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

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 51

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, poetry bloggers continued to reflect on the past year, as people do this time of year. Especially on a year which nearly everyone wants to be done with already! I’m thinking I ought to have some deep thoughts—or any thoughts, really—about this past year of poetry digests, but as usual, after six hours of reading blogs it’s all I can do to string words together in a coherent order. But thanks to all the bloggers who have written so many moving, entertaining, and surprising posts this year, and tolerated my generous excerpts. It’s been a joy and a privilege, etc.


Last week I spoke of being panicked. This week’s P-word: pummeled. It’s how I’m feeling at least, typing this out this Friday morning. The word describes the world as well, no? With government officials seriously delaying aid for people while corporations get tax breaks, billionaires billion on, and so many people suffer from the pandemic, whether from the virus itself or from the peril and strain the pandemic has placed us under in our respective lives. Here are some bright spots despite it all:

Early this week I participated in a Drink + Draw virtual session hosted by Flux Factory. Ani and I logged in and did some figure drawing. Models took 30 minutes each working through poses in their respective spaces. Flux Factory is a great art community space based in Queens. Here’s info on the next session which will take place in January.

The generous Gillian Parish has just published a new edition of her spacecraftproject. Check out poetry by Vince Guerra & David Maduli here — & do click around the site for some healthy, illuminating spacing out :)

Lastly, this week I participated in a final publication-focused virtual session with my ENG 375 Poetry Workshop students. Part of the final assignment for this course was revising two poems to be included in a digital class anthology. The anthology, entitled tending to the roots, also includes their art contributions. It was an honor to design this anthology as well as build with them and hold space for each other’s poetic selves this semester.

Check out tending to the roots: an ENG 375 class anthology below:

eng-375-class-anthologyDownload

José Angel Araguz, art, space, poetry

from then to now
is never the same distance as
from now to then

From my new chapbook: “The night is my mirror”.

Through the lockdown and the near-isolation, words were hard to find, but this came together in the last few weeks and I am delighted to close the year with relief, gratitude and hope.

I think the poems are real and personal and have been churned out by the silence, unease and reluctant acceptance that was 2020. If you’d like to read the chapbook, do give me a shout and your email information.  and I will send you a copy.  (leave it in the comments section or write to suspension.point@yahoo.com)

Happy holidays and a very happy new year.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, New chapbook: The night is my mirror

2020 was a wild, terrible, heartbreaking, exhausting, trying year. I finished a degree I wasn’t excited about, at a school I didn’t care for (it was a master’s for work and thankfully they paid for it). My first full length collection of poetry, Beautiful & Full of Monsters, was published by Vegetarian Alcoholic Press the week the pandemic rocked the world so any and all readings, appearances, and book tours were cancelled. I was able to do a lot of virtual readings but I missed the energy and vibe of reading in person. My dad died. Friends and family suffered and struggled and we all tried to just make it through the year, through the month, through every exhausting week. And through it all, I wrote.

I was lucky and eternally grateful to have found a few virtual writing workshops early in the pandemic. One workshop that has sustained me from the start is run by Community Building Art Works – most are free and all are fantastic. I highly recommend checking them out and joining if you can. The community and creativity I find there has held me throughout the pandemic. I’ve also taken two of Jon Sand’s Emotional Historian workshops and these too have been wonderful and amazing. These workshops kept me writing through a very trying year.

I’m always excited at the end of the year to see how many notebooks I’ve filled. This year did not disappoint, I’m on my 7th journal this year. You can see when I started gravitating toward the more basic Moleskin journal.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journals of 2020

I curl my fingers
into the thatch
inside the hollow.

Out come seeds
little teardrops
slippery and pale.

As they fall
the china bowl
rings like a bell.

*

These shortest days of the year are always a struggle for me. Like my mother before me, I count the days until the light will begin to increase. I practice finding sustenance in small things: in zesting an orange for cranberry bread, in cooking a new recipe, in turning squash seeds into a roasted snack instead of throwing them away as I would once have done. This pandemic winter, those coping mechanisms feel even more critical. There’s so much I can’t repair in this terrible and beautiful world. Sometimes it feels almost inappropriate to seek pleasure when there is so much suffering. In those moments I remind myself that I would honor no one by ignoring the little blessings I can find even in these times. May balm come to all who suffer, and may life’s tiny sweetnesses help us through.

Rachel Barenblat, Seeds

I am very pleased I am now off work until the new year; I feel like the cumulative effects of the stresses and strains of this tear and then my time in court have utterly wrung me out, and that a long break is what’s needed. The Xmas shopping has been done, 99.9% of it wrapped and ready. Just one thing to arrive and wrap and it’s all done. […]

An acceptance last week means I have now equalled my acceptances for 2019, which had been a record year, so I think that counts as a good. I’d like to think in some way this post is also tempting the gods and that the remaining subs (30 poems across 7 locations) will come in with acceptances now just to mess up my charts Prays.

What’s interesting (to me) is that it’s the same number of acceptances with a significantly lower number of poems sent out and to fewer places (36 vs 47, uncharted), but the success rate has increased from 9% to 12%…

I’d like to say this has something to do with me boxing clever about my subs and the quality of my poems increasing, and I hope that’s true, but I can’t say that as it’s not for me to say. I think I’ve certainly aimed at some places I didn’t think I’d get in, and on most occasions I was correct, but there were a few where it was a hit and hope and I “connected”. More of that in 2021 please, but I suspect it will only get harder.

Mat Riches, Off The Charts

When I get cold or melancholy, a kind of laziness overtakes me. At bedtime, I don’t want to take off the layers of t-shirts under my clothes to put on my jammies. (Fortunately, I am good at taking off a bra under my clothes and out through a sleeve like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.) On sad days now, when I look at the Christmas tree and know my kids aren’t coming home, I don’t want to get up from the couch, where I am bundled in a soft, blue blankie, reading a book, even though I know I should get up and move every hour—to keep warm, to keep the body moving, not sitting, because it’s wiser, healthier, not as sad.

And then I do it, because I am in the habits of diligence. I hear the washing machine stop, so I go put the clothes in the dryer and start a new load. I hear the mail carrier come, so I get the mail, then put on a coat, and re-deliver a mis-delivered piece of mail to my neighbor next door. I diligently write down who sent a Christmas card, and when, on my little list, and commit to writing a card back, if I haven’t sent one already, during this especially good year to maintain connection with people…. 

I wondered if the more precise word was lassitude, but I don’t think so. Lassitude is a weariness, a lack of energy, and so is lethargy. Laziness is a disinclination to work. At these sad, cold, lazy moments, I am disinclined to get up and do the necessary bit of work, but, once I do get up, I have the necessary energy. I do a lot of small, steady tasks, all the time. I have patience and perseverance. I keep to-do lists. 

Yes, my laziness is temporary, cold-induced, connected to melancholy. I’m aware of this…and of the way sadness can clutch at me sometimes. I can feel the pull down. I have various ways of saying no to the pull, even as the tears fill my eyes and start their spill, even if it’s just getting up from the book I’d rather read than do anything else, to do anything else. 

And then, back to the book. And on to the next book. So far this year—and there are two weeks to go—I’ve read 155 books. These include plays, poetry books, chapbooks, and graphic novels, as well as novels, memoirs, books of essays, books of short stories. My coffee table is stacked with books ready for a second lockdown, books not yet begun, finished books not yet shelved elsewhere, books in progress with bookmarks sticking out, library books that will automatically renew. Clearly, these books, these stacks, represent my combined laziness vs. diligence, conflict resolved. And a Slattern Day in the blog.

Kathleen Kirk, Laziness vs. Diligence

It was a great pleasure to be interviewed by Alex Graffeo, Managing Editor for OyeDrum. OyeDrum is “an online magazine and intersectional feminist collective. We are a community dedicated to women’s creative and intellectual work.” You can read more about the name OyeDrum here. They feature a quarterly themed issue from a selection of curated work, and a weekly section open to all genres.  I love the aesthetic of their site, so I interviewed Head Witch/Founder Amarantha da Cruz to find out more. See my interview with da Cruz and a link to their submission guidelines here. They also run a podcast entitled “In Conversation.” Make sure to check out all three episodes!

Trish Hopkinson, “The (Not So) Selfish Poet: Talking Feminism and Community with Trish Hopkinson” via OyeDrum by Alex Graffeo

The virus year has left me questioning the relevance of my poetry practice to the world of literature, such as it is. I have not been sending work to journals. I have not spent much time on revisions nor on going through my work in order to assemble another manuscript (or two).

My father suffered awhile, then died–what can I say? It has been hard to write, especially given the mental challenges of learning a host of new technological platforms and completely redoing my syllabus to adapt to the changed methods of college classroom instruction and tutoring. How does the saying go? “I ain’t as young as I usta be.”

Given that the year has been even more of a media frenzy and social norms chaos than the years preceding it, the word unprecedented has been overtaxed into meaningless syllables; and the word relevance has taken on a sort of socially-annointed value that leaves me certain I have nothing to contribute except more noise. Why bother to write poems? It may be that there are more useful ways I can spend my “senior years.” Reinvent myself as an advocate or mentor in some other field: gardening/environmentalism, education, literacy, hospice care…

Maybe I could just go back to hobbies. Photography, embroidery, sketching and painting, flower arranging, hiking. Or take up some new craft or endeavor. Maybe birding. And am I then somehow engaging in more or less relevant processes?

Garth Greenwell has an essay in a recent Harper‘s, “Making Meaning,” in which he poses questions about the concept of relevance as it relates to art and concludes that he disagrees with “relevance” as a critique criterion, one “that feels entirely foreign…to the real motivations of art.” […]

The essay is worth reading in its entirety, as some of its assertions deserve discussion. Especially noteworthy is Greenwell’s anecdote about reading and loving Augustine’s Confessions, a text I re-read and still love for many reasons, not one of which is due to religious beliefs. Greenwell says Confessions is still relevant today because of Augustine’s creative and relentless questioning and the ways he expresses his own confusion, “making bewilderment itself a tool for inquiry.” Yes! Among, of course, many other things.

Ann E. Michael, Relevance

Introducing Seeds of Hope, the second anthology of poems, prayers, reflections and provocations from the human rights organisation Amos Trust.

It includes contributions from Zena Kazeme, Arundhati Roy, Ben Okri, Cornel West, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Robert Cohen, Maya Angelou, Lemn Sissay, Langston Hughes and Abdelfattah Abusrour. I am honoured to be included among them.

You will find nothing comfortable here, but you will find solace and hope in this dark time. Arranged around themes with titles like Home, Hope, Her, Planet, Solidarity and Protest, the book is premised on the view that

‘to be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic – it is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.’

There are also some brilliant Spotify playlists scattered all the way through the collection, one of which I’ve posted below.

It would make a brilliant Christmas present for the activist loved-ones in your life.

Anthony Wilson, Seeds of hope

In later years, when I wonder why my blogging fell off a bit, let me remember that these have been days of getting to campus early so that Vet Tech faculty could get set up for final lab practicals.  Let me remember the grading in the wee, small hours of the morning, wee, small hours that seeped into the regular morning hours.

I wish I could say that I was blogging less because I was writing more poetry, but that was only true one day.  I had a goal of writing a poem a day during Advent, and I was faithful for about a week, but I’ve completely dropped off.

However, I have some ideas for poems, which I might have never had, if I hadn’t been looking for daily observations.  Now to get those poems written before I forget them.  One is menopausal Jesus who feels the rage that comes with wondering when it will finally be his turn.  And of course, I can’t remember the idea I had for the other poem, but it may come back to me at some later point–and then I’ll amend this post.

For me, this process is similar to knowing I had an interesting dream, but I can’t remember it.  And if I stop trying, some times, it comes back to me in a flash, and I wonder at the fact that I ever forgot it.  Poem ideas are similar.  I feel lucky to have them and lucky that they don’t abandon me when I can’t write them down quickly enough.

Update:  On Monday evening, I saw a woman with a shopping cart, but I wasn’t sure what was sticking out of it–a beach umbrella?  a sleeping mat?  a lounge chair?  Was she just hauling lots of stuff back from the beach or was she hauling all her stuff around?

On Tuesday morning, I saw the cart first during my pre-dawn walk, and then I saw the woman stretched out beside it.  It was at a house that was for sale, on a driveway covered with a canopy.  

