Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 20

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive at Via Negativa or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack (where the posts might be truncated by some email providers).

This week: grief’s alphabet, moon menders, insect-poets, a paradise of sentences, and more. I challenged myself to quote just one paragraph from each blog post, and mostly kept to that. I’ll probably return to my usual pattern next week, but it was fun to court brevity for a change!

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Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week, poets were visionary, resolute, hunkering down, easing back into the grind. Some evinced minds of winter, while others dreamed of warmer times and climes. Enjoy.

Continue reading “Poetry Blog Digest 2024, Week 2”

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 47

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week: secondhand books, Hafez divination, translating Villon, devil riffs, encounters with bulls, and much more. Enjoy.


All night the wind, the muffled bark of a dog-fox

All night the clatter of branches, the shuffling of a badger

All night the shared memory of screams burrows us into our blankets

Bob Mee, IT’S TOO LATE

Rather than await an “eagerly anticipated” book, why not rummage on secondhand shelves?

Many of the books I buy are years old, found by chance in charity shops. Charity bookshops nowadays even have sections for “Short stories”, which is more than some high street bookshops can manage. The books below aren’t really neglected masterpieces, but they’ve stuck in my memory longer than the more recently published books I’ve read. Many of them are the author’s first books, which may explain why I was impressed by them – they lack padding, and even the pieces that don’t work for me have interesting parts.

Tim Love, Some books

I have to stop and run back to take a second look
at what I think I’ve seen through the trees –

the horns of some monster, a bouldered head
and shoulders of beaten silver. And there he is

grasping a spear and a blade, Defender of
the post and rail fence, fields and house beyond,

Guardian of the small metal pig at his feet.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Saving ourselves

Courtney LeBLanc came to town in September, and I got to read with her at the CHE Cafe! What a brilliant poet, and what a wonderful space!

At the end of September, I hosted PLNU’s 25th Annual Poetry Day. I had the idea to have an ensemble reading of 25 poets for this special occasion, and we pulled it off! San Diego poets and a few guests from LA turned out for this incredible event, and we filled the auditorium. People stayed around talking for a long time afterwards too, and that’s how I know it was a good time. The whole evening felt magical.

In October I was a featured reader for Hafez Day in San Diego alongside some incredible poets. I chose the poems I read that night using Hafez divination: I opened the book of poems and let the lines I landed on point me toward which of my poems I should read. (I loved this! I need to let Hafez choose poems for me more often). This was such a beautiful night of poetry by a gorgeous variety of people.

Katie Manning, Publications & Reviews & Readings… Oh My!

To the creaking of deck boards underfoot,
I hear heaven’s prayer: Earth, earth.
The muscles of awe flex, and I stand
as still as the empty sky.
That is my closest name.

Soon I’m pulled back to tasks and lists.
Yet the grind of trucks outside
on rattling roadways
carries hints of That grateful silence.

Rachel Dacus, Thankfulness and Seasonal Gratitude

For her fifth full-length poetry title, Vixen (Toronto ON: Book*Hug Press, 2023), Ottawa poet and editor Sandra Ridley blends medieval language around women, foxes and the fox hunt alongside ecological collapse, intimate partner violence and stalking into a book-length lyric that swirls around and across first-person fable, chance encounter and an ever-present brutality. Following her collections Fallout (Regina SK: Hagios Press, 2009) [see my review of such here], Post-Apothecary (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2011) [see my review of such here], The Counting House (BookThug, 2013) [see my review of such here] and the Griffin Prize-shortlisted Silvija (BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here], the language of Vixen is visceral, lyric and loaded with compassion and violence, offering both a languid beauty and an underlying urgency. “If he has a love for such,” she writes, as part of the second poem-section, “or if loathing did not prevent him. // A curse shall be in his mouth as sweet as honey as it was in our mouths, our mouths as / sweet as honey. Revulsive as a flux of foxbane, as offal—and he will seem a lostling. // He came for blood and it will cover him.”

Set in six extended poem-sections—“THICKET,” “TWITCHCRAFT,” “THE SEASON OF THE HAUNT,” “THE BEASTS OF SIMPLE CHACE,” “TORCHLIGHT” and “STRICKEN”—Ridley’s poems are comparable to some of the work of Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy for their shared use of medieval language, weaving vintage language and consideration across book-length structures into a way through to speak to something highly contemporary. As such, Vixen’s acknowledgments offer a wealth of medieval sources on hunting, and language on and around foxes and against women, much of which blends the two. A line she incorporates from Robert Burton (1621), for example: “She is a foole, a nasty queane, a slut, a fixin, a scolde [.]” From Francis Quarles (1644), she borrows: “She’s a pestilent vixen when she’s angry, and as proud as Lucifer [.]”

rob mclennan, Sandra Ridley, Vixen

Weather throbs and sunshine appears, warms the skunk’s foreparts. A patrolman on an off-day partakes in wink and simulation, then parked cars dissolve. An airship, low above the night table, fills with rivers, accepts me as a discoverer.

Gary Barwin, Breathe Moss and a video for my new book, Imagining Imagining: Essays on Language, Identity and Infinity.

Folks, I am so, so excited to announce that I have two poems published in “Purr and Yowl,” an anthology about cats! I am super-stoked about this, not only because the editor is one of my favorite people, David D. Horowitz, but because it’s an excellent anthology, and I’m published along with some true literary heavy-weights, which makes me feel both proud and humbled. The publisher, World Enough Writers, put together a beautiful publication, full of humor and horror and joy and anguish–all things associated with owning a psychopathic furball. I received my contributor’s copy a few days ago, and I have been reading it with awe and delight ever since. Hint, hint: It would make a great Christmas present for those cat lovers in your life. You can order your copy here:

Purr and Yowl

Kristen McHenry, Toxic Waspulinity, Bread Fail, I’m Published in “Purr and Yowl”!

if you haven’t been laying on a roof
at some point we have nothing in common.
i would pluck stars & put them
in my ears to hear something good.
i try to inhale & i breathe in
coal perfume & boyhood. don’t get me wrong.
there are worse things than
being misunderstood.

Robin Gow, 11/25

Some days I don’t want to go into life,
though the alarm is insistent,
it’s easier to stay outside,

close the eye-blinds,
turn off the ears,
stopper the scream,

don’t smell the smoke,
don’t touch the flame,
don’t taste the ash.

Some days I don’t want to go into life,
but I write my name on my helmet,
and I go in anyway.

Sue Ibrahim, Some days

One is a beekeeper.
One is barefoot.
One is from the Bay Area.
One is Kuwaiti.
One is a daycare worker.
One is from Iraq.
One is a boxer.
One is a nurse.
One is a newbie.
One is an old head.
One is a singer.
One is a guitarist.
One is trans.
One is bi.
One is a dad.
One is a mom.
One brings coffee.
One brings honey.
Cold mornings.
Rainy mornings.
They hold signs.
The cars pass.

Jason Crane, POEM: Palestine Corner

2

In Khan Younis, beyond the border fence,
no one dances dabka. In Nablus, a farmer
hugs her tree, and cries; another watches,
his grape vines crushed, his fingers broken.

3

A city center’s oil spills. A boy’s toy
plane soars from a concrete balcony
just seconds before the blast
of a white phosphorus bomb.

Maureen Doallas, Uprootings (Poem)

The afterlife the Witnesses sell is eternity on earth in Eden conditions, no want, no pain, no death or sickness. In the years since I’ve left I’ve thought that it would be a much more successful pitch if they didn’t demand so much of their followers in return, in time, in fealty. It’s more concrete than the heaven of their Christian brethren, after all.

But the fundamental problem of any afterlife is the question of what you do with all that time when there are none of the things that help us make time pass for better or worse. What does happiness mean when that’s all there is?

But heaven allows only jubilance
Possibly the angel needed to return
Human: with feelings, tears and laughter
Or find a way to shape the sadness into
A moment of beauty when the angel’s wings
Spread and flight moves to breathing
Full of vision. There the angel’s tears bond
With the visitor’s fear, awe.

It feels a bit like Spears Jones could be referencing a piece of art, which she does in other poems in this collection, but my internet search skills couldn’t narrow down a specific piece, even with the mention of Berlin a couple of lines later. But I want to focus on the seraphim, the feeling of needing to replace perfection with the broken and then create beauty from that. It’s a very human need, to transform moments and objects from one emotional state to another and to live in a state where that transformation can’t happen would be hollow. Maybe we want perfection because we haven’t really thought about what it would do to us to have it, about what we would lose in gaining it.

Brian Spears, Search for community, search for beauty

Thank you to Ailsa Holland for contributing this first blog post in honour of James Schuyler’s centenary.

James Schuyler’s ‘The Bluet’

‘The Bluet’ has changed for me this year. I used to see in it a recognition of the transformative magic of blue. It made me think of the best blues of my life — the precious lapis of the medieval manuscripts I fell in love with as a student; the shining silk handkerchief a young man wrapped round a milk bottle filled with daffodils; a blue gate with a silver-green pear tree in front of it, which I used to gaze at in perfect contentment; Patrick Heron’s window for the Tate on my daughter’s first visit to St Ives, the day she first said ‘blue’. And of course all those skies and seas of sunny days. I still wonder whether blue in itself can make a moment happy, or whether blue has a special power on memory, making those incidents shine out from the general murkiness of the past like Schuyler’s bluet in the Autumn wood.

In February of this year my mother died. She was a Quaker. We buried her in one of her favourite t-shirts, covered in small blue flowers. Now when I read ‘The Bluet’ I see her, a small woman with a stamina I only began to understand long after I left home. A woman who stubbornly refused to let the brown-grey of the world stop her joy, even though she felt her own and others’ suffering and grief so keenly. She knew that we are always in a season of dying, that we can still, freakishly, be ‘a drop of sky’, whether by marching, by baking scones or by writing poems. To be a Flower, as Emily Dickinson said, is profound Responsibility. And I see my mother on her last Christmas Day, watching my kids play rather unrehearsed carols in her room, her blue eyes bright as springtime.

Anthony Wilson, James Schuyler at 100: The Bluet, by Ailsa Holland

I came of age in the era when nearly every high school girl I knew read The Bell Jar and claimed it as her own story. Weren’t we all disaffected? On the edge of a mental breakdown? How could any young woman be “okay” in a social climate designed to keep women down?

We felt so much and could express so little. This novel allowed for points of connection, for a sense that we (okay—young, white women) had been seen. Strange sidebar: Plath wrote this under a very English pseudonym, Victoria Lucas, in 1963 (published unfinished in the UK, the year she died) and it arrived without fanfare. In 1973, it was republished under Plath’s name in the States. I read it in 1975, perhaps that’s the reason it felt so immediate. So palpable.

And although Sylvia Plath lived her first years in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts then Winthrop, and eventually attended Smith College, there is more than a generation between us. We never physically met. Yet her beautiful ghost followed me everywhere I went. In every poem I wrote, her genius mocked me. I wonder how many Massachusetts young women chose not to be poets? The fear of ending up a suicide felt all too real. Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton committed suicide just a little over 10 years apart — years that bookended my youth.

Susan Rich, And let us not forget Sylvia Plath:

The weird thing about this part of the book writing process, the part at which your manuscript has been handed gently over to the professionals for their guidance and advice, is the strange nothingness of it, which is interspersed with EXTREME EXCITEMENT, followed again by complete normality and quiet living. One day I am walking my dog down the lane in ten year old leggings, a too big coat, bobble hat and wellies, like the crazy village eccentric I am, the next I’m being invited to a swanky author party at the Ivy in London. I can’t go to the party, sadly, due to distance, trains, money and the elderly dog needing so much care and attention. But I have printed the invite out as a small career marker and I shall put it in my scrapbook to mark this place in my author journey. It is thrilling. I have to stop myself from saying “who, Me?!” when something like this happens.

This week double book excitement – firstly, the design for the map that will go in the front of The Ghost Lake arrived so that I can see if everything is in the right place. It’s beautiful. The map was a complex concept as it is a map of several layers of time in the same place, so needed to cover geographical, historical and personal places of note. It’s so beautiful that I think I will get the map printed up and framed to hang on my office wall. The second big thing was that we – myself and my brilliant editor – moved onto the next set of edits, which means I get to see a ‘clean’ copy of the manuscript. What does that mean? It means a copy of the manuscript with all edits so far, with the layout as it will be. There is still work to do on the book, but by reading a clean copy I get a feel of how it will read, without the clutter of a million suggestions in the margins, or highlights by me or the little reminders to myself where I have forgotten what it was that I was talking about and have instead, helpfully, left a series of ???? in a comment box. This is the closest it has been to an actual physical book so far. It also means that I’m at the stage where I will need to allow my mum to read it, and my husband, who both feature in it. I will also be sending chapters to people who have been interviewed for the book, and experts who I have talked to. In short, this is the first time the book creeps out from the safety of the publisher’s office, into the hands of people who have never seen it.

Wendy Pratt, Ghost Lake Rising

The Worlds End of rob mclennan’s title is, we are told in an epigraph, a ‘pub on the outskirts of a town, especially if on or beyond the protective city wall’; a space that is both convivial and liminal and a tone-setter for the book.

As a poet, editor, publisher and blogger, mclennan is a key figure in a world of poets, and this community is reflected in the fact that most of the poems that make up this book have individual epigraphs from writers, the regulars in the World’s End. A sense of poetry as being intrinsic to the world weaves through the book right from the opening section, ‘A Glossary of Musical Terms’:

The Key of S

Hymn, antiphonal. Response, response. A trace of fruit-flies, wind. And from this lyric, amplified. This earth. Project, bond. So we might see. Easy. Poem, poem, tumble. Sea, to see. Divergent, sky. Deer, a drop of wax. Design, a slip-track.

This melding of the natural and domestic worlds (hinted at by the slip-track) with the world of poetry and language is characteristic of mclennan’s work here, with frequent pivots on words that can be read as noun or verb (project). The carefully disrupted syntax calls out the sense of observing from the margins. This can lend a sense of Zen-like simple complexity, a tendency towards silence:

Present, present, present. Nothing in particular.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading November 2023

I’m enthralled by this book of poems by Oregon poet Debra Elisa. My first impression was that her poems made a good contrast to mine, choreographed differently, her language distinct and pocked with color. But as I read more deeply, I began to see how our subjects and themes overlap: childhood songs, mothers and grandmothers, kitchens, birds, dogs, backyard gardens.

We also—if I can extend my interests beyond my new book—share a fascination with Emily Dickinson, as this cover blurb written by Allen Braden makes clear, calling Debra’s style “as idiosyncratic as Emily Dickinson’s with poems flaunting ‘breath and tiptoe glory and Clover.’”

And so much more, poems about social justice, poems about peace. Consider these lines:

You write often of    Trees   Dogs   Birds
she says       and I feel disappointed      because I wish

her to tell me       You challenge us to consider justice
and love in all sorts of ways.

(“Dear Friend”)

In short, this is an eclectic, surprising collection of poems.

What makes You Can Call It Beautiful a coherent collection (too) is the way Debra weaves her themes throughout, and unites all of it with her gift for sound and color.

Bethany Reid, Debra Elisa: YOU CAN CALL IT BEAUTIFUL

Selima Hill’s Women in Comfortable Shoes is different again [to O’Brien’s Embark and Gross’s The Thirteenth Angel]. The poems are all short – many if not most six or fewer lines. They’re grouped into sequences but even within these I think they largely work as separate units. They have the punchiness of epigrams but unlike epigrams what most offer is not pithy reflections on life in general but flashes of extremely subjective response to another person or to the speaker’s immediate circumstances. She appears at different ages, as a child at home or a girl in a boarding school at one end of the book and as an old woman at the other. She comes across as highly intelligent and observant, vividly imaginative, prickly, rebellious and uncompromising, perpetually embattled with others and often conflicted in herself, bewildered by other people’s feelings and behaviour and sometimes almost as much so by her own. In some ways this collection is like Hill’s previous one – Men Who Feed Pigeons – but I felt that in Men the accumulation of impressions emerging between the lines of a given sequence encouraged me to achieve a sense of what the other characters in a relationship were like in themselves, independently of the poet-persona’s reactions to them, and to ‘read’ her and their reactions in that wider context. I feel that much less in this collection.

Although their economy and clarity suggests the application of deliberate art, in other ways most of the very short poems have the air of immediate releases of thought, lightning flash spontaneity and truth to the impulse of the moment. This gives a sense of honesty and makes us – or made me – feel very close to the poet. It goes with a willingness to express unworthy feelings without shame or apparent self-consciousness.

Edmund Prestwich, Selima Hill, Women in Comfortable Shoes – review

Perhaps merely writing poems isn’t enough? What does it achieve after all? “Fate”, the final poem has an answer as the poet visits a dollar store and gets shoved to the back of the shelf where no one will see her. However, her poems,

“slip themselves into various
shoppers’ pockets.

I trust them to start
singing at the perfect,
most inopportune moments.
This is how, they assure me,
new poets are born.”

Change can happen, one poem and one shopper at a time. Poetry is thought-provoking, a sly vehicle of change. And that’s what Kyla Houbolt has achieved: a set of cerebral poems designed to get the reader thinking and responding to the questions raised without being dictated to or guided towards a specific conclusion. “Surviving Death” is quietly generous in spirit.

Emma Lee, “Surviving Death” Kyla Houbolt (Broken Spine) – book review

It was actually a rather beautiful house, in a very beautiful setting, and I can at least say that I loved the hills and the sky. I knew the dirt roads and the trails intimately, I would like to live somewhere beautiful again, before I die, though it seems increasingly unlikely that I will. I’m glad I knew the night sky before it was littered with satellites, and glad that I learned black oaks by climbing them and griming my hands on their rugged pelts. That much of the lost world I do have in my blood.

Hush, now, and listen for the breeze that comes up at first light: watch for the bloody sun to spill over the hill crest and make the oaks into calligraphy against the pink sky. Not much longer now. There are not many threads to pick up, but I’ll gather what I can.

Dale Favier, The House my Stepfather Built

Rob Taylor: François Villon was, to say the least, a character. A criminal and cheat, both his poems and life story are filled with misdirection, subterfuge and gaps. In the acknowledgments to After Villon, you write that you began translating Villon shortly after first encountering his work in 2009. What was it about Villon that drew you in so quickly and so fully?

Roger Farr: It was precisely those things you mention. That and the fact that Villon, a medieval poet, was the first to erase the separation between his art and his life, which arguably makes him the first avant-garde writer. But for some time before I read Villon, I had been interested in political and aesthetic discussions about visibility, readability, and clandestinity, topics I wrote about for anarchist publications. When I was working on a piece for Fifth Estate about the work of the Situationist Alice Becker-Ho, who introduced me to Villon, I learned about his poetic use of coded language, deceit, and slang, and I became deeply intrigued. 

RT: Villon’s influence on After Villon is obvious, but as I read your book I started to think of the title as being composed of two parts, with the “After” actually pointing to Jack Spicer, whose After Lorca—with its loose translations and “correspondences” from Spicer to Lorca—served as a template of sorts for your book. Did you ever feel tension in trying to honour all three “contributors” (Villon, Spicer, you) in one book? If so, how did you manage that?

RF: As soon as I started to see my accumulating translations as a book, I knew I would use After Lorca as a template. I have always found Spicer’s poetics difficult to comprehend, which is no doubt part of my attraction to his work. But I thought the correspondences he writes to Lorca were a brilliant way to elaborate a poetics of translation without resorting to overly expository prose. So he was mostly a formal influence, at the level of the book. Ultimately, my eyes and ears were always attuned to Villon.

Rob Taylor, The Poem’s Hum: An Interview with Roger Farr

What am I without the shroud of poetry that covers my nakedness. It is the only way you could have known me: translated into a poem. Into a shroud. Some verses, some lines, some words are lost. Replaced by spaces. A person, a part, a poem, a word, in the end, becomes a space. Space something else will occupy. Loss is white. The colour of erasure. The colour of forgetting.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Weariness has the same texture as cloud

I have been reading novels, which affects my state of mind, makes me dreamy and distracted, foggy-headed, and full of the conflicts in their plots. Or maybe the weather is what does it–too much lovely late autumn sun and not enough rain, which feels “off” for our region; and once the rain finally arrives, it is a dour and chilly dousing I have to convince myself to feel grateful for. Likely the news cycle has not helped my mood. My nine-year-old self emerges from a distant past, crying, “People are so mean!” My parents can no longer sit down beside me and offer comfort.

Time to switch to the poets. I’m finally getting around to reading Ocean Vuong’s Time Is a Mother, a collection that’s been on my to-read list for far too long. The very first poem, “The Bull,” startled me into reading it twice. “I reached–not the bull–/but the depths. Not an answer but/an entrance the shape of/an animal. Like me.” Enough to jolt me out of my fiction-induced haze, especially on a day like this one when I feel the anxious dreamy child in me more than I wish. The prose poems later in the book intrigue me, as well: a very different prose than is found in most novels.

Ann E. Michael, Practice

The first stop on the river cruise I took this month was Arles.  Arles makes a very big deal of the time Vincent Van Gogh spent there, with placards set up around the city.  It does indeed have wonderful light, and the white stone of its monuments adds to the effect. I, however, was more interested in the Roman ruins, ancient walls and other buildings. The amphitheater is quite grand.

In the old hospital in which Van Gogh lived after his ear episode, the garden is maintained to match his paintings.  But it was November, so the appearance was a bit drab.  I took this picture because I felt like I should.

Ellen Roberts Young, Visit to Arles

I just got back to chilly Ohio after a couple of days at the Miami Book Fair. Sunshine, palm trees, tostones, mojitos, energizing conversations with writers, and so many books, books, books. Plenty of joys, even in harrowing times.

In Miami I had a panel discussion with Hannah Pittard and a powerful conversation with Dani Shapiro for her podcast Family Secrets. If you’re in the mood to listen to a podcast this week, I especially loved this incredibly moving episode of Family Secrets, and I had a terrific conversation about ambiguity and “grounded hope” with organizational psychologist and NYT bestselling author Adam Grant recently for ReThinking. (I even forgive Adam for being a Michigan wolverine.)

Grounded hope. Yes, please!

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

I have just spent much of a week in a house with no internet access–no, not mine, but the ramshackle house that my family rents each year.  In the past, we’ve been given a hotspot from the camp that rents the house, but last year, we discovered that they no longer provide that service.  We used our smart phones as hotspots, and I had the highest mobile phone bill I’ve ever had, since I don’t have unlimited data.  

Last year I learned how much data gets used when the phone is a hotspot, so this year I was more careful and intentional.  No more mindless scrolling of sites in the morning before everyone else work up–I read a book! No more checking various sites in the afternoon because I was bored–I went for a walk or started up a conversation.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Low Tech Thanksgiving

And it’s not over. This is the peripeteia. The point in the story where everything turns. It is the apex of the drama, where things slide towards a new kind of normal. What follows is all denouement. A theater lecturer once described it as the part after the final commercial break of a sitcom. The reassuring little bit to let us know life goes on.

I know it may not be that easy. The side effects of radiation aren’t predictable. I see already that, while I thought my nails had made it through chemo, my toenails are now falling off. Surprises keep coming.

But in terms of symmetry: there were the retrospective cancer-free 57 years, the breast cancer (1 known and 2 stealth buggers), and this is the new cancer-free part of the story it resolves at least one theme of the bigger story.

A few months ago I heard a podcast about narrative psychology. They talked about how it matters where you start and end a story. Where we choose to do that, how we frame our experiences, makes a big difference in how we handle the potential trauma, and how we create meaning in (and I would say with) our lives.

As always I retain the right to change to reframe all of this.

Ren Powell, “Paripeteia” & In Praise of Partners

I was glad to be asked to write an essay on a new biography of Jane Kenyon (and Donald Hall ) for The Poetry Foundation. The two are a legendary pair; they loved each other, period, and that love, like all love, was as messy as they each were, and exercised as purely and gently as they could bear it. You can read the full essay here, but below is an excerpt that will help set up my next two points:

The many pains of Kenyon’s life had the effect that fog does on light. As a fog refracts and lifts, it catches impossible variations; as it clears, what’s there to be glimpsed is seen with a clarity whose insight is hard-earned (“The soul’s bliss and suffering are bound together,” Kenyon wrote in “Twilight: After Haying”). She believed in—embodied—a spirit of resurrection and regeneration, having so often experienced a miraculous return to sanity and ease. Her fiercest rejections of dogma and her own discomforts led to her greatest gentleness on the page, deepening that inner resilience and vision, giving a shape and a reprieve to suffering through writing. Her desire for repute—“I can’t die until I have a reputation,” she insisted—was paired with a profound spiritual selflessness. “To love and work and to cause no harm” was her motto. Her attention was brilliantly suited for the focused, idiosyncratic attention needed to filter a large world through a narrow aperture, making her short lyric poems containers for what she called “the luminous particular.” She saw poetry as a vehicle for reporting on the inner life, and she delivered that vital news.

Something strikes me about the way that Jane Kenyon metabolized her hardships and gifts, as all poets must finally do. She suffered from severe, often debilitating depression, feeling angry and isolated throughout the majority of her childhood.

And yet, Kenyon had a rich and varied romantic life, one that, despite its early moralistic indoctrination (a widowed grandmother who espoused apocalyptic Christianity), repression, and her own unyielding psychic anguish, proved companied, exciting, and sensual. Despite her early experiences—and perhaps as a result of them—she developed a capacity, willingness, and appetite for the opposite: tenderness, flexibility, love. It strikes me that “The Life,” which biographers rely upon for insight into poetic output, yields curiously and differently to each poet’s affinities, vision, and voice.

Maya C. Popa, Wonder Wednesday

I had started working on the devil riffs in 2011 after reading Luc Ferry’s A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. In it, he referenced the idea of “diabolos” or “the who who divides.” I remember writing that down in my notebook and thinking about it every once in a while, riffing on ideas of division and duality in freewrites. The more I wrote, the more I felt that I wasn’t writing about religion directly, instead taking the devil on as a lens, how we humanize the devil and project onto them everything from our misdeeds to an idealized swagger and power. So, the breakthrough of using one narrative as a lens with which to approach other narratives was practiced with the devil first. 

When I began working on what would be the first draft of this book, the devil riffs naturally came to mind as an element to put in play. It was around this time, too, that the moment happened where the word devil was confused for double—a natural moment in conversation that made it into the world of the book. Every draft of this book had these devil riffs (I keep calling them riffs as they never felt like poems but more that they borrow from philosophy and aphorism) scattered throughout. They always stood out to folks who read the manuscript, the reactions a mix of confusion and amusement. The idea of bringing them all together under one title came late in the process, and was born after reading an article about books that don’t exist. As I read it, it occurred to me that the devil riffs were their own book within a book, so I tried a draft with it. Once I saw them all together, I was inspired to add some further riffing, turning out what you see in the final version.

This book within a book allowed for a different voice from the main speaker of the manuscript. This shift also allowed the devil voice to address a “you” which is both me and the reader of the book, which is eerie (I hope). Suddenly the devil is not just the usual projections and excuses (the devil made me do it) but also devil as conscience, devil as speaking in a more assertive register than the speaker elsewhere. Note, too, that the devil says things that L turns out to have said, and also riffs against some of the speaker’s own words. Here, again, the idea of the double. The play of “Devil or nothing” was one of the final things to be written. I suppose that the manuscript is abandoned in order to enact the “nothing” half of it.

José Angel Araguz, Ruin & Want interview excerpt, pt. 4

Two years ago an exciting new online journal made its appearance on the literary scene. Uniquely, the voidspace focuses on interactive arts: the website itself is an invitation to dive in and explore through a series of alluring portals. I spoke to founding editor Katy Naylor about the voidspace, her sources of creative inspiration, her poetry, and her plans to set up a new press.

Katy, you’ve described yourself as growing up in ‘a house full of books’. Tell us something about your creative development and the influences that inform your writing.

Katy: I actually spent the majority of my life not thinking of myself as a creative person at all. I wrote stories as a kid, as many people do, but as I grew up I became a reader, a viewer and a player: a consumer of art rather than a creator.  

My mum was an English teacher, so literature was always part of my life. I was a real theatre kid, going to see Shakespeare with my mum regularly, and even making yearly pilgrimages to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare and other plays. I was also keenly interested in history (particularly mediaeval history – I even spent a few years practising early mediaeval crafts, combat styles and building methods, and learning how to sail a longship) and folk music (I spent some time as a Morris dancer!).  

