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