All day I thought about the woman and the Nativity story about there being no room in the inn.  It’s too obvious a connection.  But I do wonder if there’s a different poem lingering in the background.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days of Inspiration and Gingerbread

This mahonia has been in my garden three years now. This summer I was tempted to dig it up as it never seemed to flower. We used to have one outside the kitchen window, and it was always full of bright yellow flowers. It attracted lots of blue tits and it was lovely to watch them flitting about between the spikey leaves. When we had to uproot it to make way for our kitchen extension, I thought it would be a simple job to replace it. However, as I’ve said, the successor has kept us waiting! I realise that there’s a lesson to be learnt here. It’s about being patient, being prepared to wait; it’s about hanging on when things don’t seem to be moving in the right direction. I’m not trying to draw any direct comparisons to the pandemic, or, on a more personal level, the ups and downs of being creative. I’m simply trying to focus my attention on what’s important, the here and now, the wonder of these sprigs of yellow in an other wise dull garden in December. Nature has a way of rewarding us, if we allow it to. Under different circumstances, we would probably have been away on holiday this week. The current restrictions have put paid to that. But if we’d gone, we would have missed this first flowering. Let me say that for this, and so much else, I’m extremely grateful.

Julie Mellor, winter light

A suitably seasonal haiku of mine is featured over on the blog of Fokkina McDonnell’s Acacia Publications site. It seems like a lifetime ago that I wrote it and if ever there was a year in which time has played tricks on me, then it’s 2020. No wonder time-travel is such a key component of my poems.

It’s certainly hard to have a glass half-full at the moment, especially now that we inhabitants of London and the South-East of England are effectively homebound for the Christmas period – and probably for a good while into 2021 – for all but essential activities.

I’ve moaned myself out about our shambles of a government and their back-of-a fag-packet policy-making, and about QPR’s seemingly endless run without a win. I’ve been reading Buddenbrooks, which has sat on my shelf for many years without me starting it, but now I’m halfway through I’ve found I haven’t, currently at least, got the patience to finish it, which makes me sad.

Perhaps I should stick to poetry. Yesterday I read half the latest issue of one of my very favourite poetry magazines, Butcher’s Dog, the opening poem of which, ‘Japanese Wind Telephone’ by Sarah Stewart, is as beautiful as anything I’ve read all year. Unlike Buddenbrooks, I will definitely read the second half shortly.

Matthew Paul, Adventing

Too serious for photographs, though my god she was beautiful, and so close I wished I could pick her up in my arms and take her home on my own good legs. Coyote, sleek and strong, but three-legged traveling, her left front paw or wrist held carefully, painfully, out of contact with this world, wounded somehow. I hate to see this, but also know she has a decent shot at healing whatever it was that hurt her, and does not need to be shot. She will not be found by a wildlife person’s tranq darts hours from now. She will be gone in the way of wild beings. Deep snow makes travel so hard on three legs, so she’s using the road, pain tightening the skin around her eyes. I blocked the road with my car, hazards on, and gave her time: the farmer in his tractor stopped at the edge of his field and gave her time, too. She gazed at me for a long time, then at him. She considered the banks, the depths: when pain is very great and the requirement is stamina or death, there is actually no fear, I know from experience, and so she weighed her routes, us making no threat, and chose the road itself again, headed toward Norwottuck and, I hope, a safe den where she can heal. How I wish I could drive her home, give her some painkillers and a freezer full of chickens. Sure, she’s interpretable as a direct metaphor for my own life right now, but she’s not a metaphor and not about me, or you, even as she is so easy for many of us to empathize with to the depth of marrow: she’s a real being, really suffering, really using the three legs she does have to get to whole again somehow, and it is hardest when the only way through to safety and eventual healing is the most dangerous, and involves not only impossible stamina and great risk, but sustenance when hunting isn’t possible. May she find her resources. May she survive and thrive.

JJS, canis latrans

Outside, evening arrives
faster than it can fall. Trees
drop the last of their leaflets,
knowing this time of year is past

announcement. You couldn’t stop
walking into it even if you tried:
even if you held still, you’d feel
the landscape bristle with either

hurt or love, a kind of static
electricity. At last, you might say,
or Oh; as one by one, lights flood
the insides of their bowls.

Luisa A. Igloria, On the First Law of Thermodynamics

RT: Haiku in Canada has an unusual structure (as the subtitle suggests): part memoir, part history, part poetry anthology, part roll call of Canadian haiku writers. The practice of gathering the biographies of contributing poets into an essay is shared by other haiku anthologies, such as Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years(eds. Kacian, Rowland and Burns, Norton, 2013) and The Haiku Anthology (van den Heuvel, Norton, 1999), but in your case the poems themselves and personal reminiscences are also rolled into the mix. You never know what will come next: a personal anecdote, a poet’s or writing group’s bio, a clutch of poems, an excerpt from an essay on the nature of haiku, etc.

In your foreword, you note that Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book, which itself roams mightily, helped inspire the book’s form. Could you talk a little about how you settled on the book’s final shape? Did you draw on other influences, beyond Shōnagon, in approaching the task?

TAC: This book began as a talk that I was invited to give at a Haiku North America conference in Seattle, Washington, in 2011. It was perhaps nine pages in length and it was received very well. A second delivery came when I was a keynote speaker at a Haiku Canada conference. For this talk I had prepared some extra notes around the Toronto scene since I was speaking at Glendon College at the University of Toronto. The paper kept growing. I was living in Ottawa at the time; I facilitated a haiku group called KaDo Ottawa and we met at the Japanese Embassy for our annual spring meetings. My friendship with Mr. Toshi Yonehara increased my interest in the history of haiku, and when I moved to the west coast in 2012, I realized that I was in a great place to do more research. I was new to Victoria and wanted to meet like-minded folks, so I taught Japanese literary forms at Royal Roads University, in their adult extension program. I met many poets who wanted to learn more about haiku; soon the classes turned into social gatherings and Haiku Arbutus was born (I still facilitate this group). 

It was through Haiku Arbutus that I met Dr. Susumu Tabata, a 93 year old survivor of the internment camps of the Slocan Valley in the interior of B.C. during World War II. It was such an honour and a privilege to meet him, and soon “Sus” was a regular at our meetings. Spritely, with a great sense of humour and a twinkle in his eye, he was beloved by all of us. My essay began to take on a new direction as I researched the haiku written in these camps during this dark chapter of Canadian history. Members of the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society were also wonderful to help out. Many gave me resources that I would have probably never found on my own. I would take out the essay from time to time and add sections about groups (like mine) that were “starting up.” Now I had over a hundred pages and I began to think about a book.

The challenge now, was my writing “styles.” When I was referencing the historical facts, I needed historical accuracy, which created a certain tone. When I was writing about groups of poets, some who were close personal friends, the tone changed again. I was very uncertain about how to continue. I actually became quite despondent around the whole project and dropped it for about two years. I simply didn’t know how to mesh everything together. The title at this time was “A History of Haiku in Canada” and it sat deep within my computer.

And then one day, I was reading Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book, which is her observations of Heian court life, including essays, anecdotes, poems, opinions, interesting events at court, and her famous lists, 164 of them. Her writing was called “zuihitsu” or “assorted writing,” and I knew I had found a model. I picked up the project and began working again, and by Christmas 2019 I had the manuscript completed and submitted to Richard Olafsen at Ekstasis Editions.

Rob Taylor, The Shadow Element: An Interview with Terry Ann Carter

Rochford Street Review is a fabulous on-line journal highlighting Australian and International Literature, Art and Culture – with an emphasis on small press and grassroots cultural activities, run by the indefatigable Mark Roberts. So I’m super pleased that he has featured one of my more complex video poems accidentals (recalculated) in Issue 30 of the Review. This will be the first of five videos that will appear here.

The video was a finalist in the Carbon Culture Review 2016 Poetry Film Contest (USA); was exhibited at 17 Days (Day 9, Vol. 10) at The Bret Llewellyn Art Gallery, Alfred State College, NY (USA; August 28 – September 19, 2017) and Atrium Gallery, Western Michigan University (USA; November 6, 2017 – April 29, 2018); and screened at the 7th International Video Poetry Festival in Athens, 2018.

Ian Gibbins, accidentals (recalculated) in Rochford Street Review

– More of the magazines that I’ve subscribed to have disappeared, and I’ve not renewed subscriptions to some others (e.g Rialto, Stand) because I understand far too few of their poems – I think they’ve changed more than I have.
– My successes have been limited in number though I’m glad I got in The High Window and Fenland Journal
– I’ve written 6 poems this year. I wish their scarcity meant they were good.
– I didn’t enter any poetry competitions except for the Magma pamphlet competition.
– I’ve given up thinking I can ever get in Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry London, etc.
– I’ve read quite a few poetry books. As usual I didn’t choose just the books I thought I’d like. I understood very little of “Wade in the water” (Tracey K Smith) and “The Prince of Wails” (Stephen Knight). I thought “Fleche” (Mary Jean Chan) was far longer than it needed to be – it would have been better as a single-topic pamphlet. I liked Happenstance pamphlets by Edwards and Buckley.
– From my (very limited) viewpoint, I feel that the poetry community is expanding in terms of styles and ethnic origins, even if the statistics don’t yet show it. There’s more fusion and vitality.
– I didn’t replace my attempts at physical networking by virtual networking. I miss the small-press book fairs.

Tim Love, Poetry in 2020

My son, a college sophomore, is a fiend for math and loves teaching it, too. Since he’s finishing the term at our dining room table, I get to eavesdrop on the tutoring he does by Zoom as well as his study groups’ conversations. Sometimes he and I break for a midday walk in the middle of it, and yesterday he reflected that when he comes to an impasse in his work, he’s more willing than his friends to just sit with the problem and wait for inspiration. He told me something like, “When I hit a wall, I’ll just sit and look at it and say, “Wall, whatcha got for me?’”

This is mostly just temperament–he and I are both stupidly resistant to asking for help, and we both enjoy puzzles. But he also said that he prefers hard math problems to easy ones because the answers to easy problems are just “coincidence,” whereas you know you’ve solved a “proofier” question because the solution comes with a deep click, a sense of rightness. I’m not sure I fully understand that, but I’ve been thinking about it as I bash my head against poem revisions, unable to decide when each ornery little piece is finished.

This hasn’t been a good workweek. My simple goal for Monday was to gather some poems to submit to the annual Poetry Society of America contests. I rarely throw in, but I thought that hey, this year I have time, right? But mostly these awards are for unpublished poems so I thought I’d finish up recent ones, pieces I haven’t sent elsewhere yet, and it’s NOT going well. I know none of us should be beating ourselves up for poor concentration right now; the soaring virus rates are horrifying and the political circus depressing. I had the added suspense this week of a couple of family members waiting for test results (everyone is negative and feeling fine). I never handle suspense well! Still, my fuzzy-headedness feels frustrating.

My son is right, though, that facing hard problems can lead to more interesting math or art–and that the way forward involves just showing up, again and again. None of these poems is easy: my tabs are open right now to pieces about giant tube worms, domestic violence, viral replication, divination…So I try to solve for x, take breaks, and circle back, hoping for flashes of intuition. History suggests that tough writing patches eventually end. I didn’t like it when my phone autocorrected “I was told” to “I am old” recently (!), but aging does bring a kind of equilibrium in knowing that time, careers, etc. aren’t just linear. They’re cyclical, too.

Lesley Wheeler, Wall, whatcha got?

Here I am, said the old man
still young, trapped between
ship and shore. I understand
that we’re always on the gangplank,
having just arrived or just heading
for departure. There’s always
someone to talk to, someone pausing
to put that suitcase down and then
rub chafed hands.

Dick Jones, Ship to Shore

It occurred to me earlier this week that I have not,  outside of a slew of dgp manuscripts this fall, been able to read a book in about a year (give or take a month ) Submissions are easier, since chapbooks are short and poetry uses a different kind of brain for me, but even that experience was more like looking for the kind of work I like to publish normally and less about immersing myself fully in the book, as one does with fiction, which is what I’ve been lacking the past 10 months or so. What I’ve been missing is that immersion in fiction I usually crave, but it takes a certain kind of headspace that the pandemic seems to have stolen (the ultimate irony is that with extra home time and everything closed you’d think it’d be the perfect time for tucking in with a book, but most nights I am much more interested in doomscrolling on my phone until I fall asleep.)  Besides,  am far too anxious and alert on public trans, where most of my novel reading gets done to read at all.  it’s a strange absence for me, and one it might have taken a couple months to notice. I thought it would come back in late summer when I went back to commuting, but it apparently did not. 

Visual art is similar, though it’s less about immersion and maybe more about creative impulses.  I’ve been thinking about the ways in which my writing brain differs from my visual brain and the key may be a certain creative flow that crisis mind doesn’t allow to happen.  Outside of a few watercolors and some things for my Patreon, and maybe the video poems, I’ve been much less inclined to pull out the markers or collage goods or even work digitally, which applies to cover designs and graphics for the library in addition to my own pursuits. This weekend, I did some postcard sized landscape paintings for my subscribers and it felt good, but it was like pulling teeth to actually get me in the right headspace. I do have a couple ideas for projects that have sprung up in the past couple of weeks, so maybe this is changing.  Maybe I need to just put the pedal to the metal and make it happen.

