Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 38

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the equinox, telepathy, stream-writing, list poems, and much more. Enjoy.


It is peak bramble time, jam-making, pickling, apple cake and plum crumble time. The first geese are here, and the last housemartins are lining up to leave. The bird population in the garden has changed – the sparrows are mostly in the fields just now, so the blue tits have a chance at the feeders. The magpies are mostly bothering something else in the woods, there are starlings along all the roof tops, and the robin is noisily staking out his winter territory in the hawthorns over the burn. The temperature has dropped ten degrees over the last week, and I’m about to pick the last tomatoes and move the lemon verbenas and the scented leaf geraniums into the greenhouse before the frost. I’ll be stripping out the spent annuals, and sowing the seeds I’ve saved to jump start next summer’s flowers, and I’ll be making pot pourri and some dried flower arrangements to give us scent and colour through the dark days.

Because next week is the equinox, one of the tipping points of the year, and we’re heading for winter. I’m having a tipping point of some other kinds too. I seem to have shifted from ‘learning about’ this new territory, to ‘getting to know’ it. I am aware, not only of new facts as they come to my attention, but how they impact things I already know. I understand more about why some plants are thriving and some aren’t, how taking out all the stones from the front garden changes not only the drainage, but the feel of the soil, and I can hear when there’s a new bird in the garden. It feels like a more mutual phase, as the garden responds to what I’ve done – and not always in the way I expect. I had no idea the marshmallows would grow so tall, or how much shade the lilac tree casts.

And in writing, too. I’ll be in the house more than the garden, in my head more than the world. I’m out of the note-making, researching, puzzling, planning stage and into the real words on the page. Unwilding is still very short – less than five per cent of the total, but there are actual words! And more importantly, as it turns out, the next poetry collection has begun to happen. It is tentatively called The Midsummer Foxes but it is also going to have bees, weather, music, herbs and the moon. I have always wanted to do a ‘four elements’ collection, and this may well be it. I am embarrassingly excited about it!

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Tipping Point

straw bales
a lonely tractor giving birth
to autumn

Jim Young [no title]

On Eurostar from the Netherlands I wrote two poems about returning home and a poem about forgetting. I haven’t knowingly written a poem for a while. I had hoped I could, after bike rides, visits to museums, spending time with Giya. I felt refreshed by being away. I saw new things, including Snow White and the Broken Arm by Marlene Dumas, a South African by birth who lives in Amsterdam. And Snow White is holding a camera. When I went to visit mum and showed it to her she laughed. That was the response of a writer, I realised. It was subversive. 

There is lots to do now. It’s a question of pacing, breathing and breaks, I’m told. 

I want to think more. I’ve been in plant mind all spring and summer. Autumn’s provoking a change. 

Jackie Wills, Coming home and thinking more

In Latin, the word equinox means equal night—
there are two times each year when day

and night are the same length in all parts
of the world. On one side, she was dying.

On the other, she was already dead,
her breaths having slowed until

they could not mist the mirror anymore.
The three women who cared for her until

the end folded the sheets and prepared
her body for its last ceremony of fire,

for sifting into an urn bearing her name.

Luisa A. Igloria, Death in a Different Time Zone

A CBe event at the Barbican scheduled for Wednesday this week, the 27th, has been postponed (to 31 January next year) because of poor ticket sales. How many tickets were sold? As many as a tree-surgeon friend could count on his right hand, after having lost two fingers on that hand to one of those chopping machines into which fallen branches are fed.

Ouch. It’s dose of realism. Event organisers who schedule Ian McEwan or Zadie Smith or Marie Kondo or Michael Palin can stroll into the box office, quids in; event organisers who schedule small-press writers have to run ten times faster for often, as here, zero result.

The Barbican event was ticketed. They pay the writers. Many book events don’t. This is tricky: earlier this month I heard a librarian speak about her unease at having to charge £3 for an author event when for many of the people she wanted to come that was a barrier. The regular charge for book events in London is £10, which equals 2.5 Costa coffees and the food budget for a week for many. We want open access; we want writers to be valued; and it’s depressing how often money gets in the way rather than helping.

Once, a friend and I were the only people to turn up to a stage adaptation of Kafka in a pub theatre and they put on the show just for us.

On the plus side: for publishers whose authors cannot fill stadia, every reader matters.

Charles Boyle, Postponed

21st June 2017, a sweltering day in London, was a significant date for me in two respects. The number one reason was that it was the launch of my first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, at the LRB bookshop. But the second reason is that at the same event I met my mate Mat Riches for the first time.

On that back of that reading (and a fair few pints after the event itself!), we exchanged a couple of poems by email, gave each other feedback, found the feedback useful, realised we also had a fair bit in common apart from poetry, and began a WhatsApp chat that must now have thousands of messages in its archive. It soon stretched well beyond poetry to the key issues of dodgy craft beer, dodgy football teams, dodgy knees and dodgy tastes in shirts.

In fact, I’d argue that every poet needs a mate like Mat, and I feel hugely fortunate to have found him. He’s seen all the poems in Whatever You Do, Just Don’t at multiple stages in their development, and has given me feedback on every single one, from first draft to reassembly after Nell’s ritual dismembering of words, lines and stanza of numerous poems that we had thought finished. Just as I have for him, of course. His development as a poet has been massive over these six years, and his forthcoming pamphlet, Collecting the Data, will be a terrific calling card.

Mat and I are very different poets, but I’d suggest the key to our successful mutual support is that we never attempt to get the other to write in our aesthetic or voice. Instead, we strive to understand, respect and sometimes push each other gently towards a stretching of our self-imposed limits.

Perhaps the only bad thing is that we now can’t ethically bring ourselves to review our respective books.

Matthew Stewart, My mate Mat

Rex Jung is a neuroscientist who studies creativity. He defines creativity as what is “novel and useful” [emphasis mine]. By choosing to live a creative life, by choosing to seek out the poetic in the humdrum details of our daily lives, we can use writing to gain the perspective we need to become the person each of us wants to be: we can live deliberately.

We can cultivate attention and gratitude. We can create stronger connections with the physical realities of Earth, and with each other. If we look inward, but aim toward art—and if we are fortunate—we can transcend ourselves.

Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.
Oscar Wilde

We construct our narratives. Which story are you choosing? Because this choice is who you are.

Ren Powell, Metaphor as a Present Tense Manifesto

Kierkegaard suggests that we’re depressed, in modern times, precisely because we’re trying to live in the present moment: we have emptied the past and the future of all meaning. “Everything is cut away but the present; no wonder, then, that one loses it in the constant anxiety about losing it.” In these conditions McMindfulness is more likely to exacerbate depression than to relieve it. Relying on the present moment to supply all our meaning was already overloading it: piling more on is not likely to help.

I still think most people will need mindfulness practices (very broadly construed) to have a life worth living. But I’ve joined the rebellion against locating the present moment as the place where reality lives. There’s a lot of reality. Some ways of reaching out to touch it are historical, and some are soteriological. The fact that “we look before and after” is a feature, not a bug. Sure, it can get us in trouble. What can’t? Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.

A quiet Fall day. I have failed in everything. And still no rain.

Dale Favier, “Everything is cut away but the Present”

One of the gifts of lyric poetry is the way that it can hold space for a full range of truths as well as ways to access understandings of truth. I often tell writers that what we are after is awkward human utterance. This can be interpreted both as craft as well as content. Figuring out what needs to be said as well as how it needs to be said–this is the gift and animation of engaging with poetry and its truths.

These thoughts are on my mind after spending time with the digital album Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 (Hello America Stereo Cassette) by Mugabi Byenkya. This album’s narrative arc centers the experiences of a disabled body navigating an able-bodied world as well as the themes of intimacy and love and their role in survival. What charges through the listening experience is Byenkya’s lyric sensibility.

The opening to “Tina,” for example, sets a scene deftly then quickly makes clear what the stakes are:

Housekeeping keeps knocking on the door telling me to open up. I sit and listen. I’m the reason that the towel rack lies mangled askew on the chalky linoleum floor, wondering how much this is going to rack up in charges, wracking my mind for a convincing enough excuse, because I had a seizure while getting out of the shower is a little too much truth, a little too much awkward silence, a little too much shifty eyes, a little too much tiptoeing past the room but barging in when the fork clatters to the ground, a little too much.

The scene here depicts the liminal space of having to negotiate around vulnerability. The physical vulnerability of the moment runs parallel with the emotional vulnerability behind the speaker’s voice. Reading the words alone makes clear the mind at work; the wordplay of “open up” can be appreciated and lingered over in text, such a poignant note to hit before moving forward. Listening to Byenkya’s voice behind words, however, adds a further dimension, makes clear exactly the “opening up” to come.

The idea present in the phrasing “a little too much truth” lives at the core of this album. Byenkya’s awareness and ability to evoke for listeners moments of “a little too much truth” is a gift to watch in action.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Songs For Wo​(​Men) 2 by Mugabi Byenkya

Geoff Bouvier’s first book, Living Room, was selected by Heather McHugh as the winner of the 2005 APR/Honickman First Book Prize. His second book, Glass Harmonica, was published in 2011 by Quale Press. He received an MFA from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts in 1997 and a PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University in 2016. In 2009, he was the Roberta C. Holloway visiting poet at the University of California – Berkeley. He lives in Richmond, Virginia, with his partner, the novelist SJ Sindu, and teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

1 – How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I don’t remember the first book I ever read, but it fundamentally changed me. The mere fact of words – lines of little scribbles that were somehow signs of meaning – shifted my basic understanding of everything.

The first book I wrote – “The Cake Who Lost Its Crumbs,” when I was three – taught me that I could sculpt those little significant meaningful scribbles. My audience was my mother and father, who were quite encouraging.

The first book I published, thirty-three years later, relined my confidence. Though Living Room found only a modest audience, it did earn me some inroads into academia, where I’ve been able to cultivate a life of the mind.

With my new book, Us From Nothing, I wanted words to again shift my basic understanding of everything. I had to try to understand who I am, why I’m here, where I came from, and where I might be headed. It took me 7 years to research and revise what became a serial epic prose poem about the most important milestones in human history.

2 – How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Psychologically, from the moment I learned to read, it was the words that got me, first and foremost. The mere fact of words. I didn’t care about stories or characters. Those words were drawing attention to themselves as words. That’s the poetry. That hooked me.

Factually, I grew up in a house full of books – my parents were both teachers and readers – but the shelf with the poetry books was the only one with cobwebs on it. I think I gravitated toward it because no one else ever touched it; the poetry books could be mine, all mine.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Geoff Bouvier

My latest poetry book has an unusual backstory: the pandemic and my telepathic parents.

My parents communicated telepathically — mostly when my father was at work. She was a stay-at-home Mom; he was a shipman in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and had no access to a telephone.  When I was too young for school, she’d ask me to play quietly and then converse with him. Naturally, I thought all married couples could transmit thought messages.

I inherited this useful ability, which granted me access to communications “across the miles,” so to speak.  For example, I could reach my father while he was driving and insist that he turn around and come home. I kept this channel open so the dead could reach out, too; My Dungeon Ghost is a memoir poem about an elementary school classmate who became a paid assassin, died behind bars, and telepathically requested “a boon.”
 
With outsiders, this was never discussed, even though my family considers telepathy to be a normal thing even children are expected to do. Though I’ve had my share of uncanny conversations and experiences, I deliberately excluded these from my writing. Then the pandemic arrived with a panicked lockdown — and the silken privacy of isolation granted permission to open a locked door. I decided this collection would be different: a conjuring of the literary and speculative, the familiar and the alien, with judicious sampling from other poets.

Drop-in by LindaAnn LoSchiavo (Nigel Kent)

This was the first in-person reading I’ve done in a long time. I’d forgotten how bad the nerves are when I read out. Getting the collections off the bookshelf and going through them, choosing what to read was like going backwards in time, like looking through photos and seeing images of previous selves. I literally had to knock the dust off them, especially the early ones. I have five collections in all: three full and two pamphlets and I have another full collection coming out next year. You’d think by now I’d feel reasonably confident in my abilities as a poet but for some reason, poetry is probably my main area of intense feelings of imposter syndrome. Often I get so nervous before a reading that I’ll spend the whole day beforehand stuck in ‘waiting mode’ feeling sick with nerves. But I think something might have changed this year, the nerves are definitely not as bad. I think it’s since I signed the book deal contract on my nature-landscape-memoir. I have spent a year writing about belonging and what it is to belong, to feel you have a place in the world. I feel like I have spent a year validating my right to exist in the arts sphere, and other places, my own landscape, my own skin. The difference between having a poetry collection published and a main stream trad published non poetry book is immense – I’m going to write a post about it in the future – and it helps that there’s a team working with me, all of us working towards getting the edits finished, getting the book landed and absolutely shining. I don’t know what it is I’m trying to say – something about being taken seriously as a writer, but also, that self recognition, the finding of inner value in your own work…you have got to have that to grow.

Anyway, I think because the nerves were less debilitating this time, and because I didn’t have books to flog or a course to sell, I think because I was simply taking part (not organising for a change – the relief!) I was able to enjoy the evening more fully, I was fully present. I chatted to poetry friends, I got the gossip on other sectors of the arts world, I enjoyed, oh fully enjoyed, the readings by the other poets and when I came to read I felt a genuine connection with the audience. As I sat watching the night draw in on Northway, listening to the musicians between sets and watching the good folk of Scarborough going out into the town, or coming in and out of the SJT theatre opposite, the shop lights and the street lights glittering, the sound of traffic moving through the town, I thought – this could be anywhere. We could be in London, we could be in Manchester, but here we are in Scarborough.’ It pleases me to see cultural events like this springing up in the town, and I’m pleased to just be a tiny part of that.

Wendy Pratt, Knocking the Dust Off – Reading Out

I have a live reading as part of an Acumen evening coming up this week […]. Do pop in if you find yourself in Dulwich on Thursday. I liked what Wendy [Pratt] had to say about not having to organise the reading so she could step back and enjoy just reading. I liked her note about not having books to sell as well— this will be my last reading before I do have to start thinking about that.

However, what I really liked was the poem that Wendy included at the end of the post. It’s her lovely ‘Love Letter to Scarborough on a Saturday Night‘ from her most recent collection, ‘ When I Think of My Body as a Horse‘ (reviewed by some knobhead here). Maybe it’s the fact that I have family in Scarbados—NB, I don’t think it is, but I love this poem.  The whole collection is a moving feast, a marvel and  just moving, so if you’ve not read it please do.

Now, I could just cheat and tell you to read the Scarborough poem and call that it, but oh no, dear reader…I want you to have more…

Mat Riches, Nationalising Breaking Glass and Rood-Screens

On Thursday evening I did a reading with Catherine Kyle Broadwall (she read from her fun new book, Fulgurite—full of fairy tale poems!) and read from Field Guide to the End of the World and Flare, Corona, which I think went pretty well. Had a good crowd, it was a super cute store—great eclectic magazine sections, great fiction and poetry sections, and a stuffed narwhal hanging from the ceiling, and we sold a lot of books, which was fun. It had been a minute since I’d done a reading, so I was glad it went pretty well. […]

I got a total of four rejections and two acceptances this week – and one was from a place I’ve been trying to get into for years, JAMA, or the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not a doctor, but I do have a pre-med biology degree, and I write medically themed poetry all the time, so it seemed like a natural fit—but the first poem they took wasn’t at all medically related, ironically. Ha ha!

Fall always means new pens and notebooks, catching up on paperwork, starting the academic year—so even those of us who don’t work in academia will be affected by the increased work at literary magazines or invitations to come read at classes, all that sort of thing.

Although I am still recovering from my antibody infusion from almost two weeks ago, I’m starting to feel a little more productive as the days get colder and shorter.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s Fall Witches! Autumn Equinox with Glass Pumpkins, a Reading Report from Edmonds Bookshop and an Upcoming Zoom Reading, Exciting Acceptances

Such a joy last weekend to attend one of a few readings organized by Editor Cassandra Arnold to celebrate her release of Alchemy and Miracles (Gilbert & Hall Press, 2023). Everyone read so beautifully! This collection is filled with nature poems written by 83 poets from all over the world, including three writers from right here in Southeast Alaska. Yes, I’m over the moon to have work in this compilation with fellow Blue Canoe writers Mandy Ramsey from Haines and Bonnie Demerjian from Wrangell. If you get the chance, give Cassandra Arnold a follow on Instagram (@cassandra_art_and_stories) where you’ll surely be inspired about all things poetry. And yes, she designed this lovely cover, too! Alchemy and Miracles may be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Happy Autumn, all! In true, Southeast Alaskan form, termination dust on the high peaks yesterday morning.

Kersten Christianson, Autumnal Alchemy

You can’t see in the photograph that the speaker is sitting on her hands, nor can you see her feet, described later as “thick toes, accustomed to field” that are squeezed painfully into borrowed shoes. And the face gives no evidence of physical pain, but that makes the speaker even more believable. She has prepared for this moment, this unveiling, and nervous as she is, she will not allow something as minor as discomfort to ruin it.

Smith turns the poem in the second stanza by changing the verb tense, moving into second person, though it feels more like the speaker is talking to the picture or into a mirror rather than talking directly to the reader. It’s a fantastic use of the second person, because usually the effect of the move is to grab the reader by the shirt, so to speak, and demand their attention, but here it’s more introspective.

Tell me that I have earned at least this much woman. Tell me

that this day is worth all the nights I wished the muscle

of myself away.

The “tell me” is a request for validation or acceptance, but again, the speaker isn’t asking for it from us. She’s asking it from herself, which is important because she isn’t sure that she’ll receive it from anyone else. The end of the poem leaves this uncertain:

Here I am, Mama, vexing your savior,

barely alive beneath face powder and wild prayer. Here I am,

both your daughter and your son, stinking of violet water.

The “vexing your savior” combined with “wild prayer” really hits hard for me because of my own experiences of estrangement from family over matters of faith. I feel what’s at stake and why she still needs to be this person no matter the cost. There’s an ache here that stays unresolved, and I think that’s why it sticks with me.

Brian Spears, Sitting for a picture

Wow, I felt a lot of love for RS Thomas after my last blog post.

I wonder if we need more spirituality today, generally I mean. I speak as a moderate atheist. I think I used to call myself an ‘agnostic’ – wanting to leave the door open I suppose – but we all grow older, and so our thoughts and beliefs mature one way or another. I now love a lot of things about the church of my upbringing (although I hated it as a child!), but it stops well short of faith. The only church service I enjoy is Evensong, but I love the architecture of churches and can’t resist going inside any I come across. I’ve often sung the services in cathedrals with my choir the Lewes Singers: I will sing anything, but I never say the creed. It’s always a moving experience, but perhaps that’s the feeling of being in the presence of faith: people who truly believe. I don’t just mean those participating in the service, but also the thousands of souls who have worshipped there for centuries, right back to the stonemasons and labourers who built the massive edifices. I respect all that, and feel privileged to be a part of it.

But spirituality feels much wider, more inclusive than religion as such. My impression is that RS continually questioned his faith. Isn’t that what many of us do, even the atheists? What do we believe in? Surely it can’t just be Gaia, politics, football or reality TV?

Robin Houghton, On spirituality, a submission and the wonder of lists

The Days of Awe open on Rosh Hashanah and close on Yom Kippur. When my birthday falls on Rosh Hashanah, it gets lost in the birthday of the world; when it falls on Yom Kippur, celebrations turn sober and thin. Gallows humor when fasting, enacting symbolic death? Fat chance! 

This year, the birthday fell smack in the middle of the Days of Awe – and I got a day or two of awe. When your walls come tumbling down (Rabbi Alan Lew’s image), as they did unbidden during this season of introspection, you get some light in the gaps of the rebuilding. That happened mid-week – all in betweens! – in a New England-y place familiar and known (Maine) but charged. I cleared the slate and came with heightened sensibility; came to the sapphire sky with such a mind. Something came to meet me. 

Everything got renewed by the sea, standing on the deck of a fishery
in the presence of a rope coiled, braided, stiff with the sting of fish iodine
and rusted wires woven together with gates, doors, traps
and floats bulbed in mottled white and bright fuchsia 
hanging like a bunch of radishes. 

Yes to Paul Eluard: “Is there another world? Yes, in this one.”

Jill Pearlman, All the Days of Awe

Do I read Emily Dickinson because she speaks to me directly and clearly? In truth, no. I’m very often mystified. And I think this is a point worth making: we don’t always read the writers we love out of a profound sense of familiarity or comprehension. But where I don’t understand her, a different kind of understanding steps in, a knowledge layers deep that I would not otherwise have activated that day. Dickinson makes me experience what she herself described here:

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Dickinson’s social quickness and wit is often overlooked in favor of her reclusive tendencies. If you don’t believe me, read her letters. I have just flipped to a passage at random and found a letter to her brother Austin that I had marked years ago. It reads:

Your welcome letter found me all engrossed in the history of Sulphuric Acid!!!!!

Yes, she included five exclamation points. Later in the letter, she tells her brother she’s eager for a Valentine—all the other girls have received them—so, where is hers? She insists that Austin tell Thomas she’s pining for one.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

Since learning that yoga is not, in fact, a sinister cult but a really useful way of caring for my back, I regularly breathe out deeply. This is something I’ve done both in classes, and in front of ‘Yoga with Adrienne’ and her free YouTube videos. 

When younger, I did breathing exercises for wellbeing by default when playing the flute. A lot of my lessons were spent with my teacher encouraging me to develop breath and diaphragm control. I had no idea how useful a life skill this was as I channelled a column of air into a top C. 

More recently, I exhaled deeply on opening a box of copies of Festival in a Book – A Celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival. I had been holding my breath for two weeks: between the moment of pressing send on the final proofs and lifting out the first book. I breathed even more freely when Anna Dreda, Festival Founder, said she loves the anthology created in honour of her Festival and its legacy. 

It has struck me since that the publication of a book of poetry is, in some ways, an exhalation, a letting go. A breathing out of thought and word and music into the world. Breath and word. The word made paper. It can’t be taken back now. And it will become part of other people’s breathing, internal and external, when read. 

Liz Lefroy, I Exhale Deeply

I know sometimes a poem can simmer away for years before the poet feels it’s done, or at least in a state competent enough to be abandoned. I know some people feel writing slowly and meticulously, working on the placing of words in relation to each other, how each fits or alters the metre, a rhyming scheme, or the demands and rigours of the particular form that is at the heart of the attempt, is the proper way to pay respect to poetry as a craft to be learned. Sometimes this process allows time for an exploration into what the poet actually wants to say – because it’s not always obvious to the poet at the outset. I appreciate this, and have written this way.

And of course there is the question of feedback. A poem might be sent to a trusted poetry friend for appraisal, even for thorough workshopping. Bits might be lopped off, the tense altered, adjectives questioned, the lines rejigged to the point of a new opening or closing line. And if the poem ever becomes a part of a collection, then the publisher’s editor, who might or might not be the same person, might well want to suggest even more alterations. This is normal enough stuff. Some thinner-skinned poets seem to struggle with it but after many years of working for newspapers, I understand the role of the sub-editor and the value of a good one. Far from it being bothersome, I appreciate the effort and generosity of those who take the time to offer their thoughts.

However, not all poetry is written as methodically and meticulously as this. An obvious point, perhaps, but in poetry’s case ‘rules are not always rules’.

More recently, or at least recently more frequently, I have felt more confident in the technique of stream-writing, not simply as a warm-up exercise, but as a valid form of delving into what the mind contains and wants to share. When I begin I have no idea what will come out of it. I might have one line, one image, and I usually feel calm enough to shut everything else out and let the words, images, phrases, chunks of conversation maybe, emerge and work out their own order. It’s an exploration, without prior warning, of the recesses of the mind. Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, the result is completely disconnected rubbish because I’m unable to think or connect thought and so it is deleted. Other times, it feels as if I may have hit on something, that the words have a relationship to one another, a rhythm that might alter and swing around, but that forms a whole that contains some kind of meaning, in the strict sense of the word, as in an emotional connection not simply a logical process. The validity of this way of doing things is a matter of opinion and it’s certainly not something I would do every time I sat down to write, but I’m finding that with more practice comes more consistency, as I suppose is the way with any technique.

That is not to say the ‘end result’ cannot stand editing. There are poets who employ stream-writing as an inviolable technique, valid only if left well alone as the produce of the mind at that particular moment in life or time. I see the point in this as a principle but the obvious danger is that it may end up as a stream of self-indulgent drivel, a celebration of egotism in a string of boring sentences.

Bob Mee, Untitled

There can be beauty in a list: its specificity, also the rhythm and sound–which order does the poet choose for each word? That matters. Chronology perhaps; category, like the scientist; or else sound, such as alliteration; or possibly by the thread of some concatenation that gradually creates associations. The logic of a list poem differs from other forms of lists.

I always think of Whitman as an early and consummate “list poet,” though a great many of his poems do not rely on the strategy. There are list poems that employ anaphora and those that build through phrases. Others rely on modifiers that escalate or change tone to surprise the reader. In my own process it has been useful to begin drafting poems through listing, though often I abandon the list when I revise.

Also, I teach myself about the world and its people, environs, and ideas through lists.

For example, having strayed temporarily from my home region, I’m getting acquainted with a “new” place by making lists of birds, trees, flowers–yeah, the naming-things approach so basic to human beings, like when my children were just learning to talk and conversation with them consisted largely of naming objects or actions.

This is not a poem:

Pygmy nuthatch, juniper titmouse, pinyon jay. Gambel oak, Abert’s squirrel, pinacate stink beetle, skink. Quaking aspen, limber pine. Common raven, Woodhouse’s scrub-jay, fireweed, globemallow, bear corn, oak gall, crow. Pinyon, cholla, Ponderosa pine, alligator juniper, Apache plume, sandwort, groundsel. Gneiss, granite, gray oak, spotted towhee, rabbitbrush, bajada, arroyo, muttongrass, mesa, schist.

Ann E. Michael, Lists

Somewhere a chair is waiting for us. Maybe at home. Maybe at the doctor’s office. Maybe in an empty lot beside a busy street where a sparrow sings in the thicket.

Carey Taylor, Off Killingsworth


When his partner suddenly died, life changed utterly for Paul Stephenson. In Hard Drive a prologue and epilogue hold six parts of almost equal length. These poems take the reader through the journey of grief: Signature, Officialdom, Clearing Shelves, Covered Reservoir, Intentions, Attachment.

‘A noted formalist, with a flair for experiment, pattern and the use of constraints’, Paul also has a talent for intriguing titles: Other people who died at 38; Better Verbs for Scattering; We weren’t married. He was my civil partner.

There is a great variety of form: erasure poems, use of indents and columns, haibun, prose poems, alongside the narrative poems which range in length from three lines to the five-page poem Your Brain.

Fokkina McDonnell, Hard Drive

A little while ago, I read a pamphlet by Nikki Dudley. It was about her Nan, Greenie, and about how Greenie´s dementia had a huge impact not only on her, but also on Nikki and the whole family. At the time I was reading this, my father had died after living with Parkinson´s-related dementia for the last years of his life. And my mother, who was (and still is) alive, was living with dementia as well. The book meant a lot to me and I came back to it again and again. It is a mixture of poetry, CNF and visual poetry, the latter illustrating perfectly that dementia is not a linear thing, but something scattered, murky, out of reach for those who live with it and those who are their witnesses in this process. When I wrote my own book, St. Eisenberg and the Sunshine Bus, Nikki’s book helped me to think outside the box in describing my father’s dementia.

So when Beir Bua Press closed down and it wasn’t clear what would happen with all the books, I approached Nikki and asked her what she thought about Sídhe Press re-publishing her book. We agreed on working together and on September 15, Just One More I Go, was re-published by Sídhe Press. It is, of course, the same book it was, but I hope we have added and improved to it in a way that honours Greenie. As well as an additional poem, we now have photos of Greenie not only on the cover, but also tucked inside the book- one more thing to illustrate who she was and is to Nikki, and once we read it, to us. And it slots in seamlessly with Our Own Coordinates- Poems About Dementia, which was the first book I published with Sídhe Press.

Annick Yerem, Just One More Before I Go by Nikki Dudley

母と娘(こ)に生れあはせし花野かな 正木ゆう子

haha to ko ni umareawaseshi hanano kana

            our fate of being

            a mother and a daughter

            flowering field …

                                                            Yuko Masaki

from Haiku Dai-Saijiki (Comprehensive Haiku Saijiki), Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo, 2006

Fay’s Note:  “hanano” (flowering field) is an autumn kigo.

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (September 25, 2023)

Two of Trish Kerrison’s sons have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which triggers progressive muscle failure and usually limits life to eighteen years or below, although they are now in their late-twenties. The poems are an honest, and occasionally humorous, look at life as a mother and carer. The short introductory poem takes the image of four lines drawn in sand to make a box, “to put people in// to live,/contained,// until the sands shift.” Children are life-changing events but also a tickbox on a life’s milestones: job, marry, children, etc. A disabled child can leave parents feeling as if their life’s foundations have slipped away. No one pictures themselves with a disabled child. There’s not only the extra care work involved but battles to get the support parents are entitled to, the juggling of carers and work, and the feeling of constantly fighting the same battles over and over. But parents keep going, as “The Ground Beneath Our Feet” concludes as parents

“laugh, even as the sands are shifting.
We walk on unsteady feet, unsteady ground.
We don’t look down.”

Emma Lee, “Beyond Caring” Trish Kerrison (Five Leaves) – book review

Today, riding back to the city, and drinking my first PSL of the year, I noticed some trees were somehow bright yellow amid still plentiful green and remembered we had crossed that official threshold into autumn–the equinox. That early dark creeps in slowly, but starts racing toward December about now, helped along by the time change that will come in early November.  I have not started my fall decorating or swapped out my summer clothes for cooler weather but possibly this week I will do both. 

This week is less thick with writing than last week with lots of deadlines and the first draft of the poetry study guide trial assignment. In addition to the usual lifestyle and design stuff, it was really nice to spend some time, deep diving on a single poem (Sharon Olds’ “Rite of Passage)” and putting all that literary analysis education I paid so much for to good use. There were chapbook orders and layouts on new books that will be coming. There was one new poem in the cryptozoology series, but it feels halting and stiff like I haven’t written enough in the past couple of months, poetry-wise, sort of like clearing your throat after a long silence. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/25/2023

I sometimes laugh when I think back to my NY post and declaring 2023 to be the year of my ALL. This year, and it’s only September, has already exceeded expectations. I’m looking forward honestly to January when I can write down the plot of this past year, and call forth the next. (Carefully, very carefully….)

