Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 35

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, poets seemed to be taking Rilke’s directive to heart: “You must change your life.” The onset of autumn will do that to you. There’s art and geekiness and trees, books and diaries and new writing projects galore. Enjoy.


A change is coming. It’s in the season – I am readying myself, need to prepare physically, mentally, for some experience or action. 

And so, I’ve started to read again. It’s not that I stopped, but that I’ve been consumed by work, so eaten up by its immediate demands that I could hardly look at poetry, fiction, non-work-non-fiction, for the pain its absence causes. I think this shying away has been a sort of self-preservation too: to read great poetry and great fiction is to encounter the world in truth not found in sociology texts, rarely expressed in academic articles. To read what’s written from the heart of experience is to know without doubt that freedom does not come from working harder, smarter, having what’s been cited to me as a ‘can-do attitude’ (as if unquestioning obedience were some sort of virtue). […]

And I went swimming again this week in the reservoir. I had been waiting all August for the clouds to clear, the temperature to rise. The sun has been elusive, but when I turned to friendship, to LJ (who never shies away from experience or action), I found I could risk the plunge, even in 16 degrees under cloud. I went in not hot but bothered, came out cleansed. We sat afterwards in our usual spot, drinking tea, and the clouds cleared enough for there to be blue and gold. I carried the water’s coolness into my evening, to the warmth of a poetry picnic in the park with friends. I began to remember who I am being, why I am doing.

Liz Lefroy, I Ready For Change

This back to school season feels nothing like the 31 others I’ve lived. The return to school each year has always been a time marked by dread. While each year (except the last) always contained things I looked forward to and was excited about, there was also always sadness and resignation. It meant returning to imbalance and exhaustion and ethical compromise–all of which stemmed from simply never having enough time to do all that needed doing. Important parts of me that opened during the summer months shut down when I returned to school. This year, in spite of all that is unknown and likely to be challenging, I feel only light, happy, and open. I cannot remember a time in my life that I have felt as down-to-the-bone good as I do right now.

I feel that way because I’m returning to work that is a better fit for me. I feel that way because it is my choice to do this work; I didn’t feel trapped by economic need. I feel that way because I will have a manageable work load that gives me enough time to take care of my personal and family needs, as well as time for things I simply want to do. I feel this way because I get to do work that aligns with my values and that I know I can do well.

Think of what a difference it could make to our children if all their teachers felt light, happy, and open as they return to school! Think of what a difference it could make to our world if everybody felt light, happy, and open about their work, able to do the kind that is a good fit for them, in places where they feel safe and accepted and able to be the best version of themselves. These insights I’m gaining about community, belonging, competence, choice, and meaning will definitely inform my practices with students this year as I facilitate their work of learning, as well as choices I continue to make about where and how to work, live, and be.

This post is already too long for a deep-dive into a critique of work in a world driven by capitalism (that others are doing so much better than I could, anyway), but on this Labor Day weekend, I am full of ideas and wishes and longings for how work could be different for all of us, and what that could mean for our planet and societies. I am so grateful for new colleagues who feel like my people and who have welcomed me into their community. I can’t wait to work beside them and to learn from and with them. I wish they were not going to have to carry the kind of weight that I did for so many years, but I know that most of them will. I’m wishing that all of them and all of you and everyone I know could work in the way I now get to, so that we might all bloom where we’re planted–because blooming isn’t just a matter of your attitude or desire or effort. (Just ask my raspberries.) It’s about having the conditions you need to live, grow, and thrive.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On blooming (and not)

In that Book of Life names are written, then sealed. The concept carries serious weight, but this year I’m giving it a different spin. The turning that we do, teshuvah, turning over a new leaf, returning to true and better selves is like turning or stitching of material that poets indulge in. We thread one thing against and into another. Bursts of strong emotion or image might end a line to be met with contradiction on the next. All paradox, all voices welcome! I can understand our contemporary turbulence as voices breaking in on each other. Beauty is stitched with grief, and against the tragic bursts the intimate. Dark absurdity is patched with innocence. And personal failings open onto something bigger, a collective standing together. That stitching, that turning to the whole is the next ritual I’m falling into.

Jill Pearlman, The Closing Rituals of Summer

The summer heat broke at last after the “remnants” of hurricane Ida crashed over us. If those were just remnants, I have deep respect for the people of Louisiana, who felt the initial force. We got 7″ of rain in less than a day, and the flash floods affected many of our friends. My basement office on campus is drying out during the 3-day weekend–our building’s drainage system was not quite up to the task of directing water away from our doors. Now, the brown crickets are noisier than the katydids, the grasshoppers have grown large, the days are shorter. Tomato harvest has slowed, and gardening consists mostly of pulling up weeds and dead plants. It is as though the downpour swept away summer, despite my knowing that the hot days will return. (September can be steamy here in my valley.)

I’m reading A.E. Stallings‘ collection Like and relishing her new takes on traditional poetry forms as well as her facility with establishing a sense of place in the poems. I appreciate her images and thought-provoking ideas, too. Her work does the things that I think poems are supposed to do.

Finally, I have been drafting a few poems, or at least hoping these drafts will turn into poems. I’ve also begun examining some older work for revision and, maybe, collection into another book. But that’s looking perhaps too far ahead. After a challenging couple of years, maybe just living in the moment serves me better.

The taste of fresh pears. The sticky sweetness of fresh local peaches. The smell of basil.

Ann E. Michael, Moment(s)

Rain pelts the roof and the rivers rise. Roots push
out of the ground—outspread, they thicken: not fall.

We’ve lined up for shots but still hide our faces behind
masks; the moon wears a gauze of stars before it falls.

I’ll write to you in every dream, fill notebooks with loops
through which we engineer escape before the fall.

Luisa A. Igloria, Fall

Some writers go to writer’s residencies and retreats frequently. I am not one of those writers. I haven’t been to a writer’s residency in six years. The last time I went, I was working on the manuscript that became Field Guide to the End of the World. I’m coming to this residency to write poems, yes, and send out poems, yes, but also to wrangle three (!) unruly poetry manuscripts that need to get out into the world. This takes more time and concentration than I usually can muster at home. I just finished a first last week – my first ever Virtual Breadloaf (TM) and now I’m taking time to be a writer at a retreat for a whole week!

So what to do? Well, you pack up, get in a car and drive for an hour and a half, then sit in parking lot for the ferry for another hour, then ride the ferry over for an hour, and then, bam! You’re there! Your little cabin in the middle of a university’s marine biology lab center on San Juan Island is ready and waiting to be aired-out and re-cleaned (covid days, of course) and then safely entered into. The skies are blue. The ocean is literally steps away. You can hear crickets. There’s no television. And though many young marine biologists and other scholars crowd the grounds you barely even see any of them except in a distance. You literally interact with no one except a friendly biologist who points you in the direction of the cabin key on arrival.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week Away at a Writing Retreat in the Pacific Northwest – with Foxes!

My plan is to spend the mornings writing, from day-break to lunchtime, Hemingway style, though without all the excessive booze. The afternoons are for reflective practices – beach walks, research, journalling, reading, looking out of the window, absorbing, being. I have never been in a position to do this before. Like most writers I’ve always shoe-horned writing in at five in the morning before work starts, after work, in five minute breaks between work. So I don’t know how well I’ll do with it, it’s a different way of working, a method that puts me and my practice first, as the priority; something that the voice of imposter syndrome is not liking. Oh no, that bitch is Up. In. Arms. I’m not listening to her. I’m doing it anyway. […]

I chose September for my writing month because it is the time of year when I feel most at peace, before the melancholy of winter. As I sit here now, the clouds are low, the light is fading and there is a chill to the evening air, and yet earlier I wore sandals and no cardigan to walk the dog. The scent of straw and hay and harvest is lingering on the breeze, the swallows are leaving, the swifts have left and the geese are starting to fly over the house, heading south along the coast line. What a beautiful, still, time of year, what a perfect time to be creative.

The out of office response is set, all I have to do now is write.

Wendy Pratt, The ‘Out of Office’ Response is On

One of the truly deep pleasures in writing a novel, or any book, is the accumulating of inspiring sources, the delving into a subject, being refreshed by it and pulled to it. There is a real joy in seeing how looking at something in a prolonged way from many angles, through time — and this alone is one of the profound rewards of writing. […]

When you write a book, you allow all those joyful sparks while delving deep. There’s a point though when you realize how vast the material is. Trust me, it’s always vast. You go in thinking, oh I’m sure no one has written much on X, and you come out with a truckload of books already written on the subject. The trick is to let that inspire you rather than to be intimidated or overwhelmed by it. I always knew I wanted to do some kind of riff of the story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, but guess what? Amanda Leduc had already done so, and it’s an amazing book. At first, I was deflated, but in the end, I just did my thing.

Shawna Lemay, On Writing Inspiration

The act of drawing/painting is often a meditation for me — even a kind of prayer, if you will — in which I allow myself to be led by intuition in the choice of objects, the medium, and how I depict them. There are a lot of “no’s” on the way to the eventual “yes.” In the case of the seemingly innocuous still life here, I now realize that there was more going on than a clichéd “bowl of cherries”: the deep red color of the fruit, the memory of their bloodiness on my tongue and hands, the sense of sudden interruption of a meal represented by the torn, partial piece of bread. Looking at it later, I recalled a passage in Nadezdha Mandelstam’s book, Hope Against Hope, where she describes the evening when her husband, the poet Osip Mandelstam, was taken away by Stalin’s henchmen – he would later die in a concentration camp. But she writes about how he was eating a hard-boiled egg, which he had just dipped into salt — and that image is what stayed with me. Probably what the viewer sees in the still life is simply moment of calmness and beauty — and that’s also as it should be. I just find it interesting to realize that for me, the maker, there was quite a bit going on, and whatever healing or calmness I found in the making also had to do with the choices and subterranean current I followed, but barely recognized at the time. I felt satisfied with the result – it felt right and somehow complete, but I couldn’t have explained why.

Does this subconscious process impart some ineluctable quality to the finished work? I don’t know the answer to that question, and I’m not sure it’s my job to know. I feel like my job is to show up in response to the inner prompting, and do the work.

Beth Adams, The Truth in Ordinary Things

stealth bombers
a cluster of magpies
strut their stuff

Jim Young [no title]

Those 33 poems meant that I wrote a little more than one poem per day, but this year I didn’t even try to write one every day; I almost always wrote them in clumps of three or four and then took a few days off between writing sessions. I’ve done this in the past, too; it makes the “poem-a-day” thing less of a chore for me. And as I’ve said in past PoPo recaps, writing several poems in one sitting sometimes makes them more interesting; often I’ll riff on the subject of one poem and expand it into others. This time I had a series of poems about eavesdropping, since I seemed to be overhearing a lot of conversations and was fascinated by the relationship between the loud talker and the unwilling listener, and the incompleteness of the information you overhear—Is that person always like that? Did that person bring this problem on himself? How reliable is the narrator of this story? I also had a few poems about painting (more on that below), and lots of small scenes from around my town of Ashland, Oregon, which was plagued by hazardous wildfire smoke all through August.

Looking back through the poems, I can see a few that seem like keepers, like something I might end up getting published if some editor likes them. A few fizzled. My favorite one is about my bathrobe, which had nothing to do with eavesdropping or smoke and just sort of flew in on its own, as the best poems sometimes do. 

Amy Miller, Poetry Postcard Fest 2021: Both Sides Now

This month at Canary Wharf in London, the Le Sorelle river barge will host the Sea Reconnection exhibition (part of the Totally Thames Festival 2021), featuring my poetry and work by the visual artists Darren Hewitt and Miles Taverner. 

The exhibition has been in the works for a long time – since 2019, in fact, although I joined the project at a slightly later stage in early 2020. Originally it was planned for spring 2020, but sadly due to COVID, all plans were off. We are delighted that it is finally happening and particularly that we have been able to join the Thames Festival.

Darren Hewitt‘s paintings are focused on expansive, light-filled seascapes and human interactions with these perspectives, while Miles Taverner uses materials recovered and recycled from the sea to create tactile, colourful, often large-scale pieces. 

Several of my poems appear alongside these artworks and bring together the themes of the sea and the Thames. In new works such as ‘Great Eastern’ and ‘Pool of London’, I have written about historic connections between London’s river and the ocean. ‘Great Eastern’, below, was inspired by the ship of the same name, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, built at Millwall and eventually destined to lay the first lasting transatlantic telegraph cable in 1866. 

GREAT EASTERN

At Millwall, an iron hull
like a fallen star.
Brunel with his fierce eyes
fixed on the future.

Grey Atlantic fought and held
the telegraph light.
Great Eastern, a meteor,
ploughed into the night.

The exhibition is free to all and is open every weekend from Friday to Sunday in September – details below. Please come if you can.

Clarissa Aykroyd, Sea Reconnection: an art and poetry exhibition in London, September 2021

I’ve used this blog before as a place to record workshop ideas, so I’m adding a post about some visual poems I’ve made as they would also work very well in a workshop. Here I’ve substituted flowers for syllables, words and rhymes in a few poetic forms (haiku, couplet, quatrain, end rhyme) but any found material could be used in place of flowers (one teacher I know used objects found in the classroom to construct visual poems) and there are many more poetic forms to engage with! I’ve posted these pieces on Instagram @andothermaterials where you can find more of this kind of playful and experimental work.

Josephine Corcoran, Making visual poems with flowers

I’m not sure how, exactly, this happens, but when I see just the right painting, it feels as if the artist is stirring her paintbrush inside my head. Photographs move me similarly, as do installations—collections of objects, or a looped video, for example, can have the same effect on me. I never know what will do the trick, what will wake up different parts of my brain, stimulating thoughts and pulling up memories. This is, of course, all part of the fun.

We write ekphrastic poems not to describe the art, necessarily, but to glean some truths from it, to see connections, to uncover things in ourselves in the intersection between words and pictures. 

Erica Goss, Words with Pictures: Ekphrasis

The octopus was a popular part of the so-called ‘Marine Style’ of pottery, which originated on Crete in the late Bronze Age and was embraced by potters on the mainland. Monsters, some more cephalopod-like than others, abound in Greek mythology. They are not all creatures of the sea. The Hydra, which appears in a number of myths and sources such as Hesiod, had several heads. Cerberus, or Kerberos, the hound referred to but not actually mentioned by name in the Iliad, had two, three, or even ‘many’ heads. 

The first open lecture I attended as an undergraduate at Newcastle University in 1979 was given by Dr John Pinsent of Liverpool University on this unusual theme. He had authored a paper called The Iconography of Octopuses: a First Typology (BICS 25, 1978) about the development of octopus representations in late Mycenaean vase painting. 

More recently I came under the influence of a large blue graffiti octopus known locally as ‘Digby‘. Digby, designed by John D. Edwards, is part of the Never Ending Mural community arts project in Ipswich and a popular local icon (see here). 

There may well be a nod to the spirit of Digby in my poem. And, as I hinted earlier, the impact of squid and octopus representations on ancient artifacts should not be overlooked. There is something very fluid, fascinating and changeable about these marine animals.

It is worth remembering that while the wine-dark purple colour from the Murex shell (see also here) was prized as a costly dye in Ancient Greece, humans have been writing and drawing with cuttlefish ink, known to us as ‘sepia’, since times of antiquity. 

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (3)

In 2001, so many poets poo-pooed the web and the doors it was opening up to reach readers.  When I tried to solicit poets for [wicked alice], the response was often that they didn’t want to “waste” their good poems on internet publication.  I found most of my potential authors in discussion boards/ list servs  (later replaced by blogs). People who already spent a lot of time on the computer.  (I also just realized that many of the poets who said no are no longer writing or publishing (though I wouldn’t know it…maybe their work is only in print journals few subscribe to.) I’m sure some have surrendered wholeheartedly to the beast, especially once budget strings closed up so many print publications completely or forced them to the web. I sometimes laugh hysterically when I see someone who once told me I was unwise for publishing on the web totally publishing madly  on the web. It’s the best kind of self-care.  

I’d be the first to say that without the internets, I don’t think I’d be a poet.  Or at least the poet I am.   Sometimes even publishing on a platform of millions feels like dropping a dime in the ocean.  Print culture would intensify that. I love me some of my fave print journals, and have been a part of many over the years, by submitting or solicitation, but I usually go for web publication in most circumstances when sending out new work.  It feels more immediate and far reaching. Like someone is actually reading and responding, which is really all writers want to feel. 

Kristy Bowen, 20 years

Most festivals request subtitles in English, which is not an issue for my video poems, since the text is an integral part the video design itself. However, some of these festivals have asked for subtitles in Spanish. The challenge here has been, first, to come up with a good translation into Spanish, and, second, to fully integrate the Spanish text into the video.

I don’t know Spanish, although I can read French reasonably well and I studied Latin for 6 years at school. I’m also familiar enough with Italian to grasp the general idea of what is being said or written. So Spanish didn’t seem totally out of reach.

However, the translation for The Life We Live is Not Life Itself – La vida que vivimos no es la vida misma was a special challenge, since the original text and the spoken word here is in Greek, which I can more or less read but not understand well. I did have an English translation that I worked on with the author, Tasos Sagris, and this provided the link for a good Spanish translation.

I used two machine translation systems for this: the well-known Google Translate, and a recently released AI system, DeepL Translator. The first trick here is to generate sentence-by-sentence multi-way translations: Greek to Spanish; English to Spanish, along with their back-translations: eg Spanish to English to Greek compared with Spanish to Greek. The results were compared until they converged on a common set of phrases. Luckily this usually occurred, indicating the underlying accuracy of the machine translation systems.

The second trick is to thoroughly investigate other variant translations that are suggested in order to pick up subtle, but important shades of meaning. Again back and forward translations are critical here. But even more important is to use native language dictionaries to check the meaning of words or phrases: what do native speakers think this word or phrase means, at least as recorded in their dictionaries. Of course, this also required several iterations of translation – back-translation.

The final thing is to get the translated text checked by a native speaker if possible. In this case, I was lucky to have someone do this and they found only a couple of things to change, both of which I’d flagged, which was a great relief!

Ian Gibbins, Videos screening in Latin America

During lockdown, our local poetry group didn’t really meet up, so my contact with other poets in my area hasn’t been as frequent as it normally would have been. Plus, I’ve sort of defected to the haiku camp – I don’t write much in other forms at the moment, or read them for that matter. Having said that, I don’t feel it’s narrowed my field of vision, quite the opposite. It’s led me to discover new magazines like the one above, and my other UK favourite, Presence. And then there are all those fantastic American journals, many of which are online or publish a selection from their current issue online. I’ve been lucky enough to have two poems published in these this year. It’s not the reason I write, but acceptance does help keep the momentum.

Julie Mellor, Blithe Spirit

Until I saw the work of Sarah J. Sloat, I hadn’t thought of combining erasure poems and collage.  I loved her book Hotel Almighty, the erasure poems with collage that Sloat created from pages of Stephen King’s Misery, and it made me want to do something similar.  But this past summer hasn’t been a great time to do that, what with getting ready to move, then moving, then having art supplies in various places.

And there’s the issue of intentionally destroying a book.  I don’t have that many books I don’t care about.  I thought I might use John Naisbitt’s Megatrends, once I glanced through it again to see if it had been correct about its predictions.  But when I saw my notes from so many years ago, I just couldn’t damage the book.

So, I made a photocopy of a page that had potential.  I blocked out some words that seemed to go together.  And then I clipped some pictures from a December copy of Oprah magazine. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Information Economies and Collages

I like blogging because I like writing but publication is slow. It’s nice to have an immediate outlet for thoughts I’m not ready to cast as essays or poems. I’m not about to stop in favor of more strategic writing behavior, although one day I might. But I do regret a little having channeled time away from truly private writing. What’s really on my mind is often not mine to share–this week, “worrying about a friend in trouble” doesn’t even remotely cover it–so I end up misrepresenting aspects of my life in my blog, probably most often by projecting coherence I certainly do not feel. I don’t know if any entry is really better than a verbal selfie, in which I “show” my writing, reading self at a deceptively flattering angle. As [Edna St. Vincent] Millay said at one of the many moments she castigates herself for not writing, “A diary of this kind is neither authentic nor satisfactory.”

Well, poets are experts at the simulacrum of presence, creating an illusion of voice through dry printed words. Millay certainly was. “What kind of beast would turn its life into words?” Adrienne Rich once wrote. Me, I guess, over and over again, trying to be authentic enough to satisfy myself.

Lesley Wheeler, “A diary of this kind is neither authentic nor satisfactory”: Millay’s journals

I have a thing for dead trees resting in the branches of living trees. I’m sure forestry management types consider this a potentially dangerous situation, but I find them beautiful. I cherish the music these tree partners make in the wind, almost like whale songs rising from the woods.

When I shared some pictures on social media, poet friend RC Wilson responded, ”Mark Twain indicated that a tree limb in the river that oscillated up and down in the current, like the arm of a man sawing wood, was called a sawyer. Seems like some of the music you describe is a rubbing sound caused by the wind moving the living tree so that the dead tree rubs against it like the bow of fiddle. So how about fiddlers? Yeah, ‘widow maker’ acknowledges the deadliness of that arrested potential energy, so watch out for widow makers when you set up your tent, but also listen for song of the fiddlers that trees have sung forever.”

Friend and former colleague Shay Seaborne wrote that she sees the living tree as a “tree death midwife.” I think she’s got something with that midwife observation.

Laura Grace Weldon, Sister Trees

Reading through The Book of Mirrors (Winner of the Twenty-Sixth White Pine Press Poetry Prize, 2021) by Yun Wang, I find myself marveling again and again at her facility with the poetic image. Across poems ranging in theme from feminism, dreams, literary figures, motherhood, and the universe, Wang’s use of the image is nothing short of illuminating while also being instructive. Note how even in this one line from “Sapphire” creates a whole world:

White swans in flight dissolve into a dark sea punctured by stars.

This inversion of color in the move from “white swans” to “dark sea” is masterful and moves imagery beyond mere description. Across the collection’s four sections, Wang incorporates images to suggest, provoke, interrogate, narrate, and elegize the experiences of living in a world where one only has what they can sense and intuit to guide them forward. A good example can be seen in the short lyric “Regret”:

If I were a tree
I would never have shed
all my leaves
for the caress of sunset

and stepped naked
into that moonless
starless night

A trap embraced me
I had no voice

Here, the logic and mutability implied by the word “If” is pursued through descriptions of tree life, a move that juxtaposes the experiences of tree and being human. Through this proximity, tree and human are seen in stark contrast while also embodying distinct vulnerabilities. The poem implies that while the fixed and voiceless tree would naturally be thought of as the more vulnerable of the two, it is the human decisions made by the speaker that have left her, ultimately, “trapped” with “no voice” despite having one. One feels distinctly the weight of the title and how much of it stems from conscious human awareness and human error.

José Angel Araguz, microreview & interview: The Book of Mirrors by Yun Wang

Yesterday, telling you about Men, Women, and Ghosts, I also told you about my dream of a wild, baby pig. Strange and delightful to encounter [Jon] Tribble’s poem titled “Long Stories About Short Pigs.” In the first story, a beggar boy takes a wild ride on a metal pig. Then my heart broke when the poem shifted to “the last Vietnamese family / pressed into the metal belly of the cargo / chopper” and made the connection, as many have been doing these last few days, of the exit from Vietnam and the exit from Afghanistan, leaving people behind. More heartbreak in “Banner Days in America,” a poem that starts with burning a flag and ends with folding one.

Indeed, for all the delights in this book, heartbreak, injustice, trouble, or irony are right there in the background, perhaps in a restaurant, enjoying Chinese food, while a boy and his grandmother talk about things you’d rather not have to overhear. “A pig is never only a pig,” Tribble reminds me, and, alas, “a fairy tale is only a fairy tale.” Sometimes there are no happy endings. In “Lucky Life,” about the need for riverboat casinos, “[a] few spindly antennas” in small towns are “shaping these lives to All-American mold.

          Huddled about the pixilated fire,
     cartoon promises guarantee That’s all,

     folks! with piggish glee, but is it?

Ah, yes, the pig of my childhood. But this is a grown-up book.

Kathleen Kirk, And There is Many a Good Thing

From Winnipeg-based poet Colin Smith comes Permanent Carnival Time (Winnipeg MB: ARP Books, 2021), furthering his exploration of civil discourse, neoliberal capitalism and chronic pain amid Kootenay School of Writing-infused poetics. Permanent Carnival Time engages with the prairies, including the historic Winnipeg General Strike, writing a wry engagement of language gymnastic and ruckus humour. “Labour is entitled to all it creates.” he writes, as part of the second poem, “Necessities for the Whole Hog.” Sparking asides, leaps and fact-checks, Smith’s lengthy poetic calls out culture and capitalism on their nonsense, deflection and outright lies, composing a lyric out of compost and into a caustic balm against capitalism’s ongoing damage. “Money with more civil rights than you.” he writes, as part of “Folly Suite”: “Luckless bastard.”

rob mclennan, Colin Smith, Permanent Carnival Time

Hades seems to be a state of mind, not just a place, and takes readers on a tour through politics, history, love, boredom and other human conditions in a variety of forms. The opening half is a collection of casual sonnets that don’t strictly follow the rules but allow the underlying structure to give the poems a framework, a reason not to wander too far off into digressions. The first poem, “Barbarian”, starts,

“Fey provincial folk played guitars
and zithers, slowly farmed the days
they read books and sat through plays
lived their lives creatively
(crochet, writing and pottery)
oblivious to the barbarian hordes
surrounding and then they noticed.”

Each turns to prayer only for them to be replied with disaster after disaster as “the home audience stare/ at shiny screens.” Being good is punished by reduction to entertainment to keep the barbarians on the right side of the screen.

Emma Lee, “A Happening in Hades” S K Kelen (Puncher and Wattmann) – book review

Because the enemy sleeps with eyes open and heart closed.

Because our heads and hands don’t always get along.

Because the belly of the beast sometimes resembles the interior of our past apartments.

Because there’s a memory tied around our finger that won’t allow us to forget the broken parts of our past.

Because it’s hard for arms to embrace shadows, because shadows sometimes wear our bodies better than we do.

Because wounds come in all shapes, sizes, and kisses.

Because fire is at the heart of our yeses, and yeses don’t always survive the rain.

Because sometimes the only language we can skywrite in is falling.

Because falls don’t always follow summers.

Because there aren’t enough desert winds to eliminate sorrow’s footsteps,

we continue to be that air in search of a clear blue sky.

Rich Ferguson, Eyes Open, Heart Closed

I used to wake every morning and spring out of bed: I’d be on my feet before I really knew I was awake, eager for the day, intent on my breakfast and my book and my brief ambitions. Now I wake slowly, even if my bladder is full and urgent. I look at my hands in the morning dark, open them wide and clench them curiously into fists, to see if they’ll do it. Still alive: still strong. I’m still here, for some reason. Or for none. I hear the cry of gulls, in my mind’s ear. They don’t really come this far up from the river: it’s some trick of my gimpy auditory processing. I turn on my side, throw off the covers, swing my legs forward into emptiness, freeze my core, and push myself upright with one arm. From there I can stand without any particular stress on my lower back. I sway slightly, reassuring it: see? I can move that much, and no sirens go off. A new day. Thus.

Dale Favier, The Cry of Gulls

once the coast was clear
all the humans gone
the gulls moved in to
scavenge
salvage
savage what remained

night was falling
change was in the air
they had been here before
all might perish yet

Paul Tobin, NIGHT WAS FALLING

Open the gate. Let the cows roam,
Following their own free will.
Open the door. Let the children play
However they wish to play.
If the house and the grounds are both silent,
Shape your cool tongue into a single white flower.
Perhaps a camellia, fat and full, bursting
With life. Lick the silence clean.
Move through your silence
Like you might move through an entire life,
If only you could; and do this without shame.

James Lee Jobe, Lick the silence clean.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 33

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. You can also browse the blog digest archive or subscribe to its RSS feed in your favorite feed reader. This week, the world is still broken; poets on a large island in the north Atlantic are obsessed with water; musings on compassion, light, Cassandra, and Calypso; some unusual accounting systems, and more. We end on an uncharacteristically upbeat note.


broken world –
monsoon clouds like Band-aid strips
on an ebbing sky

Alternating between banal work and the feverish dystopia of my newsfeed, it does feel, sometimes, like the world is coming apart in an insane hurry, everywhere. In the middle of war and hate and climate change and the pandemic, if there is a safe place, it seems like it is getting smaller and smaller or fading away in the fog. Meanwhile, there’s poetry, rare but still able to say that, once, there was a time, somewhere, safe enough so a poet could, for a while, put pen to paper. 

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Broken World

A whole evening,
just stars and crickets.

Tom Montag, A Whole Evening

If I were asked to name one signature theme or image for U.K. poetry over the past twenty years, it would be water. British English has so many words for different types of rain and for the movement of liquid, and numerous poets seem to reflect those riches in their work.

Am I right…? If so, why? Is such close attention to water a consequence of the U.K.’s climate? And does climate have a deeper connection not just to our everyday experiences but to our poetic lives…?

Matthew Stewart, Water, water everywhere…!

Mist crosses
the pale wetlands.

Beneath the mill
eels are trapped.

A plane overhead.
Too low, so loud.

In the distance,
gunfire, rapid.

Bob Mee, IRRELEVANCE

You, my regular reader, may remember that several of my blog posts have been inspired by those of Matthew Stewart. In this case, it’s slightly different: a welcome instance of synchronicity.

It must be difficult to be a poet in Yorkshire and not feel a need to write, at least once, about reservoirs. Near where I grew up, in south-west London, the reservoirs were more often not forbidding places with no or limited access, surrounded by high walls, which kept the water out of sight, and grassy banks grazed by strangely suburban sheep. When they were visible, the water was enclosed by undisguised concrete. Some are havens for urban birders – Stephen Moss undertook much of his formative birding at Staines Reservoir.

Those in Yorkshire tend to be tucked away, in moorland hills, and properly absorbed into their environments. Therein lies their beauty, perhaps: the knowledge that even though we, and the creatures who live in and around them, appreciate them as natural lakes (and who doesn’t love a nice lake?), they are artificial , existing only to be functional; to provide clean water to the great conurbations of the Ridings. Peter Sansom’s marvellous ‘Driving at Night’, the opening poem of his 2000 collection Point of Sale, begins:

The res through trees
is a lake or calm sea on whose far shore
a holiday is waiting, a fire laid in the grate,
the larder stocked with tins, milk in the fridge,
and on the hearth a vase of new tulips.

I know instinctively what he means. The contentment invoked in those lines is topped off by that ‘new’: these are pristine tulips, with no sign yet of their heads drooping.

I’ve mentioned previously Ted Hughes’s poem ‘Widdop’, about the reservoir of the same name, a few miles north-west of his house at Lumb Bank, which he subsequently gave to the Arvon Foundation. Its opening lines are as vividly memorable as Peter’s:

Where there was nothing
Somebody put a frightened lake.

Matthew Paul, The poetry of reservoirs

“A Thirst for Rain” is after Rosemary Tonks, and starts,

“I have lived them, and lived them.
Swollen afternoons of seared skin
when nothing mattered more
than the crow’s love of bone
or the damselflies’ tangled rise
above idle water.”

Rosemary Tonks (1928 – 2014) authored two poetry collections, six novels and was chiefly active on the literary scene in the 1960s. She renounced literature in the 1970s and seemed pretty much forgotten until a collected poems, “Bedouin of the London Evening” was published in 2014. Her poems focused on urban, cafe scenes or undermining pretentious potential lovers. Their tone is conversational and dryly humoured. Anderson’s poem matches that atmosphere, where a narrator looks on a full life where all that mattered was the next meal, the next love.

Emma Lee, “Sin is Due to Open in a Room Above Kitty’s” Morag Anderson (Fly on the Wall Press) – book review

I’m definitely not able to keep up with a book a day for The Sealey Challenge, but I’ve read more poetry this month already than I’ve read in the last year. So a successful attempt for me. I maybe need to do something similar with some of the poetry magazines I get as I can never keep up with all the reading for them either. 

It’s been storming here after such a dry summer, we’ve been flooded with so much rain. So it’s nice to curl up with poetry in the evenings after work as a way to wind down. […]

Day 21: Nobody by Alice Oswald. A heady mix of mythical and modern-day imagery, aeroplanes and styrofoam floats on purple seas, dawn waking rosy-fingered behind net curtains. I loved Greek myths when I was young and really enjoyed the the current retelling of Circe and Achilles by Madeline Miller, so this 2019 collection by the Oxford Professor of Poetry caught my eye. This book-length poem plays with the stories of the poet from ‘The Illiad’ who was to spy on Agamemnon’s wife, but then was abandoned on a stony island which allowed the wife to be seduced with the tale of Odysseus and his faithful wife from ‘The Odyssey’. The poem is punctuation free, line breaks shifting across the pages leaving large white spaces and images that seem scoured by tides.

The sea is the strongest character in the book, its moods set the tone, but the poem says ‘the sea itself has no character just this horrible thirst’ and that feeling is strong throughout the book. The speakers feel like a true nobody of wives and poets, gods and sailors, it’s never clear who you’re listening to. The poem feels at once ancient and new, jumbled, found in pieces on some beach. I’ve just discovered that the book was meant to go with a collection of watercolours by William Tillyer, but I don’t have that version. Shame really, as a quick internet search shows that they would really expand the poem. A captivating read.

Gerry Stewart, The Sealey Challenge: Days 15, 16, 18 and 21

trees falling
into the arms of the sea
that still makes rain

Jim Young [no title]

I have visited Eyam in Derbyshire where plague victims cut themselves off from surrounding villages in order to contain the disease. I have explored the remains of Scottish villages that were abandoned during the Clearances (my poem, ‘The Ceilidh House’ on p.16 alludes to this). Stones, graves and broken walls can tell a powerful tale, and sometimes these features are all we have to go on. 

But Pompeii and Herculaneum are different. We are, for example, confronted with the reality of normal aspects of life, including shopping (the Market of Macellum, a fast-food counter …), art in the form of wall paintings and mosaics, garden features and so much more. It is as if the inhabitants have just gone out for a short while, leaving their stone guard dogs at the ready. 

And yet it is not at all like that. I find I only have only to stare at the plaster casts made from the remains of the people (see here; and also top right on this blog page for a photo of a figure, head in hands) and their animals (dog, boar or pig, and horse) to begin to sense something of the horror. […]

Let’s turn more specifically to ‘Wildfire’. This poem was written during the pandemic; it was not intended to be a ‘happy’ poem. Poets use the currency of metaphor and sustained metaphor. How much of my poem was actually about the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79? This is a question I continue to ask myself. 

What I knew from the outset was that I wanted the reinforcement that repetition would afford. ‘Wildfire’ is a villanelle (think: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ by Dylan Thomas). The form, allowing for only two rhyme sounds throughout, and the ‘pared-back’ nature of my theme seemed complementary. 