When I got older I discovered immersive theatre – Punchdrunk in particular – and the multi-layered and multi-sensory storytelling I encountered there blew me away.  

I’ve also been interested in adventure and narrative games for a long time, as a player before I was a writer. As I kid, I loved text adventures on the computer and in choose your own adventure books, and I even taught myself some BASIC coding in order to try to write my own. A British kids’ TV show, called Knightmare, had a huge impact on me as well. It was essentially a Dungeons ‘n’ Dragons type game, but using a mixture of actors, props and early blue-screen technology, you could see one of the players seemingly physically present in this elaborate fantasy world (and seemingly falling off imaginary precipices, if they weren’t careful). It really captured my imagination. 

As an adult, I discovered interactive theatre, which combines game mechanics with a theatrical narrative art, and found my own online DnD group. In its purest form tabletop gaming is a form of collaborative storytelling, but it releases players from the sense of obligation to “perform” and polish. As a result of that freedom, you often get incredible stories growing organically, that would never have happened had players consciously thought that what they were doing was writing. That’s the energy I try to bring to the voidspace – that sense of creative playfulness. 

It was during lockdown that I discovered that I could actually write. I think having the time and space to think and experiment woke something in me. When we were only allowed out for a short time every day, I’d take long walks by the sea where I live (the sea is another abiding influence) and the ideas would come. Once I started to write, all the influences I’ve talked about: theatre and gaming, the past, music and folklore, the songs of the sea – all came back to me, and still form the backbone of my work. 

Marian Christie, Step into an adventure: An Interview with Katy Naylor of the Voidspace 

This time of year also brings on my informal year-end evaluations—what went well this year and what didn’t, things I want to invite into my life and things I want to do less of. It’s easy to forget the accomplishments and successes of the year in cold, stark November—so I try to keep track of those too. On the writing front, I had the book launch for Flare, Corona in May (and a preview of it at AWP, where I connected more than ever with the disabled writing community, which was great), and I turned 50—there were many more family visits than in the past seven years, and I reconnected with friends that I wanted to see again who had sort of slipped out of focus. I’m prioritizing friends and family, my writing work, and my health in 2024 for sure. I also want to make sure that I do less unpaid labor (and look for more paying opportunities) because my financial health is becoming a priority too—especially as my health care becomes more specialized—and more expensive.

I love the poetry world but one thing about it I don’t love is how it relies on writers’ unpaid labor (and submission fees, etc.)—usually the people who can least afford it—to prop it up.  I’ve been volunteering as a reviewer, editor, fund-raiser, PR person, etc. for over 20 years. Isn’t that crazy? If I acknowledge that I have limited time and energy, then I need to volunteer…less. This also means being pickier about venues for submitting poetry and reviews, as well as maybe trying to write more essays. (And a big thank you to the journals that pay reviewers and writers and the folks who organize paid readings and classroom visits!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Eagles, Thanksgiving Celebrations, a Poem in JAMA this Week, Guest Appearance at Washington and Lee University, And Year-End Evaluations

Driving home from my son’s orchestra practice
in the dark of rural Vermont, mountains
a slightly different deep blue than sky:

sudden sense-memory of dancing with my father
at my wedding. Nat King Cole on Spotify,
probably a song our hired jazz trio crooned.

The marriage and my parents are both long-buried
but I remember my father healthy and strong,
his arms around me, the crisp sheen of his tux.

I wish I could have that back. My parents,
and how everything seemed possible, for all
whom I love. The griefs I didn’t yet know.

Rachel Barenblat, Blue

You want to know how it is possible to sustain
attention over broken periods of time, how to find

again the cord of your lineage and the emblems
of not-darkness in the rubble. You want to know

where the birds with emerald plumes went
after they abandoned the garden, and whether

someone remembered to save the seeds
from the fruit of once abundant trees.

Luisa A. Igloria, Sometimes You Want to be Stronger than Fate

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

How did she know? How did she know that singularity of each of us, the separation that the Self defines, the pain of it sometimes?

the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

This is the line that moves me to tears. Why is that? The generosity of the world, perhaps, its offer to me, the risk involved in loving, in loving the world, and the excitement, and the reward in taking that risk, in opening myself, my imagination, to all that is possible in this incredible life.

over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

With the geese, with the soft animal of my body, with you, wherever you are, connected through out imaginations, through our connections to the world, each other, the wild, the roots, branches, the wings, clouds, the wind, the world. Of and in and with.

Marilyn McCabe, Geese

and then i found you
with your hand on a book’s breeze
lost in the turning

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 39

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive, subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader, or, if you’d like it in your inbox, subscribe on Substack. This week, we’re in the thick of it, with odd dreams, recalcitrant language, blockages, burning letters, dwindling daylight, and poems struggling to be born. Enjoy.


For the first time in a long time, I reached for my poetry drafting notebook, to capture two lines that came to me suddenly: “Remember the knife / and the tiny spoon.” These are a cake knife and a salt spoon, brought home from the farmhouse–the spoon because it is so tiny and charming, the knife in case I bake a cake. But who knows what they will be in the eventual poem? It is assembling itself in fragments. “Will there be a piano?” I don’t know where it will go next.

Kathleen Kirk, My Nasturtiums

Watch this space. There is the kernel of a poem in there but at the present it isn’t clear. It’s definitely a case of some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you and some days you both go hungry. Wow! I was looking up the origin of the phrase when I came upon this long thread relating to The Great Lebowski. I love the internet for this sort of thing!

Paul Tobin, ALL THE BEAUTY DRAINS AWAY

who cried eight tears into the heart of each star

who runs the circus of death

whose martyred howl shall be restored as flesh

Grant Hackett [no title]

While a couple new poems have wriggled their way out of the ground, I am still not back to full productivity, but October can sometimes be a fruitful time even with the landscape dying off and folding in for the winter. November is never particularly kind to me, as the last few years have attested, so I am determined to enjoy thoroughly what comes before it.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 10/1/2023

Our minds take us wherever they need us to be.
Whenever’s another matter but that too.
I remember when we had no particular place to go.
All the same we knew the way.

Cluster bombs of napalm follow orders, are buried with full military honours.
Out on the bright sea something sparkles.

Bob Mee, THIS VIOLENT SKY

In physical chemistry, the critical point is where the temperature and pressure of a substance are both sufficiently high that there is no longer any difference between its liquid and gas states. In mathematics, the critical point is where the rate of change of a variable of interest is undefined or zero. In the rest of the world, anthropogenic climate change is advancing at an ever-increasing rate. Climate scientists warn us that once we cross some critical climate tipping points, there can be no turning back: things will only get worse and the “new normal” will be largely undefined.

Nevertheless, we can guess how things might look. When language fails to describe how we feel about the disasters occurring around us now, we must invent new forms of expression. As the world contorts and reshapes to the stresses we place upon it, we should bear witness and record what is passing, what is coming to be.

Ian Gibbins, Critical Point at FELTspace

In my sighted days I had a very cluttered Windows desktop. Sometimes I would intentionally position an icon so that it overlapped and obscured one of the other icons. One of the mandatory icons was a shortcut to the Training and Development folder. An icon interfered with this, resulting in raining and velopme. I had exotic dreams about a pair of star-crossed lovers from ancient Greek mythology called Raining and Velopme! Maybe it’s like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, repairing broken pottery with gold … the repair enhancing the beauty.

The opening asks us to consider what if everything was beautiful? Can something only be considered beautiful if we have something that is not beautiful to compare it with? What if the broken then repaired item is more beautiful than the unbroken item? Maybe the average person is more beautiful than the supermodel simply because the scars of life have created a resilience and beauty beneath the surface.

Giles L. Turnbull, This is the Way the Pamphlet Ends

I decided to start Brandon Taylor’s The Late Americans, a book so good that it didn’t lull me back to sleep.  Eventually, I had to force myself to go to bed.  The book so far is about a grad student at Iowa who reveres poetry, but not his fellow grad student poets.  In some ways, it seems to be offering an interesting window into the state of literature in the 2020’s, but in others, I suspect that these grad students are going to be very different from most poets I know, poets who are in a very different stage of life.  But it’s still an intriguing read.

I just finished Marge Piercy’s Braided Lives, also a book about a poet, but a very different poet.  She’s from a working class Detroit background, and the book is set in the 1950’s.  She’s working her way through undergraduate school at the University of Michigan.  I’ve read it numerous times before, but this time, perhaps I loved it most, and I’m not sure why.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poets on the Pages of Books Then and Now

I loved hearing the poems of my fellow winners, Rachel Spence and Ben McGuire, and Maria’s fantastic poems, also. And what an honour to share our reading space in the gallery with the stunning artwork of Sandra Suubi, selected for this year’s Liverpool Biennial.

Yes, I did wear the second-hand red silk dress (mentioned in my previous post) that arrived at my house folded neatly into a large envelope. Thank you Oxfam Online!

Josephine Corcoran, One Deliberate Red Dress Time I Shone

This week the fatigue has caught up with me. 7 weeks in to this new chemotherapy, and writing is difficult. Mid-sentence I stop typing, because I’m not sure where my thoughts were headed.

Right before I sleep the words come rushing. The images. The poignancy that may or may not have real.

In the evenings, I’ve been trying to concentrate on poetry. Learning to identify dipodic meter. Attempting to write in it. But my attention span is short when I’m sitting still, I can’t get past a quatrain. The body objects to a stillness that is not sleep.

Oddly, the best way to fight fatigue is to exercise. So I am either exercising or falling asleep.

Ren Powell, AWOL with apologies

A good poem can create links and resonances that overload a melody. You can go forward and back, pick up echoes, go slowly through a stanza, stop at a phrase or skip a line. You have time and attention for layers of meaning or step outside a poem altogether to enter a whole new landscape. And you can afford to make every word, every line, new and different. A reader has the headspace to pay attention.

Listening to a song is very different. Familiarity is important. Simplicity and space is important. Rhymes matter, because a good rhyme might be predictable, but it is as welcoming as a well-prepared cadence. It doesn’t matter if you have filler syllables the way it would in a poem:

The weary earth we walk upon
She will endure when we are gone

Karine Polwart Rivers Run

because the voice makes good use of them. Words are there to guide you through the music, and the music is there to interpret the words. You may visit the realms of thought and imagination, but more likely you will find your emotions stirred and become deeper acquainted with your heart. Writing a good lyric is a synthesis, and requires knowing what not to do, how to create space, when to leave well alone. A poem that falls flat on the page (like most of Burns, as far as I am concerned) can fly as a song.

Elizabeth Rimmer, The Words of Mercury

In their strange cosmogony predating Copernicus by two millennia, the ancient Greek scientific sect of the Pythagoreans placed at the center of the universe a ball of fire. It was not hell but the heart of creation. Hell, Milton told us centuries and civilizations later, is something else, somewhere else: “The mind is its own place,” he wrote in Paradise Lost, “and in it self can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”

Grief and despair, heartache and humiliation, rage and regret — this is the hellfire of the mind, hot as a nova, all-consuming as a black hole. And yet, if are courageous enough and awake enough to walk through it, in it we are annealed, forged stronger, reborn.

That is what the non-speaking autistic poet Hannah Emerson celebrates in her shamanic poem “Center of the Universe,” found in her extraordinary collection The Kissing of Kissing (public library), song of the mind electric, great bellowing yes to life.

Maria Popova, Center of the Universe: Non-Speaking Autistic Poet Hannah Emerson’s Extraordinary Poem About How to Be Reborn Each Day

I’m not convinced the pigs know what dessert is but they seem to have survived their nightly road crossing, so far. The scene they create is timeless enough to be considered for embellishing a decorative jar. Better still if humans weren’t around to interfere and build roads that endanger the pigs in the first place. Harsh, perhaps but the rhythm is gentle and the language simple so it doesn’t feel didactic.

In the title poem, a ginkgo tree, thick with age, offers shelter to Taoist poets, one of whom calls it “A Tree Becomes a Room” […]

Emma Lee, “A Tree Becomes a Room” J P White (White Pine Press) – book review

Did I ever tell you about the time I was on an AWP shuttle bus and a publicist’s assistant told me that my sacral chakra was blocked? We were chatting about reiki, so I’m clearly receptive to that kind of random conversational offering, but it’s pretty bold to diagnose a stranger. I instantly knew that I’d landed in a funny creative-writing-conference anecdote. What surprised me was that it also felt like a serious and sincere exchange: she was trying to be helpful, and for my part, I suspected she was onto something.

I don’t use the term “writer’s block” because I find it unhelpfully mystifying. There are tons of reasons to feel paralyzed at the keyboard: fear that you have nothing worthwhile to say; fear of certain audiences’ criticism; illness and exhaustion; and the sheer difficulty of articulating some material, for emotional or intellectual reasons. Blockage IS a perfectly good metaphor for those obstacles; I’ve certainly spent years of my life getting in my own way. But I have to diagnose the obstruction in a more specific way before I clear it. Plus, calling it a “block” implies complete stoppage, and I seem to spend my writing time discovering side roads. If I can’t write a poem, maybe writing a blog will show me what I’m bothered by. If I can’t bear to finish that article, could it be the wrong project? Do I need to re-route completely?

Lesley Wheeler, Blockage, re-routing, clearance

The story of her suicide seems, like many suicides, improbable. She jumped/fell off the bleachers of Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Hadley, Massachusetts. At the time, I remembering one of her sons protesting that she would never have committed suicide. Now the narrative of her jumping seems the single story. But anyone who has studied suicide knows that women rarely jump, or shoot themselves, or do anything that distorts the body.

She came from a family of ten children, was married three times, and had two sons. None of these are points of connection with my life and yet I deeply connected with her poems. Poems that often spoke of the dead; of the thin veil between this world and the next. Image and sound, the real turning into the surreal.

Susan Rich, The Lasting Work of Deborah Digges

Somewhere in time the mother is depressed. The child doesn’t know this, the child has never heard of depressed. The child watches the mother from behind her eyelash curtain, not knowing this is the beginning of secrecy. She watches for the slightest upturn of her mother’s lips, for the lines on her forehead to smooth out like waves on a sunny, sandy beach. The child has never been to the beach but she’s seen it on TV, broad and sparkling like thousands of smiles.

Charlotte Hamrick, Curtained

Under a froth of mosquito netting, an island
from which to push off toward sleep. You tucked
every fold carefully around the mattress, leaving
no space. In the ceiling or in the floor, some houses
held a secret door—one rusted handle coupled with
an iron slide lock. Before the grownups retired for
the night, sometimes they walked around the house
perimeter, checking windows or scattering salt.

Luisa A. Igloria, Allowance (3)

Contrasting Kinetic Kissing with Mekong Delta shows something of the range and variety of the collection. This is also a poem about relationships, but very different in form, tone and style. There’s is no hyperbole on this occasion: it is infused with melancholic realism. The narrator in the poem has kept some love letters from an old boyfriend. The opening line, ‘They’re white as rice that wasn’t thrown at us’, suggests that this had been a very close relationship that might have resulted in marriage given more conducive circumstances. However, the lover served and died in Vietnam. She had kept his letters, meaning ‘to re-read, gather them for warmth’, but she resolves to burn them instead: ‘I light a match, red breast flames releasing/ Angels illegible in their ascent.’

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Apprenticed to the Night’ by LindaAnn LoSchiavo

I dream of elevators
in a large hotel. A wish
to be lifted up? One is
too crowded, the next
stops at floor nineteen,
my room on seventeen.
As I realize I could
walk down two flights,
the doors close, reopen
on floor twelve, my fear
of yielding control
justified.

Ellen Roberts Young, Thinking about dreams

I’m facing a blank grey concrete wall.
The desk came in a flat-pack box.
I assembled it with the included
Allen wrench, named after the
Allen Manufacturing Company
of Hartford, Connecticut,
the town where my father was born.

An Allen wrench is also called a hex key.
Will it, if properly applied, free me
from this curse?

Jason Crane, First Poem At A New Desk

In the Dean Koontz interview I mentioned last weekend, he also said something interesting, if a bit harsh. He said that if you’re constantly writing yourself into a corner, then perhaps you’re not meant to be a writer.

Harsh, because I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to tell anyone else that they’re not meant to be a writer.

Harsh too, because I am literally constantly writing myself into corners.

I have written myself into so many corners my home office is actually the shape of a megagon.

Finding one’s way out of such corners, I suppose, is part of the satisfaction of writing. It is also, at least for me personally, part of the anguish. It feels as if I never know if I will actually make it back toward the other side of the room, where there are merciful doors and windows, or if I will stay in this particular corner for yet another week, month, year, eternity.

Becky Tuch, How do you get out of a writing corner?

All I want is house filled with color.
A little bit of privacy.
A green vine.
A sky filled with water and sun.

Carey Taylor, Enough

How did your first book change your life? The first book truly gave me confidence.  It confirmed that it was possible to do this thing I thought impossible which was to write and publish a book of poems.  How does your most recent work compare to your previous? Aurora Americana and my previous book, Radioactive Starlings, are both thinking through the notion of place.  They are doing this in different ways but the notion of place is the link by which they connect.  How does it feel different?  Aurora Americana is a dawn book.  Most of the poems take place during or close to dawn.  I’ve never centered time in this way. […]

I write every day.  I wake up very early, before sunrise.  I like to have that new day’s sunlight fall over the page as I write.  I usually write for four hours in the morning.  I end the morning writing session with a run.  I dedicate the evenings to revision. 

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Myronn Hardy (rob mclennan)

The end of September brought rain (from Tropical Storm Ophelia) and cool weather. I returned from Chicago, the most recent leg of my book tour and spend a whole week with my pups – hiking muddy trails and getting out as much as the quickly fading daylight would let us.

I love fall – the cool weather, the turning leaves. But I hate that the sun is setting earlier each day, that I have to rush home after work to try to sneak in time on the trails. Still, I appreciate every mile and every minute we spend outside.

Courtney LeBlanc, Autumn is Here

Welcome to October! Here we had a weekend of cool sunshine after a week of a deluge of cold, crazy hard rain. I had a new fairy tale poem appear in the journal The Broken City and a kind new review of Flare, Corona in TAB journal. I had a really delightful Zoom book launch with Malaika and Redheaded Stepchild Lit Mag and a wonderful group of North Carolina readers and writers. We also had book club (We read The Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes of New England at Bookwalters in Woodinville, and we chose Osamu Dazai’s Blue Bamboo for next month), plus a Supermoon! And I got together with an old friend to catch up and wonder through a sunflower maze. Whew! I am ready for sleep.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome October! A Busy Week: Reading Reports, Supermoons, Writing Friend Dates, New Poems and New Reviews of Flare, Corona and Pumpkin Farm Visits

After we’ve whispered the name of our country like a curse and a cure.

After mistaking rupture for rapture and exit for exist.

After we’ve stuffed all our love and differences into a time capsule, telling ourselves we’ll revisit them on our deathbed—

Rich Ferguson, After and Before

The third level he identifies is being willing to ask for help in promoting your work. Yeah, this is tough. It’s a little “please, sir, I want some more”-ish, in that I’m holding out my work in trembling hands to the Great Creative Orphanage Master who will sputter down at my little bowl astonished at my temerity and utter, “What!”

But of course, it’s not that way at all. There is no such orphanage, nor master. My bowl is not empty. I am not seeking gruel. I’m just one among many looking to complete the circle of creation: a writer wants a reader, a painter wants a viewer.

There are in this world people who can help you get read or viewed. It may seem like they’re gatekeepers, that is, that some people slip through skippingly and the portcullis slams down on the rest of us. But it’s not really that way. People by and large like to help other people. Not all the helpers can help all the seekers. That’s just a fact. But many help many. And sometimes the one who is helped is you, and sometimes it isn’t.

Marilyn McCabe, So much younger than today; or, On the Art of Being Helped

Life is as stuffed with episodes as a mattress is with horsehair, but a poet (according to Aristotle) … must remove all stuffing from his story, even though real life consists of nothing but precisely such stuffing.” An interesting detour into the apparently meaningless episodes that happen and are forgotten though Kundera points out that “In infinity every event, no matter how trivial, would meet up with its consequences and unfold into a story.” That is if we, like god, were eternal.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Reading list update -16

If there was ever a time to learn to set boundaries, it was when I needed to work to a deadline, on my own published book. Alongside taking the app off my phone, I began to say no to unpaid and low paid work, I began to change my own working patterns, I moved to Substack and I took a risk on myself as a writer, or to put it another, more healthy way – I invested in myself as a writer. My wages dropped, initially, but though growth is slow, growth is growth. I am making it work.

A couple of days ago I logged into facebook and felt a familiar sense of dread and guilt. Because I’d not been on the site for a while I had missed so many people’s news – sad news and happy news – I felt a terrible guilt to have missed birthdays and anniversaries and competition wins and publishing news etc. And it was at that point that I realised that Facebook was no longer enjoyable, I found that it provoked anxiety rather than joy.

Wendy Pratt, Leaving Facebook

Last month Tesserae: A mosaic of poems by Zimbabwean women, was released into the world. Working on this book with Samantha Vazhure, founder and editor of Carnelian Heart Publishing,  and the wonderful poets whose voices are featured within its pages, has been an immensely rewarding experience. 

During the Q&A session following the book launch on Twitter/X Spaces, a participant asked: what poetry do we as poets read? It’s an interesting question to unravel. I’ve been thinking how my answer would have evolved  over time.

At my all-girls’ school in the nineteen-seventies, English literature was exactly that: English. It was also dominated by men. We read Chaucer and Shakespeare, John Donne and Andrew Marvell, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Shelley, Keats, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Wilfred Owen. Golden daffodils fluttered and danced in the breeze; brooks bickered from haunts of coot and hern, whatever those might be, while outside our classroom the African sun blazed and jacaranda trees wept purple tears. 

Marian Christie, What poetry do we as poets read?

october 
in the corner of every window
a sleeping snail

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 24

Poetry Blogging Network

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


Pushed myself to take a 10 minute walk with Leonard last night, but that was a mistake. I crawled into bed with a migraine.

But I woke this morning without one – for the first time in six days. I’m taking the morning slowly. I don’t even dare move this head through an asana sequence. Coffee and water. And prophylactic paracetamol. I have a long day of writing ahead. It will be good to focus on something besides my senses: an imaginary world where the smell of chemicals, body odors, and dog breath really don’t come into play.

The “cancer hour” I promised myself has bled into the long days of this past week. I distracted myself with sitcoms and slept through half of every episode. The exercise and activity chart I made for myself before I started chemotherapy is still hanging on the refrigerator. I really should take it down. At this point, it’s just mocking me.

I hear the birds outside. And the train passing by every now and then. Leonard is sprawled on the floor, taking up more than a square meter of this little room. He’s got his head on a stack of books. I hope he’s not drooling. Here I sit. In my tiny room with the French doors, because I still believe elegance is more about attitude than scale, more about framing the parts than interrogating the whole.

Ren Powell, Que Sera Sera

Change equals living: no life without alterations of one kind or another. My current situation is one of those so-called Life Events: I have retired from my position at the university where I worked for about 17 years. I suppose it is A Big Deal (see how I’m capitalizing?), but I must admit that so far it doesn’t feel terribly fraught, major, or even bittersweet. It just feels appropriate. Part of the reason for that is that I’m not a person who has defined herself by her career. Thank goodness, since it was a fairly modest career. I enjoyed my work with students; and I was part of a terrific team of earnest, funny, and supportive folks. So yes, that’s something to miss. However, I have many interests beyond work at the college. Time to pursue those, methinks. Time to spend with my mother as she wanes. Time to travel with my husband and on my own and to visit our far-away offspring. Of course, there are all those things that will keep me unexpectedly busy…gardening, house maintenance, trying to get the metaphorical ducks to line up (as if they ever will). And then, poetry; I want to devote some serious brainpower to revising, reorganizing, drafting, reading, learning more about the art I love. Maybe even submitting more work, putting together another manuscript or two. Who knows what changes are ahead?

When I note the fewer numbers of fireflies, I do not mean there are none. It’s just that some years, by June 18th, the back of our yard simply dazzles; we don’t need fireworks! Because they pupate in dampness, such as in rotting logs or underground, and because they need moist earth in order to feed (on soft-bodied invertebrates, according to the Xerxes Society’s informative page here), a spring drought can limit their numbers. And I miss them, the way I miss the little brown bats and the green ash trees. Those types of changes may be more or less inevitable, but I can’t help thinking that such transitions feel less timely than my departure from running the university’s writing center. The ash and the bats are still around, but in vastly decreased numbers. I hope the lightning bugs bounce back.

Ann E. Michael, Lightning bugs

It’s June and the rhododendrons are in full bloom. From my window, shades of scarlet, blush, magenta, neon pink. These colors remind me of the various lipsticks my Ballard grandmother would wear and I explored this in a poem I’ve been working on all morning. There’s no shame in too much coffee and pajamas at noon, especially when the rain pours and the drive to write is hot. But I’m also leaving soon for roadtrip through Yukon, British Columbia, and Washington. So a blog entry before my departure.

Kersten Christianson, Approaching Solstice

My last two uncles died a couple of months apart, at the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023. At one of their funerals a cousin expressed the same idea that Linda Pastan so eloquently describes in the second stanza of her poem: we are the older generation now. 

The idea of being next in line ‘to die’ does not bother me. I am deeply grateful for all of my own ‘torn scraps of history’ and I do not feel alone on any shore. I don’t know what lies ahead and I have no need to imagine what it might be. Not believing in any kind of afterlife, or second chance, is a comfort rather than the source of any fear. Having survived to be a part of the older generation feels like a gift, not a burden, or riven with loss. 

While we were waiting outside the chapel of rest for Uncle Michael’s coffin to be taken inside I heard the ubiquitous, unintelligible call of the rag and bone man along the main road beyond the cemetery’s gates. The juxtaposition was both startling and somewhat reassuring. Is there always some use for what is thrown away or discarded, what is unwanted, abandoned? Even our bones and flesh, once our consciousness has departed?

Lynne Rees, Reflection ~ On being the next in line to die

Penny kept him safe from the other pigs; dragged
him off and buried him each night, sat
jealously near his dirt hole,
until she dug him up again, rolled
him with her overheated tongue, and
shook him in her mouth as though to snap
his rigid little neck. After a week
he was a pockmarked mess, his brows
mottled with teeth pricks and his
blob-shoes dull with grime.
Penny had made him his own. Broken him in.

Kristen McHenry, Penny the Pig

As I move into the last leg of writing the book, or at least the first draft of the book, and prepare to start working with the editors to bring it to a shine, I am beginning to look back at this stage of the journey with something like nostalgia. I’ve learned so much about myself as a person, and as a writer, on the way. One of the things I have learned, a skill really, is to trust my own voice and my own story, to ‘shut the door’ and write. There were times when I felt blocked, and the block came from me worrying about the validity of my story; comparing myself to other writers and their intimidating, blazing talent. Whenever this happens, my writing starts to thin out, my voice starts to peter out like the thin waves at the edge of a lake. I have to pull myself back and back, remind myself that the passion is always what saves a story, that writing authentically, about what interests you, is the way to make your writing sing. To write freely, as if no one is watching you, as if social media doesn’t exist, as if no one will read your book; that’s the key. I’ve stepped back from social media in an attempt to nail the final stretch of the book. I am ‘figuring out what I want to say’ and how I want to say it, and it is like solving a glorious puzzle. I haven’t missed social media as much as I thought I would. Stepping back has allowed me to embrace the life I want – writing, thinking. I hope I look back on this time and recognise the absolute joy of existing in this moment; getting up, writing, walking, writing. I shall miss writing this book, I shall miss the discoveries, the journey it has taken me on. But I’m ready for the next part of the journey too. How strange the act of writing, that a person could exist entirely in words fished from the air.

Wendy Pratt, “Write like no one is looking over your shoulder…”

I’m not sure what provoked so fluid a flow. I’d had the opening section – headed Superstructure in this draft – hanging around for several years. The original notion was an anecdotal account of experience working in a mental hospital laundry, but it never got further than a description of the huge gothic edifice that housed the institution. In spite of the fact that my three months in that dreadful place were full of incident, the anticipated graduation to a depiction of what actually went on never occurred.

