in the translation from life to words has some of the same challenges. In your work you mention letting work set until it has clarity and heft. Do you find that way in time alone or do you have a set of readers who help you see what is distilled enough?

GS: I think one of the best things to do with a draft is to forget about it and return to it afterwards. That little spell of amnesia allows me to, for a moment, pretend that the work isn’t even mine to begin with, and I can examine, edit, and revise it more effectively. Only when I feel like I have moved the work to a less vulnerable space do I seek out my trusted first readers.

Pearl Pirie, Mini-interview: Gillian Sze

Of all the ways to encounter loss, I picked the one in which it arrives as a stranger. A stranger who emerges from the bowels of a subway station, into the sunlight, as I hurtle down the steps into the darkness, directly in his path, looking away, refusing to meet his gaze, only a strong musky scent of an unborn morning , staining the air as we pass.

It returns sometimes, that fragrance, like a wind from a faraway place, come to moult its memory skin . Or like a pigeon that flew into a room that it doesn’t know how to escape, thrashing against the glass pane, screaming at the walls in low, gurgling sounds, rising and falling, rising and falling, trapped, afraid…alone.

On some nights, the stranger stops and calls my name. A name he should not know. A voice I should not recognize. A longing that should not be. For a morning, yet to come.

what should we call it,
the sky that does not know
it is the sky?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, A name he should not know

My next book, Look to the Crocus, will be published in 2023 by Shoestring Press!!!

I’ve been going through the editorial process poem by poem over the last few weeks, gradually ironing out the errors, tightening up poems, culling the weak. It’s been a wonderfully therapeutic process! 

It’s great to have such editorial support going through the manuscript from both publisher, John Lucas, and poet and editor, John Killick, who has been such an enthusiastic supporter of my work since he wrote a rather wonderful review of Madame Ecosse a few years back. 

The current format of the collection is a thematic division into 4 parts each with their own sub-title and each prefaced with a quote from Theodore Roethke. 

I’ve moved backwards and forwards on the idea of breaking up the manuscript into sections, and overall, I do have a preference for sections. I love the structural element of it – like chapters / seasons / weather systems. 

Also, I love introducing the sections with titles and quotes. Roethke has been such an important poet to me and I love having his words flow throughout my manuscript. 

Marion McCready, *Look to the Crocus*

I belong to a Facebook writing group called Every Damn Day Writers.  We set it up to encourage ourselves to write  every day. The practice of writing every day builds the habit of creating and of course pushes your manuscript forward. A daily schedule stirs the creative brain into action. It’s a magical key that unlocks the door — not only to a new room, but eventually a whole new book. So how do you establish a daily writing habit? Read on.

Writing Practiced

Writing practice is like ballet. Whatever talent you possess, it gets better with daily exercise. It’s impossible not to improve if you sit down to your work on a regular basis. Like meditation, the act of creating is vigorous. It’s intense and difficult, requiring great focus, making it hard to think of anything else.

It can be argued that writing is meditation. Though the body may be still for long minutes during this act, a lot is going on neurologically. Your sympathetic nervous system calms, the scientists report. And over a long period of exercising this function, the brain changes, studies have found. It moves toward the habit of sustained happiness.

Changing Your Brain to Enhance Creativity

Do you feel happier after a period of writing? I call it “writer’s glow”. It occurs to me even after a short bout of creating, say working out a one-page poem. The focus drops away the “monkey mind” habit of my brain to be distracted by passing thoughts. The space left afterward is clear and fresh, like a beautiful landscape. In fact, everything feels beautiful for a while writing.

The lucky thing is that this daily writing practice becomes easier the more you do it. It’s the power of habit, which works for good habits as well as bad ones because we’re all essentially addictive personalities. I choose to be addicted to writing because it makes me happy. And because of it, I have published four novels in four years.

Rachel Dacus, Writing Tips — The Practice of Writing Every Day

I was listening to a podcast recently with a guest who explained that after a terrible period of psychological distress, she decided that she needed a project in order to focus her mind on something besides her own emotional pain. She bought an enormous amount of yarn and spent the next six months steadily knitting a gigantic blanket, working on it every single day no matter what. At the end of the project, she felt a little better, but just as importantly, she learned the value of persistence and consistency, and her faith in her ability to heal herself was restored. I think that was a very wise thing for her to do for herself. As a culture, we seem to have abandoned the value of pushing through and persisting in the face of adversity. Fuddy-duddy concepts like patience, stoicism, and simply taking our minds off of our pain for a little while with something productive like work or creative pursuits is considered old-fashioned. The trendy way to cope with mental distress is to make TikTok videos and engage in pathological wallowing. I say this as someone who has wallowed in many bouts of psychological distress, especially when I was younger. I have since learned that emotional distress is often passing and that it’s okay to subsume it in work, physical activity or other distractions. Contrary to popular counseling wisdom, I believe that distraction is a very useful tool. In many cases, the distress simply resolves itself on its own due to not having been fed. As the Brits tend to say, sometimes you just need to get on with it. I’m also reminded that I still have a punch needle embroidery project to finish and I should get on with that.

Today would probably be a good day for it, as it is a pre-planned No-Leave Sunday, wherein I stay in pajamas all day, eschew make-up and don’t leave the house, not even to check the mail. I used to engage in No-Leave Sundays fairly regularly, but they have fallen by the wayside over the years for various reasons. I find No-Leave Sundays very restorative. I like to have what feels like an enormous expanse of unscheduled time in front of me in which to knock around, putter and waste. It helps my brain unravel from the work stress of having way too freaking much to do all of the time and never enough to time do all of it. It feels lavish and indulgent and a little transgressive.

Kristen McHenry, Coping by Crafting, No-Leave Sunday Revival, Litmus Test

In spite of myself, my resentment that they are rats with tails, that they lounge in my chaises longues and massage themselves in the rims of my flowered pots, I have been admiring squirrels.

Such looseness; such fearless sense of play.  One — followed by her playmate — in motion leaps to her sure death from the roof but catches a frail branch, hangs belly-up as the branch dip low with weight until she rights herself, scrapes the bark with her nails — and darts.

Lilies of the valley have dropped their sweet white flowers, confetti is scattered around the hawthorn tree, the Dionysian rally of spring is exhausting —

but there are the squirrels, defying reason.

Once they’re hanging from a thread, how do they will themselves back? 
Do these masters of risk appraise a car tire and decide— uh uh,  not this one, over and over? 

And don’t these tricksters know these are dark times?  That destructive forces are overwhelming us?

And yet they play, play, play.  Before our tired eyes, they play, as if their very survival depended on it. If I banished them from the garden, who would remind us to play?

Jill Pearlman, Lessons from My Backyard Enemies

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: gloom and doom and blooms. Nightmares and hobby-horses. Biophilia and bibliophilia.


How does it begin? Wasn’t failure the first consciousness, wasn’t death the first precept. We know these things like the taste of our own mouths. Not as a taste, not as knowing. Still, we elevate their antonyms — a god, a love, a lover, a time — we embellish them with the infinite, the eternal, one thing containing the other, with victory. How else should we process our own defeat?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, How does it begin?

how you are
lonely in a crowd
like the moth
inside the cage
of hands
and each wingbeat
sheds more
of your powder
and you can hear
the calm voices
and the shared
laughter and
they think that
you’re with them
out in the light
but where you are
is entirely dark

Dick Jones, how you are

Busy times in my body and brain. Attended the funeral of a young co-worker yesterday. Heartbreaking. I loved learning about, and hearing, the country music songs she loved. 

In the afternoon, I helped to pot tree seedlings to be planted in the fall. Part of a big tree-planting surge: 11,000 seedlings (stick stage) were planted this spring. These that have budded and begun to leaf need to wait for the fall. Hot, fun work, in good company, outdoors.

Then, there was a Zoom discussion of Book VII of Paradise Lost with an international bunch of people–mostly Chicago and Canada, but some were actually in Portugal for earlier Books, and some were walking El Camino in Spain while we were between Books.

Kathleen Kirk, Wild Columbine

I read somewhere that someone
thought eukaryotes anyway would make it through a nuclear winter.
And from there the game could begin again. We’ve still

got billions of years: plenty of time. Though I’m sorry about the cats.
So then I think: do I care what happens to the creatures
who finally make the leap? Make it for real, I mean? And I thought

well, I do if they’re good. And there I paused: a new scent
was on the wind. If they love what’s beautiful and worry what’s true:
well, sure I care. And I wonder how to leave them a message, and then

I wonder what message I would leave? “Be careful, dears, there’s
a tricky part that comes when you industrialize”? “Put your house
in order before you learn how to burn it down”?

Dale Favier, After Winter

Dear false future, the shells of seeds
you crack open with your teeth make
a small, damp pile in the trash can. Each
is a world you pried open to extract
its only treasure. How many martyrs lie
buried without headstones? Meanwhile,
your blind mother and your bloated
father have their hair washed twice
a day, their organs flushed and pickled,
pearls sewn into their thumbs.

Luisa A. Igloria, Election Results

I wrote this poem in 2019 after the Georgia State Assembly passed a law that would ban all abortions after a so-called fetal heartbeat was detected in an ultrasound.

Camatkarasana, roughly translated as Wild Thing, is a sort of one armed backbend that one of my yoga teacher enjoys guiding us toward.

She has a unique way of describing what is going on inside the body and how to harness that energy toward achieving greater strength in the pose. It’s a difficult pose to achieve and requires strength, flexibility, and confidence, but once you do achieve the pose, the body becomes flooded with energy.

My heart is very heavy with sadness for women now that the leaked draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade has been published. We ARE wild things, strong and capable of determining what happens to our own bodies. I’m full of fury that forces in our society want to take this right away from us.

Christine Swint, The Yoga Teacher Guides the Women in Camatkarasana In the Season of Fetal Heartbeat Bills

These years are wilderness
and sometimes I struggle to hear
the still small voice
calling me forth
from my armchair, calling me

into humble not-knowing
and into the splendor
of not making myself afraid.
This work isn’t new, and
we won’t complete it: that’s ok.

Yes, there were leeks
in the beforetimes. I miss
them too. But then I remember
not everyone got to eat
even then. We can do better.

It’s all right to feel fear
as long as we put one foot
in front of the other.
There is no path to Sinai
other than this.

Rachel Barenblat, Not Knowing

I spent the better part of yesterday sorting books.  It is clear to me that we are moving into a phase of life with more moves and less book shelf space, so it’s time.  I started the day feeling a powerful sense of catharsis as I sorted through books, and I ended the day in tears and exhaustion. It’s a strange process the sorting of books. Let me record a few reflections.

–I used to keep books thinking that I would reread them, but it’s become clear to me that I usually check out new books from the library rather than read my old books.  I used to think that I would have complete collections of authors’ books, and in my 20s that seemed perfectly reasonable. Now that plan will require a lot of bookshelf space. All of this to say, I’ve been hanging on to a lot of books that I no longer need to hang on to.  Getting rid of those was the easy part. […]

–I am now comfortable getting rid of books even though I once spent lots of money on all these books. I supported individual artists by buying the books, but it doesn’t mean I need to hang on to them forever.

–Along the way there were sadnesses as I looked at inscriptions and thought about the people who once bought me books as presents. I tried to feel gratitude for all the people who have loved me in this way while also letting those books go.

–Every so often I saw the handwriting of people who had borrowed my books, people who had permission to write in them. One of my best friends, who has since died, borrowed my Norton anthologies when she returned to school to finish her BA, and her writing is all over the books. Those are tougher to let go.

–A lot of these books represent hopes and dreams, even though I’ve moved on to different hopes and dreams. There’s a sadness to seeing them, even though I’m fairly satisfied with how my life is turning out. Those books are going away. Perhaps they will help someone else who has those hopes and dreams of my younger self. […]

–Part of what makes letting go of books so hard is wondering what will happen to them. I’ll take them to the local library where they will probably end up in a friends of the library sale. I want to believe that readers will find them. I wish the library would keep them but I know that they don’t really have room for the resources that they have right now, and the move is on to more electronic resources and less paper.

–It’s the largest sadness: realizing that we are not part of a culture that values books very much and an even larger sadness in realizing how little we value ideas, book length ideas.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Sorting of the Books

And so what every library worker knows and works toward, and really this is one of my life’s main raison d’êtres, is the perfection of the reference interview. Which is ever unattainable, a work in progress, the holy grail of library work. Because, as in most conversations, a lot of what happens is sidelong. Sure there is often the straightforward person who comes in wanting X book, asks for X book, and walks out with same. Wonderful, that! But often the person arrives looking for something that they can’t say, or don’t know how to say, or want to say but are too uncomfortable to say, or don’t even know that they can ask for this thing that they need. So, it is this really delicate back and forth, that must be purely openhearted, and orchestrated to not presume, to not overextend, to probe but with good intent, with a mind to privacy, a mind to empathy, and with a great deal of instinct, as to when to be blunt, or ask the really dumb or super open ended questions, when to be silent, when to nod. It’s an exercise in hope and humility and curiosity and must be filled with a genuine interest in the human before you.

Shawna Lemay, The Imaginative Listener

We disagree over documentation: starlight at noon, 
a crescent sun, too many back-shadowed moons. 
Trees fall. Embers singe our concentration, 
re-ignite our concerns amid the smoke screen.

Yet we see no conflagration, feel no coals against
our backs (perhaps only rosellas carry flame, 
only crows transmit distress). Moths, bees, ants
swarm around our feet, now rain graces our lips.

Ian Gibbins, An Introduction to the Theory of Eclipses

the sound of
data processing
house sparrows

Jason Crane, haiku: 13 May 2022

Sometimes I wonder if collecting useless facts is a form of hoarding. Controlling. Yesterday I listened to a podcast while I ran (the first time post-covid infection). I listened to Lulu Miller read her own brilliant essay titled The Eleventh Word [podcast ]. She explores the idea that our naming things actually creates an environment of fear: that by naming things, we create the illusion of control, but when that inevitably proves false we feel disoriented and afraid.

She gets this idea by observing her son as he acquires language and fear of the unknown at the same time. While I’m no neuroscientist, I think it’s more likely that the child’s brain develops the ability to predict and reason at the same age.

But the correlation here is fascinating and her argument poetic. There may even be some truth to her idea. I remember reading a long time about research that said there are emotions we don’t experience until we know a word for them. I remember it was all very controversial. But I suppose that would support the idea that we would be fearless without language?

I do know there are all kinds of research about using a second language, and the relative emotional/objective value of doing so. I have had students who keep diaries in English and tell me it is because they feel distanced from the difficult subject matter. It’s easier to think about it.

This is especially interesting because when I taught younger kids, I noticed that their “imaginative” language was English, though their day-to-day language was Norwegian. They would tell me that they were more creative in English: it was “easier”. They credited the language itself, not their relationship to it. I’ve always thought that was interesting. At first, I thought it was because they simply lacked the critical skills to evaluate their creative work. They felt freer because they felt an innocent sense of competence (invariably these kids were better at English than their parents and teachers, for example). But I think it is more than that.

Ren Powell, A Little Clutch of Deceit

Not just smoke and mirrors, but smoke and mirrors watched through another mirror, and another, and so on until the reflections themselves become a new reality, and there you are, lost, lost, lost. You can spend your lifetime feeling your way through the reflections one at a time, until you get to the end at last, and it is just a barren field. But is it? Look closer, the field isn’t barren at all. Small things do live there, rodents and insects, small plants missed at harvest, left ungleaned. There is life among the small things, life upon the dirt, and that, my friend, is where you can start over. 

James Lee Jobe, No one tells us that life is often a barren field.

after travelling
to the secret garden
it was no more
but the path went on and on
perhaps that is the secret

Jim Young [no title]

Not far from the city centre, down Mill Road, you’ll find The Bath House. It was built in 1927 as an amenity for the poor who lacked their own facilities. In 1969 a sauna was added. In 1975 when it was about to close, baths cost 10p. It’s mentioned in the odd biography and in literature – see for example Matt’s Simpson’s poem, “The Bath House”. It became a community hub where I spent much time in the Friends of the Earth office.

From the Bath House follow Gwydir Street nearly to its end and you’ll come to this shop front. The faded sign at the top reads “Roll on blank tapes”. It must have closed decades ago because it sold blank cassette tapes. I think I might have bought a tape there. Whereas the concept of a bath house might be understood by the youth of today (from Roman history perhaps) the notion of tape may puzzle them. Part of my first job in Cambridge was to do computer back-ups onto a foot-wide reel of half-inch tape.

Tim Love, Old Cambridge

How often do you consider changing your horizon? Since travel has been off the table for many of us during the pandemic, the way to change one’s horizons is considering a new hometown. For us, we’ve been thinking about moving to a smaller town – La Conner, Washington is this week’s pick.

We scheduled a time to look at a house whose best feature was its outdoor space – lots of landscaping flowers, lots of birds, and a backyard that looked onto protected land. Sitting out in those gardens – with a view of the water – was heaven. Talk about the temptation to impulse buy! But this is a house, and a big time town change, so we can’t just sign on the dotted line because the flowers and birds were showing off. There was also a guitar festival going on – and there is a local poetry festival that happens every two years – I mean, artistic and culture scores are pretty off-the-charts for a small town. Plenty of art galleries, a Northwest Art Museum, and cute shops and restaurants along the water, the Swinomish Channel. Woodinville, known for its wineries and restaurants, is no slouch in the food and wine departments, but lacks that grass-roots deep community caring about music, visual art, and literature.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Changing Horizons, Considering New Hometowns: La Conner Edition, Moving Forward with Flare, Corona, and More Birds and Blooms from Woodinville

The Planet Poetry podcast has kept my busy lately, I think Peter and I have settled into a relaxed schedule whereby we try to produce a new episode every three weeks but if life gets in the way then four is no biggie. It’s very satisfying to research possible new guests, read their work and prepare questions we want to ask them. Then there’s the editing and then recording all the other segments of the ‘show’ in which Peter and I chew the cud and usually go a bit off-piste (interesting mix of metaphors there, are we Tyrolean cows?) If you’re a listener, thank you! We’re certainly chuffed with the quality of guests we’ve managed to ‘bag’. Last week it was J O Morgan. Apart from numbers of downloads, there’s not really any way of measuring the pod’s ‘success’ or otherwise. Ideally we’d like to get mentioned on the BBC Radio Podcast Hour, so if you have any contacts there, let me know.

I’m at a slight hiatus as regards writing. I’ve stopped fiddling with the ‘collection’ poems for now, having had some very useful feedback. Now I need/want to move onto new material. I’m doing a fair bit of background reading at the moment. The other day I was deep into an article about lighting and ventilation in British offices from 1950 to 1985. I know! But it’s actually very interesting. Then there’s the book on Roman Britain. What on earth is on the boil here? We’ll just have to wait and see. I have booked myself onto a untutored week at the Garsdale Retreat in September, during which I want to be planning and writing for the next book.

Robin Houghton, Chewing the cud & going off-piste

I’m getting very close now to the launch of Poetry’s Possible Worlds and therefore working hard on Poetry’s Possible Publicity. The task is a supermassive black hole tugging at my effort and energy, most of which will vanish without a trace–but I still believe in putting it out there. As Claudia Emerson framed it to me a million years ago (she was a visiting prof here long, long before her Pulitzer), promoting a book is part of the respect and caretaking an author owes to the writing itself. I labored over the book mightily for ten years; I can spend some more hours giving it its best chance. […]

I’m setting up events for summer and fall and would very much welcome venue ideas and news of other soon-to-launch books that might resonate with mine for a bookstore event. Poetry’s Possible Worlds describes reading poetry during a time of crisis, so it’s memoir, criticism, and an exploration of the effects of reading on our minds and bodies. It’s also a speculative book (about poetry’s genre kinship with fantasy), a grief book (beginning with my father’s death and ending with my mother’s final illness), and a story of real and figurative travel (my Fulbright to New Zealand, among other journeys). At one point this constellation of topics bewildered me–how do I pitch this monster of a book? Mostly, now, it feels like an opportunity for connection.

Lesley Wheeler, Countdown…and teaching ideas for Poetry’s Possible Worlds

I have an e-chapbook – Magnetite and other poems – out now from Wild Art Publishing. It collects bird-themed poems from my three full collections along with a couple of newer poems, and matches each piece with superb bird photography from Rob Read (the man behind Wild Art), David Tipling, and others.

Most of the poems that I’ll be reading at my Cheltenham Poetry Festival reading next Monday will be from the book, so come along to the (online) event and get a taste of the book.

Matt Merritt, New e-book out now!

First off, thank you to everyone who has shown support for Rotura (Black Lawrence Press)! Whether you’ve snagged a copy, read some of the poems online, or heard me at a virtual event, the support and connection mean a lot.

Speaking of poems online, happy to share that three poems from Rotura were featured in last month’s issue of Poetry is Currency.

Continuing the Rotura-related thread, I am excited to share this interview for Mass Poetry’s “Getting to Know” series. I share a bit about origins and influences as well as insights about the new book.

Lastly: poet, scholar, and dynamic human being, Urayoán Noel, was also kind enough to include Rotura in his article “‘La Treintena’ 2022: 30+ Books of Latinx Poetry.” Honored to have Rotura featured alongside recent collections by Raquel Salas Rivera, Rio Cortez, and Darrel Alejandro Holnes among other essential, vibrant voices.

José Angel Araguz, updates & sharing

Well, I was really chuffed when this was published in The North .67 and finally in my new collection Pressed for time. Which brings me back to May 3rd when we had a live launch for the collection in the lovely venue which is Brighouse Library and Art Gallery . For a week before, I was awake nights wondering if it was true, and if, because I’d done it before I could still do it. I was absurdly nervous about the whole thing, apart from the usual business of wondering whether anyone would turn up. I was nervous enough to write a script for my bits of the reading. These days I’m usually in bed by 9.00pm. Would I have the energy? I haven’t read aloud to a live audience for two years and more…….and so on. 

What actually happened was that twelve Calder Valley Poets rocked up to do support readings; former students and ex-colleagues from the 1970s (Northern Counties College) and 1980s (Boston Spa Comp) turned up out of the blue; poets and friends I’ve not seen in yonks came along; eldest son, daughter in law and grandson came along (and filmed it all); we sold a shed-load of books. It all went like clockwork thanks to my editor Bob Horne’s careful planning. To top it all, my friend, mentor and inspiration Kim Moore arrived (a five hour round trip from Barrow!) and read three of my poems from the collection, so I heard them as if I’d never encountered them before. Wow!

Nervous? The script went out of the window. I’d forgotten what a live audience can do. I’d forgotten how it feels, the buzz, to be flying. There’s an electricity that energises you, that overrides two years of lockdown and chemo, and I thank my stars for it. I was reading a Facebook post today from Gill Lambert, the Leeds/Airedale poet who launched her new collection A small goodbye at dawn in Haworth. She’s flying, too. Suddenly there are launches everywhere. We’ve been let out. We know how the Mole felt. We’re learning the synergy and language of company again, the sound of voices. 

John Foggin, Reading allowed or The Company you keep

I am still paused in my next writing exploit and plan to give  myself until June 1 to figure out what I am doing, what exactly I’ll be working on over the summer.  Will it be more of half completed unnamed mss #14 (I kind of have a name, but am still trying it out in my head). Or will it be the epic project, which as its name suggests, feels like a huge undertaking I am not sure I am ready to embark on just yet. Toward the end of the summer, I’ll start working on edits and finalizing automagic, which I would love to release around Halloween given its spooky, Victorian feel. However, I am still recovering from the final sprint that was animal, vegetable, monster. Over the last couple days,  I excitedly sent off signed copy orders that are still filtering in. If you haven’t ordered, keep an eye out this week, since I’ll be doing a 3-in-1 sale with other recent books.

I’ve spent this week knee deep in furniture styles (Jacobean, French Provincial, Victorian, Eastlake) and architecture details, as well as another assignment on vintage vending machine cards (this time devoted to TV westerns.) On Monday, I was downtown and thought I smelled lilacs, but realized they were the hyacinths in the planters around the perimeter of the Cultural Center.  I was able to sit in the park a little more comfortably than last week under a rein of white petals from the trees, that are now filling in everywhere you look.  I swear to god a week ago it seemed like spring would never come, but then it always does in a just a couple of warm days and spreads like wildfire. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 5/14/2022

I wrote the first draft of this poem many years ago, when I was a new mother with a full-time teaching job who struggled to find time to write. At the time, my self-respect seemed to be directly correlated with my ability to produce perfectly finished poems, which rarely happened. Hence the constant state of frustration, tiredness, and befuddlement. Oh, and I should mention being saddled with an undiagnosed blood disorder that cast its own pall over pretty much everything I did. It took another decade to sort that one out. I think I may have sleepwalked through months at a time during those years, because there are whole stretches of my life that I cannot account for. But I’m grateful for this poem, which is like a little anchor I hold on to, a reminder of who I used to be, this younger endearing self I still carry inside me. I wish I could have told her, “It gets better, just wait. Keep writing.” […]

Fingers and palms are the best
to write on: phone numbers,
directions, arrows

to a lover’s heart, poems,
like now, when you’ve run
out of paper, tablecloth, napkins.

Wave good-bye
to your vanishing hand
with your writing one.

Romana Iorga, Writing Yourself Out

I wrote 30 poems in 30 days, and here are my take-aways:

1. When you write a poem every single day, you look for poems everywhere.
Interesting words, phrases, situations–everything could be the “moment of the poem” for that day.

2. You learn how much time you Actually have for writing during the day.
Turns out, most days I do have writing time–the days that I didn’t, I made the time.

