Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 9

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, as many are marking the one-year anniversary of the coming of the pandemic, the love of reading and poetry, as something that’s been helping so many of us get through it all, is almost palpable.


You set
yourself

for this,
your work,

every day,
this, and

nothing
else.

Tom Montag, POET

It’s spring all over the place but I’ve never been fond of spring and now is the month my father died. I never forgave spring for taking my father away from me with the noisy lush savage green growth everywhere. I got my first vaccine on February 25 absolute winter and today I made an appointment for my second vaccine at the end of winter. Making the first appointment felt like a Jesus miracle. Making the second appointment felt like a panic attack. The first vaccine knocked me on my buttocks I tell you what I thought for sure I’d get the shot roll my sleeve down put my coat back on and head for my car ignoring the advised 15 minute wait but I ended up being exceeding grateful for that wait. Whoa. Who cares. I don’t want to die.

My son is camping with his friends at the state park eight minutes away from here. It’s the first time he’s seen his friends in over a year. He came home for a minute last night to gather firewood from our yard and he smelled like a campfire his clothes and hair thick with sea air and matches and dinner cooked on a grate. He is intensely beautiful.

I feel almost normal these days. Better than normal. I float up and out of my chair up and out of my body. There are bears and wild salmon and orca under my skin pulsing my blood along with growls and fluid muscular grace. Yesterday I bent down in my garden and an eagle flew up his heavy wings flapping right next to my head and my heart hammered in its cage. Incredible. This is called healing. I am not overly fond of spring so I ignore it and consider summer dresses and flats and my awful shrub of hair. I am too terrified of humans to get a haircut yet. Or a manicure or any damn thing.

Rebecca Loudon, Pig and farm report

The hearse got stuck
in the mud-snow.

I watched from graveside
as they tried reverse

then pushing —
finally backing down

to approach
from the other side.

Mourners in
inappropriate footwear

struggled in icy mud.

Rachel Barenblat, March funeral

When I heard about Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s death last week, I was checking news items on my phone after digging over the boggy, rain-saturated ground at our land ready for this year’s vegetables and hoping for a dry spell soon. I went home and read again the poem of his I have enjoyed more than any other, The Old Italians Dying, and sat and thought awhile on Ferlinghetti’s fame and long life. The Old Italians Dying was first published in the Los Angeles Times but I first read it in Landscapes of Living & Dying, published in 1979, and then again in Wild Dreams Of A New Beginning, which this morning I settled to read in full over a strong coffee as I forced into nothingness a night of complicated, exhausting, travelling dreams filled with people I recognised and some I did not. I’d forgotten the details of the dreams but not the experience of them. I took three cups of coffee before my toast with honey and bowl of porridge and the pills that help keep me alive. Then I fed and watered the hens, and talked to them a little to see if they had anything to say about the way the world is and how it was for them in the darkness. Frankly, they were more interested in their food, though a bantam cockerel, an Ancona from Italy, took time out to curse me first.

Later after the practical stuff of the day, necessary conversations by phone and email, and other less relevant interruptions, I sat with more coffee and saw beyond the window two magpies chase off songbirds as a pigeon on the grass watched in the way that pigeons watch most things. Motionless. Without comment. And out of nowhere came a thought of the orator Quintus Hortensius – how his opponents sneered at him as he held his audience’s attention with his words and an extravagant swirl of his toga, how in retirement he bred fish, how he persuaded a very young woman to divorce her husband and marry him and how all of his great speeches are now lost. Ancient Rome doesn’t particularly interest me but occasionally I experience a flimsy connection to ancient civilisations as if the human chain really does sometimes reach out and pull me back through the generations to think of these lives so full and impassioned but so long gone.

And then on TV came the latest news on the virus and I thought as usual of the lives that have gone out over the past year. It’s a sad, difficult time for so many. I gave thanks yet again for life not only because the ‘anniversary’ of my first heart attack is approaching once again, but also because I was born almost dead. My flesh darkened by lack of oxygen, the midwife breathed into me long past the moment most would have given up until they say she felt something move in my chest and I lived. My father put an Easter egg in my cot, for it was Good Friday. If I’d died what would I have remembered that I don’t remember now? Darkness. A sense of light. Sound? Fifty years on, four thousand miles away, our daughter, a midwife, breathed into a child long past the moment most would have given up until she said she felt something move in his chest and he lived. His father’s lament changed into a dance of joy, his mother in her chair came back from numb grief to hold her living, breathing son. What will he be told? What will his memory hold on to? Will he remember darkness. A sense of light. Sound ? I hope he has as good a life as I have had and hope to continue to have.

Bob Mee, ABOUT THE DEATH OF LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI AND THE LOST SPEECHES OF QUINTUS HORTENSIUS

the grackles opened
like gates in the trees
shadow birds, eyes glistening
you could almost imagine
these noisy shades
abandoning tangible birds,
parking lots and steel dumpsters
in their odyssey through
suburban woods,
clacking and creaking
like machines or clocks
ticking away the last
hoarse seconds of winter.

James Brush, On March 1st

I wonder if someone might have begun reading these ‘diary snippets’ thinking they were going to be interesting? One review is finished. Hurray! Two more to go. My son has packed up his things ready to return to his student accommodation. My hair is incredibly long. It’s been over a year since it was cut or coloured. There are blond coloured bits on the ends and the rest is mouse with grey sprinkled through. I have a vague memory of feeling very frightened of old ladies with long grey hair when I was a little girl. I haven’t noticed any small children bursting into tears at the sight of me yet. I’ve just been sent a date for my first covid jab. The avocado plant I grew from a stone in the first lockdown is still with me. Onwards.

Josephine Corcoran, Recent Diary Snippets

To wake from a dream into another dream, and in the second dream to feel compelled to explain the first one, to define a moment that wasn’t real in another moment that also isn’t real. That’s what I like about sleeping.

James Lee Jobe, from a dream into another dream

You know the way somebody makes a remark and it clangs in you, your body vibrating with recognition? A friend recently told me that she’s learned a lot over the past year about what she needs to be happy. Yes. I’ve had other lesson years: for instance, I learned during my long-ago stint as department head is that I start falling apart if I don’t have an hour or so of flow experience each day, usually through reading or writing. Even class prep–rereading books, thinking about how to inspire engagement–can satisfy that hunger. Answering emails from the Business Office cannot.

The pandemic has been a tough teacher. I’ve had to be more deliberate this year about pairing periods of work-output with periods of restorative activities, and the range of possible restorative activities is necessarily smaller. I discovered how much travel had scaffolded my emotional life–choosing destinations and planning trips as well as the sheer relief of escaping my small town–and how sad the days felt without even small adventures to anticipate. I dealt with the restlessness through spring, summer, and fall by planning a new hike every Saturday, but tendonitis hobbled me in January, and February was just too icy as well as being crammed with deadlines, meetings, guest classes, and other tiring Zoomy things. I’m introverted enough not to mind some isolation, but projecting energy and enthusiasm via screens really takes it out of me. I entered March both revved up and melting down.

At my worried spouse’s suggestion, we spent 3 nights at a rented house by a deserted lake, which helped me reset. One reason I travel is because it puts distance between me and laptop-oriented work vigilance; I can’t seem to assert that boundary in my own house. I wasn’t looking forward to coming home and retethering myself to professional effort by “attending” this AWP, for which I had registered in a long-ago fit of optimism. Plus I’d learned that most of the sessions were pre-recorded, which I thought would remove that last frail shred of human interactivity. Virtual conferencing at its worst, I thought.

Somehow, though, I’ve done okay. I tried to watch multiple sessions on the first day then managed to listen to myself: I have it in me to pay high-quality attention to one session per day and reduced attention to a second, but that’s it. Why beat myself up about an incapacity to do more? The live chats enabled by the platform are more interactive and interesting than I expected, but I’m still not fulfilling that old, anxious “see and be seen” AWP imperative anyway, so, I told myself, just chill.

Lesley Wheeler, Learning, unlearning, and #AWP21

A year ago, I wrote these words:

As I’m watching the world around me shift to accommodate the shape of something we’ve never experienced here, there is something that feels almost holy in this moment. I have been thinking for a long time that it would probably take some kind of disaster to turn us around on the path we’ve been hurtling down. That is the opportunity inherent in this unfolding disaster that will touch all of us in some way, if it hasn’t already.

My deep, fervent hope today is that this will propel us to remember how inter-connected we all are, to reach out to each other rather than erect walls between us, to uphold ideas and ideals that have always been the best part of us, and to act more from love than from fear.

I want to reach back in time and pat myself on the head and murmur, “Bless your heart.”

While a pandemic will, of course, always create hardship and change and pain, ours hasn’t had to play out the way that it has–and I just want us to, for once, be honest about that and about why that is. I want us to be honest about all the ways in which our schools were broken and not serving kids before the pandemic. I want us to be honest about what we are going to get–and not–from the choices we are making.

If this post has any real point, it is only this: To shine a light. To share experience. To mark a significant anniversary. To tell a truth. To be seen.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Whiplash

There is a relentlessness to bright sun on unmarked snow. A type of perfection that hurts the eyes. 

Let me get small and smaller. Let me get as small as I possibly can. Spruce needle on a suspension of snow.  The way the world cannot be anything other than what it is. There is no great secret, but there is a lot of mystery.

May I admit that when I think about what I want to leave behind, I am struck by the sheer amount of time I have wasted not paying attention? 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Spindrift

bottom water
the moon loosens its grip
on the starfish

Jim Young, ashes

The research is beginning to stack up that the vaccine is curing long covid, or knocking it way down, anyway, or something, we don’t know yet, wait and see, we will learn more:

this is what I say now too, all the time, wait and see, I will learn more, we’ll see: I can’t trust covid farther than I can throw her, the wily bitch.

I say: cautious optimism. I say, in a whisper: I feel better than I have in a year.

JJS, the clarity of cardiac damage

in the bedroom of the epidemic will my devotion to sky end without dawn

was my shadow a bird :: in the desert i could have been

is crocus the flesh where your absence nests

Grant Hackett [no title]

Our Lady of destroyed flowers and abandoned children, stolen lawn gnomes and homophobia.

Goddess of sideways nights and placebo days leaving us feeling neither up nor down.

Hacked computers and gone electricity, bitter words and bitter coffee grounds. Stress and loneliness, revenge and hate-scented candles.

Our Lady of lost love, lost keys, lost phones, and when the ping leaves our iHope—

leave us so we may pray our way back to safety and sanity.

Rich Ferguson, A Prayer for Anti-Prayer

Entering the ocean is always a risky business. The ocean is immense. It obeys its own laws, rhythms, and tides. At any moment, it can push you under and sweep you away.

Many times as a child, I’ve braved the shallow water along the shore, leaping through the waves. Many times, I’ve been surprised by a wave larger than I expected and tumbled, caught in a seemingly never-ending spiral of water, buffeted against the sand and rocks below, bubbling foam swirling all around with no sign of which way is up. Anyone who’s been submerged by a wave has experience a moment of terror, a moment when you realize you might not surface at all.

As I returned to the shore after my most recent ocean swim, I began to think about how the risks faced by writers and artists seem to parallel the risks of the ocean. The act of creating prose, poetry, or other forms of art can sometimes feel fraught with danger. Yet, we continue writing, continue creating, continue delving into the depths.

Andrea Blythe, Diving into the Deep

One of the poets I am mentoring now asks me what is too mundane a subject for poetry. Nothing, I say. It’s all about perspective. What I didn’t confess was my own fear that people will judge my perspective to be mundane. Or derivative. (What about human experience is not derivative?)

They will, you know: judge. And that is okay. I shrug sometimes, too, at things that touch other people deeply. Our experiences meet randomly through art – every poem is a crap-shoot at an over-crowded table.

This poet I mentioned had a little epiphany reading Mary Oliver. And Patricia Fargnoli. And what is more mundane than cancer, really? Mental illness? Death? Sex? And the fact is if the subject of the poem is truly original then what human would understand it? Human experience is the subject matter of all art, isn’t it? (Even when intellectual activity is the experience being addressed).

I’m pretty sure trees create poetry. Mushrooms, absolutely. And maybe someday I will see it for what it is. We all will. Maybe every network of roots that run along the forest floor tells a story in carefully metered verse. Internal rhymes, intertextuality with lines that will reach right into our coffins.

Ren Powell, “Said by you, though, George?”

In “When I Think of My Body as a Horse” Wendy Pratt explores cycles of pregnancy and grief, the ability of a body to transform and the effects of those transformations through the lens of the natural world. A daughter becomes a hare, a fleeting, furtive visitor of dreams, shaped by her mother so that her mother can survive her loss. The mother’s body starts as a foal, unsure and giddy on its own legs, and becomes a controlled horse of purposeful movement, learning lessons from the natural world. The poems are written with the control and power of their spirit animal and tackle motherhood and loss with poise and a compelling force.

Emma Lee, “When I Think of My Body as a Horse” Wendy Pratt (Smith|Doorstop) – book review

Wendy Pratt’s new collection, When I Think of my Body as a Horse (Smith-Doorstep, 2021) is not only brave and ambitious in its thematic scope and aesthetic approach, but also achieves an astonishing degree of humanity, coherence and cohesion.

Pratt takes received formats by the scruff of their necks and lifts them out of their expected usages, such as in the case of Two Week Wait. At first sight, it seems a supposed, so-called list poem, beginning with a conventional couplet and starting three of its first six lines with a repeated form (love + verb + and`+ verb), as follows:

Love turned the dial up
and watched us burn.
Love caught us like frogspawn
and cupped us in the light
of a duck egg blue day…

This technique creates the effect of a chant, lulling the reader into a false sense of syntactic security. However, Pratt quickly changes gear as the poems moves forward, piling up irregular line breaks, then two clauses per line, then a foreshortened final line…

…Love was needles and charts
and scans, love was clinic visits
and operations, love riddled us
with drugs, love shook us with hope,
love gave us you, love lost us both,
love lost us all.

Via her subverting of a list poem, Pratt rips away an initial incantation and transforms it into a wail, into a heartrending lament.

Matthew Stewart, Emotion transformed into art, Wendy Pratt’s When I Think of my Body as a Horse

I often think of a poem as a snapshot. How would you describe your relationship with poetry and photography and are the two artforms linked?

My father was a keen amateur photographer and I had hundreds of images to draw on when writing Whistle, the collection dealing with my childhood. Although autobiographical Whistle relies almost entirely on ‘metaphorical truth’ – much of it is imagined. The mechanics, materials, science and process of photography provided endless metaphorical possibilities, as did its mysteries. Each image carried a memory or an insight into my parent’s’ lives before I existed.

Photography also gave me a metaphorical lexicon, allowing me to write about personal events that would otherwise have seemed unsayable.

The language of photography still sneaks its way into my writing. I photographed people and I write about people; small human stories are what interest me. I try to bring the same tenderness and gentle in both mediums.

I was a photographer first and agree parallels exist. The critical writing about both mediums cross over and are often interchangeable. Poems and photographs exist within a physical and temporal frame, giving the viewer/reader their own imaginative space.  Both depend on acute observation, the moment or object that has something to say beyond its own self. Photographs depend on rhythm, shape and tone in presenting their moments. You could also see repetition of shapes and colours within a photograph, as rhyme.

Abegail Morley, Unlocking creativity with Martin Figura

How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Because I have very little free time I am in some ways always writing. Like David Ly said in these interviews, everything seems to begin with my iphone. I write down mixes of what I hear, what I read, what I see, just lines lines lines sometimes words words words. When I sit down to write at home I take out those e-notes and put a little order on them, write them into notebooks longhand see what goes with what. Are there areas of overlap rhythmically or thematically? Shove lines together and see if they fit or fight, fighting is often better. If a thread emerges or something interests me I go with it and see what happens. I never approach my laptop early in this process, by the time I finally start to transcribe a piece ‘on screen’ I’m acknowledging the language is mostly done and I now want to see what it might ‘look like’ because the visual, the shape of a poem is of great importance to me.

With respect to the commencement / accumulation of a project I have found with my upcoming book, Recovery Community, and subsequent work throughout this year, that I gradually come to an awareness that something is starting to take shape, that is to say I become aware that I am starting to write around a commonality of sorts. Often, it’s an attitude or a basic emotion so, for example in Recovery Community I realized I was constantly being drawn to David Lynch films and certain music (Swans, Tool, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance), and I was hyper-focussed on anxiety, the physical experience of rising anxiety, moving through a physical space with dread, and how those moments might relate to old and/or imprinted traumas, but also how it may be a necessary journey on the way, well, to Recovery. After a while I bowed to the returning influences and just submerged myself in their consumption – as many books films songs etc as I could find – see what falls together. Sometimes it’s nothing, sometimes it’s one good short poem, sometimes it’s a chapbook, sometimes more. The interesting thing for me is that I know more definitively when a project is done than when it’s begun as I will notice I have ‘moved on’ to write in a different way altogether and at that point I know I can bring the curtain down on that particular project. While I may add an occasional piece here and there the fever of highest activity is done with; it has burned its way through my system. A specific example of this would be the poem The Scalded Sea (from Recovery Community). I had read Oliver Sacks’ heart-breaking 5-6 page account of one man’s battle with mental illness, I then went deeper and read that man’s published diaries and a biography. I made notes all the way through, maybe 4 weeks’ worth of reading (some 500-600 pages) resulted in 10-12 pages of notes and became a 5-page poem. When I finished The Scalded Sea I knew what Recovery Community was or needed to be and knew I was very close to being done because something felt realized through the writing of that particular poem. It felt like in writing that poem I had answered all my unasked questions of this project. Is it the best poem in the book? No. Am I proud of it? Yes. And once it was written I knew for better or worse I had come to a place of acceptance relative to personal lifelong questions around trauma, suicide, anxiety addiction and alcoholism that told me I was done with the particular energy I had been channeling for this book. The work then remained was to revisit my other poems, remove what was no longer relevant (and we removed a lot of stuff from this MS including some personal faves), put them together in a certain careful order to see if they told a story I could follow, then stand back and accept/hope it was done for better or worse.

The very next day I began writing other poems and probably because of the pandemic and again because of new influences arriving (this time Cronenberg, Ballard, Psychic TV, Mandy, Johansson) I found myself very quickly engaged by a new energy ie project which I subsequently wrapped up a week or two ago. So, for now I’m just enjoying reading without feeling like some sort of receiver where I have to drop the book or pause the film every five minutes to write something down.

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (second series) questions with Conor Mc Donnell

As an addendum to my previous post on reading poems aloud, tonight, I stumbled upon an old recording from a Chicago Poetry Center reading in 2004 and was thinking how strange it is to encounter your older self.  I feel this much with writing–poems and blog posts and old drafts of things, but much stranger audio-wise. I kept thinking how my voice sounds different, but maybe it’s all in my head.  The girl (and I say girl, though she was already 30) who showed up in the swanky SAIC ballroom clutching her handmade copies of Blood Mary seems very far away.  I was there because I had somehow won their juried reading the previous spring. You could have knocked me over with a feather when not only did people want to buy copies, but they wanted, in one of my first writerly moments, to actually sign them. […]

That 30 year old hadn’t had her heart really, really,  broken yet.  Hadn’t suffered the sort of losses that come with getting older. And it’s stranger still to think of the value of those things to one’s writing at the same time.   She hadn’t been worn down to a stone, but still had some rough edges. She also hadn’t become quite so disillusioned with the poetry biz status quo and was quite a bit more the optimist than the realist she finds herself now. At the same time, in some ways, it might have well happened last week. Last month. Last year.  I don’t know if pandemic time is especially disorienting, but maybe it’s always like this. 

Kristy Bowen, voice and the spaces between, part two

It’s taken me a while (maybe since the pace of my 9-to-5 has been so hectic), but I’ve finally been leaning heavily on this time at home to write and read more, including, in recent weeks, pulling some old favorites off my shelves. I’m re-reading a handful of poetry collections that achieve elements of what I’m trying to do in my new manuscripts, including one that’s “about” an invented character (an alter ego, of sorts) and one that may end up being a novella in verse with an entirely different main character. I’ve never done either of those things, but the bones of them have been in past poems, and their themes have been chattering to me incessantly.

One book I’ve revisited, as you can see in the images below, is Rachel Zucker’s “the pedestrians.” […]

I’ll always have a relationship with this book. When you find “simpatico” during any moment of great need and longing, it sticks with you. Poetry gives us so much. It’s often a better friend than we deserve.

The time I’m spending with “the pedestrians” now is less about surviving painful emotions (and painful numbness) and more about craft. How does Zucker convey such emotion while deploying such sparse, well, emotion? In portraying the flatness of love (habitual) and life (deflated), how does she gut us like she does? The poems really connect, as in, they land all their punches. The collection is devastating.

I’m re-reading it now to study that and to see how Zucker so deftly creates “characters” out of her speaker and the speaker’s husband and navigates their interior and exterior worlds within the context of a strange — somehow glimmering! — dullness.

Carolee Bennett, “no word in her language”

Everyone loves John Keats.  

