Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 40

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.

What a week, eh? Not surprisingly, poetry bloggers had a lot to say—though admittedly, most of it was about poetry. Britain’s National Poetry Day was on Thursday, so that brought all kinds of people out of the woodwork (mostly on social media, of course) to link to things they’ve authored and projects they’ve been involved in. Taking my cue from that, I’ve tried to include as many such posts from the blogs I read as possible, because this week, I think we need all the celebration we can muster. But don’t worry, there’s still lots of grief and gallows humor and existential pondering in this week’s digest, too. We are talking about poets, after all.


Flash
of autumn.

The year
has gotten
away again.

I can’t
go home

because I’m
already there.

Tom Montag, FLASH / OF AUTUMN

I am disoriented. Last year around this time, I had one of those Meaningful Birthdays. The one where you know definitively you are not young anymore. I was stunned to discover recently that it is now once again October, and I am due for another birthday, although not one nearly as meaningful and traumatic as the one I had last year. I don’t know what happened to the time. I don’t know how it became October suddenly and how I became older and how there are brown leaves on the ground now and it’s foggy in the mornings. Wasn’t it just summer? Is the pandemic over yet? Where is my dad? Where did my Mexican masked wrestler trainer go? Why is my job so weird now? What am I going to do about April and The Big Stressy Event that was canceled this year? Why does my body look so alien? And oh yes, I’m supposed to eat snacks now. The president has COVID. I feel dazed and lost and perpetually surprised. Life is strange.

Kristen McHenry. Gym Braggart, Dazed and Confused, An Appeal to Love

Receding in memory, but it was good to see ocean, admire architecture, wolf excessive amounts of seafood out-of-doors on piers and decks, sniff hard at the salt air through our masks, and march indefatigably all over town. 

Also, I just barely missed stepping on a dirty needle near the Portland Encampment in my sandals–and barely missing is excellent, infinitely better than not missing at all. Tents were definitely not of the fancy Burlington Encampment variety. 

Notable: the famous potato doughnuts with interesting Maine flavors (wild blueberry, maple, lemon-ginger lobster, hermit armpit, moose, etcetera.)

Marly Youmans, My summer escapes, etc.

I enjoyed being in Bristol, walking around the city.  I had a coffee and croissant at an outside table in a café because I’d turned up too early for my appointment.  The most striking part of the journey for me was that when I arrived at Bristol Temple Meads station and heard piped opera music – singing voices – something I haven’t encountered in a public place for what seems like the longest time.  I don’t know if this a new thing for the station, I don’t remember noticing music before.  But from nowhere came tears as I heard those singing voices.  I was caught unawares both times on  my return train journey.

I haven’t been thinking consciously about what we’re living through.  It will be something we will process later, perhaps.  The music and the tears stopped me in my tracks for a moment.  It isn’t that I’ve experienced a hard time during the Covid-19 pandemic.  My situation is far better than many.  I’m not living alone, I’m meeting friends and family – safely – on occasion.  I’m getting out and about – but – obviously, evidently – something, many things, are missing from my life and I think that’s what the tears were about.  I wanted to say thank you to whoever it was who arranged for the opera singing, in spite of the tears it was a joyful moment to be connected with that part of myself I hadn’t consciously appreciated I was missing.  Does any of this make sense?

Josephine Corcoran, Buying New Glasses in a Pandemic

Leaves fly like letters
unwilling to reach addressees
with depressing news.

The world is too loud,
sinking boats, burning mountains,
where sunsets were due.

But as the pen slides
on the paper, old habits
of promise appear.

Friend, hang on in there.

Magda Kapa, September 2020

So I haven’t been able to go outside the last couple of days without coughing, a sore throat, and nosebleeds. Sound like a repeat of just a little bit ago? We are lucky that we, unlike some of our friends in Napa and northern California, aren’t losing their homes to yet another gigantic evil wildfire. 2020 – the year that just keeps giving us terrible, terrible things!

This was my picture of the Harvest Moon the first night of the smoke. It was an even deeper red than this at moonrise, almost invisible except a, let’s face it, evil? spooky? foreboding? smudge in the sky. […]

This year has been tough on all of us. One thing I did with my nervous energy was read through books by Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Joan Didion, Rebecca Solnit, poetry by Ilya Kaminsky, Jericho Brown, Lesley Wheeler, and Matthea Harvey, start a book club with my mom, read a terrific book recommended by my little brother…Check out the article to read all about it.

Salon: Reading List for the Pandemic for Mental Health

I hope this article might be helpful to you and you pick up at least one of the books for yourself!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome to October, Chaos Edition: Smoke in Seattle the Remake, A Week of Chaos and Uncertainty, A Salon Article on Reading for Mental Health, and A Book Giveaway

This week, a rash of random crime in the South Loop, general covid anxiey, and worry of protest violence (not really from the protesters, but from other nefarious interlopers who seem to instigate conflict) made it a particularly bad week mental health-wise.  Maybe the thing we assume about apocalypses is that they happen all at once, and disasters do not drag on for months.  For years. I love my city life, but I keep enviously watching people who live isolated in the woods and it seems like a terribly seductive dream.  That is until they have to remove a giant wolf spider from their outhouse.  I am also very jealous of the vloggers I watch who live in places like Canada or Germany and whose lives are still slowly coming back to normalcy out of covid, but are also not dealing with impending civil wars. 

On a smaller stage, things are holding steady.  There are poems and banana bread and I am getting closer and closer to finishing the collapsologies manuscript. I’ve crested the middle of the mountain of dgp possibilities for next year and library things are beginning to take shape nicely (now that it looks like we can plan a bit further into the semester with less threat of a shutdown–exhibits, zine tutorials, and more. ) I am also excited about my new Patreon adventures, and while my only patron so far is family, I have great plans afoot, including a bunch of new releases for the witching month, as well as a Thirty Days of Halloween bit of promo fun starting Thursday.  Since I’ve spent the summer and early fall catching up on orders, there will also be a few new dgp releases I’ve been finishing up afoot to watch out for.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/27/ 2020

I did not watch the debates.  I rarely do.  By the time the debates come in the life of the political cycle, I already know how I will vote, so there’s not much motivation for me to stay up late watching dreary policy discussions done in short bits of time.

Of course, we didn’t get that experience last night–it sounds like last night’s debate was even worse than I thought it would be, and I thought it would be bad.  If I wanted to hear people shouting over each other and ignoring the ways we’re socialized to be civil to each other–well, I really can’t imagine wanting that.

And even if I did, it’s hard for me to stay up that late.  Instead of watching TV, I went for an evening swim because it’s South Florida, and it’s still summer down here, and I was hot.  I watched the moon rise, which was amazing.  As always, I thought, why don’t I watch the moon rise more often?  Why don’t I swim more often? […]

I am nostalgic for campaign seasons that made me feel hopeful. I am missing the songs of my youth which sang about issues I couldn’t comprehend. I am feeling the need to read some William Blake or maybe some Mary Shelley and to spend the day thinking about innocence and experience and the way forward.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, I Am Woman, but Baby, Don’t Get Hooked

This morning I made some attempts at writing again. Writing poetry, I mean–different from my other acts of writing. Writing against frustration, grief, and absence and pain…obstacles, for me, to composition.

If I were a fiercer poet, a fiercer person, I might manage to write in media res, the midst of the goings-on; I might accomplish poems through my anger or sorrow. Instead, I have to wait it out, mull, observe, speculate. It’s just my natural modus operandi.

Maybe I’m lazy, or afraid.

Ann E. Michael, Short lines, few words

Day dawns, another one, another opportunity to get your sh*t together, is what I tell myself. I’m classy like that. Another day to be alive and awake!

If I can’t chase the sunrise in the morning, it’s good to read a poem or two to begin. This one by the great A.Z. (Found in Without End). If the morning slips through your fingers like so much golden honey, there’s always the anxiousness of sunsets. There’s always the hope of transformation.

Shawna Lemay, The Great Work of Sunrise

Today I am looking at the London rain and crying over the loss of Derek Mahon, who has died at the age of 78. 

Mahon meant as much to me as Heaney, if not more. He was a wry and delicate poet, a great stylist who could make a photograph in your mind or share a personal event and radiate it outwards to larger meanings. I have been reading him for decades and I cannot believe he is gone. So many of his poems are close to my heart. 

I would have a hard time choosing a single favourite poem by Mahon – so many come to mind, including ‘Courtyards in Delft’, ‘A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford’, ‘The Chinese Restaurant in Portrush’, ‘Dog Days‘ – the list is long. 

One of my strongest contenders, however, is ‘Kinsale’ – a perfect short poem which captures a place, a mood, and optimism in the face of Ireland’s difficult histories. 

Here is a video recording of ‘Kinsale’ released just a few weeks ago, read by Tony O’Donoghue and produced by Made to Measure Films Kinsale. I love this poem dearly and think of it often. https://www.kinsale.ie/2020/08/13/famous-poets-words-inspire-new-film-about-kinsale-and-national-recovery/ 

Clarissa Aykroyd, In memory of Derek Mahon, 1941-2020

You may remember the cine-poem that award winning filmmaker,  Tova Beck-Friedman and I collaborated on at the beginning of 2020. I did the voiceover of my poem, “Pregnant with the Dead,” here in Seattle at the amazing Jack Straw Productions the first week of January. This was my first experience being in a film. Well, my voice was there! And what a lovely way to begin an unlovely year.

Since then, the poem and the film have taken on a life of their own. Less than a week before we were supposed to be featured in the Visible Voices Poetry Festival we were unceremoniously booted from the line-up with no explanation. If you want the history of that debacle, check out the article in the Seattle Review of Books which provides an excellent summary of its twists and turns.

Since April, our film has traveled to / will travel into many different film festivals including, most recently, the International Poetry Film Festival of Thuringia (Germany) and the New Media Film Festival in Los Angeles for June 2021. One of the things I love most about being a poet is never knowing where my words might land. For my poem, “Pregnant with the Dead,” the landings have alchemized into celluloid. 

I couldn’t be happier.  To read the poem with line breaks and stanzas (!) go to the notes section of the film which you can access here. [And click through to the blog post to watch the YouTube video of Susan and Tova’s discussion.]

Susan Rich, Tova Beck-Friedman and Susan Rich Interview: Pregnant with the Dead

“I am still watching ghosts, eyes rimed with salt, homesick… this was never our natural state, our true inheritance… we should not be here…”

My video Colony Collapse, originally published in Verity La, is an official selection for the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, and has been short-listed for the 8th Ó Bhéal International Poetry-Film Competition in Cork, Ireland. Both screenings are in November, 2020. It was also screened at Lyra ’20: Bristol Poetry Festival – Poetry and Climate in March, 2020.

Ian Gibbins, Colony Collapse screens in European festivals

Here in the UK it’s National Poetry Day. It isn’t really my cup of tea, but if it gets more people buying and reading good poetry then what’s not to like? In that vein, since every other poet is doing so today, I thought I’d do a flagrant piece of self-promotion by saying that it’s three years to the day that my collection The Evening Entertainment was published. To mark the occasion, I’ll happily sell signed copies at a discounted rate of £6 each, inc. p&p, until Hallowe’en. If anyone would like one (or more!), please email me. Clare Pollard, Bloodaxe poet and editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, called its contents ‘delightful’ and ‘dazzling’. [That’s enough self-promotion – Ed.]

A couple of weeks before publication, I stayed in Ambleside for a few days with fellow haiku poets John Barlow and Simon Chard, and, in between our climbs up Loughrigg Fell and Haystacks and our sampling of local beers, I had the fun of trying to check the proofs of the book whilst having terrible wifi and phone reception. It was a little panic-inducing. At the time, I had a few Poetry Business Writing School programme tasks, one of which was to visit a museum or gallery and write a poem in response to a piece of art or an object. John, Simon and I visited the excellent Armitt Museum in Ambleside. I had imagined beforehand that I would write in response to art by Kurt Schwitters, who had lived locally in the ’40s, but much to my surprise I was fascinated by the museum’s collection of watercolours by Beatrix Potter, particularly her various studies of mushrooms and toadstools. I wrote a poem called ‘Old Man of The Woods’ and I’m very happy to say that today it’s been published by The Lake, which is neatly apt since it’s set in the Lake District. It’s a poem I’ve tinkered with more than any other I’ve written, which means an awful lot of tinkering. (I’ve even tinkered with it since it was accepted, but hey ho, old bad habits die hard.)

Matthew Paul, National Poetry Day

The Poetry Society, in association with the University of Exeter and Oneworld Publications, presents the Places of Poetry anthology, a volume of selected verse from around England and Wales from last year’s hugely popular Places of Poetry project, an interactive map that poets could pin their poetry to. It attracted 7,500 poems from over 3000 people. The map can still be found here. The project was launched by Paul Farley and Andrew McRae. PLACES OF POETRY: MAPPING THE NATION IN VERSE is an anthology of 200 of the best of these poems.

For eight months from October 2016 I was visiting a much-loved aunt in a care home. I made the sixteen-mile round trip by bus almost every day. My poem ‘Hartlake’ began life in the black notebook I carried in my pocket. It tells something of these journeys, always through the same familiar landscape, but different every time.

The poem was published first in “Obsessed with Pipework”, then it formed part of my pamphlet “These Last Months”, and now it is in this splendid anthology. I could not be more pleased.

Ama Bolton, It’s National Poetry Day

I’m sitting here watching my silver birch turn yellow and rain leaves onto my garden. My next month of weekends will be taken up by raking and raking some more. I can set my seasonal clock by those birch, when they wake from our long winter, the allergies they give me in May, the green coins shaking above our hammock and their bare trunks shining in the midwinter dark. They appear in my Finnish poems regularly, a totem of my time here.

Like many other poets, I’ve written countless poems about trees or including trees. Something about their shape, movement, permanence and long life attracts the writer. I’ve written one just on how the leaves fell from a small stand of trees, trying hard not to use words normally connected with leaves or trees, but to become caught up in their dance. I’ve written about old trees and fallen trees, trees as a metaphor for growing old or for loss. One of my tutors offered a course using trees as inspiration last year and I decided against it because I couldn’t imagine I had more to say about trees. 

This autumn, I was asked to review The IRON Book of Tree Poetry, edited by Eileen Jones and Peter Mortimer. I can now see that no matter how many ways a poet can look at a tree, there’s always more to say, more to see. The collection includes more than 40 poets, some I’m familiar with such as Ken Cockburn and Rebecca Gethin, others new names. All offer a vast feast of language and images related to the theme. It may feel like a familiar subject, but it is examined through so many different lenses: sometimes up close, looking at a group or individual specimen or from the vantage point of a physical or a cultural setting, that the poems still managed to surprise me. At times, they turn back on the reader or humanity in general and say things that were uncomfortable to hear. 

Gerry Stewart, The Presence and Presents of Trees – The IRON Book of Tree Poetry

Mother Mary Comes to Me: A Pop Culture Poetry Anthology is complete and at the printer with a publication date of Nov. 19, 2020. This international anthology features 63 poets hailing from America, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Spain, and Mexico. Karen Head and I are thrilled to have work from well-known poets like recent Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton, Ivy Alvarez, Alice Friman, Jeannine Hall Gailey, and Rick Campbell. And we’re equally thrilled to introduce new voices and beautiful work by poets that you’ve likely never heard before. 

With more than 300 poems to choose from, narrowing it down was one of the most difficult decisions Karen and I have ever had to make as editors. The quality and beauty of the work was just overwhelming, and we are honored to have read all of it. 

As I state in my introduction, we actually came up with the idea for this anthology seven years ago. However, we couldn’t find a publisher willing to pick up the project. There seemed to be a nervousness or hesitation about publishing an anthology that doesn’t deify Mary in a traditional way. Many of the poems in this collection take the pop culture theme to its farthest reaches, so hats off and major kudos to Madville Publishing for taking this leap of faith with us.

Collin Kelley, Speaking words of wisdom this November

Octave and sestet: my ridiculously precarious Zoom setup for delivering a paper at the Sonnets from the American Symposium, and then my home symposium-delivery system. Presenting on short-lined sonnets in a piece called “Partial Visibility,” I edited my messy desk out of the virtual window, throwing the focus instead on the bookcases behind me–so much more professorial. I thought about our partial visibility to each other all weekend, especially when Diane Seuss, the second-lo-last reader in the final event, talked about using long lines to expand the parts of life that can be included in the sonnet’s “gilded frame.” (Her new book, frank: sonnets, promises to be amazing.)

I loved the symposium, which was thoughtfully and effectively curated, and I learned a lot. Among the highlights: we viewed a video tribute to Wanda Coleman and her American sonnets put together by Terrance Hayes. There were mesmerizing live readings by Rosebud Ben-Oni, Kazim Ali, Tacey Atsitty, Kiki Petrosino, Shane McRae, Patricia Smith, and many others. Carl Phillips gave a particularly good keynote about “disruption built into” the sonnet and its “tendency to sonic dispersion,” making the form especially hospitable to marginalized writers. Fruitful panel discussions swirled around work by Claude McKay, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jericho Brown, Brandi McDougall, Henri Cole, and many more. I heard from friends, put some names and faces together among scholars and poets I knew only by reputation, and even saw fellow bloggers whom I’d never before met (hello, Frank Hudson! I really appreciated your comments and want to hear more about singing sonnets sometime). What I liked best were the recurrent readings of the American sonnet as a dissident form, incorporating multiple voices through its characteristic turns and pivots, treated rebelliously and inventively by North American practitioners. When Phillips called the sonnet “wired for rebellion,” he echoed the symposium’s exhilarating theme–exhilarating for me, anyway, because my education emphasized the sonnet as an exercise in obedience.

Lesley Wheeler, Sonnet prompts from #SonnetsfromtheAmerican

The latest issue of San Pedro River Review includes a poem of mine.  More on that below.  It’s an all poetry journal which fits some sixty poets into an issue.  Some of the names are familiar to me from their submissions to Sin Fronteras/Writers Without Borders, which makes me feel that there is indeed a community of poets.

And I like the fact that they don’t print the poems in order by the poets’ last names (being a Young, this has often bothered me) but take the time to arrange the poems in an interesting sequence.  This is something I’ve recently learned to do as an editor of Sin Fronteras.

The poem they’ve printed is, for me, a longer one called “Crossing the Heartland,” It draws on over a decade, now past, of driving from New Mexico to Maine and back every year.  It attempts to combine the routine of such travel with the ruminations of the mind as one drives.

Ellen Roberts Young, Thanks and Praise for San Pedro River Review

There’s been a meme (is it a meme, not sure) doing the rounds on the Twitters in the last couple of weeks that asks participants to name 3 recurring themes in their work. You then tag in other folks and get them to do the same. […]

I don’t think I’m being pretentious and blah-di-dah about it, all I couldn’t possibly reduce my work to three words, etc, but I am struggling with it. I’ve never felt the need to sit down and work out what my poetics are, perhaps this is a sign I should…just as soon as I work out what it means.

However, as I write this I think I’ve managed to work out the answer. I’m going with the following.

1. Moments of frailty
2. Mockery
3. Inanimate Objects finding/Getting a voice

Mat Riches, A Trophying

you dig words to make a poem
then you put them back in the hole
and there are more words than will fit
you have buried your muse without knowing
how or what words were added or
maybe it’s the spaces
or maybe it’s the silences
or the punctuation of the pebbles
in the cataract of a flood

Jim Young, dig this

I’ve been lying awake nights fearing that every phantom pain is another blood clot, and I’ve been trying to find comfort meditating on the “spaces between”. I imagine I feel my blood, thin and flowing.

I imagine the spaces between each red cell, between each white cell, and platelet – the spaces between the cells that forms the plasma that flows through the stent in my pelvis. I imagine the flow with each heartbeat.

But there is a fear in every moment between. In every silence.

It’s a numbing dramaturgy.

I’ve written of the spaces between before. In my last book, actually. And tonight I remembered that, and I reread it as a stranger would- It was unfamiliar, but I found myself content with the work. It was a pleasant feeling. Pleasantness requires an absence of fear, and it was… pleasant.

It’s been a while since I have written poetry. I felt like I’d glimpsed something of myself I’ve forgotten. These spaces between spaces were full of secrets. And promise.

Minutes later I’m pulled out of recognition – or maybe a kind of pride – by a stranger’s completely coincidental criticism. I feel myself contract. Like a fist folding and clenching, leaving no space for movement. My breathing stops high in my chest – well above my heart. My shoulder blades pull forward, sliding like tortoise shell over my vulnerabilities. I take on an unskilled warrior pose.

Ren Powell, Some Thoughts On Spaciousness

There are people who’ll buy a pine
bookshelf of knock-down parts

that can be reassembled into
a coffin; or one of woven

cane that a body would fit
into, snug as a sourdough loaf

proofing in a long banneton with
a cover.

Luisa A. Igloria, Leavening

When my thoughts grow littered with open graves, the birds and bell-trees I’ve melodicised into being get harder to find.

The only thing these eyes know how to read is all the news that’s fit to bleed.

In times like these, I play rock, paper, scissors with broken mirrors. I swill the muscatel of human misery and shadowbox false prophets.

But I don’t wanna spend my life writing crow melodies other crows wouldn’t sing.

I don’t wanna be buried alive by tears.

I know the way of the sun; it rises just behind your eyes.

And so I climb up and out of any grave of me to reach you.

Rich Ferguson, Up and Out of the Six-Feet Under Kingdom of Root Shadows

Medicinal shows once toured Europe and America. So called doctors would drive wagons from town to town, offering miracle elixers and other entertainments. My knowledge of medicine shows come from pop culture, the image of a man more entertainer than doctor purporting to sell cures. The man stands on his box or makeshift stage and with a flourish presents a bottle with some strange liquid inside. Is it medicine, a placebo, or poison?

B.C. Edwards’ From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes has the same feel of such medicinal shows, with the author himself presenting an assemblage of recipes and concoctions. Each of the poems in this book is an adaptation of a recipe found in a collection of household instructions originally published in 1901 by Frederick J. Drake and Company — recipes to make pure spirits, to cure distemper in horses, to restore burnt steel, to destroy the stumps of trees.

“Ask them how much it hurts. Really.
Drive spikes inward. Ask then.
Go on.
Every part until you have a porcupine,
the monster from Hellraiser
and now ask them how much it hurts.”

— From No. 674. Cure for Earache.

What unfolds is poetry as chemistry, words reacting with words to form new strange mixtures. Each time I pull the cork off a new poem, I’m not sure what I’ll get. Maybe it will evoke the ache of love, the sweetness of longing, the pain of lingering hope. Or maybe I’ll enjoy a contemplation on the nature of coffee, the preservation of birds and other animals.

Andrea Blythe, Book Love – From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes: Adapted Poems by B.C. Edwards

Poet and editor Sachiko Murakami’s fourth full-length poetry collection is Render(Vancouver BC: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020), a lyric of nerve and raw emotion, writing out “a searing exploration of addiction, recovery, and trauma.” Her title suggests the paired ideas of depicting and tearing apart, which this book very much is, a depiction of something immediately after being torn to shreds, and the slow process of picking up and thoughts of reassembly. The rawness here propels much of the collection, one that jokes and shrugs and rails while radiating trauma and anxiety. “Death can’t find her in the back of the closet.” she writes, as part of the sequence, “THANATOPHOBIA 1,” a title that translates to a “fear of death.” “Just kidding! Death can find her / anywhere.” This book flails and disseminates, moving through an articulation of rawness through lyric as a way to, perhaps, slog and slough through to the other side of recovery. “I loved him more than I loved poetry.” she writes, to open “TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE.” “I loved cocaine more than I loved poetry. / When I told him I loved him, I meant I love you more than cocaine.” Through Murakami, the question is posed: by depicting and articulating trauma, can this exist as worthwhile art? Can this exist as a way through which to process trauma into recovery and whatever lies beyond?

rob mclennan, Sachiko Murakami, Render

It’s just one line in one of the poems:  “oh I was the quare one”. I think this was the moment that I realised that one way to listen to these poems was to imagine an Irish voice; that dialect and accent were probably the key to imagining these 900 year old voices, written before the idea of French (and Standard English and R.P.) existed.

I think it turned out to be as simple as that. Just listen. Listen properly. Which is what I set out to do when it came to Ian Parks’ Body Remember , the third of the trio of his tributes to, and celebrations of, Cavafy. Because, at the end of all, I firmly believe that what matters is the authenticity of the voice.

John Foggin, A labour of love. Ian Parks and C P Cavafy

When describing Robert Selby’s first full collection, The Coming-Down Time (Shoestring Press, 2020), there’s a danger that critics might reach for terms such as “traditional” or “nostalgic”, particularly as the poet evokes and invokes an England that’s about to undergo a seismic shift.

However, those afore-mentioned terms would do Selby’s work a disservice, as they would misinterpret his implicit contextualising of the past and the delicacy of his touch. Selby’s work rewards patient rereading: poems that might seem a pastiche or anachronism are in fact inviting the reader to engage in a dialogue with the present. In The Coming-Down Time, what’s left unsaid is often even more important that’s what actually stated, and the impatient reviewer can easily miss these nuances.

Matthew Stewart, The looming shadow of the present, Robert Selby’s The Coming-Down Time

We said goodbye at the airport and a new grief would enter our lives. There would be tears, and more tears, and not letting go until not letting go had to be let go of and letting go finally happened. My grandparents disappeared through the gates. In the car home, sniffed tears and a stiff silence. She did not say a word.

My first poem was about an airport, the first one that counted at any rate, the first one somebody noticed. It was about picking her up, not letting her go, but now I think about it the grief was already ticking away in it, behind my loneliness and unemployment and anger.

I used to start every reading with it, because it gave me the chance to tell the story of how I fell into doing this, because a powerful but kind man at a magazine took pity on my 23 poems (my life’s work, he called it) and chose to publish a couple when he should have filed them in the bin.

But also because it reminded me of how a boy from the sticks (the suburbs are the absolute sticks, you should try it) came to put words down and down and down without knowing what he was doing except that he wanted to put words down. Of how you don’t need to know, you just need to start.

Anthony Wilson, When I am Asked

A dash of wisdom folded into
temporary bliss, to keep it
from curdling. Undiluted,
it tends to stick in your throat.
Throw in the bones
of yesterday’s rage to give it
texture. Nothing is less
appetizing than mush.

Romana Iorga, Conjugal Pottage, Serves Two

I write to myself.