Back in the spring, writing, too, felt this way, but 2020 actually wound up being reasonably productive in that arena. My writing process always feel more like creating pieces of a puzzle in small bursts that add up to a whole, and it’s easy, once I have the overall vision, to create those pieces. Launching a new series is always hard, which is why it helps to have several things going at one time.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m set to mostly finish up the unusual creatures revisions by the New Year, so will be moving onto something entirely new (there are a couple options, but I’ll see which one is speaking to me more in January.)  Writing sometimes feels like running laps, so digging into the routine is what gets things done, and each new lap is easier. (I say this as a person who hates to run, so maybe that’s a bad analogy.)

Kristy Bowen, creativity and pandemic brain

“All you need to do is find and follow your whimsy.”

My uncle wrote these words to me in July–continuation of a conversation about work and retirement and possibility that we’d begun the previous Thanksgiving–and they have been rattling around in my head ever since.

The notion astonished me, really, coming from him. His field was computer science. He’s a retired Naval officer, who was a private contractor for the government for years. “Whimsical” is not a word I would ever ascribe to him, nor is whimsy something I would have thought he much valued.

What does that even mean, I have wondered, to follow your whimsy?

According to Webster, a whim is “a capricious or eccentric and often sudden idea or turn of the mind.” To be whimsical is to be “lightly fanciful,” and “whimsy” is “a fanciful or fantastic device, object, or creation especially in writing or art.”

Defining by example is a great way to build conceptual understanding, and in the months since he wrote, I’ve been on the lookout for others who, perhaps, have followed or are following their whimsy. It’s amazing what you notice when you start to look for something.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What’s your whimsy?

The latest from Ottawa poet Michael Dennis and Cobourg, Ontario poet, editor, publisher, writer and bon vivant Stuart Ross is the full-length collaboration 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems (Cobourg ON: Proper Tales Press, 2020). The back cover offers: “Two pals. / Two very different poets. / One kitchen table. / Several bottles of wine. / 6 writing marathons over 3 years. / 122 collaborative poems. / 70 kippers. / A book of poetry. / An act of love.” Both Dennis and Ross have been writing and publishing since the late 1970s—only a few years longer than they’ve known each other—as two poets existing entirely outside of the academic system, quietly going about their work, from their respective corners of Ontario. Throughout seventy numbered poems that make up 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems, their shared explorations of narrative overlap and blend, and one can see elements of Dennis’ darker working-class mixed with Ross’ surrealism. For anyone aware of their individual works, it is a curious mixture, such as in the thirty-eighth poem, that reads: “In another country no one would complain / about the conditions under which dogs / dreamed like cats, saved like squirrels, / barked like llamas, under the billowing / animal cracker cloud sky. / Things couldn’t be better / or worse, he complained.” What is immediately clear is how this project is very much a conversation between friends, and the pull and push between their aesthetics, composed as a snapshot of what has been an ongoing conversation going back years. As they write in their “Authors’ Note” at the back of the collection:

These poems were written at Michael Dennis’ kitchen table on Dagmar Avenue in Vanier over six marathon writing sessions, the first on August 3, 2014, and the last on October 2, 2017. At each marathon we wrote 20 poems (well, 22 at the last session) simultaneously and collaboratively. We each began with 10 sheets of lined paper and wrote a first line on each. We shuffled the sheets and passed them across the table, where the other of us wrote a second line, shuffled the sheets, and passed them back for a third line. This process continued, and as we unilaterally declared a poem completed, either by adding a final line or seeming our collaborator’s line the ending, we placed that poem on the floor under the table. We did not discuss the poems as we wrote, though we often laughed and cursed each other. Each writing session began around eight in the evening and lasted three hours and 15 minutes. Wine was consumed, always red. Once the last poem met the heap under the table, we retrieved the batch, straightened out the stack, and read them all aloud. In late 2018 and early 2019, we whittled the selection down to 70 kippers—I mean, keepers—and did some editing, which occasionally skewed the alternating-line sequence when a line or several lines were excised. Sixteen of those poems, in slightly different versions, appeared as the chapbook The Dagmar Poems, from Burnt Wine Press. we only had one fight in the process. It’s long behind us.

Dennis’ most recent full-length collection is Low Centre of Gravity (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2020) [see my review of such here], a collection of first person lyric narratives following on the heels of his Bad Engine: New & Selected Poems (Anvil Press, 2017) [see my review of such here], both of which were edited by Ross. Ross’ latest full-length title is the poetry collection Motel of the Opposable Thumbs (Vancouver BC: Anvil Press, 2019) [see my review of such here], his eleventh full-length poetry title to date. One should note that the poems that make up 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems aren’t the first collaborations by either poet, as Ross has been working collaboratively for years, back to The Pig Sleeps (Contra Mundo Books, 1991), written with Vancouver poet Mark Laba, and his collaborative novel with Gary Barwin, The Mud Game (Toronto ON: The Mercury Press, 1995). Ross even published a collection of short poem collaborations he wrote with twenty-nine different collaborators in In Our Days in Vaudeville(Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2013) [see my review of such here]. The collection included five poems that Ross composed with Michael Dennis. Composed roughly a decade prior to the earliest poems in 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems, the poems in In Our Days in Vaudeville are different in tone, and more separate, as though each were still feeling out the other’s voice and cadence, feeling their ways into and through each poem.

rob mclennan, Michael Dennis and Stuart Ross, 70 Kippers: The Dagmar Poems

My poetry books of the year will lodge in my head. Every now and then, I’ll experience something that reminds me of one of their lines or poems, and I’ll reach for them, and then I’ll linger, and the book in question will lead a second life beyond the shelves in my study, being tasted every few days for a couple of months before returning to those shelves. And then the cycle will begin again.

What’s more, I won’t yet have read several of my poetry books of the year, as they’ll be slow-burners that a trusted friend will recommend or I’ll encounter on the shelves of a second hand bookshop, flick through a few pages and reach for my wallet.

And then there are my other poetry books of the year, the ones I thought weren’t much cop when I read them in 2020, but which will reach out and hit me/hug me/renew me if I’m lucky enough to be around in 2030.

These are my poetry books of the year. Sorry if yours isn’t on the list.

Matthew Stewart, My poetry books of the year

The poem is
more than the words

can mean. Is there
anyone who

can do this math?

Tom Montag, THE POEM IS

I know we are all saying “get out and good riddance” to 2020, I try to remember the good things that came from this year, too. I spent a lot of this year sick (not with covid, just other weird stuff) so I became acquainted with weighted blankets, the Queen’s Gambit and the Mandalorian, I started a novel (still not very far,) applied for jobs in poetry publishing, and applied for grants I normally would avoid. (I even got two small grants this year, which seems miraculous.) I did a lot of bird watching. I got published in a few “dream” journals, including Poetry and Ploughshares. I tried to find as many inspiring things close to home as possible, since we couldn’t travel or do our usual about-town entertainments.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Merry Solstice/Christmas Week to All, and to All…A Good Riddance to 2020, plus Setting Intentions for 2021

It’s official! I am On Vacation, my chickadees, and not a minute too soon after the hellacious work year I’ve had. Due to my prevaricating, it almost didn’t happen. I had vague plans to “take some time off around Christmas”, but with everything going on and being the sole person overseeing our screening checkpoints, planning for my departure felt completely overwhelming so I kept putting it off. My boss casually said to me last week, “You’re out here after Friday, right?” to which I responded with a panicked, deer-in-the-headlights stare and stammered that I hadn’t done any planning for taking time away and that I “couldn’t just leave.” She wasn’t having any of my baloney. She found some people to take over the checkpoint duties and I spent the afternoon in a whirlwind of Out of Office messages, door signage, e-mail wrapping-up and preemptive plant-watering. Then I locked my office door and left the building, triumphant and exhausted. I’m not going back until January. It’s been almost two years since I’ve taken any significant time off, and I had no idea how tired I’ve become. I would love to say that I learned and grew from my experiences and blah, blah, blah but I think mostly what I did was just survive and develop a stress-related disorder as a fun bonus. I need this time. I can feel my whole body needing it, not to mention my brain and my soul.

Kristen Mchenry, Vacation All I Ever Wanted, I’m Worried about Katie and Peter

Every year I hold this thought that I will really relish Christmas. I will make things with my hands, invest in the act of creating and giving as a token of interpersonal gratitude. Instead, I rush things between grading exams and making dinner, and I curse and resent the entire season. I resent the fact that last year’s handmade candies are still in a jar on the shelf in my colleague’s office, unopened – and likely brewing something far less helpful than penicillin.

I think about all the almond flour and lemon that wedged painfully under my fingernails while I rolled the candies into small coconut-flour-dusted shapes. (What a frightening thought now, in these Covid times).

Yeah.

This year I’m making candles. I expect hot soy wax will bring with it a share of painful moments. But I’m hoping the scent of cloves and orange will help me focus on a brighter mood.

Essence of orange tends to stick around. There’s nothing smooth about it. Like a burr or a bit of Velcro, it snags and insists on attention. Like a toddler tugging at a shirttail, demanding to be lifted up onto a hipbone and carried through the day, pointing and clapping at everything that sparks a little bit of joy. Clove? That’s the old woman doing the carrying, paying attention, smiling warmly: saying put down the red pen and the grading, and come here and just sit a while.

Ren Powell, Essence of Clementine

As this strange year draws to an end (although, the end still feels like a long way off to me), I’m pleased to tell you that I have a few pieces of new writing in circulation. I’ve been writing poems for about ten years now, after a period of not writing at all while my children were growing up, and, before that, writing prose and play scripts. When my full collection of poetry was published in 2018, there were poems flying free that I couldn’t quite tie down in time to include in my book, and others that were no more than a tiny speck of an idea. Gradually, in the past two years, some of these poems have landed firmly and taken shape across pages of my notebook.

One big change in my life in the past three years has been my two children leaving home to go to university, and, this year, one of them leaving home to start their working life. This has coincided with my increased awareness of the precariousness of our planet. A new poem, ‘Then, said I, Lord how long?’, merges my feelings of loss incurred by the climate emergency with my experience of the “empty nest”, and is published in the Winter 2020 issue of Poetry Wales. Another poem about children growing up, ‘Parenting Book’, will be online at Ink, Sweat and Tears on December 29 – part of their yearly Twelve Days of Christmas series.

Another new poem of mine, ‘Poem for a 1960s Welfare State Childhood’, is online at the Morning Star. This is a poem about my own childhood, rather than about my children, and was prompted by my thoughts about the dismantling of the benefits systems by successive Tory administrations since 2010, and how insecure housing, and insecure household income, impacts on children. I know my own childhood would have been very different if my family hadn’t been protected by the welfare state.

Josephine Corcoran, A few new pieces of writing

I have this notion that the sky sees us as its own sky.

Sometimes it views us as storm-sullen with our riots and hate-mongering.

Other times, we appear sunshiny with our lovehoney buzz and thousand-watt optimism.

Sometimes the sky sees us as different cloud patterns: artists, stratocumulus; nihilists, nimbostratus; children, cumulus; the elderly, cirrostratus.

The sky views our city traffic as shifting cloud patterns containing different images—castle, dragon, dandelion;

it all depends upon the hour of day and which way the wind blows.

I hear that on certain occasions, you can marvel at the bright blue above and witness it admiring you.

Imagine that, seeing each other as one another’s beautiful dreaming sky.

Rich Ferguson, Mirror Me, Mirror You

newness alone must not be called poetry;
if anyone at all calls!
it might be orphaned at birth and misplaced.
their minds might be event horizons,
might deny the parallel word of verse,
might insist that the mirror reflects what isn’t there.
that a poem’s virgin birth upon the detonation of the old
will be an alien civilisation with a sixth sense called nonsense.
the bricked windows will be doubly dumb.
the voice in the wilderness will be just that;
a wildness beyond understanding.

Jim Young, poor try

it took me a long time to understand 
my true purpose 
I’m here to grieve 
and goddamn I am so very good at it

James Lee Jobe, blessing the word with smallness

Solstice, winter, covid: we are close to the dark.   Those winter days that swing between flat gray and blindingly bright gray work a subtle palette. 

During insomniac nights — at 3am, at 4am — I am close to the darkness too.  As I lay awake, I go deep into it. I riff:
Darkness, my compatriot, my friend, my pain,
my swan dive, tail in the air, everything inverted.
My color palette, everything contained. 
Darkness, all swirling imagination, all nourishment, all foundation.
All restart, light, recognition of what is outside me, 
of darkness inside me that leads to the beyond.