But also, don’t worry, it seems with every amazing thing that’s happened, there’s been a balance check. But I still believe in the unsaid, (a post I wrote in 2017), I still believe in the words of Nicole Brossard who says, “You have to be insane to confide the essential to anyone anywhere except in a poem.” 

Still, life is wonderful, still life is wonderful……My book on that subject and the art life will be coming out in January, and I remain very proud of it. More on that soon…..

In the meantime, our garden season is coming to a close, the poetry of fall is upon us.

Shawna Lemay, Another Season of Seeing

I often sort of felt like I was the only stranger at a party where everyone else were lifelong friends. Much hugging and exclaiming around me while I stand awkwardly smiling and clutching my wine glass. One of the many great things about online learning though is that I don’t have to be there in the room with the awkward smile and the wine glass. I can be HOME with the video turned off, my brow furrowed, thinking wait…what? […]

And no, I’m not going to tell you which poet, because I’m sure you love love love their work and might be a tad judge-y of me for noooot really being tuned into it. I’m hoping, though, that sense of not-getting-it -even-though-you-want-to resonates. I’m happy to be reminded that I don’t need to love it all, that I can just keep reading on. And that maybe there will come a time when this poet’s work is exactly what I’ll need.

The poetry mansion has many rooms, so it’s okay that I slide out of this one and wander into some other room, or lurk in the hallway for a while. I’m sure there’s another party I’ll feel more comfortable in. Have wine glass, will travel.

Marilyn McCabe, You don’t know what love is; or, On Learning and Appreciation

Famished for good fortune, well fed on the hungers of the needy, we can name all the saints but cannot bend their mercies so one size fits all.

To sing, to seek, to rosary old stones.

To regal and re-gold tired sunrises.

Scatter worries for the birds feasting on hard times.

For the ones flying south in winter, scatter hopes so joy may expand.

Rich Ferguson, Blessed Light For the Dying

For the Earth,
both hands in an arc.
A fist for the moon.
Gravity a rope,
unseen in the dark.

Palms up for the tides,
both high and low,
the hands raise and lower
as they ebb and flow.

The planet spins,
the pull taunts,
the moon is what
the water wants.

Jason Crane, POEM: Describing A Satellite

island: the moon
that swallowed the moon
a mouth that gathered clouds

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, 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. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, poets were deep in their feelings about the end of summer/beginning of autumn, those who teach were girding their loins, but there was still plenty of time for reflections on the writing process, spirituality in poetry, the latest great book, and much more. Enjoy.


Ordinary poems about ordinary days, grey

pigeons and pallid skies, ashen self-pity and line
after monochrome line of mundane mediocrity.
Poems that taste of bile. Of an inertia that

stretches long and undefined. Poems like tepid
beer. Like days that have forgotten themselves.
Poems not brave or sad enough to cry. That

evening by the Vistula, I traced the contours
of my formless quiet into yet another faded,
anaemic poem. A train rumbled by, unnoticed.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 60

Growing up out of the stone ground, a large cast aluminum tree was tangled in the branches of second tree — like two hands grasping each other—while the second tree hangs suspended upside down in the air. The grey metal of the trees, surrounded by white walls is starkly devoid of color, while the roots reach upward toward the sky, untethered and seeking some ground in which to root itself.

Andrea Blythe, The Flourishing Beauty of Ariel Schlesinger’s Interconnected Aluminum Trees

In a week where southern California is under a tropical storm watch, with storm Hilary expected to dump as much rain in 2 days as some parts of the southwest get in 2 years (2 years!!!), and wild fires continue to blaze across northern Canada, and a heat dome will break all sorts of records across the nation–I began this week of historic weather by getting my contributor copies of this book, Dear Human at the Edge of Time:  Poems on Climate Change in the United States: [photo]

I’m very pleased that “Higher Ground,” one of my Noah’s Wife poems was selected.  One of the joys of blogging is that I have an easy way of looking up my writing process, at least for this poem.  This blog post tells the genesis of this poem, the day in January of 2020 when my boss insisted that the registrar put unqualified/uninterested students in classes so that we would meet our ARC goal, which brought the wrath of Corporate on us, which made our boss enraged, an unpleasant day all the way round.

I look back and think about the ways our lives and our school were about to unravel, all of the power struggles that would mean so little in the end, as the pandemic unspooled, and new owners arrived to change the school in ways that meant that very few of us would still be employed there. I think back to days like the one in January of 2020, and I’m amazed that I could tolerate that work situation as long as I did.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Climate Change and Poetry and an Acceptance

The 3rd of my poems published by Verse-Virtual. There are so many beautiful poems in this issue. I’m honored to be among them.

Seaweed calligraphy at the tide’s edge.
A crab tracks through, smears the ink.
I wait for the fog to lift. The gulls argue
over someone’s sandwich crust, get on
with survival. I remember your words,
the undertow.

Sarah Russell, On the Shore

This time of year always makes me think of the past somehow, which probably has something to do with the start of school and the bygone sense of blank pages. This morning, I was thinking about 10 years ago, a period of time that seems sort of muddy with a relationship that was well past its sell-by date, but also good things like the release of shared properties of water and stars and Pretty Little Liars marathons complete with a very tiny Zelda racing back and forth across the back of the sofa. Late in the summer, we visited my cousin who lived way up in northern Wisconsin, which already had a fall-ish tinge to trees even in late August. We drank overly elaborate Bloody Marys and went antiquing in a tiny town with many stores where I got my prized Roloflex camera for a steal at $10 and several pretty antique postcards. I’d wake up in the mornings on the sofa with my cousin’s enormous golden lab sprawled across me. Smallish bears would ramble through their yard from the surrounding woods at dawn. The weekend was campfires and pontoon rides and, perhaps most importantly, both my parents were still very much alive and healthy.  

20 years ago, I was 29 and on the verge of starting my MFA studies, going to overly bougie and posh several-course lunch orientations at the Union League Club back when Columbia was spending money like it had it.  Later, at the meet and greet with other students and faculty, I would feel like I didn’t fit in–a feeling that would pervade me for the next four years of study. On my one day of full classes that fall, I kept returning to the Art Institute, which was pay-what-you-can in the afternoons to gaze at the Cornell boxes–still in their location in the old modern wing before the new one was built. A project that would also take four years to finish.  I would take my notes to the cafe across Michigan and turn them into poems that eventually became at the hotel andromeda. I was tentatively sending out the first version of what would eventually become the fever almanac, though it would change a lot before getting picked up two years later. I was still mulling the idea of starting a chapbook press that wouldn’t bloom until the spring, but it was a tiny kernel of thought I’d turn over and over in my head while waiting for the bus or working nights at the library’s circ desk.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/20/2023

Well, writing this missive from inside a smoke attack so bad that we have the worst air quality in the world right now. Just two days ago, it finally cooled off from the nineties to a more pleasant 75, and I felt good enough to make a brief trip out to our local Woodinville Flower Farm […]

We came home, having spent time with finches singing and coming home with handfuls of corn and flowers, and decided to stay in for a couple of days while the smoke came in. It might be gone as soon as tomorrow. We’re also keeping a close eye on our friends in California which is facing a hurricane and flooding, so soon after the disaster hurricane/fire in Maui. We are hoping everyone stays safe.

So when the weather isn’t trying to kill us, we’ve got to get out and try to enjoy it. My second favorite season, fall, is approaching fast: Facebook is full of back-to-school pics, and I’m ready to shop for office supplies and cardigans—rituals I continue even without the school year structure.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Writing from Inside the Smoke: with a Brief Respite in a Flower Farm and Is It Fall Yet (September Readings and More)

In a NYT newsletter Saturday, Melisa Kirsch wrote about how time away from home can help you see your home’s absurdities. For her, time away makes her question everything about home and realize how much of what she has there is unneeded.

Boy, that’s not me.

Time away–in a place where it was too hot to go outside, where we didn’t have any furniture to sit on, where we lived out of a suitcase for weeks and weeks–has made me realize how much I appreciate what I have here. How much I appreciate a comfortable, functional home and being able to live the summer months in it.

So, I am busy cramming as much summer as I can into these last weeks of it. I was home for only one day before my daughter and I got in the car and drove north to visit my parents in the place that I really think of as home. Every cell of my being was craving big water and cool, marine air. It was actually pretty warm there, too, but low 80’s felt like such a relief after weeks of temperatures above 100.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of dreams and time warps

This morning I set out with the old dog down the lane now overhung with trees heavy with seeds. There are now sloes in the hedges and crab apples, and small hard plums (bullaces?) appearing. As we turned onto the old bridal path and began to cross the grass I felt the dew on my skin of my feet, through my sandals; not unpleasant, it was refreshing, seeping under my soles, and up to my ankles, cool and silky. The horse chestnuts are already beginning to turn, already beginning to brown at the edges, the conkers already fat and spiked. There’s a scent to the air that is difficult to place: something loamy, earthy. We are nearing autumn.

This week I received some exciting news about a new poetry collection I’ve been working on. I can’t say anything yet, but it was the sort of news that made me leap about the room yelling. That sort of news doesn’t happen very often. It’s the sort of news that feels like a real step up the ladder. It came at just at the right time as I was feeling a little out of love with poetry and wondering where my work fit into the poetry ‘scene’. I need to take the advice I so often give mentees and just write the poems I enjoy writing, write for myself. It’s hard to write truthfully, to write authentically without feeling the pressure to conform to a certain style or a certain fashion. I don’t want to say too much about the collection until news is made official, but with this collection I took risks and pushed my own boundaries, and was worried that it might not work. Even though I felt it worked and that the poems had worth, another part of me was rubbishing my positivity. I have been working on undoing that internal voice of late, but it’s lovely to feel the validation of someone I respect hugely seeing worth in my work.

Wendy Pratt, Late Summer – A Sensory Experience – The Touch of Summer

The cat can tell the moment I’m awake.
He purrs because he knows breakfast will come.
It’s dark: I’m not so thrilled to be alert
this rainy Tuesday dawn, brain sputtering
on far too little sleep, running on fumes.
Next time the former president is indicted
for racketeering I shouldn’t stay awake
refreshing headlines, waiting for the news.
Of all the things that don’t belong in poems —
though justice does, blindfold and sword and scales.
This week our Torah portion is called Judges.
(I cannot make this up.) Too on the nose?
“Justice, justice” — Moses said it twice.
I live in hope. What else is there to do?

Rachel Barenblat, Pursue

I’m a little surprised I never titled a blog post “Home Again, Home Again” until now. I did title one “Jiggedy-Jig” on October 1, 2006. That was a short, Millay-Colony-aftermath update that included a prescient announcement: New manuscript title: “Theories of Falling”… 

As I type that, I feel both the nostalgic wave of joy that I got my first collection published at all, and then one of sadness that New Issues Poetry & Prose—which gave a start to so many poets, including Jericho Brown and Chet’la Sebree—was recently shuttered by the university that should have protected it. I have to link to the University of Chicago Press’s distribution page here, because that’s the last place one can easily survey the incredible back catalogue. You should grab copies while you can! The future of that distribution relationship is TBD once October 2023 is behind us. The New Issues website is down, perhaps for good, since there’s no longer staff to follow up on getting the URL registration renewed. Ooof. This is such a harrowing time for university presses and MFA programs on an infrastructure level, which is in such sharp contrast the vitality of these programs in person. 

People still sometimes find “Chicks Dig Poetry” through a particular archived post, or because someone mentions it while using an old bio note to introduce me at an event. I don’t plan on ever retiring the blog entirely unless (until) technology forces my hand, even if it survives simply as one or two posts a year. Everyone should have a place to speak freely on the internet, and recent months have made it clear that Facebook, Twitter/X, and other social media platforms are only “free” up until it is the whim of their owners to dictate otherwise. That surely applies to this place too—I notice that one of my posts has been flagged for “sensitive” content, though I can’t tell which one. But for now, I’ll treat it as the closest I have to a soapbox in the public square.

Sandra Beasley, Home Again, Home Again

Writing, at least for me, and at its heart, is necessarily incohate. Words come out. You work out what to do with them later. Or not: one way of thinking about literary modernism is as a kind of cult of the first draft (see, for instance, Virginia Woolf’s diary). Poetry, in particular, seems to grow in the gaps. Small poems, lyrics, appear like changelings in and among other things I thought I was writing. I might work them up in the ‘poetry’ book later, but they rarely start there.

This doesn’t mean they always come out looking like prose. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they are trying very hard (possibly too hard) to get away from the prose around them. I’ve come to think of poems like the mushrooms put up by fungi: sometimes they disguise themselves as the detritus they are feeding on, sometimes they look very different indeed. But it’s all one forest.

Without wanting to labour the metaphor, they are also, quite literally, feeding on wood. I’m not sure it would be possible for these different kinds of writing to get tangled up with one another if I was starting everything on a computer.

The impact of word processing is rarely discussed, even by writers. Like all technological changes, it is hard to see the scale of it from the inside. In this case, the key villain is the ‘document’. These are individual, bounded off from one another in the way that pages of a notebook aren’t. They also present themselves, on the screen, as something already published. The purpose is fixed from the beginning: there are no cracks left to grow in.

Jeremy Wikeley, Why poems are like mushrooms

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Attempting fiction and nonfiction writing in college was how poem writing first happened to me–I’d jot down ideas for essays or stories I couldn’t actualize offhand, stuff to unpack later, and littered a bunch of notebooks like that. When I of course never unpacked anything I realized I was enjoying more than anything the poetic potentiality of that shorthand. Then weirdly poems taught me how to reapproach prose with a more poetic posture, which has helped prose feel lively again. […]

Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a “book” from the very beginning?
Poems tend to start as sound for me, in the air, usually when I’m walking or in a space in the day where it feels possible to ask a question, even a basic one, like what now? Then I work something out by hand in a notebook, pen and paper, sometimes many times, then transfer it into a document when the pages start to get so cluttered I can’t see the sound/thing anymore. So I go from trying to hear the thing to trying to see it. It’s in the document phase, when I’m working with something as standardized text, that it starts to harden into something that feels like a poetic object, as if the ease of pushing something around in a text doc is concurrent with the imminent sense of its hardening. That’s when I think I try to feel the poem, fix it until I think I feel it as an organism. Essays actually work similarly, or I’ve been applying my process with poems to prose writing. Books are still mysterious to me. I have no idea what a book is but I would like to write a good one.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jed Munson (rob mclennan)

Play with these tools a while, and you begin to recognize a pretentious, generalizing style that’s heavy on ecstatic adjectives. There’s no formal analysis in the ChatGPT essay, either; this is an irregular sonnet, a detail I consider pretty relevant. But the essay as a whole is fluently written, logically organized, and full of plausible points. Honestly, many first-years even at a highly selective college struggle to hit that baseline.

In fact, asking an AI tool to write an essay (or blog post) about a poem works better than asking for the same about a novel. If you can’t feed in the whole text, ChatGPT “hallucinates” evidence including, if you nudge it for textual analysis, atrociously fictitious quotes that a half-conscious teacher would instantly recognize as not part of the original. But cutting and pasting a short piece, such as a poem, into the query slot is easy and results in accurate quotations. The essay ChatGPT generated for me even noted a mix of abstract and concrete nouns in one of my lines–from a first-year writing student, that would impress me. […]

I remain worried about the students who struggle to write clear sentences. Now they can dump a draft in a query box and emerge with something pretty. Is that a great equalizer, enabling them to succeed and me to focus more wholly on the quality of their reasoning? Can they learn what they need to know by examining how AI “fixes” their writing? Or do they struggle with how to punctuate for the rest of their lives, needing to run every single email they write through an editing program, when in a previous world coursework might have nudged them to learn the rules?

Some good results I anticipate: literature and writing teachers will have to think hard about why we read and write, and how those reasons should inform what we teach. A sense of intimacy with other human minds via their personally chosen words will become even more electrifying. And easy generalizations about challenging texts will never again pass muster among anyone who is paying attention.

Lesley Wheeler, Writing about poetry with AI

To celebrate Poetry Month in Australia, I am sharing video poems and performances of some of my poems. I’ll also include a synopsis, a bit of history about how the poem came about, and the full text of the poem. Here’s the first one: LOST, a video poem. Enjoy!

In 2017, I won my first poetry slam hosted by Draw Your (S)words. As part of that prize I got to work with emerging film-maker Pamela Boutros to make short film or video poem of one of my poems. We spent a day shooting in Port Adelaide (Yertabulti) and made LOST. […]

regrets / i’ve had a few / but then again
the only thing i truly regret is
that i didn’t listen more
to the wind, shifting / the earth, trembling / and to my heart, that old chestnut
bcs if i had known how to listen
i might have discovered sooner how to trust
getting lost in these spaces / these places
between poems

Caroline Reid, Short Film: LOST, featuring Caroline Reid & Port Adelaide

I’ve been reading I Am Flying Into Myself, Selected Poems 1960-2014 by the “perpetually insolvent” poet Bill Knott. In his introduction, Thomas Lux describes Knott as a “quintessential, almost primal lyric poet, primal in the sense that his poems seem to emerge from his bone marrow as well as his heart and mind.” Knott was fond of creating neologisms, such as “shroudmeal,” “Rilkemilky,” and “gangplanking.” He was also, according to Lux, “thorny, original, accessible, electrical, occasionally impolite, and heartbreaking.”

Reading Knott’s poems made me want to stop reading them and start writing. I decided to try to decipher what they were doing to my brain, and how I could funnel the experience into some practical writing advice.

Erica Goss, Write More Poems

As the months wore on, and spring turned into the heavy heat of July, Sophie blurted out in the middle of a Monday, repotting a ficus benjamina, (a weeping fig) that her previous employer had killed herself. Sophie had previously been employed as a live-in cook/housekeeper, and the beautiful boyfriend had been there, too, working as the family’s car mechanic. “A poet,” she said.

HER KIND

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton died on October 4th, 1974 and I met Sophie in the spring of 1975. It wasn’t hard to connect the dots. I so wanted to ask questions about what Sexton was really like, did she like working for her? But the only thing I remember is the anger that poured out of my co-worker. Angry at Sexton for leaving her family, for leaving her.

Sexton’s suicide, coming only 11 years after Sylvia Plath’s, shook the New England poetry world all over again. It was a terrible message to leave to a teenage poet. Did one have to kill herself to be held in high esteem as a woman poet? Did poetry and the hyper tragic go hand-in-hand? Somewhere in the backrooms of The Plant Company, Sophie taught me to reject that pain-filled legacy; to embrace weeping figs and date palms, jade trees and succulents instead. It’s a lesson I hold onto still.

Susan Rich, Anne Sexton and Me

All of my life I’ve been a one book at a time reader. My younger self would immerse herself in long sessions of a singular story. I could do that because I was young with few responsibilities and limited demands on my time. Even into my 20s life was simpler so reading mega-paged books was doable. Of course, as life became more complicated my reading suffered. It took much longer to read novels or memoirs. My working life got busier and busier so reading books became sporadic. Watching TV was easier, demanded less focus.

Fast forward, I discovered litmags on the internet.

Sidebar: when I bought my first laptop it sat on my coffee table closed most of the time. I couldn’t think of anything to look up! I’d only used a computer for work til then so I associated it with work. Then, Hurricane Katrina happened, making my laptop a communication line to events in my neighborhood and city while I was in exile and opening the online world to me.

Once I discovered litmags, most of my reading time was there. I still do lots of litmag reading, especially now that I “know” writers that I seek out to read. But I had an epiphany a while back: it’s ok to read more than one book at a time. I can do it. I am doing it. The key for me is reading in different genres. I know if I try to read, say, two novels about an inter-generational family I’ll get characters confused.

Charlotte Hamrick, Books: Down & Dirty

Portuguese poet Florbela Espanca (1894-1930), in her life and work, reminds me quite a bit of Edna St. Vincent Millay. The disadvantaged background giving rise to huge literary ambitions. The New Woman of early 20th century. Loving the sonnet form for its combination of control and ecstasy. The sustained aesthetics of late Romanticism and early Modernism. Her frequent use of exclamations is off-putting to my ear, but the deployment of ellipses gives her sonnets a rare quality of inarticulateness before the ineffable.

Jee Leong Koh, This Sorrow That Lifts Me Up

A J Akoto’s “Unmothered” explores the taboo of the failure of maternal love and becoming an unloved daughter. It does so without sentiment or the daughter, who voices most of these poems, feeling sorry for herself. Akoto has kept focused on the relationship, its fragmentation and fall out. The mother’s viewpoint is explored as the daughter tries to understand her behaviour, but mother claims her behaviour is motivated by love, a position the daughter struggles to follow. A startling collection which is confident enough to allow readers to inhibit and react to the poems.

Emma Lee, “Unmothered” A J Akoto (Arachne Press) – book review

In Metamorphosis, the next and final collection published during [Sanki] Saitō’s life, much of the work of answering the question ‘What is Life’ focuses on coming to terms with death, the deaths of family members and fellow poets:

A fly on his dead face –
I whisk it off.
just whisk it off

This sense of almost numb acceptance is frequently juxtaposed with a sense of personal struggle, a need for escape that is apparent in the poem that gives the collection its title:

On the green plateau
an unbridled horse, my metamorphosis –
Escape!

The sense of ecstatic relief expressed here is, I think, uncharacteristic. More mundane, yet for me at least more moving, is this poem from a few pages later:

Wanting to gain the strength
to rise and run away,
I eat potatoes

Here the need for escape is grounded in the earthy need for sustenance, for connection to the body. It’s fine, moving poem that opens up more and more on rereading.

This is a typically handsome Isobar volume, and Masaya Saito has, insofar as a non-reader of Japanese can judge, done sterling work in bringing a large representative sample of Saitō’s work to an English-speaking audience. In addition to selections from all the books he published when alive, he gives us a body of work that was either published posthumously or published in journals but never collected. For those of us interested in haiku as more than a museum piece, it’s a vital volume.

Billy Mills, Selected Haiku 1933–1962, Sanki Saitō, trans Masaya Saito: A Review

This week I have been reading issue 46 of The Dark Horse. To cut a long story short, it’s a tribute issue to Douglas Dunn in his 80th year, and a poem that pops up repeatedly in the contributors’ recollections and comments is Friendship of Young Poets—not sure this a a sanctioned link/publication of the poem, but have a look if you don’t know it. I didn’t, having only read Elegies and bits of Terry Street. I will be working my way through the lad’s catalogue now though.

After a week where there’s been some fractiousness in what we can loosely call “poetry world”, or at least a small corner of it, a line like “the friendship of poets,/ mysterious,[…]” seems apt enough for me, and a good place to end.

Mat Riches, Putting in a fest-shift

In the first half of the poem we’re very much looking down: the leaves, the path, the mud. I can almost see my welly boots nosing into the picture. As we near familiar territory though, attention drifts upwards to the leaves in the trees, the wind, the birds. Time seems to slow down as we join the poet in attentive presence, in “quiet applause”. And then this lift at the end, as we’re swept into a more expansive kind of consciousness that reaches out and beyond. It’s a beautiful, transcendent finish. Big-hearted, and at the same time emotionally complex, embracing human connectedness and limits. Spiritual, we might call it.

Indeed there is religious imagery here – the congregation, the dove. Incidentally, I love how the speaker doesn’t just perceive but “joins” the trees. There is a deep appreciation for the natural world in this poem. Or maybe that’s the wrong way of putting it, implying a kind of separateness. We’re not looking on here, but from within. At the centre of the poem is this line, “they have no book”, and I find myself thinking that the spirituality here is one that’s available to all of us, regardless of faith: to “breathe, drink light and listen”.

Jonathan Totman, Morning

The rain falls and falls
cool, bottomless, and prehistoric
falls like night —
not an ablution
not a baptism
just a small reason
to remember
all we know of Heaven
to remember
we are still here
with our songs and our wars,
our space telescopes and our table tennis.

Here too
in the wet grass
half a shell
of a robin’s egg
shimmers
blue as a newborn star
fragile as a world.

Maria Popova, Spell Against Indifference

My own sense of the spiritual, of the divine, has always remained at a distance: I was raised attending religion but never garnered a faith (I write poems for a living, so I don’t think I can claim to live without faith), growing up amongst the dour, stoic and unspoken ripples of old-style Scottish Protestantism. It was years before I understood my father’s own devotion, let alone the depth of it, attending weekly services as far more than a matter of routine or cultural habit, always appearing to me as a matter of custom, gesture and rote. I’ve long repeated that I’m somewhere between atheist and agnostic – I’m not sure what I don’t believe – but hold an admiration for those who carry spirituality as a matter of good faith, instead of, say, those who believe uncritically (including a refusal to question, which seems unsettling), or use any of their beliefs as bludgeon, or as a false sense of entitlement or superiority. Listen to Stephen Colbert, for example, speak of his Catholicism: an interview he did with Jim Gaffigan a couple of years back on The Late Show I thought quite compelling, in which they spoke of their shared faith. There are ways to be positive, and through this collection, [Kaveh] Akbar not only finds it, but seeks it out, and embraces it.

There is such a lightness, a delicate touch to the poems assembled here, one that broadcasts a sense of song and a sense of praise to the notion of finding that single spark of light in the dark. “Somehow eternity / almost seems possible / as you embrace.” writes Ranier Maria Rilke, as part of ‘The Second Duino Elegy’ (as translated by David Young), “And yet / when you’ve got past / the fear in that first / exchange of glances / the mooning at the window / and that first walk / together in the garden / one time: / lovers, are you the same?” There is such a sense of joy, and hope, and celebration across this collection of lyrics, traditions, cultures, languages and faiths. If there is a thread that connects us all together, might it be the very notion of hope? If this collection is anything to go by, that might just be the case. Whether spiritual or otherwise, this is an impressive and wonderfully-expansive collection that can only strengthen the heart.

rob mclennan, The Penguin Book of Spiritual Verse: 110 Poets on the Divine, ed. Kaveh Akbar

We went to Edinburgh for the start of the Festival to see the Grit Orchestra, and it has developed a few more thoughts on culture and tradition first inspired by a short on-line course I took dealing with the archive at Tobar an Dualchais, which I want to develop over the next few posts. There is a crossover with the thinking I was doing on healing and recovery earlier this year, and the work I am still trying to do on the Nine Herbs Charm, via the concept of ‘Lǣc’. I wrote about it a while back

‘Lǣc’ is the important stuff you do when you aren’t ‘working’ – what my Church used to call ‘servile’ work’ – all the life admin, busywork, earning a living, mundane day to day stuff. ‘Lǣc’ is ‘recreation’ spelled re-creation as the self-help books do, holiday spelled ‘holy day’ as they used to do in the Middle Ages, the difference between ‘relieving symptoms’ and ‘healing’.

It’s a bit more than healing, though. It’s a communal activity, with a link to the sacred. It is demanding, and needs ‘duende’ – when I first read about it I thought of the Zen art of archery, or the tea ceremony, and the ‘lek’ where grouse and capercaillie meet in forest clearings to strut their stuff. And this brought me to the Eightsome Reel and the William Wallace quotation in the title, from before his country-defining victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. It occurs to me that this art, this culture, is serious stuff:

To sing here you will need
to open the heart,
the lungs and voice,
and meet it square.
You can’t sing from hiding,
nor drunk or afraid.
You can’t sing this softly
like chocolate in the sun.
You must give yourself
to the fight with all your strength.
It will take all you’ve got.
It will feel like death.

The Outcry from The Wren in the Ash Tree, in Haggards

Now that summer is over, I am here, at the ring. Now to see if I can dance!

Elizabeth Rimmer, I Have Brought You to the Ring

What is spirit: This is a question much addressed in poetry. There are many questions much addressed in poetry that weary me, but this is not one, this mystery, one that confronts us with every loss.

Here is the first portion of a poem by Michael Klein called “Scenes for an elegy”:

I haven’t learned to live abandonedly yet
mother & wonder when I dream of you
if I’m meant to & if there’s such a thing as light
going on without us–or if we die into what
I think we do: something already finished
that we’re just adding us to

And I love this image from his poem “Captured”:

…the empty field with the wind thrown over it.

Isn’t that great?

Klein writes many poems that feel elegiac, and beautifully so, whether he is mourning a lost marriage, a lost youth, or a dead friend, so beautifully that life rises inevitably from these poems. I had not known his work before but have enjoyed the time I’ve spent with it this week. He has a new and selected volume coming out some time soon from The Word Works. Keep an eye out for it.

Marilyn McCabe, Gathering up the tears; or, On Elegies

who hasn’t an eye that refuses light

        and helpless blood in their breast

when shall our honey smell faintly of death

Grant Hackett [no title]

I only bought Linda Pastan’s collection, The Last Uncle (WW Norton & Co 2002),a few months ago. I bought it after reading the title poem on a poetry website. It rang so true as I lost my last two uncles at the end of 2022 and the beginning of this year and one of my cousins had said, ‘We’re the older generation now.’ I wrote about it on here. 

Reading through the collection today it’s another poem (‘The Vanity of Names’) that reaches me. It’s about a house staying ‘fixed in its landscape./ Rooms will be swept clean/ of all its memories. Doors will close./ Even the animal graves out back/ will forget who planted the bones/ …’ I am selling the house I was born in, two years after my parents died. In those two years I have spoken to them there and watched grief change shape. I felt less of their absence and more of their eternal presence. I came to be comforted by the home they lived in from the moment it was built in April 1957 until March 2021. But it is still hard letting it go. And that’s going to happen in the next few weeks: my last visit, the last time I open the front door. The last time I step into the room I was born in. The last time I close the door and turn the key. Before handing it to a stranger.

Pastan understands that her house ‘will enter/ the dreams of other people’ but ‘to acquiesce/ is never easy. It is to love the unwritten future/ almost as well as the fading past./ It is to relinquish the vanity of names/ which are already disappearing/ with every cleansing rain …’ Yes. A leap of faith into an unwritten future. And, ‘the cleansing rain’. I can work with those. 

Lynne Rees, The Sealey Challenge

But everything sinks that once
rose; everything returns to the cradle

where it was forged. There is talk
about planting barriers of seagrass,

raising walls against the onrush of water.
With arms the sheen of oyster pearl,

the current pulls its retinue of ship-
wrecks and prehistoric fish.

