Poetry Blog Digest 2022, 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 or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: gratitude, humor, radiance, pain—it’s all here. Enjoy.


I expected to feel sad. After all, my characters never got to dance through the dramas I invented for them or which, more accurately, it seemed they dictated to me. I expected to feel guilty too. In my busiest years I got up early or stayed up late to write hundreds of thousands of words, yet still didn’t have sufficient attention span or vision to finish writing those novels.

Instead I am simply relieved. The silent weight of these must-get-around-to manuscripts is gone. Once, the secret worlds of these novels accompanied me so closely I felt I was living several lives simultaneously. But no more. Time to let them go.

I dumped the books in the recycling bin without a farewell wave, not even a tang of nostalgia. Turns out the freedom to give up on projects feels liberating. I like to believe I’m making space for projects closer to my heart. I’m going to let those ideas stretch out into this new space and see what happens.

Laura Grace Weldon, Freedom Of Giving Up

There’ll also be days bright as fresh flowers in old graveyards.

Days when your brain-dead boomerang gets an anti-lobotomy and returns to you zinging and singing.

When your collide and collapse comes back new and refreshed.

When it feels like you can crawl into the womb of a feather, and be reborn as something lighter than air.

Rich Ferguson, Black Friday

Funds are tight, so I interlibrary loan poetry books as often as I can, and lately I came across Maryann Corbett, a poet who was new to me but not new to poetry.

You know how you can be in the car with a student driver or you can be in the car with someone who REALLY knows how to drive? When you are in a Corbett poem, you are in capable hands. I’m reading Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter, a relatable collection of poems of the everyday (but of course with more than the everyday beneath the surface).

I admire how her poems move–the form never feeling too forced or stiff, but rather inevitable. If you want to read a few of her poems for yourself, the title poem of Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter can be found HERE.

Renee Emerson, reading Maryann Corbett

Because I don’t enjoy reading the crowd-pleasing poems that tend to win.

Because competitions implicitly and involuntarily encourage poets to write crowd-pleasers.

Because I write poems that are apparently simple, that accumulate layers, that would never stand out in a mass of fireworks.

Because I don’t write to win competitions. I write for my potential readers. I write for the conversations that individual poems strike up among themselves and with those readers in the context of a magazine or a collection.

What about you…?

Matthew Stewart, Why don’t I enter poetry competitions?

This year has been an extraordinary one. I decided to quit my part-time job and commit to writing full-time. It was a thrilling and scary decision, a long time in the making. Then, as if I needed reminding that life is short so I had better get on with it, my mother died on January 12th, while I was in hotel quarantine. Two days before my mother’s funeral I got a phone call from the UK informing me that my poem ‘A Poem To My Mother That She Will Never Read’ had won the International Mslexia Award for Poetry. That was one of the most poetic moments of my life. Poetic because the poetry that resonates best with me always makes me feel more than one thing.

Being published online meant I was able to submit it to the Woollahra Digital Literary Award for Poetry in Australia. It was announced last night that it won that award.

I am humbled, grateful, proud, teary, sad, elated. Thanks to Woollahra Council & Libraries; Ocean Vuong for the title inspo; all the poets whose work has inspired me; my Ma; and Judge Ali Whitelock, who engaged with the poem in all the ways I hoped a reader would, and articulated it so brilliantly.

Caroline Reid, Winner, Woollahra Digital Literary Award for Poetry

How did you first engage with poetry?

When I was in elementary school in South Korea, we were required to keep a diary which was reviewed regularly by the teacher. I used to procrastinate until the day before the deadline. I remember my mom looking stern but slightly amused at my scramble to fill the pages, then suggesting: Why don’t you write a poem for a diary entry? It would be shorter but still meaningful. 

So I first engaged with poetry as a “shortcut.” It quickly became fun and special to me. As I became more intentional about the elements of poetry, it often took longer than writing narratives!

Thomas Whyte, Jaeyun Yoo : part one

Remarkably, after nine years of trying to face down his cancer’s spread, [Oliver] Sacks could still describe himself as “intensely alive” and even “lucky” and, perhaps more important, “grateful” for being able to “choose how to live out the months” that remained to him. “I have to live,” he wrote, “in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.” That he did, publishing in the short time left to him five books and “nearly finish[ing]” others, all while completing his memoir, On the Move: A Life, published in the spring of 2015. Declaring his “detachment” from daily news and politics and issues of the day, he turned his focus “on myself, my work and my friends.” His was, in every sense, lived life.

This Thanksgiving, having crossed that threshold that places me among the old, though not the old old, I find inspiration in re-reading Sacks’s op-ed, to consider and affirm, as he did, what an “enormous privilege” it is to be of this world, especially to “have loved and been loved,” to “have been given much” and “have given something in return.”

Note: Sacks’s essay and three others comprise his slim volume of reflections, Gratitude, published the year he died.

Maureen Doallas, On This Thanksgiving

If you’re familiar with Polly [Atkin]’s work you’ll know how her poems fold you into them, how they open worlds. If you ever get a chance to see her read, do it, don’t hesitate, do it. I’ve been lucky enough to have her read as part of a course I ran and double lucky in that she has run a zoom course for Spelt, which has been a big hit. I read this one in January. I read a little bit each day and each day it was like being given a gift. She’s an extraordinarily gifted poet. Much With Body is Polly Atkin’s second collection. These are poems that explore the connection to nature, in particular the authors connection to her own place in nature, in the Lake District. There’s a thread of found poems running through the collection that use Dorothy Wordsworth’s diary entries to explore the body through the lens of chronic illness. Every poem in this collection pulls at something in the brain, every description captures something unusual and special. I can’t recommend it enough. Pour yourself a cup of tea and settle in, you’ll not be able to put it down.

Wendy Pratt, Shelfie Stories: Five Books to Curl Up With on a Wintery Sunday Afternoon

The neighborhood where I used to live, Plateau Mont-Royal, was predominantly French, rather entitled, and somewhat closed-in on itself. Our new neighborhood, Cote-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace, is the most ethnically- and linguistically-mixed in the city, with some 48 languages spoken regularly in homes. In the elevators of our 12-story modern condo building, we hear neighbors speaking French, English, Chinese, Spanish, Yiddish, Russian, Italian, Arabic, Filipino, various Indo-Iranian languages, and many others. English, rather than French, is the most common language people use to say good morning and wish each other a good day. There is a huge Asian grocery market across the street, a Romanian charcuterie and bakery, and an eastern European/Russian/Ukrainian market around the corner; nearby on Victoria Avenue is a big kosher bakery, and that street is lined with Indian, Vietnamese, and Jewish restaurants and shops — to name just a few – while in other directions the concentration shifts to African and Caribbean, Iranian and Turkish, Portuguese, Greek and Middle Eastern, Mexican and Latin American. Not only is this mixture invigorating for all the senses, it encourages me to learn some words in more languages and try to connect with the Chinese butcher, the Ukrainian woman behind the prepared-food-counter, the Romanian couple who run the charcuterie, the Israeli pharmacist, the Lebanese dry-cleaner, the Muslim car mechanic, the Filipino cleaning woman whose schedule is the same as mine for the pool locker room, the Greek fishmonger. But even more than that, living this way is a daily reminder that the people of the world actually can co-exist, and help each other to thrive.

Beth Adams, Present Moments: Our Own, and Others’

In the afternoons, fascists gathered in the park. One November, I put on my coat and mitts and hat—it was cold and windy—and I showed the fascists pictures of the minimalist paintings of Agnes Martin. Instead of trying to attain a forcibly monolithic, regimented nation under the control of an autocratic ruler, try these, I said. I figured each minute thinking about Agnes was a minute not being fascist. And it worked. One guy in an armband told me that her paintings show a commitment to exalted subject matter. Yes, another guy holding a torch said, she transforms the seen environment into the language of painting which gives the works their aura of silent dignity. And frankly, a jackbooted woman said, I like the grids.

Gary Barwin, HOW I TAUGHT THE FASCISTS

I read a lovely new book of poetry from a poet I’d never heard of, Adrienne Raphel’s Our Dark Academia. Raphel has a great resume – MFA from Iowa, a lectureship at Princeton, published in Paris Review, Poetry, all the big names – but this was a fairly small press, Rescue Press. One reason could be some of the poems were a bit untraditional – one was in the form of a Wikipedia entry, another in the form of a crossword puzzle, another was paper dolls – but I found myself enjoying the poetry and the quirky forms. The reason to shop at in-person bookstores is to find little treasures like these on the shelves. This one was thanks to my visit to Open Books last week.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Thanksgiving Weekend, Family Visits, A New Poem in Prairie Schooner “The Girl Detective,” and Doctor’s Orders to Relax

First, I’d like to celebrate Luke Hankins’ new chapbook Testament (Texas Review Press) which is now available for pre-order. I had a chance to spend time with this collection early and wrote the following statement:

“Testament shows Luke Hankins deftly at work in a ‘small glory’ of a chapbook! Whether addressing the troubled country that is America or bringing the reader into the prayer-like intimacy of resonant daily moments, Hankins’s poems here create spaces of presence and awareness that are refreshing and which reward rereading. Testament evokes its title by speaking the facts of the self in such ways that we can join Hankins in loving ‘the broken world better / that has broken me.” (blurb for Testament by Luke Hankins)

My second note of celebration is for the recent loss to the poetry community of Bernadette Mayer. Check out her poem “The Way to Keep Going in Antarctica” and join me in being “strong” in the way such poets and poems show us to be.

José Angel Araguz, dispatch 112422

On a recent morning, I heard them say something about Patti Smith’s photography and a new book project. “Book of photography” caught my ear as much as anything. It seems so extravagant and, as much as I abhor the word, quaint.

Another word came, too: necessary. It arrived from a place I haven’t visited in far too long, the part of me that needs slowness instead of scrolling. And honestly, that’s all I’ve been offering it, even as it pleads, “Woman! Please… please… send love and light. I’m dying in here.”

And even if it were “just” extravagant, don’t we deserve some extravagances? A fat book to place on our laps or hold in our hands. Quality paper. Dozens and dozens of images curated by a fellow human being and meant to be, as it says on Patti Smith’s website, “a coherent story of a life devoted to art.”

While we are blessed to connect with one another in any way at all (yes, even in our phone’s miniature windows), there’s something this book reclaims. There’s something it opens. It says, in part, “Wait just a minute: You know this stuff is real, right? Its impact — it’s real. This sky, this dog, this trinket — they’re real. They take up space in our lives and our bodies.”

Carolee Bennett, “i see us” (a patti smith appreciation post)

As you travel further into the rubble, you leave the outside world behind. Turn left at the ruined shop that used to sell gravestones.

The shape of the earth alters day by day.

In the photograph a little boy shows another one a dandelion he has found. They sit cross-legged by the barbed wire. The caption on the photograph says they were both gassed a day or two later.

A woman writes on social media I find men’s socks too big for my feet.

Bob Mee, RANDOM LINES ON A SLEEPLESS NIGHT IN NOVEMBER

In October I enrolled in another Hugo House poetry class, again with the amazing poet, translator, and teacher Deborah Woodard. The class focused on the work of Fernando Pessoa, born in Lisbon in 1888. Our main text, Fernando Pessoa & Co., edited and translated by Richard Zenith, gathers together work by Pessoa and three of his heteronyms, Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Álvaro de Campos. Pessoa created entire biographies for these alter-egos and considered them mentors and colleagues. […]

Pessoa prided himself on being impersonal, even invisible, a crossroads where observations took place. He deplores philosophy and metaphysics. I had difficulty caring about him for almost the entire stretch of the course. But…as usual…as I read and considered (and attempted to write my own poems), I began to feel curious about this poet, writing in another language, in another time, and living in a place I have never been. I have a feeling Pessoa would have approved of my journey, both the reticence and the curiosity.

Bethany Reid, Give Thanks

If you have some quiet hours this week, I hope you’ll read the amazing poems in the new issue of Shenandoah. Hot-flashing in your Thanksgiving kitchen? Ann Hudson has you covered. Missing green horizons? Look at Oliver de la Paz’s Diaspora Sonnets. Craving something funny-dark? See Kelli Russell Agodon and Julie Marie Wade. Want a poem that’s a doorway, a dream, a marathon, a shopping expedition? Step into Jesse Lee Kercheval’s “Coronillas,” Akhim Yuseff Cabey’s “Complex,” Lucien Darjeun Meadows’ “Mile 11–,” or Jane Satterfield’s “Errand Hanging with Emily Brontë.” Ned Balbo’s poem talks to a firefly. Emily Pérez recreates a writer’s desperateness to produce-produce-produce and illuminates what a mess that mindset can make. Grief poems by Leona Sevick and Destiny O. Birdsong just devastated me. There’s more in the buffet, too, as many poems as we could cram into one issue (and pay authors for).

As far as my own literary news, this little plot of earth is dormant. I have one lyric essay I’m nudging along, but mostly I’m feeling uncomplicated happiness over others’ success. Just in my English department last week, a student won a Rhodes, a colleague published a short story, another colleague won sabbatical funding, and yet another was offered her first book contract. Term is winding up and it looks like a few of my students have learned a few things.

Lesley Wheeler, Word-feast

Today was not a normal day of work for me. Instead of teaching my amazing students, I chose to participate in the UCU industrial action over attacks on pay, working conditions and pensions.

I have blogged about this issue before, in 2018, which included a series of poems about work and working.

Today, in support of the strike, I collect them all in one place for the first time. [Click through for the links.]

Anthony Wilson, UCU Strike: a list of poems about work

Yesterday after church, we went to a concert, the kind of concert put together by a group of skilled musicians who live in the community and have found each other.  My spouse knows two of the musicians because they all sing in the church choir.

Yes, there are days here in western North Carolina when I feel like I’ve fallen through a hole in time:  “People still do this?  How cool!”  Of course, I went to many small symphonies and chamber orchestras in south Florida too.  I love these examples of creative types who aren’t trying to break into big time in the big city, that aren’t posting TikToks of themselves in the hopes of getting the notice of huge masses of people.

I like a symphony orchestra that isn’t afraid to put animal ear headbands on when they play Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”  I like a symphony orchestra that’s raising money for an animal rescue, and so they’ve chosen an animal theme that threads through the 4 pieces of music.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Joys of a Local Chamber Orchestra

it was love at first note
the wind and the bass solo eloped
straight out of my car

[I was crossing the bridge at the time
but this is their story not mine]

seven miles out bopping on the sea
the notes rearrange as they please
delighting the dolphins with their atonality

Paul Tobin, DELIGHTING THE DOLPHINS

My recent video palingenetics has its world-premiere screening at the 2022 edition of Festival Fotogenia – Poetryfilm, Videoart, Experimental Cinema, Avant-garde films run out of Mexico City. This is one of my favourite festivals: it has broad, inclusive remit, and it is incredibly well organised with a strongly supported sense of community. Through participation in previous festivals, I have built a network of friends and colleagues not only in Mexico, but across the world. Along the way, I have been learning to make Spanish text versions of the videos, such as this one (with help from the DeepL AI translator and a good dictionary).

Ian Gibbins, palingenetics at Fotogenia…

It’s been what can only been described as an absolute kick-bollock-scramble at work of late (no, there are no other phrases that work. I’ve tried them all), and that has left me struggling to keep up with reading journals, emails, books, road signs…anything really. And that starts to build up a pressure, a feeling that I’m not reading enough, not being engaged enough. That is likely entirely wrong, and very much a pressure of my own making, but it’s there and if I stop I worry I may never start again.

That won’t happen, but it can sometimes feel over-whelming trying to keep up with the journals that arrive, the books to review, the books I’ve bought and want to read, the music to listen to, the films and programmes to watch, the articles to consume…

Every new thing to read/listen to, watch, probably smell, maybe even touch that arrives can feel like email at work does, sometimes. Each one responded to begets another one and so on and so forth. Each journal sends me off to explore new poets, work by poets I know already, but may to have read, new albums, new shows, etc…

Mat Riches, Magic Darts

How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book Material Girl didn’t change my day-to-day life much because I was a broke grad student when it was released and couldn’t do much to get the word out about it, but over time, the book found its audience and connected me to other writers and thinkers who I eventually felt I was writing with and for. Material Girl now feels like a digest of my influences at the time, a very New York School inflected-book about living in New York, montage-y, talk-y poems. I think my new book Making Water tries to make a new form, one that is maybe less inherited and more my own. My poetics up to now have been grounded in geographical place, and I wrote Making Water while living in North Carolina, which is a little bit urban, a little bit rural, and a little bit suburban all at once so I wanted to write something that really reflected the experience of moving through this new swampy viney parking lot-filled landscape. I think there’s an idea from people who live in major cities that moving to the south is giving up on being part of culture, or something, but what I found in living here was that having more time and space for study gave me the capacity for an expansiveness to my writing that I has lacked living in cities. I reflect on this in the new book: “Give it up for space // transmuted into time // By year three // Memory will become // Imagination tall as // loblolly pines

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Laura Jaramillo

“Crow Funeral” looks at the darker underbelly to maternity and motherhood. The pressures on mothers to be perfect, to be self-less and centre the lives of their children even when they lack support and dare not seek help due to stigma and fear. The use of nursery rhyme is appropriate and interwoven within other poems, a reminder that fairy tales and rhymes for children also have a darker side: behavioural advice for a dangerous world. Kate Hanson Foster writes without judgment or sentimentality. These are loved and desired children of a mother doing her best not to lose herself but to find a way of combining being a self-less mother while also retaining individual personhood.

Emma Lee, “Crow Funeral” Kate Hanson Foster (East Over Press) – book review

Sister Margaret John Kelly died last night at age 88.  I was blessed to be with her when she died.

She had been my major professor for English during my college years; a wonderful teacher. She also was an alumna of my college, fourteen years older.  She suffered greatly through the last three years, battling against the dementia which left her without speech, and without independent movement.

She loved poetry.

Anne Higgins, The bare sun, skinned, slides through the grass

The iambic spin off is a comfort. As is the rhythm itself. And for a decade or more I carried the original poem in my pocket as an antidote to the despair of depression. To it I’m grateful for its help as a bridge.

As I encountered it first in the 80s, it was only the first two stanzas and marked as written by anonymous.

In fact [Robert] Harkness (2 March 1880—8 May 1961) wrote it. He was an Australian composer, musical genius, and pianist on the Revival circuit. […]

Much like Emily Dickinson poems can be sung to the Yellow Rose of Texas, this can map a regularity like the heart. And how can you unlove anything you once loved?

Pearl Pirie, Loved Then, Loved Now: In Jesus

“The colorists get it entirely wrong: nature is colored in winter and cold in summer, there’s nothing colder than full summer sun.” Tell me more, Camille Pissarro!  Tell me, French landscape painter, about winter’s color, now that leaves now lying dry in piles, like potato skins or paper bags, light, giddy in the wind, when the pale tones of sky seem colored by remainders.  What am I, color addict, missing — what can I see better?

Oh, the brave red leaves still bright on the chokeberry! 
Oh, the clouds, neatly and darkly swirling as I leave the wine boutique, seemingly curated for a consumer outing.
No, those eruptions of drama are too easy, low-hanging fruit.

Pissarro was sure of his paradoxes, having meditated on painting, perception and landscape with a young Cézanne.  (I’m reading T.J. Clark’s “If These Apples Should Fall.”).  As I unravel this, I see that Pissarro was a consummate stylist suppressing the tick of giving humans what we want and need from nature, of pressing human eros onto landscape.  Instead, he gives us nature without desire. Instead of our narratives of drama and excitement, he gives us a swath of everything without hierarchy or privilege, the totality in concert.  It’s less a harmony than monotony, a stretching of a country moment, as Clark writes, “unique, noticeable, difficult unrepeatable persistence.”  

Not beautiful because of a hidden light, but because it is stubborn.  Winter’s long contemplation.

Jill Pearlman, Colorists on the Brink of Winter

Step through the narrow
fissure that opens— a glass waistline
where sparkling particles of sand suspend
in the space between the country prior to
this one and the country it will become
after anything passes through it. Believe
there’s a time and place where not everything
has happened yet, where somehow there might
still be lessons to learn from the not dead trees.

Luisa A. Igloria, Learning to Flow

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 46

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This (late) edition continues the sombre tone from last week, albeit with some joyful news as well. The season of death is upon us. But late autumn and winter is also a time for deeper thinking, and we have some of that as well.

Note that I will continue to share links to these posts on Twitter for as long as a significant portion of us still maintain accounts there, but in general, like many folks, I’m using the opportunity to move most of my microblogging over to the Fediverse, which as an open-source project was always a much better fit with my values. I hope you’ll join me there. (I’m on a medium-sized Mastodon server, here.)


Oh bathroom window, what are those ash-gray clouds,
needle in the morning’s eye —

dawn too early in its strange light-threading.
To 6am, I bring another party: 

my thoughts, light and frisky in dark crevices […]

Jill Pearlman, The Early Bird and other Myths

An interesting week. The tory clowns have come up with a forecast of a £60 billion black hole in the national finances. It’s their latest wheeze to make the poor pay more than the rich. JK Galbraith once said that “economic forecasting is there to make astrology look good.” But this has not stopped them from delivering one punitive budget after another. […]

there is a second
when the mop bucket’s contents
after being slung into the air
seems to just hang ignorant of gravity

in that moment you could mould the water
into any fantastic shape you pleased
if only you were quick enough

Paul Tobin, THE MOLECULES SIGH

As the wind howled, I thought about all the ways I have tried to make my way as a writer in the world:  build a website, develop a presence on various social media sites, try to publish everywhere, try to have a series of readings/presentations, slog, slog, slog.  Because it was the middle of the night, I wondered if I could have done anything differently, even though I know the stats about sales and who is making a living from their writing (not very many people).

And if we’re being honest, in many ways, I’m glad I’m not relying on any of my creative endeavors to pay the bills.  I am astonished at the ways that people hustle to try to sell their work, and I know all the ways that the various hustles would be hard for me.  And statistically, it’s hard these days to sell enough work to pay the bills.  Lots of people out there competing for fewer readers.  I’m glad that I can write what I want to write without worrying about marketability.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Winds of Metaphor, Winds of Change

What do you remember about the earth?

I am six and the terrible grandmother has come to live
with us. She smells of tobacco and the green eucalyptus-
mint Valda pastilles she is always popping into her mouth
from a tin hidden in her robe pocket. A game I like to play
with some of the neighborhood kids involves taking turns
putting Necco wafers in each other’s mouths while intoning
“The body of Christ.” We are careful not to bite down
so as not to cause the body of Christ to bleed. Then
we walk around the grassy perimeter of the truck yard
pretending we are floating, until the candy has melted
and our tongues turn lime green, orange, or pink.

Luisa A. Igloria, Six Questions

A commissioned poem is always a leap of faith in the dark. You get a phonecall with a request to write about a particular topic or idea, and you must decide whether you can do it, whether you want to do it, but most importantly, whether you can do it in the time available.

For this commission, and for many commissions for radio, there was a very tight turnaround. I think I got a phonecall on Friday evening from the producer of Woman’s Hour, Clare Walker. She wanted a poem that celebrated the different sounds that women have heard over 100 years. the poem would be two minutes long, but the whole thing would be about eight minutes becuase they were going to weave through the poem lots of archive recordings. “Brilliant!’ I replied – thinking this was a really interesting commission, and an enjoyable one.  I briefly envisaged some peaceful weeks trawling through archive recordings of suffragettes and the sond of the first washing machine.

“There’s just one snag” Clare said. “We’re on a bit of a tight deadline, so it has to be finished and recorded by Wednesday”.  “Ah” I said.  I thought about my looming deadline for a book of hybrid essays (more news to follow on that!) which was due just a few days later.  I thought about the five days I had available to write the poem, and how for at least two of those, I wouldn’t be writing, or in fact even thinking because I have no childcare at the weekend.

“That will be fine!” I replied recklessly. “Let’s do it!”.  What kind of person would turn down a commission from Woman’s Hour, I asked myself, even with a book deadline, and just five days to write it (well really three).

Kim Moore, The Commissioned Poem: A Leap of Faith

Tough, in its various meanings, and tender are the poems in Kathy Fagan’s Bad Hobby. Painful, in parts, as it recalls my own mother’s failings of memory, but funny too, as such things can be, in the right moment, with a good spirit, and with nothing left to lose.

From “Snow Moon & the Dementia Unit”:

Dad called again to see how his daughter Kathy’s doing,
and when I tell him I’m doing fine, he asks,

So you’ve talked to her recently? What did she say?
and really, what could I say then…

Through these poems we glimpse the inner and outer life of the speaker, especially the presence of her parents, real or ghostly. From “Animal Prudence”:

…Even when he was
a young drunk going deaf from target practice,
my father preferred picking his teeth
to brushing them. My mother preferred
crying. They bought or rented places
on streets named Castle, Ring, Greystone—
as if we were heroes in a Celtic epic.

The author is unsparing and unsentimental in her observations. Here she regards her own self through a sight of a hawk and its squirrel prey in “Cooper’s Hawk”:

… My tolerance for ‘Nature, red in tooth
and claw’ rose as my estrogen fell. The wish
to die died with my hormones, and with all that
powering down, I could finally hear myself
not think.

The wry wit, the dry eye, and the imagination that instills these poems made this hard book a pleasure to read.

Marilyn McCabe, Hello goodbye hello; or, On Kathy Fagan’s Bad Hobby

“Naming the Ghost” is a gentle, sensitive journey through bereavement and acceptance. It is not just the loss of the narrator’s father, but also that the newborn daughter will never know her grandfather, which exacerbates the sense of loss. However, the narrator acknowledges that she cannot let her daughter’s sole experience be a grief for someone she did not know. On her journey, she learns to adjust to looking to the future, informed by the past. These are poems that linger and haunt rather than grab the reader.

Emma Lee, “Naming the Ghost” Emily Hockaday (Cornerstone Press) – book review

What I was going to say is that I have reached an age where my peers all seem to be facing cancer. Illnesses like Parkinson’s. Bones that break all too easily. Unexpectedly. Everything hurts. Everyone hurts. And we are still comparing ourselves to one another.

Some of us move through the days thinking: but that won’t happen to me. I’ll be one of the shining septuagenarians on Instagram snatching more than their own bodyweight. Some of us hold on to the moments.

Some of us. Maybe only me. Have given up on narratives and justifications.

Here is my beginner’s mind. I pause in stillness. Then inhale and rise along the gentle slope of a polished pearl. Then exhale into stillness. One rich movement at a time, like gusts of wind slamming the body.

I read once that the ghazal was a series of discrete couplets, connected like pearls on a string.

Ren Powell, Life as a Ghazal

Here is what we do in our church: 
we never gather and we never sing
we blame but never praise
we cultivate indulgence; we wallow in dread;
we pick the scabs of anxiety.
The stupidest Congregation of the Bigot
in Podunkville does better than that.