Everyone is talking loosely, wildly, glibly of light, something we lack and thus want desperately to lure.   The electrified trees, the candles that never drip though they burn in every window every night, the bright rafters — all speak to a desire to light up in “unprecedented” fashion.  These are rituals of continuity, myths of faith that lay the way to see in darkness — considered “old-fashioned,” they are back with a bang.  As if we thought they could be replaced with bulbs!

Jill Pearlman, Solstice, burning bright

each day slips away 

fish in deep water

Sharon Brogan, Snapshot Poem 16 December 2020

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 49

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: holding space, the private self, light and darkness, dog sutras, writing poetry for children, and much more.


I’d like to dedicate this week’s post to the memory of Miguel Algarín, Puerto Rican poet, writer, and co-founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café who died earlier this week. Algarín was the embodiment of being a poetic presence on and off the page. His poetry set precedents by holding space for political struggles and literary insights that represented the various communities he worked and taught in. His work through the Nuyorican Poets Café as well as in his teaching showed him as a model for holding space for poets from all backgrounds.

The more I teach, the more I feel that the classroom is a space of confluence, a space where the experiences of my students and those of my own all meet, eddy, and converge, a presence. A stage can be a classroom as can the page. Across these three spaces, Algarín touched a great number of lives, influencing directly through community-minded efforts as well as through a singular understanding of languages.

The poet Rich Villar in a recent set of tweets shared the following sentiments:

I think it’s good to celebrate the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. It’s good to celebrate and mourn Miguel Algarín. It’s also good and important to celebrate Miguel’s IDEA of the cafe, the “poetics” of community, which is genius particularly because anyone can replicate it.

So many spaces and places defined what became known as the Nuyorican movement. None of it required official sanction or 501c3 status. It required two things: need, and audience. Even the old squat on 3rd Street wasn’t necessary at first. Any old space would do.

Villar goes on to share the example of Elisabet Velasquez who, among other things, is conducting a series of stories on Instagram highlighting poets who answer questions asked by her followers. I agree with Villar when he compares Velasquez’s use of social media to hold space in the spirit of Algarín. That when one looks outside the capitalist-driven and prejudice-strained world of literary publishing and awards, one sees that giving and honoring each other is easy. That answering a question on social media or mentoring someone through email correspondence is easy, is community. One of the great joys of running this blog is being able to connect with y’all and create community.

José Angel Araguz, in memory: Miguel Algarín

Poetry blogs have taken on special significance in 2020. As mentioned in my previous post on Rogue Strands, time might well have speeded up this year in many respects, but many people have also had that very same time weighing on their hands as a consequence of isolation, both in mental and physical terms.

In other words, poetry blogs have provided their readers with longer reads than social media posts, all alongside more substantial content. They offer us the chance to remember we’re not alone in the midst of this pandemic, together with the reassurance that there are other people whose experiences mirror ours.

Matthew Stewart, The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2020

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

The main questions I’ve been exploring in for the last few years (especially in Death Industrial Complex and MONARCH) all deal with identity formation in the context of a consumer culture. How does the messaging we’re exposed to dictate or even generate our desires? How do we know for certain we want what we want and we are who we are when we’re persuaded and manipulated so insistently to buy X, look like Y, aspire to Z. Are there any forces that exist outside consumerism? I’d like to think that magic, spirituality, and the occult all still retain pockets of freedom but it’s also apparent that large portions of even that which traditionally exists only on the interior, and therefore comprised our “true self” or “identity” no longer does.

The current question, for me, is about who we are in private. Do we have a private self any more? Do some of us have more of it than others? Do we value our interior lives less than ever before? Why? Shoshanna Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (2018) thinks about this within the context of social media and surveillance policies and all the quick click “opting in” we do. She says, “When the fact is if you have nothing to hide, then you are nothing. Because everything that you are, the place inside you, your inner resources from which you draw your sense of identity, your sense of voice, your sense of autonomy and moral judgment, your ability to think critically, to resist, even to revolt—these are the capabilities that can only be grown within. Jean Paul Sartre calls it the will to will. And that will to will grows from within and you should hide it. And you should cherish it. And it should be private. And it should be yours.”

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Candice Wuehle

I’ve lost everybody
everything is a problem
there’s writing everywhere

a museum of smells
making scents/making sense
of light and water

I’m a butterfly
walking through smells
in the Blue City

plant a hawthorn circle
in your heart
maybe the singing bird

Ama Bolton, ABCD December 2020

Enraged alarm clocks and five-alarm insomnia.

Sweet morning kisses and to-do lists gone stale.

Coffee brewing, babies burbling.

The final vespers of a pale moon and ghost-souled airwaves of pain playing across ravaged cityscapes.

Oraclegush of fortune’s fire hydrant and the Tiffany-slippered footfalls of first light.

Cars and bicycles stripped and stolen, birds singing like they got a degree from the University of Bliss.

Mildewed wash hanging out to dry on a cat’s ninth life.

The exquisite corpse of dreams remembered growing more vibrant by the moment—

all the lights and darks on the keys of early morning’s piano.

Rich Ferguson, Play Morning for Me

Advent is upon us, and with the season, the problematic language that talks about light overcoming darkness.  Those of us who grew up with this language might not understand why it’s problematic.  Those of us who have worked with language know that language matters, and this language has an impact on how we treat people with darker skin colors.  Even those of us who have worked with language can be in a bit of denial.  

We might be in denial about the impact of theological language on modern race relations, but language shapes us, and the theological language of light and darkness is hard to escape during the holiday season, even if we swear we’re secular creatures […]

Those of us who use Advent wreaths to help us be more mindful during the season before Christmas may wonder how to avoid these pitfalls. One of my Create in Me pastor friends, Naomi Sease Carriker, has created a wonderful idea. It’s a reverse Advent wreath, where all the candles are lit week 1, and each week, one fewer candle stays lit from the week before.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Advent and the Issue of Light and Dark

It’s your birthday,
my darling, you don’t know that
I wrote you a poem.

I will whisper it
in your sleep, in languages
for newborns and gods.

Many years have passed
and we’re becoming now less,
less of everything,

but there’s more to learn.

Magda Kapa, November 2020

dog sutra 3

the two of us
you running
quicksilver
into your future
me as slow
as one step forward
and then the next

dog sutra 4

between the sloe
and the oyster
a tree singing

Dick Jones, DOG SUTRAS

Some people lead such quietly unassuming and self-contained lives that there can sometimes be quite a delay between their death and the knowledge of their death filtering out into the wider world. The poet, translator and independent researcher in the field of Scottish literature John Manson is a prime example of this. His is brilliantly profiled in this short film by John Hudson. He died in August this year, but it was only yesterday that I found out about his passing, and then only by happenstance.

This, however, seems fitting – I met John only once and again this was by chance. In 2012 I was a writer-in-residence for a month at Brownsbank Cottage in Biggar, the last home of Christopher Murray Grieve (Hugh MacDiarmid) and his wife Valda. For anyone interested in MacDiarmid’s life and work one of the key scholars is John Manson, from his vital work in unearthing MacDiarmid’s WW2 poems to John’s huge academic magnum-opus Dear Grieve: Letters to Hugh MacDiarmid (Kennedy and Boyd, 2011).

One day I was in Edinburgh getting my messages in to take back to the cottage on the little bus to Biggar. At some point on Lothian Road, a face familiar from a photograph got onboard. I was pretty sure it was John Manson, and he was wearing the trademark black suit with tie. After a few minutes I moved to the seat behind him and introduced myself. Luckily it was John, and he was pleased to meet me – we’d corresponded when I was preparing to apply to do a PhD back in 2010 and one of the first expensive books I bought with my Carnegie scholarship money was a copy of Dear Grieve (now much thumbed).

I explained that I thought it was very apt that we’d meet on a bus heading for Biggar, after all so much of John’s intellectual energies had been focussed on a sympathetic rehabilitation and revelation of MacDiarmid’s vast body of work. John himself was just coming back from St Andrews where he had spent the afternoon with the poet Lillias Scott Forbes (then in a care-home and in her 90s – she died aged 94 in 2014). It struck me then as a magnanimous move – to spend all day in transit to pay someone a visit (he lived in Kirkpatrick-Durham), but John was extremely generous with his time and knowledge, not to mention patient with Scot-lit neophytes like myself.

Richie McCaffery, John Manson (1932-2020)

I know your work from your two chapbooks of poems for adults, Love Bites (Dancing Girl Press, USA, 2019) and Blueprints for a Minefield (Fair Acre Press, 2016). Can you tell us something about your decision to write for children?

 I’ve loved children’s books for as long as I can remember. The best ones have a magical quality that I’ve never grown out of. I’m often found loitering in the kids’ section of bookshops pouring over poetry and picture books, so I guess it was inevitable that I’d get a hankering to try to write some. Once I started I couldn’t stop, I have several more book projects on the go already!

Who is your imagined reader for Saturdays at the Imaginarium? Do you have an age of reader in mind? Who do you think will enjoy reading it?

I don’t tend to define readership by age. I guess I write what I write and then once a book goes out into the world, it sort of has a life of its own and whoever connects with it, connects with it. I’ve always loved children’s books that are multi-layered, the ones you keep coming back to at various times in your life and each time you do, you grasp something different in them; I’d like to think (hope!) my writing offers that to some extent. I get such a buzz when I hear about kids enjoying it, and when schools and libraries post online that they’re using it in teaching and creative events. I’ve been getting some lovely feedback and it makes me grin widely!

 […]

What advice do you have for poets writing for children?

Go for it! And never be tempted ‘talk down’ to children, kids are pin-sharp and capable of far more complex thinking and nuanced emotion than many adults imagine. Read lots of contemporary adult poetry. Hone your poetry skills with the same rigour you’d apply when writing for adults.

Who are some of your favourite poets for children?

 I have so many favourite children’s poets. It’s tricky to name just a couple as I’d hate to accidentally leave any friends out! I can safely name a few late favourites though: Shel Silverstein, Spike Milligan, Roald Dahl, Mervyn Peake. Also, it took me a while to discover that Carol Ann Duffy writes for children; her poems sparkle with intelligence, humour and affection. And they absolutely don’t talk down to anyone.

Josephine Corcoran, Interview with Children’s Poet Shauna Darling Robertson

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a riveting conversation with Roy G. Guzmán about their new book Catrachos (Graywolf Press).

Guzmán’s Catrachos is a stunning debut collection of poetry that immerses the reader in rich, vibrant language. Described as being “part immigration narrative, part elegy, and part queer coming-of-age story,” this powerful collection blends pop culture, humor, with Guzmán’s cultural experience to explore life, death, and borders both real and imaginary.

“This isn’t supposed to be a history book, and yet it is,” says Guzmán in discussing Catrachos, explaining that the book is not supposed to be anthropology, sociology, or a testimonial either, and yet it is. “Those are the contradictions, especially when you’re a marginalized writer, your words are always operating on so many different frequencies at once.”

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Catrachos by Roy G. Guzmán

This important, painful, excellent, necessary essay came around again in a huge group of women writers I’m part of, and I found myself recalling that at the time it was published and I first shared it, it was probably right about the first time I (carefully, rationally, gently, but seriously because the abusive behaviors were starting to escalate) noted that my liberal, well-educated, etc. partner’s current tactics were actually point for point identical to Trump’s and of course he didn’t want to be that person, that would be horrifying, so could we reframe how we were discussing… – and he nearly flipped the table before shoving me and my still pretty freshly reconstructed spine out of his way and storming out. I was punished for weeks for making such an “unfair” and odious comparison, even though the words he’d used were literally straight off Trump’s teleprompter, verbatim, used to justify actual harm of me, and to blame-shift that harm onto me.

And I reflect, this morning, on how little a difference there is between that period’s “tired of this whole subject because I’m having to actively appease this kind of abuse every day in my own ostensible home even with a man with whom it should have been, by all available evidence, impossible” and the present’s “tired of this whole subject because I’m so aware there is no self-reflection possible on the parts of the men abusing power and 90% of the people I know will simply pathologize me rather than hear something about our structural situation and/or themselves and decide to change it” and “tired of this whole subject because of how like most of the other hardworking/brilliant/dedicated/fierce women I know my own position in the literary and academic world has been shaped and severely limited by standing in any way against this kind of abuse, which is endemic in our field as well as outside of it” and “tired of this whole subject because frankly, the older I get the more aware I am that this stuff is the default position of both most our structures and most individual men, the position to which they will revert when pressed (‘one calling-out away from the red pill’/onset of MRA rabies, as Rhodes writes in her essay), and the ones who spout ‘feminism’ are generally the worst of the lot because they have prioritized both access to women and a self-image as a ‘good guy’ that inures them to self-examination” — and other forms of tired, which amount to a kind of psychic shrug at this point, a deep, repetitive, and un-affordable shrug and wow my traps are tight from all this shrugging: it was 1997 that I started studying the public health epidemiology of violence against women and really wrapping my head around the institutions (family, churches, media, schools, judicial systems, etc.) that create the structural supports for it, and really understanding that in every individual, personal relationship there are both exceptions and not, and so on.