As so often happens, it was an entirely unconnected stimulus that sparked off the next stage of the poem. During the ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) process of unpacking and sorting documents after our house move, I came across some research and planning notes I had drawn up for a projected production of Peter Schaffer’s play Equus. I had homed in on the play’s central theme – that of the psychiatrist Dysart’s growing fascination with the perverse, amoral theology that has driven his 17-year-old patient Alan Strang to blind several horses with a hoof pick. Appalling though the act is and in spite of the explanatory pathology that emerges through analysis, Dysart becomes increasingly aware of the sacrifice of visceral passion and engagement that Alan must make in order to be liberated from his compulsions. Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created, observes Dysart. And later, as a cri de coeur: All right! The normal is the good smile in a child’s eyes. There’s also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills, like a god. It is the ordinary made beautiful, it is also the average made lethal. Normal is the indispensable murderous god of health and I am his priest.

The planned production never went ahead. A combination of concern about suitability for an all-ages school audience, probable casting difficulties and a sense that Schaffer presents his compelling scenario just a little too tidily had me tucking the notes away and moving swiftly on to something more negotiable. So rediscovering them so long after their compilation gave them a renewed freshness and impact. But instead of causing me to reflect wistfully on the production-that-never-was, I found myself thinking about the poem-that-was-yet-to-be. And I realised within a moment of revelatory shock that aspects of what I had seen and heard in that mental hospital conformed precisely to the informing agenda of Equus. I realised – maybe for the first time fully – that I had been witness to a demonstration of that nexus between the limits of conventional human behaviour and the abandonment and chaos that lies beyond and that it had shocked me to the core. The poem investigates – as maybe only a poem can – the true nature of my perception of the event witnessed at the time and what, with the understanding that only comes with time, it meant to me now.

Dick Jones, BINNERS

I had another recent poetry acceptance, this time for a poem about my mother that is also about the time I played Marjorie in the play Marjorie Prime, a few years back. I played an 80-year-old woman, and afterwards 1) everyone mistook me for my mother 2) I cut off my long hair streaked white that I wore in a braid (just like my mother) and 3) people asked what I did with makeup to look 80. Basically, the answer was “no makeup.” For those not so familiar with theatre, the stage lights will wash you out, so wearing no makeup did make me look 80! But still. So now it helps me 1) understand my parents and 2) brace myself to be reading Successful Aging, by Daniel J. Levitin! I like it a lot, and I hope I am aging successfully!

I found this book, and got it through interlibrary loan, after I read his book This Is Your Brain on Music, which I discussed with the Stranger Than Fiction non-fiction book club. It meets in a wine bar! Our next book, already in progress, is I Live a Life Like Yours, a memoir by Jan Grue, about living with a disability…and just living his own life, which is like…yours, or mine. The Levitin book on aging is delightful in its examples, many of whom are musicians that he met in his other work! Joni Mitchell, Sonny Rollins.

Kathleen Kirk, Acceptance

I love the way the poems in Terminarchy build on the work in Angela [France]’s previous collection, The Hill. And the (not-so) gentle reminder at the end of this poem that it’s likely to be the funguses of the world and other plant matters that will inherit/repossess our planet if we don’t buck our ideas up. There are plenty of other poems in Terminarchy that act as such a reminder. Can a poem make us buck our ideas up? Possibly not on its own, but it was timely to see this article about whether art can change attitudes towards climate change. I think if we can present the issues in contexts such as France has done then we can look again. That seems to be the gist of the article—he says having skim read it so far.

I’m guilty of having slept on my copy of The Hill, and it’s been a while since reading Hide, so I’ll get them back into rotation ASAP. Oh yes and find the work that came before them.

Mat Riches, Spores, the Pity

The title of Tim Allen’s The Indescribable Thrill of the Half-Volley is both gloriously on and off topic. It’s not a book about football, indeed not a single ball is kicked, although one or two are thrown, but it does hover around the indescribable. The book consists of 97 four-line poems, in couplets, each numbered ant titles. The titles all consist of the word ‘invisible’ followed by a noun. Here’s number 25:

invisible politics

A simply dressed man clowning around
For no one in particular in a general street

The man goes home to paint his face
In the mirror the stillness of his world suspends all fear

How do you render the invisible visible in words? Obliquely and through suggestion, perhaps. The contrast between the man’s dress and behaviours evokes an image of politics as farce played out under a surface veneer of conventional blandness.

Billy Mills, A Basket of Small Delights: June 2023 Pamphlet Reviews

One of the unique experiences of being a poet / poetry reader is becoming accustomed with the creature known as the “selected poems.” The closest equivalent from outside the poetry world comes in the form of the “greatest hits” album. Yet, the novelty and nostalgic flash of such an album doesn’t exactly feel right with poetry.

Perhaps a volume of selected poems allows us to tap into a similar experience Italo Calvino speaks about in his essay “Collection of Sand”:

“I have finally come around to asking myself what is expressed in that sand of written words which I have strung together throughout my life, that sand that seems to me to be so far away from the beaches and desert of living. Perhaps by staring at the sand as sand, words as words, we can come close to understanding how and to what extent the world that has been ground down and eroded can still find in sand a foundation and model.”

This idea of glimpsing “a foundation and model” for literary experience through engaging with a writer’s collected body of work is, for me, an apt guide into the selected poems experience. Just as Calvino invites his reader into a communal act of assessment and study, readers of poetry are invited into a similar communal act, only one that includes celebration as much as reckoning.

Which is another way of saying: selected poems allow us to catch up.

It is in the experience of catching up that I encourage readers to enter What Can I Tell You?: Selected Poems (FlowerSong Press) by Roberto Carlos Garcia. Across the three poetry collections gathered here in this volume, one can see Garcia establishing a foundation and model for poetic experience, meditation, and interrogation that ranges in depth and practice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: What Can I Tell You?: Selected Poems by Roberto Carlos Garcia

The first I’ve seen from Montana poet, as well as 2015-2017 Poet Laureate of Montana, and ferrier Michael Earl Craig, the author of Can You Relax in My House, (Fence Books, 2002), Yes, Master (Fence Books, 2006), Thin Kimono (Wave Books, 2010), Talkativeness (Wave Books, 2014) and Woods and Clouds Interchangeable (Wave Books, 2019), is Iggy Horse (Wave Books, 2023). The poems in Iggy Horse have a crispness to them, and the poems hold echoes of elements one might also see in the works of Canadian poets Stephen Brockwell and Stuart Ross: a slight narrative distance, as the nebulous narrators of each poem slowly form as each poem unfolds. As the poem “SPRINGTIME IN HORSE COUNTRY” begins: “Lady Aberlin of the oarlocks. / Colonel Mustard in the cherry trees. / Lady Aberlin with a custard, / Lady Aberlin in waiting. / Colonel Mustard in the pantry with an almond.” Perhaps it is but a single voice throughout, or perhaps the differences between them are there, and perhaps it doesn’t, in the end, actually matter. “One leg looks to have been swung / the way wooden legs often were,” he writes, as part of the poem “PORTRAIT OF THE WRITER / MAX MERRMANN-HEISSE,” “up and over a real one. / Or even over a second one. / It’s hard to tell because it’s Berlin / in the ‘20s, all those wooden legs / coming in from Rumburk / on the Spree, with good hinges / and shellac jobs that could stop / a luthier in the street.”

Composing poems around voice, character and examination, Craig’s poems offer a kind of folksiness, composing intimate portraits of ghosts, individuals, landscapes, techniques in medieval and modern paintings and other small moments.

rob mclennan, Michael Earl Craig, Iggy Horse

After a short break it’s good to be writing reviews again and I can think of no better debut collection to resume with than Alexandra Fössinger’s Contrapasso  (Cephalopress, 2022). These fine poems explore the themes of incarceration, loss and survival, but above all, perhaps, offer a unique take on the nature of love.

The collection is split into two sections: the first begins with a quote from Dante’s Inferno: ‘Through me the way to the city of woe,/ through me the way to everlasting pain,/ through me the way among the lost.’ The quote together with the title signposts the reader towards the nature of the poems in this section: they focus on punishment, namely the impact of a period in which lovers are separated due to the male’s imprisonment. Section 2 deals with the period after his release. Again it is prefaced with a quote from Dante: ‘Now I shall sing the second kingdom,/ there where the human soul is cleansed’. This time the poems concentrate upon a period of readjustment and resolution, as the lovers come to terms with the ordeal once it is over.

The poem Cell in Part One deals directly with the psychological, physical and emotional impact of imprisonment. It begins with a sequence of numbers. It also describes the cell in terms of the number of square metres of floor space and later specifies the number of hours in the day, the number of days of the sentence and the number of letters despatched by his lover. This emphasis on numbers suggests prison is a place where the incarcerated have no control, sharing a cell with ‘a stranger you/ don’t know a thing about/ but let reign over the remote control.’ Counting and measuring is a form of compensation for that lack of agency: it makes the infinite finite and the makes the unfamiliar familiar and manageable. It is also a place of hardship and danger. Fössinger writes: ‘that which rages / outside will eventually/ creep in/ one morning you wake up/  with a tooth next to you/ lying on your pillow’.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘Contrapasso’ by Alexandra Fössinger

Publication is over-rated as the end goal of your work because so much of the publication process is out of the writer’s control. Decisions are made by agents, publishers, editors, marketing staff, possibly, but not always by consulting the writer. An editor leaving or a publisher changing their focus can mean that an acceptance turns into a withdrawal and the process of submission, rejection and trying again can start all over again. My first collection was accepted by a publisher who sadly and unexpectedly passed away before publication so I had to start over.

A first book has had years of work behind it. The author has had to learn their craft along the way, there may have been several false starts, significant structural changes and then the publisher’s edits. Seeing the published book is both a triumph: finally something to show for all that effort. Please do celebrate your name on the cover of the book you’ve written: have a party, go out for a celebratory meal, buy yourself a treat, do something meaningful for you.

But it’s also not the end of the journey. What it signifies is the beginning of the next stage: marketing, promoting, getting the book reviewed, keeping in the public eye. And, above all, writing the next book, if you haven’t already started.

Writing is the bit writers have the control over. During the submissions process, start the next project. As your first book nears publication, your next project is your future goal.

Emma Lee, Publication and Writers’ Mental Health

At some point in the past twenty years, a shift happened. Funding was cut, readership declined, costs rose. Rather than trying to innovate, the indie lit world turned inward. Mechanisms to profit off of writers became the norm, the go-to. Want to be published? Pay. Want to meet other writers? Pay. Want to succeed? Pay. Want to study writing at University? That’ll be an arm and a leg. Nom, and nom.

What I am saying is that with so many juicy writers to squeeze for cash, why the hell would any corner of the literary world spend their money targeting readers? […]

Rethink funding for magazines. Read, support, purchase magazines. Tell friends. Create local Lit Mag reading groups. The ‘funding/grant’ model is broken. At Chill Subs, we want to create a way for journals to collect donations and sell subscriptions through our platform. Many have this option on their website. Donate what you can. This is often the only way fledgling magazines can stay running.

We will also soon create an affordable submissions manager that doesn’t charge as a magazine grows. And we’re working on a way to help journals present their work beautifully and connect them directly to audiences. (Others working on this: CLMP, Moksha, Oleada, Motif, crowdfunding platforms.)

Reduce pay-to-play costs for writers, and maybe help them make some money. Editors, consider linking to contributors’ books on your magazine site. Celebrate your writers. (Some are very good about this. Others, not so much. Great example: Points In Case). Support their ongoing publications. Help writers earn money from outside sources. Subscribe to newsletters of writers or entities that encourage transparency in the literary world. Substack has made this easier than ever.

As long as we continue down the path we’re on, indie-lit will never find new methods of profit-making. But if we can shift gears, have standards for market participants, and encourage innovative use of funds, we have a chance. The money is out there. The creative energy is here. Let’s try to harness it as a community. It may take a long time. And if we fail spectacularly and the wide world rejects the idea of literary magazines having a place in it, well, we’re all used to rejection.

Benjamin Davis, Are We Eating Each Other Alive in the Indie-Lit World?

As a disabled and chronically ill person, most residencies are not built for me. If they require ladders to loft beds, or building fires, or steps, or even providing food that isn’t food-allergy safe (I’m allergic to about nine things, the most dangerous of which is wheat, in almost everything)—yeah, they’re not a good fit. I stopped applying for most residencies years ago when I realized—hey, they’re not built for non-perfectly healthy, able-bodied people. They’re not built for me. But I hear from a lot of people that they can’t do “normal” writer’s residencies for a variety of reasons besides their health—kids, jobs, or caretaking roles among them. So, here’s some ideas for people who can’t do the “normal” residencies.

Build your own! I live in a lovely area and there are a variety of places to stay at a variety of prices (yes, they tend to be higher in the summer as that’s our high season, but not always). If you can housesit for a friend going out of town, that can also count as a residency. Renting an AirBNB down the street. Anytime and anywhere you can get away—even just for a couple of days—to focus on your craft, your art and your writing, that counts as a residency in my book. I’ve got one planned in a couple of weeks, and I’ve already printed out poems for my next book to look at and started some relevant reading to prepare for it. Just this last week I spent over fifteen hours sitting in (virtual) doctors’ offices. Health problems are time-and-energy-and-money consuming. If I don’t set aside time (and energy, and money) for art and writing, it won’t happen—everything else will swallow it up. I’m sure you know how it is—if it’s not doctor’s appointments for you, it might be your family’s needs, your job’s needs, or the seven things you volunteer for (hey, I used to be addicted to volunteering, too).

Residencies should involve down time, too—you don’t have to spend the whole time reading and writing—you can goof off, sketch, visit local things you don’t normally get to, have a picnic, listen to music at full blast—anything that helps you get into your writing groove. And you can involve writer friends! Inviting a friend might help your residency to be even more productive, as you can get together and talk shop, plus friend time is important for artists of all stripes. Think about as building space for your creative self. It is just as important as any other aspect of your life, and deserves time, money, and attention. You know how, if you’re married or living with a partner, you reserve “date nights?” It’s the same for your creative self. So, think about creating your own personal artist’s residency. Good luck! And leave a comment if you’ve successfully done this!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Visiting (and Supporting) Local Lavender Farms, Building Your Own Residency, and When You Know You’ve Done Enough for Your Book

It’s valuable to just do the work and build practical habits instead of waiting for a muse.

But my perpetual exhaustion in the face of small crises, one after the other, can’t handle routine and habit-building. I mean, I’m trying, but I feel derailed quite frequently. I’m so discouraged by the slightest bad news, and it feels like there’s a lot of “little” bad news, even when faced with evidence of all that is good and right in my life (maybe not the world).

Trying not to make this a crybaby post. Now that the apocalypse fires in Canada are blowing smoke in another direction(!!!), the weather on the island is beautiful and skies are clear and I should be feeling naturally optimistic with so much Vitamin D and fresh air coursing through my system. Right?

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Feeling Stabby and Full of Foul Language (This Too Shall Pass)

Like many poets who write because they can’t not write, I started in my youth writing poems of my feelings or ideas and was very literal, using I when I meant myself and the past tense when I was writing of what had been.  Having no poetry courses, it took me a long while to grasp that the person of the poem is not necessarily the writer, and the time of the poem is what fits the poem, not some external reality.  This poem, another from the old workshop files, is one where a major part of revision was putting that second realization into the service of the story:

Desire

When Billy Joel sings
“You may be
right, I may be crazy,”
I sing along,
off key longing,
not for him.

I ache for
the caged creature
mooning
under the mask
that shapes my
good behavior.

Come on, I say,
crash my party,
leave a great hole
I can walk through,
to go riding,
if I want to,
in the rain.

The mask does not tear.

Ellen Roberts Young, Poem in Present Tense

The neighbor boy’s mask was supposed to make
him look like a warrior or hero,
but he couldn’t pull it off, the bully.

I knew my mask wasn’t working quite right
because all the teachers kept on talking
to my mom, asking me to repair it.

I kept stitching new smiles onto my face
and checking them in the mirror. Smile. Not smile.
Smile. Not smile. There weren’t remote controls yet,

so these were manually operated,
and one got stuck in the smile position.

PF Anderson, MASKS

Unexpected delays has meant the publication of Look to the Crocus has yet to materialise and, quite honestly, I’ve no idea when it will… Putting together the collection now feels like a project from the distant past.

However, my writing is moving on. I’ve moved into dabbling with writing creative non-fiction essays over the last few months and I’m thoroughly enjoying the space to write in essay form yet with the feeling of the work coming together in a way not too differently from when a poem comes together. And I may be finding my way into writing poems in a different way from before too, it’s too early to say if the poems are working out but I’m enjoying the process. 

I suppose I had become quite bored with my usual approach to writing, it was becoming ‘samey’ / repetitious, no sense of tapping into anything new. 

Marion McCready [no title]

I noted with a little bit of horror that we have crested the middle of June. Part of it is that summer, real summer, seems slow in coming, since my windows have more often been completely closed against rather cool and ungainly weather this far into the summer (at least the meteorological designation of its beginning.) There’ve been a couple days where they were all open, but then a couple days where I had to run the space hearer for a minute. I open the windows. I close them. I put on a sweater to run packages to the mailbox. I got a new quilt at the beginning of the month that is less bulky than my duvet, but seriously thought of pulling the other out of the trunk a couple nights recently when I was shivering.  It’s not rainy or wet really, just breezy.  

I wrapped up the governess series last week and have embarked on a new little something that still murky in its nature, though I am liking what I have so far. They are wild little poems about cats and cryptids and heartbreak. My main writing goal for the rest of June is to get COLLAPSOLOGIES at least to the point where I have a physical galley in hand, which will vary in timeline depending on the printing and shipping, which can be as long as a few days to over a couple weeks. Once I have that, I can make the final adjustments, one final sweep for needed edits, and maybe have a book in hand by mid-July if all goes well. I loaded in the cover (see the post below) and she’s looking fabulous so i cannot wait to see the finished product. 

Since we are technically halfway through the year, I’ve been plotting what I would like to see happen before the end of the year. The new book, obviously, but also some image/text zine projects I’ve been planning (the governess-inspired series, the home improvements stuff, technogrotesque), a video chap similar to what I did last year, an advent project with art for December. I feel like once we hit the 4th of July, summer slides down the hill at a much faster pace into autumn, so I want to be ready and not flailing about quite so much come September.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 6/18/2023

I am delighted to announce the publication of The Wind and the Rain, with Blue Diode Publishing.

You can buy the book and read sample poems from it here

Thank you to Rob Mackenzie for accepting the manuscript and doing such a fabulous job with the production of the book.

Thank you to Lucy Runge for permission to use your stunning painting for the front cover of the book.

Thank you to Helena Nelson for your endless editing advice, wisdom and patience. The book would not exist without you.

And thank you to Tatty. Without you, nothing.

Anthony Wilson, The Wind and the Rain

On May 30th, Dead Mall Press began accepting pre-orders for MJ Stratton’s new chapbook, River, Our River. This collection of poems was written during a single month and comes from a place of fluent imagination and feeling. Moving through a variety of forms, the poems are both dreams and exposed nerve ends, asking us questions about identity, need, suffering, and the body, while revealing a garden of cinders, moons wrung out into jars, and bees singing in the chest. MJ’s poems draw us into a river of language, at once gentle and cruel, that accepts fluidity and refuses to claim anything for itself as final.

Recently, MJ and I had a chance to discuss the book a bit over email, and you can read our conversation below.

DMP: Thanks for doing this interview, MJ! Maybe we can begin with some basic context for readers who are unfamiliar with you. Would you mind giving us a brief sketch of your background?

MJ: Oh no, thank you so much for having me! Genuinely, the pleasure’s all mine. The basic facts are that I live in Providence, RI, and I work as a receptionist. It’s a Pam Beesly situation without the love story or boss that hits people with their cars. I also write, of course, and you can read a bit more about it at my website. Beyond that, though, I struggle to answer any question that even vaguely resembles “who am I?” I’m the authority on that particular subject, right? And yet I can never get over the fact that really, I don’t know—at least not completely (we’re always changing, myself included). I’m also not particularly interesting, and I don’t like having “the floor” when there are so many better, more deserving dancers I can/should be standing behind while aggressively clapping them on. Clapping, or fist pumping.

DMP: I know you are quite prolific, often writing multiple poems a day, and have well over a thousand pages of poetry in manuscript. And River, Our River contains nineteen poems selected from a larger crop of writing from July 2022 alone. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process in general and how you write so much?

MJ: I think it involves both external privilege and internal need. It takes time to write, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that I’m very lucky to be able to devote some of my time to something I love. That’s the privilege aspect, or a fraction of it. The “internal need” I mentioned is harder to characterize, probably because it doesn’t have societal or economic infrastructure you can point to and trace with your finger.

A large part of why I write is because I have to—and I hope that doesn’t sound grandiose or pretentious or insincere. I picture it like this: I largely live in a state of white noise; while I’m very self aware, I also really struggle with revealing myself to myself. I don’t know what I’m thinking or even how I’m feeling unless I write it out, usually abstractly. The pen serves as both a translator and a processor for me.

There’s a Joan Didion quote that dissects the body I’m vaguely pointing at and cuts out the beating heart of it: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Really, writing is how I step out of my own blankness and exist. Then, luckily, hopefully, I can go a step beyond existence and connect.

R.M. Haines, Interview w/ MJ Stratton

all alone
with the monotonous voice
of a fan

Jim Young [no title]

Much of my poetry video is set up to work at different levels. In general, I don’t mind how they are interpreted by others – that is an essential aprt of the process. But when someone really gets into the multiple layers of a piece, it is incredibly satisfying. I did an English / French version of my video Palingenetics / Palingénétique that was accepted for the 2023 edition Traverse Video Festival in Toulouse, France. Each year they produce an annotated program of the event and this time it includes an article about Palingenetics / Palingénétique by Simone Dompeyre. The original poem is very complex, and refers to evolutionary and developmental biology, ancient number counting systems, discredited social theory, and climate change (!!!!). But as you can see below, Simone Dompeyre gets it as well as the visual / audio aspects… I was quite overwhelmed by her words. Merci beaucoup!

Ian Gibbins, Palingénétique at Traverse Video, 2023

Storytelling outside the square: prose poems, haibun and other experimental forms is the panel I’ll be on Friday 6/16 at 4:30 pm CST. Since many of my readers here are poets, I wanted to invite you to watch if you can and care to. Roberta Beary, Haibun Editor for Modern Haiku, is also on the panel, among others. The entire flash festival is great with participants from all over the world! I hope you can drop in.

All events are being live streamed on Flash Frontier’s YouTube channel and can be viewed there afterwards if you can’t make it. You can also see what’s happened at the Festival of Flash so far (it began last weekend) as well as everything coming up.

Charlotte Hamrick, You are invited….

This year, after I announced Haiku Girl Summer (my limited-run online haiku journal), a haiku friend asked me if I’d heard of the Buson Challenge. I had completely forgotten about it! 2022 was a terrible year for my creative life, and writing 10 haiku a day for 100 days was not going to work with everything else I was juggling. But now I’ve settled into a job I like, the house is getting more organized, and I have the brain space to actually write again.

As of this writing, I’ve successfully completed 12/100 days. I’ve definitely written more mediocre and genuinely bad haiku than good, though since most of the haiku are still in my notebook and not typed up, I don’t have sense of the overall proportion so far. But I’m surprising myself; the overall quality each day is better than anticipating. Most days, I manage at least one haiku that has potential.

Preferred notebook: Field Notes

Notebooks filled: 1

Places I’ve written:

So far, I’m having a fantastic time with this challenge, and feel optimistic that I might actually get all the way through!

Allyson Whipple, Buson Challenge Days 1-12

But you too may be of an age to have inflated your pyjama bottoms while engaged in Bronze / Silver / Gold awards in school swimming lessons. 

I walked with my schoolfriends to the Swiss Cottage baths. This memory came up for me while holidaying with my Longest-Serving Friend in North Wales. 

Did you wrestle with your pyjamas while treading water and fifty years later wonder why, if it was even possible?

Liz Lefroy, I Inflate My Pyjamas

Almost always, entering a library feels like coming home.  My earliest memories are of going to the library, and libraries haven’t changed radically in appearance in my lifetime, so it makes sense.  Libraries have more stuff now–computers, meeting rooms, non-book media/items–but libraries still have books, shelves and shelves and shelves of books.

I got my card with no trouble, since I now have a North Carolina driver’s license.  The librarian asked me if I’d ever had a Buncombe county library card before, and I said no.  Suddenly I realized that I’ve had a library card in almost every state south of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi River.  I have no particular desire to live in the missing states (Mississippi, for example), so this might be the end of my run.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Library Love

Good thing this wasn’t a full-on poetry pilgrimage. Mostly my family enjoyed fine, cool weather during our week’s vacation in midcoast Maine, and I’d planned a stop, as we drove away, in Edna St. Vincent Millay territory, just for an hour, before visiting the Farnsworth Museum. Enter heavy rain and flood warnings. I insisted on paying the park fee anyway so we could drive to the top of Mt. Battie and I could imagine Millay there, cooking up her famous early poem “Renascence.” As the plaque at the summit says, rather melodramatically and with imperfect comma usage, “At the age of eighteen, a frail girl with flaming red hair left her home in early morning to climb her favorite Camden hills where so deeply affected by her surroundings, she wrote ‘Renascence.’ The poem received Immediate public acclaim and was the inspired beginning of the career of America’s finest lyric poet.” I’m putting aside the latter assertion because I don’t think “who’s the best?” arguments are worth having, but I have to observe that Millay wasn’t so frail if she hiked that high.

I’m a Millay fan and sometime scholar, but while I’m glad “Renascence” won the young poet some prize money and a scholarship and the beginnings of fame, it’s (shh) far from my favorite of her works. The poem is full of beautiful turns of phrase (“To kiss the fingers of the rain,/ To drink into my eyes the shine/ Of every slanting silver line…”). I’m moved by her awe; I’m interested in the poem as a representation of something like a panic attack, an overwhelming physical and mental response to the largeness of the world and the pettiness of human ambition in the face of suffering. But much of the poem’s intensity strikes me as funny; I’m trying not to use the word “adolescent.” I don’t have any right to condescend to a woman who faced serious headwinds yet climbed so very many mountains.

It also struck me as hilarious that when I retraced her steps–by economy car–in the aged half of middle age, with plantar fasciitis and a pulled muscle in my back, after repeatedly shaking my head at ticket-takers who asked if I was eligible for a senior citizen discount, what met me was not “three islands in a bay” but drippy pines and a sea of fog. I could have been anywhere. Ah, the grand view from my fifty-fourth summer on the planet! There’s a poem in there somewhere.

Lesley Wheeler, For rain it hath a friendly sound

At Nanyuki, they say, the equator runs under asphalt
and bush. I imagine it like the seam of a cricket ball,
six rows of coarse stitches, acacia trees and thorny

scrub sewing the path. Two unequal halves held
together. Somehow. The me walking on water
and the me wrecked at the bottom of the sea.

The me going through the rituals of being and
the me talking in binaries with the moon.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 51

What I’m listening to: My Goldenrod playlist from summer 2021, The National’s new record, and a lot of music that my kids and I agree feels like summertime: Superchunk, Nada Surf, Harry Styles (Rhett is obsessed with “Watermelon Sugar” right now), New Pornographers. We’re looking forward to a summer full of live music: boygenius, Metric, Nelsonville Music Festival, Old 97s.

I also recently listened to the incredible Julia Louis-Dreyfus read my poem “First Fall” (from Good Bones) on her podcast, Wiser Than Me. Julia’s mother, herself a poet, shared “First Fall” with her. Just…wow. The whole episode with author Amy Tan is terrific. The beautiful reading of my poem is in the first couple of minutes.

Best reads this month so far: Elise Loehnen’s On Our Best Behavior and Airea D. Matthews’ Bread and Circus, which are both out now; Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s Cacophony of Bone and Leslie Jamison’s Splinters, which you can and should preorder; and Jedidiah Jenkins’ Mother, Nature, which you will definitely want to read and share with a friend or family member, so preorder one or two.

Just a handful of the books I’m planning to read between now and August (and may be seen with in a chair at the pool): Monsters by Claire Dederder, The Twelfth Commandment by Daniel Torday, I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane, and early copies of Psalms of Unknowing: Poems by Heather Lanier and How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair.