Rivers dream of the day
they are returned to themselves.

Luisa A. Igloria, Riverine

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 29

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: the sea and other holiday destinations, kids, writing retreats, sewing, Barbie, and more. Enjoy,


“The sea is not less beautiful in our eyes because we know that ships are sometimes wrecked by it. On the contrary, this adds to its beauty,” says Simone Weil, French philosopher in a poetic mood. She’s right: the endless surface of the sea, whether navy or aquamarine, has the abyss tucked into it. Summer used to be billed as a time to shed every care; now we know it will be ringed by wildfires or panting hot temperatures, by enclosures on the tarmac or by encirclements of algae. How else to reach paradise but by snaking roads, switchbacks and old goat paths that flirt along unguarded cliffs? But those 300 degree views of the sea! That dizzying compact between danger and thrill. Even when lying passively on a beach, you are in the solar eye. Remember Weil: “On the contrary, this adds to its beauty.”

Jill Pearlman, Simone Weil: Happy Beachgoer

We dip in the ocean. We marvel at the ocean, because most of us on the board don’t live here. (The one who does live here laughs and affectionately calls us tourists.) Pelicans glide right overhead, and sandpipers run on wet sand. We hum bits of liturgy on the beach. A seashell with a hole in it sparks a sermon idea. Among rabbis, with the Days of Awe on the horizon, everything is a sermon idea.

We brainstorm about build projects, governance and innovation, what we want to co-create in the year to come. We talk about collaborative play, about middot (character-qualities), about book projects and game mechanics and how to reach people where they are. We play Hebrew bananagrams, examine what makes good games work, talk about what might differentiate liturgy from poetry.

Rachel Barenblat, A Week of Building With the Bayit Board

Poems this past year have, admittedly, been sparse. Last summer was given over to the wedding, and months before the wedding to growing sweet peas, Japanese anemones, cornflowers among a long list. And to sewing. Just as I am intrigued by the co-dependence of writing and gardening, I’ve come to see writing, gardening and making clothes as a divine trinity that came together for the wedding. Here’s the family, plus dear friends who count as family. And three poems on making the wedding dress (above) are now on Vimeo for the Society of Authors positive poetry party. I made my outfit too. 

Jackie Wills, More on sewing and an anniversary

The sewing I’ve been doing this summer started as an experiment. As in my food choices, I’ve wanted to become more conscious of where our clothing comes from, who our dollars support or hurt, its environmental impact, and how the industry operates. I am neither a purist nor a crusader: I’ve bought plenty of clothes at Zara, H&M, Gap, Old Navy, and many other clothing companies that use offshore manufacturing. But like my friend K., who writes the blog Passage des Perles, I do shop at thrift stores, and am becoming more and more unwilling to support the fast-fashion industry, distressed by its reduced fabric quality and construction, and underwhelmed by the styles as well as their positioning to a much younger consumer. I also didn’t want to spend $200-$300 on just one or two items at local boutiques run by Quebec designers. For that amount of money, I wondered what I could actually make myself, and whether or not I’d be happy with the result.

Beth Adams, A Report on my Summer Sewing Binge – Part 1

And so much time given to those
old gilt cruel gods; so much time given
trying to sew a rag doll of myself. When
I could have followed a single splash
spilled from the jar of the sun; a moment’s
careless radiance; a story of its own.

Dale Favier, Pail

I’m rather late in posting this. On 10th June, Mo Kiziewicz gathered a group of ten writers and artists for a second day of art and poetry in The Hive at Peasedown. (The first one is dicussed here.) We took Cecilia Vicuna’s Brain Forest as our inspiration, playing with knots, experimenting with found materials, sound and language, making ‘precarious art’. A collaborative installation grew in the art room. We read our poems to it, in the midst of it. We photographed and dismantled it. In Vicuna’s words, “We have to work together for our survival … and most of all because it is fun”. It was! We went home with more hope, a new way of looking at discarded materials, and a fresh confidence in our capacity to make something together. Thank you Mo, and all who were there.

Ama Bolton, Quipu at The Hive

Beneath our anxious quickenings, beneath our fanged fears, beneath the rusted armors of conviction, tenderness is what we long for — tenderness to salve our bruising contact with reality, to warm us awake from the frozen stupor of near-living.

Tenderness is what permeates Platero and I (public library) by the Nobel-winning Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez (December 23, 1881–May 29, 1958) — part love letter to his beloved donkey, part journal of ecstatic delight in nature and humanity, part fairy tale for the lonely.

Living in his birthplace of Moguer — a small town in rural Andalusia — Jiménez began composing this uncommon posy of prose poems in 1907. Although it spans less than a year in his life with Platero, it took him a decade to publish it.

At its heart is a simple truth: What and whom we love is a lens to focus our love of life itself.

The tenderness with which Jiménez regards Platero — whom he addresses by name over and over, like an incantation of love — is the tenderness of living with wonder and fragility. He celebrates Platero’s “big gleaming eyes, of a gentle firmness, in which the sun shines”; he reverences him as “friend to the old man and the child, to the stream and the butterfly, to the sun and the dog, to the flower and the moon, patient and pensive, melancholy and lovable, the Marcus Aurelius of the meadows.” He beckons him: “Come with me. I’ll teach you the flowers and the stars.”

Maria Popova, The Donkey and the Meaning of Eternity: Nobel-Winning Spanish Poet Juan Ramón Jiménez’s Love Letter to Life

Juan Garrido Salgado immigrated to Australia from Chile in 1990, fleeing the Pinochet regime that burned his poetry, imprisoned him, and tortured him for his political activism. Since then, his poetry has been widely published to acclaim, and includes eight books, anthologies and translations. His readings are renowned for their passion and dedication to social justice. His latest collection, The Dilemma of Writing a Poem, has just been published by Puncher & Wattman.

Some time ago, we decided to make a video of one of his poems. It was a hard choice, but we settled on Cuando Fui Clandestino / When I Was Clandestine from his collection of the same title, published in 2019 by Rochford Press. The poem is strongly autobiographical and refers to time he spent in Moscow as well as living under curfew in Chile.

Making the video was a challenge. It was not possible for me to film in Russia or Chile, and, in any case, the political and social changes have been so great in each country, it was not clear what footage would be appropriate. We could have used archival footage in the public domain, but, in general, I prefer to use my own original footage in my work. Given that Juan has lived in Adelaide for many years now, we decided that I would film sites around the city that reflected the mood of his original experiences, while being clearly set in a contemporary context. All the footage was taken at night at locations I know well. A few scenes have been composited from more than one location. We went back to a key location not far from where Juan lives to film him on location after dark with his poetry.

Ian Gibbins, Cuando Fui Clandestino – poetry video collaboration with Juan Garrido Salgado

I will finish the rewrites and the edits, and I will start again from nothing to make something new.

Hell, there are comets and asteroids flying through the emptiness of space. It’s just the nature of the universe: the oftentimes uselessness of just being. Where do we get the audacity to think we’re entitled to more?

Ren Powell, Rewrites and Moving On

I thought I’d done with the subject of the Poet Laureate but couldn’t resist one last go after reading fun pieces in The Guardian and The Independent about the selection process in 1967 and 1972 recently revealed by the opening of a government archive held at Kew. […]

Mysteriously, George Barker was sniffily accused of being a ‘down and outer’. Fair enough, he did have 15 children by four different women. (Well, 15 with one woman would have been downright cruel – Ed.) Even that might have been forgiven, perhaps even lauded, had he emerged from the usual public school upbringing – a London Council school and a polytechnic didn’t cut it as Poet Laureate material.

Which left dear old Betjeman, who represented the safest choice with his ‘aroma of lavender and faint musk, tennis lawns and cathedral cloisters’. Well, he deserved his presentation of the poisoned chalice of British poetry as much as anyone.

Now, of course, poet laureates get a 10-year stint at it, which is perhaps more than enough.

If it were still a lifetime’s chore, we’d still have Andrew Motion in charge. A final digression. One of our daughters was once selected as a Foyle’s Young Poet of the Year, a mysterious process in itself, but which entailed a trip to London to mix with the others who had been chosen. She returned unimpressed. “There were people there called Horatio and Jemima and a man who I think was called Motion who seemed to just drink champagne.” As far as I’m aware, she hasn’t written another poem since…

Not that I blame the poet laureate for consuming the free champagne. Given the choice of that or trying to hold conversations with a hoard of teenagers, I’d have taken exactly the same kind of refuge.

Bob Mee, A PROMISE NOT TO WHINGE AND RANT ABOUT POET LAUREATES AGAIN… OK, ONE LAST TIME

I survived the camping with the girls and my youngest son, barely. Our fave campsite has now become stupidly popular, we had a 12-man bachelor party up singing and shooting bb guns until late and a group of giggling mothers into the morning. So I didn’t get much sleep. 

The next day they all cleared off and I thought we’d have a couple of quiet hours to decide whether to stay the next night when a 40-person party showed up for a bbq picnic. I need a new campsite close to a fire pit and toilet and not too far to walk from the car. I want to sit near a lake with just my kids splashing about, I want to sit by a fire in the silence of the woods. We had a lovely time cooking over the fire and swimming and just chilling, but it was just too noisy and crowded. I felt like I was crashing someone else’s party just trying to cook a sausage on the communal fire pit.

There’s a balance point that I always struggle with between what I need and what others need. I’m not always good at meeting both, especially with my kids, but also with my own needs and with others. I’d be happy camping alone, so I can write and do as I please. However, I went camping with my kids who have their own wishes, to a place where there are conveniences that make camping with kids easier. They loved it, having everything near and so did lots of others, so I had to share or not stay a second night. We came home. 

I have an upcoming writers’ retreat with my writing group Helsinki Writers. It’s also a weird balance. We want a social atmosphere, but we want to focus a bit on writing. We say we want to do writing activities and talk, but when we get there we mostly want to drink and chat. This is our third year and we’re still getting the mechanics in place. It will be a good time however we work it. I will make my own time for writing and hopefully, some people will show up for my own little session. And least we’re keeping our festivities in a private place, not taking over a public space.

Gerry Stewart, Finding a Balance with the World

It was really the first time I’d spent any time at all around kids since the pandemic began—besides a short visit with my college roommate’s very well-behaved daughter at a poetry reading—so that was interesting and anxiety-provoking. Glenn’s cooking was a big hit even with the very picky children, and the cats were a hit too (although they were not excited in reciprocity—they are only used to adult visitors). I really enjoyed introducing the kids to things I loved around town—they loved feeding fries to seagulls at Ivar’s, for instance, and had unexpected enthusiasm for the lavender farm and its various flowers. (They even went back without us one morning!) They loved going to a local park. My niece loved my pink typewriter, and I taught her how to use it (though an antique, it doesn’t work flawlessly—much like myself, LOL!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Review in Colorado Review for Flare, Corona, A Visit from My Older Brother and Family, and Guest Blog Post by Kelli and I at the Poetry Department Blog on Making Your Own Residency

It’s so strange out here in poetry-land. On the one (very large and oppressive) hand, I feel a lot of pressure to not be capitalistic and grossly self-promoting. Particularly in the realm of poetry, fellow writers are often apt to say something like, “focus on the work, not on whether it sells, because poetry doesn’t sell and also capitalism is gross.” Which is certainly true. But then those same writers will be distressed or disappointed or disillusioned (all the big D words) when their poems or their books get very little attention after publication — because after all, when you put effort into something and you share it with the world, you want it to garner *some* attention.

Fabulous Beast was released in the fall of 2019, and I wanted big things for my first book and poetry debut — I had only a year turnaround from acceptance to publication, which I realize now is not a lot of time for planning when post-publication awards, book reviewers, and event organizers often want things like ARCs, book covers & publication details nearly 6 months in advance. I did what I could, but no girl can fight the power of a pandemic, and 2020 destroyed the tail end of my tiny “book tour” in a gross and disheartening way.

So for The Familiar I’ve had almost two years to prepare for publication and it turns out — because of *life* — that’s still not a huge amount of time when publicity and marketing is not your primary area of expertise. But I’ve read and listened and learned a lot in that time, so perhaps my second book will get a little more love than the first one did.

And why should it matter? There’s my ego, of course. It’s more fragile than I’d like to admit, sure. But there’s also an idea that I’ve heard at a number of conferences and also read in craft and publishing articles over the past 18 months: honor the work.

As in, you did this amazing, miraculous thing — you wrote a book and found a publisher who believed in it — so celebrate that marvelous fact. Honor not only the months (and/or years) you spent writing and revising your book, but also honor the efforts of the editors and interns and all the people at the publishing company who are doing something on behalf of your work.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, New Projects (Or New Distractions?)

I’ve been reading another gem of a book I found in Rotherham Library: Tom Paulin’s The Secret Life of Poems, Faber, 2008. […]

He’s brilliant at pointing out the layered, otherwise hidden foreshadowings and secondary meanings. Crucially, though, he stresses the fundamental importance of the sounds, the rhythms, the music, the emphases that poems make. In that vein, he quotes Frost, without stating the source, as follows:

The ear does it. The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader. I have known people who could read without hearing the sentence sounds and they were the fastest readers. Eye readers we call them. They can get the meaning by glances. But they are bad readers because they miss the best part of what a good writer puts into his work.

Remember that the sentence sound often says more than the words. It may even as in irony convey a meaning opposite to the words.

I must bear all that in mind more consciously than I usually do.

Matthew Paul, On Tom Paulin’s The Secret Life of Poems

I don’t worry too much about being formally consistent in my own writing. My aim, my hope, my work, is to discover and hear, line by line, whatever shape best suits what I am working on. But I do know that, like many writers, I can struggle with Faulkner’s murderous adage kill your darlings.

Which leads me to an old draft I struggled for many years to finish about a meeting between Milton and Galileo.

I should start by saying that I believe the subject of wonder is best approached from a variety of angles. The wider the reading net is cast—phenomenology, science, art, technology, literary criticism—the more essential and alive the exploration of its role in poetry becomes.

The problem was this: I had fallen into the trap of crowding a poem on the subject (how fantastically excellent is it that these two visionaries met?) with too many ideas on the subject of science, censorship, religion, and discovery. I would show you the draft, but it’s a hot mess of high lyric—layers and layers of frosting with no cake beneath.

What I actually needed was to stop reading and find an object around which to cement their interaction.

The breakthrough was a jug of water. It was hot in Italy, summer of 1638. It seemed plausible Galileo would have offered his new friend as much.

Thinking the words “jug of water” proved infinitely more useful than agonizing over form, or the elaborate metaphors and similes I had crafted, not intuited (I’m emphasizing here a kind of effort that isn’t always useful to us as writers).

A jug of water brought an end to my futile attempts at a fancy cosmological setup in the poem’s later stanzas, allowing the wonder I felt at these two men meeting in the first place to speak for itself…

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I was reading this critical text on Emily Dickinson yesterday, and it was talking about how poets in the 1800s, specifically those writing in America around the time of the Civil War, were expected to be political, and how they often used both the private lyrical “I” speaker and the larger, national communal “we” voice—and how these two didn’t compete, necessarily, but also weren’t the same. Then I was thinking about how I’ve seen people complain about readers who are like “why is poetry so political these days, geeez, bring back the frost and the geese and the sunset,” and how those people have no concept of what poetry’s role has been in America and the world since… forever. That being said, each writer has to figure out for themselves what their “role” is, and I would say anyone who wants to write should most certainly write, be it about the geese and the frost or how Rome is burning. The harder part is about sharing your work. If it’s just the geese and the frost, your audience is going to be different than if it’s about how Rome is burning. No matter what, audiences will be critical. Ever since we started defining poetry as “the lyric” and the lyric as “overheard genius,” there has been a lot of pressure on people calling themselves poets. We don’t really draw lines anymore between “verse” and “poetry,” either, in the same way we did in the earliest colonial days in America. If you want people to read your work, then you should want them to get something out of it—each writer has their own “something,” and I hope they know what that is before they start sending their work out to publishers. But either way—write, writers, write!

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Kimberly Ann Southwick (rob mclennan)

Black Lawrence Press is having a sale on discounted poetry bundles in preparation for the Sealey Challenge. My own collection, Rotura, is part of the “Sealey Challenge 10 – Poets of Color” bundle. For more info on this sale, check out the BLP site.

Lastly, I had the honor of teaching for the Solstice low-residency MFA program’s summer residency last week. During this residency, amidst the rich conversations about poetry and creative nonfiction (the two genres I teach in), I was able to sit in on a craft class by essayist and novelist Xu Xi on “Writing the Intersection of the Public & Personal.” After the illuminating experience of the class, I have been engaging with samples of her work online. This essay is a good example of the dynamic range Xu Xi is capable of on the page as well as the richness of insight she offers her readers.

José Angel Araguz, Salamander virtual event & more!

During a recent poetry residency, we’d start off every day with someone offering a prompt that people could work with through the day or the week, if they wanted to. And we had good fun with it. It was a great way to remind ourselves that creative work is play! We should feel play-full as we make our art.

And I also was reminded of the section of the Robert Frost poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time” that says, “Only when…work is play for mortal stakes is the deed ever really done for Heaven’s and the future’s sakes.” And I was reminded, it’s good too to remember those mortal stakes.

By which I mean injecting also into our art the truths of our brief lives, the truths of our timeless humanity.

Marilyn McCabe, Singing this song for you; or, On the Work and Play of Writing

Last week I buried my longest lived guinea pig, Freddy, who died at seven years old. This week I buried my oldest rabbit, Dandelion, who died at just shy of ten years old. Last week was the week I handed in the first proper, book sized draft of The Ghost Lake to the editor who I’ll be working with at The Borough Press. I’m currently taking a few days off to decompress. But if you’re freelance yourself you’ll know that there’s really no such thing as time off. My compromise is an early start, a couple of hours keeping Spelt in control, checking in on my current course attendees, putting out fires in my inbox, before taking the rest of the day to walk, read, sleep. I worked Monday and Tuesday, I’ll work Friday. But in-between are two days where I can almost completely switch off from work and just be. I am spending a lot of time sleeping. I obviously needed it after running on deadline energy for the last nine months.

What a strange coincidence it was, then, that the link to my previous life should end at the same time as I moved through the first gateway of what I hope will be a new, more creative life. The handing in of the manuscript felt significant, was significant. This is the first time the book has been outside of my own head. I never actually thought I’d finish it. At one point I completely crumbled over it, but then pulled myself together and carried on just putting words on a page each day, until I reached more than 80,000 words.

I celebrated, as I have celebrated each step on this journey – being long listed in the Nan Shepherd prize, getting an agent, getting a book deal, the first slice of my advance arriving… with a bottle of bubbly wine and a note in my journal reminding myself to enjoy it.

Wendy Pratt, The Unexpected Legacy of Rabbit Ownership

I cannot describe Bangalore in terms of space or time. There is too much fluidity, too much distortion. I cannot reduce it to a beginning or a destination. It is more complex, more tangled than that. I cannot write of it as a whole or even as a part. It is both container and contained. I sieve it through language and meaning. What I am. In its words. In its verse. If anything, perhaps, it is a vowel. Nothing by itself. Creating other things. Joining other things. Sometimes a word, standing alone. Meaning nothing. Meaning me. Meaning another world.

There are streets here that collect my shadow. There are trees here that share my breath. There are skies here where everything I said is still an echo. There are waters here where everything I never said is still a possibility. […]

In the middle of this landlocked city, I built for myself an island. Separated from the ghosts who still live and the living who are no more than ghosts. Separated from things I shouldn’t remember and things I must not forget. Separated from time and space that works like a black hole. An island with a sliver of light. One source. One beam. One brightened wall. From that island, I could see the sky, the irregular slice of sky that appeared with its moon and sprinkling of stars. In the dark. From that island, I offered consonants. This city completed them all, made them into words. Made, out of dry alphabets and silence and hardness, poetry.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Interlude (48)

A lot of writers hate author questionnaires. I don’t. I have to get my thoughts together anyway about how I can help an ecopoetic book about women’s bodies, grief, witchiness, and fungi find audiences. It’s good to start early. But at least so far, I’m not feeling the anxious kind of ambition about Mycocosmic. I’m not sure if that’s because publication is far off or because I have exceptional confidence in this project or because I’m feeling older, which tends to shift the stakes. A bit of all three, probably.

Massachusetts Review recently published a spell-poem from the forthcoming book that’s very much about women’s bodies, grief, and witchiness (not fungi). “Message from the Next Life” is now available on their website with a recording (scroll down a bit and it’s on the right)–and the recording was hard to make, because it’s a tongue-twister of an alliterative sonnet! Another piece, first published in Kestrel, will be featured on Verse Daily sometime soon. And I’ve been corresponding with Mark Drew of The Gettysburg Review, who just took one of the Mycocosmic‘s best poems (I think) after some back-and-forth about revisions. He’s one of those rare solid gold editors who sees the better version of a poem within your good version and will take the time to coax it out. In this case, his edits made the poem a shade sadder. I’ve been writing mother-daughter poems that I wouldn’t have felt right about publishing before my mother’s death, but even now I can resist cutting down to the deepest darkness, it seems. For the poem’s sake, I’m glad he nudged me there.

Lesley Wheeler, Women working

Matthew Johnson grew up in New Rochelle, New York and Connecticut and now lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. A sports journalist, several poems reference baseball, which I’m not qualified to comment on. […]

“Far from New York State” is an engaging, direct collection that reveals a fondness for the state, even its uglier side. Johnson uses humour to make serious points about institutional and individual racism without ranting or being didactic. The poems do show a love for the city, its muses, sports and music while not glossing over the negatives from someone who wants readers to share in his enthusiasm, rather like baseball fans, even if supporters of the opposing team, can still agree on a player’s skills or what makes a good game.

Emma Lee, “Far from New York State” Matthew Johnson (NYQ Books) – book review

Somewhere in my head the wandering boys and the foxes are getting mixed up. There’s an Irish ballad called Sly Bold Reynardine, about a were-fox who seduces unwary maidens, lures them to his den on the mountains of Pomeroy and drowns them. And I remember that some people used to refer to the Faeries as ‘the good neighbours’ so as not to provoke them. There are poems here, and notes for the non-fiction book.

I feel as if I have been spinning my wheels on the whole writing thing for a long time, not only while my husband was in hospital, but since we moved, since I finished The Well of the Moon in fact. I’ve done a lot of reading, and a lot of editing, and a lot of planning and drafting and to-do lists. I went on a course last summer to learn how to write proper essays, only to be told I should ‘be more poet’.

It turns out to be right! There is a fox poem, possibly one of a sequence, and I’ve found my way in to the non-fiction. I’m following the ballads and the charms into the liminal spaces, renegotiating boundaries and allowing the poetry to shape the prose. It seems that if you find the form, the words flow much more freely, and I’m looking forward to finally making some progress with my own work.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Finding the Form

I don’t think I quite understood that Barbie’s body was amiss, that the strangely proportioned monstrosity meant for the male gaze and teetering on her tiptoes was supposed to be the “ideal” body. But then again, you got that shit everywhere. I think by the time my own body issues were kicking in, I was barely paying any attention to Barbie at all and there are probably far more sinister and immediate things to blame for the afflictions of girls and their bodies in the 1980s. Like the new pediatrician who urged my mother at 10 to put me on a diet to lose 20 pounds thus beginning a decade and a half of dysfunctional dieting. At least Barbie was shown as an independent woman with career ambitions, which I probably never realized was as subversive as it was for the time. We were, after all,  just a decade or so out of women actually being able to have credit cards without husband approval.  Everyone always talks now about “main character energy” and I don’t think we realized quite how much Barbie had. While she was often paired with Ken, she was just as often not. I think there was a Barbie friend that had a kid (or maybe I hallucinated it) but Barbie, despite lavish fantasy wedding dresses, was always a single girl and independent–also probably far more revolutionary than we thought. 

The coolest things I am seeing about the movie, which we are hoping to get to see in theaters, though I may have to go it alone or just wait til streaming due to J’s schedule, is that it seems to include everyone in on the Barbie train. not just statuesque blondes, but people of all races, body types, etc, all the main characters of their own stories. To Barbie, I may own my storytelling acumen and flair for dramatic plots, but also my interests in clothes and fashion since I too like to dress up for no good reason, and in fact, bought a Barbie pink sundress just lack week just in case we make it to the theater or just to wear out. I’ve often wondered if there was a writer Barbie what would she be wearing? Her accessories? No doubt a tiny bottle of Advil and a notebook with tiny page? A tiny laptop and cup of Starbucks? Self-doubt and imposter syndrome?

Kristy Bowen, life in plastic

What happens between you and your work on any given day really can be extraordinary. We all know this. Surely this is why we come to writing in the first place. We have all tasted those sparks of magic. We have held those fireworks in our hands, been stunned by their bold and crackling light.

Let’s not let professional ambitions take that away from us. Let’s never make up stories to tell ourselves, that we haven’t yet reached some essential place or yet arrived in some very-important velvet-roped section of the literary world. Let’s not berate ourselves over some fantasy about where we imagine we’re supposed to be at any given moment, or age, or stage in our lives.

It’s not necessary. It’s not even real.

What’s real is what happens with you, every time you sit down to write. Can you find that connection today? And come back tomorrow, and seek it out again?

Becky Tuch, Monday Motivation! With Joy!

Over the summer, I finished revising a children’s novel I worked on a few years ago, and now I’m sending queries to agents; I’m also working on my 4th poetry manuscript, revising and sending out.

Neither one am I doing with a mad fury, but a little at a time does add up. Now that we are starting back to homeschooling, I plan to get into my regular two-poems-a-month schedule of writing (and submitting my work to 5 places per month, if I can–Erika Dreifus’ Practicing Writer newsletter has been very helpful with steering me toward good markets!).

I also created a submissions calendar for myself, that includes things like grant deadlines, book contest deadlines, etc. I don’t send to very many of those so it’s not a very long list, but I hope that it keeps me from missing so many deadlines.

I’ve definitely had summers where I worked more intensely than this one; I think my energy just went other places–working on my house, on myself, playing with the kids, spending time as a family–and I had a lot less time to write than I could carve out for myself.

No matter. It was still a very good use of a summer.

Renee Emerson, End of Summer Writing Update

Heat making people do strange things—

hardcore graffiti artists getting day jobs animating Disney movies. Barbie trading in her heels for prison shoes.

Soul-crushing heat. High-pressure heat.

Rich Ferguson, Heat

The weather advisory is the same
as it was a few days ago—poor
air quality, visibility affected.

This evening, I would like to hear
your name floating through the smoke
carried from burning forests in another country.

I would tie one end of it to my wrist
and wait for it to lift me out what’s left
of this place I tried to cultivate into

a garden.

Luisa A. Igloria, Self-Portrait, in the Midst of Withering

Dear blog readers, I haven’t forgotten you–I just write my blog to you in my head while swimming, early in the morning. Twice now, I’ve gone swimming in the fog–once a drifty, blowy fog and today (was it today?) a stationary fog that soon disappeared. Since lap swimming is repetitive, I do lose track of days. It also becomes meditative. As the summer has progressed, that easy breathing thing has happened. I feel like I could swim forever. But this is sometimes followed by my nose having to remind itself not to breathe water, my body thinking it lives here now. […]

I have two poems in the current issue of Redactions, the Sitcom Issue, because my life is a sitcom (Mad About You) and a dark, quirky comedy (Everybody Loves Raymond if it was rebooted as a future White Lotus). To further mess things up, both of these began with biblical prompts, during Lent.

My husband had a birthday this week, and we celebrated by going to a poetry reading (he liked it!) and taking the poet and her husband out to dinner. The poet was Lynne Jensen Lampe–she came to our little public library from Columbia, Missouri–reading new poems, and poems from her new book, Talk Smack to a Hurricane. We have a robust reading series of local and regional poets, and, especially since our virtual programming during Covid, many far-flung poets, some, like Lynne, who still show up in person, and some who remain virtual. I’m delighted that Chicago poet Yvonne Zipter will come down in October. Really, it’s a fantastic series that doesn’t get much local media attention, but I am reading Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, thanks to my new pastor, and so may try to attempt some marketing badassery soon. Shonda makes me laugh out loud. Thank you, I needed that!

Kathleen Kirk, Red Hibiscus, Fog, Sitcoms, Shock, Badassery

Our holiday was lovely. Thanks to Kefalonia for being glorious, and for the loungers by the pool being very amenable to sitting on and allowing me to read. I worked my way through some of my TBR pile, as well as a number of cans of Greek lager. You’ll see the reading list in the usual place below. You might see the cans, cats and the books on my Instagram feed. See header for one of the excellent cats we met. We named him Baked Bean. […]

It was also lovely to read this interview in the Guardian with the legend that is Vini Reilly this week. He talks about walking away from the life he’s built as a guitar player after 60 years, and I enjoyed what he said about seeing guitarists playing in pubs that he thinks are better than him, but they don’t get the chance to make records. Is the poetry world any different?

Mat Riches, Scrappy do

–There was a booth where we could vote for our favorite tomato, advertised as a beauty contest.  The booth attendant gave us a ticket to drop in a cup.  I voted for the tomato least likely to win, small and ordinary.  My spouse voted for the one who hadn’t gotten any votes.

–As we left, we noticed a woman in a tomato costume.  Was she officially part of the event or just deeply in the spirit of the festival?

I savored our time there.  I have a feeling that some day soon we’ll look back with nostalgia, on a time  when we could enjoy a Saturday ramble through a farmer’s market, saying no thank you to cannabis infused iced tea and happily munching free tomato sandwiches.  We came home with a variety of veggies and some whoopie pies made by a young entrepreneur, and life seemed full.

Could I write a poem without sounding maudlin?  Or cliched?  I’m thinking about returning to the figure of Cassandra.  Maybe she’s given up making projections.  Maybe she sits on a deck overlooking the mountains, shelling beans that she grew, remembering a long ago day when the tomato sandwiches were free and the cost of so much modern life remained hidden.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Notes from a Tomato Festival

身のなかのまつ暗がりの蛍狩り 河原枇杷男

mi no naka no makkuragari no hotaru-gari

            complete darkness

            inside of me…

            firefly hunting

                                                Biwao Kawahara

from Haiku Dai-Saijiki (Comprehensive Haiku Saijiki), Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo, 2006

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (July 22, 2023)

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 21

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: Memorial Day, music as an aid to writing, poetry and magic, the art of translation, and more. Enjoy.