I’m so sorry I hurt you. You beloved dumb fuck with your devotional mouth given in trust entire, gone all in for better and for worse: you deserved better and I failed to protect you. Please forgive me. I will do better. I will not wait for someone else’s amends. I will do better.

JJS, Teshuva

I cry nearly every day, my body like a sieve, but the tears come and go swiftly, like thin clouds that intermittently block the sun. I have not been punched in the face (yet), but I keep tripping and skinning my knees.

I can look back over the whole of my life and I see moments where I knew–I knew–things weren’t right, that the center wasn’t holding. For godsake, I became a high school English teacher because by the end of the Reagan era I was worried about the health of our democracy, and teaching children how to read, write, and think critically seemed the best contribution I could make with my particular set of talents and skills.

But there are all the other moments I can see, too. Sun streaming through windows, a child’s warm weight on my chest, words gathering around a kitchen table. That essay brought a kind of comfort. Yes, we are in collapse. We have long been in collapse. So: No, you are not crazy to be so alarmed. And: Aren’t all of our lives, always, in some kind of collapse, always moving from something they were to something else they will be? Isn’t everything always fleeting? Isn’t that the exquisitely painful truth? And shouldn’t we capture it, however we can, so we don’t forget?

Rita Ott Ramstad, Why I Write (and don’t)

We live between four walls, they are temporary, fragile, often cheap, sometimes made of scythed corn stalks.  They have been speared into the ground for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, they won’t hold for long, their very nature is impermanence.  While they last, swaying in the crisp weedy air, let’s whoop it up inside!  Let’s eat and drink and talk about wandering and homelessness, how great paradigms rise and fall but never die.  Let’s go into the rattle of uncertainties, though while we’re sitting or standing in one place, we’re in A Place. 

How in-between and gappy everything is!  Between the four walls, between the moment and la durée, we are also sitting between our spry and grinding doubt and our aspirations.  Against the backdrop of black sky – for in this Sukkah there is no thatch, no leaf cover, no tile, no roof – I see the scintillating stars.  Is it true that “the world spins nightly towards its brightness and we are on it,” as C.D. Wright wrote? These weeks of radical chaos make it hard to believe anything except dismay and revulsion. “I heard him, he was washing the world, unseen, nightlong, real.”  Paul Celan, is it so?  Mood swings are counted not in days, but in hours; the decision to start over can happen several times a day.

We know how many things we claim are random and by chance, and how a flag flying over us becomes tatty and shorn.  Identities fall away.  The Place, one of the names of God, is maddeningly ambiguous and general, but I tend to like ambiguous and general.  I saw a fox standing in my garden one morning. What an indifferent, charged, gleaming animal that decided, after a stare-off, that I wasn’t worth the effort, and wandered off; it was a serene confrontation. This is the challenge, how to live in our grounded groundlessness, our wanderings, in our corn-stalk houses, here, hineini, finding one place to stand. 

Jill Pearlman, Ground Under our Feet?

Midnight again, moonlight and wind.
I cannot put down the poems of Miyazawa Kenji and Ilya Kaminsky.
I keep reading on into the night.
Then my own scribbles in an old notebook.
A gust of wind rattles the old loose window
and that which you might call my soul
shoots straight up into outer space.
Spacemen gather to me, and I read them a poem.

James Lee Jobe, it is imperfection that makes us human

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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.

This week I’m in a bit of a rush to get the digest out before the promised storms hit, which will mean disconnecting the wi-fi: on a mountaintop, routers are especially vulnerable to the electricity in the air during a thunderstorm. But my gardens are so parched here, I am praying for all the bad weather we can get. And by praying, I mean reciting Robinson Jeffers: “Come storm, kind storm. August and the days of tired gold and bitter blue are more ruinous…”

Anyway, I apologize for any possible typos below, and for my lack of a concise intro. As some writer or another once quipped, I’m in a hurry, I don’t have time for brevity!. But I was pleased to find no shortage of great posts to quote (or in some case, reproduce in their entirety) this week, starting with an ocean swimmer’s essay on the toadfish…


The toadfish sits on the bottom of the sea, singing a song of love.

It is a creature midway between humble and fabulous. It is small enough to fit into a person’s hand, and has a bulbous, grey-green, wet look. It is quite ugly, except for the luminescent dots (photophores) running along the length of its body, which give it a spiffed-up, dance party look, like the buttons of an ensign’s jacket, thus giving the toadfish its other name: the plainfin midshipman.

I have never seen a toadfish, but I have heard them singing.

Ordinarily the toadfish lives in the deep, dark sea. But when it is time to seek a mate, the toadfish swims up to the shallow, intertidal waters of a bay or slough. The male burrows into the mud at the bottom, and begins to sing, hoping by his song to attract a female to his burrow. Vibrating his swim bladder, the toadfish emits a clear, resonant tone — a steady drone, a hum. Other toadfish nearby tune in, and they synchronize their pitch with one another, so the water column fills with a continuous humming note. It can be quite loud, penetrating the hulls of boats and ships, keeping their occupants awake at night. It may even be loud enough to awaken those on land. It is often mistaken for a sound of mechanical origin: A distant ship motor, a generator, or some other machinery operating on the shore. But no: It is a sound the toadfish have been singing for probably millions of years, since long before humans existed.

On a recent swim along Muni Pier, aka Aquatic Park Pier, I heard the toadfish singing, each to each. I did not think they sang for me. But their song sounded, to me and my swim friend Zina, like a chant, really, a steady, clear, “OM” sound, somewhere around low A, and it was a song I felt I could join. The deeper I put my head into the water column, the clearer and stronger the sound became. If I could swim deep enough, I thought, I could enter into the sound completely, but I might never return. So instead, from the surface, I tried matching the note with a sound of my own, floating there with my face in the water, chanting my own OM into the water, bubbles blowing out of my mouth as I chanted along with the toadfish.

When I found the right pitch, my whole torso resonated with the sound. I had joined the chant, the chorus of the toadfish. It felt like the all-encompassing, penetrating tone of pure love. It was the sound of the universe singing to itself.

Dylan Tweney, I have heard the toadfish singing.

Covid exists. Covid-19 exists, summer-20 exists. High noon exists. Heat exists. Water in rivers, in seas, in showers, from fire hydrants exists. Coves exist. Hidden lanes of purple hydrangea exist. Overturned bones of kayaks. Smoothness of stones, stones, pebbles irreducible pebbles exist. Marsh grasses like glissando on a piano. Poison ivy exists. Bodies in hospitals exist. Grief exists. Shadows and data and systems, bindweed and drifting boats, errors and interpretation. Brutality exists. Bridges, from a distance, from other islands. A breeze laying traces of a fishnet on the waves. Wildness, wilderness, wildness exists. Light that has never been the same since the beginning of time exists. A swimmer’s ecstasy exists. A swimmer exists as she swims through that moment’s infinity. Festivity exists only because of the possibility that it might not exist.

Jill Pearlman, covid-19, summer-20

This summer, I’ve been participating in Wednesday Night Poetry, the longest running weekly poetry reading in the nation. This series is usually in Arkansas, but its presence online is one is those unexpectedly beautiful things that has come about during the pandemic. I’m so grateful to Kai Coggin for hosting this event and curating this reading in such a welcoming, inclusive, affirming way. This has been a summer highlight for me.

Last night I shared my poem “Nevermore,” a love poem for my Granny from my chapbook 28,065 Nights, which will be published next month by River Glass Books. [Click through to watch.]

Katie Manning, Wednesday Night Poetry

I was feeling rather smug about having a new collection of poems for which I could start gathering rejection letters, until I realized that at least 10 of the poems in the 50 poem collection seem to be the same damn poem over and over again.

Yes, they differ in imagery and rhythm and movement, but they land in the same place, with they same no-duh realization.

I know I often feel like I’m writing the same poem over and over, but to have it so plainly in my face is, well, annoying.

I thought I could get clever and tried to turn one poem on it’s head, so it at least STARTED in the same damn place but ended someplace else, but I wasn’t fooled by my trick.

It’s funny, of course, because I hadn’t realized how obsessed I’d been. But clearly I’ve got issues. Or one issue, anyway.

How many such poems can a collection can get away with having? Two? Three? Four if I hide them throughout and distract the reader with shiny objects?

Marilyn McCabe, It was fascination; or, On Writing the Same Damn Poems Over and Over Again

I’ve read that many writers are stressing about not writing as much right now as they think they should (what with still being mostly constrained from fun distractions, like offices, travel, parties, etc. but still in the middle of a poorly controlled pandemic) but for me, summer is a natural time for revision. I don’t write as many poems in the summer, typically (and it also tends to be my worst season for health – unfortunately, this July has proved no exception – I caught a superbug during my root canal AND just got tested for coronavirus as well, because why have just one thing?) […]

So besides photographing my cat and flowers with my typewriter, I’ve been spending hours looking at the drafty drafts of poems I’ve written since January, looking harder at my two book manuscripts in terms of organization and order. It’s been four years since my last book, and I’m getting a little anxious about getting another book into the world, but I do want them to be the best books possible.

I’ve had a couple of writers take a look at my newest manuscript for feedback (which I recommend if you’re feeling stuck and unable to “see” the manuscript anymore), and I was surprised by a couple of things, including that I’d been writing accidental sonnets. Anyway, I also don’t recommend futzing with two books at a time if you can help it. I think the older manuscript is pretty polished, it’s the newer one that still needs some reshaping, but keeping track of both in the same spreadsheet is eye-crossing. I got an encouraging note from a great publisher, but had to really work to track down which manuscript they were responding to! Not good, Jeannine.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Summer is for Revision, Phone Calls to Catch Up with Writer Friends, and Twitter’s #PoetParty Returns

I slid off the rocks pictured above at Willoughby Spit, Virginia, last weekend, cutting my toes and raising a mother of a bruise on the opposite shin. A couple of days before that, I fell off a bike, although that time I managed to throw myself clear onto some relatively cushy grass. The day before that, I got bashed down by Virginia Beach waves a couple of times; the wind was high and getting from the billows to the shore was a challenge.

I’ve always been a klutz, but my muscle tension is higher now, which makes my balance lousy. Paradoxically, I don’t think my fear of falling helps. I watch my 19-year-old leap up and down steep trails, the kind spined with sharp rocks and tree roots; his footing is relaxed and sure because he trusts his body to do what he wants it to. Was I ever that agile?

I still want to move with speed and attain the great view, but if I push even a bit too hard, I end up benching myself. I’ve been thinking about ambition in writing, too–not, this week, ambition for quality of the writing, but craving a little bit more recognition, pushing myself to apply for more opportunities, even knowing that middle aged women hardly ever pull the brass ring. Leaving town for a few days, even though we didn’t go far, allowed me to stop thinking about Unbecomingand The State She’s Inhallelujah! When I got back from the beach last Sunday, though I dropped into a homebound funk, made worse by a sore throat. I immediately thought I was dying from COVID-19, felt sorry for the kids and husband I would leave behind, and did some soul-searching about what work I had left to do in the world (yes, I go apocalyptic quickly and vividly). Then I realized I had stopped taking an allergy medication at the beach, started it again, and felt fine within two days.

That cheered me up, but what cheered me more was a long phone call with Jeannine Hall Gailey ranging over all these subjects–health, career aspirations, politics, literary culture. It helped SO MUCH, and not just because she’s a gifted pep-talker, which she is, or because she gave me good concrete advice, which she did. As she wrote on her own blog earlier today, conversations like that can remind you that we’re not alone in aspiring and feeling frustrated. There’s a difficult balance to walk: for sanity’s sake, you can’t get carried away by po-biz longing, but I also don’t want any of us to underrate ourselves. Others are perfectly ready to ignore or underestimate us–we don’t need to get a jump on them!

Lesley Wheeler, Like water wants to shine

Someone mentioned Imposter Syndrome to me recently when discussing confidence. There have been times when I’ve had to play at being a poet to be able to get through situations where I haven’t felt up to the task. After my second son, I think I struggled a bit with post-natal depression and barely went out or talked to people. I actually put on a costume (a fancy pin and scarf I wouldn’t ususally wear) and went to various writing events to force myself to mingle and smile. I eventually worked back up to reading my work in public. I still wrote, it was the public side I struggled with and pretending I was a capable poet helped. 

I’ve had days when I’ve ripped up poems or just deleted them. Days when I’ve cried at a reader’s harsh or tactless or too honest words. Days when I’ve despaired that I’d never get published or that my writing was so bad that everyone hated it. 

But I always went back to writing because it has never been about publication or being liked or finding an audience though those things would be gravy. It was a need to write, to capture my thoughts, my life, my breath on paper. To give them a permanent space when everything was swirling around my head. And I didn’t compare them to others’ work, didn’t worry if they were good enough because they were me, at that moment, rough and raw, slightly polished with time, changing with mood and experience. And I have always been good enough. 

It frustrates me that I can praise my fellow writers, my mentees until I’m blue, but I can’t make them see how good and brave they are for just writing what they want. How bringing that scraggly, imperfect poem into the light of understanding readers is a cause for celebration and pride. How sending your work to a journal even though it will probably be rejected, because the odds are against almost all writers there, is amazing because for 10 minutes or so your words are inhabiting someone else’s head and making them think about something you cared enough to write. And if it’s not for them, it’s still yours. 

Gerry Stewart, Good Enough?

This weekend, I put the bloom project to bed.  Or perhaps planted it deep in the ground (if the metaphor is more apt.) It’s still a little rough, and I plan to spend the next few weeks smoothing out some edges and see what I’ve got.  Again, it’s hard to write about things without distance, so maybe some time is what these pieces need.  Up next in writing plans is a little fun series on Weekly World News headlines I’ve been batting around in my head that is making me giggle. It might be the perfect antitdote to some darker projects I’ve been immersed in the past few months. (well as shadowy as The Shining and virus poems tend to be.) 

According to my journal/planner, I had all sorts of creative plans for this spring and summer, but now feel like much of them fall to the wayside in the name of just getting through the dumpster fire that is 2020. But at least there are still poems, pretty much daily, first thing I work on over breakfast. I’ve also been devoting one weekend day to writing-related things like submissions and manuscript org, and book promo efforts (this this weekend’s book trailer success.)  which feel like they can get swept away, especially now that I am back to commuting during parts of the week. My relationship with all things poetry is still rocky, and I tend to go from obsessing about writing then back to not caring at all, but it’s still a case of pandemic brain that I hope will pass. It might be one of the things that I still feel I have control of–so perhaps I need it more than ever. […]

My longer projects tend to build as smaller things constellate–and tend to be more over-arching in their themes, but broader in their subject matter.  Maybe it’s just easier to write several small books than one big one, or to somehow trick myself into writing a larger mss. by composing it out of small ones.  Like building a doll house out of wood blocks rather than framing it out and constructing a whole.  

Kristy Bowen, for the love of tiny projects

little spiders 
born in the smallest room
my house is yours

Jim Young [no title]

Thinking about fires in a fireplace, because we have a fire in our summer cottage on cool mornings when I’m writing, I ask myself whether “hearth” refers only to what the fire rests on or the whole fireplace.

I open the dictionary.  It means the stone under the fire.  But my eye catches the word “hearth-tax.”  In seventeenth century England and Wales, I read, a hearth tax of two shillings a year was levied for each hearth.

Now I want to know:  Is this the original form of the property taxes we pay for our houses?  How much did two shillings buy in the 1600s?  Did people complain about what their tax was paying for and how high it was?

Could I use this in a poem?  And how am I supposed to get back to work?

But I couldn’t write without a dictionary.  Mine is a one volume version of the OED.  When I pause to look up a word – usually for its etymology, its base meaning – I feel fully engaged in my language.

Ellen Roberts Young, Delight in Distraction

For some reason, I got it into my head this weekend that I needed to find my long-abandoned Fitbit. I was gifted this item several years ago by a friend and used it obsessively for a month straight before I decided I was in an abusive relationship with it and impulsively tossed it into a drawer, never to pick it up again. But now I want it back and I can’t find it and it’s driving me crazy. I vaguely remember having put it in a box at some point along with my obsolete Kindle and a tangle of cords and cables, but this mythical box is nowhere to be found. I’ve combed through our credenza, our junk drawer in the kitchen, the hall closet, and the bedroom closet. I looked in our storage bin in our Laundry Room. I dug through the computer room closet. It’s nowhere. And the longer I look for it, the more I want it. It’s more about desiring the victory of finding it now than it is about actually wanting to use the annoying thing. I am obviously harboring deep feelings of loss elsewhere in my life that I am projecting onto to the poor Fitbit. But that’s not stopping me from fervently believing that if I can just find the damn gadget, it will redeem all that has gone to wreckage in my life. In fact, I’m going to look for it again after I get this post up.

Kristen McHenry, Desperately Seeking Fitbit, Game Babies, Mean and Sexy

I haven’t really worked with clay since I was 13. I had an art teacher then who let me use the kick-wheel during lunch breaks. Mr. Shannon didn’t teach or instruct me that year. He was my mentor.

Once he gave me a set of watercolors and a salt shaker and said, Get at it.

Once he made a blind so I couldn’t see the paper while I drew my own hand, and I have been fascinated by the tactile quality of lines ever since.

Later I learned that Edouard Manet said there are no lines in nature. That is because line is a language. And, like my grasp of Norwegian, here my comprehension far exceeds my composition skills.

Another time, Mr. Shannon asked me to describe all the colors I could see in a white hat – worn by a cowboy in a Marlboro ad in a Smithsonian magazine –  if I remember correctly.

Not even black and white are black & white.

At the end of that year, my life was uprooted (again), and I lost whatever I was connecting to then. But the desire remains even now.

When I experience nostalgia, it is like this: small moments of half-discoveries. And nostalgia’s inherent fear of the unmet potentials.

Still, everytime I hold a rough piece of ceramic I am flooded with a calming and full ambivalence. There are days I wonder why I’ve not thrown out all of the dishes and settled with a few scratchy, glazed bowls and a few wooden spoons.

I suppose this really is the very definition of nostalgia? If I ever won the lottery, I would have a second, tiny home made of roughly-hewn cedar – and I would fill it with wool and beeswax.

Cinder block frightens me.

But so does snow.

Paper can make me weep with grief.

Handling old books is cathartic. And I cannot – and don’t want to – explain it.

I trace marginalia with my finger.

Ren Powell, The Emotion of Textures

[Writing about loss]

is letting the memories come

is sifting them out, writing down what was said, what you saw

is sitting with the sadness, reentering it

is knowing this is the only way to explain it all

is giving the context in each cover letter

is sending her picture in with the poem acceptance

is telling the editors her name

is daydreaming not of the book getting published, but of sending the book to her doctors

is daydreaming of the only poetry reading you’d want to do of it–at her graveside, for her.

Renee Emerson, Writing about loss

5:45 a.m. The storms that rumbled in the distance for hours finally arrive. The doors and windows rattle, and the street lights blink out, even though the electricity in my house stays on. I turn on some battery operated lights (fairy lights in mason jars) just to be sure.

I’ve been thinking about the lives lost this week. The COVID-19 deaths are hard to process: of the 14 million (14 million!!!) confirmed cases worldwide, there have been 603,059 deaths–139,266 deaths in the U.S. In an average flu year, we’d have 250,000-500,000 deaths, 36,000 of them in the U.S. Does anyone still think that this new corona virus will be no worse than the flu?

I was sad about particular deaths this week. Yesterday, I saw the news of the death of Christopher Dickey, son of James Dickey. When we moved here in 1998, Chris Dickey had published his memoir, and he was all over the NPR network–and then I kept hearing his reporting from various difficult areas across the globe. Plus, James Dickey was teaching at the University of South Carolina when I was there as a grad student, and while I never had him as a mentor, some of my friends did, and they spoke of him highly. Chris Dickey was much too young to die, just 68.

How strange to lose 2 Civil Rights era icons in the same week. Rev. C. T. Vivian died, as did the more famous John Lewis. In some ways, their deaths are good deaths–they come at the end of long, productive lives, and the world is a better place because of them. John Lewis was 80, which these days seems a bit young to die.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Morning Reports

Your scythe drags its shadow
over the threshold
like an unwanted child.

The slippery blade curves
under the burden. I recognize my fear

in the throaty croak of a rooster.

Romana Iorga, Sharp Dawn

“Tell us a story.” For my parents’ generation,
a siren was normal. Normal was hiding

beneath ones desk, dreaming a bomb.
On screen, the anchor quotes a dead poet

while our rockets launch. Syria. Beautiful
is a word we still use. Virtue is a word we use.

The interrogator’s textbook says not to look
for symmetry. Not to get attached to a source.

R.M. Haines, New Poem: “Death Prime”

I have been on a Dickens kick since March, reading his novels and travel writings that I had never gotten around to in the past. He was, in many ways, a journalist: a consummate observer of human behavior, appearance, society. It struck me, reading American Notes for General Circulation (1850), how prescient he was about the USA.

In 1841, Dickens was just 30 years old but well-regarded in England and in “America,” where he traveled with his wife for six months. His observations tend not to demonstrate the best about 1840s Americans, though he also reflects on the “good character and general friendliness” of the people here. He remarks at how free education means that almost everyone is literate–every non-enslaved person, that is.

What amazes me is his wrap up, where he concludes his book with a kind of warning to Americans, a warning about our inclination toward doubt in our fellows–our lack of trust, about hyper-partisan political ideology and its poor results, about the ruin slavery will visit on the nation, and about the sad tendency to reward/admire “smart men” over moral, kind, generous, or intelligent ones. He additionally blasts this infant nation for its insistence that trade (and capitalism) matters more than just about everything else except the vaunted concept of personal freedom, which of course is belied by the existence of slavery.

Ann E. Michael, Foretelling

Now, more than ever, America feels like the prom date that’s gotten totally wasted, and is spending the whole party sick in the john, leaving the rest of us by the bandstand, mirror balls spinning above our heads, scattering shards of shattered light across our face masks and crumpled quarantine attire, wondering when the band will, ironically or not, play “Freebird” and light up these purple mountains and amber waves of grain with enough electricity to shred the heaviness from our bones and make us feel light enough to walk on water.

Rich Ferguson, America, the Freebird

We talked before about our meeting in university, but I’m curious about your interest in poetry before that. With the name “Hafiz,” I suspect your parents played a role, but perhaps not? What role do you think poetry has played in getting you to the place in your life where you are now?

Shazia [Hafiz Ramji]: I don’t think my parents knew what they were getting into with me! A poet in a poor immigrant family is hellish for all involved.

Hafiz is a popular name in Persian and South Asian and Muslim cultures, as I know you know from the infamy of Hafiz/Hafez the big poet. I was named by my grandparents as “Shazia Hafiz,” which is my full first name actually (but I go by Shazia in conversation). The grampy and grammy must’ve known what was coming more than my parents did! Though, they were initially going to name me “Sasha.” I don’t know why… or I don’t think I’m ready to find out!

My dad used to sing ghazals when I was young – on tape, every day! At the time I really disliked them. To my little kid ears, they sounded so sad and slow. They stopped me from living in my fantasies of becoming an explorer when I grew up. My dad also used to tell me stories at bedtime. We all used to sleep in the same room, because our house was small and because the Gulf War situation scared the crap out of us. I would not be able to sleep if he didn’t tell me a story!

I also remember reading voraciously. My parents would take me to the bookshop and the owner would let me exchange the book for one on the shelf (without ringing it through), because he knew my parents were broke and that we’d be back in no time.

I don’t think I legitimately knew what a poet or a writer was until I was into my teens, but I remember writing constantly when I was young. I would sit in front of the TV and watch snakes and other creatures on National Geographic, and I remember feeling awed by so much beauty! And that’s when I would pick up a notebook and write “a poem,” which was just descriptions of deserts and oceans and cool stuff on National Geographic.

I still watch Blue Planet and Planet Earth to get into the writing zone. Wonder and awe return me to a good place.

Rob Taylor, To Reach Each Other With Love: An Interview with Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Here’s a dorky story that I’ve kept with me my whole life. I was in grade one, I know this because we moved house the following year. I knew that the woman down the street was older and alone and unwell. It snowed a lot one winter and I had a red plastic shovel and when it did snow I sneaked down and cleared her walk. Probably did a terrible job, but there it was. I remember doing this several times but once, she came out her front door and called me over and tried to give me a two dollar bill (which have long been discontinued and which is entirely beside the point — but I can vividly picture that two-spot waving in the wind and her in her floral house dress holding the screen door open and how cold it was). It was super nice of her, I’m sure. But all I can remember feeling was that it was all ruined, that I’d been caught, and it was ruined, the gift was. I wasn’t doing it for money, it was just this secret thing that had been making me feel good. I ran away without the cash and cried and I’m not sure anyone really understood why. Maybe they did.

So anyway, what that taught me was to just be more stealthy, and to do secret good things.

Also, an aside, I remember really loving that dumb little red shovel. The sound of it digging into the snow. You know? Remember when the things we now call work were just plain fun and delightful? I’m still that dorky weird little white haired ghost kid who never hardly spoke a word to anyone outside my family and because of that my mom would always get phone calls saying I should be “tested” since I must not be very smart.

Shawna Lemay, Do Secret Good Things

In February 1992, so long ago, I moved to Germany. I rented a little place temporarily in the old city area of Mainz. It had no heat, or rather, it did — an old coal oven that I was sure I would use improperly and end up suffocating myself. And funny enough I was reading Germinal at the time, about the French coal miners, the poor, who shall inherit the earth. I still remember the passage about the brioche.

After a few weeks I moved to a one-bedroom apartment near the train station where I could catch a bus to my office on the outskirts of the city. Mainz is not a big city. One night soon after I moved in I was asleep in the back bedroom, which looked out over a brothel, when I awoke to a shaking for which I had no explanation. The bed rattled and I looked around and wondered what on earth could this be and I thought it must be the devil come here. All my childhood fears have materialized and here I am engulfed in the devil’s blender!

This couldn’t have lasted long. I got up the next morning with the feeling of having had a bad dream that you’ve forgotten except for the fright of it. I didn’t recall the jolt or ever opening my eyes. But when I got to work one of my colleagues asked if I’d felt the earthquake. It was like someone brought the smelling salts. Immediately I remembered the rumbling and surprised as I was I was also relieved for an explanation. I was also shocked to find out there were earthquakes in Germany.

The trigger for this memory is the book I’m reading, “What Belongs to You” by Garth Greenwell, in which the narrator has a similar experience in Bulgaria, most likely in 2012.

