Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 41

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.

Blogging turned 25 years old this week, using tech blogger Dave Winer’s first post as a starting point. And it’s been 20 years since Blogger and LiveJournal opened up blogging to the less-geeky masses in 1999. As John Naughton observes in The Guardian, “The furore over social media and its impact on democracy has obscured the fact that the blogosphere not only continues to exist, but also to fulfill many of the functions of a functioning public sphere.”

Via Negativa is coming up on its 16th birthday next month, and it occurs to me that its evolution has mirrored a big shift in blogging practice generally: away from miscellany toward more specialized content—in this case, poetry. Thanks to social media giving us ample spaces to share our more throw-away observations, as well as the sheer ease of starting new blogs where we can hive off some of our other specialized interests (e.g. my herbal brewing blog), blogging communities united by topic such as the Poetry Blogging Network can flourish.

That said, I do love it when poetry bloggers write more widely about their lives, because that’s where the poetry comes from. For many poets, there’s no such thing as a throw-away observation.

At any rate, Happy Birthday to blogging! In a world that feels increasingly fractious and fractured, let’s resolve to keep building and defending this public sphere.


On Thursday, I met a man with a grammatical error in his tattoo. This was rather sad. It was a quote from a Neil Young song.

On Friday morning, I found myself humming ‘Hi-Lili Hi-Lo’ and on Friday night I was watching a TV show in which the song was the background music.

Most days I was overwhelmed. There was so much minutia to keep track of, many staff concerns, interviews, decisions to make. I was supposed to be writing the last bits of my book before a deadline but I was working long days, no lunch, no exercise. 

On Saturday, I listened to Phoebe Snow’s ‘Poetry Man.’ My son arrived for a week. He admired my robe. I told him his sister talked me into it. He read Oliver Twist on the couch. 

On Sunday, I bought a book that consists of pictures of hands. Some were pointing or gesturing or straightening up, but mostly they were holding instruments.

Sarah J. Sloat, The week that was

There are days when it feels like we can drag a fine-tooth comb through our troubles but still can’t remove all the tangles. When the panic closet in our heart is closed for repairs. Or everybody’s way too tense in the present tense, taking far too many swigs off the haterade. Then there are days when hope is in high resolution, packing a solution for every problem under the sun. Or how, when this living war gets to be too much, we’re guided back down into the foxhole of friendship. Or when kisses taste like home sweet home. When our Lady of Bandages doesn’t seek our bondage, only our healed release.

Rich Ferguson, What My Granny Told Me After Packing a Wad of Chewing Tobacco

Yesterday a student asked if I had an extra notebook; her mom hadn’t had time to do the back to school shopping.  I said that I didn’t have a notebook, but I had paper.  I gave her a legal pad.  When she returned it to me, she had written me a note, thanking me for all I did to make the school a better place.  She specifically mentioned the bread and the butterfly garden.

When I think of things I’ve done to influence retention, I, too, think of the bread and the butterfly garden.  I do not think of increasing the Average Registered Credit (ARC), that idea that if we could just get every student to take one more class, all sorts of problems would be solved; every male administrator to whom I’ve ever reported has been a big believer in increasing ARC.

Let me record a poem thought that just jabbed me.  I’ve been at with a group planning a retreat around the theme of Noah and that ark–let me write something that weaves together that ancient thought of an ark, and the modern idol of the ARC.  Let my subconscious chew on that–maybe on Thursday I’ll have a poem.

I also thought about writing a poem in the voice of the water.  I’ve also thought of the fairy tale of the Little Mermaid and her sea foam destiny.  Sea foam and dead sailors and some explanation for why the sea always wants to swamp us.

I feel better knowing that I have poems percolating, even if I don’t have time to do much writing these days.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Bread and Butterfly Initiatives, and All of our Arcs

I was out this morning picking up windfall apples. I still need to get the kids into the last tree to pick the hanging ones. I’ll spend this week ignoring my phone as I’m not waiting on work calls, cleaning up the garden, cooking the apples, putting away the trampoline and summer furniture, sleeping and writing as much as I can.

This weekend I’ve tried to catch up on some of the prompts I didn’t finish in my last course. This morning I stared out the window and wrote a poem based on what I saw, one of the prompts I regularly suggest to my students. I’m mulling over a prompt on conkers I’ve had in my head for the past two weeks, lots of images but nothing to tie them together yet. And I’m sure there’s a poem stuck to the burr that came back inside with me today.

I will wallow in autumn, in autumn writing full of spice and warmth, damp and earthy. 

Gerry Stewart, Half-Term Wallow

Somehow we had this gift, probably luck, for finding the right trees for the job. In our style of tree fort, you needed three or four trees. They were the main structural supports. They had to be close enough together that our frame boards could reach, reasonably straight and not too rotten. For our largest and most well-built tree fort we used four trees growing out of a hill so one side was closer to the ground than the other, which made it easier to build a ramp to get to it. I think about those support trees when thinking about poems. Their position determined a lot—the shape and size of the rooms especially—and I’ve asked myself what the equivalent would be in a poem. It varies of course, but having some secure starting place to hang your first board, or your first line, and build on that, can be the difference between a fort that leaks and gets overrun by raccoons and one that you can spend the night in without fearing collapse.

“You use what you have, you learn to work the structure to create what you need.” writes Julia Alvarez about writing sonnets in her essay Housekeeping Cages. This was our approach, my friends and I. We had plenty of woods with tall trees. We had access to limited building materials (from our parents or stolen from construction sites) and we had time on our hands. Our materials gave us a start, even gave us the ideas to work with, but they didn’t limit us. We took risks (like building a hibachi and old tin pipe into a fireplace 40 feet off the ground), and got creative (we sealed cracks with melted candle wax, which of course melted away in the summer.)

We also had a reasonable arsenal of tools for the job. Hammers and saws mostly, buckets of nails, because we were crude builders making up the rules as we went along. “One has to know the tools, so he doesn’t work against himself. Tools make the job easier.” writes Yusef Komunyakaa about a period in the ’80s when he discovered the voice and form for some of his poems. Our forts would probably have gone higher, lasted longer and looked less like trash heaps with better tools.

Grant Clauser, On Tree Forts and Poetry, Structure and Support

and then the chimneys fell,
one by one by the ton of
ancient soot billowing applause
from the lads in the sidings 
wagoned in trammelled bravado.

some by explosive nostalgia,
some by pick and prop and fire 
and hope for the tugged heart strings,
bricked in piles, taking the stacks
down brick by brick, upending the past.

Jim Young, and then the chimneys fell

Back in April, which is ironically National Poetry Month, I did a bit of reorganizing and moved my to-be-read poetry pile to the bookshelf in my office. Now given their own space, I realized I had quite a stack to work through.

After seeing the unread books lined up I vowed to not buy any new books of poetry until I’d read at least half on this shelf. True to my word, I started working my way through the stack and refrained from buying from any additional books. By the end of September, my shelf looked decidedly emptier.

Then in quick succession I bought boy/girl/ghost by torrin a. greathouse, Odes to Lithium by Shira Erlichman, Diary of a Ghost Girl by Shay Alexi, How to Cook a Ghost by Logan February, and Good Grief by Mikey Swanberg. I did this for two reasons:

1. I love poetry and am always interested in reading new poets that I find and love.
2. I want to support poets and independent presses.

Not only do the above two reasons serve as huge motivators to keep buying poetry, but my new book, Beautiful & Full of Monsters, is now available for pre-order from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. It would be hypocritical of me to ask others to order my book if I’m not ordering theirs. So I keep buying and reading poetry and I keep asking others to buy and read mine.

Of course, one thing I didn’t exactly plan for was the twice-annual library book sale. Not only do I attend every year but I volunteer every year as well, spending hours arranging and rearranging and reshelving books. And because I volunteer and am a lifetime Friends of the Arlington Library (FOAL) member, I get to purchase up to 20 books at a 50% discount (10 books for being a FOAL member, 10 books for volunteering). You can see where this is going…

Courtney LeBlanc, Supporting Poetry

I’m very happy to announce that my new chapbook, The Green Waves: Poems from Roblin Lake, has just been published by London, Ontario based 845 Press!

The chapbook contains 15 poems, written before, during and after my family’s stay at the Al Purdy A-frame. The poems feature my family (the boy was barely toddling at the time), the A-frame, Al and Eurithe Purdy, disgusting pancakes, bonfires (book and otherwise), carbon monoxide poisoning, black holes, drowned mice, a heron named Ike, lilacs, frozen turtles, Nick Thran, etc. Mostly they are about making space in your life for the things you love.

Here are three sample poems:

County Roads
Last Embers
Lyric

For only the second time in my life (the first being “Oh Not So Great”: Poems from the Depression Project), something I wrote has blurbs! I like blurbs but hate nothing more than asking someone to blurb my books, so I was overjoyed when the wonderful team at 845 Press (Aaron Schneider and Amy Mitchell) went and organized blurbs on my behalf. It even inspired me to ask a couple more people, which led to a very imbalanced poem-to-blurb ratio (15 to 4 – one blurb for every 4 poems!).

Rob Taylor, The Green Waves: Poems from Roblin Lake

As the New York Times reports, we’re seeing industry-wide hand-wringing right now about how rarely books are fact-checked, following scandals involving Naomi Wolff and others. I’m proud that Shenandoah editor Beth Staples makes fact-checking a priority: the interns comb through every piece we publish, following up on names, dates, and a host of other check-able details. Not every poem needs fact-checking, of course, but some do. For example, I posted my own poem about the moon landing recently. Most people wouldn’t notice if I got the date wrong, but some would, and spotting the error might impair their faith in me as a writer.

So what level of precision do poets owe their audiences? Spelling proper nouns correctly, and checking dates and quotes, seems important, if a poem references real-world people and events. The trivia doesn’t matter, really–if I tell you right now that my teapot is as blue as loneliness, but it’s actually an unromantic beige, that seems like a reasonable bit of poetic trickery. (Gotcha! It’s orange.) Even in a persona poem like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” a piece that’s obviously fictional, you’d want to check the Dante quote before you hit send.

I just handed in copy-edits for my next book, The State She’s In–overcoming the usual Prufrockian abulia to do so, because finalizing a book makes me REALLY ANXIOUS–and the process involved a final round of fact-checking on my end. Several poems involve public history that’s important to get right. While I know I was careful during the period of composition, what if I made a bad mistake in a poem about slavery, say, or Confederate history? The vultures aren’t wheeling around my publications the way they do around high-profile nonfiction, but still, I’m addressing sensitive material.

Lesley Wheeler, Copy-editing and fact-checking poems

– It’s way past time to cut loose from Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook and Instagram. Sure, Elizabeth Warren is right; it’s too big, but there’s something else. It isn’t fun anymore. Facebook feels kind of like rock music did when the corporations got control of it. […]

– I have a conure, a sort of smallish type of parrot. At 11 years old, he understands a lot of English, even though he doesn’t talk. Pico Verde Jobe is his name.

  He’s holding something in his claw, eating it while standing on one leg.

   “What are you eating, Pico?”
   He holds it up and shows me. A nut.

   “Is is it good?”
   Pico vigorously nods yes. 

James Lee Jobe, Journal notes – 12 Oct 2019

We could play
at poetry
the way men

play at war,
except not
blood shed, it

would be stars
lost to us.
Warring poets

would darken
the sky […]

Tom Montag, We Could Play

I like to tell my friends that I never, ever have writer’s block, and yes, I rarely have the full-blown version. I do, however, experience creative slowdowns, periods where I produce less work than I’d like, or my ideas seem stale, or I feel a lack of interest in writing. This is more dangerous than it sounds: lack of energy, interest, and concentration are also symptoms of depression. In order to avoid falling into this pit of despair, I’ve tried to build a practice that anticipates and mitigates writer’s block as much as possible.

History is rife with examples of artists who self-medicated with drugs and alcohol (poets are over-represented in this area) during unproductive periods. Clearly, this is unwise. Writer’s block is always temporary, and there’s plenty a writer can do to address it when it does occur.

Here are a few things I do when I get stuck. 

I take a nap. Sometimes I just need a rest. Often, I wake up from a nap in the middle of a “light bulb” moment. As Shakespeare put it in Julius Caesar: “Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber.”

I go for a walk. A couple of days ago, I was working on a review and a short piece for my newsletter. After a 45-minute walk, I had solutions for both. Had I stayed home, I would have stared at my computer for 45 minutes, become more and more frustrated, and probably not had any ideas.

I turn to my collection of craft books. I pull them out of the bookshelf, grab my notebook and pen, and sit on the floor. Eventually, I’ll find something that kick-starts my writing. […]

Erica Goss, How I Banish Writer’s Block

The university takes a long weekend in October; I thought it a propitious time to snare some solitude for writing and revising and thus betook myself and a mountain of my work to a semi-secluded cabin. Designed and largely built by Jack Fisher, the place offers light, comfort, memories, art, nature and spaciousness of environment. While I had no particular plan in mind–in retrospect, possibly a mistake–I imagined these days would act as a mini-writing retreat.

I love the cabin, the memories, the aesthetics of the house and generally I love solitude as long as it does not extend for too many days. The circumstance I discovered once I opened up my pile of poetry drafts, however, led me to one conclusion: I was going to have to organize, read, evaluate, consider, and cull before even getting to the “fun” part of revising. This level of work tends to discomfit me, feels tedious and draining and sometimes fruitless–which is why I have pretty much put it off since…oh…graduate school. Almost two decades.

But I made myself time to be alone and undisturbed, so let my work disturb me as it must. If a writer never allows herself to experience discomfort, she is unlikely to move her work forward in any meaningful or craft-related way.

Ann E. Michael, (Dis)order & (dis)comfort

A friend once told me something a friend told her that had been told to him by a mentor, and it’s basically this about writing: It’s okay to climb the same mountain again and again, but you need to be going up by different routes. I think of this often. In other words, it’s find that I’m obsessed by a subject matter, with trying to get to some new way of understanding it, but my poems need to approach it by different means.

Makes total sense. But at the moment I feel I’m trodding a well-worn path. I think I’m trying different things, but all I’m doing really is skirting a bit the old route only to find my way back there again.

The solution I’m pursuing is my same old solution, which is not necessarily a bad thing — exposing myself to other people’s art. (And reading widely [wildly?].) I like rattling around in the art world looking for something that stops me and twirls me around. Sometimes this dizziment can open a pathway to a new way to approach my own work.

Marilyn McCabe, With Sally in the Alley; or, Finding New Ways Into the Poetry Work

With the oil pastels and the picture cropped this way, I really like the strong cobalt blue with the lavender and dull green of the mountain. The foreground is missing in this crop, but the gouache helps me see better what to do with it. In addition to the beautiful, iconic trees, one of the most striking aspects of this landscape was the circular pattern of rocks and scrubby growth of the mountain behind the cedars. I like how the oil pastels have worked to capture that — it’s subtle, not detailed, but effective. Now I’m thinking about making a larger painting, in oils, based on what I’ve discovered by analyzing these pictures. The main message is simplify.

While I was working on this piece, I found a suite of poems by Seamus Heaney that he had written in Greece. One of them is set in Delphi, and it speaks of Heaney’s desire to drink from the spring where all visitors to Delphi who came to consult the oracle stopped to wash and drink; the same spring was used by the Pythia and the priests for a ritual cleansing before giving an oracular pronouncement or interpreting an oracle.

The Greeks believed that the spring was located at the center of the earth. Zeus, king of the gods, had loosed two eagles from opposite ends of the world, and, flying at the same speed, they crossed paths above Delphi. Zeus let a stone fall from the air where they crossed, and where it fell became the sacred site, marked by a stone called the omphalos, or navel of the world. Under the omphalos was buried the mythological monster called Python, which had guarded the sacred spring, until it was killed by the god Apollo, to whom Delphi and the Oracle became sacred. We saw a Roman copy of this large carved stone in the museum in Delphi. The carved pattern represents a woolen net that was once thought to cover the stone.

If you’ve been to Delphi, you would have thought, as I did, what a long, difficult journey it must have been to get there from any of the major city-states of Greece, and then to have to add the arduous climb up the side of Mt Parnassus. I wish I had known that the spring still exists, and that there’s a modern fountain by the side of the road for modern travelers, but I had no idea! Heaney, visiting in the 1960s, did know this, and of course — as a poet who had been steeped in the Greek classics, translated some, and used so many references and stories in his own poems and plays — he was determined to drink from it himself.

Beth Adams, The Navel of the World

Reading Groundspeed, I took note of how [Emilia] Phillips’ narrator refuses to let her own traumas (in this case her own cancer or the death of a half brother) carry any more weight in the collection than the tragic events and lives around her. Our suffering truly is ordinary, and in treating it as such, Groundspeed mimics for us what life is actually like: one long road trip, hotel overnights and stops at home, all interspersed with encounters we have, dramas large and small, our own and everyone else’s. My tendency in my own work — including when I’ve put manuscripts together — is to visit my obsessions (distance, intimacy, romance, etc.) far too often. I learn from this book that our obsessions/favorite themes carry a little more weight when they don’t tag along in every… single… poem. I’m grateful for this model.

I love how Phillips creates scenery from ordinary observations, as though the poems are movies. As pseudo- short films, the poems in Groundspeed celebrate “the glories of their mundane” (a line from one of the poems) as they include beer cans, chewing gum, pollen in the ditch, etc.

In a contributor spotlight in Memorious, Phillips says, “For years I’ve been seduced again and again by two lines of Fanny Howe: ‘My vagabondage is unlonelied by poems.’ In some ways, this statement has become a kind of mantra for me, especially in difficult times. ‘My vagabondage / is unlonelied by poems.’ Not only does it recognize the loneliness of one’s life in that word ‘vagabondage,’ it also speaks to the restlessness I’ve felt my whole life—this draw to move from one place, physical or otherwise, to another.” Howe’s phrase will stick with me, along with Phillips’ mention of it. Unlonelied by poems. Amen.

Carolee Bennett, “the glories of their mundane”

Yesterday, at the end of the reading at the Field Museum, someone in the audience asked if I consider myself a nature poet.  I realized I’d just spent a good  half hour or so talking about how I can’t stop writing about birds.  About how a project that was supposed to be about dinosaurs and extinction would up also being largely bird-laden.  About the Cornell Boxes andmy second book, in the bird museum. About how I’d made a bee-line on my first visit, not to the Evolving Planet exhibit, but to the Hall of Birds, the very same hall where I was giving that very reading.  And yet, I faltered and wasn’t sure what to say.

When I think nature, I often think of Mary Oliver, whose poems, while I find a lot of them sort of facile, usually use nature as a means to teach us something about humanity. The nature is the tool by which we come to understand something more about ourselves.  I know many poets who write similar observances and explorations of the natural world, and in fact, have published a good many (much better than Oliver) with dgp.  But as for me, it’s strange to claim it.  […]

As I worked on extinction event, I’ve been reading idly a few pieces on the eco-gothic, whose gist is largely that nature is not just a background for human activity to occur in, but a force itself.  The menacing forest.  The haunted garden. The terrible sea. That nature (including plants, animals, landscape, weather) is just as much a character in any story as the ones with speaking parts.

I like this sort of nature, the kind that is dangerous and may just kill you.  Much of that is where extinction event comes from. My answer to the question, in the moment, was that I tended to write a lot about horror and the supernatural lately–scary movies, serial killers, stabby adolescents urged on by Slenderman. But that nature is always present in them–weird or twisted as it may be.

Kristy Bowen, nature, writing, & the ecogothic imagination

Please tell us about the genesis of your new chapbook, little ditch. What is the collection about and how did it come into being?

little ditch is a chapbook about survival through sexual abuse, rape culture, & internalized misogyny. This is also a book about being sexualized as a young, non-binary person growing up in rape culture. About being a preteen on the verge of something shattering. About the fur.   

As I was completing my first book, Field Guide to Autobiography, I was visited by these urgent, dark spells or calls to action to write a way towards these poems. These poems felt caked in dirt, but very alive – I felt the need to dig deeper. Using various creative exercises like trance, tarot, & cut-ups, I tried to summon the hidden. There were times where I’d not be able to recall anything, other times I’d feel immersed in sense memory. All these gaps and leaks where trauma holds in the body. I later referred to these as “the ditch poems.”

Many of the poems in your collection explore the intersection between body and the natural and human-made world. What drew you to this imagery? 

Many of the poems in this collection are based on a type of mineral. The more I explored the language of minerals, the more I came to see the connections between that vocabulary and the oppressive vocabularies of patriarchy. Using found language from field guides, these poems tell a story of the nature of patriarchy; how we build upon & reinforce this hegemonic palimpsest. It also begins to explore how the sedimentary foundation of American rape culture is inherent in mineral structures of the Earth’s crust. This book is about trusting yourself enough to claw your way out.

Do you feel that writing and engaging with poetry is one of the ways a person can help find their way out of these structures? 

Yes. I think poetry allows us to reimagine and reshape how we perceive language, and the larger world. I’ve found this to be especially true of experimental poetry, which sometimes feel to me like a great puzzle, or an algebraic equation. Poetry = music + math. Wrestling with diction or meter can lead to creative solutions or enhance our understanding of the world of a poem, and that praxis forges new neural pathways in the brain that expand consciousness as we know it.

Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Melissa Eleftherion on survival and how language reshapes our perception of the world

And now the thin edge of an eastern wind brings
tears of resin, a scent of green disorder, a cataract
of leaves and berries far ahead. Darkness crowds us
back onto the train. Rocked but sleepless, we sit
and stand by night-curtained windows, watching
the dim images of ourselves watching the flying trees.

Dick Jones, MOTHER RUSSIA.

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 35

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. Bloggers were in a stock-taking mood this week, it seems, with posts about strength and renewal, growing older, finding time to write, and bearing witness to broken things.

Incidentally, there may not be an edition of the digest next week, since I’ll be on vacation in a place alleged to be like paradise. On the other hand, I quickly bore of paradises. And the place we’re staying may well have good wifi…


You sense summer coming to an end. The days don’t smell so much of suntan lotion & Ferris-wheel sweetness but of camphor & time lost. You hop a ride towards the ocean, your bus stop of grace. Along the way, you pass fog-tongued counterfeiters, dead-eyed mystics & heaven-haired girls dressed in plush heartbreak. Once you reach the ocean, a woman on the boardwalk offers you stones & charms, says they’ll ward off ghosts & sirens; keep the blue oblivion at bay. You hold the woman’s offerings in your hand. As the ocean sings its bittersweet song of summer’s end, you count backward from your last bad day & allow yourself to gracefully fall into the coming fall.

Rich Ferguson, A Bittersweet Song of Summer’s End

So abstract was my day—
though bloodied

with details, it scorns
any ordering into some

form easily claimed
by memory. I’ve got

the scraps, the tidbits
of flesh and bone, charred,

unlikely to match anything
I’ve gladly stored

in my mind. I must find
a place for these bones.

Romana Iorga, Portrait with Crows

One thing I try to remember is that there have always been stubborn people who have continued to do art, read and write books, make music, love and protect nature, cherish and guard all aspects of human culture, and take care of one another even when life felt the most hopeless. Often they have also been the same people who quietly sheltered refugees or the persecuted, visited prisoners, wrote underground tracts, participated in protests, smuggled food for people in need…the list goes on. These are not the people who get written about in history books, but let’s try for a moment to imagine what would have happened if they had not existed. Where would we be? That’s what is meant by action and contemplation as two sides of one coin. People who have found their own sources of strength and renewal — what I like to call “wells” that we are able to go back to drink from again and again — have more ability to see what needs to be done, and help others. So no, I don’t think we need to feel guilty for spending time doing these things, not at all. We just need to try to see the whole picture, and move back and forth between the active and contemplative parts of our lives, keenly aware of what each is, and how they complement each other.

Beth Adams, More Sicilian Explorations, and a Watercolor Disaster

The proofs for Tears in the Fence came through for me to check – two poems, one of which I think of as a ‘menopause’ poem. Is there such a thing? Well, there is now. I can’t give too much away about the poem as it’s not been published yet, other than it references Susan Sontag and uses some found text. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve submitted to that magazine, so I was on cloud nine for a while after they accepted the poems. The other good news is that I’ve had a poem accepted by The Interpreter’s House. Again, I was really pleased as it’s a magazine I enjoy reading. Having said this, I’m aware that I don’t have many poems in reserve now. I haven’t written any new ones  for quite a while as I’ve been typing up my novel (unfinished, but it feels like it’s nearing some sort of conclusion). So, there’s a quiet sense of dread in knowing that particular well is empty, and knowing the only way to fill it is to knuckle down and write some more. Ultimately, I know it’s a case of priorities.

Julie Mellor, Old Woman’s Lane

What I really loved about this book [Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert] was she says a person doesn’t have to quit their day job to fully embrace their creative life. This was something that has been plaguing me – how do I balance my very government-corporate day job with my poetry life, the part of my life that fulfills me in ways my day job never will. While I don’t have all the answers for what my future holds, I am feeling calmer and a little more balanced in how I can move forward.

In addition to doing a lot of reading and studying over the next ten months, I also plan on spending a lot of time thinking about my goals for the future, figuring out how to move forward with my desires, and how to balance everything.

Courtney LeBlanc, Mid-Life Crisis

I’ve gotten back into a routine of writing a rough draft of a poem daily in between job searches, attending interviews and writing the article. While I need to financially and want to mentally get back to the real working world, I know I will miss my mornings at the kitchen table scribbling in my notebook and then typing away on the laptop. I need a full-time writing job. Me and lots of other writers. 

Gerry Stewart, Changing Hats

After my trip to Peru, I started feeling called to write again. I finished an essay that’s out for submission. I revised my manuscript and started sending it out again. And I’ve even written a few poems.

Still, I wonder whether I really want to continue keeping this space. On some level, it’s so deeply connected to a past life: my marriage that ended five years ago, old jobs, old friends, old adventures that are distant memories. I needed that hard break after my MFA, and I am starting to re-emerge as a writer. And yet I don’t necessarily want to return here. When I think about this site, and how much of the past it contains, I’m just not sure I want to keep it.

I’m not making any decisions just yet. Quite frankly, I’d be surprised if there were any readers left to see this after such a long silence. Perhaps I just need a total fresh start with my digital life. I’ll always be writing, but maybe this isn’t the place for it anymore. We’ll see.

Allyson Whipple, This Space: A Reckoning

I asked writers who’d published their first books of poetry at or beyond the age of fifty to discuss their experiences. Was there any particular reason they’d waited to publish? Did they think there was an advantage to publishing later in life? How had publishing a first book changed their lives?

The responses from over twenty writers became the subject of September’s “The Reading Life” column in my newsletter, Sticks & Stones, due to subscribers on Monday, September 2. Subscribe here.

There was much more than I could fit into the column, however. I’m sharing some of the best lines from these writers’ answers in this month’s blog.

I hope you’ll enjoy these thoughtful, perceptive, and often humorous comments on the pain and pleasure of writing and poetry as much as I did.

Margo Berdeshevsky: “I’ve long believed that poetry is the language of the soul.”

Donna Vorreyer: “Poetry is one place where the voice of age can ring clear and meaningful in the world.”

Connie Post: “I hope in some way, our poems can help others to understand how we can heal the earth.”

Roy Mash: “Publishing a first book is like having another child, only without having to clean up the diapers.”

[Click through to read the rest!]

Erica Goss, Chop Wood, Carry Water: Publishing a First Poetry Book After Fifty

On Saturday, I read this blog post by Jeannine Hall Gailey.  She had reviewed Lee Ann Roripaugh’s Tsunami vs. The Fukushima 50.  It sounded like a book that would hit several of my reading sweet spots:  nuclear disaster, natural disaster, poetry, and a female-centered take on it all.  It’s been awhile since I’ve ordered a book of poems, so I ordered it.

It arrived on Sunday.  Usually books arrive and go to my ever growing books to be read shelf, but I decided to read it while I could still remember why I had ordered it.  So I did.

It’s a great book–but it’s also the kind of book that makes me wonder if I’d appreciate it more if I had more background.  There are some pop culture references that I can sense are there, but they’re not mine, like the reference to Watchmen.

There were also some references that may or may not be reference to Japanese pop culture, but I can’t be sure.  I know even less about the pop culture of other cultures than my own.

It’s not enough to keep me from enjoying the poems, and also not enough to send me on a quest to know more.  It is the kind of moment that makes me feel old–once I knew all sorts of stuff about a wide variety of pop culture, and not just that pop culture coming from my own society.  Once I could keep track.

My favorite poems were the ones that gave the tsunami a voice.  I thought of Patricia Smith’s Hurricane Katrina poems in Blood Dazzler.  If I was a grad student, I might do more with those comparisons.  If I was an ambitious woman on a tenure track, I might write a book that explores the ways we give natural disasters a personality.

I am a poet feeling like a dried out crisp.  Maybe I need to play with the idea of weather having a personality.  Maybe I should start with the August weather that’s leaving me so worn out.  Hurricanes get so much press (speaking of which, I should keep an eye on Tropical Storm Dorian down in the Caribbean), but heat waves can kill far more people.  Maybe I should write a poem in the voice of the disappearing Arctic ice.

This morning, I went to Jeannine’s review on The Rumpus.  I had decided not to read it until I read the book.  It’s an amazing review–wow.  It does just what a review should do.  It puts the poems in context and gives me insight.  It makes me want to read the book again.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Giving Natural Disaster a Voice

Earlier this month, during my final residency of graduate school at the Rainier Writing Workshop, I presented my critical paper on how time works in poetry—how, by changing our perceptions, sound and image in poetry create a space where we can step outside of time. Because I’m drawn to music, I started out with sound and then repetition—including refrain and anaphora. While reading poems for this paper, I came across looping and stretching. Someone asked where I found those terms. My answer? I made them up, as a way to talk about these specific moves.

Joannie Stangeland, Looping and stretching

We are only at the year’s ninth month, and already 2019 has been, for me, a year of broken things. It began with the broken furnace, then the water heater and the entire water handling system (we have a well); then the septic pump gave out, and the stove broke, too. During the second, and longest, heat wave, our central air conditioning unit fried itself with a snap and sizzle. We had plumbing under the kitchen sink to replace, and hail damage to the roof and porch railings. Also broken hearts at the deaths of people we wanted to keep in our lives. And a few days back, I twisted my foot and damaged a metatarsal muscle–now I, too, am one of the broken things.

It’s “an unusual injury” according to my physician, in that the way I rolled my foot and twisted led to damage (inflammation, at this point) to the flexor digiti minimi brevis muscle, which is not one of the foot muscles people usually injure. While not serious, it’s painful and slow to heal. The first weeks of the semester have arrived, and here I am stumping around campus with a wrapped-up foot and a crazy-busy schedule.

Endeavoring to be mindful of the moment and keep equanimity in my life proves difficult, but I have been working at the challenge by asking myself how we measure our losses and whether there’s any benefit in doing so. After all, that I possess enough things that can break demonstrates that I have considerably more comfort in my life than most human beings on the planet; so who should care if I rant? On the one hand, measuring loss seems judgmental and arbitrary–and there’s no way a broken cooktop can be assessed against a friend’s death. Yet we do need to make some kind of accounting for loss, because if we never acknowledge it, we smother compassion. Bearing witness to our brokenness, our losses, our fears, permits us to feel with others and with ourselves.

Ann E. Michael, Twist & shout

Like Noah, we build and build, but the space gets smaller.  Nothing can breathe. Least of all me, my lungs stopped up with feathers and the small animals I’ve smuggled inside the body for safekeeping. In the box, we rustle the feathers and bend the bones, but nothing fits, even side by side, stacked vertically in rows.  Nothing sits upright or thrives. We name them, tag their tiny feet, and still, nothing moves inside the box.  All night we soothe them with sounds their mothers make, but still they sleep and dream of trees.

Kristy Bowen, broken things

Back in January of this year, I was supposed to go to FEMA school in Alabama and learn about disaster management and pull life-sized dummies from smoking cars and walk around crisply with a clipboard being a cool head in a crisis while things went bang during mass-casualty simulations. I was relieved to get out of that whole scenario when the government shut down and they canceled all of the classes. But the government re-opened and the classes were re-booked and I got my flight information and now I guess I’m going in a few weeks. I thought I had gotten used to the idea, but I read my FEMA training manual this week, and the nerves rushed back. I know intellectually that this is literally one of the safest things I could do. It’s the definition of a well-oiled machine; a highly structured and extremely monitored operation with government officials there to guide us at every turn and make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be, doing what they are supposed to do at all times. For once, I’m not worried about the navigational side of things. I’m worried about my mind. I’ve been worried about my mind a lot lately. 

Kristen McHenry, Serenity Later

It’s easy for us to forget that we live so close to so many amazing landscapes – mountain ranges we rarely visit, a roaring ocean we don’t see often enough, a whole different menagerie of birds and butterflies. One of the benefits of taking these kinds of road trips is re-familiarizing yourself with the area you live in, the microclimates, the tiny different ecosystems. Also, we listened to almost the full book (and I finished when I got home) of Yoko Ogawa’s depressing with very salient The Memory Police, about the dangers of succumbing to authoritarian governments without too much resistance. (And also the very Japanese emotion of aware – the sadness and beauty of things that disappear – in this case, memories.) We try to get through one book on every road trip. Glenn said it would be easy to do nothing but watch the sea – as the light changes, as the birds go up and down the beach, watching various vehicles get towed off the beach after getting stuck in the sand.

But I remain attached to Woodinville – the abundance of flowers, especially, and hummingbirds, which were missing in our beach visit. I think of myself more as a tree/forest/waterfall person than a true beach lover. I love the shade rather than sunning. I like the shapes of the leaves overhead.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Two New Poems up at Cold Mountain Review and Picturing the Oregon Coast

Shall we sweep the forest clean? Shall we walk across the ocean? We shall. For years we’ve counted the bodies of the dead from our wars, so many bodies. We’ve listened to the leaders tell us that now it will be alright, that now the end is in sight. It isn’t. Lower the flag, it’s dirty. Light a candle and leave it in the window for the souls of the damned to see their way home. Shall we sweep the forest clean? Shall we walk across the ocean? Yes, we shall. Friend, it is a one-way trip. 

James Lee Jobe, prose poem – ‘Shall we sweep the forest clean?’

So for you
for a little
longer yet
may water run
uphill, may nights
square circles,
mornings
rattle the key
in the lock,
and may love
be unconsidered.

Dick Jones, HEART SUTRA 1.

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 19

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.

Some weeks I resolve not to look for any common themes and just to post quotes at random. This was one of those weeks. I failed spectacularly.


Plants, particularly flowering plants, fascinate me. Every year, I find myself heading out to the yard, my camera in hand, to take photographs as the flowers unfold and the insects arrive to pollinate them. Every year. Yet a closeup of a bumblebee in a redbud blossom from 2005 looks pretty much the same as a bumblebee in a redbud blossom in 2019. Or a monarch on a tithonia–one year similar to the next. Why bother? What urges me out when the dogwoods bloom to record yet another photograph of flowering dogwood? How redundant. How unnecessary.

Yet I have learned much, gleaned much, from the process of noticing the buds and blossoms and insects as the days lengthen and then shorten again; the cycle of life a repetition. Each routine event of spring seems new to me after the winter’s rest.

~

The only types of poems I have managed to have some recall for are poems with refrains, and some song lyrics (also with refrains). The ones I have memorized are the ones I have heard and sung along with most often, such as the calls and responses of church rituals and hymns, the record albums I listened to over and over when I was a teenager. Each time I listened, I felt something new happen inside me. It’s the same with my walks in the garden and the woods and hedgerows and the meadow: each year the same, each year new. That kind of teaching, while repetitive, is far removed from rote.

Ann E. Michael, Repetition

Yesterday, the U.N. released a report that tells us what many of us already knew:  we’re killing species on this planet at an alarming rate.  In many ways, the U.N. report isn’t a new report at all, but a work that connects the implications of all of these findings that have been released over the last 10+ years.  This NPR story does a good job of summarizing.

Much of my creative work has also thought about the implications of what it means to be alive during this time of transformation of the natural world.   Here’s one of my favorites, which is the title poem of my 3rd chapbook:

Life in the Holocene Extinction
I complete the day’s tasks
of e-mails and reports and other paperwork.
I think about which species
have gone extinct
in the amount of time it takes
to troll the Internet.
I squash a mosquito.

He drives to the grocery store
to pick up the few items he needs
for dinner: shark from a distant
sea, wine redolent of minerals from a foreign
soil. He avoids the berries
from a tropical country with lax
control of chemicals.

As she packs up her office,
she thinks about habitat loss,
those orphaned animals stranded
in a world of heat and pavement.
She wishes she had saved
more money while she had a job.
She knows she will lose the house.
She wonders what possessions
will fit into her car.

This poem first appeared at the wonderful online journal, Escape Into Life.  I encourage you to go here to see the wonderful image of a fiber collage that’s paired with the poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Tuesday: “Life in the Holocene Extinction”

Like many people I’ve been thinking more and more about climate change, inspired by the activism of Greta Thunberg and others.  Recent poetry events like the 2018 Ginkgo Prize readings at Poetry in Aldeburgh (by the way, the 2019 Ginkgo Prize – “the world’s biggest ecopoetry prize” – has just launched) and the Autumn 2018 Climate Change issue of Magma poetry magazine have also provoked me to think about the ways poetry can be a force to move people to deeper ecological awareness.  Even if poetry can’t really make anything happen (or can it?) if you’re reading and writing poetry and you’re concerned about climate change and the environment, it’s natural to want to see those concerns reflected in some way in poetry.  That’s how I feel, in any case.

It’s also been on my mind because I went to a poetry open-mic a short while ago and heard a good number of poets performing their work in response to climate change.  Without being mean, one thing that I noticed about the poems I heard is how easy it is to tip over into preaching,  and sometimes poems become little more than a means of the poet telling the audience (or reader) what they already know.  I am aware that I fall into this trap myself when I write about issues I care about, so I know it isn’t easy to write an engaging poem and not a ranting lecture.

So, how to get the tone right without turning people off?

Josephine Corcoran, Poetry responding to climate change

I heard [Lia Purpura] read many years ago, and enjoyed it thoroughly, and thought I’d read her book On Looking. But I remembered nothing about it when I feel deeply into the fascinating essays of this writer’s deep gaze. I also picked up and am, based on how much I’m enjoying so much of On Looking, looking forward to her newest collection of essays All the Fierce Tethers.

Listen to this from “On Form” in On Looking (again I’m being drawn to discussions of form — for someone who stubbornly writes in free verse, this seems peculiar):

“Sketching, I consider the line: ‘These fragments I shore against my ruin’–from a time when so much felt to be coming apart. But no. My fragments I shore to reveal my ruin. And all the similarities my eye is drawn to: flaw. Torque. Skew. I make a little pile by the shore: cracked horseshoe crab, ripped clam, wet ragged wing with feathers. I look because a thing is off, to locate the unlocatable in its features, forged as they are, or blunted, or blown. I look because the counter flashes its surprising grin.”

Marilyn McCabe, Looky Lou; or, Enjoying Lia Purpura’s Work and More on Form

And all the things I wanted to hold onto–
a child’s hand, cool as an oboe;
lamplight; reading
by the window

lying in bed with extra pillows,
talking to my daughter, texture
of voices like patent leather
straps overlapping–

begin to loosen. The velvet ear of
close attention has been lost to racier
attractions. She is all hunger and eye,
I on the sidelines.

Jill Pearlman, What is Mother’s Day without the kids?

Many years later, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer, the surgery from which she emerged only with a long wicked scar across her abdomen, but no need for further treatment.  She said afterwards that her greatest fear was that she would die and leave me and my sister, (I was 13, she was 9) without a mother. I was worried most on the specter of navigating my teen years without her–even though a couple years later, we fought like cats and dogs. I grew into an adult who had a pretty good relationship with my mom, though there was much I kept from her in regard to my own life, just to keep stability and privacy. In my mid-20’s, I told her that if she needed to know something, she would. And so it went for the next couple decades.

On the plus side, I’ve since finished a book, feed, which is mostly about mothers and daughters and body image issues, but also about mothering as a creative endeavor, which I, as a child-free woman think about often.  The work as offspring.  (unlike many other people, I’m less inclined to think of pets as children, the cats mostly just obnoxious/endearing roommates who expect me to feed and clean up after them.)

Kristy Bowen, notes from the motherless wilds

robin’s egg blue reminds me of peacocks,
of eyes, of Robin, of my mother’s
voice as I tried to choose a dress
for my first prom, of my son,
of my daughter, laughter,
wine glasses gone wild
and filled full with
water, of
paper
squares
folded
into these
tiny ornate
surprising jewel-tone
structures, of first dates, and
last dates, of first dates that are
also last dates, of safety, risk,
of being broken open like birth
breaks open the heart […]

PF Anderson, Untitled

The urge of milk,
eyes closed,

the urge to pull the zippers tight,
to cover, to protect.

You won’t know this love
until you’ll feel your rib
missing her rib,

the ocean of your blood
seeking her ship.

Claudia Serea, You won’t know this love

Father, with your lies and your cruelty.
Mother, with your superstitions
And your ridiculous beliefs.
I am better off with the dharma,
Even if I am a flea on the ass of a mongrel dog.
I release myself now
From all of the crap you taught me.
There is no god and no America to worship.
All is impermanence.

James Lee Jobe, ‘Dear parents’ ////

I’m setting out my shingle as an editor and proof-reader again, but it’s a very different scene from the one I joined in 2003 in Scotland. I had been working in a publishing company since 1997 and had picked up some typesetting work that my employer didn’t have time or interest in. That slowly blossomed into my own little publishing company Grimalkin Press that I set up to publish short runs of work, usually connected with the groups I was teaching creative writing. They didn’t have the resources or skills to publish their own books, so I would do the work, get it printed and they would fund it, usually through arts grants. I really enjoyed it and miss working with community groups and schools, helping them bring their projects to fruition. 

