Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 8

Poetry Blogging Network

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

This week found bloggers writing about challenging themselves in new and sometimes difficult ways, pondering revision, thinking about the ancient Greeks, fighting despair and depression, celebrating successes, and of course, reading poetry.


Last year I was worried about my poetry becoming stale. I wasn’t as excited by it as I used to be. So I started to experiment with found texts and suddenly I became more enthusiastic and creative. Since then, there have been many ‘oops’ moments, and I know there will continue to be many more. However, something interesting has sprung from them and I’m enjoying the writing process more. I’m also more open to new formats and platforms for poetry, and a little less concerned about getting work published (although I’m not abandoning that goal).

[Susan] Jeffers is clear: trust your impulses, accept responsibility and don’t stick with, or be protective of, wrong decisions – correct them. There’s no reason why you should stay on the well-trodden path (in writing or in life) if that path is making you feel unfulfilled. Poetry can feel very serious at times. Reading and writing it can be intense and provoke some odd disquieting feelings. However, adopting the ‘no lose’ approach allows you to step off the path and experience new ways of creating without feeling guilty that you’re not doing ‘proper’ writing (you know the feeling, when you sit down with pen and paper and time to write but you’re doing it out of a sense of duty rather than a drive to create ).

Julie Mellor, Crossing the line

Yesterday was the last day of my Lucie Brock-Broido Stay, Illusion practice. The idea was to sit down each day—at my desk, at the gym, on the bus, wherever—read a poem from Lucie’s book, choose a line, a fragment, an image, and write from or in response to it. I started on October 22. I did not show up daily, but I did show up. Yesterday was poem 65. And then a sadness that it was done.

Some of these drafts might become poems. A couple of them already have. One is in active revision. And many are pressed in the pages of my notebook. I’m hoping to get back to them, read and see which ones, or whether any, still ignite some spark worth nurturing.

What did I learn? This worked well for me. Each time, I’d write something. Even if I knew it wasn’t going to turn into anything else, I was writing. Even better, it gave me a chance to sit in active conversation with Brock-Broido’s poems again. My goal had been to choose not just compelling images but those that were difficult or uncomfortable—not the kinds of things that might naturally show up in my poems anyway. And that was the biggest challenge, to tug away from comfort’s gravity.

Joannie Stangeland, The end of one practice…

Last week I presented a project that seemed unlikely to exist and equally unlikely to succeed, but it managed to do both.  It was a live poetry performance called Mirrors.  In spite of the simple title, every time I tried to explain to the people I’d enlisted to read, we all got tangled up.  Three groups of four pairs, with ten-minute breaks for discussion — too much information!  Just dive in!

Which we did.

I chose bits of writing from observant feminist/literary scholar of Torah, Avivah Zornberg, whose verbal pyrotechnics and all-around genre-bending work I’ve long admired.  I placed these powerful excerpt opposite a selection of my poems.  Zornberg’s dense text, out of context, next to my dense text … a case of heightening complexity to obtain clarity?

The idea was to put them side by side and let the sparks fly.  They’re not one-to-one correspondences, more like juxtapositions, points of departure, spiky soul mates.  Zornberg’s probing of the unconscious of a Torah passage, her eliciting of emotion inside discontinuities gaps and white spaces left room for my poetic eruptions about existential condition.

Did they tango?  Well, yes.  Rumblings, premonitions, regret, amazement, praise – voices were liberated in the room, a choral celebration of the many.

Jill Pearlman, How do you know when you’re ready?

For the Greeks, Delphi was the center of the universe. Kings traveled in person from all the city-states, including the islands, to consult the Pythia, the Delphic oracle in the temple, and they built treasuries on the side of the hill to house part of the spoils won in battle, as a gift to the gods. Mount Parnassus is remote, and far from the sea; at 2,457 m (8,061 ft) it is one of the highest mountains in Greece, sacred to Apollo and Dionysus, and it was also the home of the Muses, who inspired poetry, art, and dance. Delphi is located far up on its slopes. It was a real journey for us to get there, in a modern car, on winding mountain roads. I can hardly imagine what it took for ancient people to make that journey and arduous climb; clearly it was of vital spiritual and political importance to them.

But going there myself, I could see and feel why they thought it was so special. On the way up, we drove hairpin turns, stopping once for a shepherd with his flock of goats, the bells around their necks tinkling, their hooves clicking and scrambling on the loose rocks. We passed through the narrow winding streets of the town of Delphi, perched precariously on the slope, and back into the wilderness to the ancient site, from which you see no signs of human habitation. It’s spectacular and wild: from the steep rocky slope with its pines and cedars, you look down across a deep rugged valley. Hawks and owls and crows must have been common then as now, the wind blows, the dark cedars punctuate the sky, and you climb the same paths, past the market and the treasuries, up toward the man temple where the oracle gave her riddles, and even higher to the theatre. Of course, what was once a busy mecca is deserted except for tourists. I tried to imagine a bustling marketplace, smoke rising from sacrificial fires, human voices everywhere: that was difficult. But there was something about the place itself that hadn’t tumbled with the stones, and had perhaps even preceded them. Standing on the ridge above the main temple, I tried to imagine coming there any of the grand buildings had even been built. Who were the people who identified this place and first called it sacred? Perhaps what I was seeing and feeling now was closer to what they felt. I kept hearing the cry of a hawk as it circled and rose in the mountain thermals, and then plunged down into the deep valley we can had come from. Above us was snow, the inaccessible realms of the gods. Closer by, in a glade in the woods, near a rushing spring, perhaps the Muses still danced: it wasn’t hard to imagine. 

Beth Adams, Exploring Delphi on Paper

The ancient Greek stage was constructed at the heart of a stadium: no proscenium, just pillars, ramps, and the mechene. Machine of the gods, later Romans would call it, since it was usually Apollo up there holding forth and tying up loose ends—unless Euripides wrote the play, in which case it would probably be a slave, and very little of this human mess would be resolved.

Aeschylus, Sophocles—these men wrote such elegant language. Pristine and pure. Cathedral-like, their imagined worlds. I like Euripides best. He tells the bloody truth.

The ramps were called paradoi, and were used for the choral entrance and exit. At the end of a tragedy, the Chorus would sing their kommos—song of lament—during the exodos, the exit scene that served as a kind of afterword, bodies strewn across the stage.
 
Is this a tragedy?

God, I hope not. Please, let it be not.
[…]  

Euripides said
A coward turns away, but a brave man’s choice is danger.
Euripides said
Time cancels young pain.
Euripides said
The fountains of sacred rivers flow upwards.
 
A week into the antidepressant, I start to be able to smile again.
Two weeks in, I can work effectively, at least for short stretches.
Three weeks in, my real focus comes back.

JJS, Skaha, Part VI: Exodos. Kommos. Afterword. Beginning Again.

She shakes her head, pushes the sleeve of her tunic

dismantles the stockpile that fences her house – the rubble
of bones, pellets of flesh,  the moon marks on nails, adamant warts.
The spray of dandruff like burning stars scatters
in the garden, the smoke palls his face as she throws
a handful of soil over the eyes, the mouth open in prayer.

Uma Gowrishankar,How a mother processes a terror attack

The first gray light of a winter morning.
Walking among my fruit trees
I cry for my dead son.
I then scatter those tears
Like seed across the cold ground,
But the birds won’t even go near.

James Lee Jobe, ‘The first gray light of a winter morning.’

Sometimes my despair arrives as a result of too much focus on the gatekeepers of the creative commons: those people and systems granted with the culture’s ability to say pass, or fail, to our creative work and our desire to send it out into the world with some form of recognition and acclaim.  Sometimes it takes fortitude to keep working the system, but today I’m going to ignore the gatekeepers altogether and post a new poem right here.

A Good Clear Out

I divested myself
of what lies downriver
the rusted cans and blackberry thorns
the animal traps lined with bloody fur
I’m boxing up whole decades
And giving them to strangers
yearbooks, prayer books
the necklace I bought for you-
the one I couldn’t bear to part with in the end
Yet
was too ashamed to ever wear out, so
Here. Take it.
It doesn’t suit me anymore. I’m going bare.
 (SES, 2019)

And Lastly, What I’m reading:

I’ve been reading a collection of poems: New Poets of Native Nations, edited by Heid E. Erdrich. I cannot recommend this book of poetry with enough fervor. If you were sitting across from me I’d wave it in your face and read poem after poem out loud, while you poured yet another cup of tea and tried to absorb the grievous beauty coming at you in words, lines, stanzas, incomparable images. 

Because making art and experiencing art is a way of choosing life, and disrupts the cycle of despair. 

Sarah Stockton, Disrupting the Cycle of Despair

After moving to Portland last summer, I was introduced to Portland poet Melissa Reeser Poulin through another fine Portland poet, Kristin Berger.  
We all read together in January at Mother Foucault’s Bookshop where I had the opportunity to hear Melissa read from her new chapbook-RUPTURE, LIGHT.

RUPTURE, LIGHT is a book filled with poems that speak both to the personal and universal.  The poems in this collection take us on a journey through the worlds of pregnancy, children, and marriage, and with this poet’s keen eye, helps us see both the transitory nature of the domestic scenes and their continued ability for rebirth: It turns out life is a will/an overfed bulb/that can be forced to bloom again/and again.

Hope is never forsaken in these poems, but as a keen observer the poet lets us know that all we love is leaving us: In the graveyard,/the snow softens the stones/while we walk, idle talk about how/we’ll be buried//You want to live forever/in the canyon we love,/your skin and bone/become sugar pine/and chaparral. 

Carey Taylor, Rupture, Light

You can’t tell which year the book was first checked out because the date stamps note no year until we get to a handwritten Jun. 21, 1937. The book is then checked out every year until Feb. 19, 1943, the year bombing began in earnest in Frankfurt. It was especially heavy in 1944 and continued into early 1945. The war ended that spring.

The book is taken out again on April 15, 1946. In 1947 it’s taken out eight times. Boy, people were really hungry for poetry written in the Frankfurt dialect.

The library card makes history tactile. I’d meant to use this and the other cards for collage but this one will be spared. The others, also aged and discolored, will do as well.

Sarah J Sloat, Loose Ephemera

[…] no one would recognize
a heartbeat on the edge of familiar

songs written in dead languages
& trees that grow twisted on the plains

could be the old hair metal guitar
that escaped the pawnshop wall

James Brush, Dead Letter Office

It seems so simple to these children, the idea of a farmer-poet who once nursed a badger. I imagine they would not have been fazed to know that in his early life he’d hunted and trapped and killed animals, and throughout his life had been a fisherman. They would possibly be baffled by the fact that critics of Hughes and his poetry find it problematic. What Yvonne Reddick’s book [Ted Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet] does, with a clarity that belies its density, is to sure-footedly take the reader through the thickets of academic controversy that surround the poetry and the poet; to analyse their relationship to the burgeoning environmental  movement; to deftly unpick interpretations of art’s relationship with ecology, and equally to the alarming number of sects and subsects that occupy the fields of eco-poetics and eco-poetry. […]

Hughes was a prodigious reader of just about everything, and a prodigious writer of letters (700 pages of the collected letters), of poems (1200 pages), of plays and essays and so on. He was an educator, a broadcaster, a lecturer and a performer. He was conflicted hunter, a conflicted farmer (how many other poets do a full time job like that?), a conflicted and unfaithful husband, father, lover. He grew up in the physically and historically imbricated landscapes of the upper Calder Valley, and of Mexborough. Landscapes of the kind D H Lawrence grew up in. When I read Reddick’s accounts of various critics’ condemnation of his inconsistencies when it come to ecopolitics, I get annoyed. Because, I think, why should a poet be consistent, why should a life be simplified into ‘consistency’?

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

I’ve been writing a lot of words on the page. Scrawled loopdiloos, but what do they say?  What are they getting at? That’s the problem. I feel like I’m sleepwriting. All this impressionistic stuff is rushing out, but what is it all about? I’m not sure. I’m trying not to disrupt the process with criticism and analysis at this point, but I’m eyeing it all suspiciously.

Okay, well, then in fact, I AM disrupting the process with criticism and analysis. I know that only when I plunge into the editing process will I discover what there is in here. But there’s so MUCH of it. And I fear that’s it’s all fluff and no substance, or that I’m racing around something but not getting any closer.

How do we balance the creative impulse with creative intent? Too much intent can flatten an impulse like my hair when it gets too long. No body. No bounce. Too much impulse with too little intent is all bounce, all Marlo-Thomas’s-That-Girl-flip-curl.

Marilyn McCabe, There there; or On Substance and Style and the Writing Process

I like revision, even though it hijacks ALL my creative energies. (With these rewrites to tackle, plus Shenandoah poems to read and grant proposals to draft for my 2020-2021 sabbatical and this pesky full-time job as teacher-adviser-program coordinator, I feel like I’ll never write a new poem again.) It’s rewarding to hone old efforts and feel sentences click into their grooves. But I’ve been thinking about the word “revision.” Its emphasis on “looking anew” doesn’t entirely capture what I’m doing. In both genres, I’m re-sounding lines, trying to hear them freshly, managing echoes within mss. I’m also thinking hard, as I revise, in order to revise, about giving readings. What passages or poems would I choose to read aloud to audiences, and why? Do they sound right in my voice? If I would want to kick off a reading with this poem, or end it with that scene, do those preferences have implications for the arrangement of a printed book? Or do the mediums of print and live reading simply have different requirements?

Lesley Wheeler, Revision, re-audition

Maybe the month of February calls to us as a quiet time of yin creativity, which is a way of looking at revision as an inwardly-focused energy–as opposed to marvelous bursts of creativity from inspiration or the much-vaunted Muse. The lunisolar calendar used for centuries in Asia calls February the first month of spring (立春  lìchūn)! I had better keep at the revising, therefore. Before I know it, yan energy will return with the start of the gardening season in eastern Pennsylvania.

Ann E. Michael, On revision (again)

Read and edit old poems. Recently, I went through my files in Google Drive reading some of my old poems. I pulled out a few and edited them with fresh eyes. I submitted three and all three were accepted. Yesterday I looked through my journal from 2014 and found a poem I had completely forgotten. I added a little to it, but not much, and plan to submit it.

Play around with  black-out & found poetry. Just grab a newspaper or magazine and begin circling words that you’re drawn to, then rearrange them – or not – into a poem. This is an exercise that often gets me kick started.

