Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 18

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

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

This week, I found a lot of Poetry Month post mortems, as you might expect. But several other themes emerged, as well, with posts on interdisciplinary influences and collaboration, translation and “envoicing”, spirituality and religion, and the importance of active engagement in the public sphere.

April’s gone, and the rigour of National/Global Poetry Writing Month is over for another year. So how did it benefit me as a writer?

  • The discipline of producing new writing, daily.
  • Motivation to get started and keep going, from a writing community.
  • No shortage of writing prompts to overcome self-imposed barriers/blocks to writing.
  • New and unexpected learning/discoveries from prompt-related web links.
  • Exploring form.
  • Approaching old poem drafts from new perspectives; fresh starts.
  • Unexpected/surprising outcomes.
  • An abundance of material to work on or cherry-pick from.

Jayne Stanton, After NaPoWriMo

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April wasn’t a different month for me in terms of poetry than any other month. I wrote a few poems and sent a few packets out. I got some new ideas for poems, which always makes me happy. I took a purple legal pad to school–right about the time that my administrator schedule heated up, and I didn’t have pockets of time during my work day to write. But I’ve set a foundation for later.

While getting a Fitbit may not be one of the goals we see in anyone’s writing goals, I do think it’s important to remember that our ability to create poems may rely on keeping healthy as best we can. I’ve spent the last year gaining 15 pounds, and I’m happy to be taking steps to reverse that. More important, I’m glad to have a gadget that will remind me to move away from the desk periodically.

What I’d like to carry with me: I’d like to write poems more regularly. I do admire the poets like Luisa Igloria who write a poem a day, year in, year out. I’d be happy if I wrote poetry 3 days a week. I know there are trackers for that–you don’t wear them on your wrist, but a tracker is available. Maybe I should try that . . .
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Last Day of National Poetry Month

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So, for the last year, I have been writing. When I have the time. Whenever I have the inclination. When there’s something that is nagging at the back of my mind. I stopped submitting poems altogether for about six months. I concentrated on creating work. And guess what? It’s almost summer. And once again, I really do think I may have a third manuscript now. If not, I have a whole lotta poems. And that’s a start.
Donna Vorreyer, Whole Lotta Poems

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My best writing has been done when I wake up with a clear mind and maybe 40 minutes just to dream on paper.

My best writing rarely happens when I am saying to myself, “Okay, you need to make this one excellent, you need to write your best poem ever.”

I have a friend I write with back and forth and on May 1st he sent me an email saying, “I haven’t lost the energy, I want to keep writing a poem-a-day…” And I agree.

So I will continue on trying to write a poem a day, but being happy if I get a poem a week or a poem every-other-day.

Because I love the journey and while I love a draft that leads to a completed work, I appreciate the poems that don’t. They are like sketches in an artist’s journal, practice swings on a baseball field knowing one day, we’ll hit it out of the park.
Kelli Russell Agodon, While I Was a Terrible Blogger During #NaPoWriMo, I Earned My Poem-A-Day Merit Badge… (Plus: Why Quantity Wins Over Quality in First Drafts…)

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In addition to having a goal of writing a poem each day, I also set a goal of reading fifteen books of poetry this month. I came close, reading thirteen books of poetry. A little short of my goal but considering some people don’t even read thirteen books in the entire year I think I did okay. And I read some damn good poetry this month.

But just because the month is over doesn’t mean I’m going to be any less focused on my writing. I’ll use the momentum to keep writing and keep putting words down on paper.
Courtney LeBlanc, 30/30

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The landscape’s brought colors and pollinators and all the juiciness of reproduction cycles into the season’s height. Time to take walks and breathe.

And say nothing.

And let the words subside for awhile, and percolate the way the rains percolate through the wet, warm soil and into the waiting earth.
Ann E. Michael, Wordless

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I love going to poetry readings when it’s clear the poet has studied acting, is a good actor. I’m thinking of Lola Haskins, who reads with her full body, who takes such time and care with her delivery. You see her wanting to do something with her audience with her performance. Beth Ann Fennelly is another poet whose recitations (though she usually holds her book, just to have it in case) are occasions where her poetry becomes something physical through her performance. Saul Williams, of course. Or think of singer-poets, Patti Smith. Or John Giorno. Or Marie-Elizabeth Mali.

Obviously, the whole spoken word movement celebrates performance and recitation, going back to Marc Smith, with roots in the Black Arts Movement, the Beat Writers, going back to Dylan Thomas and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s radio broadcasts, back to workers’ chants and back to call and response, back to Father Walt, oh hell, back to ancient Greek poetry. The beginnings of drama and poetry and ritual, all of this is old, old stuff. It’s because poetry, those words, don’t reside in the brain–to be accessed mechanically–but are in the breath and heart beat, in the body. Performing a poem, then, requires that bodily engagement.
Jim Brock, Recitation

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These are exciting times for the arts: eyes and ears are open wide and there are few if any barriers standing in the way of experimentation. So within these exciting times of relative freedom from the constraints of rigid tradition and strict orthodoxy in style and form, it’s a truism to say that art thrives on synthesis. In all regions of the wide cultural territory that lie before us in the early 21st century, there is abundant cross-fertilisation, the elements of which are drawn from the most disparate of sources and made subject to the broadest of influences. For painting, for music, for dance, for theatre, for poetry, these are, in many ways, the best of days. […]

Whilst driving through country lanes listening to Steeleye Span singing The Dark-Eyed Sailor, I began to ponder this demarcation between the immediate subjectivity of the ‘dramatic’ and the relative objectivity of the ‘narrative’. Suddenly it occurred to me that it might be interesting to tamper with the equation as interpreted by Brecht in his re-articulation of the Goethe/Schiller proposition and extract a poem from that traditional English ballad that moved back through the formalised structures of the rhyming ballad towards the immediacy of the events that inspired the song in the first place. The unifying themes, the sequencing of events and the ‘rhapsodic’ narration would remain the same, but there would be applied to the storyline an element at least of the emotional interactions between the human protagonists themselves and their experiences within the wider context, this forming a kind of ostensible mésalliance between the two oppositional modes that might, in fact, actually work.
Dick Jones, The Famous Flower

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This track has had a special place in my heart over these years and, revisiting it recently, I found myself beginning to make this video with it. In its final form, the piece is a hybrid of music video and poetry film. The images are from Unsplash, a website for highly creative photography from around the world, all made available for re-use on public domain licence. I selected and juxtaposed the images for their associative resonances with the words, and arranged them in an order to tell a kind of abstract, gestural narrative. I built up a visual motif in this video around the colour red, relating to the rubies of the title. In editing I added movement to the stills through zooms, reversal of framing, and jump cuts on the beats, like heart beats with the music.
Marie Craven, Videos: 1000 Rubies, Human Resources, St. Umbilicus

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Last Saturday I was honored to read my poem “Blessing” at Ars Poetica – Where Poetry Meets Art at the Front Street Gallery in Poulsbo, Washington. I had the pleasure to meet Artist Sylvia Carlton, who shared with the audience why my poem resonated with her and why she chose it. I was so moved that it touched her in such a personal manner. Sylvia shared how as a mother the poem put into words so much of what she also felt about that difficult time when we let go of our children and send them into the world. Sylvia captured beautifully the contrast between the tight formality at the beginning of the poem with a dark weaving of limbs and the openness at the end of the poem where the white space and lack of formal punctuation allows the light to come in—light that beautifully emerges from behind the trees.
Carey Taylor, Ars Poetica-2018

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Tomorrow (Monday 7 May 2018) I will be starting a poetry course with the Poetry School. Titled Transreading the Baltics, led by Elzbieta Wójcik-Leese, it will look at and respond to poetry in translation from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I don’t speak a single word of any of those languages but the thought of getting to know the poetry thrills me the way a TV travel show can whet your appetite for visiting a country. […]

As a blind person I frequently need to translate English into English. I personally do not understand the reason why some poets post their work as images rather than ordinary text. A picture of text is not the same as text that can be copied and pasted into an email, for example. Maybe that is the reason for doing it but, as Google Books proves, scanned copies of whole books can still be shared.
Giles L. Turnbull, Lost in Poetry

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Poet Pam Thompson wrote a really interesting comment on the last post, describing what I was doing with some of the poems was “envoicing”. I was much taken by the idea, conflating it, I suppose, with Robert MacFarlane’s idea of “en-chantment”….that is to bring into being, or to call up, by language. I’d always thought of the business of dramatic monologues as ‘ventriloquism’, but envoicing seems much more an act of imaginative invention. I’ve written before about what brought me into it. Basically, I was looking to break out of my own ‘voice’ and its way of seeing, and what unlocked the door was Carol Ann Duffy’s The world’s wife. An absolute revolution at the time, to me, ‘envoicing’ all those female voices in a series of revisionist versions of myth and legend. Eventually it lead me to finding voices for a whole range of sculpted figures…the angel of the North, Epstein’s St. Michael, Rodin’s kissing lovers, one of Anthony Gormley’s figures on Crosby Sands, and so on. But the first project, which produced a lot less than I thought it might, was to explore the relationship between the late Victorian painter, John Waterhouse, and his (supposed) favourite model.
John Foggin, The male gaze (4) “Envoicing”

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Your most recent collection of poetry is Sexting Ghosts. Can you tell us about the project and how it came into being?

The project is an interesting mashup of different things I started writing immediately after finishing my MFA in writing. I was, and am, so obsessed with spirituality, the universe, and where we sort of fit in. I was raised in a religious household and while I largely rejected a lot of the sort of “status quo” ideas of Eastern Orthodoxy (what I was raised in), I do believe in God/the universe, and it is important to me to explore this. I think, for awhile, I felt like I had to reject religion or spirituality, because it alienated me as a queer person — and because of the rigidity of it.