I’ve looked for #KeatsHate online just to see if it exists – there is hate for everything else after all – but as far as I can discover there is nothing in the modern world but love for this particular JK, love for the poetry and love for the man*. If the haters are there, they’re keeping very quiet. My conclusion is this: those who love poetry love Keats, and those who don’t love poetry don’t care enough about Keats to hate him. Perhaps now, 200 years since his death, is the wrong moment to be looking for criticism of the man and his work, but thinking back I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone express serious reservations – not unless you go right back to the classist snobbery of Yeats. And I’m not about to set a precedent, but I am interested in why his stock remains so high, particularly amongst poets themselves.  

It is a paradox, but true I think, that one of the reasons he remains so well remembered and so well loved is exactly because he is so well remembered and so well loved. Even for those whose tastes do not run to the Romantic, Keats represents the kind of poetic longevity every poet hankers after, whether they admit it or not. All literary writing is a bid for immortality, even the ancient Egyptians sensed something along these lines. Keats was intensely aware of this, and the cynic in me is tempted to read his final request of Joseph Severn to have ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water’ inscribed on his gravestone as one last, slightly duplicitous but nonetheless genius attempt to make such a bid. Like Shakespeare, Keats is living the kind of literary afterlife we all aspire to but which none of us will achieve (and yes, that includes you, 99.99% of published poets). Poets love Keats, in part at least, because they want to be him. They want to be one of the tiny fraction of poets who poets and readers will still be admiring and taking inspiration from in 200 years’ time, and that Keats did it means they can do it too.

Chris Edgoose, ‘I would have made myself remember’d’: Why Poets ♥ Keats

Many thanks to Existere for publishing my poem “In Having Been to the Capella Sistina” about exactly that, a not too long ago visit to the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City that feels worlds and worlds away. Just as I was finding the means to travel and the inspiration of experiencing in person the fine art I’d only ever seen in photos, the pandemic took hold and I resorted to virtual museum tours via digital screen. The lines from my poem “compare the scene to all / the kitsch—mugs and mousepads, / postcards and pamphlets, / digital images—zoomed in / on god’s finger reaching” seem far too real and much less ironic than I originally meant them to be.

Existere is a Journal of Arts and Literature founded in 1978, established and administered by students at York University in Toronto, Canada. They publish biannual issues in fall/winter and spring/summer of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and artwork. They are currently open for their next issue and pay their contributors $50 along with a print copy of the issue. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, they are now offering free copies of Volume 39 Issue 1, downloadable as a PDF! So you can check out the issue, read the wonderful variety of work, and see what types of work they accept before submitting. 

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “In Having Been to the Capella Sistina” published by Existere + Paying submission call!

Today, I learn, is #WorldBookDay. Who makes up these things? (And immediately hear a response in my head: “Publishers like you!”) Be that as it may, in my life, every day is book day, and it’s been so practically ever since I can remember. Last week the members of my book group started talking about when we had begun to be readers, and what form it took for each of us. We told stories about the books in our homes, local libraries in the small towns many of us had grown up in, how reading early made problems for us in school, happy hours spent reading in treehouses, or curled up on couches on rainy days, what those favorite books were and how they shaped us as the readers we are today. I’ve never been a solitary introvert, but I was definitely a bookworm whose parents often told me, “Come on, get your nose out of that book, and go outside!” This was a somewhat half-hearted admonition from my mother, who was pretty much of a bookworm herself. As an only child, I was alone a lot, and books always felt like my friends as well as boats and planes and magic carpets on which I could travel to other places and times.

Exactly one year ago today, Jonathan and I made a decision at 5:00 in the morning, half an hour before calling a taxi, to cancel our planned trip to Mexico City because a pandemic looked like it was actually going to happen. We figured we could get down there all right, but coming back on March 20 might not be easy, or safe. A number of people thought we were being over-cautious, but it proved to be the right decision. During this long year, one that I don’t think any of us will be able to truly process until much more time has passed, life has changed a lot. In addition to the good developments, like becoming proficient at Zoom and finding new friends, communities, and artistic outlets through that medium, we’ve stopped seeing family and friends, moving freely from place to place even within the city, having a studio, singing with my choir and going to the cathedral, shopping in stores, having routine medical appointments or getting our hair cut, going to any kind of in-person event, or even having normal visits with our neighbors. Montreal has been hit very hard, and people over 65 have been asked, and at times required, to stay in their homes. Thank God none of us knew it would be this bad, or go on this long, or I think we would have been even more despairing. Although it’s been a very hard year for us in a number of ways, I feel incredibly lucky that we’re still here, and we have appointments for our first vaccinations next week. I’m immeasurably grateful to the scientists who have developed these life-saving, world-saving vaccines in record time. I just wish that they would be available equally and fairly to all human beings — but, as this year has also shown, inequality and injustice are concentrated in minority populations, and there is no vaccine for that: we ourselves are the only solution.

Fortunately, during this time I’ve had three steady companions: my husband, my cat, and books.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 58. My Companions the Books

This morning, I read a review of Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, and it gave me pause, as these book reviews often do.  I always feel a bit abashed at how few of these important novelists I’m reading–he’s a Nobel laureate, after all.  And then there’s a moment when I do a Google search and read the Wikipedia article–which books am I feeling bad about not reading?

And then there’s a moment of further self-castigation:  I haven’t even seen the movies of the very important books!

I try to remember the names of other authors whom I haven’t read, and I spend a bit more time in Googling and remembering and trying to convince myself that I’m more well-read than I’m giving myself credit for.  I think of my grad school days and trying to figure out how I would ever catch up with 20th century British Lit, one of the fields I studied intensely.  And now I’m further behind.

Oh, let’s be honest.  I’m not going to catch up–to say I’m behind implies I will even try.  And I won’t.  I wish I could say that I’m not catching up because I’m maintaining my expert status elsewhere, but that’s not true either.

These days, I have a serendipitous approach to my reading life.  I just finished a fabulous book about Athens, Georgia in the 1970’s and 80’s, and how it became so influential in the world of pop and rock music:  Grace Elizabeth Hale’s Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  It was not only a deep dive into one town and into bands I loved once (but don’t really listen to these days), but also a meditation on how to be an artist and how to stay true to that calling.

While I don’t want to deny myself the treat of serendipitous finds like that one, perhaps it is time to be more intentional.  I remember back in high school when I was worried I would get to college and be unprepared.  I thought my high school wasn’t requiring enough of the classic, so I took it upon myself to read more.  For every 2 books I read for pleasure, I required myself to read one of the great books.  They tended to be 19th century classics from England and the U.S., white, and male.  That’s how we defined classics in the 1980’s. 

Perhaps it’s time to try some self-improvement via reading again.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Being Well-Read in the Twenty-first Century

I think it’s time for me to pick up John O’Donohue’s book, Beauty, again. I’ve read it many times, and it’s always a good comfort. he reminds us of the words by Pascal, “In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.” If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last year, is that this is what saves the soul, this is what keeps the heart from hardening, this is what makes me want to open my eyes up in the morning. From the hope of seeing the light on the wall, to reading a poem, or listening to a piece of music that lifts me — these things keep me breathing well. So for now, I wish you, too, good breathing, and many moments of beauty in each day.

Shawna Lemay, Beautiful Stuff

The river and its hem.
Magnolia trees holding in
their creamy cocoons.
An egret dipping
one leg into
the current.

All around us
only the things
originally belonging
to this world
are allowed
to touch.

Luisa A. Igloria, Haplos

twisted branches
the blackbird retreats
into his song

Julie Mellor, twisted branches

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 7

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: a hodge-podge of delightful and challenging posts that nonetheless seem to converge on a single point, or cluster of related points, though at the moment I’m too tired to work out quite what that might be. Enjoy.


The big conversation that the world is having. Human voices are only the tiniest part of it. Zipper of crow flight against the white blank sky. Syllables of sea birds that float, read left to right, right to left, moment to disappear. Alder branch hashmarks over a smudge of obscured sunlight. Blue slash of shadow, so sharp it cuts you.

In the preface of The Way Winter Comes, Sherry Simpson writes, “The more you looked, the more you saw, but you could never see it all.” The poet Jane Hirshfield says, “Everything changes. Everything is connected. Pay attention.” Two voices that I love speaking to each other over time. I walk along the beach, cobbles shifting beneath my feet. I am watching a group of seabirds continually rearrange themselves in a line. They go beneath the waves and then resurface. Dot dot dash. Dot…… dot. Dot.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The big conversation that the world is having

The point from the start was to figure out how to live. Some people grow out of asking “why? why? why?” — with infuriating persistence — in toddlerhood. Not me. Partly no doubt because my parents strongly encouraged curiosity, so I generally felt I was a good boy when I inquired. And then, I had a rare father who could actually tell me why the sky was blue, and what held the Moon up, or what was really happening in Southeast Asia. But mostly because what you don’t know can cut you off at the knees, and often does. It’s pure self-defense to know as much as you can, about everything you can. You have to look after yourself, in this life.

But you end up studying yourself in the mirror, and seeing a strange, inquisitive face examining you, with great attention, although maybe not with overflowing sympathy. The eyes overlarge, and the belly swollen with — promise? Or what? You tell me.

How to live: which includes what to do with your days: maybe boils down to that. Certainly how to hold your days up to the sun. (Or up to whatever sky God gives you.) 

But first, anyway, you have to slow down and quiet down, until you can hear the drip of the snowmelt and the grooming of the cat and the shift of the heat exchanger. More haste, less speed. 

Dale Favier, Mahamudra

I don’t think the world has ever been less messy than it is now. That the struggles and cruelties and hates haven’t always been there… somewhere. But there’s also been space for refuge. Not ignorance, but rest.

A little space for all of the tiny creatures that make us who we are to thrive again. And rise again. In a world that’s not a matrix, not a thought experiment.

What I yearn for now may well be something we yearn for more as we age, but it is oddly familiar to what we were given naturally — what we allowed ourselves — when we were very young.

cut roses drying
in the vase — fragments of dead
leaves turn to powder
wedging themselves in the grain
of this old oak writing desk

Ren Powell, What I’ve Learned in the Pandemic

Last week I noticed a poem shared by Blue Diode Press on Twitter. ‘Meditation’, by Eunice De Souza, appeared in the collection A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems (Penguin).

The poem’s first two lines leapt out at me:

The lonely ask too much and then
too little

I love how the form reflects its content: how these two lines mirror what they’re describing.

All those words (relatively) crammed into that first line, in haste and at too great length; only to fall away into the sad stump of the second. 

How differently it would read if the line break fell in the obvious place – after ‘too much’. I really FEEL it this way.

I see a baby who cries and cries, then gives up crying.

I also think about ideas I’ve explored before – people thinking they know what they want (read ‘lack’) but that familiar yearning masking an ambivalence, or terror. 

I explore similar concerns myself – to all of these – in The Girl Who Cried.

Because I can feel I’ve spent my life rushing towards people, then retreating. Asking ‘too much and then / too little’.

So there it is: the magic. 

A whole lifetime’s dilemma distilled – understood, reflected back – in two short lines of poetry.

Charlotte Gann, TWO SHORT LINES OF POETRY

I remember in grad school hearing that one of my teachers would sometimes take sizeable breaks from writing — six month, year long, insane (to me) breaks from writing–but she still managed to be Louise Gluck, so I suppose it did her no harm.

I have one manuscript languishing for a publisher (I finished it at a difficult time in my life so did not send it out for the longest), one manuscript recently completed (all about that difficult time in my life and emotionally challenging to write), so now I feel like I might need a bit of a breather from poetry.

That time between projects–because I tend to be a project-type of writer–has historically been a bit panicky for me. What do I do next?! I think, biting my nails. But this has been more like…Do I write another grief poem? Ugh. Do I write historical persona like I once loved? Double Ugh.

So I think it’s time to let the field lie fallow, so to speak, until it feels like it’s time to dive in again.

Have you ever taken a writing break? What was it like?

Renee Emerson, Shelving It

I haven’t been writing much. This is not unusual for me. I go for long periods without writing much, or writing little bits that I discover later, or writing quite a bit only I haven’t noticed it. Mostly these days the notebook sits closed. But I’ve been willing to paint. Maybe not with alacrity, but I’m more likely to open my little sketchbook than my notebook.

I’ve been painting mostly from photographs, even though I know from my artist friends that that is frowned upon, although I’m unclear why, but one friend is Rather Stern about it. So I do it anyway, but feel guilty about it, which I figure makes it okay.

Marilyn McCabe, Kiss me on a midnight street; or, Creativity and Letting Go of Control

Hard to believe that this photo was only taken last Friday- this afternoon it’s been about 15 degrees warmer. Interestingly, the word ‘edge’ seems to have been cropping up quite a bit in my haiku recently. On the surface, I think it’s to do with the walks I take, which often follow field boundaries marked by dry stone walls. Millstone grit is a feature of the landscape here, and the walls are a couple of hundred years old at least. The stone is mapped with lichen of various colours: yellow, green, white, and after hard weather the iron deposits oxidise and the stone becomes rust-coloured.

But, back to the word ‘edge’. Perhaps it’s signalling where my work is right now, sort of on the fringes, between making and doing. Somehow haiku demand more ‘doing’, more living. Nothing seems to surface unless I’ve been out walking, crossing the fields while it’s still quiet, listening, thinking. I walk everyday. The end of last week was hard because there was a bitter East wind. The start of that week was even harder because I was still self-isolating. But my period of self-confinement was short. Some people have been isolating for the best part of a year. I can’t imagine how that must feel, what it must do to a person. I found myself constantly going to the spare room window to look out over the fields, almost as if I needed to check they were still there. I didn’t write much either.

Julie Mellor, edge of day

My book turned 5 months old this week and I have a feeling now that it is something quite separate from me. An iceberg broken away and drifting off, handkerchiefs waving from the deck.

I always loved the word handkerchief because of that silent -d-, but also because of the dainty waving of it, the lace or embroidery. Always for crying or goodbye. I bought some old handkerchiefs online recently and god knows why. Would it be affected to use one? It would be an exercise in sustainability. Ok, I’ve sold myself on toting a handkerchief around. I love washing things in the sink. That feeling of care.

Sarah J Sloat, Behold Your Horses

Of course, we more commonly use “limbo” to mean a place of transition or uncertainty here on earth, often one in which we feel trapped. (If a person has been in this kind of limbo during the past week, they might have spent more time than is probably healthy wondering if a certain person who departed life has landed in Bolgia 9 or 10 of Hell’s eighth circle.) It can feel like a kind of hell to be in this kind of limbo, and it can require the agility and flexibility a person needs to successfully pass under the limbo stick. I think of the Tom Hanks movie The Terminal, in which his main character is trapped in airport limbo, neither permitted to enter the United States nor return home to his country no longer recognized as a country, and how he adapted to a way of being that feels impossible to most of us.

It’s been a long time since I saw that movie (and I think I slept through a good portion of it) or danced the limbo or read Dante–so these thoughts might be all kinds of gibberish–but I’m claiming “limbo” as my word of the week. It’s been six days since I’ve lived at home, and while I am grateful to have a place with heat and light and water and food, it feels as if I’ve slipped into a deeper circle of pandemic hell, where life is simultaneously both on hold and moving forward, and I don’t know how long it will remain this way. When I packed my little suitcase last Monday, I thought, surely, I would only be gone a few days. I told myself to think of it as a little vacation, a lark, a treat: permission to relax that it is so hard to give myself at home. It was not unlike my initial stance toward Covid shutdown; I optimistically threw a box of brownie mix and supplies for an embroidery project into a bag before closing the door to my dark, frigid house.

Now, after 6 days and four phone conversations with the power company and daily trips back and forth just to make sure that the power is, indeed, still not on, I find myself re-enacting the stages of acceptance I first lived last March. I long to go home at the same time I’m almost feeling as if the life I lived there is slipping away from me. I’m moving from disbelief to acceptance, and my new not-normal is beginning to feel some kind of normal, a transformation I am both resisting and welcoming. We are perverse and adaptable creatures, we humans, whether we want to be or not.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Meditation on Limbo

rolling blackouts
how the wind howls
& the candles dance

on the radio Lizzo
feeling good as hell

James Brush, 02.16.21

This is the time of year when I would ordinarily be taking my kid back to my birthplace — to see family, to breathe the air of where I come from, to enjoy Mexican breakfast at Panchito’s and big fluffy Texas-sized pancakes at the Pioneer Flour Mill. In this pandemic year, there’s no trip to Texas. The last time I was there was for mom’s unveiling.

Knowing that most of Texas is suffering cold and snow and rolling power outages, making these enchiladas feels like a kind of embodied prayer. When I make challah on Fridays I sing while kneading the dough. Tonight I am praying for Texas as I simmer the chili sauce, as I dip the corn tortillas in oil, as I tuck each rolled enchilada into the baking dish.

I spoke with family there this morning, and texted with them again later in the day. Like most of Texas, they didn’t have power or heat. Southern homes aren’t build to keep out the cold — they’re designed to retain cool. A lot of Texans don’t own warm winter clothes; why would they? Often at this time of year, it’s warm enough to wear short sleeves.

I could talk about why Texas has its own power grid, or the outrage of wholly preventable tragedies, or the importance of a robust safety net and good infrastructure in all neighborhoods, or the climate crisis that inevitably feeds worsening weather patterns. Instead I’m rolling enchiladas and praying that somebody can get the power up and running again.

Rachel Barenblat, A prayer in a casserole dish

L.A. winds whip through alleyways, wail eulogies for the lost, tear ghost sheets from cemetery clotheslines.

L.A. winds steer birds off course; break trees of their branches and will; deflower flowers, scatter all cautions to the wind.

They huff and puff, blow down homeless encampments, give rise to stray plastic bags tracing the wind’s form yet unable to comprehend the wind’s full shape and power.

Then, without warning, L.A. winds die out.

All the plastic bags, flower petals, ragged tents, cardboard shelters, and stray bird feathers fall to the ground, joining the broken branches.

The city grows quiet.

Takes on the many colors of its inner mood ring: violet for loving, amber for unsettled, gray for anxious.

Rich Ferguson, L.A. Winds

Yesterday, I had the TV on for background noise while working on a writing project, and there was a dude on Naked and Afraid claiming he had nothing but good vibes while being absolutely devoured by mosquitos. By contrast, his female companion and co-contestant was quite freaked out and complained lots. He had less tolerance for those complaints — i.e. her honesty about her discomfort — than she had for the mosquitos.

Of course, I found it hilarious that his supposed good vibes were so powerless against the agitation he felt as a result of how his partner met her own needs. His belief that his (selectively) good attitude was the only acceptable response to the mosquitos reminded me of a relatively new concept: “toxic positivity.” It insists that if we just turn that frown upside down, all will be well. Or better, at least.

While I’m not a Debbie Downer, I am a known skeptic of silver lining theories, and it’s refreshing that some positivity is being called out as harmful. Why must we take everything in stride?

Carolee Bennett, where the sun don’t shine

For reasons, I felt gritty and low-down and wicked this weekend, so I set about downloading “Grand Theft Auto 5.” I didn’t realize the process was going to take ten years. This game is a monster. I kept checking on the download throughout the day, but it wasn’t until 9:00 p.m. that it fully propagated on my system, and by then I was too tired to figure out how to get through the tutorial. I’m going to try again today. So far it’s quite loud and violent, and I’m stuck in the tutorial because I can’t figure out how to “take cover.” But I’m looking forward to playing someone mean and crooked. I want to steal cars and blow things up. I want to be bad and sultry and quick and criminal. I want to zip around L.A. in a flashy stolen vehicle and bask in the blazing California sun. I am tired of living a grim, responsible life in a cold, gray respectable city. I’m bustin’ out, folks. If the Feds kick my door down, it’s been nice knowing you.

Kristen McHenry, Low-Down Gritty Me, Age Shock, Gym Bag Redux

A lovely evening for a swim. The tide was low and the water cool, and as I waded out (quite far before it was deep enough to swim) I noticed that the squishy mud I was wading through was warm, quite a bit warmer than the water actually.

estuary ::
the night gives back
what the day has taken

Dylan Tweney [untitled photo post]

after my bath
i sit and compose haiku
about my swim

Jim Young [no title]

I was delighted to unpack my copies of the new Locked Down anthology from Susan Jane Sims of Poetry Space. The book has just been published and contains a large mix of poems, diary extracts, photographs and art. 

My poem, a metaphorical lockdown one, has as its focus the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, as witnessed and recorded by the Younger Pliny. The theme seems particularly pertinent and poignant in the light of yesterday’s eruption of Etna on Sicily. 

Back in the mid-1980s David and I spent a year in Italy, and during that time travelled from Rome to Herculaneum and Pompeii, in the shadow of Vesuvius. We also journeyed further south, crossing to Sicily in the train on board the ferry. Naples had been absolutely bitter (this was February); but once we reached the shadow of Mount Etna, the sun beat down on us as we cast our coats aside and rolled up our shirt sleeves. Kind Italian fruit growers offered us giant oranges as we disembarked.  