Social media wasn’t a thing then so everything was done word-of-mouth. I was recommended by one organiser to another, from one small poet to another. I miss that, it’s still there, in various electronic formats, but I need to learn the new system. 

Gerry Stewart, A New Normal

I’m afraid there was no wondrous golden time for writers–oh, there were times when disparate talents came together in one region and vied with one another, but even then there was often jealousy and insufficient reward. Look back, and you find Robert Greene railing at that “shake scene” and “upstart crow,” a Shakespeare “beautified” with pilfered feathers. Or look at the denizens of Grub Street, journalists and poets struggling to feed and house themselves in a poor bohemian quarter, only to be pilloried by that clever and amusing cripple, Alexander Pope. […]

In the kingdom of writer-dooms, Melville has long been a hero of mine. Years after any notice was paid to him, an old man, he pursued the work it was given him to do, writing poems, writing Billy Budd. He endured the agony of being ignored and thought mad (and perhaps of being mad from neglect for a time), and yet he kept harrowing his piece of literary ground and planting new seed, even when no one remained to believe that what he made would mean anything in the world. He persisted. He won a victory, although he had no earthly reward for doing so. But I have known writers in similar situations whose minds and spirits were bent by lack of notice, lack of support, and who did not have the resilience to unbend. I won’t say their names, but some drift into mind.

The dream of creating something strong and true matters to the soul. A strange joy, it burns in the mind. Resentment and bitterness will never help a work grow and achieve beauty. Putting words together in fresh patterns is a kind of alchemy that transforms the inner being of the writer–creation may make the self larger and more resilient on the inside. Yet self-poisoning by resentment and bitterness remains a risk for any maker. To a writer, young or old, I’d say that there’s no shame in pursuing some other dream if resentment becomes a blight, just as there’s no shame in keeping on despite self-judgment or the world’s judgment, and in striving to pierce the cloud of bitterness…

Marly Youmans, Down and out in Cripplegate Ward

I know this is something I’ve talked about before, but I just thought I’d write a little reminder as we get into the summer months, good months for writing and submitting poetry book reviews. Every poet wants their book to be reviewed. I always get asked, “How do I get more book reviews?” And I almost always say, “Well, how much time have you spent writing poetry book reviews?” And if the answer in none, well, remember, there are way more people who want their poetry recognized than people who want to do the hard critical labor of reviewing books. I’ve been doing it now for a dozen years. I finally (at the encouragement of several friends) joined the National Book Critics Circle.

Now, there are different types of poetry book critics. There are poetry critics who get joy from putting poetry books down, showing how clever they are at the expense of the writers. I encourage you not to be that kind of critic. I myself try hard not to do that stuff. Because while most people aren’t reading enough of the great poetry books out there – especially not books by people of color and women – I try to write the kind of review that might get someone excited enough to actually buy the book. I’m not a cheerleader, but if I choose to review a book, it’s not because I hate it. It’s also not because I think it’s flawless, but because I think it is interesting and deserving of others’ attention.

It is surprisingly easy to place a poetry book review, because not many people are out there desperately sending out book reviews, the way they are fiction or poetry. So I encourage you to review a book of poetry, hopefully one that hasn’t already been reviewed a thousand times. (It happens – one book captures the world’s imagination all at once, perhaps focused on relevant social themes, or current events. It’s not a bad thing.) It’s the one thing that costs you no money that might make another writer really happy.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Talking about Poetry Book Reviews, and a Couple of Down Days due to MS, Rejections, etc.

I read entirely too fast. I’ve done this all of my life, with novels, finishing book after book in short order. I bring 5 or 6 novels with me for a week at the beach, and often buy another 1-2 while I am there. Reading fast is not always a good thing, it is costly for one thing and has left me almost buried in books wherever I live. In school I was always able to cram the night before for tests, but not always able to deeply engage with what I was reading. […]

A significant exception to my speed reading habit is when it comes to poetry and particularly reviewing a book of poems. When I review a book, I read slowly and carefully. I make notes. I re-read. Reviewing is teaching me the absolutete value of close reading. A lesson I sorely need to learn. To practice.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Speed Reading

How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?

I started writing stories, poems, and plays in elementary school and have never stopped. My first “professional” work was a stage adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time in sixth grade in 1986. The more I read and the more I learn about literature, the more I want to write. It’s a mixture of envy of good writing by others and a desire to make something that holds together even for a short time. I love the sculptural aspects of verse as much as the communicative aspects of poetry.

Your new collection of poetry is The Sun Ships & Other Poems. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

The Sun Ships & Other Poems was more than a decade in the making, and the finished book is 44 hard-won pages and has a spectacular cover by Dan Sauer. It collects the very best of my poems that play with the tropes and narrative strategies of science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories. Some of the poems are what-if-style thought experiments; others are capsule narratives or songs. Most of the poems are in rhyming and metrical verse — even my prose poems have a strong structural foundation. Two of my obsessions that come out in various ways in the poems are the folly of human hubris and the need for, in Robert Frost’s words, “a momentary stay against confusion.”

Poet Spotlight: Steven Withrow on formal and speculative verse (Andrea Blythe’s blog)

I began to think of other landmarks along the way: Mt. Shasta, the towns of Weed and Yreka (proposed capital of Jefferson), the grazing cows, the inexplicable signs. I thought of how enormous the landscape is compared to my car, which is also a place, a home while I’m driving. Like a home, the car quickly gets cluttered and dirty, especially on long trips.

Through it all, the presence of my father, dead eight years, infused the poem with an eerie humor. Driving with his ashes sitting on the passenger’s seat was both comic and surreal – I found myself talking to him, making weird jokes, and feeling a little smug that I was the one driving, not him.

I had a pretty good draft by early January, but I could tell it was missing something. I left it alone for a week. At the time I was reading Volume II of Sylvia Plath’s letters. In it she mentions that her poem, “Mussel-Hunter at Rock Harbor,” is written in 7-syllable lines.

A light went off in my head. I re-wrote the poem in 7 and 8-syllable lines. Sure enough, as I wrote in my blog post of January 28, 2019, it gained a “bouncy, energetic forward motion,” which perfectly suited a poem about driving.

Erica Goss, The Making of a Winning Poem: Writing “The State of Jefferson”

This week has been a busy week for me. I submitted my first two end-of-module assignments which consisted of 2000 words of poetry and 6000 of creative non-fiction. My final assignment, Art of the Short Story has a deadline of Wednesday the fifteenth and it too is a 6000-word undertaking. At this point in time I am 2800 words into one story and 1500 words into a second. I may push the second piece up to 3000 but it may be finished around the 2500 mark, in which case I’ll add a piece of micro-fiction :)

Also, immediately after the short story deadline I have two nice events. On the 16th I’ll be dressing up to go to the Dylan Thomas Prize announcement in the Great Hall on Swansea University’s Bay campus. I’ll be wearing my suit, shirt and tie which I haven’t worn since … April :) I know which book I want to win, Trinity by Louisa Hall. […]

And then on Friday 17th my creative writing MA classmates and I get to meet some agents. We should hear a lot of useful advice and, while poets don’t tend to get agents, I’ll be able to pitch the novel I plan on writing either as part of a PhD or on my own … I’ll be focussing on my elevator pitch on Thursday … though I’ll try to remember not to ask, ‘Which floor are you going to?’ ;)

Giles L. Turnbull, Chapter and Verse

Where has this week plus gone? I feel like I’ve been writing it away. I confess that is not a bad way to pass through a week. I’m getting some more of those abstract urgings in my writing. “Let the poem speak for itself,” says the poet. Ha!

My Facebook poet page had added a number of “likes”  in the past two weeks. I’m getting so close to the 100 likes mark. I think I’m either 3 or 4 short the last time I looked.  I know it’s just a number but I confess reaching 100 right now seems to be a pretty big thing to me.  Anyway, I hope by next Tuesday I can report I’ve reached 100.

I need to better organize my writing. As it is presently, I confess it is many files on my computer with less than and rhyme or reason. I guess the rhyme isn’t a big deal with me, but the reason is.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Time Machine to the 80s Edition. Pssst! That’s why I am late.

Sticking to my two pages a day has so far proved a good discipline. To avoid the writing becoming stale and cliched, and also to keep me interested in the ‘doing’ of it, I’ve drawn inspiration from Bernadette Mayer’s list of prompts. I came across these on Trish Hopkinson’s website (there’s a wealth of links for writing prompts on there). The one that has really inspired me is ‘systematically derange the language’. Mayer goes on to suggest that you try writing ‘a work consisting only of prepositional phrases, or, add a gerund to every line of an already existing work‘. I’ve often cut words ending with ‘ing’ from my writing. Now I’m cramming them in! The writing I’m producing is prose though, rather than poetry; somehow there seems to be more room to play around with ‘ing’ words in prose. I’ve also noticed that I’m inventing a cast of characters as I write, which is more usually a feature of prose too. I’m not going to try to categorise the writing any further than this. It’s very much fragments at the moment, but I’m hoping that they will add up to something meaningful and fresh.

Julie Mellor, Systematically derange the language

I have a couple of friends who tell me that they are thinking of putting together a book. I’m thinking of putting together a class (fall?) for how to put together a book. None of us seems to be making much progress toward our intended goals.

How to begin a book is how you begin anything. You begin.

When I walk, I am often a bit pressed for time. I’m negotiating with myself as I set out, thinking that maybe just five minutes today…well, okay, maybe fifteen minutes. I set the timer on my phone for 7 1/2 minutes, knowing that if I turn around when it chimes, I’ll get my fifteen.

But at the end of 7 1/2 minutes, I think, I could do 7 1/2 minutes more. Often, I do about 30 minutes in and 30 minutes back — it must have to do with that thing we learned in fifth grade about bodies in motion (they tend to stay in motion).

Writing is like that, too. But how is writing a book like that?

My best advice for the beginning of a book is to find a move, make a movement, that will actually look like building a book.

Bethany Reid, How to Begin

What about the afternoon poems?
Yes, the nights are long and silent,
words are heard easily
and spoken out with less fear
 
But what about the afternoons,
when the builder comes home,
when the train is late again
when you forgot to buy bread
and you have to walk all the way back.

Magda Kapa, No Big Deal

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 14

Poetry Blogging Network

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

A lot of poets are writing a poem a day this month, and bloggers seem split between those willing to share their rough drafts and those who prefer to post already published pieces instead. I’ve shared snippets of both sorts of poems below, and I defy anyone to identify without clicking through which are which. (Please note that if I’ve shared a quote from a poem that you plan to later take down so that you can submit it somewhere, shoot me an email or message me on Twitter so I can erase the evidence here!) Also in the mix: musings on language and poetry, surviving the AWP, and working in collage and other media and genres. And I love Amy Miller’s Poetry Month project of writing about a favorite poem every day, in posts that are the perfect bloggish blend of the personal and the analytical.


I took this week off from work and have spent most of it writing poems, writing poetry reviews, setting up a new website for publishing poetry chapbook reviews, submitting poems, writing poems. Sort of a trial run for retirement. I can’t wait to have more time to write, more control over my schedule, more reading, writing, reviewing poetry.

For the something-ith year (10th I think) I am writing a poem-a-day for April. After a couple of poems, I realized that I am writing a sonnet cycle. I am excited about this!

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse is Poetry Month with a Vegan Twist

I will blame the blueness in the sky
the berries fallen and crushed under feet, seeds carried away by wind

the plain breasted bird on a dying tree.
Sun soaks through everything, stitches specialness into the ordinary

Uma Gowrishanker, where poems hide

Not named for the coarse open fabric of flags,
but named after sifting seeds,
after  blue dye from hairy blooms of the legume family
in India, Indigo Buntings flash,
hue of the portion of the visible spectrum from blue to violet
evoked in the human observer
by radiant energy,
by iridescence in flight.

Anne Higgins, In the hand of the bander

Isn’t it funny how the words super and superb are so close to each other orthographically, and close in meaning, and yet one is considered plebian while the other is a lofty, almost snobbish choice?

Super: 1) of a high grade or quality; 2) very large or powerful.

Superb: 1) marked to the highest degree by grandeur, excellence, brilliance or competence.

It’s almost as if back in 1802, someone who couldn’t handle consonant clusters downgraded superb to super, stripping away the ‘grandeur, excellence’ etc.

Sarah J. Sloat, I open my mouth and there it is

A poet
might vajazzle a cloaca with ommatidia
just because they like the sparkle and bounce of the words, but
trust me, you do not want to see those words put together.
Pray they don’t add a sprinkling of blastomeres for some cleavage,
or knit neuroglia over biofilm for a net
to scrunch into a purple nictitating membrane. What
it comes down to is no one quite wants a poet’s body.

PF Anderson, On Making Beautiful Monsters

Poets don’t assume a thing is just a thing—they look beyond the obvious truths for the truths that require more digging. And that comes to the second thing Keita said that I wrote down in my notebook: “the impulse to research changes everything.” I underlined that three times, because that is such a powerful truth about poetry, writing poetry, and the urge to create. Creating isn’t so much about making something new as it is finding new ways to experience the old (or the things that already exist). [M. Nzadi] Keita went on to talk about the world as multiple words, and the need to acknowledge and sort through the many layers of it. This, she said, is a de-centering experience, and poets thrive on that de-centering.

Grant Clauser, Not Taking for Granted: Notes on Why Poetry

Read “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” in the online journal Jellyfish Review here.

This hybrid poem/prose piece by Kathy Fish, published in the online journal Jellyfish Review just after the mass shooting at the Route 21 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, went viral in October 2017. When I read it at the time, it gave me shivers. The poem stuck with me, particularly those last few hair-raising lines.

But by the time I came back to this poem a few months ago, in my mind it had grown; I remembered it as being a long, list-y poem. So I was surprised to read it again and find that it’s actually very short, concise, even lean—and I think that’s one of its great strengths, the fact that it can start out so larky, sweet, offhand, and then so quickly take that dark turn at the end. Its whiplash is swift and sure. I also love the fact that it’s not exactly a poem, though many regard it as one; it’s a great example of the flexibility of hybrid forms. This is one of those poems that make me think anything is possible with words.

Amy Miller, 30 Great Poems for April, Day 4: “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” by Kathy Fish

When you have a rabbi for a daughter
sometimes you get texts from the hearse.
You must have known what I was doing:
reminding myself that I still had a mother,
bracing against — well, now: not being able
to reach you to talk about purses or friends
as the cemetery’s energy slowly drained.

Rachel Barenblat, Texts from the hearse

The walls are thin, transparent.
Angels stand at right angles.
I close my eyes to see the bees
breaking and entering. Honeycomb
dipped in sorrow. Eyeballs
rolling like grapes on my palm.
I see a handful of pennies fallen
through the grate. Shallow sludge,
the refuse of a city feigning sleep.

Romana Iorga, Falling Asleep with Carpenter Bees

The bottomland rose up behind you,
a hard, broken ripening.
You sewed yourself by thirds out of your softness,
holding all of you out of the sun
to feel yourself settle in.
You ran into the bottomland’s cloudy eye.

Charlotte Hamrick, Stones & Moss

The woman holds inside herself
for nine months the evolving child
and every moment is one of multiplying,
expending energy during the wait
which may result in either life
or death. Even the Zen place of repose
requires breath: action, inhalation,
oxygenation, illumination. Notice:
this morning, the plum trees blossomed.

Ann E. Michael, Patience

It rained at Spring Equinox, and
A beautiful quiet filled the house
In the dark just before sunrise;
There was only the sound of the rain
And my wife yelling for more
Toilet paper.

James Lee Jobe, ‘It rained at Spring Equinox, and’

Strange to navigate the busy waters of the Cork International Poetry Festival, and then the very next week–from a distance, via social media–watch writers navigate the even busier waters of the AWP Conference in Portland, Oregon. I managed to photograph every reader I saw in the Cork Arts Theater, except for closing night when my phone died. (Note that this happened mid-email. So I spent an agonizing twenty minutes wondering if I was standing up Kim Addonizio. Luckily, she got the message and made her way to Cask to meet up for dinner.) The downside of the phone dying is that I can’t show you Kim’s awesome shoes, or the sweet interplay between Billy Collins and Leanne O’Sullivan, a rising star of Irish poetry who had received the Farmgate Café National Poetry Award earlier in the week. The upside is that I was able to relax and fully inhabit those moments. 

Sandra Beasley, Teaching (& Festival-ing!) in Cork

The next morning I woke up brighter and more alert and ready to take on my Friday, which included the first event: a book signing for PR for Poets at the Two Sylvias Booth, where I got to visit with my beautiful editors, Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy – really well attended, thanks to everyone who came by and bought books! It was a wonderful opportunity to chat – albeit briefly – with some people I have been friends with online for literally over a decade! I could hardly breathe because I was hugging so many people. Really, I love doing readings and panels, but hugging your friends is the best part of AWP, or telling someone how much their book meant, or thanking editors/publishers. It’s the people that make the event what it is. Swag is terrific, but human interaction between writers is even better.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Happy Poetry Month! And AWP Report, Part I: Welcome to Portland! Disability Readings, Disability Issues, and Seeing Writers in Real Life

One of my favorite poetry publishers, in fact, they’re my dream publisher, is Write Bloody. They publish amazing poets and poetry that constantly inspires and awes me. And so of course I stopped by their table at the book fair. As I flipped through books I chatted with the woman standing beside me. It wasn’t till she walked to the other side of the table that I realized I’d been talking to the author of the book I held in my hands. So of course I bought the book and snapped a picture with Seema Reza. And, as it turns out, she’s a local DC poet and she’ll be at an upcoming Readings on the Pike so I’ll get to see her again soon!

I went to a panel titled, How We Need Another Soul to Cling To: Writing Love Poems in Difficult Times. During that panel I heard, for the first time, Meg Day, read their poems. Let me just say, the poems Meg read completely wowed me. After the reading I fangirled over Meg and they were kind enough to take a picture with me. *swoon* Seriously, I may have fallen in love a little bit, they are that amazing.

And absolutely worth mentioning – the time I spent with my friends, connecting with fellow writers, sharing meals and glasses of wine, attending readings together. The camaraderie rejuvenated me and my heart was filled.

Courtney LeBlanc, I Survived AWP

I know some people go to AWP to network, to roam the Book Fair, to attend off-sites and book-signings, and to hear the keynote speakers. These are important reasons, and I’ve done my share. However, my main reason for spending the time and money that AWP requires is to get ideas for writing and/or teaching. To that end, I have a process I’ll share with you.

As soon as I get home, I get out my notebook and the conference program. For each panel I attended, I locate the panel description in the program, and then I write down the title, the date, and the names of the people who gave the panel. Then I write. After I fill up a page or two, I highlight anything that stands out. Then I look for connections, circling that which seems related.

For example, I attended a panel titled “Mind-Meld: Re-imagining Creative Writing and Science.” As I wrote, I remembered that panelist Adam Dickinson stated that he’d used himself as a science experiment. He talked about the psychological stress of testing himself daily to see what chemicals and bacteria lurked within his body. He also mentioned that serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for well-being, is made in the gut. As you can see from the page in my notebook, I connected this idea to others I’d remembered from the panel: [Click through to view the photo.]

Erica Goss, Getting the Most Out of AWP

A week ago, I’d be waking up in Portland, eating a hearty breakfast, getting ready to figure out the mass transit system to make my way to the Convention Center.  As I think back over all the AWP sessions I attended, the one that made me want to ditch the rest of the conference to approach my writing in a new way was the one on Intersections of Poetry and Visual Art at 10:30 on Thursday.

My brain had already been thinking about this possibility (see this blog post from December, for example). […]

It made me want to return to some poems and see if parts of them might make good sketching prompts.  I was interested in the process of the poets at the AWP session.  As you might expect, they approached the intersection of visual art and poetry from a variety of angles:  some of the poets and artists worked in true collaboration, in some the words came first and then images, and then one woman worked more as a collage artist. 

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Intersections of Poetry and Visual Art

Influenced by a Winston Plowes poetry workshop a couple of weeks ago (see previous post ‘Butterflies of the Night‘), the work of poet and artist Helen Ivory, and the boxes of Joseph Cornell, here’s my latest composite fiction. [Click through for the photo.]

I’ve used the found text I am devoted to nobody but myself as a starting point, then created a series of paper butterflies using copies of a photograph of myself taken when I was 19. Although I’ve worked with a single photograph, each butterfly is unique. The whole thing has been incredibly time-consuming but utterly absorbing. Partly, it’s been a problem-solving exercise, and that’s good because it’s made me think in a different way. It’s been a case of literally thinking outside the box!

Julie Mellor, I am devoted to nobody but myself

By summer 2004, I was going all in on visual exploits, and it coincided with the very beginnings of the press, so I was designing the first few covers as well. I took a summer collage workshop at the Center for Book & Paper (it kills me this no longer exists, I was considering another ill-advised masters degree if they still offered it to bone up on my bookmaking skills.)  By 2008 or so, I’d also made quite a bit of money selling originals, prints, and paper goods online–far more than I will probably ever make as a writer.  I had finally found the medium that did not depend on me having to render anything perfectly at all.   In having to struggle with how I expected something to look vs. how it ended up looking.  With collage, so much is happenstance, depending on what bits and pieces you have available.