But now I’m comfortable with it, and a fluidity of traditions and approaches — I largely consider myself a witch with a mashup of Eastern Orthodox/Jewish beliefs, which is because of my relationships and upbringing and interest in largely just being authentic and true to myself. So this book is largely an exploration of that as a queer person, using the first part to explore gender and sexuality and dysfunction in the tradition family setting, while the other parts explore this within the technological realm. What does spirituality look like with texting, what does it look like when we look at the universe as a living thing separate from humanity?
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Joanna C. Valente on spirituality and the drive to communicate

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Making Manifest [by Dave Harrity] is a creative writing workbook. you are to read a different reflection each day and complete the writing exercise that goes along with it. the thought behind it is that writing can be a spiritual discipline–and, where i have found the book unique, it blends spiritual exercise with writing.

the exercises are appropriate for beginners and not-so-beginners, and did help me to become more focused on writing as a spiritual activity. i have been slow working through this book–it has taken me about two months to complete–but i have truly enjoyed coming to it each evening, sitting down in an attitude of worship in my writing.
Renee Emerson, making manifest: a review

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Q~How is the poem representative of your new collection?

A~slight faith is a collection of poems that consider ways of creating and finding meaning, ways of seeing the world in all its horror and still wanting to live. The story that my poem, “Bimbo: a Deer Story,” is based on looks to the natural world (a dead doe, the fawn helpless at her corpse) and positions the fawn in an unnatural environment (a woman’s home). The story is simultaneously heartwarming and anomalous. In the poem, the narrator tries to understand who she is under the circumstances she has been dealt. She looks for meaning, which I believe has its core in faith. Many of us who are not drenched in religious life have difficulty talking about concepts like faith, and yet these tropes are found everywhere in art. I’ve learned “god language” through my work in end-of-life care, as a way of connecting with people who speak it. My own experience of faith vacillates between feeling authentic (faithful) and feeling hopeless (faithless). At core, faith says there is meaning. I lose and recover meaning all the time. slight faith is a way of finding peace in that dilemma.

Q~You mentioned your work in end-of-life care, how much does your “day job” influence your writing?

A~There is no doubt that my years as a nurse, witnessing illness, suffering and death, has been a bedrock of my need to write. It has also given me experiences to write about, as I have done in my chapbooks What We Owe Each Other and In My Exam Room (both published by The Lives You Touch Publications). When life seems suffused with sadness, despair and even alienation, poetry carves out a place for these difficult emotions in the world.
Bekah Steimel, Bimbo, a Deer Story / an interview with poet Risa Denenberg

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As with several other poets this month, I had to — I wanted to — read Brock-Broido’s poems over and over. She values image and sound, and she choreographs her poems across the pages. I won’t say they are puzzles, but they are gems, they’re like Matroushka dolls with meanings tucked within meanings. “I am of a fine mind to worship the visible world, the woo and pitch and sign of it,” she writes in “Dear Shadows,” but I had a very clear sense that it was not the visible world that concerned her. “I ache for him, his boredom and his solitude. // On suffering and animals, inarguably, they do. // I miss your heart, my heart” (“Dove, Interrupted”).

I’m reminded of one of my university professors, who once told us, in seeming exasperation, “Stop writing about hearts and moons, it’s been done.” And then to spend day with these poems (and read Brock-Broido’s students’ testimonials upon her death) — it’s fortifying to see how much the heart is still written of, and cared for. It makes my heart glad.
Bethany Reid, Lucie Brock-Broido’s Stay, Illusion

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Keeping quiet such a long time, dry-eyed
and wet-boned, gone all limp and loose and lost.
There’s the little cave they keep you in, tied
to bricks so you won’t float away, arms crossed
over your chest. Is that to hold your heart
in your body? Does it really matter?
Some day, you’ll get out — a black arts jump start
for all the bits and pieces in tatters…
PF Anderson, Zombie Sonnet

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Yesterday, I went over to a friend’s house. I arrived at 4 PM; I left six hours later. In between we drank wine, cooked four pounds of mussels, grilled vegetables, and traded poems. I was grateful for the sunshine, the gorgeous cherry tree flowering in her backyard, and her overly enthusiastic (and freshly washed) pup clambering for pets.

Most of all, I was grateful for the balance of the exchange: two poets who have been following each others’ work for years, with a baseline of respect and appreciation, talking freely about drafts in progress. We don’t have particularly similar styles, especially in our projects of the moment. But we’re able to be frank about what’s working and what’s not on the page, and that’s worth its weight in gold. Everyone needs trusted readers.
Sandra Beasley, Golden Rule

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What’s really sad is that there is not a single bookstore in Tillamook.

Not even a used bookstore.

Though we do have a wonderful library.

But when I asked the library if I could arrange poetry readings there, they said no.

So guess what I went and did?

I asked if anyone in my community would want to join me in a poetry book club.

And 9 people said yes!

We had our first meeting and it was wonderful!!! People had such interesting and insightful comments about the poems we discussed from Lois Parker Edstrom’s Night Beyond Black.

It was so much fun, people want to do it again–the last Wednesday of every month!

I feel so lucky there are so many local folks open to discovering poetry along with me.

I’m not alone with poetry any longer.
Lana Ayers, Sometimes beauty alone is not enough…

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We’re also reading Kevin Young’s amazing long poem Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, from 2011. I think my students are struggling with it, much more so than with the shorter poems we’ve read, and I understand why–Ardency is not only long (250 pages), but Young steadfastly refuses to simplify this vast, complicated, powerful story. Instead, the book riffs on the languages and structures of religion, education, and music, with a section each focused on Covey, the free Mendi translator; Cinque, a captive who came to lead the rebellion; and a chorus of survivors on trial, often represented through letters. […]

Can a poem be a monument? I think so. A book doesn’t have the simplicity of a pillar or the accessibility of a garden, but there’s a public role, too, for the productive difficulties of intensely patterned language. We need to read poetry, alone and together, because it helps us remember (and imagine) what’s lost and imagine (and remember) a way forward.
Lesley Wheeler, May the river/ remember you

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If women writers were given as many chances, as many extra passes, as male writers, I think you would see a lot less sexism and abuse in the system. I see women writers being shoved out of the way, talked over, published less, paid less, treated as less important, and I think: Why do people think this is okay, and why does it keep happening? Of course the literary world is not protected from these incidents – in fact, in my experience, it’s worse than, say, the tech world I used to operate in (I had very supportive male bosses who promoted me at AT&T and Microsoft, in particular.) So if you have power and influence, try using it to help women succeed. I bet it would prevent so many abuses. It occurred to me one of the reasons I wrote PR for Poets is I felt women writers, weren’t reaching their audiences because they weren’t being promoted, reviewed, invited to speak, like male writers. I’ve seen very shy, unself-promoting male writers lifted up by their male colleagues, taken out for a beer and given tips and even having their books suggested to certain high-end publishers, but I haven’t really seen the same thing for shy, unself-promoting women. I wanted all poets to have the tools to help get the word out about their books, but I didn’t realize this was actually a subversive act. It’s subversive to help poets learn how to promote themselves because the literary world wants you to believe that it is a meritocracy, when it really isn’t, it’s a place where privilege and place and class and gender all reflect social norms, which means the disabled, the poor, people of color, and women are going to have less of a chance to really make it. When AWP ignores the needs of disabled folks, that means less chance for us to interact with others. When publishers skew their books to a male audience because male writers “are more universal,” well, no they’re not, unless you make that the case. Readers of books actually skew strongly female, so shouldn’t the authors of books also skew female?

I’m sorry if this tone disturbs you. I like to uplift people. I like to be inspiring. But lately, with the political tone of the country, the repeated shock at many men in power abusing that power, I have started to say: enough of the shock. Let’s do something to make it better. I may not live to see a woman president of America, but I want to make some noise for equality in the poetry world, at least. If I can support other women writers by bringing attention to their work (which is why I do book reviews even though they are time consuming and mostly do not pay,) I want to do what I can to make the literary world a better place. I want to encourage you to take action too.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, My Rumpus Review of Barbie Chang, Guest Post on PR for Poets with a Disability or Chronic Illness, More Cancer Tests, Faerie Magazine Poems, and How the Lit World Can Avoid More #MeToo Moments

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Night pavement, silver-slick with moon.

 

Owl. Mid-road. Blocking the way. Meeting my eyes. Slow, slower: it does not move. Mouse between its talons. Guardian of the veil between the land of the living and the land of the dead.

I drive around it, trembling.

Last time I met you, you were kicking me out: I have the scars to prove it. Head wounds bleed like bastard. Talon strike perforations. I don’t want to go back.

You say: do not pass.

I pass, trembling. Into steeper dark.
JJS, May 3, 2018: what the forest said

Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 14

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

When they ask her
what she will miss most

she answers

all     that           water
Carey Taylor, All That Water

*

SHIFTING SANDS

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

*

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

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

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

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Q~Who was your poetry first love?

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 11

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

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

This week, I didn’t notice too many common themes. Poetry bloggers were all over the place—in a good way. But I sense a shared restlessness, prompted perhaps in part by the feeling, in many places around the northern hemisphere, that spring is seriously overdue.

It is not uncommon to have a day like this during the month of March in the Midwest. It’s almost Spring, but the threat of snow is still very real on any given day. (This morning, we woke to an ice/sleet storm. It was melted by 2 PM.) My spring break begins next Friday, and I’m not sure whether it will be sunny long walk weather or inside with a blanket weather. The plants aren’t sure, either–the day lilies are already pushing their green through the cold ground, as are the clusters of crocus. The coyotes from the nearby forest preserve are getting bold, loping into the neighborhood yards, and the birds are back, shimmering the trees with their tentative song. Everything seems to be waiting for a change, one long inhale held and held and held.