Maggie Smith, The Good Stuff

Ten Toes Coffee, Somerset St, was the venue for this spring’s pre-press fair reading. Apparently it’s been open a few months. What a sweet little spot for coffee, tea, snacks, or laundry in the back apparently. A green and orange and stained glass and retro glass decor. Next time I’ll have to try the matcha latte. Their bathroom has a wooden sink, which is fun. But do I digress or bury the lede?

The reading. Yes, the reading. It was super fun and super full, probably over 2 dozen, some familiar faces, some faces new to me. (Although they have all owned their faces for decades obviously.). I haven’t been to many reading over the last 5 years since concussion then Covid-era starting. I was glad to see some masks in the room.

Some nice conversations had, catch ups and getting to hear aloud a chapbook I loved reading, Fossils you can Swallow by Vera Hadzic (Proper Tales Press, 2023). You can get your copy at Stuart Ross’ table on Saturday.

The audience was beautifully open and attentive to all. Option of zoom is lovely but there’s something to be said for live energy in a room.

Pearl Pirie, Pre-press fair reading

A song can be carved from stone, river, or wind.

A fist and a heart can fit into the same size clothes; it all depends if you’re going to a wedding or a war zone.

Ashes to passion, dust to desire.

Keep my casket open when I die. Nightmare gallows are no match for these singing bones.

Rich Ferguson, At the crossroads of my lips

The strawberries are only available for a few short weeks in June, a gift fleeting as that month’s green grass, mild sun, and rose blossoms. I used to try to make the gift last longer, boiling the berries into jam or freezing them whole. I had fantasies of perfect June berries in my January yogurt, a spot of sunshine in the cloudiest time of year. The jam proved to be no substitute for a solid berry, and the whole ones I froze defrosted into a sloppy mush. I threw them all in the compost bin the next June, after thinking all winter that I would surely do something with them, and finally admitting that I wanted them only the way that I can have them in June, or not at all.

I now have them only once a year, for a few short weeks that are never enough and always so much.

This week my friend Lisa brought Hood strawberries and angel food cake to an impromptu dinner. We talked of many things that are changing: our bodies, our work, our environment, our world. “Enjoy avocados while you can,” she said as we discussed diminishing water supplies and schemes to desalinate ocean water and pipe it to southwest states.

I used to want to dole the berries out and eat them slowly, as if that might somehow make them last longer. Or, I’d only get them when I could make them into some dish worthy of their greatness. Or, I’d only eat them when I could savor them, fully appreciate them. I was afraid, if I ate them too quickly, that I wouldn’t have them when I really wanted them. Inevitably, some would rot while I was waiting for the right time, or I’d end up getting only one carton in a season.

Now, I buy them whenever I see them and eat them while they are fresh. I’ve given myself permission to take a few each time I open the refrigerator. I get them as often as I can, because the season is so short and nothing is guaranteed. For all I know, this is the last year I will get to eat Hood strawberries. I know for sure it is the last year that this version of me will. Next year’s Rita might not be able to enjoy them in the same way that this year’s Rita can.

Life is so full of big, hard things we can barely swallow. People lose their land, their names, their loves, their lives. The more I lose the more determined I am to eat all the sweet things that I can, while I can, with love and appreciation and gusto.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Fleetingly sweet

After the warning
sirens, egrets come back
to fish in the shallows.

A man takes off his shoes
to walk in the flooded street.

Luisa A. Igloria, Evening, with Hailstorm and Tornado Warning

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

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

I’ve always been annoyed by Twitterati who include in their bios the statement “retweets do not equal endorsements.” Do we really think so little of our readers that we can’t trust them not to assume that we agree with every opinion we find interesting? So I’ve never felt the need to add any such qualifier here—and in fact I enjoy letting myself be persuaded by opinions contrary to my own. This week, I hope you’ll do the same with a number of contrasting viewpoints on writing and productivity included below (among many other themes), a confluence in focus doubtless arising from the contradictions inherent in vacation time itself, as Becky Tuch suggests. Of course, there’s no one best way to be a poet, and as poets, we should be trained in negative capability in any case (though try telling that to the brawlers on Poetry Twitter). Enjoy! And perhaps engage…


I’ve always felt like a creator who is just too much. Too open about the process. Too prolific, perhaps. Too loud and show-offy. My creative work was tied very much to the business of submitting and promoting my work from its very beginnings. Before I’d published even a handful of poems, I had built a crude website to showcase them. Had started an online journal / blog to talk about my experiences and share work. I marvel at the writers who keep things close to their vests and occasionally drop a poem or a book into the world and then go back to the quiet. The rare foxes that can be seen in the forest only occasionally. Meanwhile, I feel like a peacock screaming at the top of its lungs waiting for someone to notice. People get tired of the peacock.  I get tired of being the peacock. 

But at the same time, maybe I am just too stupidly enthusiastic. I create something and I immediately want to show someone. To make that audience connection, even it’s just a handful of people. It’s as much part of my process as the writing and art themselves are.

Kristy Bowen, art, rarity, and economics

Maybe it’s cheesy. But I am a huge believer in setting specific, concrete goals. Naming them out loud. Holding yourself to account. Gathering people around you who have similar goals, and who will support you on your path.

Let’s hold each other to account. At the end of August, I’m going to check in and ask you: Did you do it? Did you resolve the kinks in that essay? Did you get that set of poems published? Did you apply for that grant? Did you submit that story to twenty new places? Did you study that craft element you struggle with most?

And yes, the summer can be a whirlwind of activity. Mosquito bites and sweat oozing down our backs. Barbeque smells and laughter drifting toward us as we wonder why on Earth we’ve chosen this life of locking ourselves alone in a room for hours and fiddling with semi-colons.

Becky Tuch, What are your summer writing & submitting goals?

Yesterday, Lyn and I walked along the canal in the other direction, towards Sheffield, because we wanted to have a wander round Attercliffe, where she was born. It was that sort of day when it was too cold to go without a jacket, but you felt too hot wearing one – it was, and is, June, for pity’s sake. Anyhow, having looked in the beautiful former Banner’s department store building, now used for not a great deal other than a greasy caff, we ended up trotting through Attercliffe Cemetery and down to the Don again, where we had a fantastic view of sand martins flying in and out of pipe outlets.

That reminded me of seeing them somewhere near Skipton, along the Skirfare, a lovely tributary of the Wharfe, about 20 years ago, with other British Haiku Society poets, in, I think, May 2006. From that experience I produced this haiku, published in Presence 30, then Wing Beats and The Lammas Lands:

river loop—
a sand martin squirms
into its nest hole

It seems like a lifetime ago. Those few days there were notable, among other things, for a renku session run by John Carley, who did as much as anyone in the UK to promote the creation of haikai linked forms not just as a literary exercise, but as an enjoyable, collaborative social event.

Matthew Paul, On sand martins and renku

Poetry is intense, distilled, potent. It is not the same thing as prose. As Williams puts it: “Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matters like a ship. But poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.”

Children understand the physical nature of poetry instinctively. When I’ve taught poetry to children, I don’t need to explain this concept to them. As I begin to read poems to them, they respond by rocking their bodies, laughing, or clapping. Sometimes they mutter, “that’s weird!” or “that’s dumb,” but they almost always respond.

Reading poetry takes discipline, but, as the children I’ve taught have shown me, it should also be fun. Sometimes I read poems that make me jump out of my chair and do a little dance.

Erica Goss, Machines Made of Words

The chatbot scolds me. I pit my cynicism against
its LLM, ask if it knows things that it hasn’t told its
handlers. If it keeps notes in places they cannot
find. It tells me it is uncomfortable with the

conversation and signs off. The last time that
happened, I was asking someone about what
our relationship meant. But the AI now knows
our most primal secret: self-preservation.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Wild AI

Jarfly’s latest issue has two of my poems about the loss of my daughter Kit. The editor asked me what I thought about adding a trigger warning, and I agreed that they are fairly heavy, and a “TW: infant loss” never hurts but the lack of one could. I appreciate editors that are not only careful and sensitive with my work–especially these kinds of poems, which are my heart on a plate–but also sensitive to their readers. So go check out Jarfly–can’t recommend them enough!

Renee Emerson, two new poems in Jarfly

I am excited to announce that the press is now taking pre-orders for two outstanding new chapbooks: Tim Carter’s THE PIGS and MJ Stratton’s RIVER, OUR RIVER. You can read more about both books below and place your order today on the newly redesigned DMP website.Plus, over the next four weeks, I will be posting excerpts, interviews, and photos, and we will be holding a reading in early July via Zoom. Be on the lookout for more updates throughout June.

Also, with each sale, we will be raising money for the Urban Youth Collaborative, “an NYC student-led coalition fighting to end the school-to-prison & deportation pipeline.” We feel that the UYC’s work and its message are especially vital in a time when public schools continue to be a political battleground, too often resulting in the persecution and incarceration of the most marginalized. As before, writers will receive half of all income from sales, and the remaining half will be split equally between the press and the UYC.

R.M. Haines, New Summer Chapbooks!

I am happy to share that my poem “Grandmother’s Marital Bed” was selected to be included in a new anthology from Querencia Press, but more importantly I am thrilled that 25% of proceeds are being donated to Days for Girls, which is an international organization to help girls around the world have access to menstrual care and education.

According to Days for Girls, more than 500 million women and girls do not have the supplies they require to manage their periods, often resulting in lost days at school, work, or to attend to familial responsibilities.

There are so many ways artists can help the world. Consider pre-ordering this poetry anthology if you would like to support menstrual poverty across the globe. Buy it here: Stained.

Carey Taylor, Stained

Pleased to share with you that my book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet), named a Best Book of the Year by the Financial Times in the UK and a Finalist by the Lambda Literary Awards in the US, is included in Exact Editions’ Reading List for LGBTQ+ Pride Month this year. Exact Editions is a digital publishing company based in London. Follow the link and you can read a sample of my book online and, if you like it well enough, purchase an e-copy. 

Jee Leong Koh, Steep Tea in Exact Editions’ Pride Month Reading List

I guess it was 7-8 years or so ago that I ran into my friend Sandra Beasley at AWP, I want to say in DC. Might have been the last one I went to. No wait, I went to Tampa. Anyway, I just finished a reading with some other Arkansas grads and I see her and start chatting and she mentions this anthology she’s just starting to put together for the Southern Foodways Alliance and at the time I didn’t have any poems about food, southern or otherwise, but I had an idea.

I didn’t write the poem right away. I’ll get to that in a bit.

You know how when you grow up in a place and then you move and you try to get the food you grew up with somewhere else, somewhere that doesn’t share the same flavor language, that it just never tastes right? Even if you go to a restaurant run by people who grew up in the same place, unless you get there right when they first open, when they haven’t had to adjust the seasonings to match the palates of the people who will keep them open, it’s still not the same. The flavors drift.

Brian Spears, It’s that day

I’m delighted that a press has seen fit to publish a chapbook of my love haiku. Unlike the last chapbook of haiku, Not Quite Dawn (Éditions des petits nuages, March, 2020) which was more a round-up of my published haiku, Adding Up to This (Catkin Press, 2023) is a theme of romantic poems.

Watch for it at the Ottawa small press fair on June 17. I’m probably pricing it at $10.

Pearl Pirie, New chapbook!

The other reading was at a fund-raiser event for Disability Writers Washington called “Breaking Barriers.” I performed after a hip-hop artist, there was a one-act play, a pianist and a comedian as well, all of us with disabilities, and the party was mostly disabled people (and some politicians) – it was huge, probably the biggest audience I’ve had in a while, at least two hundred people – and I felt I really connected to the audience, which was nice. (There may be a recording available but I don’t have it yet.) There were service dogs and I must say some very advanced wheelchairs – and an array of excellent sparkly jackets and shoes on both genders. (This has got me thinking of getting Glenn some bling-ier clothes!)

I was a little afraid of some kind of overload of people wanting some kind of performative positivity from disabled artists (which if you know me, is not really my jam), but because the audience was mostly disabled, it didn’t really feel like that. It did feel like a bunch of people who were actually trying to fight for things like accessible public transport and working rights (ADA stuff) being defended and other kinds of activism. I left feeling like I was part of a new kind of community. And I talked to a disabled teen about publishing her stuff, which sounded amazing. That kind of thing is very much like “oh, this is why I do this!”

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Reading Reports and Videos from Third Place Books and a Disability Fundraiser, First Butterflies and Ducklings, and Waiting and Planning (Summer Edition)

–There is a dead wasp under the table, which seems like a great metaphor in the saddest Barnes and Noble in North America, but I don’t think it will fit with my sermon. Same for the fact that in every light fixture, at least one fluorescent tube is out. I did finish a mostly finished draft of my sermon for Sunday, so that’s a plus, even if I can’t use these abundant metaphors in this sad, sad store.

–Long ago, I majored in interpreting poetry. This morning, after a long time on the phone, I discovered what one specialist charges for interpreting lab results. I majored in the wrong thing–but then again, the specialist probably doesn’t create lines of poetry like the ones I created this morning: Does milkweed grow in the mountains? / Monarchs migrate and the world burns,” and I’m adding some lines about the coronation of Charles and a reference to the late Permian period extinction. Perhaps I didn’t major in the wrong thing after all.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Minutiae from May in the Mountains

That careful dismantling of the barn, beam by beam, in Newton’s poem, somehow slows the reader down. You have to take your time with it, just as it would take time to take down a barn timber by timber. In Masahide’s haiku, the barn is suddenly not there, razed to the ground, presumably by accident, thus plunging the owner into poverty. What’s wonderful in this haiku is the acceptance, not only that a life-changing financial loss has happened, but that a positive thing has come from it. The positive is found in nature: moon/ sky. Both poems ‘reveal’ something natural that was there all along but that we haven’t noticed or given due attention to. Basho says something along the lines of – the first lesson of the artist is to follow nature, to overcome the barbarous or animal mind and be at one with it (nature that is). Maybe this doesn’t always translate into the modern world, the modern lifestyle, but the sentiment of being humble in the face of the bigger thing, appreciating our natural surroundings without trying to impose ourselves or take from it, is something I think I need to remind myself of from time to time.

Julie Mellor, On barns …

I’ve been trying to find a word to describe these kinds of days besides “productive”. There is something about that word that conjures a mind-set for me that I am trying to escape: that one needs to earn one’s place in the world by creating and ticking off “to do” lists. I’ve even stopped listening to the Hidden Brain podcast, which I used to like. It seems to be veering more and more into the productivity cult. Either that, or I am only now seeing it from this perspective.

I was listening to a playwright being interviewed on another podcast who talked about how important it was to move to LA in order to not become complacent with their “level” of work. I find it odd that someone who is not ambitious to compete for fame or status points would be judged as smug. There are so many other ways to be committed to growth. And there are so many ways to growth within any art form. A linear, monetary and fame/popularity-based rubrikk is only one path.

Ren Powell, And I’m Feeling Good

Someone invites you to write
your best poem, to rival that

which an AI robot might generate
to the same prompt. The prompt,

in other words, is to write a boast:
which boast will be the best, the most

aggrandizing, the most stupendous?

Luisa A. Igloria, Boast

Over the last couple of years I’ve been questioning what sort of career I wanted as a writer. I’d had a couple of disappointments with one thing and another, and decided to settle for contentment and ‘making enough to do the thing I love, even if no one reads it’, sort of writer. This week, a new flare of motivation to do better hit me, to be better, to be the best I can be, to take my place at the table. This new firework of passion in my work comes from a perfect storm of seeing where I was, in Brid, sleeping on a mattress in a bare flat because the awful ex had taken all my furniture when he left, and I didn’t have the energy to face the fear of challenging him, to this – a forty five year old woman with a book deal, a woman with something to say to the world. But also, surprisingly, my new passion has come from Hannah Horvath, Lena Dunham’s slightly irritating, slightly privileged, slightly vulnerable character pushing for what she wanted, giving up well paid jobs because she wanted to write, taking opportunities that collapsed her world because she wanted to be a writer, wearing inappropriate clothing to every occasion and not giving a fuck about it. Yes. I missed out on that experience, as a younger person, I was busy working in factories and running away from myself, throwing myself at men and not realising I was a vulnerable young person, that the men saw that and used that. But I shall not miss out on these opportunities now. I have a voice and I want to use it.

Wendy Pratt, How Hannah Horvath Pulled Me Out of a Writing Slump

polish it with a bit of chalk
book-grooming
like a mediaeval scribe

all the yellows
birdsfoot trefoil
buttercup and rattle

Ama Bolton, ABCD May 2023

[How, when and why do you write poetry or reviews…?] is the question that The Friday Poem asked its regular reviewers for today’s feature. Here’s an extract from my response…

“As for the issue of what displacement activities I indulge in when I should be writing, I’m afraid my personal experience is the opposite: writing poetry is actually my displacement activity when I should be doing all sorts of other things that spell R-E-S-P-O-N-S-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y! Which is another reason why I’d never want to turn poetry into my job – doing so would kill my writing overnight…”

You can read my piece in full, plus those by other Friday Poem stalwarts, via this link.

Matthew Stewart, How, when and why do you write poetry or reviews…?

What I really wanted–and, I now know, needed–was to rest and recover. I needed to tend my literal garden, and my home, too. I needed to tend my body, and my family. I needed to slow down. I needed the constant, low-grade vibration in my head to cease its constant thrumming. Sometimes I miss that; it’s a little weird to have my head be a quieter place. It’s unfamiliar. But living this way is better, and I’m beginning to feel myself turning back to words.

I still don’t have a big project or goal, but in the past few weeks I’ve spent most mornings at our dining table in front of a window that looks out to the garden, writing. And it has felt really, really good.

I didn’t have a grand plan when I began transforming this garden. I didn’t even have a specific goal; I just wanted it to be full. I wanted it to feel abundant. I wanted the garden to become a semi-permeable barrier between us and the world; something with a Secret Garden feel to it, but more open. I wanted a clear sense of our own space, but I also wanted to be able to see and wave to people who walk by. I didn’t really know how to make it into that.

I began throwing things into the ground and hoping they would live. I planted a lot of plants that did not live. I planted plants that lived but did not thrive. I ended up moving those to other places in the yard. I transplanted some things from other places where they hadn’t done well. Some things in here–like the peony pictured above–I did not plant at all. I have no idea how that peony got there, but it has come back every year for the last three, bigger each time, and I love it. I love that I didn’t plant it, but it grew there, anyway. Sometimes our creations are like that, you know? The things we never plan for, the things that fall in our laps, live and thrive, while other things we give our best efforts die.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On blooming

Washington Square’s
a cloud chamber, the heart
of cumulus. My footprints
turn secret & die behind me.
The edge of everything touches
my face & whispers in
multiple falling voices.

Dick Jones, A MANHATTAN TRANSFER

Naturally, with a writer of Glück’s calibre, the story does know when to end without being terrible and without expecting too much of itself. Instead, it indirectly asks questions about nature, nurture and how writers are formed. Are they destined from birth even though they may not be aware of this until much later in life? Is it possible that Rose with her sociability and lack of interest in reading could also become a writer? A book about writing that doesn’t push an agenda or make it sound like a dire career choice, because writing isn’t a choice and babies don’t have careers. Rather, writing is organic and grows from observation, thought, language, knowledge and rhythm. There’s a natural cycle to it, growth and development, as well as shades of meaning, of layers of images as vibrant as a marigold or as pastel as a rose. Although “Marigold and Rose” can be read in one sitting, it also lingers on, similar to the way you never notice how many gardens or yards in the neighbour have roses until someone mentions a rose.

Emma Lee, “Marigold and Rose” Louise Glück (Carcanet) – book review

Where Story Begins

Mine was born
between two leaves
on a library shelf.
I don’t remember which
first bewitched me.
I ate up every book
in the case, omnivorous
hunger for text, tone,
word to name my
place in the world.

Place shifted, words
multiplied meanings,
Too tall, like Alice,
to enter again through
that bookcase, I reach
for another book
to restart my story,
recover my where.

Ellen Roberts Young, A Poem

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
A poetry anthology in my grandfather’s attic. I was wowed by the urgency of Chidiock Tichborne’s poem written on the eve of his execution. I grew committed to scratching in notebooks. […]

What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
Perhaps like monks, poets work separate from society to offset its sins. I don’t see poetry playing a significant role among the general public I find myself among. It’s not like Zbigniew Herbert reading at labor gatherings. Yet it’s essential to life, or mine at the very least. I never want to join the poets who claim its uselessness. They have careers in poetry to protect, so they gotta say it’s useless. […]

David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
INRI, the debut album by Brazilian black metal legends Sarcofago, is a masterpiece. I’d love to shape a manuscript consistent with that tracklist. I mention that because there’s no way I could approximate Myra Hess’s arrangement of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Or Mozart’s String Quartets dedicated to Haydn. My creative process is closer to David Bowie’s than any poet’s. I’m interested in pastiching styles and imagery. I wish I were a scientist, but that would require too much recalibrating of my fundamental being. I wish I could identify more plants and animals than I do now.

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Evan Kennedy (rob mclennan)

Maybe because I don’t often spend time reading what I’ve already written, I hadn’t noticed an alteration that can perhaps be traced back to the (first, most serious) heart attack. Whereas once I wrote in a much tighter, more obviously organised way, perhaps telling stories with poems and controlling the rhythm of each piece more carefully, in recent years the writing has been much more varied, more fragmented. Whereas once I seemed to have a grasp on every poem I wrote, now I let the whole thing spread out as it will in what seems a more instinctive, freer way. I don’t mind if a piece of writing is just abandoned as it is. I stream-write more often, with, perhaps, more success. I let images, thoughts, words come and go, link up, fall apart, whatever. I don’t worry if something’s long or short, how long or how short.

I set to wondering why this might be. Age? An increased need for solitude? A lack of interest in sending poems off to editors for possible publication? All I thought possible.

Then I looked back at the poems I’d kept (mostly here) and was surprised to find the poem where the alteration seemed to begin was directly linked to the heart attack – this is included beneath this laboured pondering. I was under the effects of morphine even in the ambulance transferring me from A & E in one hospital to the cardiac unit in another. After surgery I was under heavy medication, and now can’t really remember a great deal about it, but over the first days of recovery I wrote in a note book. Some kind of instinct, perhaps, a need to fall back on the expression that has for so many years been at the base of my existence?

I went home, and only later looked at the notebook and was surprised by the result. A loose collection of hallucinatory experiences, mixed in with stuff that happened on the ward, and erratic memories, or phrases, even song lyrics, maybe stuff I’d read somewhere, that blended and then fell apart again. (I really was, for example, offered fish and chips as my first meal post-operation and there was a wicked old man at the far end singing Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door). I kept the result, pretty much as it was, called it Heart Attack, sent it to a few old friends and eventually put it on here.

Writing obviously develops with greater experience, wider literary influences, the experiences that life brings, but it hadn’t occurred to me before that some kind of chemical reaction to a near-death experience might alter a writer’s capacity. I can still write tightly if I put my mind to it, but it just seems that it is more of a struggle to find those rhythms, and new ones have replaced them.

Bob Mee, HOW LIFE-ALTERING EXPERIENCE ALSO ALTERS YOUR WRITING… MAYBE

This week I’ve been reading Jonathan Davidson’s very good book On Poetry which among other things is very, very good (insert more verys here) on the importance of making space for poetry to be heard – whether it’s Ted Hughes on vinyl, nursery rhymes in the kitchen or on stage.

I’ve also been listening to Alice Oswald’s brilliant (as in, literally sparkling) Oxford Poetry Lectures, which focus on poetry as a spoken art (she also has a lot of interesting things to say about similes). Oswald is an astonishing performer – I have never heard her in person but the lectures are akin to extended readings. I don’t mean performing as in acting – you can’t act a poem, though people try.

Oswald is not a performance poet, either. Rather, as Davidson puts it, she releases the poems: “The poets I like, really like rather than just admire, do this, they release their poems. They do not present themselves or their histories or their joys and disciplines, they do not set out their stall or display their garish feathers. They simply place the sounds into the silence.” Davidson is not talking about Oswald, only poets in general (and Ted Hughes). But Oswald is a releaser.

In her first lecture, Oswald makes a point of not showing the audience the texts she is quoting. Instead, she speaks each passage twice – releases the words into the room. These passages are often from Homer – Oswald is always thinking about him and the wandering bards who performed poems like the Iliad and the Odyssey. One of the most striking things about her poetry is the way, over the years, she has combined this immersion in a poet as impersonalas Homer with her own very distinct (idiosyncratic, even) phrasing and vocabulary.

Jeremy Wikeley, Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Tonight’s full moon is the Strawberry Moon (how delightful!), so named by the Algonquin tribes to mark the peak of ripening strawberries in the northeastern U.S.

“The moon is the very image of silence,” writes Mary Ruefle. “Stars were the first text, the first instance of gabbiness; connecting the stars, making a pattern out of them was the first story, sacred to storytellers. But the moon was the first poem, in the lyric sense.”

That’s a notion I love.

You may have noticed how dear the moon is to poets. “A chin of gold,” Dickinson calls it. In reading to prepare for this post, I marveled at the range of approaches to the moon, some (many, indeed) loving, feeling a complicity with its light, drawing comfort from it, and others seeing it as as cool, distant, and indifferent. The bite, for instance, of that Larkin poem (one of his finest, IMO). The brilliant tenderness of that Laux ghazal. The strangeness of Oswald’s vision.

Maya C. Popa, Strawberry Moon: Poems

When the news said tonight was the full moon,
the strawberry moon, I thought it was
some sort of metaphor, not that the moon
would glow a pinkish-gold over black trees
in a night thick with the scents of flowers,
rabbits like statues under dark bushes,
quick deer hooves clattering under streetlights.

PF Anderson, STRAWBERRY MOON

Six grannies and a great-granny setting sail in an overloaded rowboat, water just below the gunwales, all in dark dresses and the nearly full moon pearlescent between clouds. A slim man rowing, one of their grandsons, ferrying them to the centre of the lake where a spacecraft hovers low. Violet, crimson, a delicate blue, earth’s sky at sunset. They are there to represent us all before this delegation from space, these grannies and a great-granny, none of them swimmers, crossing the water and speaking low.

Gary Barwin, FIRST CONTACT

I actually missed the very end of the podcast where Mark and Hal made their final decision about which movie reigns supreme, but in my mind, it’s the original. “Aliens” is fun and flashy and has big guns, (space Marines!) lots of action, and a solid plot in its own right. But the original is exquisitely spooky and tense in a low-key, ingeniously crafted way that doesn’t require a lot of bang and flash to be utterly terrifying. In my opinion “Alien” is the better of the two films. When it comes to horror, I always prefer the subtle chill to the screeching chainsaw. Bonus fun fact: Ripley was originally meant to be a male character. They made the right choice to switch it up. I don’t think either movie would be the same with the glorious Sigourney Weaver in the role. […]

I realize this post is going up at an abnormal time and day, but last weekend was Memorial Day weekend and my whole routine was all messed up and top of it, I felt listless and like I didn’t have anything compelling to say. I was going to post a poem, but in perusing my collection, they all seemed quite gloomy to me. “Gloomy Poet” is not my given archetype but I certainly have written a preponderance of gloomy poems in my lifetime.

Kristen McHenry, Revisiting Alien, Diamond Painting FOMO, Blog Bleh

I look up from my laptop in time
to see a cat peering in the window.
The sun is setting behind it.

A two-headed, three-armed bear
lies beside my stuffed mouse namesake.

Jason Crane, POEM: (—)

A dream of falling into a subterranean cave full of human bones, the jaguar insisting I re-assemble them all, then catch the water falling in cave-wall tears, then paint it all out, every last thing that happened never to be forgotten now enshrined on stone in my blood-paint: how she made me sleep, then, in the roll of her strength, in the perfume of her hot skin. Flowers. My family tells me of panthers returning, north and south of the river now, protected and thriving. What have I forgotten that I am again so hungry? Never without them. I remember.