Another exercise I like to do is use a poem that you like by another poet. Staring at the last line, write a response to it. Work your way up to the first line, writing responses to each. I don’t remember where I read about this technique but I really like it. In fact, I plan to do it this week-end.

Charlotte Hamrick, I Need a Jump Start

Q~What’s your writing process like?
A~I don’t really have a writing process, and every year I keep trying to get into a writing routine, but I fail. But yes, I usually jot down ideas and phrases on my phone or in a notebook, and most of my poems either begin with a word or an image, or a central idea. Sometimes I might be stuck in the subway and write a short poem on my phone to pass the time, or maybe I am studying for a test and I’m frustrated, so I’ll jot some lines down that may later become a poem. In short, there isn’t really planning involved. However if I’m writing a story, I’ll usually plan it out in terms of a chart or a timeline of events and then begin.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?
A~My poetry tastes have been through many phases. There was a time, I’d almost exclusively read only Romantic and Victorian poets, and I went through a phase where I literally worshipped Sylvia Plath. In my high school, I went around quoting Eliot’s Prufrock and Marvell’s His Coy Mistress (only the bit at the end, “though we cannot make our sun /Stand still, yet we will make him run” because I found that incredibly daring and hopeful) the whole time. I’d also read a lot of Rilke, Neruda and Rumi in translation. Closer to my culture, I loved children’s rhymes in Bengali and the playful non-sense poems of Sukumar Ray. For a while, I followed a lot of insta poets like Rupi Kaur and Lang Leav, but I’ve grown out of it now. In college, as an English major, I had to read tons of poets, and in my fourth semester I took up this course called “Postcolonial Poetry,” and we read so many wonderful, beautiful contemporary poets, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I also love Carol Ann Duffy for how accessible she is, and I think accessibility is one of my personal preferences when it comes to reading poetry nowadays. Maybe the whole poem doesn’t have to be accessible, but there has to something or some part that I can understand or sparks a trail of emotions or something I find inexplicably beautiful.

death of an imaginary friend / an interview with poet Archita Mittra (Bekah Steimel’s blog)

OMG! OMG! OMG! Here I am in The New York Times Magazine next to John Legend! Well, not me so much as my poem, “Hoodie,” which was selected by Rita Dove for this week’s NYTimes Magazine.

Can’t tell you how much this little poem means to me. It is my Alex poem, and it addresses a fear I share with many people of color about the safety of our kids, children of color in particular. Seems more relevant now then when I wrote it. He’s 15 and looks more adult and child. When I say “be careful” as he leaves the house, it’s not him I’m worried about–it’s everyone else.

Needless to say, I’m very thankful that Rita picked Hoodie. She’s always been an inspiration for me so it just means that much that this poem will reach a wider audience.

January Gill O’Neil, Hoodie

I have been watching the frustration of some much loved writer friends who send out their first manuscripts over and over and get a ton of “finalists” but don’t get chosen. At least not yet. It’s a shame because these are very strong writers and I want to hug them and tell them to ignore the noise and that they’re terrific. If I had my own press I would have already published them. I don’t want them to feel that they are “less” as people or writers because today’s trends or editors don’t validate their work. In the letters of Virginia Woolf I’m reading, she tells another younger writer that she didn’t publish a thing (besides reviews) in her thirties. And her forties were when she wrote and published nearly all of the work we consider ‘important’ today. Sometimes it takes time to come into your own.

I’ve also watched some friends get wonderful news – my friend Kelli Russell Agodon just won a PSA prize for lyric poetry – and Martha Silano has a new book, Gravity Assist, coming out with a book launch in a few weeks – which, yes, I am actually happy to celebrate. You want your friends to succeed. You cross your fingers for them and cry when they cry and rejoice when they finally get the good news. As a reviewer, I come across a lot of poetry books – some of which absolutely blow me away. They are so good they are humbling.

Tomorrow I’m meeting up for coffee with a new friend who not only does poetry but documentary filmmaking (which seems an even more difficult world than poetry.) I think the best cure for feeling unloved, rejected, is to get back out there, send out your work (which I’m doing right after this post – carrying a poetry manuscript – a paper submission – to the post office) and get together with other creative folks.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Six New Poems in the newest issue of Rosebud, and When You’re Not the Chosen One

I gave myself permission to devote myself for the weekend to one book. To be within it while the snow fell and then another front pushed in rain. To keep turning pages, stopping only to feed spruce logs to the fire, as the light filtered in over the mountains through the front windows then shifted to the western windows, then faded behind the bench.

I’d waited impatiently for my copy of Casting Deep Shade by C.D. Wright, and like any acolyte, I felt a little nervous. The book opened like slow steps on creaky wooden stairs, the rumble of words, history, memories, science, photography, art, the body. The sound of rumination, of devotion.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Casting Deep Shade

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 6

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network (deadline: February 14).

Some weeks, if I didn’t know better I’d think that the poetry bloggers in my feed were responding to an essay question in some class that everyone but me is in on. (Why yes, I do have mildly paranoid tendencies.) This week, that assignment would’ve been something like: “How might risk, difficulty, or discomfort shape a poem’s creation? Illustrate with examples from your own or others’ work. For extra credit, discuss the importance of play.”


I keep seeing myself in the center of the lake.
On a still day, and everywhere is blue and quiet – except for where I am
waving my arms about, thrashing my legs against imagined, deep threats

complaining about the turbulent water.

This is my morning meditation as my mind passes through the blue candle
towards the yellow. Yellow is equanimity. The giving and the receiving.
Secure in a sense of enoughness.

I can’t let go of this longing for spring – when the morning runs are no longer a matter of pushing through darkness and trusting that all is well though
obscured.

Ren Powell, February 6th, 2019

On this sunny morning.  I know the snow will follow.

This time next week I will be having surgery. 

Here’s a poem from my book  How the Hand Behaves:

Garden gloves huddled

in a paper bag hanging on a hook
by the window where the ice clotted
bare branches quiver
and the sun sends their gnarled shadows on the snow below.

Garden gloves clean, soft, bleachy perfume,
stained brown and green,
some holy fingers clutch each other
while they wait.

Anne Higgins, Dreaming of Spring

People losing power, icy patches where you can slip and fall or where your car can skid out of control or just get stuck. Or, you might, like me, worry about the rhododendrons and go out in your pajamas and a jacket, with a broom and no gloves (I realized too late that I needed those gloves) to shake the heavy weight off the branches before they split off.

On the other side of snow’s beauty is risk.

And isn’t that what a poem is? The sounds and images collecting, building, and balancing between a palpable beauty that can make us gasp and the tension, discomfort, fear that makes us hold our breath?

Recently, I’ve been looking at my poems to locate where that tension begins–or if it’s even there. If it isn’t, what is the poem trying to do?

Joannie Stangeland, Poem as snow

I suppose the first breakthrough of sorts came in the guilty relief and release –for both of us, I want to believe – that came when my mother died in her 90s . She spent the last fifteen years of her life in a nursing home following a  severe stroke. She fought against every moment of it. She resented and hated it. I took her ashes to the Valley of Desolation, her favourite place in Wharfedale, and soon after, wrote a poem about it as a sort of atonement or prayer for absolution. Then I felt guilty that I’d not written for my dad, so I wrote about his birdwatching, his shoe mending, his singing; and then I had to balance it up with more about my mum. It’s a strange thing, guilt, but the outcome was that over about three years I’d written a handful of poems, and more about my grandparents, and it seemed to come more easily with each one. I didn’t feel as if they were looking over my shoulder, tutting.  Or not as often, or not as loudly.

But I can pinpoint the big breakthrough to specific dates. In October 2013 I was on a writing course at Almaserra Vella in Spain, and the tutor was Jane Draycott. She gave us a quick writing exercise…first impressions, get-it-down stuff on a randomly chosen postcard, which happened to be a Penguin book cover that had images of flame on it. And I wrote about our friend Julie who we’d visited in her flat in Whitby a couple of weeks before. Julie was dying of an incurable cancer; she’d confounded the specialists by outliving their predictions by over a year.

Flames. The most tenuous of connections. But a flame burned fiercely in Julie, and in the underlit smokestacks of the Boulby mine just up the coast. Maybe that was it. I typed it up with very few changes the week after. When she died a couple of weeks later, I nerved myself up to give the poem to her brother at her funeral. I was genuinely frightened. But he liked it, shared it. Gave me a permission I realised I needed: to write honestly about and for real living people. That poem Julie won first prize in the 2013 Plough Competition. Andrew Motion had liked it! I used some of the prize money to put together and print my first two pamphlets.

John Foggin, Keeping up with keeping up

It’s important, I think, to experience discomfort–it means I am facing a new task, a new perspective–that I’m learning something. I tell my students that if they are totally comfortable with the concepts in their coursework they are not learning anything yet. Education does not come without risk, whether the risks be physical, social, emotional, or intellectual. When we feel uneasy, it may mean we sense danger or sense the presence of someone manipulative, dishonest, or unkind. It may, however, mean we are simply “outside of our comfort zone.”

Tony Hoagland‘s poems offer examples of how we learn through leaving our familiar attitudes. Daisy Fried’s insightful 2011 commentary on his poem “The Change” notes the need for such uncomfortable moments. Poems Hoagland wrote as he headed toward his death from cancer at age 64 do not shy away from making the reader feel awkward, unhappy, or–in some cases–relieved, even glad. It can feel wrong to acknowledge relief as part of death. That recognition tends not to follow U.S. culture’s social norms.

I’m not claiming all good poems rile up discomfort; some poems offer joy or embrace a comforting openness; and, as readers bring their own differing experiences to the reading of a poem, the same poem that discomfits one person may appeal beautifully to another reader.

This post came about because I feel I have come to a period of discomfort in my work, and it troubles me but in a good way. I would rather feel discomfort with my writing that disengagement with it. Disengagement is writer’s block. That does not describe where I am at the moment. Instead, I feel rather as I did when I began to write and revise using formal patterns. My written expression up to that point had all been in free verse or prose, so adapting to villanelle or sonnet structure or sapphic meter seemed risky, difficult, “wrong.” Wrong for me, for the writer I believed I was, for the writing voice I had developed for 20 years.

And I was wrong about that, too! My initial discomfort aside, I learned so  much about poetry, including about my own style, through the practice of formal verse. The wonderful online journal Mezzo Cammin (formally-inspired poetry by women writers, edited by the amazing Kim Bridgford) has published several of my poems in the past. Now, two more of them! Please click here.

Ann E. Michael, Discomfort

As many teachers have repeated in many classrooms, there are no wrong questions, just wrong answers. (Maybe it was there are no wrong sandwiches, just wrong condiments.) When we’re talking about poetry, or about the making of it in particular, again there are no wrong questions, but there may also be no wrong answers. The question, however, is crucial the poem’s very existence. It’s the heart of each poem.

Here’s how it works. After I’ve gotten the bones of a poem down, maybe established the situation or narrative, the shape and the rhythm, but I’m failing to find a way to bring it all together, I go back to the idea of the question. I’ll scrounge around in the poem to try to find what it’s asking. If I figure out the question or the motivation in the poem, then I’m better equipped to solve its problems. My attempt to answer the question can sometimes help me through the poem’s speed bumps or can help me navigate safely through the poem’s turn. Sometimes it helps to actually put a question in the poem–either as a crutch that you’ll eventually remove–or as a permanent part of the poem. A question is a pretty interesting part of speech in that it’s one of the few that almost always demands a response from the reader. If you ask the reader a question, they feel compelled to answer–or look for the answer.

Grant Clauser, The Poem is the Question

Last week I  mentioned that the Poetry Society had a callout for poems that take note, in some way, of 99 of the mostly commonly used words used in 40 years of the National Poetry Competition.  I wasn’t going to write anything for this because I thought it was too much of a distraction from my aim to write poems that might fit into the theme of my next book.  That is to say, I’ve set myself a loose target/goal/aspiration to write poems that sit well together, with the hope that I produce a cohesive, fluent and not too disparate book.  It’s fine to hope, right?

But then I found that I’d worked hard on a few poems during January, persevered, stuck with them even when the going was tough, and by the very end of January I seemed to have made headway – and then the snow came, so I allowed myself a diversion.  A few days later, I had a poem of sorts – but was it enough?  Although I seemed to have responded to the writing prompt, I wondered if that was all I’d done, and when I read the poem, it seemed rather flat – in fact, rather dead!

This got me thinking about the value of writing prompts and themes.  I know that some writers love them and write well from them but I wonder if I should focus instead on poems that have started from scratch, from my own notebooks.  Then again, I have sometimes started a poem from a prompt, in a workshop for example, then put the draft aside for months or even years, come back to it and written a decent poem.  Maybe it’s time that’s needed then, regardless of how the work first started.  I doubt that my poem is any good at all but I’ve sent it off.  I’ve let go of it.  Maybe my next poem will be better. Hope, again.

Josephine Corcoran, A few poetry notes

Last weekend had us celebrate Candlemas (the presentation of Jesus at the Temple) on Feb. 2 and the feast day of Saint Simeon on Feb. 3.  One of my Facebook friends posted “A Song for Simeon,” the T. S. Eliot poem that imagines Simeon at the end of life, perhaps having an existential crisis, or maybe just feeling the age of his bones. 

I immediately thought about a companion poem, a song for Anna, the prophetess who is also mentioned in the Presentation at the Temple text in Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:  22-38).  But until this morning, I haven’t had time to play with this idea.

This morning, I wrote these lines:

In this temple of old bones and white whiskers,
I water the plants and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

Then I stopped, struck by the idea of a villanelle.  I find the villanelle form to be one of the most difficult.  A villanelle needs a first and third line that can be repeated and thus can stand on its own.  The lines need to end in words that can rhyme (if you want to know more, go here).

I made a change to make the rhyming easier:

In this temple of white whiskers and old bones,
I water the plants and feed the cats.
The work of a prophetess is never done.

I wrote out the villanelle structure, leaving blank lines.  I’ll come back to it later.  I wanted to write the original poem that I envisioned, without struggling with the villanelle structure.  So, I flipped the page of my legal pad, and I was off and running.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, A Poem for Anna the Prophetess

If I’m not actually writing, I try to be at least making something — a video poem, a series of drawings, some act of creativity. Recently I made a, as it turns out, rather elaborate and complicated accordion-binding book with a cover made of two small picture frames within which I made collages. (Yeah, I haven’t been doing much writing lately….)