JJS, Speaking of praxes: essays we’re tired of writing

1. It’s gusty and cold; my son, home from college, is doing virtual math classes in plaid pajamas at the dining room table; and I suspect I’m not going anywhere for a long time now, beyond sepia-toned trails through the woods. Reading time. I just finished the new poetry collection by Heid E. Erdrich, Little Big Bully–she’s “visiting” virtually this winter as a writer in residence and a group of faculty are having a book-club-style discussion of her book, which won last year’s National Poetry Series. It’s a powerful study of colonialism, sexual assault, racism, contemporary U.S. politics, and how to live against and through it with love for people and the land. Heid is an Ojibwe poet enrolled at Turtle Mountain and she lives in Minnesota, so it’s a wintry book. Strongly recommended.

2. The apparition of poets’ faces on a Zoom/ petals in a wet dark month: in a weird parallel to Heid’s visit, I’m going to be the virtual Pearl S. Buck Poet in Residence at Randolph College this February! (When I proposed our writer in residence series, I actually modeled it partly on what Randolph was already doing. Here’s something on what Fran Wilde did last semester–she sounds wonderful.) This means a reading, class visits, and teaching a 1-credit master class in four sessions to a small group of advanced undergrads. Apparently some of these poets are also into sf, so I’m developing a syllabus called “Haunted and Weird.” I was offered the honor out of the blue last month, a saving spar in the usual late-fall surge of rejections.

Lesley Wheeler, December cadralor

Like a fledgling,
you’d stumble-fly
day and night

over the blind
and ticking fields,
intent on that tendril

of scent calling from beyond.
Most of the time, you are fickle;
perhaps, others think, even

unfaithful. But if you believe
the name carried on the breeze
addresses you and no other,

you will follow the snow-
dusted tracks, cross
bridges of fog.

Luisa A. Igloria, How to answer what you can’t refuse

What I’m Looking For (Penguin, 2019) is a ‘selected’ by US poet Maureen McLane gathered from five collections 2005 – 2017. I first came across her work in a York Uni seminar, and enjoyed the sample poems enough to buy the book. Actually just a poem entitled ‘OK Fern’ is enough to make we want to buy the book. The power of titles!

Jackie Wills is a Brighton-based poet I’ve known for some time, and I’ve been to her creative writing workshops. I loved her collection Woman’s Head as Jug and her newest book is A Friable Earth (Arc, 2019) – by the way, Arc have a sale on at the moment so now’s a good time to browse their excellent list.

For some reason recently I picked up the Complete Poems of R F Langley (Carcanet, 2015) (which had been on my bookshelf for a while, but I’d not dipped into it) and found a trove of poetry I really connected with. I think I may have thought he was going to be hard work of the J H Prynne variety but that’s not the case at all.

My Telltale pal and co-host of Planet Poetry Peter Kenny recommended I read Poor (Penguin, 2020) by Caleb Femi, which arrived on my mat yesterday, and I couldn’t resist a little flick through (there are photos!) The blurbs are mighty impressive, the book is hot off the press (published last month) and I can’t wait to read it.

And in case that’s not enough, I also couldn’t resist Inua Ellams The Actual (Penned in the Margins, 2020) I heard Inua read at The Troubadour in London a couple of years ago I think, and I’ve also enjoyed reading some of the poems from The Actual in The Poetry Review and elsewhere this year.  It’s got a brilliantly witty cover with spot gold foil detail. And you can always judge a book by its cover as we know :)

So, swimming in lovely poetry. I’m also swimming in the pool again after the enforced month off and that feels fantastic too.

Robin Houghton, Swimming again… in poetry

I am pulling Annie Dillard off the shelf again. I’m looking for writers who are asking questions instead of offering conclusions. I want to see the workings of other people’s minds at the point of their mushiness, their unbaked, reptile-fetal promise exposed.

I want to see moments of negative capability. More poetry please.

And I’m open to suggestions.

*

I saw a tweet this morning by a person looking for “more intellect, less wisdom” in their poetry. I’m curious what they mean by that, but seriously doubt that a fruitful conversation can be had about the subtleties of those words in soundbites and “threads”.

Just thinking about attempting it in that form makes me anxious. I want a cup of coffee, a deep chair and a long, well-formulated exploration of ideas.

I want to fall in love with the world again.

Ren Powell, A Desire to Slow Down and Fall in Love

Since most of us can’t do the usual celebratory things right now due to covid, I made up a photo project this week to see the beauty in the everyday. To the left is a photo of a Greek Strawberry Tree that we saw in a parking lot. Now I want one to plant myself. So, having a week of smaller disasters and the continuing sadness of losing my grandmother to covid, I wanted to find the grace, the things to be thankful for, in a time that feels totally barren, usually. We did get several days of sunshine (even if the sun goes down on my street at 3:30 PM – it matters, in Seattle, how far up you are in how much light you get in a day) which felt like a nice respite. Several mornings I went out on my back porch and just stood in the freezing cold (36 yesterday morning) just to get a few moments of sunshine. It is supposed to help your mood. Here are a few more everyday things I thought were beautiful: a robin, back-to-back woodpeckers, apples at the Tonnemaker farm stand in Woodinville, Mt Baker at sunset.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Rejections and Small Disasters, A Pushcart Nom, and Looking for the Beauty of the Everyday in December

Thank you to everyone who not only tolerated but embraced my Gloom Train post of last week. I’m still riding the rails, but I’m managing to continue on anyway. I’m still going to work and brushing my teeth regularly and slogging along with the infernal home workouts. I even managed to do a 5:00 a.m. session last week. 5:00 a.m. people. The sense of virtuousness that clung to me like sweet cologne for most of the day made it almost worth it. Almost. I don’t think I’ll be doing those very often. 5:00 a.m. is not “my” time and by 8:00 p.m. that night, I was practically comatose. But I would like it to be added to the official record, that I–notoriously Not A Morning Person–did a complete, one-hour 5:00 a.m. strength training workout. On a weekday. Please mail my halo to my home address.

Kristen McHenry, Ridin’ the Rails, Cyberpunk Master, Bikini Savages

Yesterday I had plans, a to-do list, et cetera. Nope. And also, yes. I did change the sheets. I did get 75 letters to my precinct printed out, stamped, signed, and addressed! It was a letter thanking my precinct neighbors for voting, reminding them that we have an election April 6, 2021, wishing them Happy Holidays, and reporting that we were the best precinct!–with 87.26% voter turnout! Wow, right?! I had planned to send the letter in time to say Happy Thanksgiving, but the individual precinct results weren’t posted yet, so I waited. I had planned to walk into town in the sunshine yesterday to mail these letters at the post office, but the day got away from me, and dark was falling as I signed the last of the letters in red and green, drawing holly exclamation points. 

Before that, I had planned to meet a friend for a hike in the woods. But first I had to check my email… 

Yesterday’s email contained a poem acceptance. So first I attended to the contractual details there. Then I updated all the files (physical and digital) related to that, because, these days, if I don’t do it in the moment I might not do it. The poem was part of a 4-poem submission, and I wondered where the other 3 might go next. Again, I have to do this in the moment, or the moment gets away. For example, I had been thinking of a particular place to send these poems if they came back, but that deadline had just passed 6 days before. I looked at another journal I’ve wanted to send to–and, yay, they look at only 3 poems at a time. Perfect! But was it perfect? Was this the right place to send these 3 poems? Now I’m following two roads that are diverging in the woods I was supposed to be hiking–one road has poems I might send, and the other has places I might send them to. While I’m on the one road, I keep going down little unfamiliar side paths that turn out to be poems I wrote in April, or, when did I write that? Finally, I give up and fold the sheets fresh and warm from the dryer.

Kathleen Kirk, The Day Got Away

I know we have several weeks of autumn left on the calendar, but winter arrived here this week. Wild winds tore the last leaves from the trees and sharp air bit our cheeks (when we stepped outside, which we did as little as possible).

I’ve largely made my peace with winter, with this winter, particularly, and what it promises to be. I don’t mind the dark. There’s something about it I crave, actually–the way it reveals so much by stripping life down to its essentials: heat, food, drink, touch, sleep. […]

Other than cleaning the floor and grocery shopping, I didn’t do any of the productive things on my list. I only did being things. I did not sew or decorate or clean or bake. After dinner I just sat on the sofa for a bit, listening to music and appreciating the warmth and soft lights of the living room. Just being felt strange, as unusual things do, but also good.

It was a very winterish kind of day, and it restored me. It broke my usual migraine pattern; I woke up Friday with no sign of illness and had a productive day. I moved slowly and steadily through it. No spinning, pumping grind. Did I accomplish everything I “needed” to? No. Would I have if I’d pushed in the usual way–gutting through both Thursday and Friday, overdosing on meds and feeling sick and wrecking myself for the next two days? No. So what, really, was lost? Nothing of value, I think. What I gained was my health and my weekend.

In Wintering, [Katherine] May reminds me that humans sleep more in the winter, and that in earlier times, when artificial light (among other things) didn’t shape our days in the ways it does now, we commonly experienced periods of wakefulness in the middle of the night–a time for drinking water, peeing, contemplating, wakeful dreaming, lovemaking, quiet talking–before returning to more sleep.

I’m wondering now how life might be if we viewed the winter season as a metaphor for sleep, and our winter days as those periods of middle-of-the-night waking. How might we spend them, then, these hours of scant light, if we could view them this way?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Winter

How we wanted
to be so cold

only hot cocoa
could save us.

We made caves
in the snow

and waited
and waited,

until the blue
light failed us,

until darkness
pulled us home.

Tom Montag, CHILDHOOD IN IOWA

It was more than forty years ago. So cold.
The old rotten shed was fully engulfed in flame;
I had pulled off some old boards for a small fire
To keep from freezing. Sparks
From a stout north wind did the rest,
And me just standing there in the snow
As the sirens got louder and closer.

James Lee Jobe, right there in the imperfection is perfect reality

I first saw this poem in the days before I left Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for mental health reasons. I loved the slow movement of its grief in declarative sentences flowing across naturally paced lines.

I look back at that time: I had my own demons to wrestle with. I clocked it as a ‘poem for later’. Well, now ‘later’ has arrived, and I am in the thick of it, ‘immersed in the solitude of the moment’ and ‘pierce[d] … with nostalgia’ for a time that cannot be brought back.

I will her back, but she does not come. I see her most clearly when I do no willing at all. And there she is. The leaves collect on the lawn. The kettle boils. The hour-before-people-dark with the dog, just a few ‘twinkling stars’, as in her nursery rhymes.

Anthony Wilson, The Sky Over My Mother’s House

At the beginning of the pandemic I started a relatively short-lived project wherein I stood on a chair in my kitchen and photographed what was on my kitchen table each morning, some flowers, my breakfast, maybe a book. The light was spring light, and it was effervescent. We knew and we didn’t know what might follow. The light was new and bright and hopeful even if filled with dread and panic. But it was a new dread and panic then.

This project grounded me, and helped me anchor my days, when everything was unmoored, the library was closed, and we were hard core self-isolating.

These days what grounds me is attending to the sunrise and sunset. Mainly, I’m photographing the sunrise from my back porch, but aspire to be somewhere to shoot the sunset. This rarely happens, but still, I observe it. If I’m home I can see it through the trees, peeking through various suburban houses. If I’m at work, there is usually a pretty spectacular view, even if I’m not able to photograph it. […]

I’ve blogged before about “the great work of sunrise” by Thomas Merton and it’s something I think about a lot. There’s also a line by Charles Wright about how we can count on the fact that the sun rise and the sun sets. “Most everything else is up for grabs.”

