Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 46

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: Winter is coming without the solace of big family gatherings to look forward to, and hatches real and figurative are being battened down. But amid the grimness of pandemic and political news, new poetry collections are still being released, and the natural world continues to inspire.

While I have your attention, allow me the indulgence of a rare plug for something I’ve just posted myself: How to publish poetry videos in a literary magazine: 20 tips and best practices. Not perhaps the most exciting stuff, but hopefully some will find it helpful.


Tuesday we woke
to high lines
of snow along
the birch limbs
out our bedroom
window.

Two days later
snow has congealed
to slush balls
that fall
to the ground
with thuds.

Frost shadows
rest across grass
and asphalt. Sky
changes mood
from fog
to blue.

They are counting
votes again
in Arizona.
They will
count again
elsewhere.

The country’s
mood changes
from slush
to thud
to fog
to blue.

Sharon Brogan, Snapshot Poem 12 November 2020

The sky is a negative shadow. We walk hurriedly in avoidance of oncoming rain. Our walk snaps our pant legs in an escalating rhythm breaking into a run the last 300 feet as the rain falls straight downward, hard and fast like it’s on steroids. 

Michael Allyn Wells, A Late Afternoon Shower

It’s a gloomy rainy dark day, and our State, Maryland, is going into lockdown again, due to the uptick in COVID cases.

The big convent where I live is almost completely locked down as of today, because one sister and one employee have tested positive.  We’re so afraid of transmitting it to our very frail elderly sisters in their 90’s.   But on this dark afternoon, the place seems like a tomb.

Anne Higgins, Rain all Day

It’s been a gloomy week.  I thought that once we had an answer about the presidential election, I’d feel buoyed.  But instead I just feel worn out.

It’s been gloomy in terms of our weather too.  We’ve had a tropical storm in the metaphorical neighborhood all week, and it’s been a mix of rain and clouds.  Ordinarily I’d like this kind of weather, but when one has flooding worries, it’s a different experience.

There’s been gloomy news about the pandemic as cases increase, and we reach grim milestone after grim milestone. […]

I’ve also spent the week feeling a fierce nostalgia for past times–some of them not very long ago, like our trip to Hilton Head in September or my quilting retreat in October.  I’m fighting off depression each day because I had expected to be looking forward to a family Thanksgiving, but this year, we’re taking the wiser course of action and not gathering in person.

In short, it’s been a week where I’ve felt that progress that I’ve made has been slipping.  I’ve been trying to treat myself gently, trying to convince myself that doing the tasks that need to be done each day is enough.  These are the days when I feel like I should be congratulated for wearing shoes that match my outfit–or for wearing shoes that match.

It seems that the whole world may be feeling the same way.  So I say, congratulations–you’ve got shoes that match, and that’s good enough for days like these.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Credit for Shoes that Match

How long, how long before we remember
these times of distance again, fondly, like a

memory, like an ache, like a fervent prayer?
Winter will come, with its lantern light and

unfeeling skies, winter will come like a train
on a moonless night, as if nothing ever happened.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Like an ache, like a fervent prayer

I seem to have finally settled in and have figured out how to spend my time and not lose my mind. It helps that I’m working on a new poetry project — I’ll announce it soon but it has to stay under wraps for just a little while longer. This new project has been a great way to channel my energy. I also saw a therapist for a while, specifically to deal with the despair and anxiety I was feeling – partly due to the pandemic, partly due to the election, partly due to my father’s health. Talking to a professional helped me work through some of that and get to a place where I was better mentally.

And now, it appears a lockdown is coming. Several cities have already imposed restrictions on movement and I predict more are coming. While this is hard, especially on those of us who are extraverts, I do think it’s necessary. Because we all want this pandemic to end. I want to be able to see my best friend and hug her. I want to host a dinner party. I want to attend a poetry reading in person, as opposed to on Zoom. I want to eat in a restaurant. In short, I want life to return to normal. But we’re not there yet. So until then, and until another lockdown occurs, I’m sticking to my now very familiar routine. There’s simply nothing else I can do.

Courtney LeBlanc, Rinse & Repeat

Today’s release reading for my new chapbook was such a gift. I got to read alongside students, peers, and mentors in a Zoom room full of friends, family, and former strangers. Most of the reading is available for viewing on YouTube now.

I never expected that such a joyful event would come from my little chapbook of deep grief, but getting to weave my words together with work by each of these wonderful poets was amazing.

Thank you to all who read with me and worked behind the scenes to make this possible. Thank you to the 100+ people who attended too. This poet feels very celebrated and grateful today.

Visit this page to find out more about 28,065 Nights.

Katie Manning, 28,065 Nights Release Reading

My mother and I had a complicated relationship. Over the first 43 years of my life we adored each other; we argued with each other; we delighted each other; we disappointed each other. Just now I had to look at a calendar to remind myself how old I was when Mom died: sometimes it feels like she’s been gone for a long time, and sometimes it feels like she’s still here. 

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time at all, you know that I’m an external processor. I “write my way through the hurricane.” (Thanks, Lin-Manuel.) In rabbinical school I wrote Torah poems week after week. When I miscarried, I wrote poems as I sought healing. During my son’s first year of life I wrote weekly poems chronicling his changes… and mine.

How else could I possibly respond to my mother’s death? I keened and grieved and wept — and wrote. When I was in my MFA program in my early 20s, she didn’t like some of my poems; they felt too revelatory. Would she find these poems too intimate to be shared? I shared early drafts here anyway, because I needed to send the words out: into the world, if not to her.

Many of you wrote to me saying that the poems spoke to you and mirrored your experiences of loss. Over the course of the eleven months between her death and her unveiling, I wrote my way through how grief was changing me, and changing in me, until I reached the far shore of that particular sea. I will never cross it in that same way again, because one’s mother only dies once.

And then, after the year was over, I sat down with a trusted friend and editor and asked: are these poems worth publishing in a less ephemeral form? Beth helped me see how the poems could be improved, and what was missing from the collection, and how to make the book more than the sum of its parts. This book is far better for her editorial hand, and I am grateful.

I am fiercely proud of this book of poems. It is a tribute to Mom, and a testament to how much she shaped me (and continues to shape me). It’s a reminder that relationships can continue after death, and that time’s alchemy brings subtle shifts. It’s personal, because our relationship was only ours… and I think it’s universal, too, because we all have mothers, and we all know loss.

If you knew Liana Barenblat, I hope you’ll find her here. And if you didn’t know my mom, I hope you’ll find in these poems echoes of your own relationships, and maybe a roadmap for the mourner’s path, that complex journey of grief and love, loss and healing. I’m so thankful to Beth Adams at Phoenicia for bringing this book to press, and for her cover art, which I love.

Rachel Barenblat, Crossing the Sea

In Vanishings, from Palewell Press (2020) skilled writer Rebecca Gethin uses poetry to show us at-risk-of-extinction creatures in the U.K. — large and small and in-between — species that we may never see ourselves or even have known of their existence. […]

Elly: Although each of the poems can be enjoyed on its own, there is obviously an overall theme to the collection. Would you go even further and say you have a purpose, intended message?

Rebecca: I have long felt that nature is slipping away from us. I have kept a nature/weather notebook for at least 25 years, recording weathers and sightings and I know that cuckoos and swallows return to this place earlier than before, that some plants flower at different times from 20 years ago.

In this book I wanted to explore transience and break down the reasons for it happening in the UK for myself. To look at in the face. I don’t plan things in advance so when I started out I didn’t know it would be a book. As with my two novels, I start writing and hope it will cohere. I was lucky that after I had written about ten poems Camilla Reeve at Palewell Press said she would publish them as a pamphlet. But after a while the idea grew like grass and became bigger than that. This early acceptance gave me permission to approach naturalists and ask questions of them which I wouldn’t have found that easy if I was just writing a poem.

The idea behind each poem was initially to find out what made each creature so vulnerable…there is a range of reasons why extinctions are happening. It isn’t just one. I found that sometimes it’s their very specific habitat that is threatened like the water vole in Backwater or the willow-tit in Calibration of Loss; sometimes it’s the requirements of their complex life-cycle like the Marsh Fritillary in Instar: sometimes their diet is now in short supply like the greater horse-shoe bats in Glints in the Echoes or the cuckoos in Natural Selection; sometimes its dependency on another rare creature as in the Large Blue poem, Charm. My aim was to explore the creatures’ lives and try to capture it a little in words. I didn’t want to shy away from scientific words and didn’t worry if all readers wouldn’t be familiar with them if it felt like the most suitable word. I also wanted facts to sing and so I deliberately walked a very delicate line.

One rule I imposed upon myself was that I should see and experience the creature in real life and I shouldn’t just write from watching videos. So I saw (almost) everything in this book. I didn’t see the corncrake but I would have done if Lockdown 1 had not prevented me from travelling to Orkney. I think seeing the creature gives writing more of a spark. It certainly meant that I fell deeply in love with every creature I wrote about for this book.

No, there was no “message” planned, other than Look at This! I love taking photos and take my camera everywhere. I think the urge to write the poems was the same …to catch the fleetingness. I also wanted to investigate and see as much as possible what lies below the surface. The facts are often far stranger than any fiction.

E.E. Nobbs, Notes on Rebecca Gethin’s Vanishings

As the release of this book baby edges closer and closer, I’ve been thinking about the process of writing it and the strange journey it encompasses. Most of it was written in early to mid 2018. The first section was the hunger palace:  a beast of a series that sometimes is rough to read. Starting tenuously while my mother was hospitalized, the bulk of it came out like blood flow over my holiday break from the library.  I remember writing and freezing–a cold snap that made my apartment chillier than usual, so much so that even the space heater was failing me.  Free of daily obligations of work and commuting, I would move back and forth from my bed, where it was warmest, to my desk in the living room and then back to bed. The entire series was super rough and needed much more work than other parts of the book.  plump for example, written for our library Grimm project came rather quickly and easily and were urged on by the accompanying visual images. the science of impossible objects  had been an idea for a long time before I put pen to paper–the imaginary daughter–but when I did, progress through them happened swiftly at a time when I was writing daily. swallow was a little more drawn out, but again, it seems to be the case the more personal and raw the impulse behind the poems.  the summer house, which took it’s inspiration from the visual pieces, and is more an allegory about childbearing and changelings was, comparatively, a breeze. 