I do not want to speak its grammar of hammers, its sick syntax of power and profit.

But I will honor the war dead with prayer, song and flowers.

I’ll clean away the relic heaps of angelic weeping strewn across battlefields.

Rusted dreams will be unearthed. Pulsings of peace will be reshined into shimmer.

Rich Ferguson, I do not want to be a tongue in the mouth of war

And from out of
the shade of
the cypress, the blue
shirt drops each boule
behind the coche,
completing a triangular
wall. “Once”, he says,
still stooping, his hands
on his knees. “There was
a time once”. The red
shirt lights a second
cigarette, shakes out
the match, steps up
to throw. “There’s always
a time once”, he says
and he looses a boule.

Dick Jones, PETANQUE PLAYERS AT ST. ENOGART

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, a time when Seattle usually has a lot of rain, but we’re going to have beach weather instead. I had to snap the picture of my typewriter on the one day the cherry blossoms had fallen but before they were blown away by storm. It went straight from a cold rainy spring to bright hot summer, nothing in between. Lilacs and rhodies bloomed and died under the heat.

I’ve been a little down health-wise this week, but feeling grateful for news about Flare, Corona – a new essay out in Adroit, guest blog posts, really kind thoughtful reviews.  One of my readings and interviews is up on YouTube in case you missed it in real time – and I have two readings coming up next week. It seems like I am either responding to e-mails about book-related things or thinking about book-related things. I forgot how much work this whole “new book coming out” thing is!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Feeling Busy and Grateful: Two Upcoming Events for Flare, Corona, Interviews, Reviews, and Articles, Writers & Books Interview Online and More!

I have always heard the conventional wisdom that when one’s writer self feels uninspired, one should read poems, and/or return to the writing that made one want to be a writer.  That wisdom can work for me, but it runs the risk that I’ll feel even worse about my own failures to launch.

Happily, this week I had the best kind of inspiration.  On Sunday, I read all of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Flare, Corona straight through, instead of a poem here and there, the way I read the book before I had time to consume it in one gulp.  My brain returned to the poem “This Is the Darkest Timeline” (you can read it here, and you can hear Jeannine Hall Gailey read it here).

She includes an explanatory note in the book:  “‘This is the Darkest Timeline’ refers to a common phrase in comic books and pop culture in which any multiverses and string theory result in one timeline that is the best and one that is the worst” (p. 101).

That comment, too, inspired me.  And so, this week, I wrote this poem, which might be finished, or it might need a last stanza to tie everything together.  I do realize I tend to overexplain in my creative writing.  So I am still letting it all percolate.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Timelines and Poems

I saw that timelessness which doesn’t
keep to one name, its old-young face
wrinkled and wizened as if already
spackled with a biography of years.
We held out our arms to receive
you. We trembled from the joy
and terror of what we pledged.

Luisa A. Igloria, Born

Judaism is a religion of the book and Siddurs are often central to a congregation’s identity. Unlike the Torah, everyone handles them week-in week-out. You use them at home. There was a lot of contention when the Reform one was updated a few years ago.

As well as various services, blessings and songs, contemporary Siddurs act as an anthology of readings – passages for reflection grouped around individual themes. I loved these, as I love all anthologies. And I was always struck by how diverse the Reform selections were – there were passages from Rabbis but also secular Jews – philosophers and writers, extracts from Anne Frank’s diaries. There were also poems – usually English translations of Hebrew or Yiddish originals. The selections seemed – and seem – an important way into a rich culture. I was always much more interested in them than the regular prayers.

The Liberal Siddur has readings of this kind too – they are integrated into the service and read aloud together. There is another difference, too: some of the passages are taken from texts not written by Jews.

Last week, for instance, we read the reflections on the theme of loneliness, which included two poems I am very familiar with from the secular world: Robert Frost’s ‘Acquainted with the Night’ and John Clare’s ‘I Am’. The poems were unattributed – you would have to go to the back to know who they were by.

All of which felt very right to me, even revelatory. These are very special poems. Robert Frost’s poem, in particular, has meant a great deal to me, so I’m glad it might be finding others. And service creates a moment in which poetry like this can be heard. When we talk about the declining role that poetry plays in our everyday lives, I think we have to talk about the loss of regular spaces in which people are in the right frame of mind to take it in.

For so much of our history, this has meant religion. It is why poetry is read at weddings and at funerals. I say this as someone who has very little faith in the traditional sense of the word – and who has very mixed feelings about the role of religion in public life.

Jeremy Wikeley, How Robert Frost and John Clare made their way into a Jewish prayer book

Happy bank holiday. I’m sure everyone is gathered around a BBQ waiting for this, or are you gathered round a radio listening to the last knockings of the football season? NB this post is being brought to you with half an eye on Arseblog live and the football coverage at the Grauniad. Also NB…other ways of amusing yourself/passing the time are available.

I can’t exactly remember why, but I think it may have something to do with a Mouthful of Air or The Verb podcast a while back where someone (possibly Paul Farley in the latter) mentioned John Clare, but it set me off thinking about how little I know about Clare or of his work. I’ve been wondering about him ever since I first read Brian Patten’s ‘A Fallible Lecture‘ from his collection, ‘Storm Damage‘.

Mat Riches, Butchers: A Clare and Present Danger.

May was a quick month, wasn’t it? The return of sunshine. Possibilities. Beginnings and endings. Petals everywhere.

I started two different posts in the last month, but I didn’t finish either of them. They were angry rants that I suspected no one would care much about. I hardly did, even though I care very much about the issues they addressed. (Hence, the anger.) I didn’t care about my rants, though. I found myself wanting to do other things with my time. So I did them.

I signed up for and began a poetry class with Bethany Reid. I first met Bethany nearly 40 years ago, when we were both students in Nelson Bentley‘s poetry workshop at the University of Washington. In our first session, she shared words her sister-in-law gave her when she was a young mother struggling to finish her dissertation and thinking about putting it aside until her children were in school:

“‘Nobody cares if you don’t finish your dissertation. But you will care.’”

Bethany continued: “Nobody will care if you don’t write your poems. But you will care.”

As I sat with those words, they opened up something in me that I didn’t fully realize I’d been keeping closed. […]

When I retired and people asked if I were going to do more writing, I was non-committal. I didn’t know if I wanted to. I didn’t know if that would be a good use of my time. I still don’t, but my thinking is shifting, and Bethany’s words are providing some kind of catalyst. “No one cares” is so freeing. If no one really cares about the poems I don’t write, I’m free to create whatever I want, however I want, just because I want to. I don’t have to justify the resources I give to it by thinking that the work will really matter to the larger world. I can write poems simply because I will care if I don’t. That’s reason enough when I have the resources I need to make writing a higher priority.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Come what May

Paul Simon’s hit, ‘The Boy in the Bubble’, has been playing in my head, partly because I watched a great documentary on him and the South African musicians he collaborated with on Graceland, and partly because of how May is panning out. It’s that refrain, “These are the days of miracle and wonder…” that sits in the allotment trees, that follows the big dog fox as it checks out my polytunnel, that questions the insane number of tomato seedlings I have. […]

While it’s hard not to be brought down by all that’s happening – old woman with dementia tasered by police, teenagers chased to their deaths, waiting lists, no GPs, no dentists, one in two young South Africans out of work, war in Sudan, I’m inclined to hope art is cleverer than money, politicians and warmongers and will continue to make its point with a photo, a poem, a drawing, a soaring tune or a lyric that won’t leave your head because it’s there, in the trees by the path, with the blackbird’s own miraculous sequence of notes.

Jackie Wills, A month of wonder

The hawk-and-girl poems from Good Bones had their own soundtrack, which I might call “Sad Americana” if I had to title it. I steeped my mind in songs from Bon Iver’s first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, Iron & Wine’s The Creek Drank the Cradle, and Gillian Welch’s Time (The Revelator) and Soul Journey. I remember listening to a specific playlist on my iPod when I was at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts on a residency in November 2011, singing along quietly to “Creature Fear” and “Over the Mountain” and “Miss Ohio” as I walked the grounds, watching the horses graze, and found a secluded spot to write. These songs make up the weather of Good Bones, the light and season of them—golden, but turning. Rusting the way autumn rusts.

Maggie Smith, On Writing & Music

The first time I heard Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 was at a dance performance at Rutgers University in the late 1980s. A woman in a red velvet dress danced & tumbled through a large patch of grass laid out on stage.

Afterwards, the choreographer, whose name I’ve forgotten, said she wanted to combine a very plush natural thing (thick green grass) with a very plush man-made thing (velvet). I loved that idea. The dance and music were enthralling. I’ve been a Villa-Lobos fan ever since.

I thought of that performance while making this little box which uses red velvet curtains from a magazine photo shoot. I added leaves from an old apple-a-day calendar. The insect is a fishing fly, and I don’t know where the other scraps come from.That’s part of the fun of collage, minding your fair use of course.

I like that this box was a box of aspirin, which like music, helps with pain.

Sarah J Sloat, I empty my chest of the faraway

I don’t know how long I will be singing, but I know how much I missed it, and that it means a great deal to me to be able to do it again. Of all the things I’ve done, singing is one that keeps me firmly attentive to the present moment, and is perhaps one of the best ways of finding the joy that being fully in that moment can provide. And it still seems miraculous to me that, with only our bodies, we can take a collective breath in silence, and, the next moment, bring forth the extraordinary music that only a choir of human voices can create.

Beth Adams, I Couldn’t Keep from Singing

You will have just got off the train from London Bridge. It’s 1976. The end of a day studying Medicine which you begin to hate. And now back to Eltham Park, to digs you’ve loathed since you arrived (the well-meaning landlady is no substitute for your mother). Probably you walked past that little music shop somewhere near the station, spending minutes gazing at the red sunburst acoustic guitar in the window. If it doesn’t sound too weird, I can tell you – you’ll buy it and strum on it for 10 years or more. I can also confirm your fear: you fail your first-year exams. The Medical School allows you to leave . . . But listen, that sense of failure and lostness, it will pass.

Keep on with the music, though your playing is not up to much and your singing … well, the less said. But writing songs will eventually lead somewhere. And the illicit books! You are supposed to be reading the monumental Gray’s Anatomy, textbooks on Pharmacology, Biochemistry, all emptying like sand out of your head. You’ve yet to go into that charity shop and pick up a book called The Manifold and the One by Agnes Arber. You’ll be attracted by the philosophical-sounding title; in your growing unhappiness at Medical School you have a sense of becoming deep. The questions you ask don’t have easy answers. You have a notion this is called philosophy. Amidst the dissections, test tubes and bunsens, you’ll find consolation in Arber’s idea that life is an imperfect struggle of “the awry and the fragmentary”.

And those mawkish song lyrics you are writing? They will become more dense, exchanging singer-songwriting clichés for clichés you clumsily pick up from reading Wordsworth (you love the countryside), Sartre’s Nausea (you know you’re depressed) and Allan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity (you are unsure of who you are). Up ahead, you take a year out to study English A level at an FE College. Your newly chosen philosophy degree gradually morphs into a literature one and with a good dose of Sartrean self-creativity (life being malleable, existence rather than essence) you edit the university’s poetry magazine, write stories, write plays, even act a little (fallen amongst theatricals!).

Martyn Crucefix, ‘Letter to my Younger Self’ – a third brief Royal Literary Fund talk

In the United States, literary journals are often the first to go when institutions cut budgets. That’s where my ire flows, not at vulnerable literary publications charging a nominal fee, fearing every issue might be their last. Here’s a partial list of lit journals—university and indie publications—that have recently closed or are on shaky ground:

Catapult (Funded by a daughter of one of the Koch brothers, the decision comes as part of an effort to “focus all resources on its core business of book publishing and its three imprints: Catapult, Counterpoint, and Soft Skull Press.”)

The Believer (This link takes you to a VICE article about how the new owners created a backdated page on The Believer directing readers to the best hook-up sites—and sex toys. That’s one way to make money. Happily, the original publisher, McSweeney’s, is in negotiations to buy back The Believer.)

• Alaska Quarterly Review (“COVID-19 and Alaska’s Budget deficit forced the cut of Alaska Quarterly Review’s funding from the University of Alaska Anchorage.”)

• The Antioch Review (The magazine remains on a “thoughtful” pause.)

• Tin House (Tin House has shifted “resources to Tin House’s other two divisions: Tin House Books and Tin House Workshop.)

• ASTRA Magazine (Done and done.)

Some journals, like the United Kingdom’s Granta, have wealthy and influential benefactors. According to Glassdoor, a Granta Publications Assistant Editor makes about $50,000 annually. I couldn’t find Granta’s annual budget but they have a robust masthead. This is ideal. If I were a wealthy philanthropist, I would do my civic duty by throwing a few hundred grand at the literary journal of my choice. I mean, editors absolutely deserve to be paid for their expertise. Most literary journals would welcome a generous benefactor’s support. I know Hypertext would.

Christine Maul Rice, Why We Charge Submission Fees

The tension between ideals and money is acute in U.S. higher ed. Where I work, as in many other places, we’re struggling to keep up humanities enrollments, although creative writing courses remain in demand. Partly that’s due to misinformation about credentialing. Even though W&L is a rare hybrid–a liberal arts college with a business school–English majors do slightly better getting jobs and places in grad school than the university average (96% for English majors!). Yet our majors are ribbed constantly for their apparently impractical choice. The stereotype drives me crazy. Studying literature in small, writing-intensive classes like the ones I have the pleasure of teaching–including analyzing the apparently arcane and useless art of poetry–gives students skills employers prize. That’s far from the only reason to study literature; the main one, for me, is that thinking about any kind of art makes life far richer and fulfilling. But actual riches? A relevant consideration, especially now that higher ed is a huge financial investment. (Bigglebottom costs $60K per year, my students decided.) And we don’t even know yet how AI writing tools are going to change the educational landscape. Teachers’ lives may well get much worse.

Beyond credentials: one reason creative writing is attractive to students is that they’re making things. Creation feels magical. English-paper-writing is creation, too, but not of a kind students particularly want to share with others or keep practicing after graduation. That’s a real problem for the field. Co-creating websites isn’t always going to be the answer to that problem–much less websites for fictional magical liberal arts colleges–but my students’ delight in the process is a lesson to me.

Lesley Wheeler, The magic of making things

I’m absolutely delighted to have Poetry as Spellcasting in my hands! I’m so grateful to editors Tamiko Beyer, Lisbeth White, and Destiny Hemphill for including me in this gorgeous anthology, and for helping my essay become more fully realized, more deeply itself.

And while I haven’t finished the book yet, I think the power of the writing is enabling precisely that sort of transformation, helping us perceive potential and cast off constraints so that we can all be more gloriously ourselves and make the world a more beautiful and just place to exist. Just take a look at the opening of the first poem of the collection, “Awakening of Stones: Hypothesis/Central Argument” by Lisbeth White:

In the new mythology, you are always whole.
If and when you fracture, it is not apart.
Apart does not exist here.

You will know that upon entry.
You will know each fissure as it breaks open your life.
You will know the cracked edges of your splendor.

I hope you will consider buying (or borrowing!) a copy and also joining us for the virtual launch on Wednesday, May 24th, 8 PM ET, featuring Destiny Hemphill, Lisbeth White, Tamiko Beyer, Amir Rabiyah, Ching-In Chen, Lou Flores, yours truly, Sun Yung Shin, and Tatiana Figueroa Ramirez.

Hyejung Kook [no title]

Out into primordial: fairy mounds submerged and fern overtaking. Ghosts here, but good ones. Except for the ticks it’s oasis.

Dumuzi writes me all the time, though I told him not to when Kurgarra and Galatur dragged him away. It didn’t have to go down that way. Fruits of choice and all that.

Gmail doesn’t let you block people, you know? Just mark as trash.

A swallow dives. Yeah, yeah, I say. A thrush calls, then a daylight owl. Obviously, I answer.

JJS, Inanna Gets Letters

At the moment I’ve been working on a number of poems. This first one was prompted by a visit to some friends who have foxes living in their garden. They live in London. As I was leaving the phrase the fox garden came into my head and I spent the next seven days ruminating on it. When I sat down to write I got the bare bones down but it took another two weeks to get this serviceable draft right.

Paul Tobin, THE FOX GARDEN

Sometimes, from here, you can see the Isle of Man on the horizon. When you can, it’s a mirage: if the conditions are just right, the atmosphere refracts the light, making the distant island (which lies way beyond the visible horizon) appear surprisingly close. You can see its principal hills spread out from left to right. I’ve never caught it in the act of appearing or vanishing, though, although, the other evening, conditions were such that you could only see the tops of its hills poking above the milky obscurity. One can see how myths arose of magic islands that appear and vanish and, scanning the horizon to see if you can see Man from Silecroft, it’s easy to start doubting the science that tells you that what you’re witnessing is no more than an atmospheric effect.

Dominic Rivron, Silecroft

summer sea
all that glitters
is not cold

Jim Young [no title]

Because my workplace office is now in the library, however, I have been picking up the occasional, usually contemporary, novel that appears on the library’s New Acquisitions display. This is where I found R.F. Kuang’s book Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translator’s Revolution. Imagine an alternative Dickensian-era Britain, with the underlying power struggles between education and political power as per Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, and the almost-believable otherworldliness (and creative footnotes) of Susanna Clarke’s fiction…with the late-adolescent outsiders who bond over knowledge that cements the Harry Potter books…and add some genuinely academic background on linguistics and etymology.

That’s about as close as I can describe Babel by means of other books, but what I really enjoyed about the novel is the way it got me thinking about how dismayingly interconnected education and scholarly pursuits are with power structures such as governments, politics, wealth, and colonialism. Kuang deftly shows her readers how the focus on knowledge that her characters love and possess talent for inevitably leads to a narrowness in their perspectives that differs almost dangerously from an uneducated ignorance. They are good young people, but they operate as elites in a fundamentally callous system. The system either corrupts or smothers. The “fun” part of her world construct is that power operates on the use of words: on languages and their etymologies, which are magical enhancements.

But of course, power does hinge on the use of words, doesn’t it?

Ann E. Michael, Novels & words

For a while now, I’ve been lamenting that I haven’t had the chance to incorporate poems into my classes. My AP Language and Composition classes and Humanities class both suffered this year with a dearth of poems. Poetry isn’t assessed and is marginalized in many of our schools’ curricula. I suspect that this may be the case for others out there, and maybe not just English or Humanities teachers alone. If you’re a teacher of science, maths, computer science, social studies, English, business, and you want to include more poems but are not sure how to do it or where to start, what can you do?

Well, thinking about next year and changes I’d like to make to my English and Humanities classes, I recently had an idea: what if I get generative AI to show me poems that all make arguments? That way, my AP Language and Composition students can get what they need & can read more poems. What if I can get generative AI to curate poems based on units of study around the history of the U.S. and the struggle for equality? That way, my Humanities students can integrate their learning with a study of poetry. If generative AI can be used to intentionally create curricular windows into the genre I love and which is marginalized, I can also then intentionally embed poetry-reading pedagogies as I go throughout the year!

Scot Slaby, AI + Curriculum + Poems = A Powerful Combo

I thought I’d share the process of creating a poem, the draft of which is below. 

I came across John Masefield’s poem Cargo (which is below, also) and, as I sometimes do, ran it through a number of languages in Google Translate. I imagined it was something like how story or language is transmuted through various cultures as a cultural meme travels.

Then I took the raw data translation (below, 2nd) and revised it, mixing in some local and contemporary language (the Starbucks’ drink) and thought about a comment I’d made to a friend about poems as being connection machines, how in “the dance of connection, who leads?” so then I added that in, then abstracted that line a bit, making it more oblique. 

Gary Barwin, On Poem Writing with Google Translate and One Eye Closed

Don’t write just
the good ones —
write them all,
the old monk told
the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (483)

For every raised voice that claims to have read a Wordsworth or a Rumi (no, these days is it Darwish and Rupi), there are a hundred that cannot name two contemporary poets. Not even one from their own country. What those wasting, shrivelling, screaming poets need, as they talk with the moon and measure the rhyme of a sea they have never seen, are cheerleaders. People who aren’t poets. People who don’t care if anyone else reads a poem or cares. People who will hype a poem, a verse, a line, a poet. Did I say that in the plural? No, a poet who thinks she is a metaphor for something yet to be known, who shuffles reality and shade, dealing cards with no hope to win or lose, that poet needs just one cheerleader. Just one. So that the morning starts with kindness. So that the afternoon sky stays up where it should be, bearing its sun. So that the night will fill itself with words like fireflies, a suggestion of light and motion that rejects being bound to a page. Think of it. A poet somewhere. A poem somewhere. Both birthed in anonymity. Both complete just from being. Just from writing. Still needing to be read. Still hoping to be read. The idea of a fruit, still waiting on a bee.

unwrapping its sky —
                                 one by one
the night shows off its stars

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Poets being poets

Rather than go back to writing, I thought I’d check emails and twitter for messages. No emails – excellent. No messages on twitter either – excellent again.

Then suddenly I saw a thread about new literary awards sponsored by a coffee shop chain. OK, So-What Stuff. Anyone who has read this blog for long knows I think the benefits of these things tend to be, in most cases, over-rated.

Then I noticed that poets were getting wonderfully grumpy because the new awards had excluded poetry. Apparently, according to the organisers, who would presumably be involved in the handing out of the money and therefore could be said to be entitled to an opinion, poetry wasn’t worth bothering with. This had provoked a river, a veritable torrent, as Frankie Howerd once might have said, of abuse from slighted poets.

It turned into the best bit of a varied morning. One poet I’d never heard of but who seemed to be assuming some kind of authority on the matter, claimed the decision of the organisers had undermined his entire art form. Marvellous.

Another called for all poets everywhere to block the coffee shop chain until the organisers changed their minds. Even more marvellous. I imagined marching protests in the street, poets holding placards maybe emblazoned with haiku, poets wearing T-shirts with angry slogans, poets shouting cross poems at anyone trying to go through the door, opening GoFundMe pages to cover legal costs, printing costs, and the price of coffees purchased at rival chains. The protests could spread across the country town by town, city by city, year by year.

Bob Mee, A MARVELLOUS MORNING: CROSS POETS, WINDOW CLEANERS AND JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

Been late on sharing news of some of my former students: First, there’s N.K. Bailey, a PNW poet, who published a chapbook, A Collection of Homes with Bottlecap Press. Bailey is a dynamic poet whose work is intimate and imaginative. Also, I’m proud to have worked with Sarianna Quarne last fall on her honors creative thesis, the poems of which are featured in her self-published chapbook, Church Confessional Booth, which can be read for free on her site. Quarne’s work often uses the image as a jumping off point for charged, lyric meditations. Also, also: I’m happy to share that I recently had an essay of mine published in Bert Meyers: On the Life and Work of an American Master which is part of The Unsung Masters Series from Pleiades Press. I’ve written about Bert Meyers for a number of years on the Influence. Glad to have worked out this memory and experience with Meyers’ work! Thank you to Dana Levin and Adele Elise Williams for the opportunity and for being great to work with!

José Angel Araguz, poet as instagram photo dump

I was interested to see these poems because I firmly believe it is wrong for anyone to be stateless. [Mona] Kareem’s family belongs to an Arab minority denied citizenship when Kuwait became independent. Her family is classed as illegal, and therefore denied employment, education, and welfare. Despite this, her father is an erudite man. In her early twenties, Kareem went to America to study. She was not allowed back into Kuwait, so she was forced to take asylum in the USA, where she eventually gained citizenship. The suffering her family have endured is appalling. Out of this suffering, she writes. However, these poems are life-affirming, and perhaps a way for her to be present in Kuwait with her family, if only in her imagination.

Her poems are strongly visual and metaphorical. Everything is precarious and temporary. In ‘Perdition’, a series of images conjures up different losses. These images often yoke together beauty and pain: ‘the night is strangled / by a choker of stars’ is one example. The images are often surreal: Roses jump to their death/ from the rails of my bed/ as my mother/ tries to tuck me into the desert of life’. This poem is a strong opening to the book.

Angela Topping, I Will Not Fold These Maps

The joys of reviewing translations from languages one less-than-half knows are boundless. This is especially the case when the originals are by a poet I’d never heard of before; but in the case of Ivano Fermini I expect I won’t be alone in that ignorance. In fact, so little is known about Fermini that I had a moment wondering if he might be an obscure member of Robert Sheppard’s European Union of Imagined Authors, but no, he’s real enough.

On the plus side, my sketchy Italian and the lack of biographical information meant that I approached The River Which Sleep Has Told Me with an open mind. Ian Seed includes a helpful interview with Milo de Angelis, Fermini’s one-time friend and editor as a kind of preface. I was taken particularly by the statement that for Fermini, poetry was ‘a question of naming things and each time finding the right word, which is to treat each individual thing with its own unique name, that which entreats us and lies beneath dozens of other banal words, and which demands to be said with millimetric precision.’

This drive away from treating things as members of classes and towards avoiding the predictable goes some way towards making sense of the formidable disjunction that typifies Fermini’s use of language. This is easier to trace thanks to the facing-page Italian/English text, which Seed consistently mirrors in his translations. This formal procedure allows for disjunction within and across lines, with each line a gnomic utterance within a set of similar riddles.

Billy Mills, Three Translations: A Review

Oh lover, what a word,
what a world, this gray waiting.
I kept your photo in a bottle of mezcal,
touched my eyes until they blistered,
the dark liquid waking me up
in a stolen cup, white sand in my mouth

Charlotte Hamrick, You lied to me

I’m both struck and charmed by the slow progressions of lyric observation and philosophical inquiry throughout “Canadian-born poet based in Scotland” Alycia Pirmohamed’s full-length poetry debut, Another Way to Split Water (Portland OR: YesYes Books/Edinburgh: Polygon Books, 2022). “I see the wind pull down the tautness / of trees and the swans at the lagoon part / through the wreckage.” she writes, as part of the poem “MEDITATION WHILE PLAITING MY HAIR,” “Each one is another translation for love / if love was more vessel than loose thread.” There is such a tone and tenor to each word; her craft is obvious, but managed in a way that simultaneously suggest an ease, even as the poems themselves are constantly seeking answers, seeking ground, across great distances of uncertainty and difficulty. “Yes, I desire knowledge,” she writes, as part of “AFTER THE HOUSE OF WISDOM,” “whether physical or moral or spiritual. / This kind of longing is a pattern embossed / on my skin.” It is these same patterns, perhaps, that stretch out across the page into her lyric, attempting to articulate what is otherwise unspoken.

rob mclennan, Alycia Pirmohamed, Another Way to Split Water

Anthony Wilson’s sixth collection, The Wind and the Rain, is due out from Blue Diode Press next month. I was delighted to be asked to provide an endorsement for this excellent book. It reads as follows…

Throughout The Wind and The Rain, Anthony Wilson walks the tightrope of simplicity. He peels off layers of language, paring it back to its core, searching for the means to express the intensity of grief. In his skilled hands, less becomes more.

Matthew Stewart, Anthony Wilson’s The Wind and the Rain.

“Survived By” is subtitled “A Memoir in Verse and Other Poems” and dedicated to the poet’s father Terry R Wells (1945-2020). It’s a personal journey through a daughter’s reactions to her father being diagnosed with terminal cancer and what she learnt by surviving her father’s death, written with the aim of helping others. […]

Thankfully it’s not a self-help manual. […] The vocabulary is conversational, there are no attempts to dress up what’s happening in pretty metaphors or oblique messaging. “Survived By” is direct and concerned with authenticity, a human seeking compassion.

Emma Lee, “Survived By” Anne Marie Wells (Curious Corvid Publishing) – book review

I recently delivered a writing workshop at The Adelaide City Library aimed at generating new material and drafting a piece of writing using an object or piece of clothing as a prompt. I really love presenting this workshop, and am always amazed at the diversity of work produced.

Afterwards, someone asked me how they might develop their work and get better at writing poetry. They were new to poetry, didn’t plan on going to university to study but wanted to work at writing and editing poetry. I realised that I didn’t have a clear answer, so went away, thought about it and emailed them my suggestions few days later […]

After I wrote this list I was clearing out some papers when I came across an old printout from Writers SA titled Six Top Tips for Writers. The tips were almost identical to the list I’d come up with: Read, Join (a group), Learn, Practise, Enter (writing comps), Connect (with the writing community).

Caroline Reid, Want to get better at writing poetry?

I’ve always been an artist and writer who embraced and grew within the online community. There was a before time, when I scribbled and banged out bad poems on a word processor and sometimes submitted to journals via snail mail and mostly was rejected. But after 2001 or so, my identity as a creative developed entirely in the virtual world. First in online journals and listservs, later in blogs and journals like this one. It all existed long before facebook (and way long before Instagram, which I did not even join until 2017). Sure I did readings, and took MFA classes, and occasionally published in print, but the center of my creative existence was still overwhelmingly online. 

And it was good for a while. I felt like people saw the fruits of my work and I saw theirs (even this feels like its harder..I see the same posts and lots of ads, but not even a 10th of the people I follow.). Now the silence that meets dumb facebook posts about pop culture or randomness, my cat photos and lunch photos, also meets creative work. Resoundingly and absolutely. And yet, my generation knows better than everyone that the internet is not the real world, and yet it’s hard not to feel like it is… I’ve noticed a disconnect going back to the pandemic, and granted, it may have had much to do with that. I felt its undertow in 2021 and 2022. I feel it more now. Or it bothers me more now.

Weirder ad-heavy algorithms, general disengagement from the internet and social media?  Who knows..but it’s rough and I am trying to untangle my feelings of validity from it nevertheless…

Kristy Bowen, creativity and invisibility

I’ve been thinking about how poets end their poems, and particularly about poems that end in ways that delight, surprise, and lead us to deeper questions.

Here’s Charles Olson on finding the end of a poem: “You wave the first word. And the whole thing follows. But—You follow it. With a dog at your heels, a crocodile about to eat you at the end, and you with your pack on your back trying to catch a butterfly.”

And now, a selection of poems with surprising, striking endings.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday: Poetic Endings

In a small diversion that isn’t as devious as it first appeared, I’ve been reading this essay from my friend and fellow geopoetician, the ethnologist and activist Mairi McFadye, https://www.mairimcfadyen.scot/fragile-correspondence/2023/essay dealing with the clearances and the consequences of the community buyout of Abriachan Forest. She talks about how the loss of language leads to the loss of local knowledge, the exploitation and degradation of the land, and in this case, the removal of the local people. It’s a wonderful essay, raising many of the issues and preoccupations that inform my poetry, and I can’t recommend it warmly enough.