I’ve mentioned before, how the form actually also changed me as a writer, in my approach to composition. The poems I wrote in late 2004 and early 2005 were written very different from the poems I was writing before and were far better for it.  Writing, which I’d always approached as a very serious endeavor with an intended aim in mind, a point of success or failure,  became much more..well..FUN.  Collages (and by proxy poems)  are more this wild territory where anything can happen, I don’t really know what I will get, and therefore, am always usually pretty happy with the results. Even my adventures in other mediums, the ones I most enjoy, have a certain experimental approach–abstract watercolors, nature prints, ink painting. What happens tends to happen and it’s the discovery that is always the best part. (I could easily say this about most of my writing these days as well.)  Sometimes the mistakes and trip-ups are the most interesting elements. Sometimes, they lead to other possibilities or change the course of the river.

Sometimes, I truly have no idea where I am going or what will come of it.  It’s actually kind of awesome…

Kristy Bowen, wild territory | adventures in collage

I was just putting together some notes for a poetry workshop I’m giving to the general public in April, which is, of course “poetry month.” I would not usually offer a “poetry” workshop. Rather the workshops I have offered ask people to just think creatively and imaginatively and not worry about what genre comes out.

In my intro notes to this workshop (the host organization said I could “do anything I wanted but it had to be focused on poetry”) I want to say something like what this article said, the idea of letting the work figure out its own form. This is part of the mysterious process of making.

Marilyn McCabe, Make Me an Angel; or, On Not Committing to a Genre

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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 found a lot of poetry bloggers writing about self-definition, belonging, identity, embodiment, and political engagement. It was a rich haul.


like when you try to put the silence back into your imaginary cat

like a boat on a lake in your ear you live with the wind

Johannes S. H. Bjerg, likes/som’er

Still, after all my ambition, I’ll never own a home or publish my novel. Remember in high school, how I’d run wild, chasing girls, climbing trees to query clouds, that sort of thing. Once in Miami, on a dare, I jogged around a city block wearing nothing but Nikes. I may have fallen hard for someone back then, but what do you know in your twenties? Still, I didn’t expect life to fall so short or to be so unlucky in love.

My days are delayed orgasms that will never climax..

I don’t plan rash action. There will be dinner, if I wash dishes and peel potatoes. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I probably won’t write again. Bills pile up, they won’t let me drive now, and I’m busy giving things away.

Risa Denenberg, Not-about-me poem, on the occasion of my 69th Birthday.

as I was going to sleep last night I had a very clear vision of how my mind works. it was a delicate, erector-set-like machine constructed like a bridge over the much vaster body of direct experience. I could hear it humming. “that’s all there is to it?” I remember thinking

Dylan Tweney (untitled post)

Who am I when I am not interacting with someone specific? That quiet watcher who tilts her head in puzzlement. Like a dog: taking interest, but not making up a story to imagine the world into meaning. It is a peaceful place. But lonely. Maybe that is why dogs curl up tightly against each other in musky dens?

Why Leonard presses his skull into mine until I have to distract him with a pig’s ear or a bit of cheese.

This desire than needs an object.

I should have been a dancer.

Ren Powell, March 1, 2019

prayer kneels down
wind builds a nest
for the passenger you carry without knowing

Grant Hackett (untitled)

A fellowship isn’t a residency. My duties are more complicated than that–not only because of financial concerns, but because I feel a general responsibility to be out and about in the city. But like a residency, this time gives me distance and fresh perspective on life at home. I miss so much, but I don’t miss everything. And letting go of those things that I don’t miss will be an important part of returning.

The weather can be mercurial. The hills are steep. Strange to become a version of myself that reaches for blue jeans and flats, instead of skirts and heels, and buries herself in warm clothing. But this is a deeply good place, and I am grateful to be here. 

Sandra Beasley, The Road to Cork

The character of the pinko commie dyke, who is sometimes me and other times other women walking through the world, has been speaking to me in a series of poems that muse on contemporary life and the issues and ideas that are important in the world today. In some ways, I think that this series is representative of my work, which is invested in lyricism and also narrative. I also am interested in personae and exploring where the lyrical ‘I’ overlaps with the poet and where it does not. The disjuncture between the lyrical ‘I’ and the poet fascinate me much more today than they did ten years ago.

The Pinko Commie Dyke Kills / an interview with poet Julie R. Enszer (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

Cathy Warner’s newest collection of poetry, Home By Another Road, takes us down the highway of reflection and, whether she is the driver or the passenger, it is a journey that asks all the big questions. Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? What is home?

Warner uses every map she has available to answer these questions, and while on this journey we are fortunate to have an honest narrator at the wheel. While navigating the complicated territory of family, faith, forgiveness, regret, and redemption, Warner clearly understands we all must pay the toll master for the right of passage we call a life, where you cannot know, you never could, what might become/of you or anything you have ever loved.

Carey Taylor, Home By Another Road

No one ever means to cry, no one says, I think I’ll cry now, it’s such a good day for crying      cry more she said the ocean needs your tears

the trash on the beach was pink & sparkly

driftwood like a pile of slingshots

her eye is a storm that rages from sea to sea

Erica Goss, Writing at a Non-Writers’ Retreat

One of my favorite moments is a few episodes into Russian Doll where, convinced she is losing it, Natasha Leone’s character, talking with the woman who mostly raised her, utters her safe word for mental health.  I found this a nice idea–a single word that would show the people around us that we were in a bad space that required help.   I don’t think I’ve every been quite there, but part of my weird anxious brain worries that if I ever were in need of help, I wouldn’t be able to convey the difference between an ordinary kind of brain wonkiness and something that bordered on dangerous.  And truthfully, the weekend I sat down to watch this show the first time, I was in a weirder place.  I made it through one episode and it made me so undeniably anxious that I had to stop.  I went back the following week, and was glad I did, because it was so, so good.

And really, there was something so similar about the characters repeating groundhog day experiences and life pretty much–days spent doing mostly the same things with variations.  This is probably why I found it initially super anxiety-provoking, the routine and the missteps that could lead to disaster.  How each choice sets off a chain reaction of other choices.   If you  change A, the B happens, avoid B then you skip C and move ahead to D. It makes every choice unbearable sometimes thinking 10 steps ahead of everything.  And I guess, welcome to my brain. And particularly, my brain on winter.

Kristy Bowen, russian doll

Where I grew up there was a mill at the bottom of the street and a farm at the top. A quarter of a mile up the road were acres of municipal park woodlands. Beyond that, an open-cast valley, more woodlands, brickworks, some working pits. In the valley where I live now, not far away from where I was born, is polluted river, a canal, a railway (think : The Rainbow).  There are defunct mills,a defunct marshalling yard. No one can build on the field beyond my back garden because it has pitshafts in it. There’s an even older pitshaft under my neighbour’s house. And so on. Everything formerly ‘organic’ has been managed, enclosed, changed, even the river itself. I live on the edge of a coalfield where the 19thcentury houses are on the boundary between stone and brick. My horizon is the skyline of high moorland from Holme Moss to Oxenhope. This is the lens through which I read the poems of Remains of Elmet, through which I imagine the landscape of the Wodo’s wanderings, the corroded dystopian landscape of Crow, and through which I see foxes, thrushes, pike, hawks.

John Foggin, Critics, poets and the common reader (Part Two)

I inhabit this place. Like a bat in a cave.
Like an owl in an elm. This place is my own.

I fill this land like a ghost fills a haunted house,
Like coffee fills a cup.

Starting out from here
Any direction is the right direction,

And turning about from any direction
Takes me back home.

James Lee Jobe, ‘From here you can see the snowy mountains’

I ate too much salt.

I listened to a podcast about a mystery person who turned out to be Sonia Sotomayor.

A flawed translation turned me into a lawyer.

Sarah J. Sloat, Tuesday minutiae

In response to my last post, friend David Graham wrote, “I’ve finally come to believe that ‘voice’ is not something to concern myself with. Others will or will not tag me with such a thing, but it just messes me up to think about it. I simply (ha! it ain’t simple!) try to write as well as I can & in the process figure out what I want to say (which for me always happens in the revision process, not before.)…In a similar way, worrying about originality is for me mostly a dead end. I love something Levertov said: ‘Originality is nothing else but the deepest honesty.’”

I thought about that for a while, and replied, “I wonder if it’s not the author that has a voice but the poems themselves. I know I get annoyed when a poem of mine starts having a kind of woff woff self-aggrandizing tone of some British lord or Oxford don. I have to shove it off its high horse. Then other poems just think they’re so damn funny they start laughing at themselves so hard I can’t understand what they’re saying.”

And soon after that exchange I found this notion by Richard Russo in the eponymous essay of his new book The Destiny Thief: “I’d been told before that writers had to have two identities, their real-life one…as well as another, who they become when they sit down to write. This second identity, I now saw, was fluid, as changeable as the weather, as unfixed as our emotions. As readers, we naturally expect novels to introduce us to a new cast of characters and dramatic events, but could it also be that the writer has to reinvent himself for the purpose of telling each new story?”

Marilyn McCabe, Mi, a name I call myself; or, More on Voice

Invisible damp fingers
leave prints on my skin,
out of sight, muffled roars –
uncertainty circles in a waltz.

Charlotte Hamrick, Morning Meditation: Fog

Anticipation feels different from expectation, though the two are related. For me, at least, the connotation of the first is more open-ended. Anything can happen, though let’s hope what happens is good. Expectation seems more results-oriented. I am not a results-oriented gardener; I like surprises, I appreciate the education I get even from failures.

Come to think of it, I could describe myself that way as a writer or poet, too: not results-oriented, more intrigued by the things I learn when I work at the writing.

Ann E. Michael, Anticipation

imagine the newspaper you read every day
I will be the article you clip & never throw away

now do you smell the slow spring coming?
the grass humid with the buzz of dragonflies

an airplane’s drone reaches the rec yard
it’ll land somewhere in a few minutes

we will still be here
imagining birds & sky & other lives

James Brush, Air Mail

My mom had a couple of stories about my early childhood — one was that I didn’t walk until I was 13 months old. “I thought you were retarded,” she liked to say.

Another story was that I wouldn’t color in my coloring book until I figured out, at age three, how to do it perfectly, without going outside the lines.

I never had a spanking until I was three — around the time my next younger sister was born. “You never needed one until then,” Mom used to say.

So here I am, 59 years later, trying once again to finish a novel…and going back to the beginning, over and over, day after day, and trying to make it perfect.

Bethany Reid, What I’m Reading Now

These days, my thoughts return to the situation of our physical bodies quite often.  I have friends with very rare conditions:  one friend has kidneys that make cysts and another friend has a body that creates non-cancerous brain tumors.  Most of my friends are solidly in the land of middle age or older, so there’s vast terrains of discoveries–not unlike adolescence, but without some of the fun discoveries about what bodies can do.  Or maybe the fun discoveries are yet to come.

Or maybe as we age, the fun discoveries don’t revolve around our bodies but our spirits.

I’m still thinking about whether or not I could weave any of this into a poem that wouldn’t be trite or cover ground that’s well covered by past poets.  I joke about being rather medieval in my view of the body, that we’re holy spirits trapped in a prison of flesh; some days I’m joking, but other days I feel that way.  It’s a troubling theology, but it’s also pernicious and hard to root out of my consciousness.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, The Poet in the Body

“Protest Poetry” also carries my college’s “experiential learning” designation, which means the students are creating a couple of public-facing projects. The first, a collaborative venture, happened this Wednesday. We began planning it a few weeks ago, after a tour of the Rockbridge Area Relief Association as well as reading poems about hunger on the Split this Rock database. The assignment was (for very low stakes, grade-wise) to raise money for RARA through poetry. I told them a benefit reading would work–I’ve organized them before–but it was up to them. We toyed with the idea of a Haiku Booth or poetry-related crafts, but decided on an hourlong event that would be organized, promoted, and emceed by students in the class. They chose and booked a campus space, issued invitations to the readers, created fliers, set up sound equipment, decided the flow of the event, and brought refreshments (I acquired a small budget for the latter).

My undergraduates also did some extra work I did NOT expect or require, because, I think, they became genuinely invested in the cause. Some of them made another trip to the food pantry with questions for the clientele, cleared in advance by RARA staff, such as “What’s your favorite meal?” and “If you had to describe RARA in one word, what would it be?” They constructed poems out of the answers, performing them at the event as well as interspersing information between the poems about RARA’s work. They also set up a fundraising table for three days in the Commons, where they offered soft drinks and home-baked treats. Talking to unsuspecting muffin-eaters about how much food RARA can buy for a dollar, they then sweetly solicited donations in any amount. All told, they raised $470!

Lesley Wheeler, Teaching poetry activism

Home, for Syrians exiled by war, is gone, irretrievable, a lost paradise just as it is, at the same time, a place forever unattainable and mythic.  Listening to concerts this week by Kinan Azmeh, the Syrian clarinetist and composer, I was reminded of the  mystical desire of Arabic love poetry.  The object is unattainable. The wonderful paradox is that in evoking absence, art walked right in and created presence.

Azmeh’s music, presented by Community MusicWorks at local centers, evokes wistful longing with sighs, bends, microtonal wavering and high solemnity of Arab string exhortations — and Kinan’s clarinet wrangles with clarity and fading memory.  The feeling is raw, open and shared. Mohammed al Shawaf, a recent immigrant, jumped up spontaneously to read his own poem gathering at Dorcas Institute, a resettlement organization.  I scrawled down some of the lines as Kinan translated it into English. It’s about a nightingale who was encountering a displaced poet (apologies for the scrappy transcription!).

“Nightingale, I saw your sad face from the East…Are you a refugee like me? How did you leave heaven on earth? Everything is different, everything destroyed. Did you bring anything from home? You have awoken my feeling…. I promised you, Damascus, I would never forget you.” 

Jill Pearlman, Love, Our Inalienable Right

I also read three books of poetry in the past month. all this can be yours by Isobel O’Hare is a powerful collection of erasures from the celebrity sexual assault apologies. The poems are fierce explorations of how the men making these apologies try to evade their own culpability.

The chapbook Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned by Sara Ryan (Pork Belly Press) delves into the liminal space between living and dead, with this collection of poems about taxidermy. The nature of body is explored down to the bone, with footnotes that provide an expanded philosophical look at the art of preservation.

House of Mystery by Courtney Bates-Hardy draws on the dark undertones of fairy tales, providing a haunting look into the role of women in those stories.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: February 2019

The ceiling is low today. Clouds drift
through the window, grackles pick daintily
the last berries from frozen vines.
She can forgive winter

for its long oddity, its tired body
of a shrunken old woman. Vines spring
through her couch. A day comes when she must
do something, or simply lie there and bloom.

Romana Iorga, Spring Inspection

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network (deadline: February 14).

Books, books, and more books! Writing them, reading them, collecting them: That’s what I found in my feed this week, even more so than usual. Maybe it’s the inevitable effect of a long winter. Other themes included listening and therapy, vocabulary and rhythm, getting out and about, and learning from Sylvia Plath. Enjoy.


Alfred Edward Newton, author and book collector (Not to be confused with Alfred E. Newman of Mad magazine fame)  is quoted as saying, “Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity … we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.”  In this context, Tsundoku appears to be a positive thing. Alternatively, I have heard it used to describe book hoarding. The latter is a less flattering description of the pastime.

Let me say that  I am guilty of having more books that I have read. Or at least completed. I have a fairly extensive personal library. I make no bones about it. 

I confess that I love the feel of books. Not so much the feel of e-readers. I love the sight of books. And yes, I love the smell of books. […]

According to statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, unread volumes represent what he calls an “antilibrary,” and he believes our antilibraries aren’t signs of intellectual failings, but the opposite.

Alberto Manguel puts it very lovingly – “I have no feelings of guilt regarding the books I have not read and perhaps will never read; I know that my books have unlimited patience. They will wait for me till the end of my days.”  There may come a day in which I am no longer able to add books to my library. I hope that is not the case, But I keep reading. And yes, buying. For the time being.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Tsundoku – Pronounced sun-do-ku / Illness or Healthy?

The man who’d died, Raimond, was a bibliophile. The majority of his books were in German so I skipped the novels and history and went for art and photography, though I did surrender to some particularly beautiful books, whether for the covers or subject or gothic font. I don’t have much shelf space left at home so I tried to be disciplined and discerning. I even turned my back on his ample poetry collection. 

I did give in to one small book, though. I felt like a voyeur leafing through something so personal, but in a flimsy floral notebook, Raimond had pasted poems he chose from newspapers and magazines. Some clippings were still bunched together at the back of the book. In pasting, he grouped a poet’s work together — there’d be two pages of Günter Eich, for example, before moving on to Sarah Kirsch, whom he obviously loved.

The notebook appealed to me because I have one in which I’ve done exactly the same thing. The difference is I pasted only one poem per page, accompanied by an image. I remember the hours spent carefully choosing and arranging, and enjoyed thinking of my kindred out there doing the same.

Sarah J. Sloat, The golden notebooks

Q~You mentioned that you are finishing up your MFA. What are the best/worst parts of this for you?

A~I completed my MFA in January 2019, and it was an amazing experience. I wrote so much over the past two years and finished with a full manuscript. Being in an MFA program forces you to write and to read – both fellow student’s work but also your instructors and everything that gets assigned. I felt fully immersed in poetry for two years. It’s very bittersweet to be over – I already miss the program, but I found my community there, and it has been a wonderful experience.

Q~Who are you reading now? According to your blog, you read A LOT of books. How does this inform your own writing?

A~I do read a lot; in 2018 I read 221 books which was a personal best for me! I read a little of everything – a ton of poetry, literary fiction, genre fiction (fantasy is great for audio books!), CNF, memoir, etc. (Friend me on Goodreads to follow what I read: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6611777.Courtney_LeBlanc) I get recommendations from friends and Twitter (shoutout to DC Public Library for running great book chats – https://twitter.com/dcpl). I just finished Seducing the Asparagus Queen by Amorak Huey, which is a gorgeous collection of poetry and a great way to kick off 2019. Next, I plan on reading some of Mary Oliver’s work since she just passed away, and I’m already missing her words. I recently read The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and really enjoyed it (fiction). My favorite fantasy is Strange the Dreamer (book #1) and Muse of Nightmares (book #2) by Laini Taylor, which I recommend to everyone, haha.

When reading books of poetry I’m often inspired to write my own poems – either by something I read or just the general feeling I get from a book or a poem. I think the better read you are, the better writer you’ll be. As poet Jane Kenyon said, “Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.”

To My Ex Who Asked If Every Poem Was About Him / an interview with poet Courtney LeBlanc (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

In September, I was notified that my full-length manuscript, Fabulous Beast, was the runner-up for the X.J. Kennedy Prize and that it was selected for publication in the fall of 2019. The contract didn’t arrive until January, but it’s finally signed. (Yay!) And now we’re moving into book cover stuff and that’s making everything feel more real.

Most of the first section of this manuscript was published as a chapbook by Hyacinth Girl Press in 2015, as Fabulous Beast: The Sow. Having that little book out in the world has meant so much to me — Margaret Bashaar, the editor, creates beautiful books and supports her authors with a tireless energy. I’ve been so grateful to be a Hyacinth Girl author, and I’ve been introduced to (both in-person and electronically, over social media) a supportive community of fellow poets through the press.

But now it’s really exciting to think of the second section, a ten-chapter fairy tale written in Spenserian stanzas (hahaha, it sounds AWESOME, doesn’t it?) and the third section, poems employing the imagery of Norse and Greek myths, being out in the world, too. I worked so hard on this manuscript, and put so much time and energy (and yes, money) into submissions to various awards and calls for publication, it’s really gratifying to know the entire book will be a real-life object soon.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Full-Length Fabulous Beast is Going to Be A Thing in the World. Which is Pretty Cool.

Last autumn I pulled together a manuscript of poems written since my first collection was published. I know it takes a long time to find a home for a book of poetry. And since I can’t afford to submit it to publishing houses that charge reading fees or contest entry fees, the list of publishing houses I might approach is smaller. But I pulled up my optimism socks and sent it to my first choice, Grayson Books. This is the publishing house that included one of my poems in their beautiful Poetry of Presence anthology last year.

Their submission guidelines warn they only publish a few books each year, so I expected to send the manuscript along to another publisher after I got the inevitable rejection. I didn’t even open their emailed response right away in order to postpone the disappointment.

Instead I got an acceptance! (I’m pretty sure I heard trumpets.)

I am strange about my own good news, suddenly more shy, and have only told a few people since signing the book contract back in October. Each step of the process —- editing, choosing a title, approving art commissioned for the cover — has been a testament to the professionalism and patience of Grayson Books publisher Ginny Connors. I still cannot believe my good fortune.

Laura Grace Weldon, My New Book!