I’ve often said certain obsessions tend to begin constellating work around them.  Suddenly, the puzzle comes together. Suddenly, it was conceived (no pun intended) a book about mothers and daughters, about their bodies and the legacies we inherit from women in our bloodline. About body issues and growing up female. About the choice to be childless as a woman and what that means from a mythical and literal standpoint.  As someone who does not identify as a mother to anything but books , it’s a bit tilted a perspective–the idea of the artist giving birth to changelings and imaginary children is an apt metaphor for creation perhaps. And also, a book about grief, about working through the grief of losing a mother and all those motherless girls of myth and fairytale. (the line in hp “I’ve killed more mothers than I’ve revived.”) 

I’ll be finishing up the design aspects in the coming week and aiming for a December release (it will be available on Amazon as a print and an e-book eventually) and also going out to books & objects series subscribers via Patreon. 

Kristy Bowen, feed

There was a very interesting article this week, “On Poets and Prizes,” by Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young, at the ASAP journal. It talked about the fact that, though some of us might prefer to think of the poetry world as a meritocracy, it is mostly a function of a small “in-crowd” of Ivy League types giving prizes to their friends, and only their friends. The charts and graphs alone are worth a look. Data-driven poetry information. Since poetry receives so little attention in America – and so few sales – the poetry prize decides whether a writer is read – or ignored. And most of this is nepotistic – highly nepotistic. More than you thought, if you already thought it was.

It is hard, as I have posted the last two weeks on the blog, to make a living as a poet. If you did not come from a family with money, didn’t go to the “right” schools, never ran with the “right” poetry in-crowds, it’s going to be even tougher. I mourn having to say this, especially to younger poets with more enthusiasm and optimism than I had (I was always a little cynical.) If you don’t go to Iowa for your MFA, you don’t go to New York City and the right parties, you are probably never going to get the big prizes or the big fellowships. Which means, you probably won’t be read. The data presented in the article is fairly convincing.

But…it does happen – and I know people who it has happened for, who were lucky, who just on the merit of their work and their hustle, did make it. I am so happy to know that such poets exist.  Publishers, from time to time, present terrific work by people from “nowhere,” who don’t have money or go to prestigious schools, and their work finds not only an audience, but good reviews and accolades and yes, prizes. Am I likely to be one of the lucky ones? Are you? The odds, as the article makes clear, may not be in our favor. But there is something honorable about writing, publishing, continuing to offer the work to the world, isn’t there?

If we are Katniss Everdeen and the Poetry World is the Hunger Games, how do we start to break the game, the in-crowd, nepotistic, odd-are-never-in-our-favour  system? Do we want to? How do you choose which poetry books to read, or decide which book is good and worthy of your time? How do you choose which book to review?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Poem Up at Verse Daily, Rough Week, And On Poets And Prizes

My poetry students are also expanding their sense of freedom on the page. One even articulated something at the core of my teaching in her own words: “The duality of the lines relates back to our class discussions of how behind every mark on the page, there has to be strong intent by the writer.” I say the core of my teaching–perhaps I mean the core of what I aspire to in my work on and off the page. Finding intent, of life and of each poem, that’s the mission.

Speaking of my poetry students, I am excited to be doing the work of expanding what a creative writing workshop can be. One resource that’s helped a lot was this essay by Beth Nguyen who breaks down the value of allowing a writer to speak during workshop. I tried and, well, wouldn’t you know, a writer smiled in workshop and all writers learned as well. It was something special to be a part of.

Lastly, check out this poem by Jessica Salfia made from the first lines of emails received during quarantine. That she was able to compose this by April of this year shows how quick we are to language, and how quick language is away from us.

José Angel Araguz, unsilencing in these times, ha

I read two fantastic poetry books this month. The first was Catrachos by Roy G. Guzmán, whose work always makes me feel awash in rich, vibrant language. Described as being “part immigration narrative, part elegy, and part queer coming-of-age story,” this stunning book blends pop culture and humor with cultural experience to provide a powerful and riveting collection of poems. I recently interviewed Guzmán about their new book, which will appear on the New Books in Poetry podcast soon.

Sarah J. Sloat’s Hotel Almighty is a gorgeous collection of erasure poetry, using the pages of Stephen King’s Misery.  Each of the pages combines evocative poetry with the visual treat of vibrant collage art. Some examples of her can be found at Tupelo Quarterly.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: October 2020

Vancouver poet jaye simpson’s book-length poetry debut is it was never going to be okay (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2020), a collection of first-person lyric performance and prose poems on trauma, queer and Indigenous identity, love and sex, family, belonging and being. These poems are emotionally raw, unflinching, revealing and erotic, working up to an appreciation of the queer and Indigenous body and self, even as simpson’s narrator works through the trauma of foster care and intergenerational trauma. “i have swallowed / wildfire flame,” they write, as part of “her. (ii.),” “arnica cardifolia, / pleaded for her to leave these hollowing bones— / bit off more than i could chew [.]” Through their poems, simpson does far more than attempt to write themselves into being: to attempt to write themselves through and beyond the worst elements of trauma and into acknowledgement, as they write in “haunting (a poem in six parts”: “i was taught by wooden spoon / that children were seen & not heard / my pale flesh must’ve been reminder / that i was burden & beast / all in one.” This book works through some difficult material, clawing its way into being. “his sweat is / pabst blue wribbon / & dispensary dust,” they write, in “r e d,” “i feel the ridged scar on his right clavicle / trace the tattoo on the lower abdomen of this narrow-hipped boy / this closeness is as near / to being wanted / as i know [.]”

rob mclennan, jaye simpson, it was never going to be okay

I was saddened to hear the news earlier this week of the passing last Friday of David Cobb.

It’s fair to say that the overwhelming majority of haibun, haiku, tanka and renga poets in the UK may well not have become addicted to haikai forms without the enthusiasm and organisational ability of David Cobb. […]

Although many other people knew David better than I did, he and I were irregular correspondents for years and I was always delighted to see him. Aside from his writing, what I will remember most about David are his kindness, humility, good humour and that rare gift of being able to bring diverse people together in an inclusive and generous manner.

Here is one of David’s best-known haiku, remarkable still for its fresh, immediate synaesthesia:

a moment between
lighthouse flashes
cold smell of fish

A lesser poet than David might’ve chosen to omit ‘a moment’, which, on the face of it, appears superfluous, but that would’ve considerably weakened the power of this masterpiece. Whilst less is generally more in haiku, here a little bit more is definitely more: those two words enable a visual and sonic pause at the end of line one which enhances the surprise of the second line; and it also enables a subtle repetition in ‘cold’ of the ‘o’ sound in ‘moment’, which helps to knit the poem together. That lesser poet might also have been tempted to shove a definite article before ‘cold’, but, again, that would’ve been ruinous because that absence draws the maximum impact out of ‘cold’, and out of the monosyllabic incantation of the last line.

Matthew Paul, David Cobb, 1926-2020

As a project to occupy me, I decided to use each section in a multi-sectioned poem I wrote as inspiration to make a monoprint, then I figured I’d write the poem section on each print.

But my writing is terrible, some of the sections were really long which meant I’d get impatient with writing them out and inevitably make a mistake (would that be interesting, the cross-outs?), the ink obscured too many words (did I want them obscured? Would that be interesting?) so I decided to just write a fragment of the poem on each print. 

I’m happy with the prints but the words disappoint me. Wasn’t it enough that the poem inspiration was in the DNA of the visual piece? Or is it my poem? Is it the fragments I chose? Is it that words and text have, to my mind, a problematic relationship — reminiscent as they can be of sentimental cards or cartoons? What am I looking for in this pairing? Should I have left visual enough alone? 

I took a dive into what other people were up to with visual poetics. For example, I found an issue of Indianapolis Review that was devoted to visual poetics, plus some other journals like crtl+v often have visual poems of some sort, and Tupelo Quarterly which often has interesting work of various sorts. I was looking for examples that really gave me a zing, the sense of “yes, THIS is what it can be.” 

I found lots of fun stuff, but I’m not sure I have yet found what I’m looking for. There’s a lot of collage with ransom-note style pasted-on lines of text. Often the text is brief, aphoristic, or enigmatic, which is okay, I guess, but not greatly of interest to me. Some people are using full poems, which I appreciated. But then I have to ask what the visuals do for the poem — is there something expressed in the comparison/contrast? Or is it just fun? And after I while I got tired of the ransom-note look and crazy juxtaposition of images ripped out of magazines or old textbooks. There’s a lot of it going on. Often the text and what it conveys is less compelling than the mish-mosh of visual, and I guess, being a reader and writer, I want the text to have more heft, to be more “privileged,” if you will. 

There’s some work with embroidery that’s kind of interesting. Sometimes sheer excess is interesting, but it’s not something I can or want to emulate. A LOT of stuff is going on with erasure. Again, some of it is interesting. But it’s not erasure I’m looking for.

Marilyn McCabe, Shadoobee shattered shattered; or On Text and Image

My closest friend is always rebuking me for forgetting or misremembering stuff. I’m talking to him later on and I fully expect to be reminded of some detail from our shared past I’ve not remembered.

I don’t know about Eugene (He’s not called Eugene, by the way), but I pretty certain I’m missing a gene that allows me to remember things. I struggle to recall e.g. the scores of football matches from ten years ago (eg Ah, yeah that game where Eddie McGoldrick scored a glancing header in the 94th minute to clinch the game, etc*), or, for that matter, what i was going to say when is started this post. Did I come in here for my slippers? I don’t have slippers, so why would I do that?

I also struggle to remember poems or lines of poetry. I’d be dreadful if ever asked what’s your favourite poem, etc. I’m not saying the work of people that I’ve read is not memorable, I absolutely love it when I’m reading it and the sense of what I’m reading stays with me, but the actual lines are trickier. Even my own work is often a blur (and that’s possibly for the best). Is this the internet and the like making my short term memory rubbish? Who knows, but I’m pretty sure it was shocking before the internet became mainstream.

(Yes, I am old enough to remember this time…Flo is incredulous about this when I tell her. It wasn’t around when I was school or University for that matter, but I can remember using it for book orders after that when I worked at Bertram’s. Better stop with the brackets now)

Anyhoo, imagine my surprise this week when a poem came straight to mind, albeit not the actual lines immediately, but let’s not quibble.

Mat Riches, Theme From Magnetto

I have no actual memory
of its taste— rough bit of roast
meat from the beast’s mouth,
severed by my father with glee
and put into my own to suck
as I flailed in the white sack
of baptism clothes. What
possessed our kin to think
the gift of words, of brave
speech, might come out
of some magic rite of transfer
from this animal that once
rooted in the mud, grunting in-
decipherable syllables
all night?