“I was pinned to my bed by an animal fear as the world shifted with a sound I never heard before, a deep grinding thunder and the sound of alarms, all the cars of my neighborhood shrieking their warnings, a bewildering cacophony of patterns and tones.”

The book is beautiful and transcendent and I recommend it, earthquakes and all.

Sarah J Sloat, Tremulous Adventures

I am tired.

Though I write from a place of privilege and of safety, I am tired.

Tired of feeling mentally fried nearly all the time.

Tired of the government -who are not a government, but a campaign team that got out of hand and do not have our interests, least of all our human flourishing, at heart.

I am tired of lockdown-not-lockdown. I am tired of the masks-debate. I am tired of ‘But those statues are our history‘.

I am tired of Donald Trump.

And yet.

And Yet.

And yet….

I pause to be still, I remind myself that I am not alone, I breathe, I practice self-care and notice again that the tiredness I feel is what my South African activist friend Roger calls ‘part of the plan.’ ‘It’s what they want. The trick is to experience it but not give into it.’

So I remind myself that my favourite word in the Psalms is ‘But’. Especially the ones where it doesn’t appear and the reader inserts it for herself. ‘It has all gone to shit’ (which as Anne Lamott reminds us is a theological term): ‘but’. I still have a job. But my kettle still works. But the bakery remained open. And the Common Beaver has opened a courtyard (see above). But I got to see my mother yesterday. But I have a garden. Verily I walk through the shadow of death, but thank the Lord, Shawna Lemay is still blogging. And Karen Walrond. And Josephine Corcoran. And Simon Parke. They are my go-to resting places. My places of clear water (is that a Heaney line?).

There is still so much to be grateful for.

Anthony Wilson, Tired, but

There are so many things I want to write but this much exhausted me Portland is a fire bomb in my heart I have zero plans for July for the first time in maybe ever I have so many friends who are teachers who are deeply concerned about the school year when I taught orchestra in middle school I could not have imagined containing all. those. droplets. I built a plant stand today I have green tomatoes and sugar snap peas and roses and calla lilies in my garden I made cinnamon rolls last week and canned marionberry jam this week

I feel adrift lost at sea I wave from my boat Ahoy! Ahoy!

Rebecca Loudon, Three strange things

I have attempted schedules in which I go to bed with plenty of time for adequate sleep, but there is then little time for anything but work, necessary chores, and sleep. No time for reading, music, creative play, relationship nurturing–the things that make life most worth living. No time to just be. What if Kate is right, and these things are not wants, but needs?

Of course we can live like this. I have for decades. Many, many people in the world live with far less rest than I have. But can we be well?

These might seem like frivolous or tone deaf questions to be asking in the midst of a pandemic, when living is no longer a given for anyone, even the most privileged of us. Perhaps, though, this is the best time to be asking them.

As I contemplate a return to in-person school in the fall, and read articles in which transmission (which will mean death for some) is a given and something “schools will need to prepare for”–because in-person school is increasingly being framed as an intractable necessity rather than as a choice our society is making–I am seeing more clearly all the ways in which what I’m going to be required to do is just an extension of what’s been required for all of my life.

And I can’t tell you, today, what my response to that will be–because the bottom line is that I work to eat–but I can tell you this: I am fucking sick of it and from it, literally and metaphorically. I have zero interest in being a martyr or a hero, nor do I have plans to be either. If I get sick and die from it, it will be tragic, not heroic. And the tragedy will not be the loss of my life, but that the loss was preventable.

We all get what we pay for in a capitalistic society. Hope everyone will remember that as they send their kids back to school this fall.

Rita Ott Ramstad, What feeds us

Both of my grown-up children (aged 19 and 21, and sent home from university in March at the start of the UK C-19 lockdown) started temporary jobs in local factories this week, packing cosmetics and cheese respectively.  It’s been fascinating to hear their anecdotes of shop-floor life.  Basic hygiene is adhered to rigorously, but social distancing and mask-wearing isn’t, I’ve been told.  They are both on zero-hours contracts so it’s been eye-opening to learn more about current working conditions and about what is expected of temporary factory workers.

In the distant past, I’ve worked in low-paid temporary jobs – although never in a factory.  I did childcare, office work, shop work, door-to-door sales and telesales.  All this before I went to university as a mature student and became a published writer.  In recent years, I’ve become more out-of-touch and I tend now to mix with people who have well-paid, secure jobs, or retired and semi-retired people with a comfortable income.  There is little poetry – that I know of – written about ‘low-skilled’ work.  Can you think of any, other than in the poems of Philip Levine? Who now is writing about factory work, zero-hours contracts, working in a crowded production line in the middle of a pandemic?  Which poets live in this world?  Do you know any?  I don’t.

Josephine Corcoran, What the real world is

This nicely-produced little book arrived today from Bob Horne’s small press Calder Valley Poetry.

John Foggin’s invitation to submit poems based on the opening words of Eilean Ni Chuilleanain’s poem Swineherd (When all this is over …) brought nearly 100 responses from a multitude of poets speaking in the voices of a variety of occupations. Calder Valley Poetry asked the poet Kim Moore to choose one poem for each letter of the alphabet for an anthology.

Here you will find poems that are are witty, serious, surprising, imaginative, empathic, well researched and well polished.

My favourite is perhaps Wendy Klein’s Wonder Woman, who dreams of sensible clothes and a retirement in obscurity, when she will not have to try to bring /peace to bellicose men who say one thing/and mean another.

Or maybe it’s Julie Mellor’s Phrenologist, who longs for a simple self-sufficient life free from the troubling cartographies/of other people’s minds.

Or John Foggin’s Night Soil Man, who looks forward to smelling The essence of  a baby,/the blue pulse in her skull I’ll be allowed to kiss.

Or Sarah Miles’s Graphic Designer whose fate is to default to Comic Sans. It’s so hard to choose!

Ama Bolton, When All This Is Over

Long-awaited has become a tacky term, its soul ripped out by marketing bods who desperately hunt a unique selling point for a poet, only to find it’s ubiquitous and emptied of any meaning. However, there are still certain moments when it really is valid. One such is the publication of Alan Buckley’s first full collection, Touched (HappenStance Press, 2020).

Buckley’s work is riven from experience, both of poetry and life. As a consequence, his verse eschews facile certainties, setting out its stall early on in this book, in the poem Life Lessons, which assumes the format of a Q&A:

…How do I live without being touched?
Your skin will be become stainless steel.

How do I learn to survive in a vacuum?
Don’t move. Don’t breathe. Don’t feel.

Matthew Stewart, Might and maybe, Alan Buckley’s Touched

Why am I a poet? My father’s face was hard and angular, his thin lips seldom smiled, and when he spoke it was not of love. My mother spoke of love quite often, even when she slapped my face or took a belt to me. I noticed the power of the sunrise when I was still a small boy, how the streaks of color blessed the dark sky, and I loved the way the winter air tightened my cheeks. I always knew that birds had a language all their own. And the smiling eyes of girls, I caught that very early as well. Why am I a poet? Because it is the only thing I know how to be.

James Lee Jobe, Why am I a poet?

Wanderer
in the mountains,

monk
of simple joys,

sayer
of what cannot be said,

keeper
of the mysteries,

lighter
of the lamp,

old man
with his hair falling out

thinking
like a flower.

Tom Montag, Wanderer

The idea for my latest novel, The Beekeeper’s Daughter, came from my love of Plath. In many ways it’s The Hours with Sylvia Plath. It is the story of three women, one a modern day woman dealing with modern day, Plath-like problems (mental illness, a cheating husband), another is Sylvia Plath herself, during the time she moved back to London with her two young children just before her death. The third female storyline is that of Esther Greenwood. It’s a made-up story, but it does stick to the plot-line of the post The Bell Jar stories that Plath herself wrote (that survived) starring Esther. In The Beekeeper’s Daughter, Esther Greenwood is just out of college and living in London. She’s wondering about an old flame while becoming entangled with a guy whose voice is too loud, who drowns her out not only with his large physique but with his overpowering personality (a’la Ted). To research for this novel, I did more than read The Bell Jar many times. There were more than a few biographies and a trip to London to see the house where Sylvia Plath lived with her children just before her suicide. (It is coincidentally the home of the famed poet Willianm Butler Yeats.) But I found while I was writing, after a lot of research, that I really needed to go back to Plath’s poetry.

It seems like a “well duh” moment now but honestly, I hadn’t thought to focus on Plath as a poet when I started writing. I knew Plath was known for her poetry. I knew she thought of herself as a poet beyond any other medium. But I wasn’t a poet and so I didn’t even think to go there. And I will just admit that many novelists are terrified of poetry. Poetry scares us. An economy of language! That’s not for us. We prefer to drone on and on. But I digress. I realized as I was writing about Plath that I needed to study, to really dive into her poetry.

And so I began to read her work. I started with Colossus, since that had been her first collection. After reading Colossus I moved on to Ariel. I blew through both collections and then realized I had to stop, I had to slow down and really take them in. I realized that despite studying English literature and creative writing extensively in college and graduate school, I never really figured out how to read poetry. But as I kept reading Plath’s words, I found myself thinking more and more in poetry. I heard poetry in my head the way I used to get ideas for fiction. And as I kept reading poetry, I wanted to write it.

Balancing ‘The Bell Jar’: How Sylvia Plath Led to a New Appreciation for Poetry – guest blog post by Jessica Stilling [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]

To estrange; to take the once-
familiar and see how circumstance

bevels it, throws it in a different
light. At noon, the fountain pours

its brightness one shade cooler. All
the pigeons flock there, and in that

other time, children who heard it
calling their name. I lean my cheek

against the window glass— how thin
the broken distance between here, now,

and those years before everything
we touched left a smudge on the world.

Luisa A. Igloria, ILIW

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 28

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.

A bit of a quiet week, in which bloggers asked: Have you tried something new in lockdown? Should one be an ant now? And did you know there was a patron saint of pandemics, St. Corona? “I weave for myself / a hammock of my unanswered questions,” Ann E. Michael declared.

One thing that surprised and delighted me, as publisher of the Moving Poems website, was reading three different bloggers’ adventures with making poetry videos. Among other mysteriously shared wavelengths...


On horseback
     in the Green Mountains one minute,
waiting for COVID in nursing home
     the next. I have it already,
of course, from scraps;  months
     of panicked combat for air,
so I can’t see her. She’s—vanished.
     There are so many things
one should not have to fight for.
     Every organ system inflamed,
I become oatstraw. Vicodin. Ginger.
     A liquid diet. Somehow vertical,
somehow  48,when the pain
     is very bad I still want
to call my mother. We did try hard,
     and fixed that much:
I could call her, if I was scared.
     The vixen emerges from night grass
three feet away, fixes tapetum on mine.
     Pure sensual grace
and home, that wild. What is it, beauty,
     I say, meaning both
we must help each other
     and such compelling danger,
the illusion of safety.

     She never answers.
Grey foxes: feline software in canine hardware,
     someone says on Twitter.
They are the only canid with retractable claws,
     I have learned. When they need to
they can climb trees like cats.

JJS, Vulpine

I wonder if Ennio Morricone ever replaced a washer, or tightened the grub screw on a bath tap? I am thinking this as I listen to his composition, ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’. Morricone died this week, as one day I will, and I didn’t know till now that he was an avant-garde classical composer: that he regarded these seldom-heard works as his important ones.

This existential mood of mine is driven by sleep-deprivation and by the fact that my hot bath tap is broken. The mixer taps are new, so not strictly broken, but loose. But it might as well be broken as no water comes out. […]

Sitting there, on the roof, as dawn brought the day into focus, I thought about the avant-garde part of my life – not my main occupation, not the lecturing job for which I am infamous to several hundred social work students past and present, but the part of me that I want to fulfill as much as possible before I die: the poetry part. The words that swim through my head, that arrange themselves on the page. I thought about the way that the main stuff squeezes this less-known part until it squeaks, needs attention, needs to lie in the bath because there is no chance of swimming pools opening any time soon, and I need my body to be weightless from time to time.

Liz Lefroy, I Worry About Plumbing

Rob Taylor: “These are the days of not writing… Nothing’s missing. What’s not here?” feels like a good summary, for many, of our current COVID-19 moment. A major theme in Pineapple Express is isolation (in “Disturbances” you write “For months you haven’t seen your neighbours,” which also strikes home right now). A common joke these days is that self-isolation is something poets have been training for their whole lives. Could you talk a little about the knife-edge of isolation for writers — that need for solitude in order to be able to write, and the negative consequences that can come with it? Do you have any advice for people — writers or otherwise — in this time of externally-imposed isolation?

Evelyn Lau: Solitude is bliss for introverts, and most poets would agree that they crave time, space and isolation in order to write and think. I’ve lived alone since I was sixteen, and the challenges inherent in that have always been practical — i.e. financial — rather than emotional. My partner and I have been together for two decades, but we’ve never lived under the same roof. What some people would find painful — coming home to an empty apartment — is the greatest source of solace for me. Is that strange? It feels so essential that anything else is unimaginable. The easy explanation is to say that I need solitude to write, but really it’s just to stay sane.

The danger is that isolation leads to rumination, which can lead to depression. Those of us who need very little social interaction to feel fulfilled definitely have an advantage over the extroverts right now. My advice isn’t original: establish a structure to the day, get out of your head by getting into your body (exercise), find beauty and wonder in small things.

Rob: Yes, yes, excellent advice (the good advice doesn’t always have to be novel — it usually isn’t)!

Speaking of changes brought on by COVID-19, you’ve traditionally avoided work on computers (I seem to recall that you didn’t have an email address until you took on the role of Vancouver poet laureate in 2011, a position which required one). Could you talk about that choice to stay “offline” as much as possible? How are you finding life now that you’re forced to use the internet for work, etc? Is it affecting your capacity to write?

Evelyn: AARGGH! Right now I’m sprawled on the floor outside my building lounge, using my partner’s laptop to pick up on the WiFi signal. This pandemic has yanked me into the 21st century!

Normally I maintain a distraction-free zone by not having WiFi or a modern computer at home, and not having a cellphone. It might be odd to hear this from a writer, but writing doesn’t come “naturally” — it’s often very painstaking, and so much time and creative effort are wasted in email correspondence.

Rob Taylor, The Monastery of Poetry: An Interview with Evelyn Lau

He says the microwave is talking to him.
What’s she saying, Henry? She says,
“Noli me tangere. The last person
may have been exposed.” She says
it’s time to work from home.

Ellen Roberts Young, Another Minor Poem for this Time

So many invisible things that I rely on:
gravity, oxygen, radio waves, the workings
of my mind, of your mind, awareness.
Though sometimes one materialises
in front of me when I least expect it:
the woman who stepped onto the grass
so I could run past safely. Thank you.

Lynne Rees, Poem: Invisible

Maybe tomorrow, no oranges, no flour,
no disinfectant soap. We live without guarantees
despite the product labels’ promises.
This year the pear tree bears no fruit:
few bees? late frost? Does it want a reason?
Yet I quiver with my need to know.
Knowing, old as I am, uncertainty means change.
Comfort? That requires a trust not at odds
with what’s ambiguous. I weave for myself
a hammock of my unanswered questions,
settle into it, become seed pod, chrysalis, womb.
I place my trust in change.

Ann E. Michael, Uncertainties

When it comes to preparing for the future, I have always been more ant than grasshopper. That has, in many ways, served me well, but being the ant requires knowing your geography, your climate, and your resources. It means knowing what you’ll need to survive the winter and how to preserve and store what feeds you.

After becoming a teacher, I learned quickly how important it is to use the summer to prepare for the coming school year. I learned how to store up what I needed to be OK (or OK enough) to get myself to the following June. For the first time ever, I don’t.

How does one be an ant now? Should one be an ant now?

I have long wondered why I’ve so needed the summers to recover and prepare, why working in public education has been so taxing for me and many of my colleagues. Sure, the hours are long, but many people work long hours. We don’t have the resources we need, but many people struggle with resource scarcity in their work. Over the past month or so, the debates about policing and school re-opening have illuminated for me something I couldn’t see from within our system (as is so often the case when we are trying really hard to be OK in untenable situations): The struggle comes not so much from the hours or the lack of supplies and tools; it’s from the weight of all that schools have come to carry, which includes not just educating everyone (a heavy enough bundle in itself), but also providing healthcare, social services, meals, and child care. Now, some would have us believe that the very functioning of the entire economy rests upon us.

I see that, perhaps, part of the reason my summer preparations haven’t really been getting the job done in recent years is that I haven’t really understood the landscape in which I’ve been trying to live.

As I think about how to be an ant now, I understand it’s not so much that the geography around me has changed as it is that I’m seeing it from a different vantage point. It’s like I’m suddenly viewing it from miles above, perhaps looking down through the window of a plane. Of course I’ve been aware of shifting plates, erupting volcanoes, rivers that have changed course and jumped their previous banks. Now, however, I can see the totality of those singular impacts, and how those of us working in country have been so consumed with responding to the seemingly small (yet never-ending) immediate crises of opening cracks and raining ash and flash floods that many of us failed to comprehend the bigger emerging picture. Now that I can see the landscape whole, I find myself lost. The topography doesn’t match any of my maps.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of ants, grasshoppers, maps, and being lost

I feel particularly stuck right now because I don’t have the release of travel, of periodic escape to remind myself there’s a bigger world. I’m reading a lot but mostly books about small towns, too: Stephen King’s sin-haunted Maine villages (my stay in Salem’s Lot was unpleasant for a variety of reasons); plague-ridden Derbyshire mining country in Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders (I loved that one); a prissy Ohio suburb in Celeste Ng’s justly-celebrated Little Fires Everywhere; the island horrors of Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel and Lucy Foley’s The Guest List. Is that because I’ve been on a mystery-thriller kick, trying desperately to get out my own head? Do those plots work best in little bubbles? This spring, able to concentrate only in short spurts, my reading was mostly poetry that felt quite different, conjuring cosmopolitan places or a sense of global connectedness, as 21st-century poetry tends to.

The brand-new poetry collection I just finished, though, is local without ever being small–and illuminates Kiki Petrosino’s relation to a place she can neither love nor leave behind. In White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia, three long poems are based on the results of a DNA ancestry test; one section, titled “Albemarle,” eviscerates Jefferson’s celebrators in breathtaking ways; and another sequence locates itself in Louisa County, where some of Petrosino’s ancestors resided. Petrosino herself seems to have departed the region after earning a B.A. at the University of Virginia, and is now back as a professor there, drinking tiny glasses of bourbon at gastropubs while researching and receiving dream-messages from her dead kin. As Terrance Hayes writes, this book is “wonderfully irreducible” to tweets and slogans, plus so honed and gorgeous that it reminds me that poetry has special ways of helping people struggle with intractable problems; I think it will strike others that way, too, and be on short-lists for many prizes. I’m on sabbatical for a while but I’d love to teach it one day, in whatever still-messed-up America we land in a year from now.

Lesley Wheeler, “I live in language on land they left”

What’s in the poem: How my fascination with ghazals and my fascination with South Texas Spanglish work together. How my co-worker Ramon had a clouded eye.

What’s left out: How Ramon’s clouded eye wasn’t glass because taking it out would have caused more overall damage. How Ramon’s thumbs were permanently purple from hammering and missing and hitting his hand. How when we worked side by side at Billy Pugh co. making equipment for oil rigs I felt both honored and intimidated. How the more I wrote into this poem the more I left Ramon’s voice behind. How the biggest breakthrough in writing the poem was having this meta-Ramon ask the question “You have nothing else?” then declare flat out “You have nothing else.” How this meta-Ramon is really me still guilty years later worried I don’t do enough on the page or in my life to honor the people who have helped me survive. How this species of interrogation is never done with, because it is how I honor those who have helped me survive.

José Angel Araguz, new essay published: excerpt

Loosely, I think that I will be done writing this kind of grief poem in November, to mark the year of having lost her, though of course I’d never hold myself to a deadline like that. I think that is naturally where it will fall, and then poems about other things will begin to surface more often.

Like I said previously, this book is a lament. It is wailing on the front yard with my head shaved and ashes smeared on my face. You can’t rush that sort of thing.

Renee Emerson, The BabyWritingMoon Retreat

Let us name them
and if not, then

their play places:
Atlanta; Avon, Indiana;
Chicago; Columbia,
Missouri; Galivants
Ferry, South Carolina;

Hoover, Alabama;
Philadelphia;
San Francisco
Washington, D.C.

Lives taken now
noted, new numbers
added to archives
to help us remember

they died by gun
on our July 4 weekend

their fatal celebration
lost among the sounds
of bursting rockets

the sparklers held
in their tight little fists
raised against the red glare

Maureen Doallas, Fatal Celebration (July 3-5)

liars are in charge of the truth
lurking in the garden at night
an elephant hawk-moth

Ama Bolton, ABCD July 2020

This book is fierce! It’s a reading that dwells on the living through endings and upon closer examination, some beginnings, as well. Skaja’s word choice is superb, fresh, wild. From “How to Mend a Faucet Dripping Thread”

Every morning, a spider webs over my door, but I don’t do omens.

I will not hang all the maids, for example; it’s antifeminist.

But I will lie here with my face annexing the floor. Penelope, neat.

Pouring out a little whiskey for the sirens & swine.

Did I mention my love for the hat tip to older, timeless stories?

Kersten Christianson, Brute, Emily Skaja

on to the coarse fish perch and pike
on the tennant canal in the giant reeds
near the dock piers where the sea fish flow
pouting blin and whiting and flatties
from the west pier where the night rats run
under the moon stones at full tide
down along the dock lights shivering
with a fist of rag worm
well wrapped in sand and cloth
i’ve caught them all in my time

Jim Young, and ran – i did

I had a run of luck with poetry competitions a few years back. I thought, for a while, it might be possible to give up the day job and make a living out of writing. However, I started to notice that the quality of my work was suffering. Subliminally, I think I was trying to write the ‘prizewinning poem’ (whatever that is), rather than being true to myself and my work. After that, I spent a lot of time experimenting, producing work that only appealed to the very fringes of the poetry scene, the avant-garde if you like. I had work taken by the likes of Streetcake and 3 am magazine, online journals that take risks, that are constantly seeking to challenge our notions of what poetry is and what it can do or be.  Since then, I’ve never thought about payment. I write to satisfy my creative impulse, and to somehow translate my experience of the world into art. Payment is wonderful when it happens, but I never expect it. Writing for money doesn’t motivate me, because writing gives a sort of value to my time that can’t be quantified in monetary terms. I gain a great deal of satisfaction from that – in the areas I’m working in, writing can’t be ‘bought’.

I am influenced. I create. I edit. I send work out (in every sense I submit). For me, the process has its own rewards. I hope at least some of you feel the same.

Julie Mellor, Mr Sheen

I’m working on one of my poems-that-start-as-long-blathers. I started it some weeks ago, let it sit, worked on it, let it sit. Now when I go back I am confused about what I thought I was up to.

Some of that confusion is the lack of logic in the poem’s thinking. But I’m finding as I’m clarifying that, I’m losing something. I’m making changes based on logic, but I’m losing something that was special and beyond logic. I’m finding I need to go back to the self who first blathered and ask what? what?

Unfortunately, that self is gone with the passage of time, and this other, confused self must sit with it all.

It’s interesting, as a process. A tad annoying as well. I was sure I was onto something back then. Now I can’t remember what.

I have found in my work as a copyeditor and my brief stint teaching a course that not-great writing comes out of not-great thinking. The authors and students who couldn’t quite think through something couldn’t write through it either. That being said, overthinking can kill a piece of writing as surely as underthinking.

Marilyn McCabe, Like breathing in and breathing out; or, On Poetic Clarity

Lately, I confess, my crankiness has diminished my capacity for giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.

Let me be gracious to myself. Let me remember all that I am getting done, in this time that no one prepared me for in terms of schooling and training. I need to repeat this mantra at work especially.

In terms of my creative life, let me also be gentle with myself. While I’m not writing traditional poems, the way I once did, I am doing interesting work, especially with the intersection of poetry, parable, and theology–in a video format, which is new for me and exciting. While my novel languishes, I do think about it here and there.

I know that in the past I’ve had times when I’m not putting words on paper, a creative burst is just up ahead, if I don’t give up, if I’m patient with myself.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Making Good Progress–a Brief Progress Report

In between the other stuff, I’m taking a free online course at FutureLearn called Explore Animation.  During the lockdown, I started experimenting with my phone, making collages and a poetry film and I’m curious to learn basic animation to see if I can extend my skills and perhaps combine poetry and storytelling with animation.  I am completely out of my comfort zone with both my drawing skills and my tech skills but it’s kind of interesting and fun.

I’m not the only person who’s been looking into new ways of working recently. In the lockdown, poet Hilaire worked in collaboration with artist Stephen J Graham observing what she saw from her second-floor window in Battersea, London.  They live only a  few streets from each other but a world apart during lockdown when they communicated via text in order to compile a series of poems and illustrations which they’ve made into an A5 book called Indoors Looking Out: A Creative Exchange in Constrained Circumstances which I absolutely love. Hilaire has written about their collaboration in this blog post.

Have you tried something new recently or during lockdown?

Josephine Corcoran, Not just poems

Yesterday, as I played with the film editing software and finished the book trailer for the new book, I realized how much I enjoyed it–almost a more motion-oriented collage, so I will definitely be creating more–if not trailers, then little poem videos involving public domain films, that are really fun to cut up and splice. I even made a sort of preliminary home for them on Youtube, so watch for those. I also plan on making some exclusive content for Paper Boat subscribers over the next few months. (so join in on the fun here…it’s free and I promise to only bother your inbox once a month)  With a little video experience I am a little closer to my dream of one day animating paper collages, so here’s hoping. 

During quarantine and its aftermath (however temporary or permanent that may be), visual work has been what has suffered most. Perhaps because, maybe even more than writing, creating it seems comparatively frivolous in the world.  Or maybe just that what I seem to create is frivolous in the world.  While writing was spurred on by the capitalist concerns of The Shining project and now the timely concerns of bloom, less so the collages and landscape/botanical paintings that usually fill my arsenal. While I did manage that batch of watercolor landscapes, as well some acrylics for my kitchen, the only thing that seemed at all related to the world outside was my silly crypto posters.