Changes abound, and not just in the weather. I have resurrected the YA novel manuscript I began two summers ago in the hopes of trying something a little different. The poems are coming slowly, so slowly, and yet I want to write. On any given day, my writing seems very much like strange weather – something begins well, then it dissolves into something beautiful but meaningless; it occasionally gets a little dangerous, and then melts into oblivion or a journal page that I won’t look at again. Even the writing of this post seemed to follow that pattern – at first, it came easily and then, when I got to this paragraph, fits and starts. A lot of deleting and rewriting. A lot of fog and dissonance. (You can decide what the weather is like as reader here…) And I may not post next week during my time off from work, giving myself a break from the self-imposed resolution to post once a week, my own internal weather just as fickle as Mother Nature’s.
Donna Vorreyer, Fluctuation

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I like birth as a metaphor for the creative process, but it’s a bit of a cliché, plus it’s not accessible to everybody (make that every body). I can see how another bodily function could be an apt metaphor, too, one we all share. You may have heard of the children’s book Everyone Poops? It’s true, we do.

Think about it. The creative process is a lot like the digestive process. We take life into our bodies. We let it travel through us. We absorb what we can. We express those things that need to come out.

Bear with me here.

Sometimes poems and stories come out in a messy, smelly, gush. Sometimes we are surprised by their colors, by the kernels of life embedded inside. Sometimes we strain and strain and all that comes out is a little pebble of language, maybe nothing at all. Sometimes a piece of writing slides from our bodies and we feel cleansed and light.
Gayle Brandeis, Arse Poetica (Or, A Shitty Metaphor) (h/t: Kim Bailey Spradlin)

*

Perhaps the plethora of poets, poetry readings, poetry workshops and poetry programs today has made some versions of the “first person lyric grounded in everyday experience” seem too easy, too artless—just the sort of thing anyone who decided yesterday to call herself a poet can write. Perhaps the subjects of such lyrics have begun to seem too predictable. Perhaps the tide has finally finished turning against “confessional” poetry—an archetypal twentieth-century version of first person lyric grounded in everyday experience—and especially against less-than-artistic versions of it. Here’s Marjorie Perloff (an academic critic I don’t always trust, whose championing of the “new” in poetry can seem only intellectually motivated), in one of her updates of Pound’s Don’ts:

“Don’t take yourself so seriously. In the age of social networks, of endless information and misinformation, “sensitivity” and “the true voice of feeling” have become the most available of commodities.” (Poetry, April, 2013)
Judy Kronenfeld, Is the first person lyric unfashionable or outmoded? (guest post at Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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In the Midwest, people are afraid of death, they ignore it until they can’t, they tuck it away in little boxes in their attics, they buy roses for the funerals with all the thorns pre-cut. But Erica Wright’s poetry collection doesn’t take place in the Midwest where I grew up, it emerges from the Southern Gothic tradition where, let’s face it, all the bayou stories do end with the word—drowned.

In Wright’s second collection, death arrives in a thousand and one forms: from tsunamis to volcanos, spontaneous human combustion to beheadings, from bullets to simply time or disease, death is ever-present. Interestingly, what is not ever-present is despair or even grief. And this is where the particular genius of Wright’s poems surfaces, her poems refuse to be mawkish, except perhaps in the original meaning of the word—maggotry, as in the decay of a corpse. Death instead, becomes a muse, and Wright’s poems in All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned pay homage to the macabre.
Anita Olivia Koester, American Gothic: All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned by Erica Wright

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This chapbook explores the received images of the feminine in fairy tales. The women and girls in this collaborative chapbook resist the common tropes of red riding hoods, gilded mirrors, and iced palaces. Every girl becomes the wolf because every girl has the power to tear apart the cultural conceit of wicked stepmoms, heartless mothers, and voracious monsters. Witches, hags, and mothers of damaged creatures from myth, movies, and lore prowl through this poetry. Lilith settles in to enjoy the county fair rib-off, Grendel’s mother holds her son close, and the Sphynx bears the weight of mythic secrets. Mothers demand their own freedom, daughters refuse gendered expectations, and wives leave what spoils with rot behind. As they wrestle with their place in these stories, they transform into figures outside of the victims or villains they have been perceived to be.
Andrea Blythe, Preorders Open for EVERY GIRL BECOMES THE WOLF!

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I have a lot of interconnected poems about Appalachia with Latin titles. The choice is inspired by my great uncle who died extremely young during WWII in an airplane crash in Brazil. He was this hillbilly kid who loved machines, and oddly knew Latin, which surprised me. He ended up in the Air Force where he traveled around the world. I have a box of his letters home, and they’re fascinating. He would write his younger brother in Latin so the censors during the war didn’t know what he was sharing. He was clever and charming, and he inspired me to learn Latin, too. At the very least I wanted to understand what he had written. Sadly, his younger brother also died in an airplane crash. Gravity does not love my family.

Another inspiration for this poem is not something I normally talk about directly except to family really, but there are many women in my family who hear voices. It’s not a frightening or a troublesome thing, but a fact. Are they real? Who knows. Is it psychic ability or mental illness? Probably both. Centuries ago they’d be saints or witches, right? The fact remains that we hear voices, and those who do hear them love them. They’re a comfort of sorts. So, when I wrote this I was thinking about my extended family and the voices (literal and not quite literal) of those family members we lose during our lifetimes. Those people live on in the stories we tell and those things we’ve learned or come to understand by growing up in a space shaped by their presence: place and voice and sorrow and joy and love and struggle going back generations.
Amanda Rachelle Warren – from a guest interview by Allyson Whipple at Bekah Steimel’s blog

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But the line as a mere element of writing or drawing is incomplete without the recognition that it is essentially a representation of an aspect of human experience. We inhabit this world, as though it were a canvas or page, scratching our lives into its containment, and we live in time, on a line from birth to death. Our lives, like a geometric line, are in a sense infinite. We enter at a point in history, a place with antecedents and influences. And after we arrive at our personal point B, the line drawn by our lives continues in unknown ways to affect the future. As we inhabit our time, we string up memories and impressions from here and there, bringing disparate things together.

For a line also joins things—not only literally, as in connecting a spatial or literary point A to B, but also metaphorically. A line functions as a simile. Once two things are put together via the bridge of a line, we are asserting (or simply revealing) an underlying similarity that may not have been apparent before. Sometimes, in any artistic practice, we set our ends and then work to discover the path of connection. We may have an idea or point we are aiming for, but for authenticity’s sake, we have to be alert for and welcoming of the detour and the unexpected joineries we stumble upon. Other times we pay attention to the line itself (the process) rather than its points of origin and destination. Stafford: “The authentic is a line from one thing / along to the next; it interests us.”(5) (And note how Stafford’s lineation breaks right as the sentence joins one thing to the next! The authentic becomes more complex than we may first assume.)
Rosemary Starace, Following a Line

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i mislearn elation as sated moans
i misread sanity as a modest tramline
a sermon in entrails and snarled talons
mistold in idle, silent yodels

— a ‘beau présent’ (beautiful in-law) – created using only the letters found in a person’s name. for this one, i used a name that is an anagram of the poem’s title.
james w. moore, Dreamy Tonsils

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Trying to write a poem in which no words repeat when I’m falling asleep resulted in this…

I
ache
a weird iconography of indifference
clamoring to fight
battles no sane person would invite into the chamber

Spaces
get larger and stranger
warping howling buffeting winds snapping collars weeding out time

E-bow tone
sharp-edged jagged plain-faced speaking power surges confined
melting hoverdrum struck under glacial disappearances

Kevin J. O’Conner, Struck dumb (a sleepy poem)

*

My cabdriver likes to give advice, has a sort of philosophical take on gender after the end of the world, and is clearly influenced by certain strong female characters on The Walking Dead, a show I still watch compulsively even though it’s much less smart and riveting than once upon a time. It’s also the only show I forgive for casting mostly skinny women, given the post-zombie-plague food situation (though I find their endless supply of tight-fitting jeans implausible). Mostly, though, my poem, like a lot I’ve written lately, is about surviving middle age. Having walked through the door of age fifty, I DO know what the moon really thinks of you. “Says the Cab Driver of the Apocalypse” just came out, appropriately enough, in the new Moon City Review, handed off to me at the AWP last weekend. Thanks to the editors from granting me right-of-way.
Lesley Wheeler, It’s red, reflecting all our sunsets

*

We talked about wondering if English majors have a different approach to narratives of apocalypse than the general population. On the way home, it occurred to me to wonder if a certain segment of English majors chooses that major because of their love of dystopian literature.

We talked about the apocalypses we never thought we would see in our lifetimes, but now we seem to be in a race to see which apocalypse will win. The specter of nuclear war has raised its head again, and we agreed that we’re seeing alarming similarities between our time and Europe in the 1930’s. And we live in South Florida which will be a ground zero in this century of rising seas.

Our literary experiences have trained us to spot the apocalypse on the horizon, but I’m not sure they’ve told us what we should do. Of course, part of the problem is not knowing which apocalypse will come for us first.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Choose Your Own Apocalypse

*

Here’s the peewit whistle across the garden fences –
Francis or Steven after summer teatime ready to play.
And then we three sharing the dank smell of the flowerbed loam
and the sharp prairie forever scent of grass
(because we move our tiny armies crouching,
lying sideways on the earth, down where the ants teem
and the snuffling dog knows his world. Planes may burr
across some limitless sky somewhere and the train
stammers along its steel horizon, but we’re grounded
and utterly but fearlessly lost)…
Dick Jones, There is a Courtyard

Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 8

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

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

Over the past few days I’ve been studying César Vallejo’s poem “Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca” (“White Stone on a Black Stone” in the Poetry magazine translation by Rebecca Seiferle), in which he famously “remembers” his own death, and turns back con todo mi camino, a verme solo — “with all of my road, to see myself alone.” Perhaps conditioned by this, I’m struck by how many poets this week have been writing about facing fears.