Luisa A, Igloria, Tongue

With a potential Biden presidency, there has been much excited talk about dogs returning to the White House. The absolute last thing I care about is a presidential dog. A presidential dog does not interest me in the least. While I don’t understand them, I respect non-dog people for realizing that they are not dog people and not obtaining dogs. It’s also not lost on me that no one is ever excited about the prospect of a presidential cat. For some reason, cats are always under suspicion as being vaguely un-American. They do not care about your agenda and they don’t put up with your crap. With cats, the onus is on you to be curious, to reach out, to offer respect, to be patient. Cats don’t need humans in the same way as dogs do, and humans take deep offense to this. But earning the respect of cats yields great rewards. And cats are the purview of writers (who are also under constant suspicion of being vaguely un-American) perhaps because they are calm, they respect silence, naps, and boundaries, and they always have other options besides you. Presidents are mandated to have dogs. Everyone understands loyalty and happy tail-wagging. Cats make you work for it, and that does not provide the instant emotional crack that a dog does.

Kristen McHenry, Pajama Day, Judgey Bird, Dogs in the White House

moody lighting
who’s missing?
wake up!

it’s in my head
but it’s harder
to remember who I was

blindly sleepwalking
into the next episode
on the thousandth of March

Ama Bolton, ABCD November 2020

They say we’ve consumed the Kool-Aid of our tainted history.

That we’re caught in a matrix of endlessly repeating fake tricks.

That we’re abracadabraless when it comes to sprouting wings to soar towards new freedoms.

The list goes on and on.

Guess you can say blackbirds have at least shown us a little mercy by stopping at 12 + 1—a baker’s dozen of observations. Hot contemplation, fresh outta the oven.

Blackbirds don’t care how many ways we look at them. They’re soul shapers, song makers, dream shakers.

Blackbirds don’t need to color themselves anything other than what they are to be considered pure poetry.

Rich Ferguson, Blackbirds got 13 ways of looking at us

You probably know this quote from a Williams Carlos Williams poem: “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” The word “news” suggests politics as well as missives from the mind and spirit. That’s great, but I also want it to include the wall-busting personal stuff sometimes derided as blabbing, tattling, chinwagging, and nosyparkering, all of which sometimes constitutes whistleblowing and the glue of sustaining friendships. My love of whispers comes from the poet in me, and also from my history in a messed-up family, where secrets festered. Secrets can poison your life. Luckily, they can also metamorphose into fierce literature.

Writing prompt: write a gossipy poem. Optionally, include a whisper, a fence, and a whistle.

This distinction is probably on my mind because I’m trying to dial down my obsessive consumption of political news. Election week sucked, as I’m guessing you noticed. Clicking vote counts every five minutes, I didn’t sleep, picked up a cold, endured a nosyparker nasopharyngeal swabbing, waited anxiously for a different kind of information, and ended Monday singing the “I don’t have Covid” song. At the same time, I started exchanging daily poems with a group founded by a long-distance friend. We don’t comment except for occasional appreciation and encouragement; we just write and share. It feels good to be drafting poems again–most of them pondering secrets–as well as to eavesdrop on others through the frank privacy of their poem drafts.

Lesley Wheeler, Gossip, news, & poems

Today is sort of a sad/glad day, dark and cold outside, with a wind advisory. When I checked the weather app on my phone, the expected precip was…ice. 

I congratulate all those people who put up their holiday decorations during our warm spell! I am pulling out interior decorations gradually, and I am glad I planted that tiny tree in a pot to decorate with blackberry lily seeds and leftover earrings. Every little bit helps. My chalkboard poem for today is “Sad/Glad,” about my children. When I walk into my daughter’s room now, I flip the light switch to turn on her string of tree lights left behind…

Sad/Glad

I walk into the rooms
of my children

who won’t be coming home
for the holidays.

I am glad
they are alive.

Kathleen Kirk, Sad/Glad

Normally, gift-giving feels like nothing but a chore, and I find myself resenting it—which is about the opposite of what gift-giving is supposed to be. This year, I’m enjoying thinking about what I can give each person I’m not going to see. I want them to have something that tells them I love them and am thinking about them and want to care for them. I want them to feel my presence, even though I’ll be far away.

In previous years, seeing anything smacking of Christmas before Thanksgiving set my teeth grinding, but this year, two weeks out from Thanksgiving, I’m ready to clear out the pumpkins and bring in greenery and lights and peppermint hot chocolate. You want to put your tree up right now? More power to you. Do whatever makes you feel good.

Rita Ott Ramstad, ‘Tis the season

Most birds possess the power of flight, something humans have longed for and envied forever, inventing angels and airplanes to mimic birds. Macdonald’s essay on swifts’ vesper flights describes how the birds rise in flocks up to the top of the convective boundary layer, where the wind flow’s determined not by the landscape but by “the movements of large-scale weather systems.” The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (one of my favorite informational sites!) suggests the swifts–not intellectually, but somehow as a group–orient themselves using the many-wrongs principle:

That is, they’re averaging all their individual assessments in order to reach the best navigational decision. If you‘re in a flock, decisions about what to do next are improved if you exchange information with those around you…Swifts have no voices, but…they can pay attention to what other swifts are doing.”

Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights

We have voices; and yet we are not, in general, so good as the swifts at paying attention. Perhaps because there are too many voices shouting so loudly that the information gets confused. The sheep-following fashion of thinking goes with whoever’s most noisy, we follow; that way lies error. Paying attention and using a many-wrongs principle means we have to be willing to change course when new information arrives. It requires a certain humility that, let’s face it, most of us lack.

Ann E. Michael, Complicated distress

How do you wish to proceed? I know I don’t want to argue with the world. I want to learn to speak differently. I want to make a humble effort.

I want joy rather than complaint. There’s a poem by Dorothea Lasky that begins, “Some people don’t want to die / Because you can’t complain when you’re dead.” Which always makes me laugh. I’m not above complaining, loooord knows. But I’m going to redouble my efforts to just work harder, instead. Which is Joan Didion’s advice:

“Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.”

Which shouldn’t be so tricky this winter of our pandemic.

Shawna Lemay, This Winter of Our Pandemic

I think the thing that has surprised me most about my grief is how exhausting it is. There have been days when I felt I was coming to terms with it, when I understood its patterns, began to see shape in them, even coherence. I fooled myself into thinking we may even have come to some sort of understanding.

Those days are over now. The grief has no interest in coming to an understanding with me, no interest in letting me in on its plans, coupled to zero awareness of the damage it is doing to my sleep, my eating, my reading, not to mention my ability to concentrate and remember even the most rudimentary parts of my job.

I am officially exhausted. I wave the white flag. OK, grief, you win. What now? I cuddle the dog, get lost on a walk, phone the rat man, try to look at some James Schuyler, book the rat man, attempt a prayer, then collapse onto the sofa. I am trying to find holiness in all this mess, but it is hard, hard, hard. And it isn’t going away. It is hard.

Anthony Wilson, A holiness to exhaustion

There are days I feel broken. Worn so thin that I crumbled like an old rubber band someone dug out of the bottom of a junk drawer.

I always assumed the Beckett quote, “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” was from Waiting for Godot. I figured it was the clown with the bladder issues. Maybe the existential truth in this utterance requires no context at all. It is every story ever written.

This morning we were out of the house an hour later than usual. We caught the first blush of sunrise and passed four men out on their own morning run. We passed them twice actually, and the second time there was enough light to catch one of them smiling. He said, “God morgen!” a second time, and with such enthusiasm that my first thought was that he can’t possibly be Norwegian.

My second? That the other men in his company were psychiatric nurses from the nearby assisted living center.

I’m quite serious. This kind of extroverted greeting of a stranger is anti-social behavior in this region. And I began to brood on this, and then on my still-peculating fears for what is happening in my homeland. The hostility. The splintering of culture, the splintering of sub-cultures.

I keep thinking of colony collapse disorder. Adults losing the ability to navigate in the world.

This morning, counting on the exhalations: 1, 2, 3, 4. Relax the shoulders… I stopped to tie my laced that had worked loose, and I thought of Beckett and of recognizing the universal condition of human beings without cultural context.

Yes.

But there is also this:

“God morning!”
An unrestrained smile.

Context is always an understanding –
and always a speculation.

First thought is already
a rationalization
of the past.

Ren Powell, What it Means to Be in the Moment This Morning

Farewell, Western Black Rhino.
Horned and rather nearsighted,
I have relatives like that. Indeed,
If one looks at just the skull,
There is a human quality there.
The Western Black Rhino, extinct.
Birds warned them when danger approached,
But in the end the dangers outnumbered the birds.
What can you do?
I wonder now if got it lonely toward the end,
With the last of the great animals wandering about,
Seeking out their kinfolk,
Just wanting to see a friendly face.
And then the final one,
The last Western Black Rhino,
Perhaps knowing the poachers were out there,
A bird screeching at the sound of human footsteps,
And the last beautiful creature just waiting,
Not even caring anymore,
Preferring death to the endless loneliness.

James Lee Jobe, affirm life and honor interdependence

I wanted a cheap fix, a release, an anything
but the present thing, a veering from catastrophe

and know as the wind blows
there is no quick fix

but jeez, how little is granted, how stingy reality, 
how it seeps its goodness, 

what a frustrating partner is reason, seeming
other to my others, I tear my hair out

so I too began to dance, to shake off the tick
to make it make sense, I turned 

the snow globe on its head, I spun the disk, 
shook the paradigm, I know in my bones 

it is good nonetheless.

Jill Pearlman, Release

i write and it calls itself
nothing.
it’s not even an anagram
of a teapot pouring the steeped
and the stirred,
the dark or the golden.
i drink it with a cake stand;
outside the hail sheets down
and the leaves swirl autumn.
the blanket draws closer,
the blotting is done.

Jim Young, poetry they say it is

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 33

Poetry Blogging Network

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

It’s the season of molting and early migration in the northern hemisphere, so it seemed fitting this week that so many poets were blogging about change, healing, transformation and flux. And most people seem to be back from vacations, so this is a very full digest. Enjoy.


David Bowie famously invites us–or exhorts us–to turn and face the strange. Necessary, especially during times people are wishing things were as they used to be. Change seems a stranger. We don’t want it at our door.

Facing change presents challenges and requires confronting fears. No wonder people resist; yet change is all there is. Without it, not even death (which is all about change). Just stasis. Not-life instead of no-life; un-life.

