Erica Goss

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.

What a great week for poetry blogging this has been! The year is now half over, and many of those who began 2018 vowing to blog every week have slowed down (or stopped altogether), but thank Whomever for that because otherwise how would I ever find time to read it all? And it’s fascinating the way themes continue to emerge most weeks in the process of compiling this digest: this time, for example, I found quite a few people pondering how to organize poetry manuscripts, and there was some strong blogging on the perennial subject of death. And I continue to be impressed by the varied and creative ways in which poet bloggers are responding to the political moment. I think Lesley Wheeler had the quote of the week: “While poems contain struggle of all kinds, they also constitute separate worlds it can be a great relief to enter, because good poems are not unjust or disruptive of bodily integrity.” And I was excited to see George Szirtes firing up the old blog again to start a series on political poetry…

Everything in this country is falling apart and the things I value and hold dear are in jeopardy of being taken away, dismantled, overturned or burned to the ground. In short, it’s a hard time and I struggle with feelings of loss, hopelessness, anger, frustration, rage, helplessness, and fear. It’s a difficult place to be yet every time someone says, “Things can’t get worse,” they, in fact, do. And so when I’m feeling this way I turn to poetry.

As part of the research for my craft paper for my MFA, I’m currently reading a book titled Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism edited by Danielle Barnhart and Iris Mahan.

This book of poetry is exactly what I need right now. The very first poem, A Woman’s Place by Denice Frohman, is one of my favorite in the book. The opening line: “i heard a woman becomes herself / the first time she speaks / without permission // then, every word out of her mouth / a riot”. Damn. DAMN that is powerful. And just what I needed to know that I do have a voice and not all is lost. This doesn’t mean any of those emotions I’m feeling go away, but it does mean I feel a little less alone. I feel like I can keep fighting and I can make myself heard. And while the world is still scary and there’s still a lot of things that could potentially fall apart, I feel like I’m up to the task of helping to fight it.
Courtney LeBlanc, When the World Falls Apart

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This is not a poem about children being ripped
from their families. This is a poem about gardening.
The dirt is just dirt, the hands are just hands,
and the butter lettuce is just a vegetable. Roots hang
from its body like roots, not like marionette strings.
Not like marionette strings, I said.
Crystal Ignatowski, The Butter Lettuce Is Just a Vegetable

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I’ve learned to tell the fir from the yew; the silver
from the red cedar. At sunrise, there is a thin glint of light
northeastward where I await Mt Baker’s frozen specter

careening over Discovery Bay. The lamps of Port
Townsend blink; strands of fog hang over fields.
Peckish deer nibble dandelions.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse on A Cloudy Morn

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Nature plays a key role in Where Wind Meets Wing. Rather than viewing nature as a separate pristine, pure space, your poems address the ways people and nature come into conflict with each other. Is this a subject that you work with often? Or was it discovered through the more organic process of crafting this collection?

It’s a subject I’m now working with more often. […] Mostly, this is the world work that I do. My day job is in pest control so those conflicts between humanity and nature are a part of my daily life. And, as we often say, I write what I know.

To Gain the Day was written early in my pest control career and focuses more on the humanity of that work — on the people who work these kinds of jobs — and on my transition from academia to pest control. I think of it as a Whitman book (and its title comes from a line from “Song of Myself”).

Where Wind Meets Wing developed after I had processed a lot of that strange career transition stuff but while I was still trying to navigate my work with my strong concerns about the environmental impacts of people, something that is heightened by my job. If TGtD is a Whitman book, focused on people, WWMW is a Dickinson book (with a Dickinson epigraph), focused on spirit and nature and self.

I consider myself an environmentalist, which some people consider odd considering what I do to pay my bills. WWMW tries to explore my relationship with my job and my love of the planet and my concerns for the planet. And I’m interested in what you say here about nature being viewed as “a separate pristine, pure space.” Because it isn’t separate (we are a part of our ecosystem and we are animals ourselves so we are nature as much as a tree is). I partly want to honor that — that we are an intrinsic part of our world — while also looking at the effects we have on our world (and on each other).
Andrea Blythe, Poet Spotlight: Anthony Frame on the environmental impact of people and making poetry dance

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In keeping with the title, Field Notes, I intend the poems to be observational, a record of the natural world as I experience it, less a chronological account than an emotional exploration. I want them to interlock, to borrow a phrase from Susan Grimm’s introduction to the wonderful book, Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems. On the first page, she asks, “Which is the more useful question – How do the poems fit together? or What is the whole trying to do?”
Erica Goss, Organizing the Field

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For some reason, this manuscript has been a bear to work with. And not one of those friendly Winnie the Pooh types, all sweet and honey covered, this is the bear that wanders into a forest so large you can hardly see him until you do, then you realize he is chasing a camper or shredding a tent.

This bear is surrounded by poems and so many, he’s not sure which are good anymore. He’s eating sour blackberries and pulling thorns out of his wrist.

This bear doesn’t want to be organized, it wants to run wild through rivers while grabbing a fish.

This bear growls at the thought of having to “have a theme” or any sort of structure.

This bear doesn’t even want to be named. Just call me “Bear” he says. But you name him something clever, and for a week, he’s happy, then he says, “I hate my name and so do you.”
Kelli Russell Agodon, My Poetry Manuscript is a Bear…

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Most poetry books today (including mine) are broken into smaller sections. Sometimes these sections are thematically linked to tell a particular story (the first parts of both The Trouble with Rivers and Reckless Constellations focus on specific people and narratives). Think of those sections as necessary detours on your trip—but they still need to function as steps toward your goal. If you’re driving across Pennsylvania, you may make detours to visit the Anthracite Museum or Gettysburg, but how will those stops contribute to the overall experience of the trip? How will they help bring you to the end of the book? Do they support a transformation that happens in the book? Do they expand or contribute to themes you’re working toward?
Grant Clauser, How to Organize or Arrange A Poetry Book, GPS Style

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Manuscript 1 is my Church Ladies collection–nearly complete with about 60ish poems, a large number placed in literary magazines already. I’ve got a full vision for this manuscript, right down to the table of contents, and it is exciting to see it almost finished. The poems are primarily in persona, from the point of view of various ladies from church history–missionaries, saints, pastor’s wives. These poems have required a bit of research so they feel a little more demure and academic than the poems in Manuscript 2.

Manuscript 2 began as a folder of misfit poems–poems I wrote because I was inspired to write them but that weren’t about church ladies. When it so happened that all the poems were centering on a certain theme, I knew this was the core of a new manuscript. This one is riskier for me personally. I’m a firstborn girl and concerned with being “good” so I never wrote things that would make people upset or feel uncomfortable, all the way until a couple of years ago, after writing my first manuscript.

I had the good fortune of having dinner with Sharon Olds, the queen of uncomfortable poetry, and I asked her how she did it, how she wrote things that would make people she loved upset. She said she could either write it now, never let them read it, or wait til they were dead, but she was going to write it. I felt after that, that I needed to give myself Permission to write what I wanted to write–even if I never published it or waited fifty years to publish it, I did not need to censor myself during my writing process.
Renee Emerson, Two Manuscripts Diverged in a Wood…

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The Emily Dickinson Collages

These were made for an Instagram competition which was organised by The Poetry Society and people linked to the film The Quiet Passion. You can read about the winners and see their splendid work here. Brilliant poet/artist Sophie Herxheimer went on to do a whole series and you can see them on her Instagram.

Mine weren’t in the same league but I like them and they were fun to do: I write each as a poem too.

Out of my window

bold annunciate

the women cooling the flames

as if truth had

never been dis storted

This one has a background of a long bathroom tile, some paint and tissue paper with cut out figures and headlines.
Pam Thompson, “Part of the fun of being …”

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Take a word, image — slice & dice them through
like sausage (or the stuff of which sausage
is made). Scrap old meanings, & stuff in new.
Things you see but can’t say become bossage,
old words carved into new symbols, bone bright,
delicate & sharp.
PF Anderson, Suicide Sonnet

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In previous years I felt no impulse, as Orwell put it, “to make political writing into an art”. As a poet I would secretly have agreed with Auden’s In Memory of W B Yeats, where he says that poetry makes nothing happen but survives in the valley of its saying, a way of happening, a mouth; and would have argued that that precisely was the point of poetry, that it did not set out with a specific intention to achieve an aim, but was deeper, more various and more troubling than that: an intuitive enquiry, through language, into some kind of intuitive truth.

And I would have backed that up with Keats’s feeling that we hated poetry that had “a palpable design on us”. Poetry was not an advertisement for our views but an exploration of the nature of things, standing at an angle to action, not a spur to it, or means of it. That which Keats called ‘negative capability’ seemed to be the whole raison d’être of poetry.

It wasn’t that I felt that poetry should be closeted away from the public world but that its necessary engagement with it would be on other terms: as witness, clown, or prophet.

[…]

Last week I was at Lumb Bank tutoring developing poets among whom was a seasoned foreign correspondent who had spent extended periods in Liberia and Rwanda reporting on the carnage there. Having come back he was turning to poetry to find a way of understanding events of which he had given factual accounts. It seemed vital for him to do so. The poetry is harrowing but formal and disciplined. It is not polemical. It is another kind of reportage as filtered through memory and the wounded imagination.
George Szirtes, Worlds on Orwell and Writing: 1 Political Purpose

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Honey, I love you
like salt in food:

a pinch,
a grain,

a sprinkle’s
all it takes.

Sugar,
I don’t love you like sugar,

but like salt and pepper
for which wars were fought.
Claudia Serea, Don’t ask me to love you like sugar

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It’s funny, eleven-year-old-me making solo hikes through the woods to the drugstore for Colgate. It’s also awful, because my family was so poisonously miserable, so hostile to the person I was trying to become, that I couldn’t imagine staying in that house one second longer than I absolutely had to. And, of course, freedom was a long time coming, even with scholarships and summer jobs and, eventually, teaching assistantships. As my professional life has demonstrated, I’ll take a certain amount of abuse, playing the long game, as long as I have some safe space in which I can retain dignity, do work that feels worthwhile, and speak my mind.

Take that space away, though, and I’ll break, whether or not I break and run. This is one of the many ways poetry has saved me–reading and writing puts me in an honest place. Plus, while poems contain struggle of all kinds, they also constitute separate worlds it can be a great relief to enter, because good poems are not unjust or disruptive of bodily integrity.

Poetry’s doing just fine during the current political mayhem, but other spaces seem way less safe than they ever did. Not that I ever felt welcome and at home in Lexington, Virginia!–but I had friends’ houses, and a few public spots that I felt comfortable in, and a creek to walk beside. Ever since the co-owner of the Red Hen, a few blocks from my house, took her moral stand against hatred and lies by asking Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave, the full ugliness of where I live has been on inescapable display. Media that are often depressing–from Facebook to the local paper’s editorial page–got vicious; picketers with offensive signs staked out the restaurant, which has not yet been able to reopen; the KKK leafleted our neighborhoods with fliers reading “Boycott the Red Hen” as well as “Wake Up White America.”

I want to get out of here. Aside from short trips, I can’t. My husband just got tenure; I also receive, for my kids, a major tuition benefit, which we need for the next five years. I’m finding it really difficult, however, to negotiate the fight-or-flight response that keeps ripping through my body. I hate living in the middle of the Confederacy. I hate how my government commits abuses in my name.

I said so to my daughter the other night, and she answered something like: I’m not leaving. I’ve committed. I’m going to fix this country.

I know that’s a better answer. I just have to figure out how to get through this woods of bad feeling. To feel peace in my body as a prerequisite for helping make peace in this damaged, damaging place.
Lesley Wheeler, Not fleeing

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I met [Donald] Hall for the first time when he read with Charles Simic at the Library of Congress in early March 1999. We spoke after the reading and he asked how the Haines anthology was coming along. After that we continued to correspond until we met again in the autumn of 2000 when he gave a reading from Kenyon’s posthumous collection, One Hundred White Daffodils, at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. I was there doing literary research at the Houghton Library and saw an announcement for the reading on a kiosk in Harvard Yard. That evening I wandered over to the museum after the library had closed and once again I enjoyed a nice conversation with Hall as he inscribed Kenyon’s book to me as “Jane’s remains.” The next day we bumped into each other at the minuscule Grolier’s Poetry Bookshop near Harvard Yard. Hall used to hang out there during his undergraduate days and was making a few purchases before returning to Eagle Pond Farm.

Our correspondence continued for many years after that as age and infirmities began to take their toll on Hall’s body although he continued to reside at his ancient farm up until his death. His mind remained sharp when the well of poems eventually dried up eight years ago. He nevertheless continued to write essays in which he described the afflictions of age. Essays After Eighty appeared in 2014 and he recognized that his own mortal coil was quickly shuffling off. “In a paragraph or two, my prose embodies a momentary victory over fatigue.” Still he kept writing.

Last year I received a nice letter from Hall informing me that he was assembling yet another collection of essays. He included a mock up of the proposed cover – A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety – along with a couple brief excerpts. “In your eighties you are invisible. Nearing ninety you hope nobody sees you.” Just a few days before his passing I wrote to Hall telling him how much I was looking forward to the publication of the new book in July. Unfortunately I doubt he saw my letter, and it is sad to think he will not see the publication of his last book and revel in its success. It will be hard to read knowing Hall is no longer among us. Writing about his friend Richard Wilbur, who died last year at age 96: “In his work he ought to survive, but probably, like most of us, he won’t.” I disagree. I am certain Hall’s legacy will live beyond my own years.

Today Donald Hall was buried beside his beloved Jane in Proctor Cemetery, sharing the “double solitude” they experienced together for two decades at nearby Eagle Pond Farm. But his poetry and prose will remain with us as we carry on – Don’s remains. They are his prodigy, his miracles of art.
Steven B. Rogers, The Miracles of Art: Remembering Donald Hall

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At this point the surgeon reads morbidity into
the shift and twist of tissue,
the plasticity of form,
the salt and vinegar of spirit.

And from then, back on the street,
you may glimpse over and again
around the crook of each and every corner,

mortality’s black sleeve flapping
like a torn flag.
Dick Jones, Fragile

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Some might keep ashes,
but I dig from your compost patch,
the place where you buried
the scraps left from every meal you ever ate.

You followed the almanac’s instructions,
but I don’t have that resource.
I blend your Carolina dirt
with the sandy soil that roots
my mango tree.