Caroline Gill, ‘Locked Down’ anthology from Poetry Space

So here I am in the backseat, struggling to relax and enjoy the scenery. This February is a holding-pattern of a month; it’s also busy. I’m halfway through the master class I’m teaching at Randolph College. I’m virtually attending the Poetry and Pedagogy Conference hosted by West Chester starting tomorrow and looking forward to hearing panels about teaching. The workshop I’m running on Saturday morning, on how and why to teach single-author collections, is nearly ready, and I’m giving a reading with the other workshop leaders on Saturday night. Meanwhile, my department is assembling a list for the registrar of our fall courses, so I’m in planning mode for my own fall offerings. The clock is definitely ticking on my sabbatical, even though the second half of the leave year remains fuzzy in many ways, for obvious reasons. (Deep breaths through the diaphragm. Amygdala, calm down.)

Nope, amygdala thinks my editorial load is fight-or-flight. It’s a privilege to work for a great magazine with a great Editor-in-Chief; accepting poems and promoting their wonderfulness is a thrill. Yet, open for submissions for the first two weeks of February, Shenandoah received 736 batches of poems. 736!!! I’m working hard, but when I get down to the most irresistible poems I’ll still have more than enough for multiple issues, which means more hours of difficult siftings and rejection letters that can be wrenching to write. (I have 19 spots max for Fall ’21 and Spring ’22 combined, with some reserved for a portfolio curated by our BIPOC Editorial Fellow in poetry, Sylvia Jones.) I’m trying to take it more slowly than usual and not feel so overwhelmed, but it’s a lot.

The stressy busy-ness is only partly about work, after all. Part of my brain is always rehearsing the vigilance script: steer clear of that maskless man; what can I cook over the next several days to postpone another trip to the supermarket, because it never feels safe there; my mother and daughter are on that airplane, how do I keep it aloft from down here? Oh, February. Oh, amygdala.

Lesley Wheeler, Oh, February. Oh, amygdala.

The towel dried
in the open, a flag rigged to mean look

away, she isn’t who you want. Nobody said
double or shadow. Outside in the world:

you stepped out of that jerry-built
altar, careful to rinse the musk-smell

of magnolias from your nape. You
learned to answer but quietly. How long

did it take before the two of you drew
closer to one another, breathed

in unison under blankets, clasped
hands under a billow of netting.

Luisa A. Igloria, Imago

something with a tail to nuzzle into your palm           to pierce
                             the soft                shell of your heart             something
to take home

something that rolls from under your feet      gathers
              no moss           loves              glass houses        something
to hold in your fist

something with roots you want to slip       sleep under
            climb into           hug          borrow its skin

Romana Iorga, some things to watch out for in a poem

We’d uncoil our Sargent jumps, tapping your top
as you became our iceberg, Sherman tank,
or high-rise block. Your walls were stormed,
but stayed unopened by broken bricks or pot-shots
from our BB guns. David lost an eye
in the ricochet, though I can barely
recall how he came to be standing there.
You were hauled away for scrap soon after.
I should find out where he is now.

Mat Riches, Post-Rock Shipping Containers

Sandra Beasley, a friend of mine who has several severe food allergies like my own, wrote this essay about claiming her identity as a disabled writer. It’s worth a read. And it made me think of my own nervousness, two AWP’s ago, when I was on a panel and was part of a reading for disabled writers. Was I disabled enough?  Could I speak to this group with any authority? Anyway, what does it mean to add “disabled” to your bio, or your descriptions of yourself on social media? If you look at my pictures, you wouldn’t necessarily see any disability, unless you looked closely, or looked at how I cropped out a wheelchair or cane. I notice small things (like my left side never fully recovered from the 2018 MS flare, and I still limp a little on that side, and my eye on that side isn’t quite the same as the one on the right side. Another small thing is I have more trouble reading my poems correctly out loud than I used to. A poetry editor recently asked me to record a video for their site, and asked for a re-recording because I had made minor errors in the words. But I knew that in a re-recording, I was likely to make the same, or worse, errors, because MS makes it difficult for me to read, focus on a camera, and stand at the same time. Did the editor know how bad she made me feel for this neurological anomaly? Probably not. It’s the same with Zoom readings and meetings – I have to shut off my camera sometimes when my brain gets overwhelmed trying to sort noise and imagery and trying to respond properly that that information. It could be perceived as a bad attitude – but really it’s my disability that’s controlling things. During quarantine, I have not asked as much of my body – not trying to walk unfamiliar routes, or dealing with people who don’t know I have MS, or driving to downtown readings that require stairs or doctor’s appointments that take hours of physical endurance to go to. But I still get tired doing things the average person wouldn’t. I have a telltale sign when I’ve done too much that my husband notices – my hands and legs start to tremble fairly aggressively, and this usually means worse symptoms will happen. “Time to rest,” he’ll say, and though I might resist his advice, he’s right. Anyway, I’m telling you all this because it’s hard to be vulnerable and admit your physical, neurological, and mental disabilities. Everyone who has them has a hard time claiming them in a positive way. Do we call ourselves a “disabled person” or a “person with disabilities.” This is an actual thing we have to think about.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Snow Woes, Who Gets to Be a Disabled Writer, and Having Trouble Getting It Together? Me too.

My pastor asked me if I wanted to do the meditation for Ash Wednesday, and I jumped at the chance.  I knew it would be pre-recorded, and I knew that I’ve been enjoying my approach of recording segments and seeing how to stitch them together.  I like that the process pulls on my poetry brain.  I like trying to think of ways to make the message new.

This year offers additional challenges.  There’s the standard challenge of having heard the message already:  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Some of us might say, “We hear this every year.  Blah, blah, blah, dust, ash, rust, smash.”

But this year, with Ash Wednesday coming after a year of these reminders of our mortality, how do we make the message new?  This year, after a year of watching all we’ve built implode, explode, decay, and disappear, how do we create a message that touches on these themes but doesn’t leave us clinically depressed?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Video Sermon on Ash Wednesday

I’ve been shielding and self-isolating for a year. It’s my Covid-versary. At the start, you don’t mark the date. I just remember thinking that it would be sorted by the end of April, and I’d go to St Ives to write. And then that became September, except it didn’t. And so on. Can you remember what day it is anymore? 

If someone told you a year ago you’ll be isolated for a year you’d probably say but I can’t do that. Much in the style of folk who post on social media that they can’t wait for X or Y or whatever. meaning that they don’t want to. I can’t do that. I’m reminded of Kim Moore’s glorious Trumpet Teacher’s curse

a curse on the teacher who says I’m rubbish at music
in a loud enough voice for the whole class to hear

I can’t do that. We believe we can’t cope. We lose someone we love. We lose an occupation. How will we survive? It turns out that you can, that you have, that you do. I had another anniversary in January. Eight years ago I joined an inspirational fellowship and gave up alcohol. I thought I couldn’t do it, but it turned out I could. The remarkable thing is that, as a result, I started to write, seriously, and joined another inspirational fellowship of people who write poems. I’ve had a book published every year since. I started to write a poetry blog, and about 750,000 words later, I’m still writing it. It turns out I could do it after all. As can we all, mostly. 

John Foggin, Keeping on: my kind of poetry. Martin Zarrop

One of the things I enjoy most about readings is the live audience – you can see how they’re reacting, you can address people through eye contact. And on Zoom? You’re lucky if you’ve spotted your friends, who could be on page 2 of the mosaic, you could be faced with a patchwork of faces and blank screens with names, some of which are something like ‘K’s laptop’. Everyone’s muted. Ugh!

The last reading I did, I had the poems on my computer screen so I could read off them and not keep looking down. When it’s just your head and shoulders visible, if people are looking at me (and hopefully they’re not all the time!) I want to seem as if I’m addressing them. I know I like this when I’m watching a poet read, and a number of people have told me they like it too. The downside to this strategy is, if you’re on a laptop, you might find your Word document (with the poems on) obscures the Zoom window, and with no ‘feedback loop’ you just have to carry on and trust people are there and haven’t all gone home, or that your connection has died and you haven’t realised, so you’ve been talking to yourself for ten minutes. Another way might be to pin your poems on the wall above your screen, which come to think of it might work better as you’ll be looking at a point just above the camera. OK now I’m overthinking things, and making myself more anxious…

Robin Houghton, On giving a poetry reading via Zoom

Today someone said I
seemed like a pink lady.

In another part of town
I heard a tiny bird-

song that touched me.
A meeting was held and

I got naked on a screen,
with my clothes on.

I kept someone waiting
for over an hour,

was forgiven.

Marie Craven, I Heard a Bird

Have you noticed a change in submissions to Atrium Poetry since lockdown?

I think we received more submissions in 2020 than in previous years, and I’m sure a good chunk of that was lockdown-related. Some people commented in their cover email or bio that they’d been inspired to start writing/return to writing when lockdown began. We have had a lot of poems about Covid (see next question!).

If poets are considering sending work to you should they send poems about Covid or are you saturated by them?

We don’t have any set themes at Atrium, so poets are free to send us work on whatever subjects they wish. Having said that, we have been (understandably) sent a lot of Covid-related poems, and I would make the point that the only ones we’ve gone on to accept for publication have been ones that look at the pandemic in a fresh and original light (though the same applies to any subject, really!). We’ve received many poems that essentially say the same sorts of things as each other (‘it’s hard not seeing family and friends/ I’m worried about older relatives/ I’m washing my hands a lot’!). It’s not eye-catching or ‘different’ enough to simply state the more obvious aspects, relatable though they are.

How will you focus on your writing during this current lockdown and do you have any tips for other poets?

I’d just made my ‘Writing Projects for 2021’ list when lockdown was announced, and my initial feeling was ‘just carry on regardless’, despite the restrictions on time.

The reality, though, is that I’ve not been able to keep up with things – daytime is taken up by home school and other work, and I’m too old now to have any energy left to write in the evenings! But my experience of the first lockdown reassures me that writing will pick back up again in time, and I’m trying to be relaxed about it! Needs must, and it’s not forever.

I suppose, with that in mind, my tip for other poets would be don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get much writing done during lockdown – for some it’s a very productive time, but for others (most?) there are too many other things going on to focus properly on writing, whether that be because of other commitments or just because you can’t find the oomph to do it in amongst the general worry! The urge/time/brain-space to write will return – you’ve not written your last poem. Trying to follow my own advice there…

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Claire Walker

I’ve been thinking about submissions from a different angle recently. In the autumn, I had to embark on a recruitment exercise at work for the first time in many moons and was disappointed, but not surprised, that nothing had changed in terms of the information gathered on the application form: the requirement for the applicant to state their full name, date of birth, gender, educational and work histories, with dates, surely provides more than enough ammunition for a bigoted manager to discriminate negatively on the grounds of age, gender, schooling and, in many cases, their ethnicity and class also. There should surely be scope for pseudonymous applications, without a requirement to state gender unless the job requires it in accordance with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010. In many cases, though, stating the name of one’s school would give away one’s gender, or birth gender at least. Does any information really matter other than work history and how the skills and knowledge the applicant has acquired over the years might be applicable to the role they are applying for?

A similar pseudonymous approach could of course be tried for all poetry submissions, with the proviso that acceptance is conditional so that unrepentant plagiarists or criminals convicted of the most serious offences might be subsequently excluded as appropriate. But then there’s the argument that subject-matter and/or the authorial time and outlook often convey as much about the poet as any full disclosure of name and biography might. In the poetry world, there’s been much talk of ‘levelling-up’ long before our abominable government started hoodwinking the gullible into thinking they were serious about that agenda. (Outlawing the establishment of fee-paying schools and turning existing ones into non-fee-paying might be a good start, if you ask me.) Much excellent positive discrimination in the last decade has enabled the diversification of poets being published in the UK. Ultimately, letting fine poems shine regardless of their authors’ background or identity so that otherwise marginalised voices are heard as loudly as any others ought to be an essential part of the mission statement for any journal now, and I struggle to think of any UK-based journal which fails to adhere to that basic principle. None of this is original thinking, I know, and none of it is rocket science either. Yet, in the same way that there is now a war on ‘woke-ness’ in wider British society, I suspect there is a disgruntled (no doubt 99% white middle-class male) minority within the poetry community who feel that positive discrimination has gone much too far. Well, yaboo-sucks to them.

Matthew Paul, The information

I sometimes turn a short story into Flash as an exercise. What I try to avoid is ending up with a piece that has lost weight but is still wearing the same old clothes. I focus on a single scene, lose a side-plot, or lose a character. If I return to the short story I’m usually able to exploit what I’ve learned when writing the Flash.

Sometimes I’ve made a page-long poem more episodic, then I’ve broken it into a few poems. Not all of the shorter poems succeed, but at least I’ve salvaged something.

Welsh writer Cynan Jones’ story “The Edge of the Shoal” began as a 30,000-word short novel but he cut it to 11,500 words because “it didn’t work.”  When he sent it to The New Yorker they liked it but asked him to cut it in half. He took 4 days to cut the story to 6,000 words. In that form the New Yorker published it and it won The 2017 BBC National Short Story Award. The original version was published by Granta as a novella entitled “Cove”, which then won the Wales Book of the Year Fiction Prize.

Moral – you may want to keep more than one version of some of your pieces – short and long versions. If you chop, keep your drafts. You may never become famous enough to sell them, but they may have something valuable that gets worn away by rewrites.

Tim Love, Editing down

In 2017 – 2018 I had a lovely time working in a secondary school in Bath one day work, employed as a Writer in Residence. I used this blog as a notebook to document the workshops, so I thought I’d link to a few of the posts I wrote, for anyone who might find them useful at this time of homeschooling and being stuck indoors. The young writers I worked with were mostly aged 11 – 16 but the workshops can be adapted for other ages – and for yourself if you’re in the mood to do some writing and you need a little inspiration. […]
 
Cutting up text to write poems – This workshop produced an impressive amount of work by the students I worked with, even those who told me they “didn’t like writing”. Cutting up and manipulating text can be satisfying and fun and makes a change from facing up to the blank page. I was strict with my young writers and didn’t allow them to add in extra words “so a sentence made sense” but they were allowed to write anything they wanted in their own notebooks, so many new phrases and ideas popped up, leading to fresh poems and stories.

Josephine Corcoran, DIY Poetry Writing Workshops

Edmonton poet Paul Zits’ third collection is Exhibit (Calgary AB: University of Calgary Press, 2019), following Massacre Street(University of Alberta Press, 2013) [see my review of such here] and Leap-seconds(Insomniac Press, 2017). I’m frustrated in that I don’t even think I saw a copy of that second collection, and only received a copy of this latest collection a few months back; why is Paul Zits so silent on these books he’s been publishing? As the back cover to this new collection offers: “In the winter of 1926, Margaret McPhail went on trial for the murder of Alex, and throughout, maintained her innocence. More than a retelling of her trial, Exhibit chronicles the path to a verdict, misstep by misstep. Unique and rewarding, this is a masterful work of collage poetry that rests in the spaces where reality is constructed and where reality is blurred.” I’m immediately fascinated at Zits’ exploration of the prairie document, retelling the bones of a story of early prairie history through the shape of poetry, putting him in a lineage of multiple prairie writers such as Dennis Cooley, Monty Reid, Robert Kroetsch and Kristjana Gunners, among others. Zits applies the elements of the story into short, sketched lyrics, presenting and capturing moments that accumulate and shape into a larger narrative of what might, or may, have happened. He writes out the spaces amid the spaces; what is known and impossible to know. Unlike Kroetsch or Cooley, Zits’ collage-story attempts the impossibility of truth, even through the knowledge of that impossibility. His lyrics present with the facts as best as possible, allowing the reader the space to get inside.

rob mclennan, Three short reviews: June Gehringer, Tess Brown-Lavoie + Paul Zits

 I’ve always considered myself a poet whose work relies tremendously on research, whether it’s more serious (the Chicago World’s Fair, the Italian Reniassance) or less serious (tabloid headlines and slenderman lore.) In the early 2000’s my errata project, which cobbled together both orginal and found texts was one of the first things I’d written that involved external sources directly, but I’d touched on bits obliquely before.  Many of my first, better poems were steeped in history, mythology/folklore, and literature. (I always say I din’t have much to write about myself, so I plumbed these to exhaustion.) Thus I have a lot of mermaid poems, even from the beginning. Fairy tale poems –my favorites being Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Hansel & Gretel–all things that I’ve written more than one poem about.  My entire project, the shared properties of water and stars is basially a take on Goldilocks that’s expanded into story problem logic.  

Later, I devoted an entire chapbook length series to Resurrection Mary, Chicago’s own vanishing hitchhiker legend, a project that not only had me deep in chicago history, but doing fun things like ghost tours. girl show involved a lot of searching into sideshow and carnival performers of the 30s and 40’s (and the discovery of the Hilton sisters, after which my two siamese are named.) There was the summer I spent reading Slenderman stories and books about the legend, as well as digging into true crime about the stabbing in Waukesha. There was research into pin-ups and nuclear america for strange machine and terrestrial animal. Extinction and evolution for my series written for the Field Museum. Ekphrastic subject matter for the Cornell Project, my Dali series, the Shining poems.

Kristy Bowen, writing history and myth

I’m talking brain imaging, I say. Our brains mirror other brains; that’s how we understand one another. He’s still got his patient listener face on, so I continue. This explains how clichés impair writing. Because when we hear a cliché like put the cart before the horse our brains don’t evidence any interest. That saying was originally a clever use of language the first 1,000 or 100,000 times it was said but our brains react minimally to clichés. Brain imaging shows we take them in only at the most basic level. Phrases like “scared out of my wits” or “made of money” were original once, but now they deaden our responses.  Besides, many clichés in common usage come to us from generations ago, when everyone knew how foolhardy it was to put the actual cart before the actual horse. Take the cliché “caught red-handed.” This likely came from centuries back, when serfs worked the land of some lord or another. There were strict rules against poaching. Even if one’s family was starving on what little they could grow, it was illegal to hunt on the lord’s land. Caught red-handed meant you had blood on your hands and would be severely punished.         

Mark alleges he still likes clichés and gleefully adds the cliché, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”* It’s a game now. We continue to toss out ever more ridiculous clichés until we weary of them and put the audiobook back on.

Listening to it, we finally we reach a cliché-related accord. I agree with him that a book’s character can and perhaps should use clichés if it’s in keeping with that character. In this pop mystery, I can see why a character or two would talk this way. Mark agrees with me that the book we’re listening to also uses clichés in description and plot development outside of character narration, and it’s off-putting. We listen a few more miles and he says. “Now I can’t help but hear all the clichés. Thanks.” We give up on the book.

Yes, we’re still married. And yes, I still give that cliché talk but have learned to keep it in the classroom.

Laura Grace Weldon, Clichés

In “The Oscillations” Kate Fox has a collection that explores neurodivergency and how masking differences comes at a cost and the isolation that can result, although there’s also hope in new connections as a world shifts. The pandemic is a backdrop, something battled and overcome with a journey towards renewal. The poems have a focused, conversational tone which belies their careful structure: the apparent casualness relies on sound echoes and partial rhymes. These poems both skim the surface and explore the depths, which path is taken is up to the reader.

Emma Lee, “The Oscillations” Kate Fox (Nine Arches Press) – book review

I have had the pleasure of knowing [Saddiq] Dzukogi over a number of years, sharing correspondence over poems and life. In his work, I have always found a paced, meditative way with the line that develops emotional depth across images that hold for a reader like sunsets: intense, clear, and with a momentum one can feel.

“Wineglass” below is a good example of this. Through intimate narration, the poem develops from its title image into a vessel of its own, holding the speaker’s grief while also moving through the experience of it. Physical details such as “Hands, cloudy from rubbing the grave,” evoke the speaker’s state of mind through the image of cloudiness and emphatic action of rubbing, while the word choice of cloudy/grave parallel the speaker’s desire to mix and be heard across worlds.

José Angel Araguz, writer feature: Saddiq Dzukogi

How do I hold
her in tenderness— one way of tending a life is to stand in a queue

at the shop as beans get roasted. It takes time to prepare
a tumbler of frothy coffee— a lifetime if it is the final gulp.

You in your chair overlooking the deck and I in my terrace where
the hibiscus shrub is eaten by mealybugs, hold the cup of absence.

Uma Gowrishankar, how to drink loss

There is nothing more pleasing than to write with a newly filled, well-flowing fountain pen, on the pages of a C.D. Notebook (another obsession). Let me make this case for writers of all kinds to use a fountain pen: the more you write and use your writing instrument, the better it will flow. If you leave off writing, there is the possibility that the ink will dry in the mechanism, and things will start to get hinky. Which is to say blotchy or dry or skippish. The more you write the more you flow. And that, my friends is the secret to fountain pens and the secret to writing. And the secret to refraining from giving in to the cussedness of it all. You know.

Shawna Lemay, The Cussedness of Fountain Pens

that moment when the very first raindrops
tumble down from the broken sky
scattered and fat
perfect
lovely

James Lee Jobe, you are alone in the silence

A xylophone of icycles on a rusted bridge, a bass drum of cloud.
A glimmer of moonlight on the coldest night for twenty years.
I have your last letter in my pocket.

I hear you saying I wish I could see you once more.
Someone saw you in your house by the sea.
A sense of lamps. I should have known you’d understand

The laziness of forgiveness, the hard work of bitterness,
The emptiness in every room. Did anyone see you move in?
One by one your books will abandon you.

Bob Mee, A QUESTION OF SIGHT AND SOUND AND THREE OTHER NEW PIECES THAT MUST SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES

I think
of us loving
into the night,

the darkness
not something
we have feared.