For now, a break from blogging, from submitting poems to journals, from sending out my latest attempt at a manuscript, from attending readings and conferences and workshops. I might say “it’s all too much” under current circumstances, but the reasons are more complicated and center around transitions of the not-writing kind.

In time, knowing the way my writing process occurs, these transitions will lead to more writing. More poems. Lots of process.

Meanwhile. I’m in the woods. I’m in the garden. I’m even (I think) going to be in the classroom. But it will all look different.

Ann E. Michael, Break/change

For someone who loves the countryside and nature as much as I do, staying in the city this summer has been a real stretch. Usually we would go to the U.S. to visit my father and spend time at the lake, but the border is closed to non-essential travel, and even if we did it, such a trip would mean a month of strict quarantine – two weeks on either side. Staying in hotels or B&Bs seems risky, so overnights away haven’t really been considered. I’ve never been so grateful to live near a large city park, or to have a fairly private terrace that I could fill with plants.

For several weeks, we’ve been working very hard to clean our studio of everything we’re not going to need. This has meant sorting through possessions, tools, supplies, equipment, and the work of our whole professional and creative lifetimes. It’s a huge, heavy, and sometimes emotional task that felt almost overwhelming at the beginning, but after steadily putting in several hours a day, day after day, we’re getting there. We’ve sold or given away a lot, recycled or thrown out the rest, and are gradually getting down to the core of what we want and need to keep for the next period of our lives. As you can perhaps imagine, doing this in the middle of a pandemic, very hot weather, and the current worldwide political and social crises has contributed to a roller-coaster of moods, from frustration to encouragement, that we’ve managed with as much equanimity as we could. However, we’ve really needed some breaks, and those are coming now in the form of day trips out of the city.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 36: Out of the City

These unplanned detours – which often seem to occur to me in August – derail my writing, my meager (during the plague, especially) life plans. But today I talked to a poet friend, my little brother, and caught up with my parents – a nice way to re-enter the human world, not the suspended animation of the medical care world. The dream (or nightmare) world of IVs and fever, of blood work and doctor exams.

Like going to and fro from the underworld, we need companions to help us re-arrive in the land of the living in one piece, recovering our spirits and reviving our bodies. […]

Have you been watching the falling stars each night at midnight? I’ve been standing on my back porch, drawn to the red glow of Mars on the horizon, once in a while catching the quick winking of a falling star, wishing and wondering if I should even bother wishing. Is it naïve or child-like for me to even make wishes?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Detours – a Week In and Out of the Hospital, Dahlias, and Feeling a Little Down While Wishing on Stars

Sometimes what we want to happen
doesn’t happen: fruit doesn’t ripen,
the ferns unexpectedly die,
what we see in front of us looks
nothing like we imagined it would.
We expect to heal. We don’t.
We go back over what was said,
what was done to us, what
we lost or gave away. We cry,
Where is the justice in the world?
Listen. In the small hours just as
dark gives way to dawn, a single
bird we have never heard before,
may never hear again, and in that
one rare moment we are saved.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Listen

I am now a person who burns incense. According to many, this makes me some kind of hippy. According to the product packaging, I’m opening up to warmth and sensuality (patchouli), wealth and riches (red ginger) and sanctuary (French lavender). My own sense of what’s happening is that I’ve been craving ritual, the idea of transforming ordinary moments into sacred spaces and the practice of envisioning — and honoring — what I want my life to look like.

I’ve considered trying it for years, but some old voices (parental? patriarchal?) held me back. Even though I burn candles most days, incense seemed a step too far. Whatever that means. Is it even a big deal? It’s not. It just had baggage for me — spiritual connotations I had no right to, stereotypes that didn’t apply, a self-consciousness that plagues me about so many things, other people’s ideas about who I am and what I do and don’t do.

But here’s to letting all that, and more, go.

Because for as long as the fragrance hangs in the air, I find my breath, which is something my Very Good Therapist keeps trying to help me do.

That breath — intentional, slow, deep — allows me to sit with things that I’d otherwise rush past to avoid feeling. Other times, it helps me pause when I’m feeling things too much and may be at risk of spinning out. Either way, it restores a kind of balance that so often evades me and helps to erase (even briefly) the micro-traumas that arise on any given day. Instead of white knuckling anxieties, I try to imagine safety, peace, abundance, expansiveness. I try to mother myself: Here, right now, you’re OK. You are capable. You have the wisdom and strength you need.

Carolee Bennett, august, green & undeserved

I came across this poem one evening noodling on the internet when I had nothing better to do.

I was having one of my periodic bouts of Poetry Exhaustion. I was convinced I would never again come across a poem that would move me and that my entire library of poetry was worthless. I may even have persuaded myself that my twenty-five-year-plus dedication to poetry had been worthless and that a career change was in order, banking say.

Like so many of my Lifesaving Poems I heard the poem before I read it, on this occasion via a YouTube clip of August Kleinzahler reading it at a prize-giving ceremony.

As I say, I was in the doldrums at the time, with no hope or expectation of anything resembling a poem ever coming into my life again.

Then bam, the tired, weary, slightly let’s-get-to-the-bar-already voice of August Kleinzahler reading a poem about a Toronto Twilight by a woman I had never heard of, began to still my breathing. Then stop it altogether.

I am sure there was something about the combination of the tiredness I was feeling and the exhaustion in Kleinzahler’s delivery that made me take notice. That, and the deceptively simple opening line: ‘Three minutes ago it was almost dark.’ Something about those short, declarative sentences, the way they innocently purport to paint a picture whilst carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders: ‘But the sky itself has become mauve./ Yet it is raining./ The trees rustle and tap with rain.’

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Poems: Margaret Avison’s ‘Twilight’

The idea of poetry as healing is one that is easily romanticized. This romanticizing comes often with an air of distance: poetry as balm after the fact of hurt. However, there is another facet to healing, one rawer and more immediate, that poetry can tap into. Poetry as stitches being sewn; as open wound learning to close and scar. Through the dynamic lyricism found throughout Laura Cesarco Eglin’s latest collection, Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals (Thirty West Publishing House, 2020), we come across a poetic sensibility reaching for this latter intersection between the poetic act and healing.

When the speaker of “Melanoma Lines,” for example, shares with the reader “I know / how to listen to what’s not ready,” it is a statement that brings the reader closer to her experience. To know how to “listen” is to know what to listen for, to forge, in this case by necessity, an awareness. Later, in the same poem, the speaker gives an idea of the cost of this knowing:

I smelled myself being burned.
Cauterized, they said, as if I
didn’t know how to detect euphemisms

José Angel Araguz, microreview & interview: Life, One Not Attached to Conditionals by Laura Cesarco Eglin

I’m puzzling over a poem and indeed it feels like a puzzle. Jigsaw maybe, as I try pushing pieces against each other and they resist or yield. Or remember Tangrams? You got a set of shapes and were challenged to fit them together to make different forms.

In this poem, the last line was bothering me. It felt thumpy, like, “OKAY HERE IS WHAT THIS POEM IS ABOUT.”

And yet it seemed important in its own way, so it occurred to me to repurpose it as the title instead of the last line.

Okay, but that left the former second to last line just dangling there, insufficient. So I started shifting groups of lines around, swapping sections, turning sentences around, flip-flopping the images and ideas of the poem, starting in the middle, starting toward the end, restarting from the beginning I had started with.

I know the incredible satisfaction of occasionally getting all the pieces to fit together: suddenly, snap, you have the shape you’ve been trying to make. But I must ask of the poem: Is there a piece missing?

This is the challenge of the poem versus the Tangram, I guess. It’s possible I’ll never be able to make the desired shape because a crucial piece is missing, and it’s not as easy as getting on my hands and knees and checking under the couch. I need to identify the gap and write into it.

So at the moment, for all my shifting and switching, the poem looks — instead of like a good solid square or a kitty or bunny — like a gappy rhombus in a hat.

Marilyn McCabe, Broken bicycles; or, More on Revision

Sometimes,
naturally,
the rhymes

come lovely
as a snail’s
trail,

slick with
mucus.
Our eyes

see
the chime
of language

as a wet
marker
left for us

on a dry
land, the way
our ears

hear
the echo
echo.

Tom Montag, Sometimes

Brian Sonia-Wallace was a writer-in-residence for Amtrak and the Mall of America and has his own small business called RENT Poet, and, you guessed it, he writes poetry for strangers on a typewriter! His book, The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America With a Typewriter (Harper Perennial, 2020) was, I have to say it, a great ride. It’s got lots of poems in it, including translations, so I was going to count it toward the #SealeyChallenge, but I also read another Debra Kaufman book, Delicate Thefts (Jacar Press, 2015), and there are tiny stolen things in both books, both concrete and abstract.

Like me, Brian is an actor, too. Unlike me, he approaches his poetry writing, as well as his reading aloud, as performance. Like me, he connects poetry with attention and listening.* He actually composes poems after listening to his customers’ stories, writing the poems they need. Vending his poems across the country, he has worked with all kinds of interesting performers, including clowns and witches, and has appeared at big corporate events, malls, music festival, and, interestingly, a detention center to document (in poems) the undocumented.

*Debra Kaufman dedicates Delicate Thefts “to listeners everywhere.” I sense she’s done her share of the kind of listening that results in poems, too. In “The Receiver” she’s listening at a bar: “When I…look straight / into a stranger’s eyes, / always he will tell me his story.”

Brian Sonia-Wallace experiences that intimacy, too, in talking to strangers. They will tell the deepest things. Back to Kaufman’s poem: “Two drinks in I have taken / the gift of his loneliness.” Here, the loneliness was a gift, not a theft, but the stolen things in Kaufman’s book include a locket, a wallet, stolen innocence, pride, self-image. All, yes, with a delicate touch.

Stolen lives. In “At Duke Gardens, After Another School Shooting,” there is nothing to do but seek solace, remembrance, and “peonies you can wash your face in.” In “Trying to Find a Way,” sometimes the heart is too full, with “no room for another’s story.” 

Kathleen Kirk, The Poetry of Strangers + Delicate Thefts

[Ralph Vaughn Williams] was of that generation which saw perhaps the greatest amount of change and technological advancement of any lifetimes – aged 13 when Benz’s first motor car was driven, 31 when the Wright Brothers took to the air, 56 when the first television broadcast was made, 73 when the first atomic bomb was dropped. . . In his long career he produced a remarkable range and quantity of work: nine symphonies; four concertos, each for a different instrument; chamber pieces (none finer than Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus); choral works; operettas; ballet scores; and many wonderful songs, notably settings of Blake, Swinburne and, above all, Housman

All of which brings me to John Greening. Those who have read any of his collections will know that not only is he a very fine poet, but he also has a deep love of classical music, as demonstrated by his last, beautiful collection The Silence, about Sibelius. Greening’s recent Poetry Salzburg pamphlet Moments Musicaux collects 34 previously uncollected music poems which, Greening says, “hadn’t quite fitted into individual volumes”. Two of the 34 relate to Vaughan Williams, ‘RVW’ and ‘A Sea Symphony’, named after Vaughan Williams’ first symphony, though the latter is not about the composer but somebody else.