Some of it I keep in a jar
that once held Duke’s mayonnaise.
I place it on the mantel
of the fireplace I rarely use,
to keep watch with a half burned
candle and a shell
from a distant vacation.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Tuesday: “Artifacts”

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Inadvertently, I discovered conditioning on my own, when I was about twelve. I decided to study some things I was afraid of–spiders, bees, darkness–and managed to unlearn the fear. It does not work with everything: I’m still acrophobic.

My biggest fear was one most human beings acknowledge–the fear of death. From the time I was quite small, I worried and feared and had trouble getting to sleep because my mind raced around the Big Unknown of what it would be like to die. Many years into my adult life, I decided to explore that fear through my usual method: self-education. I read novels and medical texts and philosophy and religious works in the process. Finally, after visiting an ICU many times during the serious illness of a best-beloved, I decided to sign up as a hospice volunteer.

It’s one way to face death–one sees a great deal of it in hospice care. But the education I received from other caregivers, from the program instructors, and from the patients and their families, has proven immensely valuable to me. Am I afraid of death? Well, sure; but fear of death (thanatophobia) no longer keeps me up nights. I possess a set of skills that helps me recognize how individual each death is–just as each life is. More important still? I treasure and value the small stuff more and am less anxious about the Big Unknown. It’s going to happen, so why agonize over it? This is conditioning. For me, anyway.

Conditioning does not have the same meaning as habituation, because conditioning requires learning and is more “mindful” than habituation. Habituation occurs when we just get accustomed to something and carry on; perhaps we repress our emotions or our values in order to do that carrying on. People can habituate to war, poverty, all kinds of pain, and can make not caring into a habit. We are amazing in our capacity to carry on, but it isn’t necessarily healthy. Getting into the habit of warfare, hatred, ignorance, hiding our feelings, or other hurtful behaviors is often easier than getting into more helpful habits like daily walks. I do not know why that is.

I am, however, endeavoring to condition myself to stay awake to new perspectives, to stay inquisitive, to plumb the world to find, if not beauty, at least understanding and compassion and gratitude. Maybe one day I will even manage to get that perspective from somewhere very, very high up… [yikes!]
Ann E. Michael, Conditioning

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Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

A~It is the human heart on fire.

Q~Tell us more about Collective Unrest. Why did you found it? What do you hope to accomplish?

A~My friend, Mat, and I had this idea for a magazine that is solely focused on social justice, humanity, and unity. We are both anti-Trump and everything that he and his administration stand for, as are hundreds of thousands of artists around the world. But Trump is just one piece of the puzzle. As much as we despise him, there has been injustice in the world ever since human beings came to be. We want to highlight the human experience in the face of discrimination, cruelty, abuse, oppression, or otherwise. We want to humanize the victims of injustice through their art and expression. Our goal is to create a safe space for people who are feeling unsettled, terrified, angry, and powerless.
Bekah Steimel, my allergy pills / an interview with poet Marisa Crane

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Last year, Big Machine – a storm of an album by Eliza Carthy and The Wayward Band – won awards and was performed at festivals and venues up and down the land. Outside of The Wayward Band was another contributor, Dizraeli aka Rowan Sawday. I remember when I first saw Dizraeli and The Small Gods at the Beautiful Days festival perhaps ten years ago and I was struck by Dizraeli’s fusion of politics and rhythm and The Small God’s fusion of rap with reggae, folk and Balkan music. For someone who is a mix of many things, it was inspiring to see.

Dizraeli is a rapper and poet from Bristol in the South of England. He moved to London to seek his fortune, and brought out his first solo album in 2009. He joins the bombastic Big Machine album to rap over Eliza Carthy’s vocals and the band’s instruments on the track You Know Me. You Know Me is about the UK’s strong tradition of hospitality – do we extend it to people fleeing conflicts? The refrain of the song, “the fruit in our garden is good” is a reference to Jesus’ words about the people who follow him. Eliza Carthy said that You Know Me reminds her of her great- grandmother’s quoting of the Bible, when Jesus said we are to serve others and in doing so, we won’t know it, but we may have been serving angels disguised as humans in need.

On the second CD of Big Machine, all the music is stripped away and allows us to hear Dizraeli the poet. He recites Aleppo As It Was. He reminds us that Syria was a thriving and wealthy nation with computers and all the trappings of modern life, with citizens who were friends who worked in their professions and welcomed each other in the cafes. And then Dizraeli reminds us that the way these people are described by our politicians in their hour of need is dehumanising. These people were referred to as insects, cockroaches, so that people like you and me would not view them as fellow human beings who deserve a safe place to sleep. Dizraeli, in pausing the music on Big Machine, makes us pause and reflect on our own lives and responses to people in need.
Catherine Hume, Dizraeli, Tim Matthew and Eliza Carthy

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I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. As a young child, I spent many a night reading by torchlight under the bed covers. Aged 8, I’d cycle to the nearest branch library just over half a mile away and spend my Saturdays getting lost in the worlds of books. During school holidays, I’d sometimes take a book into the blissful silence of the reference room and copy out whole passages, for the love of words. O’ and A’ level English Lit followed by a B. Ed degree (English Lit and History) meant I did fall out of love with reading for a while (all those holidays spent chewing my way through set books for the following term’s syllabus). Then we emigrated to South Africa and, when the new life we’d craved seemed largely unfamiliar and daunting, the town’s public library became my sanctuary.

I don’t remember when I went from borrowing books to buying books. Perhaps it began with the appearance of cheap paperbacks on supermarket shelves. Or when library stocks no longer satisfied my growing appetite for poetry. But I do know that, for years now, my buying habit has out-stripped both my reading speed (I’m a slow reader as I sub-vocalise everything) and available time for reading. Concerted efforts to quit have been short-lived. My habit is fed by my poetry social life, social media links to reviews, publishers/small presses, book vloggers, etc. My collection of poetry books remains relatively intact despite a massive cull of ‘stuff’ when we down-sized last year. The reading of poetry is a vital part of my writing process and my ongoing education. Much of what I read is published by small presses and unavailable on library loan. But I do wonder if my buying habit is, in part, consumerism by another name.
Jayne Stanton, Public libraries

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I’ve just been reading Sarah Passingham’s article, ‘Finding Flow’, in Brittle Star (issue 42). I’ve been lucky enough to have a few poems published in Brittle Star, including one in the current issue.

This poem, entitled ‘Testing the Water’, was definitely written while I was in flow or ‘in the zone’. I remember writing it at a Poetry Business Writing Day. Unlike some of the poems I’ve written there which have gone on to have a life of their own, I almost forgot about this one. I typed it up but never sent it anywhere. It was only when skim reading a word document with lots of other poems in it, looking for something to bulk up a submission, that I found this one again. I worked on it, but when it came to sending it out, I chose the original version (a block of text, no line breaks, minor edits on the grammar).

To achieve ‘flow’, Passingham suggests we look at the idea put forward by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, whose argument she summarises as follows: ‘boredom and relaxation need to move into control, but worry and anxiety must be simultaneously channelled towards excitement’.

Control and excitement. Channelling worry and anxiety. All this rings very true to me.
Julie Mellor, Flow

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I actually meditated on the differences between last year’s solstice – still reeling from a stage IV liver cancer diagnosis, right before the MS flare that sent me to the hospital and left me house-bound for several months with problems eating, talking, and walking and this year’s – relatively calm, despite the first paragraph of this post. Last solstice, I had a coyote sighting on my street – this year, it was a pair of quail and an immature eagle, and seeing a turtle laying eggs in the Japanese garden. I’m learning, slowly, how to manage symptoms, avoiding MS triggers like stress and heat, and after having to be “up” for a day, taking a day of rest. Being thankful that my liver tumors have been “stable.” I’ve learned to appreciate the good days, the small things like the visits of goldfinches and hummingbirds, time spent talking poetry with a friend. I’ve also learned I have to prioritize things that bring joy, because life will certainly bring you enough stress and pain, so it’s important to take an afternoon to just focus on writing, on one other person, or on the changes of the seasons. I am trying to schedule these things in between the necessary evils. I’m trying not to get overwhelmed by the dark.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, After the Storm, and a New Review of PR for Poets

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, popular themes included travel, exhaustion and rejuvenation, music and poetry, and fathers.

Being a poet is a condition. That’s not an original thought, I confess that some poet has uttered those words but I don’t recall who. Being a condition, if you believe that, and I do, then it is a lifelong journey or searches to find something that you don’t know you are looking for. Once you are lucky enough to discover it and wrap a poem around it, the search begins anew. It’s a bit like government work. It’s never finished. It just keeps going on and on and on.
Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Flan Edition

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I kept a travel journal, with small drawings. I was faithful to entering the day to day experiences, large and small. I wrote some creative work while I was away, but, since I’ve returned, I have been writing every day. Poems, essays. My perspective has changed completely, and I feel utterly calm. Not sure if that’s a jet lag hangover or not, but I think I have come to terms with a lot of life that I can’t change.
M.J. Iuppa, Imagine beauty. Imagine Sicily

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For the last week, I’ve lived in the land of the long blink. We arrived home eight days ago from the aforementioned intense trip to Europe, and I dutifully took sunlit walks to reset my body clock, swallowed melatonin at the appointed hours, and vigorously swept out my email inbox–begone, reference letters and peer review!–while getting organized for a spousal birthday and our son’s impending six weeks at the Ross Mathematics Program in Ohio.

I was plenty busy, in other words, but not desperately so, and as I ticked off the most urgent tasks, I found myself revving down. You know, my brain said Wednesday morning, before you work on permissions inquiries, there’s this poem idea. And on Friday morning, over breakfast by an open window, Hey, you haven’t taken a three-day weekend just to read and cook and hang out for a long, long time. As I let myself do less, I started getting sleepier and sleepier, “After Apple-Picking” style. The past few nights I’ve been unable to keep my eyes open much past 9 p.m. […]

Now I’m catching up with poetry in books and magazines. The new Ecotone is on my desk and, as always, it’s full of loveliness. It often contains a powerful poem by a writer I’ve never heard of, and this time that’s “Coywolf” by Katie Hartsock. I also especially enjoyed the opening note by Anna Lena Phillips Bell discussing the departure from the magazine of Beth Staples, who will move to this sleepy town come August and take over Shenandoah. I’ll be reading poetry submissions under her editorship and I’m beyond excited about the magazine’s transition. I’m nervous about the workload, too, but my term on AWP ends in October, and being a trustee during that organization’s recent changes has involved plenty of time and worry. I’m eager, at any rate, to spend time in a different region of the po-biz.
Lesley Wheeler, Hundred-year nap

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I often, in the grim thick of it, wonder why I travel, and why I try to get my work published. I can’t explain either, except for some complex cocktail of ego, hubris, drive, curiosity, and this need to connect, perhaps. We sat by a tidal river in a funky little place that was playing Steely Dan, BB King, Supertramp, and ate crustaceans that we don’t usually eat, bristling with claws and exoskeleton, toasting Anthony Bourdain’s memory. We left hungry but feeling like we’d accomplished a small thing, as I felt when I heard of my finalist spot. Staying home is nice too. Not doing the research required to send work out, not girding the loins for the inevitable rejections, just either doing the writing or doing something else entirely — that’s nice too. But before long I start listening keenly to others’ tales, pore over maps, surf the Poets &Writers deadline pages, pack my bags and set out. Again and again. That’s the only Way.
Marilyn McCabe, Long, Winding; or, Getting Published

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I was camping in Whitby for a few days over half term and The Sick Bag Song was my holiday read. It’s a fragmentary road trip, part prose, part poem. The Sunday Times described it as ‘About as rock’n’roll as you can get …’ but despite being a music fan, I read it because [Nick] Cave gives some great insights into creativity and how writing happens. For example, he tells a story about a visit to Bryan Ferry’s house where he falls asleep by the swimming pool.

I awoke to find Bryan Ferry in his bathers, standing in the swimming pool. He was white and handsome and very still.

I haven’t written a song in three years, he said.

Why? What’s wrong with you? I said.

He gestured, with an uncertain hand, all about him.

There is nothing to write about, he said.

That night I sat at my desk writing in a frenzy – page after page – song after song …

(Nick Cave, The Sick Bag Song, Cannongate, 2015)

I don’t know how true this story is, but it’s interesting to me on so many levels – the idea that success can lead to a loss of creative drive and energy, that sometimes you don’t feel like anything around you is interesting enough to write about (especially if what surrounds you is luxury) etc. But it also interests me that Cave says he fed off that experience like a vampire, that somehow seeing Ferry blocked unleashed a torrent of writing in himself. Surely that’s fear of failure? But it’s being channelled into something productive.
Julie Mellor, The Sick Bag Song

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A little peek at the change of seasons – here, sunflowers are blooming and they’ve attracted goldfinches! Another sign of summer? Butterflies and…we went to an outdoor concert (I haven’t been healthy enough to go to a concert for over a year and a half!) at beautiful Marymoor Park – KT Tunstall, Better Than Ezra, and The Barenaked Ladies – where the first two acts were really fun, and I caught a guitar pick from the lead singer of Better Than Ezra, but then – it started raining a few drops, then boom! We were evacuated because of lightning! If you’ve ever seen a large park full of concert goers emergency evacuate, it’s a mess – and I was holding a metal cane and a metal umbrella – talk about lightning rods! I also got to attend the prenuptial reading at Elliot Bay for Kaveh Akbar and Paige Taylor, who invited a ton of friends to read with them at Elliot Bay – it was like a baby AWP! Much less lightning. Poetry folks everywhere and standing room only. What a fun way to celebrate the beginning of a marriage.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Review of PR for Poets, Mermaid, Faerie Magazine, and Me, and the Latest in Poetry Life, Early Summer Edition

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In the first of my explorations of poetry used in modern music, I will shine the light in the direction of top UK poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

Benjamin Zephaniah appeared on the first Imagined Village album, where he performed a retelling of the old English poem Tam Lin in words that would speak to our current times, picking up the hot potato of asylum and immigration.

This was the first of Imagined Village’s three albums, and it seemed deliberate that for this first album they employed well-known names such as Billy Bragg and Paul Weller – great musicians and a little controversial.