Maria, you highlight my line, ‘I wonder who will live and who has died‘. Images of those 103 heart-wrenching plaster casts (the child, the man crawling along the ground …) were rarely far away, but I was also trying to understand what was behind the words written to Tacitus by Pliny the Younger, whose account of the eruption was discovered, or recovered, in the 16th century. Hence the epigraph at the top of my poem. 

I tried to absorb the text of the letter in translation and attempted to imagine what it might have been like not only for the Younger Pliny, but also for other survivors such as Cornelius Fuscus. Some of those who escaped asphyxiation from the pyroclastic flow at Herculaneum probably left by ship almost as soon as they became aware of the danger. 

At the time of writing (my records state I began to draft ‘Wildfire’ on 20 April 2020), I had been in lockdown for some weeks. My outlook was changing, and perhaps that was partly why the subject for this villanelle came to me at that particular moment of flux. People we knew were beginning to catch Covid. There was fear in the air and the virus seemed close at hand. 

Caroline Gill, DRIFTWOOD BY STARLIGHT: Questions from Maria Lloyd (2)

When the Buddhists ask what it costs to extend compassion to everyone without judgement, maybe the answer is that it costs me the awareness of my own vulnerabilities? Not only to the damage earthquakes and violence can do to my body, but to the damage fear can do to my (for lack of a better word) soul.

A decade ago I worked with people who were escaping situations like those in the news now. And it was so easy to look for – and find – excuses to withhold compassion. Because the alternative was too painful to bear gracefully, “sensibly”.

It is a stereotype that I have heard women often bandy about: that men can’t listen without trying to fix everything. But isn’t that all of us? What we can’t fix we sometimes justify as not deserving fixing? Because it is all so difficult.

Many times I’ve watched newspapers fall apart in a tub of water. Watched the previous day’s news dissolve like the darkness at 4:30 when the sun nears the horizon in the east.

A deep breath. A dog on a leash. A human body struggling with the cost and the value of compassion.

Ren Powell, Accepting Helplessness

I died in the village. It was morning.

I died in the village, everyone came. There was a buffet.

Scorpions crawled over my eyes, into my nostrils, into my ears. Scorpions. 

The wind had a sound like music from the other side of the world. People painted their faces and danced. Monkeys screamed from the distant trees. 

Women covered my corpse with a white cloth. It might have been a table cloth.

James Lee Jobe, I rose above my body and looked down.

To love the high sun before the hurricane when people with the best muscles are allowed to use them on the boulevard. To study the canvas of sweat on my burnt orange tent dress, a diagram of where the body folds.

To love the light and shadow chasing each other across the grass, the atmosphere the Impressionists would have painted with a tint of violet.  To feel shadows looking like a pair of hunting dogs tired from their day, lolled out under a pair of chaises longues.  

To wait up with the too-humid night sky, its swirling winds with nowhere to go,  like small-town hoods, lazy and looking for a fight.  To wake up to a hurricane, expressing itself.

To stay in the indelible truth of a face, even the eye of a hurricane. To stave off the heavy arms of the past and the cut-free kite of the future as the hurricane passes.

Jill Pearlman, The Volatile, Mutable Moods of Summer

I used to dream I was swimming in full dark, in ocean
unlit even by stars: no way to know if I was headed in, or out,
or parallel to shore until I sank from exhaustion. How awful
would that be, if it turned out I was swimming the shoreline
the whole time? I don’t dream that any more: now salt crusts
and burns my lips the same way, but I know there is no landing.

JJS, Oceans

Today was the last day of the two week journey of this year’s Virtual version of Breadloaf. There were at least twenty lectures from amazing writers of all genres, including non-fiction and screenwriting, several long workshop sessions, pitching sessions, hanging out in a virtual Barn, and even Breadloaf readings on Zoom. […]

I was nervous that Breadloaf was only for younger writers, but I met people of all ages and backgrounds, which was great. I thought my workshop was full of really talented writers, and I was impressed by the level of writing at the attendee readings as well. The atmosphere of one of the oldest and most prestigious writers conferences in the country was much less stuffy or pretentious than I imagined it would be – could the virtual aspect of it make it seem more accessible?

I got lots of advice on publishing and lots of encouragement as well. A lot of kindness from people. I think it will have been a worthwhile thing to have done looking back. Now I need to actually apply the advice from workshop and on publishing and get to revising and sending out my work. I hope I stay in touch with at least a few friends I made, and crossing fingers for the manuscript that was sent in from one of my pitch sessions. You never know!

In a year (and a half) characterized by so much lack of socialization, going to a virtual writers conference was a great way to feel like I wasn’t totally isolated and that I was part of a larger writing community. It was also fun getting advice from other people who had been to Breadloaf before me about how to get the most out of it.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Virtual Breadloaf, Some Writer Conference Takeaways, and End of Summer Musings

I’ve been working flat-out on honing the manuscript of an essay collection, Poetry’s Possible Worlds, due from Tinderbox Editions late this year or early next (I suspect the latter at this point). It’s a blend of memoir and criticism with a good dose of cognitive science and narrative theory, plus thirteen 21st century poems reprinted in full to anchor the short chapters. Recounting the close of my con-man father’s life, it’s also the story of reading poetry through personal crisis AND an analysis of how “literary transportation” works when you enter a poem’s pocket universe (that’s immersive reading or getting lost in a text, for the layperson). I’ve been drafting this book since 2012 so it’s really important to me. Closing in on a final version I’ll submit to an editor, though, always makes me nervous. You’re down in the weeds, seeing ways a sentence here and there could be made more elegant, checking the bibliography, and wondering whom you’ve inadvertently omitted from the acknowledgments. But it’s also the last time you can try for the 30,000 feet perspective, imagining how the book will be received by others and trying to catch those moments of obtuseness or under-explanation that inevitably linger. Hard work in multiple ways.

This book, though, works through challenging personal material. On the good side, there are stories of travel, particularly my 2011 Fulbright in New Zealand; reflections on growth and change; and positive representations of sustaining relationships. The dark stuff involves, of course, tales of my dishonest and narcissistic father but also workplace harassment; a long-ago sexual assault; Chris’ mother’s dementia; and my mother’s first round of lymphoma in 2015. It shook me to spend time with that material again. Worse, since my mother died of the lymphoma’s recurrence in April, I had to put my sentences about her into the past tense. No wonder I was resisting finalizing the ms.

I did the same thing to myself in July, at the Sewanee Writers Workshop. I had to finalize my workshop ms in May, and it was full of poems about my mother’s death and other tough material. Somehow, for the last couple of years, I’ve finally been writing about childhood abuse and mental health. My mother always read my poetry books, but I think at some level I knew she wasn’t likely to read this new stuff. I’m freer to be honest than before, and some of what hurt me long ago was my mother choosing not to protect us from my father. Again, no wonder Sewanee was emotionally intense.

Lesley Wheeler, When revisions are even harder

I’m growing back my mustache. It makes me look like one or both of my fathers. Not a look I’m going for, but you can’t help DNA or random chance. There are other things I can help, though, like that time I saw my father’s hands at the end of my own arms and decided right then and there to turn in a different direction. If I had the chance would I do it over again? Probably, yeah. Take a better shot at being the guy my kids might someday write poems about. The time machine only goes forward and we all move at the same speed.

Jason Crane, Mustache

I was thinking about unpaid work and the stresses even those things entail. Even creative work, especially something you put so much into that gives little material reward.  The hours devoted to perfecting a poem or manuscript.  Doing the work of submitting and editing and keeping track of things. Battling printers and assembling books. Designing covers and interiors. A couple months ago, I went around thinking I wanted anything but this. Grad school, new jobs, new directions.  Anything but poetry and libraries. Maybe film studies, or graphic design, or marketing. I eyed the tents pitched along lake shore drive and the food assistance lines on my commute and had sudden fears that I was one paycheck from the streets and always would be continuing to live the life I do. Not that there is shame in these things in any way. Shit happens. The world is fucked up and the rich get richer on the backs of everyone else.  But, without any safety nets,  my own fear is very real.   I pictured myself 20 years down the line…the retirement savings I only barely have–how it’s impossible to save when you live paycheck to paycheck. And does it even make you happy anymore?  Does anything? And even if it does most of the time,  should I be living some other sort of less rewarding or creative life to make sure I can sustain myself later? 

The winds shift back of course.  Much like my winter doldrums, the spring returns and I feel again, if not enthusiastic all the time, at least neutral. I spent a lot of time building this life, making sure I made the right choices, but why do I sometimes hate it?  If money was no object (had I married a rich man…lol… or been independently wealthy) I would choose this life. I did choose this life, all along, each decision a choice to get me to the present.  But sometimes I feel like my priorities were wrong somewhere along the way.  That in seizing some things, I gave up important ones–ones that would have made me more financially secure. Just more secure in general. The early days of the pandemic terrified me.  I though for sure I would lose that job that I sometimes complain about. That academia would tumble into rubble.  That society would crumble into rubble. (all of these things in addition to getting sick.)  On the flipside, my priorities are different somehow in terms of  my creative practice.  It also, however,  made me scared and therefore, apt to cling to it even tighter. I know I can’t work in a state of instability.  Of uncertainly.  Creatively or otherwise.

Which  is, of course, the worst of all puzzles.  To have the stability that allows writing and artmaking to happen, but also to not get swallowed so completely by that other work that there is nothing left for the poems or art. What do we give up in terms of stability and work we may even enjoy to do this work we somehow still need to do. And even the those things, how we keep them from feeling like cages of a different sort. 

Kristy Bowen, stability & uncertainty | the creative life

I grew up in a word-loving family and my own kids have taken that much farther than I might have imagined. When very young they developed an unnamed game of verbal jousting I call, in this post, Game of Slurs, although the post doesn’t go into just how amusingly over-the-top they could get with inventive word pairings. They also played, with only minor nudges from me, all sorts of dictionary-based games including my favorite, Blackbird. And all of us have unconsciously incorporated words into our everyday conversations that, apparently, seem strange to those around us. When they were younger, some of my kids consciously modified what words they used when, but these days they not only use whatever obscure words they like, they also, well, “experiment” on others to see if they can get them to start using such words too. […]

In many ways, the language(s) we speak shape the way we think. We will never know what ways of thinking about, seeing, and interacting with the world are lost to us when we speak only one language. This is even more troubling in relation to entire languages going extinct. The Linguistic Society of America reports there are more than 6,500 languages used worldwide. Eighty percent, by some estimates, may vanish within the next century.

My problem, as a writer, takes place in a much smaller arena — my head. Much as I love words, it often seems impossible to fit meaning more than partway into language. I might manage to get a pinch of the inexpressible in, but that’s it, and only if I’m lucky. It’s like trying to stuff a galaxy into a suitcase and still zip it closed.

I hope we all do what we can, in these troubling times, to use language clearly, kindly, and well. Even more, that we make every effort to listen.

Laura Grace Weldon, Definitions and Beyond

And on the prose front, oh, that annoying George Saunders is at it again, being all smart, and funny, and generous of spirit. I’m reading A Swim in the Pond in the Rain, which presents a handful of Russian short stories and then Saunders basically walks us through how each story is operating and challenges us to use some of that craft in our own work. In the process of all that he had this to say…  “a story responds alertly to itself.” Which is such a useful thought, I find, when considering the moving, or non-moving, parts of my poems, including the ticking of time itself.  

And later he takes a pause from talking about prose to include this little sidebar thought on what poetry is: “…poetry, i.e., truth forced out through a restricted opening. That’s all poetry is, really, something odd, coming out…The poet proves that language is inadequate by throwing herself at the fence of language and being bound by it. Poetry is the resultant bulging of the fence.” 

Damn that guy.

Marilyn McCabe, Human kindness overflowing; or, On What I’m Reading

“Lyric address is usually indirect.” (This, despite the frequent use of apostrophe in lyrical poetry, which Cullers argues is used indirectly most of the time.)

Lyrical apostrophe “posits a third realm, neither human nor natural, that can act and determine our world.”

~

“If one were to treat lyric as a domain to be mapped, one would need a multidimensional space.”
Jonathan Cullers

I especially like that last one. Lyric as Kosmos, as universe (and possibly universal). It jives with Whitman in some ways–resonates, at very least, with his idea of poetry as vast and of himself (as poet) containing multitudes.

Something to aspire to be, to write, to wrap my mind around.

Ann E. Michael, Lyrical

The third full-length collection by Somerville, Massachusetts poet Natalie Shapero, following No Object (Saturnalia, 2013) and the Griffin Poetry Prize (International) shortlistedHard Child (Copper Canyon Press, 2017) [see my review of such here], is Popular Longing (Port Townsend WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2021), a collection of narrative lyrics composed through wry observation, sharp commentary and consequence, and the occasional rush of breath. Her poems are pearls of logic, urgency and contemplation, composed of worn irritation and deadpan delivery. The poem “Have at It,” for example, opens: “When you work here for ten years, you get / a blanket. The blanket has their name on it, / not yours. I am conducting an anecdotal / survey of longtime employees, and I have yet / to find one person who uses the thing / to keep warm.” The mind moves quick, but the poems unpack slowly, as though not wishing to overlook a single thing.

As she writes to open the poem “Tea,” referencing, of course, contemporary reenactments of the 1773 American “Boston Tea Party” protest against the British: “I can’t get away from it. / Felted-up reenactors shoving a great fake crate of it / into the Harbor and jeering. / After the tour group leaves, they fish it / back out and towel it off, / unbutton their waistcoats to smoke.” I’m fascinated by the ways Shapero takes an idea or a subject and dismantles it, studying every small piece through her evolution of sentences. The poem “Tomatoes Ten Ways,” for example, extends thought across a great distance, yet turning every moment over to see what lay beneath, writing: “I just want to get // back now, back to my kitchen, back / to my peeler and ladle and electric / oven where decades of hands // have worn the temperature marks / clean off the dial—it’s always a guess. // Cooking is important. It prepares us // for how to sustain each other / in the emptiness ahead.” Through attempting to seek answers to impossible questions, Shapero manages to uncover separate but equally important truths, ones that might have otherwise lay fallow.

rob mclennan, Natalie Shapero, Popular Longing

Recently I dreamed I lived in a waterworld, and now this cover!–art by Jeremy Miranda, Searching–for Patient Zero by Tomás Q. Morín (Copper Canyon, 2017). And I kept intersecting with the book as I read along. The title poem, “Patient Zero,” which makes you think of AIDS, or Covid, or the movie Contagion, is really about love as “a worried, old heart / disease,” quoting Son House lyrics to lay out a theory about humans and animals stricken with “something…divine and endless.” Love. […]

There is a remarkable long poem called “Sing Sing” about a prisoner who keeps drafting a letter to her parole board. In it, I learn that “Sing Sing” must come from “the Sint Sinck / tribe who fished and camped // the shores…” Indeed, looking further, I find that Sint Sinck means “stone upon stone,” and are the white stones of the famous prison at Ossining, New York.

Kathleen Kirk, Patient Zero

I’ve been reading Ellen Bryant Voigt’s 1995 book Kyrie, a series of poems set in 1918—during the (yep) flu epidemic. One poem begins “How we survived…” that is a perfect prompt, but it has an image in it that so freaked me out I don’t want to share it. I cast around, reading poem after poem: “You wiped a fever-brow, you burned the cloth. / You scrubbed a sickroom floor, you burned the mop. / What wouldn’t burn you boiled like applesauce / out beside the shed in the copper pot.”

And there’s this poem, the first in the collection, which seems to predict the future of that survival:

Prologue

After the first year, weeds and scrub;
after five, juniper and birch,
alders filling in among the briars;
ten more years, maples rise and thicken;
forty years, the birches crowded out,
a new world swarms on the floor of the hardwood forest.
And who can tell us where there was an orchard,
where a swing, where the smokehouse stood?

—Ellen Bryant Voigt

Bethany Reid, Your Poetry Assignment for the Week

This morning, I reflected back on the month of August as a month where I came to realize–once again, and over and over again–how much of the world seems to be held together with tape and a patchwork of chewing gum and maybe a thin veneer of paint here and there.  But frankly, the whole summer has felt that way, and perhaps this whole pandemic time, and maybe it has always been this way, but many of us can go for months or years before we’re forced to reckon with this knowledge again.

Humans like to think that we’re in control, and many of us will go to great lengths to maintain that illusion.  For me, this summer has brought week after week of almost daily reminders that we’re not.  Those reminders have ranged from the small to the huge, from the personal to the global.

When I think of the early days of June, I remember a time when it seemed that we might be turning a corner with the COVID-19 crisis.  Vaccination rates continued to chug along, and we finished a K-12 school year with few student deaths and not as many outbreaks as I would have predicted.  The world at large seemed calm–or am I remembering it wrong?

Then the condo building in Surfside Beach, just south of here, collapsed, and suddenly, it seemed that more buildings than we’d have expected have serious structural issues.  And here we are, two months later, and it begins to feel like all of our foreign policy has collapsed and lies in ruins.  The domestic political situation has felt like rubble for over a decade now, so that’s not anything new.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Summer 2021: Things Fall Apart

For any of us who care about other parts of the world and the people who inhabit them, it’s been a difficult and emotional week. I’m not going to get into any of it here. Suffice it to say that this blog wouldn’t have been named what it was [the cassandra pages], back in 2003, if I hadn’t foreseen much of the tragedy that would unfold as a result of American foreign policies — though I fervently wish I’d been wrong.

Obviously we need to continue to do whatever we can to alleviate suffering and work for justice and for positive change, while caring for those closest to us as well. Our primary responsibility is to remember to take care of ourselves so that we have a chance of being able to help others. What does that mean for you? Have you ever thought about it in depth, and written it down?

Beth Adams, Drawing my way through a rough week

August: early rains in the south,
and fires in the west. River birds sketch
figures on water. Dearest ones,
whatever accounts were entered there
have yielded up their remaining
balances. I’m spending every
bright pebble I find. The shallows gleam
with all the currency fallen from the moon’s
poor-box—greens and blues, discs of scarred
copper. Meanwhile, every drawer of this house
hoards a collection of all we fed to our ghosts.
In the end, there will be nothing left to collect.

Luisa A. Igloria, Ledger

After sitting in paralysis from another form reject for too long, I decided to take things into my own hands. I wanted to give myself something back—a small token of appreciation for showing up for myself in the first place, something that would turn this salty moment into a celebration. I wrote rejection fund on a scrap of paper, slapped it on an old (extra large) mason jar, and have since filled it to the brim.

For each rejection I get, I put a dollar in the jar. And when I find something—a new treat I’ve been craving, an application fee I couldn’t quite swing, or a much-needed cocktail at the end of a particularly long week, my rejections—and, let’s be clear, my faith in myself and my own (mostly) tireless championing—refill my cup and tenderly guide me back into the work.

And you know what? What started as a kind of goofy self-help move has been astoundingly grounding through the submission process—especially as an emerging writer. I realized I now had something to do with all that stalled, stale, sometimes paralyzing energy left over from getting a “thanks, but no thanks” for the work I poured so many hours into. I even found myself looking forward to those emails so I could tip myself again. Something totally out of my control now felt a little more manageable, something I could now take the reins on and say, “no, thank you!”

Because what many of us (hopefully) come to realize, is that not only are the rejections not ours, but the acceptances aren’t ours, either. They have nothing to do with me, and while I can celebrate the successes and grow from the critiques, I don’t want to hang my own worth on someone else’s yes or no.

My rejection jar helps restore a little bit of that agency. These poems I write day in and day out are small new friends, landscapes to grow and warp and feel the world through, come to new selves and new understandings with. They are stamped and sealed only by my acceptance, my rejection. I get to say when they feel like “good” or “bad” poems to me, “ready” and “not ready,” scrap versus actual potential. And then we can see where they might fit—or not—in the external world. Beloved literary editors—sometimes brusque with over-work, but often kind, thoughtful, and generous, too—have their own tastes of what makes a poem a good fit or not, and nothing about these rejections is personal.

Today, I count $28, and I’ve already taken some of that cash for a spin (my first purchases: two new rejection lipsticks, Desert Rose and Voyager #50). That money doesn’t feel like a sadly accumulating pity-puddle. No—it’s just proof I’m still doing the damn thing.

The Rejection Jar – guest blog post by Zoë Fay-Stindt [Trish Hopkinson’s blog]

It has all felt a little magical. I tend to be skeptical of most things, and I have looked askance at the current fascination with manifesting, but… It feels like that is what has happened. Right before the pandemic hit us, Kari wrote something about wanting to stop blaming others for her unhappiness and it struck something deep within me. I was so tired of being unhappy and so tired of feeling powerless in my unhappiness. I hate toxic positivity and any solutions to personal problems that don’t consider systemic causes of them, but I sat myself down and made a mental list of all the things that weren’t working for me and asked myself what I could do to change them, by myself. I quickly realized I would have to do two things: Be open to what I started calling “radical lifestyle change” and tell myself and those close to me the truth of what I wanted (and didn’t), despite fear of my truths and of others’ responses to them. Sometimes it was scary and it was never easy, but when I remember my life two years ago and then look at what it is today, it feels like a damn miracle. (But to be clear: It’s not. I could not be where I am without systemic structures and advantages that have allowed me to make the choices I have, primarily the one that is allowing me to both draw retirement income and return to work.)

You guys: At the core of my life is a healthy, loving, committed relationship. We are creating a home that feels just right for how we live and want to live. I have time to nurture my health and relationships. I have time for creative work outside my for-pay work and to learn how to live in more congruence with my values. And now I get to go back to school, doing the kind of teaching I’ve missed for more than a decade, in the place I loved more than any other I’ve worked. I know it won’t be the place I left, and it’s going to be hard (Covid alone assures that), probably in many ways, but I am so excited to finally be tackling what feels like the right kinds of hard in this very hard time. To be starting a new chapter. To revise the ending of my story.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Maybe you can go home again?

To sound like an electric guitar of scars singing stories of old wounds that learned how to heal themselves.

To never possess a dead man’s curve in our highway smile.

To be the hangman’s rope that unravels itself until there’s never no more hanging to be done.

Rich Ferguson, Untitled #99

they do not understand
the beneficence of drink
how it grants distance

smooths out life’s wrinkles
they badger him
and he hides his habit

evenings spent
on park benches
slowly observing

the clouds change shape
a tin of the cheapest Pilsner
warm in his hand

Paul Tobin, HIS OWN CALYPSO

I had been thinking about Andy Warhol saying, “All the Coke is good,” which inadvertently prompted me to remember, all the light is good. I’d been limiting my photography excursions to evening or mornings, because that is when many interesting or surprising things happen in terms of light. But when you’re on vacation, for example, you haul your camera around all day, you wear it like a drastic necklace to the detriment of your spine and neck alignment, and you take photos in all sorts of light. Your time in a place is limited, and so you take photos in all the light. All this, really, to say, make your art when you can in whatever light is available. Write in early mornings, during your lunch break, don’t wait for a perfect time. The perfect time is now.

Shawna Lemay, All the Light is Good

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 31

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: wildfires and harvest metaphors, Covid worries, learning to swim, reading books for the Sealey challenge, and much more.


Mountains of fire, the forest
Is a fantastic red blaze.
Lightning in the summer sky,
The earth is as dry as old bones.
And we burn, each of us is an ember.
This is the hour to hold on to hope,
The hour to keep faith and have courage.
May we not fail, and if we do fail
Let it be brazen. Let it be fierce.
Let the final light of being
Illuminate the entire earth.

James Lee Jobe, each of us is an ember

When I began this pastel a month ago, I was thinking with longing about the silvery olive trees in Greece, billowing in the wind off the sea and the mountain tops. That was before the wildfires began that are now raging across the mainland and the Peloponnese, bringing enormous destruction, suffering and loss. Today I look at this picture with different eyes, and have been thinking of the legend of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from the Olympian gods and gave it to humans — for that deed he was glorified by humans, but punished by Zeus, who chained him to a rock where an eagle continually preyed upon his liver, until Hercules freed him many centuries later. But it has taken three millennia for us to begin to understand the deeper meaning behind that myth, and why the gods might not have wanted man to have fire, and to start to recognize the results and the price of our selfish neglect of the earth and all its gifts.

This particular olive tree grows at the top of a hill in Epidaurus, site of perhaps the most perfect ancient Greek theater, and of the shrine of Asclepias: a sacred place of pilgrimage and healing for the ancient Greeks. I had climbed up all the steps of the theater to the very top, and then looked out over the back in the opposite direction, where there was a farmer’s road and a grove of olive trees, whose leaves made rustling music in the wind.

In the pastel, I tried to capture that sense of restless, continual movement against the stony ochre-tinged earth and the tall mountains in the distance: the time I spent contemplating that scene remains a memory just as vivid as that of the theater and the surrounding shrine.

Beth Adams, Olive Trees at Epidaurus

Since my last post here, my main creative accomplishment has been to keep the door open to both writing and visual art just for the pleasure… no expectation to make reading notes and no expectation to write anything more than notes or jot down bits of inspiration. I quietly kept my toe in the writing waters by finishing up a micro class with Sarah Freligh and Zoom workshops with both the Madwomen and members of my local poetry community.

I also let expectations go for my social life, for wellness pursuits, for schedules, for work, for play, etc. I am terrible at going with the flow, but I did surrender to it.

I realize now that this was a delayed response to the Collective Big Pause (i.e. global pandemic and associated social distancing/lock downs). I don’t do well with transitions, and I loathe uncertainty. I prefer clear paths over liminal space. I appreciate deadlines and established time frames. While so many of you leaned into the stillness of the pandemic, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I don’t mean the solitude got to me: Solitude is a good friend of mine. I mean that while many were able to soothe themselves with familiar pleasures (like favorite hobbies) or even seek new pleasures (like fresh projects or development of long-desired skills), I pretty much froze. I understood that I could be (maybe even should be) using the time differently, but instead I just sat in it. I worked online during the day, and at night and on weekends, I got numb. I checked out.

The last few months, early spring at first, now deep into summer, have been about easing my way back into feeling. I’m not all the way there yet, but starting with pleasure seemed wise. Savoring morning coffee. Working my muscles hard. Putting my ear to the creative ground and capturing bits of language. Shooting the shit with my boys whenever the opportunity presents itself and for as long. Absorbing sun. Reading books cover-to-cover. Painting my nails. Eating and drinking what I want.

Carolee Bennett, the annoying chewing sounds my brain makes

brown water grey headland
litter of shattered shale
wave lines slant to the shore

junction 23 roundabout
a mass of moon daisies
horses up to their knees in buttercups

I have the right
to be absolutely
wrong

Ama Bolton, Desire Lines

I grew up in small towns. On top of that, I lived in the country, not in town. I think living in relative isolation was good preparation for living in a pandemic. Honestly, I’m only now starting to miss in-person socializing. A little. One good thing about isolation of this kind is that you have almost complete control over your life and how you want to spend your time because you don’t have a lot of outside choices. There have been minimal demands from “out there” and I’ve spent almost every day doing exactly what I wanted. Kind of like it was before I started grade school. I was an expert at entertaining myself. I had books, I had nature, I had animals. I was never bored. During the past year and a half I have rarely been bored. I feel sad for people who need more stimulation. I’m sure it’s been much harder on them.

Charlotte Hamrick, Favorite Fiction: 2nd Quarter 2021

I have to admit, my three days a week in the library (courtesy of all those extra vacation days I’d been hoarding the past couple years) have made this summer seem a bit lengthier than they usually are. While most pass in a stack of weeks that are indistinguishable from the next. Now there’s some space between the work weeks–days I can devote to other kinds of work–mostly writing and the press, but sometimes a little painting thrown in. They make the days I go downtown feel like a singular week and not just one bleeding into the next. But even still. we are already knee deep in August it seems. Already creeping closer to the beginning of the semester while side-eyeing the news headlines. Columbia seems to acting from a place of hope I’m not sure they will get to just yet. The edict a few weeks back about going maskless on campus was snatched away even before most of us actually took ours off for any period of time. There are plans for in-person outdoor convocation and 75 percent reduced instruction, but I still feel like they are being way too optimistic given that even in well-vaxxed Chicago, our positive rate is somehow, impossibly creeping up nevertheless and the rest of the state is a giant, under-vaccinated mess. I fear for the folks I know in Florida and have a governor intent on killing everyone it seems. Even places under good leadership are failing.

Kristy Bowen, notes & things | 8/7/2021

I don’t want to reckon with my choices:
feels like that’s all we’ve done for 18 months
(should I mask, is this safe, what if
we meet outside and never breathe together?)
I don’t want to query who will live
and who will die, who by wildfire and who
by flooded subway, who intubated and alone
and who will have enough while others lack.
I just want all of us to thrive: our hearts
at ease, our hopes in reach at last.
Come close to me, God. Comfort me with apples.
Remind me the world is born again each year —
even if I’m not ready, even if this year
I’m not sure I know the words to pray.

Rachel Barenblat, Sonnet for our second COVID Rosh Hashanah

I’ve staged this harvest, taking only enough spuds at a time for the next meal in order to achieve that tub-to-table-in-20-minutes freshness which has been the whole point, or at least a good part of the point. I’ve served them with mint from the window box, and roasted them with rosemary which grows next to the mint. With the next and final serving, I plan to smother then in buttery sage – the window box sage is flourishing, having been dug up and sent to me by Morar by Royal Mail last autumn. She’d read I didn’t have any to go with my parsley, rosemary, and thyme (I Bottle Abundance). 

The rest of the point of the harvest has been to do with the pleasure of engaging in the physical world, the necessity of it. The joy of it is the reminder that growth often takes place out of sight … but oh … this is beginning to sound like it’s heading in the direction of a sermon …

You’re right, dear reader: I’m going to use my potato harvest as a metaphor for creativity. You see, all the while these Charlottes were growing underground, I’ve been working on poems hidden in a file on my computer since 2019, now published by Fair Acre Press. I’d originally hoped their coming to light would coincide with Beethoven’s 250th birthday in December 2020. This late harvest has also come in stages: a Zoom launch, a reading at the Poetry Pharmacy, and then a performance in mid-Devon on a summer’s evening of extraordinary heat and calm. 

Carol Caffrey and I had hatched the idea of a joint event back in the spring when our host, Richard Higgins, was looking for productions for a short season of open air events. It had seemed, then, so theoretical, so impossible: the chances were that it would never happen.

And then, it did. 

Our journey down the M5 and through the high-hedged lanes was long. When we saw our names in huge letters on arrival at Brushford Barton, it was as if we had dug our hands into the soil, and, unbelieving until the moment of contact, found potatoes … 

Liz Lefroy, I Harvest My Crops

grain theory

there is something i need more than facts. i need a good theory. or better put i need a theory about good. consulting scientists seems useless. they want the former while i seek the later. what makes something anything or us good. i am listening to kenny garrett play his sax with miles davis. I believe that will be the starting point of my search for the theory of good. when miles plays a song you dont listen to the song you just listen to miles. the song will appear at some point but you just stay lost in miles and it will come when it feels like it. 

someday. maybe tomorrow. i will come to you all and report my findings in the middle of a five hundred acre field of rye…

the loose sounds
of jazz
composing a melody
out of a ‘riff’

Michael Rehling, Haibun 213

I like distinctions, categories, naming things. But then if I think too much about them, categories, they fall apart. I’ve been thinking again about this idea of “narrative” poetry and “lyric” poetry. Many intelligent things have been said about those categories, I’m sure, none of which I can remember at the moment. 

But I’ve been thinking too about time, as I often do, and time seems to be the primary distinction between the narrative and the lyric poem. A narrative unfolds over time; a lyric is of a moment. Is that true? 

I was asking a friend recently about a poem of hers that unfolds over a short period of time but is focused on the feeling of a moment. She describes what she’s been up to in her work recently as “trying to use fragments of narrative as part of an attempt to creat a non-narrative experience.” 

Is a narrative poem just a long way toward a lyric moment? I don’t know. Maybe. Isn’t the whole point of telling a story to give that moment of impact? When all the notes of the song come together in a resonant chord? 

But that idea of music is the purview of the lyric, isn’t it? The etymology of narrate is gnarus, meaning knowing. Not much is known about the origin of the word lyre, or Greek lyra or lura, that stringed instrument of long ago, but made its way to the French lyrique or short poem expression emotion suited for singing to the lyre. Or something like that. 

Marilyn McCabe, It’s time time time that you love; or, On Narrative, Lyric, and the Restless Eye

I’ve been in a funk this summer, and feeling, frankly, as though all this writing is pointless. Aren’t there already enough books in the world? Despite good friends, despite a class in which I was assigned to write one metaphor per day. (Which can also be similes, “This weird funk, purple like Puget Sound at dusk,” or brilliant word substitutions: “A blue funk washed over me.”) Despite walks. Despite baking many loaves of sourdough bread.

But it is August, and that means POPO, or POetry POstcard Fest. I don’t always sign up for August, as I participate in my friend Carla’s February postcards event each year. But this year, August postcards feels like a good idea. Somewhere I have a quote written down, about letting go of expectations and big-picture goals and doing just the one next right thing. The metaphors can be that next right thing; the postcards can be that next right thing.

Bethany Reid, Writing a Postcard

My grandfather cutting cantaloupe on a summer morning as he readies for work, the light shining through the sink window’s short curtains. He sprinkles his melon, soft and vivid as the Hermistons I offer to my son like jewels, with salt. Paul Harvey’s voice is tinny through the radio, and my grandmother is still sleeping in their bed upstairs. I like not needing to say anything, having him all to myself, being cared for only by him, who makes me a piece of toast in the toaster that now sits on a shelf in my mother’s kitchen. He dies of a heart attack at 63. The night he dies, I sleep in that bed with my grandma, in his spot. 

I sit at my kitchen table and read a piece my friend Sharon is writing about grandmothers and canning and writing. About preservation and sustenance. She writes that she cans with words, not food. Then I read my friend Bethany’s piece about doubting the purpose of writing, she who writes multiple books through decades of mothering and teaching. I consider my history, the jars of applesauce my great-grandmother sent to our suburban house every fall that she made from apples grown on the farm, and how three generations later I am only just now, well into a sixth decade of living, beginning to learn how to grow food. I consider the tomatoes ripening in a bowl on the table, the literal fruits of my labor. I consider the one book of poems I cultivated, now nearly 20 years ago, and I wonder if the writer in me is a pale hosta. Maybe she is. Or maybe she is a rat, scratching at survival through blog posts and Instasnippets. Maybe she is an invasive, drought-resistant perennial with deep, woody roots. Maybe she is none of those things and all of those things. Maybe she is everything in the garden–the hostas and rinds and rats and tomatoes and trumpets and weeds and bees, being fed by whatever they can find there, wherever they can find it. It’s a conceit that brings comfort, here on the edge of the cusp of autumn, these brief weeks of both harvesting and fading. 

Rita Ott Ramstad, On the edge of the cusp

clutching the letter —
her dad lifts her up
to the mail slot

Bill Waters, Haiku about family and friends

–As I looked at all the glassware, I thought of our younger selves, the ones who wanted to have a glass for every possible type of drink.  Have we ever made margaritas or martinis?  No, but if we do, we have the glass for it.