‘RVW’, four rhymed quatrains dedicated to the contemporary composer and occasional poet Philip Lancaster, depicts its subject as, ‘An old man/ standing up by the Folly’ – Leith Hill Tower – ‘His back towards London Town’, contemplating a ‘fallen poplar’:

They lie there, unmastered, the nine branches,
  And numberless carolling shoots.
He kicks at the crown’s now silent ocean.
  He probes a fantasia of roots.

It’s difficult to write biographical poems which don’t resort to cliché. In the poem’s ending, Greening gently refers to the deafness which afflicted Vaughan Williams in his last few years but which, like Beethoven before him, didn’t prevent him composing:

The old man sitting up by the Folly,
  Not hearing the aspen’s riposte:
There’s more to be sung than it ever dared whisper,
  And pastoral may not mean past.

It’s a haunting image, with a message which is as ungraspable as the wind is strong, up there at the highest point in south-east England.

Matthew Paul, On Vaughan Williams and John Greening

Every poet I’ve ever translated has taught me something. One of the perils of poetry is to be trapped in the skin of your own imagination and to remain there all your life. Translation lets you crack your own skin and enter the skin of another. You identify with somebody else’s imagination and rhythm, and that makes it possible for you to become other. It’s an opening towards transformation and renewal. I wish I could translate from all the languages. If I could live forever, I’d do that.

– Stanley Kunitz, from his Paris Review interview (Spring 1982). I originally found the quote in The Other 23 & a Half Hours by Catherine Owen, which is chock-full of poetry goodness.

Rob Taylor, trapped in the skin of your imagination

Today I read one of my favorite books by far for the Sealey Challenge, a volume of selected poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. It’s a slim and elderly hardback from the famous (in Germany) publishing house Insel. I inherited it from my husband, who winnows his library by offering unwanted books to me. This pretty much never results in books being thrown out. And never if they are from Insel.

Rilke in German is marvelous. Many beautiful and resonant poems. One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from Rilke’s poem “Im Saal,” or “In the Drawing Room.”

. . . . . They wished to bloom
and to bloom is to be beautiful; but we want to ripen
and that means growing dark and taking care.

. . . . . Sie wollten blühn,
und blühn ist schön sein; doch wir wollen reifen,
und das heißt dunkel sein und sich bemühn.

In German it rhymes, and it is a great rhyme. I’ve surprised myself. I love contemporary free verse (in English).

Another excellent poem –“Archaïscher Torso Apollos” (Archaic Torso of Apollo)– ends with the famous line “You much change your life.” But the line flows more naturally in German and seems less abrupt, if only slightly.  And of course it is its abruptness that makes you catch your breath. I hear the line echoed in many English poems, such as:

1) James Wright’s “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” which ends “I have wasted my life.”

2) Mark Doty’s “Messiah (Christmas Portions),” which ends “Still time. / Still time to change.”

Rilke talks about how the sculpted stone seems to burst from itself “like a star,” and its power leaves the viewer totally exposed.

Sarah J Sloat, you must change your life

This Friday, I’m moderating the first panel at the Outer Dark Symposium 2020 (virtually): “Weird Metamorphosis or Life Change.” Moderating panels doesn’t especially scare me. It’s basically leading a class discussion, except with very smart people who love to talk. I’m always nervous about Zoom, though; I’m no technological wizard, plus catching all the undercurrents in a virtual conversation is hard. To make things eerier, I have to tune in from my extremely haunted office, because I’d be competing for bandwidth at home. I usually clear out of Payne Hall when darkness falls.

I’m also thinking about fear because it’s an inescapable part of transformation stories in Weird fiction and film. Some of the panelists are especially interested in body horror, which involves violence or violation to the body, as in “The Button Bin” by Mike Allen or “Anatomy Lessens” by Edward Austin Hall. Some, in our pre-panel discussion, expressed fascination with what puts people emotionally onto that uncomfortable-to-terrified continuum. They explore it in awesome ways, thinking about race, gender, sexuality, disability, and their intersections.

I’m involved in this panel because my new novel involves the deeply weird transition of menopause. As I wrote and revised Unbecoming, though, the feeling I focused on was not fear but desire. The uncanny power growing in the main character, Cyn, lies in wishing for change, both through small rescues and major redirections. Desire is key to making characters interesting and complicated, so it’s probably central to all fiction. I had a list taped to my wall as I composed, listing what each major character thought they wanted plus what they REALLY wanted (which is often the opposite of what they thought they wanted), and sometimes what they really, really, really wanted in their secret hearts. The push-and-pull among those impulses can make a character–really a bunch of words–come to life in your imagination. Like magic.

Lesley Wheeler, The other side of fear

Yesterday, for The Sealey Challenge I read Lesley Wheeler’s The State She’s In.  I ordered this book just after I returned from the AWP conference, and by the time it arrived, the world was in full pandemic panic mode.  I flipped through it, read a few poems mainly from the end of the book, and thought that I just didn’t have the concentration to read the whole thing.

If I had started from the beginning, I might have devoured the book back when it first arrived.  Or maybe my brain was just too frazzled. But as I read the book yesterday, I did realize that I liked the first part of the book best. 

As I was trying to think about a photograph, I realized that part of the volume revolves around the state of Virginia, one of the “states she’s in” (the other states are metaphorical states).  I thought about Florida, the state I’m in.  I thought about how both states will always feel both like home to me and like places where I feel I’m an alien dropped in for a visit.  I thought about a beloved Colonial Williamsburg mug that was living on borrowed time, as I noticed the crack in the handle–and this week, the borrowed time came to a crashing halt. […]

I love how Wheeler explores gender in intriguing ways, especially gender issues as they impact women who are no longer in their 20’s and 30’s, but she’s also fascinating when she dissects history–and of course, there are intersections where the two come together, and it also gives her the opportunity to braid together an analysis of class and race. It’s an amazing work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Lessons from a Challenge Month

Covid-19 is reminding us in no uncertain terms that human lives are uncertain. In The Unmapped Woman (Nine Arches Press, 2020), which is Abegail Morley’s latest poetry collection, things have changed in ways the speakers can not have foreseen — they lose people, they don’t know how to go on, how to deal with memories. They are left with holes and absences.  I’ve been mulling over Abegail’s ability to “do” Big Issues (birth, love, change, uncertainty, loss, death )  using the small scale of intimate relationships. Emotions are created for us — they are born and flow through the words she chooses: the unexpected imageries, the narrative arcs, the music of word-sounds and rhythms. Her technical skills are exemplary. 

An example of how she combines the above to create feelings of wonder are the first lines of the first poem of the book. “Egg”

I breathe into the lonely snow-lines on the scan,
Tell you how to grow safely, how to throw
and catch a ball …


[…] Abegail describes many, many kinds of loss and relationships. There is pain and grief and the unanswerable. In “The Library of Broken People”, there is a startling variety of injuries described. These “lost souls”, feel like damaged books to me. One of them says that “life’s an unworkable toy”. The speaker “survives amongst them, wear[s] a long jumper, drag[s] sleeves down wrists.”

E.E. Nobbs, The Unmapped Woman – Abegail Morley

What a thrill to hold this book in my hands! I first met Paul Marshall at Everett Community College 25 years ago, and we’ve been writing together since we put together a teaching lab around writing in 2009. This past March, he decided to dedicate some time to assembling a book of poems, and he asked me to help. To quote from the back cover:

The poems in Stealing Foundation Stones share the journey of a blue collar, small town, hot-rod loving kid who grew up to go to Vietnam, returned home to the radical turmoil of the 70s, became a psychology professor and an award-winning community college educator, then, after a major loss, rebuilt his life, remarrying and morphing (yet again) into a ukulele-playing grandpa and woodworker and writer. It is a trip you don’t want to miss.

I hardly know what to excerpt here, as I love all these poems. They’re familiar to me as old friends and as welcoming.

Zen Handyman

Cursing saw torn flesh
dripping red blood mars heartwood
my grandfather’s laugh

In these poems, cars rev their engines and bears growl. Blackbirds hoard trinkets the way the poet hoards memories while he lets go of detritus, including old books that (like the bears) growl back: “Their cat haired, dust bunnied pages / fall open as they gasp out their reason to be saved. // I’m a first edition. / I’m an autographed copy.” (“Don’t Leave It for the Children”)

Bethany Reid, Paul Marshall at Chuckanut Sandstone Open Mic

It’s that time of year – the Edinburgh Fringe has been cancelled, but my mind is still drifting northwards and backwards. 2013. Threesome’s first appearance on 10th August – we’d hardly written the script by 9th August, the same day I met Ms Beeton for the first time. It’s LJay’s birthday today, so that has added to my nostalgia. […]

The show was in 3 parts – I was the opener (or ‘delicious entree’, as described in one of our two 4 star reviews) with a piece based on the Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like ItThe Seven Rages of Woman is a poetic romp around … well, some of the rage I felt about a restrictive evangelical upbringing and some of the rage I felt about the lack of representation of women in film, and several other rages,: approximately seven of them in fact. Listening to a sermon about women and submission yesterday, some of this rage was momentarily reignited.

Since this photo was taken, there have been new happenings: a beautiful baby for Ms B, glasses to correct my eyesight, a new suit and tie for LJay, and suchlike. But when I look at it, I enjoy the feeling I felt then, right then, at the moment Peter took the shot. It comes flooding back, the camaraderie, adrenaline, freedom, the reckless pleasure of the name of our troupe. And, as Ms Beeton might have said of her microwavable chocolate sponge cake (whose making was the pinnacle, piece de resistance, of the show), the feeling is marvellous, darling!