Benjamin Zephaniah has never been one to shy away from controversy, but in the nicest and most morally upstanding of ways – namely his rejection of his OBE. “OBE” means “Order of the British Empire”. Zephaniah said, ‘Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that word “empire”; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds me of thousands of years of brutality…’
Catherine Hume, Benjamin Zephaniah

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At school we had to pray they’d be forgiven,
those trespassers, who rambled viking fells,
ghylls and cloughs, sour gritstone moors
and green lanes cropped by mourning sheep.
They knew the land they walked should not be owned,
wished it was theirs; coveted the cottages
of the small stone villages, their tidy gardens.
Those men like my father the woollen spinner,
namer of birds; presser of wild flowers.
John Foggin, Fathers’ Day

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John Foggin pays tribute to a multi-talented, hardworking father with three poems. His post struck a chord:

My father won the Art Prize in his final year at Secondary Modern school, aged 14. He wanted to go to art college but obeyed his father’s instruction to get a proper job: a nine-year apprenticeship as a coach painter, three years in the RAF regiment as a signaller, and an ever after of hard graft with overtime, latterly spraying cars for a local car dealership. Early retirement with a heart condition afforded him time to indulge a long-denied passion for painting and sketching, and a dawning realisation of repressed left-handedness (his legacy to me, perhaps). He died too young, aged 63.
Jayne Stanton, Fathers and the poems they inspire

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A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a young relative who is a biology student at the University of Oregon. She mentioned that one of her favorite things to do is to look at the university library’s vast collection of amateur field notes. At that moment, I realized that “Field Notes” was the working title for my new collection. Of course. It was perfect.

Here are some “Field Notes” I’ve collected since April:

Joshua Trees look like lions in an infrared photo

fog is my weakness

let’s re-wild each other

clay – what the hell

“Bad” means “bath” in German

zucchini – what a giver you are

ever left something outside long enough for the weeds to grow around it?

a bit of earth

I need a garden to stay sane

fight dirty

save me blueberry
Erica Goss, Field Notes

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The Three Poems by Emily Paige Wilson in Longleaf Review are thrilling in their use of language, like a trapeze artist making us hold our breath until the triumphant end. I love, love, love how she weaves together herbal lore, earth treasures, and the human body into her verse in the most unexpected ways, especially in “Poet as Doctor (II)”:

Write perfume in cursive until the pneumonia
in your lungs loosens. Thread silver through
your teeth to tempt splinters from your skin.
Dissolve geode into fine grains on your tongue,
swallow to ease the gout out of your teased
and tangled toes.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poems I’m Mad Over Right Now

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When I first learned about erasure poetry, I was enamored with the form. The idea that a poem could be hidden inside any text was intoxicating—a challenge I insist on pushing to the limit. There are so many variables: your source text, your mood, whether you’re working by hand or on computer, the marker or pencil you pick up, how quickly your eye scans across the page. I love that there is no one way to write erasure poems, that each writer’s process is a little bit different.
6 Styles of Erasure Poetry – guest blog post by Erin Dorney (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

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So what does this mean? For one, it means that whether or not anyone agrees with my reasons for withdrawing, I can rest for a little while, because it’s done. I’ve made it official. And working at the college for the past year — maybe even the past two years — has been incredibly draining. I need some time to mellow out.

To be honest, it’s a little jarring and I’ve spent the last week feeling largely unsettled. I’ve done a little bit of everything but not a great deal of anything. I suppose that’s healthy to some degree, but it’s a strange feeling. I’ve been reluctant even to write in this blog, mostly because I don’t know what to say. I keep writing and deleting sentences. I’m reluctant to invite judgment, I suppose — particularly my own.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, More Ineffectual Shouting Into the Void

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What I am reading this Sunday:

Boyishly, by Tanya Olson (YesYes Books, 2013)– this is an amazing book, winner of an American Book Award, which I just picked up again and could not put down. Again. The preface poem, “Exclude all other thoughts” brings us mouth to mouth with a corpse in a intimate parable of how to keep the dead, dead. These poems are full of imagining how to be: how to be “boyish”, how to be in the whale’s belly, how to cross the street; “how hard it is not to buy a tiger”; how to be an “old, old, old” woman; finally, how to die “with a giant wad of love jamming up your heart.” Buy this book. Here. Read it. You won’t be disappointed.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Book of Poems in Hand and

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He could heal them with a single
word if they had faith.
He unrolls his yoga mat
to join them as they arch
into dog shapes and fish curves.

He’s been crucified on a cross.
He thought he understood the limits
of human pain. But on this hard, wood
floor, he senses yet another threshold.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Poetry Monday: “Son Salutation”

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At the moment of her death
      she saw 10,000 children
            their white scarves streaming.

At the moment of his death
      he heard the pages of his open book
            riffling in a stiff breeze.
Dick Jones, Ars Moriendi

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 missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poetry bloggers were plumbing some pretty deep waters: genocide, dispossession, mothers and children, writing while parenting, the importance of linking and connecting, the rewards of political poetry, the perils of housecleaning, and more. Let’s jump right in.

I’ve thought many times about the line I’ve heard that goes: To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. I didn’t know the attribution, so I looked it up and found a much deeper sense of its contextual meaning. By luck, I came across a delightfully intellectual blog titled Mindful Pleasures, a literary blog by Brian Oard, and read this particular entry which contextualized and interpreted the quote from its original source, Prisms by Theodore Adorno (1903-1969). I was not very familiar with Adorno, but reading a small sampling of his writings today was fascinating; he wrote philosophy that is both relevant to the litanies of domination and suffering in the 20th century, but also prescient to the 21st. [Adorno was a leading member of the Frankfort school and an important contributor to the development of critical theory.]

I can’t pretend to have much more than a tortured history of attempting to read philosophy, attempting to follow arguments to their conclusions, attempting to live in a way that abides by and remains consistent to a core philosophical stance, but I’ve always aspired to.

With gratitude to Brian Oard’s dense but readable blog post, I am excerpting a larger portion from a latter Adorno text:

Perennial suffering has as much right to expression as a tortured man has to scream; hence it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems. But it is not wrong to raise the less cultural question whether after Auschwitz you can go on living–especially whether one who escaped by accident, one who by rights should have been killed, may go on living. His mere survival calls for the coldness, the basic principle of bourgeois subjectivity, without which there could have been no Auschwitz; this is the drastic guilt of him who was spared. By way of atonement he will be plagued by dreams such as that he is no longer living at all, that he was sent to the ovens in 1944 and his whole existence since has been imaginary, an emanation of the insane wish of a man killed twenty years earlier. (Negative Dialectics, 362-363)

Devastating. I can’t deny the ringing truth in this passage and I have had those dreams. I was surprised how–on reading it–I feel that striving to have a strong social consciousness and a true moral compass are worth the struggle, are still crucially important, might even save us.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Mourning

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Ivanka stands clapping — she’s sixty
miles away — while Mnuchin pulls off

the big reveal: the president’s name
writ larger than the thing it dedicates.

We see it all, live, this Nakba, the burning
tires, the streams of tear gas, a baby

grounded, inhaling dirty smoke in Gaza.
Maureen E. Doallas, They Call it ‘A Great Day’

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Sunday afternoon in The Leeds Library… the oldest subscription library in the UK, celebrating its 250th birthday in the most fitting way I can think of. A reading with the poetry legend from Beeston. The scholarship boy who took a long slow-burning revenge on his patronising old English teacher at Leeds Grammar School by writing two Meredithean sonnets. Them and [uz]. A rallying cry for all of us, that remind the world that [uz] can be loving as well as funny. Erudite, sophisticated and articulate, too. I set that alongside another of his lines in National trust

the tongueless man gets his land took.

Tony Harrison read with his trademark relish for the heft and texture of words; it was a Leeds event and he celebrated with lots of his poems about his mum and dad, from The school of eloquence..which are rooted in his personal history and theirs, but which speak for everyone exploited or conflicted by the class appropriations of language, literacy and education. It was joyous.

Tony Harrison. He’s the reason that I ever thought I might write poems (if not poetry). This comes with stories. In 1971 I moved to Newcastle to be a lecturer in a College of Education. When I took my children to school of a morning, there were very few men doing the same, and one of them was a striking figure..lean and handsome in an RAF greatcoat, very Dostoevskian. Eventually, I asked our Julie (5 yrs old) ‘who’s that bloke?’. ‘That’s Max Harrison’s daddy.’ ‘What’s he do, then?’ ”He doesn’t do anything. he’s a poet.’ I’ve dined out on that story, but the point is that though contemporary poetry meant absolutely nothing to me, then, I mentioned this to a colleague, who invited Harrison to come and read to our 3rd Year B.Ed English students, and so it was that I went to my first ever poetry reading. […]

What Tony Harrison did that night was a revelation. Poetry could be angry, political; it could give back a voice to the tongueless, it could be passionate, it could use rhyme and structure and scholarship as a natural part of its rhetoric. It could be funny and sexy. So I was hooked. I still am.
John Foggin, One of [uz]. An afternoon with Tony Harrison

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The repeated rhymes send the poem galloping forward, the pace accelerates as the poem reveals its truth, threatening to slip out of control the way emotions threaten to slip out of control. But then [Chelsea] Dingman regains control of the poem by shifting perspective – the I speaker asks a question “Is this escape for you?” – and by returning again to the controlled syntax of a shorter sentence and by a reducing of the repetition of that aching long a. Whereas in the center of the poem we heard that sound nine times in four lines, in the final nine lines of the poem we hear it six times: escape, blame, plated, frame, ashtray, ache. Like the sound of breath slowing down after a period of excitement, like somebody who had been crying uncontrollably regaining composure. The poem ends with two sentences that are grammatically questions but which function as statements, as a move towards acceptance: “In any homecoming, what can we do but echo & ache? / To leave ourselves as one thing & return as another?”
Jennifer Saunders, “In the Alcoholic’s Apartment, A Time Machine” by Chelsea Dingham

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She is the water drop on a lotus leaf
no grease marks on the stove
clothes folded away, dishes rinsed
on the sink. Being born afresh
is like dying in the right sense.
Uma Gowrishankar, Remembering Mother

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It has been a while since the blue heron
has shown his face, but I know he will return.
And I know my mother will shriek for joy.
She will bounce on her heels like popcorn
in a skillet. She will wave her hands like a flag
in the wind. Everything will become more real
in that moment.
Crystal Ignatowski, No Matter What Time Of Day

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You’ve heard me say before, poetry saved my life. It did. It does.

Reading and writing poetry, both.

I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon.

And because things were difficult for me at home, many of the poems were about family issues.

Family poems felt important to write.

But the hard part was not being able to share them with anyone.

The content of those poems felt shameful. Secrets that needed to be kept. Too dangerous to reveal.
Lana Ayers, Family Poems Are Hard–part 1

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Margot Kidder eased me through rising panic
every Friday at 1 p.m. as I was deposited
on the sidewalk and mother’s car shimmered
like a disappearing mirage, moving bullet time
away from me.

Margot Kidder was Lois Lane.
Feisty, brave, stubborn, in perpetual need of rescue.
Her dark hair, un-PC cigarette dangling,
whiskey voice, in love with the one man
she could never truly have.

Years later, when she had her publicized breakdown,
was found dirty and wandering the streets,
I cried in front of the TV, wishing I could give her
even a fragment of the comfort she gave me
when I was ten and in need of rescue.
Collin Kelley, To Margot Kidder, With Love

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I am not the hero of my poems; I am the villain. This poem is calling out my own bullshit for whenever I say oh, this time will be different, which of course is a myth that tricks women into performing emotional labor and taking on the thankless and pointless task of “fixing” men. What do we give up when we fashion ourselves to be desired? And, what do we sacrifice when we reject those notions and refuse to be this “dream girl?” Does that subject us to anger? Or, are we called bitter and jaded when we refuse to follow this narrative? These are all of the mental gymnastics I had to perform as I was writing this poem. I ask these questions throughout the book, especially as they play out in the conservative landscapes in Midwestern/Southern places that often rely on women fulfilling traditional roles.
Anne Barngrover, interviewed by Jennifer Maritza McCauley on Bekah Steimel’s blog

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I came across this article by physicist Alan Lightman on the TED web site about quiet time/mindfulness. Here’s a small sampling:

Somehow, we need to create a new habit of mind, as individuals and as a society. We need a mental attitude that values and protects stillness, privacy, solitude, slowness, personal reflection; that honors the inner self; that allows each of us to wander about without schedule within our own minds.

I have paid lip service to these values that Lightman writes about for years — since becoming a mother just over thirteen years ago. They became values because I no longer had an easy way to incorporate them into my life. Infants and toddlers do that to you. There’s little stillness, precious little privacy, and solitude only (mostly) when sleeping. They were aspects of being a person that I took for granted when I had them, and missed fiercely once they were absent.

My children aren’t toddlers anymore. My youngest is five and more self-sufficient by the day. She has her own sense of self. Her own need for stillness and even, sometimes, solitude. And yet my children growing older hasn’t created more space for my own stillness, privacy, solitude, slowness, or personal reflection. There’s less. Far less, even. But my children aren’t a cause, at this point, for my lack of that space.

For the past few years, this blog’s tagline has been “a record of panic, parenting, teaching and art-making.” It’s due for a change. In a conversation with A.P. this week, he reminded me that I didn’t grow up, let alone spend the last decade, thinking I wanted to be known as an educator or even an academic. I want, I have always wanted, to be known as a writer.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Reconsiderations, Reversals, Reminders

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The poem writing time usually comes out of my sleep time, and by the end of the month, I am drained and flattened with exhaustion. I do start the poems on the bus in the morning, jot bits and pieces throughout the say, but I don’t get to actual assembly until my son goes to bed and I have clear uninterrupted quiet time. As he gets older, that gets later, and my NaPoWriMo work gets harder and more exhausting each year. Realizing how much easier the strict form made things, I’m debating about perhaps taking on a sonnet redoublé or heroic crown next year. The risk of taking on too much form is that you may lose the emotional drive to write the poems. If they become overly intellectual, they are cute rather than touching, so I’m not sure about this yet. I suspect I’ll be reading a lot more sonnets while I ponder this.

Usually, I write most of my poetry during April, explicitly because of NaPoWriMo. As a single mom of a special needs kid, with a demanding professional career that is most definitely not poetry, it’s … hard. But I have always been a poet and always wanted to be a poet, and turned down a fellowship in a poetry MFA program to go to grad school in a program with a future that would allow me to support my kids on my own. Each year, I want to keep the poems going, and just become too tired. I really want to not drop out this year. I’m thinking I might be able to keep it going if I try to do one poem a week. I’m thinking probably Sundays. So, watch this space, and see if I can do it. Moral support welcomed!!
PF Anderson, On Writing a Month of Sonnets for #NaPoWriMo

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Unintentional Spring cleaning has come to the Typist household of late, but rather than serving to tidy things up, it’s caused widespread chaos. First, there was the aforementioned filing, which I did actually tackle last weekend, causing allergic reactions from an explosion of dust and masses of toxic ink particles released from shredding five year’s worth of old paper. Then….there was the rat. I’m not going to talk about the rat. It’s too upsetting, and it’s currently unresolved. Experts are coming over to assess. I can’t think about it. I’m just ignoring the fact that the contents of our hall closet are currently strewn all over the living room floor and under no circumstances am I to open the hall closet door.

