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

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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)

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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…

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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

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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

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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’

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 41

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, a number of poetry bloggers wrote about deaths of loved ones and about seeking inspiration in art — sometimes in the same post. Other bloggers wrote about their quests to become more organized or more productive. There were a couple of interesting reports from conferences, and as usual, plenty of other random delights.

The morning sears its way into my day. There is the sparkling glint of sun on water and across Discovery Bay I can see the snowy top of Mount Baker and the backside of Port Townsend off to the East. I am blessed with this view when it appears out my window as I sit at my desk and wonder what to do next. How different life seems to me on a day when no fog rises up to obscure my view, no rain smacks at the glass. And yet, some days I can convince myself that Port Townsend, Mount Baker, the whole damn universe, is still there, even when I can’t see it. Or feel it. Or find it. Or be a part of it. My own fear of death seems easy to overcome with the thought that this, all of this, will all go on with me or without me.

Embracing death, notwithstanding, I am able to feel anxious about my many failures. I’ve fallen behind in promises, and nothing feels worse to me than not meeting deadlines, failing to fulfill a commitment, or having a dirty house. These are things to get over. The universe is made of dust, as I was recently reminded, and moving the dust around is not always a productive activity. Determining what is really worthwhile can be debilitating. So much seems worth so little.

Writing a Sunday blog joins me with others in a way that helps me to connect with a common purpose. I seem to be able to continually write poems. I’ve started meeting with a small writing group in my rural area that is proving to be a remedy for the sense of isolation I feel most days.

I’m sick with worry about our planet, but I guess that’s nothing new. Just because I am a nihilist at heart does not mean I am disengaged. I am trying to uncover meaning, step up to the plate, look for opportunities to serve, seek crevices of hope.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Musings

*

Sit down here, by this closed window
and consider it this way:
that not even dust remains
of how things were
before the sleep of reason;
that not a carbon trace is left
of what once might have been.

Relax. Sit back in your chair
and listen to my voice.

You know the properties
of hope,
of dreams,
of rumours.

You know how rich
the imagined landscape,
and how true that stranger’s voice,
its cadences so clear.
Dick Jones, The Way Things Are

*

After supper, after gin rummy and pages
turning and the rhythmic click of a sweater
growing row by row, bed greets you
like a childhood friend, and sleep
keeps company with the blue black sky
and the owl’s whispered flight.
Sarah Russell, Home

*

Earlier, as I was walking up the stairs that started the trail’s steep ascent out of Mill Valley’s Old Mill Park, I had been glancing at the plaques embedded into the concrete risers. Most of them paid tribute to loved ones, or memorialized families, but one caught my eye. “Enjoy this wonderful moment,” the plaque said, which was somewhat amusing to consider from the point of view of a person suffering up a brutally steep climb equivalent to the height of a 55-story skyscraper. But it also reminded me of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, whose writings repeatedly remind us to recognize the present moment, to enjoy this wonderful moment. So I was savoring that saying, and the awareness of the wonderful moment, as I jogged through the ancient trees, the filtered light, the ferns and dirt and rocks of the trail above Muir Woods.

And then I noticed the trail wasn’t connecting with the Dipsea. In fact, it was curving back down to rejoin the lower, level path through Muir Woods. Dammit! I had jogged back almost to the entrance of the park! Clearly, I realized, I’d taken a wrong turn — again.

Rather than head back out and start over, I decided to take a second jog through Cathedral Grove and turn the correct way this time. Looking at another sign, it was clear that I needed to turn to the right, not left, immediately after crossing Bridge 4, so that’s what I did on my second time across. And as I made my second ascent from Bridge 4 I realized where I had gone wrong the first time: In my rush to pass the large extended family on the trail, I had jogged past the turnoff to the Ben Johnson Trail. The people I was passing had probably stepped aside onto the trail I actually wanted to take in order to let me go by on the wrong path. A lesson in mindfulness: You can enjoy this wonderful moment, but don’t forget to look for the trail signs.
Dylan Tweney, How Not to Run a Double Dipsea

*

I intended to publish this post last month, actually in the month of September, but life got in the way and so here we are, nearly halfway through October and I’m only just now finishing this and getting it online. Sorry. The below is still relevant, just a little dated.

Twitter has a hashtag #SeptWomenPoets to honor and recognize women poets. My Twitter feed was filled with women poets all month, something I absolutely loved. And it would seem the poetry gods were shining upon me this month as I had six poems published and several more accepted for future publication.

Aside from the wonderful publications, it was a very busy month for me. I spent most of the month on work travel – in Hawaii and then Tunisia.

Hawaii was its usual mix of lush green hiking, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and 60-hour work weeks…

Tunisia was also beautiful – the weather was still warm and the days were clear and once I got on antibiotics for strep throat and started feeling a little better, I was able to enjoy it. I even got to do a little sightseeing after my meetings wrapped up. (Side note: I’ve never had strep throat and I had NO IDEA how painful and awful it is!)
Courtney LeBlanc, September Women Poets

*

It seemed to me to have been a long time since I devoted serious focus to my creative work–I mean in terms of organizing, keeping track, revising, submitting to journals, compiling a draft manuscript of newer work…the so-called business of poetry. I resolved therefore to spend a weekend at the task. Alas. The weekend revealed to me the extent of my benign neglect: ten years of not-really-being-on-the-ball.

I do not consider myself a particularly prolific poet, but I found myself faced with well over a ream of poetry pages, many poems only in their second or third draft and far from “finished.” Maybe an average of 70 poems a year for ten years. Do the math: this is not a weekend’s work. [le sigh]

Where to begin? There is no beginning. After an hour or so of trying to prioritize the various components of the job, I gave up and just started at whatever had become the top of the pile. Analysis: which drafts had any glimmer of possibility? Some erstwhile poems could easily be culled into the “dead poems file” I keep under the cabinet with the dust bunnies. Others required considerable revision.

Fascinating process, despite aspects of tedium. I encountered poems I forgot I’d composed. I looked at the dates I began and revised them, tried to discern where my thoughts and feelings were at the time. Somehow, going through poems in no way resembles looking at old photographs–it’s not that sort of memory jog. Indeed, the poems are not involved with the memory part of my brain but with the creative part.

And that is exactly what I have been neglecting: the creative, imaginative, intuitively analytical side of myself.
Ann E. Michael, Neglecting the work

*

Small press magazines are invaluable – they give poetry a space in the world. I’ve had a good run this year. Lots of magazines have taken my work. I’m grateful for it, but I don’t take it for granted. Of course, I still get plenty of rejections. That’s no bad thing because it keeps me (and the work) grounded. What I really appreciate though, is a quick turn around (from submission to acceptance and publication). It seems to me that when magazines are able to go to print quickly, what you’re reading is the freshest work, poems that give you that sense of excitement and discovery, that sometimes confound or confront you (it’s good to be challenged once in a while). For me that’s what makes these magazines so special. Long may they continue to print new work.
Julie Mellor, Shearsman

*

I was also determined, since I lost a little over a month of writing and submitting time, to get back on track, so I sent out a couple of submissions, but I notice that the way my brain functions since the MS, I’m a little slower putting together submissions, making sure I’m following the guidelines of different journals…what used to take twenty minutes takes more than two hours now. My reading times have also slowed, although my vision didn’t get worse – it just takes my brain longer to process a poem, a page of prose. I should send my book manuscript out some more as well. […] Autumn downtime seems so decadent, to me – a time supposed to be a flurry of business, returning to school, coming back from vacation, paying bills, rearranging closets to reach coats and scarves and boots – but it feels the most necessary, too – extra sleep, extra vitamins, extra consumption of pumpkin and apple. It seems like good poetry-writing time. My own recent poems, I notice, have been full of death and dahlias.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, October Adventures, Playing Catch Up, Art Gallery Openings, and Autumn Downtime

*

It has come to be natural, not trusting my eyes, how their hyperopic excellence can no longer be drawn in: ask me about the horizon, about that hawk’s messy neck or which of the treeline’s members are healthiest, but book, but my own face, but scale? It cannot be, these vague numbers down below and too close, they make no sense. My body is massive and stone, vast as desert and as desiccated, miles and tons of body, these numbers dysmorphing before my eyes. Fewer now than before, it makes no sense. Corrective lenses unmorph nothing. Pressed far enough, only incongruence is real.
JJS, October 12, 2018: disembodied condition

*

I am so thrilled to have a poem up in Hyphen Magazine and so deeply grateful for Eugenia Leigh’s thoughtful, generous comments! “Cheongomabi / 천고마비” was drafted during my Tupelo 30/30 run three years ago, and I wrote quite a bit about working on the poem here.