Dale Favier, Inventing the Wheel

Readers accustomed to Fokkina [McDonnell]’s poems will know that she has a great gift for sudden shifts of thought and emphasis which wrong-foot and surprise the reader. Many years’ practice as a psychotherapist must have informed Fokkina’s acute sensitivity to how the brain and heart interact. Her poems implicitly ask questions but usually stop short of providing answers – as with effective haiku, the reader is invited to do some work, in effect to complete the poems. There’s a lightness or playfulness among the trauma which sporadically surfaces; a sense which I can only really explain fully by using the Japanese haiku concept of karumi, which Michael Dylan Welch explores so well in an essay available here. And where Fokkina does apparently provide answers, the reader has to wonder if they are the answers of an unreliable narrator of sorts.

Matthew Paul, On Fokkina McDonnell’s ‘Safe House’

What are you working on?

After a two-year hiatus in writing (due to parenting a 3yo and 1yo without childcare during the pandemic), I have just begun to write again while my baby naps and my 3yo attends preschool. My question the past few weeks has been what I can effectively work on given time constraints. Before my children were born I was working on a volume of Norse verse translations. The unpredictability of baby naps has made it nearly impossible to return to this. What surprised me was having inspiration for a fantasy novel and actually being able to write chapter drafts. Holding scenes and characters in my mind until I can work on them again has proven easier than holding the intricately-woven webs that are skaldic poems, with all their linguistic and historical threads. 

Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part three

More poets and songbirds. Shopaholics at the mall of mercy.

A Congress that engages in friendly congress.

For the homeless to become homeful. Wildfires to take a chill pill.

Gun muzzles to nuzzle love.

Rich Ferguson, What the world needs now

I’ve noticed in recent years, on social media since that is where I see discussions of poetry, is a criticism of poetry reviews. First the criticisms were about the reviews not being published in mainstream newspapers any more or, if they were, the tiny wordcount afforded to them. Then the criticism shifted to the reviews themselves, their “lack of critical engagement,” that they are “puff pieces”, concerning themselves with the poet and the “poet’s identity” rather than the actual poems, the craft and technique. All of these criticisms are valid, and perhaps the reviews under discussion seem ubiquitous because of the proliferation of online platforms like Goodreads, online journals and blogs, as well as in some poetry magazines. Also, there has been a trend to simply photograph a book or poem and share on social media without also offering any kind of considered review. Perhaps this has also offended people seeking detailed critiques. Unfortunately, in my view, the criticisms risk silencing a group of people who might want to review, or even to express that they like a book or poem, but who now won’t, for fear of being on the end of such criticism. I think it’s far to say that some of the criticisms I’ve observed are from poets who are also academics, used to the rigor of academic principles, and critical of work that strays from from, or seems to disregard, this rigor. I think that’s a shame. The poetry world has room for a rigorous, intellectually challenging approach to appraising and analysing poetry as well as a different kind of response, perhaps personal to the reviewer, regardless of their academic training and experience.

Unfortunately, perhaps because of the nature of social media, particularly Twitter with its limited wordage, these kinds of criticisms can appear aggressive, especially when a lot of people seem to join in. Perhaps one of the good things to come out of the current implosion happening at Twitter will be that this kind of ‘pile on’ will become less prominent in poetry (and other) circles.

Josephine Corcoran, On Reviewing

I read somewhere recently that writing poetry reviews (the traditional kind, for poetry mags) is a good discipline as it makes you really read closely and engage with poetry collections. I have to say that interviewing a poet on a podcast takes all that and then some – thinking up relevant questions to ask, talking with the poet about your reading/understanding of their work, suggesting which poems they read and commenting in a way that listeners may find interesting… it’s not easy, and I often curse myself for sounding like an idiot, a sycophant or a ‘womansplainer’, sometimes all three in the same episode. It’s all  good fun though!

Robin Houghton, Self-sabotage, womansplaining and other poetry joys

Winter is more insidious than summer.
The low-angled sun is a dull blade,
sheathed in bitter grey.

In winter I play old music.
The music my grandparents listened to
as they took me to Friendly’s or to

a clarinet lesson in the next town over.
It’s the music of nostalgia and longing
and emptiness. Winter music.

Jason Crane, POEM: A Winter Poem

I once borrowed her jean jacket so I could look cool, as a group of us made for Montreal for a Peace Concert at the Montreal Forum in 1987. The illustration she made of our pre-concert group in the park, drinking beer and playing guitar with a few dozen others, made its way onto the cover of the zine we invented as part of our high school “writer’s craft” class: assembling poems, stories, drawings. All of it published anonymously, of course. She could fall helpless into fits of giggles, including when dancing at the Carleton Tavern somewhere in the 00s, realizing her friend Joy’s dancing had caused Joy’s pants to fall off, without them noticing. There was an element to our pairing that rendered chaos, a joyous silliness that not everyone else had patience for, akin to six-year-old twins: each encouraging the other.

I published some of her poems in the first issue of my long poem magazine, STANZAS, in 1993, and in a chapbook, not that much later. She’d been working on a poetry manuscript she’d titled “Naked,” some of which sits in a file on my computer. The poems from STANZAS, her “Garden” series, that later fell into her novel, The Desmond Road Book of the Dead (Chaudiere Books, 2006). As the first of the series, “Garden,” reads:

I can make the garden grow, the sun fall up and down in the sky, a man full grown from passion in my tissue, in secret places I hide my fat and wait for rain for rain for rain

In August 2019, the last time I saw them, not long before Covid: an afternoon visiting Clare and Bryan on their farm in North Glengarry, a few miles east of the McLennan homestead, as my young ladies admired their two horses, and later accidentally stomped on a hive of bees at the end of the yard. At least we discovered neither young lady allergic, once they both stung. Clare offered them colouring, toys. They played a football game on the porch, and she delighted in them both.

How am I supposed to experience a world that Clare Latremouille no longer occupies? I shall have to be attentive enough for the both of us, I suppose. I shall have to be silly enough. An image in my head of the remaining members of Monty Python at Graham Chapman’s graveside, the first of the troupe to die: every one of them standing with pants at their ankles.

rob mclennan, Clare Latremouille (July 4, 1964 – November 16, 2022)

My recent video and furthermore (indexed), is getting its first public screening on 23rd November 2022 in the Living With Buildings – IV program in Coventry, UK, as part of their fabulous Disappear Here project, curated by Adam Steiner. This is a quarterly screening that explores human experiences of the urban environment through people, poetry and place.

In Ancient Greece, public notices were engraved in stone on building walls. Now, we find ourselves surrounded by texts: advertising, warnings, directions, graffiti… Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones are in town, violence, scandal and political intrigue vie for attention, someone won the football, and we worry about the future for our youth…

The video samples every occasion that the word “and” was used in the “NEWS” pages on one day in the local Adelaide newspaper. The words following each instance of “and” are listed alphabetically and read by Karen, the MacOS Australian female text-to-voice interpreter. In doing so, it creates a snapshot (indexed) of a day in the news of a contemporary city.

Ian Gibbins, and furthermore (indexed)…

In the old days writers would iambize their prose and dangle rhymes on their line-endings to make their words seem more significant, adding poetic words as glitter. As Samuel Johnson said, some people think that anything that doesn’t look like prose must be poetry. Nowadays writers use strange punctuation, deletions, discontinuities and line-breaks instead.

There’s still something about the label “poetry” that writers find tempting. And why not? Poetic license still exists. If you label a piece “poetry”, readers will look for hidden meanings. The meanings will expand to match the readers’ expectations. It saves the writer needing to do so much. A short text (about doing the housework, say) can go far given a big title like “Death”.

But readers might not be so compliant nowadays. They might distrust the label. They might think the shortness is a cop-out.

They’re more alert to tricks of ads, the lure of mistique, aura, etc. They know how the addition of false eyelashes and tan can trick the eye.

Tim Love, Ornamentation and aura

A first thing the poetry business and the wine trade have in common: the best way to end up with a small fortune in both poetry publishing and winemaking is to start off with a large one. In part, this is because winemaking is often a highly personal project, just like poetry publishing, and people thus often do stuff that makes little business sense.

And then there’s the question of personal taste: I don’t like big, oaky wines from Ribera del Duero. I do admire them in technical terms when they’re well crafted, but I can never bring myself to enjoy them. Same goes for certain types of poetry.

Matthew Stewart, A comparison between poetry and wine

I grew up in a valley bordered on the east by the Rocky Mountains and on the west by the Nevada desert.  Both landscapes were awesome and terrifying–people died in both.  When we drove across the desert on the way to California, the emptiness was so overwhelming I hid on the car floor.   But the sight of the mountains was central and powerful, and I missed them when I moved east.  When I took the train home I spent the last few hours staring out the window, desperate for my first glimpse of them.  Westerners are landscape snobs–I needed that scale.  In the east I sneered at the hills people referred to as mountains.  When people said, “Isn’t this landscape beautiful?,” I literally couldn’t see what they were talking about.  If it wasn’t awesome it didn’t even matter.  It took me years of living in it to realize one day, setting out for a hike (walk) with friends: Oh, this landscape is human scale, you can just walk out into it without risking your life.  And for the first time I saw the value in that.

I think the sublime has to do with extremity and intensity, with things larger and deeper than the human scale of things, with situations where one person encounters whatever it is–the void, the abyss, the unfathomable, immeasurable.  I think the sublime is something we can visit but not live in–the intensity would crush us, as Rilke says.  And the solitude.  Most of our lives include relationships with other people.  When it comes to poetry, the awesome/ sublime may be the most powerful, but I think more poems, including many great ones, are written out of our human relationships–that scale, the one with emotions that range from happiness to rage to love to sadness, subtle and nuanced, looked at closely.  I don’t think I’d describe any of Shakespeare’s sonnets as sublime, for example, however beautiful and moving they are.

Sharon Bryan, Poems of Daily Life

The poem is not simply a clever convolution of words but does ‘make sense’ when read carefully. Apart from its description of a time that is gone, it examines and exemplifies the tortured ambivalence between memory and fact. The slippery methodology of examining a personal memory when looking at a visual depiction of that place in that time. Indeed, can memories be altered by the holder of that memory, other than by recognising its inherent subjectivity.

Jim Young, poem with explanatory notes

Number of books read while here: 14 – 8 collections of poetry and 6 novels. (You can see all the books I’ve read this year on Goodreads – follow me if you don’t already!)

Number of manuscripts read for Riot in Your Throat: 22 and counting – the independent poetry press I run, Riot in Your Throat, is currently open for full length poetry manuscripts. I’m looking for 2-4 collections to publish in 2023 – submissions are open all month so if you haven’t yet submitted there’s still time!

Number of dreams about ex-lovers: 3 – seriously, what is going on in my brain?!

Courtney LeBlanc, VCCA: By the Numbers

A deer drives into a parking lot. It desires nothing. It’s my voice. I’ve been looking for you. Yeah, out on a joyride, now here to buy pants. Later, parking spots turn into breath. My voice full of venison and wheels. Fog and knives. What I desire, the deer says: An on and off switch. My thighs in lake water. But I’m wearing pants. I’m always wearing pants.

Gary Barwin, Pants

Tuesday is my dad’s memorial service, when we will placing both his ashes and my mother’s, which have been on the mantle for the past 5 years, in the ground of the plots they owned since around the time they got married. It is all moving very fast and I have yet to catch my breath or spend much time with my thoughts.  I’ve mostly been working furiously and napping frequently in equal measure. I have to keep reminding myself that its the holiday season, that Thanksgiving is this week.  I am not really feeling it, but am hoping to fake it til I make it, procuring new garlands and stockings from Amazon for my bookshelf, some new evergreen sprigs for some vases. I was going to just wait til I get back to the city next Sunday, but I may just put it up tomorrow. 

I write this post now as I would normally be embroiled in my twice-weekly call with my dad, an hour I have cautiously watched approach on the clock on all day as I did the usual Sunday things like sweep the floors and clean up the kitchen. The past few years, he had taken over where my mother had left off on Sundays and Wednesday nights.  I have always been grateful for that time, mostly since the previous 20-ish odd years of living away from them had involved very little phone convo with him, since my mom liked to do the talking for both of them with him occasionally chiming in from the other side of the room. Only when she was really sick and the delirium had set in did he take over. It was sort of like getting to know someone new, but also very familiar.  I am not quite sure what I will do with myself, especially on Sundays when the 6pm call was so engrained in my schedule my entire adult life. 

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 11/20/2022

clay and paper string
persuaded him not to prosecute
the silent sneeze

even in the cafeteria
her own aeroplane
is made to be burnt

Ama Bolton, ABCD November 2022

Word went out Thursday that he was moving to palliative. By now you’ve probably heard of the quick decline of Robert Hogg and our loss of him on Sunday.

I never did the math that he was 80. He was busy in the 60s with that zeitgeist of poetic excitement. He had a young energy. Even cancer’s “trauma age” didn’t impinge as much as on some people.

Death has offended and hurt many again. Its timing is never good. In the last few years, Bob was redoubling his efforts to get more of his work out before people while he could. Love while you can, write while you can and support while you can seemed to be his driver.

He was like electricity, always there at the ready when you reach for him. He had a calm gentle humour, plain spoken and as if amused by life.

It’s funny seeing the tributes coming out from so many and from so far and yet not surprising at the same time. He had the rare gift while talking to you of making you the only person in the room.

Pearl Pirie, Bob Hogg

What can poetry do?  

There have been many who advocate art for art’s sake, or l’art pour l’art, as the slogan was initially rendered in nineteenth century France. 

There have also been many, and indeed there are an ever-increasing number, of artists (in the broadest sense) who see their work as a focus for, or extension of, their activism. 

I feel fortunate to have had poems included in a variety of charity anthologies over the years, raising funds (and awareness) for Macmillan Cancer Support, Welney WWT and the Born Free Foundation, to name but three. 

I am delighted to add another to the list in the form of Voices for the Silent (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2022), the new companion volume to For the Silent (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2019), edited by Ronnie Goodyer, Poet-in-Residence at the League Against Cruel Sports. These companion (or stand-alone) volumes have been produced to aid the work of this charity, and not surprisingly some of the selected poems concern animal cruelty. Others focus on habitats and the wonders and complexities of the natural world. 

Caroline Gill, ‘Voices For The Silent’, New Anthology from Indigo Dreams Publishing

  1. My unfinished poems. Technically, what is the status of a half-done poem when life is finished?
  2. The first thirteen lines of a brand new poem. Quite unrelated to the situation at hand. Poetry comes when it comes. Even through a canula.
  3. One person I wanted to apologize to. From way back before way back. Time moves in mysterious trajectories inside a hospital, dodging right angles and ramps, needles and gurneys.
  4. How mesmerizing that infinitely slow drip from the IV pouch is – like an existential morse code. Drip. Dash. Dash. Damn. Drip.
  5. Two questions the universe hasn’t answered yet. The universe needs deadlines and then someone to enforce the deadlines. The united nations of forsaken questions.
Rajani Radhakrishnan, The night before surgery: thoughts and stuff…

You wait.
That’s what you do,
whether the poems
come, or not,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (94)

First, while the press aims to be sustainable, it is not trying to be profitable. Breaking even is acceptable to me, and I would consider it a victory to be able to break even while 1) putting good poetry into the world and 2) continuing to donate half of all sales. If there are times when I go into deficit by a hundred dollars or so, this too is acceptable to me personally. However, I am rigorously working to avoid this. And again, even without the $500 donation, I’ve still basically broken even on a relatively large ($1000) investment, and I’ve also managed to give away almost $850 — all while getting my poems into the world. So I’m OK with how things are going.

Secondly, the great majority of the money spent so far was “start up” money, and this does not represent ongoing costs. These initial costs include both tools I will not need to replace anytime soon, if ever, as well as a lot of practice materials I won’t ever be buying again (different weights of card stock and paper, in particular). Thus, the longer the press continues to exist, the more it will produce from these initial materials, and the more it will earn from them.

R.M. Haines, DMP Summary and Receipts: 10/17 to 11/14

So, this weekend, I am working on final edits of Flare, Corona for BOA – including updating last-minute acknowledgements, deciding on spelling conventions that I apparently don’t write twice the name way, and keeping an eye out for wayward commas, and I’m also sending out e-galleys of Flare, Corona to people who might be interested in reviewing it. If you are interested in reviewing it, in a Zoom class visit, or book club inclusion, please e-mail me at jeannine dot gailey at gmail dot com and I will send you a copy!

I’m monitoring the somewhat sad situation at Twitter. If I had 44 billion dollars, I think I’d do a better job of managing the product instead of destroying it, but Elon Musk is a really bad manager with a lot of money willing to hurt others in the process of getting his own way (toxic misogyny writ large, I’m afraid) and I’m sad because I’ve built relationships with not just the poetry community but disability Twitter and even fellow cat and flower lovers and I hate that a spoiled billionaire can make everything crumble in a few days that I’ve built for years. On the other hand, it makes you rethink your whole relationship with social media. For writers it’s essential to connect with audiences—and for a long time, Twitter was the place to connect with Millennial friends, writers, and readers.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, November Sunshine in the Pacific Northwest

Finally, there is this blog, which has endured all sorts of personal, technological, and societal changes since it began in 2003. As a firm believer in owning and controlling one’s own online content, I’ve no intention of letting it go, and instead, have been thinking about how to infuse it with more energy now that I have some time.  Could it be more educational, more helpful? Could it help to launch new projects and bring people together, as it has in the past (quarrtsiluni, Phoenicia Publishing, online groups)? What else is there that I haven’t considered? There’s nothing wrong with social media functioning as a hub where interested people find content and go to it, but as our disillusionment with these social platforms and their capitalist agendas grow, could blogs regain some of their gravitas and a new sense of purpose? I wonder.

It depends somewhat on our expectations. I do know that I don’t care about the number of followers or readers, and we are long since past those heady days where aspiring writers thought they’d become well-known through their blogs — there’s no way that someone steadily writing good but long-form posts would become famous like a seductive Instagram influencer, not in today’s world! But careful and engaged readers and writers still do exist […] Blogs like Language Hat, Velveteen Rabbi, Hoarded Ordinaries, and Whiskey River have kept on quietly, steadily, thoughtfully posting for nearly two decades now, and there are many others. If these are not impressive and worthy bodies of creative work, I don’t know what qualifies.

Beth Adams, Coming Up for Air

The weather is cold cold cold, but the days are so brightly sunny I keep saying I need to get my sunglasses back out. I’m savoring every last bit of true fall that I can, before we pass Thanksgiving and it is officially winter holiday season. I love this time of year, when we go inside and get cozy but don’t yet have a bunch of other obligations. When we love light all the more for its scarcity.

For so many reasons, I really can’t with Thanksgiving much any more, but I will always love taking time to notice and name what I am grateful for. In this funky week full with appointments and phone calls and triggers and wind and wool sweaters, there was one morning where everything sparkled because the temperatures had dropped below freezing overnight, but the sun was rising. Branches were newly bare, but there were still leaves clinging to them–leaves blazing with their final colors.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Pain management

I think some of the things I’m doing right now that are part of my work for the NF book – visiting museums, walking, reading – are exactly what I should be doing and I am realising just how stressed I get if I do too much ‘people’ stuff in one week. I’m trying to train myself out of feeling and labelling myself as ‘pathetic’ or ‘ridiculous’ or ‘weak’ if I need more rest than perhaps other people seem to, or if I’m not juggling 100 projects at once and just want to plod slowly into a book. This is where I have always wanted to be – plodding into my work, absorbed in it like the utter library nerd that I am. I just want to read books and write books and have the time and energy to do that.

Perhaps my dad’s death has opened up a few old wounds, wounds I thought I’d packed and sewed up tightly. I don’t know. It’s been a hell of a year, again. I’m starting to think about goals for next year, starting to think about my rituals of the new year. I’m ticking off some big goals from 2022 and that makes me wonderfully happy, and I am surprising myself with the new goals in my planner, they are much less poetry centred. I feel strangely guilty for moving away from poetry, even if it is only while I work on the non fiction project. I’ve cut my work back to some mentoring, running Spelt and running the occasional course. which still sounds like a lot really, on top of writing a book. Having the opportunity to help other poets progress their own writing is really important to me, and it’s also a source of absolute joy for me, mentoring in particular. And I love the camaraderie of the email courses I still run. When I come to write prompts and notes for a course it feels like putting a comfortable cardigan on, and mentoring always feels like meeting friends. I find, more and more, that the work that I am choosing to do brings me joy, I find that when I look around myself, my life is good. Terrible fretting over what the next terrible loss will be aside, I am happy and enjoying the way my brain works, and I’m looking forward to reflecting that in my writing. But still a part of me clings to the idea that if I’m not cramming in more stuff, applying for more things, winning more things, making more connections…I’m not doing well. I need to change the definition of ‘doing well’ and emphasise ‘feeling happy’ more I think.

Wendy Pratt, Writing and Reading the Trauma Poems

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by the good poetry news I’ve received lately, and I’m behind on sharing it here…

At the end of September, my poem “One Way to Use a Deck of Cards” from How to Play was featured on Verse Daily!

Last month, two of my poems were published in Writing in a Woman’s Voice: “After an Older Man from Church Drunk-Texts to Tell Me I Looked Good Topless in His Dream Last Night” and “What’s Something You Love That Can’t Love You Back?

Also in October, two of my poems were published in Pirene’s Fountain: “This Poem Is about Dinosaurs” and “Choosing a Moon.” This whole issue is fantastic, and you can purchase a copy at this link.

This month, I’ve gotten some happy award news! “After an Older Man from Church…” received the Moon Prize from Writing in a Woman’s Voice on November 9, and “This Poem Is about Dinosaurs” was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize this week! I’m so grateful to these editors who’ve published and affirmed my work and to the folks who encourage me and read my poems.

Katie Manning, Verse Daily & Moon Prize & Pushcart (Oh my!)

Lately I’ve been remembering the dances I’ve already had – the romantic ones with boys/men a long time ago.  I now know that at least three of those boys/men have passed on. That’s something else I’ve considered:  the synonyms for “died”:   passed on,  passed away,  etc.  One of my sisters always says “Gone to God.”   The dogs and cats who have “crossed the Rainbow Bridge”  

I still have the image in my head from when my dad died. I visited him on a Wednesday, and on the following Friday I was at a meeting in Buffalo and got a call from the nursing home that he had died in his sleep in the middle of the afternoon.  I envisioned him on a small boat, moving away from the shore of the living on the sea of eternity, quietly moving on, his face toward the horizon.

Anne Higgins, The Dances you’ve already had

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 45

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, turns in the weather and in politics bring things into sharper albeit sometimes also bleaker focus. I found thought-provoking essays on topics ranging from Twitter to the value of doubt to the importance of public libraries. Plus the usual quirky mix of off-beat observations and musings. Enjoy.


With the COP27 – the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – now running in Egypt, it was even more disheartening to read recent reports in the major science journals that the melting of the polar ice caps, the Greenland ice-cap and glaciers all around the world is accelerating at a pace beyond previous predictions. […]

As individuals, there is depressingly little we can do in the short term – major changes in direction are needed by governments and large corporations alike. Nevertheless, as artists, scientists and concerned citizens, we can continue to sound the alarm bells and spread their call anyway we can. Over the last few years, most of my videos have addressed environmental issues in some way or another.

Many of these videos have been shown as part of events addressing climate change. In November, floodtide and colony collapse are screening as part of the Nature and Culture Poetry Film Festival in Copenhagen, while floodtide is part of the ART Speaks Out program on IkonoTV, coinciding with COP27.

ANOMALY is a new video that combines a plot of the rising sea surface temperatures, recorded by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology over more than 120 years in Southern Australia, with a visualisation of the effect of modest sea level rise along a sunny beach at Moana / Potartang on the coast of South Australia, not far from Adelaide. It’s a depressing graph.

Ian Gibbins, World’s end…

The second full-length poetry collection by New Mexico-based Anchorage, Alaska Inupiaq-Inuit poet dg nanouk okpik, following the multiple award-winning Corpse Whale(Tucson AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2012), is blood snow (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2022), a collection of meditative, first-person descriptive lyrics populated by birds, inlets, polar bears, the north wind, polar cap and the thaw, moose tracks, seal, birch and berries. “Sunken sod of whalebone,” she writes, to open the poem “Ice Age Two,” “earth houses rising, / out of feathered sea / water.” Grounded in her particular northern landscape, okpik offers a perspective on a culture and climate, as well as man-made pollution and climate change, specifically around northern resource stripping. […]

This is a wonderfully evocative collection, with an open heart and a determined lyric, and there’s a straightforwardness to the structure of this collection that I’m quite enjoying, one that isn’t broken up into thematic or structural sections, but simply a collection of individual poems, assembled together to form a book. Her poems do seem composed to attempt, in her own way, to reconcile a suggested disconnect—the rippling effects of her outside adoption as an infant—between herself and the foundational elements of her culture and landscape. “No, not all at once did they come,” she writes, as part of the poem “When the Mosquitoes Came,” “those takers didn’t know. Then they came in waves of time, / curiosity driven in urgency of a newborn baby girl, / me to be only theirs, no matter what harm it caused me / it was to an Inupiaq family secret, / what they knew meant right makes might.” As a whole, blood snow exists as a document of witness, a love letter and a declaration of belonging, and an argument for both ecological and cultural preservation, simply through the evocative descriptions and language the flow of her lyric, the waves of her words, provide against such book-length shoreline. “I live in a dugout in the cliffs next to the ocean,” she writes, as part of the poem “Twilight Pain,” “bluffs receding filling with seawater rising / from melting glacial ice. Across the inlet seal island / not far from my dugout. / They bark and sun themselves all day, / but are in constant fear of losing ground to walrus.”

rob mclennan, dg nanouk okpik, blood snow

Bear with me now as I unpick it all, if you have the time, or sometimes feel haunted by your own dreams. I am, of course, the anxious woman. And yes, I qualify as a judgemental clientele. But I am myself too, opening the door and stepping into the clean, cool rain. And I am both the absence and presence of kindness which is, perhaps, something we all struggle with at times, when we must choose to bless ourselves over others. 

Lynne Rees, Haibun ~ The Reality of Dreams

I was ready to meet the Oracle but she was grumpy and unpredictable tonight, dismissing my almost-poem. I started again and saved a screenshot when she wouldn’t let go of my last word. So, here’s the screenshot and the poem with the last word.

Autumn Sky

Sun, like an eggy lake
a sleeping diamond lazy-gowned,
dream-drunk.

Summer’s sweat
a shadow, a moan,
a whisper.

Charlotte Hamrick, Autumn Sky

It’s November, and it seems that often this time of year good news and bad news comes together. Sharing a bit of good news, AWP decided to feature the panel I submitted on writing disability and chronic illness, so that’s very exciting news, and I’m extra happy for my panelists.