But the big one is our bookshelf. I shall explain: Those Little Free Libraries that are getting popular are now everywhere in my neighborhood, and they’re like catnip to me. I cannot not stop and browse through them when I see one. I also can’t not take a book that I’m interested in. However, I have been violating the Little Free Library social contract by not contributing books as equally as I procure them, or let’s face it—by not contributing at all. The other day Mr. Typist suggested I “pick out a few books to give away” and we could do a Little Library stroll during which I could make good on my debt. I smiled and nodded agreeably in an attempt to hide my rising panic. “Pick out a few books to give away”??? That would be akin to picking out a few of my children to put up for adoption. My books are my precious. I have cultivated a beautiful, and to my mind, pristinely organized collection of poetry tomes and classics, and I could not possibly let go of any of them. “Pick out a few books”, indeed. What a monstrously callous suggestion.
Kristen McHenry (AKA The Good Typist), Spring Entropy, Bartholomew Cubbins Bookshelf, Hoard Denial

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Last year’s house-to-bungalow move necessitated a massive cull of STUFF that I hadn’t so much as glanced at in years. Operation Study took me three days of hard graft, during which time I faithfully reappraised just about every single sheet of paper in the filing cabinet and heaven knows how many ring binders, lever arch and box files. The poetry ones fared much better than a teaching career’s-worth of policies and planning but I decided to keep only those poems I love, or like enough to go back to (at some point…).

Since The Move, I’ve become firmer with myself about what I keep and what I give away. I no longer keep poetry magazines (I do keep contributor copies, though). Instead I pull out and box-file those poems that jump off the page and ‘grab’ me: the timely or current; those I wish I’d written; those that elicit a That’s it! or a fist pump; interesting forms, etc. In turn, I take some of these for discussion at Soundswrite and stanza meetings.
Jayne Stanton, Collecting poems

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Links appeal to me because they mean connection. The interconnectedness of the web parallels the many relationships among human beings, societies, and environmental entities from forest to desert, as well as infrastructural connections from town to city and across waters and the physiological connections that make life in a carbon-based embodiment possible. And neuro-connections that maintain our pulses and our consciousness–without such linkages, what would we be?

Our genetic linkage influences what we look like, what forms of illness or robustness our bodies possess, and the likelihood of carrying those traits to our offspring.

When we link ideas or concepts or theories, the resulting concatenation can be innovative, revelatory, novel–even if the result is a failure, there’s much to learn from trying to solve the puzzles we encounter when putting together unlike things.

Writing a poem, for example, involves such a combinatory effort. Combinatory logic is a mathematical concept but an intriguing metaphor for what poets do when we mash together observations with ideas and emotions and whatever values each writer operates under.
Ann E. Michael, Linkage

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As I was too sick to celebrate on my actual birthday, Glenn invited a couple of friends over for coffee and cupcakes on this last beautiful weekend, and it was great to watch up with all of them. Roz is a fiction writer, Natasha is a poet (and she’s writing a novel) and Michaela is a visual artist and writer, so we had great discussions about art and publishing and I realized how much it helps us as creative folks to hang out with other creative folks. I am also lucky to have such fun and talented friends, seriously. It helps to remember that each of us is part of a community – we are not actually alone in the artistic universe. It can feel that way sometimes.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Celebrating Friendships and Art, Spring Fever The Importance of Perseverance in Poetry & Looking Forward to Skagit Poetry Festival…

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It was time again for my task as first-round reader for a poetry book contest. Once again I approached with self-doubt and angst. Once again, I learned some things to apply to my own work.

The twenty-five or so manuscripts I looked at were uniformly pretty well-written, which tells me that people are taking the time to learn something of the craft of writing (or at least reviewing the rules of grammar) and the art of poetry.

But I found that several of these full-length manuscripts felt more like solid chapbooks with other stuff stuffed in around them. This is interesting and a useful cautionary tale. I need to examine my own current full-length ms to make sure I have truly a full group of good poems and not a core of good ones and some bubble wrap.

A corollary to this is that it seems like collections are getting longer and longer. And I’ve noted in an earlier post that contest rules are asking for mss that are of higher and higher page count. I just don’t think this is a good thing. I want a book of poems to be a small world I live in, roaming around, revisiting streets and vistas. I don’t want to wander forever in strange terrain. Too many times I’ve encountered collections that after a while make me say “Enough already.” This is not good for poetry, already fighting an uphill battle for readers. Too many poems invites too many weak poems. I favor shorter and stronger throughout. Whack ’em with some good stuff and go.
Marilyn McCabe, Another Round of Notes from the First Round

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A review is generally considered to be a critique, or a work of opinion. That’s true for many reviews, whether they are of literature, film, food, or art. The reviewer is out to convince the reader of a particular point of view; i.e., the book was delightful or boring, the film sensational or regrettable, the meal delicious or average, the art shocking or banal.

In the exploratory review, however, the reviewer’s opinion is less important than the potential reader’s experience of the book. In other words, the reviewer is less concerned with convincing a reader of a book’s worth, and more concerned with making the book available for the reader’s own judgment. This process respects the reviewing triad: author, reviewer, and reader.

When I review a book of poems, I’m not looking for something to criticize. As Anjali Enjeti writes in Secrets of the Book Critics, “I’d much rather celebrate a book than criticize it.” This doesn’t mean that I’m some kind of Pollyanna, heaping praise on every book I review. Nor am I aiming for a balance between the two; i.e., “this was bad” but “this was good.” My goal as a reviewer is to pry open a book of poems and let the light out, or dive deeply into the dark.
Erica Goss, The Exploratory Review

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Seeing pictures of people playing golf in the foreground, with the plumes of smoke from the erupting Hawaiian volcano in the background, makes me want to scream, “Get out of there!” Sure, they should be safe. But there were people in 1980 who went camping near the spewing Mt. St. Helens volcano thinking that they’d be safe. But they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the mountain exploded sideways, which no one anticipated.

I’m also thinking about the first case of urban ebola. That’s a bad, bad sign. But at least the actions being taken have been swift.

Still, it’s the kind of news nugget that makes me wonder if at some point, we’ll look back and say, “We were so upset about the latest Trump debacle that we didn’t see ____________.” Readers of this blog know that I’ve spent time preparing/thinking about the wrong apocalypse. I scanned the horizon for mushroom clouds, not seeing the oceans steadily warming and rising.

Of course, history often works in circles, not straight lines. Perhaps all that time scanning the horizon for mushroom clouds are still ahead: I feel fretful about Iran and Israel and North Korea.

In the meantime, I do the work that must be done: teacher observations, annual reviews, buying food for both school and home, paying bills, making dinner, washing dishes, washing clothes–these tasks too run in circles, making me feel that I’m never done.

My creative work, too, feels circular, not linear. I return to the same themes, the same ideas, but execute them in different ways.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Apocalypse and Other Upheavals

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 missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

Little known fact: the full moon during April is known as the Poet’s Moon. Go out tonight and take a look. No, don’t just look—howl! Reconnect to that O at the root of language.

Memories dissolve in smog, mind maps shuffle
and tangle, brain cells lose ribosomes
and centrioles. Sucking my thumb at 8, in bed,
lights out, I thought, Where is God? What
I want to know now is: Exactly where am I?
I think about my childhood, my brother,
the playground, the uncle who . . .

. . . or that day with high school friends when
we skipped class, stood bundled tight, a yoked
circle in snow, unseen, fragrant joint passed
one to one. I wonder if the edge of the universe
will ever catch up with creation.
Risa Denenberg, If it rains when I’m thirsty, am I the orchard?

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She’s mostly gone, that wraith-woman of a year and a month ago who went under the knives and did not come out, not as she was: so mostly gone I keep thinking she’s dead, rather than built new from the ground up, muscle by bone by metal: so mostly gone I forget she is dead, yes, but the dead come back sometimes, shugorei, banshee, a haunting spirit familiar as the death itself and screaming: so when she comes into my mirror so haggard I’m shook—who is that, why is she in my house—before I realize this fleshhome can still lock from metal foundation to intercostal firewalls, paraspinal spasm and smoking bone, roof an iceburn language for what can’t be: walking, breathing, turning, reaching a thudding hammer shattering sound:

bloodroot, bone, comfrey,
belladonna, calendula, echinacea,
sandalwood, Flexeril, Tramadol,
milfoil, arnica, monkshood,
chamomile, daisy, witch hazel:

muscle, poem, blood.
JJS, April 23, 2018: wraithwrack

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The killer is an orca –
her beauty is more than he can bear,
the strength in her body breaching
the ocean, puncturing the air in a smooth
ballet. How the water glistens
on the day and night of her skin, winking
at his weakness, ploughing his place
to the stars.
Charlotte Hamrick, Evening Song

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Last week I attended the Split This Rock Poetry Festival. The festival coincided with Split This Rock’s 10th anniversary and it did not disappoint – it was three days filled with panels, discussions, readings, and friends. It was an inspiring time and I connected with old friends and made news ones. My friend, Maye, flew in from Michigan to attend the event.

Every day we went to panels and then met for lunch, discussing the morning’s events. At night, after the readings we chatted about our days – the best things we’d heard and experienced. I wrote poems every day of the festival, two of which are decent enough to edit and workshop.

The first night’s reading featured three readers, including the amazing Sharon Olds reading from her book, Odes. I bought the book, had her sign it, and fangirled a little.
Courtney LeBlanc, Ten Years of Power

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That ending, right? It is so powerful because of how she mixes the everyday things we don’t talk about–using the toilet in this poem–with the transcendent. And then the repetition just nails it down. This is what I love about her poetry–this mix, the bitter and the sweet, the everyday toenail-clipping part of the day with the falling in love part of the day, which is life, this mix, the unnoticed and mundane and sometimes disgusting with the beautiful spiritual and lifegiving.
Renee Emerson, Sharon Olds Odes: A Book Review

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I’ve never spoke a second language well, though I’m perfectly willing to give the thing a go when I only have a couple of pages of phrases mastered. So in Cambodia, I spoke a little Khmer / Cambodian, and in Thailand, some Thai. One thing that surprised me in Cambodia is that absolutely everybody seemed to be learning English in order to to better themselves, and so I could have conversations where I inflicted Khmer on people while they tried out English on me. Great fun, much laughter. In Japan, I expected everyone would know English, but only a very few did, especially on Sado Island, but I managed enough Japanese (thank you to my daughter, whose love for all things Japanese meant she could critique my pronunciation) to have odd little conversations and laugh with strangers. In Paris, my schoolgirl French, mostly forgotten, had a tiny revival. And for a trip to Chile, Peru, and Mexico, I had no time at all to study, so listened to recordings the day before and took a list of phrases with me. It’s surprising how much communication is possible with fifty phrases and a little boldness and rhythm-mimicry.
Marly Youmans, Oh, for the language of birds!

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These poems need to be read aloud. Jane Hirshfield, in a cover blurb, calls Toucan Nest, “a book of burnished, lapidary attention.” And it is. Each bird and bat is polished like a gem. The poems are dense with bright nouns, and repeated sounds. The lines in almost all of the poems are short, and short stanzas, too, leave white space as if the are images leap from the environs like birds from foliage. People crop up, too, guiding, pointing, speaking. I kept stopping to look up names and words (Gallo Pinto, bromeliad, trogon). If a poet’s job is to pay close attention (and it is), Peggy Shumaker here fulfills that role beautifully.
Bethany Reid, Peggy Shumaker’s Toucan Nest: Poems of Costa Rica

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We got into a political discussion with a cab driver, who complained a lot about the candidates in the upcoming election and the general state of things, but then, after having exhausted the subject, he smiled and said, “Pero, yo soy Mexicano!!” “But, I am Mexican!” It spite of it all, he identifies himself as Mexican, not with a political party, or a current government or current problems: being Mexican is so much more than that.

This is an attitude I’ve observed among other people — Iranians, for instance, or Chinese — with a long history who’ve seen governments, dynasties, dictators, emperors and kings come and go; they are united by language, place, culture and shared history, shared suffering. Mexican history goes back to the Olmecs, the first Meso-American civilization, dating from 1000 B.C., in the region near modern-day Veracruz. In America and Canada, we have nothing comparable: our national histories go back only a few hundred years, and the indigenous cultures were younger and less developed than in Latin America, and so decimated by genocide that few of us share that heritage, while in Mexico, a majority of the people are mixed-race. So here in the northern New World, we are left to piece our identities together from the fragmented histories of the places we, or our ancestors, came from. But it is never entirely satisfactory to understand oneself that way — at least it hasn’t been so for me.
Beth Adams, Re-entry

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Who can map the path of the breeze
fence the clouds shifting over the hill
Logos is a headless tree
waving into the starless night
Silence spelled like the absence
counters it
Uma Gowrishankar, Meditations On A Pebble

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It took us years/We were coral/dying/Though we could not find the waves/Could not find the underbelly of home/to breathe us transcendent/Sullied palates/in a city gone awry/It bends hot & steely/I only cast spells to love myself.
Jennifer E. Hudgens, 22/30-24/30

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I’m starting to feel a twinge of dread every time I open up a newly published book of poems from some of my favorite publishers. I read the blurbs and raves, think okay! as I open the first page. Read a poem, and hm. Read a poem, and falter. Read a poem, and fade. Read a poem read a poem, and I am lost in a maze, I cannot understand the announcements over the loudspeaker, I am in the Tel Aviv bus station again — a great place to get felafel (something about the added taste of diesel fuel?) but an easy place in which to feel confused.

I have this sense that the publishers are moving farther and farther away from work that I connect with, much less work that resembles my own. I am paranoid that I’m falling out of touch with the kind of poetry the modern world wants to publish, wants to read. I feel like people are connecting to poetry all around me and I’m standing in the middle of it lost. Is there a shift in taste happening? Or is it my tastes that are changing?