Autumn is my favorite season, and while it’s been humid and rainy here lately in Kansas, I’ve always reveled in the blueness of the sky this time of year. It must be something about the particular angle of the sun in the fall and how it affects the way molecules in the air scatter more blue light, but there is some depth to the color I’ve always found especially moving. I love how “천고마비” evokes that quality with a feeling of height rather than depth, the sky reaching upward and upward into an blue that seems boundless, that can hold hope and fear of hope. That can hold everything.
Hyejung Kook, October Poetry: “Cheongomabi / 천고마비”

*

  1. Every U.S.-residing woman I’m in conversation with, of every generation, remains upset about Kavanaugh’s confirmation. For me it’s like trying to do my best work as some disembodied voice mutters in my ear, Even when we believe you, we consider the “assaults” you have suffered laughable. This is worth remembering about people as we walk through the world, how some are raining on the inside.
  2. The day I rotated off the AWP Board of Trustees, the scale read two pounds lighter. You think that’s related to salt consumption, and you’re entitled to that opinion.
  3. Grounded by Hurricane Michael, I missed my last board meeting in San Antonio. I’m sad to have missed catching up with the AWP staff and other board members, who are really the most wonderful people. But I wrote a poem (about Kavanaugh). Rested. Caught up on some work. As soon as I gave up trying to rebook flights, the sun came out.
  4. One of the papers I graded argued that while it was offensive for Sylvia Plath to use Holocaust metaphors in the persona poem “Daddy,” she may have appropriated that collective persecution because she knew that her own story, as a survivor of domestic abuse, would not have been believed. It was such a measured essay, not excusing anything, yet tending towards empathy in a way I found moving. People have to stop trash-talking millennials.
  5. The other essays were pretty damn good, too. Messy, sometimes, but we’re all messes, right?

Lesley Wheeler, October list, with bright spots

*

Before we get to the vacation slides, though (I’m channeling every 1950s father here . . .), I’ll share that Bread Loaf Sicily was a really wonderful program. Far less formal and intense, I believe, than the regular program in Vermont, but no less useful for this particular writer. In fact, I’d venture to say — even though I’ve never attended the regular program — that it was probably far more useful than the regular program ever could have been.

I learned much from observing C. Dale Young teach our poetry workshop — practical things (skills? techniques? I’M A WRITER!!) that I can carry back to my own creative writing classroom, and my conference with him was extremely helpful in terms of my new, emerging manuscript (there, I said it). Also: writing time! I continued with my a.m. writing sessions, albeit NOT fueled with coffee because it wasn’t available that early in the morning — and between that and the airplane travel, and even without the caffeine, I wrote 6 new poems over the course of the week.

BAM. Also, also, A. and I met some of the nicest and most charming people, which felt lucky. I mean, being thrown into these conference things, you can’t trust that you’re going to find anyone you genuinely like and admire, let alone a whole table full of them, but we did. Including two Jonathans, one prose writer and one poet, both talented writers, but whom A. and I sadly could not convince to fight to the death, Highlander-style. Because, you know. There can only be one.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Bread Loaf Sicily 2018 Recap

*

Speaking of artsy, I’ve been spending a good deal of time this weekend working on some edits for some poems that are going to be in an upcoming anthology. For some reason, I’m finding it extremely difficult to make decisions. I haven’t written much poetry since finishing the novel, and the poem section of my brain seems to have atrophied. I don’t believe in overthinking poetry too much either when writing it or reading it, but even simple decisions about commas are feeling loaded and daunting to me. But on the plus side, it has inspired me to sit down with my gigantic Wallace Stevens anthology and start reading poetry again, with the aim to find my way back into writing it again eventually.
Kristen McHenry, Fancy Fail, Brain Tangle, Cow Punching

*

As I walk around with words whispering just unheard in my head, I’m engaged in the ritualized act of seeing that is museum-going. As I spent time in one small gallery, I noticed the rapid coming and going of five or six people, who were in the what’s-this-what’s-that mode that I too get into often when I’m visiting a museum. Some of that has to do with the sheer volume of work to absorb in a day’s visit. You have to measure time and energy in such a situation, and I appreciate that. I wish museums offered multiple-day passes to allow this kind of focused attention absent the anxiety of time and what-am-I-missing. As an artist in residence here, I have the leisure to return again and again.

Because I’m here on a mission of art-making, everything is more alive to my eye, ear, nose. I feel the rubble of metal plates underfoot or the knobs of gravel, the yield of damp grass. Being here I feel art begetting art, and I want to crumple my page of poem into some shadow-casting form to attach to a wall, or mutter my words into the tunnel of an old air duct.

I begin to experience “ostranenie,” a term meaning to defamiliarize, to make the familiar strange. And in that state I can relook at my own work, my usual turns of phrase and modes of expression and come to embrace it, clarify it, discard it as too limited, pile on it, twist it, shatter it open, hone it to a knife-edge. Ideas of new work I might make emerge as bright possibilities just beyond the edges of these buildings, skittering leaves glimpsed through a window, a stalking crow, and I can’t wait to give myself over to what might happen.

I am giddy with the world, the mind, imagination.
Marilyn McCabe, Art for Art’s Sake; or How Other Artistic Media Can Generate New Writing

*

A couple of weeks after David’s funeral my good friend Bob Hogarth, the Art Adviser said: why don’t you do a painting of him? Why don’t you paint his life? I set out on a collage of maps of the city, photographs of his childhood, images of a small attache case and a strange ugly ring that he’d left on the top floor of that block of flats behind the Merrion Centre, an old atlas open at a map of Africa. Buddleia. Hydrangeas. I worked on it for a week or so. And then stopped. Just a layer of collage and thinned down acrylics. Every couple of years I’ll have a look at it, and resolve to finish it. But I don’t think I want to. I suspect I understand why. It took a long time…more than twenty years…to find out that for me the answer lay in writing. Maybe it started with a friend of a friend buying me Jackie Kay’s Adoption Papers, and then started again with being told about Carrie Etter’s Imagined Sons.

It started with rediscovering Greek myths, and particularly the story of Icarus. It was discovering, through the process of retelling the story, that the character no one pays enough attention to is Daedalus, or points out that if Daedalus had used his amazing gifts well, he would never have needed to build a labyrinth, would not have given away its secret, would not have been imprisoned in a tower with his son, would never have needed to conceive of making wings. I understood, through this that if you make wings for your children, it’s not enough to just watch them fly. Whether they fly into the sun or the heart of darkness, if they fall, then are you responsible, and how will you live with that.

Tony Harrison wrote that in the silence that surrounds all poetry

articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting’.

I believe articulation is healing, a way to atonement and to being able to forgive yourself. The serenity to accept the things you cannot change. Articulation can be confessional, too. You can’t change the past; ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ simply make you spiritually ill. We know this, rationally, consciously, but living by it needs help. Two poets have given me that help. Clare Shaw’s credo “I do not believe in silence” and her unwavering frank gaze at her history of self-harm, and psychological disturbance gave me courage. As did Kim Moore’s decision to use poetry to deal with her experience of domestic abuse. And, finally, one moment in a writing class that Kim was running that somehow unlocked suppressed and unarticulated belief, guilt, knowledge. I remember I wept silently all the time I was writing. It only lasted five minutes, that task. But an insight, an acknowledgement takes only a moment no matter how long the process that leads up to it. This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine says Prospero at the end. I think I understand the release he must have felt in that split second.
John Foggin, A loss you can’t imagine: young men and suicide

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Four years and three months ago, Mom had a major stroke, and while she had, up until then, maintained much of her independence, the stroke put her on the fast train into dementia. We moved her into a skilled nursing facility, thinking we would lose her soon. Four years…

Yesterday, Mom’s journey ended, or — as a wise friend put it — her brand new journey began.

During the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to carry on as though nothing was changed. After Mom took a turn for the worse (and was no longer speaking) in September, yet continued to hang on, I told myself that I’d better get on with my life. I was scheduled to teach two classes at my college, and on the first day of classes (completely unprepared) I pulled myself together and got started with that.

I also had an on-line course all set up and ready to go, and I launched the free opening of it from my blog. The on-line course is small — just a few prompts so far (possibly an actual course, depending on interest) — you can read about it here (if you haven’t already). But one of the reasons I wanted to blog today is to say that my heart is really not up for it right now. Laura Day, in The Circle, says that our desires, our hungers, are what make us human, and I agree. I continue to believe that it’s helpful to identify what we want to achieve — in our writing lives as in the rest of our lives. I think it’s better to see these things clearly and I think it’s better to bring them out into the open, than to keep them buried. I also think it’s good to winnow through our desires and decide which are the truly important, which are for “some day” but not now, and which are really the universe’s job, and not ours at all.
Bethany Reid, What Do You Really Want?