It was quite an undertaking, and I had never made such a thing before, so it has some flaws — I folded some of the pages incorrectly and had to refold, so the old folds are still evident; I pasted some of the sections together on the wrong side so the pasted portion shows instead of being hidden behind the new page; an item has already fallen out of one of the collages. You know how things go. But it was a process, and a product, and therefore, satisfying.

I showed it to a friend, who said, “Oh, what are you going to do with it?”

I became confused. Was I supposed to do something with it? I thought the doing was the doing. I thought the showing-someone was also a sufficient doing. Was there more? Am I supposed to…what?…submit it to an art show…sell it on eBay?

Okay, I write poems, and some of them I send out to try to get published. Some of them I put together with others into a manuscript. Some of them get thrown away. Some sit around in their underwear for a very long time. If I was required to “do” something with everything I made I’m not sure I’d make stuff at all.

Marilyn McCabe, D…do do do..d..da da da da is all I want to say to you; or Why Make Art

The threadbare day
spun yarns from empty tales
when I could not choose

between the sea and the mountain
Both were a gateway to another life

Uma Gowrishankar, Tree Talk

Throughout her lifetime of writing poetry, Mary Oliver was largely ignored by the literary establishment.

Crickets.

I have the sense she was humored, discounted, or metaphorically speaking patted on the head for being too plain-spoken. Yet, countless readers have found a home in her words, her style, and her reverence. Some found a greater appreciation for all poetry through her work. Aside from those poets attempting only to appease the publishing gods, shouldn’t we all hope our work brings readers to greater enjoyment of poetry?

For the most part, Oliver led a quiet and unassuming life—preferring serene walks at dawn near Blackwater Pond with her dogs and reveling in the silence of her natural surroundings. Far be it for the literati to understand much less value those qualities and daily patterns when so many promote an urban ethos of steel, concrete, asphalt, and 24/7 ambient cacophony. Instead, she chose the primal sounds of birds, the surf, the crunch of pine needles underfoot and, yes, crickets. She wrote about all this and God—sometimes veiled and sometimes right up in the front seat. While I, grounded in the also overlooked Midwest and Great Plains, considered her a hero.

Bonnie Larson Staiger, Mary Oliver & Crickets

I begin to think the eagles in the tree outside my window are channeling Ursula Le Guin. When I read her essays in Words Are My Matter, the eagles trumpet from their perches in the high cottonwood trees. Trumpet is rather wrong, it is much more like emphatic flute players.

I don’t mean to suggest that Ursula had the thin squeaky voice that, incongruous as it seems, eagles possess. But rather, when I start reading these by turns serious, by turns funny, essays, I have the distinct impression of a voice from above, slightly disappointed and frankly exasperated, pointing out where I have gone astray. A voice from a being who could easily rip my heart out with knife-like talons but who will, for now, try to put me back on the path gently but persistently. 

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Ursula Le Guin and Eagles

I’ve been a fan of horror as a genre since I was a kid, but only recently became aware of how poetry and horror intersect to provide beautifully dark verses capable of illuminating the shadowy side of the human experience. Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed an increasing number of horror poetry collections written by women in the world (in part, because I’ve been more actively looking for them). It’s exciting to see this develop. Below are a few of the horror poetry books I’ve read and love, and I hope to discover many more in the future. […]

Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar
Basement Gemini is a gorgeous chapbook of poetry that draws on horror movie tropes to explore female power and agency. There’s a kaleidoscopic beauty to these untitled lyrical prose poems that feel cohesive a cohesive whole. Chelsea says, “Basement Gemini was kind of born out of that idea — the simultaneous, seemingly-contradictory-but-not-really victimization, vilification, and empowerment of women that’s encountered so often in horror.”

Heliophobia by Saba Syed Razvi
Razvi’s collection tangles together darkness and light into a dark tapestry of power poems. As Razvi describes her book, “I suppose these poems are some kind of unholy fusion of museums, goth clubs, meditations, and global diaspora — all rewritten through dream logic, in some kind of ink made of the timeless decay of memory!”

Andrea Blythe, Fives Books of Poetry to Check Out for Women in Horror Month

Thanks to Gingerbread House Literary Magazine who posted this Q&A feature on fairy tales and poetry with me today: Gingerbread House Q&A with Jeannine Hall Gailey.

Ironically they posted my poem about the White Witch last week, and then it seem the White Witch of Narnia has descended on us in Seattle to install an unending winter! Seriously, we have no temperatures above freezing on the forecast for a week and more! This is much colder (and snowier) than average for us. By late February we usually have some trees starting to bloom – not this year, it seems. […]

So, with no way to escape and trapped indoors, what are my plans? Working on a Plath essay on spec, a fellowship application, and received two acceptances in the last few days (both of which, unfortunately, were stuck in my spam folder, so I didn’t even get to celebrate them right away.) I may send out one of my poetry manuscripts another couple of times, too. Still reading Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath’s letters, and checked Mary Shelley’s apocalypse novel The Last Man out of the library. And although January was full of rejections, I’ve had two acceptances this week. Thinking about starting our taxes, finally. If I hadn’t already gone a little crazy from being stuck inside last week by the snow, I’m sure I’ll be a little “The Shining” by the end of this one.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Q&A Up at Gingerbread Lit Mag, Seattle Snowpocalypse 2019, Snowbound (with Cats)

I’m honored and so pleased to have my poem “Three Miracles” published in the winter issue of The Penn Review. This poem is the third to be published from a series of personal poems about healing and recovery. In 2015, my son (21 at the time) was in a horrible accident in which he was hit on his bicycle by someone driving a pickup truck in downtown Salt Lake City. He nearly lost his life. Recovery was difficult, but he made it through and I’m grateful every day that he’s still here with us. It took me a long time to begin writing about the incident, and I’m hoping to soon have a home for the complete chapbook length collection. You can read the other two published poems from this collection here: Bone Music – Contrary Magazine, Resurrection Party – Tinderbox Poetry Journal.

Trish Hopkinson, My poem “Three Miracles” in The Penn Review! + no fee call & editor interview, DEADLINE: Feb. 24, 2019

twisting down the mountains
ran a river road

we knew it so well
knew it wouldn’t end

but we’re clocks
& we cannot tell the time

James Brush, Pony Express

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 4

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network.

This week saw poetry bloggers continuing to write about Mary Oliver, as well as reacting to current and celestial events. There were posts about creativity and overcoming writer’s block, reviews, philosophical reflections… the whole mix. I should mention that I am slowly becoming more selective as I continue to add more blogs to my feed. It’s a good thing most people don’t post every day, as Luisa and I do here at Via Negativa! That would be nuts. Anyway, Enjoy.


Those of us who are still here: we are still, always arriving.  We’re not in the Promised Land, that’s for sure.  All we can really do, is to be in the becoming.  Still, always arriving.  We’ve been still, always arriving since we left the ennui of Paradise. We throw questions, try to dominate, cure. We try to stare down the enemy though, as if in a mirror, we’ll see our own face in its acts of aggression.  Learning to love the questions themselves, rather than the answers relaxes the drive to conquer. As King said, mental freedom, illumination can move things. 

Today also on the Jewish calendar: Tu B’Shevat, festival of the trees. Today trees are sheathed in ice in New England. The sap is there, held in tension, in suspense, waiting, always arriving.

Jill Pearlman, MLK, Always Arriving

I don’t know about you, but I process confusion by getting my ass into a chair and my pencil onto a page. So when the video of the young man staring down the Native elder surfaced, I watched it and paid close attention to the emotions that rose to the surface in my body. I didn’t respond on social media. In fact, it didn’t take too long for me to stop looking at social media altogether on the issue. I wrote about it in my notebook. […]

When I taught high school, I spent a lot of time choosing novels that I hoped would expand my students’ empathy, help them walk in another’s life for awhile, break down some of the barriers. That’s what literature and poetry does best, it shows us how it is to be another person. I remember how hard it was for my students in a small town in Alaska to really put themselves into the place of Ishmeal Beah in A Long Way Gone or Amir in The Kite Runner. But when they succeeded, the transformation was permanent. They could not go back to their own small lives without carrying some of the lives of other people who were different than them…. and the same as them.

When I write, I try to offer my reader that same chance to step into the poem. “Did you lose someone to Alzheimer’s? Was it like this?” I offered in Every Atom. “Are you lost and looking for the way some god might be all around you? Does it feel this way?” I wondered in Boundaries.

Recently, I look at my new poems and think I am asking, “Do you love the world? Are you open to the way the crow flies across the cold sand? Are you willing to listen for the soft compression of wings on air?”

“Are you ready to have faith that what you call other is only you on a different day?”

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, On a different day

So I am up and out the door. But the blood moon has rolled over and pulled the thin blanket of clouds with it. The sky reflects a sickly orange spill from the green houses in Bore.

I feel that I’ve written that sentence before. I’ve written about how we impose on the world.

But still, this morning was once in a lifetime.

Sporadic hail through the tree branches.
The dog tugging the lead,
still unlearning to hunt. 

Ren Powell, January 21st, 2019

In the end, all that mattered was blood
relations, forgiveness, love. In hospice, I left him alone
the night before he died. Still thought he’d walk

out of that place. The nurse said he was afraid on his own
in the dark. Even with opiates, he couldn’t find a way to sleep.
He asked for me. I drove right over. He stopped breathing that day.

There was a blood moon, auger of end times, in the days
before his death, a lone orb pointing the way,
an opening of sorts, a door for him to slip through, quite easily, on his own.

Christine Swint, Driving My Father Through the End Times, a Sestina

After her tea she gets
the big pot and scrubs vegetables for soup.
Her knife is rhythmic against the cutting board,
her felt slippers scuffing from counter to stove
and back again. I see her mouth move sometimes
as she sways, mincing, mincing her life.

Sarah Russell, Mornings after breakfast

Ever since my daughter planted cover crops in the fall of 2016, I’ve been fascinated by winter rye. How tall and glorious it grows. The subtle colors of its ears. The Catcher in the Rye, and the delicious homophone with wry.

Although it’s almost February, I finally ordered the seeds, and this morning went out to plant. […]

And while I’m out in the dirt, I have time to think about writing, think about how messiness gives the eye and the mind nooks and crannies to explore. How it feels to dig in and turn over, to break the blockages apart, to weed through the words. How the rake finds new roots and clumps get rid of. Sometimes I get an idea for a poem.

This morning, I thought about how I’ve been working on a poem that complains about those people who say home-baked bread can’t be “from scratch” if you don’t grow your own wheat–and here I was planting rye! And I thought about how it’s better to experiment–and risk failure–in a poem, just as this rye patch may fail. This might be the shortest diary ever. We’ll see.

Joannie Strangeland, The rye diary

It’s been two snow & ice storms, four poems submitted to one venue, plane tickets to AWP19 bought,  more presidential candidates announcing than I can remember, lots of reading and lots of writing since my last confession. […]

Going through another of those writing funks where I am not happy with much of what I put on a page. Of course, this is not the first time this has happened and I confess that I am well aware that it will happen again. I’m writing a lot trying to push through it. It’s the only way I know to get back on track. Still, it is frustrating when this happens and you wonder if you will ever put another poem on a page that you are happy with.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Federal Workers on My Mind

We can get so hung up on not writing that it makes us anxious and can block us. In a recent issue of Mslexia, poet Tara Bergin says that to combat the terrible fear of starting a poem, instead of saying “You’re going to write a poem tomorrow”, she leaves post- it notes for herself that say things like, “Read such and such an article and take notes” and other notes reminding her to read different things. This means she’s always got something to do and is not failing because she isn’t compiling an actual poem. I did something like this on the long haul towards my PhD – lots of notes to self on my desk, in books and on my phone.

My insomnia is a thing I don’t necessarily like but have come to accept. so in the particularly fevered early hours of PhD days, I made it a thousand times worse by making visual Insomniascapes on my phone -tiny images of me placed in surreal landscapes, or just the landscapes themselves. These were places I knew and ran or walked around to clear my head or to think more but the various apps made them nightmarish. This was possibly a useful kind of displacement. I’ll never really know. Maybe I ought to write poems to accompany them. Even though I wasn’t writing words there but I was still “writing”. The practice was connected with certain emotional and psychological states and was undoubtedly a creative one which was linked with writing.

Pam Thompson, “Writing” Towards Writing

It’s been really helpful to read these posts by poets writing about how they find their way into poems:  Writing” Towards Writing by Pam Thompson and fearless creating by Julie Mellor.  As well as containing useful and practical advice, the posts are a comforting reminder that I’m not alone in finding writing hard going at times.  I have a poem that’s been kicking around for months.  It’s there because I realised that another poem I was writing was really two poems.  So I managed to finish poem one but had these scraps of ideas, lines and words for the second poem.  I suppose it’s something like knitting a jumper and finding there’s some good wool left over that it would be a shame to waste.  Or realising you bought too much expensive wool and that it would be plain wrong to leave it lying around going to ruin.  Do you understand the kind of nagging feeling I’m left with?  All January it’s been going on and January hasn’t been the best of months to begin with!

Josephine Corcoran, Finding your way into a poem

I’ve been experimenting with combining sketching and poetry writing, and last night, I took a larger leap.  I had been looking at an old manuscript, and I was intrigued by some of the images (not all of them mine–I can trace at least two of them back to this poem by Luisa Igloria).  I started with those images and wrote the words of the poem.  Then I sketched a bit.  […]

These new creative directions come with questions.  Do the poems work without the image?  Is there a market for these poem-like things with images?  As I continue to do them, will a narrative arc emerge?  As images continue to make an appearance, should I read anything into them?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, When Sketches Meet Poems

Day Three: Thursday, Jan. 24:  This day began later than the others thanks to a dentist appointment. (Apparently, after 40 everything falls apart, even if you’ve been taking relatively good care of your teeth.) I could still sip coffee with half my jaw shot up with Novocaine, so I trekked to Starbucks despite the late start.

Sure, it’s totally a cliche to be a writer working in any coffeehouse, let alone Starbucks, but cut this working mom of three some slack, okay? At $6 a day for coffee and a bottle of water (+ tip), with free WiFi and a corner seat next to an outlet, plus the ability to focus for three solid hours without the distractions of home or the office, it’s probably the most convenient and cheapest residency a poet-mom can get.