Shawna Lemay, Sunrise and Sunset

I am here present as we said in elementary school I am here but I am reading reading returned to me like a lightning bolt to the brain the day the power went out all over the island and I was alone in the pitch black dark call me if the power goes out my son told me so I called him and said the power is out are you going to come here now with coffees and oats and ropes and batteries or what but nope so I crawled under my covers and started reading Atwood’s The Testaments with a flashlight I read straight through the night then I read Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials all three books and was into the second book before I realized it was a YA novel and I don’t care it was magic then Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower but only halfway through because it was too grim and scary then I read Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore which stunned me now I’m reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend I will never take reading for granted not ever again I know it can go out like a flame

I’m back where I was as a young woman when I left the commune inside of words and reluctant to turn on the television or look at a screen reluctant to surround myself in noise

I brought a tree into the house today from a Christmas tree farm ripe and green and pitchy I wrestled it into the stand and tightened the bolts with pliers I have done new things recently I replaced both the air filters on my car under the hood and on the passenger side so I had to figure out how to open the glove box by pressing in on the sides then sliding the connector tube up which involved me getting on my knees on wet leaves but I decided I didn’t want to pay $120 when I had YouTube to guide me like Jesus unfortunately there is no YouTube to tell you how to get a dead wood rat out from under your house but eventually the smell got to me and once again I knelt on the forest floor this time armed with my shop vac heavy gloves a long stick and a pair of barbecue tongs and managed to wrestle it out then fling the poor thing into its forestry grave

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

If this were any normal year, I’d be thinking about perfect gifts for family & friends.  I’d be spending a lot of time watching bad holiday romance movies and eating cookie dough before it makes it to the oven, and I am doing these things, but they are less like things I enjoy, but more like shreds of normalcy I am clinging to with every fibre of my brain and it’s exhausting.  Even on the days I don’t have to leave the house it’s harder to get out of bed.  Early in the pandemic there was an infographic that designated a line between “thriving” and “surviving” and we are all feeling it right now. 

So I light my little tree and put a wreath on my door and make chicken soup and try to conduct myself as if the world is not falling apart in every emergency room and hospital and in so many homes. I think of our softness in terms of living through major historical events.  During the zine workshop I wanted to tell the students to pay attention and to document everything they can, because unlike most of the time I have been alive as a Gen X-er, “history” was something that happened significantly before I was born.  But really maybe it was always happening and there are only certain really bad points where the future textbooks are watching and waiting. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 12/05/2020

the splinter under my nail
clawing at this howling wind
paged as dry as fire ash
take your foot off my pen your wait
off my outlook on the rain’s blear
the unscalable north face of your verse
my ineptitude at finding just one handhold
on the crumbling scree of the people you
pain so elegantly in their inelegance
five poems in and i am sunk drunk
i wish you could have met me
and lent me your handkerchief
today it is all too late

Jim Young, RS Thomas

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 44

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 bloggers pondering time and how we experience it, reflecting on reading, book reviewing, and learning languages, mourning, and daring to hope as we negotiate the ancient Celtic turning of the year and anticipate a fraught election.


I was excited to hear from my cousin Carolyn in Prague this week about the re-launch of her esteemed poetry magazine, “Literary Bohemian.” I read submissions for Lit Bo for many years and I found great joy in it, so I’m pleased as all heck to announce I will soon be back on the masthead for the new incarnation. When she invited me to be involved again, she asked me to send her an updated bio and a photo of “where I am from.” This simple request sent me into a familiar identity crisis, as questions of this nature always do. When I was a massage therapist, often clients would ask me where I was from as a way of making friendly conversation, and the question always flummoxed me. I’m not really “from” anywhere. I have little sense of home and where I am from is not clear-cut. The place that I was born in was a place that I was whisked away from shortly after birth and that I have no connection to whatsoever. I grew up in a military family and we moved multiple times during my childhood (although not nearly as often as many military families.) When I think about my home, I think first and foremost about Alaska and Upper Michigan. I think about the cold, the remote, an environment of harshness and severity, places that did not envelop humans in a warm and loving embrace. Places that taught you to survive them. Places that mandated toughness and grit.

When I was looking for a photo of my “from”, I had a memory of standing on the shores of Lake Superior when I was around twelve or so, during a wild storm. The lake was whipped into a roaring, boiling froth and the wind was savage. The sky was almost black and the cold was ferocious. In that moment I was imbued with the deep and primal understanding that this collection of raging entities didn’t care one whit about whether or not I existed, and that feeling has informed my being ever since. I believe it’s what has enabled me to survive through everything that was to come, and what will enable to me to survive into the future. All I wanted to do when I was a teen was move away from these cold, feral, isolated places and live in a city, but now I wonder if dwelling in cities is bad for a person’s soul. There is too much noise and too much disconnection, too much protection and too much ease. We begin to feel important and entitled to be alive. We forget how little nature actually cares about our existence.

Kristen McHenry, Literary Re-launch, Where I am From, Childhood Anthem

The streets are empty,
nobody but fallen leaves
and their soft rustle.

We knew of curfews
from history books, stories
our grandpas told us.

Now we’re a page too,
in a future book about
a year when the leaves

were louder than we.

Magda Kapa, October 2020

Anticipating the earlier sunset, wishing to avoid exercising in the evening streets, I went out midday for my walk in the park, an eye on my watch to get back home in time for the next videocall class. The sun eeked itself out from behind the showers, and the riverside paths beyond the weir were golden-brown with autumn leaves embedded in mud. I walked cautiously. Even in a pandemic, there are dog owners who don’t pick up after, and twice in the past fortnight I’ve come home with stinking dog mess caked into my soles. 

After class, catching up on the admin. which grows heads like a hydra, I needed to search my emails for Hope, looking for the last email I’d written to her. I tapped ‘Hope’ into the search bar, pressed Return.

What I found was that almost every email I write contains hope:

I hope you are well.

I hope we can meet before too long.

I hope you feel better soon.

I hope you are able to find time for yourself.

Search your inbox for Faith, for Charity. You may not find them there. But Hope, Hope, Hope. It’s everywhere, littering words like golden leaves in all the mud and mess, its small, round, comforting sound topped off with the softest of plosives.

Liz Lefroy, I Search For Hope

my aged cat never left my side ever I slept on feathers crossed my Ts clean as a fishwife the moment in which he rose up hallelujah I was not afraid of solitude but reckless pursuit neckties guns in the temple the low dome last week’s rent drew out the lining the ache in my side that proved resolve men rode motorcycles up and down the street pounded my door demanded open up demanded money as Russian girls in the cafeteria argued over the napkin dispensers cooed like release doves lacking a center I’m not nostalgic for the parasite the waterworm there is nothing left to talk about apples and sandwiches stuffed with fruit the mokrie dela disappeared from automats turn and slide the plastic door or the washateria the Laundra in Newport Loadstar Dryers coin tumble orbiting sensors in my bed gossiping bodies at night target practice on Thursdays in Dallas go ahead go ahead now tell me about the white capped angel of terror and desire

Rebecca Loudon, Paregoric

My father cups water from the river,
pods, leaves, algae lace his hands, residue
from the silver streams down his darkened skin.

Chandrama vaa apaam pushpam: Moon is the flower
of the waters. Who was this poet from a time
so long ago when red dust rose to the sky?

Uma Gowrishankar, The Celestial Flower

a man has
his hands
on his face
the heels across
his working mouth
that sound is
told in an
animal’s voice
one brought down
but not yet dead
he has to
enunciate the pain
so he selects
a sort of cataract
of vowels to drain
the airtight sack
of his grief

Dick Jones, NEW POEMS

Stay out of my house, and my head. When you
were alive, were you a voyeur? This is
one thousand percent creepy. Damn, they’ve queued
up to watch, to talk about flunked tests, his
leftovers, her starting over. They say
I’ve lost my colors, and life is gone gray.

PF Anderson, Ghosts

I remember at the beginning of the pandemic how people were saying, “Oh, with all this time, we ought to be able to write that novel, learn a language, study classical guitar, read Ulysses or War and Peace…” and then, when our concentration went to hell, our sleep became terrible, we fought with our partners or kids or became consumed by loneliness and confinement, and we didn’t even know what day it was — that was when we got obsessed by the news and started riding a rollercoaster of anxiety and depression, amid other days that felt more normal and optimistic. A lot of us felt guilty or confused about why we couldn’t seem to do the things that we thought we were going to do — I had hoped to finish writing a book, for instance, and I’m nowhere close. A friend sent me an article written by someone funny, who was trying to express her depression and lack of motivation, and she describes herself telling her therapist, ‘I feel like I should be learning Portuguese” and the therapist says, “Don’t you DARE learn Portuguese!” And no matter how well we may have managed in one area, I bet most of us feel like that in many others, and wish somebody would just say, “Don’t you dare…!” and let us off our self-hung hook.

My sister-in-law, a retired academic who’s gifted in languages, is studying Arabic for the third time in her life, and this time it’s finally taking hold. She’s taking a rigorous online course, and working on it for many many hours a day, and I think that’s fantastic. But I can’t do that, and don’t really want to. Fifteen minutes a day works for me, and I’ve made enough progress that when I see a Greek sentence I know the parts of speech I’m seeing, even if I don’t know the words, and my vocabulary is growing. Will I ever use it? Who knows. I think what this exercise has shown me is that the little-bit-every-day approach does pay off over time in language study, just as it does in a drawing practice. A seemingly daunting but desired goal is broken down into manageable little bits, and you commit to it, try not to get discouraged and give up, and eventually you see you’ve actually made progress. That’s all.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 44. Lockdown Language Learning

At our house, we’ve just completed eight months of a combination of shielding, enforced lockdown, and self-isolation. Most of it was, well, bearable. We had months of good weather to work on the garden, and reclaim another bit of the neighbouring farmer’s field for a wild flower patch. When the weather was bad I had picture framing, decorating…and in between showers, repointing various walls and gable ends. I had the ‘When all this is over’ project to keep my my brain ticking over in May and June. The annual trip to St Ives for a poetry residential was cancelled, but I managed a consolation in the form of a Garsdale Zoom course tutored by Kim Moore.

But right now I’m stalled. If you’re from my part of the West Riding the resonance of this will be understood. When my mum or my grandma said ‘I’m stalled’ they meant they were stuck, depressed, bored, fed-up, frustrated and generally out of sorts. I’ve finally become unable to shut out the appalling state of the country and its wilful mismanagement. I can’t think straight or clearly. I had an email from the poet Steve Ely (who will feature in a moment) in which he said he was ‘******* stir crazy’. He said he could go to the gym, and go for walks but (and this is the kicker) “there’s no joy in it” . Not a fashionable word joy. But I know exactly what he meant. Where’s the joy? It’s compounded by the fact that I’ll spend Wednesday in Pontefract Hospital for minor surgery. I wouldn’t think twice about it in the normal run of things. But nothing’s normal, and for the first time in my life I’m assailed by anxiety, timidity. Today was set aside for writing an enthusiastic appreciation of Steve Ely’s latest pamphlet I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heauen. But my head’s like a washing machine, and I can’t do it justice.

John Foggin, Backtrack: On sequences, with Steve Ely and Pascale Petit

It’s a Tuesday that feels like a Thursday. The past few days have been a dip in my mood and a desire to sleep all the time, which has also left me with an achy back and a feeling like there’s just a lot of emotional icky boiling just under the surface. I thought a news fast might be in order after yesterday–since cases continue to climb, we just elected a Handmaid’s Tale villain to the Supreme Court, the election is next week, and I’ve already done as much as I can (the covid precautions I’ve been doing all along and continue to do, voting, etc.) and can only wait it out at this point. But, it’s hard when part of my job (and even my creative endeavors) involves social media to, you know, stay away from it. So I get sucked back into doomscrolling. And then the news in general. And then also the attendant anxiety and mood swinginess. I am extra cagey around this time of year anyway, what with the anniversary of my mother’s death and a lack of daylight. It is not making for a good combination. 

It’s Tuesday, and I’m trying to find a center to weather out the storm–new writing projects I’ll be starting next week.  Some artmaking endeavors planned for the weekend. An invitation to send some video poem exploits to a journal. Beginning to send out some work from the plague letters.  I keep amassing books in my to-read pile hoping that I’ll have the concentration for again and this may be part of the problem.  I need more reading, less doomscrolling. Meanwhile, I watch a lot of van-life and cabin renovation videos on Youtube and dream about running away from everything to live in the woods. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/27/2020

Time slows down     
stands 
still 
the top keeps 
spinning tottering 
neither stopping nor falling 
turning in exhaustion

We knew to cut the rug
foot-deep in the middle of the sensuous world,
each moment waking the next

Whisk, whisk.  Blow.  Spin it on its head
to rest in the dark.  
Whirl, dear life, impertinent joy. 

Jill Pearlman, THEY

The sun and moon have gone on hiatus, leaving us with just our floor lamps and ring lights to make ourselves shine.

Virtual drinking parties and reunions have become the tech form of Xanax, while failed wi-fi and cooled-off hotspots can cast us into Dante’s first circle of hell.

In our Zoom room universe, we are boredom-boned and hug-lost; flirtations reduced to pixels on a screen.

Pregnant pauses give birth to quintuplets of abrupt fits and starts of conversations stepping on one another in glitchy lag time.