But the point I’m working towards is that the Lang Toon doesn’t really have those problems. On the contrary, throughout its very long history, people have been brought here to serve whatever needs the ruling classes felt were important at the time, and abandoned. These houses were built for the managers of the mines, all gone, and later of the electrical industry, all gone, and now we are mostly a commuter town with people living here and working in Glasgow or East Kilbride. This too has consequences for land use, local knowledge, and community building, and though I feel there are grounds for optimism, I realise there are a lot assumptions I’m going to have to unpick as I go into the next poems, the next book.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Light and Airy

The Quote of the Week:

“The things you think are the disasters in your life are not disasters really. Almost anything can be turned around: out of every ditch, a path, if you can only see it”

Hilary Mantel.

Every week when I set my planner up, I try to find myself a motivational quote to look at; something to keep me going when I feel panicked and anxious, which always happens at some point during the week. I turn to HM quite often. This one, especially so because, while I’m writing I am weaving the story of myself, my land ancestors, the voices of people who are long gone, into the work. I want to know that the path is there, that I am finding the path for them, as much as for me. The bad things that happened to us, the bad things we did, the disasters that befell us, there was a path in there. I looked for it, and I found it.

Wendy Pratt, Never regret anything, because at one time it was exactly what you wanted.

Maybe an anonymous text taking root in the reader’s imagination is an even greater form of validation when it comes to expressive writing? Maybe the participants know this instinctively, when they hand over their texts thinking they’ve done a good job of conveying their experience to another human being? Or maybe not thinking this – not processing the actions on a conscious level – just given the opportunity to use words to communicate the way we use a knife to whittle as stick into a shape and then hold it up, without ambition, and say: do you see a horse, too?

There’s a strange Norwegian children’s song: (what follows is a trot, not an attempt at translation)

Look at my dress
It’s as red as the rose
Everything I own is as red as this
It’s because I love all that is red
And because the postman is my friend

Then we are told to look at the blue dress, because the seamen is her friend. And so it goes.

And I say: Look! This thing I am doing, jumping from a thought, to a symbol, to another person, to you – it binds everything together.

So very like a dance we can do together, even when we are physically so far apart.

Today is the first day of the new everyday. I am not and will not be dancing by myself.

Ren Powell, Look at My Dress

Someone snapped the light switch, and suddenly it’s summer.  Suddenly people are having fun.  

The question mark of an existential figure that walked the streets alone, toting laptop and phone — he’s been replaced by friends and families walking in public and laughing with glee, spilling onto streets eating and drinking.  

They’re living plush as the young grass, right now.  Something we always knew but forgot, and had to go back to origins to retrieve.  

Maybe this bright green exuberance will become parched, and our wandering techie will go back to being malcontent –  “I hate the sun!”  

But for a moment on Memorial Day weekend, Ezekiel has his day, in all his doubleness: All flesh is grass, all its goodness like flowers of the field.  

Dead soldiers had lives as frail as grass.  At the same time, all that grass – all that goodness – what splendor!

Jill Pearlman, Ezekiel Does Memorial Day

Most days
I forget.
Mind busied
with counting
how many meetings
are scheduled.

Did I make room
in the car
for my son’s double bass,
is there milk
in the house
for tomorrow’s cereal?

But then
your voice knocks
and my heart wakes,
remembering —
being alive
is revelation.

Rachel Barenblat, Revelation

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 18

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: trees, book tours, literary envy, in defense of reading fees, and much more. Enjoy.


I watched the coronation of King Charles yesterday with my parents. My father remembers watching Queen Elizabeth’s coronation as a child in South Africa. What if we crowned a leaf? Made trees our king? Or better, leaves as our elected representative, a river as the head of state. What if winter made legislation, or springtime was the judiciary? Let’s make butterflies our police force, an army out of photosynthesis.

Gary Barwin, THE NEW KING

We broke that word. We let it fall, let
it shatter into infinite sounds. When
a word is destroyed, a tree grows
from every whisper, bearing
poisonous fruit. When a world
is destroyed.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 45

Let the trees give the valedictory
and the billows confer their tasselled caps.

Let the noon heat gild the heads of those
who’ve labored bravely, even with no prior

guarantee of reward. Let the procession
of bodies shimmer like a promise

that kindness and comradeship will keep
rising up like wildflowers in the fields.

Luisa A. Igloria, Commencement Day

I wrote 30 poems in 30 days again this April. As my writing partner, Heather, can attest–it was tough. There were some days I doubled-up, after missing the deadline the day before. There were some days where what I sent her was less poetic than some texts. At the end of the month though, I have 30 poems.

I’ve only just now started sifting through them. I had set out with the idea of writing a group of poems about You’ve Got Mail (the movie). I have already written 3 or 4 in that vein, and I wanted to explore it further. Instead, it looks like I mostly wrote about angels, scars, and birds. Ok. Who ever knows what will pop up when one is writing every single day?

Renee Emerson, NaPoWriMo Wrap Up

I am looking forward to writing full-time for a while now. Weeks or months, I’m not sure yet. I am literally compartmentalizing my time. I’ve started a new blog to write about how I am handling cancer treatment. And I’m continuing in this space (and there, too – and in so many others) with what makes me honestly feel happy and alive in the moments as they come. I once wrote a poem that said it was absurd to say that imagination is a good thing. But it really can be. It can be a source of good things.

Ren Powell, Rumors

May is much like the interior of my email inbox right now; varied and eclectic. It bridges this spring with its publication notices, publication opportunities to come, and the business of the day that needs tending.

I published “Of Paper Moons, Glimmered Words” in the Spring 2023 issue of October Hill Magazine. I’m happy to publish with them again. They assemble a sweet journal, and it was three years ago that I not only published in their winter journal, but was invited to read my work at an online reading. It was a cozy assembly and the kindness of editors during Covid is certainly an event and aspect that lingers even today. A wonderfully warm reading all the way around.

I have shared gratitude for the editors at Cosmic Daffodil Journal who published three of my short poems: “Untitled,” “Early Spring,” and “This Pot” in their Buds & Blooms issue.

My advice to you? Write on through all the delights this month will bring. Summer is all too short. Find all the ways necessary to collect, savor, and share those words.

Kersten Christianson, May and All

Spring creeps in a little further each day, raising my mood even if it’s still a little too chilly to have the windows open for long. I have been devoting some time to submissions and collages and procrastinating on final edits on the home improvements series of poems I worked on earlier this year (thankfully the NAPOWRIMO ones only require minor modifications but I have no idea what sloppiness I was victim to earlier in the year.) I’ve been finalizing the cover design for the next book and making fun little reels about inspos and aesthetics. I’ve been researching Mesopotamian bloody baby-eating goddesses and writing about Celtic Queens and cupboard doors and bathroom towels that won’t make you hate your life. In other words, much the usual.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 5/6/2023

I am listening to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which I only usually do “when the skies of November turn gloomy” (to borrow a phrase from the song).  But Gordon Lightfoot has died, and it’s a gloomy May day, so the song fits my mood.

Of course, Lightfoot was 84 years old, and from what I can tell from the various news stories, he seemed to have lived a good life.  He wrote amazing songs and had a good run as a performer.  Lots of people will be reflecting on his life and appreciating him today, and plenty of us have been doing this for over 50 years.

His music is the background of my childhood, along with Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkle, and John Denver.  Yesterday on my drive back to my seminary apartment, I heard John Denver’s live version of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”–what a great song.

He also wrote songs that other people made more famous, like “Early Morning Rain.”  I’ve been listening to some of those songs this morning.  At some point, when I don’t have seminary papers to finish, I might do more reflecting on how this folk music formed my perception of what it would be like to be an adult–not because I listened to it as a child, but because I continued to listen to it in adolescence.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Gloomy Skies: Goodbye to Gordon Lightfoot

There are many blossoming trees in this glen – it started with blackthorn and plum, and is just about to hit its peak with gean and bird cherry, pear and apple. The celandines are coming to an end, but the yellow on the gorse is thickening up, there are wild violets on the Cairn footpath, and I am watching a clump of wild arum which is just about to open. It isn’t a rare plant, but I’ve never seen in elsewhere in Scotland, and judging by my instagram feed, it seems to be having a moment just now. The trees are in the first flush of bright green opening leaves, and the birds are louder each day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many goldfinches in my life! The rain has brought on the garden enormously in the last three days, and I’ve been planting and sowing tomatoes, courgettes, chillis, dill and coriander. […]

A big part of my poetry practice is connecting with the territory, and though I mostly concentrate on the plants wildlife and weather, I have become very interested in the history and the engagement of the community here, which seems much livelier than in the Forth Valley. Every spare bit of ground that lies unoccupied for more than a few months seems to have trees planted, and as I get to know the area, I am becoming aware of a lot of organisations dedicated to keeping the urban sprawl much greener than you might expect, such as the Friends of Holmhills Wood Community Park, or the Friends of the Calder. There is an active ramblers’s group, and plenty of walking routes, from the Clyde Walkway to the Rotten Calder path, which I mentioned in a recent post, and a lot of interest in the landscape and archaeology of the area. […]

I am writing more thoughts about poetry than actual poetry just now, as there seems to be some activity around Ceasing Never, which I hope to share over the next week or so, and a revised edition of my translation of The Charm of Nine Herbs is going to happen at some point, but after a much longer lull than I was expecting, new poetry is finally happening – look out for moon and fire poems, and some weird mythology.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Blossom Time

If there is anyone still out there who reads my stuff on here, thank you. I’ve been through many stages of hell the last few years and am slowly starting to get myself to a place, a new place that is more about creativity and shaking out the demons from my bones.

I’d love to start a newsletter as well as have you subscribe to my substack (which I plan on updating soon as well). […]

I want my work in your hands, eyes, teeth.

To me, it’s not so much about surviving to create. It’s creating to survive. I am here to be creative, and to share with others so that they know they’re not alone.

Jennifer E. Hudgens, I Don’t Know Where I’m Going.

After I’d spent time at my desk, tinkering with poems, writing a bio and acknowledgements, collating blurbs, giving feedback on a possible cover, I was happy to press ‘send’ and email everything to Helen Eastman at Live Canon.

“Thanks for giving me time and space this weekend,” I said to my husband, Andrew. “I’m pleased with my work and I’m sending everything off to Helen.” “You don’t want to sleep on it and send it tomorrow?” “No, I’ve done loads of work on this, it’s all done, I’m sending it off.”

Then time for some gardening after being deskbound for hours, stretching my limbs and planting sunflower, nasturtium and cornflower seeds saved from last year’s plants, plus some new seeds, basil, gypsophlia, sweetpea, cosmos, salvia. Who knows what will grow. The garden’s ready for No Mow May, my semi-wild flower beds are already bursting with forget-me-nots, dandelions, honesty, daisies, celandines and (I think) borage, herb robert and other not yet identified species.

Then, a good night’s sleep a little interrupted by doubts arriving in the night. What about that lockdown poem you haven’t managed to publish anywhere yet? Wouldn’t this be the perfect opportunity to include it? Could you swap out a couple of those small ‘seen-while-walking’ poems and replace them with this two page poem? Is this really the best order for these poems? Is that really the best poem to end the collection? Back to my desk and my manuscript for some rearranging. A hasty note to Helen to disregard my first email. Andrew’s saying nothing. Note to self: always sleep on it.

Josephine Corcoran, ‘Love and Stones’ my new chapbook coming soon

I’m once again a featured poet at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, an absolutely wonderful festival that is FREE and open to the public and has a wonderful list of authors who will be reading and discussing and taking questions. […]

On Sunday, 21 May at 5:30pm I’m reading with Reston Readings, a local reading series that is always delightful.

And last but definitely not least is my official book launch party at the end of the month!! […]

May is going to be wildly busy but I’m so very excited about it and hope to see you at one of these events!

Courtney LeBlanc, Book Tour: May

Hereverent has been thoroughly and lovingly launched!

My poetry & jazz book launch was fantastic on April 20 at PLNU. We had poetry, music, drinks, and dessert in this little parlor that makes me feel like a wealthy great aunt has invited me to tea. :) I’m so grateful to Brenda Martin for her gorgeous music and her fun improv collaborations! (And thanks to Emma McCoy for the photo!)

Then my virtual book launch for Hereverent on April 21 was also lovely. What a gift to hear poets I adore read my poems alongside theirs. I’m so grateful to Agape Editions for publishing and celebrating my book! […]

Finally in this countdown to launch, 15 of my favorite local poets read with me in my church’s sanctuary this past Saturday night, and I brought my favorite brownies (a recipe from my beloved dissertation advisor, Marthe Reed), and many more dear friends and delightful people came to celebrate my new book too.

Katie Manning, Hereverent Launches!

Yes, all the waiting is over – if you pre-ordered the book, or were waiting for the book to be available from BOA or Amazon or you wanted to review it on Amazon, the 9th is the day! That’s tomorrow!

In celebration, I’ll be taking over BOA Edition’s feed on Instagram May 9th, 10th, and 11th so keep your eyes out for that! I’ll talk about inspirations, making cocktails, playlists, and more. I’m a little bit nervous because I’m not the world’s most confident Instagram user, but hopefully I have respectable posts and stories. Isn’t it funny that now Instagram videos are part of promoting a book? That wasn’t true the last time one of my books came out. Ah, how things change!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Ready for Launch? Flare, Corona’s Official Pub Date Arrives, an Upcoming Open Books Reading with Martha Silano, Instagram Takeovers, Plus More Pics of Tulips and Parties

Here’s the truth about envy, judgement, and comparisons: the other person feels none of the bitterness, defeat, and ire you feel. You—exclusively you—feel the discomfort, and it’s a slow poison you mix with your own particular brand of injustice and insecurity, then self-administer.

At various misguided moments, we can come to believe that envy is a motivator. If that were true, feeling it just once would do the trick to skyrocket us into productivity and success. More often what happens is this: we feel discouraged, then immediately seek to buffer the feeling. Judgement, Netflix, potato chips: all effective buffers. None of these, however, is a catalyst for growth, development, or change. None is half as powerful as reading a book, sitting with a draft, or going for a walk.

You alone can make a conscious effort to ease yourself of these unnecessary feelings in 2023. How? By noticing them and calling them what they are. Then, by diffusing them by focusing on yourself. What is my envy/comparison/jealousy telling me about what I want? And how can I take the step towards what I want, instead of sitting here paralyzed by indignation, elbow deep in a bag of Fiesta Doritos?

Maya C. Popa, Progress Report: Literary Resolutions

Many agendas may drive the urge to bash particular writers or their works, among these envy, attention, pride, status, self-preservation, righteous indignation, or a sense that one needs to scramble to make space for oneself in an already small environment (“the literary world”). Even, dare I say, ignorance. I could speculate on reasons for unkindness until the proverbial cows come dawdling home, but I suppose it can be attributed to a kind of social Darwinism. People can be mean-spirited when threatened. Though exactly how the writing of poetry poses a threat to other poets remains a mystery to me.

Maybe I am a Pollyanna (entirely possible), but although I can recall some incidents and critiques that have stung me, there have been far more instances of generosity from fellow writers. While contemplating writing this post I sat back and decided to count how many fellow writers have extended courtesy, respect, useful advice, helpful criticism, networking and publication leads, encouragement, and the sense that I’ve “been seen”–acknowledgment as a writer–and I found the list was long. I considered listing names, but there are so many…and I was afraid I’d inadvertently overlook someone. I consider this an excellent “problem” to have.

Granted, some stings have been…memorable. However, I’ve been writing and publishing poetry and related prose since the early 1980s, so there have been many years during which I’ve had the joy of connecting with other writers in generous ways. Writing is both a large community and a small one, depending upon where I am in my own life: local at times, semi-isolated other times, and then–thanks to social media platforms, with which I have love/hate relationships–national and international!

As I get ready to pull back a bit from my work in the realm of higher education, I hope that the lessons I have learned about being generous to my students, gently encouraging while pointing out areas to keep working on, will stay with me. My feeling about poetry is that there’s certainly room for more of it in a world which can be harsh, and that acknowledging other humans’ urge to express their awe, fear, grief, passion, love, anger, and perspective won’t actually harm many of us.

Ann E. Michael, Generosity

Publishers aren’t charity operations (though it often feels that way), despite the enduring myth that there is something noble and good about the literary industry. It’s still a business, and it’s still operating under the same suffocating tenets of capitalism that writers are. Lumpenproletariat or not.

Alas, the writer’s personality consists of the yin and yang qualities of self-hatred and self-aggrandizement. It is the latter quality that so often comes into play when they submit a piece. They think their writing is special or “god’s gift” and that it should therefore not only be immediately accepted, but that the publisher should waive any fees for the sheer pleasure of reading their work. But newsflash: reading submissions is not a pleasure. About five percent of the pool will actually be enjoyable. It’s that five percent that keeps the publisher going. Fighting the fucking windmills while the schlock in The New Yorker is touted as some sort of literary high standard.

Genna Rivieccio, On Submission Fees and the Belief that Publishers Are Pirates

This particular advert, however, seemed seriously weird. It wanted an exceptional poet and tutor to be a part of a happy and successful team. Happy kept cropping up. The school, it said, is a happy place. It provides a happy environment.

The candidate it said would be an established member of the literary world (so one of the boys and girls, then) with an excellent academic background, a PhD in English or Creative Writing (naturally, what else would you expect?), and experience of teaching at graduate level. Blah-de-blah. Highly skilled. Blah-de-blah. Supportive, Understanding. Blah-de-Blah.

Ok, fair enough, I wouldn’t get in. I’m not qualified. I don’t mean academically, though that’s true. My ancient BA Hons is nowhere near good enough, even if I knew where the proof of it was. No, it’s the happy bit I couldn’t do. I doubt I could even do it at the interview (not that I’d get one).

I grew up in journalism, grew middle-aged and grew old in journalism. We knew what happy was, especially when we’d had a drink or four. We knew what angry, passionate, bad-tempered and noisy was too. When we wrote, we wrote alone. We wrote in doubt, asking ourselves questions, trying to get what we wanted to say down as best we could and as truthfully as we could. We were alive. Are these people in that supportive, understanding, positive, constructive, happy world really alive?

Bob Mee, THE POETRY ACADEMICS vs JOHN STEINBECK

Back in August of 2022, I wrote the blog post, Browsing the Archive on a Summer Afternoon, in which I talk about my pleasure at revisiting my collection of journals that have published my work over the years. I realize that I neglected to point out something very important: writers should read all of the contributor’s copies they receive.

I do mean all. If you primarily write poetry, then of course you should read all of the poetry, but don’t stop there. If the journal includes fiction, reviews, and essays, read all of them too. If you write prose, read the poetry! As Virginia Woolf wrote, “The impact of poetry is so hard and direct that for the moment there is no other sensation except that of the poem itself.” Woolf wrote prose, but she definitely “got” poetry. Poets dream of readers who appreciate their craft with such deep understanding.

Reading every page of your contributor’s copy, whether in a physical journal or online, connects you to a community of writers, because each journal is its own community. I sometimes imagine the other writers who sent their work to a particular publication at the same moment as I did. What were they doing just before they hit “send” or “submit?” It’s entirely possible that some of us sent work simultaneously, our words traveling through the ether and arriving at the magazine’s inbox at the exact same moment. There’s a kind of mystery about this process that’s always intrigued me.

Erica Goss, You Should Read Every Page of Your Contributor’s Copy

I will be reading next week at Shelton Timberland Library with poet friends Cathy Warner, Gary E. Bullock, and Dan Coffman (and maybe a few other Washington poets if it works out!). Cathy Warner and I have been friends since 2012 when we both found ourselves new to Bainbridge Island. While she and I have both moved about since then, our poetry friendship has stayed intact. Gary and Dan are new poetry friends who I met in a workshop class with poet Gary Copeland Lilley and whom I have not met in person due to COVID, but will now be able to meet in person! It is not hyperbole to say all my poet friends and connections are what got me through those long three years of isolation. Come and hear us read. Come celebrate our connection to poetry and each other.

Carey Taylor, Upcoming Reading!!

It’s not just the practical blocks – lack of time, being interrupted etc – it’s the psychological blocks, and the societal blocks that prevent people, particularly older women, from writing. There is a prejudice in society that says that older women are, at best dull, at worst invisible. When I searched the stock photo database, pexels, for a header photo for this post, I searched ‘older woman writing’ and found virtually nothing. When I searched ‘older man writing’ I found plenty. When I searched ‘writer’ I found plenty of young women with beautiful nails holding pastel notebooks, and lots of older men at gnarly wooden desks grumpily screwing up pieces of paper. I use this as an example because these stock photos are the pictures that the media uses as an example of what is present in society: as examples of products, as examples of aesthetic lifestyles to strive for, as examples of, you might even say, what is the acceptable face, or the seen face, or the most associated-with face, of a product, a person, a genre, a section of society.

We know older women writers exist. Just looking at my own over filled bookcases I can see them everywhere – Hilary Mantel (God, I miss Hilary Mantel so much) Margaret Atwood, Maggie O’Farrel… but somehow the perception still seems to be that older women at the beginning of their careers, those not established yet, do not exist.

Wendy Pratt, How to Give Yourself Permission to Write

But the important part here is the student loans, because those things literally made it possible for me to go to and stay in college. See, that full-time job paid maybe $10 an hour, which was okay money for working in Hammond, Louisiana in 1995 but not enough money to support a family and pay tuition, and really wasn’t enough money to support myself as a newly-single person, pay tuition and pay child support.

So I took out loans, every one I could get, and for the next four years as an undergrad, I would start my semester in line to pay my tuition, get two checks for the balance over what my tuition was, and immediately sign one of those checks over to my ex-wife. Pretty much the same for my grad school experience.

So now it’s 2005. I’ve got my MFA, I’ve just done two years at Stanford as a Stegner Fellow and I have my first full-time university teaching job. I’m a lecturer at Florida Atlantic University teaching a 4/4 and making $30,000 or so a year, which is more than I’ve ever made per year in my life at the time, and which is not enough to live in south Florida, not really, so I go into economic hardship deferral until that time runs out and then forbearance and at some point in there, there’s a program that allows you to pay based on your income and also we move to Iowa because Amy gets the job she has now at Drake University. I’m making payments, but they’re not large enough to even cover the interest and if this part of the story sounds familiar that’s because there are a lot of people in similar boats.

Brian Spears, A little personal news

What appears to be a simple poem covers so much ground…Masculinity, memory—both positive and the (I think) implicit nod to poverty at the end in ‘the hungry roots beneath’. It’s an entirely different poem, but it puts me in mind of Paul Farley’s poem about Treacle. I love the musicality of the poem, particularly in the first stanza, and I raise a pint of Kingfisher (NB I mean cup of tea—it’s now 7.30am) to the internal rhymes of ‘furnaces’ and ‘curry houses’. We’ll also give ‘curve and ‘trove’ and ‘pucker’ and ‘nutter’, a respectful nod too.

I bought this book from Andy via Facebook a year or so ago, so my apologies it’s taken me this long, but I was hooked in by him saying it was pretty much his last copy. Take note: I’m an absolute sucker for that so, so make sure you use the scarcity bias[.]

Mat Riches, High and (Mar)mighty…aka A Toast To Marmite aka Boys For the Black Stuff

M Archive: After the End of the World by Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a stunning collection of poetry. Inspired by M. Jacqui Alexander’s Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred, a transnational black feminist text, Gumbs envisions humanity at the end of the world. While there is struggle, this is not the typical depiction of humanity as viciously and violently struggling for survival, but a vision of humanity as transformational. As the environment and world shifts (due to human causes), humanity takes to the dirt, sky, fire, and sea, creating new communities and ways of being. It’s a beautiful, compelling and hopeful depiction.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: April 2023

‘Snow’ does all the right poemy things. The sounds match the sense. The world is busy, busier than we realise and so is a phrase like ‘soundlessly collateral and incompatible’. Then there’s that tangerine. The words come down to single, propulsive syllables, so that you almost have to spit to say ‘spit the pips and feel’. But there is a deliberate unpoeticness to ‘Snow’, too, an awkwardness of phrasing and language, and this is one of the things I like most about it. (That and the refusal to explain: why is there more than glass between the snow and the roses?)

Jeremy Wikeley, incorrigibly Plural

This poem began in my car with my kids sitting together in the backseat. As we sat at a traffic light, watching some workers cut the limbs off a tree, my daughter said the body of this poem in almost these words exactly. I don’t recall if I wrote it down (or typed it into the notes app on my phone) right away, or if I remembered what she said and wrote it down later, but the process involved paring down the description to its essentials, looking carefully at line breaks and opportunities for music, and maintaining her voice the best I could (“the sky’s like finally” is one of those moments, but I also love the long I assonance in that phrase). I think the pauses after “branch” and “blue” are doing a lot in the poem. Those line breaks slow down the pace and give the reader time to reflect. I see the break between “branch” and “hits the ground” as enacting the branch’s fall and landing.

I found this idea comforting when my marriage ended: When something is gone, it makes space for something else. In this case, the tree losing its limbs made space for the sky. The view changed. My perspective changed with it.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: Two Related Poems

This is observational humour at its best: the humour of recognition. Waldron catches those unguarded moments that betray our weaknesses; he observes and reports the embarrassing that we would rather not admit to; he exposes those frailties that make us human. For example, The Sweet Smell of Failure is a cautionary tale which shows the romantic consequences of not changing one’s underpants regularly;  Digging in my Archives explores a life of pretensions; Valentines Day tells of a major romantic failure; and Shop (lift) Local exposes the limitations of our moral compass when we’re offered a bargain. There is something of us all in these poems. In his drop-in Waldron describes the imagined persona narrating the poems as a ‘37-year-old man’. Yet there is something universal about these poems. When we laugh at him, we are laughing at ourselves, man, or woman. In fact, there is something of ‘Everyman’ about these poems, but without the moral imperative!

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘My C&A Years’ by Roger Waldron

A follow-up to the creative non-fiction and poetry title Album Rock (Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s NL: Boulder Books, 2018) is St. John’s, Newfoundland poet Matthew Hollett’s full-length poetry debut, Optic Nerve: poems (Kingston ON: Brick Books, 2023). Through an assortment of first-person poems set in a lyric simultaneously narrative and cinematic, Hollett offers a descriptively-thick and finely-honed intimate portrait of east coast space. “It took two of us to haul the river out of its box / and wrangle its segments together like vertebrae / or slabs of sidewalk. As rivers go,” he writes, to open the poem “Waters Above and Waters Below,” “this one had been / stepped in more than twice, its leisurely ripples and eddies / scuffed with footprints from small armies / of schoolkids.” Hollett works his lyric as a way of examining small moments of time, comparable to how Michael Crummey wrote contemporary and historic Newfoundland through his Passengers: Poems (Toronto ON: Anansi, 2022) [see my review of such here], or how Michael Goodfellow wrote his personal Lunenberg County, Nova Scotia through Naturalism, An Annotated Bibliography: Poems (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2022) [see my review of such here]. One could say that all three of these poets are simply following elements of Newfoundland-based poet and editor Don McKay [see my review of his 2021 collection Lurch here], and that would be entirely correct, each writing their own small perceptions through carved lyric observations. Weighed down through the dark, there is significant and even pragmatic light in these lines. “If you find yourself lost,” the poem “Coriolis Borealis” begins, “try not to walk in circles. A forest / is an aura of revolving doors, every spruce or fir is / a celestial body that wants you in its orbit. For the first / twenty-four hours, you’d be wise to stay put.” Across his densely-packed Optic Nerve, Hollett writes short moments and scenes, fully aware of the differences in seeing and perception, writing narratives many of which are centred in and around Halifax. “In Halifax it greets me like a gauntlet of bear traps.” he writes, to open the poem “Shipshape.” “Sidestepping swollen potholes on Quinpool, I pass a traffic island / with its mascara of snow, a bicycle wheel crushed into a taco, / a bird’s nest asquint with icicles.”

rob mclennan, Matthew Hollett, Optic Nerve: poems

There’s a primarily Anglo-Saxon obsession among so-called experts with attempting to turn wine into a dry, dead subject, to reduce it to exams (WSET/MW stuff) and points (Robert Parker, etc).

And then there’s the marketing ploy, often used by pubs and restaurants, of flogging wine by grape variety. This supposedly makes everything easier for the consumer to order once they’ve decided that they like, for instance, Sauvignon Blanc, in an impossible struggle to simplify things. Of course, such a strategy ignores the vagaries of soil, climate, grower and winemaker, all of which mean that there a huge gamut of Sauvignon Blancs. Many of them barely resemble each other in a comparative tasting.

Much the same could be said of poetry. It too is a slippery, incredibly complex subject that defies repeated critical and academic attempts at pigeonholing and classification. Poets are categorised but they defy those labels on a regular basis because the genre is alive and constantly shape-shifting.

In both poetry and wine, the more you know, the more you realise you know nothing. 

Matthew Stewart, Pigeonholing in wine and poetry

Sure. The whole project misconstrued or misconceived.
Thunderstorm at dawn: deep dark with lightning,
and now a morning pretending nothing ever happened,
but a gore of draggled blossom spread across the walk.

Dale Favier, Making My Heart Beat

My chalkboard poems alternate now between humor and sad nostalgia with images from the natural world, spring blooming all around, and a subtext of the long goodbye. Last night, a woman asked if I was still writing poems and if I had ever been in the New Yorker, which reminded me of a fairly recent personal rejection from the New Yorker asking to see more, and my inaction upon that. Uh oh. “I want to see you in print,” the woman said, and I realized again how few people, even those who love me, know that I am very often in print, or in online magazines, and have several chapbooks out there in the world. But I do feel loved and appreciated, especially for the chalkboard poems, which are short and connect to people’s lives. I love those people back.

Kathleen Kirk, Candy House

when there’s
no memory of
the moment of
passage and
tissue and salts
have gone to
the denizens
themselves now
gone to earth
those feathers
make a brave
show folded
still into the
intelligence
of flight as if
they might still
know the air

Dick Jones, wing.