I guess there is indeed a kind of grace in contrast — this disconnected feeling makes it all the more wonderful when I stumble upon a book I do connect with, poems that inspire me, that cause me to wonder, to envy, to just enjoy. I fall upon them as a starving person. These are poems I can learn from, I think. These are poems toward which I can work.
Marilyn McCabe, Lost in the Tachana Merkazit; or, Embracing Changing Poetic Tastes

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With her Buddha poems, [Luisa A.] Igloria explores what I’ve been doing with my poems that imagine Jesus (and other forms of the Divine) in the modern world. So we see the Buddha waiting for a flight and considering the duty-free items, the Buddha at a Women’s History Month event on a college campus, the Buddha at a trendy eatery.

The poems are delightful and startling. They make me think not only about the Divine, but about my own movements in the world. It’s a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it; go here to get your own copy.

In her poems, the Buddha changes gender from poem to poem, which works. I wonder if a practicing Buddhist would feel the same way.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Divinities Along the Gender Spectrum

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Later, caught in the net of a computer screen, an email
reminds me to be mindful, to mind the mindfulness
competition beginning now: log-in to record for my employer
the minutes I turned off the phone to follow my breath.
Complete two weeks and earn an emotional wellness token.
Turns out meditation capitalized also pisses me off.
Instead I resolve to scatter any mystical currency my clean
trousers pick up accidentally. Spirit-lint. This is my log-in.
Breathe. What is the thread-count of anger? How soft,
how durable? Can I knot rages into a ladder and escape
myself?
Lesley Wheeler, That’s why they call it a practice (NaPoWriMo Day 29)

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It would be a simple thing
to self-heal, here against the lintel,

watching not the rise and fall of your
fish-breath, your insect pulse, but
the immortal trees beyond. Too easy;

but death looked in and turned away,
indifferent, and now it’s down to me,
the blood-bearer, to wish away your life

for you. The house ticks and hums.
A voice calls out, thin and querulous;
another coughs. I turn down your light.

There, against the window, dusk outside,
day by night you are becoming your shadow
cast against the shifting of the trees.
Dick Jones, Still Life

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[Rachel] Zucker writes “long poems are extreme. They’re too bold, too ordinary, too self-centered, too expansive, too grand, too banal, too weird, too much. They revel in going too far; they eschew caution and practicality and categorization and even, perhaps, poetry itself, which as a form tends to value the economy of language.” If this is her opinion, and she’s a fan of the long poem, what chance do I have?

I’ve decided to challenge my fear of the long poem. Today I am launching The Long Poem Project. During the next few months, I will read poems longer than one or two pages and share my discoveries here; i.e., were they extreme, bold, ordinary, self-centered, or weird enough to hold my attention? Did they go too far? Was I bored?
Erica Goss, The Long Poem Project

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HOPKINSON: How/why was The Deaf Poets Society originally started?

KATZ: Over the last couple years, the online community of D/deaf and disabled activists and community members has grown exponentially. Disabled members of the literary community have also been speaking out against instances of discrimination or exclusion, whether in publishing, the literary community generally, or at events, residencies, and conferences. As someone who went through an MFA program feeling, at times, that I was missing a Deaf or disabled mentor in my life, the internet has been my primary tool for finding and connecting with other D/deaf and disabled writers and artists who have also experienced alienation due to the stigma connected with disability.

While I can’t recall the precise moment in which I began thinking about starting an online journal, The Deaf Poets Society grew out of a personal desire to connect D/deaf and disabled writers and artists to each other. My husband, Jonathan, came up with the name, which resonated not only because of its tongue-in-cheek allusion to the 1989 movie, Dead Poets Society, but also because “deaf” is often misspoken as “death.” Freudian slip or not, disability and deafness are typically seen as aspects of humankind that are deficient, and perhaps representative of our mortality as human beings. But it’s an odd and plainly false connection to make, as D/deaf and disabled people live just as full and just as meaningful lives. This is a prejudice we intend to complicate.
Sarah Katz with Trish Hopkinson, PAYING/NO FEE Submission call + editor interview – The Deaf Poets Society, DEADLINE: Always open

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Between 10-15 editors on any given week gather around a big table in someone’s home. We open our laptops and fire up the iPads to call up the submissions that will be discussed. The poem is read at least once, and then discussion ensues! We try to be somewhat efficient given the volume, but often the six or seven minute timer goes off and the discussion about how well the poem works, how it impacts us as readers, how it fits with what we’ve published and what we’d like to publish continues.

Believe it or not, there’s not much arguing. We try to keep things friendly. We have editors working as teachers, self-employed editors, and retirees. Many of us have MFA’s but not all. Most of us write and publish our own poetry. Quite honestly, we celebrate the differences among us. We need those differences. Some of us lean to the lyrical, some the experimental, and others might be fans of a good narrative. We’re always paying attention to language. That’s hard to ignore! I’d have to say that when you read as many poems in a year as we do, a poem really needs to stand out to make it to the table. Maybe the language just sings. Or there is an adept handling of a topic that outshines many others, for instance, love poems or poems of relationship or family strife which are frequent. Taste obviously comes into play.

One of my favorite parts about the discussion is that on first blush one might not be interested in the poem at all. After a convincing argument is made, one can become a convert!

We vote by simple majority. If there are ten of us at the table, there need to be six votes for the poem to be accepted.
Gail Goepfert, A Stubbornness of RHINOs.

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Sometimes a gift comes out of the universe by way of the Saturday morning mailbox. Today is such a day. This little book (which makes Watson, my tuxedo, look like a giant) is the anthology, IN THE SHAPE OF A HUMAN BODY I AM VISITING THE EARTH, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and published by McSweeney’s. This is not just another anthology. This is the best anthology I have read in years because every poem will “grab you by the teeth” as the editors writing in the introduction.

The poems here were originally published in Poetry International, the beautiful journal published by San Diego State University (where Kaminsky is on faculty). I can name names here: Tracy K. Smith, Charles Simic, Seamus Heaney, Jericho Brown, Federico Garcia Lorca, Mahmoud Darwish, Eavan Boland, Carolyn Forche, Eric McHenry, Anna Swir, Malena Moorling, Jane Hirshfield and many others. Too many to name and really what are names?
Susan Rich, IN THE SHAPE OF A HUMAN BODY I AM VISITING THE EARTH (or a cat body) – READ THIS!

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Now, I help it open, ruffle;
remember once it was a flower at dawn,
each virginal petal held up, apart
from others, scent so sweet. Now, juice is tart,
yet, as I bend my face to peel ‘petals’
(eyes closed, inhaling), the scent is still sweet
but more vibrant, vivid, warmed with my hand’s heat,
than it was. This scent sticks, stays, and settles.
PF Anderson, Orange Sonnet

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 missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, poets have been blogging about death and rebirth, games and puzzles, loss and resilience. Among other things.

Start with the dead things, she says. The stink bugs
that hid under the floor boards and shriveled;
the spiders that starved blanketed in rugs
of their own soft webs. There is a brittle
delicacy in exoskeletons
prepared to shatter with a puff, the grace
of dry bones, the so tender elegance
of perfectly still lines in a limp face.
PF Anderson, Necromancy Sonnet

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Some of my friends consider me an expert in the garden, but I am merely modestly educated, mostly in the School of Experience. Expertise? I considered enrolling in the Master Gardener certification program; but frankly, I prefer to garden with beginner’s mind. I love what experts have to teach me and, being bookwormish by nature, I learn a great deal by reading books by experts.

Mostly, though, I learn from the garden–or from the hedgerow, the woodlot, the fields, the meadow, the wetlands. I’ve discovered that sometimes, the experts’ methods are not replicable in my yard; but a series of trial-and-error experiments of my own may produce the desired result. I have learned to let go of some of my “desired outcomes,” because the plant world and the weather control my stewardship of the soil more than anything I can attempt to do.

Letting go…well, that is the Zen of landscaping and raising vegetables and putting in a perennial bed. Also there is the constant, tedious maintenance–the tending and nurturing–that requires discipline. The discipline can be mindful, and it can also foster empty mind.
Ann E. Michael, Today’s eft

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As if it is easy to pack bags and drudge up the hills
follow the revolution of the earth, the length of days.

Not to grow roots, unattached to the pear tree that fills
the air with the scent of sweet blossoms.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Song of the Valley

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Recently I had a conversation with a non-poet friend who asked me why I write poetry or even read poetry. He had read some of my recent book, Tapping Roots, which was actually the first group of poems I ever pulled together. (I had already prompted him that I liked feedback about what people liked.) This book is about growing up Midwesterner, and in particular, Southern Illinois., about people who have influenced my childhood and adult pilgrimage. If you don’t count college, I’ve lived in thirteen “homes,” but the place I still think of as “home” is the town where I was born, Belleville, Illinois–even though I only lived there for the first FIVE years of my life. I’ve been in the Chicago area for two-thirds of it. If people ask where I’m from, I say “Chicago,” because of course in a way that’s true. The majority of my adulthood was spent in one suburb or another. There’s a certain odd pride in being “from” Chicago, but my heart, corny as that sounds, still belongs to the south of me.

I digress. My friend said he could really identify with so much in my book as he had similar experiences growing up (same generation and similar economic status in the early years), so he could see why this poetry at least affected people. On the other hand, he likes to read fiction that has nothing to do with his life–mysteries with involved plots–far from his daily life and work. The implication was that his choice of fiction did not “work” the same way as my poetry seemed to do. I walked away from this conversation having multiple conversations of my own in my head. The simplest answer to his question is that I write, and particularly poetry, to CONNECT. It seems like such a transparent yet “rings-true” answer. (Yes, I know that there are poets who say they don’t care if someone likes what they write.)
Gail Goepfert, Getting High

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If not praise, something like a thought or two
for archaeologists who dig up car parks
searching for the bones of a king

and for the council worker sweeping dust
and dead leaves with an edgy sway,
his tattooed face looking into cars, unseeing

as commuters look away. Watch
those involved in text spats
with boy or girlfriend; the woman

who stops and holds up her phone
as if it were a chalice and she sought
to quench her thirst; those who read

the pavement cracks and stones;
who walk as if on air, or weighed down
by something shocking left over

from their dreams.
Pam Thompson, For Those Who Walk Pavements

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After listening to Rachel Zucker’s long conversation with Sharon Olds, I felt liberated. Sharon Olds seems to live in a kind of poetic trance state that resonates with me. She speaks of how she pays attention to the fleeting thoughts that come to her, the thoughts we humans have a tendency to sweep under the rug. Her words gave me insight into how to go deeper into what I truly think about myself and the world and to try to put those thoughts into my writing.

I know I hold back a lot. The hardest part of writing and of living in general is to sift through received notions about the world and to instead open up to infinite possibilities. As Alan Watts states in his lecture series Out of Your Mind, the hardest part of life [and art] is “how to create a controlled accident.”
Christine Swint, Inter-National Poetry Month

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On Saturday I sat for two hours and wrote poems for anyone who stopped by. In total I wrote ten poems on the following topics: new relationships, cherry blossoms, libraries, spring, transience, traveling, graduating, bread, beauty, and ducks. Ten poems on ten wildly different topics. […]

The poems I write during this event are composed in just a few minutes. I don’t edit them or give them more than a quick read-over. I jot them down, and then rewrite them on the nice paper the library provides. They are usually relatively light-hearted and don’t touch on many of the heavier topics I usually write about. I never really expect much from them, so to get this email really made my day. It reminded me that words matter and that my words mattered to that person. And that’s a wonderful feeling.
Courtney LeBlanc, The Poet Is In

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In my heart, I know sharing work matters. When I was a child growing up in harrowing conditions, poetry saved my life. It still does. Every day.

As a child, I saw how people who’d suffered loss, and tragedy, and all kind of hurt, spoke out about their experiences in poems. Across distance, time, gender, culture, these folks spoke directly to my wounds. They lived to write about what they’d been through–a testimony to survival, and likely, even thriving.

I’ve come to believe that our words reach those who need them most. However that happens–whether publication in a literary journal, or in the community newsletter, or posting online.

Poetry is my spiritual practice. Getting work into the world is a necessary part of that practice. Rejection is a piece of it too. And the hurt. So I rest, take some deep breaths, and keep on. I hope you will too.
Lana Ayers, The Road Paved With Rejection

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April is conveniently both National Poetry Month AND Autism Awareness Month (which in my opinion, should be co-opted into a celebration to the extent that the witch hunt gets buried beneath our self acceptance and love). I can’t think of any one thing I have clung to more in my pursuit of Autistic Personhood than poetry and art. There is a WEALTH of autistic artists and poets out there, but, you wouldn’t know it from Google. I had to alter my Google search terms eightfold, to finally come up with material penned by actually autistic folk and not ‘Autism Parents’ (non-autistic parents of autistic children, mostly who describe themselves as warriors against Autism–not their children). Much of the poetry written by Autism Parents violates the privacy of autistic children and a good deal of it justifies their abuse, suggests their deaths or hints to their eventual murder. I read these poems and stories and end up feeling very afraid for the children.

When I did finally happen upon the poetry I was fervently seeking (thirstily drinking in all the imagery and not feeling so alone in the world), I saw that some of these works described the other side of the over-televised, tabloid-cast experiences of the voiced-over majority on the experience of autism. The bare bones were emerging and there was the truth. Often, the voice of the adult autistic child emerged, recounting vignettes from youth, sorting through the still frames of a world nearly lost. It was a narrative of survival, meticulous care given to wonder in surroundings, objects, the personification of things–everything is a relic, all is holy. In these words is a kind of beauty that I imagine most non autistics consider fantastical, exotic, or strange. This assumption is based on actual neurotypical reactions to my own work.
Hilary Krzywkowski, Honoring autistic poets for Poetry Month & Autism Awareness Month (guest blog post at TrishHopkinson.com)

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The other day I was in the grocery store, slinking along with my canvas bags and my head full of Li-Young Lee’s poetry (oh yes, his new book The Undressing in the car). Suddenly, a man that I only see about three times each year roared out, “I bought your new book and the poems are making me cry.” He grabbed my arm and swung me toward him. “I love this new work,” he continued in a voice so loud I felt like I might melt before it.

I know that he lost his father last year. Somehow, at least one of the poems that I’d written had been a key for whatever was locked inside him. I could only hope that he felt like I did when a poem fit perfectly inside an empty space I’d been carrying, a space made of feeling alone and now filled with words.