–I gave away the one, lonely wine glass, the first one I ever bought, at a store near the B.Dalton’s in a mall long ago.  I bought it the summer after I graduated from undergraduate school.  I imagined that a grown woman needed a wine glass.

–Why did I think a grown woman only needed one wine glass?  And why is it so small?

–How did we end up with so many pillowcases?  Where are the sheets that once went with these pillowcases?  Do the pillowcases miss the sheets that have gone on to other destinies?

When I got to the Good Will drop off station yesterday, I was surprised to see a line of cars.  I patiently waited my turn, watching the people pop out and haul their stuff to the pile:  a pair of shoes, a child’s scooter, bag after bag of stuff.  And then I added my two bags of stuff and my carton of glassware.  I pondered the basic question:  what will become of all this stuff?  Will it go round and round and round again?

There are larger questions, of course.  Do others really need my cast-aways?  How does the earth bear this burden?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wisdom from the Good Will Drop Off

Before becoming self-conscious of all the things I’m doing wrong, I didn’t used to think about swimming when swimming, but I did sometimes think about poems. Some poets like to go walking. Personally I rarely get inspired when I’m out and about. And I have to say I don’t really write anything in my head while swimming, but being in the water is fraught with metaphorical energy, as are (for me and many others I suspect) swimming pools generally. I’ve had a ‘lido’ poem on the go for at least a decade, I think it’s currently out somewhere but I won’t be surprised if it comes back rejected again. Unlike ‘Lido’ by Alison McVety from her fine collection Lighthouses (Smith Doorstop) that sticks in my mind, the swimmer ‘left to plough on’ in the rain, ‘ten years gone and I’m still turning and swimming, turning and swimming’.

I’m now trying to remember various ‘not waving but drowning’ type poems, particularly one by a (currently living) poet whose brother downed… perhaps you can help me out? I think I read it in a magazine some time in the last ten years. I just did a search for ‘poem about a brother who drowned’ and it threw up an extraordinary list of results, all of the ’25+ Heartening Poems for a Deceased Brother’s Funeral’ variety. Funerals are probably the only time 99% of the population ever wants to encounter a poem, to be fair. Anyway, if I ever get to do a flip turn I’ll let you know.

Robin Houghton, Not drowning but waving

I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve been on holiday for this past week which is extremely useful in refusing to be worn out. And when I say holiday, I mean that I’ve not been at my day job but have instead been working on the proofs for my book, Everything Affects Everyone, and sorting out various parts of my life and planning just a little into the future. We also went to Banff, and I visited this little tree growing in a stone fence, and which I’ve taken photos of for years. Still, this little tree refuses to give up its hold and boy do I admire and love this little tree for just rooting in and keeping the faith. I have communed with this little sapling for years via my camera lens, which I guess means that it’s not really a sapling, is it? Returning, I never really expect it to be there. Afterwards, I don’t think much about it. We go home, life resumes. But every year when we return to Banff, I mosey by and when it’s there it’s such a pleasant surprise.

Shawna Lemay, On Refusing to Be Worn Out

walking sideways
in bosherton’s lily ponds
freshwater crabs

swansea’s mirage
drinking with the dead poets
in the kardohma

dreams of empire
all the red in the atlas
fading away

laugharne
around every corner
dylan

blue pool
half the depth
of my trepidation

Jim Young [no title]

‘What’s wrong with me?’ you used to ask as you watched
the man you knew you were slipping from your grasp.
Oh Daddy, why can’t I just remember the good times?

Bingo, helping you with your Spanish homework, the time
we went to Laugharne together to Dylan’s boathouse,
how you used to say to me, ‘You’re just like your mother.’

But still, after all these months, when the curtain first
goes up on my memory it is the latter darkness
that steps towards the footlights. I have to believe

this will pass, that grief will loosen its shroud
and the stage will flood with light and I will be
filled with joy, with the grace of your well-lived life.

Lynne Rees, Poem ~ Stage

He recants forms, the shape and texture of her throat once
translucent as a lotus stem, an old woman’s pouch now. When
she lifts her feet to cross the threshold, he turns away to burrow
in the pastel core of silence, looking intently at the emptiness
as the air decants with the freedom of uncoupling.

Uma Gowrishankar, Uncoupling

I’m starting to worry about having a job. I don’t mean whether I can find one. I mean whether it was a good idea to find the one I’ve got. I work just three days a week and that seems like not that much until I think THREE OUT OF SEVEN DAYS THAT’S ALMOST HALF and then I start questioning everything. Without the job I make about $250 a month doing my little things I do. Sending people weird emails and making the occasional podcast. I used to make twice that but I gave one of my shows to someone else because if there’s one thing I’ve always been good at it’s financial planning. I mostly don’t watch other van life videos or Instagram accounts anymore but the other day I caught up on one of my favorites and he’s out there climbing mountains and paddling across lakes and I have, like, five polo shirts so I can wear them to work and I wonder if I’ve slid back too far. Right now I’m listening to the rain on the roof of the van and thinking about the loon calls I heard earlier and remembering the smell of the high desert and that time I drove as far as you can drive until you have to start paddling toward Havana and maybe I should go to bed and think about all this tomorrow.

Jason Crane, Havana

What turned out to be four lines of the poem appeared as I was driving along the M4 in rain like stair rods. I found myself repeating them over and over in my head to avoid forgetting them, building on what was one line, then two before getting to the fourth one. I was just debating whether to ask Rachael to write them down for me or to ask Siri to take a note (that would have felt weird, talking gibberish into my wrist while R and F were listening), but thankfully a services popped up, so I could type it up to come back to.

It’s a start. Who knows what will come of it.

Mat Riches, Vona Groarke’s Trumpet

I’m really delighted that my video accidentals (recalculated) has been selected for the International Review of Poetry, Videopoetry and Video-Art for the special on-line 10th edition of Bologna in Lettere, screening on 4th August 2021, curated by Enzo Campi.

This video started out life as a more-or-less standard poem. But then I realised that I could replace many of the verbs, prepositions, conjunctions and other linguistic elements with mathematical operators or symbols used in algebra, statistic,computing and engineering. The implementation of these operators and symbols in the piece is all internally consistent, so that a given symbol always means the same thing. Video was the ideal way to integrate the new text with the original poem via the voice-over. Most of the images were filmed in and around my home in South Australia.

Ian Gibbins, accidentals (recalculated) at Bologna in Lettere 10th edition

I’m writing from a blessed weekend of rain after a 51-day drought here in the Seattle area. I took a long walk under the cloud cover and my garden is much happier. […]

So, the month of August is often a good month to get in a dose (or 30) of poetry with The Sealey Challenge, with the goal of reading a book of poetry a day and posting about it. So far, I didn’t quite make it to that (lots going on, read above) but I did read two new books and revisited a few old favorites, plus ordered a few signed copies of new books from friends. I also plan a visit to Open Books in Seattle when I can get the time.

I notice all the reading inspired me to write a few new poems – something I rarely do in August unless pressed – and helped me stay calm during a time of great stress. Also, Sylvia really enjoys getting in on the Sealey Challenge by playing model cat.

I encourage you all to do a little poetry shopping and/or revisiting old favorites on your shelf if you get the time, and posting about it. The conversation about poetry couldn’t happen at a better time – we all need a positive distraction from the endless stress of the past year and a half.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, A Week of Too Much Drama, Sealey Challenges, Possible Good News, and Virtual Breadloaf Starting Tomorrow

Summer is almost over here in Finland, after months of high temps and no rain, thunderstorms hit last night and it’s been raining all day. Schools start back in a week, so we’re on the wind-down. 

I’m torn about going back, I will miss the lazy days, but I would really like to talk to adults again. My stress insomnia has already started up, but hopefully that will pass once I go back for our orientation. 

I’ve decided to try the Sealey Challenge this month, to read a poetry collection a day for the month of August. I have to admit I’m not good at keeping up with my poetry reading. I buy collections and dip into them, but often struggle to sit down and read the whole book at once. 

I’m not sure if I’ll get through a whole collection in one day and will sometimes feel I’m not doing justice to the poet. I read fiction quickly, too quickly to appreciate play of language and technique unless I force myself to really slow down like I’m doing with my current reread of Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon which is a beautifully poetic novel and needs a slow read. 

I will treat this challenge as the introduction to the poems I’m reading, a first splash about and then I can spend some time fully exploring my favourites later.

Gerry Stewart, Sealey Challenge: Day 1

The river runs through this book [Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz]. “The First Water is the Body” begins, “The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States–also, it is a part of my body.” Later, the “I” becomes a “we.” “We carry the river, its body of water, in our body.” In the poem called “exhibits from The American Water Museum,” water is like language: “I am fluent in water. Water is fluent in my body– / it spoke my body into existence.”

Love poems wind in and out. Animals. Snake, wolf, crane, coyote, bull, tiger, horse, yellow jacket, all the animals on the ark. More basketball. In “The Mustangs,” her brother is a high school basketball star; the team is beloved by the whole community. “We ran up and down the length of our lives, all of us, lit by the lights of the gym, toward freedom–we Mustangs. On those nights, we were forgiven for all we would ever do wrong.”

It was a beautiful day to read this book outside. I love August, its pure summer feel, its poignant, back-to-school-soon, summer’s-almost-over-feel—but it isn’t! Summer goes on and on, long past school. And now August is the Sealey Challenge for me, a poetry book a day, a lushness of reading in the green afternoon, the coneflowers blooming, phlox, round two of golden lilies, the oregano flower-headed and leaning out into the lawn. I love how I can read these poems to learn, to experience beauty and desire in someone else’s language, culture, voice. I’m reading for joy!–though, yes, I encounter grief–and for knowledge. I learn that “Manhattan is a Lenape Word.” I learn the “Top Ten Reasons Why Indians Are Good at Basketball.”

And what a thrill to find Kearney, Nebraska in a poem, a town I lived in as a child, and the sandhill cranes. In a heartbreaking brother poem with a dismantled Polaroid camera. What a book! And what is a sky hook? Ah, now I know!

Kathleen Kirk, Postcolonial Love Poem

Delayed due to lockdowns and pandemic but finally available is Jordan Abel’s incredibly powerful NISHGA (Toronto ON: McClelland and Stewart, 2021). His first book since his third poetry title, the Griffin Poetry Prize-winningInjun (Vancouver BC: Talonbooks, 2016) [see my review of such here], the critical memoir that is NISHGA utilizes archival scraps, talks, interviews, visual poems and other forms into a book-length collage that speaks of and to generational trauma and the residential school system, and the ways in which he has used his work to engage larger conversations about aboriginal culture and colonialism, and an exploration on his own identity and indigeneity. As he writes early on in the collection under the title “Notes”: “I remember talking with a colleague of a colleague at a book launch in Vancouver. She came up to me after my reading and wanted to talk. At some point, she asked me if I spoke Nisga’a. I said no and she asked why. But it wasn’t just the question why. There was something else there too. She didn’t say it, but she wanted to know how I could have been so irresponsible. How I could have been Nisga’a my whole life but never bothered to learn the language. As if I had access. As if I could just flip a switch and know. as if I hadn’t wanted to. As if I hadn’t felt that hole inside me. As if filling it was that easy.”

He writes of generational violence that rippled out from the residential school system, and how his work in The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks, 2013) [see my review of such here], for example, responded directly to some of those concerns. He writes of his background as Nisga’a but without access to his biological father, a Nisga’a artist who left when Abel was still an infant. Abel speaks of that disconnect; of growing up Nisga’a without knowing or even meeting anyone else Nisga’a until, as an adult, he briefly met his father for the first time. There is an enormous amount of pain throughout this project, and Abel maps some dark and difficult histories, from his own personal disconnects to a generational trauma, prompted by that original break due to the theft of his grandparents as children. How might anyone respond in such a situation?

rob mclennan, Jordan Abel, NISHGA

Twenty years after the most deadly terrorist attack on United States soil, what comes to mind? 

For many of the 117 poets whose work was selected for the forthcoming commemorative anthology Crossing the Rift: North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath (Press 53, September 11, 2021), what comes to mind is “the morning / rainfreshed” (Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin, “Tony Writes to Say He’s Alive”), “[t]hat September morning’s iris of sky” (Debra Allbery, “The Wakeful Bird Sings Darkling”), cloudless and blued into brilliance before exploding into unforgettable images of fire and toxic smoke, of bodies falling and returned to dust. For others in this anniversary collection, memory remains “one of those days when you remember / exactly where you were,” when “we lost the last of our innocence” (Kaye Nelson Ratliff, “Infamous Days”) and were forever after to carry “the long litany of the lost” (Glenis Redmond, “Witness the Whole World”) into a “new age of wars, two wars abroad that never end, and one at home to rip the fabric of our nation apart” (Robert Morgan, “A Sickness in the Air”).  

The clarity of what is remembered, and of what was and continues to be done in consequence, acts as both thorn and spur. Raised as  they are, individually and collectively, the poets’ voices guide us through the wreckage of our common history and challenge us to seek something better.

Maureen Doallas, 9/11 Remembered: ‘Crossing the Rift’ (Review)

“The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” is a collection of flash fiction that shows how small moments can create the longest life changes, as exemplified in “Sarajevo Rose” where a man thinks back to his regular purchase of fresh flowers after a woman dropped a coin in the market place, “He doesn’t remember dropping his sister’s hand. The building shook with the blast. When he looked up, his sister was gone. Damir has read how Sarajevans painted red roses in the shell’s concrete scars. When his flowers wilt, the petals fall to the floor. Damir never picks them up.”

Most stories though are told from a woman’s viewpoint. The woman’s story starts with being a war reporter, in “Bulletproof” where “they loan me a flak jacket, a big blue thing designed for men. It squashes my shoulders, metal plates pinning flat my chest, breasts yielding to the weight of them.” Of course, she wears it for protection, but also because “there are more male journalists on the frontline than women, because men are better at the warry stuff, and women more lightweight. I wear it because I don’t want to rock the boat and give the news desk another reason not to send me to do this job. I wear it because I’ve told them I am the best ‘man’ for the job. I wear it because I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.” The problem isn’t that it’s ill-fitting or the sexism inherent in war-reporting but what it doesn’t protect her from: the very thing she’s there to report on.

Emma Lee, “The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” Hannah Storm (Reflex Press) – book review

In a recent interview, poet and essayist Erica Hunt shared the following in response to a question about the best writing advice she’d ever received:

From Rachel Blau DuPlessis in “Statement on Poetics”—paraphrasing now: A poem is “bottomless,” “intricate,” and “tangible” in detail. I like thinking this is true regardless of “school” or length. Here is what it has helped me to appreciate: A poem is a work made through language that bears rereading, to discover that difficulty is never without love.

Erica Hunt, interview

I’ve come to realize that these latter two concepts, rereading and difficulty, have become integral to my poetic practice. I have long considered rereading central to poetic experience. Rereading implies dwelling, lingering, becoming engrossed in the matter at hand. That we may read and reread a poem, each time coming away with more, with something different–that is poetry’s lifegiving gift. If nothing else, we reread because one can’t catch everything all at once. We look words up, try phrases aloud, wonder: Who talks like this? Life’s a cacophony we sense music out of; why shouldn’t art be similar?

The other concept, difficulty, is something that I have been slower to embrace. On one level, this reluctance seems natural. There is, for one, the early difficulty of the classroom, the way poetry is traditionally taught to be a kind of puzzle, a use of language shrouded in mystery, the poet a wizard behind a curtain, knowing more than you and deigning to obfuscate the ordinary for you to luck upon. And there are definitely poems that live up to this tradition; and this type of poetry remains teachable but not graspable, or, to use a word Hunt quotes above, tangible.

This occurrence of a poem being out of a reader’s grasp brings with it a number of connotations. On the one hand there is gaslighting; we have had whole generations believing that they are at fault for not understanding “great” poetry, which often leads people to give up on poetry altogether. This brings to mind the implication of the literal “grasp,” that there are certain people whose touch and presence around poetry would sully it. I try to dispel this kind of thinking in my own teaching practices by showing that linguistic difficulty should be embraced in good faith, that we can engage with a poem and allow it to teach us how to read it, but also that we should trust our reactions as readers as well. This good faith is a human trait, a way of endeavoring and persevering.

Finding ways of endeavoring and persevering is central to the body of work gathered in Hunt’s Jump the Clock: New & Selected Poems (Nightboat Books). Across Hunt’s lively body of work, one comes in contact with a voice able to interrogate while remaining attuned to language’s vulnerable and raw personal nature. When reading Hunt’s poems, one feels attuned to language’s plasticity at the service of connecting and not intellectual indulgence. To put it another way, her poems meet a reader half way and allow the reader space to work out meaning as well as a meaningful experience.

José Angel Araguz, microreview: Erica Hunt’s Jump the Clock

A woman cradles a skull in her hands like a bouquet.
The sun carves scallops on every window. Each face
accepts the signature of time. Lie closer to the floor
where it is cooler. Dip a cotton square dipped in water
to lay across your brow. The procession
is just starting or ending. It begins
and ends at the same place.

Luisa A. Igloria, Acts of Levitation are Difficult in the Heat

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 30

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: summer reading and writing find their apotheosis in the writer’s retreat and the writers’ conference, and we have reports on both, along with considerations of other sorts of renewal and reinvention. Other major themes include childhood memories, and translation of all kinds.


An August Sunday in the city —  empty, empty, empty.  The streets are clearer, blacker, more asphalty, an open stage, an asphalt canvas.  Things, so subservient to people, step up their presence and shine. The shopping bag is always heavier than the slim arm of the walker whose shorts seem longer than his legs.   Orange day lilies have their heady moment, erupting through scrabbly soil and gravelly roadsides; they earn their nicknames — outhouse day lily, roadside, railroad, ditch, washhouse, mailbox, tiger, tawny.  The posts of street lights commune with trees.  The bike dreams the leisurely biker. 

It reminds me of the older version of boredom that used to be baked into summer — good boredom, a chance for something else to erupt through the hard-wired, conquesting surface of  the year’s ambitions.   Reverie and its twin, ennui, will get edged out by extreme weather, health, plagues, breakdowns, etc.  An air current lazing through a screen door, undeterred, unhampered is good work if you can get it.

Jill Pearlman, The Thinginess of Summer

Swayback barn,
the darkness inside.

The wood thinks
of the earth.

The trees there
think of the wind.

Tom Montag, SWAYBACK

Blogger/poet/bookmaker Ren Powell recently suggested going fallow for awhile “to see what comes of it.” I tend to go through fallow periods quite accidentally. Used to call them writer’s block, but I don’t view them like that anymore. Fallow strikes me as a more accurate term for a number of reasons, some of them etymological. In current agriculture, a fallow field remains uncultivated purposely, to rest and improve the soil’s fertility. That seems more accurate to my current state of mind than “dry” or “blocked.”

Consider the field left fallow: plenty goes on there. Weed seeds germinate and sprout, annelids and arthropods, insects, and beetles, in their various life stages, multiply and move about. Voles, mice, toads go a-hunting. Bacteria do their thing. It’s not a lifeless place, the fallow plot.

Ann E. Michael, Fallow me

Yesterday I celebrated myself which is what you do when you embrace radical aloneness the day began at 2 AM when a tsunami alert went off on my phone telling me to prepare for evacuation it was the 8.2 earthquake off the coast of Alaska and didn’t affect us here but the water was exceptionally choppy with strange currents I went back to sleep once I knew my little boat wasn’t setting out 

I did get my ears pierced (again) not at the mall but at the shop where I got my tattoo re-inked right before the plague swallowed us the earrings I chose to keep in my ears are small green gems on surgical steel posts posts that have flat backs so they won’t poke my neck while I sleep which is why I always removed them in the past 

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

I have the enormous advantage, now, of being sixty-three, which is the precise age at which one discovers that one will never make oneself new. Whatever I make will be made with the materials at hand: I am a wary, slow-processing, obstinate man who requires a lot of transition time — who likes to wake up before the sun, and to have a couple hours to get used to the idea that a new day is underway, before having to cope with broad daylight. I’m not going to magically turn into anything else. Turning myself into an ideal human being — decisive, quick-witted, and flexible — now that, that would be a task to inspire despair. But I don’t have to do that. I only need to find more fun within my measure, and to take on problems of reasonable scope. Everything else, everything else I can let fall away. I can let it drift away in my slow, dark wake.

Which is not to say that I am not in need of redemption. Oh no, I am not saying that. Not to say that I don’t need a visionary journey, which involves a substantial risk of never returning. I do need, as Paul Simon would say, a shot of redemption. But don’t confuse that with learning to live. They’re two different tasks: they accomplish two different things. Don’t get muddled.

Dale Favier, Learning to Live

We are summer people, all seasons people. Howling, prowling, hallelujah people.

People with pets and houseplants, debts, and dances with wolves.

Punk rock people, easy-listening people.

People of solitude, people rocking Budokan.

Heart flutter and double step, roughneck and smooth-talking people.

Tribal people, marginalized people.

People of the machine, people who’ve built their dreams by hand.

Extraordinary people, earth-loving people. People that create new sounds from alphabet soup.

Rich Ferguson, People

it says nothing, it says everything
hold it up to the light again,
some days, you’ll see a poem

An abating second wave (really?), an enraged monsoon (climate change?), a monday-friday grind that mocks attempts at writing, a shrinking world of poetry suddenly made beautiful by an unexpected poem that drops into my timeline – how’re things in your world? What have you been writing? 

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Hold it up to the light

It’s almost August, and I’m still behind in all things poetry-related but so enjoying each day, each moment of life in summer. Today, I did post a review of What Happens is Neither, by Angela Narciso Torres, at Escape Into Life, and another review is coming soon, August 4, of Dialogues with Rising Tides, by Kelli Russell Agodon. Indeed, my fond (meaning both affectionate and foolish) hope is again to attempt the Sealey Challenge, reading a poetry book a day in August, and posting about it here. My friend Kim enjoyed that last year, as did several of the poets who found themselves here, and I love the whole idea of the challenge. But can I do it this year? 

Today, pursuant to the challenge, I did read a chapbook in advance, as I will be otherwise occupied on August 1 (volleyball, friends). Still, I may post in the middle of the night.

I’m swimming again, which is meditative, a wonderful body-mind blend. I continue to be busy with many details. I think I have a weensy bit of what they are calling “re-entry anxiety,” though I feel calm most of the time, and not at all troubled by wearing a mask into all businesses, even if others aren’t, but my particular county is a current hotspot and masks are being required again, not just recommended, so maybe we’ll see more…masks…or rude resistance, alas. The schools will be requiring masks, a relief!

Kathleen Kirk, Almost August

The firehose of radiant joy in the return to swimming and the successful beginning of rehabbing covid-damage-wrought has passed; now it has become the steady irrigation of my normal relationship with the water.

Somewhere in there, it just quietly became the day to day experience of swimming again.

In other words, equal parts home and hard work. Perfectionist-struggle-frustration mixed with relief-joy-relaxation. […]

And, life, in spades: as I become healthy and strong again, my responsibilities and worries broaden back out from “survive” to “live in this mortal broken world and create as much beauty as possible.”

The cleanup has had me doing less this month than since vaccine, as I’ve been variously on liquid diet and doped up or running around to appointments while also trying my best to be present and accountable for family, book release (3 this year, oof), trying to figure out how I want to and can rebuild my professional and financial life in a sustainable shape post-covid, and refilling my own still-depleted well.

JJS, the quiet joy

No one teaches animals
to resent their bodies.
Show me how to love mine.

As Zohar reminds me,
there is no place
where God is not:

even my asthmatic lungs,
my animal being,
my imperfect heart.

Rachel Barenblat, We are animals too

One of the things this week reminded me of was the importance of the support of friends and family during hard times. Nearly everyone I know has had some hardship with mental health this last year and a half, and we are all in need of more kindness, more tolerance, more support. This week I talked with family, friends all over the country, and even caught up in person with one this weekend, all of which helped me and Glenn regain some sense of normalcy with all the craziness.

The whole thing with Simone Biles, who had a very challenging childhood even before she was sexually abused by her US team gymnastics doctor and went on to become the face of the 2020 Olympics, made me think about how even the very best, most talented people are challenged by the past year’s super stress, that a lot more of us are at our breaking point than we might think. I am wishing that Simone gets all the friend support she needs after this very public “failure” or more accurately, “refusal to perform while she wasn’t feeling up to it.”  It’s a reminder that we are more than our performances, and we all deserved to be valued as human beings, not just gymnastics medal winners, or for the things in our past that we’ve accomplished.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Minor Disasters and Lost Voices, The Importance of Friend Support During a Plague Year

This week has redeemed itself after nine hours of driving across country to the edge of Wales. We have landed in the most peaceful and silent place in the world. Just what we all needed.

I’ve brought some work to do this week and what I’m now starting to worry isn’t enough books. I have a review I must write this week, I’m hoping I may actually manage a poem of my own (not worried if I don’t though.)

I note today is the first day of The Sealey Challenge. I’ve never heard of it before, but it sounds like a good idea. I won’t be actively taking part, but I think I manage at least some reading of poems almost every day of the year, so I won’t beat myself up for not joining in. Most of my reading this week is magazines anyway to help alleviate some of the TBR backlog.

Mat Riches, No States, man

Two years ago I applied for Storyknife and I’m a little emotional tonight that I’ll be driving out early in the morning.  I have so much gratitude for this experience, and also for new friends. Maura Brenin, Storyknife’s Chef, is a poet with food.  Lunch, dinner – each day was something brand new to me and all of it healthy, nourishing, sustaining, and lovely! I’m seriously going to have to up my game from grocery store bag salad and frozen chicken. 

And Erin Coughlin Hollowell who is a poet and Executive Director which means she is not only a woman of words, but oversees all the paperwork and budgetary issues, sets the wasp traps, weeds the flowerbeds, and consults Fish & Game when dork boy moose has wild eyes, flattened ears, and runs wild circles through the yard.  She has an electric drill in one hand, pen in the other, and I’m happy to call her friend, as well.

I was lucky to stay in the Peggy cabin, named for writer Peggy Shumaker.  Peggy’s space is one of creativity and good sleep.  It seemed only fitting to read a few poems tonight from her book, Cairn

And thank you to Writer Dana Stabenow – at work up the hill writing her 55th novel. I enjoyed the evening she joined us for supper. 

The walls are naked again and I’ve just bundled up 66 poems, friends!  They are poems dabbling in stars, lust, shelter, and birds.  They are of wild places and states of being. Some new, many edited and revised. I’ll take them home and hang them in an empty room for the winter.  Sucker holes will light them up with sun, and through an open window, an invite – Come hither, wind.  Do your work. Eventually, I’ll find a path through this writing.

Kersten Christianson, Storyknife Writers Retreat, July 2021

If you’ve read either of my haiku collections, you’ll know I have a fondness for rivers; but then, who doesn’t? Living in the middle of England, fifty-five miles from the nearest coastline, landlock naturally means that I gravitate to rivers and canals. Rotherham is where the Rother ends, at its confluence with the Don.

The upstream Don has long ago been split so that part of it forms and is shadowed by the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation, i.e. canal. It bends round the back of Rotherham United’s New York Stadium, in the New York part of the town, because the steel produced locally was used to make the fire hydrants in NYC. There, today, Lyn and I saw the first of probably five or six lots of sand martins. I don’t think there is a collective noun for sand martins and I’m struggling to think of a word which would be appropriate other than something like ‘joyfulness’. They are one of my favourite birds and always an absolute pleasure to encounter. I’ve written a few sand martin haiku over the years, and this, written on the Skirfare and published in both Wing Beats and The Lammas Lands, is probably the best of them:

river loop—
a sand martin squirms
into its nest hole

Matthew Paul, Quiet flows the Don

The weather has been a bit rubbish here so I’ve been catching up on some reading and writing. Magazines tend to drop through the letterbox all at the same time, so I’m still working my way through current issues of PN Review, The Dark Horse, Poetry, The Poetry Review and Lighthouse. So far I’ve particularly enjoyed poems by Donna Aza Weir-Soley in Poetry, Isabel Galleymore in The Poetry Review (‘Then, one spring in which every dawn came/ pigletty and the blossom trees were really putting in / the work’), Diane Thiel in The Dark Horse and Josh Ekroy in Lighthouse.

Poet friend Claire Booker kindly gave me a copy of The Language of Salt, an anthology of poems ‘on love and loss’ which so far looks to be an excellent range of poems from poets both known and new to me.

Meanwhile I have a number of full collections by my bed – Sometimes I Never Suffered by Shane McCrae (Corsair) has gripped me, particularly I think because I’m deep in Dante at the moment. I found McCrae’s ‘Hastily Assembled Angel’ sequence strange and moving. Then there’s Mortal Trash by Kim Addonizio (Norton). I always reach for Addonizio when I’m feeling jaded or all out of fresh words and it’s like a shot of adrenaline. YEEESS!

Robin Houghton, Currently reading & other summery (?) things

Conference veterans told me that Sewanee has been democratized in a big way: lunch tables with agents used to be arranged via sign-up, cocktails at the French House used to be limited to faculty and fellows, etc. All of that is gone. Did I still feel the hierarchy? Absolutely. Some of it is what we’re here for, frankly. I want to hear from writers whose achievements I admire and get a window into what high-profile publishers are thinking. Sometimes, though, I felt invisible, and my ego took bumps. A graduate student advised me on how to submit to a magazine I’ve published in multiple times, sigh. One editor told me, during our twenty-minute meeting, that I should sit down with him at a meal sometime, and when I did, he didn’t even acknowledge I was there. (That one was hilarious, actually. Over it.) The jockeying for status could be intense. But other people at every level of career success were remarkably open and kind and funny and encouraging. I suspect these dynamics are bound to occur when humans get together for any common purpose: dentistry conventions, quilting bees, spiritual retreats. Imagine the delicate snark of monks.

My occasional feelings of invisibility are partly on me. I started off anxious, which made me quiet, and then powerful readings and workshops stripped off my doing-okay veneer. I (briefly) fell into a pit of grief about my mother then climbed out again. Feeling fragile, I don’t think I made the most of my opportunities, although I relaxed some in the final few days and gave a good reading. I also remembered, oh, I don’t want to compete with the literary players, although it’s good to join the lunch table once in a while and see how it feels. I REALLY get that people have to protect their time and energy. But watching the eminences here and elsewhere, I aspire to be one of the friendly, non-power-hoarding types, if I ever hit the big league, which isn’t friggin’ likely for me or anybody.

The career introspection triggered here has been useful. I clarified for myself about what I want for future book-publishing experiences, for instance. I met a ton of writers whose work I like and will follow. Shenandoah will get subs from new people this year containing the sentence, “It was such a pleasure to meet you at Sewanee!” I’ll send a few of those subs to other people. It’s all good.

The most important thing, though, is the work itself. I have a lot of feedback to sort through, but I’ve already identified some habits I’ve fallen into as a poet that need interrogation. I have ideas about how to transform some messy poems into their best selves. I also see how to improve work I’ve been doing in other genres–the fiction and nonfiction talks and readings have been great. Even advice that I wouldn’t implement gives me information about how my work is coming through to different kinds of readers.

A few more readings, a booksigning party, and then I pack up and drive to NC tomorrow to meet my family at a rented beach house, where the long decompression begins! Well, not too long. Damn you, August, I am not ready.

Lesley Wheeler, Conference report containing not nearly enough gossip

12:30 a.m. I’m in the van listening to The Fugs First Album because I’m getting an advanced degree in Catching Up On Shit I Missed The First Time Around. My rage is diminishing so I need to avoid yours. The youngest shows me Queen Anne’s Lace growing from a mud patch. I think she quickly crossed herself like the flower was a miracle. Maybe I imagined it. It’s hard to write seriously while The Fugs are playing “Boobs a Lot.” We make jokes and watch Fast & Furious movies and I miss my own kids but I can’t go back there. I had a girlfriend once whose dad played with the Holy Modal Rounders so I’m two degrees removed from The Fugs. She also went to school with Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins’s kids but I don’t feel like I’m two degrees from them even though I loved Bull Durham. Now “Nothing” is playing and it’s bringing up some hazy memory of hearing this song live but I’ve never seen Ed Sanders so maybe I imagined that too.

Jason Crane, Nothing

that old song
I am sunk in the flowing
of the way it was

Jim Young [no title]

I remember the principal I hated calling me to his office to accuse me of things I didn’t do, to tell me I was nobody, to shame me. I remember feeling shame even though I was innocent.

I remember being guilty. I remember leading a pack of girls in making Donita cry in the bathroom. I remember hating Donita and not knowing why, and hating myself for making her cry, and hating the other girls for following me, and hating Donita even more for crying behind the locked door of a bathroom stall while we taunted her from the sinks.

I remember going to the library every Saturday and consuming books like they were candies. I remembering reading all weekend long to go numb, to pass time, to dream, to escape.

I remember my friend Toni developing full breasts when the rest of us wore training bras, and I remember the day Mr. Buer had us vote on whether or not he should throw Toni’s beautiful map in the garbage because she’d turned it in without her name on it, and my despair at things I couldn’t name as I watched it slide into the wastebasket while tears rolled down her cheeks.

I remember my dad, years later, telling me that it was so hard to watch me lose my confidence as I became a teen-ager and what happened, anyway?

Rita Ott Ramstad, I remember: Elementary school edition

Back in the late sixties, NASA was looking for a way to select for the most creative scientists and engineers. George Land and Beth Jarman created a creativity test to identify those who were best able to come up with new and innovative ways to solve problems. It worked remarkably well. Land and Jarman, as they explain in Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future Today, used the same basic test on 1,600 three-to-five year old children enrolled in Head Start. They were shocked to discover a full 98 percent of children age five and under tested at genius level. They managed to get funding to test these children over time. Dishearteningly, only 30 percent of 10-year-olds scored at the creative genius level. That number dropped to 12 percent at 15 years of age. They expanded the scope of their research, giving the test to 280,000 adults with an average age of 31. Only two percent were, according to the results, creative geniuses.

George Land attributes the slide in creativity to schooling. When it comes to creativity, we use two forms of mental processes. Convergent thinking is necessary for judging and critiquing ideas, in order to refine and improve them. This is a fully conscious process. Divergent thinking is more freeform and imaginative, resulting in innovative ideas that may need refining. This process is more like daydreaming. Land suggests many school assignments require children to use both processes at once, which is nearly impossible, resulting in predominantly convergent thinking. We are taught, unintentionally, to turn off our creativity. Now that is painful. In my view, creativity is the essence of who we are. If anything, it isn’t connected to pain, but to healing.

Laura Grace Weldon, Writing, Creativity, Suffering

In the ticking drone
and hum ablaze in the trees—

In the wet and darkblue provinces
crossed by long-legged birds—

In the tender aglow
of disappearing afternoons—

sometimes I catch hold of those
parts of a life we didn’t lose

after all

Luisa A. Igloria, Here

I’m in a place I’ve never been to before, staying here for two weeks, and I’m more unsettled than I usually am in such a situation. I love my rut and routines. Change makes me anxious. Usually, though, new places make me curious and happy to explore, happy to find corners where I’m comfortable, happy to find new things to look at. But somehow here, I don’t know. It’s odd. So I’m trying to write out of this strange unsettledness. 