3. Your poems become less precious.
Yes, many of my poems were throwaways! And that is ok–not every word leaked from my pen is pure gold.

4. You find veins of interest / connections in poems.
For me, I found a vein of writing interest about mid-month that I’ve followed, and I think could turn into a chapbook at some point.

5. You learn the value of a writing buddy.
If I didn’t have a friend to send my poems to each day, it would have been so much easier to give up! Having a writing community or even just one writer friend to cheer you on can make a huge difference.

You don’t have to wait til April to write a poem a day!

Renee Emerson, What I learned from writing a Poem a day during NAPOWRIMO

Everything about Garden Time entranced me: Merwin’s sure hand at meter and enjambment, the lack of punctuation that made his poetry seem simultaneously innocent and wise, and the way he was able to inhabit his environment without enforcing his will on it. The book foreshadowed a series of tragedies: with his eyesight failing, Merwin dictated the poems to his wife Paula, who died a year after the book was published. Then Merwin himself died peacefully in his sleep two years later at the age of 91.

The first draft of the poem that emerged as I was reading Garden Time sounded like a bad Merwin imitation: unfocused, weirdly enjambed, and self-consciously metered, as if I were trying to write a free-verse Petrarchan sonnet. But the seed of what the poem might become, if I paid enough attention to how Merwin’s poems operate, with their subtle movement and emotional distance, kept me going. 

Somewhere between the fourth or fifth draft, the presence of my late father arrived; I gave him a Merwin-esque temperament and allowed him to say a few wise-yet-innocent things. In keeping with Garden Time, I set the poem in a garden, one of my favorite places on Earth: Tilden Park Botanical Garden in Berkeley, CA. A memory surfaced: thirty years ago, when I lived in Los Gatos and he lived in Berkeley, I took a day off work and met him there, and we spent the day wandering the paths of the garden, pausing every now and then to read the plants’ captions. I remembered, with a stab of the most overwhelming nostalgia, that it was an astonishingly beautiful summer day and that the California native rose, rosa californica, was in bloom,and that my dad pronounced the day “perfect.”

On the strength of this memory, the poem took off, zipping away from its roots as a heavily-influenced piece of writing and demanding its own voice. In early drafts, I’d refrained from adding any punctuation, but now inserted commas, periods and ellipses where needed. I double-spaced the poem and let the line lengths meander, some long, some short. The finished poem still contains its Merwin influence, but it’s a whole new entity unto itself.

Erica Goss, Embrace Influences

How would you describe poetry’s role in your life? As a job, a hobby or a vocation?

For me, it’s definitely not a job. However, the fact I don’t use poetry as a means to generating my primary source of income doesn’t mean it’s any less important to me, nor does it mean my own poems are any worse (or better!) than stuff by people who do. Moreover, in my own personal case, viewing poetry as a job would kill off my capacity to write. This is because poems are ring-fenced in my mind as one of the few parts of my life in which I can do as I please without worrying about the fallout!

But then the term ‘hobby’ makes my hackles rise immediately. It insinuates I might be playing at being a poet, categorising my writing alongside stamp collecting or trainspotting. And it also gives the impression that poetry plays a secondary role in my life, which isn’t true.

And what about ‘vocation’? There’s a concern it might sound pretentious or feel like a pose, but it’s the word that works best for me. It doesn’t mean I necessarily spend umpteen hours a day writing poetry, but then I’d argue anyway that the genre doesn’t require or even benefit from lengthy periods at a desk. Instead, poems are often better for being filtered through lived experiences. My life feeds into my poetry and my poetry into my life. And that interwoven relationship is the reason why writing poems is a vocation for me.

Matthew Stewart, Job, hobby or vocation?

Don’t get too
comfortable

on the mountain —
that’s not what

it’s there for,
the old monk told

his students.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (201)

“Rookie” selects poems from Caroline Bird’s previous six collections, “Looking Through Letterboxes” (2002), “Trouble Came to the Turnip” (2006), “Watering Can” (2009), “The Hat-stand Union” (2012), “In these days of Prohibition” (2017) and “The Air Year” (2020). The last won the Forward Prize for Best Collection and she’s previously been shortlisted for The Polari Prize, the Costa Prize, the T S Eliot Prize, Ted Hughes Award, Geoffrey Dearmer Prize and has won an Eric Gregory Award and twice won the Foyle Young Poets Award and Dylan Thomas Prize. Bird was one of the five official poets at the 2012 London Olympics. The selections run chronologically. […]

“Rookie” is a carefully curated selected, showing Bird’s progression from teenage poet to mature adult. Underneath the successful humour, serious points are made about finding one’s place in life and dealing with the external highs and lows along with the aspects of your own personality you don’t want to put under a spotlight, but you also know if it weren’t working overtime backstage, the bits of you that you’re happy to put centre stage wouldn’t exist. It’s a great introduction to Bird’s work which is packed full of substance.

Emma Lee, “Rookie: Selected Poems” Caroline Bird (Carcanet) – book review

17 – If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Oh dear, I think I’m pretty good at teaching. I can’t imagine doing something else. But that’s different from being a writer. It’s a dream to be a writer who can live on one’s publications; that’s not common as a poet. If I “had not been a writer,” I would be a different person. I’d like to think that I would do work for women’s rights. I would have ended up being that strange woman who lives alone in the woods, and people say, Stay away from her. She’s reading and talking to herself.

18 – What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

There is no choice. Writing is hard, relentless, absorbing, possessive. When I’m working on a book, I feel bothered by it, “bothered by beauty,” as John Ashbery wrote. “No layoff from this condensary,” as Lorine Niedecker writes. When I’m writing, I’m also at my most happy—being alone and thinking and worrying over words. I often wish I wasn’t a writer; I have a naïve fantasy that I would be happier and calmer if I wasn’t. To have one job. I’m not good at other things, such as playing the flute or singing or surgery, so I’m sticking with poetry.

19 – What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

The last great book I read was FIGHT NIGHTby Miriam Toews. Hell yeah! That is book is a force. I loved it with all my heart: its characters, its style, its structure. The last great film I saw is The Apartment, the Billy Wilder film from 1960, which I had never seen. I love Jack Lemmon’s physical comedy, his nervy, earnest, wiggly energy. I loved the pristine secretaries battling for dignity and love within the patriarchal structure of the office. I loved the lightning-fast banter, the comebacks, the Tiffany lamps and Modern art stuck to the wall with pins of his apartment. Most of all, I loved Shirley MacLaine’s performance. Her wholehearted longing, her honest tears, her warm demeanor in the Elevator Operator uniform. I feel like we all still work at Consolidated Life.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Camille Guthrie

We aroused and blaze-glazed cartwheeling denizens of equanimity, fierce galaxies of harmony in our hearts.

Idealistic and unjetlagged, we kung fu lassitude until it mimics the nimble ongoings of a poem’s quintuplets.

We residents of Shakespeare-tilted universes all verbed-up, whirlwinding and willing to xerox our unrestrained yodels

to create playful new zodiacs of zest.

Rich Ferguson, How we roam the alphabet’s wild jungle

I know a woman who once hated her ex with such fury that she soothed herself by imagining all the ways she might kill him. She and he did the acrimony dance through lawyers long after their finances were left in ruins. Somehow they both believed they spared their daughter, having agreed to remain cheerful in her presence. The girl surely saw the grimaces inside their smiles.

Their loathing simmered for years until their child, at nine, was diagnosed with cancer. Both parents went to her appointments and treatments. They cried and prayed and hoped together. Their daughter survived. She grew up smart and strong. She recently got engaged.  

My friend is happily remarried and her ex lives with a much adored life partner. The two couples have been vacationing together for years. They laugh, they reminisce, they dance in ways that give each couple space. They talk about buying a big house or property with two homes so the four of them can move in together. They imagine a backyard roomy enough for their daughter’s wedding. Imagine it scattered with trees perfect for their someday grandchildren to climb. They message each other real estate listings all the time.

I think of countries around the world that were once at war, but are now on friendly terms. They read each other’s literature, savor each other’s cuisines, celebrate each other’s accomplishments. Tourists visit parks where war memorials stand under flowering trees. Suffering and loss can decompose over time into something nourishing, as nature so patiently shows us.  

Laura Grace Weldon, Hate Is Biodegradable

The girl is thinner, lets the water of the river drift through her tiny hands.
What can I tell you that you don’t already know?
There are explosions somewhere close.
The girl looks up at her mother.
Aristotle tends his bees somewhere in the future.
People clear away rubble.
Some even make music and dance.
I’m sorry this is not enough.
That old line again:
Give peace a chance.
This poem is for you, about you.

Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING IN A TIME OF WAR

talk to the wasps
trapping ideas
hunting for the impossible

Ama Bolton, ABCD May 2022

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 16

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. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, a very full digest (urp!) with all the great themes in play: love, death, time, war, NaPoWriMo, etc. I’m a little sad that there’s only one more week of April!


before coffee or cricket before
the bullfrog’s unholy racket
just a book a cat staring at me
with her bright constellations
and my wrist’s constant throb
it is in this quiet that I remove my
head arrange it among corn
flowers and baby’s breath
in the florist’s refrigerated
case breathe the promise
fragrance of gardenias in boxes
rose cramped arrangements
elephant shaped vases for the ill
I’ll return for you at nine
I tell my empty skull
don’t worry I tell my blue
blue eyes I’ll always come back
I lie without blinking and close
the soft fleshy door

Rebecca Loudon, April 20.

Dear Camilla,

Fingers crossed this letter finds you in good health and still enjoying poetry!

I’m afraid I can’t quite remember your face from my reading at the New Park Centre four years ago, though I do just about recall resisting a dodgy joke about the royal family while checking the spelling of your name and signing your brand-new copy of The Knives of Villalejo. However, I’ve been thinking about you a lot these past few days, ever since my friend spotted that very copy at the Oxfam shop in Chichester last week and whizzed a photo of it over to me.

On the one hand, I hope you enjoyed it and then passed it on, rather than regretting your purchase. And then, of course, I hope that you yourself chose to give it to Oxfam. Far too many books in charity shops are from personal libraries that have been dispersed by relatives (see my blog post about Peggy Chapman-Andrews from a few years back).

And on the other hand, I’m writing to thank you for granting me this poetic rite of passage: the first time my book has been spotted at a charity shop. I’m pleasantly surprised not to feel annoyed at all that it might have been discarded. Instead, I’m excited to wonder about the prospective new life it’s been granted. As soon as I get back to Chichester, I’ll be popping in to the Oxfam shop to find out whether it’s found another owner.

In other words, I’m proud of joining the ranks of the charity shop poets. I’ve always loved second-hand books, and my collection’s now among them! For that, Camilla, I’ll always be grateful to you.

All the best,

Matthew Stewart

Matthew Stewart, A letter to a reader

iii.
After salt, tap water
tastes almost sweet, still
like nothing, flavored
with memory more
than with anything.

iv.
From the living room,
giggles (cat like tread,
is everybody
here?), the playlist faint
and set on repeat.

PF Anderson, 5 Answers

I wanted to write about writing about being in love. I thought I could write something grateful and insightful and intelligent. It turns out I can’t. In the end you simply have to sit down and do it and let it be what it will. This I learn from the to and fro of Kim Moore and Clare Shaw egging each other on to stick to their NaPoRiMo challenge via Facebook. They are each distracted by children or by work or by tiredness and still they do it. A couple of days ago each of them posted a piece for which the prompt was the challenge to write a love poem. […]

And that was the year
I made you paper hyacinths in a paper box
painted with hyacinths , and a poem for its lid.

I suppose I was thinking of cruel months
and hyacinth girls, and unexpected rains.
I was thinking of surprises. I was not thinking at all.
I was in love, and in various ways I am, still,
and thinking how we have assembled things around us
and cannot bring ourselves to throw away anything.
These cards, those bits of ribbon, these fragments.

John Foggin, Words of love

April 21st (Thursday just gone) was World Curlew Day. Curlews (or Eurasian Curlews to give them their full name) are one of my favourite species, but sadly are in steep decline. In the last few years, they’ve disappeared from a couple of areas where they previously bred on my old local patch, and the news isn’t generally good elsewhere. Related species such as Whimbrel also face pressures, and of course the Slender-billed Curlew has effectively gone extinct within the last 20 years.

All of which means World Curlew Day is a thoroughly good thing. One thing I learned on Thursday was that the date was chosen, according to the Welsh Ornithological Society, as it’s the feast day of the 6th century Welsh saint Beuno, who blessed the birds and said that they should always be protected. That sort of thing is a bit of a recurring theme with Dark Ages saints – St Cuthbert, for example, was supposed to have protected Eiders, and was also tended to by Ravens and Otters, among others.

Among other things, St Beuno is supposed to have been to have been so appalled to hear the English language being spoken that he went as far west as he could (the Llyn Peninsula) to found a monastery and get away from the uncouth Germanic invaders. I wrote a poem about it, that appeared in my second collection, hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica.

PS I’ll try to post the poem some time soon, but I’ve mislaid my copy of the book. 

Matt Merritt, World Curlew Day

Joseph Bathanti’s new poetry collection Light at the Seam, published by LSU Press during Lent, could not have arrived at a more propitious, or more precarious, time in our lives. Though we have just retraced, in faith, Christ’s journey to death and still behold in wonder His mysterious rebirth, we remain threatened by ruinous instruments of our own making; amid what we take for granted, air and water, birds and game, the earth that feeds us, we are too often oblivious to how the “[s]undial / casts its shadow on the hour” (“Sundial, West Virginia”). We have forgotten our charge to be caretakers of daylily and webworm, thistle and Queen Anne’s lace, snake and vole, “whole kingdoms of. . .whirring ethnographies of insects” (“The Assumption”).

Fundamentally a personal response to, even an indictment of, Appalachia’s coal industry and the destruction that continued mining wrecks upon the Appalachian landscape, a place “almost Heaven— / but decidedly not heaven” (“Limbo”), Light at the Seam is, ultimately, a gesture toward resilience, renewal, and hope.

The collection comprises four aptly named sections whose religious connotations are deliberate: The Assumption, The Windows of Heaven, Limbo, and Light at the Seam. These sections suggest not only only glorious beginnings and hard endings but also the in-between “imaginal phase” (“My Mother and Father”) of the likely or inevitable, be it disastrous runoff and floods, clouds of powdered coal that catch the air on fire (“Oracle”), slurries streaming toward once-pristine rivers in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, or the simple sign “No Trespassing / [that] impends / a large red / caution” (“Keyford”). Bathanti sources in these sections the workings of both the human and the Divine, drawing unmistakable contrasts: between the beauty on earth, where [f]ireflies torch the night” and “flowers shrive, and prick eternity” (“Blessed Thistle”), and the ugliness of mountain-top removal that renders a creek “sick // green-brown in slabs of sunlight— / dull as a gorged serpent” (“Postdiluvian: Mingo County, West Virginia”); between the holding of Creation as sacred, and therefore ever-lasting, and the ill-served-taking by humans by authority and assumption, “men [not] beholden / to words on a page” (“Sentences”) who exact what’s “beyond our ken” (“Boar”); between the clarity of witness and the dark acknowledgment of our “sin black as bituminous” (“Glad Creek Falls”); between loss and the possibility of regeneration. No matter the place named, whether Mingo County, West Virginia, or Dubois, Pennsylvania, how we “look upon the earth” (“Floyd County, Kentucky”), the poet indicates, is how we map our fate and our future. But, “make no mistake: // you are permitted entry through grace” (“Daylily”), the poet reminds us, adding, “Life is more than fable, // but never stops stunning earth” (“April Snow”).

Maureen E. Doallas, Joseph Bathanti’s ‘Light at the Seam’ (Review)

On the screen, the men abduct the women willingly into sailboats and helicopters and Yves St Laurent dresses. They emerge immaculate from baths scented like money and lavender. Honey in their voices, the way they hold their coffee til it goes cold. The neat fold of their sweaters in drawers. The author’s inheritance was a patch of weeds in a meadow surrounded by smokestacks and rusted out cars. The author’s inheritance was worry, that slipped into her bed each night like a cat beneath the covers.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #22

and do you find
you asked after
the first bottle
(hesitantly because
this reunion shared
only the fumes
of a maybe past)
that tears come
more readily
these days?
oh yes i agreed
barely a day
goes past without
you looked
into your glass
lachrymae rerum
you pronounced
man’s relentless
cruelty to man
as the default state
and far too long
of trudging that
same old road
more like riding
that same old train
i said
only this time
it’s terminus bound
with only the last
few stations to come
ah
our waterloo
you smiled
kings cross for me
i said
and we laughed
earlsfield
you declared
potters bar
i countered
vauxhall
you intoned
finsbury park
i whispered
and we laughed
to tears
as we used to laugh
back when the line
stretched far ahead
and impatience grew
as each platform
glided to a halt
and we yearned
for the turnstiles
and the streets beyond

Dick Jones, stations

I eat my toast and look at a news website.
It says twelve hundred homeless people died in Britain in 2021.
The reporter writes of the homeless problem.
The homeless are not the problem.
The system that makes them homeless is the problem.
The people who make the system are the problem.
I see somebody has decided April will be National Poetry Month.
I click on the link. National Poetry Month would not be possible
without the support of our sponsors.
It lists them.
On twitter two poets complain they are suffering from PPD,
which apparently stands for Post-Publication Depression.
On the TV news it’s time for sport.
I hear the phrase A rain-affected day in the cricket,
switch off.

Waiting.
It will take our new friends twelve or thirteen hours to reach the border.
Train stations are sometimes bombed.
I have their photographs, open the folder and look at them
smiling, not knowing.

Bob Mee, WAR POEMS

I’ve lived an interesting life and have often been asked if I was planning to write a memoir. The events that seem to be of interest to others are sometimes personal (getting kicked out of high school, having an illegal abortion, delivering my son in a hotel room in Kabul Afghanistan, losing my best friend to AIDS), sometimes political (protesting the American war in Vietnam, being tear gassed by police at Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, running a feminist abortion clinic, being a member of ACT UP NY, co-founding a lesbian press). I always deflect the question. I’ve told the story of the birth of my son many times, but something always rang untrue in the telling. If you read memoir or listen to true stories as spoken on The Moth Radio Hour, there is always a central drama and some sort of resolution; it may be something learned or revealed; settled or accepted; reconciled or forgiven; avenged or rejected. The problem I faced was that I couldn’t name the central drama in my life’s story, so how could it possibly be reconciled? I write, but I’ve always hidden my sadness in poems, not in stories.

So, when it revealed itself, it was as if my entire life needed to be rewritten. The event that encumbered me, that I didn’t tell—or spoke of rarely—was losing custody of my son to his father when he was five. Facing that fact now, trying to undo the effects of the shame I have carried for decades, has made it possible for me to want to tell this story. A story with an omission in it is a story untold. And yet the omission itself, once revealed, is only a small part of the story.

Risa Denenberg, Coming Out of Hiding

It’s too late to become a philosopher. I don’t have the stamina now to do mountains of difficult reading. I’ll have to accept — as I never did, as a reader of literature — secondary sources and summaries, watered-down versions adapted to the meanest understandings. Well, bring it, then. I’m not reading the complete works of Kant and Heidegger at this time of my life. But I may need to know something, at least, about what they meant. I don’t aspire to be a figure of any sort, literary or philosophical — which is all to the good — but I still aspire to understand: I still aspire to live a life that might mean something. I still aspire to take a bit of the edge off my own suffering, and other people’s, in whatever way I can.

It’s not just reading, of course. It’s practicing. It’s meditation, contemplation, prayer, visualization. Mushrooms. Being a damned fool, or even a blessed one. And it’s writing poetry, and possibly even making art.

I don’t see what else I can do, honestly. It’s no just that there’s no other path forward. There’s also no path back. 

Dale Favier, No Path Back

If, as you wrote, to die is truly                         to become invisible,

then perhaps                     this isn’t possible. A dram of single malt,

the waves of which                               

have crashed. These poems, carved                  from bread and butter,

shorelines, secrets             , tundra                   : something brittle,
ancient                    , deeply human. Stone                

as old as wine.

rob mclennan, Requiem for Steven Heighton

The first thing I thought of when I saw that the Russians had attacked Lviv was Adam Zagajewski’s poem “To Go to Lvov.”  In fact, the only things I know about Lvov/ Lviv come from his poems, and from his prose  book Two Cities, about Lvov and Gliwice.  Zagajewski was just a few months old when his family was forced to leave Lvov, a beautiful old, cultured town, a World Historical Site, for Gliwice, an industrial German city traded to Poland at the end of World War II.  Zagajewski’s family kept the city they’d had to leave alive with stories, and the poet absorbed their vision:  “My grandfather, despite walking right next to me in Gliwice, was in Lvov. I walked the streets of Gliwice, he walked the streets of Lvov.”  This in turn made me think of poems where place looms large–real places like Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, Frank O’Hara’s New York City, Alice Oswald’s Dart, about the river.  But I also think of wholly imaginary places, like Xanadu in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” or Dante’s vision of Hell in the Inferno, or the metaphorical ship in Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck. And then the places in between–actual places summoned up in memory, like Zagajewski’s Lvov.  The place could be as small as a room or a garden, as large as a city or mountain range or ocean–Frost’s “Once By the Pacific.”

Sharon Bryan, Poems of Place

a moose came out of the woods and
stepped on my heart, yes
a moose, horns like driftwood oaks
came out of the forest and
stepped on my heart
a moose or maybe an elk hard to tell
given my position and the fact that
the moon was radiant, glowing, but
behind clouds and I was lying down
curled in fetal position and
holding my head in my hands

Gary Barwin, a moose came out of the woods and stepped on my heart, yes

Robert Fillman: Thank you, Meghan, for taking a moment to chat with me about your ambitious debut collection, These Few Seeds, which I loved! The book covers a lot of ground—Brooklyn, London, Greece, California, New England, Texas—was your intention to evoke place (and a range of places) when you set out to write this collection? Or did you have some other governing principle in mind? 

Meghan Sterling: It is a whirlwind, isn’t it? A big part of my life has been traveling the world—it was actually in Peru that I decided to have my daughter. As my first collection, I wanted to give it the breadth of my life, all that came before that delivered me to my daughter, as it were, that made me the person who could be her mother, who could mother at all. Traveling also gives me a broader sense of grief about what we are losing to climate change. And she may not take after me, but if she does, I hope she can travel a world that still has sacred and pristine spaces.

Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books Interview Series: Robb Fillman Interviews Meghan Sterling

Two deer coming down out of the woods
each foot a needle sewing

footprints to the dew.
Two Roe adults the colour

of last year’s leaves,
picking through the headstones

gentle as mist

Wendy Pratt, Twelve

Unfortunately, the Monday after our celebratory Easter weekend, I was due for a long-postponed brain and spine scan. I always feel a little wonky after brain MRIs – sinus infection? magnetic allergies? – and so I was a little down and out this last week. I also found out some good news (no new brain or spine lesions) but also a little bad news – a thyroid node pressing on my jugular vein and carotid artery I need to have an ultrasound on, and terrible degenerative disc disease in the neck, which I guess is why my neck hurts all the time – as well as a pinched nerve. That’s how it always is, right? As we get older – a little good news – my MS hasn’t gotten any worse – with a little bad news – age related arthritis in the neck, something I need further testing on the thyroid (which, let’s face it, my thyroid has been wonky since I was a teen.) The funniest part of the test was the front desk person, as she was handing me my MRI on disc, said to me “Your hair is the same color as the cherry blossoms – you have to take a picture with them!” So I did.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, National Poetry Month, MRIs and Upcoming Birthdays and Publications, and Signs of Spring

I walked streets
past closed shops
stood on the beach

the wind raised waves of fine sand
until it combined with the rain
to send us all indoors again

the cracked pavement
a broken mirror
reflecting the street lights up to the stars

Paul Tobin, BETTER DAYS

I’ll write more about the retreat later. I am trying to get ahead with both grading and seminary work, since I do have an appointment with a hand surgeon on Thursday, and I don’t want to get too far behind. We are at the end of the semester for both my teaching and my seminary student work. When this semester started back in January, I worried about the new Omicron variant, and I worried that my job might keep me from being successful with my classes.  A broken wrist was not on my radar screen of things to worry about. I am aware that I often worry about possible negative developments only to be blindsided by something else. Breaking that habit of worrying about the future may take more years than I have left.

Again I realize I am very lucky. I am grateful for the voice recognition that I have with my version of Word, for example.  I am grateful to be able to be at this retreat, broken wrist and all.

Kristen Berkey-Abbott, Broken Wrist Woes and Gratitude

I was told little girls don’t howl like banshees. They don’t go around with messy hair and dirty ragamuffin faces. They say please and thank you. They keep their elbows off the table.

I heard for goodness’ sake, stop harping about not being hungry. There are plenty of children in the world who would be happy for what you’ve got. Don’t get smart with me, you know you can’t share your supper with them. You will clean your plate, missy, before going back outside. No need to panic because your friends are waiting. And no hiding food in your napkin. If you think that will work you’ve got another think coming. That’s quite enough backtalk from you.

Not till I’m grown do I learn:

Banshee comes from my Irish kin, meaning a female fairy or woman of the elves.

Ragamuffin comes from Ragamoffyn, the name of a demon in a 14th century poem.

To harp comes from harpies, winged half-human half-bird creatures in Greek mythology representing hungry wind spirits who steal food.

Happy comes from my Nordic kin, from heppinn (fortunate) and hap (luck).

Panic is related to sudden terror when woodland god Pan lets loose fierce cries, causing enemies to flee and saving his embattled friend.