Owls wake me in winter. Thin talons worry into my scalp. Time immemorial, time that passes. My days are dark with black ash and bone, the rot settling into sickly flowers. Sometimes, I dream of nectar, sometimes, of blood.
Lakshmi, This Winter Heart: response to a question from another Tumblr user

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In 2014 I embarked on an anonymous adventure, publishing some poetry chapbooks with my super small press Twenty-Four Hours. We did 4 books between then and now, each free of identity-confirming information such as author names, biographies, photos, or anything else that would give away the gender, race, or age of the poet. The reasons were multi-fold. It would take away the puffery of an author bio and force the reader (and the writer) to consider the poems themselves, not the previous accomplishments of the writer. It would also take away any preconceived notions of what a particular work a writer of a certain gender, a certain race, or a certain age is “supposed” to produce. These were a smashing success and the philosophical ideas behind them resonated with many people.

So around this time in 2016, a few weeks shy of Christmas, I decided to make the next logical step and use myself as a test subject. I was going to publish all of my work anonymously.
Josh Medsker (guest blogger for Trish Hopkinson), My year of living anonymously

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Usually winter is a productive creative time for me- the weather is not tempting me outdoors, and the long drag of school days without breaks usually leaves me very eager to think about other things at home. Any other things. But not this winter.

After the poetry writing I did in January at the conference I attended, every bit of writing I’ve done since has been non-poetry related – this blog, reviews of other poets, proposals and lessons for work, etc. The poems are dormant.

I am hopeful that they are dormant in the same way the iris bulbs in front of my house are dormant – sleeping safe beneath the soil of everyday “stuff” but ready and able to push through and bloom when the weather dictates. But there is a nagging fear that, this time, the poems are dormant the way a volcano can be dormant – seething beneath the surface for years and years and years, roiling and alive but never surfacing. And this is a little scary.
Donna Vorreyer, Fear of Hibernation

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I had a dream a few nights ago in which I was touring a new university opened by Donald Trump. I do not know why, in my dream, I was touring a university owned by Donald Trump, but apparently, I was considering signing up for classes there. The building was being touted as “new”, but it was shoddily built and some of the larger rooms were still under construction. I wandered into the staff kitchen to chat with some fellow prospective students and I kept saying, “But what’s the curriculum? I haven’t seen a curriculum.” Suddenly, busted-elevator-style, the entire kitchen sank with a stomach-lurching thud and crash-landed in the basement, right next to the university swimming pool. Shell-shocked, I wandered out into the pool area. Trump came ambling up to greet me, and I explained to him that his school seemed to have some infrastructure problems, as the kitchen just fell through the floor and missed landing in the swimming pool by mere feet. Trump seemed totally unfazed by this news.
Kristen McHenry, Dystopian Round-Up

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This still from Werner Herzog’s ‘Encounters at the end of the world’ has been called ‘one of the great existential moments of modern cinema’. It’s one that has me in tears. For some reason this one penguin has left the tribe (according to wikipedia , a group of penguins on land is called a waddle. Other collective nouns for penguins include: rookery, colony, and huddle. None of them seem to credit their air of social purpose. I’ll stay with tribe). The others are purposefully plodding seaward, towards food and salvation. This one is equally purposefully heading inland to a certain death. The camera pulls back, and goes on pulling back until the penguin is microscopic in an infinity of white. Herzog’s voice-over speculates that the only reason for this behaviour is that the penguin has become insane. It’s heartbreaking.

I should say that I’ve spent the last couple of days in bed, feeling physically done in. A bit like the early symptoms of flu, without the coughing and sneezing. Just very tired and achey. So this post post might be more incoherent than usual. Still. Press on. Basically I’ve been thinking about how to introduce today’s guest poet, who happens to write short poems…not necessarily lyric, but short. I’m very conscious that I don’t do short, and admire poets who do, mainly because I think it takes more confidence and craft and discipline than I have. I suspect I’m afraid of white space, because, essentially, it leaves no hiding place. Every word is exposed, and has to justify itself.
John Foggin, No hiding place…. and a Polished gem: Matthew Stewart

*

I face a slice of pink sky and await
words, dormant bulbs interred in dirt. Your absence
invades my slumber, I will die of it. The rawness
is too much.
Risa Denenberg, Nostalgia is an illness you might die of

*

I keep trying to write about my impending book publication, about the process of writing, about poetry. But all I can think about are the students and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I spent twelve years in a high school classroom – one as a full-time substitute teacher, eleven as an English teacher.

I’ve taught every kind of student: eager, disinterested, poor, rich, parents overly involved, parents totally absent, some good at school, others disheartened by it. I’ve taught students as articulate as those who are speaking out now about gun reform. I’ve taught students who I know were capable of killing seventeen of their peers.

Every time I sit down to write about writing, I come up dry, because it doesn’t seem important in the face of dead children. Then I remember Alex Schachter reading his son Max’s poem. A poem that Max wrote two weeks before he was gunned down in his high school. I think of how people turn to poetry in times of love, in times of sorrow.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, What can a poem do?

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I find the main themes I return to are mental health and legacy. My first two chapbook manuscripts dissect my mental health diagnosis and my relationship with others with mental health challenges. Because mental health does affect every aspect of life, it’s important to me to speak about it and work against the stigma surrounding it. I feel the need to be very vocal about it because of the silence and stigma still surrounding mental disorders in Latinx communities, particularly the one I grew up in. I feel I wasted a lot of time feeling like something was wrong with me, and I find it important to write to let others like me know they’re not alone. Legacy is also interesting to me to explore, particularly definitions from others and from oneself. I feel most satisfied writing about the complexity of my heritage and am currently working on a few projects questioning my relationship to the colonizer/colonized sides of my family tree. I think a lot about when to use language, and when to use stillness, so I often edit and edit until the rhythm of a poem is evident on page. Some images I return to frequently are surrealism and dreams, and water and all of the implications they can have.
Marisa Adame, interviewed by Shannon Steimel

*

I do write about the things that frighten me in life and the world, but I think I am also fascinated by my fear, by my inner demons, by the notion of fear itself. Some of these fears, like sexual or domestic violence are easy to understand as frightening, but I have other responses to things that only take on significance because my psyche associates them with other things. Engaging with fear tends to expand one’s personal resilience and strength, and I think that has great value. The ghost story reminds us to stay strong against thoughts of what we will one day be erased from life and memory. The creature story reminds us that what makes us different isn’t always cause for exile from polite society. And, enduring the trust terrifying world of nightmares tells us that we are stronger than we think, that we have the power to survive the torments our demons serve us whenever they can.

I feel myself, as a person, haunted by the darkness in the world, but in my work I can choose to wear it or face it, and I have the choice of how. Beyond contending with the bigger issues of monstrosity and complexity, I think that some of us just really love dancing in the dark. My poems definitely come from a desire to explore the complexities of the human psyche, the ineffable void inside us all, the flip side of the incessant, banal need to demonstrate happiness in our worlds. Something in that darkness speaks through sharp teeth, reminding us of what is really human, what is authentic.
Saba Syed Razvi, interviewed by Andrea Blythe

*

Her arm, absent from sleep,

has great adventures. And then she wakes and shifts her weight,
only to discover something cold and clammy in the sheets beside her,

a lump of flesh she cannot call her own. Her other arm,
the one remaining in her bed, loyal until the end,

investigates by lifting the offending, foreign object
and then, in shock, dropping it.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, “We Surrender Our Dreams to Hunger” (accompanying an interview by Shannon Steimel)

*

If you’ve always relied on your brain, rather than your body, for a sense of self-worth and self-respect, and it lets you down, it’s disheartening. It’s frustrating. But one neurologist who specializes in recovering from different types of brain injury (including MS lesions) told me that we don’t really know what the brain can do when challenged, how plastic our memory and abilities. As a writer I’ve tried to continue to write through all the health challenges I’ve had, even when my fingers could barely type. The piece I wrote about the consequences of being raped when I was six (and pondering the long-term consequences for so may girls who have had these things happen to them) was written a few months ago when I was still practicing my motor skills and swallowing, and I hope it will be helpful to someone. Talking about rape isn’t super fun or upbeat, but until we start protecting people and standing up against a culture of “boys will be boys” and “it’s okay for girls to suffer in silence” and “well, it happens to everyone” I’m afraid that little girls will be in the same danger I was in in 1979. As I talked about in my last post, it’s important not to get so fatigued mentally, spiritually, physically that we stop fighting for what is right. I am trying.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, A piece on rape culture on The Rumpus, outrage fatigue, a renovation and accessibility, and what to do when your brain lets you down

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Look, I can’t adequately explain to you what it is to feel terror at frost heaves in the road you’re shuffling, or of curbs, or of a span of loose pebbles, never mind a hill or stairs: what it is to know that uneven ground is impossible, that even that flat-ish forest path is off limits to you, creature of wilds, because one exposed root can end you if you fall: I can’t adequately explain months and months of severed paraspinals screaming and conscious mind explaining to nerves and muscles how to lift, and move, and set down each foot (and please oh please body do it for me without impact that blows the world apart in blinding, nauseous pain that makes me want to die). I can only tell you this: today the water was so still and calm after days of furious winds and violent waves, salt-spray crusting everything in a moment. I can only show you what I saw: this Atlantic, these creatures, this vast sky, this small, irrelevant body in the midst of it so completely sure-footed and strong on loose sand and weathered steps, having forgotten again to take even ibuprofen, still and calm with oceanic joy, moving like it didn’t mean everything.
JJS, February 22, 2018: pause for gratitude

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I needed to write the poems I have written.  I will continue to write poems about the loss I feel each time a person is gunned down in mass shootings in this country.  But I can no longer only do that.  I will stand behind the youth of America who have raised their voices and said You are either with us or against us, because I believe being silent is a form of complicity.  I will be in attendance on March 24th in the March for Our Lives.  I have already made a donation for this event at March for Our Lives/Go Fund Me.  I have begun reading about how our elected officials vote on gun laws.  This is just my beginning.