So apparently, one of the magical transformations of midlife is that a poet can become a novelist. I have moments of elation about that, and moments of alarm. My turn to novels is a way bigger change than anything that’s happened in my writing life since I won a prize for Heterotopia ten years ago. It’s NOT a turn away from poetry, which is still very much at the center of my daily life, but it will be a turn away from traditional scholarship, I think. My novel, Unbecoming, and my next poetry collection, whose title I’m still fiddling with, will be out in 2020 (there’s a small chance of late 2019 for the novel, but I’m not banking on it). AND I have a book of poetry-based nonfiction, a hybrid of criticism and memoir, scheduled for 2021 (more details on that soon!).

Creative writing across the genres, full speed ahead!–I’ve been drafting a lot of micro-essays and some micro-fiction this winter. Reviewing, too. But I can’t do everything. And I know where my heart lies.

Learning to write a novel has been hard and surprising and wonderful, but now I have to learn about publishing one. PLUS do my best job ever at getting the word out about my new poetry collection, simultaneously, while revising the essay collection. It’s a lot. I anticipate a big pivot next year from the introversion of writing/ revision/ submission work to the extroversion required for traveling, reading, guest-teaching, panel-surfing, and all the other stuff. Some of it at SF conventions! And all this will happen right at my empty nest moment–this is also the winter of helping my son get college applications out and waiting for the verdicts. I mean, really–what’s the appropriate cheerful-but-scared expletive for THAT?

Lesley Wheeler, Change of (literary) life

I finished three fantastic poetry collections this month. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is a justifiably lauded collection of poetry and essays. The collection offers an unflinching look at the everyday realities of racism in America, with the second person narration drawing the reader directly into the experience. The blend of writing styles and art make for a powerful and necessary read.

My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing by Kelly Lorraine Andrews is a beautiful little chapbook published by Pork Belly Press. These poems explore the physicality of existing in a body, with a blend of mortality and eroticism.

Ivy Johnson’s Born Again dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, it gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. Check out my interview with Johnson on the New Books in Poetry podcast.

Andrea Blythe, Culture Consumption: January 2019

It’s not a social norm–real listening. Despite the recognition that human beings are social animals that require communication, despite the recognition that “talk therapy” (which at its foundation employs active listening) and writing therapy can heal broken psyches,  even though many studies over decades have demonstrated how relationships rely upon partners’ openness to listening–listening stays a bit unconventional.

So many people think listening is passive. No, it is an active verb. Bombarded with information from numerous sources, the processes of discerning what one should listen to get tattered and confused. Our brains want to chunk information, to ignore, to elide, to suppress and glean and separate the various threads so the mind can prioritize.

Listening is difficult.

~

William Carlos Williams famously claims it’s difficult to get the news from poetry–and, in the same poem, he asks us (by way of Flossie, his wife) to listen:
…Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life
from books
and out of them
about love.
Death
is not the end of it.
There is a hierarchy
which can be attained,
I think,
in its service.

the mind
that must be cured
short of death’s
intervention,
and the will becomes again
a garden. The poem
is complex and the place made
in our lives
for the poem.
[I am not html-savvy enough to code the spacing of this poem on my blog, but you can find it here (p. 20) or here; the excerpts are from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower.”]

Ann E. Michael, Hear me out

[…]
Birds whirl around your room, and then you die,
even though you’ve swept them from the roof beams
out the window. Birds have taught you to fly
through this world, stitched with invisible seams.
Even though you’ve swept me from your roof beams,
I come to ask you where you’ve gone and why
this world is stitched with invisible seams. […]

One of the last times I met with my therapist, a beautiful elderly woman who became like a mother to me, she was seeing clients in a home office. She had suffered a car accident, and she thought the accident was contributing to her memory loss.

That day in her office a bird flew into an adjoining room, so Joanne (a made up name to protect her privacy), got a broom and swept it through the open springtime window.

And around the same time period, we had a bird’s nest near our bedroom window, probably a wren, hence this poem.

Christine Swint, Nests in the Wall

I wrote a poem this morning that came to me yesterday as I walked across the campus of my parents’ retirement community.  I reflected that it was the feast day of St. Brigid; I wondered if a retirement community was similar to a medieval abbey in significant ways.

The poem I wrote this morning was a bit different than the one I thought I would write, but it made me happy.

I also read a bit of poetry that made me happy.  When I sent my book length manuscript to Copper Canyon, I got to choose 2 books, and I chose Time Will Clean the Carcass Bones by Lucia Perillo, mainly because I loved the title.  It’s a new and selected collection, and wow–what powerful poems.  I had no idea.

It’s been a good writing week.  I could feel my well being filled by my traveling and by my reading.  On the plane ride back, I finished Old in Art School by Nell Painter–what an intriguing book.  It made me want to go home and paint.  I did sketch on the plane, but I felt constrained by the space and the bumpiness, so I made it a quick sketch.

Kristin Berkey-Abbot, Back to Regular Life, Sweetened by Time Away

[…] Her mouth moves in prayer,

her tongue runs along the soft palate, the molars extracted after years
of the root canal: it is a soft mound like the grave at the edge of the village

she saw him dig. Her breasts produced the extra ounce of milk
at every childbirth to be squeezed into the mouth filled with soil.

Uma Gowrishankar, The Feed

In the structure of a poem, each word, as an I-beam or a column, needs to be carrying weight and be balanced with the others, or be deliberately off-balance. Multisyllabic words have to be used carefully because they can visually and sonically outweigh or overshadow other words, rocking the whole enterprise, and not in a good way. They also run the risk of sounding self-conscious. (Why use “utilize” when “use” will do, except that you think it sounds fancier?) (Or maybe you need three beats in that line, I suppose. That might be a justification…but a pretty shaky one.)

Similarly, grand and abstract words can weigh too much: love, for example, soul, universe. Even “moon” has to be handled with care. (I was advised once to not use the moon at all, as it’s been soooooo overdone. But, I mean, geez, I can’t NOT talk about the moon.)

It takes patience (and humility), I think, to not get caught up in my own extensive vocabulary options, to instead wait for, or mine for the often more simple utterance that says more than its parts.

And then to have the courage to surround it with silence, the vital partner of speech.

Marilyn McCabe, Shunning the Frumious Bandersnatch; or, Finding the Right Words

I was reading my Christmas present, The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963, when I came across a mention of syllabic verse. Plath’s poem “Mussel-Hunter at Rock Harbor” is written in stanzas of seven lines, each line containing seven syllables. In a letter to her brother Warren, dated June 11, 1958, she writes about the poem and the form she used:

“This is written in what’s known as ‘syllabic verse’, measuring lines not by heavy & light stresses, but by the numberof syllables, which here is 7: I find this form satisfactorily strict (a pattern varying the number of syllables in each line can be set up, as M. Moore does it) and yet it has a speaking illusion of freedom (which the measured stress doesn’t have) as stresses vary freely.” (247) 

According to The Handbook of Poetic Terms (every writer should have one on her desk), “Writing in syllables is a terrific way to ‘even out’ a poem, and is useful also to writers who feel stymied when deciding where to break their lines.”

For a poet whose “mind was brilliantly off-kilter, its emphasis falling in surprising places,” to quote Dan Chiasson’s review of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2: 1956-1963, which appeared in the November 5, 2018 issue of the New Yorker, this “satisfactorily strict” form worked very well.

I just tried this with a recent poem. It started as a free-verse poem, then morphed into a prose poem, but is now a series of bouncy, mostly seven-syllable lines. I like the odd breaks this form imposes, and I think it gives the poem a kind of energetic forward motion it didn’t have before. 

Give syllabic verse a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Erica Goss, Syllabic Verse

A few days with cold rain and a cold have given me time to catch up on my reading, specifically Virginia Woolf’s letters and now I’m dead in the middle of Sylvia Plath’s letters, Volume II. I thought this quote might have about today’s poetry publishing world, instead of 1959’s:

Here’s a quote regarding not getting the Yale Younger Prize in Summer, 1959:
“I am currently quite gloomy about this poetry book of about 46 poems, 37 of them published (and all written since college, which means leaving out lots of published juvenalia.) I just got word from the annual Yale Contest that I “missed by a whisper” and it so happened that a louse of a guy I know I know personally, who writes very glib light verse with no stomach to them, won, and he lives around the corner & is an editor at a good publishing house here, and I have that very annoying feeling which is tempting to write off as sour grapes that my book was deeper, if more grim, and all those other feelings of thwart. I don’t want to try a novel until I feel I am writing good salable short stories for the simple reason that the time, sweat and tears involved in a 300-page book which is rejection all round is too large to cope with while I have the book of Poems kicking about. Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing, which remark I guess shows I still don’t have pure motives (O-it’s-such-fun-I-just-can’t-stop-who-cares-if-it’s-published-or-read) about writing. It is more fun to me, than it was when I used to solely as a love-and-admiration-getting mechanism (bless my psychiatrist.) But I still want to see it ritualized in print.”

(She’s referring to George Starbuck, a neo-formalist who went on to run the Iowa Writers Workshop and may have had CIA connections…please read Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers to learn more about the CIA’s deep connections to the literary world and all we hold dear…Oh Sylvia, if you had only known how deep the cronyism and favoritism went back then for male writers…you might have been less bitter, but maybe not.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, The Winter Witch Arrives in Seattle, New Poem up at Gingerbread House Lit, Queen Anne and More Sylvia Plath, and Looking Towards Spring

In terms of poetry, things are going great. A poem I wrote for Malala is part of a multi-art performance in March. I was asked at a candlelight vigil for a murdered police officer. I was asked to read at a city council meeting, a county board of supervisors meeting, and for Martin Luther King day. Original, new poems for everyone. Also, I was part of a poets-on-posters project for downtown. I want to do a broadside project, and I seem to raised the funds for it.

I have been trying to cut down my time on Facebook and Twitter. It isn’t really good for my Buddhist practice; at least it feels that way. I am trying to cut down to just posting my poetry links (to my blog and event notices), but like an addict I get pulled back in. Working on it.

“Hi, I’m James, and I am a social media addict.”

My work with the homeless shelter has been affected by my health, but I am still on the board of directors and doing what I can. I can only be on my feet for so long at a time.

What else? I’ve been focusing on shorter poems with an emphasis on place, using Basho and Li Po as my prototypes. For years I did deeper image, somewhat ecstatic poems, and every so often one comes up, but I enjoy this a lot more. Very satisfying, these little things.

James Lee Jobe, journal update: 31 January 2019

In Miami, I had a brief residency at The Betsy. The Writer’s Room program is amazing (in return for a reading and a meet-the-artist reception, they give you a place to stay and a $50 / day tab at their restaurants). That said, one has to get past the strangeness of the entire staff knowing who you are and why you’re there. SWWIM was kind enough to host our reading, where I finally got to meet Vinegar and Char contributor Elisa Albo. (Have you signed up for SWWIM’s daily poem? You should!) I read four books in two days–Jessica Hopper’s Night Moves, David Menconi’s Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown, Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, and Porochista Khakpour’s Sick–lounging whenever I could by the Betsy’s rooftop pool. I checked into a cat cafe for an hour. And I walked down to the South Pointe Park, a walk that brought me comfort so many days back when I was living in Miami in February 2011, as part of a now-defunct artist residency. I’m working on my next nonfiction book, and this was the perfect setting. But that’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Sandra Beasley, January Tidings

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: 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. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network.

This week saw some poets continuing to blog about their 2019 resolutions, goals, or plans. I also found a number of interesting reports on morning routines and local weather conditions, and thought-provoking, brief essays on such topics as poetry and place (Erica Goss), music vs. poetry (Marilyn McCabe), and creativity in poetry publishing (Ann E. Michael). And of course it’s fun to hear what people have been reading. As usual, I’m sure there’s much I’ve missed, and I encourage all who can spare the time to put together their own blog digests. It’s a fun way to kind of stroll around the blog neighborhood—that’s how it feels. All you really need is a free Feedly account.


Two of the books I received for review consideration in 2018 came from poets who live and write in the Mojave Desert of southeastern California: Starshine Road by L.I. Henley, and Waking Life by Cynthia Anderson. Henley writes of growing up in the Mojave, of walking down dirt roads as a child past a house filled with sketchy humans to catch the school bus, while Anderson focuses on the desert as an ever-changing presence, balanced between reality and mythology.

These books caught me by surprise, not just because of their subject matter, but because of my own history with the Mojave Desert. My grandparents built a cabin on top of a hill in Landers, fifteen miles north of Yucca Valley. Before they retired, the cabin served as a weekend and holiday getaway for their children and grandchildren. I spent many happy days in the desert while I was growing up, exploring the area around the cabin, and going on adventures with my grandmother in her ancient El Camino.

In June 1992, the Landers quake destroyed the cabin. I went to see the destruction in August of that year, and I haven’t been back since.

These two books evoked nostalgia for the Mojave Desert that took me completely by surprise. I remembered the brightness of the stars at night against the blackest sky I’ve ever seen, kicking up anthills and running from the huge, furious ants as fast as I could, and peering into the faces of desert tortoises. I remembered sitting at night with my grandmother and watching fake bombs from the Marine base explode over the eastern mountains. I remembered the looks on my parents’ faces when I stomped on a scorpion in my bare feet. And I remembered the heat, silence, and the smell of the creosote bushes.

Erica Goss, The Poetry of Place

night bleeds in from the east
count the tourniquet stars

so slow we dream
like poisoned trees

in the morning I take
the same little walk I always do

James Brush, routine

I woke up before I meant to–I had a coughing fit and found myself fully awake.  I got up thinking I might go back to sleep, but as is often the case, I didn’t.  I spent some time looking through my poetry notebooks from October 2017 to now; one of my goals for this year is to type more of my finished drafts into the computer.

I am struck by all the hurricane imagery in these poems, which is no real surprise–Hurricane Irma came through in September of 2017.  I’m still seeing hurricane damage mainly in terms of trees that are permanently bent and roof repairs in various states of progress.  Of course, I also see the trees that aren’t there, like the beautiful frangipani tree that I saw on my way driving to and from work.  I had looked forward to growing old with some of those trees, but now, they’re gone.  And of course, because of the hurricane, along with reports of faster sea level rise than expected, we’re rethinking those retirement plans too.

It’s been a delightful morning.  I often wonder if I wake up early because I so treasure these early mornings of creativity.  I suspect that’s true.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Hurricane Hauntings

In the dark I hear the rustle of wings in the treetops: on Wednesday, E. commented on the quiet, the crows having already flown north to start their day. Then the rustle again, and a call of a bird of prey. A hawk maybe? The dog doesn’t even look up, but keeps the steady pace of “Gå pent” on the morning run. We’ve discussed renaming him Pacer.

Stuck in traffic last week and late for work, I had time to look around and over the fields. Now brown and flooded in places – edged with ice, and mostly empty. A hawk was perched on a fence post right next to motorway. Still and beautiful in the sunrise, he was like an exclamation point highlighting the exceptional.

Ren Powell, January 12, 2019

My black and white tuxedo cat with milk-dipped paws is fast asleep in the other room. He is more interested in actions than in words with food coming in a close second. Poetry is pretty far down his list. Getting a job doesn’t even enter his mind.

Tomorrow I return to work after an extended break which had me writing full-time, traveling to Morocco, and generally feeling more myself. I exercised more, read more, ate healthier, and was a kinder friend and lover. My goal is to keep things going in this direction even as I enter back into the work world.

Tonight this poem reminds me that even when time is short, I can take 5 minutes and watch the sky, study the Olympics outside my window and check out the morning bird population which changes daily. If you are a teacher or a professor, a student or colleague—may it all go well tomorrow.

Susan Rich, Extended Outlook for 2019 – Tuxedo Cats, Sabbatical Look Back, and Happiness

So what are your survival tips for surviving the dark, cold winter months? January and February are my least favorite months to live around Seattle, it’s pitch black by 5 PM and the sun doesn’t really come all the way up…ever, plus the cold wind and rain mean you never really enjoy being outside. It’s cold and flu season so I’m not surprised I finally caught something, and this bug is a loooong one. I’ve reorganized my office, written a few poems and revised both my poetry manuscripts, but honestly, I’m restless, ready for a little springtime. (I know, we’re still a long way, but Seattle does start to have some camellia and cherry blooms sometimes as early as late February.) I’ve already started thinking about how to successfully approach AWP – I’ll be doing one offsite reading, and I’m planning to spend max time at the Bookfair saying hi to friends and checking out books and lit mags, my favorite part of the conference. My big goals were: getting more sleep, trying to do something fun once a week, and reaching out and socializing with more people, have all been rendered moot by this evil virus (waking up with early asthma attacks and tossing and turning with fever not conducive to more sleep, sadly, and you definitely don’t want to give this bug to anyone you like), but I hope to be getting better soon and back to my 2019 goals! I also made a playlist called “Survivor 2019” which includes this Sam Smith song from the Netflix series Watership Down, called “Fire on Fire.” Happy January!

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of Who is Mary Sue in The Rumpus, New Poem in Scryptic, Poems set to Jazz, and the January Doldrums

The painting above is “Breath” by Lee Krasner, which I found in the New Orleans Museum of Art last week, on a breather from work (the new term starts tomorrow). I don’t know much about Krasner, but the exhibit caption says this painting’s “rhythmic marks…call forth the rise and fall of breathing, as well as the more meditative act of taking a deep breath. Krasner’s paintings were often more subtle and introspective than her husband Jackson Pollock’s frenzied ‘action painting’…one reviewer condescendingly claimed, ‘There is a tendency among some of these wives to ‘tidy up’ their husband’s styles.” I was drawn to the canvas for its beauty, but that caption transformed me into an ally.

Looking at art, I’d been wondering about my lack of interest, this year, in making new year’s resolutions. Do I really need another list? I’d also just read this article about resolutions and was considering a couple of points the reporter made. For instance: “Imagine it’s the next New Year’s Eve. What change are you going to be most grateful you made?” Hmm–living a more peaceful life, I guess. Concentrating effort more thoughtfully and taking care of myself so that I can be more open to unpredictable emotions, and to other people. I love January O’Neil’s “Poetry Action Plan”, but I tend to tick so doggedly down checklists, virtue becomes bad habit, in that I get so busy fulfilling promises to myself and others that I don’t take enough meditative, restorative time. Also, one of the experts the journalist interviewed (oh, so many experts out there on self-improvement!–shouldn’t we all be perfect by now?) recommended “reflecting on what changes would make you happiest, then picking a ‘theme’ for your year. That way, even if a particular habit doesn’t stick, your overarching intention will.” As someone who has tried and failed to create a meditation practice about five million times, that resonated.

So, standing in front of “Breath,” I chose my theme for 2019. Breathe.

Lesley Wheeler, Breathe (a brief post on posting)

If I were the type to make resolutions for self-improvement, I would resolve to start doing yoga again, schedule a mammogram, get outdoors more, and lose some weight.  But I’m more the type to break, rather than keep, promises to myself. So I’ll just say I have some goals for the next 12 months or so, which are some of my commitments to poetry.
Publish at least 12 reviews of books of poetry.
Start a new website devoted to reviews of poetry chapbooks. (BTW, if anyone wants to join me in this endeavor, just email me at risaden@gmail.com)
Accrue at least 50 rejections of poetry submissions to journals, and 10 rejections of my current manuscript. (I’m not quite ready for the 100 club!)
Read, read, read. Write, write, write.

Also planning to attend the Palm Beach Poetry Festival this month; share a booth for Headmistress Press with Lana Ayers of MoonPath Press at AWP in Portland in March; do a workshop with Carl Phillips at the Port Townsend Writers Conference in July and meet monthly with the Upper Room Poets for workshopping poems.

Most notably, I plan to retire in 2020 (which probably won’t mean leaving healthcare entirely, but a big workload reduction) to clear up time for more poetry-related activity. And, after I retire, I hope to plan a road trip across the US to visit with poets that I’ve only so far met in cyberspace.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse in 2019

As 2018 ended I spent a lot of time reflecting on the past year, both on the good things and the not-so-good things. In early 2019 I would complete my MFA in poetry and turn 40 so the year would start off with some pretty big milestones. I thought about what I wanted for 2019 and as I entered a new decade of my life. After a bit of thinking and reflecting, here are my goals for 2019 – I’m not calling them resolutions because those seem fleeting. So I’ve settled on calling them goals.

1. Write reviews and leave ratings for the books of poetry I read. I read a lot, 221 last year to be exact, and at least 50 of those were poetry (I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me). One way to easily support poets is to leave ratings and reviews for their books. This is something I ask of people for my books of poetry so I need to always do this for others. I always leave ratings but reserve my reviews for books I love. I need to spend the time to write a review for each book of poetry – it doesn’t have to be a long essay, but a few sentences go a long way.

Courtney LeBlanc, 2019 Goals

Despite so  many low energy days I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research. I don’t think I’ve shared that I’m a Contributing Editor for Barren Magazine and Mockingheart Review now. I recently published an interview on MR with poet Sam Rasnake and I’ll have an interview with poet and writer Tina Barry on site later this  month. I love doing interviews with writers and I thank Clare Martin, creator and Editor, for giving me this beautiful gift of a venue to publish them. The new issue of MR will publish some time after January 25 and the new submission window will open March 1.