I am glad to live for goodness’ sake. But hair messy, elbows on the table, I fly beyond what I used to call remembery, toward a world where another think is, indeed, coming.

Laura Grace Weldon, Backtalk

It was in the golden hills that I stopped holding your death in my arms. Your corpse, my soul. Where one stopped, the other began, fifteen years passed that way. In dreams you would come to me, miserable, suffering. And as you could not explain your life to me when you lived, you could not explain your death. Why you embraced it so. Was death the key to your cell? 

In the golden hills that I stopped holding your death in my arms. I walked along the Yuba River for miles. Purdon Crossing, Edwards Crossing, and I left the trail and went down to the water, and there I covered your death with rocks. I balanced one rock on top of another. And again. And again. And I climbed back up to the trail and left your death behind me. 

It was in the golden hills that I stopped holding your death in my arms. And that was years ago, over thirty years now since you swallowed the pills with vodka. Your corpse, my soul, for so long they have gone their own ways. You, in the light. Me, in the world. I’m just on the edge of getting old. And I like it, Cathy. I still like life. 

-for Cathy Kochanski, 1954-1983 

James Lee Jobe, the suicide of Cathy Kochanski

how it is to be
deep in league with the plants
incessant rain

Jim Young [no title]

I confess to the usual nerves about whether all this would line up right. I know the tone of book promotion is supposed to be all yay-yay-gratitude-everything’s-going-dreamily–a beautifully produced book is a really lucky thing. It’s also a really frigging hard thing: to plan, to write, to revise revise revise, to find a publisher and revise again. Then tossing the published book at the world so that it produces even a tiny guppy-size splash is hard. I find myself riding peaks and troughs. Just so it’s clear, I spend way more time fighting anxiety and inertia about this promo stuff than feeling triumphant.

This week I read the tarot cards on the future of the book and they told me, eh, false starts, disappointment, it won’t go as you hoped. I then did a consolation reading next about something lower stakes–how about my May trip to Budapest?–and they said wow, amazing, the world (literally The World) is at your feet! Um, thanks, cartomancy.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry’s Possible Worlds for pre-order–so there, Three of Cups reversed!

Forget the vowels. Speak only
in consonants. Thick-soiled
like freshly plowed earth,
thick-soled & thick-souled.
Forgive me. I held a word
all morning like a limp-necked
bird in my hand. Would
that it drank. That it opened
its one lidless eye. That it sang.

Romana Iorga, NaPoWriMO Day 19, 2022

“Ambiguity is the world’s condition.…As a ‘picture of reality’ is it truer than any other.  Ambiguity is.”  So says Charles Simic.

In that spirit, I submit spring.  Yes, spring is a bouquet pulled and given from the dark dead closet of winter by a surprise lover — and yes, spring is a wide sky of clotted clouds and warty trees.  Yes, canopies of white cherry blossoms making the city street into a wedding lane, and yes, wondering if those branches that scratch the blue sky are dead or slow or what?  

Yes to bemuda shorts and flipflops, yes to down vests with down parkas.  Yes to breath-scented bacchanalia; yes to depletion and childhood colds that repeat every season.  

Yes to People of the Book celebrating religious holidays like overlapping dinner plates; yes to fractricidal wars.  Yes to moral imperatives that command and consume us; yes to the audaciousness of hope.  Yes to too much, yes to breath.  

Jill Pearlman, Ambiguity, Thy name is Spring

The ears, two snails stuck out of habit
on either side of the head. The nose,

windbreak in a field no longer at war with
itself. Declension of the chin that in the past

rested too long in the bowl offered by the hand.
Citadel of shoulders from which no doves

cry at twilight. The knobs on the back
which at night still flutter toward the idea

of wings.

Luisa A. Igloria, Dream of the Body as Strandbeest

The collection ends on a sequence, “Political Poem 2.0”. Part VI,

“I say poetry is
not escapism.

But I had not yet
understood how

to sit at a table and
drink a glass of water,

gratefully,
watching clouds pass.”

Poetry, regardless of the poet’s intent, is often read as autobiographical in a way that fiction isn’t. Whenever the lyrical “I” is used, some readers assume the poet is speaking which isn’t always the case. The opening two lines suggest poems are not read for the reader to escape their lives yet the remainder of the poem undermines this. The reader has not matured to understand how a simple pleasure: stopping for a drink of water and watching, being present in that moment and noticing only what is happening in that moment allows the speaker to temporary ‘escape’ other pressures and concerns. The next poem, VIII, observes a desert hawk,

“For you know
there is neither

beauty nor play
without sustenance,

and nothing, truly
nothing

without water.”

Water is life, both its source and the force that keeps life going.

Thoughout “and then the rain came”, water is literal, metaphorical and sustaining. A force that enables life, weather that revives the natural world and sustenance, not just physical but spiritual and mental. Edward Ragg has created a pamphlet of complementary lyrical and narrative poems linked thematically but experimental in approach, using language as a fluid probe.

Emma Lee, “and then the rain came” Edward Ragg (Cinnamon Press) – book review

I am playing the little game with the flowers.
This one droops to the left.
This one droops to the right.
Another has leaves like bowtie pasta.
Another has leaves like questioning arms.
I match this flower to its companion,
these leaves to their mates across the board.
As each match is made, both halves disappear:
Isn’t that the way of the world?
Eventually even the little filigreed borders are gone;
nothing is left but empty white boxes.
I press Play Again, spawn
another version of the board,
as if I’d never been there.

Jason Crane, POEM: Tiles

When I opened the carton stamped D R I V E on the side and held this carefully-made object in my hands, for the first time, I felt the impact of the oddity of the image, combined with the title, making a poem of the cover. I was holding a poem. Like a parent with several children, who loves each one differently, and who is not supposed to have a favorite (but does), I’m forced to admit that, when it comes to the cover, Drive is mine. And, here’s why. I’ve always wanted a book whose cover makes you to want to pick it up. With Drive I like the feel of the matte finish. The slightly smaller-than-standard width, made to complement the short lines in the poems––the whole glove-compartment-size of the book––makes sense. Katherine Bradford’s artwork invites the reader to reach for the book, to look, and look, again, to ask questions like: what does that airborne woman have to do with the word drive? […]

Among the notable covers of poetry books from last year is Diane Seuss’s, almost unbeautiful Frank: Sonnets. Here is a book whose shape and size fit the poems inside, the width expanded to accommodate the poet’s long lines, the cover is in evocative/provocative conversation with the poems, and the image, personal to the author, to the title, integral to how this happens, making it a perfect cover. I’ll stop there, as the discovery of how this happens is one of the many pleasures to experience in the reading of this book, and a lesson in how to judge (and appreciate) a book by its cover!

Cover Stories: Judging a Book by Its Cover – guest post by Elaine Sexton (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

Sometimes I drag my husband to art-house-y films and when someone asks, “Was it good? Should I go see it?” I hesitate. Yes, definitely good. Also, scarred me for life.

That’s how I feel about this amazing, abrasive, challenging, brilliant book of poems by Diane Seuss. It is like nothing I’ve ever read. Your mileage may vary.

From the back cover: “Every poem in frank: sonnets is an example of the incomparable Seussian Sonnet, where elegy and narrative test the boundaries of the conventional form” (Terrance Hayes). “…an ambitious, searing, and capacious life story. The poems themselves use an ecstatic syntax to unite Seuss’s lyric leaps from one wretched sweetness to another….narratives of poverty, death, parenthood, addiction, AIDS, and the ‘dangerous business’ of literature are irreducible” (Traci Brimhall). In short, it was a little like reading a memoir—bizarre, fragmented, mesmerizing. When I first purchased this book and read a poem here and there, I was missing the point.

I’m trying to pluck out a few sentences to illustrate (but some of these untitled poems, always 14-lines but with unbridled-lengthened-lines, are all one sentence). Maybe this one about her son: “I’d authored him in my bones, he was my allegory, analogy, corollary, mirror, I forged / his suffering, his nail, his needle, his thrill” (p. 66). And, often, provocative statements that I don’t quite know what to do with: “All lives have their tropes over which we have minimal control” (p. 83); “I fell in love with death” (p. 80). Or in a poem beginning, “Thirty-nine years ago is nothing, nothing,” this ending:

I was nothing, I knew nothing then of nothing, its shacks shawled
with moss, its bitter curatives and ancient hags redressing my narratives. (p. 60)

Traci Brimhall sums it up brilliantly: “It’s a book to inhabit, to think alongside, to rage and laugh with, to behold the ways beauty is both a weapon and a relief.”

Bethany Reid, Diane Seuss: Frank

Ana Silvera is a fabulist – a teller of fables. I heard her first on Radio 3’s The Verb on 28 February 2020 and have been haunted ever since by her song Exile, with her own sruti-box (Indian harmonium) accompaniment. It starts one and a half minutes into the broadcast. Tree seeds carried in the mouth – what a strange and potent image. I carried her song in my mouth, and found myself writing new words to the tune. I sent the words to Brittle Star, a magazine that consistently published excellent poetry and prose until about 18 months ago. I was overjoyed to have my song accepted and published.

Ama Bolton, The Fabulist

Coming off
the mountain

I can say things
I cannot say,

the old monk says.
That’s why I go.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (182)

We went to the Peak District for half term, we had a lovely time in among the snow, the wind, the rain (as a Twilight Singers fan I’m now duty bound to link to Feathers, even if I am slightly misquoting the lyrics), but the weather sort of curtailed our outings. This did give me time to complete and submit my review of Stewart Carswell’s first collection, Earthworks, for London Grip. My thanks, as ever, to Michael for taking it and being so quick to publish it.

I really have to start saying no to reviews, but some how I still have 4 to do. I did start another while I was away. It’s only 350 words, and I got half way through and now I think I have to start again. Get on with it, Riches.!!

I woke up to some ace news yesterday, a mag that I have admired for a while have agreed to take one of my poems (pending acceptance of edit suggestions). I am working through their totally sensible suggestions at present, and hopefully it will all be good. I’ve gone from rarely getting editorial feedback to having a fair bit (albeit not massive) of late. I like it, I think. More news on this soon, I hope. No chickens are being counted in the making of this paragraph.

I also had the chance to catch up on some* reading while I was off. I say some, it was nowhere near enough. Every time I finish a magazine, a new one arrives, and that seems to take the place of reading the books that are piling up. It’s not exactly the end of the world though, is it?

Mat Riches, (Inspiring) Carpets

The Italian place I remember
had dark walls, and candles
in cut-glass red votive bowls.
I thought the owner was Polish.

He and my dad were buddies,
talked business, smoked cigars.
I wore black-patent Mary Janes,
drank Shirley Temples, feasted

on baskets of crusty bolillos:
French bread reimagined
into perfect torpedoes
by Mexican hands.

That’s where Dad taught me
how to relish soft-shell crab,
and the names of big wine bottles
like Jeroboam and Methuselah.

All I knew about Methuselah
was that he lived a long time,
maybe forever. I thought
Dad would too.

Rachel Barenblat, Fine Dining

To be clear: Like any love–perhaps, especially, a late-in-life one–it’s not all rainbows and confetti. Every person who’s lived a good chunk of time carries baggage, and unpacking mine has meant coming to new terms with aging and mortality and the passing of time and dreams.

In the past two months, I’ve become grounded in the reality that my body has changed and is changing. That I am going to get old and die. For real. Not in some abstract, “some day” sort of way, but in a concrete, wow-I-can’t-do-things-I-could-do-just-a-few-years-ago sort of way. In my head, I’ve still been mostly the same physical being I was in my mid-30s or so. Sure, I’d gained a few pounds, but I could still do all the same things, right? Ummm, not exactly. Now, in both my head and body, I know I’m not the same physical being I thought I was. (If you want to know how old your body really is, take up a sport you haven’t played since you were a tween. You’ll know, too.)

I know this might sound kind of grim–and I’ve had my moments of feeling fairly terrible about it all–but it’s really not. It’s becoming the foundation for a kind of gratitude I’ve never felt before. Yes, I’m going to die, but I’m not dead yet. A thing I thought was lost to me has come back. (What else might this be true for?) My body has deteriorated, but not so much that I can’t embrace this opportunity. The ladies I skate with tell me I’ve come back just in time; I’m still young enough to regain many of the skills I once had, but if I’d waited even a few more years that might not be the case. For the first time since–well, since about the time I quit skating, really–I’m feeling more gratitude than resentment toward my body.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Becoming a unicorn

Listen to the whirl of guitar & drum riding
on the breeze with whiffs of
The Big River & roast beef po boys
Listen to the rustle & crunch of
people clapping, feet dancing
in a crush of bodies & fun
Watch nimble fingers plucking strings
of steel, hair flying like freedom on fire
Watch an elderly gentleman, dapper
in dark suit & bowler hat, mesmerized
by musicians’ whirl & pop, a whisp
from his cigarette jigging overhead.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo 2022 day 24

The Path to Kindness is another anthology by James Crews, who also put together How to Love the World which I referenced in this post on reading poetry and on always carrying something beautiful in your mind. There’s a line from Danusha Laméris in the intro where she says, “kindness is not sugar, but salt. A dash of it gives the whole dish flavour.” Kindness is connection, and connection is something I think most of us are craving right now. It’s a good book to have on your shelf. I sort of forget who I used to be two years ago, someone who I would have described as a kind person. And this book helps me remember that. It’s also helpful to remember that kindness isn’t sweet or saccharine. It’s salty. […]

The last book in my stack is by Teju Cole: Golden Apple of the Sun. I really admire his book Blind Spot, which I’ve written about before. His latest has been well-reviewed in various places including: in Musée magazine, and Art Agenda. (Worth clicking through to see the photographs). You know I’m always up to read a book about still lifes and this is a good one. The photographs are that lovely balance between studied and unstudied. They feel natural even if they had been quite arranged. There’s just some good breathing in the photographs. A kind of very deliberate calm which is reassuring. They remind me a bit of some photos you see in recent cookbooks, but also not quite, because they’re not trying to sell you on anything other than the shapes and forms, on the experience of enlivening dailiness. If I were to use the word poetic to describe them, it would be the poetry of Derek Walcott, maybe. Precise, in control, but not without humour, not without flourish.

Shawna Lemay, Sustain the Gaze

What if everything we tell ourselves about why we feel a particular emotion at any given moment is nothing more than another story we’ve learned to compose as a way to soothe ourselves? To control one another and keep the world predictable?

Kids wake up happy without questioning their sanity or looking for the reason for it. I know there are some adults who do this, too. I have heard people talk about them and rationalize it by describing these adults as “simple-minded”. Or “special”. Unexplained cheerfulness is definitely anti-social behavior. It makes us giggle nervously. I’m not sure if it is a named archetype, but it should be. (Note to self to look it up when the headache subsides).

What if all art is just an act of unlearning? Resisting. And that our ideas of what poetry is can get in the way of that? What if art should start where we are familiar and then chisel at it until it leaves us speechless. What if instead of giving us more stories related to our own stories, it tears down every story?

What if it is the “made thing” that shows us the artifice in all made things? Even our own stories?

Ren Powell, The Artifice in Made Things & the Pleasure in Dis-Order

I know a woman that can turn a bullet into a church bell.

I know a child that can transform ill will into cotton candy bombs.

I know a man that swears it’s quarter till heaven and half past hell whenever he checks his watch.

I know enough to know I’m not even close to knowing everything.

But I do know that when I refer to my fret hand, I mean the one that plays guitar

instead of the one that worries over the weight of the world.

Rich Ferguson, Fret Hand

Now I rise like a heron in the midnight pond.
My spine is infinite, my bones divine.
Upon re-entry, I find my flesh
intact. It is worshipful, this vessel. Its
storm of neurons, its earthen feet, the prayer of my hips, my
heart’s cauldron. My ribs engorged with grief. My belly a safe house.

I shocked the clocks into obedience. In time, I will rise and
rise again,
come to rest in this spawning ground.

Kristen McHenry, Poem of the Month: The Odyssey

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 43

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, since I’m posting on Halloween, of course we must begin with some scary stuff: horror films, ghost words, the blank page, a world shorn of mystery and darkness, witchy women, visions of mortality, binge-eating, elections, and “difficult” poetry. From there, we move on to the usual glorious miscellany—which, since we don’t get trick-or-treaters here in Plummer’s Hollow, are the only treats I have to give out tonight.


With Halloween on a Sunday, it almost feels like it’s over before it began.  All the candy eaten, horror watched, the building humming all weekend with parties and elevators stuffed full of costumed Loyolans. Friday night date night, rather than brave an outing we decided to stream the new Halloween from the comfort of the couch instead of a possible crowded theatre.  I was exhausted from the week anyways, so it was a nice respite.  I slept late yesterday, had a zoom call with a class to talk about chapbooks, then spent the evening assembling them and making soup and baking. I intended to curl up in bed and watch more horror, but fell asleep pretty early and woke this morning to coffee and lemon bars that cooled in the fridge all night. Somehow, tomorrow it will be November, which seems impossible. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/31/2021

Today I put up the last chalkboard poem for the month of October. I’ve been going outside in my robe or a long sweater over my jammies to write in the mostly dark, but this morning I waited till closer to 7:00 a.m., and I like how there’s a rectangle of light in the upper left, almost like a vertical postcard, of morning coming, and a light in the window at the corner/curve house, the house where two big trees came down over the past year or so, and where a widow lives, and now several of the poems tie together in very particular, neighborhood ways.

Because of the dark and the damp, I didn’t always see my imperfect erasing. Yesterday, I noticed I was writing an “s” over the ghost of a previous “s.” So these tiny poems have been layered over each other. Ghost words.

On Thursday night, I participated in the Patricia Dobler Poetry Award reading! What a (scary) delight! (I always get nervous before poetry readings and plays, no matter how many times I do them!) Jan Beatty hosted the event, and read a poem by Patricia Dobler. This year’s winner, Shirley Jones Luke, read her winning poem and others. Denise Duhamel, the judge in my year, introduced me, and I read “Fox Collar,” my winning poem, and other mother poems. Then Denise read a set of wonderful poems, including some mother poems. Sarah Williams was our fabulous Zoom stage manager. A lovely event!

Kathleen Kirk, Ghost Words

The blank page. A rectangle of absence, it fills the writer with equal parts expectation and dread. A stark reminder of the writer’s apartness, it demands that you pay attention to it and not your family, dogs, messy house, or whatever else might distract you. 

We could compare the fear of the blank page to the fear of commitment, but it’s more complicated than that. The blank page equals a terrible silence. It shows you the part of you that’s not writing. No wonder its presence causes writers such turmoil.

Erica Goss, Fear of the Blank Page

For Rilke, the successful poem is a space in which the mysteries of things and personal confession are both explored, or revealed, simultaneously. [Charlie] Louth argues [in Rilke: the Life of the Work] that, from the outset, Rilke’s view of this was always positive: “there is no unnerving consciousness of the self ’s arbitrary dependence on chance encounters with the outside world”, but equally, there is “no doubt about the existence of an underlying unity to which the poet has access”. What he feared was ‘the interpreted world’ (‘der gedeuteten Welt’), a world view shorn of all mystery, a perspective that perhaps most of us inhabit, a view in which language has become dominantly instrumental, “narrowing our vision so that life appears cut and dried without any possibility of the unknown and the unknowable”. Louth explains what readers of Rilke value in his work: “poetic language, as he understands it, is precisely a way of talking that avoids directness and allows the mutability of experience and the mystery of the world to be expressed. It releases rather than limits possibility”. Beyond this stands what Rilke might have meant by the term ‘God’. ‘He’ is “an experience of totality, life felt as a whole, in which self and other are not distinct or momentarily lose their distinctness”.

Here is my new translation of an early poem from The Book of Hours (Das Stundenbuch) in which Rilke is developing these ideas:

You, the darkness from which I came,
I love you more than the flame
scoring the world’s edge
with a glimmer
upon some sphere,
beyond which no-one has more knowledge.

Yet the darkness binds everything into itself:
all forms, flames, creatures, myself,
it seizes on them,
all powers, everything human . . .

And it may be: there is an immense might
stirring nearby –

I believe in the night.

Martyn Crucefix, Charlie Louth’s Rilke + new Rilke translations

Last night I met with L. What should have been a leisurely dinner, had I not been so hungry for injera and chilies. She actually told me to slow down. Take a breath. She’s feeling grief now, flowing in like a tide. She’s aware of her own breathing. Her mother-in-law has been moved to palliative care. A matter of days. A matter of hours. The kind of uncertainty that crowds the present with future sorrow. We are both twisting and untwisting – in varying tempos. She’s having trouble sleeping. I understand.

After dinner, we went to see Elizabeth Schwartz dancing several of Isadora Duncan’s works. Schwartz began studying Duncan’s work in 1977. Before that she studied under Merce Cunningham. She is now 72.

She performed the pieces first with music, then with a narration of words to describe each movement: wave, wave, sustain, splash… Then again. With music.

She wore Duncan’s thin, Grecian dress. Two tears in the front panel, running up along her thighs. She desired. She reached-toward. Then she skipped, hopped, arched her back and surrendered. A bacchae, a mother, a comrade. She is exhausted.

Her body wore years of experience, a wisdom in the movements, an aesthetic in the presentation that touches deeper than ornamentation: This is not for you. It is more than you can conquer. It has already survived you and your desire to possess. It beat you to it. Mocks you for your tiny reach. Tiny desires. It is a glimpse of your future. Your impotence.

Doesn’t that scare you? Doesn’t she scare you?

The indigenous people of the Pacific regions say that humans walk backward into the future. I don’t think they mean that as a criticism. Though I do.

Ren Powell, Watching in the Dark

It’s not like you think,
all spells and black cats. It’s something
even better, something that singing
to the seals in the salty ocean taught me
what being asked to step out of life and into
the unknown, death, whatever —
led me to believe. That anyone could fly,
could burst spontaneously into flame,
we could become new forms, birds, trees.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Halloween (and a Spooky Poem,) Living with MS and Selma Blair’s Documentary, and Turning Dark

They ground and drank the bones of kings
in Nineveh. Swollen, I too learn we and submerge
an ocean, capsule, holy vessel.

Brimming, divided heartbeats like misplaced commas
sectioning the lace of my insides.
Moths, despite the darkness,
batting wings against the pane. […]

There are more poems like that in the book, and in my next book too. B says it’s my subconscious picking up on things that I don’t fully register with my conscious mind, but I think I was just writing about my deepest fears, one of which being losing a child, which happened to, later on, happen.

Renee Emerson, poems that know

Before sundown, name the specter that wants
to steal your heart or the heart of your child.

Free the bitter heart from its swimming
pool of bile, or the impostor heart

hesitating in the doorway of its own
home. And all of us have been that girl

told to love her tower-prison because the world
she’s only allowed to glimpse from a tiny window

can hardly be real.

Luisa A. Igloria, Impossible Hearts

Morning finds children gathering feathers, placing one or two of the finest beneath their tongues.

This is how we get through our day, they tell me—light of voice, a birdsong salve for our wounds.

They ask me what my memories are like.

I tell them no better or worse than theirs. I only have more because I have lived longer.

They smile like the sun is balanced on their lips.

Rich Ferguson, Morning Finds Children

The line that’s been buzzing round my head the last couple of weeks is from Robert Lowell’s heartbreaking poem ‘For Sheridan’, from his final book of poems Day by Day. The poem’s opening lines set a tone of mournful, wry regret: ‘We only live between/ before we are and what we were’.

By the poem’s final stanza, the dial has barely moved an inch. If anything, it’s gone backwards:

Past fifty, we learn with surprise and a sense
of suicidal absolution
that what we intended and failed
could never have happened—
and must be done better.

I first read these lines in my twenties, when fifty seemed an impossible milestone. I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. Now I can’t get past those two simple words. Partly this is because I can’t quite persuade myself to believe in ‘suicidal absolution’. It just just seems too stagey and performative to me. Not to mention completely abstract. What Seamus Heaney once said of his early poem ‘Digging’, that it possessed something of the gunslinger about it, comes to mind.

But: ‘what we intended and failed/ could never have happened/ and must be done better’: now you’re talking. Past fifty, that is all that is going on. Looking back, wondering if it was good enough (mostly not), and looking forward at what must be ‘done better’.

Learning is taking place here, but it is slow, painful and not glorious-looking, like in the films. Past fifty, like ‘awful but cheerful’ and ‘badly-lit’, is where a lot of life is being lived right now, for me, literally, and figuratively, too. I’d like to think I am learning, slowly to get it ‘done better’. (Perhaps that’s not even for me to say.) Past fifty. Past fifty. I can’t them out of my head.

Anthony Wilson, Past fifty

the recumbent elderly, stuffed like bolsters
into Parker Knoll wing chairs, hard
of hearing, rheumy-eyed, incontinent,
medicated to docility.
Neurones flickering on and off;
there are no spare batteries.
This is how it ends.

And here they come,
the ones with smiles sincere as rictus,
the ones with Casio keyboards,
with tinny snare drum tracks,
chivvying the old and unprotected
into faltering songs of bicycles made for two,
white cliffs, lilacs, sweethearts.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers [11] Song and dance acts

on his grave
my poem slowly moulders
into it

Jim Young [no title]

But walking into a cemetery
feels like plugging in, the
internet of souls humming
all around me. And this
exposed rectangle of earth
is just like the one where
two thousand miles away we buried
you. While I sang El Maleh today
one of my hands was twined
in this scarf you gave me,
its silky burgundy tassels
tucked tastefully into the neck
of my sober black suit. I hear
your voice every morning
when I enter my son’s room.