Kristy Bowen, poetry films, art, & artivism

I haven’t exactly gone dry when it comes to poetry, but I did stop posting a poem a day on a little chalkboard in June. As the poem states, I was “out of chalk” from the start, writing with little stubs I found in the kids’ art supply boxes and kept in the lid of a jar.

Just the other day, my husband found in the garage a bucket full of colored sidewalk chalk that I’d been looking for in the basement. So there’s that for the next public art project that might arise from the ongoing circumstances. And I ordered and received a little box of slim white chalkboard chalk for the next round of daily poems, possibly in September. For now, I’m writing in my various journals, intermittently.

As I’ve been writing here, I’ve been hearing thunder! And, look, it’s raining out my window! …And now I’ve come back from stepping outside to smell the rain, the needed rain, the gentle rain. It’s falling on my prairie flowers, my single tomato plant, my little pots of hibiscus tea, my gradual attempts at a very local permaculture. I forgot to plant a little packet of California poppy seeds, but I have plans for it. I have more to tell you, but not right now.

Kathleen Kirk, My Dry July

While under the weather for a day or two this week with a stomach bug, I finally sat down and read the whole novel from Lesley Wheeler, Unbecoming, about an out-of-sorts academic woman who loses a best friend, suspects her replacement of being a malevolent faerie, and suspects herself of starting to wield strange powers,while dealing with a fractious dean and truculent teens. It had hints of faerie and kitsune mythology, and also talked about how women gain magic powers with age. It really was a page-turner! I recommend it. It was also a good read while I weathered – besides the stomach bug – a couple of regular rejections, a couple of finalist notices for my book manuscript (and one “close but no”), well, what still felt like a lot of no from the universe. I also think about using magic to protect us from coronavirus. Protection spells often involve the moon. Did you know there was a patron saint of pandemics, St. Corona? Look it up!

At 47, I’m only a few years away from fifty now, the magical age of menopause or invisibility, when we move from lost girl in the forest to wicked witch. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could acquire magic powers though? Anyone want to grant me three wishes? I would even take one!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Anniversaries, Rose Moon Eclipses, New Moons and New Life, and Reading Report on Women, Magic, and Menopause

It takes some time to learn to live with death. It doesn’t happen overnight. Death can be a horrible neighbor, a demanding housemate. Death moves into your house and never leaves again. Three years have passed since my son left this life and death moved in with us. To stay. This house is still a home, true, but it seems a little darker now, even though I can still hear the echo of my son’s huge laugh. 

James Lee Jobe, It takes some time to learn to live with death.

One finally
comes to

accept
the silence

before, after,
between

the words, the
stanzas,

the poems.
This is when

you begin
to understand.

Tom Montag, ONE FINALLY

A saucerful of warmed coconut oil, green
eucalyptus leaves steeped in bath water:

threshold you have to pass, stepping out
of the country of illness and back into

the ordinary world. Before that, the looped,
confusing paths of fever delirium. Hours

during which the parched throat can only
utter the sounds of one terrible syllable.

Luisa A. Igloria, Resurgence

Society’s unseen still make a sound—

at times, it’s a finespun hum, soft as a child’s made-up song about flower buds and pebbles resembling insect pillows.

Other times, the sound of the unseen is more like silence with its sobriety chip of sunlight, sweating out the hours until it falls off the wagon into another evening of sirens and explosions.

Rich Ferguson, Sounds of the Unseen

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, 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. This week included some searing posts on death and illness and several thought-provoking posts about the vocation and political economy of writing. Plus many other wonders.


What’s there to fear
of the old men on Rikers

condemned to die —
not for their crimes

but for living long
enough to pick up

the lethal virus from
their concrete beds.

No visitors allowed.
The men on the island

can’t speak of how
spring pushes up

not daisies not miracle
cures but takes away

their little breath left
the crown of the virus

colonizing their lungs
robbing their hearts

of energy enough
to beat bad odds.

Bio-containment rules
rule out the six feet

of physical distancing
but not the six feet

down where the trench-
diggers go, where

the bodies, their own,
come to rest four deep.

Maureen E. Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XIX

Everyone who knows me knows this story. How does it become more than just another story of someone losing someone they love? Especially now, when there’s a whole new category of how to lose a loved one? Maybe recognizing cycles and honoring them is a story we all need.

Yesterday morning I had a committee meeting of the land trust board I’m on and I did the Zoom call on my porch. Other people on the call could hear the birds in my yard and there were texts about the birds, asking what they were. I know I have robins, sparrows, chickadees, mourning doves, bluebirds, mockingbirds and bob-o-links in the pastures across the street.

But when I was asked what the song was punctuating the call, I didn’t know. I pay attention to the birds in my yard, but I’m not sure I want to be able to name the ones that mark the descent into illness for Eric.

Grace Mattern, Birdsong Yahrzeit

I know what’s coming. At the same time, I have no idea at all. It will be terrible, it will be beautiful, it will not be what I expected. It will live with me every day. It is already living in me.

As we say, the memories ‘come flooding back’. Whoever first said this has a lot to answer for. Sometimes they drip drip drip away at me, in the dark, not a flood at all. Other days (nights) it is a torrent.

The sound of her laughter. The smell of onions frying. Her lack of solemnity. That time the car broke down on the way back from school, the steam, the searing heat that day.

The sheer look of joy on her face in this photo, unguarded, not posed. That’s a rare thing to encounter in this life. And I am grateful.

But still I want her back. And it hasn’t really started yet. This is just the beginning.

Anthony Wilson, On the Edge

Over the weekend, my body finally succumbed to months of stress and I got sick with some sort of illness that had me deliriously wondering why miscreant elves were appearing in my stomach and stabbing me from the inside at unpredictable intervals. Hence the very late post this week. I’m on the mend now—still a bit weak, shaky and wrung out, but climbing out of it. It wasn’t the ‘Rhona. I know because I got tested, which was a weird experience involving people in space suits at multiple confusing checkpoints and about fifteen seconds of deep unpleasantness while an alien tentacle molested my nostril. The world has become a very strange place.

Kristen McHenry, Down for the Count, I Got Tested, Bitchy Reviews

Does it start with that viral Unseen Photos Of Frida Kahlo at the End of Her Life! photo essay?

COVID means the world reduced to Facebook, to what is viral.

She was softened, later. And toughened, too. The strongest leather thong; her face my jess.

I wrote: fire is a praxis of leave-taking.

[…]

Equivalent, the falsehood, the heart rate, the oxygen, the glue. My spine screams. Hypoxia makes it vague, and impossible:

this body:

a false equivalence

between love

and death.

JJS, to shapeshift impossible leave-taking: an essay in embodied quarantine

I shivered when I took them off,
those masks of forty years —
goodgirlgooddaughtergoodstudentgoodwifegoodmothergoodgoodgood.
I stood naked in a new day.
Who was left?
Could I find her?
Would I love her?
Would anyone?
I set out to build a woman
without masks.

Sarah Russell, Unmasked by Sarah Russell (WEARING A MASK Series)

When we believe fate’s deck is stacked against us. When kindness, science, and common sense play a zero-sum game against the government.

When we carry ourselves like a forlorn flower heading to the gallows. When perpetual anthems of inner rain dull our spirit to rust.

When, during these rootless and ruthless days, our calendar minds are stripped of their pages—

may we call upon instinct’s North Star to guide us home.

May we rely upon muscle memory to recall our most cherished embrace.

To say these things, it is not my wish for us to walk on water. Instead, to rise from it should we feel like we’re drowning.

Rich Ferguson, Humming This Song Until I Discover a Better One

While a wild wind blows
and changes the weather like
a light switch: on, off,

on, off, we listen
to mixed tapes dedicated
to teenagers’ dreams.

We remember those
days in our rooms, in ourselves
well now, as we try

to figure out this.

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time – May so far

I write smoking a cigarette 
blindfolded extinct among the scribes 
does my spirit without fleshy gravity 
rise or is this then an angel 
in the stupid theory of angels
we ate thanksgiving in May 
it felt like dying a little
I am an angel arm stretched 
to catch a pink star on a pole
that never stops swinging

Rebecca Loudon, corona 20.

The second blackbird to come was bold. He drank five beaks-full, stretching down to fill his lower beak, then tipping his head back to swallow. All this within two metres of me. Well, within two metres of my head. My feet were considerably closer. […]

Over lunch, I chatted to my son about the meaning of social distance. He pointed out that his head is socially distanced from his feet, unless he’s engaged in yoga. A reason to stop doing yoga, if you were looking for one, I said.

This confusion seems to be widespread – why else would some people veer into hedges or oncoming traffic when another person approaches, and others keep doggedly moving forward, passing by, bringing our heads no more than two feet apart.

The blackbird was at just the right distance from me for me to appreciate his bold glory. We both kept safe. He left after his drink to sit on a nearby branch. His song stretched from there to here, causing soundwaves to vibrate my maleus, incus and stapes – reaching right inside of me.

Liz Lefroy, I Socially Distance

Female bees will also burrow
deep inside the shade of a squash
flower: the closer to the source
of nectar, the warmer and more
quilt-like the air. In the cool
hours of morning, look closely
for the slight but tell-tale
trembling in each flower cup:
there, a body dropped mid-flight,
mid-thought. How we all retreat
behind some folded screen as work
or the world presses in too
soon, too close, too much.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ode to Tired Bumblebees Who Fall Asleep Inside Flowers with Pollen on their Butts

The kids in Finland went back to school on the 14th for about two weeks before the summer and I started subbing yesterday for 4 of the last 7 days. I’m not going to get into the wisdom of that decision as I’m not sure where I stand on it, but regardless, we’re all looking forward to a break from this new normal.  

On the days I’m not working, I have plenty of things to keep me busy with my course, my writing and other things on my To Do List. They’re opening the libraries to pick up reserved books, so that’s something to look forward to. As I’ve said before I’m used to social isolation, it’s the strain of home-schooling 3 kids on my own that’s been getting to me. 

My focus has changed, so I’ve struggled to keep up with this blog. I’m back on my course work, trying to get my allotment sorted before my birch allergy gets so bad I can’t go outside and I’ve finished painting my stairs, so I can focus on the kitchen cabinets next, if I’m not going back to work. I’m still trying to write my poem a day, but usually late at night, so I barely remember what I wrote in the morning and it feels like a new poem. 

Gerry Stewart, Corona Virus: Week Nine: Back to Semi-Normal

It’s the end of the third week of May, and while many states are opening up, my area in Washington State is still mostly in lockdown. This really doesn’t change anything for the likes of me, someone who’s high-risk and immune-compromised, honestly, but I can feel others getting impatient. We still don’t have enough: tests, PPEs, viable treatments. If you feel stressed, remember we’re living through something unfamiliar, unprecedented in either ours or our parents’ time. It’s like the Great Depression plus tuberculosis, with a number of dead in such a short time it rivals a fairly big war. People say, “When are we going back to normal?” and I think to myself, the answer is maybe never. Maybe we won’t go back to crowded concerts or lots of packed-in-sardine-can planes, maybe the sky and water will be cleaner, maybe we won’t shake hands anymore or ever dole out casual hugs to people we don’t know well. Maybe more companies will let their employees work from home and voters will decide universal health is maybe kind of important. Maybe hospitals and retirement homes will be redesigned with more privacy, better ventilation, more sunlight. And we went from “normal” to isolated and scared, dealing with scarcity in all kinds of things (thermometers? vitamin C?) in a matter of days and weeks. We lost 100,000 people, just in America, in about three months. Of course you don’t feel normal, of course you feel scared and stressed. It would be remarkable if you did not. Don’t worry. I’ve got bird and flower pictures, as well as recommended reading for grim times, farther down the post.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A New Poem in Baltimore Review, Field Guide on a Grim Times Reading List, More Pink Typewriters and Birds, and Weathering May Gloom

Has anyone else been struck by how elegant, how almost attractive, some of the images for the coronavirus are on television?

Image Problem

All those flower-like
protrusions as if marketing
designed a logo for it, as if
it were not ugly—and
too small to see.

Are these trumpets signaling
attack, mouths to gobble
the good microbes, suction
cups structured to latch
onto surfaces or cells?

Ellen Roberts Young, Image Problem, In Reverse

There with the native plants, and aggressively overtaking the undergrowth, are amur honeysucke, asiatic rose, barberries, wintercreeper, japanese knotweed, mugwort, ragweed, burdock, thistle, garlic mustard, and whole hosts of plantains and creeper vines. One part of me abhors them. But I admire their tenacity and their ability to adapt to new circumstances. They’ll probably be thriving long after humankind has departed the planet.

As, perhaps, will the whitetail deer–a century ago, become scarce in the wilderness, considered almost “hunted out”–they managed to recover their numbers through adaptation to suburbia, where they are now “pests.” They graze on front lawns, nibble at ornamentals, gobble the leaves and bark of decorative trees, and gather at street-side puddles to drink, leaving heart-shaped prints in the mud and grass. But on my walk yesterday, I observed a doe lying amid the brambles; and she observed me. With the eyes of the wild, darkly liquid, meeting my gaze with her own. I did not move. Nor did she. I made no sound. We watched one another until, with a fluid motion and almost soundlessly, she leapt to her feet, twisted in the air, and fled in an instant. A brief rustle of trampled branches in her wake.

Ann E. Michael, Wild places

It is a rainy Sunday morning, but not the flooding kind of rain. I woke up thinking, is that rain hitting the windows or the tiny feet of a creature in the attic? Hoorah! It was rain.

I spent much of yesterday looking for rain, as threatening clouds came and went and then settled in for the evening. It was sunny early in the day, and we had a great time outside, reading by the pool and then getting in the pool. I hadn’t gone on my walk, so I spent 45 minutes swimming back and forth.

And then, fighter jets appeared out of nowhere, out of the south, flying north. My first thought: I hope they’re ours. My old habits kicked in: listening for explosions, keeping an eye open for a mushroom cloud, wondering if I should go inside to be safe from blast burns or the stuff exploding away from a blast site.

None of that happened, and come to find out, it was an Air Force squadron flying over to say thank you to various hospital workers. I still find it a curious way to say thank you.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, So Normal, So Not

We are defeated. From over the ocean the warplanes return like dragonflies flying over a fishpond. The stars above them hum and whisper in diamond light. The world is a whirlpool of churning thought. We are defeated, indeed, both sides are defeated. No one really wins a war. The graves of the innocent villagers are shallow and hard. The broken arm of the night will not mend, and the soldiers know this. Some of the soldiers sleep in sleek caskets. We should bury them together, two to a grave. One American, one Afghani. They could rest forever in each others arms.

James Lee Jobe, We are defeated.

Into the sudden sunlight
springs the lilac

under an iron sky
sleek as hematite

and the air is a prickling
sharp as cold ashes

blown past velvet houses
where light recedes

into the settled darkness
beyond the earth’s shoulder

Clarissa Aykroyd, Previously unpublished poem: ‘Breath’

The worst part about the current crisis for me personally, other than intense sadness about the loss of life worldwide, has been the loss of making music with others through singing. Added to that is the growing awareness that, because singing is one of the most dangerous activities, it may be a very long time before we can return to it. I was already fearing that I might be getting toward the end of my time as a choir singer, though I waffle back and forth about that. Now, in my worst moments, I wonder if I will ever return to it, after a lifetime of being in church and cathedral choirs.

However, our choir has just produced their first virtual-choir video, and we’re working on two more which I’ll share with you here when they’re completed. It’s a bizarre and quite self-conscious process, where you  record your own part, solo, while listening to a backing track on headphones. The tracks were then assembled by our music director, Jonathan White, and the resulting video recording sounded remarkably like us — the way our own particular voices blend and sound together. This video was played during the cathedral’s Zoom service last Sunday morning, and a number of parishioners told me they were very moved to hear and see the choir again.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 24: Remembering Patrick Wedd

It’s been a long time since I’ve put fingers to keyboard in service of creative writing. Too long and I don’t really know what to write here. I write for work, and while challenging, and creative in problem solving and working on teams, it doesn’t really provide an outlet for making something new.

I’ve collected some various prompts and images in the last few years. Kids were born, bought a house. Life continued, which should provide plenty of material to generat-icise new poems.

I even have the start to a chapbook that I haven’t looked at in… at least two years.

One line I have written down is

This poem will piss you off.

I think it’s supposed to be in the voice of the president. But I can’t even see through my own anger to start writing it. I have no distance.

I have pictures of various atrocities. But again, I have no distance.

There is a way in which my jaw has not unclenched in almost four years. Longer than that, I guess.

There’s a need to pull it out of the gut like gutting a fish it should be messy and a little gross and inelegant. Righteous hellfire wrath were faith still important. Though it’s all some people have they’ve swallowed the hook. There is not a pretty way to exorcise that barbed point.

Eric M. R. Webb, Need to write

I’ve been thinking a bit about the speed at which things spin past us wildly. About social media, especially in a world where our attentions are split in 100 different directions. The things I followed once on the regular, blogs, you-tubers, litzines, get lost in the rubble of horrible news articles and general mental scatteredness of living in crazy world where we may have never had control of it, but even the illusion that we did seems to be unraveling. I’ve been thinking about my own writing and art and how I feel like even when I am creating it, I am disconnected from the audience. Or from even the idea of audience that I used to feel. […]

Probably from about 2005-2009, blogs were the center of my online lit community, full of comments and interactions (good and bad) that dwindled once writers began to move to facebook for such things. I joined Facebook in 2009 and that soon became the way you connected with other writers, while the blogs sort of dwindled down to the folks, like me, who still loved long-form content too much to give it up. But probably now and for the past decade, the blog feels like someone playing a record in space. You know it’s making music and broadcasting, but aren’t quite sure if it’s reaching anyone’s ears. And maybe it just feels that way because we’re now trained to expect more interaction when we post things..a like or comment or a heart. Proof that someone at least heard us.

But then again, writing might be a little like this itself. You write a book, you publish a poem, and it blasts off into the universe, and only occasionally an echo comes back. Someone writes a review or says a kind something that makes your heart soar, You click with an editor or a something goes over really well at a reading. For poetry, it stills feels like there is a lot more silence than there is echo. But then of course, how can it be any other way?

Kristy Bowen, space music and paper boats

The other meaning of the word “career” got me thinking about my “career” and my life’s career, and about how much I love double-entendre and the tricksiness of words. So as I careered (derived from horse riding) and careened (derived from ship repair), from one kind of life to another, little remained that looks like a career (derived from wheeled vehicle).

In fact I cleaved from path after path, quitting this, trying and quitting that, cleaving to a desire to be true to myself, whoever she was at any given time.

I buckled up in each trajectory’s car, buckled down to the work, but inevitably buckled from the pressure to sit.

I overlooked clues to what make me satisfied, overly concerned with some imagined authority who overlooked my choices.

Okay, maybe I’ve pushed the game too far. But I love that these are known as “Janus words,” that old two-faced bloke. But truly, I have careered, and cannot claim to have had a career, a definition that includes the notion of durability, of a devotion of time.

And the only thing I can say I have been devoted to across time is words. I have also loved silence. And there we have poetry.

Marilyn McCabe, And you always show up late; or, On Words (and Life) That Go Forward and Backward

I’ve been ashamed for twenty-two years now to be a teacher. This was supposed to be a stepping stone to being able to call myself something else. But it is what I have chosen to do to be able to afford the doing.

The price and the prize. Somewhere between them is the doing. I guess I found the price I couldn’t pay to call myself a writer was not the studying, but the salesmanship – networking, presentations. And what I thought as a kid would be the prize: fame, respect – wasn’t really what I was after.  I thought those things would raise me above the trolls in the world. Ha!

I’m fine fighting my trolls in the dark, anonymous corners…

and sometimes I get a quiet notice that someone read my work – not just my bio with an eye toward networking.

I’m not exactly off grid – but looking for a middle way. And I’m beginning to wonder if teaching isn’t really the oldest – and most indispensable – profession any way?

Ren Powell, What  We Do for a Living

Much of my adult life has been shaped by the literary-academic system. I have both an MFA and a PhD, and I could go on about these things at length. But I want to focus on the more recent events leading up to my decision to self-publish my collection of poems, A Dark Address. It first took shape in 2016 as part of my dissertation. Between then and now, it shed its skin multiple times, many new poems were added, and it is mostly unrecognizable from that earlier draft. Also in the intervening years, I submitted the manuscript to book contests and many of its individual poems to journals. However, going through this submission process in a rigorous way for the first time (I made some very clueless efforts with a previous, jettisoned book around 2008), I soon began to question whether or not I wanted my work to reach the world in the way this system makes possible. All along, the process of submitting felt exploitative and increasingly unrewarding. Fees kept adding up. While I could find exceptions for journal fees without much problem (though it cut down my options by about 50%), avoiding book submission fees severely narrowed my possibilities. Too many books are attached to contests, and these very rarely cost less than $25, with a few bucks tacked on to cover Submittable fees. Even open reading periods at many presses run $25 or more. I explored various very small presses, many of whom I greatly admire, but many of these focused on chapbooks or micro-chapbooks, or they simply did not seem like a good fit for my work. I felt stuck.

The thing is, even my successes felt hollow. I managed to land some “prestigious” acceptances of individual poems from the manuscript, but I had no idea if the poems were even being read. It went like this: finish a poem, submit incessantly, receive acceptance after three or more months (amid multiple rejections and some very long waits, and some submissions just falling off the radar, apparently), and then wait six months to a year or more before it appears in the world to little or no notice (except in the very rare case where a journal had a strong social media presence). Sometimes I got paid, sometimes not. In sum, it all felt a bit hollow. I mean, I wasn’t expecting a parade; I know it takes patience and that one can never really know what their work is doing out there in the world, or what it might do years later (and perhaps only for one individual you will never meet). And I also know that, ideally, this is a form of participation in something larger than I am. And yet it seemed less and less like participation in anything, really, besides paying fees and waiting to read form letters from anonymous readers and editors. Increasingly, I realized I was adhering to a process that I intensely disliked — and which cost a lot of money — all in order to perpetuate…what, exactly? Why was I doing this?

R.M. Haines, Poets Should Be Socialists

I have thought a lot about how to be a writer, a woman writer, over the years. I have spent my entire adult life contriving to find time and energy, the energy! to write. I have looked closely at the lives of women’s writers trying to find the secrets to apply to my own life. I have asked, how can I do the work I want to do, the work I’m able to do, and what is the work I am “allowed” to do, what is the work I will be hindered from, the work I will be given credit for and the work I will be erased from having done, what is the work that I will be thwarted from, and who will thwart me? and given all those variables, how will I refuse to be thwarted, and how will I manage to work in spite of, because of, because of. How will I continue, how will I contrive my own particular set of circumstances so I can say what I want to say, however small?

It’s the strangest thing of all about this Covid-isolation. I have been basically given my dream life on a platter, my hermit writing life, and it turns out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. (Mainly because of the worry….). But that’s fine. Imagine Jane Austen writing, and having all her worries about where she would next be living, who she would be reliant upon, what obligations she need fulfill.

We just want to work. I in my room, you in yours. I don’t want to be in competition with you, but to send my good wishes to you so that you can send yours to me.

This is what I learned from reading Eavan Boland. How to wonder about you, the importance of that wondering, and to remember that you are wondering about me.

The terrible regret I have is that I might have told her, I might have written her, and did not. And now it is too late, and I hate that. I hate that.

Shawna Lemay, The Hour of Change – Thinking About Eavan Boland

When all this is over, said the phrenologist,
I shall spend my days at Walden Pond
where white rocks line the far shore
like so many discarded skulls.

I will hoe the yellow loam and plant rows of beans,
walk to Concord in my own company
to buy a bag of rye or Indian meal, forget
the rag-stoppered bottle of yeast
spilling in my pocket.

Julie Mellor, P is for …

Reading Ned Balbo’s sixth collection is a powerful and eerie experience right now because of its mix of isolation and intimacy. The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots, winner of The New Criterion Poetry Prize and published in December 2019, takes its title from a poem about plants at the Cylburn Arboretum. A companion shows the speaker how leaves recoil at human touch. After they walk away, he wonders about “green fronds unfolding till/ the surface of their sea is calm again”–as if ease can be restored after an interval of shocked separation. Balbo’s title phrase recurs in a poem called “With Magdalene, near Daybreak,” when a resurrected god tells Magdalene, Touch me not. Balbo wonders why Jesus would return only to “order her away” and how she would have felt: “she who’d grieved already,/ shocked, stopped where she stood,/ the world strange, unsteady// though he was radiant…” This book, written well before the novel coronavirus, is about social distance.

Lesley Wheeler, Virtual Salon #12 with Ned Balbo

Simply put: this is an extraordinary book of leave taking and home coming. 

The lyric poems are collaged into a moving narrative of one family’s journey. And while Bone Road documents the story of Geraldine Mills’ great grandparents leaving the north of Ireland in 1882-84 with assistance of the Tuke Fund, this also can’t help but echo peoples around the globe who are forced to leave home due to famine, war, and poverty. 

The twist in this history is that the family returns to Ireland. The faux gold of New England does not hold the family. They return to Ireland just as impoverished as when they left. What is that pull called home?  Untumble the walls of the house / Uprise its lintel from the overgrowth /…Unbreak the heart. 

Susan Rich, Recommended for Everyone! Bone Road by Geraldine Mills and Asking the Form by Hilary Salick

As a reader and as a writer, I’m fascinated by the way [Rick] Barot pulls together, for example, in “Cascades 501,” an overheard story of heart surgery and the view from the train window of “Punky little woods,” “The bogs that must have been left / by retreating glaciers” (which expands the poem into prehistory), “the summer backyard with the orange soccer ball,” and “the pickup truck / parked askew in the back lot,” noting “Each thing looks new / even when it is old and broken down.” Then the poem moves again, but I’m not going to spoil the ending.

Joannie Stangeland, Saturday Poetry Pick: The Galleons

Raw with shared pain, these are not angry poems. They are cries of hope and compassion, demanding change/not the promise of change/not a panel to study change/not a worthless piece of paper

Full of questions, they do not offer slick answers; how much light asks the poet, does each falling body take with it as it hits the groundhow many days does one have to wake up with less dignity … how many years can you look for the one who is still missing … I want to open every fist they put around your heart/and listen as you tell me again how close liberty is to where you are standing.

Ama Bolton, Letters to Iraq: “listen to the hope and beauty”

it frightens me – sometimes.
how the words seem to come from a spirit
just behind the edge of hindsight,
beyond the dusk at the back of my mind.

is there a hole in space-time leading to where
the poets rail that their words must be heard,
must be still the font of all of their times;
and am i chosen as this conduit?
a vent in the dam of the damned words!