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 12

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

This week saw the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, as well as the spring equinox and World Poetry Day. Somewhat to my surprise, the former didn’t get much explicit attention in the poetry blogs, but the outbreak of war was the impetus for Phoenicia Publishing founder/editor Beth Adams to start her blog the Cassandra Pages—I think the longest-running literary blog I follow. And the war was certainly also an impetus for me and many of my fellow bloggers back in 2003, so it’s an anniversary with some consequence here. Instead this week I saw a lot of what Rachel Dacus calls a “heading-into-spring burst of vitality.” Enjoy!

NB: There will be no digest next Sunday. I know, I know, it’s Poetry Month, but I need to see the ocean. When the digest returns, it will probably be on a weekday; I haven’t decided which one.


The pristine snow,
abandoned, sinks —

a sooty skin.

Broken objects
rise up. An arm, 
stairs, cardboard
boxes shocked
by fetid air,

my head 

pushes from the
mud […]

Jill Pearlman, Flux, March

It’s World Poetry Day, and tonight I will be going to a Josephine Hart Poetry Hour event at the British Library, about WB Yeats. 

By my reckoning, Yeats has been in my life for about 30 years. I was a young teenager, as with so many of the artistic influences which ran into my bloodstream and stayed there forever. I was thinking tonight that the records I listened to between about 12-16 are part of who I am — they are me — and the records I listened to between about 17-22 are time machines, which is actually something quite different. Yeats is part of who I am and thus, part of what led me first from Canada and then to Ireland and then to London. And certainly to being a poet, as far as it goes. (A small thing, but mine own.) 

The poem that came to mind tonight, in another year of global turmoil, was Yeats’s ‘The Stare’s Nest By My Window’, part of the sequence ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’. It weaves together the extreme focus on the personal, the immediate and the close-by, with the broader crises and concerns which put the poet in that place of absolute focus in the first place. It grasps at what can be seen and held, and also hoped for, amidst profound uncertainty. This is, in varying degrees, the story of the world in recent years (and in less recent years). And it was written a little over a century ago.

Clarissa Aykroyd, World Poetry Day: ‘The Stare’s Nest By My Window’ by WB Yeats

This week on my local Nextdoor, someone wrote about a man at a busy intersection who, for the second day in a row, was walking around naked from the waist down. Lengthy threads–about obscenity laws (or lack of them), police responses (or lack of them), mentally ill support services (or lack of them), penalties (or lack of them)–ensued. In the midst of one thread, a woman shared that she wants to kill herself. Four people responded to the woman, but more than 30 (I stopped counting) continued yammering on at each other about laws, police, services, et cetera et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseum.

There’s more than one way to be naked in the street. Most people aren’t going to stop their cars to help. I closed my laptop and cleaned my oven, which made me think of Sylvia Plath. We don’t do what we can’t.

Last week I got a rejection that was so encouraging it almost felt like an acceptance: “We admired your essay, but we’re going to have to pass this time. “Resistance” reached the final round of our decision-making process. We would love to read more of your work, and we hope you will submit to XXX in the future.”

It’s the only writing I’ve submitted anywhere in the last year. Speaking of not doing what we can’t. It was a micro-essay about mass shootings. And ice skating.

I want to write about that class. I want to write about these people–us people–who gather in virtual rooms at the end of days that look ordinary to everyone else and unzip our normalcy suits to let the alien life we carry inside us breathe a little freely for a few hours. I don’t know how to write about that, any more than I know how to help the half-naked man or the woman who wondered if she should burn herself up in the house her grandmother and mother once lived in.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The week that was

I’ve forgotten to count the atmospheric rivers that have gushed across the San Francisco Bay Area, but the incredible deluge seems to have sparked a lot of literary ideas for me. When the 50 mph winds are bending trees sideways and sinkholes are appearing in the roads, it’s a subtle hint that you have nowhere better to go than your writing desk. I’ve cradled my laptop many of these dark, rainy mornings. I’m feeling a low rumble of energy, the heading-into-spring burst of vitality that soon will pop leaves out of the soil and bare branches.

Rachel Dacus, Creating Characters in Springtime

Today this blog celebrates its twentieth anniversary. I almost forgot, because I was focused on it being the first day of spring: an event we’re eagerly anticipating up here but about which there’s been precious little evidence, other than the maple sap running, and brighter, longer days. However, I’ll post these grape hyacinths in the hope that we’ll be seeing real ones — in about a month.

The craziness of living in, and enduring, such a northern climate may be matched by the craziness of having blogged here for twenty years. Or perhaps I’m just stubborn. Social media was supposed to be the death of blogging, and it did do-in most of the blogs that started when mine did. Other platforms were touted as the next best thing, but I think most bloggers just got fatigued. Keeping up a blog, trying not to repeat yourself, and finding something personal to say is hard enough over years and years, but when the readers and commenters start to go away, it’s even harder to remember why you began it in the first place.

But I do remember: I was a journal writer and determined letter-writer, with a well-established practice, and blogging fit me to a T, not only because it satisfied those same urges, but because it also added the possibility of a visual component. The latter, of course, became the raison d’être for Instagram, and I have loved being part of a community of artists and photographers there. But for those who want to write regularly and seriously, nothing has really worked as well as blogs, and for someone like me who’s a visual artist as well, and wants to own her own website rather than be data-harvested at every click of the mouse and keyboard, blogging has continued to be the best choice. I guess stubborn perseverance has just kept me at it, because first of all I write and make a record of my art for myself — I’d do this anyway — but how much better it is to share it with you, communicate with you, and get to know each other.

The doubts I was having about blogging a few years ago have mostly disappeared. It’s clear to me that this is where I belong, and that it works for me.

Beth Adams, Cassandra at Twenty

I ran into one of my blog readers last night in person at the theatre. What a joy, and I am so touched! He said he has read some books based on my blog accounts, and he also enjoys my chalkboard poems. This just warms my heart! And I needed warming up, as it’s been cold and gloomy for a few days, but yesterday the sun came out, and there was a clear sky with stars and a fingernail moon last night!

Kathleen Kirk, Hello Beautiful

It’s been a weird week here in Seattle, with the first days of spring bringing bright blue skies, 60-degree weather and cherry blossoms, and ending with surprise snow and an equally surprising bobcat visit.

Today I have two videos for you—one of a bobcat walking by my back door, and one from my offsite reading at AWP with BOA at the Seattle Library. I’m not an expert at YouTube yet, so forgive me for any problems. I even (at my little brother’s urging) finally made myself a channel, so you can like and follow me there, and you’ll get a mix of readings plus bobcats. And silliness.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Weird First Week of Spring – Starting with Bright Blue Skies and Blossoms and Ending with Snow and a Bobcat Visit, A Video from my AWP Offsite Reading and Last Picture

I wandered over to Facebook, where I saw a post by Daisy Fried, who introduced her students to Robert Hayden’s “Middle Passage.”  Along with reading the poem, they listened to this podcast that contains a discussion of the poem–great stuff!  After the podcast, I read this article that talks about the history of how this poem has been received by larger communities (the poetry community, the black community, new generations of activists).

Eventually, I shifted to seminary writing.  I like to think that my seminary writing was deeper and richer because I began my morning with poetry.  I know that my life is richer each day when I begin my day with poetry.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Beginning My Day with Poetry

Late last night someone sent me a wonderful goat video. I wanted to read a poem about a goat, but the only one I could think of was “Song” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and I wasn’t in the mood for that.

I started thinking about the perennial conversation E. and I have about art. He doesn’t use the term with a capital A, ever. He sees art as a form of escapism, not as a portal to a shared experience about what it is to be human. He doesn’t want to spend his evenings looking at the hard things. He says he gets enough of hard things. And isn’t that true of all of us.

And I can respect that. Though I find it inexplicable why we would have such differing attitudes about beauty and awe. Such differing approaches to acknowledging what it is to be human.

But then, I have seen his whole body express awe while overlooking valleys from mountain tops. Maybe that is enough for him. Everything. You can die on the mountainside. At any point of the journey. He doesn’t put it into words, or squeeze it into symbols. He has this, and maybe it is enough?

I would talk to him about this. Ask him. But I don’t think he wants to think about it. It just is and doesn’t need to be teased apart and put together again. If I brought it up, I think he’d just suggest a hike.

I like watching goats. Their pronking moves me emotionally in ways that I can’t keep up with physically or even intellectually. I envy them their in-the-moment joy. At least that’s what it looks like. But I will admit that there is something about their eyes. The gut-hooked association to Christian symbolism that I carry with me from childhood. The dangerous wildness.

So for me, the pronking kids will always have the darkness of Kelly’s “Song”.

Because this all this is true. And I am still learning to hold the paradox lightly and enjoy the flow.

Ren Powell, The Hard Things

Hard to believe it was over ten years ago that I first stumbled on (or rather out of) The Betsey Trotwood pub in London’s Clerkenwell with my long-suffering willing-to-be-taken-to-poetry-readings friend Lucy.  It’s certainly a stalwart of the poetry scene.

A week or so ago I was there to hear readings from students on the Poetry School Writing Poetry MA. Friends and fellow Hastings Stanza members Judith and Oenone are both on the course – Judith about to complete her final year, Oenone her first. They both gave fine readings, as did many others, and the whole event was a huge love-in for the tutors Glyn Maxwell and Tammy Yoseloff.

I do love the atmosphere at ‘The Betsey’ – an achetypical Victorian London pub with an upstairs function, these days entirely smoke-free of course, but just a few decades ago it would have been eye-stingingly fuggy. (It was pointed out to me however that the room was not accessible. This is of course a problem with all the old pubs – they just weren’t built with accessibility in mind. I’m not sure what the answer is.)

The pub used to be called The Butcher’s Arms apparently, and perhaps the renaming (taking the name of a character in Dickens’s David Copperfield) was symbolic of its friendliness to the poor poets and writers of Owd Lahndon Tahn. Many a book launch happens there. In fact, the latest edition of Finished Creatures launches there on Tuesday 4th April. Do come if you can.

Robin Houghton, Poetry at the Betsey

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to party in the city with a hot young lit mag, you might enjoy Bindu Bansinath’s Dispatch From The Drift’s Latest Party. Writes Bansinath, “Their parties have become a media frenzy of their own, providing endless Twitter fodder…but a friend of mine described the whole evening best when she said, ‘They’re a gathering of nerds who want to drink and shit-talk The New Yorker.’”

[…]

Finally, in response to the overwhelming enthusiasm to his article, Rattle Editor Tim Green has begun a list of lit mags that have updated their guidelines from “unpublished work only” to “uncurated work only.” You can view the list here. We hope to continue to see it grow!

Becky Tuch, Lit Mags to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right!

Stanza by stanza, line by line, word by word, comma by comma, a good editor enables a poet to understand their own method, makes them question and/or justify their choices, helps them spot their own weaknesses, encourages them to raise their game a notch. Such close editing places a draining demand on the person who does it, requiring a high level of engagement. It takes so much out of the editor that they often struggle to sustain their own writing at the same time. And this sacrifice is another reason why editing is generous.

Helena Nelson at HappenStance Press is the editor I know best, and her example is the point of departure for this post. Few publishers work as closely with their poets. What’s more, her graft on others’ behalf is definitely detrimental to her own terrific poetry. I’d suggest that U.K. Poetry could do with a few more Nells, though she’s a one-off. In fact, you could do far worse than get hold of her latest top-notch collection, Pearls, which hasn’t received the attention that it so richly deserves. It’s available to purchase here.

Matthew Stewart, A celebration of poetry editors

I saw an interesting twitter discussion the other day about what font to use when submitting writing to journals/presses. In my undergrad classes, the poet professor I most admire would say Times New Roman was really the only professional font to use, if you want to be taken seriously (which of course my 19 year old self did!).

There’s some common sense here–Comic Sans is obviously wrong, as is Typewriter font. I feel like the font should not distract from the actual writing (and those two examples do).

The font in question in the discussion was Garamond, which is the font most commonly used for published books–the idea being that if you submit your poems in Garamond, they LOOK like they should be published.

Renee Emerson, would a poem in any other font smell as sweet?

Think of a safe place, they said in mindfulness class. Think of a compassionate friend, one who is wise and supportive. I became safe in the red chair by the fire, covered by a blanket knit by my grandmother. Friends, grandparents, spiritual figures, mentors—who would offer compassion, energy, illumination. A huge letter A, tall as a ten-year-old, Times New Roman, black, sat down in the chair on the other side of the fire. Anything is possible, it said. Did light shine like wings around it as if it were a medieval saint—“outer glow” in Photoshop? No, it was crisp as if letterpressed into air. Anything is possible, it repeated and I understood that this A was the beginning, that language meant that I could explore, that it opened the world to possibility as if I could see the bones under the flesh of the world.

Gary Barwin, A by Fire

Recently I’ve  been reading SuperInfinite, Katherine Rundell’s excellent biography of John Donne, and this in turn has led me to revisit Donne’s poetry. I recall vividly the thrill of discovery when I first read him as a teenager, delighting in his clever conceits and his command of metre, rhyme and form, as I sought to understand his meanings.

This is what excites us as readers and learners – coming across something new that stimulates our intellectual curiosity, challenges our perceptions but also appeals, at some deep level, to our imaginations and our being. We can experience this sense of wonder and delight not only through literature, but also through music, mathematics, art, sport, gardening, or even through intriguing blends of different forms.

Lori Wike’s Jump Search, a recent release from Penteract Press, is just such a novel blend of two different forms. A jump search, Wike explains in the Introduction, ‘is a new type of puzzle in which a word is concealed within a maze grid of letters and numbers. It is a synthesis of a word search and a number maze’. 

Marian Christie, Review: Jump Search by Lori Wike

That was the time I went as a dominatrix.
I wore my jodhpurs, riding boots,
carried a whip. I had my Cleopatra eyes,
and black bra under a side-less top.

Rebecca, my boss, had dyed her bob orange.
Tony, always modest, in dinner jacket,
bow tie, trainers, and baseball cap.
Black lace gloves for the HR woman in the wheelchair.

Fokkina McDonnell, Abolition

For a while now, Brooklyn poet Jordan Davis has been producing chapbook-length volumes of selected poems, one of the latest is by Brooklyn-based American poet Nada Gordon, her The Swing of Things (Subpress, 2022). This is the first of Gordon’s works I’ve encountered, so I’m unaware of the larger scope or scale of her work, so this “remix” is a curious introduction, and one reminiscent of how Phil Hall reworked selected scraps to assemble his own critical “selected poem,” Guthrie Clothing: The Poetry of Phil Hall, a Selected Collage (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2015) [see my write-up on such here]. The chapbook-length poem “The Swing of Things” is structured through untitled sections (as well as an array of photographs, some of which suggest their own collage-works), short bursts that exist across each page; some of which group, or even cluster, allowing for its own kind of collage-work possibility. Her visuals and text both suggest the familiar but one that is twisted, turned and shaped into what is unerringly new, and some of which is just enough to unsettle, question or even simply wonder. Gordon’s poems hold a delightful heft, subtle in its play and dark corners, writing from both the shadow and the sudden light.

rob mclennan, Ongoing notes: late March, 2023: Amanda Earl + Nada Gordon

A few weeks ago, I visited Lee Martin’s creative nonfiction MFA workshop at The Ohio State University to talk about “Ghost Story,” which they’d read for class, and we talked about the amount of poetry in the prose, both at the sentence level and the structure level. For example, I used white space to slow down the pacing as I do in poems, here employing short paragraphs—sometimes only a single sentence—and section dividers. White space acts as literal “breathing room” on the page, regardless of genre, so these are spaces where the reader is invited to pause and reflect before moving on.

I also wanted to work lyrical and imagistic repetition into the piece, as I like to do with poems. In the opening paragraph, the laundry floated….the dishes floated….I floated” feels to me like a litany. There is also anaphora—a poetic technique in which successive phrases or lines begin with the same words—in the words “no idea” repeated, and in the three spoiler alerts. Ghostlike images carry through the piece as well—images of transparency, invisibility, helplessness. The chains in section one return in section four.

I shared with Lee and his students that “Ghost Story” also appears in my forthcoming memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, though not as a single piece. I have broken it into its smaller sections (where the asterisks are in the original essay) and threaded them through the book, and I’ve added a new final section. This is something I also do in my poetry collections: I like to spread a series of poems over the course of a book rather than compartmentalizing them in one section. These then work to pattern the collection and create multiple moments of recognition for the reader.

Maggie Smith, Behind-the-Scenes Look: “Ghost Story”

After Sunday, when frost is forecast, the hardy annual herbs – chervil, parsley, dill – will go into the garden, as well as annual flowers for cutting. And then the real adventure will start, as I sow new perennial herbs. My aim is to get the overall structure of the garden in place this year, and try to attract as many pollinators and butterflies as I can, but I know I am already distracted by the thoughts of vegetables I can sneak into the gaps.

In the house there is the same sense of burgeoning chaos. Editing slipped a bit during StAnza, but I’m almost finished one book, and getting started on three more. There will be a LIVE launch for The Well of the Moon – among many others which came out in lockdown, at a Red Squirrel Press showcase in April – watch out for more about this next week – and the Ceasing Never website went live. There are three articles up now, and it has attracted a lot of interest, and some very favourable comments. The collective includes eleven exciting poets, so there should be a lot to read and think about over the next few months.

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Second Year in the Garden

Betty Drevniok was “a major early influence of the shape of haiku” in English Canada by making space for a community to grow. How did she get to haiku before haiku was a thing in Canada? Terry Ann Carter related in “A History of Haiku in Canada” that Drevniok moved from sumi-e to haiku in the 1960s. 

In 1977, Betty Drevniok, George Swede, and Eric Amann founded the Haiku Society of Canada. Rod Wilmot recalls several Haiku Canada weekends in the 1980s hosted at her wooded cottages in Combermere in Northern Ontario. From 1979-82 she was President of the Society.

Michael Dudley remembers her as “an exceptionally kind, considerate being, who generously shared her ideas and insights by conversation, correspondence, presentation, and publication”.  […]

In her haiku primer, Aware, Drevniok said, “Be aware of things around you. Let those things reach out and touch you.”

Janick Beaulieu in her history of ‘Haiku Women Pioneers from Sea to Sea‘ says this book Aware: A Haiku Primer is Drevniok’s best legacy. You can read Janick’s essay and Drevniok’s 108-page book Aware as a digital book at the Haiku Foundation Digital Library. It was a book that led to a eureka by  Jane Reichhold.

Pearl Pirie, Betty Drevniok

Lola Ridge’s life was, in many ways, a tale of her times. Born Rose Emily Ridge in Dolphin’s Barn in Dublin, she and her mother emigrated to New Zealand as a child after the death of her father. She acquired a stepfather with a taste for Shakespeare and drink, married in her early 20s, lost a child, had a child, started publishing poetry in local newspapers and magazines. When she was 30, her marriage broke up and she moved with her son to Australia, where she studied art and submitted a collection of poems, Verses, to a local publisher AG Stephens, literary editor of the Sydney Bulletin in which much of her Australian work appeared, in 1905. The book never appeared.

In 1907, after the death of her mother, Ridge sailed to San Francisco with her son. She left him in an orphanage there and moved to New York, where she became Lola, knocked 10 years off her age, and immersed herself in the literary and anarcho-socialist life of the city that was to be her home for the rest of her life. […]

The Ghetto and Other Poems shows that Ridge had, in her new home in New York, absorbed the lessons of Whitman, Imagism and other avant garde poetry movements that she came across in the small magazines of the day, and forged her own distinctive voice from these influences. The title sequence, which opens the book, is an exploration of the everyday life of the poet and her neighbours in the Bowery district of New York.

Billy Mills, To the Many: Collected Early Works, Lola Ridge

If you delete every email that begins I Hope You Are Well And Having A Lovely Week So Far
If you play Masters Of War through amplifiers outside a government building
If you stand in the street and wave a plain piece of paper
If you sit on a bench in a park and throw paper planes at a cardboard cut-out of the King
If you drink coffee for too long in the red cafe
If you write for too long in the blue cafe
If you glue yourself to the past, chain yourself to the future
If you wear solid well-dubbined walking boots to bed and buy a dog
If you repeat the story of fourteen workers killed by an avalanche of potatoes
If you are caught singing the old song I Shall Be Released
If you enjoy silence, your own company, books on Pond Life and Freshwater Fishes
If you like sitting beneath trees and listening to rain

They will stamp your file with the words Specific Threat
They will stamp your file with the words Guilty Of Malicious Disobedience
They will accuse you of stealing thoughts from the needy
They will force you to download a self-care app and accept a free gift of a plastic penguin
They will accuse you of illegal use of the senses
They will accuse you of sending ice and light out of the country

Of talking to the girl who sells bracelets in the street
Of not wanting to get up in the morning
Of memorising the poetry of a prisoner of conscience
Of taking a public footpath to a secret mountain and eating a bun from a Tupperware tub
Of swimming in a sewage-infested sea dressed as a clown

Your sentence will never be revealed

There will be no right of appeal

You will die of unnatural causes

Bob Mee, NO RIGHT OF APPEAL

In the past two weeks, I’ve read two contemporary poetry collections that I didn’t, er…love…or perhaps what I mean is I did not respond to them the way I enjoy responding to poems (and no, I will not be naming titles, though I will be giving these books away). While that is a let-down of sorts, I also started reading naturalist Marcia Bonta‘s Appalachian Autumn–which I do love. The book takes an environmental-diary approach that I have enjoyed in other naturalist writers’ work and which, no doubt, I relate to partly because I am also a near-daily diarist of my own backyard; Bonta has much to teach me, because she has a naturalist’s education and long experience. This is one of four Appalachian Seasons books she’s authored, and maybe I should have started with Spring, since that equinox has just passed. I found myself interested in the story this book tells of her family’s legal struggles with local lumbermen and absentee landlords, however. It’s an experience with which, sadly, my beloveds and I are familiar.

And I also began reading a book of poetry I have found exceptionally compelling–Rebecca Elson’s A Responsibility to Awe. Perhaps more on that in a future post. So books continue to enrich my life. I hope that is always the case, but I’ve seen how changes in human neuroplasticity can affect even the most bookish among us. More reason never to take the joys of reading for granted–and to keep my library card current.

Ann E. Michael, Bookish decisions

This week has been a good work week. I’m back into my writing routine. In fact I have upgraded my routine to include a pre work early morning walk. I think the bit of sunshine we’ve had of late has done me good. Like a flower I’m turning my face to Spring. I’m up at six for a brisk walk, then into the office for an hour of writing, then breakfast, a slow dog walk with the elderly dog, then back to the desk until lunch. After lunch – another couple of hours at my desk, then I finish early to read. At five I end my day with another slow walk with the elderly dog. I’ve decided to incorporate reading into my work day, rather than trying to fit it in around other jobs. It’s too important to be crammed in. It feels like luxury, like a hobby, like something I certainly should NOT be doing in work hours, but the reality is that I need to keep up with poetry collections in order to run decent poetry workshops, writing challenges and courses (see below for the lates writing challenge). I need to find books for the book club too, and I think of reading as a kind of ‘CPD’ – Continued Professional Development – something that I remember from my days as a microbiologist – the importance of keeping up to date with new research, new developments in the field.

Wendy Pratt, Come Write the Watery World With Me

Finishing the Phaedrus. Finally, I have a definition of dialectic, a word that has bedeviled me since college. (Probably because I first met it in Marx and Hegel, who both put it to strenuous and unaccustomed work.) For Plato, it’s the art of collection and division: “seeing together things that are scattered about everywhere and collecting them into one kind,” on the one hand, and being “able to cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints, and try not to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might do,” on the other. Note that this is not seen as imposing categories or distinctions, but as recognizing them. (Phaedrus 265d)

274c & following, is Socrates’ denunciation of depending on the written word: reading encourages you to think you know things, when you don’t; relying on texts leads to a feeble memory; writing fails to fit the message to its audience; texts are frozen and can’t answer questions. Writing is an amusement and an aide-memoire – not serious philosophy.

And now, on to the Parmenides.

If it didn’t mean wishing away the parable of the cave, I might wish Plato had never written The Republic: such an ugly book, full of Socrates at his worst: it put me off Plato, and in fact philosophy, for decades. I’m glad that I have lived long enough to meet this Socrates who prays to Pan by the riverside: asking for his daily bread, and to be made beautiful inside. A different man entirely.

Dale Favier, Dialectic

What should I call it? What should I call
the reading of the last word of the poem and the
inability to go back to the beginning, to go anywhere

because that devastating silence that follows, is the poem.
And that is the reading, that being rooted in the debris
for as long as it takes for the universe to stop shuddering?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 39

This poem was originally conceived as a response to my frustration at how having cancer had impacted on my life (spoiler alert – it ended up somewhere quite different!) Specifically, at how having a melanoma skin cancer in 2018 meant that I could no longer think about being out in the sunshine, of having the warmth of sunlight on my skin, without immediately feeling anxiety – did I have sun screen on, where’s my hat, cross the road to walk in shadow and so on.

What I was mourning here was the loss of a sense of spontaneity and freedom to bask in lightness. The poem became a meditation on how writing enables us to place ourselves in spaces and states of being that may no longer be possible in everyday life – where facts have no consequence and instead ‘all is shadowless velocity’ where I am ‘lit up, let loose’. I liked the sense that with each letter written on the page one can transport the ‘matter’ of myself to experience new or lost sensations, emotions and places.

In the repetition of ‘I can write myself’ I also played with the idea of ‘right-ing’ myself through this process – I’m very interested in writing for wellbeing. Following my second cancer diagnosis a year after my first – this time with breast cancer in 2019 – I won Arts Council funding for a residency at Macmillan’s Horizon Centre in Brighton, devising and delivering 16 poetry workshops for people affected by cancer.  I saw not just through my own experience but through running these workshops the power of poetry to support health and wellbeing. 

So in this poem I wanted to echo the sense of ‘writing oneself’ and its connection with ‘right-ing’ oneself, both mentally but also physically because I talk about the ‘lost nodes, radiated breast, sleeved right arm’ being parts of a ‘new entirety’ that is balanced and restored through a new way of being in the world.

Drop-in by Niki Strange (Nigel Kent)

Even the whales were invited

to the inauguration of the machine.

One of them said, I am tired of sorrowing

with my own voice, with my own blue heart

wanting to beach on the strand. I am tired

of making recordings that no one translates

with any accuracy, or at the very least into

flowers.

Luisa A. Igloria, Deus Ex Machina

Poetry and Music have been documented as being helpful for elderly people, including those living with dementia, the after effects of a stroke, and even physical disability. Often it is the familiar poems learned by heart at school that has the most noticeable effect. I have read several times for Northwich Stroke Club, and seen these effects for myself: memories suddenly become vivid, audience reciting as I read, smiles and animation, or the closing of eyes and relaxation from lulling words.

This world poetry day (21 March), I was invited to read at a private care home, where the residents have a poetry club to share favourite poems. In a two hour slot (with a tea break in the middle), I read them some of my favourite poems, and they contributed a few of theirs. Only two people were brave enough to read, but both read beautifully. In the second half, I read them a few of my own poems, choosing ones that I felt might resonate with them but avoiding anything too sad. Not everyone stayed till the end, which was fine. It was a relaxed and chatty session, and we all sat round in a circle together, so it was very friendly. […]

I worry for today’s generation of school students, and the generation before them, that they will have no loved poems to take forward into their old age. The way poetry is taught in some schools these days, and secondary schools are the most guilty, takes the pleasure out of the poem. Schoolchildren are told that they can’t understand poetry, without the teacher ‘translating’ for them; that poetry is hard and full of secret meanings that need to be decoded. This is a dishonest and wrong approach. Rather than forcing pupils to make heavy dictated annotations, they should be encouraged to ‘feel’ the poem first, not simply label the parts as if it were an engine or a dissected animal. Colleagues were always amazed that my classes got such great results ‘despite’ my allowing them to interpret the poem for themselves, using the skill set I had given them. Poems belong to the reader, and don’t need mediation. Allowing the pupils to ‘own’ the poem helps them understand on a deeper level what that poem is doing and how it is doing it. This is how I taught poetry myself in my 16 years in secondary school, and stint in FE prior to that.

Angela Topping, The Power of Poetry

At seven, I couldn’t close my ohs.
Amazement sloshed out of me;
each ache spilled a constellation.
Winter nights, I etched snow angels
and lay back in their wings to drink the sky,
but every time my heart rushed up
and I’d hurl helpless towards stars.

Kristen McHenry, At Seven

I didn’t get to write a post last week (like that matters) as I was knackered after a long weekend in Norfolk. I went back to see my friend John Rance. John is the dad of my two closest friends, but I have always thought of him as a friend too. He’s always treated me the same way- certainly since we’ve all be old enough to buy him a pint…(I jest, mostly). John has been ill since a series of strokes starting back in September last year, and it was made clear to his family a couple of weeks ago that he wasn’t going to recover—despite there having been some positive signs at the start of the year.

I’m glad I went and spoke with John and said my goodbyes, as the message I was dreading came on Tuesday afternoon to say that John had passed away. It had been utterly devastating to to see a man that had been so full of life reduced to the shell he was in the Norfolk and Norwich hospital. John had lived so many lives as a parent to five children, husband to two wives (not at the same time), travelling across Europe as a young man, living in New Zealand while in the army, working as a salesman, a landlord for a working man’s club, a pub, becoming the artist he’d always wanted to be in later life. He was the first to help start an occasion and often the last to leave, the first to say something wise, the first to see the silly side of something, an inveterate creator of myths and legends (apparently West Ham won us the World Cup). His laugh filled a room, his determination to play jazz sometimes cleared it. A friend of mine recently wrote that John introduced him to so much in the way of art, music and film that he could never fully say how grateful he was, and that seems a fair assessment. And also nowhere near enough to describe the man. John’s art hangs in my kitchen. John’s light and shadow (he’d appreciate the art of that, I hope) will hang over my life forever.

If it was devastating to see him reduced in life, then it was a billion times worse to get that call on Tuesday. I was at work at time, and the moment the message landed I gathered my things and set off for home. The world of media research seemed exactly trivial after that.

I stood on the platform in a daze and decided to blot things out with a podcast—music didn’t seem right at the time, and I played the latest Planet Poetry episode. It featured an interview with Robert Hamberger. Robert is a poet I knew of, but hadn’t yet explored his work, so I listened with interest as he talked about his life, his work, his work within form and how it’s less of a straitjacket and more of a way of finding freedom to let the poem say what it wants to say. I nodded along (inwardly, making a loose mental note to finally push the button on buying Robert’s books…and knowing I would, eventually, but probably not straight away). I think he’d read a poem before this, but then he read a poem called ‘Moments’ and I came close to utterly disintegrating on the Circle line to Victoria station.