Rachel Barenblat, Local Call

Yet another food binge yesterday. Worked late, skipped my nap. The connection of binge-eating and extended reading is established beyond doubt. This is how I read my way through the corpus of English literature. I ate my way through it. Can I read multiple hours per day without binge eating? Is there some other way to do it? I wonder.

Dale Favier, Naps, Binges, Bright Lines

I’ll close with a Halloween scare: I am full of dread about the upcoming Virginia governor’s election. I voted weeks ago, but the outcome is very iffy because of what they call an “enthusiasm gap” (Trump fans love Youngkin; McAuliffe is the better candidate by miles, but he doesn’t warm the cockles of anyone’s heart). Youngkin, by way of one small example of potential future horrors, is encouraging book-banning. I just started reading the excellent YA novel Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez because local right-wing parents are bombarding the high school with demands to remove books from the collection, including that one. Everyone needs to marshal arguments to keep them in the stacks. As activism goes, that’s definitely my speed, but what a stupid battle to be fighting when the world is burning.

Lesley Wheeler, Rhyme. Activism. Speculation. Revision. Pumpkins.

a shallow life followed by a shallow grave.
mice, beating their tin cups on the bars of their cells.
prisoners.
a tiny, frightened excuse of a soul, shriveled by time and darkness,
whining like a hungry dog in the alley.
the scars of hate and dollars across the flesh of the entire world.
the child with no food, no roof, and no hope
who is crushed under the excellent boots of the americans.

James Lee Jobe, have pity for those who feel greed more than love.

In a discussion among some of my poetry-reading friends, two readers said they feel “stopped” when they encounter unfamiliar words or terms in a poem. They feel poets should avoid writing work that uses specialized knowledge as metaphor, in imagery, or to establish the poem’s context. Their argument is that when a reader feels stopped by anything in the poem–from an unusual line break or stanza structure to an unfamiliar word–a kind of alienation occurs between reader and text, and that when poets choose to employ the unfamiliar they need to explain somehow/somewhere (notes? prose headings?) to guide the reader. But then they added that referring to notes is, in poetry, distracting.

“Some vocabulary and allusions just make me feel inferior,” one friend says. I don’t think they’ve spent much time with Ezra Pound’s later work but imagine this statement by Sam O’Dell applies: “Now, whether or not Ezra Pound intended to make others feel less intelligent while pulling obscure outside references into his poems and essays is up for debate. The guy seems the type who may have enjoyed making sure others knew he was smarter than they were.” (Read the rest here).

Nerdy autodidact that I am, I rather like those stop-the-reader moments in poems–if there’s a payoff. If I learn something new, and if that thing I have learned enriches the poem’s meaning and also enriches me, then I don’t mind feeling surprised or puzzled or even interrupted. Some poems take more work to read than others, and that’s ok. Some novels prove less easy to read than others, and some movies make the audience-experience fraught, unnerving, or strange. For me, the essential work that artistic endeavor does is open new perspectives, present puzzles, invite inquiry. Make me curious!

Ann E. Michael, Physics, poetry, notes

This has been a season of looking over my shoulder, wanting to take stock in where I have been and where I am going, still going.  I am at a point in my life where everything counts or is being counted, and I don’t want to miss those moments of solitude, of taking an easy breath, of standing in a forest, or on a hillside, or in a field, with my arms loose at my sides, and think, This is it. 

M.J. Iuppa, Autumn in Western NY. Gold and Bronze. Time of Reflection.

Having enjoyed reading Jonathan Davidson’s On Poetry (as much, probably, as Glyn Maxwell’s very different book of the same name) and A Commonplace, I very much enjoyed Ruth Yates’s interview with him, here.

I especially related to these sentences:

I would, therefore, describe my role as simply a writer who wants to be read. There’s a novelty. Not to win, to be praised, to be advanced, to be ennobled, to be deified, to be paid, even, but simply to be quietly read by those who might quietly find pleasure in such reading.

I couldn’t agree more with these sentiments. Yes, prizes and competitions help to oil the poetry economy, but as a poet and a reader there’s nothing more I aspire to than to be read and to enjoy reading.

In the summer, I was one of about 15 poets/readers who met up with Jonathan at Grindleford station for a walk round Padley Gorge, interspersed by Jonathan reading his and other poets’ poems, in the spirit of A Commonplace. It was a memorable poetry occasion and the sort of thing which ought to happen more often. After almost two years of Zoom readings and workshops, it felt very special indeed to get out in the open air with like-minded souls to enjoy Jonathan’s drollery, fine poems and good taste in other poetry.

Matthew Paul, On Jonathan Davidson and James Caruth

Selected by Claudia Rankine as winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry is Berlin-based American poet Tracy Fuad’s full-length poetry debut, about:blank (Pittsburgh PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021), a collection of lyric collisions, fragments and fractures through language, the internet and Kurdish ruin. The granddaughter of a Kurdish immigrant to the United States, Fuad composed much of the collection during two years spent teaching English in Kurdistan, as she responds as part of a July 2021 interview conducted by Helena de Groot for the podcast Poetry Off the Shelf: “I was aware that I was Kurdish from a young age, but there was no one really to talk to that about. Because I do think I really, in a way that was quite intended, was raised as a white American. You know, my parents were quite intentional about giving me and both of my brothers very American names because they knew we already had a foreign last name. So, I think a lot of my story is a story of my father’s assimilation and then the next generation sort of uncovering that history. And finding out your relationship to it.”

There is an openness and a curiosity, as well as an expansiveness, to the text of about:blank, one composed through a combination of self-contained poems against fragments, sketches and short lists, all of which interplay into the larger scope of this intricately-shaped book-length interplay between language and culture, ancient sites and technology. From the core of seeking her own relationship to her family’s history, Fuad writes an excavation of cultural and personal spaces and historic landscapes through short sketches and longer examinations. “Applied to a job in Kurdistan,” she writes, as part of “Considering the Unit of the Day,” “Considered whether I wanted the job or wanted to want it / Considered the difference between these; its shape, dimension, texture / Searched for images of reverse sandwiches throughout duration of this consideration [.]” In many ways, this is a collection shaped around conversation, whether between ideas, cultures or languages, writing of the seemingly-contradictory reality of locals with smartphones roaming ancient hillsides. She writes of placement and ruin, and the long shadow of history, as the poem “Report of the Excavation at Tell Sitak” offers: “The ruins here were further ruined by recent war and roots of oak, / but still, beneath remains of modern bombs, the dig reveals a fortress built by the Assyrians: / defensive walls of stone and three stone towers; / a courtyard floor incised with flowers; / baked bricks, a kiln, and iron slags; / in a threshold, three jars of living earth, each large enough to hold a child; / a fragment of a tablet pressed with wedges, / a record of the sale of seven people and a field. / Even then, this land was bought and sold.”

about:blank is an extremely smart book, and Fuad’s curiosity is as engaging as it is engaged, all the more impressive when one considers this her full-length debut.

rob mclennan, Tracy Fuad, about:blank

I did hope that this book might have another path, but it has the path that it does. Maybe it’ll be a slow burn and readers will discover it more gradually. Maybe it’ll have fewer readers but it’ll mean more to them. Maybe when the paperback edition comes out in March, its red boot bedecked bright yellow cover will leap into readers hands. And now that bookstores are open again (ah, how I missed them!) that’s another chance for the book to meet its potential readers. Also, it’s being translated into Romanian! I may not be big in Japan, but Romania? They’ll carry me through the streets of Bucharest!  

There’s that Junot Diaz quote, “In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book.” And in some sense, you have to become the person you need to have written that book, to have that particular book out in the world. And you get to be another person, too. The one who is written the current work-in-progress. I find I have to become that person in order to do that work, and I’m discovering who that person is through the process of writing. 

So, there’s no point in mourning the book that could have been. The reception that could have been. The person that one could have been, that was. I hadn’t thought of that chimerical “son” that we thought we might have. In fact, by not having any expectations of our daughter—who she might be and how—we’ve been delighted by the continual discovery. Now that’s the way to have joy as a parent and as a writer.

Gary Barwin, How when we thought our daughter was going to be a “boy” is like my new novel.

A book I’ve been obsessed with ever since the translation by Johnny Lorenz appeared in 2012 is A Breath of Life by Clarice Lispector. I have made a point of not looking at it though for a while, because I don’t want the magic of it to become dull. I’ve been saving it for a time of need and that time is now. Yes, this might be the most dogeared book in my dogeared book collection. It also opens to a particular page where the binding has been cracked open (yes the light gets in). There is a section in A Breath of Life titled “Book of Angela” in which the Author character says, “Angela apparently wants to write a book studying things and objects and their auras. But I doubt she’s up to it.” And Angela says, “I’d really like to describe still life.”

And

“I can’t look at an object too much or it sets me on fire. More mysterious than the soul is matter. More enigmatic than the thought, is the “thing.” The thing that is miraculously concrete in your hands. Furthermore, the thing is great proof of the spirit. A word is also a thing — a winged thing that I pluck from the air with my mouth when I speak. I make it concrete. The thing is the materialization of aerial energy. I am an object that time and energy gathered in space.”

This is the way it is when you write books: the book that you’ve written emerges and the one you’re writing recedes a little, it calls to you, but it waits patiently and also nervously. And yet, they even sometimes speak to each other. The one I’ll be devoting more time to next is a book of essays on still life. It’s been roughed out for a while, and soon I will be able to concentrate on it again. (As Adam Zagajewski has said, it’s not time we lack but concentration). I know that I need to go into training to write this book: get up at 5am, stop drinking alcohol, work out more on the treadmill, lift weights, eat super healthily. Not even kidding. I need to sleep well and dream well, if I’m to get this book right. I need to eventually sort out my study, so that the angel books I read while writing EAE are back on the shelf, and the still life books can regain prominence.

We need to give our books a chance, though, and so for now I need to concentrate on Everything Affects Everyone. It’s a bit like time travelling. Books, too, are winged things.

Shawna Lemay, Of Words and Things

Yesterday I had the most amazing news. I’ve been awarded a Society of Authors Foundation Grant to help me to develop and work on my new poetry collection. I’ve been working on the collection here and there for a while. Just last week I had a look through my files to see how many poems were suitable for it and found, to my surprise, that I have between fifteen and twenty poems that fit into the concept that I’m working towards. Are they any good? hmmmm some are, some aren’t. I’ve begun to realise of late that my own writing process has changed considerably over the last couple of years. I used to write a lot of poems, I used to have fits of writing that were like purges, poems flowing out of me. These days the process is much slower, much more like waiting for something to grow and quietly feeding it; mushrooms, perhaps, or lichen or moss. I like the idea that the things that I do in my everyday life – reading, contemplating, walking – feed these poems and that my writing process involves trying on lots of different poems before I find the right one, something like burrowing into the poem to find the source.

Between working on poems I’ve been working on the novel a lot, which is a slow business. I invariably have several projects on the go at any one time. I know other writers do this too. I also have a non fiction project which is on the back burner. Sometimes working like this feels a little chaotic, but what I’m learning is that this is my process, this is how I work, other people work in other ways, and that’s OK. I don’t work on all three projects at the same time. It’s more like I have periods of excitement about a project and wear myself out with it, so work on another project for a while; thinking differently, writing differently. Like using different sets of muscles in a workout.

Wendy Pratt, Walking into the New Collection

In cheerful news, I managed to actually follow through on a couple of different projects. One of them was this review, my first for the New York Journal of Books. I read and wrote about Mai Der Vang’s second book of poetry, Yellow Rain, which is an immense accomplishment in terms of form, creative risk, and research.

M. and I are submitting our MS to agents and small publishers right now, to see what interest we can drum up for Every Second Feels Like Theft. This was my first time writing an actual query letter, an unnerving task but an oddly invigorating one — a reminder that it’s good to get out of one’s comfort zone.

I remember reading about query letters when I was fifteen and just beginning to think about being a writer. I bought one of those enormous Writer’s Market tomes that Chris Stuck references in last week’s I’m a Writer But… podcast episode, and, as I was already a lapsed Catholic in my teens, it was the closest thing I had to a Bible.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Perspective

This week saw another return to the “live arena” or the “meat space” to read at the inaugural Resonance Poetry night at The Three Hounds.

I love that my local booze emporium is branching out and doing different things to bring in the punters. They run music nights, games nights, and a running club. I am a founding member of the running club, and had worrying visions earlier in the week that running and poetry club (the first rule of which is….) would be on the same night. The fear that crossed my mind as I wondered how it would look if I ran in, hyperventilating and sweaty, clad in lycra to then begin a poem…dear god..thankfully they were far more organised and had them on separate nights.

The night is organised by the irritatingly young and talented Jack Emsden, and I commend his excellent Stephen Wright-themed poem to you here. He opened and closed the evening with some wonderful and affecting work that managed to touch on the personal and the universal without ever over-simplifying things. I hope we see more by the lad (although not in lycra as he is also part of the running club).

Mat Riches, No, You Are…

depicter of flowers
curator of fruits
witness to birds

embracer of wastes
consumer of carrion
witness to birds

Dick Jones, Dog Haiku §88

The thing is an attitude
of curious nonchalance.

The thing is to avoid
sustained eye contact,

to instead look over here,
what’s this interesting thing,

it smells good, I think
there might have been

a coyote.

JJS, portrait of the immune system as a feral dog

There is a green leaf in the fire.
My flesh, you’ve made the two
of us a blind study. We’ve left
our vortex, grainy and laminated
in space, and we never reach
the summit of suns, big yolk
growths, an autumn phenomenon,
bringing us kilometers of numerical frosts.

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, New cinepoem • Translating Myself

little brown bird crawls into a traffic light

Jason Crane, haiku: 28 October 2021

It began this day, 7 years ago, on the advice of a fellow-writer, while I was stuck at home, unwell, with nothing else to do, knowing fully well the fate of 3 previous blogging attempts on platforms like yahoo and blogger. Who knew then that a new world would open up! Friends, poetry, groups, submissions, books… everything started from that first wordpress post! Thanks to everyone who has stopped by, offered support and encouragement.

Am sharing today a flash fiction piece that I wrote some time ago. Have been trying my hand at this genre while searching for a way back into poetry. Would very much like to connect with others/ groups doing flash fiction, so do drop your blog URL so I can read your work.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, 7 years of blogging

It’s an amazing feature of change.  The twisted winding streets, narrow as crooked fingers, are now lit with happening cafes, cold brew, bars serving Aperol spritz.  The old Jewish ghettos, once places of shame and confinement, are where you’ll find bright faces of the global generation.  It almost doesn’t matter the city, Vilnius, Girona, Krakow, Paris.  

The old Jews would be amazed — very old, depending on the city!  In Palermo, Sicily, where the merchants were thrown out long ago, names of alleyways are trilingual, written in Italian, Hebrew and Arabic.  Amber lanterns light the way for long nights of drinking and circus of socializing.  Palermo considers itself perennially In the Middle — so here Jews are among many of the middle layer of culture. 

 In Toledo, Spain, long famous for its large intellectual medieval Jewish community (ten synagogue, including two truly spectular renovated buildings), old timbered ceilings, walls constructed of tenth century pebbles lend atmosphere to the best small restaurants.  And since it’s Spain, don’t be surprised to see a flashy hoof of serrano ham sitting on the counter of a place with the chutzpah to call itself Cabala!

History is full of its tragedies and ironies, its messy intricacies, its mysterious energies.  Have a drink in the Cabala!

Jill Pearlman, Jewish Ghetto, Airbnb & other Cafe Stories

What I know now is that fear is a terrible reason to stick with anything. Sometimes we have to. Sometimes we have to stick with something until we can find a safe way to escape it. Fear is a necessary emotion that often helps to keep us safe, and I don’t want to discount that or to ignore that, sometimes, quitting is really not an option.

But I am so here for this resignation thing going on, whatever it is. I’m still in process on my journey to a healthier, more manageable life, but I’m definitely getting there, and quitting my old job was a huge, first, and necessary step. I’m grateful, too, for my students’ various ways of quitting the ways in which we’ve always done school. They are pushing me to be a more humane and more effective teacher than I’ve ever been–and it’s leading me to new practices that are better for me, too. Sometimes I can get mired down in sadness and regret over things we have lost and are losing (truly bipartisan legislation, for just one), but this week I am finding value in thinking about things we should quit. I’m glad to be re-thinking the whole notion of quitting, and to rewrite some of the scripts that have shaped me, my life choices, and my feelings about myself for so long.

This weekend I got caught up on reading one of my favorite blogs, and truly enjoyed Bethany Reid’s recent essay about her marriage, written in an A to Z format. I love this format (similar in many ways to collage, a visual form I’ve always loved) and it reminds me of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, one of those books I wish I’d written. And now I’m thinking about writing an A to Z of things I’ve quit, just to see where it might take me…

Rita Ott Ramstad, Take that life and shove it

[Rob Taylor]: You spoke about Patricia [Young]’s role in your writing life in a “Falling in Love with Poetry” essay you wrote for The New Quarterly (“Before I fell in love with poetry, I fell in love with a poet”), and at the end of Smithereens you note that without her “inspiration, love and encouragement” the book wouldn’t have come into being. Could talk a bit about how that encouragement manifests day-to-day? To what extent have Patricia’s attitudes on poetry (or her poems themselves) shaped your own?

[Terence Young]: Patricia is always growing as a writer, and she likes to challenge herself by embracing new forms, new approaches. I’m lucky to be able to observe how she alters her process, how she moved away, for example, from the autobiographical into more fantastical and imaginative realms, areas that allow her to play more. I can still see bits and pieces of our life in such poems, but they no longer take centre stage. They are useful only to the extent that they serve a larger purpose, to add detail and depth to the poem. I still write largely out of my life, but she inspires me to push boundaries a little, to experiment. 

RT: Are you one another’s first editor? 

TY: We will show each other our work when we’re happy with it, but she is far more content than I to sit on a poem for months or longer before she shares it, by which time it is pretty much perfect. I am a little more impulsive, and I probably benefit more from her editorial eye than she from mine.  

Rob Taylor, Wherever We Are Going, We Are Going Together: An Interview with Terence Young

I’m grateful to this book. I’ve been dabbling in essays (both here at the blog and on that other Blank Page), and The Guild of the Infant Saviour [by Megan Culhane Galbraith] is helping to illuminate a path for how I may explore some of my own stories outside poems. I lean toward collage and association vs. strict narrative, and it’s delightful to see one way those elements can be executed in memoir. In addition, its timing is serendipitous, as these things tend to be. I’m in a period of rehashing so many of my own stories and unpacking some of their cultural, familial and historical baggage.

The point of revisiting a thing isn’t to relive the pain, but to place it in a different register, to know it differently. Galbraith writes, “It took time for me to figure out the right questions to ask and of whom” (p. 279), which is exactly what I’m doing. I don’t have my talking points yet, but poetry has taught me that you don’t know them going in. They’re revealed in the writing, a process of telling and retelling that unbinds us.

Carolee Bennett, “there is never easy redemption”

I almost always take my morning walk at the same time, around 6 a.m.  These days, there’s only a hint of sunrise when I get to the lake; we are far from the blazing sunrise of summer.  In some ways, it means I’m not distracted by those intense colors of the morning.  There’s still much to see in the dark:

–Yesterday morning on my walk, I saw a shooting star.  Yes, I know I should be scientifically accurate and call it a meteor.  Frankly, my poet self doesn’t think either of those terms accurately describe what I saw.  I saw a slender sliver of a shooting star, a silver thread.  I knew it wasn’t a plane because of its descent and disappearance.  Did I make a wish?  

–I saw a solitary bird fly overhead, and if it hadn’t made a sound, I wouldn’t have looked up..  When I looked back down, I saw a feather on the grass.  It was wet when I picked it up, so it probably wasn’t from that bird.  I thought about flight and falling and the Emily Dickinson quote, about hope being a thing with feathers.

–From the distance of several blocks, I saw the neighborhood fox trot across the street, fully lit by the streetlamps.  You might ask, “How do you know it was a fox, not a cat?”  In part because of the confidence of the walk, and in part because the tail was held up–most cats don’t hold their tails up in that way when they walk.  You might ask, “How do you know it was a fox and not a coyote?”  I can’t be sure, because I couldn’t see the shape of the tail.  

I am already feeling a bit sad about the end of daylight savings time, about how light it will be when I walk.  I am feeling sad that all these Halloween lights and decorations will be banished soon.  I am sad about how it is still warm, humid, and windless.

But I am happy about the wonders of nature, about feeling like I’m the only one out and about, about having time to ramble, and having mobility, even with the aches and pains that come with middle age and arthritic feet.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Last Days of Daylight Savings Time

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 22

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, many bloggers took an existential turn. Others aired grievances and critiques. Sometimes they converged. Enjoy.


Fox barking to my right, to my left: what does it mean to be open? Risk, and patience. One bark after another, on and on they call and respond. Once home, once lost, once dead and blue at the bottom of the stair, stepped over: dream. Just a dream. The calls of foxes sound like screaming coughs, lungs gone closed and blued: I remember my dreams, even the ones I’d forget. What does it mean, “a wild patience has taken me this far,” if risk, if death? They bark and bark, echoing against June midnight, mountain. Crickets. Frogs. A whiffle of horse, a sussurus of sleep. I miss her, also gone. The new ones make sure to say my name.

JJS, Almost-ghazal, vulpine

and the rain
fell in one
long story
we sidestepped
between trees
i tripped my length
into fallen water
and you chased
a hare
into a rainbow

Dick Jones, dog sutras

You asked me once to tell about the whales
still in the deep places, untroubled. So I did.
I had a voice that persuaded then: I was young
and believed in victory. Far out to sea and far below,
I said, they are moving, huge and slow, older than us,
older than time, waiting us out. They know places still
that we do not. At last you fell asleep,
exhausted by fear and wretchedness: but I lay awake
and all night the stars picked their way across the sky.

Dale Favier, The Doubts

There are even organisms      

that rarely die simply because they get  old. Take the immortal jellyfish, for instance: faced
     with danger or threat, its clear, pulsing tent dandelion-ringed with 90 stingers might hitch a ride
     on the bottom of a cargo ship; or better yet, press the reset button to change itself back into a polyp.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Immortal Jellyfish Says No to Your Ageist Crap

The 27 year old finds a picture of your house, a picture of your writing room.  She imagines long mornings writing in dappled sunlight, drinking strong coffee.  She does not consider the long hours you have to work in your non-writing job to pay for the writing room where you never get to stay long enough. 

The 27 year old thinks about her own life trajectory, so much of it yet to come.  She thinks about your trajectory, both your writing arc and the other elements of your life’s narrative.  She cannot realize how fast it all goes, how one minute you are just starting out, full of resolve, ready to change the world with your words, and then the next minutes, decades have disappeared, while you still feel like your younger self.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writer Me: Younger Me, Older Me

between the soul and its autumn :: all of time can be found

Grant Hackett [no title]

I was, I wasn’t, I am, I’m not, I will be, I won’t be
I shot twenty-four arrows this afternoon
one hit the small pink target on the hay bale
the rest disappeared into the mist

I have a post office box & a driver’s license
am I real now?

Jason Crane, POEM: vespers

How many of you remember The Interlude on television, when there was only one (b/w) channel and a 17” screen was regarded as excessive, and potentially damaging to eyesight unless you lived  in a huge house? Programme sequences were interrupted intermittently by the interlude. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because the programmers had all grown up with the notion that visual entertainment like the theatre and the cinema traditionally had interval breaks when you could in one case go to the bar, and in another, buy an ice cream from a lady with a tray. Or maybe they thought that television posed too great a challenge to the concentration and/or eyesight, and that viewers needed a break for reasons of health and safety. 

Whatever the  reason, there would be a break that might feature a gently turning windmill or the hands of a person you never saw working at a potter’s wheel. It’s only just now struck me that they both involved turning wheels. Why? Are wheels soothing? If you use Google, you’ll find there was also one with a lady working a spinning wheel, but every now and then, a kitten playing with a ball of wool, and one of teams of horse drawn ploughs.

So I thought that if it was good enough for the BBC in its pomp, it was good enough for me. One reason why I write poems, and about poems, is that some years ago I used to go to folk clubs which were essentially sing-/play-arounds. The organiser would point to me and say “are you performing” and I’d say no and that would be it, until one night the organiser said ‘can’t you do a poem or something’. That’s how it started.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers

What struck me about the movie [I Used to Go Here], which was enjoyable enough, was a scene with the writer and a student in a cafe, where she begins to suggest edits and is cut off by the young writer’s reluctance to change her work in the interest of making it “publishable.” Set aside that most fiction writers have no idea about the experience of poets, and vice-versa, and the fact that it was weird they were having the conversation in the first place. There was something familiar and aggravating about the scene.  Especially given the main character’s queasy dissatisfaction with her publishing experience–no control on the edits, the cover, a general dislike of the book she just put into the world. The younger writer, who seems unliked by her fellow students for whatever reason,  is self-possessed enough to hold her ground in a way I’m not sure I would have been, even at 30.  She mentions that she likes her title and has no desire to change things for publishability. Is, in fact, planning on starting a press to publish work she wants to. You watch as the main character is both flabbergasted and deeply uncomfortable by the conversation, even mocking when she learns of the press and dismissive of the work she is shown.