I read Flash Fiction and Short Fiction for Barren and I just love it. It’s so exciting to read such a diversity of writing and to find golden nuggets to share with our readers. We get submissions from all over the world which is so gratifying. Our new issue will drop tomorrow, January 14 and I can not wait for y’all to read it! Submissions are always open so polish up your poetry, fiction, CNF, and photography and sent it to us!

Also, I’m working on a project for Barren that has me so excited I can hardly keep from blurting it out to everyone. Watch this space, watch my Twitter account (@charlotteAsh) and Barren’s Twitter (@BarrenMagazine). I don’t know exactly when it will be revealed but it’s dynamite!

I’ve been reading some great poetry. Right now I’m reading Duende by Tracy K. Smith, A Woman of Property by Robyn Schiff, Tropic of Squalor by Mary Karr, and The New Testament by Jericho Brown. Only As the Day is Long by Dorianne Laux is on it’s way to me via snail mail and I’m really looking forward to reading it. Love me some Dorianne!

Charlotte Hamrick, What I’ve Been Up To: #Writing #Reading #Poetry #Books

I love words, poetry, but it’s music that wrenches me most deeply, often vocal music, often that magic of tune and word and beat that creates a live thing that enters me, skin and bone, gut and vein. Many things move me, but only music guts me. Well, with an exception: Hearing Ilya Kaminsky orate “Do not go gentle.” That was transformational.

I dabble in music but am no musician. Still I can hope and strive to create in my own written work this kind of reaching and opening, this level of capturing light. If I could write a poem that could even slightly glitter like those performances, I will have done what I set out on this path to do.

So for this new year, I wish for all of us that we find some light to let loose from our jagged edges, that we find our shine.

Marilyn McCabe, This Little Light; or, A Wish for the New Year

Having lost about 50% of my hearing, even with hearing aids, there’s a lot of music I can’t listen to because I’ve lost all the top end (which makes the sublime Everley Brothers sound as though they’re singing flat), and being in a pub for a reading can produce a sound effect in which all the individual sounds claim equal value and lose their relative depths and distances…the sound equivalent, I suppose, of an out of focus image, which can be quite pretty until the image you’re looking at is print. […]

I’ve been to several readings since the start of December, and what I especially liked about them was that I could hear the poems. It was nothing to do with the mic being set right. It was all about the the readers and their delivery, which was so clean and clear I could do without hearing aids. One reader was Julia Deakin, who is always accurate, distinct. One was Tom Weir (twice) who read quietly, but always with that concern for the heft and texture of the words, who, like Julia, tastes the consonants that matter, and also, like her, reads with a rhythm that falls on the key words, so sound never displaces meaning, never over-rides the syntax and the sense, and lets the words have their surrounding silent space, which is the aural equivalent of white space on the page. And one poet was today’s guest, Emma Storr, who I’d never heard reading before and who was a revelation. We all know poets, some of them famous, who simply can’t read like that. I wish they’d make the effort. It’s not about theatricality, or volume or elocution. It’s about diction and a concentration on the meaning of the words they say. Thank you Tom and Julia for letting me hear the poems, and thanks to both of them for respectively guesting at the last session of The Puzzle Poets Live (at The Shepherds Rest) and at the first of a new venue which we hope will now be our permanent home..The Navigation in Sowerby Bridge.

John Foggin, On hearing and listening. And an (un)discovered gem: Emma Storr

In the later 80s, I started doing some editing and publishing of other people’s work. My dear friend, David Dunn, and I had a small press that put out two broadsides and four chapbooks. Taught me a great deal. I helped to edit a Xerox-zine in Philadelphia in the 80s. Meanwhile, I kept getting work into small press journals nationwide, mostly these photocopied deals with tiny readerships; but the minor successes kept me going. After awhile I had enough hubris to try the better-recognized journals, with some success. This is how it works: persistence, but not bull-headed, blind persistence. One persists through the learning process; revises, practices, finds trustworthy people for feedback.

My sister, husband, and I all have worked in the publishing business-as-business, in how-to and B2B magazines; I was a typographer, proofreader, copyeditor, writer, indexer. All of that background was valuable in its way and never kept me from pursuing creative work. So I did eventually go for my MFA, in my 40s, and I got chapbooks and a collection published at long last in spite of—oh, you know—life.

Because I feel that poetry needs audience, I was early to jump on the online publishing wagon, despite colleagues who warned that it wasn’t really as acceptable a venue as academically-affiliated print journals. Nonetheless I’ve found myself enthralled by online journals, by audio-poems, moving-poems (video), podcasts, blogs. I’ve watched well-respected magazines migrate to the internet. And there are problems with online publishing. I know about them, wrestle with them, yeah—keeps life interesting.

My route has not been the academic route, although I work at a college today; I am more of an outlier. Poets and writers can be nurses, doctors, mechanics, or landscapers, grandparents, people with disabilities, insurance industry managers, post office workers, tutors. Each of us discovers her own process for writing and for getting the poems into the world. Mine is pokey and slow and frequently interrupted, and my next long collection won’t appear until 2021, nine years after Water-Rites, my first. But I feel satisfied with my publishing record, such as it is. People do read my work, which is kind of the entire point of writing, no?

When everything is easy and there’s no chance of failure, life is boring. Writing creatively means taking risks, creating tension. Publishing creatively requires the same things. Risks, imagination, persistence, curiosity, analysis and a willingness to be open-minded. Fun pursuits, but not always easy ones.

Ann E. Michael, Creative publishing

A stormy week here in the Sacramento Valley,
Rain on and off, on and off.
Above, in the high passes of the Sierra Nevada,
Deep drifts of snow. The bears are sleeping.
Down here, rain on the rooftop,
No finches, no crows, no owls.
And like them all, I am also laying low;
It has been days since I even went outside.
James says it doesn’t matter where you are,
It is what you do that counts.
So.. back to work on these poems.

James Lee Jobe, ‘A stormy week here in the Sacramento Valley’

All day long the air has been full of the promise of snow. It’s just twilight and it’s not here yet, but any time now.

I have hunkered down, slept, gone out for the groceries early in the morning, prayed, listened to an audiobook  (Over Sea, Under Stone  by Susan Cooper) and finally, finished a poem I’ve been struggling with.  I sent it, and five others, to the New Yorker just now.  Always hoping!

Anne Higgins, Waiting for Snow

It’s quite cold in Alaska right now. The kind of blue cracking cold that is beautiful but stinging. The kind of cold that makes iron of snow and ice beneath all. And yet, it’s important to get outside, to fill our eyes with sunlight, to remember that this time has beauty unavailable at other, perhaps more temperate, times of year.

Erin Coughlin Hallowell, Some winter solace

Every January there is a day when I first return to my desk after the hectic rush of December. My son is back in school. I’ve discharged my responsibilities to the community I serve, and today is a home-day. I resist the temptation to fritter it away on laundry and unloading the dishwasher — the little endless maintenance tasks of daily life.

The first thing is to clear the desk of extraneous things that have landed there during the annual hiatus from writing. I need a clear physical space to call forth the clear internal space within which poems can arise. Maybe classical music is called-for. Kronos Quartet’s Early Music has a spareness that matches my heart, matches the season.

Next I reread all of last year’s poems. It’s an annual ritual. Some of them are familiar to me: I remember writing them, revising them, I recognize them in all of their incarnations. Inevitably I find one I had forgotten altogether. I read the scraps and partial poems, too. I don’t know the shape of my next book of poems, but I get glimpses.

Then I open a blank file and let the words come. The first poem of this new year surprises me. When I started out I thought I knew where it might go, but it takes a turn midway through. When I reach the end I realize the poem was always intending to go there. I just had to open myself to surprise, letting it take me where I didn’t know I needed to go.

Rachel Barenblat, Where I needed to go

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 51

poet bloggers revival tour 2018
poet bloggers revival tour 2018

A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

A lot of holiday- and end-of-year-themed posts this week—no surprise there. But it’s fun to see some of the off-beat ways in which poets approach the theme.

Winter solstice, and hot, torrential rain: last night in wee hours, the smell of ocean from a hundred miles away. The ice melts, my lungs shift gill, and in flooded streets I stay down low, dodging abandoned cars, weaving alleys. Doubled, trebled vision clarifies to vanishing and at the furthest edge there is only black. Wend my way to open space, where the water is clean. Sleek, this muscled vehicle. Painless soft, these once-troubled bones.

JJS, December 21, 2018: turning

Yesterday, I met up with poet-friend for lunch. After our long, lingering afternoon over pasta and good bread, he reminded me how lucky we are to do what we do. 

With the silly season upon us, it’s easy for me to forget how lucky we are. We write, teach, and are supported by a community who lifts us up. It’s easy to get caught in a spiral of doubts when you’re in the middle of your own anxiety.

I spend a fair amount of time in my own cave worried about everything, from our joke-of-a-president and climate change to wondering if my kids have enough money to buy a snack for school. Sometimes just having a friend state the obvious is enough for me to snap back into reality. So while I complain about grading the work of my fabulous students, or sigh when someone who clearly earned an award gets one and I don’t (yep, I do that occasionally–and then I move on), or moan about a seemingly endless cycle of kid drop-offs and pickups, I never want to forget how lucky I am that I get to write poetry for a living.

I used the word “unsinkable” to describe myself after my divorce, and I guess that’s how I think of myself. But if I had to pick a few more words, I would also say that I am grateful and extremely lucky to have this life. I wouldn’t trade a thing.

January Gill O’Neil, Lucky

Reading Triggering Town by Richard Hugo (again), I’ve realized that what I have been missing in my writing the past few months is the element of play. I’m nearing the completion of a third manuscript and I have become so focused on completing narratives and biographies that I was trying and failing to write the poems that “should” be written as opposed to what Must be written and what I delight in writing. So today I returned to my love of sound and words and came up with a poem that I didn’t plan out or intend to mean but discovered what it meant at the end. Tremendously more fun and successful too, I think.

Renee Emerson, Play

I won’t lie to you; reviewing twenty-seven books of poetry (two for The Pedestal and twenty-five for Sticks & Stones) in one year was not an easy task. I was concerned that I might repeat myself, or that the twice-monthly schedule wouldn’t allow enough time between books to refresh my brain. But I need not have worried. In spite of familiar themes – family, aging, environment, nature, politics, love – each book was completely different from the others. 

Erica Goss, Sticks & Stones: The First Year

I work as a nurse practitioner in a cosmos of sick and dying people who are called “patients”.  I couldn’t do this work without (my cats, and) an immersion in poetry. So, mostly to cheer myself up,  here is — What I’ve been up to in poetry: 
[…]  
Writing Reviews of Poetry Books– I told a friend that doing this is my own private MFA, which expresses how much I am learning from doing it. You can read my latest review, of Killing Marias, at the Rumpus. I have upcoming reviews of Lynn Melnick’s Landscape with Sex and Violence at the Rumpus, and Jennifer Martelli’s The Uncanny Valley at Broadsided Press. I also plan to start reviewing chapbooks at a new site. Check back for details. Send me your chapbooks! 
[…]
Running a press! Everyday I do something that helps keep Headmistress Press afloat! Mostly bookkeeping and fulfilling book orders. Also planning for AWP, where I will be staffing a table for Headmistress with Lana Ayers of MoonPath Press.  It’s in Portland! Big YAY for so many reasons.

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse // Reviews // with a Create-your-own MFA

That Christmas, my parents gave me the Provensen’s illustrated Iliad and Odyssey. My mother read it to me when I was sick in bed, and again we pored over the pictures — these were even more closely linked to Greek vase paintings. She talked to me about the use of positive and negative space; I traced and copied some of the illustrations. The story and the characters got under my skin and into my head, and stayed there, while the gods and goddesses, in profile, looked down on the warring camps of Greeks and Trojans from the heights of Mt. Olympus, their feuds and jealousies mirroring the behaviors of people I knew. I identified most with grey-eyed Athena, who remained above the love-quarrels by staying a virgin, and encouraged wisdom, intellect, and music as well as being the patron goddess of the Athenians. We read the story countless times, and in spite of my preference for Athena, I always went against her and rooted for the Trojans, knowing it was fated for them to lose, but somehow hoping that my wishes would make the story turn out differently. It was the same when I got to university and enrolled in ancient Greek classes, and, in the second semester, opened my student edition of Homer to the first words of the Iliad. And it’s been the same every time since, in every translation: the inevitability of defeat battling with my desire for a different result, as if human fate itself could be held suspended or reversed by the force of my own free will. Much later, I would come to see that the Greeks themselves were concerned with the same questions of fate vs free will, and that it would play a large part in the development of their tradition of tragic drama and exert a profound influence on Christianity, and later western drama and philosophy. 

I can’t explain the hold that this art and this particular story has had on me, all my life; all I can do is trace it back to its origin. I became a classics major; I almost decided to teach art history or become a conservator of antiquities, but instead became a graphic designer and artist – and I’m convinced to this day that my early study of those vase paintings, and their positive-negative harmony, and the beautiful carved inscriptions of perfectly-balanced Greek letters, had a lot to do with why I became a designer and careful typographer myself, and why my own art has always been concerned with line, and with volume.

Beth Adams, Origins of an Obsession

Q~Do you find yourself returning to certain themes or subjects in your work? What are they and why do they resonate with you?
A~Yes! Fairy tales, mythology, and science inform almost all of my poems. Feminism is definitely a recurring theme, as is what might be called “body horror” poetry. I studied biology for my first degree, and my husband’s a chemical engineering major, so we regularly have discussions about the latest in medical research or environmental news, so of course it comes out in my poetry. I was (and remain) a huge fan of mythology from all kinds of cultures and love to read fairy tales in translation.
[…]
Q~What was it like to be Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington? 
A~It was quite an honor to serve the community there. It’s famous as the home of Microsoft and other tech companies. I got to meet with the mayor to talk poetry, read poetry with the city council, and talk with teenagers and librarians about poetry and technology. I got to write poetry in connection with local visual artists, which was a real pleasure. The whole idea of being involved in the civics of our community is still very moving to me. I wish more cities had a Poet Laureate Program – it doesn’t usually involve a ton of money, but it helps people interact more actively with literature in ways they don’t, normally.

In Which I Declare My Resistance / an interview with poet Jeannine Hall Gailey (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

Here in Seattle a lot of people celebrate the Solstice, along with other traditional holidays, the longest night of the year – I think because the long dark feels more intense out here, especially when sunset is around 4 PM. This solstice we had sunsets, hummingbirds (and coyote howls), a full moon, and even cherry blossoms on a neighbor’s tree down the street! It’s a good time to think about our dreams and goals for the next year – which I did this year with a little help from Sylvia Plath. […]

I sat around a candle with a hot cider and thought hard about what I wanted. My dreams and goals may seem less ambitious than in years past – for instance, I want to spend less time in hospitals than I did the last two years, obviously (a modest goal for some – big ambition for me.) To do that, I need to practice a whole heck of a lot of self-care with MS, like, resting more, eating an MS-friendly diet (brains like avocado, blueberries and protein, apparently), doing my physical therapy, and choosing to surround myself with people who are a real support.

As far as writing goals go, we’ve got AWP coming to Portland in March 2019, so I’m hoping to make it to that and do some socializing, catch up with friends, and look at new journals and publishers at the Bookfair. I plan to finish up a seventh book manuscript and hopefully find a great publisher for manuscript six. I do want, like Sylvia, to make smart choices about people – I want to practice kindness and encouragement towards others, say thank you more often, and reach out and make new friends (don’t want to totally go the Emily Dickinson sickly-recluse route until I absolutely have to.) I want to try publishing essays and short stories as well.

Taking our writing seriously – like, carving out time to, as Sylvia says, “WRITE” – and submit work – which, from reading her letters and journals, I know she also took seriously. She reminds me to aim high, but also, not to isolate myself, which can lead to trouble, and she also represents what happens when you spend too much time trying to fulfill other people’s expectations of what you are supposed to be. (Embrace your strangeness, rather than spend energy hiding it.)  I was surprised this week to receive two surprise gifts from friends who live far away – and that reminded me I am blessed to have wonderful writer friends all across the country.

I want to spend more time appreciating the good things – spending time in nature, with my loved ones, just in general celebrating the good days. I know the holidays can be a tough time for people – a time when what we don’t have seems to be highlighted. As someone with a chronic illness, it’s hard not to worry about the future, especially with an incurable degenerative disease like Multiple Sclerosis. But I have hope.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Interview with Bekah Steimel, Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas and Almost New-Year with Sylvia Plath-style Dreams and Goals

Meet our new kitten, Ursula! We brought her home from the SPCA yesterday and she’s charming everyone in the house (except our other cats, who are scared to death of her tiny rambunctious self). I thought of titling this post Cranky Poet Goes Soft, because that’s basically the mood around here, although I can’t entirely shake a little holiday anxiety. So much to do, as well as paradoxically worrying that I won’t find time to kick back–but at least I’m reading up a storm, catching up on poetry books I haven’t had time for. I’m hoping to post on the books I read in 2018 around the New Year. I’m also prepping like mad for the new term, which starts Jan. 7th; I have to get everything organized early because we decided to go to New Orleans for a few days right beforehand. The kids have never seen the city, and for me it’s been about 20 years, so we’ll just walk around, eat well, hear some jazz. Traveling is one of the few things that makes me really put work away and we realized we were all craving the break.

Lesley Wheeler, Fuzzy at the edges

For now, I will be taking a break, putting on the brakes, pausing for a breather. Briefly, though! Blogging has been not just a good discipline for writing practice but also for thinking practice. It has offered me a place to “bookmark” books that matter to me and to reflect on my teaching, my environment, my garden, and on The Big Stuff–consciousness, values, aesthetics, culture.

Urged along by other poetry bloggers (see Poetry Bloggers), I have posted 60 times in 2018. I felt quite disciplined about that feat until I looked at my WordPress statistics and learned that, for example, in 2014, I wrote 74 posts. This year I was no more or less active than usual (say the statistics). My average number of posts per year over the decade is pretty close to 60. Respectable enough–there are other things to do.

The college semester has closed. We are now “on break.” And I want to take advantage of the gap by making a break with our family tradition, just this once, and to relish the pause my job contains when the students are off campus. I’m especially happy to be breaking bread with Best Beloveds this holiday season. Before the year closes, I plan to enjoy long breaths in high altitudes and to look at the Milky Way.

May your breaks and breaths be of the best and most nourishing kinds.

Ann E. Michael, Breaking, breathing

At some point between now and the first week of January I also need to re-commit a poem to memory … it’s one of the few that is directly about my blindness. I’ll be reading for 15–20 mins at Voices on the Bridge in Pontypridd (weather permitting) on 11 January 2019 and it may have the theme ‘LOST – out of darkness comes light’ so a poem about blindness would be very appropriate. I’ll add it to my event pages over Christmas for anybody interested in coming :)

Nadolig llawen — Happy Christmas — I hope the Poetry Santa visits and brings you lots of lovely gifts :) xx

Giles L. Turnbull, The Poetry Cracker

As I was driving home yesterday, I listened to the Christmas radio station.  I saw the word Sarajevo on my radio display and heard the cello music and thought about holidays in the ruins.  I thought about a novel or a collection of short stories that revolved around post-apocalyptic holidays.  It could be a work that explored life after disaster and also served as an elegy for holiday celebrations of our current time.  In 20 years, when we’re being ever more buffeted by climate change, how will our current mode of celebration be remembered?

This morning, I thought about all the ways I’ve explored this theme in my writing of poems.  Years ago, I was hearing about a Christmas Eve service being held at the ruins of the World Trade Center, and I created this poem:

Christmas Eve at Ground Zero

We are not the first to be incinerated,
our bones and blood blending into ash.
We are not the first to see the flash.
We are not the first to keep our Christmas
haunted by the ghosts of all we’ve lost.

We light the candles under a cold
sky. We long for good news.
We need that angelic message:
“Be Not Afraid!”

But we are so afraid,
afraid of the dark, afraid of the stranger.
We fear the sound of crickets,
the deep blue sky, the scarred skyline.
We fear occupying armies and upstart revolutionaries.

Across town, a woman strains
to give birth to something new.
A brave band of carolers sings
back the darkness. A young girl pokes
seeds into the construction site.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Christmas Music in the Ruins

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 46

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

This week we begin with a confession and end with a spell. In between there’s politics, wildness and rewilding, reports from the writing trenches, love, death, you name it.

Dear Reader, all is not well. You know it (some of you anyway) and I know it. This country is ill. I’ve watched as the fever rises. I’ve observed its unsteadiness in the world community. I’ve seen its values denied by some. Hate is perhaps at an all-time high. The patient seems listless and those of us with concern are gathered with Lady Liberty at her bedside. Who will offer blood for a transfusion? Who will give comfort and support? Who will help her stand again and walk? I confess it is so easy to be hateful at these times because one hate breads another. This is a challenge we face. But I think we have to be certain that not meeting hate with more hate means we simply roll over and do nothing. The absence of hates is not weakness. It is even a greater strength than the haters have. It is a will to defend, to support our democracy and that means be there for the inclusiveness of others. It is to have very wide arms.
Michael Allyn Wells, Mega-Confession On Tuesday

*

But the bottom line is this: what [Facebook] is doing is wrong. George Soros is right when he says it’s a threat to democracy. Yet we have all become hostage to it because it preys on all our deepest insecurities and desires. I don’t want to lose the blog traffic I have. I don’t want to lose the ability to publicize events, or a new book from Phoenicia — though buying paid advertising is a business transaction, and I am more OK with that. And I don’t want to lose touch with certain friends — but, you know, email still exists. It just takes a little more effort.