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Getting back to oils has been in my mind over the past year or so — a kind of nagging little voice in the back of my head. When we lost our friend and fellow artist, Jenny, at the end of the summer, and I thought about my own upcoming birthday, I realized a decision had already been made, almost without consciously realizing it. Jenny had also worked in many different media over her lifetime, but in recent years she had turned to ceramics and was making fantastic, often whimsical objects and sculptures that were a reflection of her personality and spirit — and she loved it, she had really found her perfect medium. At the musical wake the day after Jenny’s memorial service, I sat on the couch in their apartment, singing and listening to music being played, talking to old friends, while looking at Jenny’s ceramics arrayed on a long window shelf, the towers of Manhattan rising behind them. On a perpendicular wall, over the piano, was an oil painting of mine that I gave Jenny and Bill a long time ago, accompanied by one of Jonathan’s photographs, and a portrait in oils of Jenny’s mother by a well-known New York artist. It made me think. To some extent, my desire to start again in this medium is a way to remember and honor our friend, and acknowledge that time is passing. If not now, when? […]

It makes me happy to be doing this. Painting always feels like a miracle to me, as do all the arts: beginning from blankness and silence, then creating and building something that grows out of what felt empty, but was always actually filled with potential. What could be more hopeful and life-affirming than that? And yet it’s so easy to get caught in the destructive and doubting void, particularly now, when the world often feels hopeless and negative, and so many are despairing and angry. I don’t want to be like that; I want to work, as long as I’m able, to see and express something better and more beautiful about our world and my small place in it. That’s the real decision that was made.
Beth Adams, Back to oils

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Sorting through my mother’s belongings, I uncovered a perplexing life. She was an artist and a connoisseur of the absurd. As a child, I admired her paintings, but tiptoed past the stranger ones. In nightmares, my mother stood in a dark closet behind a portrait of a gnarled crone. Glowering from the canvas, the old woman clutched a terrified goose.

Disturbing questions followed me as I traveled to the vacation condo my mother shared with my stepfather, who was also deceased. I needed to clear out the place, but wanted to leave time for writing and contemplation. I scrubbed years of grime from tile grout, pulled down mildewed curtains, and gazed out at the ocean. Words shimmered on the horizon and dissolved. To write about my mother, I had to look—really look—at her paintings. And so, during a solidary stay in Florida, I took a deep dive into ekphrastic poetry. […]

Excited by the possibilities, I explored ways to interpret, confront, question, and hear my mother through her art. For the first time, I studied the angry abstract she displayed by the door to the kitchen. Orange and black slashed across the tall canvas. The colors, applied in slabs, shrieked for attention. The shapes were incomprehensible. Even more puzzling: On the back of the frame, the carefully printed words, “Lahey 10 A.M.”

A Google search for “Lahey” unleashed a string of associations. A person named Lahey declared, “I am Alcohol in the Flesh.” Another Lahey “turned to art late in life.” My poem about the abstract painting segued into a meditation on wild departures from lifelong patterns. The incomprehensible shapes, I suddenly realized, were crows in flight.

Ekphrastic poetry invites non sequiturs, digressions, and surprises. The disturbing image of the old woman and the goose, painted several months before I was born, transported me to a mother I didn’t remember and had never considered: an ambitious and frustrated painter who “must’ve felt queasy / perched on her artist stool, // swooping her palette knife / side to side while I swam / inside her.”
Ekphrastic Poetry: A Writer Finds Messages in Her Mother’s Art – guest blog post by Jackie Craven (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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The morning started with keynote speaker Kim Stafford, Oregon Poet Laureate and son of legendary Pacific Northwest poet, William Stafford. Kim shared one of his father’s quotes (I’m paraphrasing from memory): “William Stafford said that he wasn’t impressed with people who said they wanted to support the arts; what impressed him was the person who confessed a weakness for the arts.”

After I gave my workshop (“Beyond the Sonnet: New Poetic Forms to Boost Your Writing Practice) I attended six more. I’m happy to report that I came home with inspiration for poems leaping off the pages of my notebook. “Facing It,” given by Judith Montgomery and Carl Barrett, dealt with the challenges of care-giving, including “diagnosis, treatment, and healing.” From the paragraph I wrote in response the word “diagnosis:”

One week later I was in the “mental health” section of the brand-new, beautiful library, whose huge open ceiling and light-flooded bookshelves contrasted starkly with the dark subject I researched. That day I checked out a wobbly armload of books with titles like Loving Your Crazy Kid, Freedom From the Voices, and Bi-Polar Joy. How it hurt to imagine him ending up like the people in these books: alone, afraid, even homeless. I didn’t know what was coming. I held the books against my chest like armor.

In Joan Dobbie’s workshop, “The Mask Speaks,” the only session that included craft supplies, I made a butterfly mask and wrote it a list poem:

If butterflies vanished
I would draw them
on walls on car doors
on windows I would
cut them out of paper out of
cloth I would pin them
onto flowers onto trucks
leave them in hospitals
in daycare centers
paste them all over the bathtub
eat only butterfly-shaped food
wear my butterfly mask
everywhere

In “The Ordinary as Muse,” given by Cecelia Hagen, we explored the poetry of Mary Ruefle. Using her poem “Full Moon” as inspiration, I came up with this:

Kilauea

It looks like an unfinished pyramid,
as if the Egyptians had run out of mud bricks
one hot Wednesday

and abandoned the job
resigning the future dead king
to a roofless tomb.

Erica Goss, The 2018 Oregon Poetry Association Annual Conference, September 29-30, Eugene, OR

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 38

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.

My Poetry Bloggers feed was unusually full this week, thanks to the reemergence of several of the more infrequent bloggers (who in my opinion have nothing to be ashamed about; some of my favorite bloggers only post once in a blue moon). Not surprisingly, one of the more popular topics was blogging itself — is it merely a form of “obliterature”? (See Lesley Wheeler’s post.) People also wrote about sickness and recovery, new publications, travel, the changing seasons… and don’t miss Jayne Stanton’s account of the Forward Prizes reading! So much good stuff this week. Enjoy.

Last year around this time I was also in the hospital for similar symptoms, and they diagnosed me with MS. This year they did tons of tests, and now they know I have MS, but not why I have the symptoms I do or how to control them. This is very frightening, of course. But I didn’t give up, and I didn’t let the doctors give up. A lot of them shrugged their shoulders at me over the past month – infuriating when you’re looking for help – but eventually I actually got help. So one lesson: Do not give up and do not stop asking for help. Second lesson: Remind yourself (and your body) of the good things in life, the beauty, the reasons you want to keep being alive. […]

This was reminding me of the writing life too. The writing life can feel like these awful stretches of rejection, of non-recognition, of not getting the grants or jobs you feel you’ve got a shot at. Why are you even writing when it feels like no one cares or pays attention? The same frustration you can feel in the doctor’s office in a sea of shrugs. Why do we do this? Why do we bother? But then an editor will call with an acceptance and some perceptive advice or you’ll get someone, somewhere who cares and shows it and it will make your month. It can feel like a terrible slog, most of the time, reading and writing and practicing in a vacuum. I think a lot of women writers, especially, tend to over-give and over-volunteer and forget to take time for themselves (I managed to get myself in some trouble this month because while I was in the hospital, I had an editing project and a contest I’d promised to judge – and I was absolutely out of my mind – intractable brain problems tend to do this – and not able to do jack. Sometimes that happens. We have to forgive ourselves and also, maybe don’t commit to too many projects in the first place.) There was a conversation today on Twitter about how many male “geniuses” are only where they are because of the support of the women around them – unpaid editors, caretakers, supporters. Treat yourself like your time is limited. Because, not to be too grave here, but it is.

So I have to think of some of the same “survival” skills that apply to recovering from illness and apply them to the writing life. Say you haven’t been writing, you haven’t been feeling like you’re doing enough to promote your work, you don’t feel like you have a support network for your writing, etc. Be kind to yourself – relax and give yourself downtime. Be kind to your support system. Subscribe to journals that support you. Write a thank-you note. Read a book just for fun, not for self-improvement or critique, but fun. And if a bunch of editors are virtually shrugging their shoulders at your work, just like with doctors, keep going until you find the editor that gets you. Remind yourself why you are writing in the first place, spend time with what is beautiful, and try to give yourself some joy.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, In the Recovery Zone, and How to Avoid Despair with Illness (and Writing)

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The world is never, really quiet. There are waves in the darkness that beat a rhythm through our very cells. Dance.
Ren Powell, September 18

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I’m sitting at my favorite spot in Starbucks trying to get organized. Not writing. But today after so many months I decided to upload something new on the blog. I think I’m officially switching to a Website with the option of blogging. It’s clear that I don’t have the time or energy to keep it up like I should. Time to move forward. There are so many things on my radar, so many changes I won’t go through right now. I’ll certainly post now and then. I have to update my fall schedule, dates, etc.