I think that’s a good thing. I hope the work comes out as strange as I feel, as uneasy, a bit jagged. (Or maybe that’s my insomnia talking. My old stand-by, an over the counter sleep med, seems to have deserted me in effectiveness. There is nought between me and the void of sleeplessness.)

Maybe this is the strangeness of the entire past year catching up with me, or the losses, the uncertainties. 

Maybe it’s just that I’m very place-oriented, alive to how I interact with my environment, and this place is not, for some reason, sitting easily on my skin.

Marilyn McCabe, Step right up; or, Writing Out of Uncertainty

Another thing that has given me a bit of whiplash has been the sorting that I’ve been doing:  boxes of memorabilia, boxes of rough drafts, shelves of books, closets of clothes.  This sorting has been giving me a case of the twisties, where I go whirling into space and worry about a crash landing.On the one hand, I’m amazed: look at all the stuff I’ve written through the years, and here’s every card my parents ever sent me and letters from all sorts of friends through the years. On the other hand, it makes me sad. I look at a huge pile of short stories I wrote and old poems, and that mean voice inside says, “Why aren’t you a more successful writer?” I look at cards I’ve kept from people I can no longer tell you who they are, and I feel sad for letting go of people. Then I wonder if they let go of me because I’m such a bad friend, even though I think I’m a good friend. That’s a bad spiral.

It’s so easy to remember all the times I let people down, but not think about all the times that I’ve been supportive. At times, as I’ve sorted through things, I’ve wondered if my spouse would have been happier with someone else, someone with more similar interests, someone who wasn’t as self-contained as I can be. Maybe he would have been happier now, with healthier habits.

Or maybe he’d have felt smothered and left that person and now be living under a bridge. I do realize there are worse outcomes than what he has now and the ideal life that I imagine he could have had with someone else.

I also look at old pictures, and I feel like this woman that once had interests and read books, but now gets home from work and just watches mindless TV. I tell myself that once we get the move done and the house ready for market, I’m likely to have interests again. And getting all the seminary and candidacy stuff done has been a huge project. I do have interests, but they’re not the usual ones that people talk about. But then there’s that mean voice in my head again.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Of Whiplash and Twisties

Many thanks to the editors at Hoxie Gorge Review for publishing my new poem “Union Square” in the latest issue. You can read it at this link, plus be sure to check out all the lovely poetic company I’m in. 

Honestly, I haven’t written anything since January and after the cancer diagnosis and treatment, I’d totally forgotten I had submitted work to a few journals. The acceptance by Hoxie Gorge was a nice boost. I’ve got a bunch of lines in search of poems on the Notes app of my phone, so “Union Square” (which I wrote five years ago!) finally finding a home is good motivation. 

I’m in the middle of the third week of radiation treatment and, so far, the only side-effects have been a little dry mouth and some soreness in my jaw. I’d be thrilled if that was the extent of it. 

Collin Kelley, New poem “Union Square” in Hoxie Gorge Review

I have two new poems, ‘To Love One Another’ and ‘True Crime’ in The North magazine, Issue 66, (the ‘Apart Together’ issue) available to pre-order here. In the same publication, I’ve reviewed new poetry collections by Katherine Stansfield (Seren Books), Maria Taylor (Nine Arches Press) and Jackie Wills (Arc Poetry).

I’m continuing to post new visual pieces, at least once a month, at @andothermaterial, an Instagram account for my visual poetry, collage poems, mixed media, experiment, playfulness and seriousness. I’m delighted that a recent piece of my visual work has been selected by the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England to be made into a badge for a symposium on Printed Poetry at the Arnolfini arts centre in Bristol in October. First time I’ve been published on a badge!

Josephine Corcoran, New poems, reviews and visual pieces

Well, I should be on holiday – campsite booked, tent in the boot – and then my lovely lurcher got a grass seed in his paw! So, between hot poultices and visits to the vet, I’m writing a quick post: a review of Scattered Leaves by Kanchan Chatterjee (published in Presence earlier this month). […]

Scattered Leaves is full of the sights and sounds of India: tea sellers and border guards, monsoon rain and muggy nights. There is often a feeling of time passing, tinged with a sense of loss, as in the following:

long night …
the heap of incense
grows

fresh firewood
ashes at the burning ghat …
year’s end

Themes of aging and death often centre on the poet’s father:

dad’s monitor glows
through the ICU window
a sudden cuckoo

after the chemo
a cuckoo calls in between
dad’s whispers

Sometimes Chatterjee’s use of repetition can lack impact; there are a few haiku which are almost identical. Nevertheless, this book is full of finely observed detail, depicting a country where tradition and progress exist side by side, where ‘the faded chrysanthemums/ on mom’s shawl‘ and ‘a plastic rose/ nodding on the dashboard‘ inhabit the same cultural space.

Julie Mellor, Scattered Leaves

Toronto poet, translator, editor and publisher Mark Goldstein’s latest, Part Thief, Part Carpenter (Toronto ON: Beautiful Outlaw, 2021), subtitled “SELECTED POETRY, ESSAYS, AND INTERVIEWS ON APPROPRIATION AND TRANSLATION,” exists as an incredibly thorough book-length study that opens into a field of thinking; a book about literature, poetic structure and approach. Comprised of essay-scraps, quoted material, interviews, poems and translations and other materials collaged into a hefty study around writing, Goldstein tracks the varieties of ways in which literary work is built. In many ways, this collection expands upon everything he has done through his own writing up to this point, including the suggestion that literary translation and appropriation exist as but two points along a spectrum of literary response and recombination.

The scope and accomplishment of this work is remarkable, opening into a collage of multiple directions, all while furthering a single, coherent argument that connects translation to appropriation—an approach that runs from erasure to recombinant works to more conceptual works. Goldstein argues how all of the above can be seen as a variation on translation: the act of reworking and changing forms (and, for more conceptual works, context). There aren’t too many critics outside academic circles in Canada working on ‘personal studies’ on poetry and poetics in this way, and Goldstein has previously offered that one of his examples and mentors has been the infamous bookseller and critic Nicky Drumbolis, a literary thinker that produced his own life’s work, God’s Wand: The Origins of the Alphabet(Toronto ON: Letters Bookshop, 2002).

Structured into nine chapters, the first four of which are grouped under “ON APPROPRIATION,” and the final five under “ON TRANSTRANSLATION,” Goldstein writes of translation and Paul Celan, one of his deepest and most enduring influences, and how Celan’s work has helped shape his own aesthetic and thinking. He writes on specific works by Caroline Bergvall, Lyn Hejinian, Ronald Johnson, Pierre Joris, John Cage and Charles Bernstein. He writes on flarf, Oulipo and translation. He offers poems, both in his own translation and of his own making. He quotes long passages from multiple writers and thinkers, shaped and collaged together, and in many cases, simply allowing the material to speak for itself. There is an enormous amount of play displayed in the shaping of this collection, and Goldstein is clearly having a great deal of fun working through his research. In one section, he translates a single poem ten different ways, offering translation as a shaping and reshaping of form, playing off structures and rhythms utilized by poets including Susan Howe, Robert Creeley, Amiri Baraka, Ted Berrigan and Gertrude Stein. Through Goldstein, translation isn’t a simple matter of allowing readers of one language the opportunity to experience writing originally produced in another language, but a way in which words are shaped, categorized and shifted, and the possibility of a far more open sequence of choices.

rob mclennan, Mark Goldstein, Part Thief, Part Carpenter

On many occasions, the whole set of connotations of a word in one language simply cannot be conveyed in another. One such example would be the statement Espero in Spanish. In English, this could be translated in several ways, but the three main options would be as follows:

1) I wait

2) I expect

3) I hope

The translator firstly finds themselves forced to interpret which version the original writer might have intended to communicate, as all three cannot be succinctly retained in English. Secondly, meanwhile, they’re consequently obliged to remove any ambiguity that the original might (or might not) have sought to play on among those three potential meanings. And thirdly, the verb esperar is loaded with the same three etymological, social and emotional connotations that cannot be conveyed in English by a single word. 

In other words, for instance, when a Spaniard expects something, they’re linguistically aware that they’re also hoping and waiting for it. An English speaker is not. No matter how we dress up a translator’s syntactic and semantic dance, how can such tensions ever be resolved to any degree of satisfaction, how can the same ambiguities and multiplicities of meaning be preserved? 

Matthew Stewart, Espero, an example of the perils of translation

This week I’m excited to feature the work of friend and dynamic poet, Dimitri Reyes. His recent collection, Every First & Fifteenth (Digging Press), came out earlier this month and is connecting with people on a variety of levels. I have long admired the presence in his work, a presence of honesty and clarity.

This honesty and clarity can be seen in “3rd Generation,” featured below along with a statement from the poet. This poem incorporates presence in terms of naming and switching between languages, in both cases using the necessary words to say what’s needed. Along with that, there is the clarity of experience. When the speaker of this poem states “Our countries are our minds,” it is a clear if heavy truth.

Anybody whose family has a history of immigration and marginalization can attest to the trauma and weight of navigating on a number of planes: the physical, the mental, the emotional, all as much as the linguistic. This navigating means being always switching and performing, questioning one’s self and one’s validity, trying always to figure out who we need to be to fit into a given moment. Much like the title of his collection and its allusion to living check to check, the marginalized experience is one of negotiating what space one finds one’s self in and what one needs to survive. This constant motion wears on a person.

And yet, in the face of this exhaustion, and often because of it, one scratches together a sense of clarity. Our survival is earned not in some vague notion of “earning” associated with bootstraps, but in actual effort and perseverance. Because what is presence if not a kind of perseverance? When the poet states that “Our countries are our minds,” they are acknowledging the multiplicity of existence. Reyes’ ability to articulate and speak to that multiplicity is a gift, one that I am glad to be able to share with you here.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Dimitri Reyes

Melanie Hyo In Han was born in Korea, raised in East Africa and lives in America. Her poems are drawn from her experiences and explore culture, belonging and identity and knowledge gained through translation work between English, Korean and Spanish. […]

In “Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lips”, Melanie Hyo In Han explores what compromises are made to belong when your cultural and ethnic heritage differs from the people around you and asks how far those compromises should go. She acknowledges her attitudes towards heritage and language and how these impact those closest to her. There is trauma, sensitively approached and probed. Ultimately, these are compassionate poems, driven by a desire to share and communicate, carrying the reader as witness to reach a shared understanding.

Emma Lee, “Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lips” Melanie Hyo In Han (Finishing Line Press) – book review

Today, I’d like to think aloud about making a convincing photograph, on presenting photographs, on being intentional with our work. All with the caveat, I have no idea what I’m doing and am really just learning this all as I go. But what I’m learning about photography might also apply to the practice of writing, or painting, or making any art, and maybe even life, so here are some things that I’ve been reading:

 “Making a convincing photograph of a beautiful place is as hard as writing a convincing story about good people. We want to believe, but a lot of evidence stands in the way.”

—Robert Adams, in Art Can Help.

And then with Edmonton, there is beauty here, but a lot of evidence stands in the way of that too. Part of me thinks that before sharing a photo I should ask myself certain questions: is the photograph convincing? Is it beautiful? Does it astonish? What am I hoping that the photograph will convey? Is it worthy of taking up real estate on the internet, the feed, the flow? Is it part of a conversation? What does it say?

What happens anyway if we just assume a place has beauty? Take that as a given?

But then I remember that sometimes we learn the answer to these questions, only by throwing our work out there. When we allow our work to be seen, it changes how we see it. So, when we steadily share work that maybe isn’t always stellar, there are a lot of things we learn about how we wish to proceed. Complicated and contradictory at times, yes?

Shawna Lemay, A Convincing Photograph

Del Toro is always much loved for his monsters and creatures, but it’s those incredible sets and wide shots that kill me. Crimson Peak’s crumbling manse filled with black moths. The cabin in the woods of Mama where the children are found, midcenury, but also in ruin. Pan’s labyrinth and its steep staircase into the earth. So much of filmmaking is that visual–those wide, unwinding shots. An immersiveness that swallows you completely. With The Shape of Water, I kept pausing the movie to make it last longer, to marvel at what was on the screen. 

I try to think about how that sort of world-building translates to poems. Since most poems are pretty short–even most series or books of poems are short–you have less time, but I’d like to think this makes it more difficult but also easier, especially given that poems have permission to be more dreamlike than fiction. To create that world in a small book demands skill. Rather than setting it up carefully, you have to jump right in before even building the boat sometimes  Or you are building it as you go.  So often when I am assembling a full-length mss. I am looking for the series of work that not only share thematic similarities, but also exist in the same world.  Or could if it were real. It’s not necessarily limited by time or space.   

Kristy Bowen, film notes | underwater world-building

You see that I made a distinction between ‘real poems’ and ‘stocking-fillers’ which, when I come to think about it, is as foolish as putting a capital P on Poetry or a capital L on Literature, and thinking that is a tenable proposition. For that, mea culpa. Because sometimes I’ve set out to write a bit of ‘entertainment’ and found that the poem has ideas of its own. I guess this is particularly true of dramatic monologues. There’s a long tradition of the dramatic monologue in music hall performance, and it sort of slips into the folk scene, via Marriott Edgar’s brilliant creations like ‘Albert and the Lion’ which were immortalised in Stanley Holloway’s recorded performances of them . You can hear their influence in some of the work of Pam Ayres and Mike Harding. 

There’s the music hall at one end of the spectrum, and, I suppose, Shakespeare at the other, and in the notional middle, between the two kinds of performance art, there’s the printed poem. So many of them sink into your subconscious sense of how characters can be created, how they can be made to sound, from the appalling duke of Browning’s ‘My last duchess’ to Tony Harrison’s dead Iraqi soldier or David Constantine’s five monomaniacs in ‘Monologue’. If you were to ask about the appeal of the dramatic monologue for me, it’s the liberation of wearing a mask, and the genuine enjoyment of discovering the accent, the ideolect of the persona. 

John Foggin, Stocking-fillers [5]. Trades and voices

behind my eyes
I see Anne Sexton’s little owl
draw breath

between dungaree thighs
dark as Byron’s night
and drawl out

unnoticed rhyme
punching in the words
like rivets

Dr. Omed, On Reading Sexton’s To Bedlam And Part Way Back

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 29

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: sea changes, uneasy sleep, farm animals, and more.


between dahlia and dahlia i find all things :: forgotten by the ripening light

Grant Hackett [no title]

Deep in the season of cherry light five days before my 68th birthday I am content a continent of quiet joy this feels new this feels miraculous unsick in the head unsick in the foot or knee or rib or gut here in my good green heaven with my cats and books and little want little need of much else I do fall into my right rhythms in summer my skin is happier standing in the water at the edge of the earth in the full moon low tide that kelpy vegetal fragrance that signals the birth of beginnings that signals music under my fingers wood waking up in the form of going back to beginning scales and etudes and arpeggios to slowing down Bach until my practice takes over again 

yesterday I drove to town for the farmers market and on road back that narrow slip of land where I can see water on both sides of me I saw a golden eagle sitting on a wooden post and I stopped my car in the middle of the road to look at him so huge taller than a bald eagle and heavy muscled I took no photo I just sat with my hands on the steering wheel and trembled he was incredibly wild an untamed rare thing not meant for my eyes but he showed himself and this was a gift

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Summer is not my season. I waste much of my energy hmphing and rssnfrssning about the heat, the humidity, the people everywhere where I might want to be, the legions of imagined lyme-carrying ticks dangling on every branch, the real legion of poison ivy creeping creeping toward me, and the closed notebook. Closed closed closed. In spite of my intentions to get down to it, start that daily practice I’ve thinking about.

Except here’s the thing. I know that come autumn, I will look back in my notebook and find all kinds of stuff I managed to sneak in there while I wasn’t looking. It happens like this every. year. I don’t know how I do it.

It is true that some of what I find has actually been written in the spring. I don’t pay particular attention. When I do these dives into my pages, I don’t care when I find stuff, I just care what I might be able to do with it. Like even now, I may sound like I’m bragging to admit, but I find myself with a chapbook-number of similarly themed poems I somehow churned out in the late winter/early spring. This is not, to me, terribly good news, as I already have two full length manuscripts, one of which also has a chapbook-length version, that are gathering rejections like dust. Damn my f’ing productivity.

But if I’m not creating, making something, trying something, then I’m fitful and depressed. Well. It is possible I’m fitful and depressed while I’m creating/making/trying. But it’s a DIFFERENT fitfulness and depression. More pleasant.

So as with the weather and the world, so with my notebook, I’m looking forward to discovering, come fall, what I’ve been up to over the summer while my notebook seems to be shut tight. Creativity will out. It will have its way, sneaky as tears, as a sigh, a nervous tic.

Marilyn McCabe, This ain’t no fooling around; or, Letting Creativity Have Its Way

“Keep a green bough in your heart, the singing bird will come” is a Chinese proverb that serves as epigraph to this new collection from Empty Bowl Press, selected and edited by Holly J. Hughes. In a time of drastic examples of climate change, in the face of predictions of “pornographic” damage to come (Mark Lynas, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet), it gives me heart.

The collection features artwork from Jocelyn Curry, Susan Leopold Freeman, Anita Leigh Holliday, Sandra Jane Polzin and others, and poems and prose by a wealth of northwest writers including Judith Roche (1941-2019), and our new Washington State poet laureate Rena Priest. Woven throughout one sees the panicky facts of destruction: “A raft of debris as large as Africa” (Kathleen Flenniken, “Horse Latitudes”); “smoke / hangs like a veil, a scarf we can’t breathe through” (Sharon Hashimoto, “Back Fires: September 2020”). It’s time, these poems and prose pieces exhort us again and again: “We’ve stayed calm for too long,” and “It’s time to move quickly” (Iris Graville, “Not Just a Drill”; “Truth time” (Risa Denenberg, “Posthuman”).

And all that’s so worth saving calls to us from every page: “Surrounded by birdsong in many languages / walled in by forty-, fifty-, sixty-foot cedar, fir, hemlock / maples leafed out, honeysuckle beginning” (Ronda Piszk Broatch, “Apologizing for Paradise”); native blackberries “carry the taste of my childhood forest on a summer day” (Irene Keliher); “we pick up and play and write and sing and dance so that the Honduran emerald hummingbird the leatherback sea turtle the mountain gorilla the tiger salamander…” (Penina Taesali, “The Word of the Day”).

Bethany Reid, The Madrona Project, v. 11. no. 1

My devotional mouth
pours blood
in these dreams and

I wake with ribs breaking
from the inside out

heart rate a frightened hare
capable of 30mph but frozen still instead,
rattling the grass with arrhythmic horror.

I lived that way for months, you know:
no metaphor then, no
metaphor now, a tachycardic
un-poem, my cardiac muscle.

JJS, below

So a visit to Woodland Park Zoo was just what I needed after a week of strange insomnia and high anxiety (days with only one or two hours of sleep in a row, which almost felt like no sleep.) Hell yes, I paid extra for the “Dinosaur Experience” and then hung around the red panda cubs (mostly grown now) that I visited in November. It was wonderful to be outside on a serene cloudy day, with so many happy children (kids love dinosaurs, which they definitely should) and I came home, had dinner and slept blissfully for six straight hours. Doing what you love is absolutely good for sleep. And good for your writing. I hadn’t submitted any poems this month, but the day after my visit I submitted to two places.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Zoo Visit with Dinosaurs and Red Pandas, Speculative Poetry – Practice and Teaching, and The Importance of Fun for Your Health

I wanna dig up our buried pains and recycle them into zen envelopes in which we can send love letters to one another and ourselves.

I wanna have sentiment’s plumber on speed dial for whenever our eyes leak.

I want our book smarts to develop a more nuanced sense of carnal knowledge.

Rich Ferguson, Declaration of Desires

I can see much more clearly now that both poems are concerned with the superficiality of not just this relationship but possibly many of the relationships that at some point in time feel real and substantial. I’m thinking of work friendships as much as romantic ones. Another thing is how the memory massages events of the past to the point that misremembered details get re-invented. For example in this case, the name of the hotel changes from one poem to the next. ‘Closure’ ends with reference to a ‘false heart’, ‘Let’s Pretend…’ is a wholly imagined scenario in which even the existence of the first poem is questioned. What exactly was ever true or false? Does the second poem change the first one? Which version of the narrator is the more reliable?

Robin Houghton, Lighthouse launch: reading a new poem and its prequel

The lights are always on 
in the room of escape & leisure.
If you’re passing by, you might mistake it 
for the dim glow of a falling miracle.

Mona Kareem, THE ROOM OF ESCAPE & LEISURE

Lastly, the above photo, taken in that apartment in Rome on our last day there. I said to Rob that this one is just for me, for us, to remember what the view was like, the feeling of standing at the window, as we often did that month. It had rained, as it often did in November, and then cleared. But the image has taken on meaning for me now — it’s a bit more poignant. It says more perhaps, without me trying to say it.

Shawna Lemay, Making Serious Art

One day last week, I was in the middle of the day in the middle of the block in the middle of downtown and smelled not the lake, but the sea. It was just a moment, like a hole had ripped in reality or geography and the lake, which has its own scent when the wind is right off it of fish and water and grass, but this was thick and salty–also fishy, but different. I looked around to see if there was a stray mermaid, or perhaps someone with lotion or shampoo that smelled like the ocean,  but no one was anywhere near me and while I’ve been decking myself in coconut bath goods and maybe smell a bit like a pina colada at times, I don’t carry the sea on me. 

Oceans smell different. Parts of the ocean smell different.  The Gulf of Mexico looks and smells different in Mississippi and around St Petersburg’s crazy clear depths.   Having been granted a half tuition scholarship, I almost went to U. of Miami my freshman year, who had a busting marine bio program and the benefit of being anywhere but the midwest I was struggling to escape from. In the end, it still would have been unaffordable. When Hurricane Andrew took a bite outta that area a few months later I was glad I’d wound up in North Carolina. There, the Atlantic was different from the Atlantic I’d visited in other Florida spots as a kid.  Rougher and more dangerous even while it was beautiful.

In a few years, after I was back in the midwest, another hurricane would whip across Wrightsville Beach and on the Weather Channel,  I’d watch it wreck the pier we spent so many nights at–eating fries from the snack bar and playing video games. I was so young and optimistic and always in love with the wrong person. But my hair would get sea-salty just from proximity. I’d go to class still smelling like the ocean.  They would rebuild the pier–nicer and more sturdy for future storms. Over a decade ago, I took a birthday trip to Myrtle Beach and took so many photos of the water with my camera, and felt again, the way the Atlantic makes you feel like the sand is moving and not the water. I imagine what it would have been like to stay–whether or not I’d become the biologist I intended at 18.  I was a poor scientist  and the coast was so far away from my family. But also, I’m not sure I could constantly live under threat of the sea, every August, possibly rising up to swallow you.  So I remained landlocked. I’ve been to Mississippi, to Gulfport a couple times where Karina did swallow most of the town.   Where my aunt huddled in her closet while the wind and water ripped the house apart around her.  Where they built a 13 foot high memorial filled with objects of the dead. When I was in New Orleans, every resident began most statements with “Before Katrina–” and a sort of sad shrug.

Kristy Bowen, what dark swimming lies within

I bow into endless waves
(Your face, Your embrace)
and You wash over me.

And I — I am my prayer.
In the rush of Your waters
reshape me like tumbled glass.

Rachel Barenblat, Seaside Mah Tovu

3 o’clock this morning. Fitfully sleeping beside my friends’ dog because I’m pet sitting while they’re away for the weekend. Suddenly the TV at the end of their bed blazes to life and Columbo’s face appears large as an Easter Island head. His voice booms out. He’s asking a delivery driver about someone with a bird name as I frantically search for the previously unknown remote that the dog must have rolled over on. As the driver makes a series of bird puns I push the dog and scramble my hand through the sheets. The truck drives away and Columbo shakes his head with a smile. I leap from the bed to find another way to shut off the TV. I mash the power button. Darkness and silence descend, blessedly, on the bedroom. The dog sleeps through the whole thing.

Jason Crane, Dark Night Detective

In his youth, during the war,
my father said they’d walk
the paddies after dark, looking
for snails and frogs; for what
called or moved or startled
against their feet in shallow
water. One body for another,
to boil for sustenance and pick
clean until the smallest bone,
until the shells are nothing
but dark coils of moonlight.
Echo of what once was saved,
currencies no one would
even think to steal.

Luisa A. Igloria, At night when I can’t sleep

I’ve long avoided translating poetry from Spanish, despite multiple requests over the years, because I’m convinced there’s a tipping point for certain linguists, including myself, after which their growing awareness of the layers and depths of nuance in the original language disarms them as translators. 

What do I mean by this statement? Well, thanks to Carmine Starmino’s Facebook feed, I encountered Katia Grubisic’s excellent new essay in The Walrus (see here to read it in full) about this very subject, including the following extract that expresses my stance perfectly:

“Literary translation…is a pack of lies. Every word compensates, approximates; every sentence omits far more than it includes. Choice is begrudging; while the chooser wrangles every possible permutation and absence, the reader trots around in the target language, blissfully oblivious to what is missing, what’s been cut, inserted, made up, woven in…”

Of course, you’re within your rights to challenge me as to what the alternative might be, because translations, however imperfect, are the only way for us to access any poetry that’s been written in a language we can’t speak. And my reply would be to recognise that you’re right, but also simply to ask for your understanding as to why I can’t take on any translations myself.

Matthew Stewart, The perils of translating poetry

Still mulling about how language changes and whether or not I agree with Emerson:

“Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Well, maybe not the tropes’ poetic origin but the words’ cultural origin. Their social origins, because language is inherent in human culture–we must communicate to survive. And if that means language includes words with violent origins or male hierarchical origins or race supremacist origins or nationalistic origins, the words cannot so easily be erased. We use them as they are, regardless of their nasty backgrounds, tropes and metaphors and all. An accretion of meanings alters the words as cultures evolve and change.

That doesn’t mean we should not critique or examine our words.

Ann E. Michael, For example

I’d forgotten this poem by the time it appeared. I’ve written stories with women in trees, and wrote a whole novel once that kept a woman high in a redwood. I’ve written poems that were self-portraits-as-dryad, and trees often invade my lines. So it wasn’t surprising to reread and find that by the close I had found it worthwhile to communicate with a tree.

Thoreau crept in, who also loves trees, and also those wandering Walden-girls who pick up radiant leaves. I suppose the whole poem is a sort of gathered leaf that “improved the time.” And who I am but one of those girls, grown older? A noticing sort of girl who picks up leaves.

And what does it mean to see the a tree as the axis mundi, the center of the turning world? The tree from that mountain garden of Eden, the knowledge of good and evil, turned by legend into the cross on the hill that drips blood onto the buried skull of Adam? I hadn’t remembered the poem, and so was surprised that the leaves become a series of radiant words.

Well, it was pleasant to see it again. And to remember the moment of stopping to stare at the corner of Fair St. and Church St. That rain-slicked, brilliant tree! It seems a lonelier poem than I expected when I began to read. All that saying of logoi at the end, and yet the woman is alone, alone in her invisibly-walled, rainless room. Perhaps she had to be lonely to know that all things are speaking.

Marly Youmans, Rain-poem, rumination, Russian

Working my way through a chapbook by Brooklyn poet Anna Gurton-Wachter recently [see my review of such here], part of my response included making my way to the internet and ordering an edition of American poet Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day (Turtle Island Foundation, 1982; New Directions Publishing, 1999), as well as a copy of Piece of Cake (Barrytown NY: Station Hill Press, 2020), a book composed in August, 1976 by Mayer and her then-husband, the poet and editor Lewis Warsh (November 9, 1944-November 15, 2020). For whatever reason, it was Piece of Cake that first caught my attention when the two books arrived: a book composed in first-person prose on alternate days, said to be “arguably the first significant male-female collaboration in 20th-century American poetry.” Mayer and Warsh each write alternate sections throughout the entirety of a single month from the relative isolation of a rental house in Lenox, Massachusetts, as they attempt to write and read, taking alternate days with their infant daughter, Marie, so the other could focus on writing. For whatever reason, this is a manuscript that was composed and completed, but lay fallow for some forty years, until prompted by the “determined efforts” of their now-grown eldest daughter.

The writing and the interplay between the two writers, including family moments, literary gossip and recollected stories are entirely compelling (the further one reads, the further one gets hooked), but I find it more interesting, in certain ways, the absolute pleasure knowing that Marie Warsh would have such access to an intimate, open and detailed paired document by both of her parents during her own infancy. I can’t imagine too many people who would deny that for any one of us, such a document, from either of their parents, let alone both, would be an incredible and uniquely rare gift.

rob mclennan, Bernadette Mayer and Lewis Warsh, Piece of Cake

This is a journey of fusions: traditional foods merge with new tastes, provoke memories or sensations that are equally both familiar and new. The poems mediate on the feeling of being an outsider in a place now called home and the need to create new traditions so as to create a sense of belonging in a place that doesn’t necessarily want you. Food is usually at the heart of family life: shared meals become shared conversations and food is a symbol of hospitality, a welcome enabling guests to stay longer. Most socialising is done around a meal. The poem hints at a merging of identities: oyster sauce is not traditionally British and a pie isn’t traditionally Chinese. A British-born Chinese person adapts to multiple cultural identities: this could be an opportunity to forge a combined identity or could be a form of separation, never completely belonging to British traditions yet not entirely Chinese either. Hence not knowing “what would be waiting at the table” while also knowing it would nurturing and sustaining. […]

“sikfan glaschu” is a culinary tour of Glasgow eateries from small family-owned restaurants to familiar, large chains. The food, and traditions implied through food, is a lens that explores relationships to traditions, how these can be shared or used to divide and asks questions about belonging and identity. Overall the poems have a celebratory tone: food is to be shared and offers a chance to be curious and understand other cultures, to share and come together.

Emma Lee, “sikfan glaschu” Sean Wai Keung (Verve Poetry Press) – book review

Every one who has reviewed or endorsed Herd Queen seems to say much the same sort of things, as Di acknowledges when she brought me up to date on what she’s been doing since 2016. I asked:

“…..if you could write me a bit about what’s happened since May 2016, not least how you came to to put “Herd Queen’ together. I suppose I’m partly asking, because Herd Queen bucks the trend (it seems to me) of the thematically organised collection. What I like about yours is that chunks of it could be freestanding pamphlets, and in any case it’s wide-ranging in its range of characters, voices, forms, moods, landscapes…..it is, in fact, refreshing, as most endorsers and reviewers seem to agree. And I bet it’s the only collection I’ve read to be briefly reviewed in The Countryman!

A few big ‘life stage’ things have happened to me since May 2016 – I became sole owner of Candlestick Press in that year, then in 2017 our private animal sanctuary here on the smallholding became a registered charity specialising in disabled and special needs livestock – see www.manorfarmcharitabletrust.org. And then in June 2019 I was diagnosed with a brain tumour.  The latter two events definitely fed into the development of Herd Queen – understanding the real focus of our animal care work and what a difference we can make to the welfare of those creatures in our care, and then finding strength in their situation for my own health issues. These experiences have surprisingly made me more light-hearted and joyful as a writer, and more determined to share light and shade in my writing – there are some dark pieces in Herd Queen but I wanted there to be humour and solace as well, from unexpected sources.  Life throws us these curve balls but it’s up to us what we make of them – if we’re adaptive and resourceful like the animals, then we carry on living for the day and making the best of what we have, or at least try to.

And you’re very right to comment on the thematically miscellaneous nature of the collection!  It was pieced together out of several wholes – where there was a short sequence of work in one particular direction at one time – but what I’ve tried to do is unite it all under one concept, that of the vigorous and challenging caprine Herd Queen who will zig and zag all over the hillside to protect her territory and her companions, covering plenty of ground in the process.  Someone once said that my writing is muscular in style and I took that as a compliment (maybe it wasn’t intended that way!) so these different forms and voices and moods are flexes of those muscles.  I do hope it isn’t a messy read, and that it doesn’t cause too much head-scratching for the reader – the first section is intended to be an extension of the land and animals themes of Reward for Winter, the second section an exploration of human and family relationships from a variety of sources and then the third is the naughty section… 

It does mean of course that the book can pop up in unexpected places like Knitting or Yours magazine or The Countryman, as well as reviewed in literary journals like London Grip or Raceme. 

John Foggin, Catching up: Di Slaney’s “Herd Queen”

Yesterday I spent a long time writing – or trying to. I got the words down well enough but nothing worked. I couldn’t find the point, couldn’t connect the strands. So after a while I deleted the whole lot and went off to talk to the pigs, who had spent the time far more productively in coating themselves in mud to protect against sunburn.

Bob Mee, WRITER’S BLOCK? NOT WORTH THE WORRY

Write a poem about the rain. Or the wind.
Write about what you learned at university.
Or did not learn at school.
Write a list poem about what has disappointed you.
Write part two of that poem about the reasons you have to be happy.
Write in praise of your favourite possession.
Write about dancing with another being in your kitchen.

Anthony Wilson, Writing prompts (blog post ending with a line by Shawna Lemay)

How does the flâneur come back to her city after a war is over, after a breakup, an illness, a chasm, a separation of any sort?  When I’m walking my little city (really more of a village), I find that taking stock of sites of loss is too risky. Instead, I keep my feet on the ground and eye attuned to what remains, what’s there.  It goes without saying that my eye also registers what’s not there — the invisible makes a strong mark. 

What delights me is the people who pop up unexpectedly — faces whom I knew as part of a daily geography, key to the routine and habits that made up a 24-hour-day.  If I lived in a real village, they would sell cigarettes and phone cards in the tabac, or be handing off a baguette in exchange for a few coins, or be selling fresh fish or putting new soles on my shoes.  In the urban village, they could be the doorman at the apartment building, or be the super, the bus driver, gym trainer, the face at the entry to school. 

Jill Pearlman, A Flâneur Surveys the Damage

What good is sorrow
When love still grows
In every fresh smile?

What good is weeping
While turtles still crawl
Through the tall grass?

James Lee Jobe, love still grows

calm sea
swimming with my son
into the cove

Jim Young [no title]

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 22

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, many bloggers took an existential turn. Others aired grievances and critiques. Sometimes they converged. Enjoy.


Fox barking to my right, to my left: what does it mean to be open? Risk, and patience. One bark after another, on and on they call and respond. Once home, once lost, once dead and blue at the bottom of the stair, stepped over: dream. Just a dream. The calls of foxes sound like screaming coughs, lungs gone closed and blued: I remember my dreams, even the ones I’d forget. What does it mean, “a wild patience has taken me this far,” if risk, if death? They bark and bark, echoing against June midnight, mountain. Crickets. Frogs. A whiffle of horse, a sussurus of sleep. I miss her, also gone. The new ones make sure to say my name.