Jim Young, ‘how he wrote the flow of our pouring’

Moments of creative flight can be fleeting. Just as quickly as creativity floats into view, it can drift away again. I’m attempting to seize the moment and engage with the work as much as possible while this spark is present in my life.

As I’m in abundance, I send this blessing out to you, friends. May your creativity spark with new life, may it thrive and grow, may it cultivate and bear fruit. May your art, your words, your craft, your cooking, your endeavors gather and linger in your days and fill you with joy.

Andrea Blythe, The Vibrant Effusive Creative Spark

The earth stretches
into morning mist.

Happiness is not the exact
word, but it’s close.

So says the red-tail hawk.
So says the dove.

Tom Montag, THE EARTH STRETCHES

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 7

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week’s theme: time. Plus a bit of advice on how to better spend it.


For years I have held February
answerable to many sorrows
as though the month itself
were responsible for its appearance:
the dour days too short, long nights
steeped in frosty bitterness.
Resigned to hibernation,
February made me sleepy.
Dulled my skin, sucked dream
into a cold vacuum
like a vacant acre of outer space,
a stone of ice upon my chest.

Ann E. Michael, Apology

I am profoundly lucky to do work I enjoy. It’s been a long haul to get here and I’m grateful to write, edit, and teach for a living. I don’t have much time for my own projects but know if I possessed greater focus I’d be making some progress on them.

I meant to write a paragraph or two here about getting beyond self-criticism and telling myself a more positive story. But you know that skittering mind I mentioned? Yeah, it’s skittering off in another direction.

Because it seems time has gotten more slippery of late. Morning somehow slides into afternoon’s lap or what feels like Thursday is actually Tuesday. A week takes forever but suddenly a month is gone. Time falls into a jumbled stew of our own crises heated up by the shock of each day’s news. It’s not just me. Friends and colleagues complain about this same problem.

On top of work and home pressures, I suspect the era we’re living in is so unexpected that it’s just too hard to concentrate on our own daily minutiae. Things like getting the laundry folded or the next big project done make less sense when each day overflows with startling political changes and new environmental outrages. Perhaps this swings our sense of time toward an altered trajectory.

Laura Grace Weldon, Overwhelmed

I’ve been doing a small project with a novella called Sleepless Night over the past week or two. As with Misery, the recto pages have the title at the top and I’m sticking with those for now. It is a good recurring title for a poem, I must say. The author’s writing is not particularly interesting linguistically and it’s short on good nouns. But I’m making the poems small, like aquariums, or dark little rooms where your thoughts or your grave concerns or all the things you are looking forward to keep you awake.

I’ve also been doing the Februllage collage-a-day challenge on Instagram, as I did last year. I’m not striving to do every day, though. I go back and forth on so many things . . . poetry, collage, myself. Some days we’re all ok and other days I think there is no reason to continue to engage with those three.

Sarah J Sloat, Those Three

My reading includes twelve finalist mss I’m musing over for a poetry prize as well as assignments for a course on documentary poetry: first Rukeyser’s sequence “The Book of the Dead,” then Forché’s The Country Between Us, then a sampling of poetic responses to Hurricane Katrina including some by Cynthia Hogue (interview poems), Raymond McDaniel (ethically problematic collage), and Patricia Smith (often persona poems). Most recently we finished Nicole Cooley’s Breach, a rewarding book to teach not least because it’s so various in forms and approaches. It was a student favorite and when I asked why, they said “authenticity.” When I asked what the signs or markers of authenticity were, the answers seem to boil down to vulnerability. Self-interrogation; courage; generosity; getting to the heart of things, even when exposure makes you look bad. In Cooley’s return to post-hurricane New Orleans, her childhood home, with her daughters, this sometimes means longing to be mothered rather than to mother, a taboo emotion for a woman to admit.

Extracurricularly, I just read Molly Spencer‘s recent If the House too, and it’s an open-hearted missive from the interior of a body, a marriage, and multiple houses. I love the porosity of Spencer’s containers, the flow of information inward and outward. You could call it circulation.

I’m in a receptive mode; I’m not writing much, except for an occasional blog post or tweet (and a bazillion emails). I often write little poetry in winter and then things turn in spring, partly because of the academic calendar and partly the natural one. My sweetheart and I just took a walk in the woods–every Saturday, we try to get out of our neighborhood, walk elsewhere, this time on trails a bit of a drive away–and it was so bright, cold, and still. Wild onions had sent up curling leaves and the moss was green, but otherwise it was just gray boles, brown mud, fallen branches, leaf duff. Inner and outer weather match.

Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and heart

He tells me snow
is a product of the air’s
despair.  Perhaps

he’s right: seedheads
of the tall grass are weighed
down, shawled in white.

Ellen Roberts Young, February Snow Times 2

We will soon leave the time of epiphany. We will trade the star and the angel messengers for ashes on our foreheads.

We may not have realized that the time of epiphany stretched on beyond January 6. We might not have recognized the wise ones and the gifts they would give us.

We may have already been living in the land of ash. We may feel that our frozen surfaces will never thaw.

We cannot fathom how we will stitch the fabric of society back together again. Our arthritic fingers throb with pain even before we have started.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Returning to Resurrection

There are life’s grinding engines driving us to madness:

fracked lands and hacked computers, illness and unwillingness, death too soon and freedom too late, the homeless and hopeless, crosstown traffic and trafficked humans.

Still, there’s the green grass beneath our feet bright as child laughter. Dependable cars and well-tuned guitars. Feasts and flowers. Warm bellies filled with luck. Pets that know us better than we know ourselves. Fresh curiosities making out in the backseat of our brain. The puzzles of our lives put back together after a hard come-apart.

The rise and fall and the rise again.

Rich Ferguson, What Doesn’t Kill Us Cures Us

While making dinner — or reflecting excitedly on the importance of making dinner while sipping wine — I began to shape ideas that have been pressing on me during the week.  What had been expected and feared to happen in bad faith presidential action was happening.  Many of us could see the vindictiveness coming; now it almost felt posthumous.  

My anger had been simmering into something else: into a rich, bittersweet sorrow for the “we” of country. How distant we are from our “exceptional” goals (hardly the first time, hardly the last).  What poor flawed creatures!  In my wash of compassion, I felt that old-style pity. Recognizing my pivot, my poetic turn and dance move, I saw, again, that we can open to the other, be medicine to counteract the poison.

So here’s to pounding the garlic cloves with thyme with mortar and pestle!  To sizzling onions in a pan over the flame, to share.  Here’s to winding up to the big question: Can everyday life be a moral response to political failure? 

Jill Pearlman, Everyday Life: Antidote to Political Poisons

One morning last week, as I was gathering my things for the day, there was something about the clutter on my kitchen table that stopped me. It struck me as beautiful, the arrangement of things I did not arrange. The unposed mix of textures, colors, and shapes so pleased me I reached for the camera, trying to capture how it looked for me.

Of course, I didn’t really.

The 17th century Dutch assigned layers of meanings to the objects in their still life paintings, which functioned almost like a code (mostly of judgement, it seems), but there’s nothing like that going on here. Each object is simply what it is: a beleaguered basil in a dull clay pot; an empty Ikea vase; a $3.00 bunch of chamomile from Trader Joe’s; a bowl of common fruit; a chipped Franciscan ware lid sitting on its matching bowl, protecting the salt within it. Apparently, still life paintings rank low on the painting hierarchy–or at least they did in 17th century France. Ordinary, inanimate subjects were deemed less worthy than living ones, but I rather like these things on my table that talk to me without words or movement.

I couldn’t quite catch through the camera how it felt to me, the cluster of objects in late winter’s early morning light, but I can look at the image and hear something of what they are saying: Here is a life with flavor. Some simplicity. Healthy sweetness, and a touch of ordinary pretty.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Late winter still life

You and your friends celebrated everything you could find. Not just birthdays and anniversaries and Jewish holidays, but Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Fiesta, Susan B. Anthony’s birthday… Once, before I was born, you and Dad held a campaign party celebrating an imaginary candidate. You made up the most ridiculous name you could think of. You printed elaborately designed invitations, and hung red, white, and blue bunting everywhere. There was always an excuse for a party, and I used to roll my eyes at that. It seemed over-the-top, even frivolous. I’m sorry about that now, Mom. Now that you’re gone, I understand your parties in a new way. No matter what we do, life will hand us sorrow. It’s life-affirming to choose to seek joy and togetherness in the face of that truth.  I don’t own a red Chanel suit, and I’m not attending a ladies’ lunch on February 14. But I’m wearing a string of your garnet beads, and my dress today is burgundy — a cousin to red, if you squint. And on this day of red and pink paper doilies, and flower arrangements, and boxes of chocolate, I am remembering you.

Rachel Barenblat, A reason to celebrate

Light up a cigarette
and watch

the smoke write
your thoughts in the air,

this valentine,
inhale     exhale.

Claudia Serea, V-Day

The time has come to stop keeping up appearances.
Let others mourn; I did my crying as a child.
I felt the sting & dreamed of death
both given & received.
I hid a mountain of dirt beneath my clothes.
Those who knew them less well
can toss handfuls into their darkness.

Jason Crane, POEM: Abstention

— It took me a long time to let all that go. I am in my sixties now, and only just beginning to write about it all, to tell the stories. 
— I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. At first I wrote in secret notebooks, by my late teens I was going to open mic poetry readings, but I didn’t tell my family. It would just caused me new abuse; mockery.
— I went outside just before sunrise today. It was windy, and the moon was setting in the west just as the first light of the dawn was glowing in the east. Very lovely. I went inside and wrote a prose poem about it.

James Lee Jobe, 10 Things. Journal notes. 10 Feb. 2020

in the downing days of heavy time
cadillac was as strange a meme
as winsome as the movie toffees
and the longing for the other side
of any walled hillside
or the veneered panelled walls
behind which the cockroaches slept
until the fire died and we were abed
and then they came over the coal-grit
floor to eat the crumbs of the crumbs
that our meagre dinners had left ledgered
here in this corner of a neglected village
in wales
a people tipped under slag tips and
toil so numbing that the sinews of life
crystallised in grime and death that never died
in relief of times best forgotten now
for when you think of it
we cried enough dryness
to last a lifetime

Jim Young, hearth and tired

I have a cough which entered my body the way a bird or small animal would enter it flew or crawled into my mouth and inside my chest when I was standing at the beach during a windstorm my head is happy maybe the cough is a diorama in the medicine chest of my imagined illness

I’m going to go stand in the garden and yell at my tulip bulbs for a bit

Rebecca Loudon, Waking up in spite of it all which feels like spring

Besides my group this week, sketching out the beginning of a poem in one of my breaks and submitting to one journal I haven’t managed much poetry related. Besides Twitter. I have filled my Twitter feed with a mix of magazines, established and emergent writers. Some just comment on the world, many promote their books and readings, some post snippets of their writing, some post poems written by others that they love. I enjoy the latter most. I don’t buy as many poetry collections as I should and getting them in the local libraries here is almost impossible if they were written after Shakespeare. So reading online journals and poems selected by other writers is my way of keeping in touch with the poetry world and the writers I enjoy. I can fit it into small pockets of time or scroll by if I don’t want to head down a specific rabbit hole. 

Gerry Stewart, Stepping Up

When I wrote PR for Poets,  I was grappling with a terminal cancer diagnosis (my tumors have since been classified as “stable” but I still have to get them scanned every six months). I was about to get a diagnosis of MS. These things have changed how I view book promotion in my own life and also how I might write about it next time.

Since I started promoting poetry books in 2006 (I’ve had five books published since), things have changed – the technology, the realities of travel, and in my case, my health has become a constraining factor. Last year, for instance, I was invited to read at a college for money – but ended up not being able to go for health reasons. I was also invited to be a featured speaker at a lovely-looking conference in Colorado – but given how difficult travel has been with a wheelchair, and the impact on my immune system, I had to turn it down. In both cases, I offered to appear virtually, but that offer was declined. AWP is coming up, and one reason (well, besides the money AND persistent accessibility problems at the conference itself) is that the travel is so hard on my system and the rewards don’t seem like enough to balance that out. The book addresses ways to reach new audiences that don’t involve physical travel – blog book tours, for instance, or virtual appearances at book groups or colleges, as well as social media outreach – but it could have gone further.

If you, as a healthy able-bodied writer in the world – an editor or a professor or someone who runs a conference –  want to support disabled or chronically ill writers, teach their books. Encourage your students to buy books, or request their books from libraries. Give disabled or chronically ill writers chances to do phone interviews, Skype sessions, radio appearances.

The reality is, my health and disability can limit my ability to have a writer’s life – the way traditionally the writers make money from books is being invited out to speak at colleges or at readings at conferences, so if you limit your travel to, for instance, locations you can drive to because the last two times you flew you caught pneumonia or the airlines lost your wheelchair (yup, both happened to me) – you’re also limiting how much you get paid, how many audiences you reach, how many copies of the book you sell.

Or…is that still true? I started thinking harder about this. When I started promoting my first poetry book, the number one way to sell copies was to travel to readings and people would buy books there. For my second book, the best way to sell was to send out paper postcards with buying information on them. By the time my last book came out, yes, I sold books through readings and postcards, but I sold the most copies through my blog and Facebook/Twitter announcements. If the world is really getting more technology oriented – working from home, virtual meetings – then maybe the way you sell poetry books has changed, too. I think about Instagram poets, who have a million followers and sell a million books – all without even making a personal appearance.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Valentine’s Day (and Day After) and a Discussion of Book Promotion and Maintaining the Writer’s Life with a Disability or Chronic Illness

Let’s get something out of the way right from the beginning. The odds of your winning a poetry competition are dramatically increased if you enter. Simultaneously, so are the chances of losing, but not by the same amount. And I guess most of us don’t buy a Lottery ticket expecting to win. If you’re like me, you buy yourself a dream.

In earlier posts on the cobweb, I’ve riffed on my own reasons for entering competitions. First comes the dream. What next? I look out for competitions run by small publishers, because when you pay for your entry, you’re in a win-win situation. Your entry fee is going to keep these small concerns alive…I’m thinking of ones like Prole and The interpreter’s house And, of course, Yaffle, and The Red Shed . Or you may be helping to promote a small festival, like Havant. The point is, you’re not wasting your money.

Next thing is: who’ll be judging the competition. With the small presses, I don’t mind, but when it comes to medium and high-profile affairs then what’s important to me is whether I like that poet’s work. Why? Because part of the dream is not anything to do with money (and there’s often not a lot of that involved) but the thought that my work is going to be read by someone I admire and from whom I’ve learned. If the judge’s work is not the sort of thing that floats my boat, then I don’t enter, because I guess it’s more likely than not to be mutual. For example, if Pascale Petit were to judge a competition I’d enter like a shot, but not if it was someone who went in for avant-garde shapes on the page. It’s just how I am. I certainly think twice about competitions where the work is filtered by a selection committee before it reaches the star judge….The Bridport comes to mind….but they’re likely to be the ones with big prize money. Take your choice.

Is there anything else? I’m personally attracted to competitions which offer publication of your work as a prize. Some will guarantee that runners-up will appear in their magazine (as in The Rialto/ RSPB), but I’m thinking particularly of Indigo Dreams, where the prize is publication of a full collection.

Finally, some poets I know will tell me they would rather submit to magazines. My answer is always that it’s not an either/or choice. I do both. But I know I’m always less disappointed by not winning a competition than getting ‘sorry, but no thank-you’ emails from magazine editors. I get a lot of those. I suppose it’s because I don’t expect to win a competition, but I’m absolutely convinced that Magma, The Rialto and the rest would be mad not to jump at the chance of publishing my poems.

John Foggin, Poetry competitions and small presses: it’s a win-win situation

But it did get me thinking about the half life of these popular culture references. How much distance is too much distance? Is it too obscure? Does that matter if it works for the poem? Can you cover it all off with notes? Should you need to use notes?

Is a reference to a Jewson’s ad from the 80s any better or worse than say a reference to an obscure character from The Iliad? I don’t know the answer here, I’m more thinking out loud. My degree taught me that a text was a text was a text and that a text could be anything really – a Britney Spears song, The Wasteland, a painting, a chocolate bar wrapper, and so on…

I came back to these questions when I had my first initial scan of the latest issue of Rialto. I found a reference to Dr Martens in the first poem, Hannah Lowe’s ‘Pink Hummingbird’ and old school rave events like “Rain Dance, World Party, Fantasia” in ‘ ’89’, and “Marlborough (SIC??) Lights” in ‘Love’.

Each of these references work as a way of dating the time they are evoking, elsewhere in the mag Tom Paine’s excellent ‘Harmonium’ contains the line

‘Give everyone an orange popsicle, an iPhone, a garden,
and let’s go shoot some hoops? You won monopoly, okay?’

You couldn’t ask for a more contemporary set of references…well, you could, but hopefully you see what I mean. While I’m still trying to work out what’s going on in the poem, the iPhone dates it to within the last decade or so and therefore gives me some frame of reference.

What am I saying here? I don’t think I’m saying anything, I’m asking something.

I guess I’m asking what we, as writers, are thinking when we include these contemporary references in poems? Do we have half an eye on the now and half an eye on the future—both near and more distant? What will readers in eg 2120 make of a reference to iPhones or Jewsons? Should we even care?

Mat Riches, The Jewson Lot

I must spend
more time
standing in
wind learning

to fly like
sky, grasses,
leaves, learning
to let go,

to go.

Tom Montag, I MUST SPEND

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 51

Poetry Blogging Network

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

Yesterday was the solstice, Hanukkah began this evening, and Christmas is on Wednesday, so it’s no surprise that this week’s digest is full of lights in the darkness. Me, I’ve always loved the dark, so it’s probably also no surprise that a blog with a name like Via Negativa was birthed this time of year as well. It turned 16 on the 17th.

Poetry bloggers are continuing to post year-end assessments, and although I’m too disorganized to do this kind of accounting myself, it’s fascinating to see the various metrics people use to measure their writing success.


How invisible
we are. In the winter fog,
last year’s candlelight.

The sun reigns elsewhere.
Warm skins, bare feet, all small sins
that don’t leave shadows.

Magda Kapa, Moons and Stars Apart

It is dark out. The darkest I’ve ever seen. We are blindfolded and behind the wheel of a car. The fastest, most deadly car I’ve ever seen. We rush towards time, time rushes towards us. Sometimes I wonder who will be the first to relent in this metaphysical game of chicken. It is dark out. The darkest I’ve ever seen. Godspeed is the speed at which a light heart makes its own light as it travels faster than the speed of light.

Rich Ferguson, The Speed of Light

lanterns 
when the candle dies
night lives

Jim Young [no title]

There is a thread of blood
in the water, in the
fire, in the light. It is

time for light to tip
over and spill red
along the edges

of dawn, shivering
as if we are stepping
through a mirage into

water, or into Spring,
or into waking, or
into day. It is time.

P.F. Anderson, Time For Light

Midday the clouds morph from one grey-white
shape to another, shadows strong, drawn from tall
pines onto the unpaved road. What hours lie ahead
we never know. No Terce or Compline ring here,
no call to prayer but antiphon train horn
& the disturbed ducks.

Ann E. Michael, Praise

O manual, laboring handbook,
gladden the work of our hands.
We wait for peace,
but terror comes instead.
What factory fashioned the
slashing shrapnel?

Emanate
manual light, new elevation,
elicit handmade candles,
bread, bowls,
chairs,
decoys.
Carpenter, potter, baker,
emit manual glory.

Anne Higgins, The  “O Antiphons”

Near silence under the valley oaks, in California’s great valley. The only sound is the wind blowing up the delta, along the Sacramento River. It begins in the Gulf of Alaska, this wind, and spins in a vast circle that takes it far out into the northern Pacific Ocean and then back again, so that when it crosses the California coast it is actually traveling northeast. The wind then comes in through the Golden Gate, blows across the San Francisco Bay and up the wide, deep Sacramento River. As the wind reaches the park by my home it is toned down, a nice breeze, and the oak trees, naked for winter, wiggle and dance just a bit with the pine trees that are always green. Looking up, I see branches backed by the steel gray sky. Looking down I see a pine cone by my feet. Weather, from Alaska to me.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Near silence under the valley oaks’

The heap of rice glistened in the lazy slant of winter light,
her fingers flicked the stones, husked grains.

In the courtyard, the sparrows washed by the song
lapped against the wall marked with flecks of betel juice.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Terrace Concert

Darling, tonight the whole horizon
closed like a lid. The traffic sighs on
rainy tarmac, men flit like flies on

jets of wind, the river fractures,
and a streetlight manufactures
a wealth of frazzled broken textures.

So beautiful: the petrol station’s
amber flatness, the quotations
of lit shopfronts, the impatience

of running clouds. The winter races
into darkness, interlaces
bodies in its breathing spaces.

George Szirtes, Prayer for my Daughter

I sit in the quiet.
I leaf through
your cookbooks.

I remember
how you loved
the beauty shop’s bustle.

When night falls
I sing my way
through the door.

Rachel Barenblat, On the shortest day

I’ve been reading Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, to give me, yes, hope in the dark. It was first published back in 2004, so this is a third edition, published by Haymarket Books in 2016, with an updated Foreword and Afterword to give new context to hopeful thinking that continues even now. Even now.

I picked it up at the ongoing library book sale, meaning I am supporting my library and its non-profit foundation, and started reading it December 1, the beginning of Advent. This cover is perfect, bright white like stars on a dark night. When I set it down, I set it down beside a Christmas card of white lights on a snowy tree in a dark night, with “Silent Night” printed beside the image, a card from my next-door neighbor. The book is part of my holiday decorating now. Along with ebony heads from Africa and a black mask from Mexico, and a silver bird.

What’s so wonderful, comforting, and inspiring about this book is its embrace of uncertainty and its recorded knowledge of how small, steady acts of quiet resistance or concerted protest moved people to continue to act and change things. Small acts led to big changes, and that is ongoing, and I am participating in this in my own small, steady, local ways.

Kathleen Kirk, Hope in the Dark

Sometimes I wish I were more of a “holiday person,” someone who takes delight in the rituals and traditions of the season and gets excited about decorations and gifts and parties and seasonal music. I don’t know if something broke in me long ago, or if I am just naturally like this, but holidays have always been fairly meaningless to me. I’ve never cooked or hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, I’ve never held a Christmas party, and I don’t bake anything. I don’t send out holiday cards to my volunteers at work, and I could barely muster the will to see that a single, shabby Christmas tree got put up in the lobby of the hospital this year. I hate the strained conversations about what you, me or anyone else is doing for the holidays, and then afterwards, the strained conversations about what you, me or anyone else did for the holidays. I don’t know why I have so much Christmas dysthymia. Christmas never did anything to me personally. It has just always evoked in me a vague  sense of melancholy and loneliness. This is all being magnified for me this year by the fact that this will be my first Christmas without my dad, and I won’t be able to give him a can of Almond Roca or a gift certificate to Cabela’s. He loved both of those things. […]

My biggest mistake was in thinking that I had more time. You never have more time. Even though I’m not a big fan of Christmas, it is a time of coming together with people who matter in your life. Make it count. Heal what you can, if you can. Appreciate them. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that you have forever. You don’t.

Kristen McHenry, Christmas Dysthymia

I need to go to the grocery store in town this morning and I am fearing it with deep and abiding stomach clutching dread Christmas shoppers tend to be pushy and aggressive I only need to get broccoli and avocados and fruit and cheese for my Christmas dinner which over the years has become mostly a day of grazing a quiche a pumpkin pie some guacamole and chips I figure one giant meal a year that I am expected to cook is enough for me now that my life is so much smaller and so much larger ( my son asked what’s for Christmas breakfast waffles? and I burned a hole into him with my blazing eyebulbs)

I want to run a hot bath but I hear the breathing of more than one adult child I don’t know who is here I might have to tippy toe into the kitchen to make coffee and get my oatmeal going before we can all be our most beautiful selves one day into winter and I’m already longing for summer I will always be a summer girl

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

On good days I am at my desk before the sun shows up.  I watch the increasing light on my back yard tree and bushes.  Here’s what I see:

Signals on stone, light
through gaps between branches as
sun clears the mountain,
friendly wave of a morning
walker not breaking his stride.

What else do I do to honor the solstice?  I close out my summer/fall writing folder and start one for winter/spring.

Ellen Roberts Young, A Tanka for the Solstice

So I’ve cracked open the collection tonight, stepping into the cold Scottish rain again of my poems, the hard gray stone and cups of tea. The images I draw together for the cover. Wool and sand, loch and Glasgow streets. Touching the words I’ve written again. It’s like going home.

I’m looking forward to seeing this chapbook, but there’s a sense of regret to finish it, to close the book on things I’ve been working on for almost two decades. Also to not be publishing the whole collection, though these are my favourite poems from it. And the poems I’m not publishing are more difficult to face just now, stepping back into the muddied waters of my old relationship which I’m happy not to ford just now.

I’m moving slowly back into the words, to find my way through them again. 

Gerry Stewart, Going Home

I also make sandwiches for our church’s soup and sandwich run for homeless people and people in need. This is a soup run organised by all the churches in Trowbridge who work together on a rota to provide hot soup and sandwiches. Even if you’re not religious, it’s worth checking out what churches are doing in your community where you live and offering support and/or donations if you can. We donate food for our local foodbank through our church, for example. St Nicholas of Tolentino in Bristol is particularly active in the community and does amazing work but is in need of more support.

So the point of this long letter is to say where I am in person and to tell you what’s helping me get through what has been a sad time. But I am a writer (and a poet to boot!) so I am extremely used to disappointments and I am absolutely not going to feel defeated or pessimistic about anything.

Josephine Corcoran, Where I am

As 2019 closes, I managed to submit new poems to two journals. I’ve crafted about 20 new poems this year, mainly while I was in Los Angeles and London. These poems are about my mother’s death, and having distance from Atlanta certainly helped with clarity and perspective. While those poems won’t be part of my LA/San Francisco-inspired collection, they will, hopefully, begin to appear in lit mags soon.

Karen Head and I have been reading submissions for the Mother Mary Comes to Me anthology due out from Madville Publishing late next year. Submissions are open through Jan. 1, so there’s still time to submit your pop culture, Virgin Mary-inspired poems for consideration.