As a poet, I will continue to process my grief through writing, but with an understanding that my writing is not enough.  I understand we can never eliminate violence—as the arc of history has proven—but we can do more, we can promise to do our best to keep our children as safe as we possibly can, and I will work towards that end until my poem Math That Doesn’t Add Up ends differently, with a line that in the very least suggests— And all our promises of safekeeping are NOT lies.
Carey Taylor, May You Find A Way

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I spent part of the afternoon fiddling with a sea level rise map, in part because I knew we were meeting our friends for dinner, but mostly because I fell down that internet rabbit hole when I found a news article that says that new research, released last week, says that Miami will experience 2 feet of sea level rise by 2050–not quite far enough away for comfort, since water is rising faster with every report. At one point, the date for 2 feet of sea level rise was 2100.

I think our plan will still work: to fix the house, enjoy the house for 5-10 years, and then sell. We may stay in the area and rent, if my job (the only full-time job between the 2 of us) still exists.

I find it interesting to watch the nation argue about guns, while all the while the sea eyes our shores with growing hunger and impatience. But I also understand the way that a violent event can transform both individuals and communities. I will go with my church tomorrow to a prayer vigil because I’m always going to be available to pray for peace. That might work. I’m not sure that our prayers can change the processes governed by physics or chemistry that we’ve already set into motion.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Prayer Vigils, Planetary Warming, and Other Ethical Dilemmas

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I’m
tired of being split open
and not knowing how to sew
Kevin J. O’Conner, Undarned (a poem)

Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 4

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour (plus occasional non-tour poetry bloggers: this week, Kristin Berkey-Abbott and Ian Gibbins). If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poetry bloggers mourned departed writers and pondered questions of poetic craft, audience, how to keep the creative pump primed and where to go for renewal.

I am very sad to note the death this week of Ursula Le Guin, whose books I read in high school and who was an inspiration for speculative writers everywhere. She demanded – I saw her speak a couple of times, most memorably on the Oregon Coast during a giant storm where the windows were rattling with wind and thunder – that speculative writing not be put in a separate and lesser category, that women’s writing get equal considerations as men’s, and that poetry be given equal attention as fiction. She didn’t act like any of those demands were unusual or impossible. I still hope to one day gain her bravery and refusal to put with nonsense as well as her ability to imagine a better world.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, What is the Lifespan of a Poetry Book, Saying Goodbye to Ursula Le Guin, and the Value of Little Girls’ Voices

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It wasn’t just that she had incredible talent; she understood how writing as a woman might be different than what the mostly male canon dictated. Everything she wrote was infused with an incredible generosity that might at any moment turn into a lesson in intelligence as a spear to deflate wrong-headedness. But my heart, my heart lived in Earthsea.

The Wizard of Earthsea was a book that spoke to the deepest part of me. The part that longed to accept that my shadow, the bad self that was so often pointed out and scorned, might be integrated and necessary. The part that admired balance, equilibrium, friendship. The part of me that longed to know the true names of things, to work the magic of language.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, There is no other power. No other name.

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Is this going to be the year of losing our female literary lights? It’s only the fourth week of the year, and I just discovered the Claribel Alegria died on Thursday, as the rest of the world still mourned the loss of Ursula K. Le Guin.

Alegria’s loss did not go ringing across the literary world. She was not as famous as Le Guin. But I still feel the loss keenly, even though she was 94, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. […]

I did a search to find out more about Alegria’s death, but it’s missing from our newspapers in a way that Le Guin was not. There are plenty of term papers that I could buy–so that makes me happy in an odd way, knowing that she’s taught enough that there’s a term paper industry about her work.

I also discovered this wonderful interview done at the turn of the century in Bomb magazine. It includes a picture of Alegria and Carolyn Forche. I had forgotten that Forche had translated Alegria’s work.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Loss of a Mirror, Claribel Alegria

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When I found a few years ago that I genuinely wanted to find out what I needed to articulate, I chose to to write poems. Probably because I haven’t the stamina or the invention for anything longer. Whatever. The other thing I was surprised to welcome was the silence of the process. And finding language coming out of a silence in which I wasn’t imagining an audience, and therefore at no risk of imagining argument or opposition. It was just the business of concentrating on the moment, to find out if it was as significant as it seemed. Sometimes it was. More often, not. I found great consolation in this, and subsequently in the quiet company of people who wrote and shared poems.

I don’t know when I became aware that, as in almost any walk of life, there were factions and competitiveness in this business of writing poems; unhealthy kinds of ambition, too, and also envy and mean spiritedness. I do all I can to avoid the company of the vexatious, because what I need more than anything is serenity. But sometimes the noise of it all is too loud, and you can’t escape it. But maybe you can say your piece and walk away. So I shall.
John Foggin, The rest is silence : that P N Review thing

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Al Filreis may be the world’s most enthusiastic cheerleader for the formal aspects of modern poetry. He’s engaging and entertaining and a bit dorky and funny. He knows more about 20th century poetry than almost anyone I know in real life.

But what I really valued from the course was not Al’s comments so much as the sense of wonder at watching poems unfold over the course of a close reading in a group, like tea flowers in hot water. There’s something remarkable that happens to many of these poems during a group reading.

In the same way that I have found memory to be deeply social, this course showed me that reading poetry is, too. […]

Do we really want to address the modern era’s blurring and confusion of language by crafting poetry that is also blurry and confused? Now that public discourse is getting even more incoherent and multivalent, do we really want our poetry to do the same? ModPo seems to suggest we do. I am not so sure. Personally I would appreciate a return to someone like Oppen, or the Imagists, who sought a more crystalline, precise use of language.

Or maybe we want to think about the ways language could be used magically, in an incantatory way, like Jack Spicer.
Dylan Tweney, A few thoughts on ModPo

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I’ve always taken issue when someone says, “I don’t have time to write,” because what I hear is, “I have not made time for my writing.” Listen, if you’re reading this, if you have watched a TV show in the last week, gone onto any social media site, stayed up for fifteen minutes longer than you should, you have time to write.

Your life is happening right now, and you can make choices to use your time for writing. Even if it’s only 15 minutes. I have written poems in 15 minutes. Blog posts.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Distraction, Our Time, & My Best Morning Routine

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Ultimately, if I’m a writer I’m creating work that is intended for an audience, and that’s about purpose more than it’s about the superficial trappings of what we call ‘career’. I guess lately I’ve been thinking about audience and whether or not I have one — and not necessarily in a self-pitying way (although, let me be honest, there’s been a good deal of self-pitying going on in this blog). I’m thinking about who I’m writing for, who I create the work for, whether or not it does any real, good work in the world — otherwise, what’s the point? I want so much for my writing to be useful for something other than my own catharsis, my own navel-gazing, but what evidence exists that it IS serving some purpose other than meeting my own creative and psychological needs?
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Living with Your Work

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Amongst the racks of skeletons,
the glass-cased arthropods,
the frozen flights of butterflies,
the stalking bear, a jar of moles.

Like a pickled audience, they float,
hands in mid-applause, their mute
approval a thing of palms and fingers,
viscous suspension hiding faces,

lumping bodies into a mass of
saturated velvet.
Dick Jones, A Jar of Moles

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Writing an inauguration poem wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Once I sat down to do it, I had a moment of clarity about my process: I am a procrastinator. I spend too much time worrying about time lost when I should accept this is where I am and get on with it. And that’s what I did. I wrote it in a day and took three more to revise. You can make the case that I had been writing it in my head all along, but pressure is part of my process. When the poem was done, I felt relieved in a “mission accomplished” sort of way. Woo hoo!
January Gill O’Neil, Legacy

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I love the idea of video poems providing that extra dimension in trying to represent the strange mental limbo between memory and imagination and forgetfulness… the half-formed images, ideas, thoughts that flit through your mind pretty much constantly: this is the zone where conventional language and linear narrative fails.

All the footage in this video was shot specifically for the project around where I live. It took me months to do, learning the animation and layering techniques that are in nearly every scene… I made all the text animations from scratch, and well as many of the lighting effects. Almost every scene is constructed from several raw images… Almost nothing is as it seems.
Ian Gibbins, heist: what’s going on here?

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When the pen is stuck, my first inclination is always to read. To crack open a book or journal and roll around in someone else’s words and syntax for a while, let my vision guide me to a key that will unlock something new inside my own lexicon. Being a reader is an important practice for every writer, but I often forget how important it is to use the ear, to listen to the work of others to concentrate the mind and the ear on words that are NOT in front of me, to process them in a purer, more challenging way. I have been doing this electronically through the wonderful Commonplace Podcast with Rachel Zucker, but I always learn something from hearing poets read live.
Donna Vorreyer, The Ear as Portal

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

A~Over the years, I have heard many poets and writers complain about writer’s block, and my suggestion for those who are staring at a blank page is to do something else, like go for a walk, organize a drawer, do the dishes, exercise, go for a drive in the country, take a break from your busyness. Depending on the activity, your creative consciousness can be subtly working on whatever you want to write. It’s quite remarkable how this works. For example, before I wrote my MFA thesis for Rainer Writers Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, I knitted it. Weeding our three vegetable gardens gave me Small Worlds Floating (Cherry Grove Collections, 2016) and This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). This method works, and you accomplish two things.
Shannon Steimel, Restless / An interview with poet M.J. Iuppa

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Q~How is the poem representative of your work?