JJS, Almost-ghazal, vulpine

and the rain
fell in one
long story
we sidestepped
between trees
i tripped my length
into fallen water
and you chased
a hare
into a rainbow

Dick Jones, dog sutras

You asked me once to tell about the whales
still in the deep places, untroubled. So I did.
I had a voice that persuaded then: I was young
and believed in victory. Far out to sea and far below,
I said, they are moving, huge and slow, older than us,
older than time, waiting us out. They know places still
that we do not. At last you fell asleep,
exhausted by fear and wretchedness: but I lay awake
and all night the stars picked their way across the sky.

Dale Favier, The Doubts

There are even organisms      

that rarely die simply because they get  old. Take the immortal jellyfish, for instance: faced
     with danger or threat, its clear, pulsing tent dandelion-ringed with 90 stingers might hitch a ride
     on the bottom of a cargo ship; or better yet, press the reset button to change itself back into a polyp.

Luisa A. Igloria, The Immortal Jellyfish Says No to Your Ageist Crap

The 27 year old finds a picture of your house, a picture of your writing room.  She imagines long mornings writing in dappled sunlight, drinking strong coffee.  She does not consider the long hours you have to work in your non-writing job to pay for the writing room where you never get to stay long enough. 

The 27 year old thinks about her own life trajectory, so much of it yet to come.  She thinks about your trajectory, both your writing arc and the other elements of your life’s narrative.  She cannot realize how fast it all goes, how one minute you are just starting out, full of resolve, ready to change the world with your words, and then the next minutes, decades have disappeared, while you still feel like your younger self.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Writer Me: Younger Me, Older Me

between the soul and its autumn :: all of time can be found

Grant Hackett [no title]

I was, I wasn’t, I am, I’m not, I will be, I won’t be
I shot twenty-four arrows this afternoon
one hit the small pink target on the hay bale
the rest disappeared into the mist

I have a post office box & a driver’s license
am I real now?

Jason Crane, POEM: vespers

How many of you remember The Interlude on television, when there was only one (b/w) channel and a 17” screen was regarded as excessive, and potentially damaging to eyesight unless you lived  in a huge house? Programme sequences were interrupted intermittently by the interlude. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because the programmers had all grown up with the notion that visual entertainment like the theatre and the cinema traditionally had interval breaks when you could in one case go to the bar, and in another, buy an ice cream from a lady with a tray. Or maybe they thought that television posed too great a challenge to the concentration and/or eyesight, and that viewers needed a break for reasons of health and safety. 

Whatever the  reason, there would be a break that might feature a gently turning windmill or the hands of a person you never saw working at a potter’s wheel. It’s only just now struck me that they both involved turning wheels. Why? Are wheels soothing? If you use Google, you’ll find there was also one with a lady working a spinning wheel, but every now and then, a kitten playing with a ball of wool, and one of teams of horse drawn ploughs.

So I thought that if it was good enough for the BBC in its pomp, it was good enough for me. One reason why I write poems, and about poems, is that some years ago I used to go to folk clubs which were essentially sing-/play-arounds. The organiser would point to me and say “are you performing” and I’d say no and that would be it, until one night the organiser said ‘can’t you do a poem or something’. That’s how it started.

John Foggin, Stocking fillers

What struck me about the movie [I Used to Go Here], which was enjoyable enough, was a scene with the writer and a student in a cafe, where she begins to suggest edits and is cut off by the young writer’s reluctance to change her work in the interest of making it “publishable.” Set aside that most fiction writers have no idea about the experience of poets, and vice-versa, and the fact that it was weird they were having the conversation in the first place. There was something familiar and aggravating about the scene.  Especially given the main character’s queasy dissatisfaction with her publishing experience–no control on the edits, the cover, a general dislike of the book she just put into the world. The younger writer, who seems unliked by her fellow students for whatever reason,  is self-possessed enough to hold her ground in a way I’m not sure I would have been, even at 30.  She mentions that she likes her title and has no desire to change things for publishability. Is, in fact, planning on starting a press to publish work she wants to. You watch as the main character is both flabbergasted and deeply uncomfortable by the conversation, even mocking when she learns of the press and dismissive of the work she is shown.

It’s familiar because it happens to many of us.  Maybe all of us. When I was in my MFA program, I’d already started an online journal and was on the verge of starting the press, and yet people I met seemed one of two things–shocked or surprised, and largely put-off.  Instead of support, it was like a dirty little secret.   I once had a conversation with a male student I didn’t know all that well, and in the hallway outside class, he told me he “didn’t believe the things people said about” me and I was really confused.  I always felt like an outsider anyway–being slightly older, working for the college, being further along in publishing my work, and also, writing at a different stage in my development. I had a full-time job, creative distractions and limited time, so I wasn’t as much part of the socializing so many people talk about in programs. In the first few weeks of the very first workshop people seemed to at first, love my work, then slowly begin to hate it. The comments went from nice, to really mean, and I don’t think the work changed all that much. Later, I went out for a beer with two classmates and they said people didn’t like me because I didn’t seem to give a fuck about all of it, and maybe I didn’t.  It got better, I was part-time, so actually took classes over a four year span, and better and more self-directed poets joined on later and did things like start journals and presses and do the work of poeting.  The first year left a taste in my mouth, though, that never fully went away. 

Sometimes, I page back through this blog from those years, where I was very honest about my experience and my struggles.  I would fault myself not as not caring, but maybe caring too much about the wrong things. Or the things that weren’t for me. Unlike the younger writer in the film, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to question things like that publicly–that push to fit things into neat publishable boxes and to do things the way they’d been done only because someone said that was where they were done.  I might do so secretly under cover of the internet, but not in person. I saw so much bad advice in those years. For me and my classmates. I’m always shocked at the stats on MFA-ers who never write another word, but I get it. I totally do. 

Kristy Bowen, film notes | the mfa on screen

Sitting on my mother’s couch in Rohnert Park, watching the blue and red flashing lights on the television screen, I realized what must have happened. Of all the times for this to occur, my first and so far only reading at Moe’s happened to coincide with an event that included the possibility of violence. Not even the most die-hard poetry fans would risk bodily injury to hear me read, nor should they. The five people who’d come must not have realized what was going on just a few blocks from the bookstore. I felt bad for them.

In What Could Possibly Go Wrong, which starts with an illuminating quote from Harry Crews: “The artist lives in an atmosphere of perpetual failure,” the issue of scheduling comes up often. Lola Haskins’ university reading was empty due to the simultaneous audience-sucks of a very important test plus another famous speaker; Jo McDougall was pre-empted by Monica Lewinsky’s TV interview; Marilyn Stablein was upstaged by a “faculty event.” Bar noise, changes in personnel, and lack of promotion added to the woes of reading in front of an audience. 

On the back cover, after the price, a short phrase sums up the book’s classifications: Bad Luck / Fate / Literature. Sounds like the plot of a Russian novel. 

Or the life of a poet.

Erica Goss, My Worst Poetry Reading

I came across an article the other day that reminded me that instead of hopelessly dreading my likely failure to make the most of a good opportunity, I could consider planning ways to manage stress. Self-help is not my preferred genre, and I have successfully avoided lots of pieces about social reentry post-Covid, but I was click-baited this time by a title about “using sobriety strategies,” about which I know little. Plus I’m desperate. The Washington Post article by Erin Shaw Street is here, although I don’t know if the link will work for everyone.

In short, the advice is to “start with acceptance”–this reentry thing will probably take a while, and that’s okay. “Have a plan, but stay flexible”: well, I always have a plan. My idea was to turn the week into a writer’s retreat at home, so my spouse is visiting family. Next week I’ll order out, let the dust pile up, and refuse to answer email. Write write write, I thought, and get back on the submission train, too. Maybe even use the empty house to lay out all my recent poems and see if they’re beginning to form a new collection! My revised plan: sure, try all that stuff, but if it doesn’t work, just do my workshop, make the best of my two 15-minute meetings with fancy editors, forgive myself if some of it falls flat, and otherwise chill. That’s the “pay attention to your feelings” part, which lately have made themselves very clear. “Practice gratitude and mindfulness”: well, all right, I know breathing exercises and I’ve actually worked on mindfulness lately, in my distracted way. What I’m proudest of, by the way of emotional planning, is in the “having a group of trusted friends to call on” category. I have actually scheduled a phone chat with Jeannine Hall Gailey right before the conference, because she is the best literary cheerleader I know. How about that! Me, planning a social interaction for my own sake, because it will make me feel connected and maybe even slightly more confident!! Miracles can happen. I also wrote the principles on a post-it note and stuck it on my office window frame, hoping I’ll stick with the program.

Lesley Wheeler, Conference anxiety times a million

And in my writing life, it’s been a season of rejection, rejection, rejection. Yes, I try to comfort myself that I’ve been lucky enough to have five poetry books published, or that I’ve gotten into some of my dream journals, or that I have wonderful supportive poet friends to help celebrate the wins and mourn the losses. But sometimes I wonder if the rewards are worth the effort. So, if one day I just stopped writing or sending out poetry, it’s not like anyone would demand it or clamor for my next book. To be honest, I also wonder about the effort of keeping this blog up as well – it does take time and energy, and I’m not sure that many people even read it (thanks, those that read and comment though, of course!)

I don’t want you to think it’s all gloom and doom in my head; it’s not. And I certainly recognize that many people, including some of my friends and family, have had it much worse than me lately. Every poet probably struggles with rejection, and we do tend to be prone to melancholy; it’s been a hard year for everyone; I recognize that catastrophic feelings don’t help anything. I think it would be nice if I could feel like I was able to do something useful again in the world, get paid for my work, or at least feel like I was helping others. I’m writing an essay for an anthology on speculative work and I’ll be offering an online class on speculative poetry soon (of course I’ll post details when it’s closer.) So those projects are good. And I really am thinking about moving forward on acquiring a place to use as a writer’s retreat – La Conner, WA or Port Townsend, WA maybe? So I’m trying to see the good things coming. I promise.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Butterflies, Sunny Days and Speculative Poetry Picks, Broken Teeth and Meditations on Melancholy

I have a pamphlet of poems without a publisher – that is, I haven’t found a publisher who wants the poems – that is, I’ve sent the pamphlet to two pamphlet competitions without luck. So, you could say I haven’t tried that hard to find a publisher, perhaps because I have doubts about the pamphlet as a whole, but earlier this year I made a decision to put these poems to one side, for now, which has been liberating and released some new writing energy. I’m now working on new poems, approaching them in a completely different way to usual, and gradually accumulating poems that might be a book, eventually. Individual poems from my unpublished pamphlet – I think of it as a ghost pamphlet – have been published in magazines and perhaps I will be able to salvage some of those poems and include them in my newer manuscript. Not an unhappy state to be in, just not a state brimming with success.

Josephine Corcoran, End of month blog and some wildflower poems

1. Compile a rough draft of a draft of a draft manuscript.

2. Slash and burn – round 1/n. Doubt spelling, suspect grammar, hate most lines.

3. Cold acceptance that this is crap but maybe it is marginally better than other crap. No? Probably not.

4. Idea! Write new poems. Abandon idea.

5. Existential question: To book or not to book?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, 10 steps to a new poetry book

I say if a lit mag can’t get to your submission in 6 months, they have to publish it whether they want to or not. I mean, by that point hope has been sparked in the little writer’s otherwise dark and bitter heart. And a year with no reply? That spark has lit the kindling. “Surely that they kept it this long means it’s in the line-up,” the writer begins to allow herself to think, warming her hands on the fire. Come on, lit mags, are you really going to send your hard, cold rain down now, douse the small flame?

Yes. Apparently, yes. Back in 2018 I submitted to a magazine I had been published in before. A year and eight months later I got a rejection. Standard reject, no “thanks for your patience,” no “sorry it took us a while.” (That’s the last they’ll hear of ME. THAT’ll learn ’em.) Not to mention the no-simultaneous-submissions mag that’s now had three poems for six months.

Talk about being nibbled to death by ducks. My goodness po is a terrible biz.

Marilyn McCabe, Bird on a wire; or, On Seeking Publication

Nell also mentions an interesting and often-since-asserted observation by Billy Collins, made two decades ago, that, in Britain, ‘the number of poets is equal to the number of readers of poetry’. Nell, rightly I think, says that there may well be more poets than there are readers of poetry. Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but 10 or 15 years ago, when I was directly employed by a certain south-west London local authority, there was an article in the staff newspaper about a member of staff who had self-published a pamphlet of his poems and who was quoted as saying words-to-the-effect that he didn’t read contemporary poets because he considered none of them to be worthy of his attention. It hadn’t seemed to occur to him that potential readers of his pamphlet might agree with him and therefore decide that his output was equally unworthy of their attention. I have no idea whether he sold any copies. I hope not. The sheer arrogance of someone wanting to write and air poems without first reading widely and absorbing the lessons of their reading into their own poetry-writing goes beyond (predominantly male) entitlement to the point of being downright peculiar. He’s probably since progressed to become one of those people who go along to open mic sessions to read their poem, invariably exceeding their time-slot, then leave at the interval so that there’s no possibility that they might feel obliged to hear too many of anyone else’s poems or to look at, let alone buy, any of the books on sale. (I realise, though, that not everyone has the financial wherewithal to buy books.)

Nell also says that ‘a good and loyal reader is harder to find than a poet’. If every person who knows the value of contemporary poetry were to buy books for those who haven’t read any poems since school and tell them, with as much vehemence as necessary, that they really will enjoy the experience, then the poetry readership can grow. Despite the un-self-aware idiots like the one I’ve described above, there are still many fine poets to be discovered; more, probably, than one could ever hope to read whilst living a full-ish life. Why shouldn’t a book or two of poems on the beach be as common a sight as crime novels, thrillers or bonkbusters?

Matthew Paul, On HappenStance Press, the reader and the poet

I once heard Sonny Rollins play in Toronto. It was a perfect summer day in the 80s when I was studying music at York University, and a bunch of us went to the Molson Amphitheatre on Toronto’s waterfront. We lay on the grass just outside the cover of the roof watching Sonny, the blue of Lake Ontario in our vision. I remember one extended solo by Rollins, where the band dropped out and it was just him. Such a delightful squonking. Low register honks. Motifs broken up and tossed around. Time made into a salad. And all of it connected with Rollins’ characteristically playful intelligence. As Wallace Stevens says, “the poem of the mind in the act of finding/ What will suffice.” 

Ok, so gravitas didn’t seem to be explicitly there and the Coltrane-like bursting the seams, burning through the gates to another world. But there was meaning. Significance. And humility. And the sense of deeply being oneself. How? For Rollins his playing is often all about “the mind in the act of finding.” And what will suffice? Intelligence. Resilience. Creativity. Joy. A celebration of being. Of communication.

And the other thing I’ve come to understand in Rollins’ approach is ethics. Living through action and making choices. In a recent interview, Rollins says, “I’m just progressing through life, able to evolve now and to realize that to really live in a spiritual way I have to be an ethical person.”  In his music I hear this decision to live ethically. To be in the world. To choose one note after the other as an ethical act. To embrace life. To choose positivity, communication, joy. The life-force. To keep playing, performing. To be an old man and to St-Thomas-the-hell out of life. 

It’s an astounding thing.

Gary Barwin, Ethical Squonking: On the Coltrane-Rollins Continuum

It began with pain right where my heart is — a pain I initially discounted as probably a bad case of heartburn. It wasn’t such a big pain you’d right away think, heart attack. But after I lay down and it went away, I got up and went around doing things and it came back. Again, I went into denial. This is really bad heartburn — could my ulcer have reopened? Never, heart attack. I just turned 72 this month. Although my father and brother both had heart disease, my mantra was, I’ll take after my mother.

Called my doc’s private number. He picked right up, listened, said “Go to the ER and tell them you’re having chest pain. You’ll go to the head of the line.”

It wasn’t a comfortable procedure or hospital stay. But everyone who cared for me was wonderful. It was comforting to feel I’d survive and live well after this, as my cardiologist told me. […]

And the first thing I wanted to write when I could, was a poem. This one is for everyone I met and everyone who sent love.

The Heart

The heart is a muscle.
I feel its clench
protesting the lack
of blood, its nourishment,
and I go down, prone, bowing
to a central throne it inhabits in my body,
thrown to my back
and then to hospital,
where relinquishing clothes
and goods, I’m surrounded
by those familiar with a distressed heart’s ways.

Hours later, I am profoundly
embraced by science and love
that inexplicably flows
from these people whose powerful hearts
and muscles show up here every day.
And prayers that like a cavalcade of butterflies
shore me up in this new and sweeter life.

Rachel Dacus, A new heart, a new path forward

“We’ve been lucky. There was the nursing home outbreak,” she says, her voice lowering. The nursing home in town is a scant quarter-mile from the office where I’m getting my blood drawn. “And the soldiers’ home in Holyoke. But other than that, it’s been pretty good here.”

“May it stay that way,” I agree. 

“All done!” She smiles, pressing a wad of gauze where the needle was just withdrawn. Now I look over, and I see the test-tubes full of dark red blood. The color always surprises me. It’s so vivid, so deep. 

I’m not sure what they’re looking for this time, but we can’t schedule the next procedure until they run whatever tests they need to run on these gleaming garnet vials.

I wonder how many mini-conversations like this she has over the course of a day. How many lives she briefly touches with her blue-gloved hands. 

When I exit the building, I inhale lilacs under the clouded sky. 

Rachel Barenblat, Garnet

This weekend I spent some time reading poetry—some for a literary magazine I judge submissions for, and some from books that have been lying around that I haven’t cracked open for a while, namely by Wallace Stevens, who is my favorite poet, and Kahil Gibran. I needed to read both of those poets because somewhere in all of the chaos and heaviness of working at a hospital during the pandemic, I have lost my sense of passion and wonder. I feel ground-down and machine-like. I’ve been in survival mode for a long time, devoid of a sense of beauty and boundlessness, afraid to take any time to notice the natural world around me, afraid to slow down, afraid to allow for any sense of space and openness in my life. I shut everything out except the work that is front of me day-to-day, and I’ve been driven by dread—dread of the massive responsibility that has been handed to me at my place of work and at the same time, dread of being laid off, dread of loss both real and anticipated, and dread of what may come in the future for our country and for the world. I needed to read about love and astonishment and the miracle of pineapples and the cat forgotten in the moon and how the trees are there for me. I needed good language, the language of noticing, the language of elevation of the spirit and the essential divinity of human life:

“The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges.”
–Wallace Stevens, A Rabbit as the King of Ghosts

We’re coming out of it now, and I’m ready. Ready to breathe without a mask muffling my nose and mouth, ready for traffic and shopping malls and movies and night parties, ready for patients to flow into our facilities again, ready for the world to open its petals like a rose and for humanity to return to human-ing. For better or for worse, I don’t have a particular religion to hang my spiritual beliefs on, but I believe that we are children of God, and we need to remember our origins.

Kristen McHenry, Swimming Nostalgia, The Language of Divinity, Opening Day

“Remember we must die” need not be a call to religious fervor or to pessimistic existentialism. It is merely a fact that we ignore at our peril; for if we remember death is ahead, we can attune ourselves more closely to the lives we do have–and those others with whom we are in relationships. For whether you know it or not, your body has a relationship to Earth and all of its beings. Even, perhaps, the carrion beetle, not to mention billions of microbes and your best friend’s mother.

When I write about death (and I do), I find the tone of the poem depends a great deal on which words or images I use: the clear flow, or the leavings in the sieve. Different purposes, of course. Sometimes the poem wanders in sorrow, sometimes there’s clarity or a lifting of grief. It depends on the perspective (sometimes the speaker of the poem isn’t me), and on where the poem itself decides to go, particularly as I revise. Many readers believe that poems only ever arise from the writer’s experience, but poems are works of the imagination. And they are sometimes informed, or re-formed, by experience or insight that comes later in the writing process.

My own grief? That’s private. I may not decide ever to communicate how that feels. However, having sensed sorrow in my bones and gut and in the empty places in my community of loved ones, I can write about being in the moment of bereavement and the many moments afterwards when the losses make us ache. I like to imagine that memento mori keeps me alert to life. Even when I feel sad.

Ann E. Michael, Memento mori

It is a raw dawn on the morning of the poor.
“Be thankful,” they are told, “Here is your daily crust.”
The feathers of the wealthy have been groomed for the ball.
The day passes quickly for those who are pleasured.
Evening is a pistol and a whip; all the knives have been sharpened.
There will be fresh meat. “Where did the day go?”
Even as the poor ones scurry off, the music begins to play,
And the sound of laughter escapes the ballroom
The way a balloon escapes a child’s hand.

James Lee Jobe, Fresh meat.

cut the wild flowers were livid
~
living the wild flowers were vivid
~
in the hedgerows of my never mind
~
the limp excuses fall dry
~
in the hushed vase
~
the petals fall
~
lonely is the room
~
now
~

Jim Young, them cut

Otherworldly beauty, otherworldly creatures, otherworldly powers.

History lessons that keep writing and rewriting themselves.

Fake moon landings, alleged alien abductions, labyrinthine underground bunkers running through our blood.

It’s all part of how we’re hot-wired to allow our imaginations to roam wild, how we reverse engineer out-of-this-world technologies to better understand ourselves.

Close encounters of the lovebird kind, unknown lifeforms roaming darker minds.

From conspiracy theories to rational inquiry, from matters of the heart to unidentified aerial phenomena—

there’s a little Area 51 in all of us.

Rich Ferguson, You and Me Ufology

No, today’s post takes as its point of departure the fact that many younger generations always write poetry via a keyboard and a screen. Their typing is far more rapid than my two-fingered efforts, and a fair chunk of them don’t even own a printer. This last point means that they read through their drafts on a monitor rather than on a piece of paper, of course.

The key issue is whether the above-mentioned shift in writing habits is affecting the way their poetry is functioning. There seem to be two major questions. The first is whether speed of writing encourages lines to be longer, freer, less tense. The pen weighs up every letter before committing it to the notebook, but the keyboard rushes onwards.

The second matter for debate, meanwhile, is whether trends in line endings are also altering. The argument might be that moving a line ending with a pen involves writing the poem or at least the stanza out again (and again). It entails meditated probing as to whether an experiment functions. However, on a screen, the return key encourages the poet to play around with line endings at will, changing and then changing back in a few seconds flat, spotting immediately how semantics and synax might interact with expected and unexpected line endings. 

In other words, my suggestion is that if there’s a generalised evolution towards longer lines and more unexpected line endings among younger poets, it might not just be because of their aesthetic tastes but because the actual means by which they write are also different. And this is before even starting to consider poems that might have been drafted on phones…!

Matthew Stewart, Line length and line endings in the digital age

low battery —
trying to silence
the wrong smoke alarm

Bill Waters, Haiku about sounds or silences

I feel such a kinship with library systems, especially those in small towns. Often a hub, they have the ability to bring together, and in many cases, create community. When Bruce and I traveled Canada for many summers, our first stop was often the local library. It wasn’t just to borrow Wi-Fi to contact home, but also check out local happenings, what types of resources were offered, what folks were reading in their neck of the woods. In fact, I collected a good 7-10 library cards from small town libraries across Canada, from British Columbia to Newfoundland. I may never return to these destinations, but I like to think that my card-carrying membership added to their collective reader base, somehow.

Last fall, I sent some poetry to Mason Street, the Newark Library Literary Journal. The Newark Library is located in Newark, New York, and of course my curiosity about such an offering through a library system got the best of me and I had to learn more about this particular library. Like so many libraries I’ve had the joy of experiencing, the Newark Library is really no different. Community within community.

Mason Street’s Editor and Founder, Celeste Schantz selected my poem “Troubadour” for the winter issue and “Faithful” for the spring. Both poems are in good company, and I was especially delighted, no, fangirl delighted, to see that poet Marge Piercy headlines the spring issue with “My Library Memories.” Swoon! If you haven’t read her work, you should. The first collection of hers that I savored is titled The Moon Is Always Female, a must-read. This is her 7th collection of writing. Organized into two sections, the first is categorized as “amusingly elegiac to the erotic, the classical to the funny (Amazon).” The second section is lunar in nature. It consists of a series of 15 poems for “a calendar based on lunar rather than solar divisions” (Amazon).

I’m really thankful that both “Troubadour” and “Faithful” found a home in the pages of a literary journal of a thriving library far away from home. Should you get the chance, read both issues. Visit the archives. But most importantly, keep writing and sharing our work with the world.

Kersten Christianson, Mason Street, Newark Library Literary Journal

I think TFP (not 100% sure about The Frip yet, but it will sink in and become shorthand soon enough, I’m sure) will be with us for a long time to come. I’m looking forward to seeing the new poems arriving week by week, perhaps I may even manage to get one in there; although the famous adage of Meet us half way and submit one first applies at the moment.

I must confess that I was a bit worried when Hilary first approached me and asked me to review Rendang. I can’t put my finger on it, but it felt like the biggest review I’ve been asked to write so far, the most complex book yet, and I wondered if I was up to the task if I could find something interesting to say (and to be fair that’s the same with every review I write, and every poem, and every post here…and every sentence I say out loud, etc).

If I’m honest I was worried about engaging with the “contradictions of identity and cultural memory” mentioned in the blurb. Not because I didn’t want to or don’t feel I need to. I absolutely do, it was more a feeling of do I have anything valid to say on the matter without falling into the lazy tropes that Alyca Pirmohamed refers to here in her excellent essay at Wild Court, those adjectives like ‘urgent’, ‘important’, etc?

I think I avoided that, but I don’t think I can be the judge as to whether I had anything interesting to say. However, I found it fascinating and educational for a variety of reasons to engage with the collection as a whole by examining how the poems developed between pamphlet and collection, as well as the newer work, and how that benefits from the space and time afforded by a collection (literally and metaphorically).

Mat Riches, That Friday (poem) Feeling

So much for my New Year’s resolution to avoid buying new books. Somehow, my April blog push led me hither and yon over the entire poetry landscape, and I ended up buying a truckload of books. Among them, Ada Limon’s Bright Dead Things (Milkweed, 2015). Looks like The Carrying is next (winner of the 2019 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry).

I have a major poetry-crush on this poet. Not only does she write about horses and honky-tonks (subjects dear to my heart), but dogs, owls, sex, and death. She’s got it all. And language! Oh, my!

Bethany Reid, The amazing ADA LIMÓN

First up is the almost obligatory cat poem, simply called “cat” which didn’t come with trigger warning but introduces the idea of suicide and ends,

“we are all decomposing slowly
so that is of some comfort
we are all a million dying stars
so that is of some comfort “

The ability of the narrator to be comforted by the idea life will end anyway and it ends for everything around us is enough for him to accept natural causes is a better way to go. It also shows how something unexpected, encountering a cat, can knock someone out of a rut, a pattern of rumination and look beyond themselves. Instead of feeling like a burden the world would be better off without, the narrator has seen he can have a place in this world and the current pattern of things will stop, not with a sudden jerk, but a series of small changes.

Emma Lee, “Blue the Green Sky” Stuart M Buck (The Broken Spine) – book review

Theirs is a fascinating kind of call-and-response through the poems in Hearing, each short single-stanza lyric burst including author initials, so one doesn’t lose track of who composed which, from two poets deeply engaged with language, listening and experimentation. The crediting of each individual author is something I find interesting, suggesting the collection less a collaboration-per-se than a conversation in poetic form. This is a lyric through which each poet is responding to the other, akin to what Canadian poets and married couple Kim Maltman and Roo Borson did in their own conversation through lyric, the poetry title The Transparence of November / Snow (Kingston ON: Quarry Press, 1985). In Hearing, there is something lovely about a collection that exists as such a conversation, especially between two highly accomplished poets who happen to also be close friends, as though we are being allowed to listen in on, or even overhear, a conversation that might otherwise have been privately spoken.

rob mclennan, Lyn Hejinian and Leslie Scalapino, Hearing

[A] teacher friend has gotten me into the Poetry Unbound podcast and this has set me off on a new tangent. I’m also not into audio stuff much. I have struggled to focus on online lectures, audio books, music, podcasts, becoming distracted, flipping away if it’s on a screen. I listened to one PU podcast because my friend was raving about the title of the poem being a sign of a great poem, so I though I’d listen to the poem at least. 

The poem read on the podcast was Hanif Abdurraqib’s ‘When We Were 13, Jeff’s Father Left The Needle Down On A Journey Record Before Leaving The House One Morning And Never Coming Back’ and my friend was right. The title is killer, the poem even more so. The presenter Pádraig Ó Tuama has an amazing voice for reading poetry and he brings his own gentle enthusiasm for the poems he shares. So I listened on. And again on the way home from school that afternoon. I continued to pick another episode and another and another, in the mornings before work and often on the way home. 

One day after a partially tough morning with the child I support at school, I brought my lunch up to the classroom, rather than sit amongst the noise of fourth graders in the cafeteria. I needed to calm down before the next class started, so I stuck on a random episode called ‘A Poem for What You Learn Alone’ which seemed to suit my mood. The poem was Brad Aaron’s Modlin’s poem ‘What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade’. It is nothing about fourth grade and exactly what I needed. I think I’ve heard all three seasons now, but keep going back to favourites or finding one that I that I’ve forgotten. 

Gerry Stewart, A Poetic Daunder – Stepping Away from the Familiar

There are days when I fantasize about not having to teach. Not to get away from the work exactly, but to spread myself out thinly over the days. To breathe easily. While the pandemic has been difficult in so many ways, it has also given me the opportunity to slow down. Listen. Can I listen to the birds with the same sustained interest that I listen to a student presentation? This is a kind of work, too. What do I earn from this?

My childhood was a cramped succession of dramas, of noise and movement. A montage of cigarettes and speed, cocaine and black eyes. Drama became a kind of addiction that I struggled with through my 20s. I walked that jagged edge of violence where you never know which side someone will fall on: wounded or… disappeared. And as soon as I write this down I think: no, I’m not being fair to everyone. And still, I censor myself. After censoring myself in the first place. I make excuses for other people.

Maybe no one should ever tell the whole truth? At least not for the sake of entertainment or to makes one’s self interesting like a spectacle at Coney Island. Though people do buy tickets.

When I was in high school I went to the county fair alone and bought a ticket to see one of the “freaks”, assuming it would be a mirror trick of some sort. A kind of theatrical presentation. It wasn’t. The “freak” was a person. I turned around immediately and threw up outside the tent.

No. That would make a good story. I didn’t throw up. I just wanted to. I felt a sense of shame that was too familiar. But weirdly, I felt a shared sense of shame. With the person in the tent. I couldn’t explain it then, and I can’t explain it now except to say I understand why the whales that are kept in tiny pools and mistreated at theme parks will give kisses to their trainers on cue.

I don’t want to choose revenge or forgiveness. I want a middle path here, too. It seems even my personal life isn’t really free of ethical concerns.

And my writing never will be.

So for now, I write about mundane things like lapwings and chaffinches. The vibrating silence of the Hardanger plateau where the snow still lies in July. How cold has a smell where the North Sea is untouched by the Gulf Stream, and the harbour in Stavanger can smell like watermelon.

Ren Powell, A Story of Going Feral

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 21

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, I found a lot of posts about learning or re-learning from the familiar, the close-at-hand, the wilderness in one’s own backyard — something I suppose I’ve become perceptually vigilant for, since daily walks around my own small part of the world have become so crucial to preserving my sanity, not to mention unlocking new levels of perception and (maybe, hopefully) expression. As Ren Powell puts it, “Why do I feel a need to go away from home to pay close attention?” One’s own home ground may in fact be the best vantage point from which to hear what Shawna Lemay, quoting Li-Young Lee, calls “the hum of the universe.” And poets can translate that hum even into something as homey as prose...


It’s late 90s Baghdad: with a trembling heart and weak joints, Ra’ad Abdulqadir, the editor of Aqlam literary magazine, would return from his office to his home in the western outskirts of the capital every day. He would change into his pajamas, lay down on the couch, and begin to write a poem for what would become his most notable work, Falcon with Sun Overhead. He would then doze off with the notebook resting on his belly. Like much of the rest of Iraq, Ra’ad spent the 90s suffering from health issues, and the hospital visits became part of his routine. He hated doctors and hospitals and chronicled their dreadful presence in his poems. “The poet used to be an angel,” he told novelist Warid Badir al-Salim in what’s considered his last interview in 1999. “Now he is a coal miner.”

And what does that mean for you, Mr. Ra’ad? “Well, I like to think of myself as the angel in the coalfield.”

And so he is—the angel in the coalfield, the cemetery, the empty classrooms, the white hospitals, the dark streets. For years, he was the kind of poet loved and envied by both his contemporaries and the generations that followed for his magical ability to keep the angel’s garb free of ash. Now, though, he has been underrated and forgotten.

Mona Kareem, How Ra’ad Abdulqadir Changed the Iraqi Prose Poem Forever

Portland, Oregon poet and fiction writer Zachary Schomburg’s latest poetry title is Fjords vol. II (Boston MA: Black Ocean, 2021), described as the “second volume of Zachary Schomburg’s Fjords series of evocative prose poetry,” following the prior volume, Fjords vol. I (Black Ocean, 2012). I’m curious at the extension of his prose poetry project and how far it might continue, and if it sits within or alongside the trajectory of his other published poetry collections, all of which have appeared with Black Ocean: The Man Suit(2007), Scary, No Scary (2009), The Book of Joshua (2014) and Pulver Maar: Poems 2014-2018 (2019) [see my review of such here]. The pieces in Fjords vol. II are each short bursts of individually titled, single-paragraph prose poems collected together as a book-length suite. The narratives of Schomburg’s poems are fond of establishing a simultaneous light and dark tone, and writing poems with odd turns, and endings that sit, not as endings, but as a place for the mind to pause. In many ways, Schomburg’s poems haven’t beginnings or endings, but points at which the narratives start, with another point where the narrative stops. The effect is occasionally jarring, often turning bits of the logic of each piece back in on itself, as though it is for the reader to discern each poem’s actual shape: far bigger on the inside, perhaps. These are poems that reveal themselves in layers, and reward repeated readings.

rob mclennan, Zachary Schomburg, Fjords vol. II

Periodically I watch some free videos offered by artist Nicholas Wilton, who has a program called Art2Life. He’s unflaggingly enthusiastic and filled with wonder at discovering or uncovering processes by which he, and theoretically we, can bring our creative impulses to fruition on the canvas.

In a recent short one, he talked about how he’s trying to stay present with and focused on not what he is putting on the canvas but how he is feeling while doing it. And the feeling he is trying to maintain is, basically one of openness and a sense of possibility. And deliberately NOT a sense of assessment, judgment, predetermination of what should be happening on the canvas. He talks about having a “free outlook” and the “sense of wildness and freedom” with which he often starts a new painting — all that blank space, how it frames the first few marks beautifully — and maintaining that outlook and free sense throughout the process.

By focusing on the space out of which he is creating, rather than what is being created, he’s able to allow all kinds of things to happen. He says he can see both his own training at work in this more intuitive way of making, as well as a new “wild”-ness that is exciting.

Yes, I say. And thank you for the reminder. I’m talking as a writer now, and agree that the key to when I’m writing well and interestingly, and maybe the key to revision as well, is the center — i.e., me — out of which I am creating. And I love that feeling of openness and possibility. It’s a kind of ebullience, a word that means boiling up, bubbling up.