On the sad news, we lost our beloved 16-year-old Shakespeare this week. He has lost half his body weight in six months and was failing to hold down water, so we had a vet to the house and said goodbye to him there. It was incredibly sad, more than I ever expect (why is that the case?) Glenn took it very hard.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Good News, Bad News November: AWP Featuring My Panel, Losing Our Beloved Shakespeare, A Lunar Eclipse, Sprained Knee and a Monoclonal Antibody Shot, A Holiday Visit to Molbaks, and a New Poem in the West Trestle Review

But love must
be Shakespearean: a costume drama,
poetry frothing at its mouth, selfish,

greedy, visceral. Always wanting more,
wanting so much more that nothing is
enough. Not even love. We’re raised
on happy endings. Even tragedies are
normalized as the best possible result,

given the odds. When love fails, we ask
if it was real. Seek existential assurance.
A real love should have destroyed the
lover when it left.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 21

We are now in that dark dip in November, always a tricky place and moreso in recent years. With my dad still in the hospital and the outcome still uncertain, this week we hit the 5 year anniversary of my mother’s death and I am just trying to triage feelings and mounting work and general anxiety that is knife sharp and occasionally bleeds out all over the room and people around me. Or it doesn’t and I feel alone inside it like a dark lake and I am looking for a board or a broken door to float on. There are no poems here, there isn’t time, and outside of some orders, DGP work has been shelved for the coming weeks in favor of getting things done to get paid and pay rent and shit. In between, there are weekly trips to Rockford, which always makes me want to crawl out of my skin–even before illnesses and hospitalizations and this unbearably early dark. I find I have to be away from home base when I also feel I really need to be here–for the structure, for the cats, for some semblance of normality, yet if things go awry, I also want to spend more time with my dad, especially he’s unable to turn this around. Without structure, I am completely ragged and wind-tattered most of the time. I feel completely ill-equipped for almost everything. The time there is a vacuum [I] descend into and re-emerge [from]. This past weekend, a horrific scene in the waiting room that had nothing to do with me rattled me more than I’d like.

I’ve put a pin in AUTOMAGIC release since poetry is not where my head is, though some may argue that is exactly where it needs to be, but I just can’t right now. I still have to make final corrections and adjustments and order the final copies, so maybe in a few weeks I’ll feel more like it. Poetry seems pale and inconsequential.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 11/9/2022

Poets born just off-kilter
from the tipping point between

seasons dance with spinning tops,
teeter-totters, jungle gyms.
Balancing between slanted

light and eclipse, equipoise
and cascade, between anchor

and float, they learn how the thud
feels when it bounces off dirt
on either side.

PF Anderson, Untitled

Dear Graduating MFA Students,

Pssst. You don’t need to go into academia. Has anyone said that to you yet? Because it is so important to receive that message. 

You. Do. Not. Need. To. Go. Into. Academia.

But I love teaching! 

Then teach! 

I understand feeling that teaching is a vocation that you’re called to, enjoying the community that it provides, and wanting to incorporate it into your path of professional experience. But you can do those things without making teaching with being your primary source of income and (ahem, America) health care. For decades, every major city in the United States has had at least one if not multiple community-led spaces for workshopping poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic (not that the pandemic is over, nota bene), these organizations had to adapt to moving all their learning opportunities online. Most of these organizations are keeping those channels open, understanding the ways that online learning can increase equity and access–which means that even if you don’t end up living in a major city, you can still offer a class through that hub. 

Will you make much money? No. Best case scenario is a 50/50 split of proceeds with the hosting institution. But you’ll teach classes on topics in creative writing that you truly care about, versus composition, and you won’t be saddled with grading or advising (a responsibility that often falls back on beloved teachers, when those assigned to do it fail to do it). You might meet adult students who choose to take your classes again and again, and become a meaningful part of your audience (your “platform”) for when you get books out into the world. 

Sandra Beasley, Dear Graduating MFA Students

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

So many for so many different reasons… this insufficient list is baroque! Tomas Transtromer, for unexpected images that haunt with their use of familiarity and alterity. Egill Skallagrimsson, for boldness in wrestling with death and the gods in poetry. Amy Clampitt, for writing with a kaleidoscope of references and sonic effects and still making it all work and build to that perfect pitch. Lucille Clifton, for how she combines directness and nuance with such economy and effect. Marosa di Giorgio, for crafting a world in verse both fantastical and mundane. John Donne, for showing how a conceit can express a thing and then turn on itself again and again.

Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part two

[O]n Friday night I went to Crystal Palace to see Christopher Horton reading with the poet Joe Duggan. Chris, I know from having reviewed his excellent pamphlet, ‘Perfect Timing and having met him at the launch of Rob Selby’s ‘The Kentish Rebellion‘. He read a couple of poems from that alongside some great-sounding new work. All of which make me really want to read a full collection by him. NB he also has a wonderful poem in the latest issue of The North, edited by Stephanie Sy-Quia and Andrew McMillan— the mag, I mean, not Chris.

He was one of the support acts, the other was Magella Brady (sorry, can’t find an online presence) who was making their live performance debut— for Joe Duggan, another Tall-Lighthouse poet. I must confess to not knowing Joe’s work at all before. Although, spookily, there was a review by Chris Edgoose of his pamphlet, ‘Rescue Contraptions, in the latest Friday Poem that came out Friday morning. However, at the time of writing, I’ve not read that review.

Joe read for a good 35 minutes for what I later discovered was his second launch of the book, and the room was packed. There must have been 40-50 people, if not more, in the room. Maybe it’s me, but that feels like a lot for poetry gigs these days. The ranks were swelled by friends of his from his local walking football team and many others. He’s clearly a popular man in Crystal Palace and beyond. But regardless of this, the room was captivated throughout…pindrops were heard, etc..Why would you bring pins to a poetry gig? NB no actual pins were dropped. He covered a lot of ground, from family, family troubles, the troubles in Ireland, mental health–especially the issue around male mental health and depression (as discussed in the excellent recent edition of the Poetry Planet podcast with Peter Raynard and in the current ep of the Seren Podcast with Ben Wilkinson ), the pressure teachers are under, and many other things.

Mat Riches, Bands, those funny little plans…

Rob Taylor: It doesn’t take long to discover a fire in your debut collection, If You Discover a Fire (Brick Books, 2020). The book’s opening poem features matches and cigarettes, and some manifestation of fire/matches/flames appears in more than a quarter of the poems (yes, I counted!). What is it about fire, and the potential for fire, that keeps you returning to it? Are you part moth?

Shaun Robinson: Fire is both completely common and kind of magical, which is what I’m aiming for in my poems. I’m thinking in particular of the free books of matches you can get at a hotel or restaurant or gas station—it’s a minor miracle that a little strip of paper with a few chemicals on the end can turn into this tiny jewel of flame, and then flame can light a cigarette or candle or campfire or barbeque, or light up a dark room, or burn a letter, or start a forest fire. Fire is a very powerful force that many of us carry around in our pockets without giving it a second thought. 

Rob Taylor, A Real Donnie Brasco Situation: An Interview with Shaun Robinson

I first started tweeting in 2009 and connected with people interested in poetry – poets, publishers, magazines, and so on. I was looking for ways to get better at writing poetry and looking for recommendations of things to read and new publications. My family of two small children, and a husband who worked in London during the week, had moved out of London to a small town. I was pretty housebound in the evenings so I valued the interesting online connections Twitter helped me to create. I found links to useful articles and online courses (I found ModPo which I still think is amazing and one of the best literature courses I’ve ever done in my life). Over time, I also wanted to connect with people interested in all the kinds of things I’m interested in, lots of culture, the arts in general, music, visual arts, the environment, left-of-centre politics, film, theatre, books, parenting, cooking, small town living etc etc etc. I grew a circle of new friends, some who I soon met in real life and some who I started to communicate with, and continue to chat with, across other internet platforms.

To begin with, Twitter seemed to be mostly about chatting, joking, sharing points of view, opinions, information about things you were reading, seeing, listening to and thinking about. It was something like what happens in real life when you first meet a person you might have shared interests with. At some point, Twitter seemed to be become more about selling stuff. ‘Writers’ who had never followed me before suddenly appeared and, quickly after following me, sent me a link to buy their new book, or a link to a workshop they were running, or an event they were reading at to which I needed to buy a ticket. So it was clear that they hadn’t followed me because they were interested in me, and certainly not in reading my writing, but because they’d identified me as a person they could sell something to. The friends I’d made when I first started out were still in the room but it felt as if they were being crowded out.

So I suppose the initial glowingly warm feelings I first experienced have chilled somewhat since my early social media days. As time has gone on – both of my children are now post-university – I’ve been less stuck at home, more able to travel to live events and to be able to meet people in real life who’ve fulfilled my natural need for human interaction. It’s rare now that I make new friends online – in fact I can’t remember when that last happened.

Josephine Corcoran, Time for a Pause

Doubt afflicts all writers at one, sometimes unpredictable, point or another. It’s good for us. I’ve been going through one of those periods where I want to have a break from the way I’ve been writing recently. As is so often the case when I try to experiment a little, I get the big question-mark in my brain that says ‘Is this worth it? Is it working? Is it just awful?’ The only sensible answer is ‘I don’t know’.

In the end you either think yes, it’s working, or you accept the failure and move on again. I need the doubt. It’s just a part of the process of avoiding churning out the same old type of thing, which I hope is a part of the appeal. Yes, you need what people conveniently call ‘a voice’ that readers might recognise, but if you write for long enough you need to freshen yourself up and challenge your thinking and that of those who read what you do.

I’m not sure what will happen this time. The last two or three things on here have been an excursion into slower writing. I’m doing more each day. I’ll put a bit on the site today or tomorrow. At least, if I look back and think it dreadful, it can be ‘moved to Trash’ as the icon tells me. So it is, so it stays or goes.

Bob Mee, OF GERALD STERN, BERNADETTE MAYER, A SOUTH AFRICAN POETRY WEBSITE – AND DOUBT

I thought about sewing deep into the night, but we do have time this morning, so I decided to quit while I still had feeling in my fingers.  I walked down the dark road to our little house in the mountains.  I watched the wind blowing and felt a bit fretful about the saturated ground and the swaying trees.  I worried about trees falling down.

And then when I was almost home, I saw the bear.  He looked at me, and I backed away. He was at my driveway, so I kept walking down the hill away from my house. I turned back to my house, he gave me one last look, and then he ambled up the hill across the street. I remembered Pastor Sarah’s advice during our Lutheridge welcome meeting: “If you see a bear, just sing.” I started singing the song we created during our time together at quilt camp: “Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this quilt square grow.” I did think about trying to get a picture, but I didn’t want to risk the flash making the bear mad.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Quilts and Bears and Progress

It’s downright magical to start reading a new library book and realize it’s a really good one. Like the magic of running errands and every traffic light is green, only a million times better. Lately, nearly every book I’ve brought home from the library has been one of those immersive delights. Good books are downright soul-saving for me in a time when the world’s news is so dire. The last few weeks I savored (among others) Richard Power’s Bewilderment, Javier Zamora’s Solito, Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life,  Dani Shapiro’s Signal Fires, Anthony Almojera’s Riding The Lightning, and Sharon Blackie’s Hagitude. Compelling, immersive, and entirely free to enjoy thanks to my local library.

Libraries have been a constant in my life from the time I learned to read. I’ve written about why I’m a library addict and the concept of library angels and how libraries changed lives. Libraries are unique public spaces, existing entirely for the common good.

As many have noted, if public libraries weren’t already part of our society, the concept would be considered an outrageous and dangerously liberal idea.

Laura Grace Weldon, Libraries = Freedom: Resist Book Censorship

My body is the sudden drop into darkness 
             at the end of daylight saving time; 
is the summer of power-washing mold  
            from the walls, and the unsettling pain of  
posterior deltoids; is the night it heard the green 
          mourning cries of crickets in the field, and a chorus 
of frogs answering; is the city that comes into view
          as a bus rounds a curve, but only as a faded
outline of lights.

Luisa A. Igloria, Wound With No Easy Translation

I cannot say enough about this amazing book by my good friend and long-time co-conspirator in all things creative, Priscilla Long. Watching Priscilla produce this book, reading drafts, devouring a number of her sources, has been a game-changer for how I think about aging, and how I want to behave in my next chapter.

Bethany Reid, Dancing with the Muse in Old Age

“Based on a True Story” risks being seen as a solipsistic take on dating and gay tropes. Its spare language is that of a plain-talker, not afraid to offend and not that of someone who wilts into the wallpaper. It’s a voice that doesn’t want to listen. However, on the page, where readers can revisit what’s being said and see between the lines, readers can imagine what the poems’ voice is not saying. How, ultimately, in trying to avoid being hurt, the speaker is hurting himself. Stewart invites readers to feel some sympathy for someone who has been hurt and is trying to make themselves invulnerable. There’s a subtle nudge into the world of the brash speaker who is hiding his pain.

Emma Lee, “Based on a True Story” Thomas Stewart (Fourteen Poems) – book review

I forget how I first encountered the poems of Charles Causley, but I was immediately drawn to them. And indeed, I have found some firm favourites among his body of work, favourites such as ‘Who?’, with its brilliant repetition in line 1 of the first stanza, and ‘Morwenstow’, in which the speaker interrogates the sea on the subject of its wildness. I have visited Causley’s hometown of Launceston a couple of times in recent years and have enjoyed exploring the castle, which dominates the scene. I even tried to do a quick pen-and-ink sketch of it.

I was delighted when Sue Wallace-Shaddad asked me if she could include a few stanzas from ‘Penwith Fingerstone’, one of my Cornish poems, in her November post for The Maker, which you can find on The Charles Causley Literary Blog. The poem, which features in Driftwood by Starlight (The Seventh Quarry Press, 2021), was awarded Third Prize by Brian Patten in the 2017 Milestones Poetry Competition, administered by Write Out Loud. As it happens, I posted a photo (here) of the fingerpost on Twitter a few days ago for #FingerpostFriday.

Caroline Gill, Fingerstone Poem Quoted in ‘The Maker’, The Charles Causley Literary Blog

I winnowed a great pool of Shenandoah submissions this week to just 12 poems to hand off to this year’s Graybeal-Gowen Prize judge, Oliver de la Paz. It’s hard to make final decisions on my own, especially when I get down to the poems that move and surprise me most. Distinguishing degrees of power and artfulness can seem impossible. I eventually used a strategy that helps me revise my own work: I read some semifinalists aloud. It’s radically clarifying. You hear sound patterns and other kinds of artfulness; you also hear the wordy or clumsy passages that most poems contain (very much including mine). The poems I rejected this week were really good; the ones I kept in the mix were really good and also damn close to fully realized.

Meanwhile, the fall issue of Shenandoah is nearing launch (proofreading time!); course registration madness is almost done for the moment (SO MANY emails from upset people!); and Thanksgiving Break approacheth. Thank god.

Lesley Wheeler, Book birthday and other shenanigans

I have been working out a choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) type flipbook chapbook of haiku for nearly 3 months now.

The number of options in how to read increases exponentially with more poems. A dozen haiku make for 1,726 possible readings. 18 haiku make for nearly 6000 possible readings. The goal is to make twists towards different emotional states with simple components that grammatically and semantically all fit together.

This constrains kigo, unless to make it all winter, or all summer, all day or all night. I have probably subbed in over 5 dozen haiku at this point.

It’s like CYOA, but with haiku. this small singing is based on what’s left unsaid: 125 haiku (2017) by Maxianne Berger, itself modelled on Raymond Queneau’s 1961 Cent mille milliard de poèmes [a hundred thousand billion poems] of strip sonnets, done with the help of mathematician Francois Le Lionnais, in the process of which they initiated Oulipo.

Pearl Pirie, Making chapbooks

did they make
the coffins little
so death could be smaller
or further away?

for fairies you say
found between flowers or weeds
tiny mummified creatures
no larger than clothespins

Gary Barwin, Fairy Coffins

There’s a yellow butterfly in the house. It blew in on the big wind a few warm days ago, when various doors were open, and is now alive among the houseplants and plants I brought in from the patio back when frost was predicted. It went down to the twenties last night, and we had a real first snow yesterday. Or first tiny iceball fall. It stuck a while, though not in flake form, and is gone in today’s sunshine.

I have been tidying again, and now have 5 empty shoeboxes to re-purpose. More shoes I had forgotten are now visible on the rack, and beloved shoes I wore out but was keeping…are gone. As are pants I wore till the seams were giving. And unraveling sweaters. During the process, I did a little decorating and re-organizing of the holiday closet and re-arranging of the wedding garlands, some of which now festoon the glass patio doors, where the yellow butterfly hovers between real and fake greenery. Pale pink appleblossom impatiens are still blooming in a pot that once hung from the eaves, now from a curtain rod.

I finished some books in progress so I could 1) put them away on bookshelves 2) pass one along to my book group. We are reading Annette Vallon, by James Tipton, about a real woman who helped resist the awful violence of (and after) the French Revolution. She was the lover of poet William Wordsworth, and the mother of his child, Caroline! I don’t think I knew that, and the author in his notes explains how England protected the reputation of their great poet, and Wordsworth “hid” her in his writings, as poets often do, but clearly loved her and cared about his child! We chose it from the library display table for The Revolutionists, by Lauren Gunderson, now playing at Heartland Theatre. Funny, moving, devastating play!

Kathleen Kirk, Yellow Butterfly

It’s raining in L.A.

A time when we shed our ghosts, transform those disparate and desperate skins into flotation devices of hope ferrying us from one end of the city to the other.

For the price of a well-sung song, crows become the Uber of the air, taxi us high above crosstown traffic.

Kids giddy with puddle-jumping joy, don’t bother wiping delighted smiles from their faces, and why should they?

Life here can be sweet. But we’re lucky if it rains once in the lifetime of a honeybee.

Rich Ferguson, It’s Raining In L.A.

I went back to my blog posts from November of last year, thinking I might pull words into a poem about the month. I copied and pasted snippets of language, and then I rearranged them and polished them and glued them together with some new words into something that is about late middle-age/early old-age, our current moment in history, and, I suppose, November:

In the November of Our Lives

One day it’s all sunshine-sharp air and leaves blazing against blue skies; 
the next, it’s wet sticks and relentless wind, 
our pumpkins on the front porch gone suddenly garish.
The bedrock upon which we’ve lived shifts 
and breaks, and there is no mending the fault lines, 
no way around canyons of looming catastrophe.  
With our children grown, our dogs buried, and our bodies 
both softer and more brittle than they’ve ever been, 
my missing is so deep it’s not even an ache.  
It’s something I don’t have a word for. 
There are moments I want to last forever, the wanting 
turning them to memory before they end. 
I thought surely we’d have more,
but darkness descends before we’re ready for it,
and something inside turns toward candlelight,
toward small flames still burning, hunkering down for the long haul of winter.

I’ve long liked writing cento poems (poems I’ve thought of as verbal collages), and I’m finding that using my own prose as source material might be a way into writing poetry again.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Good medicine

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 44

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 found poets pondering time changes, book reviewing, work and leisure, and poetry vs. memoir, among other gnarly topics. Enjoy.


Poets born just off-kilter
from the tipping point between

seasons dance with spinning tops,
teeter-totters, jungle gyms.
Balancing between slanted

light and eclipse, equipoise
and cascade, between anchor

and float [….]

PF Anderson, Untitled

You can tell yourself nothing matters or that everything is related;

events filled with lifeblood allowing each new living moment to flow into the next.

Someone whispers something in a wild horse’s ear.

Someone tames fire long enough to gain wisdom from heat.

Rich Ferguson, What Connection Said To Coincidence While Walking Early Morning L.A. Streets

Carlotta kicks off her slippers, climbs up on the table, and begins to dance. National Geographics get crumpled, the TV Guide lands on the floor. One of the children stands on a chair near a light switch, and flashes the lights. Another turns on the television. Is that an earthquake? A psychic help line? Tina Turner dressed as a priest? Life is Jeopardy she calls out. Life is a Final Jeopardy that never ends. We stand before our friends and family and also before those whom we will never know. The questions are answers. We have answers before the questions.

Gary Barwin, THE LOVELY CARLOTTA, QUEEN OF MEXICO

The whole thing is about playing and experimenting and exploring. To be an active participant (which I think is important, especially given my recent thoughts about the value of creatively playing with others), I have to get over myself and share work that I haven’t had time to perfect. (My writing process requires germination. Even these blog posts are rarely a one-off creation.) Because we get assignments, I feel more freedom to play than I would if I were generating poems on my own, with a goal of publication. I have no big expectations around what I will write; they are just exercises, explorations. (Like my little embroidery houses. Like my doodles on ice.)

Rita Ott Ramstad, This week brought to you by the letter P

As autumn hones our edges,
brightens the leaves, and billows gray above,
the hours dim, shrink, and turn in
on themselves. All I want to do is turn
and go inside, switch on the lamps
and read someone’s hard-won words,
read their lavender memories,
sit inside their teal shadows,
and grow wiser than myself
minute by each minute.

Rachel Dacus, The Department of Lost Hours

After the autumn school holiday, the light and season switch from cool, brisk and bright to dark, wet and cold. The trees are emptied and the leaves lie limp and blackened in my yard. The change feels sudden and ominous, but I knew it was coming. 

Halloween isn’t celebrated here in Finland really. Families don’t have a reference of when to do things like trick-or-treating so kids have  been coming to the door randomly all week. At school we have been studying autumn festivals like Sukkot, Cheosok and Kekri and the kids will take any chance to dress-up. I love that so many autumn holidays are about light and laughter as I feel like we need to store up on both as winter nears. 

I’ve been drawn into my Uni course, trying to focus on that at the weekends, but I managed to write a few poems during the break. I feel like I’ve hit a dry spell, inspiration-wise, so I’m returning to prompts from various sources. I’ve also been trying to write poems disconnected from my life, find a new voice and character that isn’t me. It feels strange like slipping on someone else’s clothes, but I’m hoping it stimulates some new ideas. 

Gerry Stewart, The Nights Have Drawn In

It is a particularly lovely autumn in the region, colorful, clear, dry and mild. This evening at 5 pm: 70 degrees F, crickets and frogs singing. My mood has, however, been unsettled–and I have not been writing much. Indeed, this feels like a good time for a hiatus on a number of fronts and in a number of ways. I recently read Katherine May’s Wintering, which was not terribly memorable but which offers the reader support for, well, resting. Resting one’s bones, mind, endeavors…seasonally apropos.

Mostly I’ve been on a Murakami kick, reading three books that a recently-departed friend had with him in his hospice room. Novels take the place of doing my own creative thinking. I get wrapped up in their worlds and can rest from my own. Thus reading is a form of wintering. (May agrees.)

My poetry output has been minimal recently, and I have hardly sent out any work; mostly, I feel tired and eager for the semester to come to a close (one month or so hence). There are reasons for this it is not necessary to go into. But I miss the writing.

Ann E. Michael, Break-taking

I wrote a whole post earlier this week, and then Typepad went down due to a DDoS attack, and lost it. Now the platform is up again, but it’s impossible to post any images because Typepad is having difficulty migrating to a new server.

The best news is that we finished the studio move on October 30 – the space is swept and empty, and we returned the keys. It’s hard to believe that we’re actually done. It was a good space for us for many, many years and I’m grateful for that.

Meanwhile, the leaves are coming off the trees and winter definitely approaches, even though we haven’t had a major frost yet. We’ve usually had freezing weather by Halloween, but not this year — in fact, it’s supposed to be 68 degrees this weekend.

Beth Adams, The End of Autumn

parking in the shade of a leafless tree

Jason Crane, haiku: 3 November 2022

Dinosaurs weren’t in my plan, nor was green, not that I had a plan. Somewhere in the back of my mind was lodged the thought that I’m not the target market for dinosaurs. Being in the easy company of Ruth, an early years teacher, made all the difference. She was encouraging about dinosaurs – no shape out of bounds – and her enthusiasm released my inner green thunder lizard.

Having started with the dino, representative for me of my elder son, the next choices were easy: musical notes, flowers, a swallow, bees and three cakes; symbols of our family sponged onto a French bowl.

Shawna Lemay, I Decorate A Bowl

I was privileged to meet and work with the late writer and critic Kevin Jackson in 2011. We tutored a school group together at Arvon’s Hurst writing centre in Shropshire.

As Peter Carpenter says in the video below, the range and articulation of his knowledge was truly exceptional. He could segue from the things you knew (or thought you did), pop culture, films and authors you knew a little bit about and may even have been on speaking terms with, to that rarefied branch of opinion (and he had a few) and riffing (ditto) that only a few of us are qualified to attempt, let alone pull off successfully.

I remember his opening workshop, on that horny old chestnut showing not telling, which exemplified this precisely, jumping miraculously from an analysis of a Nicholas Lezard column in the New Statesman to an explification of the opening scences of Lawrence of Arabia. ‘Watch this bit!’ he said. ‘Steven Spielberg calls it the greatest cut in cinema history.’

Anthony Wilson, The Kevin Jackson Award

I have subscribed to Reach Poetry magazine for over twenty years. The magazine is edited by Ronnie Goodyer of Indigo Dreams Publishing. From time to time Ronnie has issued a particular challenge. The most recent was for a Terza Rima Sonnet, one of my favourite forms. 

I decided to have a go, and submitted my poem, ‘Navigating Knapdale’, which was published in the September 2022 issue. The focus of the narrative was a trip to Knapdale Forest in search of beavers. We failed to spot any; it is rare to do so in the daylight, but sometimes the quest is the thing that counts. Or so Cavafy implied in his well-loved poem, ‘Ithaka‘.

Caroline Gill, Beavers

Perhaps it was in response to – really I mean a way of avoiding – the Tory party leadership campaign over the long hot summer of 2022 (and look how that turned out – and then again turned out…) that Michael Glover and I spent much of our time reading for, researching, inviting and selecting poems for a brand new poetry anthology with a focus on Christmas and the winter solstice. I know this is a bit obvious but – hey! – this might well be the solution to your up-coming Christmas gift buying deliberations – elegant, stimulating, moving, clever and very easy to wrap. That’s this new anthology. What’s not to like? Click here to buy your copies.

In fact, it was Michael’s original, bright idea and I was delighted to be asked to collaborate with him. It is the first anthology I have had a hand in editing and the book, in its final form, has two main sections – his bit and mine.

I found it daunting at first – where do you begin? Well, I don’t think I’m giving away any anthology-making secrets by mentioning that this Christmas collection is not the first on the market. I had a couple on my shelves already and the internet provides ready-made selections of possibilities and then less familiar collections like Enitharmon’s excellent Light Unlocked: Christmas Card Poems, eds. Kevin Crossley-Holland & Lawrence Sail (Enitharmon Press, 2005) and the rich seams of Seren’s Christmas in Wales, ed. Dewi Lewis (Seren Books, 1997) provoked thoughts and – with due acknowledgement – suggested some definite items. It was exciting when other contemporary poets were kind enough to agree to offer as yet unpublished work for the anthology – my thanks to Neil Curry, John Greening, Jeremy Hooker, Denise Saul, Joan Michelson, Penelope Shuttle and Marvin Thompson.

Martyn Crucefix, Buy! New Christmas Poetry Anthology

I have had apocalypse on the brain for many reasons. In part, because it’s the week where we’ve had Halloween, All Saints and All Souls. I’ve seen the faces of collapsed jack-o-lanterns and wilting Halloween decorations. The wind blows many of the remaining leaves off the trees, and the mist obscures the moon.