We empty
ourselves into it
again and again.

Loss fills us
for another
go at hope.

Tom Montag, AN IMAGE OF

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 5

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: shadows of the past, shadows in the present. Parents and children. Grief and joy. And, as always, books and journals.


For the last six years I’ve worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school. Last week, one of the children in our class tested positive. So, suddenly we’re all at home, working online. It’s been a strange week, one where time has slowed right down, where I’ve felt a deep longing to be outside, cold as it is, with the wind scouring my cheeks and the dog at my side, uncertain about whether he really wants to be out in the harsh weather or inside, curled up in his bed by the radiator.

Today it’s my birthday and I still can’t go out. I’m watching the wind blow tiny flakes of snow across the garden, watching how it whips round on itself, changing direction. Earlier, I put extra food out for the garden birds and then watched as the jackdaws sailed in from nowhere, borne on this bitter East wind, hardly flapping their wings at all, just cruising in to take what they wanted. Not that I begrudge them. In fact, I quite like to see them: stooping, ponderous, unhurried.

My mother likes to remind me that when I was born the snowfall was heavy and treacherous.

Julie Mellor, February

Late yesterday afternoon, I made this Facebook post:   “It is the eve of the feast day of St. Brigid, and just today, I came across the tradition of Brat Bhride: leaving a cloak or a piece of cloth or a ribbon outside the door for Saint Brigid to bless and give healing powers.”  One website said that a red silk ribbon was preferable.

Just before Christmas I was awash in red ribbons, but yesterday afternoon, they all seemed to have disappeared.  Happily, I was able to find one in a stack of paperwork, a little scrap of glittery red ribbon.  So I left it outside overnight, and this morning, before dawn, I retrieved it.  I’m not sure what to do with it now–carry it with me at all times?  Put it back in the stack of paperwork?

It says something about the past year that I went looking for a red ribbon.  Most years, I’d have read about these ancient customs and thought they were charming and given them not another thought again until next year.

This year, with new strains of the corona virus burning their way through the nation, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to get extra blessings any place I could find them.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Feast Day of Saint Brigid in a Time of Raging Virus

We glide effortlessly on the wings of Saturday park laughter.

At one point, my daughter insists we go shopping. She directs me to a tree rising from the earth; a massive congregation of green.

My daughter and I gather stray pinecones; they become fruits, vegetables, and toys. One we call strawberry. Another we joke is a Malibu Barbie sports car.

Again, those wings of laughter lift us far above our concerns of needing to wear face masks and maintain a healthy distance from others.

Right then, my daughter is so overcome by glee she wraps her arms around my knee and hugs me.

Years from now, I’m not sure what she’ll remember of her four-year-old life and these pandemic days.

What I do know, however, is that forever engraved within me will be the blueprint of my daughter‘s embrace.

Rich Ferguson, We run, we play

There is a layering here: the past is a dangerous place to wander, somewhere the unwary, careless traveller might get lost or worse; but it is also a dangerous animal guarding and protecting those who are dead from those who are living. There is certainly a sense, here and elsewhere, that the dead are in need of such protection because of the need the living feel to take possession of the past for their own purposes. [Maria] Stepanova notes at one point “This was all about her (Stepanova) and not about them (her ancestors)”, and at another she confesses to being “horrified and offended” at her father for not allowing her to quote from his letters in her book. Her ruminations on her father’s refusal are a good example, not only of Stepanova’s remarkable self-awareness and clarity of thought, but also of her ‘poet’s sense’ for metaphor which runs through and enhances the book. Considering her evolving relationship with her father’s letters, she says 

Without being aware of it, I had internalized the logic of ownership. Not in the sense of a tyrant, lording it over his hundreds of enslaved peasants, but perhaps like the tyrant’s enlightened neighbour, with a landscaped park and a theatre in which his serfs acted and sang.

And with this understanding of the power the present has over the past, we also come to realise our ancestors’ inherent vulnerability (“The dead have no rights”), because whether the tyrant is enlightened or not is entirely a question for the living.

Chris Edgoose, Everything Rhymes: In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova

It’s been more than a year now since the last time I visited San Antonio. In a normal year, I would take my kid there a few times a year to see my dad and my brothers. The last time I went, I went alone for the unveiling of my mother’s headstone.

I promised my dad that I would come back soon with my son. A few weeks later, we started hearing about something called novel coronavirus. Soon we were sheltering-in-place to slow the spread. For a while I thought it would be safe to go back to Texas by summertime. Then it became clear what we were facing…

I don’t want everything I write to become an elegy or a lament. This was supposed to be a light-hearted remembrance of an old record and my old record player! But all paths seem to lead to remembered loss, or to the ache of yearning for something that isn’t yet possible.

To meet my father and brothers for Mexican breakfast at our favorite brunch joint in the old neighborhood. To visit my childhood home where my parents haven’t lived in decades. To hug my mother who’s no longer here. To hug my beloveds who are (thank God) still alive, but we can’t safely touch. 

Rachel Barenblat, The San Antonio Song

Donna Vorreyer in Limp Wrist Magazine – Refusal

My brothers and I
crying in the car so my father wouldn’t see. Watching her go, their

sixty years flashing before him, he bent his head to hold her hand
through every visit. She wanted to come home. 

Comment: One of life’s hardest passages is watching your elderly parents go through sickness and separation. Pull out the tissues before you read Donna’s heartbreaking poem.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poetry That Will Drop Your Mouth Open

I’m taking a bit of a social media hiatus now that the election is over and my plate is full with hunting for a condo and working on the new and selected poetry collection due out in 2023. That means I neglected to mention that I have a brand new poem called “Roosters and Hens” in Limp Wrist’s special Dolly Parton 75th birthday tribute issue. You can read my poem at this link, but be sure to read the brilliant work selected by Dustin Brookshire and Julie E. Bloemeke for the issue.

I’ve been a Dolly fan since I was little kid and I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing her in concert a couple of times. She’s always been a touchstone, so I’m tickled that I now have a poem to honor that. 

The poem almost didn’t happen. I wrote a much longer draft before Christmas and couldn’t figure out how to cut it. I even wrote an entirely different poem about an entirely different person (Mary Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life – hopefully it will have a home soon, too!) to try and clear the cobwebs, since my output in 2020 was practically nil. 

While I was on a socially-distanced getaway after Christmas, I sat in my little motel room in Mountain City, Tennessee and finished the poem an hour before the deadline. Whew! 

Collin Kelley, New poem “Roosters and Hens” in Limp Wrist

I phoned Bob this week, after years of thinking about him, sending and receiving Christmas cards. Happily, joyfully, he’s well, in his 90s now. North London’s still audible in his vowels, although he moved away, as I did, years ago.

When we met, I was 5 or 6 years old, and he was around 40. He had been widowed: devastated by the death of his first wife, and turned up at my father’s church, looking for consolation. I was bored, hanging around, at a loose end while something was going on: prayer, singing, meeting, adults chatting – something a 5-year-old couldn’t, or wouldn’t, share. 

There I was, small, awkward for my age, idling, waiting (it turns out) for a hand to hold –  metaphorically, emotionally, psychologically, and literally. 

“I noticed you,” Bob recalled towards the end of our conversation, “and prayed that you would come and hold my hand. And you did.” 

I thought, momentarily, of naming this blog I Answer A Prayer, but my views on prayer are complicated. I realise this is one of the reasons I haven’t phoned Bob for so long. I didn’t want him to be disappointed that I’ve turned out poet, not angel. 

Liz Lefroy, I Phone A Friend

All morning,
wind against

the house. Winter
birds hidden

in their bushes.
The grey fields,

the grey sky.
Grey sorrow.

Hawk in his
tree, speaking

to death, death
speaking back.

Tom Montag, All Morning

This week, I dedicate this post to the memory of Alfonso M. Gomez, father of friend and great poet, Rodney Gomez. I have admired Gomez’s work for years now (here’s another point of connection and another). I have shared his work in classes at both the undergrad and grad level (his “Our Lady of San Juan” is one in particular that keeps teaching me). He has also been kind to my work as well.

Along with poetry, we share South Texas between us. Much of my childhood was spent with driving from Corpus Christi to Matamoros, often stopping to visit folks in Brownsville, where Rodney himself was born and raised. Through South Texas, we have mesquite trees and hot summers and community forged through a mix of perseverance, hard work, and hope. Now, we are connected in absence.

Life in the pandemic has made it hard for me to reach out to everyone I would like to when I would like to. I saw news of Rodney’s father passing online and sent my condolences to him. When Rodney later shared the art piece below, which he said was inspired by my poem “Scripture: Hour,” it is not enough to say I was moved. I felt seen. This particular poem–one of a sequence of poems that engages with how little I know of my own father’s death, down to not knowing what day he died–was a hard fight to get right.

José Angel Araguz, in memory: Alfonso M. Gomez

My mother died recently, and I was grateful for all the emails, phone calls, and Facebook comments, people moved to reach out to me, to touch, electronically. I was moved. And I was amazed that a ton of people sent me cards. It was so lovely to receive these bits of paper and color through the, let’s face it, miracle of the US Postal Service. It was startling and thrilling to see, of all things, people’s handwriting! The loops of one friend, the scratch of another dear soul.

Wow. That all these people took the time to stand in front of a selection of cards at some store, trying not to breathe in someone else’s Covid germs, debating whether this card was too sappy, that one too cute, then took it home and, I would bet, to a person, paused, pen clutched in curled fingers, thinking “what on earth will I say??” And then they commenced, and said in black pen or blue all number of lovely things, including just “thinking of you,” which was true and warming.

And the signatures! Do I sound like a lunatic?

But this evidence of our selves, our scrawly names. In these typefaced days of electronic signatures and stock emojis, of typing someone’s address or phone number into your phone rather than have them scribble it on a scrap of paper, the distinctiveness of handwriting has been hidden. It exists. We all haven’t collectively forgotten how to write. Although I do hear that children are no longer taught to write cursive. We all still, at some point or another, put pen point to paper, and the heft of pen and hand and arm, the wick of inkpoint, the tautness or looseness of loop or line are an intimate part of us.

It was a tender moment for me to see this evidence of my friends on paper, to see in their lines, thick or thin, even or jiggly, their thoughts of me, and of course, as the death of a mother is a big event for everyone, their thoughts from within themselves and their own experience of loss or the anticipation thereof. Stunning.

Marilyn McCabe, Sit right down; or, On Handwriting

looking for the reflection of self

the other half of the ticket for the ferry
to cross over after you
on the other side of me
the doppelgänger of a smile
in the mirror that brings death to life

i nearly said life to death

Jim Young, i nearly said

Just when I thought nothing could be worse than January, along comes the first week of February.

Granted, no insurrection and murder at the capital—but this past week was brutal. For me, personally. And it seems there’s a lot of struggle in the zeitgeist over the past seven days. A lot of folks saying they’re hitting a wall of some sorts. If that’s you, I feel ya.

So, I got nuthin’ much for you this week. Any words I might have mustered on pretty much any topic would have been soaked in bitterness, pessimism, and dank, sour defeat. I muted several folks on Instagram back around Wednesday because their relentless exhortations to adjust my attitude and find joy and manifest and transform and dream felt like an assault.

I fuckin’ know how to look for joy, y’all. I. am. doing. it. all. the. damn. time.

I feel increasingly hostile toward those who do not acknowledge systemic causes of illness, burnout, and general failure to thrive. Although I’m not a working mom any more, I felt every word of this article that’s been making the rounds. Especially these few:

A critical first step is to remind yourself that the reason you feel guilty, apathetic and exhausted during this worldwide crisis is due to choices that were made by people other than yourself.

At the same time, I realize that we all do get to make choices. Sometimes we don’t have very good ones to make, but we almost always have some. This week, I chose not to write.

Rita Ott Ramstad, Of walls and hitting them

I read two great poetry books this month. Meg Johnson’s Without: Body, Name, Country (Vine Leaves Press) presents poems and flash creative nonfiction that explore identity, illness, and politics. Broken into two parts, the first section offers poems that explore various personas, while the second presents memoir the author’s experience with a harrowing illness in the form of short, evocative flash pieces.

And the Whale by Sonya Vatomsky (Paper Nautilus) is a gorgeous chapbook, filled with powerful poems that weave mythology and Russian folklore into an exploration of love, sex, grief, and trauma. I was personally in love with the persona of the Widow, who features in several poems that examine the shadows of the past.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: January 2021

Many of the women I know feel like we’ve “been through something” during the Tr*mp administration. The very good reason for that is that we’d already “been through something” (likely many somethings), and recent years scratched those vulnerabilities raw. They made us aware more than ever of the molds we’re meant to fit and the difficulty of navigating them, something we’ve been doing all our lives.

Much of that has to do with sex. The adventures of it. Its hazards and manipulations. Parts that entice us. Parts that repel us. How we see ourselves inside that context. How others see us in it (and if they can see us outside it). For example, “Truckers honked around us, past us. We waved to the cute ones, hiked our skirts higher on our pale thighs.” We age into sexualized versions of ourselves, age a bit inside those years and then just age.

A new chapbook, We by Sarah Freligh (2021, Harbor Editions, Small Harbor Publishing), interrogates those spaces: What say do we have? What do we claim as our own? Here are some poem titles with answers: “Those Girls.” “Good Girls.” “A Kind of Magic.” “Goddesses.” In just 16 poems, We takes us through all of those and more. “We” are those girls. In any combination. Or one at a time. Or none at all. And “we” are made appealing for ourselves instead of any “other,” though we go through some things figuring that out.

We is a balm for that — beginning with its dedication page, which reads, “All the girls, everywhere.”

Carolee Bennett, “kind of lovely in their shadowed dark”

As a global community, a nation, and as individuals, we are navigating grief. For some, it’s the loss of a family member to COVID or their employment; for others it’s the loss of the vacation or dining at a restaurant. I’m not casting aspersions at anyone. Grief is complicated. There truly isn’t a grief olympics.

Grief stitches itself into a person and leaves the ends of the thread hanging out. Sometimes, you feel the twinge of the deeply-seated stitch of the loss of your father six years ago. Sometimes, the dangling thread catches on a current moment and you cast books from your shelves searching for an ephemeral gift from a newly gone friend. Your response to “Did you maybe throw it away?” is a wail of “I didn’t know she was going to die!”

Grief challenges our ideas of how our lives are meant to be – of course our good friends, our spouses, our beloved pets will be with us always, of course our lives will continue forward with total freedom and no mass casualty events like a pandemic. For most of us, we don’t have ready tools to move forward in grief because we have never imagined a scenario where we would truly suffer loss. Grief always catches us by surprise, even if the person we lose is 93 years old, even if we know, though do not acknowledge, that everything is always changing. Sometimes we are mourning the loss of what we thought would be.

I try to write the grief out. Write about my father, about my friend, about a dream (and livelihood) on hold, the ravages of cancer. I try to reason my way through to the other side. But there is no other side.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The persistence of grief

My visiting writer gig at Randolph College started yesterday. As the Pearl S. Buck Writer in Residence (virtually), I’m teaching a 4-session workshop each Thursday night in February, 7-9pm. There are only 4 members, all advanced poetry students, so it’s a pretty nice gig. The topic is “Haunted and Weird,” since the organizer told me these students were also jazzed about speculative fiction–but also because strangeness and surprise make for complicated, interesting, powerful poems. […]

Here are some poems they had to read for class, as well as each other’s drafts. I also asked them to be ready to explain which poem unsettled them most and why.

– Emily Dickinson, “One Need Not Be a Chamber”

– Paul Mariani, “Ghost”

– Margaret Atwood, “Morning in the Burned House”

– Christopher Kennedy, “Ghost in the Land of Skeletons”

– Janice N. Harrington, “Shaking the Grass”

– Mary Oliver, “The Mango”

– Shane McRae, “Whose Story of Us Is We Is Told Is Us”

– Derek Sheffield, “Monsters”

I started us off with “Monsters,” which triggers all my parent-fear. One student named Mariani’s “Ghost” as the most unsettling–that’s another poem full of guilt, and very crafty in how it sets up situations and then dissolves them. For everyone else it was “The Mango,” in which the speaker hears voices–and yet it’s more political than supernatural. One way all of these poems are shifty: what’s “real” is up for grabs, although there’s plenty of realistic detail within them.

Lesley Wheeler, Haunted and weird poetry: a lesson plan

As I watched Trumpism wash through America, I thought again and again: “what was my contribution to this? How did I make this happen, or allow this to happen?”

Well, the answer was clear. I had a least one devoted reader who was also a devoted Trump fan, and I recognized at once that I was appealing in exactly the same way Mr Trump was. I used to practice a sort of diaristic magical realism. I talked to stars and mountains and ghosts. Something that appealed emotionally got free rein, and if facts got trampled in the process, who cares? Other people would take care of the facts. I was busy with the realm of the emotions and of the soul. What I was interested in was joy and delight. Nothing else mattered, not really.

And so I was shocked into silence, inward and outward. I didn’t want to be part of spreading this poison. I mistrusted myself deeply. I stopped my supposedly harmless riffing on supernatural themes. No, I’m not meeting Vajrasattva in the parking garage. No, I am not conversing with ghosts. No, I am not dissolving into the wind. I’m someone who washes his hands and wears a mask and is determined to get the vaccine, because viruses don’t give a damn about Vajrasattva and never have. Misty devotion to to deities such as the Great South Wall Protector lead straight to children in cages. The hell with misty devotion. The hell with deities. I’m trying to keep my family alive. 

When I was setting out in life, the Enlightenment looked like a done deal. Everyone acknowledged the primacy of science. I gave myself to old books and old stories, partly because I already loved them, and partly with a sense that the post-Enlightenment world was losing something precious: that a salvage operation was in order. That we were throwing sources of joy and wisdom out, as well as sources of superstition and bigotry, The march of science was inevitable: it had the backing of the liberal West, of Soviet Communism, and of global Capital: how could it falter? It needed no help from me. I could wander among the wreckage of our cultural past, find lost treasures in the rubble, wash the mud off them and hold them up to the sun.

And the treasures are there, sure enough. I was right about that part. But science, reason, rationality, commitment to what can be ascertained and confirmed by rigorous experiment — they turned out to be as fragile as the treasures I was hunting. I had misunderstood. It was all fragile.

The joy blew out like a candle, and I lost my place. I read political news in the morning, instead of poetry. I begin a novel and drop it impatiently: they’re just making stuff up. Anyone can make stuff up. The hard thing is sticking to the truth.

I don’t quite recognize myself, in all this, and that’s probably a good sign.

In order to arrive at what you are not
       You must go through the way in which you are not.

Dale Favier, Losing My Place

Like [Dean] Young, I admit to envy of my visual artist friends. Here is my painting of some pears with a lemon. Here is my sculpture of a man in a decaying suit. They have the ‘opportunity to interact with the medium [of their creation] in a primal, physical way.’ This physical, primal method of creation, this disappearing into the bombed cathedral to vandalise what I have created in order to make something new, is what I have long longed for in my practice.

I think of my books of poems and I think of the pain of birthing them, not the individual poems, but the the ripping apart and stitching back together of sequences, for the first four books, with intense help from others as my small-minded control-freakery threatened to refuse to allow them what they wanted to become. Four books. By the time of the fifth, I told myself I had learned how to proceed. (I hadn’t; I almost blew it.) My favourite part of book five was realising I needed to rip it apart and start again. And, just when I thought I had rescued it, to begin yet again.

So, I say pain, but I don’t really mean it. What I mean is fun. Ripping poems apart and interrogating them till they tell me what they need to become. Ditto the books. I spent part of yesterday taking one of Spurrier’s sanders to a poem that I had previously thought of as inviolable. I have plans for others. The bombed cathedral. It’s the only place to be.

Anthony Wilson, The bombed cathedral

Yesterday we ran along the beach. The polished stones each sheltering a patch of snow. The tide pools frozen, ostensibly lifeless. E. pointed to the lighthouse on the island in the distance. The ship nearby. Both appearing to hover over the ocean.

The cold wedges itself into our reality. Pulls the pieces apart.

The cold is a serpent that creeps over the earth, that pulls it from itself. Islands float on air, we float from one another, shivering. Closing our doors. Shuttering the windows.

E. explains how the cold settles in the hollows. How it clings to the ground and creeps. You can dig a hole to trap the cold outside your threshold. Like you might any other animal bound by gravity.

I can hear the cold
its infrasonic growling
filling the basement
rumbling in dark corners, like
the dog who wants to pile-on

There’s no need to
appropriate magic.
Notice, and believe
in the world as much as you
believe in flesh and blood.