It’s familiar because it happens to many of us.  Maybe all of us. When I was in my MFA program, I’d already started an online journal and was on the verge of starting the press, and yet people I met seemed one of two things–shocked or surprised, and largely put-off.  Instead of support, it was like a dirty little secret.   I once had a conversation with a male student I didn’t know all that well, and in the hallway outside class, he told me he “didn’t believe the things people said about” me and I was really confused.  I always felt like an outsider anyway–being slightly older, working for the college, being further along in publishing my work, and also, writing at a different stage in my development. I had a full-time job, creative distractions and limited time, so I wasn’t as much part of the socializing so many people talk about in programs. In the first few weeks of the very first workshop people seemed to at first, love my work, then slowly begin to hate it. The comments went from nice, to really mean, and I don’t think the work changed all that much. Later, I went out for a beer with two classmates and they said people didn’t like me because I didn’t seem to give a fuck about all of it, and maybe I didn’t.  It got better, I was part-time, so actually took classes over a four year span, and better and more self-directed poets joined on later and did things like start journals and presses and do the work of poeting.  The first year left a taste in my mouth, though, that never fully went away. 

Sometimes, I page back through this blog from those years, where I was very honest about my experience and my struggles.  I would fault myself not as not caring, but maybe caring too much about the wrong things. Or the things that weren’t for me. Unlike the younger writer in the film, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to question things like that publicly–that push to fit things into neat publishable boxes and to do things the way they’d been done only because someone said that was where they were done.  I might do so secretly under cover of the internet, but not in person. I saw so much bad advice in those years. For me and my classmates. I’m always shocked at the stats on MFA-ers who never write another word, but I get it. I totally do. 

Kristy Bowen, film notes | the mfa on screen

Sitting on my mother’s couch in Rohnert Park, watching the blue and red flashing lights on the television screen, I realized what must have happened. Of all the times for this to occur, my first and so far only reading at Moe’s happened to coincide with an event that included the possibility of violence. Not even the most die-hard poetry fans would risk bodily injury to hear me read, nor should they. The five people who’d come must not have realized what was going on just a few blocks from the bookstore. I felt bad for them.

In What Could Possibly Go Wrong, which starts with an illuminating quote from Harry Crews: “The artist lives in an atmosphere of perpetual failure,” the issue of scheduling comes up often. Lola Haskins’ university reading was empty due to the simultaneous audience-sucks of a very important test plus another famous speaker; Jo McDougall was pre-empted by Monica Lewinsky’s TV interview; Marilyn Stablein was upstaged by a “faculty event.” Bar noise, changes in personnel, and lack of promotion added to the woes of reading in front of an audience. 

On the back cover, after the price, a short phrase sums up the book’s classifications: Bad Luck / Fate / Literature. Sounds like the plot of a Russian novel. 

Or the life of a poet.

Erica Goss, My Worst Poetry Reading

I came across an article the other day that reminded me that instead of hopelessly dreading my likely failure to make the most of a good opportunity, I could consider planning ways to manage stress. Self-help is not my preferred genre, and I have successfully avoided lots of pieces about social reentry post-Covid, but I was click-baited this time by a title about “using sobriety strategies,” about which I know little. Plus I’m desperate. The Washington Post article by Erin Shaw Street is here, although I don’t know if the link will work for everyone.

In short, the advice is to “start with acceptance”–this reentry thing will probably take a while, and that’s okay. “Have a plan, but stay flexible”: well, I always have a plan. My idea was to turn the week into a writer’s retreat at home, so my spouse is visiting family. Next week I’ll order out, let the dust pile up, and refuse to answer email. Write write write, I thought, and get back on the submission train, too. Maybe even use the empty house to lay out all my recent poems and see if they’re beginning to form a new collection! My revised plan: sure, try all that stuff, but if it doesn’t work, just do my workshop, make the best of my two 15-minute meetings with fancy editors, forgive myself if some of it falls flat, and otherwise chill. That’s the “pay attention to your feelings” part, which lately have made themselves very clear. “Practice gratitude and mindfulness”: well, all right, I know breathing exercises and I’ve actually worked on mindfulness lately, in my distracted way. What I’m proudest of, by the way of emotional planning, is in the “having a group of trusted friends to call on” category. I have actually scheduled a phone chat with Jeannine Hall Gailey right before the conference, because she is the best literary cheerleader I know. How about that! Me, planning a social interaction for my own sake, because it will make me feel connected and maybe even slightly more confident!! Miracles can happen. I also wrote the principles on a post-it note and stuck it on my office window frame, hoping I’ll stick with the program.

Lesley Wheeler, Conference anxiety times a million

And in my writing life, it’s been a season of rejection, rejection, rejection. Yes, I try to comfort myself that I’ve been lucky enough to have five poetry books published, or that I’ve gotten into some of my dream journals, or that I have wonderful supportive poet friends to help celebrate the wins and mourn the losses. But sometimes I wonder if the rewards are worth the effort. So, if one day I just stopped writing or sending out poetry, it’s not like anyone would demand it or clamor for my next book. To be honest, I also wonder about the effort of keeping this blog up as well – it does take time and energy, and I’m not sure that many people even read it (thanks, those that read and comment though, of course!)

I don’t want you to think it’s all gloom and doom in my head; it’s not. And I certainly recognize that many people, including some of my friends and family, have had it much worse than me lately. Every poet probably struggles with rejection, and we do tend to be prone to melancholy; it’s been a hard year for everyone; I recognize that catastrophic feelings don’t help anything. I think it would be nice if I could feel like I was able to do something useful again in the world, get paid for my work, or at least feel like I was helping others. I’m writing an essay for an anthology on speculative work and I’ll be offering an online class on speculative poetry soon (of course I’ll post details when it’s closer.) So those projects are good. And I really am thinking about moving forward on acquiring a place to use as a writer’s retreat – La Conner, WA or Port Townsend, WA maybe? So I’m trying to see the good things coming. I promise.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Butterflies, Sunny Days and Speculative Poetry Picks, Broken Teeth and Meditations on Melancholy

I have a pamphlet of poems without a publisher – that is, I haven’t found a publisher who wants the poems – that is, I’ve sent the pamphlet to two pamphlet competitions without luck. So, you could say I haven’t tried that hard to find a publisher, perhaps because I have doubts about the pamphlet as a whole, but earlier this year I made a decision to put these poems to one side, for now, which has been liberating and released some new writing energy. I’m now working on new poems, approaching them in a completely different way to usual, and gradually accumulating poems that might be a book, eventually. Individual poems from my unpublished pamphlet – I think of it as a ghost pamphlet – have been published in magazines and perhaps I will be able to salvage some of those poems and include them in my newer manuscript. Not an unhappy state to be in, just not a state brimming with success.

Josephine Corcoran, End of month blog and some wildflower poems

1. Compile a rough draft of a draft of a draft manuscript.

2. Slash and burn – round 1/n. Doubt spelling, suspect grammar, hate most lines.

3. Cold acceptance that this is crap but maybe it is marginally better than other crap. No? Probably not.

4. Idea! Write new poems. Abandon idea.

5. Existential question: To book or not to book?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, 10 steps to a new poetry book

I say if a lit mag can’t get to your submission in 6 months, they have to publish it whether they want to or not. I mean, by that point hope has been sparked in the little writer’s otherwise dark and bitter heart. And a year with no reply? That spark has lit the kindling. “Surely that they kept it this long means it’s in the line-up,” the writer begins to allow herself to think, warming her hands on the fire. Come on, lit mags, are you really going to send your hard, cold rain down now, douse the small flame?

Yes. Apparently, yes. Back in 2018 I submitted to a magazine I had been published in before. A year and eight months later I got a rejection. Standard reject, no “thanks for your patience,” no “sorry it took us a while.” (That’s the last they’ll hear of ME. THAT’ll learn ’em.) Not to mention the no-simultaneous-submissions mag that’s now had three poems for six months.

Talk about being nibbled to death by ducks. My goodness po is a terrible biz.

Marilyn McCabe, Bird on a wire; or, On Seeking Publication

Nell also mentions an interesting and often-since-asserted observation by Billy Collins, made two decades ago, that, in Britain, ‘the number of poets is equal to the number of readers of poetry’. Nell, rightly I think, says that there may well be more poets than there are readers of poetry. Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but 10 or 15 years ago, when I was directly employed by a certain south-west London local authority, there was an article in the staff newspaper about a member of staff who had self-published a pamphlet of his poems and who was quoted as saying words-to-the-effect that he didn’t read contemporary poets because he considered none of them to be worthy of his attention. It hadn’t seemed to occur to him that potential readers of his pamphlet might agree with him and therefore decide that his output was equally unworthy of their attention. I have no idea whether he sold any copies. I hope not. The sheer arrogance of someone wanting to write and air poems without first reading widely and absorbing the lessons of their reading into their own poetry-writing goes beyond (predominantly male) entitlement to the point of being downright peculiar. He’s probably since progressed to become one of those people who go along to open mic sessions to read their poem, invariably exceeding their time-slot, then leave at the interval so that there’s no possibility that they might feel obliged to hear too many of anyone else’s poems or to look at, let alone buy, any of the books on sale. (I realise, though, that not everyone has the financial wherewithal to buy books.)

Nell also says that ‘a good and loyal reader is harder to find than a poet’. If every person who knows the value of contemporary poetry were to buy books for those who haven’t read any poems since school and tell them, with as much vehemence as necessary, that they really will enjoy the experience, then the poetry readership can grow. Despite the un-self-aware idiots like the one I’ve described above, there are still many fine poets to be discovered; more, probably, than one could ever hope to read whilst living a full-ish life. Why shouldn’t a book or two of poems on the beach be as common a sight as crime novels, thrillers or bonkbusters?

Matthew Paul, On HappenStance Press, the reader and the poet

I once heard Sonny Rollins play in Toronto. It was a perfect summer day in the 80s when I was studying music at York University, and a bunch of us went to the Molson Amphitheatre on Toronto’s waterfront. We lay on the grass just outside the cover of the roof watching Sonny, the blue of Lake Ontario in our vision. I remember one extended solo by Rollins, where the band dropped out and it was just him. Such a delightful squonking. Low register honks. Motifs broken up and tossed around. Time made into a salad. And all of it connected with Rollins’ characteristically playful intelligence. As Wallace Stevens says, “the poem of the mind in the act of finding/ What will suffice.” 

Ok, so gravitas didn’t seem to be explicitly there and the Coltrane-like bursting the seams, burning through the gates to another world. But there was meaning. Significance. And humility. And the sense of deeply being oneself. How? For Rollins his playing is often all about “the mind in the act of finding.” And what will suffice? Intelligence. Resilience. Creativity. Joy. A celebration of being. Of communication.

And the other thing I’ve come to understand in Rollins’ approach is ethics. Living through action and making choices. In a recent interview, Rollins says, “I’m just progressing through life, able to evolve now and to realize that to really live in a spiritual way I have to be an ethical person.”  In his music I hear this decision to live ethically. To be in the world. To choose one note after the other as an ethical act. To embrace life. To choose positivity, communication, joy. The life-force. To keep playing, performing. To be an old man and to St-Thomas-the-hell out of life. 

It’s an astounding thing.

Gary Barwin, Ethical Squonking: On the Coltrane-Rollins Continuum

It began with pain right where my heart is — a pain I initially discounted as probably a bad case of heartburn. It wasn’t such a big pain you’d right away think, heart attack. But after I lay down and it went away, I got up and went around doing things and it came back. Again, I went into denial. This is really bad heartburn — could my ulcer have reopened? Never, heart attack. I just turned 72 this month. Although my father and brother both had heart disease, my mantra was, I’ll take after my mother.

Called my doc’s private number. He picked right up, listened, said “Go to the ER and tell them you’re having chest pain. You’ll go to the head of the line.”

It wasn’t a comfortable procedure or hospital stay. But everyone who cared for me was wonderful. It was comforting to feel I’d survive and live well after this, as my cardiologist told me. […]

And the first thing I wanted to write when I could, was a poem. This one is for everyone I met and everyone who sent love.

The Heart

The heart is a muscle.
I feel its clench
protesting the lack
of blood, its nourishment,
and I go down, prone, bowing
to a central throne it inhabits in my body,
thrown to my back
and then to hospital,
where relinquishing clothes
and goods, I’m surrounded
by those familiar with a distressed heart’s ways.

Hours later, I am profoundly
embraced by science and love
that inexplicably flows
from these people whose powerful hearts
and muscles show up here every day.
And prayers that like a cavalcade of butterflies
shore me up in this new and sweeter life.

Rachel Dacus, A new heart, a new path forward

“We’ve been lucky. There was the nursing home outbreak,” she says, her voice lowering. The nursing home in town is a scant quarter-mile from the office where I’m getting my blood drawn. “And the soldiers’ home in Holyoke. But other than that, it’s been pretty good here.”

“May it stay that way,” I agree. 

“All done!” She smiles, pressing a wad of gauze where the needle was just withdrawn. Now I look over, and I see the test-tubes full of dark red blood. The color always surprises me. It’s so vivid, so deep. 

I’m not sure what they’re looking for this time, but we can’t schedule the next procedure until they run whatever tests they need to run on these gleaming garnet vials.

I wonder how many mini-conversations like this she has over the course of a day. How many lives she briefly touches with her blue-gloved hands. 

When I exit the building, I inhale lilacs under the clouded sky. 

Rachel Barenblat, Garnet

This weekend I spent some time reading poetry—some for a literary magazine I judge submissions for, and some from books that have been lying around that I haven’t cracked open for a while, namely by Wallace Stevens, who is my favorite poet, and Kahil Gibran. I needed to read both of those poets because somewhere in all of the chaos and heaviness of working at a hospital during the pandemic, I have lost my sense of passion and wonder. I feel ground-down and machine-like. I’ve been in survival mode for a long time, devoid of a sense of beauty and boundlessness, afraid to take any time to notice the natural world around me, afraid to slow down, afraid to allow for any sense of space and openness in my life. I shut everything out except the work that is front of me day-to-day, and I’ve been driven by dread—dread of the massive responsibility that has been handed to me at my place of work and at the same time, dread of being laid off, dread of loss both real and anticipated, and dread of what may come in the future for our country and for the world. I needed to read about love and astonishment and the miracle of pineapples and the cat forgotten in the moon and how the trees are there for me. I needed good language, the language of noticing, the language of elevation of the spirit and the essential divinity of human life:

“The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges.”
–Wallace Stevens, A Rabbit as the King of Ghosts

We’re coming out of it now, and I’m ready. Ready to breathe without a mask muffling my nose and mouth, ready for traffic and shopping malls and movies and night parties, ready for patients to flow into our facilities again, ready for the world to open its petals like a rose and for humanity to return to human-ing. For better or for worse, I don’t have a particular religion to hang my spiritual beliefs on, but I believe that we are children of God, and we need to remember our origins.

Kristen McHenry, Swimming Nostalgia, The Language of Divinity, Opening Day

“Remember we must die” need not be a call to religious fervor or to pessimistic existentialism. It is merely a fact that we ignore at our peril; for if we remember death is ahead, we can attune ourselves more closely to the lives we do have–and those others with whom we are in relationships. For whether you know it or not, your body has a relationship to Earth and all of its beings. Even, perhaps, the carrion beetle, not to mention billions of microbes and your best friend’s mother.

When I write about death (and I do), I find the tone of the poem depends a great deal on which words or images I use: the clear flow, or the leavings in the sieve. Different purposes, of course. Sometimes the poem wanders in sorrow, sometimes there’s clarity or a lifting of grief. It depends on the perspective (sometimes the speaker of the poem isn’t me), and on where the poem itself decides to go, particularly as I revise. Many readers believe that poems only ever arise from the writer’s experience, but poems are works of the imagination. And they are sometimes informed, or re-formed, by experience or insight that comes later in the writing process.

My own grief? That’s private. I may not decide ever to communicate how that feels. However, having sensed sorrow in my bones and gut and in the empty places in my community of loved ones, I can write about being in the moment of bereavement and the many moments afterwards when the losses make us ache. I like to imagine that memento mori keeps me alert to life. Even when I feel sad.

Ann E. Michael, Memento mori

It is a raw dawn on the morning of the poor.
“Be thankful,” they are told, “Here is your daily crust.”
The feathers of the wealthy have been groomed for the ball.
The day passes quickly for those who are pleasured.
Evening is a pistol and a whip; all the knives have been sharpened.
There will be fresh meat. “Where did the day go?”
Even as the poor ones scurry off, the music begins to play,
And the sound of laughter escapes the ballroom
The way a balloon escapes a child’s hand.

James Lee Jobe, Fresh meat.

cut the wild flowers were livid
~
living the wild flowers were vivid
~
in the hedgerows of my never mind
~
the limp excuses fall dry
~
in the hushed vase
~
the petals fall
~
lonely is the room
~
now
~

Jim Young, them cut

Otherworldly beauty, otherworldly creatures, otherworldly powers.

History lessons that keep writing and rewriting themselves.

Fake moon landings, alleged alien abductions, labyrinthine underground bunkers running through our blood.

It’s all part of how we’re hot-wired to allow our imaginations to roam wild, how we reverse engineer out-of-this-world technologies to better understand ourselves.

Close encounters of the lovebird kind, unknown lifeforms roaming darker minds.

From conspiracy theories to rational inquiry, from matters of the heart to unidentified aerial phenomena—

there’s a little Area 51 in all of us.

Rich Ferguson, You and Me Ufology

No, today’s post takes as its point of departure the fact that many younger generations always write poetry via a keyboard and a screen. Their typing is far more rapid than my two-fingered efforts, and a fair chunk of them don’t even own a printer. This last point means that they read through their drafts on a monitor rather than on a piece of paper, of course.

The key issue is whether the above-mentioned shift in writing habits is affecting the way their poetry is functioning. There seem to be two major questions. The first is whether speed of writing encourages lines to be longer, freer, less tense. The pen weighs up every letter before committing it to the notebook, but the keyboard rushes onwards.

The second matter for debate, meanwhile, is whether trends in line endings are also altering. The argument might be that moving a line ending with a pen involves writing the poem or at least the stanza out again (and again). It entails meditated probing as to whether an experiment functions. However, on a screen, the return key encourages the poet to play around with line endings at will, changing and then changing back in a few seconds flat, spotting immediately how semantics and synax might interact with expected and unexpected line endings. 

In other words, my suggestion is that if there’s a generalised evolution towards longer lines and more unexpected line endings among younger poets, it might not just be because of their aesthetic tastes but because the actual means by which they write are also different. And this is before even starting to consider poems that might have been drafted on phones…!

Matthew Stewart, Line length and line endings in the digital age

low battery —
trying to silence
the wrong smoke alarm

Bill Waters, Haiku about sounds or silences

I feel such a kinship with library systems, especially those in small towns. Often a hub, they have the ability to bring together, and in many cases, create community. When Bruce and I traveled Canada for many summers, our first stop was often the local library. It wasn’t just to borrow Wi-Fi to contact home, but also check out local happenings, what types of resources were offered, what folks were reading in their neck of the woods. In fact, I collected a good 7-10 library cards from small town libraries across Canada, from British Columbia to Newfoundland. I may never return to these destinations, but I like to think that my card-carrying membership added to their collective reader base, somehow.

Last fall, I sent some poetry to Mason Street, the Newark Library Literary Journal. The Newark Library is located in Newark, New York, and of course my curiosity about such an offering through a library system got the best of me and I had to learn more about this particular library. Like so many libraries I’ve had the joy of experiencing, the Newark Library is really no different. Community within community.

Mason Street’s Editor and Founder, Celeste Schantz selected my poem “Troubadour” for the winter issue and “Faithful” for the spring. Both poems are in good company, and I was especially delighted, no, fangirl delighted, to see that poet Marge Piercy headlines the spring issue with “My Library Memories.” Swoon! If you haven’t read her work, you should. The first collection of hers that I savored is titled The Moon Is Always Female, a must-read. This is her 7th collection of writing. Organized into two sections, the first is categorized as “amusingly elegiac to the erotic, the classical to the funny (Amazon).” The second section is lunar in nature. It consists of a series of 15 poems for “a calendar based on lunar rather than solar divisions” (Amazon).

I’m really thankful that both “Troubadour” and “Faithful” found a home in the pages of a literary journal of a thriving library far away from home. Should you get the chance, read both issues. Visit the archives. But most importantly, keep writing and sharing our work with the world.

Kersten Christianson, Mason Street, Newark Library Literary Journal

I think TFP (not 100% sure about The Frip yet, but it will sink in and become shorthand soon enough, I’m sure) will be with us for a long time to come. I’m looking forward to seeing the new poems arriving week by week, perhaps I may even manage to get one in there; although the famous adage of Meet us half way and submit one first applies at the moment.

I must confess that I was a bit worried when Hilary first approached me and asked me to review Rendang. I can’t put my finger on it, but it felt like the biggest review I’ve been asked to write so far, the most complex book yet, and I wondered if I was up to the task if I could find something interesting to say (and to be fair that’s the same with every review I write, and every poem, and every post here…and every sentence I say out loud, etc).

If I’m honest I was worried about engaging with the “contradictions of identity and cultural memory” mentioned in the blurb. Not because I didn’t want to or don’t feel I need to. I absolutely do, it was more a feeling of do I have anything valid to say on the matter without falling into the lazy tropes that Alyca Pirmohamed refers to here in her excellent essay at Wild Court, those adjectives like ‘urgent’, ‘important’, etc?

I think I avoided that, but I don’t think I can be the judge as to whether I had anything interesting to say. However, I found it fascinating and educational for a variety of reasons to engage with the collection as a whole by examining how the poems developed between pamphlet and collection, as well as the newer work, and how that benefits from the space and time afforded by a collection (literally and metaphorically).

Mat Riches, That Friday (poem) Feeling

So much for my New Year’s resolution to avoid buying new books. Somehow, my April blog push led me hither and yon over the entire poetry landscape, and I ended up buying a truckload of books. Among them, Ada Limon’s Bright Dead Things (Milkweed, 2015). Looks like The Carrying is next (winner of the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry).

I have a major poetry-crush on this poet. Not only does she write about horses and honky-tonks (subjects dear to my heart), but dogs, owls, sex, and death. She’s got it all. And language! Oh, my!

Bethany Reid, The amazing ADA LIMÓN

First up is the almost obligatory cat poem, simply called “cat” which didn’t come with trigger warning but introduces the idea of suicide and ends,

“we are all decomposing slowly
so that is of some comfort
we are all a million dying stars
so that is of some comfort “

The ability of the narrator to be comforted by the idea life will end anyway and it ends for everything around us is enough for him to accept natural causes is a better way to go. It also shows how something unexpected, encountering a cat, can knock someone out of a rut, a pattern of rumination and look beyond themselves. Instead of feeling like a burden the world would be better off without, the narrator has seen he can have a place in this world and the current pattern of things will stop, not with a sudden jerk, but a series of small changes.

Emma Lee, “Blue the Green Sky” Stuart M Buck (The Broken Spine) – book review

Theirs is a fascinating kind of call-and-response through the poems in Hearing, each short single-stanza lyric burst including author initials, so one doesn’t lose track of who composed which, from two poets deeply engaged with language, listening and experimentation. The crediting of each individual author is something I find interesting, suggesting the collection less a collaboration-per-se than a conversation in poetic form. This is a lyric through which each poet is responding to the other, akin to what Canadian poets and married couple Kim Maltman and Roo Borson did in their own conversation through lyric, the poetry title The Transparence of November / Snow (Kingston ON: Quarry Press, 1985). In Hearing, there is something lovely about a collection that exists as such a conversation, especially between two highly accomplished poets who happen to also be close friends, as though we are being allowed to listen in on, or even overhear, a conversation that might otherwise have been privately spoken.

rob mclennan, Lyn Hejinian and Leslie Scalapino, Hearing

[A] teacher friend has gotten me into the Poetry Unbound podcast and this has set me off on a new tangent. I’m also not into audio stuff much. I have struggled to focus on online lectures, audio books, music, podcasts, becoming distracted, flipping away if it’s on a screen. I listened to one PU podcast because my friend was raving about the title of the poem being a sign of a great poem, so I though I’d listen to the poem at least. 

The poem read on the podcast was Hanif Abdurraqib’s ‘When We Were 13, Jeff’s Father Left The Needle Down On A Journey Record Before Leaving The House One Morning And Never Coming Back’ and my friend was right. The title is killer, the poem even more so. The presenter Pádraig Ó Tuama has an amazing voice for reading poetry and he brings his own gentle enthusiasm for the poems he shares. So I listened on. And again on the way home from school that afternoon. I continued to pick another episode and another and another, in the mornings before work and often on the way home. 

One day after a partially tough morning with the child I support at school, I brought my lunch up to the classroom, rather than sit amongst the noise of fourth graders in the cafeteria. I needed to calm down before the next class started, so I stuck on a random episode called ‘A Poem for What You Learn Alone’ which seemed to suit my mood. The poem was Brad Aaron’s Modlin’s poem ‘What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade’. It is nothing about fourth grade and exactly what I needed. I think I’ve heard all three seasons now, but keep going back to favourites or finding one that I that I’ve forgotten. 

Gerry Stewart, A Poetic Daunder – Stepping Away from the Familiar

There are days when I fantasize about not having to teach. Not to get away from the work exactly, but to spread myself out thinly over the days. To breathe easily. While the pandemic has been difficult in so many ways, it has also given me the opportunity to slow down. Listen. Can I listen to the birds with the same sustained interest that I listen to a student presentation? This is a kind of work, too. What do I earn from this?