Mat Riches, Altering the colour of words

Phone, shut up about the news.
War in Ukraine, assault on trans rights,

a perp walk and its possibilities —
even the very Facebook where people

will find this poem: none of them help me.
Alert me to pay a different attention.

Listen: the red-winged blackbirds are back.
Forsythia blooms across the muddy lawn.

Rachel Barenblat, Notice

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing not to have anything named after you. There’s a quiet beauty to wandering this life, one’s name kept only to themselves and those closest to them.

Sometimes when it’s stormy, I offer my name to a random raindrop falling from the sky.

I say it quick before the drop crashes to earth and rushes off with all the others.

Rich Ferguson, No things are named after me

So today, I think about time and projects and seizing the day. Today, I make blueberry muffins from a box mix and drink coffee and sort through print jobs I picked up earlier in the week like these great little collage posties soon to be in the shop. I think about the next book, collapsologies, and its overall concept and visual ideas for covers and such.  Yesterday, I scanned some analog artwork I’ve had in mind since the beginning that’s been sitting on my shelves for over three years, basically since the book was conceived during the strange summer of lockdown, though the poems took a little longer to finish. I’ve been working digitally entirely lately, which always feels more polished, so it’s always strange to look at paper pieces cobbled together from stacks of vintage magazines. Their imperfections.  Glue spots and ragged paper. But then again, the greater limitations of working with what you have vs. what you can find and manipulate are two very different kinds of creating sometimes.  Sort of like a game with defined pieces vs. a scavenger hunt.

So that book needs to be finalized in April or May, and maybe, just maybe, will be ready for the world in June or July. Meanwhile, I am closing in on the end of the short series of poems about houses I’ve been working on.  They are still very rough and need some serious clean-up time after I’m done, but at the moment, I am liking them very much.  I have found over time that my relationship to my own work is fewer highs and lows and more of an even keel.  I feel like I am writing better than ever, but I also feel like people care less and less. Or less than before. Which is of course, a folly to judge oneself by, and is totally my own fault at spending too much time on social media platforms, whose exodus and algorithms are always affecting internet attention spans.  The danger of embedding your creative life in something where everyone is jostling for space, which is true of the publishing world and less true on the internet, but still kind of works the same. 

So I try not to think too much about [it] and go on endlessly appreciating the people who I know are interested in reading my work. Or maybe reading it and I don’t even know it. And more that I should just look to satisfy myself anyway, to make sure I am happy with what I am putting out there in the world. To take pleasure in the experience of writing and its rewards and maybe a few little connections it makes with other people in this short amount of time I, or anyone, is plodding along on this planet. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 3/26/2023

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 9

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader.

This week, there’s even more of a focus on books than usual—March 2 was World Books Day. From harbingers of spring to the borders beyond breath, it’s a very full edition of the digest. Enjoy.


The days are lengthening. Harbingers of spring
pierce through resistant soil; spikes of daffodils

and early tulips mingle, tight buds sprinkle
thin syringa stems. A few oak leaves linger,

crisp-curled and dead, rasping in the flowerbed –
but death is a stranger now. Pale hellebore

blushes shyly, fern fronds prepare to unfurl.

Marian Christie, February’s Garden

I dug out an old book over the weekend – Speak To Me, Swedish-language Women Poets, edited & translated by Lennart and Sonja Bruce, published in New York in 1989. Every so often I flick through this one but in previous readings I hadn’t noticed a comment by the Swedish poet Madeleine Gustafsson. She says: “..It is poetry that discovers/ scrutinizes/ explains me.”

It set me thinking. How far does poetry explain the poet, to themselves or to others? Sure, I walk about my life, talking to people (here and there…) and am, when the mood takes, or circumstances dictate, social enough. I get unnecessarily animated while watching football, like to watch Test Match cricket, enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren, talk to my hens and pigs, spend time pottering about doing jobs in our woods, pass through the world, I suppose. Life is full.

Is this what I am? Or does my poetry suggest something more that stays hidden through the habits and rituals of the days?

Bob Mee, ‘MY POETRY EXPLAINS ME’

March is here – my favorite month of the year. (And my birthday month.) Although the Spring equinox is on the 20th, the climate here in New Orleans says Spring is here now. I have garden planning and planting fever so I’ve been consulting my notes from last year as to what new things I want to experiment with in my planting. […]

I have a tiny essay in Still: The Journal called Moon Sick, which was reprinted from my Substack post in December. Many thanks to the wonderful editors at Still for believing this little piece was worthy of their wonderful journal.

It’s Saturday afternoon now and I’m going out into the backyard to cut off dead banana tree leaves and trim back my HUGE in ground Asparagus setaceus fern. And, of course, check on the Sweet Peas.

Charlotte Hamrick, I’m in Love with March

A fellow poet introduced me to the American poet Ted Kooser, now in his early 80s. His style is accomplished, yet extremely simple. My current bedtime reading is his poetry collection Winter Morning Walks: one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2001).

In the late 90s Kooser developed cancer. He gave up his insurance job and writing. When he began to write again, it was to paste daily poems on postcards he sent to his friend and fellow writer Jim Harrison. In the preface, Kooser tells us ‘I began to take a two-mile walk each morning. I’d been told by my radiation oncologist to stay out of the sun for a year because of skin sensitivity, so I exercised before dawn, hiking the isolated country roads near where I live.’ These country roads are in Nebraska.

The poems cover a period from 9 November until 20 March. In the poems Kooser doesn’t directly talk about the illness. He does so through metaphor. All the poems include a brief description of the weather. The clear and precise observation gives them a haiku quality.

Fokkina McDonnell, Books, books, books…

This posthumous collection is a work of impressive artistry and depth.

It was written under the shadow of a terminal diagnosis of laryngeal cancer and after the removal of Satyamurti’s voice box and part of her tongue. Some poems refer to these things. The way in which they do so reflects one of the qualities that make Satyamurti’s writing so attractive. Whatever may have been the case for her as a person, as poet she approaches her situation in a way virtually purged of ego.

We see this in ‘Small Change’. It opens:

This must be the room of last resort,
this half-lit passage under the dripping bridge
where, on the only route to the Underground,
you pass four, sometimes more, rough sleepers
strung out at intervals against the wall,

the same, day after day, week after week.

The tone is masterly. The language is unemotive, almost prosaically plain, suggesting a pedantic concern for factual accuracy by the pausing over ‘four, sometimes more’. And yet from the first line the scene has the compelling resonance of symbolism and myth. And line 6 seems to ache with empathy, not through emotive language but because the effect of its repetitions is heightened by the stanza break. What’s involved is a very skilful use of poetic technique to make facts seem to speak for themselves. They’re made to feel immediately present (‘This must be’) and the reader is drawn into a direct confrontation with the sleepers (‘you pass’). Keeping herself out of the picture, the poet makes us face the horror without distraction. And what we see is how for these rough sleepers the real has taken on the extremity of myth.

Edmund Prestwich, Carole Satyamurti, The Hopeful Hat – review

Far Field is the final part of a trilogy Jim Carruth has been working on for the last twenty-five years, and forms a magnificent culmination to what feels, for more than one reason, like a life’s work. Like its predecessors, Black Cart and Bale Fire and the standalone poetic novel Killochries, it deals with farming life in rural Renfrewshire, but this volume is more personal than the others. It focuses on his own family life, the family farm, the handing on of skills, property, and tradition. […]

In the final section, Stepping Stones, we move out to the wider community, to the landscape, to memory, and reflections of the future, and the book closes with Planting Aspen Saplings, father handing on the tradition and the responsibility to son. Aspen is an endangered species, but an important one to the Scottish landscape:

You tell me of the tree’s offer
To gall midges, birds, hare, deer

The importance of relationships
The interconnectedness of everything

They do not thrive in shade, need light
And space to grow.

Planting aspen saplings,
Son and father.Planting Aspen Saplings

The echoes of Seamus Heaney I find in these poems do not feel derivative, but establish a connection between two poets aware of the influence of landscape and farming on their work, but each with their own different and unique perspective on it. An Irish/Scottish tradition which enriches us all.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Far Field by Jim Carruth

Last week, a long train ride and poor internet connection gave me the chance to re-read two recent Forward Prizes anthologies, properly paying attention to each poem rather than flicking through the pages which is what I’d previously done. In particular, from the 2020 book, I loved ‘Partition’ a prose poem about the complexities of identity by Fatimah Asghar from her book If They Come for Us (Corsair, 2019) which begins

you’re kashmiri until they burn your home. take your orchards. stake a different flag. until no one remembers the road that brings you back. you’re indian until they draw a border through punjab. until the british captains spit paki as they sip your chai, add so much foam you can’t taste home.

I also loved the poem ‘Argument of Situations’ by Shangyang Fang which you can hear the poet reading here (amazing what you can find on the internet!). The poem begins

I was thinking, while making love, ‘this is beautiful’ – this
fine craftsmanship of his skin, the texture of wintry river.
I pinched him, three inches above his coccyx, so that he knew
I was still here, still in an argument with Fan Kuan’s
inkwash painting, where an old man, a white-gowned literatus,
dissolves into the landscape as a plastic bag into clouds.

I liked the fact that the two people in this poem are talking about and arguing about different interpretations of a painting. This happens so often with any kind of artistic work, sometimes these conversations take place in one person’s head (they do in mine).

Josephine Corcoran, February Update

You drop into the little terrarium world of a story or poem.
There is a talking clay dinosaur in it. You look familiar, you say.
She grunts and steps over the broccoli-tufted forest. Trust
means you can be fully here, next to a citizen of Mesozoic
time, and also exist outside the glass. All I want to do sometimes
is sleep, you sigh; or read. Every now and then, the shadows
of flying pterosaurs stretch a fleeting canopy that blots out
the sun. You’re convinced the writing residency you heard
about is here, somewhere beyond the teaspoon-sized pond
ringed with moss and breadcrumbs.

Luisa A. Igloria, Retreat

13 – David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I think knitting has influenced my process a lot in that sometimes one must unravel an ugly or misshapen or just not right thing, despite hours of work. To acknowledge that the hours of work spent weren’t wasted but a learning process toward something better, that seems very applicable to writing, drafting, editing, and letting go of the ugly or misshapen things we write. I also love drawing and reading graphic novels, but I think because I don’t feel like my expertise is in this area there is more room to play and learn and once again, make something ugly or misshapen. I mentioned her before, but Lynda Barry is a major inspiration to me and her work helps me to embrace the weird and unknown.

14 – What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I think returning to teachers and peers who taught me gets me really excited to make things and teach. I’ve loved reading Ross Gay’s essay collections, Ellen Hagan’s fiction and novels-in-verse, Joy Priest’s poetry and essays, Nikky Finney’s poetry and ephemera, and the debut poetry collections of my dear friends like Anni Liu (Border Vista), Su Cho (The Symmetry of Fish), Kien Lam (Extinction Theory), Jan-Henry Gray (Documents), and Marianne Chan (All Heathens). I also love to return to Ai, Lucille Clifton, Aracelis Girmay, and Ruth Stone, for teaching students and myself.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Danni Quintos

Since March is Women’s History Month, I thought I’d take some time to let readers know a few ways that the following poets have impacted my life’s journey in poetry and teaching. I’m ever grateful for their mentorship and support over the years. Please take some time read about the influence of these amazing poets and read (and buy) their work (I’ve included links to make it easier for you):

Carol Frost – Carol is first on my list. During my four years of collegiate undergraduate work in Upstate New York, Carol opened up so many opportunities for me to connect with the poetry world. Now Rollins College Professor of English and Director of Winter With the Writers, a Festival of the Literary Arts, Carol continues to write and teach and inspire. It was Carol who mentored me in my undergraduate years as both a poet and fiction writer, introducing me to Donald Justice, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and many, many more in the late 1990s. I even visited her once at Bread Loaf, where she introduced me to one of my fiction-writer heroes, Charles Baxter. She always believed in me as a student writer, and it was through her guidance and kindness that I kept up with a writing life well after college. As far as her poems go, her imagery and syntax dazzle. Her most recent collection is Alias City (2019). Carol is an exceptional poet and teacher, says everyone in the poetry-biz, not just me.

Scot Slaby, Celebrating the Women Who Have Nurtured My Poet-Teacher Life

“Imperfect Beginnings” is an exploration of rootlessness both of refugees and adopted children. The poems ask difficult questions about security a sense of belonging when those roots are absent and whether it is actually possible to settle into or create somewhere that feels like home. Viv Fogel also touches on intergenerational trauma. She didn’t inherit her adoptive parents’ trauma but was very much aware of their experiences and how those experiences informed their behaviour towards her. The later poems look at founding a mother/daughter relationship without a role model to create one from and whether it is possible to break away from the negative patterns learnt from those who failed to provide safe environments for children to grow in.

Emma Lee, “Imperfect Beginnings” Viv Fogel (Fly on the Wall Press) – Book Review

Though Vogel’s adoptive mother was a refugee living in a new country, it is clear she had not truly escaped the Holocaust. Parts Four and Five develop the notions of escape and repair. There is a hint of what is to come in Practical un-English when the poet writes: ‘Her pain became my art and then my craft.’ The act of writing is Vogel’s way of understanding and resolving such issues. In Practical UnEnglish, though the poet does not shy away from describing her adoptive mother’s cruelty, underpinning the poem is an understanding of why she acted in this way. There is also a desire to see her in the round, to recognise her strengths and as a result, towards the end of the poem, there is even a touch of warmth towards her: ‘And yet/ she baked, her Powidltascherl and Apfelstrudel were divine.’  In this understanding there is the beginnings of forgiveness on Vogel’s part that her adoptive mother was never able to feel.

Nigel Kent, Review* of ‘Imperfect Beginnings’ by Viv Fogel

Lynne Jensen Lampe’s debut collection, Talk Smack to a Hurricane (Ice Floe Press, 2022) concerns mother-daughter relationships, mental illness, and antisemitism. Her poems appear in many journals, including THRUSH, Figure 1, and Yemassee. A finalist for the 2020 Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Prize and Best of the Net nominee, she lives with her husband and two dogs in mid-Missouri, where she edits academic research. Visit her at https://lynnejensenlampe.com; on Twitter @LJensenLampe; or IG @lynnejensenlampe

How do you know when a poem is finished?

It depends on the poem. In general, a poem is done when I read it aloud and feel the energy in my voice stay strong until the last word. Sometimes I can feel that in my body, other times I need to listen to a recording. Conversely, I know a poem needs work when I hear or sense a vocal weakness, a softness that doesn’t derive from the content. Places I stumble over words. The revision and just sitting with the poem can take months. A few times, though, I needed to write a quick draft in time for my critique group, think I have nothing like an actual poem, and they tell me to send it out. Or I submit a poem over and over, all of a sudden decide to change the last word, and the next journal accepts it.

Thomas Whyte, Lynne Jensen Lampe : part one

Clare Best’s new project, End of Season/Fine distagione (Frogmore Press, 2022), is a delicious portrayal of the tensions that run through life, yoking them to poetry so as to burrow down to the core of feelings.

To start with, as indicated by the title itself, there are linguistic tensions, each poem in English placed on the opposite page to its corresponding piece in Italian (written by Franca Mancinelli and John Taylor). Rather than translations, these feel like two independent texts that establish dialogues: views of Italy in English, then also in Italian but filtered through an English perspective. Languages, cultures and societies rub up against each other and generate further insight into how we view the world around us.

Matthew Stewart, Delicious tensions, Clare Best’s End of Season/Fine di stagione

One book I read recently and enjoyed immensely was Liz Berry’s The Home Child, a ‘novel in verse’, which is actually launched in two days’ time. I got hold of an early copy in order to prepare for interviewing Liz on Planet Poetry. We had a lovely chat about it yesterday, and the episode will go out some time in late March or early April.

I sometimes wonder if listeners think that Peter and I are awash with complimentary copies of poetry books thanks to all the poets we’ve interviewed. Well I’d like to crush that idea once and for all – I think this is the first book I’ve been sent from the publisher. I generally go out and buy a poet’s books, if I can’t get them in the local library.

I love public libraries and support them as much as I can. But the poetry offering is always minimal, and don’t get me started on trying to find novels by subject matter.

Robin Houghton, Been reading and about to read…

Even though I can get all the resources I need electronically, I occasionally cross the campus to the library.  I feel sorry for all those books, so neatly shelved, almost never checked out.  I do wonder how long the school (and schools across the country) will continue to dedicate themselves to the task of tending books that are never used.

I’m not talking about the censorship campaigns happening in parts of the country.  Those libraries that are being decimated have been in use.  I go to the physical library at my seminary, and I am almost always the only one in there who is not library staff.

A few weeks ago, I made this Facebook post:  “When I’m in the seminary library, I have to resist the temptation to check out the books that haven’t been checked out in awhile (that is to say, most of them)–in part to make the books feel loved, in part so that they won’t be culled, if the library is called upon to do such things.”

I love the smell of the library, even though I know I’m smelling the slow, slow crumbling of books turning to dust. […]

I’ve been sending out poetry submissions this morning, thinking about their passage in the world.  Will they find a place between covers in an old-fashioned book or periodical?  Why do I do this anyway?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Publication and Preservation

My 4th manuscript has been a finalist/semi-finalist in about half of the very few places I’ve sent it, so I think it is pretty close to ready. The thing is, it’s about my daughter Kit, who died at six months old from a rare genetic condition and heart defect, and I am incredibly protective of this manuscript and reluctant to let it go.

I wrote it to be read–and to share her story and the story of our grief for her–at the same time, it is difficult to let that project be Completed and out into the world.

And then I have questions like “how could I ever manage a reading from this book?” (without dissolving into tearful Anne Sexton level dramatics)

I suppose that is a question for my future self to handle.

As it is, I can get in there and enjoy crafting the manuscript as a separate thing, an art, rather than the emotional ties I have to it (reading it aloud to people would be a whole nother matter).

Renee Emerson, visions and revisions

This is not an unboxing video, this is a post-unboxing video so I could be at least somewhat composed. You Could Make This Place Beautiful is here! I still can’t get over the touching secret hiding underneath the book jacket: my handwriting on the spine. I had no idea! I love it.

Thank you to my editor Julia Cheiffetz and the whole magic-making team at One Signal and Atria, who’ve been with me through Keep Moving, Goldenrod, Keep Moving: The Journal, and now this memoir. Special thanks to Jimmy Iacobelli for this miracle of a cover. I can’t get over it.

Maggie Smith, The book is here

By virtue of social media algorithms and clicks, I keep encountering some articles by a tik tokker who has been talking up “Bare Minimum Mondays” as a way to combat weekly burn-out, the Sunday scaries, and the general feelings of overwhelm [with] which most of us greet the week. It’s something other people I know have mentioned as a way to combat these things, starting off slow and then with a more productive push toward the middle of the week that winds down to Friday. […]

That same tik tokker also talks a lot in her reels about monotasking, which I guess I’ve never considered that word for it, but this makes such a difference for me. It was one of the best things about working the night shift even when I was at the library–very few interruptions and spans of time to actually get stuff done without interruptions and phone calls and e-mails coming in. […]

When I first branched off on my own, it took a while to find and establish the rhythms, but even with the press work, I find it helpful to devote each day to one aspect. Mondays are slower and more-admin days. Tuesdays are layouts and Weds are cover design. Thursdays are edits and finalization of galleys, while Fridays are website work and updates. Saturdays are usually just e-mails that require more in- depth responses and printing loads of author copies. Sundays are for shop orders & assembling books. This way I can cycle through the things that need to get done without feeling overwhelmed by so much and switching gears.

Kristy Bowen, the virtues of monotasking

The other thing to know and possibly do, which I have absolutely not done, but will perhaps increase my efforts — is to “spend three years” marketing the book that you wrote over the same or longer span. Makes sense right? I learned this at Writing Quietly and promptly forgot it. :) And the thing is, you can take these things in, modify them, use them for what works for you. I’m not going to mention my book every day for 3 years, but also, a book (or painting) is not a loaf of bread. It doesn’t go bad. Your followership changes, grows, and forgets. The book I wrote published two years ago, might now again resonate with someone.

With anything that I’ve done on the internet, especially blogging, which I’ve done for the longest period of time, I try to not “promote” myself per se. I try to ask myself, what do you have to give? What do you know or what have you seen that might be of interest? Sure yes I’ll succumb to the “please buy my X” formula from time to time. But primarily, I’d rather lure you in with whatever it is I might have that’s of interest, haha. Then we can go from there. If I can be a wee bit inspiring and then you want to look into my wares, so to speak, that’s cool. That said, sometimes we have to make things easy for people! Tell them the price, where to buy. Offer a link. We’re all busy, man! Make it as easy as possible! Don’t be shy about that part.

Shawna Lemay, Social Media for the Soul

I want to say something about ambition. A word derived from “go around,” that is, go around seeking votes or support. Which sounds a bit embarrassing to me. But why? What’s wrong with wandering around seeking support for your position? Is the shame I feel around it a female thing? Is it the prospect of the closing door? The closed?

I want to say something about desire, a word meaning coming down from the stars. Which sounds a bit silly to me. Wishing upon, and all. As if.

I want to say something about striving, which comes from battle, or strife. Which sounds unpleasant.

Something about success, a word meaning to go next to something that yields. Which is a funny thing, making success more a verb than a noun, but succeed more an appreciation of a yield than a gathering of it.

Marilyn McCabe, On the edge of town: or, Some Thoughts on Striving

Do we need

a witness for every moment? For every sigh? Is it
more worthy, a life lived in the sunlight? What name

do you have for things growing in the shade? Inside
a second-class compartment, lovers lie on opposite

berths, feigning sleep. Between them space, depth,
strangers, doubts.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 36

Mr. Shannon told me to put the pencil on the paper and then never look down again. Draw exactly what you see. He never explained himself. But I still believe sensitivity of the line is far more interesting than the perceived gesture. I think of Schiele and how he stripped his work of the ornamental influence of his teacher Klimt. I’m not considering Schiele’s narrative, mind you, but his lines which are a translation of sensation. Touch – with the eyes opened and closed at the same time. Much later, in college, a professor told me that the trouble with my drawings were that the parts didn’t work together to create a whole.

Maybe that was my unconscious goal. Parts are potentials and prompts and promise, the whole is as inescapable as a closed circle.

When I run, sometimes I close my eyes for dangerous seconds. I listen to the soft snap of twigs on the trail. How would one draw that? How would one translate the sensation that is simultaneously a drop in the pelvis and a rise in the chest? And a hatch-working of browns. And there is a smell in the foreground. Moss-greens, sticky translucent sweets.

That things can smell sweet may be the first order of synesthesia.

Yesterday, the air temperature barely above freezing, and a fat bumble bee attempted to fly. It sounded like death and I will argue that is synesthesia not simile.

There is pleasure in the unfocused life. There is discovery.

Ren Powell, Done with Genres

I wanted to expand on the voice and I also thought that I took too much time getting to the gist. My aim is always to be as concise as possible. I also think that too much frame around the poem detracts from its impact. You need to interrogate every word, does it really need to be present? What does it bring? Does the poem work without it? 

Paul Tobin, A TURN UP FOR THE BOOKS

Yesterday I attended a Zoom event featuring Alexandra Fössinger. There was discussion between poet and publishers with just a few poems, then a Q+A session. I think the format worked well.

She revealed that there was a significant backstory to her recent book, “Contrapasso”. Does knowing the backstory help with appreciating the poems? Not especially, but I was interested to know that she had felt the need to conceal details, and distance herself from the story (by writing in English, etc). She said she hadn’t realised that she’d concealed so much and had made an effort during rewrites to be less obscure, but she liked the idea of leaving areas that readers might get lost in. A difficult balance.

Whenever a poem is driven by intense emotion it must be hard for the poet to assess its effect on the reader. I don’t trust my evaluation of such poems that I write, and am wary of sending them away – justifiably in most cases, in retrospect. But achieving that objectivity can take years. Might as well let editors make earlier decisions.

Tim Love, Cephalopress Writers in Conversation: Alexandra Fössinger

Chalkboard poems continue. Reading continues. I read a sort of magical realism short novel, The Crane Husband, by Kelly Barnhill because the description reminded me of a poem I had written a couple years back where a woman marries a sandhill crane. This was darker than that, though the poem is also about a cryptid, the Mothman, who might actually be a sandhill crane. I love my life, but it is sometimes hard to explain to people who are not me. Let’s just say I used to live in Kearney, Nebraska, and also passed through there on a trip west during sandhill crane nesting season.

I think there was more I meant to tell you, but it’s Friday, it’s snowing, and I am already drinking wine (in hopes of a nap…have I mentioned my weird sleeping patterns during the pandemic?)

Kathleen Kirk, Real ID

The collection I finished reading yesterday is by Robert Wood Lynn, whose amazing work I found a couple of years ago through Shenandoah submissions. Since then, he won the Yale Younger Poets Prize for Mothman Apologia, a collection strongly rooted in Appalachia. It contains a series of poems from the perspective of Mothman, a West Virginia cryptid, which gives the book a weirdness that always appeals to me; I’m also moved by how it addresses the urgent subjects of poverty, drug crisis, and environmental damage. I’d call it lyric in mode, like [Cynthia] Hogue’s work, which to me means sound-driven and personal (even when the poems use persona). Especially for a first collection, it’s startlingly good. And it turns out he lives very near me, although he commutes to NYU as he completes his MFA.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry reading (and readings: here comes AWP)

A lot of times writers don’t talk about the difficulties involved with the work of being a writer, which includes things like public speaking, publicity, attending conferences. If you have a disability—I use a cane for short distances, and a wheelchair for longer distances, which is obvious, but I also have problems swallowing, breathing, even things like vision and memory, which are less obvious. I also have an immune system deficiency that puts me at high risk for “bad outcomes” as the scholars write—with covid. I’m not ignoring any of that when I say I’m excited about AWP, because I am excited for a chance to see friends, to share my work, to meet my publishers, and all those good things.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Where I’ll Be at AWP, A Rhysling Nomination, Managing MS Symptoms and Anxiety Before Big Public Events: AWP Edition

In Minneapolis I arrived the day before the conference. I was six months pregnant and stiff and tired from the plane ride. I found a yoga studio nor far from where I was staying and inexpensive compared the east coast prices I was used to. The teacher was phenomenal. To this day it remains one of the best such classes I’ve ever taken.

In Chicago I spent over an hour in my room chatting with one of the hotel’s housekeepers. There was a hotel staff strike taking place down the street. This woman was more than eager to talk to me, and she gave me all the details of the strike and her job generally. It was an invaluable perspective to the space we were all gathering in and enjoying for the weekend.

All of this is to say, the best advice I can give anyone attending this conference is: Be okay with where you are. Don’t panic.

If you have a couple of good conversations, meet new people, get to know new magazines and/or presses, attend an interesting panel or two, then you’re doing great. If you pick up cool journals that you’ve never seen before and think you might like to submit to, then you’re just fine. If you come up with new ways to attempt to resolve a craft problem, good on ya.

Don’t worry about doing everything. Take breaks as you need to. Walk, rest, talk to people outside the literary world, stare into space.

Becky Tuch, What is AWP and how do we survive it?

I’m especially pleased to have this poem out in the wild; it’s one I intend to have in my pamphlet…and one that’s been accepted in what I think is its final form. Last week saw the long listing of another poem that should make it into the pamphlet, but I had to commit that cardinal sin of asking if they’d let me update the version they had. Thankfully, they said yes, but there’s a chance it may change (slightly) again before the pamphlet is out.

It’s always interesting to think of versions out there. I’m sure I heard it mentioned in a podcast recently (possibly Craig Finn interviewing Maggie Smith) about how interesting it is to read the mag version versus the final version of a poem. I’ve sort of stopped submitting for a while to keep the versions under wraps, and to hopefully have some back that haven’t been published before—although your move to the various mags that still have poems—either longlisted, or unreplied to yet.

Mat Riches, Toting Up The Velocities

The latest in my series of winter charcoal drawings of upstate and central New York is this one, of a pair of old trees in a field – probably apple trees, I’m thinking. They touch something in me; perhaps it’s the way they are still growing in spite of losing limbs and, in the case of one, practically its entire original trunk. Maybe it’s because they look like a pair. But it’s also because finding old trees like this feels typical of such a place, where people have been farming for a long time. Perhaps there was once a homestead nearby. I like the way these trees, with their individual personalities, stand in the foreground, set off by the indistinct woods in the little gully behind the hills; it makes me want to walk there, climb up the hill behind, see if there’s a stream.

Beth Adams, Old Apple Trees

I could have been quaint
and asked a stranger about those drooping
white blossoms, pointed leaves and slender stems,
flowers upside down, dripping like milk.

Instead I tasked my phone and asked
a stranger stranger, who gave me fifteen
fast photos of the flower before my eyes.
Snowdrops.

Jill Pearlman, Hey, Stranger Stranger

Jean Cocteau wrote that “A great literary masterpiece is simply a dictionary in disorder.” But a work of literature doesn’t use all the words of the dictionary. Is it possible that by looking at the parts of the dictionary that were not used, you could reconstruct the literary work? The work is both the words that were used and the words that were not used.

Or to put it another way, everything that Gertrude Stein’s dog doesn’t know isn’t Gertrude Stein and so by knowing what the dog doesn’t know, you could figure out who Gertrude Stein is. By knowing something about the hole, you know something about the donut. More and more, I’m figuring out who I am by figuring out who I’m not. 

It’s a kind of dead reckoning, a system of navigation that doesn’t rely on absolute position but on. figuring out where to go and where you are by measuring the distance and direction from where you’ve been. 

Who I am is both inside and outside my life. In my life. Around my life. Through my life. During. Despite. Because of. What is the apt preposition?

Gary Barwin, THREE SIDES TO EVERYTHING

Time braided into breath. Chiseled and stacked into monuments marking the span of human existence.

Time sublime, time unwind. Time a psalm, time a qualm.

All borders beyond breath, any lands we may discover in an eternity beyond us, let them be no less real because we cannot touch or name them at this time.

Time the bountiful, time bereft. Time desirable, time so desolate.