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Today is the equinox. Summer is over. Could not be sadder about that.

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OK a few things. We adopted a puppy. I’m up for tenure. Some festival changes happening. And next year I’m moving to Mississippi for a year with the kids and said puppy. All of these items require their own blog post.

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Did I mention Rewilding is available for preorder?
January Gill O’Neil, Rewilding is here!

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If you pre-order a copy of my new collection, Midnight in a Perfect World, by Nov. 1, you will be entered to win a free poetry manuscript or chapbook consultation/evaluation by me. The winner can transfer or donate the evaluation to another person if so desired. I have helped many poets organize and sequence their manuscripts, along with critiquing individual poems, creating titles and more. Just call me the “manuscript whisperer.”

Pre-order and enter to win at the Sibling Rivalry Press website at this link.
Collin Kelley, Win a manuscript evaluation by pre-ordering “Midnight in a Perfect World”

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A. and I spent two really quick days (really more like one) in Venice, Italy and then spent most of today traveling to the medieval city of Erice, which is in Sicily.

So far: Italian food is just as amazing as everyone believes, in Europe a glass of water is still more difficult to come by than alcohol, Alitalia DID lose my luggage and I’ve yet to hear what happened to it, AND I’ve written two poems on two different flights (and they might be crap poems, but at least I was writing).

Also, the view from the hotel is fucking amazing. And no, my photos don’t really do it justice.

Also also, I’m running on very little sleep.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, A Quick Post from the Sabbatical I Stole (Kind Of) By Running Away to Sicily

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In high school, I listened to “American Tune” over and over again–hitting the rewind button on my Walkman–but I never expected to hear Paul Simon sing it live. When he began, “Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken, / and many times confused…” we had already been on our feet for the encore, and with eyes closed I didn’t realize everyone around us had sat down. My husband had to tug on the back of my shirt. I’d be tempted to use a line from that song as an epigraph–for this very poetry collection in hand–but Stephen King got there first; he quotes “American Tune” at a section break in The Stand. […]

Early this morning, I was thinking about how the utility of blogging has changed a little bit since we first began this process. If I want to tell you about my upcoming reading with Emily Jungmin Yoon and Lindsay Bernal […] or share my excitement about receiving a 2018 “Best of the Net” nomination from Split This Rock for “Customer Service Is,” I’ll probably use other forms of social media to do so. If I want to blunder my way through a draft of a poem or essay, I’ll keep it offline to preserve the publishing options. So this space becomes a space for…what, exactly? But this blog can host thoughts that fill larger spaces than 200-odd characters or a link + hashtag, for sure. Maybe open-ended grist for discussion, like Iggy Pop (circa 1980) telling Tom Snyder about the difference between “Dionysian” and “Apollonian” art. I got to this snippet via thinking about Paul Simon–who a commenter argued was of the “Apollonian” school. I suspect I am too, though I’d like to think I’m capable of raising a little hell on stage now and again.
Sandra Beasley, Still Digging After All These Years

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–Every morning as I blog, I wonder if I should be doing a different kind of writing. But I also wonder if I’m creating and perfecting this form of writing–and will anyone care? I think of the journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, and I think she’d be a blogger, if she was living today–although her poverty might have kept her offline.

–I am trying to think about my successes, not my failures. In the last few weeks, I could have sent out more of my creative work. But let me think about the fact that I’ve done some actual writing.

–I’m listening to the On Point interview with Ethan Hawke. He talked about working on Boyhood, the movie that was made over 12 years. He talks about it being a movie that was made without the element of having to sell it. He says it was like being in your room painting watercolors with your friends or making music on Christmas Eve. I love that way of talking about making art.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Friday Fragments: Creativity, Anxiety, Travel, and Possessions

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I just received the proof from Lulu of my first self-published book, titled STONE empty chair. It’s a collection of my best haiku, starting about ten years ago and ending in August, 2018.

It’s a little book full of little poems – just 6.5 x 4.5, with 50-odd haiku, in four chapters: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. It would make a nice gift, and fits easily into a Christmas stocking or a 7×10 inch envelop for mailing to a friend.

I took the cover photo in my backyard, near the little pond I installed in July with the help of my youngest son. The stone is Oregon’s state rock, the thunder egg. What a great name for a rock! The chair is one I made from twigs, and it was featured in my video The Fairy House. In fact, you can see me making it in the video.
Erica Goss, STONE, empty chair: Erica’s new haiku collection

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In August I pray to lesser gods,
gods drier and without Douglas Fir
gods wafting burnt laminate
gods shriveling before the crunch
church of pinecones

thunderless gods
sniffing, boneless gods with dry-needle teeth
and sweet-sugar nature—
Fall Poem / an interview with poet Rachel Warren (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

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I was looking forward to some poet-spotting and saying hi to one or two familiar faces, maybe. Instead, I promptly went into introvert mode: a seat in the cafe with my nose in a book (and a novel, at that!) beforehand, an ice cream taken back to my seat during the interval and a prompt departure afterwards for the Tube at Waterloo (walking past the book stall without a sideways glance). What’s wrong with me?!

Anyway, I’m glad I went. I enjoyed my first Forward Prizes evening very much. It was a re-connection with the buzz that exists around poetry in a building full of poets and poetry lovers.

All fifteen shortlistees were there except for Jorie Graham (who sent a letter, and a recorded message and poem reading). I really hope I get the opportunity to hear her read in person, some day.

There was no second-guessing the winner of the single poem, but I thought Fiona Benson’s ‘Ruins’ was a close contender; beautifully read, too. I’d like to read more of her work (I gather there’s a forthcoming collection). I’m delighted for Liz Berry, though. Incidentally, ‘The Republic of Motherhood’ is the subject of one Jen Campbell’s Dissect a Poem videos. You can read it here.

I really enjoyed the readings by shortlistees for Best First Collection; such a range of voices and subjects. Kaveh Akbar was the audience’s darling but the award went to Phoebe Power for her Shrines of Upper Austria (Carcanet). Heritage was a theme common to several of the shortlisted works. I really enjoyed Shivanee Ramlochan’s readings from Everyone knows I’m a Haunting and pleased to see a Peepal Tree Press poet alongside those published by the Big Guns.

After the interval there followed strong readings from the Best Collection shortlistees. I particularly warmed to JO Morgan’s voices from Assurances (Cape) and hope to hear him read again, somewhere. Danez Smith stole the show, though, and the prize announcement was hugely popular with the audience.
Jayne Stanton, The Forward Prizes for Poetry

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What is the least helpful advice you received?

“Write what you know.”
Terrible.
It should be:
Write and when you discover you don’t know what you are writing about—research, learn and then write some more.
You don’t know, what you don’t know and you are always learning so why would you stick to writing what you know?

Writing is always a journey and journeys are supposed to be meaningful and that means you are learning as you journey; sharing and teaching as you write.
As you experience life of course write about that, but let it lead you to new paths and new discoveries.

“Find your voice” is another bit of supposedly helpful advice that is also problematic.
You already have a voice and while you absolutely need to explore and discover as much about yourself and therefore develop your voice, it is already a part of you.
It’s the voice that is insisting you write.

You can write in different voices, you can be a mimic, you can stretch and should stretch until you are uncomfortable and then stretch some more.
The true voice that you already have will tell you what is b.s. and what is honest if you remember to listen.

If you read and listen more than you write you’ll have an authentic voice– nothing to ‘find’, it’s already within.
Poet Chris Jarmick: Thoughts on Writing and Dealing with Dark Times (Lana Ayers’ blog)

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Then there are the times when a poem comes like thunder after lightning. All you can do, then, is hang on and try to get the words down fast enough before the vibrations fade.

I’ve had a few poems come like that, over the years, in a single stream-of-consciousness burst that sends words pouring onto the paper. But those have been few, far between, and always welcomed over the drudgery of pushing limp lines around on a poem that refuses to gel.

The arrival of the Leopard Lady, however, was something different.