A~“The High Road” is a poem that deals with my two greatest obsessions: the terrain of Texas and the terrain of my heart. It’s a poem that focuses on something deeply personal, and the ways in which the personal is woven into the far west Texas landscape, the way in which I am constantly surrounded by something greater than myself. I always find myself returning to the idea of place and space. After both of my chapbooks, I thought I’d said all I needed to say about landscape and its effect on a person, but as I delved into my thesis, I found myself returning to those themes yet again. Geography is, for me, as large and mysterious as God, and the way I wrestle with place is akin to spiritual exploration.
Shannon Steimel, The High Road / An interview with poet Allyson Whipple

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In addition to our regular months-long summer hiatus in Maine, for the past several years I have also been making regular trips to far northern New Hampshire during the height of winter (which also include detours into nearby Vermont, Maine and Québec). Trekking the ridges and hollows of the Great North Woods, among the chain of Connecticut Lakes hard on the Québec border, has proven a palliative for whatever ails me at the time, and it has helped me put my life into perspective on more than one occasion. I went there to ponder plans to retire only to return home confident it was time to move on with the rest of my life. Regardless of the season, this region has become my “panic hole” which, as defined by Gerald Vizenor, is a physical or mental place offering respite from the real or imagined pressures and stresses of daily life and the responsibilities that go with them. Who could not use one of these? Yet it has been the winter visits when I have connected most to this region. Much as Brodsky did in Venice.
Steven B. Rogers, Winter Dreaming

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Art-making is our attempt to find and express meaning—and to participate in the cosmic unfolding, whether to revel, rue, praise, lament, witness or question. There’s nothing to really “practice” here, as the urge is innate and happens by itself. We can cultivate awareness of forms and their effect on us as a species and personally. We can remember that we embody these fundaments. My own contemplation leads me to the understanding that all art-making is ritual and spiritual (and functional)—without any effort to make it that way. No matter what, it can’t be divorced from this essence, it can’t become single, alone, unmoored. When we struggle, when our work gets little recognition, even when it fails, it is grounding to remember that we are graced to be working in this archetypal realm, reflecting the cosmos, refocusing and dispersing it like lenses, little prisms. In making art, we are enacting behaviors as old as the human race. And we are continuing the unending re-expression of cosmic order. Underneath our struggles and the more mundane goals we have for our work, that is what we are doing.
Rosemary Starace, The Crocheted Cosmos

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One night it came to me
as I listened from the balcony
The ocean is the world’s pulse

The beach will teach us
dishevelment and disorder
and how to hang onto light
Hannah Stephenson, Family Vacation

Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 0

poet bloggers revival tour 2018
Hallelujah, it’s a revival!

A few weeks ago on Twitter, poets Kelli Russell Agodon and Donna Vorreyer were talking about how much they missed the camaraderie of blogging circa 2010. So they started a revival movement to encourage poet-bloggers, especially those who have lapsed or strayed, to come back to Jesus poetry blogging and commit to posting at least once a week in 2018.

Since I’m already blogging about poetry at Moving Poems and sharing drafts of new work (these days mostly erasure poems) here, I thought my contribution could be to revive the old “smorgasblog” feature with a once-a-week digest of posts from across the network that catch my eye. I’m hoping some other participants might do the same. The official list of blogs may be found in this post of Donna’s:

It’s been a while, readers. It’s almost 2018, and I haven’t posted in over a year here. Which I miss. And I’m hoping you’re still there.

If you are, then stick around for what I hope you will consider good news. Many writers like myself found their first poetry communities online. By reading posts like this one and participating in forums (like ReadWritePoem), we built relationships and learned from one another. Since I do not have an MFA and have been primarily an autodidact when it comes to poetry, this was very important for me. And, although I now use social media to connect with a large literary community, many of us have been mourning (for lack of a better word), the opportunity to have access to each other’s extended thoughts on the writing life and poetry in general.

So, sparked by a Twitter conversation with Kelli Russell Agodon, and in honor of that more intimate connection that we so dearly miss, a group of writers have vowed to TRY to post once a week in 2018.

TRY is the operative word. Life happens. Some weeks are harder than others, busier, more complicated. But once a week, we will TRY to share something about poetry or our writing lives with you.
Donna Vorreyer, It Feels Just Like Starting Over

 

Blog posts topics you may see here and on other blogs:

  • craft discussions
  • reviews/sharing reading lists
  • poem drafts
  • process discussions
  • Successes and failures
  • interviews
  • prompts
  • market news/suggestions
  • news of the “writing world”
  • ANYTHING that could be interesting to a reader

Kelli Russell Agodon, The 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour! Featuring…

 

I’m not sure about everyone’s motivations, but I find that if I have a community of writers to turn to, I stay motivated to write and share my process with others. The 2016 elections and the onslaught of trolls and bots has left me fatigued with and leery of other social media outlets, and so I return to my own private Idaho on the web–my blog!

Of course, blogging is another form of social media, but on my site, at least, I don’t have ads popping up.
Christine Swint, Writing in Community

 

Back in 2006 when I had two young kids and the Internet was young(ger), blogging was my lifeline. I would not have published my first book without the community of poets and writers encouraging me along the way. And, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing about new topics on a regular basis.

At some point, it became a grind.

This tour comes at a great time. My life is so busy that I am excited to make space for blogging. Lately, I’ve felt as if I’ve lost the ability to look forward, to wonder. Does that make sense? I lost that when I stopped blogging. Writing without limitations was an important part of my creativity, and I lost that when I stopped posting on a regular basis. It shows in nearly all of the poems I wrote in 2017.

This is a chance for me to reconnect with writers I love while recapturing a part of myself.
January Gill O’Neil, 2018 Revival Tour

 

I think of blogging as the sweet spot where the lyric essay, scrapbooking, and pen pal letters all come together. A high and low culture of the internet.
Susan Rich, Coming Soon to a Blog Near to You — Or A Blog Far From You~

 

Cleverly, this poem manages both to reject reality and to immerse itself in it. In saying what he wishes, the narrator takes a journey through the harsh reality of a father’s death… and not getting what we need from people in the end. The layers are impressive because in the poem, the father is out of touch with reality. The details in it are spectacular: “plastic shunt sticking out of his skull,” “a tuna sandwich you bought for him in the cafeteria” and “his calloused hands cutting up the beef for the pozole.”
Carolee Bennett, 3 more poems inspiring me right now to write / #amreading #amwriting

 

The poet’s subtle use of anaphora brings us back to the narrator, over and over: I think, I think, I wonder. Wonder itself is reinforced through natural imagery: the sky, planets, moon and mountains. The poem’s shape- short three lined stanzas stacked like waves lapping on a shore- gently alludes to the imagery. And although the poem references a father’s death and family trauma, we aren’t given all the details. Sometimes it’s the withholding of information where the poet lets the most people in.
Lorena Parker Matejowsky, who’s poetry blogging in 2018?

 

Your blood slows, your thoughts turn sluggish and you misplace your phone, despairingly search through the alley trash, raw and pink as any unfurred thing in the snow.

So much ache and sting; this numb, stale freezer burn.

Such a brutal hostage taking: this confessional spill of the body’s most intimate heat and light, this non-consensual vulnerability.
Lee Ann Roripaugh, A Poetics of Cold

 

Presence and attention create a kind of open water, encouraging what is new and not yet known to appear, like a whale spout or gleam. Our attention is wide, up in the crow’s nest, not down at the ship’s wheel, focused ahead. This produces a sense of impending discovery, giving pleasure and satisfaction in the work itself. And our presence is unique; the less distracted we are by false goals, the more likely our seeing will be original, un-beholden. Artists can have confidence, not in the questing, determined self, but in the sea-worthiness of “the craft” that carries us. Process is nearly autonomous. We don’t steer it, we learn to ride it. It’s also a gift, available to everyone, wind to a sail.
Rosemary Starace, Ships at Sea

 

During the dark and difficult times of my life, I try to return to my breath: its pattern, constancy and immediacy help to center me again. The ocean is like that, too, and because of the hours I’ve spent watching it in so many different temperaments and clothings — from the rocky Atlantic shores of Atlantic of New England, to the black volcanic sands of Iceland and the North Atlantic, the shell and sand beaches of Florida, and most recently the very different waters of the Mediterranean — I have new images of ebb and flow, of constancy and immediacy, that I find calming and helpful in the midst of so much that is not. […]

This has been a terribly difficult year for anyone who thinks and feels. I’ve made a conscious decision to limit my time on social media, and watching and reading the news, not only because I find much of the discourse toxic, but because it leads nowhere. We need to be informed and involved, but not to the point of losing ourselves. The bright lights in my life continue to be love, friendship and intelligent, searching conversation, the arts, and nature: I am so grateful for them, and look forward to continuing to find ways to communicate and connect as another year opens up to us. Thank you all for being there, and I wish you all the very best for the new year.
Beth Adams, The Sea at Year’s End

Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

Favorite poetry books of 2016: a crowd-sourced compendium

Don’t you kind of hate those year-end “best of” lists that magazines love to compile? They always seem more about positioning the authors as Serious Culture Critics who are hip to what’s fashionable rather than showcasing potentially over-looked works that they sincerely enjoy. And sure, Luisa Igloria and I could’ve set ourselves up as judges to pick a Top 10 list from among our personal favorites, but I thought it would be more fun to throw it open to poetry lovers at large and ask (here and on Facebook) for mini reviews of your single favorite poetry book from the past year: a new book, an old book, a book in whatever language.

The responses have been wonderfully varied and interesting, and Lord help me I want to read (or in a few cases, re-read) every one of these books right now! I’m presenting them in the order they came in. I haven’t numbered them, lest that imply some sort of ranking, but there are 28 books in all.

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Paradise Lost original coverParadise Lost by John Milton (Samuel Simmons, 1667). I nominate it (short answer) because of the rhythm and concision of the text, but also (long answer) because I read it in a book club with people much smarter than myself, including my daughter. (None of us “believers” — but that maybe made it better.) It reads aloud like Creation itself. We only had two meetings for the book, but they were the best of conversations.
Steven Arnerich

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cover of "Of This World"The single book that’s been among the rotating 10 bedside books of mine — probably for two or three years now — has been Joseph Stroud’s Of This World: New and Selected Poems, from Copper Canyon (2008). Just can’t get enough of it. I came late to Stroud, and this is the first & only book of his I know. It’s hard to generalize about Stroud’s virtues, not just because this book collects decades of work, but also because he’s a master of many forms, themes, and tones. He can do a tight lyric in the mode of the classical Chinese masters, and he can stretch out in longer sequences. I love that he doesn’t either hide or particularly flaunt his erudition. He keeps his eye on the things of this world at all times (I guess you could call him a nature poet), but the things of his world definitely include his wide reading in literature. Anyway, his poems are consistently smart, sharply observant, and gorgeous. One of the few books I’ve bought based on a blurb — in this case a rave from the late Jim Harrison (“I don’t recall when a poet unknown to me has struck me so deeply.”)
David Graham

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cover of Luminous SpacesOlav H. Hauge’s Luminous Spaces: Selected Poems & Journals (White Pine Press, 2016). Why? Because he can see into things in a way that few can. The poems are terrific and journal entries are special.