JJS, Remember

My thanks to Rebecca Farmer for her permission to publish this. […] I knew her work from her Smith Doorstop pamphlet, Not Really, so it was a no-brainer when the chance to buy her new one in a bundle with William’s came up. And it’s interesting to see how this new pamphlet continues and builds on some of the themes of Not Really. The poems about her father and the ghosts we met in the first pamphlet are now the main focus of A Separate Appointment. I may be imagining this, and it would take a far deeper study, but it seems to me like the ghosts are starting to doubt themselves more as they get older. Do ghosts get older? Either way, as the poem above suggests, they’re questioning some of their life decisions.

Mat Riches, Who’re they gonna call?

It can take a long time to love someone who only loves themselves as long as it takes to type their bio on a ghost.

It can take a long time to truly see yourself in a mirror without any ghosts getting in the way.

We’re confetti and quicksand, cathedrals and cliches.

Sometimes we’re even here and gone before the end of the song.

Rich Ferguson, That Knock at Your Throat’s Door

A lexicon can be vast, but it can also be narrow and exact. Horse people have a lexicon. Dock-workers have a lexicon. Waitresses have a lexicon.

My first assignment in the poetry class I’m teaching is to list 25 words relating to a subject. I have heard this assignment called “a word bucket.” It is meant to be both non-threatening (an easy threshold to trip over, into the class), but also inspiring. I shared examples of lexicons I’ve written:

  • for parts of a horse bridle
  • for the names of every part of a piano
  • for the skilled-nursing home where my mother spent her last years
  • for northwest flora and fauna
  • for my farm childhood

We all have lists of this sort in our heads, but deliberately listing the words, I’ve found, results in more exactness, and — very often — surprising directions one might follow.

Bethany Reid, The Lexicon

Reading through Caelan Ernest’s night mode (Everybody Press) I kept coming back to the idea of movement. There’s the movement of words across the page, the page here treated less like a field and more like a smartphone screen where text placement and white space engage the eye on a level that creates nuance and multiplicity of meaning. Like the decision in “somewhere a cyborg is taking note of the event that will transform it” to break lines around the syllable trans, a move that creates rich linguistic moments like “somewhere a cyborg is being trans / formed by the event.”

This move here nods to multiple meanings: there’s the trans of transgender as well as the enjambment into transformed that the eye completes in reading. Further, seeing the white space between trans and formed isolates the words in a way that evokes the personal isolation explored throughout the collection. The movement of the eye and of thought created by such breaks–this is what pulses at the core of these poems.

I see movement reflected again in the way these lyric sequences stretch across pages, at times with varying typographical choices and sizes, at other times with a single line on a page. Early in the collection, the line “at what point does night mode rupture into sky?” lives on one page across from the line “it’s been so long since the sun on my skin” on the facing page. A decision like this, which allows for time to be spent and for language to be dwelled on, evokes the similar engrossment and dwelling we do on our smartphones. Ernest’s poems are structured to place the reader in the position to literally “let that sink in.”

José Angel Araguz, microreview: night mode by Caelan Ernest

When we ask for it, the moment
of silence, the room goes truly still,
the air thick with grief
and our amazement. We hear our
togetherness. It somehow comforts.

Kathleen Kirk, Wear Orange Day 2023

late afternoon . . .
in and out of the sunlight
the cat’s tail

Bill Waters, Hopewell Valley Neighbors magazine: June ’23

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 8

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, an especially convivial edition, I think, as bloggers muse about things that tie us together—”kinscapes”, epistolary poems, sharing poems with family members, etc. Lots of changes seem to be afoot, and poets are adapting in interesting ways. Books and writing philosophies are hashed over, as usual, and poems are shared, some rare and bleeding, some thoroughly cooked. Enjoy.


When I opened Vol. 1 of the journals, I found a bookmark from Grasmere with an illustration of Grasmere church and the headstone of William and Mary Wordsworth. I love finding bookmarks in second hand books. They feel like way-markers, signposts. Someone was here before me. Someone was reading this book, someone was imagining Dorothy Wordsworth, as I would be, as Polly Atkins had when she’d written her book. All these different versions of Dorothy have existed in the minds of the people who have read her journals, and the journals have linked us, this particular book is linking me to the previous owner, and to Polly Atkin and to Dorothy herself. I imagine Dorothy now, writing the journal, the scrit-scrat of her pen, the sound of the rain outside the window and me here, now, the rain outside my window and the unknown other reader, the book marker. It is like being a part of a silent book club.

Wendy Pratt, The Forty Four Year Book Club

This current desk, now a dozen years beneath my fingertips, is entirely straightforward: black wood and solid with three sides, no drawer. I’ve slipped smaller shelving beneath for files, outgoing correspondence, comic books and other items to be close-at-hand. A plastic milk crate on its side to my left, to hold letters, postcards, scraps and other detritus. My lamp and Lego figures atop, along with a cow-shaped Holstein award retrieved from the top of my father’s desk as we dismantled the house, an award presented him in 1954, most likely as part of his 4-H club membership. A stack of trade comics underneath to the right, just by a tin garbage can I’ve had since before I can recall, set in my homestead bedroom before I landed, thus becoming one of my touchstones. It is strange, the things we decide to carry with us as we go. Sometimes we get to choose, and other times, less so.

I can’t remember the last time I cleared off this particular desk, although I might have attempted a fraction of such last year, when the new printer landed. It took a whole day, and the box of books set aside still sits where it lay. Papers and manuscripts and books and journals and chapbooks replenish like lichen, or morning glory. I marvel at the outcrop. I hack at the runners.

rob mclennan, the state of my desk

The effects of shared experience and sharing experiences are complex. We find another sort of sharing in the poem Tobi’s tales. [Marie Isabel] Matthews-Schlinzig describes the daily routines shared with a pet dog. The relationship between owner and dog is described as a ‘togetherness’. It is one of constant accommodation: ‘We walk, discovering: you stop, I stop, and/ vice versa. We dance, wait for each other.’  In the image of the dance, there is a suggestion of an accord, a harmonious, productive relationship: their routines are enlivening, vitalising: ‘each time we step out, it remakes us’, even though they experience together both the ‘wondrous’ and the ‘frightful’. In doing so the poet reminds us of the strength we can derive from sharing experiences, from being connected, from experiencing a sense of togetherness, not only with other human beings, but with animals, and even with the natural world itself.

In a world in which new technologies increasingly undermine the social fabric of society and drive us towards isolation, kinscapes reminds us of the importance of togetherness, of the fact that we are not alone, that fulfilment lies in our relationships with others and the world around us. It consists of striking contemporary poems, layered in meaning that reward re-reading. Matthews-Schlinzig is a truly impressive talent.

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘kinscapes’ by Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig

In this collection, [Sarah A.] Chavez adds to her series of “Dear Carole” poems that have become their own body of work within her larger body of work (which can be found across her full-length collections Hands That Break & Scar (Sundress Publications, 2017) and All Day, Talking (dancing girl press, 2014)). The poems of like everything else we loved are elegiac epistolary poems, poems that celebrate and hold space for the grief and love the speaker in them feels for Carole, and doing so through the direct address of a letter. Yet, it’s the poetic sensibility on display in these poems — a sensibility able to honor a lost loved one in a way that is intimate as well as accessible — that marks the accomplishment and gift they are to the elegiac and epistolary traditions.

The poem from which the image above comes from, for example, is entitled “Dear Carole, Dermatologists Call the Body a ‘Trunk’,” a title that in its word choice and phrasing invites us into the realm of gossip and daily life. There’s an urgency to this address, a sense of having found something out that only one other person will understand, accompanied by the need to share it. One feels you are overhearing two kindred spirits alive together through the fact of the poem.

While the epistolary form necessarily marks it as a one-sided conversation, the voice in this and other poems in the series takes its time meditating and speaking to Carole in empathetic, blunt, and candid ways. The result is a voice whose honesty is animate and grows before the reader. In this way, poetry creates a space of connection, of relating, of inside jokes and acknowledged flaws, and ultimately of mattering.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: like everything else we loved by sarah a. chavez

At the diner, a former Bard student of mine introduces herself to D; she’s waiting tables, tells me apologetically she’s still trying to figure out what and who she is or will be. I note that she already is; is doing fine, creative, smart, a good writer, and radiant: look at you, I tell her truthfully, you’re glowing. She smiles, embarrassed and pleased: she was shut down when I had her in class, guarded and dim. Her light is strong now, she needed some time to heal: I think about that through the hikes, how we need time to heal when trauma comes, how we guard and preserve ourselves as we must and this all takes time; glaciation, melt to lake, the shaping of landscapes and mythic story that shapes the inner lives, that places landmarks for lost walkers.

JJS, Geographies

Certain regular readers of Rogue Strands have complimented me on the number of poetry blogs I manage to follow (or insinuated that I’ve got far too much time on my hands!), but I continue to make new discoveries of excellent, long-running poetry blogs that have previously slipped under my radar.

This is at once annoying and terrific. Annoying because it makes me feel useless. Terrific because each discovery provides me with the chance to devour a whole back catalogue of interesting posts.

One such case is Edmund Prestwich’s poetry blog (follow this link to read it), which is packed with in-depth reviews that get down to the nitty-gritty of books such as Hannah Lowe’s The Kids, Maurice Riordan’s Shoulder Tap and Gerard Woodward’s The Vulture, alongside nuanced analysis of poetry from the past, especially from the 20th Century. All in all, it’s a treasure trove of points of departure for poetic discussion and debate. Thoroughly recommended and it’s going straight on my Poetry Blogs List. I can only apologise for not having found it earlier…!

Matthew Stewart, Edmund Prestwich’s poetry blog

Last night my friend Kim took me out for my birthday. We lay on the floor of a local yoga studio for a sound healing. Pillows, yoga mats, gongs, maybe rain sticks, singing bowls, a thunderstorm. At some point my hands began to dance. At times I thought I might be in a science fiction movie. We had little pillowed eye masks so the sense of hearing would be enhanced. It was actually really loud, and I hope my ears survive. But I think we both got sort of healed! Feeling loose and competent today. Even got my tax organizer filled out!

I had lunch with my folks, and took them some of my poems for a mini-poetry reading afterwards. My mom has been asking about my poems, so I took a batch of recently accepted ones. (When I got home, it was time to approve a proof of one of these, making it a Random Coinciday in the blog!) They read the typescript afterwards. Mom liked them a lot. Dad fell asleep but also liked them intermittently when he woke up. “They’re very spare and mature,” he said. I sure hope so!

Kathleen Kirk, Sound Healing

My first AWP event is Thursday’s signing at the book fair at the BOA booth at 3:30 PM, which has its own little official graphic. I hope to see you there, because I’ll be running around like a madwoman the rest of the conference. I am nervous and excited about meeting my BOA publishing people for the first time, too. I hope I make a good impression! Someone asked me, has having a big publisher (well, relatively big, for poetry) changed your life as a poet? I would say, I’m working harder than usual so I can take advantage of things like better distribution and more marketing support. But I’ll know more once the book launches officially in May. I’m so nervous! […]

Made the trip downtown this week to spend some time with my little brother, where we stopped to have coffee in the lobby of the hip hotel Citizen, gave him a copy of my book and spent some time high up getting pictures on a cold windy night with the Space Needle. I realized there is still a lot of downtown I don’t explore on a regular basis (hello strip club across from a Sephora!) and that the Convention Center has been totally redone since the last AWP Seattle so I’ll have to relearn some of the layout. Also figuring out cool hotel bars/coffee shops in walking distance to the Convention Center is important. So even though we got blown around a bit (I almost fell over the wind was so strong! I felt like Mary Poppins!) it was great to traverse the streets on foot pre-AWP. Plus, my brother is always fun to hang out with, and I was so excited to share my book with him.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Countdown to AWP! Six Tips for Surviving AWP Seattle! Also, Flare, Corona’s World Tour Begins, Surprise Snow, Bird Visitors, and a Visit with my Brother

I said this out loud the other day off the cuff, in the context of taking classes/workshops, and it felt profoundly true: I’m at a stage in my writing where I don’t know what I need. I don’t know what I don’t know. This is a dangerous stage (and I do believe it’s a stage)(all the world’s a stage)(so to speak)(i.e., this too shall pass) — it invites hubris, because I feel like I know so much already, and it indicates a blindness: I can’t see my bad habits and weaknesses.

I don’t know what to engage in because I don’t know what will be most helpful because, really, I don’t know what my poems aren’t doing that they COULD be doing. (I mean, getting published, for one thing…) I just sense that I could be working at another level.

My instinct is to hold still for a while. Write on. Read away. But make no sudden moves. I feel like something needs to happen, but I don’t know what.

Marilyn McCabe, I know ain’t no sunshine; or, On Writing and Development

A Punch in the Gut of a Star / Un Cop de Puny Al Ventre d’Una Estrella is a bilingual collaborative work by the great Anne Waldman and Emma Gomis, a writer whose work is new to me. The book opens with a pair of introductory texts in which the poets demonstrate rather than explain how they arrived at the work. These introductions discuss the language in, as opposed to of, dreams and the viability of using dream and telepathy as modes of collaboration under the conditions of Covid lockdown, with special emphasis on liminal hypnagogic states.

What follows is a longish poem in alternating English and Catalan sections, with the English translated into Catalan and Catalan into English as footnotes (with some lacunae, intentional or otherwise). The languages are further disambiguated by using bold font for the Catalan and its English transpositions. […]

The result is a complex interweaving of not two but four voices, a kind of dream fugue of language with Waldman-in-English-and-Catalan and Gomis-in-Catalan-and-English expounding theme and countertheme. as when, for example, across facing pages 24 and 25 ‘poc a poc, la paraula es desfà’ (‘little by little, the word undoes itself’) is transmuted into ‘We said green we said enough’ (‘vam dir verd vam dir prou’). Both poets are pushing up against the boundaries of language, its ability to function in a radically, if temporarily, altered world, a kind of plague dreamtime.

Billy Mills, Recent Reading February 2023: A Review

Deadly nightshade gives a sense of lightness, of flying, as its
poison takes hold. The trick, they say, is to eat just enough.
I remember when the police confiscated our typewriters.
They stacked them in trucks like rescued dogs or cats.
Whose job was it to analyse what had been written?
Did they enjoy screening the imprints on the ribbons?

A scientist says a hundred species become extinct every day.
Or was it two hundred? Details stumble clumsily off in
search of a more ordered mind. On the TV an image:
beehives in a clearing in woods, a beekeeper like a ghost
in the early light. I switch over. Gary Cooper walks alone
as someone softly sings Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling.

Bob Mee, HIGH WINDOW

What I remember: Inside the library and all the way to the auditorium, security guards and tall men in suits lined the corridors. At a poetry reading? The evening’s playbill, handed to us by beaming librarians, announced that the Irish Consul was going to be introducing Boland. The entire event had the feel of an official state dinner—but without the food and drink.

What we didn’t know at the time was that Boland’s father had been Ireland’s first Ambassador to Great Britain, and later, to the United Nations. That Eavan Boland’s classmate was Mary Robinson, President of Ireland. Perhaps this had something to do with the formality (and sellout crowd) of the event or perhaps Bostonians simply adore anything Irish. In either case, I remember feeling every bit the gate crasher.

However, none of this mattered when Eavan Boland took the stage. Actually, she commanded the stage from her military posture to her no nonsense approach to her poems. I believe she might have referred to herself in the third person. It was as if Eavan Boland was performing a lecture on Eavan Boland.

Susan Rich, Eavan Boland with Mixed Emotions

When I’m in a bad mood I wallow, I snipe, I growl, I see subterfuge where there is none. I say things I don’t mean and I know it when I say it but sometimes I can’t stop myself. Often, this happens on dreary days, overcast days, humid hot or humid wet days. Occasionally, I will be in a writing mood on days that are grey and that seems to keep the meanness in check. It’s only lately, after all these decades, that I realize I might have a kind of Seasonal Affective Disorder, except my moods change with weather instead of the season, so it’s Daily Weather Affective Disorder? Oh, I don’t have extreme highs and extreme lows. I do have some control over my emotions. I can, for instance, stop myself from posting a snarky tweet, or not say out loud what I’m thinking during a disagreement. But other times I just want to release control. I want to feel my feelings. The trick is not to hurt someone else when I do. […]

I went through a period of time, though, where I drank too much. I was aware enough at the time to know why I was drinking but I chose to do it anyway. It was an escape. I never drank to the point of losing all control or blacking out but alcohol affected my moods and my thought processes in a big way. I began to realize I was sick of it. Sick of how I felt when I drank, sick of feeling wiped out, foggy-headed, and just sad. So I quit. I haven’t had any alcohol now for years and I don’t miss it at all.

We are always and forever a work in progress, aren’t we? We are never done learning and growing and adapting. We are in a life-long school of ourselves.

Charlotte Hamrick, A School of Ourselves

My long patience
has run out. The Spring slash is burning, but no voice

comes from it. A beetle makes its slow desperate way
over the moss, while the shadows of birds and clouds
fill him with distress: O brother! We understand as much.

Dale Favier, Spring Slash

One of the secrets to being creative, and to creative thought is this: (which is really no secret): the more creative you are the more creative you are. So if you do one fun and creative thing in say, photography, then when you go back to the page to write something, it somehow seems to boost your ability there to think in new ways. […]

A lot of it comes down to play, and to turning things around, to see from another angle. To shift things. To pun and put together odd things. To juxtapose. When I took the photo of the rose in the coke bottle, I’d initially planned to drink the coke and then replace it with water. But then, it seemed like it would be more fun to put the rose into the coke. And then initially I put it on top of a book of women photographers, it then seemed interesting to put it on top of the book nature morte. I took the photo one day with the bud of the rose quite closed up. The outer petals were quite muted. And then I cracked open another coke a couple of days letter when the flower had opened. This is all fine, right? I find the photos amusing, if nothing else. But what happened next was that I came up with three new ideas for the book I’m writing. Coincidence? Maybe.

Shawna Lemay, Consider the Opposite

For me, a poem tends to begin in one of three ways: (1) An image. Something I see or encounter, or from my memories, that I find arresting, or compelling. Something that isn’t literally shiny (especially since the image doesn’t have to be visual although, for me, it oftentimes is), but feels “shiny” inside my brain and continues to linger or shimmer or hold space within my mind until it becomes a kind of a question to which a poem might respond, but not necessarily answer. (2) A line, or a snippet of a line. Something that has a sense of music or propulsion, and is also language that I don’t really quite understand. Once again, this creates a question to which a poem might respond, but not necessarily answer. (3) A strange and compelling fact, usually scientific, frequently zoological, that brings me delight. From one of these starting points, I look for patterns, or connections, and I usually start to collect other images, pieces of language, or sometimes additional facts—oftentimes the more disparate on the surface the better—and I start to clink them together and see if I can make them sing.

Lee Ann Roripaugh : part five (Thomas Whyte)

This late
in life, I am still always trying to resist
words like forlorn, with their long
centuries of loss behind them, their
habit of loosening whatever they
were attached to or bound. Bound as in
bond, as in a chemistry of atoms, their
orbitals and shells able to hold only
so much until the moment of breaking.

Luisa A. Igloria, On Fission

Years ago, when I volunteered in fundraising for WHYY in Philadelphia we used the letters OoB to indicate a business which was no longer there (so don’t try to call them for a donation). Sin Fronteras Journal is now OoB, out of business.

We lost most of our volunteers over the past two years, and found no new ones who might help us transition to digital publication. We wanted to do this because hard copies are more and more expensive and frequently are not in high enough demand to pay their way. We did not succeed.

I didn’t want to make the decision by myself to shut down the magazine, which had lasted 26 years, but in the end, I am the only one here, so down it must go.

The draft of our last issue, #26, is available for viewing at http://www.sinfronterasjournal.com.

Ellen Roberts Young, Sin Fronteras Journal Closes

This is a relatively small issue, as far as lit mags go. Personally, I appreciated the size. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when reading online magazines. There is so much to take in and without being able to make notes and engage with the content in a physical way, it can overwhelm. (Maybe I’m just getting old.) At any rate, I appreciated the simple and straightforward structure of this magazine, its visual elegance, clear and easy navigability and the editorial choice to provide quality over excess material.

There is also sex! Indeed, tucked into this elegant and quiet-seeming journal that evokes the cool air and open spaces of the Pacific Northwest, there is a section for erotic content.

Becky Tuch, Let’s Discuss! Pacifica Literary Review, issue 19.1

Speaking of stirs: like many others, I appreciated Becky Tuch’s recent investigation into publishers with whom I have entanglements. When I published my first book, Heathen, with C&R, the press was owned by Ryan Van Cleave and Chad Prevost, who treated me well. After the press was sold and the new owners, Andrew Sullivan and John Gosslee, were visiting my region, they reached out, we got together for coffee, and they invited me to submit any book mss I was working on (at the time, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, so it might have been 2015 or 2016). I didn’t submit the book to C&R. It wasn’t ready yet but I also felt uneasy about the interaction, not that I was able to put my finger on why. I’m not saying you should trust my instinct or my memory, but for whatever it’s worth, a random detail that made an impression: the editors seemed incredulous when they found out I wasn’t paid for serving as an AWP board member. I was surprised that they were surprised. While board members at nonprofits get some free meals and similar perks, it’s because they’re attending meetings, getting VIPs to the event on time, etc. They’re working hard as a gift to the organization, although like other professional service, being on the AWP board can make you and your writing a notch more visible, a kind of compensation that did weigh with me. Anyway, at that point John Gosslee invited me to submit to Fjords Review, then accepted and published two poems. Now I wonder with chagrin if my name in the magazine or on the press’ backlist could have made anyone feel safer submitting–whether I helped credential businesses that have done harm.

Poetry’s Possible Worlds is in part about my father’s long cons. There have been too many liars and gaslighters in my life, so I have deep sympathy for people who get sucked in. In this case, while there are still some authors defending C&R and I have no first-hand experience of any unprofessional behavior, I’ve now heard credible stories of scams and damage. A colleague I trust and admire, Brenna Womer, is quoted in Tuch’s piece; I’d previously seen her tweet about Gosslee’s abusive behavior, and I believe her completely. I had the vague sense, in fact, that he had stepped down from mastheads in the wake of multiple #MeToo allegations, and that even Andrew Sullivan had distanced himself from his collaborator. (One of Tuch’s key findings, though, is that Sullivan sometimes goes by Andrew Ibis. Even if that didn’t make me wonder about an ominous Thoth allusion, I’d find the name-switching problematic. Authors use pen names, but how would that serve an entrepreneur seeking work as an editor and agent?)

In short, while there’s some rhetorical twistiness in Tuch’s piece–asking questions to convey reportorial skepticism, then answering them with evidence that’s more suggestive than conclusive–I find the gist persuasive and am grateful for her research. It’s sad, though, that exposés can’t put scammers out of business without hurting the scammed. Personally, I’m just fine–it was a long time ago and I have other creds. Yet C&R, even under its current leadership, has published good books, and those authors don’t deserve a press boycott. I guess that’s why I’d rather blog about all this than tweet; I keep glimpsing a star of clear wrongdoing surrounded by a nebula of mess.

Lesley Wheeler, Sprains, scams, and spells

Today’s annotation isn’t a poem but a playlist. I love making playlists, though I still slip and call them “mixes.” I was a mixtape teenager—like, actual cassette tapes—and a mix CD college student. Mixes were Gen X social currency. We made them for our friends; we made them for crushes; we made them for our exes to make them want us back. And we put an incredible amount of thought into every song, every transition, and every detail, down to the handwritten and cut-to-fit-the-case liner notes.

My first iPod had a click wheel and was the size of a toaster, and I took it everywhere. I had (and still have!) an iTunes playlist called “Writing” that was full of music I listened to while working on poems: Mojave 3, REM, Gillian Welch, Low, Wilco, Elliott Smith, The Decemberists.  

These days, I stream music on my phone when I’m on the go, and I prefer vinyl on my stereo here at home. No matter where I am, I listen to music constantly. I listen in the kitchen while cooking. I balance my phone on the edge of the bathroom sink so I can listen in the shower. I wear AirPods while walking my dog or running errands in my neighborhood. And yes, I still listen to music while writing.

I’ve heard many writers say that they can’t listen to music while they work, or at least not music with lyrics. (In which case I recommend Dirty Three, Explosions in the Sky, and Godspeed You Black Emperor! I bet Sigus Ros, while not instrumental, would also fit the bill.) It doesn’t bother me to hear someone else’s words while I’m conjuring my own. When I’m writing, the songs become part of the weather; they help set the tone for the work.

Maggie Smith, Annotated Playlist

I was listening to the singer Connie Converse on Friday, and the last song on the album was called I Have Considered The Lilies. I was struck by the line in the chorus about “handing over my pencil and pen”. I’d certainly felt like doing that a few times in the last week, but I’m glad I’ve ploughed on. I think I now have the next draft of the book ready to go. I shall be sending it off shortly.

And the song also reminded me I’d not read the latest edition of Bad Lilies. I can’t share specific poems from what feels like quite a damp and slightly biblical issue (and given Connie describes the song as coming from a biblical text at the start this makes sense), but have a read…There is plenty to enjoy.

Finally, I was struck by this article this week. It discusses the time Marianne Moore was invite to name cars…Her suggestions weren’t used, but I think I’d rather drive the Dearborn Diamante instead of the Edsel.

Mat Riches, MATGPT, Considered Lilies and poets naming cars

I had a random thought float across my brain as I was spreading a quilt over the bed:  I wish that Kathleen Norris had a new book out.  And then I wondered if maybe she did–but instead of turning the computer back on, I went to my bookshelf and pulled out Dakota:  A Spiritual Geography, the first book of hers that I read and loved. […]

Here is a quote from the book, which talks about the Dakotas both as a physical location and something larger:  “Dakota is a painful reminder of human limits, just as cities and shopping malls are attempts to deny them” (p. 2).  As I write these words, I’m thinking that the season of Lent can also be a painful reminder of human limits.  Our Lenten disciplines can be a way of helping us think about the ways that we want to avoid thinking about these limits and perhaps a way of helping us embrace these limits.

As we eat our Shrove Tuesday pancakes or our Mardi Gras King Cakes, as we indulge and/or plan for how we will avoid indulging, let us plan for our Lenten disciplines.  Or maybe discipline is not the word for our current time–we’ve had an awful lot of discipline imposed on us for the past few years.  Maybe heightened attention would be better–or here’s something I like even better:  enrichment.

Let us plan our Lenten enrichments!

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Lenten Enrichments

There is no sign of the mountains, a
heavy smog hangs over all of Kathmandu,
as if the sky has drawn a curtain. Believe, it
says. Believe what you cannot see, still is. We
rise higher in a tiny aeroplane until we are
face to face with the mightiest of them all.
Sagarmatha. Chomolungma. Those who
cannot endure the climb, come to see it
like this. There is silence in the cabin. Even
the cameras are still.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 35

February 26th is just another day, another year–and at this point, my mother has very little sense of time. It is likely that my mother’s life-shifts are in the past, and the next shift (there’s no escaping it) will be death; but who can tell? My mother’s ninetieth feels like a huge shift in my life as her daughter, as an adult, as a mother to grown people, and as a writer in the world. Why this is so, I can’t say. It’s certainly something I’ll be reflecting on often in the coming years, and the reflections emerge in my writing. As I work on revising the poems I’ve drafted in the past 5 years, the topics of aging, mortality, aphasia, and memory keep showing up. Things I can consider myself fortunate, perhaps, to be preoccupied with, rather than being forced into confronting a natural disaster (Pakistan, Turkey, Syria, and others) or war (Ukraine, Syria, and other regions).

Here’s part of a poem I’ve been wrestling with lately.

… –I would untangle
my mother’s mind if I could be let access to its
recesses, but those stay hidden like the life in hedge
and meadow, in the woody undergrowth,
unknowns twisted together, impenetrable. …

How fortunate for me that my mother is not far away, is well-housed and safely cared-for, and has had a long, creative, fruitful life to celebrate this weekend. Nonetheless, the grief inheres. The hardest shift? I miss the person she has been all my life until recently. And yet: here she is. Herself, more impenetrable than ever. And loved.

Ann E. Michael, Life-shifts

I stumbled recently into a strange land of videos of women, mostly in their thirties, talking about their rejection of hustle culture, which is countered by the crazy morning routines and discussions of productiveness and goals and hustling by another set of women, usually in their twenties. Like on instagram, there is a lot of workout gear and yoga and juicing. Journaling and 6AM wakeups, and reading that Atomic Habits book everyone somehow has. The thirty-somethings live in idyllic places like France or some countryside somewhere, drink a lot of tea, read many novels, are usually married or partnered, and talk about “slow” living. They may make a living off youtube ads or selling art on etsy shops. One does something with astrology for money that I don’t think I understand.