I was working in my journal one night when this voice began, with no prodding or priming or expectation. It was strong and sure, a voice with Appalachian cadences, and it was dictating lines, whole poems. I scribbled as fast as I could for as long as she spoke, 13 pages that included three poems almost whole and large chunks of several more. But fascinating as this visitation was, I also had a strong impulse to turn it off, turn it away. She was a biracial woman from an era before mine, and the carnival she called home was entirely alien. And so I focused on other projects, working on novels and other kinds of poems, and I let the Leopard Lady rest. Or tried to. But the poems kept coming, slowly building a life story.
When the Voice Arrives: Making of the Leopard Lady – guest blog post by Valerie Nieman (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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I don’t do radio nowadays. The old passion that would have me winding the aerial up its 40’ mast in a force 9 gale so that I could catch the Australians between 05.00 and 07.00 has been necessarily stilled. No more chasing the fluctuating ionospheric conditions to bag a 5-second contact with that lone operator on some lump of rock in the Indian Ocean. No more regular ‘skeds’ with the guy in San Antonio who sounded just like Jack Nicholson; or the Russian doctor in a desolate oil pipeline outpost in Northern Siberia who wanted to learn English; or the Australian fence-mender 50 k. from the nearest shop and bar; or, as once, the panicky weekend sailor whose yacht was shipping water fast off Mauritius on whose behalf I had to phone the Grand Bay coastguard. It was always the romance of contact with the beleaguered or self-exiled individuals in exotic locations, the two of us fighting against fading signals or interference from the hundreds of other stations out there on the same wavelength wanting to touch base with the rare DX station with whom you alone are in contact. Those few minutes of shared alternative culture across thousands of miles of earth and sky are worth all the solitary hours of static crackle and atmospheric hiss.

There aren’t very many poems about people talking into two-way radios. In fact, I’ve never come across any! So for the time being this is it. So whether this poem is a work of quality is hardly the issue. That anyone should want to produce a piece about people talking into a radio microphone should be enough to turn our heads…
Dick Jones, WAVELENGTHS.

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In past decades, let’s say my pre-teen years through my forties, I often read more than 50 novels in a year. Then, in my fifties I started reading poetry in earnest. A poetry lover since childhood, I was less likely to buy books of poetry than to buy novels; less likely to read all the way through a book of poetry than a novel; less likely to have poetry friends to talk with about the poetry I was reading. Then, I started writing poems myself. Now I spend most of my reading time with books of poetry. […]

I read more slowly than I used to and this means that, though I spend about the same amount of time reading as I used to (given the vagaries of other obligations, for example, work, running a press, writing, volunteering) but digest fewer words. This is partly due to changes in vision which are common at my age, partly due to the slowing-down effect that reading poetry has on its readers, partly due to the distracting effect of screen reading and social media, but in some part, I’m not sure why my appetite is so much less voracious for novels than it used to be. When it comes to novels, I buy few, but often pick up 1/2 dozen at a time from the library. Why? Because these days, I have a new novel reading habit: I often start novels but don’t finish them. In fact, I often go 30-50 pages in and decide “no, I don’t want to read this.” Let’s just call it, “time is running out” for anything that doesn’t enlighten me or bring me pleasure.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with an Embarrassment of Novel Riches

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For about 20 years I kept this one poem in my wallet. Then it lived on a bulletin board in my office and recently, it migrated to the kitchen. I like that it’s been with me since December 1994. I think this was my first year subscribing to the New Yorker Magazine. I had just let my apartment in Harvard Square for the wilds of the Pacific Northwest for graduate school. I missed the grit of the Boston accent, the cold stare of strangers, the bookstores. This poem spoke to me — my decade plus of living faraway. More than two years away from the US, I entered New York via JFK only to have the customs officer question if I was making up the country of Niger.

Seamus Heaney never included this (as far as I know) in any of his books. I don’t know why but I suspect that perhaps it was too internal, so common and uncommon at once. See what you think.

Far Away

When I answered that I came from “far away”
The policeman at the roadblock snapped “where’s that”?
He’d only half heard what I said and thought
It was the name of some place up the country.

And now it is both where I have been living
And where I left — a distance still to go
Like starlight that is light years on the go
From faraway and takes light years returning.

~Seamus Heaney, The New Yorker, December 26, 1994
Susan Rich, Such a Good Mix: The Poetry of Travel and the Travel of Poetry

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“Obliterature draws attention to the gendered formation of literary value while also denoting the casual, minor, repurposed, and ephemeral writing expelled from literary criticism’s traditional purview. Such writing might include letters to the editor, junk mail, diary entries and their twenty-first-century digital descendants: blog entries, comments on a newspaper and magazine site, Instagram posts, LiveJournals, Snapchats, Tumblrs, or tweets. Obliterature, fittingly enough, is also popular parlance for a ‘letter or email written while drunk off your ass’…The concept, as we develop it in this article, explains the literary phenomenon of not being fully in control of one’s words and the labor phenomenon of not being fully in control of one’s work.”

– from “Obliterature: Towards an Amateur Criticism” by Melanie Micir and Aarthi Vadde in the September 2018 Modernism/ modernity, a special issue on “weak theory”

None of us knows if our writing careers will be of much interest to literary critics in the future–or whether there will continue to be literary critics, or a future–but I have to add a few more categories of ephemeral writing that consume a LOT of my time these days: comments on student poems, response papers, quizzes, and essays; assignment sheets; teaching notes; course descriptions; recommendation letters; private editorial comments on Submittable; and the smartphone text-i-verse with its debris of emoticons. I’ve also been a lead drafter on a surprising number of university-related guidelines and reports, having been here for 24 years and generally preferring to do the writing portion of committee work over other tasks.

So I like this term “obliterature” a lot, although it’s from an article I’ve so far only read a portion of, because I’m tight on time but got snagged by the title as I was sorting mail. I recognize obliterature as an object of fascination for me as a critic–all the scraps and commonplace books kept by Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore, Anne Spencer, and many other women as they tried to find time for poetry amid domestic chores, tough jobs, and political urgencies. I also recognize it, with more chagrin, as denoting a body of seemingly-necessary writing I constantly perform, obliterating time for other kinds of writing I am constantly saying I should prioritize.
Lesley Wheeler, Obliterature

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Doubt. I decided to write today about doubt in reviewing because doubt is crippling and prevalent. It is also a private experience; on the surface we struggle to seem reasonably confident, we repress a lot of our fears and doubts so we can function in a world that often would rather not know our current interior state of being. People turn to reviews for reading recommendations, to discover writers they’ve never heard of, and to deepen their engagement with a text that often has yet to be, or perhaps might never be, critically examined by literary theorists. They come with an expectation that the reviewer has enough knowledge of the genre to give an informed opinion or analysis. This is a reasonable expectation. Let me say, if you have doubt, like me, doubt that you can review a certain book, or that you know enough to review that book, you are in a good place, this doubt shows that you take the review seriously and want it to be as good as possible.

Not all reviews are created equal: some are glorified yelp reviews, some simply lackluster, some start off beautifully but then fall apart, some miss the point entirely, some are pompous and painful to digest, some are unbelievably brilliant, but most fall into the useful category. They help readers find books, and isn’t that what most reviewers ultimately want to do? Above all, I want my reviews to be useful, but hope they can be artful as well.

If you’re thinking about writing book reviews for the first time, I say please, yes, we need more reviews and reviewers in the literary community. If you are nervous, if you feel doubt, just keep working through it, there’s a way through. Sometimes I experience this doubt before I begin a review, I finish a book and think, but I don’t know what that was about! Then, I start putting words down on the page and suddenly I have more ideas than I can possibly use. Or sometimes I finish a review, and then I go to post it on my blog, Fork and Page, or I go to submit it to the journal I write reviews for and I think, what if I’m wrong about something, what if I didn’t understand the author’s intentions this time, perhaps I should just scrap it all together. But when I read the review again, I realize that it is the best I can do at this time, that my doubt is part of a larger struggle with self-confidence. I share this to help normalize these feelings, as ultimately reviewing itself has taught me so much about writing, and I hope that doubt does not hold other writers back from writing reviews.
Overcoming Doubt as a Book Reviewer – guest blog post by Anita Olivia Koester (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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All night, even as rain pounded
the crickets called and called
their high-pitched throb offering
a different perspective
on the downpour’s
thrum, a bass string’s thump
on windows, roof, the dark’s
wild fullness that we don’t
understand and thus fear.