Our Foundations of Preaching class has moved to preaching from Hebrew Scripture texts, and I chose the Isaiah 2: 1-5 text, beating swords into ploughshares. Of course, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be doing that anytime soon.

Last night, I found myself at various nuclear war sites, and I watched the first chunk of Threads, the scariest nuclear war movie ever. And then I had the best night of sleep that I had all week–what does that mean? Am I just exhausted or is there something about a worst case scenario that lulls me to sleep?

My Church History I class has arrived at the fall of Rome, which was really more of a slow motion collapse than a quick fall. On Thursday night we talked about Augustine, who was alive for much of the end times. Our professor talked about Augustine being able to see what was coming and asked if we had ever thought about what that might be like. I wanted to say, “Every single day.” I feel like we’re at a hinge point of history where things could go terribly wrong, but there’s a slender chance that we might shape a better future. I wonder if Augustine had similar thoughts, a hope that he knew was naïve, but he still wanted to cling to it.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, La Nuit de Temps, and Other Types of Apocalypse

It is just ahead, it is coming—
whatever it is you are waiting for

has been waiting for you. Every day,
ten more steps taken; five, four,

three. In previous months,
your hair has been trimmed

as if by lightning.

Luisa A. Igloria, Count the Number of Seconds Between a Flash and the Crack of Thunder and Divide That by Five

Sanita Fejzić is an editor, children’s writer, poet, playwright and point of a whirlwind. She did haiku for a while with KaDo. Way back was a regular at Tree and In/Words (and various things about town). At that tine she gracefully allowed me to publish some vispo in the form of The Union of 6 & 7 in 2014. (Impossibly long ago.)

Desiré in Three Brief Acts from battleaxepress was November 2016. That came with a CD song collaboration with the poems. I don’t know if she’d agree that she’s a polymath but she busts out in all directions of creativity.

PP: What have you creating lately?

SF: This is a busy period. I have been working on the production of a series of four short plays titled “Why Worry About Their Futures?” which foregrounds the kinds of multispecies futures we’re cultivating for our children. It will be directed by Keith Barker, who is one of the three playwrights, including Carol Churchill and me.

On the poetry side, I’m finalizing the edits of a collection, Refugee Mouth, which I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. This has been a labour of love, and for the last push, I’ve been collaborating with Chris Johnson, Arc Poetry Magazine editor and longtime friend (since our In/Words days at Carleton University). He’s been helping me with edits and a structural reorganization of the manuscript. I hope to send it out to publishers by December of this year.

December is also the deadline for me to submit my PhD thesis project to my committee, with the hopes of being a Doctor of Philosophy in Cultural Studies by the Fall of 2023.

In the meantime, I’m wrapping up a past-apocalyptic short animated film that’s grounded in queer, eco-feminist future dreamings. My friend and collaborator Ambivalently Yours did the illustrations and animations, and we’re working on a graphic novel version of the film. Did I say this was a busy period? 

Pearl Pirie, Checking In With: Sanita Fejzić

I’m fortunate to have arrived at a place in my life when I can devote more time to poetry than in the past. In order to get here, however, I spent years working at exhausting, non-creative day jobs that paid the bills while raising my two sons. Like so many of us, I wrote at the margins of my day, staying at my desk to work on a short story instead of going out to lunch with my boss and coworkers. Many days, I was happy to record a few lines in my journal. Just as many days, the pages stayed blank.

Other poets who worked demanding day jobs include Langston Hughes (crewman, busboy), William Carlos Williams (pediatrician), Gwendolyn Brooks (typist), Walt Whitman (office boy, printer), Marianne Moore (librarian), Lawrence Ferlinghetti (publisher, bookstore owner), Amy Clampitt (secretary, librarian), Frank O’Hara (museum curator), Mary Oliver (secretary), Philip Levine (auto factory worker), Denise Levertov (nurse, editor), Robert Frost (farmer), Wendell Berry (farmer).

If poetry is more avocation than bread labor, how do we structure our lives so we can devote as much time to it as possible? How can we balance our lives so that work supports us but doesn’t steal all of our energy?

Erica Goss, Bread Labor: Poetry and the Day Job

INVASION n. (i) invading with an armed force, (ii) incursion into a place or sphere of activity, (iii) unwelcome intrusion

Sometimes
it’s not what
a word means
but how its use
can blunt the heart
or fuel fear
or ignite the cankers
of anger in
the already fearful.

I do not know
what the answer is
only that I have to
try and understand
the stories
of those
who really need us.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Invasion

It’s week 4 of Bill Greenwell’s online workshop and I think I’m just settling in. Everyone there knows one another, and are familiar with the set-up. The first week went well, I jumped in and read everyone’s poems and commented on them all, although there’s no requirement to do so. But I like to be sociable and not appear stand-offish.

But by week 2 I was already feeling overwhelmed – so many poems to read and comment on, and trying to produce a new poem each week was weighing heavy on me. However, I seem to have now set my own pace. I try to read other people’s poems, but not if they’ve already had loads of comments. I sometimes add my comments but I don’t feel bad if I don’t.

Although I could just bring an old unpublished poem for workshopping each week (goodness knows I have a ton) I’ve set myself the task of only bringing new work, as a way of getting myself to write more. Having been away last week, yesterday I allowed myself a bit of leeway and posted an old poem that needs reviving. But overall, the course is proving to be very good for me.

Robin Houghton, A holiday and a vintage submissions spreadsheet

Poets generally like to get reviews of their books, though they don’t always like the reviews they get. They’re far less keen on the writing side, that is to say writing reviews of other poets’ books. A few, however, do take on the review task regularly, uncomplainingly and reliably. They are usually – but not invariably – unpaid. Reviewers are the Cinderellas of poetry. There are no national prizes or shortlists for them (fortunately). Occasionally, of course, a review does draw considerable attention by upsetting people, generally unintentionally.

Since 2005, I’ve been running Sphinx Review: an online publication offering short written responses to poetry pamphlets. I have a co-editor (Charlotte Gann) and a team of 14 – 25 reviewers. Each time a set of reviews is ready, an email newsletter goes out. We have just over 400 subscribers; the ‘open’ rate is about 33% and the click rate 45%. People may also arrive at individual reviews through FaceBook, Twitter, email and word of mouth. Some of them are widely read. Some are copied onto other websites. Some are hardly read at all. But since they’re online, they’re there for as long as the site lasts. They help make a poet googlable.

Running Sphinx Review costs masses of time and a growing sum of money. I’ve been doing it since 2005, with unpaid helpers. It’s getting more difficult to afford, in every sense. Next year, when I’m seventy, I will stop. My bones are creaking.

But why start it in the first place? I thought it was important. I still do. I’m a publisher. I put out books and pamphlets and I want them to be noticed. I want there to be a conversation. And I believe in putting your money, as they say, where your mouth is.

Helena Nelson, WHY WRITE POETRY REVIEWS?

In light of Helena Nelson’s request for views on writing and reading poetry reviews (see this link), here are a few reflections on my own attitude towards reviewing in the current climate.

On the one hand, I write reviews not as blurbs or puff pieces but to promote the poetry I love by engaging with it, explaining just why it enthralls me. I try to get my hands dirty with the inner workings of a collection’s engine, hoping to enlighten the reader and encourage them to buy the book.

And on the other, I read them to find books I might want to buy. Or to find a new perspective on a collection I’ve already read. There are certain reviewers whose taste I trust and respect, from whom I learn loads. One thorny issue I would like to highlight is my growing feeling that social media’s tribal pile-ons are making it more and more uncomfortable to write reviews with a critical element. And then this is combined with the trend of poets who view their book as an extension of themselves, as a means of self-expression. Even mild criticism consequently becomes a personal affront…

Matthew Stewart, A few thoughts on poetry reviewing in the current climate

almost sundown —
The Devil
coming for candy

Bill Waters, Almost sundown

Years ago I went to a workshop where someone read out a first-person piece concerning first love. It sounded Adrian Mole-like to me, and people commented that they were amused by the main character’s naivity – their age unclear, but presumably teenage. Alas, the piece was deadly serious autobiography. Critics should have said it was a sensitive exploration of twentysomething love.

At another workshop, the poet was praised for their ironic use of clichés. After, the poet admitted that they hadn’t realised that the images were clichés.

Suppose a clever whodunnit is packed with middle-aged men who pretty young women keep falling for? Suppose a poem collection has many self-sabotage pieces but the poet’s theme is about fate being unfair? Suppose there’s a load about food in a novel? Suppose the “I” is right in all the poems, though the other characters only realise that later? Suppose the rhyme-scheme goes to pieces whenever the poet has something serious to say?

If the critic dutifully reads the blurb and reports on the intended meanings, quoting the phrases that most emphasise those meanings, the author will be delighted. Maybe that’s the reviewer’s intention.

Tim Love, What the author thinks

This week has given with one hand and taken with the other. A third hand has arrived to cause confusion. I have no idea what that means, so we’ll go back to the two hands for now (on the other hand…)

I have first hand experience of getting a no from Propel Magazine. I sort of expected it and it was disappointing, especially as if it had arrived 24 hours sooner I could have used some of the poems to bolster a different submission, but onwards and sideways.

This particular hand was balanced out by the publishing of a review in London Grip. Mike took, on spec I might add, my review of Hilary MenosFear Of Forks. I was pleased to see so many glowing reviews for this excellent book over at Sphinx Reviews as well, and I’m really pleased to see some focus back on Hilary as a poet and not as the editor at The Friday Poem. In other/further Hilary news, my copy of the latest Under The Radar arrived containing a new Hilary poem. I’ve not read it yet, but it’s got to be good, surely?

So, while not an acceptance of a poem, I’m chuffed that the review is out there, and that Hilary is happy with it too. It was a hard one to get right – not because the book is bad, far from it, but because I wanted to convey how good it is in the best way possible. Although, it’s fair to say it’s hard like that every time I write a review. Perhaps as Hilary is my editor at TFP it carried some extra weight…perhaps.

It does perhaps feed into recent chatter about the cosiness of the reviewing world, and make me second guess myself, but my first forays into reviewing and the TFP guidelines taught me to aim for the positive. To be fair the TFP guidelines do allow for criticism, but I can count on one hand the books I’ve been critical of. Perhaps, I should be harder, but where would it get me? It doesn’t change the poems, it doesn’t stop publication and poets and publishers need the sales, so if we/ I can help drive even one then I’m ok with it.

Mat Riches, Horses and Hand Magazine

Emily Osborne’s poetry, fiction and Old Norse-to-English verse translations have appeared in journals such as Vallum, CV2, Canthius, The Polyglot, The Literary Review of Canada, and Barren Magazine. Her debut book of poetry, Safety Razor, is forthcoming from Gordon Hill Press (Spring 2023). She is the author of the chapbook Biometrical (Anstruther Press) and winner of The Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award for Poetry. Emily has a PhD in Old Norse Literature from the University of Cambridge. She lives on Bowen Island, BC, with her husband and two young sons.

How did you first engage with poetry?

My childhood home was filled with poetry books, thanks to my mother who had done graduate degrees in modern American poetry and Sylvia Plath. I remember being six and trying to muddle my way through verse that was totally abstruse and yet which seemed desperately important for me to understand. And yet, the first times I concretely remember writing poetry began in emotional responses to aesthetic experiences that seemed inexplicable in language. How could these feelings be communicated? I think many people first create visual or verbal art because of this instinct that a feeling, thought or experience requires an altered form of language or visualization in which to exist and be given to others, even if this instinct is unconscious. I was also lucky to have early experiences with literary criticism, which came from the late Fred Cogswell, who was a close family friend. I would send my poems to him and he would write back with annotated comments and suggestions. As an adult I look back and think of his phenomenal kindness in doing this, considering how busy he was with The Fiddlehead and teaching and everything else life throws at us. His legacy inspires me. 

Thomas Whyte, Emily Osborne : part one

That patch of clean clear grass will last only as long as I stand there, brown elm leaves
falling around me, and yet I keep raking.  

The sea of leaves will overtake us, as will early darkness. 

I keep stuffing them in bags, happily trouncing.

Ask Job, I say joyously.  

Clapping the piles to my chest: the only thing I can only believe in is the absurd.

Jill Pearlman, Why Rake

“Face the Strain” is a lyrical exploration of life under patriarchal capitalism as we emerge from the pandemic. Personal actions become political, although individuals are rendered powerless against large conglomerates and politicians in lobbyists’ pockets. Sparkes pulls no punches. The world is looked at through a critical lens, which particularly examines societal attitudes towards the powerless and vulnerable, and the extra loads of caring, parenting and household management that fall on predominately on women. The tone is spare and direct, making the poems’ intents clear and targeted.

Emma Lee, “Face the Strain” Joolz Sparkes (Against the Grain) – book review

I am so excited to finally reveal the cover of the upcoming Flare, Corona officially! Here it is! I am posting this a little earlier in the week than I usually do, but I thought I had enough news to justify it…

Designed by Sandy Knight at BOA Editions, the cover art is meant to suggest both an eclipse, a solar flare with corona, and the neurons that are attacked and inflamed during an MS flare. This was a harder cover than usual to think about in terms of design. There’s a lot of solar weather in there, I wanted the idea of the neurons, I thought about adding other things from the natural world. But in the end, this simple, striking design won out. As you may notice, the web site looks a little different too!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Cover Reveal and Pre-Order Page for Flare, Corona, a New Poem in The Indianapolis Review, Welcome to the Big Dark: November, Twitter, Voting, Book Club

As if to balance the recent rejection, I had a recent acceptance! Of 4 out of the 5 poems I sent to a magazine I had been meaning to send to for a long time, missing its deadline again and again. Because time keeps getting away from me. This batch was a sad one, but it had a ladder in it, leaning on a peach tree, and that makes it a Random Coinciday in the blog. Because I just read–or possibly re-read?–Ladder of Years, by Anne Tyler, a sort of sweet, sad novel about a woman who walks away from her family one day… I could picture myself doing it as she did it, much as I love and would never leave my family, other than that time in Chicago when I walked out the back door and down to the streetlight while my toddler crawled around on the dining room floor at the feet of my husband and father, who were talking about politics and real estate. Really, this was not meant to be a Cranky Doodle Day in the blog. That was years ago. My kids are grown. I’m still married to the same man, and today, early in the morning, I looked all through the house for him and then saw the ladder on the patio, leaning against the house, and found him on the roof, sitting cross-legged at the edge, scooping leaves from the gutter into a plastic bag, during a Wind Advisory. It was a little like the time I was down in the church basement during a tornado, and the rain was horizontal, and the neighbor from across the street had come out to tell my husband, scooping leaves on the roof, that he should go inside. But not as windy, and I was there smiling and talking to him, waiting till he was done before going back inside…

Kathleen Kirk, Ladder of Years

Tim Carter: Howdy. R.M., I’m glad to ask you some questions about your newest book, Interrogation Days. This chapbook is published through Dead Mall Press, which is also your operation. Why don’t you start by telling me about both?

R.M. Haines: Thank you, Tim, for taking time with these poems and offering to do this interview. Interrogation Days is a chapbook about the so-called “War on Terror,” collecting various details and stories from those 20 years, and approaching them as the artifacts of a kind of demented poetic imagination. It was at one time the first section in a book also containing the poems from Dysnomia and Civil Society (my press’s earliest books), and I still think of them as a kind of trilogy. The three books speak to one another – about empire, psyche, capitalism, police, terror, violence — but upon reflection, it really seemed to me too much to put them all together into one reading experience. Each of the books approaches a certain feeling of finality, and it felt like I was forcing things to put them in the same volume. Of the three, Interrogation Days is the longest (28 pages compared to 11 and 10 pages for the others), so it feels like a bigger statement to me.

As for the press, I’d been intently studying how small press publishing works since roughly 2018. I wrote a lot of critical stuff about it, but not until fall 2021 did I think about actually making physical booklets and calling it a “press.” In March 2022, after thinking it all through and preparing some things, I officially launched DMP and put out three small chapbooks of my own. In 2023, I will be transitioning into publishing people other than myself, and that is hugely exciting to me (much more info to come!). Also, with DMP, I want to be as transparent as possible about the nuts-and-bolts of publishing: how much things cost, what the budget is, how much things sell, what I do with the money, etc. I think that concealing the material reality of publishing mystifies it, and this has numerous negative consequences. Against this, DMP aims to be transparent, to be generous and open with writers, to stay small and DIY, and to donate a sizable portion of the earnings to people doing work around social justice, abolition, mutual aid, and other causes. Right now, 50% of all sales is being donated to the Gitmo Survivors Fund, which I write about, in more detail on my blog.

R. M. Haines, A Conversation About INTERROGATION DAYS

The rain became my monster. The rain became
my foe. The rain became the hell I could not conquer. A

drizzle was a deluge. A deluge, the dark of an endless night.
The monsoon, an affliction without remedy. These are tests

I cannot pass. Tests I cannot fail. Always the same result.
Always the same consequence. Happiness is a constant.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 20

On one hand, for all their hope, I am being cautious with mine. My mother was sick in greater or lesser degrees for months, and yet her death shocked me to the core since I really believed she would pull through. The visuals on this one scare me…it looks terrible, this small, frail man hooked to a machine that is currently breathing for him (though the settings according to the nurse s are lower and more just augmenting his own breathing). I have prepared myself for the worst. Well, am trying to while still hoping for the best. A friend said via text today that hope is a tricky thing–difficult to have and difficult not to have.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | all hallows eve

There is such an electricity to the lyric of Lenapehoking/Brooklyn-based poet and performer imogen xtian smith’s full-length debut, stemmy things (New York NY: Nightboat Books, 2022). “Poetry both is & is not a luxury.” they write, to open the “author’s note” included at the beginning of the collection. “My intention has been to trouble the worlds in which i move, support, fail, live, struggle, love & continue trans-ing, addressing with rigor the circumstances that continuously shape me.” Through a book-length lyric, smith writes an extended sequence of sharp moments across narrative thought, one deeply engaged with numerous threads, all of which wrap in and around identity, self and gender. “Nothing is ever finished,” they write, as part of the poem “deep ecology,” set near the beginning. “Consequence gives a body / shape, says you cannot build home in a lie.”

One immediately garners a sense of Bernadette Mayer’s influence echoing through these poems (a quote by Mayer is one of two set to open the first section), as well as Eileen Myles, both of whom offer a fierce and even straightforward directness in their own ongoing works. Across the poems of stemmy things, smith unfolds a sequence of diaristic offerings of narrative examination, utilizing the suggestion of biography (whether actual or fictional, or some blend of both) for the sake of exploring and defining truths and discoveries across the length and breadth of becoming who they are meant to become. “By way of explanation,” they write, to open the poem “so the maggots know,” “i am / an unreliable narrator of my body / living gender to gender, marked / at birth yet far flung of phylum / straddling difference / between impossibility & lack—woman / & man—i, neither, though always / with children, a queendom / of eggs to the belly [.]” There is such a confidence to these lyrics, these examinations, reaching across vast distances with clarity and ease. If only a fraction of the rest of us could hold such fearlessness and poise while navigating uncertain terrain. “You need to know a radical touch,” they write, as part of the opening poem, “open letter utopia,” subtitled, “after Audre Lorde,” “that my yes means yes, my no, no, that yes & no / & maybe may shift while we linger, articulate, break / apart as moments ask. Does your blood taste iron?”

rob mclennan, imogen xtian smith, stemmy things

It’s so good to be reading again for me, not for students or class planning. One of the downsides to teaching is that you can neglect your own education and/or intellectual growth sometimes for the sake of the students’ needs. The chance to learn something again — of my choosing, not as dictated by the college and the administration’s fixations or needs — is almost as restorative as rest. Relaxing one part of the brain and letting a different part take over is, well, rejuvenating.

I’m taking stock now of what I’ve accomplished thus far and what I also need to complete in the next three months — I’ve read, taken extensive notes on the reading, drafted more of the play, and written some singular, one-off (not attached to a manuscript) poems. I have a lot more to do on the play — that will be the next 90 days’ primary focus — but I also have some reviews for the New York Journal of Books lined up, which will be good to finish before I return to teaching.

That return is looming, already, and I’m trying not to dread it.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, On Inspiration & Momentum

What I wanted to call your attention to is this issue of the slippery “I” in poems and the readerly insistence on reading poems as autobiography. Here’s Albert’s take: “I’m not comfortable with the question of what’s ‘true’ or ‘isn’t true.’ I like to say, not just for myself but on behalf of all poets, it’s all true. I mean in the way that a real novel is as true as a piece of nonfiction or memoir, as true about human beings and the human experience. Perhaps even truer than some memoirs, in fact. Memoirs are also fictionalized— by the time it’s a readable, publishable piece of work, it’s all become fictionalized, massaged to some extent.”

He then goes on to say: “I talk with people frequently who are not perplexed to read ‘Call me Ishmael’ even while finding the name Herman Melville on the cover; and yet who are surprised or even offended if I suggest the possibility that Plath might have invented, have shaped events for some of her poems, in the interest of their greatest possible power or her own greatest psychological needs.”

Anyway, just read the thing. It’s all good. Oh, but here’s one more thing:

In the interview he mentions a previous interview with the Georgia Review that he managed to waylay and reframe. He said: “What if all the questions come from other poets’ poems and all of the answers come from poems of mine?” 

I love this idea! Who wants to do a reading with me based on our poems’ questions and answers? I envision a round-robin meander with a handful of poets. Who’s in?

Marilyn McCabe, Five guys named Moe; or, Albert Goldbarth on “Truth” in Poetry

he finally got it
near enough words
poured from his mouth
they’d have to do for now

stopped at the lights
he repeats them
merging with the traffic
he speaks every one

so he finally arrives
writes down his litany
the mouth worn words
offer no point of entry

if he had it
it has gone

Paul Tobin, MUGGED ON DREAM STREET

If you stare at a word long enough it makes no sense. If you think about it long enough “old” becomes “new”. And “new” can take on an entirely new meaning: new as a shift, not a beginning.

I’ve felt these shifts before. Passing a fork in the road and knowing that was that. Poems I memorized as a child take on new significance. Maybe life is a series of ever-more-complex prisms. What seemed singularly beautiful has exploded with possibilities. Smaller, perhaps: like the beauty of a whole world under a microscope: this tiny, present pinch of life, thoroughly examined with an attitude of wonder!

At 16, I wanted to be a famous actress. I wanted to have an apartment in New York, and to wear shoes too fancy for the subway. But at 40-something, I found myself sitting on the hood of a car at the lookout point over Bishkek with strangers. I ate dried fish, learning how to pop out their eyes with my thumbs.

Then I flew home to a tiny duplex in need of renovation, and a job that left me scrambling for dignity every day. I flew home to the two kids I never planned for; my love for them would stun me sometimes. Still does. Continual, unexpected little bursts of joy/fear/gratitude. These bursts, these overwhelming moments that strike – not always pleasant- have defined my emotional life. Home is a constant ambiguous reality, though every detail is fleeting.

What do they say? The only constant is the laundry?

I traveled a lot in my 40s. I took a lot of photos of other people’s laundry. I have hundreds of pictures of t-shirts and towels drying on clotheslines. I am always a bit puzzled that I find something so utterly banal to be so compelling.

Beautiful. It’s like the photos don’t capture a moment in time, but the flow of a lifetime.

Ren Powell, A Celebration of the Banal

You need so much
rain for the flowers,

so much moonlight
on the pines,

the old monk said,
so much silence

in the evening.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (347)

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 43

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: displacement, heresy, breaking through thin ice, demonic advice, and other unsettling things. In addition to the usual poetry hijinks. Enjoy!


Decades ago, dazzled by a bold travel escapade,
I vowed to keep displacement center stage.  
We met a friend outside our office building,

It was dusk on Sixth Avenue, New York.
He was cursing the broken Xerox machine.

Rimbaud says make yourself a stranger.
He was young, so was I.  Still we try.  Je est.  
I is.  Til I trip again.

Jill Pearlman, Bastille to Puritan Village: Strange Magic

The poet Gerald Stern, who died last Friday at the age of 97, spent his life thundering against the mendacity and abuse of power; rebelling against all forms of authority, big and small; defying social conventions; and wielding his finely honed writing on behalf of the demonized, forgotten and oppressed. He was one of our great political poets. Poetry, he believed, had to speak to the great and small issues that define our lives. He was outrageous and profane, often in choice Yiddish, French and German. He was incredibly funny, but most of all brave. Rules were there, in his mind, to be broken. Power, no matter who held it, was an evil to be fought. Artists should be eternal heretics and rebels. He strung together obscenities to describe poets and artists who diluted their talent and sold out for status, grants, prizes, the blandness demanded by poetry journals and magazines like The New Yorker, and the death trap of tenured professorships.

I met Jerry when I was a pariah. I had repeatedly and publicly denounced the invasion of Iraq and, for my outspokenness, had been pushed out of The New York Times. I was receiving frequent death threats. My neighbors treated me as though I had leprosy. I had imploded my journalism career. Seeing how isolated I was, Jerry suggested we have lunch each week. His friendship and affirmation, at a precarious moment in my life, meant I had someone I admired assure me that it would be all right. He had the impetuosity and passion of youth, reaching into his pocket to pull out his latest poem or essay and reading long sections of it, ignoring his food. But, most of all, he knew where he stood, and where I should stand. 

“There is no love without justice,” he would say. “They are identical.”

Chris Hedges, Death of an Oracle

Well, Liz Truss has become a pub quiz question and the tories have avoided letting their members have a vote on the next Crime Minister. The rest of us, the majority, have no say. The death cult staggers on putting its own needs before those of the country…

I was in Portugal while all this was happening. I had a short break in Lisbon, a city I know and love. This first poem is about the weather holding up the plane.

a moderate coastal event over Spain
leaves us static on Bristol runway
the plane doors open

in the interlude three cabin staff
begin the emergency exit dance
to a pre-recorded soundtrack

we all continue to look at our screens

Paul Tobin, A MODERATE COASTAL EVENT

I went to the first event of a book festival recently, and the session and festival was opened by a local Native American, who with flute and prayer invoked his ancestors who hunted among these rivers and forests and considered this sacred land. Before it all started, amid the murmurs of the waiting audience, I heard the guy behind me explaining that the city hall auditorium we were in had once held a meeting of US bankers to start a national association back in the 1800s (good thing or bad thing?). Turns out the guy is from a long generational line of bankers. Then the guest speaker read poems that invoked his grandparents and their ghosts in him and their experiences fleeing the Armenian genocide. And I’ve been thinking a lot about two stories from Laurie Anderson I encountered recently, one about her breaking her back missing the pool from a diving board flip, and the other story about breaking through thin ice with her little brothers on a local pond and having to dive under the ice to save them. I’m as imprinted at the moment with those Laurie Anderson stories as if I’d fallen asleep on their 3D words and now they’re pressed into my cheek. I feel like I have stories coating my skin, layers of them, mine and others’. If you scrub my skin, whose stories will you find, what novels and family photos, what works of art? And will they scrub off or are they layers deep, tattooed with long needles and dark ink? More and more we learn that the mind is the body, not some separate thing, “consciousness” another function of it all, and cells are the whole system at work in miniature. If you slice a piece of me and examine it under a microscope, I’m all story.