Tom Montag

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cover of Teaching My Mother How to Give BirthTeaching My Mother How to Give Birth (Mouthmark, 2011) by Warsan Shire. I think this is really only chapbook-length. This is just a superb little book by a London–based Somali poet. These words of hers have already been often quoted:

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Though her experience is particularly hers, her truth is all women, and this is what will make her work last. Beautiful, dangerous, and syntactically diverse, her poems enthrall me, something that I am finding rare these days. “At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.”
Susan Elbe

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cover of The RiverI’d like to recommend The River by Irish poet Jane Clarke (Bloodaxe Books, 2016). It’s a wonderful collection of accessible, musical poems that illuminate daily life. I was lucky enough to meet Jane at the Los Gatos-Listowel Writers Week, held in Los Gatos, California (where I live) in October of this year. Jane’s poems are full of rain, fishermen, farmers and flowers; they seem innocent at first, but pull you into a deeply affecting, emotional undertow. I love lines like “Piebald and skewbald” from “Broken” and “I have known storms that buffer and batter the heart. / I chose a hard bed, bare boards, a bulwark” from “Enclosed.”

This is a book of poems you could give to almost anyone, including people who insist that they don’t like poetry. I return to my copy again and again.
Erica Goss

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Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón (Milkweed Editions, 2015) is full of set-down-the-book-because-you-are-weeping poems. Reading it is to be intimate with the extent to which life — joy, loss, etc. — transforms us every minute. Reading this book is to be stung. There is pain. Specifically, the electrical, intense sort of pain. A physical sensation. It’ll give you goosebumps long after the initial zap, and you’ll be glad for the experience. There’s so much beauty in it.
Carolee Bennett

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Rabbit Rabbit coverThe best poetry book I read this year would have to be Rabbit Rabbit by Kerrin P. Sharpe (Victoria University Press, 2016). I was blown away by the poet’s superb control of language, how she used the surreal to illuminate the world. It is saved from perfection by virtue of hitting the same note every time — but what a note. Though I am a comically slow reader of poetry, I swallowed this whole.

She’s new to me, and I’m now a fan.
Ivy Alvarez

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Seam coverSeam by Tarfia Faizullah (Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry, Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). It’s a beautifully wrought collection that weaves together history and personal narrative with tender attention to craft and form.
Christine Swint

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Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (Copper Canyon Press, 2016).

Beautiful. Raw. Gutting. Luminous.
LouAnn Shepard Muhm

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cover of Saint Aldhelm's RiddlesI’m picking the most unusual (for us, in our day) book of poems I reviewed this year. Here’s the opening of my review, “Riddled with Light,” from a recent issue of First Things: “The riddle of Samson’s strength, the riddle of the eagle’s way with the sky and the ship’s way with the sea, the riddles in royal dreams of Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar, the riddle of things hidden since the world began, the riddle of a temple that can be destroyed and yet rebuilt in three days: riddling runs like a seam of gold through the rock of the Old and New Testaments. The mystery and praise of Creation and sub-creation that we find in the books of the Bible emerge again as bright knowledge in Saint Aldhelm’s Riddles (University of Toronto Press, 2015), poems of the seventh-century Aldhelm, noble and bishop and poet and saint. Translated by poet A. M. Juster from Aldhelm’s Aenigmata, these poems suggest that all things possess a mystery. Salamander and raven, candle and cauldron find their secret wonders revealed in riddle.”
Marly Youmans

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Death Tractates coverOf the many excellent poetry books I read this year the standout was Brenda Hillman’s Death Tractates (Wesleyan, 1992). The title makes it sound like some kind of plodding, ancient tome — and it is suffused with grief — but Hillman puts suffering off to the side to ask questions about existence. It’s gorgeous.

The poems convey death’s mystery, and treat the deceased as if she were still present, only separated a little, and unreachable. The dead woman is often referred to as a bride and she is nowhere and everywhere. The poems aren’t filled with tears or wailing, but with questions and careful wondering. Here’s the start of “Seated Bride”:

She had died without warning in early spring.
Which seemed right.
Now that which was far off could become intimate.

I said to the guides, let’s stand
very close to the mystery
and see how far she’s gone…

One of the best poems is “Much Hurrying,” which begins:

—So much hurrying right after a death:
as if a bride were waiting!

Crocuses sliced themselves out
with their penknives. Everything well made
seemed dead to them: Camelias. Their butcher-
paper pink. The well-made poems

seemed dead to you …

Sarah Sloat

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To The House of the Sun coverThe best poetry book I read this year was To the House of the Sun (S4N Books, 2015), Tim Miller’s epic poem about the travels of an Irish-born Georgian seeking revenge against his own father during the Civil War. Miller contacted me back in the spring because he found me online and thought I might like his work. He was right: To the House of the Sun is a sprawling, strange, deeply moving poem inspired by the the world’s great religious texts and definitely in conversation with them. It’s a difficult, harrowing, inspiring, incantatory book, and I’ve never read anything like it.
Jeff Sypeck

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De Willekeur coverThe book that got to me the most over the last few ye​ars was De Willekeur by Jan Lauwereyns (De Bezige Bij, 2012). It’s a bundle of death and happiness, adversity and cruelty, the paradoxical aspects of human life, which sometimes produce ironic discoveries. But more than the subject it’s the poetic adventure in which Jan Lauwereyns takes us in this particular book full of alternation: pieces of prose (on a seventeenth-century pornographer, for example), epic pieces of text, simple poems, a senile sonnet. The randomness is itself a poetic tsunami that drags you in. It’s poetry about the miserable, great humanity.

In my view Jan Lauereyns is the most exciting writer/poet that we have in Belgium. And he’s an inspiration to me. I created several videos for his poems and his latest novel led me to make an entire EP based on certain lines from the book.
—Marc Neys A.K.A. Swoon

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A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon - New (Soma)ticsA Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)tics by CA Conrad (Wave Books, 2012). I liked the structure, somatic exercises (none of which I have tried at home) followed by the poems they generate. I liked the urgency of the voice moving between rage and laughter. I just like CA Conrad’s wildness, the feeling that he will say anything that needs saying.
Martha McCollough

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The Country Gambler coverThe Country Gambler by Erica McAlpine (Shearsman, 2016). First collection from a UK-based American poet who writes a lot in strict form, both rhymed and unrhymed, and with such skill that it melds entirely with content: sublime, brief evocations of nature, relationships, mood and emotions. A scholar and translator of Horace, her favourite form is Sapphics (see first poem in sample at link).
Jean Morris

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cover of Every Love Story Is an Apocalypse StoryEvery Love Story Is an Apocalypse Story by Donna Vorreyer (Sundress Publications, 2016). This tightly themed full-length collection chronicles a relationship that starts out rocky and seems to have more passion than promise. By itself, that topic might have kept this book in the “seen it before” category, but then a sharp twist pushes the stakes much higher and the collection morphs into something else, a meditation on the indelible but fallible nature of memory and how it bleeds into everything that comes after. Vorreyer’s lean, elegant verse takes occasional leaps into prose poems and hybrid forms, a welcome change of pace, but the book is anchored by her tight, pared-down poems that pay close attention to line length and visuals while wielding powerful language stripped of all but the essentials. This is a book to read in one gulp and then savor again in small pieces.
Amy Miller

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cover of Jane Kenyon's Collected PoemsThe Collected Poems of Jane Kenyon (Graywolf Press, 2007) I’d known “Let Evening Come” and “Otherwise” for a long time but after reading “Let Evening Come” to a women’s group struggling with the election aftermath I decided to dive into the corpus of her work. Two features fascinate me — the similarities in our life paths. Born in 1947. Dealing with severe sadness on and off. The simple work of a gardener to clear the garden and compost. And then, the relationship between titles and subject matter in her poems. I’ve been covering up the titles before I read a poem to guess what she titled it. Every poem takes some sort of twist down to the final lines that surprises me.
Tricia Knoll

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cover of The Book of QuestionsThe best book of poetry I read this year was The Book of Questions, Volume I, by Edmond Jabès, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop (Wesleyan, 1991). In a 1989 LRB review of several books by or about Samuel Beckett, Patrick Parrinder wrote:

…[I.A.] Richards suggested that a good test of a poem’s sincerity would be to meditate for a while on the following topics: 1. Man’s loneliness (the isolation of the human situation). 2. The facts of birth, and of death, in their inexplicable oddity. 3. The inconceivable immensity of the universe. 4. Man’s place in the perspective of time. 5. The enormity of his ignorance. The poem should then be recited, slowly and silently, and, Richards thought, ‘whether what it can stir in us is important or not to us will, perhaps, show itself then.’

The Book of Questions in its entirety passes Richards’s “sincerity” test more definitively than any book of poetry I’ve read in the past decade or so.
—Kuahine Makalapua

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Four Reincarnations coverMax Ritvo, Four Reincarnations (Milkweed Editions, 2016). I don’t read as widely in new poetry as I ought, probably, but this book seems head and shoulders above anything else I’ve read this year. Ritvo’s poetry is a bit like Ocean Vuong’s in that it’s incredibly emotional, vivid, difficult to read simply because of its horrible intensity. But his language is amazingly restrained, precise, almost ordinary. And yet he manages to convey very surreal and strange images through this plain language. It’s the work of a very accomplished writer with an unusually vivid imagination and a surprising sense of humor. Someone I am happy to have inhabiting my mind for an hour at a time.