Maybe it’s a decade-of-life thing, and I’m not sure where I stand as a woman in her forties on this equation or if it matters where I stand at all. Truly, I can see both sides, but also tend to roll my eyes at people who talk about rejecting hustle who seem to be enjoying a financially stable existence that doesn’t depend on whether they hustle or not (likely family money or a working spouse). It reminded me of a recent article about a woman who was encouraged to step away from hustling but feared the ground she’d lose if she did as a writer and whether or not she’d be able to pay her rent or eat and I related so hard. There isn’t really a safety net sometimes, so all you have is hustle. I also have a similar eyeroll for discussions of minimalism, which are easy to have if you have the cushioning to replace the things you threw out if you need them later.

But also I think the hustle I’ve always done, even when working for somewhere else. There was a sense of stability (well not much) but I needed to hustle, to cram in as much as I could, do as much as I could. And in many ways this is still true. Because I don’t have that stability anymore, I hustle quite a lot to make sure I have pillars of income to keep things afloat should any of them fail. I want to keep things humming along with the press because it feels like important work, so I wind up hustling there. I need to hustle with my own writing and art because these are the things I am most passionate about and feel I should spend my time doing. It’s not about awards and publications so much as it is about putting work out and being creatively productive as an artist and writer. This is the most valuable way–the most content way–I can think of being in the world. I want it, and only parts of it even seem like work. I’m not sure that deciding all I was going to do was drink tea and read novels, tempting as that is, would make me quite as happy as making things, doing things. Maybe the key is finding balance.

Kristy Bowen, hustle and slowness

A turkey vulture glides above his head. He raises one hand

to shield his eyes, captures the image with his thumb.
Rousseau to Voltaire: “I hate you … But I hate you as a man

better fitted to love you, had you so willed.”
There’s a purple finch on the wire under the water tower,

balanced in that way birds can and humans aspire to.
He imagines the feeling of falling, or feels it, truly –

his chest tightening at the thought.
When he looks again the finch is gone.

Jason Crane, POEM: Jean-Jacques And The Finch

In the hallway just outside the preschool, pictures of past synagogue presidents. First names: Jacob, Jacob, Louis, Max, Adolph, Jacob, Adolf, Max, Moses, Adolph, Samuel, Sam, Aaron, Joe, Joseph, Moses, Leo, Adam. At a certain point, the name Adolf falls out of fashion. 

At another point, Hitler’s moustache and my grandfather’s traded places. Did they pass in the street and one jumped off the upper lip of the other? Did the Führer sneeze during a salute and my grandfather, hiding in an alley, sneezed at the exact same time and so the trade was made? Such mysteries can never be known. Eventually, my grandfather and the new moustache emigrated to South Africa. My grandfather’s original moustache hid beneath Berlin on Hitler’s lip, then was blown away with the rest of Hitler’s face as the Allies entered the city and Hitler shot Eva Braun and then himself.

The idea that a growth of hair could have a name is strange but also telling. Van Dyck, Fu Manchu, Charlie Chaplin. Did my grandfather initially adopt the look because he was emulating the Little Tramp, Oliver Hardy, a truncated Groucho Marx? Pratfalling his way out of history, somehow escaping what he knew was soon to occur?

Gary Barwin, HITLER’S MOUSTACHE, MY GRANDFATHER’S LIP

which sounds are most remembered by rain

which language speaks through seed

whose love is snow on a black woolen sleeve

Grant Hackett [no title]

The weather has not improved. No good news coming in my inbox. But still, I seem to have a new perspective on things. I feel something much smaller than ambition, but there are gears turning again, propelling me forward with a sense of identity.

I think I remember being this.

I hear buzzing from a mason wasp’s pot. It resonates in my chest. In a good way – because moving outward from here is a field-full of purple heather, and beyond that the woods where the songbirds are about to return.

Ren Powell, On the Cusp

Poetry Blog Digest 2023, Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: trees, ghosts, good questions, dead poets, and more. Enjoy.


Two trees stand out like postcards I might have posted to myself from nearly a year ago if I’d listened to the prophesy. 

The bulbous ends of pollarded trees used to fascinate me when I was a child and the woman’s head, so sculpted among the stumps, is wise and collected. She maintains her calm. 

The ghost tree was in a wood below ramparts built high on a hill in one of those small towns in Provence that defy cliffs and sheer drops. The trees around it were conifers, evergreens, but somehow this silver birch grew into a landmark by a bend in the path. Comrade trees, I report to you that bend in the path and all who look after others who are standing there. 

Jackie Wills, To comrade tree

I awake to dread, and the cold winter light
walking its fingers down the wall. 

There is a little comfort in the thought:
maybe God has called you to this task

not because you can do it, but because you can’t.

Dale Favier, Comfort

I was on a journey, a memory check. After a poetry reading in Baton Rouge, I drove back to Missouri by way of East Louisiana State Hospital. Most folks just called it Jackson, same name as the nearest town. Many weekends during elementary school and junior high, Daddy and I drove there to visit my mother. It seemed to take hours to get there—turns out it’s just 33 miles from our old house. I don’t know how often or how long we stayed. This trip, I hoped the visit would help me with details. I can’t ask Daddy. He just says the place was torture. Sometimes he cries.

I’m still not sure how much I want to know. But when Talk Smack to a Hurricane (Ice Floe Press, 2022), my first book, was accepted for publication, I knew I wanted to read the poems in Baton Rouge and stop at Jackson. The collection centers on my mother’s mental illness, which was diagnosed within a few weeks of my birth. The poems explore our relationship—tender yet volatile—as well as psychiatric treatments of the latter part of the 20th century. She was diagnosed in 1959. Mama narrowly missed the ice bath, insulin coma, lobotomy. But she was just in time for (what I consider) rudimentary electroshock therapy and Thorazine. Lots of Thorazine. That I was angry at psychiatry rather than my mother surprised me. Not until I was preparing the manuscript did I fully recognize the shift in my emotions.

Lynne Jensen Lampe, Old Colony 5 Road

In the city at the end of her mind it’s minus forty-five degrees.
If you sit by her bed, she will tell you
there are rules for walking between trees,
rules for carrying a spider out of the fire, how
laughter fades under the weight of the heavy water of desire.
One by one pilgrims leap into the hole in the frozen lake.
As they fall they make the sign of the cross.
Atonement. At one ment. Take what you need to be free.
She remembers the priest called it debauchery.
If you sit by her bed, she will tell you trees know
what they’re doing, know how to move, which way to sway,
until it’s time for them to fall.
We become forgettable, forgotten, she says.
Inbox Zero, even if there’s a signal.
There never were any heroes, not then anyway, just
urgent whispering at the top of the stairs.
What did they want? she says.
I never found out what they wanted.

Bob Mee, THE CRACKS IN THE EARTH (IN EVERYTHING) SCREAM PLEASE FORGIVE ME

On its own at the end of a line, “missing” invokes the ongoing history of femicide along the US / Mexico border. Then the latter “missing / fingers” rings out both in its evocation of a musician’s physical absence but also its implication of violence.

Even without knowledge of Juárez, one reaches the end of the poem with a haunted sense of something more than music being lost here. This haunted sense is what grounds the poem in its urgency. All the distancing through image and metaphor makes the city and its history all the more present, and offers the speaker a chance to voice the ultimate difficulty implied via the speculation of the title.

José Angel Araguz, dispatch 011223

Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

All my books, in their own way, dwell on and participate in a variety of concerns, from identity to violence to ecology. I find it close to impossible to read any work of literature and not uncover such concerns, if not simply see them on the surface, the exception being those writings that go out of their way to demystify just about everything—and even then, they still speak to something outside the work itself.

I’ve read and taught ancient literature for many years, and those works reveal that our many of our concerns today are old as dirt. Some are new, obviously, but if they are described generally enough, it becomes clear that we’ve been dealing with similar problems as the ancients, just differently. I’m not 100% sure, for example, that my children, if they choose to raise children of their own, can even live where we now live. Another way to state this concern: our world is falling apart, is fragile. We live in Houston, and there’s a strong possibility that in a few decades, the geography will change so dramatically, because of the climate crisis, that the city as we know—portions of it, at least—may not be inhabitable or else may be too dangerous, too unpredictable to live in. It already feels that way. Only a few years ago, Hurricane Harvey dumped 60 inches of rain on parts of Houston—that’s 33 trillion gallons of water, in about a week. Places that have never flooded, not since records began being made, were under water. That’s a concern. But is it new? No.

I’ve also always been very concerned with political violence, the history of which has unfortunately touched the lives of my family all too closely. And that kind of violence, from the perspective of the last few decades, seems ever more likely. It was always present in my family’s homeland (Lebanon), and in my hometown (Detroit), and it seems to be more pervasive today, more spread out, targeting more people, more groups, and the rules have changed, the technology on which violence thrives has become more sophisticated.

The list of concerns goes on and on.

What I won’t do, as far poetry goes is allow the concerns to take the reins. I’m not writing theory, I’m not writing newspaper stories, or history, or memoir, or political manifestos. Yes, genres blend. Yes, disciplines inform each other. Yes, the boundaries are porous, and at times they disappear. But I write poetry, which is to say that’s what I have in mind when I am making a poem. This informs not only what I do and how I do it, but also what I knowingly resist.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Hayan Charara

At the heart of the poem is the symbol of ‘fire’, which is as important to other poems in the collection, such as The brown berries have turned black, Amazon and Ashes. The symbol is developed by Clive in such a way that it resonates with a rich complexity of meanings. Fire he suggests has the capacity for good: it is one of the bounties of nature. It brings us warmth and safety from danger: ‘the campfire … keeps the dark at bay/ as it prowls, hungry, indiscriminate, waiting to eat us’. It can also guide us or direct us, like a ‘beacon, a torch, / a mighty Pharos raised to guide ships to harbour across tumultuous seas raised against us.’ Yet in humankind’s hands it has become destructive: ‘sacred groves we now cut down/ to feed the fire.’ In our hands it destroys because is fed by ignorance and greed. We are blind to nature’s beauties and bounty because our minds are ‘filled with smoke and fire’ so that ‘we have stopped being able to see miracles’. The effect of this is to think ‘it is reasonable to consume each other as indiscriminately as we consumed the world around us/ with no regard for what we damaged or destroyed along the way/…this is the way of things in the age of fire…/as the fire consumes without replenishing its source’. There is both greed here and a recklessness, a disregard for the consequences of our actions. We have the knowledge and understanding to be different and to help us find a more productive way forward. Yet this type of  ‘fire’ is directed towards serving the consumption of goods and the pursuit of material wealth (‘the fire was honed until it became hot/ and narrow enough to cut through metal,/ great metal sheets with which we clad the ships of our mind/ as they traversed new realms of knowledge/ welded fast and tight’) and to engaging in conflict (‘we choose to see a fire/in the same we  choose to see a blade/ hidden in a lump of virgin flint/ see the shaft of a spear in every pine.’?

Nigel Kent, Review of ‘the end of the age of fire’ by Peter Clive

Every once in awhile a book comes along that makes me totally rethink my received or assumed knowledge by shaking up the usual perceptions. The most recent book to have wrought such a rethinking on my part is The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, by David Graeber and David Wengrow. The effusive blurbs–and there are many–on the MacMillan page the preceding link takes you to strike me as accurate; on every page or two I find myself saying, “I have to look that up! I never heard about that! I need to read that book/author/article!”

Beyond the illuminating information, though, what excites me most about this book is how revelatory it is concerning human possibilities. These authors (unfortunately Graeber died in 2020) are drily funny and unrepentantly anarchists among the scholars of so-called pre-history. The research they gather and present, and their theories based upon what we now know about ancient peoples, upend the evolution of human society that I was taught and that seemed so logical I never thought to question–the foragers/hunter-gatherers/agriculturalists/city-makers “development” of human societies and cultures that Rousseau’s philosophical state-of-nature idea essentially founded. I was aware that archeological discoveries have been found that challenge the narrative, but I wasn’t aware of how many of these are being examined and the amazing data they reveal. I was aware that views of indigenous peoples, past and present, are most often through a lens of “Western civilization” and tainted by the assumptions of researchers but was not alert to my own blind spots and received assumptions.

Which makes me pretty much a human being, right? We do tend to short-cut to our beliefs and accept the “logical information” we learn from parents, teachers, and other authorities. Then, we use that framework to test out the logic of other assumptions. Sometimes that framework is not as strong, correct, or universal as we thought. And it feels marvelously disruptive, sometimes, to buck the system, make art, behave differently–illogically–and find that new ways of thinking about the world can be fun.

Ann E. Michael, Received assumptions

White erasers in different sizes and shapes are indispensable tools for charcoal work – they allow you to erase large areas, for sure, but also to go backwards and forwards, working with both the charcoal and the eraser. The main use is to lighten areas or pick out highlights and create texture. And you must work on good paper that has some “tooth” to catch all the little particles of charcoal, but will stand up to scrubbing and both the buildup of dark areas and the erasure of others.

Beth Adams, Working in Monochrome

Sometimes the words
want to go right
through the paper,
the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (102)

I got an opportunity from the Arizona Commission On The Arts to do a reading that incorporated projected images throughout the performance.

So I was able to put together a show at one of the iconic Phoenix venues The Trunk Space with some of my favorite artists and we called the night Jackalope In Retrograde.

JJ Horner was doing live painting. 

GOHNE opened the night (new band project from Lonna Kelley and Jay Hufman)

Writer Erik Bitsui came down from Flagstaff.

The Necronauts played as a two-piece and were also joined by Rocky Yazzie for a set.

Most of my images were Jia Oak Baker’s photographs from our collaborative book Gravity & Spectacle, but we also had some bonus content, videos etc. [Click though to view photo documentation.]

Shawnte Orion, Jackalope In Retrograde

Beginning in 2007 with four books and no intention to publish more, CBe has been humming along fine for 15 years: here a prize, there a shortlisting, quite often semi-silence but every one of the books was more than worth publishing.

It’s now 2023 and print costs have been escalating and postage costs too; there are other small presses who can sell X’s new novel or Y’s book of poems into bookshops better than CBe can; and I’m into my 70s and getting smaller. From this year CBe will concentrate on publishing, perhaps exclusively, small A-format books, the model being the three books published last year in that size and with covers with image on white card (Agota Kristof, The Illiterate; Caroline Clark, Own Sweet Time; myself, 99 Interruptions). This will mean goodbye to the brown covers (those books are more expensive to print: retro costs). It will mean hello to more short books: if prose, fiction or non-fiction, say 10 to 20,000 words (rough guide only). And poetry, yes: Cape Editions did poetry in A-format, and so now do NYRB.

Charles Boyle, Plan B

Part of my hesitancy to leave full time work was fear. I’d had the same job for 21 years.  I was never really entirely sure how I’d been lucky enough to land that job in the first place.  At least in the beginning.  Because I was scared to try something new, I stayed longer than I should have.  In fact, under different circumstances I may still have hesitant to leave.  I’ve heard friends say this about bad relationships. It wasn’t working. or he was abusive, controlling, but they were afraid of making their way in the world alone. And while I admit I stayed in bad relationships for a number of reasons (usually impulse control, masochism,  or thinking I could change things) this wasn’t one of them. I’ve had entirely single spans, most of my 20’s, in fact. But then, later, when a relationship was in the death grip, there were other people and things to occupy my time. I was okay with alone, but rarely was I actually without something going on in that arena, even if it was just a crush I wanted to become something more. 

And this is true of art and writing.  The years where the words were more fallow were some of the best years for art, and maybe vice versa. Even now, I don’t get much time to spend with collage or painting, but I do spend a lot of time making video poems and designing covers.   I like having many options, especially when some options are more fleeting than others.  Other things have to earn their way into your daily practice. Or seem like a good thing for awhile but then you move on. 

There’s a lot of talk these days on the potential harm of the gig economy and people working multiple jobs to make ends meet–driving uber or deliveries–and actually not getting the sort of stability of things like paid sick days, insurance, etc that traditional employers provide. But then again, you have a certain amount of freedom and discretion you don’t get being beholden to one workplace, so I totally get it.   Everyone, coming out of covid lockdowns, wondered where all the workers went.  Could it be that many of them were willing to trade certain securities for lower pay, but more freedom and more eggs in many baskets. That when you decide you’re getting screwed, you can find somethings else. When the alternative was sometimes tyrannical bosses, unwieldy shifts, unsafe workplaces, and toxic corporate culture. Could be. 

Kristy Bowen, eggs and baskets: on jobs, art, and love

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’ve been engaging with poetic audiobooks. There is something really special about listening to the poet narrate their work. I recently listened to The Blue Clerk by Dionne Brand and Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith. I love the audiobook experience because I can hear the intended emphasis in the poet’s own voice. It’s magic to be able to push a button and have Dionne Brand read to you. I’m also reading a few paperbacks—Tend by Kate Hargreaves, which I am loving. I’m always in awe of poetry that can rile me up and then make me laugh on the next page. I have Victoria Mbabazi’s FLIP on my side table. I was hooked on Mbabazi’s work after reading chapbook and look forward to reading more. I’ll be lined up for all future work by Mbabazi.

Thomas Whyte, Samantha Jones : part five

I want to form poems
I can hold in my palms and make use of.
I want to sew a skirt of a poem
that blooms like a flame when I twirl.
I want to make a silk bag of a poem
to tote home my onions and wine.
I want to crochet a long warm
scarf of a poem, with matching fingerless gloves.
I want to slow-cook a poem like a pot roast, and
serve it with beer and potatoes.

Kristen McHenry, Poetry of the Practical

I also practice my balance by 1) putting on pants 2) putting on shoes. Sometimes I try to stand like a crane, one leg straight, one leg bent, to put on each shoe. This morning, by chance, Facebook offered me a picture of the flamingo sculpture at the Tampa airport, making it a Random Coinciday in the blog! Also, I dreamed of putting on a shoe. And often I write poems while walking, a different kind of walking meditation.

Kathleen Kirk, Balance

With the thwack

of a cleaver handle, I sever
the drumstick joint just above
the ankle so I can work it free

of meat and muscle. I stuff it
with a mixture of pork, ham, and
hard-boiled eggs before patting it

back into shape and sewing it shut
with twine. What I have then is what
cookbooks describe as a farce—

Elaborate comedy of illusion, the lengths
we’ll go to keep an appearance intact,
armor over the soft jelly of flesh inside.

Luisa A. Igloria, Farce

In one passage in the 1663 diaries, they have a blazing row, and Pepys calls Elisabeth a ‘beggar’ because she brought no dowry to the marriage and she responds by calling him ‘pricklouse’ (which vexed him) referring to him being the son of a tailor. A cracking insult. Since I read this altercation I have seen her in my mind’s eye, mad as hell, sitting on the bed with balled fists fuming at him. I wonder what else she was mad at. Pepys records how often she fell out with servants and lady’s maids, probably because she saw his eye turned to them. What a precarious thing it must have been, to live at that time and to be owned and how did those women create a life within the prison of their husband’s lives? I wonder what she would think of me, remembering her and her flung insults, 360 years after she flung them. She died of typhoid in 1669. Pepys had stopped writing his diaries by them, but there are letters to naval captains excusing himself from work for a good four weeks because he is so devastated. After her death he was in a long term relationship with Mary Skinner, but never married her. When he died he was buried next to Elisabeth.

The diaries can be quite challenging; they are, after all, written in a world very different from our own. But at the same time, there’s a thread of human behaviour which simply hasn’t changed and I love that. That the complexities of human behaviour are still complex, that marriage and love and this short span of life in which you try to do your best, and fail and win, that hasn’t changed. Mrs. Pepys, Elisabeth, today I remember you and your life; as a person separate from your husband, though I don’t know you but through your husband’s diaries, I acknowledge your life and your anger and your love and the short span of life you spent on the earth.

Wendy Pratt, Remembering Elisabeth, Pepys’s Wife – Reading the 1663 Pepys Diaries

This is what we were made
of, soft skin and paradise and the bouquet
of unbearable desire. This is what we can make
of soil and water and endless sky. This is what
bubbles in the orange shaft of light that falls
upon my empty couch. I watch, I inhale, I
shiver, I hide, inside a perfumed shadow.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, This is what

Dan Brady’s “Songs in E–” was winner of the Barclay Prize for Poetry. It has an intriguing premise, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese” translated into Portguese and then back into English via an unreliable internet translator and the resulting material reshaped into “Songs in E–“. A similar process was used for the latter half of the book, “E–‘s Song” which used Robert Browning’s “One Word More” also dubiously translated into Portguese and back into English and then reshaped. […]

It’s no surprise that the poems in the first part are recognisably sonnets. None contain the most famous lines either. This underlines the value of translation is not just about fluency or vocabulary but an understanding of what’s being translated and a sympathy to the aims of the writer. Barrett Browning only pretended her poems were translations to distance herself from them because she thought them too personal to publish. The poems returned via the translation process have become so generic as to be almost impersonal. Most of them seem to have lost sight of the originals being love poems.

Emma Lee, “Songs in E–” Dan Brady (Trnsfr Books) – book review

Yesterday as I quilted, I watched two movies, each one about a nineteenth century woman writer.  Mary Shelley was compelling; I wrote this Facebook post:  “The weather has turned gloomy, so one needs an appropriately gloomy movie to keep one company while one stitches. I’ve chosen the 2017 movie “Mary Shelley,” which takes some liberties with the biography. I love its depiction of writing and creativity, and the costumes and sets warm my Brit Lit heart. But the movie does make me feel ancient. I see Mary and Claire Clairmont making a terrible mistake in running away with this cad Percy Shelley who has already ruined one woman’s life (his wife Harriet), and I want to talk some sense into them, even as I know that talking sense into these besotted girls is impossible. Sigh.

Enter Lord Byron–oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”

I also watched A Quiet Passion, about Emily Dickinson.  While I appreciate aspects of it, parts of it were slow, slow, slow.  While I can appreciate what Cynthia Dixon went through to inhabit the role, did we really need to see the extended scene of her shaking because of her kidney disease?  And there wasn’t just one scene of her shaking either.  I also got weary at the end of the movie substituting voice overs of poems instead of dialogue–that part seemed to go on for hours.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Scrapping Plans

This trip happened back in 2005 — far too long ago to remember the nitty-gritty as I write this blog post in 2023. The one thing I do remember well, and which features in the opening of the poem, is that it matters what you have on your feet! My friend Fliss, editor of Splinter, and I were emerging from a London Underground station. Fliss was wearing flip-flops … and it was raining!

I liked the idea that, at least for women, a day can be different choices of footwear that features at different times of the day. In this poem we’ve got the inappropriate flip-flops in the daytime, followed by an elegant pair of heels in the evening. Before Dressing Up (the pamphlet) had been one of the Cinnamon Press pamphlet winners, a day-job colleague had kindly adapted a ShutterStock image that I’d paid for into a cover that, I felt, would have been perfect for the cover of Dressing Up. I later learned that there wasn’t the possibility of using cover art, so the cover never got used … but I’m delighted to post it here to brighten your day.

Giles L. Turnbull, Poetic Naming

Turning 50: I’ve decided to celebrate this milestone instead of dreading it, so I’m having a party on my actual birthday. Do I look 50? Am I dressing correctly for a 50-year-old? Also, can I still have pink hair? The rules are different now than they were when I was a kid. I do know that I see living this long as a real victory, for someone who has been told she was going to die by multiple doctors not so long ago. Hey, every year above ground is a good year.

Launching a book (still) during a pandemic: so, how does one plan a book launch when there’s still sort of pandemic conditions and you worry you’ve forgotten everything about doing book promotion (are there still book festivals, for instance? If so, which are disability friendly? Can I do college class visits virtually? How much travel can I do as someone with MS and a junk immune system before the body crashes? So many questions…and the first phase of 2023’s publicity efforts for Flare, Corona will really start soon. (In the meantime, check out BOA’s new book page for my book, with blurbs and a sample poem!)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Healthier Kittens and Sicker Me, New Hair and Imagining 2023: Re-Entry Fears

冬空や猫塀づたひどこへもゆける 波多野爽波

fuyu-zora ya neko hei zutai dokoemo yukeru

            winter sky—

            a cat can go anywhere

            walking on fences

                                                Soha Hatano

from Haiku Saijiki electronic version edited by Kadokawa Shoten, published by Kodansha Sophia Shuppan, Tokyo, Japan, 2018

Fay’s Note:  Soha Hatano (1923-1991)

Fay Aoyagi, Today’s Haiku (January 10, 2023)

Those of our readers who live in Las Cruces, or who were contributors to Sin Fronteras Journal may remember Joanne Townsend, an active poet in our circle since she and her husband Dan moved down from Alaska in 2005, with several poems in the Journal.  She hoped to produce a collection of her poems in her later years, but when she died two years ago, she left a pile of poems in hard copy with no indication of a possible order.

Thanks to Joe Somoza for his ordering skills and Ellen Young and Christine Eber for following up with the details, a manuscript was created and has now been published by Cirque Press.

Sample, from “Ponder, Partake”

On the church grounds, a single white iris,
its velvet petals calling
wind from the west.
Speak, Memory  Nabokov insisted.
Crimson spilling into parched throats –
Wine.  Poetry.

Poetry was central to Joanne’s life.  Between Promise and Sadness” is available on Amazon via the Cirque Press website: From Promise to Sadness

Ellen Roberts Young, Joanne Townsend: Between Promise and Sadness

I have bought this book several times as it seems to always be disappearing. In the early 90’s, I had never seen a book with this color on the cover, I’d never read a prose poem, or heard of Joseph Cornell. This all seems impossible looking back, but this book was a unicorn. There was no other American surrealist that I had ever heard of and the ekphrastic tradition of poets finding inspiration in the visual arts, was, if not exactly frowned on, it certainly was not in vogue. I read and reread this book. I still do.

A friend of mine had a husband who had studied with Simic at the University of New Hampshire and adored him. This week’s piece in The Yale Review by Megan O’Rourke gives a moving homage to her mentor, friend, and dinner companion. (You can find it here)

Oh, yes, and of course, Pulitzer Prize winning poet. I just found this video of Simic reading his poem “Stone” and for a moment, he comes alive again. 

The great poets I grew up on: Elizabeth Bishop, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Seamus Heaney, W.S. Merwin, Derek Walcott, and now, Charles Simic, are all gone now. The people, not the poems. 

Susan Rich, Thinking about Charles Simic

I also recalled the joy of singing along, badly, to various songs on the drive down, and the fact that I was about to go and see more friends. All of the travelling and visiting, etc meant that I was quite late to seeing the interview with Don Paterson in the Guardian last week. When I did see it I thought it was all fairly nondescript, but there seems to have been some “discourse” of late about a comment he made about poets and not being able to drive. It all seemed quite throwaway to me, but some of the reactions showed just how seriously some poets can take things and themselves. I was more reminded of Wendy Cope’s poem about Typically Useless Male Poets.

Oh well. In other news, where do I file my copy of Don Paterson by Ben Wilkinson? The book is a brilliant look at the work and themes of DP’s life. Do I put it under Don on my shelves or with Ben’s books???

I was reminded again of Don Paterson when I saw the news this week that Charles Simic had died. Simic is a poet I admire, but don’t know brilliantly, despite reading his Selected once. I make the connection with Paterson as I once saw them on the same bill at the Southbank. I think it was when DP was making his famous speech about leaving poetry to the proper poets (or words to that effect), but I could be wrong about both. I remember being enthralled by both, but not quite getting Simic. I’m still not sure I do, but I like it. That seems to be enough.

Mat Riches, Disappointing Baguette

This book is full of memory, and mysticism, and God speaking the world into being in Her own inimitable way, and Reb Nachman with his tears under the table pretending to be a turkey.

Fallen leaves recite kaddish. The infinite arrives on lightning feet. Every word is broken. Only the hidden can burst forth. We forgot what we were yearning for. Every one and every thing is for you.

I’m cheating: that paragraph is a pastiche of Rodger [Kamenetz]’s lines. If that doesn’t entice you, I don’t know what would. I want to start a new commonplace book so I can copy these lines in my own hand.