Marilyn McCabe, You think you’re alone until you realize you’re in it; or, On Stories

As a journalist and nonfiction book author, I’ve written primarily about tea for many years. As the Chinese saying goes, “One never lives long enough to learn everything there is to know about tea.” I feel the same way about poetry.

Diana Rosen : coda (Thomas Whyte’s blog)

You know the path across the bottom field,
the one you can’t see from the house,
the one that bends around the old pond.
And further on, you know the iron seat where
when our mother was having one of her spells
in the sanatorium, our father would sit
and write long letters beginning Dear Cherub.
You know it’s best to go when the mist is low,
the grass wet. It’s hard to hold history against
the earth and harder to grasp that, in seeking
stillness, we’re always moving and looking out
for those we loved, just as they were.

Bob Mee, TWO POEMS: THE PATH and THE SHOPKEEPER AND HIS WIFE

I was walking yesterday, marveling at this particular tree [photo], and I saw a student walking with his head bent down, staring not as his phone but at the sidewalk. For one minute, I thought about becoming the crazy leaf lady, evangelist for fall colors.

But then I thought, maybe I am the foolish one, staring gape-mouthed at the trees. Maybe he’s avoiding sights like this one, trees close to being done for the season.

Maybe he’s avoiding the sadness that comes from knowing how the story ends. […]

I also picked up leaves from the wet, black streets. I held them to the blank canvas of the cinderblock walls for a different contrast.

My plan is to do some sketching, to see if I can capture some colors, the way I did at the beginning of October.

But I’m also enjoying just having them scattered around my seminary apartment, watching as they dry and curl.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Deeper Looks at Leaves

I know the best doctor, you say
or ask if I have tried this cure
or that, I wish you were joking
I wish I could wish you away
but you have more in reserve:
you will be fine, you tell me,
and then the magic words,
don’t worry, you will be yourself
in a few days. I wonder when

you leave here or hang up
the phone, if you will change
into your demonic form
again, your tongue bloated
with lies, your eyes foaming
with blood. I wrap the silence
closer now and make up
stories about apothecaries
and vials of poison. Just like
the other one in which, in
the end, everyone just died.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, The right to rant against good intentions

As Department Head, I’ve been reading colleagues’ Five Year Plans, which oddly enough are due around Halloween or Samhain (or however you think about this spooky midpoint between the fall equinox and winter solstice). I have an official Five Year Plan myself–I’m halfway through that cycle–but maybe it’s time for a weirder one. I’m a planner by temperament, but for various reasons, I’ve been looking ahead even more than usual. Here goes.

– Yes, I could say: in the next few years, I wish to place my next poetry book (I have a good draft now) and my novel (drafted and revised but not yet ready). I have a nonfiction/ criticism book in mind, too, that’s lying around in fragments. Yet I’m skeptical about my familiar feeling of urgency about producing new books. It’s been a pleasure seeing Poetry’s Possible Worlds in readers’ hands, but I’ve put too much pressure on myself, I think, plus my current life doesn’t have much writing time in it.
– Instead, inspired by teaching modernist poetry recently, because I AM doing lots of teaching: I aspire to become pretentious enough to write a literary manifesto. I know that sounds like a joke, and it partly is, but I do love high-handed aesthetic programs and I’ve always wished I could find the chutzpah to devise one. Maybe I could just lie on a velvet divan and cultivate chutzpah.
– Or I could abandon all ambitions and just find more time to write whatever I feel like. Or not.
– Figure out my purpose on this earth. (I’m having an existential autumn.)
– Cease worrying about my purpose on this earth. Also reduce anxiety, period. I think the overwork of heading a department this fall has revved me up too much, because my base-level self-doubt and worry are almost unmanageably high. I’m trying to figure it out, but I am struggling.
– Maybe spells would help, or soup. Make more spells and soup. Be witchier.
– Keep teaching my heart out, because that feels like good work to do in the world. But teach my heart out within reasonable time parameters.
– As far as “service,” because that’s a section on our faculty five-year plans: do less service. I’m currently reading for Shenandoah again (the annual contest for Virginia poets), and I’m committed to helping my students and closest colleagues thrive, as many of them are struggling, too. That’s enough.

Lesley Wheeler, Five year writing plan for the witches’ new year

Rob Taylor: The title poems of both of your poetry collections, Leaving Howe Island (Oolichan Books, 2013) and The Outer Wards (Vehicule Press, 2020), are about leaving one world behind, and the passage to a new one. Both books feature plane trips and end on images from journeys.

Your experiences as an immigrant from the Netherlands seems to run through everything you write. And yet these are two very different books, born out of distinct times in your life. Can you talk a little about the two title poems, and what each says about the larger collection?

Sadiqa de Meijer: Yes, the title poems both have to do with a ferry crossing that is made difficult somehow—in the first, there’s a storm, and in the second, there’s the question of how to take essential things along. “Leaving Howe Island” is a poem of immigration—the continued arrivals that occur after the initial, physical one; it’s based in a real landscape that the speaker and her family are getting to know. In “The Outer Wards,” the landscape resides in memory, the companions are imaginary, and the crossing is between life and death. The speaker herself has become the ferry operator. Your question leads me to name it: Leaving Howe Island as a book is concerned with geographic migration within familial circles, while The Outer Wards encounters the crossing into death from an inevitable solitude.

RT: Yes – goodness, that hits at the core of the books so well (though it does make The Outer Wards sound darker than it is). In considering “crossings,” your two poetry books are joined by your new essay collection, alfabet/alphabet (Palimpsest Press, 2020), though the crossing it explores is never fully completed: “Language is our fatherland, from which we can never emigrate,” reads the Irina Grivnina epigraph to the book.

Rob Taylor, The Border Terrain: An Interview with Sadiqa de Meijer

What would you do if you believed
in this kind of spirit language?
Where did the bird in your dream go,
and who has spilled flour and sugar
on your kitchen counter, burned
the filament of the new light-
bulb? The sunflower in the vase
drops two petals. Inside the house,
it has grown lonely again;
when the clock chimes the hours
backwards, you wonder how
you got here.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem with Blue Light

I wish to thank Lidia very much for inviting me to supply a written contribution for the international Luci per la Città website. You can read my poem,  ‘Stars in Suburbia’, here

I was born in London and spent the first couple of years of my life in the capital, before moving out with my family to Kent’s ‘commuter-land’. Our road began at the foot of a slope near the railway station. The public library was situated near the top, where our road joined the High Street at right angles. We lived at the halfway point, neither up nor down. 

My bedroom window looked out onto the road where a lamp post (like the one in my picture here) sent its beams into the night sky. Looking back, it seems hard to believe that we still had a gas lamp, requiring the occasional services of a lamplighter; but I have looked into this, and am assured by those who know these things that my memory is indeed correct. 

Caroline Gill, TURIN: LUCI PER LA CITTÀ / LIGHTS FOR THE CITY

I’m too beat even to write about it
leaves fall onto the road in front of me
squirrels prepare and gather
high in the trees, I’ve heard they forget
74% of the nuts they bury
and this is important to new growth
a writerly thing here
would be to note things I forget
that make things better

Gary Barwin, Trees

All this excitement is great. But I have also started to recognise the signs of overkill. It happened last week, again with a sudden bump, when I mistyped the name of the poet I was blogging about and did not notice until it was pointed out to me. (Helena, I am sorry.) For the million-and-third time I realised with great force that scrolling the Guardian Live politics feed when I was trying to concentrate on something else (and I don’t mean ‘productive’ work here, I mean activity that feeds me: reading, writing, daydreaming, listening to Max Richter, checking out what Shawna Lemay has been up to, etc) was probably not going to make an improvement on my long-term happiness and mental health, not to mention the aformentioned productivity.

So I decided to stop. I’m going to do my best to access the world of news and commentary via the medium of paper, rather than the beautiful but disembodied screen version I have become addicted to scrolling. Or at the very least restrict it. To replace its sugar hit, I’m also busily rediscovering the places that feed me, like the aforementioned Shawna Lemay (more in a moment). Like the amazing My Small Press Writing Day that Rupert Loydell told me about a few years ago and which I had forgotten I had bookmarked. (It was set up as a corrective to the kind of thing you used to find in weekend supplements, which, you know, kind of assumed most writers live like, say, Martin Amis.) Like rereading some favourite posts from How a Poem Happens (ditto forgetfulness). And, last but not least, signing up to supporting Shawna’s new adventure on Patreon, Beauty School.

Anthony Wilson, Not much

With thanks to Chris Boultwood and Judy Kendall, my essay on the haiku of Caroline Gourlay, published in Presence #73 in July, is now on the journal’s website, here.

I owe a personal debt to Caroline, for a good deal of encouragement and friendly advice when I was starting out as a haiku poet 30 years ago or so.

Matthew Paul, On the haiku of Caroline Gourlay

Sarah Maguire was the founder of the Poetry Translation Centre, an organisation which was very important to me personally in my poetry development during the past decade or so. Sarah died in 2017, leaving the PTC and her own remarkably impressive body of work. In a time when cross-cultural understanding seems more important than ever, I’m glad that the Sarah Maguire Prize has become another part of her legacy.

Clarissa Aykroyd, 2022 Sarah Maguire Prize for Poetry in Translation

One of the first places to take a poem from me was Obsessed With Pipework back in 2017. Charles took a poem of mine that I will like called The Breaks for issue #79, and a further 3 (YES, THREE!!!) for #88, so when I saw the shout out to former contributors for poems for #100 I really wanted to send something in. I was very grateful for the boost that that first acceptance gave me. It may not be the loudest of magazines, but it’s always had a certain cache to it, and I am happy to have been in among some wonderful poets over the issues, so to be in the 100th issue is an honour.

Bravo to any magazine that makes it to such a landmark. I’m particularly pleased they took a poem called ‘Spud’. It’s one about Flo when she was still in utero, and is one she’s always wanted to see in print. I don’t think it will be in the pamphlet, but at least it has a home.

Mat Riches, Obsessed With (what’s in the) Pipework

I have some poems coming out online soon to share and a spooky poetry podcast tomorrow, and I’ve had a bit of a health scare (at least it’s scary at the appropriate time of year!)

I’ll be reading some poems from the new book for the first time and some poems from Flare, Corona. I’m so appreciate of Rattle for giving me the opportunity! I’m also getting ready for our Read Between the Wines book club meeting on November 9 at J. Bookwalter winery, where we’ll be discussing poetry! This time, Melissa Studdard’s Dear Selection Committee, which I think is a great book for introducing people who might not usually read poetry to some fun, sexy, satirical poems.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Halloween, Spooky Poetry RattleCast This Sunday, More Health Scares, and A New Blurb for Flare, Corona

Years ago, I had a book that didn’t quite make it out before the press shuttered, fitting since it was about the end of the world and all (though we’ve had several apocalypses since.) I may at some point issue a bonus print version, but you can read it here, though: https://issuu.com/aestheticsofresearch/docs/littleapocfinal

Kristy Bowen, #31daysofhalloween | little apocalypse

The (perhaps) insane commitment of artists came up in a conversation with a writer friend this week, who is reading Patti Smith’s National Book Award winning Just Kids (2010), about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe in the late 1960s, when they were young and poor in New York, before either was known or had known artistic success.

“She gave up just about everything for her art,” my friend said. I asked what she meant by that, and she talked about Smith going to New York with nothing, by herself, and living with insecure housing and food.

“I’ve never done that,” I said. “And I never will.” My friend agreed that the same is true for her, which might have something to do with why neither of us has been or will be (as it’s really too late for both of us) a Twyla Tharp or Patti Smith.

I’ve come to realize that I am perfectly fine with not being that kind of creative. [Twyla] Tharp seems to believe we all have one, true creative calling (our “creative DNA”) and cautions against being distracted from it by other creative interests. If there is such a thing as creative DNA, mine is to be the opposite of a specialist. Tharp has a creative autobiography exercise, and the answers to mine are all over the creative map. Hers (because she shares it with readers) is not. I assume my creative DNA is why, although I have a kind of time for creative work now that I haven’t had since early adolescence, I’ve felt a bit creatively paralyzed. There are so many things I want to do–write (poems, essays, blog posts, hybrid forms)! sew! embroider! knit! collage! blog! cook!–that I have been doing (almost) none of them. I’ve been feeling time scarcity, even though I have a kind of time I could only dream of even six months ago.

Rita Ott Ramstad, chit-chat: on creativity

The grappling with craft to turn it into art?

Your self-worth? Your self-expression? Your sense of identity?

Likes and shares on social media? 

Your Mum? Your muse? Your mentor? Funding? Prizes? Publication? 

Is your poetry simply for yourself? If so, why do you bother to seek publication? For a sense of validation?

Your readers? But who are they? Where are they? Why might they want to read your poems? How might you reach them? Do you care about them? 

Matthew Stewart, What drives you to write and then attempt to publish your poetry?

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

I do think writers have a role in trying to keep the bullshit out of language; or, in trying to purge the language of the bullshit, once the bullshit has gotten in.

Beyond that … writers are listeners, or should be; instruments through which the motion of meaning in the universe can register itself in the particular medium which is language. It has to all keep moving, though; if meaning stays written down, it gets dead. We have to read it, re-speak it, if it’s going to keep on living in the world.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Luke Hathaway

We don’t read submissions blind and that’s not going to change. I’m unconvinced that’s a particularly helpful strategy for ensuring balance” – Kathryn Gray (Bad Lilies). Anonymity is often suggested as a means to ensure fairness, but I can see that it hinders balance. I think that overall I’m in favour of some positive discrimination. If (say) only 10% of a poem in a magazine are by women, women might be unlikely to send to that magazine and the ratio won’t improve. The self-perpetuating loop has to be broken somehow. All the same, I’d like to think that blind submissions are something to strive towards.

we will publish poems that shock and unsettle. These poems will speak of trauma and injustice, because that is the world we live in. We will prioritize work that deals with issues of migration, economic injustice and freedom of speech” – André Naffis-Sahely (Poetry London editorial, Summer 2021). I don’t know about the shock/unsettle aspect, but the magazine content matched the manifesto as far as I could tell. The prioritisation extended to the reviews, it seemed to me. I made a note of what received any adverse criticism. Issues are good, and are discussed at the expense of the poetry. Issue-less poetry by males was the most vulnerable.

Tim Love, Periodical priorities

Elizabeth Lewis Williams’ father was a assistant scientific officer on the 1958 expedition to the Antarctic, finishing in 1965 at Scott Base. He passed away in 1996, leaving an unpublished book “Years on Ice”. “Erebus” grew from the poet’s desire to collate her half-remembered childhood stories drawing from memory, the unpublished book and letters left behind. “Portal Point” starts,

“Let me recall the four walls of a refuge hut
from the museum at Stanley, and set them here
on concrete blocks, fix them against the wind
with rope-metal tie-downs
and from the slatted, halve-jointed walls, cut and planed
in the sawmills of Norwich, I will conjure
the tang of pinewood, the smell of sawdust,
and the sound of hammer and nails.”

Part-memory, part-fact and a dosing of imagination to create what her father’s life might have been like on Antarctica. The poem ends,

“I summon all your measuring machines,
and, as the earth spins and signals
bounce, reflect, return, combine,
I say the coming world is seen from here.”

That creative streak can be drawn back to her father. He didn’t just measure and record, but built pictures from what the data told him. He understood the landscape and its risks.

Emma Lee, “Erebus” Elizabeth Lewis Williams (Story Machine) – book review

I sit in the chair in my doctor’s office and work backward. This is how I feel: this is why. Before that: this. Sometimes I throw her off in time by conflating decades in a trail of thought: experiences lying on parallel, not linear, paths. Because that’s the truth, isn’t it? Not paths, really, just a pile of dried leaves.

Other times she’s not thrown. She’s not listening to the words. I know she tunes the sense of them out. She’s listening to tempo, to registers, to repetitions.

I might as well be dancing.

When the theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold moved away from realism, he put trampolines and slides on stage. He suspended narrow beams for actors to balance on.

Ren Powell, Now That That’s Off My Chest

Swamp Witch Advice says this on Twitter: “You have no calling — no singular purpose. Do as many things as you can that make you and your loved ones happy as often as you can.” Right? Let’s just do those things we enjoy. This is a phrase I often repeat in my head from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse: “Let us enjoy what we do enjoy.” This is in the context of the previous sentence, “Who could tell what was going to last — in literature or indeed in anything else?”

Who knows what you’ll be remembered for. Whatever it is, it’s probably other than you think. We have no crystal balls. So enjoy what you enjoy.

Shawna Lemay, 20 Things That Might Be Helpful

Why does this light
still shine

when the rest
have let go?

The leaves aren’t hope.
The trees don’t mind.

Sometimes it lifts,
the sense of endless loss

and sometimes it settles in
like early winter.

Rachel Barenblat, Untitled poem

torrential rain
i stop swimming and look up
opening my arms

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 42

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’s compilation is a bit of a rush job after a busy weekend. I hope it coheres.


morning walk —
the gentle touch
of fog

Bill Waters, Morning walk

– Walking through a cloud—droplets beaded my black wool

– Today, I painted a tropical bird

– I cried in the parking lot, my friend as witness

– A family of deer stepped along a creek bed

– Thunder shook the rain loose and then it cleared

Christine Swint, Accountability With Writing and Art

Nothing happened, said the
shape-shifting moon. Nothing walked
away from nothing. Nothing became of
nothing. Erasure is the way the world copes
with history. The ease of negation. The
amputation of time. Never. Nothing. No one.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 18

But I found the revelation in the documentary, new to me at least, that Eliot was sent off to Margate with Vivienne to recuperate from a breakdown, lent real weight to the line in The Fire Sermon section, ‘On Margate sands/ I can connect/ Nothing with nothing’. OK, I had picked up the desolation, obviously, but now I can see Eliot’s own desolation as he wrote the lines. And that is no longer making too much of an assumption. It makes the lines clearer. He is with his wife but can connect nothing with nothing.

For once, the documentary also used talking heads that had something to say. Daljit Nagra explained eloquently the impact of the words ‘Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata./ Shantih, Shantih, Shantih’ that close the poem and, in effect, turn it into some kind of a prayer or resolution with which we must confront what is to come. Nagra could remember his grandfather saying Shantih, Shantih, Shantih, in the house in the morning. This lent the poem an increased validity. The words are not just something Eliot read somewhere and used.

The documentary, which as you’ve gathered, I recommend, also contained enough gossipy anecdotes to give light to the shade. I particularly enjoyed knowing that Virginia Woolf found the slow pace at which Eliot spoke too much to bear, so much so that she couldn’t wait for him to finish a sentence – literally. She would sometimes leave the room before he’d got there.

Bob Mee, HOW MUCH DOES BIOGRAPHICAL DETAIL MATTER IN ‘THE WASTE LAND’?

it is enough
to lose count of the pebbles
in the cry of the tide’s mourning
to wait for an eye of rust to blink
or for the ocean to say sorry
and to mean it

Jim Young, sometimes

Heather Trickey was a social research scientist, charity worker, Quaker and poet. In 2020, during the first Covid lockdown, she received a diagnosis of cancer. She died in July 2021, aged 50. In 2020 she published a remarkable book of poems, Sorry About the Mess, with Happenstance Press. I urge you to read it.

Her poems bring to mind the everyday language, directness of tone, and craft shaped by wit rather than irony of great poets like Ann Gray, Myra Schneider, Rose Cook, Ann Sansom, Naomi Jaffa, and Julia Darling.

Next week I will have the privilege of taking her amazing poem ‘Metamorphosis’, told from the perspective of a patient receiving a life-changing diagnosis, into a classroom of medical professionals. I can hardly wait to see what they make of it.

Anthony Wilson, Lifesaving Lines: Pobble, by Helen Trickey

My new chapbook, Interrogation Days, is now available for pre-order! This book focuses on the psychic toll of two decades of the US “War on Terror,” and it forms a small trilogy with the press’s previous releases, Dysnomia and Civil Society. Over the next four weeks, I will be sharing a bit more about it, so stay tuned for that. For now, you can read a sample poem and place an order, and the book will be shipped on Nov. 14th.

Also, I will be donating 50% of all sales to The Guantánamo Survivors Reparations fund. This is a joint project between two organizations — Healing and Recovery after Trauma (HeaRT) and the Tea Project — devoted to supporting the victims of the US’s illegal prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. For donation, our specific goal is to sell 40 copies of the book, which will raise $200 for the fund. I hope you will join me in supporting this work.

R. M. Haines, New Release from Dead Mall Press

Rumors, Secrets, & Lies is a collection of narrative poems, prose poems, flash fiction — stories about abortions, unplanned pregnancies and joyous births. 116 writers, including Naomi Shihab Nye, Ellen Bass, and Alicia Ostriker, write from experience. Women, and men, recall how they navigated this always-charged and emotional landscape before and during Roe v. Wade.

This heart-felt collection was inspired by the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. A team of women sent the book to the printer on Aug. 31, just two months later.

Submissions arrived from all over the U.S., but also from as far away as South Korea and Israel.

Cathy Wittmeyer, RUMORS SECRETS & LIES

Struggling to rise again from a fall. Winded. Sick of an old grief,
scolded by regrets of such long standing that they qualify for pensions (go ahead,
retire, please!) and the long low bank of dirty cloud carries particulates 
from sweet mossy forests that were never meant to burn, but are burning now.

What I have to ask myself is, do I feel lucky? And I do not. Lucky all my life
but not today. Dust off the knees of my old-man jeans; straighten the last few inches
that used to come for free. The masks for the pestilence work very well
for fire smoke. Isn’t that convenient!

Dale Favier, Fall 2022

I like having a hobby that has so little to do with any other part of my life, and also I need it. Playing with my “toy” camera, an Instax Square, is that hobby. It brings me joy to just play, and to not worry about product. I have zero creative investment in the outcome, I just enjoy the process. Taking photos along my walks (with both the iPhone and the Instax) has been a release and a yet another necessary reminder about how I should be focusing on process/the journey/etc. (I still like sharing some of the “products,” though.)

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Some Discoveries This Week

A collection of poems that span a week in the life of the poet and family (not in lockdown; this is not a pandemic collection), friction, delight, a near miss in a car. The idea is that the specific focus can be extrapolated like a trail of cupcake crumbs to build connections and a more complete picture of human interactions and concerns. […]

“One Week, One Span of Human Life” is a week’s journey looking at the wider implications of a series of seemingly-small, regular events. Paul Ings’ writing is sparse, sketching details for the readers to fill in and connect with their own lives.

Emma Lee, “One Week, One Span of Human Life” Paul Ings (Alien Buddha Press) – book review

Last week I spent an enjoyable afternoon walking around the British Art Show 2022 in Plymouth. I know the majority of readers of this blog live in America but as Liz Truss has managed to tank our economy and bring Sterling to an all time low, you may be able to afford to visit. Let’s face it we Brits will all be on our uppers if this insane tory death cult is not replaced…

The Home Secretary has resigned citing her opponents as the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati– hey! She means me! I read said newspaper, I eat tofu and I thoroughly detest this [unelected] government. 

Let’s return to saner topics. At the exhibition one installation that caught my attention was by Oliver Beer and explored the relationship between sound and space. The installation was divided into three parts and represented his grandmother, his mother and his sister. He has taken objects that were significant to them and miked them up to reproduce the notes they produce. The effect is rather similar to an orchestra tuning up. My attention was caught by a golden hare. 

Paul Tobin, THE GOLDEN HARE SINGS

What I remember: the blue sibilance of a sad farewell.

Shadows uttering rosaries in forsaken alleyways.

Pale silences slipping from the bodies of mannequins, painting our lips with all the words we’ve been afraid to share with one another.

Rich Ferguson, The Re-Rememberer

Travis Helms gave a poetry reading at 12:45, but it was unusual. We sat in the front behind the altar in a group of chairs in a u shape. The poet read one poem, discussed it, and read another. Consequently, we only heard about 5 poems–but the discussion was superb. We talked about Jericho Brown’s approach with lines from past poems. It was really cool to hear about another poet’s experiment with this approach. Helms takes stanzas from old rough drafts, and he also keeps track of observations on the Notes feature on his phone which gives him a starting point each writing day.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Work Comes Due (in a Good Way)

The full-length debut by Chicago poet Benjamin Niespodziany, following chapbooks through above/ground press and Dark Hour Books, is no farther than the end of the street (Los Angeles CA: Okay Donkey Press, 2022), a collection predominantly constructed out of short, single-stanza prose poems that float the realm between lyric, short story and lullaby. “I wrote you a poem,” he writes, to open the poem “Publicity Stunt,” “called ‘Planet Earth.’ / It’s a ghost / poem or maybe a poem // I ghost wrote. It’s an / X-ray I pass around / the neighborhood.” Holding echoes of myth and fable, Niespodziany’s poems offer a selection of prose openings into whole worlds that might even exist between the curved narratives of Lydia Davis and the surrealisms of Stuart Ross. “You can’t / take my call.” he writes, to open the poem “The Silence That Finds Us,” “You’re busy // making volcanoes / out of swamp products // and ketchup packets.” […]

There is such a delight to these pieces, and there are moments throughout this collection that I almost see echoes of the short stories of Richard Brautigan, offering insights into daily interactions and simply being and living in and moving through the world, tinged with a wistful surrealism simultaneously playful and dark, moving in, out and through focus, from sentence to sentence. there is such a delight, even across such dark foundations of loss, death and distance, as connections are established, demolished or never quite connect. Across eighty-four poems, Niespodziany writes of first dates, first loves, weddings, streetscapes and neighbours, suggesting a lyric set entirely within the focus of a small geography, even one centred on the domestic, with not one poem set beyond a boundary set just down Niespodziany’s imaginary or actual street. One imagines a cul-de-sac, just down from an urban setting of shops and what-have-you; a small tucked-aside corner of residencial space, not far from everything else in the world. One imagines a set of boundaries established to attempt to keep the narrator and his household safe, from whatever dangers might exist beyond.

rob mclennan, Benjamin Niespodziany, no farther than the end of the street

Why do you
grip your pen
so tightly
when you write?

Write lightly,
the old monk
told the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (337)

I wrote about six new poems in the weeks after I received my funding, using the money to keep me afloat, so that I didn’t need to worry about finding paid work over the summer. I also used some of the bursary to fund writer-in-school training with the National Literacy Trust, which was very helpful. I wrote about that here.

There was no pressure to report back to the bursary funders, although I did send regular updates, and no strict dates to adhere to, or rules about the number of poems I wrote or what I had to do with them. If anyone was measuring my productivity, I think they would have been underwhelmed by my creative output! Nevertheless, the bursary has most definitely enhanced my practice even though it’s taken a while for me to get there. I don’t think I would have written these particular poems at all if I hadn’t been given this small pot of money, since I hadn’t written about place before, or closely observed landscapes or researched the heritage of any area. However, once I began researching and planning for these poems, I became more and more interested in writing about all of these things, particularly in the context of climate change. The money gifted me time and nudged me in a particular direction without imposing restrictive rules.