And even — or maybe because — I’d arrived later in the day, I stayed later too, (the Starbucks baristas must love my loitering ass) and finished a solid draft of the review. I concentrated on the beginning and writing about all of the parts of Esperanza and Hope that make it worth reading and found quotes to demonstrate and by the end of the day I was over-caffeinated, under-fed, and more than a little grumpy as a result, but very satisfied that I finished the week with a completed piece of work.

Sarah Kain Gutowski, Micro-Sabbatical 2019

Delighted to receive my copy of “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom,” a new short story published by Faber & Faber that Sylvia Plath wrote when she was 20 years old, and Mademoiselle rejected. She didn’t work on the story again for two years, and when she did, she diminished the mystery and darkness of it. A reminder that we, as writers, often let editors guide what and how we write way too often – and just because something is rejected, doesn’t mean it isn’t good. She was just way ahead of her time. This story seems today, Murakami-esque, in the school of magical realism or symbolism – some resemblances to the story of Snowpiercer, in fact – at the time, it must have been very surprising reading indeed. I wish she had been encouraged to write more short fiction – this piece shows she had a real talent for it. One more lesson from Sylvia: don’t let editors discourage you from writing something different, or something people haven’t seen before. Or, in modern parlance, F&ck the haters.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, Midwinter Sun, Four New Poems up at Live Encounters, Spy Animals, and Plath’s New Book

One thing that is interesting about reading some of the lesser-known or recently translated Tang poets (e.g. Meng Chiao, Li He, Li Shangyin) is the realization that, beyond the Li Po–Tu Fu–Wang Wei axis, not all of the Chinese poets were as focused on the clarity of the image the way these (and some others) often were.  From the standpoint of English-language poetics, we tend to see Li Po, through Ezra Pound’s translations, as the avatar of imagism, though he also wrote poems of mystic journeys that veer into the surreal and dreamlike.  […]  But the emphasis on the imagist “thing” has until recently tended to leave a lot of other Tang-era poets out of picture.  A. C. Graham began to remedy that somewhat in his Poems of the Late T’ang (1965), and in recent years, further translations of individual poets have been more frequently published.

The latest of these is the work of Li Shangyin (813-858), translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts (New York Review Books, 2018).  This volume includes not only Roberts’s translation of approximately 50 pages of Li’s poetry (with facing original Chinese), but also the versions by Graham and some by Lucas Klein (most of which are duplicate poems, making for interesting comparisons).  Li’s style is at times naturalistic and imagistic, but more often allusive, metaphorical, and, like Li He’s, surreal.  His work has historically been considered extremely obscure or, as Roberts puts it in her introduction, “unknowable and elusive . . . almost baroque, opulently layered with distinct mythological, historical, personal, and symbolist imagery” (xi).  This, of course, makes him difficult to translate. […]

Perhaps of use is an ars poetica, which begins,

At dawn, use clouds
To conceive the lines.
In winter, hold snow
To divine the poem. (33)

Mike Begnal, On Li Shangyin

I’m thinking of the whole complicated continuum from Pastoral poetry to the current imbroglio of ‘eco/environmental poetry’. I’ve been wrestling with this ever since I read Yvonne Reddick’s tour de force of exegesis in Ted Hughes: environmentalists and eco poet. I think I lost my way in the second chapter in which she summarises the sects and subsects of ecopoetry criticism: the topological, the tropological, the entropological and the ethnological. There are probably more by now, but they didn’t help me to entangle what I think of as ‘nature’, living as we do in a land where every metre has been named, walked, farmed, exploited, fenced, walled, built on, abandoned and reclaimed. All I know is that is if we continue degrade the ecological balances of the world it will die. The earth will get over that. It doesn’t care. It’s already gone through four major extinctions, not least being the one caused by the emergence of oxygen in the free atmosphere. It doesn’t care for us. But it seems obvious that we need to care for it if we care anything for ourselves.

When it comes to poetry that concerns itself with the natural world (and I’ll strenuously avoid that capitalised cliche Nature) I guess my first big eye-opener was Raymond Williams’ The country and the city which was my introduction to the idea that words like that are culturally constructed, and go on being deconstructed and reconstructed. Very little of the poetry we were given at school concerned itself with the city and the urban. It was pastoral, nostalgic and often sentimental . Poems like ‘The deserted village’. Poems like ‘Daffodils’. It took me a long time to work out why I distrusted ‘Daffodils’ but the clue’s in the first line:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

The first word; I. It’s not about daffodils, is it? It’s about the poet and what the daffodils can do for him as he wanders (ie purposelessly) and lonely (ie in self-elected solitariness) as a cloud (ie diffuse and without responsibility). It’s what I thought of when I heard Gormley’s phrase ‘ a pre-narcissistic art’. He did a revolutionary thing, Wordsworth. It’s a shame this poem is what he’s chiefly remembered for by folk who aren’t that interested in poetry. He opened our eyes to a power and loveliness beyond the bounds of a predominantly urban and urbane culture.

John Foggin, Green thoughts, and a Polished Gem: Alison Lock

“Nature poets” can be fierce, asserting the need for stewardship of our blue planet; poets who write happiness well understand–and convey–that pain and sorrow remain our companions in life. That does not mean a focus-on-the-positive Pollyanna attitude. No–to compose poems that show us we have every reason to love what we encounter takes bravery, because we so often fear what the world offers. To do so takes deep acknowledgment of suffering, not just a glancing nod, but compassion. The poet may not “behave well” in his or her own life but has the practiced gift of observation and enough craft to show the reader difficult perspectives.

Sometimes, gladness and optimism and beauty get obscured by experience and griefs. Next time that happens, maybe turn to poems?

Ann E. Michael, Remembering joy, redux

I just finished listening to the podcast “On Being with Krista Tippet” where Tippet interviews Mary Oliver. I am still in the glow of Ms. Oliver’s voice, her words, her generosity. It originally aired in October 2015 and so was conducted in the last years of her life when she had left Provincetown, Massachusetts after the death of her longterm partner, Molly Malone Cook.

One of the many things that I jotted down while listening to Oliver is:  “Poetry wishes for a community.” She also spoke about “the writer’s courtship” and the importance of creating time and space in one’s life to write — preferably while being outdoors. […]

Here is what I know: poetry needs community; it thrives when poets come together to write, to share ideas, to acknowledge the poetic voice in one another. These retreats always leave me feeling nourished. I do not know what I would do alone in a garret unless I had my poetry community to gather with in early autumn and late winter.

Susan Rich, Poetry Wishes for a Community — Mary Oliver, Poets on the Coast, and Groundhog Day Writing Retreat.

I’ve been reading about the art of wood carving in David Esterly’s fascinating The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making. The author said several things of interest to me as a writer.

Here’s one that echoes Rilke’s idea of “being only eye,” that is, looking at something so intimately that “self” consciousness falls away but something of the deeper self rises up. Esterly writes:

“Once I gave lessons in foliage carving. I proposed to the students that we reject the idea that carving should be a means for self-expression…The assignment would be to carve a laurel leaf, a leaf of extreme simplicity. I asked the students to throw themselves entirely into the leaf, seek its essence and express only that, putting aside their personalities and carving only with hands and eyes…At the end of the day? There were eight individual leaves, some more compelling than others, but each distinct from all the rest…Trying to express the leaf, the carvers inadvertently had expressed themselves. But it was…a self-expression…from a union with their subject.”

I talk about this a bit when I lead writing workshops at an area art museum. I ask people to give themselves over to looking, and then, by challenging them to write constantly in a timed session, invite the inadvertent utterance onto the page. In this way we give ourselves the chance to surprise ourselves.

Marilyn McCabe, Whittle While You Work; or, Considering Wood Carving and Writing

The passing of Mary Oliver, and the subsequent news articles and social media messages about her, made me realize something about contemporary poetry. There’s so little joy in much of it.

The range of emotions and experience available for poets is limitless, yet the predominant themes in journals and books makes it seem like poets choose to spend more of their energy on the darker side of the spectrum. Now there’s a lot to be depressed about today and a lot to be upset about. Clearly social and political issues influence, and sometimes dominate many poets’ work. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Good writing, whether it concerns tragedy, anger, sorrow or grief, is still good writing. And as I said in a previous post, pain lends a poem a kind of emotional energy that’s useful for a poem. In fact, I think negative emotions are easier to drive than positive ones. But that doesn’t mean that every poem has to feel like a gut punch.

Grant Clauser, It’s Not All Misery: What Mary Oliver Taught Us About Joy

When the moon turned red, so many more stars appears and everything had that crisp look which is hard to explain but the night sky felt as if someone had used the “sharpen” tool in Photoshop, making sure each pinprick of light was detailed and perfectly placed.

As the eclipse went on, I thought–I should be writing. I have this weird superstition about monumental moments–New Year’s Eve, lunar eclipse, birthdays, solstice, Day of the Dead, etc–that I should be writing on these days because it’s a nod to the universe that yes, this is my passion and if you see me writing on these days, it means it’s what I should be doing with my life (and hey universe, if you see this, send me some good luck and inspiration too). 

I realize this doesn’t really make any sense, but it’s a strange belief I’ve carried since I was younger. On New Year’s, let me start the year by reading a poem or writing one, on my birthday, let me be laughing so it carries on through the year.

But during the lunar eclipse, I realized that even though I wasn’t physically writing a poem, I was experience one. I was in the middle of a poem looking out. Insert shooting star. Insert the moment you hear your neighbors laugh because they are out on their patio with a drink watching as well. Insert telescope zooming on a crater. 

I now want to write the poem to create the feeling I had on Sunday. I want to be lost in a poem and not know it’s a poem. Maybe that’s life. Maybe it’s when we’re mindful. Maybe this is something I need to think about more when the reader is reading my poem, is she lost in the poem and looking out, shooting star filled, or is she just lost? 

Who knows if we are the poet or our life is the poem? Who cares to find out?

Kelli Russell Agodon, During the Super Blood Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse, I Find Myself in a Poem

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 3

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network.

This week, many of the poetry bloggers I follow have been reflecting on the life and poetry of Mary Oliver — more even than I’ve included below. Not too many snobs in this corner of the poetry world, it seems. (But really, how can you not admire poetry of such subtlety and power?) Others wrote about such perennial topics as what they’ve been reading, how they’ve been teaching, the practice of writing, and the business of being a poet.


Mary Oliver’s poetry shows us how to pay attention, how to enter into a more deliberate state of attentiveness regarding what is unfolding in nature’s time. Her work is loved by so many because of this quality of intimate stillness simultaneously infused with life’s passionate urgency; her poems explore the path toward a balance of both, a fusion which delights and heals and transcends. Some have argued that poetry such as hers is too divorced from the daily realities we struggle with as a culture and a body politic, but I believe that there is an opportunity in every encounter with people, animals, and nature to deeply connect. Trying to articulate what that desire for connection, and the experience of it when it happens, feels like, looks like, is an important poetic pursuit. Her poems teach us how to bear witness to what really matters: the connection we are all trying to get back to, in one way or another.

Sarah Stockton, Mary Oliver and the Poems We Need

[Andrea] Wulf’s book [The Invention of Nature] begins as a biography of [Alexander] Humboldt but closes with several chapters on others who were inspired by his work; she makes the claim that Humboldt’s ideas about the deep connectedness of everything on earth laid groundwork for environmentalists and the discipline of ecology. Indeed, Darwin, Thoreau, Marsh, Muir, and many others found his texts revelatory and transformative. His writing is supposedly poetic and emotional–he did not think the earth and its denizens deserved less than awe and appreciation. Even though his books are packed with measurements, comparisons, careful botanical descriptions, and minute observations of practically everything he encountered, he allows space for admiring the view. Or, so Wulf’s book says. Now, I suppose I shall have to do a bit of reading Humboldt!
~
Along these lines, the lines of the natural world’s connectedness and relationships–ourselves among these, despite our frequent destruction of them–I find myself thinking of the recent death of poet Mary Oliver. I so admire the work and the woman, or what little I knew of her from a few appearances and through friends who studied with her. My social media feed has been alive with tributes, postings of her poems, and some critique about her standing as an American poet, as if that would matter to her (I doubt it would).

I can just make note that her poems have encouraged me to continue to write about nature, even when I’ve been told nature poets are unfashionable, uninteresting, or unnecessary. Her work taught me how to observe closely, like Aristotle at the tidal pools or Haeckel peering at radiolaria. First notice, listen; then describe, then try to obtain more information, and all the while percolate what experience has created within the observer herself. Maybe nothing earth-shattering comes of the process, but sometimes  there’s a poem…

Ann E. Michael, Observations

I heard her speak at Seattle University about five years ago. She was as generous a speaker as I have ever heard. She told us how she trains herself to write and how she’s kept going over the long haul.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Write about it.

These lines are imprinted on my course syllabus and I hope, give my students the sense that poetry is for all of us. They worry so much that they are not creative enough, that their vocabulary isn’t as big as the universe. I try to tell them that they just have to enjoy; just have to have a conversation with themselves. I need to share more Mary Oliver with them.

Here’s a recent interview with Oliver that I read today. It’s time to go out for a walk.

Susan Rich, Poems, Poets, and Posterity

I don’t think I had ever read [Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”] before 2018; those first three lines made me woozy with a variety of emotions.  And yet it’s not a poem that encourages us to hedonism–no, it calls us to be more attentive, to be present.

Before our Lenten journaling group, I hadn’t realized the spiritual nature of so many of her poems.  During Lent, we read “The Poet Thinks about the Donkey,” a poem that considers the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem, an event Christians celebrate on Palm Sunday.  As with many of her poems, I thought I understood it on the first read, and then it stuck with me much longer than other poems that are more complex.

During one of our sessions at church, my parents were with me, and later  my Dad called to get the name of the poet we’d been reading.  One of the things I admire about Oliver’s work is its wide appeal to so many people.  The poems are profoundly moving–and yet so quiet, so easy to grasp.

 I love that the poems are short–easy to read in a single sitting. I love that the natural elements draw us in to hear the central message.