Shiver of screech owl, damp in its
hickory-tree perch
sad dreams, body aches, waking
into memory. We animals
amid bedsheets, sweaty and tossed,
find ourselves alert, listening.
Rain drums sown in long bands
and crickets sing.
Ann E. Michael, Wet Year

*

There is this reach, this angle of fingertip-catch on entry, this strong pull initiated between iliac and pubic crests: between each wave the fire of core muscle on a long diagonal across belly, back, shoulders, alighting in palm of hand and the strong pull set free on ballistic recovery, loose and relaxed. Now the other, the next: ravenous for reach, for glide. A rolling, easy kick to balance. Scything through water for miles, unconscious of power, so fearless there is nothing but animal power, nothing but joy so still and deep it barely resembles emotion: it is an element, it is body and water and sky, bone and forest and eel, fish, orca, raven in flight. It is the dead brought back from the abyss: it is the living bone they animate. Abalone. Driftwood, bleached white and knobby. Pearlescent shell of former lives holding the single drop of now: now the entire lake, forest, sky, muscle and bone articulated in water-breath, the drum of heart perhaps the lake’s, perhaps mine, perhaps K’s, perhaps the rhythm of the boat’s oar, perhaps the pounding of earth itself far, far beneath this ashen wave, this drop, this almost imperceptible and tiny life as vast as sky, as ocean.

Shhhhh, says the boat.
Now, says the body.

Now.
JJS, Skaha Part III: 8:30am—10:30am, fearless joy and power

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Weeks 36 and 37

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.

I wasn’t able to post a round-up last week because I was in the midst of packing for my semi-annual migration across the Atlantic. So here are my picks from two weeks of poetry-blogging goodness, brought to you by jet-lag and coffee. Perhaps because I had twice as many posts to choose from as usual, I was especially struck by the variety on display, though there were a few recurring topics, such as how to organize poetry manuscripts, and the centrality of grief and loss.

You recently published your first collection of poetry, Glimmerglass Girl. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

Some time ago I realized I’d written a lot of poems centered on the idea of femininity. It made sense to me to compile them into a collection. Many were poems I loved but that weren’t getting a lot of attention publication-wise. I think the most surprising thing about putting the collection together was that those poems (which at the time seemed like failures to me) suddenly made sense as a part of a collective whole. They spoke to each other in a new way. So that was my process, finding the pieces that I loved and wanted to contrast with each other to create new meaning.

What lessons did you learn in the process of pulling together your debut collection of poetry? What was the biggest challenge in finishing the project?

For me, the writing of a thing is the easiest part. I already had these poems I wanted to share with the world. The biggest challenge was marketing and getting those ideas out there. It is a lot of work to market a book as an indie author. You’re doing everything yourself: reaching out to people to ask for help, contacting reviewers, updating your website and social media. It’s exhausting in many ways but also thrilling because each bit of effort has a huge payoff. I feel forever indebted to the people who’ve supported my work and helped me get through it all. […]

You self-identify as a “weird writer.” How do you define weird writing? What attracts you to the weird?

Weird writing inhabits a liminal place between genres. It’s the stuff of the strange and not-quite-definable, a hybrid kind of writing that sings its own song and creates the instruments as it goes. Basically, it’s anything that doesn’t fit the mold. I think this approach excites me because I don’t really think or dream in the ways that are expected. For example, in Glimmerglass Girl, the poems could be called prose, and there are illustrations along with the words. This is just what felt natural to me while writing, and the fact that it’s weird is just a bonus.
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Holly Lyn Walrath on hybrid writing and the idea of femininity

*

Roll up! Roll up!
By particular wishing
And for your delectable entertainment
The Circus of the Marvellously Menopausal Woman
Is in town.

Before your very eyes
You will not see her
Playing the object of desire
In a mainstream movie.

Gasp in amazement
At the wondrous curiosity
Of her living out her life
unnoticed.

There she isn’t!!
In line for promotion;
On advertising hoardings;
Anchoring a Talk Show.
Josephine Corcoran, The Circus of the Marvellously Menopausal Woman

*

I believe I first came in contact with Joseph Cornell through the poetry of Charles Simic. Simic’s Dime-Store Alchemy published in 1992 was one of the first hardback books of poetry I bought. I have to admit that the cover had a good deal to do with my choice — as did the title, Dime-Store Alchemy. Rereading this book now I realize it was one of the first project-based collections that I had encountered. Simic stated that he wanted to approximate in poetry what Cornell did with visual assemblage. […]

Much is known (and repeated) about Cornell. He lived on Utopia Parkway, Flushing, NY and never left the Northeastern United States. He lived with his mother and his younger brother, living alone after they’d both passed on. Cornell had no formal training as an artist, he made his living selling textiles. By all accounts, his life experiences were not vast or wide. And yet that mattered little in the making of his art.

And long after many mid-century artists seem forgotten or locked in another time, Cornell seems to only become more relevant, more exciting.
Susan Rich, Returning to an Old Love – Joseph Cornell

*

12:30 PM
We drive home and kiddo falls asleep in the car. EARLY NAP FTW. Once we get home, I transport him inside, and grab my laptop. IT’S ACTUAL WRITING TIME. Sometimes this is grading time, but for once, I am gloriously caught up, and have graded all of my students’ narrative essays. (They were lovely—pieces on what brought the students to their current career, nursing.)

I start by working on this piece about my Writing Day itself. Then I duck out of this document and get to work on my current project—a long poem/essay thing that does’t know what genre it wants to be. It’s “about” flowers, empathy, storytelling, and politics. It’s been a very slow process as I figured out what it would look like. I feel that it’s over halfway done, but am not quite sure where it’s heading. I’m on page 12—yesterday I added one page. My mom and stepdad took Henson to the zoo and I had some unexpected free time to work on it. It was my birthday yesterday, and that felt like a huge gift.

1:45 PM
I have found myself on Twitter somehow. This piece I’m working on requires research and frequent Googling. It’s both good and bad…it leads me down the internet rabbithole. I don’t think that Twitter is a waste of time (necessarily). For me, it’s frequently a place of helpful and intriguing ideas. And I leave it when it’s too much of a distraction. But for example, the other day, I asked about how other artists handle the balance of creativity and research (especially when their language starts to feel dry). I’m trying to get back to the magic and strangeness of this piece. It’s sort of working, so far.
Hannah Stephenson : My Writing Day (August 24, 2018)

*

All the fruit looks spoiled
in my cart, yet I just picked it
from the bin. I can almost see
the tomato shriveling inside
its skin. A little bit of vine is
still hanging by its stem.
When the farmer tore it
from its vine, did it make a
snap? Or did it make a crack?
Crystal Ignatowski, In The Grocery Store After My Mother Broke Her Neck

*

Ultimately, I decided that as much as I would love to be a literary magazine editor, poet laureate, and/or tenured professor, my gotta-have-it level of fame is that I would like Some people to have Read my Poems. Not everyone–I’m not shooting for “household name” level of fame (no, impossible for poets– “creative writing student can remember your name” level of fame?), just some people to really have read my poems and maybe liked them.

So knowing that goal is important–it lets me know it is ok for me to quit all the side hustling things that are great but that aren’t important to my ultimate goal of Some People Reading My Poems–for me this means pretty much anything that isn’t just reading poems, writing poems, and occasionally on social media linking to poems I’ve written and poems I’ve liked that others have written. So literary magazine involvement to a minimum, social media at a minimum, readings at a once-a-year.

And it, probably most importantly, lets me know what to do with my current work! I don’t need to be Mary Oliver, so a big contest isn’t really worth my money–I need to buy diapers, y’all, I’m not wasting my hard-earned diaper money on contest fees!
Renee Emerson, Poets: How famous do you need to be?

*

I recently got hold of a friend’s fresh manuscript. She is concerned about the order she’s established for the book of poems. So with this in mind, I started from page 1 and read right through. The sections were grouped with a clear idea of why. This appeals to my orderly mind. (Or maybe it’s a disorderly mind, which is why I like order.) But did the order enhance my enjoyment of the collection? I’m just not sure. Under ordinary circumstances, I’m not sure I’d notice much.

Nevertheless, because I was asked to think about order, I started wondering what the collection would read like if the distinctive poems in one section appeared dotted throughout the section. Would this give me a little thrill of insider perspective when I encountered this kind of internal rhythm of certain kinds of poems woven throughout? Maybe. Again, that is, once I settled to read from cover to cover, and if I read from cover to cover in one sitting or in sittings that were relatively close together so that that mind referenced above would remember.

So, does order matter? Maybe. Of course, if it’s a “concept” collection in which something is unfolding or the reader needs to be familiarized with how to read the poems in the collection, then certainly order concerns matter. But how many of us are writing collections like that?

I know that when I read for a contest, I taste from beginning, middle, and end. If every poem I encounter interests me, then that manuscript goes in the Maybe Yes pile. If even one poem falls short, the ms goes in the Maybe pile. If several of the poems fail to interest me, it goes in the No pile. That’s just the way it is. (For more on my experience as a first round reader, see links below.) So in this case, order doesn’t matter very much. But as an author, I want my collection to have a flow, a weave, a pulse of some sort. So in that, case order does matter, if only to me.