Marilyn McCabe, Warped by the rain; or, On Letting Go Control

Throughout the pandemic, in warm and cold weather, I often sit on my front porch. We’ve set up a table and chairs, curtains and heaters. I can be outside and work on my writing despite the weather. Or in celebration of it. 

It’s very pleasant—fresh air, bird song, many trees. 

Across the street, I frequently hear my neighbour, the artist John Miecznikowski, practising cornet. I understand that his son was an accomplished trumpeter and he gave the instrument to his father to learn. (They also share a love of motorcycles, and John has told me some great stories about his riding exploits in the 60s and 70s.) 

Because John is “learning,” he often plays what sounds like hymns, or at least, simple tunes, but on cornet they have a English brass band sound to them. 

Recently as I was working on a new novel, I listened to the sound of the trumpet entangled with the sound of the wind and the birds. I had been working on a cello piece for my old high school friend George. I decided instead to write something for John, something that evoked that entwining of trumpet and bird song. 

Gary Barwin, My neighbour John plays trumpet and I hear him while birds sing.

Being at sea suits me sometimes. I like learning. It’s why I’m always trying unfamiliar forms and genres. I just published a short essay, “Hand of Smoke,” in Speculative Nonfiction, that’s about being a student and also demonstrates me in a state of experiment–what am I willing to say about myself in the plainer mode of prose, and is this a risk I can succeed at? Enjoying being at sea can shipwreck into stress pretty quickly. […]

The other side-effect of my mother’s death, though, is a changed perspective on what’s urgent. Apparently I CAN put everything aside for big swaths of time to take care of others and myself. I’d lost that muscle memory since my kids became independent. It’s a lucky thing to like your work, but work doesn’t always like you back. When it’s too much, it really is fine to say screw it. Literature is watertight and unsinkable.

Lesley Wheeler, I don’t know what I’m doing again

Roche sits snugly below the limestone promontory from which its name derives, and straddles Maltby Dike which provided water for washing and beer, presumably upstream of its use as a depository from the latrine. It’s a beautiful setting, as ruined abbeys almost always are. No wonder that Turner, Constable, Piper, Sutherland and others were drawn to paint them so often. On a day like today, when the sun has finally arrived to announce the start of summer, the scene at Roche looked very beautiful indeed. It reminded me very much of Waverley Abbey, near Farnham in Surrey, the Cistercians’ first abbey in England. There, I wrote this haiku, published in Presence no. 54 and undoubtedly echoing [Peter] Levi subconsciously:

ruined abbey:
the dark mullein’s yellows                                               
light the transept

I wrote some more haiku this morning. It would have been rude not to, since they’re such inspiring places.

Matthew Paul, On ruined abbeys

I have to admit I went into Katherine May’s new book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times with specific expectations which is unusual for me with non-fiction books. Expectations about what wintering meant and what I was looking for from the book. I can’t remember where I came across the recommendation for the book, but idea that caught my eye amounted to learning to cope with the winters of our life and a connection to Finland. […]

The book contains many of my favourite wintery things which is saying a lot because to be honest I am not a fan of the season of winter at all. But I do love the darkness and magic of Samhain, the Cailleach, standing stones, hibernation during the cold dark months, wolves. She also looks at a few I don’t like as much like saunas and winter swimming. Both these latter things are very much part of the Finnish psyche, though Finland really doesn’t feature much in the book outside of this. May turns to these various things to try and work through her wintering periods. 

Oddly, it felt like she was full of energy to go off and try all these various techniques, on her own and with other people, something I think many people who need to ‘winter’ would struggle with, to be social, try new adventures. I realise that the events and adventures she wrote about were maybe separated by years at different periods of wintering, but I would have liked more examination of how to face the dark stillness of winter when there aren’t friends around or even strangers to go stand at Stonehenge on midsummer. This would have made the book even more helpful in the last year when we couldn’t go out much when we have been forced to winter and many of us found it incredibly difficult.

Gerry Stewart, Book Review – Wintering by Katherine May

as if life ripens on our limbs, sweetening
with every step, every right step —
I watch your uneven breath, the awkward
shape of your sleep, so much of the night
is just a defence against another morning.

Rajani Radhakrishnan, As if death is so discerning

Notice how the rain
falls down,
the old monk said.

Think like that, like
the falling rain.

Tom Montag, TEN OLD MONK POEMS (17)

A squirrel stopped halfway up the tree trunk to stare at us. Perfectly silhouetted against the blue sky, so that the silly fur-forks standing up from the tips of his ears were visible. I still have no idea if the tussle we witnessed a few weeks back was a fight for territory or some kind of mating activity. Maybe there is a second squirrel tucked away in the tree with babies.

It almost makes me sad to be so ignorant of something so close. I think maybe this summer – when school lets out in two weeks – I could pack a lunch and settle under the trees there. Bring binoculars and spy a little. Why not?

It’s odd. I actually have plans to do something similar next month. We are flying and boating all the way up to an island above the arctic circle to stay in a cabin with friends, without running water. I hope to spend a few days on the beach waiting and watching for porpoises and otters. Scanning the sky for birds of prey and trying to identify them.

Why do I feel a need to go away from home to pay close attention? It’s almost as if it is “allowed” then. It’s not indulgent, or eccentric, or peculiar. It’s a vacation.

Ren Powell, In My Own Front Yard

scrolling slowly
through a wet temple garden
on my time line

Jim Young [no title]

The range children are allowed to travel on their own is what psychologist Roger Hart has termed the “geography of children.” This range, for an eight-year-old, has shrunk from 6 or so city blocks a few decades ago to barely beyond the front door today. In the 1970’s, Dr. Hart spent two years conducting informal walking interviews with every child between the ages of four and 12 in one Vermont town to discover where and how they played. Kids particularly enjoyed the type of play that manipulated the physical world, making forts or using sticks and dirt to create (as one child did) a miniature airport. Dr. Hart observed that four and five-year-old children were allowed to play in the neighborhood without direct supervision, and children had the run of the town by the age of 10.

He went back to that town three decades later to see how childhood might have changed. No surprise, parents were much more involved in the moment-to-moment details of their children’s lives, resulting in much less freedom for children (and adults, presumably). As he did in interviews back in the 1970’s, he asked children to talk about secret places they liked to play. One child called out to his mother to ask if he had such a place. Dr. Hart wrote, “That would have been inconceivable 30 years ago. Then, most children I interviewed had places they went to that their parents had never been to.” Thirty years later, Dr. Hart found no children who played with sticks. This impeded freedom to play away from adult gaze has only gotten worse since.

Laura Grace Weldon, Neighborhood Kids & Authentic Freedom

When I was a kid the tree was impossibly enormous. It was like the giant Christmas tree that rose out of the stage, dwarfing everyone, in the local ballet’s performance of the Nutcracker. But mine wasn’t a Christmas tree. My tree had a big smooth trunk and thick, sturdy branches. One branch protruded over the jasmine, and there was another one a bit higher and to one side. The lower one was perfect for sitting on, letting my legs dangle. The higher one was perfect for leaning on with a book. I always had a book, Laura Ingalls Wilder or EB White eventually giving way to Robert Heinlein and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Eventually I got brave enough to climb higher, onto the roof of the playhouse with its asphalt shingles. Sometimes I would read up there, instead. Once I carved my initials into the bark with my red pocket knife, alongside the initials of the kid I had a crush on. The magnolia’s leaves were big and oval-shaped and glossy and they cast pockets of cool shade that kept the playhouse roof from overheating. The best time to climb my tree was late May — right around my mother’s birthday — when the magnolia would open her great creamy blooms. Her flowers were as big as my head. The petals bruised easily. Later, when they dried up and fell off, they were like scraps of tan leather. I used to try to stitch them together with monkeygrass to make doll clothes. By then, they only had a shadow of their former fragrance, but they were still sweet. I can almost remember that fragrance, forty years later and two thousand miles away.

Rachel Barenblat, Grandiflora

I finished a fiction book this week and I’m still reading Poets at Work, which is wonderful and strangely … well, comforting, for lack of a better word. I’ll be sad and bereft when I finish it. The Lowell interview is my favorite thus far, although I also just began the Walcott review — and I love reading it because it reminds me of being in his classes, and also the few precious times I had conversations with him outside of class.

But it also might end up be my favorite because of what he says in the interview, and how it resonates alongside other things I’ve been engaging with, like the Airea D. Matthew’s episode of the Commonplaces podcast. 

 For instance, this morning, I copied down this from the Walcott interview:

“What we can do as poets in terms of our honesty is simply to write within the immediate perimeter of not more than twenty miles, really.”

This made me think about my own art in this context, and about how I write, and my subject matter — which is often very much centered around my own experiences, not necessarily things that would seem universal — and I can’t escape that this is determined by my gender, my sexuality, my race, my socio-economic class, my career, where I live, etc. And then I was wondering if that’s worth anything. But I don’t think we can ever really know, or worry, about whether or not our work is worth anything to anyone else, unless we just want to make canned, color-by-number nonsense. We have to be honest, with ourselves and others, and perhaps in the way that Walcott suggests. 

Sarah Kain Gutowski, How to Ease Away from a Particularly Traumatic Semester: Reading, Listening, Thinking, Walking

I think Adam Zagajewski’s poems were easy to love, which is no bad thing. When I think of his poems, words such as the following come to mind: humane, gentle, affectionate, clarifying. After 9/11, his poem ‘Try to Praise the Mutilated World’ became very famous in its English-speaking translation by Clare Cavanagh when it appeared in The New Yorker. Not one of my personal favourites of his poems, I still appreciate it and its immense value in the wake of a huge, world-changing tragedy. It distills what I think Zagajewski did best – the acknowledgement that dark, horrendous things happen but the equal observation that life continues and that the value of light, beauty and faith remains unchanged. […]

It’s so hard to choose a favourite poem by Zagajewski. When I reread them now, years after first readings, they remind me of emotions and moments in my life, and they take me to places which I’ve visited or which I hope to visit some day. ‘Star’ has been a talisman for me for many years. ‘Vita Contemplativa’ occupies a central place of importance in my pantheon of poems, and lines from it often surface in my mind. ‘Poetry Searches for Radiance’ is a powerful mission statement for poetry. Whether one of his collections, a selected poems or something randomly found online, his works will reward both casual reading and prolonged engagement. What is much harder than finding the right poem by Zagajewski is accepting that he’s not here any more. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, Remembering Adam Zagajewski, 1945-2021

This project, the best kind, emerged from the whim of writer and artist, Matthew Wolfe. When the pandemic began, he started assembling and sharing on Facebook a daily photograph of possessions, many with notes. Each photo carried a shadowbox appeal, a frozen moment in time. Enter Sheila-Na-Gig editor, Hayley Mitchell Haugen, who suggested moving this work to a book format, and to open a call for writers to share their writing in response to Matthew’s photos.

And so the birth of Pandemic Evolution!

It is a hefty volume, beautifully crafted. The book contains Matthew’s writing, a record of the early days of the pandemic, his photographs with notes, and the writings of 46 poets from the U.S., Canada, India, and Wales, who responded in kind, ekphrastically, to Matthew’s work.

I am grateful to have three poems included in this collection: “Day 79: Something Cohen Said,” “Outside Terrace, B.C.,” and “Day 100: Road Trip Is Life.”

This project is truly an act of a collaboration in both the project and more global sense. It is one that I’ll look back on in gratitude having had this chance to document those early days the world entered into a period of social distancing, questioning, uncertainty, and survival.

Kersten Christianson, Pandemic Evolution

Last Saturday, 22nd May, was Artists’ Book Club Dove’s first in-person meeting since September last year. We have had ark-building weather recently, but by great good fortune this was a warm sunny afternoon with very little wind. We carried our chairs and picnics through knee-high buttercups in Dove Meadow to a clearing beside the Tree House (visible top right in the photo below, taken by Bron) and passed books and ideas around. What it treat it was to be together. […]

I’m only half-way through India
I’d rather do the washing up
if I were a reptile

in between the showers
a bit of deckle-grooming
cuckoos bitterns warblers marsh harriers

hot chocolate with a dash of brandy
hedgehog highways and rabbit lintels

Ama Bolton, ABCD late May 2021

This book has just been published by Suffolk Poetry Society as a response to the diminishing state of nature. It forms part of a collaboration between the Society and The Lettering Arts Trust (Snape), where an exhibition of the same name opens in July. I am delighted to have two poems and a micro-poem about IUCN red-listed species included. 

The topic resonates closely with Robert Macfarlane’s work (supported by Jackie Morris and her artwork) in response to an increasing concern over the fact that ‘nature words’ (the ‘lost words’: see here) were being removed from the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Apparently space was needed for words deemed more valuable in a digital and technical age. You can read my post here about a previous exhibition at The Lettering Arts Trust on this subject. 

Caroline Gill, ‘On a Knife Edge’, a new anthology from Suffolk Poetry Society

It was shocking, and not a little dreamlike, to experience going from a very small social circle that included my nuclear family, my sisters and niece, and a few very good, close friends and suddenly finding myself in Memorial Day travel at the Atlanta airport.

We were traveling to Oak Park, Ill to see my mother-in-law, more than likely for the last time, or maybe not. She is quite old, infirm, and suffering from dementia. She remains tied to her body by a silken thread, and so we plunged into the stream to be with her. […]

The Pandemic has made me much more conscious of my mortality. At 60, I’ve retired from public school teaching with a small pension, and I try to spend evenings on the back porch watching the sun set through the poplars and pines.

I’m so grateful to be alive, to have survived thus far, for breath, community, and connection. I want to dwell in these moments. My body and mind bask in the peace I feel under the trees in the evening air.

Christine Swint, Airport, Pandemic, and Gratitude

The littlest doll is also the one that doesn’t come apart, the one who stands complete. A inner strength that comes through in the poems that touch on the poet’s father’s death when she was aged 15. In “Matryoshka”, after the funeral, some dolls are taken apart some are “some shut tight, permanently locked in grief,” which leaves,

“The littlest doll found herself rattling around
in the wrong size body,
suddenly bulky with responsibilities
and listening to echoes.
To all eyes an adult, within, a child.”

The implication is that in the transition from child to adult, we don’t shed layers, we gain them. The intact baby doll is wrapped in experience and expectation. The external appearance is of an adult but the speaker still feels her inner child, hesitant and lacking confidence.

Emma Lee, “Russian Doll” Teika Marija Smits (Indigo Dreams Publishing) – book review

According to recent assessments from the eager
to travel again, have drinks with friends, shed

the year’s wardrobe of almost sackcloth
and ashes—we’ve come through to the other

side. But what is the other side if not a reverse-
engineered vision of this one; a looking glass

in which (we pray) each full-blown tragedy of
the past year shrinks back to what it wasn’t

before the unfathomable struck?

Luisa A. Igloria, A Tunnel has Openings on Both Ends

I had thought I would write about cicadas and husks and post-menopausal Noah’s wife feeling like she, too, is a husk.  This morning, I’m thinking about cicadas and Noah’s wife wondering why they got a space in the ark if they’re only going to emerge into life every 17 years.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Cliche with Full Moon and Sunrise

beneath my house of memory :: a wind of unknown depth

Grant Hackett [no title]

Can you tell me how In an Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered came into being? 

I laid all the poems out on the floor to see how they spoke to each other. As I was going through them my biggest surprise was that the bulk of the collection was written using a very different voice to the one that I am most familiar with. I am a lyric poet by default. I tend towards the experimental, cross genre, free verse. I also approach subjects by going in slant. But this writing was radically different, it was narrative, direct, it employed characters and had a plot. Through the characters not only was I able to re-enact the past, but also to understand what happened and speak about it – although in these poems the boundaries between reality and fiction are blurred!

Crystal was one of the first characters on the scene and she was fierce and feisty! She had her own voice and demanded she be featured in her own book. The title In an Ideal World I’d Not Be Murdered is taken from the title of the penultimate poem in the publication, where Crystal sets out her own manifesto for an ideal world – full of contradiction and ambiguity:

Crystal knew what she wanted and that was somewhere quiet, but not so quiet I get
murdered.

Other characters trauma-wounds are experienced and displayed through the body, but are also expressions of fragmented memory, such as:      

Ash held off the stab wound
through her laugh. 

Abegail Morley, In Conversation with Chaucer Cameron

By the time I landed back in the city, internet journals were blossoming all over, and my first publication there (a site called Poetry Midwest)  was just as exciting as the one in print.  I was all in for sending out work at the rewards of publication, especially in those pre-social media days. Somehow, the community felt more connected then, or at least, the online journal community did.  Journal publications would be met with fanfare and sometimes fan letters from other poets. Some of the people I met in those years are still my online friends now, decades later and across several states. Some of the journals are still publishing, some faded into internet obscurity and 404 errors.  (Stirring and Pedestal Mag, for example,  are still going strong.)  At first, some poets scoffed at the online word, poets who now embrace it pretty regularly. I learned quickly that print journals were nice, but online was where things were more likely to get read (esp. by non-poets.)

The poetry world was, and still is, a constellation of communities.  I moved in several for awhile and at different points.  The online poets, the blogger poets.  The open-mic poets I did readings with in local bars and coffeehouses.  The MFA poets I was meeting at Columbia. Each community had their bibles.  The most exclusive online journals were the ones I couldn’t get into, but I kept trying and eventually did, though sometimes it took years.  (A couple others I am still trying to get into..lol..)  The open-mic crowd had their own local pubs and presses. The academics had a ranking of “high tier” and “lower tier” that I will never quite be at home with or understand. Community journals, academic housed journals. Journals run by one person and some html skills (wicked alice was very much this.) As such, I moved through journals in all these communities and met many different people in them. Even more awesome, was often invited to submit by editors who liked my work that landed in places I might not otherwise even thought about sending to. 

Ultimately, I have always kind of sucked at the submission game.  I was better a decade ago.  More often than not, even when i am writing a lot, I will go months without sending out a thing, then fire off a round to some familiar favorites and some pie-in-the sky places I’d like to see word.  Maybe some new discoveries I think are cool (Twitter has been awesome for this.). I stopped trying to get into places it didn’t really seem like my work was a fir for or whose work or values I didn’t esp appreciate..  At some point, I stopped trying to build a resume or appear in the sorts of places that got a certain kind of attention  and more just wanted to see if I could reach new or existing audiences with them. I began to think of poems as breadcrumbs you leave out in the world that lead back to a larger body of work, either just in general or to specific projects. This has made all the difference. 

Kristy Bowen, breadcrumbs

Further to my post last week about certain poetry readings in London, I thought it was only fair to focus today on regular events that are held all over the country (having mentioned them in passing as a point of comparison and/or contrast with London).

I myself have been a guest poet at regular events in Leicester, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Manchester, Huddersfield, Edinburgh, Chichester, Portsmouth, Cambridge, Coventry, Oxford, Shrewsbury, Bradford on Avon, Reading, Lewes and Birmingham, so I’m speaking from personal experience when I state that these events are all idiosyncratic and play an important role in many people’s lives, reaching far beyond the stereotypes of open mics, etc.

First off, there’s invariably a dedicated individual or team who volunteer to run things, often without any funding whatsoever (the irony, of course, is that this is where poetry really flourishes and makes a contribution to society). Secondly, there are the regular attendees, some of whom even arrive from outlying towns and villages, coming together for the reading in question. And that’s before considering their personal circumstances: on several occasions, a member of the audience has told me that poetry events provided their main (or even only) source of social interaction.

In other words, this post is a celebration of regular poetry events all over the country, though it’s also a lament, as their temporary shift online provides yet another example of the huge damage that the pandemic has inflicted on many people who already suffered great loneliness. And then, finally, it’s an expression of hope, that poetry can still form communities, even maintain them via the internet, and emerge into a post-pandemic era where we’ll be able to gather above a pub or in a village hall, and listen to each other’s poems once more.

Matthew Stewart, The communities created by regular poetry events

And so the job I’m applying for is one who praises. From, again, Li-Young Lee:

“Praise is the state of excess, ecstasy. We counted up all the deaths; we counted up all the dying: we counted up all the terrible things in life, and guess what? There’s still Van Gogh painting sunflowers, there’s still morning glories. There’s an excess in the universe, a much-ness, a too-much-ness.”

So I’m turning to Van Gogh, to the sunflowers, and to the morning glories. I’m going to change the station, flip the dial, change the channel in my brain, and devote myself to the hum of the universe. The mess is going to continue, I know that, and it totally sucks. I’m so beyond exhausted by heading into the fray (both physically with the day job and mentally). So I’m just setting it aside. I’m going to be a fool and turn back to the beautiful, I’m going to fix my broken hearing. I’ll end with another passage of Li-Young Lee speaking about the hum:

“I think it’s bad when poets say, “I don’t believe in the beautiful anymore. Look at the world.” Well, I say, “You’re looking the wrong way. You’re looking at the past. Poets should traffic in the ideal. You don’t traffic only in the past.” For me, as far back as I can remember, I was trying to hear a kind of hum, trying to feel it, and if I could hear or feel that hum, then the words just came and perched on that hum. If I don’t hear the hum, then I have to make the poem out of words. But if I’m hearing the hum and I hear it very clearly, the perfect words like birds will come and perch on that line. They will be the perfect words. but if my hearing is off — if it’s a little broken — and I’m faking it, then I’m putting the words in there, making the illusion there is something underneath. No. I’m interested in the frequency under those words.”

Shawna Lemay, The Hum of the Universe

After three cloudy, seasonable days–with no rain (we are in a drought)–the temperatures here got up to around 80° F and the cicadas emerged. I took a long walk around campus to observe the hatch.

Judging by the divots in the mulch around the trees, skunks, squirrels, raccoons, and other omnivores had a feast last night. But enough fourth-instar nymphs made it up the trees that I quickly lost count of how many exoskeletons clung abandoned to the bark of pines, maples, rowans, and assorted campus-landscape trees. There were also pale, newly-emergent cicadas–not yet imagoes–most of which were drying out their wings and bodies in the breeze. A few were still in the haemolymph stage (teneral adult stage), which is fascinating. Their wings are still furled, as they haven’t yet inflated with whatever fluid circulates through their systems, and the insects look particularly weird.

Brood X hatches mostly south of us, though this county is right on the border. Definitely seeing more of them this year than I have for many years past.

Magicicada are justly famous for their loudness. There were not many full-fledged adult bugs on campus at noon today; but when I return (on Friday or, perhaps, Tuesday), I expect the place will be buzzing. The students are not here to make the place buzz–I’ll be happy to hear the cicadas.

Ann E. Michael, Hatching day

Every day, more and more faces are stepping out from behind their masks,

lips making their debut on reality’s stage after having been in hiding for well over a year.

Thin lips, full lips, heart-shaped lips, turned-down lips.

Throughout L.A., all these rediscovered lips are like the new Norma Desmond, emerging from their Sunset Boulevard seclusion,

telling the ghost of Mr. DeMille they’re ready for their close-up.

Rich Ferguson, The Itness of Lips

So, last week I talked about discouragement from the whole rejection-cycle of being a poet. This week I’m going to talk about poetry dreams. The sort you’ve thought about for a while and think – now may be the time to take steps towards making them a reality. You know, I’ve been sending out resumes for jobs in the literary world (this is a big secret) but it got me thinking about what kind of work I could start on my own. I’ve thought a long time about opening up my own press, and lately I’ve gotten to start thinking about Virginia Woolf – the way she cultivated her own circle of talented artists, writers, and critics, and invited them to her home because her health didn’t do well when she was away. I thought about maybe investing in a little writer’s retreat cabin in a resort area that I could use, but could also rent out to friends (writers and artists), and maybe even running a little writer’s retreat of my own. I think that would be within the range of things I could do without endangering my health, especially if I had an accessible place to host from. What do you guys think?

The main thing keeping me from starting a press in the knowledge that while I have some gifts that are good for running a press – enthusiasm for getting underrepresented voices out into the world, a great reader (and pretty good editor, if I do say so myself), PR and marketing know-how, a pretty good idea of how to run a business – my worry is that I recognize I don’t really have a great mind for detail (even worse since the MS). I wonder if I could get a partner in the press who was great at detail-work. I know that the caveat of a one-or-two person press is that if, for instance, one person’s health fails (which has happened at two of my own publishers) then the press is gone. Thus my hesitance to “go for it.” (Well, that and paperwork – one of my least favorite things in life.)

So the kinds of jobs I’ve been applying for would be doing marketing and PR for presses – or even acquisition editor, a job I’ve had before in my previous life at Microsoft. While it would be fun to be part of a team in that case, would it be more fun if I had more ownership?

So, even if I don’t have the money, partners, or plans completely available right now, there’s no harm in putting these things out into the universe, is there? Please chime in in the comments if you have any thoughts, encouragements, or ideas about what I’ve posted here….

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Almost Summer – Memorial Day Weekend, Supermoons, and Dreaming Some Poetry Dreams

Collective dreaming, tons of it, was being reported early in the pandemic. It was a phenomenon of nocturnal spaces around the world.  I was thinking about that this morning around 4am, looking out from the second story window at a sea-green garden,  an octopus’ garden, to use the Beatles’ words, with the blue-green flesh of hydrangea calling out, the pompom leaves of trees being shaken in a hynotic motion; thinking of the way we tapped into soft, amorphous time and space world during the pandemic.

I was thinking of this after we had our first dinner party; as people return to social space, they rush towards individuation only to find they fit awkwardly in their bodies. 

What was all that dreaming about?  The unconscious was ordering things in a way of deeper reality, and people not previously accustomed were becoming awake to it.  When we needed it, a curative, creative depths became available beyond the frontal barking of social media, beyond the dominating mind.

What can we now collectively gather?  Is it too much to think of reforming a collective mythology, desires and fears of our shared humanity behind the lids?  What if we made a bank of dreams — the way we bank money, and bank blood, now bank sperm and eggs and genetic material. Thinking on the model of cloud banks, dream banks will mark undivided and shifting spaces where psyches run into each other, billow and split and dissolve. I’ll start. I dreamed C.D. Wright gave me a haircut, very slanted across my neck as we talked about her waiting to receive a certificate to teach swimming; I dreamed about my mother’s belly, my bodily home, in different ages and stages. Of course, I dreamed of bounding outside of lockdown, climbing over roofs and living in endless reconfiguration of rooms. The possibilities are endless.

Jill Pearlman, Dream Bank for the Post-Covid World

Rain against the window. The sound of my wife laughing in another room. A sadness for the mounting grief in the world. Things that tell me I am still alive.

James Lee Jobe, The universe. My wife laughing.

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 16

Poetry Blogging Network

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

Earth Day was this past week, and as cynical as I’ve become about that, what with rampant corporate greenwashing, making everything about consumer behavior rather than policy solutions, etc., I was surprised and pleased by the variety of off-beat and genuinely insightful perspectives I encountered in the poetry blogs. As usual with themed editions of the digest, however, there’s also plenty of interesting miscellaneous stuff toward the end. Enjoy.


The hand knows the pen, and greets it the way old friends do when they meet by accident on the street. The paper is there, waiting. The afternoon gets very quiet, and waits with the kind of patience that one sees in the elderly. An anxious excitement hangs in the air. Dust mites are watching as if they know, as if they understand. It is almost time. In a moment, the poem will begin.

James Lee Jobe, Truth? Sometimes. Not always.

The old masters were never wrong—
Auden knew this. Bruegel, too, understood
our worry: that all wars are plagues.
That plagues are endemic to the human condition.
And when the dead rise, there are those
who don’t even notice.

Christine Klocek-Lim, How to survive in an apocalypse

I’m wary of calls for unity. It’s not that I’m cynical (maybe a little), and I’ve certainly been idealistic in my time; but long experience and lots of stories and histories and my father’s background in how people behave in groups have led to feeling circumspect about unity. It works with people, yes, but it also leads to the worst aspects of tribalism. To the fostering of rigid ideologies. To acts against outliers, to the construct of evil Others. […]

For myself, I choose diversity. The earth manages its diversity wonderfully, even when human beings thwart it. Milkweed seeds and thistle find their ways into monoculture cornfields. Plants and insects gradually populate the rubble we make.

When circumstances keep me in a tribe-like bubble, I read books and poems that show me other perspectives, other climes, other social cultures, cities, classes, geographies–other histories than my own. I find ways to explore, in person or virtually, artwork and film work, drama, music, and dances from places I may never visit but without which I would be less attuned to the World. To its wonders, which are many. Insert here, instead of a unified goal all people “should” achieve, Whitman’s “Kosmos” or Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty” with its line “All things counter, original, spare, strange;” or, more contemporary, Vievee Francis’ glorious “Another Antipastoral” that states:

Don’t you see? I am shedding my skins. I am a paper hive, a wolf spider,
the creeping ivy, the ache of a birch, a heifer, a doc.

Ann E. Michael, Wary of unity

Lately I’ve been thinking about foxes. While walking my dog Red through the neighborhood, we saw (or smelled from Red’s point of view) a fox sunning itself in the middle of the street with a carefree attitude. It lifted its hind leg to scratch an ear as we approached. The mail carrier driving by said he sees that fox and others regularly in different parts of the neighborhood.

A large tract of farmland adjacent to our suburban street was sold a few years ago. A sizable woodland was plowed over and turned into another subdivision, so many of the animals that used to live there have had to migrate. In the last week or so I’ve encountered, wild turkeys, coyotes, Canada geese, mallard ducks, and now, this fox.

Christine Swint, Foxes, Archetypes, and Escape

Woodpigeons hunch on the open fence
in the freezing wind and rain
despite you providing shelter.

Woodpigeons perch on the gutters
and shit on the windows,
then fly off applauding themselves.

Sue Ibrahim, Woodpigeons

It’s in my next book, this place all fairy mounds and shifting beaver waterways, too apparently small to get lost in, yet every time, unpredictable tiny wild.

It’s the alive nature of risk, how even short and new paths suddenly turn bog, or turn left when the signs point right.

At the crossroads, sorrow to have to choose, again, one wrong over another. There should be a path unobstructed, somewhere.

Lacking that, there is just this that can only be enough for a short while already run too long.

JJS, The tiny wilds

I really like that phrase of Bob Horne’s…‘landscape made language’. It chimes with Macfarlane’s ‘landmarks’. Unconsciously, I hyphenate it. landscape-made-language.  And also language-made-landscape.  So much of Alison’s poetry is a poetry of place. A topological poetry if you like. Her landscape is particularly that of the watershed lands between the old textile towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire [2]; sour moorland tops, incut valleys full of canals and railway lines, and bridges. Old mills and dyeworks in small valleys, sometimes slightly sinister, gradually falling into dissolution; millponds and leats. Valley sides thick with sycamore and balsam.A layered, imbricated landscape, and one she knows intimately, about which she writes with what is often a textured precision. […]

Four years ago, while walking her dog in a familiar place, she slipped, broke her spine, almost drowned in a millpond, from which she somehow managed to drag herself, until she was found.

John Foggin, Catching up: Alison Lock’s “Lure”

On this Earth Day, I could have written about Iceland, where new earth is being born this very minute. But instead, here is a painting of an elemental landscape in Greece, one that’s probably existed in various forms for as long as human beings have gathered fruit from trees and fish from the sea: stony soil, an olive tree, the sea just beyond. If we listen, maybe we can hear the tinkle of bells on the collars of sheep and goats, herded into a hollow just beyond the picture frame… In Mexico, perhaps the olive would be replaced by some agaves. These are the sorts of natural and agricultural landscapes of basic sustainability that exist all over the world, which are threatened by climate change, and which we must protect. 

As I painted and thought about these things, I enjoyed knowing that some of the pigments I was using came directly from the earth too, and that water — the most basic substance of all — was the medium in which they were dissolved. But the connections go far deeper than the food we eat, or the elements we use in our daily lives.

For instance, it’s iron that gives its red color to the earth that was at my feet in this picture, and there’s an iron molecule in the center of each hemoglobin molecule in our blood, which is why it appears red.

Most of the time, we don’t even think about these interconnections. But actually we are creatures of the earth, just as much as the old olive tree with its roots in the rocks: it’s true on the macro level of our interdependency for life itself, and it’s true on the micro level of the smallest cells in our bodies.

Beth Adams, A Greek Landscape for Earth Day

Something about the bird that dropped
its feathers so it could remember
what it’s like to be naked in the mouth
of the world—Sometimes it mouthed
the shape of what sounded like love
or a kiss or a call. Even if it didn’t,
we had to forgive it for confusing
salt for sugar, for what dissolves easily
in foam. We stood without moving,
or learned to stop running away.

Luisa A. Igloria, Epiphora

Still thinking about Earth Day.

I read an interesting blog post – and an interesting comment there about how humans cooperating with one another is the key to the success of our species.

I’ve been thinking. What is the measure of success here? That we’ve overpopulated the earth? Overwhelmed other species? Poisoned our own homes? Occasionally wiped out huge swathes of our fellow humans in the name of “good”?

And what is the time frame here? Will we be as successful as the horseshoe crab? The jellyfish? It longevity a criteria? Is it to literally be the last man standing when we’ve eviscerated the earth entirely to make plastic toys? When the world is quiet but for our own voices?

Ren Powell, The Success of Our Species

seedling of another species :: is the language that i speak

Grant Hackett [no title]

… looking out of the patio windows, the grass pale because it hasn’t rained, and earlier, a goldfinch picking away at the curly branches of the twisted hazel. A cool breeze lulls the pine in the neighbour’s garden, cone-tipped branches, the place where the magpie likes to hop about, serious and concentrating on his next big find – a blackbird’s or a sparrow’s egg – and there’s a house sparrow, dipping and sipping the water from the birdbath, freckling the patio with droplets…

self isolation
picking up a dead fly
by its wings

Julie Mellor, Self isolation

It’s Earth Day, and this morning I spent my early hours rereading Passings, 15 poems about extinct birds—a luminous, heartbreaking, award-winning collection of poems from Holly J. Hughes.

Passings was first published in 2016 by Expedition Press as a limited-edition letterpress chapbook. It garnered national attention in 2017 when it received an American Book Award from The Before Columbus Foundation. As Holly says in her acknowledgments, “fitting that a small letterpress, itself an endangered art form, would be honored.” More than fitting, richly deserved.

It is our great good fortune that in 2019, Passings was reprinted by Jill McCabe Johnson’s Wandering Aengus Press. Although the gratitudes are slightly expanded, it is essentially the same and available from the press, or your independent bookstore

Bethany Reid, Holly Hughes: PASSINGS

In the meantime, I’m making plans for seminary housing.  On campus housing is cheap and furnished.  There’s also an option for intentional communal housing, but I’ve decided not to go that route.  In my younger years, I’d have gone that route, but these days, I’m in a more monastic cell kind of mindset.  This shift intrigues me.  I’ve requested a one bedroom apartment.

I have a vision of arriving at seminary with my sourdough starter, some musical instruments, and my markers.

Yesterday we transplanted seedlings.  We’ve been growing plants from seeds that we’ve collected from plants we’ve been growing.  Everything I researched told me that we would not be able to grow milkweed from seeds, but we gave it a try, and now we have 30 seedlings.  We did the same thing with peppers, cilantro, and dill.  We’ll continue to house them as long as we can.  