I could only smile and thank him. Thank him for reading my work and telling me so. Thank him for reading poetry. For reminding me that when I am at my desk, I am not truly alone.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Isn’t it time for poetry to be dead, again?

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The Meals on Wheels I ordered for him rotted in the refrigerator. Viruses destroyed his computer. He wandered around town, confused and disoriented. He ate less and less, surviving on Coke and the occasional fried egg, and refused to bathe or do his laundry.

Once while we were in the car, I put in the Poetry Foundation CD and told him to listen, skipping forward to “The Blue Terrance.” The rigid, defiant look in his eyes softened a little. He listened closely, this lover of poetry whose faint pencil marks I can still read in his 1950 copy of the Little Treasury of Modern Poetry, the one he took with him when he joined the Army in 1954. We sat in the car for the two minutes it took to listen to the poem. At the end, he was perfectly still, under the spell of Hayes’s voice as he recited the last lines:

That’s why I’m so doggone lonesome, Baby,
yes, I’m lonesome and I’m blue.

I could see the words of the poem as clearly as skywriting. I knew my father was moved, too, by the way he remained motionless for a moment, before slapping his knees and muttering, “huh!” The poem’s last lines hit me: sitting with my father, whose mind and body were slipping away, was one of the loneliest times in my life.

The Blue Terrance is at the Poetry Foundation.
Erica Goss, An Appreciation: Terrance Hayes’s “The Blue Terrance”

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Jezebel

I’ve not replaced Jezebel,
who died in my arms
with a needle in her paw

years ago. On this dismal
wintry day, shag of snow
in the yard, I’m on my own.

As my last lover shut
the door, she warned,
You’ll die pet-less and unwed.

Now I live like a nun
who’s slept too many nights
in a habit of coarse cloth.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with Bo

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Sometimes my health problems can seem overwhelming – the time scheduling and attending all the medical appointments alone take up can be overwhelming – but I am happy this April to be seeing another spring, to see the little cherry tree I planted last year bloom, the tulips and daffodils show up in a garden that was pretty barren when we moved in. I got an award for my last book of poetry, Field Guide to the End of the World, which came in the mail yesterday (see below.) I’m happy to release this weird non-fiction PR for Poets book that hopefully helps some poets have an easier time than I did. I’m happy right now to be alive and able to go out a bit in the sun, to walk a little bit and watch the wildlife. I don’t know what my expectations of my life were when I was little, but I don’t know that I could have predicted how things turned out – but I know I don’t feel disappointed. I look forward to writing another book of poetry, even to sending out another book, and bringing that next book of poetry into the world. I feel scared of some aspects of my life – mortality and the scariness of the MS diagnosis and my liver tumors and etc – but I think writing has made my life better and happier, and I hope that poetry makes your life happier too, but if not, be sure to get outside and smell the…tulips.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Springtime and Aging, PR for Poets and Thinking about a Poet’s Choices

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The picture is a painting of a couple walking through a park in the rain. It’s not a good painting, managing to be both sentimental and garish — the colors are improbable. But as I’ve been working on the puzzle, my sense of shape and color is enhanced. After spending time sifting through the pieces, when I walk away I see the world afresh, my eye still alert for that certain shade of orange, for a piece with a little blue in one corner. I see new colors everywhere in the everyday world. And I’ve come to appreciate the picture painter’s bold use of color, his or her fearlessness at slapping a stroke of cerulean in a shadow, a smear of fresh-grass-green on a tree trunk.

Because I’m seeing the painting through tiny shards of it, seeing the bits of tree for the forest, I’m enjoying what’s been accomplished here in the details, as I pull back to look at the overall picture.

And it occurs to me that if I could bring this level of attention to my writing, it could be a powerful editing tool — to slow my process way down and see each and every word, how the words fit together, how they elbow each other, where space is used, and then pull back to understand each element anew as I view the whole piece. And also use that heightened awareness of word and silence as I encounter the world.
Marilyn McCabe, Easy Pieces; or, Editing as Meditation…Editation?

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As I put the game away at the end of the day, I reflected on the final board, with its mix of words and non-words, a board created by people who clearly don’t understand the rules of Scrabble. But it did look like a board that was created by people having fun with letters and language.

Throughout the day, I overheard snippets of conversations where people reminisced about the games they had played and enjoyed. Even if people didn’t have time or inclination to participate, the presence of a Scrabble game in process jolted them into a mindfulness that they didn’t have before going into the break room.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, National Scrabble Day at School

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Reading [Alice Fulton’s] work challenges me to be more playful, to take more seriously poetry’s higher calling to something beyond mere “sense.”

And Fulton does play! She plays with clichés and colloquialisms, tosses in science and politics, and somehow gets away with it all (masterfully). Although these poems predate the 2016 presidential election, their refusal to be linear seems to me strangely fitting for our times, and prescient.
Bethany Reid, Alice Fulton’s Barely Composed

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From Bruegel to Van Gogh, [Diane] Seuss draws inspiration from many artists and paintings besides the Rembrandt her title references. Seuss conjures these works into the modern era by personalizing the paintings, the way John Ashbery once did in “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.” Beneath the intensity of her gaze the paintings come alive:

The turkey’s strung up by one pronged foot,
the cord binding it below the stiff trinity
of toes, each with its cold bent claw. My eyes
are in love with it as they are in love with all
dead things that cannot escape being looked at.
It is there to be seen if I want to see it, as my
father was there in his black casket and could not
elude our gaze…

By bringing the father into the frame, the lifeless form of the turkey within the original painting is activated, here we get a sense of the poet’s hauntings, of the memories these still lifes bring to the surface for her; this one, evoking the corpse of the dead father is particularly traumatic. Surface itself becomes an illusion. Seuss’ poems reveal there are infinite depths available to the viewer. In this poem, as well as in others, the morality of the arrangement itself it called into question, the act of being invited to look on such horrors is interrogated as well as our own relationship with death. The speaker in the poem chooses not to look at the body of the father though without knowing her own reasons for this, and so the speaker feels as if they are “paying / a sort of penance for not seeing then,” she tells us, “Now I can’t get enough of seeing.”
Anita Olivia Koester, Unframed: Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl by Diane Seuss

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Granular now, this ice, this temperature differential, this oblique control: if I had a god she would be that nervous flicker exploding from thawed hay, iced crocus; she would be the question how? now so granular, the big parts answered, each single blade iced green, and stymied. […]

Ice-sheathed, spring willows try so hard. Nerve connections fire. A peregrine sails, fastest creature on earth. To be so fast, aglow with sap: where are you going? Each next thing, coming fast. Muscle snagged on titanium bone. It still hurts, you know, resurrection; just significantly less than what came before.
JJS, April 15, 2018: Lazarus, in mud season

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The lapwings are back in the fields and along the edge of the lake. Canadian geese have claimed their pastures along the motorway. Spring’s hypomania is in full bloom just after sunrise. The grove smells like dark earth. Like death and the greening that follows.

Where the trees stop and give way to the plowed fields, the stench of manure is a slap to the senses. This is what life tastes like. Want it or not.

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The puppy has a mouthful of moss.
I’m thinking it’s time to listen to the silence between the birds’ exclamations.

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Last night I watched a woman dance to the sound of a train passing. Bach spoke through organ pipes, from over 200 years ago. The sacred. The profane. The meaningless distinction between a pianist’s fingers – oh, where they’ve been – and the return of the lapwings.
Ren Powell, Returning with the Lapwings

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 missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week a lot of poets were musing on time, both sacred and quotidian, and gearing up for (Inter-) National Poetry Month. I’m starting the month with a bit of a head cold but in high spirits because I’ve just gotten married (my first marriage, at the age of 52), and because spring feels as if it’s come to this Pennsylvania mountaintop at last: the wood frogs have begun their annual orgy in our vernal ponds. Cue the Stravinksy!

National Poetry Month is just around the corner and that means it’s time for the Big Poetry Giveaway! I’m honored to be taking over the reigns from Kelli Russell Agodon.

How do you participate? It’s simple:
— Anyone with a blog can give away two books of poetry.
— Anyone can enter any or all of the giveaways.
Andrea Blythe, Big Poetry Giveaway 2018: Guidelines

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I can’t believe a year has past since the last NaPoWriMo! Once again I’m pep-talking myself, trying to juice up for the challenge of 30 poems in 30 days. Realistically, I know I probably won’t hit each and every day but I’m ok with it. No pressure, no pain, I just want to enjoy the challenge and look forward to reading my brother and sister participants. Are you joining the effort? Here’s where you can sign up!
Charlotte Hamrick, Gearing Up for NaPoWriMo 2018

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It’s not too late to make a plan for poetry month! Whether you want to sign up to write a poem a day or unofficially just plan to crank out some poetry in April, there are plenty of prompts and resources to keep you going strong all month. And that’s not all that’s going on either.

“National Poetry Month is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, bloggers, and, of course, poets marking poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives.” Read more about the creation of National Poetry Month here at Poets.org.
Trish Hopkinson, National Poetry Month begins today! #NaPoMo–Prompts galore & other ways you can participate…

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Tess Taylor just gave a great reading here, and either there or during my class afterwards, she described poetry as “a dance with absence.” I know what she means–all that white space, evocation, closing in on loss and other big subjects through image and fragment–but when I’m finding my way towards a poem I tend to feel, instead, like I’m dancing with presence. There are stories written everywhere. I’m just not very skilled at reading them. […]

So I begin another National Poetry Month with my head full of names and histories, partial as they are. I wish life were all walks in the woods then, afterwards, shaping fragments into poems. It won’t be! But I will be spending some time on poetry each day: writing new work, revising poems or expanding notes jotted this winter, working on submissions. Early spring, for me, is poetry season.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry and presence

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I headed southward on a recent trip to visit a friend and to see if I could find spring, since my Pennsylvania valley has been extensively clobbered by late-winter/early spring snow storms. In southeastern North Carolina, the air was cool but the plants were blooming. Spring at last! May it head northward soon. […]

I like to read poems while traveling. On the one hand, it proves difficult to keep from being distracted by crowds, announcements, and departure times–which can make it hard to focus on the challenges a poem presents to its readers. On the other hand, poems tend to be brief enough that the inevitable interruptions do not completely disrupt the flow or content of the page; for that reason, I tend to struggle to read fiction while traveling. The brevity lends itself to gesture, so I can pick up on mood and tone and the sound of the poem (in my head–I don’t read aloud in airport terminal lounges). Later, when I am home again, I re-read the poems. That gives me a different perspective on the work.
Ann E. Michael, Blooms, books, buddies

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But then, what with going after a Ph.D. in literary studies, with getting a tenure-line job, oh, and marriage and the baby thing, I would have these extended interludes of not writing. What’s odd is that is didn’t involve anxiety. I knew I would get back to writing poems, that I might be initially rusty, but it would wear off quickly. Typical for me was to go through a torrid two- or three-month round of writing a lot of poetry, drafting, drafting, drafting, and then I would go through a six-month period of not writing, not worrying about it–just doing the work of occasional editing, and even then, it was a bit hit or miss.

In the down time, then, was both time to recover, to reflect, to live, and all that, but it was also a time to become a little suspicious of just what the poetry thing was all about for me. I didn’t burn the way I had in my youth. I didn’t discipline myself the way my peers did with their writing. I suspected laziness on my part. But ultimately I realized it was just the way for me, and I liked the casualness of it, of maybe writing or not writing for a while, knowing I would get back to it when it mattered.

I think it’s April’s demand that I do poetry is what is so irksome to me about the month, a chore, an obligation. Oh, I will still get giddy, getting the updates of what cool thing is seriously happening on South Beach, the nervous students sharing their work out loud, the improbability of this small, narrow, and unproductive enterprise, something private and inconsequential and necessary, strange, strange, little fugitive fugue.
Jim Brock, Not Quite Yet the Cruelest Month

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Rattling off a post before March ends. I’ve worked hard on my poetry manuscript since I last mentioned it on this blog. Now for the final stages of editing, tweaking, rearranging lines, titles, and order with my editor, Jane Commane at Nine Arches Press. What have I learned from writing a full collection of poetry? Mostly, how much I don’t know about how to write poetry. Now I feel that I might be just about ready to start. If only I had a time machine to hand so that I could write it all again without missing my deadline. No chance of that, so I will have to make it as good as I can at this time and think about what to do for my second book.

I had a similar feeling when I’d finished my MA in Creative Writing at UEA in 1997. I remember saying to one of my lecturers that I felt I hardly knew anything. She said something like “Good, then you’ve learned something.” I’m trying to convince myself that it is better to feel like this than to have the feeling I know everything (nobody likes a know-it-all, right??).
Josephine Corcoran, End of the month blog

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I recently wrote my first abecedarian poem, and while I enjoyed the process, I nearly stalled out when I got to the letter X. Hardly any useful words begin with X. My crumbling, 1965 edition of Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary contains just one page of X words.

Although the less common X words (xeric, xylophagous, xylotomy) intrigued me, none of them worked in my poem. Neither did the more common (x-axis, X chromosome, xenophobia, Xmas, X-ray). I wasn’t successful with using the letter by itself, as in “X marks the spot” or “x’d out.”

Just for fun, I took a look at my German dictionary and found exactly thirteen words that started with X, including “X-Beine” (knock-kneed) and “x-mal” (any number of times). The Spanish dictionary had forty-five, including “xocoyote,” (the first son; Mexican term) and “xeca” (the head of a person; Guatemalan term). Interesting, but still not useful.

In order to write a line that made sense in the poem, I did what a lot of other poets have done: cheat. Instead of using a word that starts with X, I used a word that sounded like it starts with X: “ecstasy.” Most words that start with X – i.e., xenophobe, Xerox, xylophone – sound like they start with Z. Therefore, is using an X word that doesn’t sound like it starts with X also cheating? Or is it more authentic to use a word that sounds like it starts with X, even if it doesn’t?
Erica Goss, What About X? Writing the Abecedarian

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[Sylvia Plath] liked Elizabeth Bishop but not Auden (she described his poems as “grinding metal”), thought the New Yorker published a lot of trite poems about birds, took classes from CS Lewis, liked Tolkein, and thought Ted Hughes would make a great children’s book author whose work would be acquired by Disney. She studied a lot about Chaucer (obv. liked the Wife of Bath) and Paul’s letters (problematic in terms of his attitudes towards women and sex, she thought – and I agree!) Lots to think about. Still an inspiration. Though she disparages Edna Millay all over the place in these letters she had a lot in common with her – did you know Edna got famous for an early poem about suicide? And was notoriously egotistical and famously sexual? Kind of a mean person, sort of like Sylvia. I like both poets, although I’m pretty sure I would have been afraid to be friends with either.