Ren Powell, When Islands Hover

When I was child, in that weird time when memory is just beginning to form, I was obsessed with a black and white checkered volume of illustrated Mother Goose tales.  I carried it from room to room until it fell apart, staring at the pictures, imagining each story based only on the visuals. It would be a hot minute before I could read it.  Before I learned the alphabet, which my dad would have me recite in exchange for a pack of Rolos.  (thus my long trajectory of bribing myself to write with chocolate.)  I’m sure the bribing only happened once, but I remember the feeling of accomplishment as he handed over the candy.  I landed in kindergarten knowing the letters, but it’d be a year or so til they started making sense as words, as patterns, as something familiar. Waiting alone  in the car while my mom was in the store (because yo, it was the late 70’s), I remember the exact moment the orange-lit words on the Jewel-Osco sign made sense and suddenly the code was broken.  I spent the next couple years writing out letters on those lined newsprint tablets, perfecting a neatness I never exhibit in my scrawling. While I had spent years before obsessed with pens & notebooks,  drawing squiggled lines and making up stories, now I could do it for real.  

On the phone last night, my dad tells me the story of how he kept getting in trouble in elementary school for not paying attention to lessons and instead writing ghost stories surreptitiously at his desk. Suddenly, a secret question was long-answered.  Where this all comes from.  The need to tell stories.  My mother would, when alive, regularly to others say about my writing or my smarts, we don’t know where she gets it. My mother was less of a reader, her enthusiasms tending toward True Romance magazines, but then only on vacation when she could unwind. Words, however,  were always in the house, but the kind varied. Hunting & fishing manuals.  National Geographics. Horror novels passed off from my aunt. Later, overloaded trips home from the library. I had always known my dad was a big reader, even now when a lot of that reading happens online. But I’d never know about the stories. Those similar tendencies that show up, even without having made themselves known. 

Kristy Bowen, roots

Gypsum and karst my consonants;
pine and mountain-fed streams, my vowels.
My syntax and speech of copper-mined and gold-
veined hills; the craggy, rain-soaked vowels
that won’t stop stippling the ceilings.
My tutors: stonecroppings and terraces,
ochre-traced sunflowers; the flint-tapping call
of the mountain shrike. My avatars: stick
shift jeepneys, five of them crowded into
two-lane roads. My aubades from hot
bean curd vendors, the molasses of their song.

Luisa A. Igloria, Lexicography

What I remember most is that I was really feverish for a few days and for some reason the name of the ‘Avant Garde’ composer Cornelius Cardew popped into my head. I looked his details up and found that he died in the early hours of 13 December, 1981, a victim of a hit-and-run on Leyton high road, on the humpback bridge next to Leyton Tube station. Conspiracy theorists claimed that his politics made his death suspicious. One can’t really blame anyone for thinking that, given that it was round about the same time that Hilda Murrell was bumped off (though a local man was subsequently convicted for her murder).

At the time of my illness, I’d just started reading an Amy Clampitt collection What the Light Was like, published by Faber in 1986, and, immediately after looking up Cardew on my phone, I opened the book on her elegiac poem ‘A Curfew’, about the day that her brother Richard, a doctor, died, at the age of 56. The poem is subtitled ‘December 13, 1981’. The billions-to-one coincidence was increased by the fact that ‘fever’ occurs three times in the poem, including as its opening word.

Matthew Paul, On coincidence

So, things have been rough this week. It’s been dreary, rainy, and too cold to go outside much. America hit the 450,000 mark in people that have been lost to covid, as variants with higher contagion rates and seemingly slightly more dangerous consequences are spreading around the world.

Washington State has still got a shortage of vaccines, and they don’t seem to prioritizing the chronically ill or the disabled. I’ve been struggling with anxiety about that and at the same time, trying to get better from a sinus thing and a stomach thing (not covid, just the result of my normally crappy immune system.)

Meanwhile, a literary magazine I’ve respected and longed to get into for twenty years, about ten months after my work appeared in it for the first time, decided to publish a former professor-pedophile who abused students and kept a gigantic collection of child rape films. This triggered a lot of sadness and anger from a lot of abuse survivors, including me (I was raped when I was six years old). The literary magazine then published a non-apology. The whole thing left me feeling sick and disappointed in the poetryworld. Meanwhile, I’m sending my manuscripts out into the world, hoping for a good press to pick them up. Have we decided what a “good press” means to us?  What are we even hoping for?

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Envisioning Better Things

This is the first of a mini-series about print poetry magazines. Although I do my quarterly spreadsheet, there’s no room for any description of the mags, so I thought it would be nice to feature some of my favourites as a reader, where I like to submit myself and what I subscribe to. […]

The other day it was time to subscribe to some new titles, and I decided to give PN Review a proper try. I’ve only ever read the odd single issue, and I found it a bit academic. But now I’m getting into the academic mindset, perhaps it’s a good time to try it again? PN Review hasn’t arrived yet, but I’ve also just subbed to Butcher’s Dog, a small mag, but with a big bite, perhaps. I sat next to editor Jo Clement at a Poetry Book Fair once, and came away with a couple of back issues. Here’s what came in the post yesterday. My favourite poem in it is ‘I crossed the Humber Bridge without paying’ by Rachel Bower

Another magazine I want to give a shout out to is Prole. Edited by Brett Evans and Phil Robertson, Prole has been going for some years now and they have a unique system as regards paying contributors which I admire very much. Basically, instead of offering contributors a free copy of the issue they are in, they give contributors a share in any profit an issue makes. So as a contributor you’re given a PDF of the mag, but if you want a hard copy then you buy it. Your buying it then helps grow the potential pot that ends up being shared amongst contributors. Or you can opt to let Prole keep it for their funds, but that’s entirely up to you. We’re talking a very small amount, but it’s the principle that counts. More power to Prole! I do have a couple of poems in this latest issue, which I’m very pleased about, as they were both a bit ‘out there’, and I had a feeling they might sit well in the magazine. There’s a lot of prose in Prole, if you’re interested in that too.

Another longstanding poetry magazine with great character is The Frogmore Papers. It’s packed full of poetry and is, I think, unique in publishing micro-reviews (which I really appreciate as a reader, but also contribute to occasionally). The magazine features covers by local artists and has a ‘sister’ online publication called Morphrog – can you see what they did there?

Robin Houghton, On poetry magazines: Butcher’s Dog, Prole, Frogmore Papers

After over 30 years, Patricia Oxley is standing down as Acumen’s editor. Danielle Hope, who’s long been connected with the magazine, will take over. I wish them both luck.

I suspect that Acumen’s loyal readership is on the older side. I’ve been a subscriber for a long time. I’ve had several poems, letters and the odd article in it – worthwhile pieces (in my opinion) that I’d have trouble placing elsewhere, especially nowadays: pieces that non-poets might like.

The extensive reviews section (35 pages in the current issue) is very ably managed by Glyn Pursglove. It doesn’t rush to cover all the latest stunning debuts. It also deals with translations and the work of established (though perhaps not fashionable) poets (Etty, etc). Books by, amongst others, Ni Chuilleanain and Longley are reviewed at length in the current issue.

Having a letters section (with maybe 4 months from submission to publication) may seem quaint in this Twitter age. The letters are often mini-articles though.

Tim Love, Acumen

You have continued to launch and promote your poets’ work. How have you managed to stay motivated?

I’m not good at doing nothing. I like keeping busy and having a sense of purpose. I also have a strong sense of responsibility and generally find it’s easier to promote others’ work than my own. The sheer volume of possible marketing and social media sharing etc can become overwhelming though – it is a potentially 24-7 job. I think prioritising and routine help here. V. Press has been running over 7 years (over 5 years publishing solo-authored pamphlets and collections), so I’ve tried and tested what’s most effective. I mostly stick to that, but then also explore a few new possibilities regularly as and when appropriate. During covid-19, this has included eBook versions of some of our flash fiction titles and an expanded winter sale.

Is it easier to enable others than yourself when it comes to writing?

Yes!

What non-writing ways do you think poets can feed themselves with when the muse has packed up her bags and gone away for a while?

I’m a firm believer in ‘two birds with one stone’ and ‘not having all one’s eggs in one basket’. I think anything anyone loves outside of writing is joyful in itself, a potential source of inspiration, and hopefully replenishes energy, which may then be used for new writing.

For me this includes:

Reading – always a source of inspiration as well as enjoyment. (Reviewing for a journal can help give me an added focus and permission to prioritise reading over more mundane chores or tasks.)

Exercise (walking, swimming, cycling, running) – the feel-good hormones are a mental and physical health boost. Wherever I exercise, in moments of boredom (or concentration on the movement), I often find my subconscious will start playing with editing options or ideas for new work. The exercise pace can be especially useful with rhythms in poetry. If I’m outdoors, there’s the extra bonus that I’ll often notice something in the world around me that makes me stop to take a photograph or provides notes for a new poem.

Painting – because I’m a novice painter, the creativity of painting is less fettered by the critical editing eye that is always there when I’m writing. So, it’s much easier for me to replenish creative energy this way, that then often re-sparks the urge to write.

Photography – as with painting. except the critical part of my brain interferes more. But, in contrast, I’m more likely with photography than painting to then be inspired to combine text with an image and turn it into a haiku-influenced photo-poem.

Meditation/Pauses – I try to start each day with a ten-minute meditation. (I use Sam Harris’s Waking Up course as a framework https://wakingup.com/.) This often brings me a sense of peace, greater perspective and reminds me to be grateful for all the small things that make me smile, laugh or feel good. It’s easy to forget that there’s joy and wonder in simply being alive, breathing. If I get stressed or agitated during the day, I’ll maybe try to do a small pause, tuning in to each of the five senses in turn. Occasionally, inspiration for a poem will also arise from these, as if from nowhere. But, for me, this example isn’t really about writing directly, it’s about re-energising and re-grounding for whatever the day brings, including hopefully some writing!

Abegail Morley, Creativity in Lockdown: In Conversation with Sarah James

Mid-week I attended a reading put on by the folks at Seren, Jonathan Edwards and Gillian Clarke both read wonderfully, as well as a host of open mic folks. I had totally missed the invitation to take part in the open mic, so missed my chance to say I’ve shared a bill with those two. One day perhaps!! I am at least two books behind on Gillian’s work, so I’d best do something about that.

I do miss reading aloud to people. I can’t imagine we’ll be doing a Rogue Strands night for a while yet, sadly, but I have bagged a slot at a Zoom-based evening of poetry that’s been organised by my local beer shop. A perfect combination for me, I reckon…Who knew, but one of the chaps that works there is also a poet.

Friday night, I watched Derek Mahon, The Poetry Nonsense on BBC two. I am ashamed to say I don’t know much about Mahon, other than how well he is/was respected. I have a selected Mahon by my bedside ready to read, so I will get there eventually, but he came across as an interesting if troubled soul in this doc. I think, however, it was leaving a lot more out about the man. I guess that may come out when I get to the poems.

I think the doc will be on the iPlayer for a while yet..get yerself over there and get it watched.

However, before I bugger off to get on with cooking dinner I shall leave you with a quote from a book that is t the top of my reading pile, eg I am reading at the mo…It’s also another Derek, the mighty Derek Walcott. I saw this opening to one of his poems last night and it seems apt for the world as it stands at present.

“The starved eye devours the seascape for the morsel
Of a sail.

The horizon threads it infinitely.”

They are the opening lines from ‘The Castaway” and have made me desperate for the smell of salt in my nostrils, they’ve made me desperate to get back to the coast of Norfolk, but I’ll settle for something outside of the streets of Beckenham.

Christ, I want to go to Walcott, Derek.

Mat Riches, The Dels

In Heather Seller’s wonderful craft book Page After Page (or its sequel, Chapter After Chapter), she tells a story about sending her work out once a year. It’s like getting all the little ballerinas ready for a recital, she writes. Lots of polishing and fixing of hems, adjusting of tiaras. Getting those toe-shoes on and telling everyone to smile. Then shooing them out onto the stage

That’s what it feels like to me, too. Before anything goes out, I feel a need to read it out loud and make a few adjustments, changing a line or a word here–sometimes rewriting an entire poem. Knowing that complete strangers are going to take a close look at my darlings makes me take a closer look at them first.

The exciting bit is that sometimes I find a slight-ish feeling poem that has made its way into the submission file, and this process results in an overhaul.

If you ever check my ancient blog (now called One Bad Poem), you’ll find poems I’ve culled from the send-out book over the years. But just as often as I set them aside, I revise them. So, this past week, a slight poem about a woman waking up from a dream into an unreal world became a Covid-19 / mask poem, much bigger in its reach. It doesn’t feel slight any longer, and it immediately went out (“to some lucky editor!” as Professor Bentley used to say).

Bethany Reid, The Resolution

Over here at Rogue Strands Towers, we’re always looking out for a decent excuse to sideline all our commitments and dive into poetry blogs. Of course, this feeling only grows as the pandemic rumbles on, so I was delighted to discover Bob Mee’s terrific poetry blog (see what I mean here) a few weeks ago.

I might be late to the party, as his blog’s been going for a fair while now, but the excellent news is that I’ve thus had loads of top-notch reading matter to get through. Bob Mee’s been involved in poetry for decades, and I’ve realised he even published one of my poems back in 2004 when he was running iota magazine (via Ragged Raven Press) with Janet Murch. His experience, knowledge and astute vision of the genre shine through in every post, whether reviewing, commenting on news, posting original work, etc, etc. All in all, his poetry blog’s a gem and I thoroughly recommend it. 

Matthew Stewart, Bob Mee’s poetry blog

I’ve been blogging on this site since 2008. (I have a limited reserve of consistency, and what I do have I use up on this blog and the gym.) Lately I’ve been kicking around the idea of putting together a book of essays from some of my posts, but there is a huge amount of material to comb through and I don’t know if it would be interesting to anyone. I don’t know if my yammering about nonsense and complaining about the shoddy state of retail is enough to warrant an entire book. Also, it seems a little grandiose, as though I think that what I have to say is so riveting that it all needs to go into book so that the whole world may have easy access to all of my amazing thoughts. (This attitude is probably why I never gained much traction as a writer.) Nonetheless, I’m still considering this book thing. There are certain Big Themes that have emerged over time that I could work with. Or I could just go full fluff and make the entire book about my exploits in Stardew Valley. Stranger things have sold.

Kristen McHenry, Gateway Peanut Can, Book Musings, Gym Bag Envy

The Emperor penguin broods a substitute rock because the rest of the flock need him to stay with them and play his part in keeping them all collectively warm. If those who lost eggs all left to return to the seas, too few would remain to allow all to survive. He uses the rock to mimic his fellow penguins. The life-support machines allow Amma-ji to mimic life while the poem’s narrator has to adjust to life without her.

“The Bone that Sang” is tender, wryly humoured and humane in the treatment of its subjects. Claire Booker writes lyrical poems with compassion, allowing readers to construct the stories they tell.

Emma Lee, “The Bone that Sang” Claire Booker (Indigo Dreams Publishing) – book review

i folded the sheet of newspaper into a hat
the way my mother did when I was a child
if i made two more folds
it would have become a boat
but i stop at the hat and i place it on my head
once upon a time i did this to please my mother
so she would know that i learned from her
years later i wore the hat to make my children laugh
now my mother is gone and so are the children
in the silence of the house i wear the foolish hat
a hat made of folded newspaper.
no one sees
no one laughs
from outside
i hear the sound of a blue jay.
it is a lonely sound

James Lee Jobe, faith rings like a hammer

I have some people who have helped me out these past few weeks, and one went so far as to put on a gorilla suit to cheer me up. You wouldn’t think a gorilla suit would cheer you up to such a degree, but I’m here to tell you it changed my life. Also many other just sweet nice things that friends have said and done. And all the listening! and checking in. Feeling very blessed in that regard.

Early Sunday morning photowalks have continued to save my life. Out there right about sunrise, and no one around really. I need to write an entire essay about that process and what I’m learning from it. So that’s hopeful. Thinking about what I want to write when I have time. […]

Poetry. I own all the previously published of Bronwen Wallace, but a collected with a few new early unpublished poems was too hard to resist. How is it that in a new format, nice cover, all the poetry seems new and fresh still? Maybe because Bronwen Wallace has so much depth. If you’ve not read her, well, please do.

Shawna Lemay, Breathing During a Pandemic

I will not write you an obituary, it has been
but five days. It has been a week. It has been

the whole

of your life. Where are you? Now, they say
you’re found, and now. A tribute

of dazzling, knitted scarves. Today,
the longest day. Richard,

we love you. Please get up.

rob mclennan, Two poems for RM Vaughan

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: blues, anxiety, uncertainty, cautious celebration, (in)auguries, and embodiment. Plus some insights into small publishing, the joys of book reviewing, the writing process, and as always the books that might or might or not be helping us get through it all.


Blue. To let blue in. Early morning blue and middle of the night blue. The hue of deep rivers and the hue of Steller’s jays. A color that flexes depending on what reflects it, evoking peace, spaciousness, as well as sorrow.

It is January of 2021 which is precisely eleven years after I started this website/ blog/ newsletter amalgam. I haven’t posted anything for the last year because my former server suddenly stopped supporting all of the intricate behind-the-scenes codes necessary for me to update securely. And the hassle and difficulty to move everything seemed so insurmountable in the middle of it all.

Lately, though, I’ve felt that snippets and sound-bytes on social media maybe aren’t enough. The maelstrom of pick-pick-pick on such platforms lends one play it safe so as not to arouse ire, self-righteous indignation, punishment. At the beginning of the year, I admitted on Facebook that I hadn’t posted the number of books that I read in 2020 because I did not want to deal with mean-spirited remarks. (For the record, 154 books, 106 of which were poetry collections).

Indigo. How to navigate loss while remembering how lucky one is? 

Cerulean. Aiming for the sucker-hole when the whole sky is grey but for that one opportunity.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Welcome back

This poem was written when my children were very young and my fear of losing them, all-consuming. Over the years, this fear has morphed into something I can live with. Sometimes it’s a mere worry, a claw of unease scratching between my shoulder blades. Other times, it becomes deep anguish, growing out of proportion like wildfire. Perhaps this is what it means to be a parent–along with the bone-melting joy of perpetuating life, you get to worry about all the things that could harm your children out there, in the carnivorous world.

Romana Iorga, Two Children

I like my doctor. She’s a good, diligent doctor and she is a nice and caring person. I understand that she was just thinking out loud as she worked through her clinical decision-making process. But words have impact, and perhaps saying “biopsy” right out of the gate wasn’t the most sensitive approach. I work around a lot of nurses and medical-type folk, and I am constantly astonished at the casual way they talk about medical maladies and blood-spurting and “impacted colons” and God knows what other disasters that befall the human body with upsetting regularity. (How on earth does one get an impacted colon? Do you eat a brick?) I’ve been working in hospitals for almost ten years now and I’ve never gotten used to it. It’s great for them, the “medical haves” who understand that things can be fixed and who have the clinical knowledge and know-how to heal the sick, but for the rest of us, the“medical have-nots,” that stuff freaks us the eff out. I don’t care if my theoretical, non-existent cancer was treatable or not. Just because my doctor knows it would have been treatable does not mean that this was not a potential catastrophe for me. I cannot get cancer. Cancer is for plucky housewives in Lifetime movies. I am too crabby and too negative to survive something like that. I do not and will not have a positive mindset and I would be punished for my pessimism by a swift death. Everyone understands that principle. It’s the law of karma.

At any rate, my imaging results were totally normal and everything is fine. It was just a weird anomaly, and now I regret even having said anything because I probably shaved a few years off my life with the cortisol spike this caused.

Kristen McHenry,The B-Word, Medical Have-Nots, Death by Pessimism

When I start my weekly Sunday run, at 9.33, it’s just starting to snow. I presume, though, that it will be nothing more than the lightest, icing-sugar dusting. It hasn’t snowed properly in this corner of north-east Surrey / south-west London for about six years, but down it comes. To run through it is a full-on, sensory, exhilarating experience.

          refilled as quickly as I make them footprints in the snow

I watch my footing and slow my pace: I’m sure that pitching up at A & E with a broken ankle would not endear me to the brave, fantastic folk at Kingston Hospital.

          snow settles
          on a small allotment:
          the bean canes aslant

Matthew Paul, Snow Biz

Another round-up of thoughts as I’m finding myself consistently and effectively overworked but wanting, needing to connect, to word here:

– That it’s been hard to hear others speak of hope this week.

– That it’s been hard to hear others sign off on emails with some reference to vaccines being “on their way!” As if they had a hand in the accomplishment. As if it brought loved ones back.

– That it’s been hard to feel what I cannot call hope but can neither call despair.

– That it’s been hard to hear others share that they feel relief for the first time in four years.

– That I’ve been feeling what I cannot call hope but can neither call defeat much longer than four years.

– That what I cannot call hope has me like the speaker of this poem by Rio Cortez, wary, certain while also uncertain of what’s there ahead.

José Angel Araguz, what I cannot call hope

My poem “Dolly, When I Met You There Was Peace” was included in the Dolly tribute issue of Limp Wrist that was released today (her 75th birthday)! Check out this whole amazing issue. I’m honored to be in such company!

As if this tribute issue weren’t enough, tonight we brought the pieces to life via Zoom at the Wild & Precious Life Reading Series. What a joyful way to celebrate a wonderful human! Thanks to Dustin and Julie for including me.

Katie Manning, Dolly Tribute

Eighteen poems [by Beau Beausoleil] written over the course of half a century document the tumultuous relationship between a timeless elemental and a poet of our time.

The Muse is essentially capricious, erratic in her comings and goings, supremely undependable.