The future seems murky with possibilities.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Housing Options

Thumbing
through the old photo album I pause at that photo,
remember how my dad dug up the rose before
the old house was sold, replanted it in my
parents’ backyard. A few pages later
there it is, twirling over my parents’
porch, now only a picture in an
album. Gone from this earth,
like my grandparents,
like my mother,
one day,
like
me.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo Day 20

Even in the
is-ness of all things—
snow doused rut,
bleak skeleton of blackberry—
there is a waiting:
water of what’s next,
small fist of intent.
Who can live in the moment
amid all this soon-to-be:
bud of laurel,
aspen’s catkin, thirst
of the dirt road?

Marilyn McCabe, The poet’s game: or, On Waiting

Oh, moralizing culture! Since we have so little understanding of where we are, there will be endless pronouncements of where we are. Certainties about what we’ve learned from the pandemic, and prophetic images of our future.  The more we don’t know, the more we must say.  The more we shouldn’t say, the more we will.  No good void goes unfilled.  Enter a slogan.  

Carpe Diem?  It seems obviously capacious, which gives everyone room to pick bones.  The dessicated twigs in front of the carved letters in the photo look like they hide a sarcophagus.  Latin and Horace and Odes might overwhelm the swinging modern individualist, even if they agree with a misreading of “Seize the Day” as a consumer-ish urge to achieve personal triumph.  

Ideologues of a different stripe might battle the hedonistic “go for it” message, again misreading the more philosophic horticulturalish reminder to pluck and gather flowers at their moment.  To pluck each day in its fullness.

So little can be said.  It’s no wonder we keep at it. 

Jill Pearlman, The Carpe Diem Dilemma

no one thrives in a factory
we need sun on our faces
& snow underfoot

a hundred miles
with the crockpot on low
& some beer in the fridge

up the mountain
write your name
down the mountain, cook

the drone circles the summit
captures his tiny image there
one arm raised, smiling

Jason Crane, POEM: he lives in a van

Stupidity fairly oozes from me, these days. Dull ignorance and prejudice. I grow brittle. I roam my little spaces and think my my old stupid thoughts. The sky is a little airless cap over my little airless neighborhood. I count, and count, and count: the number of breaths since I started trying to sleep; the seconds until I take my eggs off the stove, the eighths of inches my waist has grown or shrunk, the number of pull ups done today. Sometimes I count backwards: from thirty to zero, while I wait for the oximeter to stabilize its numbers. For the novelty and piquancy of it. That’s how large the sphere of my mental operations has become.

This is where some extravagant meditation on natural beauty is supposed to come in: some memory of Mt Hood seen over the railyards at sunset, or the glowing fume of a waterfall before it drops into the deep green shadow of the Columbia Gorge. Really? I’m going to address this stupidity with images borrowed from picture postcards? Is anyone disposed to believe in that? Certainly I’m not.

All right. So that’s my state of mind. And my body? My back is totally borked, as it has not been in years. I had thought I was done with that affliction, but here it is again. And it gives the lie to the dreams of immortality I’ve been indulging of late: dreams of becoming so very healthy, so lean and fit, fasted and refitted, that I simply never decay. Such nonsense. 9% life extension in female mice: that is not immortality, Mr Favier. That’s another couple years of being an elderly male primate. If it translates at all.

Dale Favier, Counting Backwards

These are mangoes of desperation,
mangoes that were given promises
of eternal youth, but promises
were misleading at best, if not lies.
These are mangoes left to marinate
in the faint wishes of another
kind of life, wishes that sucked the life
right out of everything around them.
Still, this will have to be good enough
because these are the mangoes I have
here and now, and they are my dessert.

PF Anderson, Mangoes

The disposable
line ask for
nothing.

Write something
hard like rock
brought up

by winter’s
heave, left
to warm

in spring sun,
permanent,
mythic.

Tom Montag, THE DISPOSABLE

The lilacs are out on the island and are beginning to open on my deck. Lilacs make me giddy and stupid. Lilacs make me slather myself with fancy girl perfume and wear my tiara to the grocery store. Lilacs make me dance. Lilacs are the smooth rock hidden in my boot the secret to my creaky hips in the morning. I wanted nothing more than to be the famous Lilac Queen or one of the famous Lilac Princesses of Spokane when I was growing up. Of course I was not. I have grown weirdly nostalgic for the smell of city busses and lilacs in a vase or purloined lilacs in my arms. They grew everywhere when I was a girl. I thought they were wild flowers but they are in fact intentional. When I was a girl my stepfather told me that if I ever saw lilacs growing randomly in the woods or in some deserted old place it meant someone lived there once and loved there enough to plant those gorgeous flowers intentionally.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

dry stonewalling
we move the stone Buddha 
a blackbird visits

Jim Young [no title]

The man who sells magazines has the largest hands I’ve ever seen.  

               Keeps licking his fingers, fondling the pages. His tongue darts out, 

                                  then back in and my knees ache with spring. With the hinges in my haunches, 

the feathers in my lungs.  The whipoorwill spins on its weathervane

                in every direction. What is desire, but a soft turning of every gear

                                  in the body? The wrought interior, where the prism shatters with sun.

Kristy Bowen, napowrimo day no. 22

I’m fascinated by Fredericton-based poet Mary Germaine’s lyric scenes, displayed through her full-length debut, Congratulations, Rhododendrons (Toronto ON: House of Anansi Press, 2021). Congratulations, Rhododendrons is a collection of poems braided together from odd musings, recollections and observations, and long stretches of lyric that run out and across beyond the patterns of narrative sentence. Consider the title of the poem “The Look on Your Face When You Learn / They Make Antacids Out of Marble,” and its subsequent opening: “Who knows the name of the empire that took your arms, or the earthquake / that left you to drag your way, legless, to the top of the rubble.” Her perspective is delightfully odd and slightly skewed. Uniquely singular and refreshing, Germaine provides new life into the narrative-driven lyric. Consider, too, the title of the poem “Upon Hearing How Long It Takes a Plastic Bag to Break Down,” that includes: “”We built them to make it easy / to carry groceries, gym shoes, / shorelines, treetops, and dog shit. / And they do. And they will, until the end / of time, or the next five hundred years— / whichever comes first. I will be buried / and I’m not sorry some plastic will outstay / my appreciation of sunsets. I suspect even sunsets / will be garbage by then.” Or again, the poem “Every Poem Where I Have to Pee in It Is a Pastoral,” that includes: “This is why everyone hates nature: / nothing to buy out here. / Plenty to smell but nothing good to eat. / Nobody knows that better // than the night-browsers, riding the crooked / wheel of their shopping carts / up and down the laneways, perusing for / who knows, finding wire hangers.” I think it is safe to say that Germaine is writing some of the finest poem-titles I’ve seen in some time. They are remarkable for their evocative wit and slightly twisted humour.

rob mclennan, Mary Germaine, Congratulations, Rhododendrons

This morning I was looking through the National Trust news and came across the latest Spring initiative, #blossomwatch, in which they are asking people to photograph blossom (I think the official day for it is tomorrow) and flood our social media channels with gorgeous pink and white. I dutifully downloaded the PDF ‘information pack’ and in it found a poem written by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett in response to members of the public who had contributed their thoughts on Spring. I confess I’d not heard of Elizabeth-Jane, and a crowd-sourced poem doesn’t always bode well, but I absolutely loved it and found myself reading it several times and wanting to show people.

I can’t post the whole poem here, and the extracts on the NT site and here on the Guardian website (which tells the whole story of how it was written) don’t do it justice, as the beauty is (for me) how the poem builds and ends. So do download the ‘pack’ and read the full poem.

Robin Houghton, #Blossomwatch poem by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett

It was Earth Day this week. Last Earth Day, I planted an apple tree and cherry tree in my yard, and over the last year, we’ve faithfully watered, fertilized them, and kept the deer from eating them, and this year, we were rewarded with a few leaves and a couple of blossoms on each. This last year we planted a Strawberry Tree and another cherry (this time, a fruiting Rainier cherry) and we are watching them grow in containers on the back deck. The birds love them. All of the tulips are almost done blooming now – remember last weekend, they had just opened? It’s definitely been a week to celebrate that brief burst of bloom as much as possible, and attend to the garden, cutting back, planting, putting coffee grounds on the roses. Sometimes it’s time to plant, and sometimes it’s time to nurture what you’ve already planted. Maybe I should try this on myself!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, National Poetry Month, Lilacs, Apple Blossoms and Melancholy, Earth Day, Zoom Poetry Inspirations, and a Book Giveaway

A cat wants to be a Cadillac. A Cadillac wants to be a garbage truck.

A garbage truck wants to be a wet dream. A wet dream wants to be heaven.

Heaven wants to be a dive bar. A dive bar wants to be diamonds.

Diamonds want to be handfuls of dirt. Handfuls of dirt want to be thrown into graves.

Graves want to be winds. Winds want to be human. And humans forever want to be everything at once.

Rich Ferguson, The Chain of Want

This tool has a smooth handle, satisfying to the hand. There’s a burn mark from some long-ago scorching-hot stove. The iron twists and curls. It’s beautiful; I think in one of my early apartments I hung it on the kitchen wall as an ornament. Today it was the perfect tool for flipping pumpernickel bagels in their simmering bath before putting them in the oven to bake. 

Learning to make bagels was one of the projects I planned for myself, imagining the long isolated pandemic winter. I baked loaf after loaf of rye bread, and soft golden challah almost every week. I kept putting off the bagel project. Maybe on a subconscious level I wanted to keep a treat for myself, something to look forward to in this year of solitude and grief. 

But the winter is past. The snows are over and gone. Every day more people here become vaccinated. (Though in India, the pandemic is raging worse than ever…) Baking bagels today felt like an act of hope. I don’t need to defer the tiny sweetness of trying a new recipe lest I need that sweetness to get me through some other, worse, day than this.

Rachel Barenblat, Unanswered

Recently I was chatting with two poet friends, and we remarked on how we did enjoy rain in a poem. 

Well, I feel the same way – actually, more so – about telephones.

Often, mentions of phones in poems can be immensely lonely and forlorn. There are of course famous examples. Philip Larkin’s ‘Aubade’ draws towards its wonderful close via:

Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring   
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.

Selima Hill’s ‘Cow’ has, in passing, 

unscrupulous restaurant-owners
who stumble, pink-eyed, from stale beds
into a world of lobsters and warm telephones

I never seem to forget these insomniac glimpses / images. Both also feature (almost horribly) real, physical telephones – in work spaces left empty and dark at night. Phones ringing in our lonelier lives.

In Sarah Jackson’s poem ‘The Red Telephone’ a small boy’s enormous impulse to get through to his mother almost overcomes the insurmountable obstacle – that he has only a toy phone, ‘red plastic with a curly white cord’, with which to do so.

Charlotte Gann, MEANWHILE TELEPHONES CROUCH

As the book might say, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? As the book also might say, I have been away. Which is to say, right here, shuffling around the same square footage of study for the last eight months, just like everyone else.

What have I been up to? I can’t really say, except that I have been engaging with the process. Except it has been a pleasure to dive into real head space and not have to think about communicating publiclly with anyone. Except that I want to stay here a little longer.

How to put it? William Stafford once said that a writer is someone who ‘is not so much someone who has something to say as she is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things she would not have thought of if she had not started to say them.’ I love that. It’s long been a touchstone for me.

So the one thing I thought I was working on has turned out to be other things, or rather more things, and those things are requiring of me that I spend more time with them and by the same token less with you, here.

Anthony Wilson, Head. Space.

It’s been hard. Excellent visiting nurses came in daily for extremely painful and elaborate wound care, but meanwhile I was learning to keep a mostly-incapacitated elderly woman safe, clean, fed, hydrated, and as content as possible. She was very grateful to get home. From her bed or the nearby recliner, she was following the Chauvin trial and news of violence across the country; she was also interested in the “helicopter” on Mars and in Prince Phillip’s funeral procession. When a phlebotomist couldn’t find a vein, my mother slyly said, “It’s Prince Phillip’s fault,” although I don’t think anyone understood she was joking but me. When she slept, I read some news, a bit of a mystery novel, and a bit of social media. I’ve been able to do maybe an hour a day of my own work, but it’s hard to concentrate. Logistically and emotionally, there’s a lot going on. I started writing a poem a few days ago involving the strange in-betweenness of illness, the haunted noises my mother’s refrigerator makes during the middle of the night, and her repeated statement that someone was trying to get in the front door–maybe those three weirdnesses could hang together? Anyway, I was interrupted.

Lesley Wheeler, Diagnosis / verdict

Anecdotal Poetry. What does this term mean to you? In my experience, it’soften invoked disparagingly and dismissively by certain critics, reviewers and editors to describe work that seems to take a rooted place or experience as a point of departure. It’s used to imply the poems under scrutiny are somehow lacking in imagination and of less consequent artistic value than pieces that have been written via other approaches.

In fact, this perspective isn’t just a slight on the poetry in question, but also a misinterpretation of the very essence of the genre’s transformational powers. In summary, it encapsulates a wilful confusion of the nature of poetic truth, as if such poems were a simple relaying and portrayal of fact.

What term might be used in its place? Realist Poetry is useless, as it also imposes similar pigeonholing limits that are equally and intrinsically absurd. For example, surrealism is simmering away just under the surface in any decent so-called realist poem. On second thoughts, I’ll leave this last question to people who are obliged to answer it by academic demands and constraints…

Matthew Stewart, Anecdotal Poetry…?

The police often have a rather bombastic way of expressing themselves which is based upon demonstrating power via vocabulary and particularly via polysyllabic and longwinded effusions. However, if this is the means by which linguistic prestige and authority is gained, it’s misguided.

The poetry world isn’t that different. Both fields seem to have this general assumption that intelligence is gauged via grandiloquence. Something isn’t ‘stolen’, it’s ‘purloined’. The suspect didn’t just run away, no, they ‘absquatulated from the purlieus of the malfeasance’.

This is extreme, and of course, made-up, but it does show you that the places where elite language once were, are now the preserve of goons and florid language isn’t clever, at all. Poetry should really be trying to be accessible, not trying to exhibit and strut, and I suspect that people (poets) who use inkhorn language are actually trying to disguise a deeper deficiency in their work…

Richie McCaffery, Poetic licence REVOKED

I have cried at three video games in my entire life: “Syberia”, when Kate finally finds the woolly mammoths, “Gone Home” at the end when the big secret is revealed, and this one, called “Lost Words: Beyond the Page.” I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was written by Rhianna Pratchett, who is the daughter of Sir Terry Pratchett, the famed fantasy and sci-fi writer best known for the Discworld series. Terry Pratchett died after a battle with Alzheimer’s, and this game revolves around the main character Izzy’s struggle with her beloved grandma’s mental deterioration after a stroke. The game toggles between two alternating sequences—one is the young girl’s journal, where the words light up on the page and you reveal new pictures and words as you move through the written sentences, and one is a side-scroller that enacts the fantasy story that the girl is writing to help her cope with her grief and the chaos in her family. In one journal scene, Izzy recalls a trip to the beach with her grandmother, who was a marine biologist, and is introduced to the concept of bioluminescence. It’s one of the most beautiful, jaw-dropping scenes I’ve ever seen in a video game, and I feel like if I try to explain it I’m going to botch it.

I think at the core of what I want to get across here, and what I’ve been trying for years to explain, is that some of the very best literature out there now lives in the realm of video games. I know that this is anathema for academics and others who have outmoded ideas about gaming and gamers, but it’s the truth. It’s partly why I have been so drawn to certain games over the years and talk so much about games on this blog. I feel that there is a huge world of literary excellence that writers are missing out on by eschewing games. “Lost Words: Beyond the Page” is a perfect example. I’m so glad that I found it, and I feel compelled to share it with you, dear readers. If you don’t game at all, it’s a gentle introduction to gaming—it’s not twitchy; it’s very intuitive and forgiving, and it will be easy to learn. I would urge you to branch out and give it a try. I don’t know how far into the game I am or much more I have to go, but I find myself not wanting it to end.

Kristen McHenry, Baby Mystery, Game Rave, Literary Anathema

On those days, not infrequent, when I feel diminished as a poet, I still have a sense of confidence in my ability to write a really good book review. It’s become my writing practice and my connection with other poets. I like to think of the practice as my own personal MFA program. Writing poetry book reviews has deeply enriched my reading and writing experience– it’s taught me how to read “closely” and shown me how to recognize the craft of syntax, tone, meter, musicality. I believe it’s made me a better poet. It’s given me opportunities to connect with other poets and within the larger community of poetry.

Two years ago, in March 2019, I launched The Poetry Cafe Online: a Meeting Place Where Poetry Chapbooks are Celebrated and Reviewed with my review of Lauren Davis’s Each Wild Things Consent.

The goal of The Poetry Cafe is to create a comfortable, inviting home where interested poetry lovers can enter, feel welcomed, and read reviews of poetry chapbooks. As curator of The Poetry Café, I’ve received chapbooks from more than 100 poets. I’ve written many reviews myself, but more amazingly, I have published reviews by 27 guest reviewers and as of today, a total of 54 Reviews! I’ve also added Interviews to the site.

The project has grown far beyond my expectations. If you are not following it, please click over and add your email address to follow Cafe postings, usually once a week. I’m always looking for new reviewers or interviewers, and I could sure use some help with managing the site.

Risa Denenberg, A Writing Practice: Book Reviews

Last year I planned to take a break from #NaPoWriMo because I thought I’d be busy promoting “The Significance of a Dress” (still available as a print or ebook from Arachne Press). However, the pandemic led to cancellations so I ended up doing #NaPoWriMo, finding art an inspiration to compensate for the lack of planning. This year, I thought I’d take the break I’d planned last year but I found myself writing a poem on 1 April. Call it habit or discipline, but April seems to be a month for drafting poems.

It’s also a good month to start new habits. The drear, winter mornings have gone, clocks have gone forward an hour on to British Summer Time so the evenings are staying lighter for longer and the outdoors is looking greener with plants coming back to life. For me it’s also the month before hayfever really starts, a breathing space before outdoors becomes hellish. There’s a plus to having to wear a mask. I rarely bother with new year’s resolutions, but when I do I usually see January and February as planning, thinking months and get resolutions underway in March/April as the season turns. January’s a horrible month to start anything: there’s that post-holiday lull, the weather’s discouraging and it’s still dark at beginning and end of the day.

During the pandemic, I have been relatively privileged: classed as a keyworker but able to work from home with enough space to set up an office-at-home that’s not in my living area. Since my writing has always happened in the gaps around everything else, it still happens in the gaps around everything else. I don’t have a routine: a poem wants to be written, it gets written, a short story haunts me, it gets written and I’ve always got something to review. I think my breathing would have to stop before the writing does.

Emma Lee, NaPoWriMo 2021 and the Value of Writing Communities

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 15

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.

After last week’s flirtation with a tighter focus on poetry, it’s back to the usual, glorious miscellany of poets thinking out loud about all manner of things (but mainly poetry). Some themes did emerge: poetry about women’s experiences, hopefulness about the easing pandemic, the pleasures of books, and the numinous power of large animals. Enjoy.


paperboy
delivering births and deaths
on his cycle

Jim Young [no title]

Here I am again. Is it spring, with its stuttering reenactment of incarnation, that renders me numbskulled, vacant?

I’m inert. Such a great word, short-stopped by that cul-de-sac of an -ert.

Like the newly snow-emerged and dim-colored field, I am empty.

I have not written in a long time. Nothing is on my mind. I am thought-less. Seem to have nothing to say. Have no idea how to write a poem.

No idea why I would even do such a thing.

Have no sense that I’ve ever done such a thing in my life nor that I will ever do so. As the damp field curled with squashed lines of old weeds and broken stems of milkweed, languid pale humps of grasses tangled in mud will never be anything other than that.

Will it?

Marilyn McCabe, This must be the place; or, On Not Writing

What I know of grieving is that we have to feel all the feelings to move through it to some better place. Not back to the old place, but a better place than the one our losses have us currently in. I hated how I felt watching that video. I don’t have the capacity, right now, to feel those feelings. I have a lot of things to get through in the next 7 weeks. The morning I watched the video the first time, I didn’t get as much done as I would have if I hadn’t.

Still, there is this: This morning, for the first time since I wrote my last post, I felt like writing. Not this post; I worked on an essay I abandoned more than a year ago. And it felt good, which made me want to write to you, here.

I might have to think more deeply about what really needs getting done by June. In the meantime, what I want to say today is, I hope you’re all doing OK. It helped me to realize that I haven’t been as OK as I thought, and I wondered if sharing my experience might be helpful to you in some way. I’m understanding in a new way that coming out of this pandemic is going to be a process, and likely a long one. At least for some of us.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Just popping in with a quick note…

When twigs swell
and begin to bud

and leaves emerge
chartreuse and tender

I’m proclaiming
what I nurtured

in secret silence
through the long winter

and sleep’s cold blur.

Rachel Barenblat, Spring

I’m so grateful to Editor Carolina VonKampen of Capsule Stories for including some of my work in this sweet publication. This edition is chock-full of spring-themed poetry, and it couldn’t have landed in my mailbox at a better time. After a long year of Covid challenges and mitigations, the compilation of writing contained not only demonstrates that many small presses and their editors have persevered through this stretch, as have many writers. The struggle is real, and I know this firsthand, whether gathering the focus to edit, or the wherewithal to set aside time each day to truly write. I know it’s tough to put pen to paper, but if not now, when? Start small. Word into sentence into stanza, or paragraph. Start. The other piece I so greatly appreciate about Capsule Stories is much of the writing gives me hope. Much of the writing touches upon the natural world. Anyway, it’s a fantastic read.. Thank you to Capsule for publishing this. I know it’s not easy, but hopefully, it will become easier.

Kersten Christianson, Capsule Stories, Spring 2021 Edition

Spring as an ice storm spring as the first watermelon of the year is so blood red and perfectly sweet that your heart breaks a little spring as lilacs that refuse to let down their green knickers to show their purple spring as pale pink tulips in the house in a milk jug nodding their heads

all the tulip tourists have descended upon this quiet island so my coffee shop bakery is now overrun with women wearing bedazzled jeans dragging small children in by their arms to get an ice cream or use the bathroom while their tired cranky husbands wait so the line stretches out the door everyone crammed shoulder to shoulder ignoring the pandemic go away tourists I don’t love you eating my fear and scaring the whales

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

Remember how the mist fell, a veil
floating from the sky’s crown, the sea

reaching up, up, up – a meeting of waters?
You said There is no horizon, no distance,

only the here and now. And it was true, the sea
and the air mingling, salt and oxygen drifting

into our faces as we watched under our tent,
the canvas billowing like lungs after a hard run.

Charlotte Hamrick, NaPoWriMo Day 12

Yesterday afternoon we’d walked along the beach at Horsey, and my wife turned to me and said “I feel better already”. That’s the kind of review we should be leaving in a guestbook—if beaches had guestbooks. Perhaps we should have just scratched it into the sand as a temporary review, and perhaps we would have done if a) we’d thought of it at the time and b) the beach wasn’t lined with seals. Horsey is famous for this, and it is one of my favourite places in the world, even though I don’t get there much. […]

The seals there are a magnificent sight, and the sea air was the perfect tonic after the best part of a year in the city. At the risk of being incredibly self-centred (and hey, why not) It reminded me of my poem, ‘Horsey Seals’ – can you tell why it reminded me of this?? [Click through to read it.]

Mat Riches, The Sea(ls)They Cure Everything

Driving back from the doctor’s this morning, a horse was standing at the top of a hill all alone. I can’t explain why it felt important. Single horses standing on hilltops just feel profound. I felt a flush of awe. […]

I am learning to leave awe alone. To accept the flood of emotion, like slipping into a warm bath, and let go of associations and interpretations about what it means to me or for me. I am learning to let the horse on the hill be a horse on the hill, and relish the flush of emotion for its own sake. Children do that, don’t they? Thrill in things without believing them to be omens or signs from the oracles. Without believing they either deserve them, or have to work to deserve them. They just observe. I’m sure there are adults who do that as well. I actually think I know one or two.

They think I’m weird. […]

I probably take a hundred photos a month. But I love what it has done to me. Now, when I am driving, or in the passenger seat, I see how beautiful the scenery is. I “frame” it in my mind and appreciate the reflections, the colors, the incidental composition of elements, the repetitions, and patterns.

I notice more – camera in hand, or not.

I also think it’s helped teach me to be passive. In a good way – to leave my ego out of the situation when my ego isn’t necessary. To fully embrace the value of being an observer and not a participant at times. To understand that it is possible to take center stage when it’s appropriate and then step back without the fear of losing “my place”. To be more generous. Less judgmental. Less fearful.

Ren Powell, The Horse on the Hilltop

The virus screwed itself into my cells,
twisting communication lines, breaking
code, inverting instructions. The bells
ring at night, my blood pools all day. Waking
like a hamadryad from hibernation,
wondering why, when everyone else sleeps,
why still leafless and bare. Claudication
reversed, cold pain crawls up from toes to knees
as I cocoon in fleece and furs. That freeze
is the sign of high noon’s warped heat baking
the cold sleeper into a fluffy sleeve
like a human Baked Alaska. Shaking
doesn’t warm enough. The body repels
vulnerability, recodes its shell.

PF Anderson, Sleeping

A woman walks to church the Monday
after Easter. She’s wearing a light
sweater because at last it feels
like it could truly be spring. But who
even goes to church anymore
on a weekday morning in New York?
The immigrant healthcare workers
will tell you. The nannies and short-
order cooks, the 1 AM custodial
workers; grandmothers who spent
years polishing other people’s floors
on their knees as if before a god who only
cares that every surface reflects
his many countenances.

Luisa A. Igloria, They Ask What Came First: The Hate Speech or the Attack

I was recently having a small discussion with someone on IG about our angers and our darknesses. I am maybe at the stage where I have identified a few new dark parts of my soul. And I think there is a value in sharing those, but that also there is so much darkness right now, that I don’t think it’s a useful time for me to sort of interrogate it in public. Others have more pressing issues, more is at stake currently. I was thinking about the difference between taking dark things into a dark time vs taking something dark into a light place. And really, just the privilege to even be mulling over stuff like that gives me pause.

Maybe it’s worth something small though to yell out, yes I am dealing with the new dark parts of my soul! I honestly don’t know if this is true.

I think part of me would rather be planting flowers in unexpected place on a city street. But there is another part of me that feels it’s worthwhile to just sit and try to understand.

Shawna Lemay, Peace Love Chocolate Cake

Kelli Russell Agodon and I had not seen each other in over a year and she and her husband Rose came over. We were all fully vaccinated and so happy to be able take one more step towards re-entry to a normal life. Hugs! Unicorn sprinklers! Pink cupcakes and sparkling rose for my birthday AND to celebrate Kelli’s new book from Copper Canyon, Dialogue with Rising Tides.

It was great to talk poetry, gardens, hang out on the back porch on rocking chairs with hummingbirds, and just goof around. And we had a lovely day for it – the warmest day of the year so far. The tulips in our gardens bloomed while our visitors were here, which seemed like a sign of something good.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Post-Vaccine Visits with Friends, A New Poem in Chestnut Review, and a Zoom Reading

I have always joked that I’m a medieval mind trapped in a modern body.  And what I’ve meant by that statement is that I’m queasy when it comes to bodies, that I see myself as a soul trapped in flesh, flesh that is out to betray me in any number of ways.  I’m queasy when it comes to fluids and all the ways the body wants to ooze. […]

And now my poetry brain has the last word:  I seem to be writing a series of poems about breast cancer.  I’m a woman who has tried to deny the power of the flesh, only to be reminded again and again, in ways both affirming and terrifying.

My thoughts keep returning to my medical sleuthing, looking for diseases in the family tree.  I think of my grandmother and her sister, who had breast cancer that did not kill them.  I think of their aunt, who took a train from the Tennessee farm to Johns Hopkins but nothing could be done about the breast cancer that would kill her.  I think of breast cancer as a runner, that shoot of mint that shows up in a different part of the yard, far from the mother plant.

My grandmother told me stories about this spinster aunt but never mentioned her breast cancer or the train trip.  Until my medical sleuthing, I had always had this idea of my grandmother as the one who achieved escape velocity, the only one who left the family farm with the others never leaving the farm at all, since my grandparents always went back to visit, never the other way round.

I have inherited the cedar chest made by the older brother Andrew, filled with quilts made by the spinster Aunt Jenny.   I’m thinking about chests and breast cancer.  I’m thinking about cedar and trees, the newish research on trees, how they communicate to each other in subterranean ways, how they nourish each other.  My thoughts often go to this article in The New York Times which introduced me to the arboreal work of Suzanne Simard.

This morning, I have spent hours trying to twist/weave/braid these strands into a poem.  At this point, I don’t even feel like I have a tangle, so much as strands that don’t want to come near each other.  Let me go for a walk to ponder what’s next.  

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Flesh and the Diseases that Shoot across Generations and the Poems We Try to Create

I move among this cemetery of words,
run my fingers along the headstones of conversations.
I asked my grandfather to interpret my dreams as, kneeling,
I trimmed the grass by the grave of his faith.
The details will blur, moss and lichen will muffle voices.
Slowly the earth of our thoughts will turn, subside.

Bob Mee, 5 a.m. APRIL. WRITING YOURSELF OUT OF WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

I wrote my poetry collections Noir and The Girl Who Cried from what I’ve called my ‘Understory’: I’d always had a distinct sense of life running along two parallel lines, even as a child. And I learnt very young there were things it was acceptable to talk about, and things it was not. On the whole, unhappy things were the ones that caused trouble.

I think in terms of having an ‘elephant’ that decides what I actually do in life, whatever my rational brain might say. It makes the big moves. 

And I, or my elephant, ended up shaping my collections around the subjects I’d found most painful in my life, and most difficult to talk about. Noir (HappenStance, 2016) explored vulnerability as a teen, and the fallout from exploitation; and The Girl Who Cried (HappenStance, 2020) probes a lifelong struggle with attachment.

Writing these made more sense of things, somehow. As though the invisible suffering wasn’t all for nothing.

Ongoing group

So then I decided to set up an ongoing online group under the banner ‘The Understory Conversation’ – for other poets who are also curious. The group has been meeting since autumn, and feels truly nourishing. […]

The thing I think we most value is the fact we meet with a shared understanding that having an Understory is part and parcel of normal human experience. So we start from there, without pathologising.

It’s liberating. 

Common themes emerge in a way that’s almost uncanny. We learn so much from hearing from each other. We really listen.

And the group offers some refuge – as each member wends her way through the processes of writing, submitting, publishing.

Charlotte Gann, THE UNDERSTORY CONVERSATION

I’ve been working this week on preliminary design for the next book project, which is my collection of midwest gothic awesomeness, dark country.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve finished an ungodly amount of full-length manuscripts (well, it’s just 4, but it feels ungodly when they are sitting quietly unpublished.) I decided this year, since I don’t have any book releases on the immediate horizon, and it had been a year since Black Lawrence released sex & violence, that I might as well get them out in the world.  It’s been a learning curve–and something altogether different than publishing zines or chapbooks, which I am used to. A full-length book is just so much more unruly than a shorter book. More editing, more proofing, more design hits and misses.  And also, the after work of actually getting it in the hands of readers and getting any sort of blip on the promotion side. It feels hard with anything I write and put out there, but especially something like a full-length collection. 

I’ve spoken before on my reasons for self-publishing this series of books–mostly that my current publisher passed on a couple of them during reading periods (and obviously, they can’t publish everything I write, cause yo, I write a lot.) I’m not feeling like sending to other contests and reading periods is really something I want or have resources to do.  I am also aware of the space I take up as a mid-career, already reasonably well-published author when there are so many other emerging writers out there who could have those opportunities. (I think this sometimes when I’m on the self-pity train, the why not me? train, but really sometimes, things like publishing luck seem really capricious and obviously skewed toward the privileged–whether it’s age or gender or ethnicity.) We should all take up less space. Or at best, try to make room through our endeavors. But you also have to balance this with a desire to find your readers and thrive as a creative. 

Of course, there is a lot of uncertainty when you don’t have someone–an editor, a publisher, backing you up.  Lots of doubts that you’re not just putting more crap into the world.   Other people who probably think your work is crap.  But one thing I hope I’ve gained as I get older is not so much blatant overconfidence (which is totally true sometimes) , but moreso an ability to discern what is good, what is crap, what’s worth launching into the world, and what should just stay safely on my computer for awhile or needs more work.  I also know how to put a book together now, more than I ever did.  Have even been able to help other authors with their through manuscript consultations.  Consultations which actually have taught me as much as I’ve helped the other author (hopefully anyway..lol… I may have just muddied the waters).

Kristy Bowen, a year of self publishing

Who I am is constructed, in part, out of books I’ve read. When I read, especially if I love what I’m reading, I feel as if the book has entered my very bone marrow. But I read, on average, four or five books a week. Often more. Where has my mind put decades of books?   

Julie Beck’s article in The Atlantic offers an answer. It’s titled, “Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read.” She writes, “people often shove more into their brains than they can possibly hold.” She cites a study from 2009 showing the average American encounters 100,000 words a day. Our memories simply cannot keep all this information readily available. I say pish posh, the memories we take in from what we read has to do with its relevance. We hang on to the information that most impacts us, intrigues us, or that we put to use.  

Beck also points out we’re better able to recall the context in which we read a book, so we remember reading a green-jacketed novel based in Sierra Leone while on vacation, but are likely to recall the book’s contents. To me that’s one of memory’s gifts. I’ll never forget reading The Color Purple while nursing my firstborn or reading The World According To Garp while on the couch recovering from knee surgery or becoming so immersed in by Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House while at an airport departure gate that I missed my flight.

Okay, maybe I feel threatened by the idea that I’ve wasted literal years of my life reading books that simply float beyond memory into a void. But there’s plenty of evidence that books change us, whether we remember them well or not at all.

Laura Grace Weldon, Forgetting Books We’ve Read

Life’s been way too busy but I did want to get a post out this week to shoutout a few notable poetry collections published recently:

Janel Pineda’s Lineage of Rain (Haymarket Books) is a dynamic collection that I’m happy to see out in the world. I’ve been teaching and admiring Pineda’s work for years now. Check out her poem “Rain” to get a sense of her compelling lyricism.

Amelia Díaz Ettinger’s Fossils On A Red Flag (Finishing Line Press) is another recent publication that I’m happy to shoutout. I got a chance to spend time with this chapbook and write a blurb. Here’s what I said:

Fossils on a Red Flag by Amelia Díaz Ettinger is a powerful collection of poems that interrogates the (mis)use as a gunnery and bombing practice site by the U.S. military of Puerto Rico’s Isla Culebra. This work grapples with what is lost in the language of official government orders and, by doing so, sheds light on the human and environmental costs. With sharp turns of lyricism and image shaped by the insistent voice of witness, this collection honors the history of los Culebrenses who have spent generations gathering “baskets of loss / —[and who] still gather after so many hurricanes.” Like the queen conch, present in a series of these poems and whose shell is a symbol of survival and beauty, Fossils on a Red Flag presents a vision of perseverance.