My childhood was a cramped succession of dramas, of noise and movement. A montage of cigarettes and speed, cocaine and black eyes. Drama became a kind of addiction that I struggled with through my 20s. I walked that jagged edge of violence where you never know which side someone will fall on: wounded or… disappeared. And as soon as I write this down I think: no, I’m not being fair to everyone. And still, I censor myself. After censoring myself in the first place. I make excuses for other people.

Maybe no one should ever tell the whole truth? At least not for the sake of entertainment or to makes one’s self interesting like a spectacle at Coney Island. Though people do buy tickets.

When I was in high school I went to the county fair alone and bought a ticket to see one of the “freaks”, assuming it would be a mirror trick of some sort. A kind of theatrical presentation. It wasn’t. The “freak” was a person. I turned around immediately and threw up outside the tent.

No. That would make a good story. I didn’t throw up. I just wanted to. I felt a sense of shame that was too familiar. But weirdly, I felt a shared sense of shame. With the person in the tent. I couldn’t explain it then, and I can’t explain it now except to say I understand why the whales that are kept in tiny pools and mistreated at theme parks will give kisses to their trainers on cue.

I don’t want to choose revenge or forgiveness. I want a middle path here, too. It seems even my personal life isn’t really free of ethical concerns.

And my writing never will be.

So for now, I write about mundane things like lapwings and chaffinches. The vibrating silence of the Hardanger plateau where the snow still lies in July. How cold has a smell where the North Sea is untouched by the Gulf Stream, and the harbour in Stavanger can smell like watermelon.

Ren Powell, A Story of Going Feral

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 20

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 found me in an odd mood, a bit disoriented by the sudden onset of summer here, and so in compiling this edition I found myself drawn to the odd sentence, the strange story, the unexpected efflorescence of the unsayable.


So this is all to say that in the absence of Things to Look Forward To just landing in my lap, I’m trying to create Things to Look Forward To all on my own, and when I write Things to Look Forward To, I mostly mean Things That Will Distract Me from Thinking About the Things I Don’t Want to Think About Anymore.

And if you’re a writer and reading this, you’ll know that’s a laughable goal, because if I write anything I’ll probably be Writing About Something I Think is Completely Unrelated to Things I Don’t Want to Think About Anymore But is Actually a Loose Metaphor or Allegory for Things I Don’t Want to Think About Anymore.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Once More Into the Fray: I Revive the Blog and Once Again Accost the Internet with Nonsense I Can’t Just Keep in My Damn Fool Head

Good morning from the West where we are but blood under the earth’s talons

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Cold enough still to sharpen the lungs to hitch and hurry, to be glad of the fullsuit even with lats and shoulders complaining of restriction; above, that cloudscape reflected, below, that cloudscape reflected; her skin in the palms of my hands patting her wave-greeting, a braille of lake-language, of where ya been babe, hi!, and a pouring of bliss immersed in her copper taste, her silky texture, the smell of her unique among all the lakes, as every beloved is unique; freshening wind enough to make real push at times, coasting in still sky others, fast, slow, hit by arctic blasts of springs from below, sun baking neoprene from above; breathing into cold joy; cruising slowly, going strong, coasting again to better listen to the dialogue, the poetry, the lovesong being sung by us both; power returning to my body and brought home to home ground, so many hundreds upon hundreds of miles in this water; alive–

JJS, Open!

I’m really pleased to be writing about Mike Farren’s Smithereens for all sorts of reasons that will become clear as we go along. But I have to say that the first one was its title, which is, I think, only the second use of the word in a poem since Tony Harrison’s Bookends in the 70s. The poet and his father are sitting in a morose silence, either side of the gas fire, sitting out the night of the day Harrison’s mother dropped dead. It’s one of many poems that explores the business of articulacy, of education, the way they separate families that should be close, make them inarticulate and awkward in each other’s company. Like Dylan says we never did too much talking anyway, but as he didn’t say, it’s not all right. Not at all.

A night you need my company to pass
and she not here to tell us we’re alike!
.
Your life’s all shattered into smithereens
.
Back in our silences and sullen looks
for all the Scotch we drink, what’s still between’s
not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books
.
It’s not just the title ‘Smithereens’ that resonates but the obduracy.. the stupidity, if you like.. of the men and their silence. As Harrison says in the poem, his mother’s not there to break it.

John Foggin, Catching up: Mike Farren’s “Smithereens”

The word flower thrives in every language, says Kate Farrell, and Julia Fiedorczuk tells her poem, “bloom, bear fruit / come to life.” Galway Kinnell reminds us that “everything flowers, / from within, of self-blessing; / though sometimes it is necessary / to reteach a thing its loveliness.”

Shawna Lemay, 10 Poems about Flowers

Like the protagonist of Jorge Luis Borges’s story “The Circular Ruins,” who seeks to dream into existence a man “with minute integrity,” Goodby dreams these poems onto the page only to reveal that we are all part of the dream, reader and poet alike.  As he writes in “The Ars” (the title poem), at first “he cannot imagine yet / ripped space”; finally, however, “his dream inscrutably feeds / on itself wrings pain bodies dry.”  The body “dry,” the table-soccer player of The Ars’s cover photo (taken by the author himself), a simulacrum, the seam of the mold visible from the crown of the head on down.  As the concluding poem, “Llu” (meaning “power” in Welsh), reminds, “To happen is finished and about to.”  That is, it is “finished” by fashioning hands, or in the case of the figure in the photo, not so finished; indeed, these poems are always about to be, but never quite, and in this manner, are.

Mike Begnal, John Goodby’s The Ars

listen to the illusive will o’ the wisp lisp
of voices beyond choices
extra-cranial in their introspection
the prolapse of a mind in depth defined
and all thought proscribed by thought

Jim Young, noise

Again last night I thought about something I wanted to explore this morning on the page. Well: screen. And I thought to make a note on my phone, but then figured it was so obvious that I would remember.

Obviously, I did not remember. I bet it was profound, though. And would have lead to a book auction for the small creature taking form from my navel-gazing and ethical brooding. There went that opportunity.

Instead, I sit here on a flat Thursday thinking my glasses really need cleaning. Glancing over at Leonard and feeling guilty again because he is more overweight than I am. Then wondering if he wants some peanut butter. Because I do.

Ren Powell, RL and The News

As many evenings as possible, I get out my work bag full of scraps of text from the librarian’s packet, and I begin to search for poems.

Christine Swint, Erasure Poems and the Pandemic

Even in my dreams
coyote sings.

Tom Montag, EVEN

Things that shouldn’t exist
in the same world: the scent
of lilacs in bloom and the stench
of the “skunk water” I read about
on Facebook this morning.

I sit on my mirpesset, surrounded
by green: trees in leaf, willows
trailing graceful fringes, pots
of oregano, rosemary, mint.
So tranquil I could forget

global pandemic still rages,
India’s cremation sites burning
around the clock. I could forget
bombs, rockets, mortar shells,
bereaved parents and orphaned children.

Rachel Barenblat, Bereaved

in love’s one tear

filling the whole flesh

hear me

Grant Hackett [no title]

I could imagine reversing this looking back. The new moon in all its newness with a long tail, the tail of all its memories and associations reaching behind it into the future. My future now. I live forwards but remember backwards. O ) ) ) ) ) )) A crenelating ripple through time, a wrinkling of the brain.

Gary Barwin, On Garage Doors: Do I feel like I am 16 now that I am 57?

I’m trying to avoid getting too carried away with what/how the poet is saying things as I found myself having to “have a word with myself” a couple of weeks ago in relation to a review that’s due out soon as part of a new thing. I can’t talk about the “new thing” yet, but it is exciting to be in “on the ground floor”. However, in writing a review I was really pleased with myself for seeing that the poet in question had changed a word in a poem when moving it from their pamphlet to their full collection.

The change was subtle, one letter, but it was a shift that made me wax lyrical about the poet’s intentions for a few sentences, exploring the reasons behind the change and what it might be saying about a poet’s voice becoming stronger with experience, etc. However, that was quickly deflated when the editor for “new thing” said (and I hope they don’t mind me quoting) that it was more the “proofreaders that preferred the more modern version (carcass) so I don’t think we can read anything much into that“.

A potent reminder that sometimes a change is just a change is just a change.

Mat Riches, The Flattened Calf and a (anti-)Matador

It’s late May, which means the garden is changing. My own roses aren’t blooming (dang deer ate the tops of every rose, even the ones in “deer proof” cages) but the peonies are about to go, the pink clematis, rhododendrons, and azaleas are blooming, and the birds are singing loudly every morning. I find myself sitting outside on the deck more and more each day, especially the cloudy days, and the birds are getting more comfortable with me.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Reintegration – Family Visits, Haircuts, and Roses – and Rejections

Clearly
the world is always changing, not even mildly

inclined to take your sensibility into account.
Before you know it, it’s high summer again

and the trees are filled with the high humming
of cicadas. They’ve awakened from a long

pause, an interlude. Should their bodies become
spore-infested so parts fall away, they won’t even

notice.

Luisa A. Igloria, Extravagance

I don’t know if this was inspired by Planet Zoo or not, but I had a terrifying nightmare a few days ago in which I was being eaten alive by a giant cobra. He had his jaws solidly around my leg and was making rapid progress on swallowing his meal whole. One of my hospital volunteers was attempting to rescue me and he kept telling me to be very, very still. I listened closely to his instructions, all of the time convinced I was going to die and devastated because I didn’t want to shed my mortal coil in the jaws of a giant cobra. In the end I was saved, but I woke up in a cold sweat and awash in adrenaline. I made the mistake of Googling “eaten by snake dream symbolic meaning of” and none of it’s good. I find it very unfair that a cobra was aggressively trying to eat me. I have always been very snake-positive and have stood up for snakes in the midst of wide-spread cultural fear and loathing of them. And this how they thank me. Sheesh.

Kristen McHenry, Grid-Blindness, Slow Creativity, When Cobras Attack

you chased the hare
a golden zigzag
covering the roots
and hollows
as if born amongst
bracken and moss
we waited
locked in time
i whistled and called
and you came
spinning in from
the wrong direction
hope intact
joy undiminished

Dick Jones, Dog Sutras §47

The odd thing is, mostly we did not talk about cancer. I told her my particular story, of course: the unusual way I presented; my misdiagnosis of relapse; my prolonged treatment ‘just to make sure.’ But that wasn’t what we talked about. We talked about my family, about language, about what she called ‘spiralling’, that sudden swirl of thoughts, like a gust of wind round the corner of a building, that can knock you off your feet from nowhere. Mostly we talked about that. And about relapse prevention. Not cancer relapse (there is no safety net there), but spiral-relapse.

Which, years later, is what I am still learning now. Or re-learning, with some new words and ideas thrown in. It’s good. I like learning languages, the names for things. I’m not good at them, but I have always liked the process. This is a chair. I sit in the chair. This is the door. I come through the door. I am happy to sit in the chair. I sit in the chair and we talk. We talk.

Anthony Wilson, On Being Chipper

It’s been strange to be on campus in the mornings and not be taking temperatures of everyone who arrives.  I had gotten used to it as a way to greet people.  I know that I can still greet them, of course.  I also laugh at myself, because I remember a weeping moment in the late summer of 2020 when I said, “I’m just so tired of taking temperatures.”

And now, it’s strange to retire that equipment.

On Thursday our internet went out, and I called the new IT people who asked me to go to the server room to tell them if I saw any lights blinking that shouldn’t be blinking.  When I told them that no one on this campus was ever allowed to have the code, I could tell they were just dumbfounded.  Within a few hours, the campus had internet restored, and I had the code to the server room (those 2 events are not causally related).  I made this Facebook post: “Because we have a new IT director, I have been given the code to the server room, a code which previously, no one but the few IT folks were allowed to have (much to the fire inspector’s puzzlement). I have used the code to go into the server room. I expected to find a great treasure. I found old equipment, including an ancient fax machine.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Retired Equipment

For some time, I mistook intuition for a door-to-door salesperson peddling snake-oil pleasures rather than recognizing those moments of elusive clarity as an otherworldly awareness far keener than rationality.

Still, there are times when logic learns to muzzle itself, and perception is allowed to freely surf the electromagnetic spectrum of consciousness,

follow psychological and physiological footprints until discovering that mysterious inner creature roaming around like Bigfoot

singing the well-tuned song of self.

Rich Ferguson, Gut Feelings and Bigfoot

This lurching is exhausting. But at the same time, we are also recording sensitive changes to our emotional body. Major concepts that are supposed to have held us are weak. Our relations in every encounter, human and nonhuman, create worlds. What is true in the morning might be overwritten by what is true in the evening. Come to it gently.

Jill Pearlman, Shock of the (Post-Covid) New

You know how I’m a bit of a sucker for interesting poetry formats? Well, I’ve often wondered what The A3 Review was all about – a paean to the London to Portsmouth road, perhaps? Or a massive mag that won’t go through your letterbox? I bought a copy of issue #13 to find it’s neither of those. As the website says, it’s ‘a magazine that behaves like a map’ – it comes folded into A6 size, but opens out to reveal its contents.

In it I found poems by a number of international writers who I wasn’t familiar with, plus a pocket-sized Q & A with Roger Robinson (top tip: ‘read & write more, publish less’) and some quirky graphics. It was really interesting to see the poems spread out, so you get a visual sense of how they sit together as well as how they ‘talk’ to each other.

Robin Houghton, On poetry magazines: The A3 Review

As a reader, I’m especially keen on poets who show a knack for trapping and then heightening the natural ebbs and flows of language. Of course, many don’t even want to. However, their forced and artificial turns of phrase tend to leave me cold despite their popularity with certain editors and judges. I seek an apparent simplicity in a poem, accompanied by an almost imperceptible tightening of its cadences and layering of its potential ramifications. This is difficult to achieve and notoriously undervalued, but it moves me far more than linguistic fireworks that don’t earn their corn. 

In the above context, I was especially drawn to Ruth Beddow’s two poems on Wild Court last week (you can read them yourself via this link). Their connection to experience is clear, while their capacity to reach way beyond mere anecdote is also startling. In other words, I thoroughly recommend them and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more work from this excellent poet whose name is new to me. Yet another example of the role of a fine editorial eye at a poetry journal: spotting talent and bringing it to readers…

Matthew Stewart, The natural flow of language, Ruth Beddow’s poems on Wild Court

The poems of Late Human explore, in unusual twists of perspective and thinking, the questions between the unanswerable, and around certain questions that have long been answered. “Having sopped up the mess,” [Jean] Day writes, to end the eighth section of the ten-part sequence “WHERE THE BOYS ARE,” “Or stopped a door with a thud from closing / So the Children of Corn may sow their seed / absolutely certain / That the longer a person remains unsexed / The older he or she will live // To apostrophize [.]” These poems are quite remarkable for not only what they achive, but what they achieve so quietly, and with such ease. Day’s poems play off sound, meaning and rhythm, offering sequences of thoughts pulled apart and strewn together in a delightful and almost deadpan linearity that makes sense even as one knows it possibly shouldn’t.

rob mclennan, Jean Day, Late Human

Raymond Carver’s story continues. The poet gets a ladder, climbs up to the first floor. Then, finds himself face to face with his own room, with his desk:

This is not like downstairs, I thought.
This is something else.

Why? I think it’s because this is where he normally writes: that inner life – room – he’s built for himself. (He repeats ‘desk’ a number of times: showing this is the pivotal spot.)

There is an intensity to this strange, and touching perspective, as well as something overwhelming: ‘I don’t even think I can talk about it.’ 

I’m reminded of the Winnicottian idea of finding room inside yourself, somewhere robust you can work and play.

Charlotte Gann, ROOM IN MY HOUSE

I’ve been reading Diane Seuss’s Frank: Sonnets, which has got me thinking about cracker sandwiches. She mentions them a couple of times in the poems. I have never had a cracker sandwich, but the idea really sent me into a deep recollection of peanut butter crackers. Saltines, of course. The way the peanut butter eases up through the holes like little brown worms.

I’m pretty sure it was my sister who showed me you could put jelly on there too. Jelly! The purple not easing but full-on squooching up through the holes. Plooping out the sides if you weren’t careful.

It was best to stuff the whole thing in the mouth at once. The dry cracker on the tongue, its salt, how it melted quickly on the tongue to merge with the peanut butter but for the edges that caught on the teeth, still brittle and crunchy to the bite down. The jelly, grape, sweet, soft, cool on the roof of the mouth.

Marilyn McCabe, Blue dress blue dress; or, Writing the Lived Experience

On the project front, this week I hope to finish the website edits I started last week and get a finalized draft for dark country.  I also need to create my Patreon postcards for May, and I’m obsessed with watercolors and trees, so that’s what I’m thinking. I’m getting the last batch of dgp 2020 titles production ready, so look for a whole batch of them to drop soon as I get their pages up. A couple 2021 titles have also been hitting the site. It’s also the end of May, which means next week, we’ll be opening for submissions for next year, and this seems wholly impossible.  I think I blinked and entire year went by, but also it dragged heavy, especially through November and beyond. I am still getting used to not being afraid as much moving about in the world, and it opens up so many doors in my mind that have been shut for so long.  

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 5/23/2021

Tree branches flailing in the wind.
Crows claiming territory.
The river when it’s in a hurry.
The sky thundering about a coming storm.
The earth when she shakes.
Leather shoes dancing over a hardwood floor.
The automobile horn under an angry hand.
The chattering squirrel.
The orca lowing in the deep.
Things and beings speak.
Ssh.
Listen.

James Lee Jobe, Crows, leather shoes, inner strength.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, 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 I’m a little under the weather following my second Covid jab—light fever, general brain fog—so if the arrangement seems especially random, that’s my excuse. I found so many interesting posts, I had to be a bit picky and exclude a few things that might’ve otherwise made the cut—if that’s you, my apologies.


If my mother were alive, she’d be asking me why I haven’t written anything this week about Israel and Gaza and the West Bank. (Well, in fairness: she’d be asking why I haven’t written about Israel. She didn’t care about Gaza or the West Bank.) We had this conversation often, when she was alive and was well enough to get cranky with me about what I did or didn’t write. 

I’m struggling to find words this week. Would my words actually make things better for anyone? Would they bring light, or only more heat? Would they open anyone’s heart, or just deepen entrenchment? What purpose would my words serve? Instead I’ve been seeking out the voices of Israelis and Palestinians. Their words matter right now in a way that mine does not.

I read words from Leah Solomon about her heartbreak and desperation. I read words from Ismail (a young man writing under a pseudonym to protect himself) about feeling trapped between a quick death and a slow one. I read words from Lama M. Abarqoub about bereaved parents. I read words from Sarah Tuttle-Singer about blockades and parenthood and children. 

My heart breaks for all who have worked there toward justice and peace and coexistence.  The actions (and inactions) of governments and extremists are pushing justice and peace and coexistence further and further out of the realm of possibility. And I know the same emboldening of rightwing supremacists that scares me in the States is happening there too. 

So I pray this prayer by Rabbi Jordan Braunig, and this prayer of mothers for life and peace by R. Tamar Elad-Appelbaum and Sheikha Ibtisam Maḥameed (transl. by R. Amichai Lau-Lavie), and The smoke has not cleared by Hila Ratzabi. I pray poems by Yehuda Amichai and Mahmoud Darwish, Rachel Tzvia Back and Carolina Ebeid. I pray, and their words become my own.

Rachel Barenblat, Wordless

Some days we can lose ourselves in the labyrinth of dark news headlines.

Blindfolded by grief, we wander from one tragedy to another, tattooed with wounds feeling so un-akin to our natural skin.

We’re taught, yet again, how a bullet spelled backwards might not sound the same way but it still leaves a gun at the same speed.

Or how awful words can build upon one another, calcify, create the spine of hate.

Some days are so dark you can taste the fear of becoming a relic, an artifact, an extinct thing in the museum of breathing.

Gentle heart, return to us from the wild. Bell our weariness to a many-petalled joy.

Rich Ferguson, When the Bullet Meets the Bone

This past year I have not been able to write much, or rather, I haven’t been able to write much new poetry. I’ve written here from time to time. (Thank goodness for this blog, and the book that’s come from it – so much pleasure there, and the kind reading and sharing of it). And I’ve written thousands of emails, texts, even posted the odd tweet …I’ve written for my job as a university lecturer: thousands and thousands and thousands of words about, well, about how and why we can and must care for and empower each other, about how we try to learn when we cannot be together. That work has been utterly exhausting, though I regret none of it. 

As for the music of poetry? The place from which that comes feels numbed, weary, tuneless. 

    I asked, with everything I did not
    have, to be born. And nowhere in any
    of it was there meaning …

I woke this morning and after a bit of Sunday morning laying around, talked with myself about first things – about how I came to write poetry in the beginning, how I scribbled lines, hid them and tore them up, then eventually had the courage to join a writing group in my 40s. It was through reading poetry, not writing, that I found what I needed to know. After the reading, the writing – the impetus to express my own longings. I knew, I reminded myself decades later, that it was reading The Wasteland in my 1980s London bedroom that convinced me that I was not alone.

Sharon Olds, in her poem I Cannot Say I Did Not addresses the question of unbidden existence more clearly than anything I’ve heard or read in any other context: church, family, school, social work text books, The School of Life website …  This existential conundrum haunted my youth –  none of us asked to be born. Olds takes it head on in this poem, even daring to end on a preposition. It’s brilliant, and reading it again this morning (from the Bloodaxe Staying Human anthology) it confirmed to me that if I turn back to reading the poetry that moves me most, poetry which is about this existence of ours – the one that we’ve been hanging onto for dear life – if I turn back to the well-worn pages of Olds, Rich, Hopkins, Eliot, Collins, McMillan, Clarke, Sprackland, Duffy, Oliver …  in time, and with gentleness, and quietly, I will, in time, find my voice again.

    … I want to say that love
    is the meaning, but I think that love may be
    the means, what we ask with. 
Sharon Olds – I Cannot Say I Did Not

Liz Lefroy, I Struggle With Words

Strangely, in the last few weeks, I have taken some of the incredibly negative writing I’ve been churning out for months and months, and am turning it into something more positive. There is still an underlying sadness and fear but it also has hope. I had previously tried to find, in my vast pile of writing, some poems that were positive. I didn’t find many. I submitted those to a competition and was shortlisted. That was a positive in itself. And it is clear that people want hope right now – well, always, obviously. So I thought I’d try it on myself. If I can write it, maybe I can believe it. Some days it works. I’ll keep fighting.

Sue Ibrahim, Fighting

And the boat will light the night sky
enough for a sudden, uproarious rush
to the sea, in old clothes, good clothes,
underclothes or no clothes at all.
A wrecked boat with stories to be told
but nobody interested enough to hear.
Somebody will make a good fire of it
and it’ll be gone. Charcoal, ash, good to
spread on an allotment, or for the wind
to pick up and blow far out to sea.

Bob Mee, ON MADNESS STREET

I discovered the cure to writer’s block. Decide finally your rattly old car needs to be replaced so you can stop worrying about it. Do some dreadful car shopping, including endless reading of articles in Car and Driver or other magazines you would not otherwise frequent. While you’re in the middle of a reaction from your second Covid shot, buy a car you can live with for a price that gives you only partial dyspepsia. Sell the old car for far less than you had thought you could get. Boom: Start writing again.

Or was it springtime.

Or finally boredom.

Well. I guess I’m not sure. Anyway, I have several pages of scrawl, so that’s good. But I’ve also got a pile of really good reads (hm…could that have been what got me going…?), so I thought I’d share some.

Marilyn McCabe, But you gotta have something; or, On Writer’s Block and Reading

I’m not a silver linings kind of gal. Not a “look on the bright side” person. Not because I insist on wallowing, but that I believe I need to allow myself to accept what is hard, or unpleasant or destructive, for what it is – honestly. I need to see this “thing” for what it is and acknowledge the real consequences.

It seems to me that looking for bright sides is gaslighting oneself. A kind of emotional sleight of hand. That said, life is full of “things”. Dark things and bright things. And sometimes it does help to keep the nourishing things in view while dealing with the things that can kill us.

I remember seeing a drawing a few years ago of a dark tangle of lines inside a small circle. It represented grief. The image was followed by a larger circle with the same size dark tangle of lines inside. The idea being that grief doesn’t get smaller, but that life goes on and becomes fuller, and the grief takes up less space in our lives.

I am no expert on grief, but this makes sense to me. And I see no reason why it wouldn’t help to look around and make my life larger in the present. To make my circle of awareness larger.

Ren Powell, “All the Things”

As I read through Frances of the Wider Field, I think of my own grandmothers, one who died suddenly 30 years ago, and one who died 17 years ago from Parkinson’s. I often feel that I never really got to know them, and that is its own kind of grief. I see your poems as a way to stay in conversation with people you cannot converse with anymore, at least not in the way you once did. Do you feel there is something special about poetry as a genre that allows for these conversations to happen? 

I hadn’t really thought about it like this before, but yes. Poetry allows for all kinds of unexpected turns as opposed to, say, a mode that has some expectation of linearity. It seems to me that poems are not only a way to stay in conversation with people we can no longer access, but that writing into the unknown allows us to converse with mysteries. The Frances poems originated with that energy, of being open to conversations with people I never met, with places that existed before me, with lineage, with ghosts, with concepts of god. The energy was at first an impulse to write toward a very specific absence, but the poems turned into presence–Frances began permeating the landscape, the dailiness of past, present and maybe even future. I’m interested in the continuum of time and memory and how we move long through different planes of experience, sometimes all at once.