She wears red and black and always makes a dramatic entrance. She is glamorous and shabby, magnificent and pathetic, needy and generous with her random gifts. She has bad habits and an unhealthy lifestyle.

She stays away for months and turns up when least expected. She makes unreasonable demands, and gives unreliable advice. She’s superstitious, manipulative and amoral. She never apologises nor ever explains.

Commitment is not in her vocabulary, though she is fluent in all the languages humans have ever spoken.

She is maiden and crone but she’s nobody’s wife, nobody’s mother. She is Sibyl and Siren. Don’t call her a goddess; she is contemptuous of those who worship her. But she’s happy to sit on a bar-stool or on a river-bank and have a conversation with one who comes close to understanding her and will buy her a whisky or find her a cigarette.

She has come in many different guises, as the Muse of Homer, Sappho, Dante, Shakespeare and countless others. We can’t do the work of poetry without her.

These poems are bruising and uplifting, tender and harsh, down-to-earth and otherworldly; they are full of honesty and subtle wit.

Ama Bolton, Meeting the Muse

There are only four more poets to post at my poetry site, And Other Poems, before I take a break from posting.  The site had gone to bed for 20 months but I opened it up to submissions in November, while waiting for the US election results.  It was a means of distracting myself from feeling dreadfully tense and was also a gesture of support to the poetry community I belong to at the start of another UK lockdown. Now, as the final poems selected from the open submissions window are posted, Joe Biden has been inaugurated into the White House.  So I know that time has moved on, even though time feels the same. I watched snippets of the ceremony on Wednesday and was moved to tears more than once.  Lady Gaga made me cry, actually, with her sincerity and beauty, as did Jennifer Lopez speaking a line from the Woody Guthrie song ‘This Land is Your Land’ in Spanish.  What a time in history we have been through and are still living through, some people more painfully and at greater cost than others. And a global pandemic on top of everything.  As I’ve told various people this year, and last year, it’s good to cry sometimes, even if you’re only crying because of feeling some kind of hesitant relief.

Josephine Corcoran, Falling Hyacinths and It’s Still January

Sometimes when describing Southwest Waterfront, the other person interrupts—Oh, you mean the Wharf?—and I wince, caught between waves of gentrification. The pandemic has complicated my feelings toward this multi-million dollar behemoth. Restaurants where I couldn’t afford to a sit-down meal converted their pantries to bodegas that sold chicken, carrots, onions, and greens. The fancy liquor store distributed locally distilled sanitizer. When I first read The Anthem’s sign, “We’ll Get Thru This,” my immediate thought was: Okay then. We will. I needed to have someone say it. I needed for someone to spell it out in foot-tall letters.

Still, the city’s ghosts pull no punches. This past April, when it didn’t feel safe to go out, I could step out on the balcony and see cherry trees blossoming along East Potomac Park. I took great comfort in that. Now Washington Channel is disappearing, floor by concrete floor. Fifty years after our own building went up, I understand the irony of complaining about new construction or rising rent. I can still glimpse the water, if I stand in the right spot. 

In just a few weeksMade to Explode will be published with W. W. Norton. The collection (my fourth!) has a whole section of prose poems that interrogate the strangeness of our monuments and memorials, our “living history, plus a sestina called “American Rome.”  There are lots of things that I am unsure of, but one thing I do know is that DC is the right place to be as this book enters the world.

Sandra Beasley, Who Gets to Be “From DC”?

The poet feels the jolt of recognition: this was where she grew up. But, having moved away, she uses a search engine for clues. What strikes her is the normality of guns: shops selling them and the image on the boy’s t-shirt, even as he is reunited with his mother after another school shooting. It asks, when guns are revered, how can such events be stopped? Another poem witnesses President Obama at a press conference at another shooting. The final poem is another parking lot, “The Shooting Gallery Central Academy of Excellence, Missouri, 2019”, where

“Mylar balloons rise into a white sky: pink hearts and blue, gold and silver stars. In the place of an artist’s signature in the lower right corner, a caption: Anjanique Wright, 15.”

The skyward rise is significant. The name and age labelling one is a reminder of the loss: not only the life of the child but the loss of the adult that child could have become, the children she might have borne.

Carrie Etter’s spare prose gives readers enough guide to build a sketch of what’s being described but also enough space to read and engage with the resulting poems. Their quiet tone and lack of hectoring enable the reader to ask questions and consider the juxtaposition of youth and violence, the potential of not-yet-adulthood with the abrupt end of that potential.

Emma Lee, “The Shooting Gallery” Carrie Etter (Verve Poetry Press) – book review

On BBC radio 4’s Front Row program on 22nd Jan, Lavinia Greenlaw (chair of the TS Eliot prize judges) had the difficult task of describing each of the 10 shortlisted books in a paragraph or so, justifying each without showing favour. The quote I’ll keep is “when language fails, people turn to poetry”.

She thought that there’s a new stylistic freedom afoot (I can believe that) and that poetry’s caught up with the present in a way that other art-forms haven’t yet (not so sure about that). The poets have “interrogated the constructs”.

I think she was careful to share out the praise without overusing any particular word. She used “extraordinary”, “incredible”, “astonishing”, and “remarkable” twice each; “powerful”, “amazing”, “startling” once.

Tim Love, TS Eliot prize shortlist

I’ve been messing around with a new tarot deck for the sheer calming pleasure of it; producing readings is contemplative and a little like solving a puzzle, trying to understand flows of possible meanings. I don’t claim they have purchase on facts or the future, although I believe that in the hands of an intuitive person they lead, at least, to useful introspection. Lots of poets use them, it turns out. Here‘s an interesting conversation about poetry and Tarot with Airea D. Matthews and Hoa Nguyen led by Trevor Ketner. Matthews calls tarot as “a tool for healing and revealing and critical thinking,” and Nguyen links poetry and tarot through the way they cultivate receptivity and invite otherness into our thinking. I can say personally that since I unboxed these cards, I’m writing poetry again.

I just pulled the three cards below while wondering about the inauguration. Interestingly, in the interview cited above, Nguyen pulled the six of swords just prior to the last inauguration–although below it’s reversed, which changes its significance. My interpretations are only based on brief study, but it suggests a state of transition, perhaps loss; the woman and child being poled away, perhaps against their will, remind me of the trauma of migration. The image also evokes painful baggage carried over from the Trump administration. (I wish the man terrible consequences for his crimes–even as I want the country to move on speedily to address the damage). The first card, the ace of cups, signifies auspicious beginnings and calls for generosity. The Queen of Wands, well, she’s a bold, charismatic, vital woman leader surrounded by symbols of courage and coming back to life. Sounds good to me.

Lesley Wheeler, Augurations

Last night, my son’s cat stretched himself out on my bedroom rug and showed me his oh-so-soft little belly and called to me in his oh-so-sweet little meow. I fell for the ploy. And when he gave me my arm back, I was bloody from elbow to wrist. I know it’s strange to say so, but this is exactly how the poems in All Day I Dream About Sirens by Domenica Martinello (2019, Coach House Books) have been working on me. Quite appropriate to their obsession (the Sirens of Greek mythology), these poems lure me in and smash me on the rocks.

Here’s a little background:

“I used to walk by a Starbucks on my way to work, and one day it just hit me how unsettling the implications of the siren logo are. Using the image of a feminized (and often sexualized) sea monster who lures sailors to their deaths with her enchanting song to sell coffee? The premise sounds like a devilish fable in and of itself, and I’ve always loved mythology so I couldn’t stop thinking about it. … the more I researched the Starbucks siren (herself born from the corporation’s literary allusion to Starbuck, the coffee-loving first mate in Moby Dick), the more all-encompassing the ancient and contemporary mythologies surrounding sirens and mermaids became. They felt both real and familiar to me and while also being these doors into meditations on gender, power, agency, capitalism, feminism, ancestry, sexuality, ubiquity.”
Martinello in an interview in The Adroit Journal

As both a consumer and a marketer (my day job) (gasp!) I feel responsible. We lure and are lured. As a feminist, I feel vindicated. But not entirely. It’s not that easy. I also feel implicated. When I find myself sexy, it’s sometimes in a way I’d like to reject.

Carolee Bennett, “the sun hangs in the sky like a logo”

My new book, Lost in the Greenwood, is out in the world. 

The poems circle around the unicorn tapestries of 500 years ago.  There’s much more than unicorns: the making of the tapestries, the world that made them, magic, nature, belief. 

It’s a book of poems about all of this, but I still think of these poems as “my unicorns.”  And these unicorns are not the modern, friendly kind. They are goatlike, feisty and as dangerous as the world in which those who imagined them lived.

Ellen Roberts Young, My Unicorns Have Escaped

A smart observer once said about our new president: “If you ask me who the luckiest person I know, it’s Joe Biden.  If you ask me who the unluckiest person I know, it’s Joe Biden.”  As a lover of paradox, a light went off when I first heard it.  It seems like a joke, a mocking play on reason, a Woody Allen wisecrack that one knows immediately is smart, and later profound. The way an oracle would speak and we wouldn’t understand it, though we’d count intuitively on its deep truth.

Biden’s biography fills the blanks of the paradox – his success as a debut politician was followed by the deaths of wife and daughter.  He would have died of a brain aneurysm, ignoring his health and stumping away on the campaign trail if he hadn’t been forced to drop out of a presidential race on charges of plagiarism.  His son, Beau, died young of a brain tumor.   After eight years as Vice-President, he’s fulfilled his ambition — in the most wrenching stretch — of becoming President.

We live in paradoxical times.  We’re lucky – the election went our way. We’re unlucky – part of our poltiical body tried to burn down the house.  I heard, as the inauguration neared, people were nervously organizing and ironing as women due before they’re about to have babies.  Nothing is guaranteed, and the successes of America the literal, the exceptional and idealist must open to the shadow life of paradox.  The biblical Isaac survived a binding, but his shadow death walks alongside him as a human. Experience of tragedy is just on the other side of exuberance, suffering clings as a double. If we’re lucky, as a country, we just might mature to hold a vision of reality where success is willed to a small extent only, and chance plays its hand. Between the two forces, a reminder to be human. It depends how we play our hand.

Jill Pearlman, What Augurs, Biden?

I remember a poem a woman shared in my poetry workshop, back in the mid-80s, about her newborn; she compared his body to that of a frog, listed all the ways in which his body was not the one she expected, making him not the baby she had dreamed of. The last line was, “your mother is trying to learn to love you.” Most of the poems from that workshop have left me now, but that one stays. After she shared hers, I wrote one about my body, the first time I admitted out loud that I thought of my body as an antagonist to the protagonist that is me.

My body has changed during the pandemic. Maybe it’s the pandemic. Maybe it’s my mid-50s. Maybe it’s living through four years of attempted autocratic takeover. Maybe it’s that my job has become toxic to me. Maybe it’s all of the above. My body feels like a foreign country these days, and I’m an expat who wants to go home. I’m trying to learn to love it.

On the morning of the biopsy, I think that maybe the metaphor I’ve just conjured is all wrong. Maybe my body isn’t a country, but a passport.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A reprieve (of sorts)

The pandemic has me unable to go to the pool. Covid scarred my lungs and damaged my heart, I don’t know if they will fully rehab or not but I’m sure trying – if there’s one thing I know, it’s impossible rehab.

I still want to swim the Strait of Gibraltar. The only question I have is whether I should instead swim the Strait of Messina, because swimming between Scylla (spine surgery) & Charybdis (covid-19) seems – well, obvious.

Hopefully, my endurance breathing will come home to me and I will be making decisions like that.

JJS, Lumbar-safe core strengthening

On the ground, you leave the nether
regions of that body ransacked

and marked with every conquest.
Where it severs from the cage
of your heart, the wound

is brilliant as pomegranate;
its innards go on for miles.

Luisa A. Igloria, Portrait of Demeter as Manananggal

I’ve recently seen several excellent articles and features on poetry in lockdown (and in the pandemic in general), advocating all sorts of useful approaches. These articles often focus on energising creativity, on organising time, on motivation, on finding stimuli that might help to generate a reconnection with art. This post is in no way intended to disparage or knock such features, because there’s no doubt they’re helping to bring people together and support in other in terrific ways.

However, there are other sections of the population who are probably beyond this sort of assistance right now, poets who don’t really have the chance to write in the pandemic and especially in lockdown, people whose route to writing has been blocked, such as stay-at-home parents who’ve lost the hours in the middle of the day when they carved out a bit of time for themselves. And then there’s a group who form the core of today’s post. I’m referring to poets that used to leave the house every day to commute and do a full-time job, but are now working from home.

It’s worth pointing out that I’m not among them: my working life, while tough, is also flexible. Nevertheless, I know of many friends who had an established writing routine that they’d built around the construct of the old working week. It made a clear-cut separation between their working time, family time and poetry time, their working space, family space and poetry space. That’s all now disappeared.

All of a sudden, these poets are finding it hugely tough to defend their writing. Spaces they once used for poetry are now taken up by work, while timetables are fast becoming blurred. Bosses, colleagues and customers, who are also working from home, are now demanding constant connectivity and immediate reactions to requests at times that were previously viewed as unreasonable and/or out of bounds. In other words, work is intruding on periods of the day and week that were sacrosanct prior to the pandemic. And all of the above, of course, is before we mention home-schooling!

Matthew Stewart, The Working Time Directive for Poets

The other book I read–quickly, sometimes skimming–at the “right time” was Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic, edited by Alice Quinn. This is a new book at the library, I was the first to check it out, and I didn’t want to keep it too long, which is one reason for the skimming, another being self-protection. I didn’t want to dwell too long in pandemic reflections, so if a poem was too long, too prosey-looking, or with too many virus-related words glaring up at me, or if it seemed too easy, bordering on the cliched or sentimental, I skipped it. Instead, I went for the shorter poems, with simple, direct language–“simple” being quite different from “easy” in my meaning here, with simple language so often the container for rich complexity. […]

There is the connection of our pandemic to the 1918 pandemic, and also to whatever contortions of grief and circumstances might be happening now. My heart broke to read the phenomenal “An American Nurse Foresees Her Death,” by Amit Majmudar, where, sadly, the title tells the story. With “Leaving Evanston,” by Deborah Garrison, I sympathized with the theatre students having to leave school before their spring showcase production, before their Commencement, and thus also with all the students who lives and expectations were disrupted this past spring…and likely will be in the spring to come. 

“How I wish feeling terrible felt useful, as it did when I was a teenager,” says Nicole Cooley in the poem “At CVS Wearing a Mask I Buy Plastic Eggs for My Daughter.” That resonated, and also reminded me of the narrator of Milkman, who is seventeen and eighteen when the main events happen; it’s hard to come of age when the adults don’t know how to show you, teach you, bring you along. And in “Poem for My Students,” by Sharon Olds, I encountered “chain-reading” (like chain smoking), something I do, reading one book right after another.

Kathleen Kirk, Reading-While-Walking

The sweat and discipline it takes to listen down deep into our shared potential when all around us is the white noise of proud boys for whom black lives don’t matter.

This continual struggle and change, the change and struggle, when dementia‘ed history keeps forgetting itself, then repeating the same questions, wondering if mercy and forgiveness will ever be a part of our lexicon.

Some gather weapons while others build mighty monuments from the wounds of those who’ve suffered in the name of uplift.

Some sing in the key of flowers while others sing in the key of bombs; it all depends upon how your hearts and voices have been trained.

Rich Ferguson, This Upstream Sojourn Along the River Sticks and Stones

An alarm pulling us from sleep, even to offer hope, exposes our most vulnerable nerves. These truths that fade in sleep. Or in dreams, are popped into relief as a kind of rehearsal for the inevitable. Waking is a reprieve sometimes. Awake, asleep – both are ambivalent states of being. There is nowhere to escape from ourselves.

Is there comfort?

Soothing is not healing. But doesn’t try to be. What if the largest part of our job is a kind of palliative care? What if all that there is, is the soothing of ruffled feathers? A warm hand on a cheek? An intention to reassure one another: you are not alone.

Breathe, and be here with me. Even over a telephone connection. Like a dream. Listen to the wind against the window. Be here with the wind.

Reaction is not action.

In the theater, an actor’s every, individual action is supposed to be an assertion of the character’s will. Actors strive to inhabit the character’s lack of self-awareness. Acting is the inverse process of living Socrates’s examined life. Don’t act: react.

Art is, by most definitions, artifice. It has the intention of recreating life. But for what purpose? Many diverse cultures have had a tradition of hiring mourners for funerals. Actors, reacting in an act of compassion. We cannot bring back the dead, but we can care for the living. The theatrical is no less real for being theatrical.

And leading an examined life, acting instead of reacting, is no less real for its directorial perspective.

Ren Powell, Knowing the What, Not the Why

regime change
finches versus cardinals
at the feeder

K. Brobeck [no title]

I loved the swearing in–tears again and again.  I loved Biden’s speech.  I realize that he trotted out familiar themes for inauguration day, but what a relief to have a president who understands why these themes of unity are important.  What a relief to have a president who wants to inspire us, not divide us.

I loved the music and the musicians.  I loved that Jennifer Lopez sang “This Land Is Your Land”–a Woody Guthrie song so perfect for the day!  I loved the poet, although I found her hand motions distracting.  Will her poem become my favorite?  No–but no inaugural poem so far will be my favorite.  I’m always just happy when a poet is invited to be part–it sends a message that is so important to me.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Notes on an Inauguration Day

There’s a boy
tucks a note into the pocket
of a coat he’s sending a stranger, saying
“Have a good winter. Please write back.”
A branch breaks, a lamp flickers,
the dog digs at a flash of something
paler than snow. A boy uncrinkles a note.
What happens next?

Marilyn McCabe, Some Poems

Every morning when I get up and open the blinds near my desk, I take a moment to peer into my terrarium. It’s changed since I planted it in the fall: some of the mosses have died back while others seem quite happy; the liverworts are thriving; there’s a green film of algae growing on the beige shelf fungus, and the fern has put out three adventurous fronds. A small gnat seems to live inside the glass, even though it could easily escape. I think the moisture level has been too great for the lichens, and not quite enough for the moss. There’s life and growth happening, as well as decay. I’m doing my best to take care of this little world for which I’m entirely responsible, drawing on a certain amount of knowledge and common sense, but the fact is…a lot of the time I’m guessing. Should I slide the top open a little more, or less? Should I mist the terrarium today, or wait? I make decisions based not only on what I see, but on the smell of the interior, the dampness on the pebbles, and the warmth and humidity I sense when I quickly put my forefinger inside, close to the soil.

This little experiment has filled me with renewed awe for the balance of life on our planet, an even greater awareness of its fragility, and the amazing harmony with which these small life forms colonize a tree stump in nature to form a garden far more beautiful and complex and self-sustaining than anything I could ever create.

I’m also learning something about myself: the strong but almost subconscious desire I had to create a little world, care for it properly, and see it thrive during this time when almost nothing in our real world — where I am the gnat, but can’t escape — seems controllable or even predictable.

I suppose we all want that. Nobody really likes chaos, or fear, or one change on top of another to which we have to adapt. We’d like our homes to be comfortable, secure places of refuge during this time, and instead they’ve sometimes felt like traps. We haven’t been able to pick up the glass globe in which we’re living and give ourselves or others what we need; instead we’ve sometimes felt like hapless inhabitants looking out as some large invisible hand shakes our world around, turns it upside down, and surrounds it with toxins or threatens it with violence.

Beth Adams, Hermit Diary 54. The Illusion of Controllable Worlds

night dew and moonlight
mingle and shine
friends don’t you know
that this world is filled
with blue flowers

James Lee Jobe, memories watch me

We have snow in the forecast in the next day or so, but I wanted to highlight these beautiful tulips in a brief moment of sunlight, and a few of my bird visitors, to cheer you up during this dark and dreary time of year. January can be a tough time, especially as we wait the interminable wait for the vaccine, as we wait for the days to get a little longer and warmer, we wait for things to start to bloom. […]

I also had the chance to Zoom with a few poet friends, which really raised my spirits – we talked about literary magazines and publishing opportunities, but also laughed a lot. Hey, laughter is good for the immune system. While I miss in person visits – and it’ll probably be a few more months, realistically, before we can see each other in person – it was nice to see friends virtually and catch up. There is something incredible bolstering about being with other writers, especially when you yourself are feeling discouraged about writing. You get to share stories about hilarious mishaps and crushing disappointments, as well as celebrate our little victories.  Just like the birds in my garden, we tend to find strength in numbers. I know no one wants more Zoom in their life, but for the right reason – a great lecture, a chance to see friends – it’s worth it.

My father got his first dose of vaccine in Ohio, but my mother still hasn’t, and here in Washington, it looks like it’ll be a while for chronically ill folks – longer than I was hoping, so in the meantime, I’ll try to get well from this stomach bug. Hoping you all stay safe and warm and get your vaccines soon!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, More January Birds and Blooms, A Week Under the Weather, and Zooming with Poet Friends

Late January
the snow is melting again
I peel some parsnips

Jim Young [no title]

Reading Lucretius, at long last, having found a translation I like, and I find him easy and comfortable. We’re on the same side of that gulf. We think that our personhoods are chance constellations, shapes made up by dreaming shepherds out of random stars. Some philosophical problems become easier, some become harder, when you think that. But they all become different.