I love the theology of these poems. It’s a theology of love and respect. It’s a theology that tells us that we are worthy. It’s a theology that tells us we don’t have forever, so quit wasting our precious days. It’s a theology rooted in nature, but in the every day kind of nature, not the travelling to a distant mountain slope with sherpas to assist us kind of nature. It’s a theology so understated that many readers likely don’t even recognize it as a theology.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Farewell, Mary Oliver

Many of the people who I saw mourning Oliver’s passing yesterday were not members of capital P Po-Biz. They were just folks who ran across a handful of Mary’s poems when they needed a lifeline, when they needed a poem that said you are part of this world, your life is precious. These people felt seen by Mary Oliver. They carried her poems on folded-soft paper in their wallets, taped them to their computer monitors, and probably never bought a copy of one of her books.

Mary Oliver had little to do with Po-Biz. I always appreciated that about her. She wanted to be outside in the wild wind more than she wanted to stand in front of adoring crowds. A goodly number of the Po-Biz world looked down their noses at Mary Oliver’s work. Some of that had to do with the fact that she was a woman, a lesbian, a person who didn’t often go to glitzy parties. They said she was soft, sappy, a (god-forbid) nature poet.

Yesterday, I looked at the world a little differently because of Mary Oliver’s passing. Yes, the world felt less observed, as if a spark of love for it had guttered. But also, I thought of all the times I was warned off writing about the natural world. Poems I’ve written about trees have been held up in workshop to ridicule. Even folks in the “eco-poetry” world have suggested that my poems need more of a call to action about the environmental crisis. These are the same folks who dismissed Oliver.

I’m not arguing that everything Mary Oliver wrote was genius. But, I am beginning to connect the dots in the denigration of women (soft, gentle, spiritual, accessible, adjectives used to signify not serious), the destruction and desacralization of the natural world, and some of the poetry that is lauded in our current Po-Biz culture. And I am thinking deeply about the (at this moment) 601 people who shared the graphic I made of Oliver’s “Instructions for Living a Life” on social media. How deeply we need to be reminded of astonishment, of our duty (dare I say sacred?) to share with each other what will buoy.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, One wild and precious life

Last night I finished Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter, from Small Beer Press. My favorite bits from the writing of her last decade were an essay called “Disappearing Grandmothers,” a diary of her time at our local Writer’s Retreat Hedgebook on Whidbey Island, “Learning to Write Science Fiction from Virginia Woolf” (whose letters I have been reading,) and some of her reviews, including Philip K. Dick. Quick quote from “Disappearing Grandmothers:”

“We really can’t go on letting good writers be disappeared and buried because they weren’t men, while writers who should be left to rot in peace are endlessly resurrected, the zombies of criticism and curriculum, because they weren’t women.”

I get the feeling I would really have gotten along with Ursula. And her commentary on Virginia Woolf made me realize why I’d been picking up her writings again – she really did have a way of approaching old subject matter in a singular way. I’m learning a lot from reading non-living writers, and coincidentally, a friend just sent me a collection by Mary Oliver, who recently passed away. Of course, we should appreciate and cheer our living writers, both friends and heroes, too! But it does feel fascinating to be reading letters from Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, and essays by Ursula Le Guin – like the most terrific conversation with women writers across time.

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Poem in Star*Line, Supermoon Eclipses, A Little Seattle Color, and Surviving January by Reading Writers’ Words on Writing

THE LETTERS OF SYLVIA PLATH, Volume 2:

First, you should know, I actually love reading other poets letters. Many many years ago, I read Elizabeth Bishop & Robert Lowell’s and Zelda & F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters (note: there is are many more Zelda letters than F. Scott given that Zelda didn’t bother to keep many of his letters–a fact I find rather funny and it worked for me because I have always been a little more interested in Zelda anyway). 

What I love? How Sylvia sometimes signs her letters “Sivvy,” and how as I read her letters I get a better since of her voice.  I love her boring details such as “I’d love vitamins! I’m convinced everything the British sell is without nourishment whatsoever” and “The Rice’s sent us the strangest Christmas card!…an ominous rhyme with all sorts of mixed metaphors. Well, no doubt they have good intentions.”

For me, this is my favorite parts of reading letters–the details of all of it. Plath’s words bring me into her world–which was SO Ted focus–(note: this is a LONG book, so I’m still just dabbling through it), but Ted this is and Ted got a poem here and … it’s a reminder how so much of Plath’s life was catering to Ted. Even one letter her has her telling her inlaws she made Ted eggs before sending him off.

I see the struggle as well as the joy in her writing and I can get lost in this different time very easily.

Kelli Russell Agodon, What I’m Reading… @MichelleObama @JenniferWeiner & Sylvia Plath Letters

A new episode of New Books in Poetry is up, in which I speak with poet and performance artist Ivy Johnson about her book, Born Again.

The poetry and prose in Ivy Johnson’s Born Again (The Operating System, 2018) beautifully dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, this collection gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. The work blends sensuality and spirituality, merging the grounded reality of existing a physical body in the world with a sense of worship, prayer, and spell casting.

“I submerge my hands in ink and smear them across the wall
I cover my body in rich purple paint and rub against white paper
I place a sticker of the Virgin Mary on my bedroom window next to the fire escape
She hurts with the glow of blue frost
I race down the stairs to make snow angels in the dog-piss
Fill the silhouette of my body with marigolds”
— from “Take a Moment to Gather Yourself”

You can listen to the episode here.

I’m still in the process of figuring out how to be a good interview podcast host, how to shuck off my own nervousness and dig up confidence enough to feel strong in these interviews. But whatever limitations I believe I have at this moment, they are more than surpassed by the intelligence and insight of my guests so far.

Andrea Blythe, New Books in Poetry: Born Again by Ivy Johnson

The blurb is a frequent anxiety-laden topic of discussion on Facebook. Some people have made alternative suggestions, e.g., putting a poem on the back cover. That’s a cool idea, but for now most publishers want you to obtain blurbs. So just go about it sensibly and trust that it will work out. Then later when some other poet with a new book coming out asks you to write a blurb, remember the poets who said yes to you and say yes to the poet who now asks you to do a blurb. 

Diane Lockward, The Blurbification of Poetry Books

So much drama in the Twitter writing community lately. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. We claim to be supportive, understanding, solid. We say we support emotional and mental illness or distress. We exclaim our inclusiveness and support for diversity. We’re open-minded……until someone’s opinion isn’t in line with ours. Or someone’s emotional state leads them to do/say something unacceptable or questionable. There’s no understanding or forgiveness then. Apologies are ignored and a lifetime of goodness rejected. And Twitter stays on the soap box for days and days and days, gaining momentum as it goes. I try hard to stay out of the drama and I try hard not to condemn the condemners. I don’t want to be that person. But, obviously, the whole situation bothers me. The hive mind can be a judgmental thing.

Charlotte Hamrick, Poem: Support is Conditional

Mimic claws cutting,
but imaginary
and shivering. Touch

the wound and it isn’t
there. No scar, no scab,
no knife. Shadows that mute

and marble light like waves
under water. Shadows
that blunt and block, black.

Shadows that stab the light
like spines of a cactus.
The thin blade of dusk

that separates sand from
dark. Bright at my back,
eyes that glitter and close.

PF Anderson, Anamnesis

The one class I teach on Fridays, Protest Poetry, was also hard. On Wednesday I’d taught poems about the death of Malcolm X and while most of our discussion was productive, there had been a couple of bad moments–nothing ill-meaning, but students making insensitive comments as they thought aloud about deliberately disturbing poems. I had anticipated the need to discuss a homophobic slur in Amiri Baraka’s “Poem for Black Hearts,” and that went fine, but I hadn’t anticipated pushback, for instance, against anger itself. (We’d been reading about Emmett Till, the Baptist church bombed in Birmingham, a mounting death toll and litany of abuses–in what world is anger not inevitable and utterly just?–but as present politics continue to teach us, we don’t all live in the same world, and many of the students in my classroom are like Ursula, full of verve but not yet alert to the reality of other perspectives.) I responded in the moment, but in retrospect I realized I hadn’t responded strongly enough. So I began with an apology, asked the students to freewrite about a recent time they felt angry and what they did about it, then handed out “The Uses of Anger” by Audre Lorde. The discussion that followed was raw, messy, respectful, persistently oblivious, emotional, and awe-filled by turns, and I ended up having a couple of intense follow-ups with students afterwards. It didn’t do all the necessary work but it was a start.

Lesley Wheeler, Information and energy

While I want to do more with this poem, to lead them through it, I know that if I do, I’ll kill whatever has occurred organically. Some students will feel less competent if we reduce this experience to “look to the teacher.” I want them to feel competent in their abilities, that they (or anyone) can notice what is present in poems. To know what’s present in poems, one must be present with the language of poems. This is what they’re learning how to do.

They are beginning their journey as readers of poetry; they are noticing language and are beginning to make connections that are interesting and surprising. And they are all rooted in the language itself to do so.

The majority leave happy. I leave happy. A successful day one.
I walk out of my room into the hallway, energized by the learning that’s taken place, by their recent immersion in a small, beautiful poem on their own terms. I know this is setting them up for more of this good stuff of poetry that is to come. I know they’ll advance to larger and more complex poems. I know that we’ll have to get to analysis and all the ways one must learn to write about literature. However, today they slowed down and noticed what was there. Today they felt what it was like to really be present with poetry.

Scot Slaby, Day 1: Being Present with a Poem

I’ve stopped waiting for the magical ‘writing time’ to manifest itself. It rarely does. I work full time. Weekends are often busy. I walk the dog. I enjoy swimming. I hate housework but like things to be clean and tidy all the same. Somewhere in all this is my writing: a sentence written in my notebook is writing, a headline cut from the newspaper is writing, half an hour typing and editing a poem is writing, attending a day’s workshop is writing (luxury), watching a documentary about Blixa Bargeld’s work with German experimental music group Einstürzende Neubauten and transcribing some of that interview is also, for me, writing. It all goes into the mix. I  often write things I’m not happy with, but I’ve come to accept that as part of the process. It bothers me less and less. What’s important to me is that I’m doing the work and that occasionally I produce something good. I’ve gained more faith in myself and my work through this approach. As [Eric] Maisel says [in Fearless Creating]: ‘Working means starting’ (p.93) so I try to cut through any blocks and just do it, allowing myself lots of very small opportunities to ‘start’. That way, even a single word gleaned from a book or an article, or overheard in the pub, has some value. Making a note of it means I’ve said ‘yes’ to the work.

Julie Mellor, fearless creating

In November, after reading memorials to Lucie Brock-Broido, I took out her book Stay, Illusion and started a practice of pulling one image or line from a poem and writing from or in response to it. Will any of this turn into “real” poems? Maybe. The point is less about the results and more about showing up to give her poems time and attention and to experiment, play, and try writing in a way that doesn’t feel familiar to me.

I confess that I have not followed this practice strictly. Some days, other poems insist on being written. Some days, I fail to carve out the time. Most days I have a momentary panic that nothing will come. But it’s a practice, so I take a breath and start with something, anything, because I do believe in showing up, in reading as much as possible, in writing as close to daily as possible, in helping poetry to get into my body so that when the magic happens, I’m there for it with my whole self.

Joannie Stangeland, Pick your practice

I haven’t felt like doing much but now I’m coming back to life and revisiting old notebooks.  I’m beginning to assemble new poems.  I finished my commission for Ginkgo Projects/Bloor Homes and I think that some of the poems I wrote for this project will sit well in my next book.  My poem ‘To Bring Me Luck’ about older women and ageing might also belong there.  At this stage, I’m gathering poems and being open-minded about a possible theme.  I would dearly love my next book to feel coherent and thematic and my aim is to be able to articulate this.  I recognise that I really struggle with explaining to anyone what my work is about.

One thing is sure: I feel more determined about shaping my next book but that isn’t to say that I’m trying to force a theme upon it.  That would be a dreadful mistake.

Josephine Corcoran, Slow January continues

Have you ever wondered what it costs to be a poet? This year, I am tracking my readings: earnings (or lack thereof), expenses, book sales, etc. in an Excel spreadsheet.

Now, I’ve always done a bit of that for tax purposes. But what does it really cost to travel to a reading, not receive any payment, and sell one or two books? I’m keeping the numbers and making comments about each activity. I really want to know how much the effort is worth in the life cycle of a poetry collection. Here are some questions I want to know in the first year of a book’s publication:

1. Of the books I bring to readings, how many do I sell?
2. Will I peak in sales in my region, but decline towards year’s end? How can I counteract that?
3. How many readings do I participate in annually? How many free readings? 
4. If I cover travel and expenses, does that cancel out the stipend?

Put aside that poetry is an art, and it is a privilege to participate in this community. I’m looking at the numbers.

Will update you in a few months. April seems appropriate. 

January Gill O’Neil, By the Book

I think I’m going to create a new folder called Hold It! (I’m a great creator of folders…) and put in it every new poem I’m excited about, and I’m not allowed to look at them until at least a month after I’ve put it in the folder. AT LEAST a month. Six months is probably better.

In six months I’m a different person than I was six months before — new skin, blood, colon, fingernails, as cells replace themselves throughout the body at varying rates. So surely the new me will have some fresh insight.

But I’ll have the same eyeballs, though, and mostly the same brain, but new neuronal networks. So in order to shove myself along developmentally, as the pink-faced new poems cool their heels in the Hold It! folder, I should work on my eyesight and my memories. Which means to me that I should read more and widely in poetry especially, and when I find a poem that makes me say “wow, that is good work,” spend some time taking a look at how it works at working. But also other kinds of written work, because all kinds of literature can feed perspective. And I should also look at art, listen to music. And probably dance a little, even if it’s just in my kitchen.

All these kinds of inputs have the possibility of opening my brain to new ways of seeing, new ways of communicating, new ways to imagine. So when I open that folder again, I can see with altered vision and new light.

Marilyn McCabe, How Do I Know?; or, Learning to Assess Our Own Work

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 2

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a blogger who regularly shares poems or writes about poetry, please consider joining the network.

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


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

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

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

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

Erica Goss, The Poetry of Place

night bleeds in from the east
count the tourniquet stars

so slow we dream
like poisoned trees

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

James Brush, routine

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

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

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

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Hurricane Hauntings

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

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

Ren Powell, January 12, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Wheeler, Breathe (a brief post on posting)

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

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

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

Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse in 2019

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

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

Courtney LeBlanc, 2019 Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ann E. Michael, Creative publishing

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

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

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

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

Anne Higgins, Waiting for Snow

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

Erin Coughlin Hallowell, Some winter solace

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

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

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

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

Rachel Barenblat, Where I needed to go

Poetry Blog Digest 2019: Week 1

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. And if you’re a poetry blogger yourself, consider doing a regular links round-up of your own. It’s not enough to share links on social media; only through interlinking (and commenting) can we hope to build strong online communities.