I travelled widely in 2019, both for poetry readings from Midnight in a Perfect World and for pleasure. LA and London were magical — especially since I got to see so many friends in the process. It was a treat to read with Dustin Lance Black at Polari (thank you, Paul Burston!) and to spend nearly two weeks writing every night with my dear friend Agnes Meadows. Sometimes you have to make your own residency.

Collin Kelley, Looking back at 2019 and ahead to 2020

When I printed them all out this afternoon, I found close to 80 pieces written this year, across  5 different series–nothing to scoff at to be sure, and certainly more than I was tallying in my head. This also did not include the last batch of zodiac poems I can never keep track of, so probably approaching 100 more likely. Poems about changelings and body image, about serial killers and mass extinctions. With so much in flux this past year, and the niggling feeling I am doing so much, but only a little bit well, I am happy to see something solid and good to show for it, especially since my visual exploits have been more stagnant outside of cover designs.  I’ve never been much for numbers for the sake of numbers, but I’m aware that the higher number of things you write in a year, the better for the actual quality–like running laps or situps–even the less inspiring ones make you stronger.

Kristy Bowen, art and productivity in 2019

I’m sorry to admit that in 2019 I’ve spent £95 on individual poem competition entries and £84 on pamphlet competitions. This was all possible because of the ‘How to submit to poetry magazines’ booklet that I wrote and published end of last year – I told myself I’d use the profit from that on poetry fees and magazine subscriptions this year. But most of it’s gone now, and with competition winnings at zero pounds I just have to think of those entry fees as donations. […]

I’ve decided that in 2020 I won’t be entering any competitions. None where you pay an entry fee, anyway. I generally spend around £75 a year on magazine subscriptions, and I’ll carry on doing this as they are the lifeblood of the poetry world. You always have something in your hand to show for a subscription, and many magazines are real works of art. I’m going to send more poems to magazines. I also want to give more time to writing generally, without trying to whip up ‘competition poems’. Maybe I can pull together a full collection. Or just write more poems on the themes I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’m leaving it open and not putting pressure on myself. But no comps for at least a year is my goal.

I know that some poets don’t enter comps at all, often because they find the idea of a ‘poetry competition’ completely at odds with the creativity of writing. I’m not sure that’s me. But I do think comps have an addictive quality (“I’ll just enter one more competition and this could be the Big One!”), and breaking the habit (for me at least) requires a complete break. Let’s see if I can stick to it.

Robin Houghton, My 2019 submissions: successes & fails | poetry blog

You can see this year I wrote in a variety of journals, each one a little different. I filled a journal about every two-and-a-half months, which is a lot of writing. I’m happy about that, satisfied with how much writing I did this year. And I’m excited to see what next year brings.

Courtney LeBlanc, Journaling

My happy news–honored above by a photo of Ursula ecstatic about catnip–is receiving a Katherine Bakeless Nason Scholarship to Breadloaf Environmental Writers Conference this June. This is also the season I gear up for book publicity, and I’m SO glad to have ONE set of dates in stone now, as I query bookstores and reading series and the like. I’m thinking I’ll roadtrip to Vermont and book a few dates at mid-points along the journey, since both the poetry collection and the novel will be out by then. I’m also applying for additional conferences, residencies, etc., which is a ton of work. I’m really grateful that of the dozen or more applications I’ve already put out there, one came through. In the spirit of making visible my shadow c.v.: I’ve also received a cartload of rejections and non-answers (if you can imagine those ghostly silences filling up a cart, anyway). That’s just the way it goes, but it’s good to have one nice shiny “yes” to light up these long dark nights.

Lesley Wheeler, Not with a whimper but a bang!

When drawing up a list of candidates for Rogue Strands’ annual list of the best U.K. poetry blogs, it soon became clear that there was no dodging the fact that 2019 was far from being a vintage year. Too many veterans, who might have faltered in the past but then returned to the fold, have finally succumbed and fallen by the wayside, while few newcomers have stepped up to the plate.

It’s worth pausing to indulge in a spot of speculation as to the reasons why. Drawing on personal experience, I have to admit that writing a blog can become a grind. That can lead you to pause, then the pause becomes a long hiatus, then a silence, and then it’s extremely tough to get back in the saddle.

And as for that feeling of the blog becoming a grind, one major issue is the feeling that you’re writing into a vacuum, especially if few comments are posted to the blog. […]

I love poetry blogging because it provides the writer and reader with a unique combination of immediacy and longevity that lies far beyond the reach of social media. For instance, if I were to take a top ten of popular posts from Rogue Strands last month, two or three would be over five years old. That’s down to the power of search engines, which continue to attract new readers to old posts, often making surprising, new connections.

In other words, I very much continue to see a strong future for poetry blogs, though they have to adapt and evolve to the changing world around them. I still waste several hours a week browsing them, and I recommend you do so too! Despite this year’s relative decline, they still offer a special blend of news, views and thought-provoking perspectives on contemporary verse.

Matthew Stewart, The Best U.K. Poetry Blogs of 2019

I’ve recently been watching the Netflix series Magic For Humans. Most of the show revolves around the magician Justin Willman stopping people in the street to perform tricks for them. They’re usually in-close tricks—coins, cards, etc rather than disappearing elephants (yet)—the audience, both in person and over television, is captivated and bewildered. And that’s where the connection to poetry comes in for me.

Willman’s magic, in part, relies on his ability to draw the audience into his world. He makes them feel welcome, safe. In short, though they may be skeptical, they trust him. His demeanor, his forthrightness, his easy smile, break through people’s built-in skeptic barrier. The audience opens up to the experience, whatever will happen. Yes, by default everyone knows it’s a trick, a series of gestures, mechanics and slight of hand to convince the viewer of the veracity of what they’re experiencing. It’s that trust that solidifies the experience, that makes it work for the viewer, even when they’re being manipulated.

For me, that’s a lot of what I look for in poetry, or what makes the poetry I like work for me.

Grant Clauser, Poetry (Magic) for Humans

We only have the days we have, and I want to spend as many of them filled with things that give me joy – poetry, spending time with friends, spending time in nature, and trying to appreciate the little things—a new song or book to love, the way the light reflects off a streetlight, or even a cat hiding in a box of presents—along the way. I laughed tonight watching Eddie Murphy on SNL and enjoyed Lizzo singing with so much joie de vivre. I sat by the fireplace and drank herbal tea and looked through pictures of the last year. We can live in fear of the unexpected tragedies and misfortunes that await us, but we can also expect unexpected beauty, humor, and happiness.  May your days have more light than darkness!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Solstice, Feeling a Little Under the Weather on the Darkest Day of the Year, Imagining 2020, and Manuscript Redux

In everything
we repeat

we repeat
everything.

That is the
poet’s duty,

to keep the wheel
in motion,

the mind moving
wind on water,

making one wave,
another.

Tom Montag, IN EVERYTHING

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 26

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: reluctant prophets, paper tearing, suntanning, finding the words, coping mechanisms, self-doubt, rejecting rejection, writing about one’s own death, writing about one’s own life, losing Jesus, the Buddha of recycling, coordinating a literary festival, thoughts on London, the gift of an empty house, poems to take camping, praise for chapbooks, praise for used bookstores, Janice Gould, poetry and current events, John Sibley Williams, the suburban gothic, and a heatwave.


in a beached whale a party of reluctant prophets

Johannes S H. Bjerg, ku 11.12 2011 (4)

Yokogami-yaburi
is Japanese for tearing paper
against the grain —
like that article you want to keep
but don’t wait for scissors
and rip into the story so the gist
is lost, or being stuck at 40
in living-the-dream, left holding the bag
of groceries or laundry or dirty diapers,
so you hide your stretch marks in a one-piece,
toss your hair like Farrah, and smile at strangers
on the beach while the kids make sand castles […]

Sarah Russell, Yokogami Yaburi

Here and now even boys
don’t swim topless, exposing chests
to the depredations of our star, but
when I walk to the condo pool for a dip
I still notice whether or not I’m in
the good tan window. And later
in the shower when I see my forearms
darker against the soft pale flesh
of my belly, I feel at home in my body.
I don’t look like you. But
after an afternoon spent dipping
into cool aqua waters festooned now
with tufts of fluff from cottonweeds,
my warmed skin comforts my touch
the way yours used to do.

Rachel Barenblat, Sun

I’ve been taking notes, wanting to return to poetry and I’m stuck in diagnosis and doctors notes and lists of possible problems. There’s words for it all though and I need to find them. Words for the NICU, the diagnosis and syndrome, the desperate sort of way she breathes even when sleeping. Her doctors say I’m doing so well. I think all you need to pass the mental health survey, given at every one of Kit’s appointments, is to not be willing to call it quits. I’d walk hot coals for this baby. Walk hot coals and eat them after! I’ll find the words soon I think, because I know there’s light here even if I can’t see where it’s coming from.

Renee Emerson, Finding the words

You’re going to see a lot of picture of smiles, hummingbirds, art, and flowers in this post, but it’s really a post this week about coping mechanisms and the realities of self-care for writers, regular people, and people with chronic illnesses that get worse in the summer.

I think this summer has been  hard on people. The news has been pretty bleak. I’ve heard from friends going through unexpected tough times, and I have been struggling with about a month of trigeminal nerve pain, as well as regular MS symptoms that generally get worse during summer. I’m also shopping two books around, which means I’ve been getting rejections for not just my regular poetry submissions, but books as well. There’s record heat around the world, and right now, wildfires near where several of my friends in Alaska live. So that’s where my own survival skills, self-care skills if you will, come in.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Summertime of Art Galleries, Hummingbirds, Haircuts: Self-Care During Hard Times

I had a rough time getting started this summer and tried slogging doggedly through the doubt. Then I put myself on a course of related and unrelated reading, and that helped more. Reading is the best tonic I know (which probably explains some things about my career choice). I finished a draft of the short project that was killing me, put it aside, and then moved onto work that feels more congenial. This is a standard cycle in my writing life, and some combination of grit and rest always gets me through it, eventually.

The self-doubt that I find hardest isn’t about my relationship to the work itself. It’s about my relationship to other people. Like the juvenile giant squid in the video above, I’m both curious and wildly reticent. I’d much rather submit work towards publication or a grant from a distance, say, than approach an editor in person, at a conference. I’ve shied away from conversations and connections that might have helped me about a zillion times. And when you’re a middle-aged woman without influential mentors, no one’s rushing to hand you opportunities because you’re doing such good work in your quiet corner of the deep. I mean, it happens–I’ve put the work out there steadily, and sometimes nabbed a win–but it would happen more if I didn’t sabotage myself and hide in the murk. I’ve vowed to do better, especially with new books coming along. I WILL put myself and my work forward, because I DO believe in it fiercely. We’ll see.

Lesley Wheeler, Dear poetry professor: self-doubt

Summer is officially here and we have colorful plants blooming to show for it.  Cathy gets truly excited with plants in summer. I think she gets that from her grandmother – who was affectionately known as granny. When I leave in the morning or when I come home in the evening I am greeted by colorful unfolding nature before my eyes. I confess I love this. I love knowing that she loves gardening with flowers too.  By the way, we have tomatoes on our tomato plants (our one cash crop). 

I had a rejection of poems in a contest since my last confession.  I don’t often dwell on rejections. I am sure this was a form one too. But it did happen to be the same place that  I once received a form rejection with a handwritten note that said,  “you were close.”  But, I digress, the part of this rejection that caught my fancy was as follows… “We strongly believe that a poem’s value is not determined by its publication, or by the selection or non-selection by a limited group of readers. The editors urge you to wholeheartedly reject this rejection, and send these poems out again and write some new poems, and sent them out too.”  I confess this made me smile. 

Michael Allyn Wells, A Little Slice of Confession Tuesday

Where is James? I haven’t seen him lately.”
He tripped and fell off the curb
Into a thousand foot abyss and went splat
On the perfect granite boulders below.
Splat flat, man. It happens.
He swallowed a sickness into his lungs
And wheezed until the dark angels came
To drag him away again.
The last thing anyone heard
Was some intense coughing up in the sky.
Or maybe the coughing was down below,
Deep inside the earth. One or the other.

James Lee Jobe, poem – “Where is James? I haven’t seen him lately.”

While I’m comfortable writing about my life, I’m not comfortable with opening my self to being explored in my writing. Cracking open a nut to find the insides too bitter. I’m trying not to shy away from the challenge these prompts are placing in front of me, but I can feel myself resisting. My writing is too pat, contrite lines trying to sum things up when there’s no exact answer. 

It all depends on my mood, what’s happening around me, a multitude of things that can tip my attitude one way or the other. Writing daily on a variety of subjects can capture this, the wildly swinging up and down of my moods, my opinion of my self.

I’ve been meeting online a few writers who write a daily haiku or short poem and post them as a kind of diary. My daily writing works in the same way, I guess, though I don’t always share them. It’s interesting to see the ebb and flow of my thoughts. This blog written over the last weeks also shows that flitting. 

I’ve been talking on here about struggling to find outlets and my support for my work. I find sometimes when you complain about something out-loud, verbalise the frustration or pain, the knot eases in some unexpected way. I started this blog originally to lay out some of the issues I was having with conceiving my last child, the guilt and grief, but shortly after starting, I conceived after years of trying. So the blog eventually changed to be about writing.

Gerry Stewart, Writing Your Life

But life itself came tumbling in – a cavalcade of
           catcalls,
           whistles,
           brickbats,
           silk ropes
           and roses.
And one day he wasn’t there at all.
Instead, out on the road, across the fields,
over the trees, in the sky,
           everything else was.

Dick Jones, Holy Writ

A Buddha appeared by the side of the freeway in Redwood City in the past year or so. I’ve long wondered about it, so yesterday I found my way over to see it up close. As I circumambulated it respectfully, I was surprised to see what was on the other side of the pedestal: An opening containing two dumpsters for the office building next door. Irreverent? Maybe. But then I considered that recycling and garbage is an essential part of the universe, no less than lotuses and Buddhas. Why wouldn’t the Buddha sit serenely atop a trash container? Or anywhere else, for that matter?

tending the garden ::
the trees this mulch was
and will be

D. F. Tweney, Someone asked the eminent Vietnamese Zen master Tue Trung: “What is the purified Dharmakaya?” He replied: “Buffalo dung and cow urine.”

So excited to have my poem “glass-bottom boat” published in Juniper – A Poetry Journal’s current Summer 2019 issue. The issue includes a lovely variety of poems and is worth spending some time reading through.

This year has been a whirlwind of Utah Arts Festival coordination as their Literary Arts and WordFest program director. You may have noticed I had to take a break from posting on my blog and interacting on social media while I pulled together all the details, performers, and such for workshops, a literary stage, and a kids art yard program. Everything went very well and it was an amazing adventure. I met so many talented writers along the way and it truly was an honor and a pleasure. That said, I’m glad to be back! Regular posting is about to commence! I’ve really missed my blog and the online poetry community.

Juniper is a new online poetry journal, published three times a year, in February, June and October. I love the simple, yet pleasing design of this web-based journal. It’s easy to navigate and easy to read. You can read more about Juniper in my interview with founding editor Lisa Young. They reopen for submissions September 1.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “glass-bottom boat” published in Juniper – A Poetry Journal + I’m back after a break!

I spent two amazing weeks in London earlier this month. It was my first time back to the UK since 2014, and I was worried that the city would have changed so much that I wouldn’t recognize it. Yes, there are more skyscrapers, Battersea Power Station is becoming a luxury mixed-use development and Crossrail (or the “Elizabeth line” as it will be called) is still under construction, but it also felt fabulously the same. I slipped right back into the hustle and bustle of it all and it was fantastic to be there again. […]

The biggest highlight was reading with Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black, who has a new memoir called Mama’s Boy, at the Polari Literary Salon at Southbank Centre. Angela Chadwick read from debut novel XX and Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott read from her entertaining novel Swan Song. Paul Burston reallyl knows how to curate an evening and is the most dapper host. He’s also got a new thriller novel, The Closer I Get, which is getting rave reviews. It was wonderful to be in such company and the audience was spectacularly responsive and attentive. I was satisfied at how well the poems from Midnight in a Perfect World were received and that Foyles sold so many copies.

I must also add a word about my friend, poet and novelist Agnes Meadows, who always so kindly puts me up at her flat while I’m in London. One of my favorite bits of this trip was our evening trips up to the N1 Centre for coffee and writing time at Pret (love the flat whites and brownies). I wrote seven new poems during our evening retreats, and I am chuffed. Agnes also challenged me to go in drag to Loose Muse, the open mic for women she’s been hosting for 16 years. Men are welcome to read, but they must come in drag. No man had ever taken Agnes up on the offer until I agreed to do it. My alter ego was named Dame Colleen.

Collin Kelley, Thoughts on London and what lies ahead

Sometimes it’s sad when everyone leaves but sometimes it’s just what you need.  It’s not always possible to go away to write, on a course or retreat or holiday.  Even if you can afford it, even if it’s free or subsidised, it’s just not always possible – for many reasons, commitments, time or ability constraints – to leave your home and set up camp somewhere with nothing to do but attend to your notebooks.  Last week, for four whole days, I had the house to myself, my family all away doing their own thing. I got a lot done.  Not so much new work but a chance to sit with newish poems and give them some careful attention, free of all distractions.

Perhaps it was simply because the timing was right for me, for once.  It’s not that I don’t already have plenty of free time.  This year, I’ve had a pretty clear calendar and many opportunities to write and I have been accumulating poems but in a rather messy fashion.  But, recently, we’ve had more than the usual amount of admin to do, fetching and carrying people and belongings, family stuff, and my need to be alone has been growing, building a kind of tension that put the brakes on my creativity. Somehow, knowing I wasn’t alone in the house, even if Andrew was at the bottom of our garden in his office, interfered with my work-flow.  An uncluttered four days alone has meant that I’ve taken a clear-headed look at what I’m writing, organised poems into folders on my computer, even put together a submission to a magazine. It feels like a massive relief.

Josephine Corcoran, The gift of an empty house

Yesterday on Twitter I posed the idea that I’d like to do an anthology of poems to take camping. Why? Because when I go camping, I always take books of poems—usually poems that go along with the whole getting groovy with nature feeling of camping. I once told Jane Hirshfield that I’d taken her book Given Sugar, Given Salt on a camping trip, and she seemed to think that was an appropriate book for the woods.

Much of my own writing begins in the woods (either in reality or in my head). I don’t go camping nearly as much as I’d like to, but when I do I always turn to poems, peacefully reading under the trees, under the stars, with campfire smoke or fireflies drifting around me, or hiding in the tent because it’s raining. In my day job as an editor for a technology review site I spend hours sitting in front of two computers, each with about 50 tabs open. To escape from that mania I need to get out of town and out of my head.

But still, why? There are several good anthologies of nature poetry and ecopoetry. What would this camping anthology do differently. I see it as a book to help you get out of town—whether you’re already sitting next to a campfire or sitting in your living room. On my last camping trip I took Jim Harrison’s posthumous collection Dead Man’s Float, Song by Brigit Pegreen Kelly, and Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. For this hypothetical anthology I envision poems that help a person get into the spirit of being out in nature, poems that examine or celebrate it, poems that help us ask questions of ourselves, of the world. Poems to experience the experience.

Grant Clauser, Words for the Woods, or Whatever

A good chapbook packs a punch. It’s tidy, compelling, digestible. A good chapbook is a joy and inspiration, and leaves one wanting more…but just as happy not to have it. A good chapbook invites a second read.

Look at Nickole Brown’s fantastic To Those Who Were Our First Gods. When I say it’s a page-turner, I don’t mean I was eager to turn the page, but rather, I was eager to linger, and then to find out what the next page had to offer.

A chapbook by Frank Bidart was a finalist for the Pulitzer. But that was back in the early 2000s. I’m not sure any other chapbooks have received that much industry love. […]

In this time of short attention spans, isn’t the chapbook just the right thing — a subway ride, a coffee cup, and, if it’s the right size, shoved into the other back pocket where the cell phone isn’t. Plus a small size would make the book feel inviting even to the poetry-shy. Such a cunning little thing, this book of poems, approachable, nibble-able, something you can cup in your hands, a butterfly, a bird.

Marilyn McCabe, Little Red Corvette; or, In Praise of the Chapbook

First editions, clean and jacketed?
I prefer those lived with,
lived in, a note card
slipped between pages.

I see myself in a used bookstore,
on a back shelf, loose cover,
yellow pages, among books not
classified: is it history, is it

romance, is it worth the paper
it’s printed on? The bookseller
does not come to dust.

I lean against another
volume, convinced there are
worse ends than this.

Ellen Roberts Young, Booklover

Janice Gould, beloved Koyoonk’auwi (Concow) poet, friend, musician, and teacher, left our realm on 6/28/19. Headmistress Press joins with others in our grief at losing her much too soon, and our deep condolences to her beloved partner. We are proud that we published two of Janice’s books, “The Force of Gratitude” & “Seed.” Her words will ring their truth forever. The last time we spoke with her, Janice said, I would still love to meet you and talk with you.  I so appreciate what your press has done for my poetry.

River

How strong this channel has become,
the river widening at the bend,
creating shoals and back currents,
where chilly water will be warmed
by sun, and willows sprout
along the graveled shore. I hear
bees among the blackberries,
can smell their prickly fragrance,
and some days I think I see her
on the other side, near the edge,
surveying the wild current, noticing
how the wind rips along the surface of water.
She watches all that shining where forces collide—
otherwise known as my heart.

Risa Denenberg, Janice Gould, 1949-2019

Long ago, before I wrote poetry in a serious way, my favorite, much loved undergraduate English professors declared that there had never been good poetry that wrote about current events.  She talked about how aesthetically bad all the anti-Vietnam war poetry was.

She taught British Literature, and she was much more likely to spend time with Wordsworth and Coleridge than any poet still alive.  It would be much later that I would discover that one could write compelling poetry about current events, poetry that was both powerful and aesthetically admirable.

Rattle has a feature called Poets Respond, which it describes this way:  “At least every Sunday we publish one poem online that has been written about a current event that took place the previous week. This is an effort to show how poets react and interact to the world in real time, and to enter into the broader public discourse.”  I’ve often thought that it would be a cool practice to write one poem a week and submit it, but I often don’t do that.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I wrote not one, but two poems that dealt with the crisis at the border.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry and Current Events

John Sibley Williams’ As One Fire Consumes Another presents a familiar world full of burnings carried out on both the grand and intimate scale. The newspaper-like columns of prose poetry provide a social critique of the violent side of American culture centered within the boundaries of self and family. Although an apocalyptic tension permeates throughout, these poems envision the kind of fires that not only provide destruction but also illuminate a spark of hope.  
“Dust rises from the road & there is
too much curve to resolve the edges
of embankment & asphalt. Backfire
keeps the pastureland carefully lit.
Static keeps us wanting for another
kind of song.”
— from “Story that Begins and Ends with Burning

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams

I worked with something similar in the shared properties of water and stars--that dark shadow sitting squat under suburbia, but this project is more personal and grounded in my experience as a child who loved horror and grew up in the 70’s & 80’s. Last spring, one of the speakers at the pop culture conference on horror touched on the definition of the gothic–how even in the Victorian ages, it’s appeal lie in a safe way to transcend the relative safety of the middle class.  If we were comfortable–not in actual danger–we sought out ways to experience similar danger from a a safe remove.

When I was a teen, I had all these romantic fantasies that involved whatever boy I was crushing on at the time saving me from something–a disaster, a plague, a plane crash. the apocalypse.  It was a twisted princess fantasy I suppose–the prize not so much security, but survival.

“Sometimes, I’m swimming and there’s a body, floating bloated in the water. I scream and the man who saves me gets to have me.  Which is pretty much the plot to everything.”

The rush of being afraid, that rush of endorphins was similar to that of love.  Or at least my fevered teenage mind thought so.

And of course, imagined fears only go so far in touching on the REAL fears of suburbia–kidnappings, rapes, school shootings. (less prevalent, of course, in my years, but viewable in the lens now.)  But even these need a safe distance–survivors of actual trauma do not always like horror (with a few exceptions). All the urban legends we think we’re are afraid of vs. the very real things there are to be frightened of. 

What I wound with is a series of vignettes mixed with personal experience, something not quite just prose poems, not quite lyric essay, also something that, by presence of myself as “writer” addressing you, as a “reader” becomes a little bit meta.–an echo to victorian gothicism. 

Kristy Bowen, the terrible place and suburban gothic

When people ask where I come from
I say a small market town on the edge of the Pennines.
We have the usual mix of good luck and suicides.
Occasionally farmers are arrested
for growing cannabis in barns.
It’s not the sort of place where the sax
is commonly heard in the street.

The writing workshop at Café Crème
was cancelled tonight.
They’re digging up the road
and the electricity’s off.
Nothing for it but to sit here trying to write.

‘This is a shit poem,’ I say when you come in.
‘Well, it’s a shit saxophonist,’ you say. ‘What do you expect?’

Julie Mellor, Heatwave

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 23

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week found poetry bloggers pondering existential themes: being at home, surviving, healing, cultivating acceptance, dealing with digital ghosts, coming to terms with evil, learning from trees, (not) procrastinating, being whole.


No matter the journey. No matter other roads taken. No matter you misplaced the map of your life behind a wheel of grief. No matter you took a multitude of detours.

Because as you look out the plane window, you understand the agency of this place. How it has been etched in your mind over decades of slow accrual through streams you have fished, forests you have hiked, mountains you have climbed, lakes you have swam in, oceans you have sailed.

And how like its great river that flows to the sea, it also flows through you, and you call it by name—home.

Carey Taylor, Return Flight

It seems to me that all the poets I originally gravitated towards, and whose books I bought were ‘northern’. Or, at the least, not metropolitan. When they weren’t self-evidently ‘northern’ they were ‘regional’; they came with distinct voices that could not be described as RP, and would lose something important if they were read in RP…and I guess that what they would lose would be music, rhythm, texture. I’ve shared the idea with other writers that this poetry was somehow more ‘committed’, less inclined to be ironic, more inclined to wear its heart on its sleeve. I know it’s teetering on the edge of a generalising sentimentality, but I’m trying hard to be honest, to nail some kind of felt truth. One of my northern poet friends opined that ‘metropolitan’ poetry was ‘too cool for school’, that it prided itself in its avoidance of a felt emotional engagement. I don’t know if that’s accurate or fair. But something about it resonates enough for me to want to try to pin down that elusive idea of ‘north’ and ‘northernness’.