José Angel Araguz, shoutouts

Even without knowing that Ashley Farmer is predominantly the author of works of prose—including the forthcoming essay collection Dear Damage (Sarabande Books, 2022), the chapbook Farm Town (Rust Belt Bindery, 2012), the short story collection Beside Myself (PANK/Tiny Hardcore Press, 2014) and the novella The Farmacist (Jellyfish Highway Press, Inc., 2015)—the pieces in The Women might suggest that. This isn’t a swipe or a complaint, but an acknowledgment that her poems are constructed very much out of sentences, allowing one to build upon another, and allowing that accumulation, or even that collision, to inform each piece’s short narrative. Sometimes the narrative is a collage of ideas around a particular phrase or thought, and other times, the narrative is more straightforward, allowing one foot to step directly in front of another, towards a conclusion.

The poems included here are constructed via selecting threads and phrases from Google searches. Through her searches, Farmer collects sequences of threads and interweaves those searches into poems that each sit beneath titles that one might suspect were lifted from her original search phrase, but for the acknowledgments that include that certain “of these pieces previously appeared, sometimes in slightly different forms, under slightly different titles.” It would suggest that the searches, however they were conducted, utilized an array of phrases and sentences, sorting the barrage into bins, and from each of those bins, crafting each poem from those materials. The Women plays with elements of exploring and documenting how women are seen, depicted and discussed, pulling at a variety of depictions of cultural space, worked neither as flarf nor conceptual, but shaped into poems that write of domestic labour, violence, home, love, fear, strength and community, body image, health, leadership, marriage, weathering storms and notions of being bad or inherent goodness.

Her poems include shades of the works of Cindy Sherman and Francesca Stern Woodman, in that all three determined their gaze on and around the form and cultural ideas surrounding women, from the abstract, the absolute and the absurd to concurrently acknowledge and document as well as strip away those layers of overlaid determinations by a male-dominated culture; all three of these artists, in their own way, allowing the women they were viewing and/or discussing, their subjects, to determine the shape of their gaze, but also shaping that final result. “See two young women harvesting hope in Marion County, / 1944,” Farmer writes, in the poem “Women Land,” “cultivating new pathways to the boardroom.”

Stop Women

Sometimes one wonders if our nation is a public strip club. A mother and daughter who run a brothel for truckers fight back when the mafia tries to take over their operation. Men’s fragrances smell like excuses for getting home late. You will not stop women.

rob mclennan, Ashley Farmer, The Women

I couldn’t have been more thrilled to hear that Rena Priest will be our new Washington State Poet Laureate. I took a workshop with Rena at Chuckanut Sandstone in 2018, and have been happily singing her praises ever since. She is an exceptional poet and—you have only to meet her once to know this—a generous and kind teacher.

Plus, I had just ordered her book Patriarchy Blues, from Village Books so that I could include her in my blog line-up this April. Serendipity all over the place!

Patriarchy Blues was published by MoonPath Press in 2017, and received an American Book Award in 2018. Many (all?) of its 26 poems are about desire, specifically, the lopsided desire that comes of living in a patriarchy. Dedicated to “the subterranean homesick matriarchy,” the book holds up a mirror to the world and the world puts on its lipstick and dances. Scissors desire the thread and the moon longs to turn her face away. “Can you climb into a person’s / longing for you and float away?” asks one poem (“The Encyclopedia Britannica, Sunshine, a Mosquito”); another, “Is desire not acted upon a betrayal?” (“Creeping Out of Orbit”).  And, always, this lushness, the body nourished by drums and bells and honey.

Bethany Reid, Rena Priest

“A Cap of Horror” is subtitled “First World War poetry written by female nurses and carers” and is edited by Leo van Bergen, Marijke Foncke and Renee Schoffelen. Leo van Bergen’s introduction explains the rationale behind the anthology, “I wondered whether besides Brittain and Borden other female nurses had turned their wartime experiences into poetry as well. Eventually I found seventeen women, nurses and others working in the medical line, who in forty poems and a cycle of sonnets reflected on various aspects of the (medical) war. Many of these touched me deeply, as I hope they will do you.” The anthology is bilingual in English and Dutch in the hope of gaining recognition for the poets in Dutch-speaking countries. Open the book from the English language title to get the poems in English, reverse the book to the Dutch title to get the poems in Dutch. The contents list includes Vera Brittain, Mary Borden, May Sinclair and Rose Macauley and the poems are organised by theme. […]

“A Cap of Horror/Een Kap van Afschuw” is a welcome anthology of war poetry from the viewpoint of nurses and support workers who cared for the casualties. While there is some jingoism and some poets cast soldiers as heroes, others temper this by addressing the affect caring for the injured had on the nurses. Loss is also acknowledged and questions raised about the nature of war and the importance of remembering. The research in tracking down the poems and rediscovering women poets of the period is a useful reminder that there is more to be written about war than the work produced by soldier-poets. A useful addition to the canon of First World War poetry.

Emma Lee, “A Cap of Horror/Een Kap van Afschuw” edited Leo Van Bergen (dt) – book review

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a riveting conversation with Sarah J. Sloat about her new book Hotel Almighty (Sarabande Books). […]

“When I was doing [Hotel Almighty] and even now when I work on projects, a lot of what I find I’m doing is just expressing a love of reading and of books themselves,” says Sloat in discussing her new book. “I mean, I just love paper. To take a book and be able to make it into something — that was really fun and exciting for me.”

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Hotel Almighty by Sarah J. Sloat

Yellow. How do we read you?  Sickly or simple as happiness?  Simple as just living without ponderous thought.   Daffodils in their junior prom dresses.  Come rain, come light snow petals quiver but they don’t drop.  

Forstyhia too.  On the frontline of joy.  Out from under, like Easter.  In the face of death.  Breathing quivering glaring at darkening rain clouds that glare and brighten them

 A duck egg’s yolk, outsized sun.  That which feeds in scarcity is revered as a goddess

and fear, and disillusion, too much optimism, too much yellow that fades, becomes dingy, a street sign — crossing! bus! children! — in need of attention

and fear of the other in their own birthed skin —

Jill Pearlman, A Season of Yellow

Those distant sirens are spreading rumors. They say the seasons are loveless and can only offer damage as a diamond ring.

Those sirens swear that zombie-walking romeos are the only fix we can find for what ails us. That the streets have nothing promising to share, they can only teach us how to curse in gutterspeak.

Those sirens don’t reveal how we can have our lighter moments, like loud-sugar lovers in some FM pop song. Or that we can outlast destruction, just as Joan of Arc was made saintly when ravaged by flames.

Those distant sirens don’t mention how optimism, dressed in its halo of golden moments, can linger with us in alleyways, show us how to find that one good vein even in our darkest moments.

Rich Ferguson, If you listen carefully

But wow, did today feel like my dream of orcas who invited me to ride them: two of them side by side so I could stand with one foot on each orca back as they held a rein of kelp through their mouths so I had something to hold onto: their powerful, pent bodies also reined in to not throw their rider, the ripples of trying to remember to go gently because right, we invited this weird fragile thing to come along and we don’t want to drown her by accident something I could feel in them through my feet: the body does what the body loves. What it is made to do.

You know what happened in that dream? They said you know what this is dumb just come down with us and I answered but how will I breathe? And they said you won’t need to, and I didn’t. I went down with them, orca myself now I suppose, and I could see their powerful bodies with my own, flashing even in that dense weight of black depth.

It was pure bliss.

The body does what the body loves, so for the final 100 of the 4rth 400, I loped with powerful pull reserving nothing much at all, and for the final 50 kicked like I was finishing, and for the final 25 turned up the volume enough to bring it in at 1:15 again and slosh the wall.

What did my heart rate do during that last 100 of the last 400? It went DOWN. Ha.

My body loves wholeness: animal power unconscious of itself, just pure expression and pure experience.

JJS, Day 6: 4x400s round two – the body does what the body loves

Imagine it: gathering again, with other human beings, engaged in listening, in art, in entertainment. You know–all that stuff we once took for granted, pre-pandemic and back when virtual events were mostly either experimental or TV shows.

In recent years, I have not been participating in many poetry readings; attending them still, yes–when possible, when life has not intervened too much–but not actively looking for reading venues, not the way I did in previous decades when I was learning how to present my work publicly. Lately, even when I’ve attended readings with open mics, I often choose not to sign up to read. I need to get home to grade papers or go to bed.

This situation has led to a gap in my reading-poetry practice. True, I teach; I am accustomed to speaking in front of a group of near-strangers, and that is a kind of public-speaking skill. There’s a distinct difference between being the authority and being the author, however. I found myself trying to explain this difference to a friend of mine last evening as we drove home from: MY FIRST IN-PERSON POETRY READING IN AGES!

[An aside here to express boundless thanks to Jenny Hill and Dan Waber of the Wunderbarn in East Greenville PA, who asked me to lead off their Just about an Hour and a Half Variety Hour for the 2021 season–quite an honor!]

I had some preparation, however, because local friends-in-poetry had invited me to read for a video that will stream on April 27th from the Facebook page of Bethlehem PA’s venue The Ice House. That was a new experience for me, though strange: I had to stay in one place without walking and fidgeting while reading to a very kind person behind a camera and another kind person connected to me by a microphone and earphones–in an otherwise empty performance space. O, Brave New World…

The reading at the Wunderbarn commenced the following evening, so the practice in front of the camera helped by giving me the opportunity to organize both my poems and my thoughts. I would not say that putting together a reading is exciting, but it offers some of the quiet challenges of a puzzle or word game. The act of reading in person to an audience changes those challenges to one of performance. It has been a pleasant task to expend energy thinking about poetry; I’ve been attending readings and craft talks remotely all month. And the performance space at Wunderbarn is sweetly rural. We were seated outdoors, and as dusk came on the human voices were accompanied by ducks and frogs. As so many of my poems feature the natural world, that felt fitting.

Friends in the audience, an added boon. That fact encouraged me to read two or three newer poems that I’ve not read out loud before and not to feel too awkward about possibly stumbling through my own lines. Also, though the grounds were muddy and the air rather cool, the rain held off. If I were the sort of person who believed in omens, I would say this event bodes well. Instead, I lift up my voice in gratitude.

Ann E. Michael, In person

fires lit in circles
burning across the page

elliptical but intersecting
on late-night bridges

off on a lark
in front of the crowd

looking through telescopes
wondering what we are

cloud-obscured stars
outside the bar

Jason Crane, POEM: orbits

We might take off our shoes and walk together through the dew-damp grass of the very early morning. We might sit down together with coffee and quiet talk, speaking of those things in our lives that are real. It might be that we have beliefs and values in common, and that our hearts are our own, that we are not controlled by some dogma or ideology. That who we are and what we are might be more important than where we were born or how we pray. Wouldn’t that be something? In these things I will place my hopes, and I promise to leave room for your hopes as well.

James Lee Jobe, Our hearts are our own.

Red buds
of the silver maples

making promises
to the wind.

Tom Montag, RED BUDS

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 14

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: just a lot of poems, poetry reviews, and posts about poetry. I mean, you’d think that would be the case here every week, but as regular readers know, I’m fond of quoting poets (or poetry publishers) musing about all manner of things. But for once, I stayed on task. Almost.


It was a long hard March, and now evidently it’s April, as the poems and flowers prove. On March 6, my mother fell down the (carpeted!) stairs—we hope only 2 or 3 of them—and broke several bones in “non-displaced” ways. That, and the fact that both parents were already fully vaccinated, was the lucky part! She is making a steady and remarkable recovery, with good days and bad days, and great home health care, plus lots of family and local support. Our fragility and resilience continue to amaze me. 

During this time, I participated in an outdoor event on the steps of the history museum, a Remembrance of those lost to Covid-19 in the past year. Candace Summers, Education Director at the McLean County Museum of History, had arranged it, bringing speakers, a singer, young dancers, and me. “I’m no Amanda Gorman,” I had warned her, but I was honored to be asked. My inspiration came from our shared experiences over the last year, plus words from the community, offered in the 12 Months in 6 Words project, and I used many of the shared words, ideas, feelings I found there, creating a poem of 6 stanzas of 6 lines each of 6 words each. (The 666 association was, sadly, not lost on me.) My sister, who had come from Nebraska to help, set it up on her laptop for my parents to watch as it streamed live, and the audience sat or stood in the blocked-off street at safe social distances, bundled against the March chill. Candace had placed 175 small white flags on the museum lawn, one for each of our community’s residents who died; later, updated statistics raised that number to 200+. It was good to come together, safely, solemn and amazed. 

Kathleen Kirk, Long Hard March

I managed to draft a sonnet in 15 minutes, thanks to Molly Peacock, and heard some new-to-me voices in poetry, and listened to poets who are deeply engaged in the work and art of poetry discuss their processes, enthuse over their influences, and say what drives their curiosity. I found kindred writers who are, like me, endeavoring to put voice to people with dementia and express the grief we experience as our Best Beloveds lose personality, language, ego-consciousness.

Lesley Wheeler shared the writing prompts her panel put together on her blog, here; she and her four co-panelists (see blog) reflected on feeling across distance, another apropos topic in the current times. It seems we can and do find methods to be human together, even when we are apart. I think of all the letters I wrote when I was in college, and afterward, as I moved around the eastern USA, changed addresses, and tried to keep my friends and family informed as to who I was and what my interests were. In my attic, there are boxes of correspondence written in the days before email. Many of them are now letters from ghosts. Words I will never hear again from living mouths, but a way we kept “in touch” despite, and over, distance. And still do.

Ann E. Michael, Conferencing, distance

Swinburne is bemused as Betjeman wins at whist yet again
and scoops the coins off the formica. Anybody would think
you knew what cards I’d got
, Swinburne says. Betjeman smiles.

Holub selects Tonight At Noon on the jukebox
and stands looking confused as it spews out Adrian Henri
Live In Liverpool ’69 instead of Charlie Mingus.

There’s a collective shout of Switch It Off!
Holub kicks the machine, pulls the plug from the wall.
Coleridge runs from the kitchen with a kitchen-knife, screams

Holub when are you going to get it through your thick skull?
This is a poetry cafe. The jukebox plays poetry, not jazz.
And none of us like the bloody stuff, so nobody plays it. OK?

Dryden is mumbling, trying to make his laptop work. It won’t.

Bob Mee, STREAM-WRITING AFTER MY 68TH BIRTHDAY

Another influence is John Wills’ wonderful haiku:

going
where the river goes
first day of spring

(taken from Allan Burns’ Where the River Goes, Snapshot Press 2013).

I love the spare use of language in this poem, the plain-spoken and utterly clear image of following the river’s path, the sense of freedom it suggests, but also the possibility that we’re not free, that the river must take the course dictated by the lie of the land, and therefore we can only take certain paths as circumstances allow. There’s a sense of adventure too – rivers are beautiful to follow, and yet they can be difficult as well. Sometimes the river bank has eroded and the path falls away. We turn back, or we scramble on. Either way, it’s spring and there’s that feeling of optimism that comes with longer daylight, birdsong, milder weather. Wills’ haiku opens with a single verb; it’s hard to pare writing back further than this. By leaving out the subject, we can place ourselves in the poem (I am going) although it’s equally possible to read the haiku as ‘the river is going’. Either way, the journey this poem evokes is at once truthful and metaphorical, as much about stillness and contemplation as it is about movement. For me, this is one of those poems that stays with you. I often hear it in my head when I’m out walking. I don’t walk by the river much, but when I do, it’s the River Don, which starts its course just a few miles up the valley from where I live. The photographs, above and below, were taken further downriver near Deepcar, where the river widens and the remains of old iron works can be seen along the way.

Julie Mellor, following the river

“and moonlight on naked skin.”
– even one more word
could be too much for a poem

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Moon Poetry

I’ve been thinking about the poetic breath this week, how poets use punctuation and line breaks to direct the reader. I’ve been reading my own collection out-loud, listening for mistakes and difficult phrasing, but also how the speed of the poem is directed by these little internal controls. I’ve also recorded a couple of poems recently which requires you to slow them down even more for clarity. 

A poet in my writing group said he uses line breaks like punctuation, but then we noticed he used both randomly in his poem we were discussing and when he didn’t pay attention to it, it lead to confusion for me. I’m not sure if he’ll change it, but it was good to discuss.

Some poets are hyper-aware of how they use punctuation and line breaks to add emphasis and control how the poem is read. I enjoy this, read their work out-loud, measuring how I read to their layout. Short or long lines, big pauses and smaller intakes of breath, commas, full stops, line ends, it lends life to the poem that isn’t always felt on the page.

I’m wary when reading other poets’ work of placing my values on how they create pauses for breath in a poem. I read a poem this week that seemed so badly broken up for no reason that it made it painful to follow, sentences broken repeatedly across stanzas it seemed just to keep the two stanza format going. It made me wish to hear the poet read his own poem, so I could understand how he envisioned the poem. 

Gerry Stewart, Breath and the Poet

I call out to you when I run through the underpass,
my words echoing back from the walls in the cold, still air.
And when I pass the quarry, I throw the same words
across the excavated chasm into a towering wall of layered sand.
And again, as I cross the motorway, high above the traffic.
I let them ride the bitter wind rushing from the North Downs.

Lynne Rees, Poem: wherever you are … For Mammy

This week I am proud to feature the work of Quintin Collins whose debut collection The Dandelion Speaks of Survival arrives this month from Cherry Castle Publishing. I have been admirer of Collins’ work both on and off the page for a few years now. As an activist and organizer, Collins has helped foster a dynamic community as assistant director of the Solstice Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program.

On the page, Collins’ work is marked by a direct engagement with the physical world, lingering over it with a curious attention that pays off in nuanced and fateful meaning. In his poem, “Exegesis On a Chicken Wing,” the act of eating is given space so that it is honored but also meditated on in a way that gives over its essential stakes. That to be human is survival and celebration–this is a key message in Collins’ work.

In “This is Where You Belong” (below) one encounters a similar engagement with the physical world. Through a catalogue of a neighborhood, the poem ruminates over the coming and going of many lives with such clarity that nothing feels ephemeral despite its fleeting nature. Like Galway Kinnell, Collins writes of place with a gravity that is accessible and essential. One feels the weight of “The American flag, / two hundred fifty pounds of polyester” flapping over the life the speaker is witness to, but also feels the horizon it flaps against, made up of human life and sky.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Quintin Collins

my head is full of oceans
full of plastic

sea foam memories
pass for wisdom

sea green trees
whisper like grey waves

come home come home

trickle down through chest
and lungs and drown and drown
where plastic bits break down

where seabirds soar
and drift beneath the sea-
glass shards of stars

James Brush, Oceans

I was listening to the January 25 The Poet Salon podcast with hosts Gabrielle Bates, Luther Hughes, and Dujie Tahat and their guest Ada Limón. They discussed the virtues of poetic “play,” among other wonderful topics. The play topic stuck out for me because the craft talk I did for my final residency of my MFA was on just that. 

Since the subject popped up two more times that week on Twitter and somewhere else, I decided to post the video of my craft talk, “Play: the Craft that Turns Words Into Poetry.” Unfortunately, the quality of the original talk wasn’t great so I used Zoom to record my voice over the stop-motion video I had used for my presentation. The result isn’t perfect: the sound cuts out in parts. The closed captioning should suffice to fix this problem. 

If you too are interested in the subject of play and poetry, check my talk out on YouTube:  https://youtu.be/KaVITYEojGI (don’t forget to turn CC on).

Cathy Wittmeyer, April 2021

it was my understanding there would be no math on this

a vi-
gin-
tillion
is a

one

with
s i x t y – t h r e e
zeroes

you can
look it up

Jason Crane, POEM: it was my understanding there would be no math on this

I am delighted to welcome Sue Wallace-Shaddad as my guest poet for this mini-series of posts. Sue and I both live in Suffolk and have known each other for nearly a decade. Sue is Secretary of Suffolk Poetry Society.

Following the publication of Sue’s poetry pamphlet, A Working Life, Sue had her first short collection, A City Waking Up, published last year by Dempsey & Windle. The book costs £8.00 and can be purchased here by PayPal (UK) or by contacting the poet (international and other orders).

Sue has been visiting Khartoum since the 1970s, and has recently begun to draw her poetic inspiration from the city itself. Khartoum is not only the place at which the Blue and White Nile converge; but also, as Paul Stephenson points out, the ‘Meeting Point’ (the title of Sue’s opening poem) at which so many aspects of Sudanese life, not least ‘city and countryside’, come together against a backdrop of tradition and fast-moving political change.

First impressions are important, and the glossy cover photograph, taken by the poet herself, invites the reader into this sun-baked land as day begins. Sue’s poems are often tight, and not infrequently short in length, which means that each piece has been given what I might call its own space in which to breathe. The glossary of Arabic words at the back of the book is brief and helpful. The Arabic words for food items in the poem Al fatur – Breakfast add a sense of the exotic to a piece that is almost a list poem.

Sue’s palette is a colourful one. In a few deft strokes, she conjures up cameo after cameo before the eyes of her readers; take for example her vision of Sudan in the early morning. Pastel-green houses, we discover, dot the khaki landscape, scattered like fresh mint. I am drawn to the poet’s description of pyramids of cucumber, tomatoes ready to be sold (A City Waking Up, p.10). Sue’s images are crisp and visual, but we are also invited to experience Khartoum via the senses of hearing (‘unseen ghosts screech into life’), touch (‘the desert smothers us in its sticky embrace’), smell (‘the scent of pink grapefruit lingering in the air’) and taste (‘Feta, hard squares, salt to the tongue’).

Caroline Gill, ‘A City Waking Up’ by Sue Wallace-Shaddad (Post 1: Mini-Review)

In some language
the word for language
also means stumble.

Tom Montag, IN SOME LANGUAGE (31)

Dhaliwal’s relationship with languages finds its way into most of the poems in the collection, but nowhere more beautifully and poignantly than in the brilliant villanelle ‘Migrant Words’ where she expresses “a vain hope” that the “buried…words” of her ancestral tongue “will grow / into a dialect of some hybrid descent” and that her Punjabi vowels “will plough / a cadence that my anglophone tongue could not invent”. It could not be a lovelier, sadder poem, which I think could stand as a fine representative of the collection as a whole.

On the evidence of this work, we have in Supriya Kaur Dhaliwal a poet who sees complexity with great clarity, and who does not allow her sadness to turn to rage. She writes with genuine lyrical beauty and while she has surely benefited from the several top-level Irish lyric poet teachers and mentors she lists in the acknowledgements, there is a sure-footed handling of cadence and rhyme, and a fluidity to both the stricter closed forms and the prose poems, which indicates that the heart of a natural poet beats inside her. As with much diasporic poetry (that I have read anyway), the work itself seems to become something not entirely unlike the hoped-for, intangible and perhaps impossible home whose absence drives the lyric – and this prompts me to ask the question (it seems appropriate to end this review on a question): where, I wonder, will this remarkable poet’s journey lead her next?

Chris Edgoose, The Wisdom of Questions – The Yak Dilemma by Supriya Kaur Dhaliwal

It is not enough to write our feelings down on paper. Write them on flesh. Better yet, go deeper.

Scribe them on bones, commit them to memory, to bloodflow.

Give those feelings a home on the tongue, in the heart and soul, so that everything that is said and done comes from the beginning and end of everything wondrous inside us.

So that all those feelings can lead to something pure and true; meaning even blindfolded, we can find one another during rupture or rapture.

Meaning when we catch sunlight in our hands, we choose to caress it, not crush it.

Rich Ferguson, It is Not Enough

It’s coming up on a year now since I printed out Derek Mahon’s ‘Everything Is Going To Be Alright’ and Blu-Tacked it to the wall near the skylight in the home office I made for myself when it looked like this was going on for a bit longer than a month. […]

On Tuesday this week, the printout finally fell off the wall, and while it’s now up on the pinboard I put on the wall the day before, it felt like something of a sign. Something to pay attention to, that perhaps the ghost of Derek had chosen to tell me something.

That sign from beyond had me starting to think that the last line might be right, that things are starting to recover, that it is all going to be ok or alright; but perhaps that’s very naive and very foolish of me. Am I placing too much focus on the powerful last line, and not enough on what gets us to it…not enough on the “There will be dying, there will be dying”? Arguably, there very much is the need to ” go into that”, Del…!

However, that does feel a bit like being one of those Whataboutery-wankers…You know the kind, the type that finds it impossible to believe you can hold different concepts together in your head at the same time. It is possible to be happy about one thing, and then sad about another at the same time.

So, I’m choosing to focus on the sense of some relief that is coming down the line, the sense of things opening up again – in a literal and metaphorical sense. That may come to bite us on the literal and or metaphorical arse further down the line, but in a week where I’ve seen more people in one place (well-spaced out gardens, of course) than in the last year, and in the week where things in our garden have started turning green (as they should), and in the week we have wifi back, there’s some cause to focus on Mahon’s last line.

Mat Riches, Derek Mahon’s Toilet Roll Holder

“Life could not better be,” my song today.
I’ll let Danny belt it out, and whisper
along in the background. “Luckiest girl
on the planet” to follow. What went right?
A day almost like beforetime, when I
could walk if I wanted and still breathe, twirl
as if music is lilting or play twister
and not fall. The luxury of an airway
uncluttered, muscles not withered, and hey,
look at me: hefting cast iron when Mister
Ladyhands feels unwell, lays down, and curls
on the couch, leaving the food prep to blue skies
and me, suddenly able and headstrong,
making noodles with grins and a singalong.

PF Anderson, Singing

The last year of suffering and doom in this flesh sets my self-image low: my body is changing so fast I can’t even keep up. Pants are slipping, hips emerging from pandemic and cruelty-padding, my swimmer-triangle shape uncovering itself by the day with all its utility of lats and pecs and steel-cable hip flexors; muscle – more than anything, muscle – is growing back with the speed of sudden green in the forest in April: wasn’t this laurel dry and dead half an hour ago? Solid wall of luscious green, reaching visibly for sky. My god, I can SEE it GROWING, we say, every year, amazed. Wreaths of entwined green extending, extending, right before our eyes.

I’m whiplashed from the speed of change, of return: new body who dis my fleshly answer to every call.

JJS, Day 5: 2×800, a DRAMEDY

When a butterfly
When a bird of a different color
When a residue of ash forms the hand-
drawn shapes of your names

When a pattern of lifted fish scales
makes a trellis on the body—

Memory makes a silk knot
in the vein.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poem for Making our Dead Visible

I had such a wonderful experience working with Moment Poetry on this unique poetry format! Special thanks to Berenika Polomová for the lovely artwork made just to go along with my poem “Ode to a Young Screech Owl.” You can read more about the story behind this poem here.

Trish Hopkinson, the author of Moment Poetry poem #7, is one of the few poetry bloggers we followed even before launching our own project. We find the energy and enthusiasm with which she provides her readers with valuable information from the literary world truly inspirational.”

They are a new poetry press publishing poems in a printed visual format similar to a small vinyl record with an exterior sleeve with beautiful artwork and the poem slipped inside, signed by the author. Each poem is a limited edition of 100 prints, so don’t wait too long before ordering! Their “ultimate goal is to help spread good poetry and support aspiring poets. That is why 25% of the sale price (€ 8.50) of each sold poem goes directly to its author.”

You can check out their store to see what type of work they publish and support this unique press. They are always open to submissions of previously unpublished poems to feature in this print-run series. Read my interview with founders Ivan and Sonja.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “Ode to a Young Screech Owl” published by Moment Poetry

a cold snap
is that snow or plum blossom
blowing around

Jim Young [no title]

I purchased a copy of Julio Cortázar’s Save Twilight (City Lights Books, 1984) years and years ago. I remember that I was trying not to spend any money at the time, but I told myself I would give the book to my friend Paul as a birthday gift. Almost every year, I think, “Aren’t you going to give this to Paul?” And then I reread it. And I keep it.

Cortázar was born in 1914, to Argentinian parents, and spent his childhood and youth in Argentina. He is primarily known as a novelist and was a revered and early influencer among Spanish-speaking writers. He died in 1984, and if I had known he was buried in Montparnasse, I would have visited in 2019 when I was in Paris. Once again, I pick up the book and it works its magic (“my loves, my drinks, my smokes….little black book for the late hours” [87]).

Bethany Reid, Julio Cortázar

I think periods & semicolons, I think language
bleeding from imaginary mouths like meager
light. I think parentheses where words are
insufficient & I fill them with silence.
I think musk & deer & secretion & how certain
shapes are drawn in the mind for pleasure
& can only be conjured in certain moods.

Roman Iorga, NaPoWriMo, Day 8

In years past, as I read past blog posts for April, I noticed I would attend about three readings a week, give a couple of readings, attend a conference or a ‘con, get together with friends for their book launches. It was so much it was overwhelming even to read about!

This year feels quieter and more muted. So how are you still celebrating Poetry Month during the pandemic? I managed to squeeze in a couple of Zoom talks this week, one by Dana Levin (who talked about strangeness in poetry) and C. Dale Young (who talked about rhetoric vs the image among other things) – two poets who would be hard for me to see in person, so that was cool.

I’m giving a Zoom reading on April 18th (I’ll post more when I have the link) and I’ve been reading more and trying to write more (although I haven’t been able to do a poem a day this year.) Too many in-person re-entry things to do! It takes more energy than it used to to do simple things, like go a store or the doctor, in person. This is part of the re-entry pains. My favorite all-poetry bookstore hasn’t re-opened yet for shopping in person, but soon, and I’ll enjoy browsing there again – it’s a great place to run into poets books you might not have heard about anyplace else.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, On Re-Entry, MRIs and Tulip Fields, National Poetry Month – What Are You Doing?

So much gets buried. The song,
The worm. The soft feathered
spring. We all lose our innocence

as soon as the ground goes soft.
Its muck and tumble. I was looking
away when the nest unraveled

and out fell a half dozen eggs,
blue as the ocean. Before long the earth
devoured them—little shell, little yolk.

I broke my wing thrashing into
the same window, the same time
every March.

Kristy Bowen, napwrimo day no 8

5 – Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

To answer this question from the isolation of COVID-19 is to become flagrantly nostalgic for a “before time” that involved impossibly cold winter walks to Librairie Drawn & Quarterly to stand at the back of a sweating, snow-damp crowd, as well as long and humid summer nights in green-lit bars on Saint-Laurent with a troupe of poets or performance artists or both. Sometimes I was invited on stage or to the head of a friend’s charmed living room to partake in the reading and I have always felt so terribly honoured by this opportunity. It is also with a sepia sort of longing that I think of the person-to-person readings I will not host as my first book enters the world.

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?

I’m having a difficult time answering this question because I am equally provoked to say yes and no. Yes, every syllable of my writing is engaged in the feminist project of redefining experience and personhood, as inspired by the uncanny language of the French thinkers Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva and the re-visionary citational praxis of Ahmed. It’s also sparking up against the minor-becomings of Deleuze and Guattari and circling back (with the modernist poet H. D.) to the foundational mistakes by Freud. But no, when the poem comes out, the thought is not theory-inflected. Not in an explicit way. It’s a far too elemental struggle to say anything at all that I’m engaged in when pencil lead is hovering over the notebook page.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I believe there are too many types of writing and too many types of writers for there to one role for the writer in culture. I can say, however, that my greatest service to the public at large, as a writer, was as the teenage author of erotic Harry Potter fanfiction. A service I may never surpass.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jessi MacEachern

Words growing like fresh whiskers, no shave lasts forever. If I write long enough this beard might someday reach the floor. 

James Lee Jobe, watching the heron wade

This extract contains a pivotal, beautiful turn of phrase, the archaeology of home, that very much encapsulates the drive behind The Marks on the Map. Moreover, Johnstone’s tracing of the gradual loss of the souvenirs plays a pivotal role in pitching his own ageing process against that of the building. Of course, the evocation of autumn in the last line invites connection with the four seasons of life, human beings, nature and buildings all coming together. There’s no instruction to the reader, just juxtapositions that allow implicit connections to be made.

Brian Johnstone’s interpretation of the role of maps, landmarks and buildings in our lives is not only skilled and infused with experience, but it also provides a personal perspective that encourages us to view those roles afresh, leaving us to ponder the marks on our own maps. It might be time to stow our Sat Nav and dig out those old Ordnance Surveys once more.

Matthew Stewart, The archaeology of home, Brian Johnstone’s The Marks on the Map

This evening I’m going to dive back into Rachel Barenblat’s book Crossing the Sea. […] I’m halfway through and incredibly moved. I’ve been thinking of Dave (at The Skeptic’s Kaddish) who set up a blog as a way to grieve his father. Barenblat is a rabbi and this collection is about her mother’s death.

People say that everyone goes through this, but I never will. I say that to point out how powerful these poems are. The speaker draws me into her relationship with her mother and her grief. Her poem “Mother’s Day” begins with: It’s a year of firsts/and most of them hurt.

In “Pedicure”, she talks about the simple thing of removing the nail polish that she had on for the funeral: […] replaced with periwinkle, luminous and bright/like your big string of pearls you do not know/are mine now that you’re gone.

There’s a reason why I couldn’t read this book in one day. It’s like trying to eat a whole mayonnaise cake in one sitting. But I’m looking forward to picking it up again.

But first, there’s housework. And some yoga. Trying to get back into – oh, I don’t know, integrated with the rest of the world here: friends I haven’t seen or spoken with in nearly two months. And then there is work later this week. Students. There’s clothing that isn’t loungewear. Make-up. Shoes.

In some ways I’ve been
in a womb, cocoon, nestled
with the dull sounds of
blunted percussives, every
thing in the world – swaddled

Ren Powell, Imagining the Real World

“A Woven Rope” is a lyrical exploration of maternal lineage through transitional roles of daughter becoming mother, mother becoming granddaughter and the potential for the line to continue through the new daughter. Jenna Plowes’ attention to details, whether marks that create a watercolour, phrases used by a mother realising she’s quoting her own mother, the tension in a high wire, let the reader admire the intricacy and feel their deceptive strength.

Emma Lee, “A Woven Rope” Jenna Plewes (V. Press) – book review

The relationship with [Elie] Wiesel that Ariel Burger describes is enviable. He says that his professor “didn’t respond to my struggles with answers. Rather, he saw what I actually needed was someone with whom to share my questions, someone who would be with me without trying to fix things.” He describes Wiesel’s teachings in the classroom as a “methodology of wonder” which “has the potential to awaken students’ ethical and moral powers.”

At an earlier point in the book, the author comes to the professor with questions and is given this:

“We all ask questions, and we should. It is more dangerous if we do not. But perhaps you are not looking for answers. You are looking for responses to your questions, to your life, for ways to live rather than ideas to espouse. Answers close things down; responses do not.”

Shawna Lemay, Methodologies of Wonder

out in the rain
that girl who twirls
her umbrella

Bill Waters, Haiku about things that make us happy