Poetry bloggers this week shared thoughts about the year just past and hopes or resolutions for 2019. There were book lists and reviews, writing prompts, political reflections, original poems, and more. Some time in March or April when the pickings become slimmer, I imagine I’ll look back with longing at this first week of January when we were all so full of energy and resolve…


After a picture-book snowy December, we are pounded by rain, raveled by high winds. The gracious curve of the snow banks is now pocked and dirty, broken limbs, unburied trash, dog shit. And yet, a junco landed on the railing outside my window and clearly looked me in the eyes. There was a break in the cloud cover this morning unveiling a tiny sunrise, all golden and pink for the few minutes it held open.

2019 comes apace, a date I could not have even imagined when I was a child. The world now is different and the same. Politics eerily repeating itself like a warped tape, but I take a breath and there is ocean, rain, tomatoes to grow.

Books to read. And so, I cross the threshold to the new year, the new list. I’ve been keeping a reading list for a decade or more, and how I wish I started sooner. Looking back, I see patterns, interests evolve and then fade away. But poetry. Oh, poetry remains. So this year I read 138 books, 82 of which were poetry collections. I’ve listed them below in alphabetical order by title. A rich stew of ideas, language, and heart’s blood.

May the new year find us all looking toward the light. May we listen well. May we feel heard. May we not forget our place in the web of all life on this planet. May we remember that kindness is better than money. May no person be made to feel less than human, less than worthy of compassion. May we find teachers that help us become the most full expression of our hearts.

And may we read some poetry that connects us to each other.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Of Lists and Longing

Five years ago, my poetry collection Render was published and, shortly thereafter, my father passed away. Fast forward to 2018 and another new collection, Midnight in a Perfect World, was released and my mother made her transition a few weeks later. Some might think of this as a curse, but I see it as a natural cycle of birth and death. The books and their attendant need for publicity, readings and planning have helped distract me from thinking about the loss of my parents, but have also caused me to reflect more deeply on the time I have left and what I want to accomplish.

My mother’s death was not as peaceful as it should have been. She believed she had more time and her rapid decline knocked her sideways. Although she had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in the summer of 2016, my mom thought the radiation treatment had bought her additional years, so when she became ill in September she was thoroughly unprepared. There was anger, fear and irrational behavior. She should have had comfort care many weeks before she actually got it at the hospice. I have friends who have been caretakers for their ill or dying parents and heard plenty of horror stories, but the reality is much worse. The physical and emotional toll is something I will have to contend with for awhile, but I am processing the last few months by writing about it. I have four poems so far in various stages of completion. I wish I didn’t have to write them, but perhaps they will be useful to others who are in a similar situation. My hope with everything I write is that readers will find resonance.

Collin Kelley, Looking back, looking ahead

I received the Oceanic Tarot by Jayne Wallace as a Christmas present from one of my sons. It’s a beautiful deck that appeals to my love of water and swimming, and it provides simple, positive explanations for each of the cards. This morning I did my first reading with it.

In fact, it was the first reading I’ve ever done. Even though the tarot has always fascinated me, I’ve only used individual cards as writing prompts, and I’ve never taken the time to learn the symbolism or history behind them.

My interpretation of this three-card reading, which pertains to past, present, and future, is the following:

I need to let go of the guilt I feel about taking a semester off from teaching English. Devoting time to healing from depression, regaining my energy, spending time with family and friends, and completing my current poetry project are more than worthy endeavors–following this path is lifesaving, at least for now.

Time for reflecting on my relationship with my father and also with all the people I met on the Camino will help me finish the poems I’ve been writing for the last three and a half years.

Christine Swint, First Tarot Reading

I may need to rethink my no-getterness when it comes to writing, because I recently had a dream about the Egyptian god Thoth. He wrote a message on a scroll for me and was very insistent that I read it. In the space between dreaming and waking, I was desperately trying to remember the message, but of course it was gone the second I woke up. I do not know why I was visited by Thoth. I had to go and look him up because I had no memory of who he was in the Egyptian pantheon. It turns out that among other things, Thoth was the patron of scribes and of the written word. He maintained the library of the gods, was said to have created himself through the power of language, and wrote a song that created the eight deities of the Ogdoad. So I was visited by the one of the big dogs, and I don’t care who thinks that’s loopy, I believe in paying attention to that kind of stuff.

Kristen McHenry, Go-Getter vs No-Getter, Leg Lag, A Visit from the Big Dog

Last year, I read 202 books. I really thought that was the most books I could read in one year. Turns out, I was very wrong. In 2018, I read 221 books. That’s a book every 1.65 days.

Of the 221 books I read in 2018, here are my favorites:
Poetry
~ Nothing is Okay by Rachel Wiley
~ Strange Children by Dan Brady
~ Secure Your Own Mask by Shaindel Beers
~ Prey by Jeanann Verlee

Courtney LeBlanc, Best Books of 2018

In the past year, I read fewer books than usual, but if anything I thought about them more. The year began with a big project: reading Homer’s Odyssey chapter by chapter with two other friends, each of us reading a different translation and discussing them online. As the only one of the three readers with any ancient Greek, I was the one who looked up and struggled through passages we wanted to compare. This not only revived my interest in the language but rekindled my desire to go to Greece, which came true at the end of the year. The final book I’m reading, Mary Renault’s Fire from Heaven, is a novelistic treatment of the life of Alexander the Great, whose Macedonian birthplace we visited. There were a number of other classical books, or works inspired by them, in the early part of 2018 – specifically several by Seamus Heaney; Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, a version of Antigone with an immigrant heroine and her brother, a suspected ISIS terrorist; Alice Oswald’s Memorial, a poem that lists all the deaths mentioned in the Iliad, and Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey, about teaching the book to a class that included his own father and then going on a trip with him that recreated the ancient voyage.

Beth Adams, Book List – 2018

The old year is dead!
Dead, cold, gone.

We drifted and swam through its wide river,
what a survival story that was.

And now we cling to the new one 
like dawn to eyelashes,

like song
to guitar strings,

and smoke
to fire.

Claudia Serea, Survival story

I suppose for a lot of us who write poetry it’s the firm intention to write better this year, to send out all those poems we’ve been sitting on and humming and hawing about, and, if you’re like me, checking out the plethora of competitions that seem to come swarming around now. You might be lighting a candle for the ones you sent in for the National (which is the poetry equivalent of the Lottery double roll-over; spare a thought for Kim Moore lying on her sofa…she notes in her latest blog post that she has 9,500 poems to read through before sending in her choices for the long-list). Or you may, like me, be checking out Poets and Players or the Kent and Sussex, or Prole or York Mix……the list stretches out like Macbeth’s line of taunting kings. As regular readers know, I’m a sucker for competitions. I like the tingle. And I’ve been lucky, but it’s worth recording one illusion I was under at one time. I thought if I won a big competition, the world of poetry would beat a path to my door. It doesn’t. Basically, if you want to make a mark (which significantly, I haven’t) you have to keep on writing and working and submitting and begging for readings, and networking like crazy. The company you keep is important, but no-one owes you a living. You get the days of euphoria, and then it’s back to earth.

John Foggin, The glittering prizes, and the return of a Polished Gem: Stephanie Conn

There are a few poetry books coming out (or already out) this year that I’m looking forward to.  These include new pamphlets from HappenStance Press (on order), Vertigo and Ghost by Fiona Benson, new books by Rebecca Goss (Carcanet Press) and Niall Campbell (Bloodaxe), debuts by Lisa Kelly (Carcenet), Tom Sastry (Nine Arches Press) and Mary Jean Chan (Faber).  There are many more but these are the ones I have my eye on at the moment.  How about you?

I’m writing this on Friday evening, and expecting my family back from their Australian holiday early tomorrow morning.  Now that I’ve finally grown used to a very quiet house, I am, of course, feeling nostalgic and a little sad about my quiet Christmas and New Year which are about to be mightily shattered.  It’s been an interestingly different time for me.  I’ve made no resolutions, I’ve set no goals.  I do have vague ideas about what I’d like to achieve this year but I’m not setting my heart on anything.

A cold snap has reminded me to break the ice and fill up the bird baths that I keep dotted around our garden, front and back.  I use old roasting tins and bashed up flower pots.  I’ve been rewarded many times by beautiful, variously-coloured and sized feathered visitors and I like to think that it’s what you do each day, and keep on remembering to do, that counts – more than what you say you’re going to do at the start of the year.  Have a great week.

Josephine Corcoran, A very quiet start to the year

One of my goals for 2019, besides getting more sleep (I average four hours a night, which I hear from doctors is not enough, what?) is getting out more and spending more time with wonderful creative people! Yesterday I had the chance to meet up for lunch with the lovely and talented local poet Sarah Mangold. I had run into her work at Open Books and liked it, so I was happy to have this opportunity to talk over coffee. And now I’m looking forward to reading her chapbook, Cupcake Royale! Nothing cheers me up like spending time with artists, writers, and musicians – I think it decreases the feeling of “I am crazy for doing this” and always inspires me to do more in my own creative life!

I’ve been reading a beautiful hardcover illustrated edition of Virginia Woolf’s letters and the second volume of Sylvia Plath’s letters. Virginia Woolf is always cheerful, restrained and clever in her letters while Plath is a little more self-revealing, passionate in her happiness and her disappointments, but I think both can teach us lessons about women writers. I’m also reading After Emily, a book by Julie Dobrow about the two women who devoted a ton of time and energy to make sure Emily Dickinson had a legacy and a reputation as a great poet. It’s kind of a wonderful lesson in what it takes to become a household name in the 1800’s in upper-crust society in New England and dispels the illusion that Emily didn’t make en effort or that she became a sensation out of nowhere – a sort of early template for PR for Poets! (Book Clubs were very big, FYI.)

Jeannine Hall Gailey, New Year So Far, Poem in Natural Bridge, Lunch Dates with Poets and Poet Letters, and 2019 Goals

I confess that  2018 was defined by the frustration all around us – all of us. One of the things I am going to do in 2019 is to lessen the chaos around me that distracts and drags me down. No, I’m not turning off the news. Burying my head in the sand makes me an irresponsible citizen and voter.  But I intend to avoid the crap that none of us need. What we engage in is a choice we make. I want to make better choices.

I saw a graphic that said something like this:  We have 365 pages this year to write our new life story. That made me realize several things. One, urgency. If we don’t put anything on a page, that’s a lost day. I can’t write today’s page tomorrow. It also means I am responsible for my own story, my own year. Yes, I have to work with what the world throws at me, but that is only part of the story. What I do with my resources, time, events, people are my responsibility. Choose well. Kevin Larimer, the editor-in-chief of Poets & Writers said something in his note in the newest edition that resonated with me. He spoke of deeper gratitude for the idea of production that isn’t entirely based on what is put on the page and more on how we honor those moments of living off the page.

One thing I am going to do this year is to guard and protect the time I allocate for writing and reading.

Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Year Trade-In

Here’s great way to kickstart your writing in the New Year. Cut some snippets of text from a range of newspapers/ magazines/ novels (whatever you can lay your hands on). Maybe add some found images too. Pop them in a bag and post them to a fellow poet, challenging them to make a poem out of the contents. This is what my good friend, the academic (and poet) Dr Zoe Walkington did for me just before Christmas. I didn’t realise until I’d created the poem (above) that Zoe had already had a go with the same bits of text and image. I can’t reprint her poem here yet, because I’ve urged her to submit it to an online journal. However, here’s what she says about the process:

The way I created it was cutting up two magazines. As you have identified one was a Sunday supplement, and the other was a “specialist” magazine which was a sort of ‘psychologists digest’ type magazine which I receive as part of my membership of an American psychological society.
I made up my own poem, then – being lazy – never glued it together, and so the parts of the poem sat on my desk for a while, and I then looked at the bits one day and thought “what would Julie do with these?”
The idea of putting it in a freezer bag was just a random method of transport but then I thought it could merit the title of “a poem in a bag”!! ‘

Julie Mellor, Why I made this for you

2019: 
Now, reading post the one thing that stands out to me besides that I now having muesli everyday instead of Raisin Bran, is that I wrote, 

“Am I being kissed or am I the onlooker?”

My concern with that question is that — if I’m being kissed, then it means I’m waiting for someone/something to do something so I can be engaged in the moment.

I don’t want to be part of the “pick me” generation. 

So I think the biggest change this year is I’m stepping up. Things have changed since that last post 6 years ago– I am no longer in that same house and my daughter is at college. 

If anything holds me back this year, I no longer have the excuse of parenting or not enough time. So, yeah, accountability, it’s the nametag I’m wearing.

Anyway, looking again at the photo– maybe I’m none of those people (the kisser, the kissee, or the onlooker), maybe I’m the full glass of champagne, sparkly and bubbly, and just being the best I can as the world does its thing…

Kelli Russell Agodon, Thoughts before 2019: Am I the Kisser, the Kissee, or the Onlooker?

Let’s write a kissing poem. First, go back to the past and recall an important kiss or kisses—the first kiss, a French kiss, an unwanted kiss, a stolen kiss, an illicit kiss, a last kiss, a goodbye kiss, perhaps a metaphorical kiss. Your poem need not recall a warmly positive memory of kissing.

Recreate the scene. Make it clear that your first-person speaker is going back to the past. Use descriptive details to call forth that time: What was the music then or the dance style? What were the clothing styles? Any fragrance from perfume or aftershave? Any local color, e.g., flowers, trees, food?

Be sure to include some metaphors. Try to make one of them an exploited metaphor.

Use some hyperbole. If, however, your scene is not a tender one, hyperbole might not work. Try it and see what happens. If your poem becomes overly dramatic, revise it out.

Diane Lockward, Advance Call for Kissing Poems, Plus Prompt

There is now an increasing number of poets who are making their own films. I’d go so far as to say that it’s when poets see that there is a type of film poem that does not need to respond to the hype generated around the visually powerful imagery of music and YouTube videos, and that they can forefront their poetry, that poets get involved.