Josephine Corcoran, The impact of receiving funding on my creative practice: update about a 2018 Local Artist’s Bursary

Today, my proof copy of AUTOMAGIC arrived in the mail, which means I hope to spend the next couple days searching for ever-elusive typos and tweaking margins and getting it ready before I place an order for the first batch.  Every time, I am amazed at how beautiful and nice the quality is for the POD books, which have come a long way from the humble beginnings in the early aughts.  I am probably right when I say that a good number of trad publishers I’ve worked with also use POD instead of printings, thus the quality has improved overall in terms of cover gloss and interior papers.  I opted for cream this time as with ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MONSTER though I went with the size I used for FEED, so it’s an inch or so larger and tops out at 100 pages. I need to nudge over my title riding a little far to the right, but otherwise the cover is glorious both front and back. I had initially planned for a hardcover edition, but it does seem unnecessarily expensive per copy (which would raise the sales price higher), so I nixed those plans in favor of paperback. 

I am learning how much I revel each time in the process of bringing a book into the world with each step.  I usually compile the manuscripts a couple years in advance, so AUTOMAGIC has been waiting, mostly finished since the end of 2020, though I added in a new section, the bird artist, that I wrote last year in this longer version, as well as what remained of the unfinished unusual creatures series completed in  2021. The other stuff is older, beginning with work from as early as 2018.  This was prior to writing most of what went into FEED and AVM, but after finishing up SEX & VIOLENCE in late 2017. Unlike a couple of the others I did give BLP first dibs on, I knew I would probably issue this one on my own–it being an idiosyncratic little victorian dream of a book, largely since I had more timely and pressing projects with newer books like COLLAPSOLOGIES.

The past few months I have been picking at bits and pieces and revising some things, but mostly it was intact and only needed the final layout and adjustments and of course, the cover and promo graphics and trailers. The business of launching a book into the world of course being arduous even with a publisher behind you, let alone fending it alone. I’ve been more and less successful with past books depending on how much effort I put into them, with comparable sales to my trad published books so I know better now what works and what does not. Where to sink efforts and what is wasted time. 

Kristy Bowen, automagic coming soon….

Autumn is here and that should mean that I have more time to write. More time to breathe. Summer in Alaska is a time of long days packed with work and garden. For me, autumn heading into winter is a time to turn back to my desk. This year, that means Black Earth Institute and my project on Bridget Cleary.

Earlier this month, I was in Black Earth, Wisconsin meeting with the rest of the Black Earth Institute cohort. It was four days of good talk, amazing presentations, and forming bonds that will help us collaborate on various projects. It was incredible to spend time with such vibrant, intelligent, and diverse people. I am really excited about how the next three years will unfold.

Meanwhile, I am reading and writing about Bridget Cleary. I’m planning a trip to Clonmel in Ireland for February 2023. And of course, I’m working my butt off with Storyknife and the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The fire of autumn

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Audre Lorde and her book Sister Outsider changed the way I saw myself and the way I saw poetry. I learned how poetry belonged to Black women because it was something that we could do anywhere. It is an art of economy. It is an art that gives us power. You can write poetry on a napkin and stick it in your pocket. It can carry the weight of the world, and it can fit on the tiniest slip of paper. How amazing is that?

Thomas Whyte, Katerina Canyon : part eight

I can’t help but feel that there is a meta-perspective just beyond my scope, from which my whole life makes sense. And something tells me that I am not supposed to have thoughts like these. They might line a slippery slope to conspiracy theories and religious epiphanies.

Or they might form a poem.

Dorothea Lynde Dix wrote during what was likely a period of manic depression (mixed state): “I cannot write – I ought not.” I have always felt like I understood what she meant. These thoughts, diagramed and articulated, conjure the black dogs that will rip your life apart.

I am a scattering of facts- banal facts. Random.

Who has the power to choose, to bother, to make sense of it – to validate your life’s story? You risk annihilation by writing it. You risk petrification – from a single perspective, even your own. This, too, is still death.

We spent our time becoming fiction based on fact. I am not sure that I really want conscious control of that.

Ren Powell, Today When I Rattle the Bones

What I find most sobering is the plight of artists and craftspeople who still desperately need those large studio spaces, yet are being pushed out of one once-affordable but now-gentrified neighborhood after another. During the moving process, we’ve shared the freight elevator, loading dock and dumpster with many other tenants of this large former factory building, who can no longer afford the rent charged by the new landlords who are upgrading and changing the building into a place for small businesses, high-tech firms, and offices — all of which can afford considerably higher rents. It is a business decision for the owners, and they have a right to do that; the building is much more attractive than when we moved in more than fifteen years ago. But as I’ve talked to others who are leaving, their anxiety and stress are palpable, and there are few good options for them in this city. And while a society without art is unbearable, and the governments everywhere tout their artists as intrinsic to the society’s identity, very few actually give the necessary support. Relentless capitalism always wins.

Beth Adams, Artists, Moving On

The fourth tells of the long, circuitous route to get
away from stethoscope or scalpel, and instead
to brushes and color swatches. Everyone in this town
seems to have a maritime connection, a giant
wooden spoon and fork, a saint in velvet and gold
filigree taking up space on the walls. The youngest
of them wants to write stories and poems about
the in-between, where the light can glance off
surfaces in so many ways and in so many beautiful
directions, none of them merely resembling
brown, none of them merely falling like leaves
to be raked over, season after season.

Luisa A. Igloria, Five compatriots

It’s truly turning—I don’t know if it feels like fall, it feels like we went straight from a hot, smoky summer to winter-time temperatures and rain, which is a shame. Winter means more writing, of course. But less time in the garden with flowers and birds.

So, we’re saying goodbye, finally, to smoke and fire, to over 80° temperatures, and welcoming in the rain and the cold, and occasionally putting on pumpkin sweaters. I’m so excited about some AWP news that I can’t quite share yet, and there’s more news about Flare, Corona coming soon.

And I’m doing a podcast – the “Rattlecast” on Sunday, October 30th, 8pm Eastern Time: Jeannine Hall Gailey I’ll be talking, appropriately enough, about spooky poetry, and reading a few spooky poems from Field Guide to the End of the World and the new book, Flare, Corona. So tune in if you want a sneak listen to my new book’s poems.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Some Good News from AWP, A Quote in Poets & Writers, Blurbs for Flare, Corona, and Visiting with Writer Friends as Smoke Season Turns to Rain Season

It’s been six years since Otoniya J. Okot Bitek published her debut poetry collection 100 Days, which powerfully explored the 100 days of the Rwandan genocide. I was lucky enough to interview Otoniya shortly after the book came out – you can read that interview here. The book went on to be shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay, Pat Lowther and Robert Kroetsch awards, among others. 

I’ve been waiting patiently for Otoniya’s next book – and I need wait no more! Her new book, A Is For Acholi, will officially be published next week. As the titled suggests, this book focuses attention on her people, the Acholi of Northern Uganda. 

A bit of a side note: Song of Lawino, the most famous work by Otoniya’s father, Okot p’Bitek, was originally written in Acholi. p’Bitek opened the English translation of the book with a note that read: “Translated from the Acoli by the author who has thus clipped a bit of the eagle’s wings and rendered the sharp edges of the warrior’s sword rusty and blunt, and has also murdered rhythm and rhyme.” […]

The book ranges more widely than the tight thematic and stylistic focus of 100 Days. Its subject matter includes “exploring diaspora, the marginalization of the Acholi people, the dusty streets of Nairobi and the cold grey of Vancouver.” Formally, the book is wide-ranging as well: lineated poems brush up against prose poems, concrete poems, erasures and – in keeping with Otoniya’s 2019 chapbook Gauntlet – voluminous footnotes. 

Rob Taylor, “A is for Acholi” by Ontoniya J. Okot Bitek

Family Riches are not long back from a trip to Seville. I’m thinking of it as a midweek long weekend as we went from Tuesday to Friday. A lovely time was had by all that attended, we walked, we ate, we walked and ate some more. We visited the Giralda, Real Alcazar De Sevilla, and Plaza de España. I had also hoped to visit Convento de San Leandro to sample some of the nun’s biscuits, but couldn’t due to forgetting that most things shut down between 2 and 5 in Spain. I suspect the nuns were having a well-earned kip.

I’d read about the place on the Atlas Obscura website I linked to above, but I was also aware of the practice through a poem by Matthew Stewart called Bishop’s Hearts. My plan was to get a photo of me receiving said biscuits and then link to Matthew’s excellent poem…

However, this experience has taught me two things.

1. Remember the local knowledge given to you by people. In this case, the aforementioned Matthew Stewart
2. Always remember to capture PDFs/images of your poems when they are published online, lest the site close down.

Bishop’s Hearts was published by the excellent Algebra of Owls site, but that now looks to be out of business/has closed down. I was lucky enough to have a poem published there too, but I don’t have a copy of it. Well, I do, obvs, but not the page and the link is now dead. I’m not sure what happened to the team behind AoO, but I hope they’re ok.

Mat Riches, Having nun of it

How do you know if what you’re revising out of a piece isn’t the very thing that made the piece interesting to someone else? What is the difference between thinking about “the reader” and pandering to “the reader”? How do you know if you’re thinking too much about “the reader” or not enough? What if you never think about “the reader”? Do you risk writing poems that are just you mumbling to yourself? What if there is no “reader”? Ever? Is the thing you made still a poem?

Marilyn McCabe, I’ve lived my life like a howling wind; or, On Some Questions

unhurried, the window becomes a mirror

Jason Crane, haiku: 20 October 2022

Reading helped during the stress, a way to step aside, as did doing crossword puzzles in old New Yorkers, passed along to me by my mom, for me to read and recycle. “Watch out,” she said, “you can get hooked.” I did. Going to and from the hospital in Peoria, we had lunch twice, and pie once, at Busy Corner, a popular eating place at, yes, a busy corner. And saw the colors of the changing leaves by the side of the road. A joy to my mom. Less so to my colorblind dad, but his joy was getting out of the hospital!

Reading books with colorful covers, too. Balladz by Sharon Olds and Where Are the Snows by Kathleen Rooney, the latter in my stack of books to review for Escape Into Life. I need to 1) read slowly and repeatedly for a review 2) have a clear mind, ability to focus…so I am behind in this task. But I got the laundry done! Plus, these two books look great on my coffee table.

My own poetry waits patiently for me to get back to it. I have a composition book at hand for bits of inspiration. I flip back through the pages and see lots of actual poems there, awaiting revision and assembly. I have sent out a few things, received a few rejections, and one wonderful acceptance. A nice surprise. 

Kathleen Kirk, 10,000 Steps

There is a ghost in this book, the title, The Most Charming Creatures, because it came from the title of a poem which, in the end, I took out of the book. It was something that I wrote for an eponymous video work by Catherine Heard. The video was published in the Heavy Feather Review, Catherine’s work is so beautiful – both so human and so non-human, both vast and tiny.

The phrase comes from Ernst Haeckel’s Monograph on Radiolarians, published in 1862. He described radiolarians, ancient single-celled organisms with mineral skeletons, as “the most charming creatures.” But look: we’re all the most charming creatures. Who? Us. Letters. Words. We neurons.

Gary Barwin on Form, Social Media, and the “Epistemological Hijinks of Poems”

What I know now, having escaped the toxic relationship and untenable career is that I didn’t need to work harder, change my attitude, have more self-discipline, or stay where I was and count my blessings. What I needed was to get out.

I finally fully have, and I wish more than anything I could share some way for everyone else to get away from whatever is making them not-OK, but the truth I’m seeing now is that there isn’t always a way. I made the moves I was able to make (leaving that marriage, changing to a different job within my industry), and I searched constantly for better alternatives. But I couldn’t leave everything that was damaging AND take care of my people the way I wanted and needed to care for them. I am not looking back and thinking that I should have made different choices. (I don’t regret them, given my givens.) I am looking back and wishing only that our culture had been more honest about the scarcity of good choices for many of us to make.

Think of what I might have done to actually improve my life if I hadn’t wasted energy on blaming myself, on attempting to fix what wasn’t mine to fix, or on “solutions” that were never going to address the source of the problem.

I wish I could change the world so that everyone could have what I now do. I wish there was some formula I could share for how to get it in the world as it is. For myself, it has required some compromise, some luck, some risk, and a lot of years of living in poor health and doing what I had to do to get here. (The promise of that pension kept me in the world of K-12 education, and without it the life I have now would not be possible.) I can’t tell you how to do it, and I want to acknowledge that not everyone can do it, no matter how hard they work, but I’m writing this because if nothing else, I can give an assurance that I wish others had given me. If you’ve worked to heal from and deal with your childhood traumas and have a clear sense of your strengths and challenges and are working hard within the systems you have to live within and are still struggling to be OK, I want you to hear (especially if you’re of my generation and grew up drinking a lot of Kool-Aid) that it’s not just you, no matter the privileges you have. Keep doing what you can for yourself, for sure, but be as clear-eyed as you can about what’s yours to own/do and what is not.

Think of what a different world we might live in if our goal was that everyone in it could be OK.

Rita Ott Ramstad, The pursuit of okayness

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 40

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, a journey from oneness to war zones, Parkinson’s, purity laws, reasons to live, living in the moment, being around other poets, UK National Poetry Day, The Frogmore Papers, Elizabeth Bishop, adventures with keyboards, temporary skin, counter-propaganda, a salty love letter, German Unity Day, patterns of breakage, haunted houses, a poet dispossessed by the Manhattan Project, wastelands, nighthawks, mentors, eggs and awakenings.


After the festival, the laundry.
After the festival, exhaustion
and punch-drunk laughter.

Collapsing into the armchair
and absently petting the cat.
After the festival, silence rings.

There’s so much to do — building
and repair, a new name for God,
making all our promises real.

But not today. Today, gratitude
for the washing machine, swirling
my Yom Kippur whites clean.

Rachel Barenblat, After the festival

there is a thing about the universe i love   and that is   that i am an integral part of it   i have come in contact with many great holy thinkers   they all have one thing in common   and that is the oneness of everything   even the electric impulses of our thoughts are part of it    and so there is no one who cannot be my friend   no application to fill out    boxes to check    or gifts to leave at my feet    some of the best gifts i have received    were from artists philosophers religious teachers of all faiths and musicians playing just the right notes in just the right moment    on September 24, 2022 the great sax player and composer Pharoah Sanders left his body   and still   he is with me right now…   when i die i will go nowhere and remain with him    and with you    enjoy this poem

clouds
shape into faces
do you see mine…

Michael Rehling, Haibun 214: journey into one

Under the falling leaves
I touch your footprints,
when hearing the news,
I hear your sighs
and when others speak,
I know what you’re saying.

Magda Kapa, Say

I suppose, this morning, as I see a photo of children lighting candles in a shelter in Dnipro and another of people lying dead in a road somewhere in the middle of this latest war zone, what follows is, in its tiny way, a personal manifesto.

For me at least, writing is not an escape route, it’s a method of confronting the chaos.

I’m not about to tell anyone else what to do or criticise them for seeing things differently. This is about my own sense of responsibility and nothing more.

I have always seen writing as primarily a political act. Yes, of course, there must be light amongst the shade, of course there must be a time to do something just plain daft or laugh with the general absurdities of how we cope with living alongside each other, but even this is in the context of a response to the general madness of the world. If I seek peace in some poems, it is a quest, an act of running towards not an act of running away.

Bob Mee, THE PRIMARY JOB OF A POET IS TO CONFRONT THE CHAOS

When a friend tells me
about her father, his Parkinson’s,
his dementia, his shuffling feet,
we are no longer

two separate women
two separate men
but a small congregation
of daughters and fathers.

Daughters whose hearts ache
for the dads who were rocks
and heroes. Fathers who worry
over losses they cannot name.

What can we do but listen
to each other and say, thank you.
Remember when our little hands
felt safe inside our dads’? The warmth.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Daughters, Fathers

6 – 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?

Prevailing concerns I have are: What do we hear in the silence? And how do the words live off the page?

Some of the questions I worked to answer in Qorbanot were: What does it mean to “offer”? How do I translate the ancient practice of sacrificial offering into my life in the 21st century? How can a poem be an offering, or a book an altar upon which I place what I have to give? What does it mean to write one’s own sacred texts? What is it about giving up something that makes it a meaningful act of worship? Why the obsession with purity laws in Judaism, and how has this affected the way we relate to animal bodies and our own bodies? How do we reconcile these ancient, fleshly, violent rituals with Judaism and, more broadly, Western religion today? Do humans have an inherent tendency toward violence? Can we find parallels to sacrifice in recent history, such as war, politics or environmental issues?

The main question currently occupying my writer’s mind is: How can we find more language around suicide to better express its nuances, complexities, and diverse motivations? I’ve also been contemplating the relationship between depression and anger. And I’ve been grappling with how to share my story in a way that serves as a resource for others and, at the same time, protects my own vulnerability.

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

I don’t think the writer has one role. There are so many different kinds of writers with different roles they can take on. A writer can serve as a lighthouse illuminating the moment in which we are living. The writer can be a dreamer, a prophet. The writer can be a court jester. The writer can offer medicine. And some writers have a role for themselves alone, to which the rest of the world is not privy.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Alisha Kaplan

I’m at a Claire Benn surface design workshop at the Crow Timber Barn in Ohio. This first week we are in ‘free fall,’ which means we are to have no intentions but simply follow the guidelines Claire gives us. The idea is to explore our tools and media and work in a kind of “call and response” way. We respond to whatever mark we make on the canvas. We are working with acrylic, a medium I have rarely used, so that we can work quickly and not worry about batching.

We were asked to pick three images or a piece of writing that resonated with us. We then spent time journaling words and phrases that the image or writing evoked in us. We were provided with a 10 foot by about 3 foot scroll of muslin that had been pre-primed with a 1-1 solution of liquid gel medium and water. We were asked to pick a six-color palette plus black and white.

I started with an image of a banana flower, an angel’s trumpet, and a poem, “Reasons to Live: the Color Red.”

Sheryl St. Germain, Acrylic, Acrylic and more Acrylic

         Of turmeric and ginger and the deep-tinted 

hearts of beet, the tight-curled fists of iris— I want 
         to know how they can trust so completely in that 

idea of return, even as animals turn fields into stubble 
         and bees begin their clustered pulsing to give their heat 

to the hive. Here, where we feed each other to keep alive, 
        I am wary and always watching for any sign you might slip  

away without me into that room soundproofed with loam, un-
         windowed: for how would I break its walls without breaking?  

Luisa A. Igloria, Perennate

When you’re helpless in a hospital bed, scanned, hooked up to monitors, not allowed to get up without assistance, you might be locked into a scary emotional place. I was. To escape my fear, I decided to move outward, and use my curiosity and writer brain. I began to observe people and activities instead of worrying about myself. What would a writer do? I interviewed people, asking each nurse and technician to tell me their story. How did they come to be in this field, to work in this hospital, and where did they come from? People are endlessly full of stories. Many of my nurses were from other parts of the world. Some were seasoned nurses, some brand-new. One night nurse was worried she wasn’t appreciated. She asked if I could nominate her for a nursing award. I did. We talked about books and reading, other hospitals and healthcare. […]

My writerly adventure included asking everyone who came to my room if they read fiction. That started a whole new conversation. Almost every one of them was a reader. My day nurse turned out to be a big reader! We compared notes about helping aging parents through illnesses. She gave me ideas for a sequel to The Invisibles when she told me how she and her siblings rotate taking in and caring for their mom.

Rachel Dacus, A Writerly Adventure in the Hospital

Another Monday after an uneventful weekend. The days slide by in a gray wash lately. I can’t seem to get enough sleep. When I walk Leonard, sometimes my head is full of words that disappear before I reach home. I suppose it makes no difference really. I thought the thoughts, which in some ways is no different than writing them. It is just a question of time really until anything will disappear. Or become so warped by translations of language and culture that it isn’t what it was anyway. It makes the entire idea of authorship immediate, and maybe irrelevant except for that tiny shove of influence that a bit of dust has on the air current in a closed room.

Again it comes back to living in the moment – the moment containing the past and future, morphing continuously. There is a phrase at the edge of my memory about… and I’ve lost it.

It’s odd how sometimes these things will circle back and enter my consciousness more defined. In a sunbeam.

Saturday the sky held a rainbow the entire time we drove into town. My sense of direction is so poor that I couldn’t be sure if it were moving, or if we were winding over the landscape. I should look at maps more often.

Ren Powell, Not Regret

The Skagit Poetry Festival was this weekend and it was really fun to sort of dip my toe back into social literary events again. I got to see a lot of old friends, picked up some books, stopped by some of my favorite places – Roozengaarde Flower Farm and Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, WA. And we had terrible air in Woodinville, so fleeing to La Conner for better air was a good bet. I’m looking forward to tonight’s reading and will have more pictures next week, I swear.

It was wonderful and therapeutic to be outside without worrying about asthma or burning eyes, especially with all the flowers. It was also wonderful and therapeutic to be around writers and book again, in a somewhat-almost normal setting. Some friends I hadn’t seen in over a year at least. And just being around poets gives you a feeling of…not being so alone in being a poet.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Skagit Poetry Festival and a Trip to La Conner, A Visit with my Brother and Bathing Hummingbirds, and Socializing Again While Trying to Dodge the Smoke

David and I have just returned from a wonderfully sunny day on the beach at Aldeburgh, where we joined other members of Suffolk Poetry Society (SPS) for the traditional National Poetry Day reading at the South Lookout, thanks to our Patron and host, Caroline Wiseman, and to members of the SPS committee who had organised the event.

We took the #NationalPoetryDay theme of the environment, which gave rise to a variety of largely serious poems on subjects as diverse as the ocean (and the devastation caused by plastic, oil slicks and pollution), a field where there had once been hedges with birds, and a beach with fossils. While acknowledging the gravitas of the Climate Crisis, we appreciated the occasional moments of wry humour which added to the sense of light and shade.

I read ‘Puffin’s Assembly’* from my poetry collection, Driftwood by Starlight, published last year by The Seventh Quarry Press (and available here for £6.99/$10).

The chip shop was still open at the end of the readings, and proved more than some of us could resist! 

Caroline Gill, National Poetry Day 2022 on Aldeburgh Beach

Last week I was in Lewes for the launch of The Frogmore Papers‘ 100th issue, an amazing feat, and under the editorship of Jeremy Page the whole time. We heard readings from some of the contributors and from co-founder Andre Evans on how it all began in a cafe in Folkestone. It’s a lovely story, and having heard it a few times it’s now taken on almost mythic status, up there with Aeneas crossing the Mediterranean to found the city of Rome, or Phil Knight making rubber outsoles on his mum’s waffle machine for the first Nike trainers. Anyway, having read the edition from cover to cover I can confirm it’s a fine book – and let’s face it, some of our ‘little magazines’ coming in at 90 pages or more deserve to be called books.  On that subject, I can also recommend Prole 33 which recently arrived, weighing in at 140 pages (although about half of it is short stories.)

The Lewes event was also the launch of Clare Best‘s new collection, End of Season (Fine di Stagione), published by the Frogmore Press, in which the poems are presented in both English and Italian. It was lovely to hear both Clare and Jeremy reading the poems in both languages – very evocative. I’m enjoying the book especially as it is about a beautiful place on Lake Maggiore called Cannero where Nick and I stayed for a week back in 2019 (on Clare’s recommendation).

Robin Houghton, National Poetry Day (week of)

The Frogmore Papers is one of my favourite poetry magazines. In fact, it’s accompanied me pretty much throughout my poetic life. Looking back through my records before writing this blog post, I noticed I first had a poem in its pages in Issue 57 back in 2001. That was followed by another in Issue 68 (2006), a third in Issue 76 (2010) and two more in Issue 81 (2013).

Jeremy Page, as well as being the journal’s founder and long-time editor, is also an excellent poet, so it’s a privilege whenever he chooses my work for publication. As a consequence, I’m especially pleased to have a further two poems in the brand-new commemorative 100th issue alongside the likes of Simon Armitage.

Matthew Stewart, The Frogmore Papers’ 100th Issue

Having savoured Colm Tóibín’s book On Elizabeth Bishop, I then re-read words on Bishop by another great Irish writer, Eavan Boland: the chapter ‘Elizabeth Bishop: an unromantic American’ in her wonderful book A Journey with Two Maps (Carcanet, 2011), available here.

The focus of that book is on Boland’s own poetic journey and how women poets helped her shape her ideas about how she could relate in poems her own experience as a woman, wife, and mother; therefore, her thoughts on Bishop are somewhat subsumed to that purpose. Nonetheless, Boland’s discussion of Bishop’s ‘tone’, as distinct from her ‘voice’, is illuminating. As is her dissection of ‘At the Fishhouses’, from Cold Spring (1955), available to read here: rightly, she notes that, in amongst Bishop’s usual litany of precise visual perceptions, there lurks a “superb meditation on water as an emblem of tragic knowledge”, interrupted by the lighthearted, cameo appearance of a seal: ‘He was curious about me. He was interested in music; / like me a believer in total immersion, / so I used to sing him Baptist hymns’.

While Tóibín highlights Bishop’s paradoxical observation, ‘as if the water were a transmutation of fire’, Boland’s commentary stops short of addressing the last 19 lines of the poem, in which Bishop’s description of the sea reaches a tidal crescendo, culminating in the poem’s brilliant, six-line final sentence:

It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

If a poet took lines like these to a workshop nowadays, the response would no doubt be that the poet should axe at least half the adjectives.

Matthew Paul, On (Eavan Boland and Colm Tóibín, again, on) Elizabeth Bishop

Yesterday I went to a harvest festival event on campus–it was primarily for those of us living here, and I did have a chance to meet and talk to some students I had only seen from a distance, plus there was lunch.  Over a never-ending bowl of kale harvest salad, I answered questions, like why I chose a Methodist seminary over a Lutheran one.

I answered that this seminary is one of few that has a track in Theology and the Arts, and one student asked what kind of art I do.  I said, “I’m a poet, and I do visual arts and fiber arts.”

She asked, “What kind of poems do you write?”

I tried to keep my answer simple, but I fumbled a bit at first.  “Well, I don’t write formal poems.  I’m not concerned about iambs.”  Then I shifted:  “I want to write a poem about an autumn leaf that will make you look at autumn leaves in a new way, that you’ll think about this new way of looking at a leaf any time in the future that you see one.”

And then I asked questions about them, the way I have been trained to do.  But I continued to think about my answer.  The mean voice in my brain broke in periodically to remind me of how long it’s been since I’ve written a poem and how dare I even think of myself as a poet.  