Let’s start with ‘accent’, and (predictably) with a quotation from Tony Harrison’s ‘Them and Uz’.

“All poetry (even Cockney Keats?) you see 
‘s been dubbed by [ɅS] into RP, 
Received Pronunciation please believe [ɅS] 
your speech is in the hands of the Receivers”

Harrison spoke for tens of thousands of us who, in the 50’s, were harried for our accents in the Grammar Schools we sat scholarships to get into. It goes deeper than accent…which we can train ourselves to change. It springs from lexis, the words themselves, their resonance, their heft and texture. All the Old English, Germanic, Scandinavian words.

John Foggin, Northwords: Bob Beagrie

It took a long time to get here,
sailing, drifting, 
and dreaming, curled,

homesick 
and world-sick,

so much alike,
the young and the old.

Past lives peeled off like skins,
and I turned and tumbled and traveled

only to find myself 
in front of these closed gates.

Claudia Serea, Young/Old

I started counting the months that we’ve been recovering.  We’re mostly recovered in the big house, except for some of the difficult decisions about what comes back in the house from the cottage.  But the cottage needs serious attention, and I am just so tired.

I’m also thinking of a poem I wrote years ago.  I got the title from a powerful essay by Philip Gerard that appears in one of the very first books about how to teach creative non-fiction.  My poem was written years after after Hurricane Wilma (which wreaked devestation in 2 months after Katrina, just after we had finished up our hurricane Katrina clean-up) when I found myself weeping in the car, flooded by post-hurricane despair, even though the clean-up had been done and regular life mostly restored:

What They Don’t Tell You About Hurricanes

You expected the ache in your lazy
muscles, as you hauled debris
to the curb, day after day.

You expected your insurance
agent to treat
you like a lover spurned.

You expected to curse
your bad luck,
but then feel grateful
when you met someone suffering
an even more devastating loss.

You did not expect
that months, even years afterwards
you would find yourself inexplicably
weeping in your car, parked
in a garage that overlooks
an industrial wasteland.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Hurricane Season Begins

I spent almost a whole day going to my hematologist down at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. My doctor there I have known for fifteen years. The last time we talked it was when we thought I might be dying of liver cancer, and we talked about safe biopsies and chemo and surgery obstacles. This time I brought her my newest book and we discussed my mild anemia (she’s worried about it, but I’m not) and MS drug risks and pain drugs and pain clinic consultations. I sat in the reclining chairs watching the beautiful Puget sound blue by all the people getting chemo and waiting to get chemo. I wound through the blood lab around patients much worse off than me. It gives you perspective, these kinds of visits. The doctor, which was very unusual, gave me a hug at the end of the appointment. It felt like a blessing, a sort of hopeful encouragement. I walked out into the rainy early evening, feeling the ghost of my previous experiences, of the fear of death, and the gratefulness of feeling alive.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poems Up at WordGathering, Woodinville Wine Country, and a Day at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

I walked up to Renshin afterward and said: I have a problem with this idea. There is a similar concept in Byron Katie, that you can’t argue with life because it’s perfect exactly as it is. And it shows up in all kinds of Zen books. It makes a certain kind of sense, and it does help in achieving a certain level of equanimity. But it’s one thing for me to apply that insight to my own life, another thing entirely to tell someone else that.

Ah, but you’re making a big jump there, Renshin said. Who said anything about telling someone else what to do or what to think?

And then she added: Watch out for that first step – it’s a doozy.

I was briefly stunned. She had in fact identified something about the way my particular mind works, and showed it to me in a few seconds of casual conversation. All I could think to do was bow.

Later, as I was leaving, I was sort of backing out the front door of the church while saying goodbye to a few people in the breezeway. And I almost fell over because there was a step down from the door – a tiny little step.

stumbling ::
the gap between the sky
and the ground

D. F. Tweney, Watch out for that first step

So how can I react to these digital ghosts and the griefs they awaken: online reminders of my wedding, or of my mother who has died, or of friendships that evaporated or hopes that didn’t come to pass? The only answer I have is to feel whatever I feel — the sorrow, the wistfulness, the regret — and to thank my heart for its capacity to feel both the bitter and the sweet.

And I can choose to be real, even in digital spaces. Even when what’s real is a hurt or an ache, a memory or a sorrow. Because I think being real with ourselves and one another is what we’re here for in this life. Because I think spiritual life asks our authenticity. Because life is too short for pretense. Because being real comes with its own blessings, its own reward.

Rachel Barenblat, Fragments: digital ghosts, gratitude, and grief

Here is what I want you to know about the silence, still as death and colder: it moved from you to me, see, here in this bonecage gone titanium, this immune system propped by goblin armies:
 
couplets emerge from scar, relentlessly enjambed. This body is a verse form dealing with both loss and love, but choked by anaphylaxis there is no scheme. The poet’s moniker appears at the end.
 
Once I took you all the way in, once I choked. They are peculiar twins, vulnerability and memory: I am made and remade as neural network linking like things, a synesthesia.

JJS, June 4, 2019: Ghazalish, The Flood

John Sibley Williams’ As One Fire Consumes Another presents a familiar world full of burnings carried out on both the grand and intimate scale. I love the way the newspaper-like columns of prose poetry in his work provide a social critique of violence in American culture while working within the boundaries of self, family, and the natural world. The book permeates an apocalyptic tension, but what makes it so great is the way in which his poems envision the kind of fires that not only provide destruction but also illuminate a spark of hope.  And I also interviewed Williams about his book, which will be coming out on NBP podcast soon (seems like most of my poetry reading is focused around my podcasting work these days).  

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: May 2019

There was a rash of gang shootings in Seattle over the last month, and my precious, gentle friend and co-worker recently saw the fresh body of a seventeen-year-old kid shot to death, bleeding out on the sidewalk at the hospital campus she works at. I didn’t realize the extent of her trauma until a recent get-together with my colleagues from my hospital’s other campuses. My co-worker is someone who I would consider a classic “good person,” a warm, kind human being who is probably a little too trusting. Part of her trauma came from the shock of seeing true evil at play. 

I am coming to realize that it’s been been a luxury for me to go through life believing that people are essentially good. We hear about horrible things happening all of the time, but until we come face to face with them, they remain more or less theoretical. We can’t really process that human beings have darkness and savagery within them until we see something like that. And because we don’t see it in other people, it’s very hard to see it in ourselves. And that’s the really dangerous part. In trying to process this local tragedy, I spent the morning listening to a podcast about the much bigger and far more atrocious My Lai massacre. It drove home to me how important it is to not get complacent about our own potential for evil. Believing that humanity is essentially good is dangerous and foolish. We have to face the truth of who we are as human beings and be vigilant, or we will fall to prey to savagery, violence and acts of inhumanity, no matter how “good” we convince ourselves we are. 

Kristen McHenry, Good People, Dark Places

A great deal of thought and planning had gone into the manner of the preservation of Bergen-Belsen. The absence of any of the accommodation huts, the vehicle parks, the workshops, the guards’ quarters, the administrative buildings that had once filled the grim estate and the restitution of the heathland and copses that had gone under their foundations creates a powerfully moving sense of a territory both haunted by the unendurable horrors of the past and yet now salved and dignified by nature. It’s an extraordinary place – an eloquent testimony both to utter destruction and tenacious survival. I shall never forget our quiet, slow day amongst the harebells and the graves.

ARTEFACTS

There is the heaped equality
of spectacles, the comfort
of linked arms –
wire, gold and tortoiseshell,
the white opacity
of the tilted lens.

There is the kicking scramble
of empty shoes, piled
like bean pods, shelled
of movement, scuffed and dusty
from the longest walk
in the world.

There is the hollow clothing,
the empty-handed gloves,
the headless hats and cap,
the hanks of hair, bagged,
sprung teeth in boxes,
stamped and labelled.

Bones we know;
we scrambled up and out
of the millennium
on bones.  These clothes,
these artefacts endure,
undiminished, unconsumed.

Dick Jones, BERGEN-BELSEN

I’ve been thinking about trees because I’m reading Peter Wohlleben’s 2016 book The Hidden Life of Trees. The text reads like a friendly forester inviting readers to learn what he loves about trees and their encounters with us, with the environment (soil, air, sun, water, pollutants, pests, fungi), and with one another. I have to say I remain somewhat skeptical about the scientific veracity of his source material, but I do enjoy his warm enthusiasm for his subjects and his reminders that we humans don’t know even the smallest fraction of what goes on in the planet’s interconnected and unplumbed depths.

Although some critics object to what they see as too much anthropomorphism in Wohllebehn’s book, his use of the analogy of the human and the tree “bodies” makes his information about how trees and forests work easy to grasp.

For science nerds, there are other texts. The Hidden Life of Trees is meant to make the less scientifically-inclined reader more aware of his or her environment, to convince the average human being to consider plant life more consciously.

~

I take many photos of trees; and they appear in my poems pretty regularly, not as main characters but in supporting roles–not symbolic, but actual. Wohllebehn’s book may influence my work somehow…possible inspiration? But then, the trees themselves, especially the oldest ones, are inspiration enough.

Ann E. Michael, Trees

This is a beautiful and gentle book.  It does not claim to be poetry, but it is written by a poet and it begins with a powerful image, comparing the children of a large family to pansies, which “are a persistent breed.  They take to the same soil, year after year.”  If you didn’t read the back of the book it would take you until the third of these finely crafted vignettes to find out what is going on; this is the story of a compassionate woman who needs a babysitter and ends up learning about a sub-culture very different from her own.  The young woman she hires teaches her bit by bit about another way of living, of understanding one’s place in the world.

Young people, who only hear bad stories about different peoples, such as Muslims or unwanted immigrants, should read this book.  So should those who are older and weary of bad news.  The writing is concise, elegant, and honest about the narrator’s mistakes and misunderstandings, as well as about the limits to the relationship.

No, these are not prose poems, but they are close cousins.  I will share it with my poetry group and I expect that they will like it as well as I do.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Pansies by Carol Barrett

When we were in our first years of library programming endeavors, people often wondered how we had so many ideas.  For workshops, for panels, for focus topics.  What I didn’t share were the back burners, or the ones that were a little too costly or the effort vs result ratio was poor.  I have suggestions for workshop ideas in my notebook that have been there for 3 or more years that I’m still hoping to make happen down the line. And maybe they’ll happen, or maybe they’ll get pushed out of the way by newer, better ideas.

In my notebook, there is a page full of tiny post-its for art projects, another with writing projects.   Another with anthology projects and other press doings.  Another with crafty things I’d like to make for the shop.  This is all in addition to the half finished things–like unusual creatures, postcards from the blue swallow, the mermaid anthology, swim. They stand like a weight in my other hand while the things I do finish or see to the end balance in the other.  I try not to let them get too out of whack, otherwise I flounder about feeling like I never finish anything I’ve started.  But I remind myself I do.  Just not those particular  things.

Kristy Bowen, on ideas, and too many of them

This also made me remember something that happened in (or to) my writing life many years ago. My daughters were young, I had my first full-time teaching job, and I told a writing friend that I would write…later. I may have said that maybe I wouldn’t ever get back to writing. In any case, I gave the clear impression that despite an MFA in poetry and all my huge writing goals, which my friend knew all about, I was going to put off writing.

She wrote me a letter — old school, sat down and wrote it in long-hand and mailed it to me (of course, that happened more often back then, but we did have email). She said something like this:

No one cares if you write. The world is not going to come and pound on your door and insist that you write. No one will miss it if you don’t write. They won’t even know. Meanwhile, life will unfold. You’ll get older. You’ll get farther and farther from your writing dreams. Eventually you’ll say to your grandchildren, “I used to write.” But your grandchildren won’t especially care either. It makes no difference whether you write or not. EXCEPT TO YOU. A place inside YOU will dry up and never be expressed if you don’t write. YOU will miss it. YOU will care. The only way to keep your writing alive, to keep this important part of yourself alive, is to write.

I probably have this letter somewhere. I should have framed it. I took it seriously (even though it was like that small, inner voice that I so often don’t heed). And I kept writing. Often, I didn’t have much time; I had little kids for a lot of years; I had a teaching career; I had teenagers and a mother who was ill. Nonetheless, I made a little time every day and I wrote. Some days the little bit of time turned into enough time.

And it has mattered. It has mattered to me. Writing has sustained me and saved me and even made things like parenting and teaching richer and more enjoyable. I am glad that I kept writing.

Bethany Reid, Procrastination Kills

A hot day. That’s OK. If I hated the heat I wouldn’t love the Sacramento Valley like I do. I like a hot, dry summer and a cool, wet winter. 

There’s a lot going on. There’s my two on-going poetry reading series. There’s the events I attend as poet laureate, another one tomorrow. I am giving a reading in Sacramento this coming Monday. The homeless shelter where I volunteer as a board member is always active. My church is always active. My wife and I are part of an extended family group that I love very much. And then there’s all the chores that I put off. Never put off for tomorrow the procrastination you can do today.

And I love all those things. But what do I love best? Simply being. I meditate twice a day, write poems, wander around town. There’s a park right across the street from my house. I can watch the light changing against the huge pine trees as the hours pass. There’s an owl – at least one. At night, when it’s cool I like to go out there and listen for the owl. 2 AM, 3 AM, just whenever I happen to wake up. I see what the clouds and the moon are up to. Then I go back to bed.

And you?

James Lee Jobe, Journal Update – 04 June 2019

That Poem You Wrote

             is only half of something unsaid
hold it                next to the mirror
             so that it looks                 whole

do you look whole?      how

             can you tell?

Romana Iorga, That Poem You Wrote

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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.

The end of Poetry Month last week prompted not just progress reports and posts about favorite books and poems, but also led a number of poets to ponder larger questions about productivity, ambition, and the nature of work. Several wrote about sleep and insomnia, and others talked about the importance of writing in community. And as usual there were a few miscellaneous posts that didn’t really fit anywhere but were too damn fun to leave out. Enjoy.


Today I clicked on a random link to a recent poem in a fancier journal (someone liked it, I’m not sure why) and reading through was kind of embarassed for the journal for publishing it.  (and kinda for the dude for writing it.) It committed the cardinal sin in my poetry church–the breaking of sentences into lines with no real “poetry” quality about it except it looked like one on the page.  Also, it was boring, and in places abstract and cliched. The venue in question misses the mark quite a bit, but this was supposed to be one of the poetry world darlings, someone who people hold up as an idol (not me, but other people).  I started laughing and literally could not stop for about 5 minutes.

I realized for every time I think to myself, question myself, that I do not know what I’m doing…my own work, even at it’s very throwaway worst was far better than this sampling.  That yes, maybe I totally DO know what I’m doing and am doing it pretty damn well.  And in fact all of us–poet friends, dgp authors, the mss. I help out with –ALL of us are doing so much better than this fancy poet with our work.  If this came across my desk as an editor it would be an immediate “no” not even a “maybe.”  I’ve met poets who have been writing for a year or less who are considerably stronger than this.  Don’t worry, we got this.

Kristy Bowen, poet pep talk # 786

We can get used to all sorts of fashions and default settings in poetry, getting comfortable with psalms, and sestinas, and free verse, and minimalism, and stanzaic bits of ekphrasis and sonnets, and narratives. Which reminds me of a writing course I went on where elegant lyricism and exquisitely crafted velleities were the name of the game, and, en passant, one lady of letters remarked, languidly enough: ‘The anecdotal, the bus-stop conversation, has its own charm.’ by which I understood that it has no place in serious poetry at all.

This set me to think of my own predilection for narrative in poetry, and my inability to engage with, or be engaged by, self-referential stylistic games with fleeting moments, and the fragility of, say, a lemon. It also made me think of what does engage me. Emotional and intellectual surprise and challenge… that grabs me. I like novels like ‘The Name of the Rose’, and ‘Tristram Shandy’. I like MacCaig’s outrageous similes. I like the Metaphysicals. I like early Tony Harrison. I like ‘The Waste land’. I like to be out of my comfort zone, put slightly off -balance; I like creative disturbance. And so I came to like Yvonne Reddick’s idiosyncratic take on the world and its multifariousness.

The first time I met her was (regular readers, you can now roll your eyes and get it over with) at a Poetry Business Writing Day. After all, that’s where I get all my new poetry and poets. I may be wrong, but I think that was the one where she brought a distinctly eccentric poem to workshop. The title gives you due warning: Holocene Extinction Memorial. Nineteen irregular stanzas, each of which might be an idiosyncratic label in a room full of unnervingly strange exhibits.

‘The Indefatigable Galapagos Mouse from Indefatigable Island wants to be invincible’

‘The Hacaath of Vancouver struggle with smallpox’

‘The quagga hopes Burchell’s zebra remembers her’

I have no idea if she made some of them up, or all, or none; I could Google them but I have no desire to find out. The thing is, she read with such emphatic conviction that I had no choice but to be convinced. I have no idea if anyone else was as taken as I, or even if it was ‘a Good Poem’. All I know is  it was unexpected, and memorable, and that’s not the case with everything you hear in a workshop. It was like the poem equivalent of the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford before it was tidied up and curated into rationality. Like the cabinets of curiosities beloved of the incumbents of Victorian rectories.

John Foggin, A polished gem revisited: Yvonne Reddick

I have returned to the poems in QUANTUM HERESIES many times in the last two months. How can a debut  collection of poems be so arresting, so superb?  One answer is that Mary Peelen has been hard at work on her craft for years; she is not a dilettante but rather a true poet. Also, she has lived a fascinating and hard-won life.

Take for example these lines from “String Theory,”

Here at the horizon of theoretical extinction,
we cut flowers for the table.

We sing the way weary mourners do,
praising geometry as if miracles could happen.

The environment, mathematics, love, and loss in two couplets. I am in awe of these lines and from many other poems as well including: “x”, “Unified Theory,” and “Sunday Morning” to name but a few stellar examples of Peelen’s deft and spare language.

Elizabeth Bishop once said that what she liked best in a poem was “to see a mind in motion.” And she then added that this was of course an impossibility. That the poems that did their best to mirror the mind’s movement were working hard to display such ease.

Susan Rich, Mary Peelen’s QUANTUM HERESIES is here and you want to read it!

I confess that I love finishing books because it gives me a chance to move to another one on my to read pile. That pile grows like the National Debt. But I’ve finished another and will be looking to start another. I’ve finished reading The Veronica Maneuver by Jennifer Moore.  I will be doing a review of the book soon. (adding to my growing to do list).

Goat Yoga. There is such a thing. I kid you not. (no pun intended) Yesterday I joined others at Paradise Park for a session of goat yoga. The cute little things wander around among us and challenge our focus. They will occasionally have accidents. My mat was missed by inches. Their poop looks like Raisinets.  See photo to right. Aside from, the experience was fun and we did get some light yoga in, which at this stage is about where I am at in the yoga experience overall.  Anyone who knows me well quite possibly knows my affinity towards goats.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – OM to the Goats Edition

Jeannine Hall Gailey’s terrifyingly useful PR For Poets is packed with ideas completely new to me, even though this is my third book. (Or fifth, depending on how such things are counted.) […]

Like nearly every other writer I know, I’m a friendly hermit with a serious allergy* to self-promotion. So I didn’t follow most of Jeannine’s good advice, like developing a PR kit or getting a headshot. But her book did foster another idea. “Hide in the house,” I said to myself. “Make something fun to help sell the new book.”

Book swag can include postcards, magnets, bookmarks, t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, pens, custom-decorated cookies, toys, and more. All the stuff most writers, let alone most publishers, can’t possibly afford. Jeannine calmly explains postcards and business cards are the most useful, and how to produce them at a reasonable cost. Of course I wanted to do something complicated. […]

Initially I hoped to create tiny replica book necklaces that could open to a poetry sample, somewhat like this project on Buttons & Paint. The time required, however, was too daunting, especially with time constraints like my actual editing job.

Then I decided to make book pendants that could be worn or used to mark one’s place. It seemed simple.

Laura Grace Weldon, How Not To Make Book Swag

Here are my thoughts as I read, and reread this poem.  What caught me up first was the detail of slow description of what is a fairly brief event: details like noting when the boy is seeing the bulbous end or the tapering end of the carrot.

Second, the word choices.  “Bulbous” is not a plain word. I particularly notice the way “whisker” is used as a verb and applied to the carrot, not the white hairs on a chin.  The “same glints” on the two caught my attention also, because I’ve seen such glints in early morning sun.

Another good touch is the delaying of the boy’s age until the short second stanza.  Now we meet the one for whom this very ordinary event is not ordinary at all.  And when the poem ends on “the world outside this garden” how could this garden not be Eden?

John C. Mannone has contributed to Sin Fronteras Journal, of which I am one of the editors.  I look forward to seeing more of his work wherever it appears.

Ellen Roberts Young, Reading a Poem: Mannone’s “Carrots”

When pondering what to post today, the last day of April and therefore the last post in this series of Great Poems for April—no pressure!—I realized a strange thing. Even though I’d been concentrating on going through my own trove of favorite poems through the month, I hadn’t really thought about which one poem is my very favorite. You know, that one that accompanies you through life, whose lines remain with you like bits of a song that you find yourself humming while doing dishes or driving to work. As soon as I thought that, I immediately knew which one was my favorite: “After Apple-Picking.”

What I love most about this poem is its unusual rhyme scheme. This being Frost, of course there’s a pattern. But it’s so erratic, so—dare I say—rebellious that I wonder if Frost was thinking, screw the establishment; I’m gonna go all Picasso on the old end rhyme. And he was a master of the old end rhyme. And yet he was young when he wrote this. And probably somebody out there knows what that was all about, but I’m kind of glad I don’t know, in the same way I’m glad I don’t know for sure what the different kinds of sleep are that he talks about. Or whether this is about the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the banishment from Eden. Or about the burdens of fame (that’s my go-to—“I am overtired / Of the great harvest I myself desired”—but again, he was young, so I’m not so sure). And if you want to see what other people think about all those things, spend an amusing hour or so surfing the internet, looking at the different theories. Those people are all so sure they know what this poem means.

What I do know about this poem is that it’s beautiful. Phrases of this poem are, I think, among the best in American poetry (“ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,” “load on load of apples coming in,” and that low-geared, four-word musical breakdown of a line, “As of no worth”). I love the way he changes up the rhythm and sentence length, and of course those erratic line lengths that sneak the rhymes in there among all the truncation where you can barely hear it. The phrasing is so memorable that I literally can’t pick up a stepladder without whispering “My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree / Toward heaven still,” or cut open an apple without thinking “Stem end and blossom end.” And this line—“Essence of winter sleep is on the night, / The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.” I can go back and read that for a lifetime and never get tired of it.

Every year that I reread this poem, it means something different to me; I find some small part I hadn’t thought much about before. (Right now it’s the “pane of glass / I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough”—can’t you see it? Don’t you sometimes go a whole day, unable to rub that strangeness from your sight?) Loving a good poem is like a friendship. You go through time together, and even though you never know everything about that poem, you keep discovering things that it didn’t tell you before. And your relationship with it changes too. If it’s really a great poem, the poem weathers the changes. And so do you.

Amy Miller, 30 Great Poems for April, Day 30: “After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost

As we come to the end of National Poetry Month I wanted to share with you a few poems I read and absolutely loved this month. Do yourself a favor and read them.

This one is an old poem – published in April 2017. But I only just discovered it earlier this month and it’s worth sharing:

I try to say—
I am lonely.
I try to say—
I want to come home,
to Earth, to Ithaca.
That this
was all a mistake.

~ from Yellowshirt Elegy by Meghan Phillips, published by Barrelhouse

Another one that was published back in July but thanks to the powers of Twitter, I just discovered it this month:

An analogy:
Pac-Man fills his mouth with pellets: you fill
your house with wine, your head with songs.

~from Nine Ways in Which Pac-Man Speaks to the Human Condition by Katie Willingham, published by Paper Darts

Courtney LeBlanc, Read These Poems

April is finished, thank goodness, it’s been a tough month for a variety of reasons. Now I can do a review of my efforts over GloPoWriMo, the Global Poetry Writing Month – my attempts to write at least one, sometimes two poems a day for my two online courses.

I wrote 22 poems that I consider done or almost done and 12 poems that still need a lot of work or will probably never make it past draft stage. There are also some drafts that I couldn’t count as going anywhere, so I haven’t counted them. That’s just over 30, so I’m very pleased with that. Some days I wrote nothing, some I wrote two, but I sat down regularly enough to have a poem a day for the month. 

Forcing myself to write a rough draft of a poem a day has pushed me to not avoid difficult subjects, to delve deeper into moments that have weight for me, but might not necessarily be an interesting telling on the face of it at first. I have pushed myself to write even when I’m not in the mood or don’t like where my writing is going. Sometimes just ranting on the page or exploring those emotionally charged subjects helps me to deal with them in a healthier way than bottling them up and letting them fizz inside me until I explode over nothing. 

Gerry Stewart, My April GloPoWriMo Assessment

I wrote 30 poems, one each day, as a sonnet cycle. It was surprisingly easy to keep going, as every day I had a prompt from the previous poem. By about 4/12, I found that I didn’t have to count lines, I just wrote 14 and stopped. The form entered me. I will be working on revisions for a good while, but I’m hopeful that I have something here. The cycle starts and ends with this line:
It was a warm day in April when the coleus died.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with My April Roundup

& so, I did what I set out to do: I exercised the necessary discipline to draft a poem a day during National Poetry Month, and I pushed against my “comfort zone” by publicly posting those drafts as they came to me. Usually I do not share my initial drafts with anyone other than fellow writers in my writer’s group or a few poets with whom I correspond. This was an interesting experiment on the personal level, therefore, a sort of forced extroversion as well as effort in productivity. I now have 30 new drafts to reflect upon, revise, or ignore.

It has been years since I came up with that much work in four weeks’ time. For the last decade or so, my average has been closer to six or seven poems a month. And I would not have posted any of them as they “hatched.” I would have waited until I spent some time with them and figured out how best to say what they seemed to want to say.

That’s not an unwise approach in general; I see nothing wrong with letting poems stew awhile. And quite a few would have ended up in the “dead poems” folder. Nevertheless, trying something innovative tends to prove valuable. The takeaway is that I am glad I finally managed the NaPoWriMo challenge. A few of the poem drafts you may have read here stand a chance of evolving into better poems. Maybe some will end up in a collection (years down the road). That result feels good.