It does make you think about the job of ego in the work of women writers. I was thinking about this is terms of Emily Dickinson too – even with lots of rejection, she kept at it. Without a pretty sizable ego, women writers in the twenties – or fifties – wouldn’t even have attempted to make a splash. Sylvia expected to be more successful than she was, which may have led to being disappointed at a more crushing level than if she’d tempered her expectations. On the other hand, who succeeds without having the expectation of succeeding? We must all retain some hope of this, even if we say we don’t. Otherwise…
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Launch for PR for Poets, Open Books Talk on PR for Poets on April 8, and Sylvia Plath Quotes

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despite my misgivings with longer collections, i’ve not really ceased entirely to send out my poetry to literary magazines, which garner even less attention and less remuneration than a book or chapbook poetry might. and why? why do i still send out those poems? i think its the literary conversation. though i’m not in the traditional university setting from which most of modern american poetry springs, i still have a desire for my poems to move among and speak to what is going on in our culture and in poetry in general. i think that my poems are probably more akin to a letter to the editor than a comment in a crowded lecture hall, but the fact that i still want to throw my two cents in means something, and maybe i ought to give second thought to letting those collections out into the world, however noisy it may be.
Renee Emerson, the literary conversation

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[Susan Rich]: This book is full of family secrets — from the workers in the mills up to more present day. How did you negotiate this within yourself?

[Cindy Veach]: Great question! This did take some self-negotiation and it took time. Some poems, ultimately, were left out of the manuscript and I have no regrets about those decisions. I believe that those that survived serve a purpose – to preserve something of the details of lives so they are not completely lost.

SR: Now that GLOVED AGAINST BLOOD is out in the world, has it changed how you see the work or how you see yourself as a poet?

CV: When I was deeply working on the manuscript it was difficult to see the whole. Now, that it is done and in the world, I see it from a different vantage point. One where I can see more of the inner connectedness of the poems and the progression. At the same time, I feel more distanced from it. And by that I mean it feels complete/done and I can move on.
Susan Rich, Special Interview with poet Cindy Veach – pre-event!

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It’s Holy Week, and so perhaps it’s appropriate to think about olives and Palestine and the garden of Gethsemani — but also about spring, and light on silver leaves. Over the weekend I did another gouache sketch in a toned-paper sketchbook, this time of an olive orchard we drove through in Sicily, one of many we saw, in the hills near Selinunte. It was actually harvest time, and we followed a small truck, laden with many boxes of large, just-picked olives, up a long winding road to a town at the top. There we saw a huge olive-processing plant, and many tents, occupied by migrant workers, all of whom were black, and, I suspect, refugees from Africa. I won’t forget the sight of another truck we passed on the way back down, driven by a white man, but completely loaded with young black men hanging off the sides. Or the two young men walking their bicycles back up the hill toward the town – an impossible ride, because of the steepness.

But the olive orchards are sheer beauty. I fell in love with olive trees in Sicily, from the young sinuous saplings, covered with tongue-tingling, tiny, bitter fruit in every shade from grey to green to black, to the extremely old, twisted trees: noble and venerable elders that one sees, sometime in the middle of pastures or near an ancient temple, some of which have lived for centuries.

I’m familiar with the olive varieties that we buy in the markets, but have no idea what the different types look like as trees, or how they are chosen for orchards and different micro-climates, but in their great variety, shimmering in the light, they all seemed extraordinary to me and extremely beautiful. I saw for the first time, first-hand, why the precious olive became the symbol of victory and peace, and the symbol of grey-eyed Athena, always my favorite goddess and the particular patron of Athens and the Greeks.
Beth Adams, Olives

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Have you been trying to figure out how to keep going? I have. It is helpful to be honest about that, in this weird stretch: the optimism of our 2018 resolutions are wearing off and yet the weather, by and large, has not yet lifted our spirits.

One of the consequences of moving is that one has to reshuffle belongings and filings. So I came across the cover of the very first Washington Post Magazine where my work appeared, in 2008, as the lead-off for the “XX Files” columns. “of a certain chromosomal persuasion.” There’s Cheryl Strayed, pre-Wild. A stock image of a girl runs, playful, across a field.

Ten years later (and in between), I am again in the Washington Post Magazine. This time I’m talking about “The politics of poetry in the era of Trump,” following my trip to Cyprus–an opportunity that would have been unimaginable ten years ago. The image is of a woman’s calves, decisive, “stepping up” a constructed and patriotic height.
Sandra Beasley, A Ten-Year Glance Back

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Exhausted by the move (we’d transported all our possessions to and fro the mile-and-a-half lashed onto a single bicycle), we’d had a couple of beers and retired early. I was jerked out of a deep and dreamless sleep in the small hours by the sound of music. It wasn’t the usual dull, bass-heavy thump of unidentifiable music heard through walls; it was a masonry-shaking, pile driving immanence of sound driven by a lurching, rollocking rhythm with the emphasis on the offbeat. I sat up in bed transfixed. The immediate sensation was of being locked in the engine room of an ocean liner, a foot or two away from the driving pistons. But the secondary sensation on rising into wakelfulness was one of delight: what was this extraordinary noise that sounded so familiar and yet so exotic at the same time? It continued for about an hour, melody and tempo varying, but that loping beat a constant. And then suddenly it ceased, leaving in its wake the echo of rattling drums, bubbling bass, a guitar played on the upstroke, creaky, slightly off-key sax and brass and, riding on top, impassioned but largely incomprehensible lyrics.

The following day Byron, emerging from his flat to buy a paper, found me sitting on the stairs, my arms clasped around my knees, rocking back and forth like a child in pain, the skipping and churning having minutes before fired up again. Mistaking my hunched state for acute discomfort, he apologised profusely and turning back towards his door, he promised immediate silence. When hastily I put him right, he grinned, pushed a hand through his unruly hair and invited me in. I was introduced to the family, a cup of tea was brewed and we spent the rest of the morning (on a day dedicated to last-minute exam coaching at the college) going through stacked boxes of Trojan, Island and Blue Beat singles.
Dick Jones, FIRST TRAIN TO SKAVILLE!

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I am reading the essays of biologist Lynn Margulis and her son Dorion Sagan. As a biologist and peerer at the microcosmic, Margulis sees the world as divided basically into bacteria and everything else, and basically regards humankind as a big vehicle for the wily adventures of bacteria over time.

At the same time I’m reading the poems of Paul Pines, Jungian, fisherman, seaman, flaneur of NYC jazz clubs, Bourbon Street, the beaches of Belize, and the ideas of ancient philosophers and gods.

The juxtaposition is mind-whirling.

Margulis’s essays contain sentences such as: “Whether we are discussing the disappearing membranes of endosymbiotic bacteria on their way to becoming organelles or the breakdown within the global human socius of the Berlin Wall, we must revise this rectilinear notion of the self, of the bounded I.”

Here is Pines: “Father//cross my fears inside the lotus/move me to grace like a swallow/my soul is an anagram show me its shape/I am not who I am”
Marilyn McCabe, Top to Bottom: or, Reading Good Stuff: Margulis and Pines

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I could spend an entire day navigating the links Maria Popova includes in her articles on Brain Pickings.

In this one, a letter Frida Khalo wrote to Georgia O’Keefe, Popova extolls the virtues of creating community through letter writing and sharing. She praises the compassion Khalo and O’Keefe showed each other when one of them was suffering, and uses their correspondence as evidence that artists don’t work in complete solitude. We thrive on support and love.

She links to Brian Eno’s concept of “scenius,” a play on the word “genius,” meaning a collective of ideas, an ecology of artists and thinkers who respond to each other and the world, which she found in the book Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon.

Reading these two articles has inspired me to get back to a practice of sharing my creative process rather than storing it privately until I’m ready to publish (even though I am, in fact, publishing it here).

The poem I’ll be sharing is raw, unfinished writing that I do as a ludic exercise. I may or may not come back to it. Perhaps I’ll cull a line or two from this writing. Or maybe I’ll like the finished result!
Christine Swint, Getting Ready For April and National Poetry Month

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This will be my 10th year of participating in NaPoMo. I’m joining the group I’ve published daily poems with in April for the past few years. Like most participants, I doubt if I will write a new poem each of the next 30 days, but I will try my best. My plan has always been to do it first thing in the morning. If possible, I write a couple of poem-starts, to use as ‘leftovers’ for days when nothing is forthcoming, or I don’t have the 30 minutes to write.

I’m always excited about NaPoMo because some of my best poems have been started during this lovely parallel-play with other poets. It’s also a time to encourage and support others, a time to look for the best words or the most startling line in a draft, that line that later will be the edifice for a mature poem. It’s a time to flex the poetry-writing muscles, to do the reps.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with NaPoMo on My Mind

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As I read this hefty pack of poems, I kept asking myself what I was looking for, what would make one poem rise above the others. In the end (and partly because of the sheer quantity of poems that I read), I went for impact. What did I remember? What drew me in and made me want to come back for another read.

I’ve been told, even by a therapist who works with troubled children and teens, that poetry is a “thing.” Something he never gave much thought to in the past. I would guess that 40% or more of the poems were written by girls (ostensibly as it was a blind reading) who wrote about the trials and disappointments of relationships. The word DEPRESSION came up in way more poems than I would have liked. Of course, poetry is the vehicle of emotion, but it was troubling to see just how many students reflected feelings that many adults struggle with their entire lives. There were abused children, neglected children, children of divorce or alcoholics trying to recover already from things that have shaped them in the first dozen years of their lives. Sad. Disconcerting. Troubling.

When I read about and watch the teens who swarmed D.C. and hear the eloquence and the heart of what they have to say, I have hope. Emily Dickinson wrote: Hope is the thing with feathers -That perches in the soul. I wonder what else there is if there is not hope. These young people post Parkland, these poets writing from their chests, are living breathing HOPE. They have to navigate the same alleyways and secret gardens, and plastic-riddled oceans as the rest of us.
Gail Goepfert, March Madness and What Makes a Good Poem

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So now, I’m back at home. Back watching the pine siskins skein through the bare alder trees. Back talking mostly to the dog. And I’m tired. I’ve been pulling back on social media like many people have. I’m a little tired of the continual upheaval and drama on Facebook and Twitter, the soft-focus photos on Instagram. Connection fatigue.

I’m still beating the sun up every morning, though that will only be for a few more weeks. I’ve been sitting at my desk reconnecting with what’s inside me. Letting all those words filter down. Reading the poetry books that I picked up at the conference. The poems are bubbling up again. They need both connection and disconnection – planting, growing, harvesting, lying fallow.

I don’t want to withdraw from all social media. I would miss seeing the new books, reading the essays, admiring the puppies and kittens. But if you reach out to me and I don’t respond right away, I might be disconnected. Just for a little while – I’ll be back, I’m just watching the alders consider budding or listening to the owls stake their claims to a corner of the woods.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Connection Fatigue

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 missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, bloggers were relatively quiet—perhaps done in by the combination of Valentine’s Day and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. But I found some lovely book reviews and meditations on reading, writing, revising, archiving, loving, and persevering.

An opening, a hole, a window
A pale stream of greenish fluid
A small boat sinking in horror
Tock-ticking doggedly, forgetting why it’s important
Stricken, awash with grief
Risa Denenberg, Pericardium

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What has been eliminated can also be illuminated. Here is the task [Tarfia] Faizullah set out for herself, to listen to the voices of the dead, those of these villages, and others, as well as her sister who died in an accident as a child, and to shine a brilliant and searching light on what has been lost as well as what remains. The notion of village here is vital, for this village is not only external but internal. There are villages of silence that must be broken. Villages of ghosts that disturb sleep. Villages of childhood, of memories, of self-doubt. Villages of tenderness and desire, as well as villages that must be renamed after atrocities are committed.
Anita Olivia Koester, Survivors’ Lyrics: Registers of Illuminated Villages by Tarfia Faizullah

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While focused on a specific state, this book is full of borderlands and hinges: between poetry and photographs, between history and the present, and among races and realities. I’m fascinated by the relationship between word and image here–each poem, untitled, is coupled with a photograph, and the pairings tend to defamiliarize rather than illustrate one another. Next to “He ain’t done right to whistle,” for example, is an image of a ruin. So is the racism that led to Emmett Till’s murder a gutted edifice, still standing but increasingly fragile, doomed to be pulled down by kudzu? If so, what’s a person to do about it?–Look at it, surely. Head-on.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry at the Border: Ann Fisher-Wirth

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I saw The Post recently and was struck by the tactile nature of old typesetting. At one point the typesetter held the news in his hand, cupped it as each letter jabbed the air with its shape.

It made me yearn to run my fingers over the alphabet of my poems, to feel the jagged space between vowel and consonant, the smoothness of silence. I’ve met bookmakers who use letterpress and have wondered at their oddness and passion. I think I get it now.

I remember as a child liking to feel the raised letters on a book cover, the dimply gold of a Newbery medallion. My fingers rest now on the slippery cradles of my computer keyboard, only a tiny ridge under the F and J to let me know I’m in the proper typing position. Usually when I write, one hand is wrapped around a Bic, its hexagonal planes, but of the letters I feel nothing. Not even the dampness of fresh ink. The letter and the page become one, featureless. It’s my eye only that gives it substance.
Marilyn McCabe, That’s So Touching; or, On the Power of Words

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The papers print this and that.
I’m tired of reading. Gray. Black
and white is better but no one
is. Brave enough. No one is.
Safe enough. My slug body
is getting. Droopy. Getting.
Smooshy. I’m tired of being.
Here. Here is messy. I want to ring
myself out like a sponge. I want
to make you drink my excess.
Crystal Ignatowski, An Open Poem To Big Men Up In Skies and Big Men Up On Pedestals

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I cut my teeth, academically at least, on the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser, difficult and hard stuff really. And Annemarie Ní Churreáin’s poetry shares this kind of hardness for me, sung with her own distinct voice. These are the poets I think I must attend to, a poet where I stop and read perhaps one poem in a book, let it simmer and rest for a day, and then to another poem a few days later. I think they make me stronger for these times.
Jim Brock, Bloodrooting

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One of my favorite things that [Twyla] Tharp does is create a box for every project. “I start every dance with a box,” she writes. “I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of that dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.” The box is her reference, her storage and retrieval system, a place for her research and even a few tchotchkes. You must, writes Tharp, “learn to respect your box’s strange and disorderly ways.” My notebooks are Tharp’s boxes, and yes, they are strange and disorderly, repositories for candy wrappers, stickers, quotes, and words like mammogram, fire, abruptly, downtown, and permanent.
Erica Goss, Dance With Me, Part 1

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Last night while doing some more of that sorting, I stumbled upon a folder mashed into the back of one of my file cabinets that contained printed copies of poems that eventually found their way into Better To Travel. Also in that folder were two handwritten poems – hastily scrawled on the backs of printed poems – that I had totally forgotten about. One of them is sonnet called “The Seer” from a long-ago workshop I took with Cecilia Woloch. The other is called “I believe…” and is an interesting little manifesto that references River Phoenix, Princess Diana and living in London. I also found – and this is the one I’m most intrigued with – a printed poem called “The empty bed,” which, if memory serves, was destined to be part of Better To Travel but was pulled at the last minute. It has a killer closing stanza, but the rest needs some serious revision, which is probably why I pulled it from the book. There’s no date on the poem, but hazy recollection puts it at around 1994 or 1995. Sometimes being a packrat pays off.