This morning, I resolved to finish a draft I started in the last week.  I have been continuing to work with abandoned lines, and last week, I wrote a few lines to go with one that I took from my master list.  And this morning, that draft is gone.  I had a computer issue earlier this week where the computer stopped saving my written work–at least, I think that’s what happened.  I had done a Save As for several documents, and those got saved as the earlier document.  This morning, I discovered the empty page instead of the rough draft of my poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Self-Definitions: the Poet Edition

The shift to a screen, a keyboard remains a critical transition. On screen, or on a phone, typed lines acquire an inertial resistance to being changed. On screen, I find my eye starts to narrow down to look at the poem’s physical shape and appearance on a would-be page. Such aspects are important in the long run, but they can prematurely cool the fluidity of the molten drafting process if they dominate too early. Beware the linearity of the screen!

But once it’s there, now I’m thinking ‘economy’. A linguistic cosmetic surgeon, I cut off verbal flab, repetition, redundancy. Crossing out is my most familiar activity. The American poet, Louise Gluck, says that a writer’s only real exercise of will “is negative: we have toward what we write the power of veto”. One of the keys to this is reading aloud. I go the whole hog: standing as if to deliver to an audience. Loud. And. Clear. This helps me listen to rhythm and line breaks. Actually, for any writer of poetry, prose, essays for your course, reading aloud highlights stumbling blocks of all kinds. My sense of the ebb and flow of a poem is always clarified because I distract myself in the physical act of standing and speaking. I experience my words more objectively, more as my potential reader would. Try it. It’s a revelation!

Martyn Crucefix, ‘How I Write’ – a second brief Royal Literary Fund talk

How much waste
do you want to

generate
to get a good one

the old monk asked
the poet.

Tom Montag, THREE OLD MONK POEMS (328)

I have wonderful news! My new poetry collection “Temporary Skin” (my first one in English!) was accepted for publication by Glass Lyre Press. I couldn’t be happier and more excited about working with the Glass Lyre team. I love the authors they publish, the high quality of their books, their amazing covers! I know my manuscript is in good hands. I wish my mom were here to see this miracle in progress. She would have given me tips on how to deal with this overwhelming joy swirling inside me, making my fingertips tingle. I’m going to have a book, y’all!

Romana Iorga, Her Dark Materials

Karlo Sevilla of Quezon City, Philippines is the author of the full-length poetry book Metro Manila Mammal (Soma Publishing, 2018) and the smaller collections You (Origami Poems Project, 2017) and Outsourced! . . . (Revolt Magazine, 2021). In 2018, his work was recognized among that year’s Best of Kitaab, won runner-up in the Submittable-Centric Poetry Contest, and placed third in Tanggol Wika’s DALITEXT poetry contest. In 2021, his poem made it to the shortlist of the annual Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition. His poems appear in Philippines Graphic, Philippines Free Press, DIAGRAM, Protean, Better Than Starbucks, and elsewhere. He is currently a student in the Associate in Arts program of the University of the Philippines Open University.

What are you working on?

I have just submitted almost 70 of my previously published poems (in several literary magazines and other platforms) for a website that will be put up exclusively for them. The website is a side project of a group of undergraduate university students who major in Multimedia Arts. It will serve as accompaniment to their final thesis: a short animated film inspired by my other poems. In short, both their final thesis and its side project are all about my poetry. These students are risking their college graduation by choosing my poetry as main source material for their thesis, haha! Seriously, I’m grateful to these young people for reaching out to me from out of the blue with their emailed proposal, and now they’re halfway done with their short film.

At first, I was ambivalent because I have long considered gathering my poems in a manuscript again for consideration for print publication as my second full-length poetry collection.  But I ultimately favored this student project and have a third of my previously published poems freely accessible in one website. I opted for the latter because I feel the urgency to make available online more texts that heighten awareness of human rights violations and social injustices in the Philippines that remain unresolved from the infamous Marcos dictatorship to the likewise murderous Duterte administration. Under our current president who happens to be the son and namesake of the late dictator, the administration has been lying and denying that such atrocities happened during his father’s reign. Worse, the son claims that the years under his father’s iron rule that was also marked by economic crisis was the Golden Age of our country. 

The poems I selected are invariably political propaganda pieces – on “different levels.” Collectively, they are a small voice/counter-propaganda, among others that give the lie to the government’s false narratives. (I’m also glad for this project because it gives me the chance to share my poems again, with needed revisions in some of them.)

Thomas Whyte, Karlo Sevilla : part one

Rakhshan Rizwan was originally from Pakistan and has lived in Germany and the Netherlands before moving to the USA. The poems explore what it’s like not to belong, to be politely received but not fully welcomed and the imprint Europe has had on the writer. […]

Rizwan deploys humour rather than ranting or complaining. She doesn’t name racism, but it’s clear that’s the source of the disconnections. “Europe Love Me Back” is a salty love letter, not entirely unrequited, but from a lover who didn’t feel seen. From a lover who felt they made all the right connections, sent the right signals, searched for commonalities, links, threads but attempted to hook-up with someone who only saw differences, reasons not to continue the affair.

Emma Lee, “Europe, Love Me Back” Rakhshan Rizwan (The Emma Press) – book review

Monday was German Unity Day, and it was also the day the Berlin Lit launched their first issue with poems for a range of poets, some who are new to me, and some I recognise like Alice Miller, and John Glenday. And me with my poem, The Long Game. My thanks to Matthew McDonald for accepting it. Having recently read and loved John Glenday’s Selected Poems, it feels quite surreal to be in the same place as him, but I’ll absolutely take it.

It’s always nice to be in on the ground floor of these things (as it was with TFP…NB just realised today that I have to choose between shortening The Friday Poem or The Frogmore Papers to TFP), especially with a poem that has had a very long gestation period.

I started it when the article that inspired it was published in 2013, so to be here 9 years later with a published poem feels like dedication has been needed (much like the game that inspired it). I should have tried to work in the line about “burning magnesium in a pumpkin”.

I shared the poem with the three mates that I dedicated it to and one replied, “That’s nice, mate. I don’t get it, but that’s poetry”. Or words to that effect, the language he chose was different. It certainly helps keep your feet on the ground.

Mat Riches, Impossible Germany

Things break in predictable ways. The shard, the
jagged edge and the dust cloud follow a rule, a
pattern, a story. The way day breaks over and
over again without complaint, the way a promise

is broken without a sigh, without ceremony,
the way silence breaks without a word, without
a sob. The way we broke without ever being
whole.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 16

As I was putting the final touches on AUTOMAGIC last night, it is so fraught with ghosts…the fortune tellers in the strange victorian futurist landscape of the ordinary planet poems. The haunted sisters in unusual creatures. The Eleanor series and the more violent, sinister underpinnings of the bird artist and the HH Holmes stuff. More than any other recent book, this is a predominantly fictional, narrative world without much involvement from me. And at that, like GIRL SHOW, one set entirely in the past.  I, as a speaker, as a character, am absent from this book. But then again, not absent at all. It seemed fitting last night to be rounding things out as the wind howled and heavy, cold drops of rain hit the windows. I am running the space heater daily until they turn on the radiators, which management has dutifully promised this weekend. In this weather, I am sleeping well–too well–a dead-to-the-world slumber that makes my arms ache from remaining too much in the same position wound amidst my pillows (I am a side and stomach sleeper–never my back) I also have the same chronological impairment every change in seasons brings, never quite understanding internally what time it is–the light being so different from summer.

Kristy Bowen, poetry as haunted house

before the house sale was agreed
buyers demanded the ghosts be removed
so contractors were appointed

the workers arrived to divest the property
loading reluctant spectres into sealed skips
driving them away to wherever unwanted memories languish

that ambushing taste on the tongue
a face half glimpsed in the crowd
the 4am telephone that rings and rings and rings

Paul Tobin, A FACE HALF GLIMPSED

My article on the early poetry of Peggy Pond Church is coming out soon.  She was a central figure in the Santa Fe and Taos arts scene from the 1920s on, appearing in Alice Corbin Henderson’s influential modernist anthology The Turquoise Trail (1928), and the experience of reading her poetry is, as they say, something else.  My essay concentrates on Church’s first two collections, Foretaste (1933) and Familiar Journey (1936).  Though I touch on her third collection, Ultimatum for Man (1946), toward the end of the essay, it comes in as kind of a coda to the wild stuff that is happening in her first two.

But there’s plenty more that could be said about Ultimatum, much of which veers into the sociopolitical and, given its subject matter, remains relevant today (I’m thinking here of the prospect of nuclear war that a power-mad despot is currently threatening Ukraine with, but there’s wider application of course, e.g. to issues of climate change and environmental degradation, beyond the fact of the stunning experience of reading Church’s poetry as an aesthetic undertaking).  Without duplicating what I’ve written in my forthcoming article, I will say that there I analyze poems in her first two collections through the lens of what Timothy Morton has termed “dark ecology” (with a nod to the scholar Sarah Daw, who has analyzed Church’s letters and diaries in this manner before me).  Far from whatever stereotypes we may have about “nature poetry,” I argue that Church’s poetry of the 1930s is much closer to what we would think of today as ecocritical and material-feminist.

During the Second World War, until early 1943, Church lived at the Los Alamos school (in New Mexico) where her husband was the principal; they were dispossessed of their home to make way for the Manhattan Project, which commandeered the site in order to build the atomic bomb.  Church reacted with scathing poems in Ultimatum for Man, such as the collection’s title poem, along with “The Nuclear Physicists,” “Epitaph for Man,” “Newsreel: Dead Enemy,” “For a Son in High School A.D. 1940,” “Lines Written after a Political Argument,” “Comment on a Troubled Era,” and “Jeremiad” (from the latter: “This fury called man, / this fungus / gnawing the polished and hemispheric surface / of our bright earth…”).  In the introduction to Church’s New and Selected Poems (1976), T. M. Pearce characterizes Ultimatum as a “turn for Mrs. Church, a turn not away from the landscape line, but an adjustment to a new point of view in which the poet sees individuals as units in a social group” (iii), while Shelley Armitage writes in the introduction to Bones Incandescent: The Pajarito Journals of Peggy Pond Church (2001), “Whereas the lyrical Foretaste and Familiar Journey address a woman’s attempt to balance relationships, her own creative and independent personality, and her desire to develop spiritual bonds with nature, Ultimatum for Man sharply links the personal and creative quests to the meaning of the atomic age, war, and human responsibility” (6).  The furor and anger with which Church imbues many of these poems is striking, and she does so in ways that are not merely jeremiadic, but as powerful poems that now more than ever should be revisited.

Michael S. Begnal, On Peggy Pond Church’s Ultimatum for Man (1946)

I take the Waste Land as a day-to-day thing.  When a dismal, cold slate gray rain falls from a slate gray sky, when it looks like wartime London, need we say more — T.S. Eliot’s 1922 poem, celebrating its centennial, rules.  A wasteland is a wasteland is a wasteland.  The prophetic voice of the poem sets the stage, as it is dramatic, for the habitation of our current dark times.

Then the tail of the hurricane clears the way for a gleam of sun to make shoot through treetops of an elm treetops — oh fickle reader, I put catastrophe further back on the horizon, leave the charred landscape for another day.

As things change, there is one thing I know — the poem of the Wasteland, a gorgeous collage of urban, literary and mythical remixings — has many voices, many ways to see the flux.  Etymologically, the word Catastrophe, in ancient Greek, fuses “down, against” and “I turn” to signify “I overturn.”  

The current conversation about environment, the Anthropocene & impending disaster is different ways to turn our vision.  For me, it is the project of expanding and broadening the ways of beauty.  Poetry with its poking and prodding stick probably says it better, making forays into territories that were once forbidding but where with imagination and stillness we now can go.  Into wastelands as rich wild places, places of possible regeneration.  Or fascination, empty spaces that make poets from divergent times contemporaneous.

Jill Pearlman, The Waste Land is a Wasteland is a wasteland

Within this darkness—the white space between all the barely uttered emotions.

Here, you’ll discover a plague of grace, the duende of blackbirds transforming midnight’s ash into song.

Nighthawks murmuring a million and one names for a moon that offers itself as a loving mirror.

So beautiful every soul that wanders these desperate evening streets.

Rich Ferguson, Night’s White Space

Three mentors–none of them “famous,” all of them crucial to my development as a poet: they took my work, and my person, seriously. They listened critically and spoke to me encouragingly and listened. I think that’s what makes a person mentor material.

In later years, there have certainly been others who have been guides, coaches, teachers, mentors, friends-in-poetry…some of them better-known than Ariel, David, or Chris. But these three, all of whom are no longer walking about on the earthly plane, gave me so much more than I ever thanked them for. Which is why I’m doing so now.

Ann E. Michael, Poetry mentor: Chris Peditto

it’s a poem
about eggs

what’s inside?
eggs

outside?
eggs

it’s a poem
about eggs

Gary Barwin, POEM ABOUT EGGS

Truly, there is nothing quite like the sharp, earthy scent of the tomato plants when I go out in the morning to pick some for our breakfast. […]

I’m not saying anything new here, even to myself. But I’m knowing something in a different way–the way we know things from living them rather than from reading about them.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Traffic Jam

when do the dead break into light

when did our poems cease writing the sea

how many abandoned awakenings
sleep inside a seed

Grant Hackett [no title]

speeding
up a one way street
a sparrow hawk

Jim Young [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 2022, Week 38

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week: changes in season, changes in state, mentors, music, what shrinks and what expands, squeaky wheels, experiments with boredom, self-criticism sessions, the necessity of avoiding great blue herons, and a “ruckus network of howls.” Enjoy.


Hardly watered gardens hymn dry yellow melodies of thirst.

Desert flowers tell the wind’s fortune as coyotes howl a gallows prayer.

In bedrooms all across the city, I hear lovers’ bodies rub up against one another, strumming the strings of bliss.

I hear the mattresses of miserable landlords groan from the excess weight of it all.

Rich Ferguson, All Across the City

One thing about being home much of the time is that I feel more in tune with the rhythm of the days than I ever was in the closed cave of the library. […] Since I don’t have an A/C, there were days in the summer when I could feel the heat encroaching at my back. Could feel and smell the rain blowing in when it stormed. Today, the shivery cold that finally made me shut them. […]

Summer felt longer but faster, if that’s possible. I felt more of it, even if I only went out in it occasionally. But there was at the same time more variation in its texture, much less time spent under fluorescent lights amid book stacks and more time for noticing things, even just from a third floor window. Listening, as well, to unruly car alarms, distant sirens, how sometimes I can hear the train two blocks away clearly, but sometimes not at all. Every Monday, the lawn mower down below me and the scent of just cut grass. The steady bang of renovations in surrounding apartments. The creep and click of my remaining neighbor’s doors.

Kristy Bowen, love letter to summer, who has to be going

Remember these: the heft
of a sleeping child, half-
unlatched, hair matted with sweat;
the sound of cowbells
drifting downhill; the book
you climbed into, as in a womb.

Romana Iorga, Things to Do with Silence

As I stood in a crowd of Canadians on Sunday, at the conclusion of the service, and the organ moved from the final hymn and blessing to the opening bars of “God Save the King”, sung to those words for the first time in 70 years, I could feel the emotion around me. Likewise, who could remain completely unmoved by the final minutes of the Windsor committal service, when the crown and other symbols of Elizabeth’s earthly and historical power were removed from the coffin before it sank beneath the floor?

Under the September sun, thirty friends and family members stood around my father’s grave in the old village cemetery where I played as a young child. At the conclusion of the brief committal service, we placed the paper box containing his ashes into the same grave where my mother’s remains had been buried sixteen years before. Then I took a shovel into my hands and put the first earth into the grave, passed the shovel to my husband, who did the same, and then, slowly, silently, nearly all of the people present took a turn, and we buried my father together and then strewed red roses on the grave. […]

For death, I think, is the great leveler: it comes to us all, we all go down to the dust, and no one can take their earthly goods or power with them. When those deaths occur which stop us in our tracks and cause a shudder or even an earthquake in our own lives, it is a time to look in the mirror. What can we learn from the life of this person who is with us no longer? What lasts, what remains? What do we want to do with the unknowable balance of time that remains to us, and with the friends who surround us in those moments, surely far more precious than gold?

Beth Adams, Unparallel Lives

the rest
as they say
is history

Jim Young [no title]

Adrian Owles. That was her anagrammed alias. She used that name for things like electric and phone company bills when her real name set off “overdue payment” notices, resulting in her inability to get services. She did, in her youth, have a conniver’s sense of how to skive and get away with it. To some degree. She learned the skills from her father, a brilliant alcoholic from a once-wealthy family. From her mother, she learned poetry and an idealistic, romantic outlook on life…but also that she should be independent and never rely on men to take care of her or keep their promises.

Well, maybe she learned that last part from her father. Her parents never divorced, but her father was an absentee dad. That’s the picture she supplied to me. I suspect it was true, but I know only a tiny part of her story. Ariel Dawson, my poetry mentor, was a year younger than I but so well-read, aware of the “poetry scene,” reading craft essays and books before I knew such things existed–and taking reasoned issue with some of the writers, too, in ways it never would have occurred to me to do. Question such recognized authority? I would not have dared.

What is a mentor? A kind of teacher or model of behavior? Ariel’s behavior was far from conventional, which did appeal to me. We hitchhiked from Michigan to NYC and back. We stayed up almost until dawn and drank wine and talked about poetry. We ganged up on the poor man teaching a creative writing class at our college by questioning his pronouncements and asking about poets and poetry he had not specialized in. We sneaked into bars without paying the cover charge or having our IDs checked (Michigan had a liquor law that permitted 18-year-olds to drink, but Ariel was only 17). I kept wondering quietly to myself: Is this how poets behave? Is unconventionality necessary to the craft?

Ann E. Michael, Poetry mentor: Ariel Dawson

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

Back in the day when I was a kid, it seemed cool to be an old soul.  Whoever first enlightened me, when I first heard the phrase (to be or to have?), I don’t recall.  Being an old soul seemed like a good defense for a solitary or brooding adolescent— especially when you have big black eyes too serious for your face!

Now that I’m not a kid, I’m thinking it might be cool to be a young soul.  It’s not up to us, of course, not on the smorgasboard of options. Yet after yet another birthday, I’m thinking why not.  It always takes a while to come to oneself.  This old soul has learned a few things; it understands that play makes everything tick, beauty is real, everything keeps turning and flowing, go!

Now during the Jewish High Holidays, we are told that our souls are washed, we get refreshed, the clock is set back to how God made us, we get spanking fresh souls. Birthday of the world — aha!  Old soul, meet young soul.  May you be renewed, and be yourself.

Jill Pearlman, Old Soul/Young Soul

I promise I am going to talk about real serious writer book stuff in a minute, but for this first part, can I say…whee, it’s decorative gourd season and I am celebrating fall by visiting pumpkin farms and burning candles like there’s no tomorrow.

We visited one pumpkin farm on the autumn equinox and another the next day. We had beautiful, unsmoky weather and I decided we should take advantage of it before it all turns into the inevitable winter rain. (Someone joked that Seattle has three seasons: rain, summer, and smoke. Sort of true for the last few years!) Besides getting to talk to local farmers, which I love, it gave me and Glenn a chance to get out of the house, into fresh air, get some mild exercise (I’m still using a cane, there’s only so much pumpkin farm tramping I can do), but it also sort of helps your body know: hey, we are changing seasons, pay attention to the leaves, to what is blooming and what is dying, what grows out of the ground, the colors of the sky. Haven’t poets been writing poems about that stuff for years?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, It’s Decorative Gourd Season! Autumn Equinox and Fall Feels, Pumpkin Farms, and Decisions About Cover Art

jazz in the morning
country in the afternoon
dead cricket in the light fixture

Jason Crane, haiku: 19 September 2022

alone
every other weekend
in a new house
I experimented with boredom

I listened to those cds
you said would improve me
but I never got that music
it was a country I could starve in

Paul Tobin, EXPERIMENTS WITH BOREDOM

“Yeah, I didn’t want to remind you about the equinox,” my spouse said.

“Right? Another thing on the to-do list,” I agreed. We mimed leaning our shoulders into the wheel of the year. “But I got it done!”

It’s autumn and my birthday and I’m struggling. Sleep has been especially hard. If I’m to have any chance at all, I have to turn off the screens, even Netflix, an hour and or two before bedtime and read something completely unrelated to work, as well as popping Unisom and melatonin–and while I love sinking into a book, the new routine makes the day feel even shorter. I’m ruminating about some old conflicts and challenging people in my work-life; self-doubt has blown back into my life with a vengeance. I wish I could stop THAT wheel and get off. I live less than a ten-minute walk from campus, which is a beautiful way to commute, but sometimes I get home and it still feels too close, looming in my imagination. It’s also inherently a job without solid boundaries. On what side of the line, for instance, does writing sit? Is criticism work and poetry play? What about now that I’m writing creative criticism?

I like many aspects of my job, and as I’ve been writing in a forthcoming column, that’s how they get you. Universities run on uncompensated enthusiasm; without it, they’d have to change the business model.

Lesley Wheeler, The wheel(er) considers turning

This ocean knows everything, her
sand is coarse inside my mouth when I talk,

inside my thoughts as they spawn. All I know,
I learnt from her brown-blueness, lapping
around my ankles like a warning. How to

talk without speaking, how to listen while
still retreating, how to let go even when the
full moon is drowning in your belly.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 14

At first I thought about going to a different part of campus.  I didn’t see any elements I could use:  so many dead leaves, so many shades of brown, ugh.  But then I saw a leaf that was more rust than brown, and then a burgundy leaf, and then some leaves drifted by on the breeze, and I started examining not only color but texture.

I thought about creating some sort of creche with sticks, but it was a breezy day.  As I contemplated that base of a tree which I thought might shelter my unmade creation, and then I looked at the trunk.  I realize it had marvelous possibilities, so I took a leaf and threaded the stem of a leaf into an opening.

The breeze didn’t blow it away, so I did it again, and then again.  Soon, I had a trunk full.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Autumn Leaves from a Different Angle

After that there were a lot of random poems, experiments, some of which turned colors and boiled over, which is good, and some of which didn’t. Two of my favorites were about black widow spiders. I always seem to write about black widows during August, since they’re in the crooks and corners of patios and garages around here, growing big and shiny in the sweltering heat and knitting their cottony egg sacs. Of course their ferocity is legendary, but in reality they’re mostly timid and serene. I always get a lot of poetic mileage out of black widows. […]

This year I tried something new: painting postcards specifically for the poems, and also the reverse—writing ekphrastic poems about my own paintings on the postcards*. I sort of liked painting to complement the poems; that was a free-wheeling exercise in abstraction, or in surreal representation. But I didn’t like writing ekphrastic poems about the paintings; that felt weirdly self-referential, a kind of narcissistic loop. Like, I painted this somewhat abstract landscape, and now I’m writing a poem about it. It was a sham, a trick I was pulling on the reader—a made-up poem about a made-up visual scene. It was like trying to build a house on air. There didn’t seem to be much point to it. 

One of my favorite poems of the month was about a baby that someone at a party asked me to keep an eye on for a few minutes. We were outside, it was raining a bit, the baby was sleeping in a little covered hammock—and suddenly the world exploded into metaphors. That was way better than any made-up landscape. There’s something to be said for writing poems about real things. This was a good reminder of that.

Amy Miller, Art Imitates Art: Poetry Postcard Fest 2022 Wrap-Up

my Work of Breathing poetry book was in the top 8 for the Able Muse award

as much as winning would be great, honorable mention is not so bad.

thinking about the hundreds and hundreds (I assume even a small press gets quite a few submissions?), getting to the top 8 tells me my book is probably just about THERE –it might be a matter or rearrangement or the judge’s particular taste.

besides, this book is very precious to me, particularly precious being about my daughter Kit, so I’m in no rush and feeling awful choosey about where I send it in the first place.

I also don’t really have any doubts about it. I read a lot of poetry, and I think (my own emotions about it aside) that it is a good book. Not everyone’s cup of tea…fairly dark…but I think the quality is there.

Renee Emerson, honorable mention

The origin of the word critic is “sieve.” I like this idea. That a criticism or a critique (whose positivity or negativity is surely in the eyes of the receiver) is like a mesh, and what comes through is a clearer substance. Certainly the goal of receiving a criticism or critique is receiving some kind of clarity.

Apparently I have a reputation for being critical. And I don’t mean vital to something’s existence. It means I have opinions and articulate them apparently sometimes to people who don’t want to hear them. Be that as it may, I am concerned at the moment that I’m not being critical enough of my own work. I may have mentioned — and it is by no means bragging, it’s just a fact — that I have three manuscripts of poems I’d like to get published. There is some crossover between two of them — I figure whichever gets published first wins. But they’re not getting published and nor am I having great luck with the individual poems. So one must cast a glance askance at the poems, I guess.

My editorial approach at this point in the development of the mss, which range in age from one to four years old, is to put them away while I’m awaiting the glacial process of submissions, and occasionally, every few months or so, give them a look see. Sometimes it results in me giving a poem or two the heave ho. But by and large, I read the collections and think, yeah, I like that.

This worries me. Shouldn’t I be suffering over every word? Shouldn’t I be shuffling around the order restlessly until some golden order is achieved? From whence comets this troublesome onset of “it’s all gooood”? Critic, criticize thyself.

Marilyn McCabe, All that’s left is flesh and bone; or, On Casting the Critical Eye on Your Own Damn Poems

We’re not hanging about this week. Too much to get done. Sunday lunch has just gone in the oven and I have a hot date with the Red Door Poets in couple of hours to hear Mary Mulholland, Tom Cunliffe and Katie Griffiths, Alex Corrin-Tachibana, Matthew Paul and Claire Collison reading. Can’t wait.

Before then I have to do this and answer some questions about my own work. I’ve been invited to do so for a magazine this week. It won’t be published for a while, but I don’t want to get behind on stuff. Sorry, I don’t want to get further behind. The invitation was lovely, it was a bit of a double-edged sword as it meant I didn’t make it into the print mag, but I think that in many ways this means my poem will reach further, but more on that closer to the time.

The only real developments this week was me sitting down to think about the running order of my pamphlet again. As you can see I got somewhere, but I think you will also see that my cats disagreed. So, we start again. And we lock the door.

Mat Riches, Sun-bleached bunting

I think of this place before
we opened the door and crossed
the threshold—every gleaming
floorboard and clear

piece of tile, cornices like violin
scrolls; the air in the rooms
already singing of work and days.
If you stood in the center, the years
would tumble into your hands. And
the only thing to do is open them.

Luisa A. Igloria, Work and Days

I think I’m tired of reading books that not only match the poet’s own life-path to the point where they feel wholly autobiographical but that they are self-absorbed, insecure, obsessed with the behaviour of the body and past indignities inflicted on it – and by the frustrating, demoralising ‘struggle’ to conquer the trauma these things have created.

Sure, there are some excellent poetry books dealing with the consequences of real life trauma that feel raw and powerful. Claire Williamson’s Visiting The Minotaur is wonderful.