This year, Chaucer Cameron and I brought together ten poets to meet over a six-month period to learn more about, and to create, film poetry. The group worked together as a ‘collective,’ each person was responsible for creating at least one film poem, but also worked together sharing skills with the rest of the group. As facilitators, we were there to teach, inspire and encourage. One poet said: “I wouldn’t have realised quite how much potential it offers to explore and experience poetry in new ways unless I’d actually made my own poetry films. My relationship with my own and others’ poems has shifted and deepened as a result of working in this way, enriching my writing practice.” And another observed: “It offers fresh opportunities for bringing your work to the world.”

The ‘collective’ resulted in the group presenting a final showing of sixteen film poems to an audience of fifty people, mainly new to poetry, and a tour which included the films going to the 2018 Athens International Video Poetry Festival.

So, maybe where the roots of film poetry lie do not matter – it’s the act of communication, inherent in poetry, that’s important. It is the potential of film poetry, to offer creative opportunities for exploring and communicating poetry in new ways, that’s exciting. Audiences new to poetry in particular, engage more easily with visual and auditory content, making film poems an ideal medium to share work. It’s the magic that counts.

Poets at the Root of Film Poetry – guest blog post by Helen Dewbery of Poetry Film Live (Trish Hopkinson’s blog)

All poems are triangles. They either start narrow (at the point) and expand as they progress, or they start wide and compress or shed excess to a fine point at the end.

Grant Clauser, Notes on Poetry Energy

Michael Carrino sent me a link to an article that discusses the idea of fully thematic collections, what the author calls ‘project’ books. The article sets ‘mind’ against ‘heart’.

Well, no-one is going to argue against ‘heart’ so that battle is won before it has started. It’s a little like calling certain kinds of poetry ‘academic’. Label applied: job done.

These are all false dichotomies. Hearts have minds and minds have hearts. One feels what one thinks and one thinks what one feels.

George Szirtes, MINDS AND HEARTS: SHAPING

Yesterday, as I drove to a very early morning spin class, I had a vision of a poem.  What would happen if the 3 wise men had come to a border situation like the ones we have in the southern parts of the U.S. […]

This morning I attempted the poem that started to glimmer at me yesterday.  It did not turn out to be the poem I first thought about.  This morning’s poem begins, “I am the border agent who looks / the other way.  . . . ”  The poem goes on to reference the East German soldiers who didn’t shoot as people assembled at the Berlin Wall in 1989, but the wise men do make an appearance later in the poem.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Wise Ones and Modern Borders

As I shifted uncomfortably in my hard chair the other evening, it occurred to me that sometimes my experience of attending an open mic is not dissimilar from my experience, at times, of the editing process.
I approach with a mixture of anticipation and dread.
The lights go down. I can’t see clearly.
I eat a cookie.
Poems are going on and on.
I feel like a small ogre in the dark, thinking things to myself like: “No, no, no.” “Cut that line. That one two.” “Stop there. Stop. Stop.” “What are you going on about now?” “Nooo.” “What on earth are you talking about??” “Too long! Too long!” “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
I feel uncharitable. Can’t I be more open-minded to these poems?
One cookie is not enough. I eat a second cookie.
Sometimes I think things like: “Hm, that wasn’t half bad.” “Hey, something really interesting is going on in this one.” “Oh, wow, now THAT is a poem.” “That was interesting. I could learn from that.”
Sometimes I laugh out loud.
Two cookies is too much.

Marilyn McCabe, Open Mic, Insert Pen; or, Notes on the Editing Experience

I run in darkness now – either in the early mornings are after work. And I miss taking photos along the route. It isn’t the photos themselves, but the function of photography as a tool for noticing. Appreciating. Instead I listen: the rattle of the dog’s tag on the leash, our footfalls in an odd kind of syncopation, approaching bicycle tires on the gravel, the blackbird sweeping over the dead leaves.

I inhale attentively and try to put a kind of frame around the wet smells of the earth, the sharp smells of the rusting metal of the old train tracks.

*

On my way to work I pass the adult daycare center and through the window see a man and a woman dancing. She is maybe 30, and her enthusiasm heavy. His age is impossible to guess, his joy expressed only in a pinch between his left eye and the left corner of his mouth. She lifts his arms for him. I can’t hear what she is singing.

I feel a cold current moving with the wind.

Ren Powell, January 5, 2019

She likes to think about angels and mermaids
And when she dances it is with her arms outstretched
She spins and whirls
My granddaughter, only five years old
Today I gave her some prayers beads that I had strung
And told her about the LovingKindness prayer
Sweet child, she touched one bead at a time
Saying
I love my Momma, let her be good
I love my Daddy, let him be good
Oh, there are days when it is just so fine
To be an old man

James Lee Jobe, ‘She likes to think about angels and mermaids’

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 16

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

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

This week, poets were pondering time and memory (well, OK, poets are pretty much always pondering time and memory) in between trading tips on how to start a poem, how to know when it’s finished, how to promote a book, and — most of all — what to read.

Unable to sleep, I sit before
the heartless brilliance of the screen
with the real-world darkness

hovering, fearful but persistent,
at my back. It seems as if time
has packed her bags and left

for the coast and then beyond.
I take off my glasses, knuckle away
the mess of my tears. And then,

like importunate drunks through
a suddenly opened door, the geese
are overhead.
Dick Jones, Their Voices in the Night

*

Spring’s been happening in fits and starts–blossoms one minute, wind-strewn petals the next. I walk a nearby trail most mornings, and on Tuesday, Woods Creek churned and roared from heavy rains; parts of the path were massive puddles, and the lowest bridge was half-underwater. The next day was frigid; others have balmy and still. National Poetry Month basically occurs during the year’s moody adolescence.
Lesley Wheeler, News flash: in April, poet feels moody

*

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

A~Writing is a solitary act, but it’s equally important to actively seek, and maintain, an outward focus in order to inspire and inform one’s writing. Connect with other writers, both face-to-face and online (it’s never been easier); be an active participant in your local writing scene; attend writing workshops, poetry readings, literary events, festivals; support the work of others (it’s not a one-way street); live life (it’s the richest writing material I know). And, read far more poetry than you can ever write.
Jayne Stanton, interviewed in Bekah Steimel’s blog

*

One of the writing strategies I like to use almost every time I begin a draft is to generate a list of words from another source, from a book of poetry or fiction or from almost anything written that’s lying about. Sometimes there’s some intentionality and sometimes not. I look for words that aren’t in my personal lexicon–not that I don’t know them, but I may not think to use them. Then I prop up that list of words in front of me at the computer or on my lap. SOMETIMES a word on that list will generate an entire poem.

I’m always looking for a way in–and about 80% of the time I’d say, my poems spring from a list. There’s nothing proprietary about a list of words from another source, but I love how the list pushes me in a new direction or actually becomes the prompt or allows me to use much fresher language than I might otherwise. It eliminates hum-drum, I hope.

I’ve divined words from poetry books like Break the Habit by Tara Betts and Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, and Pattiann Rogers’ book, Holy Heathen Rhapsody, and even a fiction book, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I still marvel at what gets spit out on the page. I’ve read through entire books circling words as I read or just found and used a single longer poem. Rarely am I looking for a specific type of word for a specific subject. Rather, the goal is to gather words that do not seem to fit together or the subject, if there is one. The list IS my entry to the draft whether I’m writing about Frida Kahlo, the hospice caregiver bathing my mother, or my brother’s childhood clubhouse.
Gail Goepfert, Behind the Purple Door–One Way In

*

Of course, invariably, each retyping meant a new re-entry, a complete opportunity to alter, change, fudge, reconsider, letter by letter, the whole poem and its possibilities. Even if you didn’t change a thing, it was a true revision opportunity for the poem. I also enjoyed how it was to re-enter those poems that way, too. Maybe it was the punctuation of the line with the return of the carriage, the clacking of each letter, the meticulous folding the manuscript into thirds to fit into the envelope. That slowness, that luxury, that inefficiency seems so distant now.
Jim Brock, Old Inefficiencies, Old Joys

*

A month or so later the audiobook was finished. The recording was done by Lily Ricciardi, one of eBookit’s professional readers. She has a beautiful voice and did a great job. The book is reproduced in its entirety except, of course, for the Table of Contents, the bio notes, and the Index.

I wondered initially how someone might use an audiobook of this sort, as opposed to, say, a novel. But it seems that people are enjoying it as they go walking and as they pound away on the treadmill. Some listen and learn in bed. Someone told me she begins her morning writing session by listening for 10 minutes; what she hears then inspires her writing that day. Excellent! Others listen while traveling in the car or plane. Obviously, I had a lot to learn about audiobooks.
Diane Lockward, The Crafty Poet Goes Audible

*

People sometimes ask me how they might know when a poem is “Done.” I resist that term, actually; I think of poems as ideas gathered to the consciousness of the poet. The text on the page (or as delivered live, in readings) is always just the best possible approximation the ‘poem’ available to that poet at the given moment. There’s no one definitive version of a poem.

The practical advantage of that attitude is that I’m pretty easygoing about accepting other people’s edits or even typos in reproduction. Poems aren’t like cars; you can’t ding their bodywork or crack their glass. Poems are clouds you get to ride, if you’re lucky.
Sandra Beasley, Heirloom (Old Poem / New Poem)

*

It’s been a while since I read her work, and though I often think of Ruth Stone (1915-2011) along the lines of girls in dresses of Alice blue, and mares beneath the apple trees, I was pleasingly surprised at how bawdy Stone’s poetry is. Men line up like silverback gorillas at the counter of the donut shop. At the bus station, “two couples are not just kissing / they are dry fucking.” In these poems we are not allowed to forget that we have bodies. A younger sister lies in the grave, her breasts, “wizened flaps.” A husband dead of suicide haunts the poems (an insistent “you”). Time doesn’t merely pass, but runs through our fingers as we clutch at what cannot be held onto. The title of the book, Ordinary Words, seems to insist on the humble subjects and (sometimes) plain speech of the poems. But I tiptoe through these poems, never sure where a trap will spring open.
Bethany Reid, Ruth Stone’s Ordinary Words

*

I learned to vanish, was saved by my knack
for flying away with fluttering sleeves
and hair through wet grass and over trestles,
falling, and hiding again. A vessel
is coming, I will leave. My mother grieves.
Light and shadows fold themselves around me;
feathers brush my face, erase memory.
PF Anderson, Kaguyahime Sonnet

*

Why do some things hold in our memories when others go? Was it less painful for my mother to think of me as the young girl she could dress in nice clothes and whose hair was consistently combed? Was her memory loss entirely organic or was there something else involved? And why, oh why, can I remember so little from certain periods of my life? What have I put into storage and then thrown away the key?

The first poem of Every Atom includes the lines: “The world we are born into / is not the one that clings to us as we leave.” We change the world by moving through it, by the stories we choose to tell, by the ever-widening ripples of our actions. Sometimes, I go back through old notebooks to remind myself of what my world contained during different times. Sometimes, I go back through old notebooks to remind myself who I was in those worlds.

Sometimes I don’t recognize any of it. But there it is, in my own handwriting, like a river ebbing and pulsing, continual and irreversible.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, The River of Memory

*

An amalgam of ground pecans, chopped apples,
red wine, and nutmeg
primes us to recall the taste of mortar—

the timeworn saga of servitude and how despots’
sovereignties always hinge on slavery.
But instead, it is sweet as honey

and reminds me that all history
is gloss, and how recollection, like nostalgia,
adds false notes of harmony to bitter herbs.
Risa Denenberg, Charoset and Bitter Herbs

*

The poet community is one less. I confess I did not personally know Sam Hamil, but I knew of him. I knew some of his rugged past that probably had a lot to do with the person he was. I became acquainted with him during the Poets Against the War lead up to U.S. Bombing Iraq. When I think of Copper Canyon Press I think of Sam. When I think of Sam, I think of Copper Canyon Press. It’s that simple. Sam was all about peace. There was a quiet spirit that resided in Sam, but Sam also had the ability to unleash tremendous indignation where appropriate. One thing I don’t think I ever saw in Sam was much optimism. His worldview of governments including and perhaps especially our own was highly pessimistic. War, hate, violence, greed, corruption. These were things that kept his vision from seeing a reason for optimism. But Sam gave us poetry. His gift to us all, are words that will continue to speak to us if only we will listen.
Michael Allyn Wells, Confession Tuesday – Schizophrenia is in Full Bloom this Spring

*

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I like the poetry itself. The writing, the revising, the reading, the submitting, the independent non-corporate publishing, the sharing, the interpretation, the connecting to others through the poetry. Poetry as expression, poetry as art, poetry as emotion, poetry as questioning, poetry as exploring.

I dislike aspects of the poetry scene that feel too close for comfort to some sort of popularity contest involving group attacks or judgment calls. Poetry can be political in many different, powerful ways, but I don’t like the forming of groups outside of the poetry that take a side and lump other sides together and judge them and try to send other poets to jail.

I’m a small scale individual poet, not a large scale judge.
Juliet Cook, interviewed in Bekah Steimel’s blog

*

The conversation in this lovely book between text and image is direct and intense, without seeming constricted or constrained. Although its visual and verbal components are fully capable of standing alone, together they make magic. Seasoned and grave, yet crackling with irony and pleasure, these poems are also erudite, salted with references to Duchamp (a “nude descending an escalator”); Orpheus (a narrator who “turned back to see you disappear”); and Turner (“the red buoy bobbing on the waves.”) Their engagement with the paintings yields a tapestry of responsive, but imaginative, tropes, such as the structure of matter, fragmentation, the entangled relationship between creation and destruction – and, of course, static. This book handily refutes the counsel (mentioned in “where was it I”) of those “frozen in place” to “stay inside the lines.”
This! On “breath to oblivion no ladder no chaser” by Charles Borkhuis–guest blog post by Susan Lewis at TrishHopkinson.com

*

Think about Browning’s My last duchess. There’s a poem about the predatory male gaze if ever there was one. But whose gaze is turned on the Duke, and whose on the woman whose portrait the Duke is showing off? What is the poet assuming about the duchess? Or think about Philip Larkin’s The less deceived and how he imagines (gazes on) the little street girl abducted and taken into fulfilment’s desolate attic. At every turn I feel the ground slipping away from under my feet.

At this point, I’m going to go back to an earlier post, (December 2014) in which I was equally uncertain of what I was arguing about or why. I started with a quotation from George Eliot…who had to assume a male persona to get published.

“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary life it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well-wadded with stupidity.”