So I guess here it is: Does a disorderly order sink a manuscript? I don’t really think so. Can an interesting order enhance it? Yes, indeed.

Am I finding it enjoyable to think about the order of my poems in my ms? If yes, then I should go ahead and shuffle them around as long as I’m having fun. Is it a drag? I guess I wouldn’t expend too much energy, then.

But I’m enjoying shuffling this friend’s poems around, so maybe it’s worth asking someone else to look at order, if that person finds it fun.

But the bottom line is, if every poem doesn’t pull its weight, then no reordering is going to save the ms. It’s all down to the individual poem. Again.
Marilyn McCabe, The Cheese Stands Alone; or On Ordering Poems in a Manuscript

*

Dennis Casling, New and Selected Poems, edited by Julia Copus and Annie Freud (Smith/Doorstop, 2018)

I’ve just had the pleasure of reading this new collection and I wanted to share my thoughts about it on the blog. It’s an extremely moving book comprised of the reprint of Casling’s earlier Endorphin Angels, along with other, presumably later poems, written up until Casling’s death in 2016.

Dennis Casling was blind. Maybe we need to know this, maybe not. On the back cover it says: ‘The act of seeing is informed by the imagination … I spend my time looking at the invisible’ (Casling). Sometimes what he ‘sees’ is memory, other times it’s imagined situations and characters, which links up with Philip Gross’s comment: ‘His poetry is a balance of different voices’.

The different voices are more noticeable in the first section (the reprint of Endorphin Angels takes up the first half of this book). Towards the second half of the book though, there’s a sense of the poet finding a voice which is perhaps less ‘poetic’ but, for me, is more rewarding to read.

Somewhere near the middle of the collection is ‘Holding On’ which seems to mark a shift from a poet consciously writing POETRY, to a poet who has the courage to set aside the more adorned use of language for something paired back. If this sounds as if I didn’t enjoy the first half, that’s not the case; I did. The beauty of the writing is enviable, with some lyrical language and, time and again, really fresh similes that expand the image in the reader’s mind. Here, for example, from the poem ‘In the Farmyard’ (p. 13) ‘the flat milk sack warm on the hand/ like a child’s fever’. Observant and sensual details like this abound.

Casling’s poetry is concerned with darkness and silence, absence and return, and above all, how we negotiate loss.
Julie Mellor, Dennis Casling – new and selected poems

*

Things are looking up for this old bird.

The first week of classes has come and gone and they were pleasantly uneventful, blissfully routine. I continued my morning writing ritual and wrote three new poems. And today I begin the first of what will be, with luck and perseverance and a little bit of selfishness thrown in, the first of what I’m calling Long Form Fridays. (Because, you know, like the true dork I am, I love to give everything alliterative titles . . .)

Long Form Fridays are going to entail taking my butt to the Starbucks where I wrote while the kids were in camp and parking myself at a table to write for three hours. It seems like as good a place as any — far enough away from my house and its chaos, definitely far enough from the campus and ITS noise and chaos — where I can begin work again on my long-form projects: first, my Accountability Partners play, and after that, the verse play that’s officially in Title Limbo (one of the reasons I need to sit and work on it more). […]

Word on the street (hahahaha, what am I, an 80s drug dealer?) is that almost all colleges across the nation are going through this panic moment of OH MY GOD WE HAVE NO MONEY because they all ignored the fact that about 20 years ago people were having fewer babies, and now fewer 20 year olds are seeking out higher education simply because there are fewer of them, and fewer students means lower revenue from student tuition and student fees but we’re still operating as if it’s the early 2000s recession and EVERYONE and their mom wanted to go back to college because they couldn’t find jobs but now the economy’s on an upswing and people have jobs and, as A.P. pointed out, there’s mounting evidence that having a college education doesn’t really guarantee “economic empowerment” (**eyeroll**) and so everyone’s saying fuck college and so BIG DEFICITS. Also also, top heavy administrations, irresponsible spending, yadda yadda yadda.

Which means that sabbaticals and money for professional development will probably, albeit slowly, dry up and disappear. So . . . self-granted residencies like Long Form Fridays and self-imposed exiles from college service and committee nonsense (i.e. My Year of Being Bad) will become more and more important to teaching artists — and hell, run-of-the-mill academics — in higher ed.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, The Self-Granted Residency and My Year of Being Bad: First Week

*

Cast from a cheap, bad, bronze mold,
my eyes don’t line up quite right.

My eyes are from a statue.
Stone-blind. Like weeping angels,

they look at nothing, nothing,
shifting in micro-jolts. There.

Vibrating at the level
of electrons. There. Again.

My eyes are from a robot.
They rotate on a gear shaft,

jerking. They need to be oiled.
My eyes are seeing something.

I don’t know what it is, but
they look so hard at nothing.
PF Anderson, On Being Asked What Is Triggering

*

People have asked me many times while doing talks on the subject, “How do I get my book reviewed?”

The book review process can seem mysterious – but as a poetry book reviewer myself for the last fifteen years, hopefully I can take some of the mystery out of the process.

First Steps

I usually talk first about building a poetry community way before your book comes out. That means things like, joining or starting a writing group, going to other people’s book launches (and trying to learn from them), and…writing some book reviews yourself. It makes sense that you would start contributing to the literary world when you’re starting to even think about having your own book come out. If you don’t feel like putting in the work, well, how can you expect other writers to do so?

If you’re worried about your book reviewing skills, every book reviewer has had to start somewhere, even the reviewers at The New York Times Review of Books and Poetry Magazine. I started out reviewing for NewPages.com, a venue friendly to new reviewers. I recommend that you read lots of literary magazines and online review outlets to see what kind of book reviews you like and what you aspire to, style-wise. I like The Rumpus, Rain Taxi, and many of the literary magazines that run reviews. I noticed that there was a formula you can follow in many of the big review outlets. Then, send out some queries to literary magazines that take book reviews. Sometimes you even get paid!
PR for Poets – How Can I Get My Book Reviewed? – guest blog post by Jeannine Hall Gailey (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

*

On the walk home, I thought about one of the early hurricanes we experienced here, when we were still renting a duplex in the fall of 1998. We had a close brush with hurricane Georges that went south into the Keys. The surf was the highest I’ve ever seen at Hollywood beach.

Here’s a poem that came from that walk which I still like. I look at my current poems and see how much I’ve grown as a poet. But I’m glad that poems like these still make me happy.

Clean Sweep

While other folks board
up their windows,
she opens hers wide
to the hurricane winds.

She goes to the beach.
Unlike the surfers,
she has no interest in waves
that crash against the shore.

The sand abrades her skin.
The wind sweeps into every crevice.
Behind her, transformers pop and crackle.
Energy explodes.

Even though the palms bow
to the storm, she lifts
her arms above her head,
struggles to remain standing.

That night, she sleeps
soundly. Even though the wind
howls and hoots and hammers at the walls,
she breathes clean air and dreams fresh visions.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Monday: “Clean Sweep”

*

Risa [Denenberg]: How did it feel to have poems published in Poetry in 2002 and then to not have your book, Acid and Tender (which was a finalist for the Charlotte Mew Prize) published until 2016 (by Headmistress Press)? Were you submitting the manuscript and getting rejections during those years? Or, did you take a hiatus from writing poetry?

Jen [Rouse]: Ha! It was the thrill of my life to have a poem next to Maxine Kumin’s in that issue of Poetry. What a trip. And, it was an even bigger thrill when I got the Headmistress email, saying my first book was accepted. Such a full heart for Headmistress! I was doing something I hate—clothes shopping—that afternoon, when I checked my phone and the message about my book was there. My sister was with me, and we totally flipped out in the store. The person helping us even gave me an extra discount on my purchase that day.

As for the years in between, I was still writing. I never stop writing. But, I had to do a lot of relationship work during that time. I moved to Iowa with my partner. I finally came out to my mom—because we would be near her in Iowa. I landed my job at Cornell College—where I have been for 15 years now and will go up for full professor this year. I gave birth to my now 13-year- old daughter, Madeline.

Risa: Did you feel that your identity as a poet was marginalized during those years?