There are also several I’ve read recently, however, that feel fake, as if the trauma is exaggerated for the sake of writing a book about it, a subject to be explored because it’s fashionable. Sadly, this one felt as if the poet had struggled with some kind of block and had fallen back on this to emerge from it and get a book out. The back page blurb, naturally, called it a brave book. It’s really not.

I could have mentioned the book. What’s the point? Any publicity is good publicity.

MAYBE my reaction is in line with my growing tendency to be reclusive, certainly in terms of the ‘poetry community’. I read poetry most days, buy books, prefer to support the smaller presses, if possible. I think I’m capable of writing better than I have done at any point in my life up to now. Partly, I think, that’s because I’ve managed to shed contact with all but a few poets and that I have no need of acclaim or recognition. I don’t need a prize (wouldn’t know what to do with it), don’t need to teach anyone how to write, don’t need another book with my name on the cover. I like to spend time exploring writing and what it brings to the experience of living – along with watching football, looking after hens and pigs, managing woodland and watching wildlife. I pay homage to the need to ‘get writing’ out there by including various bits and pieces on this blog and am interested in the reaction they provoke – an old friend who saw them told me last week he found them demented, which I appreciated – but mostly the rest is frills and frippery. Someone else said there were so many poems on here that they need to be divided into books. Maybe. For now, it’s too time-consuming and distracting from the real business of getting it down. So it goes.

Bob Mee, STRUGGLING TO BE GENEROUS AGAIN…

6. In your poems, be parsimonious with “how” clauses. I too often see lists of these. This has become an overused strategy. Likewise, avoid overusing “the way” to begin items in a series.

7. Be very sparing with poems about poems. I can take maybe one per manuscript. You won’t get rejected if you have more, but if your manuscript is accepted, I will almost certainly ask you to revise some of those poems. I find this kind of poem particularly vexing when the poem is making its way along beautifully on a particular topic and then suddenly starts referring to itself as “this poem.” That knocks me right out of the poem. My heart sinks with disappointment.

8. Avoid great blue herons in your poems. I add this here for a light touch, but seriously that bird is so overused in poetry! Surely there are other magnificent birds. And does it have to be a bird?

Diane Lockward, Thoughts on Poetry Manuscript Submission

Fast forward through five years in Cambridge, when I was working and finding it hard to find a writing group, to the early 1990s when we moved to Swansea, hometown of Dylan Thomas. I took some classes in the Welsh language and soon became acquainted with simple greetings, mutations, and popular words such as ‘hwyl’ and ‘hiraeth’.

A few months later, Peter Thabit Jones introduced me to some English versions of the Englyn. Thanks to poems in English by Gerard Manley-Hopkins, I came to understand something of Cynghanedd, the Welsh notion of ‘sound-arrangement’ or harmony within a single line, achieved by following one of four set patterns involving rhyme and alliteration. I would recommend Listening to Welsh Verse by Mererid Hopwood (Gomer Press, 2005) for those who are interested in learning more.

I have a deep love of poetry forms. This was nurtured by The Book of Forms: a Handbook of Poetics by Lewis P. Turco. Little did I expect to have three of my own sample poems, a Clang, a Folding Mirror poem and a Bref Double with Echo, published in the turquoise-covered 2012 edition, which included odd and invented forms. 

During my Swansea years, I came to love the poetry of Edward Thomas, whose four grandparents hailed from Wales. I was already familiar with ‘Adlestrop’, but was unaware that Thomas had written so many poems in such a short space of time before his untimely death in the Great War. ‘Swedes’ may not be a ‘typical’ Thomas poem, but it immediately caught my eye and made me realise how powerful metaphor can be and how the smallest details can transform a text. In ‘Swedes’, the discovery of an ancient Egyptian tomb is compared to the opening of a swede clamp. David, my archaeologist husband, and I became so intrigued by the detail in the poem that we undertook some research and wrote a short paper, ‘Leaving Town’ and ‘Swedes’: Edward Thomas and Amen‐Hotep (Notes and Queries, Volume 50, Issue 3, OUP, September 2003, pp. 325–327).  

Caroline Gill : part two (Thomas Whyte)

In a poem
something has to

rhyme. It doesn’t
always have to

be the words,
the old monk said.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (85)

The adult still contains the child he once was. The child thinking up word combinations to make a lesson pass more quickly grows into an adult who still enjoys word games. Our past is still with us and we have a choice as to whether that is a good thing or not.

“The Past is a Dangerous Driver” looks at how the past seeps into the present and the consequences of that. In some poems nature reclaims human structures, reminding readers of man’s relatively short time on the planet. In others the boundaries between past and present are more permeable. A storm prompts thoughts of war or the collection of metal for the war effort inspires thoughts of other uses of metal, particularly a medal representing a life after its end and the impact of a hypothetical lost life on the present. There are lighter moments too, the game of guessing what an acronym might represent. Mason’s structured poems guide readers through a journey where people might be ready to move on but the past isn’t ready to let them go yet.

Emma Lee, “The Past is a Dangerous Driver” Neal Mason (Holland Park Press) – Book Review

The fourth full-length poetry collection by Toronto poet Adebe DeRango-Adem, following Ex Nihilo (Calgary AB: Frontenac House, 2010), Terra Incognita (Toronto ON: Inanna Publications, 2015) and The Unmooring (Toronto ON: Mansfield Press, 2018), is HUMANA (Toronto ON: Book*hug, 2022), an assemblage of vibrant and performative poems akin to chants, focusing on voice and the polyrhythmic lyric. “GREAT FOREST CHORUS OF SCREAMS,” she writes, to open the poem “VOX TELUM/MEMORIAM,” “composition in a key / of a tree reluctant to give life […]” Her poems are composed as gestural sweeps of language, utterances and tradition, song, prayer and declaration. She speaks and sings on race and identity, history and community, doing so with such force, and clearly a voice to be heard, to be acknowledged; to be reckoned with. “O COMMONWEALTH—!” she writes, to open “VOX LINGUA/MALEDICTUM,” “HEX your gilded lexicons—! I spook / the master’s   language    I see how     texts / turn white & whiter                    foam // the colour of dissolve […]”

Set in three sections—“FUGUE I,” “FUGUE II” and “FUGUE III”—DeRango-Adem sings a song-sequence against and of silence, arranged in performative gasps, gaps, staccato declarations and long, languid sweeps. These are poems to be performed, composed as passionate celebration and of witness, and her performance radiates. As the two page “VOX GENUS/PROVECTUS” ends: “a    ruckus network // of howls [.]”

rob mclennan, Adebe DeRango-Adem, HUMANA

Rob Taylor: Standing in a River of Time is a hybrid — part prose memoir, part poetry. Each section opens with a prose narrative and closes with poems on the same subject. What drew you to this structure, as opposed to writing one or the other?

Jónína Kirton: This book was to be a collection of poetry. While working on the collection I had been experimenting with essay writing, and had a few essays published in anthologies. One of the essays is in Good Mom on Paper, and it includes a poem that is also in this collection. I found it hard to write about being a mother, and yet it was such a big part of my life. As with every other essay I had written I had many false starts. After a number of attempts an idea emerged: perhaps I could not only merge prose and poetry, but I could also keep the prose short. I give thanks to the editors Jen Sookfong Lee and Stacy May Fowles for allowing me to experiment and to include a poem.

RT: What role did the mentorship of Betsy Warland (she who mastered the form so fully they named a hybrid book prize after her!) play in helping you find this form?

JK: After writing the essay for Good Mom on Paper, I returned to writing my book and did what Betsy had taught me; I let the narrative lead. I never intended for the book to be this long but as I wrote the prose kept coming. Then while working with my substantive editor, Joanne Arnott, a rupture occurred, and the book exploded. Suddenly, I was going back into some of my childhood. The book became about the effects of colonization on one Métis family. Often, the discoveries revealed in the book were happening for me in real time.

In many ways the narrative chose the structure. The writing of it was at times healing and had a mystical feel to it. I would sit at the computer, and it poured out of me. Sometimes I would be crying so much that the front of my blouse was soaked but I could not stop to dry my eyes. I had to keep writing.  

It was my husband who noticed after reading the prose he felt the poems, most of which he knew well, were made stronger by knowing the back story. When he said this, I knew I was on the right track.

Rob Taylor, My Body Knows More Than I Do: An Interview with Jónína Kirton

Throw the windows wide. Comfort poor Van, who is appalled by Martha’s disappearance, and sleeps all day on her spot on the couch, not even rousing himself at the sound of a can of cat food being opened. (His consciousness is on strike: it refuses to return to work until she’s back). Water the plants. Muse on the variations of cloud building and dissolving, north over the neighbor’s gable. Count, if I must. One hundred and fifty breaths is one attempt at falling asleep. Fifteen long breaths, if I’m lying on my belly, opens the subway stops along the lumbar spine.

Dale Favier, Aurelito

where is the child missing from my death

where is a road that walks on its knees

how many waters are never dreamed

Grant Hackett [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2022, Week 37

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: dreams, cemeteries, celebrity culture, forgettable poems and unforgettable poets, archives and submissions, still lifes, crickets.


From dawn to dusk,
the pewter silver-grey
of clouds that haven’t
aspired to the sky.
We walk inside them,
drawing onto our faces
the unrained drops.
We’re comfortably dislocated
from horizons; paths ahead
are vanishing points lost
in feathers; red kites
whistle the fields’ edges.
I walk, you run the curvature
of this known, unknown world.

Dick Jones, Dog Latitude §6

I remember a critic of my poetry saying ‘Oh oh, Richie’s in the graveyard again’ and thinking how facile that was, as if I was a ghoul hovering around the charnel pit. The unfathomability of death and the mystery of existence is really what all poetry is about, even the stuff that masquerades as something else. All roads lead to it and attributing it to a creator is just too easy. I think poetry itself offers a real, viable substitute to religion, its authors hoping (invariably vainly) that something of themselves will outlive their own demise. Secular poets can be sacral too, in a place where the song and plainsong can meet.

Richie McCaffery, Losing my religion

Always spinning back to that chorus
like the song on the radio. Funny
how sounds echo in an empty house
as if they too have come a long, long
way, as if they too, diminished,
are looking for the nearest escape.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Part 13

For the past 2 months, I’ve spent a lot of time driving long distances.  I realize that not everyone likes to drive the way that I do.  I should modify:  I like to drive the way I do when I’m driving alone.  Driving with others in the car is a whole different experience.

When I’ve made a long car trip, I sometimes feel like I’ve fallen out of time.  I used to think that I only felt that way after an airplane trip and that a long car trip would help me feel cemented in time.  That’s not the case for me, at least not right now.

In the past, I’ve felt a longing to be in places other than where I am:  it’s been a longing for a particular geography mixed with a longing for particular people.  At this time in my life, I feel fully present wherever I am, almost as if other places have ceased to exist.  When I’m in my seminary apartment, I rarely think about my little house in the mountains.  When I was in the mountains this week-end, my seminary life seemed like a dream I had.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Particular Geographies and Yearning

Colors burn on his eyelids–swift,
painless flames. What
does it mean, to grow new eyes?

To keep them always open?
Whose life has he stumbled into,
while crawling along his own?

In the dream, the king wears his face.
His words are kind. He should
come to no harm, this king.

Romana Iorga, Another Oedipus Story

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

As a mother of five and an emergency physician, it simply boils down to time!! I see things all the time that few people see. I’ll think, “I have to write about this…” But then I don’t, and I quickly forget the image or situation that felt so urgent. I’m most successful when I’m intentional about writing. When I’m intentional, I try to write at least a poem a week.

Thomas Whyte, Rachel Mallalieu : part five

Philadelphia guitarist, songwriter, singer, producer and poet Sadie Dupuis’s second full-length collection, following MOUTHGUARD (Boston MA: Black Ocean, 2018), is Cry Perfume (Black Ocean, 2022), a collection the publisher describes as “a collection of lyrical poems that engage with grief and loss and the toll of overdose and addiction with an activist bent.” Dupuis’ short, declarative narratives are set with a dark undertone and absurdist, surreal sheen; she writes narratives that feel off-balance, unable to completely find solid ground. “I chew up my feet,” she writes, to open the poem “MY PRETTY POET,” “Running down a mountain times five / When I buy the green gem / I’m envied by thousands / When I look into the makeup monitor / My eyes are the color of American money / Bleach-sanitized [.]” There’s a particular kind of swagger through these lyric character studies, one that carries a tone of exhaustion across a weight of experiences through performance, touring and loss; around, as the back cover offers, the “glamorized toxicities often inherent in entertainment.”

rob mclennan, Sadie Dupuis, Cry Perfume

One of the highlights of my first year on the York MA in 2020 was being introduced to The House of Fame by Chaucer. I just found it such a revelation – completely original, hilarious in parts, very relevant to current ‘celebrity’ culture, and kind of bizarre. My only previous encounter with Chaucer was at school when we had to look at the General Prologue and the Nun’s Priest’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales. So not even the funny bits!

When I recently came across a review of a biography by Marion Turner, Chaucer, A European Life (Princeton University Press, 2019) I bought it, and found I couldn’t put it down. Rather than tell the story of his life chronologically, Turner goes for thematic chapter headings (“Great Household”, “Milky Way”, “Inn”) that are intriguing, and that explain the historical and cultural contexts vividly. I loved it.

My current project is reading The Canterbury Tales (albeit in modern English, I admit – Nevill Coghill’s translation for Penguin Classics) So far I’ve only skipped the Monk’s Tale, which looked particularly heavy going, and in fact the ‘Host’ tells us afterwards that it practically sent him to sleep with boredom, so maybe that was a good call.

Robin Houghton, Chaucer

The dishes I most enjoy are cooked by chefs who demonstrate an understanding of how flavours and textures work together, a subjective understanding, of course, that coincides with mine. From the first mouthful, I know we’re on a similar wavelength. And the same goes for poetry. Within a stanza, I know whether a poet has a certain feeling for a line, a cadence, a sentence, that I also share.

In both cases, food and poetry, there’s always a delight in making unexpected discoveries, either at a backstreet tapas bar or from a small press publisher. One such example is Paul Ings’ first pamphlet, One Week, One Span of Human Life (Alien Buddha Press, 2022). This title might give certain readers the erroneous impression that the work inside might be abstract or metaphysical. However, it simply serves to indicate the pamphlet’s structure, which follows the course of a week.

Matthew Stewart, A poem from Paul Ings’ first pamphlet

Sree Sen’s journey throughout “Cracked Asphalt” is a geographical and emotional one, moving from Mumbai to Dublin. The speaker is realistic and doesn’t assume that she can move away from the harassment she suffers in the country she was born in and neither does she pretend everything’s rosy in her new country. The move puts her in a limbo: she’s now a guest when she returns to her country of origin but not completely at home in the country where she has settled. However, she finds joy in small things: food, planting, art and refuses to beat herself up for difficult days where regrets surface or that day’s tasks feel impossible. There’s a reminder that winter does eventually turn to spring. Hope can poke through the darkest of soils.

Emma Lee, “Cracked Asphalt” Sree Sen (Fly on the Wall Press) – book review

Aside from the minor point that I’d never be asked, I’d hate to be Poet Laureate.

Obviously, once you’ve decided to accept the barrel of sherry, or whatever it is these days, in exchange for your soul, you have to do the job. When a monarch celebrates a jubilee or there’s a royal birth, marriage, or as in last week’s case, a death, then you have to sit down and do your best to write something meaningful and appropriate. And, I suppose, given you’ve been given the top job, you have to try to make it seem as if nobody else could write it.

Simon Armitage is obviously a very good poet. A fine reader of his poems, too, from my memory of being at an event at which he was the star turn long ago.

And by simply being Poet Laureate, his books sell better, so I get why he would accept the offer, assuming he cares how many they sell. He might even feel by taking the job he has the chance to make a difference. A bit strange, but I’ve heard it said.

The downside is that it is almost impossible to write anything useful and balanced – make that real – about the life of a monarch.

And sadly, if predictably, I thought his elegy for Elizabeth II dreary and forgettable. There were no lines or thoughts that stood out. It was pretty much what you’d expect a laureate to say. It was in the grand tradition of stuff written for patrons, living or otherwise, going back to when poets felt it necessary to fawn over the wealthy in order to put food on the table. (Try out the endless stream of well-written drivel from some of the seventeenth and eighteenth century poets to see what I mean.)

Bob Mee, SHINING MORE BUT WEIGHING LESS: IS THIS THE FATE OF A POET LAUREATE?

I learned, this week, that Rosemary Cappello has died. She was among the first people to encourage my writing and was an advocate for poetry and the arts in Philadelphia, where she lived for most of her life. I would not call her a mentor of mine; but she has been mentor to many other people as well as instrumental in setting up poetry reading series, poetry events, and other gatherings. All while also editing and publishing Philadelphia Poets Journal, a literary magazine that started as an 8-page photocopied zine and became a 100+ page annual journal…what energy, what devotion! And such kindness–when I first met her in the early 1980s, we saw each other often at poetry readings and open mikes. Then I moved away, first to Connecticut and then to the Lehigh Valley. Yet whenever I returned to Philadelphia for a poetry event, it seemed Rosemary was there. She always remembered me, too! In recent years, I’ve encountered her on Zoom readings and events. And I knew she had health struggles and trouble with mobility, but she never flagged in her enthusiasm for the arts.

Ann E. Michael, Poetry mentors

Your grandson found photos of you on eBay this morning. They’re archival newspaper photos — from the San Antonio Express-News, or maybe from the San Antonio Light which hasn’t existed in decades. It’s disconcerting to think of a stranger buying these black-and-white 8 x 10s. Because they have a yen for pictures that give off that 1980 vibe? Because they like the jut of your nose, the spark in your eye? They’re “vintage originals.” No one knows they’re part of my family history. Someone could pick these up for their visual appeal, the way I used to browse for hand-tinted postcards of the Mohawk Trail. When we were cleaning out your house, we recycled all of the yellowed newspaper clippings — none of us wanted more clutter. You might say, “Who cares, they’re just old photos!” But I can’t resist these old photographs of you, cropping up in my browser this morning like you’re waving hello from olam ha-ba

Rachel Barenblat, Old photos

It’s cemetery season for me, coming up on the annual Evergreen Cemetery Walk. I’ve been a longtime writer of scripts and scenes for this walk through Evergreen Memorial Cemetery, where community members and schoolkids can meet the people who are buried there, and, in the past, I played many characters and this year will do so again. It’s an exhausting but rewarding experience! As actors, we do two rounds of six performances each on the weekends, and three rounds on schooldays for field trips during the week, in all kinds of weather. It used to fall in October, and now it’s bumped up to September and the first weekend of October, because the schoolkids were not wearing jackets and appropriate attire in the cold or rainy weather! My character is Helen Clark McCurdy (1866-1962), who ran for office. 

It’s also spider season, and all the webs are up!

Kathleen Kirk, Cemetery Season

A house can be restless

as a mouth not done feeding
itself. A house with an egg-

yolk moon over it, a forest
of beautiful braided trees;

a chorus of waterbirds calling
from one edge to another.

Luisa A. Igloria, Fable

It’s cold. A cardi, a blanket, a cat and a cup of tea kind of morning. After months of no proper rain, it spent a couple of days dousing us, but now it’s autumn, bright-coloured and nippy. I picked my daughter up from a Scout activity yesterday and the Finnish forests were at their prime, the birch and spruce and lake contrast just beautiful. It won’t last, so I’m making the most of a quiet morning before my Uni course starts back up and the kids come home, working on poetry and organising my writing. […]

I’m doing lots of back-ups and rearranging files. My laptop spent the summer getting a few small things repaired and one of my external drives also died, so I’m chasing down old versions of files. All my writing seems to be backed up somewhere, but I lost some old books I produced back when Grimalkin Press was a proper small press almost 20 years ago. I have paper copies of almost everything, but, of course, I lost my copies of the one book someone contacted me to buy. I think I’ve managed to find them a second-hand copy and I’m trying to get the digital files restored, but it’s made me want to go through my digital records and double-save everything. 

I like the idea of archives. I’ve kept a handwritten journal since I was 13, I keep old letters and writing notebooks. And millions of photos, both digital and paper. I keep back-ups of different collection ideas, of different drafts of poems and forgotten novels. But it’s the organising of them that appeals, sifting through, deciding what to keep, what could be useful later. […]

I once spent weeks going through the submissions, letters and other paraphernalia of Chapman Publishing, setting aside things for their National Library of Scotland archives. The press is now defunct, but at the time it was one of the most influential voices in literary publishing in Scotland. We received early correspondence from writers who are now well known, from those who influenced Scottish writing. You never knew if that crazy letter from some young poet would be the first steps in their writing career. Boxes stored in a basement in Edinburgh holding treasure for some future researcher. 

Gerry Stewart, Back-up and Carry-on

One of the good things about doing a “submission season” with your friends—our group tries to do a submission a day on a certain month, this year September, is that is motivates you to look at journals you might not have heard of, or considered before, or considered outside your reach. When you really look at where you submit over time, it’s probably the same places over and over again, and maybe there’s an editor at another magazine you’ve never sent to that will absolutely love your work. It’s also a good excuse to get to the bookstore in person and look at literary magazines available in your area—you might be surprised what you can find. It also forces you to take a look at the poems you’ve been writing—is this one ready to send out? Why has this poem you like been sitting around, not submitted anywhere yet? And also to update your records—in my case, an Excel spreadsheet—to see how many poems and submissions you have out. Sometimes I catch duplicate poems or even duplicate submissions— hey, I’m as human as the next person, and probably slightly worse at keeping records. So, I encourage you all to take a look at your poetry and see where you could send your work and try some place new this month.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Woodinville Book Club Meets and Talks Art and Fraud, Last Visit to the Flower Garden on a Chilly Evening, More About Submission September

When I was a young woman, I happened upon a slim book of poetry called Mapping the Distance, by another young (but slightly older than me) woman named Alicia Hokanson. Many of the books that drift onto my shelves later leave them, but this one has remained for more than three decades. I felt some kind of kinship with this writer, back then: Both from Seattle, both teacher-writers, both in complicated relationships. There was something in her face in the author photo that felt a bit like looking in a mirror.

Something (I don’t remember what) a few weeks back caused me to do a search for Hokanson, and I discovered that in 2021 she published her second full-length work, Perishable World. I learned that in the intervening years, she had a long career as a secondary school teacher in Seattle. She retired from teaching in 2014, from a job she took in 1987, two years before her first book was published.

Where Mapping the Distance is the story of a young woman grappling with the challenges of early adulthood, Perishable World is (at its title hints) about life’s challenges at the opposite end of time’s fulcrum. Instead of a story filled with questions about choices, it’s a story filled with inevitable loss. I’m still reading it, so I can’t give a full accounting or review, but the writing is gorgeous. I can see, reading from both books, the development of craft and voice that occurred in the decades between them.

I can see that Hokanson is still, as she was then, just a little bit ahead of me on the journey. She’s offering, again, a map to places I can see but haven’t yet reached–not only as a human living in this particular corner of the planet, but as a writer, too.

Hokanson continued to write poetry for publication during her decades of teaching, but there is a gap of more than three decades between her two full-length books of poems. I have one book to my name, published in 2003. I remember telling someone that it took me more than a decade to write the poems in it and joking that I hoped it wouldn’t be another ten years before a second book. It’s now been nearly two decades, and I haven’t written even a handful of poems in the last ten years.

Still, I have been writing. Here, mostly, and although this writing doesn’t require what poetry does, there is something about committing words to an audience that hones craft.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Inspiration

Yesterday, I finished up the layout and posted the accompanying e-zine for the MEMOIR IN BONE & INK video series. It felt fitting to be putting both the video project and that zine to bed (well, out there in the world with a bow on it for whoever wants a little more than the videos can provide)  I wrote those poems back in April as part of NAPOWRIMO, with just a title and a general idea that I wanted to talk about writing and artmaking and how it relates to the body and experience. I sometimes think about the idea of memoirs, and how sometimes I am surprised when people say they are writing them, since I feel, even at middle age, I don’t have all that much to say except maybe about very specific things. But then, I’ve written a number of fragmented, memoirish series like the hunger palace and exquisite damage. But then as a poet who always twists the biographical stone cold truth, I’d feel weird and exposed writing a true memoir. I am also not sure I have anything interesting enough to say in it. 

But then again, even this blog sometimes feels like a really long memoir project.  Or maybe a really long letter to someone I don’t even know. A youtuber author I watch was talking about trying to set habits to journal like Virginia Woolf, who spent her afternoons journaling and letter writing, which seems nice, but my afternoons are devoted to writing other things. The blog entries, which took the place of the paper journals I once kept, happen in the in-betweens.  I’ve often wondered if I lost something when I transitioned to journaling in online spaces, but mostly what I see flipping through old ones is a lot of useless emoting over unimportant things.  

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 9/11/2022

The question that I am obsessed with these days is by adrienne maree brown: “What is the next most elegant step?”

And this is sort of the way one composes a still life. You put something on a surface, you move it, you add things. You take away. You compose. You arrange the debris, the rubble. What is the next most elegant step? What is the step that taps into the magical matter? If you’ve composed a lot of still lifes, you know when you strike upon that magical combination. At least usually you do — sometimes it’s revealed to you later. With photography, I usually know when I’ve caught some primo light. I know when the sparks are flying. But it’s later when I upload the photo to my computer that I know for sure. And that’s a fun and exhilerating moment…until it’s not…which also happens. You just don’t always know. You hope! But you don’t know for sure. And then funnily, you think you’ve got some magic down and no one responds to it at all when you post it. Which is also fine, because maybe it is magic and it’s just not felt yet. Maybe it’s not magic to anyone else. That’s also fine. It was magic to you.

The thing about what brown says about the elegant next step is that it “acknowledges what is known and what is not known.” And this is also very like the still life process: you compose into the unknown.

It’s also a bit like this blog post: I’m just trying to make the excellent link between still life and poetry. But I think it’s there without me nattering on about it. Or maybe it’s something I need to write more about, longer, elsewhere. And probably will.

Shawna Lemay, Poetry of Still Life

i curate the cures for hates ~ but there are none
they are as incurable as they are incorrigible
broken hearts are two a penny
and i haven’t any pennies
i have pinned their iridescent carapaces
the thick skinned burrowers
many a sarcophagus entombs a wry smile
staring at the keyhole
the dust ready to pounce

Jim Young, adjust

Classical music concert by the sea.  Sun hot on our arms, yet the air makes us shiver.  Little cabin, doors thrown open.  Unaccustomed voices — women and black composers.  Accustomed voices: Dvorak. Simultaneity: Crickets.

These are not usual times.  It wasn’t the crickets who were letting the air out of the helium balloon.  They weren’t stoking anxiety and desire — rather they were the adults in the room.

They left it to Dvorak to indulge in a sustained shriek!  Those violin players stroking the same strident bow on the same strings, higher and higher -a scream that would be unacceptable at the dinner table!  Crickets took the middle zone and cellos planted their feet on the ground.

The evening wind blew cool and clean.  Renewed, after the storm of strings broke.  The crickets play on.

Jill Pearlman, Dvorak’s Cricket Folk Dance