Liz Lefroy, I Enjoy The Memories

When I last posted about the goings-on in Stardew Valley, I was patiently waiting for Harvey to ask me to have a baby, and sure enough, he finally did. After a brief gestational period of fourteen game days, a tiny pixelated baby appeared in the nursery crib. We named her Lily. She was very boring in the beginning. All she did was sleep. Now that she’s a toddler, she’s still not very interesting. She just crawls around randomly and occasionally plays with a toy ball that I did not give her, so God knows where she found it. I don’t mean to be sexist, but it’s obvious that the game was created by a young man who did not at any time think through practical issues such as house child-proofing, feeding, diapering, and day care. Harvey works long hours at the clinic and those crops don’t harvest themselves, so the kids knocks around the house completely unattended all day. Oftentimes I don’t even know what room she is in and I worry that she’s pulled a lamp over onto herself. Hopefully little Lily has an independent streak, because that child will be fending for herself. Good. It will make her a tough farmer some day.

Kristen McHenry, Gym Return, Trainer Two-Timing, Boring Baby

disease vector
a mom hugs her kid
after school

K. Brobeck [no title]

On the day I take my daughter to the airport, I have to get out of my house filled with absence. I drive up to the mountain, to the river where I raised my children for the first half of their lives. It is not that I want to go back in time; that mountain, that river, was a place I once needed to leave, too. But sometimes, we need to go back to figure out how to move forward. I want to get grounded, literally. I want to dig my toes in the river’s sand, to let its water cool my feet. I need to see water flowing past me.

I spread a blanket in some shade, doze to the sound of children playing in the water with their mother. I sit on land one of my children once named Dogarnia, and another called The Forest of Enchanted Wieners. Rule of this kingdom was hotly contested. When I close my eyes, I can see them climbing in the trees, our tiny Dachshunds kicking up sand as they run in circles around us.

I want to call across the water to that other mother. I want to tell her: Imprint this day in your memory. Don’t worry about what you’re going to make for dinner or how you’re not getting the house clean before starting another work week. Soak yourself in these moments, right now, so that later you can remember this sun-drenched summer day when all of you were golden. But I don’t. I don’t know her life, and I don’t want to impose my reality and regrets on hers. Also, no one in the thick of it wants to hear this kind of thing from some stranger whose time has passed.

On the afternoon of the day I take my daughter to the airport, I understand another thing: My attempts to keep my house of cards intact, to keep her unexpected stay from coming in and blowing down my hard-won peace was futile and stupid. I’ve let anticipatory grief rob me of embracing all that she–and this terrible, unexpected, wonderful chance to mend and grow and be together–brings. She, like all children, was born to make and remake me, to strip me to my foundations, to give me reasons to build (and build again). I see now that I cannot protect my heart by clinging to what I constructed the first time she left. It served me well enough, I suppose, but now I need something strong enough to stand, open, both when she comes and when she goes. Because I have to let her go; that is what I was born to do.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the day I take my daughter to the airport

a house
falling into the sea

becomes sand

the egg timer turns over

a crying child is suckled

Jim Young [no title]

The heartwood browned with age holds
the secret of her progeny. Stewing the sap
into the folds of the skin, she births a calf
who sleeps in the ooze of milk.

Uma Gowrishankar, In her land, it rains every tenth day

I read a few poems every night before bed, the one time I can be sure I have time. I have turned back to Fiona Benson’s Vertigo and Ghost which I started last year. This is one of those collections I wish I had written, but not lived. Such beautiful writing that tears me apart emotionally. Even the more gentle ones about parenthood and the poet’s fears connected with raising girls in this difficult world when other mothers are leading their children through unimaginable dangers in the hope of finding safety and shelter dig into all my tender places. But Part One which considers the mythology of Zeus in modern terms, as a serial rapist is more of a punch to the throat. Benson plays with the words on the page, mixing modern language with ancient stories and uses a kind of interview format to give voices to the victims, Io, Callisto and others, as well as bragging, bravado-puffed Zeus. It goes much further than Yeats’ ‘Leda and the Swan’. Difficult to read as it doesn’t shy from blunt emotion and descriptions, it is an important voice in these times when ‘Me Too’ is not a thing you wish to say, but it needs to be heard. 

Gerry Stewart, Gearing up and Down Sizing

Waking up from a thick sleep, I see that I am a passenger on a ghost train. For long hours through the night we rattle along rails long unused, but we never stop at any stations. Along the aisle, little ghost children play; the same as living children, they are tired of being penned up. In the dining car, fashionable ghosts are sitting down for dinner, served by ghost waiters in white waistcoats. A ghost porter hurries by, carrying empty suitcases back to the sleeping car, which also is haunted. We enter a long tunnel, and I look at the window; the only reflection is me, and then I fade away, too. 

James Lee Jobe, Waking up from a thick sleep, I see that I am a passenger on a ghost train.

There are other *big* ideas here.  In “Panning,” there is the notion of debate and argument and its futility: “in the heat where you pile the arguments for / a to one side & b to another / . . . beliefs without bases solidly founded beliefs. . . .”  Finally, [Maurice] Scully questions the efficacy of logic itself as a means of knowing the world or arriving at truth/reality: “compare the flying pieces of the jigsaw / that each claims to be The One True Picture.”  But that is not actually the end of the poem.  Having dispensed with the tyranny of logic, of Enlightenment values, Scully counterpoints a radically different second section, a vision of the sap system of trees, their “conducting / vessels” — but almost bizarrely imagined through “x-ray eyes / a forest without its / supporting timber. . . / a colony of glinting ghosts / each tree a spectral sheath / of rising liquid in countless / millions of slim threads.”  And it goes on.  It’s an amazing image that combines lyricism and biology, both art and materialism, into a whole other kind of epistemology.

More than one piece is titled “Poetry” (NB: all titles begin with ‘P’), and it is the poetry itself that strikes me here and the more I read Scully.  Yes, his work is rich with philosophical questioning, and/or focused on the seemingly mundane details of life (which with Scully are never mundane) — but the more I read him the more and more I become amazed at his use of language, the ebb and flow of a long poem, its sudden turns and veers in thought, its delight.

Mike Begnal, Review of Maurice Scully, ‘Play Book’ (Coracle, 2019)

It was a release from the everyday order, a time for chance and an outside world I didn’t know to break in. I got to renew the language of fish and fishermen that I use in languages I barely speak – international fishmonger lingo.  All those crusty lobstermen, dipping their catch in salt to make bait for the lobster catch.  Tiny islands that look like the heads of seals as they appear and disappear.  The light was equally teasing – there, barely there, so thin and transparent it made everything within its reach slightly magical.  Light itself is invisible, though we tried to capture the zinc gleam on the mudflats at dusk, the streaky pink, glimmer of oyster shell in the sky at sunset.  

The Zoom I prefer: going so far out of yourself you become part of that thin, invisible light, then settling back into a slightly different self. 

Cervantes wrote, “Where one door closes, another opens.”  The LED signage on the white clapboard Baptist Church in Damariscotta, glowing under a dark starry night, read, “Change is inevitable, but growth is up to you.”  Voilà!

Jill Pearlman, Strange Rerun: the American Vacation

Let’s really give this metaphor a kicking shall we. If the prep work is the research and possibly the notes for a first draft, then the painting is the actual graft of writing the poem. The walls are the first and second drafts, the cutting in and ceiling (assuming it’s two colours) are the nth draft and then getting closer to a finished product. You’ve covered all the big ground, you’ve got your form and message working in unison.

If, and it’s a big if on an extension pole, we are prepared to accept any of that (and I can’t say I blame you if you choose not to), then this weekend was the final stages: the gloss work. I have spent the weekend taping up and then glossing a lot of woodwork.

I’m going to liken this phases to the putting the final touches to a poem (or story, etc). This is where small words and changes matter, where you change from the roller to the brush, then a smaller brush still (do write in if my technique sounds off) for eg the tops of skirting boards, corners etc. Words come in, words come out. A line is removed here, a stanza is tightened up, a comma comes in, an em dash replaces a semi-colon and then the semi-colon goes back. Until finally, you’ve covered everything.

You dip your brushes in White Spirit, you crack open a beer (other options are available) and tidy away the kit/press ctrl+P. You let things dry. How long you choose to let it dry is up to you. For the avoidance of doubt, I’m saying don’t send the writing out straight away. It always does it well to sit for a while.

And when the paint is dry, or the ink has settled, you remove the masking tape to see what you have and if all is still well.

If there are no drips, no missed bits then you re-hang the pictures, put the coat rail back up, put things back, etc.

This is where you send your poem, etc out into the world.

Christ, I’d love to find myself getting the rollers out soon. And I do mean work on a poem. I’m not picking up the actual rollers again for at least another month. That said, there’s still work to do on the gloss front..and sadly that does mean actual painting.

Mat Riches, Working in broad brushstrokes: let me tell you how, man

Dear Henry,

how does it feel how does it feel to get old like summer in Chewelah like sugar pie an unmanageable stain a kind of hoarding I abandoned my clothes Hugh Hefner wore a suit in public enough already with the stained smoking jacket and coiffed hair tug your sweater across your stomach dear or sit with a pillow on your lap watch the bone gaunted mules pull cart across Wyoming I gave you my hung my pedicure my airplane hangar everything in aspic how many evenings you wasted soaking your foot in a bowl of hot water and Epsom salts it’s time to stage a fake suicide scatter your final notes everywhere including the Aurora Bridge and the mighty Mississip swallow whatever Jesus puts in your mouth choose another child an empty prize bent toward the shack where they gut fish where we gutted ourselves the artist who created Superman had a gig on the side drawing for an S and M fetish mag knew it wasn’t ripe but he kept eating guttural momentum would it make a difference to the sperm splurging split that morning I bought steaks and a GI Joe doll roasted the hairpin that hid your surgical coin folded it into the secret girl book this morning I’m looking for you not one bit shy buster not one bit plague or earwig in your egg drop soup I am hammer toed I am a hammerhead shark waking up God

Rebecca Loudon [no title]

In the end, then, even
          devotion
ashes in the mouth, choking
          and inconsequential.

[image]

Throat-closing keen: so much
          now is air
sucked out

JJS, swallows

Nouns drop from their perches,
seeking a less
hate-driven sentence,
aiming for purpose or purchase
or mere acceptance.

Freedom gives way to cages.
Fewer of us hide
secret urges—many more
exalt them in churches.
What’s next? Pogroms and purges?
More shootings? More dirges?

Romana Iorga, Déjà vu

These days, I write
but don’t necessarily feel unburdened.
Too many dead, too many dying;
and this heart of moss wanting to be
a sail filling up with wind:
not a scroll with all the names
of everyone it has lost.

Luisa A. Igloria, Is it still permitted to talk about the heart?