Allyson Whipple, Poetry Interview with Laura Van Prooyen

When I visit, now, he makes sure that I know that he wants me to have his onyx bookends. It’s hard to know if he knows that he’s said that before: he’s always had the good teacher’s capacity for clear repetition. He knows it’s not enough to say something once. One of the reasons I’ve always been a poor teacher is that I’m not able to repeat myself. If I even suspect that I repeating myself, I stop short; I’m mortified; I can’t proceed. Not that it actually stops me from repeating myself: I’m often startled, if I look back at my older posts, to see how often, how tiresomely, I say the same thing. I’ve said all this before, too. 

The bookends are massive, Mexican onyx, from some foray into Juárez. And I do indeed like them.

The mallet just kisses the huge metal disk: it rings, or rather throbs: a low tone on the edge of hearing, but a sweet call. If the huge slow earth were a cat chirruping with pleasure at the sight of a friend, it would make this sound. More things, more things in heaven and earth. A la deriva, but at least in motion. The sky is a pure wordless blue. This year’s wildfires haven’t started up yet. And we don’t actually know that they will.  There’s lots we don’t know.

Dale Favier, Bells that still Ring

You must forget what came before,
how really there was no cloud
of mosquitos that night, only a stinging
flurry of words, how everything happened
too fast once she arrived, and how
you were the only one left to bury her.
Afterwards, you ate and cried as you ate,
the toast black like the black soil
you kept turning inside your mind,
covering and uncovering a grave.

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke, so you
sat there, waiting, eating the burned
toast, raising your hands in surrender
to imaginary knocks on the door.
The makeshift table wobbled, half-chewed
by termites. The TV flickered on mute.
You made your own news, platefuls
of it, the gift of an alternate reality,
where the world was still the same, but
was played back in reverse, and last night
with its soft-pink center was yet to come,
led by the peace of a dreamless sleep.

Romana Iorga, Nothing Left to Do

I do not own a powerful telephoto lens for my old digital camera, so I rarely take successful pictures of birds. My noticing tends toward the small and not-fast-moving: flowers, mosses, flora, lichen, fungi, landscapes. I have learned to look mostly at my feet, and occasionally at the clouds. It seems that the limits of my camera and of my vision (terribly, terribly nearsighted) have led to a particular perspective that affects my photos, my botanical interests, and my poetry.

Which is, sometimes, all to the good–but not uniformly. Perspective should be varied; we humans need to imagine that other humans (and non-humans) may witness life from other points of view. This concept is fundamental to psychological understanding and to the much-vaunted and controversial “theory of mind.” It also gives us the pathetic fallacy and anthropomorphism, which expand human ideas about consciousness and offer plangent and resonant metaphors that writers can employ.

All of this came to top of mind today when a student brought in a Philosophy paper concerning Nietzsche’s perspectivism.

Nietzsche opposes philosophers who ignore the fact that individuals have limitations on their theorizing. What makes his idea so thorny is that at the same time he suggests–goes so far as to claim–that perspective (even limited, ideological perspective) is imaginative, is one of our human freedoms.

Ann E. Michael, Perspective(s)

Poetry is difficult to define. It’s a nebulous creature. Even if one were to point to particular tropes or concepts as being hallmarks of poetry, the definition shifts along with its multitude of forms, styles, and expectations.

The first episode of this Writing Excuses master class attempts to answer this question. However, instead of simply presenting her own definition of poetry, El-Mohtar wisely turns the tables, asking the question, “What is prose?”

Prose is so ubiquitous — being present in novels, short stories, and non-fiction works all around us — that we tend to take it for granted. By asking “What is prose?” Amal shakes up our understanding of what we read and write.

Since Kowal, Wells, and Taylor are all seasoned professionals, their answers to this question are thoughtful and enlightening. The discussion leads to the conclusion that poetry and prose are not opposites (as is often perceived), rather they use the same tools and elements to engage with language in order to create specific effects.

As a person who has recently published Twelve, a book that blurs the line between poetry and prose, I found this conversation particularly resonant. Each of the poems within my book are narrative-heavy prose poems, in which poetic language is broken into blocks of text similar to paragraphs. As such, it’s been interesting reading some of the reviews and commentary about the book, as some readers feel that labeling these pieces poems is an inaccurate description, calling them instead vignettes.

Personally, I don’t blame readers for feeling bewilderment. When I started writing this collection, my intention was to write poetry with a heavy narrative focus. However, as my writing process continued, each piece grew into a hybrid creature I wasn’t quite able to define. Ultimately, I decided that since my intention was to write poetry — and these pieces feel like poetry to me — that’s what I call them.

Andrea Blythe, What is Poetry? A Writing Excuses Master Class

Tomorrow is #DylanDay (see here), so I wanted to post some photographs linked to the poet whose hometown of Swansea was also my home for two decades. […]

Italian poet and Dylan Thomas aficionado, Lidia Chiarelli, charter member and co-ordinator of the Immagine e Poesia movement, has been busy assembling and curating a website of international writing and visual art to mark the day. I am delighted to have my poem, ‘The Gothic Arch’, posted on this webpage (the easiest way to find it is to scroll to the bottom here and then move the cursor up the page a little). The poem, as you will see, was written in response to a few words from one of Dylan’s poems. 

The site also contains articles, such as one by Peter Thabit Jones on ‘Dylan Thomas and Greenwich Village, New York’, in which he ponders some of the fascinating ‘what ifs’ in relation to Dylan’s short but extraordinary literary life. 

Caroline Gill, Marking #DylanDay 2021 … Immagine e Poesia

as was youth
beer-bloated and curled
a smile – winsome
isn’t that what they say
to the wide-eyed

but to the writers of poems
it is the meagre wages
of time squandered
in the good company
of laughter un-worded
worldly but unworldly
is this tragedy to behold

Jim Young, older dylan dying

Most of the time, I feel much more at home among zine culture practitioners than I ever did poets, and it may just be that my DIY ethos has never fit well in a system where such things are frowned upon. Where I have sat on panels arguing about self-publishing that are the exact opposite of zine panels.   Fellow zinesters are welcoming and excited about indie publishing, where many poets are just looking for the “acceptable” routes of work dissemination–academic journals, fancy presses, the things poets have been fighting over since the early 20th century and maybe before which have more to do with “legitimacy” and less with actually cultivating an audience.  Zinesters have to take the means of production into their own hands by definition, so the results are much more varied and diverse. 

And perhaps it is that seizing I try to convey to the classes the most. The idea of authorship and creating media in spaces and from voices that don’t always get heard. I am excited to see what comes of this year’s programming once we are back in the physical spaces..so stay tuned.

Kristy Bowen, for the love of zines

Q: How did Queen Street Quarterly get started?

[Suzanne Zelazo]: I had been volunteering as the photography editor (which was the only position open) at my college literary mag (The Trinity Review). The journal was as formally traditional as the campus. Although I found that limiting, I got to see a little of what went into such an enterprise. Most importantly, I got to see how and where it was printed, which was around the corner at Coach House Press. The singularity of that press with its commitment to the book as an art object was absolutely crucial to how I conceived of the QSQ. What they do as printers made it very clear to me that I wanted to produce a periodical that would showcase the materiality of the text, specifically by including sound and visual poetry. But, as a lover of much lyric work as well, I wanted a venue that would integrate the traditional and the avant garde. I believed and still do in the power of reciprocal exchange between different genres. One way I saw of enabling that was by according the ephemerality that characterizes much experimental work the weighted presence of a proper bound text and to have it appear on zephyr laid paper that would do much to fix the fleeting in place for the benefit of extended engagement. Additionally, I believed the less experimental material in this configuration would take on a different charge featured alongside seemingly incongruous work.

Looking back, part of the impetus to start the QSQ was no doubt youthful arrogance—I did not see any magazines at that time to which I wanted to submit work, or more precisely, which reflected the kind of work I was writing and interested in, so I figured I’d make one.

Q: What were your models when starting out? Were you basing the journal on anything specific, or working more intuitively?

SZ: I wasn’t basing it on anything specific but discovering older copies of Between C and D: Neo-Expressionist Lower East Side Fiction Magazine, edited by Joel Rose and Catherine Texier (1983-1990) made a huge impact on me. I read every one I could get my hands on. Printed and “bound” as it was, or rather, computer-printed accordion-style and packaged in zipped plastic bags, cultivated my understanding of the periodical as art object. The entire print run is stunning and the magazine’s commitment to the avant garde scene was so inspiring to me. Tish was the same for me in terms of prioritizing generic experimentation.

rob mclennan, Queen Street Quarterly (1997-2005): bibliography, and an interview with Suzanne Zelazo

I can barely lead this morning’s writing class. A sudden migraine hit only a few minutes before students began to show up on Zoom. It’s a bad one — pain and nausea plus vivid wavy lines distorting my vision. I take some restorative slow breaths, drink a glass of water, then welcome everyone to the class.

I love teaching. I’m particularly mesmerized by the way community writing classes effortlessly build connections between strangers. Over weeks of reading and discussing their writing, people can’t help but get to know one another. Ordinary conversations, even between close friends, tend to fritter time away on surface topics. But in writing class we skip weather and family updates, going directly to deeper topics. It’s entirely natural to bond after sharing universal experiences like fear, regret, grief, embarrassment, triumph, and joy. I suspect we carry one another’s poems and stories with us long after the class is over. I certainly do. Many friendships built in writing class persist and several former classes of mine continue to meet independently as writing groups. Writing together has a magic all its own. 

But this morning I am in trouble. I can’t easily focus on the screen and can barely see my notes. Worst of all, I have trouble explaining concepts due to migraine-imposed brain fog, In this session I introduce persona poems. I explain, falteringly, how persona poems free us to write from the perspective of a soup bowl, a tree, an astronomer, a virus. I point out persona poems can help to stretch us. After all, if we’re writing in the voice of a dolphin or the voice of Donald Trump, we are writing our way toward understanding those lives more completely. I note that some people insist all poems are persona poems because the “I” in the poem is still a persona the poet choose to present. I’m not sure how much I get across because I feel like a balloon floating over the class.

Laura Grace Weldon, Healing Power Of Writing Via Zoom

After trying checklists and flowcharts and a variety of other revision tools, all of which felt too prescriptive, I finally landed on the poetry revision bingo card. I figured making revision an actual game might encourage a greater degree of playfulness. I tell my students that the goal is to get a bingo, not to get a perfect poem. This frees them up to be experimental and take chances they might not otherwise take. While they also have the option of jumping around the board at random, getting a bingo forces them to try things that might be unfamiliar to them, instead of just going for low hanging fruit. I sell it as an opportunity to be surprised, to find out what secrets the poem is keeping, as well as what it has to teach about craft. And of course, sometimes what the experiment teaches is that you had it right the first time, which isn’t a failure of the revision process, but a validation of your instincts.

Poetry Revision Bingo – guest post by Suzanne Langlois (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

A thousand pages flutter open in the wind.

Translation: The days are gods
who haven’t shown their faces yet.
It’s when they appear as nothingness
that we think of them as powerful.
How can you supplicate
what isn’t there?

Luisa A. Igloria, (Continuing) Improvisations

spring daylight lingers
longer through the evening

we talk video games
coasting down hills
our bike lights blinking

James Brush, 05.10.21

A roar of Harleys,
a long rumble of them

coming through town–
spring.

Tom Montag, A ROAR OF HARLEYS

Walking home the other day, I noticed a cop car pulled up in front of a coffee shop on the main drag of my neighborhood. When I rubbernecked to see what was going on, I was a bit shocked to see a 100% buck-naked lady standing out in front of the entrance in full view of God and everyone. I would have expected this from an elderly person with dementia, but this was a young, attractive woman who appeared completely normal in every other way. She was perfectly calm and reposeful, not all at combative, just…naked. At one point she settled into one the chairs in the outdoor seating section, drew her knees up, and just sat there. It was quite strange. The cop on site was in observation mode, being very hands-off and obviously trying to shield her body as much as possible. I hope the naked lady is okay and that she got connected with some good mental health resources and that no one took pictures of her and posted them on the internet (I was watching the other pedestrians closely to make sure they didn’t have their phones out). The whole thing made me wonder about my own capacity to crack to the point that one day I just decide take all my clothes off in public and stand around nonchalantly. Somehow I don’t think this will ever happen. I am innately as modest as a nun and have a horror of being seen in anything less than full-length pants and skirts, so hopefully, even if I do have a complete mental breakdown one day, it won’t involve me stripping in public.

Mr. Typist and I took a long walk yesterday in celebration of the outdoor mask mandate being lifted, and I was surprised at how joyous it made me to see people’s faces again. It was a sunny, almost-warm day, there were a lot of people out, and practically no one had a mask on. Every time we passed people without masks, I was filled with a little zing of happiness at being able to see their full faces. I don’t know any of these people; they are just strangers out in public, but somehow seeing their whole faces brought me a sense of jubilance. This brings up all kinds of questions about what sort of long-term psychological affects that masking has had on us, and how it has affected our sense of our own humanity, and what it means from a biological and evolutionary standpoint to be visually cut off from the view of our fellow human’s faces for prolonged periods of time.

Kristen McHenry, In Defense of Hufflepuff, Buck-Naked Lady, The Joy of Seeing Faces

Finally, one from Rembrandt — I love this because it’s deliberately left unfinished, and we can see his fast, scribbling line. Look at that barely-indicated tree, over on the left! Picasso loved Rembrandt and you can see why. His facility is unnerving, and just makes me smile with delight when I see the way he “builds” the trees with just that line before starting to add any shading or detail, and then starts to go in: “yes, let’s work on the side of that trunk to show its gnarliness, let’s show the little leaves on the ground and the way the bank is uneven, these branches I’ll leave white against the dark foliage, but those others need to be dark against the light shining through”… I could feel him thinking some of the same thoughts and making some of the same decisions I did in my own drawing, and all those years and the distance between anonymity and fame collapse, and we’re just two artists concentrated on our work, looking intently at trees.

Beth Adams, On Drawing Trees

Can light redeem every/anything? Since I have lost my faith in so many things of late, maybe irredeemably, it occurs to me that my latest photo excursion was in part about testing that idea. Can light still change us? Can beauty? Can a seagull perched on top of a TacoTime cactus after rummaging through the trash show me something that I need to know? Can all of this, this attempt, be a synonym for happiness, even if it is couched in despair and a loss of faith?

Shawna Lemay, Synonyms of Happiness

The photographer wonders how to say in deer language: “I come in peace; be not afraid.”

The deer wonders how to say in human language: “Breakfast is ready and there’s enough for you. Come and eat.”

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Deer and the Photographer

This morning I thought with a start: does “console” mean with-alone? It doesn’t, it turns out. According to the OED, it comes from the Latin con- (with) + sōlārī (to solace, soothe). We used to say “consolate” until Dryden, Pope, and others shortened it. But I like my pretend etymology, too. There’s inwardness to mourning, but it’s also touching how many people reach out kindly.

Last spring I found it deeply strange that the world was coming to life so beautifully as a virus ravaged populations all over the world. This spring, as the human social world stirs in harmony with the natural one, I’m thinking about how my mother would have appreciated the warm weather, the annual sequence of blooms, and the lift of mask mandates (I worry about the latter, but I bet she would have flung hers away triumphantly and gone to brunch with her friends, to her children’s exasperation). It’s strange not to text and call her. Guilt and shame sometimes flood in about the times I wasn’t kind to her. I woke up in the middle of the night mad at a relative who wouldn’t talk to her during the last year (although he’s also elderly, I thought in the morning, and deserving of compassion, so I will NOT be extending the grudge). I wish my mother had one more summer.

On the “with” side of lonely brooding, I’m thinking about traveling and connecting with friends, in person. I rebooked last June’s cancelled trip to Iceland as well as an August week at a NC beach house with my kids–and I’ll come to the latter straight from the Sewanee Writers Conference, which I’m looking forward to with excitement now. This Thursday Chris and I are driving up to NJ to spend three nights at my sister’s beach house before attending a small memorial for my mother in my sister’s backyard, with a few friends and relatives I haven’t seen in ages. I’ve picked out a poem from Heterotopia to read, and I’ll share a letter from my mother’s best friend while growing up in England, but other than that, this writer has no idea what to say. There’s so much, and a lot of it feels private.

Lesley Wheeler, Celebration & consolation

sad at the passing
of a friend
we few now
the sun sets
but still
you drive
the dark paths
as if they had
no end

Dick Jones, Dog Sutra §22

So I spent some time this week reading Joan Didion’s new collection of as-yet uncollected essays from the 1960’s – 2000s, What I Mean – a great book to dip in and out of on the weekends. Standout essays include “Why I Write” and “On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice,” as well as some of her asides about her early days working as a copywriter at Vogue. […]

I also finished Three Martini Afternoons at the Ritz, about the friendship and relationships between Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. There were two fun chapters – on how they met in a workshop with Robert Lowell, their meetups, and on their writing habits – and about four excruciating chapters on how both women suffered in their marriages, their poor treatment at the hands of psychiatrists, Anne’s abuse of her daughter, and their eventual suicides. I know it’s hard to get around those subjects in any kind of biography about either poet but it just – oof – made for tough going. It’s well-researched and the author makes useful notes and asides for context, but I was glad to have Joan Didion to go back to – she seemed so solidly upbeat in comparison!

I was also interested to find out for which book and when Anne Sexton won the Pulitzer Prize – click the link for more detailed info from a Poetry Foundation blog post – and how she negotiated for equal pay for readings, appearances, and publications. When reading about successful female authors of the past for inspiration, I often wonder how they would fare now. How much more equitable is our current system – health system, and the poetry system? How can we make it even better? How can we find successful women writers who had more stable, less abusive relationships, better help and more success in life who can be role models? There’s always Margaret Atwood, who remains bracingly cheerful in the face of a long, happy marriage and a lot of late-in-life success, I guess…Suggestions welcome in the comments!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Poem on Verse Daily – I Can’t Stop, Birds and Blooms, and Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion

Poetry has been a balm for many over the past difficult year, for others it has been an outlet to express the whirlwind of emotions. Chris Campbell’s White Eye of the Needle, currently available from The Choir Press, is the first published collection I’ve read that mentions the current epidemic, though its presence has been felt through poems in journals and online since this all began.

Covid’s stamp on the current poetry scene can’t be ignored as I’m sure it will continue to weigh down many poetic collections in the near future, but former journalist Campbell doesn’t dwell on the epidemic. The poetry collection themes range from travel to relationships. They are well-matched by Sandra Evans’ sweet, detailed line drawings, gems in themselves.

Campbell’s writing is delightful, focusing on those simple moments that in retrospect carry so much importance now, especially as many ordinary habits of our life, visiting a café, going to an open air market have been denied us in the last year. His poems remind us to savour the things we once enjoyed freely.

Gerry Stewart, Book Review – White Eye of the Needle – Chris Campbell – Blog Tour

A second review of Strangers is in! This one meant so much to me because it was written by Chris Banks, a poet whose writing and blogging have meant a lot to me (as you can see if you check out my ten Chris Banks “quotes” here on this site, which reach back over the last twelve years!). As Chris mentions in the review, Strangers features a quote from Chris’ second book, The Cold Panes of Surfaces

The quote accompanies the book’s dedication to my father and two brothers: “For we are who we are, and more, all that is ridden within us / in the same way our fathers are not our fathers but someone / else’s inconsolable sons” (“LaHave River, Cable Ferry”).

So I suppose Chris wasn’t a fully unbiased reader, nor am I a fully unbiased recipient. Chris’ attention being given to my book was an absolute joy. His observation that the book focuses on “grief for a larger world that is constantly passing forever into the past” echoes one of my favourite conversations, between Stephanie Bolster and Don Coles, on the”presentiment of loss” in Coles’ poetry. I hadn’t realized – slow as one is to see their own work – that I was in part drawn to that conversation because I think and write in similar ways. 

Rob Taylor, New Strangers Review

I’ve been blown away by some of the haiku in paul m.’s ‘witness tree’, and reading Wally Swist’s ‘The Windbreak Pine’ has made me appreciate the longer line (many of his poems are 17 syllables, although not necessarily 5-7-5). Both books are from Snapshot Press. I’d like to say more about these collections, but work has been hectic (plugging gaps due to an outbreak of Covid that seems to be rumbling on despite many other areas having lowers cases). Time hasn’t been on my side – is it ever? What I would say though, is that I have never been disappointed by any books I’ve bought from Snapshot Press. And I have a few more still on my wish list!

This sort of brings me round to another thing that I’m starting to do, which is sell some of my poetry books. From time to time, I give books away, either to fellow writers, or to the local Oxfam bookshop in nearby Holmfirth. I don’t do this lightly, but space is always a premium and sometimes I realise I’m unlikely to keep returning to a particular book. Most of the books I own aren’t worth that much, but one or two might be considered collectible. So, I’m dipping my toe in the waters of e-bay, in the hope that some of these books will find the right home, so to speak. My mother has a saying that goes something along the lines of: ‘She knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. I’ve had a careful think about what I value, and currently, it’s haiku. Any money I raise will go towards the purchase of haiku books. And I’ve taken the plunge and joined The British Haiku Society too (not sure why it’s taken me so long, something about a formal organisation that I find slightly off-putting, but we’ll see). Anyway, that’s where I’m up to on this rather rain-soaked Saturday afternoon. I hope that wherever you are, you are reading, and writing, and loving what you do!

Julie Mellor, rain-washed gritstone

The burrowing owls stand and watch closely as I walk by; have I come to threaten them? No? This is the anxiety of death that we all know. The burrowing owls, small, colored like the earth, like the cold ground, relax a little as I pass. I can see this. O cold night, let them know peace and comfort, these little beings who look at me and think of danger. 

James Lee Jobe, Flesh, time, fate, and some rather small owls.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 52

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’ve re-learned this year from doing this digest is the truth of the old Pennsylvania Dutch saying, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” But the more slowly and thoroughly I go though my poetry blog feeds, the sooner things fall into place. Writing poetry, or making any kind of art, is that way too, I think. It’s serious play, with the kind of mental muscle tone one expects from athletes. One has to keep to a schedule, which is a very domesticated form of time, but it helps us relate to its wilder cousin. And making my (almost) daily erasure poems from the Diary of Samuel Pepys, I’m reminded just how much poetry can be submerged in the dailiness of our lives.

Anyway, this week found poets blogging about slowing down, taking stock, re-engaging or disengaging. Floral metaphors cropped up in several posts. Old holiday traditions took on new meanings. The dead were missed and mourned. The end of the year can be an unsettling time even in the most normal of years…


This is what I have always desired above all else: that this day should a day like all others, a day with a morning, an afternoon, and a night, any of which might be made into anything. 

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always disliked holidays: days that absolutely must be one thing and no other. They seem to me a disrespect to the world, an imposition on it that we have no right to make. Who are we to call this day Christmas, as if days were a thing to be ordered and sorted and classified by human beings? Who knows what we’ve lost, over the years, how many days born in the tenderest part of winter, that might have been days of learning or of loss, that have been made by brute force into days of festivity? It’s hard for me to see this act of coercion as homage to Jesus of Nazareth, who came to make everything uncertain and raw-skinned and new. 

Dale Favier, Christmas Day, 2020

how much earth must i lose
to wear the moon’s white shoe

Grant Hackett [no title]

Dawn dreams: finding my mother dead in the middle of the living room floor, near the Christmas tree, and in some worst horror of it, knowing exactly what to do and doing it, competent and calm as only trauma people can be in crisis; of chasing after someone else’s Christmas family, ignored, utterly baffled by ritual I could not even recognize and that had no place for me, and yet expected to make it work for everyone else; cruelty, contempt, violence, severance, loss—all home, hopes, plans, commitments shattered and ground underfoot, followed eventually by careful, careful reach toward something better, followed by the expectation of all the benefits he used to have plus sympathy for how victimized he was that I forced him to do what he did to me; of my own heart, in the small hours of the morning, tachycardic, rising, rising, to the covid 155 and beyond, sharp and tightening pain, intercostals shrinking, shrinking, ribs cracking from the inside, hammering volume rising and then: nothing.

JJS, Christmas, 2020

Even the solstice is a trick, using its promise of light 
as a Trojan horse to sneak in winter. My own belly is full 
of potatoes. In quarantine, I’ve been perfecting 
home fries and counting blessings: 

Bless the skillet and its good sizzle. 
Bless the butter and the russet. 
Bless its wobble and its imperfect axis. 

At least the Earth’s is more stable. Cue the ominous 
growl of the furnace, which runs day and night 
in these temperatures. 

Bless its grumbling.

Carolee Bennett, winter solstice poem with potatoes and pandemic

I’ve grieved this year. I know you have too. I lost a dear mentor. The program in which I taught closed down. I came close to getting a dream job–but did not. Another opportunity required weeks of fraught negotiation. My city’s streets were invaded, helicopters a constant presence overhead. Tyrannical subversion of the law has felt like a very real possibility at every turn. A pandemic has attacked friends, family, whole communities, killed thousands, and shut down local institutions that long anchored my understanding of what it meant to live as a writer in DC. Last night, as I opened my laptop and first sat down to write this blog post, brought the news that musician Tony Rice, who shaped my understanding of bluegrass, passed away on Christmas day. 

I’m grateful to all the writer-friends who have stayed active on social media, who have given us dialogue beyond the latest doom-scrolling (a word I did not need before 2020); I simply found it difficult to be one of them. If you’re seeing this it means you didn’t give up on the possibility of my posting here. I’m grateful for that, too.

Sandra Beasley, 2020

I think you’ll all agree that 2020 was an unrelenting bitch of a bad year, and despite the fact that a vaccine is on the way, it’s going to be many more months of staying home and wearing a mask until everyone gets inoculated. Which is to say, the first half of 2021 isn’t looking too rosy either, but I’m hopeful. At least Trump will be gone as of Jan. 20.