Rich Ferguson, In Our Zoom Room Universe

The other day, in my Modernity in Literature class, I taught them about the poem “As I Walked Out One Evening” by W.H. Auden.

As I was working through it with them, it occurred to me that the central theme of all the literature I had chosen to teach for this course is TIME.

I won’t go into all of the texts now, but trust me: it is.

In Auden’s poem, written in 1937, he has a narrator, and two speakers:  the lovers, and the clocks.

The lovers are lyrical and delirious and full of hyperbole in the first half of the poem, and then the clocks take up their song, which basically is that “You cannot conquer Time.”

The lines that hit me this year :  The clocks sing:

“Time watches from the shadow

And coughs when you would kiss.”

It’s like a prophecy of COVID.

Anne Higgins, You Cannot Conquer Time

When I was a college freshman, I interviewed my great-grandmother (born in 1884) for a cultural anthropology project. She talked about living on a small farm, nursing her 12-year-old son through the Spanish flu, baking and slaughtering and canning and drawing water–life before rural electrification. She said:

Times was hard, but times is always hard, and our lives were no harder than anybody else’s.

Good to keep that in mind at present.

My temperament has always tended more melancholic than anxious; but in these days of covid, flu, and concerns about my bereaved and elderly mother, worried thoughts arrive, especially in the wee hours, especially as cases climb upward in my region and my mother’s assisted living center starts yet another lockdown. I try to imagine the changes the extreme elderly experience…I imagine her being ‘assisted’ by caring, gentle people she does not really know and with whom she can barely communicate due to anomia and aphasia, which makes her grief for my father truly inexpressible.

“I can’t say anymore what I say,” she tells me by phone. “On the wall, it says, what is it? Now?”

“The calendar? It’s Tuesday, Mom.”

“No, the other. The…weather. Season.”

“Oh. October. It’s October.”

“How is it? And I am trying…when was it? That he died?”

“August, Mom. August 25th.”

“Has it been since August? Was it August? Already? So many now. Many…pills. No, ice. Ices gone by. I don’t mean that. I said–“

“Many days, I know. Can it really be October already? And he’s been gone since the end of August. Summer.”

“25. 25 days, August, October. How can it be?” she asks; and I can tell, over the phone, that she is shaking her head slowly the way she does, wondering, surprised, how can it be…

There are times she says exactly the right thing.

How can it be? Something I might want to meditate upon.

Ann E. Michael, How can it be

She thinks of refugees and all they carried,
jewels sewn into hemlines
or those who flee without papers.
She checks her wallet one last time,
all the plastic cards that define
her in place.

She leaves the door unlocked
as she eats one last supper out
with a grad school friend. She writes
the wrong forwarding address on a napkin
before boarding the plane.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Process Notes: “Oregon Trail”

The house of country, the nation of us.
Whispering, whispering. America
Has become a house of secrets and lies,
A house of deceit, a house of lament.
The people are hiding, the truth is hiding;
Even the president is hiding
His true face from the sun.

James Lee Jobe, I walk the path slowly

We did not turn on our porch light for trick-or-treaters this year. Instead, I put book hedgehogs and candy in the Little Free Library in case anybody came by. Somebody did come by, leaving two bags of peanut M&Ms, my favorite! But I haven’t checked yet today to see if some books went home with kids or grownups, and whether I’ll need to bring candy back inside. I had put some solar lights in the ground that day, and they worked: they lit up fine at night.

There was a Trump rally in our town on October 22. I found out about it after the fact–900 people at the local baseball stadium. Pictures showed the masked and unmasked, and people sort of spread out in the bleachers. It was a watch party for the debate, with the debate on the big electronic screen out there. Yes, Covid cases have been on the uptick since, but that’s happening everywhere. The direct result of the rally that I saw locally was the appearance of yard signs. A news photo from the rally showed all the Republican signs stacked up for people to take, and, sure enough, they started popping up over the next few days in my precinct, which had mostly Democrat yard signs before, plus some perennial Republican incumbent signs.

Of the above, the labyrinth, the fall beauty, and the Little Free Library give me joy and peace. Hang in there, everybody. We really are all in this together. I hope we make it through with as much love and kindness as we can muster, “muster” being a battle term, alas, or a group of peacocks.

Kathleen Kirk, Yard Signs, Gun Shots, Trick-or-Treat

I am of a generation that was naive, patriotic, attached to nostalgia for what never was. Now we mourn the loss of what we thought was real, the American (United States of American) commitment to equality, possibility, responsibility, and community. We thought if we promised to be good, that would be good enough. Somehow we convinced ourselves that if we believed in equal opportunity, equal respect, equal value for all, it would make it true. 

Now we confront the actuality of our citizenship. Now we see (or try not to see) the suffering of our neighbors; suffering we benefit from, suffering we participate in, willingly or not. Now we see the bigotry in our families, in the generations before us, in our cousins and siblings, and in ourselves. We learn about The Talk, if we have refused to learn it before. 

And now we must talk to ourselves: stay home, because your neighbors will not, do not, sometimes cannot. Mask up, and recognize that some of your neighbors will not. Learn to value the lives of others, as you have learned to value your own. 

Struggle to forgive others for saying these beings, and those beings, and you – matter less. Or matter not at all. 

Struggle to forgive yourself, while still holding yourself, and your neighbors, accountable. 

I am struggling.

Sharon Brogan, 300,000

So, with a fraught election and a pretend king who doesn’t want to give up power, I notice the media has been teeming with mentions of civil war. That’s not comforting. I hope we have a peaceful, overwhelming Biden win on election day. I hope we can sleep better soon.

People are storing up food, medication, and some are buying guns. What am I doing, you ask? Why, planning to write a page a day in November on my novel-in-progress, participating for the first time in NaNoWriMo. Why not be optimistic in the face of apocalypse? I have always done it before.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Post-Halloween and Blue Moon, Election Day Voting Interview on Health, and More!

Inspired by writer Liz Ward, I’m going to gently join in with National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) and post a blog a little more regularly during November. I love reading Liz at her blog and I also enjoyed her collection of essays which she published in 2018.

One of the reasons I haven’t been posting here very much is that I’ve been writing more in the offline world as I hinted at in my previous post. Last week I took advantage of a lovely offer by Trowbridge Town Hall and rented a desk for day in their beautiful Victorian building so that I could spend a day writing in a different setting.

Although I’m lucky enough to be able to write from home without distractions, it made a difference to be somewhere else entirely, in my own space behind a closed door. As a friend commented on my Instagram post “A room of one’s own… at least for a day!” – and she’s exactly right. I’ve rented the room for one day a week for a few weeks – but this was before we had the announcement in the UK that we’re entering a second national lockdown. So, like thousands of others, my plans for the next month will be scuppered, although my inconvenience is nothing compared to most. Don’t get me started on the lockdown or the UK government’s incompetent handling of the pandemic, I’ve come to this blog for some moments of distraction. I hope that wherever you are and whatever your situation, you manage to deal with what is happening as best as you can.

Josephine Corcoran, National Blog Posting Month

Sorry if this haiku seems a little gloomy, and really, I’ve had a lovely quiet week off work with plenty of dog walks and some memorable visits to our local pub. They’ve opened their tiny kitchen to do food every night, worked their socks off to keep everyone safe and happy, only to find out at the drop of a hat that they will have to close later this week. I understand there have to be some rules and restrictions, and sometimes it ends up being one size fits all, but behind every business closure there are the hopes and aspirations of ordinary people just trying to make a living. I’m not a political poet, and I don’t want this to sound like a rant, so let’s just say that my heart goes out to them.

Julie Mellor, knee deep

Writing has felt too heavy this week; poetry requires a kind of vulnerability that I just don’t have to give in this first part of November, the days leading up to the anniversary of Kit’s death.

At the same time, it feels more urgent and necessary than ever to engage with language – so I’m working on the larger poems of these two manuscripts (the manuscript itself is a kind of composite poem, or at least that is how I think of it when editing).

Impatient as I’ve always been with publication, In wondering if I’ve tried as much as I should with [Church Ladies] or if I haven’t tried near long enough. How much do I believe this book should be a book? Was it just a learning experience? Really I do think it’s worthwhile to fight for and that I’m like a child with a shiny new toy preferring my newer manuscript to champion.

Renee Emerson, Manuscript work

From my sofa, I can look out at the changing leaves and fog rising from the valley and think about everything I learned. I learned first and most from our student poets who traveled all the way from Berlin by train (10 hours) to do our writing retreat. Years before, they traveled all the way to Germany from Syria and Afghanistan. Their stories are of fable: they weave heartbreak, hope and heroics together with a very modest thread. These are talented poets. I learned that it is truly a luxury to care about the environmental crises facing our planet when so many people can only focus on the next meal or the next life-altering bombardment. I learned that speaking in one’s heart language connects oneself to the listener in ways deeper than translation can accommodate. We spent evenings translating poems from Farsi and Arabic to English (later to German). Finding new words to make sure we shared the meaning was a joy.

Next, I reflect on the wisdom that was offered to us every day in Zoom calls with our invited poet guests: Will McInerney, Oliver Miltenberger, Romana Iorga, Craig Santos Perez, Kelli Russell Agodon, Richard Blanco, Enda Wyley and Tess Barry. Some of these folks I met by email, some I’ve known a longer while. They all gave their time to give us advice, to answer questions and to read to us. We learned a lot about Seamus Heaney’s work (Enda); the magical process of poem writing (Tess); the roles of poet, peacebuilder and researcher in interrupting apathy (Will); not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good (Oliver); how to answer questions the reader is going to ask (Romana); about narrating our reaction to things political and cultural (Craig); about tapping into the quality of the poet community (Kelli); and about personifying an object of nature to take the ego out of the poem as a more gentle way to bring politics into the conversation (Richard).

Finally, I see a clear picture for moving forward and that picture has a lot of haze in it (a continued or new pandemic, other crises, other demands on time): behind the fog is hope that writing poems and putting them into the world will create ripples. The more of us that are out there making ripples, the harder our words will be to ignore. Poetry changes the world with a collective of small vibrations that move through one, two, or a thousand people at a time.

Cathy Wittmeyer, Reflecting on Word to Action

The WHY of reviewing is probably obvious. Most poetry books don’t get much love, so you serve writers, presses, and readers by bringing your favorites to wider attention. Every poet with means and time should give public service to the art they love, and reviewing is one way to do it (panel/ event organizing like Anya’s is another). Generosity occasionally pays off–if people appreciate you, they may help you in some future, unexpected way–and any byline can increase your name recognition. That’s not the core reason for literary service, though. Fandom is at the heart of it, plus desire to strengthen a fragile community. If you write a thoughtful review, you’ve shown the author they have at least one good reader out there. It makes all parties feel glowy.

Love of poetry isn’t all a reviewer needs, though. I’ve written a ton of criticism, so I’m a faster writer than many, but reviewing a poetry book is still an eight-hour commitment, more or less. I read the book once; put it down and think about it; reread it and start drafting; then take a break from the draft for a day, or a few days, and come back, rewrite, and polish. They’re typically 750-1500 words. Writing micro-reviews (250-300 words) is quicker, but I always end up writing long then boiling them down, a process that takes time, too.

Although I don’t always have the hours, I like reviewing a lot. It feels freeing to analyze a book without scholarly protocols. No bibliography, no citing Very Important Theorists! I’m trying to write a few reviews this year because I’m on sabbatical, grateful for good notices my books are receiving, and, at this bad moment, having a hard time concentrating on big stuff. Writing a poetry review is a way of procrastinating while still putting some useful writing out there.

Lesley Wheeler, Writing and publishing poetry book reviews

Is it just my perception or have UK poetry reviews and criticism generally become – with the exception of one completely ludicrous, notorious and discredited outlier – kinder in the last few years? It’s within that context that I was surprised by the tenor and content of Rory Waterman’s review of Keith Hutson’s debut collection Baldwin’s Catholic Geese for the latest issue (#255) of PN Review. […]

One might conclude from Waterman’s condescending conclusion – ‘Every poem comes with a sprightly note about its subject, and perhaps the greatest lasting pleasure this book will give you is several hours disappearing down internet rabbit holes as you shadow the author’s impressive research’ – that what he wants to say is, ‘Jolly well done on the research, but shame about the poems’, which is grossly dismissive. Given that the book’s glowing endorsements come from Carol Ann Duffy, Peter Sansom and Michael Symmons Roberts, Waterman’s verdict is also more than a little against the grain and makes me wonder just how much time he gave to reading the book with care.