I went on to write about my response to work by Pascale Petit, Kim Moore, Fiona Benson and Wendy Pratt, and to wonder whether I could access their experience of the world via their poems. I wrote:

“I read these poems, and then I read what I’ve written in the last two years and I see what isn’t there, and I wonder if I have access to what’s missing. Just to explain why I chose that opening quotation from George Eliot; for the last 18 months or so I have grown gradually more deaf. It’s something that can be dealt with, and will be, but at the moment I hear the world through a soft sieve. I miss the point of conversations and questions if I’m not attending. It’s like listening to French. I recognise songs on the radio by the bass lines and drum patterns but I can’t hear the whole tune. And now these poets. It’s as though they’ve shown me emotional registers and harmonies that I can’t hear or feel for myself, as though, in George Eliot’s word I’m ‘well-wadded’. I’m writing rhetoric and well-observed landscapes, and anecdotes, but I’m not accessing the whole picture.”
John Foggin, Here’s looking at you: the male gaze

*

The cacophony of voices – high & shrill, low & gruff –
pressed in on her as the knobs of her spine pressed
into the wall, mouths opening and closing
like hungry baby birds, insatiable and demanding.
Beneath the din she heard the whisper of leaves

rubbing in the breeze a promise of disappearance,
of peace caressing her ramrod body. Her eyes
found the door as the sea of prattle parted.
She gathered her resolve and lifted one foot.
Charlotte Hamrick, Not a Party Girl

*

Q: Readings make me anxious – how many do I have to do?
A: I say in the book PR for Poets that many poets sell most of their books through readings, and though that’s true, there are plenty of other options that I outline in the book for you to sell books, including sending out an e-mail newsletter, book postcards, or talking to professors about teaching your book. Every book is unique, and every poet is unique. Some people are extroverted and confident public speakers – those people should do lots of readings as long as it makes them happy. But if they’re torture for you, do one or two readings in places you know you have lots of support and see how it goes from there.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Q&A for PR for Poets

*

I think that poetry offers what Plato calls psychagogia— “an enlargement of the soul” in C.S. Lewis’ definition, or see John Joseph Jasso’s dissertation chronicling it as “the idea that rhetoric can lead souls to their own betterment; that is, guide them in an ascent along a metaphysical hierarchy through beauty, goodness, and truth to a fuller participation in being.” Poetry provides such enlargement by permitting the reader to imaginatively undergo transformation via images and places the poem offers, to experience the turn in the poem’s rhetoric, to feel ‘along with’ the poem’s nature. The poem is a threshold at which the reader stands and makes the choice of whether or not to enter.
Ann E. Michael, Imaginative, not imaginary

*

This is all to say that sometimes dramatic lit does exactly what it’s supposed to do: remove us from our own lives, provide catharsis, and then place us back into our lives with a better sense of perspective, a little more wisdom, and a little more clarity — or even more with more confusion, but a confusion that lets you know a veil has been lifted, and that somehow you’re un-seeing something that was distorted (for you) previously.

And it’s nothing short of amazing these days when something works the way it’s supposed to work. And that’s not pure cynicism — it’s more celebration than anything else. I really love other people’s writing.
Sarah Kain Gutowski, When You Come, Then You’ll See: Real Drama! (i.e. Not My Own)

*

And all the cycles in between- the river running dry
for fifteen years, the earth knotted in stubbornness

loops of suffering, the cycle of mourning, the womb
stretched and inelastic filled with the husk of grief.
Uma Gowrishankar, The Cycles

Poet Bloggers Revival Digest: Week 15

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you 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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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)

*

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?

*

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”

*

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

*

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

*

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?

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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.

*

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

*

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 Digest: Week 13

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

poet bloggers revival tour 2018 A few quotes + links (please click through!) from the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, plus occasional other poetry bloggers in my feed reader. If you 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…

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

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

*

[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

*

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

*

[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!

*

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

*

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

*

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!

*

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

*

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

*

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 Digest: Week 9

poet bloggers revival tour 2018

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

An especially rich variety of offerings this week, especially on the themes of solitude vs. multitude and the making of books.

Sometimes the cloak is praise.

Sometimes the cloak is humor.

Sometimes the cloak is grief.

Sometimes the person doesn’t even realize he (not always a he) is cloaking intent.

Sometimes (s)he/them doesn’t realize what the intent will turn out to be. Sometimes a person is genuine, and yet a charmer, and an abuser, and yet a survivor of abuse, and a valuable poet, and yet a suppressor of poets, all in one. We contain multitudes.
Sandra Beasley, Multitudes

*

as universal as love and math
as personal
as the scars of our secrets
we conjure the angels of amnesia
with a cocktail of spells
Bekah Steimel, Addictions

*

I want to tell her the history of my family-gods. They are rainforest-hot,
cropland-warm, dark with every-colored skin. They have mouths
that sound like all kinds of countries. I want to tell her these gods
live wild and holy in me, in white and blue cities where my skin
is remembered or forgotten, in cities where I am always one thing, or
from anywhere.
Jennifer Maritza McCauley, When Trying to Return Home

*

I confess in general, my real life has been busier than ever, not quieter. I have spent a lot of time with friends–seeing Fran Leibowitz, teaching at Western Washington University, dinners, lunches, teaching a class in Seattle, and other moments that have dotted my calendar.

Yesterday I floated for an hour in a sensory deprivation pod. It was a surreal experience where you feel as if you might be in space, as if you are weightless.

I was hoping for some huge breakthroughs in my writing or my life, what I received was 55 minutes of absolute quiet and relaxation with minor breakthroughs about life.

While I did manage to get salt in my eye and forget to put my eyeplugs in & turn off the light and have to immediately exit the tank to reset myself up, I found that I need just time to meditate, to nap, to sit, to quiet, to float.
Kelli Russell Agodon, Confession Saturday: How To Float

*

I knew from the opening poem, “Rootless,” what [Jenny] Xie’s intentions with this book were with lines like “I sponge off the eyes, no worse for wear” alongside clear descriptions of place, “Between Hanoi and Sapa there are clean slabs of rice farms / and no two brick houses in a row.” This was going to be a collection that employed the camera eye, an eye that seems to separate from the self in order to explore the world outside of the self, and yet what I didn’t immediately grasp was how deep into the psyche these poems would also look. As, ultimately, Eye Level is concerned with not only with what is visible, but the endless distances between people and bottomless pit within ourselves.
Anita Olivia Koester, A Solitary Gaze: Eye Level by Jenny Xie

*

Yes, I want to be a part of the community–here, the blog revival tour is an example of that. Yes, I want my credentials and awards to be certified and recognized. Yes, I want to be a part of something larger than myself. And yet, the cost of this affiliation? I think the best artists are those who do genuinely and selflessly engage with their communities, but are in continual struggle against that community, sometimes dropping out entirely, occasionally dropping in. For me, it’s about celebrating what is truly errant, digressive, resilient, unhappy, and disruptive, that part of us which is a lousy team-player, an unproductive company-man.

Everyone on the team is rushing together to put out that fire, to be a part of the decoration committee for the prom, to raise that barn–and yet, usually, there is someone who wanders off, who walks away from the commotion, a person who had always been there with us, and who has now disappeared. The committee’s work goes on. The drop out, well, she’s found another road, a pretty distraction, a quiet and uncomplicated space, where she can find something else about her gifted life.
Jim Brock, A Few Odds and Ends, & Self-Protection

*

Revolution is never convenient.
Sometimes it arrives too fast
or agonizingly slow.
It’s being televised, incentivized,
trivialized, transmogrified –
from the news cycle spin
to hashtag hagiography.
Truth is elusive in the thrum,
the drumbeat of division
on a loop, on a loop, on a loop.
Collin Kelley, Lift Every Voice

*

It’s sad (but perhaps natural?) how much communication can suffer even, or especially, when we’re in the same room with another person. Letter writing is an art that is so necessary — and so rare. Just reflecting on this makes me feel like I should devote more time to it. But with whom? Who would take the time to answer? Blogs are a form of letter writing to the world, to the universe, to the ether, I suppose, but I still like the particular audience, the fully imagined and/or perhaps fully realized Other, the best. Waiting for The Other’s answer makes one feel on edge, more alive — and receiving that answer is always satiating, thrilling, and the opportunity to craft a response worthy of The Other’s attention. A challenge. (The good kind.)
Sarah Kain Gutowski, Sunshine and Blue Sky, Tsvetaeva on the Concurrence of Souls, and the Art of Letter Writing

*

After he leaves for the airport
the dust from his shoes settles on the floor

The smell of soap lingers in the room
as I fold the warmth of his body in the blanket

It goes back to the practice from my childhood
when I wandered in the overgrown backyards of people

to collect the thumbai flowers, pinches of moon in my palm
Uma Gowrishankar, The Full Moon: A Love Poem

*

This book is careful. Odd. It’s somehow inspiring me. I keep catching ideas of my own out of the corner of my eye as I read his poems. Much of the book feels like that random, disconnected, scattershot approach that I hate in contemporary poetry — but then there are these moments that ring some gong in me. Something mysterious trembles in the disconnections. Damn. What’s going on here? These are philosophical poems, poems of consideration, of why and wherefore, mixed with birds and colors and foxes and sky, blackbirds and twigs, poems of what on earth are we doing here. That’s my question too. It all gives me paws…
Marilyn McCabe, What the what; or, Reading Siken’s War of the Foxes

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The feeling of not believing I wrote these poems uncovers layers of emotions that are erupting now that I am watching the work transition from manuscript to actual book: a lack of faith in myself; tremendous gratitude to every poet on earth, to whom I owe my love of poetry; astonishment that the poems are good; questioning “are they good?”; the anxiety of knowing the next phase (promoting the book) is likely to lead to some mixture of joy and disappointment; and wonderment at the poetic collective witchery that was tapped into in the writing.
Risa Denenberg, Sunday Morning Muse with “slight faith” On My Mind

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Through the years, I’ve heard people use this phrase: “The Buddha in me greets the Buddha in you”— by which they mean the idea that every living being already holds the seed for transformation within themselves; in other words, that in every creature, there exists the possibility of transcendence, of going beyond our flawed, imperfect nature.

That spring, quite rapidly (in just under three months) I wrote poem after poem using a variety of “Buddha” personae. Once I started, it felt like I couldn’t stop until I’d exhausted the subject. In each poem I proposed different scenarios: what if the Buddha felt the need for a therapist? what if the Buddha had a child with an Internet addiction? what if the Buddha was a mother in mid-life who had a “wardrobe malfunction” at a public beach? what if the Buddha joined a campus “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” for Women’s History Month?
Luisa A. Igloria, New book release from Phoenicia Publishing: The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis

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This week at Phoenicia Publishing we’ve announced the pre-orders for this new book of poems by Luisa A. Igloria. […] As part of the design process, I’ve been working hard on the cover art, using hand-painted paper, cut and glued onto a painted background as collage. […]

Making art is sometimes a lonely process, filled with doubts, but at other times, there’s inspiration and collaboration. This design was my favorite of four I presented to Luisa, but at first she chose a different one. We took some time, and the next day she wrote to talk about this one with the brambles. Luisa told me what she liked here (the brambles and the ladyslipper) and said she’d like to see a bird rather than an eye. I also knew from her previous responses that she liked bright colors. Putting all of that together, and looking at some photographs of lady-slippers in their natural habitat filled with ferns and grasses in a woodland clearing, I was able to make the adjustments and changes that led to the final cover, which took several days of painting and cutting and gluing to complete because this is a new technique for me.
Beth Adams, A book and its cover

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Then the scribes tugged our pictograms from walls
and with those tongues pushing out a bottom lip,
they penned them slowly, rush-lit night and day,
across the calfskin, line upon line. Golden ciphers,
language wrapped in arabesques, concealed in
foliate compartments, locked into floral curlicues
and stalked by fantastical beasts across the vellum.
Dick Jones, INCUNABULA

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Basically, I’d never written directly and honestly about someone I knew…it’s the kind of thing I avoided because there was always the terrifying possibility that the someone would read it and deny that it was true. It’s a real blocker, the fear of embarrassment, for me at least. But it’s what I think I started to learn about the rag-and-bone-shop of the heart. The shops I knew. But the heart was dangerous territory. There’s a huge release in writing a line like that, feeling it directly..if you’ve not done it before. A leap. But it puts the flames in their proper place, and at this point, the poem expands outwards into everywhere. Julie died a couple of months later and never got to read what I’d written. I know I’m glad I wrote it.
John Foggin, Where all the ladders start [1]

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How is it there is never space for death and time to grieve, that people often end up dead too quickly to say goodbye (my aunt had just been discharged from the hospital – apparently too soon – and I was waiting to call until she felt a little bit better.) I was planning my own funeral around this time last year, I remember taking pictures of the cherry blossoms wondering if I would live to see another round, the death sentence had been passed (perhaps a little early) on me by all-knowing and very experienced doctors, and I was picking out music and where I wanted my ashes scattered, who I wanted to have my books and art (the only things I have worth anything, really.) But then I didn’t die, I’m still alive, still dealing with the messy realities of many many specialist and therapy appointments for my various medical things related to 1. liver full of tumors and 2. brain full of lesions among other lesser issues like asthma. And living is complicated and full of irritations – side effects of drugs, obstacles to our goals, not enough time paid having fun, too much time in lines or working on grant applications or taxes. Life’s little annoyances take up our brainspace, we forget to say “I love you” or prioritize spending time with loved ones doing the things that make life worth living, thinking life goes on forever.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Grieving, Jenny Diski’s In Gratitude, Losing a Loved One, Winter Returns

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This year I’m flying over 3,800 miles to Tampa, Florida, for AWP. It’ll take me two days to get there. Two days (if all the flights go as scheduled). One very full flying day and a four hour time change on the day of Daylight Savings Time switching back to get home. But in Tampa, at the Red Hen Press booth, will be my newest book. I haven’t seen it yet. I haven’t held it. I have a panel, an offsite reading, and three signing slots, all in the space of three days. I’m flying for two days to meet my newest baby. To show her to folks. To see their new babies and listen to their words.

It’s a miracle, really. Every time. An exhausting miracle, but let’s keep our eyes on the smudge of stardust. People go into their heads, pull out words, craft them, send them into the big world, and then we read those words and they live in our hearts. If that isn’t a miracle, I can’t imagine what one looks like.
Erin Coughlin Hollowell, Keeping the oars in the water- AWP edition