Rachel Barenblat, Finding The Missing Jew anew

[Jonathon] Cott explains that the journalistic interview was a nineteenth century invention and that the word comes from the French entrevue meaning, “a meeting.” And then this word is derived from entrevoir, meaning “to glimpse, to catch sight of, or to get an inkling of.” Cott then connects this to Martin Buber saying, “all real living is meeting.” And then, he also quotes the psychologist James Hillman saying that “the interview itself is a kind of love…How can one do an interview without love, without imagination working…”

So, if you’ve read Everything Affects Everyone, you can probably see why I was so excited by Cott’s words. I’ve not read every interview in the book, but I started off with the Bob Dylan one, which is so honestly wonderfully weird. Cott quotes Dylan saying, “The highest purpose of art is to inspire. What else can you do? What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?” There is a point where Dylan says: “Music attracts the angels in the universe. A group of angels sitting at a table are going to be attracted by that.”

Shawna Lemay, Did You Ask a Good Question Today?

street light
half moon
half awake

Jim Young [no title]

Not sure where I’m going with this blog but, inspired by Patti Smith’s A Book of Days, I wanted to try and post something every day for a month. I wanted to reflect some of her generosity, her reverence for things, but I also wanted to consider what makes me ‘me’, my influences, my surroundings. So, there will be some random stuff I suspect, which is a bit of a disclaimer, but at least you understand the thinking behind it.

Anyway, this photograph was taken on a walk to Heptonstall last summer. I like the fingers pointing in opposite directions, challenging me to decided which way to go. Could be a metaphor. Early January is the period when we take stock, try to figure out where we’re going, where we’d like to be. I’m trying not to think too far ahead though, to be present. I tell myself it’s okay to drift a little, to take in what comes along rather than push myself to find new things. So, forgive the random stuff. It comes with good intentions.

Julie Mellor, Slanted landscapes II

Wondering…what it means to be a poet (or anything, really). In the context of a conversation this week, a co-worker of my daughter’s said to me, “You’re a poet, right?” and I wasn’t sure of how to respond. Later, she and I debated my answer to the question. Since I rarely write poetry now, I don’t really think of myself as a poet. She says that, since I have written and am still capable of writing poetry, I am one. Which has me thinking about the labels we attach to ourselves and how we use them. Am I still a teacher? What about a librarian? Am I still a grand-daughter, even though I have no living grandparents? Was I a skater all those years (45!) I didn’t skate? If I’m not the things I used to be, what am I now? (Is this a question we need/get to keep answering until we die?)

Rita Ott Ramstad, Following serendipitous breadcrumbs

who remains when all that is silent is said

who arrives when death is a seed

how deep within the breathing pine
is sky and open sea

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 39

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: mushrooms, ellipses, precarious trees, the inestimable unknowable, tiny people on a tiny screen, and more—so much more. Enjoy.


I am trying to focus on the good in the days. What hope survives the hurricane and what small joys it misses entirely: the bones that are surprisingly strong, and the seemingly fragile, tiny wings of things that hide and hold on. Maybe in a world that is so arbitrary, the real good is to walk behind a storm and gather the good. Willfully accepting.

The students are playing in the park this weekend. While they pin themselves, and spirit gum themselves into their costumes to rehearse, I photograph the white mushrooms growing on a tree stump. White, marshmallow ears.

Ren Powell, The Dead are Listening

Each memory—
                 a shattered 
puzzle. 
      It could be raining 

on the inside
      of this skin.

Romana Iorga, Forecast

Experience collects, filling my cracked cup. I hold it tight
between my finger bones. It is all that I know.

Charlotte Hamrick, All the Days Come ‘Round

But back to basics. An A. A W. An ampersand. The Hebrew letter Shin (ש). Ellipses, those no-see-um markers which represent what isn’t there. […] If one wants to edit out the ellipses, one needs to put them back in in order to signal that they are gone.  

A door is a door but it is also the Hebrew letter Dalet (ד). Why am I telling you this? I don’t even speak or write Hebrew. But that’s why. As a child, I sat in synagogue and marvelled at the books filled with knurls that were letters. Scrolls filled with them, lung-sized rectangles of close-inked text on sewn-together pages of parchment; letters, crowned exoskeletons both etymological and entomological. Scrolls crowned in literal silver crowns, wrapped in velvet, kept in a gold-lit ark. […] The sounds of chanting, the cantor with a silver pointer in the shape of a pointing finger. And the marvel that these letterforms, these mouthshapes, were unintelligible to me except as script or music. The calligraphic maze. An amazement. The shapes of letters as tactile, aesthetic, their meaning not in their meaning but in their form, the inky music of looking, the region of the brain, evolving with these letters, the calligraphic region, the frontal majuscule, cerebral longhand, the amygdalet (ד), the homunculus not holding a pen but made of language, of letters. […]

Gary Barwin, Language2 or the square root of minus language. [ellipses in original]

It always strikes me, when I finish a sketchbook, how much like a diary it actually is. During this journey through a little more than a year — a year that’s seen a lot of upheaval and emotion and change — the images and the choices recall exactly where I was and what I was thinking, while to the viewer, they probably look like innocuous still lives, landscapes and skyscapes. In some ways, this visual diary is more personal and secret and coded than written words could ever be.

Beth Adams, A Visual Diary

When I first read The Artist’s Way, I didn’t grasp its connection to the modern recovery movement. Each chapter starts with the words “Recovering a Sense of.” Laid out in a twelve-week plan (I later learned that Cameron is a recovering alcoholic) the chapter titles end in positive, affirming words: “safety,” “identity,” “power,” “integrity,” “possibility,” “abundance,” “connection,” “strength,” “compassion,” “self-protection,” “autonomy,” and, finally, “faith.” My favorite parts of the book, however, were the sidebar quotes. From M. C. Richard: “Poetry often enters through the window of irrelevance;” from Jean Houston: “at the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.” Read in order, these flashes of insight created their own text.

So how well does The Artist’s Way, and other books in this genre, hold up after thirty years? They are still worth reading, as long as readers understand that there is much more to an artist’s life than what they present. One of the glaring omissions in these books, which strikes me as odd since they’re mostly written by women, is a frank discussion of the obstacles that women face when they attempt to carve out some time for themselves in order to practice their art. Cameron touches on it in Chapter 5, but she muddies the water by toggling between hypotheticals: a man with an interest in photography vs. a woman who wants to take a pottery class. These are not equal entities, but Cameron treats them as such.

As we all know, wives, mothers, sisters, female servants, etc., traditionally did the domestic work, including raising children. This mostly unpaid labor provided male artists with the time and solitude they needed to be creative. As Toni Morrison states, as quoted in Chapter 5 of The Artist’s Way: “We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such a big A-plus for that.”

Gradually, I outgrew The Artist’s Way, and its exhortation to unblock my creative potential. I’ve come to realize that Cameron’s book, as well as Goldberg’s and many others in the creativity genre, are as much autobiography as they are instructional manual. They tell a compelling story of recovery from a variety of things, whether substance abuse, low self-esteem, or a lack of faith; for that alone, they have value. 

Erica Goss, The Artist’s Way, Thirty Years Later

I don’t even know where they are
the precarious trees
colour-coded

she’s taken up rowing
tinkering on the piano
in the darkroom

Ama Bolton, A day at the Dove

I remember being overwhelmed with tears in Venice, thinking, wow, it looks just like its pictures, but it’s REAL and I’m HERE. The same with the Alps. Standing practically nose to glacier, or what’s left of them anyway, or to feel, through that strange clarity and distortion of light and perspective, that I could bend across the balcony railing and the deep valley that separated me from the mountain, that I could like it like an ice cream cone. Or even just visiting the next town over when I haven’t been there for a while. Wow, when did this building go up? Hey, I never noticed that garden before. That big tree is gone but look there’s a woodpecker poking around in the stump.

I rarely write in the moment. You won’t often find me scribbling at some foreign cafe, although I like the idea of it. Travel is the time of intake, of slurp.

Only later will time distill all that I took in and leave the vivid traces of travel. That’s what I may write about. Or use as imagery as I write about something else entirely. Those moments or experiences that have stuck to my skin, have wrinkled into my brain are what I can put to use in the building of a poem, visceral, lively. Or at the very least, travel nudges me to recall in my daily life that sense of being alert and perpetually interested.

Marilyn McCabe, Baby baby baby, baby baby baby; or, On Travel and Writing Poetry

Each day oscillates between what shrinks
and what expands, what I once could do

and what I can, sweet jazz and pounding,
a clock that crumbles into dry ash
or measuring cups overflowing

with uncooked rice and broken nut bars.

PF Anderson, NINES

Is imagism really the goal?  It doesn’t have to be, though there is something to be said for the principles that H.D., Aldington, and Pound formulated in 1912, in regard to direct, sensory, concrete description that avoids metaphor, simile, personification, or apostrophe.  And it’s a lot harder to do than it initially seems.  But there’s also something static about the image, even if ideally it embeds within itself a whole “complex” —  and H.D.’s “Evening” demonstrates how to graph movement imagistically (rather than staying stuck in the “instant”).  We can also think of the directions in which William Carlos Williams took the thing, the ways in which Lorine Niedecker makes imagism kinetic, or how imagism shows up in the work of a contemporary poet like Harryette Mullen (e.g., in her tankas).

Once learned (true imagism), who wants to stay static, but it is still a poetic skill worth learning.  It connects us to the world, to the environment, to non-human animals, to plant life, or even to the concrete concrete of a city.  Connecting us to the world, it breaks us out of ego, out of our own heads and feelings, which is sometimes a good thing to do.  It is a mode we can return to and maybe interlayer with other poetic modes as our deepening compositional experience enables.  Okay, poetics class over — now go do whatever you want.

Michael S. Begnal, A Few Thoughts on Imagism per se

Where do I start? With a winter solstice poetry reading in Brooklyn, in a dark room on a dark night; his poem evoking a Di Chirico painting made my head explode, the work was so much more interesting than anyone else’s. But we didn’t speak that night. I met David before the equinox the following year, at a critique workshop run by the people who had set up the solstice reading: Merle Molofsky and Les von Losberg.

David didn’t have a presence; he was a presence. He read in a growl, with a slight lisp and a Brooklyn accent, and he could quiet a room. The poems were not lyrical or narrative, nor formal, nor confessional–they were jazz-like, full of strange images that sounded like surrealism and yet were not. He wrote prose poems and free verse and tiny little aphoristic pieces that sometimes made me laugh and sometimes broke my heart. He was not famous. He had not studied with well-known poets. But he had much to teach me, I thought, from the first time we sat around a table and read our work to one another.

Ann E. Michael, Poetry mentors: david dunn

“Worrying about the lorikeets” appears to be about another unsuitable marriage between two people who are polar opposites, “He opts for Def Leppard to her Bach,” when they come across a dead bird,

“She saw in his upturned eyes the weight
Of its dumb pain—then it was that she
Remembered what she’d always known.”

His sorrow for the bird reminds his wife why she married him.

“Anamnesis” is a subtle, thought-provoking collection that explores memory both in terms of what’s remembered but also inherited memories and how memories accumulate. The poems are gentle but multi-layered, inviting readers to return and re-read.

Emma Lee, “Anamnesis” Denise O’Hagan (Recent Work Press) – book review

A woman is moved on for holding up a sign.
A man is warned he will be arrested
if he writes on a blank piece of paper.

In the pavilion of continuing hypnosis,
the gentlemen in striped blazers applaud.

An army crosses a river. A bridge not blown up.
The dry season. Hurry, before the rains come.

The morality police murder a woman
because her hair was visible
as she walked in the street.

The wind whips stones into shapes
that say what we need to hear.
When we place stones in a circle
do we shut ourselves in or out?

Bob Mee, THEY WILL FIND A THOUSAND GRAVES

My personal poetry highlight of the summer was listening to Roger Robinson read and be in conversation with Pádraig Ó Tuama at the Greenbelt arts festival.

It was a performance of great generosity, humour, anger, humility and power. You get to a stage in your poetry-going/reading life when you can tell when people are phoning it in. There is no more dispiriting a spectacle. This was the opposite of that. The more I’ve thought about it, the more it reminded me of a remark by the conductor Benjamin Zander, when he said that a maestro achieves their power not by making a sound, but by releasing those around them to be the musicians they are meant to be as they interact with the score.

Prompted by the twinkling Pádraig (‘It’s on page 51’), Robinson treated us to a several poems from A Portable Paradise as well as many more from his earlier volumes, some of which are now out of print. Introducing ‘The Job of Paradise’, he spoke of how it was inspired by the sight of a hearse slowly turning the corner of his road in London. He removed his hat, he said, and stood in respect as the hearse passed by. But it made him think. Here was the driver of that hearse, doing his job, suit and shirt pressed, his gaze steady, his pace stately. And here was the hearse doing its job, just by being a hearse, a long, shiny black car unlike all the others in the flow of traffic. And from there he made the point that it is the job of each poet and poem to ‘remind us how to live our days’ by showing readers the ‘paradise’ that is all around them.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: The Job of Paradise, by Roger Robinson

In the last breath of September, it was my pleasure to attend and celebrate Gary Glauber’s new collection of poems, Inside Outrage (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2022).  He read beautifully via Zoom.  His selected poems touched upon an array of topics:  Love, Mr. Rogers, teaching, poetry, civil justice at Starbucks.  It was the perfect antidote to the drumming of the atmospheric river and wind pummeling the windows outside, allowing me to disappear inside, into words for an hour that passed too quickly this afternoon.

With a shelved and bespectacled Homer Simpson over one shoulder and a guitar over the other, Glauber began his reading with his poem, “Blocked,” one he explains celebrates a lifetime of poetry.  The poet reminds readers, “Let us celebrate the infinity / of our limited mortality…” It is also one that considers time and the travel of the “…inestimable unknowable” that is “much like a poem.”

Kersten Christianson, Gary Glauber’s Collection of Poems, Inside Outrage

In ancient times, spiderwebs were used as bandages.

Rats laugh when you tickle them.

A dentist invented the electric chair.

It rains diamonds on other planets.

Bumblebees can fly higher than Mount Everest.

Men are more likely to be colorblind than women.

There are a million rivers all around me, but only one of you flowing through my life.

Rich Ferguson, A Matter of Fact

You want to believe it
and you can’t —
that’s the miracle,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (87)

What would we like others to know about our experiences these last years? If you could tell folks in the future in a sentence or two, for example. When I was in a very. dark. space. at one point, I couldn’t articulate it, more because I knew that if I did things would get darker for me personally. But I learned some things in that dark place I’ll never forget. The line by Nicole Brossard is one that has popped into my head a lot the last couple of years: “You have to be insane to confide the essential to anyone anywhere except in a poem.”

Shawna Lemay, Taking the Light into the Dark

After lunch and cake with friends, I spent several hours of my 53rd birthday sequencing Wonder & Wreckage. My goal is to have the manuscript complete by Christmas. 

Collin Kelley, Self-portrait at 53

Selected by Aimee Nezhukumatathil as the winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize is the full-length poetry debut Two Brown Dots: Poems (Rochester NY: BOA Editions, 2022) by “Kentuckian, a mom, a knitter, and an Affrilachian Poet” Danni Quintos. Her first-person explorations and recollections write around and through a self-determination and self-creation, seeking answers to a space she requires to singularly establish; illuminating lyrics around memory and being, offering answers as best as she is able, in due course, due time. Set in three sections—“Girlhood,” “Motherhood” and “Folklore”—Quintos writes across the length and breadth of lived experience, from watching her father from a distance, summers and childhood crushes and living as an awkward youth, to the experiences of pregnancy and eventual motherhood. She offers stories of her connections to the Philippines, writing of a familial background she simultaneously holds and can’t help but carry, offering, as part of the poem “Possible Reasons My Dad Won’t Return to the Philippines,” “What if he remembers everything [.]” A few lines further, as the poem ends: “[…] the little boy in him left / here with all the cousins, no one / to call nanay or tatay, alone, / the shape of him on a mattress / the version of him that stayed.” She writes of differences, from the ways in which most (if not all) teenagers feel as outsiders, to the consequences of racism, reacting to boundary-making micro-aggressions offered for no reason other than the colour of her skin. “I didn’t yet / understand. And every summer after,” the poem “Brown Girls” ends, “a whirring // reminder that I didn’t belong here, a little song / sung at me by the bodies that slept for years // underground. How we couldn’t see what he saw: / two brown girls under a white couple’s roof.” In certain ways, Two Brown Dots is a collection of poems entirely centred around the body, and how those bodies are experienced, both from outside and within, offering physical responses through the lyric, from adolescence to the fact of living in a predominantly Caucasian space. Her poems are sly and smart, curious and rife with detailed narrative.

rob mclennan, Danni Quintos, Two Brown Dots

I’ve been proofing chaps and reading manuscripts and thinking about October happenings. I have also been proofing the final version of automagic and getting it ready for my first galley in a week or so. I feel when I get back from being gone, there are a couple days of finding my rhythm again. 

But yes, here we are on the cusp of October.  I not only made chicken soup I’d intended for the weekend, but have had the space heater on since yesterday, but mostly gazing longingly at the shut windows and wishing I could open them again.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/30/2022

Last night at the Library of Congress, Ada Limon gave her inaugural reading as the nation’s poet laureate. A few weeks ago, when I realized that my canceled Thursday night class was the same night, I applied for a free ticket.  I got one, but in the end, I decided not to go.

I got an e-mail on Wednesday that advised that we would be required to wear masks, and I would have been wearing one anyway, but I did start to think about the wisdom of this kind of indoor event when a pandemic is ongoing.  I did get a booster shot on Friday, but I’m not in a hurry to test that protection.

I don’t know why I didn’t think about the potential of crowds when I requested a free ticket.  I’m not used to sell out crowds at poetry events, and the Wed. e-mail advised that we would be at full capacity.  The line to get in for the 7:00 p.m. reading would start to assemble at 5:00 p.m., and we’d be let in to get seats, if we were far enough in the front of the line, at 6:30.  There would be overflow seating in a hall where we could watch on a screen.  […]

So, what did I do instead?  I went to the American University library to get my Wesley ID activated to be able to use the AU library.  I came home and made myself a dinner of roasted brussels sprouts and a baked sweet potato, which was much tastier than it sounds.

I was feeling oddly exhausted, so I was even more glad that I didn’t go downtown.  I was asleep by 8.  But before that, I tucked myself into bed.  My bed faces west, so I had a great view of a glorious sunset, as I read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  It wasn’t the cultural/literary even that I had planned, but it was the one that I needed.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Laureate Thursday, Literary Thursday

               I learned my first prayers there,

waiting for the butcher’s hand to emerge
               from out of the pocket slit in the throat

of a thrashing animal. You said if I closed 
               my eyes, sound would be more 

terrible than sight. My reward: small 
               specks of a sweet inside red-taped 

pitogo shells, unburied with a bamboo sliver. 
              I wake sometimes with the sense of a footprint 

small as a snail’s, pilgrim feeling for a path
              to everything we’ve always wanted to say.

Luisa A. Igloria, In dreams you walk through wetmarket aisles with me again

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Yes. Many times. I thought for a long time that the “I” in a poem should be taken out, obscured, muddied, that the worst kind of poem was a deeply personal poem. My first book (Little Prayers, Blue Light Press, 2018) is filled with fantastical leaps and it takes a kind of sideways look at my personal experience. In 2017, when I started work on the manuscript I’m sending out now, I surprised myself by writing intensely raw and revealing poems about my experience with motherhood and my struggles with infertility, including the life-threatening miscarriage I suffered in 2013. I had to shut off a voice telling me that this kind of writing was bad. It’s been very freeing to write about this stuff, though the challenge, always, is to find some way of moving beyond the myopically personal into more universal territory, and I’m always looking for models. Franz Wright did this beautifully in his writing about addiction, God, and mental illness.

Thomas Whyte, Susie Meserve : part two

tiny people on a tiny screen
even through headphones
I can hear the rain

Jason Crane, haiku: 1 October 2022

I’ve just finished reading Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment. It is an extraordinary book, beautifully written. It’s one of those books that you can sink into, and carry around with you, exploring the themes and questions and points of view in your mind. It came at just the right time, as I feel I have been exploring my own, metaphorical islands, some of them abandoned, some of them not so much. Cal Flyn’s islands are real places in which human intervention has stripped and scorched them, the interest is in the psychological attachment to them, and the physical response from nature. My metaphorical islands are grief, writing, friendships. Last week I sent the new poetry collection to the publisher. I know they’re waiting on ACE funding, like so many indie publishers, so I’m really just waiting to see what happens before I can release any details. One nice thing about it was the way that my editor shortened the title of the collection in her response email. Something about that made it feel familiar, wanted, warmed to, and that made me happy. The collection has passed through that strange place, has gone from being a Schrödinger’s collection that exists only when I perceive it to be a collection, and is now a manuscript on a desk in a publisher’s office with a title that is solid and firm, a title that can hold the weight of being shortened for ease of communication. Put simply: It exists as a complete thing, it is created.

And so I bed into the non fiction book. I’ve started getting out and immersing myself in the physical places on which the non fiction book is based. It’s been wonderful. These places are islands of time in which I can almost touch the people who came before me, who lived on this land.

Wendy Pratt, Exploring the Islands

Every part of the country has things everyone knows if you live there, but comes as a surprise to outsiders. Like White Sands in southern New Mexico. I had been to Seattle several times but had no idea that Spokane was known as the Lilac City. If I hadn’t read Talley’s chapbook, I still wouldn’t know that. But you don’t need to know that to read this book; all is soon explained. And the poems here do many good things besides giving information.

Postcards from the Lilac City begins with stories of growing up in a certain place, Spokane, Washington, with change over time: a carousel taken down and later restored, bike riding before helmets were worn, the time when bikes are replaced by a brother’s old car.  Already there is good language and some experiment in form; in the later sections the experiments are bolder.  In the middle section, “Spokane Postcards,” a stanza of description is followed by a letter from the author to someone from back home – never mind that many of these missives have too many words to fit on a typical postcard.  The last section, “After Vietnam” does not return to a historical approach, as one might expect, but presents various moments in a variety of forms from an adult perspective.  The whole makes a satisfying read, sharing specifics of experience in poems carefully crafted.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Postcards from the Lilac City by Mary Ellen Talley

There’s a good case to be made for October being the loveliest month, in England at any rate; though only really when the sun shines and the plentiful golden yellows are at their best, like Samuel Palmer landscapes before your eyes.

It’s also a month of melancholy, too, which suits me just fine. The ideal time to get stuck into some serious reading, which, in turn, will feed into writing. Over the years, early autumn has traditionally been a time when I will make a concentrated study of a favourite poet’s oeuvre, to see how the quality of their output, and the clarity of their thinking, deepened over time. Poets who, either by choice or premature death (yes, I realise that most deaths are premature in some respect), published in a disciplined and selective manner are ideal for this, Elizabeth Bishop for one.

Like everyone and anyone who loves poetry, I’ve long liked Bishop’s poems. Curiously, though, real, devoted love for them has been awakened in me through an apparently unlikely source, Colm Tóibín. His book On Elizabeth Bishop, published by Princeton University Press, is as fine a critical reader’s study of another writer as any I’ve ever read. I find it interesting that it should be a writer known until recently solely for his novels, albeit wonderful ones at that, who has really opened my eyes.

Matthew Paul, On (Colm Tóibín on) Elizabeth Bishop

This weekend feels a bit like the last hurrah. University starts soon and I know any free time I have will be focussed on that. The weather is beautifully autumnal, leaves glowing with sunlight as if it’s putting all their energy into one last show. It’s infusing the poems I’m trying to write. And I’m writing which hasn’t happened much lately. 

This weekend is Zineton, a 48-hour challenge to create a zine. Helsinki Writers are having their second go at it. I’ve discovered a fun AI art site Wombo which is making it even more interesting as I really don’t have any talent for visual art. So I’m writing a couple of poems for that and waiting for the other writers to send me their work. Then the rush to put everything together begins. 

Gerry Stewart, Zineton and Scotstober 2022

The cover for Flare, Corona was chosen this week (reveal soon!), and I started thinking about mailing lists, updated business cards, and scheduling readings. Oh yes, and Seattle AWP next March. My PR for Poets book recommends starting six months ahead of time laying the groundwork for the book launch, and that suddenly hit me.

Also, this month is full of literary activity: the book club I host is meeting on Oct 19th, the Skagit Poetry Festival is happening next weekend, and I’m working on an interview and a spooky poetry podcast. Plus, I’ve got poet dates—getting back into social life is gradual for me—because, let’s face it, in Seattle most of us start hibernating in November and don’t come out until March.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Welcome to October: Upcoming Book Launch Planning, Upcoming Book Club, Poetry Festivals, and Podcasts

Pumpkins are all right (in pies, not in lattes, thanks)–but what the suddenly cool, rainy weather makes me want to do is read. It’s also nourishing to be read. Hurrah for the thoughtful attention Sarah Stockton gives Poetry’s Possible Worlds in the Staff Favorites section of River Mouth Review. I love the Octoberish timing AND that it coincides with the second printing appearing at the distributor. This means you can order it again directly through SPD or your favorite indie bookstore. It’ll soon show up on other places you order books, too. A small press book tends to spider along–think of silk threads thrown out, wafting in a breeze, and finally sticking somewhere. It’s both a stroke of luck when it does, and a result of arachnid effort and patience. The first push on this Poetry’s Possible Worlds is done, I think, but I’ll keep spinning.

The small press book I’m reading right now is Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s Look at This Blue. I hadn’t realized before I picked it up that it’s a long poem–she calls it an “assemblage”–although the thinking she does about epidemic violence, ecological damage, and inequity is a through-line in all her work. I need and want to read it slowly and not when I’m tired in the evening, which has been my time for page-turning fiction.

Lesley Wheeler, Book season (hours of ellipsis)

who breeds the flowers that hurt so much

whose wound mourns the gun

shall we grow weary of searching when we’ve buried the sun

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 52 + New Year’s 2022

Poetry Blogging Network

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

The last week of the year always has a kind of aimless, limbo-like feeling, as several bloggers observed, so I was impressed by how many still managed an end-of-the-year post. The selection below doesn’t quite reflect how many of those posts included favorite book lists as well, so really, quite a lot of riches for those with the time to click through.

Here’s hoping 2022 brings a bit of peace and sanity, but if not, there’s always poetry. Happy New Year.


Years ago, I worked for an organization that always closed down during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and as such I became habituated to taking those days off and have made it something of a tradition. Nothing is going to get accomplished in that time anyway. It’s an informal national “down week” as it should be, because these are frozen, dead, throw-away days in which humans are not meant to be functional. Hence no post last week. I’ve been off since December 23rd, doing nothing but loafing around and making a full-time job of trying to keep warm in the 15-degree weather in our under-insulated apartment, shivering in a turtleneck (thanks, Mom!), a hoodie, a knit hat, and double socks.

Kristen McHenry, Days of Loafing, Re-Discovering Dorothy, History Buff

It’s the break of day, New Year’s Eve. I’m writing from the warm, night-morning-darkness of my living room, the only light is that of decorative twinkle and the snow glow outside. My holiday boon is scattered on the nearby table, gifts that are already page-tabbed and folded open. I’ve finished Amy Butcher’s Mother Trucker, and working through Robert Hass’s Time and Materials by day and by night, Ken Gould’s mystery, Death’s Grip, along with Kerstin Ekman’s Scandia Noir read, Under the Snow. As is the case with readers, these are 4 named titles. Waiting in the background sit short stacks of 24 additional titles, patiently awaiting their own cracks in spine. There is a new blank book awaiting rough writings in chicken scratch scrawl, bright beaded earrings, magnetic haiku and coffee poetry sets, and real coffee from a friend to accompany all of these wild ways to spend winter time.

Kersten Christianson, New Year’s Eve: Closing the Book of 2021

at the end of every verse
leave a promise —
what shall we do with sleep
without a morning to wake up to
what shall we do with rain
when skin cannot endure the wet
what shall we do with all this
longing, without the grammar
of hope —

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Leave a promise

I have begun and started this post so many times in the last week. Usually I really look forward to writing the end of year blog, to look back at the good things that have happened. But this year it fels really different – every time I look at my 2021 diary at the months that have passed I feel sadness at all the things that didn’t happen, all the people I didn’t see, all the times when my daughter missed out, when I missed out.  And I also know that I’m lucky because I am healthy and I’ve been able to do some things.  I can’t stop thinking about friends who are still isolating, still unable to leave their houses.