I had COVID-19 back in March, although I wasn’t sure if it was actually the virus. It was confirmed in May by an antibodies test. The illness itself never advanced into my lungs, but lingered for several weeks with fever, congestion, no taste or smell, and weird back and hip pain. I also had an accompanying eye infection, which I’ve now learned is a symptom. Although I recovered, I’ve had odd lingering ailments, some of which my doctor said might be side-effects: Bell’s Palsy, continuing pain in my hips and legs,  recurring eye infection, and cellulitis. I’m feeling better now, and hoping to get back on my diet/exercise routine after putting on 25 pounds. Sigh.

There was some fear that the magazine I’ve edited for the past 18 years might not survive the pandemic, but it did, and now we have a new owner going into the new year. Covering the pandemic and the summer of demonstrations after the murder of George Floyd was exhausting, consuming work. Which meant I did almost zero writing of my own. I managed to write one pandemic-related poem (one was enough), submitted older work to a few journals, and I’m currently working on a themed-poem I’m hoping will have a home in the new year. 

The most significant literary work I did in 2020 was getting the Mother Mary Comes To Me anthology into the world with my BFF and co-editor Karen Head. We virtually edited and ushered the antholgy into being with Madville Publishing and, to quote Karen, “it’s a shit-hot book.” Editing the anthology was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my nearly 30 years as a poet. Then we tested the limits of Zoom by holding two giant readings featuring 40 poets from the book. More are planned in the new year. 

Collin Kelley, Looking back at a miserable, no good, very bad year and ahead at what comes next

We are nearing the day of making resolutions and setting intentions, of saying good-bye to one year and hello to another. Many are ready to turn away from this year, as if it has somehow been the source of our suffering and our pain will end when the year does, but when the clock strikes midnight on December 31 and we leave 2020 to memory, neither we nor the world will be magically transformed. We are who we are, and that is who we will still be on January 1. But think of it–how changed the world and each of us is, right now, from what and who we were a year ago at this time, even as we are, simultaneously, exactly who and what we have always been. Isn’t our hike through time, in some ways, like walking a Möbius strip?

Thirty-five years ago, when I was an undergrad, a writing instructor asked me what I wanted to do with my life.

“I want to be a writer,” I answered.

“What does that mean to you?” she asked.

I didn’t know. “It means, I want to write,” I said. The details of my grown-up life as a writer had always been fuzzy to me. As a young teen I hoped it might involve working in a solitary cabin on a beach, with perhaps a dog I could take for long walks when I needed a break, and a quiet sort of fame in which others knew my name but not my face. That vision hadn’t evolved much. She pushed me to define what type of writing I wanted to do, how I planned to make a living at it, what I wanted to write about, and I didn’t know how to answer her questions. I hadn’t yet gone out enough into the world to know at all who I was, what I was, and what I wanted to be. I wanted to write in the way I once created dramas for my ceramic animals and stitched together bits of cloth for my dolls: freely, playfully, with no agenda other than delight. I knew there was a living that needed to be made, and I had vague notions of children and a family, but I didn’t know how my desire to write could or might intertwine with other wants and needs.

In recent years I’ve talked with people about the shapes my life might take after teaching. “Maybe you can write now,” I’ve heard more than once, and I’ve nodded agreement, not knowing any more clearly than I did decades ago what that might mean. But as this annus horribilis draws to a close and possibilities for a different kind of life come closer, I’ve realized something important: I already am writing. I have written here, at least once a week, for the entirety of this year, the longest stretch of regular writing I’ve ever managed. As Sharon gently reminded me, there are many ways in which we might all tell our stories. For the first time ever, I have no regret about how I’ve been telling mine.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The doors to the temple

robin song
the mystery of boats
berthed for winter

Matthew Paul, ‘robin song’

Last week was Episode 5 of Planet Poetry, in which I interviewed Jack Underwood and Peter and I talked about some of the poetry collections we’ve enjoyed this year. We’re having a few weeks off now so the next episode will be on January 7th. It’s been hard work getting ‘the Planet’ off the ground, but so stimulating and great fun to work with Peter on it.

I’ve not submitted a great many poems this year, in fact nothing in the last six months. Alongside the usual rejections it’s been super to have work published in Stand, The Frogmore Papers, The North, and I do have two poems forthcoming in Prole. But then… nothing. I hope I can get something out soon, or in 2021 I might vanish.

On a more positive note, I’m going to be taking part in an online reading for the Mary Evans Picture Library in January, and Chichester poetry are going to have me as their ‘featured poet’ in February/March. Come on Robin, write some bloody new poems why don’t you.

Meanwhile my wee group the Lewes Singers have had a quiet year, but a few of us got together for a very small, socially-distanced concert last weekend. It was so wonderful to sing with others again, if a bit tricky having to stand so far apart. And emotional. I felt myself welling up during a couple of the carols. I know there’s a lot of discussion about how to take care of our mental health at the moment, but the subtext I always hear is ‘yes but of course physical health is much more important.’ I do wonder if it shouldn’t be a more equal balance.

Robin Houghton, What I’ve been doing (and While you were Sleeping)

These poems hit urgently then and now, and I hope they bring something to your life. I think the carrying forth of words that brought these here parallels a life of poetry. Sometimes we carry the words, sometimes they carry us. After a year of so much unnecessary death, oppression, injustice, fear, stress, and upheaval, the words that matter now have to surprise us, connect in ways that make themselves known within. Which is to say that the words have to be poetry.

If you are reading this, be kind to yourselves. We have survived. It doesn’t have to mean happiness. It just means that we’re here. Your presence today is another word toward the rest of your life.

5 by Ikkyu

this ink painting of wind blowing through pines
who hears it?

*

it’s logical; if you’re not going anywhere
any road is the right one

*

ten years of brothel joy I’m alone in the mountains
the pines are like a jail the wind scratches my skin

*

your name Mori means forest like the infinite fresh
green distances of your blindness

*

my monk friend has a weird and endearing habit
he weaves sandals and leaves them secretly by the roadside

José Angel Araguz, surviving & Ikkyū

As the season turns to lengthening daylight which is also the start of a long winter, my equilibrium is shaky. I had a challenging year; I had a lucky year and should never complain about anything. It’s all true.

My fifth poetry collection The State She’s In, seems to be doing well. But, and this won’t shock anyone who knows that 2020 has been a bad year for publishing, I just learned that my first novel, Unbecoming, isn’t selling much despite good reviews. I am heartsore. I’ve seen my spouse go through this; in 2011 he published a novel in stories with a university press that immediately went under and eventually learned that the marketing person, last woman standing on the sinking ship, never sent out the review copies or publicity she’d promised. He wrote a couple of great novel mss after that and just couldn’t sell them, because the publishers’ marketing people looked at those numbers and said “bad risk.” This happens in poetry, too–the best way to jump to a press with a big presence is to sell the hell out of your small-indie collection–but the effect is stronger in novel-publishing, probably because poetry has so little money in it anyway. I had felt excited about the new novel I’m drafting but pivoted immediately to fear that no matter how good it is, it might get stuck in limbo. What I care about here isn’t advances or royalties–I have a day job–but to keep writing books, publish them when they’re good and ready, and find appreciative readers.

I’m sad but not paralyzed. On the practical side, I’m making to-do lists for post-publication prize entries and other ways 2021 can be an occasion for a second push. On the emotional side, I’m reminding myself how many literary gifts I’ve received in 2020: generous reviews, reading opportunities, and a LOT of nice notes from friends and strangers praising one book or the other. I am truly, wildly grateful, even when so much about the publishing landscape is dispiriting or just plain pisses me off. I’m also trying to pay back the love.

Lesley Wheeler, cats : making a ruckus :: poets : blogging

At some point years ago, I became hyper-aware of my work keys. How I would actually cling tightly to them when I felt a class of 30 restless students taking control of a situation that should have been under my control. Weirdly, my noticing this – stepping back and taking on the role of the director in relationship with my “character” – I was able to access when control was necessary and when it wasn’t. I could make more conscious choices about my “role” as an instructor. These days, half the time I have no idea where my keys are – which I’m certain is not something my boss wants to know.

Yesterday finding myself in the bathtub without my mobile phone, I had the same kind of epiphany. We read and talk a lot about social media and how we can passively allow it to define us. But the phone itself – the device – has come to partially define me. My mindless connection to this object, and its ability to connect me to a world of ideas to occupy my thoughts every moment, is shaping my behavior. It is determining how I move in the world. Literally: in the bath, one elbow propped on the edge of the tub to hold the phone dry. My shoulder twisted slightly. My neck under stress.

I’ve believed for a long time that we are nothing more than what we do: what we think and how we interact with the world. And that thinking and interacting with the world are interconnected in such a way that one defines the other – reinforcing or challenging who are “are” at any moment. I believe this is how we can change. How we do change.

I’m going to stop grasping at my mobile phone. Stop clinging to my sense of self: the productivity shoulds and ought-tos.

I’m going to dare to be truly naked in the bathtub.

Ren Powell, Dropping Character

TB: My close friend died of her addiction in her beautiful home a few blocks away from me, and the pain of her loss sat beside me when I wrote much of this book. I suppose while I was at it, I also thought of the other great death of my life, my father’s. After both of their deaths, I felt close to that W. H. Auden poem, “Stop all the clocks.” People were mowing their lawns like nothing happened, going in and out of Superstore like zombies. I thought, How dare you carry on?! I went for a lot of walks and the same blank eyes of windows never blinked. The hurricane inside one household, inside one mind, doesn’t show. There’s no real “street life” here, other than dogs walking owners and the power-washer obsessed.

RT: Does a direct current run between “Death” and “The Suburbs”?

TB: Alcohol and death in the suburbs did become a concept for this book, but only after I’d written hundreds of poems first, and this cluster formed. What eats away at you is unavoidable; you can’t help but return to certain ideas and subjects. (Dear reader, most of my poems are death-free!!)

RT: Ha! Death is inescapable in poetry, as in life. An increasingly less common theme in poetry today, though, is religion. It jumped out at me, then, when two poems in Everyone at This Party riffed on the existential questioning of the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. What draws you to Ecclesiastes, and does it connect in some way to your thinking about the suburbs (“there is nothing new under the sun”)?

TB: I’m drawn to the Book of Ecclesiastes for its straight goods. It says bluntly, “Look, we’re dying here so don’t get your hopes up—and don’t get all attached. All your hard work will amount to dust, and even if you’re successful, a fool will inherit your money and squander it. Life is arbitrary and people don’t get what they deserve.” Whereas most books of the New Testament come down to love, hope, and purpose, Ecclesiastes dares to hammer throughout, “Everything is meaningless” and “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Maybe I’m weird but this is comforting to me, kind of the opposite of toxic positivity. I like the acknowledgement that horrible things happen to good people and the undeserving win; this is what we all see happening anyway. It doesn’t pretend to make us feel better. I know people who’ve spent years quietly helping others without fanfare, and then fall on hard times, yet a cruel impeached president plays on, enjoying unmerited attention, wealth, and power.

Rob Taylor, The Hurricane Inside One Household: An Interview with Tanja Bartel

They begin in the dark alleyways of the mind; acts of intentional violence begin in the dark alleyways of the mind.

There, they extend beyond the body and breed in the streets with no regard for innocent bystanders.

It’s like a tombstone that wishes it had been born a bird, so it drags others down to bear its heavy weight.

This land, these people stalked by bullets and bad thoughts. A society divided, derided, sucker-punched, and sold to the highest bidder.

We live in this world for a while, turning over stones, seeking out love and luck, laying out a trail of bright and glittery things to lead us from the beast within.

This world of banality and fatalities, saints and civility, broken mirrors and little pity for the aging.

Listen for the living breath that leaves roses along the boulevard of the weary and defeated.

Listen for the flower asking the mad bomber, “Why?“

Rich Ferguson, In the Season of Flowers and Mad Bombers

crow jane lady
in your house
in the wind
flying still

Dick Jones, DOG SUTRAS

At some point in junior high, when I would have been 12 or 13, I read The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. My memory of that first reading, or at least a part of it, is extraordinarily vivid. I was sitting outside at lunchtime, on a sunny and quiet staircase round the back of the school, and riveted to the book. What I remember is reading this passage:

“As he stood there peering into the room, surprised to find it empty, the door behind him closed. Perhaps by itself, but Leamas made no attempt to open it. It was pitch dark. No sound accompanied the closing of the door, no click nor footstep. To Leamas, his instinct suddenly alert, it was as if the sound-track had stopped.”

My reaction to this was absolutely visceral. I remember feeling frozen to the spot – somewhat like Leamas himself. At the moment when the door closed I am pretty sure that the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. In my memory, this is when I knew that I would go on reading this author. 

There is a way in which memory flows in all directions, in time or in our lives (and I am not sure that time is linear, although we perceive it as such). What I don’t know is whether I remember such moments so clearly because they pointed the way forward, or whether they have later taken on a greater significance. I’m not sure it matters. […]

In the past ten years, I engaged with le Carré’s work more intensely than I had previously done. I have joked that moving to south London and, for a while, having a view of MI6 from my window had an effect, but it’s actually possible; geographic locations have quite an powerful effect on me. Although I had been writing poetry for about as long as I’d been a le Carré fan, I also started writing poetry more intensely in the past ten years, and publishing. Here and there, I also found his influence creeping into my work, whether in the occasional poem actually about spies, or in some acerbic tone or wry observation. Le Carré loved poetry, too. In The Russia House, he quotes Stevie Smith and Theodore Roethke in the space of one page. Our Game references Osip Mandelstam. The Honourable Schoolboy opens with Auden’s famous lines: “I and the public know/What all schoolchildren learn,/Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return.” Perhaps most tellingly, George Smiley loved “the lesser German poets”. 

I have realised that we create a kind of internal genealogy for ourselves. We find the things that matter and they become linked together into a system or a map, and that is who we are, at least in part. The lamplight falls especially brightly, or at least with a particular light, on certain people, places, beliefs, concepts and artistic works on our map. John le Carré’s works reside in one of those pools of light, for me. It is very hard to now say goodbye. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, In memory of John le Carré, 1931-2020

River. Trees.
Cold blue sky.

The ice knew
where I was

going, when
I was

coming back.

Tom Montag, Skating the Floyd

I hope this old grandmother/grandfather oak doesn’t mind me sharing this image where their roots are showing. It’s such a perfect illustration that, for trees, as much is going on belowground as above… more, actually, for the roots are where the tree does their thinking.

deep ::
the roots I touch
when I am alone

Dylan Tweney [untitled photo post]

I remember all the clever remarks at the beginning of 2020 about vision, about clarity, about hindsight, looking backward looking forward. Actually, I can’t remember them at all right now, just that they were a thing. I wanted to write a blog post without referencing the pandemic even once, but that can’t really happen. We’re deep in it at present. Can photographs help us see what life is like now? Will they mean something more or different later? Will they record things that we can’t even really see right now because we’re steeped in what’s going on? We’re bone tired, we’re hanging on, with luck. It’s not easy.

Shawna Lemay, Seeing Our Way Forward

I had a little surprise good news on Christmas Eve (see previous post) that one of my personal essays that I published this year – the first year I’ve tried to publish personal essays, really – was chosen as one of Salon’s “Best of 2020.” “Marriage in the Time of Coronavirus” was the first that I wrote and sent out, and Salon was the second place I queried. It felt like a little encouragement from the universe to continue to try genres outside of poetry, especially as I am still trying to place my two poetry manuscripts in the new year. This is also a good time to remind you that even if you are in middle age (say, ahem, 47) it’s not too late to try out new forms and experiment a little. […]

It can be hard, after the sort of year we’ve had in 2020, to make sense of it, much less process it enough to think about next year. It’s hard to make goals or set intentions knowing that even our biggest hopes might be thwarted by unforeseen intervention from a sometimes chaotic universe. Maybe we need to heal a bit before jumping into the next thing. We need to mourn losses, acknowledge hard facts, come to terms with the fact that sometimes things are out of our control.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Post Christmas Haze, Looking to the New Year

Christmas in my house would hardly be Christmas without a paper project or some sort of ornament-making, and this bizarre year is no exception. A while back, I became fascinated by mathematical origami models which are constructed using identical folded units that then are assembled into a shape, and over the years I’ve made a number of stellated octahedrons using Japanese papers in various combination of prints and solids.

This year, though, seemed like a good time to tackle the Bascetta Star, a model created by an Italian mathematician, Paolo Bascetta. The repetitive folding and concentration of origami are calming and meditative for me, and the process of making this star was a perfect antidote to the news.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 49. Star

I heard that President Obama’s memoir had to be printed in Germany because there is a paper shortage in the United States. The paper shortage is because we’ve been using so much cardboard to make so many more shipping boxes since the pandemic obligated us to stay home. I don’t know if any of that is true, though it seems plausible. A parable about unintended consequences. I thought of it often in the days after Crossing the Sea launched, because I didn’t yet have a copy in my hands.

Then I started getting photos from friends and family who had pre-ordered the book from Amazon or from the publisher. I was starting to wonder whether my copies were uniquely held up somewhere when the box landed on my doorstep. It’s a cliché to say that my heart rate quickened as I cut the packing tape and lifted the first copies out of the wrapping, but it’s also true. I’d seen the manuscript in PDF form many times, but there’s something fundamentally different about a paper book.

The poems have a realness now that they exist in the tangible world. The collection is no longer the proverbial tree falling with no one to hear it.  The journey it chronicles feels so far away now — evidence that “doing the grief work” actually does work, I guess. I remember what it was like in those early days and weeks, but I remember it at a remove. Through a glass darkly. Like rereading my poems from my son’s infancy. I know that was me, but I can’t inhabit that space anymore. 

A few of Mom’s friends have written to say that they see her in this book, and a few people who are grieving now have written to say that their own journey feels mirrored here. There’s no higher praise. I hope that Mom would be honored by the existence of this book. (I hope that, “wherever” she is, she approves.) And I hope other mourners will find comfort and consolation here. That’s why I write. It’s always why I write: not for solipsism’s sake, but to shine a light for others in the darkness.

Available at Phoenicia, on Amazon, or wherever books are sold. 

Rachel Barenblat, On the far shore

a break from the winter rains
perhaps a few days of sunshine
it is sunrise and i sip coffee
watching through a window
as wild finches peck in my yard
and on the patio
making small sounds that please me

in my imagination I took a long walk
as my body was too weak to do so
and in my mind I found a world
of fields and woods with no footprints
in all directions this world was new and clean
my body is weak but my world is still wild
and absolutely free

James Lee Jobe, my world is still wild

warm tea inside me:
“Let’s all go to Narnia!”
(rain drums on the roof)

Jason Crane, haiku: 24 December 2020

One of the gifts I splurged on for myself recently was to sign up for BookFox’s “Master Your Writing Time” course. I’m dawdling my way through it, but finding–despite my best efforts, or the opposite–that it has helped. Some of the lessons are action tips, and adopting the Pomodoro method has worked beautifully for me. Sitting for very long makes me feel achy and stiff. But working for just 25 minutes, then spending 5 minutes moving around, doing a few chores (avoiding my phone & computer), has been pretty amazing.

Bethany Reid, My Slow Christmas

Remember: look for the shine and sheer away what’s getting in the way, or carve it so that the light and shadow work how you want them to.

Remember: it’s a spiral process. Start anywhere. You’ll be back there again eventually, but hopefully from a slightly different vantage point.

Remember: time is the best editor.

Marilyn McCabe, Notes on Revision: A Megablog

A writer friend posted, “I went back through a folder tonight and found stories from 1999-2005. It’s so wild because all were fiction, some were written as part of Kristin Berkey-Abbott’s classes, and I can tell exactly what I was reading and what I was trying to make happen in those stories.”

I thought of my own experience, as I choose poems to send out in packets to journals that might accept them.  It’s a mix of memories of where I was when I wrote the poem and what I was trying to do with the poem.  Occasionally, enough time has gone so that I can be struck anew with wonder at the poem, as if I’m reading a poem written by someone else.

Like my writer friend, my memories are strong even with much older work, and I remember much more than just the writing of the poem.  I remember the other circumstances of my life too–where I was living, what I was teaching, the friends I was meeting, the other creative work I was doing.

Reading her post, I got nostalgic for my teaching days, the days when I taught more literature.  I’ve had more than one teacher friend tell me that they miss reading poetry out loud in front of a class of students.  I miss that too.  I was always inspired by the literature I was reading, in a way that I am not inspired by the administrator documents I’m writing and reading.

I miss the communal nature of studying literature together.  I don’t feel the same about writing, the teaching of how to write a piece, whether it be a poem, a 5 paragraph essay, or a resume.  But reading a poem or a short story and analyzing what works or doesn’t–yes, I miss that.  I miss having the language of good literature echoing in my head all day.

There are all sorts of communal things I miss these days, like singing Advent songs together in church, watching similar TV shows all at the same time (well, some of you are still doing that, but I’m not), holiday travel (maybe not).  I was delighted all week to see people’s photos of Jupiter and Saturn coming closer together before the Great Conjunction last night.  We’ve been going out to look when the evenings are clear. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Communal Life and the Literature We Read and Teach (and Write)

I love it when I read the right book at the right time…and when it automatically renews itself at the library for me! Right now that book is The Art of the Wasted Day, by Patricia Hampl. I’m reading it as I waste this particular day, the day after Christmas, which feels meandering and slow compared to yesterday (cooking the dinner) and the days before (preparations, small as they were, for this year’s holiday). It’s the right time in the sense of following upon my Laziness vs. Diligence blog entry, comforting me by affirming me in my “laziness” that is not quite that, and in my slatternly ways on a Slattern Day in the blog.

In her Prelude (brief introduction), Hampl is speaking of Michel de Montaigne, creator/practitioner of the personal essay, whose father engaged a lute player to follow him around the house as a child, encouraging his son’s imagination, daydreaming, indolence. “There was fugitive genius in this indolence,” says Hampl, ultimately praising Montaigne as “the first modern daydreamer.” […]

I’m comforted, too, by Montaigne’s own thoughts on essayistic writing, liberally quoted by Hampl: “If it doesn’t go along gaily and freely, it goes nowhere worth going.” This is how I feel about my ephemeral blog writing–it goes along gaily and freely, usually composed on the spot, though sometimes I take notes–say, in my reading journal, if I want to quote something (as I have done here), and both Hampl and Montaigne are/were note takers! The spontaneity of blog writing is good because (Montaigne again) “the anxiety to do well, and the tension of straining too intently on one’s work, put the soul on the rack, break it, and make it impotent.” So far, my soul is not on the rack, it is not broken!

Kathleen Kirk, Right Book at the Right Time

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. “

All I could think of was the number of deaths from COVID, especially among those who are poor.

Scrooge gets visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley and three other ghosts.  

“Mankind was my business!” Marley’s ghost tells Scrooge.

It’s the final ghost, the ghost of Christmas yet to come, clinches it for the terrified Scrooge.

The ghost story becomes a conversion story.

This Christmas, I look on COVID 19 as a ghostly visitation in many ways.  How we all respond to its demands –  especially the wealthy, and those in political and economic power,  will determine our future.

Anne Higgins, God bless us, everyone!

heron tides its broken boats,
words left tidelined, stranded,
picked over, kicked over,
over-collected here in laugharne.
castellated over cottaged lanes
as we thought it should be;
but here it is, as it was when he wrote,
candled in spindrift wince,
all alone,
high and dry,
and ever so bloody mighty.

Jim Young, laugharne

We are at the end of an arbitrary, chronological year but still in the midst of a pandemic that will not be going away miraculously when the new calendar begins.

To what must we devote ourselves? I think, for now, just getting by and living through; we can learn much from solving the everyday puzzles life pitches at us. A friend counsels that having a project to do can help–something a bit thorny that offers a challenge but that is not a priority. For now, I am cutting vines–the ones that threaten to strangle the remaining trees in the windbreaks on either side of our narrow property.

Trees that have been weakened by too little and then too much rain, by warmer temperatures and crown die-back that encourage lichen, by insects and the viruses they carry, and by a lack of native undergrowth. The ash trees that ringed the meadow are all dead now, victims of fungus and stress-related illnesses caused by infestations of emerald ash borers.

It’s an ongoing effort for which there won’t be much reward, but it feels a bit like tending something in the dead of winter.

Ann E. Michael, Until…

When I started bloom in the spring, I was in that stalled out period of writing.  I had managed to muddle through The Shining inspired poems, and actually liked what I was getting by the end, but I suppose, like everyone, I felt I needed to also be writing about what was happening in the world–about anxiety and fear and upheaval.  Mind you, I’ve no doubt we are still there..I finished that series of poems in late summer, after I had gone back to work and the world felt more stable.  In the time since, we’ve fallen to more darkness and uncertainty and it looks like we live there now. Another series of poems, still in the revision phase, the plague letters, is a little less about corona specifically and more generally about society and connectedness, but I don’t know if I really have any more corona-inspired poems in me. I feel like bloom captures the moment, or at least that moment in a nutshell…a time when we were still feeling out quarantine in the spring and what a disease that severs the human connection as we know it, could mean. Also, how nature just goes on without us, while simultaneously undoing us. You can read read the entire project here.

Kristy Bowen, poems as snapshot and document

Unexpected abundance, even
if not a windfall. A torrent
at midnight, or a heavy snowfall.

The world looks pristine
before we start again

to make tracks in it.

Luisa A. Igloria, Imagined, Undying Flower