Perhaps there exists rest within breath—a majesty that dwells in the spaces between inhales and exhales.

Rich Ferguson, Breathology

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: surreal squirrels, underwear mindfulness, insouciant exclamations, missing hearts, the beyondward, and more. Enjoy.


The mind leaps. The squirrel leaps, now inert, now live in our imaginations, now live on the tree outside my writing window. Its nails play the keys of dry bark; clinging sideways, it freezes in utter silence, eyes fixing me in a staring contest. Abruptly it turns, its gray hairs fly in streaks of black and tan across scaly gray bark and lichen, the opening chapter in the life of gray.

Jill Pearlman, How a Surreal Squirrel Alerts Us

I have placed stones on gravestones. I’ve also lifted stones, cupped them in my hands, felt their heft, that they are made of the earth as well as archetype. Something bigger. Whenever I lift a stone I think of history, of those who have died, perhaps buried beneath headstones, of those who have been lost. Sorrow turned to stone? A petrified ritual? Charles Simic evokes the mystery of a stone in his famous and mysteriously named poem, “Stone”: I have seen sparks fly out/When two stones are rubbed/…Just enough light to make out/The strange writings, the star-charts/On the inner walls.”

When I lift a stone, I think of those who have no headstone, those who are buried beneath stones only in unmarked earth. The parents of that great-grandfather after whom we named our son, my great grandparents, were shot in a small town outside of the city of Panevėžys, Lithuania during the Holocaust. Through archival research, I found details of their death in a registry. The name of the town. The approximate date. My grandfather was told about their murder years later by a drunk guest at a Bar Mitzvah in South Africa, came home and told my teenage father. Simic: “Let somebody else become a dove/Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth./I am happy to be a stone.”

Gary Barwin, RACING FUTURITY

ivy berries
the snow birds are shitting
on a blue buddha

Jim Young [no title]

There are loads of recordings of Alan Watts on the internet, so I’m not quite sure where I got this from, except he’s talking about haiku, and how good haiku exhibit ‘the virtue of knowing when to stop’. Having looked at some notes I’d hoped would become a haiku, I realise that I don’t need to keep reworking them, trying to substitute ‘abreuvoir’ for trough for example, or adding the description ‘galvanized’. What I actually need to do is leave the poem alone!

The problem is, even as I write this, there’s still something seductive about the word abreuvoir!

Julie Mellor, The art of knowing when to stop

Why dialect? This is the only sonnet in the collection written throughout in dialect. Others hint at the Northern way of speaking through their grammar. The tradition has been to write humorous verse when you write in dialect. I want to show that dialect can be used for weightier subjects, too. I use it for its immediacy, the sinews of its storytelling, and knack for conveying emotion. It gives a sense of belonging, of history. The alliteration at the beginning hints at the Norse origins of the language. It stands witness to the event. It gives the sonnet an authenticity and a sense of place.

Nigel Kent, Drop in by Paul Brookes

David’s interest in wordplay began at a very early age. “In first grade,” he told me, “I dropped the ball on my first show-and-tell and forgot to bring anything to class. But I had just read a book about palindromes and loved them, so when it was my time to stand in front of the class I talked about that. Afterwards my teacher took me to see the principal… because he loved wordplay too. And he showed me some wordplay puzzles from a GAMES magazine he had in his office. […]”

In my end of year reflections last year I wrote about the positive aspects of Twitter communities. An enthusiastic and welcoming community has formed around David’s Scrabblegram posts, including a monthly challenge and contributions by wordplay enthusiasts from around the world. 

David makes writing Scrabblegrams seem effortless, but they are, I’ve discovered, very hard! If you don’t have access to a set of Scrabble tiles, there’s a helpful online tool; even so, I’ve spent hours and hours trying to construct a simple, coherent, Scrabblegram. 

Write one now for fun – radiate humour, be quirky, odd, imageable, erotic, sad, scintillating, zany, deep, explosive. Just have a go!

Marian Christie, 100 letter tiles – the joy of Scrabblegrams

“Excitement comes from being lazy and fun loving. O’Hara worked hard, but he also took it easy. His Collected Poems are a manifesto of the high aesthetic rewards that accrue from a life—albeit a tragically abbreviated life—of taking easiness as the gold standard. Like Warhol’s professed love of easy art (or art that was easy to make), O’Hara’s love of easeful production stood in ironic contrast to the uneasy intensity that electrifies his work and complicates its every emotional posture, threading melancholy and ambivalence and the threat of self-loss into the most apparently insouciant exclamations.” 

That’s from a lyric essay by the poet-scholar Wayne Koestenbaum. I just taught it, asking the students to choose quotes they wanted to discuss, and the above paragraph was a favorite. O’Hara, like Allen Ginsberg, made his name in the 1950s, when poets were especially interested in improvisation, process, and generally distinguishing themselves from Protestant-work-ethic-obsessed besuited capitalist businessmen. I realized, as we discussed O’Hara’s poems and Koestenbaum’s take on them, what a far cry this is from how I hear any poet discuss poetry today. Poets talk about being busy and stressed; about how disrespected we feel by markets that pay nothing and send us belated, cold-hearted form rejections; how complex our craft is. At least, my friends and I do. Even first drafts, which once came easily to me, don’t seem to, lately. I’m interrupted by self-questioning. Am a digging deeply enough into difficult emotions or ideas because, as O’Hara agreed, this can be a terrible world? Are the stakes of this piece, I ask midstream or before even starting, really high enough for me to spend so much time on it? (What a tellingly economic verb for devoting time: spending it.)

Lesley Wheeler, Easy poetry

“What is a guinea?” a student in my seventh-grade English class asked recently. We had just read that the rich old lady Miss Havisham was giving the young Pip twenty-five guineas as a premium for apprenticing him to a blacksmith in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. I explained that a guinea was one pound and one shilling. There was much more that could have been said, but I did not know then that the name of the coin was directly derived from Europe’s economic exploitation of Africa, in particular West Africa, through extractive capitalism. 

And even if I did know, would I have paused our study of this great Bildungsroman to take my students down this sidetrack of European colonialism? There are so many wonderful details, of plot, character, and language, in Great Expectations to lavish our attention on, and there is so little time to look at them all. The guinea is not an unimportant detail if we remember that Miss Havisham’s fortune came from not only landed property but also the family brewery, the same business that kept the English working class sloshed and servile. Indeed, Pip grows up and redeems his sin of ambition by working in ship insurance in Cairo to lubricate the sea-lanes of the British empire. Class oppression is joined with imperial domination in the guinea.

This is a constant dilemma when teaching an Eurocentric text: because it transposes an important history into minor details, a teacher seems to need special justification or to pursue a special agenda if they dwell on the margins of the text, whereas the main “story,” of bourgeois personal development, appears to be free of ideology. By not spending a minute on the guinea, I have missed the opportunity of teaching my students to read more critically. More, I have missed the opportunity of showing my students the importance of reading texts that do not center Europe.

Jee Leong Koh, What Is a Guinea?

Both Kevin and I had manuscripts accepted by Salmon Poetry at the same time, circa 2000.  His first collection The Boy with No Face appeared in 2005.  Though he went on to publish many more books, both poetry and essay collections, it is this initial one that still resonates for me the most, as it is the most personal in terms of my own memories of him.  So many of the poems in that collection I knew first from the poetry readings, the little magazines, the work shared around the bar or lounge or coffeeshop table.  We remained in touch over the years and decades.  Kevin and his partner Susan DuMars hosted me for an Over the Edge reading (the series they cofounded in Galway in the early 2000s).  I attended others at which I did not read.  Our communication had long since become warm, its tone familiar; we were old friends who, even if we did not talk or email regularly, could immediately lapse back into a mutual understanding.  That kind of friendship, rooted in but going beyond our investments in poetry (and politics), is rare indeed.

I last saw Kevin just this past November (2022), in his room on the Claddagh Ward of University Hospital Galway (“the Regional, to the old heads,” as Kevin clarified as we were making the arrangements of day and time).  In his battle with leukemia, complicated by sarcoidosis, he was stalwart, braver than I imagine I could be, still deploying his very wry sense of humor, but also so sincere at the same time.  At this point, there was much hope; he was doing better.  It was a great two-hour or so conversation.  I will miss him deeply.  One thing I will say is that I think he would want his memory to stir us to action and to work, to write and to agitate, to fight against, as he put it in “The Leader,” “the sort of man who hasn’t read / Mein Kampf just yet. But he’ll be here, / like the old man buying The Racing Post / who growls about ‘invaders’ or the skinhead / with the petrol bomb whose hour is striking now” — or against, as the title of another poem in The Boy with No Face has it, “The Hidden Hand” of free-market economics, the capitalist interests which underlie both liberalism and the resurgent Right, whose hour is indeed seemingly striking now.

Michael S. Begnal, i.m. Kevin Higgins

Scene: the Brookline High School Library, many plastic chairs set out in rows for this special event.

It was 1973 or 1974 and there was a poet in the library! Could you be alive and still be a poet? I remember thinking that she looked like she could be someone’s mother (she was) and I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed by this realization.

That is, until she started reading her poems. 

I remember being amazed at how clear each poem appeared in the air, as in: shimmering with layers of nuance. Linda Pastan made it look so easy! I was sixteen years old and just beginning to consider poetry I might write (sadly, over my desire to be a novelist).

I met Linda Pastan again at the Breadloaf Writers Conference in 1993. Twenty years later I was still flirting with a life in poetry. She was the poet whom I asked to study with and she was the poet that I was lucky enough to meet one on one.

Susan Rich, Linda Pastan: My First Living Poet in the Flesh

2023 marks 25 years since Peter Mortimer’s Iron Press published The Iron Book of British Haiku, still available on the Iron website, here. It was co-edited by David Cobb and Martin Lucas, both of whom are no longer with us. I seem to remember reading somewhere that it sold over 5,000 copies. It certainly found its way into many bookshops and for years was usually the only English-language haiku book available.

It contained 73 haiku poets, including two of the four who participated in a kasen renga which was appended after the individual poets. Of the 73, I reckon just 14 are still writing haiku and at least three of those 14 have ceased seeking publication for their output. A good few of the others have since died – Norman Barraclough, Seamus Heaney (!), Ken Jones, Stuart Quine and David Walker among them. That’s unsurprising, because in those early days of the British Haiku Society (BHS), which had only been founded eight years before, the average age of the membership must’ve been well over 60, and I was usually the youngest attendee at events.

At the time, I was chuffed to bits to be in the anthology, even though I only had two haiku (both about snails!) in it. I went to the launch at a bookshop whose name and exact location in London escapes me, and which was memorable for a hypnotic reading by Mimi Khalvati, one of three poetry ‘heavyweights’ (alongside famous Seamus and Anthony Thwaite) who were shoehorned into the book to add some clout. Of course, haiku readings are mercifully brief.

Matthew Paul, On The Iron Book of British Haiku

Friendship is the theme of this year’s Poetry Week, celebrated in The Netherlands and the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium through 400+ events. It starts on Thursday 26 January. Miriam Van Hee (B) and Hester Knibbe (NL), two poets who have been friends for almost 40 years were commissioned to write five poems each for a book. In a recent interview they said that trust and curiosity are key elements for a friendship to endure and last.

Anyone who spends over 21,50 Euro on poetry books during Poetry Week will be given a copy. It’s not hard to spend that sort of money, as poetry books are expensive in The Netherlands!

Fokkina McDonnell, Friendship

I walk peripheries to the half-way mark where he meets me,
having done some joyous, icy laps, and we go back together
across the deepest parts. I listen to the ice beneath his wheels,
my feet: how mostly there is safe hush, how sometimes it slushes,
or creaks, crackles, even, and trust in skill does not obviate frisson
of fear, the need to move to more solid spans. Sure, metaphor, easy;
but also literal—we know can break through, hypothermic in seconds,
unable to save ourselves, or each other, if we are not smart: no iteration
of water can be underestimated. The cold is a bright expanse, a fixed
and green translucence of inches, miles.

JJS, Between the Woods and Frozen Lake

I’ve been watching John Vervaeke’s new series, After Socrates. I appreciate Vervaeke very much, and I’m finding the series very worth watching.

My problem is that I roundly dislike Socrates, and have from the moment I met him. He is a humble-braggart and a busybody, minding everyone’s business but his own: on his own showing he neglected his family and let them fall into poverty while he spent his time gadflying about town and picking quarrels with anyone reputed to be wise. What kind of conduct is that? 

And so often, such pettifogging, nitpicky arguments! Such sophomoric glee in mere triumphs of words! That sort of thing is forgivable in an undergraduate, but a man in his prime ought to have moved on. He should be listening to the heart by then, not to the words: and he should care more about the person he’s speaking to than about scoring points in a debate. But Socrates just loves to win arguments, and to rub his opponents’ noses in their defeats. I have been trying to read him fairly. Starting again, and making every assumption I can in his favor.

Dale Favier, After Socrates

It took me far more time to start running again than the surgeon had suggested, undoubtedly a response to grief as well as physical healing. And it was only a year after Mam died that I woke up one morning, suddenly lighter, able at last to process the details of my post-surgery pathology report, and, after more than a year, to feel grateful again, for life, for each day. A gift. 

I’m back to my pre-surgery level of running now: 7 and 8 miles with my women’s running group. Aiming to build this year to 10. Running on my own a couple of times a week too, along the fields and lanes of the Kent countryside, or across the beach and mountainsides of Port Talbot. 

Those solo runs feel as if I am freeing my mind from a leash, letting it roam into the landscapes around me, and, at the same time, watching it settle, internally, to understandings and insights. Sometimes answers. Sometimes more questions.

And sometimes those runs give rise to words that feel worth sharing: I run/write. 

Lynne Rees, run/write

I was getting along fine with my new year’s routines of morning yoga, coffee, reading & writing, work, random housework, and various meetings and commitments, when I became mindful of my underwear drawer. It was looking pretty sparse! Hadn’t I just laundered the bedsheets? Um, yes, but then days/weeks went by. So how mindful am I, anyway?

But you know what? I have already sent out two poetry submissions, and it’s still the middle of January. I don’t think I got going on poetry submissions until February of last year. So, poetry or clean underwear, which will it be?

Kathleen Kirk, The Yoga of Laundry

I thought when I finished my course (I finished my course!!!) and handed in that last assignment I’d have more time to do things that had been shuffled aside these last three months and for most of 2022 really. But here I am three weeks later and I feel like I’m still struggling to get on with things. I’m unsure if it’s a lack of motivation, the lack of a whip encouraging me to move forward or the fact that we’re still buried under a dark and snowy winter here in Finland that’s holding me back. […]

I have a pile of poetry books to read, but they require more focus than I’ve had recently, so I hope to get back into reading them more now that my course is out of the way. 

2023 is a year of getting back into the things I love. The course was for my work. I enjoyed it, but it was more to help me move forward in my job and do better for my school kids. Writing is for me, so I hope to focus on that more. A few plans are crawling into motion, so I’ll see how they pan out and keep looking for new opportunities. 

Gerry Stewart, 2022 Writing Review

There’s a terrific poem up at The Spectator today (see here) by Ian Harrow, a poet who’s new to me. However, the shocking detail was the appearance of brackets after his name. A quick google led me to another excellent article from the same journal, written by him in February 2022, titled The Delicate Business of Writing Poetry (see here), which states..

Living, as Clive James put it, under a life sentence, and having refused chemotherapy, I find I respond to the time issue in contradictory ways.

And then a further google brought me to his website, with some examples of his poems (see here). Moreover, it also explains that he published several collections and pamphlets in his lifetime, while…

Since the mid-70s his work has appeared in a wide range of periodicals and magazines including the Times Literary Supplement, The Spectator, Oxford Magazine, Stand, Poetry Wales, Other Poetry, Literary Review, London Magazine, Archipelago, Poetry Ireland Review, Shop Magazine and New Walk.

All this has made me reflect once more on the fleeting nature of poetic fame.

Matthew Stewart, Ian Harrow, poet (1945-2022)

She doesn’t believe that the dead can’t hear her.
Don’t they live in the air, in dappled shadow, in water?
Who lay with her on satin sheets, who wed her?
Fish in the shallows, moths in the net of a lamp.

Luisa A. Igloria, Repetition Pantoum

The Harm Field opens with a prose sequence, ‘Leavings’ a memoir of sorts in three parts, the first focused on experiences of hostility in London in, I guess, the 1970s, the second primarily memories of childhood and the third a looking back on Ireland from the same position of exile that informs Terra Terra, a ‘homesickness for places that were never yours’. A new element that intrudes here is the question of language, and specifically the loss or lack of Irish as a native tongue, as in a mamoty of the narrator’s mother teaching him and his brother ‘the numbers’:

…a-hain, a-doe, a-tray, a-kather, a-cooig, a-shock, a-shay, the rest escapes me. Lisping in numbers. The road dips and turns, if I remember right, the architect’s modernist bungalow dominating the bend. I left on the ferry and come back by plane. Sometimes I think the language that I never learnt still weighs on my tongue, thickening my Ts behind my teeth.

Again, the reader is struck by the complex web that lies behind this apparently simple memory: the striking conjunction of modernism and the rural belies any straightforward narrative of unsophisticated home versus cosmopolitan exile; this contrasts with he clear evidence of change in the narrator’s fortunes (ferry/plane); the rich inter-relationship between the language not learnt and the language that is the narrator’s professional concern. We are, as in Terra Terra, in a world of necessary ambiguity.

Billy Mills, Terra Terra and Bar Null by David Lloyd: a Review

“We Saw It All Happen” is a collection that has the climate emergency firmly in its sights, but it’s not a didactic, handwringing swansong that writes humanity off completely. Politicians are fair game, their reluctance to make real, lasting change explored through satire. Oil swaggers in and drifts out like Trump. Julian Bishop seeds hope. It’s not too late (yet). We can each make small changes to bring out larger wins. It entertains.

Emma Lee, “We Saw It All Happen” Julian Bishop (Fly on the Wall) – book review

Let Me Say This: A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology is out now from Madville Publishing! Edited by Julie E. Blomeke and Dustin Brookshire, the volume contains 54 poets (including yours truly) rhapsodizing over the cultural icon. 

I’ll be giving my first in-person reading in nearly two years at the Atlanta launch of the anthology on Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. hosted by Georgia Center for the Book at the Decatur Library. Please join us! 

Collin Kelley, Let Me Say This; A Dolly Parton Poetry Anthology out now!

Set in three lettered section-sequences—“A,” “B” and “A’”—lyrics of her latest, Pink Waves (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2022), exist in a kind of rush, one that nearly overwhelms through a wash or wave of sequenced text; a sequence of lyric examinations that come up to the end of each poem and retreat, working back up to the beginning of a further and lengthier crest. The first sequence, for example, offers an accumulation of eight poems, each opening returning to the beginning, with the line “it was a wave all along.” Each piece in sequence builds upon that singular line as a kind of mantra, rhythmically following repeating variations of what had come prior and adding, akin to a childhood memory game. As the fourth poem of the opening sequence begins: “it was a wave all along // a passing moment reveals itself to have cued the long apology // i sat with a friend and the loss of her child // sliding between the heat of now and surrender [.]” The repetitions, something rife throughout her work to date, provides not only a series of rippling echoes throughout, but allows for the ability to incorporate variety without reducing, and perhaps even expanding, the echo.

rob mclennan, Sawako Nakayasu, Pink Waves

I love the escape TikTok offers me. I turn to it for laughs — full belly laughs — and deeply love the comical way TikTok-ers highlight our flaws as human beings. People are creative, funny and often generous. And, when carefully curated (as is the case with all social platforms), I find it delightful.

After downloading the app and joining a couple years ago, I enjoyed TikTok exclusively from the sidelines, scrolling but never posting. However, in August I took a huge leap and published (gasp!) several videos. You can check out my profile here: @caroleebennett_poet.

At age 50, I’m ancient for the platform, so why (dear god, why LOL) did I do it? One word: community. As with this blog and my other social media accounts, I was interested in creating and supporting literary community — and having a little fun along the way. In that same spirit, I want to share some intel with you, including what I’ve found there (so far) in terms of writing community and how I personally use the platform.

Carolee Bennett, poetry tiktok: writing community, lit mags, presses, tips and more

I was talking to my little brother this week and he asked me what my goals were for my upcoming book. I hemmed and hawed a little bit, because honestly, I hadn’t really thought a lot in those terms. Isn’t creating the book, finding a publisher, and helping the book get into the world enough of a goal? But of course, my little brother is very practical and ambitious and wants to know what I want to happen with Flare, Corona. I guess when I close my eyes and dream, I hope to connect with a bigger audience, hope to have some good reviews in good places (whatever we think those are right now), hope to, yes, have some book sales (part of that whole reaching a bigger audience thing). I hope that people with MS or difficult diagnoses will find some comfort or fellowship in these poems. I hope it wins a big book prize, too! Do we dare to hope for big media coverage—a radio or television appearance, or being picked by a big book club?

I actually posted this question on Facebook and heard lots of people’s views on whether or not we should even have goals for our poetry books, what they might be for each person, and how overwhelming it can be for poets (who often want to separate the art from the promotion part) to even think about what they are actually hoping to have happen. It can feel overly ambitious to even dream of some of these things. Some just want to focus on the work, which I totally understand, and totally reject even the idea of having goals for a book. But I think it helps me to imagine a future for my little book, that goes beyond just me and my friends and family. And my little brother’s right in some ways—if you have no goals, do you think you might act differently? Plan differently?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poems in California Quarterly, Book Galleys/ARCs, Winery Book Club Report, and Setting Goals for…Poetry Books?

There has been a lot spoken and written this winter about using the dark time of the year for recovery and reflection, and I’ve certainly been doing a lot of that. Last year brought me a lot of change and new understanding, not only of the place I now live, but of the way my mind works, and what I bring to the dialogue I hold with the territory. This is taking my thinking about poetry in a completely unexpected and exciting direction. I decided to spend a lot of the year reading Irish poetry, starting with Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland, but also Yeats, Moya Cannon and Kerry Hardie, and it opens new possibilities in my thinking about the relationship between place, community and language. I have begun learning the Irish language – you would think I might have started with Scottish Gaelic, living where I do, but somehow Irish fits my brain and my ear much more sympathetically, and I hope this will give me a way into Scottish later.

Elizabeth Rimmer, Returning to the Light

What I want to
say is caught like
wind in the grasses,

the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (386)

Yesterday I got my hair professionally cut for the first time since 2020, cut and highlighted.  The hair stylist also blew it completely dry and straight, which is unusual for me.  I was surprised by how much lighter and bouncier my hair felt when we were done.

As with all activities that I once did pre-Covid but never resumed, it felt a bit odd to be back.  It was a morning appointment, so it wasn’t as packed as it could have been.  There was plexiglass around the hair washing stations, which I hope they keep.  The woman next to me coughed, and it was nice not to worry about that.

While I waited for the highlights to sink into my hair, I read Celeste Ng’s latest book.  Later, when I finished it, I made this Facebook post:  “If you need a novel that reminds you of the power of words and language, that convinces you that you do believe in the power of words and language, I highly recommend Celeste Ng’s latest, “Our Missing Hearts”–it also will remind you of the power of love, the power of perseverance, the reasons why librarians may yet save us all, and how poetry can surprise us. And it’s an interesting commentary on modern life, even as it reads like a dystopia, in the time honored tradition of Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler.”

It is an amazing book.  I read it because my mom had checked it out from the library and saved it for me, knowing I would be here and could finish it.  I’m so glad I did.  One of the main characters is a poet, the kind of poet that most people are, having one slim volume of poems published by a very small press, not much in the way of sales–until it all blows up in so many unpredictable ways.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Back to School

Ah, the challenges of staying organized! I spent this morning finally starting the process of reorganizing my poetry files–the paper ones, which I keep in various arrangements of document boxes, accordion file boxes, and an index card box. This is stage one of a project I have procrastinated on for far too long. The digital files will be the next step, assuming I actually complete this stage. Being something of a Luddite when it comes to digital organization methods, I have no idea how to manage that stage yet; paper documents, however, I understand.

January’s tenor usually strikes me as a bit dull, damp, chilly, dark, and generally unmotivating. My mood concurs. It’s therefore rather heartening that I find myself up to this task–and that the task itself has given me a sense of accomplishment in more ways than one.

Ann E. Michael, Oh, the mundanity!

This week, I was able to finish up the last of the poems for the smallish series I started at the end of last summer after not touching it for the last few months of the year. It’s a strange, surreal little romp through romantic history and intimacy and kind of just a little bit of humor and nonsensicality I appreciate.  it also goes dark a few times, but I love it all the more for it. I considered possibly sending some of them out into the world, but realize that my desire to send out work is even less than normal. To write it, yes, that is returning, but I also feel like I serve it much better by just sharing things on social media on occasion.

This may no doubt change, since my satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the literary world, or at least the space I personally inhabit in that world, my little corner of it, changes on the day to day. One one hand, I love journals–both publishing in them, reading them, and for their sense of community building. On the other hand, I get impatient with the process of building submissions and waiting (not even the rejection part really, since that is woven into the process) but just the work of it for very little gains even when you’re successful (and paid markets, while they exist are still tiny bits of income at best.)  Ie, the rewards are nice and one of the major building blocks of community, but I begin to feel less and less over time that they are worth the energy, especially when time is short, of researching guidelines and keeping track of open reading periods and keeping tabs on submissions, to the point that there is almost a sense of relief when I don’t have anything out in submission to fret over or keep track of.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new projects

Why is poetry important?

For me, poetry – and all art, really – is about possibility. It’s about expanding possibility in the world by introducing new forms, new ideas, and new experiences. I’m not really interested in poetry as a form of self-expression; I’m interested in it as a site of ongoing public cultural and intellectual invention. A site of communal, continual meaning-making. 

I have this concept of something I call “the beyondward.” It’s essentially a metaphorical, metaphysical realm representing all the possibilities and meanings that exist beyond our immediate realities. We are hemmed in by a capitalist economy, by sham democracies, by debt and alienation and ideology. Mark Fisher called it “capitalist realism,” the sense that there is no alternative to the world we’ve constructed.

But I think there is an alternative, and it exists in the “beyondward” – the epistemic space that houses all the other ways we could arrange our lives. And I don’t just mean our personal lives – where to work, who to spend time with, what matters to me – but also our public lives – how to arrange the economy so everyone’s needs are met, how to build a truly free and fair system of governance, what matters to all of us together on this planet. 

I think poetry is important because it’s one of the ways we can all contribute to the beyondward, to the stock of possibilities and meanings available there. By playing with language and pushing it to new places, we can create opportunities for ourselves to encounter the world in new ways. We can invent forms that help all of us think new thoughts and feel new things and arrive at new meanings. Those new thoughts, those new encounters, can expand our horizons of possibility. And then it becomes easier, bit by bit, to believe that the world could – and should – be different, better. 

Look, I’m a socialist, and that heavily informs my ideas about art and poetry. And being a poet informs my politics, too: It is because poetry pointed me toward the beyondward in the first place that I began to think a transformative politics was possible. 

But I need to emphasize that I don’t think poetry is important only because it serves a political project. Rather, I think it’s important because it – and all art – is one of the ways in which we human beings build a shared intellectual world together – i.e., my “beyondward.” It’s important to have that world and to tend it carefully. The more thriving and full of possibility our beyondward is, the more thriving and full of possibility our own lives are.

Matthew Kosinski : part four (Thomas Whyte’s blog)

To our astonishment a sleek black car with tinted windows and diplomatic numberplates stopped to give us a ride. The driver was an Italian returning to work at the embassy in London after a visit home. At Calais we bought our ferry tickets and shared a sandwich for lunch. The amiable diplomat, with us two dirty hippies in the back seat, was waved through Customs and Immigration at Dover. He dropped us off at an Underground station in central London. The record time for hitchhiking from Istanbul to London was said to be three days. We were happy to have done it in five.

We arrived at Martin’s parents’ house in Woodford Green late that afternoon, heads full of stories, pockets empty.

[image] This is a book of twelve Turkish map-fold pages that I made to contain the story. I later gave it to Martin, my travelling-companion.

Ama Bolton, Twelve Border Crossings

On the walls of Angkor Wat, the
extraordinary comes alive. A confluence of art and
faith and the subtlety of being. A place of worship.

A place of submission. Of belief. Of hope. All that
is vulnerable inside us is on display. All that we are
capable of, surrendered to a greater abstraction.
At dawn, colours are smeared across the clouds
like a child’s finger painting, the temple inverted

in reflecting lily pools.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 30

In Bangalore, it seemed that nothing was in stasis: things were either under construction or deconstructing themselves. Huge buildings going up one brick at a time. I watched a man hanging from a harness placing one brick after the other. It looked like slow, meticulous work. I can’t fathom how many bricks it would take to complete the high-rise apartment building. I’ve never considered him before: the bricklayer. How long will it take? What goes through his mind, brick by brick, day by week by month. Does he look down at the people, the cows, the tuk-tuks? Can he hear it all from up there? Does he feel a sense of ownership when the work is done and the millionaires move in?

There were buildings still standing, but their edifices had been sheered away somehow, like full sized doll-houses. The loose wires and fibers holding chunks of concrete reminded me of damaged spiderwebs, or heirloom lace too fragile to use, too laden with memories to let go of.

Running to the lake, I sometimes pass some relatively new apartment buildings. Along the path there are remnants of old piles that probably propped up a previous railway track. They outline flower beds; they are trimmed like trees, restored as “ruins”. I have never considered before the inauthenticity of their decay. The affectation of urbanity. A prettied-up representation of the “past”.

Most of all: the illusion of a current state of stasis, the illusion of a period of decay that is the “past” – we are the present continuous.

We don’t contemplate a foreign future.

I can’t imagine the future because I am trying so hard to make sense of – to take control of – to understand the now.

Ren Powell, So, not Artaud’s spurt of blood

I think about the light that bright orb contains, the orange. I think about my skull, and all the light in there. The way an orange casts a shadow, the way it glows. I’m thinking about the importance of staying calm in the chaos. I’m thinking about your urgencies; I’m thinking about mine. I’m thinking about opening up my heart like one opens up an orange. It has to be this way, the light, the opening, the shadow cast by the skin cast off. The clear moments. Then the darkness, again. But the light.

Always the blisters of bright juicy light.

Shawna Lemay, Equanimity and Oranges