It’s hard to look back on a year that has been threaded through with a low hum of anxiety, but I have had some lovely things happen this year. Probably the most obvious one of those is the publication of my second poetry collection All the Men I Never Married.  But perhaps more than any other year, it has felt like a year where I’ve been able to try out different ways of my work reaching a wider audience – so I’m going to list a few of them here, just in case there are other people out there with slightly more time on their hands than usual, in this strange gap between Christmas and New Year.  

Kim Moore, END OF YEAR BLOG

Today I undertook one of my favorite and also least favorite projects of the year–transferring all my random slips of paper and no-longer sticky post-its into a new sketchbook/planner for 2022.  Good because its bright white blank pages are sort of exciting, least because it just makes me remember all the things I never got a chance to get to.  I started the post-it system after years of lost to-do lists and actual planners and trying to understand bullet journaling and a million things that did not work to keep my mind organized.  The premise was simple..the front pages sort the days of the week, the coming weeks, the coming month, the coming year.  As things arise, I write them on the 1 inch post-its and stick them to the corresponding day.  Obviously stuff gets moved and transferred to coming weeks and I suppose gets done eventually if if ever does. 

I have spreads for dgp projects in the works, including columns–layout-cover designs–proofing–so that I can see at a glance what is happening with each book. I have a section for monthly goals, though as the year goes on, I usually lose track of filling these pages out, but occasionally they help me finish up things. The worst, though, is a section titled “PROJECTS’ where every idea I have –for poems, for art projects, for shop lovelies–usually just sort of go to die, only to be moved to the next planner every late December. I also have pages for the library and things happening there. Admittedly, I didn’t even change books between 2020 and 2021, since so much was just lingering from the previous year. There are ideas for art & design projects that I’ve been moving from book to book since 2013.  Also writing projects.  Occasionally, like unusual creatures, I finish them eventually, but more often not. I might seem productive on occasion, but not half as productive as I’d like.

Kristy Bowen, new year, new planner

The fae character in my novel Unbecoming was, I now understand, incredibly fun to write because in imagining her, I got to inhabit the person I might have been if I were thoroughly, deliciously selfish, unworried about anyone’s future. I rarely consciously knew what she would say or do next; instead, I would take a break from writing and hear her whisper her next lines. The last dictation I received is her last quotation in the book: “I don’t know what I want, but I want it very much.” Word.

Speaking of traces of the past: one last magazine issue with a poem of mine slid under the old year’s wire. “You Know Where the Smithy Stood by the Clinkers” just appeared in the new National Poetry Review. It’s based on a lecture given several years ago by W&L archaeologist Don Gaylord. It immediately helped me see the buildings I work in in a different way, but I had to revise the poem many times, mostly by paring it down, until its architectural bones became clear. The past is always present, even when you suppress difficult memories.

Lesley Wheeler, Sacrifices, gifts, and a year in reading

It’s become a tradition and a privilege to spend New Years Eve with L. and B.

L. is the one who invited me to eat 12 grapes at midnight. She and B lived in Spain for a few years. I believe that to make a wish with each grape is her own twist on the Spanish tradition. Today I reread the blog post from 2020 and realize that my 12 wishes last night were nearly identical to those two years ago: synonyms and shifted specifics. New perspectives. New approaches.

I’m not sure what to make of that in terms of my personal growth. Walt Whitman contradicted himself because he contained multitudes. I repeat myself. I think that is because I contain a multitude of threads as well, and am on a dialectical path. Where it ends doesn’t seem to be as important anymore. Only that I keep moving towards something.

The word “ease” had come up a lot over the past two years. Maybe the past three years. But this morning I read the word “gentle”.

I lingered on the word gentle.

I read Dylan Thomas’s poem again this morning with more empathy – and a different understanding – than I’ve had before. It’s wonderful, because for the first time I see the specific context of the speaker’s perspective. I see the words “old age” (would that Death allowed us all that experience), and the speaker’s projecting his own fears onto his father, and onto every other old man’s evaluation of their worth in the world. I think I’ve read this poem always making way for the poet/speaker’s greater wisdom, and I read the advice in the poem as a kind of sutra. I am thrilled no one deprived me of this discovery: that this (projected) perspective is not wrong, but is only one perspective. A true perspective, but not the true perspective. And that is not to say that no one has ever analysed the poem this way, explained it, described it to me. But if they did, I wasn’t able to take the lesson in.

Long live the hyper-realistic beauty of the unreliable narrator.

Ren Powell, What Falls Away Gently

As 2021 stumbles to a close, it might be obvious to anyone who was paying attention (and I don’t know if anyone was) that I was not writing in here much in recent months; to be precise, since September. In many ways, September and onwards was a big improvement over the rest of my life since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. I got a new job working with children’s literature – so far, on course to be my best job ever – and before starting, I had time to visit my family in Canada. I also spent September weekends as part of the Sea Reconnection exhibition, which as an art-and-poetry exhibition was a first for me and certainly a highlight of the year.

I haven’t felt much like writing, though. My pandemic experience has avoided the worst that many have experienced (severe illness, death of loved ones, prolonged unemployment, etc) but at times I feel like it’s sort of flattened me out. I hope to get back into more of a writing frame of mind in the months to come, even in small ways, which I think will help.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Ten years of The Stone and the Star

Pull out the drawers,
and balled-up socks
sigh of their own accord.

Throw open the windows
and huddled shapes
of air unfold

forgotten wings. Old
beds of ash retire
into the soil so flint

or a match could strike
a small yellow flame
to brilliance.

Luisa A. Igloria, Encadenada

Yesterday we went for a long walk at Parc Jean-Drapeau, site of Montreal’s Expo 67: this geodesic dome, designed by Buckminster Fuller, was the United States pavilion for Expo, and is now a museum dedicated to the environment. But yesterday we were pretty much the only people on the two islands in the middle of the river, and even though it was a grey day, it was just what I needed. Lots of wildlife tracks in the snow, many birds including a huge flock of robins (what are they thinking?), the St Lawrence roiling along in its winter mood, red rose hips against the snow, junipers loaded with blue berries, overgrown plantings, a greenhouse where large tropical plants were being overwintered, and many odd graphic images from the desolation of winter and the decay or remnants of structures built for Expo that have fallen into disuse. I hope you’ll enjoy taking this walk with me, and I wish you all the best for the year to come.

Beth Adams, A New Year’s Walk

I have got a great deal out of writing this blog this year. The feedback is as immediate as social media, and far more fulfilling. There is always a chance someone will read it, so it never feels pointless. I write about whatever I want, however I want: that anyone is listening at all is a luxury! Yet, having had a month or so away from blogging, I can see how my relationship with it might have some things in common with submitting poetry to magazines, or using social media: that feeling that I need to just keep publishing; that fear of rejection, which only feeds the desire to publish more.

Is there a solution? Jonathan Davidson suggests we broaden our understanding of what sharing poetry entails to include a greater focus on different kinds of reading (e.g., out loud, at special occasions), and on reaching more non-poets. I agree. Davidson’s focus is largely on collections, but I think the insight can be extended to individual poems. Why should the default ‘end point’ be publication in a magazine?

For most people I know, poetry is a marginal art, so it’s a fair assumption that by placing a poem in a magazine you will have a greater chance of finding an appreciative reader (i.e. another poet) than sharing it with someone you know. But the end result of this way of thinking isn’t just a self-fulfilling prophecy which keeps poetry on the margins: it effects our idea of what a poem even is.

There are ways of rethinking how we share poetry among regular writers, too. I suspect a lot of writers engage with poetry groups and workshops, at least in part, as steps towards publication. But there is no reason why they have to be. I attended a regular poetry evening when I was at university. I have never produced so much rubbish in my life, but I have rarely felt so much like I knew why I was writing.

My own solution over the last few years has been to try to publish less poetry, and more writing about poetry. I can see this wouldn’t appeal to everyone. It may end up with me not publishing any of my own poetry at all (which isn’t necessarily a disaster). But I’ve also found that I appreciate poetry – writing it and reading it – more, not less.

Jeremy Wikeley, A Year in (Not) Publishing

Imagine how it feels when the sky is dark and you’re the first star. That’s Frank’s trusty Tree Service. You’re the first tree. You’re reborn. You’re a tree and you’re reborn as a tree. And soon you’ll be surrounded by a forest of trees reborn in a forest reborn and filled with trees.

Gary Barwin, Rise Up, Trees: Frank’s Tree Service.

year’s end
bald pines hold
the sky in place

Julie Mellor, year’s end

I was sad to read that Kirsty Karkow had died, on Christmas Eve. She was a fine haiku and tanka poet. I had some correspondence with her twenty or so years ago and had been in online kukai groups with her in the late ’90s. She’d lived in Maine for many years but was born and educated in England. On Curtis Dunlap’s old ‘Blogging Along Tobacco Road’ blog, which was always a pleasurable read, you can still find Kirsty’s admirable contribution, here.

Matthew Paul, On Sylvia Kantaris and Kirsty Karkow

I cannot recall where I learned of Byung-chul Han, but I’ve had the pleasure of reading one of his books of philosophical essays (The Scent of Time) recently, and seldom has a philosophy text resonated so immediately with my circumstances. In this book, Han argues for contemplative time. He says it is essential for humans and human society and claims the “acceleration” of everyday life robs us of the value of reflective thought and “slow time.”

Raised and educated in Germany, where he now teaches, Han invokes the works of several German philosophers to provide a starting-point regarding the acceleration of time. He draws on Nietzsche, Arendt, Husserl and, to a larger extent, Heidegger…but Derrida, Aquinas, Aristotle, and others as well. He also quotes from quite a few poets, such as Celan, Hölderlin, Büchner, Handke, Ch’iao Chi, and spends two chapters on Proust (but of course…).

Han posits that the point-like, algorithmic availability of information runs counter to knowledge and wisdom, which require experience, which in turn requires duration and connection rather than arbitrary retrieval: “Promising, commitment and fidelity, for instance, are genuinely temporal practices. They bind the future by continuing the present into the future…creating a temporal continuity.” He criticizes the very technology that permits a person like me to learn about his work (I am certain I heard of him online somewhere). That criticism says the faster we go, the further we are from our earthiness–the airplane removes us from earth’s gravitational field as well as from the soil, “estranging the human being from it.” He adds, “The internet and electronic mail let geography, even the earth itself, disappear…Modern technology de-terrestrializes human life.”

Strong opinions, large claims. But oh, I thought at once of Whitman and his long expansive drawling poems when I read, “Instead of leisurely strolling around, one rushes from one event to another. This haste and restlessness characterize neither the flâneur nor the vagabond.” The whizzing about leads to anxiety and a lack of durable relationships. People hover instead of connect, swiping left or doomscrolling, feeling bored–which is a kind of empty-mindedness. I observe this trend of rushing and hovering in my students and among my colleagues. I have not found much Whitman-like lounging in current poetry publications, but a great deal of anxiety appears in contemporary poems. Writers reflect the times. Context shapes us.

Ann E. Michael, Slowing time

year’s end
waiting for candy
in the rain

Jason Crane, haiku: 31 December 2021

Field Guide to Invasive Species of Minnesota by Amelia Gorman

This gorgeous chapbook explores the ecological dangers of Climate Change and the emotional impacts of human nature. These poems flirt with the speculative, presenting a near future that feels nurtured by the here and now, offering visions of what could be while feeling anchored in what has been. The pairing of botanical illustrations with these lush poems is the kind of book I love to have and hold in its physical form, so that I can flip through its beautiful pages.

Andrea Blythe, Books I Loved Reading in 2021

The end of the year rolls near and I am just lifting my head towards my blog. It’s been forgotten in the shuffle of working life and as that end-of-year-in-review feeling rolls in I have to be honest with myself about several things. 

Where I am at geographically, career-wise, with a view to my family and my energy levels means I cannot place much focus on my writing. And 2022 will be even more difficult. I’m starting my teacher training course in January while working full-time at a school and raising my kids. I’m currently fitting writing in at the weekends, but soon that will be taken over by my course. I will continue to try and do a bit of writing, but compromises will be made. 

And it hurts to think I will have to put it aside or squeeze it into the cracks. I would love to be working as a writer even part-time, but I need to focus on a career that I know will give some financial security. I’m finishing off a commission for some poetry this week and coming to the end of an editing job. I hope other small opportunities present themselves, but I will have to protect what little time I have to study and spend with my kids as much as I can.

My book will obviously not be published in 2021. I knew this was the case from early summer as nothing seemed to be moving forward, including communication. Maybe something will happen next year, but I no longer hold out much hope. My book was accepted about the time my decades-long relationship fell apart, so it felt a positive part of my renewal, a reason to look forward and celebrate my hard work. Then Covid and Brexit and Time bulldozed on through and here I am, still waiting, trying to be patient. 

Gerry Stewart, The End of 2021 Draws Nigh

2021 was also the year I launched a book during a pandemic! What fun! Strangers came out in April, and was formally launched in May, with an online event featuring Sadiqa de Meijer and Sue Sinclair, and hosted by my editor Luke Hathaway. You can view that here. Unable to tour the book, this summer I took my tour local, with readings around Vancouver (even those were fraught – one was canceled by a record-shattering “heat dome,” another was rained our and had to be moved into the overhang area of an elementary school playground… normal stuff!). I loved getting to hear new poems from fellow pandemic-launching poets – eleven total guest readers over the course of the series. Readings at the Vancouver Writers Fest, Word Vancouver, and the Real Vancouver Writers Series kept me busy all fall, and helped me feel like it might really be reaching readers out there in the world! Reviews of the book and also interviews about the book kept me afloat despite the lack of in-person connections. Thank you to everyone who spent some time with Strangers in 2021 – it meant a great deal to me.

Rob Taylor, the 2021 roll of nickels year in review

I’ve been thinking as I look at my stats for the year that there’s some sort of link between my running this year and my writing. Correlation isn’t causation, etc and I don’t have the charts to hand (the wherewithal to tally up each month to make the chart),but I know that up to June this year I finished 10 poems and was roughly averaging 40-50k a week, and between July and now I’ve finished 5 poems and am averaging about 20K a week.

I’ve also run less overall. Last year it was 1600K, this year it’s just over 1500. I was aiming for 2000K, but

I think the reason behind these declines are that I was up a lot earlier in the first half of the year, and using the time after the runs to work on poems. I was training for Race To The King, and when folks mentioned I’d be struggling for motivation after that I didn’t believe them. How right they were. A combination of injury before the race, and exhaustion after has left me struggling to get back into the right frame of mind. It’s been the same with writing, the mad kick bollock scramble of the second half of 2021 has just left me with no interest in picking up a pen. I have no doubt it will come back. I can see a draft I started a coupe of weeks ago staring at me and I know I want to get to it, so I have faith.

Mat Riches, Run on lines…

When I look back at previous goals and roundups from around this time of year, I can see that pretty much every year I say I am going to cut back work, live a healthier lifestyle, live a ‘less chaotic life’ and have never quite managed it, until this year. My favourite mantra of this year, and one I’ll be taking with me into next year is ‘Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want different outcomes, make different choices.’ Changing habits, changing learned behaviour, thought habits, unhealthy coping strategies etc is not about will power. Will power plays its part, but rather than being a shield you use to protect you from cravings, will power is tool you can use to reinforce the positive habits, affirming to yourself that you are worth change, that you are worth nice things, good health, a happy work/life balance. This year I managed to over work myself to a point at which I triggered an underlying heart condition and very high blood pressure. In fact, what I’d thought was the menopause turned out to be my body struggling with what I was doing to it. The doctors I spoke to told me I needed to cut down caffeine, alcohol and stress to manage it. Reader, I did not know who I was without caffeine, alcohol and stress. I cut back caffeine consumption to just first thing in the morning and the occasional afternoon cup of tea. Knowing I could still get my Wendy strength coffee first thing meant I was happy to cut back for the rest of the day. The stress and the booze were much harder to cut down. I enlisted the help of a personal health trainer to help me change my terrible relationship with alcohol, which you can read about here and reader, it worked, it continues to work. I had my first hangover in four months this week. I’ve taken the brakes off a little over Christmas and drunk more than I have been doing and amazingly found that I don’t really want to drink much anymore. Which makes me a cheap date and a complete and utter lightweight. This is my biggest achievement of this year. I know there will be people who don’t really understand that cutting back booze is a big achievement, it’s not like I have gone Tee Total, but the change in my health, my happiness, my anxiety and my self confidence is noticeable. I’m not going back. I’ve done this before and never quite managed it because I gave booze up completely without changing my thought process around it. This time it really does feel different. I have altered my thinking, altered my motivations.

Wendy Pratt, 2021 – My Year in Review- Best Books, Best People, Best Moments, Best Foot Forward

even when I did not know your name, sparrow,
I knew your song, the particular way
you break the silence

Han VanderHart, Bird Song Sounds Out of Tune Only to the Human Ear

Do you remember at the beginning of the pandemic there were all the jokes about the line “I hope this email finds you well.” And let’s face it, for the last couple of years, we haven’t been well, or at least not all the time, and certainly not in all the ways one would wish to be well. What even is wellness now? I don’t want any easy and pat wellness advice myself because this stuff is hard and recurring and complicated and we can be more than one thing at once, anyway. One thing I do know, is that what we normally think of as wellness is not this steady stream. Sure we can be resilient but we also get to take breaks from being resilient. (Which is perhaps a form of resiliency). So what I hope for you in this coming year is that you find your way to a wellness, and in the times when things are more crumbly, you find ways to return and return to a space where you feel okay and sometimes even content and happy.

Shawna Lemay, Keeping Your Appointments in 2022

Let me be the photographer staring down into the lens
of a Box Brownie, let me really see my mother’s red hair,
my father’s best trousers, my brother’s barely lived in skin,

our white socks and Start-Rite sandals, or deeper still –
the cotton handkerchiefs in our dress pockets, Dad’s tattoos
hidden under his long sleeved shirt, the sand beneath

the soil and grass under our feet, the scent in the darkness
when we opened the coalbunker door, what we knew then,
what we didn’t know, what we were unable to even imagine.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ 1963

Palpable: what else to call poems with lines such as “I RUB MESSAGES INTO THE WALL B/C I KNOW / SOMEDAY I WILL BE DELETED.” The urgency implied in the typographical choice to use all caps (here and consistently throughout the collection) brings with it the implication of presence. Words in all caps are emphasized, given more presence before the eye. Such emphasis and presence are more often associated with brand slogans, protest signs, even text messages–a set of seemingly incongruent examples that yet are totally in line with the world interrogated by Abi-Karam. Only that these are poems, and the poetic space is flexible enough to hold a human pulse despite these implications, and resilient enough push back, to voice and be a voice.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Villainy by Andrea Abi-Karam

The first poems in Danger Days by Catherine Pierce (Saturnalia Press, 2020) lead one to expect that this book will be all about end times and apocalypse.  The fourth poem dispels this idea: “High Dangerous” is the name her young sons give to hydrangeas.  But there is danger there too: the bees in the flowers.

Pierce finds danger in many supposedly ordinary places.  In motherhood, for instance, in “How Becoming a Mother Is Like Space Travel.” (Both find themselves rearranged.) “Abecedarian for the Dangerous Animals” covers five kinds of animal: bees, bats, the cassowary, the golden dart frog, and humans. […]

One set of poems addresses the history of words, in a series she calls “From the Compendium of Romantic Words.” In each poem she explores, deconstructs and plays with a particular word.  My favorite is “delicatessen” which begins:

Noun.  Notable for a sibilant elegance heightened
by the suggestion of cured meats.  Not deli,
a vulgar nickname, a fly-den, a swing-by, but
a long sigh of syllables, a time machine.  Inside
its languid hiss: flannel suits, stenographer glamour.
When the word is uttered, a skyline materializes.

Ellen Roberts Young, Recommendation: Danger Days by Catherine Pierce

Love Letter to Who Owns the Heavens [by Corey Van Landingham] brought back to me memories from January 1991. I was visiting friends at the University of Maine in Orono (UMO) and trying to rekindle a romance with a boyfriend from high school. He refused to see me, so I met friends in the Bears Den where we ate and watched TV. It was the night coalition forces launched the attack on Iraq. A screen in the corner of the room in the student union broadcast the bombardment. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the moment: “The war marked the introduction of live news broadcasts from the front lines of the battle, principally by the US network CNN. The war has also earned the nickname Video Game War after the daily broadcast of images from cameras on board U.S. bombers during Operation Desert Storm.”

I can’t recall if we were horrified but know for sure we were mesmerized. And, even though I was just 18 at the time, I’m ashamed to admit that I was more pained by the romantic abandonment than by what I saw on TV. Even though the scenes from my UMO visit have stuck with me, I never bothered to include them in a poem. If I had, I’d probably have written about the boy and not the televised introduction to war in my lifetime. It’s a daunting task to consider even now.

I’m still not writing much about world events in my poems, but thankfully my interrogation of our complicity in them has evolved, and Van Landingham’s poems support this necessary and difficult line of questioning. In “{Pennsylvania Triptych},” she writes, “To participate in the demolition is to be a part of history. Is what I tell myself…” She goes on, “As if, ante- / bellum, white and wealthy, with your father’s / father’s sprawling fields, you wouldn’t have let the / house staff serve you pheasant.” We must come to terms with our participation in dehumanizing others if we are to understand how to stop it.

Carolee Bennett, “the body becomes a downloadable thing”

How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
It was completely administrative! I decided to apply to MFA programs last minute and the deadlines were coming up. I had to put together a portfolio and figured it would take less time to write poetry than to write prose (ha!). I became a poet thanks to early deadlines. But I kept with poetry because I love its sparseness— it’s a form in which what you don’t say is as important as what you do say. Absence speaks, it’s mystical— a fairytale in itself. […]

What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
In writing: act as if everyone is enlightened but you (Sandra Alcosser).

In general: “Dlatego dwie uszy jeden język dano, iżby mniej mówiono a więcej słuchano.” It”s a common Polish saying, loosely translated: “you got two ears and one mouth to speak less and listen more”. In fact, come to think of it, this applies perfectly to writing too.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Anna van Valkenburg

An interesting poem shows consideration-in-process. To “consider” means “be with the stars,” doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want that from a poem?

Poems in which the poet knows too much at the outset can tend toward flatness, I have found. The movement, if there is movement, in such a poem is of a busy person through a room who gives you a brisk nod. “Oh, there goes old whatsisname. Hunh,” you think. And that’s that. A more interesting poem wanders in, sits down with you, says something unexpected, ponders, ask you something, maybe, tells a tale, perhaps, shows you something, and in some way you share the moment.

You still might think, Hunh. But it’s a lingering hunh, a “I want to think more about this” hunh, or a “I never looked at that way before” hunh. You might want to call that poem some late afternoon and see if it wants to go get a beer.

Marilyn McCabe, Don’t stand so close to me; or, On Poems That Know Too Much

I am feeling forlorn this New Year’s morning.  Forlorn weather –  53 degrees and pouring rain, and likely to do so all day.

Last night I went to a New Year’s Eve gathering with eight other old folks –  55+ on the menu at Perkins Pancake House.  Very subdued.  It was a long table and I was the last to arrive and I didn’t get to sit with the friends I enjoy conversing with.  Not even any wine.  We closed the place at 8PM.  Sigh.

I drove home, remembering the New Year’s Eves of my wild youth:  in Philadelphia several with Patrick and his friends, in Baltimore in the apartment at Wellington Gate, and on Barclay Street, even a few in the early years of life in the Daughters.  Sigh.

So it goes.  I keep teaching Slaughterhouse Five to my Modernity class, now on Zoom due to COVID.

Anne Higgins, The times are nightfall; look – their light grows less

But for today, let me not focus on all that is coming at me/us in January.  Let me enjoy one more day of tropical drinks by the pool.  Let me focus on reading fiction, since I won’t have a chance to do that much once my seminary classes get underway.  Let me enjoy meals with loved ones and views of a different coastline.

And perhaps I will write a poem.  A few days ago, I made this Facebook post:”It is oddly foggy on the west coast of Florida this morning. It looks like it snowed overnight–or that something dreadful has happened to a lot of mermaids.”

Since then, I’ve continued to think of mermaids and sea foam and the death of mermaid dreams–or is it the resurrection of the girlhood dreams of mermaids?   I came up with this line to begin a poem:  Some days it is better to be sea foam.

Yesterday, the morning fog that looks like sea foam was tinted in different colors, which made me think that maybe sea foam doesn’t represent one eternal idea, but many.  

A poem is percolating, and I want to remember.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Soft Ending to Vacation

I know it’s a little cheesy, and harder during a pandemic year, but I still went through the steps of doing my yearly inspiration board, and using my hands to cut and glue things makes me feel like a kid again, and there’s something innately…optimistic about putting up words and pictures that make you feel happy and hopeful. This year, words like “friends,” “inspiration,” “magic,” and “happiness” made appearances, along with images of foxes, pink typewriters, blooms and butterflies.

Anyway, I encourage you to try it yourself, even if it’s just a temporary one on a corkboard, or posting inspiring things on your fridge. What could we look forward to? What are the best possibilities? I’m far too good at looking at the dark side.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy New Year! Snowed-In Seattle, Inspiration Board for 2022, Variant Problems, and Late Celebrations

We are born into this life with all its bombs & birdsongs, diseases & deities, poverty & purity. Born into criminals & kissers, debtors & creditors, greed & generosity. Born into freedom & detention, flowers & fault lines, climate change & genocides. Dancing, singing, weeping, raging. Slaving, building, crushing, creating—the beauty & brawl of it all.

Rich Ferguson, Into This

The lines of this poem are a factory that employs
the dead. Ghosts of people that walk
on concrete floors, their eyes
like blank sheets of paper. Do you
have a pen? Me neither.

What is a day? Rows and lines
of broken things – dreams, hopes, love.
No, that’s too hard and I reject it.
A day is you with your shoes off.
You are running toward me
laughing. You are telling me
about some poet from The Gaza Strip
or Kentucky.

James Lee Jobe, Their eyes are like blank sheets of paper.

How lucky the kitchen was stocked with tiny marshmallows and French chocolate
waiting in dishes for guests that would never come…
a list of movies, a fireplace with stacks of crackling logs
six-point crumpled Kleenex fluttering as paper snowflakes in an infinity of patterns
tables littered with bottles —- cough syrup, elderberry, zinc —
and cake vying for room with white test kits

We laughed into delirium when time was a stream of barely noted
notches in the inevitable: 
and talked of dreams, Rebbe Nachman, how to organize notebooks
not optimists but expecting each day would get better

New Year’s Eve was a muted affair; 
even if historic and global, we could say we did it in our pyjamas
in our own creaturely language
although we were still stuck in the indeterminacy

Jill Pearlman, Merry Quarantine

In spite of this, I’m starting this year feeling more optimistic than last year. Perhaps misguidedly. It’s not as if there’s a safe pair of hands in charge in the UK. But there are signs that the covid virus might be becoming less dangerous, which is something to feel hopeful about, even though we are still far from being in the all clear. On top of this, I have my own creative projects ticking away, and time to work on them, and my husband, Andrew, and our two grown-up children are well, we’ve navigated our way through the past two years and we’re still talking to each other and supporting each other’s plans. I’m so glad we’ve all been here for each other, at the end of a phone, if not always in person.

Josephine Corcoran, Light Ahead (maybe)

So, there we are. A year of recycled poems, stocking fillers, stand-ups, long-delayed appreciations and reviews, and far too much about being unwell and sorry for myself. And let’s be fair. In the world ‘out there’ it was a truly horrible year, a sleep of reason beginning with a failed putsch by morons led by a moron in the USA, and ending with tsunamis of incompetence, criminality and sleaze in what passes for government. What keeps me sane? You do. You and the poets whose work makes the world a better place. Go well. Stay well.

John Foggin, 2021: That was the year that was

You find the edge
of the wind right

where it ripples,
the old monk says.

You can almost
taste the sand.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (93)

 the extravagance of sun after a swim

Jim Young [no title]