I do however have to ask myself the uncomfortable question of whether I’d be taking this book as seriously if he hadn’t just died at the age of 25. And the awkward answer is no. I didn’t even hear about Ritvo until the day he died, and everyone who mentions him talks about his early death, so there is no question that his terribly shortened life has amplified the reach of his poetry, as awful as that sounds. I think he knew this, and his writing addresses his terminal illness head on, without pity or melodrama. It doesn’t make it any less awkward for us, his readers, though.

I will be reading and rereading this book for some time, I think.
Dylan Tweney

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Reasons (not) to Dance coverMy favorite poetry read this year was yet another re-read of the poetry chapbook Reasons (not) to Dance by José Angel Araguz (FutureCycle Press, 2015). Other layers of meaning seem to keep unfolding from each poem every time I read through them, each a three-way hybrid of parable, koan, and poem.
Laura L. Kaminski

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cover of bindweed & crow poisonbindweed & crow poison: small poems of stray girls, fierce women by Robin Turner (Porkbelly Press, 2016) reminded me how much I love chapbooks. I’ve been reading mostly full-length collections (some quite wonderful), but I single this one out because it’s the only chap I read this year and it reminded me how much I love these one-sitting collections, so easily reread. I had the pleasure of publishing two of these poems at Gnarled Oak (and nominating one — “bindweed” — for a Pushcart) in 2015, and it was nice to reread them in the context of this beautiful little book. The poems in this collection come mostly from the family of erasure, remix, collage and found poems. They are short and wonderfully open, letting the reader catch glimpses of the stray girls and fierce women of the title. They remind me how much can be said with just the right few words. I will probably reread it a time or two in the coming weeks.
James Brush

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Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude coverAmong the best poetry books I read throughout 2016 (and which I will continue to use in the poetry workshops that I teach, either in part or whole) is Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (Pitt Poetry Series, January 2015). I will return to this book again and again because it reminds me that we should not have to apologize for poetry: for making poetry, for wanting to write poetry, share poetry, read poetry, make poetry out of everyday experience, eat poetry, pluck poems like fruit from a fig tree growing in the middle of the city. And we should not be ashamed to say thank you, to be grateful as we sit in the mud of all of it: for “what do you think/ this singing and shuddering is,/ what this screaming and reaching and dancing/ and crying is, other than loving/ what every second goes away?” The book won several major poetry awards, including the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize.
Luisa A. Igloria

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The Halo coverI read C. Dale Young’s The Halo (Four Way Books, 2016) earlier this year, and I thought it was stunning. It’s the narrative of a young man who has been in a horrible car accident, a young man discovering his sexuality, a young man who finds wings growing out of his body. All of these are true, and the metaphor keeps slipping so that we’re never such what is metaphorical of what. The physicality and music of this book are extraordinary.
Ed Madden

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cover of The Whole Field Still Moving Inside ItThe best book of poetry I read this past year (other than the ones I published!) was Molly Bashaw’s The Whole Field Still Moving Inside It (The Word Works, 2014). The poems, ostensibly about farming and farm life, are of course — as Heaney showed us so convincingly — about life itself, in all its beauty, bewilderment, and violence. I was impressed by Bashaw’s use of language, and deeply moved by her ability to describe but not over-explain, because so much of what she talks about defies explanation or even analysis. She leaves things as they are, but also leaves a great deal of room for the reader. Barshaw grew up on small farms in New England and upstate New York, but graduated from the Eastman School of Music and worked for 12 years in Germany as a professional bass-trombonist — so it’s probably no surprise that her poems resonated with me. She’s young and her work has won a bunch of prizes but that doesn’t matter to me; I certainly wish I had published this first book of hers myself and hope to meet the poet someday so I can tell her.
Beth Adams

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The Black Flower coverI keep re-reading The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems by Natalia Toledo, translated by Claire Sullivan (Phoneme Media, 2015), puzzling over a seamless blend of the wild and the domestic, the real and the surreal; wondering at the understated, even casual assimilation of astonishment; and greatly admiring the fractal-like completeness of the smallest fragments. In a year when indigenous people throughout the hemisphere have mobilized and joined forces like never before in support of the Standing Rock Sioux, poetry such as Toledo’s stands as a reminder of just how diverse and vital literary traditions are in the Americas. (Not to mention ancient: Zapotec culture and writing go back at least 2500 years.) Here’s a bit of an untitled poem:

Fire is reborn on the soil of the earth
a tender leaf sleeps upon my eyelids.
My shadow walks the four paths
content, my skin shivers with ants.
A garden is my house
and the firefly on my back makes me translucent.

—Dave Bonta

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Bodymap coverReading poetry is one of my guilty pleasures. I tend to wander by the poetry section in the local bookstore (Literati) around each payday, and if I miss the bus and have to walk to the bus, well, life has FORCED me to walk past the poetry books, right? Recently (meaning months to years), I’ve been asking the bookstore over and over to stock more diverse poets. I was finding classics, and new books by academically acclaimed poets, and poetry books I’d already read, but was longing for the poems and voices of people of color, women, from other countries, people who are poor, or ill, or disabled, or immigrants, or… well, you get the idea. Diversity. I’d had a tough year, had lost several dear friends, friends who were diverse, so very diverse. I wanted poems that reverberated with experiences that stretched views and minds and hearts.

Then one day I stumbled upon Bodymap by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Mawenzi House, 2015). I felt the electricity shiver through it even before I bought the book. I couldn’t buy it fast enough, and that was just based on the back cover blurb: “Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha sings a queer disabled femme-of-colour love song filled with hard femme poetics.” Oh, yeah, baby, that’s what I need. The book itself did not disappoint. I read it luxuriously, in strict order, as if it was a story and each poem depended on the poems before. I read about terrible, terrible fatigue, and people who get it and don’t judge you for it. I read about growing up poor and colored and with so many cultures around you it becomes confusing to others when you are just being you. I read about hard life, hard sex, “alternative” sex, and vibrators for pain relief. I read about going to the hospital with friends who are afraid. I read about rape, best friends, moving from one country to another. I read about people who look at you, and you know they are afraid of you because you are ‘different,’ whatever that means.

I carried the book with me everywhere for months. I showed poems to people on the bus, in choir rehearsal, at orchestra concerts. I shoved it in their faces, scrambling through the pages, and saying, “Here! Read this! And this one! Isn’t it AMAZING?” I am not quoting from the poems because they are too powerful and too real to section, and squeeze the juice from them. These are poems to read greedily, and carefully. Stuff your mouth and mind full of them, and let the juice run down your chin. Then read another one, peeling it carefully, removing every shred of bitter white, and marveling at the glorious architecture of how each word glistens inside.

I cried, and laughed, and gasped reading this book. I went back and read who commented on the book, who wrote the “Praise for…” sections, and I bought books by all of them. This was a book that opened to me a mature world of poetry like the one I fell in love with as a teenager, when I discovered “Mountain Moving Day” and “Beginning with O” and “Queen of Swords.” This is woman’s poetry that opens a window on lives rarely witnessed in our culture, powerful poetry, poetry for the excluded and marginalized, poetry for those who want or need to bear witness, to understand, to peep inside a life that is unfamiliar in print but oh so very familiar in the lives of my friends and neighbors. I love this book of poetry in a way I haven’t loved a poetry book in many years. I cannot praise it enough.
PF Anderson

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If I Go Missing coverMy pick for the book of my year is Octavio Quintanilla’s debut collection, If I Go Missing (Slough Press, 2014).

The poetry sings true and the matter matters.
Katherine Durham Oldmixon

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Highway Sky by James Brush (Coyote Mercury Press, 2016). It reads like a road movie, and there are film references in it. Diverse poetic forms give a range of rhythmic experiences, like musical variation. The poems evoke nostalgia for a wilder freer time, a time of wrestling demons and coming to a new understanding of life. The tone is serious, at times confessional, and also at times humorous, at others uplifting: many shades as the narrative progresses. Themes of history in the American landscapes traversed are a strong thread in the collection. I love the pared back writing style, which is also somehow rich with detail.

My disclosure of interest in this collection is firstly that I had the pleasure of reading and commenting on the manuscript prior to its publication. I was later also involved in a musical piece and video incorporating one of the poems, ‘God Bless Johnny Cash’. This was possible because James has licensed the whole of ‘Highway Sky’ on a Creative Commons remix license, though he also gave his permission when I contacted him by email. He and I are friends over the net.
Marie Craven
[Click through to the book’s webpage to watch all the videos and listen to the music based on its poems. —Dave]

Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

Remixing Donna Vorreyer’s “Giacometti’s Pears”

Giacometti's Pears thumbnail

Watch on Vimeo.

I made a videopoem this afternoon for Moving Poems based on a text at The Poetry Storehouse, a new site offering “great contemporary poems for creative remix”: in this case, “Giacometti’s Pears” by Donna Vorreyer — one of my favorite poets. I’ve been involved with the Storehouse as an adviser, but I’m as interested as anyone in taking advantage of the remix potential of the works there.

Vorreyer’s own reading, available for download at the Storehouse, struck me as more than adequate, and I combined it with a snippet from a soundscape I found on freesound.org from someone called Deneb al Giedi, who describes it as “one very long deconstructed recording of a string quartet with metallic stereo and echo effects.” For footage, I had the idea of searching the Prelinger Archives for videos of canyons in the American southwest, thinking I might find some sensuous curves to complement the imagery in the poem. Imagine my delight when I found an old home movie that combines wind-sculpted rock with hard angles: Glen Canyon Bridge, from 1958.

This is the tenth videopoem for a text at The Poetry Storehouse. You can watch them all at the group page on Vimeo.

Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).