It’s like so much else that’s wrong with our world. We choose convenience and connection and take the easy way out, even when it makes us complicit in data-mining schemes or the spread of fake news, even when it enriches unscrupulous people, even when our actions harm the planet. We are sheep. Human beings don’t seem to have the will to do what is right in large enough numbers to make the differences that needs to be made, or to send the message to both government and business that we won’t tolerate their behavior any longer. If I delete my FB account, it will be a useless gesture that will have no effect other than making a statement like this one; I’ll only be hurting myself. But it still may be the right thing to do.
Beth Adams, Complicity: The FB Scandal and Our Individual Responsibility

*

In October, I was happily writing a poem about gardening, when it took a sudden turn and revealed its true topic: the calamity of immigrant children held in cages at the US/Mexico Border. That day, I posted “For some reason my nature poems keep turning into political poems” to my Facebook page.

In her essay “On Theme,” from Madness, Rack and Honey, Mary Ruefle writes, “theme is always an extrapolation, a projection, an extension of an original idea, if such a thing as an original idea exists…sometimes we seem to extrapolate so strangely that it is the supposedly known source itself that becomes unknown, becomes unrecognizably distorted and weird.” When I finished the poem about the immigrant children in cages, gardening – the idea I’d started out with – was still part of the poem, but utterly submersed.

I’ve never set out to write a deliberately political poem. Like most of my poems, the political ones start the same as the non-political poems: with a fragment of conversation, an experience, something I came across while reading, a dream, or an idea that showed up in my brain. […]

“As a maker of poems, a poet is always engaged in battle, though the opponents may be unclear, the stakes unknowable, and the victories and defeats felt far away, in different domains, by people other than himself,” writes David Orr in “The Political,” an essay from his book Beautiful & Pointless, a Guide to Modern Poetry.

Politics has intruded on my consciousness in a whole new way. I see politics in everything, including gardening, an activity that involves being outside and observing the changing climate, which politicians seem incapable of addressing in spite of clear evidence based in scientific research.
Erica Goss, Politics, Theme and Poetry

*

I would tell you a story
about a brother and sister
who walked and walked
and walked, trying to find
their way to a safe
place, whose hearts lifted
in hope when their
(mind’s) eye spied
the sweet house, when
they thought they could
finally stop fearing.

But you know the story
of Hansel and Gretel
already, and you know
what they found when
they reached it.
Laura M Kaminski, Sharing the Journey, 13-November-2018

*

Roads wetted like the day of my Father’s funeral
First snow of the year, last snow of the year
18-wheelers hauling ass at 90 mph
Windshield covered in slosh and spit

Black soot and my heart rate vibrating
out of my chest, I see the first of three deer
resting on the side of the highway
Eyes frosted, silent – shocked by the flash

of headlights, she was ruddy and soft
My own skin reminiscent of pain measured
by silence – I turn the radio down
take my foot off the gas, it feels so much

late night and bedtime, and the whole world
is asleep – crawling the dark like a fearful child
Jennifer E. Hudgens, Three Deer I-35 South 7/30

*

If any of you are still out there coming to this site, I’m sure it would make Paula [Tatarunis] happy. I haven’t posted here for over a year..but oh, I still miss her so….the grief has maybe changed, but it will never go away.

I haven’t done very well in my quest to get her more published, but haven’t given up.

In the meantime, I put out a new album…it has settings of two of Paula’s poems, those being To An Angel, and How to Clean A Sewer (in a piece called Windfall Lemons). And: Rebecca Shrimpton extracted a song from Paula’s writing on this blog about the loss of a dear friend. From this House of Toast post.

This is the disc….the art work on the front (and the back) is, of course Paula’s…
Darrell Katz, Rats Live On No Evil Star

*

The setting sun fills the darkening blue-purple sky with pink and orange streaks, vivid enough to catch my attention through the kitchen window. I step out onto the deck and the cool air on my face reminds me: It’s all still here. The sky, the air, the trees, the space around me. Nothing has gone away. I take a deep breath and release it slowly. The neighbor’s dying oak stands out, its naked limbs stark against the dusk.

bread dough ::
the way we coax it into life
Dylan Tweney (untitled post)

*

I become obsessed with the idea of responding to Ken Smith’s ‘Fox Running’ in some way. But I felt that even the act of reading Smith’s poem had exhausted the image of Fox for me, or rather confirmed a sense that to chase Fox further would be futile or arrogant. My own response would have to follow a different animal. ‘Fox Running’ gave me the confidence – the permission almost – to do so, to find a totem or an emblem that preoccupied me.

I first sat down to write my response in Suffolk in 2015. I was staying in a house that made me perpetually alert: it was full of windows and empty beds, overlooking the solitary grey line of the beach. The rooms made me think of M.R. James ghost stories. Every night before I slept, I drew the curtains obsessively, terrified by the idea of glass and openness to the sea. At the time, I was working on a collection of poems which explored the representation of women in climbing literature and I was interested in women as both too visible and invisible in social contexts. I knew that the totem animal of my poem should be a dog, half-domestic and half wild.
Helen Mort, Fox & Bloodhound (hat-tip: John Foggin)

*

I track the absence of dogs: how quickly they disappear. A tether, a run gone, and no trace now of the pale-eyed mutt, wolf-like, who spoke such dangerous violence until I learned her name and sang it out, perplexing her with an intimate song of sweetness: I would whisper-sing her name, songs of her ice-pale eyes and their glinting fire, and her snarling terrors would turn to aching whimper, a plea for me not to pass by. Come back, she would whisper-sing around long canine teeth, and sing to me that I am beautiful, again?
JJS, November 17, 2018: the mountain that isn’t there

*

At Home Poetry Retreat:
On Wednesday, my friend Ronda Broach came over to write poems with me. She got her at 3ish, we put out snacks and started writing poems (from openings of lines, from prompts, from word lists, etc.). By midnight, we had written about 14 poems. She spent the night and the next morning, we woke up and wrote a few more poems. When all was said and done, I had about 17 new drafts. I know, it’s a bit of a poetry marathon, but it’s kind of my favorite way to write poems.

And while we were writing, Ronda said, “Oh, I have a new favorite book to show you…” and I said, “Me too!” Then we both pulled out January Gill O’Neil’s new book REWILDING (just out from CavanKerry Press).

Mini Review:
January is one of my very favorite poets writing today. I have every one of her books and have been a fan of her work since the wayback days–I actually met her through the blog community.

Her poems always get my attention, but this book is really some of the best poetry I’ve read. It’s immediate. It smart, strong, it breaks your heart while you are falling in love with this. For me, these poems remind me what is means to be alive–they deal with loss (from divorce to death), fear, beauty, love of family, love of life, and how absolutely complicated this world is and life can be.

They are not afraid to deal with any topic or subject, and this book is award-winning–in fact, if this book doesn’t win some award, there is something really wrong in the world because I am one of the pickiest poetry readers around, and this book hits me hard and in all the right ways, and I know how strong it is.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Mini Book Review: Rewilding by January Gill O’Neil & At Home Poetry Writing Retreat

*

Fall is funny. The cool weather brings people outside – the trails are busier, the wineries more crowded, the neighborhoods filled with people who’ve been waiting out the heat and humidity from the comfort of their air-conditioned homes. And I don’t blame them, fall is a great time to get outside. But the leaves changing is actually trees withdrawing nutrients from them, pulling them back into their core so they can survive the cold winters. Fall, in reality, is about dying. This fact inspired a poem, of course.

Hike Toward the End of the Affair

We’ve done this trail before, each mis-timed – either

too early and the leaves still lush with green or too late,

and naked trees staring back at us. Today the timing

is perfect, when we reach the top, a kaleidoscope

of fall – burnt orange, scarlet, amber – these trees

the first fire of autumn. I don’t mention that these brilliant

colors are the trees’ final hurrah, I don’t mention the brush

with death they are avoiding.
Courtney LeBlanc, Falling for Fall

*

The world stands perfectly still.
The world hasn’t moved an inch in weeks.
Crows have gone under, dreaming
that Spring lies limpid in their beaks. Earth
is off the hook entirely.
We shall expect
nothing of it. What’s required now,
my friends,
is scarves—not for their warmth
but for their brilliance: Lime and
scarlet, fire and turquoise,
coral, fuchsia and polished plum, plumage
fanned around our pallid necks, its dazzle
meant to send a message
in no uncertain terms:

We will not
ourselves go bald and
rigid as the trees. We will not be frozen out.
Kristen McHenry, A Nation of Natterers, Loom Dyslexia, “Manifesto”

*

As part of my Ginkgo Projects/Bloor Homes commission to write new poems that engage with the landscape and heritage of the area in and around Amesbury, Wiltshire, I bought a return ticket to travel on the number 49 bus from Trowbridge to Avebury. A persistent knee injury is making it difficult for me to drive a car at the moment – and you can’t deny that travelling by public transport is a greener option than taking a car, plus it’s much easier to observe the scenery. So, on a glorious October morning, I packed a sandwich, a pen, a notebook and my mobile phone and set off for Avebury.

At about 10am on a Tuesday, I had the whole of the front row to myself. It was such a treat to be driven! I found myself thinking that I was missing out by not taking the bus more often. The downside is the time it takes, of course. But on a clear Autumn day of gorgeous blue skies, and with no pressure to do anything but look out of the window, think and write poems, I settled in for the ride. […]

Once on the bus, there were new snippets of conversations to collect at every bus stop. From somewhere, I heard two people fill the air with maliciousness about a man who’d done them wrong. In Devizes, our driver braked to let a lady with a limp cross the road.

Thank you for not killing me!

Meanwhile, two fellow bus passengers continued with their character assassination

… indistinguishable, indistinguisable…DIPSTICK.

Avebury was as beautiful and mysterious as always. When visiting henges, I personally prefer Avebury to Stonehenge. For one thing there is no charge (and no queues) – although there is a charge to go into the adjacent National Trust owned Avebury Manor which is highly recommended – and the public share the site with sheep who graze freely around the standing stones.
Josephine Corcoran, Trowbridge to Avebury on the Number 49 Bus

*

I went to the Manchester Art Gallery this weekend and saw the ‘Speech Acts’ exhibition, which includes a piece by Chris Ofili (Untitled 1996). I’ve not been able to find a picture of it on the internet so I’ll have a go at describing it: it’s a sort of intricate doodle in pencil, but when you look closely, hidden names (and therefore hidden meanings) appear. I made out Mike Tyson, Tito Jackson, Gill Scott Heron to name but a few. Maybe it wasn’t asemic writing, because it was legible to some extent, but the viewer had to work hard and really engage with it in order to arrive at some sort of reading.

I’m always interested in process, and there’s something in the process of creating asemic writing that really appeals to me. I know because I’ve had a go at it, although I’m not happy enough with my efforts to post them yet. Anyway, the process is strange. You’re somehow working away from meaning, and at some point the mark/making becomes more important than what’s being said, if that makes sense. Cecil Touchon, whose work appears below, says: ‘I felt there was a meditational element to working with silence and illegibility to express the indescribable.’ I love this description, and I love his piece below, an overlapped and overwritten poem, beautiful in its own right.
Julie Mellor, Asemic writing

*

When I signed up for the [online journaling] class, I didn’t realize I’d be inspired to make a sketch a day. It’s been amazing. Even when I think I have nothing to say/write/sketch, something has bubbled up and often multiple times a day.

I’m enjoying the class beyond just the motivation. I really like seeing what others are sketching. We’re making interesting comments, even though we don’t know each other. I’m loving seeing the sketching/drawing techniques that others are using–and it’s not like any of us are trained artists (at least, I don’t think we are). We’re all women, although the class was open to everyone. I’m not sure why it all interests me so much–well, actually, I am–because we all seem to be wrestling with similar questions (albeit in different arenas): what next?

I’ve been taking the Rupp book, my small sketchbook (8 x 6), and my markers with me everywhere I go, and I’ve been doing a bit of sketching that way. It really helps to have it all with me.

I’ve also been writing a poem a day since November started (the class started Nov. 4). I haven’t been this prolific in ages.

What does any of this mean for the future? I don’t know yet. But it’s good to feel some creative juices flowing.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Process Notes on a Time of Visual Journaling

*

11.13.18: Just logging this here, as one does when one keeps a blog that tracks one’s writing process: I’ve reached a weird, uncomfortable place with the poetry manuscript. Here’s a list of my ridiculous fears/problems:

  1. I fear I’ve jinxed myself by calling this collection of poems a manuscript.
  2. I’ve written myself into a weird space with the narrative arc. I don’t know where to go next.
  3. I’m not having as much fun writing the poems, which tells me they probably aren’t good.
  4. Part of this is because my mind feels pretty divided. Feeling like I should be grading instead of writing really squashes creativity.
  5. Blergh.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Blergh and More Blergh: Notes from the Week

*

I turned down a chapbook publisher a few months ago because they required their authors to do a lot of publicizing and with us moving and a new baby on the way, I didn’t have time for that.

The hard truth is that even if a book deal landed in my lap today, I don’t have time to publicize a book properly–no time for readings, travels, conferences. No time for social media really. My family life is demanding right now, at a fever pitch of demanding, and even though I think continuing to work on my writing is Vitally important, publishing a manuscript needs to wait.

I’ve decided to wait until our last baby is 1 year old before I send out any manuscripts again.

Typing that sentence goes against every bone in my firstborndaughterambitious body but at the same time I know it is what I need to do, it is right for my work, right for me, and right for my family.
Renee Emerson, Wait, Wait…don’t tell me…

*

Yes, it’s been nearly two years since they discovered that my liver had a bunch of tumors in it, which look like cancer, but may or may not be cancer, so I have to keep having tumor marker tests and getting MRIs to make sure they haven’t spread or grown. I don’t like having MRIs, and I don’t like being reminded of the many many thing that are wrong with me, so these tests always put me in a bit one edge. I’m also claustrophobic and I lost my liver cancer specialist when he took a new job on the East coast, so I’m meeting with a new guy at the end of the month. My MS new drug stuff has been put on hold briefly because the MS drug can be dangerous for livers, so I’ve got to go complete a whole new batch of blood work. Fun stuff, right? You can see why I’ve been needing the cheer factor.

But I’m trying to glean some lessons on surviving the tough rigors of the life of a poet from Sylvia Plath – The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, which just came out. You know, we assume that Plath had little or no success while she was alive, but W.S. Merwin and T.S. Eliot tried to help her out, she had her first poetry book, The Colossus, in the US published by Knopf (not too shabby, even though she was discouraged that Marianne Moore gave it a bad review and she had been aiming for the Yale Younger Prize.) Even with Merwin’s good word at the New Yorker, it took her ten years to get her first poem published there, and that was after a year’s worth of back-and-forth edits on her poem. She had written and published The Bell Jar, been anthologized in several big time anthologies of American and English poetry, and been paid to read her poems on the radio. She talked of needing “a little of our callousness and brazenness to be a proper sender-out of MSS” – I definitely need that as I’m sending out my sixth book manuscript to publishers. All this is to say that she worked at poetry like a “real job,” besides being a typist, teaching, researching, and other side gigs, on top of having two babies and a pretty solidly terrible husband who messed around on her and didn’t do much cleaning up, cooking, or childcare. I think a little more money would have helped her too – she had to side hustle pretty much all the time to make ends meet. All in all a kind of cautionary tale – she had a lot of ingredients for success, and sometimes I think, if she’d waited a few years, if the medications of the time (right before the birth control pill and a bunch of mental health breakthrough drugs) had been better, if she’d cultivated friendships with women poets instead of getting so wrapped up in her toxic husband, if the literary world hadn’t been so solidly misogynist during her time – I mean, sometimes I think, if I could only tell her how successful she’ll be. She’d be around 85 now. Anyway, in no way was she a perfect person – she had a mean streak which probably lessened her social support circle and was deeply flawed as well as talented – but I do think that anyone who thought she was weak or didn’t work hard for her success should read these letters. It’s a wonderful (and terrifying) portrait of the woman writer’s life in the late fifties and early sixties. I’ve been working my way through the letters of women with different illnesses – Flannery O’Connor’s life as a writer with her lupus, Elizabeth Bishop and her depression and alcoholism, Sylvia Plath – in order to glean something – strength? Advice? Lessons in what to do and not do? All of these women were very prodigious letter writers, too – in turns, funny, warm, bitter, and a lot about money stress and success (or the lack of it.) I think I’m looking for a path that may not exist yet.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Fighting Back Against Sad with Penguins and Holiday Scenes, More Cancer Tests and Poetry Lessons from Plath

*

And here is a poem for a friend:

I first saw cancer

I first saw cancer in winter, rocking gently
as if to mollify a small child by keening
a lullaby. She murmured a promise,
a truss of blossoms.

After a chill, in the thaw of spring,
wisps of hair returned, a limp corkscrew crown,
while pain cracked open bones and shred
them into lacy stalks.

Cancer rocked gently again in autumn, smothering
the lumpish soil with a thin coat of saltpeter.
And when it dried out like a codfish on the shore,
she offered her caress.

This was first published online on YB in 2009. YB is a no longer available journal, produced by Rose Hunter and Sherry O’Keefe– both wonderful poets, who were some of the very first poets to publish my work.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Topical Memes

*

From page 100 of a childhood compendium of Brontë novels: “Threading this chaos,” Charlotte writes in Jane Eyre, “I at last reached the larder; there I took possession of a cold chicken, a roll of bread, some tarts, a plate or two and a knife and fork: with this booty I made a hasty retreat.” Sounds like Thanksgiving week, during which I am retreating with pies and poultry. Let there be solitude for any writer who needs it, and let it be filling.

Let the editors also have quiet brains, the better to appreciate your and my genius, and let them offer us contracts for our masterworks–lo, promptly and with praise! Let our laptops pant with the warmth of our email exchanges.

In the sage-scented steam, let every brain in these territories brim with new metaphors and opening lines of poems yet to be. Let lying politicians swoon under sonnet attacks and be unable to utter any words except in meditative strains of iambic pentameter. Let swords be beaten into sibilance, power-abusers shuffled off in pantoums, and every vacated position find a feminine rhyme.
Lesley Wheeler, November invocations

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 43

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you’ve missed earlier editions of the digest, here’s the archive.

Forgive me if I editorialize here just a little. This week, I’ve been reminded of how much we need poetry, whether we know it or not. The racist lies from Trump and Fox News about the migrant caravan of desperate Hondurans led directly to the most violent anti-Semitic attack in the history of the U.S., capping off a week in which pipe bombs were mailed to Trump’s perceived enemies (starting with that bogeyman of anti-Semites, George Soros), and a gunman killed two African Americans in a grocery store after trying and failing to enter a Black church. And today we learn that Brazilians have elected a straight-up fascist demagogue despite—or perhaps because of—his violent threats against his opponents. This lurch toward intolerance and xenophobia is world-wide and didn’t begin with Trump, and poetry alone is far from sufficient to counter it, but if we’re going to retain any shred of sanity in the weeks, months, and years ahead, I believe we need honest and unflinching language more than almost anything except love itself.

Poets have certainly been rising to the challenges of the political moment — none more so than Natalie Diaz. So I’d like to begin this week with the latest poetry film from Motionpoems, director Mohammed Hammad’s adaptation of Diaz’s poem “American Arithmetic,” which had its web debut at the blog Directors Notes on Monday.

Taking a statistical approach to the underreported issue of systemic injustice directed at the Native American community in modern-day America, New York based, Saudi born filmmaker Mohammed Hammad’s revelatory documentary American Arithmetic adapts Native educator and poet Natalie Diaz’s original poem for screen as part of season 8 of non-profit arts initiative Motionpoems. Making its online premiere here today, DN asked Mohammed to share how he created this intimate look at a community of organizers reclaiming land and culture, whose lives have all too often been derailed by police intervention. […]

How did your conceptualization of Natalie Diaz’s poem evolve from an initially abstract narrative to its current form and how do you feel the use of portraiture and mixed format cinematography strengthened your interpretation of the poem?

I initially had a visual treatment that was more abstract and super ambitious production-wise relative to the budget we were working with. Part of the initial concept was to film portraits of residents of the reservations. After much consideration and a push from my producers, we decided it would be best to have the film feature portraits of indigenous people living in a city to better relate to Natalie Diaz’s depiction. We felt it would create moments of intimacy that would contextualize the statistics mentioned in the poem.

I felt that the camcorder footage would add that extra layer of intimacy between the film and the viewer, to show a more intimate perspective of the illuminating conversations happening behind the scenes.