The takeaway is also the realization that I no longer worry about how others judge my poems, the way I did when I was starting out and discouraged about having my stuff rejected by magazines. Not because there’s less at stake–indeed, I feel as invested in my writing as I ever was. The difference comes with the kind of investment, the ambition to write something meaningful or beautiful, and not viewing the poems as results waiting to be determined as valuable by someone more authoritative.

I’m 60 years old and well-educated in poetic craft, style, purpose, analysis. I’ve been writing poetry for over four decades. At this point in my life, that’s authority enough.

Ann E. Michael, The takeaway

Here’s wishing you a happy May Day and hoping that you enjoyed a marvelous Poetry Month.

In the photo, you can make out a couple of stones. Those make the line between the lawn’s lush green abundance and the scraggly patch of winter rye. Okay, some lawn grass is mixed in between the rye and the irises. But it’s had me thinking about what we cut and what we keep, about censoring and not censoring, about how we tend our writing. Even about where I’m putting my energy.

In thinking about writing, I’m seeing the two kinds of grasses not as separate things but as the different attentions required. There’s letting the creative rush run over, there’s perhaps (for me, always) the need to trim, to shape, and there’s the need to tend, to wait patiently.

Joannie Stangeland, Rye diary: Day four

If you’re reading this, it must be some time between 3 -5 am and I am up listening to Vampire Weekend’s new song “Harmony Hill” on repeat.

I’ve written 2 poems and answered a few emails. I haven’t spoken to anyone in 36 hours, and this is the gift of the writing residency. I wonder–what if I didn’t talk to people for days in real life, would I have more to write? It seems the less I talk, the more I have to say when I write.

I know it would be almost impossible to achieve this at home, but it encourages me on my next retreat to see how long I could go without speaking.

Solitude, when chosen, is a gift. 
Solitude, when forced upon someone, is a punishment. 
Solitude, when not wanted, is loneliness in disguise.

Kelli Russell Agodon, Making the Most of Insomnia…

So we know all kinds of stuff about how the mind works, but we don’t know what this feeling is of knowing. Which makes me so confused I feel sleepy. And, let me tell you, from all the articles people insist on forwarding to me, we really know very little about sleep — how it works, why it works, why it works the way it works, and what’s going on when it doesn’t work, not to mention how to fix it. So we not only don’t know what this thing called “I” is but we don’t know why “I” can’t sleep. I’ll tell you, it keeps me awake at night.

Marilyn McCabe, Wake Me Up When It’s Over

One after the other you fall asleep
as the light moves on and wakes up
the ones at the other end of the line
We move so fast that we cannot see
A merry-go-round of dreams

Magda Kapa, Globally Speaking

Staying up most of the night working on poems. Oh Lonely Bones – can’t you rest? Why should I? Even now now a strong wind carries some pine seeds to the earth. Even now the boats slide down the long Sacramento River to the bay. A new day begins and I am alive.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Staying up most of the night working on poems.’

The buzz bang clatter shatter whooshing rush
of restaurant chatter. I just smile and nod.
This is not an aura, but a shockwave
pulsing against my skin with each heartbeat,
an auditory strobe staccato sheet
of porcupine pins flying in close shave
formation, grinding at 300 baud.

PF Anderson, On Aurality

The wipe-out of my hard drive and the subsequent computer clean-up continues. I went into my main drive this weekend to organize my years of fiction and poetry output, and was at once heartened and saddened by it, the sad part of which threw me immediately into the throes of writing self-pity, a very unbecoming state of being in which I lamented the failure of my novel, wallowed in my fear that writing poetry about my new-found passion for shooting will be roundly rejected by anti-gun leftist poetry publishers everywhere, as poets are almost universally anti-gun leftists, and lamented the  fact that I am hopelessly prone to writing run-on sentences. But I am also proud to report that I was fairly pleased overall with my review of my previous work. I read some things that I had forgotten I wrote and that can firmly say I stand by to this day, despite their thickness and amateur-ness. To balance this, the most hopeless amongst them were unceremoniously deleted. So it’s been a mixed bag.

Kristen McHenry, Fun with Projection, Ear to Mouth Ratio, Self-Pity Sunday

I’ve been ruthless this week, in a way that feels quite alien to me. I’ve shelved so many jobs in order to stick to my goal of writing two (yes, just two) pages of my notebook every day. The things I’ve put to one side include reading (poetry and prose, weekend supplements) making art/ collages, cleaning the bathroom, weeding the garden (although the weather was against me on this week). Still, you get the picture. What’s interesting is that because my target is quite low, in terms of word count, I’ve exceeded it nearly every day. This has been really positive. It’s given me that ‘Can do’ feeling, and made me keen to carry on, so much so that yesterday I treated myself to a new notebook, in anticipation of finishing the current one. I’ve stuck to A5 so I can keep the momentum – there’s something about turning the page that makes me feel I’m being more productive.

Writing is important to me, and I’ve said for a while now that I’ve embraced distractions as a way of feeding the work, but the bottom line is, if you’re not setting aside time to do the work, then anything you’ve gleaned from these distractions isn’t being given a fair chance to flourish into something new on the page. So, instead of finding excuses (or allowing the distractions to take over) I’m concentrating on finding ways to fit my writing into what seems, at times, an impossibly short day.

Julie Mellor, No excuses

Many years ago the doctor told me the best thing I could do for my mental health was to keep a routine. Take the mornings predictably, and slowly.

So since my kids hit their teens, I have been up early to run, write and do meditation. And for the past year, I have included a morning flow sequence.

How I wish I had done this when my children were young. I’ve spent most of my life – all of my adult life – obsessively attempting to be productive. The unquestioned belief being that my life would be of value only if I left something important behind; that I am somehow required to justify my time on earth by creating works of art. On days, and during months scattered with rejection slips from publishers, I’d rethink my life’s choices and feel obligated to toss my humanity degrees and get a nursing degree, or a counselling certification: the kind of thing that makes a person valuable, makes them the kind of person who can sign up with Médecins Sans Frontières and do good in the world.

Ren Powell, An Art of Living – Day 1

After that glass of wine, I walked home through a small town under construction and swarming with alumnae/i, pondering ambition. It was very much on my mind in my mid-forties, when I started writing the poems in my forthcoming collection. My current working title for the latter is The State She’s In, but whether or not my editor ultimately agrees about that, I’m polishing the ms now and the book will be out in March or April 2020. The collection, in fact, contains a sequence of five list-poems called “Ambitions,” and I considered whether I could or should incorporate the word in my book title. I guess I was asking common midlife questions: what is all this striving for? Am I on a path towards something good, goals I genuinely care about? Am I fulfilling my responsibilities to other people, to my work, and as a citizen–not the trivial stuff, but the deep obligations? Then an ambitious woman ran for office, and a man who despises women trumped her, and some of my struggle over that episode is in the book, too.

As I veered off Main St. onto the smaller road that leads home, I realized I may have turned a corner where ambition is concerned. I’m not sure how much of the change comes from turning fifty, or other revolutions in my life, or even just the fact that three books I worked on for years all have contracts now, so I can afford to be less anxious! Maybe my state of relative equilibrium is temporary. But while I still think many kinds of ambition are good and important, and anyone who’s nervous about ambition in women is a sexist jerk, I find I’m not fretting about productivity this summer, for once. I can’t even drum up worry about the reception my poetry book will eventually meet (the novel’s a bit different–still feel like an imposter there). I have a number of writing projects percolating, and I’ll be helping my kids launch into college and the working world, but I’m mainly grateful that a summer slow-down is allowing me to strengthen these mss and plan for how I can help them find audiences. My chief ambition, I’m realizing, is to make the books as moving and crafty and complicated and inspiring as possible.

Lesley Wheeler, The ambit of ambition

I’m thinking about trying to start a series of get-togethers at my house, since it’s become more difficult to get out and about but I’m still an extrovert who gets inspired by spending time with other creative people. My house is pretty good for entertaining, and Glenn is good at making snacks. Should I try to create a new writers feedback group, like the one I was in for thirteen plus years, or try salons, with a bunch of different kind of artists? I’ve been finishing up a series of Virginia Woolf letters, and I’m inspired by the way, though she was limited in the amount she went out or went to London, she brought a circle of artists around her houses, not always together at the same time, but encouraged them, published them, provided tea and conversation. She really did get inspired and enjoy helping others.

I was thinking about ways to help others and maybe start working again, a little bit, from home. But what? Technical writing or marketing writing? Offering manuscript consults again? Or perhaps some coaching for doing basic PR for poets with new books? When I’m feeling good, I’m pretty effective, but I do have these “slips” in time that happen when I’m sick, so I need something that’s flexible.

Women Writing Despite…

In fact, many of the “major” women writers that we read, including Flannery O’Conner, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Lucille Clifton, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, and Charlotte Bronte, all had limits on their health – physical and mental illnesses, constraints on their time and energy. They still managed to produce a ton of work, not just published books, but tons of journals and letters that I find fascinating and great research for women writers – how they succeed, how they struggled, how they maintained friendships and family demands. (Frida Kahlo is kind of the patron-saint of sick women creatives, too. Not only is her art getting more attention these days, but I read that her garden was recently restored – how I would love to see that!)

I think one reason I’ve been attracted to researching the lives of these writers is that they succeeded despite. Despite family opposition, money problems, health problems, during a literary time that was – shall we say – unfriendly to women’s voices. How they guarded their writing time, and struggled with “doing it all” – a woman’s problem for centuries, not just now, the expectations that women will be supportive of their family’s needs, domestic work, taking care of spouses or family members, plus write and spend time and cultivate connections with other creative people. So what I’m saying is, really, in this age of phones and internets and social media, it’s easier for me than it would have been for any of those writers, despite my illnesses, the physical limitations I might face, the frustrations I feel.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Another Birthday, Spring and All, Thinking About the Modern Salon and Writing Groups, Women Writing Despite, and Planning for the Year Ahead

As I’ve traveled, from AWP a month ago to the creativity retreat last week, I’ve been thinking about tribes, the tribes we choose and the tribes that claim us.  I saw many AWP posts that talked about the ecstasy of being back with one’s tribe, but I don’t feel that way at AWP.  I’m a different kind of participant, with a very different kind of non-writing job for pay than most people there.  I still have a good time, but it’s a much more industrial feel for me–it’s not the sigh of relief, the “I’m home again!” feeling for me.

Last week’s retreat was that way.  Let me preface by saying that I don’t always feel that way.  I’ve been coming to this retreat since 2003, and I’m not sure why some years it’s easy to settle in to the retreat rhythm and some years I never capture it.  This year I felt like I knew fewer people (in part, because we had a larger crowd with more new people), yet surprisingly, I had that return to the tribe feeling.

I don’t have many areas of my life when I’m surrounded by people who are interested in the intersections of creativity and spirituality; in fact, this retreat might be the only place where I am in a larger group of those kinds of people.  There are a few at my local church, but at the retreat, I’m with 70+ people who are.  And we’re interested in a wide variety of creative expressions.  It’s exhilarating.

It does take me away from poetry writing, which is strange since the retreat almost always happens during National Poetry Month.  But it’s great to be distracted by a retreat, not by the drudgery of administrative work.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Tribes and Poetry and the Focus of a Month

This week I submitted a proposal for AWP 2020, which will take place in San Antonio, TX. I haven’t had a panel picked up for the conference in a few years, so maybe I’m due. I hope it’s accepted — it gives me a chance to collaborate with a couple of my friends: one from college, J.C., who is a playwright and TV/film writer and essayist who lives now in Los Angeles. The topic is on DIY residencies and retreats — granting yourself time and space to write — and she’s been doing these kinds of things for years now; also with C.Y.M., who completed an Artist Residency in Motherhood a short while ago.

M.S. and I have been planning, and putting the final necessary pieces in place, for doing our own Artist Residency in Motherhood this summer, for a week in July. We have all of our kiddos signed up for day camps, and we’re renting a tiny apartment not far from the camps. We’re going to use an apartment booked through AirBnB as a joint workspace. The plan is to use 3-4 hours in the morning for work on writing and art-making, break briefly for lunch, and then either go back to work or go on some kind of excursion we wouldn’t normally be able to do with three kids in tow. Also, our work, our writing and art, will be focused around a joint theme — so that possibly we can exhibit or publish it somewhere together. Or maybe we won’t. We’re trying not to put too much pressure on the week — just enough to provides some focus or direction.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Returning to Blogging, More Bathroom Renovating, DIY Residency Planning, and a Cover Reveal

windless our sails of blood and bone become moons in a jar

when all else is emptied your name takes on the shape of a swan

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, seq. 30.04 2019/sekv. 30.04 2019

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 16

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week: water, fire, destruction, creation. Religion. Books and poems.


A woman dropped a poem in a well and waited to hear it hit bottom. No knowing how deep the hole or how black the water. If you could even see the stars from that sort of depth.   Who knows where the source begins. Where it clouds with grief. What relief to hear nothing at all.  What vacancy lurking behind every vowel like a shadow.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo #14 & #15

What will our cities look like when sea levels rise amid the permanent consequences of climate change?

At last, here is the final version of “floodtide” = a video that I first showed and performed at the Paroxysm Press Fringe event this year.

Nearly every scene in the video has been artificially composited and animated from multiple sources, originally filmed in multiple locations around the greater Adelaide area, the Fleurieu Peninsula, Kangaroo Island, inner city Melbourne and its Port, Far North Queensland, and more… [Click through to watch the videopoem]

Ian Gibbins, floodtide

Then, the flood: flash. Side of road overwashed
as we are washed over. Swept. Wind is the broom
and we the debris. Unnecessary as dust or crumbs.
What name can we give to this occurrence? Call it
natural. Disaster. Or just a Thing That Happens.
Not that the name means much to us once we drown
in it, sucked under and curled into water’s embrace
whether sea or river or the lake become enraged
by thunderous sky or thunderous quaking crusts
the planet [they say] possesses. Loose scutes or
scales. Loose bark, like a tree. Pieces of slate
shorn sideways. Shear. Water. A species of bird,
Calonectris, that touches earth only to breed.

Ann E. Michael, Half-way through

The idea that Notre-Dame might be reduced to a hole in the ground, a collection of rubble terrified me.  When I lived in Paris, or before that, or after, the Cathedral lodged itself deeply in my being. A friend mentioned he just loved the smell – the stone-cellar and incense smell, the millennial smell.  To those who lob the charge that a church is just a building, I’d answer that it embodies a reach towards beauty and a divine; the anonymous artists were launching a message in a bottle to us in the future.  If someone got spacey and was questioning reality, they only had check that  massive stone exemplar of material culture – touch feel it, know its place on earth in the now.

I’m thinking, now of the book I’m going to be reading tonight, the Passover Haggadah.  As a material object, it’s generally minor, though I do love the book as object.  This ritual book collects up narrative of escape, the road, liberation, impermanence made continuous through telling.  Wandering Jews cherish our books which contain worlds.  They’re portable and tell of things that couldn’t be saved, couldn’t be etched or carried or kept in stone. Stone is irrelevant.

Material culture is dissolving into a haze.  We’ll be doing a lot more of the wandering exile narrative thing, it seems. Forests and species will be translated into words by writer, poets, narrators. We’ll be telling each other about glaciers, extinct frogs and birds in books.  We’ll be carrying them with us in our bags, on our backs, taking and transmitting evidence of a world of constant change.

Jill Pearlman, Passover, Notre-Dame and the Book Thing

The world constantly reminds us that nothing is permanent. Nothing escapes destruction.

wisteria in bloom ::
what the old stones don’t tell

Dylan Tweney, [untitled haibun]

We’ve had a great week of justice action in our church and larger community in South Florida. Last week I scribbled on a bulletin, and yesterday morning, I started to think about a poem. These ideas spurred my creativity:

We have built our house of justice in hurricane country.

We have made a home in the swamp of despair.

In this abandoned waste dump, we have claimed a homestead.

If we then create some fill in the blanks, maybe we get some different options:

We have built ________ in hurricane country.

We have built our house of justice in ________.

We have made ______ in the swamp of despair.

In this _______, we have claimed a homestead.

In this abandoned waste dump, we have claimed __________.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writing Prompts for Holy Week

When the house lights went down
I started to cry. It’s just
a third grade concert — songs

about “this earth our home”
with canned accompaniment
and four third-grade classes

fidgeting on the risers — but
you’d have loved it. […]

I wiped my eyes furiously, hoping
no one noticed the ridiculous mom

in the second row who was moved
to tears by songs about recycling.
This is how I send you video now,

Mom: these poems I don’t know
if you can hear from where you are,
this earth no longer your home.

Rachel Barenblat, This earth our home

The shower shoots out Morse Code, rapid-fire dashes
(dash-dot-dot gap dash-dash-dash gap dash) in gray lines
sloppily staccato in midair. My eyes trance
watching them, wondering what secret messages
they carry that I will never know how to read.
Closing my eyes, the codes tap against my dermis,
vibrating with heat like sunlight, telling me: Here
is the shape of the thing that is you. Here are limbs
and rims, edges and fringes, points and portals. Know
your limits.

PF Anderson, -.. — –

It’s 11pm and I should be asleep.
In the morning I’ll pay for it
with a dull headache,
leaden arms and legs and a desire
for everything to go away so I can
stretch out on the sofa, sip coffee,
and listen to the wind rustling
the palm trees. I’ve been there before.

Charlotte Hamrick, Write then Sleep

I love seeing how the designers rise to a challenge, within minutes conjuring all kinds of ideas, choices of colors, shapes, the imagination, the technical skills required. I love the way they become truly wrecked throughout the course of the competition, sleep deprived, on edge, and how they always say the competition pushed themselves to do things they would not otherwise have done.

I don’t know anything about fashion or clothing design, so I don’t really understand exactly what they mean, but I would like to feel that feeling — of trying something I’m not entirely sure I can pull off. The problem with not being in a reality show about writing poetry is that I have to come up with my own challenges and push.

I have had that experience — in recent times, for example, trying to write a long poem with long lines and leaps, pushing and elbowing and elbowing the boundaries of the poem. My first videopoem pushed me in this way, and my animations. (Can I really draw an octopus that looks recognizably like the same octopus across ten frames? Fortunately, all octopuses look sort of the same….)

So what’s it all for? Well, as regular readers know from a previous post in which I revealed the meaning of life to be, well, a meaningless question, I don’t think “it” is all “for” anything. It just is. I wake up every day (so far). So what am I going to do?

Marilyn McCabe, Bring it on home; or Thoughts on Structure

I have been working on taking deep breaths that go all the way down through my toes and back up through the crown of my head.
I have been reading poems because it is National Poetry Month and each morning copying someone’s poem into my journal then writing my own “bad” version of it.
I have making homemade enchiladas and eating them with my daughters and their various friends and boyfriends.
I’ve been moving my furniture around in my house and seeing if I can get something like a “flow” going. (I think it has helped.)
I have been walking every day and snapping pictures on my I-phone and not remembering to share them on Instagram.
I’ve (gasp) shared several chapters of my mystery novel and now my first two readers are saying, “C’mon, where’s the rest? No fair!”
I have been reading my poems here and there and listening to other poets read their poems.

Bethany Reid, Where have you been, Bethany?

A few months ago, I had sent three poems to a juried committee for a local community event called Ars Poetica, a collaboration of poets’ words and artists’ interpretations. All three poems were chosen, two by one artist, one by another, who then set about making art from what they felt the poems were saying to them, in preparation for a gallery exhibition and poetry reading. When the day came to attend the public event, I was prepared.

Prepared to be very nervous. Prepared to be disappointed in my own delivery of the poems. Prepared to feel let down, or overwhelmed. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional response I would have to seeing my poems on a gallery wall, never mind the stunning impact of the art which emerged from the images I  had conjured in the privacy of my mind.

Or how momentous it would feel to meet in person, the artists who had engaged so deeply with my work, Melissa McCanna and Steve Parmalee. It was a magical experience: unexpected in its impact, momentous in the way it renewed my understanding of why I write. To connect, to inspire, but more importantly, to experience the creative force that is life-giving, joyful, heart-sustaining, and community-building. May we all find ways to connect with Source, with one another, and may we all remain open to the blessedly unexpected gift of joy.

Sarah Stockton, Unprepared for Joy

We’ve had a number of terrific readers in Seattle recently, but I hadn’t been well enough (or free of doctor’s appointments enough) to make it to any until yesterday. Last night Ilya Kaminsky read from his terrific new book, Deaf Republic, and Mark Doty read poems, and it was wonderful to see them plus say hi to a punch of local poets I don’t see often enough. Thanks are due to Susan Rich for arranging the reading!

Glenn shot this pic on the way to the reading. We pulled over in a school parking lot because the cherry trees were so astounding! I have been hibernating a bit lately due to cold weather and being slightly under the weather, but it was so cheering to hear such great poetry and see so many friends in a warm setting. And there’s something rejuvenating about getting out, dressing up a little, being around humans who aren’t trying to take blood or give you a prescription!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poetry Month is Half Over! Poems Up at Menacing Hedge, Plus Ilya Kaminsky and Mark Doty visit a Seatte coffee shop, and More Blooms

But reader, I have other things I must confess.  As hard as it may be to accept, I have never watched  Game of Thrones.

I confess to reading Tasty Other by Katie Manning. Poems of pregnancy, and birth, along with swollen ankles,  lactation, weird dreams, and urges.  You might think it would be a book that maybe guys might not quite get the full benefit of.  Maybe being a father of four (albeit grown) kids, who has been in the delivery room for each, or that is it well-written poetry, or more likely both, but I liked it, a lot.

I confess that I am reading several other books, yes at the same time.

It’s National Poetry Month and I confess I did not write one poem this past week. (Insert bad poet award here)  I did revise and work on several drafts. (insert special dispensation from the higher poet here).

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Tears for a Fire

The Bones of Winter Birds by Ann Fisher-Wirth went into the purse a couple of days later, at a very low moment, when the strep seemed to be bouncing back, or was it something else–could it be mono, the nurse practitioner asked? A couple of needle stabs later, the verdict is probably not, but this snow-covered beauty of a book was great company in uncertainty. The first poem in Fisher-Wirth’s book is a gigan, a form invented by Ruth Ellen Kocher that I’d never tried before, so I had to experiment immediately, and you should go for it, too. (As soon as you start getting stuck you have to repeat a line, which is handy. My prompt to you: write a gigan about something BIG.) After I scratched that itch and jumped back in, I was moved again and again. There is a sequence mourning a sister Fisher-Wirth didn’t know well, and there are also a number of small gems, talismans of grief transformed into beauty, like “Vicksburg National Military Park”. Here’s a slightly longer one, funny-heartbreaking: “Love Minus Zero.”

Like Fisher-Wirth’s book, Martha Silano’s Gravity Assist is deeply ecopoetic: she’s trying to rocket out to the big picture, taking in species loss, disastrous pollution, and other terrors of the anthropocene. Silano is one of our best science poets, in my opinion, but she’s also a specialist in awe, exuberant about beauty and love and the good things that persist in this damaged world (for the moment!). Her gorgeous “Peach Glosa” reminds me I’ve never successfully attempted that form…hmm. Also, it’s not online, but if you’re a tired and overextended woman irritated by exhortations to tranquility, you need to get this book and read “Dear Mr. Wordsworth.”

Lesley Wheeler, Nibbling on gigans and glosas

Rena Priest’s first book, “Patriarchy Blues” (MoonPath Press, 2017) won an American Book award. Her new chapbook, “Sublime Subliminal” (Floating Bridge Press, 2018) was a finalist for the Floating Bridge Chapbook Award. In an interview posted at the Mineral School’s blog conducted during her fellowship residency there in October 2018, Priest had this to say about her writing:

[T]he poems don’t always make sense, but I want to give my reader the feeling that there is some underlying formula involved, and I want to anchor them with images.

When reading Priest, it would be wise to take her guidance to heart. To look for the clues that emerge from the images she offers. To consider how her poems’ underlying structures, like subduction plates, may be moving even as they anchor. Be alert to the subliminal messages that are strewn throughout “Sublime Subliminal.” Some of these messages are found standing on their heads in tiny italics at the bottoms of pages on the outside or inside edges. That you don’t notice them right away is your first subliminal cue of what you are in store for as a reader. And then dig in. There is much craft to envy in these poems.

Risa Denenberg, Sublime Subliminal

The religious images, honestly, go right by me. And I know, that’s sad; they’re probably the heart of this poem, so who knows what I’m missing. But let’s just say the Bible is my worst category on Jeopardy!, along with British monarchs and Roman numerals. So I have to set aside the Jesus imagery for someone to explain who is more schooled in it. I’m all about the work itself, and the slightly hallucinatory exhaustion afterward, because I’ve done that, I remember that; I worked so hard (ranch hand, long ago) and got so dirty that the bathwater hurt at the end of the day and literally ran like mud down the drain.

And then Carruth takes us back into the history of field work, of forced labor and slavery, and his images are still raw and immediate—everything that happens to those hands! And by the end, there’s his defiance, a sort of punch-drunk triumph, a strength (even momentary) in being the person who does the work, one of those who actually did the haying and the lifting, the digging and the building. There’s a little discomfort here—he’s already admitted he’s a “desk-servant, word-worker”—but any poet who can help out for a day of haying and go home and write a poem like this is also doing great work.

Amy Miller, 30 Great Poems for April, Day 20: “Emergency Haying” by Hayden Carruth

I learned that guilds are basically conservative.  Innovation was frowned upon because it may give one artisan an advantage over the others.  Designs and methods did not change quickly.
 
I also learned about the dyes:

From “Colors”:

Red made from roots of madder,
yellow from everything but the roots
of weld, the challenge is blue:
woad leaves dried, fermented, spread
on stone for nine stinky weeks.

From India Vasco da Gama
brings indigo, a better blue.

Before science can prove
the chemical’s the same, central heat
warms walls; tapestries are not needed.

Other colors were made from these three, as we learned from the color wheel in grade school.  The lion is some shade of yellow.  The unicorn stands out because he is white.

Ellen Roberts Young, More About Tapestry Unicorns

A slow and perfect spring rain
Stretches out into a second morning,
And my backyard drinks it up
With no one watching but me.
The others in my home sleep late,
And won’t go out back anyway.
Nor me, but I watch from a window,
My meditation is done
And the first light of day grows.
I am quiet, sipping black coffee
And watching the rain.

James Lee Jobe, ‘A slow and perfect spring rain’ //