Nothing can emerge from nothing, says Lucretius, and Nature does not render anything to naught.

It can be a terrifying thought. Lear quotes Lucretius. Nothing will come of nothing, he says, Speak again. To Shakespeare, a world without souls is a deadly transactional world of quid pro quos, where all love is conditional and everything is bought with something else. I don’t think he was right about that: but Shakespeare is not a man to dismiss lightly. Not at my time of life.

Dale Favier, The Nature of Things

When someone asks me am I working on something, I never really know what to say. I want to answer truthfully, for that is how I was brought up. Yes, I say, there is something. I don’t know what it is yet, but I think there is something, yes. What is it, they say. I can’t tell you, I say. Can’t or won’t? Both.

I’m much happier talking about writing that has happened, in the past, the artefact of it, not the action. This is also the case for talking about that most shadowy of concepts my ‘process’ or ‘practice’. I put those words in quotes partly because I have a long-standing terror of coming across all pretentious and partly because I only recognise these things as having occured, in the past tense. When I am actually writing the last thing I am aware of is what this practice entails. All I am prepared to give away is that it is messy, non-linear and never as easy as I want it to be.

But there is one thing that is common to all of my projects (practice), and that is the moment when you realise what it is you have been doing (or have foolishly embarked on) has the potential to become something other than what you first intended. In other words, it appears to you (to me) as having a form, a being, a living entity, with a life of its own. In Still Writing this is what Dani Shapiro says arrives ‘with the certainty of its own rightness’. Emerson called it ‘a gleam of light which flashes across [your] mind from within’. Joan Didion called it ‘a shimmer around the edges’.

Anthony Wilson, The gleam

What first brought you to publishing?

It was unintentional, and, at first, incidental. In the early 2000s, I worked as an administrator in the financial services industry, and spent much of my spare time photographing bits of southern England. The office was usually deserted after 5pm, and I started to misuse the equipment, making photocopies of the photographs and copies of the copies. The poet Andrew Hirst (aka photographer Karl Hurst) invited me to collaborative with him on a sequence of poems and images, which took shape over a couple of years. As we didn’t know who to approach, or how we might approach them, we decided to set up a small imprint through which we might publish the work. I had no formal experience of design, printing, editing, or publishing, but I’d resolved to try to do everything myself, so it was a gradual (and intermittently disastrous) process of trial and error. It was problematic, but there was some interest from audiences, and creative momentum, so it made sense to work with other poets on further publications. There was no plan. There is still no plan. […]

How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

Again, I’ve learned a great deal from the poets I’ve worked with. It’s a rare privilege to be invited to read and comment on sequences and collections in varying stages of development; after a few years of this, I found that I was reading almost everything much more closely, and much more critically. It’s also helped me to understand, and develop, the potential for arranging (or rearranging) work on the page and for performance. The multiple iterations of Matthew Clegg’s Edgelands (2008) were among the earliest outcomes of this methodology; we published a pamphlet edition, comprising 50 poems, which were further subdivided into 10 themed clusters of 5 poems, and a matchbox edition, in which the full cycle of 56 poems was reordered and concertinaed on a single continuous strip. The work was also ‘dispersed’ through single-poem cards and postcards, and continually rearranged by Clegg in readings and performances. The experience (and others like it) undoubtedly informed the development of my own work, including the sequence White Thorns (Gordian Projects, 2017).

rob mclennan, 12 or 20 (small press) questions with Brian Lewis on Longbarrow Press

In my thirty years of writing, I had only published four poetry book reviews until last year. So ending the year with sixteen reviews written and published took a major shift in attitude and practice. You could do this too. […]

If you start reviewing books, you will have free books for the rest of your life. Everybody will shove books at you. Editors would be happy to have your review their publications. Journals have a list of titles they want reviewed, and then there are your friends and friends of friends who have a new book out and would love to send you a copy for review. […]

It’s not like I haven’t had stacks of poetry around my house for the last thirty years. But, I didn’t always give myself the best chance to learn from them. Writing a book review makes me read poetry slowly, carefully, with a deep consideration of how each poem was made. Writing a book review makes me a better poet.

My Year of Writing Poetry Book Reviews – guest post by Deborah Bacharach (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

When I wrote my last entry, I lumped it in with all the other things I miss in pandemic world–surface things that lockdowns and safety protocols prevent, but the worst is perhaps the one thing I can’t really do that no one at all is stopping me from at all.  Namely, sitting in a house and a library full of books and not really having the concentration or bandwidth to read a single one.  And don’t think it’s for a lack of trying.  I’ve started many books, new ones and old faves I thought would snap me out of it,  Sometimes I get in a few pages, but I don’t last for long with so much in the world competing for my attention. This is true at home where I take a book to bed and wind up doomscrolling instead.  Or on my commute, where I used to get the bulk of my enjoyment reading done, which is now instead spent fretting over proximity of bodies and maskwearing, and whether of not that person just has allergies or is trying to kill us. 

At first I worried I’d lost interest and enjoyment in so much, and it’s true, even writing, which, thank god, still happens and is perhaps my only rudder. I think because I’m writing poems in the morning, in an unpolluted state of mind.  Blog entries are still possible (obviously.)  Even art, which at this point to be possible again. But reading for enjoyment..I’m not so sure.  Even my manuscript reading this fall and my proofing now is something more rote and mechanical than it ever was before.  It’s not the books fault surely, but some door that needs to be closed in my brain.  Or maybe a door that needs to be opened again. It’s strange to think I’ve barely opened a book (touched books, yes, many, chapbooks and library books and textbooks) but read so very little.  And in fact, have been hoarding things again at my desk in the library for some magical day it will come back. 

Kristy Bowen, the wolf at the door

At 2:55 they let me in. Inside the church building someone took my temperature and sanitized my hands. I saw volunteers in bright yellow vests, and in bright blue vests, and in EMT uniforms. Everyone seemed happy. I filled out paperwork, I answered questions, I sat down at a freshly-sanitized table and rolled up one sleeve. A friendly EMT said “a little pinprick in three, two, one.” I said a silent shehecheyanu.

I sat for fifteen minutes, dutifully, to make sure I didn’t have a bad reaction. I imagine the arm will ache, later, like it did when I got vaccinated for typhoid and yellow fever before my first trip to Ghana. I’m startled to realize that that was more than 20 years ago. I remember that we needed to find a doctor who specialized in travel medicine. I wonder what became of the fold-out yellow card I carried in my passport then.

So now I’m halfway vaccinated against covid-19. This isn’t going to change my behavior. We don’t know yet whether or not the vaccines protect against asymptomatic spread. And besides, I won’t begin developing immunity until two weeks after the second shot.  But it feels to me like one more reason to hope. Every person who gets vaccinated brings us one step closer. Someday we’ll embrace again.

Rachel Barenblat, First shot

“During the first lockdown of 2020, I found that words wouldn’t come, but paintings did.” Why do you think this was the case?

I have puzzled over this a few times – I was incredibly burned out in the first lockdown for reasons I can’t quite understand. After all, I wasn’t home-schooling children as so many of my peers were. In some ways my family & friends were in more regular touch with me than before lockdown, and my work pattern hadn’t changed radically… But I suppose, words are a part of my day job and when work and homelife are already fused to that extent, you want a more drastic change to keep a balance.

I started drawing towards the end of a relationship in the middle of the first lockdown. He was very dismissive of my doodles, which just made me want to spend more time doodling and less with him! As I healed from the breakup and dealt with various health issues, drawing, and then painting just took up a larger and larger part of my life.

I found painting akin to meditation, except I’ve never managed to get on with meditation. You start with a blank page and “wake up” in essence an hour or two later with something created out of a chaos of paint. You have a vague notion of how it got there, but also not really. Painting is just magic really.

I’ve had those moments with writing poetry – and that woosh is wonderful – but it’s not as systematic as with painting. So, in that period of time, I guess it made sense for paintings to take over during periods of stress.

Does the written word feed into your paintings?

It has started to. I have tentatively started playing with incorporating poems into paintings. This was the first experiment and the most recent one involves printing poems inside scallop shells. It’s an interesting process, in every case I have found myself editing the poem – finding what is essential to it. I don’t think my writing & my paintings are properly conjoined yet, but it’s a thread I am following casually as I go. […]

What are you currently working on (art or poetry)?

I’m trying to finish the manuscript of my third poetry collection, currently called Our Lady of Tires. It’s inspired by a village perched on a cliff near me that held off riot cops for six weeks in the early 80s to prevent the building of a nuclear station. They called going to the barricades going to mass, hence the title. I’ve been wanting to write about it for so long and it’s been slow going but I’m getting there!

Painting-wise, I am just keeping going without pressure, painting when and if the mood strikes.

Abegail Morley, Unlocking Creativity with Claire Trevien

Having a lot of enforced time off over the past surreal, nasty, stressful and boring year has been a mixed experience. The one really good thing about it, for me, has been the opportunity to immerse myself in the Russian language. I had been interested in doing this for a few years already, but when I was first furloughed in the spring I thought that I needed to start using my time. This has meant lessons, apps and discernible progress, though I think my teacher may be about to notice that I have been spending more time listening to Russian rock music and watching Russian films and TV than assiduously studying my grammar and vocabulary. I may say that it’s also been nice to discover that I am still capable of learning a new language in adulthood. I learned to speak French as a small child and Spanish as a young teenager, and I haven’t tried learning another language until now. 

One of the films I have recently enjoyed is Kharms (2017, directed by Ivan Bolotnikov). You can watch it on the Kino Klasska Foundation website here, and the link also includes some very nice programme notes: https://www.kinoklassikafoundation.org/project/kharms/

You can watch this for free for just a few days, until Tuesday 26 January at 12 noon GMT. I think it may only be available in the UK due to rights issues, but you can always check to see if it’s available in your territory.

Kharms is a film about the life of the surrealist Soviet-era poet Daniil Kharms. I was only vaguely aware of this poet, partly because he loved Sherlock Holmes and used to smoke a calabash pipe. ‘Kharms’ was a pen name and may be a reference to the Russian pronunciation of ‘Holmes’. This was noted in the film by the poet’s sartorial choices and one subtle joke. 

The film isn’t a strict biography; it celebrates the poet’s work, his life in the beautiful city of St Petersburg/Leningrad, his friendships and romances. Colour and black-and-white film, static and moving shots combine to create a wistful and quirky view of different eras and events. The tragedy of Kharms’ death by starvation during the siege of Leningrad is also part of the film. 

Clarissa Aykroyd, Kharms: a film about the Russian poet Daniil Kharms

Orange is the new
orange, a long, slow
sundown. Evening

is when everything
evens, when love
equals loss and

it seems worthwhile
to hope again
for another

morning, for
sunrise, orange
as a new orange.

Tom Montag, ORANGE IS THE NEW

Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week: moments of insight, lessons in forbearance, the good news found in new books, and much more.


Vials, frozen. Chest-freezers, full.
She’s not using her wheelchair today,
she’s walking. Slow, but walking. Good,
I answer, that will help. Too late, we give
consent. Ashambles, the whole ward now.

JJS, Protection

Mary is delighted to live in the moment of what she currently sees, despite knowing that the star is dying. A similar sentiment to the earlier poem “A Fire” where the narrator wants to stay in the process of losing a friend, not yet ready to acknowledge the loss. Mary’s voice seems childlike, but Mary is the also name of Jesus’ mother. God, naturally, is paternal. The reader is left not sure who Mary is or who she represents.

“You Do Not Have To Be Good” leaves an opaqueness at the heart of each poem, inviting readers to speculate and try to figure out the narrator’s relationship with others in the poems. That said, the poems do explore trauma effectively, particularly losses that come from being unable to fully reveal a self to a listener or someone who might be of help. They come from a place of affirmation and healing.

Emma Lee, “You Do Not Have to Be Good” Madeleine Barnes (Trio House Press) – book review

What a lucky chance, then, that Dr Zhivago is currently on iPlayer, and that after forty years of adventures I have 1) A TV, 2) A TV licence, 3) A range of techniques learnt in psychotherapy enabling me to side-step any feelings of guilt incurred by watching a film whilst it’s still light outside. We all need doctors more than ever these days, so maybe it was this that prompted me, finally, to satisfy my curiosity, watch the film. 

As it turns out, Dr Zhivago is more like early 2021 Shropshire than you’d think, filled as it is with snow, difficult decisions, furs, untimely deaths, beautiful vistas, confusion, heroes, quiet resolve, and drumbeats. And with trains (although ours are largely empty). We also lack a famous, but strangely irritating as the hours ticked by, theme tune.

Liz Lefroy, I Relax With Dr Zhivago

staying up most of the night working on poems 
oh lonely bones – can’t you rest 
why should i 
even now a strong wind carries 
some pine seeds to the earth 
even now the boats slide 
down the long sacramento river to the bay 
a new day begins and i am alive

James Lee Jobe, on the nose of the puppy

At about the same time, the house began hollowing out, it shed plaster – chunks of them. They were getting old – both her father and her house. Cracks bisected diagonally a wall in the storeroom; timber room, part of the study upstairs, wooden steps leading to the terrace were advised not to be used, and they became nesting places for scorpions. Saferoom remained safe with its iron vault which was for the most part empty but for my grandfather’s silver plate. The vault was weighed in rupees and sold as scrap when the house fell after my grandfather died. The money that came from selling the land and the strong wooden doors were shared between my mother and her siblings. My uncle’s share was put away in a bank and used for his medicines and stay as a life-long resident in a home. My mother used her share to re-lay the floor in our house, the cement floor was replaced with mosaic tiles. Houses are not meant to speak and care must be taken to keep them mute.

Uma Gowrishankar, laid to rest

For years my partner and I cared for elderly parents, one way and another, and I watched as their worlds shrank, physically, as did their curiosity. Slowly and inevitably they stopped taking any notice, stopped listening, stopped reading, being interested, talking. They were just busy dying. 

I’ve decided I want none of it. I can learn from Solzhenitsyn and his take on Epicureanism, especially in One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch. The idea that happiness lies, at least in part, in taking inventory of the day and identifying how it could have been much worse if X or Y had not happened or didn’t exist. And then focussing on X or Y. Things that made life better. An extra bowl of kasha. A bit of hacksaw blade. Building a wall. 

What did I do in 2020? I have a house, I have a garden, a field beyond the garden, a view beyond the field. I have a garage full of bits of timber and power tools. In February three days of incessant horizontal rain worked through the gable end and round the kitchen window and poured in. So when the rain stopped, I got out the gear and repointed all the damage, and replastered and painted inside. I enjoyed it. Most of it. 

The weather was nice this summer. I repainted a lot of the outside woodwork; when it rained I decorated indoors or resprayed picture frames.

On a whim, via the cobweb and Facebook I invited folk to send me poems inspired by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s wonderful, artful poem Swineherd. Scores of people sent me poems, and then Bob Horne of Calder Valley Poetry suggested that we make a book of them, which involved asking Kim Moore to select the 26 best ones in an alphabet of occupations we’d leave When all this is over.  

It’s only just struck me that probably every single submission involved a future of being left alone. You’d have thought that lockdown might have inspired dreams of crowds, of festivals of concerts. What most folk seemed to dream of was travelling alone, and almost invariably, in wild places or on the sea. Yes. My dreams too, I realise. But there you are. A book out.

I missed physical poetry courses, but I’ve been, virtually, to Garsdale Head with Kim Moore, to Sneaton Castle with the Poetry Business; I’ve joined in Joe Bell’s project To heal the mutilated world …and that was terrific…as well as Winston Plowes’ and Gaia Holmes’ Muse-li courses. And every Monday night, via Zoom, there was the Albert Poets’ Workshop. What else…oh yes. Tom Weir and I will be zoom-workshopping together, hopefully right through 2021. A lot of extra bowls of Kasha.

John Foggin, Busy being born

Let people be divided over and over and over again
till they fit in tiny spreadsheet cells.
Let me be gathered as a data point by a factory of
algorithms that build a bubble around me.
Wasn’t it the scriptures that said that the world is just
perception. (And that was before Facebook.)
What do you want to resist most, today?
What outrage fills your coffee cup this morning?

Rajani Radhakrishnan, RIP

It’s cold and dark, friends. Not my favorite time of year. (I am not happy with the weather unless it’s July.) When we say in Upstate NY that it’s cold for six months a year, we aren’t exaggerating; it may even be seven. And I wonder each year how I’ll get through it. I’ve been trying (recently) to get outside for a walk every day, but I’m not really happy about it. I’ve been listening to books on Audible as a way to tempt myself and get out the door. So far, I’ve listened in full to Convenience Store Woman, a novel by Sayaka Murata, and started The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, a true story written by Michael Finkel.

What intrigues me most in each is that the central figures make a conscious choice about who they’re going to be — and then they play it out turn after turn. They double down, repeatedly, and in doing so, forego much of what the rest of us call “normal” parts of life. And though the natural assumption may be that they’re renegades of some kind, both rely heavily on following strict — almost clichéd — rules of specific “character” types: store clerk (Keiko Furukura) and hermit (Christopher Knight).

Encountering these stories back-to-back has me thinking about who makes the rules and why we follow them and how expectations (our own and those from others) have so much power. If you can believe this story in The Onion (lol) — “‘I Can’t Do This Anymore,’ Think 320 Million Americans Quietly Going About Their Day” — we even abide by the self-imposed rules of inertia and accept, not just the need to work, but most painfully, its drudgery. The truth hurts.

It makes me wish to be the heroic figure in a story like Furukura’s or Knight’s. Admittedly, they’re tragic figures, as well, but allow me to indulge in oversimplifying a bit; let me romanticize breaking free of Undesirable Things without having to trade them for Different Things That Are Also Undesirable. Who would I become if I could take on any type/character? What kind of world would that create for myself?

Carolee Bennett, on showing up and setting poetry goals

Late on a pale afternoon in January,
sitting, unmoving, the puff-chested blackbird.
She has been there for a while now,
just under the reflection of my reading lamp;
just the odd stretch of a wing and the thought
of preening the day down.
You cannot see it from there; don’t move!
It will scare her. We are sharing this
moment? Call it what you will.
Soon, too soon, she will be gone. Around, yes,
but busy nesting. Just like the pecking dunnock,
the darty robin, the acrobat tits.
But now, twelve lines written, and she is still there.
The pallor of the day ivory poached; a north breeze
stirring; tea and scones have jammed the day.
She is still there, a sparrow riding shotgun.
Sonny Rollins on the radio.
Whoops!
She’s gone now.
She’s gone.

Jim Young, The sitting

I’ve been trying to keep my mind off troubling FBI reports of white nationalist terrorist threats leading up the the inauguration, and focusing on the cheerful fact that the youngest poet ever chosen will be reading at the inauguration, and soon Trump won’t be able to hurt us anymore. One hopes. I’ve been noticing strangely unseasonable things, like the first bloom on my camellia, long before it should be blooming. We’ve been having wet, cold winter, so it’s very odd but I will take an out-of-season flower where I can.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, First Blooms, New Poems in Gargoyle, Hoping for Better Days Ahead

Somewhere
an old silence
waits for me

to enter
the emptiness.
It is like

swimming naked–
the knowledge
you are

who you are
when you walk in-
to cold water.

It is not like
light piercing
a dark room.

Tom Montag, SOMEWHERE

The morning her veterinarian woke in her bed he fed her spaghetti smashed the noodles into her mouth lit a candy cigarette after sauce on her white coverlet the vinegar-bleached sheets. There wasn’t a fight. She simply wished him empty of music. He was not allowed to tell her how his feet burned how bright steam rose from the dog’s bowl. He held her head under water and sang Mahler Saint John has let his little lamb go to the butcher Herod. They watched TV at night drowning. It felt like progress. Life was good under the ginger bell the animal hospital’s glowing blue cross.

Rebecca Loudon, And angels bake the bread

There it is, sketched in red-
ochre, head lifted and watching.
Broad strokes of its rounded back
and short legs, found on a karst
wall in Leang Tedongnge. Now
it’s the oldest-known animal
cave painting. But why,
as I read about it, does my brain
think party pig? Perhaps it reminds
me of Andy Warhol’s Fiesta Pig:
ballet-slipper-pink, nosing around
in the excess of some post-bacchanalian
frenzy. Migration in packs, in the wild,
through curtains of berries and matted
roots. They’re mostly feral, but sometimes
give in.

Luisa A. Igloria, Brief History of the Sulawesi Warty Pig

I’ve always been a little fascinated by conspiracy theories, by the stories that take shape to impose order on the world and make it feel like net of carefully placed happenings and facts and not a chaotic swirling mass of randomness and chance  Alien autopsies, for example. Explanations for strange phenomena.  Untimely deaths and crazy historical coincidences.  They are fun to look at, less because I am seeking a pattern of order or cause/effect, but more that they are a way of understanding things, or at least the obsessions behind them.  A couple semesters ago, our Strange Fevers  Mass Delusions, Illusions, and Obsessions programming delved into this a little bit. 