I’ve gotten to the point I think where the news is so horrifying that new terrible things barely phase me. This weekend, mad amounts of looting in the Loop & Mag Mile that left windows smashed and closed up downtown.  A crazy storm that apparently spawned a tornado (or at least a funnel cloud/water spout) a few blocks north in Roger’s Park. I am waiting for plagues of frogs and locusts and would not be the least surprised to find them in my headlines tomorrow morning.

As for the looting. I’m less concerned about plundering of bougie high end merchandise than the general level of chaos and the way things like this are used to put down Chicago as this crazy crime-addled shithole (which it in no way is, even the rougher more dangerous, under-resourced parts of the city.) Gangs & drug trade are a problem,  but I feel safer in Chicago when it comes to random crimes, like someone mugging you in the Walmart parking lot or breaking into your house.  Also that people are looking out for each other, ie wearing masks and conducting themselves appropriately in public, which may be the result of being such a tightly constructed community.  When the quarantine hit, one of the first things that happened was someone organized a mailing list/discussion board in my apartment building to keep people informed, publicize rent assistance, help elderly people get what they needed.  There are neighbors I’ve lived amongst for two decades and never spoken to.  Also an endless train of Loyola-ans who stay for 1-2 years and bounce. Some families in the bigger units.  The key to living close enough to people to hear them through the wall is to not really know them (as apposed to the burbs where I would feel like people would be up in my business. )   The woman across the hall has lived here as long as I have.  We smile and nod and sat hello on our rare encounters. I feel like there is a general feeling we are in this together, but separately in our own little introvert bubbles and this is good. The couple neighbors I have talked to are the more extroverted ones I’ve encountered frequently on the bus, but they all live higher in the building. 

As for the storm, I figured I was safe enough herding the cats into the bedroom with the option to dive into my closet, the most interior space, if things got crazy.  I’m on a lower floor in he L-shaped crook of a solid brick building the back of which took all the wind, so on the rare occasions of storms like this, feel pretty safe. .Usually, I’ve been in the library or the studio when storms like this hit and the most terrifying years ago found me in the with giant 9th Floor windows that were shaking in their frames and no way to easily get downstairs. I would have to choose between the elevator or stairwells with giant skylights–yikes!  I wound up hiding in the bathroom across the hall, whose windows were at least sheltered by the courtyard..  It did get really dark and the wind was giving quite a lashing to the one tree I can see from that window, and it was raining sideways at one point, paper and trash flying through the air, but nothing alarmingly large or heavy.   I though maybe I felt my ears pop, and this may have been evidence of the suspected funnel a few blocks away.   Today, so many trees and limbs down in the cross streets and in the park along LSD. I think it might have messed up construction sites and knocked out some power, but the trees took the brunt of it. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/12/20

The other thing that keeps me interested right now is thinking about how our stories have shifted and changed and keep evolving. This is true for yourself and true for probably every single person you encounter. And isn’t that wildly interesting? It’s not always comfortable, it’s not always splendid. But it’s pretty much always interesting.

Think about this from Anne Bogart:

“We are telling stories all of the time. Our body tells a story. Our posture, our smile, our liveliness or fatigue, our stomach, our blank stare, our fitness, all speak, all tell a story. Howe we walk into a room tells a story. Our actions relate multiple stories. We invest our own energy into stories. Deprived of energy, stories die.

”It is natural to adopt other people’s stories to her create our identities and to fill in gaps in our experience or intelligence. This can be helpful up to a point but it is easy to get stuck in other people’s narrative structures. Stories become easily cemented and rendered inflexible, developing into assumptions upon which a life is lived. Without vigilance, stories become documented history and form, and their origins ar forgotten. Rather than mechanically allowing other people’s stories to guide our lives, it is possible to get involved and narrate from a state of passionate participation.”

I repeat, get involved from a state of passionate participation!

Wow, hey?

How do you want to tell your story? In what ways do you want to be alive? What energy do you wish to bring into a room or a space, even if that space is an online space. What is your story now? Bogart also says that “all of our thoughts and actions become, in due course, public.” She uses the example of how the impact of even a telephone call conversation reverberates. “The conversation travels.” Perhaps it is overheard, or conveyed to another person, and so on. We have no idea how far a simple exchange will ripple out.

Bogart wrote, What’s the Story well before the pandemic, but for me it feels even more relevant. She quotes Erich Heller who says, “Be careful how you interpret the world; it’s like that.”

There are a lot of strands to the story, some we don’t even quite know about, or some that are just out of our reach or realm. But I remind myself that it’s up to me how I enter a room, enter the day. I want to be a good interpreter of the world. Aspirationally, and with the full knowledge that this will not always be possible and that I will often fail miserably, I want to participate in this story we are all currently in the thick of, from a place of good energy, delight, and with a soul aligned with joy.

Shawna Lemay, Be Not Soul-Dampened

Birds burble new melodies. Traffic flows differently.

Past clouds shaped like a T-Rex and a car wreck, now a candelabra and a castle.

Kisses aren’t kissed the same way. Old ones tasted of relentless rains; today’s are love-covered honey in its first burning.

Bullets, now breezes. Yesterday’s serial killer, now a savior. Republics of rust rediscovered by amazement.

Rich Ferguson, Morning Sheds Its Yesterday Skin

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Weeks 20-21

Poetry Blogging Network

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

I didn’t manage a blog digest last week in part because i was rushing around with pre-travel housecleaning and packing. Now I’m settling in for a summer in London and waiting for jetlag to recede, and so when I went to compile this digest, I found myself drawn to blog posts and poems about traveling, as well as discussions of politics, reading, writing, and mother-daughter relationships.


My first poetry mentor, Rose MacMurray, titled her book Trips, Journeys, Voyages. These are snapshots from the trips, a day or two at a time. The journey took me from D.C. to Cork and back, and it’s a journey that (with any grace of luck) I’ll be making again. The last time I felt this strongly about a place was Mississippi, and I wouldn’t mind if they both turn out to be lifelong affiliations. The voyage is a larger one, of trying to figure out the writer I can be in this world. No map, but with the good fortune of the wind at my back, and these memories still fresh in my heart. 

Sandra Beasley, Trips, Journeys, Voyages

While sitting at a picnic table eating an apple and cheese I was staring North at the beauty of Mt. St. Helens in the Cascade Mountain Range. I felt grateful I had the good luck to be born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

I was also marveling at my younger self who had climbed this very mountain 30 years earlier shortly after it had blown its top.

How had I done it? Now it seemed like an almost impossible task. And yet, I did it the same way I write a poem, word by word, line by line, stanza by stanza, step by step until you reach a destination and know you have finally arrived.

And then, like after writing a poem, you look around and see the world through new eyes.

Carey Taylor, Hunger

He has stopped me in my tracks.
I drop down to my hands and knees,
And I bring my face very close to his.
He doesn’t run. He just cocks his head
And looks back me, and so in this way
We regard one another. A man and a lizard
On a Sierra Nevada trail in the heat of the afternoon.

James Lee Jobe, ‘The lizard is quite brave, like Hannibal’ //

I spend so much time on airplanes. Yesterday my flight from Barcelona to Frankfurt was delayed by a half hour, which is nothing, and the man beside me was livid. I was embarrassed for him. I think he was embarrassed, too. After his outburst, he spent most of the flight turned to the window. He asked the stewardess politely for a Coke. I’ve been livid, too. It’s rather a waste of life. But yesterday, I had Misery with me and with a bit of luck and the imprisonment of the airplane seat, I may have found a poem. So take that, 9 hours to Philadelphia.

Sarah J Sloat, Standing on the corner, suitcase in my hand

If I could fly
would I still float above the ocean,
tethered like a buoy over hidden depths
and clefts in which shine pale oblique lights
of hunger and horror and beauty
made fey and strange? This is it,
isn’t it? What’s the point
of leaping over
tall sky scrapers
if I can’t
hurdle
you?

PF Anderson, On the Limitations of Superpowers

I took a little me time this week and went to St Petersburg, Russia. I didn’t really have a plan, just wanted to take it easy, eat, walk, write. The weather was warm and bright, so it was a perfect short break.

I was half-planning on going to the Russian Art Museum, but stumbled across a sign for the Anna Akhmatova Museum at Fountain House and decided to go there instead. It’s set in the apartments that Akhmatova lived for almost 30 years with her son at times and her lover the art historian Nikolai Punin and his family. It’s where she wrote some of her ‘Poems without a hero’ and other poems that challenged Stalin and his regime that she was forced to hide her work and was a prisoner in the house. 

It was a place of such sadness. They’ve tried to gather photos, furniture, artworks that represent Anna, Punin and the period: Punin’s overcoat left behind when he was arrested with Anna’s son Lev, a drawing by Modigliani, travelling cases. They’ve also set up one room as the White Hall which is taken from ‘Poems without a hero’, featuring her poems and pages of handwritten texts. It felt so weighted with loss, every item connected with someone who carried so much grief around with them daily. 

Gerry Stewart, A Poetic Detour

[Mark] Monmonier rightly observes that most people assume that maps are factual representations of the physical and legal/abstract/imagined aspects of the “real” –and that assumption is incorrect. Maps can be manipulated. They can be propaganda. They can be drawn to reflect anything the people hiring the cartographer want to emphasize, or erase.

My husband has a German map from 1941. There is no Poland on it, no Austria, no Lithuania, no Ukraine…
~
When we built our house, I wanted to come up with a good name for it. Then I realized that the housing developments in our region all seemed to be named after things that weren’t there any more: Field Crest, Orchard Acres, Stony Meadows, Fox Stream…and the urge to name my house began to quiet down. Besides, all along I have recognized that the area around boundaries is more interesting to me than what is in the middle. Edges–the fringes, the spaces along and between–

And yet I’m trying to create boundaries around my garden to keep out the field voles, stands of cleome to discourage the deer, as another rainy spring keeps my shoes and gloves muddy and the weeds vigorous and tall. Paradoxes.

Ann E. Michael, Cartography

The flowers parted
before you and so did the tall
ferns and the trees
and after them the mountains,
splitting cleanly in two
to let you pass, and as you did,
closing behind you,
seamlessly, like an eyelid,
a forest of eyelashes blinking out
any trace of your passage.

Romana Iorga, The Photograph

I was thinking about ecotourism and the kind of tourism where people go to do good deeds.  I thought about my kind of tourism, going to retreat centers and cathedrals and places of spiritual intentional living.  I felt a brief moment of sorrow thinking about how I’d love to go to Iona with my mom–but Iona is so isolated that it might not be a good idea.  She has some medical issues with her heart which don’t usually affect her ability to live her normal life, but traveling to a place that’s far from good medical care might not be wise. 