I’m curious how you, fellow poets and writers, organize your writing life? Do you use a program or an app? Do you print everything up? Keep handwritten drafts in notebooks?
Collin Kelley, Organizing your writing life

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Writing beyond the ending is something I see pretty frequently in poems, usually by younger poets who can’t resist the impulse to just keep walking on down that trail. It’s also something I’m prone to myself, a lot. After I’ve put my first efforts on the page I go back and carefully feel out whether the poem went too far. Usually this requires some time or distance. I need to put it down for a few days, or read someone else in between, so I’m not hung up on my own endorphin rush from writing.
Grant Clauser, Revising is sometimes knowing when to stop writing

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Readers may feel betrayed by the writer. Yes, that happens. It also happens that rather awful human beings have penned soaring, beautiful, compassionate poems, because people are complicated and flawed and society often harms us.

And perhaps writing, in some complicated way, can redeem us. I’m not entirely convinced of that; but I do know that I have written poems that basically construct an experience or type of feeling I can imagine but do not authentically know, and that the work of having written such poems has felt like an enrichment of my own experience.
Ann E. Michael, The poet’s “I”

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Any writer cannot help but have a point of view. It will be determined by our race, our gender, our histories, our family, our sense of place, our faith, our biases. We have a sense of what is right and wrong, what is just or unjust. We are called upon to witness, yes. But are we called upon to try to make a better world just with our writing? Can we imagine our way to a better world? Can journalists, instead of glamorizing a shooter, tell us more about the lives of the victims? Can journalists not shove cameras in the faces of recently-traumatized children? Can we write poems that lead people to think differently about current events? Maybe. I am currently laid up, but I don’t believe I’m completely powerless.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know for sure the answer isn’t to give up, to shrug our shoulders and say “that’s just the way the world is.” That’s the opposite of making anything better. Poetry, visual art, fiction, non-fiction, journalism – all of these are forms that can influence people. We have a responsibility to try to be an influence for a better world. Let’s make a little noise in a dark universe.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Why We Can’t Be Complacent, or What is My Responsibility as a Writer

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We turn in tight circles,
we are almost formal. No
kissing, no: we dance as if
still only dreaming of each other.

We feel each other’s breathing,
our bodies’ boundaries of warmth.
Slowly we dance without music —
unless we are the music —

How else can I explain
that in such silence we don’t hear
the shot that travels farther and farther
into the past, while we dance.
Oriana, MASS SHOOTINGS: ANGER, NOT MENTAL ILLNESS; WHY WE FALL IN LOVE; THE 2-SANTA GOP STRATEGY; WHO’S AT RISK FOR DOG BITES

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 Here are a few things that caught my eye this past week. If you’re new to the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, read Donna Vorreyer’s explanatory blog post with the official list of participants (expanded with a bunch of new bloggers on Friday). I may occasionally also include links from other poetry bloggers whom I’ve been following for years, and who may be too antisocial or commitment-averse to join the revival tour. If you missed last week’s digest, here’s the archive.

This week, a lot of poets have been blogging about books…

 

I have a little game I play in bookstores. First I find the poetry section. Then I run my eyes along the shelf, head cocked to the right so I can read the books’ skinny spines. I’m looking for a book I’ve never read by an author I’ve never heard of. I’m looking for something new and strange, for the experience that only poetry delivers. I want to be moved.

Yesterday in J. Michaels Bookstore which has a better-than-average poetry section, I scanned the shelves until I found City of Regret by Andrew Kozma. I pulled it from the shelf and held it in my hands. Yes, I felt it: the ripple of intuition informing me that I had found the book.

I tested my intuition a step further. Part of the game requires me to find a poem that is one or more of the following: a) deeply disturbing, but in a good way; b) weirdly provocative; or c) just weird. I opened the book to page 7 and read: […]
Erica Goss, The Bookstore Game

 

The books on the shelves
don’t prefer
one or the other

Their purpose
does not depend
on which words we choose

Their obsessions
and ours
sometimes align
in a game of Concentration
we don’t know
we are playing
[…]
Kevin J. O’Conner, Bookstore Poem #56. A few words about words

 

Recently, I spent awhile browsing the Walter Kerr collection of books in the library of the college that employs me. Kerr and his wife Jean were writers in New York in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s; he was best known as a theater critic and she as a playwright and essayist. His family donated his books to the school, and it occurred to me during my perusal that this section of the stacks seems more personal than the collection as a whole. Here are Kerr’s quirky book choices, his favored influences, his academic interests with a place among the trendier tomes on movies and Broadway.

A personal library acts as a unit, books that are kept together rather than disbursed upon the death (or before-death donation) of the book collector. It therefore parallels–and predates, of course–the social media concept of the curated self[.]
Ann E. Michael, Curation

 

I’ve done just enough archival work to be fascinated by poets’ commonplace books. It’s been more than a decade since I worked among Marianne Moore’s papers at the Rosenbach, but I was impressed by her fantastically crabbed hand in a series of tiny notebooks, recording quotations she liked. At the Library of Congress, you can leaf through Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sparser notes, mixing drafts, travel plans, and lists of poems that might go together in her next collection. And how I wish Anne Spencer had kept notebooks! Instead, I learned last summer how hard it is to date any of her drafts, many of which must be lost in any case, because she penciled ideas on any scrap of paper or cardboard within reach.
Lesley Wheeler, Twitter as commonplace book

 

When I went down to Los Angeles in November last year to empty my storage unit (and do some poetry readings), I discovered that at some point (probably during the terrible rain storms that hit in earlier in 2017), water had leaked from the roof and damaged some of boxes of books I had stored. In total, I lost around 30 books (out of 900) and 50% of a collection of sample issues from different literary journals (roughly 100 items ruined). While I wasn’t particularly attached to the literary journals (they were just representative samples I sometimes use in workshops), I did feel sad that they were all headed to the dump. So I decided to try to find a way to salvage them — then reclaim a line or two from different poems and weave them together into something new. In the end, I choose to use couplets rather than single lines (so these aren’t centos exactly — although you might argue they’re 2-per-centos (gah, I can’t believe I just wrote that!).
Neil Aitken, Project: Cut Up Poem #1

 

Ten years ago, I didn’t write many poems, and the ones I wrote were not worth anyone’s attention. Five years ago I put my mind to it and determined to do something about it. Don’t ask me why, because I’m not precisely sure, but the thing is that essentially, I followed the exhortation of that Nike advert. Just do it. Whatever it is, do it, as well as you can. Don’t put it off, don’t make excuses, don’t talk yourself out of it. Just do it. And then keep on doing it. It’s really that simple. […]

The thing is, you won’t get better if you keep mediocre company. You learn from the company you keep. […] When it comes to poetry, I’ve set myself an annual task/routine. I choose a poet who I like via a handful of poems. It has to be a poet who’s kept on writing and writing. Enough to have a big fat Collected Poems. And then I read X poems every day for a year till I get to the end. So far Ive read Charles Causley, Norman McCaig, and U A Fanthorpe like this, and on January 1st this year I started on David Constantine. 374 big fat pages.
John Foggin, Just do it

 

I received my contributor’s copy of what I suspect will be a very important book—for me, surely—and perhaps for others. How to be a Poet strikes me as not only “a twenty-first century guide to writing well”, but also a guide to living well as a writer.

I also quite like the alternative title proposed in the introduction: “A Poem-Writer’s Guide to the Galaxy.” After all, we contain multitudes.

It features the wisdom of two of my favourite poetry people: Jo Bell and Jane Commane, interspersed with excellent guest contributions by Mona Arshi, Jonathan Davidson, Clive Birnie, and many other well-known names in UK poetry. I thought I’d spend a moment or two thumbing through it on the couch when it arrived. I couldn’t put it down.
Robert Peake, How to be a Poet

 

As a teacher, whether or for a creative writing or literature course, I simply do not use anthologies, just for these very reasons. I also dislike anthologies because they amount to a goofy, disjointed “greatest hits,” reifying the idea that a poem is singular, discrete, and denuded construct. Most poems I know are in direct contact with the other works of the poet, finding some kind of home, some kind of deeper contextualization, in a book. Thus, I order individual books of poetry when I teach a class.

A literature syllabus is really not that much different than your typical anthology, but what I like about ordering individual books is that I end up covering fewer authors–this amplifies the absences, that my students understand that I’m casting a small, small net, and there’s no pretense of being comprehensive. We also get a chance to study the works in relation to other poems in the book, explore the conversations between very good and not-so-very good poems (but where the “mediocre” poems may be more impactful). We erase the editors of collections, the intermediaries, and all their credentials, all their impressive footnoting and bibliographies.
Jim Brock, De-canon, Irish Women Poets, and What I Do

 

I am working on being mindful in my actions and making better choices with my time, and it’s not always easy. I am trying to bring back my deep focus in life. I can be so distracted, so drawn into the shiny object, the quick fix, the impulse purchase, reaching for my phone when I should be reaching for a pen. […]

Technology is wonderful when it’s not zapping our time. I try to use it to my advantage when I can. I know I’ll still get sucked in to some sort of time waster (did you know my high-score on Tetris is 98,000?) but I find the more I care for my artistic pursuits, the less I want to eat the junk food of the internet, the more I reach for the healthy book option and the exercise of writing.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Strange Inspirations: Past Resolutions & Tools to Help You Stay Focused Today

 

Though Silent Anatomies hovers close to the women in the family, it also works to understand the silence of fathers and grandfathers, to understand what is beneath surface of a tongue. Many of the poems are arranged in series, in “Profunda Linguae” the poems are captions for diagrams that reveal the muscular structures of the tongue, these diagrams are arranged over the Chinese-Filipino recipes her mother typed on her father’s prescription pad when her mother first came to the United States. […]

It is a shame that so many book contests specifically state that if a manuscript has images, to leave them out; what a loss it would have been if a book as rich and complex as Silent Anatomies were never published due to such constraints. Fortunately, Ong’s marvelous collection does exist in the world and so our notions of gender, race, culture, and identity are further challenged with grace and precision. In Silent Anatomies Monica Ong has seamlessly woven a multilayered collection that in its form of combining images and text is in itself a revelation, these visual poems intimately reveal the ways in which our bodies are sewn to our families, and our tongues are sewn to our cultures, but also the way art can transcend any boundary.
Anita Olivia Koester, Diagram of a Tongue: Silent Anatomies by Monica Ong

 

Last semester, a visiting writer told the audience that “empathy is overrated.” As you can imagine, this bit of glib frosting wasn’t what I was expecting (read: immediate sinking feeling) because I believe in empathy, I promote empathy, and I knew my very literal students would take this young writer’s word as gospel, whereas I knew he was just being flip. You have to have life experience to be truly cynical, and I personally think that this young writer was given success on a platter. So his ennui was facade. I get it. We all wear masks. He even confessed to wishing he were marginalized. He felt he should be writing about that. But to write about that, I think you need to have lived the experience, right? Of course, all of this plays into stereotypes, which seems to be my battleground– to help my students, family, friends see that our culture reinforces stereotypes in our everyday life. Now, more than ever, we need to question authority. Authority. Just look at that word, with “author” big as life itself. Is the author reliable? Do we believe what we are reading, hearing? I think this is the challenge nowadays, trying to figure out what is the truth. To think we’re all living in a pop-up book.
M.J. Iuppa, Writing from Place

 

Now he’s bedridden and can barely speak. I went to see him for Christmas day. I lay on the bed beside him and held his hand and told him about my travels, about the town where I was teaching poetry in Estonia, where on the Russian side of the river there was a great castle facing another castle on the Estonian side. And how it had been bombed to smithereens during the Soviet occupation. Of course he’d been there. He’s been everywhere in the world. He tried to talk back, able only to say a few words which I pieced together into sentences, just like writing a poem.

I understood two stories, told in a string of words, that he’d once seen an abandoned church in Estonia and had carried a photograph of the ruins with him for a long time but had since lost the photograph. (ruins–church–Estonia–picture–lost) The other was that he’d wandered into the inner courtyard of a museum in St. Petersburg and to his amazement found eighty live bears gathered there. (St. Petersburg-Museum-Courtyard-Eighty Bears).
Heather Derr-Smith, Dear New Year

 

Corpse pose is a preparation for death, not a moment to fear, but rather a letting go. I slide into the velvety, warm blackness, this state of consciousness where poetry is born.
Christine Swint, What I Need Is More Yoga

Back in early August, I had a very enjoyable, rambling discussion via Skype with California-based poet Erica Goss, who wanted to interview me for her new monthly column on videopoetry at the online journal Connotation Press. That interview is now up, and it’s coupled with an interview with Motionpoems founder Todd Boss (whose blog I just linked to here yesterday). Check it out.

I especially liked the closing quote from Todd: “To see your poem through the lens of film is to learn a new language about your poem. What could be more instructive than that?” I think this holds equally true for poets who envideo their own poems — or, as often happens, derive poems ekphrastically from film footage, their own or others’: it’s a form of translation. And just like traditional translating, it requires a reading so slow and so close as to amount to reinvention.

I also had a couple thoughts over at the Moving Poems forum, reacting to something Erica wrote: Are poets who make films of their poems self-publishing? And if so, are we risking loss of prestige (versus getting others to envideo our works)? Please go over there to comment on that, if you wish. But first, of course, read Erica’s column.