From its opening moments, American Arithmetic’s soundtrack is peppered with a multitude of vocal fragments discussing the hostile environment encountered by the Native American community. Could you tell us more about the process of building the film’s soundtrack?

The more I embraced the portraiture treatment of the film, the more the pieces of the puzzle came together more, especially with regards to the audio part of the film. It just made sense to add snippets of our subjects’ interviews and to weave together a collection of reflections, each contributing to the conversation on what it’s like to be a Native person in America today.

Do you feel that your experience of having lived in several countries meant that you approached this project from a particular vantage point?

My experience living in several countries taught me to be malleable and I definitely applied that into the process of making this film. The film itself took me out of my comfort zone as I was making a stylized hybrid poetic documentary/narrative piece which I can’t say I’ve ever done before.
MarBelle, Mohammed Hammad Explores the Influence of Police Intervention on Native American Lives in ‘American Arithmetic’

*

Today I’m going to get up early and get ready for a “virtual” book club visit to talk about Field Guide to the End of the World. It’s a good opportunity to talk about poetry with other people who care about books, which is always cheering. One of the ways I cheered myself this week despite rejections and relentlessly terrible news was turning off the television and computer and reading books. Books remind me of how I developed my own set of ethics as a kid – how The Lorax helped me develop into an environmentalist and Horton Hatches a Who a reminder of keeping promises. How reading books by different authors from different countries helped me imagine what it was like to live in a different country, speak a different language – how The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Weisel helped me understand the horrors of what people did to Jewish people just because they were Jewish, how reading Cry, the Beloved Country helped me know the evils of apartheid, all the dystopias I read about as a kid – from Handmaid’s Tale to Brave New World to 1984, from Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man and Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone stories – illustrated the possibilities of evil, and how to stand up against it. Madeleine L’Engle’s Swiftly Tilting Planet and the nuclear fears of the seventies and eighties. Books changed who I was and how I saw the world, how I saw right and wrong, and this gave me hope. Maybe by writing something – we can help others understand and empathize and connect with a world not their own. We should fight for libraries and help teach books that reach beyond out own experiences and encourage others to read and talk about books as much as we can.

How to Do Good

If you, like me, have been struggling with despair in the face of horrific hate, racism, and evil, think of what we can do to bring light. Yes, books – reading and writing and encouraging others to read them. Yes, voting – even if you feel like it’s a pain and you’re worried your one vote won’t make a difference, it can. Yes, giving money to charities – from fighting diseases to fighting childhood poverty to support for causes like the environment or ending racism or rights for the oppressed and refugees – and if you can’t afford to give money, as I couldn’t for some years, you can volunteer, which always helps you to connect to your local community, which can lessen a feeling of alienation. I had a dream last night where I was asking famous women about how to do good, and they sat down and talked to me about practical ways to put good into your world instead of evil. Spreading a little kindness – I talked in my last blog post about telling writers who have inspired you about how they’ve impacted you, but calling a lonely relative or friend who’s been going through a hard time, standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves – all work. I woke up feeling less despairing – the brief blue sky that appeared this morning didn’t hurt – and maybe I’m naive, but I still believe – just as much as when I was a kid – in facing evil and fighting it with the resources we have.

As October comes to an end, I hope you get a chance to see the moon through the clouds – and the light, even as the darkness seems to stretch out and overpower it.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Poems on the Moon, Going to Book Club, and How to Try to Do Good and not Despair

*

A powerhouse poet and my friend, Jeannine Hall Gailey, has been blogging and posting about her own discouragement and trying to restore herself by focusing on literature she loves. Thinking of her, and also about the Civil-Rights-inspired poetry my students are currently reading, I asked the members of an undergraduate seminar why they were studying English and creative writing, why that seemed worthwhile to them when there’s so much anti-humanities rhetoric swirling around. What can poetry do? Why read, write, and study it?

They gave practical answers about learning to write and wry answers about being too unhappy to thrive without English class in their daily lives. They also talked about how reading certain books had educated them, extended their empathy, and set them intellectually afire. They referenced poems and prose that had reassured them they were not alone and not crazy, although the world has gone mad and it can be hard to find your people. Yes to all of those reasons. I definitely treasure the company, these days, of the poets and bloggers, the English majors and Creative Writing minors, and everyone else who loves literary art enough to get a little obsessive about it. So many Americans seem angry at the wrong people or, what’s even more bewildering to me, too apathetic to take even the smallest of stands against this administration’s destructiveness: to vote.

The poets, though–they’re trying to change the world. I see them writing their way out of insanity in the books, the magazines, and in the submission pile. I’m doing it, too, even as I remain skeptical that poems (or blog posts) are effective places to fight political battles. Certainly they’re not the ONLY place we should be fighting. But they can constitute zones of kindness and good company, alternate worlds of clearer thinking and human connection and occasionally something more magical than that–something like sustenance or transformation. Like Jeannine and like my students, I continue to feel relief and wonder when I visit them.
Lesley Wheeler, Scary days, undignified cats

*

Last night I read about the death of Ntozake Shange, most famous for her play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf. I remember the line of the play which seemed so revolutionary when I heard it at a performance I saw in grad school (early 90’s):

“i found god in myself / and i loved her / i loved her fiercely.” My grad school feminist mind glommed onto the idea of a god as female. Only later did I think about the other idea in this quote, the idea that we find God already inside us. It reminds me of much spiritual teaching, that we already have everything we need. Some traditions take an opposite approach, that we’re born broken and only when we heal our brokenness will be be redeemed/find what we’re looking for.

Her work transformed me in other ways, too. That relentless exploration of how difficult life is for modern women seemed radical at the time. Her work was part of the feminist work of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s that told us that regular life was worthy of artistic exploration and expression too, and it was such a strong counterpoint to the message I got in grad school.

And of course, her work looked at the lives of minority women who faced problems unique to them. I haven’t read her work in decades, but I imagine that it still seems sadly relevant.

Many of our social scientists tell us that we won’t see societal transformation until we have done the work of recognizing and naming the problems that afflict a society. It is often through the work of writers like Shange that we are able to empathize, even if the problems don’t afflict us. It is often through the visionary work of a variety of writers, spiritual and otherwise, that we can start to imagine what a better world could be.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Loss and Reformation

*

I work as a nurse practitioner at a rural family medicine clinic. Although I call myself a poet, I have worked all of my adult life in the health care system. We had a staff retreat yesterday, which turned into an emotional event, changing (at least my own) irritation at having to go to a early meeting on Saturday morning to gratefulness that I have a job that matters and work with people who matter to me. It could have been a gripe session– as medical providers we are, of course, very privileged economically, and yet find plenty to gripe about in our work settings. So it was heartening to find that our strongest consensus concerned asking leadership to be more generous and more committed to our support staff– the nurses and medical assistants, the front desk and call center staff– without whom nothing would happen at the clinic. There has always been something family-like about working in health care, whether in the ER at Beth Israel Hospital in NYC; doing abortions in Tallahassee, Florida; providing care to HIV positive women in the South Bronx; or providing palliative care to trauma patients at Harborview in Seattle. There is the sense that we understand what’s at stake and therefore, are able to look beyond our differences and actually care about each other, take care of each other.

So unlike the way the world seems to be working these days.

On the poetry front, I have a review of Robin Becker’s The Black Bear Inside Me up at the Rumpus. […]

Things I think I know for sure:

I’m voting against tyranny and hatred.
I’m working, at least until I retire, which I expect to do in 2020
when I turn 70.
Poetry has saved my life. More than a few times.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning from Moue to Musing

*

I had a couple of perfect days recently: one was an exquisite balance of walking, friends, color, nature, and the absorbing work of editing. The other was a wonderful balance of solitude, making applesauce, and the absorbing work of editing.

I love editing far more than I love the act of making work. I often do the work of writing by having one eye winced closed in case I’m making crap. Or I’ll write while pretending to think of other things, the way a cat friend of mine used to look away insouciantly as he hooked a plastic spider ring and flung it to one side. Then he’d leap after it as if it were prey. In this way I sometimes find half-forgotten things in my notebook that I can leap upon with edit-lust.

This time though I had the rare pleasure of feedback from people whose opinions I care about, and could delve in to their notes and make multiple copies of possible versions of the poems while muttering things like, yes, yes, okay, you may be correct here, or no, no, you’re wrong, utterly wrong, or, not infrequently, both in reverse succession.

But I also love the balance of mind and body, the meditation of walking, the pleasurable act of squishing apples in my hand-turned apple squisher device. The act of editing is both such things — establishing rhythm, noting details, turning chopped stuff into smooth, and balancing words and silence.
Marilyn McCabe, Callooh Callay; or, A Brief Note on Editing

*

Dear Editors, why I won’t pay you to reject me

Because I’m work-from-home online adjunct, mom of four (soon to be five) kids whose husband works in the food industry.

Because your contest fee means a night of not ordering pizza out even though morning sickness has me on the floor OR telling my kid she has to wait a while for her new shoes OR missing out on the field trip because even though its five dollars a kid, we have a lot of kids.

Because I don’t believe that literary magazines and contests should “narrow the pool” financially, keeping those who don’t have professional development funds or wealthy spouses or deep pockets from being able to enter.

Because if this is how the literary world always revolved, you would be pre-rejecting Lovecraft, Oscar Wilde, Gwendolyn Brooks, if the patriarchy didn’t get to it first.

It isn’t about “not believing in my work” or “not supporting the arts”–it is about $20 not being much to you, but being too much of a risk for me.

Because I know you work hard, and for little, but so do I. And my work is not worthless, and it is not worth so little that I must pay an editor to even look at it.
Renee Emerson, Dear Editors, why I won’t pay you to reject me

*

I only have two.

They grow and shrink, lumps

and bones, distorted

and perfectly flawed.

They arc in lovely

lines, dangling toe-buds

like pearl drops & chains.

They fracture/fragile.

They are beautugly.
PF Anderson, Feet (Bodymap, 1)

*

When William Burroughs did his cut ups, he often cut two pages of text down the middle and juxtaposed the different halves. I’ve been messing about with this method, using fiction texts to see what might surface. I’ve moved from two to three juxtaposed texts which seems to widen the ‘phrase field’ a bit, and the one above generated the line ‘overlap of a moth’. I decided to coin the term ‘overlap’ for this type of poem. The result is quite open and experimental; the words still seem to be in flux. I like this – the way meaning doesn’t seem to be fixed. Anyway, here’s the poem. See what you think.

moth

I don’t know exactly
its paralysis
the bit I see infallibly
through daylight

the glass door
respectful and cold
the way she talks about
the inner significance of things

gone soon enough
to the window
feverish at eye level
thrumming

between good and evil
free to acknowledge this
all the time very uncertain

pitiful isn’t it?
talking
Julie Mellor, Overlap of a moth

*

[Jeanne] Oliver suggests making your storyboard from “colors, textures, images, art, magazine pages, objects, travel, architecture, history, family, vintage ephemera, fabrics, and online searches regarding people or places.” I decided to make a storyboard out of the things I’d gathered as well as new images. I pulled out some old magazines, papers I’d saved, old photographs, and other bits and pieces.

In a short while, I had a pile. I selected items from the pile and taped them, more or less at random, to a piece of poster board. When I was finished, I saw that I had placed a photo of my father from 1957 next to the word “Stay” in the upper right-hand corner.

In the opposite corner, I had taped a photo of my German grandparents’ house in Mexico City below to the word “bones.” Above that, the words “a beautiful life” and “lost.” In the middle of the collage, I placed a picture of Little Red Riding Hood facing the wolf.

Other things on the storyboard include a page from To Kill a Mockingbird, the words “dreams & theories,” photographs of my grandparents, a forest scene, and a piece of handmade paper.

The next step in this process is to explore those connections through writing. Oliver: “Is there something in your past or present that you never considered incorporating into your art? Could there be new inspiration right in front of you?” From this exercise, I’m able to ask myself what connections there might be between a house in 1936 Mexico City, Little Red Riding Hood, and a conversation between Jem, Scout and Dill in front of Boo Radley’s house.

“I find the gathering part of this exercise extremely relaxing and meditative,” Oliver writes. I enjoyed the hunter-gatherer aspect as well, paging through my notebooks, ripping pictures from magazines, and adding the odd bits I’ve collected over the years.
Erica Goss, Storyboards for Creative Writing

*

Recently, I dreamt of falling water and gently swaying scarves and weavers who crafted magical cloth. I dreamt of dancing, silver bracelets shimmering on my arms, and resting on a mystical shore used for healing sleep. And for the first time in what seems like forever, I sat down yesterday and spent a few hours writing in my poetry journal. I now have the seed of an idea for a new poetry chapbook.

For a long time, I’ve puzzled over why I’ve been struggling with writing poetry. I don’t want to poo-poo the idea that learning difficult things is valuable. There is a great value in learning something that requires time, study, scholarship and devotion. But isn’t the point of all that said scholarship to then to take it into the greater world and share it for the good of others? Or to put it to some sort of practical use? There is much lamenting in the poetry world about how no one reads poetry. Yet poets by and large have spent a lot of time in narrow enclaves, writing for each other in a specific, learned language that isn’t interesting or accessible to the general public. By the time I stepped away from poetry to focus on writing my novel, I was worried that I would begin to cement that same language, with its inscrutable trends and impenetrable aura, into my own poetry. Writing poetry felt constricting rather than expansive; anxiety-producing rather than joyous.

Is poetry to be hoarded amongst those who can devote their lives to its mysteries– something holy to be gate-kept by a few high-appointed guardians? Or do we as poets have a responsibility to ensure its ideas and joys are shareable to a wider audience? I guess the answer to that conundrum lies in what one believes the function of poetry is, or if you even believe it needs a function beyond itself. Personally, I believe all art should be functional to some degree or another, but I’m sure greater minds than mine would disagree. If the role of the poet is to experiment with language and push boundaries, then is the sacrifice inevitably accessibility? Then again, isn’t the ultimate point of language communication? And why am I wasting my time and my readers time ruminating on these questions when all I really want to do is write a game review for the vintage “Vampire: The Masquerade?” I don’t have any answers. I just want to see if it’s possible to write poetry that would appeal to people who would normally never read poetry. Anyone with actual intellectual depth, please feel free to weigh in. Two paragraphs of this and I’m already mentally exhausted. (A PhD in the making I am not.)
Kristen McHenry, Choking in the Shallow Water, Vintage Game Review Tease

*

After our grandmother died a long month after a cancer diagnosis, Mark started to get terrified. Suddenly, everything, including himself, was mortal. He lay in bed, eight, and I sat beside him, eleven and a half, and he asked quivering questions to the ceiling, no light except for the occasional blue blinking of his computer’s power button:

“What does it mean to die?

“When will I die?

“When will you die?

“Where do we go when we die?

“Why do people have to die?”

And to all these I would answer, “That’s very, very far away, don’t think about it now.”

Then I’d go back to my own bed, walking through the hallway with my eyes closed, in case I saw her ghost. Some nights I would have nightmares.

The worst dream I had I was in Mark’s room with Mark, and he was asking those questions, and then her ghost appeared, suddenly, leaning over a lamp. I pointed to her, and Mark turned around, but he didn’t see her…

*

We were like turtles in the dark, wanting to swim up towards the moon’s shape on the surface of water. But we kept mistaking each other’s pale lit shell below us for the moon, and so we’d spiral back, and back.
“This space is how much I love you” – guest blog post by Rainie Oet (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

*

Travel and illness are both estranging, and I’ve managed quite enough of both of late. Yesterday I felt like myself again and promptly wrote a poem about a visit to the Chihuly show at the Vanderbilt estate, Biltmore. I found this surprising because I no longer write many poems where the “I” is so clearly related to me. Lately I’ve written two long series of poems that ostensibly have nothing at all to do with my days, though of course that’s a feint, a bull’s red flag, a dropped handkerchief. Maybe the little poem was just grounding me–hey, I’m back in my life!

After that, I worked on a forthcoming novel. I had a dead man to tote to another part of the manuscript, and then I–poof!–turned a long passage of description into a scene starring the main character interacting with various things, including the hair of that aforesaid dead man.

The dead are heavy but portable. Sometimes they make more sense in one place than another. This is true in life also, but we don’t get to choose. Although I do know a few people who carry around the dead in urns. On a mantlepiece, the dead are strangely magnetic. They provide a kind of focus to a room. Not the fashionable kind that house decorators desire… This seems wrong, of course. The dead are already magnetic without being physically present in a room. They follow us whether we will or no. They crowd around as we grow older. We ignore them most of the time, but now and then one becomes vivid.
Marly Youmans, The dead man in the huckleberries

*

The first time I came to Skye on my own was to Write. The capital letter is deliberate. I’d signed up for an MA in Creative Writing. As I’ve said before, it was rubbish, but that was at least in part because I was, too. Suishnish, on the left, and Boreraig are sites of 19thC. Clearances, and I was going to Write Poems about them having read everything John Prebble could tell me about the business. Anyway, I hiked over the moor to Boreraig, and on another day, tramped up the metalled track to Suishnish, where there’s a house that was inhabited until relatively recently, and also big fank…a sheep station barn. There are only ruined walls at Boreraig. The crofters were driven to subsist on the poorer land on the opposite shore, or shipped off to Canada. Or they just died.

That was over 12 years ago, and the past is another country. I wrote poems about it all, but as Helen Mort said to me “You can make a poem be, but it won’t be any good”. They weren’t. However. There’s a circular walk of 12 miles or so that starts on the other side of that Boreraig skyline. It starts from the ruined church of Kin Criosdh on the Elgol road, and can be walked clockwise, passing the doomed marble quarries to go over to Boreraig and then along the shore below the cliffs, up a cliff path and on to the Suishnish headland and track..it’s a bit of a plod along the road back to Kil Criosdh. I had always wanted to walk it, and when I hit 65 I had both hips replaced and six months later I did the walk, counterclockwise. The following year I did it again, clockwise. For my money, counter- clockwise is best…it gets the road and the lorries from the Torrin quarries out of the way while you’re fresh, and after that, you may see no one for the rest of the trip. If it’s pissing down they’ll let you shelter in the fank if they’re working that day. Golden eagles haunt the cliff above the track, and there’s often the sight of one being harassed by crows.

I’m conflicted by that bit of coast in so many ways. I want to walk it again, but my ankle’s useless, and I can forget it. I regret the whole business of the MA and the ill-considered writing. And every year, there they are, Suishnish and Boreraig, the first thing I see in a morning for a week in the year. Or don’t see.

They are shapeshifters. They vanish in a scrim of wet muslin. They shine in the sun. They are scoured by squalls of snow. Sometimes, after a snowfall one of the Red Cuillin peaks rises like a moon, and Bla Bheinn towers beyond the headland. I love them and miss them.
John Foggin, Notes from a small island

*

Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Write from the gut. Go to that dark place you want to avoid. Explore those issues that make you sick to your stomach. That’s where the poem is. I give myself this advice every day.

Q~Do you find yourself returning to certain themes or subjects in your work?

A~I’m a white, privileged, bisexual woman from rural Alabama. As a child I was sexually abused by the Baptist minister’s foster son and have been sexually harassed for much of my professional life. My poetry is largely female-centered about issues that girls and women struggle with. The personal is political. Recently, I’ve worked with Greek myth, looking at those women whose stories weren’t told because women weren’t telling the stories. For instance, I imagine different poetic truths out of the mouths of Medusa, Medea, Leda, Eurydice et al. Much of the #MeToo Movement echoes the silenced history of these Greek archetypes.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” when I was sixteen. My eleventh-grade English teacher handed the class section one and asked us to respond. Like many teenagers, I was a disconsolate kid, always feeling alone and seeking something more. I felt like a lost soul and poetry became my refuge. A couple of years later I read Plath’s “Daddy” and felt confirmed. As Audre Lorde says, “For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence.”

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~If Not, Winter Fragments of Sappho translated by Anne Carson; The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald; Tropicalia by Emma Trelles; and Averno by Louise Gluck.
Bekah Steimel, Jeopardy / An interview with poet Chella Courington

*

We were four generations in Pittsburgh; my grandfather grew up in the Hill District, then moved to Squirrel Hill. He was an old-style family doctor who made house calls with stethoscope in his leather kit. He sometimes took his payment in garden vegetables, or a chicken. When the Hill became mainly black neighborhood, he stayed working there and some patients, the story goes, named their kids after him (Reuben).

They davened in Synagogue Beth Shalom; were long members there until my parents moved to Rodef Shalom. I can’t imagine the decades were easy. I heard stories of some families during the Depression having to put their kids in Jewish adoption homes, and were lucky if the kids were there when money came back in.

My father worked outside the city in the mining counties. It took not recklessness but confidence to be that “Jewish buccaneer.” It was possible. Sometimes he had to shine a powerful flashlight down those hollers.

How far have we not come? We’re subjects of history’s hills and shadowed valleys. My grand-parents and parents, who have all passed, would have been surprised if they’d been told to take literally the psalm: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death—

Many people are reminding us alongside the darkness there is abundant light. So be it.
Jill Pearlman, Hills, Shadowed Valleys, Squirrel Hill