I often think about how they go wrong.  Obviously the events of this past Weds. are a perfect example.  In my own work, the necessary violence series and the girls who tried to stab their friend based on Slenderman lore.  I think about these girls a lot when I think about politics. The mental illness in one girl who influenced another, and it’s not hard to make the jump to political conspiracies and the inevitable bad outcomes.  These are everywhere and inscribed in our history long before the current ones–McCarthyism, the Satanic Panic of the 80’s. All usually fueled by someone’s agenda–the goverments, men who wanted working women to stay home and keep an eye on their kids. .  A lot of the mythmaking of these was believable..communist infiltrations of Hollywood and the media, missing housepets,  the rise of latch key kids getting up to god knows what in the off hours. Most not things one had to stretch their imagination too far into the absurd to get to, which made things all the more believable.

At some point, contemporary conspiracies got crazier.  Even alien abduction lore is easier to believe than a lot of what is floating out there.

Kristy Bowen, absurdities and atrocities

One does not realize, until one does it, how heavy the burden of all those opinions is, how anxiously they must be defended, how vulnerable they make you to every passing stranger. I practice not having opinions about other drivers, when I’m on the freeway. What do I know of what they are rushing toward, and what they are fending off? “No one made me a traffic cop,” I murmur. Thank God. I am so grateful that no one made me a traffic cop. And I am correspondingly grateful for the people who undertake that burden, leaving me to float, irresponsible and free, in the flow of traffic. If someone’s driving strikes me as aggressive or erratic, I simply drop back in the current till I’m well away from them. 

Dale Favier, Opinions: Throwing Rocks: Being a Traffic Cop

In November I took a Hugo House class on “writing angry poems,” taught by the poet Sharon Bryan. One of my discoveries was that it is freaking hard for me to express anger. Feel it, yes; turn it loose in poem: no. So I struggled. “This is like a poem about repressing anger,” was one of the comments I received. Another: “This poem doesn’t seem to be about anger, but maybe mild annoyance.”

One of Bryan’s recommendations was to read Deaf Republic: Poems, by Ilya Kamnisky. I dutifully ordered a copy and have been avoiding it ever since. This week, I read it. It could not have been more timely for me. In the 1960s people used to say, “the personal is political.” Over the last ten days, we have seen how true that still is.

Deaf Republic is profoundly personal. It struck me as being less a collection of poems than one poem, or a play-in-verse perhaps. Tracy K. Smith writes that what she finds here is “conscience, terror, silence, and rage made to coexist alongside moments of tenderness, piercing beauty, and emphatic lyricism.” Kaminsky’s story opens when a young, deaf boy is shot down by soldiers in an occupied town, and then it winds through the perspectives of other characters in the town, which is struck deaf by the violence, introducing a couple expecting a child, then Momma Galya, the puppeteer who rescues their infant. But the poems transcend their place of “otherness.” As Smith, who has served as the United States Poet Laureate, continues in her cover blurb: “It hurts to read these poems. It hurts to read them and find the world I belong to stricken by a contagion of silence.”

Bethany Reid, Writing the Political Poem

Uncertainty has a daughter whose body is smoke and mirrors. Her eyes, numb and numberless. Her mouth, covered by a mask.

In her more sober moments, she tells me, the heart is no place for a graveyard. Barbed wire, no place for a bed.

She smells like wilted flowers and the whiskey of cold contrition.

I whisper in her ear, let us hope this winter doesn’t last forever.

Rich Ferguson, The Graveyard Bed Where the Heart Says I Love You

Apathy is a kind of cruelness, and denial is a tricky thing. More and more, I look back at the pre-2016 me and feel shame and disgust at all I didn’t see and know that I now do. The information about who and what we are was there all along. I saw much of it a long time ago and turned away from it and then forgot it. I told myself that things were not really as bad as some said. I cautioned myself against over-reacting. I know that denial is a protective mechanism we employ without awareness to protect ourselves from truth we aren’t yet equipped to manage, and in my good moments I can feel empathy for my pre-2016 self. I suppose she was doing the best she could with what she had. In my bad moments, I want to shake her and yell at her to wake the fuck up. I want to hide her in a closet and pretend she was never me.

Rita Ott Ramstad, On vertigo, normalcy, and light: revisiting Sarah Kendzior

when we turn against the sea
how many deserts appear

when the poem sheds its final skin
why does one still have to wait for dawn

for how many lives after i am gone
will my heart come searching for me

Grant Hackett [no title]

Back in April 2020, in the first lockdown, my collection, The Unmapped Woman was launched by Nine Arches Press on Zoom with great support from the fab poets Katie Griffith and Robert Peake. I didn’t know at the time that Jane Commane was in conversation with Helen Dewberry about a variety of film poems including one for a poem of mine. Helen is an Associate member of the Royal Photographic Society and has worked with a variety of poets on film poems which have screened at festivals. You can find a number of them at Elephant’s Footprint Film Verse. I have my favourites, but dip in and see what appeals to you.

It was later in the year that Helen and I had a chat on Zoom to discuss which poem had all those visual qualities just crying out to be shown in another medium. It was interesting that both Helen and Jane had selected Neap Tide as one of their favourites and it is one, which when Helen ask me questions about, I realised, as I unpicked the poem line by line, I had a very clear image of place and people without having made that conscious decision when writing it. I am hoping to catch up with Helen later for an interview, so will keep details of the process for that post, but working with her on this collaboration renewed my interest in my work during what had felt like a very fallow furlough.

Abegail Morely, Creativity in Lockdown – A Film Poem by Helen Dewberry

They’re dwindling,
those who might turn up to mourn,
and some of those are just in tow.
Some went before –
the ones you mourned the most
the ones that would have
mourned you most –
to be expected.

Some you lose through death,
some fade away,
some are blocked,
some block you,
some you knew well,
some just slightly,
the rest you didn’t know at all –
to be expected.

Sue Ibrahim, Expectations

I must confess, though, this interests me intellectually, but it’s the other book I happened to grab in quick Covid-breathing-down-my-neck visit to the library that grabs my poetry heart. It too takes its cues from something concrete, in this case a video clip and some photographs. Ross Gay seems to be attaining incadescence in front of my very eyes with each new book. Be Holding is magnificent, as it achingly slowly tells of the fleet seconds details of an improbable dunk, a “baseline scoop,” by Dr. J during a 1980 NBA finals game, interspersed with curling and twining tendrils of sidebars and meditations on holding, on flying and falling, on love. This is poetry that truly engages me as a reader, a writer, and as a human bean.

This is news of the finest kind. Oh, boy.

Marilyn McCabe, I heard the news today; or, On Poetry Making Use of Non-poetic Texts

The latest from American poet and translator Joshua Beckman is Animal Days (Seattle WA/New York NY: Wave Books, 2021). As the back cover offers: “Written from inside of illness and gathered over several years, these fragments or moments invite readers to contemplate how the compromised body transforms our conceptions of selfhood and our sense of the world.” Animal Days is composed via six extended poem sequences, each threading together an accumulation of short fragments: “IT SEEMED TOO MUCH,” “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “THE GLACIAL TRIP,” “DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE,” “AUGUST” and “ANIMAL DAYS.” Beckman writes from the inside of an awareness of the frailty of the human body, even from the first page of the opening poem: “the pursing / and bursting / of cells / blood / in the skin / in the face / blood exploding / inside us / like that [.]” There is such a slowness etched into the lines and fragments of these accumulations, extended stretches of thought that sit perfectly against each other. There is such a slowness etched into every word—a slowness that coheres and allows for simultaneous pause and quick thought—and one that is remarkably physical. Honestly, for anyone who is attracted to slow, thoughtful work with remarkable speed—one could think, also, of Cameron Anstee, Michael e. Casteels, Jack Davis and the late Nelson Ball—Beckman’s dual essay collections The Lives of the Poems and Three Talks (Wave Books, 2018) are perhaps the finest collections of critical prose I’ve read (so much so that I’ve been completely unable to articulate how good they are).

There are moments when his sketched-out fragments give an epistolary sense, as though he is writing from his kitchen table, perhaps, out to someone (whether generally or specifically) in the wider world: “reading it / even as I / got reading / it even as / I write you / this letter” (“DRAWING X’S ON THE TABLE”). Throughout the six threads of Animal Days, Beckman’s lines adhere to a particular minimalism, but one that furthers the line of thought as far as might be possible, stretching out across the lyric. “a sheet / of it / held,” he writes, as part of “LITTLE PRICKLY COMING OF STORM,” “constellation-like / in the back yard / responding / to wind // clothespins for / fingers // houses / blown down the road / through the town // like a toy [.]”

rob mclennan, Joshua Beckman, Animal Days

There was a real nip in the air on Wednesday afternoon which created frost ferns on the Velux windows in our kitchen. I stood underneath and took some photos, and although it wasn’t dark outside and there was plenty of light, the flash kept going off, so I assumed all I’d get was a blur. In fact, I got these finely beaded images, frost ferns pearled with light from the flash, almost like underwater photos of coral. It was the sub-aqua atmosphere that gave me the word ‘surfacing’, and originally I had ‘frost ferns’ in the poem, but that seemed too obvious, so I was left with what appears above.

Julie Mellor, night frost

winter night
— from out of our wreath
a wren

Bill Waters, Winter night

Yesterday’s later part of the onground intensive revolved around silence, and the leader of the last session offered us an extensive guided meditation.  I tried so hard to follow the directions.  I sat in my desk chair and closed my eyes.  I visualized energy moving through my body.  After what felt like an endless journey from head to toe, we got to a space where God was waiting for us.  We visualized the space.  We visualized God.  Then the leader said, “God has a special word or phrase for you. Let’s sit in silence and wait for that word or phrase to emerge.”

It didn’t take long for my word to emerge:  patient.  Not patience, but patient.  I thought about the difference between the two.  I sat resisting the urge to open my eyes and flip through other online sites.  I was not concentrating on God or my word.

I opened my eyes and reached for my sketchbook.  I decided to write the word across the page, and then I wrote it on other parts of the page in different ways (all capital letters, block print, cursive).  I turned the page around.  I wrote patience instead of patient, but I turned that word back to patient.  I revolved my sketchbook again.

Then I wrote Pain. I only realized what I wrote when I paused to think, how do I spell patient again? Then I looked down and realized that I wasn’t just a letter or two off. I looked at the word.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Unsettling Mystical Experiences and a Special Word from God

This year seems to be taking its toll on me more than all of last year did. I don’t know why, although I suspect I could hazard a few guesses. All of them would be different and all of them would likely be correct (I suspect insider trading).

I am certainly losing track of the days as I could have sworn today was the TS Eliot prizegiving. It isn’t – I think it’s next week. I guess as long as the poets, the judges, and Ian McMillan all know, then the rest is irrelevant. That said, I do enjoy following along on Twitter, although one year I’d like to actually go. Maybe next year.

I think I’d got my wires all crossed about dates as I finished J.O. Morgan’s ‘A Martian’s Regress‘ this week. It’s the only one of the books on the list for this year that I’ve read. I will eventually remedy this, and while I loved it I can’t say whether I want it to win or not because I have nothing to balance it against. I’ve read poems by most of the authors on the list and enjoyed them, so come join me on the fence; it’s comfy.

Mat Riches, Gravy Reservoir

Many thanks to They Call Us for publishing my poem “All Words for a Woman” in their most recent issue. I love the aesthetic and artwork in this feminist zine! Make sure to check out the entire zine while you listen to the corresponding curated playlist.

They Call Us is a new  online, feminist literary magazine publishing a themed issue every three months. Past themes include They Call Us Flawed and They Call Us Theirs. They seek “to showcase the talents of writers, designers, and artists. However, our goal first and foremost is to tell the stories of people who feel like they often don’t have a voice.”

You can read more about what they are up to in my interview with them from last year here.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “All Words for a Woman” published by They Call Us “Bossy” zine + list of Feminist Lit Mags

First things first, I do understand and respect that prompts and exercises help certain poets unblock ideas at specific difficult points in their writing lives.

However, as a poet, I personally find that my own poetry is best served when I get on with my daily business, making sure I read, read, read in the gaps between the stuff I’m doing, thus allowing poems to ripen in my mind before putting pen to paper. As mentioned previously on Rogue Strands, sometimes it’s better to wait rather than forcing work to come out.

As a reader, meanwhile, I get the impression that certain collections seem to use prompts and exercises as a systematic method of writing. I’m afraid I have to admit these are books I don’t tend to enjoy because I find it extremely hard to connect with the poems in question…

Matthew Stewart, Prompts and exercises

Richard Nicholson (aka the singer-songwriter Billy Penn’s Brother) burst into my life towards the end of the 80’s when he invited the band I was in to play at Harry, a tiny festival of faith, arts and politics in Harrogate (get it?), North Yorkshire. Way ahead of its time, and therefore tiny and fleeting, Harry attracted a loving mixture of what Theodore Roethke called the ‘innocent, hapless, [and] forsaken’: misfits, visionaries, burnt-out charismatics, and house church and acid house refugees. Such was the size of the crowd, you felt by the time you went home that you had encountered everyone present: road crew, singers, and punters alike. It was heady and intoxicating and beautiful. In the sense that I met people there who seemed to think, question, doubt, pray and haphazardly pretend they were artists while doing other things (and that this was fine, normal, even), I do think it changed my life.

Around the same time, Richard became a mainstay of a writers’ and artists’ group I used to host in my kitchen. Without the resources of the internet we now take for granted, it was a word of mouth affair, friends of friends of dubious friends pitching up with their entry fee of Bulgarian red, to read, pontificate or argue about their latest masterwork. Naturally Richard came and held forth with the best of them, making lugubrious wisecracks in his deep Geordie voice while sipping Oolong tea through his pipe smoke. One week he would bring a painting, the next a new song, another a manifesto in reply to Marshall McLuhan.

Then, one week, he brought a little sequence of poems which stunned me with their brevity, mordant humour and precision. I think there were no more than half a dozen of them, but each seemed to carry the freight of a lifetime’s reading, study, reflection and rage. I told him at the time I thought they were as good as Ivor Cutler, one of our shared heroes. I still think this today. I saw him perform the poems once, in the basement of Holy Joe’s, the Harry crew’s London base, below Brixton’s Acre Lane. He declaimed them without introduction sitting upright in bed wearing striped pyjamas and a Scrooge nightcap. The effect was charming and unsettling in equal measure.

Anthony Wilson, Intense

The lake has frozen.
Ice fishermen scatter,
tiny dark figures

making their way
across its flat
white expanse.

My heart pounds
gunfire
in my chest.

If the ice breaks
there is no one
to call.

Rachel Barenblat, Watching armed insurrection from afar

I haven’t been sleeping well. Though I suspect few of us are these days. This weekend several of the local lakes were declared to be “safe”, then on Sunday two men fell through the ice of two different lakes. On the other side of the country, an environmental activist fell through and died.

I know that “liminal” has become one of those overused words, but the truth is these liminal spaces are dangerous. The in-betweens and the uncertainties and this continual sense of being on the edge.

Flight, freeze, fight, faint or f#%&. But before that, the suspense, the suspension of our own unconscious flow. Heightened awareness is exhausting.

Even with the yaktrax this morning, the asphalt is dangerous. There’s a light dusting of snow over the ice. The small plow pushes snow into the street and spreads sand on the sidewalk. I want to run this morning, but don’t dare. I’m too unstable, too tired. I won’t be able to catch myself and find my balance if I slip.

A time-out would be nice. Is nice, when I allow myself this. Last week my youngest son visited and told me there is another possibility to the “Flight, freeze…” scenario: submit. Startled and frighten dogs sometimes do it. It’s not the same as playing dead. There’s no deception involved. It’s a matter of softening.

We are so sure that surrender is a bad thing. I’ve been thinking that there is a reason so many religions demand it. We need a time-out from our own will. A reality-check in the midst of all the prophets. Surrender to, acknowledge this moment and its omnipotence. And the next.

Ren Powell, Playground with Dreamcatcher

Finally, I identified with the problems of writing itself: “You write a thing down because you’re hoping to get a hold on it. You write about experiences partly to understand what they mean…. But there’s always the danger of the opposite happening. Losing the memory of the experience to the memory of writing about it.” [Sigrid] Nunez makes that connection to people who realize some of their memories arise not so much from events themselves but from photographs of these events.

I know I sometimes lose track of what really happened if I make a poem of my own experience, or base a story on observed life and behaviors. I often write to better understand something or someone, to expand my compassion for someone who hurt me or behaved badly or inexplicably. What would make someone do that? I ask, and then try to answer that question in a story that loves the character who did it, in part by exploring the character’s motivation, as I would as an actor…  By the time the story is finished, my compassion is expanded, yes, but my imagination has already taken over, and my fiction-writing self has mixed and matched details as needed, and who knows what the “facts” were on the way to the new truth? That’s why it’s fiction.

Kathleen Kirk, Still the Right Book at the Right Time

This year, I intend to make more collages and poem collages to add to those I made in 2020, and previously, which I’ve shown you in several posts, such as Collage Poems (from 2017); Once Upon a Lockdown (sequence of nine prose poems/collages from 2020); Collages of Exasperation (also from 2020).  In my collage work, I’m inspired by poet, writer, artist, and teacher Sophie Herxheimer.

I’m mentioning my collage project now as a means of recording my intention to do the work, and in an attempt to avoid procrastination. I would love to set myself a target of at least two pieces a month but I am going to say at least one piece a month, to be less demanding on myself.  Having said that, I have in January 2021 made two pieces so far.  Hurray!

For my first 2021 piece, I’ve used a cut-up calendar from last year, headlines from The Guardian newspaper (which I tend to buy on a Saturday) and flowers and foliage from my garden.  I’ve made another piece in tandem, without any foliage, so that I can retain this month’s collage.  I plan on doing this with every piece I make from now on (as much as possible).  Last year, I used a lot of natural materials (flowers and foliage) in my collages which meant that I couldn’t physically save them – I only photographed them.  I set up a separate Instagram account for my visual pieces last year – @andothermakings.  I recycled and composted all unsaved materials, by the way!

Josephine Corcoran, Collages for 2021

Traveling to an alternate universe of thinking and writing has been helpful lately given an attempted coup, and racist police response, AND the apocalyptic daily death count and a catastrophically lame vaccine rollout. I don’t manage the leap into literary concentration every day, but that’s actually what my next book is about: what helps us slip into the reading trance, where poetry is concerned, and what that border-crossing does for a reader.

I’m polishing and updating my forthcoming essay collection, to be called Poetry’s Possible Worlds or Taking Poetry Personally depending on what my editor says. It requires reading and rereading widely and wildly to make sure my thinking and research are up-to-date: Carolyn Dinshaw’s exhilarating How Soon Is Now, Nicole Seymour’s Bad Environmentalism, and essays on narrative theory, deep attention, presentism, poetry of witness, and much more. New to me is Brian Attebery’s Stories About Stories, of interest partly because I’m thinking about story in poetry but also because of my investment in speculative fiction. Attebery argues that the cultural importance of literary fantasy as a genre lies in how it “redefine[s] the relationship between contemporary readers and mythic texts.” I’m not wholly satisfied with that as a definition, yet the book is useful and interesting. He describes genre, for instance, as “fuzzy sets”: “the question of what genre a particular text belongs to will never be resolved, nor need it be. The interesting question about any given story is not whether it is fantasy or science fiction or realistic novel, but rather what happens when we read it as one of those things.”

In the larger sense, I write in many genres–poetry, fiction, criticism, reviews, literary nonfiction–but I also think of myself as operating in the borderlands between smaller categories. My poetry has appeared and been reviewed in both “mainstream” and sf venues; it’s been called lyric, political, formalist, fabulist, and more, to which I say, cool. My forthcoming hybrid essay collection (blending criticism, theory, and personal narrative) argues that most poetry is not just fiction but fantasy. It’s fiction because framing it on a page as literary art sets it apart from truth and lies; it’s fantasy because, notwithstanding, it’s obsessed with what’s true. I define fantasy in a way that’s tangential to Attebery’s idea; I think of it as fiction exploring questions of what’s real, what matters.

Lesley Wheeler, Multiple worlds in poetry, fiction, and politics

I’m not gonna sugar coat it. We are in the rubble.

This blog has more or less been built around the idea that we are all required to make something beautiful. But it’s been a long time since I’ve quoted the passage from which the line is taken. Here it is:

“The barrenness of the poetic task: as if every day we look out at a courtyard of rubble and from this are required to make something beautiful. ”

— Theodore Roethke from Straw for the Fire

Well, we have no shortage of rubble at present. No shortage of barrenness, if that’s even a possibility.

I’ve read a lot of advice about how to continue to get through this time and probably I’ve thrown out some of my own. But honestly whenever I read anything in the realm of “thou shalt” my brain just turns off. The best tips seem to come from previous times, for me, anyway. Fernando Pessoa, for example, said this in 1931: “Don’t squander yourself, giving what you don’t have.” And, “Enjoy being the little you are. The hovel you’re given is a better shelter than the palace you’re owed.”

Shawna Lemay, Don’t Squander

How does the writer’s brain work? It is a bewilderment to me, why it must be this particular word, or that particular image. How is it that now, in this time of several national and global crises, I emerge from sleep holding to this juxtaposition: 

    i wake 

    my face is wet 

        the blue heron stands 

        one foot 

        on a slate roof 

Sharon Brogan, questions