Jen: My major mentor, the one who guest edited that issue of Poetry, rejected me when I had our child, basically treating me as though that decision was the one that would end my career as a writer. I’m a very devoted and loyal friend, and the sting of that still lingers. It wasn’t until one of my amazing poet friends—Paulette Beete—from my MFA program at American University asked me to participate in an online writing group that I really started thinking about the trajectory of my writing career, of getting better, of publishing again. A wonderful writing group. I am deeply indebted.
Anne Sexton Talks to God / an interview with poet Jen Rouse (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

*

Turns out there’s some good news about rejection I never really grasped before. I’m reading poetry for Shenandoah in earnest now and realizing rejected poems DO reach sympathetic readers, at least if you send them to well-edited magazines: the editors and staff readers themselves.

I am moved, entertained, impressed, and intrigued by far more work than Shenandoah can accept. I’m sure some journal readers are burnt-out or ego-tripping, but I’m inclined to guess magazine editors are often a good audience–smart about the field and in love with the art. You’d think I would know this by now. I’ve definitely felt that connection with certain editors who reject my work with personal notes like “admired these” or “came close.” But being on the other side makes it more vivid, and it cheers me.
Lesley Wheeler, On first looking into Shenandoah’s submissions

*

[Lana Ayers:] What is the process like creating a new & selected works? Has your relationship to the earlier poems shifted? Have you discovered anything new in the process?

[Patricia Fargnoli:] This is the one year anniversary of the publication of Hallowed: New & Selected Poems so it is a good time to reflect on the process of creating it.

I knew that I wanted to have a volume that recognized my previous books while it also included the new work I’ve written since Winter was published.

And I wanted to do it by my 80th birthday so as to recognize that scary (to me) landmark.

I contacted my previous publishers for permission to use poems from those books and Jeffrey Levine at Tupelo Press said that they wanted to publish it since they had published two of my previous books and considered me to be part of “The Tupelo Family.”

The process of putting the manuscript together was quite easy: I simply chose the best of the new poems I’d written…24 of them, and then arranged them as I would arrange the poems in any book… paying attention especially to the first and last poems but also to the arc of the them and how they connected to each other.

Choosing the poems from previous books was even easier. I knew that I wanted a representative sample from each book, but didn’t want a lot of poems from each book…so I went through each front to back, choosing poems that seemed to encompass the themes of that book and that had gotten recognition through audience appreciation and/or publication…plus those that were personal favorites.

A friend pointed out that I left many strong poems behind and I guess I did but I didn’t want the book to become too long.

What I learned was that some of my themes are lifelong themes: especially grief and loss, how to find meaning and beauty in nature and life, those consolations.

I also recognized that the poems of the first book, Necessary Light, tend to be more narrative than those of later books which tend first toward my lyrical and later to more and more meditative as I aged and began to be more concerned with issues of aging and with the search for spirituality and meaning in a world where there are no (for me at least) certain answers.

Amazingly, when I had finished the choosing and arranging, the poems from all the books seem to become a cohesive book….something that both surprised and delighted me.
Lana Ayers, Poet Patricia Fargnoli Talks Writing, Love of Words, Advice

*

It is not blood or bits of bone that resonate when I think of you.
I ripped the plastic bag with my largest car key,
when I held the ash between my palms hollering at the sky:
Float, let the stuck un-stick.
Let our bodies loosen,
teeth unclench.
It’s time we stopped existing like we’re dying around these parts,
Like we’re full of cement and sludge, of your damned ghost.
Let our smiles return, those that burned down a little
when you became
so dry.
Jennifer E. Hudgens, New Poem “Letting”

*

A couple of times a year, I search my submission spreadsheets for poems with the dubious distinction of having collected the most rejections so far. If these poems are not currently under consideration for publication, they go into a special category: Most Rejected Poems.Then I print them out and spread them on the floor of my office. One by one, I read them slowly and carefully, trying very hard not to judge them. I imagine the editors I’ve sent these poems to reading through piles of unsolicited work, looking for that intangible thing – a mood, metaphor, imagery, or narrative – that sets a poem apart. I read the poems again, those rejected babies of mine, searching for those very qualities. What are they missing? Does the poem need a tune-up? Or a rest from constant submitting?

About half the time, the poem needs a little work. I often consult Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry, eds. Scott Wiggerman & David Meischen. I’ve saved many a poem with, for example, a better title (Susan Terris’s chapter “Twenty Ideas for Titles to Pique the Curiosity of Poetry Editors” is a favorite of mine) or by re-writing the poem in an unusual form, as in Ravi Shankar’s chapter “A Manipulated Fourteen-Line Poem.” Other books that help include Diane Lockward’s The Crafty Poet and The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux.
Erica Goss, Saving the Most-Rejected Poems

*

From time to time I have tried to embrace the stop-making-sense school of poetry. I like poems of all kinds, after all, even the absurd ones that spin a kind of magic spell over a reader, transporting us to another world. Mom’s world.

Tonight–back home–I get up at midnight, after my young-adult children have finally abandoned the living room. I turn on the TV and find a 73-minute movie called “A Poet in New York.” That title is all I have to go on, but I start the movie and discover that it is about Dylan Thomas. I think of my favorite poetry professor, not the “stop making sense one,” but a professor who liked my story-heavy, narrative poems. I think of how he adored Thomas. He could do a fair impersonation of him, with a swaggering, Welsh accent. “When I was young and easy under the apple boughs.” There is frightfully little of Thomas’s poetry in this movie. Mostly there is whiskey and sex and poor Caitlin Thomas’s mad passion for Dylan (he pronounces her name Cat-lin and writes her letters telling her how much he misses fondling her breasts). The movie does not make a lot of sense, but that, in itself, makes a kind of sense to me. Tonight it does.

Immediately after the stroke, while still in the hospital, Mom told me, “Bury me on the hill beside your father.” (My sister, hearing this exchange from the doorway, slapped her forehead and said, “Geez, I hadn’t thought of that!”) The slow slide into complete dependency—into nonsense—continues, though she no longer has to be reminded that she can’t get out of bed, or that she can’t walk. She no longer asks to be buried on the hillside.

In my mother’s non-narrative, non-linear mind, of course she can walk. She is a child, running through a field (and I picture the young Dylan Thomas running through a field of tall grass). Her brother’s horses spook and wheel and she runs after them. This is the world, too, of the poem. We want to make sense of it. But we might allow ourselves a little more rein to be in the non-sense. To take the poem’s hand, and run with it.
Bethany Reid, Stop Making Sense

*

I lay in my hammock under the trees and worried about the lanternflies. Which accomplished nothing (I think of a James Wright poem at this point…).

What was there not to despair about? So much anxiety surrounds me. Even the damned bugs. If only starlings were to take a liking to spotted lanternflies, I mused.

A butterfly went past. I looked down at the zinnias blossoming their stems off in the garden and felt pleased to count four monarchs there. It has been a good year for monarch butterflies in my yard, and green darners and other dragonflies, and hummingbirds–which used to be quite uncommon visitors here. The little brown bats are returning each dusk, recovering slowly from the decimation of white-nose virus.

The balance may seem off in many ways. But there are restorative moments.

Even if “I have wasted my life.”
Ann E. Michael, Reverie, with interruption

*

I think about bees when I drip honey on challah and apple slices. Tonight is the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, which always seems a more natural time for reflection and endings than in the deadness of winter. The harvest moon. The start of the school year. The end of summer, time to account for whether enough grain has been stored to get us through the inevitable winter months. Although there is argument for January 1st too, a moment when we are poised over the dark abyss, but take heart in remembering that we are going back into the light. Again. I wonder how we bear all of this repetition, so eagerly anticipated in childhood, and so foreboding as we age. Another year, expectations of ritual celebrations and foods and annual mammograms. […]

The manuscript I am working on now is titled, “why I hate to cry”. I cried yesterday listening to a radio program that spoke about social isolation (specifically, the way men–not just straight men– are groomed to avoid emotional relationships with other men, to their detriment.) This interested me, but why was I crying? I suppose I understood that I am “like that”, I avoid emotional relationships, but is it too my detriment? I really can’t say with any certainty.

This is all very complicated, as I contemplate retirement. For so many years I have spent so much of my emotional reserve in taking care of people-as-patients, I don’t seem to have much left for friendship. I wonder if I will be like one of those “men” who retire and find themselves at a loss for meaning. Who fail quickly; who die shortly. Who am I, if this is how I see myself in retirement? And yet, I am longing for the freedom to pursue the possibilities of connection. Of traveling and meeting all the poets that I only know on Facebook and Twitter. Of having meaningful conversations. Of learning to cry again without hating myself for it.

I wish each of us some sweetness in the new year. Layered into what we all fear, even know, is happening. The wrecking ball, the earthquake, the failure of democracy, the loss of habitat, the disappearance of bees, famine and war, cancer, overdoses. All of it. May it be mingled with some sweetness. Some tears. Some love.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Bitter Honey