Is Iona far from good medical care?

I lay in bed, thinking, note to self:  do that international travel before old age makes it impossible.  My work responsibilities make a long trip across oceans/time zones less easy, and when I am older without work responsibilities, old age might interfere.

Or maybe I’ll be that feisty old lady who inspires everyone to live their best life.

And then I realized that my bucket list at this point consists mainly of trips to monasteries and retreat centers.  I suspect when I am that feisty old lady, I may make time for the occasional trip to an international city that has an interesting art retrospective or food festival.  But if I never get around to seeing Rome, I may not be sad.

If I don’t get to see Iona, I will be sad.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Bucket Lists and Monasteries

I’ve been reading What You Have Heard is True by Carolyn Forche’ is a memoir of Carolyn Forche’s journey to El Salvador as a very young woman to witness the struggles and oppression that would bring bitter conflict to the country.

Much about this book is amazing to me. Not the least is the amount of danger that Forche’ placed herself in, at first perhaps naively, but there was a point that this had to be so obvious.  I confess that I have come to a realization from reading this book, just how much travel can play a beneficial role in the life and work of a poet. Forche’ is actually very well traveled. and it seems that this has informed so much of her poetry. It doesn’t hurt that she writes a lot of witness poetry and her travels have informed her world view and created the ability to count on so much opportunity to tap into her experiences when writing.

I confess to having never traveled outside of the United States and I do confess that I actually feel this is limiting as a writer.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Clumsy as Newborn Colt Legs – edition

I was in the U.S. last weekend for the 50th reunion of Dartmouth students who protested the Vietnam War, occupied the college administration building in 1969, and served prison terms as a result. My husband was not one of those jailed, but he was a close and supportive friend who documented that event and that time period photographically, and was invited to give a slide talk as part of the reunion. During the panel discussions and social times, I learned that nearly all of the fifty-some attendees were people who have spent their lives doing good, being creative, living with others in mind, working for the betterment of society — and are continuing to do that in spite of the prevailing climate of hate and negativity. I was impressed, proud to be part of the gathering, and often very moved.

As one of them said, “we won some fights and we lost some, but ‘success’ is not the only measure of whether things are worth doing.” And one of the current student activists said to these aging radicals with grey hair and achy joints: “It’s not over ’til it’s over — you’re still here, and we need you.”

There’s so much work that needs to be done — on the climate, on rights for women and minorities, on freedom and justice, against hate speech and white supremacy — the list is exhaustingly long. None of us can do everything, so just pick one thing, and work on it a little every day, wholeheartedly. Join a group of like-minded others; we can all accomplish more collectively. But do something real – don’t just talk or, worse yet, add to the endless complaints on social media. And please, if you’re a writer or artist or musician, keep doing your work. In a climate like today that attempts to suck the lifeblood out of creative people, and devalue who we are and what we do, making art can be a radical act. I certainly feel that way about publishing books, and about singing. 

Beth Adams, A Sketchbook as Bulwark Against the World

In verse, how a white author addresses, or sidesteps, whiteness comes through more clearly over a suite of pieces than in a single poem, mostly because a poem contains fewer words and less story than your average prose piece. A poem gives you select glimpses from which you intuit and imagine a landscape. Race, therefore, is sometimes a matter of hints and absences in the poems from this Shenandoah issue. I love them all, and I delight in the ways they refract different identities and experiences: 68.2 contains poetry about language, immigration, aging, abortion, artificial insemination, difficult parents, difficult children, difficult neighbors, food, friendship, nonhuman animals, love, anger, political treaties, sexual harassment, disability, music, apocalypse, and clowns. Race joins that heady mix, but mostly in poems by authors who are not white–and that’s something an editor, and an author, must think about.

Books of mine currently in the publication pipeline–especially a novel and my next poetry collection–DO concern whiteness. In early drafts of these works, I made mistakes, because my skill and thoughtfulness were inadequate. Many editors rejected many of those efforts–rightly, I now believe, although it was discouraging at the time. Writing about race in a contemporary or historical way, from the perspective of a white person who hasn’t always been required to pay attention to it, was/ is risky, and I’m not sure the products are thoroughly successful–I’m worried there are failures in the books I can’t yet see, and really hoping, if so, that my editors will call me out–but in any case, I did learn some things and end up with at least some good writing. I decided I’d rather fail by trying than by silence.

Lesley Wheeler, A view from the masthead

And I think it’s true, these poems of irony mask, for example, the admiration I have for Franklin, Jefferson, and the guys, yes, men, white men, slave owners, yes, and thinking deeply about society and the individual, the collective and the future, liberty and cooperation, what a document of declaration must say, what the foundational contract of a society must do. They made mistakes. They drank, whored, backstabbed, ducked some vital issues. They met heated hour after heated hour, wrote, listened, shouted, considered, drafted, redrafted. It was a monumental effort to craft this country. Extraordinary.

The irony I used masks the fears I have that we human beings are still so far from being able to love each other; that I am so far from being able to love my fellow humans; that we are killing each other and the planet because of it. It masks the grief I feel around the virulent divisiveness of the world.

How to write those poems?

Marilyn McCabe, Bitter Pill; or, Considering Irony in Poetry

And while I was out of it in lots of pain, I did see a wonderful movie, Ladies in Black, about a young Australian girl who wants to be a poet and works at a department store set in what I think was the late forties. It had a really wonderful and timely message about the enrichment that immigrants bring to a country (I didn’t realize there had been so much anti-immigration feeling in Australia after WWII but apparently there was a lot – I also learned there was a war between Australia and New Guinea at some point? Americans learn literally nothing about Australia in any history class) and I might have been pretty out of it but I’d love to hear what you thought of it if you get to see it. I’m looking forward to seeing girl-friendly teen comedy “Booksmart” (I was a real nerd in high school who never went wild so it speaks to me) and “Late Night” with a killer combo of Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling soon. After my disappointment with Game of Thrones, I decided I wanted to give myself more female-empowering entertainment, written by women, with main characters who are women, with empowering storylines. Am I just kidding myself? Is there enough of this to actually go around?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem in Redactions, Spending Some Time with Poets, and a Week of MS Pain Management

There’s something about a live reading that really affects the way you respond to a poem. John Hegarty says that with storytelling, ‘our very physicality helps deepen our and others’ responses to it‘. It’s the same with poetry; a live reading creates a special tension and energy.

I’ve chosen a photograph I took outside the MeetFactory (above) for this post because it occurred to me that so much of our understanding depends on how we ‘hear’ a text. We all carry our own interpretational ‘freight’. Think about that saying, every picture tells a story. You might look at the car hanging from the building and think of a story set in a scrap yard, or the aftermath of a flood, or maybe you’d go for a dystopian future where cars hanging from buildings is the new normal, or you’d push further for the big idea, such as hanging cars as a symbol of the failure of capitalism. I like the potential for meaning that pictures and words carry. And after all those poems yesterday, I came away feeling excited, not just about what I’d heard, but the space it opened up for what is still to be said, because for every story that’s told, every poem that you hear, there are as many others that remain hidden, even unimagined, until you sit down to write them.

Since I’ve been doing my personal challenge of 2 pages a day, I’ve noticed a very fragmented narrative starting to emerge (so much so that I’ve labelled the file A Short Story until something more fitting comes into my head). Attending the Sheaf Poetry Festival gave me some new ideas and prompts, and other avenues to explore.  It was great to have that sort of experience, where you arrive thinking one thing (which is always what you know, and by extension, what comforts you and makes you feel safe) and then you leave at the end of a long day, full of questions that you want answering and eager to explore them in your writing. 

Julie Mellor, Every picture …

The winter rye continues to grow, and I continue to do my (daily-ish) writing practice.

I now have many free writes. They make me think of this patch of green stalks not yet ready to mature. I worry that I’ve forgotten how to take the raw, rough, wild stuff and cultivate it into a poem. This is not a new anxiety. I can keep writing, until the day when that writing compels me to complete it, guide or follow it into a form to be shared. Or I can, in time, turn all that writing over, trust that it’s down in the good ground of my mind and will help the next ideas prosper.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day five

Reading closely engenders intimacy.

Compassionate reading opens the text to diverse interpretations.

It’s helped me to love poems that I’ve always thought I couldn’t love.

I feel an intimacy with the poets whose books I review, even though I may never meet them in person. I imagine them reading my reviews and feeling known.

It was such a lovely surprise to find out I am good at it.

Writing reviews has become my own self-guided MFA program.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with List: Why I Write Poetry Reviews

Jenni Wyn Hyatt and I met on one of Wendy Pratt’s online poetry classes and that’s where I first started to read and enjoy the variety of Jenni’s skillful, wise and well-observed poetry.

Her second poetry collection Striped Scarves and Coal Dust was recently published, and I ordered a copy right away.

From the intro: “Her subjects include Wales, nature, the tragedy of war, childhood memories and the human condition, with a smattering of humorous verse.”

In other words, her poems are about life. Of special note are Jenni’s use of forms, rhyme and metre in many of her poems — and seeing how she uses these tools is inspiring me to experiment more with them in my own writing.

E.E. Nobbs, Striped Scarves & Coal Dust – five poems by Jenni Wyn Hyatt

But my more fairy tale oriented work seems to have a more everyday sort of magic happening.  About 20 years ago, when I first began writing anything that was of quality, I turned to fairy tales quite often–Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, wicked stepmother stories. My book of red project was about the latter, and my first attempt, for reals, at an artist book.  (though you could argue my junior year Scarlet Letter book was the inadvertent first.) It was followed, of course, by my longer project, the shared properties of water and stars, which was loosely based on Goldilocks and her three bears, told through math problems, but was more a riff on a certain suburban angst than about the fairy tale itself.  plump, of course, being the most recent example. 

I think because they are ingrained so much in the human consciousness, it’s hard not to fall into them sometimes.  I’ve been working on my “artist statement” series of late, and there is one poem about mothers and daughters that touches on fairy tales and writing.

“Fairy tales tell us that the daughter must die.  Or more often, the mother.  Light softening to violet and then the red from all that blood.  No one could tell who was bleeding more until the prince freed us from the castle.”

Sometimes, even when I am not writing about magic, I sort of am. 

Kristy Bowen, in a dark wood

I’m too far to visit
and anyway you’re not
there in the ground.

For your birthday
I put peonies
on my dining table.

The tight buds stand
straight like
young ballerinas.

The bigger blossoms
bend over,
already flirting

with the fragrance
of decay. Nothing
lasts for long.

Rachel Barenblat, Peonies