My own verdict on Baldwin’s Catholic Geese is that it lays bare, in a way which surely refracts on today’s celebrity culture, how natural an ambition it is to aim for fame and fortune by any, and sometimes bizarre, means; and that to fail in doing so is equally as natural – so few entertainers stay on the top of their game for the duration of their careers and it’s only human for the overwhelming majority to have no more than a fleeting moment in the limelight. That’s hardly an original thought (c.f., for example, ‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more’), but Hutson explores the highways and byways of that ambition in a rich way that emphasises his subjects’ egos, successes and flaws without ridicule and more often than not in joyous, zestful language.

Matthew Paul, On Keith Hutson’s Baldwin’s Catholic Geese

I’ve been going through San Diego poet Heather Sweeney’s new full-length poetry title, Dear Marshall, Language Is Our Only Wilderness (Brooklyn NY: Spuyten Duyvil, 2020), following a handful of chapbooks (including one from above/ground press) as well as the full-length Call Me California (Finishing Line Press, 2020), a book published almost simultaneously alongside this one (although I have yet to see a copy). Dear Marshall is constructed as a book-length lyric suite of prose poems that employ elements of the first-person journal entry against that of the letter-poem, offering observation, memory, introspection and an immediacy that brings one right into the action of her sentences. She writes of violence, love, family and loss, a childhood of rebellion and survival, a flurry of impulse, heartbreak and outcomes deeply-felt. “My feet are unusually narrow. I can run a long distance at a slow pace. I / have had past-life visions. In one I am hunting a boar in a dense jungle. / In another I am running with a baby in one arm wrapped in a brown / blanket. We are close to death. In a field of ice. In the long neck of a / dream.” The poems run from direct statement and stories retold into abstract, lyric layerings, and is structured as a curious kind of call-and-response, as every page an opening call paired with a response directly to “Marshall.” Who is Marshall? Given the rhetorical aspect of the letter-poem, it might not be as important who Marshall is or was, but what and how she writes to him. […]

Sweeney’s poems are first-person declarations that attempt to place herself, to centre herself in a collage of experience, situations and potential chaos, shaping the chaos into a particular kind of order. “I am a sentence made of two icy twigs. Of splintered afterthought. I’m / at the airport again. The wall of windows, a stanza.” She weaves in a collage of pilfered lines, lived experiences, questions and observations into a coherent line, working a shape of the world in which she exists. This book-length poem, this book-length suite of poems, read as a journal of accumulated sentences shaped as a way to write one’s way into being, into becoming; to write through and beyond the unsettled past and present into a less uncertain future.

rob mclennan, Heather Sweeney, Dear Marshall, Language Is Our Only Wilderness

With the pandemic now (arguably) in its 8th month, I’ve been noticing lots of talk about books on social media. It looks like reading is enjoying a boom and that’s a good thing! In the past few months, though, I find that my reading choices are pickier than usual. Memoirs and Poetry are probably my favorite genres but I have loved a good dystopian novel (read Blindness by Jose Saramago or Station Eleven by Emily St. Mandel). However, I seem to have lost my taste for the dystopian in books and in tv. When I try to read or watch, I get a lump in my stomach and have to stop. It got me wondering if anyone else is feeling this way and if the pandemic has affected others similarly. I’m always interested in what others are reading so I thought I’d ask some of my writer friends what books they’ve read this year that they’d recommend for pandemic reading and why. I’m curious if the pandemic has influenced what they (and you) prefer right now – immersion in the dystopian or maybe something more soothing. Here’s what they said. [Click through to read recommendations from Candace Hartsuyker, Meagan Lucas, Paul Crenshaw, Dorianne Laux, Exodus Brownlow, and Robert Okaji.]

Charlotte Hamrick, Pandemic Reading: Writers Share Their Picks

I recently watched Free Solo, that documentary of a man’s extraordinary un-roped ascent up El Capitan. Before I saw the movie, if I thought of his journey at all, I just that “wow, that’s nuts.” I had somehow not expected the amazing preparations he made, both with his body, and certainly with his mind, but also the carefully mapped, hold by hold, route, which he practiced roped again and again until he had every move internalized. Certainly this was a tale of an internal journey, for sure, both into his certainty that he could do it, but also, I think most significantly, when he was able to say, cameras trained on him, partway up the wall face, “No. This is not the day for this.” And called it off and went back down, knowing he’d have to wait another six months to try again, knowing he was tangling up the film producer and his crew as well. But when he finally did the ascent, he knew every move so well, he went surely and rapidly right up the face in a scant few hours with no hesitation, as a strange dance with the wall. It was indeed a kind of choreography he created.

I thought of this movie in contrast to the “journeys” described by two poet friends of mine who got it into their heads to each write a heroic crown of sonnets — that is 14 sonnets of 14 lines each, the 14th of which contains the first lines of each of the previous sonnets. Or something like that. Wow, that’s nuts.

But what struck me, in contrast to Free Solo, was how each of them talked about the great unknowns of their journeys, every step being felt out in the dark. They said things like “I thought I was going to start in this way, but then decided to try this other way” or “I thought I was writing about this thing, but the more I got into the unfolding of the poems the more I realized I was writing about this other thing entirely.”

Marilyn McCabe, Lazy days, Sunday afternoon; or, On Artistic Journeys

I’ve been carrying a moment of self-consciousness since I read the galleys for my most recent book. (Not that recent, I’m afraid). The translator wrote an essay on how he experienced my development as a writer. He labeled the (then) new work as “late period”.

It was a little like reading my own obituary (flattering as it was). And I feared it would trip me up. And it has.

I wrote Friday that nothing has to try to grow. And today I’m thinking that trying to grow is counter-productive. It’s the tennis player suddenly thinking about her strong backhand, and losing it in the analysis.

I can’t speak for others, but I believe art is created through a practice of wu-wei: art as process and experience, not as product and commodity. And this kind of practice is such a far cry from the zeitgeist of knowing one’s passion/calling/brand.

I spent so many years studying craft. Only to find that my best writing is without craft.

Every time I begin to analyse my process, it stops – usually in a cloud of self-consciousness and shame. A woman once commented on my blog after I had begun writing again: “I was wondering where that woman went who wrote letters to her friends.”

Ren Powell, Amor Fati as Ars Poetic

[AW] One of the things that fascinates me about spiritual practice is the ways in which form lies at the heart of worship. We can find form in the instructions for Islamic prayer, in Communion rituals, and in meditation practice. I’m curious as to whether the formal aspects of Christian practice connect in some way to your love of the sestina form.

[EK] I hadn’t thought about that connection. I didn’t grow up with a lot of rituals, but they are valuable to me now. I didn’t grow up celebrating Lent, but it is something I practice as an adult. Something fascinating about Lent is that you can just fast from certain things, such a sugar, or add a practice during Lent. That would be a wonderful exercise as a poet- to fast from something commonly used, or to add something for a period of time.  For me, I could abstain from writing in first person, or add an image from nature in each poem.

 I recently started practicing TaeKwonDo, which has form. My instructor said that no one would use form during a fight, but it is about practicing the movement and creating muscle memory. Form can be considered an exercise to make us stronger writers. I recommend The Poetry Dictionary by John Drury because it defines many forms and other poetry terms.

What I love about form is that it prevents poets from just bleeding into the page.  The sestina is my favorite because it creates a theme with the repeated words, but it is subtle enough that the reader doesn’t anticipate the next line. Ezra Pound said the sestina is “a thin sheet of flame folding and infolding upon itself.”

Allyson Whipple, Chapbook Interview: what mothers withhold by Elizabeth Kropf

finally
in this book of chinese poets
ancient to modern i find
one born the same year as me
and still alive
i feel vindicated
but why
for we are worlds apart
he is on a mountain
i am still in a dark valley
for i have not swallowed blood

Jim Young, i simply cannot did not

Someone shakes drops of gin
on the ground and claps
like a bridegroom signaling
to start the dance.
This will go on for days,
for what is elegy but
the muffled sound of marching
along the old road that goes
down to the sea: no one
left to look out of windows,
willow fronds quiet until
the mourners start singing.

Luisa A. Igloria, Honras a los muertos

Whatever happens next week, and I hope what happens will bring us before and into some great and formidable wedge of light, leaving us blinking and gasping, whatever happens, we will need to adjust our eyes. We’ll need to continue refining our seeing. We’ll be squinting as we come into the light, or closing our eyes a little as the darkness shudders. Which perhaps sounds dramatic. So be it.

Four years ago I was listening to the then new Leonard Cohen album, You Want it Darker. It seems like yesterday, it seems like 12000 years ago. We know the darkness now in thousands of different ways though we would rather that we didn’t.

Shawna Lemay, To Go in the Dark

I always forget how dried beans swell.
They start as tiny stones in my hand

but after an overnight salt water soak
they fill my red bowl to overflowing.

This week I revise them into posole —
it’s meant to include hominy, but

in these pandemic times we all learn
to make do. I curl my tongue around

ancho and pasilla, remembering the music
of your lushly-swirled double ll’s.

Raisiny peppers soften and come apart.
I want to blend into a chord like that.

Rachel Barenblat, Soup

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 38

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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

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


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

Romana Iorga, The Meadow Is Filled with Stones

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

Dick Jones, FLIGHTPATHS – POEMS ABOUT AEROPLANES

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

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

by so much waiting.

José Angel Araguz, new poems out in the world!

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

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How they held me, how they held me.

Rich Ferguson, Second Thoughts in the First Person

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

Laura Grace Weldon, Reframing the Story

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

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

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

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

Sarah J. Sloat, Hotel Almighty

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

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

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

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

INTERPRETIVE TRANSLATION OF TALMUDIC TEXTS. Gratefulness.org

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

Ren Powell, Cultivating My Mind

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

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

Uma Gowrishankar, the flower discovers the poet

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

air quality index
counting the trees
we have left

Dylan Tweney [no title]

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, No better place

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

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

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

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

JJS, Covid-19 and Other Deaths: The Descent

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Wilson, God’s Grief

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

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

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

Luisa A. Igloria, resetas (1)

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

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

Kersten Christianson, Curating the House of Nostalgia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Mellor, Blackberry moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

why do i re-read this?

is that turned corner stuck in my craw?

are the words vesiculating

in your / my / that heart?

so many question marks that

i have to re-read it again and again 

that turned down corner

stuck in this my crowing

Jim Young, why do i re-read this?

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

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

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

Tim Love, Aboutness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mat Riches, Echo Location

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandra Beasley, “The End of an MFA”

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

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

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

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

Matthew Paul, The last six months

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

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, Waiting is a Discipline

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Testing, testing

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

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

Don’t be silly.

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

Tom Montag, THE UNIVERSE IS

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 24

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

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

You have to leave right that second.

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

There is no time.

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

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

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

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

Dick Jones, LOCKDOWN

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

Unmasked

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

in more ways than one.

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

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

Kathleen Kirk, Chalk Revisions

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

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

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

Julie Mellor, A changing world

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

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Days of Cognitive Dissonance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday Spontaneous Combustion Edition

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

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

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, Let Us Not Tire

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

Luisa A. Igloria, Enemy

erect a statue 
to the statue topplers
and topple it

Jim Young [no title]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Just speak

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

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

protest hate / love peace—

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

do not / protest love / hate peace

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Practicing Hope

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

Bethany Reid, A Poem and a Writing Prompt

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

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

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

Lynne Rees, Skylarks ~ a poem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mat Riches, Is Whilst

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

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

Renee Emerson, Preparing for a DIY Writing Retreat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, Showing up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, In the cloud

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 19

Poetry Blogging Network

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

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


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

For you.

For me.

I hope your grief is not unbearable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a strange world.

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

Inane cruelty. Stupid selfishness.

What protest can we mount while physically distancing?

Find a way. Write. Put it out there.

Vote.

Eric M. R. Webb, Grief and Isolation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rebecca Loudon, corona 18.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the urge to recognize, and celebrate, delights.

Ann E. Michael, Delights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renee Emerson, Spring-to-Summer Rhythms

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

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

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

Lynne Rees, Sometimes it’s the science…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell all the truth but tell it slant  – Emily Dickinson

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

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

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

Ren Powell, What We Do With Our Lives

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

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

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

Shawna Lemay, Are You Missing the Library?

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

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

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

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

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

Dick Jones, AIW – 2007

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen, mothers and the worry monster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, Almost normalcy

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

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

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

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

Rita Ott Ramstad, What’s left

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

Kathleen Kirk, Mother’s Day, Again

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

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #10 with Ruth Dickey

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

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

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

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

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus Week Eight: Distracted

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

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

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

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

Rich Ferguson, If the Mind Were a Bullet

Spring is only
this sauntering.

Its leaf-green
offering is

only a tug at
our wanting more

every day than
the grey memory

of winter’s
bitterness.

Tom Montag, SPRING IS ONLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Mellor, Haiku/ lockdown #3

Little Richard’s
obituary on radio
I spill my soup

Jim Young [no title]